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Ten Years

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It wasn’t the first time that an explosion had shaken the foundations of Aven Mar High School. Many of the pupils and students alike barely even noticed, until the fire alarm sounded and they realised they would need to evacuate the building.

Everyone knew who had caused the explosion and they all had a fairly good idea of how it had happened, but no-one seemed overly irritated. Mostly they were just glad it was a Friday and the sun was finally shining after a week of abysmal weather.

When the nearest teacher pulled him out of the demolition site that had once been the Chemistry lab, Anthony ‘Tony’ Stark’s excuse was the same as he had given the previous three times the same thing had happened. “I’m an engineer, not a chemist. Stop giving me things that go ‘Boom’.”

“How many more times do you think this is going to happen before they admit you shouldn’t be allowed in the lab?” Loki Odinson asked, looking down at the figure who was sitting in the back of the ambulance getting his arm bandaged where a piece of shrapnel had caught him during the explosion.

The impish grin he received in response made Loki’s stomach flutter and he couldn’t help grinning in response. “You’re making it sound like I did it on purpose,” Tony replied petulantly. “It’s not like I enjoy being injured, you know?”

Loki shook his head in exasperation and shifted the bag he was carrying further up his shoulder. The bag had already been heavy to start with that day, but when he’d added the few belongs that had been salvaged from Tony’s charred backpack– mainly his car keys, cell phone and two thick physics text books – it felt ridiculously heavy. “I’m starting to think you like all this attention,” he muttered, waving a hand in the direction of the ambulance and two fire engines as he tried to sound like he disapproved of Tony’s bravado, and failed miserably.

The paramedic finished bandaging the teenager and straightened up. “I agree with Mr Odinson. This is the second time I’ve had to patch you up in as many weeks.”

At the words, Tony’s grin turned onto the sandy-haired paramedic, which earned him a glare in response as his mother’s oldest friend managed to achieve the disapproved look Loki had been aiming for. “Considering how often we have Chem, that’s not a lot,” he replied, a cocky smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.

Jarvis sighed and rolled his eyes. “You’re going to get yourself into real trouble one of these days, Tone,” he whispered, the affection-laced irritation now replaced with obvious worry that something would happen to the teenager.

Tony sighed, knowing what was running through the paramedic’s mind and he reached out with the arm that didn’t hurt like hell, placing a hand on Jarvis’ shoulder. “Contrary to popular belief, I am pretty careful in the lab,” he swore. “I just suck at Chem.”

Loki, who was still standing nearby watching the exchange silently rolled his eyes at Tony’s words, but didn’t comment. He agreed with Jarvis; he had spent most of their friendship worrying about what his brown-eyed friend would do next and what kind of trouble he’d get them into.

Inside the ambulance, a red headed woman came into view and Tony turned his head to see Jarvis’ fellow paramedic heading towards them. “There’s been a car accident near the beach,” she informed Jarvis in a tone that was very matter of fact and no nonsense.

Jarvis nodded his head, a small sigh that only Tony could hear escaping his mouth. “It’s going to be a long day,” he whispered, grinning down at the teenager. “Try to stay out of trouble for the rest of the day, at least,” he begged.

Tony grinned in response and got to his feet. “You know me,” he retorted, reaching for his jacket before he realised that it was still in the Chemistry lab and had likely been destroyed.

Jarvis scoffed. “Those are not comforting words,” he muttered, turning his attention to Loki and fixing the dark haired teenager with a piercing look. “I trust you can make sure he behaves?”

Loki snorted with laughter and shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve been trying to do that since we were five; I swear, it’s getting harder and harder to do,” he added, chuckling to himself as Tony reached out to swat him. “I’ll keep my eye on him,” he swore, knowing that Jarvis didn’t trust anyone but Loki to make sure that Tony care of himself.

His words seemed to satisfy Jarvis, who nodded his head and clapped Tony lightly on the shoulder. “The Assistant Principal has given you permission to take the rest of the day off,” he said, glancing at Loki to make sure that the dark haired teenager knew he was talking about both of them.

Tony rolled his chocolate brown eyes and reached out, grabbing Loki’s wrist and looking at the time; his own watch had been destroyed during the blast. “Since there’s only an hour left of school, that’s not that generous of him,” he muttered, releasing Loki’s arm as he pushed himself to his feet.

Jarvis either didn’t hear his comment, or he chose to ignore him as he climbed into the ambulance and closed one of the doors. “Remember what I said about keeping out of trouble,” he said, looking between both teenagers before closing the other door behind him. Less than two seconds later, the lights on top were flashing and the vehicle had started to move away from them.

