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The Underwater Basket-Weaving Society of America

Chapter Text

In retrospect, Tony really should have seen this coming.


What had he told Cap? Genius. Genius. Geniuses don’t get completely blindsided by something like this.


That being said, the coffee mug drops from his hand anyways, and even Steve, standing right next to him, Steve whose reflexes have, apparently, evolved far past the realm of human understanding, doesn’t catch it.


That’s because the TV screen in the kitchen has all of their attention, and holy shit, no, that can’t be right, because if it is, it is a very, very bad thing.


“Well. That’s a lot of dust,” Tony’s mouth says. “That’s going to be hell to clean up—can you imagine that? If you were parked on that street, only, I guess, it’s good you weren’t, because that would be a problem, especially considering the fact that some of those probably exploded, and, wow, imagine explaining that to, uh, insurance, and that’s not what I think I’m looking at, is it?” The newsreel continues with his voice as its background music, and holy hell, that is definitely human shaped. More or less. A human shaped torpedo, a human shaped missile, something human shaped that dropped straight out of the sky like a meteor and left a crater the size of a minivan in the middle of the Colorado Plateau.


And then there was the miniature aurora that erupted right before the crash. There’s that.


“Rainbows,” Steve says hoarsely. “Look.” And, yeah, the footage is slowed down to focus on the rainbows rippling across the sky right before the great boom.


“Funny,” Tony answers. “I had no idea they fixed that.”


Because Thor, Thor had come down on a rainbow bridge, hadn’t he? And then broke it. So it’s Thor. It has to be Thor.


Steve swallows. “That’s not Thor.”


A tall, wiry silhouette staggers and sways through the dust. There’s a bolt of green light and the camera feed shuts off.


“No,” Tony agrees. “That’s not.”



In between the spaces where Tony thought I wonder if Fury knows and he got the first syllable out, a phone rings and they’re one their way. Of course Fury knows. Of course there’s already a S.H.I.E.L.D. fleet sent ahead of them. Of course, by the time the Avengers have assembled, Clint and Natasha from headquarters, the Hulk from Bruce’s lab, and Tony and Steve from the mansion, Loki is spitting mad and staring down a hundred well-trained sights of guns bigger than they make them in Asgard, all from a very healthy distance away.


“What do you think, Cap?” Tony asks, turning to Steve. “Looks like if we leave him with SHIELD long enough, he’ll bust a coronary and that’ll be our job done for us.”


“I just want to shoot him,” Clint chimes in from the comms, from his perch on top of one of the black vehicles. “Can I shoot him?”


“You can’t shoot him. Not right now, anyway. We don’t know what’s going on,” Steve answers, level-headed as ever.


Loki’s still disoriented and off balance; he staggers and trips over a jutting stone and topples over, falling to his knees. He stares down at the ground below his hands incredulously, as if he can hardly believe he’d be so close to it. His lips move, but they can’t hear him.


“What’s he saying?” asks Natasha.


“Hang on. Jarvis, focus in on Loki’s speech patterns, we’ve got to hear what he’s saying… Yeah, that’s good, sharpen, lessen noise.”


“—don’t care what you think you are, you can’t do this, you cannot. You haven’t the power. I have no allegiance to you.”


“Did you all catch that?” Tony asks. It’s not making any sort of sense to him, but neither does a lack of an attack. Loki’s looking limp, and it’s a little disturbing, to be honest, that he doesn’t feel like his life’s in danger. And wow, talk about whiplash.


There’s a chorus of affirmatives and, as one, they move into the danger zone. Loki’s digging his fingers into the dirt. The closer he gets, the easier Tony can see the state of him; he’s bruised and battered, and he’s missing a layer or two of his armor, only layers of black left where his gold plating had stood.


Still, the crazy’s remained; when he sees them approaching, fanned out enough to take care of every side, he starts to laugh. “Excellent, brother. Leaving me to the mortal defenders.”


“Uh, Avengers, actually, if we’re getting technical,” Tony cuts in. “What are you doing here, Loki.”


In answer, Loki spits at his suit.


Loki pushes himself to shaky feet and cranes his head back to glare up at the sky. “You have no right,” he howls, and all of them take a quick step back, because yikes. “None at all. How dare you! I am not a part of your kingdom anymore than you are my brother, Thor. If you mean to kill me, do it directly, you coward.”


“Listen, I know this might come as a shock to you, but Thor’s in Asgard,” Tony snipes, and it’s just Steve planting a hand in the middle of his chest plate that stops him from going up against Loki now. “He left to take you to whatever the hell kind of prison system they’ve got on the great Viking planet, so if you wouldn’t mind, go back there.”


Loki gives a harsh, short laugh and spreads his hands wide. “Prison, as you so delicately put it, was not made for one such as me. And neither, due in no small part to my brother’s cowardice, is death.”


“So what,” Tony says, stubbornly, because no, brain, shut up, you’re wrong, Thor wouldn’t. “I’m sure he can find something. There are eight other realms. You could always go play house with the—what were they? Ice trolls?”


The glare that Loki sends him was always scarier when lit up by the heavy green light that usually accompanied it. Still, it’s a look that promises a slow death, so when Loki takes a step towards him, he acts on instinct, blasting a low-level repulsor beam into his chest. It should be enough to stop Loki, for a moment, and it’s mostly stalling while he gets the blasters that he wants online, but it doesn’t work the way it should.


Instead, it sends Loki flying head over heels backwards, skidding the final few feet, chest smoking.


“Oh my god,” Natasha says after a moment. “I think you killed him.”


Chapter Text

He didn’t kill him. He was just very thoroughly unconscious, enough so that the next time the god came to, he had his hands cuffed behind him and was being leveled up by two very brave agents. He thrashed in their grip, yelling about how he would not be contained by mortals and that he would call down all the hordes of Hel upon anyone who touched him.


He didn’t break the cuffs.


He didn’t even seriously injure anybody.


It was all just really, very lucky, and Tony didn’t trust it for a moment.


“Can we just talk about how weird this is, please?” Tony asks. They’re sitting in a conference room in the middle of being debriefed, and Fury’s got his eye on his screens, flipping through, looking at what, though, Tony has no idea. He seriously doubts that anything SHIELD has is going to come in handy at the moment. He’s checked. “You can’t have a demigod in handcuffs. Much less in a regular holding cell. That’s just asking for trouble.”


Fury snorts. “Then what would you suggest? Checking him into a hotel?”


“No, but a bit more security might help me sleep easily at night.”


“He’s powerless,” Natasha chimes in. She’s got her eyes on the video feed from Loki’s cell; they’ve all been watching him pace back and forth across the small cement square for the last hour. “How did that even happen?”


“No idea,” Tony lies. He’s been paying attention; why haven’t they? He’s not doing their homework for them. At least, not until he knows more than just conjecture. “You know what we should do? We should ask Thor. Oh, wait.”


“Is there any way that we could get in touch with him?” Steve asks. “Thor?”


“Sure,” Clint deadpans, crossing his arms across his chest. “I’ve got him on my celestial speed dial. Should I give it a whirl?”


Steve rolls his eyes. “I didn’t understand any of that.”


“We could always try just asking him.” Four pairs of eyes and one extra turn to stare at Bruce, and he raises his hands. “It’s worth a shot. Not like he’s got anywhere to be. And, uh,” he adds, as an afterthought, “I’d rather it wasn’t me. Let’s let the big guy chill out for a little bit.”


“Fine,” Fury says finally, closing down the files on his screen panels in one sweep of his hand. “Stark. Your play.”


“Wait, what?” He must’ve heard wrong. Surely it wasn’t Stark that came out of Fury’s mouth. Stark sounds like lots of things. Like Clint, for example. Or Natasha. Or even Steve.


Clint stands immediately. “I’d love to—”


“No,” Fury replies curtly, not even sparing a one-eyed glance in his direction.


He narrows his eyes at the director. “Why not?”


“Because I need answers and not injuries. Same goes for Natasha,” he adds, who has the good grace to say nothing, only raising an eyebrow. Fury notices. “Don’t sass me. No for Banner—Rogers. How are you with interrogation techniques?”


“Ah… well, if all I’m doing is talking to him, I guess I could…”


“But why me?” Tony asks, and if he’s whining a little bit, nobody’s pointing it out.


“Answers, not a dead god, and if I send those two in there—” There’s angry grumbling from Clint and a cool glare from Natasha. “It won’t be pretty. Banner will go green, and Rogers would be too good cop.”


“Sir,” Steve protests, but there’s not a lot behind it and, if anything, he looks fairly relieved at the idea of Tony stepping up to the plate.  


“So Mr. Stark,” Fury says, turning his back to Steve. “I take it you know the way to the holding cells.”





There are several reasons why this is a bad idea, and Tony’s brain helpfully supplies all of them, (some of them in Russian, just to mix it up a bit) so by the time he reaches the cell and sees the guards in front of it (are those guns his? Those guns better be his. Those guns are works of art.), the wide, nervous stare they cast each other is damn near encouraging.


“Hi,” Tony says. “I’m here to piss of a god.”

“I wouldn’t encourage it, Mr. Stark,” the guard on the left says, swallowing thickly. He’s a big guy, at least four inches and maybe fifty pounds on Tony, and he’s scared. God, Tony reminds himself. Everyone should be scared.


“Right. Just let me through. Everything’ll be fine.” He pats the man on the shoulder for some kind of emphasis and tries not to blink too much as the door slides open. Right.


The god of mischief is standing in a corner, pressed up against it like he’s worried about catching something from the rest of the room. He’s paler than usual, and his hair’s gone limp and scraggly, falling into wide, bruised-looking eyes. He looks like someone who’s seen far too much in far too little time. For a moment, Tony feels… well, if not bad, sympathetic. And then Loki catches sight of him, straightens up, and his mouth opens.


“Anthony Stark,” Loki sneers. “Much less formidable outside of your… armor.” He says it like most people would say dirty contaminated tin can, and Tony grins at him, wide and insincere.


“Well, that’s good. I’m glad we’ve got such easy chemistry; that’ll make this easier. You know, your eyes are a lot less green when you’re powerless. Huh. That’s got to suck. Less attractive and useless—that’s what it is, isn’t it? You’ve been power-stripped.” Tony takes a step towards him but he doesn’t stop talking; he’s never seen Loki looks so cornered. So vulnerable. “How’d it happen by the way? Did you piss off the bigger fish?” It’s hardly a surprise when Loki lunges at him, teeth bared for blood.


It is a surprise for both of them when Loki doesn’t end up with blood so much as an electric shock that sends him reeling back into the far wall, chest heaving.


“Well,” Tony says, taking a smooth step backwards. “It’s been real. Really. So now I’m going.”


He can feel Loki’s eyes boring into his back as he beats a quick retreat. He’ll count this one as a win. From, uh, farther away.






“I was right,” Tony says, as soon as Nick Fury answers the phone. Phone calls with the director were easier on both of them, not to mention the handy dandy hang-up function, which Tony had no qualms about overusing. 


“About what?” Fury asks. 


“Well, we all know how Thor got here the first time. Loki’s got the same shtick. Powerless, here on Middle Earth or whatever.”


“And that’s all you got out of him.” He doesn’t sound surprised. Tony would mind, really, but Happy’s pulling up and all he wants to do is go home.


“Yup,” he answers cheerfully, climbing in. “That’s it. Oh, by the way, what’s with the shock-collar?”


“Congratulations, Stark,” Fury says, cool as anything. Too cool, actually. Too happy.


“On what?”


“On being a part of the first test run of that particular device.”


“Test run.”




“Of a prototype?”




“With a Norse god.”


“Problem, Mr. Stark?” And, oh yeah, that is totally silent Nick Fury laughter coming through the line.


“Oh, no, none at all. It wasn’t like I was in immediate danger, or anything. Hey, tell me something, does S.H.I.E.L.D.’s insurance policy cover death by demigod, or would it just lead to one hell of a write up?”


Chapter Text


For all of his forced (read: false) grudging acceptance of the prospect, Tony was happy when they’d all moved in, when ‘home’ had become Avengers Mansion. He liked space, liked being able to stretch out and use every available surface, but he didn’t like emptiness, and that’s all the big house had been. Empty and echoing with things that didn’t mean as much as they should or, worse, that meant too much for him to think on. But with the additions of a super soldier, two master assassins, and a like mind with a penchant for green, it wasn’t silent anymore. It was space, but it wasn’t empty space.


Or, he reflects, yanking an arrow out of the wall, tenderly treated space. “Barton,” he barks, knowing that Clint had to be somewhere, and if worse came to worse, he could always hide his arrows on the moon. He had something for that, somewhere. He had to. “Keep your arrows out of the plaster.”


“Yes, sir!” Tony is so well conditioned that he doesn’t so much as flinch when Clint drops, grinning, from the ceiling, almost directly on top of him. He shoves the arrow into the marksman’s chest and steps around him, grinning to himself at the way his face falls. “Wait, seriously?” Clint demands, walking after him. “That’s it? No jump, no alarm, nothing?”


“You’re predictable.”


“I feel cheated,” he grumbles.


The other Avengers, sans Thor, had arrived at the mansion shortly after Tony. Tony assumed, from the thoughtful looks all around, that they’d seen most of what had happened in the cell. They’d probably seen Loki’s attempted attack, but he doubted that they had seen the blatant, animal panic in his eyes. He’s right, he knows he is—a powerless Loki is damn near as dangerous as a super-charged Loki. He knows first hand how powerful desperation can make you.


But nobody else seems worried. They’d all disassembled promptly on arrival, and the mood in the mansion is light, happy. Ding, dong, the witch is dead, everybody celebrate. But Tony’s not counting his flying monkeys just yet. He’d seen Wicked. Twice.


Tony doesn’t meet anymore embedded weaponry on his way downstairs, and he finds Bruce, Natasha, and Steve sprawled across the sofa, the evening news going full force. There’s nothing more on Loki—just a ‘low-risk meteor’ that landed on a stretch of desert. Nice cover, Tony thinks, but it would be nicer if people hadn’t seen the remarkably clear shadow of a man walking through the dust. And then the video footage rolls again, and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s done something spectacular there, because it’s the same shaky, uneven camera shots only, now, the figure staggering out is revealed to be…


“Is that Coulson?” Steve asks, sitting up a little straighter. “But he wasn’t—” Natasha pats him on the knee.

“It was edited, Captain.”

“But…” Steve sighs, but he leaves it at that. Bruce just lets out a low, even whistle.

“Well, they’ve covered everything.”


“Unless someone drives down that way,” Natasha points out. “There are SHIELD structures set up all along that area.”

 “Maybe they’ll make them invisible—ow.” Clint ducks back behind the couch he’d popped up from, narrowly avoiding the pillow that Tony sends sailing at his head.


Stop popping up out of nowhere.” The sudden rumble of thunder does a hell of a job getting his point across, and Tony grins. Ha.


It takes a moment for ‘thunder’ to meet ‘seventy-six degrees, cloudless, slight wind,’ but when it does, Tony’s the first one up, going towards the back door. It’s closer, not to mention the fact that he’s got a suit hidden underneath a wall panel by the door, and if worse comes to worse, he’d really rather not be naked.


Steve is right behind him when they step outside, and—


“What the fu—


“Language,” Steve says, automatic and hoarse, but Tony knows he’s thinking the same thing because he can practically see his jaw on the floor.


“Friends!” Thor booms cheerfully, arms spread wide as if in preparation for a hug. The hug might’ve happened, if, for example, he’d been on his feet and not on the back of a giant, eight-legged horse.


Tony swivels his head around to Steve. “Have I been drinking?” Steve shakes his head, mouth still gaping. “Really? Are you sure? Because this would make much more sense if I was drinking. What the hell is that thing?”


The thing in question swings its great, shaggy head down so that it’s nose to head with Tony—oh god oh god don’t move holy shit how sharp are horse teeth oh god death by spider horse thing why is he not drinking—and puffs out a breath of hot, steamy air.


Thor laughs in the face of Tony’s death by giant horse, which is all well and good. “This is Sleipnir! The loyal steed of Odin! Lent to me by my father for an important visit.” The general joy quotient of his tone lessens with every word until he sounds the closest to somber Tony has ever heard him.


On the other hand, Tony’s a little bit distracted. “Right, listen, before that, could you please ask Slipper too hoof back a little?”

“Sleipnir,” Thor says chidingly, to Tony or to the horse he’s not sure, but it takes a few steps back, still staring condescendingly down its nose at Tony. He makes a face at it. It whinnies loudly enough to shake every window in the house. “Easy,” Thor hums, rubbing its flank.


“Important visit?” Natasha asks, slipping out from around Steve silently. “Bruce is sitting this one out,” she adds. “I saw the, uh, noble steed from inside, and I don’t believe it would be particularly beneficial to his health to be… startled.”


“Startled?” Thor’s brow furrows under his winged helmet. “How so?”


“They don’t make them like that on Midgard,” Natasha deadpans.


Thor nods sadly. “I am sorry for your hardship, Lady Natasha.”




“What was the important visit?” Steve asks, trying valiantly to keep his eyes on Thor's face and away from the horse. “I mean, we’re all happy to see you. How’s it been in Asgard?”


Leave it to Captain Steve Rogers to try and make small talk when the world's biggest house pet is busy trampling through Tony’s rosebushes. As Steve asks his questions, Tony watches the beast lean down to coolly sniff at one of the flowerbeds, and promptly pull up full plants, jaw working furiously. 


“All is well in Asgard,” Thor says, and he sounds sincere. “There is peace.”


“Good. That’s great, Thor,” Steve says earnestly. Tony’s still watching Slipn—Sleepe—Slipper, close enough. He’s going for the hydrangeas next. Tony can feel it. “I take it you’ve heard about where your… brother ended up?”


Thor sighs heavily. “You know of how I found myself upon Earth, with all the abilities of a mortal, stripped of my godhood?” He waits for a nod. Tony’s still distracted. Not the peonies. Just not the—damn. “I brought my brother back, as we agreed. My father would have him… punished, a punishment lasting all eternity. I deemed it too extreme. My brother asked for death.” A frown dashes across his face, but it’s gone in a moment. “But a solution presented itself. When I needed to change, to become more than what I was, I was cast out! I resented it, I didn’t understand it, but it bettered me. This is what I want for my brother!”


“Wait.” Tony tunes in a second late. “You exiled him?”


Thor is nodding way too happily for someone who has just doomed the free world. “Yes. Stripped of his abilities and his godhood, he shall not regain them until such a time as he is deemed fit.”


“What?” Clint succeeds in startling Thor and his demon-horse in the way that he hadn’t succeeded in Tony, and Tony watches as the creature plants a hoof smoothly through his birdbath. Clint grins, and Thor guffaws.


“Well done, archer! Thou art truly stealthy beyond measure.”


“Thank you.” He preens like the hawk he is, and Tony wonders, for a moment, if he and Slippy have bonded enough for him to sic him on where Hawkeye perches on the side of the roof. God knows it’d be an easy reach. “But seriously. I get how you hide a giant hammer. But Loki doesn’t have a hammer.”


Thor nods. “His essence is contained in his spear, and it is hidden in a spell even he cannot unravel. There are no shortcuts in this. Only by change shall my brother once more hold his mantle of power!”


Oh, god, he sounds so pleased with himself, but seriously—”How is it a good idea to send him somewhere where he is a wanted criminal? Not to mention the fact that he’s vulnerable now—execution is beyond likely, and—” Four pairs of nearly-human eyes and one very pissed-looking monster horse glare at him. “What?”


“Tony Stark,” Thor says, voice somehow eerily more grave when he’s not booming or bellowing or yelling, “You would kill a powerless man?”


Tony’s eyes widen. “I didn’t mean me, Thor. I just meant—”

“S.H.I.E.L.D.’s not going to execute him,” Natasha says thoughtfully. “Not now. Not like this, considering the… circumstances.” She eyes Thor carefully. “This means you’re sticking around though, right? To keep an eye on him?”


“Nay,” Thor says apologetically. “I must watch over Asgard.”


“Great. King business. We’ll take care of the psychopath, don’t you worry about us. And what happens when he gets his mojo back, Thor? You think he’s suddenly gonna be all gung-ho for the good guys?” Tony snorts. “He’s not. It’s who he is. He’s a bad guy, no gray area here.”


Surprisingly, it’s Steve who comes to Loki’s defense. “Anyone can change, Tony,” he says, and it looks to Tony like he’s attempting some kind of meaningful look, but Tony has shut down any and all receptors for deep emotional connection, so he just looks back at him. “All it takes is the right situation, the right dose, the right place, right time.” Steve’s eyes land, however fleetingly, on the arc reactor, and Tony grits his teeth.


“Yeah, well. You have to have that possibility somewhere in you. And Loki does not.”


Thor shrugs. “In that case, he shall not regain his powers, and there are no worries regardless. He will be mortal for the rest of his days.” The demi-god looks unutterably sad at the thought, and Tony cringes internally.


“Maybe we can rehabilitate him,” he says glumly, ignoring the looks he gets from either side and staring at the horse instead, who still looks decidedly unimpressed. “Make him into a fine, upstanding citizen.” Steve claps him on the shoulder. Thor’s eyes are doing a disturbingly effective puppy-dog thing. Clint whoops.


After Thor and the steed from hell have galloped away in a burst of light (leaving Tony’s garden looking like an abandoned war zone, no big deal) Clint shimmies down a drain-pipe to land next to Tony. “Glad you volunteered, Tony,” he says, grinning cheekily and nudging Tony in the ribs. “I’d’ve hated that job.” He laughs and follows the other two inside.


Tony glares at his back. “Always happy to help stop world domination attempts.” Wait.





He did not volunteer.


Tony Stark did not volunteer.












Chapter Text

He didn’t volunteer. Seriously. He didn’t.


And yet, it’s still him being thrust into the lion’s den, with a wild-eyed, crazy looking Loki who’s perched on all fours on his mattress, hair sticking up in every direction and bruised bags under his eyes the size of China.


As soon as Tony steps in, Loki flinches back, his hands raising as if automatically. Tony’s still a little boggled at the lack of violent green energy or any sign of the raw power that usually leaks out of him. Like this, he just looks small. Small and folded in on himself, as if that’ll take him somewhere else, wake him up.


Tony shakes off any kind of personal déjà-vu that might cause and clears his throat. “Hi. How’re you enjoying your stay at Chateau de S.H.I.E.L.D.?”


Loki doesn’t answer, but he didn’t really expect him to, so he stays where he is, leaning casually up against the door just in case the need for a quick escape presents itself.


Loki’s gaze, when it lands on him, is intense and still brilliantly, forcefully green, regardless of whatever words Tony cast around him during the last visit. “You’ve seen my ‘brother’,” he rasps, tone of voice letting Tony know exactly what he thought of whatever filial claims Thor believes he has. “What has he told you, Stark?”


He sounds wrong. His silver tongue isn’t serving him the way it ought to, and Tony takes another look at him. He’s pale, paler than usual, and his lips are dry and cracking. Thin, occasional tremors have his hands clenching into the fabric of his pants.


“Have they fed you?” Tony asks.


That takes Loki off guard. He blinks, and then narrows his eyes at him, and the attempt to draw himself together into his usual tall, haughty threat of himself is sad, at best. “I am not a kept beast to be fed and watered. I am a god—”


“Not right now, you’re not,” Tony snaps, because, seriously. He doesn’t need to hear Loki taking a long sail on that river in Egypt. It doesn’t matter, though, because he knows the answer, anyways.  “That’s a no.” Tony growls under his breath, raking a rough hand through his hair. “The last thing we need is you dying of thirst in here—I’ll be right back.” He doesn’t look back for Loki’s reaction, and the guards open the door immediately.


Happy is a champion of the free world, and Tony tells him as much when he drives up with a food delivery and a couple water bottles.

“How’s it going in there?” Happy asks, and all Tony can do is shrug.

“He’s… in shock, maybe. Not quite ready to accept that he’s just as human as the rest of us.”

Happy leaves after wishing him luck, and Tony goes back in, bag of food and drink under one arm. The guards raise eyebrows, but neither stops him, so he guesses there weren’t any actual rules set in place for this particular prisoner.


“Here.” He uncaps one of the bottles and offers it to Loki. He doesn’t hesitate to take it, and the first bottle is gone in a few moments, the long column of his throat working its way back into order. Tony holds out another silently as Loki finishes the first one, setting it down on the floor. This one lasts longer, and he takes a few moments to breath between the first sip and the last.


When he’s finished that, Tony hands him a paper-wrapped sandwich, smiling slightly at the way Loki takes it from him gingerly, eyeing the brown wrapping as if it’s something alien. Which, Tony reminds himself, it is, to him.


Loki darts a glance up at him before he unwraps it, mouth twisted into a frown. “Why?”


“You were hungry.” Tony shrugs. “You have to eat. That’s how this works.”


Loki sniffs. “Asgardians eat. As do Jotüns,” he adds, and if there’s bitterness there, it’s well guarded.


“Just eat,” Tony prods, because he is not going to sit here and listen to the god of mischief whine. He needed food, Tony got him food, and that’s all there is to it. He’s no use to anyone dead, and wouldn’t that just be embarrassing, a super villain dying of starvation right underneath SHIELD headquarters?


Loki unwraps it carefully, bending back each layer of the paper and running his fingers over it curiously. The sticker label gives him a bit of trouble, and Tony fights back an irresponsible laugh. Once the sandwich is unwrapped—it’s simple, just cheese, turkey, tomato, lettuce, mayo, hoagie—Loki stares down at it in confusion. “What is this?”


“It’s—seriously?” Tony blinks at him. There’s no way. He’s been wrecking the earth for how long? And he’s never had a sandwich? “You’ve got to be kidding me. Even St—Cap wasn’t this bad. It’s a sandwich—Look, you’ve had bread before, right? Meat? Cheese? Vegetables?”


“Of course,” Loki sniffs. “Just never put together into something so…” He holds it up to the light, turning it over in his hands. “Compact. It’s strange.”


“Take a bite,” Tony cajoles, and it takes a few more skeptical looks, but Loki is finally lowering his mouth to it, and the way his eyes light up, for a moment, is enough to make Tony smile.


But then Tony remembers that it’s Loki, and Loki remembers himself, so he doesn’t say anything, just eats the rest of it in silence, and Tony looks for something else to look at.


Loki finishes quickly and folds the paper back up—the label gives him an issue again, sticking to his fingers, and when he tries to shake it off, it folds over his hand, and he stares at it curiously as the glue pulls away from his skin. Tony wonders, briefly, what he would do with a sheet of stickers, and a fleeting picture of Loki covered with little round smiley faces making stupid expressions invades his thoughts. He banishes it, because Loki.


“The last time I saw you,” Loki says, handing the folded paper to Tony, who tosses it into the bag, “I threw you out of a window.”


“Uh, yeah. ”


“And yet you have showed me a kindness. Why is that, Stark? Have you forgotten so easily the ways of enemies?” Loki’s eyes are shrewd; he’s searching for something that Tony is pretty sure he doesn’t have, so he walks over and plucks the two empty bottles from the floor – Loki flinches back; Tony doesn’t miss it—and tosses them into the bag. He hands Loki the last bottle in the bag, and he takes it.


“See you later,” Tony says, heading for the door.

“What did Thor Odinson tell you?” Loki asks, when he raises his hand to knock for release. Tony looks back. Loki’s not looking at him. He has his eye on the bottle’s label. He slides his finger below it, pulling up, and Tony smirks when he finds the sticky glue residue below one corner.


“I think you know. Or you’ve got a pretty good idea, at least.”


“He expects me to change,” Loki says thoughtfully, running the bottle over his hand. “I shall not. But what he has taken from me, I shall find, and once I am recovered, I shall—”


“He said you wouldn’t be able to. To find it. That they’ve worked their own magic around yours.”


Loki’s answering smirk looks more tired than threatening, and it’s the first time he’s almost-smiled that Tony doesn’t feel like his life is in danger. “Magic doesn’t work like that.”


“It did on Thor,” Tony says, without thinking. Loki bristles instantaneously, one hand convulsing around the bottle. The cap flies off and bounces into the ceiling, ricocheting back into the opposite wall.


I am not Thor,” Loki whispers, and his smile is all manic. It’s terrifying and so, naturally, Tony pushes it.


“Maybe not, but you’re in the same position. You’re exiled and powerless, just like he was. Only, Thor made friends. All you’ve made is…” Tony makes a show of looking around himself. “Well, you’ve made a lovely home in a beautiful cell—tell me, how much do you pay for rent?”


He’s startled Loki, which is nice, but a moment later, he throws back his head and laughs. “I would revel in killing all of you. I know just how, too, Stark. It shall be cruel and it shall be slow, and—“ Loki stands and takes one step towards him before the electric shock—the source of which Tony can’t see; had they gone invasive to keep him under check?—sends him skidding back a few steps.

The look he shoots Tony is little more than hurt confusion and, goddammit, how are he and Thor not blood related? God knows they’ve got the puppy-dog eyes down pat, both of them. A moment later, though, they’re exchanged for a cool indifference, and Loki delivers a wan smile before he sits down again.


Tony shakes his head. “I think it’s amazing that a loss of a weapon can have you knocked down so many pegs.”


“Then you’re a fool,” Loki answers, lifting the bottle to his lips and taking a slow, delicate sip. “Thor’s hammer is a mere weapon. My magic—” His lips curl into a sneer. “You’ve built yourself a false heart to keep you alive. My magic is much the same. It is an appendage, Stark, a vital organ. I shall die without it.” He finally meets Tony’s eye, and it’s all Tony can do to press closer against the door. That’s what helplessness looks like. Every rigid angle of Loki’s body is painted the colors of defeat, and he looks ready to welcome it with condescension. He looks fearless. Dangerous, Tony’s brain supplies. Trouble.


“If my brother had wanted to kill me,” he says calmly, placing the half-full bottle on the floor next to his cot, “he should have done it outright. Thinking ahead never really was his forte.”


“Whose was it?” Tony asks, as if he doesn’t already know the answer. There’s a trace of amusement in those emerald eyes.



Chapter Text


“There has to be a better way to do this,” Tony says, blowing up the video feed on his monitor. Loki’s playing with one of the water bottles from the other day (two days, Tony thinks, and wonders if they’ve fed him while he’s been defending the world). He flips it over and spins it in his hand, only to watch it topple off and roll across the floor. Tony can practically feel his intensity through the video, the way he’s staring at the plastic—Tony’s surprised it doesn’t melt under the pressure, lack of magic be damned.


He’s the only whose been invited to this little conference, and Nick Fury stands at the other end of the table, his hands crossed behind his back. He doesn’t look happy. Or maybe he does, Tony’s never really sure.


“And what do you propose, Stark?” he asks, thoroughly unamused.


“Regular feeding, for one thing. Radical concept, I know. What can I say? I’m a revolutionary.”


Fury sighs and leans forward, trying a little too hard to convey his earnestness. “We tried. We sent to men in there with trays. Each time, he almost electrocuted himself into a coma.” Not to mention that the guards probably managed to piss themselves. Tony, through sheer force of will, refrains from commenting on it, and instead focuses on something else that’s been bothering him.


“How are you doing that, by the way? I didn’t see a collar or a brace or anything. What’s zapping him?”


Nick Fury’s frown is enough to make lesser men tremble. As it is, Tony isn’t programmed like other men, so he just stares back with a carefully guileless expression, and it works. “A bug,” he grounds out finally, “back of the neck. It keeps him…”


“Docile? Crippled? Receptive?”


“Under control.” One heavy eyebrow rises. “Remind me again why he’s so taken with you?”


“It’s either the charisma or the full head of hair.”


“Or it’s because you’re both irritating assholes. Now get out of my building, Stark.” Tony doesn’t need to be asked twice.

It’s actually a little bit disturbing, how easy this feels. It’s a close to a day off as any of earth’s mightiest heroes gets, and everyone had been in high enough spirits when he’d left. Clint and Natasha had gone off god knows where, Bruce was ‘meditating’ (which Tony knew for a fact involved Golden Girls reruns, never mind how) and Steve was off either drawing cats or saving them.


And Tony was bored.


So he’d gone to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, thinking he could, at the very least, get that vein pulsing in Nick Fury’s neck. Tony was keeping him spry. Of course, the way he’d planned it hadn’t involved said pirate smiling upon seeing him and ushering him into a room of his own volition. It was weird. Weird and creepy.


So maybe that’s why, he tells himself, stepping into the hallway that will take him down to Loki’s level, he’s more anticipatory than— what had he been before? Nervous? Terrified?— unhappy about the whole situation. Unhappy worked. No need to dramatize anything. He’s less unhappy than he was the first time dropping into prisoners’ quarters, and maybe that’s a good thing. God knows Loki holds enough crazy, pent-up emotion for the whole world; Tony doesn’t need to add onto any of that. The guards nod at him on arrival, and he stands back to give them a slightly mocking salute.


“Hasn’t tried to kill anyone yet, has he?”

“Not today,” says the one on the right, trying for gruff but only just barely missing squeaky. He’s a kid, too young and not jaded enough, but, hey, S.H.I.E.L.D. hired him, didn’t they, so they’re not all that discerning. Tony tries to give the kid a reassuring smile.

“I wouldn’t worry about it. I’m sure there’s only so many ways you can kill someone with a plastic water bottle, and chances are you’ll definitely see him coming.” He claps the kid on the shoulder, once, before entering, and winks back at him before the doors slide closed.


He will treasure that face for the rest of his life.




Tony turns around. Loki is seated Indian-style on the floor, the three bottles placed around him like holy wards. It takes Tony a moment to say anything, because the shadows under his eyes have grown. His cheeks are sunken in, and his hair hangs shoved back in greasy coils. He looks every part the prisoner of war, and all it does is make Tony feel just as dirty. But—


“Did you change? You changed. What are you wearing? Wait, how—” It’s a simple outfit; white cotton v-neck, gray hospital-looking pants. They’re both a little to big, and it makes him look paler, more shrunken, but it’s something in a show of hospitality, and Tony gives Fury back one point for all of the ones he lost in not feeding him. “It’s gotta be more comfortable than the leather, right? I mean, for one thing, you can move in that. Can I sit?” Tony drops to the floor without waiting for an answer, with his legs crossed and his back against the door.


Loki doesn’t bother talking back. He closes his eyes and bows his head. “Right,” Tony says, filling the silence. “I guess you’re not feeling really chatty, huh? Well, what about we get out of here? Where would you go?”


That gets Loki’s attention. His head snaps up and he narrows his eyes at Tony, his fingers clenching against the thin fabric across his knees. “If you are attempting a jest at my expense, Stark—”


“No,” Tony says, and this is one of those times where his mouth is a little ahead of the brain that’s screaming no shut up Tony stop stop abort mission, so he continues to babble. “I think that would be good for you, actually, breathing a little outside air, and you look like you could do with some food and there’s a diner about half a mile away, Happy could come get us, it would only take him a few minutes, and—”


His brain succeeds, and he stops, remembering who he’s talking to and who he is. “Um. Or maybe that’s not such a good idea.”


Loki’s stare turns scathing. “Of course not, you foolish man. They wouldn’t let you release me.”


But maybe it’s not such a bad idea. He needs food, right? And who’d be a better guard than Tony? Well, okay, maybe back-up would be nice, but he’s sure Steve—he’s pulling out his phone as soon as the thought processes, and Steve picks up on the second ring.


“Hello?” he says, and his voice is a little far away, like he’s forgotten which one is the ear end and which one is the mouth end again.


“Steve,” Tony says, and then waits, patiently, through the fumbling that follows.


“Hi, Tony,” Steve says finally, and his relief makes Tony smile. Loki’s ignoring him again, pulling the two bottles at his sides together with the middle one. He’s rearranging them like it’s some sort of game, scooting them along the floor with the sort of single-minded focus that makes Tony nine kinds of nervous.



“Hey, listen, what are you doing for lunch?” Tony asks.


“Um, nothing. Did you want to meet somewhere?”

“How kind of you to ask,” Tony says sweetly, and he doesn’t miss the way Loki’s hand stills for a moment, fingers perched across the top of the middles bottle. He picks it up and plants it on the outside, pressing the three together again harshly; he knows he’s been caught. “I was thinking the diner next to the—actually, maybe it’s a bad idea to blindside you with this, okay, never mind, meet me at S.H.I.E.L.D.?”


“Um… sure?”


“Thanks, Steve, you’re a pal, listen, I have to go, meet me in Loki’s… room.” Cell seems a bit rude.


What? Tony, are you—” Tony hangs up and slips his phone into his pocket and settles back against the door again. Loki’s staring at him, and Tony would classify that look as unsure if it weren’t for the fact that he still looked like he might attempt death by plastic. On the other hand, at least they were more or less evenly matched. Loki might’ve been supercharged at some point, but right now he was no more than human, and an underfed, sick looking one at that. A sick-looking one with enough force behind his stare to make even Tony Stark sweat it a little. “What? What are you looking at?”


“You,” Loki says after a moment, water bottles forgotten. “I can’t decide.”


“Decide what?” How to kill me? What to use to torture me? Which window I’ll fly out of next?


“Whether you’re stupid or suicidal.” And with that, he’s dismissed, attention flying back to the bottles in his hands. And Tony can’t resist; he snatches on out of the middle as soon as Loki slides it into place, and, while Loki stares, jaw slack and lips parted, squeezes and twists, sending the cap popping off and shooting towards the ceiling.


“There has to be another option,” he says, replacing the bottle, capless and dented. Loki glances from it to his face, incredulous.






“Perhaps you’re both.” It makes Tony laugh.


“Maybe I’m just as crazy as you are.”


“Crazy.” Loki snorts, one eyebrow raised. “That’s your diagnosis.”


“For me? Or for you?” Tony shoves up to his feet, brushing his hands off on his thighs. The amount of dust in here is enough to make you sick, and that is one thing he doesn’t need, thank you very much. “I think it’s a pretty even sentiment that you are, in fact, crazy. I think Bruce even called you a cat.”


Loki’s brow furrows. “If that’s a turn of phrase, I’m unfamiliar with it.”


Tony frowns. It was something about cats. “I think he was talking about your brain. That it’s a box full of—no! I’ve got it, okay, a bag full of cats.” Loki still doesn’t get it. He rolls his eyes. “It means you’re crazy. Insane. A wild card with a lust for vengeance, I don’t know how else to put this, tell me when I can stop.”


“You can stop,” he says quietly. He ducks his head back down to the ruined water bottle; deft presses have it relaxing back into shape, and Tony says, over the crackling,


“Is he wrong?” But if Loki hears him, he doesn’t answer. 

Chapter Text



Tony Stark looks really, really happy to see him, and the last time he looked that happy about it, it had led to Steve being used as target practice, to ‘test out that beautiful shield of yours, doesn’t that sound like fun, huh, doesn’t it, Steve,’ and the last thing he wants is a repeat of that.


“Hi, Tony,” he says, trying to keep it as cheerful as he can. “You sounded kind of funny on the phone. Are you feeling alright?”


“Great, brilliant, awesome, listen, walk with me back to Loki’s really quick? I’ll fill you in on the way.” Tony leads him while he talks, and Steve can’t help but feel a little bit uncomfortable. He doesn’t know what’s going on, Tony’s acting strangely, and now he’s being brought to the holding cell of a deranged criminal?


But when they get to the cell, Loki certainly doesn’t look the part. He looks exhausted and battered and abused, and it makes him draw in a breath for a moment. He’s killed more than a hundred people, Steve. Whatever he’s getting now, he deserves. But he can’t quite find it in himself to think that honestly, not when there’s no way for him to fight back.


He sticks out a hand to stop Tony from opening the door and Tony looks back at him, questioning. “What’s happened to him?” Steve asks quietly, gesturing through the glass. Loki doesn’t seem to be able to hear them; he has his head down and is trying to balance one disposable plastic water bottle on top of another, while a third lies, discarded, by his knee.


“Eh.” Tony shrugs. “According to him, being stripped of his magic is killing him. I don’t believe it is, though,” he adds hastily, “I think he was just saying that, like we’re all dying slowly, mortality, et cetera.”


“Cheerful,” Steve says drily. Tony doesn’t slow down.


“And I’m pretty sure that’s all it is, but I also think that if he’s going to be a human prisoner, he should at least have a little bit of a chance to be a human-human first and he threw me out of a window so I’m thinking if I can let that go, you can all—wait, no, sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself, I want to go eat.”  Steve blinks.


A lot of things have changed in 70-odd years, but he’s reasonably sure that most people still talk like regular human beings. Tony Stark is not a regular human being, and he talks almost as quickly as one of his robotic devices, and Steve has long since stopped trying to keep up.


“I didn’t catch any of that,” he says, when both the silence and the meaningful look Tony is probably attempting to send let him know that he’s finished talking.


“You. Me. Lunch. Now.” That he understands, so he nods. The only thing that doesn’t makes sense is Tony opening the door and holding his hand out, tossing his head back in a ‘get over here now’ gesture.


“Captain?” one of the guards says—young, almost too young. He sounds nervous. “What are you doing with the prisoner?”


“Nothing at all,” Steve says firmly, at the same time as Tony says, “Getting him out,” and the poor kid’s face crumples.


“Please don’t let him out,” he whispers to Steve, the hands on his gun tightening. “Please don’t.”


Steve lays a hand on the boys shoulder, and he feels him lean into it. He’d gotten good at that, at comforting soldiers… well, before. Before, he’d done it on a regular basis. After, now, he doesn’t really know if it’s working, just that he has to try. “You have my word,” he says gravely, “that he won’t do anything to harm you, alright?”


“Shouldn’t I have a say in that, Captain?” The voice is low and amused, and it has guns slinging around to face Loki. He exits the room delicately, his hands raised and his pale, bare feet brushing across the cement.


“Cuff him, boys,” Tony says cheerfully. “We’re taking him to your director.”


“Director Fury didn’t say anything about this,” says the older guard suspiciously, his gun unwavering.


“It was an impromptu sort of thing. He wants to interrogate him, thinks the luxury stay might’ve softened him up a bit.”

Steve sees the way Loki blanches, almost taking a step back. Interesting. Still, he doesn’t back down or waver, glare intensifying even though he’s gone three shades whiter, and he looks half dead on his feet.


“That right,” says the guard, snorting his disbelief. “Then why isn’t he down here?”


“You know Fury and grunt work, why do you think? Now cuff him so we can go.” Loki finally looks away from Steve to stare at Tony, his eyes wide.


“You didn’t tell me—”


“You’re the prisoner,” Tony dismisses. “We don’t have to tell you anything.”


Loki’s gaze visibly shutters, and his lips seal into a thin, tight line. The guards are still skeptical, but they slide and clasp the handcuffs around Loki’s wrists with minimal shaking. Tony grabs one of his arms and nods at Steve.


“Well, Rogers. You mind?”


Steve slides a hand around his elbow silently, and geez, there is nothing underneath his hand but skin and bone, and he can’t help but look back at Loki, thoroughly startled. Loki sees him staring and glares. Tony doesn’t believe he’s dying, but Steve’s not so sure. Maybe he doesn’t really believe in magic, but something’s reducing Loki bit by bit, and the proof is at his fingertips.


Tony’s remarkably silent as they walk back up the hallway, and all Steve can wonder is whether or not they’re doing this right. If he’s powerless, he’s human—why can’t he go into a regular jail, away from anything he can influence? He remembers vividly the last time they had Loki ‘captured,’ and he remembers the name of everyone who suffered for it. Remembers blood-soaked trading cards. He holds Loki at arms length. He disgusts him; he repels him.


But he’s human, as human as Steve and Tony and Natasha and Clint and Bruce, on most days, and so the part of Steve that begs for change wants to shake and poke and prod until the evil falls right out. He meets Tony’s eye over the top of Loki’s head, and Tony raises and eyebrow. What’s wrong? He shakes his head. Let’s just get him up to Fury.


Here’s the thing: getting him up to Fury does not involve Happy driving up and Tony shoving him and Loki into the backseat and hopping into the front.


To be fair, on a good day, Tony wouldn’t have been able to push Steve into anywhere, but he’s surprised enough to feel Loki crumple against him from the shove to topple sideways down into the little black car.


Loki shoves himself up to sitting in indignant disarray, heading for the door only to have it closed firmly in his face. “What is this, Stark?”


“It’s a sports car.” Tony peels away from the curb and heads for the city, away from SHIELD. With a prisoner in the backseat.


“It’s not an interrogation,” Loki spits. “You were taking me to be interrogated.”


Tony, what the hell is going on?” Oh, my god. He knew Tony was a wild card, had gone into this knowing that, but he hadn’t taken him for clinically insane. “Tony, pull over. Pull over and take him back.”


“No,” is all he says, and god, what Steve wouldn’t do to just pull the doors off the car and take Loki back himself, but Tony’s already pulling up to a small diner, gliding into the free spot in the front.


“Tony, what are you—you are notwhat are you doing?” He’s undoing Loki’s handcuffs, is what he’s doing, and Steve presses himself up against the door to take all of this in. Loki’s reaction, strange enough, isn’t much different. He stares at Tony with his jaw slack as the cuffs fall away from his wrists.


“You, Tony Stark, must have a death wish.”


“I’m hungry,” is how Tony answers, turning to Steve instead, who doesn’t do much more than blink at him, because really? “And he doesn’t eat, even though he should, and come on, Cap, between us we have more than enough man power to keep wand-less wizard over here in check. Not to mention the couple of volts that go through him every time he even thinks about going postal. He’s neutered—” There’s a low, aggressive growl from Loki at that—”and I’m hungry, so let’s go.” And with that, he steps out of the car, leaving Steve to stare at the super-villain slouched in the seat beside him, and wonder exactly how things could get this strange in 70 years, or if, in fact, this was all Tony.


Steve gets out of the car before Loki can move and tugs Tony aside. “Please tell me what you’re doing,” he demands, before Loki can get out and make this any more complicated.


Tony finally drops the shield of all that blind energy and all he looks is thoughtful when he answers, “I’m not sure. But if you think about what Thor’s told us… Thor’s trying to change him, and I can’t see how that would be a bad thing.”


“Yes, but—” He hears the door open behind him and lets go of Tony. “We’ll talk about this later.”


“Of course,” Tony says, and that slightly manic energy is back, and he’s all charisma and poise, 110% Stark-powered.






Tony has no idea what he’s doing, and now he’s even roped Cap into this—which, to be honest, is absolutely hilarious, because at the moment he’s too blatantly confused to be too pissed at Tony, and that’s nice—and they are both going to be in so much trouble.


Loki takes a little too long to get out of the car, and Tony can see him fumbling at the knob in confusion while Steve asks for answers that he maybe doesn’t really have. When he exits the car, his eyes dart around at the street, lip curling up at the sight of all those filthy mortals, and Tony snorts because that is probably exactly what’s going through his head right now.


“You’ll want to get over that pretty quick,” Tony advises. Loki stands a little straighter in answer. It would’ve done more in the armor that gave him a little bulk; right now he just looks frail. “Cap, prisoner. Come on. I’m starving.”


He leads them to a booth in the back and orders a salad for himself and a burger and fries for Loki. Steve seconds that for himself after a curious look in Tony’s direction, and everything, after the waitress has left, is strangely, awkwardly silent.


Loki, surprisingly, is the first to speak. “What is this?” he demands, posture screaming bored, fingers screaming otherwise. He’s turning a sugar packet over in his hands, poking at it and watching the shadow of the granules move.


Steve snorts and crosses his arms tightly against his chest. Okay. Up to him, then.


Tony pulls the packet off of his palm and tears cleanly across the top, tipping it over to spill the grains across his hand. Loki frowns. “Try it. It’s sweet.”


Loki narrows his eyes. “How do I know you aren’t—”


This is ridiculous. Tony scoops up a few grains and drops them into his mouth. “See? Not poisonous. Now try it and stop talking.”


Loki darts out his tongue and blinks, surprised. “Oh.”


“See?” Tony grins. “There’s more to be found on Midgard than a conquest.” He doesn’t answer, and goes back to the sugar basket; Tony counts it as a win.


When they get their food, Loki’s first words are “What is this?” Steve, who, Tony is discovering, has quite a bit less patience than he pretends to, huffs under his breath and takes a bite of his burger without commenting.


“It’s a cheeseburger,” Tony answer. “Cheese, meat, bun, vegetables. Better with ketchup.”


The ketchup is on Steve’s side of the booth. He doesn’t move to pass it over. Tony supposes he can’t blame him. All the same, cooperation would make Steve a little less surprised at the direction Tony intends this conversation to take. He reaches for the ketchup and pours a liberal amount into the burger and onto the fries, and shoves the basket back at Loki.


He eats silently, but he eats, which is what Tony was going for. “Did you like it?” Tony asks. He’s not looking for praise, just acknowledgement; what he gets instead is Loki glancing up, and then promptly avoiding his eye, staring down into his empty basket instead. “Okay…” Tony frowns. “Clearly, I’ve missed—”


“Does it matter?” Steve asks, voice tight and agitated. “We have to get him back before Fury has our heads.”


So Tony orders all of them milkshakes. Loki tries to drink his too fast and swears in a language Tony doesn’t understand, slamming his head down into his hand with a moan. “Damn you,” he mutters. Tony laughs.


“I can’t believe you brought him on a lunch date,” Steve murmurs, and the hand around his glass is tapping against it. Nervous tic; Tony files that away for later.


“Aw, I’m sorry. Next time I’ll ditch the third wheel, Cap, but this is important. Loki. I have a proposition for you.”


Loki looks up through squinting eyes; Tony fights back his smile. “Speak, then. I am, as ever, at your mercy.”


“And that is exactly the point. How would you like your powers back?”


“How about not at all?” Steve bursts, scrambling to his feet. “Tony. What are you talking about?”


“Immensely,” Loki says quietly, ignoring Steve entirely. “What were you considering, Stark?”

“Er…” Tony feels, rather oddly, like he’s on the wrong side of the fence, with Steve standing in front of him, slowly turning a furious shade of red, and Loki at his side, eyes curious and not murderous. “Well, I mean, I was thinking about Thor—”


Loki recoils slightly, and his gaze is decidedly cooler when he asks, “And what about the Odinson?”


“When he was exiled, he had to, uh, clean up his act, right, to get his powers back? Hammer, might of Thor, and whatever, and according to him, you’re in the same boat—”


“No, we’re not,” Loki says, just as Cap says, “No, they’re not,” and adds, “Thor might’ve been an idiot, but he wasn’t evil.”


“Precisely,” Loki says coldly, sliding back to look at Steve, but Tony doesn’t miss that little tic in his jaw.


“Exactly!” Tony crows, and now both of them are looking at him like he’s taken one too many blows to the head. “No, don’t look at me like that. Thor had to be less of an idiot, you have to be less evil.”


“You think,” Loki says slowly, “that by changing that, I will once more hold my power.”


Yes.” Tony points at him just to watch him go a little cross-eyed, and then turns it to Cap. “And you can help him.”


If he thought Steve’s eyebrows couldn’t get any closer to his hairline, he was wrong. “I’m sorry,” he says testily, “but what have you been drinking?”


“Strawberry,” he says, pointing down to his milkshake. “And come on, world’s oldest boy scout, you could totally teach him a thing or t—”


“No,” Steve says curtly. He lays a couple bills out on the table and takes a long step back. “You’ve got ‘til I get back to the mansion to get him back to his holding pen, Tony. Because at that point, I will be calling Director Fury, and that’s it.”


“I love you too, honey,” Tony yells at his back, just because he can, and all Steve does is wave back, dammit.


Well. Okay. So maybe Steve wasn’t the best person to get as an ally. He slumps back into the booth. Well, that sucks. If anyone could teach him to be a fine, upstanding American gentleman, it was Captain America. Not him. The personality flaws far outnumber the benefits, and teaching Loki the ways of playboy philanthropy—well, the second one could work. Maybe. But, knowing Loki, he’d be more likely to get the whales to aid in the subjugation of humanity, instead of just trying to save them like normal people.


He feels a hand against his shoulder and looks up.


“We should go back,” Loki says. Tony’s never seen him look unsure, and this is definitely something to store for later. “I don’t believe Steve Rogers was idle in his threats.”


“I guess not,” Tony sighs, pushing to his feet. He holds out a hand without thinking about it, and Loki takes it after the slightest of hesitations. And, Tony thinks, he almost smiles. It’s a close thing. “Come on. We’re walking back. Happy had a lunch date.”


Loki mutters something from behind him as he starts to walk out. “What was that?” he asks, but all he does is shake his head.


Too bad. It almost sounded like “You are so peculiar.” Tony wouldn’t have taken that badly. 

Chapter Text

Loki doesn’t say a word when Tony delivers him back to silent guards, but that’s considerably less surprising than a lack of any word from Fury.


This is because, as Clint puts it, jumping him as soon as Tony walks in the door, “This is an intervention!” He’s way too happy about it, shoving Tony down the hallway and kicking him in the ankle when he doesn’t move fast enough.


Nick Fury is sitting at the dining table, hands folded in front of him, and every other member of the team is already there, Steve included. “Uh,” Tony starts, because he is so in for an earful. “I realize that you all probably have the best intentions at heart, but I can tell you now—”


“Sit down, Stark.”


“Right, okay, sitting down.” Tony slides into the chair at the end of the table, scooting back a little. Clint smirks and slides in next to Natasha. When Tony glares at him, he slides his thumb across his neck. Dead. Helpful. “There, I’ve sat, but seriously, listen, I don’t think you—”


“Why are you helping him?” Steve snaps.


“I’m not, not really, if anything I’m helping us—”


“You have to realize that that’s not what this looks like at all,” Bruce says, pretty gently, all things considered, but they’re not listening, and if anyone should get it, it’s him, dammit.


“Looks like? It doesn’t matter what it looks like, I’m not—”


“What did he do to you?”


“You, man, are totally compromised.”


I’m trying to change his mind. Why aren’t you listening to me? Why aren’t you listening?” He takes a breath. Finally, they’re quiet, still, to be fair, staring at him like a loose cannon, but, hey, baby steps. Natasha speaks first.


“You really can’t, Tony.”


“Thor changed,” he points out. Steve snorts. “No, look. I’ve already heard your argument about that, but the point is, I think he can change, and I’ve thought it out completely.”


Fury crosses his arms and leans back. Tony thinks that staring too long it Nick Fury is somewhere between staring down the barrel of a gun and staring at the sun—it’s painful when nothing’s happening, and the anticipation is horrible, and he’s pretty sure that this particular stare should come with a doctor’s note. “Thought. Out. What?”


Tony speaks as quickly as he can, and he can feel it when he loses the Avengers one by one. Fury keeps up, though (so does Bruce, probably, if the eye rolls mean anything) and when Tony’s done, almost ten minutes later, he nods, once, and Tony relaxes. So he’s not getting arrested, then.


“So you want to rehabilitate him.”


“Yes! I—No. What?” Tony sags. “Seriously. That whole conversation we just had—”


“You talked, we listened,” Bruce snorts.


“Or tried to,” Clint mutters.


“—and you cut it down to rehab? That’s it? Seriously? I’m insulted.”


“He talked for that long about rehab?” Natasha asks Fury, lips pursed. “That was a waste.”


“It was more than rehab!”


Clint raises a hand. “I say we just kill him.”


But Fury’s shaking his head slowly, and if that’s a smile, Tony’s a fairy godmother. “No. As a threat, he’s been mostly neutralized…” No, that’s not a smile, but there’re definitely teeth. “I think Stark’s onto something.”


Thank you—”


“Which is why Loki is, as of this moment, his problem.” Fury stands, smoothly, and walks out of the room. It takes Tony a second, but he’s after him in half of that, just barely catching up to him at the door.


“Wait, wait, wait, wait, what do you mean he’s ‘my problem?’” Tony asks. He is not a babysitter, much less a—a villain sitter, what is that? That is a bad idea, is what it is, and he’s not touching that with a ten foot pole.


“I mean,” Fury says, and there’s definitely glee in there somewhere, the bastard, “That as of that moment, you took Loki of Asgard under your shiny metal wing. He’s your responsibility now. You think you can make him one of the good guys? Fine. It’s on you. If you fail…” Fury shrugs. “He probably won’t get his powers back, anyways.”


Fury steps around him and opens the door, stepping out.


“Do you think I can do it?” Tony asks, as a last ditch effort, because if he says no, if there’s doubt, he can still back out now, can still change his mind. Fury stops, half turns his face towards him. In the moment it takes before he speaks, Tony wishes individually for every separate answer.


The one he gets is, “I think you can try. And I think, if you can get him on our side…” He walks away, the rest of his words swallowed. Tony doesn’t follow him.


The others are still around the dining table, Steve looking every part the disappointed parent, Bruce looking thoroughly amused, and Clint and Natasha just looking. “What? What? I’ve heard it all, right? Is there anything else?” Nobody says anything, so Tony walks to the pantry, because good lord, does he need a drink.


“He’s hurt a lot of people,” Natasha says from the table. Tony shrugs, not turning back to them. He knows he’s got some scotch back here, but where the hell…


It’s when he’s shoving aside a bag of rice he doesn’t remember anyone buying when he hears Bruce chime in. “So have you two. So have I.” Tony turns around. Doth his ears deceive? No—that’s definitely Bruce talking to Natasha, mouth still quirked in that awkward half-smile. “I think that if that’s our basis of rejection, Steve is really the only one who can say anything against it.”


“Steve went to war,” Clint points out. “The only thing he’s got is a better reason.”


“The wrong thing for the right reasons,” Natasha adds thoughtfully.


Tony walks back to the table, slowly, his eyes on Steve, because Steve’s the lynchpin in this whole thing. If Steve can change his mind, if he can agree… “So, I’m confused. Is this you guys starting to agree with me?”


“Not me,” Clint huffs, crossing his arms tightly. “This is just me staying out of the way. And… not killing him,” he adds, grudgingly.


“Even if you did want to rehabilitate him,” Natasha says. “Where would you start? He’s insane. There isn’t anything reasonable about him.”


“Megalomaniac, narcissistic, vain, damaged,” Bruce says. “The list goes on. If you can fix any of that, you’ll be doing on hell of a job. Sure,” he shrugs, “I’m behind you on this, just because I’d love it if you won. But it’s an uphill battle.”




Steve fidgets, his mouth set in a little moue of discontent. Tony does his best to direct a charming grin towards him, but all it does is make his frown wider, the space between scowling eyebrows smaller. So Tony pulls out the big guns: “Please. It would… mean a lot to me, Captain.”


He sees it when Steve gives in, a little ripple effect when his mouth goes from a full-out frown to an irritated purse, his shoulders relax, his eyes roll. When he says, “You’re unbelievable,” Tony could just about kiss him, because it doesn’t sound like a curse so much as a forfeit. “Fine,” he sighs, bringing up a hand to pinch across the bridge of his nose. “Fine. I… think you’re trying to do the right thing, Tony, and it wouldn’t be right of me not to acknowledge that.”


“Good,” Tony says, and never has relief been so physically palpable. Team. They’re a team and he can feel it in the way that Natasha’s lips twitch, and Clint rolls his eyes, and Bruce chuckles, and Steve glares at him with a grudging sort of acceptance.


The way Steve adds, “And I am not a Boy Scout,” before Tony walks out, like that means a damn thing. He’s Captain America. He’s the quintessential Boy Scout. Tony makes a mental note to pick up some sort of badge on the way back, because Steve might not know it yet, but he needs it.


He wonders where he can get one of those little hats, too.



It’s weird, seeing Loki twice in one day. Tony thinks that at this point, he and the guards should really swap numbers or something, because they’ll definitely be seeing more of each other, and he’d hate for them to get tired of him.


On the other hand, the fact that when he gets to the cell there are no guards on duty doesn’t exactly spell out new friends so much as what the hell is going on here? What gives it away is the ripple of static in the air and across his skin and, of course, the deep, booming voice coming from the cell that doesn’t belong to it’s lone, feeble passenger.


“You had no right,” Loki hisses, and it’s the old Loki through and through, old-world entitlement oozing from every vengeful syllable. Tony takes a step towards the door and slides down it a little ways. There’s no way they can see him, and he wants to hear this—it feels private, but important, and if the outcome is his responsibility…


“I had every right, brother.”

“You are no brother of mine.”

“You swore allegiance to the throne—”

“I swore allegiance to your father.”


He can hear Thor take in a deep, steadying breath and he wonders, not for the first time, what could have possibly happened for Loki to erase all ties, cut them with no thoughts, no consideration of the past. Brothers, Tony imagines, means growing up together, caring for each other, living out of each other’s pockets and breathing each other’s air and not the way these gods do it, with jealousy and envy and spite.


“Be that as it may,” Thor says, and Tony’s never heard the thunder god’s voice so heavy, so devoid of any of its ingrained mirth, “I have done what needed done—”


“You could’ve done otherwise. You could have imprisoned me. Are you really such a coward, Odinson, that you would have the mortals take up the mantle you could not bear?”


“Father would have you chained and tortured.”


“Then do it.”


“They would have you killed, Loki!”


“Rather kill me outright than leave me in squalor.”


“You really wish for death so ardently?”


“Why ever not, brother?” Loki laughs low and humorlessly, and Tony flinches reflexively in the face of all that clear and ageless loathing. “It would certainly be simpler.” There’s no answer from Thor’s corner; Tony wonders if he’s left.


Why not?” Loki asks again, silver tongue turned acid.


“Because,” Thor answers finally, and Tony can hear how old he is, and it’s the sound of religions forming and falling, stars dying and every passing storm, “though you may have forgotten, I have not. You are my brother. I remember.” There’s a crack of lighting. Tony doesn’t have to look in the room to know that Thor is gone, and the hairs along the back of his neck begin to settle again, fall back into place with the absence of his power.


Tony knocks before he can think better, letting his mouth run on auto pilot while he runs what he’s heard through his brain, filtering, re-filtering, storing, wondering— “Yoo-hoo. Delivery for our unfriendly neighborhood psychopath. Surprise—it’s me.” When he walks in, Loki looks up from the cot where he’s slumped over, sullen and tightlipped. When he sees that it’s Tony, he sighs, aggravated.


“You again? What do you want?”


Tony tsks. “Well, that’s gratitude for you. Fed and watered and you still bite the hand that pets you.”


“Were you to pet me, Stark, I would do far more than bite.”


“Touché.” Still, he looks better, Tony thinks, than he did before Operation Feed and Fix (the name, a work in progress), and he doesn’t even seem threatening when Tony sits down at the end of his small bed, hand clasped behind him. “So here’s the thing, Dastardly Devious, remember the whole ‘get your magic back tax-free’ concept? I worked it out.” Loki’s slump looks a little more alive, and one long eyebrow cocks in response, which Tony takes as a good sign. “All you have to do for it is—wait for it—” He’s not waiting so much as wasting away, so Tony figures he’d better hurry it up. “Be good.” There. It’s succinct, to the point, genius in it’s minimalism—


“That makes no sense,” Loki says, and curls his legs up towards him, turning his face away from Tony. “Now please leave. I’m weary.”


“See?” Tony says, un-swayed, “you said please. That’s progress.” Loki doesn’t answer him, but it’s not really necessary. There’s nothing he can say against that, and that’s what counts.


Stark, I assume you’re sitting with Public Enemy No. 1 at the moment.” Loki sits upright, staring around himself with wide eyes. Tony would laugh, if it weren’t for the fact that—


“Uh, Fury? I don’t understand why you’re…” Eavesdropping? Butting in? A general wet blanket? “Contacting me in here, what’s—”


The reason why is fairly obvious, I thought. Stark, the prisoner is, as stated, your responsibility. It will be up to you to keep him fed, healthy, and under control. That being said…” No. “You are hereby ordered to take Prisoner 001 back home with you. Said prisoner is under house arrest, effective immediately. I trust you will make changes to his security measures when needed.” No, no, hell no.


“Director Fury, I don’t—”


Afternoon, Stark. See you bright and early tomorrow. Unless you’ve got a bit of baby-sitting to do.”


There is a special circle of hell for angry pirates.


The worst part of it, though, is Loki staring at him with wide, unassuming eyes and the most hangdog expression he’s ever seen. “Stop looking at me like that,” Tony snaps, a little unfairly, maybe, but he hates being put on the spot.


“This is my face,” Loki replies testily, and Tony breaks out a startled laugh.


“Well. I guess you’re coming home with me.”


“I don’t have to,” Loki says. He says it like it’s supposed to go smoothly, but his eyes don’t hold onto Tony’s, instead tracing down to the wall opposite him, and sliding away every time Tony manages to catch them. “I would hate to impose. And living among enemies does not a good arrangement make.”


“I’ll make you a deal,” Tony says, getting to his feet. He grabs Loki around an arm and tugs him up. The god looks a little shocked, staring down at Tony’s hand around him before he lets go. “Don’t treat them like enemies, and maybe they won’t act like you’re theirs.”


“’Maybe’ isn’t a deal, Stark,” Loki says slowly, taking a step back. Tony doesn’t have time for this shit, so he snatches at him again, this time getting a handful of his shirt, and pushes him towards the door (gently? Maybe).


“Fine. Then don’t think of it as a deal. Think of it as a new possibility.”


“I—stop that.”


“I will push you down this hallway if you don’t get a move on.” Loki smacks his hand away and walks forward, head held high and regal. It’s an impressive sight. Only… “The door’s this way, genius.” He doesn’t bother answering, simply turns around and follows, eyes on the end of the hallway. Right. One super-villain to add to the housing plan. He can do this. Totally. For sure.

Chapter Text

Reasons this is a bad idea:

  1. Loki is the bad guy.
  2. They are the good guys.
  3. It’s Loki.
  4. In his house.
  5. Where he sleeps.
  6. Sometimes.
  7. But still.


For the duration of the car ride, Loki sits slumped against the window, tracing patterns on the glass and leaving his fingerprint smudges behind. Tony considers saying something, but every time he glances over, he looks lost in his thoughts. This way, it’s quiet and peaceful, and Tony can pretend he’s not doing something stupid.


“So…” Tony clears his throat. He’s no good with extended silences. “That the extent of your wardrobe?” No answer. “I’ll take that as a yes, then. Oh, well. I’m sure we can find something to fit you.”




He glances over. Loki’s still not looking at him, eyes flickering along with passing traffic. “Uh, because you can’t really survive with just a t-shirt and a pair of pants. And the clothes that S.H.I.E.L.D. has don’t exactly look comfortable. Correct me if I’m wrong.”


“They’re what I’m used to.” He sounds peeved, and Tony smiles.


“Yeah, well. You’re out of your comfort zone. You might as well go the whole way.”


“Yes, but why?” he snaps. “Were our roles reversed, Stark, I would see you dead.”


“Really?” Loki’s definitely looking at him now, sizing him up, so Tony picks his words carefully. “That’s why, then.”


“Because I want you dead,” Loki repeats, incredulously. Tony laughs.


“Yeah, I guess. That. Because I want to see if, maybe, that can change.”

Loki’s lip curls at that. “You want me to like you.”


“That’s… a little far. I just want you to be less murder-happy.”


“It’s who I am.”


“It doesn’t have to be.” Tony shrugs. “People change.”


“I am not ‘people.’”


As much as Tony wants to say you are now, he doesn’t want to take a step back (and he really, really doesn’t want Loki to kill him in his sleep), so he just says, “Everything changes,” and tries to leave it at that. But he can’t help that, when he goes down into the garage and throws it into park, his mouth supplies, “Do you really want me dead that badly?” and regrets it immediately.


He doesn’t think Loki is going to answer (which is somewhat better than a confident yes) and opens his door.


“I am not ‘murder happy.’” Tony pauses, one leg out. He doesn’t look back at Loki, doesn’t offer him the scrutiny he wants to because he really, really wants him to keep talking. “I am not afraid to kill, but I would not do so for no reason. And you have shown great kindness. Were we on opposite sides, I would not hesitate to harm you. But as things stand, I don’t intend to.”


When Tony turns back, Loki’s staring right at him, perfectly still, eyes almost frighteningly bright. The sarcastic so was that a no? dies halfway across his lips. He can forget, in a cell or in a car, the kind of being Loki was (and will, if played right, be again), the kind of power he held, but here, in the half-dark silence of the garage, it’s more than accessible. It’s unavoidable. It’s unfathomable, and it’s terrifying, but it’s the kind of beast Tony wants to poke at until it growls, pick apart until it falls to pieces and he understands, but it’s too much.


“We should—we should go inside,” Tony say hoarsely, pulling himself back. Loki nods once and—oh my god. How are doorknobs that hard to figure out? Tony sighs and reaches across him, trying to ignore that cringe back, and flicks the lock open to pop open the door.


“Thank you,” Loki says tightly when he takes his arm back. Is this a personal space thing? It’s probably a personal space thing. Tony makes a note of that, and also of the thank you.


“You’re welcome,” he says, grinning. Loki sniffs, definitely not amused as he climbs out, but hey, can’t have everything.


“Hello?” Tony calls. No answer. “Jarvis, anyone home?”


“That would be a no, sir,” Jarvis says, and Tony fights back a laugh when Loki looks around, stunned, but it’s a close thing. He turns around like a puppy chasing its tail, peering up suspiciously. 


“Right, Jarvis, this is Loki—”


“Emergency protocol, sir?” Loki absolutely jumps at that. 


“Uh, no. Actually, he’ll be staying here for a while, so… Jarvis, Loki. Loki, the magic voice from the ceiling is Jarvis.”


“Sorcery,” Loki says to himself, placing a hand against one of the beams in the entryway, eyes still on the ceiling.


“No, actually, AI, but close enough.”


Loki’s brow furrows. “What does that mean?”


“He’s a… computer, basically. If you need anything, get lost, whatever, you can ask him.” It’s almost adorable how out of his depth he is, turning around in a slow circle in the entryway, eyes on everything and nothing and mouth half open. “So do you need a tour, or should I just show you to your room now?”

“I—” God, he looks confused. “I don’t know.”


“Well, come on. It might help if we actually go inside and don’t just stop a couple steps in. Come on.” He shoos Loki ahead with his hands and after a moment he complies.


It’s the kitchen they end up in first, because it’s neutral territory and it actually does look like a regular home. Clint’s left a cereal bowl in the sink, Steve’s coffee mug is on the counter. Tony gets a pot of coffee going and points Loki towards the table. He sits, hesitantly. “Want anything?”


“No,” he says automatically, and then, after a long moment, “Water?”


“Coming right up.” Tony fills a tall glass up at the fridge and carries it over. Loki takes it from him with a nod.


When Tony’s coffee finishes, he goes to sit across him at the table, and they drink in silence, and what the hell is going on? Three weeks ago, he tried to take over the world. Three weeks ago, they were battling it out in the middle of New York. Three weeks ago, the bastard across from him threw him out of a window.


Now, he’s watching him play with the condensation around the glass, tracing his fingertips up and down and around, and his adrenaline isn’t building up because he isn’t fearing for his life, and it’s the weirdest goddamn feeling in the world.


“So is this weird for you, too?” Tony asks. Loki shrugs, doesn’t look up.


“I feared for my life among my allies. This is no different.”


“Hey, hang on. We haven’t threatened your life.”


You don’t have to. My death is imminent—”


“And anyways, that’s not really what I was talking about.”


Loki looks up, irritated. “Then what is ‘this?’ If it wasn’t you asking about sitting opposite the man of iron, in his home, under his hospitality?”


“Well, I mean, it was that, but it was also, you know, being…” He waves his hand around to fill in the word, because powerless sounds like a graver insult than he intends, and magic-less just seems rude.


Loki’s face goes smooth and expressionless. “It’s like losing a sense. Does that answer your question?”


“A sense?”


“Yes. It’s as if you are bound and gagged and blindfolded in the dark. You lack movement, you lack life. And you can only survive so long in a state such as that.” Loki looks away from him and goes back to tracing the glass. The cloudy condensation has relaxed into separate drops, and he pulls them along with a fingertip, joining them, letting them fall. “I used to feel. I could feel everything that made up the water, every line of the glass, every fiber of my clothing, every strand of the wind.”


“That sounds overwhelming.”


“Perhaps.” Loki looks back at him, considering. “But there was so much, and now there is nothing. Now everything is solid and unmoving. It feels like dying.”


Feels like, though, right? You’re not actually…” He can’t die before… well.


Loki smirks. “The deterioration has already begun.” He drains his glass and stands, and then seems to remember that he doesn’t, actually, know where to go from here, so he looks at Tony expectantly.


Deterioration? Deterioration of what? Is it mental, physical? Is he rotting from the inside out? Will they wake up one morning to find nothing more than an empty shell in his bed? “Wait, hang on, when you said—”

“I’m tired,” Loki says quickly, holding up a hand. “Is there anywhere I can sleep?”


“Right, okay,” Tony says, “but we’re not done with this. You’re not going to die.” …Another palladium core? What’s keeping you alive is also killing you. Tony, what’s going on? There’s a solution to everything. He’s not just going to die. Not yet, anyway. Not after Tony’s fought for this, dammit.


But Loki doesn’t say anything to that, so Tony leads the way out of the kitchen. Loki’s room is on the second floor. There are two unused rooms between his and Tony’s, and he’s at the very end of a hallway, plenty far away from anyone else. Tony brought this on himself, he’s not going to throw any of them into it. It’s enough that he’s got their support; he doesn’t need to jam an evil prince down their throats. “You’re right here,” he says finally, pushing open the door and gesturing Loki to go before him. “Bed, dresser—clothes tomorrow, I’ll come and get you—bathroom through there. Sleep tight.” He turns to leave.


“Wait!” He turns back. Loki’s in the middle of the room, hands balled up at his sides. “I… killed—I almost killed—”


“You killed a lot of people,” Tony says quietly, planting his hip against the doorframe and crossing his arms. “You’re gonna have to be a little more specific.”


“I almost killed you.”


“You threw me from a window. All things considered, I wouldn’t like a repeat, but I’ve had worse.”


“I killed your friend. Stabbed him.” There’s something frantic about him; he’s looking for a fight, for some kind of confrontation. Tony can see it, but he’s not about to fuel a habit that he’s too familiar with.


“His name was Phil Coulson,” Tony says, slowly and firmly. “He was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.”

“Your helping me is an insult to his memory,” Loki says sharply, and his fingers convulse into his palms. Tony can imagine the angry red welts they’ll leave, wonders if he can feel them.


“Well, then, I guess it’s fortunate for both of us that he’s still alive.”


That stops him short. “I don’t—” He falters, draws back.


“Yeah. He’s a trooper. I’m thinking it’d take more than a demigod to stop him.” Tony smiles, and he’s tired of faking it; he knows it looks mean, knows it looks cold, and he can’t help but think this is exactly what Loki wanted anyways, so it’s only fair he’s getting it. “He’s still in recovery, but he’s breathing on his own. Oh, and, as far as respecting his memory goes? You don’t have the right to say his name.”


Tony turns to go. His sudden fatigue is all muscle memory, remembering the way the absolute disbelief coursed through all of them when Coulson rolled in on his wheelchair, the way he stared at all of them like nothing had changed, same perfectly poised, genial expression on his face, even when everyone went silent; the way he laughed, a little, when he asked, “Is there something on my face?”


“He—He fought courageously,” Loki offers faintly, and it’s the biggest white flag he’s ever heard. “His bravery— I respect him.”


“Well look at that,” Tony says wryly, and he doesn’t bother turning back. This is as high a dose of Loki he can have in one sitting. “Something in common.”


“Jarvis,” he says quietly, when he’s halfway down the hallway. “Keep me updated on what he’s up to. Watch him.”


“Of course, sir.”


“Good man.”

Chapter Text


Tony gets up early, and makes two things: a cup of coffee and a phone call. After the first, he’s lucid; after the second, there’s a delivery, and he barges into Loki’s room at half past ten, lugging a bundle of clothes behind him.


He stops in the doorway. Loki’s sprawled across the bed, his limbs pale and tangled in the white sheets, hair splayed across his pillow like so much ink. For a moment, halfway between asleep and awake, he blinks at Tony and there’s no animosity there, just the slightest traces of childlike innocence, openness.


And then he wakes up completely and his eyes narrow.


“Uh,” Tony says, because it’s probably him who should speak first, considering the fact that he did just wake him up (and probably rudely, but who’s counting, right?). “I thought you’d be awake already.”


“You were incorrect,” he rasps testily. He tugs his pillow a little closer and presses his face into it, his bare shoulder blades flexing out.


“So I’m guessing you slept well, then?” Tony walks further into the room (he hasn’t exactly been ‘kicked out,’ so) and steps over the discarded shirt, kicking it out into the hallway as an afterthought. Loki’s watching him with shrewd eyes, but he doesn’t say anything. “Right. Get up, wash up, come back. Go.”


“I can bathe without instruction,” he bites, glaring now. “And I did so last night. It was… difficult. And cold.”


“Diffi—you took a cold shower? You could’ve asked for help! Or asked Jarvis,” Tony amends, because the way Loki’s ilp curls tells him just what he thinks of that. “Look, it doesn’t matter, I’ll run you through that later. Right now you just need to get up.”


Loki eyes him for a long moment. “I would like my shirt back.” Tony rolls his eyes, but goes out and tosses it back to him. He tugs it on smoothly and pads into the bathroom.


While the water runs, Tony considers his options. There’s plenty of black, plenty of green. Jeans, but he’s not sure how those’ll go over, thinks he’ll ease into them. A Captain America t-shirt, because that is something he’d like a picture of. He decides to start small—he pulls out an all-black outfit, black slacks and a button-up, and shoves the rest to the side.


Loki comes out frumpled and Tony doesn’t think the novelty of his new vulnerability will ever wear off. His hair that messy, his arms that bare… it’s perfect. “Why did you wake me up, Stark?” he asks tiredly, doing his best to straighten out the disaster zone that is his bed-head (see? Perfect. His hair is sticking up).


Tony thrusts the clothes bundle towards him, barely tamping down his grin. Loki stares at it. “Okay, so, maybe you’re still half-asleep. Look, you can’t go anywhere with just your jail regalia.”


“You’re… giving me clothes.”


“Yes. Good.” He holds up the slacks. “Pants.” The shirt. “Shirt. Keep going at this rate, you’ll be on to two-syllable words in no time.”


Loki frowns. “But you said ‘go anywhere.’ I wasn’t aware that I was permitted to go anywhere.”


Tony shrugs. “Rules. I mean, there will be, obviously, because I’m not stupid and you’re still you, but there are things you—look, just take those off.” He waves his hand over Loki’s current clothes and shakes the ones in his hand, impatiently. It’s really not that hard. Take off the old, put on the new, perfectly straightforward.


And then Loki starts taking off his clothes, and wow, that’s a lot of skin, that’s… huh. There’s a spot on the ceiling Tony really hadn’t noticed before, but it’s… it’s nice. It’s a nice spot. So he’s totally, definitely concentrating on that. Way before a pair of pants hits the ground and Loki steps out of them. Yup. Uh huh.


“There’s, uh, everything in there,” Tony says to the ceiling. Oh, look. Is that a water spot, too? Lovely. “Under things, over things, middle things, you name it.”


Loki hums his acknowledgement and tugs the items from his hand, and Tony makes the stupid, stupid mistake of looking at him for a moment. He’s smirking, slightly, and also, he’s got a freckle on his—


A ceiling fan would go really, really great, right there.


“I didn’t take you for shy, Stark.” Loki says, by way of conversation, and Tony doesn’t really trust anything he has to say on that point.


“Most people don’t drop their pants in front of me without some kind of warning. Usually foreplay.” Oh, god, stop talking.


Loki tsks. “There was plenty of warning. You told me to take them off—this is soft.”


“Hey,” Tony babbles. “If you want me to look, all you have to do is ask—”


“Then look.”


Tony only looks because he is startled into it. That’s it. It’s okay, though, because territory: once again recognizable. “It fits,” Loki says, somewhat unnecessarily.


