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In Plain Sight

Chapter Text

Tony breathed deeply, enjoying the feeling of fresh air on his skin as his mask opened. He kept his cannons ready and on target, as did everyone else with their own weapons, with the exception of Thor and Steve, who held their current catch firmly in front of them.

He stared at the trickster´s face, expecting to find the usual rage and hatred he so commonly saw on recently-defeated villains' faces. Instead, and yet a bit unsurprising, given what he had come to learn about him, Loki´s face was perfectly blank, if only, his lips were a bit thinner, pressed together in disgust, as his eyes scanned his surrounding enemies, no doubt scheming already, until something else reclaimed his attention. That´s when Tony got an actual surprise.

As soon as Loki saw the metallic mask being taken his way, the God´s green eyes widened, and, seemingly not caring that he was chained, being pointed at by at least gun, a bow and two cannons, held between two physically superior men, and within arm´s range of the green monster that had nearly broken everything in him just a few hours ago, he struggled, and, using his captors as leverage, hit the agent holding the mask with a well aimed kick at the chin.

The clatter of the mask against the floor was lost under Loki´s grunts as he tried in vain to free himself.

"The time for fighting is over, brother!" Thor grunted, strengthening his grip on the pale God´s arm. "Accept your defeat with dignity"

There were no words to describe the hatred present in Loki´s glare, as he focused it on Thor.

"I did, already. What is this attempt at further humiliating me?" He hissed, his voice trembling with barely restrained rage "Was this your idea, brother?" Thor frowned at the mocking tone given to the title. "Of course it wasn´t, you couldn´t bring yourself to grasp the concept of irony even if.."

"Oh, shut up already!" He hadn´t paid attention to Iron Man´s moving bulk, until the red of his armor flashed right next to him. "Don´t be a sore loser, Loki." He lifted his hands, and the prisoner took in the sight of the mask once again coming to him. Immediately ducking and pulling at his captive arms again, he was forced to stop when the Hulk placed both hands over his shoulders, effectively preventing him from moving.

"Fasten it already, my friend." Of course Thor understood, Loki knew. And of course he wasn´t enjoying it. But his frustration was slightly diminished; bringing to his brother´s mind the fact that he was once again the one holding him down for punishment.

Tony moved to place the mask against the God´s face, who now kept still as rock, staring ahead as if nothing was happening. But when the metal grazed his skin, his determination wavered for just a second, and his eyes drifted to Tony´s. At the fear and desperation burrowed deep within those green ponds, the millionaire understood.

His hands froze in place, as his mind ran, fast as always. It made him imagine himself being forced into silence not for the first, but the second time, rendered vulnerable against anything and everything. Then, contradicting itself, it tried to convince him that this wasn´t damaging or painful in any way, just a preventive measure that would be removed as soon as the brothers arrived at Asgard. And, once again turning on the completely opposite direction, it reminded him that, along with his voice, he was stripping Loki of his magic, the only thing that he had forcefully achieved to make himself worthy in his own realm. Just when he was picturing himself stripped and banned from wearing his suit ever again, once again reduced to a simple, average human, the mask was snatched from his hands by a very impatient Steve.

"What are you doing?" And Tony understood that his drifting away had been not just a second, but several of them; long enough to make his friends worried that he had been affected by the trickster´s power, and pushed him aside.

The mask was forcefully thrust over a pale face, metal clasps fastened behind his nape, and Tony stared, as if hypnotized by the hopeless enslaving of the being that he had come to realize was so much like him. He didn´t even flinch as Loki´s eyes found his, staring back instead.

The skin on his forehead wrinkled, the green eyes narrowed into a frown, and Tony knew what Loki had found in his eyes.

Not forgiveness. Never forgiveness, but what had eluded so many, too engulfed in the trickster´s actions to mind his motives.

Understanding.

The God held his gaze even as the lightning emmited by the Tesseract blinded them, and a moment later, Tony found himself staring into nothingness, his mind still bearing the sight of the mischievous flash on the resigned green eyes, knowing exactly what it mean.

Now you will never forget.

And Tony knew he wouldn´t.

Chapter Text

Days went and came, and they turned into months, before Thor was finally back in the mansion.

It was his silent behavior and his tendency to stay locked in his bedroom what made the others think something had gone terribly wrong at Asgard, and finally pushed them into asking.

"It is not my wish to talk about that." He answered, growling.

"But…" Steve tried again. "What about Lo…"

"My brother." Thor cut the other´s sentence with is own, looking up and past them. "Is no more." And, without another word, he rose to leave, just as a thunder roared outside.

-

The storm went on for days, as if their inquiries had been the key to unlock the God´s emotion, sending them to roam free all over the sky. They had nothing against him venting out, until finally, after Tony being nearly struck by lightning on a routine mission, Steve drew the short straw and was forced to talk to him again, while the other Avengers stuck an ear to the living room´s door.

"I am sorry, for what happened to Anthony. There is no need or a reprimand, Captain." Was the first thing they heard. Then, Steve´s steps, as he walked to take a seat on the couch. "For I assure you it won´t happen again."

"Tony is fine, Thor, it´s not about that…" He started, clearly uncomfortable. "Or… Well, it is a bit about that. We want to help you."

"I am not in need of help."

"Oh, please! Just take a look outside, you are clearly troubled!" For the sake of drama, Tony pictured Steve, pointing at the stormy sky. "And you have all the right to be, after your brother…"

"Do not mention him." After Thor´s dry command, silence spread on both sides, while the others waited, expectant.

"What happened, Thor?" They heard the God´s heavy breathing, before he forced his voice out.

"They turned his back on him." He finally answered. "All of them."

"Not you."

"Of course not. But my power and will alone were not enough to spare him." Another second of nothing but breathing. "We drove him to it, friend Steve. Even myself."

"No you didn´t." Steve´s voice was firm and serious. "No one can drive you to anything. One is what one chooses to be."

"It is different. You had someone who had faith in you"

"So did he." Steve shuffled closer. "He had you."

Thor chuckled darkly. "I am afraid that is much like asking someone to lean on the wall they are whipped against." The Avengers ran for cover, when Thor´s heavy steps approached the door.

"We´re friends, Thor. We are all here for each other."

"And I am most grateful for that."

The bigger blonde walked away, presumably back into his bedroom, and his teammates slipped soundlessly into the room, joining Steve.

Through the ceiling high windows, they noticed the clouds had lightened a bit, even though they were still there.

Tony poured himself a drink, leaning on the counter.

Only now that Thor´s issue had been partially taken care of did he let his own thoughts on the matter appear.

What came to his mind was the last time he had seen the now deceased Norse god, bound and gagged, staring back into his eyes.

He wondered briefly if Thor had been forced to witness his beloved brother´s execution. If someone had dared to look into Loki´s green eyes as he died, or if the last thing he saw were turned faces and glances avoiding his own.

-

Nothing happened until Thor´s storm finally cleared, which took still another good two months, and everything went back to normal.

It was nothing, really. In fact, it was so casual Tony didn´t give it any thought until way later, after getting home, taking the suit off and sipping his first scotch of the night.

He had been patrolling the city, and, just for shits and giggles, he decided to hover over some park, for the children´s delight and his own ego´s boost. He scanned the crowd once, in search of any peculiar behavior, and flew away.

It was just now, lying down on the common room´s couch that it came back to him.

"Jarvis" He called almost automatically.

"Yes, sir?" The computer´s voice answered immediately.

"Do you have the recordings of today´s patrolling?"

"Yes sir. Would you like me to play them now?"

"That´s why I love you, Jarv." The screen located in front of the couch lit up, showing a dizzying view of the city, as recorded by the cameras installed in the IronMan´s temples, and Tony watched for a few seconds, wondering how his senses survived this. "Go forward, Jarvis. I want to see the park."

The speed of the video increased, as Jarvis fast-forwarded it until the green square with brightly colored dots flashed in. Once again, Tony saw the city shake as he nodded, and flash past him as he sped down, finally hovering over the crowd. His eyes narrowed, as his in-screen self looked at the crowd, knowing what he´d find.

"Pause it Jarvis, now." He ordered, trying to keep his voice under control.

His chest, however, heaved fast, his breathing speeding up as his hand clenched tightly around his ice-cold glass. Because it couldn´t be true; It had to be a coincidence… And yet the way those eyes bore into him even through the screen… Tony dropped his glass on a nearby coffee table, gripping his head. Impossible.

And yet, when he finally looked up again, Loki Laufeyson still stood there in the crowd, looking straight up at him.

Chapter Text

Maybe it was the unusually cold night. Maybe it was the sight of the still alarmingly silent Thor at dinner.

Whatever it might have been, Tony woke up before dawn, struggling against his tangled silk sheets, with Loki´s eyes still digging into his skull.

"He´s dead." He said to himself. His chest heaved, and his eyes ran over his bedroom, faintly illuminated by the dim blue light of his arc reactor, but he found no peace. No matter how many times he repeated the words to himself, sleep didn´t come back to him.

-

Without explaining to his team, he found himself patrolling solo more often than not, and hovering over that park at least twice a day, checking the footage back at the mansion, but never finding Loki´s unnerving glance again.

Sometimes, though, he did catch a glimpse or two of pale skin and raven hair. True, it was probably just some common pedestrian, but his stomach clenched tightly every time it happened, pestering him until he made his decision.

He shifted uncomfortably from one foot to another. After all, bursting into a room to force a god to speak about a touchy subject was not his ideal of fun.

"Thor? Big guy, can I come in?" He waited for the muffled grunt from the inside, before entering and closing the door behind him.

He looked around for a minute, baffled, and had to admit Thor had made a good job making himself at home. The modern furniture delicately arranged around the room was covered by heavy fabrics and furs, some of which he wasn´t even sure what they had been when alive. The hammer rested on a glorified night table, shining from where it stood directly under the window.

The coffee table held what could be passed off as photographs at the first glance, but Tony knew to be small, hand-painted portraits, or magical imprints of the god´s family and friends.

"What troubles you, my friend? It is uncommon for you to visit my chambers. "Said god laid on a fur-covered bed, flipping lazily through a magazine´s pages.

Tony gave a mental sigh, before throwing all concern through the window. "I want to know what happened to Loki." Now that got the blond´s attention, and the blue eyes locked on him, frowning.

"I thought it had been made clear that my brother shall cause no further damage to Midgard, and that I wished to mourn him privately." He answered bluntly.

"I know, I get it, and I guess I´m sorry. I just want to know exactly what happened. "Okay, maybe that hadn´t come out right…

"Do you enjoy execution stories, my friend?" Thor´s frown deepened. "I didn´t think you were the type."

"No, I…" Tony cut himself mid-sentence, suddenly aware that he had no idea what he was saying. "I kind of feel bad for the guy, that´s it." He patched it up as best as he could.

"But why?" Thor shifted on the bed, to take a better look at him. "The very few encounters you had with him were nothing but battles and threats." Tony nodded.

"I know that… Hey, it might sound crazy and stupid, but screw that, living here with all of you has made me forget what loose definition I used to have for what´s crazy and stupid… I just feel like we had something in common." He tried. Thor seemed to ponder his argument for a moment, nodding to himself.

"That would be accurate, Anthony." He finally voiced. "You both do what is expected of you not because you want to, but to prove others you are able. Both favor intelligence over strength, and have excelled in this category. And over all, you are both loners at the core." A sad smile crept over his face. "You are indeed like my brother."

"…So?"

Thor sighed, as if disappointed at having failed to distract him from his question.

"The Allfather sentenced him, and the punishment was fulfilled."

"That must have been hard for you." He let silence set for a bit, while he planned his next question. As simple as it might have been, he had the feeling his peace depended on it. "Is he really gone?" To his surprise, Thor shook his head meekly, blonde locks swinging back and forth.

"My brother will always be here, Anthony. He will never again go where I can´t reach him." And he turned back to his magazine, effectively finishing the conversation. Tony excused himself, and walked back to his own bedroom, feeling exhausted and not really knowing if the answers he had been given had made anything to appease him.

-

Tony liked to think it had all ended there. And it would probably have, if not for something as common and trivial as the traffic bottleneck in which Happy managed to get them stuck.

Half a street and two hours later, Tony was so fed up with Pepper´s incessant chitchat (really, did she have to be so efficient?) about how they would fix his schedule, that he was just about to activate the IronMan suitcase and fly away through the limo´s roof.

But he liked this limo…

Looking for a distraction, his eyes focused on an empty spot on the street, through the one-way glass window.

And there they were again. And this time, the pale skin and black hair couldn´t belong to any other random civilian, for it was Loki himself, sipping on a paper cup while waiting for the pedestrian sign, who had caught his eye. No other pedestrian spared a single look to the tall man´s unusual clothing.

"Magic" his mind supplied, and his muscles ached, begging for action.

Forgetting about manners, schedules and rational thinking, he fished the case, and kicked the door open, just when Loki crossed the street and mixed into the crowd.

Nonetheless, Tony ran forward, tanking his luck when he caught a glimpse of the other man again.

He stopped and regained his breath, waiting for Loki to widen the distance between them, and cursed his mind for the sudden waves of recognition. It had to be him. The way he moved, the straight line of his shoulders… All those things he shouldn´t have noticed, but made it clear it was the real Loki, calmly making his way through the city like he belonged there.

Still in his waiting spot, his eyes never leaving the point between Loki´s shoulder blades, he set his cell phone to mute, and flicked his Avenger communicator open, connecting with Steve.

"Is everything ok, Tony?" Deciding Loki had walked far enough to not notice him by just looking over his shoulder, Tony followed again, keeping the distance wide and his voice low.

"I might need some backup here, Steve…"

"Now? Where are you?" Tony rolled his eyes. Good Cap…

"Ask Bruce to give you my coordinates, and wait for my signal." Loki turned right, leaving the busy avenue and entering a small side street. "This is one bird I don´t want to scare away." And he flipped the radio shut.

His heart bumped hard in his chest when he turned on the same corner Loki had, just to find… An empty street.

Stomping a foot on the ground, he took a couple of steps, and his head immediately flooded with warnings and alarms. What should have been a small street, infested with petty cafés and secondhand stores, was as empty as his first glance had revealed. No bargain hunters, no hipsters looking for an underground café… Hell, not even a stray cat; nothing was alive in there.

"As I once told your little friend, not many can sneak up on me." The voice at his nape made him flinch and turn, nearly dropping the suitcase, and leaving him face to face with the supposedly dead god. "And I´m afraid you are not an exception."

"Shame… And here I was, hoping you´d lead me to your secret villain lair and everything…" Tony´s mouth answered on its own, sarcastic as always. "Say, weren´t you supposed to be dead?"

Loki smirked.

"Oh, but I am."

"You seem as good as new to me." Once again, Tony found himself staring into the god´s eyes, as if he´d find something there to reassure him that he was looking at the real Loki, that this was not the result of too much scotch while waiting for the car to move.

"Staring is rude, Stark."

"What are you doing here?" He questioned, all playfulness gone. This, in exchange, brought Loki´s smirk back.

"I´m not causing chaos, for which you should be grateful. Laying low, letting you live…" Tony frowned.

"You´re hiding?" Loki´s eyes hardened, his smirk now empty, but not leaving his face.

"I´m scheming." And he vanished in thin air, leaving behind nothing but a faint green mist that soon faded.

It was as if the street had been muted, for all the sound that suddenly hit Tony at once, stores and cafés open and working, and people roaming the street as if they had been there the whole time… Had this all been this colorful just a second ago?

Shaking his head, he flipped the communicator open again.

"Steve? I´m ok, it was a false alarm." He hoped to sound as convincing as ever, and just half listened to the lecture about how many times Pepper had called everyone, and how stupid and impulsive he was, he promised Steve he´d call Pepper right away and be back to his limo in just a minute, before cutting him and changing frequencies. "Hello?"

"Anthony? Is something wrong? Steven told me you required assistance." Somehow Thor always managed to sound as if he was holding the communicator either too far or too close, which, for all Tony knew, was probably true, but this time he didn´t take time to correct the blond.

"I hope you are in the mood for explaining, Thor, because we´re having a long talk after I finish my business."

Chapter Text

"You lied to us."

"I did not." Thor sipped on his beer, unfazed.

Tony stomped his fist on the table. "You told me he was dead!"They had taken the discussion into Tony´s workshop, completely under his domain, for the sake of privacy.

"Again, I did not. I told you he had been punished, and that he would never again threaten Mid…"

"Don´t try to trick me with details! Why didn´t you tell us your crazed brother was still here?"

"It was irrelevant." Now Thor wasn´t meeting his gaze, instead looking at his beverage.

"Irrelevant? Thor, irrelevant is Clint trying his arrows on pigeons! Or me, bringing people into the house, or you, fighting against the toaster! " Tony snapped. "Your brother is a threat to everyone, that´s why we sent him back to Asgard!"

"My Father´s desire was for him to remain here."

"I know, but why?"

"Did you know, Anthony? Except for Heimdall, my parents and myself, no one at Asgard knows he is alive." Thor finally stared back, and his eyes were pained.

"… Wait, what?"

"You heard me."

"Sure I did, but why?"

"They think him dead since his falling from the Bifrost. Obviously no one suspected of him in regard to the Midgardian turmoil." He sighed. "My desire to get involved was a mystery for them."

"… And they still know nothing?"

Thor nodded. "And it must remain as it is. My people are blissful in their ignorance."

"Ok, I guess…" He didn´t really care about Asgardian business. Except when it crossed the street in front of his limo. While drinking coffee. "But why the storm, and the silence? Why making us think he had earned a death sentence?"

"I needed you to believe he was actually deceased." Thor´s broad shoulders raised in a shrug. "Besides…" He rubbed the bridge of his nose with two fingers. "Besides he did earn it, in a way."

"Elaborate, please."

"My father… Crippled his magic. And bound him to me. That is the reason he remains this close to us; the further he goes from me, the weaker his powers become. Even here, he can only use a few of them."

"Ok, so the guy´s grounded. That isn´t death, Thor, you´re being a bit overly drama…"

"The Chitauri are looking for him." Thor cut him with a grunt.

"How do you know?"

"Loki said so."

Tony snorted loudly. "Right. The liesmith guy. Seems legit."

Thor chuckled darkly. "You would be right to doubt his words, but trust me when I say it was the truth he spoke this time."

"How can you be so sure?"

"He asked us to kill him." At this, Tony froze, the scotch glass in mid air to his lips. "He was desperate. In all my years at his side, I had never seen him that close to begging. And, considering the efforts my brother has made to stay alive, that is something to be taken seriously."

"And you…"

"We could not bring ourselves to it." He looked past Tony, his eyes unfixed. "They will find him, Anthony. And when they do, his magic will not be enough to save him, and his death will be our fault."

Silence set between them, both finishing his beverages while Tony thought of something to answer to that, failing miserably and opting instead to change approach.

"Where is he staying?"

Thor looked up from the trash can, where he´d just dropped his empty, crushed can.

"What?"

"You know, where is he living? Did he rent a flat or something?"

The blonde shook his head. "This is a punishment, Anthony. He has no material possessions and I couldn´t very well bring him here with us, as I am aware many of our teammates hold a grudge against him."

Tony stared, unbelieving, for a moment. "You mean he´s living on the streets?" To his surprise, Thor smiled, and let out an amused chuckle.

"My brother is an Asgardian prince, friend. Used to luxury, but not needy of it. If I am to be honest, with his abilities, he´s probably living a better life than many civilians."

"Until the alien guys come and easily abduct him, because he doesn´t have a safe place, right?" That made the smile slip from Thor´s face.

"I… Had not thought about that…"

"Of course you hadn´t." Tony let his empty glass sitting on the worktable. "Geez, so this is why Steve is always blabbering about trust, I could have lent you money! A place, in fact!"

"I wouldn´t have thought your morals…" This time it was Tony the one who cut the other´s voice, with a dry laugh.

"What morals, Thor? If the alien fuckers that made my brother beg for me to kill him are definitively coming for him, then I don´t have time to give a tiny rat´s ass about my pal´s morals, I barge in their rooms and fucking make them help me find him a safe place!"

He let his eyes pace over the workshop, forcing himself not to kick the nearest thing just to blow off steam. He couldn´t even tell what made him angrier, picturing Loki on his knees, his head hung low and his hands trembling, asking his father and his brother to just end him already, or the knowledge that right now the god was sitting on some alley, setting for the night and heating himself with his weakened magic.

" They wouldn´t believe him, and my Father´s punishment would not be enough for them. They would have him imprisoned." Thor started slowly. As if trying to believe what he said.

"And would I, Thor? You know I hate the damned guys." He shook his head. "But of course, what do lowly mortals have to do with Gods´ business?"

"My friend, I assure you that´s not…"

"Don´t. Just… Don´t, man." Tony held his hands high, effectively stopping Thor from continuing. "I´m off. Way to go, big brother." And he left the workshop, before Thor could find his words again.

Chapter Text

Tony shifted on his bed, comfy and warm, and hell, he hated feeling guilty for how comfy and warm he was in the middle of the rain.

Geez, one would think Thor would keep it down, if only for the sake of his homeless brother.

Nearly a week had passed since their discussion at the workshop, and they hadn´t crossed a single word. Yet Tony knew Thor had been slipping out of the mansion for as much time as possible, to search the city, and that the rain was nothing but a tantrum, because Loki refused to show up.

He wondered if perhaps he´d been too harsh on Thor, after all, the guy was worried. He just didn´t trust his teammates that much yet, and frankly, that was a feeling most of them shared. Besides, what was he worried about?

Loki was a god, and if he´d managed to avoid Thor until now, then perhaps he had a better chance with the Chitauri than he´d first guessed.

-

It was raining.

Lately, it was always either raining, or storming, and Loki couldn´t help but to feel a pang of perverse satisfaction.

He stretched on his spot, looking down briefly before setting himself up more comfortably on the thick branch. He was glad Thor had settled on being depressed, rather than angered, as the lack of lightening had made it safe to use the tree to escape the pooling water below.

All he could hear were the soft splashing noises of raindrops and leaves over his head, and that was the sound he fell asleep to, enjoying the rare peaceful moment.

And he woke up to another familiar sound, and the blinding reflection of the morning sun on a red and golden armor. He smiled.

It looked like his brother had calmed down, and fate presented him an opportunity that was simply too good to miss. This day might not be bad at all.

-

Tony surveyed the area. He´d been avoiding the park (and his patrolling duties altogether) since his conversation with Thor, but when Steve had told him he actually had to do something for him to cover his sorry ass with Pepper as to why he couldn´t fulfill his schedule, it suddenly seemed like the best place to start.

He hovered, wondering whether to get donuts or pretzels for his morning coffee… When his vision turned black.

"JARVIS! What the hell did just happen?" And he went to lift the suit´s faceplate, in case it was just a technical problem, when the A.I.´s voice stopped him.

"I wouldn´t do that if I were you, sir… You appear to be… Surrounded by birds." Even the computer sounded confused.

"What?" Tony lifted an arm in front of his face and swatted. His hand immediately hit something, and the sky was visible for a moment, before being hidden In a rush of dark feathers again. " Jarv, What are the odds that Fury doesn´t kill me for showering civilians with burning birds?"

"Very bad, sir."

"Thought so…" He heard the low clatter of beaks and talons, occasionally beating against the suit, while he thought of a way out. "Are there any below me? " He asked, finally.

"No sir, they appear to be concentrating from the knees up."

"Good… Here I go, then." And he forced power on the feet propellers, rocketing himself out of the bird cloud that dispersed, scared by the sudden boom.

He scanned the park, looking for whatever it was that had startled the animals, already with an idea in mind.

"They are coming, sir."

"What? Who… OH CRAP!" He forced the suit again, crossing the skies, while trying to lose the flock at his heels.

-

"Hey Mama Goose " Tony glared at Clint, who read an afternoon newspaper that showed a clear picture of the birds that had followed him all across the city, all day long, caging him in a feathery prison whenever he stopped, until he had managed to lose them and take shelter in the mansion. "I knew you were good with the chicks, but this is too much, man. "

"Fuck you, the suit´s going to take forever to clean."

"Oh, don´t be grumpy, go roost for a bit." Clint grinned, and Tony flipped him the (Oh, irony) bird, before heading for his bedroom.

"Jarv, give me the recordings form the park." He ordered, after showering and setting himself on his couch.

"I´m afraid it´s mostly useless, sir. The birds covered every camera. However, I have recovered some amateur footage from the civilians on the area."

"Bring it on, Jarvis, you´re amazing."

"Thank you, sir "

Tony spent the next few minutes staring ad blurry and shaky cell phone pictures, looking for something that just refused to appear.

"May I ask why? I mean, is being chased by birds so much fun that you´re starting a virtual scrapbook?" Tony jumped a bit on his spot, cursing at himself for not noticing Pepper coming into the room. Sighing, he patted the spot next to him, and she sat.

"I´m looking for something."

"What?" Tony looked sideways at his assistant, who stared at the screen as intensely as he´d been a minute ago.

"Pepper, what are the clauses of that confidentiality agreement?" She smiled.

"Keeping S.H.I.E.L.D. out, boss?" She asked, amused. "My lips are sealed. He nodded.

"Jarvis, give me the picture in which we spotted him in the crowd." He waited for the picture to appear in the screen, and smiled at the sudden gasp from Pepper.

"Is that…"

"Thor´s little brother, yes." he shrugged. "It seems he wasn´t dead after all, but his powers are restrained, and it´s top priority that we find him before someone else does." Pepper frowned.

"Then why haven´t I seen anyone else looking for him?" Her frown deepened when her boss grinned.

"Well, when I said we, dear, I meant Thor and I." He wrapped an arm around her shoulders, and shook her lightly. "But you´re an accomplice now."

"Or so it seems" Pepper rubbed her forehead, resigned.

Chapter Text

"You know? People usually have a drink with me before attacking me with wildlife." Loki smirked lazily. He was beginning to grow used to the luxury of having a fixed sleeping place, after two more storms-less nights.

"Those lowly beasts you call birds are hardly wildlife, Stark. " He looked down at the human who waited by his tree´s roots. "And as much as I´m puzzled by your obsession for having me drinking stuff, I´m afraid the drink in question would have to be on you."

Tony grinned back. "What, Odin´s hold on your allowance is too strong for you to treat me?"

Loki slid of the branch, landing gracefully in front of the human, his mouth still curled into a loose smirk. "You go on trying to mock me; this is by far the best punishment I´ve ever had."

"Or so I´ve read." Tony was actually grateful. The three hours he had spent looking for the exact tree in which he and Pepper had spotted Loki in some amateur video would have been useless if the god wasn´t in good mood. "So? Are you going to take me up on that drink or not?"

"What is it, Stark? Do you usually treat breakfast to your enemies?" The human smiled.

"Actually, my team would be delighted if I treated breakfast to our enemies only."

-

Thing was, now Tony sat across the table from the pale god, prying quick glances at him from behind his menu.

"Do you even know what half of these things are?" Loki frowned.

"No, but I take it nearly everything´s edible, since Thor has survived here, even with his… Eating habits."He didn´t miss the way the frown deepened when mentioning his brother´s name, and he smirked to himself.

"Oh, yeah, well, no offense, but I doubt there´s anything in all of the… What do you guys call it? "Realms" that your brother wouldn´t be able to chow down. But it´s pretty much an accurate guess, I hope everything´s edible here."

"I´m not Thor´s brother." Tony rolled his eyes at the god´s stubborness. "What are these pancake things?"

"Hmmm… Do you have a sweet tooth?" Dear god, the puzzled look on Loki´s face was worth all the pancakes.

"Excuse me?"

"Sugar... Do you even have sugar? Sweet tastes. Do you like them?" Still noticeably wary, Loki nodded. "Then order those. Man, how come you have survived for nearly three months on your own?" Loki drank a sip of his steaming coffee, shrugging.

"Despite what Thor has made you believe, not all as…" Tony frowned, when Loki´s voice slowly died in his throat, without finishing the sentence.

"Not all asgardians eat like starved wolves?" He provided, trying to be helpful. Loki cleared his throat.

"Exactly, they don´t." They stumbled into a pause, that quickly threatened to grow into an awkward silence. Tony frowned. He hated all silences, but the awkward ones were his nemesis and hell if he was going to let his nemesis take over his international diplomacy attempts.

"But I mean, how did you even discover coffee?" He asked, to break it.

"Selvig and Barton used to have it."

"Oh. Ok." Nothing like remembering your mind-controlled colleagues to ease the mood.

The silence remained even after the waitress wrote their orders down, and walked away, again, not sparing a glanec for the full-armored Norse.

Tony didn´t even look up as his omelette (because who doesn´t like an omelette that has not been made by Tony?) was placed on the table before him.

"Maple syrup, sir?" The waitress asked.

Loki stared at the woman, holding the oddly shaped bottle and waiting for his response. His eyes jumped between the so-called pancakes on his plate, to the bottle, to the waitress, before he cleared his throat again.

"Stark?" Tony looked up, to the awkward scene of what seemed to be the waitress threatening Loki with a bottle of syrup, judging on the way the god leaned far from her and eyed the thing warily.

"What… Ah, syrup!" He finally caught on to the waitress question. "Yes, leave it there, honey." And he gifted the young girl with one of his trademark smiles, hoping to make her forget about this strange being that wouldn´t touch the syrup when it was placed on the table.

Predictably, the girl walked away as fast as her high heels would take her after blushing and managing to smile back, and Tony looked back to the table, enjoying his small victory.

"Charming." Loki used his fork to poke at the top pancake, as if expecting it to jump to his face and bite it off. Tony smirked.

"Come on. Thor´s always going on and on about how brilliant you are, I´m sure you can figure out how to eat pancakes."

Loki huffed, finally bringing his rounded knife into business, and chopping off a bit of the bread.

"Not something to take into account, as someone with accurate spelling abilities is brilliant for him."

Tony shook his head.

"Now you´re just exaggerating." He grabbed the syrup bottle, squeezing it over the other´s plate before he had a chance to refuse. "There. No need to thank me." Loki´s glare was obviously trying to dig holes into his skull, and he ignored it, rather focusing on his eggs.

"For messing with my food? I wasn´t planning on it."

"Just eat it, ok? I promise it´s not poisoned. Midgardian honor."

"Is there such a thing?" Loki muttered, before smelling the syrup soaked pancake bit, and taking it into his mouth.

Sure enough, the sweet, buttery flavor exploded in his tongue, bringing back all the hunger he didn´t recall having in the first place, and his regal manners were somehow forgotten for a minute, when he wolfed down on his first real, solid meal while in Midgard.

"… Say whatever you want, but you look pretty much like Thor´s brother right now." He heard the human mutter, amused. "I think you´re about to break his record with the poptarts."

He grunted, uninterested, too enthralled with stuffing his face with pancakes to care about his remarks. It wasn´t until he finished the last piece, and rested his fork and knife on the table, that he looked up again, wiping the corners of his mouth with a paper napkin.

"Forgive my enthusiasm, but I can´t say I´ve eaten much since I was brought back."

"You should´ve told me that, I would´ve taken you to a fancy restaurant." Tony chewed faster, trying to finish his own meal before Loki decided he´d had enough and left.

"Do they serve these pancakes in the fancy restaurant?"

"What have I done…"

"No, but you can make them at home." He looked up when he heard the sarcastic snicker, in time to see the smirk in the thin, pale lips.

"Yes, I´m sure I will find all the necessary ingredients in my tree, thank you." he looked back down, and finished eating in silence, wondering how to board the subject.

After downing the last of his mug´s contents in one gulp, he stood up, gesturing for Loki to do the same, and placing some bills on the table. More than enough for their little breakfast and a juicy tip for their waitress.

-

"I need you to keep it a secret, ok?" He finally asked, while on the street.

"Wise decision, I´m sure you have found me to be trustworthy. Rest assured, this breakfast never happened." Loki smirked, and Tony looked back, realizing all his reasoning had been listed only in his head and the god had no idea what he was talking about.

"Not the pancakes, hell I´m going to brag about it myself, you Norse kin sure do have a soft spot for breakfast treats in your heart." He let silence set for a moment, while he reorganized his ideas. "Look. I´m going to do something, and I´ll be in deep shit with S.H.I.E.L.D. if they find out."

"Are you going to try and conquer this realm? Because I must warn you, I still consider it mine."

"I already own this "realm", Loki, I don´t need to conquer it." He leaded the pale man down some streets and up some others, the god obviously following with a mixture of curiosity and confidence in his ability of kicking his ass if needed.

They stopped in a common apartment tower, and Tony guided them inside, holding the elevator doors open, while the god stared at him, an eyebrow arched in interest.

"Just come in. I´m the one that should be worried about flying through another window." He rolled his eyes, and Loki walked in, reassured.

There was something in elevator rides, Tony didn´t know exactly what, but they were hell. Maybe it was the enclosed space, the mirror walls, or even the sticky, annoying tunes escaping the speakers in the top corners of the cubicle. He hated elevator rides. He and Loki hadn´t said another word during the whole walk here, but suddenly the silence they were in became awkward as hell. His nemesis scored another point.

He was pleased when they finally reached their floor, and stepped out into a well lit hallway, with two doors on each side.

He pointed to the one on the left, and walked to it, rummaging into his pocket.

"Explain yourself, Stark." Loki stared at the golden key that rested atop his palm, where Tony had dropped it, next to a small plastic object.

"I´m sure they have keys in Asgard, I hope I don´t have to explain that." Tony shrugged. "This is a cell phone. You can use it to call people, and speak to them. It has only Thor and mine´s number, and I´m afraid your brother hasn´t quite mastered the use of his yet, so you´re pretty much short on options."

Loki´s eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Stark."

Tony patted on his upper arm, passing by his side in his way back to the elevator.

"I just thought your Chitauri pals will have a harder time finding you in an apartment than on a tree in some park." He enjoyed the way Loki´s eyes widened, and his body froze in surprise for barely a second, before he hid it again.

"Just for that, you owe me an even bigger explanation." Tony grinned, as the elevator doors closed before him.

"Well, there weren´t really many ways for me to find out, were they?"

Loki stared at the closed doors, before looking back at the objects in his hand.

"That oaf…"

Chapter Text

It was just the next day, and so far things were looking great. Tony hadn´t woken up to find himself stabbed with a golden key, or with his bedroom swarming with birds, and that meant the god had not been offended by his offering.

Two days later, after yet another rainy night, he decided he pitied Thor enough, and, after making some arrangements, he pulled him apart from the group when they were just returning from a routine field training in the built in simulation-room.

"If this is about my brother again, Anthony…" The blond started, with a warning tone. Tony, however, ignored it because what the hell is survival instinct?

"It is. I found him." He added quickly, before Thor´s expression darkened even more, and watched in amusement, as it shifted between confusion, to wariness, to disbelief.

"How?"

Tony scratched his nape and cleared his throat. "Remember the thing with the birds?"

"Yes, I was informed on the unusual attack."

"Well, turned out it was his doing. Peps and I caught him in some amateur videos, and well, I found him." He shrugged.

"The Lady Pepper is aware of my brother´s residence in Midgard?" Thor´s brow furrowed, in worry.

"Let it be. It´s safe with her." Tony reassured him. "And, well I just… Figured out you should know, just so you could stop with the rain and all that stuff."

"Is he alright now?"

"He has a place to stay, and a way to communicate with us."

Thor´s brow furrowed again, and his face twisted for a bit. "I should go meet him…."

"Ahem… I… Don´t know if that´s a good idea, actually…" He smiled, shameful. "I think he didn´t take it kindly that you told me the Chitauri thing."

"Aye, that was a slip on my behalf." Thor finally admitted, and Tony felt his stomach sink when his expression saddened all of a sudden. "I think I deserve his silence, then."

"Now, wait." Tony thought for a moment. "Maybe if he´s hungry again…"

Thor raised an eyebrow. "You gave my brother a roof, but you did not give him food?"

Tony felt his face reddening, and he jumped to defend himself. "Hey, you gave your brother an early stormy season and not as much as an umbrella!" Really, who did Thor think he was to look at the teeth of his gifted horse?

The blonde raised both hands in a surrender gesture. "You´re right, my friend. Go on with your suggestion?"

Tony smiled, and pulled at the blond down the hall.

"Come on, big guy, I´ll teach you some magic."

-

When Thor understood he was being led to the kitchen, he fidgeted on his feet, eventually making Tony stop.

"Friend, as much as I appreciate it, I´d rather not… Accidentally poison my brother. He might take it as an unpleasant gesture, rather than a token of our good intentions."

Tony frowned.

"Your lack of faith hurts me, Thor." And, mustering all his might, he pushed the blond through the kitchen door, leaning in for just enough time to shout some instructions. "Don´t let him out until he can make killer pancakes, Steve!"

The blonds stared at each other from across the wide kitchen, the table between them crowded with pancake mix boxes. Finally, Steve managed a small smile out.

"I guess we should start, then."

-

Loki stared at himself on the reflection of the elevator´s wall, and fixed a stray strand of raven hair behind his ear, with the hand that was not holding his stolen coffee mug.

The doors opened silently, and he walked down the hall, digging into his pocked, in search for the key, when he noticed he was not alone.

Broad back against the wall, and a mountain of plastic bags surrounding him, Thor´s wide shape waited right next to his door.

Loki stopped dead on his tracks, summoning the deadliest of his death glares, and casting it at the thunderer.

"What are you doing here?" He hissed.

Annoyingly enough, Thor just turned to look at him and smile broadly.

"Why, brother, I wait for you to return to your chambers." He explained. "And I bring with me many possessions that will make your punishment bearable."

Loki frowned. "What would make my punishment bearable is not being caged in this useless realm, pitied by you and your idiotic teammates." Of course he preferred this over any other idea that could have passed through Odin´s mind, but he wasn´t going to tell Thor that. "Now go away."

"But brother, how long has it been since you had a proper meal? I know you have never been one for great feasts, but not even you could survive on nothing but Midgardian beverages for too long."

Loki walked past him, deliberately kicking one of the bags aside, and jammed the key in the lock.

"Seeing that I survived a fall from your Father´s Bifrost, I´m quite sure I can manage a little hunger."

"Our Father."

Loki looked back, smirking.

"Your Father, Thor. I will have nothing to do with him, thanks." Thor sighed, dropping the matter, and pulled out his last resource, before Loki could slam the door on his face.

"Anthony told me you fancied these… Cakes of Pan." He held the box up for Loki to see. "Steve, who is not only a fearsome warrior, but also a mighty cook, taught me the secrets of their making."

Loki eyed the box, and Thor´s hopeful face, his own hand still gripping the door´s edge, wishing for nothing but to slam it closed.

However, he could feel it. He felt it the strongest when he walked past Thor, just an inch from him, and it remained. His magic had strengthened, and if he could store some of this increasing energy…

All he had to do was to put up with him for a while, the same way he had for centuries, he thought, feeling a hollow pang in his chest.

"I´m pretty sure I can cook them myself. Give me the box and go away, I don´t want to see you." He insisted. He had to be convincing, right?

Thor shook his head. "It is quite an art, brother. I would be delighted to teach you" He didn´t miss the grimace that appeared on Loki´s face whenever he spoke, and the way he frowned lightly when being called "brother" yet again.

He kept staring, until Loki´s frown deepened, and his grip on the door tightened for a second, before roughly letting go.

"Listen, and listen well, Thor. I´m just doing this because you won´t leave until I do. If you can´t even cook the damned pancakes, I swear you´ll be jealous of what I did to Sif´s hair." He hissed, threateningly.

Thor smiled, getting up and quickly gathering the bags.

"You couldn´t."

"Oh, do try me, please. Not much energy is needed to set your head on fire."

Thor stopped at the threshold, his smile widening. "Thank you, Loki."

And his hands were busy with the bags, and there was no way for him to actually touch him, but Loki still flinched away and grunted something hurtful in return, too low to actually be heard.

He stepped away from the door to let him in, because, and just because, he told himself, he could feel his energy increasing with each passing second.

He ignored everything else, and started looking for a way to store his energy, before Thor went away and he was once again weak.

Unfortunately for him, Thor was bound to be Thor, in the end.

Chapter Text

Loki retreated into the bedroom with the excuse of organizing the different, mostly unknown, and all uncalled for items Thor had brought along and labeled as personal hygiene products, using the opportunity to look for something that could fulfill his purpose.

He ran a quick look over the bedroom, in the semi darkness of near noon. It´s just as it was when he first got it, a large bed, two lamps, one on each of the bedside tables, and a bookshelf, collecting dust on its uninteresting literary options. Loki thought this apartment was used by Stark when he had to house someone he didn´t really like enough to let them into the tower, but couldn´t risk to offend by sending them to find accommodations on their own.

