In that moment, the first thing which ran through Tony’s mind was a good, solid– Oh, fuck.
He should have known that this could happen. JARVIS had warned them that Rhodey was on his way to the lobby, and no doubt all the explosions of heat downstairs had caused the elevators to shut down as per their fire protocols. They knew Bruce no longer had the device since Hulk was busy smashing up a storm downstairs, so logically they should have guessed that Rhodey would be on his way.
Not that the thing really mattered now, since thanks to Killian and his stupid ring, Rhodey could see both Tony and Loki as clear as day. The device was silent, in fact, sitting seemingly peacefully in Rhodey’s hands as Loki was not currently enacting any spell.
That was likely soon to change, though, if the way that Loki protectively tugged Tony behind him was any indication. Tony was close enough that he could feel the tension rolling off Loki in waves, and he knew it wouldn’t be long before that tension snapped.
Tony tried to step further forward to say something, but Rhodey beat him to it.
“Loki,” Rhodey said– and despite the taut lines Tony could see all over his face and in the way he was holding his arms, Rhodey’s voice was incredibly level. “Let him go.”
Loki’s grip tightened. “Rhodes,” he answered, his voice just as even but far more deadly. “You will let us pass.”
Tony knew what Loki was doing– he was trying, at least as best as he could, to avoid a fight with Rhodey because he knew that it would be difficult for Tony to bear. But Tony recognised the look on Rhodey’s face, and he knew in all likelihood that any effort made by Loki would likely only make it worse.
If this was going to have any chance of ending in anything other than bloodshed, Rhodey needed to hear the truth from Tony.
Rhodey wasn’t armed, and he certainly knew that they knew it. Yet he stepped forward, even though the muscles in his jaw were tense as he eyed the way that Loki had lifted his hand in defence.
“JARVIS,” Rhodey said, his voice cutting through the sharp silence. “Get me one of the Iron Man suits, I know there are still a few around here.”
JARVIS remained silent.
“JARVIS?” Rhodey tried again– and then, when he still received nothing in return, the glare he held on Loki hardened. “JARVIS is on your side?” he asked.
“Of course he is.” Tony’s voice sounded surprisingly flat to his own ears, and he stepped slightly to the side so that he was still close by Loki, but not quite entirely behind him. Loki allowed it, though Tony could see the way his jaw tightened.
All three of them were tense, and Tony knew that the relative peace between them would not last long.
The play of emotions across Rhodey’s face was certainly more than enough to make Tony concerned– a mixture of concern and rage and confusion that was never going to bode well for the outcome of the conversation. And he certainly hadn’t missed the fact that Rhodey had held his attention on Loki from the moment they had caught sight of each other. Even as Rhodey turned on Tony now, his expression seemed taut, skin stretched as his lips pressed together as if he were physically restraining himself from lurching forward.
“Tony, you need to come away from him,” Rhodey said, still calm despite the way his hand shook as he reached out across the space. “Don’t worry, SHIELD are on their way. They’ll be able to contain Loki, you’ll be safe.”
“No,” Tony said, shaking his head. He didn’t move any closer to Loki, but he drew Loki’s hand in toward his side a little– and Rhodey’s gaze darted down to the movement for a fraction of a second before he met Tony’s gaze once more.
“Tony, don’t do this,” Rhodey said. “I know you, I know that you’re strong, I know that you want to fight this—”
“I won’t fight him,” Tony said, narrowing his eyes and raising his other, metal-clad hand toward Rhodey, palm facing out. “But I will fight you, if you don’t get out of our way and let us go.”
There was a moment where Rhodey stared in horror, his eyes landing on the grey gauntlet with sudden understanding.
“It was you,” he whispered. “You’ve been fighting with him all this time, you were the person we saw in the footage from Florence… oh god, what Slattery said about what happened in Miami… no, you can’t be—”
“Yes,” Tony cut in, trying to calm his racing heart over the fact that Rhodey knew, trying to focus on the task at hand.
