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"Kid," says Tony Stark wearily, "Please gimme a reason Loki's been spotted talking to Spiderman that isn't 'I wanted to be his friend'. Please. Tell me you can do that."

Peter hums. "I could?"

"And that reason would be the truth?"

Peter shrugs into his sweater. "If you wanted it to be the truth it could be."

"That right there, that right there, is why I know it's gonna be a lie."

 

0.

Peter doesn't mean to befriend Loki. He's just sitting on his roof, holding his knees and thinking about things - falling, his chemistry exam, MJ, May, Ben, falling, his bed, Liz, Flash, falling, Ben - and the wind is cold, and his skin's gone all knobbly with goosebumps. Since the bite, he's been more attuned to the weather, and he gets colder far easier, but the suit counteracts most of that, and he's thinking. He can hardly feel the bitter chill of it.

He's got his mask off, too. It's three in the morning and nobody, not even the Daily Bugle, would expect Spiderman to be sitting on the top of a random block of flats in Queens, right opposite a sandwich store and a city bike depot. He's cool. He's safe.

Loki isn't there, and then the next moment, he is.

Peter's skin tingles bare seconds before he arrives, the new sense he's been growing (Tony calls it Spidey-sense, but Peter thinks that's dumb. However, anything Tony says tends to stick, and so Ned and MJ have started calling it that too and-)

He's on his feet when the air shimmers before him, and his mask is crammed over his face by the time Loki's face is recognisable among the ripples.

"Thor told me you were dead," Peter says, which maybe isn't the best way to start. His voice is sort of muffled, because the mask is half-crammed into his mouth, hiding most of his face, and his webslingers are all fucked up on his wrists.

Loki shrugs. Peter remembers the news reports, back in 2012 - he'd been ten, and he got to take the day off school and sit with Ben and May, clutching his Iron Man action figure and watching a man in a gold-horned suit threaten to take over the world. There had been aliens in central New York, but none in Queens - the action had mostly centred around Stark Tower, Avengers Tower, and he remembers May crying with sheer relief when Breaking News - Avengers Triumph emblazoned itself across the TV screen.

This Loki doesn't look like that Loki.

This Loki has longer hair. Peter remembers the hair, for some reason, because it looked so odd that he'd laughed, and Ben had stroked his forehead and told him not to panic, the Avengers would save them.

(Peter hadn't been panicking, of course, because he knew the Avengers would save them.)

This Loki is dressed in what Peter assumes is, like, Asgardian casual wear. This darkish greenish kind of crossover tunic, like what he's seen people wear at Comicon, and no helmet, and calf-hugging leather boots. He looks like a really flamboyant forest-green ninja, and there's a strand of blonde hair braided into his black, plaited and tucked around the rest of his hair like how MJ sometimes wears it.

"Thor told you I was dead?" Loki repeats, after an eternity of staring. Probably closer to five seconds, but Peter's observant. "Do you know Thor?"

Peter rolls his eyes, although the mask will hide that. "Dude. Don't you know who I am?"

"I've been off-world," Loki says sardonically, just as Peter realises how much of an asshole he sounds when he delivers that line.

Note taken. Never say that again. Probably only Tony can say that and get away with it, and that doesn't count because he's Tony, and people are probably born knowing who he is.

"Sorry," Peter says. Still doesn't relax, though, having fiddled his webslingers back into place. "But - yeah, I got told you were dead. Are you dead?"

"Quite clearly not."

"You'd be surprised." Peter's got far too used to chatting to Strange for half an hour, only to find that the doctor is still in London, or Tibet, or, like, Belgium, and his astral form is just sitting on the sofa in Tony's lounge, pretending to drink tea. Still, Loki might as well really be here as he is really anywhere, seeing as authorities on the topic still seem to think he's dead.

Loki steps forward; Peter steps back, and almost falls off the building. "I am not dead," he says. "Nor am I frightening."

"Speak for yourself, dude."

Nothing really happens, that night. Peter sits back down, after a long while, and Loki sits next to him, and pulls a bag of salted peanuts out of his pocket. He offers one to Peter, and they eat salted peanuts and swing their legs off the edge of Peter's apartment block until the sky starts to blush with oncoming day, and Loki ripples back out of existence, and Peter goes to sleep fitfully for a few hours.

(He guesses that might be when Tony catches wind of the rumour Loki is back, and hanging out with the Spiderman. But still.)

"Loki?" Ned whistles. "That's major. And he didn't try to stabby-stab? A little knifey-knife?"

"That sounds dumb."

"But he didn't?"

"Nah." Peter is holding Ned's ankles, and every time Coach Jones walks by Ned does a half hearted push-up. "He gave me peanuts and told me he wasn't dead? I think he's lonely."

"Lonely."

"I said what I said."

Ned scoffs. "He's the god of mischief."

"Yeah, so he probably doesn't have any friends."