“Anyone’d think I couldn’t take care of myself,” Tony said, shaking his head in disbelief as he turned to face his best friend who was now rummaging around in his backpack for something. “What you looking for?” he asked, raising a questioning eyebrow.

Loki didn’t answer for a moment as he continued searching, before he pulled out a set of car keys. “These,” he answered, jingling them in front of Tony’s face. “Come on,” he instructed, turning on his heel and walking away from the other teenager; he knew without looking back that Tony would be right behind him in no time at all.

“You know it’s my car, right?” Tony called, jogging to catch up with the taller teenager. “Technically that means I should be driving.”

Many of the students had already started filing back into the building by the time Tony and Loki reached the parking lot. Of the few that remained, some gave Tony concerned looks, some irritated and one student – Clint Barton – gave Tony a huge grin and two thumbs up, before he was punched in the side by a girl Loki could only assume was Natasha Romanoff; he couldn’t tell from where he was.

“I saw Jarvis give you painkillers for your arm, Tony,” Loki stated, when they finally reached the vehicle and Tony held out his hand expectantly for the keys. “He said they were strong and you needed something to eat and rest before you could drive. Therefore,” he continued, remotely unlocking the vehicle and opening the driver door, “I’m driving and we’re going back to yours for something to eat.”

Tony scowled and watched the darker haired teenager get into the car, before slowly opening the passenger side door and following suit. Despite his level of annoyance at being told that he wasn’t allowed to drive his own car, he couldn’t help letting out a bark of laughter when he heard Loki grumbling to himself as he had to push the seat back so he could actually fit his much longer legs under the steering wheel.

“Shut up,” Loki muttered, throwing his backpack onto the back seat and starting the car. “I wish you’d hurry up and have your growth spurt already.”

Tony rolled his eyes and leant his back against the seat. “I’m not that short,” he muttered half-heartedly, earning a snort of laughter from Loki but he didn’t reply. Even though he was only seventeen, Loki was already pushing six foot and Tony knew that he’d never catch up with him height-wise; even as a scrawny kid, Loki had always towered over his shorter best friend.

At the first intersection they stopped at, Tony opened his eyes. “Go left,” he instructed.

Loki turned his head and stared at the other teenager with a raised eyebrow. “Your house is right,” he reminded Tony, pointing in the aforementioned direction just in case Tony had hit his head during the explosion and couldn’t remember where he lived.

An impatient glare was what he received in response before Tony huffed in irritation. “I know that, dick,” he retorted. “I want a cheeseburger and Burger King is,” he pointed to the left, “that way.” He held Loki’s gaze for a long moment, before rolling his eyes and shaking his head. “Just hurry up and go that way, before some traffic decides to come out of nowhere.”

At his words, Loki’s eyes flickered up to the rear view mirror and, when he was sure that there were no cars coming in his direction, he sharply turned the wheel and turned left instead of the right he had been planning. Less than three blocks later, he pulled into the parking lot for burger king and slowly drove towards the drive-thru.

“You’re buying,” Loki informed Tony, pulling in behind a yellow mini-van and shifting the car into park while they waited. “This was your idea,” he added, reaching back and pulling his cell phone from his backpack as he spoke. He needed to text his brother and tell him not to wait around after school – even though it was probably common knowledge throughout the school that Loki and Tony had left together after the explosion.

True to his word, when Loki ordered placed their orders, he held his hand out, palm upwards as he waited for cash from his best friend. Rolling his eyes, Tony managed to get his wallet out from where it was tucked into the back pocket of his jeans. “Does it count as a date if I buy you lunch?” he asked, placing the money in Loki’s palm and grinning when the other teenager scoffed.

“Please,” Loki muttered, collecting their food from the next window and pulling away from the drive-thru completely. “Like I’d let you take me to Burger King on a date,” he added, shaking his head.

The grin never left Tony’s face as he opened the bag Loki handed him and pulled out a cheeseburger. “You’re so demanding,” he muttered, pulling the wrapper back and taking a large bite, ignoring the disapproving look on the dark haired teenager’s face. “Take me to the beach,” he instructed, not swallowing the mouthful of food before speaking.

Loki snorted and rolled his eyes. “Now who’s demanding?” he grumbled, flicking on the turn signal and heading towards the beach regardless.

He wasn’t stupid; Loki knew exactly why Tony didn’t want to go home. He had realised it halfway out of the Burger King parking lot when his green eyes had landed on the digital display of Tony’s car that displayed the date as well as the time and temperature. He immediately started hating himself for being such a horrible friend and not realising what date it was sooner.

