"It's your inherent sadness that defines you more than anything else," someone tells him.
More than his ego, more than his sarcasm, more than his fabulous sense of humor?
He didn't even know he had such a thing, 'chronic sadness' or whatever, until Yinsen told him he had everything, and nothing. Until Yinsen died and left nothing behind but a memory and no family. The only one left to mourn for him was Tony, and that's exactly what he did.
He knew, then, that he was sad, really sad, and even though he knew, he refused to acknowledge it as anything more than a fleeting emotion. Because soon enough, he was happy again. He was smiling, wasn't he?
He built a suit, he saved himself, he saved the world, and all the while, he smiled when he should have been sad, and frowned at his reflection in the mirror when all was well and he should have felt fucking happy.
Maybe he has chronic denial, as well.
"It defines you," someone says again, and Tony doesn't ask why, but they tell him anyway. "Your hero-complex stems from it, your need to know and build, and master is driven by it."
Now Tony needs to know, so he asks, "how?"
"I see it there. I know what's under that golden mask of yours," he says without explaining anything.
Tony doesn't know why he listens to him in the first place, the man's not exactly sane. If 'man' applies to alien-gods in the first place.
Loki just smiles that mysterious smile at him and Tony ignores him, and then leaves just to piss him off.
"What do you feel when you win?" Loki asks randomly, another day, another weird conversation. There's an unappetizing bread roll coming apart between his thin fingers, which fascinates Tony, for some reason.
"Happy? Excited? Thrilled? The need to drink until I pass out and probably eat way too many burritos."
"You feel so happy you feel you have to harm yourself?"
Tony frowns, and stops looking at the roll to meet amused, green eyes looking at him through the glass. "Where did you get 'suicidal' from eating and partying?"
"I never said 'suicidal', Stark," the god points out, and Tony wants to punch that little smirk right off his face. "But, that's another point, entirely. You face success by drinking yourself into a stupor, gorging yourself until you are ill. That is not a happy response, those are the actions of one who is despondent."
"I'm so glad you're having fun psychoanalyzing me when you're still three bags-of-cats to the wind."
"Your analogies make even less sense when you're irritated," the god returns, and the smirk stays firmly on those stupid, pink lips the entire time. How could someone so fucked up have such pretty looking lips?
Murder makes you beautiful, he thinks. Or maybe he's just a beautiful murderer.
For some reason, that thought really bothers Tony, and okay, maybe he's sad now. Even worse, Tony's starting to think Loki has a point.
"I never said I was a happy-go-lucky hero. I drink, I—apparently— gorge myself on food, if it's good, that is. I also swear and sometimes I don't tip the waiter. I'm not a good person, that's not news to anyone."
He realizes that his voice drops, and he sounds pretty self-deprecating, or hurt, or maybe just sad.
"If all your mortals agreed with that statement, you wouldn't be an icon, never mind a 'hero'," Loki says calmly, not commenting on Tony's slip. "You sound like one who would look up to Thor for moral guidance, yet I know you are not, so why do you flounder so? You are much too intelligent to believe other's words of unkind and unneeded criticism."
Tony snorts and gives the god a look, trying to build up his unchangeable-optimist mask again.
"Firstly, Thor blindly follows what he believes in... right up until he's joining the other Asgardians in jumping off a cliff." Loki cackles and Tony continues right over him, his smile growing more honest. "Secondly, you're basically telling me i'm awesome and I don't need to listen to any negative commentary on or about my person. Do you realize how dangerous your suggestion is? That sounds like villain-level egotism, which I pretty much have, just, with a dash of... doubt, I guess."
"Yes, Stark, I am trying to turn you into a villain," Loki replies dryly, "you have figured out my master plan."
Tony notes that the god's fingers are digging into the bread like claws, and wonders what point in their discussion has him thinking about hurting Tony enough to kill that poor bread roll. He stands, puts on a good show of stretching and yawning, and falters when the expected response of irritation is instead, fascination. Damn, Tony might go as far as to say Loki looked... hungry.
Tony stops stretching, green eyes stop roaming his body, and he needs to get out of their right now because ohmygodwhatthefuckwasthat?!
He's out the door before Loki can comment on anything else, but before it slides completely shut, Tony hears a 'goodbye'. That somehow makes it worse for him, because they've never said 'goodbye' before, or even 'hello', really. Tony just shows up, sits down, and they talk, or they ignore each other until the other one gets annoyed enough to start the conversation.
He never really had a plan for it, or anything. He just started visiting their resident dark-haired god—that Clint had taken to calling a different zoo animal names every few days— and somehow it became a habit. Tony knows that Thor heads down there too, probably more often than he does, but it never lasts as long as their sessions do.