And that conversation has to end there, because Flash shouts "talking about yourself in third person, Parker?" and Peter turns an ugly shade of magenta and then the bell rings for third-period chemistry and there are fun things to do, like making web fluid behind his propped books and watching the latest footage from the twitter account @NeighbourhoodWatch, which seems to know all the best places to upload shakycam footage of Peter - Spiderman - slinging his way around Queens. And stuff.

man with an iron plan: peter
man with an iron plan: dont do anything stupid

Peter looks, sees, thinks, sighs, shrugs.

And Ned looks over his shoulder. "Dude, did you just send Tony Stark a fuckin' yeehaw emoji?"

That's the start, but it isn't the end.

 

1. 

@NeighbourhoodWatch: spiderman sighted talking to a man on the roof of the southwest multi storey [im.g229337]

@stevefuckinrodge223: replying to @NeighbourhoodWatch: dude thats loki

@aaaaaron4409: replying to @stevefuckinrodge223: holy fuck lmao yeah look at this pic its him 2012 vs him talkin to spidey [im.g220238]

@NeighbourhoodWatch: spiderman sighted talking to loki, apparently ;)

@aaaaaron4409: replying to @NeighbourhoodWatch: lol

The first time, Peter can understand as a one-off, and therefore nobody really takes note. A few local memes get made, and Ned talks about Thor for a week, and then it goes back to normal, or as normal as it ever gets.

Then Peter saves a lady from being hit by a car. He really does.

The streets are busy, this time of night, cars careening fast down the streets to get home, people with lives and homes and things to do, none of them wanting to be driving the city streets in the misty rain, none of them wanting to be where they are. The lady is holding her bag above her head, and she's got sunglasses on, and she's not looking where she's going and she steps right into the path of this blue Suzuki going a billion miles an hour, and Peter webs the back of her jacket and pulls her as fast as he can, as safely as he can, back to the pavement.

Her sunglasses fall from her face, and the Suzuki drives over them with a crack that makes Peter wince, thinking of spines and bones and bloody skulls in roads, and - saving people is what he's for, in the end. This makes everything else worth it.

"Sorry, miss," he says, when she's dusting off her lapels, looking - angry. Maybe about the sunglasses? "Sorry about them - but, you woulda died. I caught you."

"Thanks," she says, but it's heavy, laden with bitter sarcasm. Not sincere.  "Listen, maybe think about chilling out once in a while, huh?"

"But you almost got hit," Peter says. There are tears tracking down her face, and her mascara has stained her cheeks black, face exposed now her sunglasses are in a million pieces on the puddly road.

"Maybe I wanted to," she says, and she's way older than him. Thirties, at a guess, and he's sixteen and he's saved her life and she hasn't wanted it saved.

"Okay," he says. He probably shouldn't, but he can't think of anything else to say, and Karen has gone silent to let him think. "I - miss, you want someone's number?"

She just walks away, and Peter lets her go, and she doesn't look back.

"Your heart rate has elevated. You saved her life, Peter."

"Yeah, Karen, thanks for pointing that out," he says dully, and leaps out of the line of traffic himself. Tony has to deal with nuclear missiles and aliens and gods and stuff, but he doesn't have to deal with the regular people, who are often so inventively fucked up that he suspects the regular Avengers wouldn't know what to do. Maybe Sam would. Maybe Doctor Banner.

Peter can't. He doesn't know how.

He buys a sandwich, and doesn't point out how he's been short-changed even though he sees the guy do it, and he swings himself up onto the roof of a taxicab company to eat it and pick the tomato slices out, which he always asks them to remove even though they never do, because that means he doesn't get charged full price and everyone knows you don't own a small business in the centre of the city without knowing how to rip costumed vigilantes off for every penny.

Right now, his friends are all - living lives, probably: Ned is doing that physics assignment, MJ is probably arguing with the alt-right online, and even the vigilante ones are probably sleeping, or at least, lying in bed and trying to sleep, which is sort of a danger that comes with the territory. (Except Matt, but Peter is ninety-nine percent convinced Matt lives his normal life as Daredevil and uses his law company as an elaborate hoax to piss off the Russians.)

He sighs. Broken sunglasses. Tosses a slice of tomato out for the milling pigeons below.  

"Why did you buy it if you refuse to eat it?"

The back of Peter's neck prickles a split-second before Loki shows up, and he's on his feet and angry, his sandwich hanging out of his mouth, his mask half-rolled up. "Who - oh. It's you."

"It's me, as you say." Loki is still wearing his ancient-Nordic-ninja suit, and the blonde strand of hair is still braided into his own. "What are the red things? Poison?"

"Tomatoes," Peter says slowly, sitting down because he's tired and it's three in the morning and if Loki had been going to kill him, he would have done it the first night. "I don't like them, but I like the rest of it."

"Why don't you ask them to leave the tomatoes out during the creation?"

"I do, but they don't listen." Impulse, rather than anything sensible, makes Peter hold out the next tomato slice. "You wanna try?"

His surprise at his own actions is only surpassed by the fact that Loki really does sit down next to him, drawing his feet up to rest on the side of the building - Loki really does take it, and grimace at the squishy texture, and swallow it in two bites.

"Well? Verdict?"

"Unappealing," Loki says, and his face is so disappointed that Peter can't help but laugh. "I don't like it."

"Join the club."

