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A Little Unsteady

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The battle brought more attention than any of those on the tarmac deigned to realize. His were not the only eyes watching the display, although he felt the distinct lack of his brother's attention. The oaf was doing as good a job as always at keeping the peace on Midgard. Though it was to Loki's advantage that Thor hadn't taken notice. It meant one less quite important pair of eyes to stay hidden from whilst observing.

The fight itself was nothing more than sparring. Both sides pulled punches and only worked to disable the other. It was a difference of opinion and that fact itself was the important bit. These would-be defenders of Midgard were currently split. It was a weakness, something others could work against them, and one foe in particular deliberately worked against them now. Would they fracture completely? Or would they overcome this and form stronger bonds in the end? Such things wouldn't be discovered today but Loki surveyed the fight for potential.

Midgard, and indeed all nine realms, required protection. Thanos drew ever nearer, closer now than any but himself realized.

The thought of that creature and the Chitauri made Loki's skin crawl. Nightmarish memories loomed forward. He shook his head, banishing all thoughts to the furthest corners of his mind, and refocused on the battle happening some distance away.

He'd picked a vantage point on one of the airport's upper levels but far enough away to go completely unnoticed by mortal or otherwise. He'd adopted the simplest of disguises. A dark grey Midgardian suit highlighted with emerald green accessories and a black cane. His hair was cropped shorter in the style of the realm's males. He looked himself but yet unremarkable enough to not be noticed as himself. Loki was dead, after all, and this Midgardian here merely bore a resemblance and nothing more. Wards placed around him and on his corner of the airport protected him from any magical detection, both from those in the fray and the others he sensed watching.

Of those fighting, few seemed remarkable. The new woman and the being with his staff's shard were the most dangerous. They were no mere mortals. He took care not to linger on either's mind. They were distracted but not stupid and he wished not to be noticed. They wielded magic. Both could do with some training but natural gifts were astoundingly on display when the airport's watch tower fell. Barton and Romanoff were remarkable simply for keeping up with the rest. Another played with toys he didn't quite understand. One thought himself unique for having wings. An Iron Man clone. The young man swinging around had potential. One was filled to overflowing with vengeance. Vengeance against the one with the metal arm. That one had a mind so jumbled that a sinking sensation of understanding flowed over Loki. They were quite similar...

The two who had spiked his interest and called him to this event were older, more battle worn than they'd been even in Sokovia. Rogers flailed against the tide in order to save that which he'd thought had been lost, convinced against all reason that his way was right. On the other hand, Stark was equally as desperate but his weight was even greater. He was desperate to save them all, to save himself, to save the world. It was a manic, frantic feeling that shook Loki merely to brush against it. How the man sounded so calm commanding his crew was a testament to how much practice he had at dealing with the anxiety.

It all came to an abrupt, shuddering end. Loki had to pull back his mind as panic washed over friend and foe alike at the sight of Rhodes' fall. The mortal yet breathed but he was broken. Stark's panic and pain grew. It was too much. Loki blocked everything. He took a steadying breath and reinforced the wards around himself before allowing his mind to wander in thought.

They were strong but this would never be enough against Thanos. They would need more heart and cooperation. After Rhodes' fall, however... Was there a way he could nudge their path? He hated waiting in the wings. What if nothing was mended after this? Midgard needed a strong united front. Yet what could he do? Time might be the only way to mend it and they had precious little.

The weight of the throne sat heavily on his shoulders.

He stood thinking for longer than he'd meant to allow himself. The sunlight was nearly gone when he refocused his eyes on his surroundings. Medical had already come and gone with Rhodes. Those comrades of Rogers who'd been left behind were gone too, arrested by the local authorities. The place was eerily quiet and empty, the whole facility on lockdown until morning repairs. He relaxed his mind and looked for those who had been watching. They were gone too.

Loki released an exhausted breath and waved away the wards around his end of the airport. He tapped his cane along the polished floor and walked down the hall. It wouldn't do to teleport from here. He wasn't going to risk being noticed by those others who had been interested in the events. He would put some distance between himself and the place before using magic.

As he reached the stairwell and opened the door, he cast his mind out in search of security and the like. He'd need a story if he ran into any but the excuse of hiding during the fighting would work on such simpletons.

A rush of panic and fear slammed into him.

He nearly tripped down the first set of stairs but caught himself on the railing. His mind had crashed with something unexpected. He flicked a hand back to magic the door into shutting silently behind him, his gaze dropping down over the railing to peer toward the bottom floor.

Stark.

My fault. My fault. What have I done? Why is it all wrong? Why does everything I do go wrong? What's wrong with me? My fault! It's all gone to fucking hell. We're going to die. We're all going to die. It's going to be my fault. I can't help. I can never help. Falling. Slamming. Broken. MY FAULT! Rhodey Rhodey Rhodey. What am I doing here? I should be with him. Can't breathe. Had to hide. Broken. Always broken. Calculations off. I'm off. Me. I'm the wrong variable. Me. It's always me. My fault.

Loki took care with each step as he made his way silently down. He should turn around. He should leave. He cannot allow Stark to sense him, in any capacity, but his feet moved him down all the same. This was not the Stark he knew. How had he become so... ripped apart inside? Where were the jokes, the smug confidence? Yes his friend had been injured, horribly so, but the Stark he knew would be there patching up his friend, not here alone in the dark with his own yet darker thoughts.

As Barnes' thoughts had pulled on Loki earlier, Stark's dragged up so many memories he'd fought over the years to suppress. The fear, the dread, the pain. It was intense. Raw. Rough. It was difficult to continue to hear Stark's streaming thoughts as the panic attack rushed through him but it was impossible to turn away.

He reached the ground floor and his own eyes were well adjusted to the pitch dark. He could see the discarded Iron Man suit near the door leading outside where Stark had come in to hide. It gleamed in what little light was to be had and the sight of it brought back mixed emotions in Loki. He'd been under the Chitauri’s control during their first meetings but he'd liked Stark. All bravado and wit. He was fun to spar with. He was interesting. Far more interesting than most mortals. Yet Stark had brought down that threat, broken him free from Chitauri control, and he had helped to send Loki back to Asgard. Stark was one very important reason why Loki was precisely where he was now. For better or worse.

Stark sat curled in a ball at the far corner beneath the stairwell. Arms wrapped around himself and up over his head. Panicked breaths and hidden tears. Alone.

How was no one here with him?

Loki cast his mind out but found no one but security and locals. Anger swelled at the discovery. How could anyone simply leave him here? Alone? Even if he appeared normal, Rhodes was injured. Why had no one stayed to get him on his way to whatever facility was treating his friend? Why had no one cared?

If he had stopped to think, he would have merely cast a calming spell and left. It would've been for the best. He could not afford more. Yet he didn't think. He acted. Loki set his cane aside and stepped resolutely towards Stark. The man didn't notice Loki's approach until he was sitting beside him.

“Wh-who? Get away from me!” Stark reflexively shoved a hand out, pushing the unknown company back, and shifted to launch himself up. His legs didn't cooperate, however. The panic attack was still gripping him roughly by the shoulders with ice cold talons digging into his flesh. Instead of getting up, he fell onto his side, fighting to breathe. He struggled to get up again, hands shaking, body not cooperating.

“It's alright,” Loki soothed in his own voice. It was faintly familiar enough to cause Stark to pause. Loki did his best to infuse his words with warmth and understanding, unconsciously enchanting them a bit in hopes of helping. “I mean you no harm. Calm yourself. Deep breaths. It is not your fault.”

Yes it is!!” Stark shouted with such force that his voice echoed in the stairwell. He gave up on running away, his limbs shaking too much to master, and instead curled himself into a ball on his side. The words came out fast and manic. “My fault. My fault. I failed. I always fail. They're going to come. We're going to die. I can't keep them safe. I can't keep anyone safe. I can't. I can't. My fault!”

Loki raised an eyebrow at his alluding to a 'they' which he'd not expected anyone to recognize as a looming threat. This mortal was always surprising. He did not give himself nearly enough credit if he truly worried still about the Chitauri. Loki shifted ever so slightly to press his weight against Stark's curled up legs, hoping to come off as something stable and solid against him. “They are not yet here. Do not worry over them right now. Everyone is safe. Breathe. In and out. Slowly.”

“But Rhodey. Rhodey.” Stark curled himself down against the cement floor, pressing his face into the hard surface. He shook but didn't pull away from Loki's contact.

“Rhodes is alive and he will see you when you're well,” Loki reassured. He brushed a hand along Stark's exposed side, smoothing over the thin cotton shirt, then repeated the action when Stark didn't pull away. “Deep breaths. With me.”

Stark trembled but his breathing evened out. He followed Loki's lead and focused on his breathing. Slowly, oh so slowly, his mind calmed and his body stilled. Eventually his words slipped out quiet and defeated, face still scrunched against the cement. “I'll never be well.”

Something tugged at Loki. The conviction in Stark's voice. It was awful to hear. It echoed his own haunting thoughts. He struggled to put together a proper retort and settled on, “Nothing is ever certain.”

Stark snorted dryly. “That the best you can do? Even my psychotic breaks are awful.” He curled towards Loki's thigh and half rested his head on his lap, the back of it resting on Loki’s calf. “You seem pretty real but you can't be.”

“No?” So Stark thought him imaginary? All for the best, he supposed, even if the thought made him sad for reasons he'd rather not dwell on.

“Nope,” Stark said definitively as he looked up in the general direction of Loki's face, unseeing in the dark of the stairwell. “You're dead. I'm crazy. So you're some kind of psychotic break to help me deal with that last attack.”

A wash of worry rushed over Loki. He'd recognized him. How? From his voice? Truly? Stark was smart but he hadn't expected to be recognized in the dark.

Stark seemed to pick up on the reaction as he reassured, “It's okay. You were cute, when you weren't trying to kill me, so I approve of the choice, dear old addled brain of mine.” He nuzzled a little ridiculously at Loki's calf.

Loki blushed. In the dark but still blushed. Another wave of emotion flowed over him but he stifled this one down immediately. “Thank you, I suppose,” he answered to likely the kindest eulogy given on him. “I'm pleased you're feeling better.” He was silent a moment before he gave in to an overwhelming urge and moved a hand to brush back Stark's short bangs. In the dark, with his eyesight, he could still see the lines on Stark's face that were far more prevalent than a short handful of years prior. Mortals...

Stark remained a bit cold, a bit pulled away from the conversation, struggling to piece himself back together, but he leaned in to Loki's touch, starved for any sort of comfort. “I call you cute and you thank me? Fucking hell, princess.”

Loki snorted a laugh and tugged on the short cropped hair. “Yes I'd say you're definitely feeling better.”

“Better is relative,” Stark said a little too darkly.

Loki continued to play fingers through Stark's hair as the conversation stalled. They stayed like that for some time, fingers brushing along scalp over and over again, before Stark eventually shifted away. He pulled himself upright and gripped at a railing to get onto his feet again.

“Well, it's gotta be the nicest panic attack on record. Thanks for the company, psychotic break, but here's hoping you disappear when I get in the suit. No offense. I mean, a handsome reindeer as an imaginary friend, not the worst thing ever, but ya know.” He walked his way stiffly to his suit.

Loki chuckled some as he effortlessly pulled himself to his feet. “You're welcome, Stark. I promise. I'll be gone.”

Stark's features dropped a little at the promise but he nodded all the same and muttered, “Good...”

There was a long pause before Stark climbed into his suit, as if he wished to say more, but he didn't. Instead, he finally stepped forward and the suit molded itself around him. Night vision flickered on as the suit booted up.

Nothing.

Stark stepped forward and cast a long look around the stairwell, then shook his head at himself and stepped out the door to find his way to Rhodes.

Loki watched from his enchanted corner, concealed from all sensors, until the Midgardian had gone.

Why did he feel sorry to have Stark write it all off? What did it matter if this was all there would be?

Perhaps. Perhaps it had been nice to be seen. Seen as himself and not masquerading as Odin or anyone else. He was Loki in those few moments. And Stark had not turned him away.

Chapter Text

Something was wrong. Something was wrong with him.

Loki paced his regal quarters like a caged cat. Around and around. Stalking along the perimeter. Trapped.

The draped golden décor grated on his nerves. It was gaudy and overdone and... wrong. It didn't fit. He didn't fit. The whole space mocked him.

It wasn't his. It was Odin's.

A growl came unbidden from his lips and in a fit of annoyance he cast his hand out to turn all the flashing gold to emerald.

His pacing slowed to a stop as he took in what he'd done. Deep green drapes. Marbled emerald statues. The glorious absence of overdone gold. A relief to his senses, to his sense of self.

His shoulders slumped. It was so much more him. And yet it could never stay.

He collapsed down onto the smooth marble floor in a heap. His regal attire sprawled out around him, his long coat covering his legs.

At first the royal quarters had felt like a badge of honor. He'd made it here through wit and deception. It was his prize, his final triumph against a father who did not believe in him.

Loki's face twisted in both bitter amusement and pain.

He hadn't known what to expect as Odin's reaction to the news of Loki's death and Thor's disappearance. He'd disguised himself as a guard, and in a twisted way, he wanted to be the one to bring Odin the news. He'd wanted to see. Would Odin mourn? Would he care whatsoever?

It still surprised him when he thought back on it. There had been pain. There had been shock. His name on Odin's lips. And then he had slipped away.

“Of course the bastard finds the perfect times to sleep,” Loki muttered to himself as he sat, staring down at his empty hands.

He'd gone into Odinsleep before when pushed on Loki's heritage. The man had a knack for dodging confrontation. Yet this time it was more out of grief. Frigga and then Loki and perhaps Thor. In the depths of his heart, Loki knew all that loss was reason enough to push Odin to sleep.

No one else had been in the throne room. A shocked Loki had looked after him as he'd fallen asleep but then a ridiculous idea struck him. It was done so quickly before he could think it through, before anyone else could know of it. An enchanted room. Odin laid to sleep. Hidden. And then Loki would be restored to his throne. It was rather an amusing cylindrical event. Once before he was King while Odin slept, and now he was King again while a sleeping Odin laid resting.

At first it had been a rush to prove himself. He could do this and be better at it than anyone else, much less his brother. He'd even given Thor what he'd always wanted. The ability to put off his responsibilities, to instead run off with Jane and do what he'd pleased. To hit things with his hammer and pretend that solved all of life's problems.

The deception was overwhelming at first. The worry of discovery was constant for those initial months. When in public he behaved as Odin would in every way. He watched all of Thor's friends closely but they never seemed to notice a difference. Eventually Loki relaxed into the role. It was a second skin. He ordered far more protection for Asgard than had ever been in place before but no one questioned the orders. They had been horrifically attacked and they required more defenses. He ordered research into magics and machines he knew would do well against Thanos' troops. There was no push back.

It felt right. He was right to be there. He would save everyone. He would watch over the nine realms better than anyone before. He told himself he'd happily show Odin all he'd done once he woke. Well, when Loki was ready for Odin to wake. He told himself it wasn't wrong to perhaps nudge Odin deeper into his sleep and keep him there. If Odin woke too early, he'd not see his triumph over Thanos. He'd dismiss all his hard work. Only after his triumph happened, then Odin could wake to see his glorious rule. He couldn't be angry over the deception if Loki had saved the nine realms whilst doing so.

He pushed himself. He focused on the threat, on the goal, on that need to prove himself. He lost himself in the role. He lost his identity. All that mattered over the following year was his preparing the realms for war. Some days he didn't transform back to himself until he fell into bed. He practiced and enhanced his magical prowess as he'd never done before. He was nearly manic in seeing all this done. It felt right. Or at least, he was too busy and too worried to think otherwise.

Until Stark.

Loki cast his gaze over the royal quarters and the décor as it would have been if the throne was rightly his. But it wasn't. Everyone thought Odin still ruled. He was not himself. No one saw him. No one.

He pressed a finger to the marbled floor and magic rippled out to wash away the emerald. Something in his gut twisted as he watched the gold fall back into place.

Was any of this truly his?

He closed his eyes and slumped further towards the floor.

Since returning hours ago, it chafed to walk around in Odin's persona. He spoke to guards, to overseers, to whomever, and all they saw was Odin. They spoke with the puppet Loki wore cloaked around himself. Not a soul spoke to him.

“Pathetic,” he sighed aloud at himself, eyes still closed.

What did it matter if he were alone? He'd truly always been alone. Everyone had always pushed him aside, in one way or another. This was no different. He would endure.

Stark had not pushed him aside.

“He thinks me a dream!”

Loki snarled at himself and his own pitiful inner aches. Ridiculous. Silly. How could one mortal turn him so upside down? After all this time?

A ward warned him of an approaching soldier with a report. Loki heaved a great sigh and pulled himself up onto his feet. By the time the soldier knocked, Loki was cloaked in Odin's guise. He answered with a look so weary that the soldier hastened his report before asking after Odin's health. He brushed off the concern. Only when the soldier was well away did Loki return to himself.

He shuddered as he transformed, heaving in a great breath. It felt like wearing a giant, suffocating overcoat with a large strangling hood cutting off all air. It was nearly unbearable to take on the facade.

What was the matter with him?

As if in answer, one of his spells watching over Midgard called out to him. Something was wrong.

Stark.

Chapter Text

This was no sparring match. The anger and vengeance and hurt that rolled off Stark was nearly palpable. Barnes had apparently caused him great harm. Stark aimed to kill. Rogers did his best to stop him.

Loki arrived mid-fight. He glimmered into being on an empty top rung of scaffolding within the abandoned missile silo. He remained hidden from mortal or otherwise as he made his way down, silently hopping from one platform to another, while observing the fight as it raged on below. He pieced together enough from all three of their minds to know what had taken place. Stark was grief ridden. He'd watched a videotape and witnessed his parents die at the hands of Barnes. Mind controlled at the time or not, neither Barnes nor Rogers had told him this piece of information on Barnes' past. Stark was now too upset by the betrayal not to lash out.

A tiny corner of Loki's mind drew comparisons between himself and Barnes. Was he wrong to think Stark could forgive his own transgressions...? Yet, this was different. Barnes had coldly killed his parents and Stark was reacting on gut instinct for vengeance. Still...

Loki lowered himself down off the last platform and onto a cement floor which stood a mere meter above the fray. He stood invisible and unseen by the mortals. They fought in one of the silo's exhaust ports. Barnes lay battered and bruised in one corner, quite literally disarmed, his metal arm ripped off to one side. It was Rogers who steadfastly protected him. Stark was lost to rage and despair.

It was a testament to Stark's true genius that they were evenly matched. Back and forth the power struggle went as Rogers held the upper hand and then Stark would overtake him. It was bitter and harsh. They pulled no punches. Stark meant to kill Barnes, and if that meant disabling Rogers to do it, then so be it.

Rogers gasped, out of breath, desperate to end the battle, “He's my friend.”

“So was I,” Stark replied with a cold tone that sent a chill through Loki. The man's heart was broken and he would have Barnes. Rogers was tossed about like a doll and Stark demanded that he stayed down. Of course the man did not. It was not in Rogers' nature.

Then the fight took a turn for the worse. Barnes distracted Stark long enough to allow Rogers to finally get the upper hand. He pinned Stark beneath him and quite literally beat at the suit with his shield. Bits and pieces broke off and cluttered across the floor.

When the helmet came off and Stark's head lay exposed, Loki moved forward without thinking. Rogers' mind was not so easy to read in the rush of battle, and even if it meant exposing himself, in that moment, Loki would not have Stark slain. He hovered unseen over the pair. He was mere heartbeats away from undoing everything in order to save Stark, but then the shield came down on Stark's chestpiece instead, slamming through the reactor and utterly disabling the suit.

Rage still swelled within Stark as Rogers ripped the shield from his chest and staggered to collect his friend. The pain, the agony, the anguish. It was overwhelming. Even unseen and invisible, Loki shifted into a protective stance between Stark and Rogers. He would not give Rogers a single opportunity now that Stark was disabled.

“That shield doesn't belong to you,” Stark cried out, his last means of attack. “You don't deserve it. My father made that shield!”

Rogers paused in his retrieval of Barnes, a flash of recognition of his choices in all this, and he dropped the shield. Loki watched them leave, tracking them as they went out of sight. He could also sense the pair on the roof of the facility but they were of little importance. Instead, he turned back to Stark.

The man sat battered, bruised, ripped apart and left aching inside and out. The beginnings of another attack clouded at the back of Stark's mind. He slumped towards the floor again and shut his eyes against the hammering of his heart.

Failure. Failure. Failure.

There was no darkness in which to hide. Light filtered in from beyond the pillars lined up on either side of Stark. Loki would not be able to so easily pretend he was imaginary. Yet still he sat beside him. Pieces of Stark's shattered armor crinkled beneath his leather battle armor as he settled. He paused. He didn't know where to begin this time. The last had been so natural and so immediate. So he merely sat, back against a curved pillar, and watched closely.

Stark slumped further and collapsed onto his back, eyes closed, thoughts racing, heart pounding. The blurred old recordings of the murder of his parents repeated in his mind. Over and over again. Tormenting. Raw.

They were murdered. Murdered! And I did nothing. Nothing. Not then. Not now. Didn't know. Didn't even look into it. Glanced at it. Never investigated enough. Obviously. How could I not look into it deeper? Failure. Fucking failure. What’s the point? Couldn't stop fucking Steve. Couldn't kill that asshole. Failure. Oh god. What's the point? Mom...

A strangled, hiccuped cry passed from Stark's lips as everything boiled into a heap of failure. Loss. Anger. Pain. He thumped his head back against the cement and the responding headache was nice in comparison to everything else. He snarled at himself and lifted his head again to repeat the move and simply batter his thoughts into submission.

Loki reached out and cupped the back of his head, threading fingers through his hair and stopping his downward motion. He spoke without thinking, breaking the silence, “Still yourself, Stark.”

The man jerked at the touch, his breath hitching in surprise, but he didn't pull away. “Shit, princess. Warn me next time you're nearby, okay?” He stayed stiff a moment longer, head awkwardly held up, thoughts conflicting for a heartbeat, before sinking towards Loki's touch. He relaxed into it, his head settling gently back against Loki's hand. Loki lowered his head to the floor and smoothed his fingers up to brush back sweat and blood slicked bangs. Stark's eyes remained closed but he oh so slightly leaned in to each touch. “I thought you were gone, psychotic break.”

So did I, thought Loki, as he continued to play fingers through those dark strands. He struggled to come up with a retort. Eventually he murmured, “You required aid.”

Stark snorted a dark laugh, the blood on his lips cracking. “Next time, show up before I get my ass kicked, huh?”

Loki's eyes widened at the request. Did he no longer think him imaginary? Or was it in jest over his current state? He played coy as he replied, “I wouldn't be much help.”

“Hmm, if you say so. Fake green lasers ripping at Barnes would have been appreciated. Ya know, add to the visual motif. A few flaming fireballs. Some lightning.”

Despite it all, Loki gave a low chuckle at the image Stark painted. “I don't do lightning.”

“Right right. That's the other one. You're both just so alike. I get you confused.”

Loki grumbled and tugged on Stark's hair in reply.

“Ouch! Hey watch it, Harvey. Beat up mortal here. I swear, I can't even fucking do a psychotic break right.”

He opened his eyes and for the first time took in the sight of Loki sitting beside him. The leather battle armor was familiar enough but his gaze lingered on Loki's face. So much so that Loki had to shift his own attention to Stark's hair, as if he could not continue playing fingers through it without concentrating fully on the task. He turned his head so half of his face would be covered by his own long hair. Stark looked up at him for what felt like ages. It took all his willpower to remain there, as himself, in full view of someone, for the first time in nearly two years, without slinking away, disappearing and hiding. What kept him there was Stark's deep brown eyes. They held no distaste. He keenly observed but he didn't judge. He saw him and he did not push him aside. Eventually his eyes lit up with just a hint of his old self as he broke their silence.

“Then again, I do have good taste in imaginary nursemaids.”

Loki's lips twisted into a half smile despite himself. It was good to hear Stark's returning bravado but it was ridiculous how much he enjoyed the however minor compliment. He continued his unwavering focus on Stark's hair, unable to meet his gaze fully. “Says the man in need of proper medical care. You must get yourself out of this cold, Stark.”

Stark looked away from him and his tone turned dark. “Maybe I'd rather stay right here.”

The warmth of the conversation faded at his words. There was a sort of finality to them. Loki reached out to the suit and he could hear Friday's long list of injuries and disabled suit parts. Stark was ignoring her. Stark was ignoring his own body as it complained and bled. His mind had settled back into despair.

Loki stilled his hand in Stark's hair. So much pain had been wrought on one mere mortal. The vision of his mother's death in particular repeated over and over again as Stark stared into nothingness, away from Loki.

“Giving up will not bring her life meaning.”

Stark winced at the words, tears welling of their own accord. “Ya well, nothing I've ever accomplished ever did her any justice. Why should I even fucking try?”

There was a long silence as Loki schooled his own emotions. Frigga washed through his thoughts. Her death was still something he could not bear to dwell on. It ripped at his heart as nothing else could. His voice was a harsh whisper as he finally answered, “Because... because she would... she would never give up on you... no matter what...”

There was a huffed sob from Stark and he swallowed hard to control his emotions in some small degree. He turned to face Loki and this time Loki met his gaze. There was silence as each took in the pain written on the other's features. More was exchanged than mere words could manage. Stark blinked and the tears he'd been fighting back fell across his cheeks. He closed his eyes as pain washed over him. “That bastard...”

“He will pay. In his own sanity. He will pay. He will remember their faces and many more every time he sleeps.”

Stark reopened his eyes and saw... something. His eyes skimmed over Loki, long appraising looks, and then he shook his head at himself. Whatever he saw, it was enough. He pushed his hurt aside and grunted as he struggled to sit up. “Come on, princess. It's fucking cold out here.”

Something changed.

“Careful,” Loki chided as he reached to help him sit upright. Bits of the front of his suit clattered down his chest and across his lap onto the floor. Loki frowned at the state of him. “You require a new suit.”

Stark barked a laugh. “Unless you can magic up a new one for me, that's not happening anytime soon.” He grunted as he stretched out his left arm, the whole limb protesting at the action. “Propulsion's shot. Communication's down. Steve and his fucking Zodiac Killer are probably halfway to civilization by now. Friday, can we at least get the chopper headed this way thanks to my homing beacon?”

The AI's voice sounded from a speaker hidden within the suit. “Already comin' but it's leagues away.”

Stark shifted to his knees and Loki wrapped an arm around him to steady the man. With help, Stark managed to stand, swaying a bit but more or less stable. “It's nice of Steve to disable me and then leave with the only means off this fucking iceberg.”

“There are two men on the roof,” Loki stated as he released his hold on Stark. “T'Challa has Zemo under arrest.”

“Really? Good on him, the sneaky little cat.” Stark hobbled his way forward enough and then groaned as he leaned over to pick up Rogers' discarded shield. He held it against himself. “I didn't know if he had mercy in him or not.”

“He's called for authorities,” Friday announced. “Four hours out.”

“Guess we wait.” Stark pressed his free hand to his left side. It hurt and more than that it bled beneath the suit. His left arm and right leg was sprained. He'd bruised or broken several ribs. Multiple lacerations. Severe bleeding.

“You require immediate medical attention,” Loki snapped, dismissing the idea out of hand. “You cannot wait.”

Stark raised an eyebrow at him. “Oh yeah? Well then, psychotic break of mine, you got any better ideas?” There was a challenging glint in Stark's eyes. A test. A goad. A push against their little safety bubble of pretending what was going on. Stark met his gaze and kept it. “Friday, give him the precise coordinates of the chopper.”

He knew.

Fear and dread and something akin to hope washed over Loki as their eyes stayed locked. Friday rattled off the coordinates and Loki reached out to sense the metallic little ship moving towards them as quickly as it was able. This was it. Stark wanted to prove Loki's realness and this would be more than proof enough. Proof he was no imagined warm companion.

What would Stark do? Prove it and dismiss him? Attack him? Or...?

Only one way to find out and he was insane enough to need to know the answer.

He stepped close to Stark, who to his credit didn't flinch from his firm stance, and the air around them turned electric. In one heartbeat, they were cold and windswept at the edge of the silo's structure. In the next, they both stooped in the suffocating warmth and cramped confines of Stark's personal helicopter.

“Fuck!”

Stark looked around in stunned astonishment, going unsteady on his feet, but then gracefully landed backwards onto one chair. The shield in his hand clattered to the floor. His face lit up and he positively gaped for a moment, both at the chopper and Loki standing awkwardly hunched over.

“Holy shit!”

He couldn't seem to wrap his mind around the fact that his push had worked, that Loki had revealed himself, and that he was still standing right there and not dead or a figment of his imagination.

Stark shook his head in amazement, eyes never moving from Loki, as he called out to the AI, “Point us towards a civilized hospital. Now.”

“Novosibirsk. Twenty minutes out.”

Stark pressed a button on the console beside him and his suit rather miraculously unmolded itself from around the Midgardian and disappeared into the helicopter itself. Stark was left in a rather battered black leather jacket and dark slacks. He winced and pressed his left arm against his side, groaning at the loss of the suit to help keep everything in place. He broke eye contact.

Panic swelled inside Loki. He should go. He should leave. He shouldn't be seen. He couldn't be here. He'd saved Stark. That was enough. Silly. Ridiculous. He had to go. Now. Before anything happened. Before everything he'd worked towards was ruined. What was he still doing here?

“I... I should go...” He raised a hand to magic himself away, away to anywhere but here.

Before he could finish, Stark clasped at his wrist with a desperate, firm grip. “Oh no you don't, princess.” Stark kept his vice like grip on the very real Asgardian. “You're supposed to be dead. What are you... How are you... You're not leaving until you tell me what the hell is going on, Loki.”

He was a reindeer caught in headlights. He stared with wide, panicked eyes. What could he say? That he'd faked his death? That he'd been masquerading as Odin all this time? That he'd accidentally run into Stark that evening? That he'd loathed that no one had been there for him? That it seemed kind at the time to be that someone? And that again Stark's pain had called out to him? That he wanted to be seen? That he wanted someone to see him? To acknowledge him? To want to see him?

Only the sound of Loki's panicked breathing could be heard over the chopper's rotors. Stark watched him. Loki desperate to speak but unable to find the words. Loki frantic. Loki scared.

Lost.

“Okay.” Stark gave in and broke the strained silence. He squeezed firmly but then loosened his grip on Loki's wrist. “Okay. Fine. You tell me when you're ready.” He slid his fingers from Loki's wrist to brush soothingly over soft skin before releasing him. “But no more just popping in only when I need a good cry, alright?”

The acceptance of Loki's silence was overwhelming. He... he wished to see him? Again? To truly see him? Even without an answer to his questions? He had not pushed him aside.

“You...?” The words wouldn't come out. He didn't know what to say, how to say it.

Stark cocked a smile at him. “It should really be me who's speechless over all this, princess.” He shifted back in his chair and attempted to get comfortable with his broken and battered ribs. “But ya, whatever's going on, you come talk to me when you're ready.” He pointedly met Loki's still disbelieving gaze. “Find me.”

Loki pulled back his hand still hovering in midair where Stark had snatched it. He cupped it against himself as he broke eye contact, looking down at that hand. Stark's warmth still lingered on his skin. His voice was quiet as he promised, “I will.”

He could still see Stark's crooked smile long after he disappeared.

Chapter Text

The room was dark. All electronics were off. Nothing glowed in the late night except for the moon and stars outside the floor to ceiling windows that encircled the room. And even that light was faint thanks to the treeline surrounding the compound. Ignored papers and tablets sat on a stand beside a leather chair. On top of the stack rested an ornate bottle of scotch. Stark reclined as much as his bandaged ribs would allow, slumped to one side and a tumbler of liquor in one hand. His left arm was back in its sling and his right knee was wrapped in a cloth brace beneath his slacks.

His thoughts mellowed in the comfort of silence. The last few days had been hell but he'd gotten through it. Again. Alone. Well, that was slightly unfair. He'd had a little help. Surprising help.

Loki lurked in the darkness for a long while. His courage flickered like a flame in the wind. He tracked Stark. He reassured himself that Stark received proper medical care. He knew when the man was discharged and made his way back home. Loki had returned to Asgard only long enough to concoct a reason for Odin to be absent. Yet even as Stark returned to the Avenger compound, even as the man was open to conversation, Loki hesitated.

He already placed magical wards over most of the compound and in particular Stark's quarters, which were thankfully well away from the two others staying at the facility. Rhodes was easy to monitor. He was a mere human. It was simple to remain hidden from him. This Vision was the exceedingly worrying variable. Loki worked to ensure every single possible precaution was made in order to remain unnoticed and unseen by the being using his staff's shard.

Everything he'd done so far had been dangerous. There would be those who might notice his use of magic on Midgard. There were those who might notice it centering around Stark, the least of which being his brother. He should step away. To move forward, to talk to Stark, to be seen... it was terrifying. And yet he could not simply step away. He wished to be seen. He wished to be there.

Stark finished his drink and pressed the cool glass against the deep bruise blooming around his right eye. His exhausted gaze lingered on the shadowed view of the forest. It was peaceful and silent and somehow helped to keep his own thoughts blissfully quiet.

He blinked and the view shifted. The faint form of a man stepped out from dark shadows to partially block the window.

Stark huffed a laugh. “Still being a little creepy with your entrances, Freddie.” There was no reply. Loki struggled simply to remain visible even in the relative dark of the room. The urge to leave rippled through him over and over again. Stark seemed to somehow understand. He ignored the silence and waved his glass toward the other empty leather chair. “Stop lurking in the shadows like a vampire and sit down.” He set his tumbler aside and shifted with a grunt of pain to stand up. “Let me get you a glass. Sit.”

Loki hung back a moment longer before quietly making his way through the study to the offered chair. He wore a simple olive linen shirt that hung open with braiding along a deep v-cut and his usual leather trousers. The whole battle gear hadn't seemed appropriate but he didn't quite feel comfortable dressing up like a Midgardian. In the back of his mind he worried Stark would find it inappropriate on him. He found his voice only enough to protest as Stark returned with another tumbler and poured some of the scotch into it. “I don't... I'm fine, thank you.”

“This is probably like water to you, so shut it and take my hospitality gracefully.” He handed the glass to Loki, who hesitated only a moment before taking it, and then Stark collapsed back down onto his own chair. He released a long, slightly pained sigh as he slumped against the padded arm. He reached to pour himself another glass as well. “You ready to talk yet?”

In the soft twilight of the room, Loki took in the battered man beside him. He cupped long fingers around his drink and played his thumb along the lip of the glass. Eventually, he sighed, “I don't know where to begin to answer your questions.”

“Well,” Stark hummed as he slumped further down in his chair, resting his refilled glass clasped in both hands against his stomach. “Let's start with the obvious. You're not dead. You're not a zombie, are you? Or a... clone or something? You're you?”

Loki quirked a smile at the touches of humor in Stark's words. It did make the conversation easier. “I am me and no facsimile.” His gaze drifted down to the tumbler in his hands. His thumb traced the ornate patterning in the glass. “I am Loki of Asgard and yet I have not heard my name on another's lips for nearly two years until you spoke it yesterday.” He released a long breath, still unsure how to begin.

Stark did his best to keep his demeanor open and relaxed, hoping to draw Loki's words out easier, rather than rush questions at him. As the man paused, he pushed, “So you've been in hiding?”

“Of a sort.” There was a drawn out silence but it wasn't uncomfortable. Stark was content to wait. Eventually Loki spoke as he continued to play with the glass tumbler in his hands. “I was not myself when we first met years ago. Not wholly. I will not excuse my actions but I would have you know that the staff was not fully mine to control. It connected me to the Chitauri and their command over me was...” He paused, looking for the right word. He shook his head. “They had many months alone with me to twist my mind and corrupt my thoughts. They perverted my own wishes into something darker.”

There was a sort of angry rumble in Stark's voice as he wondered, “Did Thor know you were tortured and mind controlled?”

“To a degree.” A humorless smile twisted at Loki's lips. “It did not matter. Odin saw what he wished to see. Only my actions mattered. I was his great failure. He would lock me up forever in order to salvage his pride. And perhaps it would have been for the best if I'd stayed locked away...” His voice trailed off and his mind wandered to his mother. The attack. The being he could have stopped. Hurt tore at him too deeply to dwell on. He visibly pushed it aside as Stark watched. His voice was matter of fact when he continued, “Thor does rightly think me dead. It was my only means of never returning to that cell. I faked my death and then returned to Asgard in the guise of a guard.”

Stark sipped at his drink, the liquor glinting in the faint light. He didn't seem to react to any of his words and it was both a comfort and a worry. Would he pull all these truths out of him only to dismiss him after hearing them? Doubt floated through Loki until Stark broke the silence. “Why are you here? Why talk to me? If you've been a ghost all this time... why show up to hold my hand now?”

There was genuine curiosity and confusion written on Stark's features, yet all Loki could do was shrug in response. He struggled to explain himself, stuttering some at his words. “I... Well, I was observing the rift between yourself and Rogers. Midgard must remain strong. There are forces coming... forces I know you rightly fear... and the protectors of Midgard are currently... fractured.”

Stark's eyes glossed over with fear and panic at the allusion to the Chitauri, then grunted at those last words. “That's putting it fucking mildly.” He sipped his drink and shifted a bit more upright in his seat. “So you watched the show and then, what, ran into me?”

“More or less.” A fluttering, warm emotion washed over him as he thought of calming Stark. He felt... proud of his actions. Proud and something more. It was silly. “You were... not yourself, not the person I recalled, and you were alone. How could anyone have left you alone after Rhodes'...” He trailed off and cast his gaze up to meet Stark's appraising eyes. They seemed to see straight through Loki. He wrenched his gaze back down to his glass of liquor. “It was... I have not been my true self in front of anyone for nearly two years... I... wanted...” Words failed him. He couldn't tell the man that he felt comfortable with him. He couldn't tell him that he felt whole and real and himself when with Stark. He shook his head and finally sipped at his neglected drink.

There were a few heartbeats of silence before Stark shifted forward towards the other chair, eyes still catching every detail of Loki in the twilight. His voice was warm as he offered, “You should stay here.”

Loki blinked over the rim of his glass, “I don't know if-”

Stark shook his head at the protest. “No no, it's fine. I’ve got a guest bedroom. You can bunk at this end of the compound and lurk around all you want. Stay hidden from everyone else until you're ready for more. It'll be fine.” Loki opened his mouth to dismiss the idea but Stark pushed, eyes big and expressive in the low light. “I won't tell anyone you're here. Promise.”

The idea was preposterous and dangerous and complete folly.

“Stay.”

His heart skipped a beat at the imploring tone from Stark. A little bit desperate, a little bit needy, and so very warm.

“Alright.” Loki met his gaze, and despite it all, he twisted a small smile as he added, “If you'll have me.”

Stark truly smiled in response. He gave a pleased nod and settled back into his chair in triumph. He set about finishing his drink.

He would stay.

Loki relaxed at having made the decision. He settled more into his chair. He didn't know what he would do while here but it felt... right. Being here felt right.

He would stay.

The rest of the evening was quiet but content companionship.

There was no more conversation. There had been enough already and Loki had no idea how to begin again on all he'd not yet said. Stark wished him to stay and that was all that truly mattered in the moment. The only lingering doubt was how Stark would react to his having taken Odin's place. It was a ridiculous thing with no simple way to broach.

So instead they sat in the twilight shadows of the room and finished drinks and both settled in with the idea of Loki staying. It was Stark who finally moved them forward. He set his glass aside and grunted as he pulled himself up onto his feet. He beckoned Loki to follow him and to one far side was an untouched guest room.

There was no time for awkwardness. Stark merely patted Loki's arm, squeezed it, and then walked away towards his own bed. “See you in the morning, princess. Bathroom's down the hall. Breakfast is whenever the hell I get up. Good night.”

Loki watched him walk a little unsteadily across the main room to another door. Painkillers, liquor, and exhaustion were taking their toll on Stark. Loki sighed and hoped all three elements would help the Midgardian to immediately sleep. “Good night, Stark.”

“Call me Tony or I'll kick you out.”

Loki chuckled at the threat. “Yes sir.”

“None of that either,” Stark huffed as he opened his door and stood to toss a look back at Loki. “You better be here tomorrow.”

“I will be here. Tony.” The name felt odd on his lips. It lingered as he said it. He shook his head at himself and called across the distance. “Rest well.”

Chapter Text

Sleep did not come easy, and when it overtook him, it was restless and fleeting. He was not used to sleeping anywhere but the royal quarters back on Asgard and his own paranoia overtook him here. It was difficult to calm his thoughts with Stark out of sight. He sensed that the man himself slept deeply. As hoped, the Midgardian's body had demanded rest immediately and kept any terrors at bay for the night.

