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When You Stop Escaping Your Pain

Chapter Text

Phil Coulson considered his roommate for a long moment. Tony was sprawled out on the bed, even though it was almost six in the evening, and he seemed to be sleeping quite soundly.

Kicking the mattress, Phil shook his head again. "Tony. Tony!"

"What?" Tony muttered, borrowing further into the mattress.

"It's six," Phil replied, giving him a long look just as the lights flickered and went off. The pale brunette looked up, frowning, as Tony took that as an excuse to pull the covers up further. "PM, Tony. At night. Get up."

"Doesn't matter. Lights are off, so clearly sleep is the only solution."

Phil sighed again. "Bruce is coming back to town tonight, remember? Get out of bed and pretend you're a real human being."

Head poking out of the covers, Tony gave him a dark look, which was ruined by his bed hair. "I'm a real human being."

"Prove it," Phil said, looking around. "I can't believe he turned the power out on Christmas Eve."

Tony just hummed. "It's Fury. Isn't he asking for the last year's rent?"

Phil huffed. "All of it."

"That's a lot of money we don't have," Tony remarked, finally rolling over to his back and looking up at the ceiling, which was covered with plastic wrap.

"Also means the heat's off," Phil reminded him, looking around. "Think we can start a fire with old song lyrics and screen plays?"

That startled a laugh from Tony as he sat up. "Doesn't that just give me more reason to not get out from under the covers?"

"Get up," Phil said, kicking the mattress again.

Muttering, Tony finally got out of the bed, pulling an over coat over his clothing and working on getting the fire started as Phil frowned at window. "Bruce should have been here by now."

"You know what he's like with schedules," Tony shrugged, holding a hand out. "Lighter?" Phil gave him a long look. "Dude, I am not going to smoke. I need it to light the fire, for heat?"

"Sure," Phil said, fishing around his pocket and handing Tony the lighter Phil had confiscated almost three months ago. "But that's the thing. Bruce said he was going to be here over an hour ago. This is late for his schedule.

"So go look for him," Tony shrugged. "It's not like we can do much with all the power out."

"Don't do anything stupid," Phil said, pointing at him as he took the lighter back and Tony shrugged.

"Oh just take your AZT," he returned as Phil found his scarf and headed for the door.

"Did when you were sleeping," he said from the door.

"Good luck," Tony said, waving him off. "Bring Bruce back in one piece you hear." Shaking his head again, Phil slipped through the sliding metal door, closing it behind him.

Moments after Phil left, there was a sharp knock on the door.

Tony blinked from where he was feeding newspapers and old scripts Phil had written into the trash can currently blazing in the middle of the room. "Yeah? Who is it?"

"Loki, from downstairs.  My lights and heat are out," the explanation came through the door.  "Do you have a light?"

"The door's open," Tony replied. "There's a fire in here if you want."

The door opened and a tall, thin man with black hair slipped in, a candle in hand, "Thanks."

Tony gestured to the fire pit. "Well, I don't have a lighter and I think Phil hid all the matches too, but there's a blaze here if you want it." He grinned easily at the other man, though his eyes narrowed slightly as he took in his appearance.

Loki offered him a wary smile as he set to lighting the candle from the blaze, "Like what you see?"

"You're shivering," Tony deadpanned in return. "But you certainly look familiar. Not entirely sure that's like yet."

"I told you, they turned off my heat." The answer wasn't quite defensive, but close, "And I always look familiar to someone."

Tony considered him and shrugged. "Right. Heat. Warm yourself by the fire then."

"I should head back and see about getting heat in my own place probably," Loki replied.

"I really don't think you're getting the heat back on tonight," Tony laughed. "Power to the entire place is off." He kept looking at Loki, eyes slightly narrowed.

The taller man pointed at the candle in his hand, "Use this to light up all the eviction notices I've got, and anything else I can find and I might get a nice little blaze going for a while."

Tony laughed again. "Point. You could get a bit of a blaze going. Have fun."

That garnered a bit of a smirk as Loki turned to leave.  He just about reached the door as he stumbled, shaking his head to clear it and straightening again to leave, the candle going out, "Damn."

"Can you make it?" Tony asked, taking a step toward the slender man before he thought the motion through.

"I'm fine.  Just haven't eaten much today.  The candle's out again though."

"Here," Tony said, taking it from him and giving him another searching look. "I'd offer you food but I don't think we have any really."

Loki shook his head, "I'm fine.  Just said that didn't I?"  His green gaze swept over Tony, something creeping into his tone, "So who'd I remind you of when I came in?"

"No one," Tony said, shaking his head. "Just your smile."

Loki didn't look like he quite believed him, "Right.  Well, I'm going to go see if I can get that fire started.  Evening."

"Good luck with that," Tony said, narrowing his eyes again.

Nodding once, the other finally left.  It was less than a minute later before there was another knock on the door.

Tony threw the door back open. "So, that didn't take long. What is it this time?"

The other grimaced, tucking a lock of black hair behind his ear, "I think I dropped my stash."

Tony's eyes widened and narrowed. "Right," he said, stepping back. "Also, your candle went out again."

Loki glanced down at the candle, "Oh.  It did.  Look, am I searching for it myself or are you interested in helping me?"

Tony plucked the candle from him, lighting it from the fire again and lifting it to look around the floor. "Yes, I'll help. I don't need to deal with Phil calling Steve."

Arching a brow at that, Loki got down to check under what sparse furniture there was, "Phil and Steve?"

"My roommate and..." Tony ducked under the table. "Person. Who has this disappointed face that can kill."

"A person then.  Who has a disappointed face.  That's descriptive."  He muttered a curse under his breath as he still couldn’t seem to find his stash.  "What do you do?"

Tony snorted. "Everything and nothing. What do you do? Because I know I've seen you when I used to be out and about more."

Loki glanced in his direction, "You ever been to the Cat Scratch Club?  I work there.  I dance.  Any luck searching?"

"Aha!" Tony said, moving to stand up when he placed the other and nearly banging his head on the table. "Yes! They tied you up."

Shrugging the other rolled his eyes, figures that would be what he'd be recognized for, "It's a living."

"Didn't recognize you without the handcuffs," Tony remarked. "What are you, sixteen?"

"Nineteen," the other snapped, still not rising from where he was checking under the ratty couch.

"You know I used to shiver like that," Tony said, still standing, arms crossed over his chest.

"The power's off.  There's no heat, remember?" Loki shot him a dark look as he finally rose, still scanning the room.

"I used to sweat and be a junkie too you know," Tony said, not quite laughing derisively.

"I have a cold.  It's for recreation.  Once in a while I like to," he shrugged, seeking the best wording, "feel good."  Alright, that fell short, but it would have to do.

"Two excuses in the same sentence? Damn, feels like old times," Tony said, shaking his head and glancing down, "Oh." Scooping down, he picked something off the floor.

Loki's eyes darted to him, "What was that?"

"Candy wrapper," Tony lied easily, slipping it into his back pocket.

The other shrugged slightly at that, making his way over, his gaze moving around the room still.  Coiling his long fingers around the candle still in Tony's hand he sighed, "Damn.  Must have dropped it in the hall."

"Try not to let the candle go out again," Tony smirked.

"And if I do?"

Tony's eyes widened and he smirked again. "Well, it depends on your purpose I suppose."

"Getting your name, maybe?"  Loki smirked down at him.

"Tony Stark," he drawled, tilting his head and not holding his hand out.

That earned a long blink, "Stark?"

"What of it?" Tony asked. "Besides, you haven't told me your name yet."

"Said it when I came in.  Loki.  And isn't Stark the name of that family who owns that huge multi-million dollar company?"

"What of it?" Tony repeated carefully, crossing his arms again and leaning back on one heel.

Loki shook his head, "Nothing I guess, just not a name I expected to hear."  He offered the other another smile, leaning in a bit, "Not that I mind.  I guess I should thank you for the light, huh?"

"If you feel like it," Tony said. "Except I think it's gone out again."

The other glanced down, "Oh, so it has."  He smirked, "The fire's still going.  Sort of."

"Shit," Tony said, moving back quickly to get out of the other's space to see if there was anything else he could toss on the fire.

Loki grinned slightly, sidling up behind him and murmuring in his ear, "You'll need something that burns longer than paper."  His hand ghosted down Tony's back.

"Any suggestions?" Tony asked, breath catching and leaning his head back.

"They say body heat's a great option, but you might see if you have any cloth to spare.  Grease if you have any, but from the looks of it I'd say you don't."  His hand slipped down to squeeze Tony's ass before his fingers dipped into the other's back pocket and he stepped away abruptly.

"Body heat," Tony said, turning and scowling when he saw Loki holding the packet he'd scooped up off the floor. "Right." He dumped another newspaper in. "You shouldn't do that you know."

Loki slipped it into his own pocket, "Yes because I live such a healthy wholesome lifestyle."

"There's a difference," Tony snapped. "Your candle is still out and I don't have any matches to give you."

Loki shrugged slightly, "Well, I guess I'll go bundle up in my blankets then.  Or beg some matches off someone else."

Tony dipped the candle back into the fire, holding it out carefully. "Try not to let it go out again."

His fingers brushing Tony's briefly, the taller man took the candle with a nod, "I'll try."

Tony's hand reached out and carefully caught Loki's. "Good."

The other took a step back, "Evening.  Merry Christmas Eve."

"Merry Eve," Tony said, with a half sardonic smile. Loki smirked and slipped out finally.

Tony was still standing there when Phil walked back in. "I couldn't find him anywhere," Phil said and stopped. "Tony?"

"'m fine," Tony said, shaking his head and tossing it what used to be a curtain. "No Bruce?"

"Couldn't find him."

"Don't worry," Tony said, shaking his head. "You've seen him angry. He'll be fine. Scare off anyone trying to attack him."

It was about fifteen minutes later that a solid knock came at the door.

Tony glanced up from where he was sketching something that looked like an engine taken apart with notes how to put it back together and Phil was already halfway to the door before the sound finished. "Banner?" he asked hopefully and scowled. "What are you doing here?"

"You guys've got rent due," Nick Fury replied, standing in the hall outside the loft.

"You said we didn't have to pay it," Tony pointed out from the couch.

"Times change.  There's a way you can get out of paying still," Nick said, stepping past Phil.

"And what would that be?" Phil asked, scowling and shutting the door.

He glanced at Tony, "You have that protest concert or something right?  Cancel it."

"Oh like hell," Tony replied, eyes snapping up.

"Yeah, that request is going to work," Phil snorted, shaking his head.

"Oh come on.  The block's already been rezoned and the paperwork's all finished.  Make it easier on yourself and just cancel the concert.  It's one performance you can miss," Nick looked unimpressed.

"Uh, I repeat with no," Tony said, standing finally. "Dude, what happened to you anyway?"

"What do you mean?  We used to talk about this studio I'm looking to build.  Or have you forgotten that?"

"Yeah, except for the whole tent city there. You know, all the people you'd be kicking out?"

Nick shook his head, "You're missing some big pictures here, Tony."

"Right. Which is what?" Tony demanded, eyes flickering at the line.

"The funds from that studio will let us help those people who currently aren't doing more than trespassing."

Tony crossed his arms over his chest and glared, Phil retreating toward the windows, looking out over the city. "Yeah. And in the meantime they're going to live... where?"

"Not on property zoned by the city?"

Tony rolled his eyes. "No, you're a sellout. You just want something pretty to look at and say, look at this beautiful I created. You don't care about what you have to do, you just want something with your name on it."

Nick scowled at him, "Your choice, Tony.  Rent or stop your protest."

Tony waved a hand. "Please. You really think I'm going to respond with any other kind of answer?"

"Then I expect the rent by the end of the month, or you can see about a new place."  With that their former roommate left.

Tony scowled after him, slamming the door.

"That went well," Phil remarked.

o-o-o-o

Bruce had nearly reached the apartment complex when he was cornered by a couple of thugs.  He wasn't a small man by any means, but they were bigger and carrying a hefty club apiece and they made short work of him, even with the fight he put up. Leaning heavily on the wall of an alley about a block from the apartment, he felt the world spin and slowly lowered himself to the ground before he fell over.  They'd gotten his coat and he just thanked his lucky stars he hadn’t had anything of value beyond that ratty old thing.  He just needed a few minutes to get his head to stop spinning and then he'd see about making the rest of his way to the apartment complex.  Just a few minutes.

Sitting at the mouth of the alley, Clint Barton drummed on an overturned pickle tub, watching the people walking by on the street. Hearing a moan he tilted his head back, and when he heard a second one, he stood, walking down the alley way and dropping the tub when he found the other man hunched over on the ground. "Are you okay?" he asked, kneeling.

Bruce glanced up at him and did his best to push himself up a bit, "Fraid so.  I'll be fine."

"Yeah huh," Clint said, looking him over and reaching hands out to steady the other's shoulders. "They get any of your money?"

“Didn't have any.  They took most of my coat though," he smiled almost ruefully when he spotted one sleeve still draped around his wrist.

Clint offered him a smile, following his gaze. "How merry of them. Come on, let's try to get you up," he said, pushing on his shoulders.

Bruce groaned slightly as he used the wall and the other man for support to get to his feet, "Thanks..."

"It's Christmas Eve," Clint said with a grin. "What else am I gonna do?"

"Goodwill toward men and all that," the other muttered.  "Someone missed that memo."

"Come on, let's get you cleaned up and with a new coat," Clint said, pulling the sleeve off and looking at it in distaste.

Bruce shook his head, and promptly decided that was a mistake, "I've got friends who live about a block up."

"You want me to take you up there then?" Clint asked, tilting his head but offer entirely genuine. "I mean, I have a meeting I need to get to later."

"That's up to you.  I can probably make it on my own," alright, so that probably wasn't true, but he'd try his damndest at least.

"No you can't," Clint said, looking him over once and laughing. "What floor do they live on?"

"Top floor.  So...fifth?"

Clint gave him a long look. "Right."

Bruce offered him a faint smile, "You said you have a meeting though?"

"Yeah," Clint said, something wary in the back of his eyes. "Life support."

Looking the other over briefly at that, his brown eyes showed recognition, "You too?"

Clint shrugged his shoulders. "Does my body provide a home for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome? Yeah."

"Mine too," Bruce murmured.

Clint considered him again for a moment. "You wanna come?"

He hesitated, glancing at the state he was in, "I could..."  Bruce bit his lower lip, "My friends'll be worried."

"You could call them," Clint shrugged. "Or we could see about those four flights of stairs."

His body protesting the thought of climbing all of those stairs that night, Bruce finally made up his mind, "I'll see them tomorrow."

Clint offered him another smile. "We should get you a coat then. And maybe something to eat."

"I don't think I've even got your name yet," he smiled at the other man.

"Clint," he said, reaching a hand around where he was helping the taller stand to shake his hand.

"Bruce," he responded, shaking the hand and trying not to lean too much of his weight on the other man.

Clint grinned at him again. "Come on then, Bruce."