“It should.” Tony looks him over. “Turn for me?”


He looks good—everything fits, the pants lying smoothly over his slim hips. He might’ve done with a little more space in the shirt, but it’s certainly not unpleasant a little tighter across his shoulders.


“Well look at you, back in black. Nice job on the measurements, Jarvis.”

“Thank you, sir. I aim to please.” Loki looks up at the ceiling on cue. Loki looks at the ceiling, Tony looks at Loki, and then Tony realizes that he’s basically checking him out and stops (it’s his own good taste’s fault, anyways, those pants are… good), and Jarvis still manages to sound smug when he says, “Will Loki be keeping those clothes on?”


“Yes,” they say at the same time (Tony, perhaps, a little more forceful than he’d admit to).


“So you like them?” Tony asks. Loki shrugs.


“They are… more comfortable than the other ones.”


Tony snorts. “You could just say yes. You can like something without offering the disclaimer.”


Yes, then,” Loki says, eyeing him oddly, and seriously, what is that look? “I enjoy them. I… appreciate the effort.” Okay. A little stiffer than the usual thanks, but it’s miles more than he was expecting, so he’ll take it.  


“Right, okay.” Tony claps his hands together. “Let’s go get some breakfast, come on.” He walks out. It takes a couple seconds for him to hear Loki following, so he stops halfway across the hallway and looks back.


Loki’s looking at him like a trapped animal, eyes wide and uncertain, shoulders tense. “What? What’s wrong?” He shakes his head like he’s snapping himself out of a trance and takes one hesitant step forward. “Come on, what? Have you forgotten how to walk? I’m hungry.” Tony smiles to soften his words, and Loki responds to that almost automatically, his eyes lighting up. A heartbeat later and that’s gone, and he’s back to straightening up and looking down his nose, but Tony brushes it off. It’s who he is, right? There’s no changing that. That’s not what he’s trying to do, anyways. You can’t change who someone is, just what they do. It’ll have to be enough.


When they get to the kitchen, Natasha freezes, slice of toast halfway to her mouth. It’s a standoff made for the movies, and Tony can’t help but quip, “Draw!”


She doesn’t; she drops the slice of bread and dusts off her fingers, eyes on Loki—ignoring Tony completely; ouch. “Morning, Tony.” Okay. Not so completely.


“Uh… Morning… Beautiful day out. I hear it’s supposed to get a lot less cold.” She doesn’t smile so much as send frost daggers his way via her eyes. Isn’t this his kitchen? He’s totally allowed in his kitchen. This is ridiculous. It’s simply respect and early morning survival instinct that has him skirt the island to avoid getting within Natasha’s blast radius. “So what do you want?” He looks back at Loki expectantly.


‘Deer-in-the-headlights’ was never so aptly depicted; Loki’s stock-still against the wall, his hands carefully folded behind him. Tony has to say his name two more times before he looks up, and when he takes a step forward Natasha raises her gun—where does she put those, Jesus Christ—and hops back.

His kitchen is a warzone.

His kitchen. Is a warzone.


Loki’s hands go up almost delicately, and the smirk he shoots Natasha is anything but shy. “You’ve got the upper hand. So why don’t you take it.”

“Don’t tempt me.”

“Oh, but I am.” Loki takes a step towards her and she takes a step back, eyes unwavering. “So why don’t you take your shot.”


Not in my goddamn kitchen.”


They both look up at Tony—and Natasha, whose gun is probably on some sort of magic trigger that will go off if she so much as twitches, swings her gun towards him instead. Tony’s hands fly up much less gracefully, but to be honest, he doesn’t really care, because he worked at organizing this kitchen. Well, had people work on it. Pepper would be furious. And furious Pepper is at least half as terrifying as Natasha Romanoff.


Natasha cocks her gun.


Okay. A little more than twelve percent.


“Look, can you please just put that down? He’s not a threat to you, you know that. He’s not even trying to fight back, he doesn’t have powers, he doesn’t have a weapon…” She’s cooling down; the gun drops back to her side and she relaxes, standing up a little straighter. “Thank you. Jesus, where do you even keep those? What, are your pockets bigger on the inside? Because if there are pockets in those pants, they’re pretty tiny to begin with…” She’s not feeling chatty. She grabs her toast and, with one last glance his way that could melt the polar ice caps, she twists on her heel and is gone.


He chances a glance at Loki. He looks… almost disappointed. “So, eggs? I should warn you, an omelet takes me a while.







The Avengers get a call in the middle of the afternoon. It could be HYDRA; all units are called to the coast, and Jarvis tells Loki when they leave. It’s been a long morning. He was relieved to be left alone shortly after a disturbingly strange breakfast (he forfeited the eggs for fruit and, even then, it took Tony Stark rather long to slice an orange) retired to the room that Stark had made up for him.


It’s large, the bed is soft, and he can see into the city. It’s a view above, and he wonders at Tony’s motives for his placement—look how far you’ve fallen. You see them below you? That’s where you are.


Perhaps it’s rude to snub such generosity, but when the generosity is so unwarranted… Loki doesn’t think it’s generosity fueling this. That wouldn’t make sense, not for an instant, not even for a means to an end. Seeking to find the good in a rotten apple—it’s novel, his idea. Novel and ludicrous. No—Loki knows what this is, knows he has been left for dead, knows that the frail form that surrounds him is his prison, his death sentence. Knows this, and still caters to the will and whims of the Iron Man…


Loki frowns, his hand pressed against the windowpane. Humanity is a strange thing. They’re so small, so fickle, so quick, moving and weaving their way on the street below him, in their metal beasts as if whatever they have to do is important, is vital, as if they understand something that he doesn’t.


There isn’t. He understands more than they do. He understand futility. He understands that that is all they are. Futile, puny creatures…. He curls his hand into a fist and watches the way the light shades his knuckles, how thin the skin looks, how pale. It’s fascinating, really, from an outside perspective. His hands, he knows, are bright. They are bright and they are green. Light, energy traces around them constantly. He’s never seen his hands; he’s only ever seen the magic that makes the worthwhile. The magic and his hands are one thing, one entity. Now, the fingers that he flexes outwards are naked and bare, alien. One more thing to grow accustomed to before he dies.


Stark had invited him, before the earth’s avengers had left, to look around. To explore, you might find something you actually like, who knows. Loki will not admit to doing so, but it’s vile, being stuck in one place, walls on every side. If, at least, the walls were different… He walks into the hallway.


He goes corner by corner, looking, for the first time, with only his eyes, nose, ears, not the extra senses that twined for him like second nature. He can see dust, smell furniture polish (so much sharper, more painful than it had been in Asgard) feel the wood of a floorboard creak beneath his feet. He doesn’t notice the rooms so much as the parts of rooms. An abandoned piece of metal, a fragment of a bow string, a hard, shiny card with numbers along one side. He leaves the items where he finds them and continues to walk. There is much to be said for the details of Midgard. Much to be said for their clutter. But it’s not, really. Clutter is unnecessary. This… it’s organized chaos, everything in complimentary opposites. It’s new. It takes much, to be new to a god.


He tries not to notice, but after a few rooms, his hands begin to shake, little ghosts of tremors that have never been there before. It’s unpleasant, it’s fallible, and he balls them up so tightly that he hears tendons pop. There is something unbearably unsightly about this humanity, about the ticking of his own internal countdown timer. He tires quickly, sweats easily, wounds more easily still. The worst, though is the shame of being what he despises, yet again. Asgardian by lie, Jotün by curse, human by sentence. Insect next, he supposes, so that the final boot may have its say. It doesn’t matter, not anymore. He’s been nothing. This is simply more of the same.


“May I offer my assistance?”


Loki jumps. It’s that infernal voice from nowhere. “No—yes,” he says cautiously, speaking to the wall. “From where do you speak? I don’t… require any assistance…”


“Then may I offer a suggestion?” It didn’t, he notices, answer his question, but before he can answer, a door halfway down the hallway slides open.


“What is that?” Loki asks. Stark hadn’t exactly said anything about where he couldn’t go, but he is (however reluctantly) loath to break whatever contract the man seems to have established. After a long moment of no response, he walks towards the open doorway. He shan’t be impolite (and perhaps he is, in the slightest, curious) so he enters. “Oh.”


It’s a library. The shelves go high enough that a ladder extends from the floor to the vaulted ceiling on all sides. The light is impossibly bright from the open windows, and the dust motes shine, the dust finally disturbed after how long, he can only guess. He walks past shelf after shelf, drawing his fingers over forgotten tomes.


“Will you be needing anything else?” Jarvis asks, and Loki doesn’t smile, but it’s a close thing.


“No.” And then, low enough that he can deny it, if necessary, “Thank you.”


“Please let me know,” Jarvis says, and then it’s silent. Loki breathes in the scent of leather and weathered paper and gets to work.

Chapter Text

Tony pries his helmet off as soon as he walks in the door, flinching back from the sparks that shoot back into his face. He’s black and blue and bruised all over; there’s a cut on the top of his cheek that pulls every time he moves his face.


“HYDRA,” he gasps, tossing the bent helmet aside, “can go to hell.”


“I think they actually own half of it,” Clint sighs, hobbling in behind him. “at least.” The others file into the mansion in various states of disrepair, and they head for the nearest seating area—the kitchen. Clint hops up onto the counter, letting his injured leg swing. Steve slides onto a stool, his helmet in his hand and blood caked across the side of his face.


“So we’ve got a sprained ankle, a busted suit—how’s Natasha?”


The Black Widow walks in last and stops by Cap’s side, her hair a mess but, besides that, in what looks like good working condition. “I’m okay,” she sighs, going past Steve to one of the cabinets. “I’ll grab the first-aid kit.”


“Nobody’s too badly off, right?” Tony demands, glancing from Cap to Hawkeye, both of them half-dead where they sit. Cap waves away his concern, but it’s half-hearted.


“My body’ll take care of it. Worry about him.” Clint rolls his eyes at that.


“Do not worry about me. I might not be Superman over there, but I can take care of myself.”


“Okay, Katniss,” Tony snorts. “The next time you decide to go diving off a building—”


“Do us all a favor and don’t.” Everyone looks back.


Bruce sags in the doorway, pants still, as always, in impressively still-there condition. “Where’d he let you go?” Clint asks, leaning forward. He winces slightly, and Bruce grimaces at him, staggering into the kitchen.


“Central Park. He, uh…” His mouth twitches up into a wry smile. “Wanted to see some ducks.” He walks over to lean next to Clint against the counter. “He’s mad at you, by the way.”


Clint frowns. “Why?”


“Did you miss the part where you threw yourself off that building? Because he didn’t.”


“Neither did I,” says Natasha coolly. She walks over to Steve first, swiping a wet cloth over the side of his face. He closes his eyes, cringing against the pressure.


“You know, I could just—”




“I got the shot!” Clint says sullenly, picking at one of the tears in his uniform. “I like how everyone forgot that.”


“A building, Clint. With several stories.”


“Well, duh, it’s New York!”


“Natasha, can’t you—”


“Shut up and stay still. Don’t make me make you.”


“Alright, children,” Tony says, clapping the suit’s gloves together—bad idea, actually, and now his bruises have bruises—and taking a step towards the door. “I’m off to find our friendly neighborhood psychopath.”


They’re not listening to him; they’re too busy bickering, which he thinks is probably good, because that means far less scrutiny and a little less noise. He assumes Loki will be in his room, because when he’d offered a tour around, he’d all but bitten Tony’s head off, retreating back to his own little den of solitude.


“Wander around, then!” he’d shouted through the door, to no response. “Make yourself at home!”


Now, he stops downstairs first—after this long in the suit, who knows what could be chafing?—and changes into sweats and a hoodie before making his way back up.


Loki’s room is open and Loki-free.


“Jarvis, tell me you didn’t let him leave.”


“Not at all, sir.” Tony hears a door open and turns around.


It feels a lot like a cold slap to the face. He knows that room, knows it like the farthest corner of your mind where everything you don’t think of (on purpose) goes to gather dust. Dust is all that should be in there, now. How long’s it been, anyways? Almost twenty years? Long enough that it should’ve disappeared, that the door should’ve closed over on its own, that the house should’ve swallowed that room like so many other memories it has.


No, Tony, not in there. Go play outside. “Jarvis,” Tony snaps, walking towards the room. “What were you—look, nobody goes in there on a tour, ever. How did he end up here?”


The door to Maria Stark’s library hasn’t been opened in years, and hardly by accident. The room is only there because of her dedication. It’s one of the things he hasn’t been able to erase, to dismember, to reassign. It’s an uncomfortable sort of agitation that has his hand tighten on the doorknob, pushing it open. It’s the only room he’s unfamiliar with, the only one that’s never become his. It just doesn’t feel right. “You could’ve shown him anything, Jarvis—”


“I was attempting to keep him occupied.”


“I really don’t care.”


But that’s not entirely true, not when he sees Loki curled up in an armchair like an oversized cat, his spine bent at an impossible angle. There’s something strange about seeing him in sunlight like this, face slack and strain-free, all fluttering eyelashes and steady breathing. There’s a book half-open in his lap; Tony pulls it out from where he’s folded around it and turns to one of the dog-eared pages. Then he closes it, looks at the cover, and opens to another, and another.


Huh. That’s interesting.


“Hey, Jarvis, play something to wake him up.”


“Certainly sir,” Jarvis says.


Jarvis, charming as ever, picks a goddamn nuclear fallout alarm at a hundred decibels. Loki jumps out of his chair like he’s on fire and Tony clamps his hands over ears, because it’s getting as loud as the hordes of hell.


“Turn that off!” Loki howls.

“I can’t!” Tony hollers back. “Jarvis!”


The alarms fazes out with one last, mean spirited beep.


Loki’s eyes are wild, his hair is shifted all to one side, and his shirt is wrinkled—and the look he shoots Tony when he sees the book in his hands is nine kinds of shifty. Tony can’t help it—he laughs.


“Sorry to wake you, princess.”


“You’re back.” Loki’s eyes make it to Tony’s face. “What happened?” he demands sharply. “You’re hurt.”


“Aw. It’s so nice to hear you care.” Tony’s teasing, but it’s true. It’s progress, and poking fun makes it a little easier to stand in a place where he feels like the crazy alien.

“Hardly,” Loki retorts, flustered, and that’s fun. “Merely surprised.”

“So you don’t want to know what happened, then?” Tony smiles, even though it doesn’t feel all that nice on his bruised cheek.




Still? I thought we’d have made it on to first names by now. Maybe even nicknames. How do you feel about…” Tony drops, unceremoniously, into the nearest chair. “Nope. I’ve got nothing.”


Loki snorts, folding his legs underneath him and leaning back into the armchair. “That seems a bit intimate.”


Tony stares at him, incredulous. “We live in the same house. I’ve seen you naked. I think we’ve passed intimate about a mile back.” Loki doesn’t deign to comment.


Tony throws his head back with a sigh, tossing the book onto the low table between their two chairs. It lands with its face open and Loki rights it with a huff. Tony can feel his glare, and he grins. “It was just a bunch of HYDRA agents. Cap thinks they’re planning something.”


“And what do you think?”


“I think there’s no way they’re getting smarter, so management must have changed. Either way, it can’t be anything good.”


“Were I there—” Loki stops, frowning, and looks away.


Tony tips his head up to look at him. Were he there, what? He’d make quick work of HYDRA? Well, yeah. But he’d also probably be on their side, or at least not fighting with the good guys. He’d be too busy making a name for himself, a power to be feared.


“Yeah,” Tony says, because he knows where he was trying to go with this and he knows what he almost meant. “Well. Did you actually tour around a little? Or did Jarvis just shove you in here?”


If Loki minds the subject change, he doesn’t let on. If anything, he sounds relieved when he says, “I… toured. This was simply the last step.”


“The last leg of the journey, huh? I should’ve guessed that you’d be a bookworm.”


“Why?” The best part is, he actually sounds surprised that Tony would guess anything about him, like he can’t imagine Tony would bother. Tony laughs.


“I don’t know. You look the part? Sound the part? Anyway, it doesn’t matter. You know, you’ve got to be the first person who’s been in here for years.”


“I could tell. The dust…” Loki draws a finger along the table to illustrate his point. “But why? Why would you shut this off? I… enjoy your library.”


“Not mine. It was my mother’s. Can we do something? I want to do something. Let’s go.” Tony stands without waiting for an answer, and walks to the door. Loki’s taking too long, so he turns back. “Seriously, the heart’s still pumping, I have to—oh. Okay.” Loki had gone back to the bookshelf, and he’s sliding the last book back into its position. He lets his hand linger against the books for a moment before turning back.


When he speaks again, that quiet, soft gentleness is gone, and he’s all hard angles and snide inflection again. “What did you have in mind?”




Tony tries. He takes Loki through the city, where he glares sullenly up at every skyscraper they pass. He tries a park, but Loki shreds flowers like it’s his life ambition, leaving tattered shrubs behind them. He almost takes him to a street-side magic show before remembering, a little late, that Loki used to actually be able to do the tricks the kid on the corner does, with actual magic.


How the hell do you impress someone who used to do magic?


“I really don’t know what to do here,” he admits, when they get back to the car. Loki’s finally figured out how to clasp his seatbelt on his own, and he does so now, sitting back a little proudly at the quiet click. “I mean, you’re… none of this is actually going to impress you, and I wasn’t expecting it to, because, you know, magic, but it’s the least I can do, right, only that doesn’t—what, what is it? Why are you staring at me?”


Loki’s eyeing him with one eyebrow raised, not so much confrontational as calculating. “You speak very strangely.”


“Oh, yeah, that’s related. Are you even paying attention—do you even know what—you don’t care, do you?”




“About? About… about change. About this. About something new.”


His brow furrows, and he sounds genuinely confused when he asks, “Why would I?”


Tony pauses, his hand on the keys, just short of the ignition. “Let me ask you something. What do you want?”


Loki opens his mouth, and then stops. “Is this a trick, Stark?” and then, talking over himself, “It would be good, I think, if you were to answer some of the questions you insist on asking me.”


Tony rolls his eyes. “Stark again. Okay, fine, shoot. What do you want me to answer?”


“What do you want?” Loki demands, and he looks awfully happy about it, as if he’s stumped Tony with that little redirection. He hasn’t stumped him. He hasn’t. Tony’s just… tired.


“What do I want? I want…” Tony slumps into his seat and shoves the key in, starting up the engine. “I really just want to lie down with a drink and a kung-fu movie, and too much popcorn, and—”


Wait. That’s brilliant. That’s perfect. What does Asgard not have? Kung-fu movies! And, probably, chick flicks, but Clint does not get to pick tonight. He glances over at Loki and grins. “You, my lovely alien enemy of state, are in for a treat.”


He takes off for home.


When they’re halfway there, Loki says, quietly enough that Tony almost misses it, “I was not an enemy of the state. I was an enemy of the world.”


“What are you now?” Tony asks. Loki crosses his arms tightly and slips a little lower into his seat. “No, I’m serious. What are you?”


“Weak,” Loki growls. “Useless? I don’t understand what you want of me.”


“I want you to see the difference between weak and useless and just different.”


“Human,” Loki sniffs.




Loki glances over at him, the slightest hint of a smirk playing around his mouth. “You want too much.”


“So I’ve heard,” Tony says drily. “It doesn’t make me wrong.” He guns it. This is going to be interesting.



Chapter Text

Loki tries to bow out (mostly, Tony is convinced, because he doesn’t even understand what a movie is, which is just a shame) and Tony lets him think he can, waving goodbye at the door when Loki takes off for his room. To be honest, it’s purely a distraction. He still has to assemble the others, and it’s going to be an interesting sell, trying to get them to not maim, kill, and/or otherwise injure Loki as soon as he comes down.


“Jarvis, message two-two-four-three-A, to all of them.”


“Right away, sir.”


It’s Clint who answers first, limping into the living room. “Can we watch—”


“Nope!” Tony says happily. “The line-up’s been pre-selected.”


Clint’s face falls as quickly as he did. “But—”


“Is it something good?” Natasha calls, walking in and tumbling over the side of the couch, claiming her corner. “Because Extreme Couponing is coming on…”


“Clint’s not picking.”

“Alright,” she says, pleased. Clint pouts.


“Hey,” Bruce says, walking in. “Who’s picking?”


“Not Clint,” says Natasha, and Bruce laughs when Clint sticks his tongue out at the both of them. Steve walks in last, but doesn’t sit down. He stops a few steps away from the couch and crosses his arms.


“What?” Tony asks, because yikes, talk about an awkward silence. “You’re all stare-y.”


“There’s a reason for this, right?” Steve says, brow one rigid, unamused line.


“Well, yeah. Watching movies. Remember? The moving pictures, in full Technicolor—you had that in your day, right?”


“Tony, you know that’s not what I mean.”


Tony groans. This isn’t exactly the reaction he’d been hoping for. “Look, I’m bringing Loki down.”


“See ya,” Clint says.


“Bye,” says Bruce.


Natasha doesn’t actually say anything, just stands up and steps towards the door.


Tony bolts up to block all of their exits. “Hey, hey, hey, wait. You don’t even have to talk to him if you don’t want to! You can do that—it’s just sitting in the same room, watching the same movie.”


“I’m not sitting with him in the dark,” Natasha says, tucking her hands into the pockets of her pants. Tony spends exactly a quarter of a second thinking about all the weapons she could possibly have stored in there (he comes up with ‘everything’ and leaves it at that).


“Fine! I can deal with that. Lights will be on. And he can even sit in the middle, so that everyone can see him.” They’re unmoving and unhappy, but this means a lot, so he goes for broke. “Please. Seriously. I think this’ll be a good thing.”


“Fine.” Natasha gives in first, sitting back in her corner. “But this means we’re watching a movie with explosions.”


“How about—”


No,” everyone answers, but Clint still sighs and takes up the top half of the loveseat, sitting on the top with his feet tucked behind the cushion. Bruce goes to join him after a moment, taking up the other half. Steve sighs.


“I don’t trust him,” he says, and Tony thinks that that’s something he can work with.


“I know. None of us do.”


“But you like him.”


“I like who he could be,” Tony corrects. “I like everything he could stand for, if he let himself.”


“And what’s that?”


Tony shrugs. “One of us.” Steve snorts, but he doesn’t tell Tony how full of crap he is, which is nice. Instead, he sits on the floor in front of Natasha’s feet, and turns back to look at Tony.


“You’d better go get him, then.”



Loki’s sprawled out on his bed when Tony knocks and is bid to enter, staring up at the ceiling with his hands braced against his ribs.


“Hey. You look busy. Should I come back later, or…”


Loki sighs and sits up, rubbing at his eyes. “What do you want, S—” He stops himself on the ‘Stark.’ Tony bites back a smile.


“Nothing important. We were just… doing something, downstairs, wanted to see if you’d like to join us.”


Loki snorts. “Who did?”


I did. So don’t disappoint. Come on.”


Loki follows after a moment, his eyes on the floor. “I don’t need to inconvenience your Avengers as well. I am meant to be a prisoner; let me be.”


“This isn’t jail, Loki, so get off your low horse and live a little.”


Nobody says anything when he walks in with Loki in tow, and for that, he’s grateful. Natasha doesn’t pull out a weapon, either; all she does is stare at Loki for a long moment as he settled between her and Tony, his back rigid and his eyes locked coolly in front of him. “You’re going to give yourself a cramp,” she snaps finally, and tosses a pillow into his side. He flinches a little at the impact, but settles around the pillow.


Tony has no idea what’s going on.


The movie has, as promised, quite a few explosions, and by three minutes in, Loki’s leaning forward, his eyes wide and his jaw slack. “No,” he whispers, when the first car flips over itself. He jumps at the impact, and he grabs onto Tony’s arm (and lets go as if it hadn’t happened an instant later), and Tony’s grinning because this is perfect, this is normal, and it’s weird, so weird, but with Loki forgetting himself everyone else relaxes a little, and even Natasha laughs, a little when the bad guy is declared and Loki crows, “I knew it was him.”


The movie ends on a cliffhanger and Loki pitches his pillow to the floor, glaring something thunderous at the rolling credits. “That’s it?” he demands, staring at Tony. “How is that it?”


“Cool down,” Bruce says, and wow, is that ironic. “There’s a sequel.”


“A sequel,” Loki repeats.


“Oh, my god.” Clint leans forward a little, his head cocked. “I knew it was weird in Asgard, but what do you guys even do?”


Loki shrugs. “We hunted.”


“That’s it?” Steve asks, skeptically. “That was your entertainment? Killing animals?”


“There were… other sports,” Loki says cautiously, and Tony can imagine that this must be a little intimidating, with all of the Avengers’ eyes on him, but none of them attacking. “Testaments of strength.”


“Strength?” Tony asks. “That’s it? That sounds kind of dull. Like, how many big rocks can you actually throw before it gets old?”


A smile twitches at the corners of Loki’s mouth, he sees it. “Yes. It gets old quickly.”


“So no plays?” Natasha presses. “No dances, no music?”


“There were,” he assures her. “On feast days, most like. Festivals. I’m not sure what you mean by plays, but there were stories told, tales of battles.”


Battles again. You people and your wars.” Tony snorts. “You’re all too martial.”


“You’re one to talk,” Steve jabs, but he’s smiling when he says it, so Tony lets it slide.

“Yeah, well, I’d hardly pick a war over a movie,” Tony answers. “No offense.”


“None taken,” Loki says quickly. “But are there… more, of the kind…?”


Tony puts in the next one and sits down besides Loki. This time, Natasha lets him take the lights off. Before it starts, he leans down close, mouth to Loki’s ear. “Admit it,” he whispers, and Loki starts. “Midgard does do it better.”


“All I’ve seen are these movies,” Loki hisses back.


“And do you regret that? Come on, god of lies. Tell the truth.”


“… No,” he admits. The movie starts, and he’s silent again, until the hero dies fifteen minutes in.


“You’re joking!” he roars, and Tony falls apart, sobbing and holding his sides. Ugh, laughing with bruised everything. Not so much fun. 

It's nothing compared to when Loki discovers popcorn, though. 

Chapter Text

Tony walks Loki to his room when it starts to look like, if he stays for one more movie, he will put his foot through the screen, but it’s okay because Bruce is snoring on Clint’s knees, and Clint is zoning off, and Steve is curled up in a ball on the floor. It’s just Natasha, really, who’s left awake to watch them leave. She gives a nod as they go out, and it doesn’t look like she’s about to pull out a weapon at a moment’s notice. Which, to be honest, is saying a lot.


“Well, there you go,” Tony quips, once they’re down the right hallway. “You passed through the ring of fire and returned unharmed.” Loki doesn’t say anything, so he looks over at him.


His face is half-lit in the dim hallway, and as much as the sunlight suited him, Tony thinks that this suits him better, halfway between light and dark. “I… appreciated this.”

“Well, yeah, I mean, I’m glad. You should, you know, interact with the natives, get comfortable—”


“A cell is still a cell,” he says, but it’s more thoughtful than anything, and Tony waits, thinking there’s more to follow. He’s right. “I’ve been in a few. I’ve been imprisoned before. But never so strangely. SHIELD’s treatment was acceptable. Yours is… odd.” The way he looks at Tony reminds Tony far too much of himself in the middle of a mechanics project to be comfortable. Invasive. He looks away.


“I don’t think it’s fair to call this a cell, really.”


“And why’s that?”


“Well, because it’s bigger—was that really all you guys did on Asgard?” If the subject change gives Loki any whiplash, he’s quick to hide it. “I know I’ve read about more—which, actually, how much of the stories are true? Because there’s a hell of a lot going around…” He trails off. Loki’s not looking at him, but at his own hand, curled tightly into a fist. The other hand traces whitening knuckles slowly, mapping out every ridge of bone and tendon. “Hey. You okay?”


Loki looks up, startled. “Yes. Of course.” He slides his hands behind his back like a guilty child and tries for what looks like a smile. “I’m fine. Goodnight.” He takes a step away and turns to walk to his room. Tony watches him go.


It’s interesting, really, the way Loki takes to things. He’s all skeptical wonder and frightening intensity, equal parts childlike and alien. It makes Tony want to shove decades worth of subliminal education (candy! Temporary tattoos! Window-shopping!) towards him just to see how he picks through it, which comic book he picks up first, which store he goes back to for the Christmas displays. He wants these things just as badly as he sees how little sense it makes. He wants… he wants someone less stoic than Steve had been, someone who doesn’t take it all in stride so much as do their best to hop aside.


He wants Loki to care, and it is equal measures unlikely and dangerous.





Loki lets the door swing closed behind him and tugs off his clothes. Where once his fingers would have made deft, quick work with buttons, they stumble and stammer, every misplaced touch a small apology. Oh well. He sighs, sliding under the sheets. There’s nothing he can do about it now.


He looks up at the ceiling in the dark. Scenes from their movies play out for him, his eyes remembering and mapping out the motions of the men and women on the screen. The sound of the explosions—“Where is that? Do we need to leave, or—” “Relax. Surround-sound. You’re fine.”—the bright flashes of city lights— “It’s like the window—” “Tony, tell your guest to shut up.” “Be nice, Clint.”— how easy it had been to forget who he was, where he was, (what he was) when the story ran on— “No.” “Are those—are you crying—”—and how quickly he had forgotten himself. The Midgardian machinations are dangerous. Dangerous, and stealthy.


It’s what has him laying in a wide, soft bed staring up at a high ceiling reveling in the fact that Tony Stark doesn’t lock him in, even though he could kill him in his sleep. Could, and by all rights should. Sneak into every room he can with a knife in his hands—he’s seen them, in the kitchen, long and weighted and sharp—and run it through each and every one of them—


But he can’t. And it disturbs him.


He wants to impress. He’s not sure what Tony expects, but it’s not something great, only something good, and he’s never done it, not like this. It’s a challenge greater than overthrowing the world’s population, because it means vulnerability, and if there is one thing Loki shall never be again it is vulnerable. But with every smile, every touch, every kind word, Tony asks him to bare his neck, lay down his arms, divest himself of his armor. He asks for too much without asking at all.


Loki doesn’t sleep as well as he did last night, and when he finally does drift off, it’s to dreams of atrociously muscled Midgardian men robbing banks and escaping to swim on the backs of whales.


Nothing on Midgard makes sense. Why should his dreams?





“—ki. Loki. Hey, listen, you’ve got to—”

“You can’t have it, it’s mine.”

“Uh… Loki?”

“I will make it sit on you.”


“It has a tail.”


Loki realizes that he is not, in fact, still sleeping, when the answering voice stops.


His eyes fly open and he scrambles back, yanking his covers up to his chest. Tony stands by the foot of his bed, a hand over his mouth. “Why are you in here, Stark?” Tony—he’s supposed to call him Tony. He manages, in his head, sometimes, but out loud… he can’t. “I was asleep.”


“I know,” Tony says, and his voice sounds pinched. “I… did you even hear what you were saying? Oh, god, you’re adorable.”




But it’s too late and he’s too far gone. Tony bends over double, laughing silently and furiously. Loki can see the tears in his eyes from here, and tries desperately to save face. “I don’t understand what you mean. I was simply… remembering things. To myself. Aloud. I didn’t see you there.”


“Dear god,” Tony gasps, straightening up. “Never was a lie told so unconvincingly. Come on. What was it really about?”




“Your dream.”


Loki would lie again, but the silver tongue is tarnished. Besides, perhaps this—the small truths—would help to even his debt. “Whales,” he admits finally. “I suppose I still had those… moving pictures on the mind.”


“Movies,” Tony corrects, grinning. “And oh, my god, I can’t wait to see what you’ll be like after The Wizard of Oz—I’ll have to let Steve know, he loves that one. Anyways, come on. Shower tutorial, and then you’ve got a long day ahead of you.” Loki does not groan in protest and pull his covers up over his head (only to have them curtly stripped away by an unceremonious Tony Stark).


The air is a little too cool on his bare legs and torso, and he glares up at Tony when he finally clambers off the bed.


“See?” Tony says smugly. “First step is always the hardest. Come on.”


There are far more buttons in what Tony calls a steam shower (and Loki calls a manufactured demon) than should be necessary in any of the worlds, and Loki demands, ten minutes into an explanation about why aromatherapy is the best way to end any sort of day, “Can you just turn it on?” He’s getting goose pimples all over, and it’s irritating, to say the least, when Tony has on a sweatshirt. “All I want is to bathe, not cook or smell like flowers or have a massage.”


Tony stops, mouth half open. “You’ve never had a massage before, then, have you? Oh, my god, this’ll be fun.”


Loki grits his teeth and runs his hands through his hair for something to do with them besides throttle the life out of Tony Stark. “Can you. Please. Turn it on.”


Tony sighs. “Fine. Spoil sport.” He presses two buttons. “Heat control’s right here.”


There is something to be said, truly, about the benefits of hot water in the mornings.




When he comes staggering into the kitchen—“Alright, try and rush the beauty, okay? Hurry up! I’ll be downstairs.”—he’s wearing the strangely narrow dark blue trousers that he’d found in the wardrobe with another of the shirts, white, this time. Everything feels too light, like he’s wearing too little without the layers of armor that he’d been accustomed to since he came of age. He finds himself walking slower, each step measured and weighted, as if he has to make sure to keep himself grounded.


“Took you long enough!” Tony cheers when he walks in, obnoxiously chipper. “Coffee? Tea? Whiskey? Pick fast, we’re on a schedule.”


“Did you really put him in skinny jeans? Jesus, Tony, this is weird.” Clint walks in from the other side, dumping his cereal bowl into the sink. He surveys Loki slowly, from head to toe, and lets out a low whistle. “Well. He’s adapting, isn’t he?”


Loki isn’t sure how he’s meant to answer that. He’s not sure how to be around Hawkeye; the Black Widow had, at least, made her scrutiny and caution clear. The Hawk is impassive; he doesn’t look angry and he hasn’t threatened. He doesn’t, though, seem like one to easily forget a grudge.


Clint makes the decision for him. He nods, once, long and considering, and then walks out, keeping a careful distance from Loki. As far as confrontations went, that was… charming.


“Am I correct in assuming that he doesn’t want me dead at the moment?” Loki asks, sliding onto a bench. Tony shrugs, his back to him, reaching for something high in the closet.


“Guess not.”


“That’s… encouraging.” And it is. Encouraging and most mercurial.


“Here.” Tony tosses a silver package at him, and he catches it, fumbling slightly. Tony might miss it, but it makes him stop, for a moment, and he spreads out his fingers, flexing them straight against the crinkling silver.


“What is this?”


“Pop Tarts.” Tony grins. “You’ll like it. I promise.” He does. 

Chapter Text

“Brunch,” is the word that Tony says proudly, as if it means something. Loki looks at him blankly.


“That’s not a word.”


“Oh yes it is,” he crows, tugging Loki after him, one hand latched around his elbow. “You have breakfast in Asgard, I’m assuming—”


“Of course,” Loki sniffs.


“—and lunch, then—”


Loki doesn’t qualify that one with more than a roll of his eyes.


“But I bet you don’t do them together.”


Tony lets go of him once they reach a sleek, canary-yellow vehicle and Loki stares at him, at a loss. “Nothing that you speak of this morning bears any resemblance to intelligence.”


“Aha!” Tony jabs a finger in his direction, then pats the hood of the car. “Hop into Tweety over here and we will show you exactly how wrong you are.”


“That’s the name of your steed?” It’s hardly menacing.


Tony looks pained. “The name of my—This,” he says, slowly, “is a Mustang. It’s new, and it’s fast, and that is all you have to care about right now, but tomorrow? I’m getting you a book.”


He slides into the car and Loki slides after him. They’re at the bottom of the driveway when Loki says, “I read much of your mother’s library yesterday.” He’s overly aware of Tony’s too-light grip on the steering wheel and the stillness of his face—it’s wrong, on him. Tony Stark’s face is not still. It is volatile, mercurial, in constant, never stagnant motion, and this is the only expression that ever breaks that pattern. It’s bleak, and it’s a warning sign, but this direction of conversation is all Loki has, so he soldiers on. “It was very extensive. I feel that I have… learned much about your people’s customs and lifestyles.”


Tony’s shaking his head. “History,” he says. “You’ve learned our history. Philosophy, biographies, that sort of thing. Times change, and all that stuff’s been in there for decades. It’s outdated. I’ll take you to he city library some time. Everything’ll be a lot more up to date.”


“I—Thank you, S—Tony,” Loki mutters. It’s uncomfortable, and the name falls stiffly from his lips, but it will have to do.


It makes him smile.


“Sure. So, listen. Steve’ll be meeting us there—”


“Your captain.” Loki raises an eyebrow. “I hardly think that’s wise. He wasn’t exactly pleased with you about my presence the last time.”


“Yeah, well, I’m hoping he’s softened up a little. The movie night helped. You were very… convincingly not evil. And anyways, it’s kind of our routine.”


Loki’s still a little stuck on ‘not evil,’ but he manages a quick, “What is?” off the cuff, to give himself a little more time to think.


“Sunday brunch. It’s more of a tradition than a meal, to be honest. Since he woke up. I mean, I just kind of wanted to give him something constant, you know?”


No, he doesn’t know, and he doesn’t believe he ever will, because all of Loki’s constants were lies, and he’s not seeking any more. But that doesn’t seem like a good place to go, after Tony’s admission of his decidedly misplaced confidence in Loki, so he says the obvious. “You are his something constant. You’ve done more for him than that.”


Tony looks over at him, startled. “That’s… that’s a nice thing to say.”


“No, it isn’t.” Loki snorts. “It’s the truth.”


Tony looks at him for another moment, and then turns back to the road. “Okay. He’s got me, and he’s got chocolate-chip muffins.” Chocolate. Muffins.


Sometimes, Loki doubts that Tony Stark speaks English; half of what he says sounds made up, and the other half goes too quickly for him to keep up. He’s a caffeinated, bearded headache, and sometimes Loki wonders at how he’s meant to process any of this.


But sometimes, halfway to a restaurant in the middle of summer, the words fall into Loki’s mind in a way that makes perfect, clerical sense, and it never ceases to surprise him.


Bruch. Between breakfast and lunch. Together.”


“Are you seriously just getting that now?”




 Tony gets out of the car and sees Steve a little ways down and waves. It’s been a strange morning. That’s his winning excuse for why Steve goes towards him, pushes past him, rushes around the car, into the street—


And yanks Loki back by his shirt collar, an inch away from a speeding red truck that blares its horn as it gusts by.


Tony’s still a little too stunned to say anything, watching Loki squirm in Cap’s grasp, his arms folded around the thinner man.


Release me,” Loki demands.


“I just saved your life—I just saved his—what?” Steve looks equal parts pissed and perplexed, and my god, is Tony going to treasure this moment forever.


Steve drops Loki, who lands in a half-crouch, and shoves him towards Tony. Loki glares at Steve, but the glare falls when he turns to Tony, and all he looks like is a thwarted child.


“Okay, one?” Tony says, crossing his arms. “Look both ways. Seriously, what the hell were you doing?”

“Nothing,” Loki answers sullenly, eyes on the ground and hands in his pockets. Tony waits, eyebrows raised, because that is not a reason. “Waiting,” he says finally. He looks up, and then back down as soon as he catches Tony’s eye.


“For what?” Steve demands, and Tony’s never seen his hackles so high. “Your one way ticket to hell?” Oh, god. One wrong step and Loki’s gotten Captain America furious.


“Uh, I think what our revered captain is trying to say is that you almost got hit by a car.”

Almost,” Loki stresses. Testy, testy.


“Yeah, well, you hardly did anything to stop it. I hate to be the one to point it out, but you’re mortal right now, remember? You almost died right there, Loki.” He did. He could have died. He could be spread-eagled across the pavement, bleeding, unconscious, finished. Never did Tony ever imagine that he would feel so… adverse to the idea of Loki, over.


“No one would have mourned me,” Loki retorts, angrily, and what right does he have? “Why would you interfere?” This is directed at Cap, but Tony’s got half of what he has to say out of his mouth before Loki’s finished.


“Maybe because some of us would like a reason to.”


Steve’s gone silent, his eyes wide and considering on Tony. He doesn’t look as angry anymore, only considering. “Is being mortal really that bad?”


“That was only for your own conscience, Captain,” Loki says, and god, he sounds miserable. Can he even do that? He doesn’t look it; his back is straight and stoic, and he looks every part the prince he was. “You have never been what I a—was, as I had never been what you are. I am a step away from death—”


“Yeah, well, one more step and you would’ve been there entirely,” Cap says softly, and he’s trying, he is, but as soon as he reaches a hand towards Loki, he steps away, flinching.


“I don’t care.”


“Yeah? Well, god help me, I do.” Tony stares at Loki, breathing hard. They’re too close, and he can see the tremors from here—whether it’s adrenaline or anxiety or fear, he doesn’t know, but does it matter? There ar ea million questions he wants to ask, whi’s and how’s at the top of all of his lists, and he doesn’t know where to start. His first instinct, to be honest, is to cuff him and shake this out of him, tell him that he is not allowed to do this, to give up, to sacrifice Tony’s own sacrifices.


But as badly as he wants to voice all of that, he knows exactly how much good it would do. So he takes a step away, turns to Steve, and defaults to, “Are you hungry? I’m hungry. Let’s go.” And completely ignores Loki except for one hand on his shoulder, steering him ahead by an arm’s length.


“I saved Loki’s life,” Steve is muttering. “I saved his life. I don’t even—Tony—”


“I realize you’re having some sort of existential crisis, and I sympathize, I do, but he’s not the villain right now. It’s a good thing you saved him, Steve.”


Steve snorts. “Just because it was a good thing doesn’t make it any easier to stomach.”


“Why, Mr. America. I am disappointed and surprised in you.”


“I can hear both of you,” Loki says petulantly, squirming under Tony’s hand.


“We should keep all the knives away from him,” Tony says pleasantly, giving Loki’s shoulder a vicious squeeze. He stops wriggling. Ha. “You don’t get to talk right now.”


Tony slides into their usual Sunday booth, pulling Loki after him. Steve sits on the chair facing them, with his chin on his hand. Immediately, Tony takes all the knives at the table and slides them to Steve’s side.


“Come on, look happier, Cap. We’ve only got a couple more weeks of this before the cold starts.” The restaurant’s back wall is one large, open window, and it’s beautiful on days like this, flowers on the table and sunlight in the water.


It’s nice.


But it’s also kind of their thing, his and Steve’s, and Tony does feel more than a little bit guilty about it. He hopes Steve forgives him for bringing Loki along. If he doesn’t…. Well. He’ll make it up somehow.


The waitress brings Tony his coffee black and brings Steve’s with god-knows-what-with-a-side-of-more-sugar, and Tony orders a hot chocolate for Loki.


When the girl leaves, he leans towards Steve. “So, Steve. How’re you feeling today—what? Oh, okay, you’re both mad at me?” Steve sips his coffee and eyes Tony over the rim. It’s not a happy look. “You know what? That’s fine. Who needs enemies when you’ve got—oh.”


He’s distracted by insistent tugging on his sleeve, and when he looks down, there’s three feet and a gap toothed smile. “Are you Iron Man?” The kid’s adorable, dark skinned and curly haired, and Tony grins back at him.


“Why, yes I am. Who’s asking.”


“Tommy! Can you sign this?”


He passes him a comic book. Tony scrawls his name across a black and white line drawing of Iron Man’s faceplate and looks up to see what must be the kid’s parents, smiling dotingly down at their little boy. He passes back the book and pats the kid on the head.


“So, Tommy. What do you want to be when you grow up?”


“A superhero!” the kid yells, throwing a fist up into the air.


“Atta boy.” Tony laughs and slides out of the booth to pick him up. “And an awesome one, right?”



He carries him back to the grateful parents and walks back to Steve and Loki. Steve’s smiling a little, so he must be back in his good books. Loki’s staring at the family, lips pursed to the side.


“Whose child is that?” he asks, pointing at where one of Tommy’s parents are cutting up his pancakes and the other is holding him on their lap.


“What? Theirs. They’re his dads.” Tony shrugs, slugging back the rest of his coffee. Huh. He wonders when the waitress is coming back. He came for pancakes. Where are his pancakes?


Loki looks like he’s trying and failing to work something out in his head, and Tony quips, “Don’t hurt yourself,” and then realizes, ha, he actually means it.


“Reproduction on Midgard,” he says slowly, and Tony hears Steve choke on the other side of the table, “must be as complex as Asgard.” Loki looks at Steve coolly. “I’m assuming one of them has the ability to shape-shift, for the birthing of the child. Although…” He regards the family curiously again. “How has the child come out bearing to relation to the parentage?”


Oh my god. This is beautiful. “Steve,” Tony deadpans. “I think it’s high time for you to give him the sex talk.” It’s far too much fun to turn Captain America as red as his stripes and watch him splutter across the table.


“I will not—”


“Okay, look. Two men, married. Tow white men married. Not a white child. Translation: adoption. Nobody shape-shifts in Midgard, Loki. Sorry.”


Sex talk,” Steve mutters.


Oh. Whoops. Tony’d been too busy watching Steve to pay attention, but as soon as the word adoption passes through his teeth his brain gets a little kickstart, just in time to see Loki go a little paler and a little sadder, and Tony kind of feels like a total asshole. Adopted. How the hell had he forgotten?


“Uh, listen.” Loki looks up at him, poker face in place. “They love that kid. They probably had to fight to get that kid. And, um, I would assume that, uh, a lot of love and wanting has to go into any sort of adoption process.”


“How noble things are in Midgard,” Loki says drily.




Loki likes hot chocolate, but he likes the little spotted cakes—muffins—more, and the pancakes, over which Tony pours a thick amber liquid—“You’ll love this, I promise.”—even more than that. But he’s still too distracted by the small family in the corner to take full advantage of the meal before him, though Steve and Tony tuck in with gusto. He peers at the three over the fruit bowl.


“Is it because it’s two men?” Tony asks at his shoulder, and he jumps, barely catching the glass he almost sends over the table.


No,” Loki says, because it’s not. It’s strange, but they are… “They are betrothed?” he asks, tentatively.


“They’re together—“ Tony cranes his neck, looking for something. “Nah, those’re rings, they’re married. Surprise! Two men can get married here. Hey, Steve. We should get married.”


“I’m not marrying you, Tony,” says Steve, in the weary, patient voice that says he’s used to this.


“It was worth a shot,” Tony says agreeably. “Now are you going to eat, or what?”


The married couple swing their child up and hug him close, laughing at  a smear of food across his nose and his plain excitement at meeting the great Iron Man.


Loki follows Steve’s lead and unwraps a muffin to take a bite. “You mortals have the strangest palate,” Loki muses. Strange, yes, because he refuses to say ‘delightful’ to something so plain. Even still… he licks at a piece of chocolate sticking out of the top.


“You have quite the sweet tooth,” Steve says, and it’s the first time Loki’s seen him look at him without a trace of hostility. He is the very image of cordiality, and as knives and forks click around them, Loki stares at him. The man is kindhearted to a fault.


“I suppose so,” he says finally, because is is kindhearted to a fault and Loki can’t think of a single way to manipulate him, to move against him. “There isn’t much as sweet as this on As—elsewhere.”


“What’s flyting?” Tony asks, out of nowhere, and for all that the Aesir faulted him with being fickle, these mortals—and this mortal in particular—hop from topic to topic as if every item under their sun exists in the same chord and it’s the only thing in any universe that has ever struck Loki dumb.


“And is it true about the horse?” Tony adds.


There is a sound like violence—Captain Rogers has his face in his hand, and Loki takes another (silent) bite of his pancakes.




“Where are we going?”

“You’ll see.”

“I don’t want to see, I want to know.”

“It’s a surprise.”

“I hate surprises.”

“Then you’re really gonna hate this one.”






Arts and Crafts is the store’s by-line, and Tony walks in like he knows Loki will follow, and will find something enjoyable inside. All he sees, however, is shelf after shelf of bits and pieces that look like abandoned wares and scraps of civilization. He doesn’t understand how he’s supposed to hate something he doesn’t even understand.


“Is that a wheel?”

“Well, yes, technically.”

“And why is that ladder in pieces?”

“Oh, god, you don’t get the point of this at all, do you?”


In the end, Loki is placed at the end of one aisle and ordered to stay there, while Tony walks off with a vengeance and a plan. Loki sighs, flipping through a small, spinning rack of books at his side.


“Is that weaving?” He looks up.


A woman smiles back at him. Her hair is cut boyishly short, and she’s small, but it doesn’t help her size that the cart she has next to her is stacked high with pieces of wood shooting for the ceiling.



“The book you’re flipping through.” She points to it, and Loki checks the cover. Ah. “It’s a good one, if you’re looking for somewhere to start.”


“I… yes.” Why is she helping him? Did he look lost? Confused? Does she work here?”


“I’m Lydia,” she says, sticking out a hand, and he takes it, more in surprise than in any sort of gentility. “If you’re interested, there’s a class over that that goes on every Thursday.”


“Loki,” he says, and then, after a moment, because Stark was nowhere to be found in a rescue sort of capacity, considers asking her to tell him more. 


He doesn’t have to, because it turns out this is the surprise. Tony sweeps in with a grin and a wink as soon as the woman begins to speak and pulls him to the back. He thrusts him through a door without ceremony, says, curtly and rudely, “Don’t kill anyone, don’t even try, be good,” and leaves.


Leaves him, alone, in the middle of a building in the middle of a city he has tried to destroy, in the company of an old woman, an older man, a teenager, and Lydia.


Lydia claps her hands together, once, and smiles widely. “Welcome to the class!”


The hordes of Hel upon Stark’s head.




Tony just really hopes he's doing the right thing.

Chapter Text

Tony notices. It’s something he does.


It’s not something he does very well, or very often, unless it’s really, really important, but when he’s buried elbow deep in grease and wires, he can see which wire should be where. He can spot the one misfiring unit, the single poorly aligned gear. The loose screw, the missing piece, what goes wrong and why.


Loki’s hands are the gears that don’t fit, and that’s close enough to what he knows that he sees it. Tony watches him watch them, watches the way he looks startled every time they move, but only when he thinks no one sees it. He watches the way Loki folds them together and stares at them, as if willing them to do something, anything. Tony understands, because his hands itch too. And so he thinks, maybe, Loki’s hands need something to do. Maybe he can do something to help.


So, really, he doesn’t think he’s doing anything all that bad, and he doesn’t think, even for a moment, that it can or will go wrong, not even when Loki stares at him with wide, cornered eyes when he walks out without him.


He doesn’t think that it’s like shoving an alcoholic into a pool of liquor, or a child with scissors into a paper factory. Doesn’t think that it’s anything like dangling a steak in front of a bear.


Doesn’t think that it’ll be his fault if anything goes wrong.

Doesn’t think that at all.


He brushes him off quickly, with one last smile and a pat (shove) on the back, and steps out before he can think of any of that, because interaction is a vital part of the Tony Stark rehabilitation process. Or something.


And it’s certainly not guilt before the fact that has him turning his phone off and blocking unrecognized (read: SHIELD) calls (because he does have some self-preservation).


When he gets back to the mansion, no one’s home. He flops down onto a couch for a moment. And then realizes that there are better, far more interesting things to do than relax and heads for the stairs.


“Sir,” Jarvis says, when his hand is on the keypad.


“Miss Potts is at the door.”

Oh. Well. Crap. “Pepper? Isn’t she supposed to be in Thailand?”

“She returned yesterday.”

“Oh. Awesome. Hey, Jarvis, what does she know about our current… state of affairs?”

“Nothing, sir.”

Thank god for Thailand. “Let her in? Tell her kitchen.”


Tony hears a buzz that’s probably the front door opening, so he races back up, and he ends up walking in from one side while Pepper enters from the other. She’s smiling, gorgeous, and happy-looking, and Tony is not, in any way, responsible that “This is probably the first time in your life that your timing has been absolutely terrible,” is the first thing that comes out of his mouth.


Well, there goes the smile. “That’s really rude.”

“No, I just mean—”

“Jarvis just let me in, I just came to say hi, I haven’t seen you in weeks and my timing is terrible? I told you when I was coming back. And my timing’s terrible?”

“In a really great, ‘I’m super happy to see you and I wish you’d gotten here sooner’ way!” Tony protest quickly, and Pepper rolls her eyes.


“That summit was—”


“Important, yeah, and long, I know—come on, take a load off! Want something to drink?” Pepper walks towards the chaise in the corner and Tony walks towards the cabinets, so that he can knock himself unconscious before he has to say anything.


“Three weeks. Why couldn’t it have been four?”


“Iced tea! Three sugars or four?”

“Uh, two works. And probably won’t leave me insulin resistant.”



He walks over with two iced teas and slide hers across the table in front of them and settles back. “So. Thailand. How was it?”


“It was beautiful.” She takes a sip and puts it back. She’s got bags under his eyes, but they look a little good on her, like she fought for them and won. She looks great, and happy to see him, which she won’t be when she finds out.


“And how was the summit?” he asks, stalling.


Her smile drops like an anchor. “The summit? There is no way you care what happened at the… Oh, my god, what happened?” 



“No, on Mars. Tony—”

“I’m not sure anything is happening on Mars, at the moment, but here—”

“—don’t you dare lie to me, not again, you know what happened last time—”

That was a land mine, definitely not my fault, and it’s nothing—”

“You’re a superhero! There’s no such thing as nothing! Tell me what happened—”

“—Nothing bad—”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“Jarvis, are you why she’s so worked up?”

“No. I haven’t informed Miss Potts of—”



Pepper stares at him, her mouth slightly open, and he does his best not to blink or fidget or show weakness, because he doesn’t need her pouncing. “Pepper,” he says slowly, raising his hands. “I know how bad this is going to sound to you. But you have to believe me when I say I was coerced.”

“Coerced,” she repeats faintly, and inch away from an actual faint. Plus side: at least he’s got her seated already.

“Well, manipulated, at least. It’s all Fury’s fault, the blame rests squarely on his shoulders.”

“What. Happened.” When she’s pale, her freckles stand out like firecrackers, but he thinks that if he says something like that now she’ll probably punch him.

“Um. Remember Loki?”

“No,” she says scathingly, recovering impressively quickly, he thinks, for someone who’s still three shades of pale. “I definitely don’t remember the psychopathic demigod who tried to take over the world and almost got you killed.”


“Technically, that was SHIELD.”


“He threw you from a window!”


“And I’m sure that was a gesture of affection. Why does everyone keep bringing that up—you know what? Never mind. Did you bring your car here, or a cab?”


“Car,” she answers cautiously, and he takes her hand to pull her to her feet.


“Good. I want to show you something.”



“Tony, what are we doing?” He shushes her and leans up against the railing, trying to see a little more than just the tops of heads. They’re on a long balcony right outside of the manager’s office, and it’s the perfect birds-eye view for whatever’s happening on the floor. The owners of the shop have done a lot with what used to be a baby of a warehouse; everything is colorful, homey; even the still-packed boxes have a little more character than he’s used to. The crafts class is in the middle, in an area bordered by tall bins of which Tony presumes are materials and a whiteboard behind one of the women cuts them off from the storage space.


“Why are we here, Tony?” Pepper is sounding less and less amused, so Tony nods his head towards the small group.


“That’s why. Look closely.”


“I am.”


“And do you notice anything? About anything?”


He knows when she gets it, because her fingers dig into his arm, and my god, something about the Thailand air has turned her nails into claws. “Tony.”


She grips harder, and he feels her looking at him, searching his face for a lie that’s not quite there, and Tony wants, very badly, to laugh it off and tell her he’s joking and take her out to dinner so she can talk abou the rsummit and he can pretend that he cares what they said and not just about what she thought of it and be the friend that she expects of him.

But he’s not, and he can’t, and it sucks. “He, uh.” He clears his throat. “Has a room upstairs.”


“There’s an upstairs here?”


“No. At the mansion. A, um… A couple doors down from me.” Wow. Did he have to say that part? He probably shouldn’t have said that part. That probably wasn’t a good idea.


“A magical, psychotic murderer—”


“He’s lost his powers, actually, so, no—”


“—lives down the hall from you. Oh, but nothing important happened while I was gone, so that’s good.”


“There was a rainbow, he fell to Earth, like Thor, remember?”


Loki, Tony. Loki. Loki?”


“People change, Pepper.”

The look she shoots him is pure incredulity. “He’s not a person, Tony. He’s a god.”

“Gods change more than anyone.” He shrugs, turning his attention back to the class. Loki looks tensed to run. He wonders, vaguely, how that’ll turn out.

“How did you even think this was a good idea?” Pepper asks quietly. It’s a little too sad for his tastes, so he hushes her.


“Just watch.”


He’s watching enough for both of them. And what he sees is Loki, a little separated from the group. Tony can’t hear a thing, but it looks like the others keep turning to the side, including him in the conversations he keeps flinching away from, and he can see how startled he is from here; he wonders how obvious it must be from down there.




Tony settles in, his arms on the railing and his chin on his hands. He’s not sure if he’s watching for danger anymore. All he knows is that he’s watching to see what happens, whatever that might be.



He could kill them all. Mortal as he may be, one swipe across the neck of the old woman, one twist of the girls neck, he could kill them all.


“Hello! And welcome to the Underwater Basket-Weaving Society of America, New York chapter!” There are a million ways for frail human bodies to break. “First, we’ll introduce ourselves! I’m Lydia, and I’m the group leader for today. WE won’t do a lot, because usually we’ve got a different leader, but I hope you’ll bear with me.” What right has Tony Stark to play god, to gamble their lives away? “So let’s go in a circle. Who’s next?” What right has he, to risk the lives of strangers? “How about you?” What right


Loki blinks. “Myself?”


“Yes.” Lydia smiles warmly, innocently, guilelessly.


“Loki,” he says, standing up a little straighter. “Laufeyson.”


There is no scorn, no derision, no recognition when she says, “Nice to meet you, Loki.” She winks, with a chorus of chipper hellos as her background.


“You all as well, I’m sure,” Loki says, his mouth on auto-pilot. What is this?


“I’m Doris,” says the small old woman on his left, hair so white it’s tinged with blue. Ella looks like she’s barely out of childhood and Eustace looks like he left his own behind in a World War. They’r ea rag tag bunch, and they look at him with neither fear nor discrimination, and he tries to tamp down how disconcerted he feels about it.


“Alrighty!” Loki would say something cruel to that irritatingly chipper, diminutive, (adorable, his mind supplies, but it’s a voice that sounds annoyingly like Tony Stark, and he will not have an enemy-turned-keeper—captor—in his head.) woman, but before he can, she says, firmly, “To your basins.”


Loki takes the one at the end and moves it further away yet, scooting it down when Doris nudges him in the side with a teasing elbow. Contact. He tries to smile around the shudder his body automatically provides. He used to own a silver tongue.


Where is his suavity, his composure? He thrusts his hands intot he water in his basin, and—oh. That’s… nice.


“We’ll be starting with some basic patterns later on,” Lydia says, from her own little table. The onger tables are positioned in an arch, with her as thie rcenter, and she smiles around at them. “Your materials are right there. Watch your hands. See how they move. Make something.”


“Anything?” Ella squeaks from the opposite end.


Lydia beams at her like words of wisdom are spilling from her metal-filled mouth. “Anything. Let your fingers do the talking.”


Ridiculous. This is absolutely ridiculous. Mortal hands can’t speak. Hands with power, true power, magic that thrums in the bone and muscle, can speak, can change, can warp to their designs. Loki’s hands can’t speak, not any more. Not to him.


But… Loki twists his fingers in the water, sending waves against the sides. The materials at the bottom are rough and supple in turn, and he lifts two strands, bends them together. He works the cords into the positions that his hands know, lets his mute hands try to form the music the miss. It’s… his hands, his hands moving. They move, and though the fibers are strange against his skin, it’s… it’s almost like he can… He blanches, and then feels heat like nothing he’s ever known race from his feet to the crown of his head.


Stark. Stark saw.


“What are you doing?” The voice is soft, but it startles him regardless, and he drops the hank fo material. Lydia smiles softly from his side and reaches around him. “Sorry,” she murmurs, plucking the twisted fibers from the bottom of the basin and turning them around in her hands. It’s a pattern that reapts in all directions, of no discernible shape, but, Loki thinks, attempting, for a moment, to stoop to their level, see with his new, moral, eyes, it’s something to look at, complex and chaotic and just short of maddening. If he didn’t know better, he’d almost be proud.


Lydia lets out a low whistle and looks up at him, and it’s refreshing to see how naked her expressions har; she doesn’t bother hiding happiness, and doesn’t even attempt to cloak her curiosity in anything else. “What is it?”


“It…” He pauses. He doesn’t have to think about what it is, but what to tell her. “It’s what the world looks like.” It’s truer now that he’s said it; the cords relect the world as it should be, to him.


She nods like she understands. “It’s what you see.”


He looks away. “It’s what I used to.”



“He’s not doing anything to her,” Pepper whispers. “To any of them.”


They’ve migrated to the floor, and their legs swing out over open air, braced at hips and elbows by metal railing.


“I told you,” Tony whispers back, but he can’t quite pull his eyes away, not yet. “He’s turned over a new leaf.”


“He doesn’t have any other leaves,” Pepper murmurs back, but it sounds less like conviction and more like repetition. The small woman walks away after a few moments, and Tony sighs when the class finally finishes and the others file out. They all, one by one, wave at Loki, and Tony has never felt more successful about a pet project as when Loki nods back and holy crap that might even be a smile.


“I think this counts as a success,” he asays, when Loki’s alone again. “I’m gonna go down there. Can you give us a ride back?”


“Will he kill me?” It’s only half a joke and Tony loves her for it. He laughs.

“You know, actually, I think you’ll be fine.”

Pepper sniffs. “Meet me out there.”


Tony heads for the rickety metal stairs at the end of the platform, and Loki snaps his head around. For a moment, he looks like h emight actually be happy to see Tony.


And then that’s gone and he’s taking a step back, and maybe he’s not related by blood to the thunder god but he’s certainly got the full force of a storm behind that glare.


“Uh,” Tony says, eloquently.


And then he’s on him, teeth gritted and eyes wild, slamming Tony up against a wall with his shirt fisted in his hand. 

Chapter Text

What,” Loki hisses, all wrath and no mortal, ”was that, Stark?”


Back to Stark then. Okay. “That was a handicrafts class, because you—seemed like you could—air would be nice,” he gasps, when Loki’s grip tightens. It’s not even that so much as he’s pressing up against the reactor, and Tony feels his chest getting uncomfortably hot.


“I could have killed them, Stark,” he growls. “A room full of civilians, and I would have seen them dead. And that would be on you. On your conscience.”


“Yeah,” Tony says, eyes locked on Loki’s. He shoves the hand down from his throat, tightening his fingers around Loki’s wrist. “That would’ve been on my conscience. Mine for shutting you in a room full of people. It would’ve been on Steve’s, too, for not letting you get hit by that truck. He saves your life, they lose theirs, a little unfair. And then there’s Fury, who didn’t execute you like the vicious dog you were. There’s that.” Loki’s breathing hard and fast, but his pulse under Tony’s fingers is steady. “You keep saying you could have,” Tony says, letting Loki’s hand fall back to his side. “So why didn’t you?”


Loki steps away from him with a curse, spinning on his heel. Tony’s not sure if he’s walking to the far wall to let off some steam, or looking for an escape route, so he says, just in case, “No. You’re not leaving until this is done. You’ve got nowhere else to go.”


Loki turns back around, livid. “I didn’t kill them. This time. But what will you do next time, when a piece of twine finds its way around a pretty little neck?”

“I’ll be hoping like hell that you’re not the one who put it there.”


Loki huffs out a low, sour laugh. “Do you know what this is? This is blind faith. Where is this coming from? Why do you believe any of this of me?” The last part is loud, mangled, and broken, and Tony shuts his eyes against it, against the wide, helpless roaming of the eyes and the balled fists that beat against the sides of his thighs.


When his eyes blink back open, Loki’s shaking his head, mouth twisted in a bitter half-smile. “I’ve given you no reason. None at all. And still you gamble?” He sounds like himself again, voice as careful and loaded as a snake in the grass.


“Is it that wrong to believe in something?” Tony doesn’t mean to ask it, but there it is, and Loki scoffs against it, spreads his hands wide.


“Do you really believe that? That I could be something good?” That’s… “That I can change?” Yeah. Tony’s heard that before. The question that’s honest at the core, underneath the scathing tone and the curled lip. He’s begging here, reaching for the branch, and god, if Tony has it, he’ll stretch it.


“I think you already have,” he says simply.


It encompasses everything. The hope he has, the hope Loki refuses, the way he tries without meaning to and believes in movies. Likes pancakes and sugar and hot chocolate. Would probably have a filed day with Play-Doh and isn’t a morning person. He’s becoming someone different. And Tony’s already lost to that evolution.


Loki’s face crumples. “Tony—” It’s so sad, and it’s something Tony can fix, dammit, and he reaches out a hand—


Loki’s legs buckle under him, and he stumbles forward, falling to his knees. His breath rushes out of him in one quick rush and Tony’s at his side in a moment, crouching down next to him to hold him up before he ends up fully horizontal.


“What the hell was that?” Tony doesn’t expect an answer; Loki’s blinking too fast and he’s weaving where he sags, and Tony tries to take what weight he can, wrapping his arm around his waist.

“Nothing,” he says, after a long moment, and yeah, like he believes that—but they’ve accomplished something, here. He doesn’t want to push, not when everything was almost okay…

“Come on,” Tony says finally. “Let’s get you up.” He helps Loki to his feet and keeps an arm around him until they get through the store, and then he steps away, composed, straightening his cuffs and collar and smoothing back his hair.


Tony holds the door open for him, one eyebrow raised. “I take it you’re not feeling particularly murderous at the moment?” He narrows his eyes in answer—tired eyes, Tony thinks. Too tired—and Tony takes that as a no, more or less. “Good,” he says curtly. “Because Pepper’s giving us a ride back and she doesn’t want you to kill her.”




Tony opens the back door for Loki because gods are, apparently, on a different learning curve than most and he’d be more likely to set of the alarm that to actually open the car, and he slides into the front. Pepper’s facing front, hands fidgeting over the steering wheel.


“Pepper, Loki. Loki, Pepper.”


Pepper turns around to face him, and Tony’s impressed; you’d be hard-pressed to tell that the smile’s in any way forced. “Hello. It’s nice to meet you.”

Loki’s a lot pale and a little peaky, but he still manages a whisper of a smile. “You as well, Lady Pepper.”

“How do you, um. Like it. Here?”

His smile’s a little wider; leave it to Pepper. “It’s certainly a change, though not a thoroughly unwelcome one.”

The rest of the car ride is just short of silent, and Tony fills most of it. “She just got back from Thailand.”

“He found my mother’s library; it’s a good thing I didn’t get rid of everything.”

“Hey, Pepper, know any good bakeries? Loki’s got a sweet tooth.”


When they get to the mansion, Loki takes off after a quick, “A pleasure, Lady Pepper,” and when Tony tries to get in a word edgewise, he’s met with the coldest stare on his side of the arctic.


“Right,” he says to his retreating back, mostly to Pepper. “I guess we’ll talk later.”


“He’s not as bad as I thought he’d be,” she says. “But I probably won’t be visiting any time soon.”


“I don’t blame you,” Tony says, and he means it.


The first thing he does when he gets inside is a call directly to SHIELD. Fury, as ever, sounds overjoyed to hear from him. “What now, Stark?”


“Charming. Listen, can you check Loki’s shock collar? It’s not exactly doing all it’s cracked up to.”


It’s quiet, for a second, and then he’s back on. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Everything’s online.”


“No blips? Nothing? Because he had a bit of a tantrum—”


“Unless there is murderous intent identified, it’s not gonna do much. Stop whining and go clean up your own damn mess.”


And then he’s hung up on. But it’s definitely something to think about. Loki not wanting him dead? A good thing. He shouldn’t over think it. But if that wasn’t what made him collapse, if it wasn’t any sort of voltage…


“Jarvis, run scans on Loki,” he orders quietly. Legs buckling, chest constricting, eyes wide.

“What am I looking for, sir?”

“Anything.” And then, after a thought, “Everything. Without alerting him.”

Better safe than sorry.


Tony doesn’t see Loki for the better part of three days. It’s not like he’s not busy. There’s HYDRA on the coast, which takes up a few mornings. There are miscellaneous villains—one, particularly memorable, who filled a bank with foul-smelling slime and got himself stuck in it before he could get the money out—and if Loki doesn’t see Tony, he supposes it makes sense.


But Tony not seeing Loki, that’s weird. Jarvis says he’s here, but whenever he tries his room (he knocks, he barges in, he peeks in the windows) he’s not there. The library is barren, the kitchen is clear. One day, Tony leaves a box of Pop Tarts right outside his door; when he comes back from a mission, the box is gone, and still no sign of him. It’s not until the third day that he finds him, curled up in the library with a book held in his hands. It’s clearly accidental, but at least he’s alive, and Tony tiptoes back out without waking him, only coming back to stick a bowl of soup on the side table.


An hour later, when he walks by, soup and man are gone.


“Why so glum?” Bruce asks in the kitchen, rinsing out his own bowl at the sink.

“His pet’s avoiding him,” Clint chirps, smirking when Tony flips him a bird of his own.


It doesn’t help that all of Jarvis’ scans didn’t show anything more than his body shutting down, bit by bit, slow and sure as death itself. And Tony can’t do a thing to help if he won’t let him


“Whoah, now.” Bruce pulls the bowl from his hands gently. “You’re about to break it in half. You don’t actually cut soup, Tony. I have no idea what you think you’re going to accomplish by slamming your spoon into it like that.”


Clint and Bruce are both staring at him, and he huffs out a laugh. “Sorry. Just distracted.”


“We noticed,” Clint says dryly. “We just don’t know the why. Is it Loki?”

“Of course it’s Loki,” Bruce tuts. “Don’t ask stupid questions. What is it about Loki?” he asks, this time directed at Tony.


He’s dying. I thought he was getting better. I thought he might actually learn to like it here. He’s dying. “I don’t know,” Tony lies, shrugging. “I don’t know how he’s doing, and it’s making me nervous.”


“Well, I mean, he’s not exactly evil anymore,” Clint offers, “so he’s probably not doing anything… uh, evil. Maybe we should just bring him down for a family hour.” He’s kidding. He has to be kidding.


“Are you feeling okay? Is he sick?” Tony demands, glaring at Bruce. He switches the glare to Clint when he sees him roll his eyes. “No, seriously. You hate him.”


Hated,” Clint says slowly, tracing his spoon through the dregs of his soup. “Now, not so much. He seems a little different. He did come and talk to me.”


What. “What? When?” Tony wonders if that feeling is what it feels like when your jaw hits the floor. “He talked to you and you’re both still alive?”


“Yeah.” Clint shrugs. “It was fine.”


“Same here,” Bruce says softly, and my god, is it piss on Tony’s parade day, here? Because here he is worried about Loki, and Loki’s just ignoring him in favor of the locals. “I think he just wanted to establish some kind of interaction,” Bruce says hurriedly, holding up his hands. “I’m sure you’re still his favorite.”


“I am not his favorite,” Tony says hotly.


“Uh, yeah, you are.” Clint snorts. “He’s practically doing all of this for you. Maybe to repay you or something, I don’t know.”


“But he’s ignoring me,” Tony says, and fuck you, he does not sound petulant at all.


“Poor baby.”


Tony jumps about a foot out of his skin, and if he had still had his soup, it would be all over his lap by now. “When the hell did Natasha get here?”


“Now,” she says simply, from her seat next to Clint. “And you need to stop whining.”


“I… I am not whining. I was just concerned.”


“Concerned and whining,” Clint sing-songs, and Natasha smirks.




“Okay,” Bruce says, and Tony can tell by his smile he’s got a Brutus in his ranks. “That one was whining.”


“I hate you all.”


Loki thinks, plots, deliberates. Reconfigures, redesigns, rethinks. Tries to fix himself with meditation, with railing at the skies from the roof, with crying out curses to the wind, with reading, with sleeping, with not thinking.


It doesn’t work. Something is missing. Something is off.


He’s more tired, now; his legs don’t hold him for long periods of time. The food that he finds outside of his door helps—strawberry, it says on the box, but it tastes like no strawberries he’s ever found, and he likes these better, truly, because of how soft they are in the middle and how sweet they are at the top—and it’s just that, that he likes it, that he enjoys playing captive, and is meant to. Meant to appreciate being their prisoner, meant to say ‘thank you,’ ‘please,’ follow orders.


The fact that there is nothing more for him anywhere, nothing better for him, and either way, all it will end in is death.


He can die weak, mortal. Or he can die with his pride intact, with the blood of his enemies on his hands. Die a warrior. Follow—a legacy. Whose, he knows not. Loki son of none, because none would claim him.


Blood, then. To right a wrong before… he doesn’t know, anymore. But like calls to like, and he would have the heart of the fairest, as did the queen in one of the books he uncovered—and he would do it right.



“Three days,” Tony rasps, because what the hell. “It’s been three days, and the most you can do is stick a knife to my throat?” He’s kind of not the brightest at four in the fucking morning.


Loki is straddled across him, the prison-issue paper pants hanging low on his hips and his chest white and blue in the low light. Loki doesn’t sleep in a lot, but Tony sleeps in less, when he does actually make it to bed, so it’s a little more than not nice to be in nothing but red silk boxers with his blanket pulled down below his waist and a knife to his throat.


What did Fury say? Murderous intent. Right. But that’s not all that reassuring when Loki looks like that, great purple bruise-like shadows under his eyes and shaking something awful, both hands on the knife.


“I should kill you,” Loki stammers. His eyes are on the blade and not on Tony.

“Uh, no, you shouldn’t. Why should you kill me?”


“Because I’m meant to. Or perhaps…” He relaxes the grip on the knife, which is good, and then grasps the arc reactor, which is not. “This keeps you alive. This is your heart. I could tear your heart out, Stark.”




Loki freezes. “What?”


“Tony. Not Stark. You keep doing that.”


He glares. “I have your life in my hands—”


“Are you going to kill me, Loki?” Might as well just get it out, because if he’s not, Tony would really like at least a few hours of sleep. He has bruises, and aches, and a headache, and this business is not helping.


Yes,” Loki hisses, and he levels the knife, setting it up against the rounded edges of the reactor as if he means to pry it out. “I will see you dead, Tony Stark, in the name of—”


Tony isn’t necessarily a mean drunk, but he’s definitely mean sleep-deprived. Okay. Caffeine-deprived. “In the name of what? Asgard? The place you hate? Joh-tun-whatever-the-hell-ever, the place you hate that you’re from?” He’s just staring at him, and the metal of the blade is cold, and now Tony’s pissed. “Don’t just sit there. Do it! Do it in the name of something you care about! Your name, maybe? Your legacy? Oh, wait. There isn’t one, because there’s never been anything you care about that much, is there? There were things that you cared about because you had to, because you were told to, because you couldn’t take a step back and change your mind. Well, you know what? Now you can. We’re giving you a goddamn opportunity, so grow up and take it.


Ugh. Too many words.


Tony slumps back on his pillow, his piece said, and closes his eyes. If Loki is going to kill him, he is going to do it where Tony is fucking comfortable.


Loki drops the knife.


The scrabbling grip on the arc reactor relaxes, pressing flat against the blue light, and Tony opens his eye to do his damnedest to glare at him.

“What now?” he snaps.


It takes a moment, and Tony thinks, after a while, that he’s not going to say anything and he can get some godforsaken peace, but no. “It’s your heart.” Loki whispers, “I can see your heart. The jailer’s heart…”


“Can you shut the hell up about that? You’re not a prisoner, Loki. Where are your chains?”


Loki looks up at him sharply, thirstily, and no, he is not pandering to any sort of emotional baggage right now. “So you’re not going to kill me?” he sighs. Loki shakes his head slowly, and with that admission he relaxes, shoulders smoothing out, eyes softening. “Good.” Tony knocks him over on his back on the other side of his bed and yanks him towards him, tugging the covers up over both of them, and if those are protests, he does not want to hear it. “You’re having a crisis, and that’s great, that’s development of, of spiritual what-the-fuck-ever.” He slings a hand over Loki when he starts to fidget, and grumbles, “I don’t care right now, okay? Just do me one small, holy favor. Go the fuck to sleep.”


Loki, by some miracle, stays still, and after approximately thirty seconds, give or take three and a half, Tony is finally, blissfully asleep again. His last, semi-waking thought is about the knife. He really, really hopes no one steps on that. Those things are sharp.







Chapter Text

When Tony wakes up, it’s late, sunlight streaming out across his back from open curtains. It’s nice, it’s warm, and he stretches out—and pauses, because his hand rests on warm skin and this is interesting, though not unprecedented; his hand traces up and across, draping across a slender waist, fingers tracing phantom shapes on soft skin.


When he opens his eyes, he meets wide, beautiful green ones. “Hi,” he murmurs sleepily.

“Hello,” Green Eyes answers solemnly.


Oh, for the love of—Tony is out of bed in a flash, his back against the wall and his hands raised—to do what, he has no idea—because Loki, Loki is in his bed, and he’d really like his brain to fill in the blanks now, because what the actual fuck.


Right, okay, no. There’s a perfectly sane explanation for this. For why he woke up practically wrapped around Loki, who is half naked, in his bed


“I’m sorry. About last night,” Loki says quietly, sitting up to wrap his arms around himself, sheet clutched tight. Loki is in his sheets.


“What the hell is going on?”


“I’m apologizing,” Loki says primly, straightening the blanket across his legs.


“For?” Loki looks at him, far too close to amused for his liking.

“You really have no idea, do you? What happened last night?”


Tony blinks. “Should I be regretting what happened, or not being able to remember it?”


Loki scowls a little at that. “What, exactly, do you believe happened?”


Tony frowns, crossing his arms tightly across his chest. “Why are you in my bed half-naked?” Only half. Not that that changes anything.


“Why are you so… what was it? Handsy.”


Tony feels his jaw relocate somewhere around garage level. “I—you—I didn’t.”

Loki’s grin is sly and a mile wide. “I’m sorry to disappoint you, Stark, but what truly transpired was marginally less… athletic.” Okay, to say that, and then bite your lip like that, is not the sort of thing you do on accident. 


No. Nope. No. He would definitely remember if— Tony catches sight of a knife on the carpet, a foot away from him.


Oh, thank god. “You tried to kill me,” Tony says, and then wonders, for a moment, why the hell he sounds so relieved, but to be fair, it makes a hell of a lot more sense. Tony assumes there’s an explanation coming. He’s cold and he wants his damn blanket, but he is not getting back into that bed—he crosses his arms and waits.

And waits.



“That’s it?” he asks incredulously, when Loki’s not even looking at him, just staring at the bony points of his knees. “You hike into my room, straddle me in my sleep, and that’s all you have to say about it? You tried to—”

“I didn’t,” Loki cuts off, throwing the blankets off and stepping out of bed. “Isn’t that the important part? You’re alive.” He pads toward the door.


“Wait,” Tony says hoarsely. His throat is all scratchy. He had a knife right there last night. A knife. “Why didn’t you?” He has to know. Has to know it wasn’t a fluke and that he won’t wake up one knight with the knife through his throat instead of on top of it.  


Loki freezes, his hand halfway to the doorknob. “I…” He turns around an offers Tony a cool, distanced smile. “You carried a very strong argument.”


“You mind reminding me of what, exactly, that was? For future reference?”


Loki laughs, but he doesn’t answer, and he leaves the door swinging behind him. Great. Lovely. He’s only been awake for twenty minutes.


“Alright,” Tony sighs, walking over to the monitors hanging up against the far wall. “Wake up.” He snags a hoodie from the floor as he goes and yanks a pair of sweats out of the dresser. It’s going to be a long day. He can feel it.


