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Say Goodbye to Yesterday

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"Mr. Stark, Ms. Potts will be here in ten minutes."

Tony grumbles and buries his face in his pillow, because he just isn't ready to get up yet-

Hey. Something is off. Going still, Tony tries to wake up his brain enough to figure it out; there's something niggling at him, something isn't right, but he isn't sure-

His head isn't hurting. He had a concussion and a number of bruises and cuts all over his body; his ribs were bruised and he strained his wrist, banged up his knee and shoulder with a big, sprawling bruise on his hip to go with it.

Abruptly feeling considerably more awake, Tony lifts his head and almost doubts his faculties the next moment, because he's in the tower, in his bedroom. The bedroom he didn't go to sleep in because the penthouse was windy as hell, what with the broken glass and other damage. Neither of which he finds any evidence of now.

"The hell?"

Tony stumbles out of bed, noticing absently that he's wearing boxers and a wifebeater, not what he went to bed with. He actually put on a proper pajama because he couldn't stand to look at himself, looking so much like he had when he came out of Afghanistan, less because of the bruises on his body and more for the expression in his eyes.

In the door to the living room he freezes, because it's perfectly intact. No shattered window, no broken floor, no fine layer of grey dust coating everything, dry and strangely tasty on his lips. "Jarvis?" he asks, voice wavering. "What-"

The ding of the elevator arriving interrupts Tony; Pepper strides into the room, wearing the moss green business suit she wore the day before everything went down. When she spots him she frowns. "Tony," she chides. "Do you call that being ready? You are supposed to activate the arc reactor today."

The arc reactor? The one he activated four days ago?

Now, Tony isn't stupid. He can put two and two together. It's absolutely impossible that the tower got repaired overnight, without him noticing, and even more so that someone put him in his bed in the penthouse when he went to sleep two stories down. Unless they sedated him, but there's really little point to that, and Pepper wouldn't go along with that.

To confirm his suspicion, Tony strides over to his panorama window to look over New York, and yep, everything is fine. No destroyed buildings.

For a moment all Tony does is stare. Until this moment he hadn't realized how much seeing his city destroyed had impacted him, but seeing it intact now makes him very aware of that.

It also confirms his theory of Tony having a very vivid, very detailed dream of the upcoming days. Now the question is, was it a vision or just a dream? He can't test with Pepper, she's already frowning and suspicious, not relaxed and vaguely cheerful as she had been around this time in the dream. They had bantered as they had once more discussed the details of the upcoming experiment, finally having managed to get back into their previous equilibrium as friends after that disastrous kiss that had thrown them off for weeks.

Tony plays along, now. He smiles sheepishly and says something about bad dreams, which makes Pepper chide him for sleeping in the middle of the afternoon, and then for not sleeping at all the previous night, but she lets up. Tony gets dressed and goes through the whole discussion of the plan again – where to cut the tower off from the city's energy network, the check-up of the arc reactor, the whole shebang precluding the going online. Having gone through all that once before Tony would've been incredibly bored, but his thoughts are racing. Is he actually going insane or just delusional? He can't actually be having prophetic dreams. The longer he's awake the more absurd the idea seems to him.

He gets dressed, puts on the suit and goes for some underwater soldering. Once done he returns to the tower, Pepper's calm voice telling him of the success of the plan in his ears. At the tower he gets out of the suit and once more contemplates trying to talk Pepper into having a glass of celebratory champagne with him; in the dream he'd tried and failed. Now that he knows not to act all smug and sure of his victory, he'll surely manage.

Mind made up, Tony pastes on a sweet smile and says, "Up for some celebration?"

Pepper hesitates, the way she hadn't done in his dream. Tony can see the conflict in her face, how she isn't sure, but wants to preserve their friendship, and ups the ante. "Come on, we've been working on this for weeks and you don't have time for one measly glass of champagne?"

She caves. "Fine, but only one glass. One."

Strike! Tony pours them both a glass and hands Pepper hers. They've just clinked their glasses when Jarvis says, "Sir, Agent Coulson is calling."

In the dream, by this point Pepper had been on her way out of the tower and Tony had been sipping scotch, half bitter, half resigned, and fairly snarky with the Agent. But all of a sudden all he can see is a bloodstain on the wall, a cellist in Portland he doesn't know the identity of, bloodied vintage cards of Captain America who is a self-righteous, smug dick in person and who Coulson nevertheless adores, nervous as a teenager in the face of his idol.

Yeah. Tony isn't feeling much like champagne anymore. "Let him up." Putting the champagne flute away Tony walks over to the elevator. It dings open and there Coulson stands, face bland.

"Mr. Stark," he says.

"Yeah, yeah, hand it over," Tony replies, not knowing at all how to react anymore.

Eyebrow going up, Coulson holds out a folder full of information Tony is sure he already knows. Pepper comes up behind him, ready to take the folder and give it to Tony, but Tony takes it instead, ignoring Pepper's shocked gasp as he flicks it open. Yeah, he knows it all already.

In a daze, Tony waits as Pepper ushers herself and Coulson out. By this point it's completely obvious that Tony's dream was more than just that. The question is only what to do with that. Tony certainly isn't going to pretend he doesn't know how future events are going to play out, but he obviously can't tell anyone that he had a prophetic dream.

Over the next hour he makes a timeline of events in the dream, flagging those down he wants to try to prevent; Coulson's murder and Manhattan's destruction most of all. For Barton it's too late, he's been made a mind slave already, and Tony feels a sting of guilt at that; maybe he could've prevented it, it happened after he woke up, long enough for him to have done something about it.

Well, it's too late for that now, so Tony concentrates on the things that aren't too late. He might not know where Loki is currently, but he knows where he's going to be, so Tony gets on his jet and heads to Stuttgart.

It's not difficult for him to finagle his way into the party, dressed in a tux and armed with one glove, the rest of his mobile suit close by. Having seen the security tape he knows from which direction Loki will approach, and Tony waits for him there, in the middle of the stairs. Adrenaline heightening his awareness, Tony smiles sharply as Loki comes down the stairs, looking razor sharp, unholy excitement glinting in his eyes. He raises an eyebrow when he spots Tony, grip on his cane tightening.

"Hello, darling," Tony coos, raises his gloved hand and fires at Loki.

Loki doesn't expect it at all; he's caught completely off-guard, head slamming into the stairs as he's thrown back from the impact. In the crowd people scream but Tony ignores them, stepping up to the unmoving body – Loki clearly is unconscious.

Security descends on Tony and he has to deal with that; he bears it calmly until they start approaching Loki to fuss over him. Thankfully at that moment Captain America shows up on the scene, and shortly afterwards Natasha and a couple of SHIELD agents. They all seem pissed with Tony's methods but Tony doesn't give a fuck because while they might be inelegant, they're at least also efficient. SHIELD's agents drag Loki off into the jet and send Tony and Capsicle after him, some of the agents staying for the inevitable diplomatic aftermath.

Once in the air, Capsicle turns to Tony and nods at him, an unpleasant pull around his mouth. "Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Stark, though I can't say I approve of your methods."

"What, you'd rather wait until he kills a security guard, gouges some other guy's eye out and terrifies a couple of Germans in the process?" Tony returns. "War's over, we're all friends now." Patience isn't something he has in spades right now, especially not where Steve Rogers is concerned. Sure, the real one has no idea what happened between them in the dream, but Tony can't just switch the inevitable dislike off. Especially since it's deeply ingrained from early puberty on, once he'd gone off his childhood hero-worship and realized that even a ghost of Captain America was more important to his father than his very real son.

Mouth tightening even further, Rogers says, "Of course not, and I know that."

And there's that. Awkward silence descends as they sit around; Rogers waiting for them to get somewhere, Tony waiting for a certain Thunder God. In preparation he fully gets into his suit before sitting down next to Loki, who is slumped in a corner, still unconscious. Rogers watches his actions with a faint frown, but after he's only received sarcastic mocking to his initial question he keeps silent.

Never having been one not to poke a sleeping dragon (not that he's ever come as close to literally having the opportunity), Tony leans forwards and pokes Loki in the ribs. The third time he does this, less than tentative by this point, Loki flails awake and sits up, looking around with confusion. His eyes land on Tony and he frowns. He opens his mouth as if to say something, but suddenly he gasps and stiffens, body going completely still for a second. Confused because it's clear something is going on Tony leans forwards, and the next moment a fist smashes into his face.

For a couple of minutes Tony is dazed because holy cow, that guy packs quite a punch; by the time he slowly becomes aware of his surroundings again Thor has boarded the plane and kidnapped Loki.

With a growl Tony pushes Rogers aside, grabs his helmet and jumps after the two Norse gods, ignoring Rogers' shouting. Not caring to indulge in another fight with Thor Tony utilizes his gloves again, shooting Thor out of the way before landing in his place.

Loki smiles at him, cold and sharp. "We meet yet again."

Somewhere not far off Thor roars; without turning around Tony raises his arm and shoots in his direction.

Eyes glittering Loki leans forwards. "You certainly must have a death wish."

"Or maybe I'm just tired of the dramatics," Tony returns. Somewhere off in the forest there's a loud clang; clearly, Capsicle is getting acquainted with Thor.

"Well then, darling," Loki purrs, holding out his hand to Tony like a lady awaiting a kiss on the back of it. "Take me to your humble abode."

Fuck no, is Tony's first instinct, but he's already thought it all over; there is no other way, he doesn't have a prison better than the helicarrier available. So he takes Loki's hand at the wrist, not bothering to be gentle, and pulls him close, intending to wrap his arm around Loki's waist and fly him off to the jet; in the dream he had taken Rogers and Thor had taken Loki but Tony isn't too keen on that.

And then Loki says, "Perhaps you can offer me a drink again."

"What?" Tony lets go and opens his face mask, no matter how unwise it might be. "What did you say?"

Loki is frowning and blinking; then his head suddenly jerks to the side. When he faces Tony again there is no ambiguity in his expression, just a raised eyebrow. "I haven't said anything. Perhaps you should call one of your friends to arrest me instead, if you aren't capable."

With a growl Tony takes Loki's wrist again, discarding it as stupid banter, and takes him to the jet that's circling around the area where they all jumped off. Not fighting back at all, Loki sits down on the bench again and leans back, watching Tony from underneath lowered eyelids. A while later Rogers and Thor join them, which puts an end to the silent staring contest; Loki closes off completely and shuts Thor up with a few very sharp, pointed remarks – he's clearly guilting Thor, reminding him that he never cared enough to come looking for him so he has no right to act all high and mighty now. It's successful; Thor falls silent. In the dream Tony and Steve had been talking to him and Thor had largely ignored Loki. Maybe Tony didn't give them enough time to exchange words earlier.

"Stark!" Rogers bellows. He's been trying to talk to Tony but Tony was too busy watching the interaction between the adopted brothers. "We need to talk."

Tony carelessly slants his eyes at him. "About what?"

Looking furious, Rogers grinds out, "Your tendency to go off on your own."

"Been on my own all my life, no thanks to you, Rogers," Tony returns sharply, "so kindly shut the fuck up about my methods."

"That's all good and well if you're alone," Rogers says, "but if you're working with other people you have to work with them."

"How adorable," Tony sneers. "You think I'm working with you? Sorry to rob you of your delusions, but we only happen to have the same goals currently. I'm by no means working with you."

"Stop being so childish," Rogers cries. "Why are you so hostile? What have I ever done to you?"

"Not kept your mouth shut when you should," Tony hisses.

"Truly, brother?" Loki's voice is quite but insidious, shutting them both up abruptly. "These are the creatures with which you wish to ally?"

Thor eyes them, expression disgusted. "They are a lot smaller than the people I have met before," he says.

Tony sneers at him. "I don't think you have much ground to stand on, Point Break, you and your brother both haven't exactly cut such fine figures, coming here and rampaging all over the place." It had already pissed him off when Thor had said it in the dream, but he'd been too busy pissing off Rogers at the time.

"Let's not discuss this now," Rogers intervenes before Thor can say anything else. "We should get him to a safe place and talk after we've calmed down."

Whatever. Tony knows how that conversation is going to go, so he doesn't care.

For a while Tony lets things pass mostly as they had in the dream; they hand Loki off to the SHIELD agents on the helicarrier, get debriefed individually and then Tony gets comfortable in the lab (speak: unpacks his bags and spreads his stuff everywhere to mark his territory, not that it's anything important that he actually cares about). After a catnap it's time for the meeting.

Tony might not have bothered making an entrance as he had in the dream, but he is a diva (he didn't figure Loki out merely because he's a genius, you know) and also Rogers rubs him the wrong way even more now than it had then, so he still does it. It goes mostly the same except Rogers reacts even cooler towards him now, not that Tony gives a fuck either way. Oh, and Tony is maybe even more friendly towards Bruce, but come on, the Hulk saved him from being smashed flatter than a pancake. Tony can't possibly fear him after that, not that he really had before.

He lets them dither around for a while, clumsy and awkward as they all sound each other out, try to mark their territory, before he puts his foot down. "This is all nice and well," he says before Thor can go on his "blahblahblah I know he fucked up but he's still my brother – well okay he's adopted so it doesn't really count I'm mostly paying lip service and too honorable to realize how much like a hypocritical dick this makes me sound" tangent. "But could we concentrate on the fact that Loki wants to be here?"

They all go silent, focusing on him, and nobody's ever accused Tony of not knowing how to play an audience. "Seriously, he didn't fight back at all, not even when he could've. He just calmly sat down and let us take him, and sorry big guy, but it doesn't seem to be because he realized he fucked up and is trying to make it right. So, you know, we should maybe try to figure out his angle before he plays us like a fiddle, yeah?"

"What exactly are you suggesting?" Natasha asks. Tony maybe feels a little less hostile towards her after having witnessed her badassery during the invasion (and the resentful crush he has on her is mostly over too by this point, which helps), so he doesn't insult her.

Much. "Oh, I don't know, maybe talk to him? Or try to figure it out ourselves. He certainly didn't want me nor Capsicle here nor Thor, because he had us right there and didn't seem to care much either way. Barton probably told him all he knows, what with the brainwashing, so what could Barton have told him is here that Loki wants?" Jesus fuck, this is hard. Tony wants to tell them, but he sort of loves the part where the Hulk runs loose; only the part where Barton takes out one propeller was a bit inconvenient. And Coulson's death, of course.

"Since you seem to know so much more than any of us," Fury drawls, "why don't you go talk to the guy yourself?"

Well. Tony can do that. "Okay, great. I can do that." That's at least something new, Tony has no idea how that might change the course of things. Probably it will finally knock events completely off-course from the dream. "You guys watch out who you let land on here." Or just come close, but this is as much as Tony can say without mentioning the part where he's apparently having prophetic dreams now.

Loki seems perfectly in control in his glass cage; Fury had really nailed it when he'd said that Loki is the only one who looks like he wants to be here. When Tony enters the room he smiles, cold but a little sweeter than he had smiled at Natasha in the dream. "Hello, darling."

"Hey babe," Tony drawls carelessly, "sorry you had to wait, I had to coddle some idiots, you know how it is."

The corner of Loki's mouth tilts up in amusement but he says nothing as Tony walks around the room towards the entrance. Maybe he can get Loki to threaten him with rape; he's not as good as Natasha at drawing information out of people but his skills at annoying someone into blind fury are surpassed by none.

"So. I would offer you a drink but you came unannounced so I don't have anything available close by." Lie. Tony doesn't go anywhere without his personal stash of scotch. It's in the lab. He would pour Loki a glass, but he doubts Fury would let him open the door to the cage to hand it over, as much as he'd like to see Loki's reaction towards it. Liquor is an acquired taste.

"Oh, no need to go out of your way to be hospitable," Loki says sweetly. "I am quite comfortable here." He glances around, cold amusement on his face. "This place is quite… entertaining."

That might have needled Tony if he hadn't seen Loki do quite a lot more disturbing things in the dream. So he just smiles, wide and fake. "Yes, I imagine so. You're having quite the ball, are you?"

"It's horrible what you do to language these days," Loki comments, casually changing topics. "There is no creativity anymore. Many of your poets of the past would weep if they could hear you speak now."

"Yeah, not just people of the past," Tony agrees. "People keep bitching about language. They keep giving me a language coach who's supposed to make me sound less like a college frat boy – never mind that I was never a frat boy at college, I was fifteen when I graduated, Jesus – but really, I don't care. There's actually a poem about the depreciation of language, wait for it:" Tony leans against the railing and closes his eyes as he recites. "Good authors who once knew better words, now only use four-letter words; writing prose, anything goes."

"Four-letter words?" Loki repeats, curiously tilting his head.

Never ask Tony to curse. "Yeah. You know, fuck, cunt, shit, cock, dick, tits, twat, piss, jizz, damn, crap-"

"I get the picture," Loki interrupts, exasperated and amused. "I reiterate, you are not creative anymore these days, even with your insults."

"Yeah, no mewling quims anymore these days, sorry," Tony agrees. "Now it's all cunt, twat, pussy and all that."

"I'm afraid I must rely on your expert opinion for all things vulgar," Loki says smoothly.

Very slick. "Yeah, looks like," Tony agrees nonchalantly. "I'll come to you for all things villainous in exchange, shall I? We can be bros, braid each other's hair, paint our nails in the same color, that sort of thing. Sound good?"

"I look forward to it," Loki says.

"Brilliant, it's a date. But listen, as much as I'm enjoying the flirting, I got some business stuff to clear up." Tony leans forwards, smiling sweetly – a smile that Loki echoes. Then Tony says, "You're here for the Hulk, aren't you?" and the smile drops off Loki's face like oil, his entire body going still. It lasts for just a second, then he's all "I have no idea what you are talking about" but Tony got him – with a prophetic dream fuelled advantage, but still. He knows it, Loki knows it, and the others watching the security footage know it too. Tony doesn't bother loitering around; he waves cheekily at Loki and goes off to join the others again.

After some discussion of the what and how and why that leads to nowhere, Tony abducts Bruce and runs off with him to play in the lab. Well, the official explanation is that they're looking for the tesseract. Tony makes sure to reiterate to SHIELD that they have to look out for jets that don't belong and then plays with Bruce. Instead of poking him with the stick as he did in the dream he slaps him on the ass because come on, that ass is mighty fine, nobody can tell him they wouldn't do the same in his position. Bruce jumps and flushes fetchingly, and then he ducks his head and is all embarrassed, which is just adorable.

"So, hey," Tony says, leaning against the lab table. "Wanna come live with me when this is all over?"

Bruce turns around to stare at him. "Uh," he says.

"I have the most awesome lab in the world," Tony coaxes. "Several stories of it, in fact. You can have however much you want to yourself." It's driving him nuts. In the dream he'd asked Bruce as well, shortly before they had accompanied Thor and Loki to the Bifrost landing strip, and Bruce had said he'd think about it. Tony had gone to sleep without an answer and damnit, he wants for Bruce to say yes. He's never lived with somebody who he's actually comfortable leaving alone in a lab. And yeah, he can admit it by this point, he has a crush on Bruce's zen ass. Or maybe his brain. Probably both?

Bruce is still staring at him. "I'll think about it," he says eventually.

Great. Wonderful.

Tony doesn't get much time to pout because Rogers comes in, blathering about something or other. Having already been through that fight Tony doesn't show much interest, but he wouldn't be himself if he held his tongue so a couple of barbs are exchanged. He waits long enough for Bruce to take his side – diplomatically, yes, but definitely Tony's side, ha, take that, Capsicle – before telling Rogers exactly where to look to find the tesseract-fuelled guns.

Rogers returns, and somehow everybody else ends up in the lab too for the fight that ends with Bruce accidentally grabbing Loki's Glowstick of Destiny. This time Tony is paying more attention to him than to Rogers and watches as Bruce's fingers – clearly subconscious – wrap around the stick. The blue light within the crystal whirls just before Fury tells Bruce to put the stick down, and everybody sort of goes still. So much for "we don't care about the green rage monster in you, really, we don't". No wonder Bruce has problems trusting anyone.

This is the moment where in the dream the jet shot at them and Bruce hulked out; Tony sort of hopes this time SHIELD will be a little more vigilant even though he'd sort of like to see the Hulk again.

He waits with baited breath, not paying attention to whatever Fury is saying – the explosion is late, but Tony changed the timeline of a couple of things so it might still-

Fury stills, receiving a call over his headset, and then says, "We just shot down an unauthorized jet approaching the helicarrier."

Tony's breath catches in his chest. How had he not thought of that? He should have thought of that. Of course they'd shoot the intruder down.

Barton was on that jet, and they don't even know it, Tony realizes with a jolt. They killed Barton and they have no idea.

In his mind's eye he replays scenes of Barton fighting during the invasion, using his arrows to stab Chitauri and as agile as an athlete, magnificent when he shoots with how completely still he goes as he focuses. His eyesight is as impossible as his mouth. He'd been subdued after the whole brainwashing incident, understandably so, but when they'd gotten drunk after the whole shawarma affair he'd let loose a little.

"Stark?"

Tony blinks to find all eyes on him.

"Everything alright?" Bruce asks, concern wrinkling his forehead. "You look like you've seen a ghost."

Tony licks his lips, very aware that he can't tell them. Not the least of which because they won't believe him anyway; what would be the point? He has extrapolated enough about their relationship to know that Natasha would be devastated.

No, they'll figure it out soon enough.

Plastering on a fake smile – something he's an expert at – Tony waves their attention away. "Nothing, I was just thinking. Who's gonna tell Loki that his plan failed?"

Fury raises both eyebrows. "Well, you seem to have something of a rapport with him."

Ah. Brilliant.

"Honey, I'm back!" Tony trills, swinging back into the room hosting Loki's cage. "Did you miss me?"

"Yes," Loki drawls, stopping Tony short in his tracks for a moment. He gets right back on track though, smiling broadly.

"Aww, I'm sorry to hear that, and even sorrier to say that I come bearing bad news. We caught your jet, there's no get out of jail free card for you."

A muscle in Loki's cheek twitches, the only sign of his annoyance; he's right back to his smooth persona. "What's the matter, Stark? You look unhappy." He steps up to the glass. "Don't tell me you were emotionally attached to dear Agent Barton."

So much for keeping that part secret.

"You're a bastard," Tony says, dropping the smile and chirpy persona.

Loki narrows his eyes, half angry, half smug. "That seems to be the case," he grants, a crazy smile stretching his lips – the first one that makes him look truly mad. "But I was not the one who killed one of my own, no?"

"No?" Tony asks, remembering the things Thor had drunkenly told him. "So you didn't try to use the Bifrost to kill an entire race? Though I suppose that doesn't really count as your own. But what about the guys who died when you let some Frost Giants in? Not to mention the fact that you betrayed your king and father in the process."

Loki has gone completely still, staring at Tony. "Thor told you that, did he?" he then says silkily. He suddenly looks considerably more dangerous than he had previously, even with ten inch thick glass and a couple of failsafes between them.

The next moment all that is void because Loki is suddenly standing in front of Tony, putting a hand on his chin. His eyes are impossibly blue and up close he looks even more exhausted. "Did he not mention," Loki breathes, "that I am not his brother? The Allfather stole me when I was a mere infant."

Well, yeah, Thor had mentioned that, but not during the whole drunk rambling thing. Tilting his face up in a challenge Tony says, "He might have mentioned something like that."

Loki's demeanor cools even more. "Did he tell you what I am?" Slowly what little color there was drains out of Loki's skin, making room for the deepest blue starting with the hand on Tony's face, turning it icy cold. "Did he tell you that I am a monster?" The blue creeps up Loki's neck towards his face. "That I am a Frost Giant?" Loki whispers, breath going from hot to cold as it fans across Tony's face.

Eyes turning red for a moment before a sheen of purple settles over them, Loki steps back, now completely blue, lines on his skin raised in strange patterns that look meaningful. He looks beautiful and dangerous; Tony's always had a bit of a thing for beautiful aliens à la Star Trek. "So in fact," Loki concludes, voice a purr, "I betrayed both my people, and none."

The next moment he's gone, leaving Tony strangely breathless and very confused.

From then on, events pass pretty much like they had in the dream, with Coulson sort of taking Barton's place. And Coulson certainly is considerably more badass than Tony would have thought, but he doesn't hold a candle to Barton on top of a building; Tony can't give any exact figures but he's sure the destruction around the city is greater than it had been in the dream. Natasha fights like a woman possessed, eyes cold and fierce; Rogers looks both scared and aroused by her. Interesting.

Bruce doesn't show up in the middle of the fight when it's convenient. Tony has to cajole and convince him, but he gets on the plane with Natasha, Coulson and Rogers while Tony and Thor take the aerial route. It isn't hard for Tony to convince the others to hurry off to New York; Coulson didn't die to motivate them (and the mere thought of that having been necessary leaves a bitter taste in Tony's mouth) but Barton did. There were some feeble arguments referring to Loki's trustworthiness, but generally they're inclined to believe the logic in having someone who knows the inner workings of the helicarrier invade it.

As in the dream, Tony heads straight for the tower, where Loki is waiting for him. He's pulled his composure back around himself like a cloak, smiling the smile that's a third amusement, a third cruel, arrogant control and a third madness.

Tony returns the smile. In the dream he'd been scared out of his wits, but now he feels a little more secure, a little more careless. He puts the bracelets on as he makes them drinks and calculates how long he has to stall Loki, wonders what he's going to say.

"Here," he says, handing one of the two glasses over to Loki; he didn't bother asking as he had in the dream. "Welcome to my humble abode, and all that."

"Not overly humble," Loki comments, looking around.

"Figure you're used to more, what with being a prince and all," Tony returns, taking a sip from his scotch. It's one of his best bottles, technically not something Loki deserves, but nobody can claim Tony treats his guests to anything but the best. "Wait, you aren't a prince after all, are you? What with the whole kidnapping business."

"How sweet of you to worry," Loki coos, cold eyes a stark contrast to his sweet voice and smile, "but you are wrong. Despite the fact that I might be a bastard, I am a king's bastard, however worthless his kingdom might be."

"Aww, that's good to know." Tony puts a hand on his arc reactor, fluttering his eyelashes. "And a worthless kingdom is always better than no kingdom, I always say."

"You're too kind." Loki finally takes a sip from the scotch Tony gave him, eying the liquid curiously while he rolls it around on his tongue.

"You like?" Tony raises an eyebrow and doesn't give Loki the opportunity to say either way, stepping closer to him and affecting a conspiratorial tone. "So, listen, darling, I've been meaning to ask you something."

Mirroring Tony's expression Loki raises an eyebrow as well, looking him up and down. "Go on."

"We both know that there is little point to this whole thing." Tony gestures towards the roof. "There is no way, not even the slightest chance that you'll come out of this with the Earth in your control. This planet is too chaotic, too splintered for that to ever work out. I know that, and I'm fairly sure you know it too, you're not stupid."

"I don't hear a question," Loki hums, taking another sip from the scotch.

"Well, I'm wondering why you're doing this," Tony says, leaning further in.

Tink.

Tony blinks and looks down to find the tip of the stick against his arc reactor. He looks up again to find Loki looking disgruntled and confused, much like he had the first time – like a cat whose mouse has been taken away.

"Well," Tony says.

Loki scowls and tries again, and once more, the blue magic building up in a whirl around the tip of the stick dissipates as it ticks against the arc reactor.

Tony has lost track of time. He doesn't know if this is too early, he doesn't know if he'll be fine if Loki throws him out of the window now. So he shrugs, trying to keep his smugness at bay, and says, "I take it that's your answer?"

As it turns out, it doesn't matter what Tony says; he still ends up being thrown out of the window. Fortunately, just as in the dream the mobile suit catches up to him at the last minute, and the fighting begins.

None of the Avengers dies. Tony still ends up personally accompanying a nuclear bomb through the wormhole. Bruce aka the Hulk still catches him.

They don't eat shawarma afterwards. As they pick up Loki Natasha jumps him and has to be held back by Steve and Coulson; SHIELD takes her away. Bruce smiles weakly at Tony and follows them. Tony ends up picking through the wreck of his tower on his own. Eventually he crawls into his bed, dusty and cold, and doesn't fall asleep for hours.

*

"Mr. Stark, Ms. Potts will be here in ten minutes."

Tony blinks and thinks, what the fuck. He's in his bedroom in the tower, that far it's not surprising. But there's no dust, no icy draft, and when Tony scrambles out of bed and runs into the living room he finds both the tower and the city intact. The fact that he's wearing boxers and a wifebeater again registers pretty low against that, but he didn't bother taking his clothes off when he went to bed the previous night.

And it was the previous night. It wasn't all a dream; Tony is completely sure of that. Once, yeah, he can accept that, but twice? No way. He's starting to doubt that the first time was a dream too, it was too vivid, too detailed.

Technically Tony would need a third time to confirm his theory, but so far this smells of time loop to him. It's not a hard leap to make, Tony is familiar enough with science fiction, but he's still pretty disbelieving. Because this is his life, and yeah, it has some scifi elements – especially with the recent alien invasion – but still it seems very unlikely that he's actually in a time loop.

But a lot of evidence speaks for the theory, and Occam's razor dictates… well. The thing is, it didn't end at the same time. The second loop ended a day before the first – though both ended apparently while Tony was asleep. He needs to find the common denominator.

Well, hopefully it won't be necessary; maybe it's not really an actual loop. Maybe it's just… a hiccup. A glitch in the Matrix.

Clinging to that idea, Tony goes through the whole setting up the arc reactor thing with Pepper as he had before. He maybe should've tried to help Clint before he gets brainwashed, but he has no idea how to go about that and it's almost too late anyway by the time the thought occurs to him, about an hour after Pepper arrives.

Thoughtfully, Tony eyes his redheaded CEO. Maybe this is the time he should ask some questions he's never asked before.

Or maybe not. Maybe he should just concentrate on not getting either Clint or Coulson killed again.

Tony gets the whole arc reactor thing over with – by this point it feels like routine more than anything else – and then ushers Pepper out, just before Coulson shows up. He takes the file and sends Coulson off as well. He barely bothers flicking through the file to make sure all the information he remembers is correct as he packs his things and gets on his jet.

As the second time around, he accosts Loki before he can terrify a bunch of people and largely ignores Rogers, not feeling like getting into a pissing contest but neither being in any mood to be nice to the guy. On the jet, Tony sits up close the unconscious Loki and pokes him awake, ducking out of the way when a fist flies towards his face.

"Whoa, sweetheart," Tony says. Loki seems confused, frowning at him, and somehow it doesn't seem related to the fact that Tony managed to avoid his fist. "Slow."

Still blinking, Loki stares at him, strangely silent. Something is off about him. Narrowing his eyes Tony takes a closer look; something is different, he can't quite put his finger on it-

He doesn't get the chance to figure it out because Thor arrives.

"Hey!" Tony yells when Thor boards the jet. "Get in line! We had him first!"

Thor falters for a moment, confused. Loki uses the opportunity to needle him. "I am a highly sought-after person these days, Son of Odin."

Face hardening, Thor pulls Loki off the bench and jumps off the jet with him.

Cursing, Tony follows the both of them, completely ignoring Rogers once more. He lands shortly after Thor and Loki and promptly earns himself a hammer in the chest.

When Tony comes to they're all back on the jet; Loki glances at him smugly. Thor is a little apologetic but not overly so. A little disgruntled and with his chest aching Tony looks down and finds that the casing to the arc reactor is cracked.

It's perfectly natural to freak out a little. Tony is not fond of panic attacks but he has them where the arc reactor is concerned. Especially since the replacement is currently on the helicarrier, still several hours out.

"Stark!" Rogers bellows, not at all snapping Tony out of it. Because guess what, yelling at somebody who has a panic attack does not help in the least.

Tony pushes the asshole away and closes his eyes, trying to tell himself to calm the fuck down. Not that that's too successful either.

"Tony," a calm voice breaks through his thoughts. "It's okay. Just breathe."

"Easily said," he gasps.

A cool hand settles in the back of his neck. "Breathe," Natasha says again. "Along with me, you can do it, come on. In, one, two, out, one two. Come on."

She counts him through it and slowly Tony manages to slow his breathing down; right along with it, the rapid beat of his heart calms down as well, which helps considerably. His heart is what Tony worries about the most, no metaphor intended, and when he starts to panic it starts beating harder, which freaks him out more, and so on. He passed out a couple of times at the beginning until JARVIS learned how to talk him through it.

When Tony opens his eyes, considerably calmer (if not at all relaxed), he's sitting in a corner of the jet and Natasha is crouching before him. Thor and Loki are as far away from him as possible, and Rogers is nowhere to be seen.

"He took over flying for me," Natasha tells Tony, noticing his searching glance.

"Sure that's a good idea?" Tony asks. "Considering the last time he flew a plane he ended up frozen in Antarctica for sixty plus years?"

Natasha snorts. "I figured better that than having him around here. Clearly you are not destined to be best friends."

Tony almost laughs at the idea. "No, definitely not." Tentatively, he reaches up to finger the arc reactor, feeling up the crack. It's definitely not immediately fatal, it's still working, but that's about all he can ascertain without proper equipment.

"Man of Iron," Thor says very earnestly. "I seem to have done you far greater harm than expected. Please accept my sincerest apologies."

Tony waves him off weakly, keeping his other hand firmly on the arc reactor as if he could actually hold it together if it started falling apart, literally or figuratively.

"If you don't mind my asking," Thor speaks up again some time later. "What is it? I have never seen such a technology before."

Very aware that Loki is present, Tony keeps it simple. "It keeps metal shards away from my heart."

Despite the fact that he doesn't seem to be comprehending, Thor nods and leaves it be.

Once on the helicarrier Tony makes a beeline for his jet there and replaces the arc reactor, after which he feels considerably better. That doesn't change the fact though that his confidence is considerably shaken; his arc reactor is his most vulnerable spot and he only has the one replacement. If this one gets damaged he'll have to go back to a palladium core and if he never has to feel that acrid taste on the back of his tongue again it'll be too soon.

Consequently, even though he had a couple of hours to himself he's a bit subdued when he joins the group meeting, not having much more to offer than a faint smile for Bruce, though he still makes sure to compliment him on his work, remembering at the last moment that this is the first time they're meeting from Bruce's point of view. During the talking he keeps mostly silent though, looking forwards to just spending some quiet time in the lab with Bruce.

They dabble around looking for the tesseract, working in perfect sync – they did the first time, and the second time, and still do so now. Tony loves it, he's never had it with anybody else, not this smoothly, effortlessly. From the first moment on Bruce had felt comfortable, and this only increases the more time Tony spends with him. He even leaves off the teasing this time, just not feeling up to much – he knows it's safe, yes, but he'd much rather just connect with Bruce via science.

Of course they don't have much time to themselves. Rogers comes around, but without Tony going out of his way to antagonize him their talk this time around stays surprisingly non-hostile. Right until Tony loses his patience and opens his eyes about SHIELD's double-sidedness. As before, Rogers storms off once Bruce takes Tony's side.

At which point Tony abruptly remembers that right, he hasn't done anything to prevent Coulson's death. So he calls him over for the big showdown fight in the lab, which doesn't change the fight much, Coulson just stands there and stares calmly at all of them.

And puts a hand on Bruce's arm when he subconsciously reaches for the stick. Everybody still goes silent and stares; Bruce looks stricken as Coulson says calmly, "I wouldn't suggest anybody touch this, Dr. Banner."

"I didn't mean to-" Bruce stammers.

"The staff seems to hold suggestive powers even without anybody wielding it," Coulson says.

The explosion distracts all of them. "Barton," Tony barks; Coulson and Natasha immediately focus on him, eyes wide. They stare for just a second, then training sets in and everybody runs off as they had before, but Tony hopes it will be enough to keep Coulson away from Loki.

It is. It's also enough to keep Natasha away from Bruce, which means the Hulk doesn't have a target to focus on when he comes out, and he destroys considerably more of the helicarrier than before. Tony and Rogers still get one engine running again, Coulson and Natasha manage to subdue Barton, Loki still tricks Thor and throws him off in a glass cage (clearly, Thor truly is always going to fall for that).

Coulson doesn't die, but Tony and Rogers aren't fighting as bitterly as they had before so they still manage to get the team together as a team. Including Coulson, again, but Tony figures that can only be a good thing, remembering how brilliantly and surprisingly athletic the guy had fought the last time.

And man, does it make Tony feel shitty that it's primarily due to his and Rogers antagonistic interaction that Fury had felt the need to use Coulson's death to unite them. They had polarized the whole team and he hadn't even realized it.

When Tony lands on the tower he goes straight for the bar and downs a glass before filling it again, and a second for Loki.

"You look tired, Stark," he comments idly.

"Yeah, because I am," Tony replies, handing the glass over to Loki without comment. They stare at each other silently for a moment, then Tony walks by Loki and stares out the window. "Aren't you?"

"Why would I be tired?" Loki says. "I'm getting everything I want. Your people are scattered and will be easy picking for my army."

Tony throws him a glance. "Is it really your army, though? Or are you just another pawn in the hand of somebody else?"

Turns out Loki's plan on taking control of Tony isn't set in stone; he's perfectly fine throwing him out of the window without that. And apparently Tony was operating under a misapprehension: even though Loki is throwing him out much earlier than the previous two times the suit still comes flying out and catches him in time. Tony wants to be peeved at JARVIS for not telling him but granted, Tony didn't ask, too relieved at making it out alive.

The rest plays out mostly like it previously had, with the addition of badass kicking alien ass like the badass he turns out to be. There's still a nuke, and the Hulk still catches Tony.

Again, he asks for shawarma and surprisingly, the round is a little more companionable than it had been the first time around; no awkward silence as everybody tries not to chew too loudly. Instead they talk, a bit awkwardly, but growing more comfortable with each other; Coulson, Natasha and Barton appear to be a team within themselves and have quite the repertoire of embarrassing stories about each other. Unlike the first time, where Tony had suggested the alcohol in an attempt to lift the gloomy mood (which had worked, he'd like for that to go on record), this time around they drink because they're enjoying themselves. They spend the night at the tower, on one of the lower levels where there isn't a draft, and after they have gotten over the hangovers they debrief with SHIELD and then accompany Thor and Loki to the Bifrost landing strip.

Once the two Norse gods are gone there is more debriefing, and Tony actually manages to convince Bruce to stay another night with him, though he still hasn't gotten a proper answer from him about the moving in issue.

Naturally, Tony first of all introduces him to the R&D levels. Bruce is at first his typical, reserved self but very quickly gets seduced by the science; he and Tony start to play around. It feels a little bit like falling in love, but in an entirely intellectual way. Tony is very sure he's developing a huge mancrush on Bruce's brain.

Right when he's really getting into it, completely immersed in the science, he suddenly hears JARVIS say, "Mr. Stark, Ms. Potts will be here in ten minutes" and blinks awake.

Well, crap.

"Hey Tony, good to see you're ready, we have-" much to do, Pepper says, smiling faintly, exactly as she had the first time around, but Tony interrupts her.

"Why did we not work out, Pep?"

Pepper goes still, stares at him for a moment. Then she gives a fake laugh. "What are you talking about? We're working together just fine, aren't we?"

"Yes, yes," Tony says impatiently. "You know that's not what I'm talking about. I'm referring to the kiss, Pepper."

Unable to divert again, Pepper lowers her gaze, swallows. They had kissed, after the whole debacle with Vanko, and Tony had felt like there could have been something, but the next day Pepper had acted like nothing had happened and Tony had played along. Until now, they had never talked about it.

"I just…" Pepper sighs. "I have- had feelings for you, Tony. But I can't… I had just found out that you almost died, that you were dying for months, and you never- you never said a word. I know you meant to, but you didn't. And I know that I'm the person you trust most in your life, but you still didn't trust me with that, and I can't be in a relationship with somebody who doesn't trust me. Besides… I work for you, Tony. I know how you are, how you get, and it's fine as a friend, but as a boyfriend… I need to leave work, the stress behind when I get home, otherwise I'll go crazy. That wouldn't work out if I were with you, and certainly not with you doing… with you being Iron Man." Face vulnerable, eyes red, Pepper takes a step towards him. "I thought a lot about this, Tony, every day for a long time, but as important as you are to me, I realized that we just wouldn't work out. Sooner or later it would have become too much for me. I'm sorry."

Tony looks at her for one moment, then he adopts a smile. "Nah, it's okay. Listen, I'm not sure the arc reactor is up for activation yet, I want to check things over again, so we gotta do this sometime else, that okay?"

"Yeah, yeah, sure," Pepper says and makes a hasty retreat, though not without sending him another painful look.

Tony sighs and has JARVIS call Fury.

"Listen up, director, I'm detecting some strange energy traces above your cute little base in Texas, you should be careful. Cube doing alright?"

Fury splutters, then growls, then postures, but Tony doesn't care; he's alerted Fury that something is going on, now he can only hope it'll be useful somehow.

While waiting for news from SHIELD, Tony tinkers around with the mobile suit, considers making another arc reactor. Having one as replacement might not be enough, as relieved as he is that he has the reserve again. He'd never done it because it's just too dangerous, with the new element the arc reactor has an incredible shelf life and pucks quite a punch. The mere idea of it ending up in the wrong hands… Obie's betrayal is still too fresh on his mind for him to trust that he could keep it out of said wrong hands.

About an hour after the phone call JARVIS informs him that Loki invaded the base and escaped with the tesseract, Coulson as his mind slave and having killed thirty-three members of the security personnel. Barton, at least, is neither dead nor a mind slave, but that's a small comfort considering that Coulson has taken his place and that Tony managed to get thirty-three agents killed.

Tony once more catches Loki in Stuttgart. This time he's prepared even better though and slaps a microphone onto Loki. When Thor comes to take his brother away Tony plays along with Roger's need to plan, figuring it will be good for team harmony if nothing else, while he listens to the brothers' conversation. What he primarily notices is that Loki is a spoilt, arrogant brat and that his targeting Earth is basically a temper tantrum to piss of Thor, who isn't much better on the arrogance front, but at least isn't trying to subjugate anyone. That Tony knows of.

Due to Tony's cooperative behavior Rogers submits to Tony's plan of carrying him over to where Thor landed. Thor doesn't look happy about the interruption but Rogers starts an earnest spiel about how Loki killed their people, Thor can't just take him away, he has to submit to Earth justice. Reluctantly and with a sad expression, Thor grants that they can talk to Loki, but withholds his agreement about the whole punishment thing. Figuring that that's good enough for them, Tony carries Rogers back to the jet while Thor carries his brother, who comes with them without comment.

Once on the helicarrier Tony thinks about it for a moment, but he's getting tired of all this fucking around and makes his way over to the room containing the glass cage.

Loki raises an eyebrow when Tony wanders in. "Hello, honey," Tony says, wanders over to the control panel, opens the cover and hits the big red button. He barely has the time to meet Loki's shocked eyes and wave sweetly before the glass cage drops down.

Fury, of course, is not at all happy, but Thor is even less so; he rages and yells and then jumps off the helicarrier, following his brother. Fury puts Tony on probation, meaning he has limited access to stuff – nevermind that he technically didn't have access to the cage room to begin with. It doesn't mean much, all things considered, because SHIELD needs him to look for the tesseract and can't afford not to use all their resources, among which Tony apparently counts when they feel like it. Tony doesn't mind, though he's confused about the hurry; Loki has been taken care of, there won't be an invasion anymore.

Except all of a sudden there are reports about a spear of light reaching from Tony's tower into the sky above New York, and immediately after of aliens flying in through the wormhole. An invasion led by Coulson, eyes glowing blue.

Fucking hell.

Tony flies off to New York ahead of the jet carrying Rogers, Barton and Natasha and doesn't bother with the whole drink spiel, not that he'd have the time even if he wanted to, having to jump right into the fight. His thoughts are running at high speed; how did Coulson manage to activate the wormhole machine without the stick? How did, now that he's thinking about it, they activate the thing without the iridium?

Well, he doesn't get the chance to clear either question up. Coulson's invasion is, perhaps not unsurprisingly considering the undisturbed beginning and the fact that it's Coulson, so much more devastating than any others before. Tony doesn't even have time to breathe, much less anything else; it's not going well, somehow Coulson anticipates all their movements and it seems all they do is catch up, catch up, catch up. Clearly, Tony severely underestimated the advantages of someone attacking who doesn't even know them. The worst part is that Tony knows that one single blow to the head would cure Coulson, but nobody can get close enough to even think about delivering said blow. Tony is cursing a blue streak and about to use the last of his energy to shoot a Chitauri that's jumped Rogers when-

"Mr. Stark, Ms. Potts will be here in ten minutes."

Tony keeps right on cursing. And punches the pillow, just because he can.

"Mr. Stark?" JARVIS asks, clearly confused. From his point of view Tony's reaction must seem excessive.

"Send her away," Tony orders sharply. By this point it's fairly clear that he's trapped in a time loop, and he has no fucking idea how or why and he's fucking fed up with it.

He goes to get drunk. By the time Coulson comes to inform him of what's going on he's completely drunk and doesn't even feel like pretending; he has JARVIS send him away again. In fact, he tells JARVIS not to let anybody in or through, no matter what they want or say, no matter what happens. Absolutely nobody is to get into contact with Tony.

Over the next couple of hours Tony plays around with things, has JARVIS hack into helicarrier – he hadn't bothered to do any hacking since the first time but he had looked at the protocols the first time around and even drunk remembers enough to speed up the process. He keeps up to date on whatever happens with Loki and the Avengers – Barton gets taken as a mind slave, Steve takes Loki in and some people in Stuttgart die in the process, because Natasha fires at Loki from the jet.

Tony drinks and drinks and eventually passes out.

JARVIS wakes him up; he says, "Sir, there is activity on the roof," definitely sounding peeved.

"I don't care," Tony grunts, but now that he's awake an urgent need to pee and a pounding headache won't let him get back to sleep that easily again. So he makes a short stop in the bathroom that involves a couple of aspirin before crawling back into bed.

He's woken up shortly later, again by JARVIS. "My apologies, Sir, but SHIELD's former prisoner is knocking on your door."

Tony groans. "Let him in, whatever." He buries his head under his pillow for a moment before lifting his head. He's sitting up just as Loki enters the bedroom, looking curious and confused and menacing.

Waving carelessly, Tony rubs his face with both hands and grumbles, "Hola, Reindeer Games, what's up?"

"I have been wondering where the owner of this monument to narcissism might be," Loki says silkily.

"Monument to narcissism? Not sure you're in a position to criticize anybody else for something like that," Tony returns tiredly. "So, how's this going to go down? You gonna kill me?"

Loki looks him up and down and sneers. "Clearly, there is no need. All I have to do is wait." He turns around and leaves again. A minute later JARVIS reports that he's left the tower.

Tony feels oddly bereft. To cover up the feeling he gets another bottle of scotch, noticing absently that Loki and Thor are fighting out on his balcony now. He watches them as he drinks, and then Loki rolls off the balcony and Thor flies off, leaving the stick behind.

Detaching himself from what's going on only works so far. With a sigh Tony puts the scotch away, collects the stick and gets to the top of the roof. Pushing blue-eyed Selvig out of the way, he inserts the stick and deactivates the wormhole. The backslash throws him and Selvig off against the wall circling the roof; Tony hits his head and everything goes black around him.

When he comes to Selvig is shaking him. The wormhole in the sky is gone; there are no explosions to be heard anymore. Very quickly, SHIELD agents descend upon them. They treat Tony with a sort of derisive content he isn't really used to, but that isn't new to him either. Tony doesn't care.

They leave him alone quickly, and Tony goes back to his scotch, watching the security tapes of Loki's interrogation – not that there is much to interrogate, as Loki remains completely silent, staring at the wall with empty eyes. He doesn't sleep – Tony doesn't, and Loki doesn't either. Eventually Thor comes to take him away, and Tony closes his eyes.

"Mr. Stark, Ms. Potts will be here in ten minutes."

Fuck that.

Tony jumps up and takes the elevator down into the garage. He gets into a car and calls his pilot on the way, telling him to get the plane ready. An hour later they're in the air, heading towards LA. After six hours of flying time they touch down and Tony leaves the plane with nothing on him, wearing the wifebeater he woke up with, a pair of jeans he hastily pulled on and a pair of flip flops. He has no luggage, but he's a rich asshole so it's not like he needs anything – not like he couldn't buy anything he might need.

A chauffeur picks him up and drives him to his Malibu residence, where Tony then lolls about in the sun, drinks and orders pizza. JARVIS cuts off all communication and Tony only stops pretending nothing is going on when the invasion starts. Even then, Tony stays away from SHIELD files or anything more informative and just watches the news reports that switch back and forth between close up cameras in the city (and those camera men are suicidal, not that that's much of a surprise to Tony) and cameras further away. It's one of those far-away cameras that shows live the impact of the nuclear bomb; there is a bright light that blinds everyone who looks right at it, a pressure wave, the mushroom cloud starts to rise, the narrator's voice goes high and panicky-

"Mr. Stark, Ms. Potts will be here in ten minutes."

Out of pure spite, Tony blows his tower up. He doesn't bother getting out of it first. It's not difficult at all, just some tinkering with the arc reactor (the big one, which will only take out part of New York with it, unlike the small one which would be exponentially more devastating) and everything goes boom. Too bad that Tony doesn't get to see it.

"Mr. Stark, Ms. Potts will be here in ten minutes."

Tony barely bats an eyelash anymore, just lets out a deep breath. "Send her away."

Time to pull some facts together.

Tony is in a time loop. Because time loops until right now were, to Tony's knowledge, entirely fictional, he should probably draw some hints from said fiction, but somehow he doubts they somehow ended up in a wormhole's event horizon. Another theory (that is completely woolly and non-scientific, as far as Tony is concerned, but whatever) is that there is one event that has to be corrected; once said event stops occurring the loop stops.

Fact is, nothing he's done so far – which admittedly wasn't much – has got him out of there. He always starts out at the same point, but the loop doesn't end at the same point; he's going to have to figure out the common denominator. That's going to be hella difficult because obviously it's not him, seeing as he was always doing different things when he looped back.

Clearly, the thing to stop the loop isn't changing Barton's mind slave thing, or Coulson's death. The earliest time the loop ended, not counting the one Tony himself ended prematurely, was when the nuclear bomb was deployed and Tony wasn't there to stop it; the latest time was the loop where Tony had a science party with Bruce. It's possible the first loop lasted longer, but that's impossible to tell since Tony was asleep.

All in all, it's not much to go on. He changed little things, he changed big things – dropping Loki from the helicarrier, not getting involved at all – but so far nothing clicked.

It's driving Tony nuts. He feels something at the tip of his tongue, a realization that could solve everything, so close and yet he can't figure it out.

He's felt like that before, scientific breakthroughs like a fata morgana, feeling so close but not being it at all, and he knows how to best deal with them; by ignoring them. Occupying his brain with something else might coax the realization out, so Tony sets to writing a program for JARVIS to break into SHIELD more easily. Then he calls Fury, because this is a route he hasn't tried yet.

"What," Fury bellows. "I'm busy, Stark."

"To make it short, we're in a time loop," Tony says, not one to beat around the bush. "You need to listen to me and do everything I tell you."

Unsurprisingly, Fury doesn't believe him and barks a laugh. "Right, pull the other one."

Tony figured this would happen; he doesn't expect anything to come out of it right now. But he's hoping that by the end of it Fury will believe him, and he can go from there. "Yeah, thought as much. See you in thirteen hours." He hangs up and gets on a jet to Germany.

As before, Tony knocks Loki out before he can kill that guy for his eye or try to subjugate a bunch of people. He manages to be polite, if distant to Rogers – he never again wants to be half at fault for bloody vintage card being used as chess pieces in a game to force a team together ever again. When Thor lands to collect his brother Tony doesn't intervene and again convinces Rogers to just let Tony carry him to where the brothers landed. They have a talk with Thor, as before, and Thor takes Loki back.

Thirteen hours after Tony's call to Fury, the four of them land on the helicarrier and Loki is brought to the cage. When Fury meets Tony for the debriefing his eyes are narrowed, suspicion in them, but not enough yet. Tony doesn't care. "He's here for Bruce," he informs Fury, who frowns. "Also, in four hours Barton is going to come in a jet and take out one of the helicarrier's engines. They're going to board the jet and try to free Loki. A blow to the head will cure him of the mind control thing, but Loki will still escape – and he's going to kill Coulson, so keep him away from the cage."

Fury narrows his eyes at him and sends him off, but Tony knows that he listened and that he's at least going to be cautious, just in case.

They still shoot Barton's jet down. When Tony hears he can't even look at Fury anymore.

Shortly afterwards, Loki vanishes from his cage. He doesn't kill Coulson, in fact, he leaves the helicarrier in the same condition that he found it in. Tony rallies Bruce, Rogers, Coulson, Natasha and Thor together, managing to convince each with the right arguments in under five minutes, and they head off towards New York; Rogers, Coulson and Natasha in a jet, Thor and Tony by their own means.

Just before he's about to take off Fury finds Tony. "Time loop, huh?" he says.

Tony glances at him. "Starting to believe me?"

"No." Fury raises an eyebrow. "I never believe anything you say on principle. But I'm inclined to not completely discard the idea."

"Great. We're gonna loop back soon and I'm going to have to start over, but the sentiment is appreciated," Tony snorts sarcastically.

Fury rolls his eyes. "If that happens again, next time, tell me about the pink tutu."

The fuck? "What pink tutu?"

But Fury doesn't say a word, just raises his eyebrow again, and eventually Tony growls, slaps his face mask down and takes off.

There's nothing worthwhile to say about the invasion; Tony doesn't meet up with Loki because he just doesn't feel like it. He still does the whole nuclear bomb thing (with even more conviction, now that he's seen New York blow up; even if it was just a second it's an imaged burned into his mind) but doesn't bother trying to coax anyone into some post-fight bonding thing. All he does is silently go home and crawl into bed.

He wakes up not looped and starts to wonder whether this will be the time the loop doesn't happen again; knowing his luck, it's very well possible. But logically it shouldn't be, because Tony has no idea what the heck the common denominator that makes the loop happen is. And that Tony plays some central role in this whole business he considers a given; he's the only one aware of the loop, after all. There must be a reason for that.

Tony spends the day dithering around, wondering what he's going to do in the next loop; the plan primarily is to convince Fury of the fact that they're in a loop. He'll see what Fury will do then, maybe something major will change.

"Mr. Stark, Ms. Potts will be here in ten minutes."

Tony gets up and immediately calls Fury. "What?" Fury barks, clearly in a hurry; Tony figures they're in the middle of trying to figure out what the fuck the tesseract is doing.

"Tell me about the pink tutu," Tony says.

Fury is silent for a long moment. Then, as calm as he rarely is when speaking to Tony, he says, "I'm listening."

"We're in a time loop."

"Go on."

Right, this is going surprisingly smooth. First things first. "In about an hour and a half the tesseract is going to open a wormhole and Loki, brother of Thor, is going to come through. He's going to kill everyone who attacks him and magically brainwash a couple of agents, including Clint Barton and Erik Selvig."

Fury growls. "What do you suggest?"

And that is completely unexpected. Fury has never so easily accepted anything Tony has said, and he most certainly has not asked for his advice. "You can't capture him. I suppose you should just keep everyone away from him? The base is going to collapse, you're evacuating already, but you should speed it up. Don't try to stop him, you can't. Don't try to capture him." Loki's willful teleporting out of the glass cage when there is no point anymore for him to remain in their "custody" has made it obvious that they can't capture him if he doesn't allow it. Which actually rouses the question whether their capturing him at the end of the whole invasion business was actually due to their strength or not – Loki most certainly waited around for them; he could have fled on foot if he couldn't have teleported away. Something Tony really has to think about at one point.

There's a brief pause at the other end of the line. "Are you sure?" Fury eventually grinds out.

"Yes," Tony says. "Very sure. Do not try to engage."

Fury curses and hangs up.

Tony resorts to hacking SHIELD again and finds out that this time, Loki's arrival on Earth doesn't come with any casualties, mind slaves or even injuries. Loki finds the base empty and abandoned, takes the tesseract and leaves.

This throws everything Tony knows off. Nevertheless, Coulson comes to pick him up, face serious as he accompanies Tony to the helicarrier; earlier than any of the other Avengers, not counting the SHIELD agents.

"Debrief," Fury barks as soon as Tony enters the conference room Coulson leads him to.

"Time loop, as I said," Tony snaps back curtly. He's tired of this whole fuckery, but he doesn't have any other choice, does he? "I don't know what Loki will do now." Then he briefly relays what Loki has done previously, orienting himself on the first loop.

Fury growls and rubs his forehead. "Brilliant. I suppose I should thank you."

"Yeah, you should," Tony says sharply, "Considering that in two previous loops, you've shot down Barton. One of those times, consciously."

Face hardening, Fury returns, "Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do."

"Well, you can be glad you didn't have to do that," Tony says. "None of your agents ended up as brainwashed mind slaves of a mad god."

Fury sighs. "Yeah, but we still gotta deal with that mad god. Go play in the lab or whatever, I'm gonna get you some playmates."

Whatever. It's easy to write a program to search for the tesseract's radiation, considering he's done it a couple of times before, and Fury must have told his agents something because they're unusually non-hostile towards him. The program is up and running by the time Coulson comes to tell him that Rogers and Banner with Natasha are arriving.

Not having anything better to do – also, Bruce! – Tony heads to the deck of the helicarrier (that isn't very heli at the moment). He exchanges handshakes and polite pleasantries with Rogers before moving on to Bruce who is just leaving the jet he was transported in with, followed by Natasha. He looks incredibly nervous and uncomfortable, which Tony can't blame him for, considering his history with the military.

"Doctor Banner!" Tony exclaims, moving towards him, unable to suppress the wide smile spreading on his face. "It's wonderful to meet you."

Bruce flinches and eyes him warily. Right, Tony forgot a part. "Your work on anti-electron collisions is unparalleled. And I'm a huge fan of how you lose control and turn into a giant green rage monster." Tony's never been one to beat around the bush, and he isn't going to ignore the Hulk in the room. Especially not since he's actually a huge fan of said Hulk. The guy has saved his life a bunch of times now, nobody could help being fond of a person after something like that.

Bruce stills, for the first time (this time) looking at Tony properly. "Uh, thank you."

Gifting him with another smile, Tony then turns to Natasha. "Natasha! So sweet to see you again."

She frowns. "What's up with you?"

"Didn't Fury say?" Tony asks brightly. "I'm wearing a pink tutu."

Shock floods her face. Tony really has to figure out what this is code for, but clearly, it gives him something like diplomatic immunity because she actually lets Tony hug her. He's doing it mostly to test the waters but wow, she lets him. She doesn't even glare murderously, just frowns. Maybe they can actually be friends. Though Tony probably needs at least a dozen loops more trying to figure her out. And get over his leftover hostile feelings towards her as he's getting over that strange resentful crush he's been nursing.

Tony isn't stupid; he knows what's happening to him. He's growing more and more familiar with the people he's mostly in contact with during the loop, and as a result, working through his issues with some of them – primarily Rogers but secondarily also Pepper, Natasha and Fury. By the time this whole loop thing ends Tony will probably treat them completely differently in comparison with the first time, whereas they won't even know who he is. It's going to get more and more difficult with every loop.

Behind them, Rogers does his part in making Bruce feel more comfortable and then ducks his head awkwardly when Natasha strides by. Tony has seen photos of Peggy when she was young – has met her in person, even, though primarily as his father's guest when he was a child, and she really wasn't young anymore then – and figures that there is some resemblance between Peggy and Natasha, not just physically but also in the way that they're both confident, driven women. He's looking forward to seeing what will become out of this.

"So, what's going on?" Natasha asks once the four of them have entered the command room and taken a seat at the conference table with Fury, Barton and Coulson.

"A mad Norse god broke into our Texas base, stole a valuable device and escaped, destroying the whole base in the progress." Situation succinctly summed up, Fury nods towards Tony, who raises an eyebrow. Really, Fury's going to give him the metaphorical scepter?

Well, okay. "We're in a time loop."

Barton and Coulson clearly have heard it already; Natasha reacts by frowning heavily and Rogers clearly doesn't quite understand. Bruce, however, suddenly becomes animated, sitting up and furrowing his brows. "What? How?"

"I haven't the slightest clue as to how," Tony replies, leaning towards him, "but this is the ninth time we're going through this." Technically. Tony wasn't there for three of those times. He doesn't think anybody can blame him.

Fury perks up. "We are going to discuss in detail what happened the previous times."

Honestly, Tony is surprised he's only demanding this now. Probably he was too busy dealing with the aftermath of the base collapse and all that to get on Tony's case about proper reports before.

"Uh, I'm sorry, but can somebody explain to me what this… time loop is?" Rogers pipes up.

"It's when events play out until a certain event occurs and then go back to some sort of beginning, usually some other event, before playing out all over again until that second event and going back to the first event, and so on," Bruce explains. "It's actually not a real thing but a theory. I've never heard of it actually happening."

Tony grimaces. "Me neither, but fact is, I've been through this a couple of times already."

"He correctly predicted the circumstances of the collapse of the base and possesses information he can't have stolen the way he usually does," Fury adds bluntly.

Rolling his eyes, Tony waves that away. "As if you don't steal from me too."

Fury growls.

"So what actually happens during the loop?" Barton asks, eyes narrowed.

Tony eyes him uncomfortably, but there's no way around it. "He has this stick with which he can brainwash people. He touches the tip to your chest and all of a sudden you're completely loyal to him without question." Pulling out his tablet, he starts sketching a picture of said stick, less because he thinks it's necessary and more because he doesn't want to look at anybody. "When he first came, you guys were completely caught off-guard. He brainwashed Erik Selvig, Barton and a couple of other agents and killed some others. He left the base, it collapsed, and he established a base somewhere else, having Selvig build him a machine that could, powered by the tesseract, open a wormhole."

"How?" Bruce interrupts sharply.

Tony glances at him. "Yeah, I'd like to know as well. We don't actually know, apparently the tesseract told him how."

"What is this tesseract?" Rogers asks, brows furrowed.

Quickly sketching a tesseract model, Tony shows the picture to him. "That's a tesseract; it's actually a geometrical model. The tesseract is to the cube as the cube is to the square. You know this specific one, you last saw it in the hand of Red Skull."

Rogers jolts and stares at Tony with wide eyes before turning to stare at Fury. "You have the cube?"

"Had," Tony corrects, a bitter twist to his mouth. "And actually, my father found it and left it to them. Yeah, they had it. They were trying to figure out what it does, and making weapons with it."

Fury narrows his eyes at him; this is probably the end to their brief moment of cooperation.

"He says it's because of Thor," Tony adds before either Fury or Rogers can say anything. "I still think it's a fuck-all argument, but whatever." Drawing of the Glowstick of Destiny finished, he hands it to Bruce who looks at it before handing it over to Natasha.

"Anyways, Loki steals the tesseract, plans to open a wormhole. For some reason they decide they need some iridium for that and go to Stuttgart in Germany to steal it, in the process of which Loki kills some guy and terrifies some people and generally makes a lot of drama. Cap and I and Natasha in a jet capture him – or rather, he lets us capture him – and as we're flying back to the helicarrier Thor boards the jet to nap his brother. We follow him, and depending on the timeline we have a bit of a fight with Thor; anyways, we eventually come to an agreement and take Thor and Loki with us to the helicarrier. By the way, Loki has had countless opportunities to escape by this point, and he's taken none, but we were too busy or something to notice. Blah blah, stuff happens, lots of posturing and bitchfights especially between you and me-" Tony gestures between him and Rogers, at which point Rogers breaks the silence.

"Why?"