“You’re… the one in the Iron Man suit,” Rhodey said. “You attacked us—”
“Only after you attacked us first. And I’m not Iron Man,” Tony insisted. “Not anymore. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not the same person– I’ve changed, yeah, but not all that much.” He paused, taking half a moment to rush through his thoughts. He knew the smart thing here would be to just take Rhodey out and leave no witnesses, but… it was Rhodey. He wanted to at least try, and maybe, if he could just make Rhodey see that he hadn’t been forced into anything, then maybe there would be a chance. “Just… just come on, Rhodey, tell me, does it look like I want to leave Loki? Do I look like I’m crying out for help right now?”
The fact that Rhodey had yet to call for help himself was a promising sign, though only slightly. Because Tony remembered what JARVIS had said about SHIELD, and what Rhodey had said himself– and he knew that Rhodey was most likely stalling. After all, he wasn’t armed, not with his suit, not with anything that could actually help, and he had to know that fighting a god in a building that was run by an AI on the god’s side had to be a bad idea, even without throwing Tony into the mix as well. Oh, Tony didn’t doubt that Rhodey would hesitate to hurt him, but he also knew that Rhodey would do what he felt like he must– and if it came down to it, Tony would as well.
Rhodey continued to stare at Tony for a while, his eyes assessing– but then he turned to Loki. “You,” he said, his expression twisting and his voice turning into something close to a snarl. “You’ve done something to him.”
“It was not I,” Loki snapped. “You are aiming your ire at the wrong man.” But even as Loki spoke he leaned further forward, the hand not holding Tony’s still raised slightly in front of him, almost mirroring Tony’s pose though the threat of his magic was surely much greater than that of Tony’s weakened repulsor.
‘Are you going to be all right, if this turns violent?’
‘Don’t worry about me, Lokes. We need to get out of here.’
He could feel Loki’s agreement, but they both still knew that they needed to do something about Bruce’s notes. Leaving was, of course, preferable to getting caught, but so long as there was a chance that they could still succeed in getting what they needed, then… well. Then all of this wouldn’t be a waste.
But as they spoke they unconsciously leaned a little closer together– and Rhodey, to put it rather lightly, did not take to that well.
“Let him go!” Rhodey snarled, stepping forward and dropping the device to the ground. It fell with a clatter, but did not break– and then Rhodey reached under his jacket and pulled out a handgun.
A gun, of course, wouldn’t do Loki any harm, but it held an intention so clear that Tony instinctively moved to stand right in front of his lover.
“Rhodey, no,” Tony said, his repulsor charging with that familiar whine. “If you fire, then so will I.”
“You’re… protecting him?” Rhodey asked, pausing for a moment—
But Tony didn’t get a good look at his expression, because Loki twisted around and pulled Tony back behind him again. Tony could hear Loki silently asking him not to do anything stupid, and it was only the real concern bleeding through Loki’s tone that had Tony not trying to get back in front of him again– even though he desperately wanted to with every bone in his body.
Instead, he stood once more behind Loki and slightly to the side, staring at Rhodey in… well, he wasn’t quite pleading, but he was still hoping that it wouldn’t come down to a fight. Maybe, just maybe, if he could make Rhodey see– then they would have a chance at coming out of this on top.
“You know me, Rhodey,” Tony said, his voice firm as he echoed his earlier words, but this time with far more force behind them. “Look at me. Do I look like I’m being controlled, or like I’m doing this under duress? He’s not forcing me into anything.”
Rhodey’s expression was flickering again, and Tony held firm, waiting for an indication either way. If Rhodey tried to attack Loki, then Tony knew that he would fire, that he would take Loki’s side without hesitation.
And then… it almost seemed like Rhodey could see that, perhaps picking it up from the determination in Tony’s gaze, or in the way that he refused to be moved from Loki’s side even as Loki continued to coax him further behind with gentle tugs of his arm. Because Rhodey’s eyes were narrowed– but with thought now, rather than rage.