“You have twenty one new messages,” Jarvis intones immediately, and Tony turns back, surprised. The box had been empty when he’d fallen asleep. And for a supposedly private line, that’s pretty heavy for a few hours.


“Sort by caller.”




“Really? That was fast. Cookie for you.”


“All calls from— blocked number.”


“SHIELD, then. Fire away.” Sure enough, it’s Nick’s voice coming at him, loud and annoyed, from the speakers.


“Listen, Tony, I don’t care what you’re doing right now, there is a problem. You have a possible hostile with no security parameters in place—”


“Next,” Tony says.


“—gone offline, we don’t know what it is, it’s coming from your end—”


“Next.” Okay.


“—Loki’s leash is off. I repeat, the leash, is fucking off.


“Next,” he repeats, hollowly.


“I hope you haven’t pissed him off, because if he’s coming after you or anyone else right now, there’s nothing stopping him.”




More of the same. Message after message, some blank (that’d be calls, one after another, trying to get through), some louder than the others, some with more colorful language, all very, very bad.


“Patch me through to Fury.”


It picks up on the seventh ring to Fury’s cool, sultry tones. “Stark,” he says sweetly. “I take it you haven’t been gutted in your sleep.”


“Ooh, Nick. It gets me all bothered when you talk murder like that. Which, speaking of, why are we talking murder? What’s going on?”


“What’s going on is that your little pet project cut his ties with us last night. He‘s back online now—any chances you know where he is?”


“Yeah, he—” Just left my room, where he slept, because he came in in the middle of the night with a knife. “Just stopped by and went back. He’s in the house, anyway. So, excuse me, what’s with the SHIELD tech malfunction? I thought you guys didn’t do screw-ups?”


“We don’t,” he says patiently. “It was a glitch in a glitch-free system. It’s something your pet did on his own.”


“Don’t call him that,” Tony snaps. It’s instinctive, off the cuff; he’s too busy trying to figure out how tech that he looked at (because come on, he wasn’t just going to trust them on something like that) that he studied, that he learned as soon as he saw it, went wrong. There was nowhere for a glitch to ride, much less stop the program all together.


Also— “Wait, hang on. So this means that, last night—what time?”


“Early morning, technically. We lost the link around three, got it back around five.”


“Good lord, you people don’t sleep. Send me what you’ve got on his little taser. I need information, and I’d like to know exactly how a regular human tricked his way around the technology embedded in his spine.” He means it; it’s a feat worth of… well, Tony, and he can’t help but be curious, and it’s an added boost to hear Fury hang up on him with a firm, aggravated click.


Either way, the data streams in, and he can see exactly when it shuts off. “Jarvis, run me the video feed from Loki’s room, about a minute or two leading up to… 2:47am.”


The video pops up. He’s sprawled across the bed, limbs twisted in the sheets, so nothing to see… Except, that’s not quite right. “Take me closer.”


It’s not right because Loki’s face is twisted to the side, pressed against his pillow, and his teeth look like they’re crushed together hard enough to crack. He’s sweating, shining in the low light from the street outside and heavy tremors wrack through his body every few seconds. He doesn’t look fine. He doesn’t even look okay. He looks sick.


“Vitals,” Tony orders tersely, and they pop up right under the screen. It’s everything that’s wrong with Loki in candy-colored displays, and it almost seems like a mockery, throwing levity on the fact that he’s falling apart on a level so fine and so methodical it’s almost molecular. His temperature… From 2:40, it rises. 101… 103… 105… 106… “Jarvis—” 2:46am and it’s 107.5 and still going up— “Jesus Christ, how is he alive—” It hits 109 at 2:47 on the dot, and he’s thrashing on his mattress, sweat soaked and shaking. He looks like he’s in agony, and his back arches up off the mattress, mouth a rigid iron line.

His breathing is reduced, blood pressure low, but, slowly, his temperature starts to come down on its own, and Tony watches it pass 107… 105.1… 104… And then Loki’s eyes flash open and he fights his way out of his sheets, peeling them off and standing without so much as an unsteady sway. Tony knows what happens next. Mostly.


“Play what happened in here last night,” he says quietly, and the monitors oblige. After a moment he knows what he needs to.


And he knows that he is seriously missing out on the whole ‘survival instinct’ portion of his brain. Tony Stark: confronted with a knife, chooses to—


“You can shut that off now!” That is not cuddling. He is not cuddling a super villain. “Actually, you know what? You can just get rid of that. All of it. Now.”


“Are you sure you wouldn’t like it stored? For posterity. Sir.”


“I regret ever giving you any sort of personality.”


He doesn’t have time for a confrontation, anyways, because as soon as he leaves the room, alerts flare up and it’s assembly time, and to be honest, he’d be happy for the interruption, he would.


If it weren’t HYDRA. Again.


HYDRA’s got one of their many-armed robo-octopus ships ripping its way up out of Lake Superior, and planting its legs, tendrils whipping out and around, sliding under the earth to uproot trees and splinter docks.


“If they were trying to establish some sort of base, you’d think they’d do it in secret,” Clint grumbles across the comms. Everyone but Tony is stacked inside a SHIELD jet, hovering fifty feet above the machines. “Like, this isn’t even trying.”


“Yeah, well, can we just get rid of them? Is Bruce—” A roar is all the answer he needs. “Good. Send him down. See if we can’t rip out some of their roots.”


A Hulk-shaped cannonball shoots its way out of the bottom of the jet, and he’s ripping up their wires in a minute. It looks like a quick job, so Tony heads toward the head of the beast. There’s a canon at the top, green energy gathering in the middle of it, but it’s big and unwieldy, and by the time it’s got him in its sights, he’s shooting up and over. It takes one repulsor blast to take out the canon, and one more to knock the main body of the beast back into the water, now tethered on only by three legs, the other hanging.


It’s irritatingly easy, and stays that way until he’s struck from behind, pressure more than he’s expecting, driving him down into the mud, face-first. “Son of a—” Something sticks him in the back of the neck, cutting right through vibranium-laced fibers, and that’s not even possible


And then whatever was on top of him is heaved off in one pissed-off shove, and the Hulk is tossing him back onto his feet—ha, Iron Man, cat-like reflexes and twice as pretty—and breaking the cable that smacked him into two squirming pieces. The tide turns quickly—the troops that clamber out of the machine are taken down in short order by the Widow and the Hawk, and when Cap throws his shield, it breaks through the remaining two tentacles’ hold on the shore, and the ship is receding, sinking back under the water in defeat.


It would feel more like a victory if Tony weren’t so dizzy, and when he pulls of a gauntlet to press gloved fingers against the back of his neck, they come back wet and dark.


“Are you alright?” Cap asks breathlessly, and Tony’s mouth slacks around the yeah, of course, because he’s not, he’s not, because if he was, he wouldn’t be sliding in the mud and onto Captain America’s shoulder, world spinning out around him.


Something hit me, he tries to say, but his mouth isn’t working, and all of the color is leaking out of his vision. Neurotoxin? Probably. Which means he doesn’t have long, really. It would help if Bruce were Bruce, because maybe he could figure out what they hit him with. Huh. His thinking’s all online, which is good, and he never got to yell at Loki about the death-threat after all, and isn’t that just a kick in the pants, because what if he gets a god-fever again and goes after one of the others, because they probably won’t know what to say to him, and Natasha will shoot him, and, wow, when did the stars come out, that’s nice, that’s really, that’s something else

Chapter Text

Tony’s flirting with consciousness when Steve knocks his legs out from under him and swings him up into his arms, tugging the helmet off. He tosses it to Natasha when she walks up, a HYDRA gun tucked into her belt. “What happened to him?” Clint’s right behind her, his bow trained to cover their backs.


“I don’t—” There’s something wet against his arm, and he moves Tony forward a little to check. Blood. “He’s been hit, with something. He’s half-conscious, so it was probably toxic.”


“Fantastic,” she mutters. Natasha leads the way to the jet, and Steve follows, Tony slung low. He’s not sure what’s going on. It’s HYDRA. They can be trouble on their best days, a nuisance on their worst, but this has to be the closest they’ve ever gotten. If it was poison Tony was hit with, he shouldn’t be alive. If it was something else… Steve frowns.


“Hawkeye. See if you can get Banner out,” he orders tersely, and Clint nods, doubling back for their green-eyed monster.


“Banner?” Natasha asks, when the platform opens.


“He might be able to figure out what hit him.” Steve shrugs. “It’s our best shot at the moment.”


“I’ll see what I can do.” They turn to the open doorway. Clint’s got an arm slung around a bare-chested Bruce Banner, and the doctor grimaces when he moves forward. Steve gives a quick nod to Natasha to take them into the air.


“Did you get hit, too?” Steve asks as Bruce stumbles forward, falling on his knees next to Tony’s prone form.


“I don’t know what it was,” Bruce says, and when his hand goes to his side, Steve sees the wide red welt across it. There’s a small puncture wound at the center, like the world’s largest bug-bite, and it looks like it hurts, but it doesn’t look like it bled like whatever hit Tony.


When Bruce turns him over, though, he’s not as sure, because it’s the same red welt, and there might just be a puncture wound, there, underneath all the red.


Steve swallows. He’s never been one to be squeamish, not in a battle and not in a war, but this feels different. This is Iron Man. He doesn’t bleed. It doesn’t work like that. “He’s… lost a lot of blood?”


When Bruce says, “I don’t think so,” it’s almost enough to get Steve breathing normally again.


“What do you mean?”


“I don’t think it’s blood.” He uses his hand to wipe away some of the red, and, yeah, there’s the puncture wound, but there’s nowhere it could have come from. “I think this might be whatever they hit him with. Maybe the needle, or whatever they used, didn’t go in right the first time. And look—it burned him a little here.” He points to bright red splotches across the top and side of the back of Tony’s neck. “This might just be an allergy.”


“How far away are we, Natasha?”

“Ten minutes, if I gun it.”

“Make it five.”


In four and a half minutes, Tony’s waking up in SHIELD HQ, dazed, bewildered, and pants-less.


“What —”


 “You’re awake!” Steve hops up to his feet, knocking over the bedside chair in the process. “Sorry! Sorry, I guess that’s not exactly a soothing wake-up call. Um.”


Tony squints at him, lips pursed. “Why am I naked?”


“You’re not naked,” Steve points out. “You’re in a hospital gown.”

“The question remains.”

“There were tests. I didn’t really ask.”

“Tests that required me to be naked. I almost wish I was conscious for that.”

“Glad to see you recover quickly,” Steve deadpans. Leave it to Tony Stark to wake up smart-alecky. “You and Bruce got hit with something—”

“So he’s walking around naked too.”

“—and they’re running tests on the fluid now—you are not naked. And neither is Bruce.”

“So he’s in a paper dress too? Well, darn. I’ll have to go home and change, now.”

“Actually, he’s—”

“Fully dressed and bearing results?” Bruce walks in with paperwork held high, and Steve sighs, because he knows he probably won’t understand the next few minutes of conversation.

“Should I even stay?” he asks.

Instead of answering, Tony swivels his head around to face him and asks, innocently, “Why does he get to keep his pants on? What’s with the special treatment?”


“You were the only one who got knocked out,” Bruce answers, and when Steve gets up—science may have changed in seventy years, but he hasn’t, and it never was his strong suit—Tony snags him by the sleeve and slings him back to his position at the head of his bed.


“Not so fast, cowboy. I want to know what happened to me.”


“You got knocked out,” Steve says patiently. “He already told you that part.” He doesn’t tell Tony how scared he was, because that doesn’t seem relevant, and besides, Tony’s alive, and that’s what matters. But alive for how long? “Was it poisonous?” he asks Bruce, moving a little closer to Tony—it’s automatic. There’s no way being closer will make him better. It didn’t help his father when he sat at the foot of his bed, and it didn’t help his mother when he held her hand through the last of the withering coughs, so he knows that there’s no way to help. Knows it, but that doesn’t stop his hand from finding the edge of the cot and his fingers from stilling themselves a centimeter away from Tony’s skin.


“No,” Bruce says, after what feels like too long, and Steve blinks, quickly. “It’s not toxic. Actually, I don’t think they stuck anything in us at all.”


Not toxic. No slow death, moment by moment, organ by organ—Tony nudges Steve in the side, and he looks down, quickly, met by a quirked eyebrow and a frown. “Was I that bad?” Tony asks.


Steve shrugs. “Just a little out of it,” he lies. “You faint very prettily.”


“Why, Cap. I thought you couldn’t tell a lie.”


“What was it?” Steve asks Bruce. “And, uh, laymen’s terms, if you can.”


“It was an anticoagulant. They’re still running some tests, but it looks like it was a low-level toxin, a small enough dose not to be harmful—except for to you, apparently— and used to collect blood.”


“Collect blood,” Steve repeats. “They hit you two for blood samples?” And then he looks at Bruce again. “They hit you for a blood sample? No disrespect, but isn’t your blood…”


“Toxic as hell? Yeah. This is a problem.”


There’s a sound from behind them. Tony’s dropped his head with an irritated grunt, and he leans back further into the thin pillow, pouting like that changes anything. “I hate HYDRA.”


You hate them?” Steve smiles, because at this point, he’s used to getting good news with the bad, and if you can’t accept a little good you have no business surviving. “How do you think I feel? We’ve been going strong for seventy years.”


“You,” Tony says, pointing up from below. “Have terrible luck.”


Not today.





Everybody’s in a foul mood for the debrief, which, a) isn’t fair, because they weren’t hospitalized for a couple of hours, now were they? and b) is totally justified, because since when does HYDRA get a leg over The Avengers?

Everyone’s worse for wear; Clint’s got a bandage wrapped around his shoulder and Natasha’s got her ankle wrapped. Add that to nicks and bruises all around, and it makes the team.


The debrief is already in full swing when Tony walks in—re-panted and mended up, if a little light-headed—and when he sits and asks, “So what’ve I missed?”


Fury glares at him with his good eye (and probably death-glares with the bad one, who knows?) and makes a very menacing noise deep in his throat.


Tony blinks.


“Did you just… growl at me?”


“Shut the hell up.”


“My point is,” Clint says, holding up a hand (Tony makes a face at the patch, because the good eye’s on Clint and the bad one is totally still eyeballing him. Ha.), “what the hell is with the midland attack? Are they going to Canada? Are they on their way there? Because I’m pretty sure we don’t have Canadian jurisdiction.”

“Canada isn’t under our jurisdiction,” Natasha offers, and that sounds like an agreement if Tony’s ever heard one.

“So it’s settled,” Tony jumps in. “We herd them into Canada.”

“You sound way to happy about that,” Steve grumbles, slouching lower in his chair.

“Minus five points for poor posture, Mr. Rogers—oh, come on. All work and no play—well, I guess that just makes you Steve, doesn’t it?”


“You’d think you’d be a little more invested in this,” Fury says, voice dangerously low. “Who knows what they’re doing with your blood? Can you really afford to have two hostiles after your neck?”


Tony’s grin dies on his face. Fury knows, then, about what happened last night. Or, Tony amends, watching a flicker of satisfaction light across his face, he does now, after that reaction.

“I am concerned,” Tony says grimly. “But we don’t know what they’re doing, or why, and until another head pops up, all we’ve got is speculation.”


“And what about your other problem?”


Tony crosses his arms. “He’s not a problem.”


“Loki?” Bruce perks his head up, pushing his glasses farther up the bridge of his nose. “I didn’t think he still counted as a hostile force.”


Fury turns to look at Tony, and then they all do, and even with their eyes on him, he can’t quite figure out how to explain what happened last night, and how to explain that it didn’t mean what they’d assume that it meant, even if it… did. And, Jesus, if his reasoning gives him a headache, the last thing he wants is five other headaches on his conscience. Right. He’d do it for head-health, and the good of all mankind. “No,” he says, and pretends that the pause wasn’t just long enough for doubt. “He’s not.”


The others accept it, Fury’s inscrutable, and Tony feels like he’s signed on to something as uncertain as his own survival. Knife to the throat, toxin to the back of the neck… at least he’ll go out interesting.



They call it in way later than necessary, and Tony calls for pizza. It’ll take a while for it to get there, but he’s too busy moaning on the coach about the bruises everywhere and the great big war wound on the back of his neck, and he keeps going until Natasha hobbles over and presses a pillow to his face.

“I know the exact pressure,” she says genially, “that it would require to jam this down your throat.”

He shuts up. For, like, a second.


“Does that mean you won’t get me that ice pack?”

It turns out you can run in severe pain, especially when leaving behind a crazy, violent, red-haired Russian woman with a horrendously embroidered pillow.


He doesn’t stop running until he realizes where he is, and by then it’s too late. Loki’s door is in front of him, and a conversation he doesn’t wnta to have is waving itself in front of his nose.


Let it never be said that Tony Stark is a coward.

Let it always be said that he is an opportunist, and is that the doorbell he hears?


“Tony? Why are you skulking away?”


Tony turns around, red hands high. “I—what? I don’t ‘skulk.’”


“Except for right now, apparently.”

Loki leans in his doorway, arms crossed and smirk on full-force.


“I was just coming to tell you that—there’s pizza. Coming. On it’s way. In transit. Oh, hey, you’re wearing the red one, I didn’t think you’d go for that one.” He’s freshly showered, hair curling slightly at his temples and where it reaches his collar, and whether or not Loki goes for red, it certainly goes for him. He looks like Snow White, only a little less pure and a lot less—Uh. No.


“Yes, well,” Loki says, stiffly. “Tastes change.”


“So you’d pick red over green now? Are you switching sides? Do I get to plan a coming-out party?”


“You talk too much,” Loki says, turning back into his room. He leaves the door open, so Tony follows, perching on the corner of a perfectly made bed. It’s regulation-straight, and Tony would feel awful about denting it, if it weren’t for the fact that he recognizes this quilt.


“Didn’t… didn’t this thing have pleats in it? You totally suck as a god of chaos. You are way too OCD.”


“Don’t be rude,” Loki quips, and it sounds so much like something Pepper would say, it makes him laugh—and the The Conversation rears its great ugly head, and he sobers up so fast that Loki takes a hesitant step towards him, brow furrowed.


“Are you… not well?”


He says it like he means it, but how does he even have the patience necessary to show concern when, if the monitors were right—and they are, always —he is not well at all. Tony swallows that. If Loki isn’t concerned, he’s not going to make him. Not until he fixes it.


Tony smiles mirthlessly. “Is that real concern?”


“Your battle today took far longer than I had anticipated.”


“You were waiting up for me,” Tony realizes, and the funny thing is that Loki doesn’t even deny it or look away, but comes and sits farther up the bed and faces him, calm, even, collected.


“I wanted to know what happened,” he says, shrugging. “It would have been entertaining, if vicarious.”


“Whose side would you be rooting for?” Tony asks, half teasing.


“Yours,” is his answer, and he doesn’t even bat an eyelid.


“But you tried to kill me,” Tony bursts, because this is ridiculous. He’s never killed anyone in cold blood, never even come close, but he imagines, with all of the betrayal spun into the worst of his fights, that if he were given the opportunity—he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t take it, but if he were spun of the right—or the wrong—moral fiber, he would, and more than that, if he failed the first time, he’d try again, and he wouldn’t change his mind. So Loki, fickle, fickle Loki, changing his spots at the drop of a dime, doesn’t make any sense. “You had a knife to my throat, and nothing stopped you. You could’ve done it. I could be dead right now.”


“I would have seen you dead,” Loki agrees readily. “I meant to leave you for dead, and die at the hands of the others.”


“Going out in flames.”


“Or a window,” Loki says wryly, and Tony shakes his head. Unbelievable.


“But why?”


Loki frowns down at his hands, twisting them in his lap. Defensive maneuver one.  “I… don’t know that I did. Had I wanted you dead, truly wanted it, you would be dead, make no mistake. I…” He looks up at Tony, searching, staring at him like he’s something alien, something other. “I didn’t, because you didn’t think I would. You were… The faith you had in me, I…” He scowls, frustrated. “I didn’t want to disappoint.”


He sounds disgusted enough with himself that it makes Tony smile, even though he didn’t answer the question. Tony wasn’t asking why he didn’t, but why he almost did. But he thinks he gets it, a little. He thinks that Loki has no idea what he wants, and it’s a ridiculous enough reason that it fits completely. His default’s been murder for far too long; Tony’s just surprised that he managed to stop himself this time.


“You didn’t,” Tony says finally, and it comes out in a whisper. “I mean—” He clears his throat. “To be honest, you jumping into my bed wasn’t exactly how I saw the night going, but…”


Loki’s laugh is startled out of him and the absolute surprise of it has Tony biting back a smile. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re the one who shoved me into your bed.”


“I did not,” Tony snaps. Loki just looks at him. “Wait, seriously?”


The smile spreads like a slow poison, and Loki’s on his knees on the mattress, leaning towards him.


“You pinned me down,” he purrs, and Christ, can he carry a stare. “Held me to yourself. I couldn’t have left had I wanted to. You made it… hard.” His last word is a whisper and it has Tony spluttering, tongue turned to lead.


“Well I—you didn’t—it’s your—had you wanted to? Why didn’t you want to?” Tony says quickly, and it’s getting a little harder to do any upstairs thinking.


Loki is close enough that he can count every single shade of green in his eyes, and when he murmurs, “Because you’re strange,” Tony can feel the words against his mouth and Loki looks far too happy about all of this. “I threaten you and you pull me closer. As far as distractions go, it was certainly…” Loki is close enough that he could count his eyelashes, were he so inclined. “Peculiar.” It’s awfully hard to stare someone down when they’re making you cross-eyed, but damn if Tony tries, leaning back the closer Loki gets, but any farther and they’ll be horizontal, Loki pressed on top of him, hip to hip, mouth to mouth—


“What’s pizza?”


Tony swallows, hard. “Uh. That I can do.”

Chapter Text


Tony Stark is bare-chested and open-mouthed by his window, and Loki leaves the room almost shaking, but he holds it well, shoulders rigid, smile fixed, poise controlled, and he manages to keep himself together until he reaches his room and closes the door behind himself. And then the tremors come. They start, small and unnoticeable, in his fingers, twisting up his arms, rattling in his chest, and he barely makes it to the bed before he’s lying down, teeth clenched together to keep from biting off his own tongue.


He’s cold. It’s ice he’s feeling, and it’s bone deep, sending shudders through his spine, and he fists his sheets in his hands, doing his best to keep still, lest the frost swallows him alive. Drifting out of consciousness is a blessing—and it is, truly, a drift, the shudders droning into a low buzz at the base of his spine, carrying him out of awareness—and the only thing he holds on to are hazy promises of redemption, of new beginnings, of possibilities.


When Loki comes to again, the sun cuts through his window at a terrible angle, and he rises to swing the curtains closed. He can’t ask himself what happened, because he knows, for the most part. Loki of Nowhere (as Stark had so helpfully pointed out) doesn’t know whether to feel shame or failure—both for failing to kill and to die, or both for showing weakness, under (and within, he can’t deny) the arms of an enemy. He falls back across the mattress, stares up at the ceiling, and tries to think.


He’d tried, he had, but he didn’t want Tony dead. He still doesn’t. He wants him alive, and he wants…


He desires the permanence that Tony offers. Tony, constant and ever changing. He can still feel the ghost of fingers against his side, and there’s something addictive about having a person that close, of sharing body heat and not fearing for life or liberty. Tony offers enough chaos to be calming, offers a would-be assassin a bed, offers a villain a chance. And it’s just that, isn’t it? It’s everything he offers, with no further demand than acceptance, and if it’s a plan with an endgame, it’s a clever one, because Loki can’t see any sort of end to it. He sees more fits in his future, until they evolve to blindness, paralysis, death, but he can’t see what Tony gets out of it, and that’s dangerous. That’s enough to make him trust him.


“I suppose I should speak to him,” Loki muses aloud, and he’s not as startled by the answer as he was before he accepted the creature in Tony Stark’s ceilings.


“The Avengers are not currently on the premises,” says Jarvis, and Loki sits up.


“Are they to battle?”


“They answered a distress call approximately three hours ago.” Yes, then. But who?


“With whom were they fighting?”


“An invasion seemed to be planned in the Great Lakes region. They are currently en route to SHIELD headquarters.”


Very well, then. He’d just have to find a way to keep himself occupied. “Thank you… Jarvis.”


“Certainly, Mr. Laufeyson.”


All he can do, then, is wait. He goes to the library first, because it’s safe, and he doesn’t have to think, much, when he’s drowning in its alien contents. It’s not enough, though—his mind is moving too fast, and the inanities of female fashions do little to occupy that. He finds himself in the kitchen next.


He remembers, once, having food laid out, anything there for the taken. He remembers, also, crusades and campaigns, hunting for food when far from home. And then there’s… this.


Loki stares at the wall of cabinets, unamused.


How is he supposed to know what he can eat? And how? The first cabinet he opens has some sort of dry material in plastic packages— buttoni, spaghetti, penne—he tosses it back, irritated. It’s not even English. The next cabinet is no better. There’s jar after jar of spices, sauces, round objects suspended in clear fluid.


He has no idea how Midgardians have survived for so long.


“If I may?”




“The refrigerator, bottom shelf.” Loki looks around. The only thing he doesn’t know the name of is the great, metal-plated closet; when he opens it, a wave of cool air washes over him.


On the bottom shelf is a bowl of basin proportions, and he pulls it out carefully, minding the clear wrapping over the top. “What is it?” he asks the air, and when Jarvis answers, he sounds almost amused.


“Mr. Stark had it stored previous to your... altercation.” Nice way of putting it. Altercation. He makes it sound so civil.

Loki unwraps the plastic. It’s a strange, brown sludge with a white swirl across the top. “Are you sure it’s edible?” he asks, just to be sure. It hardly looks it. It looks... well. Like nothing flattering.


“The spoons are in the drawer behind you,” is all Jarvis says.


He does as he’s been instructed (if only because it doesn’t feel like instruction, but delicate suggestion) and takes a bite.


The bowl is empty in five minutes, and he’s smiling, and thank god no one is there to see it because he doesn’t need a witness for… for whatever this is. For whatever affection Tony has decided to show, and for however fondly he reacts to it.


“Jarvis? What was that called?”


“Pudding, sir.”


“I’d like another,” he says morosely, dropping the spoon into the bowl.


"I'll put in your request."




When Tony finally comes back, and questions are asked, and he tries to answer (because he owes him, because he doesn’t like the idea of owing a debt, because he’s been kind) he moves a little closer than necessary, because maybe if he moves in close enough he can see the cracks in the wall, the answers he really wants, but all he gets is an eyeful of brown eyes, pupils wide and confused. He smells like spices and chemicals.


It’s not until Tony turns to leave the room that Loki sees a cause for it. There are welts across the back of his neck, burns and abrasions and, at the center, a wide red puncture wound. Loki didn’t kill him, but somebody else certainly tried to.


He grabs Tony’s shoulder and pushes him up against the wall, softly enough that the only protest he offers is, “The door is that one, Loki, this is a wall,” and bends in closer.


The burns are only surface deep, and the puncture wound is already healing, over, but— “What happened?” he asks tersely, letting him go.


Tony steps back from the wall and turns back to Loki, rubbing slightly at the burns and wincing at the contact. “It’s nothing, we just—”


“You’re injured.”


“Well, yeah, but my bruises hurt more than this. Seriously, I can show you, I look like the bastard child of a leek and an eggplant—” He moves as if to pull up the corner of his shirt and Loki stops him with a hand to his, face drawn.


“Who was it?” he asks coolly, as if he’s not planning—planning what? He can’t plan anything, can’t do anything, couldn’t even kill one vulnerable human. If the opponent is worthy enough to take on the man of iron, how might he, in a suit of merely this tender mortal flesh, hope to compromise them in any way?


He lets go of Tony’s hand with a growl, stepping away. “I hope your opponents were worthy,” he spits, and he doesn’t even know what he means, really, but he says it like an insult, and whether he’s insulting how Tony appears to be absolutely incapable of preserving his own life, or insulting his opponent for being incompetent enough to let him get away, he doesn't care.


“They weren’t, really,” Tony says glibly, completely unaware of just how irritated Loki is. “I mean, HYDRA. They got lucky.”


“Lucky enough to wound you.”


“Look, I got my checkup. Cap and Bruce both said I was good to go—hey, where’re you going?”


“Didn’t you say something about pizza?” Loki calls over his shoulder. Pizza, though, comes second to finding the doctor and the captain. He’d like to know, himself, just what had happened. Who had dared to harm— No. He’d just like to know what happened.


He runs into Steve first, considers his words for a moment, and then decides to ask, “Have you seen Dr. Banner anywhere? I would have words.”


“Uh, hi to you too,” Steve answers blankly, the dolt.


Hello,” Loki says impatiently. “Now where is Dr. Ba—”


“Problem?” Bruce asks, walking around the corner. “Pizza here yet?”


“What happened to Tony?” Loki asks immediately, walking after him. “I saw his wounds.”


“Yeah.” Bruce grimaces. “The two of us got hit. HYDRA—basically another organization bent on world domination—you guys aren’t nearly as special as you make yourselves out to be—” He tries to soften his words with a smile. Loki really doesn’t care. “Uh, okay. They stuck us with needles. Drew our blood.”

He raises the edge of his shirt, and Loki sees another puncture wound. It looks the same, minus the burns and scratches that accompany Tony’s own. “Tony had some kind of reaction to the fluid they were using to store the blood. Think half allergy, half reacting to the fibers that make up the Iron Man suit.”


“Allergy,” Loki repeats. “I don’t understand. Is he ill?”


“No…” Bruce looks at him oddly, sliding onto a kitchen chair. “He’s fine. Trust me, our tests were pretty all-intensive. Why’re you so worried?”


“I’m not,” Loki snaps. He’s not. He simply doesn’t like being inconvenienced. The injury of any of his cohabitants would be just that. Inconvenient. But just to clarify… “So he isn’t… unduly… hurt. None of you,” Loki tacks on, because.


“No,” Bruce says gently, smiling back at him. “Everyone’s okay. It’s just been a long day.”


“Good,” Loki says, after a moment, and he means it.


“Pizza’s here.” Loki jumps a little. Tony stands with Steve in the doorway, both of them looking at him like they can’t quite believe what’s just come out of his mouth.


“What?” he snaps, stepping away from the table. “Am I no longer welcome?”


Tony snorts. “Don’t be ridiculous.” He pushes past Loki to set two wide white boxes on the table. Steve deposits two more, and makes it a point to smile at Loki when he moves away—which is strange in itself, and it makes Loki uncomfortable.


“One cheese, one miscellaneous meat, one Hawaiian, and one everything,” Tony ticks off, tossing the top of one of the boxes back and tugging out a piece. “Amen, hallelujah.” Loki looks over the box.


Whatever it is, it’s round, shining, and smells fantastic.


“Try some,” Steve says from behind him. “Just grab a slice.”


“I’m not sure I—”


“The pizza’s here?” Agents Barton and Romanoff enter and reach past Loki to snatch one of the boxes from the table. Clint closes his eyes and sighs in pleasure when the box opens, the steamy air wafting over him. Natasha elbows past him to tug out a slice, and then goes to sit at the table, opposite Loki, blowing across the hot cheese.


“You’re not eating,” she says evenly, taking a bite. “You should.”


“He’s going to,” Tony opines, sliding in next to Natasha. “And I’d like to watch. This should be good.”


“What if he doesn’t like it?” Clint asks skeptically, perching up on the counter and looking down at all of them.


And now they’re all looking at him, waiting. Loki sits down with a sigh and pulls one of the boxes towards himself. “I suppose one piece couldn’t hurt.”


Oh, high hosts of Valhalla. The contents of his mouth -


“Um. Well. I think he likes it,” Tony mutters to Natasha. “Look at him go. We should’ve gotten five. My god, it’s like that teletubby vacuum—”


“Please stop talking.”


“I’m just saying. There is a black hole where his stomach should be.”


Loki glares back at him around a mouthful of bliss. How rude. “Just because—” He pauses to swallow. “Just because you puny mortals—”


Tony raises a hand. “Uh, we puny mortals. Forgot yourself there.”


“Maintain such a low appetite,” he continues, glowering back at Tony, “Does not mean that an Aesir, regardless of how depleted their godhood, maintains as such.”


Tony turns back to Natasha. “Like I said, five. Don’t let me forget it.” All she does is take another dainty bite. Loki follows suit. Only, he notices, the pie in front of him is almost gone… He peeks over. The other, with bits of yellow fruit and round cuts of meat, appears to be mostly full.


He finds that he likes that one better, anyways.




They’re all sitting around the same table, the pizza boxes are empty (Loki looks like someone’s kicked his puppy)(nobody is allowed to get Loki a puppy), and everyone’s full and happy. It’s like the world’s strangest family dinner, and it’s the best one Tony’s ever had. He doesn’t even care what that means; all he knows is that all the odd makes for a little bit of perfect, and he’s okay with it.


“I told you you’d like the pizza,” he says to Loki, who glances up at him with droopy, half-asleep eyes. He gets a noncommittal sort of sound in response, and it’s almost sweet. “That just proves that you should listen to me more often.”


“For a good time, call Tony Stark,” Bruce says sarcastically. Tony points at him.


“And everyone should take that as gospel.”


Clint snorts. “Except for those of us who can have fun on our own. And, hey, maybe even save some for our…” He looks at Loki, considering. “I have no idea what to call him anymore. I’m assuming that ‘pet’ is frowned upon.”


Loki narrows his eyes at him. “Very heavily.”


“Our kept villain?”


“Did I hear a challenge in there somewhere?” Tony asks, because he doesn’t want this to escalate, because that would probably mean moving. And anyways, Loki’s got his hand clenched around the little three-legged pizza table (“What is this little table for?” “It’s for when elves need something to eat on. Ouch.” “Elves are far larger than this.” “It’s just to keep the lid from falling on the pizza, Loki.” “Thank you, Captain.”) and he looks like he’s about to chuck it at Clint’s head. Which won’t go well because, a) Clint has unholy reflexes, and b) Loki’s probably got the arm strength of one of the small elves that apparently don’t even exist (thank you, childhood lies).


“Fine,” Tony says, in answer to himself. He sits up straighter. “A challenge it is. Whoever can show Loki the best thing about earth in—” He checks his watch. “The next three hours, wins.”


“No,” Loki says immediately, and slouches deeper into his seat.

“You don’t get a vote,” Tony says smugly. “You’re the contest.”


“It’s late…” Steve says slowly. Spoilsport.


“I don’t want to,” Clint says stubbornly.


“That’s good,” Natasha says glibly, “since we all know I’d win, anyway.”


“What?” Clint demands, turning to face her. “According to who?”


Bruce is shaking his head from the other side of the table. “Well played.”


Tony grins at him. “Let the games begin.”





It’s Clint’s turn first.

“I don’t understand the point of this,” Loki says petulantly, controller dangling from skeptical fingers.

“You just—come on, you flaming dick—try an shoot them before they shoot—motherfucker—you. It’s not that—godfuckingdammit—hard to get.”

Loki looks over at the others with wide, alarmed eyes.


Tony’s doing his best to fight back his laughter, but it’s really rather hard to control your tear ducts, and he has to squint through his streaming eyes to make anything out.


“I don’t think this is—”


Take that you goddamn zombie scum.” Clint yells this with such outright fervor that Loki jumps back, hands raising in defense, and the controller sails through the air, landing directly into Bruce’s lap.


Bruce jumps a little and everybody freezes.


He twitches.


“Sorry,” Clint says meekly, pausing the game and walking over to tug the plastic controller out of his lap. “I’ll just… put this away now.”


“I guess it’s my turn,” Bruce says quietly, and smiles.




Loki lasts all of ten minutes in the lab until he’s walking out with a sigh. “As fascinating as I find radiation, I don’t believe it suits after-supper conversations particularly well,” he says. Clint fist-pumps the air.


“No hard feelings, doctor?” he offers, grinning cheekily.

“I though it was excellent conversation,” Bruce mutters.


When Steve suggests a walk, to ‘see the lights,’ Loki suggests a nap, and to ‘turn out the lights.’


Natasha’s the one who wins, in the end, when she locks the other three out—regardless of the fact that it is Tony’s house, yet again—and settles Loki and herself in front of the TV.


“Those are remarkable shoes,” they hear from the other side. "Though considerably unreasonable."

“That’s the point,” Natasha answers.

“Oh, I like this.”




“Defeated,” Clint says glumly. “By Sex and the City.”


Tony shrugs. “Happens to the best of us.”


“Not you,” he says mulishly. “You’re still his favorite.” 

Chapter Text

After a few episodes, Natasha claims fatigue and retires, with a quick, “Goodnight, Loki.”


“Goodnight,” he answers. “Thank you. This was… oddly enjoyable.”

Her mouth twists up into a rare smile. “There are six seasons and two movies. You’re not done yet.” One more wave and she’s gone, and Loki laughs. Midgardian entertainment truly knows no bounds.


Steve approaches Loki a few minutes later. Everyone else has dispersed, but he’s remained in front of the screen, flipping buttons on the remote to see where they take him. A small, gray-haired woman is waxing poetic on the nature of nylon stockings. He thinks they look excessively uncomfortable. Click.


“Enjoying yourself?” Steve asks, just as two sweating, half-naked men in tights and masks pop up. One takes a swing at the other.


“This is… odd,” Loki says, glancing up to see Steve looking at him thoughtfully, resting his hip against the side of the sofa. Steve seems to take the inconsequential comment as an invitation, and goes to sit next to Loki, holding out a hand for the remote. Loki obliges, if only because he can’t hear a word from the screen anymore, and perhaps the captain can fix it.


He does, and the green box that read ‘mute’ disappears from the corner of the screen. And then he presses another button and the screen goes black.


“But I don’t know how to turn it back on,” Loki says blankly.

Steve raises an eyebrow. “It’s the button that says on.” He shows him the face of the remote. Huh.


“I hadn’t seen the words.”


Instead of answering, Steve tucks the remote to his side and turns to Loki, as solemn a demeanor as the captain ever carries.


“You were really upset back there,” he says calmly. Loki tucks his knees up to his chin. This sounds like it will take a while. “I’d really like to know why.”


“Upset when?” Loki mumbles, looking down at his knees. He will not discuss whatever conflicting emotions he may or may not carry with a—with an—with Captain America. He may goad, he may threaten, but there is nothing he can do to make Loki talk (that Tony would allow, he hopes) and his tongue, as yet, is the only thing Loki has been able to keep his own.


But he surprises him.


“I thought he was going to die,” he says suddenly, voice soft. Loki stares at him. “I really thought that… that he was dying. I carried him back to the jet, you know. He wasn’t conscious.” He looks scared, eyes dimmed in memory. His lips are pressed together tightly, bloodless, and his eyes are wide. These, the words that he offers, are pure, unadulterated honesty, and Loki’s not sure what to do with it. If he takes it, he and the captain will be bonded, if in nothing else but truths freely given.


Nevertheless, he can’t quite stop himself from asking, “Were you prepared to mourn?” He can’t help that his heart stops, waiting for an answer with stilled breath.


“Yes,” Steve whispers. “And it was terrible.”


“You have mourned many,” Loki observes, and it’s clear, now that he knows to look for it. He knows loss. There’s a fold to his shoulders, and the lines around his mouth, where it pulls down at his memories, sing of loss and love and heartache. He is a warrior, truly, and one of too large, too true heart.


“I would have mourned him,” Loki admits, because it feels like his turn. He plucks at a loose thread on the chair, twining it around his nail. “And the thought that while I was here, doing nothing of importance while he died—” Vitriol rises in his throat at the imagining, and he’s too angry to be nervous about the sense of loss he feels tugging at him when he thinks about a Stark-shaped impression left upon a Tony-free life. It wouldn’t be much of one, and he sincerely believes that it wouldn’t last long.


Twenty-four hours ago, he held a knife to his throat, and he can’t, for the life of him, remember why.


“I… care for him, Captain,” he says brusquely, unfolding to his feet. “As do you, and we may leave it at that.” He thinks that if he can act like the admission means nothing, it will mean nothing. He thinks that he can brush it off as inconsequential, unnecessary, irrelevant.


But the soft, knowing eyes Steve turns on him makes that hard, and he fights a rising, panic-filled lump in his throat. No.


“What if it had been someone else?” Steve asks after a moment, curious. Loki isn’t sure how to thank him for not delving any further into… other topics, but he hopes that his answer might be enough.


He doesn’t even have to think about it. “I would mourn any of you. I’ve become… fond of you.” Steve laughs. He’s not sure whether or not to be offended, so he stays quiet, half-turning to face the door.


“But Tony’s still your favorite, right?”


Loki shrugs, but he feels comfortable enough to smile at the captain when he turns back to him. It feels alright. He doesn’t feel patronized, doesn’t feel unequal. He feels as if he stands on his own, and is welcome to.


“Perhaps,” he answers, and Steve grins back.


“Then perhaps you should tell him as much.” Steve gets to his feet and claps Loki on the shoulder. “Just a suggestion.”


He leaves the room first because Loki is rooted to the spot, mouth working for a biting comment he can’t quite reach, stunned. The gall.


Galling it may be, but it also has the unfortunate side effect of Loki finding himself in front of Tony’s door, knocking lightly and praying that, somewhere between doorway and threshold, he figures out what, exactly, he’s doing.


“Yeah? Come in.”


The room is in as much disarray as it was in the morning. Tony is standing a few feet away with his back to Loki, facing a giant map of screens, images racing before him.


“What is that?” Loki asks, as another image appears only for Tony to make a gesture that sends it flying off to nowhere.


“Holographic computer interface. Basically,” Tony mutters. And then does a double take to look back at him. “Loki? Thought you would’ve gone to sleep by now.”


“I… was on my way,” Loki says, walking closer. So much to look at…


Tony snaps his fingers, and all of the windows, one by one, close, folding in on themselves until they disappear.


“So. I like to think I know you well enough to know that you’re not here to see my computers,” he says, sitting down on his bed. Loki stays standing. It feels better, here, above him. It feels like a strategic advantage. It helps that he can see the exit out of the corner of his eye.


“I simply wanted to… entreat you to be more careful on future excursions,” Loki says quickly. “That’s all,” he adds, and turns towards the door. Tony snorts.


“It’s not like I went out there intending to get blindsided by HYDRA.”


“Well then try harder not to,” Loki retorts.


“Easy for you to say, Mr. Sidelines.”


“Oh, yes.” Loki steps towards him, and it’s so sweetly easy to loom over him when Stark is two feet below. “And would you like to know what you look like, from the sidelines? A reckless imbecile.” Tony laughs at his derision, low and forced.


“Big words, coming from someone who knows damn well how reckless I am.” He eyes Loki slowly from head to toe, and Loki feels heat rising under his skin, crawling up his face. “I didn’t hear you complaining about it.”


“You reckless, arrogant fool,” Loki hisses, lip curling. “It would serve you rightly to die in battle—” Dying, somewhere, on a battlefield, blood and armor, mixing shades of red under a gray sky— “by your own idiotic device—” Last dying breath into air with no sympathy, dying with a smile on his lips, and one last, scathing comment to take him to the grave— “and—” Dying. “And…” Dying. Dying. “You would not have my sympathies. I would not mourn.” His thoughts are making him sick and he feels himself close to losing consciousness, images of blood and Tony too close and too possible, and he cares, damn him to Neffleheim.


Tony just blinks up at him and shrugs. “Oh, how sweet. I didn’t mean to make you worry,” and Loki’s stepping up between his legs and seizing him around the collar to throttle him, because if he can’t save him, he can damn well kill him—


Only throttling has never involved lips pressed to cool lips, Loki’s mouth crashing against his hard enough to feel his breath gust out in surprise—


It only takes a moment for him to yank himself back, staggered and speechless. “I… didn’t mean to do that.”


“Oh,” Tony replies, taken aback.


Loki can’t leave the room fast enough, but gods help him, he tries, rushing down the hallway and slamming the door closed behind him. His heart is racing in pursuit of the blood that’s raced to his temples, and gods, he can’t breathe. It’s uncomfortable, and terrible, and it’s all he can do to make it to bed and toss himself atop it, eyes clenched tightly together to block out the light and the thought that yes, that did happen, and yes, he’s done it again, done what he could, regardless of intention, to ruin a perfectly harmless situation—


There’s a careful knock at the door. Loki looks towards it and gets to his feet carefully. It’s the only exit, unless he intends to take a flying jump out of the window, and he doesn’t think that would go well for his body in its current state.


“Yes,” he says warily.



Tony shouldn’t.

There is a long list of whys in that general direction, but the most meaningful one is because it’s a bad fucking idea. But the idea of Loki panicking over something new and something ridiculous doesn’t sound that much better.

And then there’s the ghost of lips on lips and the lightest pressure of a cool tongue against his—


It’s a bad idea, but he’s already there, so when he hears an invitation he walks in, letting the door fall closed behind him.


“So, uh.” He clears his throat. “That.” It doesn’t say ‘smooth’ on a single character evaluation, and he’s more than a little bit proud of that fact.


He can see the jitter of Loki’s throat when he swallows. “I wasn’t sure what that was.”


“Huh. Because, you know, it is… you who did it, so I mean, I’m kind of hoping for an answer from… you.”


“I don’t have one,” he says, jaw clenched, and Tony holds up his hands.


“Let’s not have a meltdown here. We can just count it up to shock. Or, I don’t know, sleep deprivation.” He walks a little closer. “How’s that sound?”


“Better,” Loki says slowly, and he steps towards him, eyeing him warily.


Tony stops in the middle of the room. “What would it take to go from better to good?”


For the record, it isn’t a blatant invitation, but he hardly takes it personally when Loki falls to him again, yanking him against him to seal their mouths together. When Tony kisses him back, he all but moans into his mouth, and Tony can’t help his answering groan. Bad. This is bad. This is—


He presses Loki flush against the wall and follows him there, because his tongue might be in Loki’s mouth, but he’s not the one who started this, and he sure as hell isn’t going to be the one who stops it.


When Loki pulls away, he bites back a protest—okay, well, it dies, because pulling away is accompanied by a leg looped around his waist to drag him closer, close enough that he’s pressed all the way against him. Jesus Christ.


“I didn’t think,” Loki pants, voice low and wrecked, “that you’d— oh.” He loses his voice when Tony grinds against him, instinctive and dirty, his mouth finding the line of his neck. “That you’d respond in— such—such a way.”

And Tony’s doing that, has him biting his lip and his back inching higher up the wall, bending to his ministrations like he’s never felt anything quite like it. He looks back at Tony with blown eyes and half-smiles. “Everything is more… sensitive on Midgard.”


“In a good way?” Tony asks, grinning back at him. “Because it sounds like a good way.”


“In a very good way,” he growls, recapturing Tony’s mouth with his. He pulls away briefly to add, “It would help if you didn’t speak.”


“Rude,” Tony huffs back, but Loki twists his hips against his with a filthy grin, and he forgets to care.


They’re grinding against the wall like they’ve never been anywhere like it, and all Tony wants to do is get his hands all over him, now that they’re there, hear the soft sighs and cut-off moans turn into something stronger. He wants to be inside, on, all over him, to touch him until he feels the echoes for days. He says as much to him, catching his lips against the shell of his ear, and Loki gasps, his movements rougher, choppy, desperate in their speed.


I—” And he’s gone, shaking against him, legs going slack and body sliding down the wall, and Tony’s there in a second, eyes shut tight, the images of what he’s promised playing out behind them.


They breathe hard, together, in a heap on the floor, and Tony laughs, breathlessly. “I didn’t mean to do that,” he mutters into Loki’s shoulder, and Loki laughs, high and careless.


“You’ve ruined these pants,” he points out, and Tony snorts.

“This is your fault.”

“And it’s something I will happily take fault for,” he says smugly. It’s a little shaky, but he gets to his feet, offering a hand down to Tony.

He takes it, and yanks Loki back to him, catching his lips in something sweeter, softer.


It takes Loki by surprise, though he can’t imagine why, and when he kisses back, it’s shyer than it has been so far, hesitant, almost tentative. Tony twists a hand into his hair, pulling him forward to deepen the kiss.


And then Loki’s moving away, his face contorted in pain. He gasps and clutches at his side, choking on air. “I don’t—understand—what—” He stumbles and catches himself against the end of the bed, clutching at the frame with a white-knuckled grip.


“Hey—hey.” Tony pulls him up and settles him back on the bed. This isn’t right, and with his hand on his skin, he can feel how hot it’s getting, and scary fast, like his body is rushing to set itself on fire. Loki’s eyes dance around the room, landing nowhere, and the shaking’s gone nuclear. Oh, god. Tony’s not a doctor, not like this, not even close, and he can’t even call this a fever, not with how fast it’s going. “What do I do? You have to tell me what to do— Loki. Loki.” Tony smacks him lightly on the cheek to bring his focus back, but his eyes focus for no more than a second before they’re rolling again.


“N-Nothing,” he chokes out, and Tony jumps back when Loki’s body convulses, his spine bowing him over. “Nothing—to do but—wait—for it to—to pass,” he stammers. His teeth are gritted, and he’s in pain, and Tony can’t do a damn thing about it.


Cold,” Loki whimpers, his eyes slamming closed. Tony can do that. He folds the blanket and sheets up straight around Loki and smoothes them over him, even though the heat is radiating off of him in waves, higher than any mortal body should be able to handle. “Death,” he hums, eyes zoning out somewhere around Tony’s shoulder. “I can feel it.”


“Yeah? Well don’t,” Tony snaps, tugging on Loki’s chin until he’s looking in the right direction. “You said this would pass, right?”


“I-It—should,” he agrees. It sounds like every breath is a struggle for him, and there has to be something he can give him… sedatives? Advil, for Christ’s sake. “It will…” he groans, his head slamming back, hard, into the pillow. “Recede. And—soon, I think—”


“Come on, stay with me,” Tony mutters, rubbing at his limbs. Circulation—but that isn’t for whatever this is, he doesn’t think, and Loki can’t be cold enough that this would do anything, can he? “Jesus, we are never making out again.”


Loki lets out a shallow, wheezing laugh. “That is not what that was.”


“Better?” Tony asks, to clarify.



“Good,” he corrects, and the eyes that look at him focus without too much struggle. The tremors are evening out, and his bones still jump, a little, under Tony’s hand, but it’s going away.


“Okay,” Tony breathes out. “Okay. Should I… stay in here?”


Loki sighs. He sits up and unbuttons his shirt, tossing it aside. “I don’t think that’s necessary. Your presence won’t dismiss the fits. They’ll come when they will.”


When they will?” Tony narrows his eyes at him. “How often does this happen, exactly?”


Loki shrugs. “Only a few times. It’s part of... a process.” He tugs the blanket up around him and gazes back at Tony, unimpressed at the glare he’s offering. “Don’t look at me like that. It was a matter of time.”


“You didn’t tell me.”


“I saw no reason to burden anyone with such unpleasantness.”


“I saw—” Screw it. Tony takes a breath. “Jarvis took scans. I saw what’s going on with you. And the other night? The murder-suicide mission? It was a ‘fit’ that—you’re having seizures and you didn’t think to tell anyone—”


“They’re not seizures,” he says calmly.


“You had one of those that night. Only worse, it looked like. Longer.”


Loki hums thoughtfully. “I did wake feeling strangely.”


Tony stares at him incredulously. “That’s it? That’s all you have to say about it? Loki… you’re dying.”


And all he does is smirk. “I told you as much. Why you thought I would lie is beyond me. Oh, wait.” He smiles at his own joke. When all Tony can do is stare back, he shrugs. “It doesn’t change anything. My expiry, perhaps, but that’s it. Parts of me are shutting down. There’s nothing anyone can do to stop that.”


“Magic could stop it.”

“Only my own,” he says gently, raising a hand to Tony’s shoulder. It’s not as soothing as it should be; his hand is still too hot, and all Tony can think of is Loki, burning up from the inside out. “Go to sleep.”


Tony pushes his hand back down to his side and stands up, moving away. “I’ll have Jarvis alert me if another one of those happen.”


“You didn’t cause it,” Loki says, brow furrowed like that’s all that Tony’s worried about (it’s a part of it, so he’s more than a little relieved to hear that, but still). “It would have come anyway. I don’t understand why you’re so concerned.”




Tony leaves the room without another word, letting the door swing closed behind him. “Jarvis,” he says, as soon as he makes it back to his room. “Alert me with any severe changes in Loki’s vitals.”


“Certainly, sir.”


The briefest thought of sleep crosses his mind before he pushes it away. There are more important things to do. Like to find a way to fix… whatever this is, to find a way to keep him from dying. Because there has to be something he missed, somewhere. There has to be. A shower, a cure, and then sleep. A plan that he actually intends to follow.

Chapter Text

Loki doesn’t know what he’s doing, besides staring up at the ceiling, sleepless and fatigued, lying down across the floor because the bed was too far from the bathroom. The fibers of the carpet scratch against his bare back, and he wonders, vaguely, if it will be reddened if he stands, and walks to the mirror, and checks (if he cares enough to, which he doesn’t). He’s waiting for a sign, for something celestial, something like fate or destiny or predestination, but he doesn’t see anything except for a stain in the corner of the ceiling, spreading outwards. It’s not an answer to any half-formed question he might carry, and it doesn’t do anything for him, not really, but it’s nice here. The ground doesn’t move, and his muscles are spread out, relaxed, molding into the floor beneath him. He thinks he could probably melt into it if he waits long enough; his bones will meet his flesh, his flesh will meet the carpet, the carpet will meet the wood beneath and he will disappear, peacefully, quietly, with no one knowing any different.


(He expects a knock on the door.)(He expects no such thing.)


He’s being ridiculous, surely, with the thought that a release of… tensions would change anything, make anything make the slightest bit more sense. It was simply following the path laid down by natural order, and nothing more. The taste of him matters no more than hands on limbs, a tool, a resolution, no more. No more.




There’s nothing. Nothing.


Heaven, hell, everything in between, Tony’s checked it all, double checked it, checked it in Cyrillic and Sinhala, cross-referenced in French, and Arabic, and ancient Greek, checked myths and legends and all the little things he doesn’t believe in, called a faith healer and a psychic and a pagan and a parapsychologist, read every medical journal published after 1880 and every goddamn scientific research article published after the Stone Age and there’s nothing. There.





The word grates at him like nothing else he’s ever felt, and he flings the first thing his hand catches—a trophy, or a plaque, something that means more to the people who gave it to him than it ever will to him—against the wall to hear the crash, to see the plaster crack, because if he can’t find anything, at least he can break something. There’s always that.



It’s a battle. It’s a war. One in armor, one in pants, one with a helmet high enough to brush the stars from the sky, one with hair slightly wet and smelling vaguely of artificial fruit. One regal, one a god, one a wonder on his own. One broken, one defeated, one gasping for breath like a beached whale, wanting nothing more than to cut into the sides of the other, reinhabit his skin and tear it apart, build it higher, make a monument to everything unaccomplished. When he looks up at the stippled plaster ceiling, he can see the battle, the war, and he’s rooting for the weak one, he thinks, because every time the better one lands a blow, he winces, and every time the weak one gets away he can take another breath.


Metamorphosis isn’t healthy. It isn’t kind. It’s growing a new layer of skin that doesn’t quite fit, but burrowing into it anyways and pretending it can. It’s the development of guilt and the attenuation of greed, and it hurts, and, sometimes, with a bare canvas in front of him, everything that’s ever been plays out, too quickly to see faces but slow enough to see effects, a game of paper dominos that scatter in the wind before a single one can fall. He sees it, and it doesn’t fit, doesn’t fit, doesn’t fit, and he hates it with every fiber of his being. It’s his undoing prognosticated, it’s fighting against a nature too large to be silent.


He takes a breath and sits up, turns towards the window. Straight down is pavement and the slightest edge of a sidewalk.


A single leap for freedom. He could.


There’s a click from the ceiling. “Mr. Stark requests your presence in the lab, if you wouldn’t mind.”


Loki turns away from the window with a sigh and turns gracefully onto his feet. “Not at all.”


Tony doesn’t hear or see Loki until he’s tapping on the glass. He looks off—he’s almost as pale as his plain white shirt, and when Tony lets him in he sends him a wan, listless smile.


“Had a good night? You look kind of tired,” Tony quips, before thinking, Had a good night, what are you? Looking for validation? Shut up. He doesn’t.


Loki snorts. “I slept fine, if that’s what you’re intentions are.”


See, Tony doesn’t actually know what his intentions are, and that’s what’s making everything an absolute bitch. He itches to throw something again, but the only thing at hand is a mug of coffee, and god he needs that. In front of him, all sleek angles with the edges rubbed blunt, is one of those pesky Conversations, and there isn’t a damn thing he can say to make it go away. (You’re attractive and that was hot.) That wasn’t supposed to happen. (The things I would do to you.)That shouldn’t happen again.


Shouldn’t. Not ‘won’t.’ Even the angel on his shoulder knows where his number’s up.


It doesn’t matter, though, because Loki doesn’t really look like standing up straight is up his alley, much less talking about talking about a half-done hook0up, so all Tony says is, “Uh huh. Yeah. Of course.” Tony goes back to his seat in front of a screen, where he can look at Loki and have a shield up.


“Can you stand over there? Let me look at you.” Everything is science now, and Tony puts his other half to sleep, and he’s more than a little proud at the complete lack of innuendo in his voice.  Loki notices, though, and looks a little confused when he walks farther into the room.


Loki stands like he doesn’t care where he is, head up and shoulders back. His feet are shoulder width apart, with one slightly behind the other (all the easier to run away with) and he’s looking down his nose, all arrogance and acerbic, nothing like interest in the way he holds himself, hands tucked into pockets, back concaved.


Tony knows that look. Tony’s worn that look. Tony should’ve patented that look.


Loki is hiding in plain sight, and Tony’s right there, seeing him.


“Hey. Changed my mind. Come here.”


Loki snaps his eyes to Tony—he’s surprised him, which is good, but his reaction isn’t. Loki rolls his eyes and crosses his arms, taking a step back instead. “For what?”


“Last night—” Here goes. Loki smirks, but Tony powers ahead. “That was mostly likely a very bad idea.”


He snorts. “Bad is my area. You shouldn’t be so surprised.”


“I’m not,” he retorts, but that’s a lie. Surprise means he didn’t see it coming. He did not see that coming. But he doesn’t want to ask anymore. All he ever does, it seems like, is ask for motive, for a reason, for an explanation, and it’s never anything straightforward or logical, so, maybe, for this one thing, questions for answers work just as well.


Loki’s got one eyebrow cocked, but he walks to Tony’s side anyway—and then grabs the back of his chair to turn it around and steps up between his knees, and it’s a little too much like last night’s prologue for Tony to do anything more than shut the hell up.


“You saw, last night. What’s happening to me.” Loki leans his head down low enough that his words are whispered against Tony’s cheek, his hands resting on the desk behind them. “So why shouldn’t I go out with—what’s the phrase? A bang.” He pulls back with a feral grin, and Tony’s at a loss.


“Um. Does ‘bang’ on Asgard mean what it does here? Because that is a very complicated word—” A complicated word that starts with a ‘b’ and ends hot, sweaty, and gorgeous.


Loki cuts him off with hot hands on his neck and a hotter mouth on his own, and, well, if they’re going there again, maybe he should just bury the bad news, because it’s not like he doesn’t know. He knows more than Tony does, and who is he to bring up a battle Loki’s already forfeited?




Tony yanks himself back and pushes Loki away.


“I’m not giving up,” he gasps. He didn’t. He’s not, he isn’t going to—no. “I’m not,” he repeats, looking up at Loki. Loki, for his part, doesn’t question it, only shrugs, uncaring, bored again.


“I, uh. I called you in for tests.”


He smiles mirthlessly. “Trying to see what makes me tick?”


“Trying to see what’s making you tick down.” Tony stands, but Loki doesn’t move away, and they’re operating in the same half space, two planets too close, and that means that Tony can blame Loki’s hand, drifting down to land on his waist, on gravity.


“Are you denying a dying man his last request?” Loki purrs, smile in his voice.

Tony takes a breath to say no, but Loki’s had is moving in slow, rather promising circles, and his mouth is getting closer. “I should,” Tony murmurs, and he can feel the edges of that smirk against his lips already, taste every sound, can swallow the—


“Hey, Tony—”


Tony pushes Loki back and away so quickly that he surprises even himself, and he doesn’t have time to see whatever that is that dashes across Loki’s face, because he’s turned back to his monitors as Steve walks in, completely oblivious.


“Hey, are you… busy?” His eyes go over to Loki, and Tony’s follow—and then dart away like a guilty child, because, apparently, Steve brings out the fifteen-year-old-caught-making-out-in-dad’s-workshop in him. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”


“I was just leaving,” Loki says tightly, and when Tony reaches out a hand—to guide him around the desk, maybe, not like he needs it—he flinches away.




Tony expects angry stomping footsteps up the stairs; what he gets from Loki is absolute silence, so the last thing they hear from him is the door swinging slowly shut.


“Problem?” Steve asks, quirking up an eyebrow.


Well, yes. Tony had questionable relations with a questionably villainous houseguest, and now said-houseguest is both terminal and irritated. He goes with the shorter version: “Nope. What’s up?”


“Um…” Now it’s Steve’s turn to look uncomfortable; to have a frame that large fidgeting in Tony’s workspace makes him nervous. He waves him over to a chair before he fidgets too far and breaks something. “Thanks,” he mumbles, but, really, this is worse, because now he’s tapping his feet against the cement.


“Seriously, what is it? You’re giving me a headache,” Tony gripes, reaching for his coffee cup. It’s empty. He grimaces down at the black grounds left at the bottom and puts it back.


“Um, how do you think Loki would feel about… his brother visiting?” Steve asks slowly, the tapping revving up with every word.


“I think that it’s a stupid idea,” Tony says shortly, sitting back behind his monitors. Where was he? Oh, yeah. Tests. Tests on someone who left in a hurry. Great.


“Why?” Steve demands, and now that it’s turning into some kind of fantastically one-sided argument—Tony is right, and he sees no reason for it to go any farther than that—he’s calmed down a little. “Isn’t it kind of up to him to check up on—”






“No.” Tony stands up so that he can see him over the simulations he’s running. “Look. You know how Loki’s not as homicidal as he was a few—” Tony wants to say weeks, months, but he doesn’t think that two days stretch that far. “He’s not as homicidal as he was. He’s happy, or as close to it as he gets. Bring Thor down here? The one whose fault it is that he went through everything he went through before he was happy? I’m either paranoid, or the homicide will come back, and so will every kind of crazy.” Tony sits back down. He’s said his piece. “We’re in a good place. We should stay here.”


“Oh,” Steve says miserably, and that has Tony standing the hell up again, because that is as guilty as Captain America can sound, thank you, and he would like to know why.


“Something you want to say, Cap?”


“No,” Steve mumbles, shrinking in on himself.


“You sure about that?”


“Yes,” he squeaks.




No,” he bursts, and Jesus Christ, why does everybody know how to do that, with the eyes and the lip quiver and the face. “He’s upstairs! He sort of dropped by, and I didn’t really know what to say, and the he walked in and Tony, his horse got bigger, I swear.”


“And you couldn’t have opened with that?”


“I meant to open with this,” Steve admits ruefully, tugging something out of his pocket. It’s small and black and Tony thinks it used to be, in some other life, a cell phone. “I, uh. Broke it.”


Tony blinks. “I can see that.” He looks a little closer. “Where the hell is the rest of it?”


“Probably inside,” Steve says sheepishly.


“Maybe we should start smaller with you. Like a pager. Or a walkie-talkie.”


How the hell he managed to break another one, Tony doesn’t get to ask, because they’re interrupted by a very shrill howl, a very large crash, and something that sounds far too much like inhuman, booming laughter to be anything other than bad, blond news. 

Chapter Text

What happens next is not Steve’s fault. This is the most important part.


The second most important part is that there is a hole in the ceiling, another one in the wall (Steve leaves Sleipnir out of that part, because he’d rather forget the way that a giant horse looks, chewing on plaster, thanks), a very alarmed Clint hanging from the ceiling fan and Bruce, in the corner, in lotus position, with his eyes closed and a blissful smile on his lips.


On closer inspection, his earphones look like they’re jammed so far into his head, they’re touching in the middle. Steve thinks this was a very good idea.


The third most important part is that as soon as they walk in, Tony swings his head over in Steve’s direction, publicity smile on his face.


“You’re right, Steve,” he deadpans. “We should invite Thor over.”


“He is an Avenger,” Steve argues weakly.


“Uh, no. You lost me there. I think what you meant to say was, ‘you were right and I was wrong.’ Say it with me. You—”


“Friends!” Thor booms, smiling widely from where he stands on the slowly, sadly crumbling kitchen island. “It is good to see you.”


“Wish my kitchen could say the same,” Tony mutters. Clint rappels himself slowly back down from the ceiling fan—grappling arrow. Smart. —and takes several quick steps towards the door.


“Thor!” Steve says, smiling as well as he can with Tony glaring at him from one side, Clint from the other, and Bruce, whose eyes still aren’t open, but whose smile is getting less blissful by the second. “Why don’t we step outside?” He tries to subtly point a finger in Bruce’s direction.


“Dr. Banner!” Thor booms louder, hopping down from the counter—“There are going to be footprints in my wood, Steve,” Tony hisses. “Footprints.”—and directly in front of Bruce.


Who freezes.


His eyes open slowly, one at a time, and he really does handle a face full of Norse god remarkably well. “Thor,” he says, a little too loudly, earphones still in. “Good to see you.” Steve thinks he probably still hasn’t seen the horse, so he works his way in that direction as quietly as possible. It’s not really a plan he has, so much as a vague idea that, maybe, if he can get it to turn back into the garden, Tony might be a little less mad and they might be able to salvage the kitchen for possible future use.


Behind him, Thor slings one hand around Bruce’s forearm to pull him to his feet. Bruce takes it well enough, stumbling a little when he’s dropped back to them, but he doesn’t go green, which is really all Steve is asking for. “So how’s the homeland,” Bruce asks genially.


Steve is nose to nose with Sleipnir, and he pushes at it, a little bit, trying to get said nose back through the plaster and outside. The horse huffs and waves it’s head, swatting his fingers away. “Please.” It’s worth a shot, but it doesn’t matter how many buckets of sugar he lays on top of it— Sugar? That’s a horse thing, right?


But before Steve can move over towards the cabinets, Thor says, “Asgard flourishes!” and whacks Bruce on the back (too hard. Again.), which sends him directly in front of Spider-Horse.


They stare at each other. Neither blink. Nobody else breathes (except for Thor, naturally, because Thor has about as much common sense as his hammer)(Sorry. That’s not nice) and Clint, silently, aims his bow at the ceiling once again, shoots, and slowly raises himself up.


Bruce says, “Oh.”

The Hulk just kind of grunts.

Sleipnir screams.


“Um,” Steve says afterwards, watching another chunk of wall fall to the floor. He glances over at Tony, but he has his eyes closed and his hand over them. “Where do you keep your broom?”



There is a giant, green, probably naked man chasing a giant, eight-legged, mean spirited horse through half of Manhattan, and all Tony really wants to do is take a nap.


“I’m not telling him,” he tells Steve, once things have settled down a little (and his wall isn’t still falling apart, thanks). “You can tell him. How is it that he didn’t even come down here?”

“I don’t know,” Steve says glumly, shoving the broom at another mound of dust. “Maybe he just didn’t care.”

“That’s probably it,” Tony mutters, although how someone ‘doesn’t care’ about what sounds like the apocalypse is more than a little bit beyond him.


I’ll tell him,” Clint snorts. There's dust in his hair from where he got up close and personal with the ceiling fan. Tony doesn't mention it. Has has, however, several times in the last few minutes, declared Clint the ugliest chandelier he'd ever seen. 

Now, he settles for the obvious: “You stuck a hole in my ceiling. Again.”

“It was the wall last time, genius.” Clint pointedly ignores the answering glare, choosing instead to test the tip of an arrow against a nail. Tony hopes, with as much vicious intent as mentally possible, that he breaks a nail, because wouldn’t that be a bitch to shoot with.


“Am I correct in assuming that my darling brother has come by?”


Loki stands in the doorway, hands on his hips and nothing but derision in his eyes—eyes, Tony notes, that land on everyone but him. “Well?” he demands.


A part of Tony distinctly wants to wave an arm, but, hey, let’s not make it obvious, so he looks at Cap instead to go first. It seems like the sort of thing someone wholesome and not libido-prone should talk about.


“I’m sorry we didn’t tell you,” Cap sighs, shoving a chair out with his foot and gesturing for Loki to sit. Loki walks closer and does no such thing. “He… came to check up on you.”


Loki’s eyes narrow. “Brilliant job of that. All he’s done so far is let in a draft.”


“You’re cold?” Tony thinks about taking a step closer, but with just those two words he sees Loki stiffen, shifting further away. “I mean, there’s coffee. It’s hot. Might help.”


Do you want some coffee?” Steve asks tentatively, and to Steve, of course, Loki nods curtly, and my god, could they look away from each other, for a second? Tony’s still here. In the room. Present. Existing.


“I would.”


“Tony? Could you get him a cup?” So that’s what he’s been relegated to. Coffee boy.


“Coming right up.” Automatic coffeemakers are a gift from less-angry gods, and the pot is still steaming. He pulls down the first mug he touches. It’s a Captain America one. He puts it back and pulls down the second one, which is a perfect cherry red, and fills it up, adding a liberal amount of vanilla creamer and sugar, completely and totally spoiling the general integrity of the coffee, but, hey. His mouth opens to make a quip about God of mischief? Does that include ‘terrible taste?’ but when he turns around, their heads are close together and their voices are low.


“Coffee for the inmate,” he says lightly. Neither face is friendly when turned towards him. Loki looks cold, Steve looks disapproving, and Tony clears his throat and holds out the mug. “Careful. It’s, uh, hot.”


Loki rises to take it from him. They’re close, closer than they should be, and Tony almost expects a smile, a glance, a smirk, but nothing comes.


And then Loki looks straight at him, raises an eyebrow, lifts the mug to his the edge of his lips, and drops it.


It breaks nicely. When it shatters, coffee sprays out across the floor, splattering as far as the wall behind them. Only Steve gasps. Tony’s a little busy with a staring contest, only dropping down from Loki’s eyes when his tongue runs, pink and kitten-like, across his bottom lip.


“It was hot,” he murmurs, lips barely moving. And then he steps over the mess, past Tony—very careful, of course, not to touch him—and up the stairs.


It’s completely silent.


“I’m… going to go after him,” Steve says after a moment, getting to his feet.


“Sure,” Tony bites out. “If he’ll listen to anyone, it’ll be the late, great, golden boy.”


The look Steve shoots him is inscrutable. “Did… something happen?”


Tony tugs the handle of the mug out of the cooling puddle of coffee and straightens up. “Just go after him, Cap,” he mutters, tossing it towards the sink. It lands on the edge of a stack of dishes, sending the whole thing tumbling.


Steve does.




There’s another set of stairs at the end of the first hallway Loki goes down, so he goes down one floor, and then two. He thinks that this is where an extension of Tony’s workshop must be, but he doesn’t remember being anywhere with so many doors on either side. He tries the first one.


It’s some sort of testing chamber. The walls, floor, ceiling, everything is a sharp, stark white, and it’s lit from nowhere. It’s like standing in the middle of a star, and Loki squints while his eyes adjust, letting the door fall closed behind him. It’s too harsh to be peaceful; the overwhelming stillness has chaos clawing at the inside of his chest, and he’s furious, has been for hours, really, and in here, there’s nothing to hit, to tear, to break. It’s dreadful, and horrifying, so he drops down to the floor without ceremony—that should bruise, that’s good. That hurt. – and breathes, eyes closed, spread-eagled against the cold, smooth surface. And then he raises his fist to drop it against the floor again, and it’s like the room is designed for impact, because all of the force he delivers bounces right back at him, sending his hand flying and throbbing. So he does it again. And again. Both hands pound against the resistant floor, the floor that pushes, that fights against him the way nothing else does, any more, and it feels good. It feels right. It might not do much, but this violence is what he needs, even if it’s misdirected. Even if his hands will be swollen and battered at the end of things. He can’t see the purple through the white. When he laughs, it hurts just as much, and he wonders if he’s hit himself in the ribs (he might have. He doesn’t pay attention to where his fists fly, just that they keep moving).


After a while, it loses its novelty, and the pummeling fades to a gentle, heavy-handed fall, and he’s still. He’s there for long enough that the white starts to seep through his eyelids, and he doesn’t know if his eyes are open or closed anymore, but he knows that his heart has slowed down to a sluggish crawl. When he hears the door open quietly, he doesn’t bother opening his eyes.


“What do you want?” he drawls.




Loki’s eyes fly open fast enough to blind himself, and he struggles to rise to his feet gracefully—when he tries to put the weight on his hands to push himself up, the flash of pain puts the taste of blood at the back of his throat. Perhaps he misjudged things.


“And yet again you mistake me for kin,” he says slowly, willing his heart back to simply existing, and not this ungainly thudding.


He’s cradling his hands against his middle when he leans back against the wall. Thor walks in every part the king, back straight and his cape hanging low. His beard has grown, as has his hair where it twists over one shoulder. He holds his hammer as if its weight has been forgotten and when he smiles at Loki, there is nothing short of full regal formality behind it.


When Loki forces a smile back, it isn’t short of loathing.


“Kinghood suits you, Odinson,” Loki says, walking forward to circle him. He wonders, briefly, how long he’s been lying on the floor, because it’s almost difficult to move. His muscles are stiff, and his legs bend oddly, but he learned well and quickly how to hide injury—or any form of weakness—so he makes sure that Thor can’t tell. “I assume all is well.”


“Asgard thrives,” Thor says, and there’s that low, rumbling voice that hasn’t left Loki’s memory, in one form or another.


“You do look as though you’ve lacked hardships,” Loki says sharply, and Thor laughs, full-bellied and proud.


“Will you not bow before your king?”


“I see your sense of humor has developed, brother.” He wonders if Thor catches the sarcastic note, there, at the end, but all he does is smile. It’s no wonder, really. Loki was always the clever one.


Loki’s made it back to his spot on the wall, and leans against it when Thor asks, “How does Midgard suit you?” Loki rolls his eyes.


“You could have seen as much from the bridge.”


“Only Heimdall can see.”


“Heimdall has always answered to you.”


“As that may be…” Thor only hesitates for a moment, long enough for Loki to think that, maybe, he’s caught that note of bitterness and means to address it, to attempt to alleviate it with false words and falser promises. But no—what he does is walk forward and land a too-heavy hand on Loki’s shoulder. “I have missed you, brother.”


Loki twists out from under his hand and does his best to ignore the way his knees threaten to fold from the weight, and steps away, walking towards the middle of the room. “You’ve seen me,” he says tightly. “Now leave. Return to your merriment. My lord.”


“But Loki—how are you? Really?”


Fine,” he says curtly. Not fine at all. What he wants is for Thor to leave, so that he may return to his chambers and let the weight off his feet. He’s tired, and he feels terrible, and it would be nice to pretend, wrapped in a blanket in the dark, that nothing else but sleep exists.


“Fine,” Thor repeats, and Loki’s exasperated enough to consider turning around on him and embellishing tales of torture, showing him his hands and making claims elaborate enough to sound like the stories of adventure they heard as children—or, rather, the ones that Loki read while Thor experienced the gentler version, with less gore, perhaps, and much less poetic description.


But when Thor asks, “Really?” without the slightest trace of concern, it makes him pause. He looks back at the god of thunder, and unexpected visit aside, nothing he sees before him makes sense.  


Loki has seen Thor through much. Through many situations, many trials, many more battles. But he’s never seen him look like this. There’s something… strange about it.


“Yes, really,” he says slowly. True, he wasn’t expecting to see the Odinson, much less so soon, but if he had, if he had imagined it in any way, it would not be this way. Thor looks at him with narrowed eyes, without a trace of a smile, but there’s no anger there; there is blankness, his face immobile and uncaring. Curious, maybe, but coldly so. It’s unsettling. “Were you, perhaps, expecting torture?”


“My expectations matter not,” Thor assures him, and the hand around Mjolnir’s handle tightens. “I would prefer to hear about you. How does it feel?”


“Feel?” Loki repeats. He can’t pull his eyes away from the hammer. Even human, he can feel the power around it, and if he squints, he can almost see the way the air pulses around it, enveloping it and moving around it, with it, however it desires. Loki may not have his powers, but he has his instincts, and something cold prickles at the back of his neck. It’s a warning of danger, and when Thor raises Mjolnir a little higher, against his chest, he thinks about taking as subtle a step as he can towards the door, and how far Thor would let him get.


“Being powerless,” Thor says gently, running a hand along the edge of the hammer. “It must be hard, to be the useless son of Odin.”


Chapter Text

Loki freezes.


“Father thought that a Jötun could be different. But you proved him wrong,” Thor continues slowly. “You were cast out. You, who were unwanted from birth.” The smile looks as it should, but the eyes—Loki can’t breathe. “Time and time again. And now, you will not bow to your king.”


Thor takes a step towards him, and he tries to take a step back, but there’s only wall against him, and they’ve always been close in height, but still Thor looms, too big for him to see all of him at once. Big enough to block out the white. Big enough to make Loki feel as small as a child, when his eyes that are not his eyes look back at the hammer, ignore him. “But it’s only to be recognized as you,” he continues, voice low and intimate. “Your very nature. You were never our kind. Once more not belonging, is it not? You belong in exile, brother.” When he looks back up at Loki, his smile is warm, open. “You belong alone. Although…” Thor’s brow furrows. “I smell a human on you. Amazing. I shouldn’t think that a human should settle for you. You’re a poor example of mortality, even at its best.”


It’s all Loki can do to keep blinking, keep breathing. He hadn’t imagined that Thor would… Good. He shouldn’t think highly of him, and Loki shouldn’t expect him to. Shouldn’t even think him kin. But to think him worthless…


Thor stands and stretches his arms back widely, laughing up at the ceiling. “You never were as good as us, Loki. Never were worthy.” He relaxes, cocking his head at Loki. “You were never my equal.”


Composure. Composure is what he needs, is what he has, so he straightens up, does his best to compose the black flood coursing through him into a steely-eyed glare. “You dare—”


“Of course I dare,” he booms jovially, and everything is a mockery to him when he takes a step back, giving Loki a slow once-over. “Look at you. Weak, mortal. Powerless. No throne, and no home.” Thor walks closer again, too close, their foreheads almost touching. “You are nothing, Loki.” He rests a heavy hand on Loki’s shoulder. “Let that be a lesson to you.” He lowers his head to whisper, “I don’t believe you’ll ever regain your magicks, brother.”


Loki lashes out without stopping to think—to think about the fact that he is human, and Thor is a god, that their strengths have never been evenly matched, that he is unarmed and unwell—and whips his hand across Thor’s cheek, nails sharp enough to gouge. Thor’s face snaps to the side, and all he does is laugh, and the hand that he shoves into Loki’s chest sends him sailing back, crushing the wall against his back and knocking all of the air out of him, and the wall is repelling him back towards the god. He crumbles at Thor’s feet, struggling to draw a breath.


Thor bends down and lifts him up by his shirtfront, raising him high. “Look at this, brother!” he demands, shaking him once—gently, for him, perhaps, but Loki’s teeth jar over his tongue, and he hisses. “You’re finally being proven right—” He tosses him into the opposite wall; Loki hits it without resistance and his vision goes, sliding back down onto the waiting floor. “We were never brothers. I have accepted it.” Loki blinks up at him, trying to see around the black spots that bleed together to make up his sight. He shouldn’t, he should stop, should give, should forfeit, but he struggles up to standing anyways, the last vestiges of his shallow pride forcing him to straighten his shoulders, straighten his spine, even his feet—Thor catches him with the back of his hand across his face, flinging him into the door. Well. At least I can hold myself up here.