Tony raises an eyebrow. "Because I can't stand you and I'm an asshole, and you're annoying. It's nothing personal. Anyways, Barton comes along in a jet and shoots down one of the helicarrier's engines, boards the carrier with a couple of other agents and generally makes a mess in the process of which the Hulk gets released and creates even greater chaos." Bruce winces, so Tony pats him on the wrist. "No worries, we still love you. Personally, I also love the Hulk. Blah, blah, chaos, in the process of which Loki tricks Thor who ends up in that fancy glass cage prison you have down there and Loki drops him from the sky; the Hulk ends up getting off as well. Oh, and Loki stabs Coulson, who shoots him with a BFG. It shoots energy," he informs Coulson, "since you've always wanted to know what it does and all. Not that Loki seemed overly impressed, but whatever. Anyways, sometime a little later I figure out that Loki is a huge drama queen and that naturally, he'd feel drawn to another drama queen – which would be me – and that he's going to make the wormhole on top of Stark Tower. Which he does. Big fucking invasion, lots of property damage and casualties, your stupid council sends a nuclear bomb in our direction, but all ends well because I'm awesome. Sometimes we go get drunk afterwards, and then we-" mid-sentence, Tony freezes as he suddenly realizes something. All times but the last time, they had an extra day when they went out for shawarma or drink after the invasion. It's a revelation, but he knows it's just a step on the ladder to figuring this whole thing out. He's close, this close, to figuring out the rest, it's tickling his fingertips-

"Stark?"

"Then we loop back," Tony finishes his sentence absently. "Usually we loop a day early when we don't go drinking after the invasion." He frowns thoughtfully. "Except once." How does that one time deviate from the other times? Shit, he has no idea.

"Are you thinking the loop starts later if we have a hangover to get over first?" Bruce asks with a thoughtful frown.

"Well, I doubt it's being that cordial," Tony replies dryly. "But there's something there I'm not quite getting." He tries to figure it out for a moment longer but it's futile; it's gone. "I'll figure it out. So I guess we'll start looking for the tesseract now?"

Fury sighs and waves them away. "Whatever, it looks like I'm not really in control of much of anything right now anyway."

Perfectly true. Tony would've thought he'd resist more though – not that he's complaining, Fury is difficult enough to deal with when he's being cooperative. Aiming a grin at Bruce, he says "wanna go play?"

Bruce looks amused. "Alright."

Grin widening, Tony drags him off to the lab. "I wrote the program a couple of times now, I can do it on my own, but you were a big help the first time around. Gotta say, it's been ages since I met someone even half as brilliant as me, and you're much more than that."

"Thanks." Bruce's voice is dry. He leans against the lab table and watches attentively as Tony starts writing the program. "So have you enjoyed yourself yet? Like in the movie?"

"Groundhog Day? Got no waitresses I wanna bang – or at least none where I have to try that hard for," Tony replies. "In a manner of speaking, I guess. I spent two loops getting drunk, and one I blew up my tower before shit went down. But apart from that, well. I've been trying to figure shit out, you know? The first three times I wasn't sure whether this was really happening, but after that it was hard to deny anymore."

Bruce hums thoughtfully. "It is scientifically rather unlikely."

"Yeah, magic." Tony grimaces. "If you wanna call it that. I still maintain that magic is nothing but technology we can't understand. Yet."

"Magic?"

"Well, yeah. Apparently." Tony glances at him. "The whole mind slaves thing, I'd rather explain that with magic than believe that one day people will have that technology readily available. It was rather... terrifying." Almost subconsciously, his fingers find their way to the arc reactor. In his mind he again hears the noise of the tip of the spear clinking against it, whirl of blue magic dissipating. When he has some time on his hands – haha – he's going to try to figure out what that's about. Because technically, it should be impossible for the arc reactor to nullify magic, unless it is magical too – which would mean that Tony made something magical. On the other hand, that's an argument for the theory that magic isn't magic but highly advanced technology. Tony bets that if he took his StarkPhone to 1800 or even 1900 he'd end up being incarcerated for sorcery or some shit like that.

"Sure sounds like it." Bryce folds his hands behind his back and tilts his head to eye Tony thoughtfully. "Have you figured out yet why you're the only one who remembers the loops?"

Tony snorts. "No. I wish. I have hardly anything figured out, all I have right now is the advantage of knowledge."

"Because if you figure that out, it should become more clear to you why we're looping to begin with," Bruce says. "I have something of a theory."

"Yeah?" Tony stops typing and gives him his full attention. "I'm listening."

"It sounds terribly unscientific, but then, all of this does. But the reason why you're the only one who remembers must be that you're the only one – or at least the one in the best position – to change something significant. Prevent it from occurring, make it happen, though I'm inclined to consider the first more likely merely because it's much easier."

"Hmm." Tony frowns. "Interesting. Makes sense. Inasmuch as any of this makes sense." He rolls his eyes and goes back to the program.

Bruce leans closer again to peer at the screen. "This is brilliant."

"Well, of course it is. And it is half yours," Tony informs him. "As I said, we've been working on this together. You're probably recognizing yourself. Sort of."

"It must be difficult," Bruce says after a brief pause. "To have to start all over again every time, with us not knowing you when you know us."

"Dude, I've seen you naked," Tony smirks. "Not all that difficult." Then he sobers. "But, yeah. A bit annoying. Frustrating. Hence the drinking." Which had also been a bit the result of him freaking out about the arc reactor, but it's primarily because of the loop.

After Tony is done they tinker around for a while but before the program has managed to find the tesseract (because no matter how fast Tony is by this point in writing it, in the end it still needs time to sort through all the data and radiation) a different alert window pops up. The scanners, modified with a little extra by Tony, register a huge spike of something, and Tony hasn't had time to search through all of SHIELD's data but he highly suspects that that's Thor landing on Earth – he remembers an overheard conversation. "How much dark energy did the Allfather have to muster up to bring you here?"

He makes a choked noise – definitely not a squeak – and immediately focuses the scanners on the area the spike originates from.

"What-" Bruce asks, but Tony shushes him with a slashing motion. He can't deal with this, holy fuck, this is dark energy, they just registered dark energy. Actually measured it. It shouldn't even be possible. And Thor's people apparently not only know of dark energy but actually can use it. How did Tony not register that when he bugged Loki and listened to the brothers' conversation? Holy fuck.

That is, if Loki means the same thing as Earth scientists do when he says "dark energy".

The thought puts a damper on Tony's excitement. He frowns and gives JARVIS some instructions to explore the spike further before he calls Fury.

"Are you going to tell me now what just happened?" Bruce asks when Tony ends the quick call to Fury. "What is that energy spike?"

Tony bites his lower lip and glances at him. "Loki called it dark energy in another loop."

Bruce's eyes widen; he knows what that means, no matter how far behind he might be in the field. His excitement is more contained than Tony, who might or might not have flailed a little, but he's definitely excited as well, especially once Tony has explained to him the circumstances the dark energy was used for that Loki referred to.

"What is it?" Fury bellows as he bursts into the lab, followed by Coulson, Natasha, Barton and Rogers. "Did you find the tesseract?"

Tony throws him a look. "I'm fuelled by previous knowledge, but I can't perform magic. No." He shares a look with Bruce. "We registered a spike of energy and I'm fairly sure it's Thor's arrival."

"And?" Fury prompts impatiently. "Where?"

"Alaska." Tony points at the map where the location where spike was registered is blinking. "Denali National Preserve, near Mount McKinley."

"What are you waiting for?" Fury asks. "Get in a jet and over there. Don't come back without the tesseract."

Tony rolls his eyes and starts packing up.

Once they're all in the jet (Tony's, of course, he won't fly in SHIELD's stuff if he has a choice about it) and on course things turn a little awkward as an uncomfortable silence settles between them. Tony is reminded of the silence when they had gone to eat shawarma the first time around. In hindsight it's sort of funny, but he doesn't need that again. Luckily, this being his jet, he's fully equipped to waste time in the most entertaining ways.

Within five minutes he, Natasha, Coulson and Barton are involved in a fierce Halo battle; Bruce and Rogers mainly sit by and look lost as the language turns fouler and fouler. Well, Rogers looks lost, and severely disapproving. At one point he involves Bruce in a conversation where he asks why anyone would want to play war, how this can be considered fun. Tony is rather glad he wasn't the one asked, because Bruce turns out to be much better at explaining in a way that doesn't make Rogers go all judgmental, disapproving grandfather on them.

About half an hour before they're set to arrive Tony pauses the game and decides to properly debrief them on everything he knows about Loki and Thor.

"So, listen," he says. "Loki is badass, okay? He can do magic. By which I mean that if I believed in magic I would believe it's magic, but since I don't I maintain that it's just highly advanced technology, but it's so highly advaned most scientists, if they saw him do the things he can do, would believe he's performing magic. You got that?"

"No," Clint – he's become Clint when he and Tony ganged up in an attempt to break up the deadly alliance of Natasha and Coulson – says dryly. "But go on."

"Well, the only time we've been managing to capture him was if he allowed us." Tony is growing more and more sure that this is true even for the end of the invasion, and he's gotta find out what's up with that sometime soon. When he has some time he needs to do some serious thinking. "I'm not saying he's invincible, primarily because I don't believe any such things exists, but power-wise, so far we fall woefully short of being able to actually do something about him. Our only chance is Thor, who is on our side. He's sort of Earth's protector, as far as I can tell."

"Yes, he is," Coulson agrees in his quietly confident manner. "He's been on Earth before. He was willing to sacrifice his own life to protect humans from his brother."

"Not really his brother, though," Tony says. "Apparently we're just a chesspiece in a fucked up family conflict. As far as I can tell Loki is here primarily because, as Thor put it, Earth is under Thor's protection. It's nothing personal." He grimaces as he remembers something. "I think. There is the whole invasion and world domination business, I have no idea what's up with that." Another thing to the list of things he has to find out. It's growing exponentially.

"Okay, so, family issues," Clint sums up. "What exactly?"

"Apparently Loki is adopted," Tony says, annoyed with himself for knowing so little. If there'll be a next loop – which he really, really hopes won't be the case – he'll have to do some research into Norse mythology. "He's a Jötunn?"

Coulson sits up straighter at that. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah." Tony tilts his head. "He told me himself. Why?"

"Merely because the Jötunn are the Æsir's – that's Thor and Odin and the whole lot – mortal enemies," Coulson says dryly. "This is part of mythology but we have previously been inclined to believe it's been made up by humans, because at no point in the mythology does it mention that Thor and Loki are brothers – or were raised as such, at least."

Tony frowns. "Well, it's not made up. Also, I have a feeling that this explains a lot. Not that it's useful knowledge for us at this point; you probably shouldn't mention it, it's a bit of a delicate subject. He's got a bit of a temper, and here in the mountains there are no windows to be thrown out of, so we probably should be a little careful. Though on the positive side, there'll be far less casualties should he start his invasion business here."

"That sounds oddly specific," Natasha remarks. "Been thrown out of any windows lately?"

"Once or twice." Tony shrugs nonchalantly and winks at her. "I bet you can understand the impulse."

"I'm heartbroken that I wasn't the first to think of it," she deadpans.

Tony laughs. "I bet. Get in line, if we really do this team thing you'll probably get your chance sooner or later. Any questions?" He looks around, one eyebrow raised. Certainly he's done better debriefings, but fact of the matter is he barely knows anything about Loki, something he only truly realizes now. There really is some research to be done, and soon. Well, if necessary, because he's still hoping it won't be.

"What are his skills?" Natasha asks promptly.

Right, yeah. Of course he'd forget the most important part. "Well he's got this spear stick thing, you saw the sketch I made, don't let the tip touch you on the chest. I'm immune because of this little thing," he tabs the arc reactor, "but you won't be."

"Are you sure?" Coulson asks with a frown.

"Yeah." Tony can't help it, he flashes back to the image of Coulson on one of the Chitauri transport platforms, leading the invasion in a far more efficient, ruthless manner than Loki had, which he wouldn't have considered possible before.

He clears his throat, trying to disperse the memory, and ignores the way they glance at each other, clearly having caught the moment. "Anyways. Stick. It can also shoot energy, so be careful of that. He can also make copies of himself, but I'm not sure how autonomic they really are; I've only seen them stand around and look impressive but who knows. He can also make holograms of himself that you won't realize are holograms until you're touching air where mad Norse god should be. This seems to be a general Norse god thing, but he's very strong physically, and difficult to permanently injure. And he can teleport."

They're all staring at him with raised eyebrows by the time he finishes. "Well," Clint says. "At least this won't be boring?"

Tony snorts. "Right. One last thing." He focuses on Bruce. "I know you don't want to do this, but the only one who's been able to hold a candle to Loki who wasn't his brother was the Hulk. Loki seemed quite shocked by that, which was hilarious, but yeah. Just so you know."

Bruce just nods. He isn't stupid; he knows they didn't take him with them on the jet because they need his expertise as a physicist. Doesn't mean he's at all happy about it though.

The rest of the trip they're silent, each preparing for whatever might happen in their own way. They all suit up – Barton with sleeves this time because Coulson tells him he can't run around with naked arms in Alaska – and arm themselves. Once they're there they first fly over the area of the spike for some reconnaissance.

"I think it's safe to say they're in the cave," Coulson says, pointing towards an opening in the mountain. The forest is empty and silent.

They all agree, and the jet hovers as the others come down via a rope. Even Bruce joins them, though he's very firm about the fact that he's a last resort, and that he won't do it in the cave. Nobody wants the Hulk let loose in a cage; Bruce would probably be the only one who survived that.

They walk over to the cage, eye each other and then decide to enter all at once; safety before subtlety.

Tony walks in front, because he knows best what might expect them and also because he has an in-built torch in the form of the arc reactor and thus has both hands free to defend himself without any impairment to his sight. But it turns out that's not necessary, because after some time of climbing around in twilight they notice a yellow, flickering light, as if from a fire. As they approach it turns out to be a fire, next to which Thor sits. Loki is lying on the other side of the fire, unconscious.

"Hello," Thor says, surprised to see them until he spots Coulson at the back. "Son of Coul! I did not expect to meet you here."

"Hello, Thor," Coulson says. "How are you?"

"I am well," Thor replies, then grimaces, likely realizing the lie just as it leaves his lips. He doesn't correct himself, though.

"So, hey," Tony involves himself before they can do any more smalltalk. "What happened to Reind- Loki?"

Glancing at his brother before focusing back on them, Thor furrows his brows. "How do you know my brother?"

"Uh, we've met," Tony evades. "He didn't seem to be in a great mood."

Thor frowns. "Heimdall did not speak of Loki being in contact with any Midgardians."

"Technically he wasn't," Tony says, then decides to fuck it. Maybe Thor knows something about what's happening. "Say, you ever heard of a time loop?" When Thor doesn't seem to understand the terminology he tries to explain, "when something happens again and again until somebody changes something vital, from which point on time continues to pass as normal?"

"I have never heard of such a spell," Thor says, "but perhaps my brother has. He is much more versed in these things."

Tony winces. "He's also not too friendly, though, is he?" He looks around. "Where did he leave the tesseract, anyway?"

Unconcerned, Thor shrugs. "He hid it. Not to worry, he will take it out when he needs it to complete the spell. May I ask who you are?"

A round of introductions follows, and then Thor invites them to sit with him by his fire. That doesn't smoke, Tony suddenly notices. It seems Thor can do some magic after all.

Nobody seems to want to sit next to Loki's head so Tony ends up sitting there; it's for the best anyway, he figures, since he's armored. If Loki bites he'll hopefully be a bit better off than one of the others. Maybe he won't even lose a limb.

"How do you know my brother, then?" Thor asks once they all sit and he has apologized for being unable to offer them anything to eat or drink.

"Well, the events that keep on occurring? They're basically your brother landing here and trying to invade the planet," Tony explains.

Thor seems devastated. "Truly so? I had not thought he would be this far gone."

Tony feels a little bad, but only for Thor and his misguided affection for his brother. "Didn't you speak to him? I gather you knocked him out? Because he doesn't seem to be sleeping."

"Yes." Thor frowns and glances at Loki. "It was an accident."

Right. Tony eyes the hammer and chooses not to comment on that, instead continues to briefly abbreviate what the hell is going on. By the end of the explanation Thor is frowning primarily in confusion.

"This seems a very complicated matter, friend," he says when Tony is finished. "A spell requiring very refined skills and a large amount of power, if it truly is a spell."

"What else could it be?" Clint asks. The others are mostly silent, eyeing Loki and Thor with varying degrees of wariness.

Thor blinks. "Why, fate, of course! You have to change something, do you not, Tony Stark?"

"Uh, at least I assume as much," Tony says. "This has actually never happened before, as far as I know. I'm just making things up as I go along."

"Improvising," Thor nods. "My brother is very skilled at that."

Does he always talk this much about Loki? He hadn't any time before, but then again, it's understandable and only sensible for him not to mention the guy who had just killed a bunch of humans and nearly leveled a city in front of them. For some reason, Tony had never really thought about what it actually means that Thor and Loki are brothers – yes, family issues, naturally, but there's actually more to it than that.

As if aware of their conversation, Loki stirs. Everybody – Thor included, whose fingers wrap around the handle of his hammer, though he doesn't lift it – tenses. Tony leans away and considers giving up all dignity to jump up and back away, but before he can do so Loki blinks awake.

Tony probably isn't the only one who waits with baited breath as Loki looks around, confusion on his face that only increases as he spots his brother and the people he's sitting with. Drawing a careful breath, Loki pushes himself upright and looks around again. He looks surprisingly harmless.

"Thor?" he says, sounding surprisingly harmless too. Then he spots Tony and frowns. "I know you." He leans in and grabs Tony's chin, not at all painfully like he had before. Behind Tony his friends draw sharp breaths and move, probably get up, but he doesn't look at them to check; he's too focused on Loki's face.

More specifically, his eyes. His bright green eyes, not a hint of blue.

"Darling," Loki says, narrowing his eyes and raising an eyebrow. "You have been avoiding me."

Jesus fuck. "Can't blame me," Tony says hoarsely. "Your temper tantrums are entertaining the first couple of times, but it gets boring after a while."

"You destroyed your magnificent monument to narcissism," Loki replies, sounding put-out. "I was going to..." He pauses, tilts his head, starts to frown. "No, not me." Abruptly he lets go of Tony's chin and backs away, looks around hastily. "Where is the spear? Thor, where is the spear?"

Thor frowns. "I destroyed it." He points towards a corner where indeed, the spear is lying, broken into several pieces, the formerly blue-glowing crystal in the middle shattered into milky white pieces.

Loki stares for a moment, eyes wide, and then he starts to laugh. It sounds a lot like hysteria; Tony is familiar with the sound. He shares a helpless look with the others, who look as freaked out as he feels, before turning back to the clearly, definitely mad Norse god in front of him. "Hey," he says when the laughter starts sounding more like sobbing than anything else. "What's up, Reindeer Games? Everything is peachy, not to worry."

"Oh, no," Loki hiccups, mad grin still stretching his lips. The others shift uncomfortably. "I have every reason to worry."

Tony shakes his head. "Look, if I'm reading this correctly, the stick had you under mind control as well, didn't it?" Stupid, stupid, stupid. He should have realized. Loki's eyes were far too unnaturally blue, the color resembling Clint's and Coulson's and Selvig's far too much. "Besides, nothing happened."

"Nothing..." Loki stills, lips parted. Then he smiles, less insane but still painful. "Yes, of course."

He rises swiftly, surprising all of them. "I assume you wish to take me back to the Allfather, Thor."

Thor frowns at him. "Yes, of course. Are you alright, br-"

"Best do it now, then," Loki interrupts. "I am not sure how sane I will be if we linger." He does a simple-looking twist of his hands and is suddenly holding the tesseract. "Come."

Thor looks at Tony and the others, looking a little uncomfortable but determined. "As my brother suggests, it is best I take my leave now, friends. It was a pleasure meeting you."

"Call when you're back on the planet," Tony tells him. "Maybe I'll hire Jane, her expertise in a highly obscure area could be useful."

With a nod, Thor steps up to Loki and puts a hand on his shoulder.

"Goodbye, darling," Loki says, and the two vanish.

"What the fuck," Clint bursts out as soon as they're gone.

"I have no fucking idea," Tony says in the same incredulous tone.

Rogers shifts, looking unhappy about the language. "So you think Loki was under mind control as well?"

"Definitely," Tony mutters. "His eyes always were this crazy blue color, I just didn't think-" he pauses as a memory flashes through his mind; of Loki blinking in confusion after he wakes up on the jet after Tony has knocked him out, for a brief moment not seeming as crazy.

"Well," Rogers says. "I guess we can go back now."

So that's what they do. On the helicarrier they debrief the whole anticlimactic incident. Fury doesn't seem happy, but that's primarily because he has a destroyed base and nobody to blame it on; shortly after Thor and Loki left the cave SHIELD's scanners registered an energy spike they're attributing to an activation of the bifrost. The brothers have clearly left the planet.

After he has debriefed Tony goes to find Bruce, who is sitting in a sort of training room, meditating. Tony waits around, shifting and not exactly patient but trying for it anyway, until Bruce sighs and opens his eyes.

"Okay, so," Tony says. "You want to come live with me? I got this huge tower, you can have your own floor, a private lab and then there's ten floors of R&D, you'll love it, it'll be awesome."

Bruce raises an eyebrow. "You have made this offer before, have you?"

"Once or twice." Tony shrugs and tries really hard not to shuffle on his feet. He feels ridiculous; he's never shy or insecure. Of course that's a lie but Tony would like to keep pretending, thank you very much.

"Have I ever said yes?"

Now, Tony would love to lie, but it's probably not a good idea. "You've never really said either way. All you said was "I'll think about it"," he admits.

Bruce smiles at him politely. "Thank you for the generous offer. I'll think about it."

Yeah. With a nod, Tony leaves him to it. He'd originally planned to extend the same offer to the others, but now he doesn't really feel like it – that was as good as a no from Bruce; Tony would bet half his fortune on the fact that Bruce will vanished as much as his possible for him within the week. Maybe he came on a little too strong, he tends to forget (willfully ignore, rather) the fact that the others don't know him at all. And he did convince Bruce to come with them on the jet despite the fact that Bruce has some deep-seated issues about the Hulk. Understandably so, but still. And this time they didn't have any bonding experiences either, like the Hulk saving Tony from certain death or protecting the planet together or anything like that.

Same goes for the others, really. In general Tony isn't entirely happy with Rogers' existence, much less with the idea of inviting him to his home, but he would've done it, they're a team, but now that he thinks about it, Rogers hadn't seemed to like him much either (and oh, all the childhood issues coming up again, he really doesn't want to have to deal with that shit all over again). And Clint and Natasha and Coulson seem to be a unit, especially now; it had never really registered with Tony that Coulson was part of the bond between Clint and Natasha primarily because either he or Clint had been gone, but it's rather obvious now, he has to admit. Inviting Clint and Natasha to live with him is one thing; Coulson an entirely different one. He's SHIELD in a way Clint and Natasha aren't, not really. And Thor left.

Tony still extends his invitation to Rogers, Clint, Natasha and even Coulson – "if you're ever in my area, you know, pop in or something" – but he doesn't expect much to come out of it, really. All in all this loop has left him feel strangely drained, sort of empty, so he's almost looking forward to getting to do it all over again. This time he plans to meet with Loki when he appears at SHIELD, get some answers.

Naturally, the loop doesn't come. Tony wakes up at home, and at first he thinks it's a loop again, but JARVIS didn't wake him up, and the sky is a dab grey it hadn't been the day before the invasion. So maybe this is a loop with an extra day, and Tony really has to figure out what's up with that.

He spends it making a plan about speaking with Loki, or rather, about getting there in time to speak with Loki. The base is in Texas, which means about five hours flight time in a normal plane. The suit isn't a normal plane (isn't a plane at all) but even with that he can't make it to the base in under two hours. He's got to figure out a way to make himself faster, which is actually remotely entertaining and consequently distracting, so that's good. Not that he really expects to get anywhere useful before he loops back, but he's always liked a challenge.

By the time he comes up for air it's dawn. Tony is fairly sure they didn't make it this far into day two after the invasion the previous loops, even the longest ones. Yeah, he was asleep most of the time, but still.

Trying to ignore the feeling of disquiet settling under his skin, Tony buries himself back in the virtual prototype, vaguely expecting to be zapped back anytime, but it doesn't happen. It doesn't happen all day. Or the day after that, or the day after that.

"Sir, if you do not eat a proper meal and sleep for more than five hours, I am authorized to shut down the lab," JARVIS threatens.

"Yeah?" Tony returns, voice hoarse from disuse. He's only used it to grunt at DUM-E and U, who have been helping him implement the new thrusters into his boots and gloves. "Authorized by who?"

"You, sir," JARVIS says. "You gave careful instructions that give me leeway to act in the event of you seriously endangering your health."

"Hey, 'm not endangering anythin'," Tony protests. His head feels a little strange, sort of heavy and light at the same time. Maybe that's not so good, maybe JARVIS has a point, but it's the principle of the thing.

"You have not slept for more than three hours at a time in the past four days and nights," JARVIS informs him archly. "Neither have you had anything remotely approaching a proper meal, and you have only been drinking alcohol. I will shut down the lab in five minutes."

Tony sighs gustily. He's long since learned to acknowledge when he's been defeated, and okay, being bested by his AI isn't exactly a great feeling, but whatever. He made JARVIS, so he's technically being bested by himself. Okay, not at all, but that's an idea he can live with, so he'll stick with that.

As he makes his way to his bedroom, more stumbling than walking, he finds that his hands are trembling vaguely; he's long since finished the flight stabilizers and hasn't been working on anything delicate so he didn't notice, but as he supports himself at the wall it becomes obvious. His limbs are weak, almost embarrassingly so.

Stupid. He shouldn't forget himself like that; what if an emergency came right now? He's in absolutely no state to do anything. A kitten could knock him out.

Angry with himself, Tony falls face down into bed and immediately drops off to sleep. Thirteen hours later he wakes up, hungover and dehydrated and starving and feeling dirty, so he has JARVIS order a pizza or three and takes a quick shower. A secretary or intern or something sent by the receptionist takes the pizza up to him, flushing and not knowing where to put her eyes when Tony waits by the elevator clad in just a towel. Tony sends her away with a dismissive wave, already opening the top box and taking a huge bite out of a nice, cheesy peperoni pizza.

Discarding the towel – where can he walk around naked, if not his own home? – Tony drops down on the sofa and grumpily munches the pizza while staring out of the window – the very window he'd been thrown out of a couple of times, actually.

So, it seems like the loop isn't happening. Which is utter bullshit, if Tony has anything to say about it, not that he could explain why; he should be happy. He certainly wouldn't have been if he had looped back, he doesn't think.

Still, something feels off; Tony feels jittery like he forgot something, like there's somewhere he needs to be, something he's got to do. It's stupid, he knows this, because really, this was the best loop of them all; no casualties at all, no mind slaves. So what if they aren't a team after all? Tony's acting like a sentimental, self-pitying little shit. He's been doing fine without others before, he'll be fine again. Anyways, they'll probably show up if he's in big trouble, at least some of them. At least Cap, maybe? Coulson, if Fury sends him?

Whatever.

Anyways, he still has Pepper. By the way… "JARVIS, where is Pepper?"

"In her office, sir," JARVIS informs him. "She wished for me to relay the message to you that you should get back to her when you are ready to focus again on your dayjob."

Tony winces. Pepper definitely isn't happy with him. Better take of it sooner rather than later; he has JARVIS call her. It takes him about twenty minutes to convince her to go easy on him, and it mostly works only because he tells her about the time loop and the fact that Fury believed him. She clearly doesn't think he'd lie about something like that – which he wouldn't. Half-truths and blatant lies about when he's last eaten or how injured he is, yes, but not about the important things.

They make up a new appointment for the installation of the arc reactor and two days later, they do it. There are no complications; everything goes smoothly. Everything goes smoothly for Tony in general over the next couple of weeks, he shouldn't feel as disquieted as he does. But he can't shake the feeling off, it has settled deep in his bones. Something is just… not right.

It's still a surprise when Thor suddenly appears on his doorstep. As in, literally suddenly appears on Tony's balcony. "Man of Iron," he says, uncharacteristically subdued when Tony opens the glass door.

"Thor, buddy, how are you?" Tony gestures him towards the sofa and wanders off to get some poptarts. As promised, he's hired Jane Foster and they had spent a couple of evenings together, talking about stuff, including Thor and the fact that he's fond of poptarts.

Thor seems pathetically grateful when Tony hands a couple of toasted poptarts over. "Thank you."

Tony sits down at the other end of the sofa and eyes the blond Norse god. "You don't look good, Thor."

Startled, Thor shakes his head. "I am well, friend, do not worry."

"Yeah sorry, I can't help it. I've never seen you this peaked, and that's saying something, considering the crap I've seen you go through." Tony has had a lot of time to think about things; much needed, he thinks now. He went through past events again and again, and he noted a list of hints that in hindsight are proof for the fact that Loki was at least vaguely aware of the loop, under all the brainwashing. Coulson had even almost noticed it; he had pointed out in one of the loops that the spear holds suggestive powers. Loki himself had all but told him – told Thor – when he'd said that he'd seen the true power of the tesseract, in much the same way Selvig had reported he'd felt: with feverish adulation. Maybe it's understandable Tony hadn't picked up on those cues, he'd been busy with bigger things, but he still thinks he should've noticed. He isn't called a genius for nothing, he should make leaps other people don't.

Thor looks surprised for a moment, then he nods. "Of course. Forgive me, friend, I forgot that you, too, were aware of the Wheel."

"Wheel?" Tony repeats, frowning in confusion.

"That is what my brother calls it," Thor informs him. "He says it is something that happens very, very rarely, at pivotal moments that could change the whole history of all the realms. It is magic's attempt to balance something out, prevent something disastrous from happening."

Well, good to know that it's at least not something completely fantastical. "So what is this moment magic is trying to fix? You figure that out?"

"My apologies, but no. Loki says it is only possible to know if the loop does not happen again."

Tony nods and frowns into his cup of cooling coffee. "So, how's your brother? You fix the madness thing?"

Thor's face distorts into a painful grimace. "His trial came to an end a few days ago. The Allfather passed judgment on him."

"For what?" Tony frowns. "He didn't do anything, and he can't really blame him for anything he did if time went back and made it un-happen."

"Truly." Thor shakes his head unhappily. "It is not Loki's not-action that he stood trial for; his actions before he... fell were the ones he had to accept judgment for."

"What actions?" Tony asks, and Thor tells him the whole story – the failed coronation, how he tried to invade Jötunnheim (something he now cringes about, clearly embarrassed about his youthful brashness and naiveté), his banishment. How Loki was made king and tried to kill his brother. How he "fell".

It's clear to Tony that Thor is very aware that Loki didn't "fall", he let go, was very possibly trying to kill himself, going by what Thor tells him they know of the space between.

To say that Tony is surprised puts it mildly. Yes, he'd known SHIELD's side of things, had read the reports of what happened in Puente Antiguo and had even heard bits of Jane's side of the story, and a few stray comments from Thor during a previous loop. Loki himself had told him about the whole Jötunn thing and Tony has done his research, he's much better equipped to understand now that this must be a huge issue for them. It would be like waking up and finding out that you're a cylon, or a Borg, or something. The Alien monster. A zombie. A replicator. One of the not-good Terminators. But he's never had the full picture put together for him like this. It makes Loki seem a lot less gratuitous and willful.

"So he killed a bunch of people in New Mexico? That's what he stood trial for?" Tony eventually asks when Thor finishes the story.

Shifting uncomfortably, Thor admits, "More his actions in bringing Frost Giants into Asgard. It is treason."

Tony frowns. "But come on, even you admit now that it would've been disastrous if you'd become king. It can't have been that bad?" He doesn't know why he's on Loki's side all of a sudden – and he isn't, really. But from his point of view it looks like Loki's being solely judged for something that three people should be blamed for, maybe even four if they count Loki and Thor's mother, which technically they probably should, even if it seems like she wasn't involved much. Besides, Tony always sympathizes with the underdog, it's a sort of instinctive thing; honor among thieves or something. Underdogs. Whatever.

"He did not receive the death penalty," Thor says quietly. "Which the King would have been in his right to pass."

"Going by your face, the alternative isn't much better," Tony replies just as quietly.

Thor lifts his shoulders in a gesture decidedly helpless. "It is not my right to criticize the king."

"Well, come on, we're among friends, I won't tell. Besides, who can be a good ruler without someone to criticize them?"

After thinking about that for a moment, Thor eventually nods. "Loki was stripped of his disguise – of the spell the Allfather embedded within him to hide his true heritage."

That doesn't sound pleasant. "Is that... bad?"

"It seemed... painful," Thor says quietly. Considering all the things that happened to Thor and Loki, including being bashed around by the Hulk (both of them), and how neither of them had looked much worse for wear, hearing Thor call something "painful" chills Tony.

"Okay. I bet he completely hates that." Understatement, going by how Loki had told Tony about it – like he'd parted with a disgusting, painful secret with a sick, masochistic sort of relish at the fact that he was hurting both himself and Thor by speaking of it so plainly. "But that's not all, is it?"

Thor draws a breath, nods. "Like me, he was banished. But the Allfather decided that, since Loki has many contacts in many of the realms and since he does not trust Loki not to harm the inhabitants of Midgard... Jötunheimr would be the best place for Loki to learn his mistakes."

"Wait, wait, backtrack. Jötunheimr? The home of the Jötunn? Whose king he tricked and killed?" Tony can't believe it. "That's as good as a death sentence, they're hardly going to welcome him with open arms!"

Wordlessly, Thor nods again. "Most... unlikely," he admits quietly. "The sentence was passed. Loki was sent off to Jötunheimr just before I returned to Midgard."

Tony wonders if Thor left because he couldn't look his father in the eye anymore, or if he wanted to hide. The news of Loki's death – if there would even be any – won't reach him as quickly here, that's for sure. "Well, crap." This definitely calls for some drinking.

Three hours later Thor is drunk and Tony's alcohol stash has been severely depleted, but he doesn't care about that right now because he is also drunk. "An then," he slurs, "he says, "I betrayed both my people and none" and jus vanishes! Poof!"

"He does that," Thor says mournfully, hugging the bottle of vodka Tony gave him close to his chest. "But why would he do that?"

"I dunno!" Tony exclaims. "Especially with the whole being all sexy and dangerous. He's gotta stop that."

"We are still his people," Thor laments. "He is truly my brother, nothing anybody says can change that!"

"You go girl," Tony commends, pointing at Thor. Or at least one of the three Thor's he can see right now. "Don' let anybody tell you whata do."

"I will not," Thor enunciates and suddenly gets up, a determined expression on his face. Then he gets dizzy and drops on his ass again, looking comically surprised. "I am drunk!"

"That you are, buddy," Tony murmurs, patting him on the shoulder. "Better sleep it off before you do anything rash, yes?"

Thor looks at him earnestly. "You are a good friend, Tony Stark," he pronounces. Then he lies down and starts to snore.

Tony blinks a little and watches as the last bit of the vodka slowly drips out of the bottle, getting Thor's chest wet. Then he decides that maybe Thor didn't have too bad an idea, curls up on the couch and goes to sleep as well.

He wakes up with the mother of all hangovers. JARVIS thoughtfully dimmed the windows so at least the sun doesn't try to stab his brain through his eyes, but it's only a small comfort. With a groan he rolls off the sofa and almost stumbles over Thor's still body on the floor. Blearily Tony blinks at him before he leans down and checks for Thor's pulse. After he's made sure that Thor is still alive Tony stands again; he has to hold his head because it feels like it's going to fall off, or split open for his brain to dribble out or something gruesome like that.

Luckily, Tony has practice with hangovers. He goes through the process of trying to rehydrate himself without throwing up – slightly successful, though he does throw up once – with the help of some aspirin and takes a shower that helps making him feel a little human again. When he checks up on Thor again after all that he finds the guy still deeply asleep in his living room.

Tony dithers a little but eventually decides to wake his friend up; then he helps Thor through the process of allaying the hangover. Once Thor seems well enough again Tony takes him down to the floor he built for him – he figured he might as well build each of the Avengers their own floor, even if they weren't going to use it – and then goes to extract Jane from her work and give her a week off. At first she protests but the words die on her mouth when Tony pushes her out of the elevator and she spots Thor. The last Tony sees of the two is a super romantic hug.

He doesn't know why it leaves a strange feeling in the pit of his belly, and as usual lately he goes bury the strange feeling in his lab.

Four days later, just as he's biting into a pizza while Jane lowers her voice and dramatically speaks along to "I am your father", he wakes up and JARVIS says, "Mr. Stark, Ms. Potts will be here in ten minutes."

Tony blinks at the ceiling and tells himself that isn't relief flooding him. Then he jumps up, dashes down into the lab and upgrades his suit – he'd spent the vast amounts of free time he had over the past couple of weeks trying to figure out the quickest way to make his suit fast enough to get to the Texas SHIELD base before Loki appears. He couldn't explain to himself why and thus didn't even try but now he's unbelievably grateful for it, because instead of reworking the thrusters he just uses some replacements, powers them with a spare arc reactor – the palladium ones that he only keeps around because he's paranoid – and garbles it all together in a sort of backpack. All in all, with the help of JARVIS and DUM-E, it takes about half an hour before Tony is in the suit and on the way over at a speed that is probably some sort of world record; he breaks the sound barrier five seconds after liftoff.

"JARVIS, patch me through to Fury," he orders on the way. When Fury picks up he puts it very succinctly: "Pink tutu. You have to evacuate the Texas base completely, right now. It's going to collapse and everybody inside will die. Leave the tesseract."

Without saying a word Fury hangs up. JARVIS informs Tony a little later that the base is being cleared at top speed. By the time Tony gets there it's completely abandoned; Tony has no problem flying (at a much more moderate speed) through the corridors down into the reinforced hall containing the tesseract. He's almost too late; Loki is already there, spear in hand and making his way towards the tesseract. Blue light looking a lot like magic is congregating at the ceiling.

Tony unceremoniously flies right into Loki, who notices him at the last moment and makes as if to fire at him with the spear, but Tony puts on a burst of speed and slams right into him. He hears a few bones snap and winces, but Loki lets go of the spear and hits his head upon impact with the floor, which is what Tony wanted.

With Loki out of commission at least temporarily he walks over to the spear, kicks it into a corner and shoots at it.

Turns out, that's not a good idea. The thing explodes, sending Tony flying into the opposite end of the hall, and then the base collapses on top of him.

"Mr. Stark, Ms. Potts will be here in ten minutes."

Another loop, another try. This time, after knocking Loki out, Tony drags the spear over into a reinforced safe room; on the flight over to the base he had JARVIS hack the blueprints and this is the safest place around. He fires, slams the door shut and...

The third try he doesn't bother with any of that. He attaches a timed bomb to the spear, sprints over to Loki who is lying unconscious on the floor and drags him out of the base. When the two of them are safe in the sky, a hundred meters above the base, the bomb goes off; Tony watches as the underground base collapses. It does look sort of impressive.

And, wow, look at that. He did it. He's not sure what he actually did or what he's going to do with it now, but he did it.

He flies to the nearest hospital, where people start running around like headless chicken when they see Iron Man carrying in an injured person who looks like a RPG refugee, but on the plus side, nobody asks for insurance papers. They put Loki on a stretcher and wheel him off for x-rays; Tony insists on following them. Who knows what mood Loki will be in when he awakes.

In the end Loki doesn't wake up for six hours, long after all the medical tests have been made, all the adrenaline in Tony has worn off and he's grown very uncomfortable in the suit. When he took it off the nurses alternately frowned at him or giggled, because Tony didn't bother putting on any clothes when he woke up and is thus only dressed in boxers and a wifebeater. They lend him scrubs, pink ones with skunks printed on them for some reason, and Tony almost would rather walk around half naked but by this point the press is around so that's not a good idea.

When Loki finally blinks his eyes open they're green and clear. "Hey there, darling," Tony says and pretends it's still a joke.

"Where..." Loki sits up and looks around. He's been stripped of his leather gear and put in one of those horrible gowns where the back is completely open from the neck down. "What..."

"No worries, I destroyed the spear," Tony says. "Thor isn't here. You're in a hospital. I sort of broke a couple of your ribs and gave you a mild concussion, sorry about that. Also, they're saying you're underfed, dehydrated and generally not in top form. Don't take that out, it's supposed to help you." He takes Loki's hand to prevent him from taking the IV out. "And let me tell you, you're looking healthier already so I'm inclined to believe you need it." That, or it's the sleep. Maybe both?

Loki doesn't say a word, just stares at him silently for so long that Tony starts to shift uncomfortably. "So, okay, uh... everything alright? You're aware that we're looping, right? When does it start for you?"

"As I get thrown through the pass," Loki replies. "But I... as I am under the influence of the spear again, I do not recall."

"You only do when it's destroyed," Tony supplies, shifting closer. "Yeah, I figured that out. That's why I've destroyed it."

Instead of looking happy or relieved, Loki closes his eyes. "He'll be here much sooner now."

"The one who controls you through the spear? Yeah, I imagine." Tony shifts. "So... I have a question. When does the loop end? Because I've been unable to figure it out and there was one that lasted weeks."

"With my death," Loki says blandly. "Odin Allfather sentences me to my death. As I die, I wake up again."

Only not really. And Tony had been thinking he'd been having a bad time. Loki has by far the worse end of the deal. "That sucks. So, do you have any idea what we have to do to stop this? Just prevent your death?"

"Just?" Loki laughs bleakly. "The last time I was torn apart by Jötunn. Though I suppose I should be grateful they didn't torture me for too long first."

Tony clears his throat and reaches for a plastic cup of water, handing it over to Loki. That counts as comforting, right? "Yeah, well. That means we have to tell Odin that he can't sentence you to death or to anything that will result in your death. He's gotta respect that, right? Thor said you know what this is, he said you called it a Wheel, so that means it's a legit thing. For some reason the universe or something doesn't want you to die."

"It's not that simple," Loki says forcefully. "This is a very complicated magical event. The only ones able to manipulate it are the ones aware of it, which is limited to me and you of all people!"

"Hey!" Tony protests. "I've been doing a good job of it all in all! If it had been anyone else you'd be in so much deeper shit, because it'd have taken them ages to get this far."

Loki sneers. "Nevertheless, it is not about me dying. I am a pivotal figure in this, clearly, as with my death the loop begins anew, but the same is true for you."

Tony blinks. "Wait, what? You're saying we also loop when I die?"

"When you destroyed your tower – a childish act of defiance, might I add – we went back to the beginning," Loki informs him sourly. Clearly he isn't happy about that in the least.

Tony, on the other hand, grins gleefully. "How about that! So we're both of equal importance in this, which means that there's something only you and only and I, or rather that only the combination of you and me, can accomplish. Right?"

"It seems that way," Loki sneers.

"Good. So you better crop the attitude and help me figure this shit out, because I'm getting tired of being stuck in this crap."

Loki doesn't reply, just stares at him haughtily. Tony decides to take it as silent acquiescence. "So, back to the beginning: you can't die, and I can't die. We have to figure out what will happen if we don't do whatever we're supposed to do."

"For that, we first need to know what it is we are meant to do, do we not," Loki says flatly.

Tony smiles at him but chooses not to comment on the newborn cooperation. He opens his mouth to say something but at that moment a nurse comes in to check on Loki; when she finds that he's awake and upright she immediately checks his vitals, which Loki bears with a sort of haughty reluctance, and promises that the doctor will be there immediately.

It's not a good thing, because if the doctor checks Loki over and finds that he can be released that means Tony will have to take him back to the tower. Not that he has much of a problem with that, but it also means he has to deal with SHIELD and Fury, who are probably trying to break his virtual door down right this minute to find out how Tony knew to use the code (what it stands for, he has yet to find out) and all that. He'll probably also have to talk to Pepper, she's probably pissed with him again for having JARVIS send her away. And then there's the other Avengers; Tony has to figure out how they fit into this, if they do at all. The thought that they don't and that the brief glimpses of teamwork and camaraderie he got during the loops are as close as he'll ever get to the real thing is not a pleasant one.

The doctor comes quickly to check Loki over and decides cautiously that Loki can be released, if he keeps to bed rest for a couple of days while he gets his strength back. He leaves again, and the nurse he brought with him finally asks about medical insurance and payment.

"No worries," Tony says, "I'll take care of it."

The nurse eyes the two of them, then nods. "I'll get you Mr. Loki's things and the forms."

After all the administrative stuff has been taken care of Tony helps Loki into some clothes – scrubs, of course, because they were all unable to figure out how to get him out of his hella complicated leather gear and as hospitals do, they unceremoniously cut through them. When Loki finds that out he makes offended and outraged noises and then tries something magical, but he winces before he can finish and quickly gives it up.

"My magical channels are raw," he reluctantly informs Tony. "I can use magic, but it's... painful."

Tony thinks of Loki's high tolerance for pain and how often he'd used magic in previous loops and swallows.

Really, the best part of it all is that they put Loki in the same scrubs as Tony; pink with skunks on them. Tony does his best to keep a straight face so Loki won't notice that there might be something iffy about that and secretly high-fives the nurse who brought them behind his back. She giggles and informs him at a whisper that they're usually for childcare nurses, they have a huge children's hospital here. "We thought you'd look much better in them than the usual drab colors," she says, eyes twinkling.

Tony has to agree.

He has a car waiting at the back entrance of the hospital but of course, journalists are waiting there too; it's not every day that Iron Man brings an injured person to the hospital and stays there to wait. They get in a good couple of pictures but Loki and Tony are in the car before they get mobbed. Loki bears it all with a sort of exasperated disdain.

The drive to the closest airport will take a while so Tony gets out some chips he had the chauffeur bring and offers them to Loki. At first Loki just snorts but eventually he gives in and takes some.

Tony tries to think it all through. So he and Loki are pivotal figures, but what does that mean? What is it that only the two of them are equipped to do? There are a number of things that only Tony is equipped to do, at least on Earth, but he really doesn't know enough about Loki to tell either way. "So," he eventually awkwardly breaks the silence. "Tell me some things that only you can do, not anyone else you know."

Loki sneers at him. "Why?"

"Come on," Tony says impatiently. "We gotta figure this out. I know what I can do, but I have no idea what you can do."

"Why don't you tell me what you can do instead?" Loki challenges.

Talk about himself? Tony can certainly do that. "I'm very smart. By which I mean I'm one of the smartest people on the planet, not just because I'm one of the most intelligent but because I'm very good at improvising and at making something out of nothing." Tony frowns. Maybe talking about himself isn't that easy after all. "My inventions are the most innovative on the planet; I'm generally at the very least ten years ahead of everyone else, fifty years in some cases."

Loki is watching him attentively, barely any hostility in him now. Tony can't interpret the expression on his face at all.

He shifts uncomfortably. "This is only about useful things, right? Not about how I manage to fuck things up again and again?"

"Most likely," Loki grants eventually. "Unless you… fuck up in especially unusual ways."

"Only especially epically generally," Tony admits. "So, anything you can do with that?"

"You are very versed in technology," Loki recaps. "Creative to the point of abstraction. The same is true for me with magic."

Okay then. There's something they should be able to do with that. "So clearly we're needed for something that requires creative thinking."

"Which does not help us much," Loki points out. Which is the truth, Tony has to give him that.

"Still, it brings us forwards at least a little, right? And we know what we have to do: convince Odin not to kill you. Actually, the best thing would be if Odin lets you stay here on Earth, because I figure we have to be together to do whatever we gotta do, right?"

Loki snorts derisively. "Good luck with that."

"Come on," Tony coaxes. "With this whole Wheel thing, that's a good reason, right? And if you manage to explain the whole traitor thing properly-"

"Thor told you?" Loki interrupts.

"Well, yeah." Tony looks at him freely. "He told me you were right and that it's a good job, because he would've made a horrible king."

Loki seems temporarily speechless at that.

"We have to make Odin listen. Even if it's difficult, it should work out, with the whole Wheel thing, right?"

"You keep using this word "we"," Loki says. "I will be the one who will have to do the work. It's not like your word will hold any clout at all with the Allfather."

Well, okay, that's true. "But you can do it, right?"

"Perhaps," is all Loki will say on the matter. It doesn't bode well, but Tony decides to put on a positive outlook.

*

"Mr. Stark, Ms. Potts will be here in ten minutes."

Optimism, Tony decides, is over-rated. He would say it's for children but he doesn't think he was all that optimistic even as a child.

Things between him and Loki didn't work out for long after they left the hospital; long enough to get on the plane together, but then Loki had asked what Tony had done with the tesseract. Upon being informed that Tony hadn't done anything with it and that it was effectively buried under tons of former SHIELD base rubble Loki had shrieked with frustration and jumped Tony. He isn't sure if the breaking of his neck was accidental or not but it happened and Tony is Not Happy. Sure, it was painless and quick, but still, it's common courtesy not to break a person's neck, isn't it?

"Was that really necessary?" Tony asks irritably when Loki opens his eyes in the hospital. Loki glares at him, glances at the cast his arm is encased in and returns, "Was it necessary to break my arm?"

"You fell the wrong way," Tony replies blandly. Then he lifts the suitcase containing the tesseract. "Happy?"

Turning up his nose Loki sniffs, "It's the least you could do. Without it travelling to Asgard becomes neigh to impossible at this time."

"Great," Tony says. Originally he had contemplated withholding it from Loki in exchange for something, but he can't really think of anything and he doesn't think he wants Loki to stay around. Still, he's not going to just hand it over, not after Loki jumping him like he had.

So he lowers the suitcase and puts it back under his chair, joining his other suitcase containing the suit, and crosses his arms. "I can't really get over the feeling that you know more about this than you're letting on."

Loki's face remains completely expressionless, which is as good as a verbal confirmation.

"Great," Tony says tightly. "So I think we should go to my home, have that drink we keep dancing around, and you tell me what the heck is going on." When Loki doesn't reply he leans forward, letting a bit of steel seep into his voice. "Clearly, something in the universe has decided that we're both of equal importance. So you better get over your superiority complex and start working with me, because otherwise we'll keep at this for all eternity."

Loki curls up his nose derisively, but the sullen way he lowers his gaze tells Tony that his point came across.

They don't talk much more as they leave the hospital, get into a car and then on a plane to New York. Loki keeps eying the tesseract's suitcase Tony is carrying but he makes no attempt to grab it, not even when Tony is distracted.

They're on a public plane, had to because Tony's personal jet couldn't be there in time; he forgot to tell JARVIS to call for it in time. It's first class, yes, but Tony and Loki are wearing matching pairs of pink scrubs with skunks on them, both looking a little banged up, and Tony is carrying two important looking suitcases, one containing the tesseract, one the folded up suit. Inevitably, people stare at them. There is one woman across the aisle from them that Tony remembers jumping Loki when he'd attacked Tony, just seconds before Tony's neck broke. Now she's taking surreptitious pictures with her mobile that are probably going to end up in some newspaper. Tony decides that this is enough, he needs a bit of a break. He allows himself to drift off into a doze that eventually turns into as deep a sleep as one can get, sitting upright on a public plane.

Loki wakes him up by pushing Tony off him. It takes Tony a second to gather his bearings, during which he realizes two things: one, people around them are getting up to leave the plane, meaning better angles to take better pictures of two: somewhere in his sleep, Tony's head ended up on Loki's shoulder.

Wonderful. Now everyone will think Tony's banging Loki.

Tony doesn't get much time to lament that, because Coulson is waiting for them at the airport. Tony sees at least two other SHIELD agents hovering around, which means there's probably at least three times as many undercover.

"Agent!" Tony says jovially. "You went all out didn't you? You shouldn't have."

Coulson smiles blandly. "Mr. Stark. The director is very interested in speaking with you." His eyes flicker to Loki.

Tony puts his hand in the small of Loki's back and smiles sweetly. "The director can wait until I've found some proper clothes and a meal." Throwing Coulson a bone, he adds, "The pink tutu situation is under control currently."

Coulson looks at him calmly before gesturing towards the suitcase. "I would like to take that back now. Thanks for holding on to SHIELD property."

"You don't want that," Loki gets involved. "You cannot contain it, that much has become obvious, has it not? You won't like what comes out of it next time."

"You bit off more than you can chew," Tony adds soberly, making sure to convey how serious he is.

With a sigh Coulson gives in, but not without one last order. "One hour, Mr. Stark." Then he leaves.

Tony rolls his eyes. "Awesome. Let's go." Hand still in the small of Loki's back, something Loki bears with no comment, Tony guides him to where Happy is waiting for them with a car.

At Stark Tower an order of Chinese is waiting for them. Tony descends upon it like a man starving and Loki soon gives up decorum and follows his example. Once they're both full Tony digs up some clothes for Loki and sends him into a guest room for a shower while he does the same.

Loki returns wearing Tony's Star Wars t-shirt, a pair of loose sweatpants that are way too short for his long legs and a suspicious frown. "These clothes are very different from the ones we were given at the healing house."

"Hospital," Tony corrects. "And come on, do you really think I'd be so petty as to humiliate myself just to humiliate you?" Tony totally is that petty, but as it happens he doesn't think pink scrubs with skunks on them are all that humiliating after having worn them several times in a row. More funny than anything else. If Tony were less secure in his sexuality and masculinity maybe he'd mind more, but alas, that at least is an area in which he has very few, if any, issues.

Loki clearly doesn't trust him but apparently decides to let it rest, for he rolls his eyes and gingerly sits down on the sofa. Tony almost feels bad about the cast he's been given for his broken arm, but it's purple (upon Tony's request, admittedly) and actually sort of stylish. Tony's had worse casts, really.

"Gotta call Fury now and explain this crap to him," Tony says.

Loki sighs with exasperation. "His mind is severely limited."

"Absolutely, but he holds some cards, and in the end we're better off with him on our side than against us," Tony argues. He's not trying to persuade Loki, he's going to do this either way, but he has to follow his own advice; they have to work together.

"If you must," Loki grants with another exasperated sigh.

"Stark," Fury bellows as he picks up. "What the fuck is going on, and who the fuck is Walter Lawson?"

Loki's fake identity. Tony sighs, takes a deep breath and lays down the whole story. He leaves out the less important parts, abbreviating the rest, and still he's hoarse by the time he finishes.

For a long moment, Fury is silent. "Let me sum up. We're all caught in a magical Groundhog Day, and our only hope at getting out of it are you and an unstable Norse god?"

"Yes," Tony confirms, smiling broadly even though Fury can't see him anyway. "Be grateful you can't fucking remember. I keep having to have the same conversations with people and believe me, it gets really tiresome."

Fury grunts unsympathetically. "Why do you need the tesseract?"

"It is not yours to begin with," Loki involves himself coolly, the first time he speaks up.

"Besides, all you were doing with it was not figure out anything useful and make weapons," Tony adds. "As the incident with your base has shown, you have no idea what the fuck it is or what the fuck it does. I say let the people who made it deal with it."
The dial tone is all Tony gets for his opinion. Not that he's overly disappointed, something about Fury just grates him – a feeling that is entirely mutual, he's fully aware. With a shrug he turns to Loki. "Your turn at storytime, darling."

Loki, curled up sideways in an armchair, doesn't look at him. "I assume you know the circumstances surrounding Thor's coronation and the aftermath."

"Vaguely," Tony replies. It's a lie but he wants to hear everything from Loki's point of view; though Thor clearly tried to see through Loki's eyes his side of the story was still severely limited, partly by virtue of him not having been there during the pivotal moments.

With a nod, Loki begins to speak. His voice remains sober, nearly expressionless, but still his feelings shine through as he tells the story: worry for the kingdom, for Odin's sanity (that's how bad a king Thor would have made, and Loki clearly can't grasp how nobody had understood that), for Thor, all of them, the kingdom all over again when Thor had invaded Jötunheimr with the intention to wage war. How lost he'd felt when Thor had been banished and how the following events had broken over him like an avalanche, completely overwhelming him. Loki and Thor's family clearly isn't the sort who properly talks thinks out – Tony has heard such families exist, though he doesn't personally know if that's true, certainly hasn't experienced it himself – and the whole Jötunn thing had completely fucked Loki up. He doesn't apologize, makes no excuses for himself, but still Tony can't help but sympathize with him; he knows a bit what it's like to grow up constantly held up against an ideal and always found lacking. He can't condone the part where Loki tried to prevent his brother from returning to Asgard, but he understands. Even as king, Loki had had no supporters. Tony knows what that's like too. Even now he doesn't really have supporters, business-wise; his former contacts in the weapons industry are shunning him and the people who had been against him because of the whole weapons thing still don't trust him. At least Tony has Pepper who supports him, but she isn't exactly a candidate for scientific discourse. Tony had hoped Bruce would be it but by this point he's come to accept that Bruce isn't in a place yet where he can make such a decision.

The end of Loki's story shouldn't stun Tony so, he had known what was coming after all, but for some reason it makes his throat dry up. Perhaps because it's all of a sudden starkly obvious to him that it had been a complete suicide attempt.

"I think this calls for a drink," he says a little hoarsely once Loki falls silent. Not waiting for a reply he wanders over to his bar and pours them both two fingers of scotch. As he hands Loki the tumbler he says very quietly, "I've been there too."

Loki snorts. "Are you seriously comparing your life with mine?"

"Even superficially there are parallels," Tony returns, unimpressed. "Privileged but never acknowledged, much less favored son, impossible image to live up to, not accepted by peers, watched avidly by the public waiting for screw-ups. If I think more I'll find more. But no, that's not actually what I meant; what I meant was the moment you realize everything you've wanted, have been working towards all your life is a lie and worse, that you're a fool for trying to pursue it because you can't possibly achieve it. Everything you are, everything that means something to you becomes false and worthless, a negative image of what you had believed it to be. Yeah, I know what that's like." Maybe Tony would have died too, in Afghanistan, if he hadn't had Yinsen and an enemy he didn't want to give anything to. He was too stubborn to have let the Ten Rings win, no matter what they had done to him. But if he'd been hanging off a cliff, no enemy to fight and with his father telling him to his face that he'll never be good enough? Well.

Loki remains silent, just takes a sip from his tumbler and rolls the taste around on his tongue, stares out of the window. It's dark outside, the city's lights an artificial, ambitious reflection of the night sky, falling so woefully short it's a mockery.

They're silent for a long time until Loki eventually speaks up again, voice quiet. "I fell into the arms of a creature immensely powerful, and immensely dangerous. He... craves genocide for no other reason than the sake of it. Even in my darkest moments I never-" He swallows. "His purpose is to court Mistress Death; his specialty is genocide and the murder of especially powerful figures. He almost- I did manage to convince him otherwise, eventually, by telling him about the tesseract and the power it could bring him. The Chitauri are under his command."

No more words are needed to explain; Tony can read between the lines, infer the rest. "You suspect that that's what the Wheel is about."

Loki nods. "Undoubtedly, he will find his way here. And undoubtedly, with my knowledge whoever fights him will have a better chance against him."

"So we're supposed to defeat this guy together?" Tony sighs, rubs his face. It couldn't have been anything easy, but a guy Loki visibly fears? Loki with all his resourcefulness and magic? Yeah, not a good prospect.

"I would assume so," Loki says. "Or perhaps our purpose is only to bring our... to bring your people and the Æsir together so an alliance is formed."

"Have you told any of this to Odin?"

Mouth tightening, Loki throws back the whole remainder of his scotch. Clearly not a good topic. "He does not listen. He is too absorbed in himself to hear what I say, believing my words to be nothing but the self-serving prevarications of a coward and a liar." His mouth twists bitterly. "For too long he has lent his ear to those who believe me envious of Thor. My words no longer reach him." He takes a breath, lowers his gaze, voice very quiet when he adds, "I am not sure they ever truly have."

Tony has no idea what to say to that, so he just wordlessly gets up and refills their tumblers. He hands the glass back to Loki and hesitantly squeezes his shoulder – just fleetingly, it barely counts, but he feels like some gesture of support is necessary.

"Has the Wheel thing made him listen before?" he eventually asks quietly. Maybe he should let it rest, but they can't really afford that, honestly.

"Liar," Loki says, tone expressionless with just a hint of bitterness.

"What if I came along?" Tony suggests. Visiting Asgard isn't exactly on his top ten list of impossible things he's got to do before he dies (not even in the top twenty) but he can't deny a bit of curiosity. It sounds like a stifling place full off narrow-minded, stagnant people, but the technology... oh, the technology.

Loki sends him a dry look, opening his mouth-

Thunder rolls in the sky, immediately chased by a lightning bolt. The air cracks roughly, the sound of two heavy stones grinding into opposite direction echoes in the night and, accompanied by another couple of lightning bolts, Thor lands on Tony's balcony, right in front of Tony and Loki's eyes, crouching, hammer in hand.

As suddenly as it came the thunderstorm (if it can even be called that) dissolves again. Calmly Thor rises and walks over to the glass door, knocking politely.

Tony blinks and looks at Loki, who is looking past his brother, face entirely expressionless, body like stone. Tony makes it a point to brush by him as he walks to open the door for Thor, maybe as a gesture of solidarity or comfort; he honestly can't tell.

Thor opens his mouth when Tony opens the door – manually, which is completely unnecessary, but Tony didn't want to just let Thor in – but Tony is faster. "Thor, buddy! I was wondering if you'd show up."

Naturally, seeing as he doesn't remember a thing, Thor is confused. "You know of me?" he asks. "Has my brother-"

Loki must have reacted somehow because Thor breaks off mid-sentence, but when Tony turns around all he sees is Loki's back as he quickly leaves Tony's living room. Thor's face is a mix of hurt and resignation when Tony faces him again.

Tony sighs and steps aside. "You better come in, I have a lot to tell you."

Looking a bit dubious Thor enters the living room and, upon Tony's gesture, takes a seat on the couch.

Several drinking sessions with the Norse god have taught Tony exactly which kind of alcohol prefers; he gets him half a tumbler full of vodka on ice. Then he sits down and gets to explain the whole stupid time loop thing again. He's seriously considering just dictating it all and playing the recording back to anybody who wants to hear the story from Tony's mouth. At least with Thor he can leave out a fair bit more than with Fury, though he does go into a bit more detail about his interaction with Loki.

By the end of the story Thor stares sightlessly at the floor, empty tumbler clutched in his hand. Eventually he lifts his head and faces Tony. "If I had not seen my brother calmly sitting with you with my own eyes, I might not believe you, Tony Stark."

"That, and I know stuff about you I couldn't have heard from Loki," Tony replies.

Thor nods slowly. "Indeed. It grieves me, how much my relationship with my brother has soured."

"Yeah." Tony shifts uncomfortably, not liking the way Thor looks; a little broken, a little hurt, very sad. "Why don't I go check on Loki while you think about... stuff?" he says vaguely, half out of the honest desire to see what Loki's doing, half because nothing makes him more uncomfortable and panicky than sad people. Thor nods again and Tony is off immediately, heading for the guest room he had previously assigned to Loki.

There is no reply when Tony knocks on the door but that's no deterrent for him. Cautiously he opens the door and peers inside.

"In the bathroom," JARVIS says helpfully when Tony finds the room empty.

When Tony knocks on the bathroom door there's the sound of splashing. "Who is it?"

"Tony. You got a minute?"

There is a brief pause. "Come in."

Right, so Tony doesn't expect Loki to be naked and in the bathtub when he enters the bathroom. He doesn't know what he expected, to be honest he didn't have much time to think about it before he opened the door and there Loki is. Naked in the bathtub.

There isn't any convenient foam floating around to cover the most important bits like in all the movies. Loki's just lying in the water, completely bare, skin wet above the water, hair plastered to his head even more than his normal style. His eyelashes are clinging to each other and for some reason his face looks naked too, though Tony has no idea why he gets that impression; he really couldn't tell.

"Uhm," he says intelligently.

Loki raises an elegant eyebrow, looking like there's nothing at all wrong with the current situation.

Tony clears his throat, tells himself that they're all adults and none of them are teenagers who get- okay that's not exactly a teenager thing, many people get… interested when they see another person naked. Better not to dwell on it, really.

Moving along.

"Yes?" Loki asks, impatient because Tony took too long to move along

"Uhm," Tony says again. "Okay, to be honest, I'm just hiding from Thor. He was starting to get emotional and okay, that's just not for me. So. How are you?"

"I am bathing," Loki enunciates clearly, then sighs and rolls his eyes. "But I understand the impulse, so I suppose you are forgiven. Come in and close the door before he sees you and gains the impression that I'm fine receiving people while I'm taking a bath."

Nope, wouldn't want that. Tony does as asked and tries really, really hard not to think about the situation. It's not working well, because Loki's right there, naked.

