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Sharpen Your Teeth

Chapter Text


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.

Like fuck.

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.”

Chapter Text

Brokering an alliance with Loki was both easier and harder than Tony anticipated.

On the one hand, Loki seemed to enjoy when Tony argued with him, but on the other hand, Loki was a damn good negotiator. Tony was glad he was drafting his own deal because the idea of Thor or Steve trying to act on the Avengers behalf was both laughable and terrifying. Tony doubted, of course, that they would ever trust Loki enough to start an alliance - but reading the final product of whatever contract Loki twisted out of them would have been fabulous and mock worthy.

He was sure Loki had tricked Thor into some idiotic ventures in their youth and Tony had to wonder if he could worm some of the details out of the mage. Hell, hearing any event on that planet that was unclouded by Thor’s ego would be a nice change.

But, all of that aside, Tony had still been surprised that Loki hadn’t detested having someone pick at his wording or catch Loki out when he tried to make the deal swing more in his favour. It had taken a few hours before Tony realised Loki enjoyed the way they tried to outwit each other. It seemed to be something of a game to the demi-god and he adored Tony for both playing along and matching him step for step.

Loki was, simply putting it, testing him. He wanted to see how good a deal Tony could craft and Tony wasn't about to disappoint him. It took the better part of a week but in the end and after the third read through without any changes (there had been arguments, but neither could persuade the other out of anything else or present a compromise they were both happy with) they were willing to sign.

“Blood? Really?” Tony asked with a grimace as Loki ran a sharp dagger over the palm of his hand.

Loki gave him a flat look. “Can you think of a more individually binding component?”

“Yes,” Tony answered before he could think, “a more pleasurable one too.”

Loki’s eyebrows shot up and he even looked Tony over; uncomprehending at first, but with a smirk curling his lips by the end. “How unexpected, but,” he turned back to the parchment, “implausible. It would affect the nature of the binding.”

“Oh?” Tony couldn’t let that go. “What does it do?”

Loki turned his attention back to him. “You’re speaking of your own seed, yes?”

"Semen, Loki,” Tony corrected just to be annoying, he then paused and added for extra fun, “Or jizz. Sperm. Ejac-"

"I quite get the picture you are painting. I did not need a Midgardian dictionary of terms." Tony smirked but Loki looked unfazed, if mildly exasperated. Tony would bet it was just a front for hiding his amusement. “The suggestion you have made will influence the intent.”

Tony pursed his lips and eyed the contract. “It’ll make it come off more sexual in nature?”

“Quite,” Loki agreed. “It wouldn’t dictate our actions but should another review the contract-”

“That likely to happen?” Tony cut in.

Loki pursed his lips in thought as he stared into the distance; his eyes were flicking around slightly and over the last few days Tony had learnt that meant he was circling through scenarios. Tony had discovered a lot about the God of Chaos during their short acquaintance. Chief of which was that, short of Bruce, he was the first person in recent years Tony had instantly gotten along with.

Sure,there was some posturing, some growling, and some very barbed comments intended to cut and bleed and see what could be found - but Tony also gave as good as he got. It was only once they’d stopped acting like two spitting vipers that the grounds of their alliance had begun to form. It was now shaping up to be dangerously perfect; and oh, Tony could just taste the Avengers reaction to that. He went to bed every night grinning about it.

He didn’t even feel like he was giving something up, he was only receiving benefits.

When Loki needed a place to stay where he could recuperate with protection; Tony could provide that. When Tony needed up-to-date information on Thanos that he wouldn’t ask Thor for, Loki just had to share what he was already planning to gain.

If Loki was interested in Tony creating or getting things for him then he could exchange it for lessons or books on magic. There were numerous other examples that had fleshed out the body of the contract as they outlined what they would give, how much they would be willing to assist the other and in what circumstances they wouldn’t.

It was a good deal and it also had something Tony was in sore need of lately; specifics. They both knew what they wanted from each other, what they were being offered and what they could expect. They couldn’t betray each other without it instantly being made known to the other party. They also couldn’t cut the contract short without mutual agreement.

Tony knew exactly what Loki required from him - had a God damn list for reference - and everything else he did wasn’t going to affect Tony and was therefore unnecessary information. This wasn’t friendship, it was just business.

Tony still couldn’t stop himself from poking at some of those boundaries for the fun of it though, and much to his delight, Loki did the same.

He was brought from his wandering thoughts, when Loki answered his earlier question. “No, Thor would be the only one on Midgard who might ask to see the contract but he has no right to.” He paused and his mouth pitched downwards. “The Allfather is a different matter, but he is unlikely to care for my affairs if they are not causing him political disaster.”

Tony chuckled bitterly. “Sounds like my Dad.”

“Hmm,” Loki hummed but otherwise ignored the remark to continue, “There is also something unappealing to having those substances on documentation.” His perfect little nose was scrunched with distaste. “Blood is a more respected method.”

Tony actually agreed with him on that, especially now that he was visualising it happening. He’d rather have someone see his blood on a signature than his seed - not that anyone on Earth would be surprised to hear he'd closed a deal by getting one off. He still had to tease Loki though. “That's a bit prudish. Don't you get it on your hand and your bed often enough? What's wrong with a little parchment?”

Loki shot him an unimpressed look and didn’t rise to the bait, sadly. “And you would enjoy your parental figure potentially seeing a contract of that making?”

The idea made Tony wince on instinct. “Well, it would be amusing - after the shouting.”

Loki smirked but didn’t comment beyond the one word, “Quite.”

He turned away after that and waved his hand through the air. A quill appeared and Tony doubted the feather - elegant; in beautiful greens and silver - was from a bird that could be found on Earth. Loki pressed the tip against the welling blood, collecting enough for the task before signing underneath the Norse Ruins on the contract.

Loki had explained that while the text of the document would change depending on the reader’s native language, their names and signatures would remain fixed in the dialect they were taught to read and write with. It was an impressive system and Tony was already itching to try and recreate it with SI Technology.

When the stylish flicks and sharp lines that made up his name were penned, Loki slid the parchment across the bench so that it was before Tony. He then turned the dagger and offered it handle-tipped to Tony who eyed it suspiciously. “Any blood-related diseases I should worry about?”

“My body purges me of any such ailments,” Loki answered easily before asking with false innocence. “Does yours not?”

“Yeah, yeah, puny mortals,” Tony took the knife, careful not to slice Loki with the action - not that he thought the other would ever allow it.

Holding the blade above his left hand, he eyed the document one more time. Was he really doing this? Aligning himself to the God of Mischief to take down an enemy that had already hung Loki out wet? Was he really taking the giant step that put him beside a man that most of Earth thought was a war criminal?

He found himself flicking his attention to the mage. Loki was watching him closely, his eyes slightly narrowed but his expression mostly unreadable. It took Tony a moment to realise one important thing; he’s expecting me to back out.

The thought filled Tony with a sudden need to prove him wrong - but he wasn’t stupid enough to be dared into this. He knew the risks, knew the payoff. He also needed backup coming into a war with the Mad Titan, and there was no one on Earth he was willing to give his time and loyalty to anymore. He had a choice, and Loki was standing there like a whole new league of bad decisions and interesting possibilities.

Tony had been stabbed in the back by the heroes, betrayed on the home front; the least he could do was give his former enemy a go. He’d be half-anticipating it to turn to shit that way anyway.

He drew the dagger in a line against his hand before he could think about it, wincing at the pain but pulling back to admire the skill of the craftsmanship. Loki had barely had to press the blade down in order to break skin so he’d taken caution and was glad for it. Tony was fairly sure with a decent push he could have skewered himself to the table.

“So,” Tony began while reaching out and taking the quill Loki proffered. “We both agreed the Avengers need to live.”

“Yes,” Loki’s mouth twitched like he was trying not to laugh.

Tony could still remember it too, the delighted sound he’d let out when he realised Tony’s idea of vengeance was just as bloody as Loki’s. The laughter had been startling and odd but it had passed quickly. It had also led Tony to explain that the only reason he wasn’t enacting that desire was because it wasn’t feasible, now, or even when Thanos was destroyed. Loki had understood that and accepted it too.

Loki still queried him. “Are you changing your mind already?”

Tony shook his head. “No. It wouldn’t work without them and you know that.”

“So to where do you intend to lead this conversation?”

Shaking his head at the wording, Tony told the other. “We need to work on relaxing you.”

“You are not an ally as of yet.”

Tony raised his eyebrows. “Was that a prompt?”

Loki’s eyes moved slowly over the contract, up Tony’s hand that was still poised, past his arm, and finally rested on Tony face. Their eyes caught and held. The whole examination had felt weighted, making Tony feel overly aware of his skin and actions. What Loki intended to gain from it though, Tony wasn’t able to guess. “I am not the instigator of this alliance.”

“Well,” the words tumbled out without much thought, “I hope you remember that when this turns out brilliant and people are singing our praises and you're thinking about taking the credit.” Loki’s mouth had become a flat line and his eyes were equally unimpressed, but Tony continued anyway; irking Loki was really half the fun. “I’m going to be holding that admittance over you with glee.”

He punctuated the end of his prediction with a flourish of his signature. Their blood flared white before fading rapidly to look like day old ink - but that was only in the right light, if Tony shifted his angle slightly then it shined a very obvious red. Loki held out his hand and the quill and parchment relocated to it, leaving Tony grasping nothing.

The demi-god stood smoothly, his eyes flicking over the contract as he moved. When he was happy, he vanished both items to his storage dimension but Tony wasn’t bothered. He had a copy of the contract on FRIDAY’s hard drive and if Loki was to be believed, all copies of their deal would automatically gain signatures after the original was signed. He was going to double-check it as soon as Loki was gone, of course, but he did like the way the system prevented forgeries.

While Tony had half-expected Loki would disappear the second they’d scribbled their parts, he actually seemed to be lingering. He did flick his fingers and absently heal both of their cuts though and Tony really wanted to ask about that. He might also want to rub and examine his hand for a while, but Loki always looked exceedingly amused when he did something like that and acted ‘so incredibly mortal’.

Besides, Tony knew Loki would rather dance around his magic questions than answer them, especially when he probably had plans he needed to check up on. Loki had also alluded that once the deal was official he was unlikely to be back on Earth for another fortnight. It made Tony wonder where he was going.

“Off to Asgard?” he guessed.

“Hardly,” Loki answered, but it was less of a sneer and more of a general response, there was an ease that hadn’t been there before. It looked like he was definitely more open to discussion now that they were intrinsically tied. Good to know. “Vanaheim,” Loki admitted, “I have some items I need to collect.”

Tony would have toasted Loki goodbye if he had a glass, but Loki was even more vicious than Pepper and JARVIS combined on his drinking habits. It had initially had him snapping defensively, but Loki took even less of his crap than Pepper and was more forceful than his former AI. The first time his scotch had turned into - what he later found out was Bilgesnipe piss - hadn't been pretty for either of them. They’d included his drinking and Loki’s ability to tamper with his shit into the contract not long after that. It was a wonder the document wasn’t as long as a bus considering everything they’d haggled over. How a discussion on Tony’s ability to fight outside the armor had moved from dancing and then on to what poisons Loki was allowed to create in Stark Tower would always be mindboggling. Fascinating and intriguing, but still extremely confusing.

Shaking off the memory of some of their more bemusing conversations and arguments, Tony replied to the Loki. “How do I contact you if anything comes up?”

“There should be no need.”

“And if there is?”

Loki’s immaculate left eyebrow went up. “You have managed well enough on your own so far, have you not?”

Tony gestured between them. “I thought we just established this isn’t an ‘alone’ thing anymore?” He narrowed his gaze. “And what if you get into trouble?”

“We will simply need to avoid it for now,” Loki dismissed. “My preparations for us aren’t yet complete.”

Tony was mildly taken aback at the answer but felt something pleasant blossom in him too. He really is throwing himself into this and Tony didn’t know what to do with that but try to fight off a grin.

He also refused to let the wave of bitterness that crashed over him take control - but fuck it all, here was Loki the so-called villain making plans and creating solutions. Tony had always been the one throwing things for the others to catch; Avengers Tower, upgraded equipment, SI technology tailor made, anything they needed. They never attempted anything back, never offered, never said thank you - like he was a continual resource that wouldn’t dry up or need encouragement.

Loki hadn’t proven himself any different yet and his preparations might not be anything like Tony’s, but this was still looking promising. Tony knew his own mind had been whirring since the moment Loki had begun the proceedings with a handshake. He wanted to make solutions, meet and break down hurdles, and Loki, it seemed, was doing the same. He might even turn out like a fucking ally and not cement in Tony's damn shoes.

“Well,” and Tony couldn’t wipe the pleased curl of his lip away despite his trying. “I’m still working on that inter-realm cell phone so I guess we will just have to wait.”

Loki looked instantly intrigued and Tony wondered if he wasn’t the only one feeling something warm and flattered. “Are you now?”

“Oh, yeah,” Tony’s smile broke out fully. “Next time you’re here for a while, I’ll show you. I bet magic would help and I’ll need a tester who doesn’t short-circuit almost everything he touches. Oh, and understands what the fuck I’m talking about.”

“Thor is not as oblivious as he paints himself,” Loki warned but it seemed half-hearted, like his energy wasn’t really in the defence. “He is no prized intellect, but he is an Aesir.”

“As opposed to a mortal?” Tony guessed feeling irritated and vaguely insulted.

Loki waved a hand dismissively. “We have many years more education and start at a more advanced level. It’s natural.”

So, not an insult. Tony still wanted to protest a little, but when he considered the standard intellect of most humans and the times that Thor had actually come up with something impressive, Tony had to grudgingly admit that there was a probably a fair point in what Loki had said.

“Whatever,” Tony shelved the discussion for a later date. “If you’re gone longer than a month I’m assuming you’ve played dead again.”

Loki’s smile was full of teeth. “At least you’re not fooled. This arrangement may yet succeed.”

“Babe, I told you I’m not about to disappoint you.”

It took the space of a blink for Loki to appear an inch from his face and Tony startled, barely catching his ‘fuck’ before it slipped out. He was still getting used to teleporting, as well as Loki’s tendency to disregard personal space in an attempt to unbalance him. Loki inched a little closer and while the angle was all wrong, it was still a closeness he’d only ever achieved with someone he was yelling at or planned to kiss. Loki was looking much nearer to the second for Tony’s comfort.

“Well, darling,” Loki purred, all mockery layered underneath blatantly false desire. “We must make sure you survive then.”

Tony was very carefully not holding his breath, trying to calculate every micro-expression on the other’s face. He was so focused on Loki's eyes that he didn’t notice the movement of the mage's hand until fingers were touching the back of his palm. It wasn’t the touch that startled him, but rather the feeling that came a split-second later and felt not unlike hitting your funny bone as it spasmed up Tony's arm.

Fuck!” he yelped, not even trying to hold that one in as he jumped back, clutching his hand to his chest even while the ache rapidly faded. Loki was laughing like the sadistic fucker he was. “That better have been really fucking important!

Loki’s mouth was still twitching as he answered demurely, “A ward not unlike your heart-monitors; should you be in true peril over these next few weeks, I will know and attempt to return.”

“Attempt?” Tony asked mulishly while rubbing his hand.

“Should you be near death so short into this arrangement, I’m not certain you would be an ally worth investing in.”

“That is just damn insulting. I’m a fantastic catch, thank you.”

“I suggest then,” Loki told him solemnly and Tony knew the tone that had entered his voice; imperial and final, the little shit. “That you endeavour to survive.”

Tony didn’t even try to open his mouth. He’d discovered early on that trying to keep a teleporter in a conversation he didn’t want to have was impossible; Loki was already turning into sparkles by the time he’d said his last word.

He really hoped Loki had a better communication system planned for them instead of jabbing him with unauthorised magic. He needed to be able to send an irate text or a witty comeback no matter what distant speck of the galaxy Loki had materialised on.

Still, in the grand scheme of things, and of all the irritants that he could have been discovering with a new ally, it was nothing on the Avengers. And maybe he’d just learnt how to deal with people better after spending so long fitting himself in with the Avengers over the years. Because if it wasn't that, it meant that out of all the people in the universe, he naturally fit better with Loki than anyone else he’d ever met on Earth.

Chapter Text

Loki found the whole thing hilarious.

He’d been happy to rearrange his plans to include the strange mortal’s proposition, but despite his own agreement to ally with the Midgardian he hadn’t truly believed the other man would actually sign the contract. He was pleasantly surprised to discover the many layers that made up Anthony Stark.

He was angry, vengeful, betrayed. Oh, yes. Loki was more than willing to facilitate and encourage Stark’s bitter actions.

When he’d had the Hawk under his control, Loki had examined each of the Avengers purely for practicality, but it was only without the influence of Thanos and after his escape from Asgard that he’d given them a closer inspection. Stark had quickly become a source of amusement and curiosity to Loki; he was intelligent, brash and preened like the prettiest peacock. He was also crippled by anxiety, insecurities and the weight of his past mistakes. Oddly, it didn’t make him weak among others but instead he became strong and confident even while becoming extremely guarded.

Loki found it even more intriguing to experience in person.

Yet despite this, and despite the benefits the partnership could bring to him, Loki’s favourite and most desired outcome of the whole alliance was to watch the faces of Thor and his Midgardian heroes as they witnessed their former friend and all his precious technology being signed over to Loki.

Oh, it was enough to overlook Stark’s mortal status for that alone.

Not that Loki had ever disliked mortals the way Thor (and therefore, most other people he associated with) seemed to think he did. He had just never seen the use of allying or giving time to a race that had such a short period for which they were useful. The Avengers had served a purpose by eradicating Loki’s enemies - but now there was Stark.

He was fast becoming far more useful and interesting as a person to be so easily discarded. The mortal was almost mad, brilliantly creative and delicious dark. His proposition had also contained enough merit that Loki had been willing to spend the next few months visiting Stark and dissecting his strange little mind. He might even prove worthy enough that Loki would assist him in discarding his mortality. Of course, Stark needed to live long enough to participate in the fight against Thanos. He also needed to impress Loki sufficiently, and that was why Loki had come to Vanaheim.

There was a woman who lived there and made beautiful and intricate jewellery. She was well known for creative show pieces, but few bothered to realise that she was a mage who was extremely skilled at protective wards. She charged a large sum, but Loki had spent many centuries trialling her work and had never found it wanting. Loki had been happy to part with some pilfered gold as well as a spellbook he’d long since memorised to gain matching cuffs that he’d had her design.

She knew better than to speculate or to talk about his purchase with another, so he saw no need to bind her to silence - especially when many of the specific uses off the cuffs would be created by himself.

It still took him the better part of a week in hiding and trials before he was ready to return and gift one of them to Stark. Loki was actually looking forward to it. The mortal was always delightful to appear before; he startled more often than not and cursed foully. Loki didn’t doubt Stark would grow used to his teleporting soon enough, so he made sure to enjoy it while he could.

The spell he’d placed on Stark, while working as a means of keeping an eye on his health, also allowed him to pinpoint exactly where the mortal was on Midgard. When drafting the contract they had agreed after each meeting on a rough time for him to visit next so that no one would see them and that Stark would be home. He’d taken pleasure in arriving early or late (anything to draw a reaction from the Engineer) and he was hoping that his sudden arrival - sooner than anticipated - would give him something entertaining.

He was quick to narrow his focus on the hum that the spell on the mortal gave off. Loki made certain there was no one around him before concentrating his magic and attention on a point just to the left of Stark’s shoulder. He then slid his way through the realms until he could appear beside the unsuspecting man.

He emerged in what he took to be Stark’s laboratory, finding the mortal bent over a metal contraption that didn’t seem to be a part of his suit. Loki was planning to lean forward, brush the mortal’s side with his hand and whisper in his ear, but the other murmured first, “Hello, Loki.”

Loki frowned, feeling thoroughly put out as he took a step back so the mortal could turn and smirk smugly at him. “How did you anticipate me?”

Stark pointed at a screen. “It’s faint, but there’s a small spike of power a few seconds before you arrive.” His grin got even wider. “I’ve coded it to let out a very specific sound to warn me you’re about to do your little ‘rabbit from a hat’ trick.”

Leaning close to the figures running across the screen, Loki examined it. He was impressed, privately, but there was no reason to inform the mortal of that. “It took you some time.”

“Pssh,” Tony hissed, “I’m hot shit and you know it!”

Loki made a noncommittal hum while turning away and observing the rest of the room. It was the most honest piece of his home that Loki had seen yet. It practically glowed with the man’s energy and passions. A depiction of his mind laid bare in all its chaotic glory for Loki to catalogue. It reminded Loki faintly of his old rooms back on Asgard.

He turned back to the mortal. “Have you spoken with the Avengers in my absence?”

Stark’s smile was sly. “S.H.I.E.L.D’s tried but I think they’re finally getting the hint that I let them hack me before, not anymore.”

“But not your former cohorts?”

“They know better.”

Ah, there was the tone he liked to hear; full of dark menace and promise. It had more power and ruthless fury to it than the words that had been levelled at Loki during his invasion of Midgard. This, Mr Stark, is you truly threatening.

“Good. I had hoped they would not visit you until we had a...” he searched for the appropriate word, “grander form of communication.”

Stark’s eyebrows rose. “Planning another performance?”

“We both know they will seek you out soon. They have deigned to give you a period in which to be 'selfishly angry'.” Stark gritted his teeth. “I propose we introduce our alliance to them when they do return.”

Letting out a laugh and uncoiling, Stark leant back against his desk and observed Loki. “Is that why you’re back early? Vanaheim business finished?”

“The majority was not spent on that realm. I merely needed time to perfect a purchase from there.”

“Oh?” The mortal’s eyes were bright with interest and enthusiasm. “Did you bring me back a souvenir?”

“I have brought you back something far more useful than that.” He raised his hands and twisted them in opposite directions until the two bracelets appeared. One of them maintained its original shape; a gold cuff that twisted elegantly and had carefully laid engravings infused with magic. The second was Stark’s and had been cloaked with an illusion to present one of the leather woven bracelets Midgardian’s found fashionable. “These are identical but for a spell I’ve used to make yours appear to be from your world.” Stark was bent close, inspecting the jewellery that was floating above the mage's palms with fascination. “This should defuse any questions from your media and other mortals you come in contact with.”

“Can a magic user detect it?” Stark asked.

Loki shook his head. “The magic is mostly dormant, they might sense something from the illusion but it is likely they’ll simply believe it to be a light protection charm.”

“So what else does it do?” Stark asked, reaching out and when he wasn’t stopped, plucking the two items from the air. “Is the shape of mine just an illusion to the senses or has it actually changed forms? Is it still different underneath?”

“It is different,” Loki answered and his eye wanted to twitch and display the discomfort he always felt when he talked about illusions that altered appearances. He had learnt to quell it and he also refused to let Stark see that weakness, nor learn of what inspired it. Odin might have made it difficult and infuriating to work those spells - how could he have been so blind - but he refused to let it restrict his magic.

“Can I scan it? Will the original version show up underneath?” Stark seemed to be talking more to himself as his voice dropped and his mutters became inaudible. He also began fiddling with nearby machinery.

Loki let him, but continued explaining the bracelets, expecting the man would be able to work on his devices while listening, “These will allow us to assist the other should we be in any danger-”

“Oh, yeah?” The mortal interrupted, “How am I supposed to help if you’re off in the land of the God-Complex?”

Loki’s lips thinned, but any glare was lost on Stark who had his back to him. “Should you be in trouble, I will learn of it and teleport to you. Should I be in need of assistance this will either let you know and allow you to find me or if I request it, you will be able to activate the magic in these cuffs to teleport me to wherever you reside.”

Stark actually turned his head to eye Loki. “It’ll teleport you from wherever you are? Even if your magic's bound?”

“I have taken considerable care to make that possible, yes. As long as I activate it and am still among the nine realms; it will bring me to you.”

“Huh,” Stark hummed. “That’s pretty impressive.”

Loki smirked. “You may continue to praise me, mortal.”

Stark rolled his eyes and muttered under his breath, “God-complex.”

“I am a God,” Loki intoned with a significant level of warning.

Snorting, Stark answered, “Demi-God, maybe, and that’s at a real stretch. I’m talking bungee cord about to break kind of stretching.” He sent Loki a look. “And I’m only giving you that because of the thousands of years of life and hard to kill thing.”

“So would you consider your dear soldier a demi-god too?” Loki sniped.

Stark glared at him. “He hasn't been around that long and jury’s out on whether or not he can be killed. I’m sure if we shot him in the head or just flat out decapitated him he wouldn’t get back up.”

“Ah,” Loki moved closer so he could lean his back against the metal table, “such a thing would still kill an Aesir and he has not yet been given the chance to learn the length of his life. So does he not deserve that status as well?”

“He’s an exalted human at best,” the mortal snapped. “He’s not anything godly.” He looked Loki up and down and admitted, “I’d give you that title before I’d give it to him.” Loki was going to press the obvious raw spot further when the Engineer changed the subject. “So what else do these things do?”

Loki shrugged, willing to allow the shift for now. “Not a large amount. They will send a message that one wishes to speak to the other as well as the response from the correspondent.” Sliding nearer, Loki plucked his cuff from Stark. “They will only work when used by one of us and can only be removed by those who put them on. That way,” Loki swiftly removed the leather band from the mortal's hold and with deft fingers attached it to Stark’s wrist, “it cannot be pulled free by anyone who might have captured one of us.”

Stark played with the device with his freehand before Loki covered it. He masked the smirk that wanted to break free as he stroked the bracelet and with it, Stark’s skin, curious to see the mortal’s reaction. Stark went rigid while Loki gently cupped the other’s wrist in a parody of an embrace. “The various functions all have a different series of strokes,” he ran his finger over Stark’s inner-wrist, “and pressure,” he lightly curled a finger under the band and scraped it across skin, “that you will need to memorize.”

“Really?” Stark breathed before his light-fingers were removing the gold cuff from Loki’s hand and snapping it onto Loki’s right wrist. Loki flicked his eyes down to the bracelet and where the mortal was dancing fingers over Loki’s own arm, searching inside the sleeve of his jacket and making small circles against any skin he found. “And how are you going to show me, Loki?” He shuffled closer until they were almost sharing the same breath, “Practical demonstration, I hope?”

Loki couldn’t help his small smile. “My, my, Stark; always so facilitating.”

“You’re about to give me an intimate presentation, right?” Stark purred. “So why don’t you call me, Tony?” Loki was about to respond when Stark traced the cuff a certain way and the markings Loki had engraved lit up under his touch. “Oooh,” he bent down so he was almost going cross-eyed as he scrutinized the metal. “What did it do?”

“Accepted your touch,” at Stark’s puzzled look, he elaborated; “You placed it on me so it’s prepared to be removed or have the wards inspected.”

Pushing down Loki’s sleeve, Tony held his arm up in the air, his eyes bright with the prospect of new knowledge and uncontainable curiosity. Loki had his hand jerked from side to side due to Stark’s childish glee while the mortal stood utterly oblivious to the person attached to what had caught his attention. Normally, Loki would have ripped his hand away and verbally eviscerated or violently spelled the person who had dared have the audacity to manhandle him, but somehow Loki found himself staying his hand.

Stark was his ally and couldn’t actually harm him - but that wasn’t what made Loki resist his instincts. Stark was rambling and theorizing and otherwise babbling ecstatically over something Loki had found, manipulated and gifted him with.

Whether he knew it or not, Stark was praising him and whether Loki admitted it to the other or not, he was relishing in it. Loki was willing to allow it to continue, for that.

Stark remained fixated on the cuffs for the next twenty minutes or so, demanding his computer scan both versions and pulling out his tools to tap at them. He brought up holograms and Loki soon found himself wandering the lab and examining everything inquisitively. He would only stop when Stark would come back to his side, taking the cuff on and off as he saw fit.

The bracelet was back on his wrist and Loki was skimming through strategic information Stark’s technology had recorded about how the Avenger’s fought and trained, when the mortal finally seemed to remember there was a person attached to the cuff. “So how will we know when the other wants us?”

The corner of Loki’s mouth quirked into a smile. “I took the liberty of mimicking the preferred Midgardian method.” When silence greeted him, he flicked his eyes from the screen to see Stark’s confused expression. Dropping his hand to the cuff on his wrist, he played the needed sequence and watched Stark’s eyes clear with realisation as he looked down. Loki still elaborated, “It vibrates.”

“Hah,” Stark laughed, bringing his wrist up to his face. “One of the beads has a green light?”

“Yes,” Loki agreed, “for you there are three symbols and the shine will be invisible to any eye but your own and mine. The one that is currently lit up means I wish to speak with you. I will show you how to respond and inform me that you are alone and I may arrive. The one beside it, in the middle, means I am in trouble but do not yet need your assistance. The final one requests that you bring me to you.”

“Like an S.O.S texting service?” Stark nodded with thought, not even trying to hide his impressed smile. “That’s fucking cool.”

“I’m glad you approve,” Loki drawled, keeping his own thrill hidden. How many Aesir would find such a gift enjoyable? How many would scoff and deem it useless and unmanly? Fools. The lot of them. “Now, I believe you mentioned your own form of communication?”

Stark grinned widely before ducking around a desk and digging in a draw. “I was about ready to throw the whole thing against the wall, but I think I’m starting to work it out; the bracelets have given me another idea to incorporate.”

Coming back, Stark put down two phones on the table and Loki didn’t try to stifle his chuckle as he picked up the black one that possessed green highlights. Stark’s own was as red as his armour with accentuations of gold. Loki was grateful Stark had used some sense of subtlety with his version. “You mentioned wishing to use magic?”

“That’s where you’re coming in, Gandalf,” he gestured Loki over. “Pull up a chair. I think you’re going to love this.”

Loki was sceptical as he magicked something more comfortable than what Stark possessed into existence - gaining a groan and an ‘I didn’t mean literally’ from the mortal - but as the Engineer broke open the device and brought up all his current tests and previous models, Loki did become interested.

An hour became two became five and despite many arguments, barely any sustenance and his demand for Stark to be awake in eight hours when he returned so that they may finish the items - Stark’s assessment had been accurate.

He had liked it.

When Loki materialized in his safe house that evening, he spent some time pensively wondering how wise it was that he was so quickly being charmed by someone as short-lived as Anthony Stark, and a former enemy as well. His guard was hardly down, he would kill Stark in a moment if the mortal betrayed him... but should the man show himself to be a beneficial ally? Someone who was loyal and appreciative of Loki’s talents with magic, words and mischief?

Well. That was something to consider.

Loki always planned for the future, for centuries ahead and with many alternative courses just in case. It might be that Stark could be of use for longer than the battle with Thanos. It was just possible Stark had sustainability.

Perhaps, he thought. I should take some care with this one.

Chapter Text

Loki was in and out over the next few weeks. They managed to perfect the cell phones and while Tony had spent a lot of time straightening out bugs and marvelling at the pictures and snarky videos he managed to convince Loki to take while he was off world, Loki had also seemed to enjoy it. Sure, he always rolled his eyes and complained about doing it when he got back, but Tony knew he was a fucking liar so he wasn’t concerned. Besides, they spent too much time discussing the things Loki let Tony see as well as all the new gadgets and materials that Loki brought back for Tony that he really couldn't take it to heart.

It was a pretty enjoyable system they had going; Loki didn’t live with him and refused to stay the night even when Tony offered. Loki was the archetypal stray cat and Tony was more than happy sharing space with someone who was hardly there.

If he maybe got drunk one night and started designing a floor for Loki to stay in and another for his magic use and experiments, well, no one had to know about that other than FRIDAY and himself. If he’d also gone back to it while sober and made further improvements it was just because he was a bit of a perfectionist and didn’t like leaving a job unfinished. It wasn’t because he wanted to surprise Loki with it when he finally wheedled the prickly demi-god into resting at the tower for a night.

He hadn’t even started the construction yet; it was just an amusing pastime, nothing more.

“Boss,” FRIDAY called as he fiddled with the blueprints, “I have detected an approaching aircraft.”

What?” Tony shifted from his sprawled position on the couch and made his way towards the window.

“It appears to belong to the Avengers."

Tony glared at the approaching black dot. “Do they think they can just land on my fucking roof?”

“Shall I deploy countermeasures?”

Tony was tempted, but not only would it be unprovoked fire in a civilian airspace, but he knew that they wouldn’t allow him to avoid them forever. “No, let them land; but make my displeasure at their unannounced arrival known.”

“Yes, Boss.”

Turning away from the window, Tony made his way to the bar where he poured himself a small glass of the first bottle he found on hand. He lightly brushed his fingers around Loki’s bracelet and let out a huff of amusement at the complete reversal of the situation; different item on his wrist, different enemy at his door.

He made himself move away from the bar with the drink held tight in his grasp. He waited in the centre of the room and in a place FRIDAY could easily protect him from. While he didn’t expect a firefight, he definitely anticipated an argument. A part of him was honestly preparing to relish in it.

Tony didn’t take a sip of his drink as he watched them land and climb out of the craft. He stayed still and silent with only a small smirk when FRIDAY activated the guns on the roof and pointed them at the unwelcome Avengers.

Rogers spoke a couple of times and so did Romanoff before the guns withdrew and they were allowed to pass. Barton and Thor were also with them but Tony was gratified to see Bruce was still in the wind. Tony had taken great care to keep anyone, especially Fury, from finding his friend. Hell, Bruce was possibly his only friend left on Earth and that physically pained him.

He didn’t know if Bruce would have sided with the Avengers and he honestly didn’t want to find out; both Pepper and Rhodey, in their way, had taken a side that wasn’t Tony’s. They hadn’t done the initial deed but they had 'seen sense in' and 'understood' the decision.

They hadn’t seen that treachery was the same taste no matter how you cut it and that admitting their opinion had meant Tony was forced to paint them with the same brush. It meant that had they been in the same place, making the same decision, they wouldn’t have favoured Tony. The thought made his teeth clench but he forced them open to take his first mouthful of alcohol. Whisky, fabulous.

The doors to the landing pad slid open and Rogers stepped inside, followed dutifully by his little soldiers.

“If it isn’t the uninvited guests,” Tony greeted them with fake enthusiasm. “I thought I told them to blow up your keys to the place.”

He wasn’t lying; there was a self-destruct chip in every keycard that was given out for his tower. He’d given FRIDAY the command not long after he’d discovered their duplicity. The small glare from Barton made him think there might have been a few singed feathers at the time. Good.

“We know you’re upset, Tony,” Rogers began, “and we’ve apologised-”

No,” Tony cut in, “you’ve explained your reasoning. That’s not the same thing; it’s also not a motive I agree with. You made your choice and now you’re not happy with the consequences; tough shit.”

“Stark, you’re behaving like a spoiled child,” Romanoff snapped. “A decision had to be reached and it was the best one for the situation.”

“And deciding not to tell me?”

She shrugged. “You would have opposed from the start and we couldn’t afford the waste of time. This would have occurred whether you were present or not.”

“No,” he stated, “the second I knew I would have made sure it couldn’t happen.” He eyed her unflinching countenance. “And you knew it.” He shook his head, a bitter smile on his lips. “Do you think barging in here and lying some more is going to make me less inclined to hate you?”

Tony,” Rogers tried but his voice was quickly drowned out by Thor who stepped forward.

“Friend Tony, it was indeed wrong to keep such matters from you, but it was done with an intention for the greater good.”

“Well,” Tony considered, “I buy that more than anything the spies and soldier have spat out.” Tony paused just long enough to raise Thor and Rogers’ hopes. “But, I still don’t care. It doesn’t change a thing. I’m not forgiving any of you.”

He took the steps needed to put his glass on the bar’s counter. It put more space between him and them and he was happy with that. When he turned back, he crossed his arms and caught each of their eyes one by one.

“I don’t trust you; I can’t and I won’t. Iron Man will protect the world and if that means fighting on the same part of the battlefield as you, I’ll deal with it, but if you want what we had? You want me as an Avenger? Then you’re wasting everyone’s time and especially mine - it’s far more valuable than any of yours.”

“Oh, come on, Tony,” Barton spoke up for the first time, “shit happens, people fuck up. We didn’t set out with a design to hurt you and we’re trying to fix it.”

Tony let out a rough laugh. “What makes you think that once isn’t enough? You only need to die once for it to stick. You fucked me over and I don’t forgive in the frivolously way you seem to think I do.”

“We made a mistake,” Rogers acknowledged, “but the sake of the world is bigger than us.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “I don’t think you actually need to like someone to protect the world with them.” He reached out so he could take another mouthful of whisky, this time keeping the glass in hand. “I actually think I can hate you and still save your life too. I’m not unaware that all of you are important to the safety of Earth, I just don’t choose to align myself with traitors.”

“Stark,” Romanoff growled, “this might be a difficult concept but learn to get over yourself.” Rogers placed a hand on her shoulder, probably to try and reel her in, but she shoved him off. “I’m sick of your pathetic attempt to appease him, Steve. He can grow up and recognise that the world can’t crumble at his every will.” She turned her dark glare on Tony. “You’ve licked your over-sensitive wounds enough, now deflate your ego and do what’s best for the world you’re so determined to protect.”

He barely kept his response from coming out between gritted teeth. “I can do that just fine from where I am.”

“There is an enemy stronger than anything we’ve ever faced coming. You need allies, Stark. The world, the universe needs to be at its strongest; not fighting amongst itself just because you’re unhappy with us.”

“You know,” Tony told them, his voice nothing but anger, “just because stabbing people in their soft and squishy backs has never bothered you, doesn’t mean it’s a casual experience for the rest of us.”

The little emotion on her face disappeared and Barton looked between them with a concerned gaze.

“I’ve destroyed more than my share of people; Stark,” Romanoff told him coldly, “what we did to you is nothing in comparison.”

“Oh? So you’re telling me there are all new things to look forward to if I come back?”

Rogers groaned. “That’s not what we’re saying.” This time Romanoff didn’t shove the Captain’s calming touch away. “What we did can’t be taken back, but we would if we could.”

Romanoff looked away from him and Barton snorted under his breath and Tony knew that even if Rogers’ was telling the truth, the spies sure weren’t budging on their opinion. Thor at least just looked upset about the fracturing team around him. He wasn’t spewing truthless words or trying to explain why he made his decision.

He’d probably never had to do it often on Asgard as the Crown Prince. He probably only ever got the cold shoulder from Loki, so it made sense he’d know that lies or justifications wouldn’t sway his brother. He likely figured the same principle applied to Tony. Loki did say he wasn't a complete imbecile. He’d likely just always expected problems to resolve themselves with minimal effort on his part, and from what Tony had heard, Loki had mostly let it occur that way on Asgard, even if his bitterness had festered underneath Thor’s obliviousness.

Loki had taken out his anger with ever increasing malicious mischief. Tony was more inclined to simply refuse forgiveness in the first place.

Rogers must have taken his silence as some kind of consideration rather than continued irritation as he implored, “We need to work together on this to beat Thanos, Tony. We all need allies.”

He knew they were meant to wait, that it wasn’t on the cards to reveal even the slightest ace yet, but the Avengers had shown up earlier than anticipated - and not only was Tony impulsive but he was extremely pissed off. “I already have an ally.”

Rogers sighed like he was humouring him and Tony’s eye twitched. “FRIDAY doesn’t count, Tony.”

“Or your other metal extensions,” Barton added; referring to the Iron Legion that FRIDAY now controlled. “You need a person.”

“You need someone who can’t be taken out at the same time as you,” Romanoff muttered before Rogers chimed in with, “You need a team.”

“I don’t want a team,” Tony hissed. “I have the only person worth having on my side. Why would I downgrade and take you back?”

Thor took a step forward, believing him while the other’s still seemed sceptical. “Who is this ally? Who would you give such favour to?”

Tony finally felt something other than seething fury in their presence; he felt enjoyment as he lifted his arm so it was in front of him. He then brought his hand to the bracelet, holding their confused expressions as he pressed the rune he needed.

He wondered, briefly, if Loki would take the time to respond to the call - he sometimes didn't - but it either seemed luck was on his side or Loki wasn’t as oblivious to what was happening around Tony as he sometimes made out. Tony knew he’d had an eye on the Avengers; he’d probably been waiting for Tony’s request the entire time.

When he appeared it was in the ostentatious green and gold lightshow he preferred. He was leaning back comfortably on the couch and although he was facing the Avengers his head was turned to give Tony his attention. Tony doubted much of it was away from the others though.

“You called?” he enquired.

Loki!” Thor shouted at the same moment Barton and Romanoff raised their weapons.

Tony felt great satisfaction when his defence systems sprung from the ground and threatened the Avengers at close range without him even prompting it; allies got protected in his tower.

Tony didn’t even try to hide his smile or the smugness from his voice as he asked Loki, “Drink?”

“Yes, thank you, Anthony.”

“What the fuck is going on?” Barton demanded.

Tony looked up from where he’d been grabbing things from behind the bar. “Loki, former allies,” he gestured in a vague parody of introduction, “Former allies, Loki; my current ally.”

Him?!” Barton growled, staring past the machine gun that was an inch from his nose to glare at Tony who just shrugged.

“He’s cleared from most of his charges.” Tony made his way over to Loki and handed him the glass, taking a seat beside the demi-god who was radiating amusement. “He’s also very upfront about what he thinks about me and my decisions.” He glanced between the fuming and shocked Avengers and the arrogant bastard beside him. “Yeah, I’m not shopping for any more allies. I already have the best version.”

“Oh, do go on, Anthony,” Loki purred, “I greatly enjoy being superior to Thor. I always have been, of course, but it’s nice to be recognized for this fact.”

“Leagues ahead,” Tony agreed. “Magic, intelligence, mischief and anti back-stabbing; what more could you want?”

Rogers didn’t seem to agree. “Have you lost your mind, Stark? This is Loki.

“Yes, I’m aware.” Tony took a drink and grinned around the glass when Loki matched the gesture. “Did you know he actually came to convince me to join back with you?”

“Oh, yes,” Loki agreed, “I must truly thank you, Avengers, for whatever action caused such displeasure in Anthony. I had not known my appearance here could make his mind turn in such a delicious way.”

“You suggested the partnership,” Romanoff discerned, watching Tony like she wished she had a clear shot for shooting him.

Tony nodded. “You were right about one thing I did need allies.” He turned to Loki and raised his glass in a toast that Loki happily accepted, his eyes dancing with mischief and laughter. He turned back to the Avengers. “Now I have the one person in the universe that’s outsmarted Thanos, the guy who knows or can find out all the possible secrets I could want about him and his movements. Yeah, I definitely needed a good ally.”

“And I am sure Anthony will use the gifts I have bestowed on him with the best thought to your planet in mind,” Loki added and Tony could just see the worry and possibilities flooding their minds.

“Why would you do this, brother?” Thor commanded. “Why ally yourself to such a mortal?”

Loki raised his eyebrows. “Was he not a man you coveted to have returned? Do you dismiss him so easily now that you know he is mine?”

“That is not what I say!” Thor argued.

“No,” Loki’s eyes turned cold. “You ask questions of us that you have no right to know.” His voice suddenly altered, echoing around the room as his eyes glowed the green of his magic. “But you may tell the realms Thor, and the Allfather himself, that Anthony Stark has chosen to be my ally and I have accepted the terms thus laid out.”

Thor’s eyes had progressively widened. “He convinced you to sign this?”

Loki laughed, loud and wicked and with his head thrown back; he radiated self-satisfaction and Tony knew he wasn’t doing much better. “The line of those who have practiced disloyalty against us is far too long to list. Why do you think Thor that I would find such an intelligent mortal beneath my time? He stopped my campaign on this world, he supported your pitiful band and now he supports and fights for me.” He grinned like the slightly crazed man he still was. “I have won the prize you dared to lose. I do not intend to be so careless with my winnings.”

“He’s a person not a crown,” Rogers snapped, missing so much of the point it was laughable.

“Oh, don’t try and stand up for me now,” Tony still warned, a hint of irritation having formed, “we’re way past that.”

“So you’re just going to sit there and let him talk about you like an object?

Tony shrugged. “A valued item in his collection is better than a trampled one in yours.”

“And I would hardly call him an object, Captain Rogers,” Loki replied, “such a thing implies a limited or even scenic use; but I see why you might come to such a conclusion, using him how you have.” Rogers spluttered with outrage and it was a beautiful thing to see. “I intend to work with Anthony Stark as one should when they wish to get the benefits of his loyalty.”

Romanoff took the bait and asked the question he’d obviously paused to inspire. “What do you plan to do?”

Loki’s cunning green eyes flicked to Tony and he took it as the cue it was. “That, Agent Romanoff, is not something you have any right to ask me anymore. We’re not allies, we’re not friends; consider this a formal warning; we don’t take well to trespassers.”

They hadn’t planned it, but fuck was it gorgeous that with a wave of Loki’s hand he sent them and their jet away in a swirl of magic; evicting them from the tower and making it quite clear once and for all that Tony Stark wasn’t crawling back into their clutches.

Tony Stark had found a new person to line up beside and Loki wasn’t the kind to let anyone tell him what he or his ally, should or shouldn’t do.

“Oh, that was perfect,” Tony praised him, shifting on the couch to face Loki directly.

The mage was smirking and glowing with the pleasure of a production well done. “Yes, I do believe it was.”

“Oh, this calls for a celebration; ever had champagne and pasta? I can order us the best stuff and then we’ll eat it while we watch their reactions again. FRIDAY you better have recorded that.”

“Yes, Boss,” she answered him and Tony turned back to Loki.

“Well? What do you say? Dinner and a show?”

Loki chuckled again, his eyes bright with the same glee that was on Tony’s face. “I believe I would enjoy that.”

“Excellent,” Tony answered, feeling the kind of light-headed giddiness that usually came after he'd finished another breakthrough invention.

It was the kind of rush that came from free-falling in the suit or spinning out a car and stopping himself just before he crashed. It was adrenaline-fuelled victory and Tony couldn't believe how much better it felt with an equally devilish partner by his side, loving every second of it with him.

Chapter Text

It didn’t take very long for word to get around that Tony had a new ally; the fact that it took Pepper only three hours to show up was a little surprising even to him. Tony had sworn she was in Tokyo the last time he’d checked.

Well, not that he was following her movements too closely anymore. He only really cared when FRIDAY saw her cavorting with S.H.I.E.L.D. or planning to burst into the tower to talk to him.

Whenever that happened it meant that he’d have to prepare for another argument on the Avengers behalf. It meant grinding his teeth and trying not to yell at her and strain their fracturing friendship any further. Tony didn’t want to lose her. She’d represented so much good in his life and had been beside him for almost as long as Rhodey. Tony still loved her even if he wasn’t in love with her.

It was that desperate desire to have her understand his side and not theirs, the longing to keep her in his life, and the hope that the rift could be mended between them that kept Tony from withdrawing her unquestioned access to Stark Tower.

He was somewhat regretting that now.

Tony had spent the last few hours introducing Loki to champagne as they watched the playback of the Avengers shock from multiple angles. It had soon divulged into the differences between recordings on Earth and the ways that a mage had to watch others.

The theory behind it had been fascinating and the practical applications of combining the two just as intriguing. They’d ended up leaning over a table that Loki had transfigured out of his sofa; the champagne bottle sitting by their feet and being levitated up by Loki when they wanted refills. Tony had already made five jokes about his overuse of magic, two about being thrown through the glass behind them on their first encounter and one about his alcohol tolerance.

Loki, in return, was making impressively subtle jabs about Tony’s tower, his overcompensation and his limited sexual prowess. He’d offered to flash Loki proof that he was more than capable in that arena, but the demi-god had turned him down. Pity, really. The shock on his face at the suggestion had been nice though.

Tony had been in the process of making a recommendation to their design and complaining about Loki’s insistence to write in Norse fucking Runes - Tony had needed FRIDAY to project a screen so that he had a continual source for translation, much to Loki's amusement - when the elevator had opened. Tony hadn’t heard it initially but Loki had tensed and turned to look in the direction. He’d been starting to ask what was wrong when familiar heels on the floor were followed by Pepper’s furious voice. “Anthony Edward Stark!

It was long engrained for Tony to wince at hearing Pepper raise her voice like that, but it wasn’t in him at the moment to try and make her happy. He pushed up from his half-sprawl on the table and shifted his feet slightly so that he had a better range of movement for when she rounded the corner.

She froze when she did and her eyes instantly focused on Loki who was watching her and Tony curiously.

Pepper’s hand went to her chest and to the necklace that Tony had made her a few years ago. It was oblong in shape and looked like nothing more than a white gold pendant incrusted with diamonds – which it was but it was also detachable and possessed a small but powerful laser. He’d wanted her to have something that could protect her if she was ever in trouble. It actually made Tony wonder how well the device would work against Loki’s skin and armour. He wasn’t planning to put Pepper in a position where she was inclined to find out, but he’d have to run the test by Loki later.

“Pepper,” Tony greeted her, shifting carefully so that he was covering Loki a little more, “I thought you weren’t visiting me again? I’m sure you shouted about not coming back until I was ready to listen to your latest Avenger-based plea.”

Tony knew Loki’s magic shields would be far more effective than an unarmoured mortal at stopping the weapon, but Loki didn’t know what the necklace could do. Pepper did and Tony could see her eyes crinkling with frustration and worry at no longer having a direct line to her target. Of course, it could have also been the fact he was with Loki, period.

“Can I speak with you in private, Tony?” Pepper requested, her voice clipped and carefully controlled despite the obvious terror in her eyes about Loki’s presence.

Tony just shook his head. “Nah, you can talk in front of Loki. He’s going to be the subject of conversation, isn’t he? Do you want a drink?” Tony pointed at their feet and Loki hovered the champagne into view. “We were celebrating. Maybe a beverage will relax you? I don’t like colleagues injuring each other in my house, you know.”

He looked pointedly at her necklace but she didn’t remove her hand from it. “Natasha told me you’d allied yourself to Loki. I didn’t believe it. I know you do a lot of outrageous things Tony, but this?

She hissed the last word, showing everything negative in her tone but nothing in an outright accusation that Loki could rebut against. Not that Tony doubted he understood exactly what she wasn't saying. It didn’t take years of knowing the slightest warble in a voice or the smallest facial tic to be able to tell how blatantly she disapproved of the demi-god. It was also fairly obvious she had doubts to Tony’s mental health, but, then again, if you asked most people that had always been in question.

“What’s wrong with partnering up with him?” Tony questioned, gesturing grandly at the other. If you were going to sell an obscure idea, it was best to do it with flair and confidence. Pepper could see right through him if he was lying, so it was a good thing he actually believed in his alliance with Loki. “He’s no more likely to go insane than any of the super-powered humans I was teaming up with before.”

Tony,” she hissed.

Loki even chimed in with a smirk. “I don’t believe you’re making a good case for yourself.” Looking over his shoulder, Tony found the Mischief God with his champagne flute an inch from his entertained smile. “I believe your friend would contest that I have already lost my sanity.”

“Eh,” Tony waved his hand dismissively. “You misplaced it, you got it back. You’re more likely to have a firmer grip of it now then, oh say, the man out of time?” Loki’s grin deepened in a way that Tony knew meant he was holding in a laugh. Tony turned back to Pepper who was noticeably fuming. “Pep, where’s the faith?”

Pepper’s eyes cut to Loki and her words were a biting, beautiful, backhanded insult. Tony was almost tempted to give her a golf clap. “I don’t believe the overinflated exaggerations from an alien’s misspent past actually forms a worthwhile candidate for divine pledging.

Loki actually laughed. “How interesting and oh so very bold.” He was watching her like a hawk despite his teasing demeanour. “You must of course realise that not all faith is blind or based on scripture?”

“Yes,” her gaze flew back to Tony, hurt and confused and with every intention of trying to form guilty wounds in Tony’s chest. Thankfully, all it did was make him feel regret that they were so close, but so estranged. “Some is based on trust.”

“Trust,” Tony cleared his throat. “Right.” He also picked up his glass and finished the last of the alcohol in it. He wasn’t unaware of Loki taking note of that reaction, but he pretended to ignore it. “Like the kind of trust you obviously have for me? What with siding with the Avengers, not believing my anger was justified, and trying to change my decision? Not to mention your certainty, again, that I’m in the wrong for siding with Loki?”

“You’re siding with the man who led the Invasion of New York!” Pepper argued, “I’m supposed to hear this and believe you have everything well in hand? That you’re of sound mind?”

“I’m sorry; did you or did you not welcome Bucky Barnes into the group with open arms?”

“That’s different.”

“FRIDAY, play me the appropriate gameshow buzzer?” Pepper sent him a withering look when his A.I. complied. Tony didn’t give a fuck. “That would be a wrong answer, by the way.” He held out one hand, “Coerced, forced and a confused puppet.” He raised the other and also wiggled his fingers in Loki’s direction. “Coerced, forced and a pissed off puppet.” He made the up and down gestures of a scale. “I’m not seeing a whole lot of differences. Also, both have been cleared of their charges towards Earth.”

“What about other worlds,” Pepper demanded, and god damn Romanoff and Thor for ever hinting about his past anywhere near Pepper. “This isn’t the only world that he-”

“Yeah, no,” Tony interrupted quickly. “We don’t talk about that.”

While he was personally curious to find out more about the whole shit-storm that was Thor’s coronation, the Jotun thing and any other 'other world' stories, Tony also knew that if you wanted Loki to stonewall a conversation that was the best way to do it. He also didn't trust Thor to be impartial in his story telling.

“You can’t just-”

“Such topics,” Loki insisted, much more politely than Tony had expected, “have no bearing on your world. My contract with Anthony has been drafted to defend the universe, and more specifically, your pocket of it. If Anthony has no objections to my, at times, disreputable past, I do not believe you have a right to contest them. I am not allying with you.”

Pepper actually stepped forward and her hands were back at her sides and away from the pendant. Her eyes were clear of emotion and had the narrowed focus that made her such a good CEO. “I want to see this contract.”

Loki’s eyebrows shot up but Tony wasn’t surprised, it had really only been a matter of time.

“I thought you would be getting bored of paperwork by now,” Tony drawled while watching Pepper’s eyes as they skimmed the information on the table. Her movements had placed her near enough to make out the words but they didn’t seem to be comforting to her. She was probably reading all kinds of world domination plans in Loki’s perfectly scrawled Norse Runes. Tony exchanged a glance with Loki, well aware that the demi-god was only humouring Pepper’s presence for his benefit.

When he turned back to her, Tony had to call for her attention sharply, “Pepper.

She jerked her head up, but to her credit, Pepper didn’t hesitate, she just insisted again. “I want to see that contract.”


“You’re still contractually bound to Stark Industries. I am within my rights to see if-”

Pepper,” Tony sighed. “Are you really going to play that game? With me? We’ve really moved that far apart?”

She pursed her lips, but her eyes told a different story; her mouth was trying to remain angry and stern, but her eyes were just as upset and helpless as Tony felt. There was a divide between them that neither quite knew how to surmount. All they seemed to be doing was making the gulf grow even bigger.

Tony sighed. “FRIDAY, bring up the document.”

“Anthony-” Loki warned, but Tony didn’t look away from Pepper.

“You can read this on one condition.”

“Which is?”

“You won’t be able to speak of or discuss the contents of it in any way, shape or form unless with myself or Loki. You won’t be able to intentionally or accidentally divulge any details to anyone or anything.”

Pepper wasn’t dumb; she’d have never lasted with him if she was. “He’s going to do something to me.”

Loki had relaxed again and was refilling his glass with a casual display of magic. “A simple spell; you will feel little more than a slight humming underneath your skin.”

“You expect me to trust him?” Pepper demanded.

“Not really. I’m mostly asking you to trust me.” Tony shrugged, but there was a bitterness to his voice that he couldn’t hide. “Hard to do, I know. But what’s worse? Knowing or not knowing? It’s your choice, Pep, and it’s the only chance you’ll get.”

Pepper was silent as she considered. She eyed Tony for a good minute before giving Loki the same treatment. She then moved her gaze over the room. It made him wonder what she was thinking; there were the empty plates from their late lunch, the champagne they were still using, and a level of comfort between the two of them that Pepper would know was uncommon for him. He didn’t let a lot of people into his space, and it was even rarer for it to be so quickly. Yet there was Loki.

Tony knew that the examination, the account from Natasha and her own history with Tony was going to create all kinds of conclusions. She’d probably half expected to find them both naked. He didn’t know if the fact they weren’t having sex would be in his favour or not. He’d been wrong the first time about who she'd choose to side with and now Tony had no idea where to place a bet. He didn’t even know which option he wanted her to take; there were too many motives, too many outside forces. Pepper could read the contract so that she could try and pass on a message to the Avengers. She could also read it because she cared about him and wanted to make sure he was safe. A refusal was just as rife with possibilities, because one way or another he couldn’t trust her anymore.

That knowledge only made a place in his heart grow that little bit colder.

But he was drawn back from it; from the ache in his chest and the memory of her betrayal by a hand on his wrist. He startled slightly and looked down at where Loki had placed his fingers; they were just over the bracelet and lightly brushing his skin. He was leaning over the table to take Tony’s empty glass and Tony watched with a small furrow to his brow as Loki manually poured him more champagne. The bottle had been almost empty before but it seemed Loki had either conjured another or re-filled the current one.

And he’d done that after deliberately drawing Tony back from his mind and its darker turns.

“Did you just magic more alcohol into existence?” Tony asked in order to completely ignore the rest of what might have just happened.

“Do you intend to complain?”

Tony grinned. “Hell no.” He took the offered flute, hoping his eyes showed his gratitude for the unacknowledged gesture. Loki didn’t give any indication it had, completely aloof and focused on his own drink as if the situation around him was inconsequential. He was good at that. Tony hid his smirk and focused back on Pepper who was watching them carefully. “So, what’s the verdict, Sophie’s Choice?”

She didn’t even hesitate and informed him once again, “I want to read the contract.”

Reaching out, Tony grabbed the hologram that FRIDAY had created and held it like a tablet. “Loki?”

The demi-god had gone back to writing on the designs with nothing more than the pressure of his finger. It wasn’t unlike a touch-screen only it was on paper and they glowed green behind him like he was bleeding ink onto the page. Tony both hated all the ways he flaunted his magic and loved all the things he could enquire about and have Loki explain.

Loki kept one hand on his glass while the other stopped writing. He drew it only a few inches from the table and twisted his wrist and fingers in a few complicated gestures that made Tony blink. He also found the memory of it blurry and hard to focus on when he ran it back. Pepper looked equally frustrated by whatever had happened. Loki just brought his hand back down and resumed writing. “It’s done. She may read it now.”

Tony didn’t hesitate; he just passed over the hologram. Pepper practically snatched it from him and began devouring the contract. He knew she was a fast reader - especially when it came to legal documents - but the damn thing was long and had a lot of trick-phrases in it that meant more than one thing. He didn’t think she’d take less than half an hour to be happy with her understanding of it.

He decided to leave her to it and turned to Loki instead. Leaning his hip on the table, he asked, “So fess up. How come I can’t remember exactly what you did?” Tony saw Loki’s mouth twitch and when Loki moved his hand and scratched out another serious of runes, Tony knew enough already to be able to read the word. Mischief. “You are such an asshole,” Tony told him. “But,” because damn it all, it only made him more curious. “How?

Loki shifted to better face him. “Sleight of hand, Anthony. Surely your Midgardian magicians are fond of this practice?”

“Oh, please,” Tony scoffed. “This isn’t just slipping a card up your sleeve; this is the warping of memory. Or are you going to pull ‘magicians don’t reveal their secrets’ on me?”

“Well, one doesn’t want another to know how to anticipate their spells.” He made a small motion that made Tony glance at Pepper who was still reading; completely oblivious to their conversation. “Subterfuge is well used by mages across all the realms.”

Tony was tempted to shout and see if Pepper reacted. He refrained but he was definitely going to ask about that silencing spell later. For now. “I don’t buy for a second that you consider back alley wand wavers of Earth as your level of mage.”

Loki chuckled softly. “No, but I am always fond of Tricksters; magically gifted or not.”

“You’re re-routing my question.”

“How observant.”

“So you’re not going to tell me?”

Loki raised his eyebrows. “Did you not already come to the correct conclusion?”

It took Tony a second to twig to it and when he did, he groaned a little. “Magicians don’t reveal their secrets? Really?

“You are only my ally for a limited time, Anthony. Do you truly think me ignorant of the knowledge that we will both withhold information from the other?”

“We can’t betray each other,” Tony pointed out.

Loki hummed. “Until the contract ends, you’re quite right. We will, however, retain all knowledge gained during it.” He shot Tony a careful look. “How much can you expect me to entrust? How much will you? I spent millennia as the dutiful brother of Thor and even he only knows what I have allowed him to see.”

Tony frowned, noticing for the first time just what the contract had left them open to. He hadn’t truly considered it to be a threat when drafting their alliance. They were going to be working in close quarters and sharing information was going to be natural. They couldn’t betray each other and if they did decide to render the agreement void, just how likely were they to go back to being enemies?

It was only the early days but Tony couldn’t see himself using what he’d learnt about Loki against him. It would be a smack in the face of everything he despised. It would be no better than what the Avengers had done to him.

Loki though, had probably had people spit in his face like that all his life. How was he going to trust Tony’s word on the subject? Frankly, he couldn’t.

“That makes sense,” Tony agreed and Loki turned back to the plans, obviously dismissing the conversation but Tony wasn’t done. “Bind us like you did Pepper.” Loki snapped his head around and just stared at Tony. “What? Did I stop speaking English?”

Loki shook his head slowly. “It would not affect me if you had.”

“Really?” Tony was instantly intrigued. “Is there anything that doesn’t work on?”

But Loki waved his hand, ignoring the question. “You would let me bind you as I did your companion?”

“Bind us.” Tony corrected, “Yeah. Why not? It’s a pretty foolproof system, right?”

“It is.”

Tony could hear the unspoken word and put down his champagne. He drew attention to that hesitation by saying what they were both hearing. “But?

“No,” Loki disagreed, “there is no true downside. I cannot betray you by crafting a spell that does something other than what you believe or by excluding myself. The spell will be what you requested and will function as it does on your associate.”

Tony could still see something niggling at Loki. He looked almost unnerved by the very idea. “Okay, so what’s the issue? Come to think of it, why didn’t you bring it up before? Why not make it part of the contract?”

Loki’s face went carefully blank. “People aren’t known to agree to it.”

“Why?” Tony didn’t even try to hide his incredulity. “Who wouldn’t want further safeguards?”

“Those who do not trust each other?” Loki suggested, smirking a little self-deprecating. “Even those who trust a contract won’t necessarily trust me. They will keep their own counsel rather than accept another layer that ties them to myself.”

“So they’ll just shut up about the important things and wait for the day when they assume they’ll need to fight you?”

“Can you honestly say, Anthony, that it’s not a plan you have in the back of your mind? That you are not already preparing yourself for our eventual opposition?” Loki shook his head. “We, of all people, do not give our trust implicitly.”

Tony snorted, he couldn’t help it. “I think you’re forgetting a really important part.” Loki’s eyebrows rose; his expression was openly daring Tony to prove him wrong. “Loki, I’m going to be dead in fifty years.” The demi-god blinked. “Anything I could possibly gain on you will be useless once I’m dust and bones. You bind me in this and you eliminate anyone finding out anything I could conceivably discover about you and share. I personally don’t see myself siding against you even when the contract’s over.” Tony grinned. “You’re far too powerful for me to ever want to piss off.”

“And what if I anger you?” Loki questioned, but it seemed like a token protest. He was already re-evaluating, Tony could tell; he’d straightened up and his eyes had narrowed, flickering with each possibility he was envisioning.

“You could just avoid doing something that would antagonise me? Dust and bones, Loki. You’re a patient guy. What’s a few decades to an almost immortal?” The expression Loki made could only be described as ‘huh’. The surprised realisation coming off him was almost palpable. “So what do you say?” Tony made a gesture with his fingers. “Let’s set this confidentiality agreement up.”

Loki’s mouth spread into a small grin before his fingers did the same dance as before and Tony felt the humming sensation Loki had warned Pepper of. “The same now applies as what you spoke of with,” he nodded, “her.”

Tony glanced over his shoulder following Loki’s gesture towards Pepper and FRIDAY helpfully displayed a page counter behind her head without his prompting. She was almost finished the document and Tony knew they’d have to wrap up what they were talking about if they wanted to avoid her finding out about the latest negotiation between them.

He turned back to speak to the other but stalled when he saw Loki writing again. It wasn’t the action it was the lack of blurred remembrance. “You let me keep it.”

Loki’s smile wasn’t quite hidden by the curve of his neck. “Come now, Anthony. How can I perform my show if my ally does not know at least some of my repertoire?”

The flare of warmth at the trust overtook him suddenly, but Tony didn’t even try to shove it aside. It was nice. It was fucking rare. Tony was going to damn well enjoy it.

Well, he would have, if the feeling wasn’t drowned out by Pepper calling him. The sound of it made him flinch; it was like someone had just popped a bubble that had enclosed him and Loki. Tony felt overwhelmingly irritated at having their conversation end prematurely.

“I still don’t like this,” she told him first and foremost and Tony was about to reply, ‘I didn’t exactly ask your opinion’ but she intercepted him, sounding sad and world-weary and making most of his annoyance drain away. “And I know you don’t actually care.”

She placed the hologram on the table and Tony felt a twinge. Did she think he wouldn’t accept it from her? That she’d been distanced that much from him? Tony was actually worried to realise he didn’t know. He was startled to understand that he accepted items from Loki without a thought but he couldn’t be sure it would be the same with Pepper.

“Just promise me you’ll be careful, Tony?” She flicked her eyes to Loki before coming back to him. “Promise me.

Tony smiled, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “I learnt to be careful, Pep. That’s why I make them sign paperwork now.”

Pepper’s eyes fell and her mouth was pinched. Tony knew she wanted to argue on the Avengers behalf, but she knew it would fall on deaf ears and end in them yelling at each other - again. “I’ll leave you to your alliance.” She didn’t meet his gaze when she looked up. “I require at least one week's warning before this is broken to the public, Mr Stark.”

“I’ll do my best, Miss Potts.” She did look at him then but he halted any protests. “Life and death battles, Pepper. I don’t know when he’s going to need to teleport in to save my life.”

Pepper grimaced; worry, frustration, and the falling of the company’s stocks on her mind. “As much advanced warning as possible, Tony. He’s still a public enemy.”

“Yeah,” Tony shifted his attention, looking Loki up and down. “I’m going to work on that.”

Loki shot him an intrigued glance. “That should be an interesting endeavour.”

“Oh, you’ll be plenty involved in it.”

Warning,” Pepper interjected. “FRIDAY, please ensure it happens.”

“Mr Stark?” His A.I. sought confirmation and Tony tried not to notice the way Pepper closed her eyes in pain.

Tony nodded. “Sure. Remind me to do that.”

“Keep me updated,” Pepper told him, all business and with any hurt locked up tight behind her professionalism. “I’m going to discuss this with you in more depth at a more suitable time.”

When Loki isn’t here and I can shout at you more, Tony translated. He knew it was too good to be true that she’d just read the contract and leave it alone. She didn’t wait for anything further from him though as she turned on her heel and left.

They stayed silent until her heels were no longer audible and the elevator had departed. Loki was the one to break it. “She is close to you.”

What was the point of avoiding it?

“Ex-assistant, now CEO, ex-girlfriend. now strained friendship.”

“Hmm,” Loki pushed away from the table. “I should be leaving.”

Tony narrowed his eyes. “Is that your attempt at running away from an awkward moment?”

“I remained so she could not speak as candidly as she wished to. I should have left many hours ago. There are things I must attend to now that Thor and Asgard are aware of our alliance.”

“The voice thing.” Loki had mentioned it to him during their second re-watch of the confrontation. The words he’d recited had apparently echoed into the ears of the 'all-seeing-one' and now everyone and his brother was going to know about what they’d done.

Loki’s mouth curved as if he knew what Tony was thinking – or maybe he was just remembering some of the commentary Tony had given at the time. “I am shrouded again but your tower will only remain as such while I am present.”

“Oooh so I can enjoy the biggest voyeur in the Galaxy peaking in once you’re gone?”

“I’m sure he will lose interest when he knows I’m no longer here.”

Tony’s eyebrows went up. “Got a crush on you, has he?”

“A grudge,” Loki corrected, but the scrunch of his nose showed the disgust he felt at the suggestion.

Taking his champagne, Tony had another drink. “I’m guessing there are a lot of people who have one of those for you.”


“Oh good, I’d hate for this alliance to only have boring baggage.”

Loki smirk was barely containing his delight at the banter. “I have enjoyed our afternoon. Do try to keep alive in my absence, mortal.”

“Oi!” Tony attempted to protest by the mage was disappearing with light chuckles that echoed long after he’d departed. Tony was shaking his head at the empty space. He was tempted to text something back at Loki, but that would mean looking harder at the other’s response. It wasn’t good to stare at it and come up with descriptions like ‘fond’ and ‘teasing’ and maybe even a little bit of concern for Tony's wellbeing.

After all, Tony knew they were both suspicious assholes who didn’t care about anyone except themselves.

That was why he was designing Loki two floors to call his own at Stark Tower. Because who wanted a space voyeur looking in? Who didn’t want their firepower living close by?

Friendship? Affection? Trust?

The reason that they got along so well was because neither of them believed in those things anymore.

Chapter Text

Loki had used the initial teleportation to arrive just outside his latest abode. It was simple but it was hidden, and that was the most important thing to him at the moment. Thanos was still after his head and there were numerous other beings he’d agitated over the years that would gladly kill him if given the chance. The security of Asgard - even just their golden prisons - was lost to him now. He didn’t even have the convenient shroud of death, what with Odin having announced his life to the universe. Loki had been left with little to do but mask himself in shadows and shift his location frequently.

It was a frustrating situation, but it was all he could manage until, at the very least, Thanos was no longer living. It was Anthony Stark’s home that provided him with a relaxing alternative to his constant vigilance. He didn’t think the mortal had realised how much the defences of his tower and the safety of their contract allowed Loki to unwind. Midgard was also distant from the realms and highly protected. Very few would have the confidence or stupidity to search for him there.

Anthony did him a great service - not that Loki had any intention of letting the other find out. He was still well aware that Anthony wouldn’t take long to puzzle the reasons behind it regardless.

The knowledge of the mortal’s intellect brought faint exasperation but it also formed the beginning of something fond. It had been a long time since Loki had found someone he genuinely liked let alone someone he could actually have at his side. There was a part of him that wanted to resist their growing camaraderie. He knew the lifespan of mortals, as well as the time-limit on his contract with this one, yet Loki still hesitated to reign in his growing enjoyment of the other’s company.

Afterall, what were lives and deals if not to be extended? Loki would hardly sever a connection before it could fully flourish; it would be a waste of a good opportunity. He had found his mind turning to that idea more frequently as the days had passed. Loki wasn’t convinced enough to act on it, but it did fill his more pensive moments.

Still, it was for another time. He had more important things to focus on currently.

Loki gave the room he was in a onceover, sighing lightly at yet one more useless residence. He made a gesture and activated the spells he’d scratched into the walls, the same magic he carved into any place he resided in for longer than two days. They were very simple in design and sent any items inside their radius to a location designated by the castor - in Loki’s case, it sent them to his next nominated safe house.

It took the matter of moments, and once the last of the spell’s energies had cleared the room, he did one final sweep until he was satisfied nothing had been missed. When he was finished, Loki threw up an illusion of all the items he’d just removed. He’d been feeling the pull of Heimdall’s eye since he’d left Midgard as the Aesir attempted to locate him. Why he continued such a futile effort, Loki didn’t know. Stubborn resolve, he supposed, it was unfortunately common to the point of idiocy among Asgard’s populace.

Making his way over to what passed as his front door - but was actually a magically formed tear in the rock - Loki pulled down one more of his shields and waited.

It took less than a heartbeat for Heimdall to establish Loki's whereabouts and snap the Bifrost down outside his dwelling. He supposed Thor was more desperate than he thought to have never even left Heimdall’s side as Asgard's guardian had searched.

Thor hit the ground running, charging at Loki with a snarl on his face and fury in his eyes. It was really far too easy to let him catapult through an illusion.

The same response he’d delivered on Midgard was on the tip of his tongue, but Thor surprised him. The Aesir shifted halfway through his collision with the clone. It was a pre-planned motion to change his course to the place where Loki was actually hiding. Loki’s eyes widened and he barely had enough time to spin to the side and stop Thor pinning him to the wall.

Thor growled at his lack of success. His hands pressed against the stone he’d only just stopped himself from colliding with. He then glared over his shoulder at Loki’s relaxed form.

“My, my,” Loki commented, “the Midgardians are having such an effect on you. I must wonder, was it Anthony who finally drilled how to look past my illusions into your skull?”

“It is not only your mortal who knows such things,” Thor refuted.

Loki’s eyebrows rose. “My mortal? Truly, Thor, how do you keep their regard when you treat them as mere objects?”

“You twist my words!” Thor snapped, facing him directly and grasping Mjolnir. He raised it threateningly and Loki held his hands up innocently. Thor was hardly fooled. “Loki. I come to know your intentions for Anthony Stark.”

“My intentions?” Loki was delighted at the turn of phrase. “Are you asking for his honour or for mine? I must confess, I did not anticipate the bride-price to be brokered with you.”

“Loki!” Thor sounded horrified, agitated and uncomfortable in equal measure.

Loki was having far too much fun.

He heaved a dramatic sigh. “But I suppose you would be one of the few on Midgard who would know of the old ways.” He twitched his fingers and formed three gold coins between them. “Shall this suffice? His clan has rejected him after all. I should, by rights, take him as either my conquest in battle or accept his own fortune as my payment.”

“This no joking matter,” Thor forced out through gritted teeth. “Stop speaking of Stark this way.”

Loki blinked and waved the gold at Thor. “I believe I may speak of him as I wish. He is mine, is he not?”

“You have already declared he is not anyone’s property. Or were the words you spoke at his home no more than another of your lies?”

Loki smirked even if he was privately disappointed that his taunting had to be cut short. “And in that you are right.” He dissolved the coins effortlessly. “He is my ally, and as such any bargaining has been concluded between ourselves.” He let some of the irritation and steel creep into his tone, the kind that always formed around Thor and his presumptions. “You have no right to interfere, Thunderer.”

“I have every right!” Thor insisted. “I will not allow you to cause harm to my friend!”

“Oh?” Loki spat, agitation quickly prevailing. “In the way you already have? I do believe Anthony has chosen not to call you Shield-Brother any longer. He has given that distinction, that rank to me. He has made it well known he is not your concern, but is mine.”

Thor took a step forward. “Is that what this is? You take Stark as your ally so that he may no longer be one to me?”

Loki let out a harsh laugh. “You think the universe and my intentions so narrow as to be solely concerned with you? Even when suffering under the role of devoted brother did I not bend my entire focus merely to your golden stature.”

“Then why do this?” Thor questioned, frustrated confusion in his tone and across his face. “He was your enemy, a mortal.” He gestured at Loki, “What merit could you see in him to give such devotion?”

Loki narrowed his eyes and observed the other, his mind catching on that final, harsh sentence. It didn’t take him long to understand; there were too many centuries between them for Thor to be hard to read.

“That is your true concern,” Loki announced, “It is not the safety of Anthony, it is not the ludicrous idea that I still pose a threat to Midgard; it’s your resentment that I did not make this alliance with you.” Loki couldn’t help it; he let out an incredulous huff of breath. He wasn’t even flattered or pleased that Thor was somehow jealous - no, Loki was actually irritated.

“You betray your former ally, you betray me and you expect to stand there and receive our loyalty? You expect us to pledge to serve nothing more than an overgrown child?” Loki was yelling now, stalking closer and snarling at the other. “You accost me in my home because of your petulant rage that you were not chosen? That you could not fix your problem by merely existing and flexing your hammer at it?”

“Loki-” Thor tried, but the Trickster wasn’t stopping.

“You do not deserve us,” Loki hissed. “The number of people in this universe I deem worthy of my time has never been high. You received it once through virtue of the lie that once made us brothers. You do not possess that any longer and have made no effort to gain my good grace. Why would I present you with even half the allegiance I have given Anthony?”

“I did not know your true parentage,” Thor broke in, “nor did I know of the extent it would harm Anthony to do what we did!”

Loki scoffed. “And of the ways you treated me? The constant disregard for all I did for you and your pathetic friends?”

And oh, how he wanted to discuss Anthony too. It was on the tip of his tongue, but he forced it down. Anthony had never asked him about the betrayal that had put Loki on the path that led him to Thanos, so nor would he draw the knowledge of what had hurt Anthony from Thor. His curiosity still burnt all the way down.

“How do you expect me to want a life I despised while living it?”

“You would call our youth, our adolescence, such a thing?” Thor demanded, “You would call every joyful moment spent with Mother and I a farce?”

Loki could barely feel his smile even though he knew it was spreading nasty and bitter. “How does it feel, Thor? To find a part of your life a lie? Does it hurt? Does it make it hard to trust me? Imagine it and wonder how much worse it must be to know that every part of you is nothing more than-”

“It is not!” Thor darted a hand out and cupped his neck. Loki tried to flinch away but Thor held him firm. “Nothing we shared was untrue. You are my brother. I do not care what was in your blood or mine. You say I have hurt you, I never meant to, believe me, brother. I never knew that I caused you such grief.”

Loki hated Thor. He hated him more than ever when Thor was being earnest and looking at him with such wide, pained eyes. Thor truly didn’t know what he had done, but he was apologetic for it. The sentiment was a pleasant one, but it was the condition that came with it that made any goodwill in Loki fade to fury.

Thor would give this speech to him for the rest of their lives if need be, right until he finally gained Loki’s forgiveness for the slight. Loki had experienced it in his youth, when his anger had burned bright and hot and he had taken days to accept Thor’s company again. Thor’s speech was always honest and he would feel genuinely guilty until Loki finally absolved him of his current transgression. Everything would then return to how it had been before - because nothing would change.

Thor wanted to heal the wound, but arrogant, Crown Prince that he was, he never wanted to alter himself in order to do it. He would insult and degrade, reverting to the same behaviour again and again. Thor would speak his words like the balm he thought them to be - as he was taught to do when he did wrong - but they meant nothing to him. The words were merely a means to the end of receiving what he wanted.

It was that, more than anything else, that would never let Loki forgive him.

Loki could feel that centuries old hurt catching at the edge of his mouth and he clenched his teeth, shoving Thor away to force it down. The movement and his stumble only succeeded because of Thor’s surprise.

“We’re past the point of your honeyed words, Odinson.” Loki straightened before forcibly wiping all emotion from his face and voice. “My contract with Anthony stands. We will assist you and your Avengers on any mutual battlefields but we are not allies. We-”

“I will not let you and Stark seclude yourselves from us!” Thor vowed.

“You have no authority over us,” Loki argued back, before clenching his jaw and fists, angry at himself for the escape of his fury.

Thor, in response, threw his shoulders back, and his booming voice seemed to take up the room. It was an act that hardly affected Loki after the many years of mocking Thor in their youth as he’d perfected it. Thor had wished to sound as commanding as Odin and he while did succeed with others, it rarely happened with Loki. “I will not let your plans come to pass. I will not let you drag Tony Stark into your dark deviance!”

It was hardly what Thor had intended to reference, but oh, Loki couldn’t resist; mostly for the sake of flustering Thor.

“I hardly need drag anyone into my ‘dark deviance’. Men come willingly into my bed." Loki's drawled words had the desired effect of making Thor flush red with anger.

“You will not make such allegations against his character!”

“Oh?” Loki questioned. “And if he is truly lying beneath me? If he does kneel for me in the privacy of his chambers? What then, Thor?” Loki demanded, “Will it turn your stomach to know your former Shield-Brother could be unmanned by me? That he could choose such a position with passion and affection? Or would it be but one more corruption placed to my name?”

“Enough!” Thor bellowed. “I do not wish to hear more of your slanderous words!” He glared at the mage. “They speak for you more than any action could. There is nothing reformed to be found in you.” His mouth turned pensive. “I fear that Stark has made an overhasty decision with you that he will regret. You cannot be trusted.”

Loki’s smile was as sharp and deadly as a knife. “A thousand years beside me and even now you do not know the wisest places to search for honesty.”

“I know it is not with you.” The conviction in Thor’s words would have hurt, if Loki hadn’t already anticipated it. Instead, he was merely disappointed. No liar spent their entire life with untruths on their lips; more often than not, it was the falsehoods that were twisted in amongst the truths.

Loki had even tried to make Thor see what had been happening to him during the Invasion, but he had never been acknowledged, believed or noticed. Thor couldn’t see past the blinders of his own devising, and Loki should have known better than to keep trying to pull them aside. Yet somehow Loki persisted even now, only to feel foolish with himself when it failed, when his harrowing sentiment for the Thunderer couldn’t be shaken loose.

He forced himself, once again, to put it to the side; just one more grievance to fester in his mind.

“You may disagree all you like, Thor. You may see me as nothing other than fiendish and villainous, but it does not change what has been done and that I am the alliance Anthony has chosen.”

Thor scowled at him, his stubborn resolve never shifting from his expression. “I will not allow this to continue,” he lifted his hammer, pointing it at Loki, not in threat but in an attempt to intimidate, “mark my words, Loki.”

“Your words have always been the least sharpened piece of you,” Loki remarked. “They have always been far too easy to overturn.”

“We will see what Stark thinks of such things.”

“You will find his opinion does not differ from mine,” Loki answered, being very careful to keep his tone bland, a complete contrast to the sinking sensation going on in his chest.

It was true; parts of what he had spoken of with Thor were accurate and likely to be confirmed by Anthony. But others? They were far less so. And what of the mortal’s conviction to stay aligned with Loki if he learned of Jotunheim? Anthony might still remain his ally, but their camaraderie? Their growing enjoyment of the other’s company? It was all liable to disappear in a flash.

Anthony was too good, too utterly heroic to be able to ignore those deaths. He was also completely unyielding and that would stop any forgiveness at Loki's transgressions; no matter how mad and lost he’d been at the time.

And Norns forbid Thor brought up Loki’s teasing. Anthony, by all accounts Loki had seen, did not engage with people of his own gender. He might have his crude and joking remarks in private, but to be aired publically as a situation Loki was perpetuating? He would deny it; he may even be offended at the slander. An Aesir would be.

But he is not Aesir.

It was true, mortals seemed more open to the practice, but how could he know how Anthony would feel?

Of course, he could be lucky and Thor might not dare to bring it up. Asgard frowned so heavily upon it that the commoners were sometimes beaten to death over their indulgence. Loki's status had protected him and caused Thor to merely yell and attempt to smack sense into Loki for engaging in such acts.

Thor could wish to deny the idea would ever be true of Anthony, to believe that it was just one more lie given to antagonise Thor. After all, Anthony had been in a relation with the woman Loki had met earlier. It might yet be enough evidence for Thor to ignore Loki's words.

Loki could only hope.

The matter of his preferences had always caused contention. Fandral had been the only one who hadn’t sneered at and demeaned him for it; the swordsman had merely ignored it. That blind eye had been the best he had received until Anthony had occurred. He acknowledged homosexual behaviour openly, and Loki delighted in it.

It was such a forbidden subject on Asgard that at first Anthony’s teasing manner had been strange, startling even, but Loki was growing fond of parrying those remarks back at him. He was having fun worming into Anthony’s personal space and watching the other smirk and touch him right back.

He didn’t want Thor, the blundering, arrogant fool, to ruin things for him. Ruin the acceptance of a part of himself Anthony didn’t even know he partook in.

Yet you could learn what Anthony truly thinks of these things - of you, a part of Loki whispered darkly.

It was a temptation that he found hard to resist.

Thor would need to talk to Anthony after all, and if Loki tried to stop him, he would feel his doubts were only confirmed. The only thing that would appease the Aesir would be if Thor returned to Midgard and spoke to Anthony directly.

Loki could simply... watch undetected by them as they discussed matters.

He knew he could no longer teleport directly into Anthony’s house without the mortal being made aware of it by his AI - but arriving outside the tower and using an illusion to pass through the surveillance? Loki might yet manage it. He would need to leave the moment Thor used the Bifrost, if he wanted to arrive before they truly began conversing.

Thor had been too predictable in seeking Loki out and his actions had been the true reason Loki had left the mortal’s home. He hadn’t known what Thor might reveal to Anthony’s listening ears if he'd remained on Midgard for Thor to find. The Thunderer would have still sought Anthony out regardless, but at least this way he’d provoked Thor into starting the confrontation at a time Loki knew of and could monitor.

Yes, he would have to take advantage of what he could and accept the fallout of whatever occurred during it.

His contemplation had allowed Thor time to stalk back towards the Bifrost site. Loki moved after him, lingering by the door as Thor spun on his heel to face him. “If you have lied to Stark,” Thor vowed, “I will not rest until I have broken him from your contract.” Loki narrowed his eyes but wasn’t given time to reply as Thor shouted, “Heimdall!”

Loki lifted a hand, cloaking himself again before Thor had even left his sight. It would go a long way towards allaying Thor’s suspicion that he would be followed back to Stark Tower, if Loki was lost to Heimdall again. Thor would believe Loki was merely changing the location of his residence, he would believe Loki would not dare follow after him.

His arrogance was both astounding and useful.

The second Thor disappeared, Loki didn’t hesitate to return to the mortal realm. His traitorous heart was racing, and his mind was filled with worry - with regret - as he moved. He hadn’t expected his regard for Anthony to happen so fast, and yet he couldn’t deny it. He was already invested in maintaining Anthony as an ally.

As a friend?

No. Loki couldn’t believe he was pathetic enough to have allowed himself to depend so quickly on one brilliant mortal’s light-hearted affection and acceptance.

I merely refuse to give Thor the satisfaction of being right.

Chapter Text

Loki made his way into Stark Tower with minimal difficulty, both impressed and frustrated with the improvements Anthony had made at magical detection. He needed to climb each flight of stairs and phase through the doors in order to remain almost entirely unnoticed. He doubted FRIDAY wasn’t still registering minor power spikes, but she was unlikely to be concerned enough to inform Anthony just yet.

Loki knew his own magic would be recognised by her system but that it wouldn’t be filed as a threat. He just had to hope that she wouldn’t think he was present or that she would bring the power fluctuations to Anthony’s attention. He wanted to hear Anthony’s honest opinion of him - not the one that he would fabricate if he was aware of Loki being nearby.

Although, he would still have to speak to Anthony about the fault in his defence system; the fact that Loki had been allowed to enter even this far was dangerous. It would serve Anthony well to more thoroughly ward the Tower in the coming weeks to keep any unwanted magic users out. Loki didn’t wish for any of his enemies to slay the mortal because they considered him an easier target than Loki himself.

Well, that was to assume Anthony didn’t change his mind about their alliance after speaking with Thor.

He hurried his steps at the thought, and when Loki arrived in the penthouse - with a necessary but unfortunately larger use of magic - it was to find Thor already present. He was clenching his hammer, standing in front of a pile of glass that had once formed one of Anthony’s bay windows.

Anthony’s body was tense, but when he spoke, his words were executed with perfect composure, “You know, barging into my home and defacing my property isn’t exactly going to endear me towards listening to you.”

Loki moved silently to stand a distance away from the two, making sure to still be positioned so that he could see their faces. “I am not in the mood to be blocked by your overhead servant, Stark. We must speak of Loki.”

“Oh? Is this the part where ‘he’s totally a good guy’ becomes ‘no wait; he’s totally a bad guy’? We’ve done that before you know.” Thor seemed confused and so was Loki until Anthony clarified. “Do you not remember the little chat on the helicarrier when Loki first showed up on Earth? Couldn’t help but notice you defended him then dropped ‘adopted’ the second someone mentioned his body count. Nothing like a bit of emotional distancing to lighten the mood-”

“It is not in the way you mean,” Thor forced out through gritted teeth.

Anthony’s eyebrows rose. “Oh, really? Open floor, Brutus. Give us something acceptable for that.”

Loki was certainly hoping Thor could deliver an answer that could stop the seething fury inside of him from bursting out in the form of a vicious curse.

“My brother had been lost,” Thor explained. “The knowledge of his true birth did much damage to his mind. I had wished to explain what torment had driven him to such acts.”

“Riiight,” Anthony drawled. “Only you didn’t do that.” Anthony’s voice dropped, going cold as he continued, “You threw that word out, like I mentioned, to distance yourself from him. You also completely missed the huge honking signs he was giving out, saying that it wasn’t his idea to invade Earth. Et tu, Brutus? Et tu?

Thor scowled. “I do not understand,” and he looked frustrated to admit that, “Who is this Brutus you speak of?”

Anthony rolled his eyes so hard it looked as if it may have pained him to do so. “Forget it. I think I’ll give that explanation to Loki.”

“You may not wish to start such conversations,” Thor warned.

“Oh?” Anthony questioned, his eyebrows raised. “I’m sure this will be good.” He crossed his arms and leaned back against the bar. “Wow me with your attempt at wisdom.”

Thor’s hand clenched against Mjolnir. “This is not a game, Stark! Your similarities with Loki are far-reaching-”

“Yeah, I won’t be considering that a bad thing,” Anthony riposted and Loki grinned, feeling a wave of fondness for the mortal.

“You do not know all the damage he has wrought.” Thor stepped forward, glass crunching under his foot. “Before coming to your world he-”

“Hold up!” Anthony raised a hand. “This little story you’re about to tell me - was it directly or indirectly responsible for what took him to Thanos?”

Thor blinked and Loki clenched his teeth. “It is the beginning of the path he-”

“Yes or no?” Anthony demanded.

Yes,” Thor finally admitted and Loki held his breath, staring at Anthony with a tight chest.

“Okay, then we’ll skip that one.”

“What?” Thor asked and so did Loki. He was instantly grateful he’d used spells to mask for sound as well as sight as his incredulous word went unnoticed by the others.