Thor stands, towering above him in this frail mortal form, and rests a hand against the side of Loki’s jaw. “Do not mistake your place, brother. This is your punishment. No more.” He raises his hammer. Loki keeps his eyes open.


Nothing Loki sees makes sense— there’s a flash of red and gold, and then white, so much white, but not completely. No… Red, gold, blond, blue, gray, white, colors mixing far too quickly for him to make heads nor tails of them. There are no true shapes, but there were words, somewhere, but now… there is only the smell of burning air and a rumble. Goodbye, brother. Loki lets his muscles do what they’ve been begging, and slumps against the floor.


He’s felt pain, but never so vibrantly, so strongly. It’s as red as the blood he finds on his lips, and he laughs into it. This is red he sees clearly.


“Was that Thor who just—oh my god—” No. Loki sits up—tries to, because his bones make it impossible for him to move anywhere quickly—and lets his hair fall in front of his face.


Steve is in the doorway, his jaw slack.


“That expression,” Loki rasps, his breath coming in short gasps. “Is highly unbecoming.”


Steve closes his mouth, and his eyes turn hard. “What happened?”


Loki waves a blood-speckled hand. “Nothing of consequence.” And then catches the mottled blue-black out of the corner of his eye and tucks his hands away. “Ah.”


“Look at me.” He does. Steve lets out a low hiss. “Your face—”


Loki scowls. “What of it?” Steve shakes his head and crouches down instead, pulling one of Loki’s arms over his shoulders.


“You can stand?”


“Yes. I’m perfectly capable of—” It’s a lie; he can’t move, and he doesn’t try much after a half-hearted groan, and falls in on himself instead.


Tony,” Steve demands, looking past him. Ah. The red-gold. “What the hell happened?”


“Is that a swear word from Captain Boy Scout?” Tony jokes, but there’s nothing behind it and he doesn’t sound much more than tired. Loki can understand that; he doesn’t feel there’s quite enough in him to turn around and actually speak to Iron Man face to visor.


So he says, to the floor, “I don’t think I can—”


White and gold and red blend seamlessly into black and he thinks, for a moment, that it is, by far, his favorite shade.



Tony’s in his workshop when Jarvis pings to tell him that Loki is in Testing Chamber 7 and snaps something about disabling the programmed missiles, because, wow, wouldn’t that be messy. And then everything is simulations again, because sure, Loki’s running away from any sort of Tony contact, but Tony can do one better than dwell on it. He can fix… fix something, or keep going until he breaks. He doesn’t hear Steve when he comes in a hour later any better than he does two hours after that—something about not being able to find Loki, and he thinks he says testing chambers but he might also say Mars or mumble something about electrons, he doesn’t know, doesn’t care, Steve isn’t a cure, he’s just a voice in front of Tony and sometimes in the back of his head that reminds him to eat.


When Jarvis pings him about an energy spike, he ignores it for five minutes. When he finally looks up, he sees the feed from the chamber, volume turned down low enough that it’s just half a hum in the background, and Thor with his hand on Loki’s shoulder. That’d be a moment, then. “Get rid of that,” he says after a moment. “Let them have their privacy.”


“Certainly,” Jarvis says, clipped and business-like, and that’s out of character enough that Tony would glare at him if he were, well, a person. Tony thinks he might actually, finally, maybe have found something when Jarvis pings again, this time loud and insistent enough to cut through buzz of a dozen machines working.


What?” Tony snaps. “Listen, this better be important, or I swear to god I will switch your voice out for a—”


“Hostile report from Testing Chamber7,” Jarvis says, talking over him—there’s the character he remembers.


“Then shoot it,” Tony retorts. “Isn’t that the missile chamber?”


“Certainly, sir. And should I take care to eliminate Mr. Laufeyson in the process?”


“I don’t ca— What process and who? Video feed.”


The video that comes up is glitching half to hell, white noise flaring up around the corners and dashing across the screen every few seconds, and all of it is centered around one tall, blond, Nordic beacon of cheerful destruction. A cheerful beacon who, in one movement, holds his brother up, and in another, dashes him against a wall.


Tony scrambles for his homing bracelets and sets off for the sub-level chamber at a run, the pieces flying to him as he goes for the stairs.


“Tony?” he hears from behind him. Steve. Right.


“Found Loki,” he calls back, and when he looks back, for a moment, his visor flies into place.


“Trouble?” Steve asks, but it’s less question than conversation, and Tony knows he’s following him down the right staircase.


When Tony gets there—first; he’s left Steve behind in the first hallway, but he can hear measured footsteps catching up— he sticks his hand against a panel of wall next to the first door down the long hallway. It goes transparent. Loki is on the floor and he looks like he’s been beaten half to death. Tony suspects going up against a god will do that to you. It looks like the fight could be over, though— the gesture Thor makes when he presses his hand against Loki’s face looks like he’s checking on him—checking the damage that he caused, Tony can’t help but think, spiteful as hell— but it’s blocking Loki from anything he can see, and Tony hopes to a less psychotic god that that isn’t blood he sees on the floor.


Tony stays still until he sees Thor lift his hammer above his head.


And then he’s gusting through the door and squeezing between the two of them, pressing his hands flat against Thor’s chest. Thor looks at him quizzically. “The man of iron,” he says, shallow grin splitting his face. The hammer moves back further, and Tony doesn’t snap so much as he follows through, shoving with the hands he has against him, repulsors adding just as much as brute, honest, pissed strength.


Thor isn’t a silent partner. He takes a swing and Tony ducks it, planting his hands against his middle and shoving again. Every time he tries to hit Tony, he misses, even if just barely. He’s not trying very hard; when he can’t get his hammer to land a decent blow on Tony’s skull, he lets Tony push him to arm’s length and stops, letting the fight relax.


“What the hell are you doing?” Tony demands. Thor’s a dead weight against his hands, but he’s not fighting anymore; his head is cocked, and his hammer’s still up, but his eyes refuse to focus on Tony’s, instead looking at—what? His reflection, maybe, in the gold of the faceplate. He seems to snap out of it a moment later, taking a step back from Tony’s hands. He rearranges himself, making sure that it’s Thor backed in the corner, and that Tony will definitely be between him and Loki, no matter which direction he goes.


“I meant no harm,” Thor says slowly, and Tony believes that about as much as he believes that Loki’s just taking a nap in the corner.


“No harm? Really? Because that’s all I see back there.” And here, he wants to say, because he can feel a piece of the suit bruising into his side where Thor clipped him a glancing blow.


“We had words,” Thor says, frowning. “He attacked me, and I reacted on instinct. Please—” He straightens the hammer and lowers it to his side, raising the other hand in a peaceful gesture. “I would see that he is alright.”


Tony thinks about it. For, like, a tenth of a second. And then he’s got his hands up and the building hum of his repulsors is the prettiest sound he ever did hear. “I thought you were supposed to be the balanced one.”


“I…” Thor falters, and it’s all earnestness when he says, “It was a mistake. Please… a moment with my brother—”


“What? With the Hammer of Poor-Choices in hand? Yeah, I don’t think so.” Tony’s got enough energy built up between his hands and his chest to blast him through the wall. He sets his feet against the floor. This might hurt a little. “I need you to leave.”


The smile that Thor shoots him isn’t even a little bit nice, and it makes him itch. There’s something not right, something fundamentally mean about it, and maybe there’s something wrong in that he finds the super villain’s friendly brother harder to work with than the super villain himself, but, hey, Tony’s not one to over think a relationship. He is, though, one to completely over think a change in character, and this is not the Thor he’s worked with before. “Would you force me out, Iron Man?” Thor asks quietly, swinging the hammer up into his hands.


Tony snorts. “Hell, yeah.”


Thor swings the hammer up over his head, and Tony braces to shoot—and then there’s a crack, a flash of a blue vacuum where a god had been moments before, and a hazy scorch mark in the floor. The whole place smells like static before a storm, and he smudges a boot across the mark.


Tony,” he hears, and he turns back. Steve is on the ground next to Loki, and, yeah, that’s blood. And not a little. “What the hell happened?”


“Is that a swear word from Captain Boy Scout?” It’s meant to sound happier, quippier, less like he’s expecting Loki to fall down dead—which is, hey, funny, because look. He is down. He’s very down. Knocked out. K.O.—but he is, and Loki’s barely moving on the floor, and Thor might’ve actually tried to kill him. So Tony makes the joke anyways, because they have a hell of a lot to lose.


 When Loki does try to speak, his words slur together, and Steve swears again, under his breath this time. “He’s gone,” he mutters, pressing two fingers to his neck. “Passed out,” he adds quickly. “Not dead.”


“Thanks again for inviting Brother of the Year over,” Tony says without inflection.  Steve’s face shutters closed, and that’s enough to have the vindictive little bastard on Tony’s shoulder dancing for joy.


“I don’t think anything’s broken,” is all Steve answers, looking away. He presses softly against Loki’s limbs, and he whimpers, shrinking away from the touch. “No major breaks, but, god, he’s lucky. He’s going to be bruised all over. What…” He looks up at Tony helplessly. Tony’s thankful that the face plate’s still on, because, yeah, Steve can think they’re making eye contact, but the last thing Tony needs is whatever he’s feeling reflected back at him that openly. “I don’t understand what happened.”


Tony turns away from him. A hank of raven hair falls over half of Loki’s face. The half that’s exposed is starting to darken, from red to wine underneath his skin. He’s got blood across his lips and chin, more from a cut high on his cheek. He’s curling in on himself awkwardly, and the hands that he holds near his middle are worse off, Tony thinks, than the rest of him; they’re swelling, and Tony thinks that if anything’s broken, it’s there.


“Me neither,” he says, after too long. “Can you carry him upstairs? He needs a doctor, especially to look at those hands.” He sees Steve’s eyes widen when he catches sight of those, and he brushes his fingers over them. Tony clears his throat and Steve’s eyes snap back to his, shock glazed over with confusion and betrayal. “Tuck him in, Cap,” Tony says firmly, stepping away from them. “I’ll go find someone who makes house calls.”

Chapter Text

Loki has two broken ribs, two sprained wrists, and four fractures across three fingers. He also has bruises that go bone deep at his shoulders, knees, left thigh and back, as well as one particularly vibrant one across his cheek.


And when it’s Tony’s turn to visit him, he sounds awfully proud of the fact.


Tony leans forwards with his head in his hands, elbows resting on Loki’s bunched blankets. “I was thinking if I held of on visiting, there might be some good news.”


Loki sniffs, tugging at his blankets irritably. “Optimism is unbecoming.”


“Funny, I was just told the opposite.”


“They lied to you.”


“How are you?”


The question pulls Loki short, and he squints back at Tony, heavily bandaged hands twitching ineffectually in his lap. “How do I look? You’ll find quite an accurate reading.”


Tony thinks about telling him that they were worried. He thinks about telling him how horrible it was to see that much blood, to see him in that much pain. He thinks about telling him how he fought—how he—


None of those seem like the sort of thing Loki would react well to, so he keeps his mouth closed.


It’s Loki who breaks the silence first. “Why aren’t you speaking?” he snaps. “Am I so useless in these…” he holds up his hands with distaste, shaking them in a way that Tony knows has to hurt, “that you don’t even have the words to spare?”


Tony catches his wrists—sprained—and lets go to catch slightly-less-injured forearms instead and force them back into Loki’s lap—Loki, who glares at him the whole time, absolute murder under those lashes. “Nobody’s calling you useless,” Tony assures him, and he scoffs at that. “I’m serious. We were all…” Worried doesn’t seem like a strong enough word.


“Surprised,” which Loki throws out quietly, is closer.


“Yeah,” he mutters. “Surprised.”


“As was I,” Loki admits, and Tony’s expecting sadness. He’s expecting anger, loss, vitriol, vengeance, but he can’t read a thing. It scares him. “I hardly expected Thor, of all people, to…” He trails off, frowning down at his bandages. “How long do I have to keep these infernal things attached to me?”


“Until you heal.”


Loki cuts him a sly glance. “Could you bring me something sharp?”


Tony laughs. “I’m not helping you cut yourself out of something that is actually helping you.”


Loki sighs. “You’re cruel.”


“You’re conniving.”




When Tony grins at him and Loki rolls his eyes back, it’s almost like something has gone very, very right. So when Tony leaves, passing Natasha going on for her bed-side watch, he catches her by the arm.


“Watch him,” he murmurs. “Something’s up.”


She stares at him for a moment, and then nods, sliding into the room. He could be paranoid. Hell, he’d like to be paranoid. But whether something was going to happen now, or in forty-eight hours, or next week, he had no idea. Just that something is off, and spiraling down hill like a crack-filled rocket, and he has no way to stop it at all.




When Loki wakes up, he’s been drugged. He can feel it in the way that his senses are slow to relay, and, when he blinks, everything splits into three before coalescing into one hazy, unfocused image.


“Hello.” A wrinkled, gray-bearded face swims into view, smiling wide and dimpled. Why are they smiling? No one should be smiling. He’s miserable. “I’m Dr. Yusuf. You’re coming down of a dose of pain medication; everything should feel better in a few minutes.”


The man whistles while he hooks up dripping mechanisms and small, beeping machines, and once upon a time, Loki could’ve swept his arm, scepter in hand, and destroyed all of them, every last one and their shrill, tormenting beeping. The thought comes to him like a long-lost friend. He’s been busy; it’s been a long time since he’s thought about the past so fondly. And, right now, he wants it more than anything, wants the past to swell up and burst its way into the present, because he’s never felt so gutted.


“Alright.” Dr. Yusuf is in front of him again, still smiling. “Now, you shouldn’t need anything to sleep, but if you do, I’ve put it in the bedside cabinet. Mr. Rogers will probably be in here shortly to visit with you—” He tries to say no, but the words get lost in a throaty, half-hearted gurgle and the doctor takes it as enthusiasm. “And he’s promised to take excellent care of you. You have quite good friends and colleagues here.”


Perhaps this is small talk, for him, but for Loki it’s another form of torture, and he closes his eyes in a hope that feigning sleep will end the conversation. But no luck—the doctor pulls one eyelid open to shine a small light into it, and Loki thrashes in irritation.


“Sorry,” the doctor muttered. “Just had to check…” He looks at Loki again as he pockets the light. “Never mind. See you soon, Mr. Laufeyson.”


No-one’s son, Loki wants to scream back, but his tongue is trapped under a mountain of fuzz and refuses to work as he asks. It only takes a few minutes after Dr. Yusuf to leave before he’s drifting into an enraged, unappreciated sleep.


Every time he comes to, a different Avenger is at his bedside. Once, it’s Agent Coulson, who lets him believe that he is, in fact, in the after life, and that they are both very much dead.


Clint finds immeasurable joy in the story and even more so in Loki’s shameless assurance that Coulson does, in fact, look far happier in death than he did in life. It’s Natasha, several hours later, who sets the record straight. Clint calls out of the ceiling duct that the other story was more fun, anyways, right, Loco? The nickname of the week has him mortified, and he sleeps for several hours in blind retaliation.


It’s Tony, and only Tony, who doesn’t visit. Even Bruce, who only comes to smuggle him a pizza box under the doctor’s nose, cares more for his well being than the man who put him in this position. At first he waits. When it’s clear enough, in the next few days, that he doesn’t intend to show up, he sends curses up to the ceiling (but only when the guard changes), thinking that Tony must have something installed for him to see him, but when there’s no answer, he falls silent and waits for the next sentry to appear.


He’s not surprised, really. He was, once, but not after he thinks about it (and all he has time to do, now, is think). Thor, who finally experienced his flash of wisdom, told him why. Useless. Worthless. Powerless. Unwanted. Nothing. It’s a chorus of a mantra, rushing through his head in a constant undertone.


Sometimes, he dreams about two little boys running through a castle, both born to rule. His dreams are all lies, puzzles, and golden laughter. Sometimes he can pretend they mean something; most of the time, though, they end bloody, and the older brother wins. Even his dreams don’t want him.


But Loki doesn’t wallow, Loki has never wallowed, Loki will never wallow. He will do what he can. He will heal, slowly, if steadily. And he will do the only think he’s known how to do since birth. Tear apart. He will find a way to catch their hearts, and then, one by one, he will break them.


It’s poetic, isn’t it? He thinks so.

It’s the only way he gets any sleep at night.


(He wonders, briefly, how his brother would feel to be such a source of inspiration. It's the drugs speaking, of course. He has no brother. He has no kin. No one.)



Tony sets up the doctor’s visit, he stays with Loki until he gets there, and that’s all he sees of him for seven days. He stays behind the scenes. He sets up a rota, just so there is always someone there, watching, just in case Thor decides to pay a visit, peaceful or—more likely—otherwise. He secures the perimeter. He watches everyone else’s backs.


He doesn’t go into the room.


So when it’s day eight and everyone is exhausted, yeah, he takes a shift, because, otherwise, that would make him a terrible person, or… something, and besides, Steve had been up for hours and he looked ready to pass out. So Tony steps in.


When he gets in there, Loki’s asleep, and dark lashes cast crazy spiked shadows across one cheek and absolute stripes down the other cascading into the purple, blue, and yellow of the bruise. He wishes he could kiss it better, and how absurd is that? The magic wand was on Loki’s end. He knows better.


When Loki wakes up, Tony asks him what’s wrong with him. He answers as coolly as the question was asked.


Tony doesn’t have to stay for very long, so he doesn’t.


He still cares, he does, but the ‘why’ that he wants to ask this time is one of the only ‘whys’ in Tony’s history that he doesn’t want to ask for fear of someone else’s well-being. He’s putting Loki in front of himself, and it’s exhausting, and it’s irritating, but he finds comfort in the fact that Loki probably wouldn’t tell him, anyways.


So he hunts through footage, and resists the urge to throw things when he finds out that, yes, Jarvis did listen to him and yes, he did get rid of the audio of Loki and Thor’s meeting. Worse, all of the static screwing with the picture means that Tony can’t get an accurate lip-read. He’s going to have to go back and ask Loki, because the only alternative is asking Thor, and Thor… Tony’s never had a brother. But from everything he’s heard, it’s not supposed to be like that.


“Jarvis, see if you can clear up the video. Better yet, tell me why one of my cameras is acting like Hammer tech, when it’s… well. Mine.”


“Humble as ever, sir.”


“Not humble. Honest. It’s better for the ego.” He’s flexing his fingers and set to get back to work when he gets a call.


Two calls.




One is Fury and he calls that up on speaker. “What’s up, Nick?”


“HYDRA again,” he says, and all of that stress has got to be getting to him, because Tony’s never heard him sound tired before, but he’s got a pretty good feeling that this is getting close. “Northwest this time.”






“We’ll be on it.” He’s poised to call the others when he picks up the other call.




“Tony, we’ve got a problem.” That’s Natasha on the other end, and she actually sounds like she’s having a problem, which is… which is, okay, weird.


“Where are you?” he asks quickly, already heading for the suit.


“Right outside. Literally.”


He picks up the last call when he’s in the suit, rerouting it through Jarvis’ systems. “Tony Stark, National Enquirer, Lifestyles Division, and how may we be of service today?”


“There’s something really, really wrong with Loki.” And that one’s got to be serious, for Steve to skip right through all of the hellos and how are yous and who’s speaking, please, and when Tony gets ready to go three different direction at once, he wonders if this is what it’d be like if the world was ending.


And then he realizes that it wouldn’t. That would definitely be easier. Hell, he’d just stay in bed. 

Chapter Text

Tony goes with the urgent one.


Loki will be fine. HYDRA… Hydra’s Hydra. They can wait a few.

Natasha, on the other hand… He’s heard the Black Widow totally calm with an assassin’s neck between her knees and a knife between her eyes. To be fair, he started it. To be fairer, she ended it. And he ended his night with his head stuck in a toilet bowl in the middle of the dirtiest dive bar in Manhattan.


It was a good night.


“Please shoot him,” Natasha says tightly, when he walks out the door in his suit. As if to demonstrate, she pokes Thor in the side of the ear with one of her darts. He swats at it, no more irritated than to a fly.


Tony can’t shoot, because he’s too busy having a Twilight-zone moment.


Snapshot A: walking through the door. Really? Didn’t have to blow it off, didn’t have to race or run or fly through the roof (what a waste of skylight). He walked. Snapshot B: Thor looks like a typical pedestrian—sweats and a slightly baggy blue t-shirt don’t exactly scream persona non grata. Those are Crocs. Snapshot C: Thor has Natasha slung over one shoulder in a halfway fireman’s hold, and has Clint suspended by his quiver in the opposite hand. He looks like he’s holding two irritated puppies, and as Natasha prods again, he shakes her a little, and she lands against his back with a huff.


“Lady Natasha,” he grumbles. “I’m sure we can resolve whatever ails you in a less harsh manner.”


Tony is supposed to compare this man, the one who shakes Clint gently when he tries to reach for an arrow, the one holding Natasha carefully enough that she’s comfortable, if unable to kick him, to the one who tried to throw Loki through several layers of reinforced steel. It’s hard to do, especially when Natasha shoots him again as a ‘less-harsh’ fuck-you-in-the-face, and he just keeps cradling her, half-heartedly twitching away from what has to be a zinger, and Tony wishes, he wishes he didn’t have to layer what he sees now over the memory of the same man as a god in battle armor against someone pretty damn defenseless in full-out executioner mode.


Tony would bet, under any other circumstances, Hawkeye would be enjoying himself with the way he’s swinging, the strap of his quiver across his chest as a pretty secure harness, but he’s glaring down at his bow below him and Tony wants to laugh because this is completely and totally absurd and things shouldn’t be as bad as they are.


Thor tried to pitch his brother through a nano-wall, so Tony raises one glowing palm and lets the constant hum o f is reactor drown out any second guesses.


“Put them down, Thor,” he orders, and, hey, if that’s his ‘pissed as punch’ voice, he sounds pretty damn chill. “And then get the hell out.”


Thor’s eyebrow raise, but he lowers first Clint, who lands in a tuck-and-roll, taking his bow with him and drawing it in three seconds flat, and then Natasha, who walks a few paces away, stony-faced and silent (even when she has to straighten out the ‘suit).


“Man of Iron,” Thor says, and when he starts to take a step forward, Natasha spins around with twin guns raised. Thor falters. “Whatever you believe I’ve done, I assure you I meant no harm—”


“No harm?” Tony’s laugh is harsh and accidental, and he’s tempted to just blast Thor where he stands, godhood be damned. “Right, okay. Listen. I get that you have family issues, but at least own them. I don’t know about Asgard, but on our world? No harm doesn’t look like Loki does now.” Thor just blinks at him, thoroughly confused, and god is Tony tempted to have Steve send out Jolly Green.


“Asgard,” Clint mutters, taking a step closer to Tony. They’ve set up a wall, with Tony squarely in front of the door and the other two on either side. “More like Asshole-gard.”


Tony chances a glance away, just to send Clint an eye roll he can’t see through the mask. “Clever.”


He shrugs. “I’m here all day.”


Thor’s standing in front of the three of them like they’ve grown extra heads and he can’t quite make what he’s looking at translate into ancient Norse. Tough. The unibeam has to have enough juice to blast him back far enough to buy them enough time, Tony thinks, if he does decide to go wrathful. The it’s just a matter of opening up the comms and hoping to a friendlier god that Steve’s got his on him, because—


“—ony? Tony! Listen, I know you’re probably busy, but Loki, he’s…”


“What is it?” Tony cuts through. Steve breath catches.


“He’s having some sort of fit, I’m just not sure what… what I can do.”


“There’s…” There’s nothing to do but wait it out, according to Loki, but they’ve also never lasted this long (also according to Loki—trickster god. Clever, Tony. Trusting his every word). “Tell me what’s going on.”


“Well, uh…” There’s a fumbling noise on the other end, and Tony pictures Steve at Loki’s side, hopes he’s not feeling for a pulse, that it hasn’t gone that far south. At least Loki’s not alone, right? Tony tamps down something that is definitely not guilt as Steve says, “His fever’s off the charts, and I’ve strapped him down. He was shaking up pretty badly. I didn’t want him to re-break those ribs.”


“Is he conscious?” Tony asks tightly. The other three are staring at him, and it has to suck to hear only half of the conversation. And Thor… Thor looks half frantic. Tony raises his palms and centers them on his chest. It helps him concentrate.


“I don’t thinks so,” Steve answers. “He’s not talking back to me, and… He’s not moving anymore, Tony. It looks like everything’s settling down.”


Tony lets out a long breath. “Good. That’s good. He should be fine, then.” He reaches up a hand to press the mechanism to slide his faceplate back. He wants Thor to see him when he tells him what he’s done. He wants him to understand.


“You almost killed him,” he says, every word measured out. “You were going to.” It’s not a question. He’s not looking for confirmation. He’d seen the way Thor had that hammer raised, and the only thing it promised was death.


But all Thor can do is blink at him. “Of what do you sp—”


Loki,” Tony spits. “Your brother! Remember him? The one you stripped of magic—which, by the way, is killing him slowly—and then you, what? Decided to come back down, maybe finish the job, round out a good vacation?”


“Tony.” Natasha has her hand against his chest. He didn’t realize he’d gotten so close, but he’s less than a foot away from the good of thunder and his heart is pumping bullets and bile, and all he wants to do is get a good fix on his neck and see how he flies with hundred of volts pounding through him.


“I would never,” Thor says solemnly, and he takes a slow, careful step back. “I sent him here in an attempt to deny him death, Tony Stark. Why would I—” He gathers himself up, all righteous indignation when he asks, “How could you believe that I would do such a thing?”


It’s a good act.


“Because I was there. Jarvis.” Tony lowers the face plate again, and says, quickly, “you know what we were working on? Show me Loki’s room, and project it.”


“Three-dimensional, sir?”


“You know me so well.”


The image beams out through the eye-holes in the suit, and it balances out perfectly. It’s stunning—the colors are stark, and they do absolutely nothing to downplay the bruises across Loki’s face, going yellow and green at the edges. His hands rest on his chest, thickly bandaged, and he looks like he’s been through a grater.


Tony watches Thor’s face, watches his eyes.

He looks like he’s been punched through the chest. His mouth works furiously and no sound comes out; when he moves forward, as if to touch the picture, Tony snaps, “Cut the feed,” and it’s gone. Thor’s hand ball up, knuckles white.


It’s a very good act.


“Whoever’s done this—I swear—” There’s murder in his eyes. “I swear, I’ll—”


“What?” Tony bites. “Kill them? Suicide mission, great plan, Rapunzel. I’ll be your back-up.”


Thor blanches. “You believe I did this.”


“Oh, I know you did it. I’m the one who pulled you off him—”

“I would never—”

“Steve carried him out of a puddle of his own blood—”

“I wouldn’t—”

“He’s dying!” Tony bellows, and he sets off a blast—accidentally, and they can’t prove otherwise—that misses Thor by a mile, blasting a lawn ornament to breadcrumbs. “Dying.” He’s breathing hard, but he lets his hands fall back to his sides, and when he laughs, it’s the worst thing he’s ever heard. “Either way you look at it, you’re killing him.”


The way Thor’s usually ruddy cheeks have gone absolutely white should be some kind of message to him, he knows—he looks like he had no idea, but Tony doesn’t believe him. No way in hell.


“I came to check on him. No more,” Thor says, voice halfway to broken.


Jesus.” Tony tugs the helmet off and slings it into the bushes. “You know what? Go ahead. It’s not like we could stop you, right?” He steps aside and swings his hands towards the door, mucking up a half-bow just to prove some kind of off-headed point. He ignores the wide-eyed stare Natasha sends him and the squawk that dies in Clint’s throat.


Go on. Give him a reason.


But Thor steps back instead, shaking his head slowly. “No. Not this. Not like this. I. Will not.” He takes one step back with every other word, and Tony has to hand it to him—if anything, his delivery is golden. “See. My brother. Hurt. And I will not see him like this.”


When he reaches the gate he tugs a white card from his pocket. “I am staying with the Lady Jane. I took a taxicab down here, it—” He stops himself and sighs. “If you would hear me speak without these… these ridiculous claims—” He tosses the card. Clint catches it. Naturally. “Please. Tell my brother…”


“I doubt he’ll want to hear from you,” Clint says bluntly. Thor just shakes his head.




And then he’s gone. Tony lets his arm swing to his side and lets Natasha tug him back in, just as the first drops of rainfall. The first crack of thunder, and Tony blasts through a skylight.


That one’s an accident, too. 

Chapter Text

Tony has Loki under his skin. It’s why he’s sitting next to him, covers turned up so that he can’t see the leather straps across his chest and arms, ignoring the conference call in the next room.


He needs to wake him up. There are questions he needs to answer, and it’s important, but all Tony can see is the way his skin is green and yellow around his eyes, and he reaches up a hand to brush back a sweat-curled lock of hair that cuts through the worst of it. His hand lingers, brushes across his forehead and Loki’s nose scrunches up under the touch and he turns away, snuffling irritably. Tony pulls away before he opens his eyes. He doesn’t want him to wake up and see him there. (He doesn’t read into this.)


“You’re staying here,” Steve—No, Captain. He’s all red, white and dazzle—says, slinging his shield up his arm.


“What, why? Who leaves Iron Man out of the party voluntarily? Am I grounded?” He turns his face upwards, because Coulson’s totally still on speaker. “Am I grounded?” There’s a delicate click. He just hung up on him.

He totally just hung up on him. How rude. “I refuse to be left behind,” Tony says primly, turning back to Cap. “Ohana means family, and—”


“This isn’t a Disney movie,” Natasha sighs. Steve’s looking at him like he knows Tony’s hearts not in it, but Natasha’s all nice and simple angry exasperation, so he turns his attention to her. “Hydra’s…” She pauses, lips pursed. “Well, Coulson’s not sure what—”

“They’re breaking shit,” Clint supplies helpfully.

“They’re terrorizing,” Steve corrects, looking at Clint pointedly. Clint stares resolutely at into his quiver, shuffling around arrows that Tony knows for a fact are already sorted by color, shape, and alphabetically by magical property. When Steve turns around, he mouths breaking shit, and Tony gives him a thumb up.


“So you three against the venomous hordes, huh?” He tosses himself across the nearest couch and tuck himself into a corner. “What about the big guy?”


“He’s downstairs. We figured, if Thor…” Comes back, attacks, goes apeshit—Steve stops to let Tony fill in the blanks,, but Tony just looks at him until he continues. “You might need him more than we do.” The quinjet is already loaded, and Captain America, Black Widow, and Hawkeye are gone in five, which leaves Tony with nothing but a few long, empty hours of guard duty.

Oh, god.

Solitaire works for about as long as it takes to find the cards. They’re Bruce’s; when Tony gets bored with that, he throws them back at the table he found them on and they scatter on impact. That’s satisfying. Until he imagines Bruce getting a little green in the face and the table Pepper picked out from Moscow splintering. Then he uses a few precious minutes to gather the stack back together again.


The TV lasts half of that—there’s a gossip program on detailing Cap’s considerable, ahem, assets, which is fun, so he sets it on record and leaves it for later. The look on Cap’s face…


He tries to listen to the radio, but all he can hear is himself think, so he knocks that off the table too. He’s bored, bored to his bones, and all he can do is think thoughts like killed eighty people and didn’t he deserve it? and, occasionally, I would never.


Tony had gone to the memorial SHIELD put on for the fallen agents. Their kids had given him hugs. He didn’t know any of them personally. He’s not a hero, he’s a big man in a suit, and there’s nothing he believes in enough to get out of the way if Thor comes back, and there’s nothing he believes in enough to cry if he wins. The only thing he’s ever believed in, really, are the things he ‘s built up with his own two hands, and—




“Jarvis? Did you find anything on that footage?”


“Yes, sir.” The footage comes up in the air above the kitchen island and Tony walks up to it. He clears up what little fuzz he can with a few sweeps of his fingers and waits for his computers to work with the rest.


They manage to get rid of a lot of it, but still, a film of static radiates out from wherever Thor stands in the shot. he’s called up past footage; the camera’s done fine so far. Clip after clip of tests done in that chamber come up clear, and he can zoom in close enough to catch every last shed of shrapnel from every single explosion. He checks Thor up, too—SHIELD’s cameras show him in all of his Norse glory, and if theirs can, his sure as hell should, too. In high def. 3D, if he feels like it.


“No luck on calling up the sound?”


“No, sir. But,” Jarvis adds, “I did manage to pinpoint a possible source of the disturbance.” Hello, progress.


“Let’s have it.”


And Tony regrets that immediately, when he’s on the floor with his hands clamped over his ears and screaming, “TURN THAT OFF BEFORE I REROUTE YOU INTO A TOASTER.”


It beeps off. “Sorry, sir,” comes Jarvis’s beautiful, quiet, dulcet tones. “It appears the volume was stuck in ‘bagel.’”


“Ha ha.” Tony stumbles up to his feet. His ears are still ringing with that layered, unearthly wail that he’s sure broke at least three of the glasses in the sink. If the Budapest shot glass was in there, he’s pretty sure Natasha will hang him from the ceiling by his toes.


“Jarvis,” he asks carefully, trying to drown out the mental image. (Swinging. Half naked. Glass full of scotch just out of tongue’s reach.) “What in the holy hell was that? Actually, scratch all of that, because it probably was from hell. That is what the Devil Jazzercises to.”


“It was a sample of the frequency that disrupted the video feed” And before Tony can ask, he adds, “I’m counterbalancing it now.”

“And overlaying the antidote should cancel out the hell spawn.” Tony nods thoughtfully. “Some days, I’m happy I made you.”


“Much obliged, sir.”


“Now give me something to do.”


It’s a crash from downstairs that wakes Loki up first.


There’s a moment of bliss, most likely due to the medication, where he feels like he’s floating. This is new. He’s felt flying and he’s surely felt falling, but the sensation of floating, of simply being, is something he could grow accustomed to.


And then he crashes back into his physical form. It’s as violent as it sounds; he goes from nothing to pain, peace to the blazing of torn tissues and split muscles, and he throws his head back into his pillow, gritting his teeth through the first flash of pain. It’s always worse when he first wakes up. It doesn’t help, he notices, that he’d been moving in his sleep; he hadn’t gone to sleep with the blanket pulled up to his chin. Nor had he with his arms tucked up against his chest. He puts them down gingerly. Everything is fading, slowly but surely, to the same, dull ache. What he wouldn’t do for an hour of true pain and then be done with it. That, rather than an eternity of this damned, ill torment.


He can’t open his eyes.


He struggles, for a moment, but no—he hasn’t gone blind, but his eyes refuse to open. He goes to open his mouth, to call for help—his mouth won’t open either. He feels his heart pressing against he hollow of his throat. It doubles its pace when he feels something warm brush against his forehead, his jaw. It’s fingers, he thinks, that tap down his neck and across his chest. He wishes he hadn’t bothered to move his arms. He feels too exposed, and when he feels someone raise the end of his bandages, he tries to move again, tries to call out, tries and struggles.


One hand stops, spread over his sternum. And a worse pain than he could ever have fathomed spreads out from those fingers, sinks deep into his bones, sews into sinew and pulses through his veins, straight into his heart. He screams.


‘Something’ ends up being pretty damn close to ‘Loki,’ and ‘to do’ doesn’t end up being nearly as much fun as it sounds. Tony ends up in his workshop with the Mark VIII additions spread out on his desk and his eyes on the blood and tox screen panels on his screens. In an hour, he’s in his gray area. No hunger, no thirst, no conscious thought, only endless stream of information that Tony should, by laws of gravity and generally appreciated common sense, have to stop and think about. He doesn’t think. Never has, never intends to. It’s mundane, and he doesn’t do that. What he does do is process. He breaks down the theories, theorem, recipes for creation and guidelines for disaster into the same little jolts of electricity, in nice, neat little rows. It’s the electricity he runs on. Sometimes, he’s not sure he didn’t’ just create himself one day—a bundle of impulses with nothing to do, shoving together everything it remembered, liquor, spice, and everything mullet rock, until he was there, brand new. Unwanted, unintended, and brilliant. Sometimes, he thinks, ‘I should be this.’ Most times, he doesn’t think at all.


The gray area—his gray area, his haven, where no one else is allowed—peels back like the lights have turned on, and it takes Tony a moment, blinking back at page after page of motor neuron research, to realize that what jarred him out of it was a high-pitched, buzzing alarm.


“Intruder?” he asks blearily, pushing away from his workstation.


“Emergency,” Jarvis corrects. “Mr. Laufeyson seems to have—” He’s silenced by the glass door swinging shut on Tony’s heels. Tony wakes up completely at ‘Laufeyson’ and his brain fires the necessary little bolt of lightning from he’s why you were down here, stupid to come on, muscles, work it.


He takes a moment, at Loki’s door, to marvel at the fact that he didn’t stumble over his feet once in his mad race up the stairs. This moment is why he’s too busy to fully register what he’s looking at.


And then he fully registers what he’s looking at. And it still makes no sense.


Loki is… Loki’s fine. His eyes are fluttering open and his hands are pressed against Steve’s back, Steve’s shoulders, the same Steve who has his mouth sealed over Loki’s own and one hand on his chest.


Tony can’t help it. “Oh Captain, my captain,” he says quickly. “Do I get one next?” 

Chapter Text

Steve jerks back like a dime store rocket, and by god is it worth it when he goes as red as… as red as Loki’s lips are now.

“This isn’t what it looks like,” he says quickly, but Tony is a quick draw champ, even when he’s distracted by wide green eyes and a flash of tongue, so he answers quicker.


“So it wasn’t a very invested CPR attempt?” Steve looks a little on the relieved side of his embarrassment spectrum, so Tony walks into the room and adds, “Just a little physical comfort, then. Tonsil exam maybe? I couldn’t tell. Doorway, you know.” Tony shrugs. “Terrible view.”


When Steve tries to look to Loki for help, he just blinks sleepily back at him before asking, stiffly, “What in Odin’s name were you doing, Captain?”


Oh, my god. Between the two of them, they are going to make America’s mascot cry. “You stopped breathing! I didn’t—it’s not like—I—You stopped breathing!”


Loki squints at him and his tongue darts across his lips again. “A very thorough life-saving attempt, I’m sure.”


Oh my god.” Steve’s fingers splay out over his face and his ears look like adorably patriotic cherries. Tony grins.


Anyways, it’s easier to look at Steve than it is to look at Loki. Not that, you know, he doesn’t. Because he’s not blind, and you could sharpen knives on those cheekbones, and his downstairs brain won’t stop asking how much redder Loki’s lips can get.


“Did you come in here for a reason?” Loki demands, snapping Tony right back into upstairs reasoning. “You’ve done rather well avoiding me so far.” Yes, he has. And he could keep that up. He probably should keep that up. It’s been a good idea so far.


And then Loki frowns, and Steve stares at him, and Jesus, is everyone on Team We Hate Tony now? Because he disagrees very strongly.


He pulls up a chair next to the bed and loops it around so that his chin rests against its back. This way, he’s nearly at Loki’s eye level. “I brought you some food. Or I would have. If an alarm wasn’t going off.”


Loki stares at him for a moment, and then sniffs and looks away. “Steve brought me food.”


Tony wonders if his grin is looking anywhere near as strained as it’s feeling. “I’ll bet he did.”


“Um.” Steve clears his throat. “Sorry. About that.” His hands are back in his lap and his cheeks are still pink, but Loki’s glare eases up around him.


“And I’m sorry I stopped breathing.”


“And I’m sorry,” Tony says loudly, because if they start making out he swears he will whack someone with his chair. That someone will probably be Captain Titanium. “To break up your little love fest, and all, but we have to talk. There’s a message to you. From big, blond and dangerous.”


Loki frowns. “I—” And then stops. Frowns deeper. Moves to sit up. Steve’s arm is there before Tony can move, one arm out in front of him, the other behind him, holding him steady.


“There’s something wrong,” Loki says quietly, dropping through shades of pale like a failing elevator.


“What? What is it?” Tony demands, because he looks fine. He looks good. But he’s tearing at his clothes as if they’re burning him, and when Steve tries to push him back onto the mattress he swats his hands away.


He fumbles to unwrap the bandages across his chest with his bandaged arm, and he’s quick, for someone so supposedly hurting. Quick enough and unflinching enough that Tony and Steve look at each other and both sit back, stay out of the way.


Loki shuts them out. Stark, Rogers, the never-ending buzzing of the machines around him. Something is off. Something is strange. He’s been feeling it since he opened his eyes. The drug-enhanced haze he’s been under seems to have shifted—he’s more lucid than he should be, but it’s a funny lucidity. Under the drugs, there’s a constant reminder of the pain, a feeling shrouded at the back of his mind. He doesn’t feel the pain, not really, but he knows it’s there, and the knowledge alone becomes its own special kind of torture. Drugged, everything is dulled, event the dread of waking up into pain once again.


But this… there’s not a wall in his mind that he can’t cross. He can’t find the barricaded pain. Instead, there’s a creaky, residual ache, and it’s centered right over his lungs, and he has to see.


Both Avengers stay back when he swings his legs to the side of the bed, slowly, and shoves down the remaining bandages. He’s still too used to the pain to believe it won’t come back, so he’s not going to rush it, but it’s not too long before his chest is bared.


There is a dimly glowing speck of blue in the middle of his chest and, as he watches, it disappears, sinking out of view.


He tugs the wrappings down further, down to his hips. His chest, his ribs—he’s blemish free. The breaks are healed, the bruises, faded shadows. He’s fine.


Now for his blasted hands—he tugs at the bandages over his fingers and wrists with his teeth until one hand is freed, and then rips the other one out. His fingers are pale, and he can bend them without wincing. He’s…


“What in the holy hell,” Tony breathes out from next to him. He rocks back in his chair so that only two legs still rest on the ground—a better view for appraisal. Loki’s not flattering himself to note the fair amount of lust that colors Tony’s gaze when he thinks he looks away. He’s not planning on flattering Tony, either, though, so he snaps out a deliciously sore and marvelously able leg and tips him over. The crash is a beautiful thing.


“Ow,” Tony says blankly, spread flat out against the floor. And then, on sitting up— “You’re okay.” Loki snorts.


“You’re a moron.” All Tony does is blink up at him, mouth a crooked line.


“You’re okay,” Steve says, and, really, what is it about blond hair and bright eyes that saps all intelligence and lends so much brawn? Loki sighs.


“Yes. And you taste of democratic ideals and freedom. If that’s all…?” He looks at Steve, who avoids his gaze like the plague, and then at Tony, who still hasn’t looked away, but it takes a long moment for either of them to speak.


“I—That is, um.” Out of the corner of his eye, Loki sees Tony make small, stiff, shooing motions to Steve, waving him towards the door. Steve stands, rubbing his hands against his thighs. It’s endearingly pathetic, the way he flusters so easily. “I guess I’ll go, then.” He stands, and Loki thinks quickly.


“No!” No, because what Tony wants, Loki very decidedly does not. He puts his hand on Steve’s arm and pushes him back down into the chair. “Stay.”


For all of the good soldier’s faults, he is undeniably good at following orders.


Loki’s chest is bared, all lean muscle and cutting edges, and there isn’t a sign left behind that the two ribs, broken through skin in multiple places, were ever so much as bruised. His battered, swollen hands are all long, tapered fingers and bird-boned wrists, and when he pushes his hair back, he has all the grace of a dancer.


Which, Tony thinks, is inexcusably affectionate from someone whose ass is warming carpet. (All the same, had Steve left when he should have, it wouldn’t be affection that would have his mouth anywhere it could reach.)


“How did that happen?” he asks brusquely. “I just saw you a few hours ago, and you didn’t look like that.”


“A few—Tony.” Steve glares down at him. That is not how you stand guard, Tony. That is not how you do things. That is not how you protect the merchandise. Wow. Tony is actually in a really terrible position here, because having Steve that high above him is just upping the lecture possibilities exponentially, but this floor was made right. He’ll get up when he gets up. If he’s going to be talked down to, he’ll be comfortable about it.  He sets his arms out behind him and stretches a little.


“Jarvis was watching.”


“Then you’ll have to ask him what happened,” Loki says, his voice muffled; his head is bent into his chest, his fingers tracing delicately down his sternum. He delineates the lines of his ribs, and Tony follows his motions with his eyes. He presses his fingertips into his skin, and Tony half-expects the white to purple under his ministrations, and he’s not sure if he’s more disappointed or relieved when it doesn’t, when he simply moves on, drifting over freckles (moles? beauty marks? Tony’s not sure what to call them beyond ‘dots that he would like to connect, one by one by one.)


“You know what happened,” Tony says firmly. He knows he’s right; that’s not the look of someone as confused as they should be. From invalid to able-bodied with the magic of beauty sleep? No. He’s not frustrated; he’s not double-thinking it. He’s flexing his fingers and arching his back, and Tony’s looking at the lint on the carpet with as much concentration as he can gather. Loki answers when he doesn’t think he’s going to.


“Aesir magic,” he admits quietly. “I saw… There was a little left, before. But it hurts.” He turns to glower down at Tony, hands curling tightly in on themselves. “Healing is equal and opposite. You push against a bone to break it; you pull, from the inside out, to heal it.”


“Aesir magic?” Steve throws in. “As in somebody from back home came and, what, fixed you?” And then, of course, the complimentary glare in Tony’s direction.


“It would have been quick,” Loki goes on, and Tony’s not so sure he’s talking to them, with the way he’s muttering. “Quick, yes, but also painful. I can’t have forgotten something like that.”


“That doesn’t sound like such a bad thing. Actually,” Tony corrects,” I can think of a couple of things I wouldn’t mind forgetting, pain-wise.” Loki looks at him like he’s forgotten he’s there, so he keeps talking. “All I’m saying is, whatever happened, it worked.”


“But then who was it?” Steve asks. “Thor?”


Loki hisses at the mention of the name. It sounds like a conditioned response. He pushes himself off of the bed and heads towards the window. His steps are stilted; healed he may be, but he looks stiff. Stiff and happy about it; for a moment, Tony could’ve sworn he saw a smile. In the next, though, it’s gone.


“You said something about a message? You’ve seen him?” And then, to Steve, Tony’s assuming, “You didn’t tell me he’d been here.”


“Tony, Natasha and Clint held him off at the door. We weren’t going to let him in here,” Steve soothes, and Tony doubts he’s expecting the harsh, bitter laugh that cracks out of Loki.


“No offense to your team,” he drawls, turning back around. “But Tony wears a metal suit, and Natasha and Clint are so very human. Thor is an angry, giant hammer-wielding god. I don’t much fancy your chances.”


Lokrekkja,” Tony says quickly, before that gets any more heated, and, maybe, to see Loki’s reaction without warning.


Tony can see his heart stop.


He turns back around, but he’s too slow, and Tony’s seen enough. The almost instantaneous shift from blatant shock, eyes wide and mouth open, to the purest rage Tony’s seen on him in a while. It’s terrifying.


“What does it mean?” he asks, when he can get his breath back.


“It’s—we were children,” Loki says with difficulty. “It means—” He stops, back painfully straight and one hand resting, rigid and white, against the window. “We’re under siege.”


Steve frowns. “Why couldn’t he have just said that to us?”


“It’s not...” Loki turns back around, leaning his elbows across the windowsill, smirking back at them mirthlessly. “It’s not literal, Captain. Literally, it means ‘bed-closet.’”


“And how does a ‘bed-closet’ translate to ‘siege?’”


“Don’t be insensitive,” Tony chides, sitting up straighter. “It’s Norse. They got all kinds of things backwards.”


“It’s where we hid,” Loki spits, glaring between them. “Where he hid me. We were young, and we were under siege, and he told me to stay there, that he’d come back, that everything would be fine. That’s what that means.” He sounds like the words are being ripped out of him, and Tony knows he wouldn’t say any of this unless he had to. He’s done his damnedest to delete any sort of fondness towards Thor, and tearing that back… It sounds like an open wound, and there’s nothing him or Cap can say in the light of that. They stay completely silent.


And then, from the ceiling, “Sir. A segment of footage has been cleared.” Thank Jarvis to break a mood. Loki turns back to the window and Tony pats himself down. It has to be here, somewhere… Ha.“I’ve got my phone, Jarvis. Shoot it there.”




“I’m gonna…” Steve jabs his thumb towards the door. Loki doesn’t look back, and Tony doesn’t look away from his shoulders. The door creaks shut as his phone beeps out an alert, and he swipes his fingers across the screen to open up the video.


Tony presses play, and says, “Oh.” And then, “Shit.” 

Chapter Text


 It would be nice, really, if things always went the way they should.


Steve hears Tony shout when he’s halfway down the stairs, but it’s dim, and he thinks, Wait. Why can’t I hear him? Why is everything so gray? And it is. Gray. Gray and thick, the air is going out of his lungs and not going back in, and he has to stop, two steps from the bottom, and put a hand to his chest, feel it to make sure it’s moving. He can’t feel it.


Natasha’s in front of him, then, and she’s helping him sit down, helping him through whatever it is. He hears her tell him to breathe, Steve, come on and he tries, he does, but it’s several moments before he actually can. And even then, his skin is itching, like hives that haven’t quite erupted yet, and he scratches at the back of his neck, and his wrists, and then he sees it, on the back of his hand.


A small, red puncture mark, only visible because of how red the rest of his skin is getting, and how white the area around that mark is.


He looks up at Natasha and she shoves back her hair. It’s a sign of stress. He waits. When she shoves her hand at him—and hers is on a finger, halfway between two knuckles—it’s with fanfare and sighs and the rolling of bright green eyes that smile, and that’s how he knows she’s nervous. That she’s faking it.


“This isn’t good, is it?” he rasps, rubbing at the spot. Her eyes continue to smile. He takes that as a ‘no.’




“What is it?” Loki asks, voice low and syrupy, very devil-may-care.


“No,” Tony says, and then almost laughs, because that’s not any sort of answer Loki can use. This is wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, and that word is a litany, the litany of his soul, if he has one somewhere, because this is so bad. Ooh. Bad works too. Bad works well.


“What did you see?” Loki demands, moving forwards. He pulls Tony up to his feet—with just the right dash of appropriate approval of his own abilities—and shoves him back onto the bed. “You saw something, and you look strange.”


“Strange,” Tony parrots.


“Stranger that usual.”


And that makes Tony laugh, to long and too high. “Stranger than usual, that’s nice. That’s accurate. Well done. Do you know,” he asks abruptly, “I really thought Steve was kissing you.”


Loki’s lips twist to the side. “That’s not what we’re talking about right now.”


“What? About the fact that I thought you and Steve might have something going on? You do like him more.”


“Maybe I don’t like any of you,” Loki gripes. “Especially not you. Give me an answer, Stark.”


“It makes sense, though, right? He’s nice, you’re not. Opposites attracting. Totally hot.”


Loki raises one even eyebrow. “You find the idea of Steve and I…”


“If you say ‘arousing,’ I will be deeply, personally offended.”


“Pleasing,” he says smoothly.


“Euch,” says Tony. “And besides, that’s not the point. If we’re talking aesthetics, I mean, come on.”


Loki smirks. “I’ll be sure to offer that prospect to Steve. I wonder how… amenable he’d be to such a proposition.”


“How easily distracted to you think I am?” Tony answers, sticking as much affront as he can fake into that question, because, hello, aesthetically speaking, he’s sure that picture is hot. But he’s just as sure that the ice-under-fire feeling he gets from it means something that would earn little more than derision from the man in front of him.


Loki just rolls his eyes. “I find you very, very easily distracted. So tell me what you saw, so that you can go back to staying away from me.”


The footage is still up on his phone, with the frame still frozen on that one, tiny, horrifyingly pivotal second, and he doesn’t know how to do anything but swipe his thumb to lock it. The blue, glowing lock-screen is easy enough to flash at Loki. “Can’t. Look. Exited it. It’s gone. Guess I’ll just have to go away from you, uh, now.”


So, naturally, Loki goes closer, slinging one leg over Tony’s knees and looming. “Show me,” he growls, lowering his face so that he’s centimeters away, and Tony has nowhere to look except chips of jade and acres of marble.


“You don’t want me to,” he answers, with as much force as he can manage, which ends up being just a little bit above a whisper, because this is what he didn’t want. This, Loki above him, Loki’s hands pushing his own tight against the mattress beneath them, the horrible, clawing want to just close those few inches and, hey, maybe even apologize. Loki gets closer, and closer, and his mouth is right there, and Tony can do it, he can, but he won’t, and so one second passes, five, ten, thirty, and then Loki’s pulling back with the slightest quirk of his lips and Tony’s realizing that the air tasted differently with Loki right there and the way it is now is too bland, too plain.


“Jarvis,” Loki says lightly, and he’s looking at Tony when he says it, and it sounds like half accusation, half taunt. “Can you unlock this?” He waves a small, blue-screened tablet in the air. “I’d like to get Mr. Stark out of here.” That sounds worse than an accusation. That sounds like a flame fanned.


There’s a sequence of beeps, and then the tablet opens. Loki sees it faster than Tony did. It took him a second to put it together, to make sense of the pixels. Loki only has to glance at it before his brow furrows.


“What does this mean? Is my—the thunderer ill?”


“Your thunderer?” Tony snorts. “That’s healthy.”


“Don’t,” Loki says tightly. Tony switches tack.


“Look. I was there. I saw what he did to you. I don’t know what he said to you, but it looked like he broke your—” He stops. “He broke your ribs, and bled you out, and was about to deliver an executioners swing, right into your head.”


“You didn’t let him,” Loki says quietly. Bored. Posing.


“No, I didn’t," Tony snaps. "I fought him back, he zapped out—left a soot mark in the middle of my testing chamber, too, which, rude—”


“’Zapped?’” Loki frowns. “What do you mean?”


“As in here one minute, gone the next. He… I don’t know, rode the lightning.” Loki’s shaking his head, scowling down at the phone in his hands.


“That’s not possible.”


“I was there—”


That’s not possible.” Loki tosses the phone onto the mattress and huffs out a breath, exasperated. “Show me that part.” Tony fast-forwards to Thor’s grand exit, and plays it out, stretching the phone out so that Loki can see.


He’s puzzled by it; once he’s seen the way Tony scrolls through the footage, he scrolls back and forth himself, looking more and more troubled by the third run through, pissed by the sixth. “This isn’t possible.”


“Tell me about it.” Tony tugs it out of Loki’s hands and goes back to the first freeze frame. “I mean, maybe I’m hallucinating, but since when do blue eyes glow yellow.”


“Since they…” Loki swallows. “Since they don’t belong to Thor.”


Tony thinks about that.



Chapter Text

Natasha spreads her fingers. Steve stretches out his hand. Clint, after being dragged back and forcefully seated by Natasha, bares his shoulder.


Three dots, identical. Flat pinpricks. Almost invisible.


“Well,” Tony says, dropping his head between his arms with a wheezing laugh. “At least it didn’t bleed as much as mine. Looks like they figured out what they were trying to do.”


He presses his forehead against the cool wood of the kitchen table and tries not to feel like shit is happening that he does not understand. It feels like that’s happening too often, recently, for him to blink it off and remember that the people around the table are earth’s mightiest, that they can handle the weight of the world and get everything done before dinner. Evidence to the contrary is saved on the palm-sized device in his hand, because dinner is over and answers are still pretty damn well out of sight.


“And they’re trying to do what?” Tony doesn’t feel like looking up; he can feel Loki’s glare boring into the top of his head and feels like, if he isn’t careful, he’ll wake up with a bald spot.


Loki’s sitting in the corner with a blanket wrapped up to his chin, the body that’s his to move again pulled in tight, glaring out at anybody who comes too close. He looks like a caged animal, all spite and raised hackles. Part of that is probably Tony’s fault, really, considering the fact that he pulled Loki out of the room to find the others, because news, only to be upstaged by Natasha and Steve on the stairs with matching needle marks.


Routine is how Steve described their run-in with Hydra.  Routine and quick and  hand-to-hand and sudden, unnecessary retreat that didn’t make much sense, at the time, but now they have something of ours that is probably important.


(Pain in the ass is how Clint described it. And what the fuck did they stick me with? And Natasha, let goAnd then multiple variations of swear words in multiple languages, several of which Tony doesn’t think are actually real.)


“Okay. Okay,” Tony says, and “Okay,” one more time, just in case they missed it, and sits up, puffing out a well-held breath. “This can’t be as bad as it looks, right? I mean, sure, you guys got tagged under mysterious circumstances and Thor’s got a super-powered doppelganger trying to kill Loki for no apparent reason—”




“Oh. Did I forget to mention that part?” He passes the phone over to Steve and he presses play. “Turns out that maybe that wasn’t Thor who, uh. Invalided the cripple over there.”


Loki remains carefully expressionless when he says, “That explains why I’m still alive.” 


Tony snorts. “You’re still alive because I got him away from you.”


“You still wouldn’t stand a chance against a god,” he answers, voice low enough to bruise, and Tony glares back at him, but he knows it’s not even half as cold, couldn’t ever reach half as cold.


“Did I miss something?” Clint asks callously, staring at the both of them.


“Yes,” Steve answers, voice rough, waving him over. “Look.” Clint and Natasha swarm around Steve, and one of them lets out a low whistle—Tony wonders which part they’re on, if he rewound it far enough for them to see the worst of the beating.


Loki stands, abruptly, yanking the blanket up tighter around him. His last look back is at Tony when he leaves the room, and nobody else looks up to watch him go.


In his room, Loki drops the blanket to feel the air against his skin. The magic is still running under his skin, a low, blue, itching buzz. If he scratches it, it’ll sink right out of him and into the floor, into the air, somewhere else, and he doesn’t want that. It’s not right, and it’s not his, and it’s a dose far to small than the one he needs, but it’s something. It serves to remind him of what he’s lost.


Gods, he’s angry. It’s the wrong kind of anger, too. Not as productive as he needs it to be, but the magic’s waking it up. How dare he? Strip him like this, and then only make it worse, under a façade of helping, of reaching out, pretending to be good so that he can retreat and watch the show from the margins without any judgment falling on his shoulders. Weak, mortal. Powerless. It doesn’t matter that it wasn’t Thor in the chamber. What was said was said. Needed to be said. Was true, even if the vessel was not. Loki liked it better when he was close to death. Now, he owes his not-brother his life. But that’s not right, is it? Because he’s still dying. The magic will burn its way out of his system, its job done, and he’ll be back the way he was—the bones will be healed, the blood restored, and the degeneration will continue to accelerate.


But he can walk. That’s good, isn’t it? He pushes himself away from the bed and walks the perimeter of the room, slowly enough to feel his muscles stretch and pull in motion. No throne, and no home.


There is nothing in arms’ reach for him to throw, so he spins to the wall, intent on pushing a hole through it, if nothing more—


There’s a knock and the squeal of a knob turning. Loki schools his features into something approaching I can still pretend to be above you, and manages to not look away when Tony enters.


“Steve thinks I was rude,” he offers immediately. “Apparently ‘cripple’ isn’t a very nice word.” Loki looks at him until he’s shifting from foot to foot in discomfort, one hand still playing around the doorknob. “I could apologize, if it would make you feel better,” he offers after a few more moments of silence. “Even though I feel like flagellation is probably more your speed.”


That I wouldn’t be adverse to seeing.” He’s staring to tire; after days off of his legs, standing for so long is making him lightheaded; he tries to walk towards the bed slowly, tries not to make it obvious. “I daresay it would be entertaining.” Seven steps, if he paces it right.


“Is this because I didn’t come in here often enough, or something?” Tony asks brusquely. He slips in and closes the door behind him—but, Loki notes drolly, keeps his hand on the doorknob, even if it’s on the other side. “Because I have a thing. About hospitals. And all the machines, and the drips, and everything was, you know, pretty hospital-y.”


“I’m sure,” Loki drawls. Two steps down, and he’s keeping it even. Nothing is wrong. His posture is proper; the temperature is falling and his skin is beginning to prickle, which is still the strangest sensation, certainly, that he’s had to get used to. He finds himself halfway to opening his mouth to say so, and then wonders why, exactly, he’d considered it, even if for a moment.


“Good,” Tony says, and then clears his throat. “Then we have that cleared up. So, yeah. Sorry.” He clears his throat again. “Actually, I was also wondering what Thor said to you.”


Four steps down, more than halfway, and that’s where Loki’s knees give out, where they decide to stop responding and he sways, and they buckle, and he’s on his knees and Tony doesn’t quite catch him as toss himself to his knees, too, to catch his shoulders and absorb his one long, hideous shudder of absolute revulsion. Loki keeps his face down, lets the long black blind of his hair shade whatever’s crossing across his face that tastes an awful lot like murder with none of the aftertaste of satisfaction, and in that one moment, he’s never hated so purely, so absolutely, without a trace of remorse or forgiveness or second-guessing. He hates this, the pale limbs that shake under pressure, the one streak of healing magic, the slightest, weakest, meekest thing in the nine realms that makes his body bend to it’s every wish because he craves.


“Don’t touch me,” he snarls, and he can’t stand, but he can pull himself away, and he does, pushing Tony back and sliding a little ways along the floor, his bones vibrating with the ire that has his heart scraping its way halfway out of his chest, anything to find somewhere worthier to beat.


Tony doesn’t say anything, just sits there, stunned (and vacant, Loki thinks viciously, as vacant as the rest of them), lets him claw his way to the window and the irony doesn’t escape him that he’s the one kneeling, now.


“He didn’t say anything,” Loki murmurs, when he doesn’t feel like accepting the staring any longer. “If that’s why you’re here, you’re free to leave.” He can’t see out the window, and the shame involved in pulling himself to his knees, supporting himself on the window-ledge, is sorely unacceptable, so he twists around instead, back against the wall and knees pulled up against his chest, elbows resting on them.


He’s looking at those elbows when Tony says, “I’m here because of you,” like it’s the simplest thing in the world, like he means it, and it makes Loki roll his eyes.


“You’re here because you were hoping I’d be of use. I’m not. Leave.” He thinks that keeping it simple will get Tony out faster. He doesn’t want company, doesn’t want another’s presence. He wants silence. He doesn’t want to look at Tony, in front of him, features flickering from confusion, to surprise, to hurt—to annoyance, which suits him better, honestly. He doesn’t get to be hurt. It’s Loki’s pride that was insulted, shoved away like the failing experiment he is. Tony can’t stand that, can’t stand to see machinations falling apart. And that’s all that Loki is. Never were worthy. “I’m worthless.” He tests the confession out against the air, lets it drip off of his tongue. It’s stagnant.


“What the hell are you talking about?” Tony demands, pushing himself up to kneeling (because he can, because he’s able, because his body doesn’t betray him and his senses don’t abandon him).


Erosion, collapse, breakdown of every part from the source, the wearing away of a god, the unmaking of a man. Loki shrugs. He doesn’t have an answer that he cares to let Tony hear, and the only thing he wants to say is wrong, somehow, out of the context of the way things are.


You pushed me away. Gods, what he wouldn’t do to be closer, be able to breathe these words against Tony’s mouth so that he can taste them, feel them on his own tongue, feel the way they burn against Loki’s, trying so hard to make their way out.

He won’t be weak. “Leave,” he says again, and he looks at the door, a hint, a directive.


“No,” Tony says stubbornly, and Loki swings his head up to glare at him. “Stop looking at me like that. What the hell is wrong with you? Shouldn’t this be a good thing that it wasn’t Thor?”


“Oh, yes,” Loki deadpans. “How fortuitous, Thor sweeping in to save the day, to make me all better.”


That gives him pause. “Aren’t you? All better?”


Loki casts a pointed glance around. “And here I thought I was stuck on the floor.”


“If Thor—uh, Thor.0, said anything, you have to tell me.” He crawls the few paces towards Loki—something infants can do and that Loki can’t—and tries to reach out; Loki twists away before his hand can make contact, and it falls back to his side. “It could help us figure out who it is.”


“I—” You’re a poor example of mortality, even at its best. “Have nothing for you,” he says slowly, measuring out every word.


I don’t blame you for staying away, goes unsaid. “I’m cold,” doesn’t, and Tony reaches for his blanket without a word, tugging it towards him and draping it over his shoulders.


Loki looks miserable like this, weak and furious about it, and Tony’s sure that the helplessness is making it worse, is making him feel awful, but there’s not a thing he can say that would change whatever’s going on in his head, and there’s even less he can do to make Loki let him in on it, so he wraps him in the blanket and holds his hand against it for maybe a little too long, just to make sure it doesn’t slip off.


“I thought he made you better,” Tony says quietly when Loki looks up, several seconds of silence and half-touching between them. “That he healed you. That he could make you better.”


“Wrong,” Loki hums, but he’s not shrinking away from Tony’s hands on his arms. Tony’s not sure if it’s because he can’t or if it’s because he doesn’t want to, but neither of them acknowledge the slow circles his thumbs form against the fabric.


“I’ll figure out what went on in there,” Tony says. It’s a warning. Loki doesn’t blink.


“Not with help from me.”


He still doesn’t blink when Tony presses his lips to the corner of his mouth. Loki’s the one who twists away; Tony stays in place, looking at him.


“One of your teammates might walk in,” he says sharply, eyes narrowed, carefully trained on some point over Tony’s shoulder.


“Why does that even matter to you?”


“It doesn’t. Not to me.” The heat in Loki’s eyes when he turns them back on Tony makes him look away—and then back, because whatever this is, it’s important. “But it does to you.” Loki sniffs, dragging his eyes across Tony in what should, by all rights, be a bold-faced leer. “Not that it’s difficult to determine why. Not that I would blame you.” The last is lost in a half whisper, and Tony thinks that he understands, at least a little, and, wow. Wow. Loki’s prying, he’s looking for what he expects, and that’s—what? Derision? Scorn? Pity? Tony wonders how many points he gets if he surprises him.


“Only because,” he says, as clearly as he can, staring up until Loki meets his eye again. “I don’t know what you are.”


There’s a flicker of rage, there, but it’s gone as quickly as he can say “Human.” And then, after a glance at failing limbs, “Mostly.”


“Crazy,” Tony corrects. “Completely,” and yeah, all of the points to him, because Loki double-takes, and he doesn’t look as intense anymore because he’s too busy looking confused, and it’s almost enough to make Tony smile. “I don’t know what’s going on here, and I’m sorry if it’s wounding your pride, but wanting you is crazy. Physically, mentally, emotionally crazy, because that’s what you are. It’s kind of an instinct for me. Keeping out of crazy.”


“You don’t do it very well,” Loki states bluntly, but his eyes have softened up around the edges, and he looks a little less like he’s likely to knife whatever he can reach with the nearest blunt object, and Tony snorts.


This time, when he kisses him, Loki doesn’t return it so much as fall into it, nipping eagerly at Tony’s bottom lip, and he has to pull away, laughing lightly, when Loki starts to slide over, frowning indignantly down at the flowered blanket whose fault it clearly is.


Because Tony is ridiculous and nobody has ever told him otherwise, he pushes Loki over the rest of the way—who falls with a squawk he will probably never admit—and levers himself up over him. Loki glowers up at him, but he doesn’t push him away, and the affection he feels towards him is the most irritating part of his day so far.


“The frowning,” he says abruptly. Maybe a little too out-of-nowhere; Loki peers up at him like he’s lost his mind.


“If you’re not going to say anything meaningful, put your mouth to better use,” he gripes, and Tony shakes his head.


“It’s a thing Steve does. He frowns. It’s almighty and disappointing. You wouldn’t believe how much fun I’ve missed out on for fear of that frown. Mixing business with pleasure, and, uh, villain with…” Tony doesn’t have a word to use, so he drops his mouth to Loki’s instead and makes his point with a quick tongue and quicker hands. It takes him a moment to pull himself away and get back to the point. “I would get the deluxe version. He’d think I was taking advantage of you, because, apparently, he likes you when you’re not homicidal.”


Loki hums low in his throat. “I’m ‘not homicidal’ fairly often, recently.”


Tony raises an eyebrow. “Meaning?”


Loki raises two. “If you’re going to take advantage of me, you should do so thoroughly and immediately.”



“I—” Tony stops. He can’t finish the sentence. There’s a being who used to be a god underneath him, eyes heavy and mouth wet, and all he wants to do is go to church, see what happens if he slides his hand down the front of his pants, how long he’d last if Tony took him in his mouth, what it would take to make him twist and shout.


“You’re thinking instead,” Loki growls, and he yanks Tony down. It takes him by surprise; he sprawls on top of him with a breathless laugh, cut short by Loki guiding him, fingers firm against his scalp, back to his mouth.


“Guys, Tony, we think Jarvis might’ve found somethin—”


One day, Tony will enable automatic door-locking on all of the doors, and that will be a day when he doesn’t sit up to look back over the bed at a confused-looking Clint with Natasha in tow, and has to pretend he can’t see Loki, livid, mouthing the word murder right below him.


“Uh. Right. Okay. I’ll be right there.” Don’t ask, don’t ask, don’t ask-


“Where’s Loki?” Natasha asks, just as Clint asks, “Why’re you on the floor?”


“Absolutely,” Tony nods, because that sounds like a reasonable answer, all things considered.


Loki pushes him back to sit up, resting his elbows against the top of the bed. “Tony knocked me over,” he says smoothly, and when both of them turn to glare at Tony, he raises his hands.


“He fell over, and I went down to help him up.”


“I,” Loki says primly, “did not.”


“Uh huh,” Clint says, looking between the two of them, and trying so hard, bless his little birdbrain. “Anyways, conference call, now.”


As soon as they leave the room, Tony turns to Loki. “I hate you.” Loki’s answer is a grin quick enough to wound, sliding across his features like it belongs there, and Tony’s not even insulted when he shoves him backwards again to get at the bed and lever himself up.


He’s not even insulted when Loki says, “Actually, you don’t,” and still looks like it surprises him, a little bit.


“So you mean to tell me,” and Tony does not, Tony does not mean to tell him anything, “that some kind of super charged hostile was invited in past your defenses, and you managed to cock it up so badly...” Here, he pauses, and Tony can picture the One Lone Eye roaming across the room to look for the words that will adequately describe just how disappointed Nick Fury is in his super secret boy band. “That he beat one of you to a pulp, disappeared, and all you have for me is sulphur residue?”


Tony loves being the bearer of bad news. “Actually, it’s less than that.” He pushes up past the others to lean against the back of Loki’s chair so that he’s leaning directly into the phone when he says, “It was a weapons testing chamber. A lot of what some of those missiles were plated in included sulphur. I’m not surprised that that’s what Jarvis found, I just don’t think it’s enough for us to use.”


“Is that,” Fury says slowly, “supposed to help?”


Tony takes several steps back and pushes Steve to the front instead. Fury likes Steve. Something about the big star in the middle of his chest.


“Uh, sir,” Steve says, and even he’s fidgeting. “There isn’t much we have left to go on. It’s nothing anyone on the team has tangled with before, so it’s not here for us.”


Fury snorts over the line. “Meaning it’s someone Loki pissed the hell off.” Tony doubts he’s wrong, and when he looks over at Loki, it looks like he doesn’t doubt it, either. He’s been sitting in that chair, bundled up in his oversized Captain America t-shirt— why Tony bought it, he can’t remember, but he doesn’t think it’s funny, anymore— and staring down at the phone in mild curiosity.


Now, when Tony glances at him, he shrugs, unapologetic. “He’s not wrong. I’ve angered quite a lot of people.”


Fury mutters something that sounds an awful lot like, “Me included, asshole,” and hangs up on them.


“So should we make a list?” Clint asks, and when they look at him, he adds, “Of, you know, all the people he’s pissed off.”


“Depends,” Natasha murmurs. “How much paper have we got?”


It’s Steve who makes that decision, in the end. He reaches past Loki to press the end button on the phone, and when he pulls his arm back, he lets his hand rest against his shoulder, hesitating long enough that Loki cranes his neck back to look at him, perplexed.


“I’m sorry,” he says softly, “but I don’t think there’s much we can do besides keeping a look out. Maybe whoever it was won’t come back. Maybe they’re done.”


Loki snorts. “I—” Doubt it, Tony fills in, because he does too, and whoever attacked Loki wanted death, and it didn’t look like they were going to let up until they got it. But Loki’s good at surprises, too. He— awkwardly. So awkwardly. Oh, god. Tony has to look away. He’d hate to laugh and ruin the moment— reaches up a hand to pat Steve’s, twice and hesitantly, and says, “Maybe.” It’s something else. 

Chapter Text

How. The hell. Is this his life?


Once upon a time, there was a crazy-talented archer who could peg an apple off the top of a woman’s head at fifty feet.


With his eyes closed.

Suspended upside down from the ceiling.


Now, he’s standing in a conference room he’s never been in before, hands over his ears, looking up eight feet of big Norse nose on an HD screen the size of a small car.


Yeah. Clint doesn’t get it either.


The Avengers, with the exception of one Bruce Banner (napping, probably, the lucky bastard), line the walls of the room. It’s important, Clint thinks, that nobody’s sitting down. That nobody’s comfortable. Instead, Steve takes up the far side, his back against the wall and his feet angled towards the door. Loki’s leaning over the table, resting his hands against the mahogany surface. Tony’s orbiting him—which is odd—resting his hip against one of the chair’s backs. Natasha’s right inside of the doorway, and Clint—Clint who, he would like to have on record, recommended they not do this—is against the back wall, watching them all.


“DO THEY HEAR ME?” Oh, yeah. His hands are staying put. Natasha looks over at him and smirks, and then tilts her head. When a couple of copper coils fall away, he sees them— small, white earplugs, probably NASA issued. Figures.


“For the love of all that is my laptop, move back,” says someone decidedly female from the other side.  


Clint wonders, vaguely, what kind of awful shit he must’ve gotten up to in a previous life to deserve any of this. He hopes it was awesome.


“This camera is small indeed!” Thor booms (and basses; Stark doesn’t skimp on the small stuff). “How, I wonder, shall it capture the countenance of—”


“Shut up!” Loki snaps, and, wow, that didn’t take long. Thirty seven seconds since the video call went through and Loki’s slamming two fists against the table in irritation, slightly too-large Captain America shirt—which, okay, what?— sliding off of one shoulder.


“Yikes,” the same voice says mildly from the other line. “Who’d you piss of this time? Is it another suit?”


“I… believe it is my brother—”


“Okay, you know what? Get out of the way.” There’s the sound of a small scuffle, and then nose becomes nose plus mouth plus chin, and then forehead, and then Clint can see Goldilocks plus one. The other girl waves wanly, pushing rectangular glasses further up her face. “Oh, hey there, heroes. And—” She squints, and then grins. “Is that your brother? Wow. He’s—” She is tugged off screen by a small and mighty force, and Clint hears something along the lines of, “Darcy! Timing!” and then “Jane, he is attractive.” Thor looks confused. Loki looks pleased. Steve looks like he’s not sure where he is anymore.




There’s a silence made more awkward by the sound of low-voiced arguing coming from somewhere behind Thor. Thor, for his part, just looks out from the screen, blinking occasionally and saying nothing.


Clint. Told. Them. So.


It gets to the point where he’s starting to itch from the strain of doing nothing before Tony finally steps forward.


“Uh,” he says, after a moment. “Hi.”


Hi. Like that’s the appropriate thing to say to someone you’ve recently accused of attempted murder. Thor, for his part, simply nods, and then continues staring. Clint thinks he’s probably staring at their video feed, and, more specifically, at his brother.


“Loki,” he says, and Clint feels like shooting himself in the foot.


Basic level training for a SHIELD field agent includes learning about people. It includes becoming a human lie detector—a human feeling detector. A SHIELD agent can listen to a person speak, watch for micro expressions, monitor their body language, determine if they’re lying, if they’re genuine, how they’re feeling.


That one word from Thor feels like being scraped out with a dull spoon, and he shares a look with Natasha. This isn’t even kind of his division.


“How fare you?” Thor asks. Loki snorts.


“You tell me, you idiot.”


Thor’s gaze darkens. “They told me what happened. I was concerned—”


“Meddling,” Loki corrects, mouth a tight, white line. “You were meddling.”


Clint is ready to take a seat for the next awkward silence, but it doesn’t drag on for long enough before Tony says, “Well, we were all happy to find out that it wasn’t you who tried to kill your bro—Loki,” he amends hastily, and good job with that, because Loki’s glaring something awful at him and those look like some dangerously bony elbows.


There’s a squawk from the background. “Two days! I was gone for two days and you end up a suspect in a murder?”


Darcy! Stop eavesdropping!”




“That was subtle,” Clint chimes in. “Really. Great way to break the ice.” Only there’s ice, and then there’s permafrost, and theirs is a couple hundred feet deep.


“I did nothing,” Thor says firmly, looking somewhere past the screen—to placate Darcy and Jane, probably—and then looks back at them. “I did nothing to injure my brother—” A weighty scoff from Loki— “and I did everything in my power to heal him of his ills.”


“Oh, yes. And I noticed Úlfr’s signature. Nice touch.” There’s a scathing burn to every word that passes his lips, and Clint’s glad that he’s never been on the other side of that tongue. He was perfectly civil while in control of his mind.


And, once again, how.


Thor looks away, clearly uncomfortable. “He was the only one there when I—”


“That’s lucky, isn’t it?” There’s something wicked in whichever way Loki’s going with this; every word’s got a bite to it but his smile’s spreading, and Clint finds himself angling his hips a little bit closer to the door. “Lucky that he was there to fix me up again. But you know what’s luckier, Thor?”


Poor Thor looks as lost as Clint feels, only it’s probably worse for him because Loki’s leaning forwards like he’s got something up his sleeves and nobody in a Captain America shirt should look that scary. There should be rules. Rules and regulations.


“Lucky that you didn’t even have to ask permission first.”


Steve, Tony, and Natasha are all looking around with Clint with matching blank expressions, and Thor’s not looking much better. “What?”


“You. Didn’t. Ask.” The smile’s gone, now, and Loki’s speaking through gritted teeth, his knuckles against the table clenching sporadically. “You didn’t ask, and I certainly didn’t ask you for your help, Thor.”


Thor recoils at that. “You—”


“And you can be damn sure I would have refused it.”


Clint’s not really sure where this took a turn for the worse, but he’s pretty sure it’s somewhere around the time that Steve pressed the ‘call’ button.


“Loki, I didn’t think—”


“Didn’t think?” Loki chokes out a laugh. “You must’ve, at least on some level. You held me down, Thor. You held me down, sedated me like a child, because you knew I would’ve fought it—augh.” He stumbles in pain and Tony takes it in stride, grabbing his arms to keep him from falling over completely. Loki’s not down for the count, though; he looks back up at the screen, and Clint’s lucky that he can focus on the way the veins in Loki’s arms stick out instead of looking around the room, because he can feel everyone avoiding everyone else’s eye. “What,” Loki rasps finally, voice strained, “Gives you the right?”


Thor looks stricken. All he does choke out a half-hearted, “I will never—” and then the screen goes black.


“Video feed lost.”


Tony blinks up at the ceiling; Clint doesn’t miss the way his hands tighten on Loki’s shoulders. “Seriously?”


“My apologies, sir.” Three cheers for Jarvis.


Loki moves first. He shrugs off Tony’s hands and glances back at him once before walking out, leaving the door swinging open behind him. Tony looks back at Steve like he’s asking for permission.


“You mind, Cap?”


Steve drags a hand down his face. Clint reads: tired, not sleeping much (which doesn’t make sense, because Cap almost doesn’t sleep at all), worried, nervous, and there, the way he rolls one shoulder before standing up straighter, that means he’s feeling overwhelmed. But when he says, “Go ahead. We’ll try to get Jarvis to connect us again,” he sounds perfectly calm. And then maybe a little bit sheepish when he looks to Clint and Natasha and asks, “You guys know how to do that, right?”



