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When You're Gone

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By all accounts, both Tony and Loki are incredibly good at keeping secrets. They are both professional liars after all, and besides– hiding something that everyone purposefully goes out of their way to disbelieve is easy.

Because, of course, Iron Man and Loki were on opposite sides. One was an Avenger, and the other was one of the world’s most recognisable villains– number three on SHIELD’s most wanted list, as Magneto had once gloated during a villain-on-villain show-down last March. The two of them were mortal enemies, to be locked in eternal combat – or, well, at least until one of them got bored – and they would never even be friends, let alone anything closer than that.

All of this was well known, well publicised fact.

So, when a photograph was published online of Loki’s silhouette distantly but clearly visible through the upper windows of Avengers Tower, the internet debates all centred around whether Loki was there for a recon mission, or whether the image had simply been photoshopped. Similarly, when Iron Man was seen jumping between an exhausted Loki and one of Hawkeye’s exploding arrows, the debate had been between the camp who claimed it was just down to Iron Man’s heroic nature, and those who were certain it must have just been an accident.

It was just… there was not a single person in the world who even would believe that they were together, so the secrecy just started to become background noise rather than something at the forefront of their mind as it had been at the start.

So they got complacent, they got lazy, they got tired. They were just done with all the hiding– they had been together for two years, and they were long past the point where hiding in the shadows was hot and exciting. Now, it was just draining.

It wasn’t that Tony was tired of their meetings– he knew that he wouldn’t ever tire of Loki. It was just that he didn’t want to have to disguise themselves when they went out on dates, and he didn’t want to have to pretend like he was flirting with people at SI galas when all he wanted to do was to go home and curl up with Loki on the couch. For that matter, he wished that he could curl up with Loki on the couch, out in the open and where people could see. He wished that he could make Loki breakfast, that they could linger together in the mornings and then come home from their day to greet each other with warm smiles. Hell, he wished that they could spend their days together.

They didn’t need all those things, and honestly, they worked perfectly well the way that they were– but god, would it be nice.

They already spent every moment together that they feasibly could, but it never felt like enough. Tony couldn’t even remember how long it had been since Loki had started coming to his penthouse every night, curling into bed with Tony so that they could sleep entwined, soothed by the comfort of each other’s presence. Sometimes, Loki would stay long enough for shower sex, or just to cuddle in bed. But Tony was always being called away for something, either for SI or for the Avengers, and Loki would be forced to leave far earlier than either of them wanted.

Tony had begun to live for the days when the other Avengers were on a mission, when he and Loki could simply lounge around the penthouse and know that there was no chance of an interruption. But those days were too few and too far between, and they had to make do with being together in the cover of night and the hidden, too short meetings that they could manage during the day.

It was hard, and it hurt

But as much as they wanted the secrecy to end, they were both all too aware of the consequences if it did.

So, you know.

They dealt with it.

But in both of their natures, ‘dealing with’ something often involves finding a loophole to exploit– and for them, the loophole became Tony’s workshop.

The workshop was the single most secure area in the tower, with thick glass windows that could be blacked out and fifteen different layers of security that needed to be passed in order to get through the door. Tony was notorious both for spending hours at a time inside and for being difficult about letting people in– so it was the perfect place to be, a place where they could be themselves without the worry of being caught and even without risk of suspicion. They could have very nearly all of the things that they wanted, so long as they were hidden away down there.

But, of course, that was how Loki met DUM-E—

And that was how everything began to fall down around their ears.

Now, the incident began with a single fact– DUM-E loves Loki, and will do almost anything to gain his attention.

This started out as cute and incredibly adorable, with Loki meeting the two bots for the first time and immediately treating them as if they were higher beings. He gave them pats when they asked even though he was perfectly aware of the fact that they couldn’t feel them, and he greeted each by name whenever he visited the workshop with almost as much affection as he did Tony.

Both of the bots adored Loki, but DUM-E… well. He developed a little bit of an obsession.

Whenever Loki appeared, DUM-E would roll toward him excitedly, nudging at Loki’s arm and asking for pats. Loki’s smile would always go so soft with that fond happiness that Tony always loved to see, and in those moments, he would never be able to look away.


Was fine.

At least while Loki was actually in the tower pretty frequently– because then DUM-E would wait impatiently for his visit, would be excited when he arrived, happy while he was there, and then after Loki patted him goodbye the cycle would begin again.