Just when his eyes roamed over the dusty book titles, he caught sight of it.

It was a transparent (slightly opaque due to the dust layer that he promptly blows off) crystal sphere, carved in the inside in resemblance to an atom. Or a galaxy. Maybe. Honestly, the work was so poor Loki had problems discerning it.

But then again, it wasn´t the carving he was interested in.

A quick scanning of the decorative object revealed the purity of the material, and the God figured it would have to do, since he wasn´t exactly hoping on finding uncut gemstones lying around the apartment.

He tugged the sphere safely into his clothes, and surprised Thor by sitting at the kitchen counter, just a couple of steps away from where he was busying himself with the pancakes.

Loki rummaged through the remaining plastic bags, wondering briefly about how humans managed to hold entire, cooked meals into such tiny containers, opening every bottle he could find and giving it a tentative sniff, until he found the expected syrup. So nice of Stark.

-

After a few minutes, his nose was blessed with a sweet, heavenly scent, and the first two pancakes landed on a plate with a soft thud. He watched in expectance as the pile grew in height, and was finally placed over the counter, right between him and Thor, who had taken a seat across him.

"Thanks. You may leave now." Loki reached for the bottle syrup he´d left apart when checking the bags´ contents.

He didn´t really expect Thor to leave. It had been said because he had to, and the blond knew that, as seen when he ignored it completely.

"We need to talk, brother."

Loki squeezed the syrup bottle ceremoniously over the pancakes, still avoiding Thor´s look, uninterested. When he spoke, he did so as someone would when approaching a particularly stubborn child.

"How many times do we have to go through this Thor? I´m not your brother. I told you before: I never was."

Thor shook his head. "Why do you care, Loki? Of what lies beneath your skin?" He started. It was painfully obvious that the words had been thought over and over, polished a bit more each time to make them worth his time. If just out of respect to those efforts (And the fact that the pancakes were every bit as delicious as the ones he´d had with Stark, and he was enjoying them fully) Loki listened. "I don´t care. Father and Mother, they don´t care… We love you all the same, you´re what you´ve always been. You´re Loki. My brother."

When Thor finished, Loki nodded thoughtfully, chewing slowly through his fourth pancake (Thor was a slow speaker when he was emotional, it seemed)

"The same, you say?" He smirked, when Thor nodded hopefully. "Look at me, Thor." He felt the bulk of the sphere in his clothes, slowly filling up with energy. He sighed internally, and leaned a bit closer to the blond, using his magic to dissolve the glamour that was his Aesir appearance.

He watched in amusement, as Thor´s eyes widened in amazement and horror.

"This is what I really am." He smirked. "Do you remember, Thor? That time at the treasure vault…" His voce lowered to a whisper." You swore to kill them all, so that I had nothing to fear." He rose form his seat, and walked around the counter, nearing Thor on the other side. "You failed. The monsters are not out there for you to beat." His voice changed into a venomous whisper. "The monster has always been inside."

Thor swallowed hard, and shook his head.

"You are no monster, Loki." After taking a deep breath, Thor reached out to place his hand on Loki´s shoulder, but the blue-skinned one flinched back. The big, tanned hand fell back limply at his side. "You might be different, deep inside. But even down deeper, you are an Aesir. Your heart is."

"But is it?" Loki smirked again. "I have never been like you. I am no warrior. No glorious fighter conquering realms in the name of Asgard. I lurk in shadows, misleading others, threading my lies and my traps around everyone. Always envious of the one that was what I couldn´t. The golden son I could never be because I wasn´t even a son in the first place."

The air in the apartment cooled gradually, and he sullenly noticed that the cold seeped from his true form. Thor´s eyes kept themselves glued to him, before his lips parted again, and he spoke again.

"You see what you wish to see, Loki. And because things are not as you think, you resort to act like the monster you believe yourself to be. You are so desperate to make us see the evil in you, that you haven't even noticed you yourself don´t believe it." He let his gaze fall to the ground, hesitant. "Have you ever believed less in one of your lies, Loki?"

Loki´s fist clenched, and he returned his appearance to his Aesir one, not wishing to be stuck in this beastly look when Thor left.

He could feel the sphere was nowhere near the limits of its storing capacities, but they had approached to subjects he had no interest in discussing, let alone with Thor of all people.

"What do you even know of what I am? What I think?" He let out a dry, humorless laugh. "Get out." He spat, venomously. "GET OUT." He added, in a yell, when Thor made no move to leave.

The blond man let out a sigh, before looking directly at him. And that was his mistake, because Loki didn´t need to realize how much his features mirrored Odin´s. He didn´t need to notice he was familiar with the way his lips tightened and his eyelids went down in a slow, sad blink.

He did not need to see his Father´s disappointment in the face of his brother.

-

The moment lasted barely more than a few seconds, before he turned his back on Loki and walked out the door. Loki remained motionless, but, as the door closed behind him, Thor heard the loud bump of a heavy object crashing against the room, and he guessed one of the coffee tables had just become a victim of the Trickster´s magic.

He didn´t go far, leaning against the wall just next to the door, his hand finding its way to his forehead, thick fingers wrapping tightly in his blond strands.

Just this once, he had seen right through Loki´s lie. He wasn´t even the slightest glad about it.

His brother had never looked so lost.

-

Inside, Loki felt his knees grow tired, and he found himself slipping down to the floor, letting his weight rest sideways against the counter. The packed food lay forgotten on the plank over his head, and not even the feeling of the warm, charged crystal sphere brought him any comfort.

He had thought this would be another empty meeting where he blamed everything and nothing, and Thor asked for forgiveness and reflection. He had thought this was something he´d shake off as soon as he lost sight of the blond.

He´d been wrong.

A vibrating sound pulled him out of his increasingly darkening thoughts, and he looked up to find out it was caused by the cell phone Stark had given him, abandoned on the worktop next to the door ever since the first day he´d spent in the place.

He went to his feet, and dragged himself over to investigate the cause of the machine´s distress.

The screen blinked over and over, until he hastily tapped a finger over it, and followed the instructions to "Unlocking" it. The gadget soon let him know he had a new message, and asked if he wanted to read it now.

"Hey Loks.

How were the pancakes? Not so eager to kill me now?

… Can you even text me back?

Tony"

Loki stared blankly at the screen for what felt like an eternity, before rolling his eyes.

-

Tony grinned when his own phone´s screen lit up. Really, he was beginning to think he was some kind of wizard to get two gods and a 70 year old guy used to modern technology. (Not caring that he´d done nothing more than to give the gadgets away and hope for them to figure them out)

The message was obviously from Loki, who he´d added with "God of Douchebaggery" as his contact name. He wasn´t one for subtlety.

"Of course I can, idiot."

Chapter Text

Tony walked into the kitchen, after instructing Jarvis to warn him if anyone else appeared to be coming this way.

Thor was already sitting at the counter, chewing absently on a poptart.

"So…" He started. "How are things with your brother?"

Thor shrugged, and Tony noticed his shoulders lowered a bit more than usual when talking about Loki.

"My brother… I knew he was lost, my friend. But I had not realized how much." He sighed. "Last time I actually saw him was weeks ago, when I cooked for him."

The billionaire poured himself a coffee, before leaning on the counter, close to his friend.

"What´s wrong with the guy? For real, I mean."

The blond brought a big hand to rub at his forehead, clearly distressed, before answering in a pained mutter.

"He learned of a terrible truth, back in Asgard. One he is determined to turn as bad as he deems it to be." He looked up at Tony, his clear blue eyes darkened and troubled.

"The adopted thing?" Tony took a swig of his coffee, as Thor nodded. "And then he disappeared." Why did he disappear?"

"He… Fell off the bridge when we were fighting." At this, he rubbed the back of his neck, when Tony raised an eyebrow. "I know, my friend, how it sounds. But at the moment, it was all I could do, I had no idea of what was happening, and innocent lives were being threatened. It was the lesser of two evils, no matter how painful it was for me."

Tony smirked. "I´m afraid we´ve reached a dead end, buddy." When Thor looked up again, this time from between his fingers, he clarified. "I don´t talk feelings. And I don´t know if you´ve noticed, but you and Steve are the only damned heroes in the whole team."

Thor smiled behind the hand in which he half covered, half supported his face. "Modesty is for maidens, Anthony. I have found you to be the kind to toughen up when it matters the most."

Tony rolled his eyes. "Whatever, I still don´t talk feelings." And he poured the remnants of his coffee down the sink.

Thor laughed, shaking his head.

"Then what do you do when you want someone to face you?" He asked.

"I force them to."

"I somehow doubt my brother will want to talk to me if I crush his door down."

"Come on, buddy. There are better ways." He cracked his neck. "Let´s go, I´ll help you this time."

-

"This is ridiculous, you know?"

Loki nearly jumped, when the voice echoed across the apartment. He´d dozed off against the door, the sphere tightly clenched in his hands, collecting the energy produced by his proximity to the blond pacing restlessly outside. He turned to find an armor clad Tony, sitting comfortably on the window frame, and it irked him that he didn´t know exactly when he´d arrived.

"Excuse me, mortal?" He asked, promptly hiding the sphere in his already worn down clothes. He heard Thor´s pacing come abruptly to an end, and cursed inwardly. So much for faking he wasn´t home.

"The guy´s out so often his girl is starting to think he cheats on her. You could at least make it worth it and let him in."

"I would, if he´d just sit there and keep his big mouth shut."

"What´s the fun in that, Loks?" And he shamelessly stepped in the apartment and strode for the fridge, rummaging inside. "Don´t you have anything decent to drink?" The frown was audible in his voice.

"If you are looking for your disgusting excuses of alcohol, then know you won´t find them there. In fact, my provisions are starting to run low again. I could use new ones."

Tony turned to smirk at him.

"Same with your clothes, buddy." And he turned to the door. "I´m sorry Thor, but your brother looks like a hobo." He yelled, ignoring the confused "A what?" that came from behind the door.

"You came into my house with the sole purpose of mocking me, Stark?" Loki´s fingers cracked with loose magic strands, menacingly. "Should I remind you that your teammate is close enough for me to use most of my magic without restraints?"

Tony walked towards Loki, standing mere inches away from him, and opened his faceplate, revealing the smirk beneath.

"Should I remind you that this is your home just because watching you sleep on a tree was hilariously sad? Or the fact that your only food and shelter comes of my infinite mercy and generosity?" He stretched the last work, raising an eyebrow in a teasing gesture.

Loki´s expression just grew harder, bordering on hostile.

"I take no charity, Stark. Say it and I will be out in no time."

"Weird, because I don´t recall you offering to do anything for me in exchange of this."

Loki smirked.

"I figured it was a common gift."

"Really? A reward for nearly killing Phil, throwing me through a window and ultimately driving me to play chicken with a nuke?"

"… What?" Tony shook his head, amusing.

"Modern English, you both need to learn it." He cleared his throat. "The thing is, you did nothing to deserve this on your last visit, Loks."

Loki´s smirk returned. "Oh, then you are most generous and all forgiving, Stark." Out of nowhere, he took a step forward, and enjoyed the way the armored man flinched instantly, if just for a second. "However, I would have thought that knowing I´m caged in your… "Generosity" would be enough for your spectacular ego."

Tony countered with a smirk of his own. "Caged, huh?" He pulled something out of one of the hidden compartments in the suit. "Do you know what this is, Loki?" He held a plastic rectangle in between his and Loki´s face.

"Should I?" Loki frowned.

"This." And Tony shook the object, rising it above both their heads. "Is the key to your "cage"." He smiled, amused at Loki´s confusion. "With this you can have food, entertainment… Whatever your wicked little mind can think of you can get with the magical credit card" He emphasized the last three words, and Loki rolled his eyes in annoyance.

"Stark, you keep mocking my intellect, and we´ll see how well all your money can protect you against a flock of slightly bigger and smarter birds." He then got serious again. "What do you want?"

"Nothing." Tony shrugged, and stuck the card into Loki´s expecting hand. "But there is one condition."

Loki´s eyes drifted suspiciously from the card to his face. "Name it."

"Two, actually." And really, Loki should´ve been worried about the amused twinkle in the billionaire´s eyes. " You get yourself some nice new clothes." He patted Loki´s shoulder, clad in clean but worn down leather. "I don´t want hobos living in my houses."

"… You are a weird mortal, Stark." However, Loki nodded. "And the other?"

At this, it was Tony´s turn to inch closer to him, and him to flinch back, but the other just reached past him, and grabbed the doorknob, turning it.

"Take your brother with you"

Loki didn´t have to look back to know there was a smiling Thor waiting at the threshold, and he gritted his teeth together.

"The tree is beginning to sound cozy right now"

Tony smiled.

"Humor us, if you may"

-

Tony wasn´t surprised when, five minutes later, he stepped into his private floor in the tower only to find it swarming with penguins.

Chapter Text

"This is what humans call a mall, brother. Its abundance in goods for sale knows not the boundaries of common markets!"

Loki raised an eyebrow, taking in the crowded mall.

"Disgusting… Do you really expect me to find myself worthy garments in this human-infested rathole?"

"My, brother, you will find that, while Midgardian clothing is not nearly as impressive as ours, it mends for it by being quite comfortable and unique"

"So low has the Mighty Thor fallen, it seems." Still staring disdainfully, Loki allowed Thor to pat him on the back. He´d been careful enough to tuck the sphere in his soon-to-be-discarded outfit.

"Aye, brother, give it a chance"

The black haired one advanced towards a showcase filled with sports clothes.

"It´s getting bothersome, Thor, having to remind you again and again that we are, in no way, related"

Thor grinned, attempting to wrap a heavy arm across Loki´s lean shoulders, and didn´t let it falter when he was rejected. "Ah, brother, I would never intend to be a bother, but I just can´t help it. Better not to remind me at all, then"

"Moron" Loki pointed to some other store. "That one seems decent. Move."

"As you wish, brother."

And Loki knew Thor was doing it to spite him. And that there was nothing he could do but to ignore it for the rest of the day.

-

"Aye, brother… I know my friend Anthony to be wealthy, but I don´t think that is excuse to try and empty his vaults in one day…" Thor peeked at Loki from behind the bundle of cardboard bags piled on his arms. "Whatever did you need all these books for? I don´t recall you being fond of Midgardian literature"

"If i´m confined to that apartment, I need something to pass the time. Might as well be something that gives me a deeper understanding of this lowly realm and its saddening inhabitants." And he smiled mischievously. "Besides, as I remember, only two conditions were given and I have already covered both of them. Your companion was dumb enough to hand me his money, and I will not be dumb enough to let the chance go to waste…"

"Brother?" Thor stopped, sending a look over the shoulder to where Loki had stopped in front of yet another store -for someone who had made his low opinions about the place so clear, he was awfully curious about it- while trying to rearrange the bags more comfortably.

"This piece of clothing. What is it?" Loki waited until Thor stood by his side, to point at a square of blue and white fabric.

"I believe it´s called a bandana, brother"

"I fancy it. Wait here." And Loki disappeared into the store, leaving behind a very confused Thor.

-

"Tony?"

"Yes?"

Pepper´s eyes widened, while she kept on staring at her laptop´s screen. "Please explain how you can be here with me and burning money on some mall at the same time?"

Tony grinned. "That, Pepper, is the lame attempt of a frustrated Norse God to make me go bankrupt."

"… You gave Loki a credit card."

"You would have too, if you had seen him. I swear that armor was see-through already."

"Well, why the frustration, then?"

"Well, I gave him a little condition that he seemed not to like."

Pepper sighed and pinched her nose at her boss´smile.

"I know you´re having fun, Tony… But I´m not explaining why do we suddenly have a penguin donation to the zoo again."

-

All in all, the next few weeks were bliss.

Loki had to admit four things: Midgardian clothing was indeed comfortable, Midgardian literature was quite entertaining, Midgardian food had a nice touch, and Thor was really, really persistent.

During the first days, Loki was content enough to just let him pace across the hall, while he sat against the door holding his crystal ball, but when Thor started threatening to bring the door down with Mjôlnir, he had to let him in, only if he kept his mouth shut and sat still in a corner.

Of course, Thor never quite fulfilled his part of the treaty, so Loki ended up sending him away every three of four times.

Actually, the only reason he ever let the blond into the apartment anymore was because he knew that if he didn´t, Stark would find a way to force him again. That mortal was crafty.

He chose not to acknowledge the warm feeling in his stomach whenever Thor followed his command, preserving the precious silence, and he suddenly looked up from his book and found out that the only thing he needed to be in Asgard again was to close his eyes and bring back the scent of the old palace library where they would flee when they wanted to be alone.

And then Thor would voice this very same thought and he´d teleport him as far as his magic could sustain.

Today, however, Loki was gratefully alone.

Weirdly enough, this time he wasn´t burning his eyes with some book´s pages, but lying rather cozily in the bed, playing with the small gadget that controlled that artifact Thor had addressed once as a television.

He had investigated the thing before, finding it to be mostly uninteresting, but still returned regularly, to see if one of the few plays that had gotten his attention was on.

Unfortunately, he seemed to be late, and he watched as the current chapter ended, and the screen faded to black. He never stayed to watch the following program, but today he was feeling particularly comfortable sprawled over the bed, so he just scrambled around for a better position, while a male voice announced the name of the show, supposedly a recollection of the day´s events, as Loki could gather.

Just a moment after that, said man came in sight, wearing a crispy suit and a cheery expression, and he proceeded to hurriedly greet the public, before getting back on the topic.

"Well, New Yorkers, it seems that this year the American Dream reached some unsuspected places. It has been reported that sightings of unknown creatures have occurred all along the nation, nearly at the same time" He started, giving his words just the right amount of amused suspense. "This sightings were brief and fleeting, but a dedicated technophile managed to videotape one of them from afar." He smiled. "Ladies and gentlemen let us meet the new guys in town."

The video played on the screen, and Loki watched in amusement, already familiar with the human tradition of seeing things just the way they weren´t. It started boringly enough, just a bunch of mortals walking here and there across the street, when a scream came.
It was an unnerving sound, but what was really frightening was the way it was suddenly cut up.

Loki had been to enough battles to know when someone was silenced with a nice gash to the throat.

Hell broke loose, and everything got blurry, as the crowd rushed one way and the owner of the camera forced his way the other.

The figure came into focus for just a moment, and while the camera was still shaking from its owner´s panting. Altogether, the silhouette was barely visible for a second, before it disappeared in thin air.

It took some more seconds before Loki finally noticed he wasn´t breathing at all, and quite a few more before he could bring himself to gasp for air. He looked down to where his sweaty hands were tightly clenched in the sheets, ignoring the man who now talked about bird migrations and equally unimportant subjects.

His eyes drifted to the side, where the mobile phone sat quietly, and he quickly tapped on the screen a few times, grateful that Stark had given him one simple enough to figure out when he was… Not freaking out, just like this very moment.

He froze with his finger a hairsbreadth away from the "call" sign, heart still racing too fast, but with his mind quickly catching up. He made his decision.

-

"This better be good, OK?" Tony snarled into the phone, finally answering after letting it ring the call away for the second time.

"Stark?" The billionaire nearly choked on his own breath, checking the screen to be sure.

"Loki?" And he glanced back nervously. "Hey, listen, it´s great that you´re getting the hand of technology and everything, but I´m a bit busy right now, so call la…"

"Trust me, Stark, I am not interested in late night chats with you. Did you watch the news?"

Tony could hear a tremor behind the god´s voice, hurried and low as if he was keeping a secret. "Why would I?"

"Because this particular new will… Catch your attention." And then the slight hesitation there…

"Are you ok, Loks?"

"JUST DO AS I SAY MORTAL!"

"Fine, geez, calm down…" And he covered the phone, turning to face the room in general. "Jarvis, any idea of what the God of Cockblocking is talking about?"

"It is probably the opening clip in the midnight news-break, sir. Apparently alien creatures were spotted, and one of them was captured in an amateur video. Would you like to see it?"

"Faster, Jarv, I don´t want to keep the lady waiting."

"Right away, Sir, but I feel compelled to warn you that the waiting lady in question has just passed out into drunken slumber in the bedroom"

Tony groaned, and he could practically hear the mocking sneer in the A.I.´s voice.

"Just play the damned thing already." He could still listen to Loki´s heavy breathing through the phone. "I´m still here, Loks, don´t panic."

"For your sake, Stark, I hope you are joking." And even then, the cold tone couldn´t quite conceal the trembling underneath.

The closest screen to him flashed to life, and Tony watched the video, instructing Jarvis to pause it when the creature was at its clearest.

"… Is that what I think it is?"

"Really, Stark, how come human civilization has come to acknowledge you as a genius?"

"I´m hanging up on you, man, I warn you." And he added, after thinking for a second. "That means to end a call, just so you know."

"Thanks for the clarification"

And just like that, they fell into silence, Tony still staring at the blurry Chitauri in the screen.

"Why didn´t you call Thor?"

"Because he will overreact, and I don´t want to deal with him, obviously."

"Obviously…" Tony rubbed his eyes. "Get some sleep, Loki. I will drop by first thing tomorrow morning, and we´ll secure the apartment."

"… Your service is appreciated, Stark."

Tony huffed. "You screwed my night, man. Don´t go all "mighty overlord is pleased" on me, just say thanks."

He smirked when the only response to his qualm was the intermittent tone of an ended call, and set his phone to rest on the desktop, stretching and wondering whether he wanted to go back to his bed and sleep next to a drunk and not naked girl, or staying in the couch.

The darkness in the room was suddenly lifted when the phone screen lightened up again. Tony tapped at it a couple of times, and burst out laughing, before heading for the couch.

"Thank you"

Chapter Text

Loki flinched at the unmistakable sound of a foot slamming against the wood of the door. He clenched the crystal sphere tighter, using the warm feel of the spinning energy inside as an anchor.

He pointed a hand to the door, when the hitting sound came again, this time followed by a voice.

"Open the damned door, Loks… I don´t know about you, but I need to have my coffee before fending off alien bastards." Well, he had never thought that hearing Tony Stark´s grumpy and sleep-slurred voice would make him feel so relieved.

He opened the door, and looked down at the billionaire, who held a brown paper bag in one hand and a suitcase in the other. The man pointed behind him, to the hallway, and Loki noticed there were even more, bigger packages there.

"Go get it, since you are so awake. And please tell me you had a little time between buying ten thousand dollars worth of rugs and procured yourself some coffee…" Not waiting for an answer, the man skidded past him and into the apartment.

"Middle shelf" And he looked over his shoulder to stare at the mortal. "Top shelf for you, I suppose."

"Hilarious. This is why everyone loves you, Loki."

The god was smirking as he pulled one package after another through the door. "No, Stark, I´m afraid there are quite a lot more reasons other than that particular one."

"Or so I´ve read." Tony looked up from pouring coffee in the biggest mug he could find, to see Loki dragging one of the bigger packages, before giving him a strange look.

"Do tell, Stark, why do you even read about me?" And he went back to pick the last of the boxes.

"Hey, I live with your brother, I had to get informed. You just pop in there from time to time and I have to be a man and put up with your weird shenanigans…" The sound of the box hitting the floor pulled him back from the deep, delicious pool of steaming hot coffee between his hands. He found the taller man definitively glaring at him, and he fidgeted a bit, before the paler one returned his attention to straightening the box up.

"Well, I cannot say that is a novelty for me." He left the box alone and pushed the door closed with a little more strength than what was necessary, making it creak in complain. "You should talk to Thor´s friends; they certainly have experience with putting up with me."

Tony snorted, when the caffeine finally reached him and he understood what was going on. "Please, you brought my height into this, toughen up and don´t give me drama."

The god just kept glaring. "Do you intend on helping me or not, mortal?"

Containing a sigh, Tony took a seat in one of the cozy armchairs, and sat his coffee in the side table. "I guess I do…" And he cracked his fingers. "I need you to tell me all you know about this Chita-what the hell are you wearing?"

That did the trick; Loki´s frown softened and disappeared, a confused expression taking its place.

"Beg your pardon?"

"Not mine, no. Fashion´s." Seeing that Loki´s expression was still confused, he pointed at the deep blue bandana that he hadn´t noticed was tied around the Norse´s head. "Where did you get that from?"

Loki´s frown came back, although softer. "Forgive me? If I recall correctly it was you the one who conditioned me to "get myself some nice new clothes", Stark." He crossed his arms over his chest. "I just complied."

At that, Tony scanned him over once. The self-proclaimed Not-Asgardian wore an apparently brand-new dull green T"shirt, along with fitted black jeans. Looking down, he was surprised to see he had forsaken shoes -an understandable choice, since the flat was expertly carpeted- but his mind chose instead to focus back on the hideous bandana.

"But why?"

"It is nice, and it is new." Loki glared again." Can we focus now?"

Tony sighed, and nodded. "Sure, just don´t call the gang on me, bro… " He muttered under his breath. " I´ll be right back, unpack those." He added, retreating into the bedroom.

-

Thor picked up the tiny gadget Steve referred to as "Mobile phone", and flipped it open, after reading Tony´s name in the tiny outer screen.

"Yes?" he never knew how to hold the Odin-damned thing...

"WHY WOULD YOU LET YOUR BROTHER BUY THAT?" Tony´s voice came from the little speaker at the top of the gadget, and he huffed, amused.

"I´m afraid I know nothing of what you speak about, Anthony. And I´m even more afraid to admit I had literally no saying in the matter, after all, Loki..." but he was interrupted from a voice coming from the other side.

"BECAUSE I DO WHAT I WANT STARK, NOW LET GO OF THAT PHONE AND COME BACK HERE!"

As the call ended, Thor took a minute to wonder if he should be worried about what was going on in his brother´s apartment.

-

"Take it off, Loks, it´s really distracting."

Loki raised an eyebrow. "As are your sunglasses, not to mention unnecessary, but you don´t see me pushing the subject."

"What about that thing is necessary?"

"Why would I explain myself to a mortal?" But Loki´s pale cheekbones flushed, and, enjoying the little victory, Tony shook his head in mock disappointment.

"And here I was, thinking you had a taste… Who chose the suit you wore in Germany?"

"I´m allowed to be versatile." He looked at the half-unpacked boxes. "Can we start now?"

"Yep. Tell me."

Loki rubbed his forehead under the bandana." The Chitauri… First of all… I don´t think they are really here."

"…What?"

"Not completely, I mean." The Norse noticed Tony´s still confused expression. "Think, Stark! Think of what I had to do to bring them here in the first place!"

Tony nodded, thoughtful. "So… What´s your bet?"

"Semi-corporeal projections. I believe they are scouting for me, wanting to have me secured before wasting energy on the trip."

"So the scream in the video…" Tony waited, until Loki mumbled an affirmative."There is no record of a corpse, though."

And really, he shouldn´t have found the mischievous smirk that amusing or easy to read, like teasing him about a long-time shared joke.

He smiled. "Magic?"

Loki nodded now, snapping his fingers next to his face, making a little green ember flourish between them. "Magic."

"Well, now we´re officially at a dead end, then." He shrugged, when Loki gave him a questioning glance. "I´m sure I could find a way to work something that alerts you if one is near, but I need actual magic to try it on." He gestured lazily at the taller man. "And don´t be offended, but you´re kind of useless in that area right now."

"I would be, even if I had my full power."

"Elaborate, Loco."

Loki raised an eyebrow at the foreign word, and huffed when Tony shrugged again and pointed at the bandana.

"Magic is an old and stable art. There are certain procedures you ought to follow, and they give out certain results. Always the same, always exact." He explained. "The degree of success is actually based on the performer itself. It doesn´t matter if two sorcerers cast the same spell, the power imbued in them will always be different. This is why my magic will most certainly be the strongest in most cases, for my nature is unique. Think of it as something akin blood types."

Tony whistled. "You do really get a hard-on for magic, don´t you?"

Loki looked away. "Who are you to speak? What would happen if you were to explain your technology to me, mortal?"

Tony let out a dry bark of laughter. "We´d be here until sunrise tomorrow." And he rubbed his hands together. "So you meant to tell the Chitauri magic is different from your magic?"

"Indeed. And I´m afraid to admit I lost the only sample of Chitauri magic in my possession."

"… The scepter." Tony was grateful for his shades, somewhat hiding his expression, but he could still feel Loki´s stare right on his face, and he was not so fool as to think he´d missed the change in his features.

"You have it." It was not a question, but a statement. Like Loki had caught on something he should have known for long.

"They do."

Once again, there was no question asked. And this time there was no answer given.

Both knew what would happen.

And, to be honest, neither of them could bring themselves to explain why.

Loki cleared his throat. "Good luck."

Tony forced himself to smirk. One does not plan on stealing from a secret government facility for his enemy every day.

"You know you´ll have to thank me again, right?" And he left.

Loki smiled sideways. This mortal was proving to be one hell of an interesting puzzle.

Chapter Text

It was a bright, sunny and fresh day, and Tony Stark stopped in his tracks, his grip tight around the handle of a secured, long case.

He was about to commit theft.

He took a second to breathe deeply, and assure himself of the quality of the replica in the case. He had spent days hunched over the prototype of the fake Chitauri scepter, sometimes with Thor patrolling the tower, sometimes heavily poked by Loki´s "good natured advice", that he knew every inch by heart.

In the end, it was identical down to the last detail, according to Loki, who thankfully enough had given up on wearing the bandana when he was present.

The last touch had been… Poetic. An inspiration, a soft detail, albeit a much needed one.

-

"I need you to give it some magic."

Loki had raised an eyebrow, disbelieving."I thought I had been clear enough, Stark. My magic is completely different to that which powers the scepter…" And he had stopped, when Tony had curled his lips into a smile.

"I know that. You know that. Now Thor knows that." He had gestured to the blond he´d brought to the meeting. "But S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn´t. And they won´t have a clue until they hire a magic specialist. But that time, I expect us to have finished the research and returned it."

At this, Thor had leaned forward, clearing his throat.

"I must let you know how strongly I disagree with this act, my friend. I´m sure the Son of Coul would let us get the scepter out if you asked honorably, instead of recurring to cheating like…"

"Well, Thor… Some do battle, some do tricks." Loki had interrupted him, voice cold, but a hint of amusement in his eyes. Thor had stared at him in disbelief, and let out a hearty laugh.

"You said it, brother." And his gaze had turned to Tony. "This is why I´m here, I assume?"

The human had nodded."Can you do it, Loks? If Thor gives you the power?"

The god in question had huffed. "Trust me, Stark. You haven´t seen anything."

-

Now, the false scepter glowed softly on its own, and Tony had a God of Lies approved excuse for checking the heavily guarded original.

"Everything is calmed, my friend. You may proceed." Thor´s voice boomed in his ear, through the hidden earphone. "… I must thank you profusely, Anthony, for what you have risked for my brother. You are a true friend, know that"

Tony smiled, rolling his eyes. "It´s ok, big guy. Loki is a pain in the ass, but watch him frustrated and powerless is hilarious."

"You are one mischievous human being, my friend."

Tony chuckled in the microphone, and presented his identification card to the lector in the automatic door.

The metal plate slid soundlessly to the side, and he stepped inside. And froze.

A thousand curses ran through his head, as Steve´s eyes widened with surprise when he spotted him.

"Tony? What are you doing here?"

Feeling his muscles pull like wire, he forced a smile to counter the blond´s.

"They´re finally letting me check the scepter. I wouldn´t waste the chance."

Steve´s eyebrows rose. "Really? Coulson said it´s still guarded…"

"It is." Tony shook his head. "I´ll never know how Pepper does it. I swear I think she´s selling the company without me noticing."

Steve laughed. "Careful, then." And he patted Tony´s shoulder, before leaving. Tony let out his breath, relieved.

Being who he was, Tony had rarely ever needed to lie. Instead, he had perfected the art of looking like he was exactly where he was supposed to be.

Because really, a babysitter will only believe the "My toy car rolled into the elevator and then into dad´s lab" so many times.

But if Howard Stark had said he needed his son to wait for him there, and Tony was completely, positively, absolutely sure that that had been the order, then down to the lab he went, thank you very much.

This is why, when exposing his best smile, and greeting everyone with an enthusiastic nod, there was no doubt that Tony had somehow earned the chance of a lifetime, and was on his very much authorized way to have some fun time with the alien scepter.

He let the façade drop as the door slid back into place, his target lying silent and taunting before him.

The room was being checked on via live fed security cameras, he knew that, so he stayed on his spot, staring at the scepter as if lost in awe, until he saw the slightest flicker of lights.
He held back a smile, imagining Thor sticking a finger into some random socket at the roof, using the hammer with the free hand and trying not to accidentally fry the building.

The lights flickered once more, and then, just like that, they turned off.

The room was completely dark, with the exception of the eerie blue glow coming from the center of it. Tony moved fast, before the backup energy generator kicked in, and threw the case open, along with the cover to the hidden compartment that held the replica. When the lights came back, he was breathing hard, having run back to his previous spot after closing the case again.

-

The next few hours were torture.

He was good at faking interest (One does not go too far into high society without that ability), but having to go over and over his handmade fake scepter and pretending to be fascinated was too much.

Eventually, he let go of the thing, carefully rearranging his features to reveal frustrated disappointment, and turned back to exit the room.

It wasn´t a surprise to find Coulson waiting for him right outside, inspecting him with an amused stare.

"Had fun, Mr. Stark?"

"Do I look like it, Phil?" Tony countered with a tired voice. The corners of Coulson´s lips curled slightly upwards.

"So you infiltrated a secret government facility and illegally messed up with a confidential item, just to find nothing of interest? What a waste of time, I´m sorry to say."

Tony shrugged. "You don´t sound too mad about the whole infiltration thing."

"To be honest, we were expecting it." He cleared his throat. "Are you sure you found nothing, Mr. Stark? I find that hard to believe."

"It´s not… What I thought it´d be." Tony explained, his mind going to the rehearsals he had gone through. "Damned thing works entirely on magic, I could do nothing."

Coulson nodded. "Also expected, but disappointing all the same. Thank you, Mr Stark." And he turned to leave, stopping just before turning around a corner. "However, I feel compelled to warn you that, were you to try this little stunt again, whatever the reason might be, measures would have to be taken."

"Nice measures?" Tony smirked.

"Miss Potts would suddenly find herself the owner of twelve percent of your fortune, and that´s all I´m allowed to say."

"Got it!" Tony´s answer was received by an empty hallway. The billionaire chuckled once, and proceeded to calmly walk back to the exit, even daring to whistle a cheery tune. Even for him, this had been quite a feat.

-

Once outside, he tapped on his radio, calling Thor.

"I got it, big guy. Someone owes me the pleasure of burning that bandana to ashes."

Thor´s laughter through the line was as lighthearted as he felt.

"Good luck with that, my friend. I´m afraid no bet will get my brother to stop mortifying you with his garments."

Tony grinned, and cut the call. He´d drop the damned case in the car, and maybe go pick up some shwarma before going back to the apartment. He had a new toy to take apart, and nothing would stand in his way.

Except perhaps a 70 years old super-soldier.

"Glad to see you so happy." Steve stared down at him, no smile lightening his features. "What exactly did you get, Tony?"

Tony swallowed loudly, forcing out another grin. He was sure none of Thor´s words had been overheard, but he was out of luck in everything else.

"Well, I checked the magic stick. I lied before, I didn´t really have permission, and Thor was betting I´d get caught before I got to it."

"I´m not fond of liars. And you´re not making it any better." Steve sentenced. "What´s in the case?"

"Tools." The answer came immediately, and entirely too fast.

"Really, now?"

Tony looked into Steve´s eyes, and he knew for sure he wasn´t going anywhere without spilling the beans. It was useless. Steve wouldn´t believe any of his half-assed lies, and without the suit (He needed to stop going out without the stupid suit), he was in no state to overpower him.

"Let me call someone." He didn´t wait for the blond´s nod before hooking up Thor in the line again. "Hey mate…"

"Something wrong, Anthony? Weren´t we supposed to meet at the apartment?"

"Yeah… Can you make up some excuse and meet me at the tower instead? Something came up."

On his side of the line, Thor hesitated for a second. "Of course, my friend. I´ll see you there."

Tony hung up, and looked back at Steve, gesturing for the car parked a bit further.

"Well, come on, Cap."

Chapter Text

"Please tell me you´re kidding…" Steve stared at the wall before him, as he had been doing for the past five minutes.

The tension in the room was almost visible, Tony scrunched up in a corner, arms crossed over his chest, while Thor sat next to Steve, his massive hands tangled in his blonde locks, his gaze held to the floor. Every basic explanation had been given, from Odin´s punishment, to the reason they needed the original scepter.

"Friend…"

"Let´s… Break it down." Steve didn´t even notice he had cut Thor´s words. "Why throwing a tantrum over a brother who wasn´t dead?"

"So we would actually believe he was." Tony intervened for Thor´s sake." And before you jump on that, it was necessary. Tell me you wouldn´t have gone and dragged Loki back here, had you known he was alive?"

"Of course I would! The man is an intergalactic terrorist!" He looked at the bigger blond. "Thor, I know he´s your brother, but this is too much… He´s a criminal, and he must be punished."

"He was punished, my friend."

"Being sent back here is most certainly not a punishment! It´s a time out!" At Steve´s words, Thor looked back up, his eyes grim.

"This is only the final part of his punishment, Steve. Trust me when I say he has paid greatly for what he´s done. And now he waits for his execution, for my Father has practically served him in a silver platter to the Chitauri."

Tony raised an eyebrow. None of the brothers had mentioned there had been other punishments. He cleared his throat.

"I know it´s… Morally ambiguous, Steve. But the guy´s your teammate´s brother."

The glare Steve sent him was so cold he had to look away.

"Since when do you care about "Moral ambiguity"? Or teammates, for that matter?"

"Are we going to start with that again?" Tony rolled his eyes, his hands balling into fists, when Thor intervened.

"Anthony has been a most admirable teammate, friend Steve. Even more, he has been a loyal friend, making me realize my mistakes and aiding my brother when he wouldn´t take my help."

Steve shook his head. "Thor, I´m sorry, but…"

"I am not one for begging, Steve, but I could make an exception in this case." The bigger blond sent the other a pleading glance, and Tony was surprised to see he didn´t budge. "My brother has received his penance, from hands skilled in breaking those of our species. His punishments were hard and unforgettable, just like his crime was. His banishment in Midgard mirrors mine, if I´m not mistaken, planned like a time of reflection, more than anything else. It is a shame that he was banned the use of his powers when he would really need them for self-defense."

"Then why not taking his powers in Asgard, where the Chitauri wouldn´t come for him?"

At this, Thor´s glance lowered again. "I am the first to admit we áesir weren´t as fair as we should have, in regard of my brother. While his pranks and tricks were many, and his reputation well earned, he was always treated harsher than anyone else, his royal status often being the only obstacle for the many people who held grudges against him. Disabling his powers and leaving him amongst them would have been… Too much. Even for my Father. Even dealing with my brother."

Silence followed his words, and Tony found himself fidgeting, again in presence of his nemesis; Uncomfortable Silence.

"I must say, Thor. Every time you speak of home, I find myself more and more tempted to never pay a visit." He tried, and Thor smiled back at him.

"Then I recommend not to ask Loki about it, or you will probably be convinced to destroy it." After a lighter silence, they both turned back to Steve, who was still pondering. Finally, he looked up.

"How sure are you that he won´t try anything?"

Thor jumped on the chance like a puppy would a bone.

"I give you my word, friend Steve!"

The blond, however, shook his head again.

"I need to be sure. I want his word." That let both Thor and Tony showing twin, disbelieving faces. "You heard right. Make it happen." And he leaned back into the couch, with an expression so near a smirk that it should never be allowed in Steve Rogers´ facial repertoire.

Tony clicked his tongue, looking at Thor. "You should go warn him, or he´ll think we´re ambushing him, and try to kill us with a spoon when we get there… Actually, maybe it´d be better if you weren´t there… You know, in case he gets riled up?"

Thor considered it for a moment. "We have nothing to hide. If we leave him weakened in purpose, Loki will suspect." He decided, finally.

Tony shrugged. "Your idea, not mine. I´ll meet you there in half an hour, give or take."

Thor raised an eyebrow, puzzled. "Isn´t that too much time?"

Tony grinned. "I don´t know if it works for you, but I´ve found out how to break news to your brother. "he winked an eye. "Any suggestions about the cake?"

Shaking his head, and not worrying to hide his own grin, Thor stepped on the balcony, spinning Mjôlnir. "Stop fattening my brother, Anthony." And off he went.

-

"Where is he?" Tony whispered, Steve stepping soundlessly into the apartment behind him. Thor gestured to the bedroom door.