Loki gave up on sleep and rose early with the sun. He wandered Stark's large main common room which comprised of a study nook and library along with a sofa and living space and a tiny kitchen. He took in pictures, mementos, and devices on display before settling in the study portion beside the books. Wards told him when Rhodes and Vision moved about the rest of the compound but they stayed away from this end, most likely because even to them it was obvious Stark needed rest.

He'd finished three books by the time Stark rose. He currently sat in his leather chair with an overly large book on modern engineering open across his folded legs. It was both quaint and remarkable. Midgardians were learning in interesting directions. The way their knowledge of the universe grew and the direction of their studies was different than the other realms. They stumbled toward ideas not yet explored elsewhere and it was intriguing to see where they could end up. He brushed his long hair back behind one ear as Stark emerged squinting at the bright light coming in freely through the wall of windows. He wore dark loose sweatpants and a tight simple t-shirt. Loki's gaze lingered before he pretended to return to his reading.

Stark rubbed at his bruised eye and winced. He thrust fingers back into his hair instead to smooth it out, then he noticed Loki sitting in the study. It was a surprise to see him so comfortable there in broad daylight. Real and tangible. He stared a moment, fingers paused midway through his hair, before he resumed his walk to the mini kitchen at the back of the open common space. He turned on the coffee machine and rattled around with a small blender, managing his usual morning smoothie.

“You eat yet, princess?” he called out as he set one smoothie aside and went about making a second before he even got an answer.

“A good morning to you as well, Sir Stark,” Loki harassed back in return, prodding playfully at the lack of greetings. He turned one large page over and continued in his pretending to read.

“Please don't get all Shakespeare in the Park on me. That's your brother's thing.” Stark juggled two smoothies, one in his good hand and one against his chest held in the hand currently in the sling. He set one down beside Loki and flopped his way down onto his leather chair. “And I told you to use Tony, Sir... Odinson?” Stark tilted his head and raised an endearing eyebrow.

Loki felt a rush of warmth at Stark's attention and nearly forgot to answer his question. He'd not claimed that last name in a long while but he nodded all the same. “I prefer my first name.”

“Something we can both agree on.” He raised his smoothie in a small cheers before taking his first sip. He nodded toward the untouched smoothie. “And ya, good morning to you too, now eat something before you waste away on me.”

Loki narrowed his gaze on the concoction of blitzed fruit, dairy, and other unidentifiable bits but he wasn't about to dismiss the offered meal. He reached for the glass and pretended not to notice Stark's gaze on him. The drink was an odd consistency but it was at least pleasantly sweet.

Stark's gaze drifted lower and he shifted forward as he seemed to only just notice the book in Loki's lap. “Make it through the whole library yet?”

“Only these three,” Loki lamented, tossing a gesture toward the three books on the coffee table. A history book on Hydra, a medical book, and one on modern warfare. Stark huffed a laugh at the only part. Loki tapped at the page open on his lap. “Midgard always appears to be on the cusp of grand breakthroughs. It is a pity cooperation is so difficult at times.”

“We like to hold grudges.” Stark's voice was a little dark but the glower was not pointed at Loki.

Loki hummed softly in response. “It is difficult to... release old hurts.”

Stark nodded and his gaze clouded over with memories.

The conversation stalled. Loki resumed actually reading as he sipped on his drink. His hair fell forward and blocked his vision. He grumbled and tucked it back again but it only fell forward the next time he shifted to turn the page. He should truly trim it back, perhaps Stark would prefer it short like most male Midgardians. For now, he set his drink aside and pulled all his hair back. With a twist of magic, it was pinned in a ponytail. He looked up as he reached for his glass again and caught Stark staring. The sun cast a warm glow around them but it was Stark's deep brown eyes which made him flush. He swiftly looked back down at his book but he could still catch the pleased grin that formed on Stark's lips.

Then again perhaps he should keep it long.

Wards went off as Vision floated through walls and furniture alike to arrive at Stark's quarters. Loki only had time enough to set his glass aside before disappearing from view, the book on his lap landing with a quiet thump onto the now empty chair.

Stark looked upset for a brief moment, blinking at the now empty space Loki had occupied, before realization dawned on him when the door chimed. He made an annoyed face, cast one look around to be certain Loki wasn't in sight, and then moved to get up as he called out, “Ya ya, come in.”

Loki's heart pounded as he stood in the furthest corner of the common room, resisting the urge to teleport further away, too afraid that the act itself would draw attention.

“It's good to see you looking better, sir.” Vision took in Stark as the man walked up to him finishing his smoothie. He brushed down the front of his sweater which awkwardly covered him in an attempt to appear 'normal' to humans. “Mister Rhodes wondered if you were up. He's in need of assistance with the apparatus you've designed for his legs.”

“Thanks for the message and knocking, big red,” Stark said as casually as he was able. He set his glass in the sink and cast one last look behind himself, lingering on the study, before turning back to Vision.

“Of course. Few seem to appreciate my not needing a door.”

“Ya well, it's nice to see you adapting to human customs.” Stark gave a genuine little smile and then ushered the both of them out. “Where's Rhodey?” The door shut behind them.

They were well away before Loki reappeared in the study. He'd calmed somewhat at Vision not discovering him but the loss of Stark's presence somehow... it stung. He itched to follow after Stark. Ridiculous thoughts filtered through his mind but he calmed them all with a grumbled, “No. I will not lurk around him all day.”

With a slightly disgruntled huff, Loki picked up his book and returned to his chair to read. He forced himself to focus on the words.

A part of him ridiculously pined for Stark to not be gone long.

Chapter Text

Curiosity won out over prudence.

The morning was gone and so was Loki's patience for reading. He paced around Stark's common room and worked up his courage to explore. Vision had been preoccupied in his quarters for hours now. All he had to worry over otherwise were mere humans. The whole compound was remarkably empty thanks to the current rift in the Avengers.

One last pause to check on his magics cloaking him and Loki stepped through the door and into the corridor. He was nervous and prepared to flee but remaining in those quarters was out of the question.

As he walked past office spaces, empty quarters, and conference rooms, the scale of the compound became apparent. Stark had big plans and wished to recruit many more people. He was quite wise to do so with the threat looming over all of them. Did he have other recruits waiting in the wings? Or was it merely wishful thinking that he could eventually fill all the spaces?

Loki wound his way outside to the gardens and then through the main common rooms with games and open seating before making his way to the gym where he found Stark laughing with Rhodes. The man was doing better than expected thanks to Stark's new legs. He was not paralyzed after all. Or at least, not if he had help.

Simply being in the same room lightened Loki's heart. He sat back a ways and watched the pair work together on improving the device on Rhodes' legs. Stark had discarded the arm brace in favor of using both hands in his work. It was almost hard not to wish to join them. He ached to be seen by Stark again, to simply revel in being seen by the other man, but he was not prepared to deal with others seeing him. Or more to the point, others seeing him, and then asking questions.

He could not allow everything to unravel.

A package arrived and the mistaken last name of Stank from the elderly postal worker earned a laugh from Loki as well as Rhodes. He swore he saw Stark glance in his direction as he signed for the package. Had he heard him? Impossible.

The mood in the room shifted as Stark looked down at the package in his hands.

“I, uh,” he paused and tapped a finger restlessly against the box's side. He nodded to Rhodes' legs. “You doin' okay?”

“Oh ya I'll be runnin' marathons by next week.” Rhodes tossed a little reassuring smile at Stark. “I'm okay. Go on. Thanks for the tune up.”

Stark saluted him with the box and exited back towards his quarters.

At least he had one good friend here.

Loki followed after, and when it was obvious where he was headed, he slipped past and beat the Midgardian. He had time enough to sit, shrugging off the cloak of magic that had kept him hidden, before Stark opened the door. He looked over his shoulder as Stark entered but then remained quiet as the man slipped past with a simple, “Hold on.”

Stark crossed to his desk a few meters away, and with a flick of a knife, opened the box. His mood went darker still as he pulled out the note within. It was from Rogers. The hurt of the last few days washed over Stark anew as he read over the apology.

Loki slipped from his chair and crossed the space as a small phone slid out of the package. A means of contacting Rogers and his team. A branch of friendship and trust. Loki squeezed at Stark's good shoulder as the man stared at both the phone and letter. It was a bit too soon to process.

Friday interrupted as she stated, “Priority call from Secretary Ross. There's been a breach at the raft prison.”

“Ya, put him through.” Stark shifted and Loki released him. The man glanced back and brushed aside any concern from Loki. “It's fine. I'll just take this.”

He hit a button and the voice of Ross called out from the conference phone, “Tony we have a problem-”

“Uh, please hold!” Like a cheeky child, Stark immediately interrupted.

“No, don't-!”

The official was placed back on hold. Loki gave a quick chuckle at the impudence.

“Ya know, I think I've heard that laugh already today,” Stark said with a crooked eyebrow up at Loki.

Loki feigned innocence. “Oh?”

“Mm hm. Something to do with Mister Stank...” Stark trailed off as Loki could not for the life of him keep a straight face. Stark smacked his desk. “I knew it! You're such a fucking stalker, princess.”

“You shouldn't have even heard that at all!”

“Well someone clearly needs more practice at being an invisible stalker,” Stark huffed with a wide grin. “You're fucking ridiculous, ya know that, right?”

Loki crossed his arms over his chest. He answered primly. “I was bored.”

“You missed me.” Stark flashed an even more roguish grin up at Loki. The Asgardian scoffed and Stark just smiled wider. “Protest all you like, it's written all over your face.” He waved a hand in a circle pointed up at Loki's features. “You missed me terribly. I mean, I can't blame you, everyone is dying for my attention.”

Loki rolled his eyes dramatically even as he positively glowed with the flirtatious teasing.

Friday popped up with a reminder, “Secretary Ross, sir.”

“See? I'm a popular guy. Fawning stalkers and men of government vying for my attention.”

“I am not fawning-” Loki began to protest.

“Swooning? How about swooning? Does that work better for ya?” Stark coyly cut off any further argument with a wink and a raised finger for silence while he reached back down the desk to put Ross through. “Sorry about that, you interrupted a very important discussion. So there's trouble at the prison?”

Loki reluctantly remained silent, itching at not being able to respond, but at the same time thrumming with pleasure at the harassment. It was a glimpse of the Stark he knew from before.

“If you know anything about this, it'll be your head, Stark,” Ross grumbled, exceedingly displeased at being put on hold. “All our security was knocked out and your friends were the only ones missing when they came to.”

“Friends? I don't make friends with criminals.”

“Don't start, Tony. If they contact you at all, you're under orders to inform us immediately, you got that? Or you'll be tossed into that prison yourself.”

“Aye aye, sir.”

Ross ignored Stark's tone. “Forward any possible hiding locations to us by the end of the day. I want them found.”

The call ended with a button press and Stark rubbed a hand over his face. “Friday, make up some locations and send them along. Something plausible. A few of our fallback points in Africa and South America that they'd never be dumb enough to use.”

“Yes sir.”

The weight of the moment rested on both of them. Rogers would still work with them but there was a clear division. It would take much more to bring the Avengers back together and whole, but well, it was a start. As Stark slumped forward to rest his elbows against the desk, waves of exhaustion washing over him, Loki reached to soothe. He ran fingers through short cropped hair, sliding fingers over scalp and down to rub at the back of his head.

Stark relaxed at the touch, leaning back against it.

Only as the man's mind calmed did Loki speak, giving the hair a tug, “I do not swoon.”

Stark burst into giggles, eyes opening and the cheekiest of grins on his lips. “Oh yes you do!”

Loki removed his hand and ignored him. He huffed his way back to his chair and reached for another book. Stark followed after and stopped him. He took Loki's hand in his and pulled him back onto his feet.

“Come on. Enough learning and lurking around. Let's see what movies pique your interest.”

He pulled Loki over into the main sitting area and the windows shifted from clear to opaque, blocking out the sunlight, while a large screen glittered to life in front of the sofa.

Stark was slow to release his hand.

Chapter Text

Exhaustion took its toll on Stark during the third film. He slumped to one side against Loki and then eventually ended up sprawled along most of the sofa, head resting half on Loki's thigh. The films were quaint in their simple entertainment. It had been more fun watching Stark's excitement over sharing each one. The first had been a bombastic action film from his youth. Ridiculous science fiction. Stark's features had glowed with fond memories. Then they'd ordered a proper meal from the galley and ate while watching something newer and more complex. Drama and intrigue. Spies and a race to the finish. The third was a favorite comedy but most of the jokes fell flat on Loki and by this point Stark was too tired to explain. The man gave into fatigue and ended up asleep not long after the third film began.

It didn't matter to Loki. He let the film play as background noise as he played fingers through Stark's hair. The man hummed at first with the attention but soon fell into a deep sleep. Loki carried on with his brushing of fingers against scalp, watching the way Stark's short hair threaded through his fingers and sprung back up into place after each pass. He reveled in the feel of the strands brushing across his palm. As Stark drifted, his features smoothed and relaxed. Both worry and laugh lines eased. He looked younger in the flickering light of the projected screen.

Mortals. How time slipped past so quickly for them.

What was he doing curled up with this one in particular?

What made it so easy to forget everything and merely wallow in the feeling of being near to him?

It was more than merely being seen by another soul again. He could have revealed himself to someone else. Yet it was Stark who called out to him. He'd once thrown the man through glass and off a building. His own building. Yet now Stark happily slept beside him. He'd understood. He'd forgiven. He'd seen Loki and deemed him worthy of his attention. Few in his life had ever done so. He was always the tag along with Thor's friends. He was happier with books than people. The one person who'd seemed to understand him was dead. Dead because he had not acted. Dead because his brother was a fool.

He paused in his stroking and closed his eyes, pushing back thoughts of his mother to a very far corner. Still, a little piece of him wondered, would she have liked Stark?

He smiled a little at the thought, though it was still twinged with sadness. She would have liked him. She would have seen what Loki saw in him.

He opened his eyes and brushed back Stark's short bangs. The two of them were similar, in their own ways, to one another. They both ached over loss and worried over the future. While Loki wished to prove himself worthy to his father and the realms, Stark merely wanted to prove himself worthy of his name, his legacy. He wondered absently if their fathers were alike. Would Stark's mother have liked him as well?

The last thought bubbled around in his head some. He was ridiculous. Such thoughts. Suddenly he knew what must have taken over Thor when he found that Jane.

Mortals.

The film flickered to an end, the credits over and the projected screen turning the usual Stark blue. It shifted to show the time and weather and some other numbers he wasn't aware of their meaning. It didn't matter. It was late. He slid his fingers down to squeeze at Stark's shoulder as he murmured gently, “Tony. You should sleep in your bed. Hm?”

The man sucked in a deep breath as he woke, rolling from his side onto his back and stretching. He nuzzled at Loki's leather pants and blinked his eyes open. “Is it over?” He tossed a look at the screen, then back up at Loki. “Did you like it?”

Loki brushed fingers through Stark’s hair and down along his jawline over rougher beard. “It was fine.”

Fine?” Stark smiled sleepily up at him and leaned into the touch, nuzzling at his palm. “Maybe we leave the comedy to me.”

Loki chuckled lightly and brushed his thumb over his cheek as he cupped it.

Brown eyes sparkled up at him. “Sorry for fallin' asleep on you.”

“You require rest, Tony.” As much as he didn't wish to let Stark go, he pushed gently, “You should sleep. Properly.”

“But I'm plenty comfortable right here.” Stark shifted to rest his head fully across all of Loki's lap, beaming up at him. “You don't mind being my pillow, do you? I didn't think so. Then it's settled. Toss me a blanket.” He shifted to settle further, folding arms over his chest and curling up against Loki's waist.

Loki barked a laugh at the idiot in his lap. “You'll hate your neck and back in the morning.”

Stark cocked a little pleased eyebrow up at him. “But no arguments on being my pillow?”

Loki merely flashed a coy smile in reply, running one finger along Stark's jawline in a slow brushing tease.

Open interest simmered in Stark's dark eyes before he shifted off Loki's lap and up onto his feet. “Come on.” He swiftly took Loki by the hand and easily pulled the man upright and along behind him as he steered them to his quarters.

A wash of nerves came over him but Stark gave him no time to protest. They went straight past closets, and apparently a side room filled with Stark's tech and work stations, and through to a large unmade bed facing the open wall of windows. Stark didn't release his hold on him even as he climbed onto the bed, pulling the lanky Asgardian after him.

“Get comfy, pillow,” Stark harassed as he finally released Loki only after they were both squarely in the middle of the bed.

Loki couldn't help but huff a laugh at his current designation and at this entire situation.

“Less giggling like a schoolgirl and more relaxing, princess.” Stark flopped onto his side and toed off his sneakers, sending them flying to who knew where, but otherwise staying clothed.

“Are you always so rude to your bedding?” Loki magicked away his own boots and settled on his back, watching in amazement as Stark immediately moved to curl up against him.

“When it's not cooperating,” Stark sniped back, one arm and leg wrapping around Loki as if he were a body pillow, head resting on his chest. He released a pleased sigh. “Much better.”

It was intimate and yet innocent at the same time. They'd done no more than flirt but Stark seemed set on sleeping right like this. He could feel the man relax against him, sinking against his side.

“Such a demanding host,” Loki sighed in jest, reaching to pull the disarrayed comforter over them. When it proved to be out of reach, he twisted his wrist and magicked the cloth closer.

“Quiet, pillow,” Stark murmured against his chest. “Sleep.”

Loki grinned like a fool as he stilled to quiet for Stark. He threaded fingers into Stark's hair and kept them there, cupping the back of his head. Stark hummed happily. His arm tightened around Loki's chest. He clung to him in the dark.

He listened to Stark's breathing even out to a steady rhythm. His own slowed to match the mortal's. Sleep came easier this time.

Chapter Text

He woke to a shove in the dark, something heavy pushed against his stomach and chest, knocking him back a few inches. His eyes flashed open, body shocked awake, heart thrumming. It was pitch dark and even his eyes strained to see. There was a knee or perhaps kick to his stomach and then movement away from him.

“Stark?” he called out, voice hoarse at being woken so roughly.

A panicked sob brought Loki fully awake. Was something wrong? He reached towards the sound with hand and mind.

Stay away from me!” came Stark's frenzied voice, his rough panting now audible, as he launched himself further away on the bed. He shook with fear and the urge to fight or fly but unable to do either in his state.

His mind was awash in pure, simple panic.

He'd woken from a nightmare straight into a panic attack. His heart raced dangerously and his breathing was unsteady gasps. He curled himself into a ball and covered his head with his arms.

Loki stared a long moment, struggling to put a mental wall between himself and Stark, the emotions rolling off him overwhelming even to him. Then he soothed as gently as he was able, “Tony, it was a dream. It was not real.” Loki shifted onto his side, then glided himself easily into a low crouch on the bed.

Stark jerked at the words and the movement, feeling the bed shift. “Stay away!” he screamed into the mattress. “They're coming! They're coming!

Loki remained silent a moment, everything in him aching as he saw what that attack on New York had truly done to Stark. The Chitauri still loomed over him. Did any others know how much it haunted him?

He had to prove it was all a dream. He stilled his first impulse to magic light into the room and instead called out, “I... Friday? A little light?” It was odd talking to the ever present AI but it responded. The room shifted into a glow, soft light bouncing off the walls and illuminating the room. It was deep into night outside the wall of windows but the room itself was warmly lit.

Stark remained curled and oblivious, shaking in his balled up state, nearly to the far edge of the bed.

“Stark,” Loki soothed as he attempted to inch closer. “Tony. Open your eyes. You were dreaming. It was all a dream. They are not here.”

They're coming!” Stark shouted in terror, still locked in the dream, in the memory.

“They're not here,” he hushed. “I'm here, Tony. They won't hurt you. Open your eyes.”

He slid closer and Stark tensed.

“Tony... Tony listen to my voice. You know me.”

“Lo-Loki,” he gasped the name out in response between panicked breaths.

“Yes. Listen to me, Tony. Open your eyes. I promise they're-” He reached out to touch Stark's shoulder but the man jerked back at the contact and flung himself away, landing with a thud off the bed. “Stark!”

He pulled himself to the edge and found Stark staring up at the ceiling, eyes unfocused, but at least knocked on his back he was forced to see the very real and safe bedroom surrounding him. Loki's hair fell forward as he hovered over the edge. “Tony? Look at me, Tony. Focus. Yes. It's me. It's alright.”

Stark hiccuped for breath, struggling to calm himself down enough to breathe and not choke on his own tongue. His eyes blinked and then they focused on Loki. He trembled as if cold. He ran hands over his chest, his heartbeat finally slowly climbing back down.

“Loki. I... I...”

“Shh.” Loki slid off the bed onto the floor and fit himself beside the man. Stark immediately turned and clung to the front of his shirt, twisting at the linen. “It was a dream. Breathe with me. In and out. Slowly.” He wrapped his arms around Stark and rubbed over his back, anchoring the man further to reality.

It took many long minutes to calm Stark's breathing. His wide, panicked eyes slowly focused on the face in front of him. He pressed his forehead to Loki's. Green eyes appraised brown. Breathing evened. His trembling stilled. His grip on Loki did not loosen.

Eventually Stark whispered, his voice rough from the ordeal, “Sorry I kicked you.”

Loki smiled despite it all. “Thankfully I'm no mere mortal.”

“Ya ya. Tough guy.” His gaze dropped as his voice went quiet, “Just wait until I knee you in the face next time...”

Was he alluding to other bed partners? Well, it was obvious this was nothing new to him. But who could have left him in this state? Who would leave him to deal with this alone? How long would he have shook in terror without someone here to guide him back from his nightmares?

Loki tightened one arm around him and brought the other up to cup his cheek, bringing Stark's gaze back up to meet his own. “It won't matter. Not with me. I will be here all the same.”

The grip on his shirt loosened as Stark heaved a relieved sigh at the words. Emotions fluttered in his eyes. Relief. Exhaustion. Need. He slid one hand up along Loki's chest and curled it around the back of his neck.

Then he kissed him. It was rough and demanding and yet desperate for reciprocation. Stark thrust everything into it, pinning himself against the other man.

The surprise only lasted a moment, then Loki responded just as demandingly. His lips parted and his head tilted as Stark took advantage immediately of his open mouth. Tongues clashed and teased. Stark's hand moved to twist at Loki's long hair instead. Loki hummed in response and his own hands moved down to cup at Stark's backside.

The kisses simmered into boiling over. They were wet and messy and still tinged with desperation on both their parts. When they finally broke for air, bruised lips hovered close to one another as eyes locked. Stark hooked a leg over Loki’s and rolled his hips. There was a gasp in return and fingers gripping at Stark's ass in order to thrust forward properly. Kisses resumed. Heated thrusting. It was exhilarating to feel the other's need, to be wanted, to be touched, to be kissed. It swirled swiftly out of control.

It was nearly in tandem that they reached for the other's waist, clothing no longer an option. Stark was far easier to divest of his sweatpants. Long fingers dipped beneath the waistband and Stark gasped beside him, pausing in his work on Loki's belt.

“No fair,” he growled as Loki's fingers easily wrapped around his cock and stroked beneath the loose fabric. His hips jerked in time with the strokes, mouth hanging open against Loki’s. “Oh fuck...” His forehead rested against Loki's as he redoubled his efforts on the leather pants. It was sort of adorable the way he growled when he finally jerked the belt off and desperately pulled the pants open.

Loki bit at Stark's lower lip and then ran his tongue over it. He lifted his hips to assist Stark in peeling back the trousers and then moaned as fingers found his own cock. The moan was cut short as Stark kissed him hard and demanding again.

Strokes quickened. Hips rolled together. Wet, open-mouthed kisses. There was a frenzy to it all. A need for comfort. A need for shared release. It was sloppy and rushed. Skin stroked over skin. Hot and heavy. Knuckles knocking into one another as both stroked the other. Stark's free hand twisted roughly in Loki's hair. Loki gripped desperately at Stark's rocking ass.

It ended far too quickly. Stark broke the kisses to bury his face against Loki's neck, breathing in his scent with ragged gasps, his cock going deliciously hard in Loki's hand. Then he came with a shudder, a cry on his lips. His body jerked and his seed made a mess of them both. The sensation of Stark's climax was too much. Loki joined him a moment later, head tossed back and groaning over the sound of Stark's rough breaths. Stark nipped at his exposed throat, sending yet more shudders through him.

They were a panting, messy heap. It wasn't enough. It was too quick. But it felt incredible to share the release, to both touch and be touched. It had been so long.

Stark nuzzled and kissed at his neck, his breathing still rough against Loki's skin. He closed his eyes and drank in the sensation of softer touches now that they were sated. He released his hold on Stark's cock and brushed fingertips up along his soft stomach and underneath his shirt. Touches wandered over skin. Loki dipped his head back down and caressed cheeks with Stark before kissing him more sweetly. Promises unsaid. Wishes unvoiced. Poured into each kiss.

The kisses ended with a brush of noses and an almost shy meeting of gazes. Loki's heart skipped at the depth in Stark's deep brown eyes. Stark licked at his lips and stroked his hands down to hold Loki by his hips. “Well now that was... fuck...”

“Precisely.”

Stark snorted a laugh at the reply, neither of them able to come to real words. He took in Loki all flushed and relaxed, hair a lovely mess. He stole one more kiss and then shifted to get up, kicking his sweatpants off completely. He reached for Loki to pull him up with him, leather pants trapped around his thighs. Words could come later. “Shower?”

Chapter Text

It should have been more awkward. A rushed climax and a mess made of both of them. It wasn't, though. Stark's eyes were exhausted from the rough night but behind that they were brimming with something more soft and warm. He grunted in amusement as Loki easily magicked away his leather trousers while being pulled up onto his feet. He grumbled something about that having been extremely useful a few minutes ago, then Stark kept his hand in his as he steered them to the washroom.

It was large and lavish, a giant bath to one corner and a glass shower in the other, but Loki's gaze was locked on the mortal stripping off his shirt as he crossed the room in front of him. The bandages were gone but bruises still remained across Stark's chest and back. Still, there was something about compact, coiled muscle and that perfect round backside... His thoughts stalled as Stark turned on the shower and faced him again. His chest was whole and unmarred by metal. Of course, if it had been there, he should have noticed it already, but the sight reminded him bluntly of the fact.

Stark cocked an eyebrow at the lanky Asgardian now frowning. He crossed back to him and tugged at Loki's linen shirt. “Ya know, most people swoon at this point.”

“You removed the... plate?” Loki pressed a hand to Stark's bare chest and covered where the arc reactor had been. His skin showed little sign of the device ever being there. There was merely a faint, circular scar.

“Slow on the uptake, princess? The whole not glowing anymore should have given it away.” Stark brought a hand up to cover over Loki's on his chest. He took in the concerned frown and offered more sincerely, “It was a reminder. It was something between me and being whole. So I got rid of it.”

Loki brushed his thumb over skin. He was quiet a moment, taking in both their hands on Stark's chest, before he uttered, “I'm grateful it was there, when I attempted... If they had gained control of you...”

Stark's features softened. He squeezed the hand in his. “They didn't, though.” He moved their hands from his chest and brought them up to press a kiss to Loki's palm. Loki finally met his gaze again. “Instead, you threw me out a window.” He winked as Loki flushed red at the memory. “Who knew that was the best option.”

It was Stark's usual attempt at humor to dissolve the tense situation but Loki still ached at that memory too. He cupped the man's cheek and sighed, “I'm sorry for that as well.”

“Don't be.” He leaned up and stole a soft kiss before whispering in a low, firm growl, “It was those motherfuckers in your head. Not you.”

Loki met his deep brown eyes as both compassion and anger filtered through them. Anger on Loki's behalf. Anger for what was done to Loki. He'd never expected such a thing. He'd never experienced such a thing. A piece of him melted all the more for Stark. His own eyes shone with gratitude.

“How about a bath instead?” he wondered, shifting the subject. He pulled them towards the large tub. The shower's knob turned off by magic, silencing its downpour, while the bath's twisted on.

“You are remarkably handy to have around,” Stark hummed, allowing himself to be guided over to the tub. “And fine but only if I get a lap full of royalty.”

Loki huffed a chuckle at the demand. “I suppose that can be arranged.”

The roughly triangular bath took little time to fill and Stark was already standing in warm water when he stepped in first. He sank down against a corner and waved Loki in after him. Loki’s linen top was finally tossed aside and there was a bit of jostling of limbs, in particular Loki's longer legs, before he settled himself with his back against Stark's upper chest and head reclined on his shoulder. An arm came around his stomach to keep him steadily in place. He'd initially rested his bum on Stark's thigh but the man cheekily shifted him purposefully over so he had a full lap of Loki.

“Perfect,” Stark hummed into his ear, a pleased grin in his voice. His free hand stroked up Loki's chest and neck to play fingers through the side of his hair. Fingertips brushed through long hair, then came around to do so again, for once Stark being the one lost in the action.

Loki released a long sigh and gave in to the position and the pampering. He relaxed against the other man and leaned into each touch. The bath filled completely and the room grew peacefully silent. The only sound was Stark's touch through his hair and what little water he disturbed with the motion of his arm. He could nearly fall asleep right here, like this.

“Would Odin really put you back in prison if he knew you were here? Alive? After everything?”

The question was a surprise as it broke through the silence. Loki blinked his eyes back open but kept his gaze on the ceiling. He tensed enough to have Stark's hold around his midsection tighten. It was a genuine question tinted with concern but he felt so exposed pressed against Stark, wrapped up in the man's arms, while being asked such things. It was a mighty internal struggle not to physically pull away and put some distance between them. It took him some time before he gathered enough of himself to reply. Stark waited, his touch not stilling.

“At present? With things as they are currently?” He spoke in a low, despondent tone, eyes closing as he continued, “He would be more angry than he was before, when I was brought to him after New York. I've lied. I falsified my death. I have pretended to be those who I am not. I've evaded his justice for nearly two years. I've manipulated high ranking Asgardian officials and I've interfered with events on other realms. Both so that they might be prepared for the Chitauri but he will not care on that point as they have not arrived and my help has not yet been of use. And I've...” He trailed off. He had not told Stark that Odin was deeply asleep or that he'd been masquerading as him all this time.

Tony would be done with him, with this, whatever it was. If he knew.

The thought echoed through his mind and his heart beat faster. How could he possibly tell him and have him understand? He had to understand. After all this... to be seen, to be touched, to be understood on everything... yet to then be dismissed, despised... his whole being ached at the thought.

“What if someone spoke on your behalf?” Stark broke into his worrying thoughts with sincere optimism. “It sounded like Thor didn't get to say much and I know Odin's fucking disappointed but there has to be something better done with you than locking you away and losing the key. There's gotta be... community service, cleaning up Earth for all the wrongs he thinks you did, I dunno, but there's gotta be something. He's the head honcho for a reason, right? He has to see you locked up does nothing but-”

Loki smiled despite it all at Stark's enthusiasm and dedication. He shifted enough to nuzzle against Stark's neck and shoulder. Gently, he interrupted, “Locking me away means I am not visibly there to mar his legacy.”

“Fuck his legacy,” Stark immediately snapped. His anger on Loki's behalf was utterly endearing. “He's the goddamn ruler of all nine realms, according to your brother, even though he seems to do fuck all, as far as I can tell, for Earth or anywhere else. He should be working towards the good of everyone, and using his son as a scapegoat so he doesn't look bad isn't helping shit.”

“Using his adopted son,” Loki amended. “One he was never certain he should have saved and who proves himself unworthy.”

“Oh fuck that!” Stark shifted and sat upright, no longer leaning back in the bath. Loki shifted on his lap to sitting sideways across it so they could meet one another's eyes. Stark was livid as he growled, “He can't lock you away for something you didn't actually do, and if Earth finds you innocent, then he can go fuck himself. So what if you lurked around pretending not to be you. So what if you influenced a few officials to fucking do something for once in preparation for the Chitauri. You were wrongly accused and imprisoned. You had no fucking choice. Thor will get over it. Everyone can just fucking move on. If Odin shows up here, I've got some nice tech for his lazy ass. Fuck him and his self-centered judgments. He can...” His voice trailed off as Loki's features fell instead of the intended uplifting.

Loki's heart hammered. He couldn't leave such details out and allow Stark to carry on this righteous narrative on his behalf. Even if it meant... It was better to be done now than allow himself this fantasy. The words were heavy on his lips as he said, “There is one... one more act you should know I've done.”

Stark raised both eyebrows at the words and the dark tone. The mood shifted and he tilted his head as he offered cautiously, “All right...”

Loki chewed at his lower lip and struggled a moment with words. There was no way to speak them and be certain Stark would not react poorly. In the end, shoulders tensed, he said as plainly as he could, “When I returned to Asgard, I adopted the guise of a guard and made myself the one to tell Odin that I was dead and Thor was missing. After I'd told him, the surprise and emotion of it all, so soon after my mother's passing, he fell into a sort of... coma.”

Stark's confusion was evident. “A coma?”

“Yes, it's a condition which has afflicted him before, called Odinsleep. I was the only one there, as I said, and when he fell into his sleep, I...” Stark's eyes widened at the pause. Loki squared his shoulders and soldiered on with the admission. “I placed him in an enchanted room and I've been... No one else knows. I have been Odin for the last two years. That is how I manipulated events on Asgard and elsewhere. It has been me while he's lain asleep, aware of the world and all that happens, but deeply asleep.” Loki winced as he prepared for ridicule for his actions.

Stark blinked a moment, took in Loki's contrite posture, and then laughed. A fully amused, tension breaking laugh. He covered his face as he shook his head, “No no no, seriously princess, that's what you were all worked up over telling me?”

Loki truly gaped at the reaction. It was perhaps the furthest from his expectations as possible. “I have been masquerading as Odin,” he started but Stark cut him off.

“Because he's in a coma and you're the only guy who knows the Chitauri are fucking coming.” He shook his head in amusement as he finally met Loki's shocked gaze. “Baby, with the way you looked, I thought maybe you were going to confess to killing him or something!”

Loki flushed bright red. He shook his head, struggling to accept the reaction. “I would not ever kill him. He rests comfortably. But I have lied, misused my powers, taken the throne and-”

Stark shifted forward and cupped one of his blushing cheeks. “Ya, well, shit happens and you did it for the good of everyone else.” He leveled Loki with a firm look. “Thor doesn't want the throne. I know that much. He's disappeared somewhere with Jane. If everyone knew Odin was zonked out, Thor would have to take the throne and he'd be miserable and doing a shit job because he'd rather be with his girl. And if you showed up as yourself, they'd just throw you back in jail. So this way, Thor gets to bang things and Jane, and you get to make sure we don't all die to the Chitauri.” He cocked his head to one side and lifted an eyebrow, “That about right?”

Warmth blossomed in Loki at the understanding. Tension melted from his shoulders. He nodded absently in reply, eyes still shocked at the turn of events.

Stark brushed his thumb over Loki's cheek. “Maybe it wasn't the most honest thing. Maybe some people will be pissed. But you haven't waged wars. You haven't enslaved any of the realms. You haven't taken advantage of the throne. You've maintained things. You've worked towards defense. And it couldn't have been easy. Never being yourself. No wonder you're fucking terrified...” Stark trailed off.

Loki leaned into the touch as he met Stark's understanding brown eyes. His voice was unsteady. “First I must defeat the Chitauri. Then he surely cannot send me back...”

“You can't stay like this, Loki. You can't wait for their defeat.”

“I must!” His voice shook with need as he implored.

Stark cupped his face with both hands, keeping Loki's gaze on his own. “Loki, look at yourself. You were so starved for attention that you pretended to be my psychotic breakdown, then you dared to show yourself to me and risked unraveling it all. If everything was fine then you wouldn't be here. You'd be back on Asgard. But everything isn't fine. Because you're not a machine. You need to be you. You need your own space, your own life. Friends. People who understand you. People who see you.”

Loki's eyes welled up at Stark's words and he trembled in the warm bath. It was true. It was all true. But he did not see how he could escape without ruining everything. “I can't... Thor... everything... it would... they would... I can't...”

“We'll figure it out.” Stark pressed a kiss to his forehead and soothed, “We will figure this out, Loki. I promise.”

Tears came of their own accord. Loki sunk back down against Stark and wrapped both arms around the man. Stark pulled him firmly against him, sinking back against the edge of the tub again, as he held him.

“I promise.”

Chapter Text

He was surrounded by warmth. Bare skin caressed against his. Soft, steady breaths brushed over his shoulder. He was wrapped up in Stark's limbs. Thoroughly cocooned and hidden against the looming day. He reveled in the sensation. He was warm and rested and content. He could quite happily stay right like this for all time. Or at the very least, another few more blissful hours.

As his mind collected itself from sleep, he basked in the simple pleasure of Stark pressed against him. A leg was wrapped over one thigh and an arm loosely rested over his chest. His head had migrated down from beside him on the pillow to resting on Loki's shoulder. Loki's own arm still clung around Stark. They'd not moved much in their sleep but then their bodies had required some solid rest after... everything.

His thoughts ghosted over the confession and Stark's adamant support but then he brushed it aside. He was not ready and he did not wish to mar the quiet moment. Worry over everything could be done when not so pleasantly warm.

He blinked his eyes open. Sunlight glittered outside the windows. It was well past morning. He shifted and pressed his face to Stark's hair, breathing in the scent of him. Fingertips oh so gently caressed over Stark's back. He didn't precisely wish to wake the man but he could not help but touch. He was real and solid beside him. He was no dream. He was no mirage. This very real man happily slept in his arms.

It struck him how very long it had been since he'd woken naked in bed with another soul. He had to cast his mind back further than the two years as Odin, past all the events with the Chitauri, past his being found and tormented, past his being lost after Thor's banishment and his failed attempt to prove his worth to Odin. Even then, as Loki the annoying tag along to Thor, it had been merely company. He had to go back nearly a hundred years before he found anything solid and it had ended poorly.

Was it foolish to hope for more? Was it folly to expect anything but a crumbling of everything in the end?

Stark seemed to see him for what he was, which was more than any before had managed.

Perhaps it was best to continue to not dwell on the possible and instead lavish in the current understanding and interest while it lasted.

His caressing touches brushed up to Stark's exposed side and the man shivered. His breathing hitched as he woke, arm over Loki's chest tightening as he came awake. Loki continued on his path down his side to tease over his hip and thigh which straddled his own.

“Mmm,” Stark hummed low in his chest, nuzzling forward to press his face against Loki's neck, his goatee scratching deliciously against skin. “Well good morning.”

Loki shivered at the feel of Stark speaking. “I do believe we slept through morning.”

Stark upped the sensation by nipping lightly at his skin and then pressing a kiss to the same spot. “Afternoon, then.”

He kissed his way down neck and throat to nip at his collarbone. Then he shifted, moving to straddle Loki, and carried on his way down pale chest to wrap lips around one pink nipple and suck. Teeth briefly tugged, earning low surprised moans, before it was released and he moved to repeat the treatment, pressing two wet kisses between nipples.

Ohhh...” Loki drowned happily in the attention. It felt as if they'd always woken to one another's touch, that this was not their first tussle in bed, but they had done little more last night than fall asleep in each other's arms. It felt easy, warm, wonderful. His heart hammered. Every tease went straight south. A direction Stark was steadily heading as he released the other nipple and continued pressing wet kisses down his stomach. Loki's fingers fisted in Stark's hair as he paused to tease over his navel.

He shifted right and kisses continued down, ignoring the hard cock resting on Loki's tensed stomach, and instead kissed his way along the crease where his thigh met his torso. He nuzzled lower and lower, Loki arching now in aching agony, before Stark finally reached the base of his cock and pressed one adoring, open-mouthed kiss.

Stark murmured, tone very pleased with himself, “A very good afternoon.”

The mortal was so damned proud of his silly teasing but thankfully Stark lapped his tongue from root to tip along the underside of his cock, ending with a flourished swirl around the head. Hands moved to hold him down as Loki's hips bucked. Moans effortlessly escaped Loki’s lips, pulled out of him by each lick and suck, Stark tracing the head, before an eager mouth wrapped around him and suckled.

Tony,” Loki mewled. It was ridiculous but the man's tongue and mouth were deadly to all thought. He rocked up against the hands holding him down by his hips and meekly twisted fingers in his hair, tugging as the man began to bob. He gave up on watching as Stark slid further and further down with each bob, instead tossing his head back to moan his encouragement. Eventually he hit the back of Stark's throat and slid down an inch more before Stark pulled up completely, gasping at the effort.

Stark's hand took up the work as he collected his breath, stroking the whole length and working saliva all the way down. He kissed at the head as he purred, “You have no idea how fucking incredible you look right now.”