A long silence, broken when Peter finishes his sandwich and crumples the paper up, wiping his greasy fingers on the greasy paper.

"You are up late," Loki says, when Peter starts to move. "I would hope life finds you better."

"I've seen better, I guess. Seen worse, too." Peter rolls the mask down over his chin again, his fingers smoothing the metallic fabric over his neck. "Just another day, right?"

"Hmm."

Loki sits beside Peter, his legs slung over the side of the building. He takes the tomatoes Peter offers him, and he eats them despite his apparent distaste. There are pigeons, and the sound of someone shouting at someone else, and taxis, and the city continuing on. He wonders if the woman is still alive. He wonders if she went home, if Spiderman was enough to save her.

"That is one thing I could never understand about my brother," Loki says suddenly, and Peter is so startled he almost falls off the roof.

"Huh?"

"Thor."

"Yeah, I know who your brother is, dude," Peter says. Blinks. "Uh. He's kind of a big deal down here?"

Loki smiles softly, and Peter doesn't think it's a smirk. "I'm aware. He's done well for himself on Midgard, much as Odin told him to stay - but there are like-minded people on every planet, every realm, and all you have to do is look. But my brother... he has always enjoyed the heat of battle, to some extent. He feels joy when he swings Mjolnir and the heads tumble at his feet... and then later, he feels guilt for it. But Thor is quick to push this to the back of his mind. He is a man of war."

Peter waits. He thinks if he interrupts now, Loki will clam up and never emerge again.

"I would not say I am a man of peace," Loki says slowly, as though working the lines out in his head, "But guilt - is stronger, now."

Peter holds out the last tomato slice and, wordlessly, Loki takes it.

"Once upon a time, a man who was a friend of my son told me that if someone were to waste all their time on regret for the lives they failed to save, they would do nothing but fail further to save lives that had not already ended."

"Oh," Peter says. He finishes his sandwich, and they sit for a while longer, looking out at the city teeming with life.

Loki is still sitting when Peter rolls his mask back down and says goodnight, in a voice that shakes - Karen says nothing, but call tony stark? pops up on his HUD display. He shakes his head, and leaps off the side of the wall.

When Peter gets home, May is sitting up waiting for him, but she's fallen asleep with a cold mug of tea in her hand and a cold mug of hot chocolate sitting at the place next to her. Peter tidies up the dishes, kisses her on the forehead, and lifts her to bed without her waking - then he goes, and lies on his mattress and stares at the roof and tries not to have bad dreams until his alarm goes off at seven on the dot.

It's a wonderful life. Guilt, and saving lives, and... men who were friends with sons.

"Spiderwatch twitter says you talked to Loki-"

"Spiderwatch twitter," Peter repeats. "Dude, Ned, c'mon, I told you that's crap. Neighbourhood Watch is way better-"

Ned rolls his eyes. "Neighbourhood Watch admins must have been asleep, 'cos they only put it up half an hour after Spiderwatch."

"My fansites squabbling," Peter flicks imaginary hair over his shoulder, all of the heaviness from the early morning gone. Almost. Loki's sentence had been hard to interpret, but once Peter realised what he was saying, there was a heavy lump in his gut that hasn't gone away yet. "Get on my level, man, soon you'll have, like, War Machine picking you up from school-"

"He already does, when he picks up you," Ned says absently, still staring at his phone. "But - Peter, are you sure about Loki? I mean. Like. I know it's super cool and all, and I would never, like, stand on your superhero groove toes or whatever, but-"

"Groove toes-"

Ned elbows him. "Dude, this is important. Man in the chair business. I gotta look out for number one."

"Dude, number one is you," Peter says. They dodge out of the way of freshmen running through the corridors, and Ned ducks into the little space where their lockers are, Peter beside him.

"Not for men in chairs. Number one is the target."

"No, the target is who we're gonna kill."

Ned looks nonplussed. "Who're we killing?"

"I dunno, Jason Bourne," Peter says. "Point is - Loki isn't a bad guy."

"If the next words out of your mouth are he's just misunderstood, I'm sitting with Flash at lunch," Ned says. The bell rings; they start trudging up the stairs to American Lit, which is probably the dumbest class Peter has ever sat in.

"He's just looking for someone to talk to, I think," Peter mumbles. "I gave him the tomatoes out of my sandwich."

Ned raises an eyebrow.

But Peter isn't going to tell him about the weird, quasi-therapy session they had on the rooftop, isn't going to mention the woman that wanted to die. Ned knows most of what happens in Peter's life, but he's spared the gory details - no factories falling on heads, no sitting up in the middle of the night pulling chunks of metal out of his leg before his advanced healing absorbs the metallic toxins into his body, no pain, no tears, no fear of death. Ned gets the cool version of events. Peter's done too much to him to add more stress to his life - he's pretty sure he's going to be the reason Ned's greying in his twenties, anyway, without all the gore and the blood and the guts and the things that make vigilante heroism so much less glamorous.

"Loki is cool, man," is what he says instead. "Loki is cool."

And then there's no time to talk, because today they're reading Gatsby.

"Old sport," Ned mutters in Peter's ear, and MJ shoots them a look, and the three of them grin.