“Tones,” Rhodey said, his voice low and laced with a caution that gave Tony a little bit more hope. “Do you remember back when we were in MIT? Do you remember the promise I made you?”
Suddenly knowing without question what Rhodey was doing, Tony answered immediately. “You said that you’d stand by my side, no matter what ridiculous thing I was doing– but that the moment it became too self-destructive, you’d give me the kick up the ass that I needed,” he said, not even needing to stop and think. He could remember that moment like it was only yesterday– he’d been blind drunk at the age of sixteen, and Rhodey had dragged him out of a party where some older girls were trying to convince him to take some substances of a dubious nature. Tony had complained like there was no tomorrow, but… he’d been mostly grateful for it by the time morning rolled around. And Rhodey’s pledge was one that he had come to value greatly over the passing years.
Rhodey never lied to him, and never tried to make him feel better with honeyed words. He always told it like it was and never tried to get on Tony’s good side just for the sake of their friendship.
So when Rhodey asked– “And do you ever remember me breaking that promise?”, his expression far more open than before—
Tony felt his lips begin to curve into something of a smile.
“I do remember you once leaving me in lock-up for two nights before you came to bail me out, you ass,” Tony said, his gauntlet lowering just slightly.
“You didn’t drink and drive again after that, though,” Rhodey pointed out, his gun also lowering in kind.
“It was your disappointed look that did it,” Tony admitted. “Always worked far better than the threats.”
Rhodey actually smiled at that– a small thing that flashed for only a moment over his lips, but it was still there. It was as familiar as anything, and it almost let Tony think that his hopeful ploy was working. He’d learned to trust too much in a good beginning, however, and he held his ground, waiting…
And, sure enough—
“Right,” Rhodey said. “Well, this is me, kicking you in the ass. God help me, but I believe you when you say you’re doing this of your own free will– but what you’re doing… it’s not right, Tones. It’s not. I know I don’t have all the information—”
“No, you don’t,” Tony snapped, feeling that rage building again. He’d started so happy when Rhodey was talking, like a balloon was inflating inside with the chance of maybe being able to talk to his friend again, on good terms– but then Rhodey had gone and tried to threaten Loki again, and the whole situation was changed. “You don’t know what’s going on, you don’t know all that we’ve been through or all that we’re dealing with—”
“So tell me,” Rhodey replied. “Come away from Loki and explain, help me understand—”
“You won’t. Not as long as you still think Loki’s evil, or that he’s controlling me in any way. You’re never going to see the truth until you can accept what’s staring you in the face– that Loki and I are partners now, and that I’m not going to betray him. Just like he’s not going to betray me.”
Loki’s chin tilted up defiantly at that, as if he were daring Rhodey to argue that particular point.
Rhodey’s eyes narrowed at the gesture, and Tony held firm.
“If you want to understand, then you’re going to have to accept that working with Loki is what’s best for me right now. Please, just… look. We’ll go, okay, we’ll leave right now, if you promise that you’ll let us destroy that device, and that you’ll help JARVIS stop Bruce from making another one. Let JARVIS scrub the footage, and let us go.”
Tony knew that he was throwing out a Hail Mary, that this was never going to work. Even if Rhodey agreed to all of this – which was unlikely at best – Hulk had seen them as well, and that would probably lead to Bruce working it out. Really, there was no way that this was going to end well. They had fallen too deep this time, and the only way they were going to be able to get out of it would be if they could somehow eliminate all the witnesses and scrub all the footage– or if they were able to make a new ally who could work with JARVIS to convince the others of a story about what had happened that day.
If they were able to make a new ally, then perhaps there could even be a silver lining in all of this mess. For that, though, Rhodey needed to see reason– and Tony thought he knew his old friend well enough to recognise when he wasn’t going to budge.