Loki could only arch his back further, thrusting impatiently against the hand restraining him, as Stark continued to stroke faster, squeezing on each up stroke, lapping lips and tongue over the head. He found himself moaning, “Tony, please, Tony!

He didn't know what he begged for beyond release but it certainly was not for Stark to slow down. He complained loudly, panting roughly as Stark shifted. He slid Loki's legs apart and settled between them on his stomach, propped up on an elbow. He shifted his hold on Loki's cock to an underhand stroke and then mouth and tongue was back on the base of his cock. He sucked a moment before moving further down to tease over testicles.

Loki cried out, hands releasing Stark's hair as he disappeared between thighs, and reached to twist at bedding instead. Stark easily suckled on one ball and then the other, working his tongue behind to the soft patch of skin beyond. Strokes continued steadily on his cock but all sensation was washing up from the treatment to his balls. He spread his legs further, encouraging all the attention, and Stark took full advantage. He took both balls into his mouth and sucked as he hummed around him.

Loki's toes curled, heels digging into the bedding. He struggled now not to come immediately. He wanted to wallow in the sensations. He moaned as Stark released him, only to lap his tongue behind his balls. He shifted his hold on Loki to the back of a thigh, rolled his hips forward and up, and Stark's tongue slid further back to wash over puckered skin. His strokes on his cock quickened as he wrapped lips around that skin and rimmed him over and over again.

He could nearly feel the smile on Stark's face as he pushed him over the edge. The man was fucking right to be smug. He came with a full bodied shudder. His thighs trembled. He cried out wordlessly, head tossed back, hair a mess, fingers clawing at the blankets. His seed made a mess of his stomach and chest as he came. Stark slowed his strokes but didn't stop them. Aftershocks shuddered through him. He whimpered at Stark's tongue lavishing one last rim before releasing him. He kissed along inner thighs and his goatee tickled over sensitive skin.

“Oh, baby, you're a pleasure to tease,” he growled smugly, finally slowing his strokes to a stop. He nuzzled at the base of Loki's cock and then kissed his way up his stomach and chest, tasting seed here and there. He nipped at Loki's still exposed throat, head tossed back, panting to catch his breath. “No wonder you wanted everyone to kneel, you were dying for some attention.”

Loki burst into laughter at the ridiculous idiot covering him. “Don't make me kill you for that joke, Stark,” he growled hoarsely but it came out pitifully non-threatening with his body turned to mush.

“So ungrateful, baby.” He nipped at Loki's neck and made his way back to his ear, purring low and husky, “From the sounds you made, I'm guessing it's been a while since anyone's paid their proper respects to you.” It was not a difficult conclusion to reach with Loki having adopted Odin's guise for two years but perhaps all the decades prior had shown through as well. Loki shivered at the words and the following bite to his earlobe. Stark's voice rumbled possessively, “That's definitely not going to stand on my watch.”

Loki thrummed with anticipation. He had no doubt that the mornings to come would be just as exhaustingly enthusiastic. His own voice rumbled, “I look forward to it.”

Stark brushed cheeks with him and brought their lips together, deep and adoring, lingering on in the most delicious ways. The man was insatiable and fantastic. Loki cupped his face and suckled on Stark's tongue, then slid hands down over shoulders and along his chest. He would not be outdone by some mere mortal. He teased thumbs over nipples, earning a groan into the kiss, before he pressed his palms to Stark's chest and rolled them.

There was a satisfactory surprised yelp from Stark as he was pinned on his backside, taking care not to press on any of his recovering wounds. Loki shifted back into an upright sitting position straddling Stark's hips. He could feel the heat of Stark's hard cock pinned beneath him. He coyly bit down on his lower lip as he purposefully rocked his hips precisely to pin Stark's cock between his ass cheeks. His cock pressed underside between both cheeks. He rocked his hips in a teasing rub.

Holy shit,” Stark groaned, hands reaching for Loki's hips, pinning him tighter down against him. His eyes held nothing but utter adoration. He didn't seem to know what to do now that he actually had a lap full of Loki. He gaped up at the sight.

Loki continued rocking and teasing. He pulled his hair over one shoulder. Sunlight shined beyond him. Stark groaned appreciatively. Loki grinned down at him, “You have a thing for my hair.”

“I have a thing for a lot of you,” he growled in retort, thrusting his hips up against Loki's rocking. “But you're the one giving out free scalp massages in dark stairwells.”

Loki chuckled even as he flushed at the accusation. “Only to certain men of hard iron.” He raised an eyebrow meaningfully as he licked at his lower lip.

Stark's will seemed to finally snap. He groaned up at the sight, “Baby, please, have pity on me. I want...” He thrust up again but then schooled himself. “Oh fuck, anything, please.”

It was endearing that he so clearly wished to have him but he didn't demand it. He wanted what Loki was willing to offer, even as his patience wore thin. Loki leaned forward and kissed his lips, lingering a moment, before he murmuring against them, “If you would have me, Tony, do you have oils?”

Stark's mouth hung open and his hips bucked of their own accord at the request. It took a moment for his mind to boot back online. Then he nearly knocked Loki off his lap as he flung himself towards the nightstand. “Ya, yes! In here.”

Loki stilled him from nearly ripping at the paneling to get at the contents within. “Allow me, then.” The man barely let him off his lap. He reluctantly clung to one calf as Loki slid over to open the drawer from the bed. He found a collection of unopened boxes of condoms, which he ignored, along with tissues and multiple small bottles of lubricant. Loki snatched one, tossed a questioning look back at Stark, and at his nod, he returned to his previous position straddling Stark.

He opened the bottle and tested out the smooth gel between his fingers. “You are well stocked,” he mused with the faintest touch of jealousy.

“Gotta be prepared for when a stunning god might land on my lap,” Stark attempted humor but it fell flat on Loki. He sighed at the frown on Loki's features and went on, “Last girlfriend... left six months ago. I didn't have the time or energy for anything other than using that stuff-” He nodded to the lube. “-to get off by myself. Not always been a saint, though, but always been prepared. Old habits. Plus, things are cheaper in bulk.”

The last joke at least cracked a smile on Loki. He pulled his gaze from his fingertips and met Stark's eyes. He stated simply, “I will not share you.”

Stark huffed a laugh, shaking his head as he smiled adoringly up at him. “Do you think anyone can fucking compete, princess? Seriously? A sexy, magical, royal god?” He shifted upright onto his elbows and then pushed himself upright completely, enough to brush his nose against Loki's. Eyes locked, he stated, “No one else is ever sharing a bed with me. Easiest promise of my life.”

All concern melted away. Loki kissed him. It was filled with his own promises even before it broke so he could sigh, “You will not share me either.”

“Hell fucking no I won't,” he growled in agreement.

Loki grinned against his lips and nipped at the lower one before he shifted back further onto Stark's thighs. The man flopped onto his back as lube slicked Loki's fingers first and then fingers stroked Stark's cock. He spread the oil with long, slow strokes, continuing to tease. A few more and he shifted back up to straddling Stark's hips.

“There are some benefits to having magical godly partners,” he teased down at Stark, the man raising an eyebrow up at him. Loki reached back to steady Stark's cock, and without preparation on himself, sunk down onto the cock. Although tight and going slowly, he easily slid down onto Stark's cock, easing himself to fully sitting on it in a single smooth push down.

Oh my... fuck!” Stark was rendered nearly speechless as his hands went to Loki's hips and his mouth hung open. His head rolled back. Loki settled on his lap, fully sheathed inside of him, in mere moments. It was overwhelming. It was incredible.

Loki couldn't help being a bit smug for the minor trick. He couldn't wait to surprise Stark with something more substantial. Later. For now he gave Stark time to adjust to the sensation, then set about rolling his hips, rocking as he did earlier, but this time Stark was buried inside of him.

Stark gasped deliciously beneath him, looking positively blissful. His gaze roamed from one spot to another, unable to take it all in at once. Loki's bare shoulder and cascading hair. Loki's sly smile and bruised, parted lips. Loki's flushed chest and firm cock. Loki's hips as he ground easily on his lap, his own hands gripping firmly at Loki’s hips. He wanted to take it all in at once. It was all too stunning. Eventually those lips were too much to ignore.

Oh baby, come here,” he sighed up at Loki, sliding hands along his sides and pulling the man forward enough to kiss. It was genuine and filled with more than he could say. Loki settled on his elbows, rubbing his firm cock against Stark's stomach, as he began to bounce. It was slow and steady. They were in no rush. They had nowhere to be.

Stark's hands returned to his hips, lifting him up enough so he could thrust with him. The kisses remained. The pace remained. Panting moans between wet kisses. The subtle smack of skin against skin. As they found their rhythm together, one of Stark's hands slid back up to twist in Loki's hair.

For the second time in one handful of hours, Loki wished to simply languish in a moment with Stark. He could stay like this forever. Held. Kissed. Touched. Mutually aching for one another.

Eventually the kisses grew more open-mouthed as Stark's panting grew. He twisted harder at the dark, long hair in his fist. His pace faltered into something more needy. Each roll of his hips brushed over Loki's prostate. It grew into a mutual need for release. The kisses ended with one last groan. Their foreheads rested together, half-lidded eyes struggling to still take in the other, breath mingling.

It wasn't a rough climb to the edge but a steady build. Higher and higher. Closer and closer. Stark clung to the edge for as long as he was able but his moan as he came was something beautiful. He jerked and pulsed, thrusting in deep and staying there, grinding against walls inside. The moan alone would have been enough. A few more moments and Loki joined him, squeezing at the cock inside of him, dragging out Stark's climax further. Loki trembled as he made a mess of the two of them. His limbs struggled to keep him propped up after two hard climaxes. He dropped his head down to Stark's shoulder and slowly sank onto his chest and stomach. Stark bounced him twice more, earning a gasped moan, before he stilled as well, the two of them a panting mess.

It was long minutes before either moved. Stark eventually released his hold on him to brush hands up and down Loki's back. It only served to make Loki melt further into jelly on top of him. There was so much contentment that words seemed unnecessary. So they said none. Instead Loki pressed kisses to his neck and nuzzled his way up enough to kiss those lips again.

Eventually they broke for air and Stark rolled his softening cock out of Loki. The two whined in unison. Stark cocked a grin at him and broke the silence with his usual humor, “You're gonna have to teach me that trick.”

Loki raised a dramatic eyebrow, “Oh, I have plenty more to show you.”

“Is that so?” Stark happily took the teasing route. “I'm gonna have to call Jane. Ask for details.”

Loki scoffed in offense, sliding off onto his side. “If that oaf does more than thrust until something happens, I will eat my own staff.”

Stark chuckled at the imagery while simultaneously making a face. “Okay, maybe I don't talk about your brother while we're in bed, ever again.”

Loki huffed, “It would be appreciated. Unless you'd rather he warmed your bed...”

“Muscled beef stroganoff is not my thing, baby, promise.” He leaned over for an apology kiss and then hummed, “I'm very much into tall, dark, and handsome.”

“Nice save,” Loki murmured back, leaning in for more kisses.

“I have my moments.”

Chapter Text

They were in no hurry to leave the bed. Kisses and teases lingered on. It was mid-afternoon. Eventually they would have to leave their cocoon but for now they weren't needed anywhere. Vision and Rhodes stayed well away from their end.

If he'd been more aware of himself and less focused on Stark, he might have noticed the way his wards shimmered at being brushed against but the man walking towards them seemed to almost subconsciously step around them.

It was actually Friday who warned them, cutting off their latest round of kisses with, “I'm sorry, sir. I couldn't keep him out. He was insistent.”

Stark's head jerked up. “What-?” He cut himself off as the door to the bedroom opened. Loki disappeared beside him.

“Mister Stark! Friday said you were awake, and I know, I know, you probably had a late night working on something, but you'll never guess how easily May bought the whole Spring Break Tech Camp idea. I brought all the projects you asked about and then some new-” The excited chattering crashed to a stop as Parker finally looked around from his stack of boxes and truly took in the bed.

Loki shimmered invisible beside a naked Stark, both half covered by bedding, but the illusion around Loki didn't seem to work on the young man. He reacted immediately. He turned bright pink, eyes going wide, and he launched himself back out the door with a yelped, “Oh my gosh, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry! Don't kill me Mister Stark!”

Stark immediately launched himself after the kid. “Underoos! Get back here!” He leaped off the bed and nearly tripped over the shoes and clothes covering the floor.

“Tony!” Loki hissed as he re-materialized. He waved a hand at Stark's naked form. “Clothing.”

“Ya ya,” he grumbled, though he'd probably have stormed off after Parker without remembering to dress. He paused at his open closet, yanked on an ACDC shirt, while he called out, “Parker! Don't you fucking dare run off to hide! Stay there!”

“Mister Stark, please, I'm so sorry!” Parker called back in panicked terror from the common room. “I'll come back later!”

“Oh no you don't!” Stark hopped his way into his sweatpants and rushed out the door after Parker.

The young man had set his boxes aside, or possibly dropped them, and was stood petrified just outside the door to Stark's bedroom.

Stark rounded on him and Parker actually flinched.

“What did you see, Peter?”

“Nothing!” Parker squeaked, desperate to get himself out of this situation he'd landed himself in. “I mean, ya, nothing! Totally nothing. I don't know what you're talking about, sir. Was there something to see? Because I didn't see anything and-”

Stark took a step closer into Parker's personal space and the teenager cut himself off as he tensed. Stark asked again, firm and demanding, “What did you see?”

The pink flush all over Parker turned into a deep fuchsia as he stammered, “Well, I-I mean, it's 2016, so it's totally no big deal, I'm just sorry for, ya know, interrupting whatever... whatever was going on... with... with...” His mind seemed to kick back into gear past pure panic. Parker paused and narrowed his gaze, then pointed towards the bedroom. “Wait, don't I know that guy?”

Stark groaned and stepped away, covering his face with his hands.

“Are we recruiting children now, Tony?”

Loki stepped out fully dressed in his usual green linen shirt and leather pants. His heart hammered in his chest and panic raced through him but he struggled to remain outwardly calm. How had he been seen? How had this boy somehow seen him even through his magics? Could he be trusted? A mere child? Sheer panic loomed at the back of Loki's thoughts but he focused on the boy instead.

Stark dropped his hands and huffed, “He's not a child. He's like... sixteen? Eighteen, right?” He cast a look at Parker, who nodded absently at both numbers. “See. Fully grown human.”

“Hardly,” Loki sighed. He stalked across behind Stark to lean against the back of the sofa, facing the pair.

Parker was all huge, wide eyes glued on Loki. “You... You're...” Loki raised his chin at the stammering recognition. Parker's gaze jerked back to Stark. “Didn't he try to take over the world or something?”

Stark brushed those words aside, “Or something, ya, but I can explain.”

Parker tensed at the confirmation. His brow furrowed. “He's a bad guy. He put a wormhole over Manhattan. Aliens and stuff. We could hear the fighting from our balcony.”

“You remember the attack?” Loki wondered, surprised at this bit of information. “You would have been a babe then.”

“Hey, it wasn't that long ago,” Parker ruffled at his age being brought up again.

Stark turned to point a silencing finger at Loki. “You! Not helping.” He turned back to Parker. “You. Listen. I gave you dockets to read on our past fights.”

Parker nodded his head. “It was the best homework ever.”

“What can I say, I'm a fantastic teacher.” He pointed a finger at Parker. “You remember Clint?”

Parker folded arms over his chest, looking about ready to deny whatever Stark was going to tell him, but he still listened. “Mind controlled. Along with some others. Something to do with his staff and aliens trying to get to Earth from, like, really far away.”

“Okay. So there's a super duper mind controlling staff but how about we expand its powers a little more.” He pointed over at Loki. “Like Clint. Not himself either back then.”

“Wa-wait, so like, he was mind controlled too?” Parker blinked at the implications. “Mind controlled by aliens?! Did they use mind control brain slugs? Or oh did they stick like mind controlling worms in your ear?”

Loki narrowed his gaze on the child and repeated back, mystified, “Mind control brain slugs?”

“Ya, they like stick to the side of your head, make you do stuff for their alien overlords.”

“You watch way too many old movies, kid.” Stark refocused the teenager's attention on him. “It was the staff and some good old fashioned torture and manipulation. So you can relax.”

Parker struggled a moment with the information. He trusted Stark, and therefore he should trust his word, but memories of the attack were so close to home and they still lingered. He shifted closer to Stark, as if to keep Loki from hearing, as he whispered, “Are you sure? What if he's lying? What if-”

Stark cut off his fretting and offered, “I'm sure. Spend some time with him. Get a feel for him.” He tilted his head towards Loki quietly pretending not to be eavesdropping, arms defensively folded over his chest. “You've got that way of sensing things, right? When you look at him, what do you see?”

Parker shifted his gaze to Loki. It lingered longer than Stark expected. Loki struggled not to react at the intense inspection but his heart hammered. If the child gave everything away, what in all nine realms was he going to do? The thought rang through him over and over.

Finally Parker's expression softened and he looked back at Stark as he answered, “Terror. Panic.”

Stark nodded solemnly. “Bingo.” He tilted his head at Parker. “So calm him down for me before he bursts a blood vessel over there. We need you to keep this quiet. He's not ready to meet the gang yet. You can't tell anyone he's here.” Parker opened his mouth to argue but Stark cut him off. “For now. Just for now. Promise.”

Parker grumbled some but eventually nodded. “Okay. Okay fine. For now.”

“I'm serious. This is serious, Peter. Promise?”

“I promise!”

Loki released a breath even as he rubbed at his forehead. Thoughts swirled and he struggled to find comfort in Parker's reassurances. “The fate of all nine realms rests on a child's ability to keep quiet... what am I even doing...”

Stark crossed over to him and lowered his voice, sliding a reassuring hand up to cup his face, “Hey, he promised, stop worrying before you give yourself a panic attack. I do that enough for the two of us.”

Loki cracked the slightest of smiles. He met Stark's eyes and slowly relaxed into his touch. “If you trust in him...”

“I do. He's a good kid. That's why he's here.” He leaned up to rest his forehead against Loki's. “Relax, baby.”

Those big, brown eyes so close to his own was enough to make the world fade away. It was only Stark. They would work this out. He'd promised. Loki's shoulders relaxed. The panic subsided to a more reasonable level.

“Much better.” Stark smiled up at him and reluctantly pulled away. He tossed a look over at Parker and found the teenager pretending to be poking at his boxes instead of watching. Stark clapped his hands together. “So then. Time to do some magic science.” Parker and Loki both looked at him. “He saw you. How'd he do that?”

Loki clasped his hands behind his back as he followed Stark over to Parker. “I do not know. I should have been invisible to anyone, including Vision.”

“Whoa, wait, is that why you gave me the third degree?” Parker wondered and to which Stark nodded. “Well, I mean, you looked normal to me. Maybe a little... shimmery? I mean, I didn't really... look but you were there.”

Loki's gaze narrowed on Parker as he finally took in the young man. Not on the verge of a panic attack, he now recognized the power within him. “You're the acrobat with enhanced senses.”

“I wish. I'd love to learn how to do all those cool spins.”

“We have a gym facility here. Top of the line. You'll get in all the cool spinning classes you can manage while good ole May lets you stay.” Stark pointed at Loki. “Go invisible. See if you can work out how he's seeing you. Might be useful. For both of you.”

Loki acquiesced and disappeared from Stark's point of view. Parker's eyes widened. “Ya, you totally kinda shimmer. Like a mirage.” He reached out and his hand went through Loki. “Cool.”

Loki closed his eyes as he thought over what could be giving himself away to Parker. He added to the spell, putting one layer and then another on top of it, in an attempt to conceal himself. On the third guess, Parker reacted.

“Oh! There!” He blinked a few times and then nodded. “You're gone now.”

Loki reappeared as he shrugged off the spell. He leveled a surprised look at Parker. “You are quite a unique young man.”

“Told ya,” Stark said.

“He was able to sense my potential to mean him harm. I had to shroud myself in a binding promise of doing none.”

Parker raised both of his eyebrows. “Could you keep that binding promise on?”

“I would much rather keep my free will.”

“It was worth a shot.” Parker brightened up an instant later. “Wait so like you do magic right? Do you throw fireballs?!”

Loki raised an eyebrow at the enthusiasm. “I prefer ice and daggers.”

Parker nearly bounced beside him. “Can you summon a blizzard?!”

“I knew you two would get on swell.” Stark wrapped an arm around each of them and pointed them toward the door. “Come on. Suit up, underoos, and we'll get some practice in. Maybe he can build you a snowman.”

They stepped out into the hall. Parker laughed as he rushed ahead to the quarters he'd picked and his suit.

“Tony...” Loki warned as he fought the urge to retreat back into Stark's common room.

“What? You'll keep an eye out for interlopers. Anyone walks in, it's me and the kid practicing. It'll be fine.” He pressed a kiss to Loki's cheek as the taller man shot him a dubious look.

Still, Loki allowed himself to be led through the compound to the large gymnasium. He silently started on setting up more wards around the facility to warn him of anyone's approach while he muttered, “I am not building that child anything out of snow.”

“Such a spoilsport, Elsa.”

Chapter Text

The young Spider-Man lived up to his name and he was impressive to see swinging about the vaulted ceilings of the gymnasium. Stark had installed various courses along with remote controlled robots to spar with. Some were hovering drones and others were humanoid in design. Parker easily dispatched the drones but spent longer taking out the rest. Stark was a kid with a new favorite toy as he dictated the fight from the sidelines via a tablet. As Parker finished off the last, Loki teased, “A nice diversion, but he should be sparring with you, not toys.”

“Ya well my ribs aren't quite ready for suiting up just yet. Besides.” He cast a look at Loki. “He had to warm up for his actual sparring partner.”

Loki raised an eyebrow at Stark. “I am not-”

“Oh come on, it'll be fun.”

“He will lose.”

“Well, make sure he learns something from it. Pull some punches. You're like a thousand years old, right? Never taught a newbie before?”

“I fail to hit things with giant hammers so I was deemed too incompetent to spar by my compatriots.” Loki frowned as Parker landed nearby. “I mainly sparred with my mother.”

Stark's features softened at the bit of backstory, even if Loki left out most of the details. He filed the information away for later.

“Mister Stark, that was awesome! Like a real life video game!”

“Sadly, spawning more of my minions is going to take some repair time.” He set the tablet in his hands aside and nodded at Loki. “So go easy on him. Rudolph here is up next and I want him back in one piece.”

“Whoa seriously?” Parker back flipped away from the two of them into a crouched stance. “But I can't dodge ice!”

“You wanted to see him in action. Pretend he's throwing snowballs.”

“Oh man...”

Stark stepped in front of Loki, blocking his view of Parker, and met the reluctant look on Loki's features. “You need to loosen up too, baby. I'm guessing you haven't practiced one on one since... ya know. Plus, you want to stick around here, help save the realms and all that, our people are gonna need practice fighting more than just robots and mortals.”

It was sound advice and it was needed. Parker would require more interesting combat to grow. Loki still balked. “My magic may draw attention...”

“Says the guy magicking his clothes on and off all day.”

Loki couldn't help a small smirk. “Fair enough.” His eyes unfocused as he added to his wards to conceal the room as best as he could from anyone passively looking for magic use. Then he leaned down for a kiss from Stark before teasing against lips, “You'll owe me a spar of our own. Later.”

Stark's eyes glittered with immediate interest. “Seriously, baby, you have no idea who you're courting, if you think that is something you gotta blackmail me into.” He stole one more peck and then stepped away. “Kick his ass, gently.”

Loki mentally reached out and pulled on his battle armor. It shimmered into place complete with helmet and staff. The eyes on Parker's suit went wide. It was quite the sight. The suit was more or less the same as the one worn in New York. It stirred memories in both the mortals but Stark reached for the tablet again. The engineer in him couldn't help but come up with a few ideas.

“I thought you said knives were your thing?” Parker tilted his head at the staff.

Loki crouched low as he prepared to fight. “They are.” He threw a fan of ice infused daggers, magically enhanced for both colorful blue-white flare and to be blunt upon impact with clothing or flesh, and Parker yelped as he leaped out of the way. Loki jumped to catch him mid-air, nearly hitting him with his staff, as Parker twisted to change the direction of his momentum.

Loki landed and switched to throwing ice lances shot from the head of his staff. Parker rushed between one swinging strand to the next in an attempt to dodge them.

“Oh my gosh, this is so cool!” Parker crowed, growing more daring with each twist around the ice lances, and even managing to kick one with both feet as he passed by it.

“Do not grow overconfident.” Loki threw the next ice lance but as it approached Parker it split into multiple smaller shards covering a far wider area. Parker was unable to dodge them all and they knocked him back and against the nearby wall. The teenager cried out at the cold but the knock back was hardly more than an icy shove. He twisted and caught himself on the wall itself.

“Okay, so that staff definitely has to go.” Parker jumped forward and over Loki, webbing the staff's crown and yanking hard. However, he miscalculated Loki's strength, since build wise he was nothing like Thor, but it hardly mattered against even enhanced mortals. Parker was instead pulled by his own webbing in a hard slam onto the mats on the floor.

“An admirable goal but one not so easily done,” Loki taunted. He leapt at the boy. Parker rolled out of the way of his landing and back-flipped up with a kick to Loki's chest and face. They were more evenly matched on the ground. Loki focused on the physical as Parker flipped and kicked. He parried most of Parker’s attacks with his staff and kept the young fighter guessing.

Eventually Parker had enough of ground based fighting and pulled himself up, twisted around mid-air, and meant to slam himself down onto Loki. He crowed as he came down, “Gotcha!”

The Loki he landed on shimmered into nothingness as he hit the ground.

“What the-”

The clone easily distracted Parker and Loki came up from behind, knocking him down and pinning the child to the ground by the blunt end of his staff and a boot. Parker struggled a moment before his limbs flopped down, exhausted from the exercise.

“Over confidence again, young Parker.”

“You cheated!” Parker huffed as he pulled his mask off to breathe better.

“Now now, don't get salty,” Stark interjected as he walked over to them, still poking at his tablet.

“You saw for yourself my illusion abilities earlier. They were no secret. And even so, there's nothing against cheating on the battlefield.” Loki nodded thoughtfully down at the young man. “You did well. For a Midgardian.” He removed his boot and staff and offered a hand up.

Parker groaned as he got to his feet. “Tech Camp is really going to land me with a lot more bruises than it should.”

“Oh hush. He was going easy on you. Wait until Rhodey starts putting you through boot camp.”

Parker whined at the idea.

Stark handed Loki the tablet, pointing at the schematic on the screen, then he cuffed an arm around Parker's shoulders to steer them back out of the gymnasium. “You said you brought some projects?”

Parker immediately brightened up. “Yes Mister Stark!” He launched into describing each one as they made their way forward.

Loki tilted his head at the tablet, ignoring their excited technology talk, and blinked at the image of a schematic for a set of armor and helm. After seeing Loki’s normal full battle armor, Stark had designed him something new. The helm was more of an open crown, the horns slightly less prominent but somehow more regal in curve and design, the band around his head disappearing beneath hair. The armor was more tight leather, which only seemed fitting from the man who obviously appreciated Loki's physique, but incorporated some interesting additions. He couldn't make sense of most of the notes but one stood out as non-magical means of recalling his staff if knocked aside.

He smiled to himself as he followed after the two engineers chatting away in front of him. He shrugged off his current battle armor and returned to his linen shirt and leather pants. The new costume on the tablet was such a simple gesture but it filled him with... well, warmth seemed too small a word. No one but his mother had cared to outfit him before. It was only an electronic sketch but he had no doubt of Stark's intent to recreate it. He felt foolish as he hugged the tablet to himself but he oddly wished to keep the sketch.

They returned to Stark's quarters and Parker rushed to get the boxes he'd tossed aside. Stark hung back as he tossed a hopeful look at Loki. “You like it? You'll have to give Friday a good look at your current get up so we can try and recreate the leather and stuff. I can change anything you don't-”

Loki kissed him. It was deep and reverent. Filled with all he couldn't classify himself. Stark blinked in surprise before returning it, deepening it further, grabbing at the front of Loki's tunic, until it eventually ended with a sigh.

Stark cleared his throat, eyes sparkling, and nearly looked ready to drag Loki off somewhere alone. He cocked an eyebrow. “I'll take that as a yes?”

Loki nodded, almost looking shy. “Yes.”

“Good,” Stark hummed. He rubbed thumbs along the shirt between his fingers before releasing it. “Come on. Let me set you up so us nerds don't bore you to death.” He led the way into his bedroom but hung a right into the large room filled with his tech on benches and tables. There were bigger laboratories in the compound but he preferred his own space.

He pointed Parker over to one empty corner. “Start unpacking.” The teenager jostled the large stack of boxes over with a huff. Stark continued on to the opposite corner that contained a desk and the latest in Stark Industry computing. He knocked a knuckle on the desk's mat finish and the blue screen flickered to life. “This should be like using a chalk slate to you, right?” He cocked a grin at Loki and gestured toward the chair. “Sit. Let me bring up some more interesting things for you to read than those old books.” He called up Google and Wikipedia, a half dozen more reliable news sites, some cat viral video site because somehow that felt appropriate, and a few others.

Stark gave a quick overview on how to navigate and use the interface but it was indeed quite easy for Loki to pick up once the basic controls were established. He was swiftly lost in going from one Wikipedia page to the next, down a rabbit hole surrounding current politics. “Just one thing. Believe nothing the press ever says about me. They're a bunch of harpies.”

Loki chuckled as he looked up at Stark. “I only need believe in the man right before me.” Stark brushed fingers through Loki's hair, tucking some behind his ear. Loki teased, “I could work on turning a select few into actual harpies, if you'd like.”

Stark huffed a laugh. “Maybe later.” He winked and reluctantly pulled himself away from Loki. “You gonna be good there?” He moved back over toward Parker.

“I'll be fine,” Loki replied absently, already distracted trying to figure out why Stark had opened a window on tiny furry kittens.

Parker smiled indulgently at the older pair while he unpacked. He ribbed at Stark as the man finally sat beside him on a stool. “You two need to get a room, dude.” He slid over his latest jars of trial webbing.

Stark raised an eyebrow at him. “We had a room until someone barged in this afternoon.”

Parker turned slightly pink at the tips of his ears. “Okay, yeah, but that was totally Friday's fault, not mine.”

“I said he was indisposed,” Friday piped up from the nearest speaker.

“You didn't say he had company!”

“I know how to be discreet.” For an AI, she sounded politely condescending.

“Fine, whatever.” Parker groaned and rolled his eyes. Then he spotted Stark twisting in his stool to look at Loki. Parker reached to unbox his latest webbing shooter design while he tried to sound casual. “He's pretty cool. I didn't expect...” He trailed off as Stark turned to face him again. He swallowed hard and pushed on, “He seems normal. Well, not normal since magic and stuff, but like normal normal. A little lost but then you point him in the right direction. I'm glad, wherever he's been all this time, he's trying to rebuild.”

Stark grunted in reply, casting another look back over his shoulder toward Loki peering intently at his screen. He muttered a pleased sigh, “Me too, kid.” He released a breath and looked back down at the jars in front of him. “Right. Enough swooning. Time to science.”

Chapter Text

They'd been at it for hours. One project would catch their attention, then time would be needed for calculations to be done, and so they'd move on to another, until nearly the whole room was sprawling with Parker's inventions or something Stark had brought up from his own haphazard work. Various strands of webbing were strung against the far wall. A makeshift bullseye hung half off a table, covered in webbing. Pieces of armor sat here and there. Various new masks for Parker were lined up on display, a few unfinished with eye enhancements exposed. Projects were looked at and either deemed impossible, research begun but stalled for time sensitive variables, or was finished outright. The room grew more and more cluttered.

Eventually Stark left Parker working on one design, mostly to see what the kid did with it, and demanded access to Loki's battle armor. It was difficult to pull Loki away from his having found YouTube’s paranormal videos in order to materialize the armor. Loki reluctantly stepped over to one mostly empty table. Armor, helm, and staff appeared on the table with a shimmer.

“Please tell me you're watching cat videos and not conspiracy nutjobs.”

Loki returned to the desk as he teased, “Considering I am technically an alien, I find it amusing how many think we're tiny gray creatures.”

Stark laughed as he worked with Friday on collecting fiber samples. “Don't tell me that if I pull a Scooby-Doo mask off you, you're actually a pile of green goo underneath it all.”

A flush came over Loki as the joke hit a little too close to home. He'd not thought of his frost giant form in some time but it did lurk underneath the glamour Odin had placed on him so many centuries ago. He cleared his throat as he struggled to joke in return while not outright lying to Stark, “It's not green.”

Stark huffed another laugh. “With your fetish for green, princess, I don't believe you.”

Parker snickered from his work and Loki rolled his eyes. Loki quipped, “Says the man who dresses in red.”

“It's all about maintaining a brand. Basic marketing.”

“Grow out a beard and you could be a metallic Santa Claus,” Parker offered.

Stark pointed a silencing finger at him, not looking up from his work as he circled Loki’s suit. “Not that old and gray. Though it could work for a charity drive. Loki could be my reindeer.”

Parker laughed and then struggled to cover it up at Loki's frown.

“It is a regal helm passed down through the ages that has nothing to do with deer antlers.”

Stark tossed him a harassing grin. “Sure sure, your highness. You'd still look perfect pulling my sleigh.”

Loki leveled him with a glare, then turned back to his computer screen with a casual, “I am no beast of burden. As I recall, I was riding you this morning.”

Stark nearly dropped his tool while Parker yelped a “Dude!” while going pink. Loki smugly returned to his videos. He could hear Stark muttering that he'd pay him back for winning this round but Loki was pleasantly looking forward to it.

The room went quiet and Stark soon had a floating schematic hovering above Loki's current battle armor. The leather and metal itself were imbued beyond mere Earth materials but it was nothing Stark couldn't manage to try to meet by mixing materials, setting to work on a leather laced with carbon and metal fibers. The helm was easy enough, and as soon as he was pleased with the overall design, he set Friday into manufacturing it same as his suits. He was still working on specifics over the enhancements to the suit itself, this one in particular to add stabilizing elements to the boots, when Loki broke the amiable silence.

“Anthony?”

“Ya?” Stark answered distractedly, poking at one section of schematic.

“Your full name is Anthony Edward Stark?” It was both a curious tone and slightly chastising. A distant memory vaguely seemed to recall hearing the whole name from Barton long ago but he’d forgotten it.

Stark blinked as he looked over to Loki staring at him. “My parents were kinder than some. You should have heard the fucking names of the kids at my private school. Wroughton Charleston the Third and-”

“But you go by Tony?” Loki interrupted.

“Well, ya. I'm not an Italian mobster so Anthony always seemed a little pretentious. And, well, Anthony was what my mom always called me by before... ya know.” He shook his head and returned to his work. He pushed towards humor, as usual, to escape the conversation. “You looking me up, fanboy?”

Loki took him in a long moment and then shook his own head. Midgardians were awful at formal introductions. How had he not known Stark's true name? He supposed it mattered little to Stark, however, and that the mortal wouldn't understand the significance. “Names are important,” he stated simply, then stretched in his seat, raising arms above his head. “And I ran across it while researching SHIELD.”

Stark grimaced some at his readout. “You're going to start calling me Anthony, aren't you?”

“Will you stop calling me princess?”

A smug grin replaced the grimace. “Nope.”

“Then yes, Anthony.”

Stark gave an overly dramatic groan.

Loki stood and walked his way over to the floating schematic. The helm was a quarter colored in, displaying how far along Friday was with the manufacturing. Loki noticed a long coat had been added to the ensemble. It hung low behind the knees but details were still to come on it. Loki pressed a hand along Stark's shoulders and squeezed at the back of his neck.

“It is late. We must eat, at the very least.”

Stark didn't look away from his work. “I'll have Friday order us in something. You ever have pizza?”

“You are not eating here.”

“It's fine. I can pump in some tunes if you want. We'll jam and I'll-”

“Anthony,” Loki chided, reaching for his chin to pull the man's attention back onto him. Stark blinked his eyes as they focused on Loki. “You require rest.”

“It's only been a few hours. I'm fine. I'll just-”

“You have worn Parker out completely.” Loki nodded towards the teenager half asleep against a mask he'd been working on. “This is no dire project and I will not allow you to neglect yourself over it.” He raised a teasing eyebrow, “Or neglect me, for that matter.”

Stark's gaze finally lit up with interest. He rushed to toss his tools down onto the bench, which clattered enough to bring Parker back awake. Parker jerked upright in his seat and rubbed at his face.

“Up and at 'em, kid.” Stark said as he walked past Parker and ruffled his hair. “Friday, get us some pizza, send some to Peter's too.”

“Cheese please,” Parker yawned.

Stark nodded at the suggestion. “Go with the wood-fired place. Couple margarita pizzas should do us.”

“Yes sir,” Friday said.

Loki was merely pleased to see Stark stepping back from making the armor an obsession. For now, at least. Parker sleepily said his goodbyes and headed for his own quarters, latest project still in hand. Loki wrapped arms around Stark as soon as they were alone again. Stark immediately gripped him by the front of his tunic and pulled him down for a deep kiss, walking them backwards towards the bed.

Loki stalled as he broke the kiss. “A proper meal first.” He shifted their direction toward the main common room.

You make a proper meal, baby.” Stark's hands slid down to tug at Loki's belt.

Loki chuckled and shook his head. “You are ridiculous, Anthony.”

“So they tell me.” Fingers worked on opening the belt. “How about an appetizer then?”

Loki caught his hands by his wrists. “Food. First.”

“Ugh,” Stark grumbled and slipped out of Loki's hold, marching his way over to the mini-kitchen. He yanked open the fridge. “What's the ETA on the pizza, Friday?”

“Twenty minutes, sir.”

Loki followed after and leaned against the bar. Stark pouted like a child and huffed back over at him, “Baby, you're really going to make me eat first?”

“You have not eaten properly all day.”

Stark waved off the concern. “We were busy.” The fridge in front of him was empty except for the bare necessities.

“You neglect yourself too much,” Loki chastised. “I should have called for a break sooner but I was distracted myself.”

Stark grumbled and slammed the fridge closed. “Ya, well, I wasn't hungry until you mentioned it.” His manic obsession over things, particularly things in order to keep others safe, meant he could ignore most everything else he needed. He scrubbed at his face as Loki came over to wrap arms around him.

“I'll be certain to mention it more often, then,” Loki soothed. He squeezed the man in his arms and his voice dropped to add softly, “And don't feel poorly over having neglected me. It was only a tease.”

Stark uncovered his face. “I wasn't...” Then he sighed and wrapped arms around behind Loki's neck. “Okay maybe a little. I've never been good at... balancing things.” He kept his gaze down.

“It was a fine afternoon and evening, Anthony.”

Stark's fingers threaded through hair against the back of Loki's neck. “You still had to pull me away.”

“So? You are passionate. I would not have you otherwise.”

A small smile twisted at Stark's features. He relaxed a bit, his forehead coming to rest against Loki's. He finally met the other man's eyes. “You're still mean for not being my appetizer.”

“I would rather be your dessert.”

Chapter Text

The pizza was delicious and Stark ate nearly a whole one himself after neglecting his appetite all day. They were both pleasantly full and exhausted from the day but the large meal didn't dissuade Stark from immediately following it up by dragging the both of them off to bed. Stark took his comment to heart and Loki was pampered and teased beyond reason before Stark swallowed down every last drop of Loki's release. It was overwhelming and draining in every last way. He felt clumsy afterwards, too drained and sated to properly return the favor, but Stark seemed not to mind. He was quite enthusiastic with each touch and kiss, hands fisted in Loki's hair as he bobbed. It took very little teasing, after Stark enjoyed getting him off so much, and he needed only one deep-throat and he came for him. Loki was smug at the speed but not at the skill. At some point he'd have to manage to tackle Stark first and take his time.

They fell into a contented sleep almost immediately, Stark muttering something about wanting the same thing for breakfast. They slept with Loki acting as body pillow once more.

He woke this time to Stark's panicked breath against his shoulder. The lack of clothing seemed to allow him to sense the attack earlier. Stark was still asleep but he muttered and shifted beside him. The room was dark. Loki flicked a hand up and warm, yellow light appeared on the ceiling and spread out, dotting the white surface with tinkling points of light. He'd not wished to call out to Friday. In the soft light, he could see Stark's frantic features, the lines on his face furrowing, twisting into panic.

Although he worried it would startle Stark awake, he gently brushed fingers across his cheek and back into his hair. If he could soothe the man's dreams without waking him, all the better, but he wasn't certain it would work. Stark tensed immediately at the touch but then released a long sigh at the brush of fingertips through his hair. He repeated the gesture but Stark leaned closer, still lost in his dreams, but breathing easier.

