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It took Tony months but he finally succeeded in badgering Thor into taking him to Asgard and getting him an audience with Odin. He wasn’t allowed to take a suit, but he’d hardly expected to take a weapon into a room where a head of state was. He wore a tux, signaling the seriousness with which he was taking the meeting.

On Asgard, he was instructed in court protocol and escorted into the throne room.

Tony approached the huge gold throne and knelt as he had been instructed. It was just him, the king and four armored guards. The king could have met him in an office or something, but of course he couldn’t resist having an Avenger kneel before him. Whatever. Tony wasn’t going to lose the big prize over a petty gesture. Tony Stark did whatever he had to in pursuit of his goals. He bowed his head, then looked up at the man on the throne. Golden eyepatch, a lined weathered face with a definite resemblance to Thor’s, and a flowing white beard like every Father God humanity had ever dreamed up.

The king looked down at him. “Tony Stark. Iron Man. What do you seek in Asgard?”

“For one thing, Your Majesty, I owe you that drink I offered you. When you accepted the offer, I wasn’t in a position to follow up.”

The king went still.

“I brought a bottle of Dalmore 62. Two hundred grand a bottle, I figured nothing less would be worthy of you.”

No response.

“Thor’s been keeping us posted on Asgardian news since you - ah, since the Dark Elves.” The little slip was planned. One more signal of the several he was planting. He held the king’s gaze. “It seems your priorities have changed a lot since then. More about intelligence gathering, trade agreements, technological exchange, less with the killing everybody on all the realms until they say you’re king. I gotta say, I approve.”

“I suppose you want Asgardian scientific knowledge for Midgard.”

“I do, but that’s not why I’m here.

“During the Chitauri invasion, when I lobbed that nuke through the portal, I got a look at some of what’s out there. Fury was right, we are hilariously outgunned.” Tony paused for emphasis. “We’d never have defeated the Chitauri if Loki hadn’t sabotaged them for us.”

The king’s fingers tightened on the arms of the throne.

“What of it?”

“I figure you know more about those beings than anyone else in the Nine Realms. About what kind of threat they pose.”

The king’s eye looked cold as ice. “Escort the Man of Iron to my private council chamber.”

The guards flanking Tony turned to face him. He got up and the three of them left the gold throne room and walked through gold corridors to a small gold room with a gold table and some gold chairs. Tony sat down and put the bottle of Dalmore 62 on the table beside the goblets and flagon that were already there.

The king kept him waiting for an hour. Tony was pretty sure the suspense was much worse for the king than it was for him. He sat still, doing his best to look calm, and designed a new suit in his head.

Finally the king entered the room. Tony fleetingly considered staying seated, but the king couldn’t lose face in front of the guards, so he stood up and waited.

“Leave us.”

Once the guards were gone and it was just the two of them standing beside the table, only three feet apart, Tony opened with, “So, I was wrong.” He waited for the king’s brows to lift in inquiry before continuing, “I said there was no way for you to come out on top.” He picked up the bottle. “Shall I pour?”

The king just looked at him.

Tony opened the bottle and filled two goblets, then set the bottle down. “Don’t worry, Loki. I’m not going to out you.”

“Odin’s” hand closed on Tony’s throat. Not hard enough to hurt. Just a warning.

Tony forced himself not to struggle.

“Seriously, I’m not. That would be in no one’s interests. Thor would be an even worse king than Odin was.”

The cold fingers on Tony’s throat twitched. “You speak so of your shield-brother?”

Tony snorted. “Some shield-brother. He choked me for doing scientific research. And I didn’t have the suit. He could’ve killed me by accidentally squeezing just a tiny bit too hard.” Tony couldn’t help a little shudder at the memory, but that might actually be for the best, show Loki where he stood. “And the other Avengers just stood there and watched him, didn’t lift a finger or say a word.” He shook his head, dismissing those thoughts. “You’re the best thing that ever happened to Asgard.”

The king released him with a tiny shove that knocked him just a little off balance. Of course he wasn’t done with the petty gestures. That didn’t matter, Tony had plenty of gestures of his own planned.

“Don’t bother to flatter me.” The voice was now Loki’s husky one, and as he spoke the illusion melted.

It was scary seeing Loki again, Tony wouldn’t pretend it wasn’t. Well, not to himself. Outwardly he gave Loki an appraising look. Loki’s hair was longer, flowing and well-groomed now. There was the familiar black and green armor, but shiny and clean.

“You look good. Not being tortured agrees with you.” At Loki’s look, he went on, “Yeah, I twigged the minute I saw the footage of your arrival. I’ve been there, I know what it looks like. Thanks for throwing the fight, by the way. We couldn’t have beaten you if you hadn’t.”

“I said to leave off the flattery, Stark.”

People always said that. Tony knew better than to believe it. “I’m not flattering you. I’m telling you I know what went down.”

“How did you know I replaced Odin?”

“Odin suddenly went from constantly sending Thor and his buddies to kill everyone who didn’t think he was their king to intelligence gathering and alliances? Doesn’t make any sense. Given your abilities, I started to wonder, asked Thor some calculated questions, and after a few months I was sure. I hate to say it but you should probably order a mass murder every month or so to keep up appearances if you don’t want anyone else to get suspicious.”

“Why are you here, Stark?”

“To ask for an alliance.”

Loki lifted an eyebrow.

“I’ve been trying to tell everyone on Earth that we’re wasting time fighting with each other when the real threat is from outer space. A hostile alien army came charging through a hole in space. We’re standing three hundred feet below it. We’re the Avengers. We can bust arms dealers all the livelong day. But that up there? That’s… that’s the endgame.

“Nobody’s listening to me.

“When Thor came back after the Dark Elf thing, I asked him what you’d told him and Odin about the Chitauri and whoever it was that tortured you, and it turned out those morons just threw you in the dungeon without even questioning you.” Tony put all the disgust he could muster into his tone. It wasn’t difficult. That was no way to treat anyone. Never mind your own son, your own brother.

Loki stood as if he had been turned to stone.

“Yeah. So I know, Asgard has all this super-awesome magic science, maybe there’s not a lot we mere mortals can offer as our end of this deal. But there’s gotta be something. Whatever it is, I’ll see that you get it - in return for your help keeping my planet safe.”

“You’re asking me to help protect Earth?”

“You’ve already saved us once. You were ready to die to do it.” Because Loki had to have known there was a good chance he wouldn’t have survived his grand plan.

The fact was, Tony was betting everything - his own life, Earth’s survival - on the hunch that for Loki, having just one person say “I see what you did there, good job” would be enough.

“I have literally nothing left to lose. Everyone’s either died, or turned on me, or left me.” Tony’s voice stumbled a little on that last one.

“And yet you still want to save them.”

“I thought you might understand that.”

Loki looked at him for a long moment.

Then picked up one of the goblets. Looked at Tony.

Tony picked up the other.

Together, they drank.