But the problem started when Loki needed to go on an extended trip. There was a mage in Alfheim that he wanted to talk to, and he was going to be gone for several days.

“I’ll be back before you know it,” Loki promised, his lips brushing over Tony’s as he spoke.

“That’s quite the claim,” Tony replied. “It’s not like I don’t start missing you the moment you’re gone, or anything.”

Loki only had to tilt his head to kiss him then, moving sweet and slow, with languid strokes and pleasant sighs which almost made it seem like they had all the time in the world, rather than hardly any time at all.

Their night was tender and the morning was soft, and when Loki left, he did so with another promise and another kiss that didn’t last nearly long enough. Tony held him for as long as he could, not wanting to be clingy but not wanting to let go, either. And Loki seemed to understand, his fingers running over the curve of Tony’s cheek and the line of his jaw, as if committing the shape to memory, as if creating a moment to hold on to.

And when Loki finally stepped away and disappeared in his usual shimmer of green magic, Tony was left with a quiet ache that he knew would not dissipate until Loki returned. He didn’t stay in their bedroom for long after that, knowing that the best thing to do would be to get a move on and find a distraction, preferably something that made him think. That was never difficult, since he always had sixteen different projects on the go. He would be completely fine.

But, the thing was… Tony was so caught up in himself that he didn’t think about DUM-E.

The first day was okay. They were busy working on the new nanotech, Tony having chosen that for its difficulty to distract himself as much as anything else. There was plenty for everyone to do, and that seemed to be enough to curb DUM-E’s pining to the point that he only glanced every now and then at the corner that was Loki’s normal landing point. Tony noticed, but it wasn’t much different to how DUM-E normally waited for Loki, so he didn’t log it as anything important.

By the second day, DUM-E actually tugged at Tony’s shirt with a whine two hours into his work, and when Tony turned to look at him, DUM-E twisted his claw in obvious question.

“He is missing Mr Liesmith, Sir,” JARVIS explained, and Tony gave DUM-E a sad smile.

“I know, buddy,” he said. “I miss him too. Now come on, make yourself useful– pass me that wrench over there, will you?”

DUM-E did so without complaint, but there was a droop to his claw which remained as they continued on with the distraction.

The distraction couldn’t last forever though, and Tony hit reminders at every turn.

It had been so long since he had grown used to sharing his bed that sleeping alone was hard. The nightmares were more difficult to deal with than they were with Loki by his side, and his sleep was not as restful as he had become accustomed to. But the worst were the mornings, when he would he would wake up with his hand stretching out across the yawning space, his body searching for the person he knew should be there before his mind caught up. There was always a bit of a pang then, but it never lasted long, because of course he knew that Loki was going to come back.

But… DUM-E didn’t.

On the third day, Steve had called a team meeting in the Avengers’ shared living room to discuss the very serious issue of dishwashing duty. You see, ‘some’ members, who would remain anonymous (see: everyone) had ‘issued’ a complaint that certain parties (see: a certain blonde raised as a prince) were not doing their bit, and so Steve was suggesting the introduction of a roster. But that’s not really important, because—

Point is that all the Avengers (bar Thor, who claimed he was ‘needed in Asgard’) were present when the elevator doors opened to announce a new arrival, and every eye turned to see who it was in surprise.

Tony blinked. “Erm—”

“Hey, Tony?” Clint asked, his voice a little confused. “Isn’t that one of your bots?”

Ah, yes. Yes, it was. And, quite unfortunately, Tony was rather certain there was only one reason why DUM-E might have left the workshop.

“Oh no,” Tony whispered. The sound drew DUM-E’s attention and the bot rolled over to where Tony was sitting on the couch. He whined curiously, twisting his claw a little to refocus his camera before leaning forward and nudging Tony’s arm.

“I know, buddy,” Tony said, running his hand over the length of DUM-E’s arm in a gentle stroke. There were a lot of things he wanted to say – I’m sorry, he’s not here, I miss him too, he’s coming back – but with the rest of the Avengers there, he couldn’t. So he asked the only thing that they probably expected of him in that moment. “What are you doing out of the workshop, huh? You know you’re supposed to stay in there.”

“I am so sorry, Sir,” JARVIS said. “He was threatening to fill the Mark XLI with fire extinguisher foam, and you know that the CO2 would ruin all the progress that you have made.”

“Well that’s resourceful,” said Bruce, almost sounding impressed.