He held him for a long while, fingers running through his hair, but Stark's trembling and ragged breathing persisted.

“Anthony,” he whispered as softly as he was able. “Tony. Hear my voice. You are safe. I have you.”

Stark mumbled in his sleep and it almost sounded like Loki. Stark rolled closer still, curling tightly in a ball, pressed against Loki's front. Tears formed and fell. Loki's heart ached.

“Oh my darling, please do not let them haunt you so deeply.” He pressed a kiss to Stark's forehead. “Relax,” he whispered, enchanting the word a bit as he sighed it from his lips. Stark's tension lessened but his mind still seemed to race within the dream. Tears turned into true sobs. The dream twisted into something not so much terrifying as heartbreaking.

You can't-” Stark muttered. Loki cupped his wet cheek. “-can't have him.” He shook beside him. Some ridiculous side of him wondered if Stark dreamed of him. “I won't let you... stop...

“Tony, wake. Everything is fine. Wake.” He enchanted the last word and pushed Stark into waking with it. The man's eyes flew open, sucking in a sobbed gasp, and his gaze immediately focused on Loki. Without a word he cupped Loki's face and then shifted back enough to run hands down Loki's chest.

Finally he gasped, voice ragged, “They- They were-” Another sob and Loki's heart melted further. Perhaps it was not so ridiculous that Stark would worry over him so.

“Shh, I'm well. It was a dream.” He smoothed back Stark's hair and the man wrapped shaking arms around himself. “Breathe. Relax. It was all a dream.”

Stark's features twisted and he pressed his face against the bed, seemingly shaking all the more at the reassurances. Loki frowned at the reaction. He soothed fingers through Stark's hair.

“All is well-”

“No it's not!” Stark shouted into the bed, muffled by the mattress. He pulled his head back and away from Loki's touch and jerked down the bed away from him. He curled himself up again into a ball and only half turned his face toward Loki as he growled, “How can you stand... This doesn't stop, you know? Almost every night... every night...” His eyes welled up with more tears. “You shouldn't have to deal with... just spare yourself and cut your losses like everyone else and leave-”

“Stark, you will halt this line of thinking immediately,” Loki interrupted. His voice was firm yet tinged with an ache that Stark would think to send him away. “I will go nowhere.”

“Yes you will,” Stark gasped. “Everyone fucking does. I'm a mess. Who wants to deal with a mess forever. Not my friends. Not Bruce. Not Natasha. Not Pepper. Not you. This is exhausting. I'm exhausting. And I'm not worth... Fuck! I was hoping for one good goddamn night so I wasn't... so you wouldn't...”

Loki resisted the urge to reach out, knowing that Stark would only pull away again, so he slid his hand along the bedding instead, stopping when Stark tensed, and left his hand there within reach. He stated plainly, “I will not go.”

Stark's eyes shimmered with tears. “Yes you will. Eventually. But I dunno if I can handle... handle this going on for a while and then... when the novelty rubs off...”

“Others may tire of the demons who haunt you, Anthony, but the same demons haunt me as well.” Loki watched Stark's gaze soften a bit at the admission. “I was held for many years. I know their faces. I know their threat. I know what they've done to you more than any other soul. It pains me to know so few would stand by you, but now that I am here, I will not go. Even if you sent me away, I would linger and not allow you to suffer on your own each night. I will not go.”

Tears slid freely down Stark's features but his breathing evened out. Softly, he whispered, “I'm not worth all that, Loki.”

His heart ached to hear him say such words. “Yes you are. You are worth an infinite number of sleepless nights. I would be nowhere else.” He inched his hand closer. “You looked at me and saw me. You looked at me and trusted. Trust in my words now. I will not leave.”

Stark swallowed hard. His gaze shifted to Loki's hand. Oh so slowly he uncurled an arm from around himself and reached to take it. Loki turned his own hand and threaded their fingers. He brushed his thumb along Stark's skin but otherwise did not move. He let the man come down and his words sink in.

Finally, Stark struggled to sound teasing, “What are you doing all the way over there, baby. Get over here.” He tugged at Loki's hand. Happily Loki shifted close again, keeping their hands held, and reaching up with his other to wipe at Stark's cheeks. As Loki settled against him, he sighed, “Sorry.”

“Never sorry, my darling.”

Stark cracked a smile at the pet name coming out of Loki. “God, you're cute, baby.” He brushed his nose against Loki's as the man finished drying his cheeks. His gaze shifted up and he blinked at the sight. “Did you turn my ceiling into a light show?”

“I did not yet wish to wake you when I felt you stirring so I didn't speak to ask Friday for lights.” He smiled gently at the look of wonder on Stark's features as he took in the twinkling ceiling. The warm yellow light they emitted flickered over Stark's skin.

“Can they stay there? For the night?” Stark curled himself back up against Loki, the two of them on their sides. “I think I'm done with dark bedrooms...”

“Of course.” Loki brushed fingers through Stark's hair again, soothing as the man settled back down from the whole ordeal. “I'll permanently enchant the ceiling in the morning to glow gently at night. If you'd like.”

Stark hummed in reply. They both went quiet. Loki continued with his strokes through Stark's hair. His breathing evened out. His whole body relaxed. He nearly wondered if Stark had fallen asleep but then he whispered, “I won't let them take you again. I won't let them have you.”

Loki's heart skipped at the firm promise. He whispered in return, “And they will not have you either. I will not let them.”

Chapter Text

Parker back-flipped over an ice lance and landed a kick squarely to Loki's shoulder. With the Asgardian off balance, he webbed up the staff and yanked hard. The staff slipped free and thudded against the nearby wall. Parker webbed the staff to it.

Loki righted himself and commended, “Well done.” Then leaped forward at Parker with a drawn dagger.

“Thanks,” Parker managed to gloat, before he barely dodged the attack. “Oh shit!”

They sparred back and forth but Loki kept up his momentum, backing up the teenager closer and closer to the wall. Parker gave one last high kick in an attempt to disarm Loki, then he had to retreat or face being pinned against the wall. Parker turned and climbed up the wall like his moniker. Loki spun the dagger after him, the magically blunted end hitting hard but not actually piercing. It disappeared after impact.

“Ow! Hey!”

“Swing away from me before turning your back to me,” Loki chided as he conjured another dagger and sliced off the webbing from around his staff stuck to the wall. “You were far too easy a target going straight away from me. Dodge whilst climbing.”

Parker whined and Stark called out from his schematics, “Listen to him, underoos.”

They'd spent the morning working on projects, and after a lunch which Loki insisted on, they'd moved to the gym. Stark was nearly done with his designs but still labored over the smaller details, only half watching the sparring session.

“I need to come up with some sort of explosive webbing,” Parker lamented, swinging around the ceiling out of Loki's reach.

Stark grumbled, “Yes, that's what you need, to blow some holes into my building.”

“It would not be amiss to give him some sort of projectile attack,” Loki said.

“He has a projectile attack. It's splooged all over the gym like a teenage boy's bedroom.”

“Hey! Gross!” Parker objected, making a spin before landing beside Loki. “Don't you mean your guys' bedroom?”

Loki responded with a knock to Parker's head with the staff, sending him sideways, and restarting the sparring match.

They'd only just countered a few moves when wards blared in warning within Loki's mind. Dread flashed through him. He leaped back from an attack from Parker and disappeared.

“Hey no fair!” Parker swung a fist after him into empty air.

Loki nearly fled from the gymnasium itself but instead crossed to hide invisible behind Stark.

“Get back here! I'll find you!” Parker swung himself up into the air and nearly collided with Vision as he floated through the wall into the room. “Whoa dude!” He spun backwards and tumbled before landing on his feet near Stark.

Vision took in both men with a critical eye before casting it about the room itself. He landed noiselessly a few feet away from them. “Who were you looking for, Mister Parker?”

“I, uh...” The eyes on his suit went wide and he cast a look at Stark.

Stark thumbed over some of his controls and a few of the drones burst back to life. “Just a little practicing on the drones; he's gotten most of them.”

Parker adopted a sheepish slump to his shoulders as he went along with the line. “Ya, I kinda broke most of them the other day.”

“Kid doesn't know his own strength. I should pit him against you.”

“I'm not ready for laser beams!”

“Interesting.” Vision interrupted. He tilted his head at the two of them. “You are both lying and attempting to shift the conversation.”

“Since when did you have a built in lie detector, big guy? We're just testing some drones and-”

“Someone has been using magic in this room. And you are clearly hiding them from me. Why?”

Loki's heart dropped. Why did he believe he could lurk so nearby someone of power and not draw attention to himself? It was all Stark's doing. Pushing him inch by inch towards more and more. If Vision felt he was a threat... then he was uncertain if he could defend himself.

“He's kinda afraid of company.”

Loki cringed at Stark's answer, giving away that someone was indeed hiding, but then to pretend otherwise was folly. Vision could sense the remnants of him and clearly Parker and Stark were not the ones throwing magic about.

Vision blinked at Stark. “He fears me?”

“He fears everybody,” Parker spoke up. “But he shouldn't. He's a good guy and people will figure that out.”

“Eloquent as ever, sport,” Stark sighed, then he turned to Vision. “Look, he needed some time to readjust to... life. He wasn't ready to meet the gang, but well, now that you're here...” He paused and cast a look behind himself, as if sensing Loki's chosen hiding spot.

Loki shook his head silently at the thought of reappearing. His limbs trembled, his heart hammered. He couldn't. He shouldn't.

Stark spoke to the air behind him. “Trust me, baby. It'll be okay.”

Vision raised his unique eyebrows at the words but he still stood passively there, not upset, merely curious.

Loki’s thoughts swirled. I trust him. I do trust him. I do.

He reappeared in a crouched position behind Stark and Parker. Battle armor and staff at the ready. Body coiled to flee and disappear if need be. He looked wide-eyed at Vision from beneath his helm.

Stark remained a blockade between Vision and Loki, not that he could do much without a suit currently, and Parker actually struck his own defensive stance.

Vision took him in with open, honest appraisal. His voice was even as he said, “You are Loki of Asgard. Thor reported you dead but I see he was mistaken.” Vision reached a hand up to press a finger to the gem embedded in his forehead. “I do believe this is yours but I cannot return it to you.”

Loki blinked at the words, unable to believe the civil tone wouldn't shift into something else less so. He swallowed hard and found his voice enough to manage, “The gem was not truly mine. The staff was Thanos' design.”

Vision nodded solemnly at the correction. “Then he will be the one wishing its return. Yes, I see...” He turned to Parker. “You are correct, Mister Parker.”

The teen loosened his stance, standing more upright. “I am?”

Vision looked back at Loki. “He is indeed a good man. You need not fear me as much as you do, young prince. I see Mister Stark was correct in taking you in.”

Loki released a surprised breath he'd been holding. He shifted his staff upright so he could use it as leverage to stand fully again, legs not so stable. Stark slid an arm around him and he gratefully leaned against the mortal as well.

“Told you,” Stark whispered, pressing a kiss to Loki's cheek. “Now try not to pass out. Breathe, baby.”

Loki struggled to follow the order, the panic slow to fade after the rush of adrenaline, and it was still remarkable to be standing in front of Vision's gaze.

Vision took in the exchange between the pair, showing no outright reaction to it, but then nodded his head to himself. He looked to Stark. “There is one thing, though, that you must rectify immediately if he is to remain.”

Stark narrowed his gaze on Vision, hoping that wasn't a threat, as he asked, “And that is?”

“You must tell Mister Rhodes. Immediately. He should not be kept unaware.”

“Rhodey?”

Vision nodded. “He is your friend. He's living here while recovering. Parker and myself know. It would be inappropriate to keep him in the dark.”

“Well that is gonna be fun,” Stark sighed.

Parker shrugged at the worry. “What? He's your friend. He'll totally understand.”

Loki offered, “At the very least, he cannot so easily threaten to kill me.”

Vision shook his head. “I do believe you worried over the wrong reveal, Loki.”

Chapter Text

It couldn't be that awful. Parker had understood Stark's words rather easily and Rhodes had been friends with Stark for far longer. At the very least, Rhodes was a mere mortal, and he could not actually harm Loki. He could perhaps run to tell the world of his existence but he doubted at this point that Stark, Parker, or even Vision would allow him to leave under such circumstances. It would be fine.

Stark fretted some over how to manage the talk. He thought about asking Rhodes to join them but then Rhodes' limited mobility nixed that idea. Parker and Vision would be good backup but a heart to heart conversation wasn't really meant to look like an intervention. So in the end, he had Loki follow after him, invisible for now, as they went to track Rhodes down at his quarters.

He had a nicer one with a common room attached instead of just a big bedroom. There were perks in being Stark's friend, after all. Loki hung back toward the door as he watched Stark attempt to be casual.

“Here, I thought you'd abandoned me,” Rhodes harassed as he spotted Stark coming in. “You disappear into geek central with that kid?”

Stark tutted, “Don't mock what brought you those legs.” He crossed over to Rhodes sitting on the sofa, his legs up on the cushions, and Stark's device firmly in place on his legs. Stark flopped down on an overstuffed chair opposite in line of sight of Rhodes. “You doing alright with those?”

“Ya, man. You tuned them up good last time. I've been getting around pretty good. With some practice and that hot nurse you hired.”

“Only the best for my Rhodey.”

Rhodes snorted a laugh as he rolled his eyes. “Try and get one that knows how to actually use needles next time too, huh?”

“She's highly qualified!” Stark nervously knocked his knuckles against the arms of his chair and struggled to sit still.

“Uh huh.” Rhodes raised an eyebrow at Stark. “So then what the hell you doing dropping by, Tony?”

Stark feigned innocence. “Can't a fella just check in on his best friend?”

Rhodes narrowed his gaze.

“Fine. Okay okay. I...” Stark rubbed at his forehead as he struggled to come up with words. “Shit, this is gonna be impossible. Where do I even fucking start.” He hopped up onto his feet to pace in front of the chairs, Rhodes' widening eyes following him.

“Tony. Tony, what did you do?”

“Nothing. It's fine. And it's going to be fine but I know you're going to freak out a little and I just can't handle-” He cut himself off and paused his pacing to turn to Rhodes. “Parker and Vision already know he's here, alright, so you can't freak out because they've already signed off on this being okay.”

Rhodes struggled to grasp at anything that made any sort of sense coming from Stark. “He? He who is here? Tony, what the hell are you talking about?”

Loki had enough of watching. This was ridiculous and Stark's attempt at preamble simply put Rhodes more and more on edge. He stepped forward from the doorway and shrugged off his invisibility, back to wearing his linen shirt and leather trousers. He stepped over to the two and leaned against the high back of the chair Stark had vacated.

“You are doing awful at this, Anthony.”

Rhodes jumped on the sofa as if he'd seen a ghost. He lunged backwards on the sofa and actually leaned over one arm to pull a gun from a holster strapped to the underside of the side table.

“Like you could have done any better, princess,” Stark snapped back at the harassment, then pointed at Rhodes. “Put that away before you accidentally shoot me instead. You think Natasha hadn't tried shooting him back in New York?”

Rhodes gaped at the pair of them. He held the gun on Loki a moment longer before reality kicked in. He dropped his hand holding the gun onto his lap as Loki merely raised an eyebrow at him.

“Loki? Loki Loki? Thor's brother Loki who tried to take over the world? Aren't you dead?”

“Not precisely.”

“This is gonna go swell.” Stark groaned and struggled not to panic over this entire situation. He rubbed at his face and then met Rhodes' shocked expression. He rushed to get that look off his Rhodey's features. “You remember the staff and Clint and all that?” He nodded to Loki. “Also applies to him.”

“Bullshit.”

“It's the truth, I swear it.”

Rhodes' look hardened. “Oh ya? That so? What proof has he got? Other than the fact he's not trying to kill the two of us right now.”

Loki glared as realization started to pool in his stomach. Vision was right. This was going to hurt.

Stark staunchly defended him. “Proof? What's he gonna do, bring me a note from a shrink?”

“Goddamn it, Tony!” He leaned back and put the gun away with an angry growl. “They took him back to Asgard. Thor reported he was in jail. He never said shit about mind control. Loki supposedly died a few years ago. He shows up here and what? What, Tony? Tells you a sob story?” He shifted to sitting, pulling his legs off the sofa, and leveled Stark with a fierce glare.

Stark struggled to keep Rhodes' gaze, crossing arms defensively over his chest. “It was more than that, okay. It was... a feeling. It was... the way he showed up and the compassion and... him...” He tossed a look at Loki and he couldn't hide the overwhelming sense of warmth he felt for the man. He sighed and looked back at Rhodes. “Rhodey, just spend some time with him. Please. Get a feel for him. Now. Not from all the paperwork you've read on him.”

“I can't believe this.” Rhodes was somehow all the more furious. He gruffly struggled to get up onto his feet, managing as he gestured at Stark. “No, no I can fucking believe this, because it's you and you are fucking insane. Pepper has been gone for six months, Tony. Six months! That's all the normal you could stand before thinking with your goddamn dick.”

Loki raised both his eyebrows at the final sentence uttered. “You are upset over our relationship?”

“So you are sleeping with him? I mean, I don't blame you, that's the perfect fucking way to lead Tony Stark around.”

“Rhodey for fuck's sake!”

“Oh don't you dare get all high and mighty on me. I know you, Tony. Anything with two legs and a nice ass is fair game, hell even just one leg was all you needed once.”

Stark couldn't resist the joke as he said, “And that one time with the chick with no legs. Nothing in the way.”

“Tony, this is fucking serious! You love drama and you love causing a scene. You definitely love an interesting conquest. But I can't believe, at your fucking age, you're gonna dive into something this fucking stupid just for some nice ass-”

“I do not court him lightly,” Loki interrupted, repressed anger and emotions in his voice.

Rhodes paused and seemed to have only half remember that Loki was still there. “Court him?”

Stark looked down as he smiled at the old fashioned idiot. “You going on about how this is all just a lay. He's taking offense.”

Loki nodded firmly. “My interest in Anthony is true and I will not have you say otherwise. You may find me unfit or untrustworthy or a liar. I cannot hand you proof otherwise except for my actions.”

“Ya, well, it's gonna take more than sad eyes and Tony's dick to speak on your behalf. He's my friend, and no matter how stupid he can be, I'm going to look out for him.”

“Oh?” Loki stepped around to squarely face Rhodes. “Then you must know of his nightmares? Of his attacks while in the field? Of those who would leave him alone to face such demons when you were injured?” Rhodes' face fell and he cast a worried look at Stark. He'd obviously not thought about the last incident. Stark had merely been at the hospital and fine when he'd woken. Loki firmly continued, “If no, then you are a poor friend for not asking after his health. And if yes to any of those questions, if you knew of his attacks and demons, but you've left him to sleep alone, for six months as you so kindly reminded earlier, without help, well then you are an even poorer friend indeed.”

Rhodes' features fell further. He turned to Stark. “I thought you were seeing someone. Pills and some therapy.”

Stark shrugged. “Neither helped so...” He sighed and patted Loki's shoulder, giving it a squeeze. “Thanks for the backup, baby. Now stand down.” He turned back to Rhodes. “It's been... not so great. He found me in one of my worst attacks, when everyone was gone, after you... after they'd taken you to the hospital. I don't know what I would have done without...” He shook his head. “I know I'm a fuck up, Rhodey. I know it. But he's gonna prove you wrong on this. So just, come hang out with us some time tomorrow, but for now, keep this under your hat, alright?”

Rhodes scrubbed at his face with both his hands and then dropped them. “Fine. Like anyone would fucking believe me.” He narrowed his gaze on Loki. “Vision and Peter know?” Stark nodded. “Good.” He stiltedly walked his way across the common room toward the bedroom, using furniture to help his progress. “Get the hell out. Both of you.”

Stark slumped some but Loki wrapped an arm around him, steering them to the door. Only as they walked down the corridor to Stark's quarters did Stark mutter, “Could have gone worse, I guess.” He looked up at Loki. “He didn't actually shoot at you.”

Chapter Text

The mood was still low as they stepped into Stark's common room. Stark slowed to a stop once the door shut behind them. His head shifted to rest against Loki's shoulder and chest, slumping against the taller man. Loki brought both of his arms around Stark. They stayed still, silently, for a long few moments before Stark spoke; his voice as low as his mood, “Rhodey didn't... doesn't know how bad it is. He's seen a few but I got really good at hiding them. Just don't... don't judge him too harshly, okay?”

Loki rubbed lightly at Stark’s back, measuring his words before he stated, “I know he cares for you. I only wish those around you cared more, understood more. They take your strength for granted. Many don't... return all they take. You deserve support and understanding, Anthony.”

Stark shook his head at Loki's last words, silently disagreeing, and generally uncomfortable with the conversation. He pulled away and struggled to shrug off the whole situation. He was no good at introspective conversations about himself. He cast a dismissive hand aside and crossed the common room. He tried to sound his normal bravado self, “It doesn't matter. Rhodey will come around. He'll hang out tomorrow and everything will be fine.” He made it to the bar and immediately moved to pour himself a drink. “Really, he's just jealous. You sure you don't have any sisters I could introduce him to?”

Loki frowned at the obvious attempt to completely sidestep the entire event and push aside all emotions and concerns surrounding it. It was an awful coping mechanism but he did recognize it for what it was. He sighed and crossed the room after Stark. The man eyed Loki's non-response to the lighter tone with concern and downed his tumbler of scotch in one gulp.

Loki ignored it all and instead took Stark's free hand and walked him away from the bar into the bedroom. The now enchanted ceiling was already glowing with flecks of yellow light. Stark's eyes flashed between concern and interest, stuck between worrying over Loki's silence but hopeful at the destination.

They stopped at the edge of the bed and Loki released his hand. “Lie down. On your stomach.” Loki reached to magic his hair up into a messy bun.

Stark raised an eyebrow at the command. Interest swirled. He opened his mouth to crack a joke about what was going on but then caught the warm look in Loki's eyes. He sighed and decided whatever it was, he was up for it. He climbed onto the bed, toeing off his shoes, and flopped onto his chest.

Nothing happened for a few moments but Stark allowed himself to relax. His breathing evened out and his shoulders slumped. He struggled not to think about anything, much less Rhodey's face reacting to the revelation of Loki and what it brought. Then he felt Loki's weight against the bed and he couldn't help a grin as he felt him straddle his back. Hands slid down his shirt and then underneath the cotton to brush back upwards against skin. He felt the shirt bunch at his shoulders and then the weight of it seemed to disappear. He blinked and twisted to see Loki had magicked the shirt off.

“Relax,” he soothed. “It's in your hamper.”

Stark settled back down. “It better be.”

Loki huffed a chuckle and smoothed long fingers against skin, brushing over tense shoulders. He simply warmed the skin with his touch, stroking and caressing, before gently starting to apply pressure.

Stark released a low groan. He sunk further against the bedding and closed his eyes. Loki continued with gentle pressure, moving across one shoulder over and over again. He infused extra warmth into his fingertips. Up and over skin. Again and again. Then he moved to the other shoulder and repeated the touch. Afterwards he shifted to the spine and slid down to the lower back before continuing up to work on the back of his neck. Fingertips dipped into his hairline and rubbed at his scalp. Eventually he slid down across shoulders to work on one arm and then the other, being careful with the left and the sprain still healing. He could see bruising along Stark’s ribs.

Stark turned into a melted puddle. He moaned here and there, arching into each touch, lost in the sensations. The sound of skin brushing against skin filled his ears, along with Loki's own low, steady breathing. He'd had plenty of massages in his day but none by someone he wasn't paying. It was Loki touching him, Loki working on his muscles, Loki focused on making him feel better. He basked in the sensation, and more than that, in the compassion and adoration in each touch.

Loki shifted his attention lower, against sides and then Stark's lower back, and leaned forward as he did so, pressing one kiss to just below Stark's neck. The man shivered at the sensation. Loki brushed his nose against his skin and whispered, low but emphatic, “You deserve happiness, Anthony.”

Stark tensed a little but he was too relaxed to truly react. He huffed a sigh in reply.

“You do, darling.” Loki pressed kisses along his shoulder as he spoke. “You deserve understanding. You deserve compassion. Your past and your demons do not define you.” He stroked hands along skin, brushing up sides. “I cannot be the only one who sees how much you struggle. You are strong. You fight against everything laid before you.” He kissed up along his neck. “You are not a fuck up, Anthony.”

He quoted from the conversation with Rhodes and Stark barked a haunted laugh. He shook his head against the bedding. “You have no idea, baby...”

“Oh but I do. I know the man before me. How he works to keep those around him safe. How he's owned up to failures and worked to right wrongs. How he fights against forces greater than himself and wins. How he alone saved his entire planet from Chitauri annihilation. Your past does not define you, Anthony. Your current actions do. And I hope to one day be as brave, as strong, or as capable as you.”

Stark swallowed hard at the praise. He wasn't used to it. He couldn't accept it. But Loki was adamant in his tone. He meant it all. Stark whispered back, “Says the guy trying to save nine realms.”

Trying being the correct word. Until then, I have done far less than you, Anthony. For you have saved them all, once already.” He nuzzled at the back of Stark's hair. “You even saved me and I shall never forget it.”

The words landed wrongly for Stark and he rebutted, “You don't owe me, baby.”

Loki shifted to cover him, his own bare chest to Stark's back, and leaned over his shoulder to meet Stark's gaze. “I am not here as payback or to fulfill a debt. I merely mean to say, that without you in New York, I would still be within their control. And without you now, I would be lost. You are unique in so many ways. Not the least of which is how you trust in me... no one has done so before...”

Stark shifted beneath him, twisting half onto his side, and brought a hand up to cup Loki's cheek. “You see the best in me, Loki. Everything you've said. Well, the same goes with when I look at you.” He brushed his thumb along Loki's cheek as the man glanced aside. “You're overwhelmed. You're frightened. But you keep pushing. You could have given up after the Chitauri. You could have hidden away as Odin forever. Something inside you needed more.” He squeezed gently at his cheek. “You're gonna make one hell of an Avenger, baby, and it'll be so very much earned.”

Loki's heart swelled at the idea. To fight with them. To join that which his appearance with the Chitauri had created. It would be such a moment. Still, he shook his head. “Few may think it wise.”

“At first, maybe not, but they can all take a fucking flying leap. You'll prove them wrong. Because you're strong and wise and driven to protect everyone. You're already better than half of them.” He kissed Loki's lips and then whispered against them, “You deserve happiness too, ya know.”

Loki swallowed hard at the words. Was it too much to say what fluttered to the front of his thoughts in response? He caressed fingers through Stark's hair and down along the back of his neck. He still couldn't meet his gaze. Softly the words slipped free. “You make me happy, darling.”

Stark was quiet. No response came. Loki traced slightly nervous patterns over Stark's upper back for a long moment before he pulled enough courage together to meet Stark's gaze. A mixture of awe and disbelief clouded them.

Loki's lips curled into a smile as he shook his head at the silly mortal. He raised a teasing eyebrow, “Do you doubt my words? Must I recount all the ways you make me happy? Like some fawning princess?” He pressed a kiss to Stark's shoulder.

Stark blushed a lovely shade of red at being called out on his disbelieving staring. He tucked his head down some, never ever good with emotions. His voice was warm and adoring as he rumbled, “I believe you, baby.”

“Oh I don't know if you truly do,” Loki teased as he continued kissing up along Stark's shoulder, shifting to truly cover him again. He moved some of his weight onto his elbows as he slowly pressed wet kisses to warm, relaxed skin. “Allow me to recount some of my favorites.” He kissed his way up Stark's neck and nuzzled at his hair. “I adore playing with your hair. There's something addicting in the way it flows against my fingers.”

Stark huffed a chuckle. “Not a secret, princess.”

Loki dropped his voice to rumble, “And I adore the way it looks when it's a proper mess, especially if that mess is my doing.”

Stark reached back to twist at Loki's hair in return, still caught up in a bun. “Feeling's mutual. The way it looks in my hands...”

It was interesting how Stark allowed himself to comment on each point but only as Loki brought them up. Loki nipped behind Stark's ear. “Your voice is like a purr when you're pleased or excited. It's like a song when you moan. And I cannot be more happy than when you cry out my name.”

“Oh baby you have no idea what that voice of yours does to me,” Stark sighed back in continued mutual appreciation.

“Mm, I have some idea,” he purred and Stark shivered. Loki licked his way down along the back of Stark's neck and followed the spine down to between his shoulder blades. “Your taste is unique. Indefinably you. Slightly metallic, rustic, spiced. You. Yet somehow mine to taste.”

“Yours,” Stark repeated, his breathing hitching, as Loki didn't falter from his path down Stark's spine, going lower and lower. “Only yours, baby.”

“Mine,” Loki rumbled possessively. “And I would see every inch of what's mine be treated to warm touch and taste and comfort. You make me happy, Anthony, and I will cherish all of you.” The rest of their clothing disappeared but Stark hardly noticed. He was far too focused on the mouth kissing at the cleft of his butt cheeks. Loki cupped each cheek and squeezed before parting them and continuing down with his open-mouthed kisses. In particular, he was very fond of Stark's round backside, but his mouth was rather too busy to voice that thought. Instead he rimmed over Stark's puckered skin.

Fuck yes,” Stark cried out, legs shifting further apart, his backside arching upwards. Loki's mouth sucked and Stark's moans went up a notch. As much as Stark had harassed Loki over enjoying attention to his backside, it seemed the man was in need of some attention himself.

Loki teased for ages. His hands squeezed at butt cheeks and then slid down to rub over the backs of thighs. He worked with tongue and mouth, eventually pointing his tongue to push in slightly, which caused the most lovely of whines from Stark.

It was a long while before Loki gave into doing anything else but eventually he released him. Stark was a lovely coil of need gripping at the bedding.

“Oh please baby,” Stark whimpered, face half buried in a pillow.

Loki climbed his way back up Stark and hovered over him, bare skin ghosting just close enough to feel body heat, and he asked in a low growl, “May I have you, Anthony?”

There was quite nearly a swooning gasp out of Stark. Loki was quite pleased this time to have finally been the one to initiate things and leave Stark a trembling mess for once.

As his mind kicked back in, Stark gasped “yes yes yes” with an actual nod against the pillow.

Loki pressed one kiss to his overheated flesh and then reached out to the lubricant bottles in the side drawer, magicking one into his hand. He shifted back and uncapped the bottle, slicking down fingers in more than was strictly necessary. One rub of his fingers together and the lube glowed ever so slightly. The enchanted oil would do its job all the better and help with stretching.

Stark was still a well coiled spring of anticipation. Loki hummed in amusement and teased fingertips over puckered skin, brushing his other hand along Stark's back. “Relax, darling. We have all evening.”

Stark whined and buried his head further in the pillow but his shoulders did slump and his body noticeably relaxed.

“Good,” he purred, pressing more firmly, until slicked fingertips dipped past a ring of muscle to slide into him. Goodness, but it had been ages since he'd felt something so tight around his fingers. Loki's own breathing hitched as his cock ached. He watched enthralled at the sight of one and then two fingers disappearing between perfect round ass cheeks. Stark groaned endlessly into his pillow, rocking hips back oh so slowly against those fingers.

The enchanted oil allowed a third finger to be added quickly. Loki curled them and quite easily found his prostate. The sound that came out of Stark was something magical. It was not quite a moan, it was not quite a cry, it was not quite Loki's name. It was a strangled mash of all three. His head jerked to one side and he twisted to look up at Loki, flushed from head to toe and looking incredible. He reached back for Loki and he acquiesced, leaning forward enough to meet Stark's lips. The kisses were wet and sloppy and needy. Stark trembled with each thrust of three fingers. He gripped at his bicep. Need radiated off of him. It was all too much.

Loki broke. He slid fingers from Stark and stroked himself instead to slick his cock. Stark whined a “yes baby” against their open mouths before kissing him again.

Their kisses muffled most of their moans as Loki rather easily slid into him. The lube and the enchantment eased things incredibly. Loki paused once, afraid he was pushing in too deeply too quickly, but Stark bit at his lower lip in protest, so he swiftly continued. He only paused again once he was fully sheathed.

It was overwhelming in the best possible way. His own thighs trembled to stay still. Stark was so tight and hot and slick around his cock. He broke the kisses and leaned back onto his knees. Stark whined in protest, flopping forward again onto his chest. Loki pulled out halfway and pushed back in again, marveling in the sight of his slicked cock disappearing into Stark.

Oh darling...” he groaned. Stark gasped a wordless agreement. He repeated the slow pull out and push back in, easing muscles around his cock further.

As stunning as the view was, this was not the position he'd envisioned, and he'd never last like this. He schooled himself enough to pause, buried to the hilt, and leaned forward again. He covered Stark and slid an arm beneath him.

“Roll with me,” he purred into Stark's ear. The man was too much of an aching pile of need to fight against being moved regardless. He easily shifted both of them onto their sides. One arm coming around Stark from underneath his side to wrap around his chest, the other reaching up to turn him back for more kisses. Stark ended up twisted some but mostly on his side, his shoulders and head turning to meet Loki's longer neck leaning over him. Loki desperately wished to hold him while buried so deep and thankfully Stark hummed his approval at the position, sucking on Loki's lower lip.

The smaller man fit perfectly against his chest. Loki's longer arms fit easily around him. He rolled his hips as he held the man, grinding forward against tight walls, and slowly built into small, short thrusts.

Stark broke the kisses, moaning. His eyes fluttered open. He struggled to focus them on Loki. He reached over his shoulder to twist fingers in Loki's hair. So many emotions played over Stark's features. He struggled for words and none came.

Loki nuzzled forward against the man and whispered low and heated, “You are mine.”

Stark shivered in his arms. Loki tightened his hold around him and Stark gasped out, “Only yours.”

Loki's voice dropped further to something barely audible. “And I am yours.”

Stark nodded, rubbing their cheeks together, and tightened his hold on Loki's hair. “All mine.”

His thrusts elongated, pulling out further, deepening them, but keeping the thrust gentle and steady. Stark moaned at the long rubs against his prostate. His head dropped down onto the pillow, still gripping at Loki's hair, but facing forward, away from him.

Loki kissed along his neck and up behind his ear, panting heavily. His voice was open and honest. Words which could not be said any other way. Words which came of their own accord. “I will forever be yours, Anthony. You are no burden. I will not tire of you. I need you.” Loki pressed him tightly to his chest.

Stark gasped but not at the thrusts. His mind reeled. He was silent but for his panting. Loki worried over having said too much. He buried his face against the back of Stark's neck. He was still a clumsy awkward fool at such things like this. Always groping for more than was wanted to be given.

Then Stark tugged roughly at his hair and twisted in his arms. Loki lifted his head again to sheepishly meet the man's gaze. To his surprise, he saw a flash of emotions on Stark's features instead of annoyance, and then he kissed him. Soft and adoring and something more. When the kisses ended, Stark's words were barely audible. “I need you too. Just, don't go... don't ever go... I couldn't handle...”

Loki's heart broke at the raw need in Stark's voice. He soothed, “I will never go. I promise you.”

Stark's voice actually broke as he spoke again, “Oh Loki please, please keep that promise.”

“I promise. I promise. I promise.” Loki repeated as he tightened his arms around Stark. They kissed on and on until Stark's neck complained too loudly at all the twisting. He released Loki's hair and looked forward again, instead gripping at the bedding and one of Loki's hands on him. Loki buried his face against the crook of his neck.

There was no rush to their climax. Loki soaked in the sensation of holding Stark while so deep inside of him. They rocked together. Stark's moans grew louder. Eventually the pace shifted into something steadily building. Skin against skin. Heat mounting. It was too much. All too much. As he neared the edge, Loki slid a hand down to merely wrap around Stark's hard cock, and that was enough. Stark came with the most delicious of moans, squeezing walls immediately setting Loki off with him. A few more thrusts and he came, crying against Stark's neck, and pulsing into him.

They slowed to a stop and slumped into a heap on their sides. He stayed inside of Stark for as long as his over-sensitized cock could handle before finally sliding out with a mutual whine from both of them.

Stark brought one of Loki's hands up and kissed at the palm and the wrist. Loki nuzzled against his skin.

Eventually Stark sighed and slid onto his back so he could easily meet Loki's gaze. He cupped at Loki's cheek. His brown eyes were beautiful and sparkled with the light of the ceiling. His voice was slightly hoarse as he whispered, “You make me happy too, Loki. So happy that I need you pressed against me. Every day.”

Loki brushed back his bangs, his own eyes shimmering, as he replied softly, “And so you shall have me.”

Chapter Text

“Anthony, it's too tight.”

“No such thing, princess.”

Loki rolled his eyes as the mortal circled him in the main common room of the compound. Parker sat tinkering on a project at a nearby table while Rhodes pretended to ignore the entire armor fitting from a sofa.

“Being able to properly bend in battle is mildly important.”

“If you start to pass out, just magic the armor off,” Stark teased with a smirk.

“Here I thought you were not keen to share me but if you insist I wear nothing...” Loki raised a hand to immediately magic the armor off.

“Don't you dare,” Stark snapped just as Rhodes piped up with, “Please don't!” Parker laughed from his spot at the peanut gallery.

Loki raised an eyebrow at Stark.

Stark finally gave in. “Fine. Okay. I'll let it out some but the leather needs to stretch too. I've never worked on this combination with carbon fiber. Try to see what kind of mobility you do have right now.”

Loki shifted in the armor. The leggings and boots were similar to those he wore daily. Tight but enhanced black leather. The top had longer pieces of leather which wrapped over his chest like a wrap shirt but was no less tight. Gold adorned the trim of the intersecting leather wraps and emerald green leather covered above the v-shape created by the wrapped leather. A gold trim around his neck finished the base look.

Over top was a dark emerald green leather coat reminiscent of his old one but shorter and more Victorian in inspiration. The length came down to just above his knees at the back but was open at the front. Lapels came down along his chest and then the coat curved around thighs to meet at the back tail of the coat. The coat itself was just as fitted as the rest of the ensemble and stitched with gold piping here and there in crosshatching patterns. With the open golden crown of horns on his head, overall the look was much less bulky or imposing. He felt more nimble and a bit more regal without all the extra leather flapping about.

Loki stretched his arms out to his sides and then slowly up above his head, making a face at the creak of tight leather and the way it pinched slightly. He was able to fully extend his arms above his head, however. He wiggled his fingers, also stretching the fingerless gloves which covered his palms. Various trinkets from Stark were hidden beneath those gloves.

He relaxed his arms back down and began to pace. The boots had a nice solid weight to them, also in part thanks to Stark's additions. He gave a spin and the short tails of the coat flicked nicely but gave little for an opponent to hold onto in battle. He shifted into a crouching pose. The leather creaked loudly but it did give way as it stretched a bit.

It did feel right, and the fact that it came from Stark, the fact that it was his doing, filled Loki with more emotions than he'd care to admit even to himself. Stark wished to keep him safe. He wished to help him in battle. And he wished to do something truly for Loki. No soul beside his mother had ever worked on something for him so selflessly. He glowed with pleasure as he shifted back fully upright on his feet, nodding down at the armor. He tossed Stark an adoring smile and the mortal himself looked about ready to burst at the sight of him. Loki walked back to Stark, light on his feet, and leaned down for a much deserved kiss in thanks.

“You going to do new costumes for everyone now?” Rhodes harassed, interrupting the kiss before it could land, while taking in Loki with mild annoyance.

Stark turned from Loki and frowned over at Rhodes. “I dunno. You gonna be a grumpy asshole all morning?”

“He did my costume too. It's awesome!” Parker piped up, defending the two of them. “He could put a new coat of paint on War Machine.”

“It would look better in magenta,” Stark agreed.

Rhodes pointed at Stark. “Don't you dare touch it.”

“This is no mere new paint job.” Loki ran hands along the lapels of his coat. He brushed off Rhodes' glaring and smiled at Stark again. “Thank you, darling. It means much to me and it will help to announce my intentions.”

Rhodes huffed, “You mean it won't remind everyone that you were part of the attack on New York.”

It was Parker who spoke up first, setting his project aside. “Dude, did you get angry at Hawkeye when he changed his costume?”

“Kid's got a fair point,” Stark said. “You didn't say anything about that miniskirt number of his before he quote-unquote retired.”

“That's not the same.” Rhodes shifted back on the sofa, folding arms over his chest. “You didn't just decide that he needed a custom Stark costume. You know what you're doing. If he keeps the old getup, then everyone remembers New York when they look at him. This rebrands him into something less threatening. You're fucking ridiculous.”

Stark shook his head, rubbing at the side of his face. “You're the ridiculous one, Rhodey. Fuck.”