Loki knew he should have remembered; he knew he shouldn’t have needed the reminder to recall the worst day of his best friend’s - and by extension his - life. Ten years ago to the day, the Odinson household had gotten a phone call at two in the morning from a very distressed seven year old who was begging Loki to come see him at the hospital.

A frantic car ride later, Loki tore into the ER with his mother at his heels, thinking that his best friend was dying, only to find the shorter boy curled up in a ball on one of the hospital’s uncomfortable chairs. Loki remembered hearing a choked Jarvis telling Frigga that Howard and Maria Stark had been involved in a three car crash on the interstate whilst returning from a charity benefit, and that none of the people involved had survived.

Tony had looked up at him with red-rimmed brown eyes as he’d approached, seconds before breathing Loki’s name and latching onto him with the force of a limpet, refusing to be moved by anyone except his best friend.

Despite the sadness of the memory, a small smile tugged at the corner of Loki’s mouth as they approached the beach. It had taken Jarvis almost an hour to realise that Tony wasn’t going to react to anyone other than Loki, and Frigga had given him permission to spend as much time at the Stark’s – Tony’s – as Jarvis was willing to let him stay.

“What you grinning at?” Tony asked suspiciously, taking another bite of his third cheeseburger (judging by the number of wrappers at his feet).

Loki shook his head, the smile still firmly on his face. “Nothing,” he replied softly, pulling the car into one of the many available spots – most kids were still at school, so parking was a hell of a lot easier than it would be soon. “You know that one of those burgers was for me, right?”

The guilty expression Tony flashed in his direction, made him roll his eyes affectionately. “Oops?” Tony offered around the last bite.

“You’re impossible,” the taller teenager muttered, turning off the engine and climbing out of the car.

If Loki had ever suspected that Tony’s guilt was pretence, his suspicions would have been confirmed when Tony laughed and nodded his head. “That’s why you love me,” he called, just before Loki slammed the door and marched away from the car. “Wait for me!” he added, throwing open his own door and running after Loki. “You can’t bring me to the beach and then abandon me!” he added, catching up and throwing his arm around the other’s waist. “What kind of date are you?”

A laugh escaped Loki’s lips and he elbowed his friend in the ribs. “A hungry one, thanks to you,” Loki replied. He pushed Tony playfully away, not quite realising that the other boy hadn’t found his sand-legs yet, which resulted in him tumbling to the sand and taking Loki down with him in retaliation.

~

Three hours later, the beach was beginning to fill up with more and more people, until Loki and Tony both decided that they couldn’t put with being accosted by students who knew he had blown up the chemistry lab; some of whom wanted to congratulate him, while the others (mostly girls) wanted to make sure he was alright.

When Tony’s parents had died, Jarvis had moved into the large Stark Mansion to take care of the seven-year old until something permanent could be sorted. Two wills had been discovered whilst Maria and Howard’s estates were being sorted; Howard’s dictating that his best friend Obadiah Stane should be Tony’s guardian, while Maria’s elected Jarvis.

Loki didn’t remember much about how that argument had been settled because, after the first three heated fights between Jarvis and Stane, he had packed a bag for his best friend and taken him back to his house. Less than two weeks later, Jarvis was officially Tony’s guardian and Loki finally allowed Tony to move back home. In retrospect, he probably should have told people where Tony was; no-one had been too impressed when they’d discovered Loki had been harbouring his missing best friend in his closet the whole time.

The house Loki was looking at as he turned the car into the driveway didn’t look like the same building he remembered sneaking into in the middle of the night to play hide and seek in. While Howard and Maria had been alive, the building had seemed dark and foreboding, even though he knew Tony would always welcome him. But now, he loved spending time at his best friend’s house.

“Jarvis is home,” he commented, turning off the engine and handing Tony his keys, before climbing out of the car. He left his bag inside; he wasn’t planning on doing any homework this weekend.

Tony followed his example and slammed the door behind him. “Looks like he’s not the only one,” he added, grinning from ear to ear as he nodded to the third car in the driveway. A chuckle escaped Loki’s mouth as he watched the brunet run up the stairs and throw the door open, yelling, “Honey I’m home!” at the top of his lungs as he went.

Silence answered him and he huffed in annoyance, turning to Loki as the other teenager closed the door behind him. “I’m being ignored,” he whined, his lips moving to form a pout.

Loki laughed loud and shook his head. “And we all know how much of a travesty that is,” he retorted, shrugging out of his jacket and hanging it on a nearby hook with the ease of someone who was used to where everything was in the house.