Loki is cool, but so are Peter's friends. He can have both, and he doesn't have to feel - bad, or anything. The feeling bad comes with the territory, like the lost sleep and the guilt and the shakes and the panic, but he feels less bad when he's got MJ drawing doodles of the three of them as flappers, when Ned is giggling, when MJ is looking at him with big eyes and a fond expression, as though Peter is some sort of puppy and not like, kind of responsible for a bunch of deaths or whatever.

"Old sport," Peter mumbles back.

(Sons, guilt, and soggy tomatoes.)

 

2. 

MJ doesn't ask questions like Ned does. She knows, Peter thinks, although he's never told her - but he sees her looking at him, sometimes, and he doesn't know whether it's because he's got something in his teeth or whether she knows he's jumping around Queens at odd hours of the morning.

(Or something else, but that would just be - too good to be true.)

Still, she hands him her elective project. "I studied European mythology, specifically the development of the grey antagonist," she tells him, a berry burst capri sun hanging out of her mouth. "Wanna check it over, see if there's any spelling mistakes?"

"You never make spelling mistakes," Peter says doubtfully, but MJ never does things without a reason either, so he takes the project to first period biology and reads it under the desk while James is talking about mitochondria, or something.

It's about Loki. Of course it's about Loki.

"Dude, is that homework?" Ned looks down in alarm. "An essay on Gatsby?"

"Nah, MJ's stuff," Peter says blankly. "Uh. Nah, you're good."

MJ's academic style is avant-garde to say the least - her grades fluctuate wildly depending on which teacher marks her essays, because of all the Bold Michelle Jones Statements she makes, painted over the backdrop of history or politics or literature until it's almost unrecognisable. Apparently she's attacked Norse mythology with her usual gusto - but the stories are there beneath her angry ranting against patriarchal figures and the role of the black sheep. Loki, the god, not the alien-alternate-realm-man, was a frost giant. Possibly blue. Adopted by Odin. Tortured until the end of days for something that wasn't really his fault. Killed a man for some apples. Watched his son die slowly. Gave birth to the concept of death.

When the bell rings, it scares Peter half to death - he shoves the project in his backpack, and hands it back to MJ at lunch.

"Was it useful?" She asks, a biro shoved in her ponytail, her hair cascading down her back. She has a freckle on the tip of her nose; Peter blinks at it, until she waves her hand in front of him. "Oi. Parker. Useful?"

"Uh... yeah actually," he says. "Yeah, I think so."

She gives him a pleased little huff, which he supposes will have to do.

And then school continues as it does, and it's actually okay, and Peter doesn't skip out on extracurriculars so he gets to beat Flash by knowing the answer how much money did Star Wars: A New Hope make during the opening weekend, and that gets him a grunt from MJ and an angry whine from Flash and a fistbump from Ned.

happy dude: Parker
happy dude: Check in.

"Woah, you have a handler," Ned says, looking over Peter's shoulder with stars in his eyes. "You are Jason Bourne."

Peter hides his screen so Ned can't see the spam of emojis and cat gifs he's sent Happy in the last week. "Totally," he says, "Yeah, I'm a big deal. Got a handler and everything. Like - if I'm James Bond, he'd be Q-"

"I thought I was Q-"

"No, you are Q-"

"But you have Q-hair more than I do-"

MJ throws the Encyclopedia Britannica at them (V-Z) and they turn around, apologising in mutter.

me: check in what

happy dude: Heard about some extracurricular escapades.

me: ohhh u mean decathlon
me: lol im there atm

happy dude: Don't be obtuse.

me: lol gotta turn my phone off
me: sorry dude you the gr8888est
me: B)

So Peter's feeling pretty good about life, generally, and after school he swings by home to kiss May on the cheek, to tell her he's okay, to tell her he's gonna do homework for a bit before he goes. It's a fragile okayness, and one that isn't really much of anything at all, but it's a bit better than the one he had before.

And the sun is shining. The sky is blue.

He helps a cat out of a tree, and he gives an old guy directions, and he helps a college girl (cute, but you're on the job) pump up the wheel of her bicycle on the sidewalk, which makes him feel a little too much like he's about to be in some Nicholas Sparks book, or something.

"Hello, Peter," Karen says. An icon flashes up on his HUD: man with an iron plan is calling, and a dumb picture of Tony that Peter found online, from 2009 when he exclusively wore muscle tees and dickhead sunglasses. "Would you like me to accept the call?"

"Yeah, sure," he stops his journey across the city and just kind of dangles upside down from an iron stairwell. His heart has mostly gone back to normal during all Tony interactions, purely because once you've seen a guy singing karaoke at two in the morning in his own home, that guy loses some of his celebrity glimmer. Still the - like, starshock, though. Still Tony freakin' Stark.

"Hey, Mr. Stark," he says.

"Hey, kid." Tony is calling from his workshop, not Paris or Sydney or Dubai or anywhere else - there's grease on the end of his nose, and wrinkles of age curling in the corners of his eyes. He's got a holey t-shirt on, and he looks kinda normal.