“Aye aye, Captain,” Clint deadpans, and Tony takes off. Steve takes his spot at the end of the table and tips his head up towards the ceiling.


“Jarvis, how’s the video feed connection looking?”


As soon as the words are out, Thor is back on the big screen.


“Well played, Smarthouse,” Clint says, under his breath.


“Connection reestablished,” Jarvis says breezily. That sneaky bastard.




Tony catches up to Loki halfway down the hallway and takes him by the arm, pulling him up against the wall. “Can you hold on a second?”


“What?” Loki demands—no. It’s not a demand. It’s too soft, too quiet, and Tony’s not sure what to say to him.


“Um.” Tony searches for something to say, something to make things better, something… “Hi.” Screw it.


Loki squints back at him. “Hi. You stopped me to greet me? Stark, we’ve been in the same room for quite a while.”


“I know that. I just, uh.” Excuse. Come on, Tony. An excuse. Or something. “Wanted to remind you. Of that.”


Loki gives him a look and, slowly, removes Tony’s arm from his shoulder. “I realize,” he says carefully, “that my mental facilities will be heavily influenced shortly by my… condition. However…” He takes a step back and rearranges his shirt so that it’s more or less on correctly. “I think that yours are damaged in their own right, and good luck to you with that.”


Tony blinks at him. “Did you just call me stupid?” And then, “Did you just wish me luck with being stupid?” Tony’s not sure whether to be offended or happy with the fact that Loki’s in a better mood than he expected, so he just falls into step with him when he starts to walk away and doesn’t say anything, because, apparently, he’s stupid.


“I’m not, though,” Tony says glibly, when it becomes apparent that Loki isn’t going to say anything. “I mean, technically, if you look at the numbers, I’m a genius.”


Loki looks back at him with some small measure of curiosity. “Then what, I wonder, passes for a simpleton in this realm?”


“It rhymes with ‘hint,’” Tony says smugly.


The expression on Loki’s face makes Tony laugh. “Don’t hurt yourself.”


Loki shakes his head. “I’ll live without knowing.” His mouth twists. “Well.”


Unbelievable. “I told you I’d fix you. Why won’t you believe me?”


Loki’s smile is three-fifths sarcastic and one pitying. “I believe that you’ll try.”

It’s like a verbal pat to the head, and Tony has always hated those, so he plants a hand against Loki’s chest and swings around to look him in the eye.


“Believe that I’ll try. Trust that I’ll do.”


Tony’s pretty sure that it’s the ‘trust’ that pulls Loki up short like that, has his mouth open and his tongue frozen, and he thinks, maybe, he should call do-over, take back that word.





Loki knows the word like an instinct. It’s buried under his skin three layers deep, but he won’t bleed for it. So when he rolls his eyes and says, “And how, pray tell, am I supposed to do that?” it’s an honest question, as honest as he comes. It’s a politer way of admitting that he can’t.


And Tony Stark, who asked for so little, asks for so much, and it’s not fair. Loki won’t deny that he wants his company, yes, his brain to pick through, his bed. But he never wanted this. The affliction of affection, of care, of malleability when Tony takes his wrist and pulls him into the darkened library only to kiss him into silence—it’s unasked for. It’s unwelcome.


He kisses back.


Tony hums against his tongue and Loki drags his nails across his scalp, pressing against him, hips and chests in an unbroken line. It’s only a moment before he’s pulling away to walk back to one of the chairs, Loki’s wrist still caught in his hand. The look that Tony sends him is one part play and ten parts sin, and Loki doesn’t resist when he pulls him into his lap, spreads Loki’s knees around his hips to settle him closer.


“Gorgeous,” Tony murmurs. He pushes back a stray lock of Loki’s hair and lets his hand linger, brushing it down the line of Loki’s jaw. Loki hopes beyond all hope that Tony isn’t that sort—he’s taken his share of lovers, but he’s never been one for the patient kind, and he surely doesn’t intend to start now.


“Do you have any idea,” Tony starts, and Loki curses his luck to the furthest pits of Hel. “Any idea how worried I was?”


Loki does not remember asking for conversation. He lowers his mouth to Tony’s neck in an attempt to dissuade him, but the bastard moves away instead, holding fast to Loki’s waist to stop him from moving forwards.


Loki sighs. “I understand. You were worried. Now remove your clothes.”


Tony catches his hands halfway to his belt buckle and holds them there, turning them over in his own. Loki wonders why he took murder off the table so quickly.


“I’ll make you a deal. One item of clothing…” When Tony looks up, Loki feels his blood chill. “One item of clothing gone… for every honest answer.”


Loki’s blood heats up again without a problem. The difficult part is extricating himself from everywhere he touches Tony, and the man doesn’t make it easy; as soon as he starts to move away, Tony yanks at his hands and he tumbles forward instead, falling across him with a mouthful of the dirtiest curses he knows.


“You,” Tony growls against the column of his throat, and Loki swallows half of the curses along with his tongue when his teeth rake across it, “are going to have to play fair. Do you understand?” Tony nips at his neck when he takes too long to answer, and his yes comes out far fainter than he intended.


“Good,” Tony hums, and then cool fingers are lining up against Loki’s hips and he has to lean back for Tony to pull his shirt up over his head.


“I didn’t realize we’d started yet,” Loki says, and then frowns. “I wanted you to go first.” He places his hand against the low blue glow coming from Tony’s false heart, and the arc reactor thrums against him.


“My rules,” Tony quips, and then, “why are you so bright?”


Loki considers evading the truth, considers feigning ignorance, but he knows Tony well enough to know that he’d fight through it. So, instead, he looks down at himself in the watered-down sunlight streaming in through the library’s curtained windows and tries to reconcile himself with the dim glow emanating from underneath his skin.


“Leftovers,” he sighs, rubbing at a slightly brighter patch in the middle of his chest. “The medic’s charm that Thor used on me was from a healer named Úlfr. His… signature, if you can call it that, is this.” He waves down at his shining torso with a grimace. He looks ridiculous. “He’s a favorite among young women and small children.


He expects Tony to make fun of him—he certainly would—but he doesn’t even look dismayed, only curious. Curious, with a hunger more, at the moment, for the knowledge in front of him than the body itself, but it doesn’t stop the delicious shudder that rocks through Loki’s spine when Tony drifts his hands over his chest, rubs slow circles with his thumbs that get Loki’s back bending, but—


But he’s forgetting the game, and Loki’s impatient. He tugs at one of Tony’s sleeves until Tony laughs and tugs his shirt free.


“Look,” Tony whispers, but Loki’s already seen it. The arc reactor gives off more light, but where the blue meets Loki’s own ivory glow, it folds, bends around them in a symphony of blue and white. It’s wondrous, the way everything swims in the glow, saturating, and if Loki closes his eyes, he can imagine, for a moment, that he can feel it. That the light that makes up this instant is sinking into his bones, being preserved in the wood and books and furniture around them, that this cocktail of shared light is saving itself, a record for never.


“Yours is softer,” Tony muses. “I hadn’t even noticed it before, out there, but in the dark…” The kiss he pulls Loki into is too slow, too soft, so Loki bites at his lip until he remembers himself.


“That wasn’t a question,” he says, pulling back. He grins. “Penalty.” Loki did always appreciate a good game. Tony smirks up at him and his fingers dig tighter into his skin to press him closer, close enough to feel the vibrations of the reactor against his chest.


“And what’s that?”


“Your pants,” Loki says quickly, because it’s not exactly hard to stay honest for a question like that. “And one more item, I suppose, since that was a question.”


Tony’s laughter is a ridiculous sound, and one that Loki shouldn’t appreciate as much as he does, but better than that, better than the chatter and the laughter and all of the other inane noises Loki has heard out of him so far, is the sound he makes when Loki shimmies back off of his lap and pads back a step, Tony’s hand still draped low upon his hip. It’s the sound of his breath stopping short and coming back with a vengeance and a drop kick, too quick and unbalanced.


“Yours—” He has to stop to clear his throat. “Yours too, then. Yours first.” Loki would argue, because that’s cheating, and remarkably poor form as far as an honesty lesson goes, but Tony’s hands slide back and down before he can say anything, and he keeps his eyes on Loki’s as his thumbs hook around his hips and his hands slide back into his pants to rest on skin, and Loki should argue, should speak, but he won’t be the one to look away first.


Tony moves in one long, slow drag, like his hands want to map out everywhere they’ve been, and Loki thinks that it’s very likely that he will die before Tony moves, or, at the very least, quake right out of his skin, so he presses his hands against Tony’s and shoves them down until his clothes pool at his feet and he can kick them away, naked in the air.


“There,” Loki says impatiently, and he hopes that Tony can’t see how hard he’s shaking. There’s a vent located somewhere in the dust above them, and he can feel a steady tickle across his skin, and it’s driving him crazy. Tony, though, is breathing just as hard as he is, sans excuse, and when he reaches up a hand to brush it along the inside of Loki’s thigh, he startles and stumbles closer.


“You weren’t kidding about the sensitivity thing, were you?” Tony says, and, like he’s checking, just in case, pulls Loki close enough that he can bend his head to mouth across a hipbone. It’s bad enough that Loki jerks out from under his hands.


“Obviously not,” Loki snaps. It’s mortifying, the way his body betrays him, even more so when Tony stands in front of him, tilting his head to run his lips over the side of Loki’s neck and he shivers, just enough that Tony can feel it.

Loki’s never appreciated being teased, and this is pushing it.


It’s teasing of a different sort, though, when Tony falls to his knees in front of him. “Is this still a thing for you?” he asks, and it’s remarkable that Loki can understand him at all, can hear the words over the sound of his own pulse.

Tony’s hands drift up over the backs of Loki’s thighs, barely brushing the skin, and Loki bites his lip. “Answer the question.”


“I’d hardly,” Loki says slowly, watching the way Tony wets his lips, eyes straying farther away from Loki’s with every word, “have a problem with it.”




Tony Stark is on his knees, staring up at a god, and when he sticks out his tongue for a touch of a taste, said god crumbles to it. It might’ve been a while, but Tony knows how to use his tongue in more ways than one, and he slicks Loki up until his breath comes heavy and his hands creep into Tony’s hair, not pushing (and he wishes he would), not guiding (and he wishes), not pounding into the back of Tony’s throat like Tony knows he wants to (wishes), the same way Tony wants to press at his skin until new bruises form, purple ink on lily white. He wishes he would.


When Tony pulls away, he knows how he must look—mouth wet with more than spit, red with more than a kiss—so he uses that. He drags his finger across the mess of his lips and reaches up to brush it across Loki’s. Loki’s proactive—he sucks at the tip of Tony’s fingers and wins that round, wins it by a mile.


“You could let go a little,” Tony tells him, letting his hands fall back around Loki’s ass. He keeps his lips light over him until Loki—glowing, shaking, one big coil of pent-up energy—nods. When Tony sinks down around him, he almost chokes—Loki’s ‘letting go’ is a hundred half-pained noises, and his hands curled up into Tony’s hair, and when Tony swallows around him, taking him farther down his throat, he drives his hips higher, ancient curses falling form his lips like prayers.


“Tony—I—” Tony looks up at him. His eyes are glazed over, his hips pumping shallowly, and Tony pulls him closer, twists his tongue around him. Loki comes with a shout, and Tony swallows all he has to give to let he taste of him sink in.


When he pulls away, Loki sinks to his knees, limp-boned and stunned, and Tony kisses him until he moans around his tongue, his hands pressed against the arc reactor, cupped around its light.


Tony catches Loki’s hand when it strays down towards his own, uh, problem. “No time,” he murmurs, and moves to kiss him again, but Loki pulls back so that Tony can see his skeptical squint.


“Are you really refusing—”

‘”Don’t,” Tony groans. “You’ll make me change my mind. The others have probably finished talking to Thor, and they’ll want to discuss strategy or something—” Tony presses a kiss against the corner of his mouth to make him stop, and Tony laughs. “The last thing I want is Natasha walking in here and seeing you naked.” Tony can see him naked. Tony sees him a lot naked. Tony likes what he sees.


Tony sees absolutely no reason why everyone else can’t wait—


Loki catches him with a hand against his chest. “The game’s over, Stark.” He stands to walk over to his discarded clothes, and seeing him move does absolutely nothing for the ache between Tony’s legs, but he can’t back down off of that, because—


Loki bends over to pick his pants up off of the ground.

There is no god.


“Anyways,” Loki says with a smirk, tugging his clothes back into place and smoothing a hand over his hair. “You lost.”

“I did not,” Tony mutters, mouth on autopilot and eyes on a wide red patch just under Loki’s ear. Tony Stark was here. “I won. I got what I wanted.”


Loki just grins at that. “Really?” And he’s gone, and Tony has to fish around for a shirt his skin feels too hot and too tight to wear. 

Chapter Text

“Somebody imitated you to a T,” Steve says immediately. They don’t have time for platitudes, for politeness, and the sooner they get this over with the sooner they can end whatever the hell is going on. “We need to know if you know anything, or if you recognize anything that could help. It would…” Steve sighs and rakes heavy fingers through his hair. “We’ll send you the video feed. Jarvis, could you…?”


“The file transfer is in progress, Captain Rogers.”


“Great.” Steve’s running ragged. It’s interesting, to be honest—usually, even beaten bloody with ten miles to go, he’s got mounds of energy to fall back on, reserves that have served him well. But this? He’s out of his element. There may only be one god, but he’s not stupid. He knows that what Thor and Loki are is generally not human, and so everything involving them is, by definition, out of his league, out of his world, and out of his solar system. Having to believe so much more than he can explain or get his head around is difficult for him, and it’s making him irritable.


Steve rubs at the growing pressure between his eyes as a low buzz starts from the other line. It sounds like a horde of angry insects, and Steve knows the video has started to play. And he knows, from Thor’s low hiss from between his teeth, and a long, slow, “Shit,” from one of the girls that they’ve gotten to the best part.


The video stops with a click. When Thor looks back at them, those may or may not be tears in his eyes; Steve’s not going to judge. He’d had to look away when Tony played through some of it.


It makes him think about a hundred unfair fights and one boy beat back down, too small, too weak, no good. It makes him think that he owes Bucky a hundred apologies that he’ll never get to hear.


Business is business. He clears his throat roughly and starts. “So, that’s, uh. That’s what we’ve got.”


“And you thought that I—” His voice breaks. Steve forces himself to look back at him, to keep eye contact steady, because this is not the time for anybody to lose focus. And Thor must absorb some of that resolve, because his brow straightens out and his mouth bends back into a straight, unyielding line. He’s all steely determination, and Steve appreciates it. “What do you need, Captain?”


Steve nods. It’s an I see you, a clap on the shoulder he can’t reach. “You saw him, Thor. Whoever that was looks exactly like you, sounds like you, too, only—”




The last thing Steve sees before the camera dives to the side is Thor’s surprised expression, and then Darcy’s in the shot, staring down at all of them grimly. “He doesn’t look like Thor at all.”


“How so?” Steve asks tiredly. They don’t have time for this. “We all see the eyes, but they weren’t like that in person—”


“Good lord, how much time have any of you actually spent with—okay, look. He—” She points off screen. “Is a teddy bear.”


“This is helpful how?” Clint mutters behind him, and Steve would be lying if he said he disagreed with the sentiment.


“What I’m trying to say,” Darcy continues, glaring back at them, “Is that he’s completely transparent. If he was pissed enough to beat up his brother, you’d see it on his face. That? We saw the video, guys. Dude was wearing a mask. The same expression, frame after frame. It was creepy.”


“We know it wasn’t Thor,” Natasha snaps. “All of this is just extra. What we need to focus on—”


“Is figuring out who it is and finding them,” Darcy fills in, and then dismisses that with a roll of her eyes. “It’s the reason you should be looking for. Figure out the why, then the who narrows down, and the where gets easier.”


“You don’t think it was about Loki.”


Clint, Steve, and Natasha turn around. Bruce is in the doorway, breathless and disheveled, shirt buttoned up crooked and his glasses still in his hair. He grimaces when they turn back to face him. “Sorry. I was asleep. Did I miss a lot?” He pulls his glasses down from their perch and rubs them off against his chest before pushing them up the bridge of his nose.


“Not really,” Steve answers. “Thor’s the one who fixed up Loki.”


Bruce shrugs. “Who else? So it wasn’t Thor who tried to kill Loki. What she’s saying—” He looks pointedly back at the screen, lips pursed.


“Uh. Darcy?” She makes it sound like a question, and she’s more unsure than she has been so far.


“What Darcy is saying is that whoever it was wasn’t trying all that hard to be Thor, because it wouldn’t have held up for long. The main target wasn’t Loki—killing Loki wasn’t the end game. It was all of us.”


“I, uh.” Darcy clears her throat. “Yes. Yep. Yeah. That. All of that.” And then she goes completely pink and clears her throat again. “I mean, even from the video, it’s like they only had a set frame of reference for Thor, two, three expressions. They were going on looks alone. I mean, you’d have to ask Loki, but, hopefully, if he goes back through what was said, he’ll see how, um. Obvious it was. That it wasn’t him. Yes.” She nods to herself. Steve blinks up at her, then looks around at the others. They all look surprised and chagrined.


Except for Bruce, who just looks thoughtful. “It’s a really good point,” Bruce praises, and Darcy goes pinker, if possible.


“Thank you,” She says faintly. “Thor,” she squeaks. “You should probably take this back now, okay?”


“I’d wondered,” Bruce says, while the camera jostles nauseatingly, flashes of a couch and an empty counter flipping end over end. “When I, uh, got the reigns back, I was only a block or two away, right over a smoking sewer grate. Not to mention how blatantly Thor—” He glances up at the screen, where Thor sits, looking baffled and unsure of why, exactly, he has a camera trained on him yet again, and then corrects, “Not-Thor was being… indelicate. I mean, I don’t think Thor actually wants to piss off the Hulk. The other guy, though, he didn’t care. He was pushing limits, just to see where they broke.”


“Exactly!” someone squawks from the background.


“I know not who it could be,” Thor says gravely, “nor why they chose my visage at all, but…” He pauses, searches for the words, and Steve can appreciate that. Thor seems like he’s far more used to charging ahead than stopping for thought, but he’s in a difficult position. “Please keep an eye on him,” he says finally, eyes  moving everywhere but towards the camera. “He’s angry at me, but—I want him better, Captain. I do.”


People talk about the truth. They talk about keeping your eyes unblinking and wide and straight at the one you’re talking to, like that’s honest. Like that’s coming straight from the heart of you, and it only counts if you can bare your heart open and bare your neck, turn yourself inside out for the other person to pick through, examine, pull out what they want and tuck away the rest.


People are wrong a lot. That hasn’t changed in seventy years.


What’s right, and what’s true, is how much Thor loves the brother who’s disowned him, and Steve sees it in the way his eyes move, how quickly he blinks, how close he holds the truth to himself, wrapping it up in the heart of him, sinew, blood, and soul. How much it looks like it hurts. That’s the truth, and all Steve can do, all he should do, is accept it. Nod and say I understand, and mean it. Say We will and mean it like a promise, cross his heart and hope to die.


Steve does all of the above.


Tony might be buzzing. A little. Like, it’s possible.


Which is why it’s also completely possible that he grabs a drink after his most questionable relations to date and before intended serious conversation (they don’t need him. He can catch up later. He can make something up. It’s not important). It’s also possible that he then thinks, fuck conversation, and goes off to hide in his lab instead, under the guise of research and a heavy fog of top-tier scotch. Which then turns into actual research, because idle minds never had the kind of alcohol supply that Tony has, and he refuses to admit defeat in general, and that stubbornness doubles every notch his BAC piques.


This, plus prolonged exposure to gamma radiation journals also apparently mean passing out, with a side order of you won’t like me when I’m hung over.


Tony Stark: the patron saint of good decisions.


“Tony?” If that is Steve, he will eat his face. “Tony, there’s something I’ve got to tell you.”


“Graugheraugh,” Tony explains—he’s fluent in several sorts of caveman.


“Right, okay, but it’s your turn with Loki in a few hours, so if you could pretend to be an actual, living human being, that would be great.” He thinks, mistakenly, that silence will give Steve enough of a hint to get out, but no. “Get out of bed, Tony, come on. Go wash up. ”


“But the bathroom is too far away.”


Steve is definitely doing the oh, Tony smile, he can hear it—no, he can feel t. It’s insulting. “Rome wasn’t built in a day. Start with the floor.”


“Rome is being built in my head.”


Steve is too quiet for way too short a time. “ I can’t tell if that’s a pain metaphor or if you’re actually thinking that hard.”


And, okay, he wins a couple points, because that confuses Tony enough to make him sit up and look over at Steve, bleary-eyed and aggravated. “But why would I be thinking of Rome— Also, why am I asleep on this bench?”


Steve snorts. “Ask the bottle.” Ah.


Tony turns to the dregs of the bottle at his elbow. “I thought we were friends.”


He looks back over in time to see Steve roll his eyes on his way out. “A couple hours, Tony. I’ll call you!” Sadist, threatening another phone like that.


Tony should do the proper thing and play at responsible adult-cum-superhero, but, all things told, he’s feeling lethargic and way more hung over than he should be, so he stays on his back across the bench for a minute and has Jarvis call up the files he was looking through last time.


It’s a disappointment. For a moment… for a moment, there, in the middle of the bottle, he’d thought that he had something, but it’s not here now. He’s nowhere.


He swallows the last drop of the scotch and lets it fall to the concrete. It doesn’t even have the decency to shatter.


Captain America means well. He means well, and he’s predominantly kind, generally oblivious, and woefully misguided.


“I just don’t understand why you won’t talk to him,” he’s protesting, and Loki’s doing his best to tamp down his annoyance, because, yes, he does not understand, and yet he persists to pry.


“You don’t,” he says through gritted teeth, “so leave it.”


“You know it wasn’t him,” he persists (and persists, and persists). “Forget what you thought you heard, he loves you—”


I didn’t ask for that.”


No. He didn’t. And he hadn’t meant to say that, either. It’s too late, though—Steve’s eyes are softening, and he’s stepping closer, and he’s raising one hand, and, no, Loki doesn’t want to be touched, patronized, loved, he wants—he wants to—he wants to be— Air. He wants air. He needs to breathe.


He takes a step back when Steve keeps coming, and then another, and then two more, and then he’s leaving the house, tripping over his own slippered feet to get out, and he’s not going to be able to keep this up, but by the gods he’s running, around the corner and down the street, and he runs for half a block before his body remembers itself and all sensation comes to balk at his defiance.


The first is the pain of the pump of his lungs, the twisting surge below his breast, then the shredding of his heart and the shaking pain running up his legs—but that can wait. Steve (or Natasha, or Clint, or Bruce, or someone of the group who’ve been determined to hover over him since that dreaded conversation with his no-longer-brother) will follow, and he’s out in the open, so he darts across the streets and down the first alleyway he finds until he finds somewhere he can stop and breathe and not think about the fact that he exists, just for a moment. And if the moisture in his eyes looks like tears, it’s not. It’s sweat, and his body’s liquid pain, necessary to make the air breathable. It’s the fumes of the alley itself making his eyes burn. It’s sensation that he breaks under, not emotion. This is permissible.


He waits until he remembers how to inhale, and then he takes off again. Getting lost doesn’t cross his mind until one block later, when the skies break open and douse him in their own disappointments, one drop for every let-down. He wonders if it’s a sign.


The first crack of thunder makes him jump. The second makes him think of a fist to the ribs and blood like love foaming between his teeth.                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Tony takes twenty minutes to do what he’s supposed to, and then he’s back downstairs, shirtsleeves shoved up to his elbows and five programs running at once, tests and breakdowns and constructions, and it’s amazing what two eyes and a supercomputer can do for you, really. But not so much when whatever you’re doing isn’t enough.


He’s pre-pissed when Steve wanders in through the door, but he doesn’t chuck a glass bottle at his head immediately, so that’s a plus.


“What?” he grunts. He can be polite.


“I lost him,” Steve gasps, and Tony turns away from his screens, because, really, if he isn’t going to make any sense, the least Tony can do is give the poor thing a little attention.


“Did you check under the bed?” he quips immediately, and then thinks about it for a moment. Thinks about it, and then takes in the way Steve’s clothes are water-slicked tight to his body and his hair hangs in dark thatches against his forehead. That, and the water sluicing down his face, makes Tony ask, “Do you shower in all your clothes often?” and then, “And ‘him’ who? Clarification, please. And also a towel. For you.”


“Loki,” Steve pants. “He lost me. I mean, I lost him. He was moving fast.”


Tony purses his lips. Loading. “You lost… Loki. And what does a shower have to do with it?”


“It’s raining, Tony.”


Tony blinks. “It’s raining. You lost him. In the—” He blinks a little faster, because Steve looks like a water-logged golden retriever and he lost Loki. “You lost him in the rain? Are you kidding me?”


Steve shrugs and tries, unsuccessfully, to flip some of his wet hair out of his eyes. “He took off! We were just talking, and I mentioned something about Thor coming back, and he—”


“Please tell me that’s a joke.”


“Of course not. Why would I joke about losing—”


“You brought up Thor?”




Tony pushes past him, batting his hand down. “Shut up.” Tony races up the stairs and Steve’s right behind him, damp boots squeaking up a storm. “You lost him. That’s the last time you’re on babysitting duty. I’m striking you off the list.”


“I didn’t realize we had a roster.”


“Well, maybe we should!” Tony spins around to face him at the top of the stairs, livid (and also feeling more than vaguely ridiculous, because Loki is a grown man—god—whatever, and he shouldn’t even be bothering) and more than a little bit dizzy with it. “I can’t believe you did that. Aren’t you supposed to be the sensitive, all-caring one? I’m the asshole, Steve. Me. You’re stepping on my toes, here.”


Steve holds up his hands, and Tony thinks he might be able to see his cheeks going red under all the wet. “Can we just go find him? I heard thunder.”


“Oh god,” Tony groans. “What if he gets hit by lightning?”


Steve snorts at that. “It would definitely be ironic. And,” he adds hastily, at Tony’s back shot of a glare, “Not very likely. He’s fine. We just need to bring him back.”


“You,” Tony says slowly, just so he gets it, “do not get to talk. You lost him in the rain.”


It’s cold.


Loki remembers the warm air of Asgard, and the eternal winters of Jötunheim, and he remembers, easily, which he felt more inclined to (remembers which he kept to himself, which he hid, that which he did not understand) but it’s never been quite so awful.


There is water down the back of his shirt.


He walks down another street corner. Midgardians have developed the uncanny ability to make every street corner look the same, same people, same shop fronts, same filthy streets and filthy cars—


Loki walks over to a bench, very abandoned in the steady rainfall, and, gingerly, lies down across it.


Blast it all.



“Tony, I didn’t think that he’d—”

“No, stop it, I don’t want to talk to you. Go that way.” Tony points to his right. He’s already started walking in the opposite direction, coat on, another in his hands, and an umbrella over him. “Look, wherever he’s gone, he probably won’t know the way back, so just try and drag him back, if you have to.”


It takes him a moment, but Steve nods, jaw clenched, and turns on his heels.

Tony should feel bad. He should.


He takes off running to the sound of thunder, and isn’t that just damn poetic.


There is water in his socks, there is water in his shoes, his mouth is a little bit open, and he wonders, if he stays like this for long enough, if he will manage to drown. It couldn’t hurt to try; he’s never felt so heavy, like the water is dragging him down with it into the wood of the old, weathered bench, and he feels the way the clouds look above him. Too dark. Too thin. Sure to fade beneath the sun.


He loses track of time easily enough, with the rain falling into his mouth, nose, through his shirt and pants, and it gets hard to open his eyes when the droplets gather like diamond weights against his eyelashes. It could be nice, this. Giving up. Relenting. Every rainstorm ends—why shouldn’t he? He imagines it would feel like what many have described to him as peace—a stillness of mind, of heart, and absence of power and weakness and strife and petty desires. But it won’t be much longer, he thinks, before he started to itch again. And then, he knows, he’ll run again, three blocks south and five blocks east, however far he can get before his joints lock up again and he tries to drown. And then it will repeat. It’s not a vicious cycle, honestly. It’s a wearisome one.


The rain stops falling sooner than he expects it to, and he breathes out the last of his lungs with three final drops, one to his forehead, one to his neck, and one to his hip. It’s easier to open his eyes when the water is gone, and he does so, slowly.


And then thinks, it was bound to happen eventually. He’s gone blind—there’s nothing to see, only black, a wide, unbroken expanse across where his vision should show color, the bones of clouds and the thin skin of the sun. But there’s nothing there.


“If you’d like it better, I’ve got a pink one, too.”


Why did it have to be blindness? Was deafness not a trait of degeneration? He’d prefer that than having to hear—


Loki sits up sharply. He’s not blind, and the sky hasn’t gone dark—it’s a wide umbrella that’s held over him—and, to be fair, it explains why his feet feel just as wet as before—and he turns to his side to see Tony Stark looking down at him, expression unreadable.


“You’re not what I was expecting,” Loki says, when Tony says nothing.


“What are you doing?” Tony asks sharply, and Loki can’t even frown properly—the chill has frozen his muscles, and the most he can do is roll his eyes.


“Trying to drown myself,” he says, and he wonders if Tony knows how honest he’s being. His expression doesn’t change, not a smile and not a frown, so Loki keeps talking. “I needed air, so I took a walk.”


“A run, from what I heard.”


“A run,” he allows. “And then the rain began.”


“Where were you running to?” he asks.




“What were you running from?”


There are too many answers he could use, and none that seem right to; instead, he stays quiet until Tony sighs and swings down to sit next to him, shoving his feet off the bench. “You’re going to have to get closer,” he says peevishly. “The umbrella’s only so big.”


Loki scoots across the bench with as much dignity as he can muster, but it’s a little hard with the way his pants stick to the bench and the rest of him sloshes with water when he tries to move. He gets close enough, though, and Tony swings the umbrella high enough that they’re both covered from the downpour.


“You’re going to have to tell me something,” Tony says, looking straight ahead. Loki tries to follow his line of sight, but all he sees is a tall glass building. “I’ll lose sleep over this, come on.”


Loki glances over at him sharply. It was said lightly, thoughtlessly, and he hopes it was a joke. “You shouldn’t be. I would have come back eventually.”


Tony snorts. “You don’t know the way back from here.”


Loki narrows his eyes. “All I would have to do is ask for directions to the house that Tony Stark lives in. Failing that, I could stand back and look for the great, big, ugly building with your name on it.”


“No need to get personal.” But, really, it started out personal, and that’s the problem. Personal and unnecessary.


“I would have been fine,” he mutters, and he doesn’t even know if Tony’s listening or not, all he does is stare straight ahead, at a lifeless building instead of at Loki, and he’s not sure which he’d prefer, he’d just like to know, to understand his fascination. With either.


“How are you feeling?”


“Damp,” he snaps, because, really. Unnecessary. It makes Tony huff out a laugh.


“Besides that.”


Loki shrugs. “Fine enough. I ran most of the way here, and I think that means I’ve burned through most of the remaining magic in my system, but it wasn’t mine to begin with, and I’ve never liked borrowed power. I’ll have to see how it feels tomorrow.”


“You’re going to have to see him eventually,” Tony says, and Loki’s heartbeat grinds to a stop before stuttering back, furious and strong.


“No, I don’t, and I won’t.”


“It could be good for you.”


“It would be nothing short of terrible.”


“He loves you.”


“He discarded me.”


“He thought it would help.”


Loki spreads his arms out in front of him, sticking his hands into the rain so that Tony can see the tremors that never quite go away, how brightly his veins stand out under skin paler than it should be, how pink his palms have turned in the cold. “’Helping’ is not how I would describe this.”


Tony reaches out and takes both of his hands into one of his, and Loki stares as he huffs hot air across them. It feels… strange. “It’ll help warm them up a little,” Tony says, and the umbrella slips a little bit when he uses both of his hands to rub Loki’s between them, and it’s the most absurd thing on a very long list that Loki has ever experienced and he’s not sure what to think of any of this, much less the fact that his hands do feel better, and the rest of him feels warmer along with them, and none of this is what he wanted, and he doesn’t understand how any of this is what he has.


“Whatever not-Thor said,” Tony says slowly, and his rubbing hands slow down, which, no, Loki doesn’t want that, but still, the impatient noise he makes at the back of his throat comes unbidden and it makes Tony smile. “Listen. Whatever he said. You thought it was true, didn’t you? You thought it was really him, and you can’t forget that, and I get it. But maybe hearing words from the real Thor will make that better. Overshadow it.”


“Doubtful,” Loki drawls, because as well as they might mean, they don’t know. It was the truth; whether the mouth was true or not is inconsequential.


“He’s family,” Tony says slowly. “Shouldn’t that count for something?”


It’s a wry smile that turns Loki’s mouth up, the thought of family, used so openly and directly by this misinformed mortal man. “You don’t know as much about me as you think, Stark.”


Still, he’s trying, and Loki’s hands are warmer, and that’s why, when he leans over to press his warm lips against Loki’s stiff ones, he leans into it; Tony against his skin is farm warmer than the air alone.


Loki comes back easily enough, and an hour later, he's bundled up on the couch with a steaming mug on the table, and Tony hovering over to him.


Loki looks sick and miserable, and it serves him right.


Tony walks closer to press his hand against Loki’s forehead. He whimpers. “What? Still cold? At least you don’t have another fever. That’d be bad. But you could end up with one. Maybe I should get another blanket,” Tony babbles, and Loki glares up at him—which is ruined by the single most ridiculous sneeze Tony has ever heard in his life.


Loki looks absolutely appalled by the squeak of a sneeze, and stares up at Tony, aghast. “That was me.”


Tony fights back a smile. “That wasn’t a question.”

Chapter Text

What?” Pepper sounds groggy and irritable, and Tony takes half a second to feel like a total asshole for calling her at hell-o’clock in the morning (he hadn’t slept; it wasn’t his fault that the hour had escaped his notice). “Tony?”


“Hey, Pep,” he says cheerfully, and he imagines that it’s killing her a little bit. Uh. Whoops. “What are you up to today?”


“I have the day off,” she says after a long moment, voice laced with danger. “Which you know, or you wouldn’t be calling. So help me god, if the world isn’t ending—”


“It’s not,” Tony says quickly, and he’s met with the blunt end of the dial-tone. Okay. Not the best plan. He calls back again anyway. It only rings three times before it stops, and he only knows that she’s picked up and not hung up because of the world’s loudest yawn. “Listen, Pepper, you know I wouldn’t be calling you if it wasn’t important.”


What,” she snarls, “Is it?”  


“Uh.” It’s spectacular how easily an angry Pepper can make his life flash before his eyes. “How are you?”




“Okay! Alright, look, I know you’re kind of nervous around Loki—”


“I’m hanging up now.”


“No! Don’t! I need your help!”


“Why me,” she moans, but it sounds rhetorical and not a lot like an actual question, so Tony ignores it.


“Look, I think we could track down the guy who beat up Loki. I think we’ve got a really good chance, but I need to bring Thor in here. And—”


“And Loki can’t be there,” she finishes tiredly. Tony smiles. She sounds like she’s waking up.  “But what does this have to do with me? He’s not stepping foot into my house, Tony.”


“Of course not,” Tony soothes, and then adds, just for clarification, “just your car.”


Pepper is definitely awake.




“So, do you, uh.” Pepper glances over at the man in the passenger seat, and then back at the wheel. “Like… music?” Her hand is hovering over the power button on the radio, and god knows she’d love to fill the silence, but the look Loki slides over to her is chillingly apathetic, so she lets her hand fall back to the wheel. “Or maybe you don’t. That’s alright.” She can’t really picture Loki rocking out to Taylor Swift anyways, so maybe that’s just as well.


“I like music just fine, Miss Potts,” he says tiredly, and her hands grip the steering wheel a little tighter. “I would simply… appreciate the silence, if that’s quite alright.”


“I—” Oh. That was more polite than she was expecting. “Um. Of course. Definitely. Whatever you want.” That makes him snort, and he angles away from her, nose practically pushing through the glass of the window, and Pepper’s not really sure what’s wrong with her, but whatever it is is on a deeply psychological level, because as soon as they hit a stop-light, she turns to him and asks, “What’s wrong? What is it? You look unhappy.”


Loki turns to her, incredulous, but he doesn’t say anything.


“Weaving, right?” Pepper continues, discomfort clawing up her back. “I was there, you know, that first time. You looked like you liked it. Didn’t you?”


“That’s not,” he says, like it’s startled out of him. “Not the point, nor relevant, it’s where we’re going, it’s already decided, so—” Pepper raises an eyebrow. He caves. It’s not his fault; it’s worked on everyone since Pepper was fifteen. “It was a useful way to expend my time,” he says grudgingly.


“So you’re crafty,” Pepper says, and it’s meant to be an observation, but as soon as she says it she feels like kicking herself in the shins. Crafty? Really? So says she to the god of mischief. “I meant artsy. Arts-and-crafts-y. You know, that… way inclined.” The light turns green, and Pepper uses that as her out and keeps her eyes on the road, and not on the ex-god currently staring at her.


“You’re a very peculiar M—person, Pepper,” Loki says slowly, and, oh god, that doesn’t sound good. That sounds the opposite of good. Tired as he looks, Pepper really, really hopes he isn’t armed right now.


“Peculiar? How so, Loki?” she asks lightly. If she dies, she’s going to come back for just as long as it takes to murder Tony.


“I frighten you,” he says shrewdly, sidestepping her question, “as well I should, but you’re ignoring it.”


“Ignoring what?” she asks; if her voice is a little higher than it should be, neither of them acknowledge it.


“Your fear.”


“I’m not afraid of you,” she lies. “I’m afraid of what you’ve done so far. No offense, but I don’t think losing the mojo that let you do those things means that you’re a different person than the one who committed murders and tried to destroy the world.”


“Rule it,” he corrects.


“Destroy it,” Pepper corrects right back. “That’s what the outcome would’ve been. And there’s no forgetting the fact that you almost killed my—Tony.”


Your Tony?” he asks sharply, and funny that that’s the strand he picks up on. Pepper narrows her eyes.


“I was going to say my boss, and then I remembered that he’s Tony to you, too.” She doesn’t mean to sound bitter, but she’s not overly found of sharing a group of social connections with a turncoat murdering psychopath. She controls herself enough, though; she doesn’t add, Even though he shouldn’t be.


It’s not until the next light that Loki speaks. “You were something else to him,” he says—declares it, doesn’t ask it, and Pepper’s fear drops to the wayside when her ire picks up.


“Why does it matter to you?” she asks, putting on her publicity smile, two feet thick and twice as hard to guess around. “It’s a highly personal matter, and neither mine nor Tony’s intimacies are any of your business.”


He recoils and his face scrunches up like he’s tasted something awful, but the cars behind Pepper start blaring up a parade and she has to turn back to the road, pulling a little too hard at the wheel.


“I… apologize,” he says slowly, and she glances over for a moment because she has to see his face. The apology twists off of his tongue like he’s not quite sure what to do with it, but his face smoothes out as soon as he sees her looking, and he adds, smiling slightly, “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. Or, at least, any more troubled than you were previously by my presence.” There’s a strange twist to his mouth, there, almost like regret, but Pepper doesn’t dwell on it. She believes it, that he didn’t mean to make her uncomfortable. If he had, she would know it for sure, and that makes her relax, a little bit.


“Thank you,” she says stiffly, and he gives a little, formal inclination of his head in her direction. “You know,” she says, when traffic still isn’t moving as quickly as she’d like it to, “there are other things you can do here, if you don’t want to go to… to wherever it was.”


His mouth flickers up into a smile. “What are you suggesting, Miss Potts?”


“I could get you a travel guide. We’ve got Broadway shows, museums of art and history, numerous theatres. You wouldn’t be bored.” She risks a glance in his direction; he’s expressionless. “Is there somewhere else we should be going, Loki?”


 His mouth presses into a straight, grim line, and Pepper thinks, for a moment, oh, hell. What did I even say? Was it Broadway? It was probably Broadway.


But no—he smiles. It’s brief, but it’s definitely there, and it takes Pepper a moment but she smiles back, and this is for sure the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to her and she’s had her arm buried up to her elbow inside a man’s chest. “Thank you for the effort, Miss Potts,” he says, cordial as anything. “I think, though, that it would be far easier for me to simply stick to my… previous schedule.”


“Well, you’re right about that,” she says, turning on her indicator. The warehouse is half a block down, and parking’s going to be a pain to find, and she has to wait here for two hours before Tony can make it down, if he makes it down, and she still has to call together a board meeting, and she really, really hopes she unplugged the iron because she can’t remember right now, and altogether, Pepper’s life is making her head hurt. “This is simpler,” she agrees, and simpler, right now, is better.


When they pull up alongside the warehouse, Loki’s lips purse to the side. “Ah. It wouldn’t have mattered, would it, had I changed my mind? We were already here, regardless of whether or not I’d like to be. It didn’t matter.”


It doesn’t sound bitter, only thoughtful, but it grates Pepper the wrong way and she says, “It matters,” automatically. She can’t say why she says it, or why, when she looks over at him, Loki’s eyes, sleep-bagged and anime-huge, blink back at her, slow and sad, and he gives her a slower, sadder smile.


“Peculiar,” he repeats, and she doesn’t think that’s such a bad thing.



“So, uh. How was your trip down?” Tony asks.


“Uneventful,” Thor says shortly.


“Oh. That’s… nice.” This is probably the most uncomfortable Tony’s ever been in his entire life, and thank god Thor’s left Mjolnir and Jane’s, because if Tony had to stare down the handle of that, he’s not sure any sort of conversation would be made.


As it is, Thor stares at him from across the table, grim and silent in the same crocs, jeans and a faded university t-shirt, and Tony wonders how the hell he mistook the colossally cheerful double as Thor at all, because Thor is scary.


“But, um, anyways.” Tony clears his throat. “I was happy to hear that it wasn’t you who almost killed Loki.”


“So you’ve said,” Thor growls. Growls. God, Tony hadn’t realized people could actually do that.


“Yeah, I know, I just…” He can’t say he’s sorry, because he’s not. What if he’d been right? He wasn’t wrong for keeping Thor as far away from Loki as he could, and, yeah, maybe Thor’s got the shit end of the stick, but them’s the breaks. “You understand, don’t you? I mean, I thought—”


“I understand,” Thor says, and Tony lets out a gust of leaden air. “I am appreciative of it, Anthony. That any of you would protect someone you have shown such distaste for—”


“Hang on.” Tony bristles up fast to that one, and he grimaces back at Thor’s questioning stare. “There’s no ‘distaste,’ okay? You’ve been gone a while, Thor. We wouldn’t still be living with him here if we hated him. Alright? So stop with the condescension.”


Some sort of realization is coming at Thor fast, and Tony resists the urge to roll his eyes when his brow clears and his eyes crinkle up. “You consider him… a friend?”


“Yes,” Tony says, because that’s the quickest answer he can give, and the one least likely to have Thor going any deeper into it. “Right now, yes, as close as I think Loki can get to friendship. Yes.”


“I’m glad,” Thor says, but he still sounds too surprised for it to do anything soothing to Tony, and there might be a little more kick in his glare than there should be.


“He needed somewhere to belong,” he says flippantly. “Why not with a bunch of other misfits?” Thor cringes. Tony would, too, but he believes in holding his ground, even when what comes out isn’t what he meant to let out at all. “I didn’t call you here to fight, Thor. I didn’t call you here to accuse you, either. We have a problem.”


Thor nods, and Tony doesn’t miss the way the muscles in his arms go taut. “The imposter.”


“Thor.0,” Tony agrees. “We have to find him. And I think an important part of that is—look, you didn’t see his face. Loki… whatever went on in that room, it wasn’t the beating that did the most damage.”


“From what I saw,” Thor says quietly, “It did considerable damage. I came to heal him, Tony. I saw the wounds.”


“That’s my point. That isn’t the worst of it. Whatever was said…” He won’t tell me what happened. Tony bites his tongue to keep that in. “It was bad.” It’s short, it’s succinct, and Thor nods. “Bad enough that it set him back.”


“He was doing well, before?” Thor asks, and it looks like it pains him to do so. Tony shrugs.


“He was doing as well as he could be,” he says honestly. It’s probably hurting Thor to hear it, but he keeps going. “You signed his sentence, and he read it as a death warrant. I think he could, maybe, get better, if he would let himself. I just—” Tony doesn’t think he has enough time. He doesn’t think Loki will be able to prove himself in what little time he has left. He thinks that he’s racing through the time he has left and he’s not sure how to buy him more. “I’m worried that he won’t. And he has to, but this is completely up to him. I haven’t been able to find any way to fix whatever’s wrong with him.”


Tony’s seen anguish, felt it, even, but he’s never seen it so clearly as he does on Thor right now, in the way his mouth drops open, slightly, the sigh that punches out, the way his eyes dim. It takes him a moment to realize that the sounds he’s making are words. “Is there hope?”


“Yes,” Tony says. He wouldn’t be here if he didn’t think there was. “But it’s not up to us. We have to take a step back, focus on what we can actually do.” Hope, he adds to himself, that Loki can manage to do his part. “So!” Tony rubs his hands together and leans forward across the table. “Tell me about everybody Loki’s pissed off recently. With magic powers,” he amends. “You can probably leave out family members.”



When Loki walks into the warehouse room, the same group he met last time is all gathered around their buckets of water, sleeves rolled up and arms moving. He considers easing back through the door, taking up Pepper’s offer of a tour of a city, but… There are still signs of destruction, even now, that haven’t been cleared away yet, and it’s not satisfaction that he feels when he looks at broken signs and crumbling sidewalks. It’s not quite guilt, he won’t call it that, not nearly, but it isn’t pleasant.


So he slides into the room and stays against the wall until Lydia catches sight of him, and tries not to let his discomfort show when her face lights up, a wide smile taking it over. “Well, hello there. Didn’t think we’d see you back again.” She winks at him.  


The others smile at him warmly; Doris waves him over to an empty station between herself and Ella, and Eustace nudges him with a shoulder when he passes. It’s so strange, and he feels oddly warmed by their gestures, if unsettled.


“You’ll find everything you need there,” Lydia says, kindly and firmly, nodding down at the basin in front of him. “We’re working through a few basic Celtic knots. Are you familiar with them?”


“No,” he starts to say, but the pattern in her hands looks familiar. “Perhaps,” he corrects, because the crossed, overlapping lines remind him of home, and he thinks that he would take up the pattern very easily.


“I’ll help you, if you need it,” Lydia says, and they fall into silence.


It’s still soothing, having his hands under the water, guiding the softening fibers over each other, looping and twisting until they resemble the sigils he still recognizes, even now, so much later. Soothing, but strange—it’s not quite as alien, and his fingers are under his control; they don’t panic across the fibers, and they don’t feel, any longer, like they’re shaking him apart. It feels like he’s forgetting what he’s lost, and that might be the worst of it.


It’s contemplative spiral that the weaving’s thrown him in, until Ella leans over, jabbing a small, bony elbow into his arm, to whisper, “Are you okay?” It jostles him enough that he drops a stitch, and he lowers his materials slowly to the bottom of the basin, biting back a huff.


“Yes,” he says tightly.


“Are you sure?” she prods. “You don’t look so hot. I mean—” She giggles. It’s a high, inane sound, and Loki does his best to remember that murder is rarely an option. “You’re still hot. You just look a little peaky.”


Was there a compliment hidden somewhere in there? He can’t tell. The rest is obnoxious. “I’m quite fine,” he says. “And my health should not be of your concern, child.”


“I’m not a child,” she says, and there’s something in the way her smile changes that makes him pause, his hands half-submerged. “And I’m worried, Loki. I simply want to help.”


That sounds strange. There’s too much gravity there for the voice of a child, and Loki shifts back, slightly. Her eyes track his movements, mean and sharp, and he shivers. There’s something unnatural here.


“No, thank you.”


“Are you… sure?” She raises a hand to press it against his forearm, and he jolts out of his skin. There’s a bolt of magic—quick, barely there, but he feels it. It slides under his skin and straight to his heart, and he gasps when it pierces through and right back out.


It’s over in a moment, and he stumbles slightly—Ella catches him more easily than a anyone her size should be able to, and pushes him back to his feet.


“I told you I can help you,” she purrs, and he can’t quite manage to pull away from where her hand is against his skin. “There’s an alleyway. Meet me back there after the class.” And, in a moment, the mask falls back into place and bright, young, carefree Ella, with the colorful bands around the metal in her mouth, is the one grinning at him, eyes light. “I can’t wait to see what you make today!”


She pats him once on the arm, and then turns back to her basin.


Loki’s heart is beating out of its rhythm, and he wants to grab at it, shake it back to its former state, but he can’t move. He’s stunned.


Magic. Here, of all places. It doesn’t make sense, but… yes. Now he knows to look for it, he can see it in the girl. Her eyes are brighter than they should be under the high-set lights of the room. Her fingers move like liquid over what she’s weaving, and, if he tilts his head, he can see the little lines of power that run through them, greater and worse than electricity.


He turns back to his patterns. The curiosity is murderous. He wants the hour to be up, wants it to be finished so that he can know—


“How are you doing?” Lydia is at his elbow, and he looks down at her. He thinks he must look vacant, because she glances down into the basin and frowns slightly. “That’s lovely. Not quite Celtic, but it’s nice.”


“Yes,” he says blankly, running his hands over the first curve of his work. “Celtic. I mean, I wasn’t sure how to…” He’s not paying attention to what he’s saying, and he doesn’t really tune in until he feels her hands sliding over his.


He jumps, slightly, and she smiles up at him, questioning. She doesn’t move her hands, all the points that her skin is pressed against his, and he must look a strange sight—eyebrows raised, mouth slack. He nods, and her hands start to guide his, up, left, under, around, warm and human and empty of magic or power or anything that can pierce through him and leave him crooked. Letting her hands guide his is restful; it’s relaxing to be able to let them go, and he watches what she makes his fingers do. The weave is more rustic than his own, clumsy at its edges and he’s not sure he would call something so rough beautiful, but perhaps that’s the point.


“Have you got it?” Lydia murmurs.



“I’m not sure,” Loki says. He’s missing something.



“… as well as the Enchantress, who could weave such spells as to leave a man confounded for an age on end, though I believe she and Loki were allies more often  than not.”


Tony should have asked for the SparkNotes version. “Thor. There can’t be—Jesus tap-dancing Christ.”


Thor squints back at where Tony’s got his head laid in his hands and the legal pad—half filled with names not even a god should be able to pronounce—in pieces across the table. “I know not of who you speak, nor if my brother has angered him. Fret not, Man of Iron.” Thor claps a ham-sized hand against Tony’s shoulder, and there is a distinct possibility that a sob slips out. “I will be sure to investigate that claim.”


I hate you so much.”


Thor shrugs. “You asked.” 

Chapter Text

If Tony gets there late, it’s not his fault. It’s traffic. It’s always the traffic. He should’ve used the suit. He walks through the craft store’s front entrance just as Pepper texts him.


Where are you? i do have things to do today, you know.


Tony smiles. You work too hard.


Just get here.


Already am.


He’s stepping out onto the platform when she turns from where she’s leaning against the railing, and he offers here the box of chocolate under his arm before she can lay into him. “I know what you’re going to say, and I know it’s not going to be happy, so I got you chocolates and I already ate the strawberry one, so you probably won’t even die eating these. You’re welcome.”


“I’m welcome,” she repeats. “I’m welcome? Tony. I am not welcome. I’ve been babysitting your—” She cuts herself off, laying a hand over her face.


“I like your shoes,” Tony tries. “Really lengthen those gorgeous legs of yours.” They do. Without moving the hand she has over her face, she waves towards the floor below. “Right. Okay. Watching.”


Tony goes over to the railing, and—oh. This is new. Loki’s got something pretty and petite wrapped around him, and Tony’s not really sure what he’s looking at. It looks like their hands are on top of each others’ under the water in his bucket, and she’s smiling up at Loki, and Loki’s smiling back, and is he leaning into her? Is that what’s happening? Has Tony missed something important?


“Uh, Pep? What’s, uh. What’s been going on?”


Pepper gives him a dead-eyed stare. “Seriously? What do you think has been going on? They’ve been weaving, and I’ve been regretting getting out of bed this morning.”


“It was afternoon,” Tony chides. “You were slacking.”


“I just got in from Greenland.”


“Was it pretty?”


Pretty damn cold.” Pepper takes a slow breath to collect herself. “Okay, you know what? Why did you need me to do this?”


Tony is in no way in control of the growl that works its way out of his throat. “I really don’t know anymore. I thought that, if I talked to Thor, showed him the footage of what happened to Loki, he could help us narrow down who had some sort of vendetta against his brother. Only, as it turns out, Loki is very, very good at pissing off the populace.”


“And this guy just, what? Popped in, beat Loki around a little, and popped back out?”


“Yeah,” Tony muttered. “Bruce thinks that maybe whoever it was did it to fuck around with us a little, too, but that wouldn’t make sense, popping in to Avengers HQ and not looking for anything useful.”


“They wanted to make you uncomfortable. They were pointing out your weaknesses.” Pepper shrugs. “And they wanted to beat up an intergalactic terrorist. Sounds to me like it’s over. It’s been a while, Tony. If they were going to strike again…”


“I know.” Tony sighs, roughing his hands through his hair. “I know.” It’s hard, talking to Pepper about this. Pepper, who knows things and understands things and puts things together better, sometimes, than the way Tony does things naturally. Pepper, who makes the most complicated things sound so simple. Pepper, who’s been standing by and letting this woman press herself that close to Loki—


“Tony? You realize these aren’t the sturdiest things, right? I swear to god, if you die by falling over a railing, I’m not going to your funeral.”


Tony snorts, but he pulls back. “Fine. I’ll use the stairs. Party pooper.” The class is over, anyways, has been for at least five minutes, but everyone’s minding their own business, noses in their water and fingers as wrinkly as… well. He’d say prunes, usually, but the old woman down there is at least ninety and that seems rude.


He pounds his way down the stairs, and, whoops, they’re metal, so the whole class looks up and around like electrocuted turkeys, and he waves when he reaches their circle, stepping into the center of the arc their stations are arranged in. “Hello, there.”


“Oh!” The girl pulls away from Loki much slower than necessary, almost like it’s hard for her to remove herself from his body heat, and Tony’s smile is all teeth. “Mr. Stark?”


“That’s me,” he says, and it’s not exactly kind. Loki looks at him, confused, and pulls his hands out of his water to swipe them across the thighs of his pants.


“Stark? Why are you here?”


“Pepper has stuff,” Tony quips. “You almost ready to leave? And, ooh, that’s nice. That’s… what the hell is that? And can you make me one?”


“No,” Loki says shortly, and walks away, carrying his basin high towards the big sink at the back of the room.




Tony looks back at the girl whose name he can’t remember. “Tony Stark. And you are? I’m sorry, I don’t—”


“Lydia,” she says kindly, offering her hand. “We met very briefly, it’s not a big deal.” She’s small, with pretty skin and offensively perky breasts, and Tony hates her on first handshake.


“A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Lydia. Loki—” Tony catches Loki by his back belt loop before he can walk past, probably because he’s obnoxious, but he stops and turns around, close enough that Tony can press his hand against the small of his back and lean closer than he has to to say, “Pepper’s up there; could you go tell her that we’re heading home?”


Loki snorts and pulls away. “I’m not your carrier pigeon.”


It doesn’t even matter, though, because even as he walks out the back door, and Pepper walks out to her car to leave, Tony knows that his point’s been made, and when he turns back to Perky Lydia, her dark cheeks have gone a shade darker and she doesn’t seem to know quite where her eyes should land. “Oh! I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were… You two were…”


“We’re not,” Tony says reluctantly, because he knows the type, and he doesn’t need her asking Loki about how their relationship is going. “I’m…” I’m what? Tony doesn’t know. Nothing that makes sense. ‘Jailer’ sounds too kinky. ‘Roommate’ sounds too kitschy. And then Tony’s eye catches on the tail end of a pamphlet peeking out of Lydia’s pocket. “I’m his sponsor,” he says, and tries to make it sound a little bit less like an epiphany and a little bit more like Lydia should check herself. He smiles.


“Oh, really?” She does the strangest thing—she brightens and her eyes go all sad, one, two punch, and Tony’s not sure when he started losing in this confrontation, but it’s probably when she says, “I had no idea. How is he doing?” and looks like she actually cares.


“Oh, he’s… He went cold turkey. He’s in recovery. We’re working through it. It’s just, you know. No relationships.” She nods like she knows, like she’s about to ask more questions, and when the hell did this happen? This is not a heart-to-heart.


“I know how that is,” she says sympathetically. “I have a friend, went through AA. He’s still going strong.” She smiles sadly. “The beginning is always the worst.”


Tony’s hands are moving like heat-seeking missiles inside the lining of his jacket, and his flask is out by the time she’s finished talking, and to his lips and back before he starts. “Oh, I know. The worst,” he agrees, and goes for another pull.


She stares at him like he’s got his head on backwards.


He takes another sip.



Loki slides into the alley after Ella, his hand on the door to keep it from slamming shut. Tony’s seen where he’s gone; he can’t be long, he knows that, but this is strange enough that he hasn’t quite lost his sense of caution. He’s getting tired—every other step is a bone-tired drag, and he thinks he should get to the car. He really should, before he has an episode, or, god forbid, his body simply fails to move.




The girl is at the end of the alley, her back pressed to the grimy wall, and Loki would swear that she’s taller out here. It’s as if the darkness has adopted her, and it’s doing the job of the doting parent, straightening her posture, pushing back her hair, filling her out. “Ella,” he repeats, and all she does is smile, slow and lazy and sure of herself, and it’s slimy, and he knows, he knows he isn’t supposed to be here.


He takes another step in her direction.


Loki.” She purrs his name like a lover’s caress; he stops, stock still, when she pulls away from the wall. For a moment, red and gold glaze across her eyes in rapid succession, a fleeting hint of color that he knows he hasn’t invented, not even in his deluded, magic-starved mind.


“What happened, in there?” Loki asks, running a dry tongue over dryer lips. The girl’s mouth quirks into a sharper smile.


“You know what it was. That isn’t what you want to ask, Loki. Ask the question that you need to ask.”




Ask the right question.”


“Can I—” He can’t. Nothing feels weaker, more wrong, than groveling for magic, begging for a taste. He isn’t a common peasant. He’s of king’s blood; he won’t forget it. He can’t forget it. He… “Tell me.”


Her smile doesn’t change. “Ah. It’s your pride. I see. Well. There’s no helping that. Might even be a good thing, at the end of the day. And the end of the day is on its way,” she sing-songs.  




“Would you like some, Loki?” Ella places her hands together, and then draws them apart, palms first, and sparks fly between them, all energy, all magic. Loki’s mouth goes dry.


“I—It doesn’t work like that.”


She shoots him an incredulous stare. “Oh, you poor boy.” Again, there, for a moment, her voice dives deeper and older than it should be. Loki takes a step back when she takes one forward, but she moves faster than he does, and she’s right in front of him in a moment, eyes wide on his own. “Here, then,” she says slowly, her palms moving against each other in slow, small circles. “A taste…”


She rubs both palms together, and then, before Loki can so much as recoil, reconsider, she plants her palms against either side of his face, fierce and insistent, and presses her mouth to his.


When a room floods with light; when lightning, forking and visceral, breaks a sky into pieces; when the smoke clears and it’s only the flames left, too bright, too hot, too sharp—this, and more, presses against Loki’s veins, and he feels himself shredded from his insides to his soul, feels himself scraped raw by the ice and fire of pure power. He wants it to stop, wants it to stop burning. It was out of his system, perhaps for too long, for it to feel like this, nothing more than a raw nerve exposed, drowned in acid, colder than the bowels of Jotunheim, and he wants to cry out, can feel himself screaming, but it’s only on the inside of his head, and he can’t even feel the hands on his face anymore, can’t feel the tongue that’s forcing this power down his throat, can’t feel anything but pain and sweetness and power, and he wants to die. He craves darkness, craves stillness, anything but this poison.


He wants to die.


Hush, Loki. There’s a voice, chasm deep, coming from somewhere, and if Loki had eyes he would try to search out the source. It feels old, and it makes the panic ebb back, for a moment. Accept this gift for what it is. Relax.


How, he tries to scream. How am I meant to relax? This is no more than torture!


Is it? the voice thrums, and he almost believes it sounds amused. But it gives him pause—is it? He… he’s not sure. Where there was pain, heat, there is simply warmth. Where it felt like there was a razor, twisting its way into his brain, there’s only a soft cloak of peace, of calm. This isn’t right.


I don’t—“Know,” Loki says, with his own tongue, and when he blinks the colors come back, colors so strong, so strange, so vibrant, he thinks he must have died and snuck his way into Valhalla unnoticed. “What?”


Loki recoils. Ella stands, small and resolute before him, her hands crossed behind her back and her face turned up to him, smile soft and cocky.


“Well. There you go. That’s nowhere near what you had, of course, Trickster, but it’s enough to get you by for a bit.”


“I—” Loki’s thoughts are sluggish and slow, impeded by what, he’s not sure, but it’s making it difficult to focus on her, and it makes it look like her eyes are glowing a low, muted yellow. “What do you mean? What did you do?”


But he’s looking down at himself as he speaks, because he knows, of course he does. He shoves his sleeves up high and looks down at the steady flush built up underneath his skin, at the energy he can see there, coiled and ready and so vibrant. “You’ve fixed me,” he says blankly, and shoves his hand out from his body abruptly. A burst of invisible energy wracks out from him and into the brick wall opposite them, and the wall breaks under the pressure, cracking inwards, mortar turning to dust. “You’ve fixed me,” he repeats, because it can’t be possible, no way the All-Father would allow it, but it is, and he can’t help the smile that’s starting, because he can feel again. He can hear so much more than he should, smell more than he wants to on this disgusting world, can breathe and taste every living heartbeat around him, every branch, every crack, every whisper.


He’s alive.


“Thank you,” he breathes. “But why…?”


Ella smiles something awful, small and twisted. “Don’t worry about it quite yet. We’ll see each other again. Soon, I think.” She nods at somewhere around his center, and Loki looks down, searching around his chest. “You’re going to burn through that little token quickly. I suggest you hurry home.”


“But where—” When he looks up, she’s gone, not so much as a twitch on the wind to identify where she’s gone, but that doesn’t matter, not when he has it.


She’d called him Trickster. He should worry, he should read into that, but it doesn’t matter, nothing does. Nothing matters so much as the fact that he can see every shade that makes up the sky, and knows how to unravel it to bloom the clouds. He can look down at the ground and see every grain that makes up what’s around his feet and know how to rearrange it, send it crashing up around the ears of the world, send whole continents to ashes. He knows again, and he twists his fingers in the air, just to watch the way the air current ripples. He can breathe.



By the time Loki walks back into the room, things have gone wonderfully awkward and Tony has entirely run out of things to say to small, dark and dangerously friendly.




“Yes, dear,” Tony says automatically, and he’s expecting a scathing glare at best, but all Loki does is smirk, and, huh. He looks… happy. “You okay?”


He makes a noncommittal noise in the back of his throat. “Lydia, I believe Tony and I have somewhere to be.”


“Of course,” Lydia says, and is Tony imagining things, or is her smile for Loki much less strained-looking than her smile for him? How odd. “See you next meeting?”


“Perhaps,” Loki says, and makes his way out through the double doors, shoving both doors away from him. It’s funny, because that’s Tony’s job, isn’t it? Entrances and exits?


“Goodbye, Lydia,” Tony says jovially, and mimes tipping a hat on his way out. She raises a hand in a half-hearted wave. Tony still doesn’t like her.


“You wanna slow down?” Tony asks, as soon as he’s past the doors and having to double-time it to keep up with Loki. “Why the rush?”


“No, to the first question,” Loki says quickly, a swift smile appearing and disappearing, “And because to the second. I’ll do what I want, Stark.”


“Stark, Tony. Hot, cold. Why are you so… temperamental?”


“Why are you so curious?” Loki asks, mimicking his tone. “Where did you park?”


God, he’s jittery. His hands don’t stay still, twitching up and down his legs, and his eyes are dilated, the green around all that black brighter than Tony’s ever seen it. “Are you on drugs?” he blurts out automatically. “Because I told her you were in rehab, but I was joking. Well, I mean, it wasn’t a joke, because technically you are, but I didn’t think that you would go off and start something, because if I had, I definitely wouldn’t have said—”


Loki cuts him off by shoving him up against the glass front of the shop, fingers flat against his chest, and his mouth hard against Tony’s before Tony can figure it the hell out and take advantage of his position.


And then the kiss is over he’s being let go and Loki’s halfway down the street, sliding into Tony’s Camaro and Tony… Tony has no idea what the hell is going on, but he thinks he likes it.


He just really, really hopes it isn’t drugs. 

Chapter Text

Tony keeps an eye on Loki on the way home; it’s not like he can go anywhere, but there’s something decidedly off about him, and Tony doesn’t like it.


“So how was it?” Tony asks when they’ve got two lights ‘til home.


Loki doesn’t scoff or snort or roll his eyes. There’s no derision when he smiles, but he’s not looking at Tony, either, which makes him think it’s not really his question that Loki’s answering. “Brilliant.”


“Really,” Tony says flatly. “Much as I enjoy seeing your spirits lifted…” When he glances over, Loki’s looking at him, and whatever he was going to say next dies on his tongue.


He looks… content. It’s a nice look to see on him, one that Tony doesn’t see often, and with the way the light hits his eyes, they sparkle, and he smiles at Tony and Tony huffs out a short breath.


“They are,” Loki says slowly, “very lifted. I’m… happy that I was in attendance.”


“Right,” Tony mumbles. The light’s changed; he faces front again, trying to relax. There’s nothing for him to feel this prickled over—Loki’s happy, Pepper’s happy, Lydia doesn’t live anywhere near him…  Tony narrows his eyes. “Because of Lydia?” he asks bluntly. Not that he’d mind. It’s not like either of them have anything going on, not really. She’s just too… peppy.


Loki snorts. “Hardly.”


“Why? She’s cute. And she’s into you, if the way she was draped all over you is any sort of indication—”


“Boring,” Loki drawls, sliding a hand across the median between their seats. “I wouldn’t know what to do with her.”


“Versus?” Tony asks, and, okay, maybe it’s a little bit breathless, but Loki’s got a wicked smirk aimed his way, and they’re in the middle of traffic—Tony groans as Loki’s fingers brush across the seam of his pants. “Oh, for the love of—I’m driving. Please, please, please still be in whatever mood you are when I finally park.”


Loki doesn’t say anything, but he keeps his hands to himself for the rest of the drive; whenever Tony looks over, that smirk is still in place, and he wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that Loki’s vibrating, his arms trembling even when they’re locked in place across  his middle, and it… well. It has Tony worried. It shouldn’t; he looks fine. He looks awesome. Tony’s brain should shut the hell up and enjoy a good thing while it lasts.


When he finally pulls into the garage, Loki’s crawling over into his lap in a moment, his hands going to either side of Tony’s face, holding him still for a brutal kiss, and Tony groans up into it. This is… strange isn’t the right word for it. It’s brilliant, and it’s rough, and it’s a little less desperate than he’s used to from Loki. He asserting his power, here, leveled up so that he’s not touching Tony anywhere but his lips and his cheeks, and all Tony wants to do is press up, see where this is going, but before he can manage, Loki’s pulling back with a wild grin.


“So,” Tony rasps, brain still not quite caught up to the whole no-longer-kissing thing. “Good day for you?”


“Yes,” Loki murmurs. His eyes drift down towards Tony’s mouth, and a slow thumb skates across his bottom lip. “Very good,” he adds, and that smirk, so wicked it makes Tony’s teeth hurt, is back.


“I’m glad,” Tony says. “Now come back.” It’s not whining. It’s not.


All Loki does is press a little bit against his lip, so Tony pokes his tongue out, and regrets it immediately.


Holy—” It feels like the tip of his tongue has been electrocuted, and Tony yanks his head back, swearing hotly. “What the fuck. What the fuck—” Loki’s looking down at his hand curiously, and Tony’s using every word his mother never taught him, because that hurt like a bitch.


“Are you hurt severely?” Loki asks, and Tony glares back at the note of curiosity in his voice.


“I—” Tony scowls. No, he’s not. The pain was there in a flash, but his tongue feels fine, if terrified. “No.”


“Just unhappy,” Loki observes. He tugs at the door handle and slides out, slinging his legs out from over Tony’s lap. He casts Tony one last glance, right on the edge of saying something, but he shakes his head instead and walks away, up towards the house.


Tony leans up to look at his tongue in the rearview, bending it back and forth. Unless Loki is hyper-charged with static energy (and/or packing a lightning rod), nothing should’ve stung like that. Tony frowns at his reflection. Maybe there was something wrong with him? But he knew what it felt like to be electrocuted—god knows he’s done it to himself often enough to recognize the feeling—and that was a hell of a shock.

 Natasha looks up at the sound of a crash, hand already alight on the knife at her hip, and she doesn’t quite let it go, even after she sees it’s only Loki, his hand pressed against the door he’s just slammed against the wall.


“Hi,” she says cautiously. He spins into the room with a crooked smile on his face, and she’s not sure what it says about her now that she’s marginally more worried about him than of him.


“Agent Romanoff,” he says, sweeping an arm to the side and inclining his head, so that it almost look like a bow. And then he pulls his other arm out from behind him.


There is a small, red bouquet of flowers in his hands, and they’re the exact same color as Natasha’s hair.


“Um,” Natasha says, and then Tony’s barreling through the door, too, and he stops at the sight of the flowers, lips pursed.


“When did you—”


“Do you like them?” Loki demands, and why does he look so fevered? Natasha nods and takes them from his hands, anyways, because it’s a nice gesture, and one she should probably encourage. “Good,” he sniffs, and then he’s hopping up onto the stool right next to her, ramrod straight and too proper to be comfortable. Natasha narrows her eyes.


There’s something strange about him, something that she can’t quite place, and she looks over to Tony for some kind of answer, some kind of explanation, but, from the looks of things, Tony’s drawing a blank, too. He shrugs when his eyes meet hers, and that’s not good enough.


“Loki—” she starts, only to be interrupted by a new clatter; Clint stands in the other doorway, with a few arrows, newly dropped, scattered around his feet.


“Who gave Nat flowers?” he asks slowly, almost cautiously, and Loki twists his head around to him scary fast, and gives him a slow smile.


“Why? Were you planning on it? I’m sure Tony has a large enough vase—”


It’s ridiculous how quickly Clint puffs up, more peacock than hawk.

“Why does Natasha have flowers?!”


“Why so shrill?”


“That’s not an answer, you little—”


“He gave them to me,” Natasha says, exasperated. Fun as this is to watch, her ears don’t need it.


“Well, then,” he says, but he leaves it at that, his hands on his hips, and Natasha wonders how, exactly, if even, that’s supposed to be threatening, because he only looks like a wronged child, and she stifles a laugh into the scarlet buds. Clint pouts at the sight, and says, “They’re the same color as your hair.”


“I know,” Natasha says, and Clint slinks his way over to the seat on her other side, absolutely hangdog.


“I don’t understand,” Tony sighs after a few moments, “how flowers can have all of you so hot and bothered.”


“Flowers don’t get me hot and bothered,” Loki drawls, and Natasha doesn’t think she’s imaging things when she sees Tony swallow, short and rough, but she’s careful with her expressions and doesn’t do much more than glance at him. Loki, though, Loki’s staring, and she can see Clint glancing back and forth between them with increasing urgency. Natasha sighs.


“Clint, come help me find somewhere to put these.”


“What?” He frowns, crossing his arms. “How is that fair? He gets the credit and I get the work?”


Clint,” she repeats, staring at him. It only takes him a moment to cave, though he’s not happy about it, and she drags him out grumbling, heading for the stairs. She’s not sure what will be happening in there, but she knows she doesn’t want to see it. Or think about it. Or acknowledge it.


Loki is staring a hole between his eyes, and Tony thinks it just might be hypnotism that has him take a step towards him, then two, until he’s standing right next to where Loki sits, and Loki’s smirking at him, leaning back far enough that his neck is a considerable point of interest.


“What’s going on?” Tony asks. Loki frowns. It’s not the question Loki wants him to be asking, obviously, but it’s the most important one to be asked. “There’s something going on, so you might as well tell me now, otherwise it’s just going to come back and—”


Loki kisses him before he can finish the thought, softer than earlier this time , his fingers curling up around the hair at Tony’s temples, and god, he wishes he could just go with it, say that it’s only Loki’s mouth moving against his, his tongue peeking in for warmth, but—


Tony pulls away with a groan, and Loki’s hands settle at his shoulders instead, frown lines appearing between his eyebrows as he scowls back at him. “What?” he demands, pulling Tony closer.


Tony steps away, tugging at where Loki’s hands are locked behind his neck. “You realize that was basically a ‘we’re fucking’ declaration to Natasha, right?”


Loki pouts, but loses the expression quickly—which is a good thing. It doesn’t fit him. The smirk that takes its place? Definitely does. “Might as well prove her right, then.”


“Wait,” Tony says quickly, when Loki’s lips dive towards the edge of his jaw instead. “Just tell me you’re okay.”


Loki darts his head back, staring at Tony, eyes unreadable. It takes him too long to say, “I’m… okay,” but his eyes don’t leave off searching Tony’s own for something.


“Are you sure?” Tony asks,


Tony doesn’t understand how Loki can still be so boggled by him showing the slightest bit of concern, but it’s sobered him up at least, and Tony doesn’t think he’s lying when he says, “I am very sure, Tony,” and Tony doesn’t pull away when Loki’s lips find his again, not gentle so much as searching.


“You’re concern,” he says briefly, voice vibrating against the edge of Tony’s lips, “is misdirected. You needn’t worry about me.”


“Right,” Tony scoffs. “Because you’re the picture of heal—” Picture of health. Oh, hell. Tony was kidding, he was going to be kidding, it was a joke, but now he pulls back, takes several steps away, because this is not just ‘good day’ vibes, here. Say what you want, happiness is not and will never be a cure-all, but Loki’s walking, talking, calm and controlled at totally okay, and he’s been on his feet for hours and he’s not even swaying. “Is there something you’d like to tell me?” Tony says, as calmly as he can manage. Which, to be honest, isn’t a lot; he’d thought Loki’s eyes looked too bright.


Loki shrugs and grins, leaning up against the counter again and stretching his legs out. “I guess the cat’s out, then.”


“Magic,” Tony blurts out. “You have magic—you can’t have magic! I thought you said—”


Loki makes a quick, complicated gesture with his fingers and Tony’s voice fails him. He glares when Loki smiles wider; he’s never seen him quite so gleeful as this.


“Hush. We don’t need everyone racing down because someone can’t keep their voice down. Can you be quiet? I’ll give you back your voice.” Tony nods once, short and furious. “Good.” He repeats the gesture.


“You’re kidding me,” Tony spits out. “So you’re okay? How did it happen? And don’t you dare take my voice away from me again, I’m not yelling.”


Loki shrugs, spreading his hands out. “I don’t know what to say. I… made a friend.”


Well, that doesn’t sound sketchy at all. “You ‘made a friend?’ Call me crazy, but that sounds like something someone would say about their dealer.”


Loki’s brow furrows. “Dealer? I don’t—”


“So what now?” Tony cuts off; he doesn’t want to be the one to explain Midgarian addictions to a buzzing god. No, thank you. “Do you take off? Wreak more havoc?”


Loki looks taken aback by the suggestion; Tony wishes he could take it back, but it has to be asked. He has to know what he’s up against. “I… I’d not thought of—I’m still weak,” Loki says brusquely, turning away from Tony. “I would like to rest here, if—”


“Of course. But I just want to know if—”


“I’m not planning on…” Loki turns back to him, lips pursed to the side. “I wouldn’t do anything in offense to your hospitality.”


Tony smiles mirthlessly. “Why not? You’re—” He doesn’t get to finish before Loki’s crowding into his space again, carding an insistent hand through his hair to pull his mouth close enough to steal into. Loki kisses him and Tony kisses back, and he tries to read into it, into how tightly Loki is holding him against him, hard enough that he’s going to have bruises on his shoulder and his lips are going to ache, and Loki’s pressed against him at all the points that count, and he—


“Tony, are you—”


He’s in the middle of the kitchen. Tony steps away from Loki as casually as he can manage, and Loki doesn’t do much more than roll his eyes before Steve’s strolling into the kitchen, beautiful, wonderful, wholesome, oblivious Steve.


“Hey,” he says, smiling warmly at the two of them.


“Hello,” Loki purrs, and Tony wants to plant his hand over his face, because how.

It only gets worse when Steve chuckles, don’t think Tony doesn’t see the blush that creeps in there, and Jesus, what is happening?


Steve turns away from the two of them to turn to the fridge, and Tony takes that opportunity to yank Loki aside. “Steve? Why are you flirting with Steve?”


Loki blinks back at him. “It was a greeting.”




“Either of you care for some food?” Steve calls out. “I was thinking about making something.”


“Yes,” Loki answers, stepping around Tony. “But if you’ll excuse me—I need to rest for a short while.” Before Tony can get in a word in edgewise, he’s heading up the stairs, and all Tony can do is glare after him.




He looks over to where Steve stands, pasta sauce jar in hand, next to the stove. “Ravioli?” he asks, and stupid, stupid Steve Rogers, being so cheerful. Tony can hardly do anything other than walk into the kitchen to join him, passing over a large wooden spoon from the draining board.


“Just try not to burn it again, Rogers,” he says stiffly. Steve smiles at him, and Tony realizes that this is a good thing, that he should smile back, that this is Steve that he’s talking to, that everything is good with Steve. All Tony can do is sigh.


And because Steve is Steve, he asks, “What’s wrong?” and means it; Tony sighs again.


“I’m just—” No. There’s no point in telling him about Loki’s magic, not yet. It doesn’t feel like it’s his place to tell, really, and he doesn’t doubt that they’ll find out sooner rather than later. “Tired,” Tony says instead. “Sleepy. Restless. Irritable. I think my period’s coming on.”


Steve, lovely, predictable Steve, blushes ten different shades of red. “Tony…”


“No, I’m just kidding. My cycle was last week.”




“Is Tony menstruating again?” Bruce is actually Tony’s favorite Avenger, hands down, and Tony offers him a high-five when he walks in—which he doesn’t get, but only, Tony tells himself, because his nose is up against his tablet.


“Last week,” Tony says glibly, and leans  past Steve to peer over Bruce’s shoulder. “Bit of light reading?”


“HYDRA,” Bruce mutters. “All of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s past dealings, that sort of thing.”


“Win-loss record?” Tony asks curiously. “How are the details?” That could be useful, actually; see what sort of tricks HYDRA got up to back in the day, compared to what they’re doing now.


“The details are fine, it’s just—” Bruce looks up at them, blinking quickly behind his glasses. “HYDRA kind of sucks.”


Even Steve huffs out a laugh at that; Tony rolls his eyes. “We know that; it’s really just them who’s in the dark, dear.”


“No, I just—” Bruce frowns. “This level of tactical strategy is different that what we’ve dealt with before. They’ve always gone straight for the jugular; they’re biting at our ankles this time.”


“That’s not a problem,” Tony says confidently. When they look over at him, he grins. “I can fly.”



Loki comes down when the smell of pasta has wafted its way upstairs, and Tony… Tony keeps his distance. It might not be his secret to tell, but the first sign of anything going south and he’ll make it his business. He doesn’t like the idea of lying to the team, but it looks like Loki has himself under control. He’s different—he’s smiling, and laughing, and when Clint says something about keeping flowers in unmentionable places, he pulls out several dozen petals from his pockets and sprinkles them over Clint’s head. It’s brilliant, it’s amazing, it’s ridiculous, and Tony wishes that there wasn’t anything behind it. Wishes that Loki could be better and not better-and-a-potential-threat.


