The public learned about Tony Stark leaving The Avengers three months after it happened.
Tony had been aware from the start of the numerous ways things could and would blow up. He had in fact prepared specifically for those things and was grateful for Pepper’s continued, if grudging, support. He knew from her frown - and their numerous arguments - that she thought he should reunite with them, that he should swallow down one more betrayal and make nice for the cameras and for the sake of the world. She knew better than to push too hard for it though.
‘Creative differences’ was one of his favourite things to say to any reporter that was game enough to ask. Because while Tony might have refused to be associated with or on a team with the Avengers again, he wasn’t about to stop being Iron Man. The Avengers would also inevitably be needed to save the day and they’d need public support to do that. Tony might despise and never forgive them; he might forbid them from his tower, cut off their access to SI technology and stomach fighting alongside them if the world was in the balance. But forgive them? Be a part of the team again? Tony would rather be The Merchant of Death.
The Avengers weren’t speaking about it either and in his more bitter moments he might chuckle at that, after all, betrayal cut both ways. It sliced into the person who wasn’t trusted enough to hold their faith; and it sent a backlash of guilt and bad publicity down on the people who turned their backs and lied when they shouldn’t have.
‘Iron Man would be welcome to return should he wish to’. Captain America had told everyone at a press conference early on. Tony only knew because Pepper had sent him a copy of the speech, trying to help change his mind and show him they were apologetic. Hah! Ashamed was more like it, and what was the phrase? Once bitten, twice shy?
More like; once stabbed, twice vengeful. He wasn’t going anywhere near that team again. He’d always known he was better off on his own.
“Hey, J-” Tony cut himself off with a grimace. He still couldn’t get used to it; the silence and the loss of one of the truest friend’s he’d ever had. It wasn’t like JARVIS didn’t still exist out there but it wasn’t the same. “Nevermind,” he muttered before FRIDAY could try and query him.
It was still hard to swallow.
Nothing had been the same for a long time; not since the invasion, not since Ultron, not since getting rid of the arc reactor - not since Thor came back with too much information, too many new enemies and a whole new twist on Loki. Not since the foundations Tony was standing on split underneath his feet and left him alone and rotting.
Tony gritted his teeth as well as clenched the glass in his hand. He was trying to cut back on the drinking, trying to be responsible now that he was a one-man-band again. It was harder than it looked. He’d grown complacent, grown used to people - friends - who would watch his back; he’d forgotten the cardinal rule he’d learnt after Obie; don’t trust a fucking thing - and he was kicking himself for it.
He almost wanted to see the Avengers get splattered against something; it was too bad revenge wasn’t feasible. He knew if another Chitauri invasion happened, it would be impossible for him to beat it alone. No, Earth needed the Avengers and all the wishing in the world wasn’t going to change that.
Or how much a part of him still felt punched, bitter and hurt.
But he just took another sip from his glass, glaring icily at the wall and trying to ignore that wounded place in his chest. He’d opened himself up and watched them trample all over it – and yet they were surprised when he snapped shut like a clam? He’d expected resistance and arguments in the face of his decision and he’d shot down everything the Avengers had tried but he knew they were still expecting him to come back, to crawl back into their fold.
They forgot he was a genius, they forgot how Iron Man was formed. They forgot doesn’t play well with others. He wasn’t a soldier but a self-serving man who got coined as a hero because it was a close enough description to look good.
He'd been anticipating all kinds of people would try and talk him around and he had arguments for when what remained of S.H.I.E.L.D decided to ignore his refusal to speak to them. When they attempted to break through his security and chastise him; like he was a child throwing a fit, like he should simply ‘know better'.
Tony had been predicting a lot of different conversation and outcomes, but never once did he envision that the God of Mischief would teleport into his penthouse to glare at him.
Blinking, Tony had just looked at the demi-god. His hair was much the same as it had been during the invasion, just a little less crazy and unbrushed. He was decked out in almost identical armour only there was no staff and no helm. His eyes had less of a crazy-glaze too and his skin was perfect this time, not blotchy and almost feverish.
“You look well,” Tony commented because his brain-to-mouth filter was apparently dead.
Loki bared his teeth in more of a snarl than a smile. “Man of Iron.”
Lifting his glass in something resembling a toast, Tony acknowledged, “That would be me.”
He took a drink but never let his eyes drop from where he was watching Loki. He knew that Loki was unlikely to be looking to kill him. Thor, Asgard, hell, the rest of the realms, all seemed to believe the tortured and coerced story. Loki was still a fugitive and had a lot of other charges to account for but there was nothing specific to tie him to the destruction of Earth, or Tony in general. Of course, that was if everyone was to be believed.
The silence stretched between them as Tony swallowed and put down his glass. He contemplated waiting for the other to make a move, but he had never been particularly patient. “Soooo,” he drew out the word, “how’s space?”
Loki let out an irritated breath through his nose and Tony could see one of his fists was clenched. “I hear your little team has lost itself a pivotal member.”
Tony raised his eyebrows. “Was that a compliment I heard in there? Also,” because even his enemies needed to get this straight, “they’re not my team.”
“Hmm,” the noise Loki let out didn’t sound thoughtful though; rather it was closer to a muffled growl. “Did the son of Odin not pass on his concerns for the universe to you?”
“Oh?” And wasn’t this a bizarre conversation he was caught in. “The big, bad, purple thing with really bad relationship goals?” Loki’s eye twitched and for his own enjoyment Tony added, “You want a drink, Renaissance Fair?”
“You know of the enemy you face and yet you spurn your allies?” Loki spoke before Tony could make good on his second offer to the mage. Tony’s face went blank at the words but Loki just pressed harder. “You would invite death on your world for your own amusement?”
“Problem with what you said there; you can’t reject allies you don’t have.”