"Getting dressed. He should be out in a moment."

Tony cleared his throat. "Honey! I brought cake!" And he ducked behind Steve.

He took it as a good sign that he was still alive two seconds later, when Loki´s voice came through the door.

"Are you seriously trying to buy me with food, Stark?" He asked, disdainfully.

Tony offered his best smile. "Will it work?"

"It most certainly won´t." Loki finally emerged, looking unimpressed. "Where is it?" He stopped in his tracks, as soon as he noticed Steve. "Ah, yes. You."

"Good evening, Loki." All in all, this was… Kind of surreal. Standing in one of Tony´s spare flats, holding out a chocolate cake to the unstable alien he´d battled all over the city just some months ago. "I take it you know why I´m here?"

But the weirdest of all, he decided, was how, after a glance past him, to where he knew the kitchen stood, Loki went straight for him, taking the cake from his hands and placing it on the counter, stretching a hand to receive the cake knife Tony offered him.

Only after the first spoonful did the god deign to look at him.

"I do. I would love it if we were to end this as quickly as possible. What are your terms, mortal?"

Or maybe the weirdest of all was how Loki didn´t really seem to mind when Tony took a spoon of his own and swiped a bit off his slice.

Thor he could take. After all, they were family. It was only expected and normal to see the blond stealing part of his little brother´s cake, but Tony…

Since when was Tony this familiar with the Norse prince?

Granted, Tony Stark was not known for his self-preserving sense, but this was a bit too much.

Luckily for him, and probably for everyone else, Steve knew better than to bring the matter out right at that moment. Instead, he blinked rapidly a couple of times, and nodded towards Loki.

"I understand the delicacy of your situation, and the danger you´re in. I´m willing to let you stay here, undercover, if you give me your word that you will not try anything to harm us or humankind."

Loki smirked, the effect somewhat dimmed by the chocolate smudged over his pale lips. "My word? I assume you are not familiar with my Liesmith title."

"I am. The next of my conditions is that you accept to stay under Tony and Thor´s vigilance, and that you help them return the scepter after Tony has finished his research."

"Dear Captain. I am already under their vigilance. Honestly, I can´t seem to get them off me. What change will it bring?"

Steve´s eyes narrowed.

"I wouldn´t be that ungrateful if I were you, Loki. None of us owe you anything. Not even your brother, you tried to kill him just as much, if not even more, than any of us. And here they are, trying to save you from your imminent capture." He added. Loki´s eyes widened a fraction, before narrowing down to hard slits.

"I did not ask for their help."

"And I don´t get why they´re giving it, frankly." Steve countered. "But you have it. Don´t waste it. If I suspect you´re scheming something against us, I swear I´ll turn you in."

Loki sighed dramatically. "So fast to hop on to conclusions… And I thought you were the fair one. How is it that you´re so sure I haven´t reformed?"

"I´ll believe it when I see it. And if it happens, I´ll be glad to apologize and welcome you with open arms." Steve cleared his throat. "I have a responsibility to my country and my world as a whole, and, while I get you have already been judged and sentenced, I think we all know how… Resilient you can be."

He let the implication hanging, before continuing. "I support my colleagues in their intentions of protecting an innocent." He stared right into the god´s green, hard and cold eyes. "Only for as long as you stay innocent. Am I clear?"

Loki held his gaze. The soldier had exposed his terms and his views on the matter. For the first time in centuries, Loki was in presence of someone who not only dared to show open disdain towards him, but presented him with reasons, like it was a matter he could change.

He also felt Thor and Stark tensing at his back, and he knew Steve Rogers would make his promise valid, whether or not his teammates agreed with him.

Perhaps he´d been too fast to judge mortals… Some of them certainly had a spine.

He smirked. "Crystal clear, Captain."

"Then I guess I´m done here. Good evening. Tony, Thor, I´ll see you later." Steve waved them goodbye, hesitating a moment when crossing glances with Loki again, just to answer in kind when the god sent a respectful nod his way.

He waited until the crystal doors of the building closed behind him, to let out a deep breath.

Tony was playing with fire, and he´d get burned, for sure. It couldn´t be his first time. The thing here was that he´d just dragged Steve into it.

-

"I must admit, Stark, your performance was quite satisfactory. Even when you managed to get caught at the end of it." Loki helped himself another slice of cake. The thing was delicious.

"Excuse me! The man saw through my lies! No one else did!"

"And that is why I´m the God of Lies, and not you, mortal."

Tony smirked. "Well, I´m the God of quite a few things myself, I don´t care if you keep that one."

Thor observed the exchange, a pleased smile on his face.

"I was surprised that you managed to get past the Son of Co…" He interrupted himself, when his front pocket emitted a loud ringing noise. He reached in, extracting a cell phone that looked like a toy in his massive hands, and punched a couple of buttons, his brow furrowed.

"Everything all right, big guy?" Tony inquired, stealing another bit of Loki´s cake while he looked at the blond. Really, nothing was as tasty as stolen cake.

Thor nodded. "It turns out I must be on my way to meet with my lady Jane." He looked back up, apologetic. "I´m sorry, my friend, brother."

"Go with your chick, man, we´ll be fine. I´ll be leaving soon too, anyways."Tony dismissed him with a gesture.

Loki looked away pointedly, only acknowledging his brother´s leave with a nod. He cleared his throat, and looked back at Tony.

"Leaving soon too, Stark? I figure that, with your reputation, you must have multiple ladies to meet with" He started, disdainfully.

Tony grinned. "I don´t go meet with ladies, Loks, ladies come and meet with me. " He stretched, his back and shoulders cracking audibly, and Loki fought back a wince. "They can wait."

"I feel honored."

"Your charm never ceases to amaze me."

"I figured as much."

Tony swiped the last piece of Loki´s slice, tempting his luck once again. The god stared at some point behind him, his lips curled around the head of his spoon. One didn´t need to be a genius to notice he was having some kind of mental debate.

"Well, I guess I´ll be going now. I have a feeling Steve will get me for a personalized lecture about this." He stood up, and picked up the scepter´s case, heading for the door. "I´ll be back tomorrow, if I have the time."

"Stark." Loki´s voice got to him when he was just taking a hold of the doorknob. He turned, and sent the god a questioning glance. "I… Recognize you went through a great risk today. Your Captain was right. I don´t know why you´re offering your help either, but…"

Tony held up his free hand, in a stopping motion. "Hey, you don´t have to…" He stopped himself, when Loki looked straight into his eyes. Really, he had to find out how something could be so green.

"Thank you."

The billionaire tightened his grip around the case´s handle, clearing his throat.

"It´s ok." He blurted out. "It´s ok."

-

"Why?"

Tony spun to face Steve, standing in the kitchen´s threshold. "Why what?"

"Why are you doing it?"

Obviously, none would name the matter out loud. Steve, because he cared about keeping it a secret. Tony, because he didn´t want to think about it.

"Thor needed help. I figured it couldn´t hurt."

"Is that all?"

He could feel Steve´s eyes searching his, and he kept them purposely unfocused.

"What else could it be?"

Steve shook his head, turning to leave.

"This is going to blow up in your face, Tony."

And Tony stayed there, alone in the semi-darkness of the kitchen, still as a statue.

"I know."

And really…

Did he even care?

Chapter Text

"Ok now, get closer." Tony instructed, eyes fixated on the small device cradled in his hands.

Loki gripped the scepter, rolling his eyes. "I´m getting really tired of dancing back and forth, Stark."

"Well, I´m getting pretty tired myself, this is certainly not the kind of dance I´m used to."

"Yes, I can imagine." Loki smirked. "Now…" And he took a couple steps forward, stopping dead on his tracks when the device beeped loudly.

They stared at each other, and slowly, Loki dropped the scepter on the couch, and took another step. The device stayed silent, even when he cracked a few sparks between his fingers.

Slower still, like this was a ritual any hurried movement could destroy; he reached behind him and held the scepter again, bringing it close to his chest.

The device beeped again.

The silence stretched more and more, both of them looking at Tony´s cradling hands. Finally, the billionaire let a smile spread across his features.

"I think now´s when you break down crying and thank me profusely." He said. Loki huffed, an amused spark in his eyes, and fell back against the couch.

For nearly three weeks now, Stark had appeared in his apartment whenever he had the chance, with the scepter, and spent the following four or five hours tinkering with his tools and machines, while Loki stayed around, reading, playing with his phone, and answering the magic-related questions he sometimes threw his way.

Long into the evening, and usually after a hungry cry from his own stomach, Loki would get up and either put something together, or -after having received a basic lesson on telephonic etiquette- call for take-out.

He´d serve to plates, place one on the coffee table next to Stark´s working station, and go back to his spot. They would eat mostly in silence, until Stark´s phone roared, demanding attention. From the answers he gave, Loki had assumed the calls came from either his soldier or his red-headed maid, and Stark left soon after, taking the scepter with him. Loki had never asked to guard it, knowing it was futile.

The progress had been slow and frustrating. At first, the device beeped every time Loki got close, even without the scepter, and both Stark and Thor had taken to follow him around with the hysterically beeping machine, just to annoy him.

Some days later, the wire and metal contraption had fallen silent, and no matter how many minor and major spells Loki casted around it, or how close to the scepter it was, the silence had lasted until that very day.

"I could very well do that, for this means I won´t have to keep feeding you."

"Said the guy who ate two chicken buckets on his own." Tony grinned, stretching soundly on the sofa.

"… It had an interesting taste." Loki excused himself. He had indeed found that he had a soft spot for Midgardian food, but Stark didn´t need to know that any more than he already did.

"Sure it did." And here, Tony checked his phone´s screen. He was an hour early for Steve´s paranoid call. Without a word, he started picking his tools, placing them back in their cases. Swirling slowly, like a lazily removed coffee, an idea had started shaping in his mind, as he gathered each piece. "I´ll bring it back finished tomorrow." He announced, cracking his back one final time, and casting a look around to locate his somewhat reluctant host.

He found Loki standing in the kitchen, holding a take-out menu that he threw back in its drawer, as soon as he caught him looking.

"Fine." The god answered, after a little pause.

Tony stayed on his spot, for once not caring how his Nemesis took over the place. He was kind of busy at the time to worry about an awkward silence.

He looked around at the apartment.

The armchair Loki used to occupy was surrounded by such an impressive collection of books that it nearly surpassed the chair´s height itself. The kitchen looked well stocked, and the drawer holding the take-out menus remained slightly open. Asides from that, everything else in the flat was untouched.

He felt a lump forming in his throat, as his mind assigned his current state to the term `emotionally confused´. Out of all things, it was Loki´s voice that brought him back.

"Stark, I´d rather like it if you left my apartment, if your business here is done. I will see you tomorrow." Loki closed the drawer with a well-aimed hip push, and crossed his arms over his chest.

Tony cleared his throat, and forced out a smile, putting the cases down on the carpeted floor. His smile became a grin when one of Loki´s eyebrows arched questioningly.

"Don´t know about you, but I think this calls for a drink, Loks." And, once more kicking self-preservation sense in the groin, he crossed the space between them in three wide steps, and dragged the Norse with him.

-

Now that he looked back at it, Tony thought he shouldn´t have been surprised about the unholy quantity of alcohol needed to inebriate Loki. The guy had grown in As-land-of-mead-gard, after all.

What should have surprised him way more than it did, was how happy of a drunk Loki made.

Really, the guy had smiled so hard and so long that Tony thought he´d surely be sore the next morning. And he had finally understood the `Trickster´ moniker.

No matter how simple or stupid the prank, it seemed that Loki had a physical need to make it. He´d used his weakened magic to switch people´s beverages, twist the lyrics in the singer´s mind, and finally changing all the alcohol in the bar into hot sauce. Compared to those, the bird thing had been a masterpiece, Tony had to admit.

-

Next morning, Tony walked inside the apartment behind Thor, checking his watch, and failing to notice the god had stopped right after crossing the threshold. He huffed angrily when the Thor didn´t move an inch after he bumped into him.

"Thor? What´s wrong?"

As an answer, the blond pointed to the longest couch in the living room. Limp and immobile, a still booted foot hung from the arm.

Tony felt every muscle in his body tensing like a rubber band, and passed a thumb over his wrist to make sure he was wearing the bracelet that would call him the emergency suit he had hid in the apartment. His mind raced inside his head, reassuring him that yes, Loki had been just fine when he had left him the night before, and that he had absolutely secured the door before leaving, and just what the hell was happening?

Thor´s hands balled into fists, and he walked to the couch, Tony following right after. They looked over the back, expecting to find a mutilated corpse, bearing the signs of a Chitauri attack.

Instead, they found Loki, dressed in the same clothes he had the day before, only much more rumpled. The leg that wasn´t handing over the couch´s arm had toppled over to the floor, bending awkwardly, and his arm rested across his face, shielding his eyes against the window´s light.

"…Loki?" Thor reached to touch him, and the sorcerer lazily batted his hand away, turning on the spot, and muttering something in a language Tony had never heard before.

"What was that?" He asked, and Thor turned to look at him with an equally puzzled look.

"He just basically ordered me to leave his chambers, and fetch him a maid…"

Slowly, understanding rained over him, and Tony cracked a grin. "He´s hung-over."

"Hung-over?"

"I´m sure you have a term for that… Drinking too much, and next day it feels like someone´s bashing your head against a wall?"

Thor didn´t exactly blush, but his cheeks darkened, and his lips twitched into a smile.

"We used to say we were… Indisposed."

Tony let out a short laugh. "What, the court didn´t need to know?"

Thor nodded, before looking at the fallen god again.

"Did you take my brother drinking, Anthony?" He questioned, and Tony shrugged.

"We had to celebrate." He answered, holding the small, packaged device at eye level. "The guy sure can drink."

"Aye. But I have found Midgardian alcohol to not bode well with our systems. The quantity needed to inebriate us is often harmful." He explained. "What did you give him?"

"Well, everything. As you said, he just wouldn´t get drunk." Tony admitted, slightly ashamed of himself. (Only not really, because this was Tony Stark here) "Even the bartender was amazed."

Loki stirred in his sleep, and when they looked, there was a single, bloodshot eye glaring at them.

"Shut up." Loki croaked, before turning again. "Morons…" He added, his voice muffled by the cushions.

Tony couldn´t help it; he laughed again, this time pressing a hand to his mouth to stifle the sound. Glancing sideways, he noticed his situation mirrored Thor´s, and he tapped the god´s shoulder, pointing him to the open door to the hallway.

"I must admit I feel guilty, having fun at the expense of my brother´s disgrace." Thor managed, between barks of laughter, and really, he didn´t seem too guilty.

"Tell me. I thought he was above such pitiful conditions" Tony replied, mimicking Loki´s tone for the last part. He took a deep breath, letting laughter die in his throat. "Look" He started again, still grinning like a madman. "I know a bar close by that makes one hell of a hang-over remedy. Real coconut milk and all that stuff. I´ll go get it, you go back in there and… Fix your brother, or something."

Thor sighed. "That is exactly what I have been trying to do, my friend." At this, Tony laughed again.

"Focus on the matter at hand, mate." And he left.

-

He got back just half an hour later. The remedies were still cold in his hand, and he´d picked up some fast-food on his way.

He wondered if Loki would already have gotten annoyed and turned Thor into a sheep or something like that, and he hoped no. He wasn´t in the mood to explain that one to Steve.

He pushed the door open, making as little sound as possible, and he found the apartment considerably darker, the drapes shut tightly over the windows. Thor had also dragged a blanked to the couch, and Loki´s boots now rested on the floor. Over the couch´s back, Thor´s broad shoulders towered a bit to the side, one arm stretched over it.

Tony left the bags on the kitchen counter, and looked over his shoulders, to get a better look at the gods. First thing he noticed was that Loki was in deep sleep, way deeper than when he´d left. He got to that conclusion less from his even breaths and relaxed expression, and more from the way his head rested on Thor´s lap.

A sad smile pulled at his lips, and he let Thor have his moment. It would be over as soon as Loki woke up. He focused on arranging the food on a plate, and moving the remedies into the fridge, save for one. He turned again, and found that Thor was looking questioningly at him. He nodded, and watched as the blond whispered a single "Loki".

Loki stirred immediately, his brow furrowing.

"Urgh… Be silent…" His voice faded as he went on, and it was only from the way Thor´s face lit up did Tony guess that the last, incoherent word that had escaped Loki´s lips had been `Brother´.

"Wake up. Anthony has brought something to lessen your ailment."

Loki groaned, waking by the moment. "Considering this is his fault, it´s the least he could do." He managed to rise to a sitting position, and doubled over just as soon, his hands flying to clutch his head. "How could anyone enjoy this?"

Tony walked over, holding the plastic cup like a shield, and smiling, still delighted with the god´s suffering. "You did seem to enjoy it last night." He risked, earning another glare.

"I was not in my right mind, and you know it."

"You have a right mind?"

"Do shut up, Stark, and hand me that concoction of yours." He snatched the glass from Tony´s hand, and downed it in one gulp. Tony studied his face, as he received the cup back.

"Let me guess… Interesting taste?"

Loki glared at him, though there was a smirk pulling at the corner of his mouth. "How come you don´t share my condition, mortal?"

"It is a secondary effect of focusing on inebriating someone, brother, you don´t get the chance to have fun yourself." Thor answered for him. Loki´s eyebrow arched, his smirk vanishing, and he looked back at him.

"Ah, yes… I had forgotten you were here. Why are you even here?"

Tony frowned at Thor´s resigned look.

"Steve was right, you´re kind of an ungrateful little shit."

"I´m not in the mood, Stark." And he stood from the couch, storming into the bedroom.

Tony crossed glances with Thor. His friend seemed part ashamed, part saddened and all resigned. Tony cleared his throat, and motioned to where Loki had disappeared, mouthing a silent `wait here´.

-

He thanked his lack of common sense as he crossed the apartment, and closed the bedroom´s door at his back. He found Loki bundled up in sheets, back turned to the window, and head buried under a pillow.

"Get off, Stark. I already recognized your efforts, but I won´t allow you to goad into my vulnerability."

"I didn´t mean me, you idiot." Tony crossed his arms, frowning deeper. "Do you even realize who´s been patrolling the whole block since you spotted the first Chitauri?"

"Nobody asked him to."

Tony rolled his eyes.

"Loks, when someone loves you, they don´t need to be asked." It was so cheesy a phrase that he winced internally right after saying it, and yet he knew it to be true. Rhodey, Pepper and even Happy were all an example. He was a complete bastard to all of them, and yet they were always looking out for him, without him even needing to say a word. Tony Stark doubted of his ability to experience love, but he didn´t doubt of its existence. He just deemed it idiotic and unreasonable. His eyes focused on Loki again, who hadn´t said a word. "If I were you, I´d be a bit more careful. Someday you´re going to hit so hard, he´s not going to come back."

"What if that is exactly what I want?" Loki´s voice was a poisonous hiss coming from under the sheets.

"You keep saying that to yourself. People like you and me, we´re lucky to have someone that we just can´t chase away." He backed away to the door, turning the knob silently. "You won´t like it when you´re all alone, I can say that much."

"You sound way too convinced, Stark."

Tony smirked bitterly.

"Someone once told me we´re alike." He confessed. He had to swallow the lump that had formed in his throat before continuing. "We just need a reason to be better. I found my reason in a cave. I changed. And this "good" business sucks, really. It´s hard and boring, and it costs way more than it´s worth. But at the end of the day, you realize some people believe in you, and you don´t feel as disgusted with yourself as you did before."

"I can´t change. There are no such people for me. There never were."

"You´re alive, aren´t you? That means there are people who have that faith in you, ridiculous as it may sound. I say that´s enough of a reason." He turned to leave. "Think about it, Loks. What would you be without them?"

There was a dry bark of laughter, and Tony waited in his spot. "They have no faith in me. They hope their mistake can still be fixed and forgotten."

"Hey, I figure you had your own mistakes, man." He looked at him over his shoulder. "And here I am, putting up with your shit."

"Yes, why is that?"

Tony shrugged, knowing Loki wasn´t looking his way. "I like challenges."

And before the god could lure him further, he stepped out of the room and closed the door.

-

Thor was still standing in the middle of the room, curious. Tony shook his head, and they both headed out.

They drove back to the tower, and parked the car in the underground garage. He looked sideways at Thor. He could tell the Norse had been wanting to say something since they had left the apartment, but he had kept quiet, and he had this troubled look that was absolutely pitiful. Tony sighed.

"What is it?" He asked, hoping not to sound as dreadful as he felt. He knew what was coming, and he knew it had to be him. Whether he liked it or not, he´d gotten way too involved in the brother´s conflict.

"I don´t wish to trouble you, Anthony. You have gone well beyond what was required of you." The god fumbled. "And you did mention your dislike towards discussing feelings."

"I´m willing to suck it up this time, Thor." The god still seemed hesitant. "Now or never, buddy, choose."

Thor let out an amused chuckle, and nodded.

"I must admit I´ve been wishing to ask you. You seem to have found your way around my brother."

Tony shrugged. "I deal with stuck up assholes on a `Whenever Pepper makes me do it´ basis. I´m not easily affected by douchebags." He fidgeted a bit. "I thought you two were fixing it up, though."

"I fear there is just too much to fix…"

"What happened? I asked before, I know. But I´m too involved in this, and sometimes I say stuff and he looks like he wants to chop my tongue off and feed it to me, and I don´t even know what I said or did."

"You have earned the right to know, but it´s a long tale, the one you ask for."

"Then I suggest we move on to somewhere more comfortable."

They did, finally settling in the living room. The tower was nearly empty and, as they agreed, with everyone thinking Loki dead, no one would suspect of Thor telling his story. They would probably chart it to one of the extremely infrequent teammate bonding moments.

Tony fixed them both a drink, and Thor made himself comfortable on one of the big armchairs, taking a swig of his glass before starting.

He spoke for hours. First, there was a little explanation about Asgardian culture, traditions and roles that Tony, always curious, found particularly interesting.

Then he went on, explaining the war against Jotunheim, the lives lost. The massacre in the enemy realm, and how his Father had taken two things from it; the first for everyone to see, the heart of Jotunheim, the Casket of Ancient Winters. The second one he smuggled under his cloak, and presented as his own. No one questioned, and no one ever found out. If anyone suspected their odd little prince to be different, they kept it to themselves.

He explained how he and his brother had been raised as equals, both tempted by the crown promised by Odin, and how the differences started only much later, when it became clear that Loki was no common áesir. Always favoring magic and tricks over honest battle, always looking forward to defy every rule he was imposed, if only for his own amusement. He spoke about unheard sides of the sties Tony had read, about his unfinished coronation, his exile, and what happened meanwhile in his home realm. He admitted he could only trust his parents on that part, as he had not been present when Loki had found out about his true heritage, and how guilty he felt about it, for he was sure that, had he been there, the outcome would have been much different.

Tony stayed mostly silent, slipping a comment here and there ("I can´t believe the crossdressing story is real.", "He basically double-crossed himself in there.", "I need to tease him about the horse.", "Did your father really think that was the best thing to say in there?")until Thor finished, and he let out an impressed whistle.

"Ok… Those are issues."

"Not nearly enough, if you ask me." They would later deny it, say it was an exaggeration, but the truth was they both jumped two feet in the air when Steve´s voice came from behind them.

Tony turned in his seat to glare at him. "You NEED to stop appearing like that."

Steve smiled. "You seemed far too busy to notice me standing here, it would have been rude to interrupt."

"Sure…"

Steve ignored Tony´s glare, and took a seat on one of the remaining couches, fixing his gaze on Thor.

"I think the issue here is actually clear." He started. "Your people taught Loki to hate his kind, and to think of himself as clashing and unworthy. When he found out he was indeed different, it was only logical that his doubts morphed into self-hatred, fueled by the culture-induced disdain towards Frost Giants." He looked at Tony, as if expecting a confirmation, only to find him staring like he´d discovered a bug on the windshield of one of his expensive cars.

"I was going to say Asgard is full of bastards, Captain Psychoanalysis."

The blond huffed, shaking his head in annoyance. "No one is entirely blameless, Tony. He taught himself how to hate. Thor was always there for him…"

"The hell he was! Didn´t you hear why he was banished? No offense, man, but you were kind of a bastard too." He added, sparing the bigger blond a quick glance.

"That doesn´t mean he wasn´t there. If that had been the case, then Loki wouldn´t have cared for him. He wouldn´t have stopped the coronation. He wouldn´t have left for Jotunheim with him. Thor´s right, if he´d been there…"

"Why then is he so reluctant of my presence now?"

More than his words, it was his saddened voice what shut both Steve and Tony.

"I… Don´t know, Thor. I´m sorry…" Steve looked really at loss.

Tony, instead, stroked his chin, thoughtful.

"Maybe Captain Spandex is onto something there…" He muttered. He looked up to see both blonds staring at him. "What?"

Steve raised an eyebrow. "You know very well `what´."

The billionaire ran a hand through his hair. "Do you even know how taxing it is, to be some selfish, self-destructive asshole´s comforting shoulder?"

"No, but I think you should give Pepper a rise, then."

Tony couldn´t help a laugh, as he stood up.

"Well played, Steve… Well played."

The blonds fell into silence, as Tony´s footsteps faded in the distance.

"I shouldn´t be using Anthony like this…" Thor started.

"He got himself involved. I think it´s nice that he wants to help, for a change." Steve replied. Thor eyed him suspiciously.

"But you are worried."

"Of course I am."

"And so am I, my friend. But I am afraid it´s a risk I am willing to take."

"I just hope you´re right, Thor."

Chapter Text

Stark´s words still echoed in his Mind from time to time, and it had been nearly a week since he´d seen anyone. He spent his days holed up in the apartment, waiting for his former allies to show up.

His books didn´t offer him entertainment anymore, and the same could be said for every other good in the flat. He ignored the temptation of going out by reminding himself of the risk it implied.

So he sat on the corner of his bedroom, and thought.

As much as he despised the directions his mind took, there was no way to stop it. His routine consisted of a few intertwined acts; getting food, going back to his corner until he found himself hungry again, and showering under two minutes, before daring to sleep, hoping he´d still be in Midgard in the morning.

He didn´t sleep much. If he hated the paths his mind strode over in consciousness, his sleep was plagued with nightmares that made his reluctant contemplation time much more desirable.

His corner was where Stark found him later. He had heard the footsteps, and prepared for the worst, gripping his sphere tightly and determined to take some Chitauri with him, when the mortal´s beardy, concerned face poked through the door, searching the room

The knot in his stomach loosened, and he fixed his gaze on him, until he felt observed, and his eyes squinted when he peered into the darkness.

"Is that you in there, Loks?

"What are you doing here?" And it was a sincere question.

"Ehm… Checking on you? Thor took a break to visit Jane."

"And he passed the baton, I see."

"Not really…" He turned the lights on, and noticed the way Loki flinched at the sudden brightness. "But well, I hadn´t heard of you in days, and I forgot to give you this."

Loki looked up to see him holding a small package. After Stark beckoned him to, he stood up from his spot and walked over. The mortal took a seat on his bed, forcing him to do the same. The god´s eyes fixed themselves on the small box, as Stark opened it to reveal… A leather wristband.

"Stark… Why are you giving me accessories?" He asked, arching a brow.

"How come you were the `smart´ prince up there?" Tony bumped him softly on the back of the head, earning a half assed glare. Then, he took the wristband between two fingers, and turned it. There was a compass-looking gadget encrusted in the leather. He let go of the strap when pale fingers went to graze it. "The detector is underneath. The compass is wired to it, it´ll tell you where the magic is coming from."

"Clever" Was the only thing Loki uttered, as he examined the band curiously.

"I prefer `genius´ " Tony shrugged. "You´ll have a bit more freedom this way."

"Is your captain comfortable with you giving me `a bit more freedom´, Stark? Or are you doing it at his back?"

Tony shook his head lightly. "None of them. Steve´s a dreamer. He wants us to introduce you to Earth living, I don´t have a clue of what he´s expecting, but I did promise I would watch out for you when you were having tour freedom time." He smirked. "But I´m a busy person."

"Yes, I´m sure…" He held the leather band in his hand, twisting and pulling it lightly, as if to test the material. Tony watched him out of the corner of an eye, feeling a knowing smile tug at his lips. This was completely priceless…

"Why are you doing this?" The god´s lips barely moved to voice his question. He kept looking forward, expecting an answer.

"Again, Loks? I don´t like repeating myself, I like challenges, that´s it." Tony nearly flinched when Loki turned his head to him so fast he was sure something must have snapped.

He was starting to get used to the stomach-pull feeling that came with being watched with those eyes, but seeing them so close was still a surprise. They were slightly narrowed, as they scanned him over once before nailing themselves to his.

"How much?"

Tony forced himself to smile, despite the solemnity the taller one radiated. "Just enough."

Loki´s expression softened somewhat. "We´ll see."

Before Tony could ask what he meant, he pushed the wristband against his chest, at the same time presenting him with his left hand, his sleeve pulling back to reveal what Tony thought of a sickeningly pale wrist.

"You need a tanning session, Loks." Tony smirked, as he pulled the band open, and wrapped it around the limb in question.

"You keep calling me that." It wasn´t even a question.

"Does it bother you? I´m not stopping."

"Not really." Loki let the matter slide, already distracted with more important matters, as it seemed. "Thor…"

Tony arched an eyebrow when the god´s voice broke, and decided to take pity on him.

"He just wanted to see his girl. Don´t over think it."

They sat like that for what seemed like an eternity, although it probably was just a couple of minutes.

As the mood became heavier, Tony prayed to whatever gods there were that Pepper didn´t choose that moment to call. Judging by the tension he saw in Loki´s hands, the man would probably fling himself through a wall with any sudden noises.

"I don´t need help."

There it was. That was the opening Tony had been instructed to wait for, his cue to go in and try fixing his teammate´s fucked up brother, to pretend he was not just as fucked up as him. He had prepared more than five comebacks to start a deep conversation, he was ready.

He panicked.

"Good, this time I need yours, for a change." His cheery (if somewhat strangled) voice broke the tension in the air, and he breathed deeply, relieved. Loki stared at him, confused.

"What?"

"The scepter. We have to… You know."

"Get it back, yes." Loki nodded, catching up. "How long do you think we have?"

"My copy´s perfect." Tony grinned proudly to himself. "But Steve won´t let me alone until we get it done, so…"

"This is why I work on my own. Companions are an ungrateful nuisance."

"Am I sensing a grudge there, Loki?" Tony rubbed his hands. "So? Are you free today? No board meetings?" He asked, teasingly.

"No, Stark. I´m an incredibly busy person, and I can´t just change my schedule for you."

Tony smirked.

"I´m sure your meeting with insufferable loneliness can wait, though."

"I had arranged a date with the bathtub, actually." Loki smirked back. "I have found her to be a marvelous company."

"I don´t know whether you´re trying to make me picture you naked or just didn´t want to say you were going back to the corner, but that was the saddest sentence ever said in regard to a date. Or a bath. Or anything."

Loki arched an eyebrow, doing a paper-thin impression of innocence. "Why would I ever want that?"

-

Pepper flipped through her stacked papers, thanking JARVIS for opening the door into Tony´s penthouse for her.

She sighed internally, she had to get him to sign multiple forms and permissions, and then somehow convince him that it was completely indispensable that he attended to some meeting that no, wouldn´t be boring at all.

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught the blink of a screen, and went to deposit the paper stack on the lonely desk on the edge of the room.

"… last time I was there, there were agents everywhere. I even bumped into Coulson. Any ideas?" Pepper winced at Tony´s words. Her boss was apparently planning another of his unorthodox escapades.

"An invisibility spell is not that hard. I can manage one even with Thor this far from here." However, she was not expecting the cold, slightly arrogant voice that spoke back.

She spun on her spot quickly, her pointy heels nearly digging a hole in the carpet. There they were, Tony had an arm extended towards the holographic screen, showing someplace´s blueprints. Next to him on the couch, she found Loki, staring at the projections with apparent interest.

As if sensing her gaze, the Norse turned to frown back at her, before nudging Tony with an elbow.

"Your maid´s staring at me."

At this, Tony turned, and frowned too.

"Don´t call her that." And he motioned at her to come closer, which she did only after much hesitation.

"Ah, I see. Your woman, then." Loki corrected himself, seemingly enjoying the way Tony´s shoulders sank lightly at the comment. Pepper spared him a cold glance, his grin clear from where she had her face to him.

"Jealous, Lokis?" Tony managed to smirk. "I´m sure your bathtub still loves you, though."

"Can we go on?"

"Why is he here, Tony?"

Both questions came at the same time, equally cold and demanding. Tony gave each a glance, and was surprised to see he hadn´t burst into flames just from being between them.

"He´s helping me with something, Peps." He offered. Pepper just arched an eyebrow, disapprovingly. "Steve´s orders?" Tony fought not to fidget under her gaze.

"As far as I know, this is not any of your business, woman. You´d do well to leave us alone." Loki intervened, not even acknowledging the way Pepper turned to look at him. Tony, however, trembled at the charming smile that spread across the redhead´s lips.

"As you wish, Mr. Laufeyson." And, just like hat, she turned and left the room, the clatter of her heels the only sound left behind. Tony was pretty sure that if he asked JARVIS to check the state of Loki´s account right now, it´d already be completely empty. He´d had to check later, to make sure she didn´t have his apartment seized.

He turned to look at Loki, finding him livid with rage, and paler than usual.

"Loki? Don´t kill my assistant."

"She…" The god started, his voice hoarse. "She has guts, this woman of yours."

Tony gave his arm a lazy slap, not in the mood for anything else.

"She´s not my woman, either."

"Not your woman, not your servant… What is she, then?" Loki watched as Tony rubbed his eyes with his pointer finger and thumb.

"She´s a friend." He muttered.

He had nothing left to say, and so he didn´t add anything. He focused his eyes on the holographic blueprints, his hands itching for something to grab.

"I´m sorry."

He would later have to check the footage to be reassured he hadn´t been hallucinating, for when he looked, Loki hadn´t moved an inch, and he gave no sign of having spoken.

He was about to ask whether he was sorry for bringing the matter up, for mocking him about it, or if he somehow knew his current situation with Pepper had been a consequence of his world-dominating shenanigans in New York, but he didn´t. He had avoided feeling-talk about Loki, and he wasn´t about to get involved in feeling-talk about himself.

"How long will your spell cover us?"

-

It rained that night.

It was a common, natural, not god-of-thunder-induced rain, picking up strength at times, and weakening just right after, drowning the apartment in soft clatter noises.

Loki fixed himself something for dinner, and, feeling oddly at ease, he pushed the one he now deemed as his "reading sofa" near the window.

He sat quietly, turning on just a tall lamp he placed next to the sofa, and letting the rest of the apartment darken gradually. As he dined in silence, he found himself the only inhabitant of a small island of light, and smiled. He was still a wanted criminal. He was still a runaway. His life still hung by a thread,

But right at that moment, everything was perfect.

His phone beeped in his pocked, and he pulled it out, touching the screen to bring it to life.

It was a text message, apparently. He tapped on the button, waiting for it to appear.

"Be safe tomorrow, brother"

He stared at the screen, unblinking, until his eyes burned, and he let his head fall against the back of the sofa, ignoring the way his chest got heavier.

Looking back down, he typed reply after reply, each one more stupid than the one before. It seemed his Silvertongue applied only to verbal matters.

Sighing internally, he went on with the one thought on the front of his mind.

-

Many miles away, Thor looked through the window in similar fashion. The room was only illuminated by the shining screen of his phone, the sky outside still dark from the storm he´d created.

Just as the device´s light dimmed softly, it sprung back in full force, signaling an incoming message. He picked up the small gadget, and placed it back a just a moment later.

Next to him, covered only in a light sheet, Jane glanced dizzily at him.

"Is something wrong?" She whispered, voice dampened in sleep.

Thor cleared his throat, smiling. He cradled the small woman in his arms, and kissed her forehead.

"All is fine, love." And he leaned back down, his lady in arms, letting sleep take over him. On the nightstand, the phone dimmed gradually again, a single sentence in its screen.

"I fear I will never understand you, Thor".

Chapter Text

"This tickles." Tony stared at his hands, moving and flexing the fingers as if to make sure they were still there. "Should it tickle?"

"Tickles as it would if you had fallen asleep on it?"

"Exactly."

"That means I made a mistake and you are going to die in a moment, if you don´t stop asking stupid questions." Loki answered, not bothering to look while he inspected the door to the facility. "I didn´t take you for a coward, Stark."

"Yeah? Well, wear my suit, and let´s see how comfortable you are."

"Isn´t it filled with weapons?"

"… Right. Well, you can wear the prototype. In fact, that could be funnier."

"There." Loki pointed to a corner of the building, and Tony pressed himself against the wall, falling silent; the spell wouldn't shield them from contact, nor hide their sounds. Surely enough, two agents doubled the corner, presented an ID to the lector, and walked in talking about the increase in coffee prices, all the while completely unaware that two others had slipped in with them.

They stopped just crossing the threshold, waiting for the agents to walk ahead.

"What now? Loki whispered.

Tony smiled broadly, already pumping adrenaline.

"This way. Careful, sweetcheeks." He went to take a step, and ended up jumping a couple of feet, when the god´s fist crashed between his shoulders. "What the…?"

"No."

Tony rolled his eyes. "Fine. Careful, Loks." He emphasized the last word.

"Better. There´s a limit, Stark."

"I live to break those." Tony smiled one last time, before heading forward again. They moved in silence, Tony signaling the way, and Loki tapping his shoulder whenever his enhanced senses warned him that they´d bump into someone. Tony was fascinated. Given enough time, he could mimic this; create a device that shielded him from cameras, from sensors. But this was different. He was there, but he wasn´t. He could do whatever he wanted, and come out unscathed. He suppressed a shiver, remembering he was witnessing just a minimal fraction of Loki´s abilities. No wonder why this guy had fallen so hard, with so much power.

"Here…" Just like the last time, the door slid soundlessly without any alarm, and Tony took it as yet another sign that he had done an amazing job with the copy. "Ready, Loks?"

Next to him, Loki nodded, before turning his wrist, and nod again.

"What did you do?"

"Another illusion. The cameras watching a room that looks exactly like this one, but doesn´t exist." The god explained. "Hurry up."

Tony pulled the case open, and Loki watched him hold the real scepter.

His hands itched; It would be so easy…. Overpowering the weak mortal, and just outside the door, there were dozens of trained humans he could use. He clenched his fists.

"Done." Tony whispered, closing the case again, and turning back to Loki, just to find him looking pointedly to the side, shoulders tense and hands balled. "Loki?"

The god met his gaze. "Let´s go, then." And he left the room so suddenly one would have thought he´d seen a ghost. Except he probably had, Tony thought, sorcerer business and everything. Well, he turned so fast one would have thought Thor was charging at him with his arms open for a hug. Yep, Tony thought. He´d probably run from tha…

"Stark! Move!"

"Coming!" He whispered back at Loki´s hiss. The door slid again behind him, and they resumed the walk back. This time, however, Loki led them carefully. It seemed there were far more agents roaming the building now.

"Loki, this is a closed hall." Tony muttered, when Loki pushed him against the wall.

"Your observation capacity is amazing, Stark." The taller one grunted. "There was a group coming from…" He cut himself, and Tony watched him frown.

"L…" As soon as his voice started emerging from his mouth, a pale hand was soundlessly slapped over his lips. Tony looked ahead, following the god´s eyes.

Coulson was standing at the entrance of the hall.

Looking. Directly. At. Them.

He looked at Loki again, alarmed, and his hopes fell when he saw his confusion mirrored in his face. They were so screwed…

Coulson walked towards them, his arms swinging freely; if they were to try and slip past him, he´d surely graze them.

Tony acted on instinct; he pulled the shocked god, and pushed him behind himself, against the wall. He could explain it, if Coulson found him, even invisible. He´d wave it off as a new camouflage feature he was testing for the suit. He could have Pepper save him from the agent. But Loki was something that definitively couldn´t be explained.

Meanwhile, Loki watched the human shielding him with his pathetically frail body, and as the agent stretched a hand to touch the space before him, he dug in his pocket, and clenched the sphere. He´d teleport them both out; he´d have plenty of time to recharge it. The man´s fingers were just an inch away from grazing Stark´s chin…

"Phil?" When a voice echoed through the hall, and the soldier´s blond head poked out of the corner. "What are you doing?"

That was enough. The man turned to look at him, and Loki pushed hard on Stark´s shoulder, crouching next to him.