The call hangs in the silence for a few seconds. Peter isn't sure why Tony is calling, and he thinks maybe Tony isn't sure either, except -

"What's got you busy this weekend?"

Peter raises his eyebrow. (Can Tony see him?) "Uh. I? Nothing? Patrol? Why, is there a mission? Is it gonna be like Germany and stuff?"

"Woah," Tony waves his hand in the air, grinning all sideways, kind of sad and sincere all at the same time. "I was thinking more, maybe Happy could pick you up. Come down here, bug about with the suit."

"Oh! Yeah, sure, that sounds cool," Peter says. Inside, he's screaming a little, but he wants to be cool. He's cool. He can do cool, cool, he's Peter Parker, he's - totally cool and stuff -

"It's a playdate," Tony says. He smiles again. "Keep yourself out of trouble, kid."

"Always do! B-"

"Tony Stark has disconnected, Peter," says Karen gently. "Do you want to call back, or-?"

"Nah, nah," Peter swivels and lands on his feet. "It's good. Thanks, Karen."

Patrol is good, though. Nobody dies, nobody is angry, nobody panics, nobody puts their life in Peter's hands. He slips back through his bedroom window and both he and May pretend May isn't embarrassingly, terrifyingly relieved to see him.

"I got Lit homework," he says, over spaghetti that isn't really that bad, and May tells him about work and about how Ned's parents keep ringing her about the science project and about how dumb the sports coach is. Peter tells her about patrol, and he skirts around the weird Loki thing, and he tells her about Tony calling him, and they fantasise about living in a mansion.

Tea, before homework. May has her hair up in a scrunchie - she looks tired, and old, older than she used to, like ten years have hit her all in one go. "Of course you can go," she says.

Keep you out of trouble down here, Peter hears, which he knows isn't entirely fair to her either.

Doesn't stop him hearing it.

And then he's going to do literature homework, and Loki is sitting on his windowsill.

"So," he says, as though this is normal, as though Gods of Mischief always come to Peter's window with a tube of BBQ Pringles, "You go to Stark on Friday. It's a good day for travel, Friday - a day for woman, which does not mean a day for rest."

"Okay," Peter says. "Uh. Not to be - weird, or anything, but how do you know where I live?"

Loki shrugs. "Magic, or maybe I followed you. You might never know which one is true."

Peter just sighs, pulling Gatsby out of his backpack along with his notepad. Pens scatter to the floor, plastic clicking against plastic "Hey, now you're here, you know anything about America in the twenties?"

"I don't know anything about America now," Loki says. "Why would I know your history? Do you know the war that took place between Vormir and Asgard, long before Earth was even conceived?"

"That was when you tried to mess with Mjolnir, and the dwarves turned you into a fly, or something. I read Norse myth," Peter waves the novel at him. "Did that happen, or is it not real?"

Loki laughs softly. "Close enough, I suppose."

It's weird, but Loki isn't the worst of people to work with. He sits and looks out the window, and offers Peter food sometimes, and hums something that's almost tuneless but isn't quite - it's all low, dark, a little mournful. Peter wonders if it's something from Asgard, and then he wonders where Loki has been all this time, whether he's been wandering the world humming and eating processed foods.

"You didn't spell that right," Loki says, quiet as green ribbons of light underline sucessful. "There are two cs in the middle, not one."

"Thanks," Peter mumbles. Whites it out, then scribbles on top of the damage - yawns. "Man, I'm beat."

"No bruises? No physical harm?"

"Nah, I mean..." Peter grins despite himself. "It's like, y'know. Tired?"

"Oh," Loki looks tired too, all hangdog, limp hair, deep eyes. "Beat emotionally, then. The origin of the phrase?"

"Never thought of it."

"Etymology not something you enjoy?"

"I think it's cool," Peter defends, "But my friend - MJ, she's awesome - she's into all that stuff. I like... science, I guess. Making things?" He exposes his wrists, too aware of the god leaning forward with innocent curiosity. "I made the web stuff, and these."

"I thought you produced it naturally," Loki says, then nods, as though he's satisfied. "Fascinating. Science, the understanding of nature through natural explanations? A magic of sorts, you would say."

Peter thinks. "Huh. I guess you would."

"I told that to Tony Stark, long ago," Loki says, almost wistful. "Enjoy yourself this weekend, Peter Parker. And remember to act the age you are, rather than the age you think you should be. And sleep. Don't be beat."

"You too," Peter says, but Loki is gone, and there's a can of BBQ Pringles for him to finish while he works on Gatsby, and carefully doesn't think about how often Loki's been appearing, these days.

Tony Stark is leaning against the front bonnet of a lemon-yellow Audi outside Midtown Tech when the bell rings for the end of last period. He's got his phone pressed to his ear, and a thermal shirt that must be the nanobots in their dormant form, and when he sees Peter he shouts Parker and Peter turns several shades of red and Ned makes a noise audible only to certain types of bat.

"I thought you were sending Happy," Peter hisses, sliding into the back seat as quick as he can. "Mr S-"

"He did send Happy," Happy says from the front seat. "He just also sent himself."