"Lead on, Clint," Bruce replied with a faint smile.

o-o-o-o

The next morning, Phil got up and considered the meager amount of food they had. "Tony," he said, and the dark haired man only groaned from his mattress. "Tony, it's Christmas. Come on, wake up."

"Merry Christmas to you too, you ass," Tony grumbled. "Did Banner ever show?"

"Does it look like he's here?" Phil asked, glancing back.

Right on cue the door was shouldered open, Bruce entering with very little evidence of his trouble the night before, and carrying the pickle can Clint had been using as a drum the previous night.  The can was filled with food and he carried a cord of wood as well, "Merry Christmas you two.  Tony, it's mid-morning, you're still in bed?"

"I'm always in bed, you know this," Tony said, throwing a pillow at him. "What the fuck happened last night?"

"What's that?" Phil asked, craning his neck to look into the pickle can. "Good god that's a feast."

Bruce grinned at them both, ignoring Tony's question, "Yes, it's a feast.  Have some firewood too, since I figured we'd probably need it."

"It's like Santa Claus," Phil said, eyes going a bit wide as he accepted the gifts reverently.

Tony just snorted.

"Tony, haul your ass out of bed and I'll introduce you two to the person who's actually responsible for the meal you're about to receive," Bruce tossed the pillow back at him.

Grumbling, Tony sat up, fishing around for a shirt. "So you didn't strike it rich at MIT?"

"No, they actually kicked me out for my theory of Actual Reality."  Bruce shook his head, "But I've got myself a job at NYU so I'll start there after the holidays."

"Cool," Tony said, working on smoothing his hair down. "And the person who paid for this is...?" he asked, glancing over at where Phil was happily cooking up something that looked edible.

Bruce grinned, "Gentlemen," he moved over to the door, sweeping it open, "Allow me to introduce Clint Barton.  Our benefactor."

Tony tilted his head as Clint walked in, wearing very impressive Santa drag as well as a wig. "Huh," he said, processing the name and appearance. "Nice to meet you then. How'd you earn enough for all this?" he asked, waving a hand toward where Phil was still cooking.

Clint grinned. "Someone needed a favor done was all." For a moment Tony looked suspicious and Clint laughed. "She hadn't slept in a year because of a neighbor's dog."

"I can't decide if that was worse or better then what I was thinking, but far be it for me to deny such a feast," Tony said, laughing.

Bruce couldn't seem to stop smiling, "Knowing you, Tony?  Probably better."

Tony laughed. "So what happened to the dog then? Did you succeed?"

Clint just grinned, leaning against Bruce's side lightly. "I can safely say it's in doggie hell."

The taller man wrapped an arm around Clint at that, chuckling, "Efficiency, not a bad trait."

Clint grinned up at him and Tony groaned. "Fuck. You're all couple like already."

"You're just bitter," Bruce responded.

"Yeah, because Phil has a girlfriend now too," Tony said, gesturing over to him. "And since it's Christmas of course he invited her over and why the hell am I the single one here?"

"You could have lit someone's candle," Phil said from behind a pot and Tony blinked at him.

"How do you know these things? You weren't here!"

That earned an arched eyebrow from their third roommate, "Alright, I have obviously missed things.  Phil's got a girlfriend?  And what's this about candles?"

"Yes, Phil has a girlfriend. She's terrifying," Tony said, shaking his head. "She's like Phil, only with boobs."

"She is not," Phil protested quietly.

"And anyway, there's nothing going on with candles or with lighting,” Tony said,  shaking his head.

"I don't mind you lighting candles, so long as you don't smoke," Phil said, finally emerging with cooked food.

"I hate you," Tony said, giving him a long look. "You take away all my addictions."

"That's a good thing, Tony," Bruce reminded him.  "You get addicted to things that'll kill you."

Looking between the three people in the apartment, Tony hunched his shoulders protectively. "Right."

Clint considered the group for a moment as Phil glanced at his watch. Bruce flinched at that, realizing what he'd said, "God, Tony.  I didn't mean it like...I'm still addled.  Sorry."

"Whatever, it's fine," he said, waving it off and attempting to do so graciously only to fail.

Glancing toward Phil and then back to Tony, Bruce tried to locate another topic, "Hear from the illustrious landlord recently?"

"He's booting us out for not paying last year's rent, actually," Tony shrugged and then looked at where Phil was cooking, finally processing that fact. "Wait, the power's back on!"

"Merry Christmas," Phil deadpanned back.

"Didn't you guys have some sort of deal with him when he bought the place?  Didn't have to pay rent?"  Bruce frowned in confusion, "I'm sure I remember that agreement."

"The bastard has changed his mind," Tony said.

Clint huffed. "That hardly seems fair."

"Fair and Nick Fury have never encountered each other," Tony drawled.

"Sounds about right," Bruce muttered. "Next time, get it in writing, I guess."

"I think we did," Tony protested. "Didn't we have a lease we signed or something?"

Phil nodded. "Doesn't mean much."

"Oughta be something you can do," their friend protested quietly, sinking down on the arm of the couch.

"Phil can ask his girlfriend," Tony said, flinging himself over the arm of their only chair.

"When's she due to be here?" Bruce asked, glancing toward Phil.

"Right now," a voice came from the doorway and Natasha entered, her red hair pulled back into a knot at the nape of her neck.

Phil actually grinned when she appeared even as Clint blinked in surprise. "I didn't know you had a boyfriend."

She spotted Clint and smiled at her even as she made her way over and kissed Phil briefly, "And I didn't know you knew him.  How've you been, Clint?"

"Good," she replied, curling up against Bruce's side. "Just met him."

"He brought us food," Phil said, catching her for a longer kiss and Tony made a disgruntled sound from where he was sprawled on his back over the chair.

Natasha smiled against the kiss before pulling back, "And who's this?"

Bruce offered her a bit of a smile, his arm draped around Clint, "Bruce.  I just got in from MIT last night."

"He's been gone a while," Phil said. "Last time he was here Tony was smoking and with Steve."

"Hate you too," Tony said from the chair. "He used to live with us."

Bruce glanced at Tony, "Do you ever talk to Steve anymore?"

"Which matters to what?" Tony asked, looking intently at the hole in their ceiling.

"Just asking..." his friend murmured.

Natasha shook her head, "God, Tony, cheer up a bit.  Christmas Day and there's legitimate food here from what I can see."

Tony muttered something, not moving from where he was. Phil kicked the bottom of his foot. "Come eat."

Chapter Text

Loki made his way along the street after getting done with work.  His arms were wrapped around himself to take advantage of as much insulation as possible.  He really had absolutely no desire to return to his apartment, but also didn't have many other options before him that night--it was no good going out if you were out on your own. 

He glanced up and thought he saw a light in the top floor loft.  Well, that was a possibility. Hauling himself up onto the fire escape--he missed the first couple of grabs at the ladder--he made his way up the four flights to the fifth floor window.  He really probably ought to go down a floor and in through his own window.  People usually preferred the use of the door rather than the window, but damn it part of the issue was he really didn't want to be cooped up in the least.  He just wanted to be out and about, or even just out in the cold night air.

Tony was sprawled over the couch, sketching something that if he'd had the parts for it, would probably have revolutionized the way machines were put together. Since losing access to his father's labs, he hadn't actually been able to invent, but one day Phil had brought him home a sketchbook so at least he could remember his ideas and plan things that he probably would never have the chance to invent.

Chewing at his pencil, he frowned at the sketch, not noticing anyone at the window.

Loki hesitated for a brief moment before tapping on the glass, leaning against the railing as he watched the other.

Startling, Tony's head whipped over, and he dropped the pencil under the couch. He tucked the sketchpad under his arm and moved over to the window. "Um, hi?" he asked, pushing it open.

"Hey.  You doing anything?"

"Well sure, is there something you want?" Tony asked, tilting his head.

"To go out.  You wanna come?"

"Me and out tends to be a bad plan," Tony said, shaking his head slightly. "Besides which, god, what time is it even? One in the morning?"

"Nearly two.  Best time for it." Loki grinned at him, his green eyes bright.

Tony scowled, looking him over again. "You're shaking again. Heat out?"

"I walked four blocks and it's going to snow tonight," Loki replied a frown settling on his features.  "You coming out or not?"

"No," Tony said, eyes going cold as he shook his head and stepping back.

Putting his hand on the window frame to keep it open, the other scowled, "Why not?"

"Why do you want me to?" Tony countered. "What is it you're looking for?"

"I need to get out, and it's boring as fuck to go out alone."

Tony could hardly disagree with that. "If you need to get out so badly, what are you running from?"

"Being cooped up in my apartment again.  I'm getting sick of those same four walls."

Tony considered him again. "Oh god, at least step inside or you're going to freeze."

Loki slipped inside, offering him a grin at that invitation, "Thanks, don't mind if I do."

Tony blinked, feeling suddenly like he shouldn't have offered that, pulling the window closed against the cold air. "Well at least it's a different four walls."

The taller man glanced around, "Yes, it is.  Still inside, but a different four walls."

"Going to clubs would still be inside," Tony pointed out. "There's coffee, or tea, or whatever. Warm things, if you want."

Loki fiddled with the sleeve of his shirt, unable to keep his fingers still, "Coffee could be good.  And yeah, I guess that would still be indoors, but it would be another building too..."  He shrugged, "This works."

"Coffee at two am," Tony said, shaking his head but moving over to start the pot anyway. Part of their Christmas haul from Clint had involved beverages, something Tony was inclined to worship him for.

"I'm not going to sleep tonight anyway," the other responded, following him.

"What are you going to do then?" Tony asked, putting the sketchbook on the counter and turning on the stove.

"Not sure yet.  I'll figure something out, but I'm just not really in the mood for sleep, y'know?"

"Yeah," Tony said, not turning. "I know."

Loki grimaced, leaning against the table, "What were you drawing?"

"Design," Tony shrugged. "For something I'll never build."

"Never?  That's an awfully long time."

Tony shook his head. "Sure. But I certainly don't have the money or resources and I probably won't see them again."

"That means you had them at one point?"  Loki looked around skeptically.

"You don't think I did?" Tony asked, looking over his shoulder.

The other shrugged, "I don't know.  I mean I know you've got the Stark name, and that speaks strongly of money."

"I really should change that name," Tony muttered more to the coffee pot then Loki.

"Well, do you give it out much?"

"People usually don't ask," Tony said, shaking his head. "Anyway, it doesn't matter."

Loki nodded slightly, his fingers drumming absently on the tabletop, "Suppose not.  You're here after all."

Tony considered where Loki couldn't stay still. "What brought you here?"

"I thought I told you earlier?  I didn't want to go back to my apartment."

Tony rolled his eyes. "No, I mean, here. Working as a dancer at some club and doing drugs."

"Oh."  He shrugged, "Life I guess is the best answer to that."

"Vague answer too," Tony said, handing him a cup that he'd dumped coffee and boiling water into.

Loki took the cup, coiling his fingers around it to still them, "I wanted to get out, so I did."

Tony snorted. "Alright, that sounds familiar at least."

"Well, that's most people's story."

"Yeah, it's the variations that are different," Tony said, one hand waving in the air. "Get out of something, get away from something, or get kicked out. Not many people get an active kick from starving but it's better than the alternative. I mean, my roommate, for instance. Was working on his MBA and one day realized he couldn't do it anymore. Struck out without graduating and here he is. Girlfriend's in law. I mean, the question isn't escape, it's what from." Tony's eyes lit up the way they always did when he was confronted with anything that was a puzzle, face and posture more animated than usual.

Loki's brow arched, "And what's your escape from, then, Tony?"

"From the multibillion dollar company that creates weapons that kill more civilians then it does combatants. From an over controlling alcoholic father and too many expectations," he said and shrugged. "Doesn't matter though, I got kicked out. Never wanted to be there but it's pretty irreconcilable."

The other nodded, sipping at the coffee, "Well, guess that's how it goes sometimes..."

"How it goes?" Tony asked in disbelief. "That's just how it goes? And here I thought all unhappy families were unhappy in their own unique way."

"I meant to end up here.  Of course they are unhappy in their own unique way."  Loki shrugged slightly, "Some have expectations you run from, and some have issues that cause you to get kicked out.  Sometimes it's both."

Tony shook his head, dumping the rest of the coffee down the sink, suddenly not feeling like drinking any more.

The taller man watched him over the rim of his own cup of coffee, "I've said something out of line, haven't I?"

"I wasn't aware there were any lines to cross," Tony shrugged.

"Neither was I..." Loki murmured.  He set the cup down, "I should go."

Tony's shoulders twitched upward, but he didn't move or look over. Loki hesitated, moving closer, "Thank you for the coffee."

"Might as well share what we have," Tony said, glancing at him briefly before staring at the wall again.

The taller man paused for a brief moment longer before laying a hand on the other's arm and leaning in to suddenly kiss him, "Still."

It was like an electric shock had gone through Tony at the kiss, and suddenly he was moving again, pressing into the touch, hands moving. Loki smirked against the kiss, an arm coiling around the smaller man and drawing him closer.

Making a small sound, Tony allowed the motion, plastering himself against the other man almost entirely automatically. One hand tangled in Loki's dark hair, the other going to his shoulder. Nipping at the other's lip, Loki's hand trailed down Tony's side, humming against the kiss.

Tony let his hand drop down along Loki's arm, stopping at his elbow as if the thought of who he was kissing had only then registered and he jerked back. Loki's arm didn't move from around Tony's waist, "What?"

"No," Tony said, not moving away from Loki's arms but putting a hand between them to keep the taller back. "No. Who do you think you are, barging in here and just--"

"Hey, cool it, I just wanted to thank you."

"Thank me?" Tony asked, eyes going huge.

"For the coffee," Loki offered.

Tony almost looked sick for a moment. "And do you thank everyone by kissing them?"

"Not usually, no."

"Then what are you doing?" Tony demanded again.

"What do you mean?"  the taller blinked at him in confusion.

Tony shoved him away again, stepping back. "No. You can go. You can take your candle, your powder, the way your hair looks in the moonlight and your romance and go."

The other frowned at that, "And if I don't want to?"

"Um, what do you want to do?" Tony asked, holding his arms across his chest defensively.

"Well, I'd like to start by kissing you again."

"Why?" Tony asked, tilting his chin back.

"Because you're a very handsome man."

Tony laughed. "Yeah, so are you. That doesn't always mean much you know. Especially not now."

"Why not now?" Loki's brow arched, and he leaned back, a hand on his hip.

"Not to be completely offensive, but you're as far as I can tell a drug addicted whore. I know too many people dying of disease already, I'm not asking for another to step into my life."

"I'm not diseased.  I'm clean in that respect," the other man's green eyes narrowed at the accusation.

"No, you're killing yourself in another way," Tony shrugged. "I've been down that road too."

Loki crossed his arms, folding in on himself defensively, "So because I'm using you won't even let me kiss you again?"

"I shouldn't," Tony said, hunching his shoulders.

"How noble of you."  Loki shook his head, "you're saying that if I want another kiss from you I have to put myself through the hell of withdrawals?  Sorry, I don't think it's worth that."

"Would anything be worth it to you?" Tony asked, curious.