"Just checking something, Steve." He answered, and turned back. His hand shot forward again, sweeping the air in a fluid motion, and a hesitant expression took over his face, when he leaned to touch the wall and met no obstacles. He turned back to the soldier. "It wasn´t anything, I´m sorry." And he walked back to him. "What were you saying?"

"About the mayor´s party… I was wondering if we really have to assist…" The soldier placed a hand on his shoulder, and that seemed to be enough to drive him away. Before he disappeared behind the corner, however, the soldier looked back at where they crouched, and Loki allowed them to flicker back in sight, for less than a second. The soldier nodded, and kept going.

"Let´s not do that again." Stark whispered."

"I agree."

-

They made the rest of the path hurriedly, and in silence, but they had to stop to wait for someone that opened the doors for them.

Tony wanted to cry, when Steve showed up again. He tapped his shoulder when he walked past them.

"Let us out." He whispered.

Steve gave no indications of having heard, and he presented his guest ID to the lector. When he was just going out, he looked down, and kneeled on the floor to readjust his perfectly tied shoelace.

Tony pulled Loki out, and whispered a hushed "Done" that prompted Steve to leave his shoe alone, and pull the door closed behind him. He walked in silence, not addressing them until he reached the car he´d obviously borrowed from the tower.

"Give us a ride?" He nodded at Tony´s request, and gestured vaguely down the street.

Climbing into the car, he drove up to where he knew S.H.I.E.L.D.´s cameras were no longer watching them, and he opened the passenger´s door. The seat sank a bit, and the lock of the back door flipped open by itself, just like the door. He kicked the engine on again, after it closed, and drove again, fighting the flinch that threatened to overcome him when both a playboy billionaire and a Norse god were suddenly sharing car with him.

"You´re a goddamned angel, Steve." Tony rubbed his face, before throwing the fake scepter´s case into the backseat. "What were you even doing in there?"

Steve smiled. "Thor told me you were doing it today. I thought it´d be a good idea to keep Phil busy. I don´t have a clue how he noticed something was going on, it was actually him who ordered some men to patrol the halls."

"Agent senses." Tony declared, before breaking into a grin. "Well, we´re officially done."

"That´s good." Steve smiled. The Avengers mansion was already within sight, and Tony looked over his shoulder, opening his mouth to speak.

"I´m not drinking with you again, Stark. Don´t even mention it." Far from offended by the god´s answer to his non-spoke invitation, Tony smirked and looked back ahead.

"Why are we heading into your quarters?" Loki asked, suspicious, when Steve drove into the entrance to the underground parking lot.

"We have to talk." The blond announced, finding the twin grimace that took place in both Loki and Tony´s face to be quite amusing. "Sorry. We really have to."

-

Thor smiled. Loki hadn´t acknowledged his presence in the room, not even with a glare. In fact, he had pointedly ignored him since crossing glances with him when he entered. Apparently, he was ashamed about answering his message last night.

"I take it you fulfilled your mission successfully?" He asked Tony.

"Well, we cut it a bit too close with Coulson, but yeah, we did it."

"Marvelous."

"What is this thing you had o tell us, Captain?" Loki intervened. He wanted to go back to the small flat he´d reluctantly started to think of as `home. Steve´s calmed expression faded, replaced by a solemn one.

"It´s something Phil told me…"

"He finally asked you to sign his Captain America underwear, right?" Tony held Steve´s annoyed glance for as long as he could. "No one can take a joke."

The blond shook his head, before looking directly at Loki

"They caught a Chitauri."

It was as if someone had paused time in the room. No one moved, and no one made a sound. Tony watched as all color drained from Loki´s face, and finally decided someone had to say something.

"How did it happen?" He looked at Steve.

"There was another sighting. Only this time it was too slow, and someone hurt it. It kept still long enough for it to be caught."

"You mean it was… Real?" Loki croaked.

Steve arched an eyebrow, confused. "Yes, it´s real. Real enough to take a bulled, at least."

"That means…" Loki stared briefly at Tony, and he remembered what hey had discussed so many weeks ago. "That means they know I´m here."

Tony looked sideways at Thor, and saw him clench his jaw. Apparently shit definitively got real when Loki got this scared.

"Don´t be ridiculous. How could they know?"

"Unlike me, they have… Full power to invest in my persecution." Loki cleared his throat. "Is it alive?"

Steve nodded. "Phil wants us to interrogate it."

"Us?" Tony asked, arching an eyebrow. Steve shook his head.

"Not all of us, but we need Thor there, at least. The thing can´t understand us, and the same applies to us."

"I wish to be present when you do."

Thor turned to look at Loki when he spoke.

"Would that be wise, brother? If they managed to sense your presence in Midgard without coming close o you…"

Loki breathed hard once, and Tony dared to pat his shoulder- He was a bit surprised that the god didn´t flinch at the contact.

"I could be there in your place." He didn´t miss the way Steve´s brow shot up quizzically, but he ignored it in favor of the inexpressive god that stared at him.

"That would be…" Loki pressed his lips together, and pried his eyes from him. "I seem to be owing you many thanks lately, Stark."

Tony grinned. "This one is on me."

Loki nodded. "I will be going back to my apartment. I thank you for the information, Captain."

"Steve?"

"Huh?"

The blond smiled weakly. "No one ever calls me that out of battle. It´s weird." Loki nodded again.

"Steve, then." He corrected himself, as if tasting the way the name sounded in his mouth.

"Should you be going back alone?"

"I am more than capable of defending myself."

However, Thor´s voice intervened. "I wish to walk you back, brother."

Loki stared at him, and for the first time, Tony didn´t see hatred there, or rage. There was only fatigue.

"I know what you wish to ask, Thor, and I don´t want to talk about the matter."

At this, Thor smiled, conceding. "Fine, then. I just wish for your company."

Loki huffed. "Farewell." And he took off, making no comment when Thor followed.

"Did you speak to him?" Steve asked.

"Not yet." Tony answered. Steve pursed his lips.

"Weird, then."

Tony nodded. He couldn´t pretend he hadn´t noticed. It was a miracle, what a week of solitary confinement and two days with him seemed to have done.

-

"I thought I had been clear when I stated I didn´t wish to talk." Loki said through clenched teeth, as soon as Thor´s lips parted. They had gotten so far… The apartment door was just a step away.

"You said you didn´t want to talk about a certain matter." Thor grinned. Loki took it as his cue to jam the key in the lock and turn it.

"Yes, you´re predictable."

"Why?"

Loki suppressed a sigh. "It… Just happened. "He answered after a moment, knowing Thor wouldn´t leave until he´d thrown him a bone.

"Are you all right?"

"What do you even care?" But he couldn´t hide from the way Thor looked at him. He was one of the few persons that really did care. "I haven´t given it a thought."

"Do you regret it?"

This, he took a moment to consider before answering. "No."

Thor smiled, gleeful, before the gesture took a mischievous hue. "Now tell me, brother. What are we referring to? Anthony, or your message?"

It was priceless, really, the way Loki´s face paled, then reddened, and finally disappeared when the door was slammed closed between them. Thor leaned against it.

"Thank you."

"Just go away already." Was the unexpected answer. Thor´s smile widened, before he left.

-

"Why have you come back, creature?" Thro spoke in his most intimidating voice. He wasn´t comfortable in such a narrow and crowded space, with Steve and Tony at his back, and a steel table at his front.

The Chitauri, strapped to the table, stared at him with an anguishing expression in its inhuman face.

"I warn you, creature. Me and my comrades, we know how too get your information, ere you to refuse it to us." While it was not entirely a vain threat, it was one neither of them wanted to fulfill. Finally, the Chitauri spoke, its voice sounding like a stream of vapor escaping from a narrow outing.

"find him…" It hissed.

Thor translated to his friends, before focusing on the alien again. "Who?"

"The traitor… The one who bore our magic, and caused our downfall…"

"You mean Loki?"

"Translation, Thor." Tony reminded him, and the god raised a hand to shut him, when the Chitauri´s mouth opened again.

"Laufeyson… Yes…" The creature seemed to be under intense physical pain, and Thor remembered this beings had been far stronger when the portal Loki opened provided them with a direct connection to their dimension.

"You will not find him here," He declared, looking at the alien´s unfocused eyes.

"We will… We will…" The Chitauri answered. "He has used our magic… It is ingrained within him… And we shall find… Him… We know he hides here… And he will never… Escape… From us…" The creature´s voice faded in a weak coughing attack.

Tony watched the scene, and elbowed Steve as Thor paled and his frown deepened. He made a mental note to start working on a literally universal translator as soon as possible. The alien´s talk were whizzes and coughs, and he wondered how in Earth did Thor understand it; however, judging by his expression, things were… Not so good.

"You trick me not, creature. I see through your lies."

The Chitauri laughed, and it was a painful and terrifying noise. "Why would I lie, prince? I am in the thresholds of death… The traitor´s breaths are counted. Every time he uses his… Power… We feel it… We feel him." The creature´s mouth contorted into what he could only assume was a grin. "We will pay you back for… our fallen brothers… Asgardian."

"Say no more, creature."

"His pain… Will last for centuries….His last breath he will use… To thank us for allowing him to die… Our beasts will feast on his entrails… And whatever there´s left, we will send back to you… No one… Escapes the Chitauri…"

Both Tony and Steve shot forwards and clung to Thor´s body, when he made a move to grab the alien´s neck, but it was too late, for all of them.

The Chitauri´s last whizzing breath faded before Thor´s hands clenched around its throat, and its head fell limply against its chest.

"…This will be hard to explain." Steve was the first to speak, attempting to lighten the mood. Tony got the hint.

"I´m allergic to paperwork, you deal with it." They looked at Thor´s face, and the despair look it had taken made both their forced smiles fall.

"What did it say, Thor?"

"Friends… I fear my brother shall find no easy escape for this situation, if he… If he finds one at all…"

-

Tony knocked on the door, and waited. He could already smell coffee brewing inside, and he smiled.

"Loki? Why would they even look for him here?" Coulson asked, puzzled.

Thor shrugged. "I have no clues, Son of Coul."

Coulson´s face acquired a suspicious stare. "Your brother is dead, am I right, Thor?"

The blond rubbed his forehead, and both Tony and Steve knew he id so just to hide his eyes.

"He is…"

Loki opened the door, and tony stepped in. The apartment´s distribution had barely changed, nothing more than the sofa Loki used to read on, that had been moved to the window.

"How did the interrogation go?"

"What are we going to do?" Steve paced the room, thoughtful.

"First of all, my brother must stop using his magic, or they will surely find him"

"If they haven´t already, with all the magic he used to help me with the scepters." Tony intervened.

Loki sank on the couch, staring at his hands as if they were a threat.

"He will not be safe for too long, in that apartment." Thor muttered. "I need to find him another place."

Tony shrugged. "Convincing him to move into the tower would be perfect. Not many things can get in here."

"Save for your floor, the tower is bugged, Tony. And we can´t house a wanted criminal."

"Wanted criminal my ass. He´s a sitting duck, are you just going to let him get caught?" He pierced Steve with his gaze.

"My brother is not vulnerable without his magic." Thor intervened. "But he has no hopes against a team with unrestrained power."

It felt as if the room had been suddenly filled with ice-cold water.

Tony watched, sitting next to him, as the realization rained on his face. His twisted mind couldn´t help but bringing back the Chitauri´s promise. Loki didn´t even have the promise of merciful death to look forwards to. He faced a slow, burning hell.

The god raised his head, and he looked calm and recollected.

"Fine, then. I shall leave your residence soon, Stark. I thank your generosity." That was a face he knew well.

That was the expression Steve wore whenever someone mentioned his times before the freezing; Resignation, a twinkle of sadness, and a spark of barely concealed emption in the eyes. Every time he saw it, Tony thought it was fear, and this was not an exception. "Now, if you will excuse me, there are some things I must order before I leave."

And he gestured to the door, but Tony didn´t make a move to go.

His hand moved on its own, slowly. Loki flinched back, but he paid no mind, and kept going until his fingers first grazed, and then took hold of his shoulder. They stayed like that for a second; Tony with his hand clutching tightly, and the god immobile and tense, meeting his gaze with eyes as cold as emeralds incrusted in a marble statue.

Tony wondered if he should say something, before Loki´s eyelids fell, and he relaxed completely, his head falling to rest against the couch´s back, like it had done barely a couple of nights ago.

"We´ll figure something out."

"It´s futile, Stark. In fact, it´s none of your business anymore. You´ve been a good friend to my brother, helped him protect me, but you don´t owe me anything and…"

"What?"

Loki arched an eyebrow. "You don´t owe me anything."

Tony shook his head. "Not that. Did you just call Thor…"

At this, Loki smiled weakly, shamefully. "It all seems petty, under the light of the new circumstances."

Tony frowned. "Pathetic. Do it because you want to, not because you don´t have a choice." Loki´s gaze lost its focus again. "Do you want to, Loks?" Tony asked, crossing his metaphorical fingers, as Loki blinked slowly.

"Perhaps." And he raised a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose. "When you´re immortal, you have more than enough time to hold a grudge. To heal on your own."

The billionaire squeezed the shoulder under his hand. "Would you stop being so pessimistic?"

"Why can´t you see it´s impossible? There´s no way out this time."

"Because I´m Tony Stark. I shouldn´t be alive, and yet here I am, spending my days flying around in a metal suit. I kick impossible in the balls, sweetcheeks."

"I thought I had made myself clear, Stark." Loki glared.

"Tony. If you´re not calling Steve `Captain´ anymore, then I´m Tony."

The god smirked. "I think not."

"Sweetcheeks."

"I can still punch you through the wall, mortal." Loki watched him keep smiling.

"I can still call Thor here right now and tell him about your sudden change of heart."

Someday, Loki would rule Midgard. He was sure of that. And when it happened, perhaps he´d keep Stark around, to amuse himself with his insolence.

"Anthony."

Tony pulled his cell phone out. "Not quite."

Or perhaps he´d just burn him to ashes. "Tony."

"That´s a good god." He ignored the way the older male glared at him. "That wasn´t that hard, was it?"

Loki pushed him away, and sighed. He certainly shouldn´t be fooling around right now.

"Leave, Stark. I must order my things, and schedule my departure."

And really, that was such a depressing way to say you were going to kill yourself that Tony let the `Stark´ slip. His free hand found Loki´s free shoulder, and he pulled him to face him, fully aware that he could do so only because the god allowed it.

"You say that one more time, and I swear to whatever god there is up there that´s not you, I´ll bring your brother and move in here." And he forced a smile. "I´m a genius. You´re a genius. How hard could it be?"

"You don´t know what you´re getting in, St… Tony."

"I never do, to be honest."

And the god smiled briefly, assessing him.

"That I see."

And Tony had no clue as to whether he should like the answer or not.

Chapter Text

Loki had refused to move into a safehouse. He had argued that if the Chitauri had already managed to pinpoint his location, they would have come for him already. So Tony let him stay in the apartment, and while Thor made a visit to Asgard, in hopes of gaining his father´s advice in how to mislead the hostile aliens, he found himself visiting Loki more and more often.

At first, they were short visits, just to `check on him´, hell, even Steve did those from time to time (And Tony always tried to make Loki tell him what he talked about with the good old captain, but to no avail.). Then, he started visiting whenever he hid from company issues, though Pepper could force him out easily. And when he finally noticed, he was eating dinner at the god´s nearly every night, having fallen again into the kind of routine they had forged when constructing the Chitauri detector.

Loki was there nearly all the time, and received him with just the arching of an eyebrow from behind whatever book he was reading at the moment (which, ever since the sorcerer´s last shopping session, rated from classic fairytales to thick physics dissertations.), and often he hadn´t even taken a seat when he was already listening to the god´s complaints about everything. Now he couldn´t use even the slightest straw of his magic, everything was indeed new to him.

Tony still hadn´t forgotten the call in the middle of the directive meeting, when his phone had roared with his song of the week, and he had picked up to the god´s frustrated voice.

"This Midgardian garments. How do I clean them?"

Tony blinked in confusion. "How did you clean them before?" He had asked, before mentally slapping himself in the face and noticing he should have been using magic to keep them immaculate. The angry huff Loki ad given him had been enough of an answer, and he had smiled in amusement.

"I haven´t got all day."

"Actually, you do… There aren´t many places you can go, but calm down." And he had covered the phone´s mic. "Peps, how do you do laundry?" He had looked sideways to find his P.A. staring at him with an unbelieving expression, just like the rest of the directives.

"Oh… Right." And he had looked back to the phone. "You know what? I´m a bit busy right now, I´ll send you Steve´s number."

And he had hung up, preparing himself to deal with an avalanche of complaints about his lack of interest.

That night he had walked in on a lather-covered apartment, the god sporting a bubble crown, and they had agreed to never speak about the matter again. Loki might have been able to catch on a bit faster than Thor, but many appliances were still new to him. (And since Tony Stark couldn´t make his own laundry to save his life, he was in no position to judge.)

-

Sometimes, however, the roles were reversed. Tony didn´t know how he knew when there was a chance (He figured he asked Steve about the timing.), but it happened. He´d be alone at his workshop, and JARVIS would announce him he had a guest, only to find the god staring at him through the glass wall.

He´d let him in, and it wasn´t uncommon for Loki to present him with an object he had acquired along the way, and ask him to explain it.

When Thor came back, bearing a promise of hope, he ´d sometimes sit close to them and listen too, questioning Tony.

"I do not understand, Anthony." He said once, while Tony held a GPS. "How does the machine know exactly where you are?"

"Well… There´s a satellite… But I haven´t explained the satellites yet…" Tony mused for himself, when Loki rolled his eyes.

"Oaf. I trust you remember that occasion in which you managed to get us all lost in Alfheim?"

Thor laughed under his breath. "It was Fandral who insisted on following the elf maiden, not me."

"Whatever." And Loki shook his head. "That time I used my magic to figure out where we were."

"And you did that how…?"

"Don´t you even have a theory?" Tony smiled at Loki´s exasperated expression, and noticed the fond smile Thor bore.

"I never gave it a thought…Is not that what magic is about? Things happening against what´s reasonable because of some sorcerer´s whim?"

"No wonder why I was always underestimated…" Loki rubbed his forehead. "My magic scanned the whole realm, and used me as an anchor to point our location, moron."

"I swear, brother, I had always thought you had just communicated with Father and asked him to inform you."

"Why would I have called Odin to let him know his son had drifted off in a foreign realm, driven only by some hopeless, lust-infused delusion?" Loki smirked.

"I remember you being rather fond of the elves as well, though."

"Yes, but I did not chase one through a snowstorm, dragging the whole group with me."

Tony watched the argument, the GPS clutched uselessly in his hand, and the realization that he was intruding raining slowly over him. As leaving the room would have been terribly obvious, he turned back mutely to resume his working.

"Am I right?" He heard Loki question, and paid no mind, until he repeated himself.

Noticing Thor hadn´t answered, he understood the question must have been meant for him, and turned back. "What?"

"Am I right? Is that how it works?" Loki asked yet again, staring directly at him.

Tony stared back at him, for nearly a full minute, until Thor cleared his throat and reminded him that he was supposed to be explaining something. He lifted the small appliance.

"Kind off. Let´s say the satellite is your magic, and you´re the GPS." He nodded. "The satellite can see the whole planet and the GPS sends it a signal from where it is. The satellite sends another signal back, with the location."

"Amazing."

"What?" He watched Loki smirk, and really, why did lately he always got the feeling he was being played?

"The machine. The way works. It is amazing."

"You haven´t seen amazing yet, Loks. Wait until I show you my stuff." He countered, offering his most charming smile.

And, judging from Thor´s fidgeting, someone else was feeling like an intruder now.

-

This is why Tony couldn´t help the pride that swelled in his chest when he walked into the apartment a certain day, and found Loki sliding a finger across an IPad´s screen.

"Where did you get that?" He questioned, smiling.

"I bought it." Was all he got for an answer. He leaned in and, oh surprise, Loki was playing Pocket God.

"Really? I thought Pepper had cut your money since that time you bossed her out."

"She did. I had to speak to her."

Tony nearly choked on air. He gave it a thought, and he didn´t know who he worried for the most; Pepper, Loki, himself, or the city of New York. He swallowed, nervously.

"How did it go?"

"I knew she was a strong woman, to put up with you." Loki mused. "But I didn´t expect her to be so intelligent." He admitted.

"I have her for a reason." Tony smiled proudly. The god stared up at him, mute for a moment, before going back to torture poorly rendered humans.

"I called for seafood a moment ago." He muttered after a while. "Set the…"

His voice drowned in the heavy metal tune emerging from Tony´s pocket, and he eyed him curiously, when he picked up.

"Where are you? Come back here!" Tony pulled the phone away from his ear.

"Clint?"

"Who else? Come on, playboy, we´re getting shwarma tonight!"

Tony glanced at the god on the couch, with the vague feeling that he was being listened. "I´m kind of busy, birdie."

"We know, bring her!"

Loki´s mouth twitched. Of course he was listening.

"Don´t think so, man…" Tony started. "She´s not the brightest crayon in the box, Natasha will probably murder her before we get dessert." He added, stepping away from the couch when Loki´s finger flinched on the tablet´s screen.

"Come on! We can take her! She hot?"

Tony smirked. "Really, Clint? Nat will hear about this…"

"Bro code, Stark! Hot or not?"

"A total bimbo." He accentuated the term, and watched, amused, as Loki´s eyes narrowed. As much as he didn´t know the term, the smirk in his voice was palpable. He took shelter behind the counter, when the god decided to stop pretending not to be eavesdropping.

"Maybe some other day, Clint. Sorry, man."

"Sucker."

"Ass." He hung up.

"I´m a what, exactly?"

"Oh, you were listening? How awkward." He answered in mock shame, ignoring the god´s narrowed eyes.

"Stark…"

"Let´s just say now my team thinks I´m under a hot, busty blond that´s unable to count further than twenty."

"Do you usually refer to your maidens as such?"

"Of course not. They´d rip me a new one. Besides, what did you want me to tell them? `Sorry I´m having dinner with the nutjob that tried to kill us all´?"

"I´m sure you could have thought about something better."

"Hot chicks are hot chicks, Loks" And he pushed two plates against Loki´s chest, in hopes of giving him something to do with his hands that didn´t involve his neck. "Everything else is relative."

"You could still go with them."

"What?"

"They wait for you."

"Nah." He waved it away. "We get shwarma like… Every Tuesday. It´s nothing special, Clint just likes to make a fuss about it."

Loki placed the plates on the counter. "As you wish."

-

"Anthony?"

"Yeah?" Tony looked away from his screen, to find Thor holding out a beer for him. "Thanks, bud."

"I wish to speak… About my brother." The blond muttered, as if ashamed.

"Figured as much." Tony smirked, and Thor smiled back.

"I´m sorry. Again I feel like I´m putting too much weight in your shoulders."

"You´ll pay me back. Someday." Tony assured him, sipping on the beer before sitting it on the table. "What is it?"

"You seem to have… Constructed a relationship with Loki." He started. "He finds himself comfortable in your presence, from what I´ve seen."

Tony frowned lightly. Thor was right. But he was Tony Stark.

He didn´t construct relationships.

Much less without noticing.

"He´s ok to be around now he´s not dangerous."

"My brother will always be dangerous, for his weapon is not his magic, but his mind."

"Yeah, yeah, heard that one before." He rolled his eyes. "Point is, you`re right. What is it?"

"I believe you can use your newfound proximity to him, convince him…"

Tony arched an eyebrow, when the god´s voice died and he didn´t continue, as if he was supposed to know what Thor was trying to say. "You…. Want me to convince him to talk to you, right?"

Thor seemed taken aback for a second, before blinking a couple of times, and nodding. "Yes, that would do. I´m sure that would be of help." And he looked down at him, wistfully. "Do you think you could do it?"

"I´ll get him a cake."

And in spite of his joke and lighthearted demeanor, he shrank on the inside. It seemed that the talk he´d been avoiding since a while ago was becoming necessary, and he still wasn´t sure he was ready for it.

"Thank you, Anthony… I am glad my brother seems to trust you as much as I do."

"Well, we all know you both have made your share of mistakes…" He muttered under his breath, turning his back to the blond, who stared at him for a moment, confused, before leaving.

Chapter Text

"You seem distraught today." Loki muttered, looking sideways from the overly dramatic, badly performed play running in the television. Tony, next to him nodded absently.

The god fell into silence again, still watching the human. He hadn't said a word since he had arrived, and when Loki had turned the TV on, he´d barely even paid attention. Now he sat looking at the screen without actually seeing it and he could tell by his eyes that his mind was really far away. If he´d had to make a guess, Loki would´ve said it had something to do with his fellow heroes, even though he knew his problems were more likely to come from him. Who likes to blame themselves anyway?

"Did anything happen?" He voiced finally, his eyes going back to the screen just in time to avoid Tony´s questioning stare.

"What?"

"You heard me."

Tony smiled over the knot in his stomach. He had worried the god, it seemed.

"Nothing serious."

"So?"

Tony, being more of a man of action, decided to drop the bomb and plan on the way.

"Thor asked me to talk to you."

Loki huffed. "That fool..." And he stretched on the spacious couch, his naked foot intentionally poking Tony´s tight. "Feel free to pay him no mind, for there is nothing to talk about."

"Really?" Tony grabbed the god´s heel, driving it away rom him. "He gave me a preview, and I spotted quite a few topics to check on."

"And you would like to discuss them because…?"

"I wouldn´t."

"Do it because you want to, not because you don´t have a choice."

At Loki´s sarcastic dramatization of himself, Tony turned to find him sporting a shit eating grin.

"I have a choice."

"Of course. Many of them." The foot was back for barely a second, rubbing up his calf and retreating just as fast.

"Stop that."

"Huh?" Loki faked innocence.

"You´re trying to distract me. Stop it" He pinched his nose. "I want to talk."

"You are a lousy liar, Tony Stark." Loki smirked, and that was the sight Tony looked up to.

"Don´t you ever wish someone to just listen? It´s not something I offer everyday, but it seems to me like you need it." And he watched as the smirk slipped from his face. "There it is, am I right?"

"I am in no mood to be judged by just another inferior being."

"That is a risk you have to take."

The human and the god stared at each other, solemnly.

"There is no redemption for me" Loki broke the silence, staring back ahead. "And I don´t seek it, either. There is no forgetting what I´ve done."

"Forgetting and forgiving are not the same."

"What I´ve done is unforgivable."

"Thor forgave you." There it was. The nervous swallowing and the averted gaze. Thor had been right when he warned him of Loki´s reaction to reminders of affection… Which he had found particularly sad.

"Thor will always forgive. It´s in his nature." And his voice faded. "Others are not so simple, and I don´t wish for anyone´s pity."

"The thing is you don´t want to be forgiven." He could practically feel Loki tensing next to him. Whatever he said from then on would either make it impossibly better or impossibly worse. He´d stabbed the knife, and he prepared to twist it in the wound. Whether he had stabbed Loki or something entirely different was yet to be seen. "I could forgive you."

Loki blinked slowly once, then twice, and then climbed to his feet.

Tony looked up briefly, but the god didn´t meet his gaze. Instead, he turned his back to him and walked away.

The billionaire remained sitting, and when the apartment door closed with a click he rested his face on his hands.

"This is going to blow up in your face, Tony."

Fuck.

"You seem to have constructed a relationship with my brother"

Fuck.

He pulled his phone out, ringing the first number in his speed dial. She answered on the second ring.

"Tony?"

"How do you do it, Peps?" He asked simply.

"… Are you all right?"

"Have a drink with me, Pepper."

"… Sure. Come over."

Tony smiled. Just why did she put up with him?

He stood from the couch, and left the apartment, sending a last glance back before closing the door.

-

Loki walked into an empty alley, breathing heavily.

Five minutes later, a dumpster flew across the street, courtesy of the god´s kick.

Just who did he think he was?

-

"I see…" Pepper muttered, eyes focused on the swirls of her foamy cappuccino. Across the table, Tony nodded.

"Kind of feel like shit about it. And we didn´t even actually talk." He swallowed. "I mean… I just…" He shook his head, laughing. "Forget it. I don´t even know what I did."

"Personally, I think you shocked him." She resolved.

"Possibly. The guy does really think his brother is the only one that cares about him."

Pepper sighed. "Tony…"

The man forced a smile, over the heavy weight still pulling his stomach down, acquiring a lighthearted attitude. "Shouldn´t you be happy for me, Peps?"

"Should I? Reasonably speaking, I mean."

"Nah. Not really." And he looked up to see Pepper returning him a resigned smile.

"I´m a bit happy, though."

He cleared his throat, embarrassed.

"Back on topic. What do I do?"

Pepper shrugged. "Go see him again tomorrow. He will probably act like this never happened. Just try again, now that the field is set."

"Steve is right. I should totally give you a raise."

"Well, you recently bought me a new car and booked me a trip to Bali for my birthday, so I´d say we´re even."

He arched an eyebrow, amused at her smug smile.

"How generous of me."

"You´re such a nice boss…"

-

So Tony went back to the apartment the next day. Thing was… It was just as empty as the day before.

He shrugged it off; if Loki was still pissed at him then it was better not to cross him.

So he reappeared there two days later, with a box of pastries under his arm… Just to find himself standing in an empty apartment again. Just how much had he annoyed the god?

However, after facing the same result on his third try, he started suspecting.

He rung Thor. "Hey buddy… Did your brother call or… Pay one of his creepy unexpected visits to the tower?"

"My brother? I have not seen him, Anthony. Did something happen?"

"I wish I knew, man. I think the talk didn´t work out as we thought it would." He browsed his options. "Whatever, I´ll ring him later, he could just still be pissed at me."

Thor hung up, and placed the phone on the low night table, where it beeped loudly at its proximity to Mjölnir, before turning on the spot.

"Will you tell me what this is about now?"

From his place on the couch, Loki sighed, before giving a resigned nod.

-

"It´s me again. Pick up already, will you? I know you know how to hear these." Tony tapped on the red symbol, and let his phone go mute again.

He looked across the table to where Thor and Steve stared at him, expectant.

"Any luck, friend?"

He shook his head. "Your brother´s a teenager, has anyone ever told you that?"

Thor huffed, leaning his chin on the table

"I have said so myself. But we have all behaved as such in a point of our lives. I just wish he doesn´t run into his captors alone.

The thought sent a cold shiver down Tony´s spine.

"Are you sure you didn´t say anything else? Anything that could have… Offended him?"

"Yes Steve. I called him an oversized smurf, and told him how we all love Thor much more than him."

Steve rolled his eyes. "Just trying to help here." He stood up. "I´ll go patrol again. Natasha´s out and I´m afraid she´ll run into him."

They stayed alone at the table, tony glaring at his phone like it was to blame for everything, and Thor tapped his thick fingers on the wood, impatient.

It had been over a week since anyone had seen Loki… Officially, at least, Thor thought to himself. He´d have never thought lying could be so easy.

"I thank you for your concern, friend. I´m sorry my brother didn´t react as we expected."

"Wait until I find him." Tony muttered angrily. "We´ll talk so fucking hard he´ll be hearing me for weeks! What made him think now was the best moment to throw a tantrum? There´s an entire race hunting him!" He looked at his teammate for approbation, just to find him studying him with interest. "Something on my face, blondie?"

"I find your worry to be amusing."

"Nice."

Thor burst out laughing. "Sorry, my friend. It just makes me happy." And he stood up to leave, clapping tony on the shoulder once with such force he bent forward. "Thanks for taking a liking to my brother."

"… Well that was pretty direct."

Thor laughed again and went away, leaving Tony alone with his thoughts.

-

"Promise me something, brother."

"I don´t see why I should."

"There´s not a particular reason…" Thor cleared his throat. "But you will do it."

"I don´t see why you´re asking, if you truly are so sure."

"Speak to Anthony."

"I fear that´s a requirement for me to stop invading your precious tower."

"Brother…"

"Don´t. And I still want nothing to do with you."

Thor huffed, annoyed at the paler one´s stubbornness. He leaned on the heavy bathroom door.

"Then why did you run here of all places?"

"I was short on options, and you were the least of my problems."

"Maybe this is what father planned."

"There is no ´this´, Thor. And even if there was, I heavily doubt Odin would have foreseen it. He is not as wise as you think."

"Just please brother… Speak to him."

-

"Would you please stop being eight years old and take my calls? It´s getting annoying."

Tony tossed the phone on his mattress, and turned over to watch the city.

"Getting a taste of your own medicine, Sir?"

"Remind me to reset you." He glared at thin air, wishing for the first time he´d bothered to make Jarvis a body so he had something to hate when the computer was a smartass with him. "Are all gods this immature?"

"I could ask Mr. Odinson, Sir. In the meanwhile, I´d suggest you turn back to your responsibilities, and work on the new suit, since the last one is pretty much outdated already, and Mr. Rogers will no doubt lock you in for the next mission if it´s not completed by then."

"And how would he know?"

"He could ask me."

"Ah, shut up, Jarv."

"Just thinking of your safety, Sir." He didn´t know whether to cry or laugh at the computer´s sarcastic, smug tone, and he threw his phone another glare, before waving the matter away and heading downstairs to his workshop. Jarvis was right, it had been ages since he had last updated the suit… Yes, that was a good idea, he thought to himself, he´d do it…

"I hope it doesn´t bother you. Your robot let me in."

.. Right after he murdered both the treacherous A.I. and the supposedly disappeared gd in his working space.

"Jarvis is not a robot." He answered coldly, piking up a tablet in his way, and bringing up some blueprint on the screen. It looked like a modified toaster… Whatever, he just needed something to focus on.

Something, his mind provided, to let him release the wave of relief that washed over him, without being terribly obvious. Sometimes he hated his mind.

"I know." Great, Loki had gotten closer.

"You should call Thor. The guy´s been looking for you." He muttered. "Actually, this is what it was all about. I was only supposed to convince you to talk to him!" And he finally snapped. "You could have just kicked me out, Loks, not cool!"

"I might. Later." He inhaled deeply once, and his eyes drifted to the side, a frown taking over his face. "I was not in the mindset to finish that conversation."

"That was no reason to just… Storm off." Tony huffed. "Where the hell were you anyway?"

"You mentioned you could forgive me."

"No, no. That ship has sailed, and it´s not coming back. Where were you?"

Loki leaned back against the table´s edge, rolling his eyes. "Safe."

"Loki." Tony took a step forward, cornering him against said table. Granted, if the god wanted out, all he´d have to do was push him lightly, but the implication was still there. Loki looked down at him, expressionless.

"Why would you?"

And Tony suppressed another huff, feeling the taller´s urgency. It looked like he was really waiting for an answer there.

Tony closed his eyes, and lost himself in his thoughts.

Why?

"Everybody does bad stuff… Horrible stuff, some of us." And he gestured to himself. "In my case… Let´s just say I wouldn´t have turned the way I am now, if something hadn´t taken the chance to forgive me. To have a little faith in me."

"I see…"

"Sadly, I didn´t notice how much was that faith worth until it was too late. I understood I wanted to fund that faith. Make everything better, because I could, you know?" He smiled sadly.

"You wanted to be forgiven…" Loki whispered as if suddenly understanding. And who knew, he probably had done so just right now. Tony fixed his gaze on him.

"Do you?" He questioned, his mind shutting down momentarily as he shared breathing space with the god, and realized he knew exactly how Loki smelt. The scent coerced him a bit closer, and Loki stayed motionless, feeling the mortal´s breath caressing the corner of his lips, reaching so far up because of the uncomfortable angle he was bent on over the table´s edge.

Did he?

"Yes."

"Then…" Tony meant the way every whisper grazed and ran over the god´s face. This was, after all, his area of expertise. He knew he wasn´t supposed to be the excited one, but he couldn´t bring himself to care. "I forgive you."

He felt the god´s cold hand coming to rest at his nape, and smiled inwardly. He pulled back a fraction, and this time, when the hand´s grip tightened and made him stop, he smiled fully at the god, leaning back on.

Loki forced himself not to roll his eyes at the mortal´s smile, and closed his eyes, not minding the stray movement just outside the crystal wall, until his brain flooded with alarms, recognizing the object flying towards him.

He crouched immediately, hitting the back of his head against the wood´s edge, and dragging Tony down with him.

"What the…" Tony glared at the god, startled by the sudden movement, and looked up, following the green eyes up to the arrow embedded in the wall. "…Shit."

He looked back, to where Clint stood at the entrance, fixing another projectile in the bow.

"…Jarvis?" He forced Loki to back up a bit more, and the god ended up under the table, behind him. He just hoped Clint didn´t decide he was expendable goods.

"Yes, sir?"

"Call Steve and Thor."

Chapter Text

"… Will you even let me try to explain?" Tony spoke with his eyes glued to the second arrow charge into the practice bow in Clint´s hands.

"I´d rather not." The archer muttered, glaring.

"Breathe, birdie…"

"DO YOU EVEN REALIZE WHO´S BEHIND YOU?!" Tony winced lightly when Clint seemingly lost it. "Move"

"Ehm… Nope."

"Stark."

"Back to that, Barton?" He raised an eyebrow, pretending to be calmed even when his heart raced. "I know what I´m doing, Clint."

"Well, I think…" However, whatever Clint thought was interrupted by a heavy set of steps, and sure enough, Thor came in sight short after, Mjölnir in his grasp, and he stepped up in between Clint and Tony.

"Friend Clint.."

The glare the brunet shot the Norse was positively venomous.

"I should´ve seen this one coming…"

"Clint, really, calm down."

"I´M NOT-"

"I can´t harm you." It seemed as if just the sound of Loki´s voice had rendered Clint speechless, and it suddenly occurred to Tony that he didn´t have a clue about what had happened in Clint´s head when he had been controlled. "And I can´t control you again, either. It´s gone." His words were followed by silence, Thor shooting a glance over his shoulder at him, and Tony jumped on the chance.

"See? You´re good. I´m good."

"Excuse me, last time he had your neck you went on a one way trip down the tower." Clint´s hands had not left the bow, but at least he risked a glance at Tony as he spoke.

"Not this time, I swear." And he looked over his shoulder at the hunched god under the table. "I hope. Will you hear us out?"

"You do know Natasha´s going to find out, don´t you?"

"Of course he knows." A new voice echoed in the workshop. "That´s why I brought her."

And Tony felt his balls begin to recede into his body, because telling Clint was one thing and telling Natasha Fucking Romanoff was something completely different what the hell was Steve thinking?

He glared at the blond when he walked in, followed closely by Natasha. He greeted her with a gesture, which she answered with a steady, expressionless gaze that only wavered for a second, when she recognized the extra limbs from under the table.

"This better be good." Was all she said.

"Let´s take this upstairs." Steve proposed.

"Let´s not." Tony intervened, sending him another glare that addressed the ´my workshop is no bugged´ issue very clearly. The blond cleared his throat.

"Fine. But I think it would be better if… It was only us, you know?"

"He´s not going off my sight." Clint snarled.

"Chill, birdie. I´ll get him to my floor, and Jarvis will lock the exits." And he climbed to his feet slowly, thanking the shield Thor provided when he offered a hand to the fallen god.

"Do you honestly think that can stop him?"

He pushed Loki toward the exit when he noticed Clint´s hands tensing on the bow again.

"That´s part of what we have to discuss." Steve intervened, and Tony used the distraction to push Loki into his personal elevator.

-

"This is… Not what I had planned." Loki muttered.

"Welcome to the Avengers´Tower." Tony huffed, rolling his eyes. "Stay in the penthouse. Jarvis will keep the doors locked, and if something goes wrong, I´ll send you a warning, and he´ll show you an emergency exit. In the worst of cases, the apartment´s still safe."

"Barton should calm down when he´s assured I´m harmless."

"You could still break his spine singlehandedly, though."

"That is not what he fears."

Tony looked up at him. "You would know, wouldn´t you?"

"I would, in fact. I was touched to, after all." He remarked, leaving the elevator without turning his back on him.

-

Tony stared at his blurry reflection under the elevator´s lights. How had he ended up in this situation?

He concluded it had all been over for him when he had stared into the god´s eyes that day at the park, when he´d been taken back to Asgard.

That was the first time he´d understood, and, as often happened with him, the need to know more had never left.

The doors opened again, and he was faced with a wall of awkward silence and his teammates all lingering in separated points of the workshop.

"Nice." He gestured to a corner of the room that held a somewhat big table and a couple of chairs, in case Pepper needed papers signed and couldn´t force him out.

Clint took a seat, and Steve offered the remaining one to Natasha, just to sit himself when she refused. She turned to stare at Tony.

"Why are you housing a criminal, Stark?"