“It is!” Tony agreed, either choosing to ignore the sarcasm or missing it completely as he toed off his sneakers and kicked them in the general direction of the corner, not bothering to see if they had hit their target.

Before Loki could say anything, they heard footsteps above them and a familiar voice ask, “Did you really blow up Miss Waites’ classroom? Again,” from the top of the stairs, sounding more impressed than annoyed, and Loki groaned, burying his face in his hands.

“Please don’t encourage him,” he begged, lowering his hands and watching the figure come down the stairs.

The newcomer grinned widely at him, but didn’t respond as he continued on his way down the stairs. Bruce had grown taller while he had been away at College, Loki thought to himself when the older boy reached them. Jarvis’ son, Bruce had been Tony’s ‘older brother’ for as long as Loki had known him, and from the first moment three-year old Bruce had met a new-born Tony, he had taken the role very seriously, even going so far as to protect Tony from bullies when they had tried to pick on his brother’s intelligence.

Tony huffed and folded his arms across his chest, wincing when he accidently brushed the bandaged injury. “Is it common knowledge all across this town?” he muttered, trying to get away from Bruce when he reached out and ruffled the seventeen-year-olds hair.

Bruce laughed and shook his head. “Dad finished work early. He told me what you’d done when he got home,” he told Tony, placing a hand on his brother’s good arm. “You know that I don’t mind tutoring you in Chem,” he whispered, his worry that something worse than an injured arm could happen shining in eyes that were an even darker shade of brown than Tony’s.

Normally Tony would have gotten defensive at the insinuation that he needed tutoring, but the concern Bruce was showing overrode anything other than gratitude that Tony might have been feeling. “I know,” Tony whispered, offering the older boy a grin. “It’s not the theoretical part I suck at. It’s the physical part, you know?”

“The teachers just need to keep him out of the lab during experiments,” Loki interrupted, jumping back with a smirk on his face when Tony tried to elbow him in the ribs.

Down the corridor, the door to the kitchen opened and Jarvis came towards them with a towel draped over his shoulder as he wiped his hands on it. “I was beginning to think you weren’t coming home,” he said, seeing the three of them standing at the foot of the stairs.

Tony grinned and shook his head. “You’ve been trying to get rid of me for years, you didn’t really think you were lucky enough to finally manage it, did you?” he retorted with a scoff.

Jarvis rolled his eyes and looked over at Loki. “Are you staying for dinner?”

Loki laughed and nodded his head. “I’d like that. Someone decided to eat three cheese burgers without offering me anything,” he added, throwing a glare in his best friend’s direction, which made Bruce and Jarvis laugh knowingly. Tony’s appetite was well known amongst his friends and family, so him eating Loki’s food wasn’t particularly surprising.

“Go get washed up,” Jarvis instructed, nudging the pair of them up the stairs while Bruce headed into the sitting room. “Dinner will be ready in about an hour.”

“Yes, boss,” Tony muttered, saluting as he marched up the stairs.

Halfway up the staircase, Loki paused when he heard Jarvis call his name. “Try to remember to call your parents if you’re planning on staying the night,” he requested when the dark haired teenager paused.

Loki grinned and ran his hand over the back of his neck nervously. “Yes, Sir,” he whispered, his cheeks flushing in embarrassment. Clearly he wasn’t the only one who remembered far too well that he had spent many a night at their house having forgotten to tell his parents where he was.

“I’ll shout you when dinner’s ready,” Jarvis added, watching as the teenagers disappeared up the stairs.

~

It was after midnight when Loki stirred and his eyes flickered open with a groan. He was lying on the battered couch in Tony’s workshop and had a stiff neck as a result. “Tony?” he murmured, rolling onto his side and running a hand over his face as he tried to convince his eyes to focus.

“Hmm?” his best friend replied distractedly, not looking up from where he was sitting at his workbench working on something Loki couldn’t see from the couch.

Loki sighed and stood up, groaning when his muscles protested against the movement. “Tony, what are you still doing working?” he whispered, crossing the workshop to where Tony was sitting. “It’s almost one in the morning,” Loki added, glancing at his watch and wincing when he saw the time.

“Is it?” Tony replied, still not looking up from where he was soldering… something; Loki had long since given up trying to understand how his friend’s mind worked. He knew that Tony had been struggling with his intelligence all his life; he was a certified genius, who had flat out refused to be treated differently from his peers. Unfortunately, that had meant that Tony was often bored in class – except Chem – and could generally be found awake at all hours of the morning, tinkering away in the lab Bruce had helped him build for his thirteenth birthday.