Jesus, what is this, a brothel?
I'm not getting what I paid for.
Tony laughs at himself until he remembers those eyes and suddenly his own commentary makes him uncomfortable. He wasn't going to think about it, he decides, and locks himself in the lab for a couple of days.
The next time he heads down to the cells, he's forgotten what made him uncomfortable in the first place. When he walks in, he almost walks right back out again after one look at the expression on Loki's face. Curiosity gets the better of him, though, and he always did like poking the wasp's nest.
"What's up, buttercup?" He asks in his usual flippant way. "You look like a cat who ate a lemon."
Loki doesn't answer, which is pretty typical, only he also turns his face away from Tony and stares pointedly at the wall to his left.
That shakes Tony a little, and he doesn't feel like digging around in his mind to find out why. Instead, he walks up to the glass for the first time and touches it.
"Rudolf? Frosty? Yellow-snow?"
Loki's head snaps around at that, and Tony almost cheers at the promise of death in the god's eyes. Hey, at least he was looking at him now. Sadly, it seems Tony celebrated too soon, because Loki turns his head away again before Tony can even say anything.
"Oh come on," he grumbles, leaning his forehead against the glass, "what are you, twelve? Just tell me what's got your knickers in a bunch. I doubt that wall is even a quarter as interesting as me."
"Perhaps, but I find it much more fascinating and far less annoying than your face, currently."
"I'm glad to hear you add the 'currently', but how do I make that into 'at the time' so we can move on to a brand new day?"
Tony knows he's won, then, because there's a slight twitch to the edge of Loki's lips, and his eyes go from dark, forest green to the lighter color of grass.
"You left and did not return," Loki says to the wall, and something about his posture and stuff expression breaths discomfort. "I was bored."
Tony lets out a huff of laughter against the glass, fogging up the space in front of him. It's distracting, so he starts drawing little hearts and penises and arc reactors. By the time he looks up from his masterpiece, Loki's right in front of him on the other side, smirking like an adult watching kids unwrap presents from 'Santa'. The know-it-all kind of smirk, the condescending 'i'm thousands of years older than you and you are drawing penises on my wall' kind of smirk. Tony likes it, because it's equal parts amused, and exasperated, and it suits Loki perfectly.
"Child," Loki says, almost fondly, and Tony shifts to the side to peer around the fogged up part of the glass.
"Takes one to know one, Mr. 'I'm going to sulk and admire this wall rather than your handsome visage.'"
Loki arches a single brow and leans closer to the glass, their faces seemingly inches apart. Tony knows it's more, because that is super reinforced glass right there, designed all the better to see him with, and keep the angry god in check at the same time. Only, he can't see him anymore because the god is breathing on the glass on his side, right in front of Tony's face. Something squirms in his gut when his eyes decide to fixate on Loki's open mouth, panting like he's enjoying something fabulous, rather than just making a space to doodle.
Tony watches in mild awe as a slim finger starts to draw the most beautiful fucking bird Tony's ever seen. It's unfair how beautiful it is, drawn in the water partials of Loki's breath.
"Fuck you," he whispers, and there's that little giggle Loki sometimes shares with him. "No really, look at this shit, you're a god damn artist."
Tony pauses and traces the lines from his side of the glass, before adding, "of course you are, I should have seen it."
"Seen what?" Loki asks, leaning around the bird drawing to look at him. It's already fading, and instead of answering, Tony lets out a soft, mournful sound as it disappears.
"Fret not," Loki says, before breathing on the glass again. "Not all things stay lost." And there it was, less vivid, but still as beautiful as the first time Tony saw it.
Loki's staring at him now, his expression something new and soft and Tony doesn't have any idea what to call it. So he focuses on the bird until it fades away again. It takes him a while to realize his hand is pressed against the glass, and even longer to notice that Loki's is too. Right on the other side of his, like they're holding hands or something.
Tony pulls away, and there's a flash of regret passing over Loki's features. Tony wants to ignore it, but it makes him sad, and he needs to leave again because whatthefuckwasthat?
Unlike before, Loki has enough time to say something before Tony reaches the door.
"It's your inherent sadness that I wish to change."
Tony gets outrageously drunk that night, which is more fun these days because others join in and it's basically a party. Natasha never gets drunk, but drinks almost as much as Thor. Clint gets drunk and sings bad 80's ballads, which is basically all 80's ballads, and it gets even better when Thor joins in singing something completely different.
It's great, everyone's happy, even Steve is hanging around talking to the more sober members of the group. Tony laughs a lot, sings more, and it feels a lot like a celebration. Only, Loki's words keep coming back to him around one in the morning, when Bruce is heading to bed, and Steve is deep in conversation with Natasha about soldier uniforms and sexism.