And then Loki starts soaping himself up, rubbing his chest and arms all over. "How did he take the news?" he asks conversationally.

"Rrgh," Tony says.

Again, Loki raises an eyebrow at him. "Come now, Stark," he says. "The game we play is interesting and vaguely entertaining, yes, but you can quit it now. I know you are not truly interested."

"Who says that?" Tony asks. Then he curses himself because what the heck is he doing here? Is he honestly coming on to Loki? In a setting where it definitely can't be taken as a joke, or as light-hearted banter?

Well, looks like he is. In for a penny, in for a pound, he raises an eyebrow at Loki's incredulous expression and says, "Come on, you're hot. Why wouldn't I be interested?"

Loki frowns. "I am not… hot means you find me sexually attractive, yes?"

"Yeah. Yes, that's what hot means – that I find you very sexually attractive." Tony clears his throat. Normally this sort of thing doesn't go like that.

"I do not…" again, Loki doesn't finish a sentence; Tony definitely rattled him. He doesn't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing and briefly considers giving him an out, but honestly, he doesn't really want to do that. They might or might not have been dancing around this for several loops, even back when Tony still pretty much hated Loki for the shit he did in the first couple of loops, and he would like to clear things up once and for all now.

"This is unexpected," Loki eventually admits, not without difficulty. "I thought… it is a thing enemies do here, yes? Try to rattle each other?"

"Not really," Tony replies. "Not here, at least. I mean yeah, try to rattle each other, but the flirting isn't really a common thing. It's more of a… me thing, I suppose, though this is the first time I did it so maybe it's just a you and me thing."

What the fuck is he even saying here? Someone really needs to shut him up.

"Oh," Loki makes.

Tony breaks. "You know, it's okay if it's just a game and all – I mean it was mostly a game before, I just… well I'm just also open for it to not be a game, but if you don't then that's fine too, I mean you probably- you have this whole mortals are a waste of space thing going on, so-"

"Do shut up," Loki interrupts sharply. "Yes, I do not consider most mortals to be all that useful or interesting; you are like flies, one blinks and suddenly you're dead. But that doesn't mean I don't… that I can't…"

"Uh, find someone interesting nonetheless?" Tony supplies hopefully.

Loki sends him a dry look. "Yes."

"Okay." Tony takes a deep breath. This shouldn't be so nerve-rattling, how often has he had a similar conversation with a person- okay not that often, generally it's more of a wordless, unspoken agreement thing. But still. "Okay. So. Where do we go from here?"

Loki splashes water over his chest to wash off the last of the suds of soap clinging to his skin. Tony's mouth goes dry seeing that, and he's already trying really hard to not let his eyes wander down, below the surface where there is the dip of Loki's belly, his lightly spread thighs… woops, abort, abort. Tony closes his eyes and when he opens them again he isn't looking at anything but Loki's amused face.

"Do I really need to spell it out for you?" Loki says. "I would not have expected that."

Ah. "No, not really." Okay, time to get over this awkward teenager thing. This is getting ridiculous.

Tony steps up to the tub and holds his hand out for Loki. He definitely doesn't make any noise when Loki rises, water running in rivulets down his body, but he lets himself stare this time because it's clearly allowed.

Loki takes his hand and steps out of the tub. Ridiculously, Tony starts to look for a towel, but an unusually warm, wet hand turns his face back to Loki. His eyes are so green, Tony keeps being shocked by this again and again; maybe it's because the first couple of times Tony saw him they were blue. Or maybe it's just because they're unusually green.

He can't tell who leans in first, but it's not important anymore when their lips touch. All thoughts flee from Tony's head at the contact and all he can focus on anymore is the feeling. Loki's lips are warm, and soft, a little bit moist; when Tony deepens the kiss he happily follows along, opens his mouth, lets Tony's tongue slip in. Tony's heart beats loud in his ears and he can't breathe but that's not important either when Loki's tongue meets his, moves against his gently. One of them makes a noise, he doesn't know who, but the next noise definitely comes from Tony; he moans and pulls Loki closer, one hand on his wet, naked waist.

And shit, Loki's naked, he completely forgot about that. He's completely done for now, moans again, lets his hand slip down Loki's back and settle on his ass. Loki hums and presses his body against Tony's, getting his clothes wet, but his hand is dry when it finds its way into Tony's hair, half carding his fingers through, half holding his head still as Loki sets to thoroughly exploring Tony's mouth.

By the time Loki finally lets up Tony is dizzy and completely breathless; he leans against Loki and just gasps for breath for a couple of moments. Loki holds him steady, eyes closed, forehead pressed against Tony's.

When they've regained their breath a little Tony looks back to get a proper look at Loki's face. Tony can't really interpret his expression, there's need there and maybe… hurt?

That's not right. That's not how somebody Tony is making out with is supposed to look, and it abruptly sobers Tony up almost completely (certain parts of his body aren't so happy to part with direction they might have been heading towards). He cups Loki's face and presses a short kiss to his mouth. "Hey," he says then, quietly, maybe even gently. "What's up? Are you alright?"

"Yes," Loki says, voice a little hoarse.

"There's been a lot going on, huh," Tony says and suddenly realizes just how true that is; all the loops that have been happening and every time they get thrown back to the same moment. And unlike Tony, Loki didn't have any time to take a breather, just kept going back to being brainwashed. It's a wonder he's still sane. "How about you go to sleep? Tomorrow we can talk."

Finally Loki opens his eyes, narrowing them at Tony. "I don't need to be coddled like a child," he growls.

"Yeah, no, I know that," Tony hastens to reassure him. "I'm just, you know. This is new for me too, I really didn't expect for this to happen, and on top of all the loop- er, Wheel crap… I just think we could both need some time to think, is all."

Loki nods, displeasure mostly leaving his expression, but his voice is still a bit stiff. "As you wish."

Tony leans in for another quick kiss and then steps back, regretfully letting his eyes wander over Loki's naked body one last time. Damn, the guy is hot, it should be illegal, all lean muscle and creamy skin. "Good night."

"Good night," Loki replies, sounding mostly normal now. His eyes follow Tony as he turns around and leaves the room.

There's nothing Tony would like to do less now, but there's no way around it; he goes to check on Thor. The guy is still in the living room but thankfully looks a lot less now like he's one word away from a complete emotional break-down.

"Tony Stark," he says when Tony comes in. "How is my brother?"

Er. "Tired. Well, exhausted, really. He went to sleep."

Thor nods. "He is angry with me."

Oh, crap, looks like Tony's going to have to be emotional support after all. "Maybe. Well, probably, I mean nobody even went looking for him- I'm not saying it's your fault or anything, but maybe you should have… well, he's not happy about that, anyway. Sorry."

"It is not your fault," Thor says tiredly. "You are right. I should not have so easily accepted that Loki is dead without any proof."

"Maybe," Tony says noncommittally. "But, anyways, you can probably talk to him about it all tomorrow. He's been through a lot of crap – and I mean a lot of crap – and he'll need some time to cope with it all." And Tony better listen to himself, because as much as he'd like to take Loki to bed and not come up for air for a week-end or two, Loki just came out of his own personal Afghanistan. Tony resolves to be a little more responsible in the future.

"I suppose you are right, Tony Stark," Thor says slowly, still sad and contemplative.

Tony grimaces. "Okay, big guy, come on, I'll show you your room, I think Loki isn't the only one who needs some time to think." He shows Thor to a guest room, but on the floor below; there's only one guest room on Tony's floor and Loki is in that one. Tony didn't plan it that way but he would have. Once Thor has been shown to the stocked kitchen downstairs and had it explained that if he needs anything, JARVIS will get it for him, Tony gets back to his own room. On the way he walks past Loki's door and hesitates at it, but manages not to give in and ends up in his own bed. It is a little difficult – the image of Loki naked and wet is burned in his mind – but he stays strong. He's rather proud of himself, really.

Besides, his fantasies of Loki are almost as good as the real thing, especially considering that he's seen Loki naked and knows enough to know that he's a grower, not a shower.

When Tony the next morning gets into the kitchen Loki is already there, hands wrapped around a steaming cup of something.

"Coffee?" Tony asks hopefully.

Raising an eyebrow Loki pushes the cup across the table and yes, it's coffee, delicious, beautiful coffee. Tony would be doomed without coffee, completely doomed.

Loki makes an amused noise. "I have no idea how you can drink this," he comments. "It's terribly bitter."

"That's what milk and sugar are for," Tony replies. "But really, go on not liking coffee, more for me."

Loki rolls his eyes. "Bring me food. I wish to eat."

Ah, there is Loki's bossy behavior again; Tony might have missed it just the tiniest bit. With a sigh Tony gets up. "Just so you know, I'm only doing this once. Next time you're going to have to feed yourself."

Loki sniffs imperiously but watches carefully as Tony turns on the stove, gets a pan and makes some scrambled eggs. It's much simpler than omelet and Loki seems happy with it; when Tony hands him the hot toast popping out of the toaster he seems a little more dubious. After nibbling at it he seems to decide that it's edible, but asks for cheese. The only cheese Tony finds is shaved parmesan – he didn't even know he had it, but it still seems okay – but Loki seems happy with it. Well, Loki's specific brand of happy; he says "Well, the best host you make not, but I suppose this is acceptable." He does eat everything and makes himself more toast though, and asks for honey. Tony actually finds some in one of the cupboards, which he never would have thought. The jar is a bit dusty and Tony is dubious about offering it to anyone but Loki sneers at him and informs him that honey does not go bad. And he eats it, ripping off bits of toast and dipping it in the honey, so it must be true.

"Where is Thor?" Loki eventually asks with false nonchalance.

"Downstairs," Tony informs him. "He's got a guest room there and his own kitchen. Wanna go talk to him?"

"Perhaps," is all Loki will say on the matter.

Tony takes it as a hint and changes topics. "So. What's the plan? Not the long-term plan, I know that one, I mean short-term."

Loki scowls at him. "I suppose we will need to speak to my- to Thor." He stuffs a bit of honey-drenched toast into his mouth, chewing resentfully.

"Okay." Tony shifts, trying not to stare at Loki's lower lip; a drip of honey is clinging to it and it makes him do things. Involving Loki's naked body – of which he knows exactly what it looks like, he just can't get over that, and oh god he needs to stop thinking about it – and the golden honey.

And oh, he's staring, and Loki's noticed; he smirks and leans a little closer to Tony, raising an eyebrow. "I have a feeling you are not thinking of our impending conversation with Thor."

The drop of honey is still there. It's driving Tony nuts. With a strangled noise he pushes out of his chair and leans across the breakfast bar, licking that golden drop off Loki's lips. Loki draws in a sharp breath and pushes into the contact, sucking Tony's tongue into his mouth and meeting it with his own tongue. Tony moans; Loki's mouth tastes sweet but what excites him far more is his eagerness, how greedy he is for Tony's kiss.

"My apologies, sir, but Mr. Odinson is on the way up."

Simultaneously they pull apart, Tony cursing and Loki glaring. And fuck, Loki looks glorious like this, eyes poisonously green, cheeks flushed, lips red. Tony has no idea what the fuck is happening to him.

He doesn't have any time to think about it because the elevator pings.

"In here!" Tony calls out before Thor can ask for them.

The usually boisterous blond is subdued, almost grim when he enters the room. Instead of pouncing on Loki with a hug – something that almost certainly would have chased Loki off, Tony is sure of that much – he nods at them and smiles weakly.

"Hey, big guy," Tony says. "Pull up a chair, sit down. Have you eaten?"

Thor grimaces, but nods. "It took me some tries to understand how the little machine called toaster functions, but I was successful eventually."

Loki snorts and pointedly takes a slice of toast out of the toaster, dipping it in the honey again. He didn't need any tries to figure out how the toaster works, but to be fair, he did watch Tony use it. Thor had at most had JARVIS to explain it to him.

"Great," Tony says awkwardly. "Okay, so. How are you? Slept well?"

Thor glances at him and replies a short "yes" before he turns to Loki. "I wish to say something to you, Loki. Father told me about the adoption and that you are truly Jötunn, and I want for you to know that this changes nothing about my feelings for you. You are my brother, we grew up together, and I love you. Nothing can change that. I do understand that I've made mistakes, but I hope you can find it in you to forgive me eventually."

Not looking up from the jar of honey at all, Loki snorts derisively. "Do you believe it so easy?"

"No, not at all," Thor says immediately. "I know that much has changed, that much is broken. But I believe that, if you are willing, we might be able to repair at least our relationship?"

"Tell me the truth." Finally Loki looks up, face an expressionless mask. "Did you grieve?"

Thor hesitates. "I did. Very much so. As did mother, and father. He regrets-"

"Thor," Loki interrupts, voice hard. "When I asked you before, you said "we all did". I demand the truth now."

"I do not recall that," Thor says. "But… some members of the magical guild expressed their regret at your passing, and I believe they were speaking the truth."

"But not the rest?" Loki asks, a malicious sort of satisfaction on his face. "Hogun? Sif?"

"Hogun has been even quieter," Thor replies. "But… I do not believe anyone else truthfully grieved for you."

Loki nods. "Do you understand now?"

"I do," Thor says quietly. "And I deeply regret never listening closely to you." He leans in. "I have thought much about the mistakes I made in the past. I will listening to you better from now on, this I swear."

"You seem to be listening now," Loki says, focusing on his honey again.

Thor clearly interprets that as a good sign because a broad smile spreads on his face. Tony, who until this point has tried to keep as still as possible, sensing the delicateness of the situation, finally allows himself to breathe deeply again.

Chapter Text

After that conversation over breakfast Tony deems it safe to leave Loki and Thor alone for a bit while he takes care of some business – a long overdue phone call to Pepper, and god does it get tiring having to explain shit to her and grovel over and over again, an update to Fury in order to stall him somewhat. It's not going to hold for long, Fury for some reason wants to see him in person; he seems to suspect there's something Tony isn't telling him. Which is true, the list of things that Tony isn't telling Fury is longer than his arm, but it's nothing Fury needs to know. Also, and finding this out was the primary purpose of the call, SHIELD has no idea Thor is back.

But when Tony gets back into the living room Loki and Thor are yelling at each other; they look like they're seconds from jumping each other, Loki is spitting mad and Thor's hands are balled into fists. At least Mjölnir is nowhere to be seen; that's good, right?

"You tried to kill me, brother!" Thor booms. "It is not something easily forgotten, despite everything!"

"I needed you to stay away!" Loki yells back. "You're always around to ruin everything, for everyone to compare me to and find me lacking, and I wanted to prove that I could be as good a king as you, even in their eyes!"

"Their opinions never mattered to you so much for you to change your methods," Thor grinds out.

"That was before I found out I don't belong!" Loki shrieks. "I don't belong anywhere, Thor, I know that now and I suspected it then, but at the time I thought maybe I could make it so, if Odin's subjects and your friends only would realize it!"

"Again-!" Thor throws his hands up. "It is completely out of my influence how my friends behave, Loki!"

"Perhaps I would believe that," Loki hisses venomously, "if you had ever once discouraged them. But you have not."

Thor startles, eyes filling with guilt. "I know. I have vowed to change that, Loki."

"Have you?" Loki asks, voice cold. "Since my "death", have you ever spoken to them about their part of the blame in the whole business?" When Thor remains guiltily silent, he nods, angry satisfaction on his face. "I thought as much. Always, you have only been on my side when it did not inconvenience you. Never did you stand with me against them, so don't call me hard-hearted if I have difficulties believing you now."

"Brother-"

"You joined them in their mocking me, Thor," Loki interrupts. "You did not even realize, did you? For centuries. We have not been equals far longer than we were, even in your eyes." With that he turns to leave, walking by Tony without acknowledging his presence at all. Tony doesn't know why he does it but he reaches out and brushes his fingertips along Loki's waist, maybe in a gesture of comfort or solidarity. Loki just keeps walking, firmly closing the door of his room behind himself.

"It echoes," Tony says, looking at Thor soberly. "When somebody who means something to you puts you down. It echoes in your mind." Unbidden, the memory comes back to him; "Big man in a suit of armor. Take that off, what are you?"

He shakes it off, concentrates on Thor again who is looking at him unhappily, face filled with guilt. "When you prove that you don't believe any of the things you said to him, maybe he'll forgive you then. Or at least be able to start to get over it." Unless Thor hit a very deeply-rooted issue, which Tony suspects he did. For all his arrogance and talk of superiority, it's clear Loki doesn't believe it himself, at least not where it counts. But he chooses not to mention that; Thor already looks like he's drowning in an ocean of guilt. Tony would rather not add to that.

Thor sighs and nods. "Thank you, Tony Stark. My brother... is not very good at baring his emotions." He grimaces. "He views it as weakness. It makes it very difficult to speak with him sometimes."

"That's what happens if you've been bullied," Tony says. Briefly he wonders how the fuck he ended up here, playing family therapist for two Norse gods with issues bigger than the planet. Maybe it would be easier if he didn't keep recognizing himself in Loki, if he couldn't relate so much to him. Well, now that he's at it he might as well explain properly to Thor. "Emotions are a weakness if everybody's making fun of you and just waiting for you to react. Pretending nothing they say gets to you is the only defense you have sometimes." Tony isn't very good at that. Everything rattles around in his head all the fucking time, and there are very few things that make his thoughts go quiet. Alcohol is one of them, sex another, building and inventing things the best for them all, and most recently, the suit. When he comes home at the end of the day and actually managed to help someone he sometimes thinks that maybe he's not that much of a fuck-up after all. He still is, he knows that, but considering how much he fucked up before, he figures he's doing okay now. Ish.

Thor looks at him. "You speak as if from personal experience."

Unable to repress the wince, Tony tries to cover it up with a shrug but is pretty sure he fails. Still, he barrels on. "Shit happens, big guy. All you can do is pick yourself up and keep going, yeah?"

After another moment of just staring at Tony Thor finally nods. "You are very wise," he says.

Tony can't help it; he laughs. "God, try saying that to anyone, they'll have a lot of fun with that. Especially Pepper. Or Fury." Oh god, it'd be hilarious.

"Nevertheless." Thor walks over and puts a hand on Tony's shoulder. "I thank you for your advice, Tony Stark, and for your hospitality."

"Yeah, no problem." Tony manages a smile. "Say, has anyone ever introduced you to the TV?" And look at that, something he doesn't actually know. This is new.

Thor negates, so Tony pushes him onto the sofa and starts explaining the concept of TV to him. He starts with cartoons, figuring it'll be easier to explain than a TV show or something (he has no idea what's on and really does not want to explain the Kardashians to Thor if he accidentally lands there). It doesn't really work for a while, Thor keeps not getting it, saying things like "...are sponges sentient in this realm?" and "I am not sure this is a realistic depiction of being underwater", which, hey!, Thor has some concept of physics, but then the episode ends and Thor suddenly brightens. "It is to teach!"

Tony, who until this point had tried the concept of watching TV for entertainment (and they had managed to find some common ground via storytelling and skalds), decides that that's probably as close as they're going to get to make Thor understand and nods. "Yes. Yes, TV is to teach a lesson." Maybe they'll stop at cartoons. My Little Pony always has a moral at the end, doesn't it? Tony vaguely remembers something like that, and now he wants to explain the Kardashians to Thor even less, if that's even possible.

"I understand," Thor says happily. "This is a very innovative and engaging way to impart wisdom to the subjects."

"Uh huh," Tony makes. "I'll just... go away now. Let JARVIS know if you need me or anything."

He longs to go to his lab and play around some, but he's playing Norse counselor already anyway and also he sort of just wants to see Loki. Which is scary and reckless and possibly wrong and stupid, so he decides not to dwell on it or anything related and just knocks on Loki's door.

"Come in," Loki calls out with some annoyance.

Tony cringes and pushes the door open, peering into the room. "You got a minute?"

Loki's sitting on the armchair, book in his lap. He rolls his eyes and gestures for Tony to come in. "I assume you have come to placate me?"

"Uh, no." Tony inches into the room and closes the door. "Actually I just wanted to see how you are."

"Fine." Loki raises one eyebrow. "How would I be?"

Right, dangerous ground, Tony's not touching that with a ten foot pole. Walking over he throws himself onto the sofa. "So, I suppose we should figure out a plan? What to do about the Chitauri, I mean?"

Face tightening, Loki closes the book but doesn't put it away, folds his arms around it like a shield. "It would be prudent to be prepared, yes."

Tony bites his lower lip. "So how fast do you think they'll be here?"

"If they come to Midgard at all," Loki returns. "They might choose to come to Asgard instead." He does not seem particularly bothered by the idea but there's a tightening around his eyes that tells Tony otherwise.

"It's more likely they'll come here though, right, because they assume the tesseract's here? Come on, talk to me, I'm flying completely blind here."

Loki's mouth twists. "Yes, it is more likely. My best estimation is a month. Perhaps later, but it's unlikely they'll be able to cross the distance sooner than that."

"Okay, great," Tony says, swallowing. "They're going to completely trash the place, aren't they? And this time they won't be leading a bottleneck war."

"Yes." Loki looks at him soberly. "It would have been better, tactically, for you to not have destroyed the spear and let me continue. It's possible you destroyed enough of their fleet with that destruction device you brought to them a couple of times that they would disregard the idea of revenge."

"Crap." Sinking down into the sofa Tony closes his eyes and rubs them. "Okay, so, leaving you under mind control is not an option, so I'm not even going to suggest a do-over. But... if we opened a portal with the tesseract – we still could do that, it's no problem – we could send through a couple of nukes, maybe get rid of them that way?"

"It is unlikely you will manage to destroy enough of their fleet that way," Loki replies, "but you could severely dent their numbers, yes."

"Why is it unlikely?"

"Because Thanos surel-" Loki breaks off when he realized that he said the guy's name for the first time. Going pale he closes his eyes and takes a couple of deep, calming breaths. Then he opens his eyes again and continues as if the moment had not even happened. "They surely sent off a portion off their fleet towards Midgard the second the spear was destroyed. The longer they not hear from me, the more of their fleet they will send on the way. Additionally, at the time you brought your- nuke? to them the other times, their numbers had already been dented by the battle here, and many of them were congregated around the portalway."

"Okay." Tony frowns. "So we need some missiles that can find their targets instead of just sending something through the portal and hope it'll hit something when it explodes. I can do that, no problem. And the sooner we do that, the better?"

Loki nods. "Yes. Haste is advisable."

"Better get on that, then." Tony jumps up, leans forwards and presses a kiss to Loki's mouth. "It'd be great if you told JARVIS what we're gonna need for the portal. I'll take care of the... explosive side of things."

"As you will," Loki says. He's not smiling but his face is less closed off when Tony pulls back, gives him an awkward wave and leaves the room.

Looks like his expertise as a weaponsmith is needed. Maybe Tony won't even have to hate himself for it later.

Of course Tony doesn't make anything new. He swore after Afghanistan that he would never make another weapon in his life, and he hasn't, but he has more than enough material from his pre-Afghanistan years.

He hasn't looked at any of it in over a year, had kept all the blueprints and vaguely sketched ideas locked up tighter than anything else, destroyed all prototypes. When he enters his lab and gives JARVIS the order to dig all the files up again the whole tip of the tower goes into security lockdown, the lab closes off completely, and Tony has to go through a couple of security measures. Maybe it was paranoid of him, but it was either that or destroy everything, and as much as a part of him had wanted to, he just couldn't make himself.

Then the files are open to him, everything spread out for him to flick through, sketches and equations and models, a whole different world.

It's a rush. It makes Tony dizzy and he can't say with what – a part of it is panic, the taste of sand and blood and rust at the back of his throat, and that's the part he embraces, but there's something else. Exhilaration. And that scares him.

This was his life, for twenty years, this was what he did. He made things that explode, destroy, that kill better than anything else. Sure, not exclusively, but this... and he'd loved it. He had. He'd loved being the best of the best, the one five years ahead of anybody else, had loved how they both hated and loved him for it and yet kept coming back because they needed him.

"Sir," JARVIS says. Nothing else, but it's enough.

Tony closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, tells his rapidly beating heart to calm down. When he opens his eyes again he's clearer, back in the present. "Give me everything on intelligent target finding systems."

The Jericho was only the beginning.

About two hours later Tony emerges from the lab, everything safely locked away again. He feels fine as he enters the elevator, fine as he steps into the living room, looks out the window. Thor is still watching cartoons and Loki is perched on the backrest of the sofa as far away from Thor as physically possible without leaving the seating area.

Tony stares at them for one moment, at the domesticity of it all, then turns on his heel and rushes off into the bathroom to throw up. The acid burns his throat, tastes sour on his tongue and only makes him vomit that much harder. He coughs, which doesn't help his throat any, spits, pukes again. Lovely.

A cool hand settles in his neck. "Steady," Loki says calmly, like Tony was about to voluntarily take a header into the toilet. He might have been, but there's nothing voluntary about it. But somehow Loki's hand is enough of a focal point for his body to stop swaying, and his arms are still trembling where they hold him up but maybe Loki will actually catch him if he drops.

"Here," Loki says a little later, when all Tony is doing is spitting anymore, and brings a glass of water into his line of vision. Gratefully Tony takes it, spilling water all over himself because his hand is trembling but he manages to get enough into his mouth to wash it out once, twice.

"Shit," Tony croaks, and it hurts his throat to speak so he doesn't say anything else – not that it would have been anything constructive anyway.

Loki takes the glass away and then offers him his hand, pulls Tony up. He stumbles a little, still shaking, and Loki other hand settles on his waist, keeping him steady. Tony lets it happen for a moment, closes his eyes and takes a deep breath before he opens his eyes again, pushes past Loki and goes to brush his teeth. Then he washes his hands and his face, contemplates the shower, but he's done the whole panicked jumping into the shower while still fully clothed thing before and it's really not as glorified or properly dramatic as the TV makes it look like. It's just pathetic, especially when he has to turn the shower off, peel himself out of his wet, clinging clothes and try not to freeze to death and feel like a complete idiot.

"What's wrong?" Loki eventually asks, eyes focused on where Tony keeps washing his hands again and again, compulsively, symbolically, ridiculously.

Tony laughs bitterly and regrets it immediately because his throat doesn't thank him for it. "You're not the only one with a fuckton of issues," he eventually manages to say, voice hoarse.

Loki just accepts that with a nod, reaches over and turns the water off. Wordlessly he hands Tony a towel, waits until he has dried his hands and then leads him out of the bathroom at the elbow, guiding him towards the kitchen. Tony lets him.

In the kitchen Loki makes him tea and puts in three spoons of honey before putting the mug on the table in front of Tony. "Drink," he orders, taking a seat opposite him.

Wordlessly, Tony obeys. He can't identify the taste, but then again, he doesn't have much experience with tea and also there's a fuckton of honey, the cloying sweetness covering everything else. But it does somehow make his throat feel better immediately.
"Barton told me," Loki eventually says. "That you used to produce weapons. That you stopped."

That's the gist of it, Tony supposes. All neatly wrapped up in two sentences. You used to produce weapons. You stopped. Everything fits into a nutshell, like it's really that neat, that simple.

Loki doesn't say anything else, and neither does Tony. They remain in complete silence and Tony can't tell whether it's companionable or uncomfortable or anything else. He just drinks his tea.

Once all the tea is gone – there was even more honey at the bottom, Tony should've realized it's impossible for that much honey to actually dissolve. He doesn't react except for a grimace as he throws the rest back like medicine; hell, it apparently is, his throat feels much better, less raw and wound.

"Come," Loki says once Tony puts the mug down. This whole ordering around thing is starting to grate Tony, which is a good sign, it means he's getting back to being himself, but he doesn't say anything as he gets up and follows Loki into the living room. Thor is still sitting there, watching Kim Possible. He merely glances at them before focusing back on the screen, and Tony is sure he must know something is up but he doesn't ask, doesn't even look curious, and he's so incredibly grateful for that.

Loki sits down on the sofa, pulls Tony into the seat next to him and for all intents and purposes, stops paying attention to Tony.

Tony pulls his knees up, wraps his arms around them and watches Dr. Drakken draw a sketch of his brilliant Doomsday Device. A puppy and a horsy, cute.

They watch TV for a couple of hours and it's terribly domestic, strikes Tony as ridiculous even, they really should be doing other things, but his head is full of trajectories and released energy and he can't- oh, look, Starfire just burned a hole into the tower because it's "berating curtains day". Maybe Tony should watch Teen Titans more, he sees some parallels there. Except he doesn't have curtains.

Sometime in the afternoon Loki wordlessly gets up and wanders over into the kitchen, and shortly after the smell of food wafts over into the living room. Oops, Tony's a bad host, he forgot that people eat three meals a day. He should've taken better care of his guests.

He gets up and walks into the kitchen, watches Loki fry what looks like a couple of random diced vegetables. There's a pot in which pasta is boiling and the oven has been turned on; when Tony leans to the side and peers at it he sees chicken wings. So Loki managed to concoct up a decent meal without any instructions on what sorts of food go together or how to prepare them. Even Tony doesn't think he could've managed this, or at least not the part with the vegetables.

"Need any help?" he asks and leans against the breakfast bar. It's not that he feels terribly bad about being a bad host; yeah, Tony has been taught manners ad nauseum but he's been doing his best to forget them since he left his last lesson on the matter. But there's a part of him that's really pleased to see Loki here, performing such a domestic task for him (okay, for all of them) and it's not because he finds it funny. Tony has never had much of a domestic life, growing up and later, and has consequently always held this sort of thing in higher estimation than is probably common. He can buy anything he wants, including people to cook or care for him, so there's something incredibly gratifying in someone doing this sort of thing for him just because they want to.

Or maybe Loki was just hungry and he's putting way too much thought into this.

Loki glances at him carelessly. "Set the table."

Okay then. Rolling his eyes, Tony does as he's told. He's still against being ordered around and pretty soon he's going to have to put a stop to this lest Loki get ideas, but he figures considering that he's being cooked for, he can make some exceptions. It has nothing to do with the warm feeling rolling in his belly, though. Nothing at all.

"Thor!" Loki eventually bellows. Immediately the sound of the TV turns off and Thor comes into the kitchen; looks like Loki trained them both well.

After they've eaten (lunch? dinner? is there a word for that? dunch and linner both sounds stupid, looks like they were lucky with the whole brunch thing) Loki turns to Tony and says, "Your servant suggested I ask you for machinery needed to speed up the process of finding out how to open the portal."

"Serv- oh, you mean JARVIS?"

"He needs something to calculate equations for him," JARVIS helpfully supplements. "Energy requirements, primarily."

"Haven't you done all this before?" Tony raises an eyebrow at Loki. "Several times?"

Loki rolls his eyes. "Selvig did it for me, aided by the tesseract, and I was not particularly interested in the mechanics, no?"

Really, Tony could've figured that out for himself. "Right, of course. So how are you going to do it? You won't need to gruesomely murder anyone to get to some iridium, just a side-note. Let JARVIS know whatever you need and we'll see about getting it."

"Duly noted," Loki says dryly. "You realize that the spear greatly emphasized my more impulsive and reckless nature?"

"Yes, yes." Tony waves that off. "I know. I'm just joking, making light of situations that shouldn't be made light of, it's what I do. So what do you need?"

"A great amount of energy, primarily," comes the reply, "which we have. The rest is magical theory, I will figure it out."

Tony tilts his head. "Only magic? Because to me it looked like there was a bit of physics involved as well. Or a lot."

For a moment Loki fixates him with a narrow-eyed look, then he sighs. "Fine. I see you have a great need to help. You are welcome to join me."

That wasn't really... okay that totally was what Tony was aiming for, who is he kidding. With a wave to Thor he drags Loki off into the lab (not his primary one, thank you very much, he's not that smitten) and gets him in front of a screen. Then he realizes a slight snag and has Loki read up on laws of physics so they get on the same wavelength. While he's occupied Tony quickly writes him a program that lets him calibrate whichever magical elements he intends to involve and how they behave so it will make a simulation for him. It's not difficult; Tony could even use an already existing program and strip it of its parameters, but instead he just writes that part from scratch and adds a simulation program he wrote ages ago. Loki picks it all up rather quickly and very soon is deeply immersed. Tony watches for a while but holy shit, that's hot and does weird things to him, so out of self-preservation he puts himself in front of a different computer and sketches out his own ideas. He's had enough time in the previous loop to dig through the remains of the machine and has some ideas of his own, though Loki very quickly informs him that without the spear the whole thing will be a lot more complicated.

They work until deep into the night, but by the time they drag themselves off to bed they have a rough machine sketched out. Neither of them makes any overtures to get into the other's bed, and not because they're too tired; Tony wakes up a little when the quick good-night peck he meant to give Loki turns into a full French kiss with hands getting under shirts and everything. Still, eventually they separate, breathing heavily, share a look and then each head into their own separate bed. Tony doesn't know where this all came from, this silent agreement to take it slow, and while a part of him mourns for all the sex he could be having (it doesn't help that he has a very active imagination and knows exactly what Loki looks like under those clothes) a different part of him is relieved for the reprieve. This is all messed up enough already, they don't need more complication.

In the morning Tony is woken up way too early by JARVIS, who informs him that he has several messages left by SHIELD and even Pepper, which tells Tony that they went to Pepper to contact him. Right, time to take care of that loose end, no matter how much he'd rather crawl with Loki into the lab and get high on doing science with a genius. And that Loki is a genius, of that he has no doubt. Yeah, things aren't flowing that smoothly yet because he keeps having to explain stuff to Loki, but the exact reverse is true as well; Tony knows next to nothing about magic. That probably is the only reason why they haven't bitten each other's heads off yet, that they're both in the same boat basically, having to educate the other and needing to be educated.

"Mr. Stark, Ms. Potts-"

"Right, right, yeah, put her on," Tony interrupts tiredly. "Hey, Pep."

"Tony! Are you still in bed? It's almost noon!"

"And this is new how?" Tony groans and buries his head under his pillow. He went to bed four hours ago, and he didn't get to sleep right away, what with the taste of Loki still in his mouth, the feel of his mouth on his lips.

She makes an annoyed noise. "Nevermind. Listen, SHIELD have been bugging me, they really need to speak with you and I'm getting very tired of being the go-between."

"Yeah, yeah, I'll take care of it," Tony grumbles, head still under the pillow. It obviously muffles his mouth too much because she growls.

"I didn't understand a word, Tony, I'm serious-"

Tony lifts his head and yells, "I'll take care of it!"

With a wordless noise of annoyance she hangs up.

Tony groans, rubs his face with both hands and curls up into a tight ball. He does not want to get out of bed, but clearly it's out of his hand by this point. "JARVIS, tell Fury not to get his panties in a twist, I'll come visit him in about an hour, 'kay?"

"Right away, sir," JARVIS says and then, a moment later, "Director Fury wishes to know what the hell you mean by 'visit'."

Ah, Tony loves it when JARVIS curses. He's never programmed it into him because that'd ruin the whole fun of it, but about the only thing he appreciates about Fury is the way he can make JARVIS use bad words. "Aww, JARVIS, you used a bad word, I'm so proud. The helicarrier, yes? I'll get there in a bit. Hang up if he says no."

"Of course, sir."

This is what Tony likes best about JARVIS. He does as he's told and doesn't scold or censor him, like just about everybody else does.

With a sigh he rolls out of bed and trudges into the shower. Feeling marginally refreshed, he afterwards heads into the kitchen for a dose of caffeine or three. Thor is there, chewing toast and staring longingly at the jar of honey, but there's not much left and he probably doesn't want to incur his brother's wrath for eating the rest. "If you need anything, just tell JARVIS, he'll get it. Or get someone to get it, same difference, effectively," Tony tells him. "We need more food anyway, I think. JARVIS, put in an order for some groceries, will you? Don't forget the honey."

"Yes, sir."

"It is a strange concept, to have a servant who is everywhere and nowhere, but rather practical at times, is it not?" Thor comments idly, watching Tony slurp down his first cup of coffee.

"Always," Tony replies. "Always practical. And rather ingenious, if I do say so myself. Listen, I gotta go have a chat with SHIELD in a sec, you'll be alright here, right? No idea when Loki will show up but you know how the TV works and if you get bored JARVIS can explain some games to you."

Thor hesitates. "I have wish to speak with someone, if that is possible."

Oh, of course. "Jane, right, how could I forget? Lovely girl. JARVIS will get you her number and call her for you if you want to. If she's not too far away you can even go visit her, but if not, we can fly her in if she wants to, up to you. Just... no flying around on your own, alright? Our airspace is rather occupied these days, especially around here, and you could cause accidents if you fly into someone."

"Of course, Tony Stark," Thor says gravely. "I thank you for your hospitality."

"Hey, stop thanking me, we're friends, right? I mean- well sort of. I'll be going now." Embarrassed at his lapse – of course Thor doesn't remember anything, he's being ridiculous – Tony walks off, but he does stop when Thor calls after him.

"We are friends," Thor says seriously.

Tony ducks his head and waves awkwardly before walking off, getting into the suit and flying over to the helicarrier.

And look at that, Fury has assembled the Avengers. They're all sitting around a table, not in the helicarrier's control room at least but in a private room.

Tony can't help it; he beams when he sees Bruce, but at least he manages to catch himself at the last moment and not call him by his first name. "Dr. Banner! So lovely to see you." And, because he can't resist and there are so many more reasons for it now than they were at the beginning, he adds, "Your work on anti-electron collision is breathtaking, and I'm a huge fan of your Other Guy."

Bruce blinks and shifts awkwardly, casting an uncomfortable glance around the room. "Uh, thanks."

Tony beams at him and throws himself into one of the free chairs before looking around the room, finding the usual suspects: Fury, Hill, Coulson, Romanov, Barton and Rogers. "Hi everyone, sorta lovely to see you too."

Fury growls. "Stark. Stop with the games. Explain again, from the beginning and in full detail, what the fuck you say is going on."

Right, it's not like Tony didn't expect that, but that doesn't mean he hadn't hoped to get around it somehow. With a sigh he gives in to the inevitable and starts talking.

About an hour later – and not that Tony isn't used to babbling, and not that he doesn't like the sound of his own voice, and not that he doesn't love having everybody sit in silence and pay total attention to him – Tony is hoarse and a big cranky. Primarily because everybody's faces display varying degrees of disbelief. Bruce at least only shows skepticism and mild curiosity, so that's something, but not much.

"I'm sorry, but this sounds all rather… fantastical," Rogers says apologetically.

Tony sighs. "I know it does."

"I think you're greatly exaggerating the whole battle in New York," Hill comes right out with it, arms crossed. "Come on, giant worm-like dragons the size of a skyscraper shooting out aliens from their bellies? Not to mention the part with the nuclear bomb. I don't believe the council would make such a decision that easily."

"Whatever," Tony snaps, "like I give a fuck whether you believe me or not."

"Do you have any sort of proof?" Natasha asks. "Anything at all? Because the way I see it all the information you have you could have gotten through hacking, and we all know you have a propensity for that."

"The pink tutu stuff?" Tony raises an eyebrow. "It certainly was enough for you to clear the base at the time. I still have no idea what the fuck it means but I'm fairly sure it's not on any files."

The four SHIELD agents share a look. "There are other ways you might have gotten that information," Coulson says neutrally.

"But you're not really sure you believe that, do you?" Tony returns. "Because that'd mean I'd be so deep up your ass you could taste me on the tip of your tongue." Then he sighs, because this is pointless, they can argue in circles all day, and digs out his mobile. He speed dials the tower and, when JARVIS picks up after two dialing tones (people get uncomfortable if he picks up immediately).

"Hey JARV. Gimme Loki, please?"

"Right away, sir." There's a brief silence and then Loki's voice is in his ear. "Yes, Stark? What is it?"

"They're all chickening out on me, you got any way to prove the whole crap happened?"

"Is your word not enough?" Loki sounds irritated. "Your allies are truly not much of that, are they?"

"Yeah, tell me about it." Tony rolls his eyes and sends a look across the room.

"How disappointing," Loki says, but he's not on the phone anymore; he's suddenly standing right next to Tony, giving everyone a startle. "Unsurprising, but disappointing."

"Right." Tony hangs up the phone and stuffs it back into his pocket.

"Loki, I assume," Fury says tightly. "How did you get here?"

"I fuck up space-time," Loki replies, using the same words Tony had used when they had talked about the whole teleportation thing. "So nice to see you again, director."

Everybody is watching Loki more or less warily and Tony doesn't like it, so he pulls out the empty chair next to him. Wordlessly Loki takes a seat in it.

"So you got anything up your sleep to prove this is all not one giant fairy tale?" Clint asks, eying Loki suspiciously, but with far less hostility than he would have if the whole mind slave thing had actually happened. Tony knows this for a fact.

"Would you find it easier to believe if I showed you what you will be/have been facing up against?" Loki asks politely, then, not waiting for a reply puts his hand flat on the table, fingers spread. The next moment it looks for a moment like the table turns into a portal, the aerial perspective of New York spreading out on its surface, but it's clearly just an illusion; the papers and stuff lying around on the table are perfectly fine.

Everybody jumps, there are some noises of surprise and everybody rises to get a better view.

"Introducing the Chitauri," Loki murmurs, and a couple of Chitauri fly by on their flying machines; Tony suddenly gets that this is Loki's perspective of one invasion. He zooms in on one of the wagon thingies so they can see a warrior up close. "And the Leviathans," Loki murmurs, zooming out and speeding up so they can completely see a Leviathan coming out of the portal. He focuses on the Leviathan again and follows its path down into the city, showing as it starts releasing warriors.

They watch about ten minutes of the battle – a battle, Tony can't really distinguish between the different loops, especially from somebody else's point of view. He notices that Loki makes sure to show each of the Avengers in mid-battle, some of them several times – especially Iron Man. He's not sure he's imagining that part, Loki seems to several times focus especially on him. Tony really doesn't know what to make of it, especially considering that Loki is under mind control at the time.

The image on the table eventually freezes on an image with high impact-factor; the destroyed and damaged buildings of New York, in one corner a Leviathan cumbersomely making its way through the too narrow streets and one of the Chitauri wagons closer so they can see the warriors' faces.

"Is that enough for you?" Loki asks silkily.

"You could just be fucking with us," Fury says bluntly.

"I'm sorry, director, but I consider that unlikely, considering everything we've seen just now," Coulson involves himself calmly. "Did everybody recognize themselves in the way they moved?"

Everyone around the table nods.

"There was way too much data for him not to get something wrong, had this not been real," Coulson concludes. "Besides, there is the matter of the pink tutu."

Fury growls.

*

After it's established that Tony (and Loki) are not lying, Tony lays down their plan of trying to put a dent in the Chitauri's numbers. Despite affecting a terribly bored expression Loki stays, leaning back in his chair, legs crossed and hands folded in his lap. He looks terribly good that way, with the loose bordeaux red shirt he's wearing of a material looking like a mix between cotton and silk, slick but not flimsy, and the pair of rather tight leather pants he put on. Tony assumes he magicked the clothes on him and part of his brain is rather occupied wondering whether that means that Loki is actually naked and the clothes are just an illusion or if Loki actually conjured them, and if so, did he make them out of nothing, did he convert something, did they actually exist and he pulled them through spacetime to where he is-

"So, wait," Rogers says once Tony's explained their plan. "The assumption is that these... Chitauri will definitely come here, right? But what if they're not actually planning to and us attacking them will make them change their minds?"

"They will definitely attack," Loki replies. "They are in the service of a creature they fear too much to disobey, and furthermore they find themselves in need of an extra planet or two to spread out on, their numbers are becoming far too high for their home world."

"But that guy who's controlling them, he'll attack because of you, right?" Natasha involves herself, gaze shrewd. "He's coming to take revenge on you. So why don't you just leave? Get off this planet, not drag us into your personal spats."

Loki narrows his eyes, about to make a scathing remark, but Tony puts a hand on his knee and preempts him. "And what tells you they won't come here anyway, to check whether Loki isn't here afterwards? Besides, you heard him, the Chitauri are looking for resources. It's unlikely they'll go somewhere else to chase Loki if they instead can take over this planet and its frankly pitiful defense, recuperate some and then come for Loki. Yeah, if Loki hadn't come here they likely would never have noticed us, but Loki didn't come here out of his own free will, and now they know we're here we'll just have to deal with it."

Natasha frowns, clearly not happy with that, but subsides.

"So the best thing we can do right now is prepare for an invasion and try to damage their numbers before they get here," Fury sums up. "That what you're trying to tell me?"

"Yeah." Tony shrugs, vaguely apologetic, but not really. It sucks but there isn't anything they can do.

Fury sighs and rubs his forehead. "How long 'til they get here?"

"A month," Loki replies. "Perhaps more, unlikely less."

"Fucking hell," Fury curses. "You're all dismissed."

Tony raises an eyebrow; everybody else looks equally nonplussed, but they get up and leave the conference room. Then they stand around and exchange awkward looks.

"So, hey," Tony says, as usual taking a silence as a prompt for him to speak. "You wanna come live me in my tower or what?"

"Who, all of us?" Clint asks incredulously.

"No, bird brain, everyone but you." Tony rolls his eyes. "Ya all of you!"

"Uh, I'm not sure you would want-" Bruce starts uncomfortably but falls silent when Tony puts a hand on his shoulder and looks at him very seriously.

"Bruce. I'd love to have you around. You don't remember but we had some fantastic orgies-" Someone jostles him in the ribs but when Tony looks Loki doesn't even seem to be paying attention. The corners of his mouth twitching up involuntarily, Tony amends, "of science, orgies of science, okay, no clothes were removed. Also did I mention the part where the Hulk saved my life a couple of times? Yeah, I'm fond of him too."

Shifting on his feet Bruce casts his gaze around for a moment before landing back on Tony. "Alright," he says.

Tony fistpumps and whoops, then throws his arm over Bruce's shoulder and personally makes to lead him towards the aircraft hall. "You guys coming or not?" He calls back over his shoulder, and slowly the others start moving as well, following the two of them.

"So, I don't have my bag with me," Bruce eventually brings up, looking a mix of dubious and amused. Tony sighs and lets go of him.

"Run along then, I'll go ahead, yeah? I'm in the big tower with my name on it, you can't miss it."

"Are you ready to leave now?" Loki says a bit impatiently as Bruce leaves.

Tony blinks at him. "You stuck around to take me back? That's... really sweet actually." He steps up and curls his fingers in the collar of Loki's shirt, steps up on his toes to kiss him, eyes automatically falling shut. When he opens them again he's standing in his living room and Thor is looking at them from the sofa with a raised eyebrow.

"We will continue work on the device now," Loki says decisively, walking off towards the elevator and clearly expecting Tony to follow. Thor's expression very clearly says "is that's what they're calling it these days?" and for some reason it makes Tony flush. He wonders if that's why Loki transported them into the living room and not directly into the lab, to show Thor, but he doesn't ask.

They work for a bit on the device, then JARVIS announces that a helicopter is approaching so they leave the lab again and head towards the living room. Thor's still in there, watching TV – Loki quietly tells Tony that apparently his talk with Jane hadn't gone so well, and while Tony would love to know details (he did get to know Jane a little during the long loop) he knows when to leave a subject alone.

"Hey Thor," Tony calls out. "The others are about to crash the place, so you'll get some company."

"I look forward to meeting the Warriors of Midgard," Thor says earnestly.

Personally, Tony is very curious how this meeting will go. They've never met under circumstances that weren't basically the middle of a war; he's fairly sure their personalities are going to clash considerably more this time. Or less, with emotions not running as high.

The elevator pings, admitting Bruce, Rogers, Clint and Natasha into the room, all carrying duffle bags and looking varying degrees of awkward.

"Hey guys," Tony says brightly. "You've met Loki, this is Thor. Thor, these are Bruce Banner, Steve Rogers, Clint Barton and Natasha Romanov."

"We've sorta met," Clint says with a grin, clasping Thor's hand. "I watched you take down a bunch of our agents trying to get to your hammer. Impressive."

"My thanks," Thor says. "It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance."

They all make the usual small talk noises, hello, nice to meet you, blah blah blah, terribly boring. Tony can barely refrain from fidgeting.

"Right!" he says loudly once the talks starts to peter out to make room another awkward silence. "You guys are on the floor below, I got a couple of guest rooms there." Then he's a bit stumped because he doesn't actually know what to do with guests; he isn't really in the habit of having them. Unless it's a party or something, like the one to break the penthouse of the tower in (and, who is he kidding, boast with the view and top-notch design, but everything about the kind of society he necessarily belongs to is about this sort of thing), but that's different. He can do schmoozing.

"Dinner is in order, perhaps, yes?" Loki suggests calmly.

Life saver. "Yes, that. I think we better order in, I don't think we have enough stuff to cook for seven people, four of which eat unreasonably much if they can. Anyone in the mood for Thai?"

In the end Tony ends up having to dig up a menu on his tablet and hand it around; everybody picks some stuff and JARVIS orders it for them. The others head down to check out their quarters and return just in time for the food that's being brought up by one of the interns working at reception or something, Tony doesn't actually know where the minions come from. They spread out in the living room and turn on the TV, and all in all it's a bit awkward with nobody really knowing each other, but they're getting there, Tony thinks.

Over the next couple of days Tony, Loki and also Bruce now that he's there work on the device while the others participate in the more... physical kind of bonding. Meaning sparring, not orgies, sadly, Tony wouldn't have minded watching some of that. Loki sometimes drags Tony and Bruce off to the training room to participate – which for Bruce means standing stiffly by the exit and twitching every time somebody gets too close in the fear of someone trying to bring out the Hulk on purpose, even though Tony had promised he wouldn't. For Tony, this means getting into the suit and ending up having to moderate his strength until he extricates himself from it and inevitably ends up flat on his back, almost knocked out by Natasha and Clint. They keep making their point – Tony isn't half as useful without the suit as he's with it – and Tony is cranky for it, because who the hell do they think they are? He's anything but useless, he built break-through technology in a fucking cave. But whatever, that's their sort of mindset right now, he's not going to break a leg trying to change it.

And then the portal device is finished. For a location SHIELD picks – surprise – Antarctica. Everybody gets on the helicarrier and as they fly to the location a battle plan is made, just in case. Once that's done Tony has Loki take him back to the tower. He didn't bring the missiles he made with him to the helicarrier – he would've rather shot himself than leave them unattended on SHIELD-controlled property – and he's not going to let them out of his sight.

They're in two crates, secured as tightly as anything. Loki, seeing how uncomfortable (tense as fuck, rather) Tony is with it all, offers quietly to put a spell on the crates that ensures nobody will be able to open them. They're already unscanable and as break-in proof as possible but the offer still relieves Tony; he accepts, not exactly happily, but feeling a little better about the whole thing once Loki is done.

Loki takes him, the two crates plus a third with the device and the suitcase containing the tesseract to the base SHIELD established in the middle of icy fucking nowhere (and you gotta respect their resources and how fast they can be, despite everything). It's cold, even inside, but Tony prepared his suit accordingly (also made it secure for spaceflight, just in case, but that was ages ago), and Loki doesn't seem to notice at all, looking completely unimpressed by the subzero temperatures. Tony wonders what it's going to be like outside, minus twenty degrees Celsius plus wind.

He finds out when, after a quick reiteration of the plan – Tony and Loki are going to activate the device, Tony will send a probe through the portal to scope out what's going on at the other end and then, hopefully, he'll send his missiles through, plus a bunch of extras he made when he couldn't sleep. More probes, deep-space scanners, a couple of tiny locators that are going to attach themselves to whatever they find and hopefully alert them that the fleet is reaching Earth once they get in range. SHIELD has a couple of stuff they want to send through as well but Tony convinced them to let his stuff work its magic first; the only reason they let him is because of his reputation pre-Afghanistan, he's very aware. The irony.

Once the plan has been talked through in bullet points for the nth time they – as in Tony, Loki and Bruce – head out into the open, meaning Loki transports them and their stuff to the wide, open, unoccupied space SHIELD picked. Apparently Loki doesn't have much patience and when he has better things to do is of the opinion that, if you can teleport, why walk? Tony can get behind that. No pun intended. (Maybe a little.)

They set up the portal device, Loki – still looking unimpressed by the cold, though at least now he's wearing his leather get-up – puts the tesseract in and sends a pulse of his magic through to activate it. They designed it like that on purpose so nobody will be able to use it without Loki there. Well, Tony might with his arc reactor if he fiddled around with it a little, but other than that, it's completely useless to anyone else.

As during previous loops, a spear of light shoots into the sky and opens a portal, two of Tony's scanners hot on its heels. He has a tablet (built specifically for these temperatures) to directly view the transmitted footage and whistles, because while the Chitauri fleet is more spread out and doesn't look ready for battle, it's still as gigantic as he remembers. Without hesitation he opens the crates containing his missiles and activates them. On base, Fury and whoever else he has with him get to see as live as Tony does how the missiles – slim, harmless looking things – deploy into space and immediately head for the Leviathans. After the first explosion – a massive one, Tony went all out – the Chitauri definitely notice that something is up and start mobilizing but they're unprepared and too cumbersome; Tony's missiles keep hitting their targets too fast for them to keep up, much less evade.

Loki, looking over Tony's shoulder at the tablet, suddenly tenses as one of the live scanners shows what looks like a freely floating rock. "Can you make one of them hit that?"

Not asking any questions Tony just says "JARVIS" and lets his AI take care of the programming of one of the missiles; it's not difficult, just a couple of lines, Tony could've done it but he would've had to take off the glove for that and that's not really advisable in these temperatures.

The rock blows up into itty bitty pieces and Tony doesn't imagine Loki sagging against his back. It's mere seconds before he straightens again, taking his weight off Tony, but something definitely just happened.

Tony's missiles (he didn't give them a name, it doesn't exist if it doesn't have a name, does it?) are having to fly further and further to find Leviathans. They're programmed to fly into the beasts' mouths if at all possible and the destruction they wreak is immense, pieces of Leviathans and rock floating through space building what's starting to look more and more like a meteor field than a fleet. They keep trying to make overtures towards the portal but Tony's missiles are programmed to hit the first viable target big enough, that's their first priority; the second priority is refinement, such as hitting Leviathans especially where they're weak, which are their mouths. The missiles pack enough of a punch (actually, they pack as big a punch as Tony could manage without going nuclear, which is a whole fucking lot) to do damage even if they hit the armor, but better safe than sorry, right?

"Looks like they're mostly done for," Tony eventually comments. The coldness in his voice makes him shiver but he pretends it's from the temperatures outside the suit, which he feels despite everything, nothing else. He still sends the last missiles through on principle, they're going to hit something and there isn't anything out there that doesn't deserve to be hit, Loki assured him of that much (and a part of Tony wonders how this came about, how the fuck is he trusting Loki now with something like that, but he shuts that part down, he shuts any thought process on the missiles down that isn't about how to make them and how to keep them out of SHIELD's grabby hands). There are no spares around anywhere and Tony would rather they be all gone, as far away from him as possible.

They wait in silence for a bit, watching the footage on the tablet; there are nine cameras left out there now, programmed to attach themselves to anything big enough and showing motion. They fly through the debris and find nothing worthwhile.

"Well," Bruce says eventually, voice muffled from how tightly wrapped up he is. "That was sort of anticlimactic?"

"The important part comes now," Tony says, watching as Loki turns the device off, takes the tesseract out, puts it in the suitcase and seals the suitcase. "Analyzing of all the data." He can't see Bruce's eyes but he knows Bruce is looking forwards to that as much as Tony is.

Loki starts walking and Tony and Bruce follow. Once there is enough of a distance between them, the device and the crates Tony turns around, reaches out and blows it all up with a special pulse of energy that will leave nothing behind. Loki thoughtfully creates a shield around the explosion, making it even more destructive and ensuring that no pieces will fly off to be found and analyzed by SHIELD later.

Fury yells in his ear but Tony ignores it. They walk back to the base, it takes almost half an hour during which none of them says a word.

Back on base Fury meets them with – pardon the pun – fury in his eyes. He berates Tony about destroying the device but Tony just shrugs, picks up the suitcase the suit folded itself into and says, "I can build you one again anytime you need it, Nicky, but I wasn't going to leave it to your minions to get their paw prints all over it."

Fury growls and berates him some more, probably primarily because he's pissed and not because he truly believes he'll get anywhere, and then turns to Loki to demand the tesseract back.

Loki raises an eyebrow, lifts the suitcase and vanishes it into thin air. "No."

There's some more arguing, primarily Fury venting and Loki and Tony not taking any shit; towards the middle everybody is just sort of yelling at each other and all agents who pass them by walk a wide arc around them, but somehow by the end they reach some sort of consensus. Tony isn't sure what said consensus is but it involves them working together despite their mutual dislike, as adults do.

Then Tony and Loki join Bruce to fly back to the helicarrier – SHIELD is already dismantling the base, plausible deniability; if nothing is there nobody can claim what they might have witnessed actually happened. They probably have a bunch of explanations handy already, something like unusual aurora borealis or something, and took care of McMurdo as well. In the end, even the most remote place on the planet isn't truly remote after all.

After watching the footage from Tony's scanners individually several times Loki makes a primary assessment; he estimates they destroyed about a third of the Chitauri fleet, probably not more. It's not as good a result as Tony had hoped but they couldn't have done anything more, with the rest of the army clearly already having left. And they did accomplish a lot; by Tony's cautious assessment (he'll have his programs run through the images later, it's really hard to count with all the different angles and staggered time) he destroyed around thirty Leviathans and a couple of stationary holding stations. Plus the rock, he still hasn't asked Loki what's up with that but to be honest he doesn't intend to. It's clearly a delicate subject, just the image of that rock (and were those stairs chiseled into the stone?) makes his shoulders tense and Tony knows what that's like.

Video footage done (at least for them, Tony knows that SHIELD will work every frame over to exhaustion, but he has programs for that sort of thing and isn't really all that interested in the physiology of the Leviathans or whatever) they start working through the other scans. Loki had helped Tony modify a scanner to detect different kinds of magic but there is absolutely nothing, not the slightest blip.

Loki stares at the chart Tony pulled up on a big screen. He's biting his lower lip, expression unreadable but face white, one hand curled into a fist where it was lying fake-casually on his knee.

Tony clears his throat and puts his hand on Loki's leg, making him startle a little. He doesn't look at him when Loki turns to face him, because something about this clearly greatly disturbs Loki (and Tony has his theories on that) and he's not very good at having his weaknesses witnessed. Just like Tony, actually.

"That was a bit of a waste of time," Tony says with fake casualness and flicks the image away with a careless wave. "Let's look at the radio scans instead."

Loki doesn't say a word, just turns back to the screen, but he doesn't push Tony's hand off his leg and after Tony has been monologing for about ten minutes, more thinking out loud and letting his mouth run off on a tangent than anything else, he takes Tony's hand and entwines their fingers.

It's way past midnight when they finally call it a night and crawl into bed; they've done a cursory analysis of all available data and the following days will be filled with necessary, in-depth analysis, but they know enough for now. Tony has to practically drag Bruce off to his quarters because he seems to find it even more difficult to leave than Tony does (and not that Tony can't understand him because come on, this is deep-space analysis, literally where no man has ever gone or even seen before, Tony could pee his pants in excitement when he thinks about it like that) but they have a briefing in the morning that is mandatory to attend.

Morning – and with it, the briefing – comes way too early. Coulson wisely plays personal alarm for Tony, Loki and Bruce, though Tony is the least cooperative and almost has to be dragged physically out of bed. They're then lured into the conference room with the promise of tea (for Bruce and Loki and yes, there is decaf) and coffee (for Tony) and breakfast, which turns out to be cheap fake-croissants (Tony absolutely refuses them to consider them croissants, even though that's what they're claiming to be; they're just imposters and only somebody who has never seen a real croissants could actually consider them acceptable, honestly), bagels, cheese and jam. The rest of the team is already waiting and eating, so apparently this is a breakfast debrief. Tony is okay with that as long as he gets coffee.

"There is no honey," Loki remarks, sounding very unimpressed.

Thor visibly perks up. "Fear not, brother!" he says, and then he literally pulls a jar of honey out of... somewhere in the region of his hips, Tony honestly does not want to know.

Loki sniffs as he accepts it and starts drenching the croissants in honey, which Tony figures is probably the best thing that can happen to them. The jar of honey clearly is from the tower, it's some sort of expensive stuff (JARVIS only buys expensive things, or rather the shopping person he sends out for Tony does) and clearly more than the croissant deserves.

"You're such a snob," Bruce says eventually, "stop complaining about the croissants."

"They're an atrocity," Tony states, narrowing his eyes at the honey and seriously contemplating it. "A crime against anything baked, an insult to French pastries, an affront to real croissants."

Bruce rolls his eyes. "Shut up and drink your coffee."

Tony only obeys because he's happy that Bruce loosened up so much when talking to Tony. With other people he's still fairly reserved and Tony can't help but feel a little proud and a little smug about it all.

"Enough with the bickering," Fury barks as he strides into the room, startling Natasha who has been practicing napping with her eyes open. "What have you got?"

Tony quickly lifts his cup of coffee, hoping Bruce will take up talking instead, but Bruce just raises his eyebrow at him innocently.

With a sigh Tony gives in and briefly sums up the numbers – estimated count of Leviathans, estimated number of Chitauri warriors neutralized. Neutralized is one of these pretty, euphemistic words clouding the true meaning of the thing: Tony killed. Thousands. Yeah, they were Chitauri and they invaded Earth a couple of times, even if each of those times doesn't count anymore, it's still burned in his mind. They'd not merely been ruthless, they had enjoyed killing. Not overly so, not excessively, but they had enjoyed it. And Tony is already done for anyway, too many deaths and sorrow that he's responsible for, it's not like a couple thousands of Chitauri matter much in the long run. He can't view it as a good deed, but he can't really regret it either, not knowing what he knows – that the Chitauri are a warrior race who kill indiscriminately, for money or for resources and without mercy or compassion.

Fury grunts after he's gotten the numbers and an estimation by Loki of how much of the fleet they destroyed, what the likely consequences will be. "So basically now we're sitting ducks and they know it," he sums up. "You sure they won't get help somewhere?"

"Alien armies who are willing to fight another's war aren't exactly a common commodity," Loki replies. "It is unlikely they will get that sort of help."

"So all that's left to do is to prepare for a war," Fury concludes. He doesn't look at Tony but Tony knows he'll be approached, and the worst is he doesn't know what he'll say. He wants to say no, knows that it'd be better for him if he did, but he's not sure he really will. Not if the whole planet is at stake.

They discuss battle strategy a little, what they'll do when the army gets there, but in the end there isn't much they can do without further intel, which they'll only get once the army reaches them. Tony agrees to build a deep space early warning system but apart from that, there isn't much to do for him (or the rest of them). Fury now has to debrief a couple of governments and they'll have to prepare for war.

They disband; Steve and Bruce come back to the tower with Tony, Loki and Thor while Natasha, Clint and Coulson stay with SHIELD; they have work to do. As soon as they're back at the tower Loki takes hold of Tony's wrist and drags him off into his bedroom. Tony goes through a number of emotions in rapid success; surprise, confusion disbelief, realization, lust, apprehension, a bit of wariness, but it turns out the plan isn't to throw Tony onto the bed and ravish him. All Loki seems to want is the privacy, because as soon as the door clicks shut after them he focuses his narrowed eyes on Tony and demands, "What is it?"

That's not really very much to go on, so Tony raises an eyebrow. "What's what? You gotta be a bit more clear there."

Impatiently Loki rolls his eyes. "You are... something has been wrong with you for a couple of days now." Taking hold of Tony's chin he steps closer, focusing completely on him, Tony can feel it. "It is related to those missiles you made."

Tony flinches. Fuck. Of course Loki would figure it out, he should have known.

"Tell me," Loki orders.

"I'm not... it's nothing, I'm fine." A part of Tony knows that trying to evade is futile, of course. Loki has caught on and if he is anything, it's stubborn; he won't let it go.

An unhappy frown mars Loki's face. "Stark," he says slowly, voice cold. "You are neck deep in a number of my problems. You will tell me this about you."

Ah, a quid pro quo situation. Tony can deal a bit better with that, though there's a part of him that is for the worse knowing that that's what this is about. But he understands Loki's need to balance it out and has to admit that it's only fair.