As soon as they’re settled around the table—Loki right across from him, sending him one dare-laden glance as soon as he’d sat down—nobody’s speaking, and it’s making Tony’s skin itch, but he follows suit.


“Ooh, look, it’s palatable. Well done, Captain Rogers.” Okay, so, he sort of follows suit. It makes Clint snort into his pasta and Steve glares back at him, frowning.


“It’s fine! I don’t understand why you—it was one time! We didn’t even have electric stoves when I was younger!”


“Me neither,” Loki says, and he looks absolutely pleased when everybody laughs. When he leans over towards Steve, Tony goes back to his plate, definitely not listening in. Definitely not listening in closely.


“You’ve nothing to worry about, Steve,” Loki murmurs. “It’s lovely.”


“Thanks,” Steve mutters back, but the smile Tony peeks at is small and sweet and genuine. “I’m glad you like it.”


“I do,” Loki shoots back, and, goodness, he’s incorrigible. “You could teach me. If you have a free moment.”


“Sure,” Steve says, visibly surprised. “I’d be happy to. We can, um, definitely—”


“I don’t,” Tony says.


“Rude,” Clint says, through a mouthful of cheese and sauce. Natasha clocks him over the top of her head with the end of her fork.


“Ew,” she says pointedly.


“Perhaps Tony should cook next time,” Loki suggests, folding his hands below his chin and glancing around the table. “If he has… so many opinions to share.” Tony’s trying not to notice that Loki has yet to look back at him, while he himself has yet to look somewhere else.


“Can that be a thing?” Clint asks excitedly, swallowing quickly. “Can we do that? I think that should be a rule.”


“Sure,” Tony says easily. “I just didn’t realize you were all so fond of the smoke detectors going off.”


“Smoke detectors?” Loki asks, but he’s looking at his plate and not at Tony, and it doesn’t even matter because before Tony can call him out on it, the doorbell interrupts him.


Naturally. “Jarvis?”


“Agent Coulson, sir, and he requests a private audience with you.”


They’re all looking at him in surprise, especially when he stands up without a word and heads for the door without the usual token protest.


When he gets to the entryway, Phil is standing with his hands clasped behind him, as proper as ever, and Tony grins. “Could I interest you in some food?”


“No, thank you,” he says mildly.


“Cap made ravioli.”


“I—” Tony tries not to laugh; he feels unnecessarily cruel, especially when Phil’s cheek twitches slightly, but, hey. It’s hospitality he’s offering. It’s food cooked by his hero. “Shouldn’t,” he says, after that tic. “I’m only here to check in, and then I’m leaving.”


“Check in?” Tony feigns surprise. To be honest, it’s not completely feigned; they hadn’t had a check-in in a while, and it isn’t like anything has changed. “To what do we owe this lovely development?”


“HYDRA,” he says shortly. “It looks like they might be amassing an offensive to strike within the next few days.”


Tony shrugs. “We’ll be ready.”


Phil nods, and then he’s turning back towards the door, and Tony counts—one, two, three, four—“Maybe I should go in. Just for—”


“Stop talking and just come on,” Tony says, leading the way forward. “Guys,” he calls as he walks back into the kitchen. “We’ve got another one…”


Tony does the mental math. Four people at the table. Used to be six. “Okay, where’d Loki go?”


Everyone shrugs, except for Bruce, who has the decency to point his finger up towards the ceiling, and Tony’s not sure if that means his room or the roof but he’s willing to bet on the second one.

The lights are up, the sun is down, and Loki has his arms spread wide above it all, a high, wild laugh carried away on the wind. He feels amazing, he feels alive, and that he was living without this—surviving without this—doesn’t even seem possible. He’s a god.


He is a god.


There is a city below him, and the city is full of mortals, and the mortals should worship, should follow the natural order, should bow down at his feet, for what more good can they do than follow their god? He can make them. He can make them look up, or he can raze their city to the ground. It will be a lesson well learned, he thinks. Their eyes would never stray. Would never dare to stray.


He raises a hand.

Chapter Text

And stops. No. This…


It’s not what’s supposed to happen. He’s not—he doesn’t want—doesn’t want what, their worship? Of course he does. He doesn’t want destruction. He doesn’t crave death. No longer. He doesn’t need—


He needs to feel the rush of power that comes from a life leveled in the hands of a god, he needs to feel their fear, because he likes that better than their love. Fear is visceral, palpable. Fear, he can hold close. Fear is sharper than any blade they can drive against him.


He’ll do it. He’ll raise a hand, just at that building, the one with its lights on, just to douse the light. The light, it’s too bright, too cloying, it’s a sore to his eyes, and if he just—


Loki lets out one brutal shout and drives his hand, power already curling in lily-white wisps around his fingers, back behind him, twisting with the motion and slicing the energy through the big picture window behind him.




Tony stands right behind the crumbling glass, staring at Loki with his eyes wide and his lips parted.


“Sorry,” Loki offers, putting his hand down. “I slipped.”


“You… slipped,” Tony repeats, stepping through what’s left of the window, one arm up to shield his head from the still-falling shards. “I was just about to get my suit and come up the other way. Your room was empty, and you locked the door to get out here,” he explained. “I… wanted to see if you were okay.”


“Fine,” Loki says stiffly. He’s only considering destroying the city; there’s nothing new or surprising about that. There shouldn’t be. None of them should trust him the way that they are; it would serve them right.


“You sure?” Tony asks softly, and it’s ridiculous, because Loki can see how uncomfortable this is making Tony, and still he pushes forward, because he’s concerned.


“Who was at the door?” Loki asks, because he’s always been good at steering a conversation.

“Phil,” Tony says, walking up to stand alongside him, both facing the view before them. “HYDRA’s kicking up stones again.”


Loki scowls. “You need to get rid of them.” On a more permanent note, he wants to add, but he’s not sure how Tony would take that.


“Oh, trust me, I know. There’s just… there’s a lot of them. They’ve got this motto—cut of one head and two more will grow in its place. They just keep growing more heads, no matter how quickly we get them to the cutting block. I just—hey.”


Loki flinches when Tony lays hands on him, hands swinging up in an instinctive defensive, but Tony pushes his hands down with a look. “You’re bleeding,” he says sharply, brushing a hand that Loki barely feels down the side of his neck and bringing it away red. “Why are you bleeding?”


“I…” Loki brings a hand up to his neck, his ear, and there it is—a small stream of blood, dripping hot down the side of his neck, and he grimaces, wiping it away. “I don’t know, but I doubt it’s anything serious,” he says. “Perhaps it’s simply my body growing re-accustomed to power.”


“Do you feel dizzy?” Tony demands. “Sick, in any way?”


No. Now let me go, I—” The world spins out from beneath his feet, and he swears, toppling towards Tony, who steadies him easily, one hand pressed to the small of his back, the other to his shoulder.


No. No, no, no, no, no. Loki’s body jerks out of his control, his spine bowing forwards until it feels like he will fold half, then half again, until he disappears under the weight of this power, and it’s curling into the pit of his stomach like a black dragon, flames licking up the walls of his body, just on this side of painful, but he can’t cry out because his jaw is locked, and he keeps a death grip on his knees, trying to hold it in.


“Loki? Hey, hey, come on, look at me. Loki.” It’s Tony’s voice, he knows that, he recognizes it, but he can’t so much as look at him because his vision is exploding, bursting behind his eyes in blues and reds and yellows and whites, and everything looks like an explosion of sound and he thinks this is probably what dying feels like, and he’s too close to it, but he can’t pull away. He can feel the power slipping through him and away from him, feel it ebbing away, and insides his head he’s screaming. Inside his head, he’s begging for it to stay, begging for a minute, a moment, a heartbeat's reprieve.


“T-Tony,” he manages, jaw miraculously able. “You have to—” It’s gone again, but now his eyes are open and he can move, so he pushes Tony away and stumbles to his feet, the magic jerking through him, jolting his limbs like a Vitruvian man, shooting sparks out of his fingers and beacons out of his eyes.


“Loki…” Tony takes one step back, and then another, and it’s the first time Loki’s seen fear in his eyes, and it would make him laugh if he wasn’t in so much pain—it’s his heart. His heart is shattering apart and he can see the light it casts, shooting like fragments through his chest, drawing images across the roof. “I—what do I do? Loki?”


What does he do? He runs, that's what he should do. Loki can’t even say so, because his tongue is heavy with spells he never had a chance to utter and his eyes are leaking light down his face, and he’s sure he looks like a wonder, like a contained explosion, and it’s almost a relief when his head shoots back and his mouth flies open, wide, and something bold, bright, and powerful bursts out of it, bursts out of his mouth, eyes, nose and ears, shrill and razor-sharp, up towards the sky, and Loki is shaking beneath the expulsion, shaking while every once of power is stripped back to wherever it came from, and he can’t do this, not again. He can’t.


“No,” he croaks, but it doesn’t matter, because he’s in charge of his own body again, and its his words that make his mouth fall open, and the magic is gone, only after-effects left in his realm of sight, and he’s going to die. He wants to. He has to.


Loki falls to his knees, eyes wide and sightless. “No,” he repeats, and he doesn’t even realize that he’s falling forwards again until Tony’s caught him, his arms wrapping around his body, keeping him up, keeping him close.


“Jesus Christ, Loki. What was that?”


“The wrong decision,” Loki says hollowly. “Much like yours. You should have left.”


“Don’t be stupid,” Tony says, and Loki can hear anger in his voice. “I had no idea what the hell was happening.”


“So you should have run.”


“I thought you were—I thought whatever that was—I thought you were hurt—”


“So you should have…” Loki doesn’t even have the strength to finish his words. He lets Tony drag him up to his feet, lets him loop one of his arms around his waist and one of Loki’s arms around his neck, even does his best to assist, one foot in front of the other, basic mechanics.


Wrong decision. He should have burnt the city to the ground. He should have destroyed everything when he had the strength. He should have destroyed himself.


“It’ll be okay,” Tony’s saying, leading him out of the elevator. “You’ll be fine. You’re going to be fine.”


“I was going to be fine,” Loki parrots, because he was, he was so close, but still he let sentiment overshadow judgment, and for his sins he is broken again, and he can’t.


“No,” Tony says firmly. “You are going to be. We’ll make sure of that.


“Hey.” Tony has laid him on his bed—and when did that happen?—and is kneeling next to his head, his face close enough that Loki has an eyeful of wide, worried eyes, and he wants to kill something. “You’re going to be okay. I’ll go get you some—”


Loki cuts him off with a kiss that’s as close to violence as he can make it, and he overshoots it, hitting against Tony’s mouth too hard and cutting his own lip against his own teeth, and it stings, and that’s not quite enough. He wants pain, he wants war, and he tugs Tony towards him in demand, but Tony hesitates. He can feel it—Tony’s in battle in his head, because Loki is delicate, Loki is hurt, Loki is less—but he pushes against it, scraping his fingers over Tony’s shoulders, bruising through the thin fabric of his shirt until Tony’s groaning into his mouth, letting Loki in, and it’s good, just not good enough.


“I need,” Loki pulls away to gasp, “I need you to—”


“Anything,” Tony promises, nosing against his jaw with a shuddering sigh. “Well, almost anything. I mean, there’s only so much I can—”


“Fuck me,” Loki groans. Tony stills against him.


“I—you’re—you can’t—”



“Can’t?” Loki repeats, voice low and dangerous, and weak, because he’s weak right now, he’s just collapsed, this is not the way things are supposed to go.


But when Tony pulls back, his eyes are blown, and they’re fixed on Tony’s mouth. He licks across his lips and Tony groans, because, oh, god.


“Alright,” Tony says. “Let’s—are you sure? I don’t know if you can—”


Tony.” Loki says his name like a curse word, and Tony knows for a fact that he’s lost this fucking round, and he climbs up to the bed, lost a little in how self-satisfied Loki looks when Tony straddles his hips—careful not to put any weight on him, and Tony can tell he notices because his eyes go cool and he yanks him down roughly, taking back his mouth.


“Don’t,” he swears, dropping bites along Tony’s jaw, “you dare be delicate with me.”


“I don’t want to hurt you,” Tony says stubbornly and, as if to make a point, Loki bites harder.


“I do,” Loki says darkly. Tony is going to die.


“We don’t even have—”


Loki groans, arcing up into him, and Tony thinks he can probably understand his impatience, if what’s pressing against him is any sort of indication. “Then take me to your bed, I don’t care, just—”


It’s a stumbling trip to Tony’s room, and he’s supporting Loki half the way there and spends the whole minute talking himself down, telling himself how bad this is, how unhealthy this is, how hot Loki’s breath is, mouthing against the shell of his ear.


Loki lands across Tony’s bed with his lip between his teeth, touching his neck, his chest, his hips, and Tony—Tony is probably going to hell, but when Loki tugs his shirt off and glares defiantly up at him, he doesn’t think he cares all that much.


Tony kisses his way down Loki’s chest, and Loki vibrates like a livewire, twisting beneath him until he puts his hands on the crests of his hips, pressing him down.


Faster,” Loki commands, but Tony’s never been much for following orders, and Loki’s got a body that’s made to be observed, catalogued, absorbed. Tony wants to touch him, lick him, suck on his hip just like this until he’s bucking into the air, one of his hands creeping down below his waistband. Tony catches it before he can make any contact and moves up to straddle his waist again. He pins his hands over his head.


“Let me,” Tony says, and all he does is glare, but Tony’s not the one who looks away first.


“Your clothes,” Loki mutters, and Tony makes good on that as quickly as possible—Loki’s first, to negligible protest, and then his own, kicked into a corner, and he’s up again, one hand ghosting over Loki’s cock, just enough to hear him swear.


“Where did this come from?” Tony asks, holding himself up just enough to avoid distraction. “Why so… eager?” Not that he’s complaining. Definitely not complaining.


“You ask too many questions.”


“That you don’t answer,” Tony points out. It doesn’t matter; they’re here, now, naked, and Tony’s qualms about taking advantage are lost as soon as Loki grabs him by the thighs to pull him closer, pull their cocks against each other while they kiss, slow enough that Tony’s surprised that Loki’s letting him get away with it.


It doesn’t take long before Loki’s pulling away, turning his face into the pillow below him. “I need—I need you to—”


“Yeah,” Tony breathes, and he’s reaching into his bedside table, fishing out the lube and coating his fingers liberally. There’s enough pooling in his hand that he can slip it around Loki’s dick, curling his hand up and around in a slow, slick drag, and Loki keens into the pillow, thrusting his hips up.


God, Tony’s never been so hard as when Loki cants his hips up and lets his legs fall open— there’s something incredible in the way he throws his head back when Tony’s fingers seek out his heat, sliding in, and it’s making it hard for him to do anything more than watch the way he reacts, watch the way his chest expands on too-little air, breath coming fast. Watch the way, when Tony has three fingers in and twists to get the angle right, his mouth falls open and his eyes roll back, and Tony bites at his own tongue to keep his arousal in check.


“P-Please,” Loki chokes out, “You have to—”


Tony hardly needs to be told twice, and Loki gasps when he pushes into him, trembling below him. Is this okay? he wants to ask. Is this right? But he doesn’t think Loki would appreciate it, doesn’t think he’d respond, so he goes until he can crane forward to kiss him, and the lips that meet his are quivering. “How do you want me?” Tony asks, and Loki loops his arms around his neck—his legs fall open wider.


“Harder than this,” Loki says breathlessly, and Tony complies; he’s pulling back to lift Loki’s thighs up around him for easier access, and he thrusts into him with a sharp jerk of his hips, and Loki cries out, a short, strangled thing. He shuts his eyes tightly enough for tears to light on the edge of his lashes, face screwed tight. Tony stops moving to press a hand up against his cheek.


“Look at me.” When Loki does so, he can’t even seem to muster up the strength to glare at him, only stares, open and expressionless. Tony pistons in with one quick swivel of his hips and Loki shudders, but his eyes stay on him, pupils swallowing up the green, mouth open wide and soundless, and it’s almost too easy for Tony to find a rhythm, to drive him into the mattress until he’s holding himself up against the headboard, his legs slung around Tony’s waist and his head thrown back, a constant string of sound streaming out from between his lips. Tony’s close, so close, and he traces a hand against where Loki’s leaking out against his inner thigh and strokes him once, twice, before he’s coming with a wordless shout, leaning forward to bury the noise in Tony’s shoulder, and Tony comes with his arms around Loki, Loki’s teeth against his skin, Loki all around him.


They stay like that for a moment, both shaken boneless. Tony pulls away first when he feels Loki starting to shake, sweat cooling against his skin, and slides away from him, feels him shudder when he pulls out.


“You okay?” Tony asks, because if he doesn’t—he just has to.


Loki rolls his eyes. “Are you looking for a performance review?”


Tony leers back at him. “I’m thinking the noises made my performance pretty obvious.”


“You—” Loki bristles when he swoops in to press a kiss against his hairline, and Tony stifles a laugh.


“Come on.” Tony nudges Loki up until he can reach around him to pull the covers down. He reaches over to where a t-shirt lies, discarded, and wipes them both down. Loki stares up at him drowsily when he wipes the shirt across the come on his chest, and Tony smiles. “What?”


“You’re never what I expect,” Loki rasps, and it doesn’t sound like a compliment, but it’s not quite an insult; it sounds like the rehash of every conversation they’ve ever had, every conclusion he’s ever drawn, and all Tony does is push him over a little bit more, enough that he can slide in next to him, not touching unless Loki wants them to.


Tony doesn’t want to push, doesn’t want to bring back that rage he saw on the rooftop—he’d heard the way he screamed. He knows what lost feels like—so he doesn’t tell Loki that he’ll save him, that Loki will survive, that they’d figure something out. He leans over, his chest against the line of Loki’s back, to whisper, “That’s me—unpredictable,” because he can be that.


And if Loki, in the middle of the night, ends up plastered to his side, one arm slung across Tony’s waist with a hand cupped to the arc reactor, he won’t say anything; all he’ll do is pull the covers up and pull him a little bit closer. They’ve already come this far. 

Chapter Text

Loki only falls asleep with Tony draped around him because he’s too weak to leave. Physically.


He’s tense when he wakes up, if only because he can’t recall the last time he was this close to somebody. The last time he was willfully… intimate. And now he wakes up seeing nothing but a great big swash of blue.


And then he pulls back, because the arc reactor makes his head ache, and if it’s at eye-level— Loki grimaces and tries to roll away, but Tony’s arm carries the weight of a log, and he can’t move.




Loki jabs him in the ribs with a well-timed poke and Tony jolts awake, spluttering into consciousness. “What— I… Loki?”


There’s enough room for Loki to worm his way out from Tony’s arm and sits up, the sheet falling from his shoulders where he sits up near the headboard.


Tony looks up at him in sleepy, possibly happy surprise, and Loki frowns down at him. He doesn’t like this, not being in his own bed. He feels gritty and dirty and disheveled and why is Tony smiling like that. “What?” he demands. Tony grins and tucks his hands behind his head, staring up at the ceiling.


“I just think it’s interesting. That you’re here. And… feeling better?”


Loki snorts. “If by ‘feeling better’ you mean ‘no longer giving a damn,’ then yes.”


Tony frowns. “But you—can’t you get more?”


“I suppose I could try. But it wasn’t…” Loki can’t put into words how strange it felt, holding that magic again—and how much sharper it was, losing it a second time. “I don’t know if I could… I’ve lost enough, Tony.”


“Where did you get it?” Tony asks quietly. “You said a friend.”


“More of… an acquaintance.” Loki does his best to smile reassuringly down at Tony, but if the suspicion in his eyes is anything to go by, he doesn’t quiet believe it. “It’s no one you have to be wary of, I assure you. Now if you’ll excuse me.” Loki climbs off the bed and heads for his clothes. His muscles are stiff, but that’s no more than he would expect. Even so, he doesn’t trust his body anymore, especially not right now, and he’d rather have the luxury of privacy if another fit will hit, because he doesn’t need Tony’s concern right now.


“Loki,” Tony calls from the bed, as soon as Loki’s dressed. He turns around.


Tony’s sitting up, and it’s not, thankfully, concern there, but thought. “You said… you said that it would take your own magic back, to fix you,” he says slowly, and Loki stills. “Could that have something to do with it?”


“I doubt it,” Loki lies, straight through his teeth, because, of course. He’d forgotten. Tony was the clever one. “I’d know, if…” Loki doesn’t finish his statement. He doesn’t have to. It doesn’t matter how clever he is. Tony wants to believe him; it’s obvious in how quickly relief takes hold of his expression, how easy he finds it to smile, how soft he’s gone around his eyes. A part of Loki, a part that is considerably less than dormant, wants nothing more than to beat him around until he opens his eyes, until he sees that Loki’s done everything, until he realizes that Loki is a dead man walking. Until he realizes how close Loki was to—


To annihilation. To destruction. How badly he’d wanted the world to burn.


Tony doesn’t see it, not now, at least, so Loki walks over to him and presses a slow, cool kiss to his lips. He receives, too slow to return, but Loki still ends up with Tony’s hands in his hair, running through and straightening the mess, settling the strands to either side of his face.


Loki doesn’t pull away until he’s done. Tony’s looking at him oddly, nose wrinkled, and Loki paws at his hair, scowling back at him. “If you’ve done something strange—”


“No, no. I’m just…” Tony shakes his head. “What are you doing today?”


“Hunting down answers,” Loki says. It’s not a hard decision to make; even if the magic won’t stick, he won’t sleep easy until he knows why; he might as well get his resolution.



Tony looks almost disappointed to see him go.




When Tony finally makes his way downstairs, the appliances are flipping their shit.


“Uh,” Tony starts. “Steve, why are you wrestling the coffeemaker. All you have to do is press a button.”


Steve glares back at him from where his arms are wrapped around a machine that shouldn’t be jumping the way that it is. “Thank you, Tony,” he says tightly. “Your observations are appreciated. How do I turn this off?”


Tony squints back at him. “I could’ve sworn we went over how plugs work.”




“You are hapless, super-soldier.” Tony walks up to the counter and yanks the plug out of the wall. “See, that’s all you have to—the fuck?” The machine continues to jump. The lid even flips up, whacking a disgruntled Steve in the chin. “What the hell did you do to Beatrice? I’m sorry, baby,” Tony coos to the machine. “I promise I’ll keep the bad blond man away from you from now o—” Tony’s words are lost to spluttering when a jet of tepid coffee is sprayed directly into his face. So that’s how it’s going to be.


“No Peruvian blend for you.”


“Tony! Stop messing around! I don’t understand what’s happening here!” Steve yelps when it jerks in his arms, tugging him full-circle.


Thing is, Tony doesn’t either, but he kind of wants to see where this is going. “Let it go,” he says. “Put it down and step away.”


With one dubious glance in his direction, Steve does so, and takes several quick steps back. Before Tony can comment on his prancing, though, the machine stops moving.


“Okay. See? It was just you she didn’t like. She’s fine n—” Tony cuts himself off and ducks.


“Tony, what—”


The coffeemaker explodes.




There’s a draft in the air, but Loki doesn’t care. He’s been standing outside of the crafts store for the better part of an hour, arms crossed tightly over his chest. He’s gotten a considerable number of concerned looks—still doesn’t care. He has to find her. He has to speak to Ella.


How often would she come here, anyways? He doesn’t much fancy the idea of waiting for long, but the idea that he could miss her…


A ringing makes him jump.


There’s a small, silver stand at the corner, and Loki walks towards it. When he gets close enough, he can see a telephone, dingy and oily, half off of its frame but ringing all the same. Loki picks up.



“Yes?” Loki answers slowly, holding the instrument gingerly between two fingers.

Loki. I’ve been informed that you might be looking for me?” He can hear the smile in Ella’s voice; he’d like nothing more than to knock it out tooth by tooth, but he takes a deep breath. Diplomacy would suit the situation better.

“You’ve been… informed accurately. I have been, yes.”

“Really?” she purrs. “And how are you enjoying our gift?”

“Enjoying—” Oh. The realization hits Loki like a blast to the face, and he has to rest the phone against the side of its box for a moment. His hands shake. His eyes close. He sags against the phone stand.


It wasn’t her. She didn’t pull her ‘gift’ right back. It wasn’t anybody else. It was himself. He was—Tony was—Loki chokes back a derisive laugh. He should really learn to trust his instinct again.


“No,” he says shortly, putting the phone back to his ear. “No, I’m not. I… It didn’t… didn’t stick.”

His body rejected it. It didn’t recognize the magic as his—it was a foreign entity taking over. He’d felt as much, he’d just dismissed it, assumed it as regular. Stupid. Stupid. Loki is many things, but he’s never been so stupid.


“It didn’t…” Her voice trails off, and, for a moment, she sounds like the girl that Loki had thought she was, naïve and gentle. “Perhaps a stronger dose,” she muses, and that flicker of recognition is gone. “There’s a possibility that it would overload your system, of course, but—”


“Yes,” Loki says quickly. “I just—I need… I need to see you,” he says from between his teeth. He’s never begged either, but here he is, begging over his stupidity—begging within his stupidity, because it still won’t be his magic, it will still be toxic, it will still feel foreign, but he doesn’t care, he can’t, because, for a moment, he was a god again.


“No can do, sweetheart.” She sounds amused. “Ella here? Doesn’t get out much. Her only extracurricular, as it were, is weaving.” It’s there again, for a moment. Her voice goes high and breathy and childlike, and Loki could swear, for a moment, that he’s talking with two different people. And then she’s back— “You’re gonna have to wait—”


“When can we have another meeting?” he asks brusquely.


“It’s not for another—”


“It can be sooner,” he says quickly. “I’ll host it. Tomorrow, maybe. Stark Tower. That’s public enough.”


“I love it when you talk clever to me.”


Loki breathes out a slow, measured sigh of relief. “Great. I’ll be in touch. I can send out the information, through Lydia.”



The only response is a gentle click from the other end; she’s hung up on him. He does the same.









The kitchen is a warzone. The den is  a warzone. Every available living quarter in the mansion is a warzone, because Tony’s tech has turned on him. It’s like a nightmare and a horror movie got together over a long night with too much booze and produced the antichrist. And then like the antichrist threw a tantrum.


Tony’s head hurts.


“EVERYBODY, STOP YELLING,” he bellows, over the sound of his world crumbling to pieces. The oven door slams open and closed right next to where his head rests against the wall, joining in with the bursts of sound from the automated draws sending out sprays of cutlery. He slides lower. “I THINK EVACUATION IS THE BEST COURSE OF ACTION.”


“Correct.” Tony is nearly brained by the oven handle when he jumps; Natasha’s sliding up out of the crouch she rolled over to him in, perfectly sinuous, and he has never been more terrified in his life.


“I only have one heart,” he wheezes, clutching at the arc-reactor for maximum effect.


“We should leave,” she says curtly, ignoring him completely. “I say the four of us make a break for the door pronto. We’re just lucky Bruce isn’t here.”


“Oh, yeah,” Tony snorts. “Real lucky Mean Green over there decided that yoga was a better idea than helping me fix the coffee machine.”


Natasha’s eyes narrow. “This all started with the coffee maker?”


“Yes,” Tony says petulantly. “And he wouldn’t help me fix it, so I tried to fix it, and it was totally fine until it started this whole uprising. And now even Jarvis isn’t talking to me. See?” Tony tips his head towards the ceiling. “JARVIS. YOU THERE? ASSISTANCE REQUIRED.” There is no answer because there is no god, and Jarvis probably took off at the first sign of high-stress because he’s too much like his father. Tony really should double check that personality profile.


“Five minutes for everyone to grab what they can,” Natasha says quickly, and now she has a gun out, for all the good that will do. Tony’s tempted to ask her not to permanently damage any of the important appliances, but when one of the automated kitchen drawers slides out and whacks him in the back of the neck, he decides that, actually, technology is evil and all of them would deserve it.


“FIVE MINUTES, CADETS,” Tony yells, leaning forwards into a sprinting-crouch. “READY. SET. RUN FOR YOUR MISERABLE LIVES.” And he takes off, straight for the stairs, the rest of the live-in Avengers hot on his heels.



Tony takes five extra minutes to gather a small bag for Loki; he’s not sure where he’s gone, knows he’s not in the house, but he’ll find him. Eventually.



Loki debates the wisdom in walking the whole way back to Tony’s place, versus sitting by the side of the road until the crows carried him away.

He’s exhausted. Every step he takes feels like he’s dragging cement blocks with his feet, digging them into the sidewalk, digging furrows deep enough to swallow his corpse. All the same, he keeps on, if only because of how filthy the gutter looks. Regardless of how beaten he feels, he’s far from fond of the idea of lying in sticky leaves and unidentifiable bundles of something that was probably once alive. 

He’s walked four blocks away from the warehouse when a car slows down next to him, and he sighs and turns towards the noise of a window sliding open, and then, less expectedly, the back door opening and someone stepping out to join him. 

Chapter Text

“Thor,” Loki says, as slow and as bored as he can manage. It doesn’t really matter, though, when he flinches when Thor steps closer. He can’t help it; it’s a defensive reflex, and he curses himself for it as soon as his shoulders straighten.


Thor freezes, startled and hurt; his hand, half-raised and going for Loki’s shoulder, falls before it can reach it’s intended target.


“Loki,” Thor says softly. Loki nods back at him. “How are you?”


“Managing,” Loki sniffs.


The two of them are silent until the car’s horn sounds. Loki glances over. The girl—Darcy—is behind the wheel; she turns the window down to poke her head out.


“You want a ride, dude?” she asks. “You look kind of beat.” And she looks so cheerful about it that he can’t quite muster up the effort to give her a proper scowl.


“I’ll manage,” he sneers, mostly to Thor, and turns on his heels.


Darcy honks again. “You do know that the mansion’s been evac’d, right? So if you’re headed that way, you’re kind of out of luck.”


Loki stops and turns back to her. “What,” he says slowly, “do you mean by that?”


Darcy has the gall to roll her eyes. “They evacuated. Everyone’s out. Something happened with Tony’s super-house. His tech malfunctioned.”


“His tech doesn’t malfunction,” Loki says automatically, because first rule of Casa Stark (in Tony’s own words) is that Tony’s tech is perfect.


Darcy grins. “So you understand why he’s shitting bricks right now.”


“I…” Loki frowns. “No. That sounds… uncomfortable.”


Darcy’s face goes blank. “Oh, god.”


“Loki,” Thor tries, but Loki is far too busy watching Darcy’s face flip through several different colors.


“I think,” Loki says delicately, “that there’s something wrong with your friend.”


With that, the dam breaks. Darcy howls with laughter, her forehead landing against the steering wheel. “Not literally. How would—why would—you—Jesus.”


“Something. Wrong,” Loki repeats icily, because now it’s confirmed, especially with the way her laugh rises out to meet them, a bubble of exaggerated air.


“Don’t be—upset—” she gasps, dabbing at her eyes with her fingertips. “It’s adorable—I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she amends quickly, and Loki can still hear her giggles around his glare, the way they start in her chest. “Just get in the car, okay? I’m sorry.”


“Infuriating,” he mutters, but he does get in; there’s a wind picking up, and the clothing he’s in doesn’t do much against it.


As soon as he slides into the back seat, Darcy’s twisting around in her seat to stick out her hand to him, smiling widely. “Hello, Loki. It’s nice to formally meet you.”


“Likewise,” he deadpans, staring down at the hand offered to him. She pulls it back with a pout, twisting still more completely so that she’s kneeling on her seat to lean over the back of it.


“Is it the bricks? Are you angry about the bricks?” She still stumbles over the last ‘bricks,’ and Loki thinks that her grin, among mortals, must be contagious. He realizes who she reminds him of as soon as Thor lumbers into the passenger seat. She reminds him of Thor; both of them are too wide, too open, and it gives Loki a headache being too near either of them.


“I’m not angry,” Loki says. “I’m—”


“Grumpy?” she offers, and he’s convinced that she’s only doing it to see the glare she gets out of him. “Aw. You’re adorable when you’re grumpy.”


Loki sits up straighter, indignant. “I—”


Darcy hushes him. “Wait.” She twists back around and into her seat. “Seatbelts on, all of you.”


Loki sinks into his seat incredulously. The foolishness of the girl is—it’s—he doesn’t know what it is. It’s a novelty, maybe; contrary to her belief, he’s not angry (nor grumpy). She’s different.


While Darcy drives, she keeps up a conversation that Loki finds himself joining into accidentally, much to Thor’s evident delight and Darcy’s entertainment. And, he supposes, his own; she’s quick, if ridiculous, and it’s enough to relax into.


They make it eight blocks before the silence strikes. It’s Darcy who, inadvertently starts it.


“The Statue of Liberty,” she says. “You should see it. It’s great for, you know, family vacation photos. And since you two are the only family you’ve got here, it’d make marvelous holiday cards, right?”


Loki snorts; Thor goes quiet. Darcy reads the mood quickly. She glances over to Thor first, and then to Loki. “Did I… say something I shouldn’t have?”


“We’re not related,” Loki says smoothly, leaning away from the conversation and turning to the window. Suddenly, the crawl of the cars gliding past is far more fascinating than whatever wreck of a conversation is left in front of him.


“But…” He can hear her frown in her voice. “Thor, I thought you said that—”


“Did he call me his brother?” Loki asks lightly. He can see, out of the corner of his eye, the way Thor stiffens, and yes. That’s it. “Oh, my. I hope he didn’t talk about getting the family back together. You see, Darcy, we’re quite a bit less than all that.”


Darcy glances at him with her mirror, and then to Thor. “Oh,” is all she says to that, and then turns down a side-street.


“Darcy?” Thor asks.


“Shortcut,” she says. Loki’s paying less attention to what she’s doing than to what Thor’s doing. The god of thunder has a deep V between his eyebrows, and Loki watches his mouth twist. He knows that look; he’s searching for the words to say, to convince Loki of a farce that will never be true, and Loki would laugh at the poetry of it if it weren’t so sad. If he weren’t so bitter.


“Oh, shit,” Darcy says, and the car shudders to a stop at the side of the road. It’s jarring; Loki glares at her. She grimaces back, motioning to the wheel. “You guys might want to step out.”


Brilliant. The cars around them blare their horns and swerve around the little car. Loki slides over to Thor’s side to get out, and they climb out together.


They’re standing on the sidewalk, and it’s a repeat of the same scene and Loki glares back at him, because he’s tired and he doesn’t want any of this. He walks over to a flat brick wall to lean up against it, letting his eyes drift closed. Ridiculous doesn’t begin to cover this.


“Is the problem serious, Darcy?” Thor asks. Loki doesn’t think that Darcy’s even gotten out of the car. It can’t be that serious.


“Well. Yes,” Darcy says slowly. “There is, you know. A serious problem. Very serious.” She nods solemnly.


“What can I do to help?”


“Well, for startskies, you can take a step back, buddy. Or, like. Five.”



Loki opens his eyes, sitting up from the wall.


She wouldn’t.


“Now,” Darcy says, leaning forwards so that they can hear her through the passenger side window. “If you walk two blocks this way—” She points straight in front of her, and then jabs to the left. “You’ll only need one block that way, and then the tower’ll be right in front of you. Don’t get lost.”


The car starts like an angel. Loki closes his eyes again. Of course it does.


Darcy peels into traffic, and she’s not moving very fast, but neither of them make a move to catch up to her. Thor, because he’s still, Loki thinks, absolutely boggled by this spontaneous turn of events. Loki no longer cares.




“Oh, would you stop it,” Loki snaps. “You know how. And why. And now, we’re stranded.”


“Let’s walk, then,” Thor says, mouth set and jaw stubborn. He doesn’t touch Loki, doesn’t pull him after him, but he looks at him, the two steps he takes slow until Loki joins in besides him.


It was cool, and it’s getting colder, and Loki is sufficiently lacking in better recourses than to walk with Thor, because, at the very least, Stark Tower will provide shelter. Still, he has nothing to say to the great blond fool. He should have guessed, really; the ride was far too enjoyable for being stuck in such close quarters. He has to hand it to Darcy—the girl’s clever. quick. He may, he thinks, like to see her again, on terms more… to his own liking.


They walk in silence, and Loki can’t really remember how it felt, the last time they walked together freely, no war or strife or mayhem tight around their throats and holding down their ankles. But here is Loki, unbound, beside the Odinsson. Walking like equals. Like siblings.


Of course, it’s Thor who breaks the peace. “I’m glad that you are… comfortable, amongst the Avengers.” Thor pauses, as if waiting for Loki to fill in the silence. Loki has nothing to say. “Would you… would you like to tell me? Of your experiences thus far.”


It’s the cold. The wind, especially feeling it in his current state. It makes him feel vulnerable, open. He can’t outstrip Thor, not now, but he doesn’t think he could force the words out of him. Loki doesn’t owe him anything.


Which may be why he speaks, his voice low enough that, if Thor would listen, there would be effort involved. “It’s different here. Much more so than I expected.”


“Yes! I—” Thor blushes, falling silently as quickly as he had spoken, shamefaced at his own brashness. It’s a good look on him. “I mean,” he amends, quieter now, “tell me more? I would like for us to compare experiences.”




Those words were carefully chosen. There are other words unspoken, there, in the way they overlap, that’s telling. It’s what Thor wishes for, even now—something to share, something in common—and it’s deep-rooted enough into what makes Thor Thor that it makes Loki uncomfortable and he falls back a little, one step behind Thor.


“Loki? Are you—”


“I’m fine,” Loki snaps, and then sighs. Thor has stopped walking, and as soon as he turns around, the possibility of an apology at the back of his throat, Thor walks up to him. He’s a little too close, and the hands that he places on Loki’s shoulders are heavier than Loki remembers them being. Loki would stumble under them if they weren’t holding him upright.


“I never meant this,” Thor says, quietly and urgently. Loki won’t meet his eyes, he won’t fall into that. He won’t be able to look away from the idiot. “Never. I would never hurt you like this if I didn’t think—”


Oh. There. Loki’s found it. His anger. It rises up around him, coats his insides with anarchy in a flash, and he can stare Thor in the eye because it’s not his own eyes its using. They’re coated in steel and vinegar, what’s left of his heart. “Of course. You’d never do this if you didn’t think I deserved it, if you didn’t think it was good for me. Is that it? Always so protective.”


“If I didn’t think you could beat it,” Thor says quietly, and that’s it. Loki… Loki is speechless. Thor takes advantage; Loki sees the embrace coming, but he can’t quite get himself together quickly enough to avoid it.


Thor pulls him tight and Loki presses his palms against his chest to keep himself from suffocating against the red fabric of his shirt.


Thor. What are you—”


“It’s been too long,” Thor says, and his voice is thick with something that is making Loki itch. “Since you’ve let me do this.”


“A hug,” Loki sneers (or tries to). “We’re not children, Thor, I don’t—”


“I’m sorry,” Thor says quickly, before Loki can finish, loudly enough that it hurts Loki’s ear, like Thor is trying to speak quickly and loudly enough that Loki can’t miss it. “I’m sorry. You don’t believe me, I know that you don’t, but I am, Loki, I—”


“I know,” Loki says blankly, because. Because he does. It’d be a hard thing to miss. But… “That doesn’t mean everything you want it to,” Loki says slowly, and it’s amazing how much sense is cast with those words, and it’s amazing how little the apology actually means. It doesn’t mean that Loki will relax into his embrace, return it, let their bodies melt together as if they were brothers again, one and the same, smile, dismiss past and take the future open-eyed and clear-hearted. There may be magic in words, but Thor’s words aren’t magic, and Loki thinks that the kind of magic that could do what Thor longs for would hurt more than the re-weaving of broken bones. It would hurt enough to break open the world, tear open everyone and everything else. It would hurt.


When Loki pushes against him, Thor lets go; he knows it’s enough that it’s too much. They stand, for a moment, in silence.


There is no anger to shield him, when Loki looks into his eyes this time. “How far is it?” he asks carefully, pushing words around the steel heart that’s twisted its way into his vocal chords. A heart of any form is weakness; he knows this. But Thor smiles at him, carelessly, thoughtlessly, and he wonders if weakness counts, here.


“Not far,” Thor says. “Just around the next corner.”


“Good?” It sounds more like a question than Loki intends for it, but he doesn’t think on it. He thinks, really, that this is some sort of start. Thor takes his arm for the last stretch, and he allows him to offer his assistance, lets Thor talk, and perhaps he doesn’t listen so much as let the sound wash over him, but it’s something.


Maybe he got lost. Or kidnapped. Oh, man. That happens, doesn’t it. Thor is going to kill him. Tony isn’t going to do a damn thing to stop that. He’s lost him. He’s lost Loki. Oh, hell.


“Tony,” Steve snaps. “Can you please stop pacing?”


“Oh, I’m so sorry, Captain,” Tony drawls, glaring over at where Steve is sitting at his bar, not drinking, just sitting and watching and judging.


It’s not Tony’s fault. It’s not. Nobody warned him this would happen. Not really.


Not recently.




“Oh, god, I’m a terrible person,” Tony groans, and tosses himself onto the couch, flinging an arm across his face. “I am. Awful. Terrible. I should be hung and quartered.”


“Drawn and quartered,” Steve corrects.


“You would know; that is your time zone.” Tony doesn’t have to look up to know that Steve is frowning at him, and he grins into his arm. Sometimes he makes it too easy.

“I am not that old,” Steve mutters.

“Did you have internet?”

“Of course we didn’t, it was—”

“Hush. You’re ancient. I can put you anywhere, chronologically, and it would still be sad. Actually…” Tony sits up, squints at Steve, and watches the way he fidgets when Tony’s smile widens. “You would look great in a toga.”




“Or, like, the little Roman gladiator outfits. You’d still get your red, show a little leg.”




“Sir,” Jarvis says dryly, and Tony looks away, reluctantly, from a flustered Steve. “It seems that Mr. Laufeyson and Mr. Odinson are approaching.”


“Wait, Loki?” Tony does not perk up. He doesn’t, regardless of how quickly Steve goes from poop-faced to smirking. “Is he—he’s coming this way? Are they—”


“Entering the lobby as I speak.”


Tony’s in the elevator in a second, and it’s great how little regulations he had to stick with for his own private elevator because he’s doing twenty floors per heartbeat and he hits the lobby at the same time as Thor and Loki walk through the doors, Thor’s hand protectively clasped around a discomfited-looking Loki’s arm.


“You’re alive,” Tony wails, overdoing it enough that Loki rolls his eyes, and there is nothing dubious to be found in an overzealous Tony Stark. “I thought you’d been kidnapped.”


“I’m not a child, Tony,” Loki says, and Tony smiles.


“No, but you’re pretty enough that it’s plausible. Thor!” He turns to the other brother before he can ask anything about the aside and claps him on the shoulder, herding him toward the elevator. “Nice to see you, buddy. Go on up. Steve’s on the ninety-third, everyone else is moving in. Loki, mind staying with me for a moment?”


He waits until Thor’s securely sealed in the elevator and it starts its trip up before he relaxes, crossing his arms in front of him. “So where’d you go?”


Loki raises an eyebrow. “Out.”


Tony opens his mouth to ask another question, but he’s too slow—Loki’s knees buckle, and Tony crouches to catch him, sliding his arms around his waist. “Out, huh? Good day?”


“Not awful,” Loki says, with a grimace. Tony can see it, now; he’s been holding off the pain for a while, he must’ve been, because now there are lines around his mouth from where he has held his expression in check, and around his eyes where he has forced them to stay open.


“Let’s get you upstairs,” Tony suggests. “You can settle your room. Where do you want? Everybody’s got a neighbor.”


“Have you?”


Tony pauses, his hand hovering above the elevator call button. “I guess I do now?” It’s more of a question than Tony means it to be, but he thinks that he can see a sliver of a smile on Loki’s face. Loki, who is growing paler by the second.


“I think house arrest might be a good idea for you,” Tony says tentatively, as soon as he’s brought the both of them into the elevator. “You’re body’s been through a shock. You need to chill it out for a little bit.”


“Can’t,” Loki murmurs. “There’s… a weaving meeting. House arrest would mean I couldn’t attend, would it not?”


“What?” Tony frowns. “You just had one the other day. They’re not—”


Loki stops him with a hand against his cheek, and it surprises Tony enough that he looks towards him, his arm around Loki tightening slightly. “Please,” Loki whispers. “It’s important.”


Oh, hell. How exactly is he supposed to say no to a face like that? Whoever’s been teaching Loki his puppy-dog eyes should be shot.


“I’ll make you a deal. It can be here. Well, the North tower. I’m sure there’s room.”


“You’ll be able to keep an eye on me,” Loki says with a smirk. “Worried?”


“Yes,” Tony says, because it would be stupid to deny it. And, maybe, for the added benefit of having Loki look at him like that, his brow slightly furrowed and his smirk giving way to a slightly-surprised smile.


Tony leans forward and presses a kiss against that smile. Loki still kisses him back like he’s surprised that Tony’s doing it, and it makes Tony smile, and, now, stop it mouth muscles, better things to be doing. Much better. Like pressing his tongue against Loki’s lower lip until he lets him into his mouth, that little gasp as soon as their tongues touch, the convenience of already having one arm around Loki and twisting him around into a full body lean just so Tony can tug him that much closer—


The elevator doors open. Tony doesn’t exactly react the way he should, because Loki’s found that spot, right at the sides of his scalp, and his fingers are little bits of  heaven and—


“Oh. Um. Sorry,” someone squeaks, and when Loki pulls away it almost sounds like he’s choking.




Darcy waves. They’re still on the first floor—Tony’s fault—and she’s looking at them with a ridiculously smug expression and Tony frowns.


“You left us on the side of the road!” Loki growls, and wow. His mouth is really very distracting. Tony almost missed the actual words that came out. Almost.


“You did what?”


Darcy rolls her eyes. “Are you trying to tell me it didn’t help?”


“I—” Loki’s mouth is open, and his cheeks are a little red, though Tony would like to think of that as at least 98% his doing. “It was windy!”


“You’ll recover,” Darcy says, waving his words away and stepping into the elevator. “You two needed to talk. I was in the way.”


Oh. “So you’re the reason they came in together.”


“Yes,” she says serenely, pressing a button. It only takes a few moments for them to reach the floor they need. Darcy steps out first and turns back to face them as soon as they exit. “Just checking. Is this a thing I should not know, or…?”


“Um. Ah.” Tony looks at Loki. Loki looks back, one eyebrow raised. “Well, I mean. You know. It’s. We—ah.”


“Right, okay. It’s a thing that isn’t even kind of coherent. Forget I asked.” Darcy salutes Tony and inclines her head towards Loki, and then she walks into the penthouse, leaving the two of them, quiet, behind her.


“Should I have said something else?” Tony asks after a long moment. Loki’s leaning against him contentedly, and it makes him a little nervous how light he is; he needs to get him to bed. To sleep.


“I don’t think it really matters,” Loki hums against his neck. Tony glances towards him. His eyes are half-closed; Tony has no doubt that, if they stay here, he’ll fall asleep against him.


“Come on,” he sighs. “Let’s get you to bed. I’ll call—Lydia, right? I’ll offer up a room in the tower. You can have your meeting there.”


“Thank you,” Loki slurs. “That’s very kind.”


Tony smiles. “My god, you must be exhausted. Listen to you. So sappy.”


“I could stab you, if you’d prefer it.” Loki yawns as Tony leads the way towards his room.


Tony’s grinning by the time he finally gets Loki to a bed, settling him down and wrapping a blanket over him. “Such a romantic,” he jabs, but Loki’s too far gone to hear him, so he takes the opportunity while he has it and presses a kiss to his cheek. “So sappy,” he repeats—this time, entirely to himself.

Chapter Text

Loki wakes up slowly. The sun is cutting through unfamiliar blinds at just the wrong angle, and it’s making his eyes throb, the light too much of a glare. It must be evening; he sits up and straightens the bedclothes around his legs, frowning down at the garish pattern.


It’s a paisley—no, those are frogs—although, not quite, not with those jagged… Loki frowns. He can’t quite pin down what he’s looking at; every time he thinks he has it in focus, it swims right out, too quick for him to grasp.


“Don’t kill yourself there, cowboy.” Loki darts his head up—tries to. Everything is too slow, too sluggish, too—


“You’re inside my head,” he says to Ella, but it doesn’t feel quite right because his tongue is full of lead and his mouth is full of wool.


He can see Ella; she’s where the door would be if that smudge of white against the gray of the wall had any discernible edges. She’s grinning, wide and terrifying, but he can’t even work up to being scared; at least, not yet.


“Hello, Loki,” she drawls, perching on the side of the bed and nudging his feet over. “I wanted to see how you were doing.” She pouts. “I was so worried.”


“Liar.” He’s not sure if the word gets out; everything is just a little too crooked for his taste. He feels sick.


“I am not,” she crows, laughing lightly. “But don’t worry, I won’t keep you long. I’m sure you’re uncomfortable. I just… had to ask…” She slides closer to him; all Loki can do is glare when her hand brushes across his cheek. He can’t move. “What would you do with it? With the power that I would give you?” She puts her lips against his ear and Loki shudders. “How far would you go?”


Ah. Loki had wondered what he would owe. “What would be asked of me?”

There is no emotion behind the words; this sounds like a rehash of an old conversation. He’s right back where he started, and he refuses to feel anything for it.


There’s a wicked glint to Ella’s eye when she pulls back, like she’s seeing something he’s not, and it grates him to no end. “Nothing horrible. Nothing you wouldn’t be able to manage. And easily, I’d wager.”


“What,” he bites out, “is it?”


“You’d need to take our side in battle,” she says, quickly, with a gentle smile to accompany it as if that will hold sway over his decision. “Powerful allies are hard to come by.”


“And should I refuse,” Loki hazards, “the power would be taken from me.”


“Oh, nothing so simple as that,” she simpers. “You, my dear, would die. Look at the way you are now, Loki. At least those seizures you were having? Your body was fighting it. You were trying. Now? You’re nothing more than a tired wreck. One more shock, having all that power stripped away from you… well.” She smiles, long, slow and sharp.


It takes Loki too long to answer. He has to think about it—and that’s never happened before, not for him. As far as his own well-being is concerned, he’s quick. He processes benefits, weighs doubts, and he picks the best answer for his own purposes. This is the best answer, there is no doubt there. But battle… There is allure in peace, in little mischief and concentrated chaos. In battle, there are no assurances. There are casualties.


“Save your life,” Ella whispers, almost as if she cares.


Trust me, Loki hears, in a different voice.


“Yes,” Loki says, and he’s not sure who he’s answering, but the world swims back into focus in a violent rush, and when he blinks, it’s real light, and he can see the silver brush of the doorknob, where it’s supposed to be, everything clear and distinct; it feels like coming home.


Loki half expects Tony to be waiting outside the door when he walks out; he’s not, so he settles for padding into the hallway, towards the living quarters in the middle of the floor plan. He turns the last corner into an open-air kitchen. Steve stands at the stove, something sizzling in a cast-iron pan. He catches sight of Loki when he starts to flip one of the eggs; he catches it in the pan without looking back at it, smiling towards Loki instead.


“Hey, Loki,” he says softly. “How’re you feeling?”


Loki hums in response. His head is still fogged with a  low, angry buzzing in the background; adding the good Captain’s gentle commentary on top of that is making him feel nauseous.


“Want some food?” Steve asks. Loki hears it like they aren’t in the same room. The noise bounces around like there’s a block of foam between them, and Loki grimaces. That girl was in his head. What else has she done to him?




Loki opens his mouth to answer, but his tongue has turned to wool, and he tries to raise his hands to his mouth, to pry it open manually if he has to, but his hands are already clamped over his ears, and it’s not doing a damn thing to stop that buzzing, because the whole world is ringing, and he can’t walk, can’t move. If he does, the tower will fall, Jotunheim will fall, Loki will fall, fall, fall, fall…


Loki.” His name is accompanied by something sharp. Loki gasps.


Captain (enemy—not enemy—) America—Steve, Steve has his hands over Loki’s shoulders. It’s a slap that has Loki’s cheek stinging, but thank the gods that he can feel it. It’s a grounding point, something pure to focus on. Something he can tell is real. His teeth ground together. He’s breathing too fast, but at least the world around him settling, shapes solid, and he doesn’t feel that buzzing throb in his head anymore.


“You were hyperventilating,” Steve explains, worry lines fracturing the bridge of his nose. “I think you might’ve been having a panic attack.”


“I’m not panicked,” Loki says sharply. To prove the point, he steps away from Steve, brushing the large hands off of his shoulders. He makes it two steps before he stops, for fear of teetering. There’s more dignity to be had in standing up straight than there is to have in falling to his knees.


“At least sit down,” Steve says reasonably. “Food and water. It’ll help. Loki, please.”


“Fine,” Loki says tightly. He sighs when Steve pulls out a stool for him, so intent on Loki seeing it through.



As soon as Loki sits down, Steve slides over an orange plate of, admittedly, blinding disposition, and Loki stares down at it, his eyebrows drawing together in consternation. Steve smiles. Smiles and doesn’t even think about how comfortable this is, how well Loki fits into his own part of their lives. It’s become too natural, but he’s not programmed for hate, not suited for perpetual distrust. There’s something relaxing about acceptance, so that’s what Steve goes with.


“Tony,” Steve says in explanation, pulling over his own shockingly green monstrosity. “I’ve been told that Pepper did her best to dissuade him, but he… likes bright colors.”


Loki’s mouth opens, and then closes into a rueful grimace. He shakes his head “I can believe that,” Loki says, and Steve grins over at him.


“Come on,” he says, grabbing up both of their plates and turning towards the entertainment area. “Let’s eat on the couch. There’s a movie on.”


“Isn’t there always,” Loki drawls, but if Steve isn’t mistaken, that’s almost affectionate, and it makes him look back at him. Loki dodges the look, his eyes running down the unit, taking in the DVD shelves, the speakers, the screen set into the wall.


It’s something loud, explosive, and science fiction, and Loki chokes on a mouthful of egg when a biologically enhanced shark bursts out of the water, and Steve has to try and hide his laugh in a barely-believable cough.


When Tony comes in, hours later, they’re both still on the couch. Loki’s fallen asleep halfway through the second movie—evil octopus, this time; he pulled a face at the tentacles— and he’s slumped against Steve’s side, breathing slowly. Steve’s seen no reason to move him; he looked exhausted. Now he looks peaceful.


Steve doesn’t miss the look that Tony shoots Loki when he sees them on the couch, concern so blatant it looks painful, and a dash of something else. Something a little bit more than affection. Something that’s been growing there, obviously, even if Steve hasn’t been paying attention, and it makes the smile fall right off his face.


"Good day?” Tony asks, taking a step closer to the couch and stopping, his hands in his pockets. Steve pulls his hand out of where he might havebeen stroking Loki’s hair, more instinctual than predetermined, but Tony’s eyes lock in on the motion and it makes Steve about ten different kinds of uncomfortable.


“Yeah,” Steve says, glancing down at where Loki hasn’t moved for the past half hour. “He’s been kind of exhausted all day.”


“Lucky he’s got you to take care of him,” Tony says quickly, too dark to be the genial he’s going for, his face a careful blank, and Steve’s not sure where or what he’s overstepped, but it’s obvious he has.


“It looks like you’ve got it covered,” Tony says with a sigh. “Should I… do you want a pizza, or something?”


“Chinese, maybe?” Steve suggests. If Tony’s going to pretend that nothing’s wrong, he’ll be damned if he can’t, too.


“I’ll call it in,” Tony says, turning to go. “I have work to do. Going back over some files from the house, trying to find the bug. Pepper went over, said everything had settled, but she couldn't get in." He's halfway through the door before he turns back. "When he wakes up, tell him his Weaving Anonymous buddies will be here tomorrow.”


And Tony leaves before Steve can say anything. Before he can apologize for something he doesn’t quite understand.



Tony is brilliant. He’s an artist at the forge, Hephaestus at the easel. Every suit is a perfect construct. He can see parts and gears and plates and make them love each other, work together to make something fluid, beautiful. Tony is brilliant, Tony is smart, Tony is a genius.


Tony is an irrational asshole.


The sledgehammer he takes to an innocent block of soft steel can attest to that.


Steve is good—Steve is a lot of things, Tony knows that. He’s self-righteous and overconfident and insecure, uncomfortable with a lot of things and patriotic to a fault, but Steve, more than anything else, is good. He is a shining beacon of good things. Puppies want to pet Steve Rogers. He shits sugar, spice and everything nice. Steve is a fucking angel.


And it’s that goddamned avenging angel that has Tony sweaty and covered in grease and spattered with small first-degree burns from sparks that he shouldn’t be creating. He’s building an engine from scraps and paperclips because he can, because he needs to do something with his hands to avoid doing too much in his head.


He’s not angry at Steve. He can’t be. He can’t afford to be. And he can’t be mad at Loki. But he can be pissed as hell that, that? What he saw, upstairs, those two curled up together, relaxed, happy, simple? It wasn’t real, and it won’t ever be real, and that's more important than the battles they fight on a constant loop, more important than a house that fell apart under Tony's watch, the reason of which he, genius extraordinaire, can't find his way around. That thought is more important than every little thing that has ever kept him up at night, away from food and water and sunlight, and that thought is going to kill him if he doesn’t kill it, first.


He cannibalizes the first engine, rebuilds it, destroys it, cannibalizes it again, and starts to build a stand-alone, self-sustaining gauntlet with repulsor technology. This takes precision. This takes a careful, steady hand. This takes concentration. Tony thinks Loki is going to die and he misses a fuse and the whole construct sparks and bursts, metal shattering up.


Tony jumps back with a yell, tossing the still-fizzing death trap away from him. And then the pain catches up to him. He hisses under his breath. Small slivers of metal have embedded themselves into his forearms. He can see one longer, jagged piece impaling his hand—that one’s the biggest.


He stares at it blankly for a moment and then, quickly, before he lose his nerve, closes his fingers around it and yanks it out in one quick motion.


Jesus fucking hat-rack,” Tony bellows, dropping the metal to the ground and curling himself around his hand because oh god, that hurts like a motherfucker.


Well, there. He’s not thinking about anybody dying right now, besides himself. He tugs four other pieces of metal—no more than wide splinters—out of his skin and drops them to the floor, breathing carefully.


“Tony?” Loki’s voice sounds smaller than he’s ever heard it, and he turns around sharply, his arms covered in his own blood.


“What is it? What’s wrong?”


“Well,” Loki says patiently, stepping out of the shadows. “You’re covered in blood.”


Tony folds his arms behind his back. “’Covered’ is a bit of an exaggeration,” he says. They can both, in the darkened silence of his workshop, hear the plip of his blood dropping to the floor. “Anyways,” Tony says hurriedly, before Loki can comment, “are you feeling better?”


“Yes,” Loki says, but his smile is brittle and his eyes look like bruises pinpricked with light. “I wish I could fix that for you, but I can’t. Go up to Steve.”


“I’m fine,” Tony insists. “What time is it, anyway?”


“Twelve,” Loki answers.


“Midnight already?”


He draws back with a frown. “Midday. have you been down here since last night? I didn’t even hear you come in.”


Tony grins, and he knows that Loki, of all people, won’t see it as anywhere near nice. “That’s because you were too busy asleep on Cap.”


Loki blinks. “Ah.” He’s starting to blush, skin patching pink around his cheekbones, and Tony is ready to pounce on that, but Loki looks back at him first, red-faced and scowling. “I hardly did so on purpose. The film bored me to misery.”


“Yeah, well.” Tony opens his mouth with a witty rejoined on his tongue, he swears, he just… can’t because the world swims away from him, and is it him or did it just drop about five degrees? He needs to sit down, so he does, right there on the floor, and he thinks he might hear Loki shout his name but he’s sitting in something wet that might even be his own blood and, wow, that’s uncomfortable. Unfortunate. Un…un… Bad.


Bad, but what’s worse is the alarm, high and shrill. It’s the attack siren. They’re under attack. That thought cuts through the haze that Tony’s brain has draped itself with, shocks him back. “Shit,” he slurs, and Loki’s shrieking something at him about him being at absolute moron, you idiot, do you want to die, why are you doing this? Loki is ruining his shirt by pulling Tony up, letting Tony pull at him, one arm around him holding him up, but he’s wrong. Tony doesn’t have a death wish, not right now, and this doesn’t feel like blood loss. He’s felt that—the nausea, the stumbling universe, the light headedness. This is too heavy. Too thorough.


“Something’s wrong,” he tries to tell Loki, through a mouth full of cotton. He’s stumbling on his feet and leaves sloppy red prints across the glass lab doors when Loki pulls him through, slams his way into the elevator with Loki’s arm around him.


There’s something he’s forgetting—something important. They’re under attack. The alarm. Have to keep them safe. “You,” he says, slowly, pointing at Loki… Lokis. There are three of him. Oh. That could be fun.


No. No. Focus.


“Friends,” he says, with some difficulty. “Weaving. Here. To…day.”


He knows that Loki gets it because his face blanches and he presses the button for the top floor—assemble, Tony’s brain shrieks gleefully, assembling!—which is good, because if Tony’s seeing three of Loki, there are a ridiculous amount of buttons and he’s not sure which one will take them to the moon but he thinks it might be that one, at the top, a little too far away. His dad will have to press that, he’s too small, too short, too—


Tony frowns. “Stop,” he says, and he’s surprised and pleased by how clear it comes out.


He can feel Loki turn to look at him, hear one quiet, concerned, panicked, “Tony?” and Tony’s vision is suddenly much, much smaller than it should be. 

Chapter Text

At ten in the morning, Loki wakes up in his bed, with the vaguest, mortifying memory of Steve helping him into it. When he makes it out into the living quarters, it’s empty and silent. He walks through the floor, counting closed doors and listening for life.


He’s feeling good, all things considered. Exhausted to the bone in a numbing, hollow sort of way, but he’s moving steadily and he’s thinking straight, which is, he thinks, what matters, at this stage. He’s starting to accept it, really, and he can think about the coming days without bitterness. He doesn’t know if Tony has managed to bring Ella to him, but if he hasn’t… Loki will fall asleep, and he will not waken. It’s almost poetic, really, but he refuses to lose his mind. He will keep it, even if the match burns out and his systems shut down. His body may burn, but he will be Loki, broken god, desecrated sorcerer, one of mischief and magic lost. He will not lose that.


“Hello?” he calls down the last hallway. There’s no answer, and his voice echoes back to him, tinny and weak.


“May I offer my assistance?” come Jarvis’s voice, and Loki smiles. He won’t say a thing, but he values Tony’s aptitude for his science that looks so close to magic. Sentiment.


“Yes,” he says. “Where are the Avengers?”


“They appear to be assembled on the top floor,” Jarvis says, and Loki hears the mellow ding of the elevator doors sliding open. “I will take you up.”


“Thank you,” Loki says, courteous to the machine. He walks between the metal slabs and glances outside, through the glass panels that make up the back side of the lift. There’s something wonderful about the city that he was nearly responsible for the annihilation of. It would have been the destruction of a beautiful thing—worth it, of course, to see, to break,  and beautiful all the same. The fact that he didn’t is almost as heady—being able to take in the resilience, the reconstruction, the way they build bigger and better, even in the face of something horrible… There are worse things, Loki thinks, than the human race being free.


When Loki steps out of the elevator, it’s to an atmosphere of heavy silence, and he takes that in while he takes in his surroundings. It’s an open floor plan, windows wall to wall, low couches at one corner, a bar—naturally, Loki thinks wryly—in the other, and a large, ovular glass table in the middle. When Loki looks to his right, he can see the ledge of the roof; he wonders when Tony arranged to replace the glass.


The Avengers, minus Tony, stand around one side of the table in full battle dress, the Widow in black, Hawkeye in his vest, Captain America adequately spangled. It’s only Bruce who is, for the most part, dressed in his day-to-day attire. No—he’s barefoot. Loki assumes that this means that even he is prepared for the worst.


The Captain’s fingers tap across the surface of the table and a hologram grows into focus. Loki walks towards them, fascinated. He wants to ask what’s wrong, what’s coming, what they’re looking at, but the diagram is rendered faithfully enough that, as he approaches, he can recognize themselves—the tower, miniaturized, outlined in a stark, glowing blue.


It’s the seven angry red, blinking lights around the tower that have Loki concerned.


He sidles up next to Bruce and the scientist glances over at him. “The red,” Loki says quietly. “Hostiles?”  Bruce nods dispassionately back at him. Loki watches the picture change, for a moment; Steve twists his hands and the focus changes, until it’s a view of the city, the tower still a brighter beacon than the rest. He’s mapping the trajectory of the red shapes, Loki thinks.


With every second of silence that passes, the shapes grow closer—and then suddenly, with a blink, they multiply. Fourteen, instead of seven, every angle covered. Loki hears a hiss from Clint; Bruce’s hands, curled up at the edge of the table, clench and unclench into twitching fists, and Loki’s thinks that he might see a decidedly green tint to them. Quietly, he takes a step away.


“According to the readings,” Steve says slowly—Captain America, Loki corrects. There’s nothing as gentle as Steve about this armored soldier—“it’s… Well, it’s HYDRA.”


“With that firepower?” Clint bursts, his irritation clear. “HYDRA? Look at the readings.” HE pulls something up with a few quick taps, and several bars of spectrum color rise from the table into the air, for, Loki assumes, some sort of measure of magnitude. “The power that’s being harnessed is out of their league. The machines, the formations…” Clint frowns. “There’s no way. Not to count them out, but HYDRA’s blunt about it—take over the world, blah, blah, whatever. This? It’s subtle.” Loki smirks at the blatant admiration in the marksman’s voice. “Subtle, and they’re gunning straight at us, not S.H.I.E.L.D., without explanation, without provocation, without—fuck, without a declaration, and aren’t they all about making a point? I don’t know. It’s just… this looks like…”


“Magic?” Loki suggests. All eyes turn to him. He shrugs. “Merely a suggestion.”


Clint snorts. “Why the hell not? Magic makes more sense than tech that even Tony’s never dabbled in.”


“Speaking of,” Natasha says, leaning around Clint to look at Loki. “Have you seen Tony this morning?” Her voice is heavy with suggestion.


Loki narrows his eyes at her. “No. He’s probably in his lab.”


It takes a moment, but Natasha nods, satisfied by what, Loki isn’t sure. “Jarvis—”


“I’ll get him,” Loki volunteers. There’s not much more for him to see here.


Which is why he sees Tony attempt to blow himself up, sees him pulling pieces of metal out of his skin and proceed to carelessly bleed all over himself.


Because Loki is sometimes selfish to foolishness, he doesn’t realize how bad it is until Tony has collapsed into his own blood, and an alarm goes off, loud enough to inspire a low, invasive panic, and that, more than Loki’s swearing vile oaths at him, is what snaps Tony into near-consciousness and Loki has to support him, yelling idiot at the both of them, because he’s here, he’s hopeless, he’s afraid, and he’s never had to be afraid before, for himself, because he’s always had a way out—his power, his godhood, a spear full of raw energy. Now, he has pale skin, fragile bones, and a weakness that he can’t shuck off.


He’s never feared for others before. Now he has the Avengers that he can’t even help if he wanted to. Now, he wants to.


And then Tony mumbles something about friends and weaving and today, and Loki swears something murderous.


“I wish you weren’t nearly this dependable,” Loki says hollowly. Humans. Humans. He had to be cast among these idiots. “I hate you,” Loki says.


Tony looks up at him. His eyes won’t focus, he’s leaning up against the wall of the elevator, and he’s still bleeding, but he has enough in him to say, clearly and with a shade of cruel affection, “You wish you did.”


They go straight to the top; the Avengers are still gathered around the table, ad there’s panic as soon as Loki pulls Tony out; Hawkeye swings his bow around to Loki, arrow notched into place. Loki rolls his eyes.


“Really?” Tony mumbles into his neck.


“And here I thought we’d gotten past this,” Loki deadpans. The alarm shuts off just as suddenly as it started. Loki’s ears ring with it still; everything else feels muffled.


“My fault,” Tony groans, loud enough to be understandable.


“He’s in pain,” Loki says sharply. “I suggest somebody tend to his wounds.”


“No,” Tony says slowly, his face screwed up in effort. “Alarm?”


“Here.” It’s Steve who takes Tony from Loki, so that Loki can sag against the wall instead, muscles protesting.


Steve takes Tony, unresisting, to one of the couches in the corner. Loki feels a pang of something like unhappiness. By Asgard, he would help if he could. He would, truly, and it’s something ugly and bitter that twists at the back of his throat in the face of it.


Clint must see something on his face, because the bow falls, and he tips his head, looking at Loki, considering.


“What’s happened?” Loki asks curtly. He needs no pity, nor understanding. It does no good.


“We can see them,” Clint says, jerking his head past the hologram and towards the windows. “Twenty-two fucking battleships, fueled by god knows what, because they’re moving hella fast.” He slides the arrow back into his quiver.


“There appears to be an individual in the lobby, looking for one Loki Laufeyson.” Jarvis’s voice is a welcome distraction, and Loki looks up at the ceiling, doing his best to convey his thanks to something inanimate.


“Oops,” Tony says guiltily, from where Steve is bandaging the gash in his hand; his head has fallen back on the seat, and his eyes are closing. Loki assumes that this is blood loss and sleep deprivation—and, knowing Tony, starvation.


“I’ll take care of it,” Loki says curtly, moving towards the elevator. He’s not doing any good here.


“Loki.” He turns back. Steve stands from the couch and raises his cowl. It’s left red prints under his eyes, and Loki is surprised to see how tired he looks. “Maybe you should take off. We don’t know what’s going to happen here.”


Loki opens his mouth to reply, and then closes it instead, nodding once before walking back into the elevator. He keeps his back to the Captain as the doors slide closed, because he knows. He knows exactly what will happen. The roof will become a battlefield. Steve Rogers asks him to retreat, to perform in a way that is tactically sound, to survive. But Loki won’t retreat before the battle’s even started.


But what will you do? How will you help? You are broken. You are useless. Perhaps. But dying in battle lends more dignity than dying a coward.


It takes a few minutes for Loki to reach the entry floor, and in that time, he decides three things. First, that he will turn away Lydia or whoever stands in the lobby—that he will attempt to preserve their safety, to get them out of harm’s way. Second, that he will not, no matter how much sense it makes, all things considered, leave the Avengers to face their foe alone. Second is that he will choose his death himself. Second is that he will die with his hands around his murderer’s neck. Third— Tony’s face, bare and bloodless flashes through his mind, his armor a wreckage, his blood pooling up around him. Third is that he will see to it that that is not the outcome of this.


When the elevator stops and the doors open, there’s a girl with her back to the doors, facing the building entrance. People watching, perhaps. He’d believe it, too, if he didn’t know better.


“Ella,” he says, and the girl turns around with a beaming smile. It looks like a lie. Everything about her, now that he knows how to look, looks like a lie. A veneer. Something too carefully constructed to be the truth.


Loki,” she says happily, and he can’t deny the low thrum of anticipation, right behind his breastbone, because he can hear the power dripping out of her mouth when she says his name, and it’s so close, he could have it—


“I need—” he manages to stop himself before the words come out, but her smile has relaxed into a smirk, low and mean. “There’s an emergency. I need enough power to fight with.”


She sighs, walking up to him. “I’m doing well, thanks, how are you,” she says sarcastically, pushing past him to stand in the elevator. She glances disdainfully down at the buttons, and then back at him. “Where’re we going, then?”


“You can’t—”


“Of course I can, Loki,” she clucks, impatient with him, already, so soon. “I’m giving you your power. I have to be there for your test run. Get into the elevator, Loki. The quicker we do this, the quicker you can help… your friends.” The wily creature stares up at him, wide eyes blinking slow and owlishly enough that he could mistake the false innocence for vapidity. She’s good. She’s better than good.


“Get in,” she cajoles, so Loki does. He steps into the elevator, his eyes glued to the front of the building, the exit, the glass walls that cut of the tower from the rest of the world, the rest of the city, and he lets her place her hands on him, one on his arm and the other on his cheek. When the doors close, he turns to her and she pulls him down, pulls his mouth to hers. Both of her hands are on his face when she kisses him, tenderly, and he thinks, Jesus fucking hat-rack. It makes him smile, something inescapable and instinctive, and the kiss turns into something violent. She grasps harder at his skin, her nails digging into his jaw.


It only takes a moment before the world bursts. 

Chapter Text

This time, it goes fast enough that Loki’s head swims. The magic slides into him like a blade sliding into an old wound, and he winces at its edges, at the smooth, painful glide, and it really is like being cut open, isn’t it? Organs, bones, everything shoves aside to make room for the intrusion, and he tries to cry out but his mouth is still glued to the vixen’s, and he can feel her smiling against his lips, feel her nails dig deeper.


He’s already wrenching away when they reach the thirtieth floor, and he lands, hard, against the glass wall.


He can see his reflection staring back at him. For a moment, he has pits for eyes, red and black and molten, spitting sparks down his face that he can feel, and he bites back a gasp.


He blinks.


He’s staring back into green. His hands fly up to his face, trace around the hollow of his eye socket, and he breathes out, slow and heavy. Loki is an implosion. He is a burst of fire, of latent energy. Of purpose.


As if reading his mind, Ella says, solemnly, “What floor are they on, Loki?”


He’s pressed the round, glowing 93, and he stares at the number now, frowning. “The roof. We have to go to the top. They—” He grits his teeth. The magic is pulsing something furious inside of him, pressing his heart against his breastbone, grinding his ribs into his spine, and he can’t focus, and he needs to, because he can help— He slams his thumb into the necessary button and says, to the ceiling, “Jarvis, skip 93. We’re going straight up.”


There’s no answer.


Loki frowns. “Jarvis?”


“Don’t worry about your pet, Loki,” Ella says dismissively. She’s eyeing the number board, gaze shrewd, and Loki glares over at her until she looks back at him with a shallow smile. “Don’t worry,” she repeats. “I’m sure he got your message.” He must; they shoot up past the 93rd and keep going, and Loki braces himself for war.


The doors slide open to silence.



Something is horribly, terribly wrong.


Tony tries. He tries to say so to Cap, but Cap’s focusing on him, on his hand, and he shouldn’t be, he shouldn’t, there’s something coming, he knows there is, he can feel it, something in his head—it’s not aching. It’s pressing, down-around-up-under itself, pushing itself together and pulling itself apart, and the world is swelling, and he wants to yell fire but the theater’s empty.


“Tony.” Steve’s saying his name, and it pulses towards him, too slow, too shallow. “Tony. You have to try and stay awake for me, okay?”


“Fire,” Tony manages, but his voice is calm, calm and yielding enough that all Steve does is give him a pretty little goddamn frown and he should be panicking like Tony’s panicking, barking orders, jumping to action, saving the world—


“Just stay awake. What happened down there? What else did you do? You can’t have lost that much blood—”


“Cap. We’ve got incoming. If Tony can’t fight, he has to move.”


Yes. Good. Clint knows. Clint knows. Steve’s attention is back on him and Tony tries to raise his hands to press them against his chest and shove, but all he manages to do is pull his freshly wrapped hand out of Steve’s and mouth go.


Not enough. It’s not enough. What’s happening?


“Tony, can you…” Steve sighs and his head swings back around. “Hawkeye, there’s no way he—”


The world shrinks to a shatter of glass and light.


A shield is thrown in front of Tony’s face before the worst hits. Tony tries to open his mouth to scream. All he can do is blink.


And then everything is only that bright, white light, and Tony is there no longer.



Steve has said his name fifteen times, and Tony zones out on every last one of them. Hawkeye and Black Widow are right in front of the windows; from where he sits, he can see a ship, something obscene, writhing its way across the air, gunning for the tower. It looks strange—it doesn’t move like a vessel, and it doesn’t move like a weapon. It moves like something half alive, a quick, seedy shuffle, without the slightest shade of exhaust from behind it.


“I called Thor,” Clint calls over, not removing his eyes from the approaching monsters. “At least, I tried to.” If those things get any closer, they’re going to need all the manpower they can get. And god-power would hardly be amiss, especially with…


Steve shakes Tony, slightly, and he blinks, eyes focusing, finally, in on him, though he doesn’t say a word. “Tony. Tony. You have to try and stay awake for me, okay?” We need you. I need you. Wake up.


Tony smiles, something vapid and empty, and Steve catches his breath. “Fire,” he says, clear and a little confused, and it makes Steve’s heart speed up, because there’s something so very, very wrong with Tony right now, and he can’t—he doesn’t have time for this, he doesn’t know what to do, there’s a ship, there’s two dozen ships, on their way and they’re all going to die if they don’t fight and Tony has to fight, he has to, otherwise that means he’s dying, and he looks like he’s dying, please, Tony, oh, God, don’t die, okay, don’t die, don’t—


Steve takes a deep, steadying breath. “Just stay awake.” And then something occurs to him—the last time Tony almost died, the last time he lost it in Steve’s arms. “What happened down there? What else did you do?” Tony stares on and Steve thinks of chemicals, of enzymes, of explosions and needles and experiments, and if Tony did something to himself, took something, reacted badly— “You can’t have lost that much blood,” Steve says, slowly. This isn’t blood loss. Tony’s wound isn’t bleeding anymore, the cover is dry, he isn’t thirsty, he isn’t pale, he’s…


“Cap,” Clint says firmly, from where he stands next to the data table, his bow held aloft. “We’ve got incoming. If Tony can’t fight, he has to move.”


He does have to, and so does Steve. Has to move into Captain America, has to raise his shield, defend, avenge, and when he looks over at them again, Widow’s got her guns out, her eyes on the blackening horizon—so many ships—and Banner’s flicking open the buttons of his shirt, laying it aside for the Hulk to take over.


They are ready for war, when the first ship blots out the sun, and Tony still won’t look at him. “Tony, can you…” Can you what? Stand? Run? Fight? Tony blinks up at him, his mouth slightly open and his eyes glazed and shining. Steve lets the last of his words fall out of his mouth in a gust of air and swings around to Hawkeye instead. The archer tenses—Steve understands why. They can hear the ships, now. There’s a low, rising groan coming from mechanics that Steve can’t pay attention to, now, because Tony will be in the middle of some major firepower in a moment, and… “Hawkeye, there’s no way he—”


There’s a whine before it fires. That’s the only thing that alerts Steve enough to dive over Tony, his shield held high and Tony tucked close under his other arm. There’s a flash of light, of whatever fire they’re fueling their monster-ships with, and Tony lets a cry rip out of his throat, his back arching where Steve’s glove presses into it, and Steve glances down at him, terrified.


Tony’s breathing fast, his eyes are wide and dilated and unfocused, and he doesn’t so much as blink at the glass raining down around them.


Steve makes an executive decision.


He grabs Tony around the waist with one hand and dives behind the couch, tugging Tony’s prone form along with him. Tony’s ankle catches on the edge of the back; Steve thinks he might twist it, when he drags Tony down besides him, near brutal, but he can’t worry about that, not when Tony’s unresponsive and shaking, and Steve can’t stop, can’t worry, can’t tend to a fallen comrade because war has come through the window, and he can’t care about anything right now more than Captain America.


He pulls his cowl into place and raises his shield.



 “You,” Clint says pleasantly, to the first HYDRA agent who comes through the empty window, “are driving one fugly motherfucker.” And then he shoots him straight through his stupidgreen helmet.


Sometimes, life is good.


Right now, it’s almost scary, and Clint hasn’t done scary since Budapest.


The thing that the HYDRA goon was driving hovers in front of the window, floating on what, he can’t say. There’s no heat coming at them through the brand new doorway, no wind. No current of any sort. They move like impossible ghosts, and there’s no way that anything that they’re doing should be working.