“That’s hilarious,” Clint corrected. “Tony, I didn’t know that these things had such personality—”

“He’s not a thing,” Tony snapped– but then he took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. He was just… he used to be so accustomed to people treating the bots like nothing but machines that he used to let it pass, because there was no point in fighting it when no one else was ever going to understand. But now… he had become used to Loki’s soft smiles and his affectionate pats on the bots’ casing, and hearing Clint refer to them as things had been more grating than it ever would have been before. “He does have his own personality,” he said once he felt that he could without being overly antagonistic. “He—”

“He looks like he’s looking for something,” Steve cut in.

Tony glanced back to DUM-E to see that, oh god, Steve was right. DUM-E’s camera was swerving around the room, and even as Tony watched he moved to every Avenger, looking at them curiously and then ducking his head when he realised that they didn’t know the answer to the question he was asking. And when he had asked everyone, DUM-E began to search the whole room, looking into every space, even behind the TV and under the couches– or at least, best he could with his somewhat ungainly apparatus.

“Did… he lose something?” Clint asked, and Tony’s eyes closed with a pained exhale.

Because DUM-E thought that he had lost something, and Tony had never taken the time to let him know that it was only temporary, that Loki wasn’t gone for good.

And now, with the Avengers there, Tony had no way to reassure him– and fuck, but that felt horrible.

He buried his head in his hands, wishing that he could make it better, that he could somehow explain to his bot that Loki would be back the very next day. He felt Bruce pat his shoulder, but it didn’t really help–

“Uh, Tony,” Bruce said worriedly, and then Tony realised that Bruce hadn’t been trying to comfort. He had been trying to get Tony’s attention. And when Tony looked up, what he saw sent his heart plummeting to his stomach and lodging in his throat somehow all at the same time.

DUM-E had always lived in Tony’s workshop. Whichever of Tony’s homes that they had been in, he had always lived in the workshop– and, for security reasons, Tony’s workshops had never ever had windows that led to the outside.

DUM-E had no concept of what a window was– the closest comparison that he would have would be the workshop door, which was something that he knew people could go through.

So seeing DUM-E rolling straight for the floor-to-ceiling windows, charging with the excitement of finding somewhere else to search—

Tony was on his feet immediately, his displaced heart hammering, his breath catching horribly in his throat—


“I can’t override him, Sir!”

Steve and Tony both lurched forward– Steve because he might actually have a chance at catching the heavy machine, and Tony because that was his bot

But they were both too slow—

The glass shattered outward with the exact same sound that it had when Loki had thrown Tony straight through it all those years ago—

And by the time they made it to the window, DUM-E was already falling.

“JARVIS!” Tony yelled, already moving further forward. “I need a suit!”

JARVIS had never deployed the suit so fast, and Tony was plummeting over the edge before he was even properly encased. The repulsors blasted him through the air, surpassing the acceleration speed of gravity and hurtling toward his bot, his hands outstretched—

DUM-E probably didn’t know what was happening to him, he had never fallen from anywhere before—

“Faster, JARVIS, faster—”

With DUM-E’s weight being what it was, Tony was going to need some space to slow the fall or he’d risk them both crashing—

And he wasn’t going to make it—

But then there was a shimmer of green magic from below, and Tony almost fainted with the power of the relief that surged through him as DUM-E vanished entirely.

It was an effort to pull up in time even with just himself to worry about, and he landed hard. But that didn’t matter—


“To your left, Sir.”

Tony turned immediately, his heart beating much too fast– but thankfully, what he saw stole his breath in a sudden, relieved rush. Loki was running his hands over every inch of the bot’s frame, checking for damage and muttering under his breath– and DUM-E, fuck, DUM-E was looking like he was enjoying it, pressing into Loki’s hands and nudging at him for more.

“DUM-E,” Tony gasped, lurching forward out of his suit, stumbling toward them as fast as his now jellied-legs would manage. Loki straightened as Tony approached, giving him a soft smile.

“He is fine,” Loki promised. “No damage.”

Tony felt his breath leave him in a heavy sigh, his hands coming to rest on DUM-E’s arm even though his eyes turned to Loki. “Thank you.

“You’re more than welcome.”

And despite the fact that he had spent several days missing Loki as if he had lost a limb, Tony immediately spent several long moments doing just as Loki had, making sure that DUM-E really was okay. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Loki’s judgement– he just knew that he wasn’t going to be able to rest easy until he had checked himself. As he did so, Loki’s arms came around Tony’s waist, his chin hooking over Tony’s shoulder, and Tony leaned back into him with the warm feeling of finally.