“I do not expect everyone to forget New York,” Loki interjected. “But I am not the same as I was then. I am free of Chitauri control and manipulations. I find it both humbling and fitting that he wishes to help me step away from that horrific time in my life.”

Rhodes mentally dug his heels in. “You keep saying that but I don't really see how it was so awful for you. Oh I'm sure it was hell, trying to become king of the world.”

Loki narrowed his gaze on Rhodes. The man was impossible and hurtful. Why did he ever agree to sit here with them? To attempt to goad Stark into stopping their relationship? He marched over to stand before the man, hands clasped behind his back. He stated honestly, “I was captured and held after attempting to commit suicide.”

Rhodes had the good sense to look away, staring down at his enhanced legs.

“My memories were distorted. My mind was played with. Thoughts were implanted and pieces of me were taken and locked away. I was starved. I was isolated. I was placed within heated rooms which...” He faltered, wondering how to explain the way his flesh felt flayed open by the constant heat. He shook his head, unable to without giving more details to a man who did not deserve them.

He started again. “I was ill when I arrived through the tesseract. Speak with those who saw my arrival, covered in grime and sweat, thanks to their final round of mental constraints. I was monitored constantly. Every word. Nearly every thought. The Other saw all I did and one missed step or minor infraction was mental hell in reciprocation. I was only freed when the staff was destroyed and their link to me severed.” He gave a ghosted smile as he shrugged at Rhodes, “But then I am the adopted son who wields magic instead of hammers. Choose to loathe me if you wish. It is nothing new to me. But do stay your tongue when you speak ill of Stark. I will not abide it.”

Stark came up beside him and wrapped arms around him. Loki kept his gaze on Rhodes. He meant it. He would not have this man harassing Stark.

“It's a good story,” Rhodes said noncommittally. “But then where have you been for two years?”

Loki raised his chin. “Preparing the impending destruction of my former captors.”

“You had to pretend to be dead for that?”

“Dude,” Parker sighed with clear disgust. “Get over it. Vision says he's not a threat. I can see he's not a threat. Calm down.”

Rhodes frowned at Parker but at the very least stayed silent.

“Thank you, kiddo.” Stark squeezed his arms around Loki and then released him, waving a hand over at Parker. “Come on. Lets see his new getup in action.”

Parker lit up as he hopped to his feat. “Only if he finally summons me a blizzard!”

Loki laughed lightly even as he rolled his eyes at the frequent request.

“You ready to suit up again, mister grumpy ass?” Stark asked Rhodes with a tilt of his head. “There's a kid who needs some military discipline in his life.”

“Oh man!” Parker whined.

Rhodes actually gave a quick chuckle. He nodded while accepting Stark's helping hand up onto his feet. “I think I could go for a spin. Throw a few grenades. Keep someone on their toes.” He tossed Parker a grin.

“Grenades?!”

Chapter Text

“Dodge and weave, man. Dodge and weave.” A suited up Rhodes fired another round of beanbags at Parker as they practiced outdoors. They'd taken over the large basketball court for their sparring practice.

“Dodge how?!” Parker squeaked as he attempted to roll out of the way. “There's nothing to swing on out here!” He pulled himself up onto the backboard of a hoop but he had nowhere to go from there.

Stark leaned a hip against Loki as they stood to one side. “Just be glad he's not actually firing grenades.”

“Yet,” Rhodes taunted. He took off into the air, hovering a few meters above the ground, and fired a volley of non-lethal rubber balls from above. Parker yelped as he leaped away.

Loki wrapped an arm around Stark's back and leaned against him in return. He called out, “If you must use explosives, do it in the forest. Don't damage the facility.”

“Always lookin' out for me, babe,” Stark hummed happily. He pulled the taller man down by his lapel and kissed him.

“Hey! I thought he was supposed to be testing out his new armor,” Rhodes interrupted.

Parker attached a strand of webbing to the back of Rhodes' floating suit and swung his way across to the other backboard. “I keep telling them to get a room. They never listen.”

“If people would just stop walking in on us-” Stark started.

“Oh my god, that was just the one time, Mister Stark!”

“Wait you walked in on them?” Rhodes wondered.

“They weren't actually doing anything!” Parker squeaked an octave higher. “I saw nothing!”

Rhodes actually laughed over the intercom.

“Go kick both their asses, baby,” Stark sighed happily, giving Loki a shove toward the basketball court. “Put that armor to good use.”

Loki cocked a smile even as he wondered, “You're still not suiting up yourself?”

Stark shook his head. “No. Now go on.”

His ribs couldn't still be bothering him, not with their activities in bed. Loki wondered a moment why Stark balked at the idea but then Parker called out, “Oh man, wait until you see this, Mister Rhodes!”

Loki stretched his arm out, materializing his staff in his hand.

“You should be talking me into teaming up with you, kid.” Rhodes shifted to facing Loki pacing forward on the concrete court.

Parker tilted his head and huffed, “Then you shouldn't have been so rude to him earlier.” With Rhodes' back half to him, he shot off one strand of web straight into one of his back exhaust port and flipped off the backboard to web up the other. “I don't help bullies.”

Loki nodded to Parker, pleased to have earned his friendship, and watched as Rhodes struggled to keep his altitude floating above the court. His hand and feet repulsors faltered and he sunk lower, a mere few feet above the ground instead. Loki crouched and lunged, making a leap up and knocking square into Rhodes with his feet. He brought them both down onto cement with a sliding crash.

“Don't scratch the paint too much,” Stark called out.

Loki landed on top of Rhodes and easily dodged a punch, leaping free while Rhodes righted himself with thrusters. He fired hand repulsors at Loki but then he was cut short on taking off again as Parker webbed his feet to the ground.

Rhodes fired a flash bang and the bright explosion knocked both Parker and Loki further back from him so he could free himself. Only to have to dodge actual flying ice. He spun and turned to face Loki with fists. Each attack was countered with the staff. Parker landed on Rhodes' back and distracted him long enough for Loki to get a solid, hard smack in with his staff that sent Rhodes onto his back again. Parker flung himself off in time to web Rhodes' right arm and leg to the cement.

Loki rested his staff on Rhodes' left foot as he mused, “You are no Iron Man.”

His helmet retracted and Rhodes huffed up at them. “I'm not made for non-lethal combat training!” He kicked Loki's staff off his foot. “I can't exactly whip out the machine gun on you two.”

“Excuses excuses,” Parker chuckled as he landed beside Loki. “Good work dude!”

“Yourself as well, young sir.”

“War. Machine. It's in the name. Not sparring partner who throws goo or snowballs.”

Stark walked over to help get Rhodes freed and back upright again. “Don't be a sore loser, Rhodey.”

“Is it pick on the cripple day?” came a dry, teasing female voice. All four men turned to see Romanoff sauntering up. Loki winced at having ignored putting up wards outside of the compound’s walls. He'd not sensed her coming at all. Though honestly at this point it would have done little but served as a warning. He was past disappearing around others. Romanoff raised an eyebrow at their combined surprise. “Can't a girl just drop by?”

Stark gave one last pull to help Rhodes back up onto his feet. Even in the suit, Rhodes posture looked a little contrite. He glanced away from Stark's glare. Stark growled at the man, “Ya, I'm sure it's a complete fucking coincidence.”

“What was I supposed to do, Tony?” Rhodes tried to defend. “If he's on the up and up or not, more people need to know what's going on.”

“So now you're just fucking lying to me instead of saying that to my face before you call her?” Stark snapped.

“Okay, I'm sorry, I was just a little upset-”

You were upset?” Stark's emotions bubbled over as he shouted. “After everything, Rhodey, this is what gets you to lie to me? Fucking seriously?”

“I only told her that she should probably drop by.”

Parker spoke up, “Does the military know you're this bad at keeping secrets?”

Rhodes ignored the kid and pleaded with a still overly emotional Stark. “I'm sorry, Tony. I should have waited. I should have let you know I felt like more people should be in the know.” He still looked genuinely apologetic.

Stark growled, “He's not ready for fucking prime time news coverage, Rhodey!” Panic over the situation started to build in him.

Loki gripped at Stark's upper arm, soothing, “It's all right, Anthony.” Stark swallowed as he looked up at him. Loki squeezed his arm. “It is all right.” He returned his watchful gaze to Romanoff.

She stood taking in the whole affair with a mildly amused look on her face, arms folded over her chest. As they went quiet, she spoke up, “So, okay, let's try this again, without the melodrama.” She cleared her throat and cocked her head. “Hey guys. How you been? I see you're making new friends. That's cool.”

Loki released Stark and tilted his own head at Romanoff. She didn't truly seem phased by the situation. More amused than anything else. “You do not seem overly surprised to see me.”

Romanoff shrugged her shoulders. “Honestly? Kinda saw it coming. You've got debts to repay and you're insane enough to want to hang out with these lunatics.” She nodded at the other three men.

Loki relaxed a bit at the frank and simple answer. He supposed Romanoff had her own red ledger as she put it. He was not entirely so different.

“I'm not a lunatic,” Parker took offense.

Rhodes rebutted, “You're wearing a full bodysuit and you spray goo at people.”

“It's webbing, dude.”

Stark pulled himself back together as it appeared that Romanoff was not about to sound the alarms. He narrowed a look at Rhodes. “Still not done being angry at you.” Then he turned back to Romanoff and clasped his hands together. “I thought you were off with the old man and his misfits?”

“I'm kinda stuck between both sides after the divorce. Besides, I heard maybe there could be a truce?”

Stark's features darkened a bit. “Maybe.”

“Better than a no,” Romanoff shrugged. Her gaze shifted to Loki again. “Nice new duds. They've got a certain Anthony flare to them.”

Stark rolled his eyes at her teasing, having obviously caught on quickly with Loki's use of his full first name. “You can't tell I designed it. You're guessing.”

She smirked at being right. “You love certain style lines, but ya, guessing. Also guessing you're doing more than putting just your design hand print all over him. Why else would Rhodey be so concerned.”

“You're a modern day Sherlock Holmes,” Stark sniped.

“Will the two of us be a problem, then?” Loki wondered, still feeling out Romanoff's take on it all. She was not upset but she did not seem overly accepting.

“Oh no,” she immediately shook her head. “I'm the last person to judge in that department. You boys knock yourselves out.”

Stark said, “I'm waiting for there to be a 'but' somewhere in all this.”

“Well...”

“Called it.”

Romanoff rolled her eyes and stepped over to stand right in front of Loki. “I'll buy you need time, after wherever you've been, whatever you've been doing. I'll buy you want to help and you really like short guys with complexes. Genuinely.”

“Hey!” Stark interrupted.

She ignored him and continued on as if he'd not spoken. “But I know myself and some others aren't going to be comfortable until Thor chimes in.” Loki's features fell. He swallowed. She shook her head. “Figured. You have to talk to him. Get his blessing. Until then, you're just a criminal on the run hiding behind Stark.”

Stark shouldered his way in between the two of them. “We were working our way toward talking with the big guy.”

“Oh? Well work faster.”

“I require time,” Loki implored. “It will not be a joyous reunion and there are steps I must put into place and-”

She shook her head and called out, “Friday, where's Vision? He should really join us.”

The AI responded a moment later. “He will be there momentarily.”

Parker spoke up from his eavesdropping a few paces away with Rhodes. “Vision already signed off on Loki.”

Romanoff flashed an innocent look.

A sinking feeling settled in Loki's stomach.

Vision floated his way through the nearest wall and across the grounds to the group standing on the basketball court. “Miss Romanoff, a pleasure, I presume?”

“Always.” She smiled at him. “I hear you've signed off on Loki's joining the team and all that.”

Vision landed onto his feet beside her. “His intentions are true.”

Romanoff clicked her tongue. “Don't you think, though, that someone else should probably sign off on all this?”

“Nat,” Stark warned.

“Yes,” Vision agreed. “However, the time did not feel appropriate.”

Romanoff's voice darkened. “Well, if now isn't the right time, then I'm calling Ross and Rogers and telling them all about this.”

“Fuck you, Nat!” Stark snapped.

Loki's whole body went numb. This was it. This was how everything was going to fall apart. Everything.

Vision frowned but nodded at the threat. “Then it will be time.” He glanced apologetically at Loki before he reached up and pressed two fingers to his stone, magical light radiating from it. Loki sensed his pulse of magic. Even his oafish brother would heed the summons.

The weather decidedly changed. The sky darkened. Stark called out, “Friday. Friday, I need a suit. Now!”

Chapter Text

Darkening clouds circled above. Thunder rolled. Rain fell in a few drops before unnaturally swiftly shifting into a downpour. Loki was in a daze. He wasn't ready. He wasn't prepared. What ever would he tell Thor? Would he loathe him? Would he throw him back into imprisonment? Or worse? How was he ever going to explain Odin and have Thor understand? No. No he'd lost. He'd reached out, found Stark, found a slice of happiness, but it could not last. Nothing lasted. He couldn't flee. Where would he flee to? He'd be found.

Parker stared wide-eyed, still in his suit, backing up a step to take in the circling clouds and lightning. Rhodes' helmet unfolded into place to keep out the rain. Natasha merely stood solemnly beside Vision, ignoring the theatrics. Vision's cape whipped in the wind. He looked to Loki and attempted to soothe, “You will make it through this.”

Loki didn't really hear him over the hammering of his heart.

Stark's suit arrived as lightning struck the ground thirty feet or so away from them. The suit only just landed when Stark leaped into it. It closed in time to brace himself against the second crash of thunder and the bright light of Thor's arrival.

Thor kneeled on the grass now emblazoned with runes. Another swirl of rain and clouds and they began to dissipate. Thor stood and cast his gaze over the group.

“Drama queen,” Stark muttered to mask his own distress. Thor's eyes immediately set on Loki and his face hardened. He marched across the distance between them. Loki was nothing but a deer in headlights. It reminded Stark of the look he'd given him in the helicopter. Utter, silent and sheer panic. Stark stepped in front of Loki and blocked Thor's path. “Alright, big guy, just calm down. We can totally talk this out-”

Thor cut him off with one powerful swing of his hammer, slamming it into the side of Stark's armor and sending the whole thing flying, out of his way. Stark flew a distance before he skidded across gravel and grass for many meters. In the next step, Thor grabbed Loki by the throat with his free left hand and hoisted him up off his feet. Loki gripped at Thor's arm in an attempt to alleviate the pressure on his throat, feet dangling.

Anger swirled in Thor's eyes as he glared up at Loki. His breathing was ragged. His voice was strained when he finally growled, “How could you?” He trembled with contained rage and more. Much more. He shook Loki once. “How could you make me mourn you again?”

Loki's eyes widened at the question, unable to answer with the hand around his throat, but not at all expecting such a question.

Stark landed near them, but without looking, Thor pointed his hammer at Stark in warning. The man stayed back but tossed concerned glances between the two. Thor's eyes were lost as they took in Loki. Anger shifted into something more heartbreaking. He dropped Loki back onto his feet. Loki gasped for breath. Thor gave him no time to recover, gripping him by the front of his new armor and jerking him close.

Thor's voice was low. “Twice. I have mourned you twice in a handful of years. Why would you do such a thing to me? Again? Why?!” He shook Loki by the front of his armor.

“I could not stay in that prison,” Loki croaked through his recovering throat.

“So you pretend to die? To die in my arms? Before my very eyes? You could not trust in your help over a victory against the Dark Elves earning you leniency? I would have spoken to father-”

“Leniency how?” Loki interrupted, shoving at Thor in an attempt to free himself, but unable to manage it. Thor tightened his grip on the front of his tunic. Loki opted for glaring instead. “What mercy does one show someone given a life sentence to a cell? Extra rations? He would not lower the sentence, much less free me. And he certainly wouldn't have listened to you, no matter if you'd told him I single handedly destroyed the Elves myself!”

“You do not know that, brother. And instead of seeing a situation through, you lie and deceive your way free?”

Loki shouted back, “I do know it! You felt the magic surrounding me. You spoke of mind altering and the staff. Father cared not!”

“He was angry-”

Loki interrupted heatedly, “He sees me as a blemish, a burden to be hidden away!”

Stark interrupted the bickering brothers, “But you're not.”

Loki's wide eyes turned to Stark. The emotions boiling inside him relaxed some. Stark had retracted his helm and those big brown eyes reminded him why he was here.

Thor eyed Stark, hammer still held out and blocking the man from approaching, but he did loosen his hold on Loki. He turned back to him. “Stark is correct. You are no blemish or burden. You are my brother. Odin does indeed think wrongly over the events and his heart was hardened with our mother's death but he can be reasoned with.” Thor finally fully released Loki and lowered the hammer. “I’ve spoken for you before and I would speak for you now, if only you would tell me how you... where have you been? Why are you here, with them? Did they find you? Capture you?” He eyed the rest. Parker was half hidden behind Rhodes with Romanoff and Vision, a respectful distance away.

“He sort of found me, actually,” Stark spoke up. He stepped over to stand beside Loki, who rubbed at his throat a moment before straightening his armor.

“Found you?”

“Ya, it's ah... complicated.” Stark cast a look at Loki.

Thor tilted his head and waited.

Loki shrugged. “Have you sensed the rift in the Avengers? The feud between Stark and Rogers?”

“I did but it seemed to resolve itself. I was... busy at the time.”

Loki rolled his eyes at his incompetency but went on, “I went to observe the fight. It was partly to see how they were progressing in being stewards of Midgard. I also wanted to observe this rift between them. When it was over, I found...” He looked to Stark, who nodded slightly, before he went on, “I found Anthony in the midst of a panic attack, which have haunted him since the time of the Chitauri attack. After his second fight with Rogers, he realized I was no mere illusion. Since then things have... changed.” He looked back to Thor, who was now appraising Stark. He waited until Thor returned his gaze before continuing, “I have not been myself - literally and figuratively - for quite some time but I feel... I... This is where I wish to be, if you would allow it.”

With Stark?” Thor questioned, although his tone suggested he'd already figured that out.

Loki nodded.

Thor grunted. “He is honorable. Enough.” Stark cocked a grin at the caveat. “And if he suffers from the Chitauri attack, it seems fitting that he finds comfort in someone also marred by them.” Thor shifted his weight as he pressed, “You still have not spoken of the time between your death and now. These events happened recently.”

“Indeed,” Loki said with a deep breath. Stark reached a steadying armored hand to his back. Loki leaned against it. “You may wish to rescind all you have said here after you hear of what I have done but I promise you nothing and no one was hurt because of the deception.”

Thor's features fell as a guarded mask went into place. “Deception?”

All of Thor's attempts at understanding still hinged on this fact and it loomed horribly over Loki's head. How could he say it? Blurt it out? He winced and closed his eyes, struggling to pull himself together enough to speak of it.

“He's being overly fucking dramatic,” Stark sighed with more than a hint of warmth. “He nearly gave himself a heart attack telling me. I can tell him if you want, baby. It's okay.”

“No,” Loki broke in, shaking his head. He opened his eyes and steadied himself, meeting Thor's confused and guarded face. “There is nothing to do but to say it, I suppose, so... After you left me alone to find a way to Midgard with Jane, I stole myself back to Asgard, cloaked in the guise of a guard. I wanted...” He glanced down as he admitted, “I wanted to see father's face when I told him I was dead. If he would mourn. If he would gloat. While still cloaked as a guard, I made certain I was the only one with him in the throne room when I told him of my death and your disappearance. After mother, I suppose I should have realized he'd fall into Odinsleep.”

Thor's brow furrowed. “But I saw father, after the final fight, he allowed...” Then his gaze narrowed. It was Loki who he’d spoken to that day. He growled the name, “Loki. You would not.”

Loki swallowed hard but nodded. “He still sleeps.”

Thor reached for the front of Loki's armor again and spun his hammer, calling out for teleportation back to Asgard. “You will show me him. Now.”

“Not alone you're not!” Stark stepped into the glowing ring of light that formed around the pair.

“Anthony! Hold onto me!” Loki managed to grab Stark's armored arm before the three of them hurtled away.

Chapter Text

It was a confusing rush of lights and streaking stars and the sensation of going far faster than he should ever theoretically be allowed to move through space. Loki's grip was a vice on his armor. Stark struggled to hang on himself. One of his hands twisted in Loki's new coat. He didn’t have time to really think about what would happen if he let go. Panic over hurtling through space again didn't have time to sink in. It was a rush of sights that all too quickly ended with a hard slam onto firm ground.

Thor released Loki quickly enough to help slow Stark's momentum. The man nearly flew away from them but both Loki and Thor's grip kept him from careening off. Instead he tilted sideways on entry and then wobbled on unsteady legs.

Loki cupped Stark's face as he leaned heavily against Loki to stay upright. “Anthony? Are you all right?”

“He is fine,” Thor dismissed. He gave Stark a firm clasp to one shoulder. Stark's knees gave out a little. “Or well, give him a moment, and he shall be.”

Loki glared at Thor as he supported Stark against him. “You could have waited two seconds for me to get a proper hold on him.”

“He should not have come. This is not a holiday.”

“If he had slipped-”

“But he did not and he is fine. Stop hovering over him.”

Stark ignored the brotherly bickering and instead stared up in wonder at the huge, enormous, gigantic, massive buildings surrounding him. No word was really big enough. Gold and marble glittered to the sky. Some sort of single person crafts floated between buildings. The courtyard they'd arrived in was full of milling soldiers in outfits as ridiculous as Thor's but slightly toned down for a lower rank. It was kind of what he'd always pictured but then blown up to a proportion he wasn't quite prepared for.

“So this is Asgard?” he wondered as he craned his head further back to take in a pair of massive warrior statues flanking a large entryway in front of them. “You guys don't do anything small, huh?”

Thor couldn't help but be pleased at the awe on Stark's features. “Sadly, we do not have time for a tour.”

“Are you well, Anthony?” Loki still worried.

Stark nodded and finally focused back on Loki's face. He smiled reassuringly. “Just need to get my legs working again.” He shifted away from Loki and managed to stand unassisted. “That's a hell of a trip, big guy. No wonder you don't get many visitors.”

“It is not a means of travel which agrees with everyone,” Thor half-teased. Then he shifted his attention back to Loki. “Do not stall. I would see him. Now. Where is he?”

Loki struggled not to roll his eyes at Thor's impatience. “I am not stalling. Calm yourself.” He took Stark's arm and led them up the steps, past the giant statues, and into the building beyond them. “We must first get to the royal chambers. He is hidden there.”

Thor followed after them with a grumble. He nodded to guards, who eyed Loki in particular with suspicion and surprise, but they also frowned at Stark in his armor minus the retracted helm. None questioned or stopped them, however, so that was a positive, at the very least. It was only due to Thor’s presence but still. Stark felt their glances but he was more focused on the insane architecture and the way Loki clung to his arm as he walked undisguised through the halls.

“It'll be alright,” Stark reassured in a low whisper.

Loki tossed a panicked look to Stark but kept his steady pace through the corridors. He did not see how this would go well but there was nothing he could do at this point. He could only move forward and await his fate.

They walked to more opulent hallways, passed more guards who straightened at their approach, and then finally entered the royal quarters. Loki cast a long look across the main entry room. Gold and marble still covered everything. It mocked at him as it had the last time he was here. He'd done nothing. Two years and he'd changed nothing. The time would count for naught.

“It looks the same,” Thor remarked.

“Of course it does. Why would Odin change anything.” He released Stark. Now it was Loki who struggled to stay on his feet but he managed to lead them further. They came into the bed chambers and over to a large open closet. At the back hung an array of cloaks of gaudy colors and tones. Thor frowned as he stepped up behind him. Stark hung back a bit. Loki ignored both and closed his eyes. A shimmering green glow overtook the cloaks, stretched out to the wall beyond them and down to the floor. Loki pressed both his hands together and the cloaks and wall disappeared. Instead, the air seemed to shimmer where they had been. Beyond, a bedroom was revealed and upon a large bed rested Odin.

“Father,” Thor sighed, stepping forward ahead of Loki. He dropped his hammer beside the bed and settled upon it to rest a hand on Odin's forehead.

“As I said. He sleeps.” Loki stepped into the room, arms folded over his chest, taking in Thor and the man who would be his father.

Stark was the last to step through to the room, eyeing the way the air still shimmered where the wall had been. The air in the room itself felt off. Heavier and lighter at the same time. The glow of the room was unnaturally warm. He cast a look at Loki. “This room is different somehow.”

The end of Loki's lips curled in a small smile. Stark was always observant and keen. “It is enchanted. The whole room flows with magic.”

“To keep him asleep,” Thor grumbled from the bed.

“To keep him hidden,” Loki countered.

And asleep.”

Loki sighed and stepped his way to the foot of the bed. Ivory blankets covered Odin and the rounded bed. The man rested as he had since the day he'd fallen into Odinsleep. A constant ever present threat looming over all he'd done. “He had to sleep,” Loki said, voice low and quiet. He kept his eyes on Odin. “He had to sleep long enough for me to prove myself. The Chitauri are coming. They grow closer to us every day. Thanos will come. He will come for all nine realms. He will seek to destroy us. I know them. I know how they will come. If I could only lead us through this time, prepare us, gain victory, save us... then he could not possibly put me back into a cell.” Loki finally shifted his gaze to Thor. “Could he not?”

Thor's features did soften some as he took in Loki but he shook his head. “You do not know when they will attack and he cannot sleep forever. It will do you and him no good. You must live your own life.”

“What life?” Loki's gaze returned back to Odin. “He will imprison me again.”

Stark came up to stand beside Loki. “But you haven't changed anything, done anything, while you were free. You played the part. You set up defenses. You didn't go bashing skulls in. You prepared for a defensive war.”

“He will care not.”

Stark implored, “You don't know that.”

Loki's gaze turned all the more somber as he took in Stark. “Would you gamble my freedom, my ability to stay beside you, on his sudden compassion?”

Stark's eyes were a magnificent deep brown in the soft light of the room. His voice lowered softly, trying to soothe. “I'd gamble that you'll never feel secure and safe while he sleeps here.” He took Loki's hand in his own armored glove and turned Loki towards him instead of the bed. “You can't worry forever about what he'll do about all this. You've put it off, done your best, but in the end, he has to wake up eventually. We have to do this. It's like... a bandaid. It might hurt like hell but it has to come off.” Loki blinked at the analogy, not understanding its nuance, and Stark sighed dramatically, “I would date someone who's more clueless than Steve.”

I understood the reference,” Thor spoke up, earning a glare from Loki, before he stood and joined them at the foot of the bed. “He means it is something that must happen, and although it may be painful, there is no avoiding it. I know you fear what he will say, and he may stubbornly continue to be an idiot when he wakes, but father will eventually listen to reason, brother. I promise you I will not stop speaking on your behalf, and I have a feeling Stark would never tire of the subject either.”

“He'd have himself a new court jester that never shut the hell up,” Stark huffed with a short laugh.

Worry ripped at Loki's heart but the two of them were so adamant, and underneath it all, he knew they were correct. No matter what, he was doomed to wake Odin and endure whatever he set forth. His bid at freedom had failed.

“We will work this out,” Stark pleaded with him, eyes large and imploring. “And I promise, I'm not going anywhere.”

He had promised. Promised many times. Loki struggled to believe in those promises. It was all that he had to cling to now.

How had things fallen so to pieces just as he'd found a shred of happiness?

Loki held Stark's gaze, memorizing those features which made his heart skip, and then closed his eyes. Whatever came. He would endure. Somehow. His hands shook as he once again brought them together in front of his chest. The air in the room shifted. The magic retreated. The enchantment broke. He opened his eyes a moment later to see the room had darkened. The otherworldly glow had faded. Stark and Thor stared at him. He released a breath. “It is done. If he wishes to wake, he may.”

“Thank you, brother.” Thor clasped him on the shoulder, squeezing firmly. “Few have your strength.”

Loki glanced down at the compliment. It was no idle comment. He tucked those words away in his mind as well. At the very least, Thor thought well of him. Stark squeezed at his hand. Loki looked up to meet his warm but concerned gaze.

Eventually, Stark glanced to Thor, who was watching Odin continue to sleep. “What now?”

“I will summon the healers.”

Chapter Text

They waited. The waiting was the worst. Thor had offered an armed escort to show Stark around the palace but Loki's legs barely kept him upright as it was. He did not wish to walk and he'd be a horrid guide. He'd fear a summons every step. So instead they sat to one side. Stark had removed his armor. It stood watch beside their sofa.

Loki at first sat primly in place beside Stark as the healers and guards arrived. Various scribes and workers of magic funneled into the room. There were soon a dozen or so Asgardians working on Odin as he slept. Each had cast Loki with a suspicious glance when they'd arrived but he'd ignored them. They in turn focused on Odin and no one spoke to either of them. Thor returned and took up station beside Odin's bed.

As time passed, Loki's position slouched, until he was leaning against Stark, and then eventually curled up on the sofa against his side, legs pulled up into a ball. Stark wrapped an arm around him, rubbing at his side and back. Loki's mind wandered but it wandered in awful directions. It seemed odd that Odin did not immediately wake. Perhaps something had gone wrong. Would Odin never wake? Had he harmed him somehow? Or perhaps he was thinking over everything, deciding Loki's fate as he waited, before coming awake. Either way, perhaps... he was not angry? But that was wishful thinking. Ridiculous thinking.

It was many hours before a report was given to them. Thor came to stand beside their out of the way sofa. The lead healer frowned some at Loki as he straightened in his seat. Thor cleared his throat. She blinked and refocused on him. “Allfather is well. He sleeps comfortably. He was very deeply asleep but his consciousness is whole and his self unharmed.”

“So is he gonna wake up?” Stark wondered.

She sniffed in annoyance at being addressed by a Midgardian simpleton. Loki mentally filed her face away to memory. If he was not tossed back into prison, she would pay for such rudeness to Stark. She addressed Thor again, ignoring Stark. “He may wake in a few hours or a few days. It is always something beyond us as to when he wakes. I will leave someone to monitor him but know he is well.”

“Thank you,” Thor nodded.

The healer turned to go. She gathered up her staff, as stated, and left only one behind. The young man watched a floating monitor to one side. The room was remarkably quiet now without all the goings on.

Thor took in the pair seated before him. “You should rest. Your old quarters are still intact?”

Loki shook his head. “Odin had them refitted into a study and library dedicated to magic. In Frigga's honor.”

Thor smiled a little at the words. “Well then, guest quarters should do. I'll have runners come find you when he wakes.”

“I wish to stay.”

“You must eat, at least. Or I'll have a guard show Stark to-”

“I stay next to him,” Stark interrupted firmly. “We're fine, big guy.”

Thor sighed. “You two do make quite the pair. Fine. I will have food brought up.”

Loki touched none of the food when it arrived. Stark picked at pieces of food on the platter which was set beside their sofa. He made faces at most of it. It would be adorable, if it weren't for the hammering of Loki's heart.

Hours crawled by. Thor was as ever present as they were. He did not leave. He eventually succumbed to sitting in a chair opposite them. Loki's own head drooped onto Stark's shoulder. The mortal fell asleep leaning mostly upright against him. He listened to Stark's even breathing. It almost lulled him to sleep but worry coiled too harshly in his stomach to truly sleep. He only half watched as Thor slumped in his chair, dozing some himself.

There was no reason why his gaze shifted when it did, nothing changed in his field of vision, but still his eyes cast over the bed. His heart stopped. Odin was sitting upright. Watching him. There was a long moment of nothing. He couldn't breathe, he couldn't move, he couldn't react. Odin took it all in with his usual commanding air.

Odin eventually broke the silence, his voice curt and sharp in the quiet of the room. “Nothing to say to me now, hm?”

Thor nearly fell out of his chair and Stark jerked awake. The healer rushed to Odin's bedside but Odin waved him back.

“Be gone. I am fine.”

The healer hesitated a moment before obeying the command. Thor pulled himself to his feet. Loki could not feel his body. He sat up and nearly floated to his feet. He was beyond panic. Stark followed after him, supporting a hand to his back to help keep Loki upright.

Odin glared expectantly at Loki, waiting. His firm look kept even Thor from speaking.

Words. How was he supposed to come up with words? He opened his mouth and it hung there a moment before he finally managed a gasped, “You fell into sleep. I knew Thor was unhappy with the idea of sitting on the throne, away from Jane, away from his work protecting the realms. So I... I did what I had to do... what I thought was right at the time...”

“Do you still believe it right?” Odin growled. His eye was steel. He was neither frail nor harmed by his long sleep. He remembered it all. He saw it all. Instead he sought answers on Loki's intentions, on his mindset. “Were you just in taking the throne? Were you correct to hide me?”

Loki swallowed hard, mind racing and yet empty at the same time. “I acted for the betterment of the realms. I sought to protect them. I sought to protect us. A threat comes and-”

Odin cut him off with a wave of his hand. “You acted for yourself.” His voice rumbled with anger. “You may justify it however you wish, but in the end, it was all to escape your cell.”

“He doesn't belong in that cell in the first place,” Stark interrupted.

“Silence!”

Stark boldly scoffed at the god. “Oh, that's not gonna work on me, patches.”

Odin ignored the affront and instead shouted, “Guards!”

“Okay good comeback.”

“Father,” Thor said. “However misguided Loki's actions may have been, they were made with a wish to save himself and the realms. He did not wage war. He did not-”

Odin interrupted, “You coddle him. You make excuses for him.” Guards filed in from outside the room.

“I tell you the truth! He was altered on the battlefield in New York. He should not have been punished so harshly. He kept the peace here. He wishes to fight alongside Midgard. He has noble goals.”

“Goals reached with the help of lies and deceit.”

“Mother would not wish him locked away-”

“You will not bring her into this while she lies dead.”

“I would speak for him as she would!” Thor's voice rose into its own commanding shout. “You must not pass judgment hastily. As you did with him before. As you did with me and my own banishment. You must stop and think without anger, father!”

Odin locked eyes with Thor. They silently pitted wills with one another.

Odin looked away first. His voice was low as he ordered, “The fugitive is to be placed into custody. I shall render my verdict tomorrow.”

“No,” Loki gasped. He had no time to react. Guards circled him. He was cuffed before he could even think of fighting them off, although his body was far too in shock to do much against them. The cold metal snapped into place and his magic was locked away along with his wrists. “No no no no...

Stark blinked at the cuffs and Loki's reaction to the stay of verdict Thor had fought for him. “Wait? What just happened? This is good, right? Tomorrow? We've got time.”

Thor stepped closer to Loki. “Stay strong, brother. I will speak with him through the night. He will calm and see reason.”

Sheer panic and distress flooded through Loki. “I... I can't...” Stark had promised they'd stay together. Stark had promised he'd not go back into that cell.

“One night, Loki,” Thor reassured.

Guards pulled at his restraints and pushed him forward. Loki dragged his feet but still he was pushed along. Away. Away to that cell. Again. He couldn't. Not again. Not again.

Stark rushed to try and follow after him, calling out, “Stay calm, baby. It'll be okay.” More promises.

He was bodily pulled out of the room and roughly shoved along. He could hear Stark shouting. He argued with Thor. He rushed to follow after but guards blocked his path. Then Loki was out of sight of him, dragged down corridors, and soon steps down. Down. Down.

What good were promises? They were never kept.

Chapter Text

It was the same cell. The remains of his rampage within after hearing of Frigga's death had long since been removed. It was pristine once more. Hauntingly the same as the last time he'd been placed within it. He dug in his heels but guards easily shoved him within. Handcuffs were removed. Then he was locked away and left.

Alone.

Here.

His legs gave out. He collapsed in a heap on the floor. The pristine walls mocked him. It was all for nothing. He had accomplished nothing. Only deluded himself into thinking he could manage this, that he could be free and himself, that Anthony meant his words, that Odin would see reason.

He was a fool.

Perhaps he truly belonged in this cell.

Tears welled up. He struggled to breathe. The walls closed in on him. He shut his eyes and struggled not to think of those harsh walls. He curled into a ball and covered his head with his arms. Panic and fear and despair rocked through him.

What did it matter if Odin had put aside his decision for one day? He would keep him here, now that he was back where he'd always wanted Loki. Out of sight. A blemish. A disappointment. Not truly his son. A lost cause. A bargaining chip that never paid off against the frost giants. Nothing more than an artifact to be kept hidden away.

His thoughts circled endlessly. He cried until he could no longer cry any more. He trembled. He struggled to breathe in the confined space. Time passed. Eventually everything shifted into a dull ache of dread and hurt.

Anthony had promised...

He slowly stood. The new armor creaked in the silence of the cell. Loki glared down at it. Fingers ripped off the coat and harshly flung it aside. His crown ricocheted off the magical barrier and landed on the floor with a metallic clang. Gloves followed. Then the tunic. Boots were kicked off, satisfactorily knocking furniture over when they flew. It was all tossed brutally in different directions. He panted as he remained in trousers and green cotton undershirt.

What would he need new armor for? What would he need any of this for? How was he so naive? So ridiculously enchanted with Stark? It was all for nothing. It was all worth nothing.

The weight of it sunk against him. His hands shook. He stepped over to the bed and climbed onto it, crawling to the furthest corner, and curled limbs and face against the intersecting walls. Solid. Grounded. He closed his eyes and struggled not to think.

It was many hours before anyone came. He heard footsteps. Guards. The heavy thumps of his brother's feet. His heart squeezed as he heard a pair of hesitant footsteps behind Thor's. The guards stopped at his cell. He heard someone step into his cell before Thor ordered the guards to wait further back. Loki did not react. He stayed pressed against the walls in his corner on the bed. They could not have good news. The guards had not released him.

“Loki?” came Stark's concerned voice. He stepped to the middle of the cell. “Baby, it's going to be okay. We've been talking-”

Loki interrupted, still curled away from him. “It will not be okay.”

“I know being in here is killing you, baby, but I promise-”

“You promise?!” Loki shouted as he turned to glare at the man. Stark stared wide-eyed at the reaction. Hurt anger boiled up inside of Loki. He shifted to stand, sliding off the bed onto his feet. “What weight do idle promises carry?!” Tears welled up all over again. “You promise. You promise. You promise. Yet here I stand. In my nightmare. In my defeat. He will leave me here to rot and I will be without you, I will be without everything!”

Stark took the abuse but his eyes were large with sympathy. He stood his ground against Loki's shouted words, then he said soft and firm, “Who said I was goin' anywhere?”

Loki scoffed even as tears fell free down his cheeks. “Oh please, do not find me so naive, Anthony. I will be locked away here. You will not sta-”

“The hell I won't,” Stark cut him off mid-word. He stepped cautiously toward Loki. “Even if he throws the fucking key away, I promised and I meant it. I'm not leaving. I'll be here. Everyday I'll be pestering the old bastard to let you out, and every night I'll be holding you. That's not up for negotiation. Ever.”

The determination on Stark's features made his heart skip more than the words. He meant it. Loki swallowed hard, his anger sliding away. “But you have work to do back on Midgard. Friends. Battles to undertake. A life... a life you shouldn't throw aside...”

Stark shook his head, carefully breaching the space between them with slow steps forward, as he soothed, “Ain't going anywhere, baby. Not without you. I'm sure you and Thor can keep me busy, along with pestering your fucking dad, but no matter what happens, you're stuck with me. Believe it.”

“But your life-” Loki choked out. His legs gave way as Stark came up to him. He dropped to his knees.

“-isn't worth shit without you.” Stark cupped Loki's face in both his hands, brushing at tears with his thumbs. “I'm so sorry they didn't let me come down with you right away. Oh baby, I'm so sorry.”

Loki sobbed. Stark dropped to his own knees and then sat on the floor, pulling Loki against him, onto his lap. Loki sunk against him, twisting fingers in the front of his shirt, and clung to him. He cried again. A release of tension and worry still mixed with all the uncertainty of what was to come. Stark held him, rocked him, spoke softly but Loki didn't hear the words, just the cadence of them.

Stark's shoulder was a wet mess by the time the tears subsided. He was curled on the man's lap, his grip on the front of his shirt not quite so tight, and his head on his shoulder. His breathing evened out. One of Stark's arms wrapped around him, the other hand thread through his hair, brushing it back over and over again.

He could feel the soft rumble in Stark's chest as he spoke gently. “I will never leave, Loki. You've promised before that even if I sent you away, you'd stay by me if you could, make sure I was safe and not haunted at night. I signed right on up in return, baby. There's nothing that could happen to make me go of my own free will. You're stuck with me. I promise with every inch of who I am. I promise.”

Loki nuzzled closer, pressing his face to Stark's neck, and breathed in the scent of him. His voice was hoarse from the sobs. “I am sorry... for...”

“Don't be.” Stark pressed a kiss to his hair. “I left you here in a nightmare. It's okay.”

“I am still sorry for my words.”

“I've been yelled at far worse tonight,” he teased lightly, squeezing Loki's side. “It took some doing to get me down here. Well, without me actually having to punch Odin and getting put down here for real. Not that I didn't want to punch the asshole.”