And then there’s no more time for inspection, because more HYDRA muppets are streaming in and Clint only has so many arrows, really, and holy fucking hell, what they lack in self-respect they make up for in sheer numbers.


There’s a shrieking chorus of Hail, HYDRA!s before they’re rushing at him and Natasha, and they’re both holding their own, just like old times. Just like all times, really. All the times they’ll ever have. It will always, he thinks, flipping an agent on his back and dropping a friend on top of him, come down to this. The two of them, fighting, back to back and side to side.


Goddamn motherfucking HYDRA.


On the plus side, watching Cap spring into action in the middle of the swarm, his shield flying in a patriotic blur, knocking out frog-suits left and right, warms the cockles of Clint’s little black heart. And, of course, the Hulk is doing more aggravated grunting than anything, swinging his car-sized fists dispassionately into the fray, knocking them down like a ten-pin bowler, and Clint would cheer if he weren’t so preoccupied with smashing two of the psychos’ heads together.


He catches the one on the right, dazed and prepared to topple, and grips both sides of his head. “Tell me what you’re after,” Clint orders. He’s doing very well, if he can say so himself. Isn’t this diplomacy, or something? “Tell me before I break your neck, asshole.”


The HYDRA agent stares up at him with glazed eyes and grins bloody, wide and deranged. “Cut off one limb and—”


Clint punches him in the face and lets him fall to the floor. Better luck next idiot.


The first round of foot-soldiers are dealt with swiftly and mercilessly, and the vessel they arrived in sinks out of sight, slowly, floating on whatever vestiges of power it had been travelling on.


As a unit, the Avengers move across the crushed glass and through the skeletons of the windows (around the still miraculously intact doors) to take positions on the roof.


“Where are the others,” Cap calls over to them, voice low. He’s talking about the ships; Clint would really rather not look.


“Five minutes? Here,” Natasha answers. She’s got a streak of blood at the corner of her mouth where one of the HYDRA agents must have gotten a swipe in. She wipes it away on her shoulder.


Five minutes is optimistic. Clint ‘nads up and glances at the skyline; he clocks it at about two. There’s something repulsive about the ships. They remind him of Frankenstein’s monster—too close to normal to be comfortable, too far to be safe. And each of them look different; that one, far right, has nozzles coming out of the bottom that drip something black and viscous; the one on the far left has a longer nose, sharp-tipped and brutal.


“Okay,” Clint mutters. “Then let’s try this.”


He walks past the others and feels into his quiver for a particular arrow. He’s notched the bottom so that he won’t grab it unless he needs it, and he needs it now. He pulls it out and strings his bow and takes a careful step through where the window used to be. The middle ship is closest. He has it in his sights, has a feel for the wind, has his target locked. He lets the arrow fly.


“Hulk!” he hollers, as soon as the arrow is in the air. “Don’t you have something to be doing?”


The Hulk snarls something unintelligible and dives past Hawkeye, running across the roof in a full, spine-shaking sprint. Hawkeye can see the way the pilot of the ship the Hulk goes for blanches, his hands waving over gears that he can’t control quickly enough. It’s too late—the Hulk is on them, and they go down screaming. 


And then his arrow explodes and, oh, hey. He was right. There is something different about these ships. There’s no burst of metal on fire, no shattering of glass. No—his arrow doesn’t cause an explosion. It implodes—the fire races through the inside of the ship, mouths of the agents open in a scream he can’t hear through glass thicker than water, and the ship… disintegrates.

It crumbles to nothing right before his eyes, dust on the wind.


It’s very environmentally sound, all things considered. Points for that.


Natasha flips over him, the blasters from her wrists targeting the undersides of the vessels, and she hits something important on one of them, because it shoots up, no steering involved, up higher than the peak of the tower, and it keeps going.


“Nice one,” Clint murmurs. He sees a flash of a red-lipped grin and pulls another arrow. It’ll always come down to this.


More foot soldiers are launching themselves at them, and still Clint hasn’t managed to coax out an answer as to why, but they’re falling faster. Those who have weapons misfire, or the guns jam; those who don’t aren’t trained well enough to be a match for one blow from the Black Widow, a kick from a super soldier, an elbow to the face from a disgruntled marksman.


It’s irritating, and it’s taking too long, and it’s nonsensical, but it’s almost too easy in its scope. Not a single HYDRA agent has made it past them, and they’re still fighting with their backs to the penthouse doors. The ships don’t swarm the building the way they probably should; they’ve been going three, five, eight at a time, and some haven’t even made it that far—some, Clint notes, are hovering over neighboring buildings, stuck in the air with no way to propel themselves forward. He takes this in as he fires, some arrows going straight for where he thinks the engines might be, going for the undersides, going towards the windows. He watches a foot soldier get hit by Cap’s shield and lose his balance, toppling over the edge of the roof. It’s war, but it’s never been more strangely  choreographed.


Natasha grabs the last soldier on the roof before another ship can try to dock and slings her arm around his neck, grabbing him in a headlock that Clint has felt before, in practice—it had hurt like a bitch, then. He can only imagine how much it must hurt now. He grins.


“Listen carefully,” Natasha says slowly. Friendly. “I don’t want to break your neck—well, I do, a little bit. You hit me. But I’ll make you a deal. I’ll make it quick, if you tell me what the hell you’re doing.”


“It—It was not supposed to be this!” Clint frowns. The guy’s young, practically a kid. “Our ships—were meant—strong! Insurmountable firepower! We would take the tower, and then all of New York! We were promised aid—” He spits down at Natasha’s boots and the Widow yanks back, listens to him splutter to silence. “Hail,” he chokes out, squirming in her grasp, “HYDRA.”


“No,” Black Widow says sweetly, and tightens the web of her arm until the agent is red-faced and scrabbling weakly at her arms. It only takes a few moments for him to pass out, dropping into dead-weight held up in her arms. Natasha drops him without ceremony and kicks him aside.


“I’m thinking,” Clint says, training his arrow on the newest ship to come into zone, “that this isn’t going the way they were expecting it to.”


“Wow, Hawkeye,” Natasha says wryly, picking up a useless gun dropped by the last agent. “That is a fantastic observation.”


“Shut up,” Clint says lazily. Natasha pitches the gun over the side of the roof. It lands on the side of the next ship. She glances over at Clint.


“Do the honors?”


“My pleasure,” he drawls. He shoots the gun. There’s one loud, shrill yell of regenerating limbs, and then silence, fire and a puff of black dust. “One more ship down,” he says.


Clint Barton is tired of HYDRA’s bullshit.



Steve is braced for a haze of gunfire that doesn’t come. He’s braced for missiles, for machine guns, for magic, even. What he isn’t braced for is HYDRA shoving themselves down the Avengers’ throats, man after man unprepared for the battle they looked like they were asking for.


When the Widow catches her man, his testimony matches up to what Steve was expecting—incredible firepower, an army overtaking Avengers tower, out-manning and out-gunning the team and their fortress.


That makes more sense than these unholy vessels that dissolve in the air.


Steve has a bleeding scratch on his cheek where on of the agents got lucky, and a bruise on his back where two got him at once, and that’s it. He’s not in pain, he’s not under stress, they’re not under fire, the three of them—and the Hulk, somewhere below—are holding their own. Clint is picking off the ships like balloons, one hit K.O.s that knock them into oblivion, and it’s the strangest thing Steve has ever seen. It almost doesn’t matter that Thor never answered their summons; this fight is over.


“To be honest,” Hawkeye calls over to them, another arrow flying. Another ship, to the horror of its pilot, collapses into grainy dark powder. “I’m kind of… I don’t know. Disappointed? What the hell kind of fight is this?” He kicks at one of the green-clad bodies at his feet. Natasha snorts out a laugh.


“I—” Steve looks down at a sign of pressure. One of the HYDRA agents clutches at his boot, his lips reddened with his own blood.


“Liar,” he chokes out, coughing the price of trying to breathe. “Liar—”


“Who?” Steve demands, crouching down closer.


He—” His words dissolve into bitter hacking. “Our side of the bargain was completed,” he rasps. “We completed… He… lied…” A shade falls over his eyes, and he’s gone. Steve’s seen enough death. It shouldn’t bother him.


It doesn’t, he tells himself, getting to his feet and stepping back from the now-corpse. It doesn’t.


Clint picks off the last three ships carelessly and flawlessly, and they dissolve, crumble, fragment into nothing but a gentle rain of ash on the city.


The Hawk frowns. “Are we—hang on. Are we done?” He looks so honestly, categorically indignant that it makes Steve laugh, a low, pained thing that’s three parts relief and two parts gravity, and Clint glares back at him, his hands on his hips and bow over one shoulder. “I’m serious! That was way to easy! There’s no way that’s it.”


“It’s not,” Steve tells him, breathing in the smell of burning all around them. Fire and chemicals and something too disturbingly organic to name. “There were two parties, maybe? That… one of them said something about a bargain.”


“A bargain?” Natasha repeats. “Well, I guess whoever it was with didn’t like the terms all that much.”


She’s the first one to reenter the building. Clint follows, and Steve takes up the rear, glancing back at the foot-soldiers strewn across the roof’s surface, laid out like chalk drawings in a cop show, and sighs. The choices made here weren’t his own. It’s not his responsibility—they aren’t his responsibility.


He goes back in to check on Tony. He doesn’t count on the light, doesn’t expect it, but it comes at him as hard as the light at the end of the tunnel, and this light is a train and it breaks over him, too bright and too strong and too hard, and he cries out into it, into the pain that’s more than pain, into the end of the world.


It doesn’t go dark. It goes horribly, blisteringly white. 

Chapter Text


He’s done it. He’s actually done it.


Tony stares at the hovering screen in front of him, at the protein that twists and flexes, watches the model spiral around itself, every curve spelling cure, every twist spelling salvation. It smells like something’s burning in the hardware, but it doesn’t matter, not when it’s done it, when it’s helped Tony make a miracle, when it’s spent itself on something wonderful.


“I’ve done it,” Tony breathes. He has to hear it, has to have it said out loud, because even saying the words, he barely believes it. “I’ve…” A crowing cackle yanks him into the air, he’s so high on his success that he could fall over in it, roll in it, die in it.


At least until a low, petulant voice says, “Tony, stop gloating and get back here.”


Tony’s in his bedroom, which doesn’t surprise him. What does surprise him is Loki waiting behind him, half covered with a slipping sheet, bruises and scratch marks (from last night? Tony’s brain supplies imagery. Yeah. Last night.) peppering his skin, dark on light. Loki raises an eyebrow at the attention, huffing out a short laugh, and Tony thanks every star above him that all he’s got on is his red silk robe.


“Um,” he says, and that’s all he can manage. That’s it. He’s used up all of his brain cells on fixing the man; he doesn’t really need to talk to him.


“Man of Iron,” Loki murmurs, letting the sheet slide the rest of the way to the floor. Tony swallows. “Let’s see how well the man suits the name.”


“I don’t…” But he’s already pulling Tony towards him, back towards the bed.


Tony’s…. Tony’s just going to go with it.


“I’ll start without you,” Loki warns; his smile stutters when Tony traces a hand over his hip.


“I don’t think so,” he says, voice a mess. Loki’s eyes are more black than green, blown wide, and Tony looks away before he can embarrass himself. Right here, he’d do anything, anything Loki wants, anything that gets him looking like this, a wreck with bed head, lips red and limbs loose.


“Fine,” Loki hums, lips lifting into a smirk. He lets Tony push him back onto the mess of pillows, and Tony bites his lip a little too hard when Loki pulls one of his hands to his mouth, sucks at two of his fingers, cheeks hollowed.


“You’re going to kill me,” Tony says, but he doesn’t mean it until Loki guids his hand between his legs. “I—” No words. Not time for words. Tony abandons the English language in favor of crawling up the bed to kiss Loki, in his haste, with too much teeth.


He’s wet and warm, and two of Tony’s fingers slide in to the sound of Loki’s broken breath, and Tony kisses him as well as he can with his attention shot; he can see the way Loki is leaking out against his stomach, and when Tony brushes his fingers deeper, Loki throws his head back and keens?


“You like that?” Tony asks breathlessly, and Loki rolls his eyes without answering, but he’s biting his lip, and when Tony slides in another finger his lips fall open instead, breath coming in short bursts. “I had no idea,” Tony whispers, stretching him wider, “that you’d be so easy.” He thrusts sharply and Loki jerks under his hands with a gasp, clutching at his shoulders.


“If this is all you have, Stark,” he pants smugly, “then I’m sorely disappointed.” And then he’s holding Tony’s arm still and twisting his hips up, his breathing shallow, jerky sobs, and Jesus Christ


“Can—I’m not sure how—Should—”


Really?” Loki doesn’t slow his pace down to look at Tony, one eyebrow raised. “You’re—doing this to me—and you’re worrying about propriety now? Perhaps I—should’ve called the—the Captain—instead. I doubt he’d be so shy—”


Tony pulls his hand back and Loki whimpers, arching back at the loss of contact. Tony swallows the wound in a rough kiss. “Was that a jealousy play?” he asks, drawing back. Loki laughs.

“Did it work?”

“Do you really want Steve here?” Tony presses himself against Loki’s entrance and his eyes light up; he catches him around the hips before he can move, stroking his fingers down Loki’s spine when his back bows.  


“Maybe,” Loki drawls stubbornly, letting his hands fall over his body; Tony’s eyes follow the pattern he traces down his own chest without permission. “Tempted to show me why I should think otherwise?”


Loki is flexible; Tony is resilient.


When he presses into him, Loki’s eyes glitter something wicked; he comes first, calling out Steve’s name with a reedy laugh, so Tony flips him over and pistons his hips harder, hard enough until Loki is jerking under him, sobbing out his name instead.



“… but then what am I supposed to do?” Steve zones back into the conversation, his mouth going on autopilot for the last few words.


Fury’s looking back at him and Steve’s never seen him look quite like this. He looks different, relaxed, maybe. His stance is different, his posture looser. He looks… happy.


“To do? Well, that’s easy, Captain.” It’s not quite a smile, but his eye sparkles, and the huff of air he lets out when he crosses his arms sounds like it might be hiding a chuckle. “You do what any soldier does at peace time.”


Steve blinks back at him. The director’s forgetting something, forgetting that Steve went from one war to another. All he’d done in between was sleep. “Sir?”


“You go home,” Fury says kindly. “You live. Go on. I sent the rest of the team off.”


Go home. Live. His words pulse something awful in Steve’s head in the taxicab to the tower, and just as bad when he climbs into the elevator, floor after floor of You live and Go on beating up against the back of his skull.


It’s Loki he sees first, through the elevator doors, his eyes wide and alarmed—but that’s wrong, here, now, so Steve smiles at him when he says, “Steve? Captain! Say something, don’t just stand there.”


Steve only makes his smile wider until Loki’s relaxing, smiling back, face changing into a mask of serenity, and Steve wants to laugh because he doesn’t quite believe it.


“I’m out of a job,” he says. “We’re—Tony,” he calls, and he’s there, walking towards them, rubbing engine oil out of his fingers. “We’re done, we’ve been… There’s no fighting. Anywhere. It’s…”


“World peace?” Tony snorts. “Yeah fucking righ—sorry, still no potty-words, right?” Steve rolls his eyes and hands him the file Fury sent him over with. It’s Loki who grabs it before Tony’s done laughing at his own joke, flipping it open and sidling up to Tony’s side. They both look at the documents, dark heads bowed together in mutual disbelief.


It’s Tony who speaks first. “Fuck,” he says plainly.


“Eloquent,” Loki says.


“Accurate,” Steve admits.


“But that’s impossible.”


“Everybody’s just given up?”


“More importantly, are we fired?” Tony demands, tugging the file from Loki’s hands and waving it in front of Steve’s nose. “Is that what this is? Our walking papers? Our leaving notice?”


Steve blinks back at him. “I don’t think that last one is a thing.”


“Steven,” Tony tutts, crossing his arms over his chest. “Now is not the time for sass. We’ve just been pink slippered.”


Steve huffs out a laugh and yanks the papers from Tony. He heads past him, deeper into their living quarters, calling for attendance.


Somebody’s burned something in the kitchen; someone else drops something heavy. Word that Steve has news travels fast, and it’s incredible, really, that they’re al in the same place without the threat of the end of the world hanging over their heads. Even more incredible is the way that the tension that Natasha probably doesn’t even know she carries slips from her shoulders; the way Bruce smiles, the widest, most relieved, most beautifully toothy grin Steve has ever seen; the way Clint fires an arrow into the ceiling by accident and Tony doesn’t even call him on it, just offers him a hand in taking it down.


The first line of business for a flock of retired superheroes is, naturally, an old Superman movie. They all pile onto the couch together. Clint slings his knees across the back of the seat to glare at the screen upside down; Natasha sits next to him, half seated in a drowsy Bruce’s lap. Loki lays with his head in Steve’s lap, and his hand raking invisible designs through Tony’s hair, where the ex0Iron Man sits on the floor, his elgs splayed out in front of him and his neck craned to the side to keep up a low conversation with Steve. And Steve admits that, yes, what he’s doing might count as petting, but Loki’s hair is as soothing and as smooth as any black cat’s fur, and it’s even better the way he hums against Steve’s knee, and throws out half-hearted comments whenever Tony and Steve’s discussion tends towards the heated.


Steve is happy. He’s content. He’s got one hand on Tasha’s foot, keeping her from landing on Loki’s ear, he has one foot next to Tony’s hip to tap him into silence whenever something important happens on the screen, he has one ear trained on Christopher Reeve’s voice, and he has a smile that can fell a man at a thousand paces. He has peace. He has, he thinks, nestling deeper into the soft upholstery, heaven.



“One dance, Nat. Come on. We have to sell it.”


Natasha growls something vulgar and Russian underneath her breath, because this is San Juan all over again, this is their first tango all over again, and it might be a gentle waltz, but god knows if anyone can cock up a three-step, it’s Clint Barton.


“Don’t step on my toes,” she says reluctantly, slipping her hand into his. “So help me, Barton, if you ruin these shoes…”


“Codenames,” he protests, eyes wide and beseeching, wounded and so totally faking it. Natasha has to snort out a laugh.


He’s handsome like this. Dapper. Polished as a new penny, she wants to say, when she smoothes her hands over his shoulders, checking his tux for the slightest sign of lint. “You clean up nice, Hawkeye,” she murmurs, smiling up at him. If nothing else tonight is real, at least the smile he shoots her is genuine.


“And you, my lady, are the most beautiful woman in the room,” he whispers, for her ears only, spinning her away from him with a swell of strings. “Tell me, Widow,” he says, when he pulls her in close, his mouth tickling the hairs that drift over her ear, escaped from their twisted prison. “Do you slay all of your victims with your good looks, or am I just lucky?”


“You’re just cheesy,” Natasha says firmly, but she laughs when he dips her, the slit in her cream dress flapping dangerously wide.


“But you love it,” he says with a grin, picking her up. He’s never let her fall.


“Cheesy,” she repeats, but here, turning under bright lights and the scent of the bonfire outside blazing free, with the job done and so much time before everything has to be artificial, she relaxes into his arms, into the dance that she can pretend, so easily pretend, will last forever.



“Stay with me,” Natasha whispers, and Clint’s not going to say no. The dance was perfect, the target was easy, the night is long, and Natasha is curled around him, her fingers plucking at the seam of his blue jacket.


She’s playful like this. The relief from the absence of the adrenaline that makes up too much of her life makes her eyes lift at the corners, makes her limbs go loose and her words slower, and Clint wants her to keep this, to keep this little oasis of peace, so he grins at her and doesn’t say a word, just topples down next to her, says something flippant about that Russian diplomat’s nose, laughs at his own joke, winces when she socks him in the arm, bites at her hair when it flies into his face.


It’s okay, he thinks, if the sun takes a while to rise. It’s welcome. He wants to stay, like this, the two of them, no worry, no responsibility, no blood on their hands, in a small hotel room that smells like fresh soap and warm linens and burning lamps.



“And you’re sure about this?” Tony asks again, and Bruce smiles back at him, fixing one more electrode to the center of his chest. They still smell from their trial run, and he coughs at the scent of burnt plastic.


“Yes, Tony.” He’s sure. Double, triple checked, ran through simulations, started small, worked his way up to this. The small wires slipped under his skin shift when he raises his hands, clenching his fists in the air. “Flip the switch, please,” he says quietly.


From a viewing chamber above them, the whole house is gathered. Steve salutes him with a hopeful grin; Loki stares, wide-eyed and curious. Clint sends him a thumbs up; Natasha, a deep nod. Even Fury’s made it, his arms crossed, one good eyes trained on Bruce’s motions as he crosses the floor, stopping in the middle with his feet planted wide.


Tony throws the switch.


It hurts, a little, the circuits going live under Bruce’s skin, but he’s expected that. He’s expecting the way his body bends and breaks, blowing up and out, going green, fire racing through his veins, his eyes, his fingers, his spine, growing, growing, out of control, angry, angry, monster, everything bad, monster, angry, want break, want hurt, want smash


No,” Bruce growls, and the hands the he curls are green and too big and too strong, but they’re suddenly, miraculously his.


Hulk, he tests, probing deeper into his mind. You still there?


There’s silence. And then— Hulk here, he hears, but it’s calm, it’s neutral, it’s under control.


Bruce could cry, but he’s too busy smiling, too busy thinking about a life that is his so much more than it is shared, and he throws back his head and he roars.



The silence is a heavy, pressing presence, and Loki closes his eyes when the doors open, because he knows. He already knows. He should have known.


Ella shoves him into the room, and he stumbles, his bare feet catching at the jagged edges of broken glass strewn across the floor. He gasps at the pain and falls to his knees, but his hands land somewhere beyond the glass; it lands on red.


He lands at Captain America’s feet. Captain America who looks straight ahead, even when Loki uses his boots to pull himself to his feet, even when he waves quick fingers in front of his eyes. He’s vacant and glazed, chest rising and falling with shallow breaths. “Steve?” Loki asks quietly; he isn’t sure if Ella can hear him. He can hear her, tramping across the glass  shards with unmistakable glee. “Captain!” he says sharply, striking at his cheek. “Say something, don’t just stand there!” There’s no response. Loki hadn’t expected one.


“Where are they?” Loki asks evenly, taking a step away. He doesn’t mean physically; there is a realization burning at the corner of Loki’s mind, and he should know better than to ignore it, and he doesn’t want to face it, not when Natasha is in the corner with her arms half raised, not when Tony is a motionless mound on the floor, not when Clint is smiling at nothing, his eyes sightless. Not when Bruce is nowhere to be found. But Loki is a realist, and so he turns to Ella with a hint of a smile, because he has his magic, he has his strength, he has his lies, and those have never betrayed him.


Ella cocks her head where she sits over the back of the couch, her legs dangling above Tony’s head. “They’re happy; isn’t that enough, Loki?”


He doesn’t say anything to her; he’s too busy watching her slow, strange transformation. With a smell like burning sulfur, she ripples like a mirage over a hot street, growing taller, curvier, smoother. A child’s snub of a nose swoops into something delicately aquiline; callow eyes angle up into something cruel, burn a vicious yellow; a metal-tracked grin turns into a careful, blood-red smirk. The transformation is over in a moment; Loki takes a step back. He should have known.


“Poor little fallen prince,” the woman purrs, and the steps she takes towards him are panther-like in their grace, smooth and deadly. She flips heavy hair over one shoulder. The smell of burning bones cascades over Loki, and he keeps his face carefully straight, does not gag, does not grimace. “Is this not what you imagined? You should be pleased. We have freed you.”


“’We,’” Loki repeats, taking a careful step away from her. He smiles; he’s always been a diplomat. He can be charming when he wants to be; he can be what is expected when he needs to be. “To whom do I have to offer my thanks?”


“Ah. That would be me.” The voice is in Loki’s head. It’s deep and pounding, all bass and devoid of human warmth, and it takes everything Loki has not to claw at his ears, not to beg release from the intrusion, a solid mass of something that drones like a swarm of locusts, a buzz that vibrates right behind his eyes. It’s the droning that compels him to walk, each foot solid against pieces of window that dig deeper into his flesh, towards the roof. He steps past fallen lines of HYDRA bodies, green clad and unmoving, to the penthouse doors. Loki pulls them open just as a bristled head crests over the top of the roof.


“Oh,” Loki says miserably. A red cape flaps in the breeze. “Of course.”


“Hello, Loki,” says Thor’s face, with a grin. And he melts away to red skin and black hair and Loki sighs.


“I take it,” he drawls, forcing his arms to swing casually down at his sides, forcing himself to relax, even as his feet sting, his nose burns, his eyes water, “that this is where the answers are given?”


“I had heard you were clever,” the man—no, not a man, Loki doesn’t think so. Something more. Something else. — says, dropping to the roof on nimble feet. “I hope I wasn’t misled.”


Loki smiles and thinks about delicacy, about diplomacy, about the Avengers unconscious ten feet away, about Tony, barely breathing. Loki smiles wider and thinks about the way the world crumbles.


“I sincerely,” he says slowly, raising one eyebrow for the red man’s benefit. “Doubt it.” 

Chapter Text

“Do you know me?”


When he lands, a breeze from nowhere wafts up the fork of his coattails.  His fingers, when he smoothes them down his smoldering lapels, are pointed, tapered to delicate, angular tips. And all of him, apart from the brilliant yellow eyes, is the same bruising, scalded red.


Of you, perhaps,” Loki murmurs. He has to do this right. It’s imperative that he does this right. The man is right—he was, is, clever, more than anything else. And he can lie with everything he’s made of.


Loki keeps his shoulders straight and regal while he walks. It isn’t hard; the power is still coursing, hot and vibrant, through him (even though, now, he can feel the red at its edges, red and raw and wrong, so different, so far from his cool blues and greens, burning damnation instead of subtle ice). “I can’t imagine,” he continues, walking back into the penthouse, slowly and firmly, “what I could have done to warrant your particular… interest.”


“I would have thought that was obvious,” Mephisto says, “You—”


They’re interrupted by a clatter on the roof.


Loki turns his head, still moving, as smoothly as he can, towards the others. A HYDRA agent has struggled to his feet; he has his gun raised, his arm shaking, and it must, Loki thinks, take an extraordinary amount of conviction to raise a gun to the Devil’s back, and so he stills, his eyes to Mephisto and his ears to the soldier.


“Liar,” the man pants. He holds a hand to his midriff, as if it will hold in the bright, sweet red that threatens to spill from between his fingers. Fascinating. “Betrayer. We served you, as you would serve us in kind—”


“Words,” Mephisto says, waving his hand. “All words.” He looks amused; his mouth is on a permanent uplift, and it quirks at the corners now, all easy confidence.


“We had a bargain—”


Words,” he repeats.


“We—we gave you what you desired,” the man splutters, his eyes wide and desperate. “We gave you everything. Our trust—”


Loki doesn’t hesitate. There’s a coiled pad of power in the palm of his hand, and all he has to do is raise it and let go to see the HYDRA agent stumble over his feet, stumble back, back until the backs of his knees hit the ledge and he goes over the side of the roof, one final, impotent yell before he falls out of sight. Loki closes his ears to the sound of his impact.


He cocks his head, his hand still raised. “Bargain?”


Mephisto smiles, dagger sharp and twice as bright. “Oh, yes. We had a deal. They wanted assistance, and I required… blood.”


Ah. A deal for death. Loki smiles. “Whose?”


His smile widens. Loki’s falls.


He’s one foot away from Steve. The magic in Loki senses him; it senses the way the supersoldier’s heartbeat fades. It senses the hold held on his blood. It feels the bond of his shackles, tying him below consciousness.


“Blood magic.” Loki doesn’t have to pretend to be impressed; he’s never seen it on a scale like this, and he’s never seen it leave anyone so frozen. He brushes his hand across Steve’s jaw; there’s no reaction. It’s alright. He can see the magic he’s left behind dancing across his chin, across his lips, sees it slipping in between his lips. He can see it; Mephisto can’t. “You’ve given them—no,” Loki corrects himself, walking over to Clint and pressing his fingers roughly against his arm. The magic dances, a cord of nimble gold, twines around his elbow, creeps up. “You’ve given yourself a gift. You had them trap Earth’s mightiest…” With Natasha, it is only a brush against her shoulder. It shimmies, twists, shimmers, glitters. “And—what? You would take over from there? Once they were under your thrall, as it were?” Tony. He has to make it to Tony.


“They desired victory against their enemies. I was to aid them. They thought they, ah, anted up.” He sounds smug. Loki looks back at him briefly. He has to make it to where Tony lies, half-curled against the couch, under the feet of the demon woman. When he glances over to her, she slides a smooth, forked tongue over her lips. Loki smirks. In another life…


“Did they not?” Loki asks, stepping towards Tony. “Here are the Avengers, numbered all—” Loki closes his eyes and laughs, rough and mangled. “Of course. My dear brother.”


“Yes,” Mephisto says, proud and sibilant. “They missed him. They did try, but… the pieces fell as they would. I gave them my assistance, as promised, but only according to what they paid.”


“They thought they would win.” Something bittersweet bites at Loki’s tongue, and he swallows back the feeling, makes his smile wider, kneels to press his hand against Tony’s throat as if checking for a pulse—as if set to strangle. The spell weaves its noose, tightens to nothing. “How fascinating. You must be ever so pleased with your loophole, Mephisto.”


Loki glides up to his feet, tall and braver than he feels, and grins at the Devil, his eyes narrowed. “But I still can’t quite make myself understand what you’d have from me.”


Loki will not lose his advantage. He will not lose this display of comfort, this little leg ahead he has on Mephisto, so he walks over to the nearest armchair and drops into it, his knees spread and his posture easy. Mephisto’s eyes wander down the line of his body; Loki’s eyes dare him to continue. He smirks.


“Loki Laufey’s-Unwanted,” Mephisto tuts, and Loki feels his jaw tighten at the epithet. “You must know by now—nothing comes for free. Much less power.”


Loki looks down at his hands, opens them, palm up on the blue leather. He feels again. It’s muffled, and it’s wrong, under water, with chains on and a reed to your lips, breath coming and leaving too quickly to survive, but it’s something. It’s enough that, when he moves his fingers, he can see the way they connect with everything. He can see the strands—where to pull, where to push, where to bend, where to prosper—and he can feel them, underneath his skin, stronger than blood, coarser than water. He curls his hands into fists and let them fall to his sides and feels out for the threads he’s sown. He doesn’t have time on his side, but he never has.


“Tell me,” Loki says slowly, feeling the first of the strands give way and the press of light against the back of his skull, “how high you would set your price.”



“Captain,” Loki says urgently, and Steve blinks up at him. He must have fallen asleep; the movie has frozen on screen, and the others, around him, are still. Loki stands at the side of the couch, looking down at him, his hands around Steve’s arm.


“Loki?” He’s groggy, uncomfortably so; he hasn’t felt this slow in years. Decades. It’s wonderful, thick and sleepy, and he smiles to soothe. “What’s wrong? What’s happening?”


“Wake up,” Loki says quickly, desperately. “You have to wake up. You’re in danger. This isn’t real—none of this is real.”


“What are you talking about?” Steve demands. His tongue feels slow as molasses, and when his eyes try to follow Loki’s mouth when he speaks, they fall short, fix on the Chrysler Building outside the window, lose focus, so quickly, so easily, and sleep calls like a war siren, impossible to ignore…


Steve, you have to trust m— Steve? Steve!” Loki’s voice fades away as Steve drifts deeper into sleep, sliding onto the pillows below him. It’s so peaceful, here. So quiet. So perfect.



At the top of Stark Tower, Mephisto laughs. “Please, Loki. You’re hardly going to buy your way out of my service.”


“Your service?” Loki repeats. A sliver of anger inches its way into his voice. He’s doing admirably well, all things considered. He never thought about what it would be like, meeting the king of Hell, but he doesn’t like him as much as he would have once, perhaps. “I am a god.”


“You were,” Mephisto corrects, none too gently. “You were a god, Loki, and I could make you one again. You could resume your place—a god of wicked things,” he says, spreading his arms wide, a demonstration of power, of property, of pride. Peacocking, says Tony’s voice, at the back of Loki’s head, and it sounds amused enough that Loki snorts.


“God of mischief,” Loki corrects, digging his fingers into the arms of his chair and leaning forward. The leather heats to splitting under his nails. “Mischief. Not evil.”


The look Mephisto shoots him is full of more pity he believed such a being could posses. “Have they ever known the difference?”



It is, Loki thinks, entirely remarkable how many weapons spies manage to sneak up their persons, much less while wearing so very little clothing.



Loki waves his hand, permission for Mephisto to continue. Mephisto’s lips tighten at the gesture; Loki doesn’t bother trying to hide his smile.


“You desire power,” Mephisto says. “You desire magic. You desire pride, Loki Laufeyson, and I can deliver them to you.”


“And all I have to do,” Loki quips, “is sign on the dotted line.” Yellow eyes narrow.


The woman against the couch hisses. “You should revel in the honor. By whose power do you stand, even know? Your own? No. You are already servant to my lord and master—”


“Silence,” Mephisto drawls, and the wench falls voiceless. “She’s right, you know. All I have to do is take away the power you hold now. It would kill you.”


“Yes, well,” Loki sighs, leaning back. “A lot of things, these days, would kill me.”



“You must be joking,” Loki says flatly. The absolutely insipid smile Tony shoots him says otherwise; they’re naked under clean sheets, the sun is shining, and Tony brushes a hand down the side of his face, horribly tender and unforgivably sweet.


Blood rushes to Loki’s face—from the shock. Only from the shock.


“Tony,” he says sharply. Tony hums in response, still so calm, too calm. “No, stop that and pay attention.”


Tony squints back at him. “You woke up grumpy.”


Loki blinks. “What?”


“Snippy, too. It’s like waking up next to a whining aunt. Wait, hang on. Not like… that—can we restart the morning? Let’s pull a re-do. I’ll go first. Good morning, Loki. You’re beautiful.”


“I—You—Would you shut up,” Loki sputters. “I should have left you in your head. Had I known you would be this… so…”


“You’re blushing,” Tony says with a grin.


“I don’t have time to blush,” Loki spits, and then rethinks that. “I do not blush, I’m not a child. We have work to do, so you need to wake up.”


“Fine,” Tony sighs, leaning forward. Loki stiffens.


Tony presses a light, playful kiss against his lips before pulling away, and Loki doesn’t quite understand how this is where Tony ended up. He moves his legs up, toying with the idea of rising from the bed, but—oh. No. There’s an ache, there. So things were a bit more interesting, previously, but… Loki takes a short breath of linen-rich air, letting the feeling of the pillows against his head and the sheets below his body relax him. It is peaceful, in this mind more than any of the others. He’d imagined, if anything, Tony’s would be racing, desperate and mad and wild. This way is stranger.


His time is up. “Tony,” he says, sitting up. Tony looks back at him, eyes still sleep-soft, pants undone and shirt just over his head. “I’m probably going to try an persuade you back into bed in a few moments. Ignore me. Whatever I do, whatever I say… Just wake up.”


Tony peers closer at him, fiddling with his buttons. “This is serious, isn’t it?”


“Very,” Loki sighs.  



“You’ll make the right choice, Loki,” Mephisto says, all confidence and a permanent sneer. “You’ll have to.”


Loki raises an eyebrow. “And why, pray tell, is that?”


“Because it’s you, or them.” He waves his arm across at the frozen Avengers, and Loki forces himself to smile, forces himself to breathe slowly, forces himself not to broadcast how quickly he’s thinking, how firmly he’s pressing up against the wards of their minds, how much the choiceis really a choice


“The Avengers,” Loki says slowly. “Iron Man, Captain America, the Black Widow, Hawkeye…” He feigns nonchalance when he says, “You appear to be missing one.”


“The Hulk, yes. I believe he’s on the ground.”


“The ground,” Loki grits out. A green blur, falling, crashing against the pavement, unconscious and vulnerable—or Bruce, soft and half-blind and gentle—


“Yes. The beast dragged one of my aircrafts down, and fell asleep at the bottom of the tower.”  


Loki swallows. “Convenient.”


“I thought so.”


They have to wake up. Loki can feel the power burning at him, and there’s a change happening, inside of him, to make that possible. It’s underneath his skin, at the lining of his bones, shifting, reshaping, and the feeling makes him shudder, too red and too black.


Loki is gray. Loki is wicked, is not evil. Is bitter, is twisted, is wrong—is not simple, is not base. Is not as stark, as dark-hearted, as pure as evil. But the magic within him questions that. The magic within him twists, turns, courses faster than his heart can keep up with it, whispering truths that sound like lies, lies more pure than the truth, so simple, so plain, so easy.


So easy.


Yes, he wants to say. He can. He can agree now, make his pact, bleed on his contract, serve the way he served, once upon a time, a new kingdom with old rules. But all leashes grow too tight, and Loki knows no permanence. Chaos knows no permanence. It would be easier, mutiny. Easy and natural.


“Those are your only terms?” Loki asks, dragging his nails up the arms of his chair. The cracks below his fingers blacken and wither. Easy. “No more, no less? The death of the Avengers and my allegiance?”


Mephisto crosses his arms; his suit jacket smolders at the elbows. “I’m not a trickster. The terms are as straightforward as stated.”




On the chair, Loki freezes, his mouth half open and his eyes wide and alarmed. The demon woman shrieks.


Mephisto smiles.



The strand won’t fall. The psychic tether that got Loki into Tony’s head won’t pull him back out, and he freezes on the bed, every sense on the head of a pin.


Tony quirks his eyebrows at him, fully dressed and as aware as he can be, given the circumstances. “I take it you’re staying?” Loki hushes him; Tony ignores it. “What is it? Why are you sitting like that?”


“There’s something wrong,” Loki murmurs, glancing around them. There is nothing past the edges of the room; their prisons were carefully cultivated, with, Loki notes ruefully, a great deal of skill and precision. They are blocked off by the walls, and everything beyond it is ether, so Loki moves to stand, to get a wall behind him.


And then he has a face full of red and black and moving is impossible.


“Did you really think I wouldn’t notice?” Mephisto grins at him. He hovers over Loki, his face far too close, and Loki gags at the smell of brimstone, ripe and overwhelming when Mephisto’s breath gusts across his face.


“Hey!” Tony yells from somewhere, and Loki flinches when he hears a crash, the sound of a body against too-real plaster.


“I thought this might make things more interesting,” Loki says. He can’t roll out from under him, and he can’t slide away. He settles for inching up the bed, feeling for the cold wood of the headboard against his shoulder blades. Mephisto lets him, stares while Loki shimmies up, hyperaware of the state Tony’s mind has left him in.


“I can certainly see the draw of this particular prison,” Mephisto muses, gliding one sharp-tipped finger down one side of Loki’s jaw. Loki doesn’t flinch.


“As do I,” he says, staring disdainfully back at him. “It’s relaxing.”


Mephisto snorts, his eyes scorching their way down the battlefield of Loki’s body, a wicked leer that has Loki itching for a fair fight. “I would have gone with exciting.”


Loki smiles at that. “Give me a knife. Let’s see how exciting things get.”


Mephisto draws back, settling into the air, his legs folded in front of him and one hand on his chin. “Oh, I see. This one’s your favorite, isn’t he?”


“Wh—” Loki slides out of the bed, naked and furious and completely uncaring. “Why does everybody say that?”


“How sweet,” Mephisto simpers, sliding to his feet. “God of Lies, so afraid of such a little truth—”


He falls silent when his arm meets the shaft of a spear, long and gold and blazing in the white, white light of Tony’s mind.


Loki grins back at him, battle dressed and burning, twisting the light around him, twisted in the fire, in the burning magic, in the power that’s too much and not enough. He can feel it, can feel its darkness, and he revels in it. Loki bleeds in it, lives in it, welcomes it— and he throws it out, everything he has, against Mephisto, because this magic calls for blood and Loki will have the devil bleed.



Tony’s world slows to a blur of red and a flash of green. He watches them fight like from behind a screen; the green surrounds the red, makes it dance, makes it jump. The colors, he’s pleased to notice, compliment each other. Each makes the other glow brighter, move faster, and at times it seems like there is too much green, at other times, far too much red, and he doesn’t like that. No, he likes the green, which is funny, because he’s never liked green, not really. But this green is different. This green is special. This green carries something golden, while the red is also black, and it’s like life against death, and Tony wishes he could really, really see, but his body isn’t answering him right now. He doesn’t know if he has a body; all he has is a sense of something horribly, terribly wrong and a desire to move, to fight, to rescue. They are desires that he can’t serve because he has the will, but not the way, so he tries to remember how to breathe, tries to find his senses, tries to remember who he is, and roots, from the very depths of his soul, for green and gold.



Loki’s head lashes to the side, but his cheekbone knits itself back together in the time it takes him to raise the point of the spear and slash it across a leg, swing the shaft across a set of ribs, whack the butt into a concave stomach. Mephisto expects to win; it doesn’t take a lot for him to recognize that, but Loki can’t afford to let him. They are in Tony’s head, fighting within the walls of his mind, and he won’t have anyone else poisoning what is his. He ducks when scarlet claws dive for his eyes; pivots out of the way when an elbow goes for his kidneys; jumps when quick feet kick out at his shins.


Mephisto’s teeth are bloody when he grins, and Loki should see it coming, when his hand comes over his face and he pulls, but he doesn’t, because Midgard has made Loki inexcusably stupid. It only takes a moment for Mephisto to have them out of Tony’s head, and then Loki is a body tense in a smoking armchair, his palms hot and his spine rigid.


“Relax,” Mephisto says, as soon as Loki is breathing again, thick, weighty gusts of air like he’s starving for it, and there’s never going to be enough to clear out the fire. “You’re fine. Insubordinate and rude, as far as hosts go, but you’ll be fine. Him, on the other hand…”


Mephisto waves a hand. Tony rises from the floor like a puppet, Mephisto pulling a string from his middle, bringing him floating into the middle of the room. Loki stares balefully back at him, one hand over his still-heaving chest.


He twists Tony around in the air until he’s facing Loki, his eyes closed and his mouth open, his arms hanging down on either side of his head, a waiting sacrifice.


“He’ll be first,” Mephisto whispers. “If you like, I’ll let him awaken. Let him see you when you slide a dagger across his throat. Or will you do something more interesting? Oh, I’m excited.” Loki believes that.


Loki stands, his hands balled into fists at his sides. He walks up to Tony and spins him around with a push, sending him around like a child’s toy, a macabre merry-go-round. “Let him down?”




He drops like a lead weight into Loki’s arms; Loki can manage. He settles him on the ground, dragging his hands from his shoulders down, until he can circle his hands around his wrists, and he grips them tight, tight enough to leave his fingerprints on bone. “Wake him up,” Loki whispers. You’ll have to fly.  


“I have something in mind,” Loki says. He looks up at Mephisto; the other only stares back, his hands clasped in front of him, thoughtful and unmoving.


“Hey,” Tony murmurs, with a voice like gravel and honey. He wasn’t happy, Loki tells himself firmly. It wasn’t real. But there is still guilt, like a cancer. It grows when Tony looks up and meets Mephisto’s glowing yellow eyes. “You, uh. Gonna introduce me to your friend?” Does he want a drink? I'll have to warn you, I'm gonna have to send for ice, pretty sure I left that part open again... Loki can fill in the rest of Tony's babble, can imagine how quickly he'll smile, how it won't reach his eyes, how much it would thrill him to see him fight, and he swallows back a hysterical laugh. 


“No,” Loki whispers, squeezing his hands once more against Tony’s wrists. I’m sorry. Forgive me. I—


It doesn’t take much, now, for Loki to get to his feet, dragging Tony up into the air with him. It takes even less to catalogue Tony’s surprise, his intake of breath, his eyes, wide and injured and surprised and confused and resigned. It takes almost nothing to drop Tony into the air and propel him forward with one firm gust of magic, through shattered glass and leaning metal.


Over the roof, without a cry.


Loki turns away from any sound of impact. 

Chapter Text

Loki works to keep his voice even and his body language fluent. “Good enough?” he asks, and looks back at Mephisto. It’s like he’s staring up at him from the bottom of a pool. Nothing feels real enough, not anymore, and he’s not sure where wrong ends, where right begins, where Loki continues. And under all of it, the magic, writhing like seduction, and it pulses hotter when Mephisto walks towards him, quicker when he places a hand on Loki’s shoulder, excruciating when he digs his fingers into the socket, and it’s all Loki can do to keep a straight face, unimpressed and uninspired. “Well?”


“It’ll do,” Mephisto says with a smile; Loki’s face is as blank as the pain is, so he stands, stepping into Mephisto’s space (one burst of brimstone air and he can feel his skin peeling from the heat, drying and splitting across his brow under invisible fire) and around him, ducking under his arm and into the rest of the room.


He looks at ‘Ella’ when he walks. She hasn’t moved from her post atop the couch, but perches there, perfectly poised and perfectly posed. The pride of a plan well laid, Loki thinks, rueful and resentful, and there’s a permanent curl at the corner of her lips when she looks at him. Beat you.


They have; Loki doesn’t have any moves left to play on the board. He’s pressed and he’s prodded and he’s prayed, but they stay in their strange half-sleep, and without the heroes, he’s no match for someone who has him on a needle-sharp leash. He doesn’t have an angle, he doesn’t have an out. What he has, when he reaches the couch (his steps slow enough to be funereal) is his hand out and a dagger placed in it, icy silver with a heavy hilt, magicked out of the air with a twist of Ella’s slender hand. He takes it from her without a word, wraps his fingers around a cold pommel, holds it like a prop, a toy, something beautifully fragile, decoration more than weapon.


“It’s pretty,” Loki murmurs, running his fingertips along the edge. The slide is clean enough and sharp enough that he doesn’t feel pain until he sees the blood, beaded as delicately as rubies on gossamer. “Beautiful.”

“Beautiful blade to do beautiful things,” Ella says, stretching languidly forward enough to raise an arm to point. (Natasha. Of course.) “Her.”


Loki thinks, If I could, I would tear you in half. Loki thinks, If Natasha were awake, she would do it herself. She would eat you whole. But nobody is awake, and Loki is alone with a knife against the darkest of magic arts, and he walks over and presses the knife against Natasha’s throat and prays for something different.


He prays for thunder.



Tony should probably thank his lucky stars that he was aware enough, when he was falling, to activate the bracelets, but, to be honest, he was too busy wondering where the hell his stomach was trying to get to and why the hell it wouldn’t let him go with it.


“JARVIS,” he tries to yell, but his voice comes out in a sleepy rasp and he inhales the air that’s rushing away from him and not towards him and it goes into his lungs like exhaust fumes, too thick and too heavy, and he chokes, chokes in his spiral down, down to ground that’ll soak up what’s left of him until he’s nothing more than a stain on the pavement, and, wow, what kind of shit luck would that be, splattering out when—


Manual? Doesn’t he have a—button, thank Jesus. He hears it beep, a bright blip of a light that makes him feel like screaming, and then there’s metal on his limbs and torso and his face and it feels like heaven.




The suit yanks him out of his freefall sharp enough to leave his head ringing and his neck locking up, every muscle protesting and every joint shrieking. But he’s alive, he’s not a mess of blood, marrow, and alcohol, and, from the looks of the few civilians (tourists, most likely) he manages to not careen into, he’s made a kid’s day. (And also managed to send them shrieking away. Alright then. Pros and cons.)


Which is totally awesome. Completely. Extraordinarily.


What isn’t is the fact that the Tower is under siege, Loki’s the only one of them up there awake, and Tony has no idea what they’re dealing with. Nothing but what Loki had managed to whisper to him in his dream. That was maybe less of a dream than he had expected it to be. Also… He feels at the back of his helmet and winces at the memory. More painful than a dream had any right to be.


“… And his name is Mephisto. He’s stronger than any of you are, especially right now, and you need to wake up and get out of here, Tony.”


“I don’t know how to.”


Try—“ Loki rakes his hands through his hair, swallowing back curses, and Tony rests a hand against his arm.


“What are you going to do?”


The look Loki shoots him scares him more than anything he’d seen from him before. Scary, Tony can deal with. Threatening, sure. Murderous, hell yeah. But this… it’s resignation. It’s a forfeit with a smile.


“I am going to try and give him what he wants, and then I’ll probably leave.”


“Leave? What? Take off to Fiji with him and his hot PA?”


Loki snorts. “Or off to Hell with him and his mistress. It could be good, actually,” Loki says thoughtfully, bundling the sheets around him and playing with the shapes forming between his feet. “I think I’ve lost the stomach for a few things. I could get back into the swing of—”


Tony kisses him, then, hard enough to bruise, to remind him, maybe, to ground him. To ask him to fight.


It’s Loki who bites against his lips (a smile, there, Tony can feel it), but it’s also Loki who pushes him away. His eyes are closed, the space between them puckered in consternation. “I have to go. I’ve already been here too long, and if he finds out—” His eyes fly open, and he stares at every wall, on high alert from something Tony can only half-fathom.


Tony settles up against the side of his building and tries to think. Okay, so, magic mojo, might be a trick, but he should be able to handle it. Only, the last time he tried to handle magic alone was never, and the last time all of them fought magic, it was Loki, and if this one was worse…


“Jarvis,” Tony says; there’s still no response from his AI, and he frowns, but he’s set this system up himself; he knows his way around it, even if it remains voiceless. “Fine. Old-school. I can do that.” He keys his fingers across the air, gentle twitches that have the images in front of him switching and changing, lighting up one by one until he finds the file that he needs. He presses the green button.


“Jane,” he says cordially, as soon as a face swims into view. And then, “Where in god’s name is our friendly Asgardian idiot?”


“Um, hi, Tony,” Jane says, squinting back at him. “You okay?”


“No,” he says tightly. There isn’t time for this. “Where’s Thor?”


“He’s…” She twists away from the camera, and Tony hears muffled calls echo in the background, more than one voice calling for Blondie. She turns back around and smiles at him. “He’s here, just give him a seco—”


“We don’t have a second,” Tony bursts, and he’s trying, Christ, he’s trying to keep it civil, because Jane has no idea, but— “Look, the tower is under siege and Loki is up there alone with—with the Devil, or something, I think? So it’s really, really bad, so tell Thor to strip out of his civvies and come quick, because baby brother’s about to kick it.”


“I don’t understand.” And there’s Thor, dropping his head down right over a pale-looking Jane’s shoulder, frowning down at whatever screen they’re talking to, and Tony wants to hit something.


WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN?” he bellows, and, yikes, that might be a migraine, starting right behind his eyes. “We called—”


“We didn’t get anything,” says Jane hoarsely. She’s turning a nauseated shade of white (probably because she’s still stuck on ‘fighting the devil,’ which, okay, acceptable), and Tony thinks things are about to lose even more momentum, so before they can add any more, he shushes them.


“Never mind, doesn’t matter. Thor. You need to get down here, now. We’re in—we’re in battle, Thor, and I am out of my fucking league.” If that isn’t clear enough, he’s not sure what is.


Thor’s eyes blaze. The hammer bursts onto the scene, then, with a yelp from Jane, Thor raises it, his armor flying to him a lot like Tony’s, actually, if more fluid (and, damn, does he need to have a talk with some Asgardian tailors), and he’s gone, crashing through a window with enough speed that Jane’s hair splays up across her face and over to the other side.


When wind stops whipping through her apartment, Jane stares at Tony across the interface, her expression long-suffering and hard. A part of Tony wonders if she and Pepper practice that look together.


“It could be worse,” Tony offers brightly. “You could be dating me.”


“Ha,” Jane says shortly.

She hangs up on him.



“You certainly do like capitalizing on the moment,” Mephisto comments, but it’s offhand and not particularly suspicious, so Loki keeps talking.


“She was the first one of them to surprise me, you know,” he says, and this is the last story he has to tell, so he hopes to all the stars above that Tony has figured something out. No, not hopes—trusts. He has to trust. Tony deserves it. Tony won’t—Tony won’t abandon him. He hopes. Believes. “Crept up behind me like the little spy she is.”


“I don’t want to hear any more about her,” Ella complains, and Loki shoots her a glare.


“Easy,” Mephisto appeases—to both of them. “Let him have his moment.”


“Thank you,” Loki says stiffly, continuing his ministrations. “Where was I?”


“Somewhere mundane,” Ella mutters.


“Oh, that’s right,” Loki says loudly. “I was talking about how talented she was. Is,” he corrects, staring back at Ella. “By far the only female warrior I’ve ever met of her character.”


Ella snorts; Mephisto continues to watch, clearly amused.


“And she crept up behind me and tricked me into a confession that I didn’t even realize I was making. She’s something special,” he finishes, quietly, the knife still peppering the skin of her throat with tiny pricks of red.


“And now that the speeches are said and done,” Mephisto says, and it’s all Loki can do to keep the knife steady, “it’s time for the final rites.”


“Of course,” Loki says thickly, angling the knife against her jugular. He would make it quick. He could to that much. Gods, he should have started with Hawkeye.


And then there’s a burst of wind, heavier than the air around them. Heavy and charged. One lock of Natasha’s hair, longer than the others, gusts against the blade of the knife. It falls in a slash of red, one splash of scarlet against the tile. Rather hair than blood, Loki thinks fervently, and when he looks up, he feels his body lock. He knows that sky, knows the veins of electricity that split it open like a science experiment, knows the heart of that storm that has every beat of static pulsing.


Ella laughs, loud and braying, and Loki is tempted beyond belief to let the knife fly, because his marksman skills aren’t entirely lacking, and it would be nice to see such a pretty blade cut. “Afraid of a little storm, godling?”


“Exactly the opposite,” Loki says with a smile. “This is more than a storm.”


At her look, he points the knife, lines it up with a darker spot in the middle of a very dark cloud, and grins down its sights. “The Thunderer comes.”



Jane is magic and sunshine and science and long-suffering, and Tony can’t help but feel a little bit guilty every time he talks to her, but it’s her bad decisions that have her dating a superhero-slash-god-king, so he keeps walking instead of wallowing over it. It’s a good plan, he thinks, especially when he turns the next corner and the Hulk is there. Correction: would havebeen a good plan, if big Green weren’t unconscious on the ground, breathing heavy. He kicks out at the Hulk with a metal boot. He doesn’t get a response. He sighs, sitting down on the pavement.


“I know the feeling, buddy.” And then, “You are useless as hell right now.” It’s alright. Tony knows that feeling, too.


There’s nothing for him to do, because he believes in fighting first, asking questions later, nine out of ten times, but this is something bigger than they’ve trained for. There isn’t a simulation he can build that can match what they can do, so he twiddles his fingers instead—twiddles them faster, racing through his system, trying to find a way inside, a cheat, a short-cut.


He finds a camera, still wired, and he weasels his way into it (breaks into his own system, which is a feat in itself, so there’s one victory for a day that’s been short of them so far). He can see all of them in the room—a woman with huge hair taking up half the frame, Natasha, facing him, her eyes open and unseeing. Steve is in front of her; all Tony can see his one blue-clad shoulder, and, on the other side, past Natasha, Clint, bow held in a limp hand. It’s eerie. They’re as still as wax dolls, with the exception of Loki and his buddies. And, god, Tony hopes for an explanation. For there to be another reason why Loki walks forward and accepts a knife from the woman. Another reason why he holds the knife against Natasha’s throat.


Tony has his power routing to his feet in a moment, standing and stepping into the air, because he wouldn’t, he won’t, he can’t, he’s—


Tony pauses in the air. He’s stalling, is what he’s doing. The knife at Natasha’s throat doesn’t move as Loki speaks, and he’s performing, his other hand making wide, dramatic motions, and Tony’s heart won’t settle, it can’t, because what happens when the story runs out.


And then there is thunder. Tony freezes. Loki, on his little screen, freezes. Mephisto looks around. The woman’s hair wiggles.


It’s a bitch to fly in heavy winds, but Tony has never been happier to see a storm in his life. He sends a burst to the repulsors at his feet, sending himself spiraling into the air.


“Your timing is amazing,” he yells, and he knows Thor won’t hear him because the skies are furious, the skies are blazing, and he hopes Mephisto cries. Or bleeds. Bleeding, he decides, glancing back down at a still-unconscious Hulk, would work really, really well for him.



“You need to go,” Loki says forcefully, for what feels like the tenth time in two minutes, waving his arms between the two of them. Ella recoils with a howl; he’s caught her wrist in his motions, and blood that is more black than red flows quick and thick from between her fingers. Loki blinks at her and glances down at the blade. “Whoops.”



“You did that on purpose,” she hisses. “You filthy little outcast. I should have your head here—”


“Oh, please,” Loki scoffs, spinning the knife in his hand. “It’s not as if you won’t heal.”


“It hurt.”


“Well, then.” Loki smiles, all teeth. “That explains the blood.”


“Children,” Mephisto sighs, snapping his fingers.  It’s only a noise, but the Avengers drop like their strings have been cut, crumple to the ground in battered heaps, and Loki’s breath falters.


“What did you do?” he asks sharply, and he knows that it’s concern that Mephisto must hear in his voice, but he doesn’t care, because if they’re dead, if he’s killed them—


“Ended their fantasies,” he drawls, dusting his fingers off against the lapels of his jacket. “Would you like to see what they see now?” He doesn’t wait for Loki’s reply.


Hands are on either side of Loki’s head, thumbs are pressed over his eyes, and it burns, it scalds, he can smell fire and brimstone and a potent flurry of the scent of slow death, and he screams—


There is a row of red soldiers, winged abominations, lined up before him. He sees them hiss, stamp their feet, bat their wings, gnash their teeth, but it’s silent. The silence is unnatural— it’s a vacuum of noise, still as death, and the pressure in the air is making his vision hazy, hazy with heat and too much, too much. It’s the anticipation of a storm, of a shock, of the demon army to charge, to devour him whole, a landslide of pain and horror.


When Loki comes to, his knees are cool against the floor, throbbing from the force of his landing, and everything he breathes slides through his lungs like liquor and razors, and he holds his eyes closed and his lips, bitten in his torment, together, just in case.


“So you see,” Mephisto says, slow and deep and careful, “You have come to seek mercy from them, Loki, and now, the play is yours. Give mercy. End their suffering.” Loki opens his eyes, just a sliver, and he sees Mephisto spread his hands open, a peaceful gesture. Peaceful and false.


“I have never,” Loki spits, “sought mercy.”


And he lets the knife fly, straight and true, directly at Mephisto. He isn’t expecting it, and Loki croaks a laugh from between bloodied lips when the dagger hits him, slices into his chest, right where a heart would be if the devil had one. His shout is drowned out by a crack of thunder and a deeper shock, tremors through the floor sending Loki toppling sideways. It doesn’t matter; he can see the cause from here.


Thor has landed, Mjolnir in hand, in a crouch on the roof—a roof that has cracked under his fall, jagged splinters of stone sticking out and up like a declaration of war, and Loki’s smile widens until he can feel blood running in small rivers down past his chin.


“Brother,” Thor calls.


“Time enough for a reunion,” Loki grunts, pushing himself up. Ella stands torn between him and her master, uncertain, still, of where the betrayal lies. Loki wishes he hadn’t lost the knife quite so quickly. What he wouldn’t give to gut her against the— no. “Thor,” Loki says, straightening up, “Mephisto. Mephisto, my brother, the god of thunder. I don’t believe that the two of you will be friends.” Loki coughs out a spray of blood and spits it at his feet.


Thor has murder in his eyes and Loki laughs because it’s just like old times, really, only the old times had less blood and less potential casualties and Loki usually had less to lose—only Thor, and Thor, only him, back to back, side to side, hammer and magic. Loki knows Thor’s battle cry. He knows it, and he knows the way it sings to his own blood, and so when he turns and slashes his arm across the air and Ella twists away from the enchantment behind it, he laughs. He’s as tightly wound as a bowstring, and he ducks away from her blow and to Thor’s side.


They fight like brothers, like a thousand years of history, like they know the way the other moves. Thor swings his hammer, Loki lashes out with spells and illusions, and it’s going the right way. Mephisto howls his rage, and looses the dagger from his chest to throw it behind him, straight into a speaker that Tony will probably miss, and Loki laughs, high and careless, when Ella attempts to surprise him—laughs, and stops her in midair, watching the way their magic, their matching magic, rebounds off of itself and disappears into the air, flashes of red that have no meaning. There is no poetry, because this magic has no words the way Loki’s magic has words. It isn’t eloquent; it isn’t slow and clever and slippery. It’s bright and abrasive and all force and no substance, but Loki bends it to his will, and it suffices.


“To your left,” Jarvis says, and his voice is loud in a room of only the sound of glass crinkling underfoot and the rush of blood in battle-clogged ears. Loki jumps to his right and Ella’s blow misses. Thor swings for Mephisto again, and he roars, raising an arm to block the hammer’s blow.


Jarvis. There’s a hint, there. Loki knows this, but he’s distracted, Ella’s fingers weaving wicked bewitchments that call for his blood to spill and his bones to break, Mephisto clawing at his brother and fighting hand to hammer and holding his own. There’s something important and Loki is missing it, and he makes his way around the room, fighting Ella hand to hand and spell to spell, and lands his hand against the wall, against where the dagger sticks out of a mess of circuitry and pulls it out, ready to throw—


He stops. The dagger is in hand, and he only has time enough to raise a quick, shoddy shield with his other hand, because Ella’s still coming at him, still fierce, quick and brutal, but he’s got it, he has it, he’s figured it out. It’s an idea, there, pulsing at the back of his skull, and the dagger is bright with blood that’s blacker than red, and oh.


He needs cover. He needs to focus. He needs to be careful.


“Maybe,” Loki grunts, breathing hard when another shot makes it too close, “I’ve picked wrong. Maybe Hell would have been a better bet.”


“Too late now,” Ella cackles. (The blows stop, for a moment. She’s a talker. He can exploit that.) “You’re built to suffer, Loki. That’s what you’re good for.”


“And are you going to?” he asks, mouth on auto. “Make me suffer?”


“In more ways than you can possibly imagine,” she says darkly, her eyes all glitter and spite. And then there are metal arms around her and Loki has never been happier to see the red and gold machine than he is now, when the Iron Man leans his head around a stunned Ella and nods, once. Loki blinks.


“I’ve got her,” comes Tony’s voice, tinny and affected. “And I’ve got Thor’s back. Go for it.”


Because of course, of course Tony gets what Loki gets and Loki nods at him, doesn’t let the relief show, lets his hair fall into his eyes instead and throws himself to the floor, knife in hand.


He slides the knife across his palm, flat side only, because he’s not sticking the blade in anybody’s mouth and he has to get it on them, has to get the red-black into their system, to bring them back to life. It’s Steve, first, and he’s messy. Loki presses shaking fingers to his skin, smears them across his lips, forces the blood deeper until it seeps into his tongue. 


Steve comes to in a moment, spluttering and breathless, and Loki kisses him because he’s out of his mind with relief, and when he pulls back, Steve stares at him like he’s seeing stars and something stranger, and Loki laughs, high and ridiculous, and crawls past him, pressing the palm of his hand, still slick with blood, against Natasha’s mouth until he feels her tongue against his skin, and then she’s waking up, quieter than Steve, but tenser. Her arm, where he holds her, locks, straight and solid below his hand. When she sees him, awareness catches in her eyes like wildfire, and Loki doesn’t kiss her because he values his life. “Go,” he says instead, and it’s not quite a smile that she sends him, but the gratitude is heavy. He hears her and Steve clamber to their feet and dive into the fight when he slides his hand against Clint’s mouth, and Clint, of course, is the only one who wakes up verbal, with an eloquent, “What in fuck’s name am I doing on the motherfucking floor, Loki, and what the hell is—is that blood? Did you bleed on me?” His voice goes high at the end of his outburst and Loki chuckles—chuckles. When was the last time he did that?—and presses the knife into Clint’s open hand.


“Take this,” he says, “and fight with them. They need you.”


“Is there blood in my mouth?”


Loki doesn’t answer; there’s blood still in his palm, and Bruce is somewhere down below. Jarvis is in working order, and with a quick shout, the elevator doors are sliding open, and they cover his escape. Before the doors closed, he locks eyes with the hell bitch and he sticks out his tongue. She howls like hell on fire. The doors close; he grins.


Jarvis puts a rush on the elevator and he runs out in seconds, his head swimming and his world flipping on its axis, quick and nauseating. But that doesn’t matter—he’s running, using the full stretch of his long, long legs, barreling through glass doors and out onto an empty street. He runs to his right, every footstep matching the beat of the battle above him, and his blood is singing with it, with the fight, and it’s not until he reaches the Hulk, curled up around a lamppost, that he rethinks the idea.


He is not sticking his hand in the Hulk’s mouth. What if he bites down? He could lose it.


Loki groans and walks around to the beast’s head, the bass of his snores sending tremors up through his legs. Loki is going to lose his hand.


“Don’t bite,” he says cautiously, reaching his fingers towards the Hulk’s mouth. “Please,” he adds weakly, letting them rest against his lips. “By everything holy, do not bite down on my hand, monster, or I’ll… I’ll…”


Loki is an idiot. He pulls a handful of gravel from the corner of the sidewalk and rubs it between his hands, coating it in enough blood, he’s sure, to be effective, and uses the magic he has to slide it between the monster’s lips and teeth, over his tongue, and waits.


The Hulk wakes up with a roar, and Loki is already pressing himself against the building, laughing, long and loud and hysterical. “Up!” he pants, pointing above them. “Go! They need you, they’re fighting, go, go.”


The Hulk looks at him like he’s the strange one, like he’s a great big green genetic confusion of a thing, and Loki laughs harder when he squats and jumps, high enough to pull himself up by a ledge halfway up the building. Amazing. 

Chapter Text

Loki is back through the double glass doors, pounding towards the elevators, before something finally breaks.


There’s a shift, somewhere inside him, and he sags against a wall, one arm thrown across his ribs to keep them together. His heart beats an alarm against his breastbone and he gasps at the hot flash of pain, every nerve ending exploding, raw, exposed.


Just as quickly as it comes, the sensation goes, leaving him to tremor behind it. But Loki’s strength is hard won and battle born, king once, a god always. He pushes away from the wall and blinks the moisture out of his eyes. Something hot splashes down the side of his face, and he wipes it away. The fingers he pulls away are muddied; soot is dusted across his face in a fine, black ash, and he rubs at it, wincing as every brush mars it deeper into his skin.


“Jarvis,” Loki says, pressing the button to take him to war. The elevator doors stay closed. Loki’s reflection glares back at him, gold faceted and high polished. “Jarvis,” he repeats, poking at the button again, repeatedly—it’s lit, but there’s no response. “Jar—”




Loki wonders if he’s hallucinating. Perhaps, if he turns around, closes his eyes, doesn’t breathe, doesn’t acknowledge—


A slim hand on his shoulder makes the decision for him. “Loki! What are you—are you alright?” She’s turning him around before he can to prepare himself in any way, and she ends up with an eyeful of soot and his own bloody mouth. His clothes are burned to tatters at the shoulder she’s braced against, he has burns on his face, and when he smiles at her, he can see her alarm grow.


“Ah,” he says slowly. “Lydia. And…” Eustace has followed her inside and looks around curiously at the conspicuously empty lobby. And the old woman—Dorothy? Diana? Dolores?—is in a pretty pink skirt suit, hands clasped over her purse. She smiles sweetly at Loki, and still, he cannot recall her name.


“You’re all here,” he says weakly. “You shouldn’t be.”


“But we have our meeting, sweetheart,” Dolly says, shaking her head. “It’s alright. I forget things, sometimes. Why, just last night, I—”


“You don’t understand,” he says hoarsely, because they don’t know, and Loki… Loki thinks he does. They speak, but all he hears is sacrifice. “Lydia,” he says, quiet and urgent, his hands on her shoulders. “You have to listen to me, very closely. You have to get those two, and you have to leave.”


Her eyes search his for some sign of explanation, some sense, and she comes away empty. “I—But you’re hurt. We have to get you some help, or something.” There’s a sound from the elevator, a crash, a body’s weight thrown against giving metal. Loki pushes her away from him, stunned and bewildered, and he knows he must look a sight, a wide-eyed madman, torn and bruised and burned and battered.


“Why do you look different?” Lydia asks, soft and sweet and genuinely curious, and she’s lovely terrified, and Loki can feel the future, feel the way this ends, feel his payment and the devil collecting, and he snarls at her, because, for a moment, he is scared, too.


“You stupid, foolish creatures,” he  sneers (Daphne whispers, “Heavens.” Loki wants to say Not quite). “Stupid and foolish and idiotic, to walk into a warzone and expect to leave unscathed. You’ve brought this on yourselves.”


“Warzone?” Lydia demands, bracketing Eustace and Dora behind her (a hero, of course, naturally, of course). “What the hell are you talking about?”


“Oh, please,” Loki spits. “As if you didn’t hear—” Oh. Oh. They didn’t. Of course they didn’t. The battle on the roof—Loki can’t even hear it, not from here, and outside… the sound is blanketed. They didn’t hear. “You need to leave,” he says instead. “Run, leave, now, before—”

There is bone music, grating and jarring, and it’s coming from behind the elevator doors. It’s the sound of someone playing, preparing for their entrance, having fun on the back of the promise of someone else’s doom. Loki knows the rhythm well, if not the tune. They should dance away from it, run away, but Loki can’t find it within himself to be surprised when they freeze instead.


Under hands-turned-talons, clawed and curving, Ella makes easy work of tearing her way out of her golden prison. Something sharp pokes through and draws a line across, jagged and disastrous.


“Not this,” Loki says, and he must be a sight, yelling oaths to no one. He turns to the other group. “You have to get out, you have to leave, you have to run,” and this attempt has to work better than it did on the roof, because they will hurt, they will die, and he can’t.


The shrieking sound of something sharp on metal shocks them into movement.


Loki knows, but they don’t and so when they look at him in fear and disbelief, he doesn’t blame them. But he doesn’t want their terror. He wants their safety. Craves it.


The elevator doors shudder.


They reach the door, and Lydia’s hand brushes the handle. She yelps. He hand comes away throbbing red. “It’s hot she says, and there’s a swallowed sob in her voice.


Something skinny and pointed slides through the gap between the elevator doors.


Open them,” Loki screams, and bless them, they’re trying. Delilah is whacking at the door with her handbag; Eustace is kicking at the handles; Ella is tearing her way out of the elevator, peeling the doors to shreds with claws, yanking the pieces in with horrible noises, and Loki can’t tell where the sounds of destruction end and the sounds from her own throat begin.


“No,” Loki breathes hoarsely. “Not this. No.”


“Oh, but yes,” Ella cackles, and she’s different, when she jumps up onto the ruins of the elevator, taloned feet keeping her in place. Black, bat-like wings unfurl shoot out from behind her with the smell of burning flesh and hair, and the humanity (what little there was of it) is gone from her face—her eyes burn black and her teeth hang past her lips, dripping poison to her feet. She’s a piece of beauty destroyed, in the wreckage of the elevator doors, and she holds out on clawed hand to Loki, her nails long and curling, veritable blades, and Loki swallows back the bile that threatens to burn its way out from the back of his throat. “This, Loki,” she says, and her voice is as sweet as a corpse. “Is your price.”


“No,” he repeats, faint as a ghost.


Ella roars.



“This is ridiculous,” Tony complains, blasting out and watching yet another copy fizzle to nothing… and his favorite blue armchair simply fizzle.


“These remind me of my brother’s tricks,” Thor grunts, flinging his hammer through three of them at once. They poof out of existence with one last vicious cackle.


“If I catch him,” Tony pants, turning to shoot at another swoosh of black hair. “I’m sending him straight back to hell.”


“Agreed,” Thor says grimly. “I only wonder where his harpy has gotten to.”


Tony blanches behind the mask. “I thought—“


Another batch of red sinned demons descend on him, and he howls, shooting out blindly, the claws that leave gouges down his chest plate realer than they have any right to be.



“This is it, Loki,” Ella says, and Loki hates how smoothly his name rolls from her tongue.


“It was orchestrated. All of this. You— You bitch,” he says, and it doesn’t quite feel like enough.


“You tell her, sweetie,” Deborah hollers from behind him. She falls silent when Ella snaps at her.


“I’m not going to,” Loki says, and he smiles, because he’s found a cause, and it might kill him, but he was dying to begin with.


“Oh, but you will,” Ella chortles, and Loki’s smile falls apart. “You will, or I will. Please,” she says, lunching towards him on all fours, wings fluttering when she jumps from the perch of her ruins. “Say no. I’m dying for a little bit of…” She glides her forked tongue over thinning lips. “Fun.”


“What in the hell is that supposed to be?” Eustace grumbles.


“I don’t know,” Dessa sniffs, “but she’s acting like a little cunt.” Lydia gasps. “What?”


Loki laughs. He laughs as Ella spreads her claws, laughs as he raises his hands in defense, the liquid fire of his—not his, not after this—magic rushing around his fingers, crosses his palms with stars and curses, and he prepares to die.


“You’ve made your choice, Loki,” Ella says, her voice hushed and reverent. “In the name of my Lord, I—”


“Definitely a cunt,” Donna says firmly.


Stop that,” Lydia hisses.


“But what the hell is on her back?” Eustace mutters. “Have we stumbled in on one of those any-me things? You know, the ones with the colorful hair—”


Silence,” Ella whispers, and there’s an enchantment woven into the word, because they fall quiet, as does the air, and Loki can’t hear his pulse, his breath, and can’t help but wonder if this will be the way he dies—without a sound, without a whimper.


“That’s your price, Loki,” Ella says, soft and seductive. “It’s them, or you. The Avengers will think they have won; perhaps our Lord will even fake his death. But you will be nowhere to be found, their corpses will be fresh, and you will be powerful beyond all measure.” Power was a dream, Loki thinks. Poisonous. He’s felt power, tasted true power, been destroyed by true power. “So take them,” Ella insists. Loki holds his silence. “Take them,” she repeats, impatiently, and she’s getting louder, shriller, and Loki smiles. “Kill them now, Loki. Tear out their hearts. Rend their throats. Bleed them dry,” she shrieks, and he has seen madness, he has known madness, he expects madness, and the scream that sends blood across her lips, makes her body vibrate, her tongue wag like a live wire, looks like madness, sounds like madness, tastes like madness, and Loki grins, breaks open the wounds on his mouth, and he sees it coming when she soars up into the air, but he’s already rushing towards them, ignoring the way they shrink back, ignoring the way they look at him, confused and betrayed, because Ella is diving at them, her talons wide and extended, and Loki throws himself over them, envelopes them in his arms and a quickly woven shield (Like this, Lydia said, a heartbeat ago, guiding hands that already knew the motions) and Ella bounces back, careens through the air with a sound like anguish that sends his hair to prickling.


She crashes down onto an empty receptionist’s desk, sending papers and sparks up around herself, and when she rises, slow and dignified, Loki throws a blade of a curse like a well-cut knife, and watches it slice through one of her wings, and keeps his eyes on her when he hears her howl of pain. When she turns back to him, one wing membrane torn clean through, her eyes are blazing and her smile is wicked. (He should’ve gone for her smile. For her mouth. For her throat.)


“Let me see you die, godling,” she whispers. Loki braces for it.


It doesn’t hurt the way he expects it to, when she peels away his magic. The magic comes away from him like a scab, tears at the ragged edges of his own that it had clung to like a cancer, like a sore, and his body thanks her. His body, that heaves under the surge of empty, thanks her, even as it shakes itself apart, even as he hears himself screaming into the silence, feels every wound reopening, every dark crevasse filling with blood and sworn oaths and empty apologies, and his body thanks her for leaving it to a destruction all its own.



“Does this feel like a distraction to you?” Tony calls over to Cap, ducking one more razor-fingered blow to the head before it can connect. He’s a mess of scarred metal, gold and red ribbons line the floor of his ambushed suite, and Cap’s shield barely misses him, careening into the evil puppet and shattering it into air.


“How do you mean?” Cap demands, spinning around to swing at one more—always one fucking more.


“What’s he fighting—shit—for? He isn’t—fuck no, you little—gaining any ground here, he’s fucking holding us, so let go of me you little bitch—” Tony grabs one more—one fucking more that’s gouged into his armor deep enough that he felt it—and twists its head around, so that he doesn’t have to see it grinning at him before it bursts back to nothing. “I’m telling you, Cap,” Tony says, breathing hard and thinking harder. “There’s another endgame, and he’s keeping us away, and I—” I’m afraid for Loki. “I think it might be Loki, Captain.”


And then there’s no time to speak, because a fresh wave descends, wilder and madder and faster, and Tony hopes that Loki’s managing.



It feels like he’s been skinned alive, like a cold night came with no warning, like it’s raining, somewhere inside the black cavern of his chest, but there’s relief, too, of something that was never of him being expunged from his body, and he collapses from it, caught by Lydia and Eustace, one to each arm, and Dinah, behind him, yelling shame on you at Ella and shaking her purse at her.


Everything is a haze, with Loki on his knees, but he isn’t dead yet, not yet, not quite, so he clambers to his feet, every muscle locking on his way up, protesting, screaming, but he grits his teeth and bares it because he can, because he is Loki, because he might lose, but he won’t let them win.


“Quaint,” Ella says stiffly. “You are one of them, aren’t you? Very well.” The arm she raises doesn’t shake like the HYDRA agent’s. She is sure of herself, confident in a way that he never was, and she tilts her head, considering, staring at them down the bridge of her nose, like insects down a glass, preparing to burn.


Loki pushes against the support they lend him, shudders to his feet. He’ll protect them, somehow, with his body, if need be, because he will die, but they won’t have to, they can’t not if he, not if he can, not if he can manage to—


The force that slams into them is invisible and irresistible, and when Loki’s feet leave the ground, it’s a relief. It’s one less thing to think about, to concentrate on, because he doesn’t need to stand, no, he can slip away, slide into something darker, cooler, deeper, a cavern behind tired eyes that need never see daylight agai—


Loki wrenches his eyes open and opens his mouth. There is something there, something inside him still, a remnant of his soul, and he will make it serve him. It’s blue and green and pure and cold and he rips it from inside of him to cushion their fall, to brace them against the glass that they slam through, a hundred miles per hour across the pavement. Eustace skitters farther away, and Loki whips a pad below him, to keep their bodies from breaking against the pavement, to keep them from injury, to make mortal strong and lethal incidental. Their bounce-skid-scrape sends them across the asphalt, until they’re spiraling to a stop, covered in fine, crushed pieces of glass and metal.


Loki leans back, where his head has hit something jagged, and wheezes a laugh.


“Here lies Loki,” he wheezes, “broken and scorned.” He laughs again. His lungs are a brutal, mangled mess, and spines of glass dig into him where his own broken bones do not. He laughs harder, his life’s blood spilling out between his teeth and between his fingers, where his hands do nothing to hold his body in. This is the ending he could have foreseen, pain before death under a blackening sky, lightning flashing gold and green when his eyes close, as heavy as his body is heavy, too much thought and spite and splinters of bone in failing muscle.


But no—it is Loki as the last resort, as the final defense, and he hauls open his eyes and blink up at the sky until shapes become colors and colors become vision that blinks out in shards of discordant light every time he breathes.


He cranes his neck, trying to see where they’ve landed. The street has long since emptied, of cars and pedestrians alike. Lydia is closest to him, one foot away. There’ s a cut on her cheek that’s left a red smear down her face, and she’s motionless except for where her pulse flutters, slow and unconcerned, at the junction of her throat.


He should call for help. It won’t do anything, though; it they’ve thought this far ahead, they’ve cut him off from the Avengers, and if they don’t hear him, it will be wasted oxygen and expended effort. Loki struggles up to his knees instead, because he can’t manage his feet, and it would be so easy, here, to stop. To fall over. To lay back, let Ella have her victory, let the darkness come, let sleep take him, and then Hel. Rather Hel than Hell.