"What's the point of being the most famous man on the planet if you can't scare the shit out of a bunch of nerds every so often?" Tony himself says, waving at Ned as he gets into the car - Ned looks genuinely misty-eyed, and Peter suspects he'll have a voicemail inbox stuffed full by the time he checks his phone again.

my guy in the chair: i think flash is crying

Peter grins at his phone screen.

"I made an impression, then," Tony says, peering over Peter's shoulder looking vaguely self-satisfied. "Who's Flash? Want me to, like, Instagram him?"

"Absolutely not, but thanks," Peter pockets his phone before Tony can see all the crying cat gifs Ned is spamming the chat with. "I, uh, got my overnight stuff. And the suit. Mind if I go back Sunday morning? Me and May usually-" they usually watch British period dramas in their pyjamas, which sounds kinda dumb now he's saying it to Tony. "We do, like, y'know. Aunt-nephew bonding time."

"I wouldn't dream of interrupting, naturally. Leave whenever, kid." Tony leans back, thumb soaring across his phone screen. "Oh, and there's - we're going upstate-"

Upstate, when usually they go to Avengers Tower - but upstate means -

"The Avengers Compound-"

Happy snorts, and Tony grins again. "Yeah, try not to faint or something when you see it, even if it is pretty fuckin' awesome. Just. We got a visitor, so don't freak out, and maybe don't mention the Spider thing if you don't want him to know."

"Is it Captain America?"

"Nah, it's Thor."

Peter stops breathing for at least ten seconds. "Flash is gonna shit himself if I get a selfie with Thor."

"Well," Tony spreads his arms, "Who am I to condemn a little bit of harmless highschool hazing? Go ahead, kid, knock yourself out."

"Awesome."

me to group: young fucknuts

me: guess who gets 2 hang out with thor
me: #perksofstarkinternship

maybejaybe: ask him if he likes pineapple pizza
maybejaybe: if he says no, kill him

my guy in the chair: forget flash i think i burst into tears

maybejaybe: spoiler: he did

Peter smiles softly at his cracked phone screen, as MJ sends a shaky picture of Ned with his head in his hands.

me: youre all dumb
me: ill get thor to say hi to u both
me: and then ill put it on sc
me: and flash will die. literally

The drive upstate takes an hour and a half, mostly because Tony insists they stop for McDonald's, and eats five cheeseburgers to the ten Peter does. Happy picks daintily at his donut, peeling the free coffee stickers off their mugs and sticking them into a little card sheet in his wallet, which is bulging with at least ten collectable free coffee cards.

But then they're there. Pulling into the basement garage of the real, actual Avengers Compound, which is covered in expensive cars and a few motorbikes, too, and Happy opens the door for Tony and Peter scrambles out after him, trying to hold his phone, an overnight bag, and his backpack without dropping any of them.

"Need a hand, short stack?" Tony lifts the overnight bag, shouldering it with ease. "There's a bunch of spare rooms you can take, and Friday-"

"Hey, boss," comes a smooth voice from the roof -

"Yeah, Friday can tell you where to go, if you get lost or whatever."

“Awesome.”

So Tony shows him his room, which is big and spacious and all neutral in cream and pale blue, save for the little plastic egg on the desk. Apparently, that’s a little portable Karen, who buzzes when her name is mentioned and falls onto the carpeted floor.

“Since you won’t let me upgrade your damn phone,” Tony explains, with a little too much gruffness than needed. “But, yeah, come on down when you’re ready. Oh, and bring bagels? With honey. Since you’re such a great intern, and all.”

“Yeah, I’m awesome,” Peter says absently. “Uh. Thanks, Mr Stark.”

He makes bagels.

Really, he’s not stupid. Tony’s brought him here because something else is going on, and Peter is willing to bet all his college fund on Thor being here for much the same reason. SpiderWatch on Twitter isn’t the only person to notice Loki’s hanging around Queens these past few weeks, and Happy’s been texting him about it - he guesses Tony only came for him because Peter ducked around the questions Happy fired at him.

But Loki seems sad. And lonely. And Peter doesn’t much want to do what Tony Stark tells him, if it’s something like turning Loki in to the alien-space-authorities.

Thor is nowhere to be seen, at least, when Peter is scraping butter over bagels. “Hey, Friday? You there?”

“Hello,” she says. Her voice isn’t like Karen’s - she’s Irish. “Did you need me, Peter?”

“Yeah, uh,” Peter licks the knife, “Do you know where Thor is, right now?”

A pause, and the robot-Karen-egg in his pocket vibrates a little.

“He is in Queens, Peter,” Friday says eventually.

“You allowed to tell me that?”

“Of course.”

“Huh. Okay. Where’s Mr Stark?”

“The second floor is a workshop. You will find him there. He is quite distinctive.”

“Yeah, I know.”

And the evening is pretty fun, if Peter forgets all the dumb shit that he’s done to end up being here, if he forgets the conversation Tony is inevitably going to want to have. He brings his suit up, and boasts about how awesome Ned is for a while, and then he gets to fuck around with chemicals way better than the ones in the restricted cabinet of Midtown High.