Loki huffed a short laugh. He couldn't keep the worry out of his voice as he asked, “Things are going well, then?”

He felt Stark actually nod, to his surprise, and Loki pulled back to meet Stark's gaze. Stark's hand in his hair moved down to cup his cheek. “One reason it took me so long to get down here. I got caught up in a shouting match with a god. I think I mostly just got a lot of his anger out, wore him down a little, shouting at the stupid human. Softened him up some for Thor. Big guy can be eloquent when he wants to be.” Stark turned his hand around and brushed the back of his fingers against Loki's flushed cheek. “Odin's a fucking asshole but Thor's right in that Odin needs to calm down and he'll think more clearly. Odin was adamant that I couldn't come down here when they first took you. Then after a few hours, while he and Thor were talking, he cut off the conversation to send me down here. He looked almost... worried?” Stark shrugged and pressed a kiss to Loki's forehead. “I just... I wouldn't give up hope, Loki.”

Loki sighed and sunk further against him. He felt well and truly exhausted. His voice was nothing but a whisper as he said, “Hope feels impossible in this place.” He wanted to believe. He wanted to hope. But being in this cell again, being locked away... he could not keep hold of any hope. Only Stark felt solid and real.

Stark squeezed him in his arms. “You've got me. I'll keep on hoping for the both of us.” He brushed his nose against Loki's then kissed him, soft and sweet. It lingered a moment before it broke. “Come on. My back is going to kill me if we stay here.” He winked and shifted Loki off his lap.

Legs didn't entirely want to cooperate but Loki managed to pull himself up onto them. Stark grunted at getting up off the hard stone floor. Loki berated himself for not thinking of the man's comfort but Stark flashed him a soft smile as he stood. Movement caught Loki’s eye and he spotted Thor walking up to the open magicked wall to his cell from across the corridor. Had he been lurking all this time?

Thor’s features softened further at the sight of the pair in the cell. His voice was warm but firm. “I will return to father and continue our talks. If you mean to stay here, Stark, then I will let the guards know.” His gaze shift to Loki and lingered a moment before he managed, “Hope does lie in this place. For you. It stands beside you.” He tilted his head toward Stark. Loki smiled ever so slightly at the comment. Thor nodded and turned to leave. They could hear him speak to the guards before his footsteps disappeared.

“Told you,” Stark commented simply. He reached to pull both of them onto the small bed.

Loki settled on his side, curled up against Stark, back to the open cell. All he wanted to hear and feel and acknowledge was Stark. “Apparently even oafs can be witty and kind on occasion.”

Stark tugged at his hair. “Be nice.”

“I was being nice,” Loki hummed, nuzzling against Stark's neck.

Despite all his tears, sleep came slowly, but his thoughts were calm. He listened to Stark's steady breathing and heartbeat. Warm and real beside him. He focused on the man. Whatever happened, whatever fate befell him, Stark would remain. He had promised. And now, he believed him.

Chapter Text

Loki trembled when the guards came to retrieve them. Neither had rested well. It was more waiting than sleeping but he'd had Stark pressed against him and that had been all he needed to remain calm. Now, however, his legs barely worked, his heart hammering in his chest, as they waited for him to dress. He'd thought to merely pull boots back on but then dignity tugged at him. He would not let Odin see him in such a state. Once dressed, they clapped cuffs on his wrists again, and the clawing of panic ripped at him.

Stark pressed a hand to his back and steadied him. “Breathe, baby.”

Loki took in a deep breath and released it slowly. It trembled some but Stark rubbed at his back. He had Anthony. That was all he needed. He could face this. He would manage to survive. Again.

The guards led them up the steps and through the palace to the large throne room. At the very least, this time he was only merely cuffed, as he walked the long hall to stand before the throne. Odin sat looking tired and drained but stern. Thor stood to the left, where Frigga had been some years before, also exhausted but with warmth on his features at the sight of them.

It was early morning. Sunlight glimmered in through high vaulted windows and pillars. Odin had not waited long to see him. Loki's heart sunk further.

They came to a stop and Odin waved back the guards. Stark stayed to Loki's right side, back a step, but glaring up at the old man on the throne.

Odin's voice was both drained and commanding at the same time. “I have heard the arguments and I have headed Thor's counsel to stay my edict until dawn.” He shifted forward and stated firmly, “Now I will have my words be law and they will not be questioned by any.” He tossed Thor and then Stark a firm look. Stark merely raised his chin in response.

Thor, however, answered, “Now that you have calmed yourself, I do not question your judgment, father.”

Stark half rolled his eyes.

Loki bit his tongue to not snap for things to just be over with and end the hammering of his heart.

Then Odin's gaze settled on him. Loki swallowed hard. The man who would be his father took him in for long minutes. Finally, he spoke, “In honor of your mother and Thor's evidence on your behalf, I am rescinding your lifetime imprisonment. I was not presented with all evidence and therefore it is undone.”

Loki's legs buckled slightly and Stark wrapped an arm around him to keep him upright. It couldn't be this simple, it couldn't be, but he'd never thought to actually hear those words on Odin's lips.

Odin huffed at the reaction and continued, “You are not inculpable for what happened on Midgard or the would be attack on our realms but I would see the punishment changed.”

What would he do instead? How much blame would he still lay at Loki's feat for the Chitauri?

“You have also lied, deceived, and falsely impersonated me for two years. You may have done so with so called good intentions but they were acts you still performed. Acts you admit to having done.”

“You were asleep-” Loki began but Odin cut him off immediately.

“Silence! I am done with discussing this, Loki. It was a misguided and foolhardy attempt to clear your name. I will give you a proper means to do so.” His gaze narrowed and he bellowed in a voice that echoed in the hall. “Loki of Asgard, you are hereby banished to Midgard, never to return until you've proven yourself capable of protecting and serving the realm you devastated. Your powers of deception are to be stripped from you. You will no longer be able to fool those around you into believe you are not what you seem. And you will be watched by both Thor and Stark, as both have vowed their lives and freedom be tied to yours. Any further transgressions and they will suffer your fate. Your life is forever tied to theirs. You are hereby set to protect Midgard, and if you fail to do so, then you three shall be punished as one.”

His enchanted words took effect immediately. Loki could feel a corner of his magic be snuffed out. He would no longer be able to take the guise of others or alter his appearance past the millennia old enchantment placed by Odin himself. Loki released a breath at the sensation but it was a small price to pay. He could still feel his remaining magic hovering beyond the suppression of the handcuffs. He was still whole but for disguises.

And banished to Midgard? Not as a mortal but as himself? To protect and serve the realm? That had to be Thor's doing. After his own banishment and then interest in the realm, after seeing him and Stark, after all of it, he had to have suggested the idea or pushed Odin in that direction. It did seem fitting but Odin had to realize he'd be on Midgard regardless if freed. It was not harsh.

Then his mind settled on Thor and Stark's lives being tied to his own. Fear crept forward at the thought. Odin could find a way to punish him no matter what he did. He was charged in protecting Midgard, and if anything happened, then Odin could find him to blame, and therefore Thor and Stark. They trusted him so greatly? They trusted him with their very lives? Did either know what they’d truly sworn to with such words?

He blinked, left in shock from it all. Odin stoically took in the reaction, a firm rock of non-emotion. Loki's gaze shifted to Thor and his brother merely nodded, looking quite pleased with the edict. Then he turned to Stark. The mortal smiled gently at him. “You would...” Loki couldn't find the words. He groped for them. “You would vow yourself to me?”

Stark cocked a wider smile. “Well, I mean, a wedding's probably a ways off, but ya. I would. And I did.”

“His life and Thor's rests in your hands, Loki of Midgard,” Odin prodded. He thumped the end of his staff against the marbled floor. His voice dropped into a worried growl, “Do not prove me right and doom all three of you.” His tone made it obvious he was certain Loki would fail. He waved a hand and guards stepped forward to remove Loki's cuffs.

“He will acquit himself well, father. You need not worry.” Thor stepped forward and embraced Loki in a bear hug as soon as he was freed.

Air was knocked out of Loki's lungs at the fierce hug but he gently returned it. He owed Thor that much. It still felt a bit like a dream. Worry hung over him but it was concern for Stark and Thor. He desperately did not wish to harm either of them. It was the greatest of vows one could make for another. He sagged against Stark as Thor released him, Stark's arms coming around him from the side.

“Now be gone to Midgard. You are not to step foot on another realm until I find your penance paid or you fail in your task.”

Loki nodded. A corner of his mind worried over if he'd ever have to leave in order to face the Chitauri but they were not here. Yet. He would worry over it and any consequences later.

Thor clasped him on the shoulder and then tugged to get them moving. “Come. I will return you both to Earth.”

Stark kept his arm around Loki as they crossed back through the throne room under Odin's watch. He tossed a nod over his shoulder to Odin on their way out. The old man grumbled something in his seat.

“I cannot... I cannot believe...” Loki stuttered. They slowly walked down the hallways toward the courtyard they'd arrived to. He flexed his fingers in front of himself, feeling the magic beneath them. It felt different but it was there.

“Told you. Not so bad, right? Now that he's calmed the fuck down.” Stark took in Loki's playing with his fingers. “Did he really take away the disguises? Just like that? Halloween's gonna be a lot less fun.”

Loki nodded. “But the rest remains.” He cupped his hands together. A green glow covered them before they parted to show off a snowball. “I thought perhaps mortal banishment but...”

“He did think on it but I pushed for your ability to do good on Midgard,” Thor stated as he walked ahead of them. “It is both a waste to have you imprisoned here or to be made mortal and sent to Midgard. You will do far more good using all mother taught you. Well, minus the one father took offense to.”

Loki tossed the snowball to Stark who caught it and then juggled the cold snow as it froze fingertips. Thor bounced down the steps to the courtyard quicker than the rest so Stark took aim and fired it at Thor's head. Thor was caught off guard and stumbled down the last few steps.

Loki laughed. A good, solid chuckle. Something he'd sorely missed over the last day. Thor glared back over his shoulder and Stark attempted to look innocent beside Loki. He held his hands out in front of himself with a shrug.

“It wasn't me, big guy. I'm not the ice queen.”

Loki gasped dramatically. “Anthony, how dare you!”

Stark smirked as he stepped forward with a shrug. “If the snowball fits...”

Loki huffed, brought his hands together again, and then launched a snowball at the back of Stark's head himself this time. Stark yelped satisfactorily at the cold.

Thor rolled his eyes at the pair of them. “Enough. You two are more trouble together than apart.”

“Yes dad,” Stark harassed, shaking the snow out of his hair. He pressed a finger on his watch and wondered, “Friday, where the hell is my suit? Does the old man still have it? Get it over here without breaking anything.”

“On its way, sir,” replied the AI.

Contained joy bubbled over. Loki stepped up to Stark and pulled him for a sound kiss. Thor grumbled and rolled his eyes. The suit arrived and only then did they part.

Stark beamed a smile at him. He stepped into the suit and moved closer to Loki. “Let's get the hell out of here.”

Thor hefted his hammer and called forth the teleportation to Midgard. Light encompassed them. Loki clung to Stark firmly. This time he was prepared for the trip. Stark's armored arms were tight around his waist.

He never thought to imagine hurtling back through the realms to Midgard again. A somber worry still rung through him over Thor and Stark but he vowed that he would keep them both safe from Odin's wrath. He would surprise his father. He would protect Earth. He would be Loki of Midgard.

Chapter Text

They landed in a hard crash but this time Stark was prepared for the firm landing. He did as well as the Asgardians on sticking the landing. He released Loki and immediately tossed a look around the compound. No activity in sight, he called out to Friday as he exited his armor. “Where is everyone? I want a meeting in the common room. Now. Is Nat still here?”

“Parker and Rhodes are already there. I will inform Vision and Romanoff. She has been awaiting your return.”

“Oh I bet.” Stark led the way across the open grass. “Come on. Time to disappoint some assholes.” He tossed a grin back at Loki and reached a hand for him. Thor followed behind. They were swiftly inside and by the time they made it to the main common room the four others were already waiting.

“You're back!” Parker squeaked, hopping onto his feet, leaving behind a bowl of cereal to come up to them, bouncing as he contained himself from hugging both. “Did everything go okay? What happened?” Then he gave an awkward wave to Thor walking up behind them. “Hey, uh, Thor. That was quite some lightning yesterday.”

Thor raised an eyebrow at the chattering kid.

Stark patted Parker's arm and stepped around him. “Everything's fine.” His gaze locked on Romanoff. She met his firm look with mild curiosity.

“So Loki's free?” Rhodes wondered from his spot on the sofa.

“More or less,” Thor answered, setting his hammer aside on a table.

Vision nodded beside Rhodes on the sofa. “As I'd stated, Odin would see reason.” They'd evidently discussed the whole disappearance and possible outcomes.

“That wasn't exactly a yes he's free though,” Romanoff prodded at Thor. She stood with her arms folded across her chest.

Loki answered himself, “I am confined to Earth. I must protect the realm or face consequences. My powers of disguise have been revoked.”

“And if he does anything wrong, Thor and I pay the price along with him,” Stark added.

“So he's on parole?” Rhodes wondered.

“Community service,” Stark corrected.

Romanoff looked unimpressed. “And two parole officers who go down if he does anything. Lovely.”

Stark glared at her. His low patience with her snapped. “You know what - fuck you, Natasha. I'd just as easily tie myself to Parker, Rhodey, or Vision. I know none of them would fail to help protect Earth because that's not gonna happen on their watch, and it's not gonna happen on Loki's either. He was captured and tortured by the Chitauri. He'd never fucking let them or anyone else touch Earth. So you can take your high and mighty bullshit elsewhere.”

She rolled her eyes. “He's still a criminal. You can bluster all you want but I was right to get Thor involved. He needed a leash.”

Thor tilted his head at her. His own tone was sharp. “He was only found guilty of impersonating our father while he laid in a deep sleep. He has paid his penance and his name is cleared of New York.”

Romanoff shook her head. “Still leashed to you, big guy.”

“Fucking hypocrite,” Stark snarled, slowly marching over to her with firmly planted steps. “You go and help Steve with his actual serial killer boyfriend and then you harp on this bullshit.”

“He wasn't going to stop fighting against us, and in the end, they were right. There were other brainwashed super soldiers out there. Now the soldiers are dead and we've got Zemo in custody.”

“They're not all dead,” Stark said darkly. “Where's Barnes?”

Romanoff tilted her head back, staying silent.

“You know where he is. An actual super soldier killer-”

“He was brainwashed.”

Is brainwashed. Someone gets a hold of those keywords again and he's off killing innocents.” Stark’s voice quivered some at the memory of Barnes' and his parents.

“Steve's got him.”

“Oh does he? Where? I'm sure he's locked up tight?” Stark asked with a growl. She stayed silent. “It's nice to know you trust him more than me.”

“Comparing them doesn't work. It's not the same.”

“No. It's not. Because Loki's not still under the influence of any mind control but Barnes is. So you and Steve sleep tight with that knowledge in your little heads. But if you can trust Steve to look after that asshole, then you can shut the hell up about Loki.”

“He's a threat.”

Loki spoke up, “I have done nothing since New York.”

“Because you were in hiding and you had what you wanted. Power.”

Stark shifted to block her line of sight on Loki, “So then what's his motive for all this? Hm? He could have kept hidden and in power forever if that's all he wanted.”

“I don’t know.” Romanoff smirked. “Maybe he just wanted a good lay.”

Stark's eyes darkened. He forcefully shoved her by the shoulders, pushing her back a few steps, and then angrily pointed down the hall. “Get out! Get the fuck out of here! Go sleep your own goddamn way through Steve's crew and don't you fucking come back.”

“Hit a nerve, old man?” Romanoff scoffed.

“Dude!” Parker shouted.

“Nat,” Rhodes cautioned. “Just shut up and get out.”

Stark continued to round on her. “You're a two timing, double crossing, untrustworthy piece of shit who never means what she says. Not once. If anyone in this building right now is a threat, it's you and your flipping on anyone who's ever given a fuck about you. You didn't back up Bruce. You weren't really with me on the accords. You didn't even give me five minutes to prepare before summoning Thor. And now you're gonna go tell Steve all about this. Only this time, you're never ever coming back.” His voice dropped to a growl, “Now go be a lonely harpy somewhere else.”

Romanoff stood her ground and glared a long moment.

Vision's voice sliced through the tension, “Your concerns were not wholly unjustified for someone who cannot sense his intentions. However, with overwhelming evidence to the contrary, it is unwise for you to continue on with this line of thinking, Miss Romanoff.”

She answered without looking away from Stark. “He's a threat.”

“As are you. As am I.” Vision stood and slowly walked his way over to the pair still squaring off. “You have failed to reason that each of us hold power which threatens the others. This is why we're so strong when combined against a foe. You would do well not to inherit Mister Rogers' stubbornness. Because as it stands, you have lost some of the only family and friends you've ever known, over something as simple as accepting the truth.”

A brief bit of sadness flashed in Romanoff's eyes before she ripped them away from Stark. “I was right to ask for Thor.”

“You threatened, demanded, and blackmailed. And now that your questions are answered fully, you continue to antagonize. You have lost your way. You have lost much today.” Vision shook his head as he came to stand beside her. “I shall see her out.”

“Fine. Good.” Stark turned away. “Enjoy being in exile. I'll be the one calling Ross today.”

Romanoff ignored the comment from Stark. She turned to leave, escorted by Vision, and tossed her gaze to Loki as she passed him. “Well played. You've got them all convinced.”

Loki narrowed his own gaze on her. “And you would burn every bridge rather than admit you were wrong.”

“I wasn't wrong. You are dangerous. You did deserve justice back on Asgard. You're just trying to spin it.”

“I am no more dangerous than you.” He tilted his head to one side. “Yet which of us is attempting to twist the truth? Which of us is being asked to leave?”

Her eyes shifted away and her features fell. She was blissfully quiet as Vision continued their way down the corridor.

Stark slumped as she was finally gone and walked to wrap arms around Loki. The pair loosely hugged one another, Stark’s head on Loki’s shoulder, as the air in the room calmed.

It was Rhodes who broke the silence. “I'm still so sorry, man. I promise I'll come to you next time. Like I should have this time. I was worried but I shouldn't have let that worry turn me into a dick.”

Stark's lips curled into a small smile. He answered without moving in his pose with Loki. “Only one sorry? Still mad at you.”

Rhodes chuckled lightly. “I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.”

“Keep going,” Stark pressed. Loki chuckled lightly in his arms. Stark tightened his hold on him, then leaned up for a kiss.

“I'm sorry. I'm sorry.” Rhodes continued on repeating, throwing a pillow at Parker when he laughed at him. “I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.”

Their kiss deepened and arms tightened around one another.

“Alright, enough,” Thor huffed. He flopped himself down into a chair and shook his head at the pair.

Parker lamented, “They never just get a room.”

The kiss broke to grins on both their faces. Stark shifted his hold to the front of Loki's armor, grabbing him by the lapels. “Actually, that sounds like an amazing idea.”

Loki flushed more at the lovely rumble in Stark's voice than at his alluding to future activities in front of the others.

Vision returned and his features warmed at the pair looking more relaxed. “She has been seen out and security alerted.”

“Good,” Stark grumbled. He tossed a look to Thor. “You staying with us for a while, big guy?”

Thor nodded from his seat. “I do believe I could use some time here.”

“Trouble at home?” Stark harassed, but the look on Thor's face said it hit a bit too close to reality. “Well there's a room here for you. It's not covered in gold and marble...”

Thor's face brightened and he chuckled from his seat. “I will manage.”

“Well then, if you'll excuse us...” Stark walked backwards, dragging Loki with him by the front of his armor.

“About time,” Rhodes teased.

“Still haven't heard enough sorry's, Rhodey.”

Chapter Text

The door shut behind them. Clothing was magicked away from both of them. Their kisses only faltered as Stark found himself suddenly half an inch shorter and gripping at nothing. He laughed against lips and redoubled the kiss, hands sliding up to pull by bare shoulders instead. He made for the sofa, and once the back of his calves hit the cushions, he twisted and pushed the taller man down onto it lengthwise. Stark climbed on top, straddling hips, and warm bodies pressed together. Bare chests down to firming cocks. The most lovely little happy hums from Stark. Loki arched beneath him and slid hands around hips to cup at Stark's firm backside.

Kisses went on and on, wet and sloppy, adoring and teasing. A release of all the tension carried on their shoulders. The threat of Odin was more or less gone. Only the lingering worry that Loki might cause harm to come to Stark and Thor pulled at Loki but he would not allow such a thing to come to pass. Those left at the compound accepted him. There was no need to hide. There was only Stark. Stark in his arms. Stark pressed against him. Together they would manage against the Chitauri. Together.

He'd promised and so it had come to pass.

It nearly all felt like a dream, minus Romanoff's harassment, and even she was gone. The other team could think whatever they liked of him. It did not matter. He was free. He was here. He was Loki of Midgard. And Stark had vowed himself to him. He doubted the mortal knew wholly what such a vow meant but there would be time for words.

For the first time in his life, someone had put action to their promises to him. No other lover had cared to fight for him, to put their life on the line for him, to do anything of the sort for him. Only Anthony.

Cocks rubbed and rutted together. Loki squeezed at Stark's ass, pinning them more tightly. It was not enough. He wanted to wrap himself around Stark, to melt into him, to meld completely. He whined beneath Stark. The man growled into their kisses and shifted his arm from against the back of the sofa to slide it between them. He wrapped fingers around both their cocks and stroked them together.

Yes,” Loki broke the kisses to gasp, lips tingling and bruised. He could feel the vein along the underside of Stark's cock. The brush of heads together and leaking seed. Hands shifted up to twist in Stark's hair as their eyes met. “Oh my darling, more please.

Stark's eyes glittered with pleasure in the warm light coming in from the wall of windows. He kissed him again and released their cocks. Stark shifted back and easily maneuvered both of Loki's long legs up enough so he could slide back between them. Loki happily wrapped them around Stark's waist, arching again in encouragement. Loki's breathing hitched as Stark moved to press kisses hungrily down his throat and neck.

He reached out a hand toward the bedroom and magicked a bottle of lubricant into his palm.

Stark huffed another chuckle, biting lightly at his neck. “I'm never getting over that trick.” He sucked on a patch of skin and Loki moaned. Stark rocked his hips forward, brushing over balls and cock, and Loki nearly dropped the bottle. He was ridiculous putty in Stark's hands. Stark reached for the bottle himself, taking it from long fingers, and growled a pleased, “Let me this time, babe. I've gotcha.”

Loki shivered. As much as he did not wish to slow down, he was not about to stop Stark from taking his time. Stark continued to kiss down to one nipple, teasing with teeth and tongue, while he uncapped the lube and slicked down fingers. Loki's moans went up in volume as oiled fingers wrapped around his cock and stroked. Oh my but he was going to need every ounce of strength to last through this. Stark stroked and squeezed. His kisses made their way across to his other nipple. Fingers released him only to roll his balls in his palm.

Loki unwrapped his legs from around Stark, instead resting one foot up on the back of the sofa and the other on the floor. Fingertips brushed back beyond his balls, over smooth sensitive skin, then against puckered skin. Stark kissed his way down his stomach as he gently pushed with a finger. One fingertip, one knuckle, pull back, push in, pull back, push further, two knuckles. He was beyond gentle and the pace was maddening but then Stark's kisses on his stomach distract him as he reached his cock. Tongue lapped over the head and Loki's hips jerked.

Stark chuckled at him. The bastard. He moved his free hand to still Loki's hips. He wrapped lips around the head of Loki's cock and sucked. At the same time he pushed firmly, sliding one whole finger inside of him, and slowly rubbed with it, stretching and teasing all at once.

Ooh!” Loki's fingers returned to Stark's hair, twisting at the strands. It was too much. Stark took more of him into his mouth, slowly sliding down his length, while his finger began to thrust as he stretched. He would come down Stark's throat if he was not careful. He panted ragged and tossed his head back. It was too much to look at and experience it at the same moment. The single finger slid from him and then two were pushed slow but steadily into him. They curled and brushed over his prostate. “Anthony!

Stark heeded none of his warnings. He grinned around his cock. He began to bob his mouth on him, sucking and slurping, and then those fingers started to thrust. He teased to one side and then the other of his prostate. He was the absolute worst tease. It was the most maddening combination.

He could not last.

Anthony... Tony... darling please!” His toes curled. His body trembled. He was so close. Achingly close. He wanted desperately to be filled but the man's mouth around him was bliss. Those teasing fingers thrust faster, harder, and then finally rubbed squarely over his prostate.

He shouted Anthony's name so loudly it echoed in the open space but he did not care. He came hard. His hips bucked, his muscles squeezed around Stark's fingers, and he pulsed against his tongue. The man hummed, sending more shudders through Loki, as Stark swallowed him down again. Loki shuddered so much that he nearly fell off the sofa. Stark hung onto him. He kept his fingers in place but slowly slid his mouth from around his cock, pressing kisses to the length instead, as Loki came down.

Stark hummed happily, “Still the most beautiful fucking sight.”

Loki gasped and sank against the sofa. He moved one hand from Stark's hair to twist in his own, brushing it back. Stark kissed along his inner thigh and he trembled. “You spoil me.”

“Are you kidding me? That was completely fucking selfish.” Stark nipped at his skin. “I love seeing you a mess, and god, do you taste good.”

Loki shivered again at the words. He finally looked down at Stark looking so very smug. He had every right. He tugged on Stark's hair and pulled the man back up for more kisses. He could taste himself on Stark. The man hummed low in his chest. It always felt as if he was behind in pampering the man properly but then he'd never been so spoiled in his life. It was hard to feel as if he could ever reciprocate enough.

Fingers slowly teased, scissoring and stretching, before they slid out and were replaced by three digits instead. He was being quite thorough but Loki was too busy shivering to complain. He was overly sensitive and aftershocks kept his cock half hard. This man would be the end of him.

Lazy, deep kisses turned more passionate. Heads tilted. Tongues teased. Fingers stretched and sent shudders through him with each brush over his prostate.

Loki whined as he broke the kisses. “You are evil.”

“I know.” Stark smirked against his lips. “But you love it.” He nipped at Loki's chin and slowly slid his fingers from him, earning a happy groan. He watched with rapt attention as Stark stroked and slicked himself. One of his knees slid off the sofa as Stark positioned himself. He brushed their noses together while guiding himself with a hand on his cock, the other still on Loki's hip.

Loki wrapped arms around behind Stark's head, keeping him bent forward, and moaned as he was oh so deliciously filled. “I do,” he gasped. His eyes met Stark's deep brown gaze. His own held a sparkle of meaning as he repeated, “I do love it.

A shiver went through Stark. He leaned forward to rest his forehead against Loki's. Their eyes remained locked. Long legs wrapped around Stark's waist as he fully sheathed himself inside. He paused, panting, so wrapped up in Loki, in every way. His voice held so much weight as he whispered, “I know you do.

More was said than was meant to be but both were too lost to care. Stark was his. Stark would be his. Only his. And he was Stark's. So completely, utterly Stark's. He tilted lips to brush them against the other man's. “I am yours, Anthony.

Stark's eyes glowed with so much warmth. His voice was a low, possessive rumble, “I know. And I'm yours, Loki.

Loki arched beneath him, heart hammering, whole body feeling both weightless and aching. “Mine.”

Stark growled happily and rolled his hips, continuing to stretch, but he didn't stay long with the grinding. Stark began to thrust and Loki's eyes fell shut, his mouth hanging open. Loki lost himself to moans. Their breaths mingled. Loki dug short nails against Stark's shoulders once he truly began to thrust. The sofa complained. It wasn't enough room. Loki thought about teleporting them to the bed but he didn't wish to interrupt.

The pace slid into something rougher, harder. Loki pleased, “More! More!” Stark's only answer was a guttural growl. He shifted their position. He slid off the low sofa onto his knees on the floor and pulled Loki's hips with him to the edge. He thrust faster with the change in position. Loki gripped at the back of the sofa and sat upright some, watching Stark driving into him, over and over. The man's muscles worked, sweat slicked his skin. He was flushed and focused and irresistibly sexy. Stark’s hair dripped with sweat and rocked with his hard thrusts. How was this man his? How?

He was so close again. His own cock bounced against his stomach. He gripped at the back of the sofa and arched his back, toes curling. Stark slid his hips off the edge of the sofa and he bounced him on his own cock, Loki held up by Stark. Loud grunts from the man sent shivers through Loki. It was too much. He came with another cry of Anthony's name, spilling seed and squeezing at Stark’s cock. His hips jerked, his whole body shuddered, and he nearly fell out of Stark's firm grip.

Stark groaned in response, driving roughly into him a few more thrusts, before he pulled Loki down off the sofa. Stark sat back on his heels, grinding Loki's ass against his hips. His cock was buried impossibly deep as he came. He could feel each pulse and shudder make its way through Stark. Loki had released the sofa and instead leaned back against the edge of the seat cushions. He whined as Stark ground against his prostate, circling Loki's hips on his lap.

Finally Stark stilled and dropped his head forward against Loki's chest. Both of them were a panting, gasping, sweaty mess. Loki's hands threaded in Stark's sweat-slicked hair. Words were difficult to form. They merely came down together. A lovely heap.

Stark nuzzled over Loki's chest and then kissed right over his heart. Loki’s heart skipped in response. Loki released a happy sigh. He couldn't say aloud what flickered through his thoughts but neither of them really had to say it. Stark repeated the kiss over Loki's heart before lifting his head. There was so much in those big, brown eyes.

They kissed. It continued to speak where they couldn't find words. Deep and adoring. When they broke, Stark sighed, teasing lightly, unable to handle emotions so close to the surface for long. “You're quite the workout, baby.”

Loki smiled against his lips. He allowed the shift in mood. “Are you calling me heavy?”

Stark giggled against him. “I would never dream of it, princess.”

“Mm hm.” Loki tugged at Stark’s hair in protest.

More kisses and eventually they shifted apart with a gasp. Neither of them were steady on their feet as they managed to get to the shower. They lingered between kisses and touches. Actually washing up was difficult to focus on. When they finally exited, Loki pilfered one of Stark's printed t-shirts and sweatpants, even though both were small on his longer limbs.

Stark admired the view anyway of Loki in tight fitting sweatpants. He tugged on his own shirt and sweats. “We'll have to go shopping at the nearest mall some time. That should be an experience. Or maybe Thor can instantly take us to Italy. You'd look way better in a fitted suit.”

Loki shrugged while he padded barefoot through their main room. “I suppose, now that I can't disguise myself however I wish, I'll need a proper wardrobe, but I like these. They're yours.” And they smelled of Stark, even if they were freshly laundered.

Stark smiled at him. “Well you can't go stealing my wardrobe forever.” He wrapped an arm around Loki and pulled them over to the sofa again. This time they collapsed happily together, Loki's legs draped over Stark's propped up on an ottoman. Stark leaned his head against the taller man's shoulder. “You should have your own space too. I don't mean bedroom, just ya know, your own computer and um magical study?” He cocked an eyebrow up at Loki.

Loki chuckled and nodded. “Yes. I was thinking Thor could bring me some books and things, if he's amenable to the idea.” He nodded toward the bedroom opposite. “How about the guest room you gave me that first night? It could continue to be mine.”

Stark nodded. “Easy. Done.” He reached over onto a side table and grabbed a tablet. He handed it to Loki. “Write down what you want. If it exists on Earth, it'll be here in a few days. Anything you need.”

Loki smiled at the device and set it aside for now. Stark was always eager to provide. He pressed a kiss to Stark's still damp hair. “Thank you, my darling.”

“Always.”

Silence fell but it was warm and soft. The sunlight of the day streamed in the windows. They were in no rush to go back out and be with others again. They'd had enough of dealing with the world. All they needed was pressed up against one another. Stark played fingers over Loki's hand. It had been some time since Loki had felt so content.

“There's one thing,” Stark wondered, his voice a little hesitant. He paused, trying to come up with how to breach his subject. Loki waited. Finally Stark huffed, “You guys live a long time, right? I mean, you're all over Norse mythology.”

Loki raised an eyebrow at the sudden line of questioning. “We may live five thousand years. Perhaps more. We are not immortal as some might claim.”

Stark continued to brush his thumb over Loki's palm in his lap. “How old are you?”

“Over a millennium. Not quite two.”

“So like eighteen hundred?”

Loki chuckled. “It's impolite to ask for the specific number, Anthony.”

“Ya well I'm gonna be forty-six this year. That's about halfway maybe for humans.” He shook his head, still staring down at their hands. “I don't even equate to a dog to you... maybe a goldfish...”

Everything clicked into place for Loki. He grunted as he realized what Stark was worrying over. With the looming threat of everything removed, his thoughts had shifted further, and so had his worry. Loki tilted the man's head up with fingers against his chin. Stark reluctantly met his gaze. “You are not a pet.”

“Even if I live another hundred years, I'm only going to exist in your life for two percent of it.” He shook his head some. “Will you even remember...”

“Anthony.” Loki shifted, pulled his legs off Stark's lap, and moved to sit on the ottoman himself, facing Stark. “If that was to be all I had of you, I would remember and honor you for the rest of my remaining years. You would... I could never forget you after a handful of days much less a century.”

Stark's features warmed some but he still looked distraught at the idea and the gulf of time. Then his mind kicked in and he questioned, “If that was to be all you had with me? Why is that an if?”

Loki smiled even as he sighed, “Odin would be quick to get your word without explaining it’s purpose. I know adding you to my sentence was an afterthought on his part, I'm certain, as Thor is truly in his mind the piece that should keep me from causing trouble, but he saw how much meaning you have to me and another bargaining chip is always in his interest.” Stark blinked at his words and Loki pressed on. “You vowed yourself to me. You tied yourself to my life. I don't know even if Odin realizes what he's done, since with Thor it does not matter. We will age naturally together and he will always be bound to me. But for you, a mortal, to vow yourself to me, means little if you die in such a small amount of time for us. With Odin's magic, your life force is bound to mine now, and with it, I suspect, will be many more years than a mere mortal should achieve.”

Stark gaped at the words. He opened his mouth to speak, then stopped, stunned. Loki watched. Would he take it poorly? It was quite the thing to lay on him, without explanation before hand, but Loki had had no idea Stark planned to do such a thing until it was done.

Finally Stark managed, “You think... I might live to five thousand?”

“No. Perhaps three thousand. I am, after all, through many years myself. And I'm not entirely certain on the magic. I will ask Thor to bring me books on the subject. Few mortals have been enchanted with such magic before but there will be prior cases. Only time will tell if you age slower but I would be prepared to see the same face in the mirror for the next... few centuries at least. And if I should die, the vow would be severed, and you would resume aging as a mortal.”

“Ya well let's not talk about you dying ever,” Stark immediately shoved aside. Then he shook his head, still dumbfounded. “This is gonna take some... getting used to...”

“Odin or Thor should have mentioned it to you prior to the vow but they are, as I've said before, oafs and know not what they wield.”

Stark shook his head. “Even if I knew, I would have said yes.” He met Loki's gaze. “I'd have always said yes.”

Loki melted at the support. His own words faltered. “I... Thank you, Anthony.”

Stark shifted forward and cupped his face. “Always, baby.” One stolen kiss and then he sighed, “I guess I can put off building that retirement home on a private island any time soon.”

Loki chuckled. He slid back over to sit beside him again, legs going back up on the ottoman. Stark covered his legs this time and wrapped arms around him. Loki played fingers through Stark's hair.

“So you really are stuck with me,” Stark teased lightly.

“Well and truly stuck.”

Chapter Text

The room was subtly his in design. He'd kept some of Stark's touches and the array of windows along the far side. Built in dark bookcases similar to those in the main room lined two walls. Thor had kindly ferried much of the room's books from Asgard. A few artifacts sat on the shelves here and there. A number of large desks served as workstations, with books and scrolls and such cluttering in neat piles. Devices he'd yet to fully explain to Stark sat in one corner. Colored vials caught the sunlight. Touches of emerald green highlighted here and there but it was sparing. The color more dramatically appeared in their main room. Throw pillows and new artwork. Along with yet more piles of manuscripts on coffee and side tables.

Before he left back for home and his schooling, Parker had harassed that their color choices reminded him of Christmas. Upon looking it up, Loki decided it wasn't a completely silly comparison, but that their colors still looked well paired together regardless.

Loki leaned over another ancient text on Midgardians. He'd been combing over all Thor could bring him and compiling notes on other instances of enchantments. So far they had corroborated his initial thoughts. Most lived alongside their Asgardian counterpart until one or the other's death. Many found aging stopped immediately for centuries, perhaps over a thousand years, before their bodies aged again. They were more or less stuck as they'd been until the relative age of the Asgardian caught up to them.

He wrote down another note onto one of Stark's tablets, using an electronic pen as he was still not used to the touch screens, before flipping by passages in the book on golden apples. Wards alerted him of Thor's approach but the man still stopped to knock against the door frame before entering. Loki looked up from his seat at one of the desks.

Thor smiled at the sight of him. He held a box in his hands. “How goes the research, brother?”

“Well.” Loki set the pen aside and leaned back on his tall stool. “Thank you again for lending them. Anthony's age should remain timeless for centuries to come while Odin's magic binds us. Perhaps until I am two thousand five hundred or so.”

Thor looked around the room, taking in all the papers and books and glass vials, and then spotted another stool in a corner. Loki blinked as Thor pulled the seat over beside his own. Thor sat, appearing a little out of place but comfortable all the same. He set his box aside. “How has Stark taken such news of his altered life?”

Loki sighed. Was he now to endure a brotherly chat? “It's gone well enough. I don't believe it's sunken in for him. I don't know if he'll truly grasp what it means until a century or more has gone by.”

“It is difficult for Midgardians to contemplate such vast time scales, but well, I am pleased he does not detest the idea.” Thor sighed and shook his head. “I am sorry for not warning him beforehand but I did not think of it.”

Loki couldn't hold back an eye roll at the comment. Of course he hadn't.

Thor chuckled lightly beside him. “Count yourself lucky, brother. I don't know if father even realized what would happen past binding you further to someone you cared for. If he had known what his magics would grant you, he might not have bound Stark to you, and instead you would have a pitiful amount of time with him.”

Thor was getting far too eloquent as he aged. Loki nodded, glancing down at his hands. “I've had the same thought. I cannot imagine he knew this would happen. He would accidentally gift me with something so precious...”

“The gulf of time bothers most Midgardians. Jane...” He shifted some on his seat. His features furrowed. “She fixates on the time she might spend with me. It bothers her to think of me moving from one 'short lived' romance to another.”

Loki blinked at the topic. Thor had pointedly sidestepped all comments about his own life. He'd been here for over a week now but Loki had dismissed it as his usual brotherly concern. Loki back from the dead was reason enough to be away from Jane. Yet it did not seem to be the actual reason. “Jane is a remarkable Midgardian, and she has quite the slap.”

Thor grunted one chuckle at the memory. “She has no fear. She will stand up to anyone if she feels it is right.” He shook his head. “We argued over lifespans. I offered to go to Odin or quest for a golden apple. She... was not as keen as Stark to outlive her friends and family. Yet after the offers she continued to fixate on my outliving her.”

Loki shifted to further face Thor. The dejected look on his features pulled on Loki's heart. He struggled to comfort, “Perhaps she needs time. She is younger than Stark. She may grow to realize your interest is true and your offers of making her more than a mere mortal genuine.”

“No.” Thor kept his gaze on his hands. “She wishes time away from me and perhaps it is for the best.”

Loki lifted a hand, struggled a moment wondering where to place it, and then squeezed at Thor's dejected shoulder. “She did not end things completely?”

“Not yet.”

“Then remain hopeful, brother.”

Thor smiled just a little, merely at Loki calling him brother. He raised his eyes to meet Loki's, taking him in a long moment, before he sighed, “It is good to have you back again, Loki.” Loki squeezed at his shoulder and then retreated his hand back onto his lap. “Further, it is good to see you happy and content, to see you and Stark find comfort. I know you have gone through much, faced much, yet you thrive here. I am only sorry father did not listen to mother after New York. If you had been freed or less harshly judged, she might not have...”

Loki shook his head at the thought. “I do not know. It was chaos. We had no idea what they were truly after. If I had been free enough to fight, I'd have likely been by your side, and she would still be dead. Do not worry over it, Thor.”

“I only wish...”

“I know. So do I.”

The room fell silent as both brothers mourned their mother together.

It was Thor who cleared his throat and pushed on first. “I brought you something.” He reached for the box. “Father gifted it to me but I thought you'd ought to have it.” He handed the sturdy wooden box to Loki. It dipped some as Loki was surprised by the weight. “It should be here.”