“Was this team a farce then? Was all my efforts to unite you in vain?”
“Okay, now you’re just getting egotistical.”
Loki actually let out the growl he’d repressed earlier but the second the sound faded he wiped the emotion off his face. It was actually impressive. Tony had a good poker-face but the way Loki literally made his face clean of some pretty powerful feelings was ridiculously skilled. He supposed that was what a thousand years with Thor as a brother would do to you.
“I don’t have time for your petty human quarrels,” - petty, Tony mouthed with narrowed eyes but was ignored - “The Mad Titan will come and you must be aligned with Thor.”
Despite his flippant words to Loki, Tony had listened to the warning that had been given a few months before the split. Thanos sounded like a real swell guy and also not someone he wanted to gatecrash Earth. He didn’t want to see his planet and himself go up in smoke - and it was because of that threat that he was even planning to work with the Avengers in the future in order to stop it from happening.
But, and Tony took a thoughtful sip of his scotch while his mind calculated; now there was Loki.
Didn’t that open all new doors of possibility?
Loki had always been fascinating; wickedly intelligent, skilled at magic - fucking magic which was a thing and Tony had wanted to sink his teeth into unravelling that since Loki had first showed up. He was also similar enough that Tony had admitted in his darker moments that they probably would have gotten along if they had of met differently. But now Thor had revealed that Loki wasn’t a cardboard-cut-out villain but a torture victim with a vendetta a mile wide.
He was also distinctly unimpressed that Tony seemed to have messed up his plans by rebelling, yet, that also meant that he intended for Tony to live long enough to fulfil them. Tony felt very much like the cat that had landed itself with a big bowl of cream. He’d done enough dancing to other people’s tunes recently, or simply downplaying some of his natural tendencies or thoughts to better fit into a team that would still turn around and stab him in the back. It was time to be a bit more like Tony Stark; to go for what he wanted and damn the fucking rest.
Loki wasn’t going to kill him, and Tony knew a vindictive survivor when he saw one.
“I refuse to be an Avenger,” Tony told Loki, watching as his face twisted into a furious scowl. He looked ready to stalk forward and it gave Tony flashbacks to the last time they’d stood inside his penthouse together. This time, however, it was going to be slightly different. Tony didn’t have a list of people he could recite as his backup, so he needed to change that. “But, I will ally myself to you.”
Loki stopped in his tracks, his face going slack with shock before it quickly turned assessing. “Why would you do that?”
The words dripped with suspicion, but Tony just grinned. “I’ve tried one model, now I’m looking for an upgrade.”
“You would offer yourself to a liar and villain? Oh, what desperate lengths you must go to. Tell me, Stark,” He smirked, “whatever did you do to make it so impossible to go back?”
Tony’s didn’t drop his smile but all the warmth and humour bled out of it. “I could ask you the same thing. Thor was notoriously tight-lipped about how you ended up with Thanos.”
“Do not wander too far in that direction, mortal,” Loki warned sharply. “You are a useful piece but can easily be extinguished.”
“Yeah,” Tony drawled. “I don’t think you’re going to kill me. We both know I’m too important to this world.” Tony eyed Loki’s twitch of frustration with delight. “Killing me would make it much harder for you to accomplish your plans.”
Loki didn’t deny it but he did start to move closer. “So you would throw yourself at my feet rather than at the Avengers?”
“No throwing,” Tony didn’t flinch even with only the bar now between them. “Equal partnership. Maybe with a clause or two on betrayal; I’m over that stabbing feeling, how about you?”
Tony saw something flicker in Loki’s eyes; realisation and understanding before it was carefully masked again. “And what would such an alliance entail?”
“I’m assuming you have such things as magic contracts, unbreakable vows, all that sort of stuff?”
“I do.” Tony knew he wasn’t imagining the unfurling of glee and mischief in Loki’s eyes; and why wouldn’t the other be amused?
Tony was still on the same side as the heroes but he was, in essence, betraying the Avengers by siding with their enemy. Oh, it wasn’t true; they were after the same goal and Tony wasn’t about to start destroying cities, but it was beside the point. Tony was offering Loki everything he’d just removed from the Avengers; his mind, his inventions, his tower, and the support of Iron Man.
Loki had come to snarl and fight and force him back into the Avengers. What he’d found instead was a man who was much more open to alternative solutions than he’d probably expected.
“I think we can come up with a deal,” Tony suggested. “A mutually beneficial relationship to take out an approaching enemy.”
“And what of when your former friends discover your new allegiance?” Loki had somehow moved closer, almost leaning over the bar and putting less distance between himself and the God of Mischief than Tony had ever intended - but he wasn’t about to back down.
Tony lifted his chin slightly. “Does it look like I give a shit?”
“Oh no,” Loki’s smile was pure Trickster, “I believe you’ll quite enjoy their reaction.”
Tony matched the expression. “Well, I won’t deny that.”
“Hmm,” that sound was definitely thoughtful, “An alliance.”
Putting down his glass, Tony didn’t let himself rethink it as he held out his hand. Loki looked down at it before catching Tony’s gaze with his eyebrows raised. Tony shrugged, “Consider it an act of intent.”
Loki’s lips twitched but he raised his arm and a pale, slightly cool hand clasped his own. Tony expected it to be shook but Loki pulled him even closer instead, their faces were inches apart and Tony’s breath hitched with surprise. Loki tilted his head not unlike a cat. “It’s rare for a mortal to surprise me, Tony Stark, yet you are becoming quite consistent with it.”
He wasn’t sure if the encroachment on his personal space was a challenge or an attempt to make him uncomfortable, but Tony refused to let it be either. He actively moved slightly closer, causing a brief widening of Loki’s eyes before he told the mage, “Babe, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”