He shrugged a shoulder, "Haven't found anything yet."

"Do you want to kiss me again?" Tony asked after a moment's pause.

Loki eyed him warily, but finally nodded, "Yeah.  Already said I did."

Tony took a step back toward him. "Phil will kill me in the morning," he managed. Hands rising to tangle back in Loki's hair he pulled the taller toward him and slammed their mouths back together.

Having not expected that response, Loki gasped slightly against the kiss, but quickly recovered.  His arms slipped around Tony again as he pressed down into the kiss. Tony tugged him tighter, biting lightly at his lower lip.

Loki responded, by running a hand up under Tony's shirt and tracing his fingers over the smaller man's spine. Shivering into the touch, Tony pulled back enough to look around the apartment, tracking the best path to the bed. "Fuck," he said, kissing him again. "Shouldn't do this."

Loki bit the other's lower lip, the corner of his mouth quirking upward, "Probably not."

Fingers curling around Loki's hips, Tony grinned. "Come to bed?"

Loki returned the expression, "With pleasure."

o-o-o-o

The next morning, Phil unlocked the door and stepped inside, not expecting anything to be out of the ordinary. "Tony!" he practically yelped.

Tony stuck his head up from the pillow where his bed was in clear view of the door. "Whatta?"

"What are you doing?" Phil asked, voice getting low and dangerous in such a way that usually made Tony's stomach turn over in fear.

Loki blinked himself awake and turned his head enough to glower at Phil, but kept his mouth shut for the moment.  He had very much been planning to sleep a bit longer.

"I was sleeping," Tony replied, sitting up and smoothing his hair down as best he could. "How's Tasha?"

"Don't change the subject," Phil replied, tone clipped. "What are you doing?"

Tony glanced at Loki and back to his roommate. "Not what you're thinking."

"Are you sure?" Phil asked, eyes narrowed and Tony nodded.

Finally glancing down at himself and processing what the other saw, Loki rolled his eyes, "I'll go, just let me get dressed."

At Tony's nod, the line of Phil's shoulder had relaxed and he shrugged, putting his camera case away carefully. "No need to leave on my account," he said, voice mild again.

Loki didn't look like he entirely believed him, but glanced at Tony for confirmation. Tony nodded, already fishing around for the nearest pair of pants, stopping long enough to press a long kiss to Loki's mouth. Snorting across the apartment, Phil rolled his eyes.

Loki smirked at him, stretching before reaching for his own pants and pulling them on as he got up.

Phil looked him over and glanced to Tony again. "You did make sure--"

"Yes, Phil," Tony nodded, trying to find a clean shirt.

"And you used--"

"Yes, granny," Tony said, anticipating each question. Phil gave him an unimpressed look. "I know how to be careful!" Tony said quickly.

"You know, later today there's another meeting of the life support Clint has gotten Bruce going to," Phil said after Tony was silent for a moment, pulling the shirt over his head. "Tasha convinced me to go too."

"That's," Tony said, blinking at him when he emerged from the top of the shirt.

Phil glanced at Loki again and back to Tony. "It's not just those who are sick, you know. Anyone's welcome if you want to come."

Loki watched the two of them quietly, pulling his own shirt on, feeling like he was intruding.  It wasn't an unfamiliar feeling, but it was certainly one he'd prefer to retreat from.

"That, um," Tony floundered and shrugged. "I'll see, okay?" He looked back at Loki. "You okay there?"

"Me?  Of course.  Why wouldn't I be?"  He glanced toward Phil, "I...should head back downstairs."

"If you like," Tony said, catching him around the waist again, falling back into the motions of having a lover like he'd never been single.

Loki startled very slightly at that, he was familiar with the motions of sleeping with someone, but semi-casual touches was a different situation entirely.  he offered the smaller man a smirk, "Well, I...I mean I might be able to stay..."

"Phil can actually cook when we have food," Tony said, one hand going to Loki's cheek and kissing him again.

The other leaned into the kiss, keeping it slow and gradual, "Well, I might be able to stay if you have enough food then..."

Tony grinned. "Great!"

Phil just rolled his eyes. "God, Tony."

Loki glanced at Phil, "So you're Tony's roommate then.  You were out on Christmas Eve, right?"

"Yeah, for the most part," Phil said, nodding as Tony moved over to start coffee again. "And you live downstairs, yes?"

"Next floor down, yeah," Loki's gaze darted to Tony, his fingers starting to tap a pattern on his leg as he answered Phil.

"Loki Laufeyson, who works at the Cat Scratch Club," Phil continued and Tony stopped to blink at him.

"How do you always know these things?" Tony asked. "I mean, seriously, dude, you are a frightening person."

Loki's eyes widened at that and he took a half-step back before he gathered himself and drew a deep breath, nodding, "Yes.  That's me."

Phil glanced between them. "You didn't even figure out his last name before sleeping with him, did you?"

"No," Tony said, ducking under the sink to find the coffee filters.

Phil sighed, looking back over at Loki. "Sorry. We're used to living with five people. We might not be the nicest to guests for that reason."

The taller man rolled a shoulder dismissively, "It's been a pretty good reception actually.  You didn't throw me out. And I hardly offered him my full name."

"You got mine," Tony said, popping back up to cross his arms on the metal table, resting his chin on his arms.

Loki shrugged, fiddling with his fingers, "Yeah, but you gave it freely, too."

Tony blinked and shrugged slightly. Phil shot Tony a look before moving to cook breakfast. "Point," Tony said, slinking back up to his feet and moving over to take Loki's hand.

Blinking at him, Loki let his hands still, "But yeah, so your roommate knows my full name.  You couldn't even remember where you'd seen me."

"It's been a really long time since I was there," Tony replied. "Besides, I'm going to point out again, you look different when you're not tied up."

Phil made a half choked sound.

Loki smirked, "Don't recognize me without the handcuffs, huh?  Well, I'd better make sure you remember me from here on, hm?"

"Oh, I'll remember you from now on," Tony purred, wrapping himself around Loki and slipping a hand back into his hair.

Tilting his head into the touch, Loki smiled at him, "Good.  Hate to think I'm forgettable after that."

Licking his way back into his mouth, Tony hummed in his chest. Loki captured the smaller man's mouth, nipping at his lip, an arm wrapping around his waist and pulling him close.

Phil dropped the pot. "Either of you want to actually eat?"

That startled Loki out of the kiss, "What?"

"Food?" Phil gestured. "Do you want to eat or are you too busy eating each other?"

Smirking at Phil and then at Tony, the taller man shrugged, "I certainly can't say no to actually food."

Phil dropped a plate in front of him as Tony slinked around to the side, grabbing his own plate. "Not that I'm not used to public affection, but really Tony," Phil said when Tony was busying himself with food.

Loki picked at his food, starting to nibble at it and deciding that he actually could stand to eat, "Well, it's technically in his apartment."

"That I inhabit too," Phil pointed out. "And we don't really have separate bedrooms. I mean, it's not as bad as when St--" he cut off suddenly and glanced at Tony whose face was carefully neutral. "Anyway, some discretion please?"

"What's that word mean?" Tony asked innocently and Phil sighed.

"St--" Loki frowned, searching his memories, "That wouldn't be Steve would it?  The one with the disappointed face?"

Phil gave Tony a searching look and his roommate just shrugged. "Yeah. He used to live here too, with Banner and Fury before Fury became a jackass and got married. I don't remember which came first anymore--the marriage or the jackass," Tony said with another tiny shrug.

Loki considered that and nodded, turning his attention back to the his plate. Tony babbled, trying to fill up the empty space left in the air at the mention of Steve, going over Phil's cooking and any other assortment of topics he could come up with.

Eyebrow arching, Loki finally pushed his empty plate away, "Thanks for breakfast."

"You're welcome," Phil said as Tony stood, moving over to Loki.

Loki looked up at Tony, choosing not to rise quite yet and giving the other the height advantage in that.

Tony smirked and draping himself over Loki's lap as Phil suddenly decided he had an elsewhere to be. "So, I have a question."

The taller man smirked, running his hands through Tony's hair, "Yeah?"

"Was that a onetime thing or a continuing one?" Tony asked, nuzzling against his ear.

"Do you want it to be a continuing one?"

"I asked you first."

"Do you know what you're asking?  And can you live with it?"  Loki's green eyes were serious.

Tony's eyebrows twitched down. "I can live with a lot of things. What am I asking?"

"I'm not just a dancer, Tony.  Can you deal with that without jealousy?"

Tony shrugged. "Jealousy?"

Loki looked skeptical, "If you don't think you'll suffer it then, yeah, this can be a continuing thing."

"Alright," Tony said, giving him a lingering kiss.

Pressing up into the kiss, Loki wrapped an arm around the other, "God..."

"God?" Tony laughed.

"Didn't expect this, well, ever."

"This?" Tony asked, nibbling on his ear again. "You mean, sleeping with someone?"

"Doing so more than once without them 'keeping' me," Loki tilted his head to give Tony better access.

Barely keeping himself from drawing back, Tony forced a grin on. "Well, I'm not good at keeping things so let's just not go there, huh?"

Loki smirked, pressing a biting kiss on the other's lips, "I'm good with that."

"Great," Tony said, giving him another quick kiss before drawing back and standing.

The other made a soft sound of protest at that, "Where are you going?"

"Do you want me to not go?" Tony asked, smirking.

That earned a shrug, "Your choice..."

"My choice always involves bed or debauchery of some sort," Tony smirking. "So how about it being yours."

Loki grinned, "I am more than alright with that."

"Oh, well, there goes my day." Tony laughed. "What about your apartment?"

The other hesitated a bit, "I...yeah, we could do that."

"I can stretch Phil's patience so far," Tony said with a tiny shrug, as explanation for the request.

"Let’s head downstairs.  It's his apartment here too, after all," Loki finally resolved.

Tony rose, smirking again before poking his head into the curtained off area where Phil slept. "Oi, when's that... group?" he asked, tone wary and carefully ignoring the painting hanging over Phil’s bed.

"At two," Phil said, glancing up at him from where he was scribbling a script in his notebook. "Are you coming?"

"I'll try," Tony said. "If only to see Banner. Bastard just got home and has already ditched us."

"That your other roommate?" Loki asked, arching a brow.

"Yeah," Tony nodded. "See you later Phil."

"Safe, Tony, safe," Phil said in farewell and Tony laughed on his way out the door, shaking his head.

Loki slipped an arm through Tony's, "So where'd he ditch you for?"

"I think, I don't know. I think he moved in with the guy who saved him after he got mugged. Or something," Tony shrugged.

"Huh.  Interesting.  Well, I guess we'll have to see if we can get you to that meeting then."

"There's time," Tony said, eyebrows twitching together. "We'll see." Loki smiled before leading the way down to his apartment.

 

Chapter Text

Tony caught up to Phil just when he reached the bottom floor. "You came out of there alive," Phil drawled.

"Safely, yes," Tony replied, wrapping his arms around himself.

"He's a user," Phil remarked as they walked out onto the street.

"You're worried if I see a ton of drugs around I'm going to relapse," Tony said, not even making it a question. "That I'll do that all again."

"It's a safe assumption," Phil replied, voice neutral.

"It is, but I won't," Tony said, catching his eyes. "I'm not doing that again, I swear."

"Good," Phil said, rounding the first block corner and smiling when he spotted Natasha's red hair.

Natasha smiled when she saw them, straightening from where she'd been leaning on a lamp post waiting, "Hey you two.  Tony, didn't expect to see you."

Tony shrugged, as Phil held his arm out for Natasha. "Well, I was invited," Tony murmured, watching the pair of them.

Tasha curled her arm through Phil's kissing his cheek as she glanced at Tony, "Something's different today."

"He had sex. Possibly a lover," Phil said and Tony rolled his eyes.

Her brows rose sharply at that, "Really?  Do I get to know who?"

"Loki Laufeyson, dancer in handcuffs," Phil replied and Tony considering kicking him.

"My thunder, Phil, my thunder."

"You...safely, right?"  Natasha pressed.

"Yes!," Tony replied. "As much as humanly possible. Really. Phil has already given me this speech and then some.

"Good,” Natasha said with a firm nod.

"I love the faith people put in me," Tony drawled and Phil laughed. "Come on, I even toned down that town bicycle thing I had going for a while way down."

"Which is also a good thing," Natasha smiled.

Tony rolled his eyes. "Except for the part where I don't get as much sex anymore."

"It builds character," Phil drawled.

Smirking at that, the redheaded woman shook her head, "He's a character enough on his own."

"See, that's what I think too," Tony grinned.

Phil paused as they reached the door, glancing back at Tony. "Are you sure you want--?"

"Sure," Tony said, waving a hand. "Come on."

Natasha glanced at her boyfriend before stepping inside, "You heard the man." Phil smiled, following her inside, Tony trailing behind.

Bruce looked up from where he sat next to Clint and a smile split his features, "Phil, Tony, good to see you."

Tony murmured a greeting, considering the circle that was in front of the room and feeling like he really shouldn't sit there until Phil glared at him and carefully patted the seat beside him. Tony sat.

Natasha settled in the seat between Phil and Clint, offering her friend a brief smile. Clint waved happily to her, settling in and pulling off the wig.

Tony shifted as the meeting got underway, listening to everyone's stories and fears and feeling more and more like he didn't belong, even as Phil rested a hand on his knee to anchor him. When the circle reached him everyone turned to stare at him and he stammered something about not being sick, which he was sure insulted everyone without meaning to. "That is, I'm here," he looked over at Phil, Tasha, Clint and Bruce. "For support."

When the meeting was over, he stumbled out as quickly as he could, the others following at a more sedate pace.

Bruce slipped an arm around Clint's waist on the way out even as Natasha offered Phil a smile and moved over to put a hand on Tony's shoulder, "Thanks for coming."

Tony let out a long breath. "Uh-huh."

"It wasn't that bad," Clint said, putting the wig back on and slipping an arm around Bruce's shoulder.

"You held up well, Tony," Bruce murmured.

"I did?" Tony looked at him. "Anyway, it's not about me. How are you all?"

"See, the thing is stuff like that is soothing to us," Clint said, looking him over. "You, meanwhile, are the tense one."

Tasha stepped back, slipping her arm through Phil's again as Bruce nodded his agreement, "Clint's right.  It… it's reassuring to know you're not alone in this."

Tony nodded, not pointing out that in that room he had been alone. "I'm glad," he said, smiling at them. "As long as it helps."

Bruce studied him for a long moment, not saying anything further on that subject, though something in his eyes indicated a desire to, "Anyone else getting tired of the snow?"

"Yes," Clint said quickly and Phil nodded.

Tony just shrugged, tilting his head back into the cold sky. "I don't know, I kinda like it."

"You're morbid though, that's different," Phil said.

Natasha shrugged, "I don't mind it.  I just don't like it for as long as we have it here.  Somewhere warmer would be nice, but where's the question."  The group made their way down into the subway station nearby.

"I like California myself," Tony shrugged.

"Go for extremes much?" Phil muttered.

"Santa Fe," Clint answered, ignoring Phil and Tony.