Tony rubbed his nape. "Technically, I´m housing an ex-convict." And he cleared his throat. "Thor…"

The biggest blond cleared his throat, stepping closer to the group. "When I took my brother back to Asgard, I new he was sure to receive some sort of punishment, and rightly so, for my Father realizes the seriousness of his actions in Midgard." He started, his thick fingers drumming rhythmically against the table. "And I was right. He was subjected to a trial, he was condemned, and he was punished."

"Sure… A slap on the wrist and a time-out for the Allfather´s little boy." Clint crossed his arms, and actually glared at Natasha when she elbowed him.

"More like imprisonment, like any other, friend Clint. In my Father´s secret dungeons for my people wasn´t to know he had survived his fall. And I must tell you, Asgardian prison is much more than just a cell."

Tony frowned. Definitively, the next thing on his list was asking Loki himself about that.

"His magic was then stripped from him and he was banished to Midgard. My Father´s spell makes it as such that his power weakens gradually the further he is from me, and thus, he was forced to stay in the city, hidden."

"Tony found him on accident and after speaking with Thor, he borrowed him one of his spare apartments so he´d be safe."

"Because that´s what you do when the maddened alien that tried to kill you once gets back in town, huh?" Clint intervened again dryly.

Tony smirked. "I bought him breakfast first, if that helps."

Clint flipped him off, but his focus went to Natasha, who frowned and narrowed her eyes.

"Hidden. Safe." She repeated. "From what, exactly?"

Tony leaned forward. "The Chitauri." Clint´s eyes widened at his words.

"They did come…" He muttered under his breath.

"What?"

The archer shook his head. "He knew." And he stared directly into Tony´s eyes. "Is he really powerless?"

Tony nodded. "The scepter is under S.H.I.E.L.D.´s surveillance. And even when he helped me return it, he made no attempt at getting it back, so I´d say he doesn´t really want it."

"So it was you in the headquarters." Natasha nodded to herself. "Coulson will be glad to know he was…"

"No!" Thor leaned forward, and the redhead actually flinched back, and reached into her belt. "The Son of Coul must not know about my brother, Natasha, please… My brother has paid his crimes, and it is not fair for him to be imprisoned a second time."

"He´s dangerous." Was all she gave for an answer.

"So are you. So is he. All of us." And Thor made a gesture that pointed first at Natasha, then at Clint, and then to Steve, Tony and himself.

"It´s different."

"But why? I was banished here once, as a lesson. It worked for me, and it´s working for him."

"How can you be so sure?" Clint questioned, and Tony took it as his cue.

"I can be sure." He voiced aloud. "I think." He added, when he had everyone´s attention.

Thor gave him a brief smile and a nod. "And so can I, for my brother has changed since his arrival."

"How exactly did you agree to this?" Clint looked at Steve, who shrugged.

"They gave me good arguments, and I asked for Loki´s word that he´d behave, which he has until now…"

"Do you all realize he could be playing you?" Natasha frowned again, and Tony smirked.

"Sweetheart, the possibility that you are the one playing us is the one that keeps me awake at night, I don´t have time to worry about him."

"This won´t work. We need to tell him." Clint began standing up, and so did Steve, Tony tensing on reflex when Thor stepped forward. "Give me a reason why I shouldn´t."

"There´s no reason! We´re a team, we cover each other´s backs and we help with each other´s shit!" Tony looked at Steve for help, and the blond nodded.

"Crude, but yes. I am well aware that our team was assembled by S.H.I.E.L.D. but we can´t belong to them. We have to belong to ourselves, save we end up harming third parties."

"You keep saying that, all I can think of is how you guys have been hiding Loki for God knows how long now."

"Six months, approximately." Tony declared. "And I did it because Thor needed help, and he didn´t even trust us enough to ask for it."

"So generous, Stark." Natasha crossed her arms. "What you´re suggesting is a violation of at least half of our codes, and you´re asking us to do so in the name of comradeship alone?"

"Yes?" Tony shrugged.

"Please…" Thor muttered.

"I get it from him… But why do you even care?"

Tony forced a smile. "That´s something I have to discuss with some people before I can explain it."

"… Are you serious?"

"I mean it, shut up."

Natasha rubbed her forehead. "What does Banner have to say on the matter?"

"Yes, he… Well…"

"I can´t believe you."

"Hey, I had God of Thunder here threatening to crush me if I told anyone!" Tony pointed at Thor, who had the decency to look embarrassed.

"How did Steve find out then?"

"He´s a sneaky bastard."

"That, and Tony is a really bad liar." The blond added smiling. Clint huffed.

"Tell him. Then we´ll vote."

"And will you stick to what we decide as a team?" Steve asked, staring at the assassins through narrowed lids.

It took them a couple of seconds, but in the end, they both nodded. Thor smiled, running a hand through his hair.

"Thank you…"

"We still need to vote." Natasha answered, but her stony façade vanished for a moment when Thor focused his fond smile on her.

"Still." And he walked out. "I will look for Bruce, friends."

Steve fidgeted for a second in his place, before following him. "We know how he breaks news. And I think we all remember what happened last time he and the other guy had a disagreement."

The team shivered with the memory, as Steve´s ankle disappeared up the stairs.

"You two can… Wait here, I guess. I have to speak to Bruce either way." And he felt like he was giving himself a death sentence. "Don´t mess with my stuff, please."

"We don't have all day, Stark."

Still staring suspiciously at Natasha, Tony walked to his elevator again.

"Jarvis?"

"Yes, sir?"

"… Keep an eye on them."

"Of course, sir."

-

At first glance he thought the floor was empty.

It was only when he started pacing around, looking for the sneaky god, that he found him fixing himself a drink in his bar.

"I thought you didn´t drink my ´pathetic alcohol´ " He smirked.

Loki looked at him over the rim of the crystal glass. "I said I wouldn´t drink it with you. I did not mention not drinking it altogether." And he put the container down. "I presume everything went well?"

"Better than expected, actually. You should be fine. We just need to speak to Bruce, and then well vote."

"The… Monster?"

"Nu-uh. Don´t call him that." He frowned. "Bruce is the difference between you staying and us getting kicked by Natasha before she gets to you."

At this, Loki smiled. "Well, then, by all means, speak nicely of me to the good doctor."

"Is that even possible, Sweetcheeks?"

"I´m getting fed up with that, Stark."

Tony laughed, before taking a look at the clock in the wall, and sighing.

"They should´ve found him already." He cracked his neck. "Wish me luck?"

"Good luck." Was the god´s response.

"Really?"

Loki smirked, and that was a ´come and get it´, if Tony had ever seen one.

"Tease." He muttered under his breath, leaning closer to the god like he´d done barely an hour ago.

It was only Jarvis cameras that caught the way the god leaned into the touch delivered to his cheek. The way he allowed himself to be pulled forward and his lips to be claimed. The way he clung to the fabric on Tony´s shirt a second too long after the kiss had ended, and whispered into his ear.

Or the way he quickly downed the remaining alcohol when the mortal walked back into the elevator, with the words still ringing into his ears.

"Don´t get killed."

And coming from Loki, what else could he wish for?

Chapter Text

When Tony arrived, Bruce was leaning against the edge of a work table, his eyes closed and his breathing deep and slow, with one of Steve´s hands placed firmly on his shoulder. Natasha, along with Clint, waited on the opposite side of the workshop and Thor stood between the, hammer clutched in a hand and eyeing Bruce carefully.

Bruce apparently heard Tony´s footsteps, because his eyelids parted, and he looked straight at him, with a stare that was both too questioning ant doo reproaching for his taste. He looked back, however, a silent plea in his own eyes. The scientist huffed, and let his eyes fall closed again.

"Is it true? He´s here?"

"Yeah."

"Powerless."

"Yep."

"Not dangerous."

"Open for discussion, but I think I can say yes."

Tony suppressed the urge to cross his arms over his chest. It would do no good to take a defensive stance with Bruce already so stressed. Luckily, Steve saved him from Bruce´s scrutiny by clearing his throat.

"Well, now we´re all on the same page, I think it´s time to vote." He sent an apologetic glance towards the assassins in he corner "I understand we´re asking way too much for you, but you have to be objective here. I know Loki has… Personally aggravated many of us, before, but we´re the heroes." He declared. "Even if we don´t forgive, our duty is to protect and do the right thing. Be the better men."

"I can´t stress the ´he´s not an innocent civilian´ point more than I already have, so…"

"Many of us have acted wrong or selfishly before." And how ironic it was, to have Steve say that. The only one out of all of them that could be excused from it. "I think Loki has evolved satisfyingly since his arrival to Earth. I vote we let him stay, and keep the knowledge of his presence limited to those present here." Let no one say that Steve didn´t know how to close his terms so that even Natasha couldn't squeeze herself out of them. The blond looked at Thor, prompting him to speak.

"I have expressed my opinion many times already. My brother has had many occasions to give us trouble or harm us, and I believe his intentions are not as such, seeing that we´re still here whole and in peace. I vote that he is allowed to stay and I beg you to guard our secret, for he is in no state to endure what I´m assured will happen to him if he falls into S.H.I.E.L.D.´s custody."

They both looked at Tony then. Tony, who was totally not in the mood to give a heart speech about Loki´s miraculous rehab. He still didn´t believe it fully, and he wasn´t about to go boasting about it.

"Let the guy stay. We´re watching him."

Natasha huffed. "I vote we tell Coulson, and have S.H.I.E.L.D. decide whether he stays or not." She said, not looking at Thor, and Tony knew there was an ´I´m sorry´ in that sudden reluctance. Next to her, Clint untangled his arms.

"Is he…" He started, looking straight at Tony, who blinked in confusion.

"Sorry?"

Clint shook his head. "Nothing. I want to speak to him later." And he looked away. "I vote we send him to S.H.I.E.L.D."

Even with his eyes closed, Bruce stiffened when all stares fell on him. He turned to Tony again, and Tony held his stare for as long as he could, glad tat he didn´t find any green in his eyes.

"I vote he stays. As long as we can watch him there´s not much he can do without his power."

Tony let out a breath he didn´t know he was holding, and judging from Thor´s relieved face, the same had happened to him.

"Fine, then." Natasha pushed herself off the wall, heading for the door until Steve stepped in her way.

"We mean no harm, Natasha, and we haven´t gone crazy. We´re helping a friend, and we hope if you ever have a problem, even one as big as this one, you´ll remember this and come to us. We´re a team." Behind Steve´s back, Tony rolled his eyes, surprised at the blond´s cheesiness.

"…I´m still going to kick him if he tries anything funny." And she left.

"Can we trust her?" Steve asked Clint, after Natasha´s footsteps had died. "Or will she tell?"

Clint gave him a tired smile. "She won´t." And he went on his way too. "You owe us big time. Tell him I want to talk." He added in Tony´s direction before he followed Natasha.

-

The mood in the workshop was suddenly refreshed, and Thor let out a hearty laugh and smiled broadly at Steve when he patted him on the shoulder. Bruce, however, cleared his throat.

"Would you leave us alone?"

Tony fought the urge to run, when both blonds nodded and headed for the door. This felt too much like a lecture was coming.

The door closed behind them, and Tony sat on a lonely chair. Bruce breathed deeply.

"What´s your deal?"

Tony smiled. "I have no idea."

"Really?" Bruce arched an eyebrow. "Why are you helping Loki?"

"I… The guy´s fine." Toy shrugged. "When he´s not in murderous rampage. I just felt sorry for him."

"Did you, now?"

"Lovely pit of angst, he is."

"Seems fitting."

"Hey!" Tony grinned against his will but it slipped soon after. "Bruce…"

"Oh, god…" And the older slapped a hand against his forehead. "You slept with him."

"No! No." He replied immediately, not wanting his mind to go there, tempting as it might be. "You see… Thor and Steve have this stupid idea that somehow I can get some sense into his mind, don´t ask me why…"

"Yes?"

"And I kind of… Spoke to him and I hit the right spot, and he disappeared, and that was nearly two weeks ago and he appeared again today and…"

"Get to the point." Bruce cut his hurried words with an impatient stare.

"I might or might not have… Kissed him a moment ago." Silence fell after his words, as both of them assimilated their meaning.

"You kissed him." Bruce repeated, as if to be sure. "The crazed, murdering ex-convict alien that tried to conquer the world killing us all in the process and just so happens to be your teammate´s brother. You kissed Loki."

"He… Made me do it?"

"Poor, poor you." And he sighed. "Just… Why, Tony? He´s attractive? Is that all there is to it? I bet you can find less… Compromising people who look just like him."

"Of course I could."

"But you don´t want to." Tony looked away and Bruce ook it as an affirmative. "Are you…"

"No." Came his dry, instant response. "I… Don´t know."

"So?"

"Really, Brucie? We have far more important business right now."

"Not us. Loki has it, they´re after him. Thor has it, they´re after his brother. Do you have it?"

Tony fidgeted. He could always lie. But Bruce didn´t deserve that, he was just trying to help. Not for the first time, the Chitauri´s words echoed in his mind, and he stiffened.

"I do."

"I see…" Ad he sighed once more. "Just be careful… I don´t trust him."

"Neither do I… Perhaps that´s a part of it." And he risked a smirk.

"You idiot."

"Lucky idiot."

"That´s open for discussion."

-

The sight that greeted him back at his floor was that of Loki spread on his leather couch, a bored expression on as he watched some movie on a flat screen.

The god looked over a shoulder when he tapped lightly on the wall to get his attention.

"Yes?"

"I thought you´d be more interested in the outcome."

He shrugged. "Not many people are able to deny Thor something, and I´ve found you to be quite stubborn as well." And he turned back to his movie. "I thought the outcome was obvious."

"Well it wasn´t. You´re going to S.H.I.E.L.D., come on."

Loki smirked, not taking his eyes from the screen.

"Of course I am." He let a breath out, and contorted into a somewhat sitting position to occupy just one side of the couch. "You should order food. I´m hungry."

Tony took the offered place in the couch without a word, and stared sideways at Loki. He looked calmer than before, even a little drowsy.

"Where were you all this time?" He asked, without thinking.

Loki turned to look at him, an eyebrow arched in mockery.

"Cheesy, Tony." And he sighed dramatically. "Looking for you, I guess." He swooned, fluttering his eyelashes.

Tony had time to blink twice before he caught on the joke and laughed, before smacking him softly on the back of the head.

"Idiot. I meant since we spoke in the apartment."

"Oh." The god´s smile grew. "Well..."

"Where?"

"Here."

"… What?"

Loki stretched again, his calves coming to rest over Tony´s thighs, immediately making it clear that he was not moving anytime soon.

"In Thor´s chambers." He added, simply, and settled to watch the mortal´s face as it shifted between disbelief, resentment and amazement. Eventually, though, it just became too much for him, and he broke up laughing. "What, had you pictured me back on the tree?"

"I… No… How did… Why?!"

"Ah, it´s priceless, to see you of all people at a loss of words."

"Why would you come to Thor? How did no one notice?"

Loki avoided his eyes and shrugged again.

"I knew he would let me in… And his and Mjölnir´s presence often cause disturbance in your… I believe you called them bugs"

Tony huffed. "Please tell me you at least worked your things out between telling him how much of a jerk I am."

"You give yourself too much credit, if you think my turmoil was caused solely on your behalf." And he sighed. "Our problems are just as everlasting as ourselves. We´ve had… Disagreements before. The problem with this one is that it goes way beyond my grudge against my lineages, both biological and adoptive. As I told you before, Thor will always forgive, and who knows? Maybe I will too, eventually. Forgiving my father, however, is a much bigger issue."

"Dads are always the biggest issues." He dared to place a hand on Loki´s nape, and made a little inner happy dance when it wasn´t shrugged off. "So you´re good with Thor now?"

"When have I ever been? Thor took me for granted for ages, just as you insist I do with him now. He replaced me with a mortal, and later, with more of them." He made a vague gesture signaling Tony and said man understood he referred to the Avengers. "What I had always offered to him he wanted to take only when I was already broken, and it was the only thing I had left."

Tony whistled.

"Note to self: Talking about your relationship with Thor makes me feel uncomfortable and dirty. And that doesn´t happen often, not in that combination."

"One track mind, pretty much?" And he shook his head. "It´s nothing like what you´re thinking. His mortal replaced me, but not as his mate."

"Thanks for clarifying. Then?"

"As his conscience." He explained, his eyes suddenly blank. "And what else was I, if not Thor´s voice of reason? The shadow prince that helped only to accentuate the golden heir´s light. To keep him on the right path."

´Oh, irony.´ Tony kept his thoughts to himself.

"She changed him where I failed. Made him see what I couldn´t. Made him grow into a king."

"So you´re jealous of this Jane chick?"

"Not at all."

"That´s what it sounds like." Tony was barely aware that he was having the dreaded conversation with Loki. He was barely aware of anything that weren´t the god´s green orbs, narrowed and focused on some point of the wall behind the screen.

"What do you want to hear, Stark? I lost everything. My plan went out of my hands with Thor´s exile. I was not who I thought I was. What I thought I was. Suddenly everybody´s hate, their distrust, it had a reason. My mother busied herself at my father´s side, and expected to heal my confusion with a few pleasant and loving words. And when he came back, Thor was not my brother anymore. Not the one I knew. " If possible, Loki´s words were even bitterer because of the dry, emotionless tone he used. "He had moved on without me, down a path that was not mine. Suddenly, I was the one lost in rage, and he defended our worst enemies, the ones he swore to kill, unknowing that his palace housed one of them."

He took a deep breath, and if Tony thought his voice broke at the last part, he was smart enough not to comment on it.

"I was going to make it right. I would have destroyed them all. The father that left me to die on the ice, and the monsters my people hated. It was only later that I understood I had no people. The Aesir were just as foreign to me as I was to them, and I had been too blind to see."

Tony said nothing. He couldn´t. Instead, he used the hand already on Loki´s nape, and pulled slightly, pushing his calves at the same time. This prompted the other male to pull them off his thighs, and move across the couch, closer to him.

"This is hardly necessary."

"Most things are." He knew he had to add something. "You had someone, you know? I mean… He might have changed but he still loves you."

"To love a monster. To trust one. That´s how stupid he is." And he let a strained cackle out. "Love is not a healing miracle, Tony, I thought you of all people would know that."

"You should give inspirational advice, Loks." He shook the god a little. "Let´s just watch this crap, ok? We should be celebrating Natasha didn´t win her ´kick the god out´ motion." And he gestured to the movie still playing on the screen. "What do you want to eat?"

Loki stared at him, eyes wide and eyebrows frowning. Tony´s hand was still warm against his nape, and he had a little trouble swallowing. He had just trusted a mortal with his life´s story. And he wanted to know about dinner.

"Loks? Food?"

Loki´s eyes closed, and he shook his head. A smile started spreading slowly across his face. This damned mortal… He leaned sideways, and hid his grin in the shorter man´s shoulder.

Tony flinched when Loki´s head came to rest against him, but relaxed on command. It was ok he thought. Both were a bit on edge.

He couldn´t help but to grin at the muffled "Chicken" muttered against the fabric of his shirt.

"Jarvis, call in some chicken, would you? Spicy wings for me and a mixed bucket for our culinary adventurer here." And he reached for Loki´s abandoned glass on the low table. "And lower the lights."

The light dimmed immediately, and Tony hummed contently. He wasn´t about to admit he hadn´t slept well in the last days. Not to Loki.

He settled for watching the comedy flick on the T.V., and if he dozed off at some point, Loki chose to not comment on it when he got up to receive the food.

Chapter Text

If he paid no mind to details, Tony could say he was living a dream life, now more than ever.

He kinda-sorta dated a hottie -a male, alien one, but since when had Tony Stark been one to complain about a little diversity?- his company was as successful as ever, he was as healthy as he would ever get to be -if one was willing to ignore the shrapnel in the chest thing.- and he was currently speeding down a hill in one of his expensive sport cars.

On the copilot's seat, Loki let a sigh through.

"Enjoying yourself, Sweetcheeks?"

Loki shrugged. "I feel compelled to say yes, if this is truly the fastest your carriage can go."

He knew he shouldn´t let himself be tempted by Loki, he really knew.

But he just couldn´t deny a challenge that was presented to him by a mouth that looked so sinfully delicious when smirking down at him.

He sped up.

-

The "meeting" had lasted on longer than it should have, dragging up through the evening. Loki paced the many living rooms of the hotel before he chose one to stay in, and he sat down on a fluffy couch.

His phone buzzed, and he pulled it out lazily. It wasn´t as if he didn´t know the identity of the caller.

"Yes?"

"How has your journey been?" Of course he´d like to know, wouldn´t he? Loki rolled his eyes

"I don´t recall granting you my permission to contact me this freely."

"I could always travel to where you are, to make sure you are safe, brother."

Loki winced and changed strategies.

"Oh, there is no need for that. I must assure you that my journey has been most enjoyable" He smirked when Thor groaned through the line.

"Loki…"

"You see, the downside of inquiring about my deals is that you might actually find out." He couldn´t help a grin.

"I wouldn´t question you if I had no interest, Loki." He cleared his throat. "I just… did not expect it to be related to your… Intimacies."

"Is there even a way to make you uncomfortable, Thor? Leave me alone."

"Are you lying, then?"

"I might be. I might not." He huffed. "I´m going to hang up now."

"Fine, brother… Just… Be back soon. I will not be at ease until we have managed the Chitauri threat."

"I know how to take care of myself."

"I know, brother." Loki´s finger hovered over the red sign. "But I am here."

He cut the call.

He knew he should have done it before.

His head leaned on the couch´s backrest, and he sighed.

Idiot.

When he rose from the couch a moment later, he shook his head and ignored the feeling of the resigned smile that crept up his face.

He´d been mostly in peace for over a month. The Chitauri had given no sign of presence, and he was free to move in and out of the tower (something he did often just to pester the other Avengers.)

But even with his newfound freedom, life had taken a turn for the boring.

He had read every midgardian book that had claimed his interest, tried food after food, and even, much to Tony´s amusement, allowed Thor to goad him into visiting a theme park. Three days later and he still swore he reeked of sweaty midgardian children.

Only after he´d walked into Loki building an elaborate trap that would drop a plate of waffles over the first person to walk through the common room´s door, Tony had decided it was enough. He had finally broken under Pepper´s pressure to assist to a board meeting overstate, and it suddenly seemed like the best place to take Loki to.

No one had dismounted the trap.

Luckily for them, they were already two state borders away when Steve had to deal with a new, sticky hairstyle.

Loki had enjoyed the trip. It was distracting, to say the least, to travel across the charmingly simple landscapes of Midgard while Tony´s speakers roared out some music that reminded him of the mating calls of dragons.

Sadly, it gave him time to think, and gods knew nothing good ever came from that.

Ever since that first time, he had only kissed the human again twice.

Once in his apartment, when Tony had leaned on his side while checking some blueprints in his tablet. Loki had watched him work, fascinated by his concentration. How the mortal, with his life so short, could dedicate so much of his time to creating, discovering, learning…

"Look at me." His lips had spoken without his authorization. But Tony had looked anyway. He had arched an eyebrow, and the look had been so tempting that Loki had just…Surrendered.

The second one had been almost an accident. Or at least, the consequence of one.

Loki was less than proud to admit it, but his lack of ability in midgardian affairs really got into his nerves. That time, it had been a simple iron, out of all things. For all his pride and noble blood, Loki was now in charge of making himself presentable, and wrinkled clothes just wouldn´t do.

The barbaric tool had seemed easy enough to master, and he had jumped into the task with determination.

Tony had walked in half an hour later, and found an iron-shaped burn in the wall, and a Norse cradling his injured hand under a stream of cold water.

"What happened?" He had asked.

"I had an accident." Loki had snarled, irritated by the pain. Burns had always taken a higher toll on him.

"And you decided to throw a hot iron across the room…" Tony had arched an eyebrow, inspecting the burn in the wall paper from afar. He then had sighed. "Put some ice on it."

Loki had panicked.

"No. Not ice." But the human had already been on his way to him with a couple of ice cubes in his grasp.

"It will numb your hand…"

"Get off, Stark." And Loki had been the one to back away, as he felt the roots of fear ingraining themselves into his body. He didn´t know if common ice would be cold enough to bring out his true appearance, just as he didn´t know if his áesir skin would return without his magic. "Put that down."

"Loks, it´s just ice."

"I said put that DOWN." He shouldn´t have had yelled. He also shouldn´t have had hidden his hand behind his back and compressed himself against the wall as if threatened by a weapon.

That had stopped Tony, and that had been all he had cared about at the time.

He had stared at the mortal, and witnessed the way understanding poured down on his face, the ice cubes melting in his hands as seconds ticked away. He now knew better than to underestimate the human´s deductive abilities.

"Ok." And he had thrown the ice into the sink, letting it melt entirely under the water stream. "Fine. At least let me see it."

"I´m fine. Go away, I´m not in the mood to have dinner with you tonight." Another thing he now knew better than to underestimate was the mortal´s stubbornness.

"Nah. Come here." And his lack of self-preservation sense.

Tony had walked up to him fearlessly, even when Loki had flinched and pushed a hand against his chest, because his mind had been doing what reality hadn´t, and he imagined his arm was already blue from the coolness of the water.

Only then had he seen his hand painted blue by the soft light that glowed from behind Tony´s shirt, and it had only fueled his irritability. He had pushed the mortal away with a gasp, but Tony had thrown himself against him and cornered him against the wall.

It had been only his self-control that had saved the mortal from following the iron´s path across the flat.

"Get off, Stark." His voice had been hard and hoarse. And Tony had gripped his face between his hands and pulled him down for a long, close mouthed kiss.

Cliché as it might sound; the scent of the mortal so close to him, added to the heat of his skin, had been enough to anchor Loki to the moment. To remind him he was not in Jotunheim, amongst monsters, but in another, distant but very real danger in Midgard.

He had remained tense for what seemed like an eternity, but in the end it had worked. And they had parted, Loki breathing hard and fatigued, and Tony weary and more than just a bit confused.

But he had not asked, and Loki had not explained.

And that had been it.

Now, pacing alone through the hotel one more time, he brought the memories back.

He had just reached an empty terrace when his phone buzzed again, this time sporting yet another familiar name in the screen.

"Did you finish already?"

"All done and packed up. We´re free."

"I´ll hold you to that." And he looked over to the barely moonlit scenery that stretched below the terrace. "What are your feelings towards the beach, Tony?"

There was a sight hesitance at the other side of the hand.

"Good enough. I´ll meet you at the lobby."

-

Tony loosened his tie, as he watched Loki approach him from the other side of the lobby.

"Keep an eye on the briefcase. I´ll go and change into something more… beach-y"

Loki leaned a knee on the top of a briefcase, and wrapped a hand in the silky tie.

"But I like this look on you…" He muttered, with a suggestive grin that Tony returned.

"Well, who doesn´t? Unfortunately, going to the beach in a suit is often frowned upon."

"Most things you do are frowned upon."

"Including you." And Tony grinned one last time before turning his back on the god and crossing the lobby, headed for one of the public bathrooms.

-

Tony leaned back on the sand, as Loki, at his side, dug his naked feet in.

The beach was completely empty, late as it was, and the only sound was the roaring thunder of the whisper of the breaking waves.

"This is most peaceful."

"A bit cold, but yes." Maybe it was the pressing silence what made him rush to the thought. Maybe it was just the fact that for the first time in a while he felt at such ease that he just needed to know. "What are you going to do?"

He could practically hear Loki tensing up.

"What do you mean?"

"When they come. What are you going to do?"

Loki exhaled, the air exiting his lungs softly. "I hope my punishment has been lifted by then. With full use of my magic, getting rid of them should be an easy task, for their strength lies in their number and not in their resistance."

"And when will your father lift your punishment?"

"When he thinks I have learned my lesson, whichever it might be."

"Ah, dads… Always the lovely ones."

"Indeed." And here Loki sighed. "Until then my hope is to find a safe place where I can fight them on my own."

Tony smirked. "You. Alone against an entire race."

"My life-story." Loki grinned.

"Hold your drama, sweetcheeks." Tony stretched to ruffle his hair. "Well, hostile aliens in Earth, I´m guessing we´ll get sent to fix that, so relax."

"In case you have forgotten, I´m also classified as a hostile alien in Earth." He leaned down on the sand, stretching his arms behind his head.

"Yes, we have to do something about that."

"Yes, yes, I´m not in the mood for redemption right now."

Tony smirked at the way Loki twisted to crack his back on the sand. He leaned over him a hand on either side of his waist.

"Then what are you in the mood for?"

"I think you know." Loki smirked back at him, and Tony welcomed the silence that washed over them. Under the moon´s weak light, Loki looked almost ethereal, like he could vanish with only a swirl of wind. And his eyes.

His eyes.

The green looked blue-ish under the darkened sky, and reflected the moon like gemstones. However, it was the lack of a frown in his brow what made him feel a surge of heat in his chest.

Peace was the word of the night, it seemed.

He supported his weight on one hand, and used the other to cup Loki´s cold cheek. The god didn´t move and Tony took this as a sign to lean down and claim his mouth. He parted just for a second to whisper against the corner of his lips.

"I think I do."

-

Back in the bedroom Tony had rented for the night, Loki faked sleep when the mortal landed on the bed next to him.

As much as he hated to admit it, he had cowered away.

He just didn´t want to deal with the cold numbness that spread over his stomach at the mention of his persecutors. An arm slipped over his side and clung to him.

"Relax." Tony whispered. "We´ll manage."

Loki shrugged. "My Father might have forgiven me by then."

Tony clung harder to him.

"I wouldn´t put too many eggs on that basket, if I were you."

Only then did Loki finally notice there was something else under that façade.

"Get asleep already, lest I choose to drive back tomorrow." He threatened, and he couldn´t help his hand finding the way up to where Tony´s rested over his abs, tangling his fingers together.

-

Steve deigned to pick up his phone after letting it nearly ring the call away. He was not in a better mood to deal with Loki now than he had been two days ago after three hours of scrubbing his hair free of butter and syrup.

"What do you want?" He winced inwardly, and then cursed himself for his softness.

"Ah, I take it you were the victim of my little prank?" He could hear the smile in Loki´s voice.

"You should be thankful it wasn´t Natasha. Now what is it? I´m in the middle of a sparring session."

On his side of the line, sprawled across his bed in the flat, Loki hesitated for a second, before making his decision.

"What can you tell me about Howard Stark?"

Steve´s eyebrows arched on their own.

"Problems in paradise, Loki?"

"Please, mortal, don´t you dare talking to me about either problems or paradise." And he cleared his throat. "So?"

"Come over tomorrow, I think Tony has a conference."

"Thank you."

Loki hung up, and turned in his bed.

It was none of his business, he knew. He had no right to know. He had not given anything to deserve the secrets his lover held from him.

But he wished to know.

Because he knew too well the sadness contained in the smile that he kne had painted Tony´s face last night.

Chapter Text

Humans were simple. Really.

Food, power and sex, and they were sated. Truth to be told, Loki was currently perfectly pleased having all those three, but that was not the point.

The point was that humans were simple, and he was not.

Or at least this was he lie he told himself as he walked into the empty penthouse for the second time that week. He fought the urge to kick the expensive couch through the window and stormed back out instead. This was revenge he was sure, for his own disappearance and reluctance to talk. But just who did Tony Stark think he was to try and take revenge on a god?

He sighed.

His need to blow off steam overpowered his pride and led him into the elevator, as his mind was forced to face the truth.

His little mortal was pointedly avoiding him.

 

--

 

Thor opened his door on the second knock and found Loki standing outside, an expression on his face that usually meant someone was about to lose their head.

"Loki?"

"Spar with me."

The blond frowned.

"… Would you take me for a coward if I asked you that there be no weapons involved? The scar from your little dagger tri…"

"I don´t care, Thor! If you want to spar with cushions and rubber swords so be it, but if you refuse I swear on your Father I´m going to burn the tower down." Loki interrupted him with a venomous hiss.

Thor held his hands between them. "Fine just…" He called Mjölnir to his hand (precaution wouldn´t kill anyone, would it?) and off they went.

He had barely ever seen his brother seeping with such anger. He usually released it on some poor unsuspecting fool before it got to this extent. Now it was plain frustration, and if he recalled correctly, a frustrated Loki was nothing good.

"Can I as…"

"No."

He huffed. So this was what it felt like to deal with him before.

They reached the empty gym, and Thor let the hammer down on a clear spot close to the sparring mat, and discarded his boots as Loki did the same.

"Loki, are you…" Thor tried asking again, but he was interrupted once more, this time, by Loki throwing himself against him. Nearly on instinct alone, he caught the flying god and used his own momentum to throw him away. Loki landed on his feet and crouched to aim a tackle at his knees this time.

And so, they were on.

Loki tackled and kicked, and Thor focused more on repelling his advances. His bulk to his advantage, the blond had no problem doing so, and it didn´t take him long to realize Loki was not actively trying to hurt him. If anything, he was trying to tire himself.

At some point, Thor´s stance slipped when throwing Loki away, and they both rolled on the mat.

Loki huffed when he hit the mat face down, momentarily breathless. He intended to glare at the blond for his fall, but when he looked up, Thor was also standing up, golden strands sticking to his face in the most ridiculous way, and his lame attempts at blowing it away.

His first intake of breath was spent in laughter.

 

--

 

"What happened?" Thor asked finally.

The gym was in complete darkness. They had sparred all day long and longer even into the evening, until they had managed to exhaust each other. None of them had bothered turning on the lights when the sun hid behind the skyline.

Now they lay on the mat, not side by side but close enough so that the mood in the grim room felt different. Solemn. And, even when none wanted to say it out loud, like before.

Loki took a sharp intake of breath. He didn´t want to, but it was too strong. The false sense of safety. Of acceptance. He thought of his current situation. Of the sphere safely tucked at his apartment, only half filled with energy, so little that it would probably be no match against his persecutors. Of his vulnerable stance while half a race hunted him. Of the fact that his mortal wouldn´t look him in the eye since that day. And of how this worried him just as much as anything else.

"I tried to talk to him… About his Father."

"What is wrong with Anthony´s father?"

"A number of things, apparently."

"And he didn´t take it well?"

Loki smirked into the darkness, feeling a blush creeping to his cheeks. "Just about as well as I did when he tried the same."

Thor´s low laugh brought back memories he didn´t really want right now, and he frowned.

"How long has he been missing?"

"About a week…"

"Did you look for him in the…"

"I know where he is. I´m not going to beg a mortal for attention."

"So he´s not letting you in his research quarters?" Thor laughed again.

"I could rip the door off if I wanted." Loki scrunched his nose. "Let him come out when he´s done acting like a child."

Thor shook his head. He had no advice to offer in the matter. Tony would go to Loki eventually, and he had more important matters to think of.

"Brother?"

Silence.

Then, barely a whisper.

"Yes?"

"How are you?"

More silence.

A wheezing, slow exhalation.

"I´m running on borrowed time, Thor."

"Father will give you your magic back."

"Really? Because if I were him, I definitively wouldn´t."

Thor took a deep breath. "Have you thought about using…"

"Using what?"

"The Casket."

Loki felt every muscle in his body tensing up. He remembered the incredible rush of power that ran through his veins when holding the box that looked so heavy but was light as a feather in his hands. The power that obeyed his every thought, strong enough to stop Heimdall´s sword an inch from him.

And with those came other memories. His hands turning blue, the color seeping through his skin as ink on paper. The scent of snow, coming from nowhere, that brought him a wave of relief so whole that it had frightened him the first time. Like something he didn´t know that lived inside him had broken free. Something wild and fierce and fearless.

"Loki?" Thor asked again, after Loki´s silence had stretched for too long.

"It would be… Useless." Was the answer he got, in a raspy voice.

As soon as the lie left his lips, Loki knew Thor had not been fooled by it. The Casket of Ancient Winters had powered an entire realm and its people. It would surely be enough to get rid of a lowly, weakened race. But he would not explain himself.

Hell would freeze before Loki admitted he was scared of something, much less of himself.

"Well… If you decide it could be of help, I could get it for you, brother."

"Stealing from your dear old Father, Thor? How tricky of you."

"I would rather be punished than see you dead, brother." And yes, maybe Thor did say it precisely to make Loki a little bit uncomfortable.

"Fool…"

"Maybe. But happiness is the blessing for those of us who don´t busy ourselves with unnecessary overthinking."

"Happiness is utopic."

"I wouldn´t think so. After all, you too were happy one day."

"Why is it that you´re so intent on looking back, Thor? Your present is flawless, and your past pales in comparison."

And Thor wished there was some jealously behind those words, instead, there was only bitter, dry sincerity.

"Is your present not good, brother?" Thor blushed as soon as he finished speaking, when he realized what he had inquired, and Loki´s sarcastic laugh embarrassed him further.

"Of course it is, Thor. Beautiful. In fact, my life situation has never been better."

"That is not what I meant, and you know it."

"Your way with words amuses me."

Thor grunted. "Does Anthony not make you happy?"

"Happiness is but an illusion, Thor. Tony does make my days more… Exciting."

"You keep dancing around the point, brother."

"Oh, but there is no point to dance around." Loki smirked. Thor´s frustration was palpable, and he found it sinfully delicious. "You ask vain questions, and I give vain answers."

"Well, whatever the case might be, I´m glad your days in Midgard have given a turn for the best."

"Yes, I am certainly enjoying my last days."

"Oh, for the Norns, please do shut up."

Loki chuckled lowly, and Thor let out an irritated smile. If this was how his brother coped with his anxiety…

"What will you do? After your punishment has been lifted and you´re free? Will you stay here? Go back to Asgard?"

"I…"

The doors to the gym slid open with the lightest of sounds, and revealed a silhouette, profiled against the light entering from the hallway.

"Jarvis told me you two were trying to bring my gym down, so tone it down, if you…" Tony stopped mid-sentence, when he noticed the relaxed stance of both gods, lying on the dark room´s floor like kids telling each other secrets. He cleared his throat. "Am I interrupting a crucial, cheesy brother-y reconciliation time? Because I can leave."

Loki climbed to his feet, followed shortly after by Thor, he took his boots and walked up to the mortal. Had he found him that morning, he would probably have attempted to strangle him, but his sparring had made effect, and now he was just mildly irritated.

"Where have you been?" As if he didn´t know.

Tony shrugged. "I booked us a table for dinner, go get a shower."

"You´re not, as they say `off the hook`, Tony." He hissed, rising once again after fixing his shoes.

"Give me two hours and a bottle of whiskey, Sweetcheeks." Tony grinned, prompting the two gods off the gym and into the hall. "Clint just came in from grocery duty, big guy, I think there are poptarts in one of the bags."

Thor grinned back. "Then I shall go and find them, friend of mine. Have a nice evening." He waved them when they reached an intersection. He stopped, however, when he noticed Loki stared directly at him.

"I am unwanted in Asgard. And maybe it would be for the best if I don´t go where I´m not wanted."

"Brother?"

"I don´t condone you for falling into the illusion. It is nice, after all." And, without another word, he spun on his heels and pulled Tony along with him. The mortal could only give Thor a half-shrug that the god was quick to return, even when he knew perfectly what Loki had meant.

He sighed, part relieved, part resigned, and moved on in his search for poptarts.

Chapter Text

It started with a punch. Or maybe something else ended with it.

Whichever it was, there was a punch involved.

Long-lived as he was, Loki had received his fair share of punches. Having grown up with Thor, he couldn´t really say it had been the hardest he´d got. But damn, Barton really did know how to punch.

Had he been human Loki had no doubt he´d have been knocked out.

"Classy, Barton."

Clint cracked his knuckles.

"It had to be done."

"I will give you that."

Silence ensued for a moment, while Loki pondered what exactly did Clint want from him and the human, across the room, did the same. Loki even had time to resent the fact that his apartment was now officially Avengers-allowing.

"What are you doing here?"

Loki rolled his eyes. "Hiding. I thought you had all been informed."

"I´m surprised you didn´t try to contact me first."

"I´m surprised you dared facing me alone."

Clint huffed. "I know you can´t control me anymore."

"There you go." And the god leaned back on the couch.

"Besides, I can´t say I actively tried to contact with any of you. Tony is just a persistent, stubborn meddler."

"Yes, that´s my next point."

Only a blink later, Loki found himself cornered against the backrest, the edge of a knife pressed firmly to his throat.

"I don´t know what your game is. And I couldn´t give less of a shit. But I´m warning you." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "You do as much as lift a finger to hurt my teammates in any way, and I will deal with you personally. Not Thor. Not Tony. Not… Man, you don´t even mess with Jarvis on my watch, got it?"