Taking a step back, forcing Loki to let go of his face, Tony swallows. "Barton told you about me, right? About Afghanistan?"

"He told me that you were held captive by enemies," Loki replies. "I was not overly interested in the details, at the time." Meaning he is now.

"Right." Tony swallows again, takes a deep breath. "They kidnapped me. They were sent by my business partner and sort of ersatz-father but I didn't know that at the time. Anyways, they caught me, I got injured in the process, that's how I got this." He taps the arc reactor and closes his eyes, because he knows he's not making sense, he's jumping too much. "They kidnapped me with the intention of forcing me to make weapons for them. I used to lead a weapons company, I made... war instruments, basically. Guns, rocket launchers, missiles, grenades, more covert stuff; my company was involved in all of it, with me right at the top. And we were the best. But my business partner double-crossed me and our country; he sold my weapons – my company's weapons – to our enemies in order to boost sales figures. Basically... for twenty years I killed people, made sure others could kill people very efficiently, and by my calculation... around eighty percent of the deaths resulting from my weaponry were either innocents or my own people." For a moment he flounders, not remembering what he's trying to say, the taste of dust on his tongue, but then he catches himself, curls his toes in his boots and absently decides that he's going to take them off as soon as possible. "When I got out I swore that I was forever out of the weapons industry. That I'd never make weapons again. But I did, just now. Sure, I didn't design them freshly, but I still made them."

"You compromised yourself," Loki says quietly from up close, hand sliding into Tony's hair. "For your ultimate goal, you compromised yourself. To... protect your people?"

"Yeah." Tony clears his throat, doesn't open his eyes.

"Why?"

Tony squeezes his eyes shut tighter. "I just want this to be over. I don't want anyone to die. I don't want the Chitauri to come and kill my people. I want for this fucking loop to... stop."

"And you are making it so," Loki says. "You and I are making it so. What is more important, the upholding of your principles or the protection of your people, the prevention of their death? It is commendable that you sacrificed your own ideals for the good of the many. You made the right decision, as their leader. The responsible decision."

"I'm not their leader," Tony rasps. "I'm not... anyone."

"You are their leader," Loki replies. "They listen to you. They might not like you, they might not support you, but they respect your opinion and assessments, and they follow your ideas. Even Director Fury does."

Something touches Tony's forehead; Loki's forehead, Tony realizes a moment later when Loki's breath fans over his face.

"I just... if I believed in that, I'd be sure that I'm going to hell. Eternal damnation and torture and all that, for all that I've done."

"Hell as Christianity imagines it does not exist," Loki murmurs. "There is Niflheim where those who did not die a notable or heroic death go. It is a land of ice and snow, and there is no eternal torture, I promise you that. My daughter reigns in that realm." He presses a light kiss to Tony's mouth. "It does not matter the things you did but why you did them. A lifetime of deeds that brought misfortune and sorrow upon others can be remedied if one realizes their mistakes and strives to correct them. And even if despite everything you awake in Niflheim, I promise you, my daughter is not cruel."

Loki is comforting him, Tony realizes very belatedly. He's trying to make Tony feel better, and he does make sense, a little, even if Tony can't believe that he'll get off that easily for all the wrongs he did. Still, Loki makes a compelling argument, far more than anybody else Tony has spoken to about this has (which amounts to two people, all in all, meaning Pepper and Rhodey), not only because he has insider info (and it's sort of hard to discount it for the fact that it's Norse religion in the face of the reality of Norse deities being real and eating his poptarts) but because he speaks in the manner of somebody who... who needs to believe what he's saying.

Loki isn't just talking to Tony, he realizes abruptly. He's also talking to himself.

Oddly, that's what makes Tony feel better more than anything else Loki has said. Maybe it's the fact that he isn't alone, that somebody understands him because they've fucked up epically too. Actually, that's probably it; with Pepper and Rhodey both Tony had gotten the impression that they didn't really understand, even though Rhodey was far better equipped to than Pepper, what with being a soldier and all that. Maybe that's why Tony feels so drawn to Bruce, under everything else; because Bruce is as weighed down by guilt as Tony is, even though he has far less blame to carry than Tony, in Tony's opinion.

He takes a deep breath and nods, slowly so as not to dislodge Loki. "Yeah," he says roughly, clears his throat. "Yeah."

A knock on the door is what finally makes them pull apart, some indefinite time later. "Brother?" Thor calls out. "Have you discussed our leaving with Tony Stark?"

"Leaving?" Tony repeats, starting to frown. "Where-" Oh, right, of course. Asgard. There's this unfinished business Thor and Loki still have to take care of, how could he forget?

"We urgently need to bring the Allfather up to speed on current events," Loki explains, not looking entirely happy about it. Tony isn't at all happy either; he knows that it's necessary but he also remembers all those loops that ended because Odin sentenced his adoptive son to death. It's natural he'd be worried.

"I really don't like it," Tony admits with a scowl. "If he's going to kill you again... well, at least you won't stay dead, but if he does..."

"I won't stay dead," Loki says firmly. "I will again try to make him listen, and this time I have the advantage of not having killed anyone – here – and of having worked with you. At most, he will expel me to Jötunheimr again."

"Where you got killed as well, last time," Tony reminds and immediately feels bad at the way Loki's face darkens.

"That will not happen again." Loki says like a vow. "I have learned much from my brief excursion to Jötunheimr." He looks thoughtful, a calculating expression on his face that makes Tony worried, but not about him, for him, and maybe that's fucked up but he doesn't care.

"So you're leaving." He clears his throat, tightens his grip on Loki's hand that somehow got tangled up with his. "Promise you'll stay in contact, tell me how it's going. I don't think I could deal with not knowing."

Loki frowns. "How? It is very unlikely the Allfather will allow me to visit you while my trial is underway."

"That is why we on Midgard invented this handy little device, we call it mobile phone," Tony replies, half-teasing; Loki knows what a mobile phone is. "If I give you one, can you make it so you can call me even from Asgard? With a spell or something?"

At first Loki looks incredulous, then his expression morphs into one Tony knows very well; curiosity and calculation as his mind starts to race, trying to figure it out. "I might be able to," Loki murmurs, "with a couple of crystals…" he thinks for a moment until Thor knocks on the door again, calling questioningly for Loki. Then he sighs. "Give me two such devices, I shall make it possible. Thor will bring one to you once it is done."

Ah, Tony can do that. While he personally isn't in the habit of having spare StarkPhones lying around, his company sometimes distributes them as company phones so all he has to do is take the elevator downstairs and get a couple. He gets three to be on the safe side, in case Loki accidentally destroys one, though he phrases it a bit more diplomatically by saying it's for Loki to figure out the tech so the modification will be easier. Thor and Loki are already waiting in the living room, in their Asgardian leather garb, and as soon as Tony hands the three phones over Thor makes as if to take hold of Loki's shoulder, clearly ready for travel. A scathing look from Loki makes him pull back as if burned and then Loki pulls Tony close for an absolutely filthy kiss. Then he teleports himself and his brother away without another word, leaving Tony out of breath and confused and feeling strangely wobbly.

Rogers awkwardly clearing his throat pulls him out of his confused thoughts. "So, you and Loki…" Rogers starts and then clearly doesn't know how to finish that sentence because he's too mortified to say anything remotely alluding to sex.

"Yeah," Tony says, because that's easier than explaining that not really, that he doesn't really know what's going on, if this is good, if he's fucking up, if he's setting himself up for a world of hurt.

*

Loki being gone doesn't make anything easier, doesn't mean Tony has any less shit to do. The day after the brothers leave Fury calls Tony in the middle of the night, sounding as pissed as Tony's ever heard him, and orders him to cut up a nice video of the footage from the portal because apparently bureaucrats need the visual aid to actually believe the shit that is coming out of Fury's mouth and who the fuck is he anyway, their fucking clown or entertainer or what, because they sure ain't listening and this is all just a huge waste of time and Jesus fucking Christ on a stick.

Enjoying himself a little too much considering how close to exploding on him Fury is right now, Tony grins before affecting a petulant tone. "Why me? Don't you have minions for that sort of thing?"

"None of them are such a huge drama queen as you, Stark!" Fury bellows and hangs up on him.

Well, Tony can't really argue the point, SHIELD tends to attract quiet and efficient to quiet and fucking useless, considerably more of the latter than the former. So Tony makes a video of the footage and for shits and giggles puts a song under it. Or less for that, really, he thinks as he watches the finished product, whole body going cold when he hears the lyrics "how I hate what I have become" and "I, a whore for the cold world". A bit Freudian, yeah. So he puts a new song in; besides, this one doesn't really fit anyway, it has too many quiet bits. That's what throws him off about Nightwish; there's loud, fast bits and then slow, almost tranquil bits. You can never really take them at face value.

Picking the song "Why so serious?" from the Dark Knight soundtrack is maybe also a bit Freudian, but by that point Tony doesn't give a fuck, just sends off the finished product goes to bed.

He wakes up to a call from Fury, telling him good job, I knew you could do it, which isn't a compliment at all, and then telling him to make it shorter because "stupid ass politicians have a fucking short attention span, fuck". Tony plays with the thought of using "For Whom The Bell Tolls" or "Carry On My Wayward Son" but he watches both and… no. By that point Tony is really growing bored with it – that's what he calls it, boredom, that's what makes his hands shake the more he watches it, the more he sees how fucking efficient and magnificent his missiles are, he really should name them-

He should quit, but he can't, he needs to get this done and over with, he needs to get done. "Dream is Collapsing" is also fucking Freudian and Tony gives up pretending it's not, but at least it doesn't have any lyrics that will proclaim it to the world. He makes the video short, figuring two and a half minutes should be enough to get the gist of it, if they want more they can watch the fucking long one.

"What's wrong?" Rogers asks, frown marring his forehead, when Tony comes into the kitchen after sending the finished shorter video off to Fury with a couple choice expletives.

Tony growls. "Fury had me make him a fucking video all night and morning, this is what film classes are for, bloody hell. Next time he can make the fucking video himself."

"What video?" Bruce asks. He and Rogers were apparently sitting together and conversing over a cup of tea and it doesn't exactly improve Tony's mood, that Rogers is sitting here all cozying up to Bruce while Tony has to fucking- watch a dream collapse.

Wordlessly, he fishes a tablet from some cupboard (he has them spread all around his place, too lazy to only use one or two because he always forgets where he puts them) and hands it to Bruce; JARVIS wordlessly obliges Tony in putting the video on screen for him. This is why Tony couldn't live without JARVIS anymore. Not the convenience, because while yeah, that's really nice and all but he's not incapable of living on his own, and neither is it about the calculations that would go much slower if Tony had to make them himself or even if he had to input them into some computer first, no. The fact that JARVIS knows him. He's more than just an intelligent computer; he takes his own initiative sometimes when he sees that that's what Tony needs.

Tony watches as Bruce and Rogers bend over the tablet as the video starts, then turns around and makes himself some Irish coffee.

"Sometimes the technology here makes me feel like I'm on a different planet instead of just a different century," Rogers says quietly when the video is done. Tony tries really hard not to listen for any judgment in there, doesn't allow himself to wonder if Rogers is referring to the tablet, the quality of the video, how the video was made, that it was made in space, the missiles... doesn't think about any of that.

Quietly, Bruce puts the tablet aside. His gaze is shrewd when it settles on Tony, but he doesn't say a word, just says, "What does he need it for?"

"Politicians with the attention spans of three years old kids," Tony replies. "I don't know, apparently they need visual aid to actually believe a word coming from his mouth, and while I understand the impulse, well. Politics, right? They can't just do stuff, they have to debate about the technicalities first before they get to anything important."

Bruce and Rogers both nod knowingly.

It annoys Tony for some reason, that they nod synchronously, so he scowls and wanders off, throwing back a "right, I'm off to bed then" over his shoulder.

When he wakes up the sky is growing darker outside and Tony finds Bruce in the living room with a book, no Rogers to be found. He lowers the book when Tony comes in and throws himself onto the sofa, a bag of chips in hand. "That's not a proper meal," Bruce frowns.

Tony shrugs. "When do I eat proper meals?"

Apparently that's not a satisfying reply, because Bruce raises an eyebrow and says "now" before heading off into the kitchen. A little curious, but not enough to actually get up and check, Tony listens to what he's doing; taking something out of the fridge and putting it in the microwave, it sounds like.

When Bruce returns he's carrying a plate containing rice risotto with stuff. He hands it and a fork over to Tony and raises his eyebrow. It's an order as clear as if he'd said it and Tony isn't in the mood to be contrary; the spark of it he'd felt before his nap has quietly made room for something like depression, except for how his depression generally comes with denial that can quickly morph into anger or something like self-destructive euphoria, depending how much alcohol he applies to it.

"It's good," he says, chewing slowly.

"Steve and I made it," Bruce says. "We made some for you but we figured you'd need the sleep." He sits down on the other end of the sofa, book seemingly forgotten, and stares at Tony for a long moment. Tony studiously ignores it.

Eventually Bruce breaks the silence. "I know we don't really know each other very well," he says, "or at least I think so? But you've been kind to me in a way people haven't been kind to me in a long time, maybe never, not knowing who- what I am, and I would like to return the favor if you let me." Here he pauses as if waiting for Tony to say something, but, uh, no. Not really Tony's thing, confessing his problems or whatever. "Something is clearly bothering you, Tony," Bruce continues when Tony keeps staring at his plate, chewing slowly. "And if I had to hazard a guess, I would say it's about those missiles."

Tony freezes and raises his eyes, expression probably akin to a deer caught in the headlights. He wouldn't have thought Bruce would get it. Then again, how fucking hard to get is it, really? "That's quite a leap to make," he stalls even though it isn't, trying to think of something else to say, something to cover it up with, but Bruce won't let him.

"Not really," he says. "It was clearly about the video, and I figure if it were just about Fury ordering you to make it you would've told him to stuff it and be done with it, it wasn't in itself such a huge thing. Besides... everybody can sort of guess why you shut the weapons manufactory of Stark Industries down."

Yeah, everybody indeed can sort of guess. Many people have done so, if not figuring out the direct cause (generally they fill the gap with explanations like PTSD or somesuch) at least being able to connect the dots with three months of imprisonment in Afghanistan not leaving much to the imagination, really. Tony generally smiles wide enough to grit his teeth and says "none of your business" and "if you think you can lead my company so much better than I, why don't you make your own and beat me?" a lot.

"Tony," Bruce says gently, leaning in, and oh, Tony zoned out. Woops. "If you don't want to talk about it, that's okay. But I want you to know that I'm there for you if you do."

"Yeah, thanks," Tony says and stuffs more risotto in his mouth. It tastes okay.

He doesn't intend to take Bruce up on the offer, but the next day JARVIS finds files in SHIELD's database that are an in-depth analysis of Tony's missiles, plus tentative suggestions on how to replicate them. He explodes a little, smashes some things in his lab, calls Fury to yell at him, and it's not often someone manages to not let Fury get a word in edgewise but Tony does it. He hangs up when Fury yells back "what did you fucking expect?" and seriously considers deleting all his files, burning his tower down, collapsing his company, moving to Namibia and helping build libraries for kids. JARVIS eventually ejects him from the lab, saying that if he doesn't Tony will do something he'll regret later (Tony contests the point but DUM-E comes at him with the fire extinguisher and JARVIS has shut everything down already anyway, so there's no point in anything). Tony explodes out of the elevator and makes a beeline for the kitchen, where he starts to smash plates and cups and anything that will make a satisfyingly loud noise when it crashes, that will shatter on the floor. He doesn't notice that he's not wearing shoes or that he's yelling and maybe crying until strong arms wrap around his chest and forcefully lift him off the floor.

It's Rogers – of course it is – and he carries Tony effortlessly into the living room, despite the fact that Tony is fighting his grip and screeching like a madman. Bruce is waiting in there, expression grim and worried, an emergency kit, a couple of towels and a bowl of water next to him.

"You're hurting yourself, Tony!" Rogers says, and he sounds genuinely worried, the way Bruce looks.

Somehow it makes Tony go slack in his arms, and ironically that's what almost makes Rogers drop him, when he goes completely pliant. They put him on the sofa and Tony stares up at the ceiling and thinks about blowing it off, he wants to see the sky, maybe he could put glass in everywhere, but if he did that he'd have to hire somebody to crawl around and wash it all the time because a dirty glass ceiling is pointless.

Bruce is crouching by his feet and pulling his socks off. He and Steve are talking, worried voices a sort of background noise as Tony thinks, tries not to, thinks. He should never have made the missiles, should never have gone back to it; now they think he's back in the game they'll try to strong-arm him into making more. They'll recreate the missiles, maybe; not the intelligent target finders, they're too good, too specific, too Tony, and damn if that thought doesn't make him sick.

He barely manages to lean over the side of the sofa before he's throwing up. Immediately somebody is there, a hand supporting his chest so he won't fall off and another on the back of his neck, and a little later someone helps Tony wipe his mouth with a warm washcloth, gives him something to drink to clear the taste out of his mouth.

They're talking to him but Tony refuses to listen.

Once Tony is settled back on his back again Bruce goes back to pulling glass shards out of his feet, Tony can hear it, the almost silent plink as they drop into a bowl. He must have anaesthetized his feet, because Tony can't feel a thing. His head is on a pillow, as are his feet, so Tony can watch Bruce's calm, concentrated expression. Steve is moving around them, wiping up the mess Tony made, moving on cursorily cleaning up the kitchen afterwards because eventually all Tony can hear anymore is the clanking of shards being swept together. It's strangely hypnotic, and also Freudian, or possibly just symbolic, a nice metaphor. Tony collapsed. His dream collapsed. Maybe they're one in the same, or nothing at all alike – the latter seems more likely to him, he thinks.

Eventually Bruce is done, wraps up Tony's feet and leaves, taking the shards and bowl and first aid kit with him. Maybe it's not a first aid kit after all though, because Tony doesn't think stitches count as first aid and Bruce definitely stitched something up there. It's going to hurt like a motherfucker once the anesthetic fades. Walking is probably not an option for the next couple of days.

"JARVIS, I need a wheelchair," Tony murmurs.

"Of course, sir," JARVIS says, and Tony thinks he sounds relieved.

"You alright there, JARV?"

"Yes, sir. What about you?"

Tony laughs and doesn't care that it hurts his throat.

"What's going on, Tony?" Bruce asks quietly from the doorway. He moves into Tony's line of vision before walking around the sofa and taking a seat in the armchair. Tony thinks he can see Rogers in the corner of his eyes, the sweeping and clattering of shards definitely stopped, but he doesn't look to make sure.

"SHIELD's trying to figure out how I made the missiles to make their own," Tony says quietly. "Should've expected that. Never should've made them."

Bruce says nothing, and ironically, that silence is what spurs Tony on to explain more than any attempt at consolation could have.

"I stopped for a reason, you know? I'm not doing that shit anymore, making things that kill people. Making things that other people can use to kill people," he corrects himself, because the suit can definitely kill people. "They always abuse it. I used to think I could control it, but clearly I couldn't."

"And they don't listen," Bruce says quietly. "You're saying that you can't, you won't, but they just want you to do it again, right?"

Ah, of course Bruce would understand. In a way, Bruce is a lethal weapon, or at least that's definitely how he sees himself and how some people see him, even if Tony doesn't.

"And if I hadn't this time, we would've been so fucked. I did the calculations, I could've sent a nuclear bomb through, but they would've been too far spread out for it to do enough harm, they weren't thoughtfully congregated around the wormhole like last time. And we definitely would've had to shut the portal before we could assess the damage, so there would've been far too much uncertainty." Tony takes a breath, closes his eyes. "One way or the other, I would've been fucked. I'm fucked now. I don't know how I manage to get into this crap." He never should have started making weapons at all, but it's far too late for that realization. Decades too late. Even if he went back in time and told himself not to, he wouldn't listen; Tony knows the person he'd been in his late teens, rattling around with the need to find anything, any sort of meaning, a means to prove himself to his dead father and the world. In a way he's still rattling around like that, though by this point he's mostly used to it and he's managed to fill the space in himself somewhat, with Iron Man, arc reactor tech, now this team. Loki, maybe.

Bruce sighs and reaches out, puts a hand on Tony's forehead. "It's not your responsibility what others do. You aren't building the missiles and putting them in their hands; you made them, kept them tightly locked up and fired them yourself, and then you made sure they wouldn't get any piece of them. There's absolutely nothing else you could have done, and you can't prevent them from trying to figure out how you made them, but you don't have to. People will always build weapons, Tony, and as much as we would like for them to stop, they won't, no matter what we say or do. They will do it anyway, and it's not your fault and it most certainly is not your responsibility."

"I agree," Rogers says quietly from the doorway; now Tony can't help but glance over at him and sees him leaning against the frame of the door, arms crossed and expression compassionate. "You can't blame yourself for everything that's wrong in the world. It's harmful, counterproductive and pointless. All you can do is control yourself and the things you put out into the world, and from what I know about you, you're doing a good job at that."

Wow, Captain America just told him that he's doing a good job. The eight years old in Tony is peeing himself with excitement.

The thirty-eight years old is a lot more weary and only manages a weak smile. "Thanks."

Bruce sighs and pats him on the shoulder. "You really did a number on your feet, but it's not too bad, the socks protected you somewhat. Still, you should try to put your weight on them as little as possible for the next couple of days." He holds out a glass of water and a white pill. "Take this, and then I suggest we watch some movies, I hear I missed a lot while I was... away."

Tony swallows the pill with a couple mouthfuls of water before he nods and settles back into the sofa. "Yeah, you did. JARVIS, give me... something that came out within the last three years."

JARVIS puts on the most recent James Bond and everyone settles in to watch it.

When Tony wakes up he feels thoroughly foolish and humiliated. He's in his bed, which means Rogers carried him there, a knowledge that doesn't help and in fact only strengthens the feeling. Also he has a migraine and his feet hurt like a motherfucker. Clearly, Tony doesn't have much dignity left, so he literally crawls into the bathroom for a sitting shower, some painkillers and an attempt to make himself feel like a human again.

"JARVIS, that wheelchair coming?" he asks when faced with the prospect of having to crawl back into his room naked. That could have been planned with more foresight.

"You do realize, sir, that wheelchairs require to be fitted?" JARVIS asks sweetly.

Tony growls and decides to make his own instead of waiting for ages or throw a lot of money at somebody for being put at the top of the list. After he's crawled around naked, which he's never done before. Well, new experiences and all.

Once he's finally made it to his lab, dressed and uncaffeinated because he didn't feel like making a detour to the kitchen, he refines the booster he uses for the suit, taking a considerable amount of power away from the original and activating them via a button. Once satisfied with the whole mechanism he attaches two to one of this office chairs and then practices using them to drive around the lab. It's pretty cool, if he does say so himself.

"Mr. Stark, Dr. Banner wishes to speak with you," JARVIS eventually pulls Tony away from the testing. (That's what he calls it, testing, not playing around the way JARVIS and Pepper do.)

He drives over to the lab door and grins at Bruce through the glass while the door opens. Bruce doesn't come in, respecting the sanctity of the private lab the way only someone who understands does.

"Are you coming to breakfast?" Bruce asks, but the way he raises his eyebrow suggests it's less of a question and more of a… subtle order.

A bit confused by that – this is the first time Bruce bothers coming to the lab to invite Tony to join a meal, though he has asked before – Tony nevertheless agrees, shuts his lab down with a few instructions to JARVIS and then drives into the elevator.

"That's pretty ingenious," Bruce comments, entering after him. "How are you feeling?"

Tony shrugs. "Alright." He doesn't feel like going into detail because it will only bring yesterday's episode more clearly to Bruce's mind. Not that it isn't there already, though Bruce does avoid glancing at Tony in concern, which Tony rather appreciates.

"Morning," Rogers says cheerfully when Tony and Bruce enter the kitchen, where he's making pancakes and scrambled eggs simultaneously, though thankfully in different pans.

"Listen," Tony says, not wanting to but it needs to be said and hopefully they can put this all behind themselves after. "I'm sorry about yesterday."

He's really not used to people being present when he has one of his episodes. Usually he wakes up the next day in the middle of chaos with the taste of alcohol still at the back of his throat and various minor injuries, but he hasn't yet tried to kill himself so he figures it's all fine.

"Don't worry about it," Rogers says, glancing at him. Bruce nods and briefly puts his hand on Tony's shoulder, warm and sort of heavy but not claustrophobia-inducing.

They don't ever talk about it again. They eat breakfast and then Tony introduces the both of them to his xbox; Bruce checks up on his feet and they have lunch, and then dinner. It's the first time Tony feels like the camaraderie he feels towards them (inevitably, considering the shit they've gone through together) being returned. He can't claim he hasn't missed it, because he really, really has.

When he lies in bed that night he thinks about it, how he went from being a relatively independent loner to such a team player. It can't just be the whole war thing, because Tony doesn't just respect them (yes, even Coulson, the guy looks unassuming but is scarily badass) as fighters, he genuinely likes them, even Natasha, whom he started out feeling an understandable dislike (and reluctant crush, but better not mention that ever again) for, and Rogers – Steve, he wants to be called – who is more or less abstractly connected to a fair number of Tony's most deeply-rooted issues. It makes Tony wonder if he was actually living with the loneliness he denied all his life, as many people, Pepper and Rhodey included, had always suggested. He hates that thought, doesn't like being wrong at all, but ignoring evidence out of stubbornness goes even more against his nature.

Unwittingly, Tony thinks of Loki. Clearly he hasn't had many friends either, going by Thor's admitting that nobody really grieved for him. Nobody came for him either, he didn't have his own Yinsen to keep him sane. What would Tony have done in his situation?

It's not a question to which an answer can be found, but he still thinks about it deep into the night.

He doesn't delete SHIELD's files on his missiles. It's too late to pretend he hasn't seen them, but he decides not to touch them, just has JARVIS supervise. It's the easiest way to remain in control, which would become more difficult if he asserted himself by deleting or modifying the files. SHIELD won't stop, they'll simply try harder to hide what they're doing from Tony. This is easier to monitor.

Fury doesn't contact him for nearly a week despite pressing matters (Tony is butt-deep in their files now and knows that politicians are demanding for him) which Tony figures is as much as an apology as he'll get. One thing he's learned is that, despite all ruthlessness and goal-orientation, Fury knows when he's fucking up. He'll still do it and he won't lose any sleep over it, but he won't shrug it off completely either. Tony thinks of vintage Captain America cards, sullied with blood.

After his six day grace period Tony gets thrown right into the middle of it. He has to go to meeting after meeting, with the Minister of Defense, the president, other countries' presidents or Prime Ministers. The whole planet is mobilizing covertly and they want Tony personally to tell them against who and how. All of them ask for weapons, and Tony smiles and says "I think what we have right now is destructive enough" and in his head makes prototypes of unmanned weapons stations to be put in space and considers shooting himself to start all over again, let the invasion happen. Lots of people will die but it stands to reason they will too during the upcoming invasion, and at least nobody will demand for him to whore himself out all over again. It's selfish and Tony doesn't do it, but he thinks about it, probably more than is healthy. And if he doesn't wake up again, well.

Two weeks after he left, the day before there'll be an important, international conference to decide on whether or not to tell the public (Tony thinks that's ludicrous, of course they have to tell them, it's not like people are going to overlook the alien ships that'll be in their sky in two weeks) Tony wakes up to a StarkPhone on his nightstand. The casing has been removed and replaced with a half milky, half see-through crystal that has blue waves of energy flittering beneath its surface rhythmically. Knowing immediately what this is about Tony presses the call button without giving himself any time to think about it.

Almost immediately, Loki picks up. "Hello," he says, voice calm.

"Hey," Tony breathes, doing a much worse job at appearing nonchalant. "How are you?"

"Better than expected," Loki replies honestly with a straight-forwardness he rarely displays where his own person and feelings are concerned.

That has to be good, even considering Loki's seemingly inborn pessimism. "How's the trial thing going?"

"It has been put on hold," Loki informs him, "in order to fully concentrate on the preparations for war."

Tony hums to indicate he's listening and revels in the fact that he's calling somebody in a different galaxy. There's no delay or cracking in the line, it's like Loki is somewhere in the country.

"The Allfather wishes to hear you," Loki says, abruptly pulling Tony out of his marveling.

"What? When? Now? Why?"

Loki makes an amused noise. "As the Wheel's magic is too strong for even Heimdall's all-seeing eye, he wishes for you to tell him what transpired. After the invasion, once my trial resumes."

Well, that at least means Tony won't have to deal with it now. "Okay, I can do that. Wait, does that mean you guys will get involved in the invasion business too?"

"Yes," Loki confirms. "Thanos is a great enemy of ours. It is best to destroy his army now, lest they regroup and attack Asgard. There are many treasures here that he wishes to possess. It would be absolutely fatal if he got ahold of some of them."

Ah, so not entirely altruistic notions on part of the Æsir then, but absurdly, that's what reassures Tony. He nods despite knowing that Loki can't see him and then asks a couple of detailed question that they'll need to know – what is the number of Æsir warriors, the fighting power of one of them, how in general should they plan for them. Loki relays the information calmly in a way that for some reason excites Tony a little, something about how in control and how efficient Loki is making goose bumps break out over his skin. Until Loki says, "Though Thor will be the general of this war, so you will of course have to speak to him."

Tony frowns. "Why him and not you?" It slips out before he can think about it and belatedly he thinks maybe he really should've thought about that before he said it so carelessly.

There is a silence on the other end of the line. Eventually, Loki says very calmly, "It always is Thor. Though he knows to rely on my advice as a tactician, at least, and he is a competent general himself."

"At least something," Tony snorts, not hiding his disapproval on Loki's behalf.

"The Allfather wishes for me to speak to the Jötunn," Loki says suddenly.

"What?" Tony sits up, clutches the phone tightly in one hand. "The guys who really want to kill you? Why the hell does he want that?"

"For that very reason, I assume," Loki replies silkily, then sighs. "To make peace between the realms. Apparently the Jötunn do not know that I am... related. When I went back the first time they thought I had assumed their form as an insult. That I have not changes the circumstances of the accusations they bring forward against me. At this point in time, they consider my killing of King Laufey as regicide by a Son of Odin, instead of patricide by the son Laufey cast away to die as a babe."

Okay, Tony didn't know that. The part where Loki is Laufey's son; he had known that Loki killed him, when Loki and Thor both had told him the story they had each barely wasted a throwaway line on Loki's wayward plan to prove his worth by killing King Laufey in front of Odin. He wonders whether Thor knows at all.

He knows better than to ask or acknowledge what Loki just told them in any way. "And... what? It will make the Jötunn feel better knowing that you killed your biological father instead of a Prince of Asgard killing the King of Jötunheimr?"

"Yes, apparently," Loki says. "The rules of Jötunheimr are... savage. Very different from Asgard. Odin does not know how kindly the Jötunn will react to that knowledge, but he wishes for me to tell them nevertheless."

"And hey, if you die, at least it won't be permanent?" Tony growls. "That what he thinking? Jesus fuck."

"I do not know," Loki reveals very quietly. "I never... I was never able to understand what he was thinking."

"Then don't try to take it into consideration," Tony advises bluntly. "Do what's best for yourself. I mean when you didn't die he didn't exactly waste much resources on trying to find out whether you were truly dead or not, did he?"

Loki makes a noise that abruptly makes Tony recall the sensitivity of the topic. He feels bad for being so blunt; he's annoyed at Odin, who clearly won't making for the Father of the Year award anytime soon but Loki is the one who has to suffer for it.

"Hey," he says, gentling his voice. "You don't need him anyway. We'll get this Thanos thing over with, and then there'll be your trial, and afterwards, one way or another you'll be done with him."

"I wonder," Loki whispers. "I wonder whether he postponed the trial because he knows if he sentences me to death right now, it will not be permanent."

A shiver runs down Tony's back. "If he does... do you really think he'd be that ruthless?"

"I do not know," Loki admits, voice very quiet.

Tony takes a deep breath. He knows he's supposed to be reassuring now, but how can he if he has no idea either? Is he supposed to lie? As if that's any sort of comfort at all. "If he is... if that's truly it... I don't think he'll get away with it. I don't know, I'll figure something out, okay? Maybe put some sort of claim on you via diplomatic relations or something, I mean you'll in effect have played a big part in saving the planet, or maybe I can have Fury put you on trial as well for destroying the base. He can't kill you if we have some sort of legitimate claim on you, can he? It's bad diplomacy."

"I..." Loki sounds lost. "I truly don't know, Tony."

"I'll figure something out," Tony says again. "We can figure something out together when you come here. ...you will come here, won't you? After the Jötunheimr thing?"

"Yes. Thor will come in a couple of days to discuss pooling our resources," Loki tells him, more secure now that they're back on safe ground. "And I will come afterwards. He needs me to strategize; he is good enough himself, but he is not really shrewd enough, especially considering who our enemy is. Besides, I simply know the enemy best."

Tony licks his lips. "When are you going to go?"

"Soon. Today."

"Want to get it over with quickly, do you?" he says, careful not to make it sound teasing, like a joke.

"Yes," Loki says. "There is no point in us continuing our efforts if the Jötunn will simply kill me either way."

That's not exactly what Tony meant, and it is a good point, but the casual way Loki speaks of his own execution chases a shiver down Tony's back. It's probably a side-effect of having been executed again and again, but that doesn't mean Tony feels at all comfortable with it.

"I really hope they don't," he says quietly. "I don't like the thought of... you dying, really. I keep thinking that this might be the last loop, the one that takes." That's what's primarily stopped him from doing something reckless, except those couple of times somewhere after the beginning, when he genuinely hadn't cared anymore.

"It is rather unlikely," Loki reassures him. "There is little point in the Wheel stopping now, is there?"

"Unless the Wheel just exists to make our teams work together," Tony points out. "Maybe you and me are the only ones who would've been able to bring our people together and make them allies, and now that it's going to happen either way the Wheel is over and done with, doesn't need either of us anymore."

Loki is silent for a moment, considering that. "It is a possibility," he eventually admits.

Biting his lip, Tony can't hold himself back; "Please don't die," he whispers roughly, appalled at the way his voice sounds, pleading, sort of needy, scared, but he can't stop. "I don't think I can do this without you."

"You couldn't, clearly," Loki says. "But if it is done now, you don't-"

"Not like that, you idiot," Tony interrupts, annoyed. Here he is, baring his soul or at least a part of his feelings, and Loki is being stupid about it. "I meant I can't do this without you, not that the Wheel can't do it without both of us." Seriously though, nobody else will ever understand what it's like to have gone through all these loops. Sure, he and Loki spent most of the time in them being on different sides, but they're both carrying wounds from this that have nothing to do with that. Tony won't ever forget some of the things Steve has said to him, and the worst is, Steve doesn't even know. He won't ever forget seeing his city destroyed over and over again, seeing his team mates under mind control, dying – so many people dying. Loki won't ever forget his adoptive father sentencing him to death again and again, and the sentence being carried out. They're both damaged from it in a way that the others might be able to understand if it's explained to them, but they can't truly relate, the way Tony and Loki can.

Besides, Tony's grown sort of attached to Loki, emotionally speaking, that much is entirely clear to him by this point. Not much he can do about it. No point in regretting anything, really, it's far too late already.

"Oh," Loki says, very quietly, sounding shocked and startled and amazed and sort of awed, and Tony didn't know so many big feelings could fit into two tiny letters.

"Yeah," he says roughly, embarrassed with the whole business. "So don't get your ass killed."

"I shall endeavor not to," Loki replies, catching himself, back on safe ground.

"Good." Tony shifts a little, not sure what else to say, but completely unwilling to hang up. "How are things up there?" he eventually asks. "Any people slime up to you and tell you how much they missed you?"

"But of course," Loki says. "I am the most skilled sorcerer of Asgard, I used to assist in many magical endeavors, if not actively then with advice." He doesn't really sound like he's overly proud of himself.

Tony wouldn't be either; wasn't, back then in that time between fifteen and twenty-one, when Obadiah had taken all of Tony's designs and patented them to the company, kept him plied with alcohol and parties and whatever else was required to keep him pliant and useful. He had realized and resented it at the time, though the full extent to Obadiah's ruthlessness hadn't become clear to him until recently, and he'd been helpless to resist it at the time. What teenager would, really? Given free rein to do whatever he wanted. Sometimes Tony wonders what all Obadiah would have let him get away with to keep him useful, and he can picture it easily. In those moments he has little problems thinking of himself as a decent person; at least he never truly hurt anybody but himself.

"Fuckers," he says, referring to both Obadiah and those people who try to do the same to Loki, if with far less power over Loki on their side than Obadiah had had power over Tony. "You giving them what they want?"

Loki sighs sadly. "Unfortunately, I am far too busy with current events, but I will endeavor to make time for them once this whole business has been taken care of."

"When this is all over, you'll come with me and we'll take a long holiday somewhere without any people," Tony says.

"Oh?" Loki makes, sounding amused. "Will I?"

"Yeah. You will." Tony raises an eyebrow. "We'll eat and fuck and not do anything we don't feel like doing." He knows it's a fantasy that will probably not come true, at least not in this form, but still, he enjoys the idea.

Loki hums. "I can get behind that."

Tony starts to laugh, delighted with the double-entendre.

They banter some more but eventually they have to hang up. Loki promises Tony that he will call him as soon as he returns from Jötunheimr – calling from there won't be possible – and Tony tries not to worry too much.

On the plus side (if there is one, which, just no) if Loki dies, he'll be free from the stupid conference. Because apparently Tony is one of the big players now and is required to participate. And Tony isn't the only one who isn't overly enthusiastic about the prospect. Pepper is completely freaking out about it. She has joined forces with Coulson and the two of them have planned the whole day before the conference to give Tony a crash course in international politics – how are relations with America, how are they with Stark Industries, how are they with Tony himself. It will be a video conference with the actual heads of state attending, instead of just a bunch of diplomats; it's more direct, more efficient. Also, more room to fuck up, something which Pepper is apparently quite worried Tony will do. She's probably not too far off, diplomacy isn't exactly Tony's strong point, but still, her lack of confidence in him is rather annoying. He's vaguely hoping Thor will come to save him from this, but the blond doesn't show up, not during Pepper and Coulson's intense, annoying induction session and not the next day, during the conference. Or rather, the first day of the conference, because instead of getting down to business people start arguing back and forth the plus and downsides to making this public like there's actually a choice about it.

Eventually Tony is so pissed off by it all – and also vaguely horrified and scared at the prospect of having to spend more than this day sitting here and listening to people being petty – that he snaps. The only reason he didn't snap earlier is because of Pepper and Coulson's training, but really, it was inevitable.

"This is entirely pointless," he grinds out, interrupting some argument about America's biased news system. "The question shouldn't be, will you tell your people or not, it should be: will you tell people or will you let them find out by themselves. There probably will be panic either way, but if you do it right the first time it will be considerably less than if you let them find out on their own."

Naturally, he isn't well received. The conference lasts to well into the night, and Tony isn't invited to join again. Which, well, he doesn't really regret, even if he bristles at how slow politics and diplomacy make everything.

Freed of that obligation, he finds himself with a surprising free day. He uses it to try to figure out what he can do to try to prevent Odin from sentencing Loki to death again, which is more diplomacy, but at least there's something he can do. Even if it's just actively thinking about the problem, it's still better than sitting aside and not having any control or power at all.

He ends up calling Pepper, who has more knowledge about this sort of thing than Tony, even if not all that much either in the end, probably. The research she did to coach Tony yesterday certainly must have helped, but she's not exactly a diplomat or politician, even if she is diplomatic.

"So I need to run something past you," he says when she picks up.

"What is it?" she asks, suspicious. "Did you offend France again?"

"I did not offend France, and anyway, last time doesn't count, he knew what was going to happen when he introduced his model wife to me." Tony hesitates. "So, you know all the stuff that's been going on, yeah?"

"Yes, Tony," Pepper says patiently. "You explained a bit to me, and Phil explained considerably more."

Tony doesn't bother reacting to that; he's not really surprised Pepper likes Coulson, has seen it coming for a while, really, now that he thinks about it. "So… about Loki. His father keeps on executing him because of some shit Loki did before he basically tried to commit suicide, and it was a bit fucked up, what Loki did, but there were some serious mitigating circumstances."

"You realize that if you want me to form a valid opinion on this, you'll have to go into more detail?" Pepper says.

"No, it's not about that. It's about, well. I can't prevent Odin from passing his judgment or anything, but I thought maybe there is something I can do that will sway Odin towards, well, not executing his son, basically."

"Why?" Pepper asks, confused.

"Uh, because I don't want Loki to die?"

Huffing with exasperation, Pepper says, "Yes, Tony. But why is this so important to you? It's not really any of your business, and from what you said yesterday, it won't have any impact on the invasion because it'll be afterwards."

"No impact- Pepper," Tony hisses, pissed off. "Maybe you don't know the guy, maybe none of the others do, but in case you forgot, I spent the past two months with him." This is almost completely a lie, but he doesn't know how else to explain how important Loki is to him, if only because Loki is the only one who's in this with him. Yeah, the others know about the time loop thing, but they knew about it other loops too and it's just not the same. Tony can't quite trust that it won't happen again, especially with Loki off in Jötunheimr now, and then he'll have to start all over again with everyone except Loki. It's incredibly comforting a thought, a safe harbor in the midst of all this chaos.

"Oh," she says, sober. "Of course. I forgot… how long it's been for you. What do you need?"

"Basically, three scenarios: I marry Loki, I hire him as a consultant for Stark Industries brand new branch of investigating the phenomenon commonly referred to as "magic", I get SHIELD to hire him as something, possibly a member of the Avengers Initiative. Thoughts?"

Pepper chokes. "You want to marry him?! Tony, are you... what the hell? Where is this coming from? You've never wanted to marry anyone, not even that Russian model-"

"Yes, can we not talk about that, thank you," Tony interrupts, mortified. He'd been in his mid-twenties and completely smitten, okay, and embarrassed himself a lot for her, not listening to rhyme nor reason. But it's been over ten years, you'd think Pepper would stop bringing it up.

"Tony! Are you- with him?!" she demands. "And you don't think that might have been pertinent information?"

"For whom?" Tony returns sharply. "It's not like I've been trying to hide it, I'm fairly sure SHIELD is fully aware."

She growls. "You can't just- you can't just marry somebody you've known for barely two months, Tony!"

"I'm fairly sure there's no requirement about this sort of thing when getting a marriage license," Tony returns.

"Well, how do you plan to get a marriage license, then?" She demands, voice going a little shrill. "It's not like he's a US citizen – it's not like he's even human!"

Tony has no idea why the fuck she's getting so worked up over this. Did she expect him to be hung up on her forever? Certainly not. "Actually, Norway has expressed their interest in officially acknowledging Thor and Loki as their citizens. You know, the whole Norse god thing and all. That's all technicalities, Pepper, easily taken care of. What the hell is your problem?"

"My problem is that you aren't thinking with your head, Tony," she grinds out. "You've barely known this guy for two months and now you want to marry him?!"

"Have you not been listening at all?!" he snaps back. "I don't want to marry him because he's my one true love forever and ever happily ever after, I want to marry him so his father will be less inclined to kill him!"

"It's still marriage, Tony," she returns after a brief pause, though a little calmer now. "It means something. You can't just use it for something like that."

"Oh, come off it, people use marriage for all sorts of things. Business, diplomacy, economics, to legitimate their children, to prove their love, to secure and bind their partner to them... honestly, the whole romantic image of weddings and marriage is completely distorted and rarely, if ever, reflects reality."

"Just because you're bitter-"

"Whatever," Tony interrupts loudly. "I don't care if you think I'm sullying the sanctity of marriage or whatever. I'll have all the country's homophobes on my doorstep telling me all about it if I actually do it. What I want to know is which of the three options I told you about do you consider being the most likely to succeed."

He hears her taking a couple of deep breaths and waits, knowing this is her putting all her personal feelings aside to be professional. Yeah, maybe they just fucked up their friendship, but at least she'll be helpful.

"That depends what sort of man Odin is," she eventually says in a clipped tone of voice. "If he will be more inclined to respect his son or you or just in general marriage and everything connected to that – yes, all these romantic ideas you don't consider important, Tony – or if he'll consider it more important that Loki is part of a team of extraordinary people fighting against bad people. Diplomatically, the latter might be more important because SHIELD is a government organization, instead of just some guy who has some resources behind him but isn't connected to an important country on the planet."

"Okay, I'll think about it, thanks." Without another word Tony hangs up. He'd originally planned to discuss this back and forth with her a little, bounce some ideas off her, but clearly that's not an option, not with the way she reacted. He still has no idea what the fuck is going on but, neither does he really have the time (nor inclination) to think about it.

And anyways, the solution is sort of obvious, once he thinks about it a little.

He calls Fury, but of course the director of SHIELD is still in the stupid conference, so he gets Coulson instead. Just as well. "Hey, Agent, listen. What do you guys think about putting Loki on your payroll and putting him on the team?"

Coulson is silent for a moment. "I assume you are referring to the Avengers initiative?"

"Yeah, that team." Tony rolls his eyes; as if there are all that many other teams he could be talking about, but he refrains from making a snarky remark.

"Have you discussed this with your team mates?" Coulson asks, knowing very well that Tony hasn't – at least not with Natasha and Clint.

Tony sighs. "Call you back."

He goes to find Bruce and Steve. They're on the balcony, staring out over the city.

"Hey Tony," Steve says when he spots him. "I was thinking about going to the park, but Bruce is... unsure. What do you think?"

"Oh, come on, man." Tony throws an arm over Bruce's shoulders. "Your control is iron-clad. You've been living with me without incident for almost three weeks now, I'm sure there'll be no problem in spending an hour at the park."

"You're really not all that horrible to live with, Tony," Bruce replies dryly. "Besides, I'm not just worried about... that. You do realize that there are people out there who want nothing more than to get hold of me?"

"SHIELD won't allow it," Tony replies. "They got you now, and yeah, that might not be entirely a good thing, but there's still me. If you ever need me, just let me know. If anyone's trying to get you to do something you don't want, tell me. I can do things you can't even imagine."

Bruce blinks at him, then smiles a little. "Thanks."

Tony leans in. "Seriously, though. SHIELD is an underground agency, yes, but one with a lot of leverage. General Ross doesn't hold a candle to them, even with all his resources behind him."

Face going dark at the mention of the name, Bruce turns his head away to look over the city again, not saying a word. Sympathetic – Tony knows what it's like to feel hunted, even if he can't really grasp how Bruce must feel – Tony squeezes his shoulder and shares a look with Steve, who smiles at him, a little unsure but real. Steve, Tony has learned, hasn't quite gotten the concept of not trusting your government yet.

"So, I meant to ask you something," Tony changes the topic. "What do you think about making Loki officially part of the team?"

Steve furrows his brows. "What do you mean?"

"I mean putting him on SHIELD's payroll, officially making him an agent, and officially assigning him to the team, like you guys."

"I'm not a SHIELD agent," Bruce disclaims quickly.

Tony raises an eyebrow at him. "They've come to you for help. They've been keeping track of you for years. I think they don't quite agree with you there. They're giving you a lot of freedom, yes, and I'm sure they'd let you go if you wanted to leave, but that doesn't mean you're not part of this."

"Why do you want to make Loki part of this too?" Steve asks.

"Loki and Thor both," Tony says quickly, having an inspiration. "I mean, they're both absolute badasses in a fight. You haven't seen them, but they're... lethal, both of them. We could certainly use them. Besides, they both have vested interest in this planet and its safety."

"They do?" Steve tilts his head. "I thought they don't really believe in the whole... god thing?"

And isn't that hilarious. "Not really, no. But come on. Thor is ass over teakettle for his genius scientist, and Loki, well."

"Is in exactly the same boat?" Steve asks dryly, raising an eyebrow at him. Only the flush on his cheeks betrays that he's not entirely comfortable with the idea, and Tony wonders if it's love – and sex – in general or the fact that Tony and Loki are guys. Steve didn't react homophobic but still, he's a relic of the time he grew up in.

Letting the assumption stand, Tony shrugs and averts his eyes. "I just thought, they're going to be around anyway, and they'll probably help if they come across a situation where they can. So it'd be much more useful to make it official, right?"

"You're right," Steve agrees. "If we can rely on them we can plan and strategize much better. I assume you have spoken to them?"

"No, I wanted to hear what you thought first. I did ask Coulson but he said I should "speak to my team", though I doubt we'd have much leverage if we said yes and SHIELD said no."

"We can still consider them part of the team and act accordingly," Steve points out, raising an eyebrow.

Tony laughs, delighted. "Oh, you're a fast learner, Rogers! Yes, exactly. So you guys have no problem with it?"

"I think it's a good idea," Bruce says, speaking up for the first time. "And not to sound self-centered or anything, but from what you tell me, Thor is the only one who really has a chance against the Other Guy, which is a big bonus, as far as I'm concerned."

"There is that," Tony agrees. "Hulk literally punched him in the face and he just laughed and got up again. I think he considered a bonding experience or something. It was sort of cute."

Bruce sends him a dubious look at the idea of anything involving the Hulk being considered cute.

"I think it's a good idea as well," Steve tells them. "Should I go and talk to Coulson? I think he can get hold of Natasha and Clint easier than we could."

"Yeah, that's probably a good idea," Tony agrees. Besides, Coulson is much less likely to say no if his childhood idol asks him, but he doesn't mention that.

Once Steve is gone Tony concentrates on Bruce again. "Listen," he says quietly. "When I said you can come to me if you need anything, I meant it. I can take you off SHIELD's radar and make sure that as long as you don't have an incident again, you'll stay off it."

Bruce nods. "Thank you. I think... yes. Maybe you should... build a HULK-safe room."

Oh, Tony would love to do that, if only because it'll make Bruce feel safer and more inclined to stay once all this is over. "Why don't you come to the park with me and Steve and we'll run some ideas through?" It earns him a "I see what you did there" look, so he shrugs. "You've been running around in public in third world countries all this time, you should be fine in New York. Not much of a change, really."

"Alright," Bruce relents. "But only a short walk. And I want you to take the suit with you."

Tony can certainly do that.

Steve looks delighted when they inform him of the plan. He's already finished with his call; apparently it didn't take much to convince Coulson. As Tony finds out when he asks JARVIS as he gets his suitcase, it actually didn't take any convincing at all; Coulson caved as soon as Steve said, "Listen, Tony said he already suggested it to you, but we talked about it just now, and we thought it would be a good idea to officially make Thor and Loki members of the team? If you, Natasha and Clint agree, of course." Apparently Steve considers Coulson part of the team; Tony can only imagine the palpitation that must have caused in Coulson.

So, that part of the plan is taken care of. Now Tony only has to call Norway and discuss the status of Thor and Loki's possible honorary citizenship, but he'll do that after the walk and only has JARVIS schedule an appointment with the guy who had approached Tony about it for later in the day.

Bruce looks uncomfortable when they ride the elevator down, and even more so when people react to Tony's presence when they leave it – nobody recognizes him or Steve, but they certainly do Tony. "If you walk quickly they won't crowd us," Tony murmurs, putting himself in the middle of the two. They sort of speed walk out of the tower and through the street; by the time people recognize Tony despite the sunglasses he's already walking past.

"Is it always like that?" Steve asks eventually. He seems dubious and uncomfortable.

"Yes," Tony says. "All my life, really. No such thing as privacy for me." He shrugs. "You get used to it." Steve will have to; soon he'll be as well-known as Tony will. Though they might be able to keep his true face secret for a while, what with the mask he wears.

*

After that day of respite – Tony and Bruce end it with a brain storm in the lab with a resulting prototype for a Hulk-secure cage (though Tony has to tamper some of Bruce's more brutal ideas, and he makes some additions afterwards that'll keep the green guy entertained while he's locked in; Tony isn't really comfortable with the idea of locking the Hulk away like an animal) – things suddenly start to proceed very quickly. Tony gets Loki and Thor's contracts for becoming agents for SHIELD and the papers accepting them as honorary citizens of Norway and immediately applies for a marriage license. He'll still have to speak to Loki and Thor, of course, about whether they want to accept the citizenships to begin with, and to Loki about the whole marriage thing (though it's not like it actually has to mean anything, it's just to keep him safe), but all the most difficult steps have been taken care of. Then he butters Fury and basically all important players in the invasion fighting field up by telling them he'll design space guns. Though of course by that point he has already done that; all he needs is to build them, and he's going to do it on their dime.

He's spent much time thinking about it. He thought about how the missiles made him feel, despite the fact that they were completely in his control the whole time, and about the pros and cons of making the space guns, but in the end he had to realize that he probably could live with himself less if he didn't do anything in his power to prevent the Chitauri from eradicating half the planet. And maybe it's not in his responsibility, the way Bruce and Steve say, but he doesn't really believe that. If he hadn't prevented it there would've been a bottleneck war instead, with still horrible damage both in property and lives but at least strategically it would've been much easier to fight, especially considering Tony had a warning in advance. Though he's not sure he would've been able to live with himself either, had he left Loki under the control of the spear, knowing exactly how Loki feels, what it does to him – what the consequences will be.

There's no easy way out for Tony, no matter what he does. He's going to have to live with himself afterwards and he thinks with the current situation, this will probably make him feel less guilty than any other alternate solutions. As it is, he's made all precautions he's capable of, which is a lot. The space guns will be put in impenetrable casing so nobody can try to scan them, and they'll have their own AI's in them. They'll be connected to JARVIS, but should anyone try to take over the connections they are capable of severing all contact and operate on their own, and if they are in danger of becoming compromised they will self-destruct. It's about the best Tony can do.

Of course everybody is delighted with the idea. Tony gets all the funds he could possibly need despite the fact that he warned them that he won't let anybody in on production, and suddenly a lot of people like him considerably more. It makes him sick, but he swallows the nausea down, keeps his game face on and gets down with it.

It turns out he should've waited telling them about it – he could easily have started production without any funding, though he would have demanded every penny he put into it back from them after the fact – because apparently this tips them over into deciding not to warn the people. Which, truly, an absolutely brilliant idea. Tony can't even put to words how incredibly stupid that is, but since he already brought his feelings on the matter across very clearly, he doesn't bother doing it again. It obviously is a complete waste of breath.

He toys with the thought of telling them to make it public or he won't make the space guns, or of making an announcement on the matter himself, but he decides not to do the former and puts the latter on hold for now. If he exerts too much of his power their current favoring of him will tip into dislike and wariness and things could go downhill for him very quickly if they start to consider him dangerous. Or at least dangerous for them; as long as he's working for them against their enemies it's clearly perfectly fine, no matter what he does. But that, at least, is absolutely no surprise to Tony.

He builds the space guns, four of them, and doesn't fire them into space just yet; he plans to only put them out there once his scanners indicate that the Chitauri are approaching. It will give any potential hackers (and that there will be hackers, of that he has no doubt; everyone who's encouraged Tony probably has a team already waiting) much less time to try to break into them.

Somewhere during the third week after he left, Thor returns. He comes as a diplomat from the Æsir, not as their friend, and spends a lot of time locked into conference rooms and discussing diplomacy and strategy and what not. In the evenings he returns to the tower and looks exhausted and like he's about to vibrate out of his skin (this sort of thing very clearly is not his forte), so Steve generally takes him down to the gym to work some of the excess energy off.

And it's not like Tony forgot, but seeing Thor in person again brings starkly back to the front of his mind that Loki is currently off the grid in Jötunheimr, maybe being tortured, possibly being held prisoner. The very thought makes Tony grit his teeth and he's incredibly restless and twitchy, keeps the phone Loki modified on him at all times in the vague hope that maybe, maybe Loki will call. Thor seems just as nervous about the whole thing the few times they speak about it but he's occupied with other things and the others are just not as personally concerned, so Tony is pretty much alone in his worry. It doesn't help that Thor reports that this guy Heimdall with what Thor calls his "all-seeing eye", which apparently is something that allows the guy to see everything, however the hell that is supposed to work, has absolutely no idea what Loki is up to, despite the fact that apparently Jötunheimr is within Heimdall's reception area. Thor acts like all that is a huge deal, so it puts Tony on edge even more. Add to that the whole stress about the fact that he's making weapons again and the fact that his relationship with Pepper is now strained even though they had a talk where they both apologized, and Tony is pretty much a nervous wreck with an incredibly short fuse. Even Bruce sometimes avoids him when he gets really bad. Rhodey's arrival in the tower doesn't make it better either, despite the fact that Tony gets to spend time with his friend while he updates his suit. Because while he has the stipulation that he'll remove all modifications after the fact, that War Machine stays in the tower until needed and Rhodey is not allowed to let anyone take a peak, none of Rhodey's assurances fills Tony with much confidence to be honest and the realization that he can't trust who he once considered his best friend only adds to all the other stress he's under. It's a wonder he doesn't snap again.

But he doesn't. Miraculously, Tony holds it together, despite the fact that he doesn't hear from Loki, despite all the other crap that's going on. Three days before Loki's predicted month will pass he has a sudden revelation and realizes that he's been a huge idiot and calls Reed and Xavier to inform them of the impending shit that's going to go down. It turns out Xavier already knew, big surprise there, and Reed had heard some sort of chatter but nothing concrete. At least somebody will be warned about the invasion, and they're even going to be helpful. Hopefully.

It's day five after Loki's predicted month when Tony's scanners give the alarm. He sends the space guns up into Earth's orbit while all hell breaks loose. The worst part is that they don't know from where the Chitauri will breach the atmosphere, if they'll choose one general area or of they'll just attack from all around. A planet is about the least defensible place that exists, neither option is very good, but the former will probably be better. It will take some time to pool their forces at the point of attack, because right now they're spread out pretty broadly across the planet, but in general there will probably be fewer losses if they have a couple of hotspots with intense fighting instead hundreds over hundreds of skirmishes. Especially since they can't be everywhere at once.

Tony's scans reveal, once the army gets closer, that it's big, but not overwhelmingly so – not bigger than expected. Loki still hasn't been heard from but Tony doesn't have any more time to worry about it, because once the attack starts (spread out across the whole planet, not one focus point) the team gets called in. One of the first entry points where the Chitauri breach the atmosphere and the one the Avengers are sent to is right above the SHIELD base that got destroyed upon Loki's arrival. Luckily, as it so happens a great number of Thor's warriors are stationed just there, turning what could have been a fatal situation with the great number of Leviathans literally dropping out of the sky, dropping Chitauri warriors everywhere, into merely an hours-long battle. Still, those couple of hours are intense and adrenaline-inducing and nobody has enough time to even breathe, much less check in with how it's going elsewhere. By the time Tony gets the opportunity to check in with the general SHIELD channel, it's clear that important shit has gone down.

"Holy fuck, these guys are lethal," someone breathes, only to be immediately berated by somebody else in the background to be professional and do his goddamn job. The guy catches himself quickly and starts being more informative. "We're getting help where the fighting is going the worst, primarily above South Africa and Greenland. From the reports, tall, blue guys- okay, Frost Giants they're called, apparently, and people shouldn't touch their naked skin, apparently they're so cold you'll get instant frostbite. Also apparently they don't like us much, but that doesn't matter, they're clearly on our side, and from what it looks like they're very powerful. Things are looking better especially in Greenland, they're not doing overly well in South Africa, probably it's too warm. Central and North Africa are still doing okay, and Europe and Asia still are dealing mainly with skirmishes, we're really lucky there, and North America is getting better. Overall we're doing okay, some property damage but we're keeping ahead of it. Stark's space guns are incredibly helpful there. It looks like the battle in Texas is winding down, meaning there's seven active battle sites left in the US. Canada registers four, Greenland eleven- reports are coming in, apparently the reason they're mainly going for land and for population only as a second priority is that they're trying to burrow underground to breed. I repeat, they're trying to bury underground to breed, all forces be aware and keep ahead of that, this also goes for inactive battle sites, all available hands check for burrow holes-"

Tony curses; the message is already making the rounds and people immediately start checking the ground. They do indeed find holes; Tony plans to go down one of them to check out how deep they are and what's in them but Steve bodily prevents him from doing so. Instead they end up sending a probe down, which means they have to wait for the probe to get there and all in all Tony could've done it much faster but whatever. Maybe he sees some wisdom in Steve's decision.

The holes turn out to be not that deep in the end, maybe three meters, but if the Chitauri get the opportunity they try to close them up again; they find a couple of partly-closed holes. Somebody sends that information through to the information center and the guy Tony is still listening to with half an ear immediately passes it on. The probe didn't detect anything at the bottom of the hole but they still send a rocket down there as a precaution.

Eventually Tony gets annoyed with doing the dirty work; he thinks there are more important things the Avengers should be doing instead of shooting down holes. There's something going on in Mexico, and after a brief discussion – Steve doesn't believe in leaving the dirty work to SHIELD agents as if they're less important than the Avengers but he can't deny that Tony has a point – they board a jet and fly over there. They get a brief break on the flight, some time to eat and drink and do some emergency patching up and power naps, but then they're back on duty, throwing themselves right into the fray. After Mexico they fly to Brazil, the greater distance affording them a bit more of a break, but still. By the time that battle is mostly over as well they've been fighting for thirteen hours straight and are completely exhausted. There's no question that they'll go home, especially since the fighting all across the globe is starting to go down.

Tony isn't entirely happy about that. By this point he's mostly sure that Loki is around somewhere (he has to be, what with the Frost Giants all over the globe clearly fighting on their side against the Chitauri), but he has no idea where or how or why, and it's not like the general SHIELD channel gives him any detailed information on the matter. It's merely broadcast to give everyone a general overview of how the various battles and clean-ups are going, and what the chatter is about what's going on. Apparently the general population is panicking a little, just as Tony predicted, but he honestly doesn't really care about that; he has bigger fish to fry.

Only not anymore, now, they've been ordered to stand down and are being flown back to New York. All the others have dropped asleep where they sat down; only Tony is still awake. He hasn't heard from Thor since Texas; when they went over to Mexico Thor took his warriors directly to Africa instead, aiding the Frost giants there. Apparently their arrival tipped the fight completely to their favor, and Thor can with just one lightning bolt neutralize the holes Chitauri dug in a perimeter of half a mile. This is incredibly useful because they keep finding fields of filled-again holes at the bottom of which apparently sacks full of Chitauri eggs are breeding. Thor's lightening spares them the effort of having to dig them up and kill them by themselves.

All this Tony knows because Coulson went with Thor and has been steadily relaying everything to them. That's how Tony also knows that Thor hasn't met with Loki yet. Frankly, not knowing is driving Tony nuts. After all, it's very much possible that Loki isn't around at all after all, that the Frost Giants came for some indecipherable reason but not because Loki somehow convinced them to. Maybe they're planning to try to take over the planet once the Chitauri are all neutralized, though it'd make more sense to let the Chitauri do most of the work before joining the fray and fighting against them.

Whatever. This is not Tony's problem. What he wants – no, need – to know is how Loki is doing, where the hell he is, how going to Jötunheimr went. Just because it seems like it went surprisingly well doesn't mean it actually did.

But no news about Loki are to be found anywhere, not even JARVIS can dig anything up, though that might also be because he can't do as in-depth a search as he would be able to do if he didn't have to keep on top of four space guns. There is nothing Tony can do about that, about anything else, and he should just make peace with that and take some much-needed rest, but he just can't.

Eventually he drifts off into a restless doze, startling awake every time someone twitches or murmurs in their sleep. Against all (probably silly, because if Loki is actually around he sure would have better things to do) hope, Loki isn't waiting for him at the tower when they get back. Tony wanders off into his room while the others head downstairs (Tony never gave the only penthouse bedroom to anybody else), takes a shower and then sits on his mattress, staring out of the window. At one point the exhaustion finally catches up with him and he falls asleep, deep, filled with unsettling dreams he can't remember. When he wakes up this all results in a headache, the sort that isn't too bad but that won't respond to any remedy and that at any point could make a sudden turn for the very bad and become a migraine. JARVIS informs him that most of the Chitauri have been defeated; there are no battles worth mentioning anymore, only search parties looking for Chitauri that have fled and a lot of clean-up. They have an incredibly high number of Leviathan and Chitauri corpses lying around that they need to get rid of, and then there is the part where the aliens are armed with rather high-tech weapons that many people have an interest in; they end up having to guard the battle fields to discourage raiding parties.