Anthony’s smile was all teeth. “I don’t talk betrayal with the betrayers. The version I’m going to get told about that situation? Yeah, it’s not coming from anyone but Loki.”

Loki couldn’t have kept the shock from his face if he’d tried; his jaw had even fallen slightly. Thor was just as astonished. “You would accept his hand and not know of his past? His true past?”

“I’ll accept that his account is more likely to be accurate than yours.” There was a small furrow to his brow. “And ‘hand’? Is that a fancy term for alliance in Fairy Land?”

The relief and happiness he might have been feeling at Anthony’s response died a sudden death as Loki’s heart and hopes sank. Damn you, Thor. Norns, damn you.

“Ah,” and Thor looked far too pleased with himself, “I had known his allusions must be false.”

“Yeah, how about you give me a little more to work with than that.”

“My brother is ergi.” Loki couldn’t hold back his flinch in time. “He implied you were of a similar nature.” Seeing Anthony’s uncomprehending look, he added, “Lovers. He claimed to have unmanned you.”

Anthony’s face went through a rapid series of emotions even Loki couldn’t catch. When he finally replied his voice was flat, “I take it being gay isn’t too highly thought of where you’re from?”

“It brings great dishonour,” Thor affirmed. “I tried to keep his transgressions from being known for many years. It seems he no longer cares to show discretion in these acts.”

Anthony’s eye twitched and the look on his face was barely contained hostility. “Right, so, I guess it would piss you off to know I’m totally letting him fuck me?”

Thor looked like he’d been slapped in the face while Loki was sure he must have heard Anthony wrong. He couldn’t truly...

“But... you and the Lady Pepper?”

“Yeah, see,” Anthony continued, “we aren’t all such fucking assholes here that we have a problem with alternative sexualities.” Anthony’s smile was wide and cruel as he purred, “And your brother? Oh man, getting pinned to a wall by him? Getting fucked long and hard throughout the night? It just makes the contract even better knowing I can take advantage of how attractive and flexible he is.”

Loki felt his mouth go dry; Anthony’s words conjuring image after image of bending the smaller man over in all the ways he’d mentioned and a few that Anthony hadn’t. Oh dear. Loki suddenly felt too warm as he let his eyes trail over Anthony’s smirking form. Mischievous, lying, brilliant mortal.

“Did you know,” Anthony continued as if he hadn’t noticed the way Thor had paled, “when he gets his tongue and-”

“Stop!” Thor got out hoarsely, sounding traumatised and disgusted.

Anthony looked very self-satisfied. “Oh, but you asked all about it.”

“And I am wishing I never did,” Thor murmured, sounding nauseated. Good, Loki thought vindictively. Anthony’s expression said he was thinking the same thing.

“If I were you,” Anthony warned, “I would go back to SHIELD or Asgard and leave any decisions on our alliance to us.”

Thor seemed to muster himself again as he told Anthony, “You do not know the man that he is! Whatever spell he has cast over you, I implore you look beyond it and-”

“Spell?” Tony spat. “You think the only good opinion Loki can gain is one he forces from people? News flash, Thor; I like your brother more than you. I like this duo more than the Avengers. It’s not on account of his magic it’s on account of taste. Loki is the best thing to ever come out of Asgard, and I’m not about to give him up just because you think I should.”

Loki’s grin was so wide his cheeks hurt. He wanted to reveal himself and gloat, to have Anthony speak those words in Asgard’s Golden Halls; to choose him above all others and openly display that allegiance. He wanted more but he was happy enough to settle for the twisted scowl on Thor’s face - for now.

“None who side with Loki do so without regret.”

“Yeah, well, none of them have been me,” Anthony decreed before waving his hand in a perfect mimic of Loki and making his floor defences rise and point at Thor. Loki didn’t even try to contain his laughter at the action. “Now get the fuck out of my house, Odinson.”

“There will come a day when you will see the folly of your ways,” Thor warned him. “I hope you will not be left alone on the eve of that comprehension.”

“I already told you I’m not alone in the evenings.”

Thor grimaced at the implication, but didn’t make another comment. He was already well aware he wasn’t making any of the headway he had intended upon visiting Anthony. It gave Loki the pleasure of watching the Thunderer walk away after having been rejected and refused in favour of Loki. Thor used Mjolnir to depart from the balcony and Loki took the time to relish the moment.

“Great,” Anthony murmured and walked across the room to lightly kick some of the glass. “Now I need to fix the window.”

Loki turned on his heel, planning to leave the mortal’s tower the same way he had entered. He would return again shortly after to visit the other more openly and would fix the damages with a simple spell.

He had barely taken a step when FRIDAY announced, “Boss, I am registering a continual but small amount of energy that you have categorised as Loki Laufeyson’s magical element.”

Loki froze even as Anthony asked, “What? Since when? No, fuck it.” Anthony spun in a slow circle. “You’re here aren’t you? You little sneak! You fucking eavesdropped the entire conversation, didn’t you?”

He contemplated saying nothing, of leaving as he’d initially planned and even denying it when asked in future - but he found he couldn’t bring himself to. He turned back to face Anthony’s darting eyes and removed everything that was keeping him hidden. He was but a metre from Anthony but the other did little more than blink and twitch slightly at his appearance.

“Your technology is quite perceptive,” Loki allowed, nodding towards the ceiling and FRIDAY.

Anthony dismissed his words with a wave of his hand. “How long were you there?”

“Since not long after Thor arrived,” Loki admitted.

Anthony laughed and shook his head, asking with more than a hint of sarcasm, “So you only heard the worst parts then?”

Loki barely refrained from licking his lips, his words coming out softer than he’d intended, “There were some interesting ones,” he held Anthony’s gaze, “and some unexpected ones.”

It didn’t take long for Anthony to recognise what he was referencing and he smiled. “Yeah. Who’d have thought the self-named ‘Golden Realm’ were such intolerant pricks?”

“That doesn’t excuse your answer.”

Anthony raised his eyebrows. “You can’t tell me you’re offended? I think promoting me as your mortal boytoy-”

“No,” Loki interrupted, “I did not-” He pressed his lips together and forced himself to regroup. He was giving far too much away to such an observant mortal. “I wished to unnerve Thor. You had no reason to speak as you did. Why did you? You are...” he gritted his teeth, “not that way inclined.”

“Ehh,” Anthony lifted his hand and moved it from side to side in a gesture Loki didn’t understand. “I mostly wanted to piss Thor off like you did. I wasn’t about to let him stand there and talk shit about you for choosing some cute little ass rather than a-”

“Yes,” Loki held up a hand, well aware that Anthony loved to say the crudest things that came to mind just to exasperate him. “Thank you.”

Anthony just grinned widely. “You know, we should hit a gay bar when we’ve dealt with the press.” Anthony looked him up and down contemplatively. “A tailored suit and your little evil smirk and you’d reel them in.” He smirked. “I’m sure you could use a good fuck too.”

Loki’s traitorous mind automatically jumped back to Anthony’s purred words and he had to very quickly keep himself from dragging his eyes over Anthony once again

You will not entangle yourself any further with this man, Loki told himself. He is far too valuable to ruin things with unwelcome advances or ill-fated dalliances.

“I would refrain from such thoughts until your world is more amenable to me,” Loki suggested making sure to remain neutral on the entire subject.

Anthony didn’t look deterred in the slightest. “FRIDAY, make a note; help Loki get a good fuck.”

Oh dear. Loki stiffened, feeling his body begin to react. I have been far too long without an outlet for this. He would have to make his own plans to find a suitable person on another planet to relieve his tension with before next returning to Midgard. He also needed to quickly halt Anthony's pursuit of that topic. “I believe you should leave further contemplation of my bedroom affairs to another time.”

Or no time at all.

Surprisingly, Anthony actually let it lie, possibly because of the discomfort that had begun filling Loki’s voice and shoulders.

“Fine, fine,” Anthony acquiesced. “But seriously, wasn’t Thor’s face when I told him the most beautiful thing you’d ever seen?”

Loki barked out a laugh, “You were impressively descriptive.”

“I’m going to talk about that every time I see him from now on.” His eyes were bright with mischievous glee. “Fuck. I would pay to see him say something derogative in front of Rogers or Barnes.” He turned thoughtful. “No, definitely just Barnes. He’d be more likely to punch him in the face with that metal arm.”

Loki couldn’t stop the way he stared at Anthony. He felt heady with gratitude that he’d been so easily accepted, that Anthony was already planning to defend and discomfort Thor even more - simply for his pleasure and Loki’s. Thank you, the words rested on his tongue but Loki couldn’t bring himself to say them. He couldn’t bring himself to make mention of everything it meant to be so utterly acknowledged for his preferences but for Anthony to be just as unconcerned by them. Anthony considered it as he would consider one who enjoyed a woman’s company; irrelevant. He didn't care.

Loki turned abruptly and focused on the shattered window, using his magic in the easiest form of gratitude he could give by allowing the glass to reform.

“Woah,” Anthony murmured, even coming to stand beside him. “That saves on my repair bill.”

Loki shot him a look. “I doubt you have much concern for the price of one window.”

“True,” Anthony agreed, “but I’m not going to sneeze at a literal Repair Wizard.” Loki hummed under his breath but otherwise didn’t answer. “So you going to stay for dinner?” Loki shifted to face him fully. “I can order in, we can work on your public awareness campaign, and I can poke and prod at your magic some more?”

“It is always my magic with you,” Loki grumbled, but it was all a front for the thrill he felt each time Anthony admired him for it.

The mortal, of course, saw right through him. “Damn straight.” He tilted his head. “Wait no, damn gay now.” His eyes were dancing. “Always did prefer the crooked paths to the flat ones.”

Loki blinked at the comment but before he could try to interpret more, Anthony was walking away and speaking to a mixture of both his AI and Loki. He was ordering food, offering drinks, pulling up displays and all together showing that once again Loki’s sexual desires were nothing to him. It was ‘inconsequential data’ as he would say, and it made Loki smile.

He followed after the other, commenting on flaws in his designs and watching the Engineer squawk. He took pleasure in the simple banter, the shoves to his shoulder and the complete ease he was presented with. Loki had come to the tower with a sense of dread, but his fears for the alliance, for their fond association were all unfounded. The evening passed the same as always and Loki left Midgard with a weight having been lifted off his shoulders.

Oh, he was still going to get his revenge on Thor, but Anthony deserved something for his loyalty.

Loki just wasn’t sure what.

When he returned to his new residence that evening, Loki spent some time puzzling over it as he re-established himself in his new dwelling. While it wasn’t his sole contemplation that night, it still might have accounted for the subject of his mind upon falling asleep. It might have been acceptable that his lack of male company and Anthony’s deliciously painted words all coalesced into images of the mortal - images of Anthony beneath him; writhing, moaning and crying out Loki's name as his nails scrapped down Loki’s back.

It did not excuse him waking up sweating and unfinished, and using Anthony as the object for his completion.

The pleasure was enjoyable while it lasted, but the foul taste it left in his mouth afterwards was less so.

Loki growled and pushed away from the bed, lighting his lamps with a gesture and remaking his bedding with another. Foolish, he sneered at himself, pathetic. He used a third and final spell to clean himself before he made his way out of the place.

He didn’t know where he was going, but he had the sudden urge to force Anthony from his mind - by any means necessary.

Chapter Text

It was only just past seven in the morning and Tony was making his way into his kitchen with groggy eyes and nothing but his loose sleep pants on. He would never normally consider getting up at such a disgustingly early hour but Rhodey had messaged him the previous evening.

We’re going to talk tomorrow. He'd said. I don’t care if I have to break into a children’s hospital at eight in the morning. I’ll do it.

Tony had no desire to talk to anyone else about his alliance with Loki or his refusal to side with the Avengers - but not only was Rhodey his oldest friend, he was also the only person who had fucking asked to see him.

Sure, he wasn’t about to take no for an answer, but he hadn’t popped up unannounced and assumed he could order Tony around. Those two things were the only reasons he was letting it happen. He still despised how early it was and was putting it down as another strike against his former but, fuck it, he might want to stonewall everyone, he might want to say fuck you to Rhodey like he had to the Avengers - but he couldn’t.

Rhodey was his best friend, Rhodey still couldn’t be dislodged from his fucking heart and he still hoped - with the few remaining parts of him that weren’t too cynical for it – that Rhodey could prove himself and fix this.

Pepper and Rhodey hadn’t been there, they hadn’t betrayed him. They understood the Avengers, but they hadn’t taken the action. Pepper wasn’t siding with him; it was painfully obvious that Loki had more or less broken any possible reparations between them, but Rhodey? There was still a chance it wasn’t completely destroyed yet and Tony was clinging to it.

He still didn’t know if it was just wishful thinking, but he needed a caffeinated elixir if he was going to get through it regardless.

“FRIDAY,” he croaked out, “Coffee?”

“It was started upon your removal from your bedding and will finish shortly.”

Tony was in the process of grunting a reply, rubbing a hand over his face, and scratching his scalp when he heard the ‘ping’ that comprised his early teleportation warning. He had just enough time to put his hands back at his sides and frown before Loki was appearing beside the window that Thor had temporarily destroyed.

“Loki?” Tony asked with surprise and around a yawn. “This is early.”

Loki’s eyes had scanned him before flicking away and around the room, almost as if he was looking for a clock. He looked a little odd too. Tony couldn’t quite place it, but there was something ruffled about him. “My apologies, Anthony, I was not aware of the time.”

Tony shrugged. “Timezones are difficult enough across one planet let alone numerous ones.” He heard the sound of the coffee finishing and started walking. “Want some?”

He glanced over his shoulder to see Loki shaking his head. He was standing almost awkwardly and he’d never been like that. Even at the beginning - and before the drafting of their partnership - Loki had been confident and aloof. Once they’d signed the deal he’d become relaxed and mischievous. The only possible cause for the change had to be what Thor had announced with the sole intention of making Tony recoil, and he was still furious about that.

Tony hadn’t received half the prejudice he could have experienced what with the ability to throw enough money at a problem until it went away. It didn’t mean he was oblivious to it or hadn’t known people who suffered from it. The idea that Loki had spent over a thousand years in that kind of environment made him more than willing to shove Thor’s nose in homosexual imagery.

It was a God damn miracle Loki was comfortable with his sexuality even if he was still suspicious of other people accepting it. It also made so much more sense why Loki had kept climbing into his personal space when they first started as allies. Loki had needed to know what he would do - needed to make sure he wouldn’t be like Asgard.

Tony’s spoon clanged loudly against his cup from the violent stir he’d just given it, but Tony made himself relax. He couldn’t do anything about shitty Aesir and Loki’s past, but he could definitely make Loki more comfortable here.

When he’d finished with his drink, he turned back around and found Loki had taken a seat at the breakfast bar. He’d also placed a book on the counter and had folded his hands daintily on top of it. Tony took a long sip of his coffee as he observed the tome. Tony couldn’t read anything on the leather cover and after squinting for half a minute he eventually just gave in and asked, “So, what you got there?”

Loki very carefully kept his eyes on Tony. “I can wait until you’ve completed your morning ritual.”

Tony glanced down at himself and had to hold down a small smirk. Not my fault I’m so fucking gorgeous. Iron Man might have given him a few scars, but he was fucking fit for his age. It was nice to know his chest alone could distract a guy like Loki.

Some people might disagree, but Tony didn’t think there was a limit to how many times you could use an ego stroke.

Stretching, Tony made sure to use his muscles to great effect while also keeping his face free of the amusement he was feeling. He dropped his eyes to half-lids, feeling gratified when Loki’s gaze fell so he could quickly, subtly, check him out. Not bad for a man of, coughcough, sorry, records deleted.

When Tony had finished moving, Loki’s attention had ended on his stomach and the path of his treasure trail. It wasn’t for long enough that Tony could call him on it. Hell, he probably wouldn’t have even noticed it if he hadn’t been aware of Loki’s sexuality and trying to gain that kind of reaction. It made sense that the guy was good and used to hiding it. Mind you, the awareness of that did put a bit of a damper on Tony’s enjoyment of the teasing. Give the guy a break; you probably shouldn’t be playing with this.

“I’m pretty awake,” he finally answered Loki. He was already back to eyeing Tony blankly as if he hadn’t just been letting his mind wander. Probably in the direction of what Tony looked like without pants. “What’s the book about?”

Loki smirked and for a second he looked like his old self, the same guy he'd been before the revelation of his sexuality had spun him off track. “This is something for you, Anthony.”

Curious, Tony shuffled around the counter so that he could stand next to Loki. The mage didn’t tense or seem to react at all over the lack of distance. His voice was the same flat and slightly pleased tone. “This book is an extensive guide to warding one’s possessions.” He moved the book across the table until it was before Tony. “I have no doubt you will gain mastery of the symbols with ease. I have also placed a spell on it so that it will display in the reader’s native language.”

Tony’s eyebrows rose and he put down his coffee so that he could flick through the book of spells. “Fuck, Loki, this is pretty amazing.” There was a whole chapter on armour alone. “But I don’t have magic.”

“I’m aware. But you don’t need to possess it to gain its benefits.” There was something off in Loki’s voice and Tony tore his attention away from the book. “This will give you understanding,” he tapped the current page, but his eyes weren’t on Tony’s face, “and allow you to make your own choices on what protections you wish to have placed on items you value.”

“I still can’t perform-”

“But I can,” Loki interjected. “You can carve these marks with your own intent and understanding and I will bring them to life for you.”

Tony could only stare at Loki, not quite sure he was comprehending it correctly. “You’re giving me the ability to use magic.”

Loki scrunched his nose and made an impervious gesture. “For a given value of ‘use’, yes.”

Why would you... Tony didn’t even get a chance to ask the question as his mind filled in the blanks. This is his thank you.

It was a nice sentiment, a fucking awesome one really, but something still nagged at him. It was one thing to be appreciative; it was another to give Tony the capacity to understand magic. It was like opening a door into understanding Loki. That didn’t come cheap and he doubted even a lack of homophobia earned him that. There’s something missing here. He just had to figure out what it was.

But, he could do that while reading magic scripture too.

Pulling out the seat beside Loki, Tony drew his mug close again while flipping to the first page of the book. Their legs were brushing and while it wasn’t exactly unusual for them to be so close, Loki’s leg felt... wrong - stiffer, like he was coiling his muscles. Something was definitely going on with him and Tony was determined to work it out.

Tony did his level best not the let suspicion narrow his gaze as he eyed the other. “Got any preferences on where to start?”

“The beginning?” Loki riposted, his voice full of snark.

Tony smirked. “What, no suggestions? No, favourite positions or illicit combinations?”

It was the same winding up, the same faux flirting they always played with, but even though Loki went through the motions and played the same mocking game, it didn’t ring true. It was written on his face, but not presented in his eyes. “Oh, there are many inventive things I could show you, Anthony.”

“I’d love to hear them,” Tony answered back and even though Loki drew him in close so that they could look at the symbols, Tony’s mind was only half on the illustrations.

Their heads were almost touching they were ducked so close together, and maybe that was why it was easier to see the tightness to the demi-god’s eyes. Had he even slept? He certainly didn’t look rested, not to someone who was nose to nose with him and looking closely. Tony wouldn’t call him jumpy, exactly, but he’d been discomforted somewhere along the line and...

Tony blinked and then he chuckled and had to look away so he wouldn’t laugh even harder. He only ended up staring at his own chest like an idiot, but oh, it was just too precious.

“Anthony? Have you even bothered to listen to me?”

Tony finally brought his attention back to the other and it was just too perfect. He didn’t lean in or rest his chin in his palm like he really wanted to - because Loki was skittish enough as it was. Well, as skittish as a dangerously powerful mage who was good with knives could actually be - which was very little and hidden under a fuck tonne of skilful lying.

It was just too bad Tony had grown up surrounded by people who found him fuckable and therefore knew how to recognise it.

“Soooo,” he drawled, “dream about me last night?”

Loki didn’t react. His face could have been carved from marble for all it didn’t move. “What would possibly make you believe such a thing?”

Hah! Not a denial!

“Oh, I don’t know, the way you looked like you wanted to lick my muscles?” Tony teased, only realising a second too late that while he was amused as hell and also damn flattered, Loki was more like a cornered animal about to attack.

“I never,” Loki ground out between his teeth, “expected you would take this line of enquiry after learning what you had.”

Okay, wait, back step.

“Well, of course,” Tony put a hand on Loki's shoulder, ignoring the tension of the muscle and the glare he got. “It makes sense you’d give in to basic impulses, I am damn fine.” Tony looked Loki up and down pointedly. “So are you, as I told you before. Seriously. What’s the issue?” Tony shrugged. “You had a little fun with the material on display.” He grinned and pulled back, bringing his arms up to flex. “Tell me, should I do a specific pose?”

He waggled his eyebrows with exaggerated provocation, making himself almost go cross-eyed and finally making a small grin crack Loki’s bewildered face. “You would find it a joke to know I gained pleasure from your image?”

Tony snorted. “A joke? Loki, half this fucking planet gets off to me. That’s boring. But a thousand year old badass space magician finds me hot? That’s something to brag about.”

Loki let out a short laugh. “This is your response to a man finding you sexually appealing? Not disgust, not discomfort, but crowing?

“Damn right,” Tony agreed, fucking grateful Loki was finally unwinding. “People are attracted to pretty things. I was one of them; clearly your dick has good taste.”

Loki actually started laughing harder. It wasn’t his sniggering or even his giggles it was full-bodied, leaning against the table slightly guffaws. Tony was so proud. He also couldn’t stop himself from sniggering a little, if only because seeing Loki’s hair in front of his slightly reddening cheeks was hilarious.

He was holding the recordings of this moment over Loki’s head their entire contract. Give me more magic books or I will release this to Times Square.

When Loki finally got control of himself and was able to look at Tony without chuckling again, his next smile was small and unbearably fond. “I underestimated you once more. Clearly I did not have true faith in your madness.”

Tony slapped Loki’s shoulder, pleased to find it was loose and comfortable in the Tower and Tony’s presence again. “We’ll get you there eventually.”

“Truly, Anthony,” and Loki’s voice had become serious and heavy. His grin still remained but Tony knew there was a lot more being left unsaid than would ever pass the Trickster’s lips, “thank you.”

He could have shrugged it off, turned it into a joke as he truly preferred to do, but Tony knew how huge an issue this was for Loki. Fuck, he probably only had an inkling of what his reaction must have meant to the other. He couldn’t fathom how it must have felt to probably never gain that kind of support from anyone. It made Tony sober up and tell Loki simply, “Always.”

...But, he also wouldn’t be Tony Stark without a smartass remark to follow along a few moments later. “Seriously. Always. Like especially anytime Thor’s in view. Feel me up, Buttercup. I want to make him spew.”

“Thor has a hard stomach,” Loki warned him around a laugh - not quite picking up on the slang Tony was going for there, “but I do feel it is something we can yet achieve.”

“Just not on my flooring, alright?”

Loki’s eyes were sparkling. “I make no promises.”

Tony sighed, somewhat overdramatically, before pointing at the book. “Tell me there’s something about stains in here.”

“There may be,” Loki answered with a twitching mouth that made Tony think it wasn’t going to be as simple as a circle on the floor. Still, he was more than game. He’d wanted to learn about magic from the beginning and now Loki wasn’t just letting him poke and prod at items and Loki’s spells, he was giving him his own tome.

It wasn’t an encyclopaedia on how things worked, but it was a start.

Taking his coffee back again, he had a sip while skimming the current page. “Okay, let’s go back to what you were saying, because I’m pretty sure I saw something that looked like an Isotoxal polygon on a bender earlier and I’m not sure I’m ready for that yet.”

Loki just shook his head as if Tony was a great source of humour to him, but he did continue with what he’d been saying, even repeated some of the information Tony hadn’t been fully paying attention to earlier. It was that willingness to show him again that let Tony know he was more than just forgiven for it, he had actually won points. He hadn’t been trying to; honestly, he’d just wanted to figure out what was wrong with Loki and fix it. So, mission accomplished. Now he could have his mind warped by Science defying bullshit as well as symbols that didn’t even have straight lines but were supposed to be drawn accurately every time.

What was wrong with magic?

It wasn’t that it was hard to understand what Loki was saying, it was just that the context rankled. It defied the laws of physics and science. Tony might have proof that it worked but it didn’t help him sit back and watch Loki create the same squiggle perfectly every time before - just to prove that he could - warding Tony’s coffee mug to always remain warm.

Tony had thought that sounded good in theory, until he realised it didn’t mean ‘always keep your coffee warm’ as the nature of the magic didn’t read it that way. It made the cup radiate a steady source of heat and made a permanent symbol glow in the corner. It wasn’t unlike the glow of Tony’s bracelet only this one let any mage know what was up. Loki said he could hide the rune with another one, but he didn’t see the point. He also offered to remove the incantation, but Tony refused to let him. It was a weird parlour trick now; the never-cooling mug. Loki had just rolled his eyes at him.

He did get out a new mug and was pouring his third cup of coffee when FRIDAY announced, “Colonel Rhodes is arriving, Boss. Shall I delay him while you gain further clothing?”

“Oh, please, he’s seen me in worse than this - actually,” Tony turned to Loki. “How far-reaching is our gay love affair? If we want Thor to buy it and suffer with the mental imagery my answer is probably: absolutely everyone knows, but what’re your thoughts about feeling me up in public?”

Loki’s eyebrows rose. “I am not affectionate by nature.”

Tony barely stifled his snort. “Yeah, a real shocker there.”

His patience seemed to be growing thin if Loki’s voice was any indication. “So why seek my opinion?”

“I need to know how comfortable you are.” Tony shrugged. “I get that this is a pretty hidden part of you. We can’t have you flinching at the wrong time.”

“Anthony, just because it was not an encouraged inclination, it did not mean I ignored my desires.” Loki smirked. “The publicity will be the only unusual aspect and I assure you, I am well-versed at lying for the sake of another’s discomfort.”

“Awesome,” Tony replied before telling his AI. “Relay his clearance. How’s he arriving anyway?”

“His vehicle is approaching the tower,” FRIDAY responded.

Huh, Tony thought, no armour.

“I’m surprised you would allow this man to visit,” Loki interjected, “Were you not unwilling to see your former allies?”

Tony’s lips were pressed together. “Rhodey’s like Pepper.”

“A former lover?” Loki’s eyes had widened ridiculously.

“Hah!” Tony couldn’t stop his laugh. “No. Fuck no. He’s a friend - he was my best friend. I’ve known him for a long time.”

“Ah,” the mage’s face had cleared of incredulity and was back to being simply pensive. “His history stays your hand.” He made a gesture over his shoulder, the same way another person would indicate a door. “Shall I depart?”

Tony shook his head. “No. Odds are he’s contacting me like everyone else is recently; to yell about you. He might as well get two for the price of one.”

He was eyed intently for some time before Loki’s summarised, “But you hope he proves you wrong.”

Smiling blandly, Tony questioned, “Since when do either of us put much stock in hope?”

The look that entered Loki’s eyes answered him in a way the other's words never would. “We know far better than that, Anthony.”

“‘Course we do,” Tony answered just as untruthfully.

Because we’re just broken, angry liars, who wish we didn’t care.

Chapter Text

Tony would never admit to being anxious, and he was too conscious of himself to ever pace - but the way that Loki’s eyes followed him as he poured and offered more coffee spoke volumes. Loki accepted, but not any caffeine and after passing the guy some orange juice, Tony was stopped from moving again by a hand on his wrist.

He flicked his attention to Loki who had a small smile on his face. “Well, well, a method to your stalling after all.” Tony frowned and the mage elaborated, “Must you bruise my ego so obviously by being more intimidated by a conversation with this man than you were by having one with me?”

The comment made him crack a smile and breathe out a laugh as he remembered. “Didn’t help that I broke your glowstick. The window was a nice touch.”

“Hmm, I was rather impressed with your ability to recover from that.”

Tony smirked. “Not at the time.”

“Oh, no, I was rather pleased even then.”

Tony’s eyebrows rose. “Is this the ‘all part of my plan’ section of the monologue?”

“I can always refrain from continuing,” Loki demurred but Tony wasn’t having it.

“No, fess up. Tell me your side of that conversation.”

“We don’t have a lot of time,” Loki pointed out.

Tony glanced at the elevator and FRIDAY informed him, “Approximately three minutes and thirty eight seconds before the Colonel’s arrival.”

“Cliff notes,” Tony decided and when that got him an eyebrow raise. “Summarise it for me, fast.”

“Ah,” Loki acknowledged before using his orange juice to gesture at where Tony had entered years ago. “You were well documented for your ability to think quickly and escape under pressure. I assumed that you would have a plan and simply needed time to enact it.” He shrugged. “As you are able to fly in your armour I assumed a fall would have a reasonable chance of being countered.”

“You could have been wrong,” Tony pointed out.

Loki conceded it with a nod of his head. “I had reasonable grounds to believe otherwise, but yes, I may have misjudged you.”

“What would that have meant for your plans?”

“They would have been more difficult, but not impossible.” Loki’s mouth formed a thin line. “Until your forces decided to attack their own city. No, without you Anthony Stark, that would have meant a very gruesome end for your planet and for me.”

Tony was honestly shocked to hear that and he knew it showed. “You-”

“Colonel Rhodes will arrive momentarily,” FRIDAY warned quickly and Tony gritted his teeth.

He lifted the hand not held by Loki. It was the one with his coffee mug so his pointed finger might have lost some of its sternness. “We’re not done with this.”

Loki’s smile was all innocence, all amusement and everything that said it was going to be bucketloads of fun for Tony to try dragging anymore out of the demi-god.

He attempted to pull away from Loki's hold but the mage was resistant. Tony looked down at their hands before frowning at the other. "Loki?"

"The world beyond Thor needs to know of our intent, was that not your point?"

Tony blinked. "Huh, guess so." Tony looked him up and down before smirking. He put down his cup on the bench beside them and reached out to ruffle Loki's hair. The glare and snarl he got were probably a second away from murdering him before he asked, "You can illusion up some kissed lips and love bites, right? Got to make it look realistic."

Tony was sure if the elevator hadn't opened a second later not only would Loki have made his displeasure known, but he also would have made the quick illusion much more of a sparkle show. He’d also, Tony noticed a second later, removed the juice from his hand and possibly the room - fucking asshole hadn't even taken a sip of it. He wanted to ask where it went, but he didn’t have a chance as they were both forced to turn their attention to Rhodey as he entered the penthouse.

The Colonel hadn’t even stalled at seeing them so close and with Tony lacking a top. He was dressed in a simple dress shirt and slacks when Tony had half been expecting the uniform. Tony didn’t try to edge away from Loki or have the other drop his hold, Tony just pivoted to better face Rhodey.

“You should know, I’m not happy about the early morning,” Tony told him upfront.

Rhodey’s smile was barely visible. “I have a meeting with the Pentagon to discuss the outcome of this conversation. I figured you were already pissed off with me, what was making my scheduling easier going to hurt?”

“Us, it hurt us,” Tony answered without missing a beat, but he was privately pleased at Rhodey’s complete lack of ceremony or deception. He just hoped that Rhodey wasn’t going to pick up on their lie. “There was no morning sex because of you.”

Rhodey had almost reached them but he stopped a careful distance away as he looked them over. “I see it didn’t hinder you too badly.” His lips thinned a little but he nodded at the mage. “Loki.”

Loki’s eyebrows rose, but he responded in the same flat tone, “Colonel Rhodes.”

His attention moved once the greeting was complete, dismissing Loki from the equation swiftly and obviously. He did it the same way he always had to any of Tony’s business associates that he’d been forced to make nice with in order to reach Tony. Tony knew that was what it was, his posture, his chin, his gaze. It said the same thing it had for decades of friendship and his next words only confirmed it. “I’m not here to talk about who you choose to spend your time with. I’m here to talk about the Avengers.”

Tony’s smile was full of teeth and lacking in emotion as his heart stalled. “Here to try and charm me back?”

“Tony, I haven’t been able to change your mind for fucking years, what makes you think I’m going to attempt a fool’s errand?” Tony blinked. “You’ve made your choice and I’m not even going to offer my opinion until you want it again.” He sighed, his unhappiness leaking through and making his stance soften. “Giving my opinion last time was what got us into this.”

They have a point, Tony. I’m not saying keeping it from you was a good idea, but I can see where they’re coming from, can’t you?

The words had hurt. They’d cut into Tony the same way Rhodey had pierced him in the hanger bay back before Iron Man had fully formed. They’d mended that last bridge and God; Tony could only hope they’d do the same this time. “You here to take it back?”

“We differ in how we think about things,” Rhodey answered, “and we’ve pissed each other off a lot over the years. I’m not about to stand down because you don’t like it - but, I’m not saying I would have done what they did. I can see their perspective; it doesn’t mean I’d have done it to you. Your friendship has always been more valuable to me than any kind of advantage.”

Tony had the inexplicable urge to reach out and hug his friend. His friend; the fucking last one standing. Sure, he sort of had Loki who was shaping up to be a new one, but Rhodey had been by his side for multiple decades. The idea that he wasn’t budging his position even now filled Tony with a wave of relief.

“You’ve always been a fucking sap,” Tony told Rhodey while pointing over his shoulder and going for a refill. “Coffee?”

Tony didn’t see the moment it happened as he was facing away for a few seconds, but when he glanced back, there was a noticeable loss of tension to Rhodey as he nodded. “Thanks, Tony.”

They all knew there was more to the words than just accepting a beverage, but Tony hid his smile by preparing the drink. Loki was scrutinising Rhodey as if he was a bug under a microscope that wasn’t behaving to his satisfaction. Tony was flicking them both quick glances as he worked. Rhodey, instead of rising to the inquisitive nature of the mage’s gaze, was very pointedly pretending Loki didn’t exist.

“Colonel,” Loki purred. Oh, here we go, Tony thought and hurriedly spun so he could face them. His movements were so rapid that liquid spilled over the edge of one of the mugs but neither of them noticed it or Tony's darting gaze. “I have some questions, if I may?”

Rhodey’s eyes narrowed as his eyes shifted to Loki. He also altered his stance so that he was directly facing the Trickster. It was like watching two predators face off. Tony wasn’t sure if he wanted ringside seats or if he should be throwing a white flag between them.

Probably best to let them work it out though. Tony still took a fortifying sip of his drink and wished the coffee was a bit more fortified.

“I have no problem with you asking,” Rhodey told Loki.

“Ah,” Loki quickly realised, “but you may not answer them?”

“I don’t remember that being part of the request.” Rhodey grinned sharply.

Yup, Tony thought, definitely two animals in a pissing contest.

Instead of trying to press the point, Loki just dived straight into the inquisition. “I find it interesting that you sided with the Avengers-”

“Recognising two sides of an argument isn’t the same as siding,” Rhodey interjected.

“It was enough to sow the seeds of doubt,” Loki riposted.

“And you wouldn’t know anything about high-stress situations influencing actions and opinions?”

Loki’s expression was more of a snarl than a smile. “Perhaps such a situation would have benefited from a lack of discussion on the topic?”

“I prefer honesty over half-truths and lies,” Rhodey snapped back. “I think it’s a far more solid structure for a relationship.”

Rhodey: 1. Loki: 0. Tony mentally tallied.

Loki’s eyes narrowed, but he didn’t try to deny the accusation, instead he twisted it. “So, of your myriad knowledge on the subject, tell me, why would you so casually accept Anthony allying with me? Or is the protest in fear of his health still to come, Colonel?"

“Tony can make his own decisions,” Rhodey told him, but seeing such a sentence wasn’t holding weight with Loki, he added, “Besides, I am a member of the Avengers. I heard the same information everyone else did about your history. Tony might not look it, but he generally knows what he's doing.”

“I’m offended that’s only ‘generally’,” Tony shot out, throwing his hat towards the edge of the ring and hoping he might be noticed before words started cutting harder.

Rhodey didn’t even glance at him to say, “Do you need a citation of every stupid thing you’ve ever done?”

“Do you need an alternate list of all the times his intellect has outshone all other mortals on this planet?” Loki snapped.

Tony blinked and stared at Loki. He wasn’t the only one; Rhodey looked honestly taken aback at the defence. Loki hadn’t gone so far as to cross his arms, but there was a distinctly mulish curve to his lip that said he wasn’t about to let Tony get insulted. If they had of been alone, Tony would have been cooing and making the most mockingly eyelash fluttering gestures - as it was, he just pressed his lips together to try and keep his amused smile from showing.

“Well,” Rhodey looked between the two of them, his eyes screaming ‘Tony, what the fuck did I just witness?’ as he lost the majority of his edge, “I guess it’s nice to know your magician values you?”

“Oh, but perhaps I am lying,” Loki started, but Tony cut him off.

“Oh, cut the crap, Loki.” The mage glared at him, but Tony wasn’t budging. “You’re a Demi-God of Lies; mortals aren’t going to ignore your reputation so learn to live with it.”

“Yeah,” Rhodey nodded at Loki but his words and his attention were directed at Tony, “and it’s because of that status, that it’s not something people expected what with everything’s that been happening.” Tony’s eyebrows rose. “You get betrayed, so you ally to a liar and former villain.” Rhodey paused and frowned. “Actually,” he sighed painfully, “why does that sound far too much like something I should have expected?”

“Because you know me!” Tony cheerfully answered before pushing Rhodey’s mug close to his side of the bench. “Your drink’s getting cold.”

“Did you spike it?” Rhodey questioned while coming over. He sounded almost hopeful, bless him.

“No drinking before midday,” Tony recited, causing another of those ‘what are you on?’ looks from Rhodey. Tony just shrugged. “Loki instituted it.”

Rhodey swivelled his head and the look he sent Loki probably wasn’t unlike what had caused the whole ‘Norse Religion’ in the first place. Rhodey was staring at Loki like he’d just seen a miracle. It was a little insulting. “Fuck it, you’re officially good for him," Rhodey announced. "What did you do; electro-shock? Or is that too Thunder God for your tastes?”

The mention of Thor combined with Rhodey’s change of manner didn’t seem to have Loki in much of a mood to respond, so Tony did it for him. “You know that whole water to wine thing?”

“We’re changing religions, but sure.”

“Try alcohol to animal piss and you find a very compelling argument for agreement.”

He’d timed it just as Rhodey had taken a sip of his coffee and was gratified to see him wince around the mug. He still swallowed his drink, but he didn’t look like he enjoyed it. “Okay, remind me to always be cautious if I’m handed a drink around here again.”

“Ah,” Loki murmured, and if Rhodey felt uncomfortable about Loki getting closer, he didn’t show it, “but that is the beauty of the spell. I could change the very liquid in your mouth, should I so choose.”

Loki,” Tony warned, “be nice. We like Rhodey. He’s a friend.”

Rhodey and Loki might have showed different levels of it, but they both had surprise in their expression when they looked at Tony.

“You have accepted him back?” Loki questioned the same time as Rhodey asked with a small smile, “Still haven’t shaken you loose yet?”

“Yes and yes,” Tony replied simply. “Now, in the spirit of making me happy,” Tony grinned a little evilly, “try to be nice. I like seeing my friends getting along.” When nothing happened he suggested. "Small truce? Handshake? A promise not to kill each other for me?"

Rhodey and Loki eyed each other suspiciously, before, with narrowed eyes, they both held out their hands at the same time. Tony barely managed to stifle his laughter at the unhappy scowl to their lips as they both lost the chance to be the ‘bigger man’ who offered first.

They still shook on it and Tony was surprised there weren’t announcements of the Pentagon suddenly catching on fire at the sacrilege of the action. “Hurt him,” Rhodey announced casually, “and I’ll take to heart the fact that you aren’t immortal.”

Loki actually smiled. It looked good in theory until paired with his next few words, than it just came off mildly horrifying. “Have you searched out the tales your ancestors published of my youth?”

“Yes,” Rhodey hedged. “A file was formed when you first arrived.”

“Excellent,” Loki answered and the small, discomforted twitch by Rhodey’s eye meant the demi-god was probably increasing the strength of his grip. “Put me in the position and I will make the tales of my punishment seem pleasant.” Loki tilted his head. “Do we understand one another?”

Rhodey nodded. “We do.”

Loki copied the gesture and dropped his grip on Rhodey. He turned to Tony afterwards and informed him, “I will leave you with your companion. I will venture back in the evening to finish what we have begun.”

Tony flashed him a flirtatious smile. “What? No kiss goodbye?”

“Consider it your reward at my return,” Loki promised darkly, with a wicked smirk, “among other things.”

“I’ll hold you to it, or me. How about you hold me against the wall?” Tony suggested with his own inviting grin.

“Right,” Rhodey interrupted, “you’re going to fuck tonight. Can we speed up the goodbyes before the ‘no you leave first’ section?”

Loki, surprisingly enough, chuckled. “Very well, Colonel.”

Tony expected a similar goodbye, but to his shock, Loki’s form flickered before recreating beside Tony. He couldn’t stop his flinch in time, but he doubted Rhodey noticed it with the way Loki crowded him backwards until he hit the fridge. Their bodies were pressed together and the metal and leather was brushing Tony’s chest in a surprisingly enticing way. Loki’s hands came and held his hips while he angled his head, his mouth coming to rest against Tony’s ear. “You have chosen him well. He is loyal, but do not forget that he has not vowed his silence, Anthony.”

“He won’t say anything,” Tony replied back while moving his hands to touch the armour at Loki’s sides.

Loki hummed. “Do not give him the chance.”

Tony knew their positioning was all for show, but he was still slightly surprised when he felt lips brush the shell of his ear on the next whisper. “I will return tonight, but for what it is worth, I am glad there is one mortal on this planet that does not deserve your hatred.”

He didn’t get a chance to respond before Loki was pulling back, his face disintegrating before Tony’s eyes as he teleported away. Tony’s fingers were left tingling from where they’d been pressed against the leather before Loki’s disappearance.

Rhodey had taken a seat while they’d been talking and was watching Tony with a thoughtful expression.

“What?” Tony asked defensively.

“Nothing,” Rhodey took a sip of his drink. “But you’re definitely not fucking him yet.”

What?” Tony squawked.

Rhodey shrugged. “Other people will probably buy it, but I know how you act around people you’re sleeping with.” Rhodey studied him. “You’re definitely happy to let him in, but something’s holding you both back.” Tony opened his mouth but Rhodey waved him off. “Hey, man, whoever you fake date is your business. I’m not going to contradict you in public. I’m just calling you on your shit.”

Tony wanted to deny so many things in that statement such as we don’t want to fuck each other, or even just I’m not thinking about him that way but that meant admitting they were faking their relationship. Tony knew the truth was a slippery slope, you told one person and soon enough everyone knew. He didn’t doubt if Rhodey knew why they were all up in each other’s space he’d be all for it. He’d probably also pummel Thor into the ground for them in training.

It still didn’t mean he could say anything.

“Oh, okay,” Rhodey caught on quickly, “so we’ll just pretend I never realised you’re not living up to your playboy reputation. Right. Well. That narrows down the field of conversation. How’s the work on your car going?”

“Which car?”

Rhodey shrugged. “There’s always one, and I’m usually wrong between one visit and the next.”

Tony grinned. “You haven’t seen the latest baby. She just needs a little love.”

“Oh, God, not another one,” Rhodey groaned loudly, but he was already getting out of his seat. “No grease on these clothes, I swear to God Tony, I’m not having another conference call where I can’t stand up without showing a black splatter.”

“Not flying over to meet them?” Tony asked curiously.

“You’re allying with a former threat to national security. They’d be on me the second I left the Tower if they could get away with it.”

Tony came around to meet him as they began walking towards the elevator. “And what’s the verdict on that?”

“What I figured; no, you’re no more insane than usual, no, you’re not about to destroy the world, yes, I tried to stop you but it didn’t work, yes, I’m still technically in a position to try again, no, I didn’t get anything of use.”

“Awwh,” Tony cooed and shoved his friend. “Lying to the government for me, you’re such a pal.”

Rhodey rolled his eyes. “I make a point to not lie. Nothing I’m going to say isn’t true. Actually,” his frown reeked of contemplation, “think its possible Loki put a spell on me to monitor what I say?”

“Wouldn’t put it past him.”

“Good,” Rhodey nodded, “I can use that. I can tell them he didn’t do what he did to Pepper, but it’s only a matter of time.”

“You know what happened with Pepper?” Tony asked.

Rhodey’s face dropped a little and he gave Tony a sympathetic look. “She went straight to SHIELD.” Tony knew he couldn’t hide the crumpling of his face and he looked away instead. “The spell held,” Rhodey told him quietly. “They couldn’t get anything, but Thor knew what it was, that’s how they got and shared the information that they did.”

“Well,” Tony remarked after taking a moment to get his head and heart around that revelation, “glad we chose well with that silencer.”

“I’m sorry, Tony,” Rhodey told him, honestly.

He shrugged. “It’s okay. I’m sure she’s just looking out for me.” Somehow and in a way that involves running to the very fucking people who betrayed you.

“Come on,” Rhodey nudged their shoulders, pulling him from his thoughts. “Cars, coffee and old MIT days; I’m sure that’ll keep us so occupied I miss the first two conference calls.”

“Oh, that’s just what I need; half the government thinking I’ve killed you and buried the body.”

“Nah, they’d definitely be leaning towards conversion.” He smirked. “That way I still have the ability to crack under interrogation. You can’t get anything out of the dead.”

Tony smirked. “Rhodey, I think you just made millions of coroners fear for their jobs.”

“I’m sure they could use a bit more life.”

Tony made a pained noise while Rhodey just grinned smugly. “Oh God, you didn’t?

“Hey, man, just because you didn’t think of it first-”

“I didn’t think of it because I have intelligence and class-

“Well, that’s debatable.”

Tony could only send Rhodey an exasperated look, but it was hard to keep it up when he just felt fucking giddy. It hurt that Pepper had done what she had on top of everything else, but the blow was softened by Rhodey standing beside him, unchanged, unmoving and unwilling to be shaken off.

Rhodey hadn’t come in spouting apologises or begging for forgiveness. He’d walked in and downright declared they were different people so deal with it and let’s be friends again. He’d also accepted Loki. Well, grudgingly, and Tony was sure there would be comments later - but that didn’t matter, because he was here for there to be a later.

Reaching out, Tony clapped a hand on Rhodey’s shoulder, squeezing it and showing in all the ways he couldn’t do verbally how much he appreciated and was grateful for his friend. Rhodey didn’t say or do anything that said he knew what was being left unstated, but it didn’t matter. They both knew and that was the important thing.

Tony might not have anyone else on Earth, but he had Rhodey and even the God of fucking Lies had accepted Rhodey’s intentions about their friendship as truthful.

“Loki isn’t as bad as people think he is,” the words escaped before Tony even knew they were there. Rhodey looked surprised too. “I like him and I think you might too.”

Rhodey eyed him. “You know, it doesn’t really matter if I like him or not. You do and you trust him. I’m not in a position to tell you it’s a bad idea.”

“You always are,” Tony contradicted. “You can always tell me what you think. I just-”

“Might not take it, I know,” Rhodey nodded, but he was smiling. “Look, I don’t know him. I have other people’s opinions and so far none of them reflect well on him. It took Asgard to admit he was tortured by Thanos through their teeth and I don’t like what that says either. You might have made a rash decision, but you also do that a lot only it’s not rash but thought out and we just haven’t caught up yet.”

Tony was watching Rhodey carefully and listening to his words intently. “So what does that mean about Loki?”

“It means I’m reserving judgment. I just hope to hell you know what you’re doing.”

Tony grinned brightly. “Rhodey, trust me, I have a really good feeling about Loki.”

Rhodey pointedly raised his eyebrows and dropped his gaze down. “I just hope that feeling isn’t in your crotch.” He brought his attention back to Tony’s unimpressed face. “Because if it is, you’re not selling that feeling to me.”

“Diversity is the spice of life, Rhodey.”

“Thanks,” Rhodey answered dryly, “but I already have a full jar of Stark tipped in and you’re only supposed to take that in small doses.”

“You know,” Tony commented, “Loki asked if we were past lovers.”

Rhodey choked on air. It was stupidly gratifying. “What the fuck gave him that impression?” Tony pouted and reached out to touch Rhodey’s face, getting batted away in the process. “Stop it.”

“Never,” Tony denied while continuing to try and push into Rhodey’s space.

Rhodey sighed loudly before suddenly reaching out. He startled Tony who was drawn into a gruff and uncomfortable hug. “Nothing changes the fact we’re fucking friends, okay?”

Tony stayed quiet for a few moments, closing his eyes and breathing the other in. Rhodey had always been his rock, the one person in the world who didn’t care about who he was. Rhodey had been real for almost his entire life. There had been other people but they all came and went but Rhodey remained unwavering in his loyalty.

He may have lost the Avengers in a painful, backstabbing way that was enough to destroy any ability Tony had left to trust - but it didn’t, because as long as Tony still had Rhodey, he’d be okay.

Tony let out a soft, happy sigh, before his lips twitched and he couldn’t help mumbling against Rhodey’s shoulder. “I thought we weren’t friends who fucked?”

He got shoved away for it, but it didn’t matter because even though it was only for a few seconds, that hug had tied the last of their fracturing friendship back together.

“I don’t know how I put up with you,” Rhodey grumbled.

Which was fine too, because of all the lies he could hear, Tony didn’t mind when it was something like that.

Chapter Text

The Colonel’s visit marked a change in Anthony’s attitude. He didn't act differently around Loki, but he began reconstructing his tower and ‘obliterating bad odours’ as he called it. Loki didn’t need further information to make the necessary connections. Anthony also revoked Miss Potts’ access to the tower and ignored her calls on numerous occasions. The next month saw none of Anthony's former acquaintances visiting the tower or even being mentioned. Rhodes spoke with him through video software as he was no longer in the same country, but Loki was never present for more than the end of those conversations.

He always felt a rush of smugness when Anthony would end his discussions with the Colonel to direct his undivided attention to Loki. The amused look Anthony shot him the first time it happened said that Loki wasn't as subtle about it as he’d thought. He couldn't bring himself to mind when it lifted Anthony's mood; too often lately Anthony was frowning darkly as his mind was forced to focus on the fraying relationships he had with the other mortals. Anthony's absent remarks over the weeks had also made it clear just what had happened to seal over his remaining goodwill, especially towards Miss Potts. Loki had made a point of not commenting on it and Tony seemed grateful for the silence.

It didn't mean Loki couldn't notice things though - specifically, the hesitation to remove one other Avenger from Anthony's life: Bruce Banner.

The scientist hadn't visited but he also hadn't been painted by the same brush as the others. It made Loki exceedingly curious as to why he - and a character Loki hadn't yet met called 'Vision' - were spared Anthony's vengeful eviction. Loki would have liked to spend more time discovering the reasons behind Anthony’s peculiar reluctance towards them (as well as keep an eye on the returning friendship with James Rhodes) but he simply couldn’t spare it.

It was becoming harder to remain hidden from his enemies.

Loki didn’t know what had inspired them to make such a marked improvement in tracking him, but he was becoming worn by the constant need to change location and hide his dwellings. It was also affecting his plans with Anthony; they were attempting to create a credible and sympathetic persona for the Midgardian masses, but it was difficult when Loki could be drawn away from Midgard at any moment. His sleep was also suffering as his wards were strained. He was being constantly awoken in the night by them scratching at him, warning him of approaching threats.

He was trying to keep his restlessness and weary countenance from Anthony, but he doubted he was succeeding. Anthony had been looking at him suspiciously for days. Loki knew it had gone beyond avoidance when he arrived at the tower with nothing like his usual finesse.

He’d forgone the typical grandiose lights and colours; expending nothing but the minimum amount in order to arrive safely, and even then he stumbled slightly.

Anthony, unfortunately, managed to have him in sight when it occurred.

“Okay, I’m actually starting to worry now,” Anthony told him bluntly. “You know the Walking Dead is a fad not a goal, right?”

“I do not know what you’re referring,” Loki answered tiredly, long past pretending Anthony’s references were something he understood.

“You look like shit,” Anthony reiterated. “And ‘walking dead’ should be pretty universal, even if the show isn’t.”

Loki sighed and eyed the couch for no more than a moment before giving in to comfort over dignity. He sent away his armour with a gesture, resorting to the leather pants and linen shirt he wore underneath as he made his way to the plush furniture. He fell into it, resting the back of his head on the arm and closing his eyes blissfully.

“I feel much like it,” he finally answered Anthony once he’d had a moment to simply rest. “Do you have tea, perchance?”

“Uh.” Loki cracked open an eye to witness Anthony’s flummoxed expression. “Yeah? What kind?”

Loki didn’t raise his arm, merely flicked his fingers and hoped it gave the same level of imperious dismissal. “It matters little, any will be fine.”

He might have actually dozed as what seemed but a moment after his response, Anthony was calling his name. Blinking his eyes open, he found Anthony sitting on the coffee table beside him and holding out the steaming beverage.

“It’s herbal,” Anthony noted unnecessarily and Loki took it gratefully. He made himself sit up so he could take a sip of the drink, already mourning the change of position. “So, you going to tell me what’s going on?” Anthony asked, making Loki raise his eyebrows at the mortal. “You shed your armour which you never actually do,” Tony explained, even lifting fingers for emphasis in his counting, “you fell asleep - I had FRIDAY check just to make sure you weren’t actually faking it - and you didn’t magic your usual space brew into existence. Also, there was stumbling when you arrived. I’m not going crazy because I had her check that too-”

“Anthony,” Loki quietly interjected, making the other stop, “I am merely worn. I have not had much peace when away from your realm.”

“Oh? Why not?” The harsh frown to Anthony’s brow made Loki hide a small smile against his mug. The calculation that had entered his eyes gave Loki the distinct impression that had he merely asked, Anthony would have donned his armour and taken a place at his side in any battle that Loki might have been fighting. It was a nice sentiment, and one he hadn’t experienced from others often.

It was unfortunate he didn’t get to enjoy it for long.

Something shifted in Anthony gaze before his eyes trailed over Loki’s form, something sly and teasing reshaping his expression. “Or has your bedroom activity finally picked up? Has the horizontal tango messed with your sleep schedule? Who’s the cute new boytoy?”

Loki shook his head, but his annoyance was token at best. “Must everything revolve around intercourse, with you?”

“Dunno, it’s certainly a fun way to pass the time.” Anthony’s good humour and light tone, however, quickly fled. “And if it’s not that than it means something’s wrong. So what’s the problem, Loki?”

“You really need not concern-”

“Uh, uh!” Tony interrupted. “Allies. Friends. What part of ‘here to help’ don’t you get?”

The part where it exists at all, Loki didn’t say the words, if only because Anthony's face would turn to a mixture of hurt and fury. While Loki usually liked watching him pace and rage and defend on his behalf, he truly didn’t have the energy for it.

“I am merely tired, Anthony. My enemies are unusually relentless in their pursuit of me and it makes rest hard to come by - safe locations even more so.” Loki nodded in Anthony’s direction. “Your tower is peculiarly situated as to give unusual protection. Can you blame me for wishing to take some small measure of advantage?”

Anthony didn’t look concerned about him anymore, which Loki had expected, rather, he looked annoyed. “Um, I’m sorry, how many times have I offered you a place to crash for the night?”

Loki gave a small smile. “I appreciate the proposal but it’s not plausible.”

“Why not?” Anthony demanded, “What’s wrong with my place?”

“I have told you, there is nothing wrong with your Tower-”

“So what’s the problem then?”

Loki sighed tiredly and leant back against the armrest, holding the tea on his stomach. “Anthony, can you refrain from interrupting me?” Anthony frowned, obviously unhappy with the idea, but he stilled his tongue. “Staying here for an evening will not protect my few belongings. I would need to bring them to your Tower so that I could encompass myself and them under one ward. I would otherwise need to split my attention between the two which would be just as tiring as returning.”

Anthony scowl had only deepened, his eyes running through calculations. “You’ve told me your wards don't need to be as strong when you’re here, right?”

“Yes,” Loki agreed. “My presence here is expected and your world distant enough that few could reach Midgard without gaining Asgard’s attention and encouraging their attack. Midgard is a highly protected world,” a brief smirk twitched his lips, “ and as much as they must despise it, my existence on this planet means their defence of it extends to me.”

“Okay, so I definitely don’t understand it now. Staying here means you piss off Asgard while also forcing them to look after your ass when they’d rather be skewering it. You get to spend time with yours truly,” he flashed a smugly arrogant smile that Loki just rolled his eyes at, “and you get to recharge your magic. Everything’s a win-win. So what’s the issue?”

Loki found it hard to articulate in a way Anthony would understand. It wasn’t that there was a negative connotation to him remaining it was just... he will grow to regret asking you. The thought slipped through before he could stop it and Loki took a sip of tea to keep any reaction from becoming visible to Anthony.

He’s not asking you to remain though, it would merely be temporary. But Loki didn’t know how to reside with another. His chambers in the palace on Asgard certainly allowed him his privacy and those who disliked him were forced to accept his presence. Still, he supposed he could accept the constant company for a few days and take a deal of care to not agitate Anthony overly. He certainly liked Anthony more than any other in his acquaintance. A peaceful sleep in Anthony’s - no doubt high-standard - Midgardian comforts had also been listed as part of their alliance. He just hadn't anticipated he would be using them so soon and for such an... unrelated reason.

It had nothing to do with preparations for Thanos, yet, Anthony was offering.

Friends. It still felt hard to believe, but somehow, he couldn’t disagree with the term and what had somehow forged between them.

“Are you falling asleep again?” Anthony questioned with his eyebrows raised as he leant forward and waved a hand in front of Loki’s eyes.

Glaring, Loki slapped the hand away. “I am contemplating the plausibility of the suggestion.”

“Oh, come on, what could possibly be an issue?”

“My belongings,” Loki snapped. “I would need to bring them here, to your Tower, if I wished to fully relax myself and leave my defence to your home and this realm.”

Anthony shrugged as if his words meant nothing. “Then bring them.”

“You cannot simply ‘bring’ the kind of items I am speaking of,” Loki replied, barely resisting the urge to pinch his nose. "They are not all small."

A look came over Anthony’s face that Loki couldn’t interpret before he asked, “Loki, will you stay here a couple of days to recuperate?”

Loki tensed slightly, eyeing Anthony and his unusually phrased request. It wasn’t like before; it wasn’t with a wheedling intent to make him remain or an argument against his decision to leave. It was a genuine, friendly request. Loki tried to understand why he would change the method of his delivery, but he couldn’t pinpoint anything.

He knew he should have continued to argue or question Anthony further, but Loki was tired and he found himself oddly inclined to give into Anthony’s concern. He still let out a sigh and made a show of accepting. He doubted Anthony would expect anything else.

“You will pester me until I give in, won’t you?” Anthony’s mouth twitched into a small grin, but he didn’t say anything. Loki had to forcibly quell his own smile. “Very well.”

“Awesome,” Anthony abruptly pushed to his feet. “Come on. Let me show you your room. FRIDAY, air the place out a little, yeah?”

“Yes, Boss.”

Making his way from the coffee table after hearing the AI’s response, Anthony hovered a few steps away until Loki was forced to push to his feet and follow after the excited mortal. Anthony was containing himself well but there was a certain giddiness to his movements that bemused Loki as much as it entertained him.

Loki kept sipping his tea as they reached the elevator. He was slightly surprised as he knew Anthony had a guest room on his own floor, he actually felt something almost disappointed that Anthony was relocating him. He didn’t know why, he should have preferred the distance and the space, yet something scratched at Loki. He forced himself to ignore it - he was obviously just overtired. The reaction made accepting Anthony the obvious and correct choice if this was the state he was in. The last thing he needed was to be captured and forced to call on Anthony through their cuffs. He would only end up back in the Tower anyway while hearing a plethora of ‘I told you so’.

They stepped inside and Anthony hit one of the buttons for the lower floors. Loki was initially amused to note that the light for it was green, which he knew wasn’t usual, but he was soon distracted by recognition. “You are relocating me to a place where your former compatriots resided?”

His voice had a bite to it Loki didn’t even attempt to hide. Anthony didn’t seem bothered as he merely shrugged. “It’s been cleared out and scrubbed down. I’m also not putting you on the floor Thor had.”

“Oh,” Loki asked, “I am merely getting mortal leftovers.”

Anthony shot him an unimpressed look. “I only have a limited amount of Tower, okay?”

“You have a guest room on your floor,” Loki couldn’t keep himself from snapping. “You have allowed others to stay there but not me?”

Do you not trust me? It was on the tip of his tongue, but Loki swallowed it down. He knew trust was not a concern between them. He also knew that if he asked and Anthony informed him it was not the case it simply meant Anthony did not want him sleeping on the same floor. Perhaps he wasn’t as comfortable as he presented about the dream and Loki's inclinations.

Loki clenched his free hand and took a sip of tea to distract and calm himself. A separate floor will be fine, he told himself while lowering the mug, it is already better than you could have expec...

Loki trailed off as the doors opened. His eyes widened at what was before him while his mouth dropped open and his shock became written plainly across his face. He simply stared in astonishment at his floor.

There was no other way to describe it. The interior had been designed with his comfort in mind. Gone was the modern, Midgardian decor Anthony favoured and in its place was beautifully treated and carved wood. There were also throw cushions and exquisitely made blankets covering an elegant settee, while a beautiful winged armchair sat beside the bay windows.

Loki walked inside in something of a daze as he travelled around the living space. The entire abode was done with dark wooden furniture with all other pieces decorated or accented in green, black and gold. There were bookshelves empty of all but a few volumes and a smile twitched at Loki’s mouth as he recognised them. They were all stories Anthony had demanded he read at some point during their discussions. He kept looking around, placing his cup on the kitchen counter and finding a collection of tea’s sitting happily nearby for his consumption. He also noted a mug beside them and he reached out for it. The item had been personalised with Loki’s name in runes on one side while displaying on the other side - in Midgardian lettering and looping scrawl was; ‘Wanna see a magic trick?’ Loki had to try very hard to contain his chuckle as he turned back to the room.

His eyes caught an actual armour stand in the corner and Loki’s fingers twitched to send his items there just to see how they looked.

“The kitchen’s not stocked,” Anthony explained, sounding almost hesitant as he came to stand beside Loki, “just, you know, some non-perishables you tend to eat. I think there’s some dried fruit in the fridge. You liked apricots, right? Anyway. I get that you probably have your own furniture so I can return a bunch of this. Your other floor is completely empty though so-”

“My other floor?” Loki interrupted slowly - disbelievingly - while dragging his eyes over to Anthony’s twitching figure.

“Well, yeah. I figured you’d want a magic room? A place you can ward the fuck out of and practice shit? There’s also technically a few other empty levels if you wanted to bring your stuff over for storage or whatever. I mean-”

“Anthony,” Loki swallowed thickly, his fingers itching to touch everything, to touch Anthony just to prove such an astonishing mortal was real. “Do you intend for me to live here?”

Anthony’s eyes wouldn’t quite meet his even as he admitted, “I was hoping you wouldn’t notice until you were kind of already moved in.” He pulled up a smirk that actually looked genuine even if Loki doubted it was all he felt. “I figured having a powerhouse at my door protecting it could only work well for me.”

Loki was struck with the realisation, suddenly and abruptly as he looked at Anthony: there is no other ally like him.

He had known he was fortunate in securing the partnership for some time, but it was only now becoming obvious how much. The mortal was intelligent, brilliant, accepting and mischievous. He was also generous; he gave to his allies, gave to everyone with a heart people mistook him for not having. It was buried under arrogance and self-serving gestures, but it was all just one smokescreen to hide the vulnerable man underneath who wanted friends, wanted allies and would do anything to hold onto and protect them when he found them.

Loki found himself staring at the cup again before surveying the room one more time. He has done all of this for me. He has considered and hunted and chosen each item based off his knowledge of me.

“Well?” Anthony wondered and Loki blinked his attention back to the mortal whose eyes were betraying his anxiety. “Too much?”

“No,” Loki spoke quickly, “no, it’s not.” He let himself smile. “Thank you, Anthony.” He made a gesture at the room with his free hand. “No one’s shown me such consideration since Asgard and never so genuinely, save my mother.” He could see the pleasure Anthony felt quickly begin to fight with his awkwardness at being praised. It only made Loki’s mouth twitch fondly. “You did well, these all fit my preferences.”

Anthony snorted, quickly taking the lighter route. “Hah! You wear your preferences on your sleeve. Literally. All I needed was green, gold and medieval and I knew I’d be alright.”

“Oh?” Loki motioned with the mug. “And what category does this fall into?”

Anthony smiled brightly. “Apartment warming present, obviously.”

Loki couldn’t hold in his chuckle. “Obviously.”

“I mean, you don’t have to keep it.” Anthony reached out to take it and Loki quickly drew it against his chest. It made Anthony smile with such smug triumph that it was almost unbecoming. Loki only let it go without comment or reprisal because his sheer happiness over the other’s gestures was still overwhelming him. “So,” Anthony’s face had settled back into something softer as he flicked his gaze around the room before drawing back to Loki, “you going to stay?”

Of course, Loki thought. He also found himself uninclined to leave at all. The rooms made him feel at home the way nothing had since he’d discovered his heritage. Asgard had long since lost its appeal and had also become unliveable after the loss of Frigga. He hadn’t expected to find somewhere acceptable to stay for a long time - yet Anthony somehow flooded Loki with a sense of contentment and comfort. It had only been five minutes in his offered apartment and Loki already didn’t want to leave.

“It doesn't have to be forever or anything,” Anthony began to ramble, obviously taking his silence as either rejection or uncertainty, “I mean, it can just be until you feel better or whenever you need to chill out. You don’t have to spend time here; it’s just an option. It was just going to waste so, I thought, ‘why not make it a place for, Loki?’, it’s not-”

“Anthony,” Loki broke into the other’s babbling. “Thank you. It would be my pleasure to reside here.”

Anthony blinked, taking a moment to register his acceptance. The moment he did, he brightened before steamrolling past his previous words as if he’d never been uncertain of Loki’s agreement. “Awesome. FRIDAY, you hear that? Let’s make a shopping list; Loki’s going to need this place stocked. You’ve got his favourites stored someone; I expect a full kitchen by morning. Don’t let me down now!”

“Yes, Boss,” his AI chimed in while Loki just shook his head at the mortal.

“I am capable of using your personal food stores for a day.”

“Yeah, but why should you?”Anthony answered simply with the kind of finality that stated only the best for you. Loki knew it wasn’t just him, he knew Anthony showered all his friends with the same kind of extravagance and perfection but it still felt like he was the sole focus, because in a way, he was.

Anthony didn’t have the Avengers in his Tower, his life or on his team. Loki was the entire focus of Anthony Stark’s intense attention and Loki revelled in it. He’d spent so many centuries on Asgard being second-best, second-chosen, Second Prince. He was always second and now to Anthony he was first. It made him want to lavish Anthony with just as much affection, but what could he give the mortal? He truly only had one thing to offer. He briefly glanced down at the cup: wanna see a magic trick?

“Take me to this other floor,” Loki told Anthony, “and I will show you how I manoeuvre the items in my possession from place to place.”

Anthony’s eyes lit up with the thrill of new knowledge and he happily moved back to the elevator. Loki put down his cup before quickly finishing the last of his tea. He was still weary and knew he wouldn’t be able to show Anthony many things today, but he could explain the necessary tasks needed to relocate to the Tower as he preformed them.

It certainly made him hum with pleasure, watching the way the mortal practically bounced around the room examining everything he brought over. He would also exclaim and question with such honest enthusiasm and glee at every new thing he saw. It didn’t take Loki long to finish, perhaps an hour, before he had completed everything and was forced to retire. Anthony had eyed Loki’s things mournfully but had still torn himself away. He told Loki he’d be in his lab for the next twenty-four hours experimenting and theorising and to come down when he’d woken up. Loki had appreciated the withdrawal from the floor and his silent promise to respect Loki’s privacy by not being among his belongings while Loki was away. He’d smiled and agreed to join the mortal once he’d slept.

In hindsight, he probably should have expected it. Loki had been busy and hadn’t made good on his promise to himself. Anthony had also been charming, wonderful and far too full of energy throughout the day. He’d also gifted him with such precious things that it shouldn’t have come as a shock.

It still was.

When Loki woke up from his second dream about the other he was only marginally less guilty than the first time. He knew now that Anthony didn’t find his body’s reaction offensive, but it still infuriated Loki that it had happened at all. Loki ran a hand across his face, trying to turn his mind from his body’s state and to keep himself from using Anthony's image like he had the last time.

When FRIDAY spoke, the AI’s voice almost made Loki conjure a dagger he was so startled. “Sir?”

Loki forced himself to calm down before he answered. “Yes?”

“Mr Stark placed a request into my system that should you wake in such a manner that I was to offer pictures of himself for your assistance. Will you be requiring them?” Loki was completely stunned for a good moment before he burst into laughter. He fell back against the bed and covered his face with his hand. This ridiculous mortal, he thought with aching affection. “Sir?”

“No, FRIDAY,” Loki eventually replied once he had himself under control and had relaxed back against the bedding. His arousal had also, thankfully, faded during his amusement. “That will not be necessary.”

“Very good, Sir.”

“FRIDAY,” he added after a moment, “is Mr Stark aware of what just occurred?”

“No, Sir,” she replied. “He also stipulated he should not be informed of the situation or your choice unless you specified it.”

Loki found himself grinning far too widely, but not willing to stop himself when alone in the darkness. “Keep it from Anthony for now, please. I will inform you in the future if that changes.”

“Of course, Sir.”

Chuckling softly, Loki stared at the ceiling for a long moment, imagining the mortal’s smirking face as he’d prepared and gave that peculiar recommendation to his AI. Loki could also see the gesture for what it was; Anthony’s attempt at stopping any awkwardness between them by showing his continued acceptance of the kind of man Loki was. It had already diffused Loki’s anger at himself by making him oddly glad his dream had occurred. He might have imagined bedding Anthony again - of paying Anthony back for the rooms by laying him on this very bed and using his mouth and hands to show his appreciation; and, oh, Anthony had made the most delicious sounds in response- but because of that, he’d been able to learn what Anthony had done for him.

Anthony had told him, again, that everything was fine between them. He'd shown his complete arrogance at believing himself the source of any sexual dream Loki had, while also turning around and offering material should it be the case.

Be careful, Anthony, Loki thought with a smirk, or I may just find myself accepting that offer.

Somehow, the idea didn’t seem half as horrible as it had even ten minutes ago.

Perhaps, he added with a small frown and a hint of unease, he is not the only one who should be careful.

Chapter Text

Tony’s evil plan had worked.

Well, if you substituted ‘plan’ with ‘suggestion’ and ‘evil’ with ‘hopeful’, but either way, it got Loki living in the tower.

Sure, Loki had put in a last ditch effort after the first three days by telling Tony he was recovered and would start looking for a suitable off-world hideout. Tony liked to think he got his point across when he’d had FRIDAY spring weaponry from the walls and threaten to shoot him if he left. Loki had just rolled his eyes and pushed the guns away, but it had ended the discussion of him moving out, so Tony was counting it as a victory.

It had now been almost two months and Loki hadn’t left except to purchase things off world or look for information on Thanos. The rest of the time he was in the Tower practising his magic, lingering in Tony’s lab while discussing the nature of the universe, creating the weird and wonderful things that came from those conversations, or just relaxing with him.

Tony got the distinct impression that Loki hadn’t spent a lot of time hanging out with someone before. He was genuinely delighted to sit down and watch a movie or just read in each other’s space. Loki also had a tendency to switch between being as quiet as a mouse and abhorring company one day to demanding all of Tony’s attention and making snarky remarks about everything the next.

It was kind of fun. Loki was unpredictable and amusing. He was also damn smart so Tony never minded being bothered by him. Loki always had something interesting to add to whatever he was doing and if Tony was truly engrossed and couldn’t afford interruptions, Loki always heeded FRIDAY’s warnings. FRIDAY had even taken to doing the same thing for Loki; if the mage was meditating or doing a complex spell and couldn’t be disturbed than Tony would have her pass on a message for later.

It was just easy.

Loki was also the first real roommate he’d had. The Avengers had lived their own lives in their own apartments. Bruce had been a bit different, but apart from him everyone else had only stayed over occasionally. Loki had taken his offer and put down roots and Tony loved it. The Tower was great, but it suddenly felt more like a home knowing that he had someone a floor away he could go and bug. Someone he could show a complex scientific problem to and have Loki tilt his head and start trying to help him.

Bruce had been his Science Bro and had stayed for long swathes of time - which had been fabulous, don’t get Tony wrong - but there was just something more with Loki. He couldn’t explain it. Maybe it was because ever since Ultron things had changed; Bruce had disappeared, JARVIS had turned into Vision and he’d broken up with Pepper. He’d just, he’d been lonely. The team had fallen apart and so had every other relationship in his life except for Rhodey.

And then there was Loki. The demi-god had walked in and aligned with him. He was angry, powerful and as broken as Tony was. They understood each other and Tony didn’t want him to leave.

He knew it was stupid and that they had a contract but... everybody leaves.

Rhodey was the only one who went ‘screw that, I’m not going anywhere’ and Tony would never stop appreciating that, but he wanted more than one person in his entire life who stuck around. He wanted Loki: the crazy, insecure, space-magician, smartass.

He also wanted to be able to show him off. Loki was still considered a war-criminal, not by S.H.I.E.L.D. and not by the government but by the public. No one wanted to wade into the messy waters of explaining what had happened and show that Loki was a victim.

It was too much effort, it was too terrifying to think that someone had been more powerful than Loki and had forced him to invade Earth. The public didn’t want to hear that, which was damn unfortunate, because they were going to.

Tony wasn’t about to let Loki get caught in the middle of a smear campaign because no one wanted to talk about or admit the truth. Granted, Loki had done some serious damage but he’d also done his best to help them win. If the public could learn to forgive Bucky Barnes, they could damn well learn to forgive Loki too.

But, they were still working on that.

They’d been distracted at first by Loki having issues off world and then there was the fun of moving in and learning to live together. The few teething problems they’d had were fixed pretty easily and Rhodey and Loki had even managed a couple more conversations together.

Watching them circle like two pissed off lions over a carcass would never not be funny - even when he was the rotting remains they were fighting over. Okay, so it was a bad metaphor. It was still amusing. It was also fun to explain to Loki that Rhodey hadn’t been taken in by their romance. He’d looked somewhere between pissed off and disappointed. Tony knew he’d liked the idea of having one over Rhodey. It was almost sweet how possessive Loki became of their friendship when Rhodey was around.

Don’t touch my stuff, Tony had said once, but Loki was the one more inclined to make good on that threat. He might appreciate that Rhodey was still loyal to Tony and a good friend, but it didn’t seem Loki had to be happy with it.

The best part was that Rhodey had a pinched mouth when he saw Loki that said he felt the same thing. Tony wasn’t quite suicidal enough to tell them that they had a lot in common, but it was a near thing. He was already making plans to lock them in a magic proof room one day and see what happened. Until then, he had to suffice with his imagination.

“You have that look.” Tony blinked out of his thoughts to glance over at Loki. He had lowered his book and was staring at Tony with narrowed eyes.

“What look?”

Tony couldn’t hear Loki’s sigh, but he could see it by the rise and fall of his chest as he shut the novel. “When is the Colonel due to arrive?”

“Uh, he’s not coming today.”

Loki’s tilted his head, seeming puzzled. “Oh? You have the particular expression-”

“You know my specific expressions?

“-that indicates you are envisioning some kind of territorial battle.”

Tony blinked. “Wait, did you just admit that’s what you guys are doing? Fighting over me?”

“No,” Loki answered, his tone as flat as his gaze. “I’m stating that is what you visualise.”

“Well, you both do get a kind of ‘I’ve got the bigger dick’ conversation going on sometimes.”

Loki looked like he’d bitten into an onion. “Charming.”

“We could have a measuring, you know,” Tony smirked, “to remove all doubt.”

Well, Tony thought, maybe it’s not so weird. He certainly knew that the angle of Loki’s mouth and the pinch to his eyes meant Loki was a moment away from holding the bridge of his nose in order to ward off an approaching headache. So, specific expressions are a thing for us both now.

“Aside from the fact I could win that competition with magic alone-” Loki began.

Woah,” Tony held up his hands and turned to directly face Loki. He’d been sitting by the breakfast bar working on a tablet and had only been looking at Loki in profile. He wasn’t about to continue this with Loki even slightly out of view. “You can magically enlarge your dick?”

This time Loki’s sigh was audible. “Yes, Anthony. I am a mage and a shape shifter. It really is one of the more juvenile tricks in my repertoire, however.”

Tony shook his head, still a little incredulous. “Seriously, you are underestimating how much of a hit you’d be at a gay bar, at any bar. You can cater your own dick. I’m kind of jealous.”

“Oh?” Loki wondered, sounding genuinely curious. “Of the talent or of the individual you’re imagining I take to my chambers?”

Tony tilted his head and gave it some thought. “Not sure. A little of both, probably.”

A small grin curved Loki’s mouth and his eyes shone with fond amusement. “Neither are necessary, it’s an impractical illusion to maintain and rather more complicated to achieve arousal and completion when altering that part of my form.” Tony’s eyebrows rose, hearing more than just theorising but practical experience in that explanation. Loki ignored his silent prompting for more information about that though. “The ability aside,” he smirked, “it is not something I am in need of enhancing, I assure you.”

“Why, Loki!” Tony exclaimed, putting on an air of false scandal. “Are you telling me you have a huge cock all on your own?”

Loki chuckled. “This is a subject you should be well-versed in, shouldn’t you?” He opened his book again and turned his attention to it. “We are lovers, are we not?”

“But there’s something to be said for practical knowledge, right?”

Loki didn’t even glance up. “No.”

“How can you, a man of magic and experiments-”

“You are not seeing me without clothing merely to satisfy your curiosity.”

Tony scowled, but made a last ditch effort. “What if it wasn’t just curiosity?”

Loki turned a page, remaining unswayed. “It isn’t.”

Letting out a sigh, Tony didn’t try to poke Loki further; he just swivelled back in his chair and opened up the document he’d been fiddling with on his tablet, but it wasn’t holding his attention well. Pepper had sent him some paperwork he needed to sign and he was automatically shying from it. While it was needed for the company, the deadline for it wasn’t for a few days and Tony found himself unwilling to go out of his way to assist her lately.

It wasn’t a good position to be in with his CEO, but Tony couldn’t see another option. He didn’t have a replacement and while his skin still crawled a little at extending his trust to her, Tony knew there was no one else he was willing to put in her place. Better the devil you know. He still had FRIDAY keep a careful eye on everything that crossed her desk. He was also toying with making an updated contract of employment with a little help from the magic tome Loki had gifted him.

He didn’t want Pepper to turn into another Obadiah, hell, his heart couldn’t quite accept it was possible - but he hadn’t thought she’d run straight to SHIELD. Who was he to say what she would or wouldn’t do?

Anthony.” Jumping slightly at the sharp call of his name, he turned to Loki who was pointing at the couch he was laying on. “I require you here.”

“Huh?” Loki shifted, pulling his feet back so he was sitting cross-legged and resting against the arm. “What?”

“I require you here,” Loki repeated before wrinkling his nose. “Bring your device if you must.”

Tony, too inquisitive for his own damn good, picked up the tablet and made his way to the opposite side, mirroring the demi-god. “Okay, what?”

“Are you suitably concentrated on me?”

Tony rolled his eyes but agreed. “Yes, Loki, you have my attention.”

“Good.” Loki dropped his eyes and went back to his book.

Tony stared, waiting for something more to happen than being ignored. “That’s it? You dragged me over here for, what, a physical presence beside you?”

The look Loki shot him informed Tony quietly plainly that the mage had doubts to his intelligence. “No, I made you relocate so that your focus and attention would be given to something else.”

“Yeah, on yo-” Tony fell silent as he caught up with what the other had done. “Oh.”

Loki - once he was suitably assured his point had been made - picked up his place in the novel again. Tony let a slow, pleasantly surprised smile slip across his face. His legs had also been drawn up on the couch but he spread one out so he could nudge Loki’s foot with his own. Loki’s eyes flicked to his and Tony let him see the quiet gratitude. Loki didn’t say anything, but his mouth had twitched up into a tiny grin by the time he turned back to his novel.

Taking the silent advice from Loki to change tracks, Tony pulled up a schematic on the tablet and happily worked on that. He didn’t notice time passing as they stayed where they were without interruption, but when FRIDAY called for his attention, Tony was surprised to find two hours had gone by. “Boss?”

He also made the unexpected discovery, upon blinking back to the room, that his and Loki’s legs had spread out and tangled together. They both shared an amused look, but didn’t try to pull their sprawled legs back.

“Yeah, FRIDAY?” Tony asked, tilting his neck back against his shoulders.

“Colonel Rhodes is on the line.”

Tony frowned. “Woah, were his ears burning earlier or something? Yeah, put him through.”

“Apologies, Boss, he has now ended the call. He wished to inform you that he is arriving at the tower. He wants to speak with you both.” She paused. “He is parking his vehicle presently.”

Tony shared a bewildered glance with Loki before telling FRIDAY, “Well, send him straight up.”

“Something has occurred to draw him here,” Loki summarised, his eyes narrowing suspiciously. Tony didn’t like the idea that Loki was right, but he couldn’t deny it. He went to stand up, but he stilled when a hand fell over his ankle. “Remain. Pacing will not alter the situation.”

“It’ll burn off some of the tension,” Tony rebutted but still settled back into the couch.

“Whatever occurs you have myself and the Colonel on your side, Anthony,” Loki assured. “We, all of us, are formidable men.”

Tony cracked a smile. “I’m going to tell Rhodey you complimented him.”

Loki huffed an unimpressed breath. “Contrary to your ridiculous belief, I do not dislike your associate. I merely prefer-”

“To have me all to yourself,” Tony couldn’t resist purring as he leant forward, lowering his eyelashes and offering his best bedroom smirk.

He was damn gratified to see Loki’s eyes dilate slightly before he blinked it away with the power of a fucking Saint. There were very few people who could handle one of those Tony Stark smirks with such ease. “I merely prefer to leave you to enjoy the company of your friend without my presence.”

“Loki,” Tony shook his head, faintly baffled at some of his ideas. “You can stay, you know. I actually like my friends to get to know each other.”

Loki gave a dismissive shrug. “You friend is not comfortable in my presence. I am well used to leaving others to their preferred companions.”

Fucking Asgardians, Tony hissed internally, instantly realising where that need to make himself scarce had come from. How many times had Thor probably asked him to go away so that his friends would be more at ease? How many times would Thor have been oblivious to the discomfort and insults until Loki had just up and left?

“Yeah, okay,” Tony told him, trying to keep the anger from his voice. “But Rhodey isn’t going to get comfortable if you aren’t around. So, how about you hang with us sometime and we get you used to one another?”

Loki tilted his head, eyeing Tony with bemusement. “You are rather adamant on this.”

Laying the tablet flat on his lap, Tony leaned forward to make it easier to match the other by grabbing and squeezing Loki’s ankle. Loki’s eyes flicked down and focused on the touch. “Loki, I’d add this into the contract if we were still waging war over it.”

The comment made Loki laugh softly and catch Tony’s eyes. Amusement and warmth was rife in that green gaze as he answered, “If you insist, I suppose I can make time for one more mortal in my schedule.”

“Pfft,” Tony scoffed. “You don’t have a schedule any more than I do.”

When it came to the two of them, they had too many things in common to ever bother with a list, but doing what they want was definitely a big, blaring, neon one they shared. It was also why Tony knew if Loki didn’t want to associate with Rhodey; wild horses wouldn’t get them in a room together. Loki’s agreement to try was just that, his agreement.

Tony knew Loki had a reputation as liar - and yeah, he was a damn fine wordsmith, negotiator and actor when he wanted to be - but Tony didn’t think he lied half as much as he simply bent the truth. Loki knew how to play with words, but he could also be honest, and the core of what he’d just said had been that; Loki would put in the effort to get to know Rhodey.

Smiling, Tony nudged Loki’s leg again in a quiet show of appreciation and despite having the opportunity, Loki never commented on it. He didn’t pick up his book either, he just questioned FRIDAY, “There has been no activity in the channels Anthony has been observing?”

“No, Sir,” FRIDAY answered. “There have been no further considerations concerning you as individuals or as regards to your partnership.”

Tony smiled darkly. “Ultron taught everybody that even the best technology isn’t foolproof.”

“I would believe it is not a fool whom they wish to keep out.”

More genuine amusement cracked through Tony’s expression, but before he could respond the elevator chimed and FRIDAY informed them, “Colonel Rhodes, Boss.”

Tony twisted in his seat so that he could see Rhodey as he made his way down to them. His shoulders were tight with tension and his mouth was a thin line. Tony tried not to let it show how much that pensive, angry expression worried him. “If you’re here about Billy Ray Cyrus in the Pentagon sound system, I’m serious about that not being my idea.”

“I can hardly be responsible for the musical artist,” Loki remarked absently, “I merely suggested that they might enjoy an alternative working condition.”

“Thank you,” Rhodey told them, coming to stand beside the couch, “I now have confirmation over who I need kill.”

“Oh, come on,” Tony argued, “I timed it. You couldn’t have been subjected to it for more than an hour.”

“You know you only need to hear it once,” Rhodey intoned but with a look that gave it all the horror it probably deserved. Hell, no one had even dropped ‘achy-breaky’ and Tony could already see a mullet and hear that haunting twang.

He shuddered theatrically but conceded, “Point.”

“Colonel Rhodes,” Loki was watching him carefully, unswayed by the lighter topic. “This is not what you came to discuss. What has brought you here?”

“You’re not a small talk kind of guy, are you?” Rhodey theorised, not seeming surprised in the slightest.

Loki’s eyebrows rose. “Knowing the bureaucratic system you are confined to, I thought you might relish such a direct method?”

“Okay,” Rhodey allowed and after checking to the make sure the coffee table was clear, he sat down opposite them. Resting his hands between his knees, he told them simply, “I want you to bind me to silence like you did Pepper.”

Tony didn’t know what to say for a good few seconds. The room was dead silent and even when he forced out a reply, he still felt like floundering. “You want us to what?

“I’m being questioned,” Rhodey continued, discussing the heart of his confusion even if Tony hadn’t specified it. “They’re going to expect more from me sooner or later. There’s been a grace period but people are already trying to figure out what’s going on. I don’t want something to come out by accident or through interrogation.”

Loki was nodding slowly. “You wish to defend against betrayals.” There was a new appreciation to Loki’s gaze that said he’d been impressed. “Do you also wish to read the contract Miss Potts reviewed?”

“I’m not a contracts man,” Rhodey answered, “I’m also not doing this to gain more information with the hope of circumventing your spell.”

“You would have little luck if you tried,” Loki told him simply, yet with a dismissive edge that implied he didn’t believe Rhodey would attempt it. He was merely stating a fact. “That still doesn’t mean the option isn’t allowed to you. Do you wish to read our contract?”

Rhodey didn’t even glance between them. “I trust Tony to know what he’s doing.” His eyes narrowed as he held Loki’s gaze. “And I trust you to recognise the deal you have.”

Loki blinked before a surprisingly satisfied smile curved the mage’s lips. Tony was a little nervous watching the way an understanding seemed to have been silently brokered between them. “True friends seem difficult to gain in any realm,” Loki remarked. “Anthony has certainly been lucky to stumble into your favour.”

“Hey!” Tony protested, even if it was said with teasing him in mind. Rhodey also noticed the light-hearted tone and sighed loudly before playing along with Loki, “Some parasites are harder to shake off than others.”

Loki chuckled, not seeming bothered when Tony kicked him slightly for it. Hell, Loki probably barely felt it considering a bullet was lucky enough to scratch him. “Well, Colonel, do you need information on the process?”

Loki began pulling away from Tony, and he couldn’t help feeling disappointed when Loki was sitting with his feet on the floor and his attention on Rhodey. He’d liked their tangled mess of limbs. Tony was a physical guy; he liked to touch his friends and soak up the comfort they provided him. Loki seemed to like it too. Not affectionate by nature, Tony’s ass. Loki obviously hadn’t been in a position where he could just laze around with someone. He took to it like a moth to a flame. Granted, sometimes Loki wanted to be alone, but when he was around Tony? He had no problem breaking personal boundaries.

Still, he knew Loki needed to concentrate and discuss the spell with Rhodey, but couldn’t he do that on the couch with Tony? Spells aren’t exactly easy, he reminded himself - but it didn’t mean he couldn’t take advantage of the new position, right?

Tony eyed Loki’s lap with a speculative gaze before wiggling his way down the couch slightly. Loki and Rhodey were discuss the same things they’d run by Pepper and that Tony had picked apart in the past. He only listened with half an ear as he got into a slumped position and very carefully edged his ankles onto Loki’s leg.

It took all of a second for Loki’s head to drop to eye Tony’s feet with incredulity. He literally stopped mid-sentence. Rhodey was looking between his wiggling toes and Tony’s face with eyebrows near his hairline.

“Anthony,” Loki said with an overly casually tone, “what are you doing?”

In for a penny. Pushing further down the couch, Tony put his feet fully in the demi-god’s lap. In for a pound. “Relaxing.”

Loki hadn’t yet moved his attention from the unexpected weight on his legs and Tony idly wondered if the action had broken the guy. He saw Loki’s fingers twitch and Tony realised he was probably close to gaining tentacles for feet. He still didn’t move away.

“And you need my lap to do this, why?”

A surprisingly logical question, too bad Tony was going to be entirely unhelpful. He even rubbed his ankles against Loki’s left thigh, getting himself comfortable. “Why not?

He could see Loki about to rebut but Rhodey broke in. “Forget it, Loki. Personal space is not a concept Tony understands when it comes to his friends.”

The words dragged Loki’s attention to the other. His expression was still one of perplexity. “He does this to you often?”

Rhodey snorted. “He once climbed into my bed and hugged me like a teddy bear because he was cold.”

“Hey!” Tony complained. “Conserving body heat, totally acceptable reasoning.”