And Tony is fun to work with, too. He doesn’t ask questions, but he talks pretty much non-stop about boring, surface things, so Peter ends up learning about the plot of Firefly and the season finale of Hannibal and the baseball teams Tony supported when he was seven.

It’s a good time. Tony lets Peter choose the music, which means Rihanna just because Peter wants to film Tony Stark mouthing the words to Umbrella so he can put it on his Snapchat.

(For like, five minutes, until the little icon pops up telling him that Flash has seen it.)

He thinks he impresses Tony. He kind of hopes he does. It would be cool, to know Tony Stark thinks he’s more than a flexible kid that can do backflips and walk on ceilings upside-down - but then, Tony knows about the web fluid, and about the science scholarship.

It’s three in the morning when Peter drops a screwdriver, and reemerges from underneath the table to see Tony actually looking at him.

“Meet anyone cool lately?”

“Nah.”

Tony rolls his eyes. “Kid, you look like a sad puppy when you try to lie. What’s Loki doing hanging around the skyline with Spiderman? Why isn’t Spiderman calling his good old Avenging friends to deal with it?”

“I dunno,” Peter shrugs. “Spiderman only calls the Avengers when he thinks there’s a threat.”

Tony droops down into a lab chair. No Stark Industries here - just an oldish, tiredish man, rubbing his hand across his cheek. “Peter, he killed hundreds of people.”

“Thor’s killed thousands, and you don’t see him getting arrested,” Peter says. It’s three in the morning. He feels hot, and stuffy, and strange.

“That’s different.”

“Yeah, but - Loki isn’t planning anything.”

“Oh, he told you, did he?”

“Just… drop it,” Peter says. “I’m going to bed. Thanks, Mr Stark.”

It comes out more bitter than he intends it to, but he doesn’t really mind, and he asks Friday to tell him how to get back to his room, and she shows him.

 

3.

“I wish to atone,” Loki says.

“Okay, cool.” Peter is doing his homework on top of a bank, eating his way through a bag of apples. “But you got a big problem. Everyone kinda - like, they think you’re going to do something. Explode Manhattan, probably.”

“I would tell them I gave them my word, but I imagine that’s worth very little.” Loki is floating a few inches off the ground, occasionally taking small bites out of an apple he’s tossing in the air and catching again. It’s green. Peter tries not to find that as funny as he does.

“I dunno. Your word from you is a lot more than your word from me.”

Loki scoffs. “Tony Stark trusts very few people, and less now. My brother is one. Doctor Stephen Strange is another. Pepper Potts is a third, and James Rhodes is a fourth, and you are a fifth. He trusts me as far as he could throw me.”

“I saw the news footage of the fight, ‘n it seems he can throw you a helluva way.”

“Don’t mix your metaphors.”

Peter scratches out a spelling mistake in Spanish. “At the end of it all, I can’t get anyone to forgive you if they think you’re mind-controlling a random kid in New York.”

“I suppose so.”

Every few weeks, Tony tries to get Peter to stop talking to Loki, or to turn him in. Peter knows it’s a sign of trust, a terrifying one, that Tony doesn’t interfere even when Peter refuses to do what he’s asked - last year, even a few months ago, Tony might have landed in all guns blazing if Peter had pulled a stunt like this.

But Loki is uncomplicated, in a wonderfully complicated way. Peter coughs up half a lung after rushing into a burning building after a little kid, and Loki cheerfully talks about Asgardian warfare until Peter is too distracted to notice the pain in his chest. Loki’s been teaching him a little close-quarters fighting, and how to use sleight of hand to win in fights, and just two days ago Peter distracted a would-be robber with a coin trick long enough to web the woman to the wall and leave a friendly note for the police to find.

Ned isn’t worried anymore. MJ was probably never worried to begin with, even if she still officially doesn’t know who Spiderman is.

“I worry,” May says, over lasagne and garlic bread that’s only a little crispy. “You know I worry.”

Peter doesn’t tell her a lot of things, but he tells her the stuff he knows she’d find out anyway. He doesn’t tell her about the broken ribs that heal in half an hour, or the nightmares, or the shakes, although he thinks she might know about those last two anyway.

He tells her about Loki, though, because he knows she’ll find out, and because he knows he’s putting her through hell anyway even without forcing her to watch the news reports of the last thing she has left getting chummy with an alien last seen blowing holes in the Manhattan skyline.

May looks tired.

Peter doesn’t think he’ll ever forgive himself for what he’s done to her.

“You’re a good kid, but -” she sighs, and hands him the last chunk of garlic bread. “You can’t save everyone.”

“I’m not trying to save him,” Peter mumbles. “I just - he came up to me one night, and he’s nice. And - and doesn’t everyone deserve forgiveness for the bad things?”

That makes May crumple, and Peter gives up on the patrolling for one night to sit with her and eat ice-cream and watch Love, Actually even though it’s June and not Christmas at all. She cries during the film, and so does he, and they both pretend it’s because they’ve gotten to a tearjerker scene, even though they’ve seen the movie more times than either of them can count.

But she doesn’t tell him no.

(She doesn’t try, anyway.)