Loki clenched his teeth together.

"I believe, Agent Barton" He brought his hand up slowly, and clamped it shut around Clint´s wrists. Not strongly enough to crush his weak mortal bones, but to lightly bruise the area. Just a reminder. A warning for a warning. "That you seem to have forgotten who has the authority here."

"I´ve been wounded before, sir." Clint hissed back, embedding the title in a mocking tone. "But I believe you know perfectly well that I´m capable of dealing quite a fair amount of damage before I´m downed." He shook his hand, and Loki let his wrist go, with a roll of his eyes. "I will be watching you."

"Ah, Barton… Your lack of trust in your former master wrenches my heart."

Clint smirked.

"I´d say it´s nothing personal except that, you know, it totally is."

"What a shame… You and I could´ve share such a particular friendship..."

"Well, fuck you."

 

--

 

Thor hummed contently under the sun.

He had taken possession of a high rooftop for the day. He watched over New York with fondness, glad that it was safe, and that it held nearly everything he considered dear.

He wished, not for the first time, that Jane come and live with him. But his was a fierce and determined lady, dedicated to her discoveries, and he wouldn´t love her the same if that wasn´t the case.

Suddenly, the air all around him thickened noticeably, bringing him the scent of something he knew but couldn´t place at the moment. However, both the feeling and the scent were gone so quickly he couldn´t even be sure it had been real.

Suspicions arose in his chest, and he climbed promptly to his feet. He swung Mjölnir and jumped off the building.

 

--

 

"Stay down" was the implicit command. None had given it, but both followed it, an arm stretched to make sure the other did the same.

Clint´s knife was still safely clutched in his right hand and Loki eyed it, measuring his chances.

Silence was heavy in the apartment.

Loki shot forward, and Clint lost his weapon.

 

--

 

"Sir?"

"Yes Jarv?" Tony spoke from his place at the minibar, where he enjoyed a rather rare moment of peace while he thought of something else to do.

"I´m registering abnormal activity in Mr. Laufeyson´s residence."

"… Abnormal activity meaning…?"

"I registered a sudden increase in the energy readings."

"… is Clint there?"

"Mr. Barton was indeed last seen half an hour ago in the building´s lobby, Sir."

"… Shit."

 

--

 

He reached the apartment in record time. He had tried calling both Loki and Clint in the way there, but one of them took the call and that made nothing to ease the suspicions he harbored. He knew those two shouldn´t have been left alone…

Thor landed in front of the main entrance just as he reached for it. Tony looked up at his teammate, and the sinking feeling in his stomach intensified.

"Hey big guy. What brings you here?"

"I have a bad feeling, Anthony."

"We both, buddy." And he pushed the door open.

The lobby was completely empty.

Tony frowned, usually, there was always a receptionist at least… He hoped they hadn´t heard Clint´s agonizing screams, and disappeared after calling the police. He then mentally slapped himself for being so shamefully dramatic.

They boarded the elevator, and it was for sure one of the longest pauses they had endured. When the polished doors parted, the hallway leading to the apartment was as empty as the lobby.

And the apartment door was no more.

It laid, cracked and bent, against the right wall; the lock hanging with the strenght of a pull.

Tony felt his eyebrows arch on their own because really, why would Loki rip the door from its hinges?

Only when Thor sprung through the hall did he realize he was getting everything wrong. He followed.

The apartment was in no better state than the door itself.

The biggest couch laid on its side, the rug was covered with the white and spongy filling of a cushion. There was a burn in the wall that had even ripped some plaster off, and the T.V. sported a nice gash across the screen, courtesy of the foreign-shaped blade stabbed through it.

Thor froze on his place, Mjölnir clenched tight and ready. He gestured to Tony, bringing his index finger to his lips, while his narrowed eyes scanned the room with cold precision. When he started walking and made no sound at all, Tony remembered he was, after all, a soldier and a warrior. This was the calm before the storm.

He tried following making as little noise as possible, while the gauntlet he´d brought from the car assembled itself to his wrist. Thor pointed at the bathroom door, closed and seemingly undisturbed. Tony nodded wordlessly, and took a step forward, only to cling to Thor´s forearm a second after when he lost his balance.

He looked down to where his sole had slipped on a dark, red-ish puddle.

"Shit…" He cursed under his breath, and Thor answered with his own cursing in his ancient tongue.

The blood-like fluid seemed to lead to the bathroom, and they followed once again, stiffer than before.

The door seemed to tremble in anticipation when Thor reached a hand to the knob, and turned it.

Tony would later say it looked like a fight between two big cats (A lion and a panther, probably, he´d later think) when the door opened.

Thor was pushed back like it was nothing, and something big and black jumped on him, sending them both crashing against the floor. Nearly on reflex, Thor used his legs to push the creature off and roll them over. However, the creature squirmed from under him, and aimed a kick to his face, which Thor trapped and pulled, brought the creature closer and… grabbed Loki by the neck.

The other struggled a bit more and tangled a hand in the blond´s hair.

Tony had never seen Loki like that. The closer had been during the New York invasion, but not to that extent. Paler than ever, his widened eyes glared at Thor with a crazed frenzy he´d only ever seen in some wildlife documental. It was the desperate attack of a prey that would fight to its dying breath.

"Loki?!" He asked, in time with Thor, and watched as the god´s glare slowly lost its focus and his hand relaxed in the golden locks.

"Brother? It´s me…" Thor muttered, suspicious, and gradually let go of him, first his ankle, then his neck, and his hands went to rest over Loki´s shoulders.

Loki swallowed once, tightly, and turned his head.

"We should throw some mud on them."

Tony spun on his spot so quickly he tumbled a little, and found Clint watching the scene unfold with little interest.

"Thank God you´re alive… I could already see ´Murdered by revengeful redheaded spy´ in my headstone." He sighed in relief and slapped his forearm. Clint arched an eyebrow, smirking.

"I thought you trusted your little fling…"

"Are you nuts? Why would I ever trust him?" Tony smirked back. "What the fuck happened?" He asked, ignoring the grunted ´get off me, you oaf´ and the ´not until you´ve calmed down´ that came from the floor.

Clint sighed, and pulled him around the couch. Tony made no sound, but his eyebrows arched slightly at the sight there.

On a bigger blood puddle than the one he´d slipped in, there was a corpse. A Chitauri corpse. A badly maimed, repeatedly stabbed Chitauri corpse.

He gestured at the quarreling gods, asking a silent question, and Clint nodded approvingly.

"He was like a rabid dog, if you ask me." And he cracked his neck. "Help me."

The two of them turned the couch back to its original position and sat, pointedly ignoring the corpse behind them.

"How?"

Clint shrugged in response to Tony´s question, before he let himself fall against the backrest of the couch and spoke while looking at the ceiling.

 

--

 

"Well fuck you."

The god stared up at him, and he stared down at him.

No one paid any mind to the steps down the hallway beyond the door.

At some point during their staring contest, though, Loki broke the match, turning to face his wrist that had just started beeping frantically.

Clint watched his face as his expression turned from confusion, to suspicion, to surprise, to panic, and his head whipped to the door.

He then found himself flying across the air in the grip of the god until they landed behind the couch. He was just about to ask what the fuck had gotten into Loki, when the door was ripped off.

That was when his instincts kicked in. He crouched as low as he could, making no sound as he took deep breaths to stabilize the adrenaline that had started pumping through his veins.

Just a second later, Loki had stolen his knife and thrown himself against the invader. Following his moves, Clint sprung forward and watched as the god stabbed the alien viciously on any place he could reach. It was impressing, really, watching the usually so collected Loki lose control like that.

The alien´s legs gave out, and Loki let it slip into a puddle of its own blood before he bounced back. Clint had just crouched again to check the Chitauri for any remaining life signs, when he felt every hair in his head stand on edge.

The blast flew over his head and grazed the front of Loki´s shirt only because the god stepped sideways at the last second.

Clint froze on his spot barely an instant, and then spun around to face the second alien.

The Chitauri stood at the threshold, with an odd-shaped blade raised to point at them. It glowed for a second before shooting another blast. Clint didn`t dare tearing his gaze off the attacker, but due to the lack of noise behind him, he assumed Loki had managed to dodge again. The Chitauri changed its stance, and threw the blade against them just as two of Clint´s knives stabbed themselves in his shoulder and stomach.

It was Clint who rushed past the god and dragged him by his arm until he had safely closed the bathroom door behind them. The brunet took a second to breathe deeply again, and watched Loki, who was apparently in some kind of shock.

Then they heard the new set of footsteps.

 

--

 

"I´d say you should take him to get therapy or something." Clint shrugged. "But he deserves it."

"Asshole."

"You mean he doesn´t?"

"… Need therapy? Or deserve this?"

"Both."

"… Shut up." And he looked around the apartment. "We didn´t see any other body when we came here. What happened to the second one?"

Clint shrugged. "Must´ve escaped. We can look for it later."

Tony sighed, and clapped him loudly on the back.

"Thank you."

"You owe me. Big time." Clint looked uneasy for a second. "He´s going to get killed if he doesn´t get his powers back, right?"

"If only... Apparently death is too merciful for the fuckers."

"I still think we should let S.H.I.E.L.D. know."

"It would be counterproductive… Thor would tear the base apart the moment they start trying to get information out of him."

"I think…"

"I think you should leave my apartment." Apparently, Loki had been deemed stable enough to be set free from Thor´s grasp, and had scurried over to them.

"Are you kidding me?" Tony arched an eyebrow. "This place is not safe anymore, how did they even find you?" He pulled Loki down on the couch with them, and mentally cheered Clint for not raising immediately after.

Loki pursed his thin lips. "I believe it shares connection to the fact that I used a lot of magic in this space, to create the fake scepter and try your device."

"… Well fuck."

"Indeed, my dearest."

"Oh, god. You have pet names." And off from the couch went Clint, to stand next to Thor. "You start cuddling and I´m out, got it?"

Tony smirked. "We start cuddling and I´m out." And he sighed. "Anyways… Nice to see that the bracelet worked… I guess we have to move you, then."

Loki nodded silently.

Slowly, Clint realized every pair of eyes in the apartment were fixed on him, and he frowned.

"No. Oh, no he´s not."

"Friend Clint…"

"No."

"Birdie…"

Loki´s lips twirled into an amused grin.

"I said no."

"Don´t be such a baby…"

"You´re not getting that into the Tower!"

"He´s my brother!"

"It´s my Tower!"

"I´ll set Nat loose on your asses!"

"She´d agree it´s the best choice!"

"He´s staring at me!"

At this, they all turned to where Loki held Clint under his predator glance and entertained smirk.

"… You´re not exactly helping our case, Sweetcheeks." Tony rubbed his nape, and Loki´s smirk grew wider.

"Is there even a case, though?"

"Of course there is! You´re not getting into the Tower. Where I live. And my teammates... Do you even remember what I told you?!"

"Oh, I do… However, I do not plan on harming your beloved teammates, not in a conventional way, at least." He rose from the couch in a graceful move, and hooked an arm through Tony´s. "With that in mind, I strongly advise you against coming to find me." He pulled Tony through the ripped door. "Unless of course, you´re ready to see what you´re going to find."

And they disappeared down the hall, while both Thor and Clint were left in an uncomfortable silence.

"… That was unnecessary."

"You shouldn´t have let my brother know you feel uncomfortable towards his relationship with Anthony… You should never let my brother know you feel uncomfortable about anything." He cleared his throat. "You should probably never let my brother know anything about you. That way maybe he won´t use it against you."

 

--

 

They remained in silence, as they had for a while already.

Silent had been the ride in the elevator, and the way back to the tower, and silent had been Loki since he´d entered the penthouse and sat on the leather couch.

Tony, who followed his traditions religiously, applied the code for "after being through an emergency or getting the shit scared out of you." And poured himself a scotch.

He looked over his shoulder, to where Loki remained silent in his seat, not looking at anything in particular and still in his blood-stained clothes.

Loki flinched slightly when Tony purposely slammed the scotch bottle on the low table and threw himself on the couch at his side.

"Have some. It´s good." And he offered him his glass.

Loki took it, albeit a little hesitant, and took a long sip of it relishing the light burn when it ran down his throat.

"We shouldn´t have let it escape…" He muttered, hoarsely. "I would have given it chase, but your idiotic teammate got in the way."

"There were probably more out there, waiting for you to do just that." Tony poured himself another drink and downed it in one gulp, before serving a third one and passing it to Loki again. "They will probably tear the apartment down, but it doesn´t matter. Good thing you have used next to nothing of your magic in here, huh?"

"One would think so…" Loki twirled the glass, staring into the liquid as if it held the meaning of life. Tony huffed lightly, and wrapped a hand around his nape. When it wasn´t immediately shrugged off (because yes, despite what he might have said, they did have their cuddly moments, but right now the mood was a bit… Tense.) he rubbed slowly, as if trying to ease the knot of muscles beneath his hand.

"Go take a shower, Loks."

"Don't tell me what to do."

Tony grinned. That was more like it.

"Fine, then. I´m certainly in need of a shower. And perhaps a moment in the Jacuzzi. Have fun sitting alone while all that blood crusts on you." And he stepped off the couch. Loki made no sound or moved to follow him, but he let it slip. After all, the pale hand that pulled the shower door open five minutes later spoke more than anything else.

Even in the Jacuzzi later that night, they were both still unnervingly silent.

Tony was already planning on how to install a replica of the Chitauri tracer into Jarvis´ system, when the low whisper shook him of his thoughts.

"Come here."

He smirked.

"So you´re not that freaked out after all… I declare happy survivor sex?" But the lack of an expression in Loki´s face made his chest burn.

"Anthony."

He didn´t notice when his smirk softened into a smile. He skidded through the water until he was pressed against Loki´s side, and wrapped an arm around the taller man´s waist.

"Say that again."

Loki turned to hide his face in the billionaire´s neck, who frowned for a second in confusion, before he felt the bite and the light smile.

"Anthony."

He smiled again, and resumed watching the city´s skyline as it got darker and darker. If just for now, things were fine enough.

He wished he didn´t know it was just temporal.

Chapter Text

Things went just as he predicted, and really, Tony loved being right. But he really should have spared the consequences more than just a fleeting thought as he pulled Loki into bed with him.

"Your Jarvis informed me the apartment has been destroyed. Apparently Thor insisted on checking the mess himself." Loki informed him in the morning. The god occupied his preferred spot on the leather couch, picking bits of the breakfast tray laid out in front of him.

"How nice of him." Tony stretched, bones popping loudly, and stuttered over to the couch himself. "He´ll surely find any traces they could´ve left, right?"

"I would hope so. I´ll make sure to double-check, anyways."

"Your lack of trust in his abilities is painful."

"I speak with the voice of experience." And he pushed the tray to him, picking one of the carefully arranged plates for him. "Your device worked marvelously."

"That I hear. It´s nice to know." Tony rubbed at his eyes some more, before he finally bothered to start with the food. As soon as he was awake enough, next step was heading for the lab and start working on the tracker right away. Steve would fetch him if they needed him.

On another topic, he also needed to ask Pepper to file a report specifying the apartment had suffered damage from something more… Earthly.

"Jarvis also said Steve is fending off Coulson at the moment."

Tony choked on his juice.

"Coulson… What?"

Loki looked up, as if pleading for divine intervention, and Jarvi´s voice echoed around them.

"It appears the neighboring street cameras caught a few glimpses of the attackers, Sir. Given the circumstances, Agent Coulson has made it clear he expects you to join him as soon as possible, else, and I quote, he `Overrides my safety protocols and comes looking for you himself´. Captain Rogers has been kind enough to buy you some time to think."

"… Oh, God." He rubbed his forehead. "… Oh, God…" He whispered even lower.

"Eloquent, Tony dearest."

He heard more than saw the smirk the god wore.

"What´s so funny? Do you know how you´ll end when Phil finds you here?"

"Dead. Or as a lab rat for them to try everything they´ve been forbid to try on Thor." He shrugged. "That's news for me."

"Are we seriously going down depression lane again, Lok? Right nows? I need to think, and fast. Even Steve can only hold Phil for so long." He gripped his own forehead for a second again, forcing himself to come up with a plan. "Where are they, Jarv?"

"Right outside, Sir."

"Ok, that´s bad… But fine. Loki, I want you to stay in Thor´s floor until…"

"No."

"… After we´ve sorted this out. I hope you didn´t make it worse with Clint yesterday, beca… What?"

"No."

"Yes, Sweetcheeks, I heard that, but what the fuck do you mean by `no´?"

"I will not hide." Loki clarified, not once looking up from his steaming cup of tea. "I will remain here, and speak to Agent Coulson myself."

"… Loks I don´t think you actually remember what you did last time you were here, you didn´t exactly part on best ways with Phil, what with stabbing him into a comma and all that jazz…"

"I´m staying."

"Of course you´re not."

"Are you going to force me out?"

"I could always get the suit." Tony frowned when Loki only smirked.

"Ah, yes. That won´t attract Agent Coulson´s attention at all. My, you´re clever."

"Loki, don't do this."

Loki paid no mind to Tony´s frustrated plea, sipping the last remnants of his tea, and setting the cup back on the table. Just on cue, the elevator´s doors opened silently, and two sets f footsteps echoed behind the partition wall.

"Jarvis?!" Tony exclaimed at the ceiling like it had personally offended him.

"My deepest apologies, Sir. Agent Coulson seemed to be done with waiting, and the decisions here seemed to have been made. I just wanted to save you the time of fixing whatever Agent Coulson broke when coming in."

"Not cool, Jarv." He grunted through clenched teeth, before turning to face the two newcomers.

Coulson stepped in first, his black suit as crisp as ever, and a grim expression set on his face. Behind him, Steve walked in nervously sent Tony an apologetic glance, and then a panicked one, as he noticed Loki sitting calmly by the couch. At this, Coulson´s lips thinned in a way that was barely noticeable, and one of his eyebrows arched up.

"I believe we have some things to talk about." He voiced aloud, looking at Tony in the eye.

When he only looked mildly taken aback as it was not him who answered.

"I believe we do, indeed, Agent. If you all were so kind to grab a seat, we could start right now."

Coulson´s lips thinned a bit more, but he did as suggested, Steve following right behind him in what Tony couldn´t figure was either a show of support or a reminder of his presence. Tony himself plopped down next to Loki.

"Loki."

"Greetings, Agent. It is a pleasant surprise to find you alive and well."

"Forgive me, but I find that hard to believe." Coulson spoke blankly.

"I´m sure of it. But it does speak of your resilience, and for that I congratulate you."

"Drop it." Coulson threw back, taking in the slight flinch in Loki´s features. "What are you doing in Earth. Again?"

"Working my sentence, of course. As much as I had expressed my desires towards owning your realm, let it be clear that my intentions never including living amongst you."

"And yet here you are, sprawled on Tony Stark´s couch. Funny turn of events, huh?"

Loki smirked. "Funny, indeed. You wouldn´t believe it."

"I don´t."

Tony´s eyebrows arched on their own, and across the table, Steve mirrored him.

"I don´t expect you to." Loki composed a smirk. "It is quite hard to understand. I´m not sure I´ve got it myself."

"How long have you been on Earth?"

"Nearly eight on your mortal months."

Coulson´s eyebrows arched. "I see. And since when have you been in touch with Mr. Stark and the rest of the Avengers?"

Tony sighed, looking ahead at Steve, who had assumed the proud, rigid position of the soldier about to be scolded.

"Quite recently, in fact. A week, two at most." Loki nodded to himself, ignoring the way both Tony and Steve´s eyes bore into him.

"A week, and you spent the night here…" Coulson´s eyes focused on Tony. "That´s almost a bit too you, Mr. Stark."

"You´re getting it wrong, Phil. Help for a friend. Thor heard the Chitauri were in town and asked me to keep him safe for the night." He answered nonchalantly, slipping far too easily into the lie.

"Keep Loki safe from his own army?"

"Yes… Maybe you want to ask him about that next."

Coulson turned back to Loki, an expression of professional curiosity plastered on. The god rolled his eyes and sighed dramatically.

"This is the part where I admit I was not as in control as I´d have liked isn´t it?" he asked to no one in particular. "My 'army' is looking for me. Their commander thinks me responsible of their failure, and is keen on reminding me I have yet to suffer the threats they imposed on me in the case of such an event."

"Why haven´t you escaped the realm yet, then?"

Tony sent Loki a sideways glance, wondering whether the sorcerer would risk it either by confessing he had no power or that he couldn´t use what was left.

"You mortals really don´t understand magic at all, do you?" Loki smirked, and next to him, Tony fought back a twin expression. So, no risking it, it was.

"Can´t your brother inform Odin of your predicament? If your sentence on Earth endangers the civil like it did last night, I´m afraid we can´t allow for it to continue."

"Odin either doesn´t care or… No, he just doesn´t care." And Loki swatted the thought away with a hand, as one would with an annoying fly. "I must admit you surprise me, Agent. If my residence in your Realm were of no repercussions to your peasants, would you really let me be?"

"Now, I didn´t say that, did I?" Coulson allowed himself the slightest hint of a smirk, and tony had to admit it was terrifying. Even Steve looked sideways, frowning in surprise. "I do expect you to come in for questioning and trial."

"And I do expect you to remember that I am in possession of political immunity, as both foreign royalty and a reforming criminal."

"I will look into that." And if that causal tone would ever be used as a threat, Coulson made it work without looking like he even tried it. "Now if you will excuse us, I need to debrief Mr. Stark on the Chitauri incident, unless you can tell me why they were so fixated on destroying that particular property of his."

Loki shrugged. "They´re growing desperate, that I can tell you."

Coulson turned to Tony again, who just shrugged as well.

"Look, Phil, I don´t know. I gave Thor the key to that one in case Jane wanted to come over on her day off and not stay here. Maybe they saw him going in and thought he might be hiding Loki in there." He really, really hoped Thor would look past the lie and instead take joy on the fact that his brother was, at the moment, not cuffed in an interrogation room.

"Plausible, if they are really looking for Loki." He cleared his throat. "Are you sure you haven´t been in contact with him for longer than he claims?"

"I think I´d remember that."

"Captain Rogers?"

Tony felt Loki tensing up next to him, and could practically see Steve swallowing his morals after one look at their pleading eyes.

"I didn´t think it was of importance. Loki has behaved well enough."

Well, maybe it was a bit too much to expect him to just outward lie… But that was just good enough.

"I see. I take it the rest of the team is involved as well?"

Steve nodded. "We´ve been debating on whether it was better to make it public or keep it secret until Loki fulfilled his sentence and was taken back to Asgard, but we all agreed to help Thor keeping an eye on him."

"Way to dodge uncomfortable truths there, Steve." Tony thought, grinning inwardly.

Coulson nodded to himself, and climbed to his feet, prompting them all to do the same. He scanned the room once, his eyes lingering on everyone else´s just a second longer than necessary.

"Thanks for your time, gentlemen." He nodded to each. "I will report back to Director Fury, Stark, so expect a visit from him soon." He addressed him, before walking over to the door.

"I´ll manage him."

"Yes, I´m sure." Coulson answered. "Just for the record, though, how nice of you to let your teammate´s brother share your bed, Mr. Stark. Such confidence acquired over just a week…"

The doors slipped closed behind him, leaving them all frozen in their spot.

"How did he…?" Steve muttered, forgetting to be embarrassed in his consternation.

Loki rubbed his forehead, while Tony turned around, and found said bed. Said undone bed, with one side scrambled further down, suggesting a taller person under the covers, and both pillows clearly hollowed.

He turned back to find Loki smirking tiredly into his own hand.

"So much for keeping you out." He muttered, in a tone that was hard to classify as either hysterical or truly amused.

"Yes I… Thank you for that." Steve patted his shoulder awkwardly, before turning to the elevator. "I´ll go gather the team, I reckon we need another meeting." And he gestured at Loki. "I expect you to be there this time."

"Oh? No more discussing Loki behind his back? Well this is a novelty."

Steve arched an eyebrow questioningly, sending a confused glance to Tony, who just shook his head in a "don´t ask" manner and ushered him out.

"I don´t know whether to be surprised that you actually tried to charmingly outsmart Phil, or the fact that we made it out alive after he noticed we lied." He muttered after a second, sitting on the corner of the bed and beckoning Loki to him with an inviting gesture. "I´d like to see you try that one on Fury next."

"Excuse me if I still consider it as the least of my problems." Loki sat next to the mortal and allowed him to wrap an arm around his frame.

"But is it, really?" Tony asked, mockingly.

"Yes, it is." Even Loki was a little surprised when he pulled Tony closer and embraced him. "Trust me, it is."

Tony swallowed tightly, and managed to slide a hand up and down soothingly over Loki´s tense back.

"One step at a time, Loks." He whispered, for a lack of any decent answer. He knew Loki was running a race with the finish line nowhere in line. He knew what the most probable outcome was.

And Tony loved being right, really. Except this time he didn´t.

Chapter Text

"So your little circus act is over." Clint smirked.

"That´s rich, coming from you." Loki countered dryly, and rolled his eyes at the archer´s glare.

"Calm down, girls… We have bigger issues here." Tony intervened, rubbing the bridge of his nose like he´d been doing the whole morning and wishing someone would just put the damned world on hold and bring him a coffee. "Phil found out Loki lied about… Well, us. But you can still get out clean."

"I will face the Director with you, Anthony. I doubt even my brother could convince him I wasn´t involved in the situation."

"Nor would I even try, just for the record." Loki smirked, leaning back against the wall. Thor rolled his eyes.

"For someone who just got caught with their hand in the cookie jar, you sure do look confident." Bruce commented warily. Loki spared him a fleeting glance, and sighed.

"If there is a way out, I will find it in time. If there isn´t, I will create one. There´s no need for me to worry."

Tony arched an eyebrow, remembering of the god´s breakdown in the apartment after the Chitauri had been caught, but decided against commenting on it with such an audience.

"You might need to worry about the fact that you probably just condemned your sugar daddy to an early retirement order." Clint grinned charmingly from his spot on the table. Loki´s lips thinned in disgust.

"Your Midgardian slang is so tasteless…" He sighed. "I can manage your Director."

"You can´t even manage your own army." Natasha suddenly spoke. Tony made a face and looked away because when Natasha decided to go in dirty, things were definitively not going to come out right.

Loki shot forward from the wall, hissing. "I´d like to see you try managing the Chitauri, you filthy…" His breath was cut when Thor´s arm slammed against his chest, holding the hammer. "If any of you knew what it was like... Those disgusting creatures are no allies of mine. They are but hunting mutts, I was only…" He cut himself short, and held her under his glare. Natasha´s mouth quirked slightly upwards.

"Calm down, Loki. We both know your tongue gets loose when you´re this mad." She walked straight up to where Thor held Loki still, and looked up to face him. "We wouldn´t want you spilling secrets to our Director. It might be counterproductive if there´s still someone willing to step into the fire for you in this team."

Tony looked sideways to Clint, who seemed to be having a one man parade, and slapped the back of his head.

"Trust me, you don´t want him angry." He whispered. Clint kept grinning.

"Trust me. Between those two, he´d be the least of out problems."

Loki looked down into the small woman´s green eyes. Cold.

Cold as ever.

He exhaled sharply and glared harder (He chose to ignore the fact that he was using what he called a `Thor-technique´), but she didn´t flinch. Her gaze didn´t flicker. Slowly, like a crack through ice, he felt a smile come to his face.

"Why, Romanoff, if I wasn´t sure I´d think you´re trying to be of use here."

"Stark is the majority of our funding. If he gets taken off the equation because he you were too busy fucking around with him to solve your own problems, I´m taking you down."

Loki rolled his eyes. "When will you mortals understand there is no solving my `problem´? Either they get me or I get my magic back in time to get rid of them. The only players here are I, the Chitauri, and Odin´s mercy, which, if I might add, has always been a little blind." He ignored Thor´s glare. "Let your Director come. I do not fear him."

 

--

 

"I should´ve expected this." Nick Fury was definitively one of a kind, Loki had decided since he first met him. He looked at the god in the eye, his arms firmly tangled at his back. Even back then, it had reeled on his nerves. It made Loki feel as if he was actually no threat at all. Like he had no control over anything. And that was something he´d fight to the grave. "You´re as impossible to kill as a fucking cockroach."

Loki stared hard at him, feeling the weight of all eyes in the room, but said nothing. Fury frowned.

"So? Back for another round so soon?"

"Not quite."

"Yes, I was informed that you´re not what we´d call a willing guest, mister real power." He smirked. "Got ridden hard at home and decided you´d rather spend your days in the shadow with the rest of us ants?"

Loki glared. He wanted to answer, oh, how he wanted it. But the mortal was right. Surviving was his most finely honed skill, and this was a delicate situation. Then Thor stepped forward and he suppressed an eye roll, hoping he wouldn't ruin everything.

"Director, my…"

"Shut your piehole, Odinson. I haven´t decided what I want to tell you yet, don´t make it worse."

Looking sideways, Loki could practically see Thor willing himself not to thunder the insolent mortal down to ashes. He smirked without even noticing.

"If you´re done barking, I´d ask what you want of me, for I wish to finish my breakfast." Loki spoke clearly in a controlled voice.

"Eat slowly, then, because it´s the last Stark-quality food you´re having." Fury answered, sending another of his wrathful glares at Tony. "I have been informed that you´re working your sentence down here."

"That is correct. And as such, I´d like to remind you that I am politically untouchable."

"Yeah well tell that to your old invasion buddies."

"Them I´ll manage on my own." Loki tried a stern glare, but Fury smiled maliciously.

"You think you can fool me, Laufeyson?" Oh, how he despised that name, Loki thought as Fury edged closer to him, like an owl closing on its prey. "I know how you work. Last time nothing stopped you from creating a way in. If you had the means to get out you´d already be half a fucking galaxy away." His voice lowered to a menacing mutter. "The way I see it, you have two options."

"Forgive me if I think your vision might be somewhat limited." The god said, smiling charmingly. Tony snorted back a chuckle, and against his will, Clint did the same. "What might those two options be?"

"Either my team kicks you out of the Tower and your little friends find you out on the open, or you come with S.H.I.E.L.D. for… Safekeeping. You get a nice, cozy room, three meals a day…"

"And a daily hour of recreational play with a team of scientists and heavy sedatives?" Loki guessed.

Fury didn´t smile this time, but the triumph was visible in his eye. "Your pick."

Tony frowned. "Excuse me? I didn´t know you could kick people out of MY tower."

The man barely spared him a glance. "Looks like I can, Stark."

Loki raised a hand to stop him even before his lips parted.

"I´ll give you a second to think of it." From the tone of his voice, it was evident that Fury thought the case won. He turned to face the team. "Now. You."

Even Natasha tensed under the strength of the glare. Steve spoke out.

"Sir?"

"Don´t `sir´ me, Rogers. Do you all think I´m a fucking idiot, by any chance?"

Tony smiled. "Well…" But his voice was cut short by Steve´s pinch on his arm.

"Well? Is anyone going to explain why you thought hiding this motherfucker was a good idea?" He scanned them all. Thor kept quiet, but met his gaze proud and defiant. His spies gave nothing away, Rogers held position like a goddamned army poster boy and surely there was a way he could snap Stark´s neck and still get funding from his company, right? He´d have Coulson look into that.

"Actually, we´ve only been hiding him for…"

"Don't feed me that crap, Rogers, I´ll give my other eye if you can tell me you didn´t know Stark was fucking him."

Steve straightened further. "Who Tony brings into his room is no business of ours. The Tower is his, and for what I understand, Loki has been going in and out through private exits." He half-lied. "We found out by accident."

Fury glared at him for a second longer. "Banner?"

Tony relaxed momentarily. Behind Fury, Loki seemed to be trying to glare a hole through the Director´s skull.

"I had no idea. I was obviously kept blind to avoid damage to either the city, the Tower or Loki himself. I think there´s no doubt that he doesn´t get along with the other guy." Bruce allowed himself a small smile, when Fury acknowledged his words with a nod and moved on without questioning. Sometimes he held a little love for his rage issues.

"Barton."

Clint clicked his tongue, bored. "I caught them exchanging fluids not long ago, boss. I wish I could unsee it, for various reasons."

"And you did not think it prudent to report back?"

"I was instructed that matters concerning the Team would be discussed with the Team´s leader first, boss." The archer shrugged. Tony wanted to hug him hard and awkwardly.

"This won´t be repeated." Fury was not asking.

"Yes, boss."

And then the Director´s eyes narrowed, and he turned to Natasha. Tony felt his pulse quickening, and for a second he thought he could smell the tension in the room.

"Romanoff?"

Natasha stood to attention. She felt every eye on her, and suppressed a smirk.

"I was informed of Loki´s presence ten days ago. I was not aware of Stark´s doings." She held the Director´s gaze. "Steve provided valid reasons as to why we should take care of the matter as a team, and we voted on it."

"… You voted on it." Fury repeated, his voice strangled. "You voted on hiding a fucking convict while he played house with Stark?!"

"Yes." She reassured.

Tony decided he´d get her a death ray for Christmas. She´d won it.

Fury shook his head, apparently mesmerized by his team´s amazing stupidity, and turned back to Loki.

"So? What will it be?"

Loki´s face gave nothing away as he stared right back at Fury.

"You play your cards convincingly, Director." Was all he said for a start. He noticed Thor´s glance hardening, yet his choice had been made. His pride was big. But his need was bigger. He tried not to think of anything as he spoke his next words, not to look at anyone in particular. "I shall play your guest for a while. But do remember my power will be back in no time, in case your scientists want to play a bit too rough."

The corner of Fury´s mouth twitched upwards. "If you say so. My men are down at ground level, they will escort you." Fury answered, walking for the door without even looking back. "Shall I grant you a moment to say goodbye?" He added, with a hint of a sneer.

"If you would be so kind." Loki took a small taste of satisfaction when Fury spun around on his heels to look at him as if he´d grown a third arm. He gifted him with his most charming smile (which coincidentally was also the creepiest). Fury frowned, but turned back and left the room, followed shortly by Coulson. He blinked slowly once. He´d rather have this done with fast. As always, his life held no certainties.

"You were not sent here to be made a prisoner, brother." Thor started. Loki wanted to throw himself out the nearest window. Instead, he just rolled his eyes.

"Must you always be so unbearably naive, Thor? If this man wants to make my enemies his own, I´ll bear some of his troubling. I hardly doubt they can do me any harm, even if they tried."

"It is past time you stopped underestimating the midgardians."

"That would take some proving on their part."

Thor gestured behind him with a broad hand. "Have you met my team here, brother? Or perhaps you forget how they..."

"Thor shut it, buddy." Tony rubbed his brow. At this pace, he´d rub it right off his face. Thor was obviously uneasy about his brother´s fate amongst S.H.I.E.L.D.´s scientists, but Loki had done what he wanted, whether they liked or not. "You both are giving me a headache."

"I´ve heard sex helps with that." Clint quipped in, smirking. "Which really sucks, because you totally just lost you bedwarmer."

"Bedfreezer more so. It´s like fucking a damned..."

"I don´t need to hear it!"

Tony smiled. "Get off."

Steve nodded. "Let´s go." He started for the door, and stopped a few steps before walking past Loki. "Good luck."

"Same to you, Captain." Loki noticed the mortal staring, and sighed. "Same to you, Steven."

Steve shrugged and went on. Clint and Bruce followed without a word, but when Natasha tried for the same the god stepped in her way, glaring down at her.

"You do not have my loyalty, Romanoff."

Natasha stared up at him, expressionless.

"I don´t look for loyalty. I take advantage of indebting people." And she walked past him, not deigning him with another glance. Loki´s frown deepened, before he was pushed forward by Thor´s palm against his back.

"I will talk to Father again, brother. Your magic will be back soon enough."

"I envy your faith." Loki answered tiredly. Thor patted his back once more, and let his hand rest on his shoulder for a second before turning away. "Fool..." Loki whispered as soon as he was out of earshot. Tony smiled sadly.

"Yet he´s growing back on you." He got Loki´s attention. "That was idiotic. I have enough places to keep hiding you for a long time."

"But not forever."

Not forever. Still... It was way too early.

"Sweetcheeks, nothing lasts forever."

"As we can see right now." Loki countered, but it had no bite to it. He walked up to Tony and claimed his mouth in a kiss. It was long, deep, and not for a second did his hands let go of the mortal´s shirt or his hair. It soon turned hard and heated, almost desperate.

"You should be safe now." Tony muttered awkwardly after they´d parted. Loki´s hands still gripped him tight. He looked down at the one on his shirt and the god let go, as if suddenly noticing his actions.

"It would seem so. You should probably visit me sometime, it could be entertaining." He smirked. Then he turned and walked away.

"Loks."

The god stopped one step short of the elevator, his finger pressing the button. The doors opened for him, yet he stayed on his spot, waiting.

But Tony was not one for goodbyes. He was not one for letting go. Not one to admit things. For too long he´d been surrounded by those who knew how to read him well enough that he didn´t have to voice these things.

The silence between them thickened instantly, and the god stepped into the metal box without another word.

Tony stayed in his place and watched the elevator´s doors close soundlessly behind him, wondering just exactly why he hadn´t seen this coming.

 

--

 

At the other side of the doors, Loki berated himself for having let it come this far.

For the first time since he´d come to Earth, he allowed himself a silent pray to his Father, pleading that his power be returned to him soon.

Chapter Text

"He´s fine, in case you were wondering." Bruce leaned against the threshold, and observed as Tony bolted two pieces together.

Tony nodded stiffly, to show he´d heard, but otherwise gave no answer. Bruce waited patiently in his place, though.

Two seconds went by before the bearded man finally spoke.

"What, did they call you to check on how many times he could be beaten around before something broke?"

"More like they wouldn´t let Thor or Steve check on him, and Natasha and Clint wanted no part of it."

"His face when he saw you must´ve been gold." He muttered lowly, and said no more.

Bruce walked into the lab and took a seat on one of the soft blue rolling chairs, set to watch his friend. Tony´s brow was furrowed, and his hands lacked their usual precision, the screwdriver sliding off its mark half of the times.

"... You´re not going to see him." The screwdriver´s point slipped across the smooth metal surface and clattered on the work table.

"Fury won´t let me if I tried."

"But you haven´t." He rolled closer to the table. "It´s been three weeks already."

Tony blinked slowly, counting back days until he realized that Bruce was spot-on with his dates. Three weeks... Three weeks in which he´d done absolutely nothing but hole down in his lab and sleeping. He didn´t feel guilty, he knew Steve would´ve come to get him if there had been something important happening outside.

"I´ve been busy."

"Right." Bruce climbed to his feet and patted his shoulder once on his way back to the door. "I heard Fury said there was another sighting yesterday. You should probably tell Steve or something."

"Bruce?"

The scientist stopped and turned again, but Tony still faced his whatever-he-was-working-at.

"Yes?" He asked after a moment of silence.

"Did he ask for me?"

Bruce shrugged. "Not to me. But then again we´re not the best of friends."

Tony looked at him over his shoulder, the hint of a smile pulling at his lips. "Did you even talk about anything or did you just sat glaring at each other for thirty minutes?"

The older man mirrored a small smile. "I did ask him how good of a host Fury was. As I told him, we could very well be cell neighbors one day. He seemed to like it enough to stop glaring for two seconds."

The inventor turned to his table again. "That´s how he shows love, ask Thor."

"I feel honored, then." He turned to leave once more. "Ask Jarvis to check on that sighting, really. I get the feeling S.H.I.E.L.D. held it from us on purpose." He closed the door behind him, and Tony found himself alone once again.

--

 

"I don´t suppose you are allowed to be here?" Loki spoke, and Thor froze on the threshold.

He looked around the white room. He thanked they gave his brother the privacy they didn´t give him when they put him in his crystal cell back when he´d been banished, even though he knew he was surely being watched with hidden cameras. At first glance there was nothing on the room, but there were of course white chairs and a table all bolted to the floor and even a white sliding door at the back of the room that he supposed lead to a (probably white) privy. At last, he found Loki on a narrow, sheet-less and very white bed, where he laid still as a statue with his hands twined lazily over his belly, his eyes closed and his face blank. He had probably been sleeping before he entered. Just sleeping.

Still, it was too much. The whiteness, the emptiness, the stillness and the pose. His stomach churned on itself.

"Get off that bed." He ordered, perhaps a bit rougher than what he´d intended. He watched the corner of Loki´s mouth twitch, and suddenly he wished he´d been rougher. Or that he could strangle him a little.

"I´m in no position to deserve a white mourning room, dear Thor."

"I would build you one."