“How did you know that he was in trouble?” Tony asked, turning his head slightly so that their cheeks brushed together. He felt the movement of Loki’s shrug.

“I placed a protective spell on you before I left,” Loki told him. “My seiðr alerts me whenever you are in danger.”

Once, Tony might have felt patronised at that, or like he was being coddled. But he knew Loki hadn’t done it because he felt that Tony couldn’t look after himself– he had done it because he wanted Tony to be safe. There was a difference there that felt far larger than it probably was, and Tony twisted his head a little further to press his lips to Loki’s cheek.

Loki responded to that by turning Tony around in his hold and bringing their lips together in a proper kiss. It was short and chaste, and certainly not what Tony had been expecting for their reunion after several days apart– but somehow, even when DUM-E pushed his arm between them clearly wanting in on the affection, it felt far better than anything Tony could have imagined.

As Loki laughed at DUM-E’s antics and granted him another pat, Tony realised something.

“Hang on. I was in my suit, it didn’t matter that I was falling,” he said slowly. “I was fine, I wasn’t in any… oh.” Tony glanced back up to see Loki looking slightly abashed, and yet not ashamed in the slightest. “You put a spell on DUM-E too, didn’t you?”

“And it would seem that it’s a good thing that I did,” Loki replied, his tone as arrogant as ever despite the light pink dusting across his cheeks. “It appears that he takes after his creator.”

Tony simply smiled, finding it almost adorable that Loki had cared so much so as to put a monitoring spell on Tony’s bots– because he was more than sure that Loki would have done the same for U as well. And at that thought, Tony found himself almost overwhelmed with affection, so he looped is arms back around Loki’s shoulders and leaned their foreheads together.

“Careful,” Tony said. “The world will think you’re—” Tony paused, cutting himself off as his eyes widened and his head snapped up.

He’d been about to say that the world would think Loki was going soft, because—

They were in the middle of a busy New York street. There were people watching, people with their smartphones trained on the scene. Oh, great. The whole world had just seen him kissing Loki– and he had been so lost in his relief and in the joy of having Loki back by his side that he had hardly even noticed.

“Oh no,” Tony said. “Um. Loki? We might have a problem.”

Especially since, you know– it seemed that the Avengers had finally made it to the lobby, and were making their way through the crowd with concern etched all across their features.

Yeah. There was a chance that this could cause quite a few problems, actually.

DUM-E was totally fine. Just as Tony suspected would be the case, the bot hadn’t been aware of what had happened to him, having absolutely no clue just how close to destruction he had come. On the one hand, Tony was completely and utterly relieved about that, because that wasn’t the sort of thing that anyone wanted one of their kids to know. But, on the other hand.

It meant that DUM-E believed – and to be fair, he wasn’t entirely incorrect – that throwing himself off the side of the building had been what had brought Loki back home.

Tony was going to have to do something about that, because even though Loki was perfectly happy to rescue DUM-E whenever it was needed, it was a risk that neither of them were entirely happy to take. But, unfortunately, a sharp order to JARVIS to ‘keep DUM-E in the workshop and don’t let him out no matter what’ and a stern request to U to ‘keep an eye on your brother for god’s sake, you’re the only sane one around here’ was going to have to do for now.

Because, as much as Tony hated to say it– they had more pressing matters to be dealing with.

(He still asked Loki to stay with the bots though, just in case.)

Once Tony knew that DUM-E was safe and secure with Loki, JARVIS, and U keeping a sharp eye, he immediately went back up to the Avengers’ common floor and held out his hands in surrender.

Then he uttered that age old, tried and tested plea. “I swear, I can explain.”

He was expecting denial. He was expecting them all to shout and yell and maybe arrest him, and probably throw him over the side of the tower again. They had that handy exit already right there, after all– the glass already removed thanks to DUM-E’s enthusiastic search.

But, instead—

“It’s okay, Tony,” Steve said. “You don’t have to worry, we’re going to fix this.”

Tony blinked. “What?”

“We’ll fix it,” Steve said again, slowly. “We know that this wasn’t your fault—”

“How can it not be—”

“And that Loki has made something of a habit of being able to get people to do things that they don’t want to—”

“He hasn’t—

“Classic denial,” Clint said, nodding firmly as if he were an authority on the subject of mind control– which, okay, Tony supposed he kind of was. “Loki got him good.”

“We’re probably going to have to check over all of our files, make sure Tony hasn’t tampered with them,” Natasha added.