Bruce offered Clint a smile, "I like the sound of that.  Get away from here, from the snow, from the papers, from the students who prefer TV to class."

Clint laughed. "After New York, anywhere else would feel like a pleasure cruise. But there's sun there."

The other smiled as they stepped onto a mostly empty subway car, "We could go set up a restaurant or something.  Give ourselves a place to run how we want it to be run."

"I like this plan," Clint laughed and Tony leaned back into the seat, watching Bruce. "Aren't you a teacher though?"

"Yeah.  Computer Age Philosophy, but I can't get the students to focus at all, and frankly I'd rather talk wine than Heidegger at this point," came the answer.

"We'll have wine there?" Clint grinned. "Alright, I'm in."

"What's a restaurant without wine?" Bruce responded, smiling at Clint.

Natasha shook her head, "Not as profitable as it could be that's what."

"And profit is entirely what matters," Tony said, crossing his arms but grinning.

Phil nodded. "Entirely. I could book keep."

"No one wants you around the costumers. You'd scare them off," Tony laughed.

"Which is why Clint and I would deal with that part," Bruce replied.

Chuckling, Natasha leaned against Phil, "And bookkeeping for them would certainly work for you, love."

"Are you kidding? What do you think I'd be doing if not drawing in costumers?" Tony huffed as Phil wrapped an arm around Natasha.

Bruce grinned at him, "You'd be our performer so of course you'd draw in customers.  Customer service on the other hand I don't know if I'd trust to you."

"Much more like someone on a stage but not actually speaking to them one on one, you see," Phil said, a tiny smile at the corner of his mouth and Tony kicked him from where they were sitting beside each other.

Natasha smirked slightly, "I like the sounds of this place more and more."

"You would," Tony said, rolling his eyes and Phil leaned over to kiss the top of Tasha's hair.

Bruce grinned, "So, Santa Fe it is then.  A restaurant there to get us out of this cold city."

"We're all packing up? Just like that?" Clint asked with a laugh.

 "Well, maybe not ‘til after New Year's.  Tony's got that protest concert to hold after all," the other man conceded.

"Think we'd need anyone else? To run this place?" Tony asked, putting his hands behind his head.

"You got anyone in mind?"  Bruce asked.

Tony shrugged.

"Your new boyfriend?" Phil asked, giving him a long look.

"What about Steve?" Tony intercut quickly.

"I don't think I've met Steve," Clint remarked.

"He apparently moved out while I was gone," Bruce offered as an explanation to Clint.

Natasha's brow arched as she glanced at Tony, "I thought you were avoiding dealing with Steve?"

The rest of what had been said finally processed in Bruce's mind, "Wait, new boyfriend?"

"That was entirely pre-emptive," Tony said, glaring at Phil who just grinned. "I don't know what he is yet, okay? And besides which, it's not so much I'm avoiding Steve as just... well... not talking to him actively. Doesn't mean I want to move across the country without."

"Who's the guy you don't know whether he's your boyfriend yet?"  Bruce asked, setting aside the comments about Steve for a later time.

"Downstairs neighbor," Tony said, shrugging. "It's only been a one night thing."

"And morning," Phil added smoothly.

"Well, yes, but, you can't built a relationship in that time," Tony said, suddenly looking down at his hands. "So, Santa Fe?"

"It's sunnier there at least, without all the snow," Clint shrugged, considering the dark haired man from where he was sitting across from Tony on the subway.

Bruce arched an eyebrow and glanced at Phil, but figured he wasn't going to get more on that topic, "Warmer, sunnier, a new start."

"New start sounds nice," Tony said, stretching.

"Ahem to that," Clint nodded.

The train came to a stop at the station they had been heading for and Tasha rose, "So Santa Fe sometime in the future to give us a new start in a warmer place then."

Hands still behind his head, Tony rose, heading for the door. "See you two later," he said, flicking one hand back in a wave as Phil rose to follow.

Bruce waved to them, glancing at Clint, "We staying on here or taking a bit of a walk?"

"Whichever," Clint shrugged, curling up a bit more against Bruce's frame.

The taller man tilted his head and kissed Clint's brow, "Then let's see about a walk, I think?"

"That means getting up, doesn't it?" Clint asked, tilting his head back to look up at him.

"It would, yes.  We could stay on for another stop or two I suppose," Bruce smiled at him, running a hand over his hair.

Sighing happily, Clint curled up further. "Where would you like to walk to anyway?"

"Not really sure.  I guess I've just missed New York after those months at MIT."

"We're talking about moving to Santa Fe!" Clint laughed. "That's pretty far away from this place you know."

Bruce smiled faintly at that, "Well, just cause I missed it doesn't mean that I necessarily minded leaving."

"But now that you're back you might as well enjoy it as much as you can again?" Clint asked, tilting his head back and brushing the bangs of the wig back with a practice motion.

"Exactly," Bruce wrapped an arm around the smaller man, his hand resting on his hip. "She can be a beautiful city sometimes."

"When she's not showing her underbelly," the drag queen replied.

"I'll grant that, but she's been home for a long time."

As the metro stopped again, Clint rose, taking both of Bruce's hands. "Then let's take a look around the lady."

Smiling at him, Bruce rose and followed Clint off of the train and up the stairs into the winter sunlight.

Once at the top of the stairs, Clint whirled around, taking in as much of the scene at one time as he could. Bruce laughed lightly, taking the other's hand again as his own gaze swept around the area outside of the stop.

Clint leaned against his side again as they walked. "What do you think then, of this place?" he said, gesturing to the high rises above them.

"Of this place itself?  I think it's trying too hard.  There's so much beauty in simplicity, but the city's a teeming mess most of the time."

Clint laughed. "A teaming mess. I won't disagree with that."

"There's a franticness to the city, that keeps everyone on edge.  Too much on edge if you ask me," Bruce shrugged slightly.

"Well, I do ask you," Clint replied.

other man offered him another smile and a kiss on the temple, "Then it's too much on edge.  No one lives for what they have, everyone strives for what they think is coming."

"Then we'll live for what we have," Clint said and paused. "What do we have?"

"Hope.  Joy.  Love?"  Bruce glanced at him, uncertain in the last trait.

"It's a little early for that, isn't it?" Clint asked, curling a hand around Bruce's waist.

"Then the potential for it," he offered, sliding an arm around Clint to draw him closer.

"I'm not saying it's out of the realm of possibility," Clint fumbled for a moment. "Just... soon. Is it supposed to happen so soon?"

Bruce considered a moment before responding, "Is anything in this life supposed to happen?  But no, it probably isn't.  Affection, care, desire, those things could though.  And they all have the chance to grow."

Tilting his head, Clint smiled. "The chance to grow, huh? Will we have it?"

"I sure like to think so," came the quiet response.

"I'm glad," Clint said with a smile, looking around as they came to what looked like a street market.

Bruce returned the smile, his gaze moving to the street market, "Gotta love that not even the cold weather puts people off of this."

"If it did, no one would ever be out!"

That earned a laugh, "That's true."  He glanced at a place where a woman was selling a bunch of coats.

"Still need a new coat, honey?"

"Probably wouldn't go amiss, but I can just as easily do without."

"In this weather?" Clint said and shook his head. "Come along."

"Really, you don't have to do this," Bruce protested half-heartedly.

"Why not?" Clint asked. "I still have some money, and what else would I spend it on? We can make a deal with you like."

The taller man glanced at him, considering, "What sort of a deal are you thinking?  You give so much, give me some way to thank you?"

"How about you be my shelter?" Clint asked. "Live in my house and be with me."

The other's brown eyes widened before his face lit up, "I can do that."

"Then we'll get along just fine," Clint said, turning to face him, and draping his arms over Bruce's shoulders. "Pay me back with one thousand kisses."

"I don't have much else to offer you," Bruce responded, letting his arms rest loosely around the smaller man's waist, "But kisses I have to spare."

Clint grinned again, "Good. I'll take them all."

Bruce momentarily considered the fact that they were standing on the street, but dismissed it and leaned down to kiss the other gently. Clint smiled into the kiss. "See. This will work out just great."

Resting his forehead against Clint's, the other smiled, "Yes, it will. For as long as we have it."

"Then we'll keep it that long," Clint said. "Let's find you a new coat." Bruce finally let one arm slip from around Clint's waist to turn toward the coat vendor.

o-o-o-o

Tony whistled to himself, actually putting away the laundry that Phil had managed to do earlier in the day, so the other man didn't kick his ass for being lazy again. The man in question was out on the fire escape they used as a balcony, working on the script bug that had gotten him on the walk home.

Loki unconsciously tugged the sleeve of his shirt down a bit further as he reached Tony's door and rapped on it, leaning against the doorframe while he waited for the other to answer.

Dropping the laundry unceremoniously, Tony padded over to the door, pulling it over enough to see who was on the other side. "You knocked?"

"Hey," Loki offered him a lazy smile, his skin a shade paler than normal and dark circles around his green eyes. "What're you up to?"

"Things," Tony said, smiling fading when he got a look at Loki's pupils. "What're you doing?"

The other's lips quirked upward into a bit of a smirk, "Came by to say hello.  Somethin' wrong with that?"

"I don't know," Tony said, still considering him carefully. Phil poked his head in to see who the guest was and carefully shut the window behind him.

"I don't know if I really call that an answer," Loki frowned slightly.  "Can I come in?"

"Depends," Tony said, eyes closing off.

"On?"

"Exactly what you think you're doing here high as a kite," Tony replied, tone flippant and expression not.

Loki scowled at him, "I just came to say hello.  Does more than that matter?"

"Maybe not," Tony said after a pause. "Really didn't figure you for the type to stop by and say hi."

"I’m not usually," Loki rolled a shoulder.  "Felt like it though."

"Well, hello then," Tony said, the line of his shoulders relaxing slightly.

The other smirked, repeating his question from before, "May I come in?"

Considering him, Tony stepped back, not inviting him in but leaving the door open before returning to his earlier chore.

Loki stepped inside, trailing after Tony, his gaze darting around the room, "Laundry?  Really?"

Tony snorted. "Has to be done at some point, doesn't it?"

"Guess so." He slipped an arm around the other's waist, nuzzling against his neck, "Does it have to be done now though?"

Breath hitching, Tony glanced back at him. "I don't need Phil to lecture me you know."

"For what?  Putting off your chore?" His eyes were half-lidded, and he offered the other a lazy smile, "Just for a while?"

Tony turned. "And what would you do with that little while?"

"Not sure yet, but I'm sure we'd figure something out."

Narrowing his eyes, Tony let his hands rest on Loki's shoulders. "No."

Loki frowned at that, "No?"

"No, I'm not sleeping with you, or even making out with you, when you're on--god, do I even want to know what you take?"

The taller man drew back, scowling, "Fine, forget it."

Tony watched him without moving. "Did you really think I would?"

"Was worth a try."

The shorter man rolled his eyes. "Right. No."

Loki's jaw tensed, "Why?"

"You're kidding, right?" Tony managed, hands clenched at his side.

"No.  I'm serious.  What’s your issue with it?"

"My issue with you coming to me dosed up on god knows what? Please, you're still kidding right?"

Loki threw his hands up at that, "Fine.  Whatever.  Like you've got much room to judge."

"I'm not judging," Tony said, shaking his head. "But I don't want it."

Rolling his eyes, the other turned to leave, "Fine.  See you around."

"Bye," Tony said, waving him off, motion jerky in anger.

Loki shot him a dark look at that, but left, his footsteps echoing in the stairwell.

Tony stalked out onto the fire escape, bracing his hands against the railing as Phil glanced up at him.

"And you still think this is a good idea?" Phil asked softly over his notebook.

"I know what I'm doing," Tony ground out.

"No, you don't," Phil shook his head. "You really don't."

Looking down at the street, Tony just shrugged.

Bruce had been on his way to talk to Tony about a couple of things that had been pressing at the back of his mind.  Spotting the other at the fire escape railing, he raised a hand in greeting, "Hey, Tony!"

Tony waved down at him, a faint smile sneaking its way onto his face as Phil poked his head over the railing. "You wanna come up?"

"Was kind of planning to, if you guys have no objections."

"Head on up then," Tony said, motioning to him. "Door down there should be unlocked.

Bruce saluted and slipped inside, arriving in the apartment a handful of minutes later.

"Enjoy the trip up?" Tony asked lightly, having retreated into the apartment again and finishing the laundry as Bruce entered.

That earned a bit of a grin, "Well, it's the same stairs I've climbed before, so I suppose that's one way to put it."

"You can always make old things exciting if you try," Tony replied.

"Guess that's true.  How're things going around here?"

"The usual, the same," Tony shrugged. "I mean, specifically?"

"The preparations for the protest?  Life?  Phil mentioned you seeing someone last time I saw you guys?"  Bruce offered as possible topics.

"Seeing is a very vague term since I just booted him out with no sex," Tony shrugged.

That earned raised eyebrows, "You did?  Who is he and why did you do that?"

"Because he was high and I didn't want to deal with it," Tony shrugged. "He lives downstairs and works as a stripper."

"He was..."  Bruce shook his head, "Wow.  Well, how goes the protest plans?"

"Those are going just fine," Tony shrugged. "Set up tomorrow morning and go from there."

"Very good.  Look forward to it."  He glanced toward the fire escape, "How's Phil doing?"

"He," Tony bit his lip and shrugged. "Being with Tasha helps. I think he's still ticked Steve's not still living here but that he keeps a lid on. He works a lot on scripts I don't think he'll ever film. But..." Tony shrugged. "Wants to leave something behind, I guess."

That garnered a slightly sad smile from Bruce, "Don't we all?"

"Yeah," Tony said softly, looking down.

Bruce sighed softly, looking his friend over, "Do you have anyone in your life you're not worrying about?"

Tony paused, actually considering the question. "Actively?"

"No.  Just generally.  We all care about you, but it wears you down too.  I want to know if you have anyone to go to when it gets to be too much."

"I have you guys," he replied, smile strained. "But no, no one else really. Not anymore." Not really since Steve had left.

Bruce offered him a faint smile, but there was a light of worry in his eyes, "I guess that's...something we should have been more aware of."

"Why?" Tony asked, eyes darting up to him.

"Because asking you to come to life support must have been moderate hell for you," the other man murmured.

"But that's the thing," Tony managed after a pause. "It's not about me." Vaguely he thought about how much those words would have shocked his father, possibly keeled the old man over. "It's about everyone else."

Bruce shook his head, smiling, "Sometimes it should be though.  Not all the time, but you need someone to take care of you too, Tony."

The corners of Tony mouth twitched. "Had one of those. Didn't work out so well."

"Have you thought about trying again?"

"Trying again?" Tony asked with a small frown. "A relationship or that specific one?"

"Either I suppose," Bruce answered.

Tony shook his head and put a hand on Bruce's shoulder. "Look, no, I'm fine. Everything will be fine."

Bruce looked slightly skeptical at that, but finally nodded, "Alright, I'll take your word for that."

"Don't you know my word is always golden?" Tony said, forcing another smile.