"That´s because you never learn from your mistakes Do you really think me innocent, Thor? After all this?" Loki pushed himself of the bed and walked up to the table

"No. But I love you all the same." Thor took a seat across him and the tired pout on Loki{s face made him want to smile.

"Then you better start building."

Thor said nothing, the truth behind Loki´s words weighed like a sword over their heads.

"Father assures no harm shall befall you. I think he plans to intercede if things get out of hand."

"And we´re back to matters of faith." Loki examined his nails, bored. "Has he given you any clues as to what he wants to see in order to lift my curse? I can play the repent, reformed son."

"We all know you can, that´s the point. But no, he hasn´t. And I haven´t got an idea, either. He holds no special love for midgardians, like I do, and we´ve paid our debts in wealth. At first I thought he had foreseen something similar to what happened when I was banished but..."

"But I´m not you. I have come to understand earthlings, but not to love them. And I don´t intend to."

"No one intends to love, Loki. It just happens."

"You live in fairytales, Thor."

"Those are much better than your dusty old books."

"Why are we discussing trivial matters?"

"At this point, everything´s trivial." Thor smiled. "It is a cruel jest, that the midgardians should hold your fate in their hands as we once held theirs."

"The irony of it is not lost to me."

Thor sobered. "How are you faring, brother? Have they...?"

"They have." Loki pulled a sleeve up his forearm, to show a trail of reddened, recently healed skin. "It´s just needleplay for now. It should not worry you so. I ought to do quite good unless my little... problem comes out."

"You mean..." And by the way the other´s eyes pointed to the corners of the room, Thor knew he didn´t want to take the risk, even if the listening devices might have been affected by his presence. "Then you are quite safe."

"I would, however, warn them about Asgard´s extremely noble weather, and how high and low temperatures both are quite deadly to Asgardians... I´d try doing so myself if I thought they´d believe me." Loki arched an eyebrow.

Thor nodded. Extreme cold could cause Loki to revert back to his true appearance, and extreme heat could very well kill him.

"I might offer such information to the Son of Coul later... Now if you would excuse me, I think I have overstayed the time Steven offered to buy me."

"That man is too good for his own good." Loki stretched and headed back for the bed.

"Brother."

"Hm?"

"Do you wish to... Send another message?"

Loki looked back. Thor stood at the door, his hands in his worn jean´s pockets, and a curious expression in his face.

"Why Thor, I don´t even know anymore." And he cut whatever retort there might have been by (not) fleeing through the bathroom door and closing it behind him.

--

 

The Chitauri slipped back into the shadows. It was clear by the way he kept to them that it had no means to disguise itself.

It eyed the Tower from time to time, as if it could have gone away from where it stood five minutes ago. Natasha tapped on her communicator, bringing it to life with a blur of static.

"There´s just one here. How many on your side?"

Clint watched Thor and Steve drive away, and returned his attention to the shadowy alleys he´d been checking on.

"Seven. I see another one making its way from two streets down."

She made a face.

"And how do they know he´s there? The last time he used magic there was weeks ago..."

"Maybe they smell him."

"Clint."

"You´re no fun Nat."

--

 

When he was sure Thor was gone, Loki walked back into the white room and to the bed. He laid down again, assuming the statue-like position the other god had found him in.

He closed his eyes and felt himself fall into a trance-like state. He couldn´t allow himself the benefit of real sleep within S.H.I.E.L.D.´s quarters, so he resorted to this.

He was tired. The experiments themselves weren´t exhausting per se, but the waiting was. The uncertainty. Ever since his admission in the white room he´d had no news from the outside, and he had nearly lost the track of time once.

Every day he checked for a sign that his curse had been lifted that he was himself gain, but it was no good, and this particular one had been no exception. He wondered if Odin might have just given up on him…

What would he tell his golden son, who held such a blind faith on him?

What would he tell his queen, who had gifted him (her little one, her lost son returned home) with a teary, relieved and simply loving look when he had dared looking up at her during his audience?

What would he tell himself, when he let the child he´d raised die a second time?

He wouldn´t.

He wouldn´t just let him… Fall.

--

 

"Is yours moving too?" Clint asked as he gathered his bow and set on a pace across the warehouse´s rooftop he´d chosen for his vigilance.

"It is. It´s going downtown."

"Looks like we´ve got a date." The archer grinned and cut the communication before any reply could come through.

On her side, Natasha huffed through a tight-lipped smile and set off too.

--

 

The Chitauri moved slowly. Not only because the streets were as crowded as they could be n a New York evening, but it seemed as if every step required great effort. It stopped to catch its breath a couple of times, before it reached a park in a shady neighborhood.

Natasha stood on edge, watching for any children that might cross the alien´s path and prepared to intervene, but the place was eerily empty. The creature crawled across unkempt grass and rusty swing sets and… Dissappeared.

She tapped on her mic.

"Clint. Where are you?" She whispered.

"Right across the street. Did you see that? Mine went in there too."

She looked around, uncertain, and found him climbing down an emergency ladder on the side of an apartment building. When he reached the ground, he gave her a thumbs up and pointed at himself and the park. She shook her head. There was no way he was going alone.

However, when she moved from her position, his voice cracked through the earpiece.

"We can´t both go in. I´ll tell you if I need help so you can come down or get reinforcements." He muttered, before dashing across the street and into the park. Natasha crouched back into a waiting position while a bad feeling crept through her gut.

--

 

The sound of metal clattering together usually had a calming effect on him, but today it made his ears ring and his head throb. He picked up the loose piece and placed it back on the worktable.

He needed a shower. And some valium.

The elevator ride felt eternal, ad he covered his eyes with an oil-stained hand to shield them from the intense white light.

The darkened room was a relief, as was the hot shower, and the pills on his nightstand.

It was only after he´d swallowed them that he realized he hadn´t opened the drawer that held them, and only then he heard the soft beat of heels against the rug.

"Rough day?"

He groaned, letting himself fall on the mattress with an arm over his eyes. "Rough three weeks."

"Now you´re just being dramatic."

He shifted his forearm a little, to peek at Pepper from under it. The redhead smiled fondly and took a seat on the bed next to him.

"Maybe I am… Sue me."

"Oh, trust me, I´m hoarding motives for a lawsuit big enough to take the rest of the company."

Tony covered his eye again, smiling. "You´re evil. I always go for the evil ones." He let his voice die and the silence stretch or a second. "How did this happen, Peps?"

He felt her shift and lie down at his side.

"I have a theory about Stockholm syndrome, but I wouldn´t bet my head on it. The other theory says you just like messing with the rules too much and that I would bet on."

"It was just a fling. A one-night stand. I shouldn´t want…"

"But you do."

He sighed. "What I want is a nice, cold scotch. That has never caused me any trouble."

"Save from that one time at the party…"

"That we agreed no one would her of again, that one?"

"Precisely." He could hear Pepper´s smile. "Just go see him. I don´t really like the man, but…"

But you don´t know when your last chance will be.

The words hung between them, unsaid.

"It´s supposed to be the other way around, you know?" Tony took his arm off his face and stared at the ceiling, glad for the increased darkness of the room now that the sun had set completely. "He´s immortal He shouldn´t be the one dying."

Pepper found his hand and squeezed it. Tony said nothing.

"And what if he doesn´t get killed?" She whispered, as if to not disturb the easy silence that had set on the room. Next to her, Tony remained silent, but her hand was gradually squeezed back. She smiled. "That´s more like it."

"Coulson will kill me if I get in again."

"Then I hope you mention me often in your testament."

--

 

Steve got up to his feet the moment he heard the knock at his door. The sound was hurried and desperate, and he was on the edge even before he pulled it open and found Natasha on the threshold.

He inhaled sharply, surprised. Her hair was a mess, decorated here and here with broken twigs and dry blades of grass, her skin paler than ever and her eyes narrow and wild. Her right hand pressed on her hip.

"What happened?" He lost no time.

"We found the Chitauri." She reported from between paper-white lips, looking up at him.

He blinked once, confused. "Well that´s amazing. Are you hurt?"

Why didn´t you inform Fury first?

She stared right into his eyes as if she could read the question in them. Then she spoke.

"Clint." And her right hand slipped, the blood that was invisible in her black suit bright on her skin, Steve caught her as she lost consciousness.

Chapter Text

The room was completely silent, and no one felt really tempted to change it.

Thor fidgeted. In two days only he´d found himself in two different white rooms and he couldn´t shake the feeling that soon it was going to be for real. This time it was Natasha on the bed, and in all aspects she mirrored Loki the day before. Some healer had washed the blood from her side and her hands, and she remained still and pale between the linens.

And that was the main problem.

Natasha, strong, proud Natasha had chosen to keep on sleeping.

He watched as Bruce ghosted a hand over her forehead, measuring the heat she gave away, and frowned.

"Is she unwell?" He asked with a frown of his own.

The doctor shook his head. "She´s fine, I checked her papers..." He muttered. "She should be awake."

And she should. Maybe what she had learned at the Chitauri hideout was such a terrible truth that it held her from them? Maybe she tried to follow Clint before it was her time?

"Tony tracked Clint´s communicator to the place it last reported from." said Steve, stroking the woman´s fiery hair with an ease he didn´t feel at all. Tony stepped forward.

"It´s an old park in barely inhabited neighborhood. Apparently the surrounding factories made too much toxic waste for anyone to stick around." He explained. "And well, here´s the best part. the signals I got come from under the park."

Thor nodded.

"The Chitauri favor darkness and a little chill. It makes sense that they would seek refuge underground."

Steve looked at him. "We´re planning on breaking in, preferably soon since Clint could still be alive, but we need as much information as we can get. This time we´re fighting in their field." He explained. Thor received his hopeful look on full force, and he felt almost ashamed when he had to shake his head.

"The Chitauri belong to a very different branch of the Tree, friend Steve. Not much is known about the creatures that dwell amongst the Roots. Maybe my brother could give us something, but I highly doubt we can pull the Son of Coul away again..."

"Bruce can get in..." Steve tried once more, but the man in question shrugged.

"Not so soon after my first visit. They´ll know something´s up."

Silence fell again. Everyone knew what the others were thinking. Thor looked at Tony from the corner of his eye, only to find his face broken in a most devious grin.

"Now this s my idea of a make-up."

"Are we completely sure we can´t just explain the situation and hope they give us free way to talk to him?" Steve asked, unsure.

"Are we completely sure they really want to take action against the Chitauri?" Bruce answered in a grim mutter. Steve tipped his head.

"We´re talking about rescuing one of their highest agents, they were investigating on their own, after all. Besides, they promised protection for Loki..."

"When they come to get him, not vice versa. I doubt they´ll be eager to let go of their test subject and get involved into another intergalactic conflict before time."

"Still, breaking him out is excessive." Steve stated, watching Tony´s grin melt down into a pout. "We don´t know if all the Chitauri left are down there. For what we know, there could be thrice the number of burrows, and stripping Loki of the organization´s protection is just foolish."

Steve reasoned well, as always.

"Why not a preliminary peek?" Bruce quipped in gain. "You know, testing the waters. You go in with Thor, it might sound ironic, but taking the armor and the other guy on account I think you two are more likely to succeed on a stealth mission. We´ll wait and..."

"Should I remind you that that might be exactly what Thing One and Thing Two tried yesterday?" Tony kept frowning, out of worry this time.

"They´ll be together, and that should be enough. Natasha and Clint are the best at what they do, yes, but they were two separate humans against who knows how many heavily armed aliens in a strange environment." Bruce turned to Steve. "You tell us what you find, and we´ll act on that. If we think we might get rid of them for good, we alert S.H.I.E.L.D. and or break Loki out, depending on their answer."

"I don´t like this." Tony argued one last time.

"No one likes it." Thor patted his shoulder. "So it is decided, then. Let´s go save our friend."

 

--

 

They searched for hours but in the end it was Thor tripping over it for them to find it. Steve stretched out a hand to help the bigger blond to his feet, but Thor pointed quietly to the ground.

It looked like a common rock, but when Thor´s hand inched closer to it, a tremulous blue glow coming from its insides illuminated a series of runes carved on it.

"Can you read them?" Steve whispered, and went to touch it, but as soon as his hand surpassed Thor´s, the runes disappeared. "What the..."

"It must be enchanted to lock itself at human proximity..." Thor muttered, inching his hand closer again to.

"Then Clint´s a duck or what?" Tony grunted, and his voice repeated it through their earbuds. Thor shook his head.

"The spell must have sensed the traces of Chitauri magic that still linger within him." He guessed.

"But can you open it?" Tony asked again.

"Probably. After all, it reacted for me." And Thor dedicated another second to studying the runes once more, before calmly palming the rock and pushing it down into the ground.

Tony and Bruce stared in silence as the ground beneath Steve and Thor were swallowed by the ground beneath them. Tony laid the suitcase he´d brought on the ground and sat next to it, as he tapped his communicator to check that the rest of them were working properly. Steve´s affirmative that they were in turned it useless.

"I have a bad feeling about this."

"Don´t we all?"

 

--

 

Even through the layers of thick black cloth Steve felt the temperature´s descent as they walked deeper and deeper under the ground.

At first it looked like they had just fallen into the burrow of a Very Big Rabbit, but as his eyes adapted to darkness, Steve noticed they were standing in a rounded chamber with a variety of entrances. However, before he could see more, Thor pushed him behind a rocky corner, and he heard them a second later; the sound of muffled feet against the rock.

It took the Chitauri patrol a whole minute to reach them, and by then both blonds had pressed themselves so close to the wall they were almost invisible in the shadow. They walked past them without giving them so much as a look, and disappeared from view as they climbed out.

"Which one?" He asked, when they finally dared coming out.

Thor shrugged. "They came through the one in the middle."

"Fine, then." Steve gripped his gun tighter and reassured himself that the shield was strapped at his back. Tony had covered it and Mjölnir´s head with a coat of dark oil so it wouldn´t reflect any light, and he hoped it wouldn´t make it too slippery to hold and throw.

The passage was dimly illuminated by glowing orbs on the walls, and Steve was grateful for his enhanced vision when he tripped for the first time and noticed the rocky lumps in the ground.

After a while, the blank extensions of wall at both sides, with no possibility for either hiding or escaping, began to make him nervous.

"Thor?"

"Hm?"

"We should have found someone by now." Was all he said. They stopped, and looked ahead to where the end of the tunnel was still far but already in sight, if the increase of light was a sign to go by.

"Either this is the good way and we´re being exceptionally lucky, or it´s a trap road..."

"And we´re about to be ambushed." Steve suggested. Thor turned to him with a smile and he found himself mirroring it.

"I think we know which one it is." He answered with a low rumble of laughter.

It was pretty weird, how the mood had eased after the first few minutes of silence. Steve found he felt strangely light, as if nothing he did really mattered.

In this state Thor and Steve took a last deep breath and walked into the light.

 

--

 

"They´ve been in there for too long." Tony muttered. "I´m going to buzz them."

"You´ll get them in trouble. They´ve got their emergency buttons, haven´t they?" Bruce didn´t bother looking up as he spoke. "Let´s wait a bit more"

 

--

 

They stepped into the shadow once more, painfully still as they both were aware that whether they would or wouldn´t be discovered was a matter of sheer luck. They stood at the mouth of the tunnel, the entrance of a stadium-sized cavern illuminated by the same glowing orbs they had encountered so far.

At first Steve thought it was just a trick of his eyes, but a second later he understood he was watching the cave boil with thousands and thousands of Chitauri, their pale skin glowing dimly under the light.

"For Gungnir´s sake..." Thor muttered behind Steve, who turned halfway to look at him.

"What do you say? Three, four thousand? We iced more during the invasion." He commented, hoping for an optimistic answer.

"I don´t think we should fool ourselves, friend..."

"Yes, me neither..." He sighed and turned back. "Do you see Clint anywhere?" Again, Thor shook his head, and Steve nodded. "They wouldn´t have him here... He must be somewhere down any of the other corridors."

"In case he´s still..."

"I´m definitively not fooling myself on that one, buddy... But I do think they need him to find your brother. Or I hope so."

Thor patted his arm.

Below them, the Chitauri went on with their business. Some seemed to be fixing or polishing weapons and armors, some sparred in a circle traced on the ground, brandishing their weird shaped blades, and the rest was arranged in closely knit circles, no doubt talking if one was to judge from the heavy buzz-like murmur that vibrated through the air.

"We should head back... It don´t think we´ll find Clint easily if the rest of the base is as crowded as this place."

"As you say." Thor muttered.

The men turned around and stated their way back... But not before a low buzz emerged from Steve´s communicator, along with Tony´s voice.

"Are you allright?"

Steve slammed his hand against his earbud in hopes of concealing the sound, and turned to check that there had been no Chitauri uprising at his back.

"Jesus, Tony... We´re on our way back now, please don´t buzz again." He heard the man´s rambling and thanked his luck when Bruce picked up the discarded mic.

"We were worried. You´ve been in there too silent for far too long. Are you on your way then?"

"Yes. We´ll see you in a minute." He tapped the earbud to shut it, and sighed again. "Let´s-oh god!"

A few steps from him Thor struggled in a silent match with two Chitauri, trying to simultaneously cover their faces to prevent them from making any noise, and avoid being pierced by their blaces.

"I could use some help..." He grunted with the effort, but Steve was already disarming the aliens, and soon took one from his grasp. "Hold it still..." Thor ordered, blowing hair out of his eyes and rising the hammer.

Steve did. His gun might have been a much cleaner option, but the bang would´ve brought them all the attention they had avoided so narrowly.

Mjölnir´s head crushed meat and bone in a single blow, and the alien body fell limp in his arm. Thor took a moment to clear his vision and regain his grip, before passing him the second. This time, though, even as Steve held it as firmly as he could, the Chitauri lifted its head to look at its executioner in the face.

Thor held his gaze, his eyes hardened, and he lifted the hammer.

It all happened in a second.

Thor brought Mjölnir down, and cut the deafening screech the Chitauri had let out.

Steve dropped the body and wiped his hands clean on his pants. Both of them stayed silent until the sound they were waiting for reached their ears. Thousands of feet trampling the ground and multiple screeches cut through the air, along with the sound of metal against metal.

Steve let out a pained laugh, and Thor smiled.

"A race for the exit?"

"I hope your hammer can carry some passengers."

They took off without a look back just as the first Chitauri crawled into the tunnel.

 

--

 

Black.

It had been black ever since he´d tried his hand at escaping the day before. Had it really been just one day? He had to find Nat, she had probably gone down to look for him after he didn´t come out. He´d only gotten so far before getting caught, those bastards knew how to tiptoe(A hit to the back of the head had sent him into the black first, and then not even the pain had brought him back.)

His hands were tired but firm (Always firm. Always a good shot. He didn´t even wonder why they hadn´t tied them.) as they reached for the blindfold and tugged it off with some difficulty.

But it was still black.

He tried parting his eyelids.

Black.

He waved his hand in front of his face and felt the slight disturbance in the air caressing his cheeks. But it was still black.

Wherever he turned, however much he squinted.

Black.

His hands were still firm as he took them to his face, but much to his bitter satisfaction, his eyes were still there. Jolly.

They did it, he thought. There was no way he could escape now, blind as he was.

Blind.

Useless.

Dead.

His chest sank under a sudden pressure, and he gasped for air, desperate. His fingers dug themselves into the very ground he was lying in, and he forced himself to breathe.

It would be all right.

It had to be.

Bruce or Tony would know what to do.

Natasha would cut off Loki´s balls with a rusty spoon unless he agreed to heal him.

He´d get out.

He´d get out in time to help them with the fight.

He was still Hawkeye.

At this thought, he let out a broken, sarcastic laugh and touched his eyelids again, just to be sure his eyes were really underneath.

Hawkeye smiled confidently, and continued to think of his team and the big, epic fight they were just about to get into.

Clint curled on himself with his shaking hands fisted into his shirt, and shut his useless eyes as hard as he could.

Chapter Text

He dreamed, and in his dream there was a man.

He wasn´t supposed to dream. He hadn´t really slept since he entered S.H.I.E.L.D.

But he was. The man stared at him with a burning star in his face, and it took all he had not to cower. He had nothing to hide.

Eventually, the man tore his burning gaze from Loki and the mood of the dream lightened more and more until it was just the dullness of thought Loki was used to while on his resting trance.

Someone was shaking him, and he stiffened until he reasoned that whoever it was was trying to wake him up instead of killing him when he was vulnerable. He relaxed somewhat, and his senses started coming back.

The first thing he heard was Thor´s voice urging him to move.

"What in the name of... What´s happening?" He demanded, shaking off Thor´s hand. The god looked back as if wondering whether he´d been followed.

"Steve´s talking to the Director." He informed.

"Amazing. Now goodbye, I heard I´m in for a pretty interesting test tomorrow and I´d like to rest." He tried turning his back to him, but Thor held him still. "What?"

"We found the Chitauri base. Steve´s trying to convince the Director to launch an attack to rescue our friend Clint. In case he denies him, my duty is to get you out."

"Hawkeye let himself get caught?" Loki arched an eyebrow in disbelief.

"He went in alone."

"... Really, where´s this incredible wisdom you see in these mortals, Thor?"

"Not now, Loki..."

"Have you idiotic bunch got a plan yet?"

"We enter the burrow, kill those in our way, and reach our friend Clint before killing the rest of them." Thor grumbled without taking his eyes off the door.

"I´m going to take a wild guess here and say it was your plan, am I right?"

"If you think you´ve got a better idea, keep it to yourself because frankly, your magnificent plans are the cause of every single problem we have right now."

"That´s hurtful."

"Not as hurtful as the organization if we get caught while breaking you out so help me watch out for the signal."

 

--

 

"Sir?"

"What part of `no´ did you not get, Rogers?" Fury looked back at his reports, frowning.

"Sir, what we have here is a unique chance. We can recover Clint and wipe out this menace before they get their chance to strike!" Steve tried again.

"The councilmen want their prisoner, and that´s not up for discussion."

"Nick, you shot down a plane because you didn´t like their orders." Tony grinned his most charming smile. Of course he knew it would just irritate Fury further, but he couldn´t help himself.

"That involved a whole city of innocents wiped off the map. This involves you giving me the coordinates and me directing a non-destructive operation. You want to blow up a whole block." He answered through clenched teeth, prompting the two men at the other side of his desk to start talking over each other.

"We want our teammate safe!" Steve´s voice raised. "He could be considered useless by the time you choose to act!"

"You just want to run more tests on my hot piece of ass." Tony wanted to cackle madly when Fury´s face paled and then purpled.

"Listen here, Stark. If that nutcase of a fucker ever gets out, I don´t want you anywhere near him. Understood?"

Tony´s grin grew wider.

"Right. Away from Loki. Filed. Just to be sure, though, how will you know that model I take to my car show is not him? Or that secretary at the tower that everyone knows I occasionally sleep with? "

Steve looked at Tony with a disbelieving expression, and the other man shrugged.

"Well he can´t do it now, but his magic will be back at some point, right?" He pulled another smile, making Steve laugh. Across them, Fury trembled in rage.

"Stark..."

"Thing is, Nick... It´s none of your business, and that´s something you just can´t stand."

"I can and I will keep him here if I have to. He´s a danger to this planet, to others and probably even to himself, I don´t really give a damn."

"He hasn´t moved a finger to cause trouble since he landed here." Tony argued. "Unless you count the birds and Steve´s hair but I don´t because the first one was some kind of courting, I´m sure."

"Do you even think before you speak?" Steve slapped his shoulder, rolling his eyes.

"Sometimes." He crossed his arms and returned his attention to Fury. "Your deal was preventive imprisonment disguised as in-base protection. If we ice the fuckers you won´t have a valid reason to keep him and trust me when I say you won´t get away with it for long. Better to let him walk away now."

"Sir, as much as I might not like Loki either, Tony´s right. Besides, as someone who has been involved with our enemy before, we could use his help in our attack..."

"Rogers, that rat brought the bastards here. I wouldn´t trust him to guide you down there for a second."

 

--

 

Both gods tensed as the door opened for the second time. Thor gripped Mjölnir, and Loki reached for the power Thor´s presence gave him. However, it was just Bruce at the threshold. Thor lowered the hammer.

"How are they faring?" He asked.

Bruce shook his head, and passed them a small speaker through which three voices could be heard. He then proceeded to pace around the cell, inspecting it with the same interest the aliens showed for the speaker.

"You know? If this was furnished a bit more comfortably, I´d move in a pinch."

"That´s one of the many, many differences between us, Banner."

Thor hushed them, bringing the speaker closer to his ear.

"We won´t have much time." He grunted. "We´ll have to take action as soon as the final word is said, I have no doubt the Director will want to check on you himself, to make sure we didn´t..."

"Can you text them, Banner?" Loki cut him. Bruce frowned.

"I can. Why?"

Loki smiled.

 

--

 

"I insist..." Steve´s reply was cut short by Tony´s pocket blaring up. He stared in disbelief. "Really? Right now?"

Tony pulled a not-really-apologetic smile, and checked the phone´s screen.

"It´s from the tower´s medical staff." He patted Steve´s arm hurriedly. "Natasha woke up." He hopped to his feet, quickly followed by the other.

"We´ve got to go, sir." The soldier muttered as Tony headed for the door without a single look back. Fury nodded.

"Have Romanoff give me a call when she´s feeling better." He instructed. "And Rogers..." He added in a firmer voice, waiting until Steve turned on his heels to faces him. "Stay away from that hole. I won´t risk it losing anyone else."

Steve tightened his fists at his sides. "Yes sir."

Fury waited until the footsteps had faded a little before tapping on his desk´s intercom.

"Make sure they leave with no detours."

 

--

 

Steve tried not looking tense as they left, wondering whether the time they had provided would be enough for Thor and Bruce to take Loki out or if they should´ve caused another distraction. Tony looked busily at his phone even as they walked, so Steve refrained from asking until they had left the building.

"How´s Natasha?"

"Probably dreaming of me, but don´t tell her I said that."

"What?" He asked, freezing on the spot. The grin he received in response made him groan.

"Don´t worry. She´ll be back up and kicking in no time at all."

"... What´s going on?"

"It seems we overlooked a crucial fact when we planned this outbreak."

"Which was..."

"Someone just doesn´t give a fuck anymore." Tony declared with a smile, and if he was way prouder than he should´ve, he counted it as a part of their amazing, successful outbreak.

 

--

 

Everything hurt.

She tried turning, as her senses kickstarted along with her headache. She couldn´t move. She fought to open her eyes, and found herself in too much pain to do so. She was scared. She hadn´t been this scared in a long time. No matter what situation she found herself in, she had always been certain of her ability to get out by herself. Now it all seemed to indicate this wasn´t the case.

Her sudden intake of deeper breaths

So she paid attention to the voices.

"She´s frowning. Is she in pain or something?"

Not good, looking so weak in front of her team leader. (She frowned all the time. How did he know which meant what?)

"Should I get someone to bring her painkillers?"

That damned, idiotic genius. He´d never let her live this down. (He was probably talking to one of the top class medics he´d hired for her.)

"Let the man do his job, Tony."

No that was a poor decision. WHo´d let Bruce into a small, crowded medical room? (At least no one would try and play smart with the Hulk´s menace pending over them.)

"Don´t worry, friends. My brother knows his spells." Shit. If there was something worse than showing your leader just how weak you were, that was showing it to the warrior alien prince. Had he mentioned his brother? She tensed. (Except she didn´t, because she could almost see Thor´s broad hand on Loki´s shoulder, a warning and a reminder.)

Her breathing evened.

She was safe.

And then, just like that, the pain was gone.

She blinked a couple of times as her eyesight blurred and finally focused.

Her teammates stood around her bed, looking down at her. She recognized the weight on her forehead to be a hand, but it was gone before she could shake it off herself. Then Loki appeared in her visual range.

"I need to check if you brain came out unscathed." He said.

She nodded, she recognized the procedure.

"My name is Natasha Romanoff. My codename is the Black Widow, and the last thing I remember is entering an enemy base to aid my partner." She rubbed her forehead with two fingers, frowning once again. "I am currently at the medical wing of the Avengers Tower, these men are my team. Your name is Loki Laufeyson, and I wish Banner would´ve killed you back when you were still expendable." She finished.

Loki´s mouth twitched upwards.

"I take it I´m not as expendable now, agent Romanoff?"

She allowed herself a half smirk. Hell, she´d just come back from a coma, she could ease off a little.

"You help us getting Clint out, and I might reconsider your status."

Her words seemed to hit her teammates like a wave. Most frowned and looked down or away, but Steve gently eased a hand on top of hers, tensed as if prepared to pull it back the moment she tried to bite it off.

"It´s been three days since you went in. Thor and I tried a recon yesterday, but we didn´t find him." He started. "I guess I don´t have to tell you of all people to not let your hopes get too high?"

She stared back, unblinking. "I´m going to bring Clint back. Dead or alive." She clenched her teeth at the quiet snicker Loki let out.

"I take it the ledgers are still dripping red?" he asked, and didn´t budge when met with her glare. After a while, though, he smirked again. "You´d be wise to take a small rest... We might make your threat effective soon." he muttered, walking out without another look back.

Natasha stared after him for a second, before shaking her head a bit. "I don´t owe your brother anything." She declared, more to herself than to Thor.

The god, however, grinned. "Of course you don´t. And don´t ever let him tell you otherwise, it brings a lot of trouble."

She nodded absentmindedly. "When are we leaving?"

"As soon as you get stable enough. Tonight, if we can pull it. We want to catch them off guard." Steve explained. "We´ll let you rest now. We´ll be back later with your equipment."

He stood up, and the rest followed.

She tried to stop the words before they escaped her lips, but she couldn´t help it.

"Thank you." She whispered to their backs. At first she thought they hadn´t heard, thank god, but then Tony sped up, Steve rubbed his nape, Bruce stopped walking for a second, and Thor actually sent a small, bright smile her way over his shoulder.

She couldn´t help the smile that came to her lips, either, or the sigh after the door closed.

She was getting soft... Those fools would be the death of her.

 

--

 

"I must admit... I had really begun to think you had given up on me." Loki sipped on the cold liquor he didn´t even know he´d missed until now, and smiled when the footsteps turned to his location. "I had forgotten that self-destructive habit of yours." He added when two calloused hands wrapped themselves across his chest, and a bearded chin came to rest against his nape.

"You have Pepper to thank for my gracious return to your waiting arms." Tony grinned to himself when the muscled shoulders under his arms stiffened. "Jealous, Loks? Careful, I might like that." He sighed. "I told her I didn´t see the case in going to see you. You were going to die soon, after all."

"Unhand me."

"But then she asked me something."

"Stark..." Loki started, but cut himself when a single kiss landed behind his ear.

"What if you didn´t die?" Tony whispered against his skin.

Loki swallowed.

"What if that´s the case?"

The silence seemed to stretch forever, as if it was afraid of parting for the speech´s last words.

"Then whatever this is..."

"It´s probably nothing." Loki interrupted him harshly.

"I know." Tony replied, paying no mind. "And if you die tonight, then I´ll move on and go on sleeping around with super models in two months tops."

"Nice." They both allowed the little lie. One, because he had to keep some of his pride, and the other because of the warm feeling that came with knowing the falsity of the words.

"But if you don´t." The hands tightened. "Then this nothing might turn into something."

Tony waited for an answer, but the god stayed silent, ethereal under the sunset´s lightening.

He cleared his throat. "I´m not saying I know what something is, I mean, the one time I tried it didn´t work out, but maybe-" And he cut his rant when a cold, bony hand went to rest on top of his wrapped fingers.

He exhaled long and slow, trying to ease out the tension he felt. And he allowed himself to crumble with his forehead against the luscious black locks.

The hand over his tightened its grip.

And they said nothing else.

Chapter Text

As predicted, the perimeter of the hideout was boiling in S.H.I.E.L.D. agents by the time they arrived. At least thirty men on sight, but Natasha pointed to a few broken windows and they decided to double the number, just in case.

"They know you broke him out." The spy muttered, caressing her gun as if measuring the men between her and the entrance.

"Well there weren´t many choices to begin with, were they?" Bruce answered in a whisper. "What´s the plan?"

Loki took a step forward. Bruce frowned.

"One would think your father would´ve taken measures to make sure you weren´t able to drop fifty men with a shake of your hand."

"He did." The god smirked, and pushed a hand firmly between Thor´s shoulder blades. Five seconds later no man stood in their way.

"Did you-"

"They´re sleeping." Loki answered Steve´s question before he could finish it.

"Trying to get into my team´s good side, Loks?" Tony teased. Loki rolled his eyes and walked into the park first. When they found him again, he stood unmoving a couple steps away from the sealed entrance. Steve passed him.

"Weapons ready." He ordered, steadying his grip on his gun and shield. "Thor and Loki, if you can get your hands on one, try and get them to tell you where Clint is. The rest of us, shoot to kill, are we clear?" He asked to no one in particular. The team nodded and assumed positions.

Tony checked the suit´s stats once more, before Thor reached forward and rested his hand on the stone to open it.

They stiffened.

The entrance of the burrow looked grim and unwelcoming, but otherwise not particularly menacing. Taking a deep breath, Steve walked in first, followed by Thor. Bruce sent a last worried glance back, before following as well, no doubt still uncomfortable. Hulking out was his last resource, but he hadn´t quite been able to choose staying safely in the tower over going in to retrieve Clint.

Loki hadn´t moved an inch, and when he noticed, Tony walked back to him. Out the corner of his eye he caught a glimpse of Natasha standing at the edge of the burrow with her gun firmly fisted. He began suppressing a smile, but any hint of it faded the moment he noticed Loki´s solemn expression.

"Let´s go, sweetcheeks. We´ve got to find birdie and shoot some aliens in the head." He tried, but Loki didn´t smile. Instead, his hand raised as if to land on his shoulder, but at the last moment he let it drift back down, barely grazing the suit´s chest. His eyes seemed to see through him, and Tony fought the urge to fidget. "I planned on giving you this inside, but maybe now´s the time?" he asked, and almost flinched when Loki´s stare returned to full focus and targeted the object in his hand.

"How in the nine realms did that get into your hands?"

He felt the hints of a smile. The god looked like a child caught red-handed.

"Thor brought it back when he checked the apartment. he said it was the only non-harmed thing, and that he´d seen you store energy in stuff like this before. So? Was this your plan B, babe?"

"Caution has never killed anyone." Loki dismissed his accusation, and pushed it back to him. "Keep it. If you stay close to me I should be able to reach for its energy. If I take it with me and get in a fight, it could empower my enemies."

"Fine... Loks?"

"Yes?"

"Everything alright?"

Loki´s eyes narrowed, and his expression turned even darker, if possible.

"I´m sure you know the possibility that I get caught is quite high, given that they manage to separate me from Thor and outnumber me significantly." He started. Tony wanted to turn his back on him and walk into the burrow right then because he knew what it was about, but the god had him pinned on the spot. "If it comes to that... I expect you to take the necessary measures."

Tony´s eyebrows arched on their own, surprised at the bluntness of the expected petition. And then he broke into a smile.

"A bit too dramatic, aren´t w-"

"I will die on my feet. Fighting. Like a god." Loki interrupted him coldly."I will not allow myself to be taken prisoner to a lowly race, to endure their humiliation." He swallowed loudly, and his eyes softened somewhat. "And if I am somehow dear to you, then you won´t allow it, either." He finished, and hopped forward with such ferocity and speed that Tony didn´t quite register the feeling of teeth against his lower lip until a tongue was roughly thrust into his mouth.

It was gone in the blink of an eye, though, down the burrow´s entrance with Loki himself.

Still dazed, it took Tony a couple minutes to regain control of his mind and walk to the edge as well. Natasha waited there for him, sizing him up with a glance.

"Can you believe him?!" He asked, scandalized. She shrugged.

"I have a cyanide tooth. Consider it an honor." Was all she said before walking down as well.

--

 

Clint heart them move. Even his guard shuffled a bit on its place, excited. They emitted sputters and hisses and a dormant, hidden spark of magi within his mind translated them into emotion.

Excitement.

Clint knew right then Loki had set foot into the burrow, and that it meant his team was with him. He allowed himself a smile.

Whoever won today, it was the end of his pitiful state. He just hoped his team got to him before the aliens got too desperate.

--

 

The bodies hit the ground with a dry thudding noise, and the remaining Chitauri hissed in pain when Steve used the shield to crush him against the side of the rocky wall.

"Where are the others?" He yelled, while the rest of them formed a circle around him and Thor. "Where´s our teammate?"

Much like its captive counterpart had done so long ago, the Chitauri pulled a grotesque imitation of a human smile.

"How considerate... You brought the traitor in yourself..."

"Tell me where or friend is held, you lowly beast." Thor demanded, without taking the bait. When the Chitauri didn´t answer, he spared a sideways glance at Steve, before taking hold of one of its arms and twisting it until a cracking noise echoed around the tunnel. Steve´s eyes narrowed, but he made no comment when Thor repeated both the question and the procedure on the other arm.

The Chitauri´s scream was painful on itself, but no other words left its mouth. Grunting something that sounded suspiciously like "useless", Steve pulled the shield back, and aimed an ending hit to its neck with the edge.

Thor´s hand clamped around his arm and stopped the shield a inch from the alien´s neck.

"What are you-"

"Loki!" The god paid him no heed, looking over his shoulder to yell instead.

Loki turned on his spot with a sour smirk on his face.

"Must we resort to trickery now, high prince?"

Steve rolled his eyes as the sorcerer walked to them. Either Loki had unrealistic expectations about his chances in this mission or he was well past worrying.

"Really determined, your creatures." Thor gestured to the heaving Chitauri propped against the wall. Loki huffed.

"These are no creatures of mine." Was all he said as he pulled a sleeve back, to reveal a pale forearm surrounded by an eerie greenish glow. He proceeded to shove his hand into the Chitauri´s ribcage, making it unfurl and throw its mouth open in another, this time mute scream.

Thor swallowed, but his eyes kept focus on the point where his brother´s forearm disappeared into the alien´s body.

It was over as fast as it started. Loki pulled his hand out perhaps a bit rougher than was needed, and the Chitauri toppled to the ground, convulsing for a couple of seconds before it stopped moving altogether.

"Did you find out?" Thor asked. Loki frowned, like fighting a headache back, and then pulled Steve´s gun off his hand, to shoot a single bullet through the fallen alien´s head.

"The burrow is deep." He muttered. "Follow."

He walked forward without a look behind, and they were at his heels soon enough.

"What else did you see? How many are there?" Tony questioned. The suit´s boots hitting against the rock was already grating on his nerves, and he found that he had to speak.

"Not too many. But enough." Loki answered, giving him a meaningful stare. "They know I´m here."

"What?!"

Loki allowed himself a smirk when Thor and Tony´s voices overlapped.

"I´m sure you didn´t notice, as you were not... present at the time to witness what happened when you bombed the mothership." He started. "These creatures are intimately connected. I entered the dead one´s mind to sort through its memories. They felt me. If they haven´t appeared it´s because we´re no doubt being prepared an ambush.

"... Were you planning on telling us?"

"Well I didn´t really count on it but you did ask."

Tony mouthed a curse at Loki´s shit-eating grin.

"I´m going to punch you right after we get out."

"Can you do this some other time?" Bruce shot them both a glare as he struggled to keep up with the team.

--

 

Loki felt them coming.

Or rather, felt themselves going towards them. Not as many as he´d expected, all right, but still enough, as he´d said, each and every one of them buzzing in expectation.

And he was running a straight line for them.

He focused on controlling his breathing as he ran, stealing a furtive look at his surroundings. Tony ran at his side. Thor and Steve at the other. Banner struggled but kept up, and Romanoff closed the march, looking back every two steps in case something tried to surprise them.

They followed him.

He´d promised to take them to their companion. He made a double take at that because well... He had never explicitly promised such a thing. They had all been eager to believe he was willing to help them, all because of his relationship with Stark.

Sentiment.

He held no hopes about his possibilities. He would never see Asgard again, he realized, and the sudden certainty burned a searing pain through his chest. He would never again see her golden towers and green fields bathed in sunlight. He would never have another chance to look upon his mother, with her sweet eyes and soft hands.

Even with all her flaws, he had to admit it. He would miss Asgard.

Suddenly, his nose filled with a scent, and his skin felt the ghost touches of a memory. A smell of leather, softener and cologne. Alcohol. Oil. The weight of a hand on his shoulder and a head against his chest.

He cast a murderous glare towards Tony.

The end of the tunnel was near. So were they.

Yet he ran.

Sentiment, indeed.

--

 

It was as if someone had thrown a burning match into an ant hill.