“It was California in the middle of summer!”

“The air-conditioner was too low,” Tony protested.

“You controlled the temperature,” Rhodey argued the same way he had for the ten years since it had happened.

Tony sniffed. “You didn’t kick me out. You cuddled me back. You’re just as responsible as I am.”

“Hey, man, you can’t just kick a squirming Tony Stark out of your bed. It’s not possible. Hell, Pentagon meetings can be easier.”

Loki was looking between them oddly. “You do not even try to dissuade others from it.”

“From what?” Rhodey questioned, but Tony had an idea where it was going.

“Believing you are lovers.” Loki turned his attention to Tony. “It truly isn’t deplorable on your realm?”

Rhodey stiffened; Tony could see it from the corner of his eye. “Hold up,” his voice had gone slightly cold. “What did I just learn about Asgard?”

“You learnt,” Tony told him very candidly, “why Loki and I are fucking.”

“I think I need a little more background than that, Tony,” Rhodey flicked his eyes between them. “You’re silencing me anyway. Consider this my request over the contract; what’s going on?”

Loki and Tony exchanged a look where Tony raised his eyebrows, letting Loki make the decision. The mage hesitated for a moment before turning back to Rhodey and admitting, “I gave inaccurate implications of our relationship to Thor as a means of discomforting him. When he came to see Anthony-”

“Broke into my fucking tower,” Anthony corrected, earning a brief glare from Loki.

“When he visited Anthony, he referenced my inferences in an attempt to repulse Anthony.” For the first time since breaching the subject, a small smile touched Loki’s lips. “It did not work in his favour.”

Tony decided to elaborate further, just to help the flame of anger burning behind Rhodey’s eyes. “Turns out the Aesir see homosexuality as dishonourable, womanly and something you’d probably get beaten up for? Right?”

He glanced at Loki for agreement and instantly wanted to reach out and squeeze Loki’s shoulder in comfort at seeing the tension Tony’s words had unintentionally created.

Loki still answered him, even if a part of Tony wished he hadn’t. He was managing to show very little discomfort, but Tony doubted he was happy about the topic. Loki’s eyes also weren’t on either of them and his voice when he spoke was flat and detached from his recounting. “One does not merely get ‘beaten up’ for such inclinations, Anthony. Truly, to have that outcome would be considered lucky. If they survived discovery with only minor injuries? Yes, they did quite well. Even Thor was not so kind when he found me with my first lover.”

Tony’s face went blank, a long ingrained response to feeling powerful fury and knowing he couldn’t express it. It didn’t stop him from wanting to find Thor and rip him to pieces. Tony was fucking gratified to see Rhodey looked just as livid. They met eyes for a moment and Tony knew Rhodey would be on his side. He’d be ready to hold Thor down for Tony to pummel as long as he got a turn as well.

Tony knew he should say something, lighten the mood or generally bolster the conversation, but he knew anything that came out was going to depict how much he wanted to go up to Asgard and blow up the general populace. Loki, however, spoke first and he probably didn’t even realise how much his words did the opposite of what he'd intended.

“Don’t bother yourself with concern, Anthony,” he dismissed, and God, how sad was it he probably thought Rhodey didn’t even care? “I was a youth and we survived the encounter in lieu of my status as a Prince. It is hardly the worse that has befallen me and very rarely was it because I merely slept with a gender they did not like.”

“Yeah,” Rhodey replied, a new glint in his eyes, “but prejudice doesn’t exactly go away once it’s there. You do, say, act, look one way and that’s never going to disappear even if you’re the otherwise perfect model of what they want.” His eyes and smile weren’t just sympathetic, they were empathetic and Tony saw the moment Loki recognised it. “It’s even worse if you have characteristics they don’t want.”

“Yes,” Loki murmured, “quite.”

“I think Tony’s right,” Rhodey announced after they’d eyed each other for a long moment. “I will get along with you.” He held out his hand for Loki. “I just need to take a page from Tony’s book and only accept the opinion of someone I trust.” He smiled. “So far the only people who matter have said you’re a good guy. That’s the only opinion I’m taking on now.”

Loki looked startled, but he still accepted the hand with cautious movements. He didn’t seem to fathom what had just happened. “You know little about me. A small facet of who I am shouldn’t change your opinion so rapidly.”

“It doesn’t,” Rhodey replied, letting go of his palm. “But it tells me that the one feeding us information hasn’t been honest, or if he has, he’s still left out too much context for me to be comfortable with. I don’t like that and I don’t like one-sided stories.” He shrugged. “Your invasion wasn’t yours but everyone played it like it was because it suited them. Asgard wants us to believe them and with only two people to tell a story, you don’t tend to look too closely at the guy who just tried to attack you.”

“But now?”

“But now you’ve not only won over and got the alliance of the single most powerful human on this planet,” Rhodey smiled, “but now you’ve got his friend listening.”

Tony couldn’t stop the grin from spreading over his face as he shifted so he could slap Loki on the shoulder. “Now you’ve got two mortals on your side! We’ve got your public pardon in the bag! Oooh, speaking of,” Tony turned to Rhodey. “You going to help us with that? Always room for one more voice on his team.”

Loki was shaking his head, looking vaguely mystified. “The Colonel is a member of your government and an Avenger, he cannot possibly-”

“He can definitely be on your side,” Rhodey overruled him. “And it’s Rhodey, or Rhodes.”

Loki brought up a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose. A tic he seemed to have when Tony - or apparently mortals, plural now - confounded or frustrated him. “I appreciate your assistance,” his mouth twitched and he paused before deciding on, “Rhodes, but the nature of your position can be compromised due to-”

“Yeah,” and Tony was the one interrupting this time. “Rhodey’s been my friend for years. If you think worrying about career stability is going to shake him off, you don’t know him too well yet.”

“The concern’s nice though,” Rhodey chimed in.

Tony gestured at the mage. “See! I told you, he’s awesome and magic. You have got to see some of the things he can do. Ooh! Did I show you the never cooling cup? And the spell book he gave me?”

Rhodey blinked. “He made a cup that never cools? Wait. He gave you magic?

Tony took his feet off Loki and pushed off the couch. “You have got to see some of the shit in this book. Your inner engineer is going to cry. Did you know I can make something hover just for the sake of hovering with a squiggle?

“Fuck off,” Rhodey denied but Tony was already nodding and Rhodey was standing up to join him. Tony turned to Loki who had leant back against the couch and was watching them, his eyes moving between them as if he were at a tennis match.

“Come on, Loki. You can spell Rhodey and then we can show him some of the things you made me rant about. I want to break Rhodey’s brain. It’ll be fun!” Loki just stared at them and Tony frowned and moved closer. He put his hands on Loki’s knees and it made the mage flinch back from him, but their faces were still inches apart. “You in there?”

He was shoved away angrily. “Of course I am!”

“Great,” Tony darted out and grabbed the hand that had pushed him. He knew physically dragging Loki off the couch wasn’t possible, but he had still made it impracticable for Loki to teleport away now that they were touching. “So, let’s go.”

Loki opened his mouth before shutting it and gritting his teeth. “Anthony... Anthony this is not. I cannot – you just...”

Anthony squeezed Loki’s hand and placed his other palm on Loki’s opposite shoulder. He made the frustrated demi-god look him in the eyes as he told him quietly, “We don’t care who you were. We only care about who you are. You’re just Loki. You’re my friend and you’re a good guy and that’s all that matters to me, and in turn, all that matters to Rhodey. You’re only ever going to be Loki here.” Tony pulled back a little. “So come be Loki; the guy with badass magic who's going to play in the lab with us.”

Something inside Loki melted at his words; Tony didn’t know what it was, but he could see it happening. He could also see the tension bleeding out of him. Loki was still confused and unsure, but he wasn’t resisting any longer. Tony tried a tentative pull and Loki let himself be moved off the couch and in the direction of the labs. Tony knew he could let go of Loki’s hand at any time as Rhodey had swiftly started questioning Loki on magic to diffuse the tension and any remaining awkwardness. It worked too, and Loki was discussing things with Rhodey animatedly by the time they reached the elevator.

Tony liked it. He liked seeing his friends getting along. He liked knowing that they could talk freely with Rhodey because he’d asked to be silenced by the time he left today. He also liked holding Loki’s hand, because he liked knowing he was tethering Loki to Earth and keeping Loki firmly placed in the knowledge that Tony wasn’t going anywhere.

He liked holding onto Loki, because as long as he had a physical connection to the mage, Tony knew he wouldn’t disappear. He knew he wouldn't, couldn't leave.

Chapter Text

Rhodey stayed for a couple of hours and Tony was suitably pleased by the other’s face over some of the things Loki could do. He was also happy to see Loki’s face over Rhodey’s reactions. He got this slightly incredulous furrow between his brows, but also this proudly arrogant smirk.

A part of Tony hated bursting Loki’s bubble and showing him that Tony wasn’t the only person in the universe who could appreciate Loki’s magical ability and general intelligence. He liked being the sole focus of Loki’s appreciation and friendship. But he knew he couldn’t be selfish, Loki deserved more friends, and who was a better friend to gain than Rhodey?

That was right, absolutely no one.

Tony couldn't even claim to be a better friend. He'd let people down over the years and he was certainly shit at keeping friends. It was a testament to Rhodey, really. He was the good friend in the equation, not Tony.

So it was only fair that Loki, after a long life of shit people, got James Rhodes on his side. Tony wasn't jealous and he wasn't having a territorial battle like Rhodey and Loki had. He was happy for them, see? All smiles.

It didn't mean he couldn't breathe a quiet sigh of relief once Rhodey had left - newly silenced - and it became just the two of them again. He didn't know what had bothered him. He liked them getting along he just... there was something to be said for just him and Loki. It was something he'd never shared with anyone else before. What he had with Rhodey and Bruce came close, but it still wasn't the same. Tony just hadn't felt like giving it up yet.

He hadn't realised that's what it would feel like, because it hadn't at first.

They'd shown Rhodey some of the tricks and they'd been smirking at each other, sharing in his flabbergasted expression and taking turns answering his questions. But then Rhodey had started discussing magic directly with Loki. Tony could have chimed in but they were answers he already had, they were queries he wasn't interested in. There was no reason to get involved, but he'd wanted to. He's wanted to dive into the middle and get his friends' attention. It was only his awareness of the complete ridiculousness of the urge that made him stop, turn and concentrate on something else.

He still got pulled back into the conversation or interjected into it himself when it was relevant but the urge still persisted even then, hovering under his skin like a bad itch. It only faded once they'd said their goodbyes to Rhodey and were left in the lab together.

The peace slipped back over him and made him relax. And it was weird.

Fuck, maybe he was just overly tense? Maybe it wasn't so much Rhodey as it was what he represented; the Avengers, the government, the outside world? Everything they still had to deal with in order for Loki to be able to walk around freely on Earth.


Tony blinked out of his pensive thoughts and looked over at Loki. He was frowning. "You seem... unhappy." He didn't quite shift on his feet, but there was something noticeably uncomfortable about him. "Did you not want the Colonel-"

"Rhodey," Tony automatically corrected as they had been doing all afternoon - much to Loki's bemusement.

"Rhodes," Loki allowed, "and I to get along? You seem disappointed that we have."

"What? No!" Tony shook his head. "I'm just a bit tense. It's nothing to do with you guys."

"Oh?" Loki crossed his arms. "Yet you have relaxed the moment your friend has departed."

Tony winced. "Okay, it's slightly to do with you guys."

“Oh,” Loki requested, “how so?”

And that was the problem, wasn’t it? How to articulate it?

Tony ran a hand through his hair and tried to explain. “I want you guys to get along, don’t get me wrong.”

“But?” Loki prompted when he fell silent.

“But I don’t want you to like each other more,” the words fell out before Tony could stop them, rife with insecurity and the desperate need to keep both of them in his life - to keep both of them as his.

Loki took all of a second to understand. “Ah,” he nodded slowly. “You worry that the characteristics that drew you to us will make a stronger alliance form between Rhodes and I, therefore removing you from the equation.”

Tony knew his smile was every bit as bitter and self-deprecating as so many parts of him could be. “You take away my money and my comforts, Loki, and there’s not a whole lot here to recommend. People put up with me, they don’t choose me.” He swallowed. “You guys did - for fuck knows what reason, apart from being the last option. But if you have each other and you get along? What the hell do you need me for?”

“Anthony,” Loki said softly into the silence that followed. Taking slow steps closer, he reached out and laid a hand on Tony’s shoulder, telling him quietly. “I am aligned to you. Rhodes is an acceptable companion but I am...” he hesitated before strengthening his resolve and allowing, “friends with you. You need not fear me leaving you for another. The contract between us aside, you are a valuable ally and one of the few people I can consider myself genuinely fond of. You will not be eclipsed merely because I can appreciate another.” He narrowed his eyes. “And you have far more to offer than material goods. They are a nice addition, yes, but you are the important fixture to me in this tower.”

Tony couldn't help the way he'd warmed at hearing Loki call them friends. Tony had certainly said it and Loki hadn't been disagreeing but it was another thing entirely to have Loki confirm it.

And to hear Loki, a literal Prince, dismiss comfort and wealth in favour of Tony, just Tony, it made him want to do something stupid like hug the other.

It was a fleeting thought and rapidly dismissed, but he still felt a need to touch Loki, to prove he was real - that he wasn't an illusion. So he lightly shoved the mage, clearing his throat as he did. Loki didn't even move from the pressure, he just glanced at the spot Tony had touched with raised eyebrows.

"Was that intended to do something?"

Tony huffed out a breath. "It's a Midgardian thing."

"To attempt to push people for no discernible reason?"

"It's more like a means of showing affection without actually showing it." Loki frowned until Tony was forced to elaborate. "It's the way you respond when someone says something sappy and you don't know what to do."

"Ah," Loki nodded, his expression clearing, a hint of something in his eyes and mouth that made Tony think he's just been played. "It is a common feature from Thor. I was merely uncertain of the similarity what with the lack of weight behind the gesture."

Tony abruptly scowled. "Did you just call me weak?"

"I would hardly have known you touched me if I did not observe it."

This time when Tony punched him, he used significant strength. The kind of force he'd give a punching bag. Loki's shoulder did move back with the gesture, but he didn't even rub it, he just chuckled.

"Perhaps we should invest in some means of improving your fighting capacity outside your armour? One wants to leave at least some manner of bruise, don't they?"

"Hey, I made the Hulk loose a tooth, you know!"

Loki's eyebrows rose. "Did you? Without your armour?"


"I survived being throttled into your tower by that creature. I would think my durability and success somewhat exceeds yours."

"You call whimpering in a crater on my floor a success?"

"It severed my connection to the ones monitoring me," Loki explained somewhat blandly. "It was not a pain I would seek to experience again, but it was still a welcome end to my torment."

Tony's face twisted into a wince as he reviewed the moment they had ambushed Loki at the tower. If it's all the same to you, I'll have that drink now. He'd been amused, even then, at Loki's response. He'd just wished he'd known more at the time and could have given him that drink. Loki had deserved it, and a whole boatload of further comforts after the Hell he'd been through.

Tony also knew that he hadn't even heard all of it. He'd learned bits and pieces from Thor and Jane, but Tony knew there was more. He was half-afraid to prod that particular hornets’ nest though, he wasn't sure if hearing Loki's side would require a fully stocked bar or a fully stocked armoury. He didn't have much tolerance for Asgard and he almost didn't want to know what had thrown Loki over the edge.

Tony also regretted having watched the Hulk's battering of Loki like a comedic gif in the months after New York.

"Anthony?" Loki prompted him. "It was some time ago, I hardly dwell on it."

"I know," Tony sighed and forced himself to shake the other thoughts off. "I'm just in a weird mood."

"I have noticed." He paused before asking, "Tell me, Anthony, what mood were you in when you created my gallery?"

"Gallery?" Tony asked, not making any connections.

Loki smiled, his eyes full of mischief and humour. "The one designed for use in one’s chambers."

It took Tony half a second before he laughed. He leant back against the desk and smirked. "Oh, the wankbank. I'd wondered if you'd been told about it yet." He waggled his eyebrows. "Come on; tell me you've used it. What was your favourite picture?"

Loki shook his head even while he was chuckling. "I find the idea too ludicrous to partake in, Anthony. Truly, I would spend more time amused than amorous."

"Humor is an important part of sex," Tony lightly argued, "at least, it damn well should be."

"Is that so?" Loki stalked closer, a smirk curling his mouth. "And what would you say of our sex life then, Anthony?" He stopped in front of Tony and leant close, his hands on the table either side of Tony's hips. "Do you intend to make me laugh as I pin you to a wall?" Tony's crossed arms were brushing Loki's chest. The linen tunic caressing his arms as Loki's teasing smile and dancing eyes stopped inches from his own. "What do you intend to do with a God in your bed?"

Tony let a smile slide across his face, full of wicked delight and the promise of satisfaction to come. "How about you gag me, stop any of those jokes from coming out? Shut me up. Tie me down. Make me beg for you to take me. Make me beg for," he leaned close, "my God."

Loki's eyes darkened. "My, my, Anthony. What a surprising mind you have."

"Playboy, babe," Tony answered. "Nothing's going to surprise me.”

Loki’s eyes flared at his response, something dangerous and thrilling that said challenge accepted. Tony felt his skin prickle, having all that focused attention on him. He felt heat lazily crawl through him, and thought; this is going to be fun.

He wanted to see what a thousand year old mage had in his repertoire, he wanted to hear all the ways Loki was fucking him in their imagined sex-life, he wanted to see if he could make Loki’s toes curl with words alone.

He wanted to see what they were both capable of.

Loki lifted his hand, his fingertips inches from Tony’s face. “Well,” he began his voice having dropped lower and become smoother. It sounded like something that should be illegal, especially when he followed it up with his name, “Anthony.”

It wasn’t quite breathy, but it was damn closer and Tony had to do his best not to swallow or shift on his feet. Or rearrange his pants.

He was so caught up in the moment that when alarms suddenly flared overhead he flinched, his shoulders coming up to his ears as Loki pulled back with a deep frown. His voice was back to normal apart from the whip-like demand for an explanation, “Anthony?”

“Fuck,” Tony hissed as that particular kind of alert registered and he pushed Loki away so he could move over to the assembling point. “Someone’s attacking the city.”

“What?” Loki asked, sounding bewildered. “Whom?”

“FRIDAY?” Tony requested.

“I’m uncertain, Boss. The assailant in an unknown woman, but she is emitting a small energy signature.”

“Magic?” Loki demanded.

“No, Sir.”

“Great, backyard Earth energy,” Tony grumbled while FRIDAY began preparing the suit and bringing it to him. “Any other bonuses?”

“There are a variety of animals she seems to be controlling. They do not adhere to the normal sociological and genetic patterns of their species.”

“Make a note that we’re going to have to confirm with PETA that I’m not an asshole after this,” Tony informed her as his suit entered the lab and automatically began to assemble around him. “Is Rhodey still in the area?” He let the mask remain open as he turned to face Loki. “Sorry, we’ll have to continue this... later.” Tony had trailed off as he looked at the other. Loki was standing where he’d been before only he’d exchanged his casual clothes for battle-armour. It was the same outfit he’d worn when he’d teleported into Tony’s penthouse and put their whole alliance into motion. “What are you doing?”

Loki lifted his shoulder half-heartedly. “We are allies, are we not? Surely it would be wise to test how well we fight together.”

Tony let out a laugh that was half amusement, half horror. “The public will be more afraid of you then whoever the hell this Animal Whisperer is.”

A slight tightening of Loki’s eyes was his only sign of unhappiness at hearing that. But what was Tony meant to do, jump on board without acknowledging the reality of Loki just showing up in the middle of New York?

“True,” Loki allowed, “but they will need to grow used to me eventually.”

“Yeah, but with a bit of warning and a press conference for padding.”

“And that is meant to incur trust?” Loki riposted. “Some scripted words they will be uncertain of in lieu of my namesake as God of Lies?” He shook his head. “No. Why not this?” He smirked. “Would not the image of me protecting your city at the side of the great Iron Man,” he made a grand gesture to incorporate Tony and that the Engineer watched sceptically, “a famed and beloved hero, do far more for my reputation among them?”

Tony was grimacing, he couldn’t help it. Yeah, people loved a hero, but Loki was also their first real taste of a villain. He wasn’t sure how well they were going to take to him. Loki let out a frustrated breath. “I will not be bothered by their fear of me, Anthony. You are well aware I have spent most of my life defending those who dislike me.” Tony gritted his teeth at the reminder, but Loki didn't seem to notice it as he pursed his lips slightly. “But if it is your reputation you do not wish to-”

“Don’t be an idiot, Loki, fucking hell. You’re an asset. Just because they’re going to take a bit of time to warm up to you doesn’t mean I give a shit about it.” He shrugged as much as he could in the suit. “Well, beyond clearing your name from false charges and getting you the free pass to Earth you deserve.”

It didn’t mean it wasn’t still a damn stupid idea. But, Loki was right about actions speaking louder than words. Hell, Tony had always liked doing things with a bang. This might be more of a Jericho fucking missile to the public’s face, but when had he ever shied away from something shocking?

“Well then,” Loki replied, and he was smiling in that way he had that said he was genuinely flattered but trying not to show it. He also held out a hand. “Shall I take us to the latest villain’s location?”

Tony’s expression brightened, all else derailing for a moment. “You’re going to teleport me?”

“If you’re not averse?”

“Hell no, I’m not!” Tony took the steps needed to reach him, grabbing a communicator while he did. “Here, stick this in your ear so we can stay in contact.”

Loki eyed it dubiously, but he still applied it. “We will find a more suitable means for transferring our communications.”

Tony just rolled his eyes before asking FRIDAY. “Rhodey?”

A few moments later he heard the other get patched through and answer. “Five minutes away. Where the hell are you, Tony? She’s got a fucking grizzly bear down there ripping into things.”

“How interesting,” Loki murmured, “and you say she has no magic, FRIDAY?”

“No, Sir,” was answered at the same time Rhodey questioned, incredulous, “Loki?”

“Yup. We got magic on our side today, Rhodey.”

Rhodey let out a groan. It conveyed pretty succinctly how well he though the situation was going to go for them. He didn’t offer any complaints or try to change their minds though, bless him. He simply told them both. "Fuck, okay, but hurry up."

“I can wear an illusion,” Loki suggested quietly, his attention focused on Tony’s face. “It does not have to be me beside you.”

Tony tilted his head, holding Loki’s gaze and seeing the willingness to do what he was suggesting and the age old resignation of knowing he wasn’t what somebody wanted. Tony had already been leaning heavily towards one answer, but this just tipped him fully over the edge.

Letting a wide smile spread across his face, Tony told FRIDAY. “Give Pepper that five minute warning. The world’s in for a treat; Tony Stark officially has a God on his side.” He slid down the mask and took Loki’s hand. They couldn’t link their fingers with the suit in the way, but he squeezed it lightly. “Let’s go show the universe just who my new ally is.”

Loki’s eyes blazed with magic and his smile could have darkened the sun. Loki was blinding in his confidence and his wicked pleasure and that feeling flowed out and over Tony making him feel utter power and elation.

Yes, he thought, this is the Loki I’m aligned with. This is the Loki that the world needs to see. This is the guy you are all going to wish you had fighting with you.

Chapter Text

Loki gripped his gauntlet tightly and moved in closer. Their chests were almost touching and Tony raised his eyebrows below the armour. “Loki?”

“Merely confirming our closeness with the world, Anthony.”

Tony snorted out a laugh while Loki twisted his free hand and the lab dissolved from around them.

They appeared on a rooftop in an area of New York that Tony couldn't place instantly, but the sound of destruction and screams certainly was becoming old hat in his life.

He didn't pull his hand from Loki's as he shifted slightly to survey the street. There was a grizzly, a rhino - and was that three Bulls? Great. There was a woman standing on top of a car with knee-high boots, a billowing cape, and whipping hair. She also had a large, maniacal grin. Yup. She was definitely their villain.

"Please, Anthony,” Loki was wincing slightly, “tell me I was not so dreadfully dramatic."

"It looked cute on you," Tony answered absently as he analysed the amount of civilians. "We need to minimise casualties."

"Perhaps you and the Colonel would be better tasked rescuing your people?"

"I told you, Loki." Rhodey answered, the sound making them turn to look over their shoulders as he landed beside them on the building. "It's Rhodes.”

Loki’s mouth curled upward briefly before a minor explosion drew their attention to the street. Rhodey was instantly back in the air as he announced, "I'll take the rhino."

"I'll get the girl," Tony cheerfully declared.

"I'll see if I can make a pet of the remainder then, shall I?" Loki suggested with an alarming amount of intent.

"I am not getting a bear!" Tony shouted after the mage who had quickly disappeared. "Fuck."

Firing up his repulsors, Tony shot through the air and towards their villainess. He chose to ignore the flock of pigeons that tried to re-enact "The Birds" on him. Luckily, he was a damn good flyer.

He landed on the concrete and raised his weapons at the Animal Whisperer. "Party's over. How about we pack up and go home before the mess gets any bigger?"

"Oh no," the woman announced with the kind of utter crazy in her tone that said reasoning wasn't a viable option. "I believe we are just getting started."

Disconcerting did not begin to cover the emotion Tony felt at watching a giant worm rip up through the ground behind her and demonstrate very sharp teeth.

He was having sudden, vivid flashbacks to Men in Black II. He was regretting liking that subway scene so much now. "Honey, I told you we weren't inviting Jeff."

Tony wasn't sure who he was talking to - it was really more of a general statement - but the woman still smiled and directed, "Eat him."

Tony was in the air and to the side just quick enough to miss that fast head as it launched itself at him, smashing into the concrete and probably causing a minor earthquake. Tony was more concerned with it swivelling around and trying to catch him in its large, tooth-filled mouth.

“Um, guys,” Tony called over the comm. “Giant, carnivorous worm. Any,” he quickly spun to the side, “shit, thoughts?”

“Anthony,” Loki answered after a pause and with a slight loss of breath, “the bear is now conducting electricity. While I am used to this sort of battle with Thor, I by no means can leave it to terrorise the building of civilians I am currently protecting. Please find your own means of squashing that creature.”

Tony almost made the mistake of taking his eyes of the worm to look for Loki. “Electric bear?

“Yes, yes,” Loki grumbled and there was a distinct roar that followed from his side of the communicators. Loki didn’t seem overly bothered. “I will be fine.”

“Each creature,” FRIDAY began informing them as Tony ducked around another swipe of the worm’s mouth while trying to lead it away from highly populated areas, “has an abnormal genome that seems to be the cause of their enhanced abilities.”

Tony didn’t like the sound of that. “Rhodey, what’s wrong with the rhinos and bulls?”

"Well," Rhodey answered sardonically, "the bulls can teleport."

"... What?”

“Yeah, that’s about what I thought,” Rhodey told him. “They don’t have a shit tonne of control though. One’s currently stuck in a wall and kicking its legs pretty harmlessly in an alleyway.”

“And the rhinoceros?” Loki queried.

“Thick armour plating,” Rhodey described. “It’s like its skin shifted or thickened; nothing’s even scratching it. They’re also really, really angry.”

“Yes,” Loki responded simply. “Trapped and cornered animals usually behave in violent and irrational ways.” He paused, possibly to fight, possibly to breathe before he added, “The confusion of their new abilities is no doubt frightening them as well.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t know about you,” Tony spoke, turning a corner sharply and wincing as the worm smashed right through the nearby building headfirst, sending debris to the ground below. “But I’d like to be able to stop them. Preferably before I am eaten.”

There was a brief silence before Loki wondered, “This group for animals that you mentioned, do they protect mutated creatures such as these?”

“No killing,” Rhodey interjected hurriedly.

“No, No, kind of on his side here,” Tony disagreed, “No one wants a giant, carnivorous worm getting replicated; dead worm, much safer.”

"You can hardly claim it is carnivorous, Anthony,” Loki criticised calmly, “merely violent."

"It has teeth and it’s going for a Tony snack. One way or another it's trying to eat me.”

“Would you like to swap creatures then?” Loki questioned over something that sounded like static. It was probably the bear doing its Thor impression. “Perhaps before more buildings begin to topple?”

Tony narrowed his eyes. “Was that a slight? You telling me I’m doing a bad job?”

“Certainly not, Anthony, the rubble missed those civilians by some inches.”

“Okay, can we leave the old married banter until you’re back at the tower?” Rhodey requested. “Seriously, Tony, we need to stop these guys.”

“I’m not actually just flying around doing nothing.” He flicked his eyes to his displays, listening to FRIDAY relay the position of any lingering people. “Is someone keeping an eye on Ace Ventura?”

“I seem to be a source of some fascination,” Loki informed, having managed to translate his reference. There was a slight strain to his voice though and another roar followed not long after. “She has been watching me for some time.”

Tony felt an irrational surge of annoyance. A rather large amount of concern too. “Why you?”

"I'm not sure," Loki answered, not taking the chance for arrogance - I am a God, Anthony, why would I not be watched? - like Tony had honestly expected. "But it is keeping her occupied. Please kindly deal with the worm and draw her attention from me. I wish to put this bear and the other creatures to sleep, but I will need Rhodes to distract them while I do so."

"Right, got it." Tony announced before switching over the comms to ask FRIDAY. "So, think a laser will cut it? Or do we think I'll end up like Hercules?"

"Adhering to worm physiology," FRIDAY answered, "if you cut above the clitellum, it will not be able to re-grow its lower form."

"Right, so, slice it across the neck. Can't be too hard, right?"

FRIDAY was good enough to ignore the fact that he'd spent the entirety of their conversation dodging the creature's mouth. It was persistent and he hadn't wanted to fly too high and make it turn its attention on something or someone else. It didn't look like he'd have a choice though, so Tony shot up, watching carefully as the worm tried to follow him but ran out of length.

He'd never heard a worm make a noise before, although, worms never had teeth as far as he knew either. This one bared them at Tony and made a sort of gruff wheeze. It wasn't overtly terrifying and Tony almost felt bad about pointing his laser at it.

"How long do you think it will take to chop off the head?"

"Some minutes. May I suggest a more explosive measure?"

"What? Raining worm guts, really?" But Tony was already changing his position as well as his arsenal. The laser was too impractical and torturous and he knew it. The worm also wasn’t likely to stand still and was really just a confused and angry animal; Tony didn't want to hurt it anymore than he had to.

"Alright," Tony pointed a missile at the oversized insect. It was crushing cars with its body in its attempts to slither nearer to Tony. "New plan,” he told FRIDAY. “Let's make Jeff open wide."

Tony made sure the nearby buildings would remain standing and that there were minimal civilians before he made that mouth try to nab him again - but instead of a crunchy Iron Man appetiser, the poor guy got a Stark Industries welcome basket.

He winced as the weapon had an instant effect. The worm had been forced to grow, but it hadn't become much denser than its smaller counterpart. It blew up like a bad microwave meal and Tony barely avoided being coated by some of the larger pieces.

"Loki," he switched back to the others while moving away from the fiery carcass. "Gonna need you to magic all those guts away somewhere. We can’t afford them being experimented with."

There was a brief pause. "You tell me this now?"

"Maybe pick up some flowers on your way home too, Honey," Tony suggested while zeroing in on the unhappy woman who'd caused the whole thing.

He heard Loki mutter something unflattering that sounded like it could be an Asgardian curse word, and he had FRIDAY make a note to look it up later. "Rhodey, you good to help Loki with the bear?"

"Sure. I'll just let go of these cars and make the rhino and bulls charge something else, will I?"

It took FRIDAY showing him a video from a nearby camera to understand what Rhodey was doing. There was a mangled blue car and a taxi on either side of him, he was holding them as careful shields between himself and the continually charging animals. Tony was honestly surprised they hadn't buckled yet.

"Maybe set up a red car, yell olé and skip out while they're busy?"

The huff of frustrated amusement through the line made Tony smile, but it didn't last long before he was forced to drop down in front of the unhappy villainess. He hadn't had a chance to physically look for Loki but the sounds of battle nearby and FRIDAY's readings comforted him.

"Don't look at me like that," he told the woman on her throne of mangled vehicles. "I told you to stop letting Jeff eat explosives."

"The way you waste life is atrocious. You have no right to inhabit this world."

"Lady," Tony answered, "I didn't unleash the worm in a place it could get people killed."

"You think they deserve life more than my creatures?" She gestured at the nearby buildings. "They, humans, are not worth the air they breathe!"

Tony blinked. "Uh, hate to break it to you, but you're just as human as the rest of us."

She glared at him so strongly that Tony was almost worried he might have been wrong about that. After all, what with the amount of super-powered assholes popping up, it would be just his luck that she could shoot something from her eyes.

"There are those beyond this Earth," she told him, “and there are those who perceive the true reason for their presence.”

It suddenly clicked. “Loki and Thor.” He frowned. “Wait. Are you saying you believe they’re here for a higher purpose?

She made a rotating gesture with her wrist, but her finger also kept twirling. A pained edge seemed to take over her mouth and her upper lip curled, revealing slightly gritted teeth. Was there blood in her mouth? He hadn’t thought anyone had touched her.

“They have a right to visit,” she told him. “They have a right to leave.” She smiled but her jaw was shuddering slightly, so was the rest of her. She looked like her body wasn’t coping with something. Tony could only stare at her with uncertainty. “And you, you, Mr Stark, have a right to die.”

She made a high-pitched sort of shout and thrust her hands at him. Nothing happened at first, but a few moments later every bird in the vicinity started dive bombing him, beaks and claws of multiple species scratching over his armour and making him wince as each scraping noise sounded like nails on a chalkboard.

He was trying to bat the things away while wishing he had some kind of gas he could leak from his suit to knock them out (and he made a note to look into that). He was so busy trying to get away from the whirlwind of feathers, that he didn’t hear the noise behind him. He didn’t notice anything until Rhodey shouted, “Tony!”

He jerked his head, trying to look around, but he didn’t have the chance to do anything as he was rammed from the side. He gasped and went flying, hitting the ground and skidding. The birds were scattered and he felt like a tank had collided with him rather than a rhino. The horn hadn’t pierced him, but considering the alterations to the animal’s genetic makeup that was probably due to nothing more than fucking luck.

Hello, cracked ribs, he thought with some small amount of agony as he pushed up onto his knees. It hurt like fuck, but there was nothing else to do about it.

The rhino was snorting and didn’t even make a threatening scrape of its foot; it simply started charging towards him again. Tony had been prepared to get out of its way when an alert buzzed a moment before a teleporting bull hit the ground and hit him. It head butted his shoulder, the horns scraping and nearly piercing his armour. He wasn’t so likely to avoid the rhino after that.

The creature got him right in the shoulder and sent him down the road to smash into a car and flip over the top of it. “Fuck,” he shouted, scraping and tumbling across the ground until he could get into an upright position.

It was like getting hit by three Mjölnir’s and Tony could see them setting up to go for him again. He wanted to make a quip, 'guess they found their matador', but his breath was already affected by the definite bruising he was going to be stuck with. He could also feel something bleeding near his wrist. He was fairly sure it was just superficial, but he’d have to be carefully taking the suit off.

He was preparing for the next attack when he heard Loki tell him sharply, “Do not move.”

It was slightly difficult to do with a bull and rhino heading right for him, but fuck, he trusted Loki. He may have squeezed one eye shut in a preparatory wince as they got closer, but the half-expected impact never came. They got about halfway from him when something green shimmered in the air and they both froze before dropping to the ground like rocks.

He stared at their limp forms with no small shock. “The hell?”

“I said no killing!” Rhodey snapped across the comms.

Tony winced as he got to his feet and made his way over to them. “I like not being a pincushion, so thanks, but this still isn’t going to look good for your publicity, Loki.”

Loki made an annoyed sound. “I did not kill them.”

Tony’s eyebrows rose even as he both visually and had FRIDAY confirm it. Their chests were rising and falling. “Huh. Sleep spell.” His mind started running away with possibilities. “Does that work on humans too?”

“Yes,” Loki answered, but with slight disappointment, “But I’m afraid our villainess has already dispersed with the use of her remaining bull.”

“Damn it,” Rhodey cursed. “I don’t like knowing she’s out there. FRIDAY, can you try to trace her?”

Tony let FRIDAY and Rhodey worry about the next step as he focused on Loki. “I was actually thinking about insomnia. Or even just a way to sleep tonight.” He brought a hand to his dented armour. “I’m going to need the good painkillers. Or a bottle of scotch. I like the scotch offer bet-”

Tony didn’t quite squeak, but it was close. His body was still half-poised for battle and having Loki teleport in front of him wasn’t actually good for making him distinguish friend from foe. He’d half raised his hand and charged the repulsor before realising who was there. “Shit, Loki. You-”

“Where are your injuries?” He demanded.

Tony blinked. “Uh, it’s okay; they’re kind of minor. Look, we have to clean up the worm bits and move the animals. Where are- hey!”

He tried to pull his arm back from where Loki had grabbed it but he only ended up wincing as it pulled his injured side. Loki made a dismissive gesture with his hand and it was extremely unsettling to find his armour carefully unlocking and pulling away from his body. Loki only let go of his forearm long enough to let the metal peel away from it before Loki was back to touching him.

“Uh, Loki,” Tony mumbled, but Loki was ignoring his words to eye him critically. His magic was swirling behind his eyes and leaking out of his fingertips. Tony shivered at the feeling and looked down, watching the wisps as they danced over his skin and buried into his wounds. They even hovered over the areas that hadn’t yet discoloured with bruises. Based off the way his body was no longer hurting; nothing would have bruises.

He slowly drew his gaze up to the mage, looking at that unfocused gaze as he dedicated himself to healing Tony. They were in the middle of a battlefield and Loki had dropped everything to make sure he was okay and it made him smile.

“Tony, you and Loki are on candid camera,” Rhodey told him tiredly, but with a thread of amusement in his voice. “Your alliance is well and truly publicised.”

Tony suddenly got an idea, it was probably a stupid as fuck one, but it made him laugh imagining Thor’s face. What was a better way to throw a giant middle finger at a warrior culture?

“Hey Lokes?” Loki blinked a little, coming out of his magic-based trance. Tony smiled, keeping his face relaxed and aiming for something vaguely besotted as he moved in closer. “Thanks for the, what would you call it, boon of healing?”

Loki looked a little uncertain at the minimising distance. “You’re my ally.” He didn’t take his eyes away from Tony, trying to puzzle him out even as he asked, “Rhodes are you-”

“The world’s watching, Loki,” Tony interrupted with a smirk before he pushed up on his toes to murmur, “Let’s give Thor something to be horrified about.”

Loki’s eyes widened minutely. He caught on to what Tony was about to do moments before he pressed their lips together in a soft kiss. He brought his hand up to the back of Loki’s neck and arched himself closer, his laughing smile only widening as Loki’s hand automatically came forward to steady his lower back.

“Oh, fucking, great,” he heard Rhodey huff into the comms. “Tony, you make life so much more difficult than it needs to be. I can hear the voice messages I am being left by my superiors from here.”

Tony pulled back from Loki’s stiff mouth to laugh and tell Rhodey. “I’ve been a hero and saving the day for fucking years; it’s about time I get to kiss a Prince for it.” He smirked at Loki’s carefully masked expression and winked. “Well, publically at least.”

Rhodey just groaned. “Oh god, save your fake relationship for a time when there isn’t worm guts everywhere. People are going to start flocking here soon. Loki, can you please clean up the mess? I know it’s probably tempting to play your games with the public but can we do national security first?”

Tony sighed and pouted and gave Loki a smacking kiss on the cheek to finish before dropping back down and letting go of his neck. Loki was still holding his back and eyeing him with an expression the public would see as wryly amused but what Tony could look behind and read for the ‘what the fuck??’ it actually was.

“We’re dating remember,” Tony clarified, “public displays of affection are kind of meant to be a thing.”

“I did not expect you to kiss me,” Loki hissed slightly.

“But just imagine Thor’s face when he sees us do it! And after a battle too; the most sacred of times,” Tony’s eyes glinted with malicious glee. “Hah! Can you just-”

“Crow. Later,” Rhodey snapped. “The bear is starting to twitch.”

Loki moved away from Tony after hearing Rhodey’s comment. He had moved past his surprise and was back to simply shaking his head at Tony’s antics. He was smiling though, so that was a good thing. “Don your armour once more, Anthony.” He looked over his shoulder and swiped a hand through the air, causing the rhino and bull to disappear from sight. “They will reside in your tower, for now.”

“Always wanted a menagerie,” Tony quipped.

He expected a swipe to the head when Loki raised his hand, he did not expect Loki’s fingers to slide through the sweaty strands at the back in something not unlike a caress. “I shall remember that for the anniversary of our year, shall I, darling?”

Tony blinked, slightly startled at the touch and the pet name, but the single look in those dancing eyes made him relax with understanding. God of Mischief. He’d thrown Loki with the kiss, of course he had. Loki wasn’t in the closet, but he was damn well used to hiding there - but now that he was on board? Now that he was aware of what Tony would let them do? All bets were off.

Hell, it would probably become like the early stages of their quasi-flirting. It was all about one-upmanship.

But Tony didn’t try to play the game right now, because Rhodey just might kill them if they started making out just because they were trying to out-gay the other. He still smiled, letting the edges of it go soft. “I won’t need a gift, I’ll just need you.”

It was sappy, it was painfully sappy, but Loki looked reluctantly charmed. He still rolled his eyes, but Tony was damn sure the mage had also gained some colour to his cheeks.

He pulled his hand from Tony’s hair and gestured at the suit. “This should not take long. Go join Rhodes; I will be with you both shortly.”

Loki didn’t wait for a reply as he started walking, fading into gold and green as he did. When he stepped back into the suit, FRIDAY informed him of just where and what Loki was doing, but Tony trusted Loki to take care of himself. They’d still need to discuss who the woman was and what to do with the enhanced animals, not to mention work out how they were enhanced - but that could come later.

Honestly, he was far more interested in the fifty-four forwarded messages he’d already received about the battle, Loki, the kiss and, oh yeah, Loki. There was also a curt voicemail from Pepper explaining that they had a press conference scheduled for tomorrow morning to deal with the fallout of their ‘impetuous decision to involve Loki’.

It made him grin and take to the air with an added twist of flare as he began planning their performance. He had to wonder just what it would cost him to get Loki into a suit and tie. Specifically, into a tie that Tony was well known for wearing.

Some magic-ed up love bites high on Tony’s neck would be good too.

After all, there was nothing like giving the entirely wrong impression in the utterly best way.

Chapter Text

For all that Loki had gotten used to Anthony’s ease with his sexuality he still hadn’t anticipated and was fairly stunned when the other man had kissed him. Loki hadn’t known what to think in those few short moments before Anthony had explained.

His thoughts had been derailed momentarily by the action, sticking and holding onto two thoughts as their mouths remained connected; his goatee is not unpleasant and the ever more concerning he’s smiling. People didn’t smile when they expressed such affection for Loki. While some of the Elves that he’d bedded had laughed and teased him, they were not forbidden from such passions and so could take a more light-hearted approach. It just... wasn’t the same with Anthony. Where they enjoyed their dalliances with any man, Anthony’s smile had been an honest, specific thing; Anthony’s smile had been for him. Anthony had been happy to kiss Loki.

When Anthony had clarified, it all made sense, of course. The public nature of the decree had been too much for Anthony to resist and he’d been amused at all the scenarios he could see unfolding. Loki should have expected it, he should have known in moments what Anthony had intended and why; because Anthony was fiercely protective of his friends. He was a true mischief maker and prone to overdramatic and visual displays. Loki could understand every nuance of the meaning behind the mortal’s actions.

It didn’t mean he quite knew how to handle it.

Well, he had continued the ruse. He’d had little choice and he also hadn’t wished to throw away such a delightful way of revealing their relationship. So he’d run his fingers through Anthony’s hair in an affectionate gesture that seemed to bemuse Anthony and further confirmed what the public would now believe.

Loki wasn’t offended by what had happened, he merely had trouble accepting it. Anthony was an admired, coveted, unattached hero of Midgard who was known for his relations with women and he had kissed Loki; a publically known war criminal as well as a man. He’d known Anthony was prepared to portray a homosexual relationship but even he had fostered doubts at the extent to which he would perpetrate it.

He’d need to speak to him about that, in depth, but Loki knew it wasn’t the time. A part of him also wanted to analyse the touch, the moment, the feel of Anthony’s back against his palm - but he had far more important things to focus on. He needed to remove the pieces of the worm as well as the remaining animals. FRIDAY was already relaying the arrival of government bodies and curious onlookers. Loki needed to act quickly and he left Rhodes and Tony in order to do so.

Loki was well used to cleaning up the mess of others and he quickly shifted the location of everything until it was either contained in Anthony’s tower or held in his pocket dimension until he knew where it was best to send it. He wasn’t sure if Anthony would wish to examine the worm remains and while Loki couldn’t sense any magic on it, he knew Anthony had different methods he might wish to explore.

When he was done, Loki intended to burn what was left.

It was peculiar though. When he’d been smoothing over the destruction caused by Thor and his brainless warriors, it always made Loki feel frustration and fury. With Anthony, he only found himself vaguely amused by the other’s actions - Rhodes’ too. Although there was far less to contend with from the Colonel.

He didn’t have long to ponder the difference between the Aesir and the mortals as FRIDAY warned him, somewhat unnecessarily, of the approaching police officers with their weapons raised. He didn’t look at them, nor did he linger, he scanned the city, going metres outside the blast radius to be certain, before teleporting himself to Anthony and Rhodes.

“Did you even think-” Rhodes stopped mid sentence as Loki appeared beside the bear and made both men turn to stare at him from under their masks. “Loki,” Rhodes automatically changed tracks, “the worm’s dealt with?”

Loki was intrigued to discover what they’d been discussing and had so abruptly ended (although he could guess), but decided to ask Anthony later if it proved important. “Yes. I’ve stored it magically for now, but we will either need to discard it on another planet or somewhere in Anthony’s tower.”

Anthony grimaced. “I vote other planet.”

“I vote we discuss this back at the tower.” Rhodes nodded at some approaching vans. “SHIELD’s not going to be happy you kept the carcass from them.”

“Of course,” Anthony spat, fury sparking to life and coiling low and dangerous under his words. “They’ll be pissed we didn’t just give it to them to fuck with.”

Loki slanted his eyes to Anthony’s armoured form, but he couldn’t see his face and therefore couldn’t read anything further into his emotionally growled words. He held his tongue on the subject, but made a note to enquire later. He had sensed a tension between Anthony and SHIELD even during his invasion, he didn’t know if it was a long-standing bitterness or something new, something more related to what had severed him from the Avengers. His curiosity was constantly piqued as to what that reason was, but he knew the value of patience. He also knew the value of Anthony and he wasn’t about to jeopardise their alliance, their friendship for the answer to an otherwise irrelevant question.

Anthony would tell him when it became necessary and he would simply wait until then.

Moving his hand through the air, Loki sent the sleeping bear to the tower to join the others. It was the last of the creatures and Loki made his way forward. “Shall we enact a quick departure before they question us?”

He couldn’t see Anthony’s face but the change in posture indicated that he’d brightened. “Hell yes! Who needs to fly when you can teleport?

Anthony stepped up and close to him, making Loki bit down on the smile that wanted to form at Anthony’s enthusiasm. He dragged his eyes away from the other to look at Rhodes. “Will you join us?”

Rhodes let out a chuckle but still walked the suit closer. “When else am I going to get to teleport just for fun?”

He stopped beside Loki and raised a hand, hovering it in the air uncertainly as he asked, “What do you need?”

“Any contact will be fine,” Loki explained and the weight of the suit’s gauntlet fell on his shoulder.

He turned to encourage Anthony to do the same but was greeted to the sight of Anthony’s hand being revealed as he retracted the suit up to his wrist. He also flipped up the faceplate so that he could grin widely at Loki as his hand grasped Loki’s own, linking their fingers before Loki could even blink. He also shuffled closer, almost leaning the suit against Loki’s side as he said, “Well, beam us up, honey.”

Loki didn’t understand the reference, but he heard Rhodes snort. He forced his eyes to hold Anthony’s and not to look down. The heat from Anthony’s palm was contrasting with the naturally cool temperature of his own. It was nice, but he couldn’t let it show.

“‘Honey’, Anthony? Must you choose such deplorable descriptions?”

His grin just widened. “I could call you snugglebums?”

“Please,” Loki grimaced, “do not.”

Anthony just laughed at his expression and Loki took the moment to send out his magic and twist it around the three of them, sending them swiftly and safely into the sanctity of the penthouse. Anthony let out a sigh when they arrived, his eyes closing as if he’d experienced something blissful. Loki was captivated; he didn’t look away even as Rhodes started removing his armour. “You’re in trouble now, Loki. He’s going to be asking for you to chauffer him everywhere.”

Anthony’s eyes flew open only to narrow at Rhodes. “Oh, come on, Rhodey. Don’t you feel the way it fucking covers you?” He turned to Loki before back to Rhodes, darting his eyes between them as if he wasn’t sure who was best to focus on. “The magic, it’s just... it feels nice, okay? I never really noticed it the other times you did magic on me, but it just...” Anthony looked like he was struggling for words, Loki on the other hand was torn between surprise and something almost discomforting. “It’s like the magic is happy? Does that make any sense?”

Far too much, Loki thought with a nervous dread forming in his stomach.

His magic was a part of him; his magic was an extension of him. They were one in the same, but his magic was almost sentient, a manifestation of his subconscious and it had decided it liked Anthony. Of course it liked Anthony, Loki liked Anthony. He already held strong affection for the man for accepting him but Anthony also adored his magic and people who did that were few and far between.

Loki just hoped his magic was as aware of the fake nature of their relationship as the rest of Loki was. Otherwise, there could be more complications than Loki wanted to explain, even to someone as forgiving and understanding as Anthony.

“Loki?” Anthony queried, having climbed out of his suit and sent it somewhere for FRIDAY to look after. How long had he been thinking? “You’ve got a nice little scowl going there.” He looked a little nervous. “Is the magic doing that to me a bad thing?”

“No,” Loki dismissed swiftly. “I was just... surprised. Most people would not notice such a thing.”

“Like me?” Rhodes questioned, sounding vaguely put out, but Loki shook his head.

“It is due to the nature of my alliance with Anthony,” in a manner of speaking, “and you will not experience the same things because of this.”

“Oooh,” Anthony looked gleeful, “I’m just special-

“Boss,” FRIDAY Interjected, “Miss Potts is insistent she speak to you. She’s instigating every protocol she has access to in a demand to discuss recent events.”

The words made Anthony sigh, as if all the enjoyment had been sucked out of him with that single breath. “Fuck. I better deal with this.” He pointed at them both. “I will be back to discuss the awesome that is your magic crushing on me.”

“It is not crushing,” Loki protested fiercely but Anthony was already walking away, he did turn just long enough to flash the most arrogant and amused smirk as well as a wink before he entered his bedroom to take the call.

“Infuriating mortal,” Loki grumbled, completely forgetting he wasn’t alone until Rhodes spoke.

“Loki?” He didn’t startle physically, but he did wince slightly before turning to the other. They hadn’t been alone together during their acquaintance, Anthony was always there looking on and interjecting himself. Loki was uncertain of just what the other would wish to speak to him about.

Anthony? The alliance? His feats in battle? Rhodes had seemed unconcerned about his sexuality and the ruse Anthony and he were perpetuating - but what else would the man wish to discuss with him? It had been but mere hours since Rhodes had learned of the reasons behind their fabricated relationship.

He would have questions, it was unavoidable. Loki just hoped they were ones he could answer and that, if he did, that the Colonel would accept them.

“Yes?” he enquired, somewhat cautiously.

Rhodes gestured vaguely to encompass the tower. “What did you do with animals? You said they were here?”

Ah, yes. A man of order and priorities, Loki knew how to speak about such things as that. He conjured the tablet Anthony had gifted him with. “FRIDAY, if you may; a display of the floor used for my magic?” The AI followed his order as he spun the image for the Colonel to see. “They will remain sleeping until such time as we decide on their fate.”

Rhodes took the tablet and began flicking through life signs and other facts that FRIDAY had been cataloguing. “We’ll need to see if we can figure out what she did to them.”

“I concur. I plan to scan them in more depth and I’m sure Anthony will conduct his own studies.”

“Let me know what you find, yeah?” Rhodes glanced up and received a nod. “I don’t know what we’re going to do with them though.”

“I was contemplating sending them off-world.” Rhodes raised his eyebrows. “I have an associate who specialises on strange creatures; usually the bastard creations of badly performed spells. She may be able to reverse their afflictions or help them control their new abilities.” He tilted his head. “Asgard may accept the rhinoceros; they are always endeared to beasts of battle.”

“Oh yeah, give it to the assholes who treated you like shit.”

Loki shrugged the criticism away. “Their interaction with me is immaterial; the Aesir take great pride in their animals. He would be well looked after.”

Rhodes winced. “Don’t tell Tony that.”

Loki was curious. “Oh, why?”

“Because I’m annoyed enough knowing they’d treat animals better than you.” Loki barely kept his wince hidden and had to try hard to suppress his thought; a Jotun is an animal. “But Tony will be furious.” Rhodes shut off the tablet and tossed it on the nearby couch. “Don’t underestimate what Tony will do for his friends if he thinks they’ve been mistreated.”

Loki forcible dragged his mind away from his heritage and to the other more immediate issue as he answered, “I believe fabricating a romantic relationship with me is an impressive indication.”

I think kissing me in front of his world, giving up an opportunity to take an actual lover and tying himself to me of all people speaks more than enough.

It was against his better judgement that Loki’s mind flashed back to the feel of Anthony against him, their lips brushing and that firm body under his hands. He wondered if Anthony would be one to laugh and smile during sex. Would his lithe body arch into Loki’s? Would he sit in Loki’s lap as he forced Anthony to bring them both to completion without Loki’s assistance?

Norns, he hissed and shoved the images far to the back of his mind. He wished he was alone and able to pinch his nose, but he couldn’t, not with the Colonel before him and liable to ask questions.

“Yeah, on that,” Rhodes spoke, and the subject change felt like ice creeping down Loki’s spine after the turn of his thoughts regarding a friend. “Tony kissed you, in front of everyone.”

He paused, as if testing Loki for a response - a reaction?

But, no, Rhodes knew nothing of his dreams, nothing of his thoughts, and they could be nothing more than battle lust, he was sure. They were just an aberration due to the kiss taking place at such a highly emotional time. Rhodes must have been thinking logically; he was a warrior sizing up a situation. Sizing up the risk to his friend.

Loki could only try to assure him.

“I am certain my mere association - regardless of any romantic leanings - would have brought a storm to Anthony’s door. I have no doubt he will weather it well. He is well loved among your people. It was also, as you are aware, his decision to express our association in such a-”

“Yeah, Loki,” Rhodes cut in, “I’m not worried about Tony. He can take care of himself. A gay fling with a supervillain might be a bigger headline than he’s gained in a while, but homosexuality is pretty ‘in’ at the moment.”

Loki could only blink throughout the other’s reply; homosexuality was... popular? He couldn’t quite fathom it. “Then I do not...?”

“I’m asking are you okay?” Loki was confused and he didn’t even try to stop it from showing. Rhodes elaborated. “He just outed you, and pretty damn publically too. Tony can get carried away and forget to notice not everyone is comfortable with the direction he’s run down.” Rhodes tilted his chin determinedly. “If he pushed too hard, too fast-”

Loki barked out a laugh. “Are you planning to chastise him for me?”

Rhodes didn’t flinch or lose the sternness to his expression. “I am if he made you do something that you didn’t want to. Your world is different to ours; your circumstances are different to Tony’s. A sudden jump into a rainbow spotlight can’t be easy.”

Loki chuckled, feeling warmth flare in his chest at the concern from a man he barely knew, at the worry from a mortal who would consider his feelings - his; a bastard ergi Jotun who had invaded Rhodes’ very world.

“Your concern is appreciated, Rhodes,” Loki told him firmly, yet gently. “But I assure you it was never my discomfort that kept my relations among the shadows," He smiled, but it was slightly bitter and he didn't even try to hide it, not among someone who had cared enough to ask. "Had I a lover who would do as Anthony did and had our lives not been in jeopardy for the very action? There would be no place on Asgard that would not know of my claim, and theirs.”

“Okay,” Anthony suddenly spoke into the brief silence, making Loki jerk his attention to the other. “I’m getting the overwhelming urge to let you fuck me over some Asgardian soap box. I think they could use the public service announcement.”

Loki’s hitched breath in reaction to the words and the vivid imagery that filled his mind was hidden behind Rhodes groan and argument, “Public sex is not the answer, Tony.”

“Public sex is a fabulous answer,” Anthony disagreed but he also slanted his eyes to Loki. “Unless that’s a little too open for you?” He also sent Rhodes a quick, grateful smile before turning back to Loki. “I am glad that I don’t have to be punched for the kiss though, because we need to make out in front of Thor, it’s kind of really important to my bucket list.”

The question was on the tip of his tongue; you would truly sleep with me, if I said yes? But Loki swallowed it back down, he found himself shying from the answer. He couldn’t imagine Anthony saying anything but ‘no’.

Loki tried to shake the thoughts off and occupied himself with removing his battle-armour and sliding into more comfortable clothes. He would still need a bath, but this would do for now. Anthony has a large shower; large enough for two.

Loki brought a hand to pinch his nose before sliding his fingers up to rub his forehead. He let that small weakness show, he couldn’t stop himself. He simply needed the moment to collect his wandering thoughts.

A throat clearing made him drop his hand to see Anthony’s mouth in a grimace that was trying for a smile. “Right, well. Different note. Press conference tomorrow morning. Peppers’s mad, but let’s look at the brighter side of things. FRIDAY?”

The AI flicked on the television and all three of them turned to watch the cycling news reports of the battle and their kiss. Loki, it seemed, was the main source of confusion as reports filed in of him protecting civilians and kissing Iron Man. It was almost amusing if Loki’s eyes weren’t constantly drawn to the image of Tony’s mouth pressed to his own and his smile obvious at even the most obscure camera angle.

“You’re going to have to do some massive damage control, Tony,” Rhodes commented.

“Nah,” Anthony dismissed, “we’ve just got to show them that SHIELD and Thor lied. Once they see Loki’s a good guy who was fucked over, they’ll be all over him. The public forgave Bucky Barnes and Wanda Maximoff; they’ll forgive Loki.” Anthony flashed Loki a smile. “The world also loves a good romance story.”

Loki shook his head faintly, but Rhodes was the one who spoke, “Well, I guess it’s time for me to get out of here.” They turned to him and while he looked slightly rueful, he was also smiling, “Convincing the government to jump on your side now is going to take a bit of wiggling.” He sighed. “Probably all night.” He made his way back to the suit. “Have FRIDAY keep me apprised of anything I need to know, especially any angles you plan to work with the public and I’ll make sure to be there.”

“Rhodey,” Anthony told him seriously, “you’re a burger after a bad day.”

Loki raised his eyebrows, but Rhodey seemed oddly pleased at the comparison.

“Crazy asshole,” he told him affectionately before sliding into the suit. “Try to keep him in line, yeah, Loki?”

“I am a God, but even I cannot create all miracles.”

“Hey!” Anthony growled and punched Loki in the chest while Rhodes just laughed.

He lifted the suit off the ground, said a final farewell and flew out the glass door that FRIDAY opened for him. They watched Rhodes until he became nothing more than a dot in the sky.

“You were okay with the kiss, right?” Anthony asked into the quiet, sounding generally worried about his comfort.

Loki knew it was ridiculous, he recognised it the second the impulse occurred, but he simply couldn’t resist. He turned, watching Anthony match his movements until they were face to face. He darted his hand out and caught Anthony’s chin and dragged him forward, giving him no time to react as he pressed their mouths together in a single, chaste press. He lingered for a few seconds before he pulled back, still maintaining his hold.

“Yes, Anthony,” he told the mortal, his voice at a slightly lower registered as he held that warm, chocolate gaze and practically purred, “I did not mind.”

Anthony’s lips parted slightly and something shifted behind his eyes, but before they could explore it further, before something not unlike the moment they shared before the battle could sweep back around them, FRIDAY was speaking. “Boss, there is a visitor.”

Anthony blinked and frowned. “What?” he shifted his head but didn’t pull out of Loki’s hold. “Who the hell did you let in?”

“I apologise Boss, but you had requested a lack of notification on his movements while also maintaining his clearance to all floors.” Anthony’s eyes widened and his mouth fell open for an entirely different reason: shock.

Something like genuine happiness seemed to fill his expression, he seemed to forget the position they were in and it made something flare unhappy and jealous in the pit of Loki’s stomach over who had gained such a reaction.

“Where is he? When will he-”

The elevator made a noise and the doors receded. They both turned; Loki’s hand was lax and malleable but still cupping Anthony’s face. Their placement was obvious, the intent unmistakable and Anthony’s complete dismissal of it for the arrival of Bruce Banner even more noticeable.

Loki felt something cold flood his chest, something hurt and vaguely spiteful as he looked at the man whose eyes were wide and posture awkward. He had a fairly weathered bag hanging from his hand and looked tired beyond measure.

“Erm,” he mumbled, “I didn’t mean to interrupt something.”

Anthony pulled away from his grasp and almost ran across the room to Dr Banner. He wrapped the other man in a hug, almost making the Doctor fall. Loki clenched his fist and scowled darkly.

He had no excuse; Anthony was not his lover, Anthony was nothing more than his friend, but in that moment he despised Bruce Banner. He despised the man who was close enough to Anthony to be greeted with such an unrestrained show of real affection.

Bruce Banner received a hug and Loki’s magic was straining under his skin just wishing to smite the man for being favoured enough to gain it.

Chapter Text

Tony held onto Bruce for a long time.

It only took the other a few moments before his arms came around Tony’s back and he returned the gesture. It was careful and hesitant, but it was still genuine. While Tony knew it didn’t mean everything was peaches and fucking cream between them, he still found himself clinging to his faith in the other. He knew Bruce hadn’t been involved with what had happened - and God, that was more than he could say for a lot of people right now. Bruce had been in the wind, whether or not he would have sided with the Avengers was still an open verdict, but for now, for five fucking minutes, Tony had his friend, his Science Bro back

“Dr Banner,” Loki spoke, his voice only a few degrees warmer than freezing point and it made Tony wince, “what a delightful surprise.”

Tony could feel Bruce go stiff in his arms, but Tony refused to relinquish the hold. “Loki,” he chastised, without looking at the demi-god, “give him the benefit of the doubt, yeah?”

“And his timing does not seem suspiciously useful to you, dear Anthony?” He hadn’t heard footsteps but he did hear Loki’s voice get closer and Tony pulled back slightly to peer over his shoulder. Loki’s eyes were narrowed and fastened on Bruce.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have come...” Bruce started, moving to pull away but Tony clung fast. “Tony.”

“Nope. It’s about time my mean, green, fighting machines got to know each other.”

Bruce sighed wearily, but Tony could still hear the small but as of yet unsquashable fondness in his voice. “Tony.”

It was too bad Loki had to coldly interject, “I see your complete absence from Anthony’s life has not made you unaware of the movements inside it. When exactly had you become aware of myself? I notice you don’t seem overly surprised.”

Tony was about to glare at him, but Bruce was already responding. His tone was calm, pleasant, but with an edge underneath. It was the hostility and strength that lingered even without the Other Guy present. “I didn’t know before I got here. And I could be on a deserted island and news of a war criminal would still show up.”

“Technically cleared,” Tony chimed in quickly, but not fast enough to stop Loki’s, “Are you speaking of yourself as well perchance?”

Tony did turn at that, narrowing his eyes at the mage and snapping a warning, “Loki!

He didn’t look happy about it, but Loki gave a small nod, acknowledging the misstep. When Tony turned back to Bruce he found the other was looking between them with a curious if slightly uncertain frown. He also slowly began untangling himself from Tony again. This time Tony grudgingly allowed it. “I think I might just-”

“No ‘just’ that is a rude ‘just’,” Tony argued. “You can’t just come and go like that. I’ll be offended, grave offence will be taken. You have to stay for a drink.” He gestured in the direction of the bar. “FRIDAY - tea, kettle, make a cup of something horrid for Bruce to enjoy.”

“Yeah, that’s going to keep me here,” Bruce told him around a grin, but it soon faded as his gaze flicked back to Loki. “I didn’t know he was here when I came back to New York I don’t... I don’t think it’s good for anyone if we’re both in the tower. I’ll just,” he pointed over his shoulder, “leave you guys to... erm.” He cleared his throat. “I’ll just leave.”

“No, you should stay,” Tony persisted, carefully following Bruce’s movements in a circular dance that put him between the Doctor and the elevator. It also put Bruce between Tony and Loki, but Bruce quickly corrected that, making sure to have them both in sight at all times. Tony could see Bruce’s decision forming roots not even he could change, so he hurriedly tossed out his trump card like a grenade, hoping it wouldn’t blow up in his face - hoping he’d gambled right with his friend. “Seriously, Bruce, I could use your help, and I don’t have a lot of people I can trust right now.”

Bruce’s mouth opened and his eyes widened, but it only took a few moments for his shoulders to slump. A depressed resignation also quickly took over. “I heard about that too, Tony.”

“Oh?” He did his best to hide the tension mounting in his muscles. “The how, the when, or the why?”

“The who.” He corrected, “Public channels weren’t exactly talking about the rest of it.”

“Yeah,” Tony admitted, privately uncurling over the fact he couldn’t catch a lie in Bruce about that. Well, so far. “Not a lot of people have been hearing about everything else.”

Bruce’s expression said he wouldn’t pry, but his eyes were something else entirely. Loki was also standing a distance away, his unhappiness at Bruce’s presence obvious, but his almost physical desire for information about what had happened was outweighing any objections he might have normally been offering.

What’s a little betrayal bonding between once enemies?

Tony sighed and wondered how this was going to go and just how favourable their sides and opinions would turn out to be. A part of him didn’t want to explain it, a part of him was still worried he’d hear ‘give them a break, Tony’ or ‘You’re overreacting, Tony’. He just wanted someone to find out and still be on his side. Was that too much to ask?

He didn’t know, but if there was anyone who might understand him, it would probably be the two men in front of him.

“Stay in the tower tonight, Bruce. Help us figure out what’s been altered in the animals we just fought and,” he swallowed slightly, “and I’ll tell you both a little bedtime story.”

Loki was watching him sharply, probably analysing every facet of his expression, countenance and wording. Bruce was far more uncertain about the offer, but he didn’t have the same invested interest that Loki did. Sure, Bruce would be curious and upset over how the team had splintered, but Loki had been actively holding his intrigue at bay. Tony knew Loki could have used numerous avenues to discover what he wanted, but he’d refrained - and that more than anything else deserved the truth.

Bruce also needed to know in order to prove himself. As much as Tony hated having to test his friends, it was better than the alternative. Right now he had Loki, he had Rhodey, and with Vision still up in the air - it left him with a pitifully small friend pool to draw on.

He’d like to have Bruce back beside him, not even to fight on his side - he didn’t want the Hulk, didn’t care if Bruce never wanted to green-up again. He just wanted his friend.

And if he got that? Well, he’d want to keep Bruce in the tower; not only for his own benefit and Bruce’s protection, but because he wanted a chance for Bruce and Loki to get to know each other - to get along. He loved that Loki and Rhodey were becoming fast friends and he wanted a chance to explain, to lay everything that happened to Loki out for Bruce. He liked to think the two of them could get along with the right setting.

After all, Loki had done his territorial panther act to Rhodey and look at how far they’d come! He was certain it could happen with Bruce and Loki too. Well, as long as Loki’s snipes didn't get Bruce defensive enough to draw out the Hulk. The last thing Tony’s friendships goals needed was Loki being used as a redecorating agent again. It might serve Loki right, but it still wasn’t something Tony wanted to have happen.

“I really shouldn’t stay Tony,” Bruce quietly murmured, and this time his eyes didn’t even drift to Loki. “I’m not the best face to have around.” His words were all self-deprecation; there wasn’t even any shame in his voice at admitting it, just tiredness. “You’ve got enough to worry about.”

Tony narrowed his eyes. “I think that’s my choice to make.” He could feel his spine and shoulders tensing with righteous anger. “And it wasn’t your fault. It was hers.” His eyes flicked to Loki briefly, apologetically, before telling Bruce. “No one blamed Clint; no one should blame us when it was out of our control.”

Loki shifted, Tony could see it from the corner of his eye even when he was focusing his attention on Bruce - willing Bruce to believe him despite knowing it wasn’t about to work. Bruce could be just as stubborn as he was, especially about any damage the Hulk caused. Tony was gearing up for another attempt when Loki surprised him by talking.

“This would be the young, what was it, Scarlet Witch.” He snorted. “I would not call her a user of seidr, but energy she does possess.” He eyed Bruce critically. “I have read reports of the debacle, I,” his mouth twisted slightly, “watched a portion of it from my previous position. I would not call any of those who she affected worthy of blame.”

A part of that was news to Tony. “You watched?

Loki lifted his shoulder in a one-armed shrug. “I grew bored and the destruction of your world was not, even then, something I was relishing.”

“And the invasion of New York?” Bruce asked critically.

“Surprisingly not a bag of cats,” Tony chimed in, making Loki frown uncertainly and a sliver of a smile twitch at Bruce’s mouth. “The invasion wasn’t his call and he tried to help us. Seriously, Bruce; lots for you to catch up on,” he grinned, “so, it’s all the more reason for you to stay.”

Bruce’s smile finally broke through, warm and softly amused. “Tony.”

Bruce,” Tony persisted while stepping closer. He stopped right before the Doctor and told him. “I really want you to stay. Just a night?” He widened his eyes deliberately. “Please? Brucie? Come on? For me?”

Bruce tilted his head back slightly, staring at the ceiling and sighing again, only more loudly. Tony couldn’t stop his grin; he knew he’d won. When Bruce looked back he’d toned down his smile as best he could, but Bruce still saw right through him. “One night,” he allowed, although a bit of his good humour swiftly drained away. “I can’t stay longer, Tony, not when,” he flicked his eyes to Loki before back to Tony, “not when people will be watching you.”

People. Right. More like one person. Tony wanted to ask about the clusterfuck that was Natasha so badly that he almost bit his tongue keeping the words in. Tony knew it wasn’t the right time - he knew there were more important things to talk about; Loki, S.H.I.E.L.D., the Animal Whisperer and hell, Thanos - Bruce probably didn’t even know about him yet. Natasha could wait.

“Right,” Tony agreed, nodding, but already planning to wear down Bruce’s resistance. “One night, got it.”

Bruce narrowed his eyes. “I mean it, Tony.”

“Right,” Tony nodded while reaching down and snagging Bruce’s backpack and walking towards the bar. “Totally got it, FRIDAY, you heard the man, twenty-four hours, start a clock.”

Tony,” Bruce grumbled, knowing him far too well.

Placing the bag on one of the seats, Tony turned and eyed the two men in his penthouse. Bruce was standing with lines of discomfort prevalent in his posture, but Loki was far more subtle; his back was straight while his sharp eyes were assessing them both as his hands rested together behind his back.

He was a study in perfect nonchalance.

He was also a liar and probably only just keeping himself from clawing Bruce’s eyes out because he was too dignified to show he was getting jealous. Tony had to bite down on a smile. Mine couldn’t be more clearly stamped under his skin, desperate to break out.

Idly, Tony wondered what would happen if he hugged Bruce again. Would Loki try to pull them apart? No, he thought, he’d be more likely to leave. The thought made Tony sigh a little; he could see it too - a snapped comment that didn’t hide how insecure Loki actually was about Tony friendship (and Tony ignored the fact he also had his own bucketload of insecurities there too). Tony was still trying to build him up into believing that Tony genuinely liked him and wasn’t going to get bored, but he was working against a thousand years of prejudice, Tony wasn’t even sure if he was going to live long enough to actually succeed.

He could try though.

“Anybody want a drink? I could use a drink. Bruce?” He shifted behind the bar as he asked, knowing Bruce would say no and hearing the soft confirmation while keeping his eyes on Loki. “Lokes?” He waited until those green eyes were on him before he smiled and held them. “You want something?”

I haven’t forgotten about you, you idiot. You’re still on my priority list.

Loki didn’t seem to be accepting it though and looked ready to deny him just for the sake of his hurt pride. Tony almost rolled his eyes, but instead he answered for the mage. “A scotch sounds about right.” He pulled out two glasses without waiting for a response and casually filled them with ice and alcohol. He looked back up at Loki when the practiced motion was finished and nudged the glass along the counter. Loki didn’t move any nearer. “Come on, Lokes.” He smirked slightly, “I don’t give the good stuff to just anyone.”

Loki deliberated for a few seconds more but he let out an annoyed huff when Tony lightly shook his own glass in temptation.

“I didn’t request your infernal drink,” he grumbled but still came over to the bar and went to grab it. Tony darted his hand down and pressed his palm over the top of Loki's and making the mage startle and look down. His eyes were quick to come back up and Tony leant close. The move itself didn’t have to be inherently sexual or romantic, but Tony wasn’t unaware of what Bruce had walked in on before and about exactly what lie they were perpetrating. “Lovers are meant to interpret each other’s needs,” Tony whispered making Loki raise an eyebrow. Tony just grinned and added, louder, “And friends don’t let friends drink alone.”

Loki scoffed; he didn’t seem to be able to help it, but he was also smiling - minutely. Tony removed his hand from the other's, feeling more cheerful when the tension unwound from Loki’s posture as he brought the drink to his mouth for a sip.

When he looked back to Bruce, he found the Doctor had been watching it all with careful consideration - but that his focus had been given almost exclusively to Loki. It made Tony feel a sudden, instinctive urge to protect the mage. And it was a fucking ridiculous urge he kept having, especially considering how powerful and nigh indestructible Loki was, but seeing him with his back to Bruce, his back to the Hulk - it just set Tony’s teeth on edge.

Bruce didn’t know the whole story, didn’t know what had happened to Loki and until he did, Tony wasn’t going to be leaving them alone in a room.

He knew Bruce wouldn’t hurt Loki out of spite and that Loki wouldn’t provoke Bruce without reason, but there was still a hell of a lot of ground for argument between them if Tony wasn’t careful. The thought made him want to rub a hand over his face at the sheer monumental task he had in front of him. He didn’t, but it was still a near thing.

“How long have you guys been together?” Bruce suddenly asked into the quiet.

Tony barely had time to open his mouth before Loki was turning; he placed his back to the bar, himself on a seat, and made it the work of three graceful steps. The way that Loki was holding himself, it made Tony blink for a moment of confusion before he realised what was off about it; his body was curved towards Tony. Well, maybe not physically but there was an open awareness and relaxation at how close Tony was. Couples did it all the time, and it seemed Loki was happily playing up their romance for Bruce. It was possible he was also screaming a level of back the fuck off, but Tony was choosing to ignore that part - mostly because the idea of him and Bruce in bed together made Tony want to break out in completely unmanly giggles.

“We’ve been allies for a few months,” Tony began, but Loki just had to jump right in there before he could continue.

“And something more intimate for some time as well.” He looked over his shoulder at Tony. “Come around from there, Anthony dear.”

Come stand beside me so I can lord our relationship over your friend; was the more direct translation and Tony just gave him an unimpressed look.

“I have never, nor do I ever intend to fuck Bruce,” he informed the mage simply. “We’re friends, Loki. I’d be as likely to sleep with him as I would be with Rhodey, which is to say, uh, fucking never.”

Bruce was looking slightly aghast while Loki looked both taken aback and also somehow guarded. Tony could usually read him pretty well, or at least, Loki normally let Tony see what he was feeling - but this was different. This was like those certain topics that Tony had skirted near and Loki had put up walls around - only Tony didn’t understand why this had caused it too.

“Thank you, Anthony,” Loki told him, all charm and wiry amusement, but Tony wasn’t buying it. There was something shuttered in the back of his gaze. Loki still gestured him over. “I was not requesting your presence entirely to present you like a trophy,” he continued to drawl. “I would still like you here.”

To refuse again would be rude, it would also undermine Loki and possibly make his ease with his sexuality around Tony take five steps back - so Tony complied. He watched Loki with slightly narrowed eyes; he could play it off as suspicion of the sincerity of his answer to Bruce later, all he cared about was working out what weird little tripwire had gone off in Loki’s head to make him withdraw like that.

Taking his place standing beside Loki, he felt the mage’s arm move around his shoulders. It ended up resting casually even as it drew him closer so their sides were touching. Tony let himself relax into it, but he planned to dig into this later when they were alone. What is going on in that brain of yours?

“I don’t exactly need to be here,” Bruce started to murmur, already trying to make his way to the elevator; his body screaming his discomfort at seeing them together. Tony really needed to sit down and explain Loki’s history to him, and soon.

“But science!” Tony interjected, waving the hand with his scotch slightly. “Mutated animals! Crazy animal lady! You can’t expect us to work it out on our own!”

“I think you’re more than capable, Tony,” Bruce assured him with a small grin before shaking his head. “And I don't think you're going to be doing science any time soon.”

Tony went to argue -science before sex, being the phrase he was planning to use - but FRIDAY spoke up, sounding almost unhappy. “Boss, SHIELD are demanding you come to their headquarters with Mr Laufeyson. Now.”

Tony and Loki both went tense and Tony gripped his glass so hard he was surprised it didn’t break. “Tell them to fuck off,” Tony snapped. “And you can send them a fucking sound bite of me saying that.”

Tony clenched his fist and ground his teeth despite knowing FRIDAY was going to do what he’d said, it didn't stop what it meant though. Including the fact that they’d keep trying. He almost startled when Loki’s arm moved, but his hand just cupped the back of Tony’s neck, massaging it and surprisingly helping relieve some of his tension. He took a drink of his scotch, being careful not to disrupt Loki’s touch.

Neither Loki nor Bruce said anything into the silence but Tony could imagine the same words going through their heads that were going through his own. He let out a sigh between his teeth. “How long until they get here, FRIDAY?”

There was a brief pause. “Estimation of twenty-two minutes and thirty-three seconds, Boss.”

Tony chucked back the last of his drink but didn’t turn to put it on the counter. He leant back into Loki’s hold instead, resisting the urge to close his eyes, but only just.

“Well,” he told them, feeling nerves crash through his stomach for an entirely new reason. “I guess now is as good a time as ever to tell you what finally fucked everything over.”

And who knows, he thought, maybe you’ll still side with me when you finally know what they did. When you finally find out what made me give up on having a team of people who gave a damn about me, a team of people I could fucking trust.

Tony felt Loki’s hand on his skin like an unwavering weight and he swallowed, his eyes on Bruce and his mind on that soft, comforting touch.

I hope you’re still going to be here when I’m done, he silently wished. Because I don’t think I can handle losing both of you too.

Chapter Text

Tony was nervous and he couldn’t stop himself from jittering. He didn’t want to pull back from Loki’s touch, but standing still wasn’t going to cut it; he was just too anxious. He moved away but made the motion include a jerk of his hand towards the couches and coffee table. “Come on, might as well get comfortable, right?”

He stalked his way over, but didn’t take a seat, pacing nearby instead while waiting for Bruce and Loki to join him. Bruce took a place as far away from Loki as possible, while the mage ran his hand down Tony’s arm in an attempt at comfort before sprawling in his now familiar way on the cushions. His glass was still firmly held in his hand while his eyes tracked Tony.

“Right,” he went to start, gearing himself up - only to be interrupted in a way that made him want to punch something.

“Boss. Captain Rogers is attempting to call you.”

Tony scoffed loudly as his frown only darkened. “Well don’t answer. Fucking ignore it. I thought that was the policy anyway?”

There was a brief pause before his AI informed him. “He requested I notify you that SHIELD are on their way.”

Tony rolled his eyes so hard it almost hurt. “A fucking century late, as usual.”

“At least he thought to warn you,” Bruce mentioned softly, but it only made the tension in Tony’s shoulders increase. Because fuck it, he was stressed and Rogers wasn’t anywhere near his good books at the moment - and couldn’t Bruce cut him some slack? More so than Rogers?

But, oh no, everyone loves Steve Rogers more, don’t they?

He was going to say something biting, a defensive snap that was lathered in the sting from Bruce’s words, but Loki was already arguing on his behalf, “Yes, I’m sure his blatant attempt at gaining Anthony’s goodwill after so publically losing it is both genuine and appreciated.”

A smile flashed - there and gone - across Tony’s face as he caught and held Loki’s gaze; a swell of affection forming in his chest for the other.

It was too bad Bruce had to disagree with Loki, probably on principle. “He could just see it as the right thing to do.”

And that just opened up all kinds of sharp, gutting doors.

“Oh, yeah,” Tony said with quiet bitterness that he didn’t even try to hide. His eyes were fixed on his own glass as his insides warred with depression, frustration and rage. “And we all know how important Steve Rogers finds the ‘right thing’, Bruce. Right up there with the greater-fucking-good.”

It would have taken an idiot to miss the mile-wide sore-spot he’d just illuminated with all the subtlety of a flare. His voice had even risen, cracking on his last, derisive comment. It was just a couple hundred more red flags put out for the two perceptive men to notice.

“Tony...” Bruce said carefully, watching him like Bruce just wasn’t sure where to place his footing anymore.

Now or never.

“Come on, Bruce,” Tony was forcing down his nerves through pure fucking will as he looked the Doctor straight in the eye. “I’d like an opinion. You’d say you know me pretty well, right?”

Looking wary, Bruce agreed, “Yes?”

“So, tell me,” he swallowed and geared up for it. “What would you do if you found a stockpile of old Stark Industries weapons? Found weapons that I designed when you and your team of agents raided and captured a threat to national security? What would you do if you found experimental adaptations of them with impressive firepower capabilities?"

Bruce’s eyes were showing the connections he was making while the rest of his expression was only further proving that they weren’t happy realisations, but horrified ones. "I would tell you,” he answered slowly, “but I don't think SHIELD did."

"Corr-fucking-ect," Tony answered, grinning tightly. "Try, the Avengers and Shield had a little meeting. Oh, they argued, one or two even asked ‘Hey, where’s Stark?’ but all and all they decided that it was best to use my weapons for their greater good. And then when I found out about it - by accident, mind you - they tried to justify why they didn't tell me and why they didn't destroy them.”

He clenched his teeth before forcing the rest out. “They tried to tell me why spreading the weapons throughout their members was a good idea and how it was an accident that they managed to get taken by assholes who SHIELD couldn’t control. And oh, did I mention,” Tony faked a smile, “SHIELD started re-designing them as well? With the fucking help of Barton and Romanoff, the little fuckers who knew their way around my house. While anyone else who had an idea or two on how to improve them was also brought in. Which only makes, oh, the whole fucking team. Never mind it was my fucking name on them and my fucking blueprints and my fucking right to have them decommissioned."

He almost threw his glass against the wall. He had done that the first time he’d found out about it and dug into the clandestine meetings they’d had - multiple ones, so fucking many of them - that had excluded him. And he knew he should probably stop, give them time to swallow and digest what he’d just said but Tony was on a roll, the story and his emotions pouring out of him in a sea of anger that was only just covering the grief that still haunted him.

“The Avengers sat down with Fury,” he continued, “more than once, and in these little talks they discussed ‘what should we do?’ and ‘should we tell Tony?’. But can you guess what the overall consensus was?”

Bruce looked like someone had just ripped apart all his hopes and scattered them in front of him on the floor. He looked gutted, he looked fucking devastated and he looked like that for Tony. “They didn’t tell you.”

Bingo.” He gritted his teeth and clenched his fist while admitting the final part, the part that had crushed him more than he could ever admit. “They’d found schematics I’d left unfinished on the servers here, they used technology I made for the Avengers to fill in the holes. They started manufacturing new weapons that they know I won’t make anymore.” He swallowed. “And guess what the spies weren’t good enough at protecting?” He shook his head bitterly. “What a mole in SHIELD took and sold to the terrorist with the highest bid?”

“Your designs,” Bruce looked positively sickened and Tony’s smile was more watery than he’d liked to admit. They were tears of fucking rage, okay?

“Stark Industries’ weapons are being manufactured again, and oh, look, it only took the betrayal of someone else I trusted to do it.” He huffed out a breath. Or a gasp. It could have been a gasp. But who cared anymore? “I just didn’t have to get a hole in my chest this time to find out.”

Yes, you did. Doesn’t anyone notice where your fucking heart used to be? Where your god damn faith in people once existed?

“May I request clarification of a point or two?” Loki questioned; his voice completely devoid of all emotion.

Tony turned to him, a sinking feeling in his gut. He hadn’t forgotten the mage was there but Loki didn’t know Tony’s history with this, didn’t know just how much it hacked into his soul - not the same way Bruce did. Not like all the other Avengers should have known. Or they had, but just didn’t care and had trampled over Tony’s wishes like they didn’t even matter.

It’s for the greater good, Tony. Can’t you understand Tony? We have to be able to fight the threats that are coming, Tony. Everyone needs a defence, not just you, Tony. It’s not like we didn’t have permission to see your blueprints on your private server, Tony. It’s not like Romanoff can help being able to remember them and offer them to SHIELD when they ask, Tony.

“Yeah?” Tony prompted roughly, not certain what way this was going to go but feeling himself tense just in case.

“You made a decree that you would no longer sell weapons after your ordeal in the desert. A public decree that was easily accessible even when I researched you and your comrades during my invasion. You insisted on this despite decreases in your livelihood and anger from many of your previous supporters. Is that not right?”

“Yeah,” Tony grimaced. “And thanks for the trip down memory-”

“And you were betrayed,” and Loki’s eyes suddenly burned, “not just then but again, now, by your new supporters; people who were trusted, who should have been smart enough to respect you.” Loki’s magic crackled around him in a way Tony had never seen before, a blatant display of the fury that was becoming impossible to ignore as it filled his eyes. The couch even looked a little singed from where that green power was flicking over it. “They do not deserve the air that they breathe.”

It was so sudden, so full of pure intent to maim, that Tony actually laughed, a broken, relieved sound. He also felt the strong desire to clasp the other’s shoulder in gratitude, in camaraderie. To fucking hug him. But instead, knowing that they were lovers in front of Bruce, he walked closer and bent down. He pressed a hand to Loki’s shoulder for balance and also to squeeze it in gratitude - and maybe to remind him to not set the upholstery on fire.

He then pressed a warm kiss to Loki’s cheek; holding his lips there for a long moment and hearing the mage’s magic lose some of its angry hissing.

“Thanks, Loki,” he whispered against the other’s skin once the kiss had ended. He went to pull away further, but Loki grabbed his wrist and turned to look at him. He didn’t say anything, but his face had slipped back under that impenetrable, emotionless wall. His eyes still burned though, and he pulled Tony down beside him. Loki’s hand soon moved up from his wrist to take his hand, his thigh a warm pressure against Tony’s.

Tony stared at their joined hands for a long moment, their palms together on Loki’s leg before he slowly linked their fingers. He liked that warm, powerful grip in his own; the hand of a God who was willing to smite anyone who had dared harm his ally.

Yeah, Tony liked that a lot.

“I can’t believe they did this,” Bruce murmured into the quiet, sounding hollow. “Why... how. Why wouldn’t they trus-”

His eyes widened and Tony watched him hit on a point that Tony had come to himself. It was the only logical conclusion.

“I was never a good psych match for the Avengers,” he told him blandly, projecting flippancy when the pain from that thorn had never fully healed. “I guess Ultron cemented it for a lot of people.” His lips twitched before he put down his glass to rub a hand over his face. His voice came out with all the vulnerability he couldn’t repress as he asked Bruce, “Why don’t they ever get it?”

Get what I’m doing, get me, get that I've been trying, get that it's hard?

But that was his life with the Avengers; one misunderstanding, one dismissal, one cursory glance that missed everything, and all right after the other. He’d felt like a one-dimensional projection for months; ignored when it mattered and blamed when it was suitable. To find out he wasn’t even trusted amongst his team? The people whom he’d offered his home, his technology and his friendship?

And they wondered why he turned to someone new? Why he threw his hat in with the would-be villain, accepted a magical contract, and sent a harsh middle-finger to all of SHIELD’s puppet warriors.

He did it because it felt good and because they deserved it, and because Tony Stark does what he wants - and look how well it had paid off.

Tony let himself relax back into the couch, relax back against Loki and squeeze the hand caught in his own. “They don’t get it,” he continued into the silence, “because most people don’t understand us, Bruce.” He smiled at the Doctor. “I haven’t tried to fit in since I was a kid and it blew up in my face then, and it’s done it again now. I’m over that game, I’m over that pain,” he nodded at Loki. “I’ve picked my side now and it’s got him on it.” He tilted up his chin. “What way are you going?”

“Tony,” Bruce sighed and put his head in his hand, “you can’t just throw all that at my feet and expect me to-”

“What? Pick a team? Tell me what you what have done? Who you think was right? What you-”

“Tony, we both know what they did was wrong,” Bruce interrupted him tiredly. “But we also know what SHIELD are like when it comes to doing everything and anything to gain an advantage. SHIELD tried to destroy Manhattan when they thought we couldn’t defeat the Chitauri.” And his eyes skated over Loki tellingly before coming back to Tony. “Steve and the others shouldn’t have let them do it to you, but you can’t tell me this was an unexpected decision for them to reach.”

“So that means I should, what?” Tony demanded; a tight control over his voice to keep it from wavering, “Forgive them?”

Bruce shook his head. “No, I’m not going to tell you to do that. I can see their reasoning; it doesn’t mean I agree with it. It doesn’t make your anger any less justified or your rejection of them any less understandable.”

“So, you’re like Rhodey,” Tony concluded, torn between acceptance and depressed understanding. “You get the reasons, but don’t like the outcomes. You’re not on either side, so you’re going to happily play for both teams and keep your own counsel.”