No word from Loki, but Thor has left a message, not very helpful in the end, just telling Tony that he's accompanying his warriors back to Asgard and will return soon. Tony has no idea what the fuck that means, soon. Does that mean later today? Tomorrow? Sometime this week? This month? Who the fuck knows how people who have lived for centuries mean such imprecise measures of time?

It turns out that in this instance "soon" means "in two days" for Thor, but thankfully Tony doesn't have to wait that long to get news from Loki, because he might very well have gone insane if he would have had to.

It's still the day after the battle, sometime around noon, and all the Avengers have managed to find their way into the kitchen for a tired meal. Everybody is nursing various aches and pains, but thankfully no serious injuries; they're all just very, very exhausted. Exhausted enough that they decided not to go help put out the last few remaining skirmishes, because other people have those in hand well enough and they're not of vital importance. Instead they just sit around the table, munching cornflakes and chips and anything else that doesn't need any sort of preparation time, and the atmosphere reminds Tony of that very first time they went to eat shawarma, but thankfully it's less awkward, less tense. This might just be because they haven't formally checked in with SHIELD yet and don't know the exact numbers of lives lost, how damaged those areas that were inhabited are, but nobody has yet suggested they do that, so Tony tries his best not to think about it. He has JARVIS monitor the SHIELD chatter and keep an eye on anything else that might be of interest and that should be enough. If he's needed, JARVIS will let him know.

"Well, you look like a pathetic bunch," a tired voice suddenly speaks up, and everybody sits up and turns around to where Loki is leaning in the doorway, looking exhausted despite the mocking smile playing around his lips.

"Sir, I have found Mr. Loki," JARVIS says unnecessarily.

"Yeah, well done," Tony replies absently and pushes himself up, walking over to Loki who just stays there, watching him approach, waiting.

Tony doesn't do any of the things he thought he might do; he doesn't ask any questions, doesn't chew Loki out for not letting him know how he's doing, doesn't jump his bones, doesn't punch him. He just sort of leans against him, leans his forehead against his collarbone and puts one hand on Loki's waist before letting out a long sigh.

Loki wraps one arm around Tony's waist and pulls him closer, not moving away from the doorway, and that's when Tony figures out that he might need it to hold him up. He pulls away a little, but not far when Loki's grip on him tightens.

"You alright?" Tony asks.

"I am well," Loki replies, more or less a blatant lie, because he looks as exhausted as he did when he first came to Earth via the tesseract portal, if thankfully less crazed.

"Come sit, we made food," Clint speaks up from behind them, shaking a box of cereal.

Tony glances up at Loki's face to gauge what he thinks of that, but Loki's face is blank, giving nothing away, so Tony decides to just go with it. Loki looks like he needs sleep more than anything but he also looks gaunt, and food certainly can't harm. Following Clint's suggestion, he thus pulls Loki closer and leads him over to the table; Loki is a little slow to react but seems perfectly willing. They sit down and Tony takes a bowl from the stack they put on the table, too lazy to count how many they might need. He pours Loki some milk and adds some Lucky Charms.

Loki raises his eyebrow at the colorful mess. "Yes, I see you went through great effort to "make" this."

"That was the royal we," Clint informs him haughtily. "Encompassing all humanity."

"Not sure that's what royal we means, but okay," Tony says. "You do know he's a prince?"

"Of two realms, even." Loki raises an eyebrow. "And father of the sovereigness of another."

"Whole realms, not kingdoms?" Tony asks.

"Yes." Dubiously eying the bowl in front of him, Loki then asks, "How is this eaten?"

"Oh, right, sorry." Tony grabs a spoon from the handful lying next to the bowls and hands it to Loki. "Like soup."

"Is the milk necessary?" Taking the spoon, Loki pokes at the mess.

"Sorta." Tony eyes him. "Why?"

"I don't like milk."

Tony whines. "Who doesn't like milk?" Loki really could've said so earlier.

"I don't." Loki raises an eyebrow at him.

"I don't either," Natasha speaks up. "It comes from cow boobs."

"Oh, god," Tony groans and buries his face in his arms. "Great, thank you for ruining milk for me."

"Eggs are chicken menstruation," Natasha adds, definitely enjoying herself. This time Tony isn't the only one who groans.

"I think we should talk about something else," Bruce says, pushing his glasses up his nose.

"About what? I ain't holding any debates, I'm going back to bed in a minute," Clint replies.

Steve pulls up his shoulders uncomfortably. "Maybe we should check in with SHIELD, see if they need us." Clearly, he isn't comfortable at all sitting around knowing that people might need him.

"JARVIS is keeping an eye on that for us," Tony reminds.

"Most everything is over," Loki informs them, still dubiously eying the bowl in front of him. "The Æsir and Jötunn have both left."

Now that Loki has brought it up in front of everybody himself, Tony decides he doesn't have to be careful about that anymore. "Speaking of which, how did you get them to come here to help?"

Loki crinkles his nose. "Diplomacy."

Okay, so maybe they're not talking about this in front of everybody else. Or maybe Loki isn't planning on talking about it in general, but Tony is definitely going to ask again later, once they're alone.

"Well, they were very helpful, so thank you for that," Steve says earnestly. "Without your help it would have taken us much longer. We would still be fighting."

Loki just nods, not disputing the point, but also not expounding upon how useless the mortals really are, so, good for him. Tony is still discovering how much of the whole "I am your god kneel before me" shtick was Loki and how much of it was the brainwashing.

"Well, I am going back to bed," Clint says, pushing himself up with a groan.

As if that's the unspoken signal everybody has been waiting for they all get up as well, not bothering cleaning up after themselves, and bugger off to their own floor. As they leave Tony tries to share a look with Loki, trying to gauge whether they're going to bed as well – though probably not in the sexy way, even if they are – but for some reason Loki isn't looking at him.

Tony frowns and, now that they're alone, finally allows himself to plaster himself to Loki's side. "What's up with you?" When Loki doesn't reply immediately he starts to babble. "Only, you don't seem... well, you seem like something is out of sorts. How did the thing with the Jötunns go? One might assume well, considering they were here, helping us-"

"They were not helping as you would understand it," Loki interrupts, still not looking at him. "They were repaying a debt."

"Debt?" Tony furrows his brows. "What debt?" But Loki will not tell him, no matter how much Tony prods and tries to cajole. The only thing he'll reveal is that they didn't mistreat Loki or force him into anything; apart from that, Loki keeps his mouth shut as tight as a clam on the whole subject of the Jötunn and his visit to Jötunheimr. Eventually Tony gives up trying to get more out of him, sensing that if he tries to dig more the mood will take a turn for the bad and he really doesn't want that.

So, more or less gracefully, he gives in. "Alright. As long as you're okay... though you look like you seriously need some sleep, darling, it's as bad as the first time you came here. Come to bed."

Loki looks at him calmly and Tony has no idea what he's thinking, but when Loki lets Tony lead him to his room he figures it can wait another day, if it concerns Tony at all. Though he wishes Loki would tell him even if it didn't, because he's rather very curious and sort of wants to know everything about the great mystery Loki still is.

Once they're in his room Tony makes a beeline for the bed, only realizing a moment too late that Loki is not following him and making for the bathroom instead. A minute later he hears the shower come on and pouts in disappointment – he was looking forward to getting some body contact with Loki – but then he realizes, Loki, buttass naked in his shower, and he didn't bring any replacement clothes that Tony could see. Then again, Loki's all with the magic, so that maybe doesn't mean anything after all. But a guy can dream, right?

Loki doesn't take long in the shower, and about ten minutes later steps out of the bathroom, very much not dressed. Tony, who's been studiously trying not to think about Loki naked and wet – and the fact that he doesn't need to use his imagination to picture him because he's actually seen it – bites his lower lip and doesn't let his eyes dip below Loki's bellybutton after one initial peak. Except Loki makes it really fucking difficult for him, because he slides under the sheet and all up into Tony's personal space, looking very serious as he pushes Tony onto his back and climbs on top of him. All attempts to keep things PG rated in his head are completely thrown overboard at that point, because Loki is right there, warm and naked and still a little damp because he wasn't too thorough getting dry, and he smells of Tony's shower gel and shampoo and he's so goddamn close his breath fans over Tony's face.

It's not on purpose, seriously, it's completely accidental, but Tony licks his lips, and it seems that small thing breaks the spell of stillness and silence that has fallen over them because the next moment Loki is kissing him, wet and deep and so damn possessive. Tony moans deep in his throat and opens himself up to it, tilting his head back and opening his mouth wide, offering himself completely. Loki draws a sharp breath at that and abruptly pulls away only to attach his mouth to Tony's neck the next moment, making him moan again. Seriously, Loki is wild, holding Tony tight to his body, hands clenched into fists in Tony's shirt as his mouth works at Tony's neck, biting, licking, sucking, nibbling.

"Fuck," Tony curses, wrapping one leg around Loki's hips and pushing up against him, bringing their erections together. Where Loki is gloriously naked Tony is confined by a thin layer of cotton, never has he regretted his habit of sleeping in underwear more.

Then Loki seriously clamps down on Tony's shoulder, teeth digging into his skin so hard Tony fears it's broken. "Ah!" he gasps. "Shit!"

That's the point where he realizes this might be less ravishing and more something else, desperation maybe, and he really should have noticed this sooner, he's been there. The first couple of times he had sex after Afghanistan he'd fucked like he was going to die, and while his partners had appreciated it, it had also been a bit weird for all parties involved because it's not like there were any emotional bonds involved or anything.

There are here though, and maybe that means Tony will be able to do something to soothe Loki the way those women hadn't been able to do for him.

"Darling," he murmurs, trying to make his voice gentle and calming in spite of how fast his breath is going. He tangles one hand in Loki's hair and starts to pet him. At the sudden break in pace Loki stills as well though he doesn't let go of Tony's shoulder, who foresees some spectacular bruises in his future.

"I was so worried about you," Tony says lowly, flushing with embarrassment at the confession, but it's true and he figures it can't harm, not with the way Loki is clinging to him. He starts running his other hand up and down Loki's back, trying to gentle him without resorting to shushing; Tony's always hated being shushed, felt it was patronizing, and he doesn't intend to do it to anyone else.

"I hoped you hadn't died," Tony eventually continues his confession, "but I knew that just because time was still passing didn't mean you hadn't, and considering your track record with these guys... yeah. I was worried."

Finally, Loki pulls away from his shoulder; Tony tries really hard not to make a noise but it fucking hurts and he doesn't manage to hold back a wince. Loki frowns and soothes the bite with a couple of licks; strangely, it has a cooling effect, making Tony wonder if he's working some sort of magic. He certainly wouldn't say no to that, because as it is he's worried about mobility. Yeah, it hurts that much.

"I spoke the truth when I said they did me no harm," Loki murmurs, pulling away enough to look at Tony.

"Only physically?" Tony presses gently. "Or on the whole?"

Loki hesitates. "Neither can be unequivocally confirmed nor denied. And neither does the fault lie entirely with them on either account. Certainly not... non-physically."

Considering how tight-lipped Loki is in general about his hurt unless he can use it as a weapon, that's a serious confession right there. Tony is burning with questions but he doesn't give voice to any of them, just nods and cups Loki's face with both hands, pulling him close and offering a soft kiss. "I'm just really glad you're back," he murmurs when they pull apart again. "You don't have to leave again for a while, do you?"

"Not until the trial begins," Loki negates. "In a week. When I return to Asgard, you should join me and speak to the Allfather."

Oh, goodie. The invasion is barely done with and there's already a new battle looming. Even if it's a non-physical one, and even if Tony knew about that before, it's not exactly thought that helps him relax.

But still, they have a week, so there is that. Tony pushes all else aside and just concentrates on that, wrapping his arms around Loki and twisting them so they're lying on their sides, the easier position to fall asleep in. As much as he likes having Loki on top of him, he isn't exactly the lightest guy around.

"Okay," he agrees easily, brushing a strand of hair out of Loki's face. "Let's sleep now."

Loki nods, wraps one arm around Tony's waist and pointedly closes his eyes. Tony waits a couple of moments to make sure they really stay closed before he allows himself to relax and drift off again; sleep comes much easier now that he's not so goddamn worried anymore.

A couple of hours later Tony wakes up with a hard-on and a naked guy who is sex on legs plastered to his back. He spends a couple of minutes pondering the situation, debating whether or not to turn around and turn this pretty PG rated relationship into something of a higher rating, but the realization that he's in a relationship thoroughly derails him.

Wow. He did not expect that. And he must be goddamn stupid because seriously, it was so plainly obvious. Sure, he'd been aware that he was overly emotionally attached to Loki and his well-being (after the past week or so of serious fretting over the fact that he hadn't heard from him at all, denial is pretty much futile), but that does not a relationship make. But apart from that, he'd offered Loki his home without even a thought, and Loki had come as if he belonged. Perhaps not entirely sure of his welcome, the way he'd hovered in the doorway earlier doesn't allow Tony to think that, but he'd definitely come for Tony, and he'd wager he'd done so as soon as he could. Then there's the fact that Loki had worked out how to make phone calls from one realm to the other and then actually called Tony to inform him of how things were progressing on Asgard, even though there hadn't really been a need to, even though there hadn't really been anything he needed Tony's input on or that Tony could do. The both of them act like they're each other's focal point, the first person they speak to, sometimes even the only person they speak to where certain areas are concerned. They act like they have a claim on each other's personal space, Loki sliding naturally into Tony's bed as if he's done so countless times, Tony touching Loki even in front of people as if they're... well, a couple.

It's a stunning realization, and the impact of it is not reduced even as Tony picks it apart, tries to analyze it. When did it start? When they started working together? When Tony figured out that Loki was under brainwashing as well? Or maybe even before that, when they'd flirted in a manner certainly not befitting enemies. When he thinks back all Tony remembers is fascination, a reluctant attraction buried under anger and hatred. He wonders when it all flipped, became the other way around, but at least he knows that the anger and hatred dissipated both because nothing Loki did was permanent and because of the realization that Loki was as much responsible for his deeds while under the power of the spear as Clint and Coulson had been. Meaning, not at all.

"You're thinking very loudly," Loki murmurs into the back of Tony's head.

Tony hums and turns around, winces when it aggravates the pain in his shoulder; he's reluctant to check just how bad it is but the way Loki frowns when his gaze lands there tells him it's not good. Without a word Loki leans forward and licks over the aching patch of skin and again it soothes, cools, chases the pain away.

"Yeah," Tony says hoarsely, eyes fluttering open from when they shut automatically when Loki banished the pain away.

Loki eyes him curiously for a moment before he leans in to brush a kiss across Tony's lips. "I hear your fight went well. That you are… working in a true team now."

Tony can't hold back a slight smile. "Yeah. I think this is the best it's been in all the loops. Maybe because for once I don't know anymore what's going to happen. Though I'm still sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop." He grimaces.

"It is always easier knowing one has friends to support you."

Looking Loki over thoughtfully, Tony nods. He's fairly sure he can track what Loki's thinking, and he doesn't like it. Brushing the hair out of Loki's face, he licks his lips and says, "You do know that they're here for you as well, right? In their opinion you're in this as much as I am, and even if they don't know you personally, they don't see you as an enemy."

Predictably, Loki scowls. "I do not need your friends to support me."

"Didn't say you did." Tony shrugs, pointedly careless. "But if you need something and you can't- won't, rather, there's probably very little I wouldn't give you if I could – get it from me, it's safe to say have them to fall back on, if you want to."

The frown doesn't vanish from Loki's face. "Perhaps you are operating on a misconception," he says, sitting up. Dread slowly filling his stomach Tony sits up as well and faces him.

"I am not sorry," Loki says, face hard, "for what I did." He narrows his eyes and stares at Tony; when Tony doesn't say a word, just looks at him, carefully keeping his face neutral, he finally amends. "I am sorry for some of the things I did, and I most certainly am sorry I befell the spell of that… monster, but you are mistaken if you for one moment apply your Midgardian ideas of morality to me."

Tony raises an eyebrow. That's what this is about? And here he was thinking it was something actually dramatic. "I know that." When Loki frowns he repeats, a little louder, "I know that. Do you think I'm stupid? I know you're not human, not from this planet, so naturally the ideas of decency and normalcy I grew up with are not yours. Come on, that's completely obvious. And even if you had grown up here, you're about thirty times as old as I am – again, completely obvious that you'd have different ideas and views. I doubt you think much about the people who died in battle yesterday, do you?"

Loki snorts and shakes his head, but before he can go on a tangent about how worthless humans are or whatever, Tony continues.

"You won't lose any sleep about that, and I'm different because I will a little, I certainly did over the people who died during the bottleneck invasions. And maybe it's just because I feel responsible and guilty, and maybe it makes me self-centered, but the point is, I'm different from you, you're different from me. I know that. What's your point?"

Still frowning, though it looks more confused than anything else now, Loki ponders that for a moment. Eventually he says, "I do not wish for you to have false conceptions of who and what I am and blame me for it later."

Tony can't hold a bitter laugh back. "Baby, whenever something goes wrong in my life, I generally blame myself. I'm generally right to too. And I may not know much about you, but I think I know enough to make an informed decision on whether I can live with you or not. It should be fairly obvious what decision I made."

The frown doesn't leave Loki's expression, but it looks different again. His hands find Tony's face as he leans in and looks at Tony closely; the scrutiny makes Tony uncomfortable and he squirms a little, but doesn't try to pull away. He has no idea what the fuck is going on with Loki now.

"Very well," Loki says eventually. Finally he lets up, hands dropping down as he sits back, gives Tony room to breathe again. After a moment Tony manages to smile weakly, still not sure what just happened.

Wordlessly, Loki takes Tony's hand and presses a kiss to his knuckles before he climbs off the bed. "I wish to eat," he informs Tony, making for the door.

"There might be people around, you might want to get dressed-" Tony says, flustered and not at the thought of Loki running around naked with the Avengers around.

Decidedly unimpressed Loki scowls, strides over to Tony's wardrobe and returns wearing a pair of loose sweatpants that Tony might or might not have gotten specifically with Loki in mind; they're certainly too long for him. It's pointless now to pretend not to think about the fact that he cleared a space in his wardrobe and filled it with stuff he would like to see Loki in – some comfy clothes, because he has fantasies of Loki lounging about like he's comfortable, he really should have figured out this relationship thing sooner – and a couple of not strictly comfortable things, like a silk shirt he'd spotted once of such a dark green it looks black unless the light hits it in a certain way. Loki picked the sweatpants and nothing else, fulfilling a couple of Tony's fantasies all at once: Loki half naked, in comfy clothes, walking around like he owns the place.

Tony is a bit dazed with it until Loki opens the door and leaves Tony's line of vision. He scrambles off the bed and after him, catching up just in time to witness Steve's embarrassed coughing when Loki walks into the kitchen. Loki raises his eyebrow at him as he walks over to the fridge, but Steve refrains from commenting.

Natasha, the only other person in the kitchen, doesn't; she whistles appreciatively. Tony can't hold back a grin as he follows Loki into the kitchen, sharing a look with her as he sits down. "Find anything, babe?"

"I want boar," Loki says petulantly.

Tony grimaces; Natasha ducks her head to hide her smile. "Sorry, no can do. If you want something that used to be alive, I think there's still some beef? And frozen chicken wings."

"There is also some pepperoni pizza," Steve offers.

Loki sighs. "Very well." He sits down in a free chair and looks expectantly at Tony. Clearly, the extent of his trying to feed himself ends here.

Rolling his eyes, Tony gets up and digs some pizza and chicken wings out of the freezer. When they are in the oven he looks through the fridge, finding some ground meat and cut beef for stir-fry. He offers both to Loki, who stares incredulously at the ground meat and says "You Midgardians do such strange things to food."

That probably means the ground meat is out. Tony fries the beef instead and offers it to Loki who adds a spoonful of honey before stirring everything.

"Really?" Tony asks incredulously. "Do you add honey to everything?"

"It is one of the few flavors your realm and mine have in common," Loki replies archly, offering Tony a taste from his fork. Tony tries it and it actually doesn't taste too bad.

"We mix honey and meat too," Natasha points out. "Coulson makes a killer honey-mustard sauce."

"Sounds interesting," Loki comments, offering Tony another bite. Tony accepts that he's just going to have to deal with Loki sharing. The taste is okay enough but not that great, but he's certainly not going to say that, not with Loki acting so… well, it's almost sweet, the way he shares with Tony. He keeps silent as Loki and Natasha start discussing different sorts of ways honey is added to food here and on Asgard. Eventually Steve gets involved too and the topics move away from food to other stuff; Tony stays mostly quiet, letting them bond. When the pizza and chicken wings are done he gets them and Loki clearly expects them to share those too, but since they taste better Tony doesn't have any problem with this. Not that he had the first time, but well. He's more on board this time.

Chapter Text

As they're eating Bruce finds his way into the kitchen as well; Clint, they find out eventually, has locked himself in his room. Apparently Coulson finally got off duty and came here. Into Clint's room. Because they're a thing, and how the hell did Tony not know that? He's been through how many loops and never did he even suspect. Sure, emotions were running high and most of the time either of them was dead or brainwashed, but still.

Natasha snorts, clearly seeing the incredulity on Tony's face, and says, "Anyways, they're not coming up today. I think we should watch a movie."

"I'm not up for much else either way," Bruce comments, and they all agree.

Loki doesn't put up a shirt when they get comfortable in the living room, but he does allow Tony to put a blanket over them both, and then they cuddle up together and settle in for Pride and Prejudice (Bruce's choice).

"There were no battles," Loki points out once the movie ends, frowning with confusion.

Tony blinks. "You're sharp. No, no battles. Do there have to be battles?"

"On Asgard, a story that is not about a battle is considered not worth telling." Loki's face doesn't say whether he approves of that or not.

"There certainly was a conflict here," Bruce says. "It's just more internal conflicts. They both had to overcome their prejudices and their pride to find true happiness with each other. As the title says, really."

Loki appears thoughtful. "Interesting."

Tony hums and pats him on the belly; he's sort of plastered all over Loki's side, making good use of the opportunity to touch all that naked skin. Despite the fact that he could use some more meat on his ribs Loki is comfortable, slim but muscular and rather warm. He also shifts with Tony and keeps him comfortable almost subconsciously, one arm around his shoulders.

"What sort of things do you find worthy of telling on Midgard, then?" Loki asks curiously. "Is there a common thread?"

"Conflict, mainly, internal or external, all kinds of it," Bruce replies. They start talking about it, telling Loki about the different purposes of storytelling; Tony pays attention with half an ear, listening to Loki's heartbeat under his cheek with the other. It eventually lulls him into a doze, and then to sleep. When he wakes up he's annoyed by himself; here he had an opportunity to find out more about Loki and he drifted off instead. Also, sometime in his sleep they shifted until they're more lying than sitting, Tony half on top of Loki, and Loki's hand drifted dangerously low on his back, just resting there. When Tony shifts Loki's grip on him tightens; he's apparently currently retelling some sort of childhood tale, or an abbreviated version of it. It involves a little boy (or girl, it's amendable, depending the gender of the child you're telling the story to, apparently) who never listens to his parents because he doesn't want to, and eventually he decides to run away to live in the forest where nobody will try to make any rules. Then a Frost Giant comes and eats him (graphically), and his parents grieve for their foolish little child. The moral is obvious.

Steve, Bruce and Natasha don't really get it, they don't know that Loki is actually a Frost Giant, but Tony's mouth goes dry when he gets it. Especially when Loki, seemingly completely unaffected (and for all Tony knows, actually finding nothing wrong with that), tells them that this is only one of a number of cautionary tales told to children about what could befall them if they don't eat their greens, metaphorically speaking.

"Are Frost Giants generally the bad guys?" Natasha asks, furrowing her brows. For a moment Tony is shocked, thinking she got it, but then he realizes that she's aiming for something else when she continues. "Because they didn't seem at all horrible when they were here to help. A bit unusual, sure, but not like monsters who eat naughty children."

"Often," Loki replies calmly. "There are of course other figures, but most commonly Frost Giants are the, as you say, bad guys."

"Rather prejudiced, isn't it," Natasha finds, crinkling her nose. "Good for you that you looked beyond all that and asked them to help us."¬¬¬

Loki stares at her for one long moment. Tony considers intervening but then she'll certainly know something is up. And Loki catches himself quickly anyway. "Quite," he says. "Are there common figures like that in Midgardian tales?"

"Bad men, generally, but no images as strong as Frost Giants," Bruce replies.

"Or witches," Natasha adds.

"Good people being tricked by people performing magic is a fairly common theme, I think," Bruce agrees. "We have a couple of fairy tales with that sort of thing, but they're only ostensibly about magic. Little Red Riding Hood, for example, is actually about the loss of virginity for girls."

Loki seems incredulous. "Truly? What is this tale about?"

Bruce retells the story and Tony allows himself to relax again, though he doesn't let himself fall asleep anymore. He does close his eyes but he listens closely as they all talk about tales they were told as children. It turns out their stories aren't all that different, despite the fact that Natasha grew up in Russia, Steve almost a century ago, and Bruce and Tony in entirely different social spheres.

Well, Tony knows that, but they don't, which quickly becomes obvious when they start to prod him for his stories.

The thing is, Tony didn't grow up with stories, per se. His nannies would sometimes read stories to him, but not generally, and things Tony heard the most were stories about his father. Your father did this, he did that, it must be amazing to have such a father, I bet you want to be just like him when you grow up. When he was seventeen, just after his parents died, he had a phase where he read a bunch of fairy tales and children's books in the library, but that's different to Steve, Bruce, Natasha and Loki, who had parents to tell them their fairy tales. Yeah, it's not exactly happy because both for Bruce and Natasha this ended quickly and for Steve eventually as well, but still, initially, that's how it was. Not that Tony thinks he's such a poor boy and had such a horrible childhood or anything, but it's a little embarrassing to admit that his parents didn't spend time with him when contrasted with all their stories involving parents.

But they won't let up, keep prodding, and they're not falling for his pretending to be asleep. "Come on, just one story," Bruce teases. "I bet you had Dr. Seuss too."

"Uh." Tony clears his throat. "Jenny lives with Eric and Martin?" One of his nannies used to read that to him. At the time it hadn't struck him as unusual, in fact he had enjoyed the attention, but he had found out a lot of things about the whole circumstances over time. For one, that the book was met with much controversy and dubbed "homosexual propaganda". Other than that, his nanny had been nursing a rather unfortunate crush on his father (might even have had an affair with him at one point, though Tony hadn't really been able to find out either way), who had been having an affair with a guy at the time. The latter was all over the gossip rags at the time and Tony knows it happened for a fact, because he asked the guy his father was rumored to have had an affair with. The guy hadn't actually told him anything but had suggested he look in his father's documents and he'd found a contract about the guy never telling anybody about it and getting recompensed in exchange. Suffice to say, the whole business had tainted the childhood memory somewhat, but he doubts they know anything about that here and he certainly isn't going to tell.

Natasha whistles, raising an eyebrow. "Sounds progressive."

Tony shrugs. "I guess. It's about a girl who lives with her father and his male partner," he explains for Steve and Loki's benefit. "My nanny used to read it to me."

"What is it about?" Loki asks curiously.

"Uh. They go to the laundrette. Also there's some homophobia at one point. Oh, and they make a birthday party for one of the dads at one point."

Loki clearly doesn't get it. "But what is the message? All the other stories had messages, did they not?" They had; there was one story Natasha read as a child about a girl who went with a stranger who told her about puppies and it turns out there were no puppies and they girl really shouldn't have gone with him. Unlike real life, the girl got saved in time, but the message came across clearly: don't go with strangers.

"Homosexual couples are just like real couples, I guess," Tony says. "It's okay to be gay sort of thing? Parents are parents no matter in which combination of genders they come?"

Loki nods. "I assume this is another of these relicts of very old times? Like the girl with the red hood?" Clearly, he still hasn't gotten over the whole girls-need-to-preserve-their-virginity thing Bruce had explained to him yet.

And Tony can see where this is going. If Loki thinks homophobia is like the virginity thing (and even that is still an issue, even if at least women don't get sentenced to death in most areas of the world anymore if they have extramarital sex), that means that it's not an issue on Asgard. Tony is not looking forward to explaining that.

Helpless, he casts a pleading look around the room; Steve seems confused and Natasha is frowning but Bruce clearly made the same leap as him and takes mercy on him.

"Not really," he replies with a grimace. "You know how we said that in most areas most people don't care about the sex before marriage thing? Well, in most areas most people still care about homosexuality. There's been a lot of change in the past fifty years in that area, but it's still an issue."

Loki stares at him for one moment, blinking slowly. Then he says, "This world is incredibly backwards." With that he seems to be done with that topic. Tony is relieved; he would really rather not have to explain this to somebody who didn't grow up with it.

Thankfully, with that the topic of childhood stories seems to be done with as well, because Bruce is curious about social issues in Æsir society and asks, "Do you have any social revolutions in Asgard? Things within society that changed?"

"No," Loki says very calmly. "The king's word is law."

Tony grimaces, already knowing how well that is working out, and rubs his cheek against Loki's sternum, beard scratching his skin.

"Huh," Bruce makes. "We used to have that system as well in many countries, a number still have some form of it, but generally we end up with a less tolerant society for it."

"Æsir have other things to be intolerant about," Loki replies. The others can't see it but Tony, pressed all up to him, feels that he's going tense. Part of him wants to intervene but he figures he's already patronizing enough, he doesn't need to take it any further. Loki certainly wouldn't thank him for it.

Inevitably, the expected question to that comes: "What sorts of things, then?" Natasha asks, leaning forwards in her chair curiously.

"Magic," Loki replies immediately. "Gender. Other races." His calm but slightly bitter tone of voice says plainly that he has personal experience with all of these.

Natasha immediately latches on to the one closest to her personally. "What about gender?"

"Female warriors such as you face a great many of obstacles," Loki tells her readily. "For a long time, one of Thor's friends, Lady Sif, had to fight daily to establish her position as a skilled warrior."

"Naturally." Natasha sneers. "What did the king have to say to that?"

"The king appointed her the position, so one would assume he either approved of her agenda or found her fighting skills convincing enough." Loki raises an eyebrow; again, it's impossible to tell either way what he personally thinks about this.

"What about magic?" Steve asks, furrowing his brows. "Is it… bad?"

"Naturally not," Loki replies. "This is tied to the discrimination against genders, again. Different kinds of magic are assigned to different genders to a degree, but generally, men – real men – do not practice magic, especially not in battle. Women perform the nurturing kind of magic, entertainment and scrying. Anyone going against these set images does not have it easy, just as Lady Sif did not have it easy."

"Well, that totally sucks," Natasha says succinctly.

Loki snorts. "An apt assessment."

"Which just goes to prove that there's no such thing as the perfect society," Bruce sums up. "Listen, sorry to break this up, this is interesting but I'm completely knackered, I need to get back to bed."

"Yeah, I should go as well," Natasha agrees. "We should talk about this more sometime else."

Steve gets up as well and they all wander off to their respective bedrooms. Well, the other three do, Tony and Loki stay in the living room. Tony is rather comfortable right now and Loki doesn't seem to feel the need to get up, so Tony turns the TV on, explains how it works to Loki and lets him zap through the programs. A mix between dubious, incredulous and disdainful, Loki eventually settles on a concert, Mozart's Requiem in D Minor.

"He died before he finished composing that," Tony informs him, letting his eyes drift shut.

Loki hums disinterestedly and starts to run the tips of his fingers up and down Tony's spine. "The greatest difference between your people and m- the Æsir is that your culture is less stagnant. It still is, of course, but it's no comparison to Asgard."

"Don't you think some things can change? On a social level, western society was pretty stagnant too, it took a great number of revolutions to change that. Maybe something like that could work out for your people too."

"I actually did incite something of a revolution with the Jötunn, I believe," Loki says thoughtfully. "Yesterday's battle marked the first time in history of Æsir and Jötunn warriors fighting side by side. It might not change much, if anything, but it's possible people will eventually come to believe Jötunn are not naturally evil."

"Well, there you go." Tony grins and pats Loki's belly again before pressing a kiss to his sternum. "That's pretty awesome. Are you going to tell me how you did it?"

"I am former King Laufey's son, and consequently present King Helbindi's brother. When I first arrived nobody was at all happy about that, but it did not take long to... convince them." Loki's voice turns dry. "This time, I was not physically and magically depleted upon arrival, and I did not make the mistake of making my committing fratricide the first thing to say to them."

Tony snorts, involuntarily amused. He knows how well that went down the first time – it's how they arrived at the first loop where he actually managed to actively do something about Loki's brainwashing thing, so it was necessary, but that doesn't mean he's happy. The few times he himself died and caused another loop were all relatively painless. He doubts the same is true for any of Loki's deaths. "What happened once they stopped trying to kill you for being Laufey's son? Let me guess, you told them that it was you who killed Laufey and they started up again."

"No." Loki seems thoughtful. "Actually, it seems there is a law in Jötunheimr – if someone tries to kill somebody, they are within rights to retaliate with the same without retribution. The attempt to murder – an attack with the intention to kill somebody – is enough of an offense that the one that was going to be murdered may in turn kill his attacker, if they so will. Even if, it turns out, the one being attacked is a mere infant at the time and the one attacking is their parent."

"So that means you're safe on that front?" Wanting to see Loki's face Tony turns his head and folds his arm under his chin so it won't dig uncomfortably into Loki's chest.

"It seems that way." Loki raises an eyebrow at him. "An interesting rule, though I must say, I am rather glad it's not common. Otherwise, there would be a virtual army of people within rights to kill me."

Tony snorts. "Me included, eh? But don't worry, I'd say you're safe from attempts at your life from me. Attempts at your virtue instead..." He wriggles his eyebrows, unable to resist the innuendo. Yeah, they've danced around the sex thing so far by unspoken agreement, but Tony doesn't intend to let it become a taboo subject, the elephant in the room. He's okay if they don't do it (well, he can deal with it – he'd be much happier finally getting to act out some of the things he fantasizes about doing with Loki) but complete avoidance isn't really his thing. At least where sex is concerned.

Loki rolls his eyes, but his hand slides further down Tony's back, settling on his ass. Not at all acknowledging this, Loki continues his tale. "Of course, nobody was very happy that a runt – a cripple, even, in their eyes – managed to murder their king and that they had no recourse. But they couldn't change the facts and had to accept me and award me my rightful place within their society." He frowns. "Of course, there is not much of that currently."

"So how did you get them to help us?" Tony asks curiously, shifting a little because yeah, he's listening closely, but that's still Loki's hand on his butt. Just resting there promisingly.

"Sometimes I wonder if you really are smart enough to make such leaps or if you merely have enough intuition." Loki narrows his eyes at Tony.

Tony waggles his eyebrows. "Maybe I'm just lucky." Then he sobers a little, because yeah, common theme here. "Many people wonder that, but, well. It's a mix of both, but generally, yes, I really am that smart. And what else could mean enough to them to come to another realm and fight for people they don't know, at the request of somebody they at best tolerate?" It doesn't really seem that far-fetched, Tony doesn't think. Anybody could have figured that out with some thinking, he just generally arrives at the logical conclusion faster than most.

"You are right, of course," Loki says, sounding a little absent-minded, a thoughtful expression in his eyes. The next moment he catches himself again and focuses fully back on his story. "I offered them the opportunity to rebuild what they once had, in exchange for a favor, and under some conditions."

"What conditions?"

"That they would not attack any other realm once they had regained their power," Loki replies, frowning a little. "I did not want to be responsible for another war, even by proxy. They... Helbindi laughed and told me that I was warped by Æsir falsehoods. He said that their- our people are not as violent a race as they are claimed to be. There was a terrible war between the Jötunn and the Æsir, yes, but it did not involve other realms."

Tony nods and presses another kiss to Loki's sternum. He can't say how glad he is that Loki thought of that. He's not generally the thoughtful kind of guy, Tony got the impression, and he'd been prepared to deal with that if the need ever arose, but he's really glad that time won't come anytime soon, if it happens at all. It reminds him again how little they really know about each other, about the kind of people they are. Insane, really, considering what's happening with them, between them.

Well, Tony's always been one for spontaneous, mad decisions. Some of the best things he did in his life came about that way. Maybe this will be one of them.

"What did you offer them in return?"

"I happened to be in possession of the Casket of Winters," Loki informs him. "I stole it from the Allfather. It revealed to me once and for all the true nature of my origins, and I felt it was rightfully mine. It was, in a way, seeing as he stole it from the Jötunn in the first place. Rather sanctimonious of him, in hindsight, to pass judgment on another race and remove the thing they need most to survive. On the other hand, it was rather stupid of the Jötunn to focus all their powers into one little thing, and then to make it accessible enough for an Æsir king to steal it, don't you think?"

"It is stupid," Tony agrees, "but sometimes you don't have any other choice." He shifts, gaze lowering for a moment.

Loki's eyes wander to the arc reactor, hidden from sight but pressed against his ribs currently, and frowns. "Yes. Though I do not believe you would be stupid enough to not make a replacement and to, additionally, make it impossible to make a replacement without using the first one."

Tony snorts. "No, certainly not." It put him into quite a pickle, actually, because he'd been conflicted between two of his strongest paranoias: that somebody would steal his tech and that somebody would remove the arc reactor. In essence the same paranoia, actually, but in this instance the two pulled him into very different directions. One argued for a great number of arc reactors hidden everywhere, just in case, and the other argued for as few as possible in case anyone managed to break in and steal one. The last thing Tony wants is for somebody else to have his arc reactor technology. The big one, okay, he's toying with the idea of removing the patent and making it publicly available (clean energy for everyone, right? Except there's a fair number of ups and downs about that, so he hasn't made a decision yet either way), but not the small one.

Satisfied, Loki nods. "In any case, I returned the casket to them. I am rather curious to see what they will do with it."

"It sounds easy but I bet it took ages to arrive at that point, didn't it?"

Grimacing, Loki snorts. "Naturally it did, especially considering the huge amount of distrust on either side. Actually, they refused to send all their warriors with me the first time and I had to take a group with me to assess the situation and whether there truly was an invasion in progress before they would agree to send their strongest to fulfill that part of the agreement."

"Was there anything else in the agreement?" Because right now it seems rather clean-cut and straight-forward to Tony, and he doesn't think it would be that easy.

Loki smiles at him. "Perhaps." He glances at the TV where the Requiem is getting to a noisy part. Agnus Dei, unless Tony's very much mistaken. "You mortals do enjoy making a lot of noise, do you?"

"Do we?" Tony fires back teasingly, sensing that the serious part of the conversation is over.

"Most certainly," Loki says. "Sometimes it seems to me you're trying with all your might to make yourselves noticed."

"Well, our lifespan is rather short, so we have a lot less time to make an impact," Tony replies. And they're back to serious conversation, if an entirely different topic.

Loki frowns. "That is indeed true." Sullenly he glares at the TV for a moment before abruptly sitting up, almost throwing Tony off the sofa in the process. "Come to bed with me."

Ah, that certainly doesn't sound like Loki's planning to sleep. Tony scrambles to get up and speeds off towards the bedroom, leaving it to JARVIS to take care of the lights and TV. Loki follows him at a more moderate pace though he doesn't exactly take his time either, Tony wouldn't say that.

Impatiently, Tony closes the door once Loki has finally stepped into the room and turns around, grinning widely, but before he can say anything – perhaps a good thing, he has a lewd mouth and who knows whether Loki likes that sort of thing – Loki steps up to him and brings their mouths together.

This is not their first kiss, it's not even the first time they're making out passionately, so Tony thinks it shouldn't make him so weak in the knees to feel Loki's tongue move into his mouth decisively, taking possession of it. But it does; he almost goes dizzy with it because Loki is one hell of a kisser, fast, almost determined but still taking the time to find out what Tony likes. When Tony gasps as Loki scrapes his teeth over his lower lip he does it again, and when Tony moans as Loki sucks on his tongue he pulls Tony closer and doesn't stop until Tony is gasping, clinging to his shoulders like one of those heroines at the end of the movie, when the hero sweeps her off her feet.

Tony definitely feels swept off his feet, and part of him bristles at that – he's the one who does the sweeping – but another part of him is enjoying it way too much to make it stop. But still, Loki is definitely making use of his height advantage, and that won't do.

Without interrupting the kiss Tony wraps his arms around Loki tightly, wraps one leg around his waist in preparation and then jumps up to wrap his other leg around Loki's hips, clinging tightly to his upper body. Loki stumbles a little at the unexpected weight but he catches himself quickly, putting both hands under Tony's ass to hold him up, and also to grope a little. Now Tony is the one who's higher than Loki and he makes full use of that, cupping Loki's face and tilting it the way he wants it as he sets about making Loki as breathless as he is.

And damn, is it ever working. Loki groans into his mouth and turns them around, walks them to the bed where he lays Tony down and, much to Tony's disagreement, pulls back.

"Hey-" Tony starts to protest, pushing himself up to follow Loki, but Loki glares at him and reaches for the hem of Tony's shirt, pulls it up and off him with little finesse. And oh, that Tony can get behind, less clothes is always a good thing. Going by the way Loki's eyes wander hungrily over the newly revealed skin, Loki is in full agreement with him too.

Tony preens a little but pretty soon he gets impatient, because fuck, he's wanted this for so long, and he'd been prepared to be all noble and wait until Loki was comfortable (though he couldn't quite say that Loki is the one who stalled them, it was more the general mood, the circumstances that did it) but the waiting is over now and he can barely restrain himself.

Not that he needs to, he suddenly realizes, and that's the last straw; he pushes forwards at the same time as he reaches out and pulls Loki's head towards him at the neck, fusing their lips together again. Loki immediately, eagerly gets involved, licking back into Tony's mouth and setting about making him breathless again. And damn, is he ever skilled at that, and when his hands start to wander over Tony's body… well, Tony is completely done for; there goes his ability to breathe.

With a helpless moan he eventually has to pull his mouth away from Loki's, gasping breathlessly for air. Loki follows him, presses his lips to the corner of Tony's mouth, lets his tongue dip in for a moment before he mouths along Tony's jaw, licking and nibbling his way to Tony's ear. Once there he presses his teeth to the sensitive skin right below it, making Tony shiver and gasp in a way that has little to do with the need for air. "Damn," he breathes, tangling his fingers in Loki's hair and tilting his head to give him more room to play. And Loki makes use of it, scraping his teeth down Tony's neck before kissing his way up again, letting his breath fan over the shell of Tony's ear before he licks his way to Tony's mouth again, once more engaging him into a kiss. It's a little less wild now, as if Loki has filled his mouth with enough of Tony's taste to slow down a little, if no less passionate for it.

"Shit, darling," Tony breathes when Loki pulls away again with a smug grin. Usually it annoys him when people are smug in bed but god, Loki certainly deserves it. Tony is as worked up as if they'd been engaging in hours of foreplay, and all they've been doing is a little necking and letting their hands wander over safe areas.

Time to remedy that. Pushing Loki off at the shoulder Tony flips them around, straddling Loki's waist and leaning down for a short, lewd kiss before he licks down Loki's throat, carefully taking note of the way Loki goes entirely still at that, breathing shallowly. The whimper escaping Loki's lips when Tony presses his teeth to the most vulnerable part of his neck leaves little doubt to how much Loki is enjoying this, and Tony shivers, moves a little lower and latches on, sucks the skin above Loki's collarbone into his mouth with the intention to leave his mark. It's low enough to not be pointedly showing off, but too high to be hidden by any sort of collar except maybe a button-down shirt or a turtleneck, neither of which Tony has seen Loki wear (not counting his battle armor or anything from previous loops). Yeah, everybody's going to see what they were up to tomorrow. Tony is both possessive and exhibitionist enough to thoroughly enjoy that thought.

"Tony," Loki gasps, fingers tangling in his hair, and Tony takes that as a blanket permission to proceed as he wills. Remembering how generously Loki applied his teeth to Tony earlier Tony makes a stipulation and starts to bite his way down Loki's sternum. He's rewarded with a moan and what seems like an almost involuntary roll of Loki's hips, pushing the bulges in their pants together for a brief moment. A moan escapes Tony's throat and Loki immediately repeats the movement, this time with more purpose, sending shivers through both their bodies when he rubs them together

"Yeah, just like that," Tony murmurs, lowering his hips a little. Almost he gets distracted by the friction, delicious even through layers of cloth, but Loki's chest is right under his mouth and Tony has been imagining what he'd do to it all evening. Or rather, for weeks, ever since he first saw it naked and gleaming wet.

He starts biting again, applying just enough pressure to move away from nibbling, circling around one nipple, and Loki seriously starts to writhe under him, moaning and thrusting up. It's seriously the hottest thing Tony has ever seen, especially when he realizes that Loki is trying to twist under him in such a way that Tony's next bite will land on his nipple. Fuck, that's so hot; Loki is so unrestrained, taking – almost demanding – his pleasure without an ounce of shame. Tony was considering teasing a little but he can't reward that with anything but what Loki clearly wants, and he places the next bite around Loki's nipple. At first he just pushes his teeth into the skin, but then he starts to slowly scrape them towards Loki's nipple, making Loki moan loudly.

Tony can't quite go further than that, not for the first time, so he ends the bite with a kiss instead, letting his teeth press gently against Loki's nipple with a promise for more before he starts to suck. Loki whimpers under him, pushes his chest up and slides both his hands down Tony's sides, pushing both his sweatpants and underwear down, just far enough to bare his ass and let his erection spring free. Immediately one of Loki's hands finds its way to Tony's front, fingernails briefly carding through the curls there before he wraps his fingers around Tony's cock, his other hand settling firmly on Tony's ass.

Tony's arms almost stop holding him up for a moment; he moans and once more has to pull away from Loki to gasp for breath. Encouraged, Loki squeezes and starts to pull a little, making Tony shiver and whine low in his throat because holy fuck, just, wow. "Loki," he gasps, then blinks and tries to gather his wits. "We need-" With a regretful whimper he pulls away from Loki and clambers across the mattress over to the nightstand, digging a bottle of lube and some condoms out of the top drawer.

When he turns around again Loki has sat up and followed him up the mattress a little, curiously eying the items in Tony's hand. "What is this?"

"Lube and a condom," Tony explains, handing them both over. "To make things smoother and for protection."

Turning them both over to look at them from all sides, Loki looks up again and raises one eyebrow at Tony.

"Uh." Tony takes the lube back and squeezes some into his palm. "It's slick, see? Makes things much more comfortable for everyone involved. What do you use for that, oil?"

"Yes," Loki replies, dipping one finger in the clear liquid before rubbing it between thumb and index finger. With a curious expression he then licks it off.

"It tastes like nothing," Tony says unnecessarily, because Loki's just finding that out himself. "There are types with flavor, we can try them later, I have some. This is better than oil because there's more friction – more pleasure without more pain. Easier to wash off too."

"I see," Loki says. "And this?" He holds up the foil packet.

"A condom," Tony repeats, pulling it out of Loki's hand. "Take your pants off."

Without hesitation Loki does just that; Tony follows his own idea and pulls his own off completely as well, throwing them somewhere into the room, he couldn't care less where to right now. Despite the interruption they're both still fully hard, even if their breaths are calming down again. That's probably going to change pretty soon, Tony thinks, opening the packet and pulling the rolled up condom out. "They're to prevent pregnancy and the transmission of diseases," he explains. Instead of handing it over to Loki he leans over, takes hold of Loki's cock and rolls it down with one expert move. Loki twitches at the contact but is clearly too curious to properly enjoy it; when Tony lets go he stares down at his cock, sheathed tightly in clear blue latex.

"Does it not-" Loki starts, then abandons the question in favor of trying it out himself, wrapping one hand around his cock and pulling tentatively, then more surely once he finds that it doesn't come off easily. "Fascinating."

"Yeah." Tony clears his throat and licks his lips; the image of Loki touching himself will stay with him for a long time to come, he thinks. "They're pretty useful." Understatement of the century, really. There are few inventions by other people that Tony appreciates more.

"Well, then," Loki says suddenly, clearly moving on from the subject if the way he looks at Tony is anything to go by. "I believe we were right in the middle of something."

Not needing any more of an invitation than that, Tony immediately leans over and pulls Loki into another kiss. It starts out slow, almost languid, but very soon it picks up speed and fire, and then Loki pulls Tony in at the hips and leans over, making Tony sink down on his back. Completely on board with that, Tony spreads his legs for Loki to move between. He wraps one arm around Loki's neck and feels around for the bottle of lube he dropped somewhere with the other, making a triumphant noise when he finds it. Loki pulls back a little to raise an eyebrow at him, clearly having noticed Tony's slight distraction, but when Tony brandishes the lube his expression smoothens. Without any hesitation he takes it from Tony and squeezes some onto his fingers.

Tony nearly goes cross-eyed at that; he'd planned to do it himself and the prospect of having Loki's long, elegant fingers in him sends a shiver through his body. "Oh, yes," he moans, spreading his legs wider and pulling his knees up in a blatant invitation. More of a demand, really.

One that Loki follows without hesitation; he leans back to look at Tony, biting his lower lip. Tony can imagine what a picture he makes; blatantly lustful, wanton, and he stretches one arm over his head, flicks the tip of his tongue out to run over his lips. The look that earns him is heated and has the expected result; Loki stops staring and starts touching, sliding his dry hand across Tony's skin from his knee over his inner thigh to where his leg joins his hip and back. At the same time, his wet fingers find their way between Tony's cheeks, spreading the lube there a little, rubbing up and down his hole, circling around it but never quite sinking in. Tony quickly starts to become impatient at the teasing, rolling his hips in an attempt to incite Loki to get the fuck on with it, haven't they waited long enough?

Loki grins at him in a way that makes Tony shiver and he can't quite tell if it's arousal or something else, but he doesn't have time to think about it because the next moment one of Loki's fingers pushes in, in, in.

With a gasp, Tony stills all movement and throws his head back. He closes his eyes and concentrates on the feeling, the intrusion; he loves it, knowing that this is Loki in him, prelude to something even better.

He doesn't have much time to get used to the feeling before Loki starts to move his finger in and out, at first just the one, not quite teasing but not quite anything else either. Tony whines and pulls one knee up; he's used to it now, Loki could really- oh, yes, there it is, the second finger. It's a much tighter fit, it has been a while since Tony last put something up there, he hasn't had the time lately for any drawn out sessions of self-pleasure. It's a bit annoying because it means there'll be longer prep time, but on the other hand, Loki is clearly enjoying how tight he is, if his heated expression is anything to go by. And if that isn't a boost of confidence, knowing that he's the one who put that expression on Loki's face, Tony doesn't know what is.

They're staring at each other while Loki slides his two fingers in and out; Tony doesn't know how it happened, their eyes just somehow got stuck on each other and have refused to let go ever since. A bit like them, really. Tony is writhing, rolling his hips, because he knows that Loki is avoiding that spot on purpose, he could hit it easily, brushes over it even, but he never presses down and it's a terrible tease. And Loki just stares at him, free hand still wandering languidly up and down Tony's thigh. Slowly he leans down, presses his mouth to the side of Tony's other knee, flicks his tongue out and licks down further, making Tony shiver.

"Come on," Tony gasps. "A third, now, I can take it, just-"

"Not yet," Loki disagrees, voice dark like espresso. "I will do this again tomorrow, and I want you to writhe for me in pleasure then, not pain."

What a promise. Yes, Tony is fully on board with that.

Doesn't change the fact that Loki is teasing him right now though, so Tony decides to pay him back a little. He slides one of his hands up his belly, making for his nipple; the other remains tangled in the sheets above him, giving Loki a perfect view of his body. Deliberately, he lets his eyes flutter shut when his fingers find his nipple, twisting and tweaking it; he moans and it's not even half for show because fuck, somehow the arc reactor has made his nipples that much more sensitive, he was okay with them before but ever since he's just loved having them played with.

Down between his legs Loki growls. Tony blinks his eyes open and glances down, finding Loki staring at him hungrily, eyes dark, lips parted. The rhythm of his fingers never falters though, and neither does he stop avoiding Tony's sweet spot.

Time to up the game a little.

Licking his lips, Tony lets his eyes go half-lidded. "I've been thinking about this," he murmurs low, as if he's imparting a great secret. "Having you above me like this, preparing me for your cock."

Loki leans in. "Did you pleasure yourself while thinking about it?"

"Yeah," Tony breathes "Every day."

He's rewarded by Loki finally pressing down on his prostate, and he almost didn't expect it, gives a startled moan as his eyes fall shut. It's so good he almost doesn't notice when Loki slips a third finger in, despite the twinge of pain that shoots through him at the stretch. But he does notice and blinks his eyes open, staring at the ceiling, breathing heavily.

"Tell me more," Loki demands, distracting him thoroughly.

Biting his lower lip, Tony flicks through his arsenal of fantasies. He has a fair number of them, some rather kinky, and he doesn't know which one to pick because he doesn't know enough about what Loki likes. But, well, the current scenario seems to do it rather well for him so something similar…

"Sometimes I would suck on my fingers, imagining it's your cock," Tony reveals, then gasps when Loki pushes down on his sweet spot once more. This kind of rewarding system he can certainly get behind. "I would kneel there, fingers in my mouth, picturing you in front of me," Tony elaborates, and Loki curses in a language he doesn't know and abruptly pulls his fingers out. Tony whines, because that's not how this works, he gives Loki a fantasy, Loki gives him-

Oh, his cock, oh fuck, yes, finally. Loki even thought to put some lube on the condom, because the head of his cock breaches Tony easily. In one smooth stroke Loki pushes in, making them both gasp. Tony gets lost in the feeling for a moment, Loki between his legs, cock in him to the hilt, one hand on Tony's hip and the other on the bed next to Tony's head as he leans over him.

Tony babbles something, he doesn't know what, something along the lines of how good it is, yes, god, finally, finally. Loki is panting above him, staring down at him and keeping perfectly still, giving Tony time to adjust he doesn't want. He wants to get fucked.

"Come on," he whines, "come on, do it, fuck me-" then he loses all words because Loki pulls back and thrusts back in, far less experimental than the first time, decisive, almost relentless. He's taking, claiming Tony and leaves no room for doubt about it.

The rhythm Loki picks up is very thorough, just hard enough, just fast enough to make Tony completely fall apart. Moans are falling out of his mouth, he more hears it than anything else, and his eyes keep falling shut without his permission; he forces them open again every time because he wants to look at Loki, wants to look him in the eyes, wants to see his expression while he's fucking him. And Loki is moaning too, and his grip on Tony's hip is tight, only allows him the slightest bit of motion, just enough to tilt up every time Loki pushes in again. And nearly every time he does that Loki pushes against his prostate, makes sparks of pleasure shoot through Tony's body, making him gasp and moan and forget where up and down is. All that matters is Loki fucking him so thoroughly into the mattress, taking pleasure from Tony's body and returning it twofold.

Far too soon – Tony wishes they could do this for hours, an endless loop of taking and giving pleasure – he feels his orgasm approaching. He squeezes his eyes shut and tries to hold it off but Loki notices and increases the pace, the force of his thrusts, lets go of Tony's hip to grab his cock and that's it, Tony's done, he's coming. He's so lost in pleasure that he almost misses Loki's thrusts turning erratic, almost doesn't hear Loki gasping his name, but he does and manages to open his eyes just in time to see Loki's fall shut, face slack, brows furrowed as he comes, beautiful with it.

Loki remains on top of him for a couple of moments, riding it out, before he pulls back and out of Tony, lets himself drop bonelessly to the mattress. They're both gasping for breath and Tony's heart is beating loud in his ears; he's still shivering with aftershocks. He can't seem to move his limbs at all so he just closes his eyes and tries to catch his breath.

Eventually he comes down a little and blinks his eyes open, turns his head. Loki is lying on his back, eyes half-lidded as he stares at the ceiling. Tony just looks at him for a moment, taking in the sight Loki makes with his hair a mess, cheeks flushed, sweat making his skin glisten. Any other time it would make his brain and libido get all confused because Loki looks utterly sinful but also incredibly beautiful right now, but his libido is fairly satisfied for the moment so his brain can freely indulge in the kitschy thoughts.

Noticing the scrutiny he's under Loki turns his head and opens his eyes fully, looks at Tony, but there's no question in his expression, nothing at all that makes Tony feel like maybe he should look away or explain himself. Loki just looks utterly content and relaxed and god, Tony hopes he'll see him like this many more times. Countless times, for all infinity despite how impossible that is, because he doesn't think it will ever be enough. He doesn't think he'll ever look at Loki and not want to see him look like that again.

Loki rolls onto his side and reaches out, pushes the hair out of Tony's forehead. He doesn't say a word so Tony doesn't either, for once manages to keep his mouth shut. At one point he starts to drift off, must have, because he doesn't remember wiping himself clean or pulling the sheets over himself, and when he wakes up the next morning there's no dried come on his belly and he's pleasantly warm. Granted, the latter might have happened even without the sheet because Loki is right there, Tony is plastered all over his back.

Tony blinks blearily for a moment, then lets his eyes fall shut again; he feels utterly relaxed and languid, the way only sex and a nice, long sleep can do. And damn, the sex was great. Absolutely brilliant, if he does say so himself; if it's like that every time they do it he might get addicted. Even now he's contemplating the possibility of not getting out of bed for a week, or at least a couple of days.

But of course things don't quite work out that way, because after the grace period yesterday, today the Avengers are facing a full day of debriefings on the battle, and Tony has to go get his space guns back. He certainly doesn't plan on letting them float around there for much longer, free for anyone to pick up who feels like it. Not that they could do anything with them but still.

With a regretful sigh he pushes away from Loki, indulges in a long stretch that makes his joints crack, and then slides off the bed to make his way into the bathroom. When he comes out a little while later to walk across the room into his wardrobe Loki's eyes open to slits, watching his progress. Tony throws him a grin and a wink before putting some clothes on. Loki is still awake when he comes back, watching as Tony walks over to him.

"Hey," Tony murmurs, putting one knee on the bed and leaning over Loki for a short morning kiss that – he really should have expected that – doesn't end up being short at all because Loki opens up to him readily and Tony can't really deny as sweet an invitation as that, can he?

By the time they pull apart Tony's hair is a mess, his lips feel swollen and they're both breathing heavily. Tony watches with baited breath as Loki slides one hand under the sheets, making its way across his chest to where the cloth is tenting in his lap. With a perfectly angelic expression Loki takes himself in hand, eyes fluttering shut.

"Shit, darling," Tony breathes. "I'd really love to help take care of that for you, but I gotta head over to SHIELD."

"And of course you can't be late," Loki murmurs, sounding completely unimpressed.

He does sort of have a point. Everybody would probably start thinking pod person if Tony were on time. Which he isn't, he's late already (if he wanted to be on time he would've told JARVIS to wake him up), but a little later won't do any harm, not if he's fast.

Quickly he rips the sheets off Loki's body at the same time as he slides down. Knocking Loki's hand away unceremoniously, he replaces it with his own, holding Loki's cock still as he leans in and sucks the head into his mouth. Above him Loki gasps and curses, hips going tense as he fights the impulse to thrust up; Tony rewards that by sucking harder and sinking down as far as he can before pulling up again, swirling his tongue around, pressing the tip against the bundle of nerves right below the head. He isn't careful, doesn't take his time; maybe some other time but right now he's in a hurry.

"Tony," Loki gasps, one hand tangling in Tony's hair, grip tight but not directing him anywhere.

Tony nevertheless takes it as a suggestion, sinking down again before pulling up, savoring the noises Loki makes, gasps and moans and another curse when Tony applies his teeth a little, testing. He loves this, finding out what a person likes in bed, what makes them go breathless, what makes them fall apart. Hopefully he'll have a lot of time to figure out how exactly Loki likes it, hopes they'll get to experiment eventually.

"Tony," Loki says again, reaching out with his other hand to pluck at Tony's shirt; at first he thinks Loki's trying to tell him to take it off – no can do, if he gets naked he won't leave the bed for hours, he knows himself – but suddenly he gets it. He pulls off with a slight 'pop' and turns so his hips are at the same height as Loki's head, lies down on his side to match Loki and pulls Loki's cock back into his mouth. The angle is a bit awkward now, less room for him to play, but he can't concentrate as well anymore anyway because Loki is opening his pants, pulling his dick out and licking a stripe down from head to root before he sucks it into his mouth, wet and hot and tight. He'd always imagined Loki would be good at this – though honestly, who fantasizes that someone isn't good at sucking cock – and he was right, Loki is. Less bitey than yesterday, taking his time somewhat, but god, he's sucking so greedily.

For a moment Tony almost forgets the cock in his mouth but Loki reminds him by thrusting forwards just slightly; Tony immediately tightens his mouth again, lets his teeth scrape over the sensitive skin a second time before he starts sucking again. Loki hums, the sensation making Tony shiver and moan, and encourages Tony to thrust a little; after that things go very quickly. Tony thrusts into Loki's ready mouth, and every time he moans Loki shivers and sucks harder, which makes Tony moan again. Within minutes Tony is coming down Loki's throat, and soon after, Loki's come is flooding his mouth as well.

"Shit," Tony gasps, rolling onto his back and licking his lips.

Loki hums and tucks him back in, solicitously doing up his pants before he pats Tony on the belly. "You will be very late if you don't go."

Tony sighs, but Loki certainly has a point so he rolls off the bed, snatches another quick kiss from Loki before he hurries off to his car. SHIELD has an office in New York and of course the others are already there, sitting in the meeting room and vaguely annoyed with Tony.

"Don't look at me like that, I'm always late," Tony tells them. "Tell them, Nicky."

"Shut up and sit down," Fury snaps.

Tony rolls his eyes, pours himself a cup of coffee from the pot and sits down, preparing himself for a couple of long, boring hours.

He manages to pay attention for about an hour, during which they're debriefed about what exactly happened during the battles. Then comes the boring part where they have to debrief, meaning telling in minute detail what exactly they did and saw. Thankfully, they don't all have to hang around for that, and nobody expects for Tony to go first, so he drags the others sans Natasha off for lunch. After that he insists on going next because he doesn't plan on hanging around for a couple of hours just to talk about something completely boring.

Two hours later Tony is finally free and makes a beeline back for the tower, ignoring Fury's trying to keep him there. If he really had to be there Fury wouldn't have let him go, but this is just, well. The way Fury and Tony communicate. By pissing each other off. Well, maybe it's less communication and more something else. Pissing each other off.

In the tower Loki is sitting in the living room, scrolling through a tablet, and the kitchen looks like a small war was fought in it – Loki against food.

"Uh, babe, what happened to the kitchen?" Tony asks, eying the mess dubiously. He only meant to get some coffee, but there is cocoa powder all over the floor, and something white that might be flour or possibly icing sugar, and is that an egg? There's definitely egg shells and something sticky.

"Your Midgardian food is horrible," Loki replies with a derisive curl of his mouth.

So, that probably means he was trying to make something to eat and failed. Spectacular, going by how the kitchen looks. Wisely, Tony refrains from commenting and successfully manages to hide his amused grin from Loki; it probably wouldn't become him well if Loki thinks Tony is laughing about him. Especially since he is, a little.

"Did you eat anything, then?"

Loki snorts. "I do not wish to put any of this in my mouth."

Briefly derailed by the memory of something entirely different Loki put in his mouth, Tony shivers. Then he returns back on topic, because Loki doesn't look like somebody who can afford to skip meals. "You can order food, did you know that?"

There is a brief pause. "Is that so?" Loki eventually says, still putting up a front of boredom but he definitely sounds interested now.

"Yeah." Tony wanders over to him. "You call somebody and they bring the food to you. You can just tell JARVIS what you want and he'll take care of it for you, with payment and everything, won't you, JARVIS?"

"Of course, sir, it would be my pleasure," JARVIS says smoothly. Tony hopes he got that this was meant to be an order for JARVIS to intervene next time Loki starts to take his temper out on the food.

"Very well. Proceed," Loki grants haughtily.