Except… Rhodey’s gaze was sliding over the space between Tony and Loki as if it could give him some kind of clue, and his eyes rested on the way that their hands were still clasped together. Tony wondered if Rhodey was still thinking about coercion, or perhaps some kind of Stockholm Syndrome, but then…
“You really mean it, don’t you?” Rhodey asked, his voice quiet and shocked. “You… you’re not being forced. I don’t understand it, and I don’t know why you haven’t asked for help, but—”
“You can’t tell SHIELD about this,” Tony cut in quickly. “You can’t tell anyone, but especially not SHIELD. And not Pepper, either, because I know she’s been talking to them.”
“You know, it’s stuff like that which is making it hard for me to trust you,” Rhodey said, eying them carefully. “Either of you. But… I will, for now, at least a little. Though I will be expecting a better explanation in the near future.”
The near future– that meant that Rhodey was going to let them go, that he was going to trust them enough to maybe want to talk to Tony again soon.
Knowing that, Tony slowly took a step forward, his gauntleted right hand finally falling back to his side. Tony could tell that Loki did not want to let him go– he held Tony’s left hand a little tighter for a moment, as if trying to keep him near. And yeah, Tony didn’t particularly want to let Loki go either, but he knew that this would provide a measure of trust that Rhodey sorely needed– if this was going to work, anyway.
So he gave Loki’s hand a soft, comforting squeeze before letting go, and then he slowly crossed the distance toward his oldest friend.
Tony was fully aware that Rhodey still had a gun, that while Loki was safe from it, Tony himself was not. He knew that Loki would be ready to put up a shield or to pull him out of harm’s way at a moment’s notice but there was no guarantee that he would be fast enough, faster than Rhodey who had trained with the Air Force for years. But Tony knew that if he and Loki wanted to get out of this – if he wanted even a chance at finding the ally in Rhodey that, despite everything, he still hoped for – then he was going to have to take the first step.
Trust is a two-way street, after all.
As Tony stepped closer Rhodey didn’t freeze up like Tony was half expecting, since Rhodey now knew that Tony had fought against him, had been the one who had destroyed Rhodey’s suit. But instead of a flinch, Rhodey took a step closer and accepted Tony’s hug by wrapping his own arms around Tony’s shoulders.
Tony let out a long breath, not entirely relaxing, not quite, but holding on tightly to Rhodey nonetheless.
This was something he was sure that he had lost, and while he knew that what he had gained was far more precious he still would have mourned its passing. But now, with Rhodey… well, not back with him, but at least willing to wait to be given the whole story– it was already more than he had hoped for.
“You’re really all right?” Rhodey asked, his voice quiet, as if he didn’t want Loki to hear.
“I will be,” Tony told him, matching the tone if that was what it took to soothe the rest of Rhodey’s nerves. “So long as Loki and I can right the mess that we found ourselves in.”
Rhodey drew in a deep breath, quite clearly not wanting to believe the truth in that, but he didn’t say anything to the contrary. At least, not immediately. He held Tony a little closer for a moment– and then froze, his head lifting and his muscles tensing.
Tony wasn’t sure what Loki had done, but he was more than able to make a guess.
Not wanting to make Loki uncomfortable for any longer than necessary, Tony pulled away from Rhodey then a took a decent step back, letting go of the hug entirely.
He didn’t bother to look apologetic. It was clear in Rhodey’s face that Tony’s actions there had been the opposite of what Rhodey had wanted, and that in Rhodey’s eyes, moving away because Loki had wanted him to was exactly what Rhodey was afraid of– but to be honest, Tony couldn’t bring himself to care. As pleased as he was to have made some progress toward maybe being able to get his friend back – though he remained somewhat hesitant to let himself feel too much hope on the matter – he knew exactly what was more important, and he wasn’t about to let go of that. Not even for Rhodey.
“I don’t like it, but I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt,” Rhodey said, his sharp gaze still flicking over Tony’s body, as if still searching for evidence that something was wrong. “I’ll try and discourage Bruce, but I don’t know how convincing I’ll be, since I was the one to suggest looking for Loki in the first place.”