But he waved Bruce off, a familiar ache in his chest but one that had faded around Rhodey and would hopefully do the same around Bruce. “It’s alright, its better than I got from anyone else. Two friends left are still better than none.”

“Two - wait,” Bruce was frowning deeply. “What about Pepper?”

Hah, Tony thought with resentment. “Pepper is a bit more loyal to SHIELD than she is to me nowadays.”

The unanticipated movement of his hand drew Tony away from that painful recollection. He looked over at Loki who was watching him intently as he brought up their linked hands to press a kiss to the back of Tony’s. Tony was so shocked it derailed all other thoughts for a good moment. Loki kept their hands close to his mouth even while turning to face Bruce.

“She learned of our involvement and ran straight to the Avengers. Were it not for a binding of silence - something that she agreed to, I may add - than she would have disclosed all she could of our partnership to any there who may have asked.” He brought their hands back down to his thigh while continuing. “She had also chosen previous to that a far more rigid position against Anthony then yourself, Dr Banner.”

Bruce automatically turned to Tony, seeking clarification and reminding Tony that he really needed to explain Loki’s side of the Invasion to Bruce as soon as possible. He needed Bruce to, if not trust, than at least accept that Loki was on the good guy’s side. Granted, the last of Loki’s words about Pepper were all speculation at this point, but they still weren’t wrong, so Tony elaborated for both of them.

“Our breakup wasn’t great,” he admitted first, “we were arguing a lot when we did see each other, so we’d tactfully made a point to avoid being in the same room. She probably doesn’t know all the details,” Tony admitted, “but she found out when I publically denounced them and when Romanoff and Rogers went and spoke to her.” He shrugged. “She found me less than a day later and she was more interested in speaking on SHIELD’s behalf than listening to what I had to say. We argued, a lot and I was hung-over as well. It was a hell of a bad mix for anything reasonable to come from either of us, but...” he swallowed, “she still wanted to find good in them, more than she wanted to find good in me.”

Like the palladium poisoning all over again, only this time neither of us could get out anything but hurt feelings and fury.

Pepper had hurt him in places he hadn’t thought she still occupied, and some that he’d known she always would. It could have turned out a whole different way if it wasn’t for circumstance and a fractured relationship leaving things a mess between them. But it hadn’t, and it had twisted them into darker, more hateful versions of themselves. They’d been stubborn, malicious and unable to see the other’s side despite numerous shouting matches.

She’d chosen SHIELD in the end, and even if her eyes spoke about how much she regretted it - she couldn’t take it back and wasn’t even offering to try. The bridge had burned, the ship had sailed and he only regretted how badly things had gotten between them to make it happen so easily.

Tony Stark has a heart.

Well, now Pepper was one more person he’d convinced not to believe that. But, maybe she still did, she just didn’t believe it was a heart worth allying with anymore. He guessed he probably deserved that; Tony broke hers, so Pepper gave up on his.

What a fitting end to our friendship, Miss Potts.

He leaned forward enough to pick up his glass; toasting the air, toasting her, and swallowing the last of the liquid.


He set the glass back down before turning to the mage. His eyes were glowing a worrying green and while his magic wasn’t spitting anymore, there was still a barely contained fury that lingered under the surface, hiding beneath his calm question, “Would you like me to find them?” Tony frowned and Loki elaborated. “What they have taken from you,” and his gaze flared brighter. “Would you like me to return what was taken from you, return it for destruction at your leisure and to redress the offences laid against you?”

Tony’s mouth went dry and he swallowed thickly, his mind running away with so many new possibilities. “You can do that?”

“I will need to formulate a spell, but yes,” and the word was a hiss of satisfaction, spurred on by the smile spreading across Tony’s face. “I can.”

Tony could see it; the disappearing weapons, the shock and fury as everything they’d worked so hard to keep from him was lost in a wave of powerful magic. The rush of pleasure, of satisfaction at getting them back, of gaining what he was owed; it was revenge and Tony adored every part of it.


And he told the mage as much. “You’re perfect.”

Delight unfurled in Loki’s eyes, dampening some of his rage and making him look softer, making him look like Loki, the guy who wandered around Tony’s tower and was curious about everything. They guy who was pleasantly surprised every time Tony half-flirted at and half-teased him for checking Tony out.

He was also the man who had heard about what had been taken from Tony and offered to claim it back.

Tony moved without thinking and kissed that smirking, fabulous, mischievous bastard of a man with firm affection. He pulled back and told the other from only inches away. “You are the best. The utter fucking best, Loki.”

A light dusting of colour was tinging Loki’s pleased cheeks and Tony felt the sudden urge to kiss him again, not an excited burst of emotion - half for the audience and half for himself, but something softer, simpler. He wanted to kiss Loki because he was there in front of Tony and he wanted to. It made Tony’s smile fade slightly because of it, his eyes taking in Loki in a different way for a fraction of a second. He saw something confused enter Loki’s eyes as he noticed the change but couldn’t pinpoint it.

There was just... something and Tony could feel them on the edge of tumbling into it, and he was half tempted to just push and see where they landed, but-

“Tony, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

-but, Bruce made him blink and turn away. He leant back and frowned at the scientist, thinking for a moment that Bruce was talking about the kiss before quickly cottoning on that no, it would be about the weapons not about pushing Loki against the couch and catching his mouth again. Not that Bruce probably wanted to see that.

But no, right, focus; weapons and Bruce disagreeing with him, it made Tony's eyebrows furrow. “What? Why the hell not?”

“Look, I don’t like them having unauthorised weapons either, especially when they were made from your blueprints and weren’t purchased legally,” Bruce explained, “but that doesn’t stop them from being used as a means of self-defence by SHIELD Agents just doing their jobs.”

Tony scowled. “Well then Loki can tailor it specifically to not take from people in dangerous situations.” He turned to Loki. “You can do that, right?”

He shrugged with a slight stiffness to his posture that made Tony wince. Fuck. Yeah, need to finish that conversation on spontaneous kisses. “Yes, I can.”

Tony nodded, and breezed past Loki’s discomfort as best he could. Loki might have kissed him before Bruce arrived and said it was fine, but they still had a lot of situations to outline their behaviour in, especially when Loki wasn’t comfortable around Bruce yet.

Hell, knowing Loki’s hang-ups, he might even be pissed off that Tony had given up his attention on Loki so quickly in favour of Bruce. Shit, it probably was that, possessive little Diva. Honestly, that head was a mine field he didn’t think he’d ever learn how to navigate.

“See, there you go, Bruce,” Tony elaborated. “Loki’s got it all covered.” He squeezed their linked hands before rearranging and slumping against the mage, in part to show his boyfriendly behaviour but also to solidify their connection. Not. Going. Anywhere. He was also relieved that things had been explained and that they’d both been on his side - but more than that, he was ecstatic, hell he was lighter knowing that the Avengers’ actions were going to be reversed, overwritten and he owed it all to the man beside him.

I’ve got the best ally in the fucking universe, he internally crowed. The best. And fuck you all, I'm not giving him up. I'm parading him around like a God damn trophy. Screw you all, he's mine and I'm not giving him back.

He shifted again, tilting his head to look at the mage beside him, waiting until Loki noticed and paid attention to him. He grinned at Loki and was about to tell him as much, to mention the press conference and all the fun they were going to have, when FRIDAY announced, “Boss, SHIELD are moving at increased speed and are now six minutes away.”

And that wiped the smile off Tony’s face. “Fuck.” He sighed and pushed himself away from Loki, removing his hand from the other’s as he got off the couch. Bruce was already looking twitcher than usual and he told the scientist. “Head down to the lab or to your floor, FRIDAY will keep them from stepping inside. No one will know you’re here.”

Bruce stood quickly and gave a sharp nod and a tight smile. “I’ll see what I can find out about those animals while you’re gone.”

“And FRIDAY will give you a rundown on what’s been happening and what you’ve missed.” Bruce looked unhappy, but Tony insisted, “It’s important; new threats, new alliances, new information on not-so bad guys.” Bruce’s eyes flicked to Loki and back again, but Tony’s words were serious. “You really need to know about it.”

Bruce sighed, but agreed. “Okay, Tony.” He took a step forward, looking uncertain about what to do, but Tony answered for him by closing the rest of the distance and pulling the other into a brief hug. “Stick around until I’m back, alright?”

He pulled back to catch the other’s face and got a fond grin. “Yeah, okay.” He sobered. “Be careful at SHIELD.” His gaze didn’t move to Loki this time, but he requested, “Don’t do anything too dramatic.”

Tony grinned brightly and told him confidently, “No promises.”

Bruce just shook his head and pulled away. He didn’t look back as he hurried to the elevator, grabbing his bag on the way. Tony couldn’t hear what destination was picked, but FRIDAY soon shut the doors and let him descend to wherever he wanted to go.

He stared after him for a long, pensive moment. There hadn’t been enough time to cover everything, but it was a start. He just had to convince Bruce to stay a little longer and they could work on the rest.

Bruce might not understand everything and he might end up disagreeing with some of Tony’s decisions, but so had Rhodey - and in the end, and much to Tony’s surprise, it didn’t matter so much that they didn’t fully get him, because somehow Loki did.

He turned back to the mage who was still sitting on the couch and watching him with eyes that analysed, with magic that could steal back his weapons and with an empathy that spoke of betrayal experienced and never forgotten.

It turned out that one person understanding and choosing his side - only his side - was enough.

Chapter Text

Loki was the one to break the silence that had lingered around them. “What will you have us do when they come?”

Tony blinked. “‘Have us do’?”

“They are coming to your house to demand an audience, to order our compliance when we are under no such obligation to them.” Loki tilted up his chin, stubborn and incensed. “Traitors should never be warmly welcomed unless one wishes to destroy them.”

Tony had to fight down a small smile as he made his way back over. He briefly contemplated sitting on the table so he could face the mage, but in the end he took his place beside him on the couch. He did put his back to the armrest but before Loki could rearrange and turn towards him, he spread his legs over the other’s lap. Loki narrowed his eyes slightly but Tony just let his grin widen. “We’re dating, babe. You’re going to love sharing your personal space with me. I make everything look better.”

“I believe I should have more carefully worded my agreement to this ruse,” Loki grumbled, but there was a twitch to the corner of his mouth that said he was only teasing. His hand also came down to lightly rest over Tony’s ankle. That point of connection was oddly comforting in the face of what Tony knew was to come.

He sobered at the reminder and answered Loki’s previous remark. “I have to pick my battles, Loki.” He closed his eyes on a sigh, feeling his energy waver, but the soft stroking of Loki’s fingers through the fabric of his jeans made Tony open his eyes. Loki was watching him intently, his hand a warm, heavy weight that grounded him to the room and the demi-god beside him. He half-smiled at the other. “I could destroy the support given to the Avengers and fuck up any of SHIELD’s attempts to gain back public support after the revelations about Hydra. It would only take one ‘tell all’ interview and they would take months, years to recover from that.”

“But you have stayed your hand,” Loki said in the pause that followed, his eyes narrowed. “You have done little more than remove yourself from beneath their flag.” He was assessing Tony, his mind whirring as he pieced things together before his expression cleared. “They are your pawns. You do not remove them because they are useful.”

Tony let out a harsh laugh. “That sounds better than ‘if the public hates them, we’re fucked when they need to fight Thanos with us’.”

“You recognise their use over your own desire for vengeance,” Loki remarked, his eyes slightly pinched. “Many, far older than you, have taken much longer to reach such important conclusions.”

Tony eyed him carefully, seeing a personal understanding behind his eyes that Loki wasn’t even trying to hide.

Loki smiled a little self-deprecatingly, “You employed far greater restraint in your actions than I did.”

Tony knew they were skirting around something very important and in no way simple. He’d only caught snippets from Thor and didn’t like what any of them said, and even less what they didn’t say. “Your situation was different than mine, Loki. Not everything is that black and white.”

“No,” Loki admitted quietly. “But some things will never stop being a cause for regret.”

“Hey,” Tony leant forward so he could reach and lightly squeeze Loki’s arm. “The Invasion-”

“Is in no way the worst of my crimes.” That made Tony stall slightly, but Loki just shook his head. “But it is a charge no one is pursuing, it is something that should be paid by me, but that I will not force at this junction. I have other things I must see to first.” He smiled bitterly. “But they are my transgressions, not yours, and they will be repaid.” He nodded at Tony. “You have your Iron Man and your reparations to those your weapons have harmed.” He swallowed. “So too will I repair the actions that my senseless thoughts drove me to.”

What did you do? Was on the tip of Tony’s tongue, but he could tell it wouldn’t be a short or emotionless answer - if Loki even told him at all. SHIELD were also on their way and they needed to be a united front. Now wasn’t the time. It didn’t stop Tony from worrying about what had happened. The fact that he wasn’t being chased to repent for his crimes either meant it wasn’t as bad as Loki was making it out to be or that Asgard didn’t find it as bad as Loki did, which didn’t narrow things down in the slightest.

Tony wanted to know, but he had to put it on hold for now. He also gave a second comforting squeeze to Loki’s arm as he told him, as carefully as he could when he didn’t have all the facts. “You’re doing what you can to make it right, at least in your own mind. That’s better than a lot of people do, Loki, don’t sell yourself short.”

Loki smiled in a way that said he didn’t believe a word of it. “But it is not my mistakes that we should be speaking of; rather it is our response to the current and more immediate threat.” His expression turned more genuine while also firmly distancing the conversation from his past and from himself. “I ask again, Anthony; what would you have us do?”

Tony watched him for a long moment, wishing he could press on this subject more, but knowing, even without SHIELD on the horizon, pestering a mage about something he didn’t want to talk about would only end up with him teleporting away. Loki hadn’t done that for a long time, but Tony didn’t want to do something to inspire him to start again.

He wanted the Tower to be somewhere Loki felt comfortable, where he didn’t need to protect himself or hide who he was. Loki had given Tony as much distance and time as he needed to talk about his betrayal and the right thing to do would be to respond in kind.

It did mean talking about SHIELD and the Avengers though, something Tony really wasn’t keen to deal with any time soon, but with those assholes practically on his doorstep, they had no choice but to decide on their plan and quickly.

“We go with them,” Tony told him and wished he had another drink without having to move. Actually, that can happen. “Can you summon me another scotch or something?” He sounded tired, and that was probably one of the main reasons Loki acquiesced so easily. It appeared floating in the air before him and Tony took it with a pleased quirk to his mouth. “Right.” He took a sip, relishing the perfect taste. “We make sure they don’t find out about Bruce, we make a suitable show about being dragged into their ‘friendly meeting’ and give them as little as fucking possible in response to their questions.”

Loki was stroking his ankle again with a purr. “Excellent.”

“FRIDAY will make sure they’re not about to fuck us over while we’re there, and we’ll stay updated on what Bruce finds on the animals. If he gets anything important, we’ll get the fuck out of there and back here. Hopefully this won’t take too long, but knowing SHIELD it will take most of the damn night.”

Loki’s hand was a calming presence. “And what of us?”


Loki gestured at their position. “We have recently come to be seen as lovers to your world. How do you wish to present this relationship to their organisation?”

Tony snorted. “By making out when we’re supposed to be in a serious meeting? That will piss them off real good.”

Loki blinked and something passed across his face Tony couldn’t catch. He was curious, but he could also see the approach of the SHIELD convoy. Luckily, Loki also noticed it and didn’t seem ready to beat around the bush. “You wish to be... that demonstrative?”

Right. Parameters. Keep forgetting about those. “Yeah, that a problem? We don’t have to be.” He shrugged. “But I’m a tactile kind of guy, especially with someone I’m dating who people don’t approve of. Call it the rebelling little shit in me-”

“They will have devices for monitoring magic in their compound, will they not?” Loki interrupted, looking vaguely uncomfortable. “You are able to detect my illusions. Would they have a similar level of technology?”

Tony flicked his eyes to the approaching jet. “Yeah, maybe. Why?”

Loki licked his lips and his eyes skittered away as he admitted, “You are an attractive man, Anthony, and you know of my... reactions to that.”

His body was tense under Tony’s legs and Tony was quick to catch on. Tony had to stifle a chuckle. “Well, I can’t exactly promise to help you out,” fuck, not when they were in the middle of SHIELD, but with the right amount of privacy? Well... “But I’m not going to be anything other than flattered if I feel your Godly cock all hard against my thigh.”

Anthony,” Loki hissed appalled and embarrassed and trying desperately not to show the latter.

He couldn’t stop from smirking. “So wait, were you going to illusion hide your arousal from me if you could? That’s just cold. I might get offended at the insult to my kissing prowess!”

Loki’s huff of breath was long-suffering in nature, but Tony was just happy to feel that he’d relaxed back into the couch. Well, he was still slightly tense, but his eyes were focusing more on the aircraft that was landing.

“I would prefer that to a different kind of offense I could have gained,” Loki murmured and it dampened some of Tony’s good humour. The sight of Barton and some standard issue SHIELD Agents didn’t help either.

He still leant closer so that he could take Loki’s chin in clear view of everyone on the landing deck. He made Loki look at him as he told him seriously. “Not offended, Loki. Never offended. Not even if you came in your pants moaning my name.”

Loki’s cheeks didn’t flush, which was a shame. Was he getting desensitised already?

“I am a God; you should be more concerned with yourself ending up in such a position.”

Tony’s eyebrows rose. “Oh yeah? Got some tricks up your sleeve?”

Loki smirked, fierce and full of a thousand years of carnal knowledge. “Always, dear Anthony, of that I assure you.”

The promise in his gaze made Tony feel slightly hot under the collar as his mind decided to go in every possible direction to try and work out what a mage might have up his sleeve. “Okay,” and if he was slightly breathless, it was totally justified, “that's a conversation I need to hear the end of.”

Loki eyebrows furrowed curiously. “They will not be stories easily adapted for your own use.”

Tony didn’t know if that was because Loki was a mage or that he thought Tony was going to try and apply them to women. Tony wasn’t really inclined to find out. “I am the best damn inventor on this planet. I will find a way to make more kinky sex fit into my life.”

Chuckling, Loki shook his head but still promised, “At another time Anthony, I will entertain you with tales of some of the sexual practices I have come across.” He had barely finished before his eyes were turning to the intruders at their door that were only just held at bay by FRIDAY. “For now, we have less pleasant topics and even less welcome people to contend with.”

Tony eyed them and pulled in a breath to strengthen himself. He let it out slowly, carrying with it all the teasing, light-hearted and friendly air that easily came around him and Loki. He let his hand slip from Loki’s jaw and sat back, taking a sip of scotch as he did.

“We tell them nothing more than we have to,” Tony reiterated.

“Do not worry, Anthony,” Loki answered easily while sinking back into the couch. “Showmen and liars as we both are, they could not find themselves on more uneven ground.” He flashed Tony a conspiratorial and mischievous smirk. “They invite their own downfall; we merely assist in the more sudden arrival of it.”

Tony liked hearing that, he really liked hearing someone share his thoughts so easily. They just... lined up, more than he’d ever expected when he’d thrown the partnership at Loki. He’d known they were similar, but not to this extent. They weren’t even two sides of a coin, they were individual structures; complex and unique and quietly crumpling on their own... but put them together and not only did they look good but they worked. They strengthened each other and helped to keep them both standing.

“You’re going to wreck me for other people,” Tony complained, making Loki blink in startled confusion. “I’m not going to find a better ally anywhere,” Tony elaborated, “on the one hand, it means I’ve got the best, but on the other hand...” Tony paused thoughtfully. “You know what? Nope. No other hand. I simply have the best and am pretty okay with this.”

“Boss,” FRIDAY interjected, before Tony could continue or Loki could respond. “Agent Barton is requesting you open the doors before Fury orders him to shoot through them.” Tony looked over at the window, seeing Barton standing in the centre of a group of black-clad gun-toting SHIELD minions. “Agent Barton,” FRIDAY added, “has twice refused to initiate more hostile attempts to enter the penthouse despite communications from SHIELD requesting he do so.”

That’s interesting, Tony thought, not that it particularly warmed him to the agent, but as far as potential attempts to gain his favour went - it wasn’t a terrible ploy. It certainly kept his agitation from doubling at being able to allow them in, rather than watching them trample through broken glass.

“I guess we better open the door before they get too trigger-happy.”

“I feel as though I should put a ward on your windows,” Loki mused, “something to lightly curse those who attempt to break them.”

Tony didn’t get a chance to poke at that idea - what would it do? Give them boils? Purple hair? Shock them off the Tower? You never could tell with Loki - before FRIDAY was letting Barton and the other agents come into his penthouse.

The three agents had all of their attention locked on Loki as their hands hovered near their guns. Barton, at least, was giving Tony his concentration. “Stark.” His lips pulled painfully but he still added, “Loki.”

“Little Hawk,” Loki said with the full intention to annoy.

Barton tensed and his teeth clenched, but he otherwise didn’t react, he kept his focus on Tony. “Fury wants to see you both.”

“Hmm,” Tony swirled his drink. “I think ‘want’ is being a little generous; the armed parade and attempted invasion of my home smacks a little more of a demand.”

“I was also under the impression,” Loki chimed in, “that we made ourselves perfectly clear the last time you forced your presence on Anthony. He is no longer one of your little minions and I have never been one.”

“No,” Barton snapped, “you were the minion of someone who spat you out and now wants to turn his attention on us.”

Loki’s face was wiped clean of emotion at the comment and Tony sat up straighter on the couch. His voice was as cold as ice as he spoke, “And I was tortured in the fucking desert. You going to take a shot at that now, Barton?”

Because it was common fucking knowledge among the Avengers about what had happened to Loki and if Barton was going to be an asshole about it then Tony was going to find any weak spot in his armour and rip him to shreds. No one fucks with my friends.

Barton’s cheek twitched a little, but he didn’t continue the subject, nor did he apologise for the dig at Loki. “SHIELD is concerned about the woman who attacked New York. You currently have the most information on her and SHIELD, in the interests of international security, would like to discuss her potential threat.”

And you in no way want to scream at me for my now very public alliance with Loki Laufeyson.

“Mmhmm,” Tony hummed before turning to Loki who was still glaring at Barton with something seething under the surface. “Babe?”

Loki turned to him, the anger still present but there was small arch to his eyebrow that was the only sign the nickname had amused him.

“I know we had plans, you know, for a victory celebration and all, but voyeurism isn’t something I’m fond of when it includes Barton.”

“Ah,” Loki replied, “so you wish to postpone.” His eyes danced a little and his hand slid sinuously up Tony’s leg. “You will pay dearly for that deprivation.”

Tony shivered and it wasn’t entirely faked. Damn. He relaxed back into the couch in a gesture that was very submissive, his attention on Loki. The action seemed to both shock and greatly intrigue him. Surprise, I like powerful people in my bed. “Mmm, but you always know how to make it very worthwhile.”

Barton, who Tony was still staying aware of from the corner of his eye, had shifted uncomfortably at his actions. The other agents actually seemed shocked at the behaviour, which was disappointing. Weren’t they supposed to be a little more unflappable than that?

Loki chuckled at his words; a deeper sound than usual. “I will keep that in mind. But what of SHIELD? Do you believe the discussion would be beneficial to us? I have no inclination to endlessly repeat myself to those who have proven their lower intellect.”

“That’s true,” Tony shifted slightly to further encourage Loki’s touch. The mage’s eyes were locked on Tony’s and were the only thing betraying his uncertainty about the contact, and Loki’s increasing enjoyment the more Tony accepted it. “I mean, intelligence aside, I’m not sure how well they can handle a civilised discussion. Or, you know, an honest one.” A hint of hardness entered his voice and eyes, even when he didn’t look away from Loki. “I wouldn’t want them to misuse something we gave them.”

Loki’s hand paused for just a moment, his green eyes erupting in a blaze of anger at the suggestion. His hand started to glow green from where it was resting on Tony’s thigh. Tony glanced down at it curiously, feeling something not unlike a heat pack - you know, if heat packs crackled like electricity and felt like little more than a soft tingling. “Do you wish for them to depart?

Tony was curious, and that really was his downfall, because he reached out for Loki’s hand, sliding his fingers and palm against Loki’s, capturing the magic and watching it wrap around both of their hands as it vibrated softly. Fuck, that’s cool. Tony’s eyes were captivated by the way their fingers linked and the green fluttered around them and down to their wrists like some kind of flame.

It took Loki drawing it back into his skin before Tony could tear his eyes away to stare at the mage. Loki looked... shocked, deeply, although he was masking it really fucking well.

What the hell was that?

“Barton,” Loki abruptly snapped, turning to the agent but never letting go of Tony’s hand. “We will attend, but I will not tolerate delays or pathetic mind games. I wish this to be over as soon as possible. And be aware that we only do so as a means of informing your Director, in person, of just what we will allow and what we will not.”

When Tony made himself look away, Barton and hell all of the SHIELD agents looked as if they’d collectively sucked a lemon. “If it gets you guys to stop fucking each other in front of me, then fine, you’ve got it.”

“Good.” Loki turned back to him and moved to pull his hand away but Tony held firm.

He kept his eyes on Loki’s as he slowly brought the glass to his lips and tipped the last of the liquid down. Holding out the glass on the flat of his palm, he let Loki disappear it away with an unimpressed but still slightly fond look. When it was gone, he removed his legs from Loki’s and stepped off the couch without letting go of Loki’s hand. He lightly tugged Loki to his feet, ending up with them inches apart.

Tony was grinning at the mage and he raised his eyebrows in half request and half dare. Loki got it in an instant and when he huffed out his amused breath, it was in a quick press to the corner of Tony’s mouth. Tony was surprised but he still angled into the gesture. It actually had the appearance of something softly affectionate even if it felt vaguely stilted. It didn’t look it, as from the angle of the agents it would have looked as if they were just kissing gently.

Tony could feel something off about the action though, and it took him a moment to register just what it was. He didn’t take the dare, not the way he usually does. It was normally one-upmanship and teasing. This might have looked tender in the face of SHIELD, but to Tony it only spoke of something going on in Loki’s head that was making him hesitant.

Could be the whole fear of getting an erection thing?

Which, actually, Tony could buy that. He was tempted to make it a reality by grabbing Loki’s hips and pulling him close - at proving it was very okay to get aroused by him, but he refrained. The last thing he needed was to make Loki awkward when they were surrounded by SHIELD cameras and agents. They were playing up a boyfriend act in an organisation of spies; caution was really the best way to go.

So when Loki moved away, he simply kept hold of Loki’s hand and walked at his side, but that was for more reasons than just their ruse. Holding Loki’s hand meant they could comfort and warn each other non-verbally. It also meant, if anything turned to shit, that Loki could teleport them the fuck out of there.

Tony had a gauntlet hidden in his watch and Loki simply was a weapon. They were as protected as they could be while walking into the lion’s den. While Tony didn’t expect a fight, he’d already been surprised by a betrayal once before; who was he to say they wouldn’t try something again?

No, Loki and Tony might be following the agents out to the jet, they might be agreeing to the meeting - but it was hardly because they had no choice. Loki had said it himself; they were showmen and liars.

They both knew how to play a room, especially to get the outcome that they wanted. SHIELD and the Avengers were pieces on their chessboard and they were far too useful to be discarded just yet.

Chapter Text

“They’re coming.”

Steve twisted to look behind him as Natasha entered the room, her eyes narrowed. Wanda was sitting nervously in one of the boardroom chairs no doubt wishing her brother had already returned from his latest mission.

Steve hadn’t been happy with Fury’s plan to separate them in the beginning, but while Pietro’s enhanced metabolism had helped keep him alive after Ultron, he’d still had a lot of healing to do. He was only just moving into active duty and they were keeping it simple.

Fury had also moved them apart in a bid to make them form connections outside of each other, and it seemed to have worked, even if both twins still preferred Clint over any other new friends they had made.

Thor was the only other person present, standing apart from everyone with his arms crossed as he stared pensively at the floor.

“Loki does not tame so easily,” he murmured in response to Natasha. “I would not welcome him warmly into this facility.”

“Barton thinks it’s Stark influence,” Natasha replied, coming to stand beside Steve. “Loki seems charmed by him, or at the very least, keen to play along and keep Stark’s favour.”

Thor scoffed at her in a way that made her eye twitch. “Loki thinks to lord his alliance with Stark over us. He believes himself to have a prize and will take great pleasure in holding it out of our reach.”

The description made Steve frown heavily as he regarded Thor. The very public kiss Loki and Tony had shared had spread quickly through social media and government channels. Fury had been furious at the revelation of Loki’s presence but hadn’t seemed bothered by the intimate nature of the photos. All he cared about was damage control and how fast it was going to blow up in their face.

Steve had been shocked at the depth of their intimacy. Natasha and Clint weren’t talking about it, but he had to wonder how much of a surprise it had been to them. Tony was affectionate with everybody he liked and Steve had heard more than a few rumours about how he didn’t discriminate with his lovers. Had Tony chosen any other man, Steve would have blinked and moved on - but for him to choose Loki as a lover concerned Steve. Deeply.

He couldn’t imagine that the nature of their relationship stemmed from anything other than the same driving force that had compelled Tony into choosing an alliance with the mage in the first place. Tony was searching for a way to vent his frustration and Steve was worried that Loki was very aware of that vulnerability and was using sex and affection as a means of manipulating Tony further onto his side.

“Do you think he sees Tony as just a means to an end?” Steve questioned. He knew trying to anticipate Loki’s actions or the turn of his mind was a long-shot, but Thor was the best source they had for information on Loki.

Thor wasn’t quite sneering, but it was a close thing and Steve knew there was something more going on than the obvious unhappiness at their alliance. There was some other aspect that was making Thor grind his teeth, but not even Natasha had been able to pry it out of him. Thor was being unusual reticent since speaking to Tony and Loki the last time. While Steve didn’t know what it was, after having growing up in an environment that had more than its fair share of violent homophobia, Steve had a lot of suspicions that he was hoping would be proven wrong.

“Loki has no honour left in him,” he eventually responded, “I have doubts if he truly possessed any in his youth. He is beyond the possibility of redemption, and yes,” he brought his gaze to Steve. “I believe he endeavours to muddy Stark along his way. Stark is nothing but a convenient tool to him.”

Steve clenched his fists tightly; anger rushing through him. He knew Tony wouldn’t want to hear them out, not now, possibly not ever, but- “We have to warn him.”

“He won’t listen,” Natasha dismissed the suggestion firmly and with a harsh bitterness that belied just how much the situation was gnawing at her. “He doesn’t pay attention to anything we say anymore, Steve. Or did you forget being teleported back here after Stark got bored?”

“We hurt Tony,” Steve insisted, using his name in the way no one else seemed to anymore except Clint - even Thor had stopped since learning about Tony’s involvement with Loki. “The least we can do is try and caution him. We drove Tony to take support from someone he would never normally turn to. We can’t just stand back and do nothing.”

“This man, Loki,” Wanda began, speaking for the first time and with a small furrow in her brow. “He does not seem to concern Rhodey. They have fought together and they have spoken many times. Do we not trust his judgement?”

Natasha was quick to respond, quick to criticise, “Rhodes has always been more loyal to Stark than to any organisation.”

“That’s not true.” Steve turned to her with a scowl. “He’s Tony’s friend but he’s never stood by him if he thought Tony was wrong.”

And it was that statement, that truth, which made something guilty and confused squirm in Steve’s chest. It had been there from the moment everything had spilled out and Tony had ripped himself out of his association with SHIELD and the Avengers. Tony’s movements had been violent and furious and they had stunned Steve. Steve had thought the problem stemmed from the lie and the secrecy surrounding the weapons they’d found, but whenever he pressed in that direction the pieces just didn’t add up. SHIELD tried to insist that they did, but there was something off each and every time.

It was in the way Clint wouldn’t meet his eye on certain questions even as he spilled out monotone answers. It was how Natasha held his gaze by comparison, doing so without flinching but with an angle to her chin that dared for him to be bolder. She was goading him to voice his doubts in a way that would only end in lies and fights. It made him grit his teeth with the knowledge that something more had gone on that he hadn’t been aware of.

The fact that Rhodey hadn’t been in the SHIELD compound since Tony’s departure only made his suspicions grow deeper. War Machine hadn’t resigned from the Avengers but he’d been very noticeably scarce. Steve knew the military and SHIELD could order him to come back to the facility, but neither of them had and it made Steve wonder why.

But I can’t risk him. The thought came, as it always did.

Because Steve had made a choice; he’d chosen to help and save his best friend. He’d put Bucky under the protection and rehabilitation SHIELD could offer. He’d trusted them to clear Bucky’s name with the world, and they had, they were, but it came with a price.

He was in the palm of SHIELD’s hand while they keep his best friend, his lo... Bucky, while they kept Bucky safe.

And in doing that, he’d hurt Tony.

When Steve had stood at that meeting and listened to SHIELD, when he’d made the final call on what needed to be done with the retrieved weapons, he’d done more than what he’d intended. He’d set into motion actions he couldn’t have anticipated, fractured things he couldn’t get close enough to repair. And he regretted it.

He could look back with the advantage of hindsight and notice the way he had been carefully positioned to agree with them. He could try to apologise, he could want to take it back, but Tony had already made his decision and found his actions inexcusable.

They were inexcusable. He’d let Tony down - but he couldn’t let Bucky down too.

The knowledge of the line he’d drawn still hung like a guilty weight around his neck; haunting his thoughts and his quiet moments.

It helped to go and see Bucky.

Bucky was laughing and quirking small smiles again. He was getting along with Sam and Clint, he’d also met the other Avengers and walked around SHIELD easily and freely now. He was treated with less fear and more politeness as every day passed. Bucky was becoming a new man, a healthy man and that was all Steve could afford to care about.

The problem was that Bucky was starting to pay closer attention to the dynamics of the team. Well, he always had, but now he was focusing more intently on how they were affecting Steve. He hadn’t asked about Tony yet, but Steve knew that he likely wanted to.

Tony had done the first repairs on Bucky’s arm and had talked to them both a few times, enough for Bucky to see the friendship that Steve had shared with Tony prior to everything collapsing. Tony’s actions were all over SHIELD, all over the world and Bucky was neither oblivious nor stupid. He knew what had happened and whether he agreed with it or not, he was staying quiet on his opinions- for now.

Steve knew though, that if he told Bucky why he’d made the choice he had, his friend would only feel guilt at Steve’s decision and its effects. Bucky had more than enough to deal with at the moment; he didn’t deserve the added weight of Steve’s actions on his shoulders.

As a result, they didn’t talk about anything serious. They were monitored as well, careful eyes that followed Bucky’s every move - and Steve’s just as closely. So they usually just sat around going through Steve’s list. Bucky even had one himself now. They listened to music and watched movies, leaning their shoulders against one another’s as they rested on Bucky’s bed. Sometimes Bucky talked about his past in Hydra; sometimes he fell asleep and woke with nightmares. It wasn’t easy, but every day there was progress.

They might have also ignored the scrawl that Tony had put on Bucky’s list, but neither of them were mentioning it.

Steve closed his eyes for a moment, wishing his friend was beside him. Wishing Bucky was free and at his shoulder, scowling at him until he made the right decision and chose to investigate something he didn’t trust. Come on, Punk. When the hell did you learn to back out of a fight?

The day when I learned I could lose you again.

When Thor spoke into the silence that had fallen, it took a few moments for Steve to remember the last words he’d said.

“It does not matter what Stark has made his friend believe.” He had taken a step closer as if to emphasis his point, his voice rising to a commanding boom. “The words are simply what Loki wishes us to hear.” He gestured with his hand. “Loki’s lies are one of his many weapons and if Stark has fallen prey, they will not rest until they make others fall under their spell.” His mouth was a thin, unhappy line. “A spell not even Stark is aware he is under.”

“Clint said something about that,” Natasha brought up thoughtfully. “They clasped hands and Loki’s magic glowed and fluttered around them. What do you think that meant?”

Thor scowled darkly but eventually admitted, “I do not know the nature of such a gesture. His magic is such that even the Elven scholars would not comprehend him. Loki is beyond the use of simple, common magics. His actions are not found in one answer but several; Loki shall always hide his true intention beneath his many illusions.”

You could have just said ‘I don’t know’, Steve almost snapped, but he bit it down. He didn’t want to introduce another argument into the team. They were already more inclined to clash than collaborate recently, and without Sam in the room as a calming presence, or Clint breaking the tension with a timely joke - there was little Steve could do to keep them functioning beyond holding his tongue or smothering angry flames.

So despite his frustration, he turned to Natasha and kept his voice level, “What does Fury plan to do with them when they arrive?”

“Get Stark alone,” Natasha answered. “Once they’re separated, he’ll talk to Stark and you and I will handle Loki.”

Personally, Steve didn’t see that going well. “Tony isn’t going to accept that.”

“He’s going to learn to,” Natasha answered back while crossing her arms.

“We don’t want to put him further offside,” Steve disagreed, not standing down. “He’s agreed to come here when he didn’t have to. We’ll ask them if they’ll separate, but if they don’t want to, we should let them stay together.”

Natasha’s eyes had narrowed, but even Thor seemed to agree with him. “Loki will not accept their parting. He is unlikely to answer you even if they are together, but he will be more inclined with his demands seemingly acknowledged.”

“If we put them in the same room, their responses will be scripted.”

Thor made a dismissive gesture. “Loki will remain in contact with Stark even with many walls between them. Stark has his technology and Loki his magic.”

Steve didn’t like the sound of that, it made any partnership between them look even harder to combat or to break. It made getting through to Tony look even less likely, but he still tried not to let it show.

“If we force them it will only alienate them further,” Steve added. “This isn’t supposed to be an ambush; it’s supposed to be a discussion.”

“But that’s a discussion they won’t be happy to have regardless of the way we do it, Captain.” Steve turned to face the door to the room as Fury walked in with Hill a step behind, a tablet resting in the hand by her waist.

“Loki is still a threat,” Fury continued, “I don’t care what Asgard decides to tell me about his extenuating circumstances.” He met everyone’s gaze for a moment before finding Steve’s and holding it. “Stark has allied himself with a risk to national security and while Loki might officially be pardoned, none of us believe he’ll stay that way or be on our side.”

Steve had grown tense at Fury’s words, hearing the implication slithering underneath. “You think that Tony is going to become an enemy?”

“This isn’t a partnership that’s going to end well for anyone they come up against,” Fury answered, “and right now, Captain, I’d like to know if we’re a target they’re planning to aim at.”

“Tony hasn’t done anything against us,” Steve insisted, feeling anger flare in his chest on Tony’s behalf. “He just put his life on the line to protect New York!”

“From an unknown threat with abilities that look close enough to magic to make us wonder,” Natasha pointed out, blandly.

Steve could hear what she was inferring, he just wasn’t sure he wanted to believe it.

“You think this new magic-user is an ally of theirs,” Wanda spoke slowly as if testing out the words.

Her eyebrows were furrowed with contemplation, but knowing the unreserved hatred the twins harboured for Tony, Steve wasn’t holding out much hope that she disagreed.

“At this point we don’t know who she is, where she came from, or what she plans,” Fury started to list, moving around the room and drawing everyone’s attention. “Colonel Rhodes is reporting to his superiors and we have the only other people who faced her on their way here now. This is a chance to find out what they discovered from that battle and what relationship they plan to have with us in the future.”

“Loki will not ally himself to us,” Thor told them resolutely.

“We didn’t think he’d ally with Stark either,” Fury rebutted, watching the brooding Thunder God with firm focus. “And with Thanos coming far too close to my doorstep, I’m happy to take any battleground handshake I can get from them.”

He turned to Natasha when he was done; noticing the way that Steve had that other than Thor, she was the hardest sell. “We need them to work with us, Agent Romanoff.”

“Stark won’t do that.” Unwavering. Unequivocal.

“He knows the risks,” Fury persisted, “if he wasn’t willing to listen, he wouldn’t have come here.”

Natasha’s lips were pursed, but her silence on the subject was as good an acknowledgment of Fury’s point as anything.

“They’ll expect arguments,” she brought up instead. “Stark isn’t resigned to what we did, he knows we’re not apologising either.”

Some of us aren’t, Steve silently corrected, but still had to acknowledge; not that Tony will believe me.

“We need to work with Stark,” Fury insisted. “We’ve tried to explain our reasons for what happened, but he’s not willing to listen. We hurt him - more than a lot of us probably expected we would.”

The look he turned on Steve then made him stiffen slightly. It made him remember too many times in the past when Fury and Natasha had run alternative missions and objectives right under his nose.

Fury had resumed his pacing and was elaborating on his point; a general rallying troops. Or a lawyer before a jury. “But now he’s walked back out into the spotlight with an ally we can’t afford to be on the opposing side of. Stark is going to want the safety of the planet above anything else, and we need to use that to encourage him to join with us.”

“You’re saying we manipulate him,” Steve deadpanned; his unhappiness with the suggestion more than clear.

Fury sighed before he leant on the table, his palms flat on the metal as he held Steve’s gaze. “We made a choice and we chose the safety of this world. Stark has made it painfully apparent that his means of protecting this planet is now different than ours.”

“Are you talking about Loki,” Steve asked carefully, “or about what Tony thought of what we did?”

“I’m talking about everything that has got him to the point of publically kissing a war criminal without a care for what it’s going to do for anybody trying to keep this planet safe.”

Something leaden fell into Steve’s stomach at those words. “Loki’s been officially cleared.” His voice felt dead, as if he was speaking from a tunnel. “He was affected by the sceptre he was using. He was manipulated and tortured and-”

“Loki has a far stronger mind than he would like you to believe,” Thor cut in, unimpressed or uncaring of the situation his brother had been through. “He is said to have undermined the invasion and has made an enemy of Thanos for it. Loki cares little for those he destroys as long as he finds his own way out intact.” He was earnest as he told the room. “Do not let him fool you into believing his innocence. Loki is not one to be trusted.”

“He seems to trust Stark,” Hill spoke up for the first time while looking at the tablet in her hand, faint voices coming from the device. “We couldn’t get much from Pepper Potts, but whatever he’s done, Loki’s contractually bound himself to Stark.” She looked up. “And Stark wouldn’t have entered any kind of agreement like that lightly.”

“Trust is immaterial in a magical binding,” Natasha pointed out, eyebrows furrowed with concentration as she analysed. “While they might not be a weak point to each other yet, sex still forms emotional bonds between people,” Natasha turned to Fury. “The relationship could also be designed to help Loki gain favour quickly with the public. Stark will likely capitalises on that.”

“Thor?” Fury questioned, drawing the other from his furious glaring at the wall. He blinked back to them, but didn’t lose his agitation. “How well do you think the people of Earth will take to Loki?”

Thor grimaced and Steve could feel his hair stand on end from the tension in the air.

“His similarity to Stark is great and will work in their favour,” he answered with clipped tones, “and not in our own.”

“Hill,” Fury turned to her, a tightness to his mouth and eyes as well as a hint of exhaustion. “Have them redraft the publicity statements on Loki.” He gained an automatic ‘sir’ from her before giving his attention back to the room, that moment of weariness masterfully hidden again. “One way or another and regardless of any lingering anger we need them on our side.”

The silence was best described as mulish, but no one was trying to argue the issue any further. They seemed to have accepted it - because despite everything that had happened they all knew how dangerous Loki could be as well as just how valuable Tony was.

They’d recognised it too late on Tony’s part and hadn’t been able to stop themselves from making a mistake that would lose him - but Steve was hoping they wouldn’t miscalculate now. They might all fear and dislike the alliance for numerous reasons. Steve might also be worried about what Tony had sold himself into, about who he’d let into his house and in his bed - but he wasn’t in a place anymore where he could warn him.

He just had to hope that SHIELD and the Avengers would do the right thing now; that they would stop burning bridges and start building them instead.

Steve didn’t trust Loki, he was too unstable, and he knew that Tony would find himself in trouble the longer he associated with him. But Steve had lost his chance to be trusted.

He’d given up everything for Bucky; he’d given his faith over to SHIELD when they’d laid out the options regarding Tony’s recovered weapons. And he was still suffering the consequences of that decision, he probably always would.

The least he could do was help and look out for Tony whenever he could, however he was able, and especially in the moments when Tony didn’t know someone was there.

In the moments when Tony didn’t know that even he still needed it.

Chapter Text

Walking into SHIELD was, quietly frankly, great.

Sure, Tony didn’t actually want to be there. He would much rather be in his lab with Bruce and Loki - or even just sitting back on the couch talking about everything and nothing with the mage. But as far as shitty situations went? Walking into SHIELD with an armed guard and Loki at his side was hilarious.

Tony had seen the footage of when they’d captured Loki during the invasion and the only thing missing this time around was the cuffs. Loki was giving the same smirk but his attention was only rarely on where they were going. Instead he kept looking at Tony as if they were sharing a private joke.

Which, really, they were.

Tony used the walk as a way to indicate to Loki just what rooms they were passing. “That’s the terribly underrated lab over there,” he pointed out. “Oh, and that’s the training ground for the baby Avengers.”

He shifted just enough that he could see Barton gritting his teeth. It only made him more inclined to keep explaining SHIELD layouts to an amused Loki. He saw a different lab and made sure to draw Loki’s attention to it. “They’re attempting to work on blocking your magic over there,” Loki’s eyes narrowed and Tony lightly squeezed his hand. “Failing though, so don’t worry.”

And if they get any better, we’ll destroy their equipment.

Barton didn’t try to stop him as he kept chatting, which surprised him a little, but Tony wasn’t complaining. The SHIELD agents they encountered stared as they walked by; their eyes filled with either fury or trepidation - but one way or another they all had their hands near their guns.

They were finally shown into a windowless boardroom filled with empty chairs that Tony knew from experience were painfully uncomfortable.

“No welcome party?” He asked Barton.

“Director Fury requests that Loki remain here.” He gestured back out at the hallway. “If you’d follow me, Stark.”

Tony barked out an incredulous laugh and both his and Loki’s bodies tensed; stubborn, defensive, united. Their arms were brushing they were so close and his grip tightened on the mage’s hand. “Not a chance, Barton.”

Barton looked like he knew he was fighting a losing battle, but he still persisted, “This doesn’t have to be difficult, Stark. Give us ten minutes apart from your boyfriend and then you can go crawl back into his lap.”

“I do not believe these chairs will be conducive to such a position,” Loki replied, a lascivious smirk quickly curling his mouth even as his eyes surveyed the room. He then caught Tony’s gaze and purred, “But I do so adore having you there...”

Tony had to swallow down a laugh as he made a show of analysing the furniture, tilting his head as if playing with logistics. “Yeah, the armrests would be a bitch,” he decided, before turning back to Loki and suggesting, “But hey, you do like me on my knees, I could always-”

“You’re winding us up,” Barton interrupted him, but despite his deduction, he was frowning, “but it’s still not an image I want to have described to me. Just wait here.”

He turned on his heel and gestured at the agents to follow him. They left the room and shut the door, but Tony knew they would be just outside, waiting for further orders and stopping anyone but Fury from entering. Or them from leaving.

Tony was extremely tempted to have Loki teleport them out of the compound, just to stab a middle finger in the face of their arrogant presumptions. Or maybe they could just do something to piss of Fury and anyone else who was monitoring them.

Loki, it seemed, had a similar idea.

“If you are so inspired,” Loki murmured, letting Tony’s hand go but sliding his own up Tony’s arm and then across his back and shoulder blades as he walked. His fingers were running so gently across Tony’s shirt that he shivered. “I could incorporate such a position into our evening plans.”

He stepped behind Tony until they were flush together. His mouth brushed Tony’s ear as he whispered, “I will have you at my feet and hold you in place until I am done with you.” His hands went to rest on Tony’s hips as his hot breath puffed over Tony’s skin. “Perhaps that shall be my reward for our postponement?”

Tony’s eyes fluttered and he leant back against Loki, letting the other take his weight. Loki’s mouth was no longer touching him; instead he had tilted his head so that they could see each other.

Your dirty talk must be phenomenal, Tony couldn’t help thinking.

“I think we’d both be getting a reward there,” he answered the mage, his voice slightly rougher. Loki looked thrilled and Tony couldn’t even tell if that was part of the act or genuine delight.

Tony barely noticed one of Loki’s hands moving until it cupped him around the neck and chin. He didn’t try to direct Tony or hold him; his hand was simply a warm pressure as Loki bent down and caught his lips. The thumb on Tony hip also began to stroke lightly as they softly exchanged kisses.

It was nice; a kind of oddly affectionate gesture while also being completely passionless. They were both tense and keeping an eye and ear on when SHIELD would barge in on them. They also weren’t trying to arouse each other with the kissing or touching; the actions were only being done to piss off the organisation that was watching them - to cement the nature of their relationship to SHIELD. They were also, at least to Tony, a weird form of comfort. He had Loki to lean on, to count on, to conspire and work with and it was... liberating.

Still. It wasn’t going to help them get the reaction they wanted if this PG shit was all they did.

After all, he didn’t think Fury was going to keep them waiting too long. Fury knew neither of them were patient by nature and less likely to be malleable if overly agitated. Tony figured the incentive of keeping them from screwing on the conference table would only get him walking faster.

He broke the kiss with Loki and when both their eyes were open, he smirked at the mage and slipped his hand backwards, wiggling it until he managed to get under Loki’s clothes and touch the skin of his stomach.

“How do you feel about getting caught on camera?” He questioned, feeling Loki suck in a breath beneath his inquisitive fingers. “It wouldn’t exactly be the first time I’ve had a sex tape get leaked to a wider audience. So, what do you say, babe?”

Tony’s fingertips started to edge under Loki’s pants and fuck; Loki’s eyes were surprised but otherwise completely unreadable depths of green. And if Tony was leaning back a little further and hoping to feel some kind of reaction, well, that was just the ego of a man wanting to arouse a demi-god talking.

But before he could push Loki any further, the door to the room opened and they were forced to look away from one another. Hill was the one who had entered and the glare she shot them could have not only curdled milk, but probably put the entire dairy farm out of business.

“Agent Hill,” Tony said with false cheer and his own glower, “you really do have the worst timing.”

“And Agent Barton said you didn’t want your time wasted,” Fury answered him, stepping into the room with his coat swishing, but his eye zeroed in on Tony and his position against Loki. “Let’s try and make that an agreement on both sides.”

Tony’s smile was knife sharp and just as thin. “Really? Because an email that didn’t interrupt my evening would have been so much better. ”

“There’s a new enemy attacking innocent people,” Fury calmly responded, “I know you don’t want to be here, but that isn’t something we can just ignore.”

Turning to Loki, Tony remarked, “I do love it when people ask you to ‘put aside their differences’ when it suits them but forget all about it when it doesn’t. If they ran it like a two-way street, your name might already be cleared with the public.”

“It was more than just SHIELD that didn’t want the world to know about what happened with Loki,” Fury told him; a new coldness to his voice that said just how unhappy he was with Tony’s decision to unveil his alliance with the mage.

Too damn bad. “You didn’t have a problem explaining Bucky Barnes’ situation.”

“That was different,” Fury instantly dismissed. “And it isn’t why you’re here.”

Right, sure. Shove that under the rug as one more thing you don’t want to discuss because you know I’m right.

Loki’s hand moved from Tony’s neck to his shoulder, squeezing in comfort and support before rubbing small circles with his thumb.

“Director,” Loki calmly addressed, “I have very little care as to why you saw fit to avoid even the slightest attempt at gaining my favour by exonerating me on this planet. It was certainly an amusingly terrible decision, but I had very little faith in your intelligence in the first place.”

Tony couldn’t help his amused snort and Loki’s mouth curved faintly. Fury was managing to mask anything he might be feeling beyond an eye twitch. Hill, by comparison, looked like she was actually counting backwards from ten in order to keep her gun holstered.

“Now,” Loki continued, “you wish to discuss the recent adversary.” His eyes narrowed as he warned them, “I suggest you begin before either of us decides we are bored.”

“We should have expected you wouldn’t care about anything if it didn’t revolve around yourselves,” Hill growled out, but her gaze was on Tony, as if he was proving correct all her suspicions about his worth. She didn’t even glance at Loki, apparently completely decided on her opinion of him.

Tony wanted to say he didn’t care about Hill or her opinions, but fuck it stung. She’d worked for him, and while her loyalties had always been to Fury he’d still liked her. He knew she’d never defy Fury, never disobey an order even if she disagreed, but hearing that her opinion of him was that low after everything she fucking knew he’d been through? When she knew what SHIELD’s betrayal over his weapons would have done to him?

I didn’t hold her accountable, Tony realised. I knew she wasn’t there when they made the decision, and I let her stay separate.

It shouldn’t have hurt as much as it did and Tony shouldn’t have let her sneak under his defences but he had.

Another one bites the dust.

So he just built one more wall to hide it.

“What can I say? Too many stabs in the back take their toll. But, Hill, just a tip,” he smiled with too many teeth and a complete lack of kindness, “wooing someone to ally with you shouldn’t include a lot of insults.”

Hill looked ready to say something but Fury gestured with his hand and she clenched her jaw but stood down. Her eyes still blazed with anger, but it was a battle that Tony was honestly relieved wouldn’t be fought. He could already feel himself draining; surrounded by all the people he’d trusted and been excited to call his friends.

He’d spent so much of his life alone and without anyone to trust but Rhodey, without anyone else who liked him for who he was. He’d liked being part of a group of people who might never understand him, but at least were happy to humour him or to try. Almost like a family.

It wasn’t completely gone though. He still had Rhodey and Bruce he also now had Loki and that made Tony feel better. He’d gotten rid of the weeds he hadn’t noticed had infiltrated and now he only had the best left. There was no use crying over hurt feelings and bitter anger; he had a meeting to focus on and get through.

He made himself pull away from Loki slightly and while Loki seemed surprised, he still allowed it. The way that his hands clung to Tony momentarily, spoke of his reluctance. Tony wasn’t planning to go far though, in fact, he curved his hand around Loki’s wrist, brushing his half of the bracelet set and feeling a rush of fondness for the mage.

He motioned at Fury and Hill, encouraging them towards the table and chairs. Neither of them looked particularly pleased but they still made their way over. Fury, at least, knew when to grin, bear it, and swallow his animosity for the sake of his goals. He knew that same attitude had burned him before, but Tony still could appreciate it, especially when it worked in his favour this time.

Tony was gently leading Loki over to the opposite side of the table, when Loki suddenly prevented him from sitting down and he turned to the mage with a frown. Loki gave the furniture one look and sneered, “Oh, I think not.”

Tony was confused for a moment before Loki waved his hand and made two chairs, two fucking thrones appear for them. They were both a dark wood that was almost black with elegant detailing and twists. Tony’s was easy to distinguish with deep almost blood red cushioning and gold filigree. The only difference between them was the green of Loki’s seat as if even in this, Loki presented them as equals.

He led Tony to his throne and when he was seated, Loki took his place to the right. He sat with his back straight and his hands resting on the arm rests. He was acting as if they were two kings granting an audience; his chin tilted imperiously.

Honestly, Tony could have kissed him for the gesture, for the brightening of his mood, and the souring of Fury and Hill’s faces.

You absolute little shit, Tony thought with a delighted grin. I can’t ever get enough of you.

It only took ten minutes for the first argument to start.

“You’re withholding information,” Hill accused them after Tony explained they had no idea who the animal lady was.

Tony had glared. “That’s funny; I always thought you couldn’t withhold information when you didn’t have it.”

“She attacked the city and you were able to stop her within minutes.”

“Sure, after getting the shit kicked out of me by a bunch of bulls.”

“You knew exactly where to find her-”

“Because she was being so subtle-”

“She’s also a magic-user who has suddenly appeared when you gain a mage for an ally.”

Tony slapped his hands on the table and stood. “Are you saying you think Loki is involved with her somehow?”

“Stark, sit down,” Fury ordered firmly.

Tony ignored him. “If you had oflistened to what we were saying you would have heard us say she isn’t using magic.” He was holding Hill’s unimpressed eyes and trying to keep his voice moderately calm. “It looks fucking genetic, as we told you and who do you know who has twisted geneticists? How about HYDRA, for one - or wait, should that be SHIELD? Maybe you should check your own staff before shooting at Loki.”

“Our organisation has been thoroughly vetted.”

“Oh? Did you add a new question? How do you end the sentence ‘hail blank’?”

Hill didn’t stand but she did lean forward, looking ready to throw some new insult but Fury slammed his own hand on the desk loudly.

“That’s enough.” His voice was a whip and Hill actually flinched, Tony just looked at him with faint shock. He’d never actually heard Fury come close to yelling before, but he looked ready to start.

“Quite,” Loki echoed before placing his hand on Tony’s lower back, encouraging him to take his seat once more. He only looked away when Tony was seated, but kept a warm touch on Tony’s shoulder. “I would suggest picking your ambassadors with greater care,” Loki told Fury. “Or you may find yourself losing members of this meeting.”

The threat wasn’t an idle one and Fury responded to it accordingly. “Agent Hill, please remove yourself from the room and bring in Captain Rogers.”

Hill was gritting her teeth, but she stood with a sharp and quiet ‘yes, Sir’. The tension to her spine made it clear she was still furious and well aware that she was going to be reprimanded for her behaviour later. Good.

“Do you really thing Captain Spangles will be any better?” Tony questioned him when the other had left. “I’m surprised you didn’t make it a party.” He was slouched in his throne and able to kick a nearby chair. “You have enough seats.”

“This is a discussion Stark,” Fury answered, “not an ambush.”

“Oh, it is far more hostile than that,” Loki chuckled. “You might be endeavouring to appease us by creating even numbers, but we both know no one in this room is pleased to be here.”

“Look,” Fury linked his fingers and rested them on the table, glancing between Tony and Loki as he implored. “Let’s try to work through this with as little argument as possible. This won’t help anyone if we divulge into a lot of useless threats.”

“Soooo,” Tony drawled with anger still burning bright in his chest. “Suck it up?”

Fury’s mouth actually twitched into a small grin. “You’re not the only one currently applying that phrase to themselves, Stark.”

A small part of Tony wanted to smile, but most of him just wanted to grimace. He didn’t have to make the choice as his staring match with Fury was interrupted by Rogers knocking on the door before entering cautiously.

Maybe he expected to walk into a bloodbath. It wouldn’t have been far off, if Fury hadn’t removed Hill. Rogers greeted them all at least before taking Hill’s vacated seat. The discussions went a little easier after that. Rogers didn’t seem inclined to see any of them fighting and Fury was a damn good deal breaker.

It didn’t mean they didn’t have further arguments. It only took one wrong word for their animosity to spill over or their sharp tongues to unsheathe. Tony had gone to stand numerous times but always stopped when Loki touched his wrist and rubbed his skin gently. He would usually take over the conversation until Tony had calmed down.

Tony had noticed the way Fury and Rogers had shared more than a few glances over their close contact. He also hoped Thor was getting an equally fantastic view of their touches and was being a homophobic ass about it. Tony wanted someone at SHIELD pick up on what Thor was doing, connect the dots and call him on his bigoted beliefs. A punch to the face would be nice too.

For the time being he just dragged his throne closer to Loki’s and placed his hand over the mage’s. Greatly enjoying the way Rogers kept looking at it with barely disguised frustration and confusion.

They did have to take a break eventually with all of them wound too tightly and Tony ready to start ripping throats out over one more barbed comment too far about Loki. Fury and Rogers had left them alone in the room and Tony had taken to pacing once he knew Loki had disrupted visual and hearing devices.

Tony had been hissing foul remarks under his breath while Loki perched on the edge of the table watching him.

“Anthony,” Loki interrupted him calmly, “I hardly plan to concern myself with some spiteful comments from Director Fury.”

“He insults you, he insults me. No one fucks with my friends.”

Loki chuckled and pushed off the table. “I appreciate the sentiment, Anthony, but the Director knows better than to attack too violently.” He reached out and caught Tony on his next frustrated pass, making him stop. “He does not wish to lose you any further than he already has.”

“If Earth didn’t need him and his organisation breathing-” Tony started to hiss, his fury still bubbling and burning though his veins. But he stopped when Loki gave a soft, rebuking squeeze to his arm.

Firmly, Loki told him. “But your world does, Anthony. Furthermore, you’ve said yourself that they are useful to you.” Loki’s thumb began stroking his skin. “I know your anger and I would gladly eviscerate their traitorous forms and burn this stronghold to the ground, but it would not be wise.”

Tony let out a sound somewhere between a growl and a sigh as he acknowledged the point. “I don’t like working with them.”

“Nor I,” Loki answered. “But for now, we must attempt to pass through this as quickly as we can.”

Closing his eyes, Tony let himself rock forward and press his forehead to Loki’s shoulder. He felt the mage tense as if surprised by the sudden weight, but he quickly accepted it and Tony privately smiled even while letting out a pitiful whine. “Can’t I just do it via email?

Loki laughed lightly. “I will teleport us away if you truly wish it.”

Tony huffed out a breath, but knew Loki was right. It didn’t make him feel any less like the pressure was building under his skin, the betrayal still festering in his bones. Tony knew it was making him feel thinner; it made every sneer about Loki rile his blood. It made the slightest remark that skimmed to close to his weapons fire him up and make him want to hurt.

It didn’t help that Fury also wanted to talk about... everything.

He wanted to know what Tony planned to divulge to the public about Loki (“none of your business, you can find out when the public does”), what the other realms thought of Loki (“he’s a genius”) and how it affected Tony and Earth (“I’ll let you know if that actually becomes something you need to hear.”).

Fury also tried to pry more information about what the animal chick was up to and what her powers were(“I thought, ‘we don’t know’ covered it pretty well.”). The final thing he wanted was specifics on what Tony and Loki would do with and for them. They were still arguing that point.

It was like he was in an Avenger debriefing without being an Avenger.

The little derogatory jabs about Loki and their partnership that he slipped in didn’t make Tony any happier. Fury was still trying to remain cordial, but Loki and Tony were just that good at smashing their fists on all of Fury’s buttons. Rogers at least, was doing his best to mediate. He wasn’t doing a fabulous job, not with Tony being unable to do anything but let his words drip with disdain.

It was a miracle that Loki was holding his tongue and his rationality. It was what Tony needed actually, and Tony smiled a little to know that was probably the only reason that Loki wasn’t encouraging his wrath at every step. Loki knew Tony wanted to get out of here and was trying in the only way that was possible to give Tony what he wished.

The only way Tony could let himself walk out on SHIELD was to finish drawing up a contract with them to prepare for any arrival by Thanos.

He knew he could still change his mind, leave them to burn and make them face the full force of his Tower’s defences if they tried to force an association but... but it would be one step closer to an all out war against SHIELD.

They would never stop pushing for this and while he didn’t think SHIELD would ever be a threat to him, he also couldn’t rule it out. Black Widow wasn’t the only assassin on their payroll, and he’d almost been a smudge at the hands of HYDRA using their technology. It wasn't worth the risk.

But the contract didn’t help him feel much better. They were all agreeing to it with the knowledge it meant fuck all in the grand scheme of things other than appeasing SHIELD. No one in the organisation was going to be honest or follow it though, not if it didn’t benefit them.

Just more lies for the liars.

Tony let himself go limp as he put more weight on Loki’s shoulder. He was fairly sure he was getting an indent in his forehead from the armour, but he didn’t even care. It smelled like Loki; like powerful magic and unbreakable trust.

“We need a contract,” Tony admitted. “We’ve been dancing around anything serious. We need paper and pen and some ground rules that we all know no one is going to stick to.”

“I can make the ink change on our copy,” Loki began, “A different colour or font perhaps when they are breaking one of the agreements we have set down.”

Tony pulled back with wide eyes to stare at Loki. “You can do that?”

“Oh, yes.” Loki’s mouth twitched up slightly. “But only on our version, of course.”

“Loki,” he told the other, “you are perfect. I don’t care who might have told you otherwise, I am outranking them. I am overriding. You are the most perfect thing in existence and I need to figure out what I can possibly give you to show how much I love you right now.”

Loki grinned, wide and completely amused by his reaction. “I shall keep the boon in mind, for when I am next curious about something on your realm.”

“Done,” Tony told him. “So done. I’ll make a note with FRIDAY; one boon coming up.”

Shaking his head, Loki separated them before waving his hand and creating two pieces of parchment and a quill. “Well then, shall we reconvene? We wish to finish as soon as possible and I believe the wording will take some time before we are all in agreement.”

Tony winced pre-emptively, knowing it was a hell of an understatement. He also pulled out his phone to quickly message Pepper; something told him that the press conference she’d scheduled was going to need to be pushed back.

Five hours. That's how long they were stuck arguing over the smallest points and disagreeing over what SHIELD considered 'obligatory'.

Nothing was obligatory between them anymore. Tony had said as much, snarling it in Fury's face who had blankly took it and calmly disagreed by throwing things like "the world" and "being a hero" in front of Tony like he was the one being questioned over his tactics.

And fuck, there had been a moment right in the middle of it where he’d missed Pepper so fiercely that it had stolen his words. She’d handle these kinds of meetings for SI with grace and brutal efficiency. Tony knew she couldn’t be here, that he didn’t want her here - not when he couldn’t trust her - but the sharp flare of hurt had still lingered.

The continual, grounding touches Loki's gave to his leg or arm helped. It got his thoughts off Pepper and also quelled his seething need to punch Fury in the face and declare ‘fuck it’, ending any possibilities of a working alliance. Loki’s glances also reminded Tony that they had plans. Loki would be keeping a close eye on the contract and when he had the spell prepared, he would be getting Tony his weapons back.

And fuck, he’d love to be the fly on Fury’s office wall on that day.

But regardless of that thought, and even with Loki’s assistance, it didn’t help ease much of the tension from the room. They’d taken a few breaks when things got heated - SHIELD supplying them with shitty food and even worse coffee. He'd asked Loki to check it for poison, certain there was no other way it could be so bad.

He’d also got an update from FRIDAY that Bruce hadn’t made any major discoveries on the super-powered animals. He was actually glad for that; he didn’t want to find out anything while he was present as SHIELD’s ‘guest’.

Pepper had also called to yell at him at one point during the negotiation. He'd put her on speaker, throwing his hands in the air and letting Rogers deal with explaining the changed time of the press conference to her.

It was still a slap in the face to their crumbling friendship. It was just another repetition of the attitudes she'd displayed during the heart of the betrayal; believing them while ignoring him. But in the end, Tony was just grateful when the call finished even if it meant more of Fury and Rogers.

And he was glad when that was finally done too.

The contract, when they finally finished, was rather simple. Both sides would divulge any information gained about Thanos or any other threats to Earth that they came across. They would also work together on the battlefield and would present a united front to the public. They would not attempt to undermine or otherwise attack each other and would come to the other’s aid if and when it was needed.

They were basically two armies signing a non-aggression pact.

It didn't mean Tony still wasn't pissed off at some of the outcomes.

SHIELD could request - or rather enforce, because Tony and Loki could both read between the lines on that one - debriefings on battles they’d partaken in. Tony and Loki could decline to attend (but it would be more of a hassle than it was worth). They would also still need to send them reports or attend occasional video conferences.

Honestly, it was just like the contracts Tony had drawn up between SI and rival companies. He'd stood on the other side of people who had tried to do him or his company damage and smiled in the face of their sneers. It had always been easy and had never bothered him then.

The Avengers however, had succeeded in hurting him, and it was that much harder to swallow that down under professionalism and rationality. But rage and vengeance didn't have a place in a deal, not if Tony wanted to get the best result for him and Loki.

And they did do well.

Fury, for all that he was a bastard, he wasn't making unreasonable requests. He was listing obligations that Tony was well aware he held to Earth. It didn't mean Tony had to like agreeing to it.

When everyone seemed happy enough and Fury had read the contract Loki had written out, he put it down and allowed, "This is acceptable."

"Well thank fuck for that," Tony exclaimed, tired and irritable. "Then let's get this thing signed; Rogers for the Avengers and you for SHIELD."

As he spoke, Loki flicked his fingers and like fire was burning against the paper, their four names were added to the bottom of the document. Loki held out the quill towards Rogers and Fury. "Shall we conclude this tediously long meeting?"

Fury had his eyes narrowed; looking at the quill like it was an active hand grenade. Rogers just sighed before reaching out and plucking it. He turned the parchment towards him and after skimming it briefly; he pressed the quill to the paper and signed with practical flicks of his wrist.

He then turned to Fury and held it out expectantly. Fury looked highly unimpressed and as if a lecture was in Roger's future, but he still took the item and added his own agreement to the contract. Loki was next, elegant and, amusingly, using green ink in comparison to Rogers and Fury's plain black.

Rogers had snorted at the same time as Tony and when they locked eyes, Tony was surprised to see a painful wistfulness that made him look away, his heart feeling traitorously close to lodging in his throat.

Loki tapped his wrist with his finger and made Tony glance at him. He held out the quill with an odd expression but Tony just smiled, tight-lipped and revealing nothing before taking the item.

He scrawled his name, his smile quirking into something more genuine at the red and gold ink that came out from the quill. He’d made them match their thrones. Ceremonial Diva.

When he was finished, Loki vanished their half off the items but left the duplicate sheet on the table for Fury.

"Well, I think that's us done." Tony pushed up, Loki joining him and transfiguring the chairs back into their normal forms. "Don't call us and we won't call you."

"Stark," Fury warned in both tone and glare but Tony wasn't having it.

"No, no. We played our little part and I was civil. Keep fucking pushing and I will be a hell of a lot less so."

"So shall I," Loki added and ice had crept back into his tone. His glare held barely constrained disgust and contempt. "I have been hospitable for the sake of Anthony's world, but my patience for your organisation is beyond thin and my goodwill non-existent. Do not attempt to stop us from leaving."

"And here I didn't think you had much patience for ants in the first place," Fury countered, standing as well. His last veneer at politeness dropped now that their signatures were down.“I’m surprised you bothered to stay in the first place.”

Loki chuckled, dark and foreboding. "Director Fury, you have been labouring under a misconception if you believe the only thing saving you from slaughter is Anthony's request that I do not do so. I have no care for your lives."

Rogers had stood when Fury had and his stiffening was impossible to ignore. "Was that a threat?"

"Had you not listened? Anthony wishes you to live, because of this, I will not be requesting recompense for your slights through laws common to the Aesir."

"What Asgardian Law?" Fury demanded with narrowed eyes and even Tony was a little curious about that himself.

"Battles to the death have been fought over less,” Loki explained darkly, “Thor certainly enjoyed ordering a battle when his honour was besmirched - and you have done far more than that to Anthony." He tilted his jaw and looked down his nose at them as if they were the insects at his feet - their feet. "You are traitors to the man you called 'shield-brother' and your trespasses shall never be forgotten, and should be repaid."

"And we're meant to believe you dredged up something like concern for Stark from that pit you call a heart?" Fury spat before he turned to Tony. "If you think he will do anything but use you, Stark, you're a fool."

"Oh?" Tony wondered but his mouth was a thin line and his blood was rushing in his ears. He had to clench a hand around his own wrist to keep from activating his hidden gauntlet. "Because I think Loki has more heart than any of you. He's also done more for me than any of you have. But fuck, no one here thinks I have a heart anyway. So I guess we're just a match made in heaven, huh?"

"And if ever there was a fool in this room," Loki added, touching Tony's shoulder. "It is you Director, for not recognising the asset you had over the gleam of some paltry, stolen weapons."

Fury just clenched his teeth at the words. "That was a miscalculation-"

"A mistake," Loki corrected. "And one that will forever brand your skin." He encouraged Tony towards the door and he was happy to follow if it meant getting out of here. "And this audience is concluded."

"You're not a Prince down here," Fury informed him coldly.

Loki stopped them at the door and looked over his shoulder. "I am a mage and a God and Anthony is a King among men. You have far more need of us than we of you." Loki turned away from him as if he was beneath Loki's valuable time.

"This was always our show, Director; do try not to forget that again,” he said over his shoulder.

Tony grinned at the mage and took in a deep breath, savouring those words and the frustration and hate probably pounding thorough Fury's veins.

"He will betray you, Stark."

Tony didn't even feel half of the rage he expected at being treated as if he were a child, or an idiot. He only felt disinterest in the other as well as a strong desire to defend the slander being thrown at Loki. He gave Fury one more look, barely registering Rogers behind him. Fury looked imposing and determined; trying to get a point across that was laughably incorrect and given to someone who didn't trust him as far as he could spit.

"No," Tony told him simply, "he won't."

They left the room before a reply could be given, but unlike what he expected, it wasn't Fury who followed them, it was Rogers.

"Tony, wait."

He ignored him, but while Rogers wasn't fool enough to try and touch him, he could hear the solider right behind him.


Spinning on his heel, he took Rogers off guard and they almost collided. "What?"

Rogers’ eyes were full of suspicion. And worry. Hah.

"He might be cleared, but he's still Loki." He flicked his eyes away again before saying, "You may not think anybody here cares about you-"

"Yeah, funny how betrayal gave me that impression-"

"But we do," Rogers continued to talk over him. "So be careful. If you need any help, you only need to ask."

"He has all the assistance he requires," Loki informed Rogers promptly.

"Assistance removing himself from you, if he ever needs to," Rogers corrected, glaring right at Loki.

"He has Colonel Rhodes to give him support," Loki argued. "Surely you still trust him to make his own decisions?"

"That's not what I-"

"Nope. Only me you don't trust," Tony interrupted with false cheer. "Well, Loki too." His smile dropped. "And I don't want your help. Be suspicious all you fucking want, but don't expect me to listen to you. We're done."

Turning to Loki, Tony didn't even have to say anything before Loki was reaching out for him and they were disappearing in the now familiar burst of magic.

Tony closed his eyes at the feeling; like a warm blanket wrapping him up and tingling against his skin. Taking him - taking them -home, and he was glad to finally be able to relax.

Thank you, Tony thought quietly as he opened his eyes to find the darkness of the penthouse, lit only by the lights of the city.

He caught Loki's eyes in the dark, watching him intently and he grinned tiredly. “Thanks, Loki.”

In response, Loki’s mouth just tipped up into a small smile.

Chapter Text

They didn’t stay standing for long before Loki was placing a firm hand on Tony’s upper arm and leading him towards the couch. His grip was warm and steady - easy to follow - as they took up a comfortable sprawl on the cushions. They sat facing each other, backs to the armrests and with Tony legs drawn up to his chest.

He was too tense to unwind, but Loki didn’t ask him to try and relax - something, which he greatly appreciated.

“Lights, Boss?”

“No,” Tony answered, “don’t worry about it.”

Loki sent him a perplexed look, but didn’t comment on it. The city was illuminating the penthouse just enough to see each other’s faces, creating an air of intimacy that was a sharp contrast to the brightness of SHIELD. Tony liked it. It was also a perfect reflection of their lives; deception under the spotlight and sincerity in the shadows.

“Anything new, FRIDAY?”

“Dr Banner has retired. He has left the lab running further analysis on samples taken from the sleeping animals.”

“I will have to deal with them soon,” Loki murmured thoughtfully. “Tomorrow, preferably.”

And that brought Tony back to what he’d been avoiding.

“The conference isn’t in the morning anymore, but it’s still tomorrow.” He told Loki tiredly, feeling drained at the mere thought. He knew how to play the game with the press and he knew Loki didn’t deserve the public’s censure, but it didn’t mean it still wasn't going to be a battle in itself. He’d rather be in the lab with Bruce and Loki.

“What time?” Loki questioned softly.

“Midday.” It made Tony’s mouth twitch up slightly. “Or maybe high noon would be better a description. I’m sure it’s going to feel like that; the good, the bad and the misunderstood.”

Loki didn’t seem to get the reference. “Would you like to retire then? Or do you wish to further construct the image we’ll present?”

“Well, going in blind isn’t going to be the best option.” Tony shut his eyes on a sigh. “We could pull off winging it, but I don’t really want to. SHIELD won’t help anymore than they have to and while Rhodey will support us we’ll still be under fire from every direction. They'll be sure to cover the nature of our relationship, right down to the specifics of the attack. Hopefully the tests Bruce has running tonight will give us some info on Animal Whisperer.”

Because so far his results had been inconclusive or just downright confusing. Tony hoped tomorrow would shed some more light, but he also wasn’t counting on it. Bruce did think there was some kind of contamination or mutation of their genetics, but more than that, he couldn’t say.

Tony was getting the very worrying feeling that Animal Whisperer had done something almost Hulk-like to herself by using a bad serum. Bruce’s tight voice on the phone had hinted that he was thinking along the same lines.

But Tony was brought back from that particular problem by Loki responding to him, “But regardless of her Anthony, it is I, first and foremost, who will be drawing your media’s focus.”

Tony smiled slightly. “And the fact you were kissing me.”

“I believe,” Loki corrected, his expression sardonic, “that it was the other way around.”

It made Tony’s grin widen for a moment before a darker thought took over. Loki was putting on an almost affronted tone at the accusation and even though Tony knew it was an act, it still dimmed his enthusiasm.

Loki noticed it and frowned, but before he could ask, Tony gently questioned him, “Are you sure you’re going to be okay with publicising our relationship? You said the guy in the sky watches everything, and you’ve hidden your sexuality for hundreds of years, are you sure you-”

Anthony,” Loki’s tone was firm but fond and it made him fall silent. “You make the mistake of believing our relationship is not long since discovered by Asgard. While Thor might not have said anything for fear of my shame smearing his own reputation-”

Tony tensed, anger welling up inside him and breaking through his exhaustion.

Loki reached forward and squeezed Tony’s leg calmingly before he could move, and slowly, Tony settled back down. Loki continued as if nothing had happened. But he didn’t remove his hand.

“Heimdall will have seen us when we left the tower earlier. The wards I have in place only mask us when we’re here. He would have informed Odin as well as any others he believed should know. This press conference will not reveal it to anyone; rather, it will simply be us confirming it.”

Some of Tony’s fury was forced to abate, not because he felt better, but because he was too surprised to hold onto it. “So you...”

“‘Came out’ as you say, from the moment you kissed me, yes.”

“Oh fuck.” Guilt him like a train. “I should have asked you before I did that, shit, Loki, I’m so sorry.”

“Anthony.” Loki squeezed his leg again. “I assure you that I’m not concerned. I knew this would be divulged to Asgard when I agreed to the ruse. I did not care about it happening from the moment I implied to Thor that there was something between us.”

“But I shouldn’t have-”

Something not unlike a static shock made him jump and he glanced down at his leg before looking back up at Loki accusingly.

“Enough,” Loki told him softly. “You acted with my best interests at heart. You also acted in a way that makes our relationship look far less rehearsed. Stop finding more reasons to lay guilt onto your shoulders.”

“I outed you,” Tony protested, “to homophobia land. And yeah, you said that it’s okay, but that was such a fucking lapse in judgment and I-”

This time, Loki shut him up by raising the hand from Tony’s leg and flicking his fingers with a sigh. Tony kept speaking but no sound was coming out. He blinked a few times before trying again. When thirty seconds of distracted and curious testing had passed, he remembered what he had been saying, and turned a deep scowl on the cause of his sudden onset of laryngitis.

Loki was lazing back against the couch, unconcerned by the death glare he was being fixed with. “Are you finished repining about actions you cannot change?” He queried, sounding bored, “Are you finally going to take my word for this, rather than the overblown ones that are flying around in your head?”

Tony crossed his arms and deepened his glower. He also mouthed a very slow and enunciated ‘no’ at Loki in answer to his questions. He regretted it when Loki’s expression twisted into something unhappy and almost hurt.

“So my words aren’t enough for you to believe?”

Shit. Tony only saw the misstep when he was already falling down the hole, of fucking course.

He rapidly started shaking his head, but Loki was already beginning to wall himself off and Tony had no other means of proving himself when he couldn’t give voice to a damn thing. Well, he did have something.

Uncurling himself, Tony practically pounced on Loki so he couldn’t leave or get anymore stupid thoughts in his head. He crawled up between Loki’s legs and placed his hands on the armrests either side of Loki’s body. Their faces were close and Loki’s eyebrows rose as Tony glared at him.

Fix me, he mouthed at Loki.


Tony leant in close until he was almost cross-eyed and mouthed it again; Fix. Me.

They were so close that he felt Loki’s breath leave him in a soft exhale. He didn’t see Loki’s magic this time, but he felt a tingle under his skin and quickly started talking, “I trust you. Loki you know I trust you, fucking hell.”

“And I’m meant to believe this? Your words?”

“Of course you ar-”

Tony froze, realisation flooding him at the corner Loki had manoeuvred him into. It made Loki smirk with such satisfaction he had to punch the fucker in the chest just to feel better, but Loki didn’t even flinch. “You asshole.”

“Yes, I understand that being proven ridiculous can be quite insult provoking,” Loki told him with a smile and Tony just groaned and slumped down bonelessly against Loki.

“Fine,” he grumbled against Loki’s chest, “point taken. I should believe you. It doesn’t make me feel any less guilty for outing you.”

He felt a tentative hand touch his shoulder before Loki was urging him to move. He ended up with his back to Loki’s front. Tony felt awkward for a moment, not because it was Loki but because it was anybody - but it didn’t take long for him to relax into the other’s chest.

It wasn’t much different to a hug, after all, and from tomorrow onwards they were going to be more intimate than ‘friends’ - at least to everyone other than Rhodey. Besides, friends could sit cuddled up on the couch, there didn’t have to be anything sexual or romantic about it. It was society that shoved certain actions into boxes, and Tony was all about flipping the middle finger at forced convention.

If Loki was fine with it, he didn’t have to worry about it.


“We need to talk about this.” He looked over his shoulder and up at Loki who was eyeing him curiously. “What we do and what we’re comfortable with. I don’t want to fuck up again by accident. I don’t want to do something that actually upsets or embarrasses you.”

“I am difficult to discomfort,” Loki told him simply.

Sure, apart from when you have a sex dream about me and freak out spectacularly. Thankfully, Tony was able to press his lips together to hold that response in.

“Okay so, to what extent are we going to push this thing? What’s it going to take for one of us to put up the white flag? How far does it need to go beyond where it already is? More to the point, tomorrow we air this to the universe; what exactly are we telling them?”

Loki was quiet for a moment, obviously thinking it over before he allowed, “We remain as near the truth as possible. I came to persuade you back into the Avengers but you offered me a lucrative partnership opportunity that I accepted instead.”

“We made up the contract,” Tony continued from there, “flirted a little, one of us pushed us to the next step and my reputation and the kiss paints any more imagery we need.”

“Your reputation...” Loki murmured quietly, something odd in his tone that Tony couldn’t place. When Tony looked behind him, Loki was frowning, but before he could enquire about it, Loki seemed to be shaking it off before continuing, “And that will be enough on your world for it to be accepted?”

“For people to believe we’re lovers?” He waited for Loki to nod. “Pretty much. I was known when I was younger for sleeping with anything that moved. The reporters loved a scandal and it was surprisingly good for business.” It sure had helped him sleep at night too. For a while, at least, and only before Afghanistan. But Tony pushed those memories aside. “That history is only going to help us at selling our relationship.”

“Ah,” Loki murmured, “and what of me? How will people take to the idea that it is I you join force with as well as take to your bed?”

“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that.” Tony licked his lips. “I think we need to talk about how you were treated on Asgard.”

He could actually feel the way Loki went rigid at the words and Tony quickly dropped his arm to the side. He found Loki’s hand and rested his palm over Loki’s wrist, squeezing gently. “Just hear me out, okay?”

Almost expecting to be shoved away violently, Tony called, “FRIDAY, pull up a list of LGBTQIA communities that specialise in the sort of shit Loki went through.”

“That was a long list of letters, even for you,” Loki commented with only a hint of his normal humour showing through under his discomfort.

“Didn’t make that one up, Lokes.”

FRIDAY helped to confirm it by pulling up the information he requested as well as a breakdown of what the acronym meant. Tony barely had a chance to scroll over the first webpage before Loki was shifting behind him and his arms were coming up and taking over control of the projection. He was looking past Tony to be able to see the screen as he flicked through all the information collected.

Very carefully, Tony peaked to the side so that he could catch Loki’s face. Then he wished he hadn’t.

Loki looked... shocked; deeply cut into by what he was reading and incredibly vulnerable. It was a plethora of emotional data he’d never had any access to in the past and Tony wished he could do something more to help him other than sitting beside him silently. But he didn’t know what, so in the end, he just stayed where he was.

“There is nothing like this on Asgard,” Loki whispered almost ten minutes later, dropping back against the couch again as if he was exhausted. Tony very cautiously leant back against Loki’s chest, hoping he could at least be some kind of anchor in the storm. “There, you are required to love a woman, to be a warrior and obey the Allfather in all things - little more. This... this is so vast in its acceptance. It is closer to the Elves and their way of thinking.”

“And people are going to break their heart knowing what happened to you,” Tony quietly informed him. Mine’s already fucking fracturing for you.

“I am not in need of coddling,” Loki gritted out, back to being tense. “I appreciate your world has this for mortal youths but I-”

“This is not pity,” Tony snapped, looking over his shoulder and glaring at him to make that known. “This is me telling you that what you went through wasn’t right. That Asgard is wrong and that there are millions of people on this planet who are going to agree with me, who are going to rally behind you for not only this but everything else that put you on the wrong side of Earth when you couldn’t do anything to stop it.”

Loki still looked unhappy. There was a tightness to his posture that Tony recognised from his own experience; when Rhodey showed him concern and he didn’t know how to handle it. The feeling was like bugs crawling under his skin and made him feel like a cornered animal.

Tony shifted so that he could face Loki again, catch his face and hold his wary gaze. “You dealt with their oppression, discrimination and hate for a thousand years without flinching. You fell into a land of horrors and walked out of it with enough sanity to help save our planet. You walk around now having survived shit most mortals can’t even imagine and what most of the Aesir couldn’t endure for more than five seconds. You don’t need pity, Loki. Every fucking person that hurt you needs pity for what we’re going to do to them.” Tony showed his teeth in a lethal smile. “But they won’t get it, because they don’t deserve it.”

Loki’s mouth had parted slightly and his eyes were pools of raw emotion. He swallowed hard and blinked several times, pulling himself together a bit more with every fall of his lashes. When he was finished, his mask was back in place - shakily, but holding. He even managed a smirk.

“With you as my endorser, I think you may just be right about their affection for me.” But a pucker was quick to crease his brow. “But would you have them like me solely for this?”

“No,” Tony quickly answered. “I’m not trying to make your sexuality a selling point or reduce your past to a gimmick. This is going to explain things a bit, put your situation into perspective for everyone on Earth.” Tony bit his lip slightly. “I know something else happened to you, that there’s more to the story than you ending up in Thanos’ power.”

Seeing Loki’s eyes go blank, Tony hurried to add, “But I’m not going to press for the specifics! This will cover a lot of the situation and give you a good amount of ground for redemption to the public. And what with the fact you were lied to about... erm.”

Tony stopped, not sure how to touch that fifty-thousand degree hot spot.

“My heritage,” Loki filled in coldly before haltingly explaining, “I was taken as a warprize from another realm.” He swallowed. “I was raised ignorant of that truth and taught to hate the race I was born to...” he glanced away, his eyes dropping to look at his hand. “Among other things.”

Oh, Asgard, you better fucking pray I don’t build a Death Star.

“Right,” Tony replied, barely keeping his voice level. “And then you fell into the hands of someone who tortured you and forced you into a position you didn’t want to be in and-”

“And you would say all of this? Bare all of my scars to your world?”

Tony couldn’t stop himself from reaching out and cupping Loki’s neck, making him jerk slightly and catch Tony’s intent gaze. “No. We’ll bare whatever you’re willing to show.”

Loki’s eyes fell again, slow and slightly unfocused as if he was deep in thought or memory. “Well, I suppose you should tell them that I did not fall, but merely... ceased to keep my hold any longer.”

It was Tony’s turn to freeze as his mind ran through a series of horrified realisations. “You...”

“Did not expect the void to take me anywhere but death,” he admitted vacantly.

Tony made a noise in the back of his throat, something between a whimper and a protest. Trying to comprehend, and yet understanding all too easily how Loki could have become suicidal.

“Anthony,” he felt a hand cupping his own neck and making him focus. Loki was smiling at him gently - if still a little pained - as he encouraged Tony to listen to him. “It is long done and not an action I feel inclined to repeat. It... it is what it is and was driven by more than one circumstance fracturing so much of who I believed myself to be.”

“That doesn’t need to come out,” Tony forced out roughly.

Loki frowned. “Pardon?”

“You don’t need to tell anyone that, Loki, especially not the media who are going to pick at it like fucking vultures.”

Loki’s cheek twitched and his eyes darkened. “Ah. It is a weakness here then too.”

Oh dear fucking- “No. Not it’s fucking not, Loki, shit. If half of the crap that happened to you occurred on Earth, you would have been put on sui-” he tripped over the word but kept forcing it out, “-cide watch.” He moved in closer, almost resting their foreheads together as he tried to drive the point home. “It’s not weak. It’s not you. It’s all on them; everything is on them for putting you in a position where they could hurt you that badly.” He barely took a breath before admitting, “Everyone can find themself at that point. I have and so have people close to me. You’re not weak for-”

“Stop,” Loki interrupted him gently, bringing fingers up to press over his lips. “Your point is made. Just... may we stop talking about this part of my life? About this part of anyone’s life?”

Tony still felt filled with too many emotions and no way to let them out. He spoke against the tips of Loki’s fingers. “I just... I didn’t know that.”

“Few do.” Loki told him, removing his hand completely. “And Thor has undoubtedly dismissed it from his mind.” His mouth twitched bitterly. “One more weakness.”

Tony saw red and was about to argue when Loki smoothly added, “As you say, Anthony, that is on him.”

“If I’m ever alone in a room with him again, I’ll-”

“You will not engage him. Not until we have improved your weaponry and armour.” Loki sighed. “Which reminds me; we have a war to prepare for, not just this publicity announcement. It would do us well not to get too distracted from our main goal.”

“Thanos,” Tony said flatly, well aware Loki was subject changing like a pro but willing to let it happen - even if his blood still boiled and his heart still ached for the man beside him.