"Thai will suffice, JARVIS. And while the food is on the way we can clean up the kitchen." Tony raises an eyebrow when Loki glares at him, decidedly unimpressed with the idea, but eventually Loki huffs and gets up. He wanders over to the kitchen, trailed by Tony, looks around a little and then waves his hand. Water starts to flow out of the faucet but instead of obeying gravity and just falling down it literally floats out and starts to sweep through the kitchen, looking more like a living entity than anything else. Loki directs it like a conductor, having it slide across surfaces and pick up anything staining them. All in all it takes about five minutes before the water, now considerably less clear, returns to the sink and goes down the drain. The kitchen is left looking sparkling clean, and dry to boot.

"That was pretty cool," Tony comments, not knowing what else to say because, well. It was pretty cool. He wonders how the fuck that worked, but he figures he has to think less like... well, like somebody who grew up without magic before he can begin to understand.

"Thank you," Loki says modestly. "I have always been skilled at water magic. Fire as well, perhaps even more so, but water always was easy to me."

"Huh." Tony tilts his head. "Can you show me something with fire?"

Loki lifts his hand, fingers curled into the palm, and opens it to reveal a tiny flame. As Tony watches it grows, takes form; a simple humanoid figure that walks once around Loki's palm, as if exploring the perimeter, before it faces Tony, bows once and vanishes. "Children's play," Loki says uncaringly, walking back to the sofa. "Useless for little more than entertainment. Unless during battle, of course, but unless one is very talented and, more importantly, afforded the opportunity to not be disturbed, it's difficult to avoid burning one's own comrades."

"Friendly fire, huh?" Tony chuckles about the lame joke before taking a seat as well, turning so the tips of his toes meet Loki's on the cushions. "So."

Loki raises an eyebrow. "So?"

"You wanna watch something on TV?"

"No." Loki's eyebrow stays up, Tony is pretty sure it's making fun of him.

Well, he tried. He doesn't know exactly what it is he did try, but he tried. "Okay. Wanna go back to bed and fuck?"

"Yes. Though I do not see why we have to leave this room for that," Loki says.

"Because the others might walk in at one point," Tony explains.

"That is too bad, because I wish for you to ride me as we look over the city," Loki replies, gets up and pulls his shirt over his head. It's actually one of Tony's, though the last time Tony saw it the shape was a little different. "JARVIS can tell them not to come in if they don't want to see."

Well, he's got a point there.

Nobody walks in on them; by the time Bruce and Natasha return from SHIELD's office Tony and Loki are showered and dressed once more and Tony is showing Loki the Wii. Loki is very dubious about the concept – "if you want to participate in this activity, why do you not go and do it?" – and, once Natasha gets involved, rescinds his place to her, taking to sitting aside and mocking them because they apparently look ridiculous flailing around in the air, and also he thinks they're being lazy while not being lazy, which he finds an ingenious and entirely useless Midgardian invention. Tony has to grant that he has a point about the laziness, but that's not really an invention, is it, they can't have the monopoly on laziness here.

"Oh, you do, you really do," Loki informs them. "I thought the TV was the height of it already, and now I find that you have found ways to do something without going outside. Are you perhaps afraid of leaving your houses, puny as some of them are?"

"Hey!" Tony exclaims. "My house is not puny! It's a tower, come on, not even you could call this puny."

"Which is why I said "some", did I not?" Loki raises an eyebrow. "Tell me, is there more you do while staying seated?"

"Have you showed him the internet yet?" Natasha asks.

After that explanation, Loki's incredulity and amusement skyrockets. Tony is glad he doesn't feel like he needs to make humans and humanity attractive to Loki, because he'd sure have his work cut out for him if he did.

They play around with the TV some more, showing Loki several games and gaming consoles as well as, of course, the internet; it becomes something of a competition between Natasha and Tony, trying to outdo each other in things Loki will deem utterly pointless and/or the height of laziness. It's probably not helping Loki's image of Midgard any but at least it's funny, especially when Clint and Steve join them eventually. Not that Steve is of any help, mostly he's as confused as Loki is (or would be, if he allowed himself to be; generally Loki is primarily derisive and incredulous), but Clint knows really scary parts of the internet. He surpasses the lolcats, which Tony showed Loki and which Loki had deemed the most ridiculous thing he'd seen so far. ("animals do not speak that way, they do not communicate the way people do at all, this is preposterous")

"Is that porn," Tony says when Clint gives him another web page. So far they stayed away from porn by tacit agreement.

"It's ridiculous cumfaces," Clint replies, and, okay, that does sound funny actually. Except it turns out Loki doesn't agree at all, he frowns and expresses his inability to understand why anyone would allow themselves to be photographed in such a private moment for others to laugh about. Steve nods along, face flushed red, so they stay away from anything remotely resembling porn from that moment on.

"I think we should stop," Tony eventually decides, winking at Loki. "I think we're this close to convincing you that destroying the planet would be putting us out of our misery."

"That is starting to look more and more attractive," Loki sniffs. "It would be a kindness to you and others."

So they order more food and watch a movie instead, Tony picking The Transporter because it's fun for everyone. Bruce and Tony get to mock physics, Loki and Clint can complain about how ridiculously impossible some of the moves are (and how they could have done better) and Steve and Natasha can sniff about the simple to nonexistent plot and the terrible way women are portrayed. All in all, despite the annoying SHIELD thing, it turns out to have been a pretty enjoyable day, Tony decides when he goes to bed. Hopefully the whole rest of the week will pass that way, because then he'll be all nice and relaxed when he has to go to Asgard, and Loki hopefully will too.

Unfortunately, remembering the impending visit completely destroys Tony's good mood. Loki of course notices it, even though Tony's back is turned while he's taking his clothes off.

"What is it?" he asks as they climb into bed

Tony just shrugs. He doesn't want to ruin Loki's mood as well.

"Tony." Loki narrows his eyes at him. Clearly he's not letting it go, but Tony didn't seriously expect him to.

"Just thinking about Asgard." Tony frowns. "How do you think the trial is going to go?"

"As I told you before, I was never able to predict the Allfather's behavior," Loki snaps. Then he takes a deep breath and adds, more calmly, "It's possible he will not execute me this time."

Well, that doesn't cheer Tony up at all, but it reminds him that he needs to talk to Loki about the measures he took about that. "So… I might have an idea about that. You know, to possibly sway Odin towards not doing it."

"I doubt there is anything that could do that," Loki replies. "What is it you thought of, then?"

"Okay, so. One of our countries, Norway, it's where many Vikings used to live, so they're sort of, well, territorial about the whole Vikings thing and by extension, sort of, well, you and Thor. They're offering you honorary citizenship. It doesn't have to mean anything if you don't want it to, but we can spin it so it means they have some claim on you."

"Do they, though?" Loki asks. Tony can't tell at all what he thinks about that.

"Nope. I took care of it, primarily they just want to be able to say that you're their citizens," Tony quickly explains.

Loki raises one eyebrow dubiously. "And that is supposed to sway the Allfather?"

"That's just the beginning." Tony copies Loki's expression, raising an eyebrow as well. "With that, you'll be citizens of this planet, meaning you can officially enter SHIELD's employment, and also, well. I thought we could marry?"

Tony didn't expect for Loki's face to go slack in complete surprise. "What?"

"It doesn't have to mean anything either," Tony says hastily.

That doesn't seem to comfort Loki at all; he starts to frown. "What exactly are you suggesting?"

"Uh, well, the thought behind it is to prove to Odin that you have many ties on Earth and that it would be diplomatically unwise to execute you," Tony explains. "I'm sure SHIELD would love to employ you, it means you'll get paid and I'm sure they'll want you enough that you can negotiate whatever you want to."

"I know that." Loki glares at him. "What I'm most interested in is your pitiful marriage proposal."

Ah. Well, if you look at it that way, that was really pitiful. Tony blinks and takes Loki's hand, folding it between his. "Okay, darling, listen. I really like you, and I think it would be a horrible shame if your father killed you before we could, you know, thoroughly… get to know each other. So I would like to ask you… will you marry me?"

The corner of Loki's mouth twitches up. "Better. I will consider it." With that, he lies down and pointedly closes his eyes.

The next day Loki says he has things to do, which turns out to be a session at SHIELD during which he discusses what he wants in return for lending his warriors to Earth (nothing, as of yet, but an official acknowledgement that he is owed, which Fury, grinding his teeth, gives to him because he knows very well that without the Jötunn the whole battle could have turned out very differently). Then, securing himself another favor, he agrees to show to them in detail how the Chitauri tech works, because it turns out that without some sort of unknown Chitauri energy source around nothing works. For this demonstration Tony gets invited, sparing him from the need to pretend that he isn't neck-deep in SHIELD's files and actually tapped into the meeting with Loki.

It's a bit funny; when Tony gets to the warehouse SHILED is using as a temporary storage unit for some of the recovered Chitauri tech Loki is surrounded by a group of people, all in awe of him, if for different reasons. Loki seems to half bathe in the attention, half be annoyed by it, and when Tony enters the big hall he turns to him with some relief visible on his face. "Finally," he says, striding over and offering his hand to Tony.

Unsure what Loki expects him to do with it – kiss it? Shake it? Both seems ridiculous – Tony uses it to pull him in and kiss him. "I hear you're going to blow some stuff up, wouldn't miss that for the world."

"You can be the target," Loki offers dryly, keeping Tony's fingers tangled with his. Around them people flutter, trying to catch mostly Loki's attention, which Tony isn't used to – usually he's the star when he deigns to show his face at one of SHIELD's labs, field or otherwise.

Tony grins. "I can take anything you throw at me, babe."

"Well, in that case." Loki rolls his eyes heavenwards. "I suppose I can reward that sort of loyalty with a marriage of convenience."

Tony gets that, despite the dry, almost sarcastic tone of voice, Loki means it – that he's grateful for Tony's "loyalty" (Tony isn't sure he likes that word, it has too many connotations he wouldn't apply to himself). He grins widely and kisses Loki again.

"If you lovebirds are done…" Fury growls behind them. His agents have cleared one side of the hall and put up a pile of as-intact-as-possible Chitauri tech as well as some targets. Cameras and scanners are everywhere.

Loki pulls away from Tony and walks over there, pulling Tony along with him by his hand, trailed by a gaggle of scientists. Taking one of the guns, Loki sends a spark of energy into it, making it activate, and casually shoots a target, making it explode.

"They draw their energy from an external energy source," Tony says needlessly; they have already figured that out despite the fact that this time around they weren't lucky enough to be able to deactivate all warriors by destroying the mothership, because the mothership had been nowhere to be found. Tony has a theory that it hid in the shadow of the moon and took off when they lost. It means there are more Chitauri out there, not a comforting thought, but hopefully they learnt their lesson and won't come back for more. "It's send to the receivers on a wavelength we weren't able to crack before they took off," Tony adds as Loki dismantles the weapon, exposing its parts to them. This was another thing; it's impossible to take the weapons impart, they're just dead and completely resistant to any external force.

"Xrkcht," Loki says.

Tony blinks. "What?"

Loki grimaces. "It's untranslatable. The name of their energy source. It is a… religious matter, I suppose, though in a far more directly dependent manner than what you practice here."

"What does that mean exactly?" Fury interjects impatiently.

Loki raises an eyebrow at him. "That it is not unviable that they will return. Until that energy source is destroyed, they will not lose their spirit, literally as well as metaphorically."

"Is it only one energy source?" Fury asks, stepping closer.

"There were two others, but Tony destroyed them through the portal," Loki replies. He hadn't mentioned any of that before.

"So you're saying they will return," Fury surmises.

"Likely so, yes. Thanos will certainly not give up for his pride, if he will be temporarily satisfied by the great number of deaths that occurred recently."

"Yeah, what's up with that?" Tony asks. It had taken him a while to notice the lack of climax, because even without a big boss to beat, the fight had been difficult enough.

"He is courting Lady Death," Loki says blandly, handing Tony the pieces of the disassembled gun before moving on to a helmet. The gun is dead again but in pieces Tony can find out far more about it.

"Okay, so is that Lady Death as in a literal sense or metaphorical, because I can never tell with you people."

"What would be the point in courting metaphorical death?" Loki asks, motioning one of the scientists over with an imperial gesture. Looking terrified, the guy obeys and freezes in something like terror when Loki puts the helmet over his head. Then he exclaims in surprise at what he sees and seems to forget his fear as he looks around. When Loki pulls his hand away from the helmet, taking the energy out of it, he makes a disappointed noise. While Loki is already moving on the scientist takes the helmet off and is immediately mobbed by a bunch of his colleagues, whispering furiously.

Tony passes them by and follows Loki, who passes by several bits of Chitauri armour he apparently deems unworthy of his attention. Several scientists plus Tony and Fury follow behind Loki, keeping miraculously silent. "So there is a literal person Death out there," Tony surmises, "and this Thanos guy is trying to… what, woo her?"

"She does appreciate his efforts, it is within her nature after all, but does not truly revel in mindless genocide," Loki says absently, walking around a vehicle and examining it with a frown. "There is a balance within all the realms and even between, and the eradication of one species would upset it." He grimaces self-deprecatingly, but nobody but Tony will understand why. "This is why Thanos is probably happy about how the invasion was dissolved. He has set his mind on quality, not quantity. Come here."

Pursing his lips, Tony finally hands the pieces of the gun over to a scientist with a warning look. He wants it back when Loki is done with the demonstration.

Taking Tony's hand once more, Loki guides Tony onto the vehicle to the helm.

"Concentrate on not flying," Loki says, steps onto the thing and activates it.

"Whoa," Tony exclaims as it jumps up into the air. Keep still, keep still, he thinks fiercely, and the thing freezes and just… hovers there.

Loki puts a hand on Tony's shoulder, keeping the other on the thing, holding on to something that looks a lot like reigns. The thing does feel a bit like a horse, impatient to be let loose, Tony can feel it in the back of his mind, which, well, creepy.

"Now fly," Loki says.

Very carefully, Tony lets the thing go. It starts to lift higher up in the air; Tony waits for it to do something else but it just rises and rises straight up.

"Don't be afraid," Loki murmurs.

Tony can't let that stand. "I'm not afraid." He lets go a bit further and starts to feel differences in the pull of the thing. He follows one of the pulls and they get a definite right tilt, moving up diagonally now. It doesn't take him more than a couple of more tries before he has figured out how the rest of it works and takes a couple of rounds around the room.

"We could go outside," Loki suggests.

"Yeah, I don't think that's a good idea," Tony disagrees unhappily. Maybe if he brings one of them to an unpopulated area… biting his lip, Tony lowers the vehicle to the ground again under the rapt attention of all scientists.

"How does it work?" one of them asks eagerly as they step off.

"You kinda steer it with your mind," Tony replies. "It's almost as if it has its own mind?"

"I'd like for you to take somebody else around the rooms," Fury tells him, surprisingly polite in words if not in tone.

"No," Loki says. "I do not trust anyone else to steer it, and I do not wish to get injured because somebody wasn't able to control it. Nor would I like to be responsible for somebody's death," he adds, almost an afterthought. "Also, there is the matter of it invading the rider's thoughts. I know for a fact that Tony is strong enough mentally, but I do not know this about anybody else."

"Can't you power them without being in direct contact with them?" the scientist with the helmet asks, tone this close to demanding.

It earns him a coolly unimpressed look. "No."

Tony thinks there might be more to it – if Loki can power them through touch it stands to reason that he should be able to power them remotely, especially considering that's how they're built – but he doesn't say anything about it.

Fury sighs. "Well, I suppose it's better than nothin'. What about the rest?" He gestures towards the other stuff piled up, bits and pieces of armors, more guns (though there really is only one type of guns so there isn't much of a point to testing more).

Loki smiles sweetly. "Perhaps now is the time to discuss my future employment within your organization."

Both of Fury's eyebrows fly up. "You want us to hire you."

"I would like to hold an official position, with recompense of course. Tony tells me he's a consultant in his areas of expertise. I doubt you have anyone available with my skillset."

Fury's face remains unmoved, but they all know it's true. "Does it have to be now?"

"I would rather get it out of the way," Loki says lightly. "They have enough to play with for now, don't they? And this shouldn't take long."

With a resigned expression Fury waves him forwards and wanders off. Tony briefly considers joining them but Loki raises an eyebrow at him before following Fury and yeah, okay. Tony's being patronizing again. Loki can more than hold his own, he has much more experience than Tony anyway. He needs to stop hovering like an over-protective boyfriend.

Fiancé. Tony grins widely for a moment before he catches himself, tells himself firmly to get a grip and throws himself into the gaggle of scientists to reclaim the pieces of the disassembled gun Loki gave him.

He gets a bit lost examining them; it's far less exciting than it would be if there were energy in them but it's still pretty fascinating even as dead as it is. He's trying to find the receiver for the energy – there must be one – but it's like trying to find a certain word in a foreign language without any knowledge of said language, or even a dictionary. Because Tony is Tony and they're actually talking about technology, based on physics – the laws of physics are unbendable, the question is rather which of the ones humans consider a given aren't as set in stone as they assume currently – he is more or less fluent in, to stay within the metaphor, the language's grammar and can thus make an educated guess, but in the end it's still just that: a guess.

"You are starting to look frustrated," somebody says; when Tony looks up from the table the assembled pieces are lying on he finds that Loki has fought his way to the front of the gaggle of scientists clustering around Tony. Though going by the way they're looking at him, wide-eyed and awed with even a bit of fear mixed in, it was probably more like Moses parting the Red Sea by his mere presence.

"I think I just…" Tony waves at the piece he's been examining.

Amused, Loki reaches out and touches the piece; immediately parts of it stat to glow and it feels less like a dead piece of stone. Tony makes an excited noise and bends over it again, scanner recording everything.

"You cannot touch it like this when it's powered by anything but me," Loki says as Tony pokes bits of it with a tiny screwdriver, staring through a looking glass.

"Why?" Tony asks, managing to remove a covering to reveal a pale green source of light. That must be the receiver, he's fairly sure. Heh, he's awesome.

"Because it would kill you," Loki says.

Tony blinks and looks up. "What?"

"It does not want to be examined by enemies," Loki explains. "This is why it dies without the Xrkcht near."

"So, wait." Tony puts the screwdriver down. "Are you saying this thing is… alive?"

"Alive in the same sense as the transport platform. Less than the Leviathans and Chitauri drones, certainly less than the Guide and most especially the Xrkcht, but still more than something that is not alive."

Tony stares down at the thing in revulsion.

"Just because it's alive does not mean it has feelings," Loki says sharply. "Or a conscience, nor any of the things one needs to have for you to apply your charming term humane to them – a delightfully biased and self-centered word and concept, by the way."

"Right." Tony licks his lips, feeling a little less like he's just exposed somebody's heart for all to see, but he's lost the fun of trying to figure it out nevertheless. Glancing around the surrounding scientists, he points randomly at one of them. "You, finish this, will ya?" With that he gets up and wanders off. Loki follows him into a more private corner, where Tony activates an emitter that will prevent them from being listened in to or recorded electronically. It's a prototype, being field tested for the first time today.

"How did the discussion go?" Tony asks, leaning against the wall. "You take Fury to the cleaners?"

"I do not know what that means," Loki frowns. "But we did make a satisfactory agreement, yes."

Tony wonders how satisfactory Fury finds it and grins at the thought of Fury grinding his teeth while Loki acts like the haughty prince he is and won't accept anything less than his demands being met. "Brilliant, babe." Tony leans in and kisses him.

"Hn." Loki raises an eyebrow. "Your own rumored brilliance is sinking in my estimation the longer it takes you to ask me what I meant when I said Thanos is concentrating more on quality than quantity. Unless you have figured it already out, but I doubt that because your reaction was rather casual."

It takes Tony a moment to figure out what Loki is talking about; he frowns. "You can't blame me for that, you were distracting me with awesome tech, anybody- wait. Quantity instead of quality? Does that mean what I think it means?"

"Contrary to popular opinion, I cannot read minds."

"That he's going to try to kill people who are hard to kill?" Tony says. "Meaning, you? Asgard? Jötunheimr?"

Loki frowns. "That… actually is a logical assumption, though the answer I arrived at makes just as much sense. I find it both sweet and worrying that you first think of me instead of yourself."

"Me?" What? "You're saying he's going to go for… me?"

"For the heroes who are primarily responsible for foiling him," Loki says. "Or at least, he would see it that way. You have received a lot of attention for that ever since the failed invasion, not just within your own realm. Others are starting to take Midgardians seriously as a people as well."

Tony frowns. "Is that a good or a bad thing? And are you sure he's not going to go for you? I mean, you can't tell me it's unlikely, you're the one who started the resistance against him."

"As with everything, it can be both," Loki clarifies. "So far, you have just gained some attention, nothing more. Refrain from attacking anyone and that's all you will get for now. And no, I do not consider it unlikely, but I am clearly affiliated with you, and you as a group of… heroes have headed your people's resistance against the Chitauri and consequently, him. It is a matter of pride if nothing else to… show you your place."

Yeah, makes sense. "Okay. What do you think he's going to do?"

"Come personally," Loki immediately replies. "So it would behoove you to prepare."

"Shit." Tony grimaces. "We can never catch a break, can we? When can we expect him?"

Loki lifts his shoulders. "Anytime between now and within the year. It is hard to tell."

Great. With a sigh Tony pulls Loki in by the waist and leans his forehead on his collarbone. "Brilliant. Well, one thing after the other. Asgard and Odin first, yeah?"

"If you say so. Do you need anything else here?"

Tony pulls away a little and leans around Loki to peer at the crowded side of the warehouse. "Did you tell Fury about the quality instead of quantity thing?"

"I did, yes. I suppose it is a light commendation to your intelligence that it took him a little longer to make the connection." Loki sighs exaggeratedly. "I will have to get used to your slower brains."

"Oi!" Tony pokes him in the ribs less than gently. "Don't distract me with new tech next time, it's like porn to me. I get stuff."

"Perhaps." Without another word Loki transports them into the tower's living room, where they startle Clint into yelping and dropping a bowl of cereal.

"A chicken, not a hawk, eh?" Tony smirks.

Natasha frowns at the milk being absorbed by the carpet. "That'll have to be professionally cleaned." She punches Clint's arm. "You're such a clutz."

"JARVIS, you got that?" Tony asks.

"What exactly are you speaking of, sir?" JARVIS asks blandly. "Do you wish for me to save a recording of Agent Barton's reaction on your private server so you can deliver it to posterity? Or would you like for me to call a professional carpet cleaner?"

Ah, Tony loves his AI. He grins and winks at Clint, who is eying him suspiciously. "Don't act like you haven't done both already."

"You know me too well, sir."

Clint starts to protest, but Tony just laughs and drags Loki to the bedroom. He actually doesn't have any lewd intentions in doing that; he's wearing a suit and just wants to put some comfortable clothes on, but somehow it ends up with him half dressed, pressed against the wall while Loki kisses him breathless. This certainly would have gone further, but Thor has impeccable timing and chooses that moment to show up.

"Sir, Thor has returned," JARVIS interrupts completely unapologetically.

Immediately Loki pulls away from him; Tony groans and follows his mouth and Loki does allow him another short kiss, but soon pushes him away. "Thor will be looking for me." Regret plain on his face, he brushes Tony's bunched up undershirt down before taking a step back.

"Fine." With a sigh and a slight pout, Tony fishes a shirt from somewhere and pulls it over his head before stepping into a pair of jeans. He's a bit surprised that Loki is waiting for him but doesn't say a word about it.

As predicted, Thor is waiting for them in the living room, practically vibrating in his seat; Natasha and Clint exchange confused glances that clear up when Thor, as soon as Loki enters the room, jumps up, exclaims "Brother!" and practically pounces on Loki.

It's clearly not unusual or unexpected behavior, because Loki just rolls his eyes heavenwards and lets Thor pull him into a big hug. Tony stands by a bit awkwardly until Thor appears to suddenly notice him and pulls him in as well, so Tony ends up squished half against Loki. "I am glad to see you are well, my friend," Thor says. "You have fought valiantly in battle."

"Thanks," Tony manages to get out. Thor lets go then, thankfully, allowing Tony to finally breathe freely again. "You did well too," he adds, patting Tony awkwardly on his arm. "Your warriors were awesome."

They already went through it all before Thor had left but, well, it bears repeating. Without the Æsir warriors they would've been far worse off.

"It was a good battle," Thor says with a nod. Smalltalk with that apparently out of the way, he then turns to his brother, putting both hands on Loki's shoulders. "Brother. I am very relieved to see you well. I was greatly worried about you."

"I'm sure Heimdall told you I'm fine," Loki replies.

"He did." Thor nods. "Upon my return to Asgard after the battle. But for weeks, all I knew was that you had gone to Jötunheimr."

"I was pretty freaked out too," Tony feels the need to add, because he doesn't remember if he said anything about it before or not. "But it ended pretty good, didn't it?"

"Indeed." Thor nods. "The Jötunn's appearance to aid us was momentous." He and Loki share a look.

Tony gives them a moment but, when they just keep staring, he shuffles on his feet a little and clears his throat. "So… food?"

"Yes," Loki says a little too quickly, immediately turning his attention on Tony. "I would like to try this kebab you have told me about."

"Doner kebab," Tony corrects absently, fishing a tablet from between the sofa pillows. He calls up the menu and looks at Natasha and Clint who are half watching the TV, half the proceedings between the Norse gods and Tony. "You guys up for some?"

"Heck yeah," Clint agrees enthusiastically; Natasha nods. Their orders are done quickly, but Thor and Loki's take a lot more time because Tony has to explain all ingredients and sauces and what tastes good and what doesn't. While they debate what they might like or not Clint goes to collect Steve and Bruce, and after the two are done as well Tony can finally send off the order. With the food on the way they all find seats around the living room and discuss the battle, but soon move on to different topics (they were all there, what is there much to talk about?). It turns into a nice evening of team bonding, Tony gets all warm and fuzzy about it – at the fact that they're really a proper team now, or at least well on the way.

"You're terribly smug," Loki says when they climb into bed in the early morning hours.

"Yeah, well." Tony shrugs. "You weren't there, but believe me, this is the closest we've been as a team in all the loops." He hesitates for a moment. "And, well, you're here. Can't blame me for liking that best."

"But doubt your sanity, that I can do," Loki returns, sounding amused.

Tony frowns. "Yeah, wouldn't be the only one, but why would you do that?"

"Not often is my presence considered as generally improving," Loki explains, the corners of his mouth still turned up.

The frown on Tony's face deepens. "Well, I consider it so," he nearly snaps, settling as close to Loki as he can.

Loki looks at him calmly. "I am aware," is all he says, and his face doesn't reveal anything, but he puts his arm around Tony's waist and pulls him closer still.

The following day they have some bureaucracy to do – Thor has an appointment with SHIELD but Loki and Tony have to talk to him beforehand about the whole citizens of Norway and becoming employed at SHIELD thing. Thor at first seems a bit confused at the subterfuge, but then he understands the reason and that it's not actually a lie per se and is fully on board with it.

When Thor is gone Tony and Loki… well, take care of what they didn't get to take care of because Thor interrupted them yesterday. Then they plan the wedding, meaning Tony throws money at some people to get them an appointment today, and then Tony goes to find somebody who will be his witness, because he sort of forgot about that until they mentioned it when he made his appointment. Maybe he would have picked Pepper if he had thought about it, but they're still not back to normal after the fight. Loki will obviously pick Thor, which leaves Tony with… actually, a whole team to pick from.

He finds them all in the living room. "Hey guys," he says, "you got a minute?"

"Sure, what's up?" Clint pauses the game and they all look at him curiously

"So." Tony drops into an armchair. "I kinda need a witness? Because Loki and I are getting married. Any volunteers?"

He didn't really expect it to go that easily, but he did not expect the completely, collectively shocked reaction this earns him.

"You're getting married?!" Clint exclaims.

"Well, yeah." Tony blinks at him.

"I have to keep reminding myself that you know each other for far longer because of the time loop," Bruce says. "Otherwise, honestly, I'd question your sanity"

"As it is I'm wondering," Natasha agrees. "I mean you can't know each other that long, it's not like you spent every loop together."

"That doesn't have to mean anything," Steve argues to Tony's surprise. "Sometimes you meet someone and just… know." He glances at Tony. "If that's the case here, it's really not our business to tell Tony not to follow his heart."

God, there probably isn't a more kitschy way to put it; Tony has to bite his tongue not to protest. Natasha catches his expression and raises an eyebrow, but somehow something must have changed her opinion, because suddenly she says, "You're right, Steve. They're consenting adults and everything." That seems to be some sort of sign, because everyone calms right down and is suddenly fully on board with the idea.

"I think Bruce should be your witness," Natasha says eventually.

Bruce ducks his head, flustered. "I'd be honored."

"Awesome." Tony grins widely. "You got time this afternoon at four?"

"Today?!" Steve exclaims. "But that's not enough time to plan the party!"

Party? "What party?"

"Tony." Steve sends him a disappointed look. "You're getting married. Of course you need a party."

Uh, Tony wasn't aware that was a rule, but they don't let any protest count. He's getting married, so he's getting a party. And Tony isn't even allowed to make any sort of decision about it; they actually send him out to plan in peace.

Loki seems amused about his dilemma when Tony tells him about it all. "They are not wrong," he says. "A union is something to be celebrated. I take it you didn't tell them about the actual reason, then."

"No." Tony raises an eyebrow. "Figured the less people know, the better. Besides, after Pepper... nah, not having that sort of conversation again."

"What conversation?"

So Tony gets to tell Loki about how pissed off Pepper had been about the whole marriage of convenience thing. "And I mean, she does have a point," he says, "but seriously. I do too. It's not like even most marriages are for love or whatever. People have countless reasons to get married, and most of the time they have to do with themselves, if they aren't economic. And I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but what I actually hate about it is how they pretend that it's actually for love forever and ever." His own parents had definitely not married for love, but they at least hadn't pretended that's what it had been either.

"Marriages on Asgard are generally political," Loki says. "Mine certainly was."

"You were married before?" That's news to Tony. "Are you separated now?"

Loki sends him a look. "Yes. And while there were other, more personal reasons, primarily it was to bind our resources together, magically speaking. After the spell we needed to weave was done we separated."

"What sort of spell?" Tony asks curiously. He's not jealous or anything – he really isn't, Loki is like a thousand years old, of course he would have had previous lovers, even people that mean the world to him. Besides, it's not like they have a Disney romance going on or anything.

An absent expression appears on Loki's face as he gets lost in memories. "We received a prophecy," he says slowly, a troubled frown starting to mar his features. "It was... we were willing to do a lot to make sure it wouldn't come to pass. So we invented a spell and made it so."

"What was it? What you prevented."

Loki blinks and returns to reality. He glances at Tony. "It is not of importance anymore. Perhaps I will tell you about it some day. We paid a price, and it is done now. In the past."

Well, Tony can understand the need to leave something in the past. "Okay then. Let's figure out what to wear later, I have a feeling the others aren't going to accept if we get married in jeans and t-shirt."

So they go through his wardrobe. Tony doesn't want suits and especially not tuxes, but he thinks slacks and button-down shirts are a good compromise between informal and formal and picks a gray on gray pinstriped slacks, dark blue shirt combination. Loki takes considerably longer to pick something, greatly dissatisfied with even what people consider formal on Midgard, and at several points considers wearing something Æsir instead. But every time he mentions it his face tightens and eventually he grows impatient with himself and hisses, "But I am not Æsir, so I shall not wear Æsir clothes."

Then he picks a black shirt and black slacks from Tony's selection, steps into the ill-fitting clothes and somehow magically makes it so they fit him perfectly. While Tony ogles him Loki inspects himself in the mirror, brushing wrinkles out with his hands. Eventually he seems satisfied with his clothes and steps out of them again. "We shall find something for Thor too," he decides and easily picks dark blue slacks and a red shirt from Tony's selection.

"I hope you can make those fit too, because right now Thor isn't even going to fit into the sleeves," Tony comments.

"Of course," Loki says haughtily. He's naked, because he still doesn't believe in underwear. They literally just got out of the shower barely an hour ago, and Tony could already...

"JARVIS, how is Thor's date with SHIELD going?"

"They seem to be wrapping up, sir," JARVIS tells him readily.

Tony frowns. Probably not enough time, unless they hurry... but Thor has this fast hammer travel thing going on...

"Sir, Mr. Rogers would like to know if you would like to invite anyone to the party. He suggests Phil Coulson, Director Fury and Maria Hill while Agent Romanov suggests Ms. Potts and Colonel Rhodes."

"Does she now." At the reminder of Natasha's brief stint of spying on him Tony's mouth tightens. "I'll call Pepper. No to Fury and Hill, yes to Coulson."

"Should I patch a call to Ms. Potts through, sir?" Wisely, JARVIS doesn't mention Rhodey again. That is a can of worms Tony isn't willing to open yet. Yeah, they get on well when it's about stuff like suit upgrades, but… they have both changed too much to regain something remotely like their old equilibrium where anything else is concerned.

"Yeah, might as well." Tony leans against the wall and watches with regret as Loki pulls some clothes on again – not the leather getup he wore before that Tony has the suspicion counts as casual on Asgard, but clothes from the shelves Tony cleared for him. He has no idea how Loki figured that out.

"Tony, what is it? You know I'm busy leading your company," Pepper answers the phone impatiently.

"I know but, if you have some time to spare, I'm getting married later today and the others are throwing me a party, so, if you wanna come..."

Pepper is silent for a moment. "Tony... I'm really not sure that's a good idea."

Yeah, Tony figured as much. "Well, think about it or something, you know where the tower is, you can come if you want to. I'll leave you to my company then." JARVIS quits the call at Tony's gesture before Pepper can say anything else.

"You were friends, before?" Loki asks, curiosity and sympathy both on his face.

"I think so." Tony grimaces. "Thought so. I'm starting to think it was just us dancing around each other, sexual tension, flirting, both too scared to actually do anything about it... I think we took a wrong turn somewhere, and now that it's clear that nothing's going to come out of it, we're... well, just not anything anymore."

"It happens," Loki says. "Perhaps, once you have both lived past that, you can salvage something from the remains."

"Maybe." Tony shrugs. He'd like that, he's been dependent on Pepper for far too long to want to live without her, and he does sort of miss her. She always knew when to kick his ass. Well, sometimes she kicked it when she shouldn't have, but it's not like Tony is completely innocent in the matter.

Once Loki is dressed they wander off into the kitchen – the living room still being barred from them due to frantic party planning – and have some coffee for Tony, tea for Loki. Thor eventually returns and Loki fits Tony's clothes to him, a process that looks considerably less smooth than it does when he does it for himself because Tony's clothes at least fit him somewhat. Thor can't even get into anything, the slacks end up stuck somewhere around his ankles because they don't go over his tree trunk thighs, and his shoulders are too broad for him to even get into the sleeves of the shirt, much less pull it up. It looks all kinds of hilarious and Tony has JARVIS take some pictures, but eventually Loki has managed to make it so the clothes fit, and Thor looks adorably enthusiastic about it. Then he gets a bit shy and asks if he can invite Jane, clearly not quite understanding the part where she's several hours away and couldn't make it in time even if she wanted to. To both Tony and Thor's surprise Loki, after Tony explains the problem to Thor, offers to pick her up, if she is willing. Thor wanders off to call her and returns half an hour later, looking a bit like he cried, but clearly happy.

They have lunch with everybody, during which Loki and Thor are asked several completely unsubtle questions about the kinds of food they like, and then everybody suddenly has to get ready, because apparently it's not just Bruce and Thor that will accompany Loki and Tony to the City Clerk's office. Somehow, Tony ends up having to call in his spare driver to fit all the people into his limousine, and then Loki is suddenly gone and JARVIS informs him that he's nowhere in the tower. For a brief moment everybody looks stricken and tries not to glance sympathetically at Tony, but then Loki steps out of thin air, a petite, pretty woman clinging to his arm.

"My Jane!" Thor bellows, and she launches herself at him, jumps up and punches him in the jaw.

Tony has met her in a previous loop, had employed her for several weeks in fact, but this is the moment where he realizes that he actually likes her a lot.

They have a bit of a screaming match – well, Jane screams, and then she cries, and then Thor cries, and then they cry on each other for a while and generally make everybody very uncomfortable with their domestic fight, and then suddenly everything is okay again.

"Oh my god, I'm so sorry," Jane tearfully says when she realizes the spectacle she just put up, and in front of whom it unfolded.

"Nah, I think we've all felt the impulse to punch a Norse god at one point in our lives," Tony says.

She laughs and dabs at her eyes. "Still, that probably wasn't... I think I ruined my make up."

"Easily fixed," Natasha says, takes her elbow and leads her away. Ten minutes later they return and Tony sort of thinks her make-up looks better now than it did before she started crying, but it's not like he's an expert, or wants to end up on the receiving end of her fist, so he doesn't say anything.

Finally, everybody piles into the cars and they all drive to the City Clerk's office. Natasha and Clint are both armed with digital cameras and snap countless pictures as they all walk through the long halls, a terribly noisy group. The wedding itself isn't really what Tony would call that; the clerk seems a bit confused at the crowd (and at their oddness, nobody would call any of them normal) because Tony hadn't mentioned anything about it on the telephone. In fact, he'd said it'd be a fast, private affair, over and done with quickly. This doesn't look like it'll be any of that. The guy's speech, consequently, is a bit uncoordinated, clearly unprepared but built on previous similar speeches as he says something about unions and intertwined lives and compromises and communication and has them both promise to always be there for each other etc. Then the bureaucratic part follows where they sign and Bruce and Thor sign (Loki and Thor need a lot of room for all their titles, especially Loki, because he isn't just Prince Loki Odinsson of Asgard but also Prince Loki Laufeyson of Jötunheimr and a bunch of other stuff, among which apparently some big wig head sorcerer or something), and then they're done.

"I can't believe you don't have rings," Natasha grumbles as they leave. "Hey, you! Take a photo."

The guy she corralled freezes mid-step, eyes wide. He glances at the group, gulps and takes the camera Natasha hands over to him. Natasha herds them all into a nice group on the steps in front of the building, the guy takes a photo (several, rather, because "come on, more than one, can't trust these people not to look like complete idiots!") and then Natasha tells Tony that they're going to stop at a jeweler's. Wisely, Tony chooses not to protest and instructs Happy accordingly; the others don't come with them and instead head home to prepare the party, so it's just Natasha, Tony and Loki in the shop. After a quiet discussion Tony and Loki both pick simple, slim gold bands, getting each other's names engraved on the inside. While they wait for the engraving Natasha peers at some expensive combos of earrings, necklaces and other fitting stuff – bracelets, pretty hair pins and combs, rings. It's clear she isn't really used to this price range.

"This would suit you," Tony comments, pointing at a platinum with green diamonds combination.

"No," Loki says, "These." He points at something similar, the metal is still platinum, but with emeralds instead.

Natasha hums in agreement.

"Where's the difference?" Tony asks. They look pretty similar to him.

"The emeralds are of a warmer green," Loki replies. "Her skin is pale, but the color of her hair invites warmer colors. The diamonds are grassier, colder."

Okay then. This is why Tony rarely dresses himself; he doesn't understand half of what Loki said just now.

The jeweler returns with their rings; noting their interest he tries to make the combo attractive to them but Natasha smiles and says she can't afford it. Over the jeweler's slightly flustered apologies they leave, and as Natasha climbs into the limo ahead of them Tony and Loki share a look. Tony makes a mental note to buy the set for Natasha for some special occasion, a birthday maybe, Christmas, glad-you-didn't-die, something. Otherwise she wouldn't accept it, if he gave it to her just like that.

At the tower, they're greeted with champagne flutes; the others have apparently been waiting impatiently. The living room has been prepared for a party with mood lightening, music and a buffet table full of nice food including sushi and other stuff that doesn't really fit together but that Tony especially likes. He notes that there are several desserts involving honey, including honeyed fried banana and pineapple, almond triangles and some sort of cupcake with a honey cream filling. Loki is very on board with that part of the buffet.

The party is nice; certainly nicer than most parties Tony has gone to because he doesn't have to schmooze, doesn't have to pretend to be anything he's not (for example, a nice person). Pepper doesn't come and Tony is a little sad about it, but not too broken up. The tension between them would probably have ruined the good mood, and he wants to repair them, but he doesn't know how.

"This was surprisingly nice," Tony comments when he and Loki are finally alone after the party breaks up in the early hours of the morning. He's a bit tipsy – everybody got a bit tipsy and some people did things they're probably going to be embarrassed about in the morning – but he deliberately didn't get drunk. This is his wedding night; the only one he'll likely have.

"Did you expect it not to be?" Loki asks curiously, undoing the last buttons of his shirt. Over the course of the evening Tony sneakily undid the top buttons one after the other, slowly revealing Loki's neck, then his collarbone, his sternum. Loki had let him and Natasha had gotten in a nice couple of photos, Tony is sure of it, he's going to have to check later.

"Not- no, not really," Tony replies, frowning as he thinks about it. "I'm just not used to it, I guess. Having friends, I mean."

"Me neither," Loki says quietly, stepping out of his trousers. Tony pauses where he's pulling his own shirt over his head to watch because, damn. He married well, and he's not speaking economically.

Noticing Tony's attention on him as he folds his clothes over a chair, Loki raises an eyebrow at him, smiles a little. "You are aware that on Asgard, a marriage is not considered valid until it has been consummated?"

"It's similar here," Tony agrees, looking Loki up and down and licking his lips.

"You do need to be naked for that," Loki says, lying down on bed and stretching out to fish the lube out from under the pillow.

Very quickly, Tony throws his clothes off before throwing himself onto the bed next to Loki. He takes the lube from his husband and pulls him into a kiss, a long, languid affair that ends with him half on top of Loki, pressing him into the mattress. They're slow, take their time; Loki reclaims the lube, coats his fingers and starts to stretch himself. Tony kisses down his neck, licks at his collarbone before moving down to his belly, nibbling at the sensitive skin there. Loki draws sharp breaths and tries not to laugh; Tony's being too gentle, he's learned this already, Loki is so ticklish in some places that touching him too softly will make him laugh.

"Tony!" Loki finally gasps, trying to make his voice firm despite the giggles trying to break their way free. He doesn't sound like someone you take serious but Tony knows better than to keep teasing; he stops being gentle and presses his teeth into the skin right below Loki's bellybutton, scrapes lower, chin brushing over Loki's erection.

"Tony," Loki says again, considerably more strained now.

Tony hums thoughtfully and, well-aware that Loki expects him to keep teasing, sucks Loki's cock into his mouth before Loki knows it's happening.

Loki exclaims in surprise, body going tense as he instinctively draws his legs up, upper body curling towards his middle as well. Humming again Tony sinks further down, sucking hard, making Loki gasp and moan. It takes Loki a moment to catch himself and go back to preparing himself, Tony can tell by how Loki's body goes slack, knees falling wide. Wanting to know better what's going on Tony cups Loki's balls, presses a knuckle into the sensitive bundle of nerves below before moving further down, brushing the tips of his fingers over Loki's, counting. He has two in right now but when Tony's fingers touch his, Loki pulls them out, takes Tony's index finger between his and pushes all three of them back in. Together they finish stretching him; Tony pays close attention to Loki's breathing, for some reason it's one of the things he finds the hottest about this, the way Loki's breath quickens, goes strained when he tries to regulate it, turns shallow and fast again when he forgets himself and gets lost in the combined sensation of Tony's mouth on him and the fingers in him.

Almost simultaneously they pull their fingers out; Tony pulls off Loki's cock and tries to crawl up Loki's body, but with a hand on his chest Loki pushes him on his back instead, swings one leg over Tony's hips, takes Tony's cock with his slick hand and sinks down on it. He's so smooth and fast Tony is almost surprised; he groans and clamps his hands down on Loki's hips. Loki is looking down on him, a small smile playing around his lips even as he pants for air, getting used to the feeling of Tony's cock stretching him.

Tony bites his lower lip and tries to keep as still as possible; his hips keep trying to twitch up, trying to push deeper into Loki. It gets infinitely more difficult when Loki clenches up around him, making Tony gasp and go tense all over.

"Damn, babe," he gasps. "Move!"

Loki smiles sweetly, but finally starts to move, at first just tiny rolls of his hips that slowly build up until he's full on riding Tony. At the beginning he concentrates more on Tony and his reactions, Tony can tell, and he makes sure Loki gets his fill, moans loudly and lets his eyes flutter shut, showing how much he's enjoying this. Loki moans as well, picks up the pace eventually, starting to focus more on his own enjoyment, and Tony likes that even better than when Loki concentrated more on him. Now he's the one who's watching, practically staring at Loki as he rides him fast with short movements, grinding down, rubbing Tony's cock against his prostate. His head is thrown back, he's biting his lower lip, face tense with pleasure. Tony watches as Loki gets completely lost on it, takes his pleasure from Tony's body and fuck, that's the hottest thing he's ever seen. Almost subconsciously he reaches out, takes Loki's cock in hand. Loki groans and forces his eyes open, looks down on him, eyes almost feverish. He's really close, Tony can see it, and reaches out with hits other hand, scraping his fingernails over Loki's belly. One hard, thorough grind of his hips later, Loki comes with a loud gasp, come hot in Tony's hand. Tony's own orgasm almost surprises him; he moans when Loki's body goes tight around him and doesn't manage to hold himself back any longer, thrusts up into Loki and comes.

Breathing heavily, Loki almost collapses on top of Tony; Tony catches him and directs him to the mattress, and then they just lie there and catch their breaths. Carelessly, Tony wipes his hand on the sheets before pushing closer, pressing a kiss to Loki's sweaty forehead. He's tired; the day finally starts to catch up with him and Loki too looks like he's half asleep already. Dragging the sheets up, Tony pulls them over both of them, tangles his fingers with Loki and allows himself to drift off. Sometime in the night, Loki wakes him up and they go another round, and again in the morning, and then in the shower until they have very thoroughly consumed their marriage. When they emerge sometime around lunchtime the others tease them a lot for it; they couldn't hear, Tony likes things soundproof, but it's fairly obvious what they've been doing.

"Please," Loki rolls his eyes when Clint jokes about how they can leave out the condoms now because they're married and their children won't be bastards now. Before he can say anything cutting – his expression makes very clear which direction his reply will take – Thor interrupts.

"Be careful what you say about my niece and nephews, friend Barton," he says dangerously.

Clint blinks; Loki wears a similarly shocked expression.

"Uh," Clint says, glancing back and forth between the brothers. "No offense? It was just a joke."

Tony decides to take mercy on him. "Should've done your research into Norse mythology, Barton. It's not a joke if it can actually happen." To Loki and Thor he explains, "On Earth men don't get pregnant. Er, male bodies can't get pregnant, it's physically impossible."

Both Thor and Loki seem a little nonplussed, but put it aside with a shared look that speaks plainly something along the lines of "strange Midgardians and their strange ways".

"So, what's going to happen now?" Natasha changes topics; she seems completely unaffected while Steve and Clint exchange dubious looks at the prospect of male pregnancy being common. "You're going back to Asgard, I heard something about that?"

"Yeah." Tony grimaces, glances at Loki and Thor. Thor is staring down at his plate while Loki looks completely unaffected, but by this point the blankness of his face is becoming telling to Tony all on its own. "The day after tomorrow," he tells Natasha, then asks about lunch. She doesn't bring it up again.

Over the next couple of days Tony does his best to pretend everything is alright, but sometimes things between him and Loki are tense. Not as in tension between them but as in that they're both tense and pretending they aren't.

When they wake up on the day they'll return to Asgard, there is no way to keep pretending; Tony wakes up to find himself under Loki's intense scrutiny. Face close to Tony's on the pillow, Loki makes no move to hide that he's been staring.

Tony blinks and licks his lips, clears his throat. Just when he isn't able to deal with the silence any longer he opens his mouth, but Loki is faster.

"I wanted to thank you," he says quietly. "For making what might very well be the last week of my life I have spent in freedom… enjoyable."

Shit. Tony wants to tell him not to talk like that, he doesn't want to hear it, but denial only works for so long and he doesn't want to push Loki away like that, not with him opening himself up like that. So he swallows and just nods. Loki doesn't seem to have anything else to say, just lowers his eyes and breathes.

Tony pushes himself closer and cards his fingers through Loki's hair. "I want you to believe that you'll come out okay."

Loki snorts. "Impossible."

"Then I want for you to at least pretend. Please, Loki." Tony presses a kiss to Loki's forehead. "If you believe things will go bad, it's much more likely that they will. You won't try as hard if there's no point anyway."

"Is there a point, though?" Loki asks, voice small.

"Yes," Tony says firmly. "Look, there were mitigating circumstances for everything you did during and after the coronation. You didn't mean to actually get to Jötunheimr, you tried hard to make sure you wouldn't, and that guard you told to call the king will have to confirm that. Yeah, you manipulated Thor, but Thor was easily manipulated, it's not like you had to lie to him or even try all that hard, he said so himself. Everything that happened after… hell, babe, picture perfect example of emotional compromise, of mitigating circumstances and of a number of people bearing part of the blame."

"You don't understand," Loki interrupts. "That doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is what the Allfather thinks."

"Don't you have someone to plead your case?" Tony frowns. "A lawyer? Someone who lays it all down objectively?"

Loki shakes his head. "No. The Allfather will hear me, Thor and possibly Lady Sif and the Warriors Three."

"What about me?"

"You as well, but not in relation to the trial," Loki tells him. "He wishes to question you about the Wheel of Balance. It likely will have no sway on the trial."

Tony bites his lip, realizing they're getting derailed – they've been through this before. "Well, it's no matter. What's important is is that this is no black and white case of just one person bearing the blame, and Thor will tell him that, and you have to tell him that too." Loki's mouth tightens; he clearly doesn't like the idea. "You have to, babe," Tony repeats, looking Loki right in the eyes. "You have to tell him, as calmly as you can, how it made you feel. I know you hate that, I know you don't want to tell him anything, but you'll have to. Don't be stubborn, please." Seeing that Loki isn't too happy about the idea, Tony tries to explain. "If you tell him how it made you feel – to find out like you did, to find out that he lied, and also before that, that he didn't listen to you about the matter of Thor being a good king – he'll maybe relate to you. I know you think there's no point, that he won't, but there's a chance. Okay? There's a chance. And please, just… can you promise me that you will try anything to come out okay?"

For a long moment Loki is quiet, just looks at Tony. Eventually he nods, just once, slowly. "Alright," he says quietly. "I will." He closes his eyes

"Thank you." Tony pulls him close, wraps his arms around Loki's shoulders. He knows how difficult this, just the promise, is for Loki.

They don't say anything else. Eventually they silently get up, shower together and have breakfast with the others. Both Loki and Thor are dressed in their Æsir clothes, Loki in black leather, Thor in his usual armor combo, and neither of them eats as much as they usually do, even though Bruce and Natasha made pancakes for everyone. The mood is subdued; the others don't know any details of what is actually going on but they do know that it's serious.

After they've eaten – Tony barely managed to get anything down, though he made a valiant effort at pretending – they pack their things and then Loki teleports them to Texas, where there is a circular pattern apparently burned into the ground, though it doesn't actually look burnt, just like it's… just there, except it's clearly indestructible, if the scuff marks around it are anything to go by. The three of them step into said circle, Thor yells "Heimdall, open the Bifrost!" into the sky, and then, with a whooshing sound, they get whisked away.

Through a whirl of colors they appear in some sort of golden room with a ceiling like an overturned bowl. Tony supposes he should be impressed, if not by the room then by the gigantic guy in armor with the huge sword and the creepy, golden eyes that seem to stare right into him even though they're not focused on him, but his landing doesn't exactly go smooth. He sort of stumbles into Loki, who as a result does a complicated expression going from exasperated over annoyed to something like fond as he puts a steadying hand on Tony's elbow, then in the small of his back. Tony figures he deserved that one and doesn't say anything about the slightly patronizing, possessive gesture. He even lets Loki take his bag and barely bats an eyelash when it appears to vanish into thin air.

"Welcome home, my Prince," the guy says, and it's clear he's not speaking to Loki.

Thor nods, face a little tight. "Heimdall." Then he hurries to follow Loki and Tony, who have already walked past him towards the exit.

Once they step out of the hall, that's when amazement hits Tony. They're on a bridge, a strange one without reeling, sort of see-through if it weren't for the lights in all colors of the rainbow shimmering inside like the surface of black oil. In addition to that, pulses of light shoot through it, moving from the huge golden city in the front to the dome behind them. Beneath the bridge, maybe far down or maybe not at all, it's impossible to tell, there's an ocean of blue-gray water, the waves sharp and pointed. It doesn't look like anything you'd like to swim in.

Tony clears his throat. "So, Asgard, huh?" There's scarcely anything more inane he could have said.

The hand in the small of his back flexes. "Yes." Loki doesn't give him any longer to stare; with a gentle push he urges him forwards and Tony starts to walk as Thor catches up with them.

Nobody says a word as what looked like actually a sizeable distance at the beginning turns into not even a ten minutes' walk before they arrive at some sort of gate in a wall that surrounds the whole city from what Tony can see. The guards there are unmoving, stare into the distance like the guy in the dome did as they walk past, but that's the last time somebody ignores them. Or well, that someone ignored Thor, because from then on everyone who spots him gives him an enthusiastic wave and a broad smile, if they don't flock to him directly for a more personal greeting. Loki, however, generally doesn't get more than glances, and Tony receives the same treatment by association.

Loki notices him notice and as if burned, his hand drops from the small of Tony's back; he makes as if to put some distance between them but Tony immediately closes it and puts his own hand in the small of Loki's back instead, as much a statement to Loki as to anyone else.

Thor doesn't let the people distract him; he keeps walking, offering smiles and nods but just as many "I must be on my way, my friend"'s. They walk and walk and Tony starts to gain the impression that it's not actually a city; rather it's a huge, huge palace that contains a population the size of a city. When he makes a comment about this to Loki he and Thor blink, as if it didn't even occur to them to wonder. "Well, yes," Loki says. "It is much more easily defendable, and at the time this was built, Asgard was at war."

"It has only been the past hundred years or so that we have been at peace, in fact," Thor adds.

Tony thinks about the things he read on the internet – about one of Thor's informal titles, more specifically, the one referring to the fact that he'd killed a great number of members of a certain race – and doesn't say anything except, "Well, peace should become you, as it becomes any people." And great, now he's even talking like them. To make a point he continues talking. "Or as it does after a while. At first after a war everybody's like, yay, party, war's over, now we can concentrate on normal life again – and everybody does that for a while, and then people start to notice that things are fucked up, like, wait, what do you mean it's illegal to put my dick up someone's butt, and it's actually not fair that black people have to use different entrances, and just because someone is female doesn't mean they should only stay at home, pop out kids and do the housework if they want to do something else, and they start to talk about it, and others are like oh right, you actually have a point, while others – others generally meaning white, heterosexual or very repressed homosexual men, though there are of course sometimes also their wives – are like, shut up, I like the way things are now, stop trying to make fetch happen, and that's when the social revolutions start, with the demonstrations and stuff. You there yet?"

Loki and Thor both just sort of look at him until Tony repeats his question; then Loki blinks and repeats, "Social revolutions."

It doesn't sound like a question but it definitely is one. Tony bops his head. "Yeah, like… here it would probably be something like, all women and a couple of men who are real men and not sexist pigs coming together and going, oi, actually, this sucks, just because someone is a woman doesn't mean they can't be a warrior. And someone would try to shut them up, and maybe it works for a while but then they only get louder, and eventually something's got to give or you'll have a revolt on your hands."

"Interesting thesis," Loki says. "I gather this comes from personal experience?"

"Well, not personal as in me, Tony Stark, but personal as in me, member of the Midgardian race, then yes. And I mean that, not just me, part of western society. Everywhere it's like that. Give me ten minutes with the internet and I can give you a hundred examples." Tony raises an eyebrow. "That's what happens when there is no war around to occupy people and make them buckle down and deal because there's bigger fish to fry."

"Perhaps," Thor says thoughtfully, "you should advise the Allfather on this."

Tony blinks. Blinks again. "Excuse me?"

"This is the first time Asgard has been at peace for such a long time," Loki explains. "And it looks to stay that way for a while still, what with the potential uprising of Jötunheimr being taken care of."

"Uh, okay." Tony wouldn't say he's any sort of qualified to advice anyone on social issues, but he can do that.

"I will speak to father," Thor says jovially. "I believe there is much we can learn from your people."

"Well, a lot of the okay stuff that's going on today is only working out because of the bad stuff that happened beforehand," Tony tries to caution. "Because people remember how fucked up things were, or they at least remember how hard some people fought against it and that there was no way to be at peace as a country without changing something. It probably won't be as easy to make those changes without the revolution beforehand – partly because governments don't tend to make changes unless they have to, and partly because the opposing people wouldn't accept it, I'd wager."

"Any changes to be made will have to be discussed in the council," somebody says; Thor and Loki visibly startle as somebody steps towards them, and that's what makes Tony startle. The guy looks old, hair white and a golden eye patch covering one of his eyes. He looks tall and imposing, but it's something else about him that calls for Tony's respect. Generally, when that happens – when somebody is so used to being respected they have an air about them that just makes you automatically, instinctively act respectful – Tony's rebellious urges come to the surface, but he reigns them in now. "To what changes," the guy continues, a curious air about him, "are you referring to, if I may ask?"

"Nothing specific, not really," Tony replies. "We just had countless revolutions on Earth. I was just telling Loki and Thor about how they generally came about after a war ended and people got used to peacetime."

"We have been at war for a long time," the guy – Tony is fairly sure it's Odin – says.

Tony nods, tries not to glance at either Loki or Thor. "Yeah, they just said."

Odin inclines his head at him before turning his attention on Thor. "My son."

Next to Tony, Loki goes tense; it's not visible but Tony can feel it like it's vibrating in the air. On Tony's other side Thor says "father", steps forward and respectfully sinks to one knee. They have some quiet words, something along the lines of "good to see you're well", but Tony doesn't pay attention, concentrates on Loki instead, who's staring at the wall, face completely blank, eyes unfocused. It's possible Tony underestimated the effect being in the presence of the man Loki considered his father for most of his life would have on Loki – the same man who sentenced him to death a couple of times.

Fairly sure Loki wouldn't welcome any sort of overt gesture, Tony puts his hand back in the small of Loki's back again, leans in a little; not enough to make it obvious he's offering comfort but enough for Loki to know that he's, well, there. That Tony has his back. And not just literally.

Finished with Thor Odin steps towards them, focused now on Loki. "My son," he says again, and his demeanor has changed a little from when he said it to Thor, but Tony wouldn't say he uses it the way Tony would when he had fought with his father. He'd spit the name to their relation like a curse, an insult, "father", and his father would spit it back, "son", weapons in a war between them that had never really ended.

No, Odin doesn't say it like that. Tony curls his hand in the small of Loki's back, and Loki bends his knee and says, voice a little stilted, "Allfather."

Tony can't tell what that is that's happening in Odin's face, he just doesn't know him well enough, but to him it looks a little like sadness. He hesitates to call it anything stronger, like heartbreak, but maybe that's what it is. "Loki," Odin says. "I am glad to see you are well."

Nodding tightly, Loki rises. "Thank you."

There is an awkward moment where Odin stares at Loki and Loki stares over Odin's shoulder, then Odin turns towards Tony, slowly, a bit reluctantly, but his face doesn't give anything away anymore. "Welcome to Asgard, Anthony Stark."

"Thank you. Nice to be here. Hi." Tony puts on his publicity smile and tries to make it as genuine as possible, and then he thinks maybe he should do the bending at the knee thing, which is terribly awkward but well, Thor and Loki have done it as well and they're of higher standing than Tony is.

Odin inclines his head. "I would have a servant accompany you to your quarters, but from what I hear, that is unnecessary." He glances at Loki who finally meets his eyes, if only for a moment. "My congratulations on your joining," Odin says calmly, staring at Loki for a moment before he looks at Tony, including him.

"Thank you." Tony tries really hard not to shuffle on his feet, which is really fucking difficult actually because bloody hell, you could cut the tension with a knife. He feels so awkward and is nearly vibrating with the need to make it easier, to babble, draw the attention, perhaps even ire, of everyone if only so they'll stop with all the emotional undercurrents. But for once in his life he exercises restraint and doesn't say a word. Not just because he isn't in any position to get involved, but because he thinks this is something Loki will have to take care of himself. Tony's involvement would only make things worse in the end.

"Thank you," Loki says calmly, reaches out and puts the tips of his fingers on Tony's elbow. "If you have no objections, I will show Tony to our rooms now."

"Of course," Odin grants, stepping aside. "I will see you for the midday meal."

It's not a request. Loki inclines his head. "Yes, your majesty."

Odin's face tightens, and Loki guides Tony past him away. Thor is standing to the side, Tony only remembers him now; his face looks sorrowful but he manages to give Tony a weak smile when their eyes meet. Loki is staring straight ahead, not looking left or right, as he leads Tony down the hall, grip on Tony's elbow firming the further away from Odin and Thor they get.

If before Tony had felt the nearly uncontrollable need to talk, now not a word could pass his lips even if he knew what to say. He keeps perfectly quiet as if one noise from him could shatter the brittle tension keeping Loki's spine stiff. Later, he can't recall what he expects to happen when they finally get into Loki's quarters, but it was probably more dramatic than what actually ends up happening: nothing. Loki opens the door (a light flickers across the surface of what must be a security spell), guides Tony in and follows, quietly closing the door after himself. Tony almost doesn't dare to turn around, looks with unseeing eyes into the room, but then he straightens his shoulders and faces Loki.

Who looks completely fine. Calm, collected, if a little blank, eyes flat in a way Tony really doesn't like at all. Unapproachable; when Tony makes an aborted motion towards him Loki abruptly walks past him, further into the room. "This is… living room, you would call it," he says. Tony looks at him for one moment longer, the tense line of his back, hard set of his shoulders, then reluctantly turns his attention to the room.

"Well," he says. "Babe, I don't know how to tell you this, but I would call this a library."

Loki turns around to frown at him, but the tension in his shoulders is starting to ebb. "This is not a library."

"It totally is," Tony disagrees; the easy topic of conversation relaxes them both so he finally feels like he can touch Loki. He steps up to him and puts his hand on Loki's hip, leans in for a short kiss. "Every single wall is lined with books top to bottom, there are extra shelves in the room, and the only other furniture is a table and chair. This, darling, is a library."

Still frowning, Loki glances around the room. "It does not hold even a fraction of the amount of books and scrolls to make this worthy of being called library."

"Call it private library, then." Just because he can, Tony kisses Loki again. "A living room needs more stuff for entertainment and especially, more opportunities for sitting. You know, it's a room where you can entertain guests."

"I do not entertain guests," Loki says archly.

"There you have it." Tony grins. "If anything, guests entertain you, right? I see how it is."

"If you say so." Haughtily Loki turns on his heels and wanders across the room to a circular staircase in the corner. Tony hastens to follow him, ending up in the room above the library. It's clearly a bedroom, containing nothing but a huge bed and a lot of windows offering a spectacular view across the ocean into space. "The bedroom – I assume we can agree on that, at least?"

Tony smirks and leers. "We can agree on anything that involves a bed, darling."

Eyes rolling heavenwards Loki makes as if to get down again but Tony steps into the room, towards the windows. The view is truly breathtaking; he sees clusters of stars and nebulas, all just right there, so close he feels like he could almost touch them. "Are they always this visible?" It shouldn't be possible, it's day, during the day the sun is too strong to see any other light sources. But clearly, normal laws of physics don't apply here.

"Yes." Loki steps up to him. "We are at the most northern side of the City of Asgard. The city is at the most northern point of the kingdom. Behind us, the sun rises in the west and settles in the east; it never really touches the Asgardian Sea." He pauses. "I would suggest you do not drop anything of value, including yourself, into the ocean."

"Wasn't planning on it." Tony glances at him before stepping up to the window, looking down. They're high enough that he can't see the razor sharp looking waves anymore, but he remembers them clearly. "This is really beautiful."

"Yes." Loki wraps one arm around Tony's waist and puts his mouth in his hair. "My quarters have the best view in the whole city."