 “And we should probably change the passwords,” Bruce agreed.

“Are you kidding me?” Tony spluttered, not quite believing it but oh, god– “This is the online debates all over again,” he groaned. “You’re not going to believe me, are you?”

Because of course it was easier to believe that Loki had messed with Tony’s mind than it was to think that Tony might have actually found some measure of happiness.

And this… this was a perfect opportunity, wasn’t it? Tony should just let this play out, let them make their assumptions, put on a show of ‘getting better’ and then he and Loki could just… continue as they were.

Somehow… the thought was almost… depressing.

“I wonder what else Loki made him do—”

“We’re going to have to be careful—”

“Guys,” Tony complained.

“I really hope he hasn’t given Loki access to our security cameras—”

“I am not letting him near my gear until all this is fixed—”

“I’m right here, okay?” Tony snapped. “I can literally hear every single thing that you’re saying—”

“Oh, we know,” Natasha cut in. “It wouldn’t have been half as fun otherwise.”

Tony blinked, another complaint pausing on the tip of his tongue.

Nat,” Clint whined. “We could have gone a bit longer.”

Steve rolled his eyes to the ceiling– and Tony gaped not unlike a fish.

“Wait, what?”

“Oh, Tony,” Bruce said, shaking his head fondly. “You can’t really believe that we didn’t notice, can you?”


“Tony, you do realise that SHIELD wrote the whole section in their handbook about relationships with villains for you, right?” Clint asked. “Personally, I think that was a mistake, they should have known that would only encourage you.”

Tony’s eyes were wide. “But, no one ever believes—” 

Honestly,” Natasha muttered, shaking her head. “Who do you think started all those online debates? Trying to cover you up is even more difficult than trying to get Clint into an archery competition without being noticed.”

“You did what?” Tony squeaked.

“I think we broke him,” Clint muttered.

“You really are terrible at hiding it, Tony,” Steve agreed.

“I can’t believe this,” Tony groaned. “How long—”

“Over a year,” Natasha said, bored.

“Nearly two,” Clint corrected gleefully.

“We had to stop Thor from making you a celebratory ‘welcome to the family’ cake when he found out,” Bruce added.

Tony stared at them all for a moment, not quite able to believe what the hell had just happened. Then he shook his head. “If you’re not about to arrest me or anything, I’m going back to the workshop to make sure that DUM-E hasn’t tried to blow himself up,” he said tiredly, heading back for the elevator. He was a little in shock, struggling to process the fact that they had known… and had just. Silently helped him keep the secret, and what? Waiting for him to be comfortable enough to tell them himself?

He swallowed down against the lump that brought to his throat.

“Tony,” Bruce said, his voice softer than before. When Tony turned, he found that Bruce had come to follow him. “We really are pleased for you. I want you to know that.”

Tony smiled. “Thanks, Brucie. I appreciate that.”

“We’re not going to stand in the way of your happiness, no matter where you found it– and especially since Loki had been causing less trouble recently,” Bruce added. “Now, go and check that DUM-E is all right.”

“And tell him thanks for me!” Clint hollered. “This is the most fun I’ve had in weeks!”

But despite Clint’s yell, Tony left feeling far better than he ever could have hoped when he entered the conversation. Their teasing might have been annoying but– he appreciated what they had tried to do. They’d managed to break the tension and reassure him that they weren’t going to be violent or indeed even difficult about this. They didn’t care that Tony had chosen a villain to spend the rest of his life with– they were happy for him even.

Of course, Clint changed his tune a week later when he walked in on Tony and Loki making out on the couch the fifth morning in a row, but really, it was something that he should have expected.

Tony didn’t care. He and Loki were free to be who they wanted, and at least in the tower where it was known that the prevailing rumour of Loki mind controlling Iron Man wasn’t the truth… they didn’t have to hide.

Loki could stay in the mornings, and Tony could take his hand and pull him into the kitchen to make breakfast for them both. Tony could return from meetings at SI to Loki’s smile, and they could lean against one another on the couch whenever they wanted, hold each other’s hands, exchange kisses, let the other know that they were loved whenever they wanted.

It was a blessing that Tony could never get enough of, and he had never been happier.

So, really, Tony supposed that DUM-E deserved some kind of thank you for his hand in all of this. Maybe Tony could get him a present, something to show how grateful he was. A new blender, or a top-of-the-line fire-extinguisher—

Or… perhaps, a parachute.

You know. Just in case.