“Yes,” Loki agreed. “We can wait until after this conference, but then we must discuss his movements and that of those already attempting to undermine him.”

Tony’s eyebrows rose. “Oh, yeah? Who are they?”

“An odd collection of people, but one was a former favourite of his and someone I briefly encountered while stuck in his realm. Her name is Gamora and she is now a useful source of information about him.” He smirked almost fondly. “For the right price.”

“Yeah, I definitely want to know more about her and her band of misfits. Pencil it in for tomorrow night?”

Loki nodded. “If you wish.”

Tony sucked in a deep breath and let it out. “And we’ll need to listen to all the lovely things SHIELD said about us before we arrived, while we were there and after we left. Ugh.” He let himself slump and lay over Loki dramatically, earning a theatrical grunt from the demi-god. His arms were over the side of the couch and his chin resting on Loki’s shoulder. “I don’t have the strength right now, Loki.”

“You do weigh a pitiful amount,” Loki informed him.

Tony snuck a hand down, attempting to pinch Loki’s side but his wrist was grabbed and held almost painfully. It was such an instinctive reaction that it made him wonder, and he tilted his head to look at Loki with a smirk. “Don’t tell me - you’re ticklish?

“I am not.”

Tony’s grin widened. “Nope. Not buying it. That poker face is too good. You are ticklish. Oh, I’m going to enjoy this.”

“Attempt to touch me in that manner,” Loki warned him, “and you will pay dearly for it, Anthony Stark.”

“Alright, alright, fine,” Tony allowed, relaxing back against the other. “I’ll leave you alone.” For now. Unfortunately, dropping that subject brought him back to ones he’d rather not remember. “We should head to bed if we’re going to do this tomorrow. We’re not going to have a lot of time to sleep.”

“Planning to distract me in the bedroom as well, Anthony?” Loki teased, making Tony crack a smile and shift a little to look at him.

The angle was fairly terrible though so they quickly rearranged themselves so they were both lying down facing each other with Loki pressed against the couch and Tony right in front of him.

“You’ll have to give me hickies tomorrow,” Tony told him when they were settled. “I need to have my ‘Loki Claim’ bright and prominent for Thor and Asgard to see.”

Loki grinned. “Oh, I am more than happy to do that.”

Tony chuckled briefly, only to quickly sober. “When Rhodey shows up in the morning, we’ll have to rehearse everything a little better. Prepare what we’re going to say and workout just what you want to tell everyone about your history. Rhodey can help. He can let us know what he thinks is workable and what won’t be bought.”

“I’ll prepare a list over breakfast, shall I? This scar, that scar; you can argue over which will hurt more.”


He smiled. “I’m teasing, Anthony. I won’t suggest anything I’m not comfortable divulging, you have my word.”

Tony eyed him for a few seconds, confirming his sincerity before nodding. “Okay.”

He went to continue, but his words were halted when he suddenly yawned.

It made Loki’s grin grow even wider. “I do believe it’s time for mortals to be in bed.”

“Oh, don’t you even. This is nothing. I can last far longer than-”

Loki’s fingers found his mouth again. “Enough, Anthony,” he chastised gently. “You have said yourself that we need sleep. Come now.”

Tony wanted to protest, but his mutinous body made him yawn again. It was just because he was lying down; tiredness was so much harder to fight when you were lying down. That was his story and he was sticking to it.

Gently, Loki guided him off the couch before following along beside him. Tony didn’t need help reaching his bedroom, but was unwilling to shrug off the hand that rested between his shoulder blades. When they reached his door, he turned to Loki, watching the other take a step back to place them a polite distance apart.

“Sleep well, Anthony.” Loki’s mouth twitched. “Tomorrow, I sully your reputation.”

Tony rolled his eyes so hard it almost hurt. “Oh, as if you-

But Loki had already disappeared in his favourite cloud of sparkles, leaving Tony talking to air.

Cheater,” he grumbled, but without any true heat, his lip was already curving up slightly as he made his way into his room.

He wouldn’t have expected it after having dealt with SHIELD so recently, but somehow he felt... okay. Light almost, and like he might actually get a decent night sleep regardless of having been stuck in their company. Regardless of the emotionally draining conversations he’d just had with Loki.

Tony supposed it really just came down to one thing; Loki.

It was always easier, when it was with him.

Chapter Text

It had been surprisingly easy to sleep.

He’d left Anthony with a smirk and a tease, but when he’d lain down in his bed some minutes later, he’d been prepared for nightmares to haunt him. The discussion of his heritage, of his fall and the ever lingering horror of Thanos; it was all the darkness he needed to bolt out of bed with a pained cry catching in his throat and sweat coating his skin.

It had only happened twice since moving into Anthony’s tower and FRIDAY had assured him of her discretion in the matter. Loki had long since acknowledged the truth of it though; Anthony’s presence helped.

Floors and walls and rooms away, Anthony simply helped. His mind was less likely to wander down darker paths when Anthony was so often on his thoughts; distracting him during the day, confounding him with his behaviour when they were alone, and guarding him at night with FRIDAY’s ever watchful presence.

Yet, to awaken in the morning having slept so peacefully despite such vivid reminders of his past... it was almost disconcerting. Loki was surprised he didn’t even have the other dreams, because they were far more common.

Truthfully, they were frequent enough to almost be concerning.

Anthony Stark was affectionate, accepting and involved in a ruse that Loki’s subconscious and his magic were starting to accept far too easily. Sexual dreams about Anthony had plagued him fairly consistently, and while he was able to dismiss it as a simple desire for sex, his magic’s reaction was far more worrisome.

Loki had known that he and Anthony were very alike, that they got along extremely well and that Anthony accepted him, more so than anyone save his mother... but his magic had taken that too far.

When he’d grasped Anthony’s hand his magic had done something it never had before. Loki had read about it, Loki had seen it, and while it didn’t always mean or progress towards something romantic, it was still considered extremely important and sacred among mages.

Loki’s magic had told him that Anthony Stark was compatible with him. His magic had more or less reached out and tapped Anthony, saying, quite simply; we pick this one.

It didn’t mean anything, of course. Loki didn’t have to respond in kind, and it certainly didn’t mean they were destined to be together or any such romantic nonsense. It just meant that should they... should he...

But Loki shoved the door firmly shut on that. It means our partnership will be far greater than I anticipated when I first accepted it.

It had still shocked him, Loki couldn’t deny that, but only because it had never happened to him before. His magic, his subconscious had registered their physically affectionate touches and that was why he was not only having dreams about Anthony, but it was why his magic perceived that there was more between them. But there wasn’t.

Loki might be perpetrating a relationship with Anthony, but that didn’t mean under the disguise of an illusion he couldn’t find someone else to lay with. As long as he didn’t damage their ruse, it would be an inconsequential dalliance and he would even tell Anthony of his intentions to bed someone if it ever came up. They were not lovers, and neither of them intended to deepen their relationship.

Anthony was not a lover of men and neither of them had feelings that went deeper than friendship.

Yet Anthony’s words last night came back to him; ‘my reputation and the kiss paints any more imagery we need.’

Loki had pondered those words for a long moment when they had been spoken, but he’d dismissed them in the end, too busy focusing on all the other things Anthony had brought to his attention. It had been... a trying day. The revelations of betrayal still made his body burn with the need to utterly destroy those who had ripped so casually into Anthony’s heart and soul.

He wanted to send numerous vicious spells and deadly curses their way, rather than the one that would remove all of Anthony’s weapons from their possession. It wasn’t enough, but it was all Anthony would allow him – Anthony, who deserved far more recompense than what he was allowing himself to take.

But to follow that infuriating revelation with a meeting with the very people who had betrayed Anthony... Loki had barely kept his tongue between his teeth. It was only knowing that Anthony had needed his support and comfort, not his anger that kept Loki contained.

Loki was not usually in such a caring role and the few times he’d tried in the past for others, Loki had always found himself lacking somehow. It was... nice to see his touches helping Anthony. It was nice to know that he could do more than hurt or destroy something to make Anthony relax.

So he had continued to do it.

To receive comfort and acceptance in return when he’d told even the barest parts of his own tale, it had made a weight fall from Loki’s shoulders. He’d still only skirted the issues; never explaining what he’d done, never saying what he looked like - there was only so far that Anthony’s forgiveness and his acceptance could stretch, Loki was sure.

In the end, it had left him with too much to ponder and very little time to spend doing so.

Anthony’s press conference was in but a few hours and while he wasn’t exactly worried about it, there was a discomfort in the pit of his stomach at airing his past so... widely. The communities he’d been shown certainly made his acceptance look more favourable, but none of the mortals listed in those articles had committed as many atrocities as him.

Could they really forgive him that?

Loki didn’t know, and he hoped that connecting himself with Anthony didn’t make the mortal’s own status on Earth suffer.

My reputation.

And there were those words again, echoing in Loki’s head as he tried to pick at them for what they were and what they couldn’t possibly be.

I was known when I was younger for sleeping with anything that moved. He’d also said. The reporters loved a scandal.

Loki knew rumours, he was well known for creating them himself. Tony showed no indication of being inclined towards men. He was friends with numerous men whom he touched easily and affectionately, that was all.

A false lead was all it took; a few careful words and a mindless population who were two steps removed from the actual situation and who could follow the notes of a gifted conductor.

It will paint a picture, and they will believe it, regardless of the truth that was never inside it.

He supposed it helped them, and it was gratifying to know that two men being lovers was not so despised on Midgard. There was still tales of woe, of violence and disgust, but at least in Anthony’s country it did not seem so bad. At least for Anthony, their relationship would be... accepted.


The sudden call from FRIDAY made Loki jerk out of his thoughts rather inelegantly. He’d managed to get from his bed to the bathroom but had ended up leaning against the wall. It wasn’t uncommon for him to cease all movement as he worked his way through a problem. His magic often required him to go into deep trances and whenever he felt comfortable and safe in his lodgings, he would often let his mind drift wherever it needed to.

“Yes, FRIDAY?”

“Mr Stark is awake and going to gain some breakfast. Would you like to join him?”

Loki smiled a little. “Did he request me or are you moving us together of your own accord?”

Sometimes, Loki did wonder if Anthony’s AI wasn’t his own kind of magic, reaching out and acting for him in protection and support. He almost wished he had met JARVIS before he had become part of the Vision. The few times Anthony had mentioned him made Loki believe he truly had missed something wonderful.

“I know he would never dislike seeing you.”

Loki’s grin became bigger. “Very well. Do not bother to inform him, I will be up presently.”

He didn’t make his way directly to the penthouse floor, he continued with his morning ritual, showering and changing into more appropriate attire. It was but ten minutes when he requested of FRIDAY, “Where is Anthony now?”

“The communal lounge,” she answered. “Dr Banner is already present.”

“Ah,” Loki breathed, taking all of a moment to factor his presence in before he was searching for Anthony and finding his energy signature.

Smirking a little, Loki teleported himself to stand right behind the other man and wrapped his arms around his waist. Anthony was wearing a very finely tailored suit and Loki perched his chin on Anthony’s shoulder and purred, “You should have joined me in the shower, my dear.”

“Now, now,” Anthony answered, not even missing a beat as he patted Loki’s hand. “We have a guest; I’m not going to completely ignore him just because your tongue happens to be fantastic.”

Loki had a very hard time not laughing at the reply. He hid his amusement by burying his face in Anthony’s neck, pressing his mirthful smile against Anthony’s skin and wondering how he’d pay back his delightful fellow showman for such devious words.

To an observer, of course, he would look as if he was kissing Anthony’s neck.

“Maybe I should just...” Bruce Banner’s uncomfortable response unfortunately brought their teasing to a halt.

Anthony twisted out of Loki’s arms and also forced Loki to face the Doctor.

“Bruce, come on,” Anthony told him, moving closer. “Look, I get that you don’t like him but-”

“Tony, it’s your home and you can be as expressive as you like with-”

“Yeah, but that’s not the point-”

“Dr Banner,” Loki cut in abruptly, making them both turn to him. “Is it simply myself you have a problem with, or that the lover Anthony has taken is a male?”

Dr Banner went tense and he straightened, looking almost insulted, “The gender of someone has never once been something I have had a problem with, Loki.” His lips thinned. “FRIDAY informed me of the prejudice in Asgard and I’m appalled at the way you were treated.”

Loki raised an eyebrow when nothing further was forthcoming. “That of course, does not fully answer my question.”

He sighed and rubbed his eyes, but Banner elaborated. “I see you and know that there isn’t one side to the issue, but the Other Guy doesn’t like you.” He looked tired around the eyes, aged, when he dropped his hand. “The Other Guy sees you and the building he smashed you into and wants to repeat the experience.” Bruce nodded at Tony. “He likes you, so he’s conflicted at seeing you both so affectionate. Quite frankly, it’s exhausting.”

“Awh, Bruce,” Anthony looked guilty, no doubt doubled by the fact that it was a ruse and that Dr Banner was suffering for something that wasn’t true.

“Do you believe it will be easier to accept with time?” Loki asked him simply, making both men blink. When he received no answer, he requested, somewhat impatiently. “Will the Beast learn that I am not your enemy - nor Anthony’s - and cease to care about my presence around you?”

Banner was frowning deeply. “I... possibly?” He glanced at Anthony. “The Other Guy learned to distinguish who the tea...” he trailed off, looking uncomfortable and apologetic before correcting, “who was friend from foe.”

Well, as much as he had planned to have fun teasing Anthony and being responded to in turn while Banner was present; Loki supposed it would only be better for them in the long run. If Banner was intending to spend extended periods around Anthony, it would be best that they didn’t have to constantly create a persona that was fictional.

“Very well,” Loki told them, “we shall simply practice discretion.”

“What? Loki, no-”

“I could not possible ask or expect you both-”

Banner and Anthony both overlapped each other in their initial refusals of the suggestion. When they looked at each other, pausing over who would continue, Loki interjected instead, “I am not saying we will stop, Dr Banner, merely that you will not be greeted to our more exuberant displays of affection. I can sense where you are in the Tower; I will take that into account.” He nodded at Anthony. “We both will.”

Banner was looking between the two of them like he didn’t know what he’d just witnessed. Anthony, on the other hand, had passed through suspicion and was now watching him with a soft look in his eyes.

“You don’t have to do that, Loki,” Anthony told him, but his eyes were filled with gratitude. “We don’t have to hide this.”

Loki smirked a little. “I do believe our public debut has more than shown that you are not ashamed of me, Anthony.”

His words were all tease, another part of their act, but Loki already knew what it truly meant to Anthony to have been given a quick and simple way to avoid further lying to his friend. Banner still believed they were lovers, but at least for the time being - and until Anthony decided whether to admit it to the Doctor or not - Anthony didn’t have to actively pretend.

Anthony’s smile lit up his eyes and Loki was momentarily confused when he stepped closer, but instead of a faux embrace, Anthony did what he had done to Banner when he arrived after months away; Anthony hugged him.

For the first time Anthony was embracing him genuinely, and as a friend.

Loki was surprised, but it was quickly followed by a surge of pleasure and affection and he wrapped his arms around Anthony’s back, simply enjoying the warmth of his touch.

“Thank you,” Anthony whispered to him. “It means a lot to me that he stays, thank you.”

Loki smiled gently. “You are welcome, Anthony.”

They didn’t stay like that long, not with the Doctor’s difficulty at seeing them together now known. Anthony pulled away first and went back to Banner who had shifted to stare out the window. Anthony drew him into conversation about something relating to some article or another Loki had no interest in. Loki made his way to the dining area to make himself some breakfast instead.

It was while he was taking out ingredients and utensils that FRIDAY announced, “Colonel Rhodes has arrived.”

Banner and Anthony had made their way to the couch, but Anthony told her, unnecessarily, “Send him up.”

There was a slight tension to his voice, likely caused by the reminder of why his friend was visiting, but he still went back to his conversation with Banner easily.

It took a few minutes more for the Colonel to actually reach them and by then Loki’s meal had finished frying. He had been amused at the whispers and staring he’d received when he’d been levitating items or charming a knife to cut his vegetables. Anthony was rather used to it, but Dr Banner was far more unaccustomed and intrigued.

It was when his breakfast was on his plate and he was sitting at the counter that Rhodes arrived. Loki offered him a casual wave with the hand holding his fork but otherwise continued to eat.

He only paid the vaguest attention as Rhodes’ focus was snagged by Banner. “Bruce?”

“He showed up the other day,” Anthony elaborated, waving him over. “Come and catch up!”

Banner smiled minutely but accepted the handshake and backslap Rhodey gave him. The Colonel than sat down on the coffee table and faced them. The conversation moved into pleasantries and Loki summoned the tablet Anthony had given him to begin reading the many media reports that his and Anthony’s actions had inspired.

It was fairly derogatory and negative, which was unfortunate, and Loki could only hope Anthony was as good with the public as he said. Loki’s own tension was beginning to mount at just what they would likely be faced with before they had a chance to charm the reporters.

He was so involved in his research of the news heralds that it took Banner speaking to make Loki blink back to the room and turn to him. “You didn’t need to do that.”

The Doctor was standing just close enough that the conversation was private. Rhodes and Anthony were talking on the couch, although Anthony did keep flicking anxious looks their way.

Loki focused back on Banner, quickly noticing the sharp intellect in the way he was being observed. It was that, more than anything that had made him such a close and cherished companion of Anthony’s. Banner still distrusted him, of course, but this attempt to speak to him regardless of the Beast’s attitude was favourable.

“Agree to discretion?” Loki clarified, and when he gained a nod, Loki continued, “Well, it was not solely for you.”

Banner didn’t look surprised. “It made Tony happy.”

Loki inclined his head. “You are one of the few remaining who holds his trust. It is a small inconvenience for me, weighed against a great comfort to him, and an easier adjustment to my presence for you.”

“You could ask me to leave.”

“Anthony doesn’t want that.”

Banner was quiet afterwards but continued to watch him carefully. “I think you’ll be good for him,” Banner eventually decided, making Loki’s eyebrows skyrocket. “Oh, I don’t like you,” Banner chuckled a little darkly, only sobering to clarify, “but I do trust Tony.”

He paused and his eyes drifted. “He had me look at all the details he has on you; Thanos, Asgard, the contract.” Banner blinked back and pursed his lips. “I think there’s a lot more to you than what we ever knew, and I think there was a lot of extenuating circumstances the first time we met. But,” Banner took a menacing step forward, and Loki was reminded strongly of the Beast that had pummelled him into stone, “if you hurt Tony, if you betray him, the Hulk won’t stop at smash - he’ll stop at crushed.”

Loki accepted the threat with a slow nod, not brushing it off the way he would have preferred to. “I do hope not to experience that again.”

It was to Loki’s surprise that Banner actually grimaced, the intimidation leaving him in a moment and taking him back to the slightly timid, hunched man he usually was. “Yeah, me either.”

He looked ready to turn away, but Loki was far too curious. “Dr Banner,” he waited until the other had faced him again, “I must wonder; this threat of yours, will you apply to people who have in fact already betrayed Anthony?”

Banner stiffened and his eyes flicked to Loki’s, full of sudden exhaustion and barely hidden pain. “You mean the Avengers.”

“They were your team as much as Anthony is your friend. He is my partner and I have yet to determine whether you are a further threat to his heart.”

“I’m not here to hurt Tony,” Banner told him, resolute, unwavering. Yet he also didn’t pick his side.

It made Loki wonder just what was holding him back. “So you believe what they did was not-”

“It was unforgivable to Tony,” Banner interjected. “And I am horrified that anyone in the Avengers could let it happen or be a part of it. I don’t approve of it, I don’t like it and it never should have happened.”

Loki stiffened and his eyes narrowed with menace and the unwavering decision to remove Banner from the Tower if he wished to side with traitors. “But you have doubts.”

“No,” Banner shook his head negatively. “I can believe far too much of it, but I don’t want to. Tony is my friend, but so are they.” It was the look in his eyes alone that stayed Loki’s tongue and his hand; the look of a man who didn’t know where to turn. It resonated too closely to Anthony’s own wounds for Loki to be comfortable with. “I need to know why they did it, why they thought they could. I can’t give up my loyalty and faith in them until I know for sure that they deserve that.”

“And if you find out that they do?” Loki pressed.

Banner’s eyes hardened, gaining a green tint that warned of the Beast inside. “The Other Guy won’t be any happier than me.”

A hint of a smile curved Loki’s lips. “SHIELD could hardly find a more harrowing threat.”

“I think knowing you don’t like them isn’t much better,” Banner deadpanned.

Loki just raised his eyebrows pointedly. “Surely they didn’t have any hope it was the opposite?”

He was rewarded by Banner actually smiling at him slightly, looking genuinely amused at the quip. “You might be chaotic and unpredictable, Loki, but I think even SHIELD knew that was futile.”

“Yeah, well, he surprised them by picking me,” Anthony announced, coming over to them and flashing a smile, but it passed across his face too fast. It was uncomfortable, jittery, just like the rest of him.

Loki frowned and shifted to better face him. “Anthony?”

“We’re running out of time,” Rhodey said, coming to stand beside Anthony and place a hand on his shoulder. “Last chance to run over things before we should go.”

Loki’s eyes instantly shifted back to Anthony, seeing the tension and wanting to comfort him, to give him strength to draw from. He pushed from his seat and stepped closer; he positioned his back to the bar but with his body angled towards Anthony. Their shoulders were brushing and he let his fingers lightly stroke Anthony’s wrist, gaining a small smile from the action. While he couldn’t see it with the long sleeves of Anthony’s outfit, Loki took a certain pleasure knowing he would be wearing his bracelet.

“What do you plan to tell everyone?” Banner wondered.

“It will depend,” Loki answered into the silence that followed before asking Rhodes’. “How did your superiors react?”

Rhodes grimaced, but still replied, “Not... terribly. Some conservative views were aired-”

“Anti-gay,” Anthony chimed in.

Rhodes just continued as if it hadn’t occurred, probably long used to the habit. “And concerns for national security.”

“They haven’t liked me since Afghanistan,” Anthony instantly added before smirking at Loki, “and you scare the crap out of them.”

But,” Rhodes loudly persisted, “the Pentagon - and the Air Force in particular - won’t make an official comment until after the press conference.”

Anthony nodded sagely. “It’s always easier to take sides when you know the public reaction first.”

Rhodes sighed. “Tony, you know the game as well as me.”

“Yeah, I know,” Anthony reassured him, but it was followed with a sigh that belied his cheerful tone. Loki found his hand wrapping around Anthony’s wrist and squeezing gently. It caused a minute increase of light to Anthony’s eyes, but not enough to shake off the worst of his tension and uncertainty.

But before anyone could say anything else, Anthony rolled his shoulders and shrugged Rhodes touch off and pulled free of Loki. He stepped away from them all and Loki could see as each piece of mental armour was wrapped around Anthony; emotional shields and weapons to keep his brilliant, broken core from suffering any more damage. Yet, Loki could see it for what it now was; singed and structurally unsound with far too many weak points just waiting to be bled through.

Loki couldn’t stop vile words and painful questions from being flung at Anthony, but he could stand by his side and help him to weather it. He could deflect some of the blows and offer his own armour whenever Anthony’s might fail.

He would be Loki Liesmith, the Trickster and the partner of a brilliant, intelligent mortal.

Letting magic dart from his fingers he changed his outfit to a suit to match Anthony’s own. He didn’t add his own colours or even Anthony’s. He chose a neutral charcoal that would allow him to show his allegiance in something far more blatant than colours.

He would show it in words, in action, in truth.

Loki Laufeyson had chosen Anthony Stark - and if they were to lie about the specifics, well, what did one expect, from two men like them, and two minds like theirs?

Anthony seemed to have similar thoughts as he turned around, caught Loki’s eyes and then grinned, wide and vicious and beautiful.

“Alright guys, we’ve got answers we need to construct and not a lot of time to do it.” He gestured towards the couches, a small attempt at comfort when what was to come would give them anything but. “Where do we want to start?”

Chapter Text

When no one answered Tony’s question, he decided to throw out a suggestion to get the ball rolling, “How about ‘hey, he’s not actually a bad guy’?”

Loki smirked, his eyebrows rising and his voice amused, “Oh dear, lying already?”


“What?” He questioned, simple and unconcerned. “My negligible coercion aside, I was never considered good on my own realm long before the act had taken place.”

“Coercion,” Bruce replied softly but with his eyes hard, “needs to be addressed no matter how minor, and torture is not minor.”

Tony could see Loki gearing up for another flippant comment, like those he’d given himself when people pressed him about Afghanistan. Because it was easier to avoid remembering the horrors, if you didn’t have to think about how much it had hurt, how much it had broken, how much it had branded you.

It didn’t help that ever since last night, he’d felt... protective of Loki. Or rather, he felt an encompassing need to be around Loki. Hearing that Loki had not only been suicidal but had attempted it, fuck, it made Tony want to attach himself to Loki’s side and refuse to let him near anything sharp or dangerous ever again.

He knew it was ridiculous and that Loki didn’t display suicidal tendencies, that he’d never even know that he had - but it didn’t stop Tony’s worry. He also knew that treating Loki any differently now would be the biggest slap in the face to Loki’s willingness to trust him. But it didn’t stop Tony’s need to assure himself Loki was fine.

They’d known from the start that they’d have to talk about Loki’s past and his involvement in the invasion, not to mention his physical and emotional torture as he was manipulated by Thanos. He knew Loki wasn’t fragile, but it didn’t mean Tony didn’t want to shelter him.

Loki surprised him though, by giving Bruce’s remark a serious answer. “I use the term negligible, Dr Banner, because at the time my interest in your world was non-existent. I wanted to remove myself from the Mad Titan’s clutches and had little qualms in destroying your world to do it. It was by design that my invasion was to fail and your world to remain mostly free of harm, but had that not been important to my plans, I would have had little care either way.”

“Yeah, but you wouldn’t have done it at all, if he hadn’t put you in a position where you had to choose.”

Loki nodded at Rhodey, ceding the point. “True, but that only absolves my actions against your world.”

Tony narrowed his eyes at that. “But you did something to another world?”

When Loki’s eyes found his they were... carefully blank. “As I have said, I was never considered ‘good’ long before I had dealings with your world.”

“And how much of that was Asgard, and how much of that was you?” Tony pressed.

Loki’s smirk was without humour. “Well, Anthony, that would depend on just which action you apply that question to.”

“As much as I think this is important,” Rhodey spoke into the quiet, “and that it’s something we, but especially Tony should know about, it’s not immediately relevant if you’re not going to talk about it at the conference.”

He glanced between Tony and Loki, but Tony barely noticed, too busy staring at Loki and trying to puzzle out how many dark secrets Loki had just hinted were in his past. Tony had already assumed there were a few, but something in his expression said there might be a deal-breaker lurking in those shadows.

“In that you are correct,” Loki murmured, pulling his gaze from Anthony, “Midgard does not need to become aware of it and Asgard will not dare mention it as they will not wish to reveal their own part in the matter.”

“Right, then let’s focus on what we need to,” Rhodey insisted, drawing them back to what was important. “FRIDAY showed me the document you drafted last night, Tony.”

Loki’s eyebrows rose and Tony shrugged. “We’d talked about what would happen when you first showed up, which granted, there are a few things that have changed since then, but that combined with our talk last night and being unable to sleep got me productive. FRIDAY, pull it up, yeah?”

FRIDAY did as asked, revealing the list he’d made of everything he could think of that might come up at the press conference; items they wanted to discuss, plausible answers to a range of questions, rebuttals and a few twisty sentences that would get them out of answering something completely if they wanted to. It wasn’t perfect, but it should cover the majority of issues they would face.

“Impressive,” Loki murmured, pulling a copy of the projection towards himself while Bruce did the same.

Loki wasn’t doing it intentionally, but Tony found his attention being pulled to Loki. Maybe he’d just been expecting the creak of leather amour or the sight of a rumpled tunic, but all of a sudden Tony’s brain decided to notice what Loki was wearing.

Because he hadn’t before, not really, not with his full attention. He’d been distracted by the conference and all the other things that had happened this morning. This was the first time his brain had switched gears to pay attention to the outfit Loki had conjured.

Loki looked... good. He was leaning back slightly, his brow furrowed as he scanned the information Tony had put together. The suit hugged his thighs and his wrists were visible from beneath the sleeves, making his pale skin stand out all the brighter. He even seemed to have changed his SMS-cuff to resemble the bracelet Tony still wore, probably to better fit into ‘Earth fashion’. His jacket was buttoned over his shirt and tie, and Tony had to admit, that seeing Loki in an entirely charcoal suit was... really impressive.

A boy could have a fantasy about a guy dressed like that.

The thought had barely slipped through his mind when Tony was drawn from his contemplations by Bruce asking, “You can’t rely entirely on how Asgardian culture differs from ours.” Bruce had taken off his glasses and was rubbing his eyes. “That doesn’t excuse everything.”

“Why not? SHIELD have certainly used it whenever Thor did something stupid.”

“Yes, but Thor hasn’t invaded a world.”

Loki shrugged absently. “Well, not in the last two years perhaps.”

He was suddenly the focus of three blank stares.

“Thor invaded a world?” Tony was the one to finally ask.

Loki’s confusion seemed genuine as he looked between them. “Well, yes. He was forbidden from doing so by the Allfather, but he dragged myself and four others along with him.” The unimpressed slant to his mouth spoke of remembered irritation. There was also a tension to his shoulders, a discomfort to Loki as he recounted, “He believed it his right as a Prince to do what he wished. He was insulted while on the planet and he slew many of the inhabitants because he felt provoked, the fool almost started a war, and would have had... other events not affected the proceedings.”

The silence lasted for almost a minute. Bruce and Rhodey both seemed a little shocked; Tony certainly was, but he was also willing to dismiss one further reason why Thor was an asshole to focus on Loki.

Other events.

It was only for a moment, but Loki had flicked his eyes to his hand again, just like he had the other night. Tony didn’t know what that meant, but it tied into what he’d admitted about his heritage.

“You have a feudal warrior culture,” Bruce murmured, his eyes distant. “Invading worlds kept power and forced peace - well, the peace of the victor at least.” His eyes cleared. “And Asgard considers itself the ruler, the protector, but it also won its position by battles and blood; the stories that you and Thor would have grown up listening to.”

“Most of the Aesir know those times are over and are grateful for the peace they currently have,” Loki replied. “But Thor has always hungered for battle and has gone in search of it wherever possible, determined to make himself a legend like his father before him.”

Bruce’s eyes fell back to the projection in front of him, still looking like he was trying to absorb the glimpse he’d been given into Aesir society and Thor’s history.

“Is that why Thor got sent to our world?” Bruce questioned, his mind leaping forward. “In punishment for that attack?”

Loki’s smile was more of a grimace. “Thor’s indiscretions are either kept from the Aesir or are adored by the people after a good retelling of his ‘boisterous youth’.”

“Something tells me you never got that consideration,” said Tony.

“Be made to play a dark role for long enough,” Bruce added softly, watching Loki with calculating eyes and a deep frown, “and you’ll find yourself accepting it.”

“Not all roles are baseless,” Loki told them.

It was likely done to warn them, to keep them from absolving him of all blame, but Tony could see it was having the opposite effect. Rhodey was quietly furious, Bruce was tipping ever more strongly into revising his opinion of Loki, and he himself, well, he’d given up being shocked about the level of dickish that Asgard could produce.

He was getting worried though, about just how dramatically and painfully Loki had snapped, and just what Loki had done to make himself look so haunted.

“But as you have said,” Loki continued, dismissing the projection in front of him and drawing his words around him like a shield, “it is not relevant to the press conference. Dr Banner,” he addressed, quickly altering the subject of discussion, “you are the most impartial towards me.” His mouth twitched. “Rather, you are predisposed to dislike me and as such, your opinion is valuable.”

Bruce quickly caught on to what he was implying and shifted uncomfortably. “You want me as a test subject.”

“It would be helpful, Bruce,” Rhodey chimed in.

“The general public is still going to have a different view than me,” he answered, before glancing at Loki. “But I can try and look at how they might react and see if I can help.” He smiled a little more genuinely. “But you seem to be succeeding so far.”

Loki blinked, thrown slightly off guard while Tony just grinned, feeling happiness rush through him as he reached out and cupped Bruce’s shoulder. Bruce glanced at him and gave a tight smile, but his eyes were softer; they were warming to the situation, to Loki.

It’s already working, Tony thought, feeling almost giddy and with confidence rushing through his body and bones. I knew it from the start, because it’s just so fucking easy to like him, to just look and see how brilliant he is.

They used every remaining minute they had before they needed to leave, to rehearse what they were going to say.

Tony had to admit that the rushed nature of the situation wasn’t doing them any favours, but Loki had been revealed when he had and they couldn’t take that back. Pepper might not be happy with him, but even she knew that the conference needed to happen if they were going to manage any kind of damage control with the public, and the sooner it took place, the less time people had to make up their own theories.

The time constraint was irritating, but at least they all worked well under pressure.

When FRIDAY informed them that it was time to leave, all four of them stood and Bruce surprised Loki by offering his hand and wishing him a genuine ‘good luck’. Bruce was going to head down to the lab to check on the animals while they were gone, but he was still waiting to receive the last of his results, so he’d be back to watch the broadcast when it started.

He didn’t have Happy picking them up today; there was enough going on without having to navigate another strained relationship. Things had been tense between them since his falling out with Pepper and he’d found it easier to go everywhere by himself and to just keep the suit nearby. He’d planned to drive them himself, but Rhodey slid into the driver’s seat with a glare that dared Tony to disagree.

He’d handed over the keys with minimal fuss and slipped into the back with Loki. He hadn’t even noticed he’d fallen into a pensive silence until he felt a gentle touch to his knee. He glanced at Loki’s hand - then up at the smirking mage.

“Do cheer up, my dear little mortal,” Loki told him, “It’s not every day you announce your romance to a fallen Prince.”

Tony scoffed, but the distraction still made him grin. Loki squeezed his knee once before moving to release his hold, but Tony reached out quickly and caught Loki’s hand in his. He let their hands rest together momentarily before he slowly linked their fingers. His eyes glided up the sleeve of Loki’s suit, lingered on his chest and the silk of his tie before continuing up to Loki’s curious eyes.

He ignored the ‘fallen’ part to focus on the better aspect, happy to slide into their teasing banter for a few brief minutes before they arrived at the conference.

“Did I mention,” he told Loki, doing his best to pack as much lasciviousness as possible into his words, “that my Prince looks fabulous in that suit?”

He was surprised at the way Loki’s eyes darkened and his mouth parted a little on one word in particular. Ooh, Tony thought, the Prince thing?

“I am still in the car, you know,” Rhodey announced from the front, sounding thoroughly unimpressed.”

Tony swivelled his head to look at his friend, catching his eyes in the rear-view mirror. “Feeling left out? Should I be complimenting your uniform? Why, what large buttons you have!”

Rhodey just rolled his eyes and while his attention was on the road, he still sniped back, “It’s not too late, Loki. You can still break up with him before we arrive.”

Tony gaped dramatically at Rhodey before he pressed even closer against Loki, curling against him and holding on tight. “Don’t even think about it, Rhodey. I’m not letting you steal him, he’s mine.”

Loki chuckled, taking Tony burrowing into his side extremely well, he even let go of Tony’s hand and wrapped an arm around Tony’s shoulders. “My, my, two men fighting over me; I wonder if I should transport you to a convenient field and outfit you for battle?”

It was probably completely by accident, but Tony remembered fighting with Thor in a forest and found himself giggling into Loki’s shoulder. He wondered if he could work in a way to tell Thor that he’d won Loki years ago. It might have been a draw that day, but Tony was sure he could find a way to fudge the details in his favour.

It was only when Tony stopped chuckling that he realised exactly what position he was in; wrapped around Loki and pressed against his side. Loki’s arm was a heavy, comforting weight over him and it was nice, protective even. Tony hadn’t had a lot of times lately where he felt like someone had his back. Where he felt safe outside his tower and away from his suit, but right here, he did.

Tilting his head so that he was resting slightly against Loki’s shoulder, he looked up at the mage. Loki was looking down at him and their faces were close enough that if either of them shifted just right, they could be kissing. They didn’t though. They had no one to kiss for after all, Rhodey was concentrating on the road and already knew the truth. But they could have, and they probably would again, they might even do it at the conference, if the right moment presented itself.

Tony didn’t move from where he was though and even though the time to reply to Rhodey had passed, he still told Loki’s seriously, “You are a great prospect, Loki. I can see lots of people fighting over you.”

“A disgraced and fallen Prince?” He raised his eyebrows ruefully before shaking his head. “I am also committed to you, should anyone even try. I do believe you are the one people would battle for.”

Tony snorted. “I’m a broken mortal with a basket of demons on my back.” Tony smiled, but it was quick and full of all his flaws and crooked pieces. “At least you’ve got magic and space travel on your side, all I have is alcohol and a suit made of ego; just ask the right reporter.” His smiled turned softer. “You’re the better catch.” Loki was frowning at him, looking ready to protest, but Tony broke the moment with a chuckle, glancing away. “Or maybe we’re better off left to each other; a grand disaster of a romance.”

He felt a hand on his chin and was forced to look back at him. Loki’s eyes were travelling across every inch of Tony’s face; reading every painful story, every battering his heart had taken. He saw the swathes of history, pain and baggage that Tony knew he carried but Loki didn’t even flinch, instead Loki grinned. It was full of self-deprecation and eyes that looked hollow. “Oh, Anthony, such arrogance you have to think that you are somehow worse than I.”

“Oh, babe,” Tony told him, just as darkly. “Don’t count me out just yet.”

A loud sigh from the front of the car didn’t make them look away from each other, but they did listen to Rhodey as he told them loudly. “Are you really trying to battle this out? Can’t you be arguing over who looks better in their suit? Or who has the nicer hair?”

“Rhodey,” Tony sighed, finally glancing away. “Why would we argue over that? Clearly, it’s me.” He was flicked on the ear for that and flinched, scowling at Loki who just looked unimpressed. “Rude.”

“Learn not to insult a divine being,” Loki told him simply.

Divine being?” Tony repeated incredulously while pulling away from him. “Are you trying to call me-”

He stopped himself from continuing when his attempts to distance himself and sniff haughtily at Loki were derailed by Loki’s hand on his shoulder firmly pulling him back into place. He was surprised, but allowed it, frowning at the other in confusion.

Loki didn’t comment on his expectant expression, or even continue their teasing argument, instead he asked Rhodey, “How long before we arrive, Rhodes?”

“Twenty minutes, depending on traffic.”

“Fabulous.” Loki turned back to Tony and with a smirk, he flicked his fingers. Tony didn’t feel any different, but he’d seen the spark of magic on Loki’s fingers so he glanced down at them only to blink and then to laugh.

Loki, the fucker had switched their ties. He was now wearing the smooth charcoal that very noticeably went with Loki’s suit. Loki, on the other hand, was wearing the patterned tie he’d chosen this morning. It didn’t long wrong, but it certainly stood out, at least to Tony. It felt almost as blatant as showing up with lovebites and a rumpled suit.

Tony found himself shaking his head at the other, but he didn’t mention it. He just relaxed a little more against Loki.

“Will you join us when the conference finishes, Rhodes?” Loki questioned. “We will be analysing the animals and deciding what is best to be done with them. I’m sure Anthony will also open some manner of alcohol in celebration of returning to the tower.”

“Hey, I’ve been cutting back thank you,” Tony protested.

“Yes, you should thank me,” Loki remarked, “it is only due to my magic that you’ve been adhering to that part of our contract.”

Tony grumbled under his breath, but the others ignored him as Rhodey answered, “We’ll see how quickly they want me back at the Pentagon.”

“Tell them you’re uncovering magic animal secrets!” Tony insisted; keen to keep Rhodey, his friends close and by his side after the conference.

He wondered if Loki hadn’t anticipated just that.

Rhodey just chuckled at him. “We’ll see.”

Knowing that was as far as he could push for the moment, Tony decided to change the subject entirely.

“Soooo,” he drawled, “are we there yet?”

Loki looked confused while Rhodey looked like he would have thrown something at Tony if he had half the chance. Tony just smiled innocently and wondered how many times he could get away with asking it before Rhodey finally gave in and threatened to turn the car around on them.

It was nice, sometimes, to pretend nothing nerve-wracking was about to happen.

They arrived fairly quickly after an amusing conversation where Loki found the human race’s need to quote things both puzzling and amusing. It left the car ride filled with light-hearted chatter until they reached their destination; the main branch of Stark Industries.

Stark Industries had been moved from Stark Tower after the battle of New York, when the Avengers became more frequent residents. Security had been a factor, but he mostly wanted to ensure the safety of his employees and for Pepper. He hadn’t wanted them working in a place that could so easily become the focal point of another attack.

After the betrayal and subsequent stripping of anything SHIELD or Avenger related, he hadn’t wanted to do anything but lick his wounds in private. The tower was mostly bare and empty now, but it was all he had left of a home and Tony hadn’t wanted to bring more people and more conflict into the one place he had left to be protective of.

It didn’t help that wherever Stark Industries was at the moment, so was Pepper. He’d thought their fight and disagreements would be temporary at the beginning, but now Tony wasn’t so sure. Pepper wasn’t welcome at the Tower and Tony didn’t really want the reporters at his doorstep either, especially when he was hiding Bruce. When she’d suggested holding it at Stark Industries, he hadn’t argued.

Rhodey had driven them into a cordoned off area of the underground carpark. It was usually reserved for employee parking, but had been cleared while the conference occurred. It gave them a few more minutes alone.

Turning off the car, Rhodey turned in his seat to ask them, “Ready?”

Tony grimaced a little but still nodded his agreement. “Yeah, sure.”

What could go wrong? He wanted to add, but that was just asking for trouble.

So instead of saying anything further, he pulled himself away from Loki’s hold, meeting no resistance this time, and stepped out of the car. Loki and Rhodey were soon to follow and came to stand by his side. Loki slid his hand down Tony’s arm before ending over his wrist where Loki kept it carefully positioned.

Tony glanced over at him and Loki quirked a smile before dropping his hand even further until he could link it with Anthony’s. “We are lovers, are we not? Shall we not begin this meeting with every intention of assuring your world of this fact?”

It made him relax, minutely, as he gripped Loki’s hand in return. “Yeah.”

Slowing to a stop just before the doors of Stark Industries, Tony reached up with his free hand to fiddle with Loki’s stolen tie before smoothing it out over Loki’s chest. Loki’s eyes were unreadable as he watched him and Tony quirked a smile. “I’ve got to have my Prince looking his best.”

Loki’s smile was small, but it somehow transformed his face into something that made him look younger, happier even. Tony also didn’t miss the way that while ‘Prince’ might not have gained the exact same reaction as last time, it did do something.

Definitely worth further investigating.

Taking their joined hands, Loki raised it until he could press a kiss to the back of Tony’s hand. Tony raised his eyebrows, surprised at the display, but Loki’s eyes just danced with enjoyment. “What luck, as my mortal has already managed the same.”

It made him roll his eyes at the other, but Tony otherwise didn't comment, they were lovers after all. Affectionate gestures were meant to be common place.

They began walking soon after that, their hands still linked. Tony caught Rhodey giving them an amused smirk before he was stepping through the doors.

They wouldn’t be meeting the reporters yet, they’d be going to find Pepper and waiting in a side room until the conference begun, but Tony still felt bolstered. He felt like he could walk into that room of hundreds of flashes and questions right now without missing a beat.

Loki’s fingers were curled around his own, the warmth of his palm pressed against Tony’s and the memory of Loki’s kiss tingling his skin. He was ready, they were ready and there wasn’t any urge inside him to turn back.

Chapter Text

They reached the room where Pepper was waiting for them without encountering anyone other than a few security guards. Tony had expected as much, but he was still grateful for it. The next few hours were going to be trying enough without any initial surprises. Pepper had repurposed a room for them to wait in, while the conference was being held in the foyer of the building.

Tony found himself squeezing Loki’s hand unconsciously at the thought of what was to come. He only stilled when he felt Loki’s thumb soothingly brushing the back of his palm. Tony glanced down at the touch before up at the other’s face. He had an eyebrow raised and a smirk curling his mouth.

Tony sighed, forcibly letting his tension slip from his shoulders with the exhale. Pulling on his best camera smile, he opened the door and stepped inside with Loki and Rhodey following. Pepper glanced up from where she’d been speaking to her assistant to eye them warily.

It was the perfect control of his features that kept Tony’s cheek from twitching and his smile from fraying. “Well, we’re here.”

Pepper turned back to her assistant and said a few more things before dismissing her. She looked wide-eyed and terrified as she came towards them. Tony pressed against Loki to leave her a path, and she darted past them before shutting the door firmly.

Tony raised his eyebrows and turned back to Pepper. “You might want to get them made out of stronger stuff.”

“I didn’t think I’d need ‘being comfortable with war criminals’ on my hiring criteria.”

“Good thing he’s not one of those then,” Tony fired back.

“His reputation won’t just disappear because you want it to,” she argued.

“Well, that’s why we’re here, isn’t it?” Tony insisted, his irritation increasing. “We’re letting the world know the truth about him and why I’ve chosen him both as my ally and as my partner.”

Pepper’s lips were a thin line. “And what happens if you can’t change their minds?”

“You read the dossier I sent.” Tony’s flat remark finally made something shift across Pepper’s face and she dropped her eyes to the tablet in her hands. It was all he needed to see. “You know what he’s been through now.”

She sighed and when she looked up again, her expression was a little softer. “That doesn’t bring back the people he killed.”

“I’m not attempting to erase the actions I performed against your world,” Loki spoke for the first time. “It’s true that I was attempting to undermine a greater evil, but you’re right, Miss Potts, it does not take back the deaths that I caused.”

“So what do you want?” She asked Loki.

“You read our contract,” he answered. “You know why we began what we did. Defeating the Mad Titan is in the interest of everyone on this planet.”

“Your association with Tony has dropped SI stocks overnight, and the outcome of this conference is going to show the full impact of how detrimental your presence will be. You might not have a vested interest in this planet outside of Tony, but what you do here will affect his future and that of the company.”

“I have an interest in Anthony, Miss Potts,” Loki answered, his voice clipped. “Stark Industries is important to him and therefore important to me. I have no intention of hurting anything that Anthony holds dear. I am here to support him in all his decisions.”

Pepper’s ever so slight recoil said that she’d felt that for the very pointed dig it was.

“Right now we need some group support,” Rhodey interjected, wanting to dispel the tension that was forming. “We all know there’s some unresolved issues here.” He caught and held everyone’s eyes as he spoke, but he lingered more on Tony and Pepper. “Issues, that really need to be clarified and dealt with, but now is not the time, not when we have to go out and show the public a united front.”

Pepper didn’t look happy, but she still nodded and recited a line she’d likely devised and memorised after gaining the dossier of information from FRIDAY. “Stark Industries will support Mr Stark and Mr Laufeyson in the same capacity that it does Iron Man.”

Tony could hear more coming, the complete company statement, but he interrupted, “What? We love them when they’re good and we duck for cover when they’re bad?”

Pepper glared at him, quickly thrown out of her speech. “It is my job to do the best for this company, Mr Stark. Your partnership with Mr Laufeyson might save the world, this conference might turn out the way that you want, but if it doesn’t, it is my job to keep SI from suffering.”

“You’ve read everything we’re going to tell the world about his past,” Tony said, staring at her incredulously. “Are you standing here and telling me it doesn’t make any difference to you?”

She pinched the bridge of her nose, taking a breath and releasing it before she admitted, dropping her hand, “I don’t know what I think at the moment.”

And how much of that is SHIELD hissing in your fucking ear? Tony thought viciously, fury rushing through him. He barely kept the words behind his gritted teeth.

How could she stand there and still side against him? She had the information on Loki's past, was she really just taking SHIELD’s side out of some misguided spite? Could everything between them really be traced back to bitterness over their break up and the ensuing arguments?

This is why you don’t fuck up a friendship with romance, he thought bitterly, apparently it ruins everything else too.

“May I suggest then, Miss Potts,” Loki said, responding to her indecision, “that you review all the facts before drawing your conclusions.” He was holding her eyes intensely. “Anthony has made his decision to pursue an alliance with me; further isolation from his good graces will hardly assist you.”

Tony was a little stunned at that piece of advice, and he wasn’t the only one. Pepper looked completely thrown. Rhodey seemed to be the only one who wasn’t surprised; he looked like Loki had just impressed him.

Was Loki just trying to win over the next in a long line of suspicious earthlings? Trying to appeal to her by showing his helpful side? Tony couldn’t imagine he wanted Pepper to start showing up, likely passing on anything she learned to SHIELD. Was Loki just trying to keep his enemies close? To spy on the spies?

Or is he trying to help you mend one more friendship?

Tony shied away from that thought, unwilling to touch it when he didn’t know how to feel about it or about working through his issues with Pepper. There was too much pain and anger in those waters. He’d need to ask Loki what he thought he was doing and whether it was practicality or unwanted meddling.

Regardless of the motive - and Tony could admit, with Loki, there was probably more than one - Pepper seemed to have accepted the advice.

“I’ll see what else you have to say at the conference.” She gave a fleeting, almost honest smile. “Maybe you’ll surprise someone.” She shifted her attention to Rhodey and stepped towards him. “But first I have some questions about the military’s response to this.”

Rhodey nodded and allowed her to draw him off to the side while Tony took the chance to get Loki as far away from the others as possible.

“Make this private?” he asked. Loki raised his eyebrows but complied, waving his fingers in the same way he had the last time they spoke to Pepper; blocking them from hearing but not from sight. When Tony had received Loki’s nod, he continued, “Okay. Spill the beans. You’re being nice to her; why?”

“And fostering her dislike of me will assist us in what way?”

“Beside the point. There’s more going on in that head of yours and I want to know what it is.”

Chuckling softly, Loki admitted with a smirk tugging at his lips, “Only a wish to help ease your tension wherever possible, Anthony.”

Tony narrowed his eyes, ignoring the blatant innuendo to focus on the more important issue, his voice coming out wearier than he’d intended, “I can’t trust her, Loki.”

The tease slipped from Loki’s expression to be replaced with a pensive frown. “I know, Anthony, but she still retains a position of power and that should be brought more fully back to your side.”

“You mean Stark Industries.”

“Mm,” Loki hummed, “that as well.” Tony narrowed his eyes, but before he could examine that particular evasive remark, Loki changed the topic. “I had actually wished to speak to you privately.”

Tony could see it for the deflection it was, but he also wasn’t able to ignore it. “About what?”

“This deception of ours.” Loki was looking down at their hands, but he slowly brought them up. It ended with their palms being held in the air between their chests. “You’ve given no indication that this bothers you-”

“Because it doesn’t,” Tony assured him firmly even as he geared up to allay any worries about homophobia or the besmirching of his reputation.

Loki however, took them down a different path. “Your remarks in the past have led me to believe you were very... fond of your nocturnal activities.”

Tony blinked. “If that’s a very polite way of saying I slept with a lot of people, then yeah.”

“And then you began a romantic relationship.”

Tony smiled tightly but nodded. “Yeah, what’s the point? That they won’t buy we’re in a relationship because my track record speaks better for the sex without strings category?”

“No,” Loki disagreed. “I wanted to be certain that you will not feel unhappy about our relationship making any dalliances or relationships on your world... difficult.”

Tony laughed. “Well, it’s a little late for that now.”

“No,” Loki assured him, his tone firm, “it isn’t.”

Tony could see that he meant it. Loki would abandon their deception despite what it would make Thor and SHIELD think, despite it exposing Loki’s lie and destroying his chance to be open about the kind of relationship he’d always had to hide in the past.

Loki knew he had no problem with being seen with a boyfriend; that wasn’t the issue. Loki was worried Tony would lose the chance to sleep with someone or find a romance because of their relationship. He was worried about Tony’s happiness.

And yeah, he wasn’t wrong, but Tony had already thought about that before agreeing to go public.

“Thanks, Loki,” he told him, softly and genuinely, “but you don’t need to worry.”

“We will not be able to change it for some while, if you agree,” Loki warned him. “Your world will perceive you as unavailable. Thor is often wrong, but he does know me to some degree and he will be aware that I am possessive of my lovers. I would not accept your finding pleasure with another while you were committed to me.”

“Loki, really, don’t worry about it.” Tony sighed before he admitted, “I’m really not looking for a relationship. I tried that and it blew up spectacularly. And casual sex with someone I find attractive but don’t plan to see again hasn’t appealed to me for a long time.” He shrugged. “I’ve thought about this already and our relationship isn’t going to bother me.”

He paused and then he grinned. “If anything, it’s going to minimise people trying to throw themselves at me. It's hard to win me over with a glaring and possessive space mage hovering over my shoulder.”

Loki had looked torn between amusement and exasperation during his response, but at the end he just shook his head “You are a strange creature, Anthony Stark.”

“Why? Because I’m dating you? I will get offended on your behalf if we go down this path again.”

This time Loki let his amusement win out as he chuckled. He still sobered too fast for Tony’s liking and questioned once more, “But you still wish to be perceived as courting me, despite all it’s constraints?”

“Loki,” Tony stepped closer and held the other’s eyes. “There are a hell of a lot of positives in doing it too.”

“So you say.”

“So I know,” he corrected.

Loki smiled faintly and said softly, “I feel for any man who attempts to court you once our ruse is through. The hearts I will break by making you seem attainable.”

“I’ll just blame you for ruining my desire for a relationship,” Tony quipped even while enjoying the compliment.

It was nice to know that even when faked, Loki thought he was good boyfriend material.

“All others would pale beside me,” Loki agreed, his chin tilting arrogantly.

Tony snorted.

He would have loved to contradict and tease Loki more, but Rhodey interrupted.

“Hey guys.” They glanced over at him and Tony knew exactly what he was going to say before Rhodey spoke; the line of his shoulders and the expression on his face said it all. “Time to do this.”

Tony grimaced but gave a brief nod. He turned back to Loki who was already watching him. “We good?”

“Yes,” Loki agreed without hesitation. “We are.”

“Then let’s go.”

They all stepped into the room together, cameras flashing and a cacophony of murmurs beginning as the reporters caught sight of them. Pepper took the lead, moving to the podium while Tony and Loki came next. Their hands were still clasped together and their shoulders brushed. Tony was on the side of the crowd, a barrier between Loki and the media. Rhodey came last, a protective presence watching over their backs.

“Good morning,” Pepper addressed when they were all standing and facing them. “Thank you all for attending.”

The three of them all sat down on the chairs provided as she continued from there, giving a perfectly thought out and expected speech, littering it with the information Tony had provided her about Loki’s status as a war criminal, or lack thereof. The media listened, frowned and took notes, but they were all still waiting with barely contained impatience for the interrogation to start.

Pepper finished her part of the speech before passing it over to Tony. He didn’t want to let go of Loki’s hand, but he’d had little choice. Taking his place at the podium, he took a breath, staring out at a sea of familiar and unfamiliar faces before he began, “I have a good idea of what you’ve all been expecting since you found out about Loki and I, but we’re here to disprove a lot of them. The world needs to know a few things about Loki that’s been kept from it - a few things that I didn’t know until we became friends.” Tony smiled tightly. “But, I suppose that starts, first and foremost, with New York.”

He also hoped that with this updated addition, it was where things started to change.

“And Thanos is still out there?” A reporter asked into the silence that followed, his eyes almost bug-eyed.

“Yes,” Loki answered. He’d joined Tony midway through his speech, standing up beside him at the podium, their fingers linking once again. They were sitting back down now that the initial statements were over, but it was still only the beginning of the questions. “He was the initial reason for our alliance and we still intend to stop him.”

The reporter nodded slowly and fell quiet, a sudden lull in questions as everyone absorbed the information they’d just been given.

Eventually, someone cleared their throat and asked, “Colonel Rhodes, does the military intend to help with this threat?”

Rhodey nodded. “The military will lend their support to The Avengers, SHIELD and their allies. Tony and Loki have already discussed an alliance against Thanos with both parties and the military will honour that agreement.”

That snapped everyone out of their shock and all their attention back to Loki and Tony. It also brought more questions with it.

“Does this mean Iron Man will be considered an Avenger again?”

“Will Loki be joining the Avengers?”

“Does this mean you’re both contracted to SHIELD?”

Tony felt Loki’s thumb start up its soft stroking before the questions had even finished. A gentle reminder to keep calm and not shout, no it fucking doesn’t.

He was still tempted, but he settled with firmly telling them, “Neither Loki nor I are part of The Avengers or SHIELD and we don’t ever intend to be. We are happy to work with those who will aid us in protecting the universe, but we work for ourselves.”

It started a whole new volley of questions and Tony could already feel himself getting a headache and it hadn’t even been fifteen minutes.

There had been a series of questions Tony was sure they both could have lived without that had dealt specifically around Loki’s romantic past (“What happened to your partners on Asgard? Were you ever discovered?”) as well as his thoughts on Earth’s tolerance and acceptance of homosexuals (“What do you think of the homophobia still present in Earth society and those suffering from it?”).

They’d both known they were coming, but Loki handled them masterfully. He let emotions crack through his mask just enough that people saw them and could feel empathy for him, but without giving the appearance that his feelings were scripted.

Tony knew that the only intentional part of the whole thing was when Loki let anything show at all. His emotions and his answers were normally guarded, but for this, he was letting honesty and hurt slip into his words. Tony ended up grinding his teeth so much he would probably have an ache in his jaw for days. He was going to blame that on Loki, with innuendo, to Thor’s face at the first chance that he got.

It was actually Thor that prompted the only question he’d liked during that long skip into Loki’s painful past. A young woman asked them with narrowed eyes and suspicion in her voice, “Does Thor still hold the same opinion that the Asgardians do regarding homosexuality?”

“Well, he certainly wasn’t happy about the fact we were dating,” Tony answered promptly. “I ended up with a broken window after that revelation.”

Loki just smiled thinly. “Thor is rather... physical when he is displeased,” Loki explained, saying nothing, but implying everything. “He might change in time and with the influence of your world to assist him, but I find he has yet to react positively to my choice in lovers.”

And there it was, the moment Tony had been waiting for, when Earth suddenly realised that Thor was an utter asshole. He felt a spike of pure vindictive pleasure at seeing opinions change right in front of his eyes. He hoped FRIDAY was monitoring the internet to see how fast that was trending.

There was another brief silence before a new hand was raised and they were asked, “What made your decision to ‘come out’ and reveal your romantic relationship?”

Thankfully, that allowed Tony to take over and steer the topic far away from Loki’s oppression and discrimination by Asgard. He knew it wouldn’t remove all of the tension from Loki’s posture, but it was still a start.

There were a few other questions that dealt with Animal Whisper and what they knew about her powers (“our investigation into the captured animals is still ongoing, but we will make every effort to revert them back to their original state without harming them”) and if she’d be back (“if she is, we’ll be ready for her.”).

A few of the more gossip rag reporters pried into their romantic relationship, either looking for sexual deviancy or romantic bliss and Tony could probably say they gave them a good dose of both.

They circled back to Thanos a couple of times and did a bit more prying into Loki’s past and what had led him to crash-land on Earth so dramatically, but all and all, Tony was fairly happy with how everything had turned out.

He was exhausted, but at least when the reporters had filed out the general consensus seemed to be more luke-warm to positive of Loki rather than abject hate. They might just be happy for the amount of juice they were going to get from the story, but Tony could hope, at least, that the acceptance was genuine. He knew they’d probably have to do a few more interviews, but it was a start.

Tony still wanted to go back home with a vengeance. Loki seemed more than a little frayed around the edges too. It was hard to see, but there was a tightness to his eyes and an added stiffness to his walk. Tony had taken to stroking Loki’s hand at times, especially when some of the more... personal aspects had come into play. He’d even swapped hands so he could place one on Loki’s knee, squeezing gently.

When they reached the relative peace of the hallway Tony had planned to keep right on walking but Pepper quietly spoke, “You were very diplomatic about SHIELD, about the Avengers.”

Tony scoffed and looked over his shoulder; it was the confusion on her face that made him swallow down the sharper response that had been on his tongue. “They’re needed Pepper. I might hate them, but I’m not about to destroy one of the best lines of defence that Earth has just because of what they did to me.”

She didn’t say anything more, and Tony was happy to leave the whole conversation for the sanctity of the tower.

He must have looked more than a little drawn because he felt Rhodey clap his shoulder and smile softly after they began walking again. “How about you have Loki take you back? I’ll meet you guys at the penthouse. Take a few minutes to unwind.”

Tony felt his shoulders fall with relief, but still offered, “Are you sure? We can still-”

Rhodey was already shaking his head and turning to Loki. “Get your asses out of here.”

“Thank you, Rhodes,” Loki told him, and Tony barely got a chance to see Rhodey’s grin before Stark Industries was fading from his sight and being replaced with Loki’s quarters.

“Welcome back, Boss,” FRIDAY greeted him.

“Hey,” he murmured before turning to Loki. “Does Bruce know we’re here?”

Loki shook his head and guided him to the settee. “I think he may remain unaware for now. A period of silence would be beneficial for us both.” Tony nodded tiredly and the moment Loki sat down Tony leant against him like he had in the car and closed his eyes. Loki just chuckled at him. “Do you intend to use me as a pillow now?”

Yes, Tony thought, because he was already trying to push the conference and all his responsibilities from his mind. Normally, he’d lose himself in the workshop but he couldn’t afford that at the moment. There were too many things to focus on; how the world was reacting, Bruce’s thoughts, if the tests had come back yet, how Loki was handling it - but all of that would come later.

Rhodey knew they needed a bit of peace, and Loki himself had asked for quiet, so why couldn’t they share that silence together?

Opening his eyes, Tony was struck with an idea and he put his hand on Loki’s shoulder, urging him gently backwards against the couch. Loki’s eyebrows rose but he obligingly let himself be rearranged to lie on the furniture. Tony very happily laid down on top of him and used his chest as the very pillow he’d suggested.

“Truly, Anthony?”

“Mm,” he murmured, relaxing into the comfort of home, the protection given by FRIDAY and Loki, and the feel of someone he cared about close and safe. “I’m tired. Wake me if I fall asleep.”

He could feel the rumble of a laugh in Loki’s chest. “And you need to use me as a place to rest?”

Shifting slightly, Tony let one eye open so he could look at Loki and tell him softly, “I don’t want to talk right now and neither do you.” He smiled a little. “But we could both use the company, and this too.”

The good humour slid off Loki’s face, presenting the slightly raw man underneath. It was the expression that had caught at the edges of his mask throughout the conference and Tony did as he had then; he found Loki’s hand and he clutched it. He also pulled it close to rest by his chin on Loki’s chest.

“FRIDAY,” he requested, when Loki gave no further protests, “can you play us some Mozart?”

It took only a moment before the soothing melody trickled through the room, soft and lilting and just enough of a distraction when combined with the rising chest underneath his ear. When he felt fingers very gently and hesitantly touch his hair, Tony allowed himself to sigh and close his eyes again.

He always had liked hugging and being able to touch the people he was close to and cared about. After a conference like that, he just needed a way to unwind, and this just seemed like the perfect way to do it.

Chapter Text

They didn’t fall asleep, but they did stay together, breathing gently and lying quietly as the music played softly overhead. It wasn’t until FRIDAY informed them of Rhodey approaching the tower that Loki even stopped stroking Tony’s hair.

Tony had pressed his face fully against Loki’s chest and let out a muffled, unhappy groan. Loki had just chuckled before encouraging him to rise. He hadn’t wanted to, but Tony had eventually forced himself to climb off his comfortable Loki pillow.

They made their way directly to the lab after that with Rhodey being asked to join them. Bruce was already there and working; he had his back to them when they first stepped inside, but he turned upon hearing the doors open. “Hey,” he greeted, before smiling somewhat wanly, “I watched the conference.”

“Oh?” Tony wondered, feeling his hand itch to take Loki’s again, just like he had when they were being battered by the media. “Thoughts? Comments? Criticisms?”

“More like concerns,” Bruce answered. “How are you both?”

Tony couldn’t stop the way his gaze automatically moved to Loki, and he found the mage was already watching him. Loki’s expression was almost flawless, but for his eyes, they were full of weariness - yet, he still seemed better than he had before. The closeness on the couch had just helped make them feel... better. And that was something that Tony would happily see them both doing again if it got the same result.

“We’re well enough, Dr Banner.” Loki answered for them, turning back to Bruce. “What are your findings?”

Bruce eyed them for a moment, likely doubting Loki’s assessment, but he still allowed the subject change. “The animals are being genetically altered. The alterations existed when I started testing them, so I couldn’t identify the exact process, but this kind of extensive manipulation still left marks.”

“What kind of marks?” Tony questioned.

“I performed a DNA test on each animal,” he answered, pulling up a different screen which showed a holographic display, “and there is an additional strand of DNA which exists identically in each of them, but seems to create different effects.” He took off his glasses and rubbed his forehead. “We have no record of anything like this existing and while we can assume it comes from the woman and whatever she did to them, I can’t tell you what it was or how she did it. It also isn’t reversible,” and he paused to chuckle a little humourlessly, “but the animals seem healthy enough. In fact, if it wasn’t for this extra DNA strand and the abilities it creates in them, I’d say they were completely normal.”

Shit. Tony thought. That is not a power I want running around out there.

“Do you have any suggestions as to how she gained these abilities?” Loki questioned.

Bruce hesitated for a moment before he brought up a new screen, one that drew them both over to stand behind his shoulder. “It doesn’t have the hallmarks of magic,” Bruce told them, comparing the Animal Whisper’s results against Loki’s as well as recordings from Extremis and Wanda Maximoff. “But it also doesn’t seem to be similar to anything we’ve seen before.”

“Well,” Tony remarked, his stomach sinking slightly, “that’s nice and concerning.”

“I watched the recordings taken of her attack,” Bruce continued, seeming to ignore his comment, apart from the tightening of his jaw. “She seemed to have some control over them, even if just a means of persuading them to act.”

“Much like Miss Maximoff,” Loki commented, “or, to a lesser extent, the mind gem.”

“But doing it seemed to be detrimental to her,” Bruce added, taping the screen and pulling up a lovely recording of Tony getting pummelled by the birds that she’d sent towards him. The rhino was coming up soon and Tony wanted to touch his ribs in sympathy with his recorded self. “Look at her,” Bruce told them, zooming in. “I wouldn't be surprised if using her powers are causing internal injuries. The blood in her mouth, the bleeding from her nose, it all started after she made the birds attack you. She keeps shuddering and looking ready to collapse until she disappears with the final bull.”

“Her body was never designed to sustain such a thing,” Loki murmured thoughtfully. “It’s is often seen in magic-users who channel power far greater than they are trained to use. Something similar happened to Jane Foster when she was possessed by the Aether.”

“So what are we saying?” Tony asked. “Experiment gone wrong?”

Bruce smiled thinly. “That would do it.” Tony winced at the poor choice of words, but Bruce just waved his apologetic look off. “But she doesn’t look familiar, and we know the top minds in most fields.”

Legal fields,” Tony corrected, holding Bruce’s eyes, and knowing exactly where they would need to start their search. “But SHIELD has its secrets, and they’re not the only ones.”

“You mean something like HYDRA.”

Tony nodded grimly before he called, “FRIDAY, see what you can find on recent lab explosions, or anything else that might scream ‘mad scientist did a stupid thing’, and while you’re there, search for anything that even remotely looks like Animal Whisperer in the last six months. I’m saying an animal does something odd, you flag it.”

“Yes, Boss.”

“Tony,” Bruce was already shaking his head. “I don’t know if we have enough data to be able to find her. She doesn’t seem to leave behind anything we can trace.”

Tony shrugged jerkily and had to quell the urge to pace. “We can give it a shot. Maybe we’ll find a squirrel with a flamethrower, that’s traceable. Either way, it’s better than nothing.”

“Anthony is correct,” Loki agreed, moving closer and placing a calming hand on his shoulder, making Tony realise just how much he’d tensed them. “We must do what we can, and I’ll need to examine the creatures myself and see if there is anything I can find that your instruments cannot.”

“And we need to decide on a long-term solution for them,” Bruce added. “We can’t just leave them sleeping here.”

“I don’t want to kill them,” Tony said firmly before turning to Loki. “You mentioned something about some friends off-world?

“Yes,” Loki replied, “There are a few mages I am familiar with who may take them, or be aware of others who will. I’m certain we will be able to find homes for them in due course.”

“And what did you do with the worm?” Tony wondered. “Shit. I forgot all about that.” He winced. “Please tell me it’s not stinking up one of the floors of my tower?”

Loki chuckled slightly. “No, I have sent most of it to be stored in one of my unused dwellings until it can be destroyed. A small sample was placed in a jar for Dr Banner when I became aware he would be testing the creatures.”

Tony frowned. “When the hell did you do that?”

“Yesterday evening,” Loki answered with a shrug. “I saw no reason to wake you when it was a simple enough spell to perform.” Loki’s thumb began to stroke Tony through his suit in a soothing manner. “There was already enough on your mind.”

Tony didn’t like that. “We’re a team, Loki. It doesn’t matter what’s going on, you can always talk to me about it.”

Loki blinked, the only indication of his surprise before he smiled. It was only a small upturn of his mouth, but it displayed all of his gratitude. “On the important matters, Anthony, I promise I will speak with you.”

“Good,” Tony answered, intending to very firmly put his foot down on that demand. He wasn’t going to leave Loki hanging out to dry, no matter what bullshit was happening in his life; Loki could always come to him.

Loki had been left alone to deal with his problems for far too fucking long. He’d had people dismiss him and flat out not care and Tony wasn’t about to become one more person on that list. He refused. The world could be ending and he'd always have time for Loki, not only because Loki deserved to have someone listen to him, but because if Loki trusted him enough to ask for something, then Tony was damn sure not going to take that for granted and ignore him.

Loki was important to him, and Tony always looked after the people that mattered.

“I hope you will come to me too,” Loki murmured quietly as his hand moved until Tony could feel the tips of Loki’s fingers curving just over the collar of his shirt and brushing his neck. “I would like to hear of it, to be able to aid you.” His smile stretched a little wider. “As your partner.”


The word echoed in Tony’s mind, unconnected for a long moment as he held Loki’s gaze and forgot that they weren’t alone, that Bruce was watching them and believing their ruse. Tony could only feel the teasing touch of Loki’s hand and the way the world had narrowed down to the man in front of him and the weight of the air between them.

He was only broken from it by the sound of shuffling feet. He glanced over at Bruce who was very pointedly looking away from them and focusing on the screen. Loki’s hand slid off his shoulder quickly, and before Tony could say something - ask for it back - the door to the lab was sliding open and Rhodey was stepping inside.

His steps faltered for a moment as he became aware of something having happened as he eyed everyone in the room. Casually, he questioned, “What did I miss?”

Tony cleared his throat, feeling uncomfortable and not sure why. “Animal Whisperer plays with DNA,” he answered while taking a slight step towards Bruce, putting further space between him and Loki. “We’re going to see if Loki’s magic can figure out more than that.”

“I doubt I'll find alternate results to Dr Banner,” Loki answered simply, also moving to place them further apart. “But I may be able to find a means of linking the woman and her creatures to discover her location.”

Neither Rhodey nor Bruce were oblivious to their sudden separation and faint discomfort, but Bruce, bless him, was too fascinated by Loki’s magic to focus on it. He actually stepped closer to the mage and asked, “How exactly does that work?”

Loki was silent for a long moment and Tony was sure he was going to avoid the question, but Loki surprised Tony by doing more than just answering him. “You may join me if you like, Dr Banner. Anthony often watches my casting while FRIDAY scans my seidr.”

Bruce’s eyes flew wide and he wasn’t the only one. “You would let me observe you?”

“Yes,” Loki answered Bruce simply and Tony was shocked.

Why the hell would he be willing to do that? But Tony had barely finished the question before he was realising the answer. Loki trusted Tony and because Tony trusted Bruce, Loki was giving Bruce a chance - the same way he had with Rhodey. It was just like when he’d offered to minimise the overt displays of their relationship in front of Bruce. He did it, because he knew Tony would like him to.

Bruce was quick to make the same connection Tony had. “You’ll do it because I’m a friend of Tony’s.”

Bruce still looked a little incredulous as he glanced between them.

“Well,” Bruce murmured, “I suppose it’s only fair that I do the same.” He paused, a pensive frown furrowing his brow, before he turned to Loki, his voice coming out firm as he decided, “The Other Guy might not accept you yet, but for now, I’m willing to offer the same thing that you are; a chance.”

Tony felt pure relief rush through him and he couldn’t resist clapping and squeezing Bruce’s arm in thanks. “You won’t regret it, Bruce.”

“Don’t assume that yet, Tony,” Bruce told him ruefully. “I know that you’ll need to bind me, so let’s wait and see how the Other Guy takes to magic first.” Tony winced pre-emptively at the visuals that depicted as Bruce asked Loki, “How simple is it?”

“Quite,” Loki answered, a layer of tension having seemed to melt away at hearing that Bruce would be bound to the same silence as Rhodey and Pepper. He even moved closer to Bruce and began to explain.

Rhodey took the other’s distraction to join Tony, saying quietly, “I’d like to talk to you, Tony.”

Turning his head slightly to eye Rhodey warily, he remarked, “I thought you already were.”

Rhodey took Tony firmly by the arm and led him to a more secluded part of the lab. When they stopped, Rhodey let him go and turned to face him directly. His eyes were narrowed and worried as he asked, “Are you and Loki okay?”

“What? Yeah, of course we are,” Tony dismissed quickly.

Rhodey wasn’t fooled. “You didn’t look it when I came in.”

Tony winced a little, but was forced to admit, “Momentary weird. All gone now. Please continue with your next question.”


He let out a rough breath and ran a hand through his hair. “It’s fine. I don’t know what it was, but it’s gone. Forget about it.”

“Are you sure that’s what you want to do?” Rhodey questioned him, oddly gentle and making Tony frown. “Forget about it?"

“What? Why wouldn’t I?”

The way Rhodey was watching him was deeply uncomfortable and full of assessment. He felt like Rhodey was sizing him up or trying to understand his brain through narrowed eyes alone. Tony had experienced that look a lot in his life; it usually followed a rather unwelcome realisation where Rhodey pointed out how, why, and where he was being either an idiot or an asshole.

He really didn’t feel like hearing that today, or even tomorrow. It had been a long couple of days. Surely he deserved a break?

“Can we not?” He requested, and it didn’t surprise him that Rhodey knew exactly what he was asking for. It also didn’t surprise him that Rhodey looked far from willing to let it go. His friend held his gaze for the longest time until Tony was almost squirming with it.

“You better get a handle on it before you’re back in public again,” Rhodey eventually told him. “You both looked ready to run away from each other. You can’t just opt out of this relationship after a couple of hours.”

“Did I say I was about to do that?” Tony snapped, feeling defensive, feeling protective and not a hundred percent sure why. He’d even clenched his fist and had to let out a rough breath as he released it. “Look, it’s just been a shit couple of hours, Rhodey. We’re tense, we’re stressed; give us a break.”

“And that right there is why I’m worried about you.” Rhodey placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “This can’t be rolling off either yours or Loki’s shoulders that easily. SHIELD, the media, your relationship; I want to know you’re okay, before you both start cracking under the pressure. ”

Tony sighed before he gave Rhodey a terse nod. “We’ll be careful.”

“And don’t bottle it up,” Rhodey warned. “You need to talk about things; with me, with Loki, hell, with FRIDAY. But promise me you’ll talk.”

Tony barked out a laugh. “You’re the second one to ask me to do that. I wonder if Bruce will join in too, give me a three of a kind.”

“Tony,” Rhodey softly entreated, a world of concern in his voice and it made Tony crumble.

“I’m not going to avoid it forever,” he admitted. “I’ll go through everything tonight; the reaction to the conference, the footage I took of SHIELD.” He sighed. “Everything.”

“If you want me to be here, I’ll make a way. My superiors can wait.”

Tony flashed him a smile. “Thanks, Rhodey.”

Rhodey just nodded before flicking his attention back to the others. Tony looked over his shoulder and found Loki with his back to them. Tony could still see the faint glow of magic as Bruce watched him avidly while the binding spell was performed.

“How do you think he’s handling things?” Rhodey asked and Tony turned back, finding Rhodey still staring at Loki with a troubled gaze.

“Drained, but who the hell wouldn’t be?”

“Just keep an eye on him,” Rhodey ordered. “He might say that he’s alright, but I want to make sure.”

“Already planned to,” Tony promised.

He knew that Loki wasn’t a delicate flower that needed protecting; he knew Loki had handled a hell of a lot worse than a press conference, but he also knew how much the little things piled up. How the emotional wounds were so much harder than the physical ones. He knew how much recounting some of the worst things in his past had to have worn Loki down.

It was why Tony wasn’t going to leave Loki alone for the rest of the night.

“Good,” Rhodey told him, “because I’ll have to leave soon.”

“What? Why?” Tony demanded, startling from his thoughts to look at Rhodey with wide, aghast eyes.

Rhodey looked vaguely amused. “You didn’t think my superiors were just going to ignore the press conference, did you?”

Tony scoffed. “I’ve told you, turn off your phone and you won’t have this problem. You’ve already said you’ll ignore them for me.”

Rhodey rolled his eyes, but he didn’t get a chance to reply before Bruce was gently interrupting. “We’re going to head down to the animals now.”

Turning to them, Tony was surprised to find how close they’d become without him noticing. Still, he wasn’t complaining. “The binding worked? No Hulk on a rampage?”

“Evidently not,” Loki answered dryly, standing beside Bruce with his hands clasped behind his back. There was a newfound ease between him and Bruce and Tony could only grin in the face of it. We’re getting there, he thought happily. “Now, shall you both join us?”

Obviously, they both said yes.

The animals were on Loki’s magical floor of the tower; most of the space was taken up by Loki’s belongings which meant lots of books and strange items were lying around. It was a paradise of intellectual curiosity, but Loki was fairly reticent about letting Tony get near most of it. He had numerous excuses like, ‘if you touch that your hands will fall off’, or ‘be careful, it bites’. It meant that he usually had to pester Loki with questions until he gave in and explained.

It honestly wasn’t a terrible outcome.

The room that Loki had sent them to however was one of the few that he’d left empty of items. The animals were fast asleep on the floor and Tony was fairly sure one of the bulls was snoring.

Loki didn’t waste any time and quickly explained the nature of his spell and what they had to do if they wanted to observe. It was pretty simple; don’t talk to Loki, don’t touch the animals, try not to be too loud. When Loki had received nods all around and knew his instructions would be followed, he went to the centre of the room. He then used a few quick gestures of his wrists to lightly drag the animals across the floor until they were arranged around him in a circle.

When he was finished, Loki sat down crossed legged and closed his eyes. He glowed a little green and so did the animals, but other than that, it was fairly unimpressive. Rhodey was the first to break the silence that had fallen around them.

“If Loki doesn’t come up with something, we’re going to have to hope that FRIDAY does.” His mouth was a thin, unhappy line. “If this woman’s able to manipulate an animal’s DNA, I don’t want to think about what she’ll do to a human’s.”

Tony just smiled tightly. “Which is a very good reason to make sure she doesn’t get the chance.”

“I doubt she’ll stay in the shadows for long,” Rhodey replied pensively. “People like her never do.”

“So next time she shows up, we just need to capture her. Easy.”

The looks they both sent him showed as much confidence as Tony felt at the prospect of restraining her. The animals were also going to be a hell of a problem.

“You’re going to need to create a sedative,” Bruce told him, taking off his glasses and pinching his nose. “Not just for her but for the animals too. You won’t be able to rely on Loki being readily available wherever she happens to be.”

“What if we-” Rhodey started, but had to stop halfway through when his phone rang. He hissed something under his breath before pulling it out. Whatever number he saw made him grimace painfully before he moved towards the door. “I need to take this.”

Tony opened his mouth, but Rhodey was already out the door, leaving Tony to stare after him and feeling his fingers twitch with the need to move, to act, to defend. He knew Rhodey could hold his own, especially with his superiors, but he didn’t like seeing the stiffness that had overtaken Rhodey’s spine.

He couldn’t do anything for his friend though, apart from support him, so he shifted his attention to Bruce. It wasn’t the first time they’d been alone together, but it was the first time they’d had more than a few minutes without something pressing down on them, or someone waiting to talk to them. It was Tony’s best chance to even begin to broach some of the subjects on his mind, and, more importantly, to try to tempt Bruce to stay in the tower a little longer.

Bruce seemed to notice his shift in mood as he held up a warning hand. “Tony, I’m only here for long enough to help you stop her, nothing more.”

“What’s wrong with staying here with us?”

Bruce shook his head. “You don’t want a problem like me on your plate.” Tony opened his mouth to protest the hell out of that, but Bruce continued before he could, “And I don’t need people knowing I’m here.” He jerked his chin at Loki. “You’re the focus of the world right now, Tony. I can’t afford to be the same thing too.” Tony physically deflated at that and it caused Bruce to sigh. “I’d like to stay and support you both, but we both know it’s a bad idea.”

I don’t,” Tony answered petulantly. “I don’t know it’s a bad idea. You can hide a hell of a lot better here than you can in Thailand.”

Bruce raised his eyebrows, looking completely unsurprised, if exasperated. “Of course you knew where I was.”

Tony instantly assured him though, his voice firm and serious, “I made sure no one else did.” The smile Bruce gave him was tight but thankful, and Tony hesitated for only a moment before he cautiously tried to bridge an issue he still couldn’t wrap his head around. And it had been months. “She asked me. She wanted to know where you were, even before, when we were talking, but I-”

“Don’t, Tony,” Bruce told him, hard and uncompromising, and with something pained barely hidden under the tension that had flooded through him at the reminder. He knew exactly who Tony meant. Natasha.

Tony backed off, but only for now. Rogers had been almost painfully supportive of their... thing, but Tony had just felt like a truck had come out of nowhere and hit him in the face. He’d been distracted by Ultron and the whole fucking mess that had come from that, but he’d still wanted to shout, ‘how? what? why?’ as well as ‘what the fuck?’ but he hadn’t had the opportunity.

He was still determined to uncover the particulars of that, but not when Bruce looked ready to either clam up or Hulk-out over the subject, so Tony tried something else.“Is there anything else worth mentioning about the animals?”

Bruce gripped the offer with both hands. He was still a little twitchy, but his voice was almost dry as he recounted, “Well, I learnt that plucking a hair from a bull’s tail will make it teleport in its sleep.”

It was so unexpected that it made Tony laugh. He also double-checked, only to prove he’d counted them right. “Where the hell did it end up?”

Bruce sighed painfully. “A floor away.”

“Oh, this I’m hearing the story behind,” Tony announced gleefully. “How did you get it back here?”

Bruce was grinning as he began to explain, and Tony was completely enraptured. It was also hilarious to discover just how inventive Bruce could become when he needed to be.

Unsurprising, but still hilarious.

It didn’t mean he’d dropped the Natasha issue though, not by a long shot, and while Bruce was happy to talk about more light-hearted things, the resigned look in his eyes told Tony that he knew it too.

Tony was just willing to refrain from certain battles, when it was necessary.

They ended up discussing some of their more ridiculous experiments as they stood beside one another, but Tony couldn’t shake his worry when Rhodey hadn’t come back after ten minutes. He also couldn’t stop checking to make sure Loki was still okay; he hadn’t seemed to have twitched for the duration of the spell.

He hadn’t known Bruce had been watching him do it until he remarked, “I wouldn’t have expected him to be as considerate of me as he is.” Tony turned back to him with a frown, but Bruce’s eyes were still on Loki. “And he’s attuned to you in a way I’ve only ever seen Rhodey manage. Pepper worked around you, but he works with you, and you work with him.” He finally turned to look at Tony thoughtfully. “I never thought I’d see you find someone so matching.”

Tony blinked, feeling startled and off-kilter at the other’s words. He also felt slightly uncomfortable as he tried to think of a way to reply.

Bruce wasn’t... wrong, after all. Not about Pepper, not about anyone in his life ever coming close to how well Loki fit with him, but Bruce thought they were a couple. He was judging their interactions through a different light and it left Tony... at odds with what to do about it.

He couldn’t deny Bruce’s statement, not without making Bruce confused and concerned. He also couldn’t shrug it off without looking inconsiderate of everything Loki was to him, both imagined and real. He knew he could tell Bruce the truth now that he was under the binding, but Tony still hesitated over it.

I don’t want to do that without confirming it with Loki.

It meant he had to be careful.

“Yeah,” he told Bruce, using the excuse of looking at Loki so he wouldn’t have to say it to Bruce’s face. “There’s more to him than people think.” He swallowed. “And I’ve never met anyone like him. He’s kind of...”

“Perfect?” Bruce finished for him and it made Tony snap his head around to look at the other. Bruce was smiling with such open amusement. “He’s allowed to be perfect for you, Tony, you are dating him.”

Tony opened his mouth, not sure if more than an ‘er’ would even come out. He was also fervently hoping that Bruce would think he feared the depth and commitment of it, rather than have him work out Tony was lying.

But he is perfect, his mind whispered, and he stalled on that a little. Feeling the same discomfort he’d felt in the lab, because while Loki was perfect it was just as a person and as a friend. He wasn’t... because they weren’t and it wasn’t... it wasn’t like that. It was fake. They were fake, and it was just his brain messing with him after a long couple of days. That was all, nothing more.

Tony still felt vaguely unsettled though, and he was grateful when Rhodey came back into the room and could distract him. He was scowling angrily though, and that didn’t bode well in the slightest. “I have to leave. I’ve been ordered to return back to base, I’m sorry, Tony.”

Tony felt disappointment crash over him. “How long for?”

“I don’t have a clue,” he admitted, frustration rife in his tone.

“Why don’t you come back tonight?” Tony quickly suggested. “Dinner and a few drinks. We’ll all escape.” Tony flashed a grin. “Pina coladas, what do you say?”

“I say I fucking hate pina coladas. Give me a real drink.”

Tony let out a sharp laugh. “Scotch on the rocks. Done.” He turned to Bruce. “Tell me I can put you down for more than tea.”

Bruce looked like he was trying to fight a smile, but the sound of a ragged gasp made them all jerk their attention to Loki. The air around him and the animals seemed to shiver slightly like they were all looking at a mirage before Loki eyes snapped open. He looked a little foggy at first and had to blink a few times before his eyes cleared and finally focused on them.

A grimace caught at Loki’s mouth and it made Tony instantly aware of the result before he’d even spoken, “I’m afraid I cannot trace her.” He stood slowly, checking the animals with a glance before coming over to them. “She has left no echoes for me to follow, and I have learnt nothing that Dr Banner has not already discovered.”

Tony hadn’t exactly been holding out hope, but damn it, couldn’t they get an easy solution, oh say, once? Tony gritted his teeth and breathed deeply through his nose, feeling frustration and disappointment filling him. “Fuck.”

He didn’t realise he’d said it out loud until Bruce was telling him gently, “We’ll keep trying, Tony.”

A firm hand also came to his shoulder, a touch he now knew as Loki’s without having to look, but he still did. Loki’s eyes were tight with unhappiness. “I’m sorry, Anthony.”

“Hey, no, it’s fine.” He even stepped back towards the other. It meant Loki’s hand had to move to his upper arm, but it allowed Tony to lean his back against Loki’s chest. He was a wall of warmth and comfort and Tony had just needed it. Regardless of the uncertainty he’d shared earlier with Loki, regardless of Bruce’s conversation having played momentary havoc on him, Tony just needed Loki and he wasn’t about to fight it.

Tony closed his eyes for just a moment, only opening them when Loki’s hand curled around his arm, taking a further grip and faintly encouraging him to lean more heavily against him. It was just like being on the couch with him earlier, and why did it have to be more than what it was? Why did he have to categorise it? This was how they did things and it didn’t have to be anything more. They both liked it, why shy from it?

“Look, I have to leave,” Rhodey said, making Tony blink back to the room. Rhodey’s face was carefully blank as he watched them, but there was still something calculating lingering in his eyes. “But keep me posted and I’ll be back tonight.”

Rhodey didn’t stay any longer, exchanging his farewells before leaving the room again and the tower. Tony didn’t like letting him leave, but he also knew that was mostly paranoia at this point. Rhodey wasn’t likely to be targeted and he could also take care of himself.

“Well,” Tony remarked, forcing more negative thoughts and anxieties to the side, “do you think we need to keep the animals any longer or can we just start shipping them off?”

“I’ll need to leave the planet to confirm that the animals can be housed with anyone.”

“See, this is where my inter-realm phones come in handy, Loki.” Tony twisted his head so he could catch the mage’s eyes. “One text and you’d have your answer.”

Loki gave him a withering look while Bruce just asked, confused, “You made inter-realm phones?”

Tony brightened. “I absolutely did. You should see some of the stuff I made him film.”

When Loki sighed loudly, Tony not only heard it, but he felt it against him, and it was only for a brief moment, but Tony suddenly wished that Loki’s hand wasn’t on his arm. He wished it was around his chest and holding him closer, that he was wrapped in a hug and Loki was letting out the chuckle that Tony knew he was hiding under that exhale.

But, he only let it happen for a moment.

Their conversations about the phones and the stories behind each photo soon lead to conversations about the bracelets Loki had got made for them. It had also meant moving away from Loki and heading back down to the lab.

Bruce was endlessly interested in everything they’d been up to during the early days of their partnership, and while they did still theorise and try to find out more on the animals, they were easily distracted. The next hour was filled with general chatter about magic and Tony even showed Bruce the magic book Loki had given to him. It was nice, it was enjoyable and Bruce seemed to forget all about who Loki had been, in favour of speaking with the man he now was.

It was exactly what Tony had hoped for and he couldn’t have been happier.

None of them had wanted to burst that sense of relaxation, of calm that had come over them. Tony had also believed, like them, that they would have all day to work on the animals, to come up with theories that they’d test and develop. They’d thought they’d have time.

Unfortunately, in lives like theirs and with public revelations so recently given, they didn’t have that kind of good fortune.