The communal screech of hundreds of Chitauri pierced his ears, and his guard dragged him deeper into the hole in the rock that was his prison. He was frustrated and weakened. He wasn´t Hawkeye. There was nothing he could do to help his friends.

--

 

They saw themselves surrounded so fast that none of them could´ve really pointed at when the fight exactly broke out.

Tony shot his cannons at every direction that wasn´t currently holding one of his team members, burning Chitauri on the spot. At his side, Thor sent five or six through the air with every hammer blow, and Steve, Bruce and Natasha´s gunshots rang on his head even filtered by the helmet.

There were too many. He realized.

He fired again, and looked over his shoulder. Loki moved lightning-fast at Thor´s side, shooting spell after spell, but even from afar Tony noticed his frustration. His magic was obviously not nearly as powerful as it should. He shot his way to his other side.

Just in case.

--

 

Loki caught the dull gleam of the red and gold armor at his side, and a part of him wanted to roll his eyes at the human´s stupidity and arrogance. The rest of him wanted to roll his eyes at the utter cliché turn this was taking.

However, he focused back on the fighting. The Chitauri were not a particularly powerful race, but his magic was off, and he hadn´t been cautious enough to bring other weapons. They would only slow him. And he ´d expected Odin would have let him actually kill someone when he was attacked, instead of uselessly knocking them out.

They were being pushed back. His shoulder bumped Thor´s, and he looked back to see a deep cave that dug its way into the wall. Romanoff and Steve were already at its entrance, surrounded by corpses.

He punched Thor´s arm to get his attention, and pointed.

"I CAN BLOCK IT." He yelled over the gunshots, making Tony look as well. Thor´s eyes gleamed with hope. If they managed, they could leave space so that only a small number of enemies made it across the block, and that would increase their chances significantly.

Tony covered their backs as they ran past their teammates, and Loki repeated his words to Steve in a rush.

The soldier got the message instantly and wasted no time pulling both Natasha and Bruce in with them.

As soon as they stepped in, a cold wind rushed past them, revealing the passage to be deeper than it looked. The team stepped back, leaving only Loki and Thor at the entrance.

Loki waited, and wanted to scream. Tony was still shooting the Chitauri at his back, that idiot.

"GET IN" He yelled.

"I´M GOING" Tony yelled back, shooting a last blast before running for the makeshift shelter.

He didn´t see the Chitauri aiming behind him, or the way its weapon lit up with the deadly energy Loki had seen burning a hole through the television screen when they attacked his apartment.

He clenched his teeth together. He´d make it. He had to. He launched his spell at the cave´s roof, and watched as the first rock tore itself and fell at his feet.

Tony hopped over it, and the Chitauri shot its blast.

He wouldn´t make it.

The rocks fell.

--

 

Steve coughed and fanned the fluttering dust off his face.

"Natasha? Bruce?" He asked, even though he had them both firmly held.

"I´m fine." Natasha muttered. Bruce didn´t answer, but his steady breathing was too regular to be natural, and Steve decided to leave him to it.

"Thor? Tony? Loki?"

No answer came.

He stood up in a pinch, in response to the pang in his gut, and rushed to where the entrance had been before Loki collapsed it.

There he found the end.

Tony leaned against the rocky wall, regaining his breath, his pale face visible through the open visor.

Thor and Loki were nowhere to be seen, until he followed Tony´s eyes down and found them.

--

 

Tony fought to breath, willing himself away of shock´s territory.

He heard the shot he didn´t see. The rocks were already falling at his back but one look at the gods´ faces and he´d known.

He focused his eyes on Loki´s, and had time to wish he´d thanked Pepper for being o excellent.

And then Thor´s hand was there, bending the suit´s metal in his grip when he threw him against the wall. And the dust had blinded him.

Now Thor laid on his back on the ground with Loki on the opposite wall, and for some reason Steve was pressing down on his chest and his fingers were stained red. His mind sped up and joined the loose ends for him just as Natasha helped a pale Bruce closer.

Everyone was on edge, and Steve flinched a little when Loki moved, but quickly resumed his pressure. Loki crawled to the other god´s side, and after some hesitation, laid a hand on his shoulder.

Thor looked at him. His mouth foamed red, but he managed a word.

"Jane"

Tony felt more than saw Loki flinch, but the god made an amazing show of self-control when he nodded calmly, as if nothing was amiss.

"I will tell her."

Thor´s hand shot and covered Loki´s on his shoulder. Silence was so thick the only sounds were everyone´s heavy breathings. Loki´s eyelids fell into a slow blink, and his free hand trembled when it went to caress Thor´s temple.

"Loki"

Had this been a different situation, Tony would´ve rolled his eyes. He swallowed thickly instead and watched Loki shake his head.

"Rest well, brother."

That did it.

Thor´s eyes lightened, and lost focus. His breathing halted once, and then ceased altogether. They watched as the fallen god´s fingers tightened around Loki´s hand before finally going limp.

All the while, Loki stared in silence with no apparent emotion in his face.

The forced peace didn´t last long.

There was a thudding noise behind them just as a rock was pulled back from the barricade.

Tony felt relieved that it did. It was nice to have a target. He shot the intruder on the spot. And, just like that, Thor´s spell broke.

Loki´s features twisted in rage and he disappeared through the opening.

Chapter Text

Thor stretched a hand to reach Loki. His silhouette was painted golden against the blue sky and even back then Loki noticed how he looked up at his brother from his place in the shadow, and he wanted to cry. He´d fallen into the pit since early morning, and despite his yelling, no one had come. His magic wasn´t strong enough to be of help yet, and he was too small to reach the edge on his own. But Thor found him. Thor always found him.

Loki was running on instinct, and everything was a blur. He landed punches right and left, and it wasn´t long before he got hold of a Chitauri sword. After that, everything was easier. Messier.

They had spent weeks tracking the bilgesnipe, but only after they´d found it did they realize they had no chance against it. Loki´s spells and knives and Thor´s blows bounced right off its hide, and even when Thor summoned a thunderbolt it slipped over it harmlessly. The beast pawed them around like a kitten playing with its catch.

They hid beneath a rocky step and wordlessly agreed that they had to escape. But they were tired and weak, and they had told no one about their idiotic quest.

They were on their own.

He hacked off limbs and knifed chests, this time maiming rather than killing on purpose.

When the bilgesnipe ripped the rock off, they dared another look at each other. Perhaps their last.

In the end, Thor managed to hold it still for enough time for Loki to land a spell on its open eye. Odin had nearly killed them himself when they got back, but he let them hang the bilgesnipe skin on the royal family chambers and Loki caught him looking proudly at it from time to time.

He didn´t know how many remained. He didn´t know how many he´d killed. He´d felt the bite of a thirst in his gut and it was nowhere near quenched.

Thor.

The word was a fire in his chest that translated into wordless, enraged yells. He was vaguely aware of the others shooting and kicking around him. Banner was nowhere to be seen. He´d probably stayed in the chamber, fighting the beast down. It wasn´t of importance. They didn´t need him.

This time, even being two men down, the situation was drastically different. For each alien they downed, the rest slowed down, for their connection made the injuries of a few the burden of many. They grew slower by the moment and their beastly eyes widened in fear when they caught sight of him.

He sensed an attack coming forward, aimed at his face, and crouched to thrust a punch. It went through the alien´s ribcage. The blood splashed on his face, warm and steely, and prompted a bark of laughter off him.

They´d come here to get him, but they´d made the most elemental of mistakes; If anyone was ever going to kill Thor, it had to be him.

--

Tony looked at his side just in time to see the manic, bloody-faced laughter.

He lost it.

His thoughts were strangely clear, as if everything else was moving way slower than him. He caught the red flash of Natasha´s hair, and moved towards her. The woman had little need of his help, breaking necks and spines as easily as twigs, but he went anyway, because the Chitauri seemed to be focusing on her and she should lend him some of her toys. The thought made him smile.

Perhaps we´ve all lost it.

A roar echoed from within the cave, along with a crack, and his grin grew wider.

We´ve all definitively lost it:

It didn´t take long for Hulk to break into the scene, smashing enemies with a makeshift club consisting of a headless Chitauri corpse. Huh.

"Tony!" He looked back at Steve´s yell, and the man pointed to the green giant as if Tony had somehow missed him. "Get him to calm down before he brings the place down on us!" He ordered.

Tony gave him a two finger salute before turning the propellers on and moving to Hulk´s side.

"Hey buddy." he started, and the suit´s visor opened so that his face was visible. "Nice of you to join, but we need Brucie right now." He said with an ease he didn´t feel at all.

Hulk spared him a wary glance, and his eyes drifted sideways for a second to catch a glimpse of Loki, who had lost his sword and was back to breaking things. Toy clapped, and the metallic noise brought back Hulk´s attention.

"It´s temporary." He explained. They SO didn´t need a Hulk vs Loki right now. "Bruce, please?"

Hulk shook his head, frowning. "HULK NO WANT."

And Tony wanted to break down right then because he really wasn´t in the mood to engage in conversation with the Hulk.

"Please buddy... We´re almost done with the fighting." And it was right, he noticed. All around him the Chitauri stumbled over each other in their haste to get away from the maddened Loki, and those that didn´t manage to slip away into a tunnel were trapped against Natasha and Steve. "You see? We´re..."

He stopped on his tracks, noticing something strange in the giant´s posture. He held himself hunched, with the arm that held the hitting-corpse well before him and the other one closer to his chest. Almost as if... "... What have you got there, Jolly Green?"

Hulk looked down at his loosely balled fist and then back at Tony.

"FRIEND." He bellowed. Tony cringed.

"Yeah, buddy... That´s Thor. Put him down."

"NO LOUD FRIEND. LITTLE FRIEND." There was a hint of pride in Hulk´s voice then, as if he´d accomplished something, and it was just then that Tony knew who he was talking about.

"C... Can I see him, Hulkie?" He didn´t mean to stutter, but he wasn´t ready for a second well-known corpse in such a short amount of time and so he tried to focus on the tiny speck of hope at the back of his head. Instead of complying, Hulk threw the Chitauri corpse against the ground. Hard.

"THING HURT LITTLE FRIEND. HULK SMASH THING."

Shit.

"We found Clint." He said into his communicator, not trusting him to say anything else, and landed next to the headless corpse.

Natasha was there first, and Steve stopped just behind her. She made no sound at all, and he shot a meaningful stare at Tony, but the latter looked away. He had no answer.

Loki walked to his other side, bloodied and panting.

Hulk´s glance swept over them all, as if counting them, and stopped on Loki, sizing him up warily.

"YOU NO LOUD FRIEND."

Tony fought the urge to cringe for a second time, but Loki´s expression passed from enraged to blank to laughter so fast that he found himself arching an eyebrow in confusion.

"I´m sorry." He answered, but it was forgotten when Hulk apparently accepted his presence and opened his fisted hand.

Clint was a bruised mess, but even after only four days in the burrow that was something to be expected. He also breathed, and after four whole days in the burrow, that was a miracle.

Steve stepped forward and gently dragged him off the green hand and over the ground. Tony looked up at the giant again.

"Well done, bud. We´re good now, we need Bruce, ok?"

Hulk grunted, but it was ok because it was the pissed off grunt that revealed how annoying he found the need of changing back and forth on command. By the time Bruce had shrank back to his original size and ripped a strip off his pants to use it as a belt, Natasha had already taken in Clint´s vital signs.

"His pulse and breathing are normal. I don´t see anything broken." She announced when he edged closer.

"The Chitauri beat him across the head when I found them." Bruce muttered, kneeling at his side. "He´s just knocked off." He looked at Tony. "Call in a medical team."

"You heard the man, Jarvis." He was just about to turn back to Loki, when Clint stirred on the ground. He fell to his knees in sync with Natasha and Steve, and leaned over the fallen man.

Bruce nodded at Natasha, and she reached to touch Clint´s shoulder. "Clint?"

He stirred further, and his eyes bolted open for a second,, before he took a deep, calming breath and closed them again.

"Nat?"

He lifted a hand and Natasha took it, sending a glare around as if daring them to comment on it. But no one did. He was alive and nothing else really mattered.

"I can´t believe you´re here, guys." He muttered, his voice hoarse and cracked. Tony frowned then, because surely Clint had been through worse.

"Well we couldn´t exactly leave you here, could we? I´m pretty fond of my head." He said, and lint´s mouth twitched a hint of a smile and he returned it fully. The shock of finding Clint alive had pushed everything else to a blurry side of his head, to deal with later with a bottle in his hand.

"Thor, man, I hope your brother survived this because I´m going to kick his ass." Clint muttered, wiping his free hand across his brow. "... Thor?" He asked a second later, when no answer came.

Loki stepped forward, and when Tony looked up at him, he looked more like a corpse than any of his recent kills.

"He´s not here, Barton."

Clint´s head snapped around. In the wrong direction. Curious.

"Well, where is he?"

Loki blinked once, slowly.

"Gone."

This time Clint took a second to frown and tighten his lips into a thin, stressed line.

"Did you kill him?" Again, Tony fully expected the god to crack at that, but he just let his face mold into a saddened smile.

"I did."

Tony climbed to his feet at that, but Loki edged away and Clint´s face turned again, this time in the right direction. His eyes were still unfocused, his brow still furrowed, and Steve placed his hand over his free shoulder to prevent him from rising.

"He didn´t. It was an accident." Their leader explained, short and to the point. "An accident."

"I didn´t take you for a liar, dear captain." Loki´s voice had reverted to the piercing, aggressive tone he used to taunt his brother into a fight, but Steve didn´t take the bait. Tony barely noticed, as he´d plastered on a frown of his own and fixed his gaze on Clint after noticing what was so unsettling in his glance.

"How many of us are there, birdie?" He asked, casually. Clint´s brow furrowed again, but his eyes remained unfocused.

"Five?"

"You´re not seeing double, then. Good." He knelt again and by then both Steve and Natasha were leaning closer as well, suspicious. He waved a hand in front of Clint´s face, feeling for all in the world like he´d had a bowl of nails for breakfast that morning. Nothing.

He looked sideways at Natasha, who had paled ghostly in a matter of seconds, and then to Steve, whose face was a careful mask betrayed by his frightened eyes.

"Look at Steve, birdie. Bruce wants to get a better look at that bruise you´ve got there." He asked once again.

Clint swallowed thickly, sighed and, after a second, closed his eyes again. Everyone braced for the hit.

"I can´t."

--

Loki wanted to scream. He would have, had his rage not ran out at the time of the battle. He looked down at the pathetic, broken mortal who had cost him Thor. He shot a look around wishing he´d known which one of the Chitauri had done the job so he could repay the favor... But he´d never know, and instead he let himself get lost into the abyss of Barton´s useless eyes, now staring blindly ahead in his direction. He sighed. Barton´s sight was as good as they came, and then some more.

Now he was... Empty.

His lips menaced to curl into a smile once more. Empty. Like him, now that Thor wasn´t there.

You and I could´ve have such a particular friendship his words came back to him. The blind marksman and the powerless sorcerer. A particular duo indeed.

Just as he got to that conclusion, a small but strong hand clamped around his wrist and pulled. He was just beginning to recoil when he noticed who it was and let himself be dragged instead. He hadn´t had it good last time he´d gotten up against her.

Romanoff´s lips were a thin line, and her chest heaved up and down as she tried controlling her breathing. Even as she held his wrist, her hand trembled and sweated. She let his hand fall free once they reached Barton´s proximity, and gave him a meaningful look. Of course.

He knelt at Barton´s side. Now, how to break it down to them...

--

"What are you waiting for?!" Natasha all but screamed at Loki. The god shook his head slowly, tiredly.

"I can´t."

"What do you mean?!" The assassin jammed the barrel of her gun on the god´s temple, but he didn´t seem to care.

"I can´t." He lifted his hand in the air and watched it with unfocused eyes. "There´s nothing left." He turned t Clint, but his eyes had glazed over, and he was looking way past them. "It died with him."

Oh god... That explained the way he´d been fighting . But why hadn´t he reached for the...

"Wait." Tony muttered, palming the suit for one of the hidden compartments. "What about this? Is there anything left in here?"

Loki looked up, and there it was: His old, cracked crystal sphere with its ugly galaxy inside. He reached for it with trembling fingers, and cradled it as one would a newborn baby. His eyes drifted to the broken entrance of the tunnel behind them, and then back to Clint´s unmoving form, and the sad smile came back.

"You have something to work with now. Move!" Natasha demanded again.

"I would waste it. Trying to bring him back." His words were a shaking echo of his voice, and Natasha stopped in her tracks, her mind wheeling between the two options. But he was not talking to any of them. "I would." He looked up and his smile widened grotesquely. "But you don´t care, do you? ... You´re deaf to my words. As you were before."

"... You can´t do it, can you?" Tony broke the silence that settled after his words, and his throat constricted when Loki shook his head.

"Not with this..." And he croaked out a breathless laugh, before he turned back to Clint. "Looks like it´s your lucky day, Barton."

"Justo do it already." Steve took his mask off and ran a hand through his hair. "We still have to go and chase the rest of the Chitauri."

Loki shook his head, but placed his hand over Clint´s eyes. At his side, Natasha´s grip on her gun tightened as his did the same around the crystal sphere.

--

Clint felt the pressure over his face, smelt the blood on Loki´s hands, and heard the cock of a gun along with the cracking noise he knew so well.

Even back in his controlled state he´d gotten used to the feeling of magic, but this was different. The warmth went in like two piercing needles through his eyeballs, and the blossoming pressure building behind them caused him to suck in a deep breath and bite into his bottom lip to restrain himself from screaming.

"This is no injury. It was made with magic." Loki´s voice came as if through water, distorted and muffled. "Let me in before I run out of power."

"Let you what?" Steve asked, but they paid no mind. They were on their own.

Clint huffed hard once, and, after a loudly thought `Fuck you´, stretched a hand for Natasha´s. If Loki was about to go parasite in his mind again, then this was the least he could do for himself.

Loki poured into his mind, and he fought his instinct to offer resistance, the feeling akin to freezing water seeping through his clothes, skin and bones. The god´s presence was huge, absolute, and strangely careful as it raked through his brain.

The numbness in his mind receded slowly, and it took a while before he noticed the hand on his forehead was gone as well and Natasha´s grip on his hand had become crushing.

"Is it done?" He asked cautiously.

"It is."

He breathed deeply once, twice, to steady himself, and parted his eyelids.

Light flooded into his eyes and made them water, turning his teammates´ faces into a blurry mess. He iped them on the hem of his shirt, and looked again.

Natasha, Steve, Tony, Bruce... But not Thor.

He sighed.

"Thanks." He muttered in the vague direction of Loki´s legs, but got no answer. Not like he cared anyways.

--

Steve helped Clint to his feet, and the weight on his chest eased a bit when their eyes met. All their sacrifice had not been in vain.

He passed him his spare gun. "Let´s go."

Clint nodded. Natasha went to her feet at one of his sides, and Bruce framed the other.. Just in case, their stances said.

"What about..." Steve shook his head to cut Tony´s question.

"Once we clear the ground the medical team can come and pick him up safely." Was all he said. Tony pursed his lips, sending a glance towards the entrance of the tunnel, and finally nodded.

"Fine... Come on, Loks." He muttered. However, Steve turned along with him when no answer came, and they both found Loki standing in his spot, unmoving and staring at them. Steve cleared his throat.

"Loki?"

The other´s lips parted just enough to speak.

"It would seem like I am not in dire need of your protection anymore. Besides, all obligation you could have felt should be gone by now. It´s fine."

"What?" Steve turned to Tony and shook his head. "Please tell me he´s kidding, I can´t deal with this right now." He whispered. He´d lost a teammate. He was in deep shit with S.H.I.E.L.D. ... He wasn´t in the right mind to reassure anyone, least of all Loki.

Tony patted his shoulder, and walked towards the waiting man.

"We´re all tired, sweetcheeks. Let´s just go home." And he offered a hand for Loki to take.

The god stared down at it for a long moment, in the deepest of silences.

And then, just as Tony´s stance had stiffened and his hand was starting its way down, he lifted a hand of his own. Tony relaxed in a second, and Steve could practically see the smile he´d be grinning.

"See? Let´s... Loks?" He cut himself. Loki´s hand had stopped dead on its way to his, and his eyes had glazed over. "Loki?"

Slowly, like he´d just woken up, his eyes focused again and drifted to Tony´s. Then he spoke.

"It´s back."

Even without seeing it, Steve could guess Tony´s frown from the tone of his voice.

"Back? What..."

But he had no time to finish.

Loki muttered one last word (late), and before any of them could process what was happening, the chamber lit up with an explosion of blinding white light. It flew past them and into the tunnels, and from far away came the agonizing screams of the remaining Chitauri. Steve blinked a couple of times and fought to focus his gaze as the light dimmed down.

When it was gone, all that remained was Tony, standing alone at the center of the chamber with a half raised hand.

Chapter Text

It had been four days.

Tony hadn´t deigned going out of his penthouse, and Jarvis kept the doors locked at all times.

No one noticed at first. They were all busy mourning Thor, each in their own way. Steve went through sandbag after sandbag at the gym. Bruce went down to the lab and watched a Tesla sphere for hours. Natasha seemed unaffected, but Clint saw her bite her lip so often that he knew it was all a façade. He pretended not to notice in the same way he pretended she didn´t see him up at night, with his eyes open and just looking at the ceiling.

When they did notice, they figured it was only natural. Understandable. It was also an implicit agreement that barging in to yell `I told you so´ in his face would be of poor taste. It was only by the end of the second week that they decided to send Pepper in.

Jarvis let her in without a word.

--

"It´s not like I´m surprised, you know? Were his welcoming words. Pepper waited patiently, and then grabbed a seat next to him as it became obvious that she was expected to do so.

"I knew he´d pull out something like this." He started again, and Pepper was as surprised she didn´t smell alcohol in his breath as she was enraged about the absolute resignation in his voice. "I knew it would happen. Makes one wonder where Thor got that blind faith from."

This wasn´t her Tony.

"You couldn´t have known."

"Thing is, I could and I did. Ironically, he never lied to me about that." He shot her a glare, as if she could somehow be made responsible for Loki´s betrayal. "You can have fun with me, but in the end you don´t stop life and ask Tony Stark to play house with you because I won´t. And he won´t, either, so I never had too much hope for that." He shook his head.

"I... Don´t know what to say. Where do you think he went?"

He shrugged, and only then did Pepper notice the glass ball he rolled back and forth in his hands.

"Not back to Asgard, that much is sure. For all I know he could be out there, killing elves or dwarves in one of his branches."

"Tony, I..."

He rose from the couch.

"I´m fine, Peps."

"Come out. We´re all worried."

"There´s nothing to be worried about. Nothing. That´s all there ever was to it."

--

It took Tony another three days to join his team in the communitarian levels of the tower, and it had more to do with keeping them from breaking into his floor than actual desire to do so.

He pretended he didn´t see their pitying looks whenever they thought he couldn´t see them. He was too tired. Nodded absently whenever Steve attempted to engage in conversation, until he got fed up and walked away. Bruce sat with him and he appreciated the thought, but couldn´t bring himself to break the silence that settled between them. Clint came to him at some point, and be braced himself.

"Don´t blame yourself." He sat at his side and passed him a beer. "He´s his own kind of bastard."

Tony smiled for the first time in a while. "He is."

"He fixed me, though."

"He did." He took a sip of the beer. "Thor would have taken that as a motive for hope."

Clint laughed. "Thor would be sulking with you."

"Fuck you."

And for a second it was good.

--

They held a small, private funeral for Thor. The coffin was closed and those who knew tried to ignore the fact that it was empty. The medical team had never found the body.

Jane was livid, pale and absent in the first row, and for once Darcy stayed silent at her side, holding her hand while Selvig ran a hand through her hair.

When Tony gathered enough guts to walk up to her and tell her how her name had been the first thing in his lips, she paled further, her lips thinned into a tight line and her eyes watered, but she nodded and thanked him with a steady, calmed voice. Tony decided he liked her. Thor had a fine eye for women.

He took his place between Bruce and Steve and faked interest in the empty coffin.

He wondered how he´d feel if the slate that brandished Thor´s name had instead Pepper, Rhodey, Happy or even Bruce´s.

It was ironic, he thought. When he´d first met this team the huge Norse had definitively been the most unlikely choice to establish a friendship with. And yet there he was, thinking of how the ceremony was so peaceful, elegant and unlike Thor.

Fury gave a speech about the service he´d paid Earth, and how he´d always be remembered. He wondered how much trouble he´d get for throwing him a shoe.

Steve went after and gave another, a better one. He mentioned how brave he was, how loyal. He mentioned his jokes, and how no one ever got them. He had to stop at that point and, after saluting the coffin, went back to his seat.

Tony didn´t know how, but he suddenly found himself on his feet and walking towards the dais. He palmed the glass ball in his jacket´s pocket, and took a hold of the microphone.

"I´m going to tell you something about Thor." He started. "He didn´t know a lot of things. He didn´t know how a GPS worked. Or a satellite. he also didn´t know how to not trust someone." He took a deep breath. "But he knew how to make amazing pancakes, and..." Hs knuckles whitened around the podium´s edge. "And he knew how to see the best in everyone." He gestured to the coffin. "Thor was really weird in many ways. He really was... Not from around. But he was without a doubt one of the most human amongst us, and he taught us all a lesson." He looked at his team, and found them staring back attentively. "He was many things, but I think I can say without a doubt that over everything else, Thor was a friend." His throat knotted over himself and he cleared it. "Thank you." He climbed down. He meant to go back to his seat, but instead he turned to the coffin, and placed the glass ball next to it.

He expected to feel like he´d just gotten rid of a heavy weight, but instead every step he took felt heavier than the last. Steve patted his shoulder.

"Nice speech." He whispered. Tony smiled.

"Thanks." He answered. "Truth to be told, the fact that I couldn´t explain the satellite and the GPS without magic metaphors will be my life´s regret."

Steve smiled back. "I´m sure of that." And they fell silent. Only then, and with the aid of Bruce´s hand clamping down on his wrist, did they notice the increasing whispers.

People were standing from their seats, their eyes wide and mouths agape. He followed their gazes, and nearly choked on air.

The coffin was glowing. The glass ball shook on itself and a stone dropped in his gut when it exploded into shards.

The coffin trembled as well, and it wasn´t long before it was reduced to splinters.

The Avengers jumped to their feet and pulled their weapons out (Tony had time to think of how hilariously sad it was that they couldn´t even attend their friend´s funeral without at least a gun at hand.) The remnants of the coffin smoked now, and against the smoke the light took a circular shape, as if someone was pointing a flashlight at it. The smoke changed directions to flow into the light circle.

Tony pointed the gauntlet´s propeller right at the center because oh, he had seen that show before.

The first thing to come through the portal was a booted foot and a leather covered leg. He braced himself.

The rest happened in just a second; people gasped when the rest of the body came through, and when they recognized the pale face that went with it. Tony didn´t gasp. He didn´t move. He shot.

Loki´s eyes widened and his hand shot up in an ample arch, dividing the bean in two currents that faded in the air behind him.

"Stop!" He yelled over the sound of the gauntlet preparing to shoot again.

Steve edged forward, with his gun pointing at the ground.

"What are you doing here?"

Loki frowned. "What am I..." And then he sent a look around, confused. "How long has it been?"

"Two months." Natasha answered in a low mutter. "It´s been two months since the battle. Where have you been?"

Slowly, probably worried about a second attack, Loki stepped out of the portal and sent another look around. "Well, this is certainly going to cause a scandal." He looked back to the portal, and stepped aside. Another booted foot poked out, followed by a hand that stretched around gripping on air. Loki rolled his eyes and held it by the wrist, giving it a strong pull.

And out came Thor.

--

It had to be said, S.H.I.E.L.D. knew how to handle people. It couldn´t have been more than three minutes before the ample yard was all deserted but for a few selected ones. Fury and Coulson stood over the side of the destroyed, smoking coffin that was all that remained of the portal, with a squad of agents at their back. Jane, Darcy and Selvig stayed a bit on the back, with the team between them and the gods.

Coulson broke the silence.

"Do you expect us to believe this is the real Thor?"

Loki nodded at the words, but his eyes remained fixed on Tony. The latter looked straight ahead at some point on the god´s shoulder, and kept his aim steady.

"You never found the body, did you? I took it with me."

"Yes... Where, exactly?" At this Loki did turn to Coulson.

"I´m afraid you wouldn´t believe me."

"Oh, we don´t, don´t worr-" Fury stopped his rant when Coulson stepped forward.

"How can we know this is not a clone or a spell?" He asked, and his eyes scanned Thor the way they would have a potential threat.

Thor chuckled, and took a step of his own, and then another and another. He smiled at the team when he walked past them, but didn´t stop until he was standing a couple steps away from his goal. He stretched a hand.

"Hello, love."

Jane´s face paled and blushed in two seconds flat, as she squinted up into his eyes. They stared at one another for a good while, until Jane smiled back.

"I missed you." She answered then, placing her small hand on top of his. Thor´s other hand came up then, and together they brought Jane´s up to his lips, to kiss her knuckles.

Steve looked back a second before Jane´s breathless `it´s him´, in time to see Loki rolling his eyes again.

"How did you do it?" He asked.

Loki climbed down the dais as well, and sat on it. Even if his stance might have looked casual at first glance, it was carefully arranged to be as non threatening as it was possible, Steve noticed.

"Odin intervened" He started, and by the way his features scrunched it was obvious that the words still carried a bitter taste. "He gave me my magic back just in time.

"So you brought him back."

"I managed to reach his spirit before it had crossed to the Underworld. However... Time between dimensions flows quite differently. I swear I didn´t know so much time would go by here, or I would have given a warning of some kind."

Steve wanted to roll his eyes too. By now the way Loki kept aiming his explanations at Tony was plainly pitiful. He turned and walked to Thor, who watched the scene with an arm still wrapped around Jane and the other around Darcy.

"I can´t believe you´re really back." He smiled, and Thor mirrored it.

"I´m pleasantly surprised as well, dear friend."

"I will have to ask you both to accompany us into the headquarters." Coulson stepped in, sending Steve an apologetic glance.

Steve frowned. "What for? Loki is formally free of any links to S.H.I.E.L.D. now the Chitauri have been dealt with, and Thor is... Well, Thor."

"We need to perform some DNA tests to confirm so. If Thor is indeed Thor and we don´t find a suspicious amount of magic in his composition, they will both be allowed to leave." He explained, only to add a second later. "However, Loki´s connections to the team and his allowance in the tower are still a matter to be discussed."

"... Fine, then. We expect to hear from them in two hours from now." He half conceded, half warned, and offered a hand for Thor to shake. Thor overlooked it and took him into a crushing hug that lasted barely a second, before he repeated the process with the rest of them.

Even as the organization´s car drove off, Loki´s eyes tried to find Tony´s, who pretended to be too engrossed on the gauntlet´s disassembling process. Steve walked to his side.

"That´s a bit bitchy, isn´t it?"

Tony didn´t bother looking up.

"I might believe him if the tests come out positive." At his other side, Bruce raised an eyebrow.

"Why would he have come back, if that wasn´t the case?"

"Don´t know, don´t care."

Steve did roll his eyes then.

"I take it back. That´s really bitchy."

--

They received a call exactly two hours later; Thor informed them he´d been deemed thor-esque enough and that they were on their way back.

No one knew how or why Clint had picked up the ability to build a pop-tart castle in less than twenty minutes. However, they chose not to comment on it because Thor´s face positively lit up when he saw it

"Your brother?" Jane asked as she took a seat next to his.

"He retired to my chambers. He said he wanted to rest." He answered, looking up from his sixth pop-tart. 2"You have no idea how depleting being revived is." He added after another mouthful.

"Yes... How did that happen again?" Bruce asked.

"Loki has a certain degree of authority over my people´s underworld." Thor mumbled. Then after a moment of silence, he looked up to find his friends´ surprised faces. He shrugged. "I´m not saying he rules the Underworld. He´s just close to the one who does. He also doesn´t ask often for favors of that nature."

"So he just went and... Asked to have you back?"

"Oh, no. He had to travel there and pay a tribute for my soul. Then he had to bring us both back." He smiled, and his cheeks reddened. "I must admit, when I first saw him, I thought I was already past the gate, and dreaming of better times."

"So he couldn´t have done it without his full power?

Thor shook his head.

"A lot of power is needed to travel from branch to branch. I don´t know why my Father waited so long after my death to give him his magic back, but Loki made it there just in time."

"He went right after he fixed my eyes."

Thor frowned. "Your eyes? What was wrong with your eyes?

Natasha tore her eyes from her drink. "He didn´t tell you anything?" And Clint grinned wolfishly at Tony.

"See? I told you it wasn´t just a lovers ´ quarrel."

"Fuck off."

"Stop that." Steve leaned forward on his seat. "I think we ought to put Thor up to date."

--

He had tried to stay in Thor´s floor, he really had. Thing was... Everything was just the way it shouldn´t be.

Every surface was fur and wool and linen when it should have been marble and glass. The bed was on the wrong side, and the shower held a jar of an asgardian ointment that made him nostalgic by means of scent alone. He made himself appear in the penthouse, and headed for the bathroom before his brain could remind him his presence was not wanted in there. It was just a shower.

And then after he went out it was just a lazily poured scotch, and just a second on the couch.

Or that was what he tried to say when he looked back at the sound of steps and found Tony standing on the threshold.

--

He fought a chuckle back. The back of the head over the couch´s edge was not only expected, but reassuring as well. Then Loki turned and well... How he´d missed those eyes.

"I was..." He started awkwardly, before he apparently remembered who he was and what that meant. His features hardened. "Stark."

"I see you´ve made yourself comfortable."

" I´ll see myself out." Loki answered, stiffer than before if that was even possible. He rose to his feet.

"You could´ve said something." Tony´s words were plain and inexpressive, and Loki stopped on his tracks.

"It was too late already as it was." He muttered. "I had to half cross myself to retrieve him. I wasn´t thinking-"

"Exactly. And here I was, thinking for the both of us like an idiot." Tony walked past him and retrieved the abandoned glass. He heard Loki turn on his spot and take a tentative step back towards him.

"You thought..."

"I often do."

"Very funny." Frustration was palpable in the god´s voice. "I... What we discussed the night before..."

He smirked into the glass, glad that he couldn´t see him. It was delicious.

"What, exactly?" He sat the glass back on the table and turned. Loki stood a mere two steps away, and in his eyes there was a plea. Don´t make me say it. Don´t make me risk it.

He let his lips take the form of a fond smile. It was unfair, to ask that of him when he himself wasn´t sure he could give it. Besides... They already kind of knew.

He took the remaining two steps.

"We told Thor what happened after he died."

"Did you, now?" His closeness seemed to have brought Loki into more familiar grounds, and the tension slowly evaporated.

"He said it was a clever move on his father´s part, to give you your magic back only when he was sure you´d come back with us, with or without Thor." His hands found their way to Loki´s nape.

"Odin has always had a pretty tasteless sense of humor."

"Like father..."

"I hope you mean Thor, because my humor is refined and flawless."

Tony chuckled, and sobered up.

"What are you going to do now?"

Loki remained silent for a while and then some more.

"I told Thor..." He started. "I wouldn´t go back to Asgard." Tony looked up, and found him looking down at him. He had to do something about those eyes, they had been by far the most troublesome thing he´d ever encountered. "I´m not wanted there." He finished.

Tony reached up to kiss him.

"Their loss." He muttered, smiling against his lips. "I was just about to hang an ad looking for a replacement bitchy alien with a knack for ugly clothes and junk food. Any ideas?"

Loki smiled back and slapped his side softly. "So, as for your question..." He whispered. This time his voice took a hint of a purr at the end and Tony suppressed another smile, because he was so being played right now and he couldn´t bring himself to care. "I´m going to pour myself another drink, and head for the jacuzzi."

"Weird, those were my exact plans too."

"What an amazing coincidence."

--

It was a pretty controversial decision, he thought as he laid down on the huge, soft bed. Not that he wasn´t thrilled, but the way his magic had been restored followed no logical pattern. He didn´t hold any more love for mortals now than when he´d first landed on Midgard. He hadn´t forgiven his father. He hadn´t accepted his real nature. Why, then?

A calloused hand came to rest over his belly, and warmth spread through him like it flowed straight from the stray limb. He covered it with one of his own while a little part of his brain wondered when that had become a reflex.

A voice whispered in his ear.

"I´m glad you didn´t go evil bastard on me, you little shit."

He rolled his eyes in the dark, and his lips curled into a smile.

"Shut up already." He muttered, squeezing the hand a bit tighter, and feeling the warmth intensifying.

Maybe he did know why he´d been forgiven.

He fell asleep with the word "Hope" shining faintly in his mind.

Chapter Text

No one said a thing next morning, when Loki stepped into the dining room after a brief hesitation.

In fact, no one said a thing until two weeks later when Clint complained loudly that Thor and Loki were really trying to eat them out of the tower and succeeding.

It was only then they both realized he´d been living in the tower and had no immediate plans to go. They went into a minor freakout and Loki disappeared for three days, but he came back with a six-eyed bird for Tony and Bruce to fawn over and everyone knew better than to say anything about it.

Except Thor, but whenever he stalked around Loki with a knowing smile or muttered cheerful things in a language they didn´t know, Loki seemed contented enough with turning his furniture into sheep, ducks, and, on one memorable occasion, peacocks.

After the third time Pepper borrowed funds from Stark Industries to open a petting zoo somewhere outside the city. The income was used to buy Thor new furniture, and thus the circle was closed.

They still fought sometimes, of course. The city would darken with storm clouds and the tower would grow chilly no matter how high the thermostat was set. Natasha still stiffened whenever Loki walked into a room, and Loki did as much with Bruce. But it never got too far, and it was mostly ok.

Steve watched Tony tinker away with these or those blueprints in one of his tablets, Loki sitting at his side lost in a book or a movie, and surprised himself thinking it felt good. Normal.

A part of him still expected Loki to vanish again at some point, and never come back. But every day said part´s voice grew weaker and doubtful.

After six months it had completely shut down.

The first time Loki helped them on a mission was purely coincidental, and they learned not to piss off a god when he´d been forced to sit quietly at the back of a charity act for seven hours straight. It was far messier than it should have been, and the PR was hell. but it worked out in the end. It somehow always did, and they had their suspicions that Loki was brainwashing some big fishes in the media and politics networks.

When asked about it he denied it, of course.

Thing was, after that S.H.I.E.L.D. let them alone and the pieces finally fell into place. Things were as they were, and they were good.

--

Unbeknown to them, there was a point at which it could have turned out... Not so well.

They were at the beach again. It had become a custom.

Lying on the sand just like the year before. But now he was free. To do as he pleased, to escape to wherever he wanted. Loki had felt specially risky.

"I want to show you something." He said, and his words kickstarted his heartbeat in such a way that he wanted to backpedal immediately.

"That´s always promising." Tony grinned, half rising to rest his weight on one elbow.

Loki stayed where he was, staring ahead at some point amongst the shiny mass of stars, an allowed the cold tendrils to take over his appearance. His vision turned sharper, and he knew his eyes had finished changing.

He heard the sharp intake of breath at his side, and his heart skipped a beat.

How weird he must have looked, all blue and cold like some dead monster washed ashore. His hand curled in the sand.

"... Wow."

"Your eloquence is without a doubt your best quality." He muttered.

"Shut it." Tony whispered. Out the corner of his eye, Loki saw the tips of the mortal´s fingers, and an alarm sounded in his head.

"Don´t." The fingers stopped abruptly, and he felt obligated to explain himself. "I might burn you."

"I´ll take the risk." The hand re-started its trajectory, and Loki found himself struggling frantically with his magic, weaving a spell just in time. The first touch landed on one of his markings, over his cheekbone. "Does it hurt?" He asked, tracing the line with the tip of his index finger.

Loki shook his head, taking a deep breath. The other hand went to trace the markings at his chest and stomach.

"It feels amazing." Tony´s voice was hoarse with a taint of something else. Loki relaxed, and couldn´t help the beginnings of a smirk.

"Does it?"

Tony mirrored his expression.

"I might want to try a few things out."

The mortal´s lips descended over his own, and it was in that moment that Loki knew he would stay.

--

Sometimes Tony went to bed late at night and found a bulk under his sheets that made him stop in his tracks. Some others he woke up at early morning, and listened to the sound of the running shower for a minute in confused silence.

Then he remembered. He smiled. And he got to the conclusion that whatever spell Loki had thrown over him that morning at the park so many months ago had been one of the best things to ever happen to him.