“You never told any of the others about me being Iron Man, even when Iron Man was stolen, and even when people started to think I might be dead,” Tony said. “I feel like I owe you some trust for that, at least.”
“Only some?” Rhodey asked– and hey, look, that was even another smile tugging at the corners of his lips.
But before Tony could respond in kind, Rhodey’s expression hardened again– and a moment later, Tony felt a cool hand slide back into his own.
‘I’m okay,’ Tony said immediately. ‘I promise.’
Still, despite the certainty in Loki’s tone, Tony could feel the tension in the way Loki’s fingers gripped his hand. The way that Loki stepped closer to Rhodey let him slide back between him and Tony once more– and while it wasn’t as flagrant as before, the movement was still undeniably protective.
“If you betray us, James Rhodes,” Loki said, his teeth bared, “Then I will make you understand the meaning of true torment with an intimacy that most will never come to know.”
Despite facing Loki’s wrath, Rhodey held firm. “And if it turns out that you don’t have Tony’s best interests in mind, then I swear I’ll do worse to you.”
Loki’s eyes blazed, and Tony wondered for a moment whether Rhodey had taken a step too far– not with the threat, but by insinuating that Loki would ever harm him. But then, after giving Rhodey one final once over, Loki wrapped his arms around Tony’s waist and Tony felt the familiar itch of Loki’s seiðr over his skin.
Rhodey frowned, taking a half-step closer– and Tony couldn’t help but shoot him an amused, cocky grin as Loki whisked them both away, his arms holding Tony close as he led them back to their home.
The moment they made it back to the house, Tony threw himself face down on the couch. It had been a harder day than it should have without a doubt, and he didn’t want anything more in that moment than he wanted to sleep. Well. At least until he felt Loki gently shifting him over that is, because there weren’t many things that Tony liked more than curling into Loki’s side, breathing him in and feeling those arms wrap snugly around him. He always felt safe, like that, and he knew that Loki did too.
The closeness was something that they both sorely needed after what had happened, after the too many close calls. They just need that grounding force of knowing that they were both okay, that they had come out of it… well, not on top, but without injury and without too many things going wrong.
“We need to talk about what happened,” Loki said, and Tony leaned his head into Loki’s shoulder with a groan.
“Yeah,” he sighed. “I know.”
Though the problems they needed to talk about were rather different to after their last few fights, there was still a lot to talk about. They spoke in a seamless blend of verbal and mental words, long since having become accustomed to both, sentences mixing with emotions that had them exchanging touches and kisses all the while. Loki’s fingers never stopped running through Tony’s hair in a gesture that was soothing for them both, and Tony’s hand resting on Loki’s chest let him follow that steady rise and fall that would always keep him calm.
It was clear that the hardest part of it for Loki had been to watch Tony go to hug Rhodey, which was entirely expected. But… Loki had been able to let him do it, and that meant that they had made more progress than either of them had previously thought.
But despite the progress and the worries that still remained, there was, of course, the two major concerns which stood out amongst the rest.
The first, thankfully, was quickly put to rest. JARVIS interrupted their discussion by pulling up the footage of Rhodey’s reaction, and they watched as he obligingly destroyed the device by slamming his foot down on it a few times before hurrying downstairs to where Hulk was dealing with the final fire person– or, well, Extremis-enhanced, Tony supposed they should be called.
The footage JARVIS showed them also proved that everyone in the Tower was confused– Pepper was speaking with SHIELD about Killian and AIM, and demanding that they take swifter action. Loki was mentioned here and there, but no one, at least, was talking about Tony. It seemed that JARVIS scrubbing the footage had been enough, and… well. Tony would just have to hope that the Hulk wouldn’t say anything. Hopefully, Hulk had been focused enough on the Extremis-enhanced that he hadn’t noticed Tony at all, but. That was probably a little too optimistic.