And maybe they should have expected it, but how the fuck could they?

They certainly didn’t hear the sound but they did notice the energy spike. Bruce and Tony had looked at it with confusion, but Loki had gone stiff as a board, like he’d instinctively known or sensed what it was.

It was a moment later that FRIDAY had announced it to them simply, “Boss, the bifrost has just been used on the landing bay of the tower and six Asgardian soldiers are now present. Defences have been activated.”

Tony stood completely still, completely shocked for a long moment before asking the room and the world at large, “What the actual fuck?”

Chapter Text

“No, I’m serious,” Tony continued when silence followed his pronouncement. “Why the fuck are they here?”

“I do not know, Anthony,” Loki replied, his voice terse and his body tense. “But I doubt they bring either good tidings or the blessings of Asgard.” He let out a rough breath and began to turn. “Wait here and I’ll deal with them.”

“Oh, no you don’t.” Tony darted out and grabbed him by the sleeve. It was already shimmering as he conjured his armour over it, but Tony didn’t let go, even when it tingled over his skin. Loki had stilled upon feeling his grip and was now glaring at him. Tony wasn’t about to give a shit. “Didn’t we already have this little discussion? Partners? Allies? Friends? You aren’t going anywhere without me by your side.”


“No,” Tony refused. “You’re not going up there alone.”

“I have to agree with him,” Bruce said, frowning heavily. “If they’ve heard what you’ve been saying about them than I doubt they’re here to be helpful.”

“And the fact that everything we’re saying about them is true doesn’t make me inclined to leave Loki alone with a bunch of homophobic jerks.”

“I can handle them, Anthony,” Loki told him, something tightly-coiled and defensive in his words.

It smacked of pride and probably some amount of protective instinct over Tony. It would have normally rankled him, but Asgard was a plethora of issues for Loki, so he was letting it slide. He also made himself loosen his grip, but he still stepped closer and spoke gently, calmly, “I don’t doubt that for a moment, Lokes. I’m sure you could wipe the floor with them in a single display of magic - and while I’d definitely like watching that, I still don’t want you going up there without me.” Tony could see another protest coming, but he cut it off by adding firmly, “I want to be there to watch your back, Loki.”

The words didn’t seem to soften him. Loki looked like he was gritting his teeth if only to keep his next words something more than a growl. “They are dangerous, Anthony, especially to a mortal.”

“I don’t think Asgard’s going to want be seen slaughtering me in my own tower.” Loki flinched and guilt instantly blossomed in Tony’s chest. “Loki, I-”

“You have no idea how very possible that violence is,” Loki interrupted him with a hiss. His hand came up and forcibly removed Tony’s from his sleeve. “I will not take the chance. While you remain here with Dr Banner, you are safe.”

“And what about you?” Tony demanded, using the hold Loki still had on him to link their fingers and grasp him tightly. He searched the mage’s eyes, worried and not above showing it. “What the hell will they do if they catch you?

Loki’s mouth might have pulled on a smile, but Tony didn’t believe it for a moment. “I have broken no recent laws. I am, for the most part, free of any charges.” He brought his free hand to Tony’s wrist and tugged the bracelet that had been hidden under his sleeve. His finger stayed curled under it, pulling it slightly away from his skin. It made Tony’s look down at the item, just as Loki had intended. “And I have a means of escape, should I be in need of it.”

That wasn’t reassuring enough and Tony didn’t even bother to try and verbally argue it when he could make a much more blatant gesture. He tugged his hand away from Loki and held it in the air. “FRIDAY! Gauntlet!”

It took all of a moment for the item to come flying towards his hand. He was pretty sure he heard Bruce jump out of the way, but he didn’t care. Tony felt it wrap around his wrist and hand, filling him with confidence, with strength. When he looked back at Loki, the mage looked unimpressed and far from conceding, but Tony just glared right back at him. “I’m not staying behind. Get used to it.”

Loki let out a breath of pure frustration and pinched the bridge of his nose for good measure, obviously trying to control both his temper and his emotions. “I do not want you in danger,” he eventually gritted out, but Tony wasn’t won over by that confession.

“I’m always in danger.” Tony told him. “And if you think this is any different to when SHIELD came knocking on my door and you stuck right by my side, then you’re missing every single point of what we are to each other.” He poked Loki hard in the chest with one gauntlet covered finger.

Loki dropped his hand from his face, revealing an expression of indignation. Tony ignored it. “We both have our betrayers, Loki, and I’m going to go up there with you and show them just how much they fucked up when they hurt you. I’m going to show them that this is a partnership, and that I am your lover, and that we’re damn well not cowering from them.”

He glared at Loki when he was finished, daring the mage to try and fight him on this, daring him to deny Tony the chance to stand by Loki’s side. He knew Loki was used to working alone, especially around Asgard. He knew why Loki was digging his heels, but he need to realise he didn’t have to with Tony.They were in this together and nothing was changing that - especially not Asgard.

It took a good minute of staring, unflinching at Loki, but in the end, Loki let out a loud sigh that sounded far more fond than agitated. “You are utterly infuriating.”

“Yes,” Tony agreed instantly, “glad you’re noticing.”

Loki chuckled. “I will enjoy having you at my side, Anthony, but please do be wary. They will not have taken kindly to all that we have said and done.”

“I love the smell of offended asshole in the morning.”

“We need Asgard on our side, Anthony,” Loki insisted even as he continued to fight a grin. “We cannot afford to be selective with our allies in the coming battle.”

Tony’s expression tightened, something sharp and dangerous catching at the edges as he spoke with bitter mirth, “Remind me to thank Thanos oh so much for putting us in such a lovely position. Spear through the foot, basket of poisoned muffins, that sort of thing.”

“I’ll be certain to deliver the spear personally,” Loki assured, his eyes flashing a fierce green. It was enough to restrain Tony’s disgust for the people who had landed on his tower, if only briefly. He didn’t know the details of what had happened, but he knew Loki had suffered at the hands of Thanos. If Loki could put aside centuries of painful history with Asgard just to take Thanos out, then Tony could stomach it too.

“Alright,” he sucked in a breath before letting it out slowly. “Let’s get this over with and get them off my tower.”

Loki squeezed Tony’s hand briefly in response before letting him go. Tony instantly wanted to take the touch back, but he stopped himself. While he wouldn’t mind walking up there and showing off their relationship in a really blatant gesture for all he knew that would make Loki look weak or something in their screwed up Asgardian heads. He’d have to let Loki take the lead on this one and hope for the best.

“Try not to insult them,” Loki warned him. “Or threaten them.”

“But I’ve always wanted to throw someone off a tower. It looks like fun.”

Loki sent him a withering look. “And do not be impetuous.”

Tony raised his eyebrows. “You’re really lecturing me on that? Can I say pot meet ket-”

“And allow me to do the talking.”

“Are you saying I’m not a fabulous negotiator? I believe I’ve won you over more than once.”

A soft chuckle broke them from their bickering and they both looked over at Bruce who was watching them fondly. “When you’re quite done,” Bruce smiled, “we can go and see what they want.”

Tony blinked. “We?

Bruce’s smile might have widened a little but his eyes were hard and his expression had a very Hulk-like kind of threat to it. Tony almost wanted to swallow and take a step back. “I think Asgard should see firsthand that you both have people supporting you down here.”

Tony felt a large, darkly satisfied smirk spread across his face. He knew that Thor had told Asgard all about the Hulk. He’d even tried to get Bruce to visit, wanting them to see his battle prowess. The Aesir wanted to ‘test their might’ against such a ‘formidable fighter’. He couldn’t wait to see how they reacted to learning that Bruce was on their side, on Loki’s side.

He sent a quick glance to Loki and saw that he was just as thrilled with the idea as Tony was. There was also an added confidence to Loki’s posture, a certain weight taken from his shoulders. Tony knew why Loki might think that he’d have to go up there and face Asgard alone, it only meant that Tony would have to work even harder at erasing that expectation from him.

“Yes,” Loki answered him, an almost perverse glee in his voice. “I think that they should.”

They were quick to make their way to the penthouse after that. Tony and Bruce both automatically bracketed Loki with Tony standing close enough that their sides brushed. Loki shot him a brief smile as the doors shut and they began to ascend. Tony could still see the tension that riddled his frame and Tony searched for a way to minimise it, but he didn’t know what he could say to help.

If they try to take you away from me, I’ll build a way to Asgard to get you back, he thought viciously and meant every word. I’m not letting you go.

When the lift opened they could easily see the Asgardian soldiers standing with FRIDAY’s weaponry pointed at them. They were unhappy about it and one of them was trying, unsuccessfully, to reason with FRIDAY.

“I’m surprised he sent Fandral,” Loki murmured, looking at the Asgardian who was trying to do all the talking.

“Fandral?” Tony asked, tensing slightly. “Isn’t that Thor’s friend?”

“Yes,” Loki agreed, “but he is also one of the few Aesir who trusted my word and laughed at my pranks rather than condemning them.” Tony glanced at him, seeing a thoughtful frown on Loki’s brow. “He also seemed grateful that I survived my fall.”

“Oh, so he actually had a shred of decency?”

Loki ignored him. “Perhaps it is that which makes the Allfather believe I will be susceptible to his words.”

“Oh, so he’s a pawn?

Loki met his eyes, his frown deepening. “I am not oblivious to his loyalties or shortcomings, Anthony. The Aesir follow their King blindly, for better or worse. Fandral is no different.”

“But you still considered him a friend.”

Loki’s jaw clenched, but he admitted, “Once, and before many things happened to change us both. He was the least abhorrent of the people Thor forced me to associate with.”

It only made Tony wince. Loki had picked the best of a rotten bunch and even that had been snatched from him in the end.

Tony knew what it was like to lose friends, recent circumstances only highlighting that more than ever. He’d like to think that Fandral wasn’t down on Earth to further stab Loki in the back, but he didn’t like their chances. Tony had ever faith that Loki could catch and avoid manipulations and traps, but he still worried.

He felt Loki’s hand come down and rest gently over the fist he hadn’t realised he’d clenched. He looked back from glaring at the Aesir to see Loki’s quirked smile. “Do try not to shoot him off the side of your building.”

“No promises.”

Loki let out a small huff of laughter, and not for the first time Tony was both impressed and vaguely horrified at how Loki handled the people in his life that had hurt him so badly. Granted, this wasn’t Odin and it wasn’t Asgard at large, but this was still a bright, glaring example of the prejudice and hate he’d received for most of his life. The fact that Loki could swallow that rage down for the sake of his own machinations spoke of a coping method devised after a lifetime of abuse.

It only made Tony want the Aesir back up in space and out of their face as soon as possible.

They quickly reached the door to the landing bay and it opened automatically for them. Fandral and the other Aesir all looked up and Tony wasn’t oblivious to the way the guards all gripped their spears tighter, glaring daggers at Loki. Fandral at least tried to smile at them, but it didn’t work very well, more tight and awkward than happy. “Loki.”

Loki’s face was blank, but his eyes were sharp. “Fandral.” He greeted curtly before asking point-blank. “Have you come to take me back to Asgard?”

The tension after his words was thick enough to cut with a knife.

"I come on the Allfather's behest,” Fandral answered, his voice calm and carefully measured, “to ask that you and your...” his mouth jerked for a moment and his eyes darted to Tony, before back to Loki again, “partner come to Asgard."

“My partner?” Loki repeated before Tony felt Loki’s hand slide sinuously up his back before resting lightly on his neck. Tony instantly tilted his head back into the hold, all without compromising his line of sight. “You mean my lover, Anthony Stark of Midgard?”

When some of the Aesir soldiers flinched and their lips curled like they’d smelt something rotten, Tony only smiled his most predatory smile and edged closer to Loki, almost plastering himself to the other’s side. Fandral looked a little pained, but his smile still stayed mostly in place. “Yes. The Allfather requests that you both come to Asgard.”

Loki didn’t look interested or swayed; his mouth was a thin line barely hiding his disgust at the notion. “We decline. Be on your way.”

Fandral grimaced. “The Allfather will not let us return without you.”

“The Hulk says that he will,” Bruce spoke up for the first time, his tone pure threat. It was extremely gratifying to see the way that all the Aesir’s eyes widened. One of them even glanced to the side, likely judging the distance a giant green hand could throw him.

“We do not come here to battle-” Fandral tried.

“Good, then be on your way,” Tony told them pointedly, making a shooing motion.

Fandral looked away from him and Bruce, seeming to appeal to Loki as if he would somehow see sense. Tony doubted it. Odin had to learn, like Fury, that people didn’t just come when he stamped his foot.

“Loki, you know as well as I that the Allfather will not be denied his audience.”

Tony narrowed his eyes. “Excuse me, was that a threat?

Loki's thumb stroked his neck, a gesture intended to quiet and sooth, before enquiring, “And what are we being summoned for? Surely he didn’t send you here without further information than that.”

“He wishes to speak of the threat to the realms,” Fandral explained, ignoring Tony, much to his irritation, “and to discuss why you have aligned yourself with a mortal in this fight. He also wishes to address the... tales you have told this world.”

Tales,” Loki repeated sounding somewhere between bitterly amused and quietly infuriated. “What say you, Anthony, Bruce? It seems my life’s history is nothing but a gimmick to entertain your people.”

Tony felt indignation and rage flood through him. He was gearing up to say something about it when Loki gently squeezed his neck; comforting and warning all at once. Tony almost had to bite his tongue to swallow the words back down the way Loki seemed to want. He didn’t look at Bruce but he was half hoping the other man was turning green.

“He wishes to understand,” Fandral began, but Loki was having none of it.

“He understands perfectly well, Fandral,” Loki snapped. “He merely wishes to absolve himself of anything I say. He wishes to have my lover and I cowed.” He glared with enough hate and malice to burn. “He will not have it. This world knows his deceptions and insults and he will not gain our good favour by forcing us to attend an audience.”

He tilted his chin imperiously as if daring Fandral to contradict him. Fandral didn’t, but he also didn’t hold Loki’s eyes as he sighed and reached into a pocket in his outfit and pulled out a scroll. He held it between them while Loki eyed it as if it were poison.

“The Allfather requested I give this to you, should you refuse his request.”

Loki remained still for a long moment, his lips curled up in a sneer of distaste, but he still lifted his hand, sparks of green magic flying from his fingers and no doubt checking the document for any kind of curse. When he seemed satisfied he warily took it from Fandral and unfurled it.

His eyes skimmed the words at a rapid pace, his face flicking between fury, disbelief, and eventually settling on an unhappy frown. He closed the scroll and clenched his fist around it. “Anthony will not be leaving this planet.”

Tony almost pulled something in his neck with how fast he whipped it to Loki. Did he just fucking agree?

“The Allfather commands-”

“Anthony will remain here.”

Tony didn’t want to contradict Loki in front of the others, knowing how little they already thought of Loki, but oh was he tempted. He settled for clearing his throat pointedly until Loki looked at him. He hoped his glare spoke volumes about his thoughts on the matter.

Loki let out a breath before subtly encouraging Tony to step back inside the penthouse. “Please accompany us inside, Bruce. We have things to discuss before I allow Odin his audience. FRIDAY, please continue to give the Aesir your attention.”

“Yes, sir.”

Tony barely managed to keep his mouth shut until the doors were closed and they had relative privacy. He spun on Loki then and hissed, “What the fuck are you doing? What the hell did that scroll say?”

Wordlessly, Loki held it out to him and Tony snatched it. He continued to glare at Loki for a moment before unfurling the document with Bruce coming to stand at his side to read over his shoulder.

The letter wasn’t in Asgardian, which was nice, but it was some kind of Ye Olde script and Tony’s eyes were almost crossing by the third paragraph. It was as if legalese had decided to have a baby with Old English and produced whatever was on this scroll.

“So this is what?” Tony asked when he wasn’t getting anywhere fast. “A mandatory RSVP without the option to check no?

“To some degree,” Loki answered.“He’s inviting us as guests of Asgard to engage in a negotiation of peace and alliance against the Mad Titan. He knows I am well versed in Asgardian Law through my own study and my time as King. He knows that to offer us passage to Asgard in this way assures us safety and diplomatic immunity. I cannot refuse this without imperilling the alliance with Asgard against the Mad Titan.”

“He’s doing anything possible to manipulate you into going up there,” Tony hissed.

Loki nodded. “Yes, and he could very well offer us nothing that would ever tempt us to ally with him, but while I am a guest he cannot harm nor order anyone to attack or imprison me. The magic in this decree would forbid it.”

“He must really want you on Asgard,” Bruce murmured.

“He wishes to look benevolent and show that he is not the spiteful and ruthless man that he is.” Loki scoffed. “He wishes to undo everything I have said, and,” he looked at Tony, “he likely wishes to bring you to Asgard in order to sever you from my influence.”

“Fat chance,” Tony spat firmly and made a genuine smile curl at the corner of Loki’s mouth.

“And it's one we will not give him,” Loki agreed. “That’s why you will remain here.”

“Yeah, there’s no way I’m staying behind,” Tony disagreed.

Loki just sighed. “Anthony-

“No way am I sending you up there alone.” Tony stepped closer, half tempted to grab Loki’s sleeve to make sure he couldn’t slip out of his grasp in some attempt to protect him. “If you’re going, I’m coming too. We did this before, and I’ll do it again.”


“How would you feel if I had left for SHIELD without you? If I had refused your help?” Loki’s cheek twitched and his mouth pulled into a grimace. Tony only further twisted that particular knife; it was easy when the words were entirely honest. “I felt better with you there, Loki. We started this because we wanted someone around we can trust. You’ve done it for me; I want to do it for you.”

Tony could actually see the moment Loki’s resistance cracked and all his reservations slipped away to make room for fond exasperation and resignation. “You are far too manipulative.”

“I’m the good kind of manipulative,” Tony told him with a grin as relief spread through his limbs knowing that Loki wasn’t going to keep fighting him on this.

“I don’t think this is a good idea,” Bruce told them unhappily and made Tony drag his eyes away from Loki. Bruce had his arms crossed and his face was drawn with worry. “They can’t be happy with you, either of you, and decree or not, there are too many ways this could go terribly wrong. You can’t even make use of your bracelets if you’re in the same place with the same danger.”

Tony winced a little at that, since Bruce wasn’t wrong. Loki however, didn’t look concerned; instead, he held out his hand and twisted it. Tony was a little shocked to find a simple metal bracelet appear and hover above his palm. Loki was smiling faintly. “I had intended to gift this to Rhodes, well aware that we might need a further person to call upon. I had intended to give it to him tonight.”

“You sneaky little shit,” Tony declared with glee, reaching out to pluck it from Loki’s hand when he gained no resistance. “When did you get him one made?”

“I prefer to have spares should the need ever arise. I began crafting it more specifically for him when I learned he was an ally worth investing in.”

“Awwh. He’s going to be so chuffed to hear that.”

Loki just chuckled before taking the bracelet back from Tony. “We will need to leave before Rhodes can arrive. Anthony, can you please inform him of the change of circumstance and that his bracelet will be sent to him presently?”

Tony grinned. “FRIDAY, you heard the man. Let’s get Rhodey on speaker.”

His ever faithful AI only took a few moments to connect with Rhodey. “Tony?” He sounded both uncertain and concerned. “What’s going on?”

“Just some Aesir on my doorstep and an invitation we can’t decline. Loki and I are heading to Asgard.”

There was a long silence on the other line. “Tell me I heard all of that wrong.”

“I’m afraid not, Rhodes,” Loki replied with a hint of amusement in his eyes. It was mostly drowned out by the words that followed though. “Odin has dangled the possibility of gaining the use of Asgard’s armies in the fight against the Mad Titan. We have little choice but to accept his request.”

“Because that’s not suspicious or worrying at all,” Rhodey remarked, flat and unimpressed.

“He has given significant assurances of our safety,” Loki answered, “but I would like to include our own protection.” He glanced down at the bracelet and it lifted to hover in the air. “I would have you hold out your left hand, palm up.”

Rhodey sounded confused as he answered, “Okay?” It was from one blink to the next that the bracelet disappeared. Tony could only assume it had landed when he heard Rhodey hiss, “Oh fuck.”

“You are aware of how Anthony’s bracelet works. Yours functions much the same, only it can pull both Anthony and I to your location. The functions follow the same pattern as Anthony’s but the light will be gold.”

Rhodey groaned lowly and Tony could imagine him running a palm over his face. “This is a bad idea.”

“Probably,” Tony admitted easily. “And it means we’ll miss dinner. You can still come keep Bruce company though? But we’ll try to be back soon enough.”

“Give Bruce one of your universal phones,” Rhodey ordered. “And Loki, send me one too. I want some way for us to keep in contact with you both.”

Loki tilted his head a little and not only did a phone appear in front of Bruce, hovering in the air, but Tony would bet that Rhodey had received one too. Tony grinned. “You should have our numbers in there,” Tony told them, “but I’ll give you a call after the meeting with Odin, let you know we’re still alive.”

“This is still a terrible idea, Tony,” Bruce continued to insist, probably only beating Rhodey by a few seconds since Rhodey only made a strained sound of affirmation.

“Bad idea or not,” Loki replied, “we have little choice. We will keep you informed of events on Asgard and you will keep us apprised of the woman and her animals. We will endeavour to return as soon as possible, but will leave at the slightest sign of her reappearance.”

Rhodey let out a rough sigh. “Damn it. Fine, but take care of each other up there. If you don’t Bruce and I will have to find a way to follow after you and drag your asses back to Earth.”

Tony laughed, delighted and fond and even Loki let out a small chuckle. “Thanks, Rhodey,” Tony told him. “Keep Earth in one piece while we’re gone.”

He didn’t wait for another response as he had FRIDAY end the call. It still meant contending with Bruce but while he looked mulish, he didn’t continue his protests beyond asking with a sigh, “Can you remove the worm before you go? I don’t think we’ll need it.”

Loki nodded, and magic crackled over his hands once more. He also, much to Tony surprise, brought the sleeping rhino to rest at their feet. Tony blinked at it and looked at Loki curiously.

“We’ll take it with us,” he explained, “as a gift in thanks for Asgard’s hospitality.” Loki looked almost like he was trying to hold down a laugh at the idea and Tony had to wonder if there was some subtle insult he was missing.

“What about the others?” Bruce asked.

Loki pursed his lips. “They will have to remain until our return.”

Bruce nodded. “I’ll keep an eye on them.”

When a brief silence fell, Tony took it as his cue to more or less take the, heh, rhino by the horn and suggest, “So, off to Asgard?”

Loki’s mouth twitched towards a frown, but he agreed. “Yes.”

He reached out for Tony who raised his eyebrow but came closer. Loki was quick to place his hand back against Tony’s neck, a comfort and demonstrative affection that Tony didn’t shy from. Loki then looked at Bruce. “Thank you for your support, Dr Banner.”

“Bruce,” he corrected easily. “And you both have it,” he told him seriously, “I wasn’t lying about that.”

Tony grinned brightly while Loki’s expression was smaller but no less pleased as he nodded at Bruce. “My thanks.”

Tony followed it up by asking, “Hold the fort for us, Bruce. Oh and tell Pepper what happened, I guess. Hey, FRIDAY, have the news noticed the Aesir on my tower?”

“Several news stations appear to be filming from a distance.”

“Fabulous. Tell Rhodey and get him to make a statement. Emphasis how nice we’re being after being ambushed.”

“Yes, boss.”

Smirking, Tony glanced up to find Loki already watching him. “This is only going to look worse for them,” he told Loki. “So even if the trip’s a bust, we’ve got that.”

Loki didn’t quite smile, a nervous tension slowly creeping over him even as he requested, “Summon your suit.”

Tony didn’t hesitate and while it meant briefly losing Loki’s hold on his neck, he was quick to tuck the helmet under his arm before taking his place beside Loki and giving him a pointed look. Loki’s smile became a little more honest when he brought his hand back up to Tony’s neck in the way that he seemed to like for displaying their relationship to the Aesir. Tony glanced back to Bruce who was clenching the phone and watching them with a tight, worried expression. “Be careful.”

Flashing him a smile, wink, and a ‘will do’ Tony let the discussion end there. He also let the firm pressure on his neck lightly direct him out to the landing bay and the waiting Aesir. FRIDAY hadn’t removed the weaponry that had been monitoring them, but they hardly seemed concerned by it. Which was slightly insulting.

Loki only stopped them when they were a few steps in front of Fandral and despite the glares, Loki never removed his hand, he only seemed to tighten his hold further. “We will journey to Asgard in order to broker an alliance against the Mad Titan.”

Fandral looked relieved. Or he did, until a rhino suddenly appeared at his feet and made him jump back slightly. Loki was barely holding in his smile as he gestured at the sleeping creature. “And to show our goodwill, we honour Asgard with a gift; a creature of thick hide, and fierce battle prowess from Midgard’s lands.”

Fandral’s eyes had lit up and he bent down to touch the beast reverently. The other Aesir continued to look sour, but at least Fandral had the decency to turn to Tony for an answer. “What’s it called?”

He was extremely tempted to call it something like a wobblegookhorn just to be a complete shit. He settled on using a more technical, generic term. “Rhinocerotidae.”

Fandral only looked charmed.

Loki moved them to stand beside Fandral after that, but he hadn’t even risen from his crouched position over the rhino. When Loki stopped them, he made sure their backs were never to the Aesir soldiers.

“If you would activate the bifrost, Fandral,” Loki ordered him impatiently. “We have matters on Midgard we must attend to after this.”

Fandral continued to stroke the rhino’s sleeping form, even as he called, “Heimdall!”

It took the work of a moment for a beam of energy and light to blast down around them and suck them up with enough of a jolt for Tony’s breath to catch on a gasp. He felt like he was spinning and falling and being pulled to pieces all at once and he couldn’t get enough.

He laughed and leant back against Loki’s hand, the one firm point in a sea of impossible colours and incredible feelings.

Chapter Text

They landed on Asgard with a jolt, the vortex ending abruptly, and Tony might have fallen if it wasn’t for his armour and Loki’s firm hand keeping him grounded. He was breathing heavily as if he’d just run a mile and his skin was tingling. It was like free-falling in the suit and he looked around the golden room with barely contained curiosity. The walls looked as if they were made with giant gears and since the place was practically magic Tony didn’t know if that was for show or actually part of the mechanics.

I’ve got to make me one of these, he thought, giddy with the possibilities. He was so distracted by the technology that he almost missed the man standing solemnly in the centre of the room with a giant sword and a ridiculous helmet.

Okay, Loki’s reindeer one looks much better.

“The Allfather awaits you,” the man told them with a deep, highly disapproving voice and it made Tony remember the conversation he’d had with Loki early on about Heimdall. He still didn’t know what their grudge was, but considering what he knew of Asgard, he didn’t think he’d enjoy finding out about it.

Loki didn’t bother greeting him, so Tony followed his example. It was an accident when he caught the other’s galaxy-swirling eyes, but he instantly felt uncomfortable. They were faintly creepy and very knowing and Tony didn’t like it one bit. Tony found himself thankful once again that Loki knew how to mask them from his supposedly all seeing gaze.

Stepping towards the exit to the circular chamber, Tony's skin crawled at being forced to walk with the guards behind them and Fandral in front; he didn’t like being surrounded. His only consolation was that most of the guards were being forced to carry the rhino since Loki was no longer helping with its transportation.

He also had to admit he momentarily... forgot about everything when they left the bifrost site. His breath left him in a stunned exhale as he looked around him. The sky was a painting of stars and clouds twisting in artistic nebula. The bridge he was standing on was streaking rainbow light as it stretched out towards a golden city that twinkled in the light from the stars. It was stunning.

The sound of water rushing underneath them made Tony turn his attention from the city and when he dared to look behind them he saw that the water just... ended. It fell down off the edge of the world like a waterfall and Tony just didn’t know which part he wanted to stare at or exclaim about more.

He did want to see what it looked like at the edge of a literal planet, but when he took a half step towards it he found Loki’s hand preventing him. He glanced at him and found Loki’s eyes were... distant and not quite looking at either him, or at the drop.

“I wouldn’t get too close to the edge, Anthony.” Loki murmured before slowing bringing his eyes to Tony, looking a bit too blank, a bit too haunted around the edges. “It’s a long way down.”

Tony’s mind suddenly made connections he instantly wished it hadn’t and he knew his face grew pinched with sympathetic pain. He stepped a little closer to Loki instead, trying to offer him comfort in any way that he could. “Yeah, okay.”

He searched around for something to distract Loki. He didn’t know what on Asgard would be a sore spot for the other, so he settled on the simplest of them all.


“So,” he remarked, “if I wanted to blow off a meeting with the King and have a sexy tryst with a gorgeous Prince, where would I need to go?”

The question startled a laugh out of Loki and made him smile. Tony ignored the sounds of disgust from behind them to focus on Loki’s answer. “I would hardly recommend that course of action, but...” he smirked, full of promise and tease. “I know a few spots, should we have to stay here longer than we’d like.”

“I’ve always wanted to have sex on another planet,” Tony continued mischievously. “It might be the only silver lining for being dragged up here.”

Loki chuckled and lightly rubbed his thumb against Tony’s neck in a gesture that made him shiver. “Here or not, my lovely Anthony, I’ll be sure to reward you handsomely for weathering this journey.”

“Maybe I should be giving you the reward?” Tony suggested, leaning a little closer and letting his voice go sultry, but making sure the guards could still overhear. “I’m sure you could use some pampering. The only question is; would you prefer my hands or my mouth?”

A loud cough from in front of them mostly drowned out the end of Tony’s question and he looked forward, glaring at Fandral who was glancing over his shoulder with an uncomfortable expression.

Loki’s voice sounded polite enough, but Tony could hear the threat underneath it. “Yes, Fandral?”

The Asgardian looked like he was searching desperately for a change of topic, his eyes darting around them before alighting on the bridge. He looked incredibly relieved when he looked back, catching Tony’s eyes. “Thor says that you are a scholar much like his mortal. I had thought you might wish to discuss the bridge as she did on her visit here?”

Tony couldn’t stop the way his eyes were drawn to the shimmering of the bridge that he was literally walking across. A part of him was straining with the need to get down on his knees and better examine it. He wanted to see if he could scrape off some shavings to experiment with back on Earth. He wanted to jump around and stick his nose into everything - but, he wasn’t going to.

He wasn’t about to let his guard down around people he didn’t trust in the slightest. He also wasn’t about to give Asgard any hint of his awe or excitement. Their infrastructure and their location might be absolutely fascinating, but he wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction of showing it.

So he smiled tightly at Fandral and told him, “Yeah, see, the lightshow’s cool and all, but when it comes to methods of transportation, I’m a bit more interested in learning about teleportation.” He flicked his eyes to Loki to see him biting down a soft, amused smile. He looked back at Fandral and continued, “Seems a bit more impressive when he does it.” He shrugged as best he could in the suit. “Anyway, Loki’s already told me all the important parts.”

Or he would, the minute Tony got him alone and pestered him for answers.

“I thought your armour gave you flight?” Fandral asked quizzically. “Why would you wish to have Loki teleport you?”

Tony blinked at him, completely incredulous. “I’m sorry, do you not understand how much faster and more useful teleporting is? Flying is the scenic route. You don’t want the scenic route when you’re trying to save the universe. I’d much rather have a fabulous mage who will bring me with him in an instant.”

Fandral actually looked confused and almost contemplative. He was also staring at Loki as if he’d never had that pointed out to him before. It took great strength for Tony not to roll his eyes heavenward over the stupidity of it.

“That is why we have the bifrost,” Fandral eventually said, but it was done slowly as if he wasn’t sure of the words.

“Oh? And the bifrost is always going to be there? Is always going to be accessible? Technology fails. Creepy guys in the sky are sometimes busy. Badass space mages have a much higher success rate and are usually right beside you.”

Fandral tilted his head, mulling over the words. “That is true.” He even smiled a little. “Many a time Loki has been the one through trick and illusion to aid in our escape and victory.”

Loki made a small noise, something Tony only heard because he was so close to him. Glancing over at Loki he saw him blinking and quickly wiping away the incredulity that had plastered itself over his face. Tony wouldn’t be surprised if that was the first time anyone had admitted that about Loki out loud.

Well, score one for Tony drilling some logic into at least one of them. It was too little too late as far as Tony was concerned, but the more Aesir who learned a little common sense, the less concerned Tony would be about Loki being kidnapped or attacked by them in the middle of the night.

Fandral, oblivious to Loki’s reaction however, continued, “There was a great game where we would need to pick which of his illusions was the true one. Thor would often grouse about playing as he always had the worst luck of us all.” Fandral turned to him with a smile. “Do you remember it, Loki?”

Loki narrowed his eyes, looking as if he was waiting for the metaphorical trapdoor to appear in their conversation. “I remember being called a liar when you could not guess correctly and being disinclined to play your game because of it.”

Oh, Tony wasn’t letting that go.

“So, you asked him to help you spot a magical fake and then you got mad when you were shit at it?” He looked between the two of them; Loki’s thin lips and Fandral’s surprised blinks. “Well, with an incentive like that, I wouldn’t be playing either.”

Fandral was grimacing heavily even as he said, “I did not believe you to cheat, Loki.”

“No,” Loki admitted, “it was but you and Hogun who never accused me of a lie. Hogun, because he has a better sense of illusion than any of you and...” Loki paused to stare at Fandral, his eyes and tone filled with that same suspicion, “you took me at my word in most things.”

“Well, you did not always lie,” Fandral said simply, as if that explained everything.

“No. It is only more recently that I seem to have earned that title.”

Loki’s voice had gone cold, his face an expressionless mask apart from the barely contained viciousness behind his eyes. “Or perhaps it is the lies of others that have made me embrace that which you have always believed me to be.”

Fandral’s shoulders had gone tense at the words and he went back to staring straight ahead. The guards had started whispering unhappily again and Tony felt like the air around them had gotten a few hundred degrees colder. The fingers at Tony’s neck were also twitching slightly as if Loki was straining with the force of keeping them still.

Tony didn’t know all the facts about Loki’s time playing dead and masquerading as the King. He knew Loki had done more good things than bad, but he had a feeling that the Aesir didn’t want to see it that way. Loki had told him once, smirking the whole time, that nothing he had done was illegal per say and so he couldn’t be charged. Tony had thought he’d have been in trouble for attacking the King for sure, but apparently Loki had planned around that. The conversation had been early in their partnership, and Loki had been reticent back then, so Tony hadn’t been able to get all the details, but he was certainly going to ask Loki about it again when they were alone.

Fandral cleared his throat suddenly, breaking Tony from his thoughts. He looked incredibly awkward as he asked quickly, as if trying to fill the silence, “Anthony Stark, what does your gift the Rhinocerotidae eat?”

Tony blinked, not only surprised that Fandral had actually remembered and pronounced the name correctly, but that he’d picked that of all topics. “Erm. Grass?”

He looked at Loki, not even sure why, but without FRIDAY to fact check that, he couldn’t be sure. Loki just looked fondly amused. “They will eat most vegetation, but grass is there preferred diet, though I would be wary at introducing them too quickly to Asgardian plant life.”

Fandral seemed galvanised at the new subject as he began asking Tony questions about how they were cared for, where they lived and if they were fond of other animals. It forced Tony to sift through his very limited information about rhinos. Loki however, knew more than Tony had expected and could cover whatever Tony couldn’t. Apparently Loki had done some research on all the animals that had ended up at Tony’s tower. Tony didn’t know when he’d managed it, considering how busy they’d been, but he was grateful all the same. It also helped give them something to talk about as they reached the gates to the city.

The city itself was fascinating. The glares and angry whispers they received walking through it however, were not. Loki kept his back straight and ignored it, instead casually pointing out different parts of Asgard and, when prompted by Tony, describing some trick or another that he’d performed there. Fandral even joined in, seeming oblivious to the hostility surrounding them as he spoke about the past, and for the most part, their long walk through the city was civil enough.

Tony was more than happy to just look at everything. He was on another planet and some of the technology that he knew Asgard had was enough to make him salivate and he was already making a list of things he wanted to question Loki about. But the closer they got to the palace, the more Loki changed - he got sharper and the air around him seemed to crackle with intensity.

It made further conversation fade away as Loki stopped giving anything but faint responses until the rest of their walk was simply spent in silence. This gave Tony more than enough opportunity to worry and wonder about just what Odin had planned for them - the Asgardian King was a piece of work and Tony knew to expect manipulations, arrogance, general assholery and a hefty amount of insults.

By the time they reached the golden palace in the centre of the city, Tony felt like he was heading into battle. There were royal guards throughout the halls and they all looked ready to stab Loki at the slightest provocation. The feeling of impending attack only got worse as they approached the great hall’s open doors. The place was huge, with giant pillars on either side that only emphasized the high ceiling. It was also full of members of the Asgardian court. Tony could definitely see it for the power play that it was.

The golden throne in the centre held an old man with an eye patch who was draped in gold. He was imposing and looked anything but weak. He was also looking at them as if they were a source of great annoyance and disgust to him. Tony automatically put on his most vicious smile as they got closer and watched irritation etch itself further across Odin’s face.

Loki’s hand was firm against his neck when they stopped at the foot of the throne. Loki held him in place as Fandral knelt in greeting. Tony heard a gentle but still heavy thump behind him and could only guess that the other Aesir had put down the rhino to do the same thing. The lack of a bow from them quickly caused unhappy whispers to start from the other people in the room.

“Loki,” Odin intoned, a world’s worth of displeasure coating the word.

Loki just grinned in the face of it and when he spoke his voice was so full of artifice that Tony doubted anyone bought it for a moment. “How pleased I am to see you, Allfather.”

He turned his attention to Tony after that, bringing up his free hand to rest over the armour covering Tony’s chest. “May I present Anthony Stark," Loki said with a formality that seemed more mocking, "he is a valiant warrior and renowned scholar of Midgard, a Prince in his own right and my partner in an alliance against the Mad Titan.” He looked back at Odin. “He is also my lover.”

Tony could feel the change that swept through the air at that; shock and disapproval. Tony just stood a little straighter even while openly tilting back into Loki’s hold on his neck. In response, Loki removed his palm from Tony’s chest before sliding the one on his neck over Tony’s shoulder, down his arm before wrapping around his waist. This settled them even closer together and Loki looked far too smug. Loki also kept his hands carefully positioned so that no one could miss or mistake what they were to each other. Odin’s mouth just continued to look as if he’d bitten into a lemon.

“We also wish to thank you for your most...” Loki paused as if searching for a word, “generous invitation to visit Asgard.” Tony’s mouth twitched at that lie. “We also bestow upon you a gift,” Loki absently flicked his fingers behind them but didn’t look away from Odin once. “A rare and prized fighting beast from Midgard’s lands. We present it with our gratitude, and we thank you for the compliment of being so highly sought as to be offered the might of Asgard in an alliance.”

The whispers started up again at that and Tony had to wonder just how much Asgard’s general public had known about why they were here and who had requested the meeting. His guess was that they hadn’t known a lot. His theory was only confirmed when Odin stamped his fancy staff and ordered that everyone leave them alone. He supposed there was nothing like an uninformed public to help make his crappy ruling look good.

The room was slow to clear and Loki and Odin stayed silent during it, spending the time glaring at each other. Fandral had carefully requested permission to take the rhino to the stables and had received little more than a small nod of acceptance.

When they were finally alone, Tony was about ready to make a sarcastic quip just to break the tension, but Odin spoke before he could, “Do you intend to gain something from this display, Loki?”

“Oh, I believe I gained what I intended,” Loki instantly parried. “And we did not call this meeting, Odin Allfather. Make us your offers.”

Instead of complying, Odin remarked, “Your behaviour on Midgard has been watched by Heimdall-”

“How scandalising for him,” Loki interrupted before purposefully stroking Tony’s hip. “I do hope that he enjoyed the view.”

Odin’s cheek twitched as if he was repressing a grimace or a sneer. “It seems you have found a place that falls easily for the falsehoods you favour.”

“I hardly needed to lie,” Loki snapped; his voice as sharp as a whip.

“And have you told this Midgardian the truth of your past?” Odin questioned, his gaze moving to look at Tony. “Does he know what actions placed you where you fell? Does he know the true colour of the one that he allies himself with?”

Loki’s whole body stiffened and his next words were a defensive snap. “And shall you share them with the Aesir?” Loki questioned. “Shall you tell your precious subjects what lies lurk in your past, Odin Allfather?”

“It is not the people of this realm that are in question,” Odin stated. “Lies fall more easily from your lips than any other words. You trick for advantage as much as for mischief. Do you trick this mortal for more than a place to reside? The history of this man would make him an elegant prospect for one such as you.” He looked Tony up and down. “A former shield brother of Thor and one you have had a chance to remove completely from his association. What more such opportunity could you have used? Your honeyed words often encourage wounded and rash decisions." Odin’s eyes lingered on the arm Loki had tightly wrapped around Tony, “There are many things you might have talked this mortal into considering for nothing but your own gain.”

“This mortal,” Tony growled, “can speak for himself.”

“Oh?” Odin questioned. “And what do you know of the one beside you? Do you know the history of who you ally yourself with, Anthony Stark”

“I know more about him than I do about you,” Tony argued. “So stop trying to tell me your opinion is the one I should trust. I picked him. What makes you think I’ll pick you?

He was eyed very sharply for that. “And you have faith in your decision?”

The way Odin spoke made Tony feel like he was being pitied, like he was being looked at as some poor mortal that Loki had managed to con onto his side. Tony was not about to let Odin get away with implying that.

“I don’t need faith,” Tony told him. “I have facts and I have proof. The initial contract we had, well, that worked for both of us. But when the most talented and intelligent person I ever met ended up on my side and became my friend, that was even better. When he turned out to be just as impressive in the bedroom, well, I’d be an idiot not to enjoy myself.”

Tony turned to look at Loki, giving him an adoring expression and enjoying the way Loki grinned right back. He moved in close enough to press his lips to Loki’s jaw in an affectionate kiss before he turned back to a stone faced Odin. “In fact, I suppose I have you to thank. I would never have gotten so lucky, if Loki had ever been happy up here.”

He could practically feel the glee radiating off of Loki at his words and Tony was only inclined to continue fanning that flame. Sure, Loki had kept telling him they needed Odin on side, that they needed Asgard as an ally, but Tony wasn’t about to let Loki get degraded and insulted right in front of him.

“How very loyal you are,” Odin murmured thoughtfully. “A pity Thor could not hold your attention, but then, there are some matters in which he would not be so... inclined.”

Tony smiled sharply at the thinly veiled insult. “Good for both of us. I’d hate to have to reject an advance from him by pointing out he is nothing like my type.”

Odin continued to eye him for a long moment, possibly rearranging his opinions on Tony, more likely he was altering the way in which he was approaching the conversation. He’d started by attempting to attack their partnership and relationship, Tony could only wonder what tactic was next.

“A partnership with mortals holds little interest to Asgard-”

“Oh?” Loki interrupted, “Then do explain your reason for calling us here.”

“The Mad Titan seeks the infinity gems. He craves destruction and death,” Odin said plainly. “You, Loki, have warned the realms of this and have assisted in securing three of these gems.” His eyes narrowed. “You are also rumoured to have a fourth in your possession.”

Tony flicked a sharp glance at Loki only to find him smiling ever so slightly. It neither confirmed nor denied the statement, but Tony was going to bet that the rumours were true there - and if they were then Loki had some serious explaining to do.

“The Nine are preparing for war against him.” Odin continued before he tilted his chin. “You and your mortal will remain on Asgard. He must prove himself worthy of Asgard before he can be offered an alliance with us.”

Tony’s eyes widened and before he could ask the uh, what? that was going through his head, Loki was speaking, “He has been watched by Heimdall’s gaze, therefore his worth cannot be in question. He is also a protector of his world, a world that was recently attacked. He cannot remain on Asgard for any extended duration.”

“Midgard will be protected by Thor,” Odin dismissed easily. “And Heimdall will watch it closer in his absence.”

Thor cannot perform the tasks required to protect it,” Loki argued. “The one responsible can only be discovered through means of Anthony’s science and my magic. She might yet prove a more significant threat if left idle.”

“I will have Heimdall locate the woman,” Odin told them simply. “Upon her discovery or any further attack, you may return - but Asgard will not offer an alliance to a mortal that it does not trust or know.”

Loki was gritting his teeth, looking quietly furious over the corner they were being backed into - and he wasn’t the only one. Tony wasn’t feeling anything near pleased.

“Anthony has business on his world,” Loki told Odin. “He is the Prince of an empire and cannot simply remain here indefinitely.”

Tony didn’t quite raise his eyebrows at the second time he was given Prince for a moniker, but it was a close thing.

“He will remain for seven days or Asgard will not consider an alliance,” Odin stated, cold and unyielding.

Loki looked beyond frustrated as he flicked his eyes to Tony. There were a million questions in that gaze and while Tony wasn’t exactly keen to stay on a planet ruled by Odin he wasn’t exactly giving them a lot of options either.

What choice did they really have if they wanted this alliance with Asgard? They needed Asgard on their side like they needed SHIELD.

He ended up shrugging slightly; doing his best to convey ‘it’s up to you’ and ‘if it’s safe enough’ and hoping Loki understood it. Loki must have been able to translate enough of it as he turned back to Odin.

“Anthony will only remain as long as his business or a threat to Midgard does not keep him from returning. The terms given in our invitation will remain intact during our time here and I will negotiate on our behalf should he be required to remain on Midgard.”

Odin didn’t look happy, his fingers tapping against his staff as he considered the proposal. Long moments passed before he gave a tight nod. “You will attend the feast tonight and the council will speak with you tomorrow.” A look of distaste crossed his face. “Loki’s old chambers may be used for the duration of your stay.” Shifting his attention more pointedly to Tony, he gave him one more deeply searching and hair-raising examination. “We will see just what you prove to be, Midgardian.”

He followed that final pronouncement with a clang of his spear and Tony felt magic rush over him in a way that made his skin crawl. He got the sudden and rather alarming feeling that he had just been made magically incapable of leaving the planet until the week had passed. Tony also got the feeling that Odin was far from done when it came to accepting their partnership as something he couldn’t twist or break for his own benefit.

Which was, oh say, extremely disconcerting.

"We shall inform Midgard of our extended stay and make preparations for the feast,” Loki told him, his words not quite coming through gritted teeth.

Odin had barely managed a nod before Loki was turning their backs to Odin and walking away and out of the hall. They didn’t bow, they didn’t even say a proper and formal goodbye, but Odin let them leave, probably because he’d already achieved the one thing he wanted - keeping them on the planet.

Tony was having some difficulty seeing it as a good thing for them to be stuck here. Sure an alliance with Asgard’s firepower was awesome. Being stuck on a hostile planet with Odin for continued company? Not so great. Try, very worrying.

He still waited until they were out of the hall to say anything. “So,” he drawled, “that-”

“Did not go the way we wanted, yes, thank you, Anthony, I am aware,” Loki snapped at him, fury and frustration plainly written across his face.

He looked like he wanted to blow something up and Tony retracted the gauntlet instantly so that he could place a hand on Loki’s back in comfort. Loki hardly seemed to notice, but he also didn’t shove Tony’s touch off.

He decided that, at least until they got somewhere private, he wouldn’t push Loki for any answers. He trusted Loki to keep them safe. He trusted that Loki wouldn’t have accepted Odin’s ultimatum if it wasn’t going to be better for them in the long run.

They’d come up here for a reason and that was to have Asgard on their side when they fought Thanos. It wasn’t ideal that they were stuck here, but hell, they’d both made their way through worse odds, and this time, they also had each other.

Chapter Text

Odin’s actions were infuriating. His insults to Anthony and their partnership made Loki’s blood boil and the demand that they remain on the planet had Loki gritting his teeth. Odin was doing little more than displaying his dominance and his presumed power over the situation and Loki despised swallowing it.

He also didn’t like being on Asgard again. It made him tense and unsettled and he wanted Anthony nowhere near the place, but he knew it couldn’t be helped. He had also known this had been coming.

It was why he wasn’t unprepared.

Loki knew Odin far better than he wished to - the underhand tactics, preferred ruling methods and numerous other observations had allowed Loki to adopt his illusion of Odin so easily. Loki had known long before his illusion was pierced that he would be called back to Asgard eventually. His possession of an infinity gem and his... particular knowledge of Thanos made him invaluable.

But he had refused to let himself be a pawn again or to allow Odin to manipulate their meeting to his advantage. The key, of course, was making Odin believe that he was gaining what he wished. It had also meant... keeping certain things from Anthony. He hadn’t wished to, but initially, it had been needed. Anthony had to react honestly in order for Odin to believe them and while Anthony was a skilled liar, Odin was not above searching out truth with his magic.

It was why Loki needed that very ruse to hold until they reached the privacy of his former chambers and he could explain. Hiding themselves from Heimdall would be simple there; he had always masked his rooms and their presumed relationship should keep Heimdall or Odin from looking any closer. It granted Odin the comfort of his arrogant certainty and granted Loki the freedom to explain himself to Anthony before they enacted the rest of his plans.

He had to hope that Anthony would understand his reasons.

Anthony’s hand was a warm a weight against his back, and his support since the moment they’d stepped foot on Asgard was invaluable. Loki had been filled with a burning desire to simply embrace the other man on numerous occasions, to pull him close and express his gratitude in such a simple but heartfelt gesture. But like everything else, it would need to wait.

Anthony was staying quiet as they made their way through the twists and turns of Asgard’s palace. They were as familiar to Loki as his own palm, and he could navigate them with ease, but to Anthony, everything was new. He was flicking his eyes in every direction, trying to absorb all that he could. He did tense automatically whenever he spotted one of the patrolling guards, but beyond a dark glare that Loki returned, they were left alone.

When they finally reached Loki’s chambers some minutes later, he was faintly amused to find his wards had remained undisturbed. His mother had maintained his chambers after his so-called death and even during his time in prison. When he was free, Loki had spent his time as Odin utilising them and strengthening his protective spells. Odin, in the months that had followed his discovery, had obviously been too busy to bother untangling Loki’s spellwork. It was one of few things that worked in Loki’s favour.

It was the matter of moments for Loki to adjust his wards to include Anthony before he let them inside. His chambers were just as he had left them, and he felt a twinge of nostalgia and bitterness at coming back to them. There were disturbances from his time as Odin, but for the most part, it remained a reminder of his past: a time before the revelation of his true parentage, when he was fractured by the truth and became incapable of calling Asgard anything like home.

He was so lost in thoughts and memories as he gazed at the room that his projected rage faded for a more truthful, unseen tension. When Anthony spoke into the silence, the sound made him startle. “The rooms in my tower are better.”

The moment he processed the words, it drew a laugh from Loki. He glanced over to find Anthony was smiling easily, but Loki could still see the worry in Anthony’s eyes; worry for Loki. He knew the comment had been intended as a way to break the tension, but Loki still had to agree. “Yes, they are.”

Where his rooms on Asgard had been filled with all manner of wealth, the items had been collected to fulfil a certain visual, and while some of them had been chosen by Loki himself, most were there to catch the eye and remind anyone who set foot inside that he was an Odinson: a Prince of Asgard. The rooms were designed to look Asgardian regardless of Loki’s own desires, and he’d always been conscious of making sure that they remained that way.

His floor on Anthony’s tower, by comparison, had been made specifically for him and was filled with things that Anthony knew he would like. Anthony had gone out of his way to make him feel comfortable, at home, and he’d done it far more easily than Asgard ever had.

“No offense or anything,” Anthony told him, stepping away from Loki and out of his armour as he explored the immediate area. “But this isn’t the kind of room I pictured for you.”

“Oh?” Loki enquired, watching Anthony as he looked around. There was a confused pucker between his brow and a displeased curve to his lips.

“Well, yeah. I mean; there’s the green and gold and the bookshelves full of magic texts, but everything else is kind of... impersonal?” He ran his hand over the back of a chair and glanced at the fine intricacy of a handmade rug before looking back at Loki. “I feel like this whole place is... I don’t know, a bad attempt someone made at trying to be you?”

Loki smiled tightly. He was both pleased at Anthony for noticing and stung that he was the first one who ever had. It was what made him more willing to be truthful as he let his eyes travel over the room and all the memories that it contained.

“It was an attempt,” he explained. “It was my attempt to model myself, even in my own quarters, into something more palatable to those around me.” Anthony’s face had fallen by the time Loki looked back at him, but Loki waved a hand dismissively. “It matters little, Anthony. I liked my chambers well enough when I was younger and have long grown out of caring about them. Besides, is it not your tower that I now call home?”

That at least, made Anthony smile even as he questioned, “Yeah, and any grand plans on getting back there in one piece?” He looked Loki up and down, his eyes narrowed suspiciously, and his mind working furiously. “Because you look a hell of a lot less bothered about being up here than you did a minute ago.”

“Yes,” Loki admitted, feeling unexpectedly... uncomfortable with admitting it, “I was not entirely truthful with you.”

Anthony’s mouth became a thin line, and he crossed his arms defensively. His face was beginning to close off, taking his good humour and confidence as he remarked flatly, “You lied to me.”

Loki quickly stepped forward, closing the distance and placing a hand over Anthony’s crossed arms. “It was something I had intended to tell you, but the arrival of Asgard at your tower forced me into a position where I could not explain myself without risking a plan I had spent years arranging.” Loki only felt his nerves increase when Anthony remained unmoved by his words. “Truly, Anthony, I never wished to keep it from you; I'd simply had no need to share it previously when I could not be certain it would ever come to pass. When Fandral arrived, it was unexpected, and I couldn’t allow Odin to become aware that his attempts to unbalance and keep us on Asgard were actually in our favour.”

Anthony remained silent for a long time after Loki was finished, but at least he didn’t shrug off Loki’s touch. “You wanted us to be stuck up here?”

“I wanted Odin to seek an alliance with us. I had suspected that he would require us to stay as it is common in diplomatic meetings. I did not however, expect him to demand your presence as well.” Loki’s mouth twisted. “He regards Midgardians with little respect, and I had intended to use that to my advantage-”

“I wouldn’t have let you stay here alone,” Anthony interjected firmly, and that sharp denial and stubbornness eased some of the tension from Loki’s shoulders and let him breathe a sigh of relief.

“Yes,” he squeezed Anthony’s arm gently. “And it is truly better that you are here to discuss the alliance and stand by my side.” He couldn’t stop his small smirk. “It will be good for you to meet the other dignitaries as well.”

Anthony eyed him warily at that. “Other dignitaries?”

“I did many things while perpetrating my illusion of Odin, and creating stronger relationships among the realms was one of them.”

Anthony blinked at him. “But those relationships were with Asgard and Odin, not you.”

“And if they believe that Odin is inviting them for a discussion on new alliances against the Mad Titan, they will not question it, and they will not refuse, just as Odin cannot deny them when they arrive.”

Anthony’s eyes cleared. “You’re going to drop the rest of the realms on him. You’re going to make him ally with us as well as the rest of the worlds.”

“I am not;” Loki corrected, “we are.”

“Holy shit,” Anthony said before following it with an incredulous laugh. “He’s going to be so pissed. Fuck.” He shook his head, looking thoughtful and slightly impressed. “Can you really pull this off?”

Loki raised his eyebrows. “Do you doubt me?”

“Honestly, no, I don’t.” Anthony still looked a little disbelieving, but Loki just felt warm from Anthony’s words. “When are you going to bring them here?”

“Tomorrow. It will be too difficult to arrange tonight, and this will also allow us the chance to discover what Odin’s plans will be. It will prepare us in case he attempts to still utilise them once the ambassadors arrive.”

“And we when become ambassadors for Midgard, everyone will stop focusing on us. We’ll become part of a larger crowd,” Anthony realised, making rapid connections. “We’ll also get the benefit of not being tied to Odin and his whims; with multiple realms invested, he can’t afford to play games or withhold Asgardian forces when we need them.”


“And you couldn’t tell me because that Heimdall guy was watching?”

“His gaze followed us from the moment we arrived on Asgard,” Loki agreed, “it is only here, hidden by my wards, that he cannot see our actions.” Loki licked his lip. “It's why I tried to keep you from accompanying me. I could not tell you, I could not risk it. I hope you understand why I needed to-”

Anthony shook his head. “You told me the second you could. You tried to keep from lying to me. You also didn’t hide it, and you justified yourself legitimately. You told me the truth like a real friend and ally.” Anthony grinned at him and uncrossed his arms; his body relaxed and open once more. “You also made being here feel less like a trap and more like a really spiteful way to piss off Odin while getting exactly what we want. You gave me trust.” Anthony let out a happy sigh before reaching up for Loki’s arm and gripping it tightly, his smile as bright as a star. “Seriously, you are the best.”

Loki didn’t know how much tension he was holding until that very moment when it all released. He felt better, knowing that Anthony understood, but he still wanted to clarify, to promise. “I assure you, Anthony. I will never lie to you unless-”

“Hey, hey,” Anthony stroked his arm in a soothing gesture. “You’re not in the same category as them. You won’t ever be in the same category as them if you explain it to me like you did now – the same thing I’ll do for you. We don’t keep malicious secrets, and we don’t aim to hurt each other; that right there, Loki, is why we’re friends and why you’ve got my trust.”

He squeezed Loki’s shoulder before pulling back, but the air felt... heavy, pregnant with something soft and delicate. It was something that Loki didn’t want to press to strongly only to have it burst, but before he could try anything, Anthony was turning away and moving towards the nearest chair, breaking whatever moment had been building between them.

“Now, come on,” he said, “explain the rest of the situation and plan to me. I’m going to have to call Bruce and Rhodey and listen to them freak out; it would be nice to add something comforting by the time they wind down.”

“It will be best if you don’t tell them anything about our plans until after the ambassadors have arrived. Heimdall will likely watch them for any betrayal on our part. Your tower might be protected by my spells, but it will be easier if nothing can be passed on through them even accidentally.”

Anthony scowled, but he still nodded, accepting Loki’s reasoning. He flopped into the nearest chair before blinking and beginning to wriggle. Loki watched him, greatly amused as Anthony attempted to get himself comfortable. “Are you quite well?”

“It feels like five different fabrics have merged together, I’m trying to figure out if I like it or not.”

Loki chuckled lightly before moving to another seat so that he could sit opposite Anthony. He leant back against the chair before steepling his fingers as he waited. He found himself unwilling to rush Anthony when the sight and sounds were so entertaining and relaxing to observe. Anthony was acting as if he hadn’t a care in the world, as if Loki’s word was a strong enough reason to dismiss his worries about being on Asgard while he trialled the varying furniture.

It made Loki smile softly.

He knew that there was little time to waste and that he had numerous things to do in order to have everything go according to plan. He also knew that Anthony was only behaving so ridiculously just to make him laugh.

And despite the many things pressing down on them and needing quick completion, the only thing Loki wanted and cared to do at the moment was to watch Anthony complain about Asgardian furniture and postulate about his own far more superior decorating choices.

Loki couldn’t safely say why such an innocent moment meant so much to him.

Despite taking Anthony only five minutes to settle, it took them a great deal more to discuss the entirety of Loki’s plan. An hour quickly passed as Loki described the invitation he had pre-designed while portraying Odin. It was simple enough but terrifying in its implications for the Nine Realms should the Mad Titan invade.

He also showed it to Anthony and explained that he had masked his magical signature so that if anyone checked, it would confirm that Odin was sending it. The downside was that while Loki could send the invitations from the privacy of his chambers, he wouldn’t know of their success until the following day.

If the realms accepted, then they would have little to worry about once the ambassadors were on Asgard. Their time would be spent in numerous political meetings as an alliance between them all was discussed. Odin would be well aware of what they had done by then, but he would be unable to reverse it or expose them without placing himself in an unflattering light. He simply couldn’t afford to be seen as excluding the realms from such important discussions about Thanos.

The true problem, Loki had to admit, laid in having the ambassadors all arrive on time. Loki was fairly certain that the nature of the discussions would make them accept and arrive quickly, but he had still made sure to fill the letter with every implication that the invitation was an offer that they simply couldn’t refuse.

Anthony had been impressed, fingering one of the invitations and reciting some of his favourite lines back at Loki, the fate of the Nine Realms will depend on these discussions and The Mad Titan is amassing a power far too great for any one creature. He did also pause to say to Loki, his eyebrows raised and a bitter twist to his mouth, “One ring to rule them all stuff, huh? And I can just guess who’s going to be walking into Mordor.”

But before Loki could answer him, Anthony had asked another question, and Loki had gone on to explain what they would need to do in the time before the arrival of the other realms.

Hiding their intentions from Odin would be crucial, but it would be particularly difficult with Odin watching them closely. Loki knew Odin would be intent on severing their partnership by any means necessary. It meant that navigating the evening’s feast would be tedious, and he’d made sure to warn Anthony of the many things Odin might attempt. Separating and interrogating them was a virtual certainty, attempting to prove that they weren’t lovers was a possibility and even continuing his attempts to make Anthony give up his partnership with Loki in exchange for a sole alliance with Asgard wouldn’t be impossible.

Anthony just seemed irritated by Loki’s many theories and suggestions, especially the ones that pertained to Odin degrading and mocking Loki’s sexuality and life choices. Anthony had ended up grumbling under his breath as he paced to try and work off some of his restless, frustrated energy. He remained, regardless of any of Loki’s words, completely unwavering in his loyalty, and Loki enjoyed basking in it.

It was while he was watching Anthony pace - he had ceased his ranting at least, scowling instead and obviously running over everything he’d just learned - that there was a knock on the door. Loki glanced over his shoulder while Anthony went tense. It only took a quick check of his wards to confirm who was there.

He stood, his lip curled in distaste as he explained to Anthony. “Odin has sent someone to design your clothing for the evening.”

Anthony took a step closer to him so that his arm was lightly brushing Loki’s in support. “Let me guess: the apprentice who doesn’t know his way around a sewing machine?”

“He will not touch the fabric that will decorate you,” Loki snapped before stalking forward. He paused briefly before reaching the door, waving a hand to send Anthony’s armour to rest beside the wall and away from the door. He also magically mussed his clothing and hair while creating a noticeable red mark on his upper throat.

Pulling open the door, he gave the man on the other side his most unimpressed glare and saw the Aesir swallow thickly. His eyes also lingered on the mark on Loki’s neck before darting to the floor. “The Allfather has requested that I design clothing for-”

He may have requested you, but I did not. You will send for Hertha as I will accept no other outfitting Anthony or myself.”

The man looked surprised and uncomfortable, darting his wide-eyes back to Loki. “I- she is busy. She is-”

“You will tell Hertha that I have requested her,” Loki demanded, his voice a sharp order that had the Aesir flinching. The reaction boded well; it meant the rumours of him had continued despite his absence. “You will do it immediately and tell her that I require her at my chambers within the hour.”

Loki barely waited long enough to see the Aesir nod and start to stutter out a reply before he was shutting the door on him, leaving the Aesir to follow Loki’s orders. He waited just long enough to make sure he was leaving before he turned back to Anthony.

Anthony had his arms crossed and his eyebrows raised. “And you’re going for terrifying overlord of anger, why?”

“Because I am no longer a Prince that they must obey,” Loki admitted simply.

“And fear is a good motivator to make them listen to you?” Anthony questioned him sceptically.

“Until we are considered dignitaries that they must respect and treat with humility than they will be inclined to ignore and refuse us,” Loki explained while making his way back towards Anthony. “This is something that they did even when I was a Prince.” He shrugged a little stiffly. “When I was a child, fear of Odin kept them from insulting me in public. A suitable application of my own powers when I got older did the same. They would rarely talk out of turn because of this so as not to incur our wrath.” When Loki took his seat again he felt remarkably tired. “The power that either of us holds here is minimal, Anthony, and I cannot have them understand that or our plans will be drastically hindered.”

Anthony seemed to notice his weariness because he lost some of his own tension and the accusatory slant to his mouth. He stepped closer and looked down at him, worry making him frown. “Are you okay, Loki?”

Loki chuckled a little humourless and tilted his head back on his seat to better look at Anthony. “I’m well enough.”

“Yeah... but being up here can’t be doing wonders for your stress levels.”

Anthony wasn’t wrong, but Loki was trying not to think about it. It was like an itch under his skin being back on Asgard, a painful reminder of his past at every corner. Anthony’s presence was... helping, but he still felt uncomfortable, tense. He was trying to ignore the emotions churning through him and the way a large part of him wanted to burn the planet to the ground. The rest could never bear to do that in respect for his mother.

It left him conflicted and trying to ignore everything he was feeling. His conversations with Anthony, his earlier admittances to Midgard, it only furthered the way he felt... raw. The care and friendship he received from Anthony as well as Rhodes and Banner, their horror and disgust at his treatment and their ability to give concessions over his invasion of their world - it only threw to light the sharp contrast he had received from Asgard, from Odin, from Thor.

Oh, Odin had been forced to pardon him eventually and admit what had happened to him, but it had fallen bitter and unhappy from his mouth.

His time with Anthony had granted him an acceptance he’d never known before, not only of his sexuality and his magic, but of himself. Anthony appreciated him for who he was and while he already felt drained from his small time on Asgard, it helped to have Anthony at his side.

“Loki?” Anthony asked again, and he felt Anthony’s hand come to rest on his shoulder.

He blinked away from his thoughts to find Anthony had moved to stand beside him. His concern had only grown and Loki smiled faintly. “I will not enjoy my time here, but it is a small price to pay for the alliance we seek.” But when that didn’t seem to comfort Anthony, he added firmly, “I will be fine.”

“And what if you aren’t?” Anthony asked quietly. He glanced down at Loki’s wrist where the bracelet rested. “You’ll tell me, right?”

“Do you worry I will fall to pieces somewhere?” Loki asked a little wryly.

“I will give up an alliance with Asgard to make sure that you don’t,” Anthony promised him, nothing but conviction in his tone.

Loki’s breath very nearly caught at Anthony’s stubborn determination to simply protect him, and Loki had to take a moment to compose himself. A smile was still curling at his mouth as something unfurled in his chest; warm and fond. He said his next words teasingly, “You would ruin years of planning and the protection of the Nine for a single person?”

Anthony however, remained utterly serious, keeping their gazes locked. “If that person is one of my best friends, then hell yes.”

Loki let out a small laugh and shook his head. “You are being ridiculous, Anthony.” When he saw stubborn resolve slip over Anthony’s features, he quickly added, “But, I will tell you if I find myself having difficulty here. We can then return to these rooms for few hours, discard our many acts and speak freely.”

Anthony remained silent, eyeing him for a long moment and judging his sincerity before he finally relaxed. He squeezed Loki’s shoulder before letting him go and stepping away. “Okay. Good.”

Loki instantly missed the touch, but he ignored the feeling to stand. He gestured for Anthony to follow him further into his chambers so that he could become aware of the layout. He explained it quickly as they moved; the main room was a sitting area designed for any guests he wished to host and comprised the majority of his chamber.

The connecting room was his sleeping quarters and had an ornate archway they needed to walk through. The room was spacious with a large bed big enough for three grown Aesir. It was covered in furs, pillows and throw rugs. There was a private bathing quarters to the left through another archway and a balcony to the right, the doors of which were currently closed.

Loki’s attention lingered briefly on the bed when they stepped inside, an embarrassed flush fighting its way onto his cheeks. He was able to force it down for the most part, even while turning to Anthony. “I'm afraid you will need to share a bed should we wish to maintain our ruse."

Anthony just raised his eyebrows, looking amused. "What? Am I supposed to have a problem with this?"

Loki shrugged, feeling tense for an entirely new reason. “It’s not an unreasonable concern.”

It was true that Anthony seemed unconcerned with touching him for the sake of their ruse, kissing him even, but this would still be something quite different. Anthony knew that he’d had at least one dream about the other man and had made his ridiculous photo collection in response. But how would Anthony react if Loki had a similar dream while lying beside him?

The very thought made Loki feel mortified, uncomfortable, nervous - but if Anthony shared any of those concerns, he didn’t show it. Anthony snorted as if the whole thing was ridiculous. “Yeah, Loki, it’s not a problem for me. The only issue we’re going to have is if you try to kick me out of the bed for being a cuddler.”

Loki stared at him, certain it couldn’t be that simple. How could Anthony take such a situation so easily? How?

Because he is Anthony, his mind told him, resolute and somehow, it just made Loki... relax. He knew Anthony had shared a bed with Rhodes, he knew Anthony did not care about his sexuality. It seemed not even this could bother him. But what if you have other dreams?

“Loki?” Anthony asked, noticing the way he’d grown quiet, pensive. Anthony’s hand touched his arm, drawing him back to the room.

His smile came out a little tighter. “It has been a long time since I’ve shared a bed with another and my dreams are unlikely to be pleasant tonight. Perhaps it would be best if I retire to another -”

“Hey,” Anthony interrupting, holding his gaze and telling him gently. “We’ll share.” He quirked a small grin. “Just, you know, don’t stab me with a knife if I try to wake you up from it and we’ll be fine. Okay?”

Loki couldn’t say for certain that very situation wouldn’t occur, not if memories of Thanos assaulted him, not if his time in the void left him gasping and hollow. Loki forced down a shudder before giving Anthony a brief, sharp nod. He then stepped away from Anthony, directing him towards the balcony; he needed air and a way to distract himself from his darkening thoughts.

He gripped the ornamental doors before pushing them open; Asgard lay before him but he hardly glanced at it. Loki stood to side so that Anthony could step through and so that he could watch Anthony’s reaction as he saw the view for the first time.

Anthony’s eyes went wide with awe and his jaw slack with astonishment. He all but stumbled to the railing, pressing hands against the ledge as he stared out over the city. It was a view Loki had spent centuries admiring; Asgard was spread out before them elegant and golden while stars twinkled in the distance and the bifrost rested at the edge of the world.

Anthony was staring at everything with such wonder and Loki found himself leaning against the doorframe and simply watching him, a small smile on his lips.

Loki couldn’t help wondering how different his life would have been if someone like Anthony had grown up on Asgard beside him - if they had chosen him rather than Thor. But then, would they have even done that? Would he have been one more Aesir that didn’t understand or appreciate Loki?

He supposed he would never know and really, it was pointless to speculate.

Shaking off his thoughts, Loki came to stand beside Anthony and leant against the balcony. He let his shoulder brush against Anthony’s before he skimmed the city, searching for a more amusing aspect of his life on this planet. He found one soon enough and pointed down at the city.

“There is a parade held every few decades and walks through those streets. When I was very young - perhaps fourteen by your standards - I had seen it twice before and had no interest in attending again. When forced to do so, I decided to trial a spell I had recently discovered on the horses that were in the procession.”

Anthony glanced at him, suspicion in his eyes, but humour in his grin. “What did it do?”

“Made them all defecate.”

Anthony laughed, sudden and loud. “Holy shit.”

“Quite,” Loki remarked with amusement. Anthony just continued to laugh. “It was a monumental effort to clean up the mess,” Loki continued, “I was, at the time, not yet known for such dramatic mischief and got off quite lightly for it.”

“Which only made you want to do it again,” Anthony picked out easily. He was still smiling as he flicked his eyes over the city before bringing them back to Loki. “What else did you do to make this place bearable, oh, God of Mischief? Regale me with your greatest achievements.”

Feeling himself unwind the way he always did beside Anthony, Loki moved a little closer just so that he could feel the heat from Anthony all the way down his side. He let out a soft, content breath before he began to reply - enjoying the way Anthony’s eyes crinkled when he laughed, the way he sometimes pressed his face into Loki’s shoulder, trying to muffle his humour, the way he looked at Loki like there was nowhere else he’d rather be.

It only made Loki want to pull him even closer, but Loki refused to think about why.

They remained on the balcony and talking for ten minutes or so as Loki recounted numerous pranks he’d pulled over the centuries. When his tales finally petered out, it left them standing there, resting against each other and staring out over the city.

It was peaceful, calming and Loki found himself thinking less about the view and all its memories, and more about the man beside him.

The silence however, was eventually broken.

“You ready to send out the invitations and call Rhodey and Bruce?” Anthony asked.

Loki blinked and looked down at him, frowning slightly. “Was I not before?”

Anthony sent him an extremely dubious expression. “I think you were in need of at least a few minutes of decompressing.” He sighed a little and looked out over Asgard, wrinkling his nose slightly. “I think we both were.”

Pulling away from Loki, Anthony only paused long enough to grab Loki’s upper arm before dragging him back into Loki’s chambers. Surprised, Loki let it happen. “Now, the sooner we get the invitations to them, the better, right? It gives them more chance to arrive on time?”

He looked at Loki expectantly, but Loki was still rather thrown and growing increasingly suspicious about Anthony’s actions. When Loki answered him it was done cautiously, “... Correct.”

“Okay. How about a quick call to Rhodey and Bruce first to break the bad news? You can always send the invites in the background while I’m calming them down and explaining things.” Anthony started to reach into his pocket to pull out his phone, but Loki grabbed his wrist, holding his arm in place and staring at him with narrowed eyes. Anthony just gave him a look of confusion. “What?”

“Did you delay our actions simply to be certain that I was well?”

Anthony shrugged easily, not even bothering to hide it. “Of course I did.”

“Why?” Loki demanded.

But he knew the reason. Anthony was caring, compassionate and unwilling to stand by and let his friends suffer. He would put the alliance on hold if it meant checking to make sure Loki was okay. It was in his nature, but.... something inside of Loki needed to push, needed to know. It craved a deeper answer than what his mind was telling him was true.

Anthony just looked at him with a puzzled expression. “Because you’re my friend.”

His response made Loki let him go, feeling stung and unwilling to look at why. Anthony didn’t seem to notice his reaction as he pulled out his phone and began to dial Rhodes or Banner. Loki could only watch him, feeling uncertain and uncomfortable for an entirely new reason, one that he was reluctant to put it into words. Because for the first time in their partnership the answer that Anthony had given him was one that Loki no longer wanted to hear.

No. It means nothing, Loki told himself firmly. There is nothing else that it can mean.

He couldn’t afford for it to be otherwise.

Chapter Text

Tony wasn’t quite tapping his foot as he waited for Bruce to pick up, but it was a near thing. It wasn’t that he was impatient to talk to Rhodey and Bruce - though, they all did have a lot to discuss - rather, Tony needed to expel some of the nervous energy that was still lingering inside him.

He was on Asgard, about to help Loki seriously piss off Odin, and they were going to start brokering an alliance with other worlds against a threat so powerful that Loki was willing to speak with Odin in the first place.

They also needed to come out of it with their body intact, rather than skewered by Asgardian soldiers.

No reason to be concerned or worried at all, right? Sure, he trusted Loki to know what he was doing, but it was still ever so slightly unnerving.

Tony also knew that with Loki back on a planet that had caused or been the catalyst of at least two thirds of the mage’s nightmares, Tony was going to have to watch the other like a hawk to make sure Loki was handling it as well as he claimed he was.

He’d done his best so far to try and steer Loki’s thoughts away from the darker places it could end up in. Tony had also made sure to tell him that they could get the fuck out at any time, but Loki was as stubborn as he was. It was just like when they were stuck at the SHIELD compound: Tony had refused to leave until the contract was completed - and now Loki was doing the same thing here.

The conversations about Loki’s mischievous escapades had helped them both, at least, and Tony loved hearing about what Loki was like in his youth. He liked hearing about the decent parts of Asgard: the technology, the royal library, and the landscapes that Loki, even now, was still fond of.

But it didn’t mean that either of them could linger in good memories and ignore what they needed to do for very long.

Tony was still surprised that Loki even needed to ask why he’d tried to help the mage unwind. They did it for each other, because that was what friends did - or at least, what they should do for one another. It was part of the Tony Stark Friendship Experience and if Loki still couldn’t accept that, then Tony would just continue to be patient with the other man while further emphasising the knowledge that Tony would always be there to support him and fight by Loki’s side.

Loki had allies now.

He had Tony, Rhodey, and Bruce - and Loki didn’t have to fear their betrayal or their sudden departure when he needed them most. This wasn’t just a contract anymore; this was friendship and Tony would stop at nothing when it came to the people he cared about.

Which, speaking of allies... Tony heard the call pick up, followed by a worried, “Tony?”

He grinned. “Hey, Bruce. How’s Earth?”

“How are you?” the other parried instantly and Tony could just picture the frown on Bruce’s face. “You’ve been gone for hours.”

“Yeah, sorry. Time between the realms isn’t always reliable. Plus, Loki was showing me around his old rooms. We’ll be staying in here for a week so, it was best to get the tour first.”

Tony flicked a glance to Loki, seeing the unimpressed look he was being given. But what was the point in being subtle? Better to do it without padding -like ripping off a bandaid.

“Did you say a week?

Tony winced. “Oh, hey, Rhodey. Didn’t know you were there... and that I was on speaker.”

“How the hell did you get talked into staying a week?” Rhodey demanded, furious, concerned, and probably five seconds from finding Thor and demanding he be taken up to Asgard to join them.

“Look, I know this probably sounds bad, but-”

Tony was cut off by Loki placing a gentle hand on his shoulder. Tony looked behind himself to find Loki’s other palm held out before Tony’s face. He could hear the others calling his name through the phone, worried at his sudden silence, but Loki just asked, “If I may?”

Shrugging, Tony flipped the cell onto speaker before handing it over to the other. “Sorry; Loki wants to say hi.”

“Rhodes. Dr Banner.”

“Loki, what the hell-” Rhodey began, but was quietly and firmly cut off.

“Odin is offering Anthony and myself - and through us, Midgard - an alliance with Asgard. Negotiations such as these - as you are undoubtedly aware - take time. It is standard for guests of the realm to reside in the palace while such contracts are created.”

There was a moment’s silence before Rhodey, casual tone barely hiding his tension, remarked, “That would be reasonable, great even, if I trusted Asgard in the slightest.”

Loki let out a small huff of breath, amused at god knew what. “You have your bracelet, Rhodes; and should we be in any danger, I assure you that we’ll use it.”

“Do you think Odin is being genuine?” Bruce questioned, sounding both thoughtful and uncertain. “Does he really intend to produce a contract either of you would be willing to sign?”

Loki and Tony exchanged a glance, and Tony couldn’t stop the way his mouth tipped up into a mischievous, conspiratorial smile. Loki soon matched it; he was also the one to answer. “I spent many centuries on the side of Asgard, watching the numerous ways that Odin brokered such deals. His tricks and his attempts to outmanoeuvre us will not come so easily with such knowledge at my disposal.”

“He’s bound to know you just as well as you do him,” Rhodey warned, but Loki dismissed the statement easily.

“Odin spent very little time watching me, much preferring to keep me out of sight and mind. I was Thor’s shadow, and that dismissive eye now gives me an even greater advantage. Odin does not know me. He knows the man I pretended to be and, even now, he still struggles to discover who I am and what danger I pose to him.”

That’s what we’re doing up here, guys,” Tony added. “We’re showing Asgard exactly what they lost when they overlooked Loki. We’re showing them all the good he could have done, all the badass space mage they could have had on their side. This is the ten year highschool reunion, and we’re about to kick the ass of every damn jock who decided to pick on the wrong target.”

Loki was grinning, bright and delighted, at Tony when he finished. The look in his eyes said that Tony was five seconds away from being hugged - and Tony was more than willing to encourage that. He enjoyed hugs, especially from people he was close to. Loki, however, had a tendency to be more reserved in his affection. He accepted Tony’s touches greedily enough, but very rarely instigated his own unless it was for the ruse or to comfort Tony.

Stepping closer, Tony didn’t hug the other, but he did bump their shoulders together and let the touch linger as Rhodey responded to Tony’s previous comment. “Are you sure you guys are going to be safe?”

“Safe enough,” Loki answered before Tony could. “And to ensure that very protection, I will leave you to speak with Tony; I have some spells to perform.”

“Be careful up there,” Bruce told Loki, while Rhodey added on a, “Call us, whenever you need to.”

Loki gave a faint smile before handing the phone back to Tony and left the bedroom to head back out to the main room shortly after. Tony just turned the phone off speaker and placed it up to his ear; he also stepped closer to the archway and leant against the wall, curious to see the spell that Loki planned to used to send out the forged invitations.

There was a moment’s lull in conversation before Rhodey asked, “You off speaker?”


“How is he?”

Tony let out a soft sigh. “Good as can be expected. Better even.”

Bruce quickly pinpointed the concern that Tony hadn’t stated. “That worries you.”

Tony stepped back a little, still keeping Loki in sight but lowering his voice to try and avoid being heard. “How many times you heard me say ‘I’m fine’?”

“Too many to count,” Rhodey answered, probably around a grimace.

“I’m watching out for it,” Tony assured them. “Hopefully, he really is okay. Either way, I’ll be glad to get back to Earth when the week is over.”

“On that,” Rhodey began, “what happens if Animal Lady strikes again and you’re up there?”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Odin thinks that Thor can handle it.” He was gratified to hear one of them snort. “But Loki still made him agree to send me back if anything threatens Earth. Heimdall, the giant eye in the sky, is also going to look out for her. Maybe we’ll get lucky and he can give us a location.”

“Maybe,” Rhodey allowed, but he didn’t sound hopeful. “SHIELD has asked about Asgard -Thor too. He’s even tried to follow you guys up but so far he hasn’t been allowed off the planet. Do you know why?”

Tony blinked, surprised at that. “No idea. Kind of liking it, though.” He tapped his fingers against his thigh in thought. “See if you can convince him to stay on Earth, make up something about defending the planet in our absence. I don’t care. But I think we all know that having him up here isn’t going to improve things for us.”

“I’ll see what I can manage,” Rhodey told him dryly.

“Knew I could count on you.”

“The media is repeating the footage of you leaving with the Asgardians pretty regularly too,” Bruce informed him. “There are a lot of theories flying around about why you’ve been called up there.”

“Anything entertaining? Please tell me there was a good joke about anal probing?” He heard a snigger and a long-suffering sigh and could easily pinpoint who had done which. Mostly, though, he didn’t care about that; there was something more important to focus on. “How are they taking to Loki?”

There was a decently long pause from the other end and it made Tony grow tense.

“There’s still some work to do,” Rhodey eventually admitted. “Pepper is looking to set up more interviews when you’re back. For the most part, people have accepted that he isn’t out to harm Earth and is apologetic about the damage he’s done.”

“But some people still want to blame him?” Tony picked out, catching what Rhodey didn’t want to say aloud.

“Not many, but there are enough.” Tony lips pulled into a thin line. He’d known that they wouldn’t be able to solve the problem overnight, but he’d still been hoping for more. Hoping that’d they’d get back to Earth and at least one planet wouldn’t be calling for Loki’s head.

“Steve came out to support Loki,” Rhodey continued.

Tony practically choked on his next breath. “He what?

“Yeah, the reporters wanted a statement and he spoke on behalf of SHIELD and the Avengers. It was pretty generic when he spoke off their script - but, at the end, he endorsed Loki. Steve said that he’d personally spoken to Loki and could see the difference between who he was before and now. He also said that he knew the details about what Loki went through and that, if soldiers could be forgiven for their actions while being brainwashed, so could mages.”

“How did the media take that?

“He influenced a few fence sitters,” Bruce answered. “Got you more support. He also reignited the people who wanted to jail Bucky, getting them to start drawing unflattering parallels. It’s a continuing debate.” He could hear the dry sarcasm in Bruce’s voice as he continued, “In comparison, the two of you dating is considered rather minor.”

That made Tony’s perceptions waver. The one thing that Rogers could always be counted on was his stalwart protection and dedication to Bucky. The idea that he’d put himself and Bucky in a position to receive such harsh backlash was... odd.

Maybe Rogers was trying to curry favour or grab at forgiveness; hell, maybe he thought it was the right thing to do. Or maybe Bucky put him up to it - because that was one of the things Tony had learned to respect about Bucky Barnes. He didn’t shy away from his past; instead, he took responsibility, even when past events had been out of his control. Bucky was willing to let justice be served on him. He wanted to repent for what he’d done.

Rhodey had ended up being the one to tell Tony about what happened with his parents. Rhodey had visited Tony at the tower and explained the truth, telling him that he didn’t have to work on Bucky’s arm if he wasn’t comfortable with it. He didn’t even have to see Bucky if he didn’t want to.

It had taken him a week, a lot of alcohol and a slightly smashed part of the lab to come to terms with it - but in the end, he’d agreed to meet Bucky.

The so-called Winter Soldier had barely been speaking to anyone but Rogers, but when he saw Tony, Bucky had offered Tony a shot at him for what had happened to Maria. Not a punch, or a fight - a shot. He’d offered Tony repayment in the worst, bloodiest, way possible. Tony had been shocked, shaken - appalled and he sure as hell hadn’t taken it. He’d loved his mother and, yeah, he’d felt furious and horrified at what had happened to her, but he knew it hadn’t been Bucky’s fault. Not really.

He’d asked Bucky questions instead; things that he hadn’t even known he wanted the answers to and came out of the conversation shaky and emotional. But Bucky had answered him honestly with everything that Tony had wanted to know. It hadn’t been a... good conversation, but it had clarified things for him. Bucky was a puppet as much as Loki had been and he carried the weight and the guilt of his past on his shoulders. Tony knew from firsthand experience how much of a penance and punishment that weight tended to be.

But Tony made himself shake off the thought, the similarities, between them all and focused back on the present.

“Well, that’s nice,” Tony finally answered, doing his best to dismiss and shrug off the labyrinth of thoughts and possible meanings that had sprung from hearing about Rogers’ actions – at least, for the moment. “We’ll see how much it helps by the time we’re back.” Making his way towards the other room once more, he went to check on Loki, if only to further distract himself from the turn their conversation had taken... only to pause, gape and murmur in wonderment, “Woah.”

“What?” Tony was instantly questioned by his nervous friends.

“Sorry, it’s nothing. Loki’s just... doing a spell.”

Except that it wasn’t nothing; Loki was sitting in the centre of the room, seemingly relaxed, in a typical meditation pose with his eyes closed. He was surrounded by floating letters but, one by one, the area behind each letter shifted like water - only for an image of some place, some other planet, to briefly appear. Almost immediately after, the letter fell through the portal, which closed behind it seconds later.

Tony found himself walking closer, unable to resist the temptation of peering into the various windows that led into other realms. The locations always seemed be different, and Tony could only assume that the spell was locating certain individuals and dropping the relevant letter wherever the hell they were so that it could be found and read instantly. Tony was getting a glimpse at numerous planets pretty much simultaneously and he just wanted to hang up on Rhodey and Bruce so he could examine them more thoroughly.

“Uh huh,” Tony distantly heard Rhodey say. Tony had to admit his attention was pretty divided – and most of it was not on the two friends who were currently humouring his distraction. “And how much of your attention have we actually got now?”

It took Tony a few moments - more than he was honestly willing to admit - for the words to actually filter through. “Uh. Some?”

He heard both of them laugh, but Bruce was the one to order him, “Go spend time with Loki, but call us if you need anything.”

Tony made himself tear his gaze away from the fascinating images in front of him, although it almost physically pained him to do it. “You’re sure? Everything’s alright down there? You don’t want me to pick up any souvenirs while I’m away?”

“Just come back in one piece, and we’ll be happy,” Rhodey told him.

Tony grinned in response. “Trust us. We know what we’re doing.”

“You say that like it’s suppose to do something other than worry me.”

Tony just laughed, bright and wickedly amused. Rhodey just huffed a breath, well used to Tony by now and likely knowing that to continue questioning Tony wasn’t going to get him anywhere. Rhodey’s worrying however, wasn’t about to stop. “Look out for each other and call if you need us. We can find a way up there if we have to.”

Tony smiled, and it was far too soft around the edges to be anything other than fond. “Promise, though let me know if you need Iron Man and I’ll make my way back down. In the mean time, Iron Legion is at your beck and call. Got that, FRIDAY?”

“Yes, Boss,” his AI confirmed.

“Awesome,” Tony answered cheerfully. “Then I’ll catch you all in a week. Look after Earth for me and don’t feed the ‘bots after midnight!”

He heard Rhodey grumble at him and was sure Bruce was shaking his head in exasperated amusement, but Tony didn’t bother to let them add anything else before he ended the call and slipped the phone back into his pocket. He then turned his attention to the mage sitting on the floor and the numerous letters still to be sent.

Tony hoisted himself over the nearby not-couch and sat down on it, leaning forward to watch with fascination as the newest letter fell through space and magic to land somewhere in the nine realms in order to further their plans.

Tony found watching Loki work was just as interesting and exciting as sitting down and creating something in his lab.

It took Loki another fifteen minutes to send out the last of the letters, and Tony found himself watching avidly the entire time. He found himself almost... disappointed when the last one dropped away and Loki sucked in a breath before opening his eyes.

When Loki swayed a little on the spot, though, Tony’s attention immediately shifted to concern; he also jumped off the couch and came closer, resting a careful hand on the other man’s shoulder. “Hey, you okay?”

Loki turned to him slowly, looking momentarily disoriented before he blinked it away. He also shook his head before bringing a hand up to it, looking as if he was already fighting off a headache. “I am fine, Anthony. Merely more drained than usual; masking my magic while projecting another’s is difficult. It also does not help that I must hide the nature of my actions from Asgard, least they catch on and circumvent our plans.”

“Anything I can do to help?” Tony asked, his brow creasing in worry for the other. “I’d offer to get you some tea or food, but I doubt I’d be able to find the fridge.”

Loki smiled faintly. “Thank you, but I’ll be fine. How did the conversation with Dr Banner and Rhodes go?”

“Good,” Tony summarised, because, for the most part, it was. “They did say that Asgard isn’t letting Thor up here. I asked Rhodey to make sure he stays put, even if they Odin does change his mind. Any reason you can think of why Odin might be rejecting Thor’s calls?”

Loki pursed his lips in thought. “Odin is not oblivious to Thor’s shortcomings. His plans for us are likely vast and require careful movements. Thor does not make it easy for one to manipulate with... delicacy.” His mouth twitched into a somewhat bitter smirk. “It is not always ideal to use a hammer when a dagger is far more efficient and subtle.”