"It always has been," his friend agreed."  He glanced around, "So Phil's got you doing the laundry now?"

Tony rolled his eyes. "He's started saving up quarters he keeps in a jar to make sure we do it on time, every two weeks."

That earned a laugh, "Sounds like him--and not a bad idea either."

"He used not to care so much about this stuff," Tony huffed. "I mean, Steve always did but--"

"But that was Steve.  Phil’s always had his own set of quirks."

"Which now includes laundry," Tony said, making a face.

"Could be worse,” Bruce remarked.

Tony made a face. "Right. Yes, I'll stick to that," he paused, looking at Bruce. "So, Clint. You're doing good there?"

Bruce's smile grew fond, "Yeah, doing good there.  He's amazing, really."

"Moved in with him awful fast," Tony remarked, tilting his head.

"Well....Yeah, I guess I did.  I mean...we," he drew a deep breath, "We only have a limited time, and I guess I don't want to waste a moment of it."

"I get that," Tony said softly, looking down. "Just, I wouldn't want to see you hurt either is all. But he seems... good. She? He?"

"Clint will respond to both, but tends to identify more as 'she',"  Bruce replied.  "I'll be careful, but I have hopes for this, for what time there is."

"I'm glad," Tony said with a faint smile. "Happiness is good."

 His friend smiled, "It is.  And it's more than worth taking a risk or three when you find it."

Tony gave him a long look. "Are you sure? Even worth three?" He was asking more out of his own issues then Bruce's happiness.

Bruce nodded, "I think so. Then again it depends on whether you think the risks are worth it."

Running a hand through his hair, Tony nodded. "Just... just what makes something like that worth it? Are there signs, lists to check off, or, or quotas of happiness?"

Bruce smiled faintly, "It's one thing you can't quantify.  It's different for everyone, what sort of thing would make them risk it all.  For me?  It's Clint."

"But, but how do you know if someone is worth risking your happiness for? Worth risking those things for? Fuck, everything should have a quota or parameters or something.”

"Are you thinking of someone in particular?  Because it really depends on how you feel when you're around them.  If you don't care if you'd have a decade, a year, or even a day with them so long as they're at your side."

Tony sighed, running his hand through his hair. "God, that's romantic, Banner."

Bruce couldn't help but grin wryly at that, "It kinda was wasn't it.  Guess it's just how I've been thinking recently.  But all that to say, only you can make the call as to whether you think it's worth it, Tony."

Tony couldn't help but laugh. "God, I have missed you Banner when you've been gone."

"A lot or just a little?" The other smiled, leaning against the table.

"Lots and lots," Tony replied.

"Me and all my crazy romantic occasionally philosophical ramblings?  You sure you're in your right mind?"

The shorter man laughed again. "Banner, have I ever  been in my right mind?"

That garnered a smile, "No, I suppose not fully.  Good to know I've been missed though."

"Very missed. Stay for lunch, or dinner, or whatever meal we're having next?"

Bruce considered and then nodded, "I can certainly do that."

"Good," Tony said, clapping him on the shoulder again.

Chapter Text

For once Tony tried to get to sleep early on in the night, tossing and turning on the mattress several times without achieving anything. When the clock read three he pushed himself up, grabbing the keys and slipping down a flight of stairs, knocking lightly on the door he'd placed to be Loki's.

There was rustling from inside and after a few minutes the door opened, Loki blinking at him blearily, his hair mussed, "Tony?"

"Fuck, I'm sorry, were you asleep?"

He rubbed his eyes, looking quite a bit younger than his nineteen years for a moment, "Just got there, but it's fine.  Come on in."

Tony blinked at him, feeling his stomach turn over at how young he looked. "I didn't mean to wake you. How're you feeling?"

"Tired," Loki answered honestly, stepping aside to let the other in, "but still kinda wired too."

At that, Tony almost turned and walked away again, before stepping inside the apartment. "I'm sorry about earlier."

The other shrugged closing the door, "So'm I.  Shouldn't've shown up like that."

Tony tilted his head, looking him over. "But it's your life, not mine."

Shrugging again, Loki wove his way through the apartment over to the low couch he had, sinking down on it and curling his legs under him, "Eh, everyone else has told me how to live it, why not you too?"

Tony barely managed not to wince. "Because the last time someone told me how to I booted them out." Actually, they might have walked out on their own two feet. It was hard to remember.

That earned him an unimpressed look as the other motioned to the couch to indicate Tony could join him if he wanted, "Well, that's rather hypocritical of you."

Tony laughed, sardonically. "I know. Maybe it's genetic. But that's why I'm sorry."

Loki shrugged, "It's fine."

Still standing, Tony shrugged. "Not really, but thanks for saying so. Look, I'm not telling you how to live or what to do. But if you want... whatever it is between us, I can't--I can't see that."

Watching him for a long moment, Loki drew a deep breath, "I can't just give it up at the drop of a hat.  I've seen the marks on your arms.  I know that you know that."

"You mean going through withdrawals twice?" Tony asked, quirking his brows up.

Loki glanced away, his hand coming up to scratch at the place where he'd injected himself earlier, "Alright, point I didn't know that.  But I...." He shook his head, "I can't.  I won't show up high again, but I can't give it up without a certainty that what I'm giving it up for is worth it.  And I haven’t seen evidence that it is."

Tony couldn't stop himself from laughing. "Been having a lot of conversations about what's worth things."

"Reach any conclusions?"

"Not yet," Tony said, finally moving forward again and rather than sitting beside Loki he straddled his lap.

The other blinked at him, but his hands moved to run through Tony's hair, "Let me know if you do."

Tony hummed, leaning in to press an open-mouthed kiss against Loki. The dancer arched up, returning the kiss hungrily, one of his hands trailing down to the small of the other's back. Shivering, Tony pressed harder into the kiss.

Making a sound of want in the back of his throat, Loki slipped his hand under Tony's shirt, tracing patterns on the smaller man's bare skin.

Drawing back, Tony smoothed his mouth over Loki's cheekbone. "Half surprised you didn't have some client back or something."

The other tensed at that, "What?"

"Nevermind," Tony murmured, hand pulling lightly on the other's dark hair.

"I don't take clients back every night," he wasn't quite responding to the touch.  "And...I thought we had the conversation about jealousy already."

"Not jealous," Tony said. "Just surprised. But I would have been very put out if there had been someone between me and getting this."

Loki finally managed a smirk, leaning up to nip at the other's lower lip, "Good to know."

Humming, Tony trailed his hands down Loki's back. Arching into the touch, Loki tangled his hand in Tony's hair, pressing insistently into the kiss.

o-o-o-o

A couple days later, Tony was setting up the equipment for that night, the protest planned for the night before New Years. When one of the speakers started sparking, he'd dialed Steve before he even processed who he was calling. "The equipment just blew up!"

"Tony?  Is that you?  Blew up or shorted out?"  The artist on the other end sounded confused more than anything, but his tone evened out quickly.

"Fuck," Tony said, running a hand through his hair. "I'm sorry, yes, it's Tony, never mind."

"No, no, I'll be there soon and take a look.  Did it blow up or short out?"

"There were sparks. I'll figure it out," Tony said.

"You've got other things to worry about.  I'll be there in ten."

"I--Thank you, Steve."

"You're welcome, Tony.  Be there soon."  There was a soft click as he hung up.

Running a hand through his hair again, Tony shook his head, trying to busy himself with the work again. He really should have argued and told Steve to stay away but, he still missed the artist. And he had always been shit with speakers.

Loki entered the lot, glancing around and slipping into the building Tony was going to be performing in.  He spotted the other man and made his way over, "Hey."

"Loki," Tony said, eyes wide but grinning.

The taller man smiled, "How are things going over here?"

"Sparking," Tony said, with a shrug. "Things are falling apart. I'm sure it'll be fixed by tonight."

"Anything I can help with?" Loki asked, looking around.

"Not really?" Tony said, tilting his head. "Unless you have deeply hidden mechanical depths. I can hotwire engines and rebuild cars but I hate speakers."

Loki offered a wry smile, but shook his head, "No, that's one talent I lack."

Tony offered him a smile. "Well, thanks for the offer."

"Well, I like to be of use."

Grinning, the performer leaned closer, hands moving to Loki's hips. "Be of use? Really now?"

Loki smirked, "One track mind, I swear.  But yeah, of use."

"I have plenty of tracks," Tony laughed. "Just not always around you."

"Which I am alright with, though eventually might like to hear more about."

"You want to hear about my tracks?" Tony laughed, tugging him just a little closer.

Loki's arm circled the smaller man and he drew him a bit closer still, "Just said so, didn't I?"

"Well, I get distracted by how one track I am around you," Tony smirked.

"Which I can hardly blame you for, after all I live for that track."

That made something darker flicker in Tony's eyes, but he kissed the shell of Loki's ear and drew back. Loki offered him a smirk at that, "Well, I should let you get back to work..."

"You could do that," Tony agreed.

Loki grinned, stepping back, "I'll be here for the protest and around after it too."

"After is good," Tony said with a smirk. "I think there's some dinner planned. You could come."

The other hesitated, and then nodded, "I'd like that."

"Great," Tony said, forcing a smile.

"I’ll see you tonight then," Loki turned to go and nearly collided with a blond who had approached them quietly.  The man was just about the same height as he was, but broader, and the look he was giving Tony made something vicious curl in Loki's gut.

"Hey, Tony.  So you said there was a problem with the equipment?"

"That one," Tony said, pointing to one of the speakers. "Thanks for coming."

Steve offered him a smile, "You're welcome.  You're looking good, Tony."

Tony's jaw dropped, and for a moment he looked like that was the one thing in the world he wanted to hear. "Thanks," he said past a dry throat.

"How's everyone doing?"  The question held a layer to it that went beyond the usual question after well-being and straight to the root of their health.

For a second Tony dropped his gaze, clearing his throat before looking back up. "Bruce is back in town, finally. Phil is, well, the last test wasn't great but he's holding. Otherwise, otherwise the same. Good, even, somewhat."

Steve glanced away, "I should stop by and see Phil sometime soon."

"He'd like that," Tony nodded and laughed. "You know how he's always been around you. Thinks I don't know it, but he still has one of those paintings hanging up behind his curtain."

That earned a grin, "Yeah, I know how he's always been about those."  He clapped Tony on the shoulder, his blue eyes fond, "God, it's good to see you."

Tony's eyes widened and his mouth worked for a moment, looking lost and unsure. "It--I should... should..."

Loki had stayed silent, his green eyes watching their exchange, the relaxed posture Steve had around Tony, the way he leaned slightly toward the smaller man.  Before the blond could say anything else he cleared his throat sharply.

Breath catching, Tony stepped back. "I have things I need to finish. Thank you for coming, Steve." He hesitated, unsure still. "It, it's good to see you."

Steve glanced at Loki and then at Tony in moderate confusion and more than a little distrust before offering his hand to the dancer, "Steve Rogers."

Loki looked down his nose at the hand for a long moment before smiling thinly and shaking it, "Loki Laufeyson."

Glancing between them, Tony felt panic curl in his stomach.

Steve considered the other, "How do you know Tony?"

"He lit a candle for me on Christmas Eve," Loki replied, a smirk tugging at the corner of his lips.  "And you, I assume, are the former...roommate?"

"...Yeah that's me."

Looking between them again, Tony took a step back. "I have to go make sure the thing over there is working," he said, gesturing and retreating.

Steve watched him go, looking regretful, "Well, I'd better get to work on fixing that speaker.  So you started seeing him on Christmas Eve?"

Loki arched a brow, "I don't know if you can call it 'seeing him'."

"You're sleeping with him aren't you?"  the blond's question was almost weary.

"Of course."

"Then you're seeing him."  He knelt down by the speaker, checking the cables and carefully unscrewing the back.  "You'd damn well better be being careful too," his blue eyes skittered over Loki's appearance.

"I'm not going to get him sick if that's what you mean to imply."

"Good guess."  He tinkered with it, "If you're just going to stand there, would you be nice enough to at least hand me that wrench there?"

Loki frowned, but handed over the tool, his gaze moving to find Tony, "You two slept together."

"Yeah.  And actually dated too," Steve replied from where he was crouched behind the speaker.

Tony was standing across the lot, talking to a woman that was helping move things around, grinning easily since she was pretty and charming. Loki made a discontented noise at that and Steve glanced up, following his gaze before shaking his head, "Get used to it if you're planning to date him or do more than fall into bed with him once in a while."

"I've no idea what you're talking about."

"Really?  That glare you're offering the redhead over there says otherwise.  It's Tony.  He's handsome, charming, charismatic, and he likes people who are the same.  Or at the very least two of those three.  And he'll flirt with them too."

"Why are you telling me this?"  Loki glanced at him.

"I don't know," Steve shrugged, "Maybe some part of me half hopes it'll put you off of him."

"I'm a stripper for a living.  Flirting isn't gonna do that.  Besides, you gave up your chance with him from what I can tell, didn't you?"

Steve frowned, but turned his attention back to his work, "Sort of, yes."

Waving farewell to the redhead, Tony moved over, climbing gracefully up onto the stage, and starting to test the equipment there.

Loki frowned, taking a step nearer to Steve, "What do you mean sort of?"

"I mean we had a fight, and it didn't end well and I walked out."

"And you think the noble thing to do is warn me off?"

"No," the blond shook his head, finally locating the short and seeing what he could do to bypass it.

"Really?  Cause that's what it sounded like."

"No.  I'm not warning you off, I’m telling you what you'll need to get used to if you want to have a relationship with him."  Steve frowned, glancing at Loki, "Though if I'm honest I think you're a mistake on his part."

Loki scowled at him, "Well, fuck you too.  That's his choice not yours."

"Never said it was otherwise, but if you so much as get him anywhere near those drugs again I will recruit Phil and probably Bruce to help me in making sure you don't live to regret it," He finally finished with the speaker, re-fastening the back plate and standing up.

Tony's head whipped around at Steve's movement. "Did you get it?" he asked, bounding down.

"We'll have to turn it on and see, but I think so," he offered Tony a crooked smile.

Tony's heart turned over and he returned the smile. "Okay. Let's test it then."

Steve plugged in the cords again, "Check the mike."  Perching on the edge of the stage, Loki watched them quietly again, frowning.

Moving back to the mike, Tony tapped it. "And a diet coke," he said, the first nonsensical thing he could think of. "Hey, it works!"

That earned a laugh from the blond, "It sure does.  Looks like you're just about set for tonight, here."

"Are you coming?" Tony asked.

"Was thinking about it.  Do you want me to?"

"I, yes," was all that Tony managed.

Steve grinned, his blue eyes lighting up, "Then I'll be here."

"Steve," Tony said, taking half a step toward him.

"Yes, Tony?" The artist's gaze locked on Tony's a slight smile on his lips.

"You should... make sure to stop by and say hi to Phil," Tony said, looking down and away.

Steve managed, mostly, to keep his disappointment from his expression as he nodded, "Yeah.  I'll go do that.  See you tonight, Tony."

Jaw working again, Tony looked back at him. "He misses you," Tony said, and looked like he wanted to panic again. "I mean, I missed you too."