He hears a giggle at his joke, high and deluded. The noise is leaking from his own throat, and it stops as soon as it recognizes itself. He squirms his bare feet into the glass below him to ground himself. The pain doesn’t make him sharper; there’s too much of it, all over him, inside of him, around him, and his world goes gray for a moment, unbalanced and too narrow for him to breath in.



“Her first,” he hears, muffled and discordant. He open his eyes. He’s already looking in the right direction, so he can see Ella, bracketed by lightning, taking up the sky with the banner of her wings, blacker than night and twice as fierce. Lydia lies below her, still breathing. Lydia, beautiful, kind, horribly unconscious Lydia, and he’s not even thinking about it, when Ella raises her clawed fingers and splays them over her body, not even considering the consequences.


Loki is a fool on his death ground, a fool to let his weakness, his mortality, make him strong. No, his mind corrects, not strong. Only foolish. Only ever foolish.


He dives over her, his arms spread and his hands held high, as if there was magic there, as if he had power, as if he had a way to save her. When the talon falls, there just barely in time (never time enough, not for him, not ever) to raise his arm and block the blow.


“I won’t,” he pants out, and prays that that’s enough.

 She smiles.

Her claws slice through his flesh like heated iron, and he screams, blood falling from the ribbons of his skin, such red against such white, and he raises the other arm, hand open, praying to the heavens to stop her, for him to catch her, for him to save


The ground trembles beneath him, beneath his last desperate request to no one, and the sky, for a moment, goes gold when the sun cuts through. Loki looks up at the shadow that blocks out the light, embers for eyes and a mouth full of acid, and smiles. Farewell, brother. He braces for the blow.


It doesn’t come.




He has her caught, her wrist in his hand, her claws scraping at the air, and she smiles, humors him, pretends as if it will be an effort to crush him, ant under steel-toed boot, but Loki… Loki feels cold.


Loki stares up at her, curious, but she’s swimming into a different kind of focus. Her arm stuck where it is, Loki’s hand around her wrist, and Loki breathes, “Performance anxiety.” He tightens his grip and he sees her wince before she buries it, covers it in a growl. “Happens to the worst of us.”


She forces him back, leaning towards him, her eyes wide and confused on his, until he is horizontal, until they both lie over Lydia’s legs (there will be scrapes, he knows, when she wakes up, but he’ll fix those, he promises, he swears, he’ll find a way, he will; he’s invested, now) and her hand presses closer and closer, talon an inch from his face, and then—stops.


There’s something starting, right below his skin, and it’s cold, colder still than the death she offered, and he exhales between them, slow and deep, and Ella’s black, black eyes are wide with confusion when they finally meet his. She lets the other arm fall with a shrill cry. Loki catches that one, too, his grip tight, and she wails when she sees his wounds knitting together, the blood flow slowing to a stop, his own nails tearing into the thin skin over her veins.


Loki feels the cold, and he accepts it, lets it breathe within him, breathes out into the air, already chilled by the set of the sun, and sees the ice crystals form before him, brittle and fragile and beautiful, throwing rainbows across their lips, and he smiles.


The skies open when Ella’s mouth does, a bellow loud enough to drown out the way the ground beneath him trembles—almost. Almost big enough that Loki misses the way the earth responds to his last, final, desperate request to no one, and the sky, when the rain falls, flashes a pure, blinding white. 

Chapter Text

“It’s not possible,” Ella snarls, snapping her teeth an inch from his nose. “You die. You…” She trails off. Her eyes are on his blue, on the way the blue races across his skin, liquid as ink on parchment, dying him something different, and he’s never been so thankful of the way that he burns, negative degrees.


He only has to push and he’s on his feet, strong and searing against Ella’s skin, and she screams bloody, her claws trembling before his face. Loki throws her away from him and she skids across the ground, talons scraping up a spray of sparks from the asphalt.


“What are you?” she demands. He can taste her fear on the air, and he greets it like the old friend that it is, smiling back at her and raising his blue arms into the rain, turning them up against the sky.


“I am Loki,” he says quietly—calm, even if he’s seething, anger and rage and vindication and an instinct to protect that he thought far behind him. “I am Jötunn and Aesir. I am nothing you have ever seen and nothing you have ever imagined, and I am your doom.” And their salvation. Loki shudders. His magic is racing across constellations, through cities, up from underground, down from the Bifrost, and he feels his nerves jump at every power surge. A part of him is hesitant to move, for fear of his power missing him, flying into Ella instead, or into one of the humans, a fraction of his own soul lost.


But Ella comes at him with all of Hell’s fury and all of Hell’s fire, and Loki has no time (never time) to hesitate. Loki is more than her—more than all of them, more than anyone, so much more, always more—and he stops her in her paces, his hands upraised, green static dashing across his palms and jumping between his fingertips.


Loki grins when she howls and slices through the air. He can see it, there, the ripple in the ether that will give him what he wants, and he sends a pulse of his hunger, of his hate, down the line, and Ella shrieks in pain when it hits her, bats at the ice that she can’t touch, and Loki is already throwing more of his daggers of frost, thin and glazed with vitriol, and she glares at him, yellow eyes against red, as they hit her, perfect points with perfect precision.


With a deep, wild call, the ice is melting, but it’s too little, too late, and Loki kicks out at her, because she’s trying to slip around him, to go for the mortals, and he’ll have her dead before she touches them.


“Bastard of the ice,” she spits. She’s lost; Loki can see that, and he revels in it, in the confusion, in the fear, in the chaos. “You are not able—”


“I’m far more than able, I assure you,” Loki sniffs, hands extended at his sides, blades held lightly between his fingers, ready for throwing.


Her face screwed up in rage, she lets out one final cry, the last, desperate noise of a burning bird, and then she disappears, on a wave of brimstone and a burst of smoke.


Her absence echoes in the absence. Loki isn’t expecting that. The magic is still coiled within him like a spring, still begging for battle, to be spent, too much for his body to hold without bursting apart, but she’s gone, and he tries to tamp it down, but it’s still rising inside him, fast and hard.



He stumbles over to Lydia, down to the ground next to her. His knees don’t so much as twinge when he lands, hard, on the ground, and he has to be careful when he shakes her, careful not to hurt her (it would be a shame, really, if she died now, from something like this, after all of his efforts).


“Lydia,” he says tightly. He can hear a tremor in his voice, adrenaline and shock born, and he tries to quell it. “Lydia, you need to get up.”


She groans, her eyes still closed, and he sighs in relief, pulling back when she opens her eyes, water sluicing down her nose. “What—” Her eyes focus quickly, and then widen, her mouth falling open. “Why do you—I don’t understand—” Ah.


It takes an incredible amount of focus to draw the blue back below the surface of his false skin, but he manages, closing his eyes until the red bleeds back into green and white.


“Don’t be afraid,” Loki says, and means it, for, perhaps, the first time. “It’s alright.”


When he opens his eyes, she’s still staring, but it’s more fascination than fear that he sees on her face. She winces when she moves, and Loki swears. Bruises and scrapes. Of course. He drops one hand over her leg and heals what he can.


“You have to run,” Loki says quickly. They need to leave before Mephisto notices Ella’s desertion. “Eustace is over there,” he says, nodding towards where the old man is stirring, swear words pouring out by the barrel. “Take him and go.”


“But—” She looks past him, towards where he knows the old woman has fallen.


“I’ll get her,” Loki says firmly. “Now go.”


She nods once and clambers to her feet, calling Eustace’s name through the noise of the storm. Loki looks down at the shape she’s left behind her, an asphalt angel, the only dry land in a sea of roiling puddles. There’s a smear of motor oil where her head was resting, a glistening black rainbow in the shape of a snake. It’s fascinating, beautiful, so much like the humans’ chalk drawings of the dead on the TV, limbs stiff—


Lydia shouts his name.


He turns to her. It’s the wrong direction to look in, because, a moment later, he hears a surprised, breathy, “Oh.”


It’s her shoes that Loki looks at. They’re as pink as her jacket, as pink as her purse, subtly pointed. They’re realistic shoe. Sensible. The tips don’t touch the ground; they’re two feet up, swinging gently, and that’s easier, isn’t it, because shoes don’t look at him, eyes wide and beseeching and helpless and confused. Shoes don’t say his name. Shoes don’t have a name that he can’t remember.


“Oh, Loki,” Ella says, smile saccharine. She has the old woman— Dana? Delphine? —by her shoulders, her wings batting lofty and lazy above them. “You like playing the hero, don’t you? Can you save all of them? Hm? Are you strong enough for that?” She laughs, then, low and throaty, and Loki sees stars. He’s stopped breathing. “Can you save her?”


“Put me down,” she demands, and plants one sensibly heeled shoe directly into Ella’s knee. Ella shakes her loose, shakes her until she’s swinging, limbs loose and dazed.


One shoe falls into a puddle below them. The toes of her stockings have one tiny, worn hole at her right small toe.


She’s outraged and tiny, white-blue hair quivering out in an angry halo, and Loki loves her, for a moment, for her spirit and for her memory.


“Make your choice,” Ella says quietly. Her fingers inch closer towards the old woman’s neck.


“Don’t you get handsy with me, you harlot,” she squeaks.


“I won’t,” Loki whispers, and it’s a choice made, even as Ella’s hands meet around her neck, a slow, sinuous caress.


“You tell her, sweetie,” she says, and Loki’s done nothing to warrant the kindness in her eyes, and he’d think that the peace he sees there is a lack of understanding, vacuous, stupid, if it weren’t for the wink that she throws him. No. “I’m rooting for your team.”


“You rude cow,” she throws over her shoulder, tacking it on almost as an afterthought.


When Ella cups her jaw and twists her neck sharply to the side, Loki can’t hear the crack of her neck over Lydia’s cries, but when Ella drops her body, limp, broken, lifeless heap, Loki sees red.


The blue rushes back over him, and he can’t think about the way he’s supposed to look, the skin that isn’t his, not really, because he’s thinking about power, about strength, about You tell her, sweetie, and he howls.


He can see the threads, lifelines, ripples, the way every cord connects, and it only takes a thought to block Ella from disappearing (sever the cord, cut the lifeline, close it, move it, bend it away) and a move to blade his hand, thrust it into her chest like it belongs there, where her heart would be if she has one, but she doesn’t, only a dank, dark place, and Loki closes a fist inside of her, scrapes his nails against the core of her, and she screams.


Loki freezes her from the inside out, and it’s good. It’s the way it should be. Loki is strength, Loki is power, his teeth gritted in ecstasy, in agony, in everything he hasn’t felt, hasn’t been able to feel, in far, far too long, and it gushes through him until he’s flush with it, ripe and shaking. He can burn mountains, freeze rivers, destroy the world.


He thinks, I’m rooting for your team, and tears her apart instead, and doesn’t stop until there’s red in the gutters and the rain has met its match.


Not a drop lands on the body behind him. 



When Tony lands behind him, Loki’s hands are clean. He’s down besides Doris—that’s it, that’s her name, he’s remembered, now, too late—her limbs carefully arranged, everything pristine apart from the ring of black bruises around her neck.


“Loki? Are you—what in the hell—”


Loki doesn’t bother looking away. “Doris. That was her name. I’d forgotten. And then it didn’t matter. Not really,” he amends. He wants to think that it does. That she’d scold him if she knew he’d forgotten.


It’s irksome, the sight of her. It’s his own failure with its eyes closed and its breath stopped, but it’s more than that. It’s a person—someone he cared about—and that’s the dangerous part. That it matters.  


Tony is quiet behind him. It’s not until Loki turns that he realizes he’s as blue as the Captain’s uniform, and he smiles mirthlessly. “Surprise,” he says wryly.


Tony doesn’t say anything for a moment, and then, “The other one. The woman. What happened to her?”


“I did,” Loki says dismissively, turning back to Doris’s body. He’s surprised, really, that Tony’s managed not to say anything about his visage. Surprised and impressed, to a certain degree.


“Well.” Tony clears his throat. “You did your thing, surprised the hell out of Mephisto and his photocopies, and then they all collectively disappeared, so. Kudos to that. She’s, uh…” There’s nothing discrete about the Iron Man suit fidgeting. “Totally taken care of, then?”


“She took something that was mine,” Loki murmurs. He’s returned the lost shoe to her foot, placed her bag back into her hands, clasped at her waist. There’s little more he can do for her. He almost wishes Lydia had stayed long enough to handle whatever comes next.


“I’m sorry,” Tony says, and the hand that falls to Loki’s shoulder doesn’t mean as much as it’s probably meant to.


Loki can feel her age, knows her sicknesses, her frailty, her vitality, can measure each against the other, map out what would have happened if and what could have happened when. He could wish her destined for Valhalla for the way she fought, bravely and fruitlessly. But it is a wish, he knows, that is in vanity. He will hold it all the same. “She’s been avenged,” is all he says, soft and satisfied, and that’s all there is to it. The time for sentiment is past, for him. It should be long past. It shouldn’t matter.


It does. He sighs. It only takes a moment for him to pull his guise back into place, the blue fading to pink at the hands he curls in front of him. When he’s done, he looks up at Tony and smiles. The Iron Man helmet looks less than amused, and so when Tony raises the visor to expose a face full of relief and exhaustion, Loki stands and takes the offered hand.


“Too bad, really, that Mephisto’s gone,” Loki comments, letting Tony pull him in by the waist, the repulsors starting them on their climb. “I’ve a few tricks I would’ve liked to try.” Fire against ice. It could have been fascinating. They could have leveled the city between them. Loki shakes off the images, frowning at the thought. The city is his, now, as well. He wouldn’t allow Mephisto the privilege of raising against it.


“Listen…” Loki’s not sure what Tony’s going to ask, but he can guess, and his body’s still in the middle of its metamorphosis, which doesn’t leave him much patience for conversation.


“I’m alright, Tony,” he sighs. “Better that alright. All pistols firing.”


“Pistons,” Tony corrects with a smile.


Loki frowns and puts his hand in front of Tony’s face. There’s a green, fluorescent webbing moving between his fingers when he splays them apart, and he rolls his eyes at Tony’s expression. “I—”And then whatever he was trying to say gets stuck in his through when another burst of magic surges up inside of him, and he groans, eyes fluttering closed.


They stutter in the air. Tony’s arms go rigid around him.




Loki squirms in his arms, his eyes over-bright and his grip on Tony tight, but he moves his mouth to do no more than sigh.


“Up,” Loki says finally, like the word is forced out of him, and Tony falls silent as they spiral up into the sky.



They land on the roof—Loki, graceful; Tony, a screech of damaged metal. Loki walks across the roof in jolting, uncertain steps. Every few inches he shudders, his body jerking with tremors that have his eyes wide and his hands widespread in delicate surprise.


Tony watches him while he dismantles the armor—what’s left of it. The chest plate is unsalvageable, the gauntlets need work, the shoulder plates have concaved. But the sky’s clearing up, they’ve beaten the devil, and, at the end of it, all Tony really wants is a drink.


“You might not want to talk to me about it,” Tony calls out, “but the SHIELD clean-up crews are on their way to clear some of this out. Is there anything I should keep them away from?”


Loki turns back to him, his lips pursing around a syllable that Tony can’t hear. But then he’s stumbling back, his hands clawing at his chest, and he’s panting into the air, chest heaving. He goes rigid before Tony can so much as take a step towards him. “Oh,” he whispers, long and drawn out, and Tony doesn’t know what to do with, doesn’t know what procedure is when green eyes go spotlight and a body goes supernova.


Loki is shooting out waves of light, his body bowing backwards like a star is taking his spine for a crash landing, and he throws his head back, throat pulsing, a column of light and disaster. Tony stares at him, helpless, until he can’t stare any more because it’s too bright, it’s too much, and Loki is an explosion, a neutron collision, and the image of Loki, encased in light, is burned into his retinas. It’s so bright that it feels like he can see it with his eyelids closed, see the way Loki shakes and curls, body rocking out of his control.


When the light dies away, Tony blinks his eyes quickly, trying to clear away the salt-and-pepper static that his eyes have decided to blanket the world with. He keeps going with the blinking, even after the colors have come back, because there’s really no way that what he’s seeing is really what he’s seeing, because no fucking way.


Loki stands, at the opposite edge of the roof, tall and resplendent in his armor, the golden curves of his helmet glinting in the watery sunlight. The leather and brass falls out from his shoulders, black and green and ornate as hell, and the light might be gone, but the glow is still there, and Tony can’t quite manage to look away.


“Look at you,” he says, forcing his voice to go lighter than it is, pulling out an emergency grin and trying desperately not to step back. “Billy goat’s all grown up. With the, um…” He splays his fingers out above his head, curling them back. “Antlers.”


Loki doesn’t so much as roll his eyes. A long, wicked-looking scepter is in his hand, and he glances down its shaft, dragging his eyes up to the carefully crafted point.


“Horns,” Loki corrects after a moment, his voice low and unconcerned. When he looks up at Tony, there’s no smile there. He looks cruel like this, cold and uncaring, and Tony can feel the smile slip right off his face when Loki strides towards him.


“Horned god. Right.” Tony swallows. “Got it.”


Loki stops an inch away from him, his hand coming up to rest on the arc reactor, long fingers tracing its outline beneath Tony’s under suit, a tiny frown tugging at the corners of his lips.


“I can see—this is extraordinary.”


Right, okay. Different tack than Tony was expecting. Loki’s eyes are moving quickly, unfocused—or focusing on something Tony can’t see. “You’ve seen it before,” Tony points out, fidgeting under the sheer intensity of Loki’s gaze, his eyes still too bright, too sharp, too much.


“I never paid enough attention.” And then Loki’s stepping away from him, dropping his hand from the front of Tony’s shirt and turning towards the skyline, eyes wide and mouth open as if tasting the breeze wafting up from between the buildings. “Never enough attention,” he whispers, and Tony shouldn’t be listening in on this, he knows that, but maybe he can help, maybe he can draw him back from whatever this is. “All of this… it’s so much. It’s incredible.”


“It’s New York,” Tony says cautiously, taking a step towards him. “Books about it. Poems. Musical numbers. We’re kind of a big deal.” His suit isn’t even in service. If whatever this is goes south…


“But you are, aren’t you? Every single one of you, so bright and so small…” Loki trails off and looks up; when he moves his head, Tony thinks he might see a smile, but he’s not sure if it’s a comforting thing. “I have magic,” Loki says abruptly, and Tony huffs out a laugh.


“I noticed. There were more fireworks coming out of you than Madonna’s bra on New Year’s.”


“It came back to me.” The words are soft, awed and hushed and reverent, and Tony knows how serious this is, knows how major this is, and he swallows back a laugh because damn it if he isn’t out of his league.


“So you’re okay,” Tony babbles. “You have it back, which means you’ll be okay. And not, you know, dead. You’ve got it back.”


“Do you have any idea what that feels like?” Tony shakes his head, even though Loki can’t see him, and even though he knows Tony doesn’t know, knows there’s no way he possibly can. “It’s like being thrown into the sun. And when it should burn you… it swallows you whole instead.”


Tony swallows. “It sounds horrible.” He’s not sure if the words make it out of him, but Loki’s eyes are shining when he looks back, feral and unsteady.


“Oh, it is,” Loki breathes. “Horrible and glorious The worst of pain and the height of pleasure. A thousand little deaths and a million instances of birth, and rebirth, and reincarnation.”


He moves, then, like a bird of prey around Tony, and when he lunges towards him, Tony is ready for it. He doesn’t move. Breathes, lets Loki press his open mouth against his jaw. Lets him breathe, too.


“It’s like a miracle exploded under my skin,” he whispered, and his breath is cold enough against Tony’s neck that he shivers. “Like the self same sun devoured itself and bore me from its ashes.” And then, in the same breath—“Let me have you.”


Tony is imagining things. He must be. It’s the adrenaline still in his blood, mixing with the liquor (that’s always in his blood, come on) and the daydreams and delusions, and he chokes on his tongue, stuttering nonsense into the air when Loki pulls back.


His eyes are downcast, like he really is asking for permission. Like there’s a snowball’s chance in hell (no, too soon) that Tony will say—


“Are you alright?” Tony asks quickly, looking away from where Loki has his tongue caught between his teeth, visibly bluer than the rest of him. “Because, uh, not that I, you know, but you’re, and you, you have, I just, I mean, I’m not adverse to the idea, but you kind of…”


Loki’s stepping towards him, then, and he can see the way his eyes are moving, still, moving to match everything, the motion of every molecule, the bend of every muscle, the lifespan of every dust mote.


“Tony,” he says.


“Alright,” says Tony, high and uneven.


It takes ten times as long as it should for him to touch Tony, and even then it’s just a brush of cold fingers across his cheekbone.


Loki smiles. “Feel.”


Tony’s universe explodes.



Chapter Text

It’s a tidal wave of sensation after sensation, and Tony opens his mouth, to scream, to sigh, to something, but nothing comes out and everything comes in and he’s never been in this much—


In this much—


“I can’t see,” he tries to say, but it’s a lie, because he can see, everything, layer after layer of light and ash and violence, too bright and too dark, prying his pupils open and pushing inside, invasive as a sword. He hears himself breathing like the burning of a rain forest, feels every atom of his clothing vibrating against the surface of his skin feels the fiery echo of Loki’s touch against his face, feels the clouds part, feels the sun burning him, layer after layer, tastes the blood, sweat, tears, heartbeat of the universe and it’s too much and—


“You lost this,” he struggles— his mouth is open, his eyes are unseeing, he’s fumbling to grasp onto something, onto Loki, and his body is a live wire—- You lost this. I understand. It’s so much


“Do you see?” Loki whispers, a dark sort of glee in his voice— his smile wasn’t nice, Tony realizes, wasn’t kind. “Do you get it?” 


“How did you…” Survive this. Survive losing it. Survive

Loki touches him again and Tony’s knees give way. 


“Barely.” He whispers like an avalanche. His hands are too cold. 


Tony can’t do anything about the hands against his face, so he presses into them, gasps at the pressure, at the power— “Loki,” he gasps, his name like a mantra. “Loki, Loki, Loki.” 

Loki kisses him and Tony cries out. His mouth is hungry, taught, seeking, searching, and Tony can feel him inside of him, a part of him, on a level he’s never imagined, and he shakes like a hurricane, a pleasure so close to pain that he’s forgotten where each of them end. 

Loki pulls away and he feels hollow. 


Let me have you,” he whispers. 


Tony hopes his whimper translates. 


He thinks he gets the word, “Inside,” out—or, at the very least, Loki understands the sort of spectacle they’ll make for the news crews, because they’re turning into nothing and turning back into light with a surge of vertigo right between Tony’s eyes—so that’s what Apparating feels like, that’s interesting, Tony should be taking notes—and then Loki’s got him on his back on his bed (he thinks) and even the feeling of the mattress against him is driving him slowly insane. There are the fibers of his clothing, the pressure of the springs—he can calculate it from here, could draft up their arrangement, could reach through the mattress and tear them out, just to see, just to look, just to know—against him, every curve of the mattress itself, every dip, everywhere he’s laid, head to foot, echoes left behind and he sobs into the air, because Jesus, how does he find his way out?

Loki touches him again, tilts Tony’s face up towards him, and brings his face closer, close enough that Tony can see how wide his eyes have dilated, roving over Tony’s face like he’s set to devour him, and, god, please.


“How does it feel?” Loki asks. He drags the pad of his thumb across Tony’s cheekbone, and the touch lingers like his skin’s been set on fire.


He doesn’t give Tony a chance to answer his question before he kisses him again, inching his hands up under the hem of Tony’s shirt. Every finger has a heat signature that Tony’s skin follows, and it feels like the touch stays behind, like it’s echoing in pulses, and when Loki’s kiss turns vicious, when he bites and wins a hollow wine, he digs his fingers into his hips and moves them higher, seeking and greedy, and when they find Tony’s chest he arches off the bed, pulling himself away—but the touch is already there, and it’s echoing, and he’s writhing against hands that aren’t there anymore, hands that have already taken his clothes away, hands on his legs, pulling them apart.


“How does it feel?” Loki asks again, gazing up at him, impassive and dark, and Tony’s in a haze like no other, the ghosts of Loki’s hands driving him mad, moment by moment, so he can’t even pretend to have an answer for him.


Loki’s not content with that—he curls his fingers around Tony’s knees and stills, his eyes sharp and dark enough that Tony blinks the tears from his eyes to see them. Loki looks like a storm cloud, heavy and dark with a promise of disaster, and it sends every dirty thought Tony’s ever had straight between his legs, so sharply that he has to close his eyes again, biting against his lip to hold himself together.


“Too much,” Tony grits out, because it might be a struggle, but he’s survived worse. “I feel like death got creative.”


“Should I stop?” Loki asks, but it’s low and teasing, and Tony’s leg spasms out when Loki runs his tongue along the side of his knee, cool and wet.


“If I’m dying tonight,” Tony pants out, his leg thoroughly out of commission when that sensation comes back, once, twice, again, even though Loki’s let him go, “I might as well go out—”


He can’t get any more out; Loki’s kissing him again, hot and open-mouthed, and his hands are moving faster, their explorations hungrier, crueler, his fingers twisting over sensitive skin until Tony’s not sure if he’s kissing or sobbing, and Loki doesn’t seem to care.


Tony comes before Loki makes it inside of him, which is a shame, his head twisting to the side to bite his scream into the pillow.


Loki chuckles against where his lips press against Tony’s jaw, and he bends just far enough to dig his teeth into Tony’s collar bone. Tony bucks up against him with a curse—one more sensation to add onto the hundred that still haven’t stopped.


“You’re going—you’re going to knock my heart out of commission,” Tony says, all in one breath—he doubts he can manage more than that—and Loki laughs again, latching his mouth over another spot on Tony’s neck and leaving a burn behind.


This isn’t going to work, Tony thinks, every thought as careful as he can make it, sluggish and distracted. He’ll be here forever—happily—and the tongue Loki flicks over a nipple makes him claw at the shoulders of—of a reinstated god, and Tony’s can’t quite believe it, but he’s currently underneath a reinstated god, a god whose magic is making his skin buzz, and his reactor is throwing the sort of shadows across Loki’s face that make him fear for his life.


When Loki presses his fingers inside of him, cool and slick from god knows where—‘a god’ probably does know where, Tony’s dick of a brain supplies, because it’s probably more magic—Tony throws his head back so hard that he sees stars, stripes, and butterflies in the black spots.


Fuck,” he grits out, and Loki’s groan sounds like an absolute anthem, so Tony says it again, twisting down against Loki’s hand to make him hear it. “Christ, Loki, just—”


He twists his fingers harder and Tony chokes on his words. “You said,” he murmurs, leaning close, fingers still moving mercilessly, “that I could have you. You aren’t in charge, here, Stark.”


“Tony,” Tony corrects, because he’s still a stubborn bastard, even in a haze of painful bliss.


“Tony,” Loki says back. Tony can hear the grin in his voice, but he doesn’t protest when Loki turns him over into the mattress, dragging sharp nails down Tony’s sides. “You’re going to be very good and stay still for me.”


“I don’t know if I—” Tony’s body jolts on its own when Loki drags his fingers out of him, and he bites down on his lip to stifle a whimper. “Don’t know if I can make any promises.”


Loki laughs, breathy and thick, and Tony thinks with no little relief that, maybe, he’s not the only one this affected, not the only one on the verge of brain damage. And then Loki pushes into him and he doesn’t bother thinking anymore.


Loki fucks Tony like he’s a race to be won, straight into the mattress with his hands pinned behind him, and Tony’s fighting for air around the litany being forced out of him, a chorus of Loki, fuck, Loki until it gets to be too much, blending together into its own sliver of eternity. They could be here forever; maybe they have been. He’s hot all over, Loki’s hips snapping up harder every time he says his name, Loki’s fingers digging into his hips, Loki’s mouth ghosting along his spine, muttering words he doesn’t understand.


Two long, slow thrusts, and Loki’s teeth digging into his shoulder blade, and Tony’s gone against his sheets, spilling out with a strangled sob. Loki isn’t far behind; with a groan and two shorter, sharper rolls of his hips, and he loses it, draped over Tony’s back as he shudders to a stop.


Loki falls to Tony’s side, sated and smiling; with a wave of his hand, the sensual barrage on Tony stops, sudden and violent in its softness, and Tony sighs. He’s still shaking, tremors rocking through him like his body’s not quite ready to give the sensations up, but it’s better, now, the line between pain and ecstasy farther spread.


“So that’s how you feel?” Tony asks, turning his head to look over at him. Loki’s eyes are closed, but they’re moving under his lids, hyper and vigilant.


“Not entirely,” Loki hums. “It was stronger for you. I’m used to it. It’s how I was born.”


“Right,” Tony says, his eyes on Loki’s mouth. “And you decided to show me because…?”


Loki’s eyes open and he smiles. “I had excess, it was all coming back too fast. I needed to… expend some of that energy. And you were there.”


Tony stiffens. “So if somebody else had been there—”


Loki leans over and kisses him, long and soft and slow and strange, and it works, more or less, as an answer.


It’s Tony who pulls away first. “I didn’t pass out,” he points out, more surprised than anything. Loki snorts.


“You did too. Somewhere in the middle there.”


“I did not.”


“You did,” Loki says, a little more gleefully than Tony thinks this warrants. “You went absolutely catatonic for a moment. I think you were in shock.”


“Probably because that kind of sucked.”


Loki doesn’t even need to answer that; the lie is strong in this one, Tony thinks ruefully, and he wonders for a moment how he’s ever supposed to have sex with anyone else again, because there’s a little bit of a difference between a stellar romp and an alien god screwing your brains out.


“It did suck,” Tony says stubbornly, when all Loki does is look at him, smug and silent. “You’ve ruined my bed for me forever.”


“You’re welcome.”


Tony closes his eyes on a twinkle of green, and it isn’t passing out. It’s resting. Just for a moment. Just really quick.



Loki leaves Tony sated and unconscious, sprawled out on his back and body still reacting to Loki’s ministrations, little shudders bursting out every time he breathes. He takes one last look at how white the sheets look against new bruises and smiles, smoothing his hands down his armor.


He’s back. He’s in excellent form, and he’s back. When he closes the door behind him, he runs his hand through his hair, feels it settle, smoothed back and crackling with energy. With power. He breathes, and he feels it in his lungs, smooth as liquid nitrogen. He feels himself again, moreso than he has been in all these long months, and it’s too soon in his rebirth for him to feel the foul again. All he has is life, and strength, and vitality, and he doesn’t want to let this go, so he leans up against the back of the door and breathes, in and out. He’s never really smelled the tower before now, and he takes advantage of his reinstated senses and reads them for all they’re worth. It’s not much: coffee, two floors below, a little stale from the many mugs poured for S.H.I.E.L.D.’s clean-up crew; there’s the smell of sweat in the gym, soaked into the mats and the punching bags, absorbed by the walls and embraced by the grime of the floor; Natasha’s perfume, floral and fleeting, and Pepper’s, sweet and low; a heavy scent of ozone from the roof, Mjolnir’s own ancient power, the smell of a sailor’s warning; the smell of sex and magic, pulsing out from the door under his back, the solid smell of pleasure left on a mortal’s skin. Loki breathes that in and it makes his heart slow, even and comfortable. He closes his eyes and steeps himself in it, feels the way the smells insinuate themselves below his leathers, into his chest, and thinks here lies Loki, because he can smell himself in their mess, more impermanent, heavy with doubt, with want, with fear, with hesitant joy. He can smell his change.


It doesn’t take too long before the sentiment is too much to swallow. He takes one last breath—engine oil, salt of tears and sweat and blood, scotch and Satan—and sets off towards where the others have gathered, follows the murmurs of activity.


They’re at the top, and Loki doesn’t bother with the elevator. He wills himself there and spirals back into existence in a flurry of cold and green, small excesses spilling from the tips of his fingers to the tatters the room is left in. And tatters they are; the whole room is a scene of destruction. So much is torn, shattered broken— the windows are gone, the guts of the chairs litter a floor marred with scratches, and Loki scowls down at the bundles of fluff that cling to his boots when he attempts to move. He can’t help but think that he was really much kinder, all those eons ago—he’d only broken one window.


The floor wasn’t him, so much as the bea—as Bruce.


The voices he’s heard are coming from the near the bar, echoing out between the walls. They’re speaking in hushed, tired voices. The whole group looks worse for wear; Bruce is holding an ice pack to his head, Clint is rubbing at a spray of bruises along his arm, Steve’s suit is torn and Thor’s cape is burned. Natasha is, predictably, almost immaculate in comparison. The conversations Loki hears are soft and aimless, more distraction from waning levels of adrenaline than anything.


Loki takes two steps and lets shadows shroud him from their view. He’s not sure if he’ll be welcome, now, like this, the way that he is, how full he is, and he wets his lips, feels the power crackling across his skin, and pauses halfway across the floor. It’s lovely, almost artful, how the damage stops here, right at the edge of the room. Beautiful and terrible. Gods, he so full, even after siphoning some of the energy off into—onto—Tony, and his head is hazy with it, thoughts moving too quickly for all of him to keep up to it. There’s a laugh bubbling up at his lips, and it spills out before he can stop it, one hand sliding over his mouth and an oath in his cheek.


The murmurs fall silent.


Loki goes ahead and swears, quiet and lethal. It makes him feel better.


He drops his veil and raises his hands, half greeting, half gesture of peace. He sees Clint’s mouth fall open and tries not to smile.


“Are you shitting me with this? We just—” He cuts off with an alarmed squawk when Bruce’s icepack relocates itself to his mouth,


It’s Thor who walks up first, naturally, of course. He stops and looks at Loki, his mouth a careful, firm line and his hands balled up at his sides, keeping himself straight, tall, solemn. He opens his mouth, ready to say something—and then closes it. Loki rolls his eyes.


“Brother,” he says, because it will always come back to that, century after century, and the smile that Thor shoots him would shame the sun.


Brother,” he says back to him, and in two paces he has him enfolded in arms that are far too large and far to strong for Loki to get a breath in edgewise, and he shoots a scowl at him—a scowl that Thor can’t very well see because of how tightly he has his hold on him, and so Loki sighs and relaxes. He’s gotten himself into this; he might as well tolerate it.


“My heart is gladdened, brother,” Thor says formally, but Loki can hear everything below it, hear the blame he places on himself (and rightly so) and the blame he places on the All-Father (always rightly so), and so Loki claps him once on the back before pulling away, before Thor can embarrass himself further.


“It all worked out quite nicely, really,” Loki says brusquely, stroking his hands down the leather of his sleeves. “Ev—Everybody’s alright.” Pink shoes above tarmac, swinging.


Thor hears the stumble, as he always does, and he lowers his voice. “Shall we speak of what you’ve encountered? We can—”


“No,” Loki says quietly. “It’s done.” He tries to smile back at Thor. “We had one item cleared up. “


Thor frowns. “And what was that?”


“Apparently, you’re not the Thor who failed in their attempt on my life,” Loki says lightly, and grins at the scowl Thor sends back to him. “I no longer fear your proximity.”


Thor winces. “You feared—”


“Ah,” Loki says. “Far too loud, Odinsson. I’m finding myself fearful once more—Captain! Could you assist me? I fear that my brother is finding himself murderous once more—”


“Oh, the antelope’s got jokes,” Clint mutters darkly, but Steve’s already stepping forward, his suit a mess and his hair peacocked, spread out around his head in high, ridiculous puffs.


“Loki,” Steve says, and Loki can see it when he notices, when the wariness descends over those wide, relieved eyes. Loki isn’t trying to hide anything; his power is forefront and seething, roiling out of him in soft ripples that Steve must see as small warps in the air. But it’s to the soldier’s credit that he walks towards Loki instead of away, his eyes on Loki’s own, strong and resolved.


“Captain,” Loki says slowly. Steve holds out his hand, and Loki takes it, more automatic than anything, follows Steve’s handshake and tries to ignore his wince when a stray bolt of energy snaps at the center of his palm.


“I’m relieved to see you…”


“Alive?” Loki offers. Steve smiles.


“I hear it was quite a fight.”


“I came out ahead,” Loki says, and it’s a confession as much as anything. I won. I’m healed. I’m myself again. My old self.


“I’m glad,” Steve says quietly, tightening his grip on Loki’s hand. Loki doesn’t remember it being this easy, but when Steve meets Loki’s eyes again, he’s smiling and honest, and accepting, so immediate, so trusting, so foolish.


“Thank you,” Loki says, immediate, trusting, and foolish.


It’s Natasha who asks what they all must be wondering, a few minutes later, slinking up sudden and silent as a cat courting its prey.


“Do I have to be worried?”


“No,” Loki says, and he doesn’t have to think about that-- he’ll have time, enough, to dread it later, the shallow emotions that have him tethered to these people, that has him as their defender instead of their antagonist. Right now, though, he isn’t full of dread. Weariness, maybe, and always, always restlessness, but right here, right now, he’s burning too hard for the dark in him to show itself, and he’ll hold onto that for as long as he can.


“Does the rest of the world?” Natasha asks for a moment, her eyes dancing between his in their heavy, manic scrutiny.


“No,” Loki says, and he thinks of Lydia, of Doris, of Eustace. “No.”


She stares at him for a moment longer, and then nods. “Okay, then.”


There isn’t a hug or a handshake from the Black Widow; there’s a clap on the arm and a nod, short demonstration of a camaraderie Loki hadn’t realized he’d earned, that has him blinking even after she’s stepped aside, something with the potential of a smile pulling at the planes of her face.


It only takes a moment for the group to relax, an argument about food, presumably (“You can keep that hokey vegan crap to yourself—” “Yoga doesn’t make me vegan, Clint. And stop swinging your—give me back my icepack.”), striking up,  easy and fluid, and Loki has never felt more alien than this. It must be nice, to be content with the calm, satisfied and at ease after a battle, and not like your body is demanding an adventure and your mind is demanding a puzzle, and both are demanding anarchy, just a little bit, just enough to break the calm.


Loki takes a long, deep breath and implores his muscles to relax, just for a moment.


“Really—are you alright?” Thor asks, leaning towards him until their arms are brushing, and Loki has a fleeting, maddening impulse to pull him closer, grab him by the hand and drag him after him, somewhere new, another battle, something more.


“Yes,” Loki whispers, but he’s not, is he? He’s distracted by everything he doesn’t have, and how is this enough? How could this ever be enough? “Distract me,” he murmurs, but he doubt Thor can hear him. Anyways, he’s speaking to himself.


“You were a hero today.”


That’s not one Loki was expecting. He startles, snapping his head over to Thor who looks more pleased with himself than he ever should. “I was not,” Loki snaps. “I don’t like to lose, and I wasn’t about to do so to that creature.” He’s spoken too loudly; the others look over at him, confused, and he grinds his teeth, turning away from them to glare at Thor. “I am not a—I don’t belong in one of your categories.”


“Damn straight.”


Tony’s standing at the edge of the room, his arms crossed in front of him. His eyebrows rise when everyone turns to him, and he shrugs. “I use ‘straight’ loosely, of course. Are we ordering a pizza? We should order a pizza.”


Loki doesn’t blush. Blushing is an entirely base, human concept, one that he has never and would never indulge in. All the same, when Tony winks at him and Clint chokes on his own air in a belated realization, Loki’s mouth opens without words.


A part of him, though, is pleased. A part of him, the part that needs it, has found a distraction, and so, when Tony walks past him, he whispers something darting and light and static goes straight to Tony’s head, sending his hair out in a prickly halo.  


“Oh, dear,” Loki drawls.


“What’s wrong?” Tony asks, kicking out at a particularly large chunk of plaster. He looks up and around him, at the gazes fixed on him.


Clint’s the first one to give in. “So, Stark. How long have you wanted to be a hedgehog?”


Tony blinks. “Is that a euphemism, or—”


When Thor lets out his deep, booming laugh, and Steve laughs until one shoulder of his suit slips off; when Natasha pushes her hair back, still meticulous, and quirks an eyebrow at Loki, as if in congratulations; when Clint elbows Bruce until he finally cracks up, ice pack falling to the ground, forgotten; when Tony reaches a hand up and yelps with the utmost dignity; when Loki is surrounded by this world’s outcasts, outliers, heroes, he can’t quite remember that feeling he had on the roof, that restlessness, that insistence for fireworks and destruction, exaltations and curses. When the conversations carry on around him, and Thor claps him (too hard, the idiot) on the shoulder and Steve asks him what this means, if he’ll be okay, if he feels better, Loki can’t remember why this feels like settling. 

Chapter Text

The way things smooth over is almost transcendental. The day closes, the sun sets, and they all end up in a heap across the couch in front of the TV, a movie playing, something with dinosaurs and more explosions than there should be.


Steve has done battle. He’s fought, he’s warred, he’s carried a gun, a grenade, his shield, but it always takes him time to readjust from the heightened senses that are a necessity on the battle field to… this. Peace is alien, and it shouldn’t be, but it’s a shame he has to deal with, will always have to deal with, because this is the choice he’s made. The news had been playing, earlier: the coverage of the battle was almost non-existent, mostly commentary on freak weather patterns and an army exercise diverted towards the Avengers Tower instead of farther west (Tony had barked out a laugh at that, with a sharp word about S.H.I.E.L.D.’s policies of deception and something about fingers in pies). But nobody was injured (as far as the news was concerned) and nothing was destroyed, with the exception of Tony’s ground floor. Safety, more or less, was preserved. That was—is – important, and so when Steve forces himself to sit still, forces his eyes to blink slow, forces his breath to even out and his muscles to relax, there’s nothing begrudging about it. There’s only weariness, a fatigue that goes deeper than tissue and deeper than bone, and a heavy, heavy relief.


His eyes drift closed without his permission. The slow drone of Tony’s voice—unnecessary narration on the accuracies of the film—doesn’t help. He’s dropping off faster than he can give his body the go-ahead, but it’s alright, because he’s warm, everybody’s safe, everything is quiet—


And then he wakens with a start, a flash of heat somewhere in his memory making him gasp sharply, coughing and choking when he comes back to himself, begging the air for purchase.


Steve darts glances around them; he can’t help it. He’s not entirely sure about all of the details of the last twelve hours, can’t remember all of it, but this feels like déjà vu in a terrible way, and he’s got his hands balled up around one of the couch cushions, fingers racing around its fringe like he’s trying to make sure that this is real, that everything is where it’s supposed to be.


One more round of explosions from the screen and Steve’s standing up, squirming out from between Clint and the corner of the couch, dropping the pillow into his lap. “Water,” he says, just in case they’re paying attention, though he doubts it.


Most of them aren’t; he almost misses Loki standing from where he’s sitting with Thor on the other couch, stepping over the other’s legs with a muted growl. He looks up when Steve looks at him and points towards the kitchen, one eyebrow raised. Steve nods, grateful. He thinks.


Steve walks straight to the cabinets to pull down a glass and runs that under the tap before Loki speaks, because the water should help. Water always helps. It was always his mother’s first recourse.


Loki speaks when Steve lifts the glass to his lips. “Are you alright?”


Steve gives himself a moment to think, putting water into his mouth instead of letting words come out that might not make any sense, much less now when all’s well that ends well and everyone’s safe.


“Steve,” Loki says carefully. Steve sighs and puts his glass down, bracing his arms against the counter. The cool granite feels wonderful against his palms. Soothing.


“I’m just—what happened, Loki? To us? To you, down there? I just…” Steve looks away. He sounds accusatory. He doesn’t mean to; he trusts Loki, he does. He’s just more confused than he likes to be, regardless of the situation. “I mean, I hear it was quite a fight down there.”


“It was,” Loki says, and Steve doesn’t have to look up to recognize that smile by the sound of it. “Quite.”


“I’m just—you woke me up. You woke all of us up. I remember that part. But everything else is—”


“This, right now—” Loki waves his hand back at the waiting screen just as Thor lets out a surprised burst of laughter— “Reminds you of something you don’t remember.”


Steve looks back at him, surprised. “Exactly.” Something warm and something hot, something soft and something sharp, neither half solid enough for him to recall, for him to understand, but Loki’s looking at him with something so close to pity that it’s making him itch. Steve picks his glass up again for something to hold, for something to look at that doesn’t make him this uncomfortable.


“He stuck you into a dream, of sorts,” Loki says slowly, and Steve rubs at a bead of condensation with his thumb, swiping out his initials. “It was to keep all of you out of the way. It might come back to you, eventually,” Loki assures, but his eyes are dark.


“I hope so,” Steve says, when the silence lasts for too long. Loki frowns deeper at that.


“I hope it doesn’t,” he mutters, low enough that Steve isn’t too sure he was meant to hear it, and he can’t deny the alarms it set off, jarring and stubborn at the back of his mind.


“It’s not just that, is it?” Steve asks, as gently as he can manage, and reaches a hand out. It’s a stupid idea, he knows that as soon as he sees Loki’s eyes widen and his posture shift away from him, but he’s not sure how else to offer comfort, what else to try, so he lets his hands rise instead, an offer of peace. Of safety. “Tell me.” 


 “You’re asking me for a full report, Captain,” he says, and he sounds earnest and scathing and surprised and mean. Steve looks him dead in the eye and crosses his arms, leaning up against the counter to pull away from him further, giving him space enough for him to relax, for him to calm down.


“I am,” he says firmly, “I think I’d appreciate that a lot, Loki. And you look like you’ve got a lot to say.”


Loki blinks twice, too quickly, but he smiles, a mirthless, fleeting thing. And then he tells Steve everything.



Loki glosses over what he can and summarizes what he must, from the Hulk to the Hell bitch, and the way Steve looks at him when he says Doris’s name does more than the Captain might, perhaps, believe. It only takes a few minutes to pull together the story of hours of pain and stress and a fearful proximity to forfeit, and when Loki’s done, it gives him more than a little satisfaction to see how white Steve’s knuckles are around the glass in his hand.


“So, when you were…” Steve raises his opposite hand to point at his head, and Loki cringes. This was what he’d managed to avoid. He didn’t need them to know how close they were to hell. He doesn’t need them remembering, and he certainly won’t help them get to that. “What did you see?”


“Yours looked a lot like this,” Loki says cautiously. “It was a dream of peace. Everybody was happy.”


Steve closes his eyes. “Everybody was safe.”


“I’m sorry,” Loki says. “It was a very cruel thing to use against you.” But when Steve opens his eyes, he’s smiling at Loki, soft and sweet. Loki wants to shake him. Wants to tell him to lose whatever joy he finds in that image, wants to tell him of the dangers of weakness, of sentiment, of caring about anything moreso than yourself—but it would make him a hypocrite, and Loki has never been any good at lying to himself.


Steve has a hand on his arm before he can move out of the way, and Loki wills his body out of the bounds it throws itself into at the contact, wills it to accept this, to perceive the touch as neither unwelcome nor dangerous. “Thank you,” Steve says, “and I’m sorry.”


He moves away before Loki can think of the words he needs to say, the correct response, an acceptable reaction, and when he walks past Loki with one last smile and a tip of his glass, Loki thinks that there may not be one, because as there is no other supersoldier, there is no proper script to follow. Not for this.


But by the gods, they’re a handful. Humans.


“Brother.” But of course. Loki sighs and turns to find Thor leaning against the wall, his hands tucked into the pockets of his Midgardian trousers, slightly too large for him. Loki’s the only one who’s kept his armor on, far too attached to the feeling of his leathers against his skin once more, so much heavier and fuller than the flimsy, soft fabrics he’d been in for far too long. It’s made him feel much more himself. More regal. More untouchable. It’s a breath of security he hadn’t allowed himself to imagine since it’s been gone, and he doesn’t intend to give it up unless forced.


“Do you have a moment?” Thor asks, tone clipped, and Loki waves a hand at the stool next to the short bar.


Thor takes a seat and Loki stands behind him, leaning his elbows down on the granite. “I know what you’re going to say,” Loki says, before Thor can speak, and his brother grimaces, glaring down at the bar, his hands, anywhere but at Loki himself.


“I won’t force you, brother,” Thor says first, in one quick burst, and the worry behind the words makes Loki roll his eyes. Is their state truly so fragile that a trip to the golden city might make Thor so nervous? “I know things might be... rough.” That’s… unexpected. Generous, even.


“Rou— Thor, you don’t have to—”


“I just wanted you to understand that I offer my support, regardless of your choice,” Thor says, and the look he levels at him says as much— to support him, to stand at his side, to not forsake him, this time, to not let him go.  Loki takes a breath, prepared to tell him exactly where he stands.


But he stops.


“You think I should go back with you,” he realizes, straightening up. “That I should return.” Back to them, the most spiteful edges of his mind spit out. Back to the ones who broke you. Back to their bosom. Are you really so foolish? You sad, pathetic thing.




“It doesn’t matter what I think,” Thor says, and Loki would hardly disagree there. “It is my choice to return, and soon.”


“The Allfather will be curious,” Loki says. His mind is moving faster than it should be, images and words and memories and half-thoughts, reasons for and reasons against, none good enough to stick.  He doesn’t know.


“He will.”


So fast, so fluid, too much, an overload of nonsense. “He’ll say he’s expecting me.” He’ll say he expects his sons to be in attendance, both of his sons, as if Loki still—as if they’re both—as if…


“He is.” Thor isn’t helping, simple, straightforward Thor, Thor with no doubts, Thor the golden child, Thor the righteous. Loki would laugh. Loki would be cruel.


“No, he’s not. He never expects me to follow protocol. So I will,” he says, but the last part comes out before he’s thought it through, his tongue tripping over itself. It’s not an accident. Loki knows that it’s as close to truth as he will get. Fast, without time for deception. He swears silently, mind full of all things purely foul.


Loki is still Loki. Loki will do as he pleases. Loki… he’ll return. He’ll go back. Show them that he is not broken. Show them that he is stronger than they believed him to be. That he can.  




When he looks up at Thor, Thor’s eyes are shining, in fear or doubt or hope, and Loki isn’t sure what to say to him, what he wants to see grow. The doubt is relevant, the hope almost deserving, the fear, more so. But when Loki takes a breath, Thor sense his acceptance, senses that brief, vibrant flash of surety, and there’s so much hope there that it sends a stab of cold through Loki’s heart, different than anything he’s felt in years, almost like hope itself taking a swing at its tethers.


He’s learned. He knows better, he knows that blind hope will get him nowhere, but still he says, “We’ll leave in the morning. I-- I’ll meet you in your chambers.”


“Alright,” Thor says, voice as hushed as he’s ever heard it, and Loki steps away from him before he loses his resolve, before he thinks about it again and takes his freedom and runs with it. Freedom, unfettered life, absolute abandon.


No. He’s made his choice. He’ll show them what he’s become. He’ll show them his strength. His resolve. And then he’ll leave. He’ll see new worlds. He’ll—


Steve is still tucked up into his corner of the couch, but Tony isn’t in his seat anymore. Steve catches Loki’s eye when he looks over and points down. Of course. Naturally.




When Loki slides into Tony’s workshop, only one of the lights are on, bent over a metal table. Tony’s wrist-deep in a tangle of wires, and he doesn’t see Loki until his arms are sliding around his waist, slow and creeping like a jungle vine, and Tony jumps when he feels him, swears something wonderful under his breath and slips his hand out of broken parts.


“And to what,” Tony murmurs, “do I owe this pleasure?”


“How are you feeling?” Loki asks, nosing at his neck, light enough that Tony shivers.


“Like you aren’t tired of me yet,” he says, and it’s a telling sign that Loki can hear the grin in his voice, that he can feel his pulse match up when Tony’s jumps.  


“You’re not wrong,” Loki growls. It takes them two minutes to get to Tony’s room and three to make it to his bed, four until they’re a tangle of naked limbs on the sheets.


They go another round, Loki holding Tony above him and snapping his hips up into him, Tony’s wrists pinned at his sides. Loki laughs when Tony’s eyes roll back, but Tony rolls his hips in retaliation and Loki settles for pulling him down deeper instead. Tony comes twice before Loki makes it, shuddering up against him and whispering something that makes Tony cry out, over-sensitized and insensate.


Loki kisses him when they’re done, a long, slow goodbye tested out in careful pressure. He’s gentle with him, gentler than he would be otherwise, but it gets Tony hazy and comfortable, curling up against him like there’s nothing of interest outside of this bed.


Loki wishes, for a moment, something ridiculous and vain, selfish and futile, so futile. He allows himself to think about it anyway. For a moment. Only for a moment.  


It’s not Tony’s fault that he wakes up late. There’s someone taller and greener to blame for that.


Oh, god, no. Taller and in more green. Oh god. Not an image Tony needed.


Either way, he wakes up laughing, turning over and pressing himself into the pillow Loki slept on, the pillow that still smells like… Like Loki. Like metal and the air right before it snows, clean and sharp and probably a little bit entirely insane.


The sun is shining and Tony wakes up laughing and smells winter and everything is fantastic and god, but does he want coffee. He sits up, letting the sheets slide the rest of the way to the ground, because why the fuck not, it’s Christmas. He just kind of wishes Loki had managed to sleep in just a little bit. He’d have like to wake up next to him. It’s sappy and stupid and redundant, but there it is. He wanted to wake up next to Loki, with or without the stupid leather armor.


In ten minutes, Tony has taken the quickest shower of his life, yelled for Jarvis to start up a pot, and taken a sip of the best coffee of his life so far, but he still hasn’t managed to find Loki, which, huh. He hasn’t seen the bigger one yet, either.


“Hey, Jarvis,” he calls, so casually it hurts. “Any sign of our friendly resident alien life forms?”


“That is a negative, Mr. Stark,” Jarvis says. And that’s it. Nothing teasing. Nothing rude. Nothing snarky.



“Um. Steve?”


“Gym, sir. Should I tell him you’re searching for him?”


“No point, Jarvis, I’m headed over there as we speak.” He was planning on toast. Toast would’ve been nice, but no. No smell of burning bread. Sweat, instead. Sweat before his second cup of coffee. Tony stares into the dregs of his first cup morosely before slinging them back, bitter and thick, and clunking the cup down at the edge of the counter.


“Steve,” Tony yells, when he’s halfway down the hallway to one of the smaller training rooms. “Steve Rogers. Don’t you ignore me, I know you can hear me, you’re like one-fifth bat or something, remember that time when—or there’s that,” Tony says, because Steve’s hanging upside down from a bar, in the middle of a set of sit ups or something like them, ear buds firmly screwed into place.


Tony picks up a small, yellow, palm-sized sandbag from there floor and lobs it with relative accuracy right at Steve’s back.


It hits him in the butt. Ha. Bonus points.


“Tony, can you—hold on—for three—seconds—done,” Steve pants, slipping his feet out from the bar and flipping down to his feet in a little show of acrobatics that has Tony clapping on instinct.


“Your skill with a pole never ceases to stun,” Tony says, as earnestly as he can manage. “Now, do you have any idea where the wonder twins have got to?”


Steve squints back at him, toweling at his face with his towel. “You mean Thor and Loki?”


“Uh, yeah. Unless we have another set of siblings. Do we have another set of siblings? I feel like I should know about it if we do, so, you know.”


“Tony,” Steve says slowly, his voice muffled through a thin layer of cotton. “They’re gone. They went back.”


“Back to Thor’s? That’s alright, I think I owe Jane a visit anyways, something about windows—”


“No,” Steve says, dropping his towel back to his shoulder. “Asgard.”


“Oh.” Oh. Oh. Okay. Right. Oh. Tony’s mouth works around a million little syllables, unable to settle. “Did he? They?”


“They were on the roof when I woke up this morning. Sounded like Loki was out on parole or something, I guess. Had to check back in to make it official.” Steve isn’t meeting his eye, and Tony wonders which one of them is the obvious one—Steve, with his blatant inabilitiy to lie convincingly, or Tony, with his blatant inability to pretend it doesn’t matter.


“Huh,” Tony says, because he is very, very good at pretending things don’t matter. “That… That’s… great, that’s excellent, he gets to go home,” Tony says, smile straining at the corners. It’s his camera smile. He’s never been camera shy; he’s had this thing well trained since he was sixteen years old, and it hasn’t failed him once.


But when Steve looks back at him, just shy of concerned, he wonders if he needs a little practice.


“I didn’t think it would be this much of a surprise to you,” Steve says, because he’s disgustingly honest.


“Doesn’t matter,” Tony says. “He’s gone, right? Don’t we have a meeting, or something?”


“… Yes. Three hours. Fury’ll be waiting.”


“Excellent,” Tony says, and he means it.



Three hours and fifteen minutes later, Tony is firmly and resolutely kicked out of the Avengers-S.H.I.E.L.D. super-secret-private-exclusive meeting, with a goodbye from Fury that may or may not be a threat on his life and a promise that the boyband can and will operate without him, and that he, quote-unquote, is “not their Justin.”


Ten more minutes, and Tony is kindly and stealthily escorted out by a beautiful blonde agent that he thinks might have a few on Natasha, because all she does is smile at him and he’s out of there, and he thanks every branch on the world tree or whatever that the exploding coffeemakers haven’t gotten a drop on her because he doesn’t for a moment doubt that she would’ve cleaned them off with his person. 

Chapter Text

“Heimdall.” Loki greets him with a nod; the gatekeeper gives him no more than a short breath of air, even now more exasperated than courteous.


He’d be greeting Thor, and if there is a touch of petulance behind the thought, Loki doesn’t acknowledge it. He would be greeting Thor. Loudly. Enthusiastically.


“I see the bridge is a warm as ever,” Loki quips, and now Heimdall does look at him, the memory of Loki’s greatest slight vivid enough that, for a moment, Loki believes that he might lunge at him, break free of that frostily stoic exterior, just for a moment…


No. He doesn’t. He settles himself and looks back across whatever he sees, when his eyes glaze over like that.


Everything. He sees everything, with those careful golden eyes. It’s why Loki is here. That and, of course, Heimdall’s effortless charm.


Loki clears his throat. “Heimdall, I did not come for… reminiscence. I would know if it would be possible… Could you look in on… on a mortal?” He is here for the only pair of eyes that can canvass the world in a single breath. He needs them. Needs him. 


“No.” Heimdall’s voice rolls out, slow and heavy as molasses, almost mellifluous enough that Loki misses the meaning, the implications of the word.


“Ah,” Loki says, and he’s smiling like the smart side of a razor. “They sell you short, Heimdall. Your sense of humor truly is a thing of marvel.”


“It is not a jest, son of Laufey.”


Loki smiles wider. He certainly doesn’t cringe. “So it is a question of skill. Tell me, bridge guard, are you aging out of your ability?”


‘You’ve not changed enough. You still push too far.”


“I’m still Loki,” Loki shrugs. “I shall pretend to be no less.”


“Until it suits you,” Heimdall says, and, if Loki’s not mistaken, snorts. Well.


“Cheeky,” Loki tuts, but he’s not wrong. Loki has always been, first and foremost, his own, self-serving to a fault, however that self shall be served. But this is different. This time it's more than only him


“You’re unfavorable towards my company,” says Loki, as blunt—and understated, to be fair—as he can make it. “You have been, always. I shall leave you—more so, I shall not speak to you apart from the basest necessary—if you will only do this for me.”


“Is this peace you promise me, trickster?” Loki wishes instantly, desperately, ridiculously, for a camera, because if that isn’t a smile— “For simple information on one mortal? After so many millennia?”


“It’s not been that long,” Loki mutters.


“You would be polite?”




“Genial? Courteous? Able to refrain from you ceaseless—”


Yes,” Loki hisses, “now stop talking and tell me if you’ll agree to it!”


“Swear it,” Heimdall insists, and Loki is beginning to regret it, if only for the loss of the opportunity for petty vengeance. 


“I swear.”


“It is done.”


“No need to sound so pleased about it.”


“Slipping so soon, Loki?”


“No,” he says hastily, raising his hands. “Absolutely not. Just, can you…” He can’t stand the way the name falls from his mouth, too little used in so long, rusty and soft and crumbling as soon as it hits the air.


It takes a moment, long enough that Loki is picking at his belt, carving a new, uneven groove into a strip of the old leather, a tight double curl, almost an S, and then, “He waits for you.”


“No, he doesn’t,” Loki says immediately, because it’s Tony.


“No,” Heimdall agrees, and it still chafes, even though Loki knows better. “But he does watch the sky.”


He’s probably built a new space probe or a rocket or another satellite, but… it’s something. It’s something.


“Fascinating,” Loki says, as scathingly as he can manage, and then walks away. He doesn’t thank Heimdall; he imagines that his oath (for his own boredom, damn it all) is thanks enough.



No,” Tony yells, and the wrench lands somewhere behind him, sharp and jarring. “You, stupid—just leave. Get out. But you can’t, can you? You dependent piece of s—Stop that!


Butterfingers, in the other corner, beeps at him like he’s insulted on You’s behalf, and not just a corroding hunk of decomposing flash, and when he knocks over one more rack of bolts, Tony actually yanks out a chunk of hair.


It’s his fault. It’s his own fault. They get it from him, that flair for the dramatic.


Steve,” Tony wails, when the door glides open. “I’m a terrible parent. This is my fault. He’s a disaster and it’s all on me. Where did I go wrong?”


“Um,” Steve says, when Butterfingers moves towards him like he’s begging for a hug—and knocks over a tray of screwdrivers, the little shit. “Not my area? Anyways, I just came to get you because—ah.”


That sound. Tony knows that sound. And when he looks at Steve, he recognizes that look, too. That look is the look of a man recognizing a bad decision at the crest of it, and Tony grins. “Keep going. You look like it’s bad news.”


“No, no. Good news, actually,” Steve says, and he looks miserable.


“I’m sure it’ll be better than the board meeting I intend to put off in…” Tony glances at his bare wrist. Huh. There was a watch there yesterday. Or last week. “Now. So what’s up, mon Capitaine?”


Steve takes a breath. “Thor is upstairs. But… just Thor,” he adds, and Tony rolls his eyes, even though something that feels a little like hope twists over and dies right below his reactor.


“That’s great,” Tony says, light, airy, care-free, happy, Steve, don’t worry, I’m not a delicate flower. “How’s the big guy doing?”


“Good,” Steve says slowly, looking so relieved, bless his geriatric heart. “Looking forward to seeing Jane—I didn’t mean to say that.”


And he’s miserable again. Miserable and mortified. To be fair, it’s a better look on him than self-righteous.


Also, Tony would state, for the record, that he is not anyone’s Jane. Thor, Rochester, Tarzan—


Actually, Tarzan…


“Jane,” Tony remembers, and, ooh, there’s guilt. Guilt, he can work with. “Crap. I still owe her a window.” There’s a diagram, somewhere, for window designs, a new feature that’d fit perfectly into the wall, only more modern, sleeker, with a better filter…


When Tony resurfaces with his arms full of blueprints and a spread of angle tools, Steve is gone and Butterfingers is staring at him, as accusatory as an eyeless thing can get. His joints squeak open and closed and Tony rolls his eyes.


“I’m going,” Tony sighs, dropping the blueprints where he stands. They sag around his ankles, sloping onto the ground like they’re disappointed in him, too. “I’m going. You still suck.”


Dummy beeps in agreement, and/or to call Tony something rude. Tony would put his money on the latter. Dummy’s always been a little bully.





Tony can’t help it. He looks. It’s pointless, aimless, foolish, unnecessary, but when he walks into the room and Thor is right there, right in the middle, smiling down at Natasha, her hand held to his lips, Tony can’t help glancing at the corners, at the chairs, for a flash of green, a smudge of black, a hint of something else.


And then he schools his features into a smile and steps forward, arms spread wide. “If it isn’t out friendly neighborhood alien,” he booms, because he can do this—and he doesn’t see Thor’s gaze soften, doesn’t see that particular smile, doesn’t notice, nope, just claps him into a manly little hug and tries not to wince. Thor is a giant in that armor, and Tony’s pretty sure his back cracks back into the sort of shape it hasn’t been in since he was twenty. “Good to see you, buddy,” he wheezes, when Thor finally lets him down, stumbling a few steps away, holding onto arms as wide as tree trunks to keep himself steady.


“You as well, Tony,” Thor says, relaxing a little. He laughs. “Life is a very quiet thing on Asgard these days, compared to the glory of the Avengers.”


Loki must hate it. The thought comes unbidden and unwelcome, and Tony talks his way over it. “Is that so? Glad to hear you’ve missed us.”


“Oh yes,” Thor assures him. “You have all been the topic of many a discussion.”


“People talking about me?” Tony doesn’t have to pretend to perk up at that. Everybody loves a good opportunity to preen. “Tell me more.”


Somewhere from behind a chair, Clint groans. They all know better, really; Thor’s stories are not linear. They don’t even pretend to be. No; they are biblical, epic, in scope, spiraling out with names of places no one recognizes and the sort of lineage lists that make Tony seasick.


So it’s to Tony’s surprise and relative disappointment when, instead, Thor says, “Loki enjoys telling stories of your adventures. He is seldom believed, but that doesn’t seem to hinder him.” And then he looks at Tony, like that’s supposed to mean something.


Tony grins, because that’s what Tony does. “Oh, hey, you’ve just reminded me. I have to go finish something for Jane—how’s she doing, by the way?” He’s already leaving the room, so he doesn’t see Thor smile, but he’s sure he does smile, because he’s a sucker in love and Tony has never made a more timely escape. Not even Steve’s little I’m-very-disappointed-in-you-Tony-you-can-do-better-than-that-why-can’t-you-try-harder frown can get him down.


Nope. Not even that.


That stupid face.




Forty minutes later, the door slides open again, and Tony makes use of escape plan number five and dives for it.


“You can’t just hide out here.”


Yes, he can. “Yes I can.” It’s a solid plan. It’s a plan that he’s proud of. He has everything he needs and also leg space. He is set.


“No, you—What are you doing? Are you really hiding under your —Tony, don’t ignore me, I can see you.”


“Go away, Bruce,” Tony says, tugging his tablet towards him. “And I’m not hiding. I’m comfortable.”


Bruce crosses his arms where he’s leaning up against Tony’s desk, his face a ridiculous mix of amused and incredulous. “You’re not hiding. You’re comfortable. Is that why all the lights were off?”


“My tests needed darkness.”


“Uh huh.”


“So did my soul.”


“I’m going to tell Thor that you’re avoiding him down here. And then Thor is going to come marching in here, overturning tables and workstations until you come out.”


“That’s not nice, Dr. Banner.”


“Nope,” Bruce says, smiling wider. Tony hates him. He hates him to death. “It’s actually very, very mean.”


“You suck,” Tony says, inching back out from below the desk. “You suck so hard. Entirely.”


“I don’t think that’s any of your business,” Bruce jokes, and Tony whacks his head on the bottom of the desk so hard that he sees the future.




It probably doesn’t count as a walk of shame, but Tony’s glaring at the ground when he walks into the room behind Bruce. Everybody sounds so happy—there’s laughter coming from where the Avengers, plus Coulson, naturally, and thanks, Jarvis, for the heads up with that one, are sprawled across the couch cushions, and Tony should be joining in. He should say something just shy of rude to get them to smile at him—not Natasha. She’d roll her eyes, or maybe make a face, so Tony would look for her reaction first—and sit next to Thor and ask questions just shy of rude (or all the way there, really) about his exotic homeland, and just be generally Tony, and it’s killing him that he doesn’t want to. He’s really, truly, genuinely disappointed that Loki hasn’t so much as sent word or anything, and all he wants to do is mope, and it’s so stunningly, startlingly out of character that it’s making him grumpy as hell.


He throws himself down besides Thor, anyways, and sighs up at the ceiling. “Is it true that you guys marry your sibl—”


“Tony,” Thor says, before Tony can get the question all the way out which is really, probably, a good thing. But then he stops, and just stares at Tony until Tony looks back at him, ready to repeat the question, come up with a different one, anything, because Tony’s great with other people’s discomfort, not so much with his own.


“Hey,” he says, remembering something else. “You left before I could ask last time, but for a second, after the battle, I thought… Loki looked like… for a second, and it might’ve just been a trick of the light or something, but I thought he was—”


“Blue?” Thor asks cautiously, and Tony nods. Blue. He hadn’t been hallucinating.


“Blue,” he says. “Why was he blue? Is that a thing with you people?”


“That is his Jötunn heritage,” Thor says, just as slowly and just as carefully, staring at Tony like he’s waiting for him to make a run for it, but all Tony can do is shrug.


“So it’s a different alien thing from your alien thing. The, uh, smurfing up.”






“It does not trouble you?”


Tony snorts. “What, that he’s a different kind of non-human? If it didn’t trouble me the first time, it’s not likely to trouble me the second time. And, anyways, it doesn’t matter if it troubles me. It’s not like he’s coming back.” And if he slides his eyes over to Thor in search of a rebuttal, he’s the only one who has to know.


But all Thor does is nod thoughtfully and turn away, and Tony really, really wants to be the one who gets to Hulk out, just for a day, because it would be spectacular to break something, demolish it, send it to the ground in more pieces than the Lego sets he demanded when he was a kid. Only superpowers don’t work like that, and Tony is an adult, so he settles for crossing his arms and slouching so low that his chin brushes against metal, counting down the hours until silence.


When Tony goes to bed, he keeps his liquor at arm’s length.




 “Necessary, I said. And this is necessary.”


“Excessive, I think…”


“Open the gate, and it won’t be.”




When Tony drinks like this, he drinks enough to avoid nightmares. He should be too out of it to manage a bad dream, let alone the sort of night terror that gives him a weight on his chest, crushing up against his cyborg heart, threatening his circuitry. He wakes up swinging, gasping for air and tangled in his sheets, legs thrashing, struggling for purchase. For a moment, his arms are full of something, and he hears what might be a yelp of a laugh, and then he’s clear. Until he notices two bright green lights in the otherwise dark room, and his heart stops again, and, without enough air to scream, he falls back with a choked sort of gasp, his heart beating its way right out of its bounds.


“What the fuck,” he whispers, as soon as he remembers how his mouth moves.


“Hello,” coughs the dark.


“No,” Tony answers, because no. Nope. No. Absolutely not. No.


“I don’t believe I even got a chance to speak.”


“Did you land on me?”


“… Perhaps.” Tony waits. There’s another shallow cough that might disguise a laugh. “My aim might be a bit off. It’s very dark.”


“You’re here,” Tony says blankly. He reaches a hand up to rub at his chest, what little that’ll do for his heart. Palpitations. He’s having palpitations. He might be dying. He’s probably dying.


“Yes,” comes back to him. He’s almost definitely dying. Oh, well.


“You suck at moving out,” Tony says. He can hear Loki stand at that, take a step or two forward, and Tony approximates his chances of landing a punch.




“You forgot your clothes. All of your clothes, and we all know you only have one Asgardian outfit—”


“—Tony, shut up, I’m trying to—”


“—and you looked better in the black shirt than you do in the coat, anyways, so you should really look into—”


“—can you just—”


“—a better tailor up there, because oh my God, Loki, you can’t just come back, you colossal dick.”


“I—” Loki rears back, surprised and incredulous, and yes, Tony likes that, Loki deserves that, he deserves a shock. “I’m a what—”


“A dick,” Tony says roughly, “A total dick, because that was a dick move that you pulled, there, okay?”


“I’m sorry?” Loki offers, but it sounds clumsy and crooked coming from his lips, and Tony rolls his eyes, and thinks that Loki must see it, from that huff of a laugh. He shouldn’t be laughing, he should—he should— “I didn’t think you’d worry.”


“I wasn’t worried,” Tony sniffs. “You can obviously take care of yourself.”


“Then why—oh. You didn’t think I’d come back?”


“I’m not talking about this now,” Tony mutters darkly, inching away from him, farther up the bed. “It’s too early for this shit.”


“It’s the middle of the night,” Loki points out.


“Too late?”




He wants an apology. Tony wants an apology, or an answer, or something, not Loki standing there, looking at him, calm and glowing. He doesn’t know where to go from here, but he doesn’t want to be the first one to move. And then he remembers that, technically, Loki moved first, and he’ll have bruises in the morning to prove it.


Landing pad. He made. Tony. A landing pad.


Tony sighs and swings his arm down towards where he remembers a bottle of Macallan, still mostly full, perched by the side of his bed. He considers offering it to Loki first, a conciliatory gesture, but Tony has no business being the bigger man when he’s only just been so thoroughly abused, so he swings back a gulp first to clear his head with the sting in his throat, and then he passes it over, avoiding Loki’s eyes.


Loki takes a sip and makes the sort of sound that Tony wishes he could see, almost delicately disgusted, and Tony laughs. “Is that penitence enough?” Loki asks, and he still sounds like he’s trying not to cough. Tony takes the bottle back and pulls a long draw of the scotch, smiling around his mouthful, chasing it across his lips with his tongue.


“Hardly,” he says, looking back in time to see Loki roll his eyes. He can see that, the way they’re almost eerily lit with the barest hint of light coming in through the closed blinds.


Ill met by moonlight, he wants to say, only a) it would be a lie, and b) if he called Loki a fairy, he’s fairly sure he’d regret it. But it fits, and gods and giants and fairies are all cut from the same cloth, he figures. Mythological. Legendary. Dangerous.




He doesn’t mean to say that one out loud, and he raises the scotch to his lips again to avoid following that with anything, or saying anything else, or anything, anything at all, because, wow, he wonders what the bottom of this bottle tastes like, because he’s sure that’ll send him to sleep much better than this, and— or not. Loki’s fingers are curling around the head of the bottle and pulling it away, putting it on Tony’s dresser and gliding forward to kneel on the bed. His clever fingers find their way to Tony’s hair and pull him closer, and Tony has not agreed to this—this—this ridiculous idea, because… because it’s not a good one, and they shouldn’t, and he doesn’t want… doesn’t…


Loki tastes like scotch and snow and Tony chases that taste like he’s hounding for it, because, Christ, his mouth


Tony pulls away. “Will you still respect me in the morning? Actually, screw that. Will you still be here in the morning? Just so I know what not to look for?”


Loki’s eyes are on his mouth, and it’s incredibly distracting, and Tony really, really wants to forget he asked anything, but it’s too late, so he has to wait.


“I had planned on it,” Loki murmurs, and Tony doesn’t feel anything that feels sort of like someone’s kicked his vital organs back into their proper orientation. “Can I touch you?” Loki whispers.


Gods, yes,” Tony pants, and he has never hated seven layers of leather more.


When Loki bats his hands away and magicks the clothes off, piece by glorious piece, Tony hates them a little bit less. When he ties Tony’s hands above him with a strip of that leather and goes to town on him with a wet mouth and nimble hands, Tony decides that leather is actually a very, definitely okay thing.




Loki has been an early riser forever, so, when the first rays of sun bolt through the shades over Tony’s windows, Loki’s already turning into the soft white glow, stretching his limbs out and then burrowing farther under the sheets, resting his head against Tony’s shoulder.


I had planned on it. That was a lie. Mostly, thought not entirely. Loki had planned on seeing all of this world, stopping over, staying the night, perhaps, but not staying. Loki was not built for stasis, and he can’t imagine remaining in one place for long enough, to forge the sort of bond Tony was implying, because it’s not him. It goes against his nature. His nature requires… well. It was a lie. Maybe, he thinks, turning over to stare at Tony, willing him awake, it’s less of a lie now. Tony’s eyelashes are dark, splayed out far enough that they brush his cheeks, and Loki wants to touch them, glide his fingers over them, over the slope of his nose, over the features that look so much happier in sleep than in waking. When he’s awake, Loki almost sees a bit of himself in him—chaos, right between his eyes, in his brain, the universe moving so fast inside of there, problems and solutions and mayhem presenting themselves for his eyes alone. Loki likes the taste of that—close enough to madness to feel like home, and it’s a dangerous, brilliant feeling.


Tony’s brows sweep together and his mouth tightens, corners inching down. A growling sort of hum starts up in his chest, and when one of his hands inches up, curling over Loki’s shoulder, Loki has to bite his lip against a laugh.


“I promised you, didn’t I? Foolish mortal,” Loki rasps, and Tony’s eyes open slowly, blinking groggily back at him. “Your trust in me is staggering.”


“Right,” Tony says, still too tired to pass as sheepish. Loki rolls his eyes. “Well, then. I’m glad you did. Keep your promise, and all.”


“You’re welcome,” Loki sniffs, as if it’s so much of a favor to lie here, warm and sated, with… with one whose company he enjoys.


“You didn’t mean it, though,” Tony says easily, and Loki sits up sharply, ignoring the chill of the air when the blankets pool around his waist; he can’t really feel it, anymore, anyway. “About planning on staying. You just wanted to get in my pants.”


“You weren’t wearing any pants.”


“Not the point, Top Shop.”


“I meant it,” Loki tries, and Tony only smiles. “I may not have planned it, but plans are…”


“Overrated?” Tony offers.


“Flexible. Fluid. And unnecessary. I’m here now, and I want to stay.”


“Good,” Tony says, and he grins at him until Loki gives in and smiles back, more surprised by it than he means to be, but it feels good, really. The sun behind him, Tony below him, obligations to none but himself. It is, he thinks, dropping back to the bed and letting Tony drag him into a slow, lazy kiss, his natural state of being.



Tony likes being insufferable. It is a thing that he enjoys. Immensely. Sucking Loki off in the shower probably doesn’t count, but telling Steve that his jaw is killing him at the breakfast table probably does. Or at least it does when Loki walks up and says something about practice making perfect.


On Tony’s long, long list of hobbies, turning Steve red is one of his favorites.  


“It’s good to see you, Loki,” Steve says, and, bless, he looks like he means it, even if he can’t quite meet either of their eyes. “Will you be sticking around?”


“Yes,” Loki says, like he’s still testing his decision out against the back of his teeth, and Tony has to tamp down the urge to grin, to crow an early victory, because Loki is transient by nature, and he’d rather see him leave with a warning than twitch until it drives him crazy.


“Great,” Steve says quickly, “Looking forward to fighting with you again.” And then he’s scampering and Tony’s biting on his lip and Loki’s looking so surprised. It’s too much. Tony laughs, loud and long, and Loki glares back at him, and it’s perfect. It’s everything.


“You could, though,” Tony says, sobering up and wiping at the tears sparking up along his eyelashes. “Fight with us, be an Avenger.”


“Be a hero,” Loki sneers, but there’s curiosity there, too, so Tony pushes it.


“Or something. It worked that first time.”


“I’m not— ” Loki says, but he doesn’t finish, only looks away, cheeks pink and mouth twisted. Tony reaches out a hand. It lands on Loki’s shoulder, and he squeezes, once.


Loki relaxes against him.


They sit there, like that, Tony with his coffee in one hand and Loki under the other, rubbing slow circles against his bone with his thumb, until the others stream in, one by one. There’s yelling, the tossing of toast across the room by a marksman who doesn’t miss, knife worked through an apple by the sort of assassin that nobody talks about too loudly, America’s biggest patriot whisking eggs, a mad scientist in a bathrobe and shaggy hair stirring sugar into his tea, and the booming laughter of a too-big blonde demigod. In an hour, Pepper will walk in; in two, it’ll be Coulson, dragging them away for a debriefing (bur really to get yelled at); in three, they might save the world again. This time around, though, a sorcerer with more issues than a magazine subscription might be joining in, saving the world he tried to take over, and, flying in the middle of it all, Tony: genius, billionaire, sleeping with a god, saving people, dressed up in gold and red and doing something more.


Loki says something too hushed for him to hear and, when Clint turns around, his hair is purple and curling down over his ears. Natasha splutters into her tea. It takes exactly twenty-two seconds for the kitchen to erupt into a riot of noise, Clint calling for blood and the wild laughter of a suddenly duplicating wizard bouncing off of the walls of every room on the floor.


Tony finishes his coffee and tries not to choke on it.


He’s doing okay.