“What a shame that Odin threw out all the good weapons for me to be able to find,” Tony told Loki with a pointed smirk.

Loki just let out a soft chuckle before pushing himself off from the floor. It forced Tony let him go and to stand as well. Loki was finally steadier on his feet, so Tony didn’t have a reason to reach out for him again.

“Sooo… I was watching your little postal portals - which is how I want to send all my physical mail now, by the way - and I was wondering which one was for the woman you mentioned a while ago—the one who used to work for Thanos?”

“She did not work for him - not exactly,” Loki corrected. “She was his adopted daughter, and I have not invited her, nor her associates.”

Tony’s eyebrows shot up. “Okay; what and why not?”

Loki shrugged. “As to the first: the specifics I’m not certain of, but I believe she discovered the truth of his goals and has since sworn to stop him as for the second, I did not send her an invitation as she and her group will have little interest in working with Asgard. I will seek a separate alliance with them and as myself.” He tilted his head, eyeing Tony thoughtfully. “Perhaps you should attend as well; one of the group is part mortal and I believe you might get along.”

“Part... mortal?” Tony asked, not quite sure how to take that announcement.

Loki nodded. “Yes, but he is hardly the strangest among him. There is a rather annoying raccoon that talks far too much.”

Tony just stared at him. “Talking raccoon. Right.”

Tony was trying to figure out exactly which question to begin with when there was a knock on the door, making them both turn to look at it. “Ah,” Loki murmured. “Hertha.”

He moved away from Tony, walking swiftly to the door and opening it. He stood to the side almost immediately, inviting in an older woman with a stern face. She looked Loki up and down but, unlike the disgust Tony was used to seeing, she seemed to linger more on the hems of his shirt - as if cataloguing it for faults.

Loki shut the door behind her before making a gesture at Anthony. They didn’t bother with greetings, Loki simply started to make his demands, “My specifications you already have, but he will require formal wear created. It will be done in gold and red.”

Loki made another, absent gesture and an ornate mirror with a stool in front of it appeared out of thin air. Hertha stepped forward, still without saying a word, while Loki motioned for Tony to go stand before it. Seeing no good reason to refuse, Tony made his way over. Hertha took his arm when he was close enough, urging him to stand on the stool even as she rubbed the fabric of his clothing between her fingers.

When she finally spoke, her voice was gruff and her eyes narrowed. It made Tony think of the (many) angry school teachers from his youth. “He will not look well in leather.”

“He will look handsome in anything,” Loki promptly corrected her, and Tony was surprised to see the faint smile that she shot Loki in response.

“He will have similarities to yours?” She questioned while circling Tony. “His height shall force changes to be made.”

Tony sent her a narrow-eyed glare. “Are you calling me short?

She ignored him, instead taking his arms to force them out from his sides. The motions were rough, no nonsense, and made Tony feel like he was about to be frisked. “Cape?”

No capes! Tony wanted to say on instinct, but he forced it down. He was probably the only one who’d understand the reference, anyway.

Loki, though, seemed to agree with him. “No.” The trickster’s fingers lingered on his shoulder. “A jacket. However, allow an addition should one wished to be hooked.”

Tony’s mouth kind of ran away with him before he could think, and he looked over his shoulder to meet Loki’s bright green gaze. “That means I could steal one of yours, right?”

Loki chuckled and, likely for the benefit of Hertha, he leant forward to brush his lips against Tony’s hair and murmured, loud enough for her to hear, “I rather like that.”

Tony just grinned and leaned slightly into the other’s touch.

Unfortunately, Loki didn’t get to stay there for long before the palace tailor was gesturing for him to move away so that she could continue to run assessing hands over Tony. He felt something not unlike a ruler get lightly slapped against his shoulder blades, making him jerk slightly in surprise. Hertha didn’t seem concerned and when she came around to his front, he did find a small, wooden ruler in her hand. She was using it to press against various portions of his body and, as the fitting continued, Tony had to blink a few times when it changed shape in front of his eyes.

The process only took about ten minutes overall as he was jerked from side to side, but otherwise pretty much ignored as Hertha exchanged casual commentary with Loki about what the hell his outfit would look like. Tony wasn’t normally inclined to sit still and say nothing, but being poked and prodded by a tailor was one of those few and far-between times. Under normal circumstances, he would have his StarkPhone in hand and be scrolling the internet; this time around, however, Tony made do with just listening to Loki and trying to visualise what, exactly, the mage intended him to wear.

When Hertha finally moved away and slipped the ruler back into some mysterious pocket, she cooly informed Loki, “They will be brought to you tonight.”

Loki nodded and she gave them both one in return before turning on her heel and making her way out of the room. Tony waited until the door had shut to round on Loki. “Okay. So it seems she likes you.”

“Yes,” Loki agreed. “I enchanted many of her items in my youth, increasing her speed and her efficiency. She has always appreciated that.” He smiled a little. “She also completed much of her training in Alfheim and grew used to their more... enlightened practices. She is one of the few who would not care for us being lovers, as you saw for yourself.”

“Huh,” Tony commented absently, thoughts whirling about while he stepped off the stool. “So that’s why you asked for her.”

“She is also the best at her craft and, therefore, the only one I will have dressing either of us.”

Tony couldn’t help his smirk or the way he cooed, “Awwh! Only the best from my boyfriend!”

Loki rolled his eyes at the response, but still answered him seriously: “You are a Prince, Anthony, and you should be dressed as such.”

Sobering at that claim, Tony asked him curiously, “You keep calling me that up here. Why?”

“Because in wealth, influence, and power, Anthony, you are a Prince. You are also a fine warrior and revered scholar. You are someone that Asgard would consider royalty far more than any other on your planet - therefore, I will make sure that you are treated as such.”

Tony fucking preened at that statement and he couldn’t even be bothered to stop himself from doing so. He puffed himself up, blatantly peacock-like, and smirked as he watched Loki’s conviction change to something half amused and half a grimace. “Prince Stark. Or, wait, maybe Prince Tony? Or are you going to insist that I use Prince Anthony? Hey, does that mean I can change my name to reflect my universal status as Earth royalty?”

“I do not believe your Midgardian rulers would recognise you as a Prince the way that Asgard and the other realms might,” Loki answered dryly, which cut through some of Tony’s enthusiasm.

“Right, because Asgard is backwards in how they value things.” Tony sighed a little. “Well, I suppose I’ll just have to settle for being a Prince’s consort; that’s pretty universal, right?”

Loki couldn’t quite quell his snort in time and it only made Tony grin in accomplishment at a job well-done.

“Perhaps,” Loki allowed. “But, on the subject of which, perhaps I should explain some of the things you will be required to know at the feast--what with being my highly adored consort.”

"Hah! Lay it on me, babe. There isn't a formal event yet that I've haven't mastered the tricks of in a night." Tony paused thoughtfully for a moment before a sly smile curled one corner of his mouth. "Chosen to use that information, of course, is a different story entirely."

Loki raised a dark eyebrow, but still gestured Tony over to one of the chairs. The mortal plopped down, making himself comfortable and waited for what he expected to be a relatively short lesson to begin. He’d seen Thor eat, after all; how many rules could there possibly be?

The answer to that very stupid and very naïve question?

A lot. There were a lot of rules when it came to formal Asgardian feasts. Most of them involved being highly respectful to the royal family, but Loki told him to ignore most of those unless it was making sure the servers adhered to them with Tony.

He was glad he had a good memory since, even though the Aesir were pretty straightforward in their interactions, there were still at least sixty etiquette rules that Tony absolutely needed to know. Loki also took the time to repeat his earlier warnings about Odin.

Really, the only upside to the whole horribly boring and stressful conversation was the way he kept side-tracking Loki with questions about Asgard. Specifically: the Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge, and the other things that made up the technological data mine that Tony wanted to dive right into.

Loki, for the most part, could answer his many assorted questions. However, when it came to the more intricate, less magical workings of the various devices Tony wanted to know about, the trickster simply couldn’t answer them. In the end, Loki promised to take Tony to the royal library once the other dignitaries arrived - so Tony was more than willing to wait (and to maybe scan copies of a few books via his phone once he had access to the apparently very impressive library).

Talks about Asgard’s technology eventually turned to discussions about how the Aesir’s society encouraged its populace not to learn how things worked and not to read about the history of the realms - which then eventually spiralled into a conservation about Loki’s time masquerading as King.

It turned out that Loki’s years of watching Odin rule, reading everything he could get his hands on, and his desperate desire in his youth to show that he could be a good King had armed the mage with everything he needed to not only to restore some sense of order to the realms after the Convergence and the attack by the Dark Elves, but he also knew enough loopholes in the law to overthrow Odin and seize the throne quite... legitimately.

Loki was, for all intents and purposes, still considered a son of Odin. It meant that he could challenge Odin’s right to rule and, if Odin was defeated, take his place as the new King. Loki had done everything according to the book so that not only would the power of Asgard accept him as the rightful ruler but, when he had finally been discovered, he couldn’t be charged with any actual crime.

Oh, he’d still been forced to flee-what with no Aesir wanting him on the throne - but, despite the populace’s fury at being fooled and their dislike of the fact that he’d done a good job, they couldn’t actually put him in prison for it.

That had to be the biggest irritation to the Asgardians, and the smug smirk on Loki’s face when Tony gleefully pointed it out, had more than proven that he damn well knew it and had probably designed it to end exactly that way.

Of course, Loki hadn’t done it entirely to infuriate everyone. He’d been working to manoeuvre the realms closer together in preparation for Thanos while keeping the Infinity Gems out of his reach. The rumour that Loki had an Infinity Gem however, turned out to be a lie. Loki had been in possession of one-but had instead carefully hidden it with the help of the Guardians of the Galaxy and had bound all of them, including himself, to silence on the location.

It had been an enlightening few hours of conversation.

When they were eventually finished, Loki looked a little worn around the edges and Tony felt much the same. He’d ended up forcing Loki to lie down on the couch so that Tony could proceed to drape himself on top of the other with his head pillowed on Loki’s chest - just like they’d done after the press conference.

Loki’s fingers had come up to play with Tony’s hair, and while they couldn’t listen to classical music like they had the last time, Loki has instead flicked his fingers in a languid motion and an illusion had sprung up around them of a field beside a babbling brook. Tony had felt a lot of tension leave Loki as they simply lay there, listening to the soft, murmuring sounds of the forest.

Tony had very nearly dozed off when a sharp, sudden knock had made him startle upright and had shattered the illusion, drawing them back, rather abruptly, to Loki’s slightly darker chambers.

Loki turned his head, frowning slightly and twitched his fingers to light some torches that Tony hadn’t even noticed which filled the room with a soft, amber glow. He also lightly pushed at Tony chest which forced Tony to crawl off the other to stand. Loki wasn’t far behind, but instead of opening the door, he barked loudly, “Come.”

The door opened a moment later and Hertha stepped inside, shortly after, she was followed by two female attendants who were each holding a set of clothes that were carefully laid over their arms. Loki stepped forward and Tony did the same, eyeing the items curiously. The clothing being held by the woman on the left was definitely Loki’s: green, gold, black, and lots of leather. Tony’s own set was much brighter with various materials comprised of deep, blood red, gold, and rich shades of brown.

Hertha made a gesture for the girl with his clothing to step towards him. Tony shot Loki an uncertain look, but Loki didn’t seem bothered by the situation. “She will dress you,” Loki informed him, his gaze flicking to the bedroom. “Perhaps in the other room? I would like to wait and see you in full majesty.”

Tony raised his eyebrows, amused at the other’s answer, but shrugged and beckoned the girl to follow him. “You might want to be sitting down,” he called back to Loki, arrogance and teasing both apparent in his voice. “I’m sure it’s going to be impressive.”

“Of that I have no doubt,” Loki replied back easily and with just a hint of heat. Tony grinned over his shoulder before stepping away from the arch of the door.

He turned to the girl, who didn’t look older than twenty. She was keeping her eyes averted as she placed the items on the bed. There was a simple tunic, leather pants, and a jacket that was a lot like Loki’s with its high collar, long sleeves, and intricate designs. Hell, there were even boots. They were the standard thigh high leather ones that were found up here in Asgard and Tony just hoped - probably in vain - that they came with socks.

When she finished, she softly requested, “Shall I undress you, sir?”

“Yeah, no, I can do that part,” Tony answered while shrugging out of his clothes.

Modesty, after all, was for suckers… and apparently boxers were for people who weren’t about to wear leather pants. Catching movement out of the corner of his eye, Tony managed to grab the pants and pull them on before his helper could. There were some limits. It still took him a moment to work out the not quite a zipper, not quite Velcro way the Aesir had for closing their pants, but they went on easily and fit him not unlike form-fitting jeans - so all and all, not that uncomfortable.

Tony let her handle the rest of the outfit, up to and including the numerous buckles, straps, and ties that came with the boots, jacket, and shirt. She even threaded her hands through his hair, doing something that made him think it had just been casually styled.

She stepped back after she was finished and ran her eyes over him. Tony couldn’t help doing the same in a mirror similar to the one Loki had conjured in the other room. His outfit was... different than what he was used to. Nice, though. It fit him exceptionally well and he could see why Loki had wanted Hertha to make it. The material was thick but not heavy or hot. He could wear it quite comfortably and it didn’t limit his movements.

Smoothing down his tunic over his chest before lightly fingering the material, Tony looked back at the attendant only to find she was staring rather intently at his pants. He found himself trying to fight down a smile. He let it happen for a few seconds before he cleared his throat lightly. When she caught his gaze in the mirror, she blushed before hastily looking to the side.

His smirk spread across his face then; Tony Stark, universally sexy.

The thought only made him curious to see what Loki would think, though. If he’d thought Tony was attractive before, would Aesir chic only make him look even better? Or would Loki still prefer the casual shirt and jeans combo?

Well, there was only one way to find out.

It only took a couple of steps to reach the archway of the room and look down at the others. Loki had obviously pulled on his finery, but his back was mostly to Tony so he couldn’t see much, beyond the similarities to his own outfit. However, they fit Loki well. The clothes looked good on him: natural. It was like a more formal version of what he’d worn before throwing Tony out a window all that time ago.

Looking at the other man like that, surrounded by attendants and in the middle of his royal chambers, Tony got a sudden idea that he couldn’t suppress.

“What do you think,” he called out softly, “my handsome Prince Loki?”

Loki had stiffened momentarily before he turned abruptly to look at Tony. His expression was... pretty impressive. He’d been shocked at first but then he’d run his eyes over Tony like he was examining every individual thread and then wondering which item to take off first. His eyes were filled with nothing but appreciation and definitely attraction. He looked like he wanted to jump Tony, and Tony wasn’t quite sure if that was the ruse or Loki’s libido talking.

There was also that particular glint in his eyes that seemed to always show up if Tony called him any kind of rendition of ‘my Prince’. It made a smirk catch at the corner of Tony’s mouth.

Very fine,” Loki responded after a few long seconds, his voice slightly rough. He started to come closer and Tony moved to meet him at the same time. Loki’s hand came up, only the slightest hesitation before he caught Tony’s cheek against the palm of his hand. His eyes didn’t linger on Tony’s face, though; they continued to drop to Tony’s outfit like he was marvelling at the sight of it. “You look... stunning, my Anthony.”

Tony’s grin grew even wider. “We look a perfect pair then.”

Loki swallowed thickly and dragged his gaze up to Tony’s. It was the look on Loki’s face, combined with the numerous eyes watching them, the reputation they had and the instinctive need to react - it had Tony pressing forward before he could think or second-guess it and catching Loki’s mouth in a kiss.

He could feel Loki’s initial startle. He could also hear the shocked gasp of at least one of the attendants. It was enough to make Tony break away even as he brought his hand to Loki’s hair, tangling his fingers in the silky strands. He trailed his mouth along Loki’s jaw, up and over his cheek to rest beside his ear.

“You look like you want to unwrap me,” Tony whispered. “Not that I have a problem with it. But how passionate do you want us to get?”

Because if they really were a couple and Loki really was looking at him the way he had been before, then there was no way Tony wouldn’t have tried to drag them down onto the nearest flat surface. It was fine if Loki did want to employ a ‘look, don’t touch’ rule on Asgard, but surely a bit more confirmation on their relationship could only be a good thing?

They wanted to be believed, after all.

“Leave us,” Loki barked sharply in command while one of his hands found Tony’s hip, sliding it sinuously and in a way that probably painted only one picture to the women in the room.

Tony just made sure to press himself even closer, practically leaning on Loki while using his free hand to trace the patterns and buckles on Loki’s jacket before sliding his fingers teasingly underneath the leather to touch the material of the mage’s tunic.

It wasn’t until the door was firmly shut that Loki’s hands disappeared from Tony’s body and he attempted to step back. Tony did not let him go far. He did catch Loki’s gaze, watching carefully for any of the carefully hidden discomfort and embarrassment that usually cropped up whenever Loki was physically attracted to him.

Thankfully, those emotions weren’t as prominent as he expected, but Tony didn’t know if that meant Loki was simply growing used to Tony not being insulted by his attraction, or that his reaction to Tony’s clothing had been more of a projection for the ruse than anything else.

“I’m not unhappy or uncomfortable with you, Anthony,” Loki told him, sighing slightly before lightly patting his hip reassuringly. “I’m merely... thoughtful of the question that you raised.”

“Which one?” Tony asked, still not letting the other man go.

Loki just looked amused with any lingering attraction carefully masked. “Exactly how passionate we are going to be.” His humour faded, though, as he grimaced. “Odin will look for any chance to disprove us and nothing would please him more than learning you are only pretending to be my lover.”

“So we make sure he doesn’t find out,” Tony told him firmly in reply. “We do everything to show them that I’m your Midgardian Prince and that I’m not leaving your side for nothing.” Wrapping his arms around Loki’s waist, he sent the other a besotted, wide-eyed look while pressing himself closer still. “Okay, pumpkin?”

Loki looked like he was fighting down a chuckle. He did bring his hand forward, tucking two fingers under Tony’s chin and lightly tilting it upwards. The gesture was intimate enough that Tony could almost believe he was about to be pulled into a kiss. “Very well, little vegetable.”

Tony blinked, snorted and tried not to smile. “Vegetable? You couldn’t come up with something better than... wait... did you just call me tiny?

This time, Loki didn’t quell his chuckle, especially when Tony pulled away from him, affronted, and punched him in the chest. It did nothing, of course, but little fucking vegetable? Oh, Loki was going to pay for that.

Chapter Text

“Come now, Anthony, don’t pout so.”

The teasing remark just made Tony glower at a widely grinning Loki who had taken a seat on the lounge. He was patting the space beside him, trying to encourage Tony to sit down and discuss the feast. Tony would normally have acquiesced and joined him but...

Little. Vegetable.

It was true that a lot of his outrage was exaggerated, but Loki had only laughed at Tony’s punch and smirked at his grumbles over what would be a better and more acceptable nickname. The mage had even very lightly patted the top of Tony’s head mid-rant and cooed, “poor little vegetable.”

The asshole was having too much fun at his expense.

... And maybe a part of Tony was feeding the flames of Loki’s good humour by holding an imaginary grudge just so that Loki would laugh at him like that; relaxed, delighted and fond. It wasn’t the first time Tony had put up with an exasperating nickname just to make a friend happy - the list Rhodey had for him was long, after all.

Loki also knew his anger wasn’t real; it was obvious by the lightness in the mage’s eyes, the ease in his countenance. He knew that Tony wasn’t actually upset with him, if he was, Loki would be apologising rather than poking and prodding to see if he could ruffle Tony more.

He patted the seat again while continuing to grin at Tony. “Will you not come sit beside your handsome Prince?”

Tony snorted. “More like my discourteous, insulting ass of a friend.”

Yet, despite his words, Tony still made his way to plop down beside the other man, grimacing briefly as he fiddled with the coat that had tried to jab him in the back of his thighs with numerous metal pieces. Loki had just huffed out a laugh and reached out to help Tony smooth the unfamiliar material with deft fingers so that Tony could sit down comfortably.

When Tony was as relaxed as he was going to be, he looked over at the mage and allowed himself a brief sigh, knowing this would wipe the smile off Loki’s face, but also knowing that they couldn’t put it off forever. “You told me about etiquette. You never elaborated as to how we as a couple were going to act at the feast.”

“Ah,” Loki breathed, some of the relaxation falling from his posture as Tony expected. It made his faint sprawl become something stiffer and more wary. “Well, I suppose that depends on many things.”

“One of those things better not be my ‘willingness’ to flaunt our relationship, because that shouldn’t even be in question right now.”

Tony’s answer made a hint of Loki’s smile come back. “No, I’m well aware of that. My consideration was more towards keeping too many tempers from flaring. Thor is not the only Aesir to react violently to things that offend and disgust him. We may be protected guests, Anthony, but I wish to see our plans succeed far more than receive some temporary satisfaction at horrifying a few irritating and impolite Aesir.”

“But the satisfaction would feel so good,” Tony almost whined - wistful and disappointed at the many things he wanted to do but knew weren’t actually possible.

...Well, not yet, at least - maybe when they sprung their surprise guests on Odin.

"Patience, Anthony." Loki told him fondly, as if reading his mind, "We will have more freedom once the ambassadors arrive."

Tony tapped his fingers on his thigh thoughtfully. “Okay, but what exactly does that mean for us until they do? Are we going to hold hands? Kiss? Are you going to sweep me into a romantic dance in the middle of the room or cup my ass so Odin can get a nice eyeful?”

“I thought I was suggesting that we try not to unduly aggravate them,” Loki remarked dryly.

Tony pouted at him. “Killjoy.”

“We will have plenty of time to cause Odin frustration and embarrassment at a later date - for now, I believe it would be best to... minimise some of the more dramatic displays of affection you are fond of. The touches and conversations we’ve had thus far around the Aesir have done exactly what was needed: spread knowledge of the nature of our relationship, but anything further might prove more of a hindrance than a help.”

“We might just look like we’re showing off, rubbing their noses in it,” Tony realised, “like it’s nothing but an act.”

“They will be disinclined to trust me as it is,” Loki agreed, “and we do not want them doubting this.”

Tony’s mind was turning over the situation, thinking rapidly and quickly snagging on the only option that would work. He looked down at Loki’s hand before reaching out for it and linking their fingers. Loki startled slightly, glancing down at their hands with faint confusion. “Anthony?”

“You’re right,” Tony told him. “We need to stop the dramatics. We want this to be believed, but all they’ve seen so far is the posturing and the show. They need to see the softer side. They need to believe we’re a couple.”

Sliding a little further down the couch, Tony let their sides press together and put their clasped hands on his thigh. “That means, we need to act like one.”

Loki had started off frowning; looking unsure, but Tony watched how that quickly made way for understanding and consideration. “You’d have us increase our affection through simple acts.” Loki flicked his attention to their hands. He also reached out and lightly straightened the collar of Tony’s jacket, his fingers skimming the skin of Tony’s neck. “You would have us look the part, by acting as if we simply cannot stop these little gestures.”

“If I’m your Midgardian consort; your boyfriend and your lover, this is the display they’re going to expect to see from us.” Bringing up their hands, Tony turned them so he could brush a feather-light kiss to the back of Loki’s. “It’s not just about sex with us; it’s about something deeper. So if we’re falling in love, we need to act like it.”

Loki blinked, his green eyes filled with surprise. “...In love?”

“Well, yeah,” Tony replied with a light shrug. “Neither of us do things by halves, right? If we’re dating, it’s going to be something serious between us.”

It took only a moment for Loki to let out a soft little laugh and look down at their hands. “Well,” he remarked, before bringing his eyes up to Tony’s. There was a bright spark of mischief in them that Tony adored seeing. “I suppose that should be easy enough to fabricate; I am a master of illusion, after all.”

Tony made a sound of faint outrage while Loki just looked like he was trying not to laugh. “Excuse you? I am loveable, you asshole. You are lucky to be dating my fine ass.”

“I thought I was supposed to be interested in more than just your ass, Anthony,” Loki riposted with a sly smirk and raised eyebrows.

“Well, a good way to keep getting access to that ass is to lower the insults and up the compliments.”

“Oh, dear, I’m terribly sorry,” Loki was quick to reply, adopting a tone of contrition that Tony didn’t buy for a moment. “However shall I apologise to my exceedingly lovely and handsome mortal?” Loki ran his free hand up Tony’s arm, the touch barely felt through all the leather. “Shower you with gifts perhaps: fine clothing and time in the Asgardian royal library?”

Tony made a hum of pleasure and relaxed back against the couch in a lazy, provocative sprawl. “Mm. Sounds good. What else would I get?”

“Jewels, perhaps? Gold?” Loki suggested, shifting on the couch until Tony ended up between the mage’s legs with Tony lying on the couch being loosely straddled by the other. Loki was watching him closely, looking for discomfort, but Tony only felt relaxed and comfortable. “All the drapings befitting a beloved and cherished consort.”

“Don’t forget the plasma gun schematics,” Tony told him while reaching up to lightly loop his arm over Loki’s shoulders and behind his neck. “A guy needs his toys to work on when his Prince is busy making marvels with magic.”

Loki grinned at him, his eyes sparking at the title. “I’m sure that could be arranged. It may require breaking a few laws, but I would be willing to do so for you.”

“Well, aren’t you the romantic.”

“Only for my darling, tiny, vegetable.”

Tony’s smile fell. “Okay. And now you’ve ruined it.”

Loki just laughed at him, not stopping even when Tony pushed at his chest and made Loki get off him so that they could sit on opposite sides of the couch. Loki was still giggling while Tony was torn between enjoyment at the sight and resignation.

“You’re never going to stop calling me that, are you?” Tony asked rather uselessly, already knowing the answer.

The satisfaction in Loki’s gaze answered before the mage even needed to. “Lovers do adopt endearments for one another, Anthony.”

“Yeah. Romantic ones,” Tony insisted with a scowl. “If you start calling me ‘baby corn’ or ‘tiny tomato’, I am going to break up with you.”

Loki chuckled under his breath, his grin never fading. “Then I shall be certain not to use either of them.”

Tony sent him a withering look. “And I didn’t exclude any of the other vegetables with that, did I?” He sighed dramatically. “It’s always the loopholes with you.”

“A trait that you only find endearing,” Loki pointed out smugly.

“Well,” Tony admitted fondly, “it was what got us together in the first place.”

Contracts. Deals. Friendship.

It had only taken one conversation to start them down the path that had led them here. Tony didn’t relish the betrayal by the Avengers, but it had got him Loki in the end, and that made it kind of... worth it. He knew who to trust now, knew who the best person to have on his side was.

“Mm,” Loki hummed. “And you surprised me greatly with that offer for an alliance. I had not expected I would ever be someone who would tempt you.”

“Now you know better,” Tony told him firmly. “Now you know I only ever pick the best.”

Loki’s smile was smug and content as he relaxed back against the couch; their legs brushing slightly where they met in the middle. “Another trait that we have in common.”

“So I guess us teaming up wasn’t a surprise after all.”

Loki raised his eyebrows. “Are you suggesting it was fate?

Tony’s mouth twisted at the implication of something so... cheesy. But. Well. “Maybe I’m suggesting we finally found the other needle in the haystack.”

“Well, aren’t you the romantic,” Loki drawled in a mockery of Tony’s earlier words. “Needles, Anthony? How... quaint.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Alright. You want more?” He put on his best dramatic voice. “You, Loki, are my world. My bright light. My shining star in this bleak, mortal world I live in.” Tony leant forward and grasped Loki’s hand, holding it tightly and putting as much sincerity into his tone as possible. “I am certain we were simply meant to meet when we did, that the stars aligned to have you coming to my tower and us creating a contract. We, Loki, were meant to be.” He paused. “Oh, and the first time you fucked me, every firework in the general vicinity exploded.”

Loki barely quelled his snigger in time.

“Oh yes, much better, darling,” Loki told him, he also used his freehand to lightly pat Tony’s cheek, the gesture somewhere between patronizing and affectionate. His eyes though, were laughing. “You sound like a suitable lovestruck consort.”

“Excellent, just what I was going for,” Tony quipped before relaxing back against the couch and letting their hands come apart. “So how much longer until we have to go to this shindig? Do we have time to dig around in your bookshelves?”

“Perhaps an hour, and there is not much to find. Anything of importance I had taken with me and now resides at your tower,” Loki told him. “Although...” he trailed off and his eyes skimmed one of the shelves. “Actually, there is something you might enjoy.”

He stood with elegance and dignity and made his way towards the shelf. Tony was certain he was far less grandiose in his movements, what with how he almost tripped and landed face first on the floor after a part of his jacket got caught on a strap from his boot. He righted himself before Loki noticed, thankfully, but he made a mental note to take better care when it came to his numerous buckles.

Stepping over to the mage, he found Loki skimming his fingers over the spines. He made a small ‘ah’ when he found what he was looking for before handing it to Tony who instantly flipped open the cover. He blinked at what he found. “Is this a book on metalwork?

“Yes,” Loki answered. “Slightly outdated as it was from study I undertook in my youth, but it is still quite advanced for your world. I think you might enjoy it.”

Tony barely heard him, humming something wordless in response as he quickly began reading the introduction that discussed the ways that each realm created their weapons and why it was different. It was only the first page and he was hooked; it was fascinating.

He didn’t even notice Loki shake his head fondly before lightly resting his hands on Tony’s shoulders to gently direct him back to the couch where he could sit down. Tony was too enraptured by the words of scholars from across the universe. He was also fascinated by the very neat, frequent notes in the corner of the margins that a young Loki must have made when he’d been studying this very book.

If those scrawls also made something warm and fond flare to life in Tony’s chest, well, he was too distracted to acknowledge it.

Tony couldn’t have said how long he spent reading, but when Loki’s hand came down on the book and tried to tug it away from him, Tony growled and tried to pull it closer. It made Loki laugh and stop tugging, but he did keep his fingers splayed over the words.

He looked up at the mage to find him grinning. “I have tried to get your attention five times.”

Tony blinked a few times as he processed Loki’s words. Oops. He made himself close the book before apologising sheepishly, “Sorry.”

“I’m glad you’re enjoying it.” Loki also gestured behind himself at a workdesk that had been cleared apart from a small tower of tomes, a quill and some parchment. “I’ve selected a few others you might enjoy.”

Tony almost twitched with the need to go rushing over to them and seeing what they contained, but something in Loki’s posture and expression made him still. Loki must have noticed his concern as he explained, “You have spent the entire hour reading, Anthony. It’s time to leave for the feast.”

He grimaced heavily. “Shit. Sorry.”

Loki waved it off. “I spent the time contacting the mage I’ve mentioned to yourself and Banner. She has agreed to take the remaining animals as well as any others we might encounter while seeking out the woman who is creating them. I have promised to visit her with the animals after our time in Asgard is complete.”

“Well, that’s one less thing to worry about, I suppose,” Tony remarked, rubbing a hand briefly over his face.

It didn’t stop his nerves from mounting at the prospect of the feast though and all the hundreds of things Odin would likely throw at them in order to try and disprove their relationship, sever their partnership, and wrangle an alliance out of them that would only benefit Odin and never benefit them.

There were just too many ways for it to go wrong for them. He just didn't want to show Loki how much he was worried about that. Loki had enough on his shoulders, including every damn demon that was ever formed while living on this backwards, bigoted planet. Tony wanted to be a pillar of strength for him, not something else that Loki had to be concerned about.

Pushing himself into a standing position, Tony left the book on the furniture and stood close enough to Loki that they were almost touching. He deliberately took Loki’s hand so that he could link their fingers.

Tony flashed Loki a smile before telling him, “Ready for our grand entrance?”

“Are you?” Loki parried, the very worry that Tony had been trying to prevent in his tone. It seemed Loki hadn't missed a thing and it made Tony sigh a little regretfully.

"Am I concerned Odin is going to make this a really shitty evening? Yes. Am I worried that I'm going to snap and say or do something that I shouldn't and get myself thrown into Asgardian jail? You betcha. Is that going to stop me from going out there and acting like the best boyfriend you ever could have found? Not in the slightest."

Loki smiled almost fondly, he was definitely amused. “Anthony, if one of us were to be thrown in jail this evening it would not be you.”

The sheer thought of that sent a jolt of rage and panic rushing down Tony’s spine and he gripped Loki’s hand tighter. “Over my dead body will they be sending you down there.”

“I truly doubt it will come to that for either of us,” Loki assured him. “We may get escorted off of Asgard and we may leave here with any alliance between us and the Aesir in ruins, but as long as we take care with our words and actions even that is unlikely. Truly, we will be fine.”

“You say all of that like I’m not going to be continually tempted to tell them exactly what I think of them.”

“I know that you will,” Loki agreed. “I also know that for the success of our plan, you won’t.”

Loki said it like a statement of fact, one that showed his complete faith in Tony’s ability to be diplomatic when he needed to. Loki trusted Tony utterly and that made Tony feel completely overwhelmed with warmth, pleasure and the strong desire to prove the other man right.

Tony wanted to keep living up to that trust, to make sure Loki never doubted that he would be there to have the mage’s back. It was that unwavering confidence that made Tony squash his worries, it made him stand tall and tell the other, “Then hell yeah, I’m ready for our entrance. Let’s go give ‘em a taste of the rainbow.”

The bemused expression Loki shot him only made Tony fight down a smile. "... You speak of the Midgardian rainbow flag, yes?"

He said it cautiously as if he wasn't sure he was grasping the whole meaning behind the quip. But, well, explaining how skittles and internet memes also fitted into his remark was probably better suited to a different time. One where Google was also handy.

So Tony settled on a vague agreement, "Eh, for the most part."

Loki at least, seemed willing enough to drop it. Probably well aware by now how quickly Midgardian vernacular and pop culture references could lead him down a rabbit hole that wasn't always easy to climb out of entirely unscathed.

“Then let us depart.” Taking a step towards the door, the hold Loki had on his hand meant Tony was lightly tugged until he began to move with Loki. It took far too short a time for them to reach the door to Loki’s rooms and to step outside.

The hall was lit with torches and while opulent and full of an illuminating glow that should have been welcoming and warm, Tony managed to feel the complete opposite. There was no one around but everything suddenly felt hostile, like he was being glared at from the shadows - and considering there was an all-seeing eye hovering at the bifrost, Tony wouldn’t be surprised if it was that disapproving gaze that he could sense; making him feel like a bug under a microscope.

“Is it just me or have was got a very nosy bridge guardian watching us?”

Loki sent him a sharp look. “You are aware of his eye?”

“I can feel a general sense of foreboding and disapproval. Just like walking into a room with dear ol’ Dad. The only thing lacking is the disappointment and yelling, really.”

“That is... unusually perceptive,” Loki remarked, watching Tony thoughtfully. “But, I suppose I should not be surprised. You continually exceed any expectations given to you, Anthony.” Tony could only smirk smugly, which just made Loki roll his eyes. “Mortals are usually not aware of Heimdall’s eye or they simply do not know how to name what they feel. Even the Aesir have grown complacent and have learnt to dismiss the feeling. You, Anthony, are far wiser than that and know it for what it truly is.” He tilted his head a little. "Perhaps it is a natural sensitivity or perhaps it comes from time among magic-users and the instincts of battle that allow you to perceive it as a potential threat. It could be either or it may be both. Regardless, your instinct is correct: Heimdall is watching us."

Tony scrunched up his nose, beyond irritated. “Doesn’t he have something better to do?”

“Apparently not,” Loki answered while leading Tony through the palace corridors. “He has likely been ordered by the Allfather to keep us from mischief and to watch us for lies.”

“Because Odin can’t do that himself? We’re going to be in the same room as him.”

“Ah, but we are not there yet. Heimdall’s gaze is also far-reaching and far more difficult to disrupt.”

“Yeah, but not impossible,” Tony insisted. “You can hide us from him.”

Loki smirked smugly. “Yes. A feat not many can boast and one that infuriates them greatly.”

“So why do they even bother?” Tony almost growled, irritated beyond measure by that stupid prickle he could still feel on the back of his neck. “I thought he had a universe to watch? Hell, I thought Odin said he’d be on the lookout for Animal Whisperer? Surely whether or not we’re fucking in the corridor isn’t the most important thing to them right now?”

Instead of responding verbally, Loki just brushed his lips gently to Tony’s temple. It was a soft, fond gesture, but Tony also felt something... soothing wash over him, sweeping the feeling of mounting agitation away with it.

Tony frowned and turned to Loki when he pulled back. “What did you do?”

“Muted the feeling and made us less... distinct to his eye. I would have done it sooner, but I didn’t realise you would feel it so keenly while we were on Asgard.”

“But he’s still watching us?”

Loki nodded. “He will likely continue until we are at the feast and Odin can watch us himself while enacting whatever plans he has concocted in order to sever us.”

Tony didn’t think, he simply tightened his hold on Loki’s hand and shifted even closer, their shoulders brushing as they walked.

“And we won’t let him,” he said firmly before glancing over at Loki, holding his eyes and making a promise he refused to break.

They were walking into Loki’s mottled and painful past. They were walking into a room full of his betrayers and the people who only ever saw the worst in him. This was Loki’s SHIELD and Tony would stand firm by his side in the face of it.

They’d walked out of SHIELD with a contract, now they just had to do the same with Asgard. Loki had been his strength and his voice of reason on Earth, now it was Tony’s to return the favour - to be his partner.

Tony didn’t know if Loki could see everything he wasn’t saying, but all Loki did was smile. There were no nerves in his eyes, nor any of the anger or tension he’d been presenting upon being forced to remain. There was only calm focus as his thumb came to lightly stroke the back of Tony’s hand.

It was all the confirmation and assurance that Tony needed and as they reached the more populated areas with guards posted in the corridors, they fell silent. There was little to say that they hadn’t already discussed, or couldn’t say where anyone could hear them.

They knew the plan, they knew each other, and with their hands linked and their bracelets circling their wrists; they were as ready as they were going to be.

Chapter Text

There were few times in his life that Tony had ever felt truly unwelcome.

Sure, a lot of people at MIT hadn't liked him or wanted him around. Stepping into a conference room or fundraiser in those first few months after giving up manufacturing weapons hadn't always been pretty either. But it had been nothing like this.

If Tony Stark’s name was slapped on the guest list or his tech was slapped on the table, there was always going to be people in the room who were happy to see him; who wanted a piece of him.

This... this was the first time in his life where Tony had felt such a genuine, physical air of displeasure from a whole room.

There were three huge wooden tables in the centre of the room that could easily sit fifty people, yet despite the size of them, the room wasn’t crowded. There was plenty of space to walk around and socialise and frankly, the whole thing made Tony think of Harry Potter.

There was even a separate table that faced the room and was on a platform higher than the others. Just like Hogwarts. It was obviously the table meant for the royal family. It was covered in an elegant tablecloth with exquisite embroidery. The goblets, plates and cutlery shined and were studded with gems and laced with gold.

Every eye turned towards them as they stepped inside; the disapproval and aversion to their very presence was almost palpable.

Fortunately for them, it only served to make Tony stand taller, prouder and smile with sharp teeth and challenging eyes at anyone brave enough catch his gaze.

Loki, by contrast, acted as if didn’t notice or care about the dislike emanating from every Asgardian pore. He did let go of Tony’s hand, but only so that he could wind his arm around Tony’s waist in a casual, affectionate gesture as he led them between the tables.

The hall wasn’t as large as the place they’d been led into when they’d spoken to Odin, but it was still ridiculously spacious.

The other tables, by comparison to the royal table, were just plates and goblets on wood. There was a clear distinction between who was a royal and who was merely a courtier. There was also a clear line drawn between who was a courtier and who was not.

Their table, for instance, was bare but for two plates, two goblets and very little finery on any of the items. Odin hadn’t gone so far as to get the chipped cutlery from the servant’s quarters, but it was a hell of a slap in the face.

Tony was hardly surprised that the rest of the Aesir weren’t showing them any respect if this was the kind of attitude they saw from their King.

Loki didn’t do anything about it though; he just walked past their table without even glancing at the items. He just kept them moving, bypassing multiple groups of Asgardians who all looked as if they’d smelt something rotten. Tony just made a point of wrapping his own arm around Loki’s waist and cupping his hip.

When Loki finally stopped them, it was beside one of the tapestries that hung from the walls. They displayed Asgardian symbols that Tony was familiar with from examining Thor’s armour and some of the objects he’d brought to populate his former rooms in Stark Tower. There were other images as well, things that Tony took to be symbols of the royal family as well as depictions of battles won. Usually by Odin.

It was all very... self-congratulatory and arrogant.

Granted, Tony did have a giant tower with his name plastered on the side for all to see... but this was different. This was oppressive. It wasn’t like Tony painted every room of his tower red and gold before stringing up publicity pictures and artistic impressions of his feats as Iron Man across every available surface.

Just. No.

In fact...

Turning to Loki, Tony lowered his voice slightly to remark, “If I ever get to Asgardian levels of overbearing ego and superiority, please do me a favour and throw me out another window.”

The smallest hint of a smile curled Loki’s mouth. “You are not a fan of this opulence, Anthony?”

“Not when it’s done like this, no,” Tony stated simply before tilting his head slightly and looking at Loki, pondering an alternative path Asgard could have taken, and not for the first time. “But I think it could be done well - with the right person designing and ruling it.” Loki blinked a few times, seeming surprised by the words and unable to comprehend the meaning, so Tony made it a little clearer. “I would love to have seen what you did with it.”

Loki swallowed a little thickly before his smile became a little tighter.

“Poorly, I think you’ll find,” he answered. “I am not the ruling type, as so many have pointed out to me.”

There’s no version of this where you come out on top.

“It’s hard to do the right job when you’re working with the wrong tools,” Tony told him firmly. “Playing masquerade? Forcing yourself to be something and someone you’re not? Yeah, both of us fucking suck at winning a game by using someone else’s rules.”

He paused but only long enough to smirk. “But playing by our own rules? Rewriting the way the game is played because it was designed before we arrived and by people so much less inventive then us? Loki, we fucking excel at fixing the problems far less qualified people leave behind for us to deal with. Do I think you’d be a good King? No way. I think you’d be the best King.”

Loki grinned at him, bright and thrilled. He also brought his free hand to cup Tony’s cheek. “What rulers we would have made; Kings of men, ruling side by side.”

Tony just leant into the touch and smiled. “Still time, right? Earth’s got problems and we’re the best people to fix ‘em. Might not be a golden realm, but we’ve got diversity, acceptance and innovation on our side. I’m a Prince of Midgard, right? Shouldn’t be hard to get that status fudged and upgraded a little in the eyes of the universe - that way, all you’d have to really do is marry me.”

Loki barked out a laugh. “Was that your proposal, Anthony? I do hope not. I expect something better than that if I’m going to agree to it.”

“You want poetry, huh? Romance, flowers, declarations of adoration and love?” Tony quickly clarified. “A huge spectacle with everyone hearing my universal wish to have you as mine forever?”

Loki just grinned throughout his description. “Quite. See to it that you do better next time.”

Tony was barely able to smother his chuckle in time. “Got it, babe. I’ll head back to the drawing board. Sketch out some plans and book it in the calendar: grand romantic marriage proposal, take two.”

Loki’s response was to lean forward and press a very light kiss to Tony’s forehead, almost brushing his hairline. Tony just closed his eyes slightly and leant into the touch. It was nice, soft. It was the kind of thing he might have done to Pepper when they were dating but rarely got himself. It made Tony want to sigh a little, to relax into the feeling of being cherished and looked after... and why couldn’t he?

They were lovers right? That was exactly what he was allowed to do. So Tony did. While he wasn’t actually leaning on Loki he was still standing close. Loki’s arm was still wrapped around his waist while Tony’s hand had drifted to simply rest against Loki’s side. They were facing each other, practically lost in their own world. The rest of the room could hardly exist for all the attention they were giving it.

When Loki pulled back from the kiss, Tony knew it had only lasted for a few seconds, but it still felt like it had been for much longer. He grinned down at Tony before asking, “Would you like something to drink?”

“Depends,” Tony remarked with a suspicious look, “what would I be having? I’ve seen what Asgardian liquor does to mortals.”

“You may have faith in me,” Loki assured before shifting his attention from Tony.

He also dropped his hand from Tony’s cheek to gesture at a nearby servant. The server noticeably hesitated and glanced around as if trying to avoid the request before grudgingly making his way over.

“How may I assist?” he asked quietly, pointedly looking away from the affectionate nature of their embrace.

Loki made a gesture with his hand and green magic sparked from his fingers. The thin tendrils of magic curled together, then disappeared, leaving two floating goblets in their wake. Tony just sent Loki a pointedly fond look at the display of magic.

The server’s eyes were wide and taken aback as he looked at the goblets. They were stunning. The chunky gold items from the royal table looked garish in comparison. The ones Loki had conjured where of fine grained warm golden hued wood with green and gold filigree highlights.

The goblets resembled twisting trees with an intricately detailed root and branch structure. The leaves of the tree reached the very rim of the cup while the roots seemed to fall away and off the base. There were nine points on the trees branches that glowed in differing colours. The goblets almost looked alive; as if there was an innate power in the carving. The server took them with almost reverent hands, unable to take his eyes from the items.

“We will have wine,” Loki told him simply and the server gave a sharp nod, swallowing thickly before sketching a bow and rushing off to get the requested drink.

When he was gone and they were alone again, Tony commented casually, “Nice goblets. That guy was certainly impressed.”

Loki’s smile was a hidden, satisfied thing. “Yes. They were made by perhaps the greatest carver that the Nine Realms has ever seen.”

“Nice,” Tony answered, impressed. “How long have you had them?”

“A very long time,” Loki told him, chuckling softly, his eyes lost in memory. “They were a gift.”

“Oh yeah?” Tony prompted gently, eager to hear a nice story from Loki’s past. “What happened?”

“Well,” Loki began with a wry smile. “I insulted an old woman who proceeded to offend me in return. We argued for some minutes until, when she was besting me, I eventually made her laugh with a ridiculous attempt at an affront against her family.”

Tony was trying not to grin. “What? Her mother was a hamster and her father smelt of elderberries?”

“Not quite,” Loki told him, quirking an eyebrow at the suggestion. “But, I believe it was the confused reaction I gave to my own statement that caused her to laugh. She said she had not had someone be so honestly rude to her in centuries. She found it refreshing and promised me a reward for making her laugh. I was sceptical, but she assured me I would enjoy it, I merely needed to visit her the next day.”

Tony was stunned. “She carved those in a day?

The mage laughed. “No. She carved them over many weeks. She kept making me return every day, promising they would be ready and drawing me into conversation about magic, the nine realms and countless other topics.” Loki’s eyes held nothing but fondness. “She was a sly woman and insulted me constantly.”

“But you liked it,” Tony realised, seeing it for the comfort it had been. “You enjoyed someone being honest about their thoughts, when you couldn’t trust that from the Aesir.”

Loki nodded. “It took me some weeks to comprehend it, but yes. It took her three months to carve them, and when she finally told me my reward was ready, I didn’t wish to stop spending time with her.” His eyes fell from Tony’s and a pensive frown formed on his brow. “But, she knew I was to leave Alfheim soon to return to Asgard. She wished me well and gave me the goblets. It was only then that I became aware of who she really was.

“She advised me that there would be others in my life who would understand me, I would merely need patience.” He smirked. “The same patience that had allowed me to return for three months to an old woman who kept promising me a gift that was never yet ready.”

Loki had to pause the story there as the server had returned, holding out the goblets. Loki unwound himself from Anthony to take them before dismissing the servant. Loki then turned back to Anthony and held out one of the goblets, a spark of green jumping from his fingers before he informed him, “I made it safe for you to drink.”

Taking the wooden goblet carefully, Tony lifted it to eye level to better see the detailing. It really was stunning, even more so for knowing the story behind it and the hope that the old woman had given Loki; the hope that there would be someone out there waiting for him who would understand him, befriend him, drink from these goblets with him.

Tony licked his lips. “How often have you used these?”

“This would be the first time.” Tony jerked his gaze up to Loki only to find the mage’s green eyes were filled with fond amusement. “Are you really surprised, Anthony? She did tell me to wait until someone of worth had arrived. You know as well as I, Anthony, how few people of worth have been in my life.”

Tony looked back down at the goblet; at the stunning artistry and thought of the way they had come to be carved; of a young Loki who’d found solace and friendship in an old woman who’d only seen a lonely, angry boy in need of something to wish and strive for.

He could also see the centuries that had followed where the goblets had done nothing but collect dust, waiting for a companion that Loki could feel comfortable and confident enough to share them with.

And then Tony had come along.

The thought made a small part of Tony want to squirm, it also made his chest blaze with warmth - it made him feel proud.

“Well,” he told Loki with a wide grin. “I’m glad to be here; showing off goblets that are going to make the universe envious, being your partner and the first person who’s lucky enough to share these with you.” He very lightly, very gently brought his goblet forward to tap against Loki’s in a toast, careful not to damage the wood. “I’m glad to have someone else of value in my life too.”

Silence fell after Tony’s words as they simply stared at each other, smiling softly and holding each other’s eyes. The air was weighted, filled with emotions and thoughts that were only warm and comforting. Looking at Loki like that, Tony just wanted to tilt up his chin, let them fall into the kiss that would have fitted the moment perfectly.

... But they were in the middle of an Asgardian feast. They’d also decided to limit themselves to subtler displays of affection. So they didn’t kiss. Loki just softly told him, “I’m glad to have you here with me, Anthony.”

They then took small sips of their wine. The flavour was sweet, like plums and strong enough that he knew he wouldn’t be able to drink many glasses without feeling the effects. It was nice though, and he was about to say as much when a loud clanging of metal on stone made Tony look over his shoulder.

Odin was standing at the head table, his eyes narrowed and his face distinctly unimpressed. Tony was really hoping that irritation was because of them. It made him feel all smug and happy inside.

A gentle touch to his arm made him look away and back to Loki who started to lead him languidly towards their seats. Tony was quick to notice the others had more or less scurried to be seated while their slow, unhurried pace was at odds with the dutiful subjects. Tony just took another sip of his wine and happily took his time.

When they finally reached their otherwise empty table, Loki flicked his fingers and sent the prearranged cutlery to places unknown, replacing them with a beautiful set reminiscent of the ones Tony had spotted on the royal table, but far more refined with simple rather than extravagant elegance. He also pointedly drew out Tony’s chair with magic, to which Tony had to bite down on a smile. It was only then that Loki allowed them to take their seats.

Tony was faintly surprised the mage hadn’t changed the rest of the table into something more stylish as well, but Tony supposed there was a good reason as to why he’d left it.

“Do prepare yourself Anthony,” Loki murmured softly, “for you are about to hear Odin Allfather give his speech to begin the meal. I do wonder how often we will be mentioned.”

“Hmm. That could be a fun game,” Tony remarked casually, “a sip of the wine for every not-so-subtle jab.”

“Now, now, Anthony, I thought the goal was for you to not become drunk.”

Tony had to bite down on a smile even as he shot Loki a faintly amused look. After all, what did they have, if not bitter amusement and pretending that they didn’t give a damn?

“Alright, how about every time he actively glares at us. Surely we can raise our goblets and toast him every time. I’m sure he won’t be annoyed by that at all.”

Loki laughed softly and told him with far too much approval, “How mischievous of you, Anthony.

But instead of trying to discourage him, Loki just took a firmer grip on his goblet and leant back slightly, letting devilry dance in his eyes. Tony copied the mage and waited for Odin to start.

He really hoped that they got to wink and raises their glasses at his failed attempts at discomforting them at least a few times.

Odin had risen to stand, the room completely silent as his subjects looked up at him with adoring eyes. Tony just gave his most bland, uninterested expression.

“Welcome, honoured guests,” Odin spoke, looking directly at the Aesir and nodding pointedly at a few of them. He did not, however, glance at them. Tony mentally started up a tally of insults. One.

“You have heard that the threat of war is upon us. The Mad Titan seeks to bring harm to the worlds under our protection. The Crown Prince, Thor, currently protects Midgard from those who would seek to attack its weaker borders.” A strong cheer rose at that and Tony couldn’t stop himself from rolling his eyes. Two. “In light of this threat, my estranged son has returned, seeking Asgard’s assistance in stopping this danger.”

Tony could hear the unhappy grumbles and was quick to notice sharp glares directed their way. Tony just smiled widely, though he would have preferred to raise his middle finger in response to Odin’s blatant twisting of the facts. He settled for lifting his goblet and giving his first ‘fuck you’ toast of the night.

“I have agreed to listen to their appeal. Loki and the warrior of Midgard Anthony Stark shall remain on Asgard while their worth is tested.” Odin’s eyes finally shifted to them. “We will see if redemption and honour is truly Loki’s new path, or if he is simply seeking new ways to prove his dishonourable and cold nature.”

Tony felt Loki tense minutely against him, but when he flicked his eyes to the mage nothing showed on his face; he was watching Odin with a smirk, as if the remark hadn’t affected him. He did raise his goblet and Tony happily did the same; toasting Odin and all of his backhanded insults before they both took a drink.

Odin kept any annoyance he might be feeling off his face. “We will see if time on Midgard has helped him to mend his ways and, to what degree Asgard can trust its might and support with him and this Midgardian.”

It was with that final, ominous shot that Odin turned back to the Aesir and concluded his speech. “Take pause on what you see and hear. The days they spend with us will be the time in which we will judge their worth. Let tonight be a first judgment on the truth of their words.”

He finished with another clang of his spear on the floor before taking a seat. A wave of applause followed as well as a series of whispers and narrowed-glares in their direction. Servers also began to run forward with large plates of food.

Tony just leaned towards Loki and asked, “Did he seriously just give an entire room of Aesir permission to try and prove that we’re lying?”

“Well,” Loki remarked dryly, looking over at Tony. “When one has a virtual army of buffoons willing to grind down our lies and our resolve for him, why would he not utilise it? We will be all the easier for him to break after hours of their company, will we not?”

Tony tried not to snort, but he didn’t think he managed. “Sounds like fun.” He waited just long enough for Loki to be taking a sip of his drink to say, “I can’t wait for them to learn exactly how well I can follow orders when it’s Prince Loki who’s telling me to kneel.”

The sound of Loki choking on his drink and the sudden clatter of goblets on the nearby server’s tray made Tony smile with smug satisfaction.

How he loved a good innuendo.

The dinner itself was pretty easy after that.

They ate, they chatted absently and Loki gave him little tips if he looked like he was about to screw up Asgardian etiquette. Sure, the tension in the air was thick enough to choke on and Tony wasn’t oblivious to the fact that when they finished eating they were going to be the subject of an inquisition - but he tried to keep their minds off it.

Tony bitched about the bland, meat-oriented food, partly to make Loki chuckle, and partly because Asgard didn’t seem to know what spice actually was. He also bumped their shoulders together and asked Loki about the food on other worlds. He asked about other, happier stories from Loki’s past while brushing his fingers over the intricacies of the goblets and hearing more about the woman who had carved them.

All and all, it went a lot better than it could have.

When the meal portion was over and people had started standing, walking around and congregating in groups, Tony wasn’t surprised that someone came over to join them. He was surprised that it was Fandral and that he actually sat down opposite them at the table.

“Fandral,” Loki greeted impassively, but with a very faint frown that marked his confusion and suspicion at the other’s presence.

Tony hadn’t even noticed that the swordsman had been in the room.

“Loki,” Fandral greeted, “Anthony. I was hoping to speak with you.”

Loki’s mistrust didn’t fade. “What for?”

A hint of sheepishness entered Fandral’s eyes even as he requested, “I hope to have you wake the Rhinocerotidae. I have tried all manner of things, but with your magic aiding it, the animal sleeps on.”

Loki actually seemed faintly amused. “And how did you attempt to wake it?”

Fandral laughed a little, his self-deprecation obvious, but it was minimised by an easy, lounging posture and the good-humour in his eyes. “With many tricks, some of which you taught me long ago. I suppose I should have known better than to attempt to best your magic and your skill.”

“It does not take much to keep an animal in slumber,” Loki dismissed, but Fandral wasn’t having it.

“Perhaps,” he agreed, “but you have always been gifted when it comes to them.”

Loki sent him a sudden, sharp glare. “If this is your attempt at enticing me into a favour, you are doing it poorly. I am only becoming more likely to deny your request for assistance.”

Fandral raised his hands in a show of surrender. “It was not an attempt to mock you. The affinity you have for charming wild animals to your side is well known and remarkable. I merely hoped you would help me again.”

“And yet I have been mocked,” Loki all but growled, his grip on his goblet tight. “They call upon Loki when they have no other option and jeer at my use of seidr after I have solved their petty problem. I could not deny a request to help an injured or terrified creature, but I have never once missed the way my affinity has been the source of many a cruel joke. Did you not all laugh for days when you saw that the twisted tales you gave the Midgardians had made it into their myths?”

Fandral had physically recoiled at the barbs that Loki shot him, looking shocked briefly, before the expression melted into guilt and discomfort.

“There were jokes,” Fandral admitted slowly, “ones that I should not have laughed at. It was the folly of youth, but not something I had thought would so offend you.”

Loki’s glare was vicious. “I am supposed to find humour in a world believing that I was mounted by a stallion and gave birth to a foal?

Tony winced and so did Fandral. He’d heard about that myth; it, and a few others, had been spoken about with relish at the SHIELD compound in the wake of the invasion. Tony had always taken it with a grain of salt, but he’d also never been game enough to ask Thor.

“I did not start that rumour Loki,” Fandral said quietly, staring at the table rather than looking the mage in the eye.

“No, but I did not see you disputing it either.”

Fandral didn’t say anything immediately and Loki just took a sip of his wine, looking away from the swordsman and scanning the crowd. He was full of tightly-coiled tension and Tony reached out and placed a hand lightly against Loki’s knee under the table.

He felt Loki’s leg startle slightly but he otherwise didn’t react but to look at Tony curiously. Tony just smiled softly and lightly squeezed his leg in comfort. Loki didn’t quite relax, but he did smile a little in gratitude for the sympathy and support.

“I am sorry,” Fandral said softly and made them look away from each other and to the Aesir. He was staring at Loki, sorrowful and repentant. “I should have taken more notice of your displeasure and unhappiness. I should not have allowed the jest to become so encompassing.”

If Loki was surprised by the apology, he didn’t show it. He did stare at Fandral for a long moment, calculation heavy in his narrowed eyes, but Fandral didn’t flinch. He merely continued to hold Loki’s gaze with his own regretful one.

Loki was the one to look away in the end, remarking flatly, “You were one of many Fandral. I grew used to such treatment long before you involved yourself in it.”

It wasn’t forgiveness, that was blindingly obvious, but Loki’s rage wasn’t as hot or as sharp. It had been briefly tempered and Fandral knew enough about Loki to sense the difference. He also didn’t try to search for more from the mage; rather he changed the subject.

He cleared his throat before asking Tony, “How are you finding Asgard?”

Tony smiled sharply. “Well, so far everyone I’ve met has either insulted me or my lover, so...” he shrugged.

Fandral winced, and while a part of Tony didn’t want to take pity on him, Fandral also seemed to be the most courteous of the bunch. He could turn out to be working on Odin’s orders and trying to sweet-talk his way close to them, but, it couldn’t hurt to see what happened, especially if it turned out he was genuine.

“But, Loki’s promised to show me around,” Tony continued. “Maybe that way I’ll see some of the nicer parts.”

Fandral latched onto the topic with relief. “Oh? Where do you plan to go?” He suddenly brightened, looking at the mage. “The markets are in the city this week. You were always fond of perusing their wares, Loki; I’m sure Anthony would be the same.”

“Yes, I had noticed they were being set up,” Loki remarked neutrally. “We’ll see how the discussions with Odin go and if we have the time available to spend an afternoon or two there.”

Fandral grinned suddenly. “Do you remember the day where I was injured and could not go on a hunt? You let me follow you to the markets and we spent a day among the stalls!” He laughed suddenly. “Do you remember the trick you played on the man who tried to cheat me?”

Loki actually smiled, it was brief but it had been real and honestly amused. “I remember teaching him to take better care on choosing those he wished to swindle.”

“Oh?” Tony questioned, eager to hear a story that didn’t end in tragedy or bitter memories. Loki seemed lost in another good memory and Tony was keen to encourage it. “What happened?”

Fandral, bolstered by the lighter mood that had descended over the table, happily turned to Tony and began to explain, “I sought a trinket for a young lady I was very fond of. The blue would have matched her eyes-”

“The necklace had purple gems, Fandral,” Loki interrupted with an amused smile tugging at his mouth.

Fandral blinked, surprised. “Ah. It did? Well, it would have matched her dress.”

Loki just rolled his eyes, hiding his small grin behind a sip he took from his goblet. It was a gesture that made Tony believe that once, a long time ago, Loki and Fandral had shared many teasing discussions like this. He could imagine that there had been a time where Loki was fondly amused of the swordsman and that Fandral had been an easy, light-hearted companion.

It also made Tony wonder if there wasn’t a part of Loki, buried very deep down, that longed for that friendship back again.

Tony didn’t know if it was possible, if Loki would violently oppose the idea for fear of it backfiring, but Tony was sure they could at least see what this trip to Asgard brought; after all, Fandral had wanted help with the rhino. Surely that could give them a chance to work out exactly how much of Fandral’s presence was an attempt to mend bridges or an attempt to spy for Odin.

He supposed only time would tell, but Tony was really hoping that if there was going to be one decent Aesir on this planet, it was going to be the swordsman.

For now, at least, Tony settled in to listen to a story of mischief and watch as Loki interrupted Fandral to correct him and only gained the blond's laughter and agreement. He watched as the two men forgot, for a moment, the numerous traps and bitterness that laced their former friendship.

Chapter Text

The conversation with Fandral couldn’t have lasted for longer than fifteen minutes before they were annoyingly interrupted. The chatter had been light-hearted, fun even and filled with stories about Loki’s past on Asgard. Tony had noticed though, that very few tales took place earlier than the last few decades and almost all of them had Fandral and Loki together, but rarely included anyone else.

There were two mentions of Hogun accompanying them, one brief, pained mention of Loki’s mother that was hurriedly moved away from, and a collection of tales surrounding a female mage Loki had once known and whom Fandral had briefly attempted to court, begging Loki for assistance in the task.

It was only when the servant had approached their table that Loki had immediately stiffened; his expression closing off as all the good-humour vanished from his face.

“The Allfather wishes to speak with you,” the servant said, the man’s eyes flicking to Tony before back to Loki. “Only with you.”

Tony’s hand, which hadn’t shifted from where it rested on Loki’s knee, tightened instinctively and he narrowed his eyes at the servant. He didn’t have the slightest intention of leaving Loki alone with the asshole King, but before he could say as much the mage’s hand slipped under the table to squeeze Tony’s own before gently encouraging him to release his hold.

No one could see what he was doing beneath the table and his cold tone and narrowed eyes belied the way Tony knew he was already readying himself to leave. “The Allfather has a reason for excluding my partner from his request?”

“He wishes to speak with you privately,” The servant merely repeated, unflinching but with a hint of disdain. His chin was also tilted in a way which Tony could very easily read as: as is his right, and you will obey.

Tony’s knee-jerk reaction to such an order and assumption of obedience was to completely defy the one who thought they could control him. It took a lot of willpower to bite down on that urge and let Loki run the show. They both knew that outright defying Odin wasn’t a smart move; they were much better off stretching his orders to the breaking point but still complying enough that he couldn’t destroy their plans for the dignitaries.

It was a fine line to tread, but Loki was a master at dancing his way across it without missing a beat. Loki had spent his entire life causing mischief inside the parameters of Asgardian society. While he might have a more hostile crowd than usual, the former prince still knew his way around the archaic laws and rules of the Aesir. This was Loki’s show; Tony was merely an accomplice in the act the trickster had long laid out.

“Very well,” Loki agreed. “I will attend to him when I have concluded my current discussion.” He followed it with a dismissive flick of his fingers before turning pointedly away from the servant and towards Fandral. “Where have you stored the rhinocerotidae?”

There was distinct discomfort on Fandral’s face at being drawn into such a blatant disregard of the King’s orders, but, to his credit, he replied easily enough, “I have placed him in the stables.”

Loki nodded, ignoring the unhappy servant who, in the end, had no choice but to retreat with one final glare at Loki.

“He will likely be violent upon his awakening,” Loki told the swordsman, “but,” he smirked slightly, “you have always enjoyed a challenge.”

Fandral automatically brightened. “You will help me to rouse him?”

“It will depend on how long we must remain with the Allfather,” Loki sent Tony a brief furtive glance then, a smile not quite tugging at his mouth before he turned back to the blond, “but I am sure Anthony and I will have some time to assist you tomorrow.”

Tony had to repress his own grin, well aware of the mess that their plan would cause in Asgard tomorrow and planning to relish in it. He also had to admit that getting away from the palace and Odin’s ensuing fury for a little while would probably be a good thing.

He could think of worse things to do then help Fandral with the rhino as they puzzled out the swordsman’s motivations.

“I would be grateful if you did,” Fandral said enthusiastically before some of his cheer dimmed and he glanced towards the royal table. “But, perhaps he will not allow it, if he is displeased with you.”

Tony couldn’t help a glance in the same direction. Odin might not have been acting as if his orders were being defied, talking casually with courtiers and the like; but there was a general air of displeasure lingering under the surface. It was something Tony had witnessed in his youth when Howard had been quietly furious but was forced to stand, laughing and smiling next to his son. Tony knew it was only a matter of time until Howard could get them somewhere quite or out of the public eye; any place where he could belittle, criticise and furiously snarl at Tony for his every defiance or flaw.

“There is very little Odin can stop me from doing, Fandral,” Loki told him, his tone a little colder and his hand, very pointedly coming up to cup the back of Tony’s neck in a gesture of possession and bold affection.

Fandral stiffened a little but he didn’t look away from Loki or from the act of intimacy. “In that you are right, but you were always the one to advise that a hint of contrition aids a lifetime of schemes.”

Loki actually twitched a little, looking purely shocked. His face even slackened slightly and he didn’t seem able to catch himself in time before asking, disbelievingly, “You remember that?”

When the swordsman smiled it was easy-going and genuine, almost fond as he wistfully recounted, “It was the single time you had me assist you in a trick.” He laughed. “We were caught, but escaped with little but a scolding due to your quick suggestion.” His grin grew a little wider. “It has also proved useful to me when winning the hearts of a lady or two.” He winked before quickly sobering. “Your counsel has always been wise, Loki, and I have had good cause to think highly of it.”

Loki stared at him for a long moment, his face having smoothed to something blank after being initially caught off guard.

“My counsel has never been listened to except under duress,” Loki spoke lowly, his entire body stiff. “You should know better than to speak so smoothly to Loki the Liesmith.” He leant forward slightly, his words a hiss to a wide-eyed Fandral. “You have no friends beside you with which to mock the trickster mage, and should you now run back to your King, you will have little secrets to give.” He made a sound of disgust and sat back. “Your time at this table has been wasted, little spy.”

“Loki!” Fandral slapped his hand on the table, sounding frustrated. “I did not insult you! I did not lie!” He gave an agitated growl. “Nor did I come here on order of the Allfather! This is why it is difficult to speak with you! You do not believe a good word that is said!”

“When they are so rarely spoken and only given to follow a jeer, one learns to distrust them,” Loki snapped. He chuckled darkly. “And why else would you come here if not to do the bidding of your King?”

“I came to ask for help with the rhinocerotidae! I came to speak to the man that was my friend!” He glared at Loki, looking ready to push away from the table and leave. “I came to know the Midgardian thought of so highly by Thor and by you.” He shook his head. “But I should not have come at all.”

Shit, Tony thought. Not only was this going terribly badly for any kind of mending friendship, but Tony wasn’t oblivious to the fact that if Loki had to go and speak to Odin, Tony sure as hell didn’t want to be alone getting slowly circled like an undefended animal by Asgardian vultures.

Reaching out, Tony put a hand over Loki’s wrist in a soothing gesture while saying to them both. “Okay guys, timeout. Let’s take a chill pill and a couple of deep breaths.”

Loki glared at him; Fandral at least, stayed put. Tony slowly started rubbing his thumb over Loki’s wrist. He also focused on the mage first, the biggest, most prickly and most defensive part of the problem.

Tony leant in close, putting his mouth by Loki’s ear as he whispered, “Keep him from hearing our conversation.”

He felt the mage hesitate for a moment before a small tingle ran over the engineer’s skin and Loki gave a small nod. Tony quickly began to speak and assure him, “I am completely on your side, Loki. If you want to tell him to stab himself with his own sword after everything he’s done to you, I will happily be putting the blade in his hands.”

In response to his words, Loki slowly began to relax a little. Tony just kept up the soothing gesture with his thumb. “Is he probably lying and working for Odin? Sure. Could he be telling the truth and just wanting to catch up with you? Maybe. No way will we find out the truth if you send him away now.”

Loki gave a grunt of displeasure, turning his face a little further away from Tony, but not completely separating them; which, yeah, Loki still wasn’t happy, but tough shit. “I also really hate to break it to you, but he’s the best person for me to be left with when you go talk to Odin.”

That made Loki turn to look at him, their faces were only inches apart and Loki’s eyes were narrowed and calculating. Tony just gave him a lop-sided grin. “So, can we not send away my only potential ally in this place if I’m going to be separated from you? Please?

He put extra emphasis on the last word, widening his eyes even and giving his best, mocking interpretation of a damsel in distress. It had the desired effect of making Loki snort with amusement. He still didn’t look overly pleased, but he still sighed and gave a small nod of assent.

“I do not trust him,” Loki stated coldly.

“Great, neither do I,” Tony replied cheerfully and the mage’s smile pulled a little wider. He squeezed Loki’s wrist again before letting him go. “And we can cut him loose tomorrow before or after we wake up the rhino. I don’t care, but right now, he’s useful.”

“You consider him nothing more than a pawn, Anthony?” Loki asked, the last of his tension and agitation seeming to melt away. Tony knew it was still there, buried deep inside, but at least his immediate anger with Tony seemed to have faded.

Tony grinned. “Absolutely. So don’t sacrifice him just yet, there’s still a game to play and he might just come in handy.”

“Very well,” Loki agreed before Tony felt the telltale sign of magic over his skin. It made him glance back at Fandral who was watching them with an expression that looked somewhere between confused and mystified.

Loki pushed away from his chair almost immediately and looked across the table at the swordsman. “Fandral, Anthony wishes to continue speaking with you. I will return upon speaking with the Allfather.”

He nodded at the blond, lingered just long enough to brush the back of his fingers over Tony’s cheek in affection before he was turning and walking towards the royal table.

It left the two of them alone for the first time, but before Tony could quip something light-hearted, Fandral was remarking, “I have never seen someone so easily calm Loki.”

He looked both bewildered and impressed.

Tony just flashed him his best magazine smile. “I know the right things to say.”

“So it would seem,” Fandral agreed and there was a hint of something frustrated and wistful there that made Tony think that miscommunication had always been one of the biggest failing points in Loki’s friendship with the blond.

It didn’t mean it could be fixed or that Fandral wouldn’t turn out to be more than a sacrificial piece in their plans but... Tony was willing to give it a try.

“So, any other good stories you have about Asgard or Loki?”

The Asgardian grinned and happily began to rattle off some new tale about the trickster as Tony listening absently and watched him very carefully; but Fandral only seemed happy and fond. He could just be a damn good liar, but Tony didn’t think so.

He also knew it would take some careful nudging and subtle directing, but Tony was fairly certain he could manage it.

The engineer smirked a little; swordsman to e6.

Maybe Fandral could prove himself as more than just a pawn on their chessboard.

Unfortunately, Tony didn’t get a chance to talk to Fandral for long before other people started drifting over. He was introduced to a bunch of courtiers as well as Volstagg. The redhead was everything Tony expected only even more annoying; he was loud, uncouth, and touched Tony’s shoulder with a heavy hand that still had a bit of meat under at least two of his nails.

“Take heed, Anthony Stark -” he’d said, looking almost pitying. Tony had just wished Fandral hadn’t been dragged away by a silent, glaring Hogun. “Thor speaks of you and your great deeds as a warrior. You value your world, but do not forget that Loki’s tongue is of silver. He discards all that no longer hold use to him; his bargains do not often go fulfilled.”

The twitch of Tony’s eye might have been the only physical manifestation of his anger, but inside he was seething. “So,” Tony summed up, “you’re saying I’m whoring myself out for my planet and that either way Loki’s going to betray me in the end?”

His flat statement made Volstagg startle and allowed his hold to loosen enough to shrug the Aesir off. “I warn you, as I would warn any friend of Thor’s.”

Well, I’m not exactly Thor’s buddy so fuck off. It took a lot for Tony to swallow those words down. He was more than aware that making himself the public enemy of Asgardian’s Number One Hero was not going to do him any favours.

The engineer made himself mentally count down from ten to give himself time to cool down before he replied. Rhodey would be so proud.

“Well, thanks for the warning,” Tony bit out, “but I can tell you that my planet is the last thing on my mind when I’m in bed with him.” He glared at the stricken Aesir. “I also know he won’t betray me, because I’ve never given him a reason to.”

Okay, Tony corrected as he pushed up from his chair, grabbing his goblet as he did, and walked away from the redhead to go find Fandral or Loki. So maybe Rhodey would only be a little bit proud.

The biggest problem, Tony quickly found, was that not only was Loki still in a battle of wits with Odin - the air almost crackling with intensity - but Fandral was in the centre of some kind of drinking contest and before he could make his way towards either of them Tony was intercepted. He was surrounded, much quicker than he expected, by at least six Aesir who all decided to take their chance to interrogate Tony knowing that he had no allies by his side.

They had the misfortune of bombarding Tony when he was still quietly infuriated by Volstagg’s remarks and not about to suffer fools nor people who wanted to manipulate or insult him. Tony had spent his entire life weaving and weathering harsher political and social climates than their paltry attempt. They were also drastically underestimating him and Tony very nearly grinned with vicious, dark glee; a wolf presented with a room full of sheep.

The Asgardian Court didn’t stand a fucking chance.

And it was almost beautiful to watch. It was almost child’s play to twist their words into a Gordian Knot they had no hope of undoing. It was also intensely satisfying to force many of them to bow out of the conversation, unable to best Tony or catch him in a lie.

It made something dark and deeply pleased spread through Tony’s chest knowing that he could stand in Loki’s defence and know that there was nothing the Aesir could do to contradict or counteract him.

It was only a shame that Loki was missing it.

The thought was only made all the more prominent when Tony heard an almost crackling noise. It was almost lost in the background but it also made all the hairs on Tony’s neck and arms stand on end. He’d glanced over at Loki on instinct, only to see the mage standing as tense as he’d ever seen him and saying something sharp and low to Odin that was instantly countered. Tony heard the crackle again, a sound that no one else seemed to be aware of but that the engineer was familiar enough with to work out what it was; Loki’s magic.

It didn't Tony long to piece together why he could sense and hear it but no one else could; the trickster’s magic liked Tony - the mage had said it himself - and when everything and everyone on Asgard was Loki’s enemy; why wouldn’t the trickster's seidr seek out, even unconsciously, the only person that could offer Loki comfort and support?

Tony barely noticed or cared about what he said to the remaining courtiers as he extracted himself from their conversations and clutches to make his way towards Loki and the royal table. His attention was so intently focused on the mage that he was barely glancing at anyone around him, focusing instead on moving as quickly as possible towards Loki.

He didn’t anticipate being intercepted by a woman with dark hair and a flirtatious smile. “I have heard a lot about you, Anthony of Midgard.”

Tony gave her a tight, distracted smile. “That’s me; the famous, mortal celebrity.”

The engineer went to walk around her and continue towards the royal table when she lightly but firmly gripped his arm; her Asgardian strength meant he was almost jerked backwards with the motion as he turned to look at her with faint disbelief and a lot of annoyance.

If she noticed his expression, she didn’t react to it. She merely shifted her hold to take more of coy grip, the motion suddenly looking as if Tony was the one offering his arm and leading her somewhere. The engineer’s expression only morphed into one of growing distaste.

He tried, at first, to casually pull himself free of her grip, but she just held him firmly in place, her pleasant smile never shifting. “You are a brave warrior, a true hero on your world.” Her other hand came up to gently stroke his bicep, her dark eyes on his, her smile trying to entice him. “A very handsome warrior.”

Tony just narrowed his eyes at her, feeling the same disgust he’d felt on Earth when he’d been dating Pepper and men and women had still tried to sleep with him. “I’m a taken warrior.”

When she frowned, it was more of a pout than anything that looked truly offended. “I’m sure no one would mind if we merely... went elsewhere for a while.” She pressed her body closer to his, her bust quickly being pushed up and emphasised by the position. Her next whisper was beside his ear and a seductive purr and a promise the engineer didn’t believe for a moment, “No one need know, Anthony.”

Tony was trying very, very hard not to say something he would regret. It only became more difficult when he glanced up at the royal table only to meet Loki’s blank, green eyes. He saw the mage quirk a single eyebrow before Odin was speaking and Loki was drawn back into talking with him.

The engineer could only imagine what new remark Odin was making. Tony could only imagine that this woman whoever she was had either been recruited by Odin or simply wanted to undermine his relationship with Loki.

It took a level of calm that Tony hadn’t known he possessed before this moment to reach down and begin trying to force her fingers to loosen their grip on his arm. When it didn’t seem to be working, he looked up at the woman and told her stiffly, “Remove your hand from me.”

“But, Anthony-”

“No,” Tony told her firmly, steel entering his voice and anger starting to spread across his face. “I am here with Loki. I am Loki’s. I don’t want anyone else in my bed but him." He looked down his nose at her, adding, "I also don’t find knowingly flirting with someone in a committed relationship to be an attractive quality.” Her eyes had widened, but Tony just leaned in, unable to resist a final, disgusted snipe, “If you’re that keen to have someone take you home tonight, pick someone a little closer to your league, darling.”

The insult finally made her rear back, her lips curling in disgust and her hands loosening their hold on him. Tony used the opportunity to shrug off her touch and walk away from her, relieved beyond measure when no one else stopped him from making his way to Loki.

The moment he reached the mage the engineer wrapped his arm around the taller man’s waist and pressed up against him. He also pressed a delicate kiss to Loki’s jaw for good measure, not giving a flying fuck about Odin sitting right beside Loki.

If the King didn’t want to see Tony reaffirm his status as Loki’s boyfriend then he shouldn’t have tried to thrust slutty women on Tony.

“Hello, Anthony,” Loki greeted with amusement and not only did Loki’s hand lightly come to rest over Tony’s where it rested on the mage’s hip, but Tony actually felt the trickster’s magic settle.

“I’ve missed you,” Tony stated simply before flicking his eyes over to the scowling King. He didn’t address Odin though, just turned back to Loki. “How’s the conversation going, Lokes?”

He could hear the faint smile in the mage’s voice and enjoyed the way Loki also leant back against him slightly. “Odin merely enquired about our partnership, relationship and my motivations for protecting the universe against the Mad Titan.”

Would have thought living in the universe would be motivation enough, Tony thought, but didn’t get a chance to say as Odin, obviously not willing to accept being ignored, remarked coldly, “Do you deny your deception these last years, Loki? Do you lie to this mortal by keeping those actions and the truth of your nature from him?”

“It was not I who lied about the truth of that for centuries,” Loki accused harshly, his voice practically a growl. “It was not I who crafted the greatest deception of all, Odin Allfather.”

“A deception you continue to maintain,” Odin fired back. “An illusion you refuse to shed.”

“A choice that is now mine to make,” Loki hissed. “Something that needs no further input from you.”

Odin stayed silent at that, seeming to either give the statement consideration or take the time to craft his response. The King looked between the mage and engineer with an eye that was sharp and narrowed. Tony didn’t flinch when that shrewd gaze landed on him; simply tilting his chin and standing firm by Loki’s side in both what the trickster was stating and whatever else the old man might throw at them next.

The King’s appraisal only lasted a few weighted moments before he finally spoke, “Should this Midgardian know the truth of you and your actions and willingly remain at your side...” his gaze had drifted back to Tony and his voice was projecting consideration, his eye looking thoughtful - but Tony knew better; he knew it for what it was.

Odin was trying to dangle bait in front of Tony, he wanted him to bite and ask Loki either here or in private what did he mean by that? Odin thought the answer might fracture them, and it was obvious from the coiled tension in Loki that whether or not Odin was correct in his assumption, it was still an uncomfortable subject for the mage.

It was also obvious that Loki hadn’t spoken to the engineer about it. Tony had an idea of what was being discussed but certainly couldn’t put his finger on it. Odin seemed to suspect as much but he didn’t have any proof, he could only try and encourage Tony’s curiosity in the hopes it would do the damage that he wanted.

Tony had no intention of letting him succeed.

He merely raised his eyebrows at the King, unimpressed and looking bored. Odin’s face soon soured and the usual scorn slipped back into his words, “But words hold little glory, truth, or use when so rehearsed and conspiratorial.” He waved a dismissive hand and turned from them. “There is little more to be gained from speaking with you this night.”

“Oh? Then perhaps Anthony and I might retire to our chambers,” Loki suggested; his tone lascivious enough to make it obvious what the mage intended for them to do there and causing Odin’s eye to twitch. “It has been a rather tedious day, has it not, Anthony?”

“Absolutely,” Tony lightly ran his fingers over the mage’s hip. “I would definitely enjoy being spread out in bed right about now.”

Odin shot them a deeply unimpressed look at Tony’s turn of phrase, but Loki was just smirking, looking as if he was repressing a chuckle. Tony pretended innocence even as Loki shifted to better wind his arm around the smaller man’s waist. “Then we shall leave.”

The mage ignored Odin entirely as he turned them and began making their way down from the royal table and back to the main floor. When they were far out of earshot of the King, Tony asked, “We actually leaving for the night?”

“I would suffer no more of this evening, yes,” Loki answered, his voice tight, and showing how frayed around the edges he truly was.

Tony felt his goblet disappear in a swirl of magic, assuming that Loki’s, wherever it had ended up, had been sent to the same place.

The brunet couldn’t help shooting Loki a look of concern as he lightly started stroking his thumb over the taller man’s hip in comfort. “Anything I can do to help?”

Loki glanced at him, offering a weary smile and squeezing Tony’s hip. “You already do all that can be done, but thank you, Anthony.”

Tony didn’t feel particularly content with that, but he was willing to stay quiet until they were back in Loki’s chambers and could talk more openly about what had happened with Odin. Thankfully, they didn’t have any trouble leaving; no one tried to talk to or stop them and while there were a few glares and snide remarks as they walked passed, it seemed most people were too busy drinking or socialising to pay much attention to their departure.

The moment they had entered the empty corridor and were out of sight, Loki let out a faint sigh of relief. His freehand came up to lightly rub against his forehead. "I detest these types of evenings."

“I can understand why,” Tony agreed. “Enough nights like that and I’d be searching for the first ship out of town. I applaud you for managing to last for centuries.”

Loki gave him another half-hearted smile, but with a hint of genuine humour sparking to life in his eyes. “There was good reason as to why I became known for mischief, Anthony.”

“Makes total sense to me; I’d have been known for the same thing.”

Loki chuckled softly and Tony felt a feather-light kiss get brushed on his temple in gratitude. Loki just seemed tired as if Tony was the strength that was not only holding him up but keeping him going. Tony just tightened his hold on Loki a little more, shifting just enough that he could take some of Loki’s weight if he needed to.

“How did you fair this evening?” Loki enquired.

“Oh, great,” Tony answered sarcastically. “I got told by Volstagg that I was whoring myself out for Earth and that you’ll stab me in the back one day. Some harpy of a woman tried to get me to sleep with her, probably on Odin’s orders, and a bunch of courtiers tried and failed to manipulate me.” He paused. “Actually, completely verbally destroying them was one of the best parts of the night; wish you could have been there to see it.”

“As am I,” Loki agreed, sounding a little wistful before his voice took on a different, more unreadable tone. “But, in regards to the woman-”

“Who I shot down,” Tony made sure to interrupt, stating that point nice and clear.

“I had little doubt you would not,” Loki answered, flicking his gaze to Tony. “Odin, of course, believed you far more susceptible to her wiles, something he made sure to point out to me when he noticed you together.”

Tony remembered the blank way Loki had looked at him; giving nothing away before turning back to Odin as if nothing was amiss. Tony really wanted to say a number of things to Loki in that moment but most of them needed the privacy of the mage’s chambers and spells that allowed them to speak freely to do it.

He settled on the most simple of assurances and hoped Loki could read everything else that rested between the lines.

“You didn’t need to have any doubt.” The words made Loki glance at him. “I’m with you, no one else. There isn’t a person in the universe that could tempt me into cheating on you.” He tugged Loki closer until they were plastered side by side. “Morals aside, babe, there’s just no one around that’s ever going to measure up to what I’ve already got.”

Loki didn’t seem to know what to say to that, his face rushing through too many emotions to catch before eventually settling on a gentle smile and a laugh. He shook his head lightly, his eyes averted from Tony. “Sentimental fool.”

Your sentimental fool,” Tony quickly interjected before dramatically leaning his cheek against Loki’s shoulder; every inch the besotted lover. “And I’m not going anywhere.”

He half expected Loki wouldn’t reply or that the mage might shake him off, but he kept Tony exactly where he was, murmuring only a soft ‘good’ that made Tony grin, feeling oddly... satisfied - content even. It made him stay exactly where he was as they walked the rest of the way through the halls and corridors to Loki’s chambers.

There were a few guards that they saw during the journey, but the Aesir didn’t speak to them and Tony ignored the dour expressions they wore at seeing the mage and engineer’s intimate embrace. All Tony really cared about was getting back to the privacy of Loki’s rooms where they would be able to relax for the first time in hours.

It felt like an age until they finally got there, but the moment they were able to close the doors behind them it was like a physical weight lifted off their shoulders; Loki’s in particular. He slumped a little; unwinding from Tony only so he could take a heavy seat in the nearest chair.

“Loki?” Tony asked.

The mage waved his hand absently. “A long day, Anthony; I’m tired and not relishing the thought of repeating it tomorrow.”

“But the ambassadors will arrive,” Tony said, walking closer to the other man. “That’ll help make it a bit more bearable, yeah? And Odin’s face will be something to treasure.”

Loki’s mouth quirked in a small, tired smile. “They will be a useful barrier. They will also allow us time away from the palace and Odin’s eye - but our days will be no less draining, of that I assure you.”

The mere thought of it made Tony’s already depleting energy levels take a significant hit. “Yeah, okay, fair point.” The shorter man rubbed a hand over his face before suggesting, “Maybe we should head to bed then? Rest as much as we can before taking on whatever the hell tomorrow brings.”

Loki sighed and nodded before wearily pushing out of his chair.

It showed how exhausted Loki must have been for the mage to take until he reached the bedroom to remember the sleeping situation. He stilled, the abrupt motion making Tony glance at where he was staring at the bed with a mixture of discomfort and trepidation. The brunet just had to bite down on an amused smile.

“Right or left side, Lokes?”

The trickster glanced at him, but seeing nothing but ease he started to relax a little. He didn’t verbally reply but he did make his way to the right. Tony took that as his cue and started pulling off his Asgardian clothes and laying them on the ornate footstool on the left-hand side of the room.

He could hear Loki disrobing as well, but didn’t look over his shoulder; he didn’t want to give Loki the impression he was uncomfortable or suspicious. There was a moment where he realised he didn’t have anything to change into though and the engineer would forever cherish asking Loki to conjure him boxers and seeing the mage freeze and flush slightly as he realised Tony was standing naked only a few feet from him.

The trickster did do as Tony requested, but he didn’t even once try to sneak a peek. It caused Tony’s ego to take a rather significant hit for which he was tempted to say something, but in the end, he refrained, knowing that the mage was likely still nursing the worry that Tony would find Loki’s attraction to him discomforting.

That theory was only further proved when they both climbed into bed. Loki was shirtless and wearing some kind of Asgardian sleep pants. He was also as stiff as a board and staring at the ceiling; barely moving, barely breathing.

Tony decided that really needed to be fixed.

The engineer didn’t even bother to warn Loki before he was rolling over and throwing and arm and a leg over Loki in a full-body, skin-to-skin, unabashed cuddle.

“Anthony!” Loki practically yelped, sounding aghast and hurriedly moving to try and shove him away.

Considering Tony didn’t end up halfway across the room due to the other man’s vastly superior strength, he figured it was less of an adamant protest and more of a panicked reaction. It meant Tony could just continue to wiggle himself closer and into a comfortable position.

He did respond to the other’s shocked exclamation though, keeping his voice light and unconcerned, “What? I told you; I cuddle. I’m a cuddler. It’s going to happen eventually, why not get it started now? Embrace the inevitable, Loki. Also, you’re comfy.”

Loki didn’t look in any way prepared for what was happening as he stared down at Tony. “And what if I dream?”

“I told you, just don’t stab me and-”

“No, what if I dream.”

The implication was obvious and the genuine concern and embarrassment on Loki’s face impossible to miss. Tony just gave him a lop-sided smile. “Then you dream. It could happen to me too, you know. And I’ve woken up to far worse things than a hard on pressed against my thigh.”

The casual acceptance finally seemed to be enough to break through Loki's worry. He gave a huff of a laugh and finally started to relax, he even brought a cautious hand to rest on Tony’s back. The engineer just relaxed back against Loki, his head lying against the other man's chest.

It was only a few moments later that the lights began to dim, likely working on Loki’s magical command. Tony just closed his eyes and got used to the feeling of Loki’s chest rising and falling in soft breaths beneath him. It was meditative, calming and he hadn’t been lying when he’d told the mage that he was comfortable.

It was as the engineer’s breathing was starting to sync with the mage’s and his mind was drifting to what would happen tomorrow and how they would handle it - that he heard Loki quietly whisper, “Thank you, Anthony.”