Flash, as head of the unofficial Midtown High Spiderman cheer squad, starts wearing little green badges on his lapels.

“Notice you haven’t got one, Parker,” he says loftily during decathlon. “Wanna buy? A buck a badge.”

“What’s it for? Who’s the money go to?” Peter looks at it harder - green is just green, but this is a familiar shade.

“Money goes to the Maria Stark Foundation. It’s the Loki Support pin. See?” Flash unhooks it, hands it over, weirdly friendly now they’re talking superheroes. “I dunno if you noticed, since you’re not in the whole vigilante-support scene, but Spiderman’s hanging out with Loki these days. He’s still officially a war criminal, but us in the scene-”

- Ned snorts a laugh and tries to hide it under a coughing fit -

“Us in the scene,” Flash continues, a little pink, “We think Loki’s done his time. Everyone knows that alien guy was controlling him, anyway. So you buy the pin, you support the Avengers and Loki.”

Peter smiles wryly, and fumbles in his pocket for some change. “You have loads?”

Flash pulls a rattling box out of his backpack - Loki is drawn on it, anime-chibi-style with Copic markers and a big smile, beside a newspaper cutout of Spiderman mid-leap. “Yeah. I made about a thous- I mean, I got like, a thousand, off the dude that runs this stuff. Big operation. Real big. Legit.”

“I’ll take three,” Peter tells him.

Flash tries to hide his shock, but doesn’t quite succeed, and there’s a weird moment where Peter thinks he might get emotional until MJ yells at them and asks who was the first American casualty of the Normandy invasions of World War Two.

“What is this?”

“My friend - person -  made them,” Peter says. He’s got his pinned to his hoodie, so it isn’t on the suit, and he thinks there’s probably not anywhere he can safely stick a meal pin anyway. “See?”

“I don’t see,” Loki takes the green pin anyway. “A pin of block colour?”

“It’s the Loki Support pin,” Peter says, fighting a rising giggle at Loki’s surprise. “Because, like, Loki’s a friend of Spiderman now. It’s totally cool. See?”

“I don’t, but sure,” Loki says. He takes it, still, gingerly, as though it would explode if he holds it wrong. “And you - pin it?”

“Yeah.”

@NeighbourhoodWatch: loki and spiderman on the roof of jones market meats, sporting #SupportLoki pins made by @flashblingzzz21

Which is something.

“You talk to my brother,” Thor says to him, which is not the first thing Peter thought he’d hear directed to him from the actual God of Thunder.

“Yeah?”

Thor sits on one of the little barstools, which groans under his weight. “So tell me - how has he been keeping?”

Which is not the second thing Peter thought he’d hear directed to him from the actual God of Thunder. “He’s been… good? He likes, uh, Earth food, I guess. He doesn’t like sour cream and onion, though, or tomatoes.”

“Wonderful, wonderful. He is acclimatising. Would he consent to see me, do you think, or would be prepare to go through the intermediary of your good self? Could I write him a letter?”

“You could try?” Peter says helplessly.

Tony just sighs, later on when they’re in the lab talking about robots and trying to install proper seeing-eye cameras in Dummy, the drunken mechanical arm. “It’s not stupid of me not to trust someone that threw me out of a building.”

“Thor trusts him.”

“Thor’s different and you know it. Oil, c’mere, these joints are fucked up. Jesus, Dummy, why didn’t you say anything?”

Peter lounges against the cold floor, looking up at the ceiling. “You should install a speaker next, so he actually can.”

Tony pats him on the shoulder with machine-oily hands. “Good plan, Parker. Best intern yet.”

“Only intern yet.”

“Same difference.”

Thor hands him a letter when Peter’s leaving on Sunday morning for his period drama marathon and weekly I’m-not-dead session with May. There are seven thick vellum pages stuck together with a red paperclip, written on in some sort of rich purple ink that forms letters Peter can’t understand - it looks a little like the Dwarvish runes from Lord of the Rings, which is - yeah, cool. “Give this to him,” Thor says, “And tell him his brother would like to see him, when he is ready.”

 

4.

Peter saves lives and bags and bikes and cats out of trees. He gives Loki the letter and pretends he doesn’t see him wiping tears away.

Flash starts making more of his little pins, and a weird guerilla support movement springs to life in the underground districts of New York - people everywhere, somewhere, sporting forest-green on their lapels, on their hats, on their messenger bags.

(He pretends he doesn’t see Tony with a heavy book of Norse Mythology Index when they hang out after school.)

Mostly, life carries on, but Peter notices things - like an occupied room at the compound, curtains drawn, door closed, but someone definitely living there. A smile on Thor’s face that wasn’t there before. Less gloom, when Loki talks about the old days.

 

5. 

@NeighbourhoodWatch: spidey attends official initiation ceremony of Loki into the Avengers Reserves
@NeighbourhoodWatch: loki joins the ranks of iron patriot, captain marvel, hawkeye and more in the reserves
@NeighbourhoodWatch: [im.g2938] [im.g2938392]

@flashblingzzz21: lol loki is wearin #SupportLoki get urs on my etsy store today or dm me

Peter doesn’t mean to befriend Loki. He did, anyway.