Loki raised an eyebrow at the gift. Thor had already brought him most of the artifacts lining a few of the bookshelves. They were all his old things, for the most part. What would this be?

He unclasped a hook to either side of the rectangular box, set the base on his thighs, and pulled the box's sides and top off. He stared in surprise. It was one of his mother's knives displayed on a stand. An inlay of runes still glowed lightly purple with contained power across the blade. A plaque displayed her name, birth and death, and the simple epitaph of Beloved mother of two remarkable sons whom she strove to teach strength and humility. Loki set the top of the box aside and ran his thumb along the metal plaque.

“I...” He faltered at finding any words.

“You always did better with her blades. It should be yours.”

Loki swallowed down emotions. He met Thor's thoughtful gaze. “Thank you, brother. Sincerely. It is...” He shook his head. No words fit.

“You are quite welcome. She would wish you to have it.”

Loki lifted the stand off his lap and took in the details a moment longer. Then he shifted upright onto his feet and crossed to the jumble of magical equipment and cleared a space above it along the shelves. The blade glimmered in the sunlight. Loki nodded to himself and returned to his stool, but before he could sit, he was enveloped in a bear hug from Thor. He paused a moment before returning it.

He was squeezed tighter and then finally released, only to be clasped on the shoulder. Thor said, “Do well by Stark. There is something unique in the ways your paths have crossed. He imbues you with purpose and hope. I would not care to see you without him.”

“Nor would I,” Loki immediately responded. His heart ached at merely the thought.

“And you bring him compassion and understanding that seems to remain out of reach for many mortals. So few see what he has suffered or what he still suffers.” He squeezed Loki's shoulder and released it. “Together you are more than apart, and I think together you will be key to defeating this Thanos that you've spoken of. I will continue to carry your concerns onto father. At the very least, after mother's death, he agrees that we have been complacent with our defenses and he carries on much of the work you'd begun.”

“Good. He should complete all of my work if he has any sense.”

“Do you know when they might arrive?”

Loki shook his head as he sat back down at his desk. “No. They were a very long ways away, hence the tesseract, but he will not cease working his way here to the nine realms. He seeks the gems. We may have years. We might have a century. I do not know. But he will come.”

Thor's fingers worked against his side, clearly itching to summon his hammer, at the thought of such a threat. “We will prepare as much as we can and then we will meet him and we will defeat him.”

“I hope so. I would greatly wish to see their destruction for all they have wrought.” Loki's voice growled with anger and vengeance - for himself, for Stark, for all.

“One day, brother. Together.”

Loki nodded at the reassurances. Either way, whatever the outcome, they would meet the threat and fight for all the realms.

“Continue what you do here. Research and teach. The Midgardians must bolster their ranks.” Thor smiled and teased, “You do well with the spider boy.”

Loki groaned and rolled his eyes. “He is nearly as enamored with Stark as I am!”

“I'd say he is enamored with the both of you. I hope his schooling does not keep him away long. I enjoyed your sparring.”

“You'll have to teach him how to dodge lightning his next visit.”

Thor laughed at the thought.

“Oh, while you're here, there was one thing I wished you to do on your next visit to Asgard.” Loki reached for a piece of parchment and an actual quill pen, scratching out a series of orders. He handed the scrap of parchment to Thor.

The bigger man raised his eyebrows at the page. “You wish the palace's lead healer to be promoted to researcher?”

Loki's lips curled. “A promotion of sorts. I wish her sent to Midgard. To study Midgardian medicine. Perhaps then she'll learn some manners.” He had mentally vowed to make her pay for her rudeness to Stark and so she would by surrounding her with 'lesser' beings.

Thor's features lit up as he recalled the incident. “Ah yes. I do remember her now.” He looked down at the note, then added, “Perhaps two decades on Earth instead of one?”

Chapter Text

The silence of their common room was interrupted by a persistent quiet beeping. Loki blinked as he looked up from his book. Stark stared a moment too, off at his desk in the study, until he grunted in recognition. “One second, babe.” He removed Loki's sock covered feet from his lap and turned off the television as he stood. The screen flickered and disappeared.

“What is it?” Loki set his book aside. He watched Stark make his way to the desk and punch up a code on his computer. Loki’s gaze lingered on the fitted shirt and trousers hugging Stark's backside as he bent over the desk.

“I sent someone a present. He must have finally figured it out.” Stark narrowed his gaze at the screen and punched in another long series of numbers before the screen flickered and instead displayed a view of an empty concrete bunker.

Loki frowned and sat upright, pulling his feet off the sofa. Stark hadn't asked him to leave, so he openly watched. Not that he would have easily been persuaded to go. Stark stood with his side to Loki. The screen was mostly visible from this angle but he stood all the same as a voice came through.

“You always gotta make this as complicated as possible, Stark.”

“Ya well, burner phones aren't really my style,” Stark retorted. “You can stand in front of the camera, you idiot. I have no idea where you are in the world and all of this is heavily encrypted.”

“Nat says it is top notch work.” Rogers stepped in front of the camera, dressed in civilian clothes, visible from the waist up in a navy shirt. “You didn't want to be my pen pal? I was really hoping for something handwritten in return. Some nice letterhead. Test out your cursive.”

“Somehow I think this is slightly less moronic, what with Ross looking over everything I do these days, thanks to you.”

Stark's features were firm, his shoulders tense, but he had evidently sent this technology to them, somehow, so he was prepared to face this conversation. Loki's own heart hammered. He hung back, just off screen, watching them.

“Sorry about that. Really. Still, I'm guessing you have plenty of ways to get around him.”

“I've got things under control.”

“You always do.”

Stark narrowed his gaze at the comment.

Rogers sighed and shook his head. “You wanted to talk. I've said my piece but let's talk.” He shifted his gaze down. “Barnes is in a secured, safe location. He's not with me but he's taken care of. He won't harm anyone while he's there. I'm working on getting what they put in his head taken out, but for now, he's a risk I can't take.”

“He's locked up?”

“Kind of. I'm not telling you more, Tony. I don't want you guessing where he is.”

Stark growled at the lack of information. “I'm not gonna go hunting him down and shooting him in the back of the head, Steve. That's not my style. That's his.”

Rogers closed his eyes at the comment. He went quiet a moment before he pushed himself to say, “He's under ice. Frozen. That's all I'm saying, Tony.”

Stark grunted. There weren't a lot of places in the world that could manage to safely freeze someone. He couldn't help but put a mental list together.

“I can see you working it out, Tony. Please. Just leave him be. He's no threat there.”

Stark released a breath and finally nodded. “Okay. Fine. The popsicle boyfriend is fine.”

Rogers snorted at the comment.

“And ya, I wanted to talk,” Stark said. “I wanted to let you know that something big is coming. Sure every other week something big shows up that someone's gotta take care of but I mean huge. I'm not interested in working together day to day. You and the misfits can sit on a beach for all I fucking care. We'll manage things.” Stark shifted closer to the screen and Rogers met his gaze. “We're not done with the space invaders. The Chitauri are after the gems of power. You've heard Thor talk about them already. I've got yet more evidence of their impending approach.”

Rogers' raised an eyebrow. “You mean Loki.”

“Yes I do, and I don't give a shit if that's a problem for you-”

Rogers interrupted, “I just find it hilarious how much you harp on Bucky and yet this is suddenly fine.”

“It's not the fucking same and I'm not having this conversation, Steve.”

“Oh yes it's totally different. For starters, it involves you so obviously it's fine-”

“Fuck you, they are nothing alike!” Stark cut him off. “For starters, he came to me asking for help. Unlike your fleeing criminal boyfriend. You have no idea what the hell you're talking about.”

“As usual, you won't listen to anyone but yourself.”

I won't listen?!”

Well this conversation was going swimmingly, Loki thought as he sighed. He stepped into view of the camera and Rogers stopped mid-retort at the sight of him. He was not in his battle armor but some of his new Midgardian clothes. A button down deep green shirt, the cuffs unbuttoned and rolled up his forearms, and the shirt tucked into fitted black trousers. His hair was up in a ponytail since he'd been reading. He looked very much unlike how he'd appeared in New York. The effect was interesting on Rogers. He seemed a bit dumbfounded faced with him.

Stark had spotted Rogers' looking over his shoulder and turned to see Loki joining him. He was a mix between barely contained annoyance at Rogers and smug pleasure at having Loki join him.

Loki sighed at the both of them. He turned to Stark and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Darling, I don't think this is how you intended the conversation to go.”

“No. It's not.” He shot Rogers a look.

Thankfully Rogers was too busy staring at the two of them to acknowledge the glare.

Loki faced the screen. “Mister Rogers, neither of us seek your approval nor your immediate cooperation with us. Instead it seemed Anthony thought it prudent to warn you against the Chitauri and Thanos.”

Rogers raised an eyebrow and cocked a grin at Anthony but otherwise shifted into a more serious pose, crossing his arms over his chest. “You got any proof? I don't doubt Thor but a vision and your word isn't really helpful.”

“I have no proof. Only to share my experiences while under the Chitauri's control. They may not arrive tomorrow but they will come.”

“And when they do,” Stark said. “I don't want you assholes out of the loop, so I sent this thing along. Keep it with you or leave it somewhere but make sure if I send a message along or try to contact you that this thing gets your attention.”

Loki squeezed at Stark's shoulder, quite pleased with his forethought. It would be good to send along information on the Chitauri. They would not work together on anything else, but on this, they must.

Rogers nodded. He still took in the pair with a bemused look but he said, “Okay.”

“Okay?” Stark pressed.

Rogers huffed a chuckle. “Ya. Oh-kay. Nat and Sam will get it hooked up. You send along anything about all this and I swear we'll see it. I'm not interested in another alien invasion either.”

“Well then... okay. Good.” Stark nodded to himself. “Good. About time you started listening to reason.”

Loki rolled his eyes at Stark. “Shush darling. He's agreed.” He kissed his cheek to soften the scold.

Stark actually smiled at the show of affection. He teased, “I'm being nice, baby.” It was a twist on Loki's usual retort when told to play nicer with Thor. Loki chuckled.

Rogers gave a lopsided grin at the screen. “It's good to see you happy, Tony.”

“Not afraid he's put me under a spell or something?”

“Or something, anyway,” Rogers lightly teased. “He steps out of line, we'll come for him, but I dunno... Nat's wrong. Something's different. I can see it from here.”

Loki gave a slight nod of acknowledgment. “Thank you.” Then his gaze turned dark as he met Rogers' eyes dead on. “And if you seek to harm Stark again, if you threaten his life or his person as you did in Siberia, I will personally rend you in half and incinerate your entrails.”

Rogers blinked at the threat. “Okay, so you're not completely different...”

Loki flashed an overly sweet smile at him.

“Fuck, you're sexy,” Stark swooned. He pulled Loki down for a kiss.

Rogers groaned and covered his face with a hand.

The kiss deepened. The feed on the screen cut out but neither Loki nor Stark noticed.

Chapter Text

Vision created a protective bubble of energy around himself before lightning struck at his current position. It curved around the bubble and missed Vision. Thor cheered at Vision's maneuver even as he leaped forward with a broad swing of his hammer. Vision released the bubble in time to float his way through Thor and come around behind to attack with a push of energy and wind, nearly toppling Thor over.

They were quite a ways from the main compound. It appeared in the distant hilltops above the grassland they'd turned into a sparring ring. A road to the main gate led down the hillside and one of Stark's flashy cars sat parked half blocking the drive. Vision was still afraid to spar anyone but Thor. He worried too much about hurting them. Only Thor's goading had finally resulted in the current battle.

Loki sat beside Stark on the grass. Parker had returned for a long weekend with promises of big stretches of time during his upcoming summer to spend at the compound. Loki and Stark were already preparing a schedule for the young Avenger. Currently, however, the boy was enjoying the battle from a distance. He swung between trees lining the battlefield.

It felt good. To be in the late spring sun. To sit beside Stark. To watch two demigods spar. To feel as if they were preparing and making progress against the Chitauri. To feel a purpose. To feel accepted. He was happy. He was whole. He could not recall ever feeling so content as he had over the last few weeks.

It was not perfect. Stark still struggled with nightmares, yet there seemed to be some hope. Upon waking, they did not affect him as deeply, and Loki was always there to soothe them away. A few nights a week, they did not even come. Loki's own demons still lurked, placed doubts and worries in his mind, but being here... there was no better balm.

Vision dodged attacks again but failed to return with his own counterattacks. Loki sighed, “He must learn not to control himself so much.”

“He'd lose it if he actually hurt any of us.” Stark nudged his knee against Loki's thigh. “You should give Thor a real fight.”

Loki flopped onto his back on the grass and stretched. His tank top rode up some, showing off a flash of his stomach. “You only want me in my battle armor.”

“And miss you in this?” Stark teased a hand over the exposed sliver of stomach. “Not a chance.”

Loki smiled up at him. Stark's sunglasses glittered in the light but he could still see those handsome brown eyes beyond tinted red lenses. He reached up and pulled the man down onto his side beside him by the front of his t-shirt. He kissed him. Stark hummed happily and the hand on Loki's stomach slid underneath the tank to tease further up his chest.

Get a room!” Parker shouted from his perch at the top of a pine tree.

The kiss broke off into laughter. Stark pulled his hand back out of the shirt only to then flip Parker off.

“You don't mean it, Mister Stark!”

Stark shoved the middle finger toward Parker again before Loki batted the hand down.

“You should spar yourself, if you're feeling so feisty,” Loki said.

“Naw, I'd rather stay right here.” Stark shifted up onto one elbow and rested the other to Loki's far side, hovering over him. He blocked the view of the sky with a grin down at Loki.

“You are ridiculous,” Loki hummed up at him. He slid hands up along biceps before cupping Stark's cheeks. The mood shifted, however, as he pressed to ask, “Why don't you ever spar, darling?” Stark's warm gaze faltered and he looked away. Loki continued, “You don't ever even wear your suits or test them. You never put them on unless you must.” He'd not worn a suit since Siberia except for when Thor arrived and their trip to Asgard. Loki brushed his thumbs along Stark's cheeks. “Why, Anthony?”

Stark kept his gaze fixed on Loki's chest rather than meet his eyes. He swallowed hard and shook his head against Loki's hands. His goatee brushed against skin. Finally, he managed, “I'm an active non-combatant. I don't want...” He released a long breath and met Loki's gaze. His eyes were achingly big. “I'm tired of being a soldier. I never signed up for that.”

“You are not a soldier.”

“Cap and the government would like to say otherwise.”

“You are not a soldier,” Loki soothed. He brushed back Stark's bangs with one hand. Then repeated the move as they fell forward again, floating above him. “You are a creator. You are a brilliant mind. You make. You build. You are a protector. You are a guardian. You care so very much about those around you and the world at large. You would save everyone if you could.” Stark swallowed hard. Loki went on, “None of this makes you a soldier. None of this requires you to be a soldier. You are not a warrior. You are a guardian.”

Stark released a breath. He leaned down and rested his forehead to Loki's.

“You fight to protect,” Loki said. “Those you fail haunt you more than they do soldiers. Warriors fight for the love of battle and for a cause they find just. If the cause is helped, then they are able to let go of any guilt over what happened on the battlefield. But the guardian's goal is to protect all innocents and the loss of any is harshly felt.” Loki shifted on the grass, rolling them onto their sides, as he wrapped arms around Stark. “But you must manage to see those losses as not your fault and you must focus on the greater good done by your deeds.”

“Sokovia-” Stark whispered.

Loki cut him off. “Sokovia was not your doing and the lives of thousands, indeed the lives of everyone on Earth, are owed to your actions.” He rubbed gently at Stark's back. “Allow those losses to drive you forward. You were successful in stopping Ultron. And you will continue to stop those who mean harm. You will face them and you will not only be victorious but you will save all that you can possibly save. Every time.”

Stark was quiet a moment. His arms slowly went around Loki and held him. Then his eyes met Loki's. He was still lost in guilt but there was hope within those eyes. “Thank you, baby,” he whispered.

Loki pressed a kiss to his lips before returning, “Always, darling.” He moved a hand up Stark's back to brush through his hair. “Do not see your armor as anything negative.”

“I'll try...”

It was all Loki could ask for. He smiled at him. “Good. Because I mean to spar you soon.”

Stark chuckled lightly beside him. “Bring it on, reindeer games.”

Loki shoved his shoulder and stole another kiss, allowing it to linger.

“Of course you two would be rolling around on the grass together.” Rhodes walked up the hillside toward them. His suit rested many yards away, discarded earlier, in favor of taking in the scenery. He was doing quite well with his new legs thanks to Stark's attentive tinkering with the tech. He easily climbed the last few steps to sit down beside Stark.

“Such a mood killer, Rhodey,” Stark teased. The pair broke apart and sat upright with their company.

“Oh, I'm sorry, were you two gonna put on a show in front of his brother and a teenager? Because I can leave and get my camera if that's the plan.”

Stark scrunched his face and giggled at the harassment. Loki blushed some but it didn't show up much past his already warm glow from the sunlight.

“We were merely discussing a few things,” Loki attempted to smooth over.

“Uh huh. Is that what they call it in Asgard?”

Stark shoved Rhodes with an elbow. Rhodes looked far too smug. The three took in the battlefield. Thor and Vision had shifted their attention to Parker. The young man leaped from branch to branch trying to outpace the two attackers.

“He's doing good.” Rhodes nodded at the scene. “I hope we get some real action soon. Put him to the test.”

“It is for the best that we have not received any pleas for help,” Loki said.

“Oh, of course! But when it happens, I think he'll be ready.”

“He's been fighting crime on the side in the Bronx,” Stark said. “He'll be ready to clobber anyone after that training ground.”

“He cares a great deal too,” Loki said, echoing their earlier conversation.

Stark nodded. “Ya but I think he does better than me at dealing with it.”

Rhodes glanced at the pair, especially Stark openly admitting to such a thing. He nudged shoulders with him. “You're doing better. Lately.” He cast a warm look at Loki.

Stark smiled a little and nodded. “I have.” He leaned over to press a kiss to Loki's neck.

Rhodes' gaze remained on the two of them. “Look. I really do want to say this and get it off my chest. I am sorry for reacting how I did. It's been really good seeing Tony so happy and I just... ya... I hope you stick around a long, long time, Loki.”

Stark's smile broadened. Loki's smile was shy but genuine.

“You reacted out of a wish to keep him safe. I cannot fault it.” Loki looked to Stark as he continued, “And I mean to stay by his side for a very long time, James.”

Stark kissed him, sweet and adoring, before he turned back to Rhodes. “Nice speech. Going soft in your old age, man.”

“In my what now?!”

Rhodes cuffed at Stark and the man ducked, instead leaning forward to tackle Rhodes. Loki laughed at the pair tussling.

“Who's the old man now?!” Rhodes called out as he pinned Stark. “And beat up by a cripple.”

“A cripple my ass!” Stark cried out. They shoved at each other and Rhodes eventually let him up.

A ward went off. Loki's face dropped. He turned to the road as it disappeared into the trees. “Anthony,” he called out. He stood. He could see a car approaching. “You may need a suit.” Loki reached out with his magic and pulled on his battle armor, his staff appearing in his hand.

Stark grunted as he stood up with Rhodes. “What is it? Who's coming? Friday, you got a suit for me?”

“On its way, sir.”

Stark walked over beside Loki and narrowed his gaze on the car. Rhodes took off jogging toward his own suit.

“They got in without setting off the alarms. It can't be that bad.” Stark tapped at the side of his sunglasses and they zoomed in on the approaching car. Loki moved to step in front of him in a defensive pose. Then Stark recognized the face and he huffed a laugh. “Baby, calm the fuck down. If he wanted to squish you, he wouldn't be driving.”

Loki blinked as Stark shoved him playfully by the shoulders and stepped around him. The car pulled up beside Stark's. Rhodes stopped halfway to his suit. He gave his own laugh at Loki.

“Friday, cancel the suit,” Stark said as he crossed to Banner getting out of the convertible. He beamed the widest grin at seeing the other man. “What the hell are you doing here? It's about time you came back from your sabbatical, you bastard.”

Loki sheepishly shrugged off his armor and released his staff back to their display stands in the compound. He was still cautious as he slowly stepped after Stark to Banner.

“Well I heard you guys were taking on new recruits and I didn't want to lose my spot to some punk kid.”

Stark laughed and they embraced in a back clapping bear hug. Loki stayed a few steps back.

Banner took Loki in over Stark's shoulder, appraising but not angry, and then kept his gaze on him as the hug parted. “I see I shouldn't have been worried. You're clearly scraping the bottom of the barrel for newbies.”

“Be nice, Jolly Green.” Stark shifted to stand beside Loki instead. “Although you two getting a rematch would be quite the thing to see. We could sell tickets.”

“I would hate to ruin your landscaping with my face, Anthony,” Loki replied nervously. He was certainly not keen to repeat a match against Hulk.

Banner shrugged with a smile. “I don't think I need any sparring lessons, Tony.” He looked out over the grass to see Thor, Vision, and Parker making their way towards them with Rhodes. “I'm just here to check up on things. See how you're doing.” Then his gaze fell on Loki. “What you're doing.”

Stark rolled his eyes. “Stop it. He nearly had a panic attack over your driving up here.” He reached for Loki and pulled him down for a reassuring kiss. “Calm down, baby.”

“I am calm,” Loki attempted to bluff, then flinched as Banner stuck out his hand to him.

Banner cocked a wider grin. “Not here to bash any faces in, slim. Promise.”

Loki eyed the offered hand a moment before he took it. The shake was firm but not painful.

“See. All's good, baby.” Stark steered the pair of them toward the four coming up the hill. “Now wait until you meet this kid here. He's gonna flip to show you his projects.”

Loki struggled to calm his heart.

Chapter Text

Nothing happened.

Loki kept expecting to be cornered, to be talked down to, or worst of all, slammed around Stark's compound. Instead, they all returned together from the sparring. Banner cheerfully greeted everyone and quickly got caught up in talk of Parker's inventions. He warmly conversed with Thor, Vision, and Rhodes. They all sat around the common room talking for quite some time. Loki sat beside Stark, waiting for Banner to turn on him, but the man only asked Loki a few simple questions. Banner's gaze lingered on Stark's reassuring touches to Loki but otherwise he sat disconcertingly calm beside them. Then he was eager to see Parker's work. The trio of scientists disappeared to Stark's laboratory in their quarters and Loki was left wondering how he'd escaped so easily.

No one had reacted so calmly to his presence and he couldn't believe the first would be Banner.

Nerves prickled away at his stomach. He excused himself from Thor and the rest and followed after back to their living quarters. He paused as he stepped inside. He could hear muffled voices. Stark’s laughter. The rumble of Banner's voice rolled through with Parker's excited chattering. He couldn't make out words but he could see down the hallway that the door to the laboratory stood open.

It was all too easy.

He shook his head. Whatever Banner was playing at, he would not stand around worrying all afternoon. He marched his way to his own study and shut the door. It was quiet. He set to work on his research.

Hours passed by. Afternoon changed into evening. There was no sign of Stark or Banner.

Banner had to have his reservations on the two of them. He must want to corner Loki at some point. Why else was he here but to check in on them? He'd been gone for over a year.

As another hour ticked by, Loki found himself frowning down at his book. He grumbled and slammed it shut. It was late enough. He would demand Stark eat something and not neglect himself. That was reason enough to go break up the science fair.

He stood and carefully opened the door to his study. He marched his way through the living space. He had found he could no longer make himself invisible. It seemed to fall under Odin's decree of no disguises. He still had a very quiet step after years of sneaking around the palace. As he approached the open door to the laboratory, he could hear Banner's voice. Loki slowed his pace to catch his words floating out of the room.

“He's a smart kid. He reminds me of a mini-you, which is more than a little terrifying.”

Stark chuckled. “He'll be building all sorts of stuff, now that he's got a budget. You should have seen him before. Dumpster diving for supplies.”

Loki slowed to a stop beside the door, staying out of sight while he eavesdropped. Evidently Parker had left already. He did not speak up.

Banner's voice was warm. “Too bad he's nearly out of high school. I could see you adopting a little smartass just like you.”

“Me? With a kid?” Stark huffed.

“I dunno. You do really good with him.”

“Peter's practically grown. It's easy.”

“Well, he'll have a home and a family here, anyway. I'm glad you found him.”

“I need to find more recruits but I've got some feelers out. Loki's working on locating a few too.”

Banner was quiet a moment, then he said, “You're really happy with him, aren't you.”

Loki leaned his back against the wall. His heart skipped a beat.

It wasn't a question but Stark answered anyway. “Fucking ridiculously happy, man.” Stark chuckled at himself and then continued, “I mean, it doesn't fix everything. There's still bad days and really bad nights but he's there. He's always there. He's so...” He sighed, unable to grapple with the right words. “He's incredible.”

Loki melted. He slid down the wall to sit beside the open door, folding his legs in front of himself.

“He looks good too,” Banner said, then rushed to rephrase. “I mean, not like that, or well yes like that, but I didn't mean... He looks happy too. He was pretty despondent after we defeated the Chitauri. I always chocked it up to not managing to take over the world but now...”

“He was a mess. You think he's nervous around you now but you should have seen him just trying to talk to me those first few days. And he was fucking terrified of Vision. He was so isolated yet he still wanted to reach out to me.”

“And look at him now. You two have done a lot for each other.”

Loki smiled down at his hands in his lap. They were both so far from where they'd been and it was remarkable to hear it acknowledged.

There was a thoughtful tapping on one of the counters and then Banner spoke, “This is different than Pepper. I mean, she did a lot of good for you, kept you grounded, but she never really knew what to make of you. She always wanted you to lead a normal life. Well, as normal as a guy with his name on all his buildings can be.”

“Hey.” Stark snorted a laugh. “But yeah she... she didn't get it really. The suit or the nightmares. Loki embraces both.” He paused and then added, “It is different. He's different. He's... everything...”

Loki would never forgive Pepper for leaving Stark to suffer those nightmares alone but he was forever grateful that he was now the one to soothe them away. He would always be the one to soothe Anthony.

“You're really in deep, man.”

Stark huffed. “Oh yeah.”

“I mean really deep.” There was a pause, then a single tap of a pen against a desk, before Banner declared bluntly, “You love him.” Stark flustered a moment, clearing his throat. “You so do, it's written all over your face, Tony.”

Loki fought the urge to peek over the doorway to see for himself but then Stark said in the warmest of tones, “Of course I love him.”

So much joy covered Loki's face that he looked down out of fear the radiancy he felt would give him away to the two in the lab. They had all but said the word but they had never truly uttered it. It was silly but it hung with such weight between them that it was hard to grasp. They'd both instead danced around saying it with touches and kisses and words not quite it.

Stark loved him. Stark loved him. The words rang in his ears with joy.

“Have you told him?” Banner pushed. At no reply, he sighed. “Tony.”

“It's not something you just blurt out, okay? I can't just like walk in the door and go 'Hey babe, I love you. What's for dinner?' It's just not that easy.”

Loki stifled a chuckle.

“Sure it is,” Banner retorted.

“Oh yeah now you're the relationship expert?”

“I've had more actual relationships than you have, mister playboy,” Banner said. Stark sighed dramatically. Banner pushed on. “I know things are good now. You're in the honeymoon stage. You went through a lot of shit to get here. It feels good. But you've still gotta say it, Tony. Be an adult. Acknowledge what he means to you.”

“I'm cosmically tied to his life force. We're practically married as far as the universe is concerned. He knows what he means to me.”

“Maybe. Still gotta say it. And not just once. Make sure he hears it often. Because I know you, Tony. You forget a relationship is something you've gotta constantly work on. Like a never ending build in the lab. Always apply more layers.” Banner paused. Stark was silent. Then Banner pushed, “You two are good together. Just make sure it stays that way, okay? You deserve it.”

Loki's own thoughts hung heavy. He should have said it already himself as well. He was a coward with such things. He'd only said the words once before to another and they'd laughed. Stark wouldn't laugh, however, but he feared pushing too hard. Yet he would be with Stark forever if he could.

“Okay,” Stark said softly, clear thoughts of his parents clouding his voice. “Okay fine. I wouldn't want something to happen and he didn't hear it...” He paused a moment, thoughts drifting, before he pushed on, “Well, speaking of Loki, we should go find him. I'm surprised he hasn't come to drag me off to eat something yet. He hates when I skip meals.”

“Making you eat properly. I like him more and more.”

Stark snorted.

Footsteps sounded, moving toward the door.

Loki blinked as he jumped onto his feet. He couldn't go invisible. He rushed around the corner into the common room and leapt for the sofa. He barely had time to reach for a book and flip it open before the pair walked out. Try as he might, Loki was flushed and looking anything but casual.

Banner cocked a grin as he spotted him. He spoke up first. “I can find my own dinner. I've stolen enough of your time today.”

Stark eyed Loki's perch on the sofa but then looked back to Banner. “You sure? We can order in.”

“Naw. Enjoy your night.” Banner squeezed at Stark's arm and turned for the door. He teased over his shoulder to Loki, “Thank me later, slim.”

Loki turned a brighter shade of pink. His heart hammered. He would owe Banner much for this little push.

Stark raised an eyebrow at Banner as he disappeared out the door then turned to Loki. He pushed to keep things casual, clapping his hands together. “So then. Sorry for the long day, babe. How about we order some-”

“I love you too,” Loki interrupted. It burst out of him. He couldn't help it. He couldn't stop it from falling from his lips. He had to say it. He stared up at Stark with large, adoring eyes.

Stark froze. His mouth hung open a moment mid-word. Something inside him balked at the blunt, honest words but then he visibly pushed past it. His gaze turned warm. He said quietly, almost sheepish, “You... you heard all that?”

Loki nodded. He set aside the book and stood, slowly making his way toward Stark. “I'm sorry for eavesdropping, darling. I was coming to interrupt for dinner and then... I also would not wish you to never hear the word from me.”

“I already knew,” Stark attempted to soothe. He stepped forward to meet Loki halfway.

“Words have meaning. It isn't the same without truly saying it,” Loki persisted.

“No, it's not,” Stark gave in. They met and he grabbed Loki by the front of his shirt, pulling him down for a kiss. It was reverent and gentle. Tender with just the hint of wanting so much more. Loki cupped his face. It went on for beautiful ages before finally breaking with a gasp from them both. Stark met his gaze, so close and open. Honest. “I love you, Loki.”

The vulnerability in Stark was overwhelming. Loki slid his hands down curl around his neck and then brush over shoulders. He'd never had anyone look at him as Stark looked at him. He pushed to return the honesty wrapped around Stark. His own eyes glittered green in the light. “I love you, Anthony.” He brushed his nose against his. “I love you more than I have ever loved another soul.” His forehead came down to rest against Stark's. “Please always look at me as you do now. Do not ever go. Please.”

Stark's deep brown eyes shimmered with emotions. His hands twisted in the front of Loki's shirt, clinging firmly to him. “Ain't going anywhere, baby. I promised. I keep my promises. Remember?” He kissed him again, soft reassurances, before whispering against lips, “I love you like nothin' else. You'd rip me to pieces if you ever stepped away.”

“Never,” Loki immediately shushed. “Not ever. We are bound by more than vows and need. I have promised myself to stay with you, always. And so I shall. Always. I could never leave. I would be leaving my heart behind.”

“You're everything, Loki. Everything...” Stark kissed him again, deeper this time, and pulled him by the front of his shirt toward their bedroom.

Loki stepped closer, tilted his head to deepen the kiss further, pausing Stark in his attempts to move them, and then Loki teleported them himself. They appeared on their sides on the bed. Stark grunted in approval. Loki shifted to cover him. Clothing disappeared. Stark's fingers threaded into Loki's hair. They shifted to better slot together. Bare chests pressed together. Firming cocks pinned between stomachs .

Loki shifted up onto his elbows, pressing their hips more tightly together. Stark's legs parted and wrapped up around Loki's thighs.

How did they fit together so effortlessly? How did the man beneath him see him? See him so clearly? And still wish to be here? With him?

Stark trusted. Stark accepted. Stark wanted. Stark needed. Stark loved.

Stark loved him.

He redoubled his efforts on their kiss, head tilting further, and rolled his hips to grind their cocks together in a delicious tease. There was no rush but the passion of their touches swirled into something heady. They needed more. They needed everything. It wasn't enough.

Loki silently wove a more elaborate spell around his fingers. They shimmered with green and then glistened with lightly glowing, warm lubricant. He shifted his hips up and broke their kiss. Eyes met. Loki stroked his own cock and covered it in the infused lube.

“This will ease you open better than any fingers. Trust me.”

“Always,” Stark replied, taking in the sight with wonder but not concern.

Loki kissed the perfect man beneath him. He dipped his hips, guided himself to Stark, and the lubricant warmed the other man's puckered skin on contact. Muscles eased. He pushed and gently slid the head of his cock into Stark.

The man gasped into the kiss in surprise. The sensation was undoubtedly different. Relaxed warmth and pleasure washed over him as Loki pushed further, deeper. He slid in inch by inch. Stark moaned in the most exquisite manner. His body arched up against Loki's. Fingers twisted at Loki's hair and clung to his shoulder.

“Oh my darling, yes,” Loki groaned against lips as he settled buried completely inside of him.

Stark trembled beneath him. Long lashes fluttered open to meet Loki's devouring gaze. His voice was firm. “We are always using this trick.”

Loki gave a hoarse chuckle and nipped at his goateed chin while he rolled his hips. Stark moaned beneath him. The warmth of the lubricant and the rub of Loki's cock sent his eyes rolling closed again. Loki began to gently thrust. He kissed his way along jawline back to his ear.

His voice was husky with emotions, lips brushing against earlobe. “You are mine, Anthony Edward Stark. I would have you. Forever. And I would be yours. For all time. I would be nowhere but right here. My beloved.

Stark moaned beneath him. He clung to him. The thrusts and the words. They were almost too much paired together. He gasped a long few moments before finding his voice. “You belong right here,” he said in hushed tones. Fingers in Loki's hair balled up at the base of his skull. “Oh baby, I love you so much. Please stay. Please. Please.

Always. Forever.” Loki kissed behind his ear. “I promise, darling. I love you as no other.

The pace slowly inched faster. Loki kissed at his neck, lightly biting here and there. Stark dug short fingernails into his skin. He could feel the heat of Stark's own hard cock against his stomach. He could stay like this forever. Wrapped around Anthony. Buried inside. Breathing him in. Ears ringing with his moans. The taste of him against his tongue. Lost to him.

They teetered on the edge together. He did not wish to reach that peak. Simply being here was all he wanted. They kissed and broke for air and kissed again. It was sloppy and adoring. Sweat slicked skin and hoarse whispering. Never enough. But eventually, they slid over, and Stark came with a stunning cry. His whole body shook and his walls squeezed around Loki. Two more thrusts and he joined him. He buried his face against Stark's throat as he cried out his name. The two made a mess of one another. They both shook. It was too intense. Too many emotions. Too high a climb. Loki pulled out a moment later so that they could both come down. Stark whined loudly in protest but they both soon managed to stop trembling.

Panting breaths evened out. The fingers in his hair relaxed and began smoothing it back. Loki kissed at Stark's throat.

Eventually, Stark pressed his cheek to Loki's hair and whispered, “How dare you hold out on me with those tricks of yours.”

Stark would wish to break the emotional intensity with humor but Loki didn't mind. He adored it. He burst into chuckles against his neck. He bit down at the junction of Stark's neck to his shoulder.

“Ow!”

Loki brushed his tongue over the light bite mark. “I have many more tricks, darling. Patience.”

“Not one of my virtues, baby.” Stark used his weight to pull Loki down and flipped him, straddling the taller man instead. He smirked wide down at him. “What tricks you got for round two?”

Chapter Text

Lights flickered as they came on row by row, slowly illuminating the workroom. It sat abandoned. Suits and armor in various states of build or deconstruction. Leg pieces. Arms. Torsos. An array of helmets. Benches and computers and tech littered the room. The floor was a mess of shavings and discarded parts. The walls were covered in various Iron Man art sent to Stark. There were no windows. It was one of the rooms buried in the middle of the compound. The heart of the place. Left abandoned for quite some time.

Loki stepped through into the room but Stark hung back. He leaned against the door frame, arms folded over his chest. His face was a stern mask. It had taken some goading simply to have the man show him the work space.

“Well,” Loki said as he walked further into the room past the first few benches. “I do adore the decor.” He tossed a grin back at Stark. The colorful artwork was fantastic and he was tempted to steal a few for their quarters.

“Such a fangirl, princess.” Stark leaned away from the wall and walked forward as if the floor were covered in ice. Each step was careful and solidly placed before the next. His arms remained comfortingly wrapped around himself. Still, he did venture forward, which was a positive sign.

Loki paused at one bench with a solid gold colored arm splayed across it. The palm's reactor was square instead of round. He pressed a finger to it.

“It was a test subject,” Stark explained. “It didn't really add much umf to things and I like the round aesthetics better.” He paused beside Loki and frowned down at the device. “Maybe a hexagon would meet things in the middle...”

The man's brilliant mind was already rolling through the possibilities. Loki smiled to himself. Stark was forever a tinkerer. A builder. A creator. He merely needed to work past this block and the associations he'd built up with the suit.

“Would it up the umf factor enough if it were a hexagon? That's not a lot more area than a circle seated within it.”

Stark cocked a little grin himself at Loki trying to talk shop with him. “Every little bit helps.” Stark stared down at the arm but didn't move into action. He stayed silent, thoughtful, lost a moment, then whispered, “What's the point, though? It's never gonna be good enough.”

Loki's heart ached. He shifted to lean his shoulder gently against Stark's. “There will always be a better build, not because they fail, but because your genius is never ending. Ever evolving, ever learning.” Loki met his gaze. “The only failure is in stopping that process, in giving up, in not improving again and again.”

Stark grunted. He cast a look down at the arm once more. “Every time I look at it...” His voice was hollow. “I see the Chitauri. I see Cap. I see them both ripping it to shreds. If I couldn't stop Cap... what chance do I have against alien scum?”

“You defeated them once-”

“With a fucking nuke and a portal in the sky. That's not gonna happen again!” Stark stalked away from Loki's side and paced his way through the workroom. Agitation and fear rolled off of him. “How can I design a suit against that? How can I protect anyone against that? When I can't even fucking stop one super soldier.”

Loki spoke firmly, “Because you did not wish to kill Rogers. If you had wanted to then that fight would have gone quite differently, I assure you, darling. It has nothing to do with the suit and everything to do with your compassion.”

Stark frowned some but stopped his pacing. He looked down at his feet. He at least didn't refute the argument.

“As for the Chitauri,” Loki went on. “You will not stand against them alone, and each build you create will bring you closer to the one you must have when the time comes. Fate will see to it that we will have a means to destroy them.”

Stark raised an eyebrow and met his gaze. “Fate?”

“Whatever you wish to call it. Whatever deity or ministrations of the universe. There is a way to defeat the Chitauri. It exists. It is mathematically impossible for it not to exist, no? Therefore we must find it. We must use it. We must fight. Inaction leads to only one fate but action leads to many.”

Stark chuckled lightly and reached a hand up to scratch at his chin. “You're a hell of a therapist, you know that?”

Loki laughed softly himself. “I only speak what I observe.” He stepped forward and stood before Stark again, reaching to take his one hand in both of his own. “The suits do not bring you closer towards a doomed fate. They bring you closer towards the correct fate.” He brought Stark's hand up and kissed the back of it. “Build, darling. I cannot wait to see what you make in the next thousand years. You will rival the masters of creation.”

A grin curled at Stark's lips. He nodded. He cupped Loki's face with both hands and pulled him down for a kiss. “Thank you, baby.”

“Always.”

Chapter Text

He never expected to be the one seeking out Banner.

Loki stepped thoughtfully along the corridor, making his way toward where he sensed Banner was currently in the compound. He'd left Stark behind to continue working on his suits. It was a vast improvement to see Stark at work again. Truly building. He was, after all, a tinkerer at heart. He worked on a new hexagonal design for the thrusters and the core. Loki had watched for a time. Stark was so thoughtful and focused when he worked. It was fascinating to watch his brilliant mind, to see him relax into the work, to watch him once again lost in the process. The world around Stark seemed to fade when he worked and Loki was certain that Stark had no idea that he'd even left his side.

The corridor opened out into the compound’s main common room. It was empty save for Banner making a rather large bowl of cereal. Loki paused. Was this truly wise? Shouldn't he simply count himself lucky and continue avoiding Banner? But for how long? He was Stark's best friend alongside Rhodes. He would have to interact eventually.