"I can see that." Tony leans back into Loki and just stares at the sky; he wonders what he'd see if he had a telescope to zoom in. Will each of these stars turn out to be a galaxy? Is one of them the Milky Way? It's itching in his fingers, to find out. "Are the stars always the same?"

"No. See this?" Loki points towards a nebula the lower east corner of their view. "It is called… it is considered one of the fruits of Yggdrasil. It is the focal point within the sky, at the tip of the branch – the axis around which this world revolves."

"Polaris," Tony realizes. "That's what the North Star is for us. It's nearly constant, moves just minimally because it's aligned near perfectly with Earth's axis."

Loki nods, Tony can feel it in his hair. "Yes." Then he steps away, plucks at Tony's shirt. A bit reluctantly – he could stand here for hours, just staring at a sky so beautiful he couldn't ever see it in person anywhere around Earth – Tony turns around and follows Loki downstairs. Loki crosses the room and opens a door, revealing a bathroom containing a big bathtub embedded in the floor and already filled with water. Once more there is a floor to ceiling window, offering a beautiful view of the sky. Stepping further into the room Tony finds a shelf containing a number of products; from what he can tell soap, oils, powders, liquids and dried herbs in glass vials. There's also a mirror, positioned in such a way that if you stood in front of it, you'd have the sky at your back. Tony really wants to see Loki like that, naked – he wants to fuck him in front of that mirror, staring at their reflection and the sky.

The tour ends in the last room at the other end of the library, Loki's closet. It's full of clothes, a lot of leather, a fair amount of greens, blues, blacks and browns. Once they're in there Loki drops Tony's bag on the floor and they start to unpack. The bag seems too small to contain everything Loki packed in there, but Tony has stopped wondering about the things Loki does with extra space that shouldn't exist.

One of the things Loki takes out of the bag is Tony's suitcase containing his portable suit, but it's not actually the normal suitcase, it's a new prototype. By which he means it should have been extensively tested in any setting but an actual emergency situation but hasn't been because he didn't have the time, but he's still fairly sure it works perfectly. It's a little hodge-podge, made sort of last minute over the last two days because he suddenly realized it would be pretty useful if the suit could come to him without going high-speed, destroying walls and possibly bowling over if not downright killing people in the process, much like Mjölnir if Thor calls for it. It works, yes, and sometimes it's much better than anything else, but it is a little rude. This prototype can deploy jets, but it's built to just walk really, really fast. For that it has eight legs. All in all it looks a bit like one of those replicators from Stargate, what with the uncanny resemblance to spiders, which both creeps Tony the fuck out (come on, replicators and spiders, not exactly cuddly, comforting associations all around) and makes his geeky little heart chirp with joy.

"Where do you want this?" Loki asks, holding the suitcase out. He vaguely knows what Tony did with it and hasn't commented at all on whether he thinks that's necessary precaution or paranoia, which has only made Tony all the more paranoid. To the point where he might or might not be considering carrying one of the extra gloves he brought around with him at all times.

"Uh, by the door would be good. It can open doors, by the way, though it'd probably good if you didn't have anything to physically lock the door, because it'll try to melt the lock, and I actually didn't think of magically locked doors, did I." Chagrined, Tony grimaces. On Earth this would be hella useful but here it might end up being little more than a useless dalliance.

Loki raises one eyebrow, amused. "I do not make it a habit to lock my doors from the inside so that won't be necessary." He tilts his head, eying the suitcase. "Would it not be helpful to have a plan of the floors so it can more easily find its way to you?"

See? If anything, Loki is only making him more paranoid.

"Yeah, that'd be useful." Tony mirrors Loki's expression, raising one eyebrow as he smirks drily. "You can make one available to me?"

For a moment Loki looks at Tony calmly, then he grimaces. "It would probably be... unwise."

Yeah, Tony figured. "Thought as much. No worries, I took that into account, it's programmed to choose the easiest way to get to me without using force, and it uses sonar."

"I see," Loki says, clearly not seeing, but he also doesn't seem to be in the mood to admit to his ignorance and instead goes back to unpacking the bag. It turns out he didn't only pack the clothes Tony chose but also a couple for himself, sweatpants and a couple of t-shirts and even a suit, it looks like. Tony has no idea what the hell that means, right now Loki is wearing Æsir style clothes, but that it means something, of that he has no doubt. Few things Loki does are without thought.

Once everything is unpacked – Loki even cleared a shelf for Tony, it's so sweet and domestic – Loki puts his hand on his hips and frowns. At that moment Tony realizes that instead of standing there like a creeper, watching Loki unpack, he maybe should've explored the library instead, or the bathroom with the view, because, well. The only thing missing would be for him to stare at Loki while he's asleep, then he'll be a contender to Edward's creeper crown of creepers.

Clearing his throat, he steps up to Loki and touches him, because he can do that, and because Loki knows he was there, that makes it all less creepy and stalkerish, right? He also doesn't feel the urge to kill Loki (at least not recently), which is also a point or ten in his favor, if he does say so himself. "What are we going to do now? You gonna show me all your favorite haunts?"

Loki draws a breath and absently wraps one arm around Tony's waist. "Perhaps I would, but there is not enough time before we have to return for lunch. There is not enough time to do anything but..." he hesitates. "I would go see my- my... mother, at times like this."

It's obvious how much Loki is struggling with the term, and if he has such problems just with the word, his difficulties with the woman herself must be exponentially greater. Tony draws a breath, telling himself to thread carefully know but knowing very well that he doesn't know nearly enough not to accidentally misstep. "And do you want to?"

For the longest time Loki doesn't reply. His face is turned away from Tony, message enough, and Tony keeps his head bent, fiddles around pointlessly with some of the leather straps on Loki's... vest, let's call it vest. Eventually Loki draws a breath and says quietly, "A part of me does. The same part that... longs for everything to return to the way it was, that wishes I could un-know, that everybody else could. The rest of me... knows that that is not possible." He falls silent again but it doesn't seem like he's done, so Tony keeps quiet, brushes at a bit of grass green cloth that comes through the complicated way the leather vest works. It strategically flashes the colorful shirt underneath, enticing him to touch.

"She would..." Loki eventually continues, and it's obvious how difficult it is to say, he's struggling with the words as much as he is with the memories. "Before, when f- the Allfather would sentence me to death. She never said a word. She never did, never in public, never in front of me and Thor. I knew that sometimes she didn't agree with his decisions, but she would always keep silent out of the privacy of their rooms."

Well, that's just shitty. Maybe Tony isn't in any position to judge, but how can he not, standing here with Loki who hasn't ever felt like his mother truly supports him? His mother. And yeah, solidarity is all nice and well, but if somebody is fucking up epically, you gotta speak up, even if they're your husband. And if some of the resentment Tony suddenly feels towards Loki's mother is because he can relate, if (as usual) on a smaller scale, nobody needs to know.

Except maybe Loki. Tony knows very well that sometimes it helps even just knowing that somebody can understand at least a little. Once, early after his return from Afghanistan, he had gotten a letter from a veteran who had been a POW for two months. He still has that letter. It helped him more than any of the stupid therapy sessions Pepper tried to force on him.

"My…" Tony clears his throat, pushes closer into Loki so he can lean his forehead against Loki's neck, hiding his face. "My mother never said anything either. I mean, you'd think a mother would speak up if she saw her husband- not treat their child well, right? But most of the time she'd just take me away, bring me to my room and tell me to play before leaving. Even when I was twelve and about to go to MIT, she'd still tell me to play."

"What did she do those times she didn't do that?" Loki asks, voice careful.

"Leave," Tony replies, and if his voice trembles a little on the single word, none of them mentions it.

"So your mother took you away, but wasn't actually there for you," Loki sums up in a very factual tone that's almost cruel, it's so impersonal. "While my mother was there for me – in private, conditionally – but never took me out of a situation."

"So both our parents were made of fail, basically," Tony agrees.

Loki takes a breath. "She was there for me, though. Sometimes she was all I had."

Yeah, Tony has some nice memories too. Memories of when his mother wasn't too bored with him or too busy with her own stuff, of the few times when his father had patience and wasn't drunk. Or was just drunk enough to be able to bear Tony's presence, personally Tony thinks the latter is more likely. "I think people will always be conflicted about their parents, no matter how much they fucked up, because in the end they're still your parents."

"They're not though," Loki says abruptly, body going stiff.

"Babe," Tony says softly, pulling him closer and pressing a kiss to the side of Loki's neck. "Just because they're not related to you by blood doesn't mean they're not your parents. No matter how much they fucked up." No matter how much you fucked up, he wants to add, but he knows better than that. Already Loki feels like he's about to bolt away from Tony any moment; that, or lash out. Keeping his grip on Loki's waist light, Tony says carefully, "They're your parents because they were there all your life, in your earliest memories throughout your childhood."

Loki's fingers curl in Tony's shirt. "Perhaps that is how things work on Midgard, but not on Asgard. Ancestors… mean everything."

"Then that's another of the things that make you different," Tony says. Loki abruptly goes stiff again and tries to pull away but Tony doesn't let him, tightens his grip on him. "No, this is good. Different is good, Loki. Look how stuffy and stagnant everybody is here, do you really want to be like that? No, you don't. You couldn't be if you tried, and that's good."

"Is it," Loki says, voice flat, but it's clearly a question.

"Yes," Tony assures him emphatically. "It's always good. I like different far better than anything else."

Loki huffs. "Because everything is always about you."

With a laugh Tony pulls him in to kiss him on the lips. "Of course it is."

Rolling his eyes, Loki kisses Tony again before pulling away. "It's time for lunch."

Well, Tony could eat, but he's not exactly looking forwards to more of the tension he had witnessed between Loki and Odin the first time around. But there's clearly no way around it, so he follows Loki through the palace slash city into what turns out to be a relatively private dining room. Just before they get there Loki pulls a dagger out of somewhere and hands it to Tony; before Tony can ask about it the guards in front of the room they stopped at open the doors.

"Loki!" A beautiful, blonde woman says as they enter the room, immediately hurrying towards them. Loki goes tense even before she reaches them and draws him into a big, heartfelt hug.

"Lady Frigga," Loki says stiffly when she lets him go, and her face falls.

"Loki," she says again, reaching out to cup his face, but Loki still won't look at her. "I'm your mother."

"Perhaps," Loki says calmly, which is considerably more than what he's given Odin, but she doesn't see that.

Her hand falls and she looks at Loki for a moment, heartbreak clear on her face, before she collects herself and turns to Tony, managing to dredge up a smile half polite, half familiar.

"Hi," Tony says when she clearly struggles for a moment, trying to find something to say.

Loki draws a breath and puts a hand on Tony's back. "This is my husband, Anthony Stark. Tony, this is Lady Frigga, Queen of Asgard."

"Nice to meet you," Tony says, offering his hand.

Frigga blinks at it for a moment, then takes it and kisses his knuckles. "It used to be a man would kiss a woman's hand on Misgard. Did customs reverse?" She says curiously.

Tony coughs. "No, actually. These days you shake hands. Everybody shakes everybody's hand, you see, it's more equal." But, well. He takes Frigga's hand and kisses her knuckles as well, making the whole situation a little less awkward. "This works too though," he adds with a wink, turning on the charm full power.

"Really, Tony?" Loki comments, half amused, half incredulous. "Now you're flirting with my mother?" Then he goes pale as he realizes his mistake. Frigga stills for a moment, then lowers her gaze, hiding a painful smile. When she looks up again her face is neutral again, only faint amusement playing across her features.

"Oh," she says, "I am quite enjoying it, though. He is quite the beautiful man, your husband."

Tony actually flushes a little, it's embarrassing. But it's not everyday somebody calls him beautiful and refers to him as somebody's husband in the same breath. "Why, thank you. Your beauty far exceeds mine, however."

She laughs. "And so charming too! You have said it much more believably than many other compliments I have received."

Oh, Tony likes her, she's blunt. He appreciates it when people are blunt. "That's because it's true," he says seriously. "Your eyes are absolutely striking."

"Oh, stop it," she admonishes with another laugh. "You're going to make me blush. I'm far too old to blush."

"Nonsense." Tony waves that off. "Someone as lovely as you must receive compliments all the time." Wow, Tony isn't used to paying compliments in a non-sexual manner. But he can hardly call Loki's mother gorgeous, especially right in front of Loki.

The thought makes him pause; he doesn't know if he's ever said anything like that to Loki. Sure, he's called him hot and said all manner of things, but only during sex. That won't do, that really won't do.

"For diplomatic reasons, certainly," Frigga tells him, half turning and gesturing for them to walk over to the table, where Odin and Thor are waiting and trying not to look like they're watching.

"The last thing I am is diplomatic," Tony replies.

Loki snorts. "That is the truth."

Tony grins at him. "You love it. You can trust me to call you out on it if you're... well, wrong." Originally he had meant to be a little more blunt but he'd managed to catch himself just in time. Wouldn't do to curse in front of the Queen and Loki's mom.

Rolling his eyes, Loki affects a long-suffering tone of voice, but a small smile plays around his lips as he says, "Yes, Tony." Then he sobers up because they arrive at the table (just because it's a private dining room doesn't mean it's not big; Tony's starting to get that everything here is disproportionally large).

"Loki," Odin nods regally, "Mr. Stark."

"Uh, Tony, please," Tony corrects, caught off-guard. "I don't actually know- how do I address you? We don't have many kings around anymore, I've never met one." It's Tony's usual strategy, if things are starting to take a turn for the awkward, take the bull by its horns. If anything, it'll take people off-guard, and that'll make them feel awkward and feel more inclined to overlook whatever awkwardness Tony caused.

He can't tell if it works now, because Odin just says calmly, "Your Majesty is common, or your Highness." He raises an eyebrow. "If you so wish you may choose a more flowery form of address, as Dark Elves are wont to."

Thor makes a noise low in his throat. When all attention turns on him he ducks his head, embarrassed, but unable to hide the grin playing around his lips. "My apologies. I find it a little… amusing. On occasion," he tells Tony, "they make up titles that seem longer than any other part of the conversation."

"It is their custom," Odin says, "their pay of showing respect."

"And I do respect that," Thor replies earnestly, "but it is amusing nonetheless when you are repeatedly addressed as Your Grand Majesty, Greatest King and Highest Serene Leader of the Glorious People of Asgard."

"Quite a mouthful," Tony comments, trying not to laugh.

"And it does lengthen diplomatic talks considerably," Thor says.

"That it does," Odin grants. He glances at the table. "Let us eat, then."

Everybody sits down; Odin at the head of the table, Thor at his right side, Frigga to his left, Loki next to Thor, gesturing Tony to sit next to Frigga. As soon as they're all settled a couple of servants come in, bringing nothing so silly as a soup or a salad for starters, no. They carry in a whole boar. They put it on the table and everybody starts cutting off pieces for themselves with their own knifes (so that's what the dagger Loki gave him was for); Tony follows along, far less skilled but gotta blend in with the natives, right?

Except the natives have huge, huge appetites. They eat the whole boar (once it's on the table Tony finds a couple of stray potatoes under the thing, so at least it's not exclusively meat), and once it's all gone the servants return to take the carcass away and bring in a huge fish. That one is shared as well, together with something green, lettuce-like that Tony can't identify. After the fish they get something bird-like together with some green vegetable, and this seems to conclude the meal because the bird is rather small, the size of a chicken, and rather tender. Once that is gone as well the servants bring in a bowl of cut fruits swimming in a thin sauce heavy on the honey. Instead that everybody gets a portion out of the bowl and eats that from their own plate, they all just use forks with two long, curved tines to stab the fruit and eat them. It's very messy. Also a bit weird, Tony really isn't used to literally sharing meals like that, but after the animals, it's marginally less strange. What's also a little strange is the fact that while they eat, nobody speaks much, until they arrive at the dessert course.

"How do you find Asgard, Mr. Stark?" Frigga asks, nibbling at one of the last pieces of fruit. They were cut into big pieces, big enough to make picking them up with the fork easy. Tony didn't recognize any of them by taste.

"Big," Tony says honestly. "Gorgeous. I haven't seen much yet, but the view from Loki's rooms is absolutely breathtaking. And call me Tony, please."

She smiles. "Tony, then. Loki has the best view of the city; I remember, when we moved in, how ferociously he fought for these rooms."

"Completely justified, in my opinion," Tony says, glancing at Loki who seems completely focused on his goblet of mead. Another of those things Tony found a bit weird; alcohol for lunch. But well, where alcohol is concerned Tony never cared about conventions anyway.

"You should see the gardens at night, when it is dark enough to see the sky even from within the city. It is beautiful."

"I am planning to show him the gardens first thing," Loki says abruptly.

"It would be best if you do it now, then," Frigga says, smiling at him warmly. "Before they get crowded with people taking their after midday walk."

Loki meets her eyes for a moment before he lowers his gaze, nods and rises. Tony takes that as a sign and rises as well. Without a word Loki leaves; Tony waves awkwardly at the remaining occupants of the table. "Uh, nice meal. See you later." Then he hurries after Loki.

"So," Tony says once he's caught up to his husband outside of the dining room. He notices Loki's shoulders tense just slightly and if he had been planning on saying something, he'd change course now, but he hadn't anyway. "The gardens?"

"Yes." Loki offers his arm, so Tony puts his hand in the crook of Loki's elbow and lets him guide the way. "They are famed because they are in the middle of the city and very beautiful. People come from far away to visit them."

Tony nods slowly. "So… the palace is the city, right?"

"Yes. It was built roughly nine hundred years ago, when the war with Jötunheimr showed signs of escalation." He twists his mouth in a dry smile. "And escalate it did."

"What exactly happened?" Tony asks carefully.

"Do you mean, how did the war start? It was a slow escalation," Loki explains. "At the beginning, it was just… differences in basic nature, I think you could say. Jötunns are by nature a rather… violent race. Then they began to raid other realms and Asgard stepped in, and from there things developed into full war. Around a hundred or so years ago the Allfather took the Casket of Winters, effectively ending the war."

"What is this Casket of Winters thing? You mentioned it before but I don't think I really get it."

"Jötunheimr is a realm with magic deeply flowing underground. The Casket of Winters channels this magic energy into accessible ley lines – not quite above ground, but closer to the surface. Without it, the magic remains underground, inaccessible."

Tony hums thoughtfully. He's enjoying this, talking about something that, while interesting, doesn't have much of a direct impact on their lives. Also, well. He's finding he likes listening to hear Loki talk in a way that has little to do with his attractive accent or the pleasing cadence of his voice. "What do they need magic for?"

"Everything, from what I can tell," Loki replies, corners of his mouth curving up dryly. "From warfare over agriculture to reproduction. Jötunheimr is a frozen world, and the Jötunn have adapted to using magic to survive – they need it, really." He lowers his gaze. "It explains a lot, actually."

Tony can tell where this is going, but he still asks. "About what?"

"Myself." Loki grimaces self-deprecatingly. "I have always used magic. It seemed completely incomprehensible to me why I should not. Magic comes easily to me, but at the same time it is hard work. I never understood why they called it cheating and looked down on me for it."

Tony, who has been accused of cheating more than once simply because he's generally at least four steps ahead of everybody else, just can't let that stand. "It's not cheating. They're probably just jealous because you're totally badass in an area they're complete dunderheads in. If they could use magic like you could, you bet they would use it."

"Most certainly," Loki agrees. "I have long since stopped caring what they think about my fighting techniques. Especially since none of them have managed to beat me in a very long time."

Grinning, Tony bumps shoulders with Loki. "That's the spirit, babe. Do your own thing, fuck what anybody else thinks."

Loki smiles down at him – just slightly, but it's more than anything else Tony has gotten from him in public – and then takes a surprising turn, leading Tony down a couple of stairs into a rather wide garden. Unlike central park it's not rectangular; it's not even all straight lines and angles. Some parts of it are curves, and while everything is even and doesn't make Tony's brain hurt, it does look sort of disorderly. Sort of like a garden should, Tony thinks, because while he does like when everything is neat and orderly and geometrical, there's something off-putting of forcing nature into such order, unnaturally straight lines.

Loki leads him down a winding path, explaining this and that about the greenery around them – there are areas representing different parts of the realm of Asgard and even some stuff from different realms, what of it can grow in this climate anyway, because it turns out that some of the realms are prone to extreme differences in temperature in comparison to Asgard. There is also an area with edible stuff – not salad, of course, but fruit trees and things like that. Loki picks a bright, pinkish red fruit about the size of a peach for him and cuts out pieces with a knife that he gives to Tony. The juice drips pink down both their fingers and they're sticky and horny by the time they come out at the other end of the garden. Not because they did anything fun – as Frigga had predicted, the gardens got more crowded as time went on – but because they had to lick the dripping juice off their fingers so as not to get even stickier, right?

Right. They did pass by a creek where they could have washed their hands, but neither of them pointed that out. Tony would've been insane to, what with the way Loki was sucking his fingers clean.

As a result, they're in a bit of a hurry as they make their way back to Loki's rooms. Which sucks a bit because they're not exactly close by and people do eye them strangely – they have been glancing at Loki and by association Tony the whole time, but Tony doesn't think he's imagining that the attention has increased in the course of the day. It's not new to Tony, being watched the whole time while he's in public, but it's still annoying. Eventually he has enough of it and asks Loki, "Why don't you teleport us to your room?"

Loki glances at him. "The use of magic is monitored and traced within the city. Barring emergencies, I'd really rather not."

"Really? Wow, that must suck. Even in your quarters?"

"Technically." That attractive, mischievous smirk curls Loki's lips. "Though I should mention that I have warded my quarters against that, and that I know a way around the monitoring. It would be unwise, however, to teleport in front of all these witnesses and not have it show up on the records."

Tony grimaces. "Yeah. Better keep your cards close to your chest." Still. So maybe Tony is a bit spoiled; he never has to walk anywhere unless he chooses to.

But they get there eventually. As soon as the door closes after them Loki starts pulling his clothes off; he doesn't spare Tony more than a glance as he hurries off towards and up the stairs. Tony follows on his heels, stripping as well; because his clothes are much easier to get out of he's naked by the time they arrive at Loki's bed while Loki is still undoing buckles and knots, wearing a displeased frown. It's sort of cute and Tony can't hold back his amused smile, so he covers it up by kissing Loki. He means for it to be only a short kiss before he helps Loki out of his clothes but Loki immediately abandons his efforts and grabs Tony's head with both hands, turns the kiss into something very thorough that makes Tony weak in the knees.

"Loki," he pants by the time Loki finally lets up. "Let's get you naked."

"Don't need to be naked to fuck you," Loki growls and pushes Tony on the bed, and fuck, that's hot.

"True," Tony grins, scooting up further towards the pillows. "Come on then."

With a heated look, Loki crawls after him. Once he's within reach Tony grabs him and pulls him in and over him, biting at Loki's lip. Loki growls and pushes closer, mouths at Tony's jaw for a moment before pulling away again. "We have to hurry," he says lowly, "if we want to be in time for the feast."

"Feast?" Tony whines, wrapping one leg around Loki's hips. "Already?"

"We did spend most of the afternoon in the garden," Loki reminds him impatiently, "and in case you have not yet noticed, food is of great importance here." He scowls. "Now are we having sex or conversing over tea?"

Oh, Tony likes that, how impatient Loki is. He grins and rolls his hips up. "Don't see any tea here, do you?"

Instead of replying Loki moves in again, catching Tony's mouth. He holds himself up above Tony with one hand; his other slides down between their bodies, willfully groping Tony along the way. His kisses are filthy and Tony feels deliciously dirty, being completely naked with Loki still almost completely dressed.

He groans, tilting his hips up encouragingly when Loki's hands slides between his legs. For a moment Loki follows the suggestion, taking hold of Tony's growing erection and squeezing, but then he lets go and starts undoing his leather pants. "No time," Loki pants as he pulls off Tony, leaning across the bed and fishing something from the side of it that turns out to be a glass vial filled with oil. He hands it to Tony, raised eyebrow a clear order, and Tony takes it, undoes the stopper and pours some into his palm. It's perfumed slightly, smelling of some herb, not quite like medicine but not too flowery either.

Coating his fingers, Tony leans back fully and meets Loki's hot gaze as he leads his hand down between his legs, moving in directly for his hole. As Loki bites his lips and pulls his cock out of his pants, Tony pushes the first finger in, letting his eyes flutter shut. He's already learned that Loki likes to watch so he puts up a show, parts his lips and breathes audibly as he thrusts his finger in. His eyes flutter shut almost out of their own volition – Tony isn't just pretending he's loving this, he's always enjoyed being watched – and he moans as he guides his second finger in. He's so involved he's startled when there is suddenly a hand on his knee, pushing his legs further apart and sliding down his thigh, towards his cock.

"Go on," Loki purrs, gaze focused between Tony's legs, but he glances up to meet Tony's eyes for a moment. "I am quite enjoying the picture you make."

"Yeah?" Tony croaks. "What do I look like, then?"

Loki smiles, amused at the blatant request for dirty talk, and leans in closer, presses a kiss to Tony's bellybutton. He moves up, breathing on Tony's skin, tongue flicking out for quick, tiny licks here and there until he licks a broad strip up Tony's neck. They kiss wetly, just a short thing before Loki moves along Tony's cheek and, lips brushing the shell of Tony's ear, whispers darkly, "Wanton."

With all the anticipation that has built up, that's enough to send a shiver down Tony's body. "Yeah?" he pants; he pushes a third finger in to be on the safe side, turns his face a little to give Loki more room. "What else?"

"Shameless," Loki readily supplies, tip of his tongue caressing the delicate skin behind Tony's ear. "Prurient."

Tony moans and pulls his fingers out, wraps his fingers around Loki's cock, making Loki gasp and jerk forwards, clearly not having expected that. "Come on," Tony groans, pulling one leg up. "Fuck me."

With a heated look Loki pulls away, lets Tony position him and then pushes in with a smooth roll of his hips. They both moan in unison; one of Loki's hands finds its way to Tony's knee and pushes it further up, giving him more room to move.

"God," Tony pants, and Loki takes that as a sign and starts to move, first slow but very quickly gaining speed. His eyes are intense and focused completely on Tony as he leans back, takes hold of Tony's hips with both hands and very thoroughly drives him crazy by immediately finding the right angle to always hit Tony's prostrate. And he's still dressed. A couple of the buckles of his shirt are open and he undid the knots at the collar of the shirt he's wearing underneath, revealing his collarbone and a bit of his chest, and he's fucking Tony like it's his job. Tony doesn't even know what noises are falling out of his mouth but they're not words, he's not coherent enough for that anymore.

Loki doesn't stop him when Tony takes hold of his own cock, only fucks him harder – and Tony didn't even know that was possible, fuck, he needs to put one hand on the headboard so Loki won't push him against it, that's so hot. And then Loki growls at him, "Come now," and Tony wouldn't have been able to stop himself even if he had wanted to. With a shout he throws his head back and lets orgasm wash over him, completely taking his breath away. And Loki just fucks him through it, doesn't even pause or slow down, just keeps going until he's coming himself, whole body going tense as he spills deep within Tony's body.

"Wow," Tony gasps when Loki blinks his eyes open, coming off the high. "That was hot."

They both wince as Loki sits back and pulls out. "Yes," Loki replies a little belatedly. "It indeed was." He sighs and leans on his hands, closes his eyes and tilts his head back. He makes an absolutely filthy picture, cock hanging out of his open pants, some of Tony's come splattered over his clothes.

Tony bites his lip and tucks the image away for later. He should really invent a way to copy pictures from memory to digital, that'd be brilliant.

Letting out a long breath Loki opens his eyes and looks at Tony; one corner of his mouth tilts up as he clearly interprets Tony's expression correctly. He leans over and cups Tony's face, fingertips gliding across Tony's cheek almost tenderly before he brushes the sweaty hair out of Tony's forehead. "We should bathe," he says softly just when the moment is about to turn too mushy for Tony to bear.

"Yeah." Tony has to clear his throat before he can reply. Then he can't hold back a laugh because Loki starts working on the buckles of his vest again. "These clothes must be horrible on the libido."

Loki glances up, rueful for a moment before he affects an arch tone of voice. "As you noticed, there are ways around that."

Tony laughs again and shifts a little; Loki is still kneeling between his spread legs and he sort of likes it a lot, even if they aren't going to be up for anything more for a while yet. He waits and watches patiently as Loki finally peels himself out of his clothes, pulling the leather vest off and then the linen shirt underneath. Only then does he move away from Tony, off the mattress where he pushes his leather pants off. Gallantly, he then offers Tony a hand and helps him off the bed, guiding him down the stairs and into the bathroom. There he takes a washcloth and wipes Tony's chest off cursorily before guiding him into the tub.

The water, Tony finds as he steps into it, is already warm, almost hot, and there's a very slight current; clearly the tub is being fed from somewhere. Logically, the water must flow off somewhere too but Tony can't tell where, it's too cleverly constructed.

"It's heated magically," Loki tells him, misinterpreting Tony's surprised expression. "I do not fancy cold baths."

Tony snorts and leans back in the hot water, sighing as it works its relaxing effect on his muscles. "Who does?"

"Hot baths are not common on Asgard," Loki reveals to Tony's horror. "They are also not a common practice on Jötunheimr."

"Then it's just a Loki thing," Tony says. He wants to tell Loki to stop comparing himself to the Æsir and Jötunn, but it's not his place, and he knows from personal experience that it takes a while to break away from something like that. A long while. Tony probably still hasn't managed; he maybe never will.

After the bath they get dressed, and Loki does something Tony really didn't expect; he puts Tony in Æsir leather clothes as well. The leather pants, okay, Tony can do that, that's sort of hot, but… "Really?" Tony grimaces when Loki puts one of the complicated leather vests on him. It's complicated in a different way than the one Loki wore, and Loki gave him a dark green linen shirt to put on underneath. He makes both fit Tony's built and helps Tony tie all knots and close all buckles, and Tony does look sort of cool in the end, broader than he really is, but still. He'll never get out of it on his own, much less fast.

"Yes, really." Loki rolls his eyes heavenwards. Then he turns serious and looks Tony straight in the eyes. "I am not hiding that you are of Midgard. I am not ashamed. But I wish to show that… you are part of this. Me." He flushes and lowers his gaze.

"I wouldn't have thought you're ashamed of me," Tony says softly, rubbing his hand over Loki's still naked chest. "Hey, you wear Midgardian style clothes when you're with me. I don't mind wearing these clothes."

Still, Loki doesn't look entirely comfortable. "Only for tonight," he assures Tony.

"Alright." Tony leans in to kiss Loki. "Now, your turn to get dressed."

Loki's shirt is midnight blue; it makes his skin look milky and enticing and even the while it takes for Loki to finish putting on his vest doesn't curb the urge any. So Tony, once Loki is finished, leans in and nips at the side of Loki's neck, making him huff.

"So, anything else, or are we ready to get out?" Tony asks when he pulls back. It earns him a look from Loki; apparently not and he was silly to ask. Without a word Loki heads back into the bathroom towards the shelf and starts slicking his hair back. It's such a shame; Tony likes it tousled and a bit messy. On Earth Loki hadn't been as diligent about it, but as with other things, it's different on Asgard.

Once finished with his hair, Loki turns to Tony and starts brushing his fingers over his cheeks; at first Tony doesn't get it but when he touches his skin after Loki pulls away he finds that his stubble is gone. "Well, that's practical," he comments. "Do you actually grow a beard?"

Loki glances at him. "No. I never have." He walks back into the wardrobe, Tony trailing after him, and hands Tony a pair of boots that, once Tony steps into them, tighten to fit his feet.

"You will not need your armor," Loki informs him, smoothing out some creases in Tony's shirt. He seems a bit nervous; Tony catches his hand, kisses the back of it. He doesn't offer any words of comfort, Loki doesn't look like he'd take to that kindly, but he does allow the small gesture for a moment. Then he pulls his hand away, straightens his back and says, "You are my husband. By virtue of that alone, you do not bow to anyone – excepting Odin and the Queen, of course. You may bow out of politeness, if you so wish, but you do not have to, and you most certainly do not have to bear rudeness."

"I don't anyway," Tony replies dryly. "I'm the rude person in this relationship, remember?" And whoa, this is the first time he's called it relationship out loud, but Loki doesn't react to that at all; he just smiles slightly.

"Ah, yes, I do recall that." Then he turns serious again. "Remember that. Your honor is your most precious thing on Asgard, and some might try to insult yours because of your association with me."

Tony leans in. "You are my most precious thing on Asgard. And I don't give a fuck what they think." He's dead serious. He barely cares what people of his own realm think; he cares even less about the people here.

Flushing deep red, Loki smiles helplessly. "That is one of your features that I appreciate the most." Then he brushes the tips of his fingers over Tony's cheek and turns to walk out of the room, offering Tony his arm once more.

Chapter Text

When they leave Loki's quarters they find Thor waiting for them, looking fine in Æsir clothes that aren't actually his armor; Tony didn't know he owned anything else. "Brother, friend Tony!" he says with a happy smile. "How do you find Asgard?"

"As usual," Loki says dryly.

Tony rolls his eyes. "Big. Sort of… bright?"

"Gold is an important material and color to our people," Thor replies.

"Yeah, I noticed." Tony glances at Loki. "But honestly, it's a bit strange, everything, but I like it well enough."

"I am glad," Thor says. "How did you enjoy the gardens?"

"They were pretty impressive," Tony lies. Lies a little, because he supposes they indeed had been, but Tony isn't one to get impressed by greenery. Now, if it exploded or ate people, that would be cool.

"Have you had the opportunity to show him anything else, brother?" Thor asks Loki.

"No," Loki replies with a completely straight face. "We got a bit sticky and had to bathe."

Thor laughs his booming laugh. "I knew you would not be able to resist!" Tony almost chokes on thin air, but then Thor continues conspiratorially, "Loki has always shown a great fondness for Kedril fruit. There was a time when he refused to anything else."

"I was an infant then!" Loki protests loudly.

Tony, still recovering from the shock of the brief moment where he'd thought Thor was making sexual innuendos about his brother's sex life, can't help himself; he starts laughing.

"Surely it is not that amusing," Loki says with something that looks a lot like a pout.

Thor starts laughing as well. "Oh, it most certainly was! You were covered head to toe in juice, and then you would cry when I refused to touch you for your stickiness."

It earns him a glare from Loki. "Tony did not have the same misgivings."

This time Tony does choke and starts coughing, but Thor only laughs harder and pats Tony on the back. "I do not need to know the details of your marital relations, brother."

"Awesome, let's change topics then," Tony says hastily when Loki opens his mouth, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. Normally he's all for shocking people with blunt sex talk but there's just something weird about it when the person supposed to be shocked with details of their sex life is the brother of the guy Tony's having sex with. Especially since Thor doesn't look particularly shocked or even just bothered.

"As you wish," Thor says, sharing an amused glance with his brother, giving Tony the distinct feeling that he's being made fun of. "Has Loki explained to you the matter of your rank?"

"Sort of?" Not that Tony is really used to this sort of thing, generally he's the biggest fish in the room, and when he isn't it's generally still because they want something from him. It's been a very long time since he had to worry about offending people (not that he ever did worry, even when he maybe should have).

Thor nods. "You are my Shield Brother, but do not hold an official position within Asgard's ranks. You are here by the Allfather's request and invitation, but do not have a diplomatic function."

"Strictly speaking," Loki involves himself. "Practically, because you're a visitor from another realm, diplomacy will always be involved. Midgard is not very high in people's estimations and thus you won't have to worry about people going out of their way trying to offend or ingratiate themselves to you. Though they might do the latter because of your connection to Thor, and the former because of your connection to me, as I said."

"Yeah, I got that." Tony raises an eyebrow. "So, what exactly should I not do? I mean, if I mortally offend someone, there's gotta be consequences, right?"

"Yes, of course. Do not, under any circumstances, refer to anybody's parentage or ancestry in any way," Loki says. "Do not challenge a person's skills, especially not in the battlefield or where magic is concerned. Though if you do the latter and they challenge you to a duel, we are within rights to have me fight in your place due to our union, so it is unlikely that you will be challenged formally."

"Still, better not do it," Tony infers. Great. So he has to spend an evening trying not to offend anyone. That's going to be really difficult for him, and if the look Loki sends him is anything to go by, he is well-aware of that.

"Better not," Thor agrees, missing the byplay. "If someone challenges you to a fight, you are within rights to set the time, but it has to be sometime within the following day."

"You do not have to silently bear another being impolite to you," Loki takes over again. "Your position is unstable because it is not clear – and because my position is not clear – but you are associated with three members of the royal family, which gives you some protection and some rank, informally." He frowns. "As a matter of fact, if you do not defend your honor, you will be seen as weak, which will reflect back upon me, Thor, Thor's other Shield Brothers from Midgard, the Allfather, your position here and the relevance and importance of what you have to say in relation to the trial."

Holy cow. "So if I let someone walk all over me it's going to affect your trial?!"

"Yes." Loki nods. "But I do not worry about that." He raises an eyebrow. "You appear to be good at reminding people of your... importance."

Tony snorts. That's a rather diplomatic way to call him arrogant. "That's the honest truth."

"If you do not stray too far from me, Thor or the Allfather, people will behave better," Loki continues. "Though people will try to offend us both."

"They gonna be assholes to you?" Tony frowns.

"Oh, they have always been, so most certainly." Ignoring the way Thor starts to frown Loki explains, "My position currently is rather precarious because nothing official has passed to cast me out, but everybody is aware of some parts of my participation in the events that transpired during and after the failed coronation."

Ah. "So they're gonna be dicks to you either way, but feel even more justified now?"

"Some might feel backed by the crown because the Allfather has not said anything about my position either way," Loki confirms.

"I do not-" Thor pauses, looking frustrated. "It worries me that I have experienced the people of Asgard in such an entirely different way than you, Loki."

Loki glances at him. "There is no need. You have always been rather... oblivious to the finer byplay of the interaction between people."

"It is one of the reasons why you did not want for me to become king already, is it not?" Thor says ruefully.

"You would have made a horrible diplomat and you know it," Loki replies, and it sounds sharp but the words are more teasing.

Thor snorts. "Most certainly. Even now that I know to pay better attention I miss a lot."

"You will learn," Loki says blandly. "Let us go now. We do not want to be late." Once again he offers Tony his arm.

They start walking; Tony thinks he really should try to map this place but he hasn't seen much of it, and it's really very big. He could find the way to the garden again, the way to the bifrost and the way to the room where they had lunch, but that's about it. "Can you lead me around the city a bit tomorrow?"

Loki glances at him. "But of course."

Though suddenly Tony remembers that he's here for a reason. "Wait, when am I going to talk to Odin? He's going to ask me about the time loop thing, right?"

"Yes," Thor confirms. "And it is likely he will also wish to know... that he will wish to hear your thoughts on Loki. It has been a long time since someone other than me and mother was so personally involved with him."

"Uh, okay." Talk about Loki, Tony can do that. He really, really can. The only difficulty will be talking about him to his father; Tony has never done that before, he doesn't do meet the parents things but he's fairly sure there's some rule about talking about sex in front of parents. "So, when's that going to happen?"

"You will have to get used to the ways of Asgard," Loki tells him. "On Midgard, everything is very fast. On Asgard, this is not so."

"The Allfather will call you when he is ready," Thor adds.

Brilliant. "So... not even a vague estimation? Within the week? The month?" God, if Tony had to live here permanently, he'd go crazy. He hates it when people slow him down, which is generally why he does everything by himself, but it'd take him a while to build up an imperium here that will supply him with everything he needs immediately, the way he has done at home.

"It is unlikely it will take more than a month," Loki says.

Oh, sweet mother of god. Tony foresees boredom in his future, because he brought stuff to occupy himself, tablets and spare batteries, but not enough to last him a month. Maybe he could connect them to the arc reactor... but that would be like trying to power a hair dryer with a nuclear plant. Or a small sun, which is effectively the same, if on an entirely different scale.

"Do not worry," Thor says, patting him on the back again. The force of it sends Tony stumbling into Loki. "There are many things for you to explore!"

Well... "So, are you going to let me look at the bifrost?"

Loki snorts. "Not likely." Thor is laughing like Tony made a joke. "Honestly," Loki says, "I do not believe it will take that long. All previous trials excepting one went by rather... speedily." Tony remembers loops that ended before the night after the invasion was up and swallows. "I do not believe the Allfather will take even a whole month to call you."

That's a bit of a comfort, except now Tony is aware again that previous trials had generally ended with Loki's death, which sort of... puts a lot of responsibility on Tony's shoulders. Maybe Odin won't listen at all to him, that's possible, but if he does it's not unlikely that he will put a lot of weight on what Tony has to say. He probably knows already what Thor thinks and what Loki has to say, if that is important to him at all.

He doesn't get any more time to think about it, because they arrive at two double doors with two guards in fancy armor, in front of which Odin and Frigga are waiting, quietly conversing. When they spot Thor, Tony and Loki they nod but don't waste time on smalltalk; Odin takes Frigga's hand and the guards open the doors to a huge hall filled with several long tables. At those tables a lot of people sit and talk, creating a lot of noise, but they all fall silent when the royal family enters; Odin and Frigga first, then Thor, then Loki and Tony. They all walk over to what is undoubtedly the head table, standing in a right angle to the other tables and with a pair of thrones in the middle. The seating order is just like it was during lunch, with Tony's place being next to Frigga with some guy next to him.

"My friends," Odin says, "let us not waste time with words and instead welcome back my sons, returned from the battlefield of Midgard, and Anthony, son of Stark and husband of Loki, the Midgardian warrior who has fought alongside with them."

Everybody sort of cheers and makes some noise, and a lot, a lot of people stare at Tony. And yeah, he's used to being scrutinized, but this has to be a new level of attention afforded to him; not just because of the number of people but because they don't know anything about him and already they're full of suspicion, even dislike. It's going to be a lovely evening, Tony can already tell that much.

But first, of course, comes the food part. Odin allows everyone to sit down and then servants flood the hall, bringing food. Food meaning meat, in this case. Tony is absolutely sure that one of the things carried in is either a horse or a cow on a spit; it's sort of hard to tell because it's not like it's complete, and also it's cooked already, though the servants still put it above a fire. Then they start shaving off slices of meat and serving them, starting with the royal family.

"So," Tony says, staring at the proceedings. "What exactly is that?"

"An ox," Frigga replies, looking surprised that Tony doesn't know already. "Do you not have them on Midgard as well?"

"Oh, we do, yeah. But I've never seen a whole one." Tony looks at the thing. "A whole one not alive, that is." When he was eight his parents thought it would be a character building experience to send him to stay on a farm over summer. All the cows there still had had their hide, though. And had walked around and eaten grass and done the things cows do when they're not dead and being roasted on a spit. Namely, produce gas.

"This is a very fine one," Frigga tells him. "Brought as a gift from one of our boroughs. They are well-known for producing the best farm animals, and each year they gift the best ones to the palace."

"That's nice," Tony says faintly and takes the plate the servant gives him. He's going to eat the ox and then, in case something disgusting comes along, he can excuse himself.

As with lunch before, during mealtimes people don't talk much, but as people become more and more full with meat and mead, the noise level in the hall increases. The guy next to Tony keeps perfectly silent, however, appearing completely busy with the food. It suits Tony well enough; Thor and especially Loki's precautions had made him pretty nervous about interacting with anyone.

But even on Asgard, meals eventually come to an end. Tony's been full for a long time when it looks like the stream of servants bringing food is finally winding down. Shortly later Odin rises, which seems to be a sign for everybody else to get up as well and start mingling. Loki immediately appears next to Tony and leans in to whisper in his ear, "Rumors so far are either that I was given to you so you, as one of Thor's upstanding Shield Brothers, would keep an eye on me as a favour to Thor in return for certain… privileges where my person is concerned, or that I tricked or made a deal with you so you would marry and impregnate me as some sort of ploy to propitiate the Allfather."

Tony keeps his face perfectly calm, but on the inside he's… not. "Which one do they think is more likely?"

"The former," Loki replies as he pulls back. "The latter implies that we would dupe Thor, which they don't find unlikely generally but they like to pretend so as not to suggest anything negative about the crown prince."

"Loki," Frigga says, drawing both their attention. She smiles, takes Loki's hand and kisses him on the cheek; Loki keeps perfectly still. Not reacting to that in any way, she then takes Tony's hand and kisses him on the cheek as well. Once she pulls back Tony winks at her and breathes a kiss to her knuckles as he had earlier in the day.

"So lovely to see you, my Lady."

Her smile turns into a grin. "You are a dangerous one, clearly," she teases, pulling a hand back. "Run along now, charm Sigyn as you have charmed me." Stepping aside, she makes room for a woman behind her that Tony hadn't noticed before; Loki clearly hadn't either because he seems startled for a moment before his face becomes smooth again.

"Sigyn," he says, and his voice sounds… Tony might be wrong and he didn't at all expect it after all the warnings, but it sounds warm.

She smiles and bows. "Loki." Stepping forwards she then takes Loki's hand. "I was so glad when I heard you were alive."

"I'm sure that's not the only thing you heard," Loki says dryly. Then, to both her and Tony's surprise, he steps forwards and hugs her. When they pull apart again Sigyn's smile has widened and she's blinking rapidly.

"I was very… sad when I heard of your death," she says, touches Loki's cheek before she lowers her gaze and swallows. It looks like she's on the brink of crying. Tony hates it when people cry, he never knows what to do, and also, what the hell is going on? Did Loki have some sort of maybe-something waiting for him on Asgard? He never breathed a word of it and Tony does not like how the idea makes him feel.

"Only sad?" Loki teases gently, stepping back to give her a little space. "Admit it, you were so distraught you beat your chest and cried to the high heavens."

"Oh, I did not," she gasps, fake-outraged. "I was dismayed the most because I had not yet received your newest findings on that spell we were investigating."

"I see how it is," Loki says with a small grin. Turning to Tony, he stage-whispers, "She sobbed, I am sure of it."

"I would never shed a single tear about the likes of you," Sigyn says haughtily, straightening her back. Addressing Tony as well she adds, "He is terribly arrogant. I do not know how I could bear his very presence over an extended period of time; your endurance is commendable."

Tony laughs. "This is the first time someone has complimented me on that."

"The longer you bear this one's presence, the more often you will hear it," Sigyn promises.

"From you," Loki says dryly. "Others are more likely to question his sanity. And morality."

"All things not at all new to me," Tony says smoothly.

"Is that so?" Sigyn's eyebrow goes up as she eyes him curiously. "You are a good match, then. Loki as well is well experienced at having his integrity be in doubt."

"Doesn't matter," Tony waves that away. "I could care less what other people think of me."

Sigyn blinks, taken aback. "Truly." Her voice betrays her disbelief.

"On Midgard, it matters considerably less how you were born," Loki explains to her. "What is important to Midgardians is what you do. To them, what they do is what they are."

"Interesting." Sigyn eyes Tony.

Tony raises an eyebrow under the scrutiny.

Unexpectedly, she smiles. "Perhaps that is the best place for you," she says to Loki.

"Perhaps," Loki says.

Sigyn smiles again and then gives them her best wishes before she bids them goodbye.

"So," Tony says once she's gone. "Was that your single friend here or are things not as dire as you have predicted?" So maybe he's a bit snippy but honestly, he did not enjoy being blindsided so by the honest affection between Loki and a beautiful woman who apparently knows him well and also has humor.

"That was my former wife," Loki replies with a mild glare. "If you would like, we can step away a little from Odin and Frigga. We surely will be approached soon by somebody not as well-disposed towards me."

"Your ex?" Tony hisses and leans around him to look after her, but Sigyn has vanished somewhere into the crowd. He wants to be disgruntled but doesn't really have a reason to; it's clear Sigyn wasn't jealous of him. But maybe that's just because she knows Tony is going to die eventually and all she has to do to have Loki to herself again is wait.

Loki blinks at that reaction. "Yes."

"Babe, where I'm from, that was a societal faux-pas. You normally warn your current partner if they're meeting your former partner."

"You do?" Slightly dubious, Loki frowns. "Alright, I will remember that for the future."

"You do that." Still annoyed and not entirely sure why, Tony takes a deep breath and tries to calm himself down. This is not the place to fight with Loki, especially not about something like this.

"Some of your customs are as strange as your colloquialisms," Loki comments in an even posher tone of voice than usual.

"Yeah? Care to give one example of one of these strange colloquialisms?" Tony teases, glancing across the room as they casually stroll further away from the royal couple.

"Sucking," Loki says, sending a small thrill through Tony's body. "When you find something worthy of disapproval, you say "this sucks". I am rather curious how this misuse of the word came about, especially since I do not find any negative connotations to the act of sucking. Orally pleasing a male – an act that could and frequently is viewed as shameful and submissive – is referred to as "blowing" in your language, instead of the more accurate "sucking", so that connection evidently falls flat."

Tony clears his throat. "No, no negative connotations that I can think of. Don't say sucking again or talk about blowjobs with that tone of voice while we're in public, please?"

Amused, Loki glances at him before smirking. "What tone of voice specifically are you referring to?" he asks sweetly.

"Uh, well… yours." Tony flails helplessly. Loki has a way of speaking that can make anything sound seductive.

For a moment it looks like Loki is about to chuckle but then his face abruptly closes off completely. The next moment a person steps up to them, a blond character with ostensibly good looks but a rather self-involved streak around his eyes, not made any better by the unattractive sneer he wears.

"Loki," he says, the word alone a challenge.

Smiling with all his teeth, Loki corrects, "Prince Loki to you, Fandral."

Fandral's face twists. "Not for very much longer, I am sure of it."

"Perhaps," Loki says, tone completely inflectionless and face as blank as a frozen lake. "But as of yet, I am your Prince, and you will address me as such."

For a moment Fandral keeps perfectly still; then he smiles sleekly and bows in such a way that even Tony can tell it's sarcastic.

"Forgiveness, Prince Loki." Straightening up, he smiles in a way that makes Tony want to punch him. "Tell me, with what did you bribe Prince Thor to accept you as a Shield Brother?"

It takes Tony a moment to realize Fandral is actually addressing him, not Loki. He smiles sweetly, razor sharp. "My stunning good looks, you wouldn't know what that's like." While Fandral's face darkens with fury – Tony was always good at honing in on another's weak spots – Tony drops the smile. "Really nice to know how much you trust Thor's judgment."

Going completely red Fandral opens his mouth, a nasty spark in his eyes, but before he can say anything more some woman calls his name and waves him over. With one last glance at the couple, Fandral turns on his heels and strides off.

"Well," Tony says flatly once he's out of hearing range. "Pleasant fellow."

Loki glances at him out of the corners of his eyes. "The way you managed to find his two weakest spots immediately was quite attractive."

Surprised, Tony smirks. "Oh, did I? I guessed about the looks, he's too well-groomed not to love his own face too much, but the Thor bit too?"

"Most certainly." Smiling sweetly, Loki waggles his fingers at the woman who called Fandral over. The guy is clearly telling them how mean and nasty Tony and Loki were and she's glaring at them across the hall. "The Warriors Three and Lady Sif are very proud of how close to Thor they are and of how much they trust him and he trusts them. It must cut deep that Thor allowed you and several other warriors so close without even introducing you to them – without even talking to them." Loki looks amused and darkly satisfied by it all.

"Really?" Tony rolls his eyes. "They're jealous because Thor has found new friends? This is actually kindergarten, isn't it?"

Loki doesn't reply; his body has gone subtly tense again and this time Tony notices someone approaching before they step up to them. The guy, sort of burly looking with a strong jaw and big nose, glances at Loki and then away again quickly even as he bows and says, "Prince Loki."

"Hrgar," Loki replies neutrally.

Polite acknowledgement out of the way, Hrgar bows again for Tony. "Prince Consort Anthony, Son of Stark and Shield Brother of Thor."

Whoa, that's quite the mouthful there. Before Tony can worry about the guy's titles and whether he's supposed to acknowledge them, Loki steps in. "Tony, this is Hrgar, Head Scribe of the Skalds."

"Hello, Head Scribe Hrgar, sorry about the name butchering." Awkward.

Hrgar blinks, momentarily derailed (clearly not the brightest fellow around), before he gets back on track. "I would like to request your full account of the Battle of Midgard Crown Prince Thor wielded against the Monster Army of Thanos the Insane."

Okay? "You do know that I didn't actually fight alongside Thor, right?"

Hrgar inclines his head. "Yes. But as Shield Brother of Thor the Thunderer people will wish to hear your story as well. It will be intertwined with other accounts of the Great Battle."

"Sure, I can do that." Tony smiles. "You getting Loki's account as well? We could come in together, make a party out of it."

For a long moment Hrgar stares at him without blinking, face expressionless. Then he abruptly turns to Loki, bowing. "But of course. We would be indebted to you if you would oblige us such, Prince Loki."

"We will come to your library when we have the time," Loki grants with a regal nod.

"My thanks," Hrgar says, bowing before he walks off.

"You sneaky thing," Loki murmurs under his breath as a woman approaches them.

"Prince Loki," she says coolly with a perfunctory bow, completely ignoring Tony. "I wished to inquire about the spell I requested some weeks ago."

"I'm sure you're quite aware," Loki says archly, "I have been rather busy the past couple of weeks."

A scowl briefly flits across her face before it smoothens out again. "When may I expect it, then?"

"You may expect nothing from me," Loki says smoothly. "I might fulfill your request when I have the time to spare for you."

This time she doesn't manage to hide her scowl. "Very well," she says curtly, bowing again before striding off. Lovely.

There are a couple of other people like that; who want something from Loki and put up a front of politeness, but aren't at all respectful at the core. Loki deals with it with icy remarks and, if someone really gets out of line, pointed barbs. Tony definitely isn't the only one good at hitting people where it hurts.

Tony is starting to think that's the height of it when somebody new approaches – approaches him, Loki is busy in a vaguely hostile exchange with some woman. "Anthony, Son of Stark, is that correct?" the guy addresses Tony. Because he's been referred to by his apparent title as Prince Consort several times by this point he knows now that this is disrespect.

He raises one eyebrow, not much in the mood to be polite anymore. "Yes."

The guy smiles, teeth gleaming, and glances at where Loki is still involved in his conversation. He does pay attention to Tony out of the corners of his eyes but his face remains completely expressionless. From this, Tony gleans that this somebody Loki isn't very friendly with, but he can't lose face by quitting his own conversation and interrupting Tony's. It would broadcast to everyone that he doesn't trust Tony which, Tony is starting to get, would be fatal with these people. They're like sharks, circling them and moving in when they detect a perceived weakness.

"I am Vilhalmr, Son of Guðbrandr, the Lord of Agni."

And a self-important dick you are too, Tony thinks. "Yeah, hi."

The guy's smile remains on his face but tightens with displeasure for a moment. "I heard you fought alongside Prince Thor in the Battle of Midgard."

"Not really directly next to him, but yeah, I fought in the same battle," Tony replies with deliberate carelessness.

Vilhalmr moves in a little closer, body tilted in a way that Tony recognizes immediately. The guy is flirting with him. Curious about where the hell this is going Tony doesn't react in any way. "I would love to hear of your heroic deeds."

"Aw, how sweet of you," Tony coos sarcastically. "I'm going to tell Hrgar all about it in a bit, he's going to write it down so everyone can read it up. I'm sure he'd be happy to let you read it."

By this point Vilhalmr's face looks more like a grimace than anything else, but with a self-control that is commendable he manages to form it into a smile again. "Perhaps you could tell me the highlights? In private?" He steps even closer to Tony and okay, no, that's enough.

"Whoa," Tony says, stepping back and raising both hands. "That's close enough, buddy."

Vilhelmr immediately affects an offended expression. "Are you accusing me of assaulting you?" He speaks loud enough to make a couple of people close by fall silent and pay attention.

There's only one thing Tony can do; he laughs. "Dude, seriously? You couldn't be any more ridiculous if you actively tried. Next time you want to try to maneuver me into challenging you into a duel, try to be a little bit less obvious about it." Without another word Tony turns his back on the idiot and walks over to Loki, who is standing aside, eyebrow raised and expression flat, but anger sparks in his eyes.

"Didn't anyone teach these people to recognize when somebody is far out of their league?" Tony rolls his eyes; he doesn't bother lowering his voice.

Loki opens his mouth to reply, then goes completely still and focuses on something behind Tony. "Just try," he says, voice very quiet. Everyone around them is deathly silent. Deliberately, Tony doesn't turn around; he's making a point here.

Keeping very still and very tense, like a snake coiled to strike, Loki fixates Vilhelmr, eyes following him as he apparently walks away. Eventually Loki focuses on Tony again, some of the aggression leaving his features.

Tony raises an eyebrow. "Welcome to Asgard?"

Loki laughs, which clearly surprises everybody, Loki himself included. But it stops the crowd from staring at the two of them; slowly, conversations pick up again. After that, for some reason people stop approaching them as frequently with the obvious intent to challenge Loki, and not much time later Thor finds them.

"Brother! Friend Tony!" he exclaims loudly and wraps his arms around their shoulders. "Are you enjoying the party?"

"Tremendously," Loki says, dry as bone.

"I thought as much," Thor says with a wide smile. In a much quieter tone of voice he adds without losing his smile, "Let us leave. Pretend I suggested some activity you wish to engage in."

"Thor, I love you," Tony replies under his breath, smiling widely as well.

With fake exasperation, Loki lets Thor pull him along. His entire demeanor says "whatever", the way it would if Loki didn't really want to go along with whatever Thor wanted to do, but was indulging him. Quietly, Loki murmurs, "You have become considerably more astute, brother."

"I have had to," Thor replies soberly. By this point they're out of the hall and on the way to Loki's quarters, though Thor still hasn't dropped his arms from their shoulders. He kisses Loki on the temple. "Thank you, brother."

Loki huffs, embarrassed, but doesn't duck away, allowing Thor to accompany them to his quarters. Once there, Thor pats them both on the shoulders, wishes them goodnight and wanders off. Thoughtfully, Loki stares after him. "He has changed," he says quietly.

"That's a good thing though, right?" Tony asks, already knowing the answer.

"Yes." Turning around, Loki puts a hand on Tony's elbow and draws him into his quarters. It takes them ages to peel out of the complicated leather vests but the reward is them both being naked, an opportunity they don't let pass them by unused before going to sleep.

The next day after a breakfast in their private quarters Loki shows Tony around Asgard a little, giving him the opportunity to map the area out a little. There is a lot of gold, a couple of pretty views, a frankly impressive library, some sort of waterpark half for decoration, half containing naked people, and other stuff like that. All the while Tony keeps wondering if he's supposed to be impressed – there are a couple of impressive architectural feats, yes, but while he finds architecture interesting it doesn't generally manage to hold his attention for too long. Loki keeps making hints that the best thing is yet to come, but he absolutely refuses to elaborate, delighting in Tony's increasing frustration. They have lunch in the gardens, a sort of picnic, their naked feet dipping in the stream, but for dinner they have to eat with the family again. Thankfully it turns into another silent affair – Tony is fairly sure by this point that this is the norm on Asgard, no conversations while food is being consumed – and Loki excuses them by saying they're going to the observatory. At that Frigga smiles indulgently and Thor grins; even Odin smiles slightly.

"Observatory?" Tony repeats as they leave the hall. "Is that what I think it is?"

"If you think it is a place from which you observe the stars…" Loki trails off.

Tony absolutely does not flail. He gets a little excited because yes, he's been staring at the view from Loki's room whenever he had the opportunity and it really is that amazing, but he doesn't flail like a teenager about to meet their pop idol. Loki grins smugly and takes Tony's hand, leading him through the city, up and up stairs until they climb through a skylight into a room that is basically the tip of the highest tower, domed by a clear (and clean) glass ceiling.

It offers the perfect view of the night sky.

"Just look," Loki says quietly, takes a seat on the floor and leans back on his hands, tilting his head back to look up. Tony immediately copies the position and goes a step further, lying on his back and just staring up.

He doesn't know how long he lies there; Loki clearly eventually gets a little bored but he doesn't say a word, just gets out a book out of nowhere and quietly starts reading. Tony rubs a hand over Loki's back absently, not looking away; he's tracking the slow movement of the stars and nebulae and doesn't get tired of it for ages. Eventually he takes pity on Loki and his own back, which doesn't appreciate the hard floor much, and they go to bed.

Tony's third day on Asgard Loki takes him and Thor out of the city to what appears to be a popular vacationing spot; it's a number of springs, hot and cold, spread across rocky terrain and populated by naked Æsir. Pretty soon the brothers plus Tony are among the naked people, going from hot spring to cold spring and back again. Some of the hot springs are in huts and have bags of herbs swimming in them like oversized tea bags, creating a sort of steam bath atmosphere. At the end of the day covering yourself in oil seems to be mandatory ("your skin will be very soft," Thor says earnestly) and then Loki takes them back again in time for dinner.

Day four of Tony's visit, Odin finally summons him for a talk. Tony is both exasperated that it's taken so long and nervous that he's going to fuck up, a feeling that doesn't wane significantly when he finds that Odin and Frigga both are waiting for him.

Frigga greets him warmly and Odin nods before asking him how he's enjoying Asgard; they make some smalltalk but then Odin gets right down to business pretty fast. "As I am sure you are aware, my son has reported to me that we are currently involved in a Wheel of Destiny. What might you be able to tell me on the matter?"

Tony shifts; he'd rather not go into detail about the things Loki did. Yeah, he was under mind control at the time but Odin executed him nevertheless in the other loops, and even if all the things technically never happened, he has no idea what Odin's stance on that will be. "Well, first of all, we call it time loop, and I've been trapped in one for a while. This has to be the twelfth loop or something, I sort of lost count. This is the one we've gotten the farthest in, though."

"Why do you think that is?" Frigga inquires.

"We're both still alive," Tony replies immediately. "Every time either I or Loki dies, we go back to the beginning. Things are going well this time."

She frowns. "How did he die, the previous times?"

"Erm," Tony says, glances at Odin. "Apparently the penalty on Asgard for being a traitor is death." Then, in the interest of full disclosure (and maybe because Loki has impressed upon him several times how vital it is that he does not lie because Odin will be able to tell), he adds, "Once I killed him, I was getting a little fed up with it all, you see, and once the Jötunn tore him apart. That was the loop before this."

Both Odin and Frigga have gone pale; Odin is staring at the floor, a very detached expression on his face. Eventually he looks up again. "And a death sentence is carried out by the one who has cast it," he says quietly. "Loki remembers this all?"

Tony lifts his shoulders. "Yeah. His memory of when he was under mind control is a little muddled, but yeah, we both remember everything." As far as they know, but that's getting into territory Tony isn't too hot on exploring, really.

Odin nods. "Please excuse me for a moment." He rises and calmly walks out of the room, leaving Tony alone with Frigga, who is staring down at her knees, eyes watery.

"Can you tell me how... how he was when you first met?" she eventually asks quietly. The tears don't fall, for which Tony is eternally grateful. "It stands to reason that he has somewhat recovered since then, at least mentally, does it not?"

"Yeah, he has. I mean, a lot of crap happened and that didn't exactly help him feel better, but he's not... he's not as bad off as he was." Tony grimaces. "I'm not actually sure which first time you want to know about; the first first time, when he was under mind control, or the first time I spoke to him that he wasn't?" He still remembers Loki's hysterical laughter echoing in a cave in Alaska and Goodbye, darling. Loki had known what was going to happen if he went to Asgard, and yet he had gone willingly. Perhaps he'd even wanted to die; he certainly can't have tried too hard to convince the Jötunn not to kill him, not considering that the second time around he even managed to bring them around to work for or at least with him.

"Both," Frigga requests. "How is he when his mind is not his own?" Behind her, the door opens and Odin returns.

"Insane," Tony admits truthfully, if hesitantly. "Maniacal. He doesn't... he didn't make sense, I think that part was actually him, managing to work with it somehow. It didn't really work out, I was too preoccupied to notice, but he... I think if he honestly wanted to do what he tried then, without mind control he'd be much more effective. Far less... crass. He played the role of villain pretty well."

"How was he, the first time he was free of the spell?" Odin asks.