The blond's lips turned up into a faint smile, "I miss you too.  Both of you." He quickly amended.

"Of course both of us. It's easy to miss people you used to live with," Tony said, feeling his stomach turn over and rolled a shoulder.

Steve opened his mouth to say something else, but Loki shifted position enough to catch his attention again.  Right, Tony was with someone else now--whether that person was good for him or not.  He drew a deep breath and offered Tony another of his crooked, boyish smiles, "Yeah, it is.  I should go say hi to Phil and then get back to the gallery for a while."

"See you tonight," Tony said, turning on his heel and ducking down behind the equipment on the stage. Hesitating for another long moment, Steve finally turned and left, heading for the building next door.

Loki watched the blond leave, scowling, "Well, he's charming."

"He is, actually," Tony replied, head still buried in wires.

"Handsome too.  You didn't mention that.  But you're right.  His disappointed look closely resembles a kicked dog," the dancer remarked, almost idly.

"He was disappointed?" Tony asked, head snapping up.

Loki's gaze drifted to him, "Yes.  At least once, maybe twice, and perhaps even three times."

Tony's eyes widened, saying more clearly than words, but what did I do?

"When he realized you'd slept with me," Loki ticked off on his long fingers, something dark settling in his green gaze, "When you told him to say hello to Phil rather than who knows what he wanted to hear, and just before he left. Though the last one and the first one may have not quite been disappointment."

Tony considered him a long moment, crossing his arms over a speaker. "It doesn't matter."

"Doesn't it?"

Tony shook his head. "He left me. So whatever his hangs up are... it doesn't matter. Besides, I certainly wouldn't care if Steve Rogers disapproved of who I slept with."

"He says you fought.  But beyond that, he's more than disapproving of me.  I'm pretty damn sure he's expecting me to hand you a syringe," Loki scowled.

Tony's fingers started drumming on the speaker. "Are you planning to?"

"No.  Just cause I do it doesn’t mean my partner has to.  I don't see any reason to drag someone else into this hell.  Which, if what you said a couple days ago is true and I'm sure it is, you've pulled yourself out of twice.  I wouldn't do that."

"Then ignore him," Tony shrugged.

Loki glanced at the other man, "How often is he likely to be around?"

Rising suddenly, Tony shrugged. "No idea," he said, slipping toward the back of the lot.

The other's green eyes narrowed and he rose, starting after the other, "Who was the redhead?"

"Marie," Tony shrugged. "Does it matter?"

"She's awfully pretty."

Tony snorted. "Yeah, and?"

Loki shrugged, "Nothing I guess."

For a moment Tony just blinked at him, before blurting. "Wait, are you jealous?"

"What?"  He managed a passable attempt at shock, "No.  Why would I be jealous?"

"I don't know, but you're acting like it. Which is sorta hilarious."

"Hilarious is it?" Loki's eyes narrowed.

"All things considered," Tony shrugged. "The fact the stripper and whore would be jealous is a new spin on an old tale."

"Already said I'm not jealous," he murmured, his expression dark.  Tony's use of his jobs stung, even if it was entirely true.

Tony glanced around the room and his gaze settled back on Loki. "Right," he said, before leaning forward and kissing Loki hard. Loki tensed, but quickly melted into the kiss, an arm wrapping around Tony's waist almost possessively. "Course you're not," Tony said, smirking as he pulled back.

Rolling his eyes, the taller man yanked him in for another kiss before stepping back, "Whatever would I have to be jealous about?"

"No idea," Tony shrugged, turning to saunter off.

Loki drew a deep breath, but turned and headed for the apartment building rather than follow Tony further.

o-o-o-o

Steve left the lot where Tony was going to be performing and let himself into the building next door, heading up to the loft apartment he used to share with the others.  He knocked before sliding the door open, "Phil?  You here?"

"Hiding in my corner," Phil called back out.

The blond moved over, sliding the curtain back, "Hey you."

Phil grinned at him from where he was sitting with his knees pulled up. "Hey, Steve. It's been a while. Tony know you're up here? Because honestly I don't want him opening the door otherwise."

Steve grinned in response, "Yeah, he's the one who suggested I come up while I'm in the area.  He called me to give a hand with one of his speakers."

"He... called you," Phil repeated, a twitch between his brows.

"I don't think he'd realized he'd done so until I answered," the other admitted, running a hand over the back of his neck.

"Oh," Phil nodded. "One of those moments." He sighed, patting the edge of the bed. "Sit if you want."

The other paused for a moment, but sat down on the edge of the mattress, "Who's the fellow he's seeing now?"  The question was out before he caught it.

"Loki?" Phil asked. "Did you meet him or something?"

"Yeah, he was over there when I got there."

"What did you think of him?" Phil asked, arching a brow ever so slightly.

"I'll tell you the same I told him, and I'm probably going to sound jealous when I do but I really don’t give a damn.  I think he's a mistake on Tony's part."  Steve shook his head, "He's obviously using, and he also seems quick to grow jealous from what I saw."

"Jealousy?" Phil tilted his head and snorted. "Oh, that will go down fantastically on so many levels. Did he happen to tell you his profession?"

"No, I don't think either of them actually told me that."

"He works as a stripper who whores on the side," Phil said, a somewhat sardonic smile on his face.

Steve blinked at him at that, worry momentarily lighting his blue eyes, "So he's dating a whore who uses.  God damn it.  Is he...?"

"Is he what?"

"Loki.  Is he..." he sighed, "Is he clean?"

"He claims to be," Phil shrugged. "I don't expect him to lie about that. Though I wonder how long he'll stay as such."

Steve ran a hand over his face, "God... Alright, it's Tony's life I guess.  How've you been?"

"It's Tony's life. That doesn't mean you can't be worried," Phil pointed out and shrugged. "As for me, everything's been fine, really."

"You're seeing Natasha still?"

"Yes, and it's going well. Or rather as well as it can be."

"I'm glad to hear it.  She seems like a pretty great gal."

Phil laughed, the sound restrained compared to anyone else. "Only you would call her a gal."

Steve grinned, "Probably true."

"So there's nothing to worry about with me, or her," Phil said, glancing at the painting over his bed. "How're you?"

Glancing up at the painting, the blond shrugged slightly, "Hanging in there.  I've got another gallery showing next week.  Not getting all that much new stuff done though.  Can't seem to tap into it like I used to."

"Any factors going into that?" Phil asked, knowing far too well.

That earned a faint smile and another shrug, "No real inspiration right now.  Passion's gone out of it."

Phil sighed. "You really shouldn't have walked out."

"No.  You're probably right," Steve offered him a rueful smile, "But there's not much I can do about it now."

Sighing again, Phil placed his hands behind his head. "Maybe not."

"Didn't expect it to end up like this, though," the blond sighed, leaning against the wall.

"With him finding someone else? Steve, it's been almost five months."

"With me still hung up on him," Steve corrected.

"You didn't do a good job of showing that," Phil said quietly. "Come on, Steve. You know as well as I do what he's like. He sulked over Christmas for being the only one single and you walked out on him."

"Phil...he told me I couldn't care.  It was the last straw, I don't care how strung out he was.  I couldn't do it again.  I couldn't do any longer either."

Phil sighed, crossing his arms over his chest. "Steve..."

"What, Phil?"

"He was closer to black out drunk then high at the time," Phil snapped and paused. "I cannot believe I'm defending him but fuck. You could have at least waited for the next morning before walking out."

Steve ran a hand through his hair at that, "God damn it, I know that.  I can't change it though.  I made a mistake.  I never should have walked out on him, but I did."

Phil sighed. "And you think you can't fix it, don't you?"

"He's with someone else now, Phil.  Whether I think that someone else is good for him or not."

"He still has all the paintings," Phil said after a moment. "He took them down but they're all still here. And not just because I'd have his hide."

Steve's eyes widened and he looked at Phil in disbelief, "He...seriously?  All of them?"

"All of them," Phil nodded. "They're over there, under one of your old easel covers."

Running a hand over his face, Steve shook his head, "What are you saying, Phil?"

"There's not only one person hung up here."

"I can't just try to come back in to his life.  It's not fair to either of us."

"You could at least bother being his friend," Phil replied.

Steve considered him for a long moment, "Do you really think we'd be able to manage that?"

"I have no idea," Phil sighed. "But do you think it wouldn't be worth trying? Think about who Tony has, Steve. Bruce was in here asking him if he had anyone he wasn't worrying himself to the bone over."

The blond thought about that for a moment and then finally nodded, "I'll give it a try."

"I don't want to leave him alone, Steve," Phil said, giving him a long look. "Not this year, or next year even, but, eventually..."

"Eventually you're not going to be able to keep from doing so," Steve murmured, finishing the thought.  "I'll try, Phil.  That's all I can do."

"All I'd ask for too."

Steve offered him a faint smile, "You gonna be at the protest tonight?"

"Course I am. The question is whether you are or not."

"I was planning to.  Told Tony I would too."

"Good," Phil said with a faint smile.

Steve rose, "Well, I've got to get back to the gallery before then, but I'll see you there?"

"See you there," Phil said, offering him a faint, fond smile. The blond offered him a bit of a grin before slipping out.

Chapter Text

Approaching the lot from where he'd gone up to shower, Tony looked around, eyes scanning. "Are those cops in riot gear?" he asked Phil who craned his neck.

"Fury must've called them."

"That fucker," Tony muttered, shaking his head.

Loki was in the alley near the building, shooting a nervous glance over his shoulder every once in a while, as he fished for the money his dealer was demanding.  The cops had put both of them on edge and the nineteen-year-old was having difficulty focusing on the right amount, his hands shaking slightly as he finally got the money out.

"What's your trouble?" the dealer muttered in annoyance as Tony passed by the mouth of the alley, backtracking a step.

Phil tried to drag Tony along but the shorter man shrugged him off.

"Cops make me nervous, don't they you?"  Loki muttered, swearing under his breath as he pocketed what few bills he'd still have to his name once the deal was done.

"Oh, no you don't," Tony said, appearing at his elbow and pulling. "Not tonight."

"What the fuck?" the dealer snapped at Tony.

"Hey!  Get off!" Loki snapped, trying to wrench his arm away.

"Tonight is not a night for this," Tony said softly, tugging again. "Come on."

The taller man's green eyes narrowed, but scanned Tony's face and he took a step away from the dealer, pocketing the cash and starting to fidget almost immediately, "Fine.  Not tonight."

"Hey," the dealer snapped, shoving Tony's shoulder. "I remember you. You steal another one of my clients and I'll kill you."

"You didn't miss me, you wouldn't miss him," Tony snarled. "You're never likely to lack for customers. Come on," he said, pushing Loki toward where Phil was standing at the head of the alley still, watching them with an inscrutable expression.

Loki shot him a look, pulling away again but moving toward the end of the alley of his own accord, "It's not like I was planning to use it right away."

Tony settled his hand at the small of Loki's back, not pushing or pulling but simply wanting to touch him. "Right," he said softly as they started walking again.

"I already told you I wasn't going to show up around you high," the other muttered.  "And since I was planning to come tonight..."

Tony glanced over at him, unsure what to say. "I reacted, maybe I shouldn't have," he said finally, looking down. He couldn't make himself apologize for it though.

Loki shrugged slightly, not looking at him, "You acted on what you thought you knew.  Forget it.  It's fine."

"Still," he said and smiled. "Thank you for not punching me in the gut."

That earned a quirk of the other's lips, "Your diaphragm needs to be working so you can perform tonight."

"See? I thank you for your consideration," Tony laughed and Phil studied them a long moment as they walked.

Loki glanced at Phil, arching a brow, "Something on your mind?"

"No, nothing," Phil shook his head, moving in front of them to not watch anymore."

Tony sighed softly. Frowning, Loki slipped an arm around Tony's waist, "I'm not sure he much likes me."

"Phil doesn't approve of a lot of people," Tony shrugged. "I wouldn't take it entirely personally."

"I'll keep that in mind."  He bit his tongue to keep from asking the question that sprang to his mind.

"He's picky, that's all," Tony said, glancing over at him, aware of the question Loki probably wanted to ask.

Loki nodded, "Not really of the opinion anyone's good enough for you?"

Tony's eyes snapped over and he tried not to laugh hysterically. "Well, his choice for anyone good enough for me walked out four months ago so his opinion on that matter is moot. Besides, I'm sure the majority of the population thinks I wouldn't be good enough for anyone."

"Well, the majority of the population's crazy too," came the response as Loki studiously ignored the other part of what Tony said.

Laughing, Tony shook his head. "Crazy. We'll call them that."

"People obviously think you're good enough for them, so frankly the rest of the population can go fuck themselves."

"Oh?" Tony said, stopping and turning to face Loki, sliding a hand to cup his cheek. "Do you think I'm good enough for you?"

The dancer leaned into the touch, "I think you're too good for me."

Brown eyes widening, Tony's jaw dropped. "I--" Swallowing, he smiled ruefully and stepped back. "I really need to get inside. You know, perform, protest, possibly start a riot."

Loki grinned a bit at that, "Well, you said there was dinner afterwards, right?"

"Unless we get arrested, yes," Tony said, thumb pressing against Loki's wrist. "You're still coming, right?"

"I was planning to.  So let's see about not getting arrested, hm?"

"A kiss to see me off?" Tony asked with a smirk.

Loki grinned, leaning down to press a harsh kiss to the other's lips, "Break a leg."

Tony's fingers curled around his neck for a moment before drawing back and slipping inside with another grin. Smirking after him, Loki finally slipped inside as well, finding a spot where he could see the stage relatively clearly.

Moments later the lights went out and came back on focused on the stage, Tony hopping up and holding his hands up as the crowd cheered. Grinning happily he nodded to the crew, finally motioning his hands down to quiet them, all his motions exaggerated.

The performance was a mixture of speaking and sung verses, Tony's charisma and handsome looks selling the crowd easily. The routine was an analogy involving a cow, sell outs, and a bulldog named Nick Fury who had once had principles.

By the end of the show, he started leading the entire audience in moo-ing against oppression and capitalist greed.

The audience obliged him, the moo-ing reaching a crescendo as Fury, who'd arrived mid-way through the performance, glanced at the officer in charge and nodded slightly.  The police moved in to start clearing the people out.

Tony bowed on the stage, waving at everyone and throwing out exaggerated stage kisses. "Thank you all, you've been lovely," and he hopped quickly down from the stage, weaving toward Loki from the crowd and catching him around the waist, pulling him along.

Loki laughed, allowing himself to be pulled out and spotting several others making quick exits around the area, "Good show."

Grinning, Tony looked almost exuberant. "So glad you approved," he said, finding Bruce and Clint and Phil, weaving toward them once outside.

Natasha arrived at Phil's side moments before Tony and Loki did, slipping her arm through his and offering Loki a long look. Phil glanced down at her, leaning to murmur in her ear. "You look pleased."

She glanced at him, "Do I?"

He laughed. "Not at all."

"I may be feeling a shade protective at the moment."  She put on a smile as Tony and Loki reached hearing range, "Tony, you did well."