The words were heart-felt and almost raw with the amount of emotion in them, and Tony knew it wasn’t just the bed-sharing that the mage was talking about. It was everything Tony had done since arriving on Asgard; it was the unwavering support and friendship that Tony offered him freely and constantly.

It was Loki being painfully relieved and grateful that he wasn’t doing all of this alone. That for once, the trickster had someone by his side that he could trust to have his back.

Smiling gently, the engineer tightened his hold on Loki briefly; a single gesture of recognition and acceptance of the words, before letting his grip relax once more. Not long after, Loki began stroking his fingers over Tony’s back in absent, soothing gestures.

They didn’t speak after that, just lying close and comfortable in each other’s embrace. Tony couldn’t have said how long they both lay there, unable to sleep and thinking of what the next few days would bring and how their partnership would be tested.

But despite any lingering concerns that Tony might have felt, it was still easier than the engineer expected to fall asleep on a hostile planet, far away from home; he supposed it helped to be curled in the arms of someone he not only trusted but whom he cared about as well.

Chapter Text

When he woke up in the morning to faint sunlight across his face, Tony was momentarily confused.

His room in his penthouse blocked out all sunlight. His bed in the tower was comfortable and spacious but had very few layers and a much firmer mattress. This bed was unfamiliar and also included another person who was wrapped around him, something which hadn’t happened to Tony in quite a long time. But it only took him a couple of blinks and a glance at pale skin, dark hair and fur pelts for it all to come flooding back.

The moment it did and Tony was able to properly catalogue the situation, he had to smother a laugh as he looked down at Loki’s peaceful sleeping form that was completely wrapped around him.

Tony was a cuddler, he could admit as much - but he tended to drift away in the middle of the night. Loki, it seemed, hadn’t intended to let him go far. They were mostly in the middle of the bed, but still a little on Tony’s side. It made the engineer believe that he’d rolled away from the taller man during the night but that Loki had quickly followed after him.

Loki’s arms were wrapped around Tony’s waist, drawing him as close as possible. Tony was on his back, the entire left side of his body pressed against Loki. The trickster had his head on Tony’s chest and their legs were tangled as Loki breathed heavily and serenely.

He looked peaceful, relaxed. He also wasn’t sporting the erection that the mage had feared last night.

Well, that’s one less embarrassment for him to wake up to.

Unable to completely contain his amused smirk, nor his mischievous side, Tony slowly brought his arms up to languidly rest them behind his head. He then cleared his throat and began calling the other man’s name.

It only took three soft attempts before he felt the trickster start to stir. The moment Loki became aware of the situation was easy to pinpoint; his entire body went stiff.

“Comfortable?” Tony asked, the moment he knew Loki was awake, amusement plain in the engineer’s voice.

Loki lifted his head slowly, blinking up at him with wide eyes before his gaze narrowed with intensity; taking in Tony’s arrogant posture and teasing smile with a calculated glance before suddenly relaxing. He even went as far as to drop his chin back down on Tony’s chest, looking up at the brunet while telling him simply, “Yes.”

Seeing Loki free of mortification or discomfort actually sent more relief through Tony than he expected and his smile became softer to reflect it. “Good. Sleep well?”

“Surprisingly, yes,” Loki agreed. “I expected more turbulent dreams, considering the surroundings.”

Tony scowled, his good mood falling slightly, but he hurried to keep it from dropping further by focusing on the positives. “I’m glad it was better than expected.”

A grin pulled at Loki’s mouth. “Mm,” he hummed. “And how did you sleep?”

And that was actually an interesting thing to consider now that he wasn’t focusing on the mage.

“Ridiculously well, actually,” Tony answered with a small frown. “Probably the longest sleep I’ve had in weeks.” He smirked a little. “Guess it’s easier to sleep knowing you’ve got a powerful demi-god in your bed ready to protect you.”

Loki chuckled lowly. “That is all I am to you now; a guard?”

“Nah,” Tony disagreed. “Thought we already established you work wonders as a pillow too.”

The mage shook his head at the shorter man before unwinding himself from Tony. It almost made the engineer pout, but he ignored the disappointment to sit up as well. They were still sitting close, their legs still more tangled than separated as Loki ran a hand through his somewhat frizzy, wavy hair and Tony stifled a yawn.

“Are you hungry, Anthony?”

Tony nodded. “I could eat.”

“I will call the servants and have them bring us breakfast.” He gestured towards one of the archways in the room. “There are bathing quarters through there if you’d like to freshen up, but we shall need to leave soon if we wish to be present when the first of the ambassadors arrive.”

Glancing around and finding nothing resembling a clock, Tony asked, “What time is it?”

“An hour past sunrise,” Loki announced promptly, making Tony raise his eyebrows. Loki just shrugged. “This was my home for many centuries. Very little changes without influence; even the rise of the sun or the weather does not alter without another’s hand at work.”

Tony couldn’t stop the disgusted noise he made, causing the mage to raise his eyebrows curiously. “It’s Groundhog Day and I can actually feel my skin crawling. Ugh.”

“Some would call the world idyllic. That it’s constant, unchanging pace makes it the perfect world,” Loki remarked, almost sounding as if there was some kind of test in the words. Tony didn’t know how the mage could possibly doubt him.

“I’m not one of them,” Tony told him firmly. “Give me something a bit more interesting, a bit more chaotic. Hell, I haven’t even been here twenty-four hours and I want to ruin something just to see if things can become a little less boring.”

When Loki’s eyes caught Tony’s they almost burned they were so bright. “You want to cause chaos do you, Anthony?”

The brunet grinned and leaned a little closer to the mage. “Oh, please tell me that we can.”

Loki actually tipped his head back and laughed in reply. The sound reverberated around the chambers and sounded purely joyful. It was so contagious that Tony found himself chuckling softly in response, unable to stop himself when Loki looked as if he hadn’t been so amused in years.

“Oh, Anthony,” Loki said when he finally looked back at the engineer with a wide smile and gleeful eyes. “You truly are a prize.”

“Right back at you, Lokes,” Tony told him truthfully.

Shaking his head fondly, Loki just climbed the rest of the way out of the bed, offering a hand to Tony; it seemed simple, natural even to do it and Tony took it without hesitance. When he was standing, Loki let him go and made another motion towards the baths. “Go. I will see to it that food arrives by the time you are finished.”

“Yeah?” Tony asked. “I could end up being only thirty seconds.”

“Oh, that I do not think will be the case,” Loki told him; the words only making Tony narrow his eyes suspiciously.

The trickster didn’t say anything further though as he turned and made his way out of the room and into the living quarters of his former chambers.

Curious, Tony just moved directly to the bathing area. The moment he stepped inside sconce lights on the wall glowed, allowing Tony to see everything properly and quickly helping him to realise why Loki had thought he would need at least a few minutes.

The room was almost as big as the bedroom and was more like a Turkish bath than the kind of en-suites Tony was used to. It didn’t mean he was going to turn around and ask Loki for help though. No, he could absolutely figure this out. The fact that the first basin he walked up to didn’t have taps wasn’t exactly comforting, but if there was one thing Tony was good at it was figuring out how things worked.

He was Tony Stark; this would be a piece of cake.

Well, okay. Maybe it was a bit more complicated than that.

Tony managed to get certain aspects of the bathroom working, like the cold water. The hot water? Apparently that was a bit more difficult. He did manage to make a giant pile of foam by pressing a small indent in the basin though. He wasn’t exactly relishing showing that one to Loki.

He’d eventually just decided to go out and ask for some help. Tony had paused near the bed when he’d heard Loki talking to someone - a servant - and Tony quickly flicked his eyes around the room before changing direction. He grabbed the shirt Loki had worn the previous night and slipped it over his head. It actually fell low enough that you could barely see his boxers and Tony hoped that would be distraction enough that no one would notice the complete lack of any of the illusionary lovebites Loki liked them to flaunt.

Tony did ruffle his hair a little bit more to give himself a more recently ravaged look before stepping out of the bedroom and making a direct line towards Loki. The mage had his back to the engineer and Tony barely had to think before he was wrapping his arms around Loki in an affectionate hug, his chin coming to rest on the mage’s shoulder.

Loki didn’t even startle over Tony’s presence, he merely paused what he was saying to look over his shoulder at the brunet. He played the part perfectly; his smile soft and his eyes amused. “Good morning, Anthony.”

Tony just brushed his mouth in a soft kiss against the taller man’s shoulder. “Loki,” he said, adopting a more sleep-roughened voice. “Come bathe with me.”

The servant gave a soft little gasp but Tony ignored them, just waiting patiently for Loki to make some final remarks about the food before quickly dismissing the Aesir. Loki waited until the door was firmly shut behind the servant before asking, nothing but laughter in his voice, “You can’t figure out the bath, can you, Anthony?”

“I could,” Tony insisted. “But I don’t want to miss out on Odin’s little surprise. Or breakfast. And you need to bathe too right? Makes more sense to have you point out where the hot tap is before I make another cloud of foam.”

Loki chuckled before lightly patting Tony’s hand to make the engineer release him. When he turned to make his way towards the bathroom, the trickster’s eyes did linger for a moment on the shirt Tony was wearing and the way the hem of it brushed the shorter man’s thighs.

It made Tony huff out a small laugh as he followed after the mage. “Your shirts are nice and soft,” he called, unable to resist, “maybe I should wear them more often?”

“Or perhaps you should wear clothing more suitable to your shorter frame.”

There was tease in Loki’s voice, there was also a dramatic pause and Tony knew what was coming next. He still tried to stop it, the smile dropping off his face as he warned, “Don’t say it.”

Loki just looked over his shoulder; his eyes twinkling as he completely ignored him. “Say what, my little vegetable?”

The engineer dropped his head back against his shoulders, staring at the ceiling and groaning loudly. The disgruntled noise wasn’t enough to drown out Loki’s amused chuckles though, leaving Tony torn between enjoying Loki’s good mood and trying to get rid of that infernal nickname.

The sound of running water did distract the engineer and he was too curious to refrain from looking inside the bathroom.

He blinked a little at finding everything had already been set up, including some lotions and soaps that were aligned beside the large sunken bath. Tony eyed the room sceptically before looking at the mage, “You used magic, didn’t you?”

“I did,” Loki agreed, his expression becoming a little tighter even as his eyes travelled over the room. “And when time is not of the essence, I will teach you how to use everything in here.”

The reminder of the dignitaries had Tony agreeing, “Yeah, alright.”

Tony could see furrows etching themselves into Loki's brow. He knew his friend's tension had a lot to do with what the morning and day would bring, and he wanted to forestall that, to have Loki concentrating on the here and now again.

He started by pulling off Loki’s shirt before calling the mage, “Hey, Loki!”

The moment the other man looked at him, Tony was throwing the balled up item at the trickster’s face. Loki caught it on instinct, looking adorably confused as he glanced between the shirt and Tony with pure puzzlement.

Tony just grinned; trying to keep Loki at least momentarily distracted. “I hope you enjoyed the special sight of Tony Stark stripping for you.” He winked and placed his hands on his hips. “But now I have a bath to take. Do you have something for me to change into?”

Loki blinked, still looking off-balance and his eyes had dipped to focus on Tony’s hips, however briefly. “Ah, yes. Hertha prepared many outfits.” He glanced towards the bedroom, the shirt still clutched in his hand. “I’ll have one on the bed by the time you are finished.” He looked over the room again, his eyes a bit less distant as if he was checking for faults as opposed to imagining potential ambassadorial failures. “Enjoy your bath.”

Loki didn’t wait for Tony to respond; he just turned on his heel and left the room. The engineer watched the spot he’d disappeared from for a long moment, his mouth quickly becoming a worried, unhappy line. Tony could understand why Loki was distracted; he could understand why the mage was tense and uncertain. The fate of worlds and the success of their plans were riding on the response that their invitations received, and how Odin handled the appearance of the ambassadors.

There was a lot of ways it could go wrong and only a few where it could go right.

Frustrated at the very thought, Tony ran a hand through his hair and looked down at the bath Loki had prepared for him. A part of the engineer wanted to skip it entirely, to just go after Loki and keep the trickster company, to stop him from getting tripped up in worries and potential disasters.

Tony could understand where Loki was coming from as he shared most of the mage’s worries, but they also needed to look their best if they were going to impress the dignitaries. It meant that they both needed to have a wash.

Letting out a rough, aggravated breath, Tony stripped from the last of his clothes and made his way towards the bath. He gave it a cursory check of temperature before slipping into it.

It was... it was god damn blissful.

It was like slipping into a hot spring after a long day and Tony couldn’t stop the small, pleased groan he let out as he relaxed into the feeling. The water felt different, like there was some kind of scented oil mixed into it, the Asgardian equivalent of lavender, maybe?

All Tony knew was that for a good few minutes he just lay there, soaking up the warmth and forgetting everything but the immediate pleasure of the best bath he’d had in years - possibly ever.

It was only the absent, floating thought as he stretched out his muscles - I hope Loki feels half as relaxed when he gets his bath- that made him remember not only where he was, but that Loki was waiting for him in the other room and that the dignitaries could arrive at any minute.

He blinked his eyes open, grimacing a little at being swept away by the bath. He was going to be stuck in Asgard for days; surely he could enjoy it at a less crucial time? Shaking his head and sitting up a bit more, Tony made sure to keep his motions brisk and to the point; washing his hair and body with the crisp apple body wash that Loki had given him.

Pulling himself out of his little slice of bathing heaven was a bit of a task, but his stomach was rumbling and his concern for Loki was swiftly returning.

He dried himself off with the unbelievably absorbent and fluffy towels, wrapping one around his waist before heading into the bedroom. His clothes were laid out on the bed, as Loki had promised, and was the standard Asgardian attire and much the same as the night before. There was the linen shirt, leather-like pants, the same boots as well as a new and more casual leather jacket. Tony could only smirk a little at finding his new shirt was in Loki’s favourite shade of green.

Pulling on everything but the jacket - which he folded over his arm - Tony made his way out to find Loki. The mage was sitting on one of the settees, scowling into midair. There was a collection of food in front of him but it looked like Loki had barely touched; in fact, he was holding a piece of cheese in his hand, but seemed oblivious to the fact it was there.

Instantly concerned, Tony walked quickly towards him, dropping his jacket on the back of the couch, but not gaining any acknowledgement.

Keeping his voice soft, Tony came to sit beside the trickster, trying not to let too much of his worry show, “Hey, you alright?”

Loki jerked a little before glancing over at him. The mage gave him a tight smile, before answering, “Well enough. Did you enjoy your bath?”

“Yeah, you’re not escaping that easily,” Tony told him. “What’s wrong?”

Loki briefly looked like he might try to evade it, but in the end, his shoulders dropped a little and he gave in, “Today will be difficult, Anthony, even should it all go to plan we will need to forge friendships and alliances quickly if we are to keep the tide turning in our favour.” His smile was rueful. “And I am not the most trusted of allies. When I was speaking on behalf of Asgard, I could be trusted to work within existing agreements. When on my own, well...”

“You were known for tricking them into deals more heavily in your favour and now they’re sour and suspicious about it?” Tony guessed.

The engineer’s suggestion made Loki’s smile became a little more amused and a little more proud.

Perhaps,” he allowed, but his humour also faded far too quickly. “I was careful to keep those of greater influence out of my schemes, but many stories have been whispered about me in recent years. I cannot gauge how many will dislike and refuse me for what they have learned.”

“Loki, this is the fate of the worlds. You might have a bad reputation, but if you prove you’re on the right side, people shouldn’t refuse you out of spite.”

“Asgard would,” Loki stated simply.

“Yeah, well Asgard are idiots,” Tony told the mage, his voice almost a growl. “And we both know your plan isn’t going to let Odin get away with that level of stupidity.”

Loki still looked a little unimpressed, a little disbelieving and Tony reached out and wrapped his hand around Loki’s wrist, squeezing it gently and hoping he could somehow make Loki believe him.

“Seriously, Loki, go with me on this,” Tony told him, his voice earnest, “I trust few people anymore - but I trust you. Asgard might be stupid enough to waste every opportunity you throw at them, but the rest of the realms won’t, if you thought that was the case, you wouldn’t have bothered to have us stay up here.”

“Such unshakeable faith in me,” Loki murmured, his expression trying to stay blank but failing miserably. “But even you cannot sway everyone to my side.”

It reminded Tony, abruptly and suddenly of the conversation he’d had with Rhodey and Bruce, about all the people waiting for them on Earth who just wanted to tear Loki down and refuse to accept him. It made fury and determination burn hot and bright inside Tony; a need to defend, protect and support.

“Watch me,” Tony told Loki fiercely, the sheer stubbornness in his voice making Loki blink at him with surprise. The engineer just held Loki’s gaze and dared the mage to try and deny him as he repeated, “Just watch me.”

Loki stared at him for a long moment before shaking his head and lightly patting the hand still curled around the trickster’s wrist. “We shall see what we manage, Anthony. But do not raise your hopes too high; bringing the dignitaries here was a way to force the realms into unity. Asgard protects Midgard, so either way, an alliance with the Aesir is an alliance that benefits your planet. The greatest strength for myself is knowing which ears to whisper in and which alliances will require further tending.”

It suddenly made perfect sense and Tony didn’t know how he’d never realised it before.

“You didn’t do this to create allies for yourself, you did this to make sure everyone else was working together.” His eyes widened. “You’re doing what you did with the Avengers; forcing everyone to unite against a common enemy, only this time, the enemy isn’t you!”

Loki looked momentarily surprised before he abruptly smiled, looking incredibly fond of the engineer in that moment. “You sometimes surprise me with how incredibly perceptive you are, Anthony.”

“That’s why you said it would be easy once the ambassador’s arrived,” Tony continued to say, understanding coming sudden and sharp. “Once they were here all you had to do was watch, listen, nudge a few people maybe, but they’d do the rest of the work themselves.” Tony still couldn’t stop looking at him with shock and a heavy mix of awe. “You’re getting exactly what you want without having to make a bargain or a deal with anybody.”

“I will not reject an alliance if it is offered,” Loki told him simply, “and I will endeavour to gain Midgard and yourself greater connections with the other realms, but I know when I am wanted and when I am not.” He shrugged. “I also prefer to work alone,” his mouth twitched upwards, “you are a delightful exception.”

Can I marry your brain? Tony thought, barely keeping himself from blurting it out loud.

“But if you don’t care about alliances,” Tony murmured, “why are you worried?”

Loki tapped his long fingers against his leg in an almost stalling gesture. Eventually though, he admitted, “The Aesir may be foolish but most of these ambassadors are not.”


“They will not take long to realise the invitations were of my doing.”

Tony narrowed his eyes. “And you think they’ll say something?”

“No,” Loki smiled tightly. “I think they might leave.”

The engineer couldn’t keep the incredulity of his face. “What? Why?

“Wounded pride influences the decisions of many warriors, Anthony,” Loki explained. “It would not be the first time an important, political alliance was destroyed because someone felt their honour to be besmirched.”

Tony narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “Someone like Thor, maybe?”

“Yes,” Loki agreed, “him and other Aesir. The Vanir are also inclined to such behaviour, as are those from Niðavellir, but the elves of Alfheim are more likely to show restraint.” He let out a sigh and brought his fingers to pinch the bridge of his nose. “It is a delicate situation, Anthony, and it is my hope that the terror inspired by the Mad Titan will hold even an Aesir’s furious tongue.”

Shit,” Tony hissed.

“Yes, Anthony,” Loki remarked wryly, “it is why I would like to leave soon, to better observe the temper of those present.”

He finished those words by lightly encouraging Tony to let his wrist go. The engineer hesitated, but complied in the end. Loki simply stood, the cheese that had been in his hand being placed back on the table. “I will bathe and change. Eat what you wish and I will join you again shortly.”

Tony nodded, but suddenly didn’t have much of an appetite.

So much for; ‘it’ll be easy once they arrive’, he thought as Loki turned and walked towards the bathrooms. Tony just leant back against the settee and closed his eyes, trying to summon up calm and strength for what was to come.

He just hoped it wasn’t as bad as Loki was imagining.

Loki didn’t spend as long as Tony had in the baths, and by the time he returned - wearing almost identical clothes and colours to the engineer - the brunet had managed to at least eat something.

The moment he saw the mage, Tony stood up and pulled on his jacket; Loki’s spine was stiff while his eyes were determined and sharp. There wasn’t a hint of uncertainty or concern; it was all locked up behind a mask of poise and confidence. Tony just came to stand by the other man’s side, gaining a brief smile before they left Loki’s chambers to head towards the palace entrance.

They didn’t speak much as they walked, but Tony did shift himself close to Loki, their arms and hands brushing with every step they took. The engineer couldn’t feel the almost familiar weight of Heimdall’s eye and wondered if that was Loki’s spell working or that the gatekeeper was distracted by the sudden guests.

He didn’t know, and didn’t want to bring it up when the mage beside him already looked incredibly tense. Normally, the engineer would try to say something to break the quiet and the nervous air, but there was something in Loki’s motions; the powerful strides and concentrated scowl that made Tony think he needed this.

He needed the time to prepare himself, to run through his many plans as well as all the ways to twist the situation in his favour. So Tony didn’t say a word, he settled instead for offering silent support by snagging Loki’s hand and linking their fingers.

The trickster startled slightly, but Tony just smiled at him and Loki’s mouth briefly twitched back at him before he was looking away. But Tony wasn’t bothered by it. They had a ruse to present, after all, and Tony needed to make sure Loki knew that he wasn’t in this alone.

When they came close to the palace entrance, they began to hear uncertain and confused murmuring. Tony hastily plastered on a confused expression, and he saw Loki presenting a look of intrigue.

Stepping fully out of the corridor, Tony got his first glimpse of the dignitaries that Loki had invited. It was an... interesting bunch.

There were a group of fair-skinned, very tall men and women. They were elegantly dressed, but in long gown and ceremonial robes. They were all wearing some kind of armour. Well, okay, no, that wasn’t true. There was a lady in a black dress and what looked like the arm and face of a skeleton. But when Tony looked more closely, that side of her body just look really, really pale. She was smiling at him in a way that made him want to shiver. Her eyes were like looking into the void.

Tony hurriedly focused on some of the other guests. There was a large group of people actually shorter than him. Loki has said there was a dwarf realm, right? There was also a group who resembled Hogun in both looks and dress.

Honestly, Tony wasn’t sure who anyone was; he was a little out of his depth and probably should have brushed up on his Norse Mythology the moment Thor dropped down on the Quinjet to steal Loki all those years ago.

Mind you, Loki had called bullshit on half of the myths, so, it might not have helped him that much.

Resisting the urge to scratch the back of his head nervously - especially when the thirty odd people began to become aware of Loki and sent him a mixture of dirty, curious and suspicious looks - Tony decided to tackle the big question first. “Is there a half-skeleton lady here or is that just me?”

“That is Hel,” Loki told him. “Ruler of Helheim, and of those who die an ignoble death. And no, Anthony,” Loki remarked wearily, making Tony look at him oddly for the unexpected tone, “unlike many of your myths claim, she is not my child.”

Tony blinked rapidly. “Um. Didn’t know she was meant to be?” And that suddenly begged the question. “Wait, do you have children?”

Loki smiled wryly and shook his head. “No, Anthony, I do not.”

“Okay,” Tony nodded. “Good to know.”

They fell quiet after that; the large doors to the entrance hall rumbling loudly as they were pulled open. It was all rather grandiose, and reminded Tony of mausoleum doors in old horror films; overly dramatic and unintentionally amusing.

He didn't seem to be the only one unimpressed by it either; most of the ambassadors just looked impatient and the moment there was a clear path the dignitaries were making their way inside without hesitation. Loki however, tugged Tony gently back by the hand when the engineer went to take a step forward.

The mage waited until they were the last people left before proceeding to step inside.

Tony had to wonder if a part of that wasn’t so that they could beat a hasty retreat if things went wrong, but he hoped that between them, that wouldn’t need to be the case.

Odin was seated on his throne with a collection of Aesir standing at the foot. He was shooting them a very dark scowl that Tony had to resist smiling brightly at.

“His royal council,” Loki murmured in the engineer’s ear. “An emergency meeting was likely called once Heimdall started allowing each of the ambassadors’ passage into Asgard.”

The mage had barely finished his whisper before he was straightening and calling, his voice carrying through the hall and making the ambassadors fall quiet and turn to look at him, “I am impressed, Odin Allfather. You have taken the warning of the Mad Titan so seriously as to involve all of Asgard's allies." He nodded respectfully at the dignitaries. "It is gratifying to see that, when it comes to the safety of the Nine Realms, you would allow open discussion as to how we should all proceed.”

Loki glanced at Tony then, his expression deliberately soft and affectionate before he looked back at the King. “I am grateful that you would also include Midgard in these talks. The world is young but filled with fine warriors; Anthony has even fought valiantly beside Prince Thor himself.”

An almost painful squeeze to Tony’s hand had the engineer quickly speaking, “It is truly an honour to be included, Odin Allfather.” Tony bowed his head in respect. “My planet has much to learn from realms far older and wiser than our own and we will do all we can to help protect against the threat of the Mad Titan.”

Odin was trying very hard not to show how much he was seething, but he was gripping his staff painfully tight and he looked like he was grinding his teeth. Loki just smiled in the face of it and Tony made his expression matched the mage.

“I am indeed pleased to see you have mended the rift between Loki and yourself, Odin Allfather,” the skeletal woman, Hel, spoke, her voice making Tony fight down a shiver. She had a small, barely perceptible smile tilting up the lips on the more human side of her face. “I will be pleased to speak with Asgard, Loki and the ambassador of Midgard about the defence of our realms.”

Tony raised his eyebrows a little and glanced at Loki. You’ve got a friend there, he wanted to say, but Loki’s eyes were already filled with surprised pleasure at her words. She had also ignited low chatter between the ambassadors who were glancing between Odin and Loki as if trying to decide just what and who they wanted to believe. Some of them were even sending Tony curious glances, like they were trying to puzzle him out. Loki just kept staring at the king, simply waiting to see what he’d do.

It wasn’t as if Odin had much of a choice.

“Asgard thanks you for receiving our summons and responding to the threat that faces us all,” he answered smoothly, any anger at their duplicity carefully hidden. He did give a particular nod to Hel after her earlier words. “Today shall be spent in reflection and discussion until we will meet in these halls tomorrow at midday. The fate of the realms will be decided in the alliances we form and actions we take.” He struck his staff to the ground. “Asgard welcomes you throughout your time on our realm.”

He nodded his head in respect to the ambassadors and they did the same and gave him soft applause in response to his speech. The moment he rose to walk down from his throne, Loki was all but yanking Tony into the crowd and snagging the first Alfheim dignitary he could reach by pulling them into a conversation that involved quickly introducing Anthony.

It was a seamless way to get them out of Odin’s warpath while furthering Loki’s goals to keep all of the ambassadors on the planet and to forge as many alliances and friendships as he possible could for.... everybody but himself.

But standing by the mage’s side and smiling his best CEO smile, Tony had every intention of working just hard at winning Loki as many connections as he could.

Because one way or another when the bifrost dropped him and Loki back down in New York in a few days, Tony intended to have as many people as possible on their side, ready to protect Earth and ready to accept Loki as a badass ally in his own right.

After all, Tony wasn’t going to be around forever, and Loki needed to have more than just Tony standing by the trickster’s side.

Chapter Text

Loki, despite his many centuries on Asgard and travelling the other realms, had never truly had a companion that he could feel proud of, not until Anthony Stark.

Watching the mortal charm the ambassadors with ease was everything that Loki could have wanted. They complemented each other brilliantly; working separately but never once ceasing to work together. They traded affectionate gestures like a game, brushing their fingers over each other’s arms, pressing their lips to the other’s temple or cheek when they had to part, watching as the dignitaries took it in stride, watching as the dignitaries seemed to warm to Loki more because of it.

And that had been something Loki never would have expected. Oh, he knew Anthony was trying to make a point of winning the ambassadors to the trickster’s side, but it wasn’t only that, Hel had remarked on it quietly to him, saying - when Anthony was otherwise engaged - that the mortal looked good beside him, that Anthony softened his otherwise sharp edges.

Loki had laughingly brushed it aside at the time, but the thought had lingered.

When they had eventually retired for the afternoon, retreating back to the mage’s chambers for a quick meal, Loki had been unable to turn his mind from the unexpected boon Anthony’s presence provided him. He hadn’t been able to stop himself from praising the other for it as well, and while Anthony had been smug and preening, he was also noticeably relieved that things had gone well.

They spent the rest of their meal discussing the various people they’d spoken to and what tactics they would employ tomorrow. Loki had been in the process of explaining the diplomatic history of the realms when a servant had interrupted them.

The servant had passed on a letter from Fandral that requested their presence at one of the larger stables on Asgard. Loki had debated going, not wanting his good mood to plummet when faced with the swordsman’s presence, but Anthony had been keen to watch Fandral try and fail to tame the rhino.

In the end, Anthony’s cajoling had been enough to make the mage agree.

They walked the fifteen minutes from Loki’s chambers to the stables, using the opportunity to be seen out and about and to gauge the populace's attitude towards them. Loki took the time to point out the different alcoves he’d concealed himself in during his youth when he’d needed to hide from the consequences of a prank or miscast spell. Anthony’s laughter and smiles during the stories had been a joy. It was all too easy to ignore the glares and murmurs of the passing Aesir’s.

When they reached the stables, the smell of hay, leather, horse and saddle soap made Loki slow to a stop, just breathing it in and letting a thousand memories assail him. He felt a brief sharp pang as he remembered his own stallion, Halvor, and wondered what had happened to him. There had been little need for Loki to visit the royal stables during his time masquerading as Odin as the Allfather had rarely ridden in the last few decades. Odin had been known to visit Sleipnir, but wary of the eyes of others, Loki had only ever groomed and given attention to the King’s horse.

Loki didn’t even know if Halvor still resided there or if he had he been sold off or given away.

Loki didn’t expect the lack of knowledge of his steed to pain him as much as it did, nor did he anticipate the guilt of never having checked on his horse before his ruse had been discovered.
Perhaps he could try and see Halvor before he left Asgard this time...

“Loki?” Anthony asked, dragging the mage from his thoughts.

He looked over at the other man to find Anthony eyeing him with concern. Loki smiled but didn’t explain his sudden, pensive silence; he just pressed his hand to Anthony’s back and guided him into the stables.

They found Fandral quickly enough as he was crouching down beside an open stall. He was smiling with a soft expression at the rhino that was sleeping inside, his hand lightly petting the beast.

The swordsman heard their approach and he glanced over before standing with an excited grin. He came over and clasped Anthony’s arm in greeting before turning to the mage. Loki had instantly tensed and it made Fandral hesitate, his arm hovering in the air before eventually dropping back to his side.

The swordsman continued to smile, even if it was slightly tighter than before. “Loki, Anthony, I am grateful for your assistance.”

Loki just gave a small nod, accepting the words before he was moving over to the sleeping mammal, his magic rushing over it to be certain it was still in good health. It was, thankfully, and that allowed Loki to observe the creature’s surroundings. Fandral had brought the rhino to stables where the swordsman’s own horse resided, well aware of the impracticality of keeping the rhino at the royal stables where he would need permission to visit and train the beast.

The stall the rhino was in was of good size but hardly strong enough to contain him. That would need to be fixed first.

“He will destroy this stall in moments,” Loki told the Aesir. “Another home will need to be sought for him.” He glanced at Fandral. “Or do you plan to restrain him until he can be trained?”

“I have requested that leather be made for him,” Fandral answered, coming to stand beside Loki. “But I had hoped to seek your council on the best method to tame him before the items are fitted.”

Loki smirked slightly before making a gesture with his hand so that he could hover the rhino in the air. “The stockade should hold him for a time,” he glanced over at the swordsman, “and he will need to be introduced to you.”

Fandral grimaced slightly even as Loki started walking out of the stall with the rhino floating close behind. “The stockade, Loki?”

“Many a great beast has been trained there,” Loki replied, barely containing his wry amusement at the swordsman’s unease.

Fandral’s discomfort only seemed to deepen at the mage’s response. “Many an Aesir has been broken there,” he muttered under his breath and Loki saw him eyeing the rhino’s horn with worry.

Anthony was watching the proceedings with uncertain eyes. “When you say stockade, do you mean a corral?”

"It is a pen for livestock," Loki clarified, not familiar with the word.

"Yeah, that's what I thought," Anthony said, glancing between the Fandral and the rhino, likely remembering his own, brief encounter with the creature. "You know how to take a hit, right?"

Fandral gave an almost weary smile as they stepped out of the building. “One does not train with Thor without becoming accustomed to the occasional injury.”

Anthony just hummed absently, the expression on his face looking more than a little dubious. Taking some pity on the swordsman, Loki offered a glimmer of advice, “The creature is not known for its keen sight; I would use that to my advantage, Fandral.”

“Thank you, Loki,” Fandral replied humbly.

Loki didn’t bother to respond, not when they were almost at the stockade. The pens were built close to the stables as captured war beasts or recent, unruly purchases often needed to be trialled and broken in before they could be moved to more hospitable locations. It had been made with strong Asgardian timber with wide enough gaps for an Aesir to dart in and out of the stockade with ease, should they need to avoid or calm an angry beast. Loki also planned to weave an additional spell for further protection so that he and Anthony could watch the events without fear of the rhino breaking through the wall.

The gate was already open, allowing Loki to guide the rhino inside and place it on the ground. He looked around the area before conjuring a small trough filled with water as well as some of the stores from the stables that he thought the rhino might be more inclined to eat. When he was finished, he stepped back out and closed the gate after him.

He looked at the swordsman as he questioned, "Are you ready for me to wake it?"

"Garðr," Fandral corrected firmly. “His name, he will be Garðr."

Loki raised his eyebrows with faint disbelief. “You would name the Allfather's prize?"

"I have petitioned to train and wield the Rhinocerotidae in battle." Fandral grinned proudly. "The Allfather has granted my request and allowed me possession of him."

“Re-gifting our gift?” Anthony clicked his tongue unhappily. “Rude.”

Loki just chuckled at the other’s remark. “Be grateful, Anthony; at least with Fandral he we will be well looked after and highly prized. The Allfather would likely forget he existed.” Anthony made another unimpressed noise but Loki pretended not to hear it. He focused instead on the blond swordsman, making a sweeping gesture towards the stockade with his arm. “Shall we, Fandral?”

Fandral nodded and moved to grab some of the rope and gear hanging up beside the stockade. Loki took the time to flick his fingers and end the spell that had placed the creature in slumber. It didn’t take long for the rhino to begin to stir but during that time Anthony came to stand beside him.

“Not that I mind either way,” Anthony murmured, the slight tension in his voice belying his flippant words, “but Fandral’s not going to get himself killed, is he?”

“I shouldn’t think so,” Loki answered while watching as the rhino shifted and pulled itself to its feet. He looked at the other man from the corner of his eye, sending Anthony a small smirk. “I will be sure to send the creature to sleep before too much blood is shed.”

The rhino, however, for all that it was confused and exploring the area did not have the same hostility that it had displayed during the battle. Loki had to wonder if the disconnection from the woman who had enhanced it might have weakened any additional behavioural tampering. The fact that the rhino had only seemed to have enhancement to its hide also made it far less likely to notice and grow panicked by the changes to its physiology.

The animal made its way over to the water first, drinking happily enough before moving to sniff and examine the offering of food. It nibbled at the grass and Loki felt his mouth curve into a small, relieved smile at seeing the rhino beginning to replenish what was lost in the battle and subsequent sleep.

“I thought you said it had bad eyesight?” Anthony questioned. “It walked directly over to the food and water like it knew it was there.” He looked over at Loki thoughtfully. “Think that was enhanced too?”

“Possibly,” Loki murmured, thinking furiously. “If that is the case, it will be difficult to tell exactly what they are able to do without waking them and testing the range of their abilities.”

“I’m guessing Brucie scanned their brains and did a rough comparison to see the basics, but how the hell could we really tell if she messed with anything else?” Anthony ran hands across his face suddenly, groaning under his breath. “Shit.”

Reaching out, Loki placed a calming hand on Anthony’s shoulder. “They will be out of our hands soon and they will be well taken care of where they are going.”

“Yeah, but what about the next ones she unleashes?” Anthony demanded, glaring at him with frustration. “What about the next animal that she manipulates and fucks up without giving a damn about the consequences?”

Loki moved his hand before he could think, sliding it up to rest at that back of Anthony’s neck. He squeezed lightly, massaging tense muscle and trying to comfort and sooth. “We will find and stop her, Anthony. We will make sure the creatures she attacks are protected and looked after in the aftermath.”

Anthony still didn’t seem happy, letting out a frustrated breath, but he did lean back into Loki’s touch. The mage continued the motions of his hand, watching as Anthony’s eyes fluttered slightly closed at the feeling. Watching him like that, Loki felt his smile become softer, he found himself wishing to do anything to sooth the aggravation and worry from the other man’s brow.

He found himself moving, wanting to minimise even the short distance between them - but he stopped, his hand freezing at the sound of Fandral clearing his throat. Loki kept his hand where it was even as he looked over at the swordsman.

The blond looked as if he was fighting between the discomfort of witnessing their intimate touch and the amusement of catching Loki off guard. In the end, he seemed to turn towards the latter, as he told them, “I hope you will not be so distracted while I am in the pen with Garðr, Loki.”

Loki smiled sharply. “Do you not trust me, Fandral?”

Shaking his head, Fandral answered with a sigh and ironic smile. “Despite the many experiences warning me against it, somehow, I always do.”

The response surprised Loki and he couldn’t quite keep it from his face. He’d known Fandral for centuries and knew how terribly a liar he was despite Loki’s numerous attempts to help him. Fandral’s face simply gave him away; he was too artless and open. It made those words... difficult to hear and accept.

The swordsman didn’t look at him after speaking; however, he just bent and stepped between the wooden rails of the fencing. The swordsman then started making his way slow and careful around the edge of the stockade, hoping to let the rhino see him before he approached.

“You alright, Loki?” Anthony asked him quietly, no doubt having seen his reaction.

“Fine,” Loki told him instantly. Seeing the smaller man raises his eyebrows doubtfully, Loki licked his lips and amended, “Fandral continues to behave in ways I do not expected.”

“Like a friend?” Anthony suggested, making Loki shoot him a sharp, warning look, not wanting to rehash the same conversation from the previous night. Anthony just gave a light-hearted smile and shrugged in the face of the mage’s glare. He also looked away and changed the subject. “We’re missing the show.”

The production in question, when Loki glanced towards the swordsman, showed the rhino shifting uncomfortably and watching him. It was done from a distance that shouldn't be possible from its breed, only furthering the theory that more than just its hide had been enhanced. Fandral was being slow, taking care and was offering a hand holding grass towards the creature. The rhino seemed remarkably calm, making it unlikely it would be attacking Fandral anytime soon. It was almost disappointing.

“So, if we finish this in the next hour or so,” Anthony suddenly remarked, flicking Loki a smile. “Does that mean we have the rest of the afternoon off?”

Loki raised his eyebrows. “Did you have something in mind?”

Anthony’s eyes were bright with glee. “You mentioned a royal library, right?”

The mage couldn’t help the way he laughed and without thinking, he let his thumb lightly stroke over Anthony’s neck. “We will see, Anthony. A mortal in the royal library would be quite a scandal, after all.”

Anthony though, the bright, brilliant man, instantly caught on, his eyes flaring with mischief. “Only if they discover me.”

A smirk curled at Loki's mouth, "Well, yes."

"Then we better not be discovered." Anthony shifted, their sides almost pressing together as he continued, "Good thing I know the guy who can sneak around this planet with his eyes closed, huh?"

He winked at Loki and the trickster could only laugh softly, thrilled beyond measure to have the engineer by his side. He knew it was reckless to be pushing so soon against Odin's temper; but Loki had been sneaking in and out of the library since he was a child. It would be simple to get them in and out without anyone the wiser. And how could he refuse Anthony something as desired as information? How could he refuse when Anthony was asking him to show his skill at mischief?

"You are a terrible influence," Loki told him.

Anthony just grinned bright and proud. "Bad influence on the God of Mischief? Damn, I’m going to need to get that framed.”

Loki laughed again, he couldn’t help it, he also tugged Anthony even closer, pressing their sides together as his hand moved and he draped his arm over the shorter man’s shoulders. It was easy, comfortable and Loki enjoyed the softness of the moment; the camaraderie that he’d never truly experienced before.

It had him holding the other man tight as they both watched Fandral take slow steps towards the rhino. Loki also took the time to plan an afternoon that would involve sneaking Anthony into the royal library and finding all the engineering texts that he’d promised the brunet earlier.

It would be a nice, brief break from the stress and diplomacy that would come both at dinner when they met with the ambassadors once more, and tomorrow, when the true negotiations begun. Loki had a feeling they would need that light-hearted enjoyment.

They stayed with Fandral for only an hour or so but found him more than capable of charming the rather docile animal. Loki had made sure to give Fandral all the information he had on the creature before they left and Fandral had thanked him profusely. The swordsman planned to spend most of the next few days with Garðr, getting to know the beast.

With nothing else to keep them, Loki had quickly enacted his plan, and sneaking Anthony into the library turned out to be every bit as easy and entertaining as Loki had anticipated. The library was large and rarely used. It was full of vaulted ceilings and elegant stone pillars of black and gold that marked the hallways that led one further into the maze of floor to ceiling shelves that made up the library. The shelves held hundreds of thousands of books and scrolls that were crammed together and held information on any possible subject.

The room also had strong wooden tables and various trophies from conquests littering the few spaces of open floor. They were elegant items of gold and beauty, giving the room a further sparkle and show of wealth. Anthony ran his hands over a large planet crafted from metal and sitting in a stand in the middle of the room. The planet no longer existed as the world had been pilfered by Asgard long before Loki had been born. The item had been taken when the planet’s own library had been ransacked. Seeing the joy on Anthony’s face, Loki decided not to tell him of that story.

He explained instead that with his simple cloaking of their features and a long-familiar diversion of Heimdall’s eye no one was the wiser about their presence and, assured of their secrecy, Anthony had rushed over to the nearest shelf and skimmed the titles, quickly dragging Loki over to ask him questions.

Anthony was so excited, so enthusiastic about everything with wide-eyes, a bright smile as he almost bounced around the room pulling text and text out of the shelves and thrusting them into Loki’s arms so that the mage could help him carry everything over to a table.

The engineer was talking a mile a minute; almost tripping over his words he was so eager. He mourned being unable to sit here for days to just read everything and had instead compromised by taking out his phone, using the camera to scan the text of the books.

It made Loki fight down his own smile, simply watching as Anthony looked ready to hug the books to his chest and then hug Loki for good measure. He was bubbling with happiness and speaking almost constantly, his pleasure impossible to contain.

It made Loki think of himself as a child, feeling so happy and just as excited in the library, but never allowing himself to act so openly about his delight. It made Loki want to bring Anthony here again. It made Loki be willing to return to Asgard after everything with Thanos was complete, if only so that he could let Anthony spend a few days walking around the halls with wide-eyed wonder.

And while it was probably treasonous to be giving a mortal access to such dangerous and powerful information, it didn’t stop Loki. Instead, he helped carry the books for Anthony; he searched out others that he thought the mortal might enjoy. He watched as the engineer exclaimed excitedly over them and shook his head a little when Anthony soon created a pile for Loki to use his own phone camera to make copies of.

The process was slow going, unfortunately, but by the time dinner was approaching, they had more than enough data to keep Anthony occupied until they could next spend time on Asgard. Anthony still eyed the library with longing as he was pulled away by the mage. Loki did hope that they would have a few more afternoons for Anthony to explore the rooms and steal more information - but for now, they had to get ready to meet and charm the ambassadors once more.

When they were back in Loki’s chambers and changing into more formal wear, Anthony suddenly cursed, making Loki look over at him.

They had been changing on opposite sides of the bed, their backs to one another. When he glanced over he found Anthony was almost completely dressed and was grimacing at his phone.

“Hey, how long do we have before we have to leave?” he questioned, glancing over at Loki.

“Perhaps a half hour,” Loki answered. “Why?”

Anthony sighed but pressed a few buttons on his phone before pressing it to his ear. “Rhodey hasn’t heard from us all day and is afraid we’ve died.” Loki’s mouth curled into a small smirk, but before he could say anything Anthony was wincing and holding the phone a little away from his ear. “Okay, no need to shout. I said we’d be fine.” A pause. “Yes, we are both fine. Loki’s right here.” Anthony’s eyes danced as he looked at Loki. “He’s just putting his clothes back on.”

Loki rolled his eyes and shook his head, but still went back to dressing, keeping half an ear on the side of the conversation that he could hear.

“No, seriously, we’re both fine. We’ve got dinner with the realms tonight so this is going to have to be quick chat.” Another pause. “Loki thought it would be rude if we were the only ones invited to the party.” A loud sigh and a long silence. “Guys, do you really think we’d be that dumb? Come on, Odin can’t kill us for something he has no proof we did.”

Well... Loki thought but didn’t bother to correct Anthony and worry his friends. After all, Odin had always chosen his battles wisely; it was why he had amassed so much power and held onto it for so long.

“Seriously, Bruce, it’s better in the long run. I’ve already met a handful of the ambassadors and things are going well. Besides,” Anthony’s eyes flicked to Loki’s, a hint of the seriousness - the reason that they were here - in his eyes, “we’re going to need all the help we can get when we fight Thanos.”

Anthony broke their eye-contact a moment later, frowning as he listened to what was being said. Loki was grateful for it. The last thing he wanted to remember was his time in the Mad Titan’s realm; but the memories lingered closer to his mind now more than ever and he had to push them back forcefully. It would not do well to dwell on the pain and terror that soaked every aspect of his time with Thanos. He was free from him, and Loki had every intention of remaining so; of seeing the titan destroyed.

“I told you,” Anthony’s slightly exasperated voice pulled Loki away from his thoughts; “we’re fine. We had some breakfast, watched Loki’s quasi-friend train his new rhino and I looked over some plasma gun schematics...” he trailed off before suddenly laughing. “Well, I wasn’t planning to mount the guns on the suit, but now I kind of like it. I’m sure I could find a way to convert it down to shoulder-pad size.” He looked over at Loki. “What do you say, Lokes? Should be easy to do right?”

“Certainly,” Loki answered with an amused smirk. “If you wish the recoil from firing the item to break you in two.”

Anthony sent him a withering look, but was kept from replying by whatever was said on the other line. “Guys, seriously, stop fretting. We’ve got this, and we’ve got Loki’s super fabulous brofriend-bracelets to get us out if we really need to. You’re still wearing yours, yeah, Rhodey?” Another pause. “See! So we’ve totally got this. Now, come on, stop wringing your hands and tell me what’s been happening Earth-side?”

Knowing that whatever was said from that point would be relayed to him, Loki concentrated on pulling on the last of his clothes and moving over to the mirror to straighten and folds or creases in the leather. There was very little imperfection to be found and when he was finished, Loki looked at himself in the mirror.

The outfit was beautifully done - but he would expect no less from Hertha - yet Loki found his eyes drifting from his reflection to look over at Anthony. He was still on the phone, his brow furrowed in concentration over what was being said. Loki wasn’t paying attention to Anthony's replies, instead he let his eyes travel over Anthony, enjoying the sight of him in Asgardian attire. Then he noticed his companion's bare feet and could help but grin.

He is so effortlessly handsome.

The thought made Loki swallow slightly and dart his eyes away. His expression was slightly pinched when he looked in the mirror, but it was more an irritation with himself.

It was... difficult being in Asgard with Anthony. He was striking on his own world, in his own clothes, but he was incredibly attractive in fine leathers and wearing Loki’s colours. It was a miracle that Loki had not dreamt about him last night.

It made Loki uncomfortable at the idea that it was only a matter of time.

He knew Anthony wouldn’t condemn him, that he would only shrug it off and make some ridiculous joke that would break the tension and flood Loki with relief. But it still frustrated Loki that he was so continually drawn to the other man.

Their ruse necessitated holding Anthony’s hand, brushing a kiss against his cheek, wrapping an arm around his waist; they were all such loving gestures. Anthony also bestowed them readily and easily and it made Loki... wonder.

Loki knew that Anthony’s past relationships had been with women, but maybe Anthony was more open to men than even the engineer was aware? They flowed so naturally together, perhaps Anthony had just never thought to try...

But Loki stopped those thoughts in their tracks. It was nothing but his physical attraction to the man talking; trying to discover if an overture would be welcome. It was an overture that Loki would not be offering. His friendship with Anthony was precious, their ease with the ruse was important and Loki would not throw either away just because Anthony was handsome.

But he is not just handsome... his mind whispered and Loki’s magic twitched with the near-constant desire to get closer to Anthony; to wrap around the mortal and keep him protected, close, Loki’s.

It was something that the mage was trying desperately to squash and ignore - but it was getting harder.

He was almost grateful for the distraction, when Anthony came up beside him, his phone closed and a small frown on his face. “Hey, you okay?”

“Fine,” Loki answered instantly while smoothing out his expression. “How are things on Midgard?”

“Slow and steady,” Anthony told him with a small shrug. “Not much to report. They were more concerned about us.”

Loki smiled slightly. “And as you have advised, we are fine.”

Anthony hummed absently, making his way towards the bed to sit down and put on his shoes. “You know most people say ‘fine’ when they mean ‘not fine’, right?”

“Are you implying we aren’t?”

“I’m implying that you seem tense,” Anthony told him, sending Loki a pointed look.

Loki made a point of relaxing himself, willing the tension out of his back. He didn’t want to admit the true path his thoughts had taken, so he selected a half-truth. “Your talk of the Mad Titan brought him to mind. It is nothing to focus on, Anthony. I’d prefer not to linger in my memories, but they will always be close at hand while we discuss alliances against him.”

Anthony winced with sympathy. “Ah, gotcha. Anything I can do to help distract you before we head to dinner?”

Loki blinked, his eyes having fallen to watch Anthony bend down and pull on his boots. He glanced away, stepping back from the mirror and averting his eyes.

“Tell me of Banner and Rhodes,” Loki selected. “Tell me what they relayed to you.”

He could hear the smile in the other man’s voice as he drew out the ‘Well’ that started his recounting. Loki just let the words wash over him as he absently walked around the room in something that was almost a mindless pace if not for the sharpness of his movements.

Loki just needed to do something with the nervous tension that was lingering inside of him. He needed a way to unwind before they walked out of his chambers to see the ambassadors and continue a ruse that was beginning to scratch uncomfortably underneath his skin.

Chapter Text

The nervous tension continued to linger under Loki’s skin over the following days. The mage tried to dismiss it as worry about Odin and the ambassadors, but it became quickly apparent that things were working in their favour.

Odin was furious, of course, and he made a point of cornering Loki during dinner to express it.

When Loki and Anthony had arrived for the evening meal their once empty table was filled with visiting dignitaries eager to converse, learn about Midgard and be charmed by Anthony and Loki’s partnership.

It was during the more social portion of the night that Odin conspired to get Loki alone. The mage had allowed it and while it was still a harsh, barbed conversation, there was nothing Odin could do about Loki's machinations without losing face, and in the end, Odin had known he was cornered and had grudgingly been forced to back down.

It was almost easy from there to spend their days focusing their attentions on the alliances they were building.

Hel was firmly and openly supporting them and seemed faintly amused by the whole thing. She had been involved in a conversation with Anthony as he quizzed her about her realm. His astute questions about her role in the universe had led Anthony to cautiously ask with a furrowed brow, "If you're the ruler of the dead, wouldn't you be kind of... happy about more subjects showing up?"

It had made Hel smile slightly and reveal that her interest in the protection of the realms was merely about balance; the dead needed the living. If Thanos succeeded in his goals of death and destruction, it would rip into the natural cycle of life and the universe. She had further explained this with illusions and depictions of the world tree, gaining an interested audience of not just Anthony, although Hel did keep her attention on the fascinated mortal. Loki just tried not to smile at Anthony's uncontainable enthusiasm and desire for knowledge.

Loki continued to lay his charm on the other ambassadors but they were taking time to warm to him. Anthony however, for the most part, seemed to be a focus of interest everywhere he turned. Anthony was a shrewd and skilled negotiator but he was also ridiculously charming and likeable. The dignitaries found him delightful.

It didn’t mean Anthony’s personality would win over everyone, but Anthony was undeterred. The engineer also made it a personal mission to charm as many people to Loki’s side as Midgard’s. The trickster had tried on more than one occasion in the days that followed to convince Anthony it was a battle he didn’t need to join, but Loki was ignored.

Loki was glad for it in the end as working together, Loki had managed to renew some of his contacts on Alfheim and Vanaheim as well as gain new ones with some of the realms, something Loki hadn’t expected.

Loki also hadn’t anticipated the slow renewing of his friendship with Fandral. The mage was still hesitant to trust it, still expecting the other man to prove himself false, but somehow, he never did. It made Loki wonder how much he and Fandral had both been tainted by the actions and associations of others.

It didn’t mean their time on Asgard was always easy. Heimdall’s eye resting on them was a constant strain and masking them pulled on his magic, making escape to the library difficult. Sometimes, it was all Loki could do to get them in his chambers and let the stronger, century-old wards cloak them.

He would often find himself collapsing on the settee and closing his eyes. It would usually involve Anthony making his way over and flopping down dramatically on top of the mage.

They’d had many conversations lying together and soaking up the warmth and support the other provided. They spoke about everything; Anthony asked what schooling was like in Asgard. Loki enquired as to what the inventor wanted to create first when they were back at his tower. Anthony would frequently have him laughing, even when Loki thought it to be an impossible task.

Loki found himself waking up in the morning and enjoying the feel of Anthony sleeping soundly in his arms. He was going to miss it when they were back on Midgard. Loki had never been one for sharing his bed or having such intimate embraces, but somehow Anthony made it easy, enjoyable.

The trickster was just grateful that neither nightmares nor dreams about the other man had plagued him. He had woken up aroused, but only once, and thankfully before Anthony could become aware of it.

This morning, at least, he was simply warm and content; the furs were lying on top of them and he had his nose buried in Anthony’s hair and his arm around the smaller man’s waist. The mortal was sleeping soundly with occasional, small snuffles. Loki was just enjoying the knowledge that they did not have to rush out of bed today.

It was the first full day free of any negotiations. They had all needed the break and had unanimously declared it a day of rest. Loki was planning to live up to his promises and show Anthony some of the nicer parts of Asgard. He particularly wanted to take Anthony to the markets that had been running since the day they’d arrived.

Loki had been happy to relax where he was and luxuriate in the peace of the morning, but he soon felt Anthony begin to stir. The mage smiled a little, having grown familiar with the way the other man woke over the last few days.

It only took the engineer a few moments to become aware enough to know that Loki was awake as well. He shifted slightly to look over his shoulder, forcing Loki to pull back a little to accommodate him. The engineer was blinking himself awake as he looked at Loki. He smothered a yawn into his hand moments before mumbling out, “Mornin’.”

“Good morning, Anthony,” Loki told him quietly.

Anthony continued to turn in Loki’s hold until he was practically burying his face in Loki’s neck. The roughness of his beard scratched against Loki’s skin pleasantly and made the mage’s eyes briefly flutter closed. “S-time?”

The mangling of the words made Loki’s grin pull a little wider and he absently began stroking the other man’s back. “After sunrise,” he answered, “but time does not matter today as the day is ours to do what we wish.”

“Mm,” Anthony hummed against him, making Loki fight down a shiver. “I’mma spend an hour in the bath.”

Loki chuckled. “You are fond of it, aren’t you?”

“I’mma steal it,” Anthony mumbled, his voice still half-asleep as he hovered between waking up fully and going back into a doze.

“Well, try not to spend too long in there,” Loki advised him, his voice not able to mask his humour. “We only have a single day and I hoped to have us see the entirety of the market without needing to rush.”

Anthony nodded absently for a few moments before stilling, pulling back and blinking at Loki, suddenly more alert. “Market?”

Loki smirked. “If you can tear yourself away from the bath-”

He had barely finished speaking before Anthony was pushing away from him and rolling out of his hold. Loki felt a small sting of disappointment but ignored it as he sat up in bed and watched Anthony rush over to the closet where Loki had made room for the engineer’s clothing to hang.

Anthony threw the doors open before hastily pulling out an outfit while Loki watched with bemusement. When the brunet had everything hanging over his arms, he walked over to the bed but only long enough to drop his clothes on the edge.

“Fifteen minutes,” he told Loki firmly before he was hurrying over to the bathroom to take his much shortened bath.

Loki just shook his head at the other man before stretching languidly. He heard the sound of running water and took that as his cue to climb out of bed and make his way out of the bedroom. He rang the bell for breakfast before settling down with a magic book.

He was quickly lost in spellwork and theory that he barely paid attention to when breakfast arrived. It wasn’t until Anthony came and dropped down on the cushions beside him that he truly blinked back to the room.

Loki looked over at the engineer only to find him scowling and rubbing his jaw slightly. The mage frowned. “Is something the matter?”

Anthony’s frown increased. “I’d kill for a razor right now.” His fingers move to brush his goatee. “And some scissors to trim this.” He sighed and looked at Loki’s smooth jaw a little enviously. “I don't suppose, since you don’t grow facial hair, that there's anything you can conjure for me to do the job?”

Loki's mouth twitched before he held out his palm and allowed an elegant blade to form and hover above his hand. It was done in black and mottled grey; the blade was thick and large with a solid grip and a curled handle.

Loki quirked an eyebrow when Anthony just stared at it incredulously. “Will this do?”

“Are you seriously offering me a straight razor and expecting me to do anything other than accidentally slit my throat with it?” Anthony demanded. Even so, he reached out and carefully took it. His eyes were bright with fascination as he ran his finger over the spine of the blade.

“I doubt you would do more than minor damage to yourself,” Loki teased softly.

Anthony snorted. “You say that now, wait until I’m lying in a puddle of blood on the floor.” He moved to hand it back before he paused, looking between Loki and the blade before back to the mage. “But you’re good with knives,” he said casually. He reversed the blade and offered it to Loki. “Think you could shave me?”

Loki’s eyes flew wide with shock. He glanced between the blade and the Midgardian. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah," Anthony told him with an easy smile and a shrug, as if it was nothing, having Loki's knife at his throat. "I trust you."

Loki swallowed a little. “You would be alone in holding that sentiment. Let alone allowing me a naked blade at your throat."

“Guess, I just know you better,” Anthony stated with a grin before carefully wiggling the blade in the air until Loki took it.

A moment later Anthony was standing and waiting for Loki to join him. Unable to do anything else, Loki just followed after the engineer as they made their way to the bathroom.

“Want to conjure me a chair?” Anthony enquired, once they were there.

Loki, still a little bewildered by the turn of events, did as requested without comment, placing the seat near one of the basins. Anthony didn’t even hesitate to walk on over and plop down, leaning back against the wood with ease and his ever-present smile. Loki, despite still being shirtless, suddenly felt too warm as he stepped closer to the other man.

“It has been many years since I have done this,” Loki warned him.

“Oh?” Anthony questioned, his eyebrows raised. “Shaved other people have you?”

Loki shook his head. “I do not grow facial hair, but many others do. In my youth, I used shapeshifting for decades to maintain the illusion that I was one of them.” He shrugged. “I eventually decided it was not to my taste, but,” he grinned slightly and shifted the blade, drawing Anthony’s attention to it, “this was the very blade I used to maintain it.”

“Is it alright to feel special?” Anthony asked with a small smirk. “Because I kind of do right now.”

Loki shook his head even while placing the knife on the basin and turning on the water.

“Let us be certain I do not cut you before you crow too loudly,” he advised.

“Eh,” Anthony remarked, more dismissively than was probably wise, “you can always heal me if you do, but I really doubt you will.”

Loki felt his heart flutter slightly at the utter trust in the statement, but he chose not to comment, busying himself with setting everything up; the foam and brush for Anthony’s face, a towel to warm for when they were finished and an additional cloth to wipe the blade on. When he was finished, Loki collected some of the soap on the brush and moved in front of Anthony.

Anthony was already leaning back and Loki tilted his chin a little further as he spread it over Anthony’s cheek, jaw and throat. “I assume you will want your goatee to remain?”

“You assume correctly,” Anthony told him, a smile pulling at his mouth.

The design would make it slightly difficult, but not impossible as he continued covering the lower half of Anthony’s face with the foam. When it was complete, Loki put the brush aside before picking up the blade. He moved back, standing between Anthony’s legs as he tipped up the inventor’s chin and tilted it to the side. He brought the blade up, hovering it above Anthony’s cheek for only a moment before he let the blade glide across the other man’s skin.

Anthony didn’t flinch; he actually closed his eyes, relaxing completely into Loki’s touch. It made something inside Loki’s chest feel tight as he drew in his next breath. The mage did his best not to focus on it, giving his complete attention to carefully shaving the other man.

The minutes passed in silence as Loki shifted his potion and moved his fingers around Anthony’s face and jaw; wiping away excess foam and shifting him where needed to shave the other man until nothing but his goatee remained. It left Loki staring down at Anthony’s relaxed face, his hand on the other man’s jaw and their faces inches apart.

Such trust you have for me, he thought, feeling his throat tighten with emotion until he made himself move away, rinsing his hands and magically heating the towel.

When he looked back over his shoulder, Anthony had his eyes open and was running his fingers over his smooth cheek.

“Here,” Loki said, his voice coming out a little gruff as he handed over the towel. Anthony wrapped it around his lower face, his body slumping into the chair with relaxation and happiness at the feeling.

Loki busied himself with washing and drying the blade and washing away the foam that was still in the basin and on the brush.

“Thanks, Loki,” Anthony told him coming up beside him, the towel in his hands and a bright smile on his face. “Best shave I’ve ever had.” He bumped their shoulders together. “Maybe I should try and con this out of you again when we’re back on Earth?”

Loki smiled but it didn’t sit well with him; he felt strangely off-balance. He answered neutrally, if only to hurry away the subject, “We shall see.”

He was still drying his hands but he gestured towards the bedroom. “I will have a quick bath and then join you for a meal before we leave for the markets.” He sent a small burst of magic towards the edge of the bed, before adding, “I have placed the scissors you requested on the bed for the trimming of your goatee.”

Anthony nodded. “Thanks, Lokes," he said, sending him another quick grin and clapping his shoulder before making his way to the bedroom.

Loki watched him leave with a small frown. He only noticed he was balling the cloth in his hands when he felt the strain of tightly clenched knuckles.

Loki released his grip before tossing the cloth in the basin, feeling frustrated and not wanting to consider why. He just angrily flicked his magic at the bath, filling it up and pulling off his clothes. He closed his eyes as he slid into the warm heat and tried to let it sooth him.

Yet, all that was there when Loki closed his eyes was Anthony’s trusting face below him as his fingertips tingled with the memory of smooth skin underneath them.

After breakfast they made their way directly to the markets where it quickly became apparent that they weren’t the only people taking the freedom of the day to explore the stalls. They met some of the ambassadors who were quick to greet them and share a few friendly words as they walked between the sellers and their wares.

Anthony seemed incapable of walking past a stand without examining each item with great curiosity. Loki found himself spending more gold than he ever had at a market in the past. Loki couldn’t say that he minded.

“Loki!” Anthony remarked, pulling Loki from his wandering thoughts as he held up a small wooden box and opened it, revealing colourful satchels. “What do you think? Alien teas for Bruce?” He dropped his eyes to the items with a suspicious frown. “They won’t poison him or anything, right?”

“No, they shouldn’t harm him,” Loki answered with a small smile, scanning his eyes over the flavours. “And it is a good selection; many of them are favourites of mine.”

Anthony brightened. “Yeah? Awesome!”

Shaking his head, Loki just pulled more coins from his pocket and paid the stall owner before dispatching the teas to join the many other purchased items now gracing Loki’s chambers. Anthony actually looked slightly sheepish, running an almost awkward hand over the back of his neck. “I’ll pay you back when we’re on Earth.”

“There is no need, Anthony,” Loki told him while directing the engineer to keep moving through the markets. He did shift closer though, murmuring his words by Anthony’s ear so no others might hear them, “You cover any expenses for me while I reside on Midgard; it is only fair I do the same for you on Asgard.”

Anthony glanced at him with a scowl; but the expression didn’t look angry, more as if the engineer was fighting pleasure and discomfort. It made Loki think that it wasn’t often that Anthony was on the receiving end of someone’s monetary generosity. It made Loki feel a small burst of happiness and it made him fight down a smile as he a point of distracting Anthony with a nudge towards a new stall.

This one was filled with animal statues, each one made from metal and charmed to mimic the sound of the creature they represented. “Does Rhodes have a particular favourite?”

Picking up a small bird, Loki held it out for Anthony, placing it in the inventor’s palm before stroking his finger down the creature’s back. The wings instantly unfurled and it tilted up its head, chirping out its most common call. Anthony’s eyes flew wide with fascination and while he kept the bird in his hand, he quickly went around and stroked each of the hundred animals on display, wanting to know what they’d all do.

Loki tried not to wince at the cacophony of noise, but at least the stall owner seemed more amused than irritated. She spoke with Anthony at length about each of the creatures and it soon ended with the inventor buying six of the animals; a bear for Rhodes, the original bird Loki had shown him, two wolves, an adolescent bilgesnipe and a bannog that Anthony had laughed loudly upon finding.

Loki was not sure what was so amusing about a rabbit like creature with large fangs, but the answer of ‘Monty Python’ did little to explain it. Anthony had attempted to go into more depth, but halfway through his explanations the engineer noticed a booth filled with material and dashed over to it. He picked up a bright green satin fabric with sharp black designs from the table and wrapped it around Loki’s neck, tying it in a knot and promptly calling it a fabulous addition to his wardrobe as well as a gift.

Loki had laughed, knowing he looked ridiculous, but he hadn’t protested as Anthony pinched Loki’s coin satchel and passed over the coins needed to the scowling stall owner.

The trickster had soon sent the material away to be dealt with later, but planned to have Hertha make something with it regardless.

It was truly a wonderful day and Loki felt as if he was on a constant cloud but things changed when it was late afternoon and the stalls were beginning to be packed away for the day.

They had found a jewellery stand on their way back towards the palace and an item had caught Loki's eye. He had pulled Anthony close to him so that he could select a gold dragon ear-cuff with ruby eyes from the display. He then clipped it to the engineer’s ear, murmuring how the item would roar whenever Anthony was in danger.

Anthony had just smirked at him, even while Loki's fingers continued to brush his ear. “Two badass magical gifts looking out for me now? You’re spoiling me, my prince.”

The inventor had followed it up with a wink and a quick kiss to Loki's cheek. Loki had felt himself shiver while his magic simply hummed with pleasure at the words and the gesture. He’d wanted to pull the other man even closer to him so that he could kiss Anthony. He wanted nothing more in that moment than to wrap Anthony in his arms and lavish him with affection, gifts, books and-

-and suddenly, it was all too obvious.

I’m falling for him.

Loki’s froze as realisation and dread rushed through him in equal measure. He dropped his hands from the other man, his limbs feeling heavy as he swallowed thickly and just stared. Loki didn’t know how he could have been so blind, how he could have let himself ignore the depth of his interest in Anthony. Gods, what an utter fool he was. His magic should have been warning enough; a yearning to be close and protect the one who supported him, accepted him, matched him? Was it any surprise that his heart had followed his body’s attraction?

Anthony was his perfect partner.

... But, no, all they shared was friendship and a ruse and surely even Anthony could not so easily dismiss and ignore romantic inclinations as well as physical desires?

No. No, he cannot know, Loki told himself firmly. I will not wreck what we do share.

“Hey,” he felt a hand come to grasp his wrist, dragging him back from his reeling thoughts. He looked down at Anthony who was frowning with concern, his thumb lighting brushing against Loki’s wrist soothingly. “You alright?”

“Perfectly,” Loki answered, burying his discovery down deep.

He needed time and he needed a place without Anthony nearby if he wanted to find a way to proceed from this.

Mostly though, Loki just wanted to rest his face in his palm and ask himself how idiotic he could possibly have been to fall for a man who only saw him as a friend. How stupid he had allowed himself to be in ignoring his growing attraction when the man he wanted wasn't even attracted to Loki’s gender!

But perhaps I could... but no, Loki squashed that thought down firmly. The last thing he was going to do was try and find a way to tempt Anthony into laying with him or to encourage Anthony into making their ruse a reality. Loki was already lucky enough to have Anthony as not only an ally but as a treasured friend as well.

Loki might be reckless in many things and he might take chances when it came to gaining what he wanted... but they were always calculated risks, always done when the odds were stacked heavily in his favour. But when it came to reciprocated feelings and having Anthony as his lover? Loki had seen little indication he had a chance and it made a sinking feeling come to life in his chest and drag down his heart.

But perhaps if you just-, Loki cut off the thought again, gritting his teeth and trying to ignore it. He had to think, he had to consider. They were perpetrating a ruse where discovery and failure meant more than just their reputation, it meant loss of allies in a war they couldn't afford to lose.

And how could Anthony even consider him? He wasn’t just a man, he was from another species and he wasn’t even Aesir he was a... a.... Loki clenched his fists angrily, but the thought still slipped through; frost giant. Loki closed his eyes briefly, trying not to let the knowledge sting. You will deal with this later, he told himself firmly, taking in a careful breath before letting it out slowly and opening his eyes.

Anthony was back to watching him with growing concern and he squeezed Loki's wrist again. "Hey, how about we head back for the day?"

A part of Loki wanted to refuse, to avoid more time alone with the other man, but, no. He needed time to think and he wouldn't gain it in a market with too many eyes on both of them. "Yes, I think that would be wise."

Anthony just nodded slowly, a furrow in his brow. Loki made himself turn away as he paid for the dragon cuff he'd clipped to Anthony's ear before he was leading them back towards the palace. He hoped that the walk would give him the time to regain his equilibrium. He also hoped that Anthony wouldn't press too hard for the reason behind Loki's reaction. He didn't want to lie again if the engineer asked him what was wrong.

I am falling in love with you and a relationship - a man; they are both things you do not want.

Oh yes, that was a conversation Loki would go to great lengths to avoid starting.

Trying to avoid the sudden ache in his chest and the way his skin felt hot where Anthony's hand still encircled his wrist. Loki tried to think of something other than the man beside him and the suddenly realised feelings that were coursing through him.

He didn't manage very well.

Chapter Text

Loki was acting weird and Tony was more than a little concerned.

He’d kept a careful eye on the mage and a firm hold on Loki’s wrist from the moment he'd noticed the change. Loki had been fine one moment - laughing even - before suddenly he just... panicked. There was no other word for the expression that crossed his face for that painful moment before he withdrew and just stared, blankly, into the middle distance.

Worry had slammed through Tony and he’d cautiously glanced around to see if there was a threat or if anyone else had noticed their behaviour, but nobody was any the wiser and when Tony had tried to prompt Loki for an explanation, he’d closed up and hidden everything under a wall. Tony hadn’t experienced a reaction like that from Loki in months. He knew he couldn’t ask about it again, at least not until they were in the safety of Loki’s rooms, but it still left Tony tense and concerned as they navigated their way through the streets and buildings of Asgard.

They didn’t speak much on their way back to the palace, Loki had tried to mention past mischief, but it was obvious that his heart wasn’t in it. Tony just took to stroking Loki’s wrist with his thumb in a soothing gesture, but far from having the effect he intended, it only seemed to make Loki’s tension curl tighter.

The moment that they were safely enclosed in Loki’s chambers, Tony rounded on him; stepping close and trying to catch Loki’s darting eyes. “Loki, seriously, what happened? What’s wrong?” Loki opened his mouth, another denial no doubt on his lips, but Tony interjected, “Please don’t say ‘nothing’.”

Loki pressed his lips together as his gaze fell, his attention fixed on Tony’s hand wrapped around his wrist. It was their sole point of contact, but it would take only a small move on Tony’s part to press them together. A part of Tony wanted to press them together, to wrap Loki in a hug and offer comfort and safety from whatever had spooked him.

Tony tried stroking his thumb over Loki’s wrist again, planning to offer that they cuddle on the couch again like they often did after a long, stressful day - but before he could try, Loki was tugging his arm out of Tony’s hold.

“I... I need to leave for an hour or so,” Loki told him and Tony’s worry only skyrocketed higher.

“What? Why?” Tony reached out, grabbing Loki’s arm in an attempt to keep him from teleporting or fleeing out of the room. “Loki, what the hell is going on?”

“Nothing,” Loki dismissed hurriedly, but no doubt sensing the protest Tony was about to start, he added, “Nothing to concern you. I won’t be gone long.”


Please, Anthony,” he entreated, his eyes finally finding Tony’s and holding them, his expression was pleading with Tony to accept and understand. “I just... this is something I must do.”

Tony didn’t like it in the slightest, he didn’t like that everything had changed in the blink of an eye and he didn’t know what it was or why it had happened. He also didn’t like the idea of Loki walking around on Asgard by himself. He knew that nothing should happen to them and that Loki could defend himself, but he worried.

They had the bracelets at least, and he had his suit - but Tony still didn’t like the idea of leaving Loki alone when something was so obviously on his mind.

“You know you can trust me with anything,” Tony told him softly, and it just made something pained sweep across Loki’s face. The mage also looked away, staring at the ground and looking exceedingly torn. “You know I would never betray you,” Tony insisted. “Even if I wanted to, our contract wouldn’t let me.”

“Yes, yes I know,” Loki murmured and it hurt that Tony could hear doubt in Loki’s tone; there was a part of Loki that didn’t believe it. But before the engineer could protest, Loki was continuing, his tone just as soft, “Forgive me, but I must tend to something.”

“Loki,” Tony tried again, but the mage was pulling out of his hold and turning his back to the engineer. He grasped the door handle even as Tony tried once more time, “Loki, please, what’s wrong-”

“I’ll be back within two hours,” Loki interrupted firmly. “The items we bought are in the bedroom. Please, try to stay within the safety of these walls.”

“Loki-” but Tony didn’t get to finish his protest as Loki was opening the door and disappearing out of it.

Loki shut it behind himself with finality, leaving Tony alone in the prince’s chambers. Tony could only stare at the door with confusion about what happened, concern about why Loki was upset and more than a hint of hurt at not being trusted with what was wrong. He didn’t know what was going on and why Loki had chosen, for the first time since starting their partnership, not to tell Tony what was worrying him.

What happened, Loki?

The question echoed in his mind, going completely unanswered and Tony found his hand going up to touch the earcuff that Loki has placed on his ear before everything had gone wrong. What had the earring made Loki think of? What had it inspired him to remember? And why couldn’t he explain it to Tony?

Tony didn’t know the answers and it made him ache to think of his friend choosing to suffer whatever was weighing on him alone, rather than asking Tony to help.

What did I do to make you think you couldn’t trust me?

Tony tried to ignore how deep the pain of that rejection cut. He made himself turn away from the door but instead of going for the bedroom and all the items Loki had bought for him, he just took a seat on one of the chairs in the living room and picked up a previously discarded book. He wanted to be nearby and ready for when Loki returned; Tony wanted to ask him again what was wrong and try to convince Loki to explain it.

They were friends, they were partners and they were pretending to be lovers: whatever the hell had happened, Tony was here and he was ready and wanting to help.

After an hour and a half Tony found he still couldn’t concentrate on anything. He found himself picking up numerous items and books around the room only to put them down a few minutes later. He took to messaging Bruce and Rhodey and snapping some pictures of Asgard from Loki’s balcony to send to them.

He tried to let the meaningless chatter of the messages calm him, but it was a losing battle; his mind kept drifting to where Loki was, what he was doing, if he was okay - oh and, what the hell was bothering him.

Tony had been going over his memories of their day at the market and what had happened just before Loki changed and he couldn’t figure out the trigger. He had even pulled off the dragon earcuff to examine it while wracking his brain for any bad stories Loki might have told him involving dragons - but there was nothing; no indication for what had sent Loki into an alarmed and discomforted tailspin.

The longer that Loki stayed away, the more that Tony found himself getting wound up into nervous knots. He had even started to pace the length of the room, debated actually calling Bruce to ask him for advice, but knowing how much Loki valued his privacy, Tony refrained. He’d taken to fiddling with the earcuff that he’d placed back on his ear, remembering the feel of Loki’s fingers and his soft smile for the few moments it had lasted.

It was as Tony was agitatedly beginning another circle of the room - half tempted to go out searching for Loki, despite the mage’s request that he stay in Loki’s chambers - that he heard the door open and snapped his head to watch as Loki quietly stepped inside. He noticed Tony quickly and briefly stilled before giving a soft sigh, his shoulders slumping. He shut the door gently despite knowing he was well and truly caught.

“Anthony, I did not mean to keep you waiting,” he softly apologised.

Tony scoffed and his voice came out sharper than he’d intended, “Oh, sure, not like I was worried about you or anything.” Loki winced, but the anger that had been simmering under Tony’s concern was quick to find and strike at its target now that the mage was back in front of him. “I’d ask where you were, but since you didn’t want to tell me to start with,” Tony snapped “I guess you won’t bother to tell me now-”

“I was at my mother’s gravemarker,” Loki’s voice was quiet but unwavering and it cut through Tony’s frustration and made Tony’s heart stutter and fall. Loki’s gaze was focused somewhere near Tony’s shoulder as he continued to explain, “It is not a marker such as your world would use. Her body was sent over the falls as with all others that were lost to the Dark Elves, but during my time as King, I commissioned a statue for her gardens.” His smile was small and gentle and still tinged with grief. “I would often go there to talk with her.”

Oh shit; guilt abruptly slammed into Tony and he had to swallow it down along with memories of his own mother, of the violent death that had taken her from Tony’s life, the same way an enemy had taken Frigga from Loki. Tony found himself walking forward before he could stop himself, coming to stand by Loki, but not yet touch him, remembering the unease the mage had felt at his touches earlier. “Loki, you could have just told me.”

I would have come with you, Tony thought but didn’t say, not wanting to intrude on something so incredibly personal if Loki didn’t want him there.

Loki smiled tightly at Tony’s words. “Perhaps, I should have.”

It was as close to an apology and acknowledgement as Tony knew he was going to get, but it didn’t bother him, not when Tony was walking across the heavily scarred and still raw wounds that made up Loki’s relationship with his family.

Tony knew enough about Odin and Thor to make him want to punch them both in the face, but Frigga had always been conspicuously absent from most of Loki’s more negative stories. The fact that Loki cared enough to visit her grave... it meant something, it had to.

The engineer was still tentative as he asked, “What was she like?”

Loki blinked before he gave another small, sad smile. “She was an excellent Queen and a formidable warrior. She taught me some of my first spells and was someone I could always turn to. She was...” he trailed off, swallowing thickly and letting his eyes fall closed for a brief moment. “She will always be my mother.”

It made Tony want to hug Loki in comfort. It also made him want to learn more about the woman who, despite everything, Loki seemed to genuinely love.

Yet, Tony didn’t get a chance to do either as when Loki looked back at Tony, his eyes were determined but his jaw was tight. It let Tony know there was more to come and that, whatever it was, Loki was still trying to build himself up to it. Loki carefully reached out and touched Tony’s shoulder, leading him towards one of the settees. Tony followed, keeping a careful eye on Loki; though the mage was endeavouring to mask his expressions, he still looked uncomfortable and jittery as hell.

It was only when Tony was seated and watching the still standing mage, that Loki continued, “But, as you are aware, Frigga, like Odin and Thor, was not my relative by blood.”

Loki paused, as if waiting for Tony to confirm he'd heard, so he gave a small nod, still watching Loki warily.

The engineer knew this was a subject that Loki had always shied from in the past and Tony had never pressed. Loki had been devastated by the news of his heritage, suicidal even. Right now he was almost painfully stiff; his eyes flicking from Tony to the furniture around him as if he didn’t know where to look.

“Frost Giants, Jotnar,” he swallowed. “They are the Aesir’s hated enemy, they are the monsters of every children's story, they are...” Loki trailed off, his gaze dropping to focus on his hand which he’d raised slightly. He was staring at it in lingering horror and bitter resignation. He clenched his fist and seemed to force his gaze to Tony’s. “This form is a glamour, but I did not know that until a Jotnar touched me. It is how I discovered my heritage, Anthony; their touch turned my skin back to its natural shade.” Tony’s eyes had grown wide with shock, but Loki just tilted his chin and watched the brunet with a carefully blank expression. “My skin is blue and my eyes red. The Jotnar - I - am a creature of snow and ice and I could burn you with a touch of my true skin. And you... you deserve to know this, Anthony, if you are to continue with this ruse of desiring me.”

Tony had to admit, it took him a few moments to comprehend what was being said to him, mostly because he couldn’t fully imagine how utterly fucked up someone had to be to hide a secret like that from someone you were meant to love.

Blue skin, red eyes; God, even Loki’s appearance was a lie.

No wonder he fucking shattered, Tony’s mind hissed and the eyes that had fallen to stare at his hands jerked back up to Loki.

He looked ready to fracture again.

Loki was wound so tightly Tony was sure that one wrong word would break the pieces Loki had managed to pull and glue back together. It made Tony stand on instinct, his arms coming up to wrap around Loki as he stepped in close and hugged him.

Loki froze for a long moment before he eventually slumped, wrapping Tony in his long arms and a warm embrace.

“I don’t care what the colour or temperature of your skin is, Loki,” Tony told him gently. “You’re not going to be any less ‘Loki’ to me, no matter where you were born.”

“Even if I am born a creature of winter and horror?” Loki whispered, his voice terribly vulnerable even as he only held onto Tony tighter as if afraid to have the engineer disappear.

Tony shook his head against Loki’s chest, it ended up with him doing something close to nuzzling and it made the mage shiver, but Tony ignored it to tell him, “You’re not a creature or a monster or a horror, Loki. You’re brilliant and you’re a genius and that isn’t going to change whether you show up like this or blue.”

“You do not know my appearance when I-”

“I don’t need to,” Tony told him simply. “I only need to know you.” He tilted his head so he could look up at the trickster. His green eyes were overflowing with raw terror. “Loki, there isn’t a damn thing you could say about the Jotnar that’s going to make me change my mind about you.”

“You don’t know that,” Loki denied, his voice barely louder than a whisper. His fingers tightened their grip on Tony’s shirt, nails digging slightly in to the engineer’s back. “You don’t know the things I could say about them, about...” he swallowed, “us.”

But Tony just shook his head again. “Whatever they may have done, you’re not them. You’ve got a connection, but that’s it. The Aesir were assholes to a tremendous degree and that’s their issue, it’s not a reflection on you. The same thing goes for the Jotnar.”

“Anthony, they have slaughtered-”

“Loki, you have slaughtered people.” Tony’s words made Loki flinch, but Tony just ran a soothing hand down the mage’s back. “So has Thor, so has Odin. Kind of comes with the warrior culture territory.” He smiled gently. “You’ve told me about your past, about everything that happened, and I’m still here. A person’s actions are always going to speak louder to me than stories exaggerated to scare children ever could.”

“They were not exaggerated-”

“I am ready to bet money that they were,” Tony argued even while continuing to soothingly stroke the mage’s back. “No children’s story is worth its salt unless someone can’t sleep at night.”

“That does not mean it isn’t true,” Loki answered, a hint of a bite in his words.

Tony still wouldn’t believe it, but he could see attempting to fight it would be an uphill battle, so he switched tactics. “Okay, so where are the texts on Jotnar culture, history and society? You’ve been able to show me books for every other culture in the realms, so where are theirs?”

“I-” Loki seemed momentarily thrown off guard. “They have none.” He actually looked more than a little discomforted by that. “Or perhaps... what the Aesir had of them has been destroyed during the war.”

There’s my sharp-minded, questioning mage, Tony thought triumphantly as Loki’s frown only deepened.

“History is written by the winners, Loki,” Tony told him gently. “I’m not saying the Jotnar are all roses and butterflies, but I think there’s more to be said about them than what you’ve been shown.”

“We cannot be sure of that,” Loki murmured, but despite the protest, Tony was only feeling encouraged; Loki had said we not you. It meant he was considering it.

“Well, then we’ll set out to prove it,” Tony told him firmly. “One way or another, we’ll find out what they’re like and what your real history is - and either way Loki,” Tony promised him, holding Loki’s nervous, darting eyes unflinchingly, “it’s not going to change what I think of you.”

Loki stared at him for the longest time, too many emotions going across his face for Tony to pick or name, but he stood firm in the face of them regardless; if Loki was finally trusting Tony with what had rattled him at the markets, than Tony was only going to prove that the mage had nothing to worry about.

When Loki finally spoke almost a minute later, his mouth had tipped up into a smile that was slightly wry, “Even with this, you still remain loyal to me.”

“Of course I do,” Tony told him. “This doesn’t change who you are.”

“Your friend,” Loki murmured, a new, if smaller frown forming.

Tony just wanted to wipe it away, so he quickly tried to inject some humour into the discussion. He gave a lopsided smile and told Loki, “Absolutely, and I cling like a leech. You’re stuck with me, Lokes.” He even offered--hoping that it would inspire Loki to smile more honestly or even let out a laugh, “Your little damn vegetable.” But instead of the chuckle Tony had been aiming for, Loki’s pensive frown just grew even deeper and it made Tony sober to ask seriously, “Hey, what’s wrong?”

Loki didn’t answer; he just slowly began unwinding his arms from Tony. He also gently pushed Tony backwards, forcing the engineer to unwrap his arms from around Loki's sides as well. Loki’s hands did remain resting on Tony’s shoulders as the mage seemed to study him, trailing his gaze over Tony’s body but lingering on where they still touched.

“You would continue to care for me despite knowing this,” Loki murmured, “you would continue our ruse knowing what lies under my skin.”

Loki seemed to be talking to himself more than Tony, weighing things in his mind and fighting with something Tony couldn't pinpoint; the disbelief that Tony would care for him regardless of his heritage? That Tony would be willing to help him learn about the Jotnar and to prove that Loki was less of a monster than Odin-the-ass had made him believe? That trusting Tony had actually worked out in his favour? Or all of the above?

And hell, Tony knew better than anybody how hard it could be to offer someone your heart when you were terrified that they would crush it.

“Nothing is going to make me uncomfortable around you, Loki,” Tony promised. “I’m grateful that you trusted me with this. I'm grateful you shared with me where you went.” He brought up a hand to lightly rest over Loki’s where it was still clutching at the engineer’s shoulder. “And if you want to go visit your mother’s grave again before we leave - if you want my company, I’d be honoured to visit her with you.”

Loki swallowed thickly. “You would visit her gravemarker with me?”

“Sometimes it helps to have someone with you,” Tony said gently. “You could tell me some more stories about her too, if you want.” It ached a little, but Tony still offered, “I could tell you about my mother as well.”

Loki’s eyes jerked to Tony’s and they stared at each other for a long moment; united in shared grief.

“I would like to learn of your mother,” Loki eventually told him before licking his lips, “and to tell you of my own.”

Tony found himself smiling, feeling oddly... okay about talking about Maria. It would hurt, the way it always did, but somehow, Tony thought it might hurt less when it was shared quietly with Loki; when they would have a mutual understanding and the silent comfort of similar pain. It made the moment feel soft and delicate; a soothing end to a harrowing conversation.

Tony was torn over whether to step back into a hug with Loki or to pull away entirely and change the subject. Maybe he could lead Loki to the bedroom so they could go through all the things they’d bought at the market? Maybe they could examine them and joke until Loki was laughing and unwinding beside him and they were back to their usual ease?

But before he could try, Loki’s eyes dropped from Tony's face and his expression changed into something sharply painful and achingly resigned. He gave a very sad smile that Tony didn't like in the slightest and he lightly stroked Tony’s shoulders with his thumbs before he was removing his hands completely.

“Loki?” Tony asked, feeling concern wash over him once more.

“I suppose there is something else that should be said,” Loki said quietly, “if the truth of my skin can be told to you, well, perhaps...” He suddenly let out a huff of a laugh that was bitter and short-lived. He even ran a hand over his face, looking remarkably tired. “How much I trust you,” he remarked, “yet, how little I know it will help.”

“Okay, Loki,” Tony told him when the mage had fallen into a tense silence following his words, “you’re talking in riddles and I don’t know what you-”

“You were right,” Loki interrupted abruptly. “Something occurred while we were at the markets.” Loki’s eyes flicked to Tony’s ear and the dragon cuff he still wore. “Or rather, something came to my attention.”

It wasn’t the Jotun thing?

Tony raised his eyebrows and carefully prompted when the silence stretched, “Okay?”

“I know you will not let what I share with you come between us and the alliances we seek, I trust you implicitly in this, not only as you wish to protect your planet, but because we have come too far to let things falter now.”

Loki paused if only to swallow thickly, yet his voice didn’t waver as he continued, “The ruse that we perpetrate is important and so is our comfort with one another. You accept my heritage, you accept my sexuality, you accept... everything.” Loki closed his eyes and let out a slow breath. “Your acceptance means more to me than I can admit, Anthony, and your care and trust deserve something other than avoidance, discomfort and lies. You deserve the truth.”

Loki opened his eyes again and there was an intensity to them that made Tony’s mouth go dry. There was also a faint grimace on Loki’s face as if he was already regretting the words he was saying, but he pushed on regardless, “You have been treating me as you would a lover and I have started to...” Loki gritted his teeth and looked away, “want that from you.”

Tony’s eyes widened as he suddenly realised what had happened at the markets and why Loki had panicked. Why he now looked so distraught and like he wanted to crawl out of his skin or bolt for the door.

Loki had started to develop feelings for him.

Well, shit.

Chapter Text

Loki’s confession rested heavy in the air between them and Tony knew he needed to say something, but nothing came to mind; every word felt wrong and slippery on his tongue. What the hell did he even say to something like that?

He’d never let himself think about Loki as a prospective romantic partner; they were friends, they were working together, they had a fake relationship which was part of their kind of important plan to save the world. Worlds, multiple, even.

Tony tended to turn a blind eye to his feelings on a good day and t