When Rhodey told Bruce that the device didn’t work because it had picked up on the Extremis as well as Loki and there was no point in continuing to pursue it, there was a crease on Bruce’s brow that Tony wasn’t quite sure that he liked– but he didn’t think he knew the man well enough to make a judgement. He just had to hope that Bruce trusted Rhodey enough to let it go, and if he didn’t…
They would have JARVIS watching them regardless, and he would let them know of any developments– both of them, not just Loki, who also promised that he would pass over stuff like that to Tony as well.
Honestly. Tony had long since thought that communication was their strength. Hopefully, after that one minor hiccup, he would not be proved wrong.
So, yeah, that was one issue… well, if not solved, then at least dealt with as far as they could for now. But the other was a little more difficult.
“We were going to sort AIM out ages ago,” Tony muttered. ‘I suppose that’s our own memory coming back to bite us in the ass—'
‘No,’ Loki said, shaking his head even as his fingers gently shifted through Tony’s hair again, his nails scratching over his scalp and causing Tony to close his eyes with a soft, contented sigh. “There are enemies coming at us from all directions. We are but attacking a branch at a time, and it is inevitable that while we attack one, another will continue to come at us from behind. We determined that it is all connected, did we not?” Loki asked. ‘We need to find the root of the problem, and cut it out so that they cannot ever rise to hurt us again.’
They were the sort of words that they had spoken to each other on numerous occasions, and while they still held the same level of hope they had lost some of their weight. It was difficult to believe that they were capable of taking on such a task, of defeating so many enemies when it felt like they had been met with defeat at every turn.
Tony sighed, and leaned up so he could look Loki in the eye. “Maybe… we do need help.”
Loki’s expression twisted, and Tony couldn’t say that he blamed him for it. He didn’t like the idea of bringing anyone else into their circle, not when there was so much at risk, when they had so much to lose from even the slightest misstep.
And perhaps they had started down the right track with Rhodey, but they were nowhere near close enough to even consider giving him details, at least not before they were sure he wasn’t going to take what he already knew to SHIELD– or anyone else, for that matter.
But… they both knew there was another option, and that Rhodey wasn’t the one whom Tony had been talking about.
As Tony held his gaze, it seemed that it was Loki’s turn to sigh.
‘I do not entirely trust him. Not yet.’
‘Neither do I,’ Tony agreed. ‘But we’re not going to know unless we try.’
It was a difficult situation, and one that neither of them particularly liked.
“I wish that it could be just us,” Tony whispered. “That we didn’t need any of this, that we could just be.”
“I wish that, too,” Loki said. He leaned up to kiss Tony, gentle and sweet– but as he leaned back, there was something hard in his expression which didn’t quite match. ‘But I will not stop. Not until all who have harmed us are in the ground.’
Tony gave Loki his agreement with another kiss– harder this time, deep and slow and more than enough to have them both pressing closer for more. When Tony broke the kiss, he didn’t move away. He kept his lips on Loki’s smooth skin, kissing over Loki’s jaw and down his neck, enjoying the taste of him on his tongue. Loki tilted back his head and tightened his grip on Tony’s hair, and Tony grinned against his throat.
Tony slid down Loki’s body, pushing clothes out of the way as he went, lifting up Loki’s shirt and trailing open-mouthed kisses over his chest. There wasn’t much room on the couch but Tony managed, shifting his legs under Loki’s and off the edge so he could curl around to reach where he wanted to be and still be able to look up at Loki’s face.
He licked and nipped at the soft skin of Loki’s hip as he opened his lover’s pants, his hands sliding over Loki’s underwear and rubbing at the swiftly hardening bulge. Loki moaned at that, and lifted his hips so Tony could shove his pants further down– and then Tony looked up to meet Loki’s hooded gaze with a pleased grin before ducking down to slide his lips over Loki’s hard cock.
And as Tony focused on pulling as many moans from his lover as he could with smooth strokes, hollowed cheeks, firm swallows, and hard swipes of his tongue, the rest of the world began to slip away—
If only for a few, blissful moments.