Banner looked up as he put away the milk. He caught sight of Loki standing awkwardly at the other end of the large room. He chuckled and shut the fridge, calling out, “You know what the biggest clue is? On how you're not exactly the same person as the last time I saw you?” He picked up his bowl and walked his way toward Loki. “You look about ready to pass out every time I so much as glance at you.”

Loki turned red at the harassment, his ears flushing with his cheeks, but Banner waved it off with his spoon in his hand.

“I don't mean it like that. It's just good to know that the pounding I gave you left a mark.” He chuckled and came to a stop a respectful meter or more away from Loki, giving him his space. “It's not like I'm not used to people looking at me like I'm going to smash their heads in but I'm guessing there's not many people here who make you worry.”

“Not many,” Loki nodded in agreement. “Vision could harm me if he wished to. Thor if he were particularly clever. And yourself.”

“Not Tony?” Banner took a bite of his cereal.

Loki raised an eyebrow at the question. “He would never intentionally hurt me.”

“Not the question, slim.”

“I...” He paused. He'd never considered Stark as a threat per se. Earlier there was the threat of rejection and the threat of his alerting others before he was ready to himself. The threat of Stark no longer wishing to see him, to be with him, to want him. But the threat of physical harm? He thought over Stark's tinkering earlier and eventually nodded. “You are correct. I must give him proper credit. If he wished to harm me, I do believe he could manage, either through devious or brilliant means.”

“We're all dangerous,” Banner pushed. “Don't ever forget how much of a wallop Tony can pack when he needs to.” He nodded between another bite. “But also, you trust him, and until proven otherwise, you can trust the rest of us too. We balance each other out against the rest of the world. We're a team. And you're a part of it.”

“I...” He released a breath. “Thank you. I will work on remembering that.”

“Tony needs to stop with the sparring around here and focus on trust building exercises,” Banner teased. “I'm glad you're on our side, slim. Swear it. Stop looking at me like a deer in headlights. We've all done shit, and had shit done to us, that we're not proud of, but it's the wanting to help and change and grow that makes you a good guy. Simple as that.”

Loki looked down at his feet. He was still not used to the acceptance and camaraderie.

Banner took a step closer to him and his voice dropped, “Though I do have to pull the 'you ever hurt Tony, I will fucking find you' card. Just so we're clear.”

Loki nodded immediately, bringing his eyes up to meet Banner's firm gaze. “I would deserve it for ever harming Anthony.”

Banner chuckled and returned to eating his cereal. “You two are ridiculous. I love it.”

Loki's cheeks heated again at the harassment but he smiled. There was a beat of awkward silence before Loki pushed to say what he'd come there to say in the first place, “I do owe you a great deal of thanks-”

Banner cut him off with a wave of his spoon. “Shush. Totally nothing. He was gonna say it eventually. He's a big softy underneath all the iron plating. It's just hard for him to be that open, ya know? You probably do. But some words are important.”

Every word is important,” Loki agreed even as he corrected. “They hold power.”

Banner nodded around a bite of cereal. “Exactly.”

“So then do allow me to say it,” Loki pushed, tilting his head. He paused, then continued, “Thank you.”

“I did it for Tony.”

“I still thank you.”

Banner smiled. “You're alright, slim.”

Loki relaxed a little beside the currently unassuming man.

“Where's Tony then? You wear him out last night?”

Loki huffed a laugh. “Hardly. He is insatiable.”

Banner snorted.

“I actually managed to talk him into working on his suits.”

“Holy shit, really? He wouldn't even take me into that room.” Banner set his bowl aside on a table and waved a hand to have Loki follow him as he started back the way Loki had come, headed for the workshop. Loki followed and Banner teased, “You sure you're not bewitching him into all this?”

“I only tell him what he needs to hear.”

“Uh huh.” Banner reached over to give Loki a playful shove to one arm. “Well keep it up, whatever you're doing, Loki. I'm glad you're here.”

Loki swayed at the shove but to his credit didn't flinch at the sudden physical tease. He smiled over at Banner. “As am I.”

Chapter Text

Stark and Banner hovered over Stark's latest build. The hour was growing late but Loki didn't have the heart to pull the man away from his work just yet. Instead, Loki stood at another workstation and practiced enchanting various pieces of Stark's discarded armor. He experimented with different enchantments to protect against magic and energy. None of the woven spells seemed to block everything but he was only starting on weaving all the layers. His fingertips and the gauntlet on the table glowed green as he worked, brow furrowed with concentration. If he could perfect the enchantment, he'd place it on Stark's current armors.

The dimmed lights in the workroom flickered to full brightness. Friday's voice rang out, “Sir, incoming report of an attack. Avengers Tower. A group is attempting to bypass security to the upper levels. They are currently unsuccessful.”

“Son of a bitch,” Stark grumbled. He tossed his tool aside and stood. “Get everyone suited up. Where's my own suit?”

“Waiting outside the nearest exit, left corridor.”

Loki's armor shimmered into place along with his staff. He cast an eye to Banner and then followed Stark out of the workroom to the left. “Avengers Tower?”

“The Stark Tower you put the portal device on in New York,” Banner answered as he walked beside him. “It got a rename and quite a bit more tech. They must be after something.”

Loki slowed to a stop. “The tower in New York?” His heart pounded at the thought of returning to the city he'd help level portions of not so long ago. The population there would react even more harshly than Parker had at first. He couldn't...

Stark turned back at the sound of worry in Loki's voice. His features warmed with concern as Loki froze in fear. “Baby...” He stepped back to him and ran hands along the lapels of Loki's armor. “They've recovered. It wasn't you. They'll know this soon enough. Stay focused.”

Loki swallowed hard. He would have to face New York eventually. He'd simply hoped to prove himself prior to returning. He took in Stark's reassuring gaze and finally nodded. “Sorry I just... I'm fine.”

“Good.” Stark pulled him down for a kiss, then tugged Loki forward again, continuing their march for the nearest exit. “Can you teleport us that far? All of us?”

“I know the location well enough. Will the roof do?”

“Perfect.” They stepped through doors and out into the star filled evening. Stark's armor rested waiting on him. “Friday, have Rhodey grab us some earpieces, if he's coming. Have everyone meet us here.”

“Yes sir.” The AI paused and then continued, “Rhodes will join you shortly with the equipment. Everyone seems to be interested in joining.”

“A full team. Nice.” Stark looked quite pleased. Even after the split with Rogers, they were seven strong. They could handle whatever happened on their watch.

Nerves ate away at Loki but he focused on preparing his teleport spell. Thor arrived with Vision and Parker just before Rhodes landed in his suit beside Stark.

“Any idea what they're after?” Rhodes wondered as he handed over the box of high tech earpieces.

“Something in the upper levels, which can't be good.” Stark distributed the earpieces and tossed the box aside. He looked to Thor, “You headed there on your own, big guy?”

Thor raised an eyebrow then tossed a look at Loki. “You mean to get there through magic? I would rather see myself there, yes.”

Loki rolled his eyes. His brother was far too cautious around magic.

“I will go with Thor,” Vision said. “If we make two entrances, they will be all the more surprised and surrounded.”

“So that leaves five of us on the teleport train. That still fine?”

Loki nodded to Stark. A green crackle of energy already surrounded a good meter around him. “Everyone must stand as close to me as possible.”

Thor stepped away with Vision and summoned his own teleport.

“Wait,” Parker squeaked. “So my two options are glowing hammer lightspeed or green magical teleportation spell?!”

Stark climbed into his suit and turned to Parker to harass, “Choose one or pick us up in the jet afterwards. Your call.”

Parker's eyes went wide on his suit but he stepped close to Loki along with Stark. He wasn't about to pick Thor and get separated from Stark. It was endearing, really.

Rhodes sighed as he moved in closer. “If this kills me, I'm haunting both your asses for the rest of eternity.”

Banner merely shrugged. “If it kills everyone, I'll probably still live, and then I'll kick his ass for you.”

“Thanks man,” Rhodes chuckled.

Loki closed his eyes in concentration and the green shimmer of energy around them shifted into a solid bubble. One long heartbeat and then it was gone and they were atop Stark Tower. Or well, Avengers Tower. Loose stones on the roof shifted against Parker's feet as he jerked backwards.

“Holy shit!”

“You can say that again,” Rhodes agreed.

The city was lit up around them in the dark of night. They could hear alarms sounding from far below, within the tower itself.

“Nice trick,” Banner whistled. “Good job, slim.”

A crack of thunder sounded as Thor and Vision arrived at the front of the building on ground level.

“Yeah yeah, my boyfriend is amazing. Enough gawking.” Stark wrapped an arm around Loki's waist and took off with him. He called out, “Get these assholes out of our tower!”

Loki's heart skipped at Stark calling him his boyfriend but it was true. It almost didn't feel like a big enough word and yet it was incredible to hear it. He wrapped his free left arm around Stark as he was carried off. Parker was quick enough to attach a web strand to Stark and floated off with them. Rhodes was on their tail. Loki still flinched to see Banner shift into Hulk and leap from the rooftop down onto the helipad.

“They've reached the twentieth floor,” Friday stated.

Stark lowered the three of them down to the floor highlighted on his display. “Looks like ten or so thugs and some tech geeks working on our defenses.”

“There are many more on the ground level attempting to hold us at bay,” Thor's voice came through.

“Keep 'em busy, big guy.” Stark aimed at the array of windows and fired. They shattered and sprayed glass everywhere inside. He kicked his foot. “Off you go, underoos.” Parker flung forward and landed behind a desk just inside as the grunts started firing. “Time to kick some ass, babe.”

“With pleasure,” Loki answered.

Stark returned fire and flew into the building. Loki leapt free from his hold onto the floor as soon as they were close enough. It was a blur of thrusters and ice and webbing. Loki threw a sheet of ice spears and knocked down a row of grunts, then Parker managed to get half of them webbed to the wall.

It didn't seem to matter, though. More soldiers appeared to take their place. The techs at the back hacked their way through and they were out of sight up onto the next floor.

“What the hell are they even after,” Stark grumbled.

“And how do they think they'll retrieve it and get away?” Loki said. It seemed a ridiculous plan, even with so many grunts to block their counterattack. By the time they arrived at any Stark tech, they'd have lost too many numbers and never escape.

Stark aimed up and simply blew a hole through to the next floor. “Also, why bother hacking?” Loki leapt up to the next floor along with Parker. Stark flew after them. “It's still another ten or so levels before you hit anything interesting. They're wasting time.”

Parker paused as soldiers filled the new floor. “Maybe that's the point.” He looked to Stark. “Something feels off.”

Loki frowned as well. “How goes the battle below?”

Thor answered, “Many fallen soldiers but they continue to hold the ground floor.”

“They won't let us inside,” Rhodes added.

Parker shook his head. “Something's definitely wrong. What's downstairs?”

“Just some storage.” Stark paused, then groaned, “And the reactor.”

“Keep them busy here,” Loki ordered Parker, then leaped back down to the floor they'd come in on. Stark followed after him. Loki walked to the edge and looked out. He could see Thor, Vision, and Rhodes battling. “Parker needs backup while Anthony and I get to them inside.”

Hulk slid his way down the side of the building and pulled himself to a stop on the opened floor.

“Never mind.”

Hulk grinned at him and pulled himself up into the building and through the hole to the next floor. The surprised shouting and screaming at his entrance was something quite satisfying, when on this end of it anyway. Loki turned back to Stark. “What is the quickest route to the basement while they claim the ground floor?”

“God you're sexy when you talk strategy.”

Loki rolled his eyes.

Stark chuckled and finally turned for the hacked elevators. “Friday, can you get us down?”

“I believe so. They have been much more quiet with their attempts to get to the reactor. They'd hoped to go unnoticed.”

“Of course they did. Lets surprise them.” Stark stepped into the elevator with Loki. The ride down was smooth, although they could hear when they passed the ground floor's chaos.

It was pitch dark when they arrived to the lowest basement level. Loki crouched in a protective stance and frowned at the lack of light. This could not be normal. They cautiously stepped out of the elevator and the doors shut behind them. Even Loki's eyes struggled to adjust to the perfect dark. The only light was from Stark's suit.

“No heat signatures,” Stark said. “They have to be hiding further in.”

Loki crept forward with him. “They will ambush us.”

“We don't have much of a choice. They can't get to the reactor.”

It was eerily silent. The darkness pressed in on them. They walked down the straight corridor and then Stark steered them down the right fork. They passed offices and storage rooms but each was empty. Light slowly began to filter in and then they turned another corner. The blue glow came from down a long hallway where a door stood open showing a giant reactor, a much larger version of the reactor on the front of Stark's suit.

As they stepped into the reactor's room, a flash of movement to his left was all the warning Loki had before an attacker sprung from the blue tinted shadows. They lunged with a long, thin sword. Loki managed to block with his staff and counterattacked with a spin of his staff but the dark hooded attacker leaped back, unnaturally dancing away with a puff of dark magical smoke. They were no mere mortal.

“Watch out not to hit the reactor,” Stark said as he fired one thruster, sending the attacker flipping backwards, away from the center of the room and the reactor. “Is he hacking the system, Friday?”

“He's been erasing everything as he goes.”

“Well unerase it.”

Loki relied on his staff against the attacker, too afraid to hit the reactor with ice. They sparred back and forth, vicious swipes of sword and hard smacks of staff. Every jump back by the attacker was punctuated by black smoke to blur his next attack.

Stark stared down at readouts. It all looked fine. Nothing called out needing attention. What had the guy been doing down here?

A twirling kick from Loki and the attacker went flying back against a console. His blade rasped sparks against the metal.

“Got it!” Friday's triumphant voice rang through the headsets. “He was setting an algorithm to overload the coolant system. It's starting to falter now.”

“Shit.” Stark flew over to the wall panel, pulling it open.

The attacker shifted targets. Two leaps of black smoke and he crossed the room. His blade came down on Stark's arm, screeching against the suit.

“Anthony!” Loki shouted. He teleported between the pair and shoved the attacker back with both staff and magic. The masked man was knocked back in surprise more than anything else but he was quickly on his feet again. With a puff of magic he attempted to get around Loki's defensive guard of Stark and attacked at his other side. Loki only just managed to block the swing with his staff. “You will not succeed in stopping him!”

“Keep him busy, keep him busy,” Stark repeated as he desperately worked at the panel.

The attacker leaped up then magicked himself higher still, appearing above Stark hoping to slam his sword straight through his helmet. Loki ice lanced him right in the chest, stopping his downward trajectory, and instead knocking him back and nearly disarming him. The attacker tumbled in the air and redirected himself to Loki again, frustrated. Loki left a clone behind and allowed the attacker to land a strike. Then he appeared behind him and blasted him with ice, freezing him in place by his feet and calves encased in ice.

“Got it!” Stark crowed. He feverishly finished punching in numbers.

“Stay put,” Loki snarled, keeping his defensive posture between the attacker and Stark.

The attacker actually chuckled. It was low and sarcastic. The voice was unfamiliar. “You have won nothing.” Then he turned toward the pipes going into the panel Stark had been working on. Before either could react, he shoved his sword into the metal and pierced it. A puff of magical smoke and he was free of his icy bonds, immediately escaping while the two were preoccupied.

“Loki!” Stark shouted as the coolant system breached. Freezing gas and liquid ice spewed from the hole left behind. Loki doubled over at the surprise blast and dropped to his knees. “Oh shit shit shit,” Stark gasped. He shoved a hand toward the breach but before Stark could work on mending it, a lance of ice slammed into the pipe, blocking the hole. It froze to a deep blue but held. The reactor core readings went steady.

Loki fell forward after tossing the lance. He was freezing. Oh no. He doubled over. Oh no, he wasn't ready for this. Why must everything be thrust upon him? He curled up against his knees, folded forward over them.

Stark was terrified. “Loki? Loki tell me what to do! Thor, get your ass down here.” He pressed an armored hand to Loki's back. “Baby, are you okay? That should have...”

“I am fine.” Loki groaned. Stark would never leave him alone long enough to get warm again. He struggled to hide his face and hands beneath himself. His hair fell forward, obscuring the view. “Please, just... I...”

Stark's worry was mounting by the moment. He stepped out of the suit and shivered just at the cold icy chill in the air. He hunkered down onto his knees beside Loki. “Baby please. You don't look alright. I'll help you get in the suit, it'll warm you up, until I can get you to a doctor.” His voice was unsteady.

Loki winced at making Stark worry so. All due to his own pride. “Please do not worry.” He swallowed hard and whispered, “I am fine, Anthony. Cold does not harm me.” Loki turned his head, showing off one red eye and blue cheek. “Do remember - I am adopted.”

Stark blinked at the sight. His gaze narrowed. “Loki?”

He nodded. “Frost mage.” He shifted back to sitting upright. Stark's eyes widened at the sight of him. “Frost giant. Though I am very much a runt...”

Stark marveled at the sight of him. His eyes were wide and his mouth hung open but he didn't react past sheer surprise. He reached with tentative fingers to the intricately patterned blue skin across Loki's cheek. Loki shivered at the warmth of his touch against the cold of his skin.

Stark surprised him as he said, “That's why you told Rhodey about being locked away in a heated room by the Chitauri... They knew...”

Loki smiled a little at the man beside him. His brilliant other half. “They did indeed. It was agony. I have no love for blisteringly hot summer days and they went well beyond those temperatures.”

Stark took him in a long moment. “So this is how you really look?”

“I only knew Odin's enchanted look all my life until a few years ago. I had no idea of my true form or nature. He'd raised me as an Asgardian. The enchantment is still how I'd rather see myself... but this is how I am underneath. I don't think of it often but...” He shook his head and looked down at his blue hands in his lap. “I am sorry. I...”

“Sorry for what?” Stark shifted to sit in front of him, taking cold hands in his own warm ones. “Am I supposed to be freaking out at your being a blueberry?” He snorted and tightened his hands around Loki's. “You could have died or... I don't know what... but you're fine and safe. The sight of you getting hit by that blast of coolant... holy shit, that was gonna haunt my nightmares forever.”

Loki smiled down at their hands. He shifted his own hands and brushed his cold fingers against Stark's wrist. “I am well, my darling. Breathe.” He met Stark's gaze and the worry mixed with acceptance in his eyes was overwhelming. He watched Stark take in a few steadying breaths before he couldn't help but ask, “You do not find this... unsettling? Unappealing?”

Stark raised an eyebrow. “Seriously, baby?” He released a hand and reached up to cup a cool cheek. “I love you. You. If it turns out you're actually green goo underneath this too, I don't really fucking care.”

Loki couldn't help but look down at his lap at the acceptance. He would never grow used to it. He leaned into that hand against his cheek. “Thank you.” He slowly met Stark's warm gaze again. “Thank you, Anthony. I love you too. You in any form.”

Stark chuckled. “Thankfully you're happy with this one, since I hear I'm gonna be stuck looking like this for a while.” He winked and brushed his thumb over Loki's cheek. He cocked his head. “Can I kiss you or is this gonna turn into a flagpole situation?”

Loki raised an eyebrow, not understanding the reference, but nodding all the same. “I believe it's safe. You may even help warm me up...”

Stark cocked an eyebrow. “Always, baby.” He leaned in for a kiss. The heat of Stark's lips was startling, then he shivered at the warmth of his tongue against his cold lips. The kisses deepened. Lingered. Dragged on. Stark slid forward onto his lap. Warmth flooded into Loki.

Thor cleared his throat from the doorway.

Stark reluctantly broke the kiss.

Loki was back to looking himself.

“You required assistance? Or shall I return later?” Thor grumbled.

Loki rolled his eyes at his brother.

Thor took in the pair. “The battle is over. The handful of remaining soldiers have surrendered.”

“You didn't run into some smoke monster ninja on your way down here?” Stark wondered, preoccupied in staring at Loki returned to normal.

“I ran into no one. They must have escaped.”

Stark ran a finger along Loki's now smooth skin. “You really can't tell...”

“Odin is an idiot savant of magic. He did well with the enchantment.” He pressed a kiss to Stark's wrist. “And this is truly how I wish to appear. Try not to think of it...”

“It's not blemishing the fucking incredible view I have right now, don't you worry baby, but I think I kind of liked the blueberry look.” Stark winked and kissed him again.

Thor sighed dramatically. “I shall return later, then.”

Chapter Text

They arrived to the ground floor to see soldiers and hired hackers disarmed and kneeling in a group surrounded by police, cuffed and rounded up. There was no sign of their powered attacker. The whole floor was trashed. Receptionist kiosks and furniture were full of bullet holes or burn marks.

“They're all working this vandalism off by making license plates,” Stark grumbled. His helmet folded back, disappearing into the collar of his suit, and revealed his head. He called over to the huddled group being arrested, “That's Italian leather, you monsters!”

Loki rolled his eyes at Stark being overly dramatic and attempting to brush aside the attack with humor now that it was over. They stepped outside to the rest of the team waiting on them. Banner was back to himself, in a albeit ripped shirt and trousers. Vision was thoughtfully appraising the detained soldiers.

Parker leaped forward toward them soon as he spotted them. “You guys okay?” He cast a concerned look at Loki. Evidently Stark's cry for assistance had caught his attention.

“I'm well. Do not worry.” Loki squeezed Parker's shoulder as they passed by him to join the rest.

Parker relaxed some and fell into walking beside them. “So they were after the core?”

Stark paused in front of everyone. “I think they were after more but we interrupted them. This guy with a sword was using magic to hop around. Super of some sort. He'd rigged the reactor to overheat.”

Parker's eyes went wide on his suit.

Banner said, “Well that would've not been very fun.”

“For the entire city,” Stark agreed.

“And then they blame your tech for the destruction?” Rhodes wondered.

“Maybe. Seems like a long shot, though, if I can prove some assholes stormed my facility prior to the accident.”

“Assuming he wasn't hoping to kill most of us when it went off,” Banner pushed. “He had to know we'd show up.”

“He was hiding that he was heading downstairs,” Parker said. “It could have been that simple. Lure us here, blow up the city, hope to kill us.”

“He has a grander plan,” Vision spoke up, still taking in the soldiers. “These men were paid to be a distraction. They have already talked about knowing nothing more than to hold us at bay until they were to be alerted to surrender.” He looked to Stark. “I believe he has covered his tracks well but this assailant was after information and the rigging of the reactor a mere getaway bonus.”

“Friday?” Stark asked.

“Still working backwards to attempt to track all his steps, boss. He was very, very clever.”

“Yeah well good thing we have some very, very clever people of our own.” Stark pointed at Rhodes. “See if Ross has any idea who our friendly smoke ninja could be.” Then he nodded to Banner and Parker. “You two get upstairs. We've got some hacking of my own computers to do.” He cocked a grin at Banner. “After you change.”

Banner shoved him by the shoulder.

“Mister Stark, a moment please,” came a voice to their left. Stark turned to see a female officer approaching. It was the first time he'd noticed the array of cop cars surrounding the front of the building, and beyond them a gaggle of gawking onlookers and press lining the street.

“Sorry for the mess,” Stark said as he turned to face her. To her credit she was very much in command of the situation despite the company surrounding Stark. “I want to press charges against all of them. Have you seen the state of my furniture? Monsters.”

Loki looked away as he struggled not to chuckle.

“Your lawyers have already contacted us pushing for the fullest sentences available.”

“Really? Good. That's what I pay them for.”

“Mister Stark, I wish to know why a known criminal is aiding you.” She pointed to Loki. There was a bit of a reaction from the crowd. Loki cast his gaze over the assembled people.

Thor raised an eyebrow. He was both annoyed and amused at the no nonsense officer. “If he aids us, then perhaps he is not a known criminal after all.”

“There's been no alerts from the UN Council about his exoneration,” she pushed. She knew her stuff.

“Guess I should've talked to Ross but I hate talking to Ross so...” Stark shrugged. The officer frowned at him. He sighed. “Look, give me twenty-four hours. I'll talk to the UN. For now he'll stay here. You'll know where to come attempt to apprehend him when the time's up.”

“Attempt?” she pushed.

Stark smiled darkly at her. “Attempt.” Loki's heart skipped to see the determination not to allow them to capture him. Then Stark brightened up, “So expect a memo soon. For now keep busy with the riffraff shooting up my sofas.”

“Fine,” she acquiesced but stayed her ground all the same. “I will allow twenty-four hours for paperwork to be sorted.” She cast a firm look at Loki and then turned to go.

Thor's gaze followed after her.

“Just your type,” Loki harassed. “Courageous and dislikes me.”

Thor grunted. Banner and Rhodes chuckled.

Stark pointed a finger at Thor. “Only seduce her if Ross doesn't send the paperwork through.” Then he wrapped an arm around Loki. “Ignore the gawkers, baby.”

Loki pulled his gaze away from the uneasy crowd.

Stark looked to Rhodes. “Guess I'm calling Ross instead.” He tossed a look to Parker and Banner. “See you inside.” Then he took off with Loki pinned to his side, ferrying them both up to the helipad.

“Let's get this over with.” They landed and Stark released Loki. He immediately stepped out of the suit and reached for Loki as they walked into the building and up a flight of stairs to the science lab. “Friday, wake up Ross.”

“Already on hold since the attack was neutralized.”

“Of course he’s been.” Stark walked over to the center of the room and called up a large, floating computer display that hovered in the open space. “Put him through.”

Ross' face was larger than Stark had generally ever wanted to see it. The man glared at him and then cast his gaze back to Loki a few paces behind him. Loki returned the frank gaze. Stark lifted his chin defiantly.

Ross' attention returned to Stark. “You have any idea what they were after yet?”

“Not really. Plan B seemed to be detonating my reactor core downstairs and blowing up us and New York City. Working on figuring out Plan A. I'll get back to you. You got any intel on a guy with a sword and magical smoke jumps?”

Ross raised an eyebrow. “I thought this was all just a bunch of lackeys.”

Stark shook his head. “We ran into some smoke ninja. Add him to the threat list if he's not already there. Dressed in black. Likes his swords. Got away, but again, we're working on it, and thanks to him-” Stark nodded back to Loki. “-we're not just one giant crater.”

“He stopped the core’s breach?” Ross asked, no nonsense as ever.

“The physical breach, yes,” Loki spoke up.

Ross took him in. Eventually, he stated simply, “You were with the Chitauri.”

“Previously controlled by the Chitauri,” Loki corrected.

Ross paused, then looked to Stark. “You and the team vouch for him?” Stark nodded. “Then have him sign the accords.”

“There's an officer downstairs that needs-”

“I'll send out the paperwork.” Ross leaned forward, growing all the more disturbingly large on the display. “Don't make me regret this.”

“Do I ever?”

Ross grunted and the screen flickered off.

“He's always so pleasant,” Stark sighed and reached for Loki. One lingering, fantastic kiss full of everything from the evening washing away was all they managed before Parker arrived.

“You guys are the worst,” he groaned and pulled off his mask.

They broke apart and Loki couldn't help a sad sigh when Stark stepped away from him.

“Later, baby. Crazy smoke ninjas to find.” Stark pulled up various screens to help track what the intruder had done before they'd interrupted him.

“You're an awful tease, Anthony,” Loki grumbled, licking at his lips.

Stark smirked while flicking through floating readouts. “I've been called worse.”

Loki stepped in close behind Stark and purred into his ear, “And you'll be teased worse. Later.” He grinned at the shiver from Stark and strutted away.

Chapter Text

The trio of scientists were at it for hours and it was already late when everything began. Loki sat to one side with Thor. Coffee was brought in. Banner had changed into his usual unassuming clothes. Loki had shimmered away his jacket but kept on the rest of his battle armor. He was beyond bored. He listened to the trio going round and round in circles talking with Friday. Vision sat to the other end, piping up here and there, pointing them in new directions, but they were never fruitful. Thor fell asleep where he sat.

Eventually, Loki sighed and stood. “Darling. It's late.”

“Technically, it's early.” Stark tossed a hand toward the lightening horizon. Morning was inching it's way closer. Stark didn't move otherwise from his busy calculations.

“Darling,” Loki warned again in a tone which would not be ignored.

“One more hour,” Stark begged. “Take the elevator up to the top floor. Crash in the bed. I'll be there soon.”

Loki sighed heavily. This mortal of his. “One hour or else.”

“Or else what?” Stark cheekily tossed him a grin over one shoulder.

Loki was in no mood to banter. “Or else you won't be able to touch me for a week.” This gained the desired immediate look of indignation and displeasure. He turned to leave. “One hour.”

“So whipped, dude,” he heard Parker tease Stark.

“Says the kid who hasn't kissed anyone but his aunt yet.”

“Hey! I've-”

The elevator doors shut and he left them all behind. He leaned against the wall. “Top floor? Stark's quarters.”

Friday's voice reassuringly replied, “Right away.”

Loki yawned when the door reopened to reveal Stark’s usual lavishly decorated floor. He took in the view, the stars disappearing at one end of the horizon, sunlight peeking over the edge, before he turned to find his way back into the quarters and the promised bed.

The boot planted to his lower spine caught him utterly off guard. Loki fell forward, off his feet, onto the marbled floor. He hit it hard. His head bounced. The golden crown on his head flew off and skittered across the stone floor. He groaned and blinked to recover his vision, body struggling to comply with his mental shouts to get up. He couldn't go invisible as he might wish to do after an ambush. He should have thought more on other methods of escape now that it wasn't an option.

A heavy boot planted between his shoulder blades and the cold edge of a sword pressed to the back of his neck. Loki froze.

“Asgardians,” came the same low, dark voice from before. “Always so arrogant.” The boot pressed down harder. “Though you're not really an Asgardian, are you? Does the enchantment stay even after I cut off your head? There's a bounty. I'd hate for him not to recognize you.”

Loki's heart hammered. Thanos. This being knew of Thanos? Claimed there was a bounty? Where were Stark's guards and security? Had he blocked Friday from seeing into this room? “What-” The blade at his neck pressed ever so slightly against his skin. “You can't be here for me.”

“Call it a bonus. The virus stealing all of Stark's tech won't pay nearly as well as your head. I hadn’t recognized you. Imagine my surprise when you survived the coolant. This will be messier but oh well.” The blade shifted on his neck.

Enough stalling. Time to move.

Loki teleported himself back behind the assailant, staff shimmering into his hand, and left a clone behind. The blade sliced through the illusion and skidded awkwardly against the floor. With the man off balance, Loki swung hard with his staff and knocked him sliding down the hall. The attacker shook his head to clear it but Loki leaped at him before he could recover. He kicked hard, flipping the man over, and then struggled to lock him in ice bonds once more on all four limbs.

The man chuckled. “Please.” He turned into a puff of smoke and back flipped away from Loki. He threw an array of knives but Loki blocked him with a green energy barrier.

Loki magicked on the rest of his armor and hit a hidden button behind his left ear on the crown. The communicator clicked on, bypassing the attacker's blocks. “Friday's disabled upstairs. He's here.”

“Tricky trickster working with Earthly tech. How quaint.” He stalked down the hallway back toward Loki. Loki struck a defensive pose. “Here I was hoping for some alone time with you.”

Loki dodged another flung weapon but it wasn't aimed for him. It instead hit the wall length window at the end of the hall and shattered it.

“Shall we get some air?” The attacker popped in front of him and tossed them both out the window.

They were high. Far too high. The air was freezing. The sun was rising. Light gleamed gently against the side of the Avengers Tower as they fell. His attacker was not idle. He popped here and there, an attack from one side, then the other, fearing not the fall but looking for an opening on Loki. Loki parried all with his staff and magic. A green glowing barrier guarded his backside. He could hear Stark shouting in his earpiece but he could not break his concentration on the non-stop attacks.

The ground loomed closer. He saw Stark's suit fly past him in the corner of his eye and the distraction nearly had him miss blocking another attack. Finally he could wait no longer. He kicked on the next attack, sending the assailant back away from him, hopefully long enough to turn to the ground and teleport to it. He twisted in his falling and spotted the oncoming pavement. He could see Stark poised to grab him himself. Loki picked a place and just as he teleported the attacker's sword sliced through his right shoulder piece and into skin, thankfully skipping bone.

Loki appeared on the street and doubled over at the wound. Stark landed beside him but the assailant popped through the air twice and then continued his attack. People were awake. Cars screeched to a halt behind him. He could hear Stark commanding everyone to attempt to clear the area. The attacker was relentless. Manic in his driving forward. Loki stood against each attack but lost ground over and over again. Still he countered despite the ringing pain in his shoulder.

Stark came to aid him but the attacker openly laughed. He turned and sliced at Stark's armor, his sword slicing away the outer part of Stark’s left arm's armor, revealing the tech within.

The attacker sneered, “Should I take his head as well?”

“You will not touch him!” Loki smashed him back with both ice and staff.

“He wants your head?” Stark questioned, swearing at his armor.

“Something about a bounty.” Loki breathed heavily but the attacker rebounded, flinging himself toward Loki.

Parker swung overhead and webbed him up mid leap by the feet. He jerked back and tossed the assailant down the street to land with a thud on his side. “This isn’t Kill Bill, dude.”

“Do not... discount him...” Loki warned, breathless, just as the attacker sliced free of Parker's bonds. He threw piercing knives up at Parker and one landed in his thigh as Parker struggled to swing away. The boy was always too cocky.

The attacker's attention returned to Loki. He rushed him. Every time Stark attempted to help, he sliced off another piece of outer armor, taunting. They'd backed up into an intersection. People who were awake gawked. Rhodes and Vision and Thor worked to get them to move. Hulk attempted to join the fight but the attacker merely bounced around the large attacker and continued on pressing Loki. Only Stark could come between them and only because the attacker used him as goading bait, slicing off armor.

“I will have you or I will have you both,” the assailant snarled. He'd grown frustrated by Loki's continued parrying and finally he turned full on Stark. He popped up behind him and knocked him over onto his knees in his mostly disarmed armor. His blade went around to the front of Stark's throat and pressed against the armor plate still there. The attacker shouted at Loki, “Stand down!”

Loki paused, heart racing, limbs shaking, at the view of Stark on his knees and the bastard preparing to slice Stark's head off. It was a horrifying sight. He leaned against his staff, wounded shoulder aching, and took in the hooded, masked assailant. This man, wherever he came from, would have the gall to attack his other half? To think he could get away with all this without punishment? The arrogant bastard.

Stark's helm retreated and he tossed Loki a reassuring look before staring up at the assailant. “You really think you're winning here? You kill me and he rips this whole universe apart hunting you down. You kill him and all of us rip your limbs off one by one.”

“I said stand down! I will-”

“Oh go to sleep, jackass.” Stark shoved a hand against the assailant's thigh. Standing still, he was an easy target. Arrogance was always a downfall. Loki had tried his best to push that moral for Parker but here would be the perfect example.

Stark shocked the assailant with enough volts to knock out an elephant and then some. The man convulsed and slumped to the ground, his sword clattering against concrete.

Loki slumped to his knees before Stark. His own staff fell to the pavement beside them. Thor and the rest joined them. Parker thoroughly webbed up the assailant this time. Loki ignored them all and cupped Stark's face. “Are you well?”

“Better than you,” Stark gasped, looking at the bleeding shoulder. “Sorry baby.”

Loki didn't care. He kissed him. They were whole and that was all that mattered.

There was a blur of activity. Spectators filming the clean up. Police. Specialty units. Press and cameras. Loki ignored them all and focused on Stark. He didn't notice the officer from earlier nor her pleased smile at the pair of them. It would be a day until he was shown tabloid pictures of the two of them embracing on the battlefield. The headline was scandalous but the article included some surprisingly warm commentary from an unnamed law enforcement officer.

Chapter Text

The battlefield was strewn with fallen Chitauri. Loki walked and climbed over the piles of bodies. He'd lost his staff at some point. His hands were numb. His whole body ached. Yet his only thought was to find Anthony. He dragged himself forward. His left leg hurt. His shoulder oozed blood. It did not matter.

Anthony!” he screamed into the dark void around him. He searched and searched. For hours. Ages. Panic grew. What would he do if he never found Anthony? What would he do if he found him lying with the rest of the bodies of the fallen?

He'd failed. What did it matter if the Chitauri lay strewn across the battlefield, if Anthony was gone? He could not…

Tears pricked and fell as the dream darkened further. His hands ripped at the bedding as he dug through fallen soldiers looking for Anthony. Panic overwhelmed him in sleep.

Warm arms tightened around him from behind. Stark shook him lightly as he murmured into his ear, “Loki, wake up. Baby, it's just a bad dream.”

Loki sucked in a breath. His eyes flickered open, unseeing a moment, and then focused on the unfamiliar bedroom. A cabin's walls. Sheer curtains. Rustic decor, for Stark. They were on holiday. Away from everyone. High in some mountains. It was late spring but Stark had managed to find somewhere with snow.

Loki smiled at the memory. He was certain Stark didn't hold his same fondness for cold but he'd picked this location. His selfless other half.

Loki never slept well in new locations. He shivered at the dream still lingering in his thoughts.

Stark kissed along his neck. “It's okay, baby. I've got you.” Stark pressed his front fully against Loki's back and brushed a hand along Loki's chest.

Loki released a long breath. “Darling...” He shifted to face Stark, rolling onto his back beside Stark on his side.

Stark brushed back Loki's messy hair and bent to kiss his wet cheek. “I'm supposed to be the one with awful dreams, baby.”

He smiled at the tease and leaned into Stark. “You've been doing so well. I had to make up for the lack of them.”

Stark chuckled lightly and brushed away the last of the tears with the back of his hand. He paused a moment, then pushed, “Chitauri?”

Loki nodded, then added, “And you missing.”

“Never.” Stark dropped his hand to Loki's shoulder. He caressed oh so softly over the healed skin. “We're a team. Even bounty hunters want both our heads.”

Loki laughed softly. “At least my head would be on display beside yours.”

Stark snorted at the morbid thought. “We're quite the fucking pair.”

Loki leaned forward and pecked Stark's lips. “Yes we are.”

Stark caught his lips and deepened the kiss. Warm and reassuring and teasing. The perfect mixture of Stark. The balm to his nightmares. The soothing touch to his wounds. The man fit against him and propped up all that was unsteady. Just as he pulled away the darkness from around Stark. They saw one another. They understood one another. And they bettered one another.

The kiss ended with a tingling tease of teeth against bruised lips. They had been insatiable last night and it seemed the day would be spent just as locked away as the evening. Loki teased his tongue along Stark's lower lip and hummed, “If you meant to keep me in bed all day, we could have stayed at the compound.”

“And miss the look on your face when I picked this cabin? Never.” He kissed him again but quickly broke off to tease, “And I want to see you rolling around naked in the snow like it's a beach out there.”

Loki laughed and shoved Stark by the shoulder. “Only if you overheat me.” He winked.

“Mm, challenge accepted.” Stark shifted to cover him, pinning warm bodies together.

Kisses and rocking of hips had begun in earnest when Friday's voice cut in, echoing slightly as it sounded from an Iron Man suit tucked away in one corner of the cabin beside the hat rack.

“Attack in Toronto. Hostages. Accounts of fire abilities from an unknown. Rhodes requesting assistance.”

The two of them paused. Stark groaned. “They couldn't manage one full day without us.”

“Well, they are rather lacking without our assistance.”

Stark huffed a laugh, then groaned again as he rolled off Loki and onto his back. “Think we can manage a quickie before we go?”

“They may all manage to die by the time we arrive,” Loki harassed. He shifted to steal one last kiss from Stark's lips before he moved to get up. “We must be vigilant, Anthony.”

Stark groaned louder still, taking in the view of Loki dressing, before he finally grumbled his way onto his feet. He tugged on sweats and turned back to Loki shimmering on his armor.

“You doing okay?” Stark stepped over to meet Loki's gaze. “After the nightmare and getting yourself sliced...”

Loki met his deep, concerned brown eyes. Of course the man would worry over Loki's own traumas, after all he'd suffered himself. Still, their last attacker was locked away, refusing to give up information but safely neutralized. The encounter may have pushed nightmares to the forefront of Loki’s dreams but he felt all the better for having faced a challenge, together. Loki bent to kiss his lips before he whispered, “I am strengthened by the man who holds my heart, by the man who stands beside me on the battlefield and off.”

Stark's gaze melted some. His eyes flashed with emotions. “He must be one hell of a guy.”

“He has no idea.” Loki brushed back Stark's bangs, smoothing out his hair a bit. “I am fine, darling. Monsters of all shapes and sizes will come, then we will have our triumph over the Chitauri. I will see them all vanquished with you by my side. After all, I am Loki Stark of Midgard. I would never allow such forces to triumph.”

Stark both beamed a wide smile and chuckled in surprise at the choice in last name. “I'm gonna have to make you an honest man if you're gonna go claiming that name, princess. Rings. Wedding. Tearful vows. Joint taxes. Whole shebang.”

Loki smiled at the harassment but it mattered not. In his heart, he was already a Stark. “By all means, please do.”

 

END