Am I hurting myself? Is this really all just a front, all the cheerful abandon?
Tony wanders off to the penthouse, drink in hand, and stares at the new tile floor that once held a nice imprint of Loki's body. For such a high blood-alcohol content, he was feeling pretty sober now. Somber, too, no pun intended.
"Fuck," he mutters to the floor, and toes the edge of the black tiles. Of course Loki was right, he wasn't as happy as he pretended to be. Yeah, things made him laugh, especially when Clint falls off of stuff, but somewhere inside of him there's always the hole. A dark spot in all that sunshine, a rotten core.
Tony places his drink on the counter, and travels down 50 something floors to the holding cells.
Loki wasn't asleep, and Tony almost wishes he was, just to see what a sleeping lion looks like. In fact, Loki looks as though he was expecting him, which is creepy, but not all that unwelcome.
"Hello," he says for the first time.
"Hello, Stark," Loki acknowledges, and steps towards the glass with his hands folded behind his back. "What brings you down to my humble abode so late in the evening?"
"Sadness, I guess."
"Are you feeling sad?"
"No," Tony answers automatically and grimaces. "Okay, maybe. The thing is, I don't know why. I don't even have a reason to feel like this."
"Yes, you do."
Tony raises an eyebrow in question and approaches the glass.
"Stark, when events happen, and time passes, the memory does not fade so easily," Loki continues, staring down at him with turbulent eyes. "You never forget some things, rather, they become a part of you. You absorb them, and they shape you."
"Yeah, you said that. My depression 'defines' me."
"It has," Loki says, "would there be an Ironman without it? Would you have accepted your teammates, not only as friends, but also to your tower?"
Tony opens his mouth to disagree—probably—but Loki adds one more thing, "would you visit me down here?" and Tony closes his mouth with a snap.
Now it's a staring contest, Loki looking oddly expectant, and Tony, who knows what he looks like right now. Probably insane, because he's moving even closer to the glass, and there's his hand, pressing against it again. Loki's joins him, his long fingers spread across Tony's palm, if they could touch. If only they could touch.
"Shit..." He breathes, and rests his forehead against the glass too, his eyes dropping closed to avoid the raw emotion in Loki's eyes. "Shit."
There's a soft thunk against the glass, and Tony can tell by the closeness of Loki's dark green shirt that the god is also pressing his forehead across from him.
What the fuck is this?
Tony looks up, and Jesus their faces are close. Well, not close, there's that super glass between them, but if there wasn't, Tony would be able to feel the god's breath on his face. This is intimate, way too intimate, more than anything he's done in over a year. The worst part—or the best part—is that he's happy about it. He can feel that wiggly bubble of laughter in his chest, the kind that comes out for no reason at all. The kind he hasn't had since long before Pepper went back to being just his secretary and the Avengers moved into his home.
Their breath fogs up the glass again, and the mood shifts from whatever that was, to something lighter. Tony uses this chance to draw stick figures doing dirty things, and Loki is writing something in some other language that looks like Tony's stick figures without heads.
Loki smiles gently. “A promise.”
Tony hums, tilts his head, and decides to ask JARVIS what it says later. He gets distracted when he notices Loki's eyes widening and widening as he stares at the nonsense in front of them.
“Whoa, did one of the poses offend you?” he asks, wiping away his side of the glass.
Tony taps the glass and tries again, “Loki? What's got you bugged out?”
He doesn't get an answer, and eventually Loki turns away and sits on his cot, facing the wall and ignoring all of his questions. Tony leaves, and for the first time, he says 'goodbye'.
The next five times Tony comes down to visit, Loki just looks at him and sits there on the cot, unmoving. The first few times it was worrying, the next three it kind of became creepy. It was like he was waiting for something, or waiting to pounce on something.
Maybe it's me.
Tony shakes his head at the awkward spark of hope from that thought and stops going down to visit him for reasons he won't put into words just yet. He forgets to ask JARVIS for the translation, and gets to work on a new suit. It's a week before Tony stops going into the elevator with the intent to visit the god, and it's nearly two weeks before he realizes the suit he's designing is sleek, and tall, and has knives instead of heavy artillery. He already has a color scheme picked out in his head for it, and god, he's in trouble.
It's almost a month later when an alarm goes off, waking Tony up from his short midnight nap.
“JARVIS, the fuck is it now?” he grumbles, rolling out of the bed and running a hand through his hair. If it's Doom, he's going to bury that asshole in a pit of fire ants. “why is it always the middle of the night with these villain types?”
“We're nocturnal,” a voice answers from the corner of his room. Tony jumps, and if anyone asks, he did not squeal like a giant man-child. He does, however, raise his hands in the defensive position instantly, and he scans the dark corners for the intruder.