Tony licks his lips and lowers his gaze; he can't look Loki's parents in the face and tell them that. "Honestly? Suicidal. He knew... he knew what was going to happen if he went to Asgard, but he went, willingly. He even hurried Thor along." He's silent for a moment, letting that sink in. "That's the first time he was properly free of the mind control, at least. There were a couple of times he managed to get out of it briefly, but... I didn't actually talk to him about this, so it's just speculation, but I think the mind control spell thing is pervading – it doesn't just eradicate your own will or erases your thoughts, it just... takes hold of them and twists them. I think a couple of times he managed to untwist, at least a little."

Odin nods slowly, eyes far away. "What makes you believe that?"

"Physically, the blue in his eyes got a little less... glowy. Otherwise... I think it happens when he's... when his emotional strings are being pulled, basically. Thor managed once or twice, I think, but it just lasts a few seconds before the spell takes over again." Tony shrugs. "As I said, it's just speculation, but I got a feeling. I'd assume that those memories are clearer to Loki than the others from when he was under the spell, but he'd know far better than I."

"Obviously," Odin says. "But I wish to know what you think and why you think so."

"What did he do, those times when you believe he managed to fight off the spell for a brief moment?" Frigga asks, saving Tony from the dilemma of bluntly asking Odin why or saying something polite instead.

"Uh, that one time, the first time with me I think, he told me about the Jötunn thing."

Suddenly both of them are looking at him with their full attention. "He told you about that?" Odin asks sharply.

Tony pulls up his shoulders. "Uh, I sorta implied that I already knew? I still didn't know, then, that he was under mind control. I implied that Thor had told me all his secrets to get under his skin." Something he clearly managed, and Tony isn't exactly proud of it now.

"What happened?" Frigga demands. She's leaning forwards in her chair, staring at Tony intently. "Tell me. What did he say?"

"Well..." Tony lifts up his shoulders. Fuck, this is really not something he wants to tell Loki's parents, how well he managed to fuck up their son. "We had just killed one of our own who was under mind control and attacking us. Loki said something about it, I turned it around on him, referring to... I didn't really know much about what happened around the coronation then, Thor had given me a very abridged version in a previous loop and he didn't say anything about the Jötunn thing, so I didn't know. Anyways, I say to him that I'm not the only one who killed someone of my own people, and tell him that Thor told me about the coronation and how Loki attempted genocide. He really... it really got to him, that Thor told me something so private, and I think when he was under mind control he wasn't really conscious of the time loops, so it must have looked even worse to him, considering that as far as he knew, I had known Thor for maybe two hours at that point." Tony swallows. "Anyways, he gets really pissed off – the kind you get when you- when someone hits you where it hurts. And he asks me if Thor told me that he's not really his brother, if Thor- these are his words, okay, he asks me if Thor told me that he's a monster." Frigga makes a strangled noise but Tony doesn't look up, stares at his hands instead. "Then he says to me, "So I betrayed both my people, and none"."

Someone draws a shaky breath but Tony still won't look up. He doesn't know why he told them that, if it was a good idea, if he betrayed something like a confidence, though he and Loki weren't exactly buddy-buddy then and they never talked about this specifically. Besides, some part of Tony... he's not exactly enjoying the fact that both Frigga and Odin are hurting, but he can't pretend there isn't a part of him that thinks, good. Let them know how much they hurt Loki. It's not like he's lying or even just bending the truth; all this really happened exactly like he's saying it did.

"Very well," Odin says quietly. "How did you come to work together?"

Ah, safer ground, fucking finally. "Once I had figured out – though that's not quite accurate, I was really dumb in that aspect; once I saw with my own eyes that Loki had been under mind control as well I changed the MO and knocked Loki out first thing. You see, a hard enough blow to the head knocks the spell right out of you, no idea how that works, though for Loki I also needed to destroy the spear, it had a too strong hold on him otherwise. It took us a couple of tries but we managed to find some common ground and work out a partnership from there."

"A partnership?" Frigga repeats, and she doesn't sound like she's crying so Tony dares to look up. Her cheeks are wet but her face doesn't look like she's heartbroken or anything. "Wherein both parties are equal?"

Tony can see what she's alluding to; he grins a little. "Yeah, not really his thing, I know. But clearly the Wheel thing considers us both of equal importance, so we had to figure something out. Besides… some common ground was found."

And he shouldn't have said that. Predictably, the next question Odin asks is, "What exactly is this common ground you are referring to?"

Licking his lips, Tony looks away from them again. "You know he didn't… that Thanos guy didn't pick him up, slap the mind control spell on him and send him off on his merry way immediately." This is not something Tony knows for a fact, Loki didn't exactly go into detail on that, but he was clear enough. Besides, it's fairly obvious, really, especially to Tony, who's been there, done that. "I sorta went through a fairly similar, if not the same thing." He pulls up his shoulders. "I was a weapons manufacturer, I don't know if you know that. Anyways, my father figure guy sold me out to be killed by some terrorists. Long story short, they kept me around for three months, trying to encourage me by applying pain and starvation and things like that to make them cool weapons. I had to trick them to get out." Taking a breath he closes his eyes and pushes the memories away. This is not a good headspace for him to be in. "Looking at his face was sort of like looking into a mirror, sometimes."

"I see," Odin says quietly. "I thank you for your honesty."

Tony shrugs. He's hoping they’ll start talking about something else now but instead, he's dismissed, which is even better, really.

Loki is waiting for him in his quarters, making a show of being unconcerned by sitting in an armchair and sipping tea, but he looks up immediately when Tony enters the room. When their eyes meet Tony grimaces, walking over to Loki and collapsing in an armchair close to his. He feels Loki eye him closely, probably debating whether he should ask or not.

"What did he ask?" Loki eventually asks. It reminds Tony how far they've come since that time at the beginning, when they weren't getting anywhere at all, primarily because Tony was too blind.

"He asked about you," Tony answers quietly, still half lost in memories. "Your mother was there too. They wanted to know about… how you were, at the beginning." He takes a breath and opens his eyes, accepts the cup Loki hands him with quiet thanks. Loki's eyes are burning, so Tony goes into more detail, closely relaying what Odin and Frigga asked during the talk, and how they reacted. He knows that's what Loki cares about even if he acts like he doesn't, even if he won't ask. Tony makes a point of not looking at Loki or acting at all like he's going into such detail because of him.

Loki is silent when Tony finishes; Tony sips the strange tea and yearns for coffee. Eventually Loki says, voice a little rough but otherwise normal, "It does not sound like it was all that useful a conversation, for the trial."

Tony shrugs. Maybe it wasn't, but it was certainly for Odin and Frigga as parents. Of that much, at least, Tony is sure.

The next three days Loki shows him around Asgard some more – more greenery, more architecture, Tony's getting sort of bored but so far, sex works as a satisfying distraction. Then Frigga asks invites him for a private talk while Loki goes to speak with Odin. When Tony gets there she's waiting with a pot of... it smells like...

"I have heard of this popular drink you consume on Midgard," she says, "so I had it brought and prepared. I do hope it was done right."

Coffee. Tony hears angels sing for a moment, honest to god. He takes a sip and, oh – it's good coffee too. A bit watery, but he's certainly had worse. "It's perfect," he sighs, taking another mouthful. Damn, he missed this.

She smiles. "Personally, I find it somewhat bitter. Is this truly how it is drunk on Midgard?"

"Some people put stuff in it, sugar or milk or both," Tony suggests.

"Interesting," she comments. "I can see how that would make the taste milder." She eyes the coffee for a moment – it appears the whole pot is for Tony because she has her own, he's going to be completely high on caffeine when he gets out of here if he drinks it all – and then looks down into her own cup. "I feel that... Loki used to speak to me, when he was younger. I do not know why, but eventually he closed himself even from me, so I do not... Normally, when a son wishes to marry, he speaks to his parents about it, introduces his choice, explains it. Loki did not say anything about you – he barely speaks to me at all, now. So I thought that perhaps we should get to know each other a little."

Oh no, a bonding thing. This is a bonding thing. Tony is so bad at those. He's a bit self-centered and he gets bored easily and he rarely has much common ground with people, and even less often is he willing to talk about that common ground. "Uh," he says. He thinks he saw something like this on TV once. When first meeting your mother-in-law, you're supposed to signal that you acknowledge her position instead of making her feel like you're trying to usurp it and replace her. He's not sure if that applies here or anything, but better safe than sorry, right? "So you and Loki were close?"

Except that is totally the wrong thing to ask, of course it is, because it's only going to remind her that they aren't, anymore. He's such an idiot.

Frigga's face falls a little, expression turning wistful. "Indeed we were. When he was a young child, he was very... he did not like to be alone. For a long time he would sleep in Thor's bed; I believe they did that as needed for a long time. But of course, eventually Loki's relationship with Thor changed as well."

Tony can't help it. "You know that's not because Loki is Jötunn, right? If it were he would've been like that from the beginning."

Back going stiff, she frowns at him. "I do not appreciate what you are implying here. Loki is my son, no matter the circumstances of his birth, and I love him just as I love Thor."

"Yeah, okay," Tony says quickly. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to imply anything, but he... he hates it so much, and he said something about how Jötunn are childhood monsters. I just don't get it, but I guess I won't be able to because I didn't grow up here."

"You are right," she agrees calmly. "You cannot understand. I never... I never encouraged my sons to... but we were at war, and the nature of war is that one despises the enemy, is it not? One cannot fight someone for whom one feels sympathy."

That, Tony gets. Not just what she's saying but what she's really saying: that it was out of her control and that she was helpless to do anything about it. "Yeah. I get that. Sorry."

Frigga takes a sip of her tea. When she puts her cup down again it seems like the matter is closed, because she completely changes topics. "How did you and my son progress from partnership to relationship?"

Eyes widening for a second, Tony clears his throat. She's not asking after actual details, he reminds himself. "Uh. I think the potential was sort of there from the beginning, maybe even... maybe even when he was under mind control, though it probably doesn't reflect well on me that I... considering what he did, I mean. But, anyways. It. We pretty much flirted from the beginning." Flirtatious is definitely one off the words Tony would apply to that conversation they had at the tower during the very first loop.

"I see." She raises an eyebrow. "So you wished to copulate with my son early on. Is this still what you want from him today?"

Oh my god, it's the "what are your intentions" conversation! Tony's only ever heard of it, he didn't think it actually happens, and he definitely wasn't prepared for it. Also, Loki's mom is talking about their sex life. Oh god. "Er, no. Don't get me wrong, it's still... well, everything's going great in that area. But I wouldn't have married him if that were all I wanted from him."

He has to be careful with this. Loki told him more than once that he shouldn't talk about why they got married at all, because Odin can apparently tell when he's being lied to. He should just say that it's private, Loki said. And even if Tony, just to be safe, figures the same thing about the lying applies to Frigga, he just... well, he's not lying, and as long as he isn't lying there's nothing to worry about.

"What else, then, do you want?"

This is mortifying. If this is what normally happens when you get married, Tony is never going to do it again. Not that he was planning to anyway. "For him to live," he says truthfully, "with me. I just... yeah, it was a bit rash, but... both of us died a couple of times lately, and we had a lot of time and opportunity to think about stuff. I just think... why wait? We might not be here tomorrow, and it's what I want, so there is no reason to stall just because people might not understand or whatever."

Frigga nods slowly. "Why my son, though? What I wish to know is why you want to be with him."

Bloody hell. He's already been much more honest than he even is to himself. Tony frowns into his cup of coffee and thinks about it. "He's… I like being with him. He's very smart, and he doesn't let anyone push him around. He knows what he wants. Yeah, right now he's broken, everything's f- messed up, but I just want to… he doesn't even have anyone who isn't neck deep in this mess, who isn't… who has no baggage. He needs someone who isn't involved in all that mess, who can pull him out, who can… who catches him."

This is absolutely embarrassing; Tony has barely thought about this to himself and now he has to talk to Loki's mother about it. But it seems that something he said was right because Frigga is smiling at him warmly. And then she even reaches out and touches Tony's arm. "You are a good man, Tony."

"Uh, thanks." Tony drinks from his coffee more to hide his face than anything else.

She sits back again and thankfully, thankfully changes topics; apparently they're getting back to the getting to know each other part of the conversation. "Do you read, Tony?"

"Yeah, actually." Not often, but sometimes when he needs to settle down he does, or when he's on a long trip on the jet.

She nods, satisfied. "What do you prefer to read?"

"Crime, actually." He likes to watch crime shows too; they're pretty relaxing. Generally he knows that things are going to be tied up by the end of the episode. "You?"

Frigga looks a bit confused. "I enjoy reading about botany. What do you mean, crime?"

"Well, a person dies, there's some sort of investigator who tries to figure out who killed them, and by the end of the book they solve the crime."

Looking a bit confused, Frigga asks, "Is it a… story?"

Tony nods. "Yes, exactly. A story."

"That does sound interesting," Frigga says. "We do not have books such as that, on Asgard."

Well, that seems a bit boring. "I could bring you one next time I come here?"

Frigga smiles, amused. "If you get permission to return. You are aware that mortals are not normally allowed to come here?"

"Uh." Tony blinks. "Not really? Why?"

"It is a general law concerning visitors," Frigga explains, "stemming from a time of war. As you can see, it is bendable."

Clearly, what with Tony being here and all. "Cool. So… what do you do?"

He and Frigga do some smalltalk during which Tony finds out that Frigga has recently started to get more involved in politics; she used to keep away from that sort of thing to support her husband, but has lately changed her opinion. Tony has his own thoughts to that – he wonders whether she reconsidered because of the whole clusterfuck with Loki and how Odin handled it – and asks some questions about how the political system here works. There aren't parties per se, but political fractions; Odin has a council and while this is an autocratic system, they do play some sort of important role. Tony doesn't really get how that works out, there are no actual rules about how often Odin has to listen to them or things like that, but apparently it works.

When Frigga releases him – that's pretty much how it happens, she basically sends him away because she has some duties to attend to – Tony returns to Loki's quarters, but Loki isn't there yet. Tony feels incredibly tense; he has no idea how Odin and Loki's talk is going. He can't even go ask Thor because he's fairly sure that Thor is present as well, or at least hovering around in the vicinity.

Tony ends up prowling Loki's quarters; not even the view can distract him now. Loki's shelves don't yield anything in a language Tony speaks either, but he knew that beforehand. He still leafs through some books, looking for pictures like he's two years old again and can't read yet (he'd grown fed up with that pretty quickly and taught himself to read) before he digs out his tablet and updates the programming on the suit's suitcase's navigator with what he's learned of the city's layout so far.

A couple of hours after Tony came back from the talk with Frigga, Loki returns. His face looks calm, if blank, and as soon as the door is shut behind him he goes completely still, staring into nothing.

Licking his lips, Tony debates whether or not he should ask, but his curiosity outweighs his caution. "How did it go?"

As if startled, Loki looks up and meets his eyes. His face is still so uncomfortably blank, Tony has to repress the impulse to get up and hug him, but Loki looks very untouchable right now. "It… went as I imagined it would, mostly."

Tony winces. Loki is a pessimist, so that can't mean anything good. "Okay. Talk to me."

"I think I will have a bath." With that, Loki strides off into the bathroom, already working on opening his complicated leather vest. Tony jumps up and follows him, taking off his own clothes as well – baths, he's ambivalent about them, but anything that involves Loki naked is a good idea in his opinion. Besides, maybe the hot water will loosen Loki's tongue.

The past couple of days have educated Tony a little in how to undo Loki's preferred style of clothes, so he can help him a little in undoing buckles and knots. Eventually Loki is naked and sinks into the hot water with a sigh, leaning his head back and closing his eyes. Tony follows him in and gives him a moment to collect himself and relax, but eventually he grows too impatient to let Loki be any longer.

"Darling," he says quietly. "What happened? Did you fight?"

Loki laughs bitterly. "Of course we did. It is the natural order of things."

What can Tony say to that? "What about?"

"It would perhaps be simpler to ask what we did not fight about." With a sigh, Loki closes his eyes again. One of his hands floats freely in the water, so Tony captures it and takes it between his. "Thor," Loki eventually says. "Whether I am treating him unfairly or not. Whether Odin was completely blind to Thor's faults when he announced the coronation or not. Whether I am jealous of Thor or not. Whether I am treating m- Frigga rightly or not. Whether Odin stole me or rescued me when he took me from Jötunheimr. Whether he took me to be a pawn. Whether he took me to be a political plaything. If he ever considered me a son at all. If he ever valued me as a person. If he ever even considered me a sentient being. Why he never told me. Why he never-" Loki's voice breaks here and he suddenly dives underwater and stays there for a moment before coming up again, face wet and blinking water out of his eyes. With his free hand he wipes the water out of his eyes; his other remains between Tony's.

"Sounds… awful, actually," Tony says quietly, squeezing Loki's hand. It earns him a dry "oh, do tell" look and a snort, but Loki squeezes back.

"What did Frigga want from you?" he then changes topics.

Tony snorts. "She gave me the third degree about my intentions towards you."

Incredulous, Loki turns his head to look at him. "She did what?"

"I'm serious, she practically interrogated me why I married you and what I want from you."

Expression turning speculating, Loki leans a little towards Tony. "What did you tell her?"

Tony flushes and averts his gaze. "I'm not going to repeat that."

"Oh, now you have to!" Loki exclaims. "Tell me, what did you say?"

Well, okay, maybe Tony can give something of a summary. Right now, Loki probably needs something like that, even if he wouldn't admit it. "Okay, so, basically… that I want for you to stay? With me, I mean. Now and later, when this is over. That I… well, that I like you because you're smart and you don't take any shit from anyone and I just enjoy your company. I think you need someone who isn't involved in all that family drama – someone who understands you and who's on your side, and I am that. Would like to be that. If you let me. Want me to."

Loki is just looking at him, not saying anything at all, and Tony's quietly freaking out a little. He hates it when he runs his mouth, he's prone to babbling and normally he manages to keep it completely mundane and inconsequential but sometimes he lets out things he didn't mean to, reveals a little too much about himself. It always leaves him feeling cold and naked, like he lost something in the process he can never get back.

"You are a wondrous creature," Loki eventually says. "You make it so everything seems simple, like there are no layers at all, and yet there are so many with you."

Chewing on his lower lip, Tony stares down into the water. "Uh, okay. That doesn't sound like a good thing."

"But it is." A hand on Tony's chin forces him to look up and meet Loki's eyes. They're intent, intense. "It is a good thing, a very good thing. I wish to keep you, and I will allow you to keep me as well. If that is truly what you wish."

"It is," Tony assures quickly when insecurity flickers across Loki's face briefly. "It's what I want."

They smile at each other for a brief moment before Loki sobers. "Of course, there is not much of a future for me. Odin's judgment will not be kind."

Tony can't argue with that; he didn't quite get that impression from Odin but Loki obviously knows him better. "Even so," he murmurs, sliding across the bench over to straddle Loki. Cupping Loki's face, he leans in to kiss him softly, almost chaste – as chaste as Tony is capable of, that is. Loki returns the kiss but doesn't escalate it so it stays gentle, slow.

Two days later (that Tony and Loki have spent walking around the city once more, Loki showing Tony things he finds important such as the apothecary where potions are being brewed, or the history hall full of paintings ) Loki has another conversation with Odin. When he returns his cheeks are flushed and his eyes bright with fury; he immediately pounces on Tony when he gets to his quarters and drags him off to bed. Hours later he reveals to Tony that today, they fought about him and their relationship, marriage, whether Tony is a worthy partner and how he compares to Jane and the influence on Thor she had.

"I don't think you need me to show you the error of your ways," Tony says quietly. "You're perfectly capable of doing that on your own."

Loki smiles, and it's a little sweet and also a little dangerous.

The following day he takes Tony back to the histories hall and into an office next to it, where he leaves him alone with Hrgar for a couple of hours to retell the battle of Midgard in minute detail. Hrgar notes down every word Tony says and asks questions ("might you be a little bit more clear on the number of attacking Chitauri") and in the end mourns the fact that he will probably never get the accounts of the other Avengers. Also, he appears to be rather fond of the name given to their little band of more or less superheroes. By the time Loki comes to free him again Tony is this close to just leaving; he doesn't let his own board members bore him so, he's not going to bear it much longer from some Æsir Historian.

"About time," he snaps when Loki appears, patience worn thin. Hrgar's eyes widen and Loki's narrow, but he doesn't say anything, simply steps aside when Tony strides past him out the room.

"Don't park me somewhere like some child that needs to be occupied," Tony snaps as they walk back to Loki's quarters. "I'm perfectly capable of entertaining myself. I don't need a babysitter."

"Was it truly that bad?" Loki inquires, sounding unconcerned, which pisses Tony off even more.

Tony merely growls, speeding his steps up even further. If he were at home he would go blow things up in his lab now; he misses it fiercely more than ever right now. His own space to do within whatever he wants.

When he enters Loki's quarters he briefly considers fucking Loki into the mattress like Loki had done him yesterday, but he's not really feeling it, nearly vibrating out of his skin with frustration. It's not all because of Hrgar and Loki; it's more overall annoyance and frustration. There is a lot of pressure on him, not just because of the trial (and that Odin just won't get on with it doesn't help at all) but because everybody's eyes are always on him wherever he goes, especially when he's with Loki. And unlike at home, here he can't react, can't provoke the people and play with them, meet or subvert their expectations, because so much more than just his own reputation depends on how people here view him.

Loki closes the door to his quarters. "You-" A bell Tony has never heard before rings out, stopping Loki mid-word. Eyes widening he snatches Tony's arm at the wrist and pulls him back out of the room, hurrying down the hall at a near-run.

"What the hell-"

"It is the warning bell," Loki interrupts, voice tense, "Signaling that Asgard is under attack. It has not been heard in over a hundred years."

Since before the war with the Jötunn officially ended, then. Okay, now Tony can understand the hurry.

"Thor," Loki calls out sharply when they come upon the blond prince at a fork in the halls; Thor is carrying his hammer and they're all clearly heading in the same direction. All around them people are on their way as well, either in the same or the other direction. Tony is surprised at the fact that there doesn't seem to be any panic at all; everybody looks quietly purposeful, determined, like they all know exactly where they have to be. Then again, they probably do. They've been at war until relatively recently, this probably isn't too new a situation for most of them.

"Loki, Tony," Thor replies with a nod. His expression is tight. "Do you think-"

"No," Loki says sharply. "It is not possible."

"But brother, you gave them the-"

"No," Loki repeats, more forcefully this time.

Thor falls silent, but the worried expression doesn't leave his face.

They're in an area of the city/palace Tony hasn't been in before; he suspects this is where the important stuff happens, not a place where he would have any reason to be and certainly not somewhere they would like to see him. But Loki still hasn't let go of his wrist and Tony certainly isn't going to bring it up.

Thor at the front, they enter a room containing Odin and a couple of other people around his age or even older, clearly battle veterans. Debating among themselves, the chaos in here looks less controlled than the one outside.

"My sons," Odin says when he sees them. He comes towards them, arms reaching out, and puts his hands on Loki and Thor's shoulders, sparing a nod for Tony who is standing between them. "We are being attacked. A most foolish attempt by the rest of the Chitauri fleet."

"How many?" Loki asks sharply.

"One mothership and several war cruisers," Odin supplies readily.

"The mothership contains that energy source they all depend upon?" Tony asks.

For a moment confusion flickers across Odin's face; he had clearly more or less forgotten about him, had definitely not expected Tony to have anything to say. "That is correct."

"Xrkcht," Loki supplies, looking at Tony. Tony raises an eyebrow, Loki raises an eyebrow and okay, they're on the same track, good to know.

"We just gotta take that one out and their weapons will stop working, right?" Tony says, wrapping it up as a question at the last moment as he remembers that this is a king he's talking to, not somebody he can reasonably involve in a power tug-o-war like Fury.

"Yes," Loki confirms.

"Cool." Tony looks at Odin. "I can fly up and take care of that."

But Odin shakes his head. "It is impossible you would manage to do so undetected. As much as your courage is appreciated-"

"I can make him invisible," Loki interrupts. "In fact, I can go with him."

"No, I need you here to support the shields in the event of an attack," Odin immediately refuses.

"I will go with him," Thor offers himself. "My presence should feed Loki's spell enough to conceal us both, and I have fought the Chitauri before."

Looking not at all happy about this idea, Odin thinks about that for a moment before he finally, reluctantly nods. "Very well. Meanwhile, we will prepare the city's defense for war."

"Cool. So where-"

Loki interrupts Tony before he can get anywhere. "You need to put on the suit. The spell will only be effective then." Without any further explanation he teleports them to the door of his quarters and pushes Tony in unceremoniously. A little put out that he doesn't get to test the suit's target finding system now, but aware that this is faster, Tony steps in front of the suitcase and activates it; the last pieces are still clicking into place when Loki is already stepping up to him again and teleports them back. Somewhere along the way, Tony notes, Loki acquired his battle armor and a long cane-slash-stick sort of like Gandalf's, only much fancier. Sorcerer stereotype much?

Odin is still standing with Thor, but has half turned his back on him as he talks to some of his generals, giving instructions about protection of crystals and whatnot. When Tony and Loki appear he turns back; Tony reaches up to put the faceplate down but suddenly Loki's hand is in the way, turning his face and catching him in a short but very passionate kiss. As he pulls away he closes the face plate for Tony and merely has to glance at Thor for the blond warrior to immediately step close to Tony, touching his arm. The next couple of minutes are filled with Loki chanting something and drawing symbols on them with what looks like light, and then Loki appears to be done. He steps back and gives Tony a very stern look. "Do not die." His eyes flicker briefly to Thor, including him in the order even if it's primarily addressed to Tony.

"Not planning on it, darling," Tony replies. "What does this energy source thing look like?"

"There is no way you can miss it," Loki says impatiently. "Just always go towards where it gets busier and wetter."

Sounds pleasant. Tony looks at Thor. "You ready?"

"May your mission succeed and may you, if not, be admitted into the eternal halls of Valhalla," Odin says.

Thor nods meaningfully. "Er, thanks, you too," Tony replies awkwardly and is rather grateful when Thor leads him out of the room then. Loki is incredibly tense; his expression looks almost anxious and Tony has a couple of conflicting impulses about that. He settles with the one that says, take care of this quickly and get back safely.

They're heading towards a balcony; they're all over the city, Tony has seen quite a few of them by this point, and a couple of nice views. Now he has no eyes for that sort of thing though. "Follow me," Thor says, whirls his hammer and is off, Tony close on his heels.

They fly up and up and soon out of the atmosphere; Tony is very glad he took care of the icing problem and tries really hard not to wonder how the fuck Thor is surviving, much less breathing in space.

It takes them a while, long enough that Tony stops wondering about Thor's miraculous survival and instead starts wondering about where the fuck this attacking fleet is supposed to be, but suddenly they're there, hidden in some sort of nebula in some poor attempt at inconspicuousness that very clearly failed. They're not yet attacking Asgard and don't even seem to see Tony and Thor, so clearly Loki's spell is working. Tony spares a moment to wonder what the hell they appear to be waiting for, but he doesn't have the time to investigate. Thor very purposefully heads towards one of the ships in the back; it looks different than the others with a vaguely triangular shape and clearly not intended for attack. Tony vaguely remembers having seen a ship like that on the footage of the video material of when he'd sent his missiles through a wormhole towards the unsuspecting fleet; so this is a mothership. Aren't they supposed to be bigger?

Well, it makes strategically more sense for the most important ship to be smaller, thus more easily defendable. Tony wonders why science fiction hadn't thought of that; clearly he's going to have to pitch some ideas to people when he gets back to Earth, now that he has some real space war experience.

As they arrive at the ship Tony is sort of expecting for Thor to find the entrance or something – there must be something like that – but Thor is far less subtle than that. Mjölnir to the front, he simply punches a hole through the wall at a seemingly random place, then comes shooting back out of the hole again as the contents of whatever it is inside explode out into the vacuum of space. Tony is lucky he got out of the way in time, really.

Thor moves back in once no stuff comes out of the hole any longer – apart from the invisible air it's mainly some sort of liquid as well as random bits, some of which technology, others more... biological looking. It's incredibly disgusting and Tony is not looking forward to getting inside. But alas, there is no other choice about it, so he follows Thor into the ship.

It looks organic from the inside. The space they enter looks like it was hollowed out with an ice cream scoop, an image that makes Tony feel vaguely nauseous, and then Thor squeezes through the wall. He literally moves toward the wall and pushes himself in, vanishing from sight as it swallows him up completely.

"Hooooly fuck," Tony murmurs, voice echoing tinny inside the helmet. "That has to be one of the most disgusting things I have ever seen." Like reverse birth, only a lot more disgusting and a lot more science fiction.

But clearly, there is no other choice about it; cursing, he follows Thor, pushing himself into the wall. It's squishy and viscous and seems to sort of suck him in once enough of him is inside. Suddenly panic sweeps over Tony; he's completely submerged but there is no sign at all of an end. He's this close to hyperventilating when suddenly he is literally spat out into a sort of hall where Thor is waiting for him, covered in green slime and looking none too happy about it.

"Oh, god," Tony says. "I'm never going to get this suit clean again. It's getting compounded as soon as I get home. Holy fuck, that was horrible."

"The motherships are not... pleasant," Thor agrees grimly. Tightening his grip on Mjölnir, he starts to walk down the hall. "Stay close. We must be ready – Loki's spell will make us less conspicuous but at this distance the more alert to intruders they are, the less effect it will have, and they will soon discover the breach of the hull."

"Gotcha." Flexing his fingers, Tony turns around and shoots at the wall, mostly to test whether the slime has affected his repulsors any and perhaps a teeny tinsy bit to show the wall who's the boss.

"We shall try not to attract attention," Thor says reproachfully.

"I'm with you, buddy, but sorry, I had to see whether the stuff messed with my electronics," Tony replies unapologetically, catching up with him quickly.

It's not long before they come across the first Chitauri and holy fuck, they're even more disgusting when they're not in battle armor, Tony could easily have continued his life without knowing that, sweet Jesus. It doesn't seem to pay them any attention, and neither does the next one, but the next two seem vaguely agitated, chattering (literally, they're chittering like insects) to each other. Tony can't tell whether they're happy excited or worried, but he figures it's the latter, what with the recent hull breach and all.

They manage to pass a couple of more Chitauri by, but they're starting to notice them, glancing at them more and more. The walls are starting to glisten and Tony is pretty sure slime clings in long strings to his boots as he walks but he very carefully does not look down. When they pass a Chitauri – now armored – by and it stares at them the whole time he knows their grace period is almost over, and he's right; the next one that sees them screeches, but before it can get very far with that Tony has already exploded its head with a targeted shot.

"Prepare for battle," Thor says quietly. "At first they will attack from the front but eventually they will start coming from the back as well; thus, we must be speedy."

"Gotcha, buddy. I'll have your back."

However, "speedy" in this context doesn't mean all that fast. At first it works out okay, they take turns taking out the approaching Chitauri before most of them even register what's going on but soon they're coming in increasingly high numbers, harder and harder to take out quickly. This, as well as the increasing slime all over the walls, floors and ceiling slows them down. Tony keeps a careful eye at their back and pretty soon he's busy on that front as well. But, despite the growing number of attacking Chitauri, they keep steadily making their way further into the ship; with the corridors and the slime over everything the Chitauri can't launch an effective attack. The Chitauri seem to have a propensity for ending up at the wrong end of a bottleneck attack.

It's not an easy fight. Thor can't or won't summon his lightening – a very big disadvantage to the whole God of Thunder thing, at close quarters the whole business becomes rather lethal to allies as well as enemies – and the Chitauri get more and more ferocious the closer to their goal the two get. Both Tony and Thor are covered in slime and Chitauri bits, the floor is littered with more or less damaged corpses and both of them have nicks, burns and smaller wounds. But they're making their way forwards, and that's the most important part.

Suddenly, the hall in front of them flares open into a wide, open room teeming with Chitauri. This is both a bad and a good thing, because while this whole attack has just strategically taken a much worse turn for Tony and Thor, but it also means they can fly, which is very good for their battle abilities. And the most important positive effect: at the center of the room, not looking much like an energy source at all, is a big green ball of… flesh, for lack of better word. Pulsating veins lead from it into the floor, ceiling and walls, it's absolutely disgusting and Tony takes great pleasure in snapping them, even if that only makes them more disgusting because they bleed.

"We need to destroy the energy source!" Thor bellows at him from across the room; anybody else Tony wouldn't have understood over the deafening noise the chattering Chitauri make. It's also sort of pointless, it's not like Tony wasn't aware of that, but it's a good reminder because Tony was more focused on the Chitauri. After Thor's reminder he, instead of continuing with his half-hearted shots at it whenever he has the time, starts to make more of an effort. However, there doesn't seem to be much of an effect, neither from Tony's shots nor from Thor's hammer, so Tony hatches a plan.

He flies over to Thor, because he doesn't have the advantage of a very loud voice. "Can you use your lightning?"

"I do not wish to hit you," Thor replies, which probably means yes.

"Okay, how about this: I stay on the floor in one half of the room, you do your thing."

Thor nods, but cautions, "You must stay level."

Yeah, Tony can do that. He doesn't like it, but if it means they get some lightning in here… and they do. Thor stays cautious, Tony can tell as much by this point, but his lightening still cuts broad furrows into the Chitauri, and it damages the flesh (there really is no other word for it, it looks like the walls but is softer) of the energy source enough that Tony's shots finally make some headway too. The flesh gapes open, revealing something underneath – Tony would love to take it apart, figure out how the hell this thing works, but he really doesn't have the time. The Chitauri are getting increasingly desperate and Tony's taken a couple of more than glancing hits. So far nothing is damaged too badly, but they better get on with it, because it's only a matter of time until the suit gets damaged so badly it won't be suitable for flight in space anymore. Which would suck a lot, especially considering it's the energy source they're taking out here; once their mission is complete he couldn't use the mothership to fly back.

Another lightning bolt from Thor makes some good headway; Tony can't see the core properly but his next shot definitely has some effect. The ship around them sort of groans and shudders, the walls rippling, but even more of an indicator is the definitely desperate screeching of the Chitauri. Tony risks it, flies up and takes a couple of more shots at the hole he and primarily Thor have worked.

"Tony!" Thor yells and Tony instinctively ducks away. The next moment one last lightning bolt takes the thing out once and for all. There doesn't seem to be much effect by way of the ship, but the Chitauri around them collapse as if their strings were cut – which they were, even. Tony shudders in revulsion.

"Well done, Man of Iron!" Thor calls out, breathing heavily.

Cautiously, Tony lifts his face mask. "I think it's mostly down to you, buddy. Good job."

"We were successful," Thor points out the obvious. "We best get back to Asgard. I am worried about the possible damage to my home."

Hell, Tony can certainly relate to that. "Been there, done that, buddy, let's go." They head back and Tony has the suit's primitive AI – no JARVIS, he takes way too much processor space – run a scan on the way, but he's lucky; while the suit is a little dented here and there are no actual rips or fissures. This also means none of the slime has gotten through to Tony proper, which he really appreciates, but he still plans a long, thorough bath once he gets back. Especially when, to get out of the ship, they have to literally go through the wall again.

They fly back, and as they breach atmosphere again much of the slime gets burnt away – for Tony, at least, Thor appears to have some sort of protection layer around him, it's definitely magic – leaving Tony looking black and charred and probably much worse off than he actually is.

Asgard looks okay. There is some property damage, some areas of the palace look like there has been fire, but nothing is actually destroyed. Thor and Tony land on a balcony, walk inside and find… panic. Far less controlled than the one when the bell had sounded.

Confused, Thor grabs the arm of a warrior that hurries into the opposite direction of the fleeing civilians. "Alwe."

"My Prince." Alwe looks relieved as he bows, but still worried. "Your return is fortunate."

"What is wrong?" Thor asks. "The Chitauri-"

"Loki," Alwe interrupts. "He is attacking the king."

Tony feels as if the bottom drops out of him. Of course. The Chitauri attack was completely foolhardy, of course it was, their numbers were too small for there to be any hope of success. Ergo, they were a distraction. "Where his eyes blue?"

Alwe looks confused. "What are you-"

"Where his eyes blue?"

"I did not see him," Alwe finally replies.

Immediately dismissing him, Tony turns to Thor. "He's under mind control."

Thor nods. There is a bit of doubt in him, Tony can tell, but he doesn't show it. "Where?" he instead asks Alwe.

"The king's vault," Alwe immediately replies. "But the doors are locked and the king has ordered nobody enter."

"No matter," Thor says, dismissing him as he turns to Tony. "Follow me."

Hammer whirling, Thor takes off, flying over the heads of the hurrying citizens, Tony following him immediately. It's a really good thing the ceilings here are so high, and the two make full use of that, flying at high speed through the city. Below them, the number of civilians ebbs while the number of warriors increases, until Thor slows down where they're all congregating. They're deep in the citypalace now, in an area Tony has never been before, and the warriors are clustered around a wide set of doors.

Immediately, they make room for Thor and Tony. "Fandral, Hallofr," Thor addresses two of the warriors in the front.

"They are inside," Fandral immediately replies, even before Thor can ask. "The Allfather, the Queen, Lady Sif, Loki and the Mad Titan."

"Thanos," Thor says, going still.

Fuck. "I need to get in there." Tony pushes by the two warriors and makes for the door.

"You may not!" Fandral exclaims. "The Allfather-"

"Surely you are not suggesting his orders include us," Thor says, following Tony.

"No, of course not, my Prince. However…" The way Fandral glances at Tony says it all but Tony really has more important things to do. So does Thor; he ignores his friends and opens the door, ushering Tony in.

They're in a wide hall but Tony has no eyes for the architecture; he's focused on the scenes in front of him. There is a purple guy involved with Odin somewhere further down, and right in front of them Loki is facing off Sif and Frigga. Loki's back is turned but Sif manages to get a good hit in while Frigga distracts him, making him jump back and evade. With the maneuver Tony gets a look at his profile; Loki's eyes are glowing blue.

Tony doesn't think. He's done this a couple of times already so it shouldn't be difficult to lift off and fly straight at Loki, and while he doesn't hesitate… the four or five times he did this at the beginning, they were all before he and Loki were even friendly, much less married. And they are married, and it's not just to save Loki through politics. Maybe it's not what Pepper and most people expect when a couple gets married – eternal love or whatever – but it's something more than just a ploy.

Still, Tony doesn't hesitate. With Loki distracted by Frigga and Sif, he hasn't noticed Thor and Tony's entrance and certainly doesn't expect an attack from the back. Sif and Frigga are smart enough to keep their expressions clear even when they notice Tony, and the next moment Tony is already colliding with Loki.

He has enough practice in this, he should have managed to make Loki fall in such a way that he hits his head but doesn't break anything, and Loki certainly loses conscious, but Tony doesn't know how helpful this actually is with Thanos right here. Glancing over, he finds that Thor has joined his father; Thanos seems to be talking at the moment but his body language says that it's only a matter of time.

"Tony-" Frigga says, crouching next to her son. Sif stands by, hands balled into fists, staring down at Loki with a conflicted expression.

"It was mind control," Tony immediately says. He's kneeling next to Loki, one gloved hand uselessly on his arm; Frigga is carefully touching Loki's head.

"I know," she says sorrowfully.

A shout from the other end of the hall draws all their attention; Thanos seems to have attacked Thor, the blond warrior has been thrown into the wall.

Frigga makes a worried noise and turns to Tony. "We need to-"

"Yeah." Reluctantly Tony rises and offers her a hand, helping her up. Sif hands Frigga her sword back, but the queen shakes her head.

"I have a plan. Under no circumstances may Thanos notice what I am doing," she says intently. Tony and Sif both nod.

Returning the nod, Frigga suddenly splits into two. One version of her kneels back by Loki and seems to freeze there. "We must hurry," the remaining version of her says.

Tony glances at Sif and finds her looking at him in return. "We're the distraction," Tony says.

Sif nods, determination on her face. "I am aware."

Together, they walk over to Odin, Thor and Thanos.

"More of your weak underlings?" Thanos laughs when he spots them. "You hope they can help defeat me? You fool!" Lashing out, he shoots a lightning of energy at Tony, throwing him into the wall like Thor earlier. The impact is hard; something cracks in his side and his shoulder takes quite a hit, along with his head. Dazed, Tony slides to the floor; it takes him a couple of moments to collect himself. Warm, wet blood is dripping down the side of his face and his shoulder radiates pain so strong, it overshadows all the other small pains and aches in his body. This is probably a good thing but holy fuck, it takes Tony several minutes to manage to get upright again. Shit. It's almost certain he broke something, and the suit has been damaged critically as well, it's flashing warnings at him that he dismisses. There's nothing to be done about it at the moment.

The confrontation between Thanos and the Æsir has heated up by the time Tony can turn his focus on it again; Odin and Thanos are exchanging both physical and magical blows, Thor and Sif helplessly standing by. Loki still lies unconscious on the floor, the motionless copy of his mother kneeling by him. And the real Frigga… Tony sees her come through a door at the other end of the hall, carrying a bow, a couple of arrows and something else Tony can't see properly at the distance. She attaches the thing to an arrow, nocks the arrow and aims.

Odin fires something at Thanos that he repels off; Frigga fires her arrow at the same time and for that Thanos is completely unprepared. He doesn't even see it coming. Tony can't see exactly what the arrow does upon impact, but suddenly Thanos starts to freeze – literally. Ice creeps rapidly across his body, starting at where the arrow hit him in the side. Thanos roars and tries to do something, but the ice is too fast; it encases him completely, literally freezing him mid-motion.

Everybody stares for a moment, breathing heavily. The copy of Frigga has vanished without the trace, leaving the real one standing by the other door still. She and her husband exchange a look, then Odin makes as if to move towards Thanos, but in the same moment Loki stirs and all of Tony's attention is completely diverted.

Walking hurts; the pain in his shoulder is radiating into his whole body and the other aches are starting to demand attention as well. His head is pounding and his ribs hurt, he's fairly sure he broke at least one, but Loki is waking up so he doesn't give a fuck.

When he drops to his knees next to Loki it jars his body, making all the pain flare up; a noise escapes his throat. Cursing at the pain even the simple gesture causes, he reaches up slowly and removes the suit's mask so Loki, who is blinking up at him, can see his face. "Hey, darling," Tony says, smile probably more a grimace than anything else.

Loki frowns, confused, and sits up. He looks around, spots the scene with the literally frozen Thanos and pales dramatically, which is quite a feat because he already is pale, dark shadows under his eyes again. "What did I do?" Loki demands, head snapping to Tony. Then he gasps, eyes going wide, and reaches out to touch the side of Tony's face. The tips of his fingers come away bloody. "You're hurt," he whispers, horrified. "Did I-"

"No," Tony says quickly. "Not you, no. Thanos. You're fine. You're good, babe."

"Good?" Loki laughs bitterly. "No. But it is irrelevant right now, you're hurt."

Tony doesn't even bother saying he's fine, because he's really, really not. "I think I broke something in my shoulder."

Looking distraught, Loki touches Tony's face again, this time with a tissue he pulls out of his vest. He dabs away the blood on Tony's face until he reaches an area that makes Tony wince. "You will be fine," Loki soothes, looking way too worried. "The healers will help you."

"I'm okay," Tony feels the need to say; Loki looks like he's on his deathbed or something. "It hurts like hell but I'll be okay."

"It will be," Loki agrees, still looking worried but a little less frantic. Very gently, he kisses Tony, then leans their foreheads together. "You will be okay soon."

"Loki."

Expression conflicted, Loki pulls away from Tony and looks up at Odin. "He's hurt," he says, then frowns, lowering his gaze. "I… will you imprison me now?"

Loki is so open. He's never this easy to read; Tony is sure it's because the mind control messed him up. He hopes this is all it did, and that it's not permanent.

"No," Odin says, almost gentle. "No, son. How are you?"

Drawing a breath, Loki says, "I am well enough. Did someone call for the healers?"

"Yes. They are on their way. How are you, Tony?"

"A little banged up, but I'll be fine," Tony replies. "How's everyone?"

Odin glances back behind himself. "My queen is as magnificent as the day I met her."

"Uh, yeah, that was pretty badass. What was that thing? Will Thanos permanently stay that way?" Tony shifts accidentally and has to repress a wince at the new wave of pain shooting through him.

"He will remain this way long enough for us to find a more permanent solution," Odin replies, and that's good enough for Tony.

Loki makes a worried noise when Tony sways; he takes hold of Tony's unhurt arm and supports him that way. "You will need to take the armor off."

Tony grimaces, but Loki's right. The automatic fold-up function doesn't work because of all the damage the suit took so they're going to have to do this the hard way; to be honest, Tony doesn't want to wear it again anyway, what with the slime and all. "Do your worst, babe," he gives Loki permission.

Loki is careful peeling the suit off Tony, but he can't possibly prevent from jarring Tony's injuries. By the time the suit is off Tony is breathing heavily, sweaty and feeling faint with the pain. Loki is all that's keeping him upright by this point.

"It's alright," Loki murmurs soothingly. "The healer is here now."

Tony whines. His face is buried in Loki's shoulder and he's bitten at a bit of leather from the vest to keep from screaming. He smells leather and sweat; Loki's hands are gentle on his body.

"Tony," Loki says, voice insistent. It's probably not the first time he's said it. "Where are you hurt?"

He has to spit out the strap of leather he's been chewing on before he can reply. "Shoulder," he croaks then, sort of pointlessly because Loki's probably figured that out already. "Head." That, too, what with the bleeding. "Ribs. Is all, I think."

"Okay," Loki says. "Stay with me, Tony, okay?"

"Always," Tony slurs. Somebody is doing something; he feels touch on his shoulder, the unhurt one, and from it something radiates through his body, neither hot nor cold but he can still feel it, impossible to describe. It soothes the pain, or at least makes him feel it less. But when his body automatically relaxes further into Loki's hold it all flares up again, making him groan and go tense once more.

"Shh," Loki hushes. "Keep still for a moment, and then you can move."

Tony whimpers and flexes his fingers; somehow his good hand ended up clutched around Loki's upper arm. His grip is so tight it's probably hurting him but Loki doesn't say a word about it, just presses his lips to Tony's temple – the non-bloody one – and murmurs soothingly.

The pain ebbs away once more but this time Tony makes a conscious effort not to relax until Loki gives the okay. He feels his vision dim a little, and it's pretty ironic that now that the pain is leaving him, he's going to pass out. There's nothing he can do to prevent it, though, and to be honest, he gives himself over to unconsciousness willingly, despite the worried tone in Loki's voice.

He wakes up feeling warm and comfortable and, most importantly, not in pain. He blinks and finds he's in Loki's bedroom. It must be night, the room is as dark as it gets with the light from the stars falling in, casting everything in a faint, colorful twilight. Loki is lying next to him in bed, not touching him, face pulled into a slight frown even in sleep.

Not quite trusting the peace, Tony shifts carefully, testing, but it appears he's truly fully healed, completely free of pain. Amazing.

The wonder does wear off pretty soon though, leaving Tony sort of bored. He's too awake to drift off again; his thoughts are picking up speed. He wants to know what happened, what's going on, if Loki's fine, but he's certainly not going to wake him up and ask, not with how exhausted Loki looks even now.

Turns out he doesn't need to, anyway, because Loki wakes up as soon as Tony sits up, even though he was very careful about it. He even goes still as soon as Loki stirs but Loki nevertheless blinks his eyes open. Seeing Tony half sitting up, leaning on his elbows, he comes awake completely in a split second and sits up as well, if with a slight wince. "How are you feeling?"

Tony frowns; Loki kept his voice level and he really doesn't look like he's doing all that great. "I have a feeling I should be asking you the same question." When Loki doesn't react, just looks at him, Tony rolls his eyes and leans in to kiss him very carefully on the lips. "I'm fine," he murmurs as he pulls back. "Now, you tell me about your migraine." He recognizes the pinched expression on Loki's face from Pepper, who gets them sometimes.

"It seems you have already figured it out yourself," Loki replies.

Grimacing, Tony gives Loki another careful kiss. "Anything I can do?"

"No." Slowly, Loki lowers himself back into his pillows, eyes fluttering shut. "It will go away on its own, with rest."

"Okay. Sleep then, babe." Tony gives Loki another small kiss before settling down. He desperately wants to know what happened but Loki looks like his head is going to shatter with one loud noise. Loki also only relaxes once Tony lies still again; he reaches across the space between them to entwine their fingers. Tony, who had until just now been considering getting up to leave Loki in peace, gives up that train of thought completely and just tries to relax. It takes him a long time, but eventually Loki's calm, even breathing makes him drift off as well.

When he wakes up again it's dawn, the light a little stronger in the room but not too bright. This time there's definitely no thought of going back to sleep. Loki still looks out for the count though so Tony very, very carefully slides out of the bed and on bare feet makes his way downstairs into the library, and from there into the bathroom. He doesn't know if he's been cleaned as well as mostly undressed (he's only wearing boxershorts and a t-shirt, and he's fairly sure that's on Loki) but even if so, he at best must have received a sponge bath. And when he'd gotten out of the mothership he'd promised himself a proper, thorough bath.

So that's what he does. He takes his few clothes off, gets wet, soaps himself down and then climbs into the hot water with a happy sigh. While he lies there soaking, letting the heat soothe his muscles, he thinks about what happened yesterday and wonders how the hell he could have just… forgotten about Thanos. And he had; after the failed invasion on Earth he'd been so happy and so relieved he hadn't even thought about Thanos anymore except in the abstract. It makes him feel a little sick now. Of course the rational part of him is aware that he could have done nothing to prevent this, but still, he can't help but wonder. Loki surely hadn't forgotten about the guy who had him under his thumb – who literally invaded his mind. Did Loki secretly wonder about it and not bring it up in front of Tony so as not to bring him down?

Shit, this is why all of Tony's relationships fail. He's good at some aspects, but at others – like actually being there when someone needs them – he fails at so badly. Pepper knew it, which is why she never went for it.

"There you are," Loki says just when Tony's thoughts are on the brink of turning into a downward spiral of self-flagellation. "I had wondered where you had gone."

"Just here." Tony turns around to watch as Loki brushes his t-shirt off before climbing into the water. "How are you feeling? Better?"

"Yes." Closing his eyes, Loki relaxes into the water.

Tony watches him carefully for a moment. "But not good yet, right?"

"It's only a headache now." Without opening his eyes Loki shifts closer to Tony, putting one hand on his thigh and resting his head on his shoulder.

They sit in silence for a while, Tony trying to hold on for as long as he can manage, but eventually he can't bear it any longer. "Was the headache already there when you came to?" This is something Tony can't really blame himself for, he'd been in a hell of a lot of pain after his close encounter with the wall, but somehow he still manages to feel guilty for being a self-centered asshole. Brilliant.

Except… "No," Loki says, stirring a little. He sits up and shifts so he can look at Tony. "The Allfather… wanted to make sure my mind was not permanently damaged. Thanos was not overly careful the second time."

Tony grimaces sympathetically. "How are you?"

For a long moment, Loki thinks about it. "I'm… better," he says eventually. It's not much, but it's a step in the right direction.

"Good." Tony leans in to kiss Loki on the lips. "Wanna tell me what happened?"

Deliberately bland, Loki shrugs. "The Chitauri attack was a diversion, as I'm sure you have already figured out. Once they – undoubtedly with his help – broke through the shield Thanos made use of everybody's preoccupation and came in. He… took over my mind and had me lead him to the king's vault. There is an artifact there he really wants, something that would make him near omnipotent, and several others he would like also. If Odin hadn't been alerted in time… it could have gone very badly."

"Sounds like it." Tony grimaces. "Are you okay, though?"

"How could I be?" Loki returns the question.

Tony grimaces again. "Shit, babe." He cups Loki's face and leans their foreheads together. "I was so worried about you."

"I was worried about you," Loki replies, turning on the bench so they can sit closer together. "I woke up and you were bleeding."

"I came back and first thing I hear, Thanos is around," Tony returns. "I totally freaked out. I completely forgot about him, I don't know how I could do that, and I'm sorry."

"Why are you apologizing?" Loki asks, brushing Tony's drying curls out of his face. It's a good thing the water always stays the same temperature; while he's slowly turning into a prune, at least he's not getting cold.

"I just… completely forgot. It's a luxury you don't have," Tony tries to explain, "and I'm just pissed at myself, okay."

"You should not be," Loki replies. "To be honest… I did not wish to think about it myself. For a short while, I just wanted to… not have to worry, can you understand that?"

"Fuck, darling, do I ever." Tony kisses him softly. "Just… I don't want you to have to go through something alone, okay?"

"No," Loki says quietly. "I don't think… I don't think I have to do anything alone for a while yet unless I want to."

"That's right," Tony agrees just as quietly, and he feels the truth of it. "You don't."

Loki kisses him, and kisses him again; there's not much sexual about it and, mindful of Loki's headache, Tony keeps it that way. Eventually Loki summons one of his bottles with liquid soap and washes Tony's hair. Tony returns the favor carefully, and then they settle in the library dressed in comfy Earth clothes while a servant brings them some food. A couple hours of quiet reading and harmless conversations later Loki's head is feeling mostly better, which is a good thing because there is a knock on their door, and then Odin enters.

"How are you, son?" he asks, waiting until Loki gestures towards a chair before taking a seat.

"As well as I can be, Allfather," Loki replies formally, but he doesn't rise, belying his distant behavior. "And you?"

Odin nods. "The city is being rebuilt as we speak." He turns to Tony. "How are you, Tony?"

"I'm good, you know, your healers are quite handy." Tony bites his tongue to prevent himself from saying anything more; his particular brand of snark is not appropriate with Odin and while that sort of thing usually rarely stops him, with Loki's father it's different.

"Your assistance in taking out the Chitauri fleet is much appreciated," Odin goes on. "You have my thanks, and you will be recompensed."

Tony blinks. "That's really not necessary. I'm glad I could help, I don't need anything. Thanks."

Raising one eyebrow, Odin inclines his head. "As you wish." He turns back to Loki. "Your help in developing a permanent containment for the Mad Titan will be much appreciated."

Loki nods. "It would be my pleasure."

"Your sentence will be passed tomorrow," Odin says then. For a brief moment Loki freezes; then he nods, face blank.

"Very well."

Odin stays seated for another moment; then he rises and leaves. The door falls shut behind him quietly; with it, Loki's whole attention turns to Tony.

"It will be alright," Tony feels forced to say. He's not good with the reassuring thing but still, something about Loki's expression… he gets up, walks over to him and cups Loki's face. "Hey."

Loki tilts his face up to look at him calmly. Tony takes it as an invitation and slides into Loki's lap, wrapping his arms around his shoulders. Immediately Loki's arms wrap around Tony's waist. Pulling him as close as possible, Loki buries his face in Tony's collarbone and takes a deep breath.

Tony doesn't say again that it will be alright. Loki wouldn't believe him anyway; Tony himself isn't even sure he believes it. Yes, he is of the opinion that there is no reasonable way Odin could still punish Loki with death after everything that has happened, but on the other hand… Odin seems like a strict kinda guy and all the good things Loki did don't change that ostensibly, he's a traitor for letting Jötunn into the city.

They stay like that for a long time; they change position at one point, get a little more comfortable with Tony turning sideways, letting Loki get a book – a dissertation on Yggdrasil – that he translates for him. Instead of going out for lunch or dinner they again have a servant bring them food, using Loki's headache as an excuse should they be questioned, not that they are. Though Thor does come over at one point to check in on them, followed by Frigga. Tony would get up for both – he tries not to be embarrassed but come on, he's a grown man sitting in another grown man's lap, and these are said man's brother and mother. Who wouldn't be embarrassed? But Loki refuses to let him up, tightening his grip around Tony's waist, and Tony doesn't have the heart to pull himself away forcefully.

Thankfully, neither Thor nor Frigga comment at all, even with looks. They just inquire after their health, make some smalltalk, then leave again; Tony is eternally grateful. Loki does let him up eventually, but only to go to bed. The sex is slow, intense, with Loki focusing his full attention on Tony and Tony doing his best to make it good for Loki, to not make it feel like goodbye, but he's not sure he succeeds.

The trial, against all of Tony's hopes, isn't private. It's held in the big hall in which they also eat dinner and feasts, with Odin sitting at the center of the table in his throne, his wife and son next to him in their usual arrangement and other people next to them. There's a seat free for Tony next to Frigga, and he doesn't want to take it but Loki glares and tells him that his ignoring some protocols may be excused, but this is not one of them. So Tony, not liking it at all, has to go sit along with all the other people who stare at Loki with neutral to accusing expressions.

"Loki," Odin raises his voice once Tony sits and everybody has gone quiet. "You are accused of leading Jötunn warriors into Asgard, willfully risking the safety of the city, in order to disrupt the crowning ceremony of Thor. Later, you used the Destroyer to try to kill Thor. How do you plead?"

"Conditionally guilty," Loki replies blandly, to the whispers of the audience.

"Explain yourself," Odin demands.

Loki straightens and draws a breath. "I knew Thor was not ready to be king. I knew that, once he heard of the attack, he would try to make war with the Jötunn, and I planned for that. I told Heimdall to call for you, and had he not stalled, we would never have reached Jötunheimr." His voice is mostly calm, but there is a bitter tinge to it; Tony is sure he's not the only one wondering what would have happened if Heimdall hadn't fucked up.

Odin nods. "We have heard Heimdall the Allseeing, and he did admit to not heeding your request as speedily as he should have. But surely you do realize that this does not excuse your actions?"

Face tightening, Loki returns, "Thor's actions have proven me right. Without my interference, I am sure Thor would have declared war on Jötunheimr within days of his becoming king. I knew the Jötunn Warriors would die and not be able to pass on the information of the passage I opened to them."

"Or of you being the one to let them in," Odin says dryly.

Loki inclines his head. "That, too." He raises his chin, focus turning on Thor. "Was I wrong in my assumption, Thor?"

"No," Thor admits ruefully. "You were not. I was brash and thoughtless. Honestly… I am grateful for your interference, brother." Raising his voice over the whispers that brand up at that, he adds, "I shudder to think what would have become of the kingdom and the peace in the realms without you."

After lowering his gaze to the floor for a moment Loki looks up again, facing Thor. "I am glad you agree with me."

"What do you have to say for your actions concerning the Destroyer?" Odin asks. One sharp glance from him silences any whispering.

"I would like to disclaim that I did not assume the throne through any machinations," Loki says dryly. "As I am sure some people believe. Seeing as I was next in the line of succession, my temporarily taking on the mantle of king was entirely legitimate and, might I add, not actually what I wanted nor planned for. I never," he raises his voice when the whispering starts up again, "wanted the throne. However, when it fell into my hands nevertheless, I tried to do the best by it I could. It did not help at all when Lady Sif and the Warriors Three disobeyed my very clear and direct orders." He slants a look at them. "Nor did the fact that I had recently found out the somewhat distressing circumstances of my birth. I knew that if Thor returned to the city at that time, my position would be precarious."

"Your position as king," Odin clarifies.

Loki narrows his eyes. "No." He does not elaborate, but it doesn't seem he needs to; Thor lowers his gaze, expression sad. Odin nods once, somberly, signifying that he understands what Loki is not saying in front of the audience.

"We heard Lady Sif and the Warriors Three," Odin says. "They too will receive judgment for their actions, as will Heimdall." He remains silent for a moment, then rises. "This hearing is being held in public because there has been much discontent concerning my son. I would like to point out that unlike Thor, Loki did not incite war with Jötunheimr – he did, in fact, resolve the diplomatic disaster they both caused to the point where during the Battle of Midgard, the Jötunn and Æsir fought together on the same side – something not even I could have accomplished. Loki also spent a considerable amount of time and energy on repairing the rainbow bridge some weeks ago." He pauses for a moment, collecting his thoughts. It's so silent in the hall you could hear the proverbial pin drop. "Both my sons are young men," he eventually continues, sounding a bit weary. "And they make the mistakes of young men – reckless, thoughtless, emotional. They both have much to learn still, but just like Thor had to prove himself worthy through tests and trials, Loki was afforded the same opportunity by circumstances not under either of our control, but by Destiny itself. And just like Thor, Loki came out a better man, proving that my faith in him was not misplaced, even if my trust was somewhat blinded. Like Thor, Loki will have to regain my trust, but I hereby declare that the part of the blame that lies with Loki has been rectified by the tests and trials he went through over the past couple of weeks. You are absolved of the crimes you are accused of, Loki."

Nobody says a word. For a brief moment Loki looks utterly stunned, but then he manages to collect himself and assumes a bland expression again. Pressing one hand to his heart he bows formally. "Thank you, Allfather." He straightens his back, turns around and leaves at a brisk pace.

Tony shares one look with Thor, who nods imperceptively, giving him permission. Not needing any further prompting, Tony slides out of his chair and hurries after Loki. He can't see him out of the hall, meaning Loki must have picked up the pace once he was out of sight, but he makes an educated guess and makes for Loki's quarters. At a time such as this, Loki wouldn't linger anywhere vaguely public where someone could stumble upon him, not if he's feeling fragile, which he certainly must be.

He finds Loki in his bedroom by the window, staring out. For a moment Tony hesitates but then he chides himself for being silly and steps up to him. He wants to wrap his arms around Loki but he isn't sure Loki would want that, so he just puts one hand in the small of his back. "Hey," he says quietly. "This was good, wasn't it?"

"Yes," Loki says blandly. "Though for the life of me, I do not understand."

"From where I sit, it looks like he realized you weren't the only one to blame, and that while you fucked up, Thor did as well and it wouldn't be fair to punish you so much harder than him."

It earns him a blandly unimpressed look from Loki that Tony by this point knows means he thinks Tony is a naïve, romantic idiot but he either things it's cute or just plainly isn't interested in informing Tony of that at the moment, so he won't wear his thoughts plainly on his face, much less speak them. "You say that as if it were truly that simple."

Tony shrugs. "Babe, from where I'm sitting, it looks like it is."

For a long time Loki is silent, mulling that over. "I do not believe that. He did not mention the second time I let Jötunn into Asgard, the time I killed Laufey, at all, nor the time I attempted to eradicate the Jötunn. And he said I would have to prove my worthiness."

"No, he said you already had, and that you're going to have to regain his trust," Tony corrects.

The look Loki throws him at that is scathing. "Things are never this simple with Odin."

He's right, of course, but they don't get confirmation of this until the next day. Tony is half-heartedly packing his things (meaning he's debating what he can steal from Asgard/Loki without him noticing, or minding, and does it even count as stealing considering the rings they put on each other) when Loki returns from a meeting with Odin, expression indiscernible. "I am to continue diplomatic relations with the Jötunn and Midgardians," he tells Tony.

Tony raises an eyebrow. "That all?"

Loki snorts. "Of course not." But he refuses to elaborate, and Tony knows better than to pry when he wears that expression. "Can you at least tell me if it's bad?" he eventually needles.

"No," Loki replies, an answer to Tony's question, not a refusal. "To be honest," he adds after hesitating for a moment, "I am relieved knowing the price I have to pay for this."

"Okay." Whether he wants to or not, Tony has to be satisfied with this, but it's not too bad. He does have one more question, though. "Where will you go now?"

Loki looks at him blankly. "Go?"

Tony lifts his shoulders, trying to pass it off as a shrug, not insecurity. "If you have duties to fulfill… will you even come back home with me?"

Loki straightens, goes still. "I thought you would…"

"Of course I do," Tony interrupts. Then he realizes that they might be talking about different things and elaborates, "I do want you with me. Living with me. Semi-permanently, or whatever you wanna do. But I don't know… what you want. I guess that's what I'm really asking, here. Do you wanna stay with me?"

"Yes," Loki says. Such a simple word, and yet it feels like a whole mountain falls from Tony's shoulders. He smiles, far too wide and far too relieved to pass it off as casual anymore. For a moment Loki just looks at him, and Tony can't really interpret his expression – or rather, he doesn't understand what he sees, because Loki looks… stunned. And that after everything Tony has said to him, the mortifying conversation with Frigga and with Loki afterwards still fresh on his mind despite everything.

It doesn't matter, though, because Loki cups Tony's face with both hands and kisses him, and says it again – "yes, I want to stay with you".

They don't manage to finish packing before dinner.