"Toward who?" Phil murmured, already putting a smile on for his roommate.

"Thank you, Tasha," Tony said, slinging an arm over her shoulder for a moment before dropping it, bowing again as Clint obligingly clapped for him.

"Tony, who else?" she murmured softly.

Bruce offered Tony a smile and extended his hand to Loki after a minute, "I don't think we've met.  I'm Bruce."

The stripper considered the hand for a moment, far less disdainful of it than he'd been of Steve's earlier that day.  Shaking the offered hand, he smiled, "Loki."

"I'm Clint," the blond said, popping up in front of Loki and shaking his hand too.

The taller man looked him over, his smile brightening, "It's good to meet you."

Tony arched a brow at that, moving over to hug Bruce quickly. "Banner, enjoy the show?"

Meanwhile, Clint had slipped one arm through Loki's. "You look like you could use some food, dear."

Bruce returned the hug briefly, "It was certainly enjoyable.  At least Fury let you finish, huh?"

Loki grinned at the drag queen, "Food certainly isn't something I'll turn down."

"Well, I was protesting, not actively harming," Tony said, glancing back at Clint and Loki. "So, food?"

"The usual place, I presume," Phil said, neck craning for a particular blond.

"Usual place sounds good," Natasha agreed as Steve approached, having finally spotted Tony.

"Hey, Tony.  Good job tonight.  You certainly got the point across." Loki's expression shuttered off as though someone had flipped a switch when he heard Steve's voice.

Tony's smile widened even further. "Steve. So you did come."

"Told you I would," the blond offered him a smile.

"Coming to dinner?" Tony asked, grabbing his arm and pulling Steve with him.

Steve glanced at Phil and then Loki before nodding, "I don't see why not."

Loki stiffened where he was stills standing next to Clint, his jaw tensing and his desire to retreat back to his apartment growing rapidly. Clint glanced up at the man he was walking beside. "Hey, you look a little, um, tense there."

The stripper rolled his shoulder in a half shrug, "I'm fine."

"Uh-huh," Clint drawled. "So you don't want to talk about it. Probably should."

"Nothing to talk about," Loki replied, his gaze still focused on Tony and Steve.

"I don't know, I think raging jealously is something to talk about," Clint said, voice turning light.

His green eyes widened as he glanced at Clint, "I'm not jealous.  I've no reason to be jealous."

Clint gave him a disbelieving look. "Honey, denial is going to do you no good."

"I can't be jealous.  Not when I've been so adamant about him not getting to be... Besides, if he's still hung up somewhere else, I should back off."

Clint considered him for a long moment. "Well, I don't really know about remaining hung up on people, but I'm not so sure backing off would really be in anyone's best interest. Will you get through dinner?"

Loki nodded, his hand moving to pick at the sleeve of his sweater, "Yeah.  I'll make it."

Clint nodded. "Good," he said as Tony stopped in front of them, turning away from Steve and back tracking slightly, arm wrapping around Loki's waist.

Loki startled slightly at that, glancing at Tony with a raised eyebrow, "Hello there."

Tony grinned. "Greetings earthling."

That actually earned a bit of a laugh that only came off as partially forced, "How are you?"

"Flying above Earth, clearly," Tony laughed as they reached the doors, pushing inside the cafe.

Loki grinned, though it faltered as his eyes drifted over to Steve again, "Clearly.  How's the view up there?"

"Well, I'm staring at something quite pretty," Tony said, dragging Loki over to the table and sitting between the dark haired man and Steve.

That earned a smile and Loki hesitated a moment before kissing Tony briefly, "You are a flatterer."

"Are you complaining?" Tony asked as Phil sat down across from him, the waiter coming over and looking flustered.

"Not you people! You sit here all day and never order anything!"

"That's not true!" Phil protested. "I ordered a tea last week."

The waiter rolled his eyes. "You couldn't pay!"

"Oh right," Phil grinned and Clint dug into her handbag, producing several bills.

"I have us more then covered, see!"

The waiter considered the drag queen a moment and finally nodded. "Alright, fine. But don't cause a damn fuss."

"I have no reason to complain," Loki smirked, watching the waiter rather than Tony.

Tony jabbed him in the side with the knife from the table. "Where are you staring off to?"

Loki startled, "What?" Tony laughed, pulling at his waist. Loki grinned, something lighting in his eyes as he saw Steve watching them from the corner of his eye.  Alright, he could work with that.

Tony's eyes darted up as the waiter came around, trying to take orders as more people started filing into the cafe, some patting Tony on the back as they went. He waved to all of them before leaning his chin on Loki's shoulder. "What food are you ordering?"

Loki shrugged, "Not really sure.  Suggestions?"

"Well," Tony drawled. "Bruce claims the meatless balls and pasta tastes good, but no one else believes him. Killer french fries though, and some pretty good salads exist."

That garnered a laugh, "The fries actually will probably be what I'll go with I think."

"That is not a fulfilling meal!" Tony protested and Phil looked like he was about to go into hysterics.

"Like you would know."

Loki's brow arched, "Would you feel better if I had a salad?"

Natasha watched the two of them for a moment, but turned back to the conversation she was having with Bruce.

Tony poked Loki's ribs and nodded. "Yeah."

The other rolled his eyes, twisting away from the poke, "Then I'll have a salad."

Tony draped himself over Loki's shoulder when he tried to move back. "Good boy." Loki smirked, wrapping an arm around the other and kissing his jaw line.

Tony blinked at that as the door opened again, and Tony's head snapped around to see Nick Fury in a suit, surrounded by several other older men in matching suits. "Oh you're kidding."

The others glanced up at that, Steve's brows arching and Bruce shaking his head, "Nicholas Fury, here?  What brings the supposed mogul to the Life Cafe?"

Nick nodded toward a table where the older men headed to sit down, "I've come to propose a toast, to Tony's noble try."

"Only if you go to hell first," Tony called back.

"Pity it didn't work quite like you hoped," Nick responded.

Steve cut in, "Why didn't your wife make it?"

"If you must know there was a death in the family."

"Who died?" Clint asked, eyes wide.

"Our Akita, Evita," Nick replied simply.

Clint's eyes widened further in horror, inching slightly behind Bruce's shoulders, recognizing the name of the dog she'd been paid to get rid of.

Tony barely managed not to crack up and Phil smothered his expression in the plate of french fries put down in front of him. Bruce kept his expression clear at that, though he frowned when Nick continued. 

"I'm still not sure you all understand what I'm trying to do.  This could be a good thing for the neighborhood, or do you really want it to stay a place where dealers exist in every shadow?  Bohemian living is a fallacy, and a dead one at that."

Tony popped up instantly, holding his hands out to deliver a mock eulogy. "Dearly beloved, we gather here to say our goodbyes..." he drawled.

Nick rolled his eyes and headed for the table where his shareholders were seated.  Steve grinned slightly, but cleared his expression and crossed himself, "No one ever knew how very much she was worth to everyone present.  Good bye fair bohemia."

Phil started singing a requiem chant as Tony smirked at Steve. "We raise our glasses to La vie Boehme!" he said, taking up his own glass of water as the rest of the table raised their wine and beer glasses.

"La Vie Boehme."  The others intoned.

"She gave us much," Bruce remarked, an arm around Clint's shoulders.  "Inspiration, and the opportunity to be us."

"To going against the grain," Phil added.

"To going insane and mad!" Tony continued, standing on one of the chairs to better deliver.

"To hating convention," Loki supplied.

"To causing a commotion," Natasha lifted her glass in a salute.

The rest of the bar started listing off the other things they would miss, Tony leading most of the chant. As they started winding up, Nick rose and the men with him followed him out of the cafe, shaking their heads.

Tony led an extra cheer when the suits left, jeers of all sorts following them out. As Tony sank back down into his seat, Phil gave him a long look. "You might want to consider the fact that pissing off the man with money isn't a good plan," he whispered across the table.

Instead of agreeing, Tony just gave him a lazy smirk. "But I'm so good at pissing off men with a lot of money."

"Including the one who owns your building," Steve murmured, but fell silent after that.

Tony tilted his head back to consider Steve. "Please. I have pissed off far worse."

Loki couldn't help but grin as he coiled his arm around Tony's, "Well, it was enjoyable either way."

"So long as everyone had fun," Tony laughed, fingers curling around Loki's waist again. Steve glanced at them and away again, turning to talk to the person on his other side.

When the night started to wind down, Phil glanced over at Steve and stomped quite suddenly down on the blond's foot.

Steve startled slightly at that, glancing at the other and then nodded.  He turned to the man next to him, "Hey, Tony?  Can I talk to you a minute?"

Glancing over, Tony's eyes went wide for a moment and he nodded, standing. Steve rose, nodding toward the door of the restaurant. Eyebrows darting up, Tony nodded, patting Loki's shoulder before slinking outside, wrapping his arms around his chest. "Jesus, Steve, it's cold out here."

Steve shrugged offered the coat he wasn't wearing to the other, "I wanted to talk privately for a minute.  To apologize for a start."

"Apologize?" Tony asked, raising a hand to brush back his hair and considering the coat with no small amount of suspicion before accepting it.

"For leaving when and how I did.  I..."  He drew a deep breath, "I want to try being friends.  If you're okay with that?"

"Friends," Tony repeated, feeling stuck on repeat and looking like he'd been hit.

Steve managed not to flinch at that expression, "Yes?"

"You want to be friends," Tony said, shaking his head slightly to dislodge the snow melting in his dark hair.

"Yes.  If...yes, I would."

Tony laughed. "You really think we could be?"

"I don't know," Steve answered honestly.  "But I'd rather that than nothing."

"I can barely look at you without hurting," Tony replied. "What would we even do?"

"I...be there for support when we were needed?  I don't know beyond that, but I hate not being at all in your life anymore.  I know that's my own fault, but..."

"You walked out!" Tony snapped. "I don't even remember what I said to make you do it but you were gone. W-what do you want me to say? That it's okay for you to hang around again?"

Steve looked away at that, "I know.  I left.  Without a word to you, I know.  I don’t know what I want you to say, but I do want you to know that I'm around if you ever need anything."

For a moment Tony just blinked at him before finally giving a jerky nod.

The blond hesitated, "I should let you get back inside."

Tony looked like he really didn't know what to do. "Yeah, yeah I should..."

"You need anything, at all, call me, yeah?"  Steve offered quietly.

"Why do I feel like Banner or Phil set you up to do this?" Tony asked softly.

Steve hesitated, "Because I wouldn't have had the guts for it otherwise."

Tony rubbed a hand over his eyes. "Damn it."

"Just because they had to give me a push doesn't mean I didn't mean every word I just said, Tony."

"Of course it doesn't," Tony said, finally looking back up at Steve's blue eyes and regretting it. "Just..."

"Just?"  Steve murmured, resisting the urge to take a step closer to the smaller man.

"Just, why'd you have to show up right now again?"

Steve looked toward the restaurant, "You mean while you're trying to start what could be something new?  Because fate's a bitch.  I can leave again if you want?"

"Not sure I can handle you walking away again," Tony shook his head.

"Can you handle me being in your life again though is the question."

Tony laughed harshly. "I have no idea."

Steve sighed, "Maybe don't make up your mind tonight?"

"Yeah," Tony said and nodded, fingers twitching.

"I'll see you 'round, Tony.  Take care,” Steve said, not quite meeting his eyes.

"Thanks," Tony said, shrugging out of the coat and holding it back out. "I'll... actually see you around then?"

Steve took the coat, running his hands over the fabric, "Yeah.  I'll be around."

Tony offered him another strained smile before retreating back into the restaurant.

The blond sighed, pulling on his coat and heading back toward his own apartment.

Loki glanced up as Tony reentered the restaurant.  He offered the other a smile, though there was something guarded in his eyes. Tony stopped beside him, noticing that Phil and Tasha had already headed out for the night, draping himself along Loki's back rather than sit. "Ready to turn in?"

Tilting his head back, the other grinned, "Yeah I think so."

"Then let's go," he said, pulling on Loki's shoulder and waving to Bruce and Clint who returned the motion.

Loki rose, wrapping an arm around Tony's waist and kissing him briefly as he headed toward the door. Trailing after him, Tony tried to pretend Steve had never asked to talk to him, attempting to recapture the glow of performance, and the promise of another night in Loki's bed.

o-o-o-o

Natasha slipped her arm through Phil's as they left the cafe.  She glanced at him, offering him a bit of a smile, "Your place or mine for tonight?"

"Yours if at all possible," he replied. "Considering the way Tony left."

Shaking her head, Natasha sighed, "My place is very possible.  Do you think he knows what he's getting into?"

"Depends," Phil said, glancing down at her. "Which bit of it?"

"Just in general.  He's sleeping with a stripper, who whores as well.  I'm not one to judge, but it doesn't seem like a good idea."

"That he does know, or at least thinks he understands," Phil said with a small shrug of his shoulders.

Natasha nodded slightly, "Well, I suppose it's his choice to make.  I was surprised to see Steve tonight."

"Apparently Tony accidently called him earlier," Phil sighed. "And then I scolded him for disappearing."

"Which he more than deserved," she muttered, pausing as they approached the empty lot where Tony had staged his protest.

Phil looked out over where the many bohemians were rioting, mooing toward the police trying to quell them. "There will be no living with him after this,” he drawled, watching the riots as they started to get out of control.

That garnered a faint smile, "If anyone can do it, it's you."

Phil offered her a small smile. "Maybe. But there are riots on his behalf. I can't even imagine the amount of well timed barbs it's going to take to get his head back down to size."

Natasha laughed, "Worry about them tomorrow.  I'm sure you'll be able to get it down to a livable size soon enough."

"I hope so," he said, leaning over and kissing the top of her red hair as they meandered down an alley rather than try to walk through the riot.

She leaned her head against his shoulder as they made their way to her apartment, "How is your script coming?"

"It," he bit off a frustrated sigh. "It was going well for a while. Now, I don't know."

She tightened her hand on his arm reassuringly, "What about going off script for a while?  Seeing what comes of that?"

"But," he said and glanced down at her, eyes pinched. "That's even more terrifying then trying to write with a script."

She smiled at him fondly before kissing his cheek, "Then maybe start with what you have on the script?  Have someone read it over?"

"Are you offering?" he asked, glancing down at her.

Natasha shrugged slightly, "If you want me to."

"It, that might be nice," he said after a moment, opening the door to her building.

"Then, yes, I'm offering," she glanced at him as she stepped past and started for the stairs.

"Thank you," he said, following her up, watching the way her body moved.

Feeling his eyes on her she added a bit of a swing to her step as they reached her hall, "Any time, Phil."

He didn't quite roll his eyes when she noticed him watching her, but smiled what on anyone else would have been a sappy expression. "Thanks," he said, leaning against the wall by her door.

Unlocking the door she stepped inside, tossing a smile over her shoulder at him. Phil slide inside quickly after her. "Any plans for the rest of the night?" he asked, the question only appearing innocent.

She appeared to consider that for a moment, "Well, I was thinking about seducing you into my bed, but if you have other plans...."