The lights blaze up, and that was stupid, because now he can't see a fucking thing. He doesn't have to, though, because there's a grunt of surprise from his midnight guest, which probably means they're just as blinded.
“Stark, you utter moron...”
Oh, wait... he knows that voice. That voice is not supposed to come from the corner of his room, it's supposed to come from the magic-dampening glass cell in the basement.
“How the fuck did you get out?” he asks, squinting at the god. He looks tired, almost as run down as the first time Tony saw him when he arrived on Earth. He still looks good though, which kind of confuses and pisses Tony off. Loki shifts closer, his hands up in a placating gesture.
'Look, i'm unarmed, I'm oh-so-innocent.'
Tony doesn't drop his hands, but he relaxes a little, watching the god move closer. Loki snorts and stops moving.
“I found a way to escape.”
“You're not supposed to be able to use your magic in there, we tested it.”
“I didn't use my magic.”
Tony blinks. “That glass is five inches thick!”
“I did not break the glass.”
“then how the fuck did you get out?!” he snaps, dropping his hands at last, and coming over to jab a finger at Loki's chest. Yep, he was real, a real live trickster god in his room. That reminds him... “JARVIS, cancel the alert. Tell everyone it was a, uh, false alarm.”
“Sir, might I suggest you—“
“No you might not, do as I ask.”
There's no answer from the AI, but the alarm silences, and Loki smirks at him.
“Loki, what did you do, and why are you here?” Tony asks quietly, removing his hand from the god's chest. “You could have gone anywhere, escaped to Hawaii or something. Hell, you could have probably left Earth, if your magic's working.”
Loki's looking uncomfortable again, and he sways a little, his eyes flicking away from Tony's face. His reply comes out slowly, as if he would rather not answer at all. “I wanted to be here... and I didn't use my magic. It will be some time before I can access it again, thanks to your dampening field.”
“You wanted... you escaped to travel 50 floors up... why?” Tony asks, that weird, squirming feeling crawling through his chest again. “Also, you have to fucking tell me how you got out, i'm dying of curiosity, you know.”
Loki's smirk makes its return, and the god is suddenly much closer, as close as he was when there was a pane of glass between them. Only, this time, it's nothing but air, and Tony was right, he could feel the god's breath on his face. He could also feel a chill emitting from the body that was moving way too close to him.
“Runes,” he says softly, and Tony breaks eye contact to look at those pink lips, and shit, they're even nicer this close up. “I used runes, drawn in my breath, to escape. It's a different sort of magic, and takes much more energy to use.”
A lightbulb goes on in Tony's mind. “That's why you were sitting there all dead-still and creepy.”
Loki simply nods, and before Tony can say, or think anything else ,there's a hand tracing his cheek, cupping his chin, rubbing the roughness of his beard. Fucking hell, if he thought the hands on the glass was intimate, this was down right... this was...
What the fuck is this?
“Loki...” he warns, and it's so weak and halfhearted, Tony's embarrassed with himself.
Tony tilts his head, and decides, fuck it, this thing—whatever it was—was going to do whatever the hell it wants, anyway, so to hell with reservations.
He says, “Call me Tony,” and kisses him.
Of course they find out Loki's missing two days later, because, of course, Thor goes down to talk to him and finds an empty cell and a pool of melted glass. (Loki did say he didn't break it.)
Tony gives in and fesses up that Loki's been staying in his room for two days, and the screaming match that happens afterwards could have sold tickets. Bruce was out the door the second Steve rose his voice, but Tony likes to think his buddy would have agreed with his choice. Thor's on his side, no surprises there, and Natasha is neutral about the whole thing. Tony had expected Clint to put up more of a fuss, but he just makes some snide comments on Tony's new 'pet' and wanders off to take out his anger on the heating ducts. Over all, The only one who really had an issue was Steve, and he seemed to get over it once the initial shock wore off.
Three weeks later, Loki's on the couch with Thor watching some god-awful movie about Mars and DNA or some shit, and Tony watches the weird little scene from the door for a while. He's still trying to figure out what happened between them, and when it even started—and what does he even call this thing—when Loki spots him and waves him over. It doesn't matter, he decides, and sits down to watch pseudoscience happen on his big screen TV.
Tony comments on the pure fiction of it, Loki and Thor join in, also explaining the impossibilities of this type of space travel. They would know, he supposes, and by the end of the movie they're all annoyed and amused and laughing. Really laughing, laughing so hard his chest hurts, and Loki 's giving him this proud look like, 'I did that,' and Tony allows it, because Loki did do it.
Because Loki really did change something, and maybe that inherent sadness no longer defines him, just like the god promised.