Loki sighed and placed a hand on Tony’s shoulder, finally pulling his attention away from the workbench. “Are you okay?” he whispered when Tony looked up at him with red rimmed eyes.

Tony tried to plaster a grin on his face, but couldn’t get it to quite reach his eyes. “Yeah,” he murmured, shrugging his shoulders. “Of course I am,” he added, turning back to his workbench with every intention in continuing his work.

The hand on his shoulder tightened as Loki managed to turn his friend around. “No, you’re not,” he argued, carefully reaching out to take the soldering iron from Tony’s hand. “Come on,” Loki added, turning the tool off and setting it aside. He slipped his hand into the other teenager’s, pulling him from the seat and out of the room.

For his part, Tony tried to pull out of Loki’s grip all the way down the corridor, but the other teenager was deceptively strong and managed to keep hold of him all the way to Tony’s bedroom. “I’m not tired,” he muttered half-heartedly.

Loki rolled his eyes and closed the door behind him. “Tough,” he retorted, pushing Tony onto the bed with more force than he meant to.

Tony laughed sleepily when he bounced on the mattress. “Oh yeah, baby. You know I like it rough,” he whispered, shifting around on the bed and closing his eyes, despite what he had told Loki earlier about not being tired.

At one point, his words would have made Loki blush furiously and something deep inside of him stir uncomfortably. But he had long since realised that Tony flirted with everyone and right then, he was doing it to hide how he actually felt.

“Move up,” he instructed, not waiting for Tony to actually comply before he pushed him to the side and slid onto the bed beside him.

Immediately, Tony rolled over and curled into Loki’s side, wrapping his arm around his best friend and burying his face in the older boy’s neck. “I miss them,” he whispered.

Loki sighed heavily and turned his head, burying his nose in Tony’s soft brown hair. “I know you do,” he replied, taking a deep breath and breathing in the others scent. “You should have woken me,” Loki chided, trailing his fingers up and down his arm in a way he knew soothed Tony.

Tony shrugged the shoulder he wasn’t leaning on and Loki heard him mutter, “I was being stupid.” He let out a yelp when Loki pinched the back of his neck hard. “Ow!” he exclaimed, lifting his hand and rubbing the now-sore spot. “That hurt!”

“Then stop saying ridiculous things,” Loki ordered, a hard tone to his voice that Tony had very rarely heard him use.

A small sigh escaped from Tony’s lips and he burrowed further into Loki’s arms, trying to get as close as humanly possible. “I’d almost forgotten what date it was today,” he whispered, his fingers toying with the hem of his friend’s t-shirt. “I think it was the explosion; it distracted me enough that I didn’t really remember until two hours ago.”

Loki frowned and reached out, placing a hand under Tony’s chin, forcing him to lift his head so he could look into his eyes. “It’s perfectly fine to miss them, and you’re not stupid for crying,” he added, his voice softening.

Neither of them spoke or tried to break the eye contact, until Tony sighed heavily and nodded slowly. He shifted, resting his head on Loki’s chest and listening to his steady heartbeat. Quietly, Loki sighed and ran his hand through his friend’s hair. They had the same argument every year; with Tony thinking that he was stupid to mourn people who had been dead for over half of his life, and Loki insisting that it was perfectly natural.

Eventually, Loki felt Tony’s breath even out as he gave into his body’s demand for sleep and he ducked his head a little, pressing a gentle kiss to Tony’s forehead. “Night, Tony,” he whispered. The corners of his mouth curled up in a smile when he felt his best friend shift closer, murmuring something that sounded suspiciously like Loki’s name.

Unbeknownst to either teenager, the door had opened a little while they had been lying in silence and Jarvis has been watching them with a smile ever since. He had been worrying about Tony all day – even more than normal – and had been relieved when Loki had said he was planning on staying over; not that he had expected anything different from the youngest Odinson.

While his parents had initially tried to encourage their eldest son, Thor, to be Tony’s friend, the small dark haired boy had caught his attention and Tony, being the stubborn type, had refused to be dissuaded from being his friend. Less than four days later, the pair were inseparable and had been ever since.

When he was sure that both boys were asleep, Jarvis silently slipped into the room and pulled the Captain America comforter Tony had had since childhood down from where it lived on the top of his wardrobe. Loki stirred a little when the blanket was draped over him, but instead of waking, he tightened his grip on Tony and pulled him closer, before settling once more.

A smile spread across Jarvis’ face as he pressed a soft kiss against the foreheads of both boys, before returning to the door. Normally, he would have been more worried about Tony’s wellbeing, but he also knew that Loki was doing enough worrying for them both at the moment. He would take care of his best friend.