"Well, I do have this script to work on..."

Natasha smirked, sliding over to him and wrapping her arms around his waist, tilting her head back, "Is it really so important tonight?"

"Well," Phil seemed to actually consider. "I mean, I might be able to be convinced otherwise... but it might require some effort on your part."

Laughing lightly, she leaned up to trail kisses along his jaw line to whisper in his ear, "Oh, I'll take that challenge."

"It's really not a hard one to win," he murmured into her ear.

She traced a finger over the shell of his ear as she drew back enough to actually kiss him, "Good."

Wrapping his arms around her waist, he hummed into the kiss. "So, seduction then?"

"That is the plan, yes," she murmured, as one of her hands traced over the back of his neck and drew him down a bit further.

Phil went easily with the motion. "Do keep me updated on how that plan's going," he said, smirking against the touch of her lips.

Natasha backed up, drawing him with her smoothly, her hands ghosting over his skin as she worked to divest him of his shirt, "I think you're the one who'll have to answer that question."

"But it is your plan," he said, hands going to the zipper of her skirt.

"Then, so far, it seems to be working," she laughed, pulling back enough to take his shirt off before pressing into another kiss.

Smiling again, he smoothed his hands down her back. "Good," he breathed, kissing her collarbone. Arching at that touch, Natasha drew he boyfriend back until she felt her calves hit the edge of her bed.

Chapter Text

The next evening, New Year's Eve, Loki and Tony returned to the apartment building from meeting with the others to find the door to their building padlocked, a large chain lopped through the door handles.  Loki frowned at it, lifting the lock in his hand and tugging a couple of times, "Oh you've got to be fucking kidding me."

Tony leaned against the door. "This is Fury's work. I just know it."

"Great.  So now we're locked out of the building."  He tilted his head back, looking up at the fire escape, "And the bastard hauled the ladder up to, so there's no reaching it from here."

Tony jumped at the fire escape a couple times, just to see if he could. "Fucker."

Loki leaned against the door, "So what do we do now?"

"Could see if anyone has a ladder," Tony considered as Clint and Bruce rounded the corner.

"I thought we were having dinner at your place?" Clint said, eyes going to the padlock.

"So did I," Tony drawled.

Bruce frowned at the lock, "Fury?"

"That's our best guess," Loki muttered, glaring at the chain on the door again.

"Oh, don't worry about that," Clint said, waving a hand as she made her way over to a trash can, upending it's contents.

Loki blinked at that, but moved away from the door.  Bruce's glance was uncertain, "Honey, what are you doing?"

"Don't worry, I entirely know what I'm doing," Clint said, waving a hand at Bruce before hitting the padlock with the edge of trash can.

Bruce took a half-step forward, making a quiet sound of protest, "Clint..."

"It's fine," Clint laughed, hitting it one more time and neatly severing the padlock. "See?" she said, waving a hand at it as Tony whooped.

Loki grinned as Bruce moved to Clint's side, "Good job.  It did work."

"Told you it would," Clint grinned, carrying the trashcan up the stairs.

Tony laughed, hooking an arm around Loki's waist. "Well, it's still another few minutes to the new year at least."

"Are you putting the trashcan back?"  Bruce called after her as he hurried to catch up.

Loki laughed, "A couple more minutes, yeah."

"Not particularly," Clint said. "I quite like it." That earned a laugh from Bruce as he finally got an arm around Clint's waist and kissed her.

Tony dragged Loki with him up the stairs. "Two and twenty three seconds," he said, glancing down at his watch. "You have any resolutions?"

Loki shrugged, "I try not to make new year's resolutions.  I always break them."

Tony laughed. "Not even, I don't know, going back to school or something?"

Glancing at him, Loki shrugged again, "Maybe.  I'd have to be able to pay for it to do that though."

"What about giving up your vices?" Tony asked, trying to tease.

Loki just offered him a long look, but shook his head, "I like them too much."

Tony forced a smile as they reached the top floor apartment. "Well, I can say I approve of one of them at least."

The taller man smirked, "Well, I'll take that, at least."  He pushed open the door to Tony's apartment and paused, "Didn't you used to have furniture in here?"

"That fucker!" Tony cried out as Clint poked his head in around the sliding door. She set the trashcan down upside down as a seat, sitting primly.

Loki stepped away from Tony and darted back down a flight of stairs, reappearing a few minutes later, "My apartment's cleared out too."

"You're kidding!" Tony snapped, kicking the door. "Bastard couldn't stand people rioting against him or something?"

Phil chose that moment to appear at the door. "It looked like there were eviction notices--" he started and froze. "Um, all our stuff is gone."

"The furniture is," Tony agreed and an expression of horror settled on his face as he suddenly started digging around what was left.

Natasha entered a step behind Phil, her brows rising at the empty apartment.  Loki frowned  at Tony, "What are you looking for?  There isn’t' much left."

"Just, never mind," Tony said, spotting the set of canvases covered in the far corner, shoulder's slumping before leaning down to scoop up his sketch book, pretending that had been his goal all along. "Aha! No reason for Fury to get ahold of this and sell the designs for money now is there?"

Phil looked like Tony hadn't fooled him at all.

Loki eyed him, but shrugged, "Looks like he's taken most everything else of worth..."

Natasha shook her head, "Well, if you guys stay here, technically you're within the law.  Since I doubt he'd be unaware of you being here."

"We're within the law?" Tony asked in some surprise.

"The technical term is squatting.  There are several other components that go into it, but it's the idea of possession being 9/10ths of the law. You're here, he knows it, unless he kicks you out you can claim the apartment as yours.  There's a chance it could work--but it's a slim one," She responded, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear as she moved to stand by where Clint sat.

"We're lucky to have you," Clint said with a grin at her.

"Yeah, but I want my goddamn stuff back!" Tony snapped as Phil started making inventory of what was left.

"You might get it, at that," Fury said, appearing at the door.  Tony's eyes went wide and then narrowed. "Happy New Years."

Bruce crossed his arms, studying Fury for a long moment, "You really do have the worst timing known to man, you know that?"

"Which part of it?" Fury asked, focusing on Bruce and not Tony who looked fit to kill him.

"You locked them out of their building and took their stuff and then, what, showed up to gloat?"  Bruce shook his head, "Not your best timing, Nick."

"I have a New Years gift," Fury replied, holding his hands out.

Tony snorted. "You out of our lives forever?"

Natasha eyed him suspiciously, "Why would you offer them anything, Fury?"

"I'm just here to end this war of protests, riots, and evictions," he said with a shrug, eyes narrowing when Tony laughed in his face.

Loki finally spoke from where he'd been keeping as inconspicuous as possible, "Why the about face?"

"Why, the credit is all yours," Fury said, turning and giving Loki a smile. "You made a good case for allowing everyone to stay."

"Come again?" Tony managed.

Loki paled and drew in on himself at that, his gaze darting from Tony to Fury and back, but he refused to rise to that.

"He came to see me, earlier today," Fury continued and Tony looked like he was slapped in the face.

"When?" Tony demanded, Clint looking between Tony and Loki with a small frown of worry.

"Does that matter?" Fury asked, tilting his head.

"Yes," Tony growled.

Loki dropped his gaze to the floor, murmuring, "Around noon.  I stopped by his office."

"His office," Tony deadpanned back.

"He had a lot to say," Fury shrugged.

"It was on my way," Loki protested.  "I just stopped in for a minute--I'd seen the padlock this morning."

"And what exactly did you have to say?" Tony asked as Fury just glanced between Tony and Loki.

"I..."  His gaze darted around, seeking an ally anywhere, but finally focused on Tony again, "I went and asked what could be done and if he really wanted the story of how he kicked an entire apartment building's population out in the snow reaching the evening news."

"Well, his attempts to lock us out really didn't work that well now did they?" Tony snapped and Fury shrugged.

"I said, I don't want to battle you anymore."

"Hell of a time to change your mind," Clint murmured.

"Call it my new year's resolution to be good," Fury replied.

Loki visibly flinched at Tony's tone, and took a half step back.  Natasha glanced around, drawing a deep breath, "Fury, if you're done?"

He shrugged. "Fine. Whatever. Your place is yours. One year rent free."

"And our stuff?" Tony snapped.

Loki glanced up at that, his gaze drifting to Fury.  Bruce leaned against the wall behind Clint, staying silent, but his gaze having caught the whole exchange.

"Will be returned," Fury said, spreading his arms.

"Good. Now get the fuck out."

"I own the place," Fury reminded Tony but bowed mockingly at him and added, "Have a Happy New Year then."

Watching Fury leave, Natasha shook her head, "Damn him."

Loki wouldn't look anyone in the eye, his attention entirely focused on a loose thread on the sleeve of his shirt.

"So what just happened?" Tony asked the room at large.

Bruce shook his head, speaking quietly, "It looks like Fury just gave you the apartment and your furniture back."

"The question is why?" Tony asked the apartment at large, not looking at Loki.

"Does that really matter?" the stripper murmured.

"I don't know," Tony said, looking down as Phil retreated to get the fire escape ladder back down, pulling Natasha's arm to take her with him.

Natasha hesitated, but followed him.  Bruce moved over to Clint, leaning down to murmur in the other's ear, "Let's go see about returning that trash bin, hm?"

Clint glanced around. "Sure we shouldn't leave it for a chair?"

The taller man offered her a faint smile, "Alright, probably.  Come on, though."

Clint glanced back at the other's and nodded. "Have a good new year," she said and waved before heading quickly for the door. Bruce closed the door softly behind them, leaving Loki and Tony alone in the nearly empty apartment.

Tony looked around, unsure he was actually happy with those circumstances. Loki hesitated, "I...I'll go if you want me to."

"I'm just trying to understand what happened is all."

"What do you mean?"

Tony considered him before sitting down on the trashcan, flipping open his sketchbook and considering the clean lines of machinery for a moment, calming himself down. "I don't know what I mean. Just wondering how you convinced Fury what his former friends and roommates could not."

"You don't want any answer I can give you.  You won't like one, and you won't believe any others," Loki said, wrapping his arms around himself.

"Well, I might as well hear one of them then."

"I already gave you one.  You're asking for another.  I don't know what you want to hear, Tony."

"Alright then," Tony waved a hand in the air. "Expand on the answer."

"I went to him and tried to convince him to re-open the building and undo whatever else he’d done."  Loki shrugged, "I didn't expect him to do it."

"What did you say? Actually, why the hell would Fury talk to you? Does he even know you?"

Loki hesitated for a long moment, "We...knew each other when he was still living here."

"How in the--" Tony paused. "Oh," he said finally. "Right. He used to come out with me. He always liked your club."

The other nodded once, "Yeah.  We...had something for a while.  Before he got married and left."

"Something," Tony repeated, glad he was sitting. "Great."

"Look, what do you want from me?  You know what I do, you know what I am.  We had this conversation about jealousy."

"Yeah but that's--" Tony shook his head. "You're right, we did. This is more about Fury."

"It was a while ago," Loki protested.  "Yes, I screwed around with him, but that's been quite a while."

"Which is why he listens to you and ignores all of us," Tony huffed. "Good to know sex means more than friendship."

The taller man scowled, scratching at the inside of his elbow, "What do you want me to say?  That I let him fuck me to get us back in the building and off the street?  Fine."

Tony blinked at him, something hurt flickering in his eyes. "Right."

Loki dropped his gaze, his jaw tensing, "Look, think what you like, but it's what I have, and what I had at the time.  I should go."

"Not to say I'm thrilled with this," Tony said after a breath. "But why leave?"

"You want me to stick around?"  the other's head came up, his expression startled.

"Sure," Tony shrugged. "Why kick you out on New Year's?"

A response sprang instantly to Loki's mind, but he for once opted not to say it, "I...if you're sure."

Tony leaned back, bracing his palms on the edge of the trash can. "Please. I'm never sure about anything. You want to see if Fury actually did the courtesy of leaving behind the condoms?"

Loki looked at him in disbelief, but he shrugged very slightly, "We could certainly see."

After a moment, Tony rose, brushing a hand over Loki's hip as he went to search. The taller man swallowed, hesitating for a long moment before joining Tony in digging through what little remained in the apartment.

o-o-o-o

Good to his promise, Fury brought back their furniture within three days, ignoring the way Tony glared at him the whole time.

After that, it almost seemed like things settled down into a rhythm. Tony slinked down to Loki's apartment more often than not, and Phil steadily worked on his script, as Clint and Bruce moved between the shantytown down by the river to a suit at the Plaza depending on the night.

Then, one day at the end of January, the phone rang, Tony scrambling over the couch to reach it before it rang out. "Hello?" he asked, jamming it between his ear and shoulder.

Steve's voice came over the line, "Hey, Tony."

"Uh, Steve," Tony managed, stupidly, hating the way he could feel his heart turn over in his chest. "Do you want Phil or something?"

"Actually I was calling for you.  I wanted to see if you'd like to get coffee maybe?"

"Coffee," Tony repeated, staring at the wall. "You want to just... go out for coffee?"

"Yes?  I mean, just to talk."

"Right," Tony repeated. "Um, when then?"

"Day after tomorrow?"

"That's pretty abrupt, don't you think?" Tony asked softly.

"...When would you rather?"

"Come on, Steve. A couple days so I can piece my broken heart back together and have the time to actually plan out a way interact with you in public."

"Next week then?"  Steve offered quietly.

Tony paled—he hadn’t meant to say that out loud. "I--I'm sorry. Yes, next week?"

"Say...Wednesday?"

"Wednesday," Tony repeated quietly.

"The cafe?" Steve offered.

"Sure, the usual place," Tony agreed, twining the cord of the phone around a finger.

"I'll see you there then?"

"Al-alright," Tony nodded. "Wednesday, Cafe, say three?"

"Sounds good. Three o'clock next Wednesday then."

"See, see you then," Tony said.

"Take care, Tony," Steve murmured, hanging up after a moment

Tony stared at the phone for another long moment. "Great," he muttered, wanting to throw it.

There was a tap at the door a few minutes later before Bruce slid it open, and stepped inside, holding the door for Clint.

"Oh, hey," Tony said, still half bent over the couch and phone still in hand.

"We're not interrupting anything are we honey?" Clint asked, arching a brow.

"Phil won't appreciate you breaking that phone," Bruce reminded.  "What happened?"

"I'm not breaking the phone," Tony muttered, sliding down along the couch and turning to sit against it. "I'm just here, by myself, doing nothing suspicious."

"Which says a lot about the fact that you're doing otherwise," Bruce shook his head.  "Anyhow.  We were in the neighborhood and thought we'd stop by and say hello."

"Hello!" Tony said, waving a hand and Clint just arched a brow, meandering around the apartment.

"Looks like everything got back here in one piece."

"Even the couch," Bruce remarked.  "Though it's hard to tell if that was in one piece to begin with..."

"He might have fixed it," Tony admitted with a scowl.

"Well, that's...." the other frowned, "What does he want in exchange for doing so?"

"I have no goddamn idea," Tony shrugged, finally standing.

Bruce eyed him before moving over to where Clint was exploring, "Well, the stuff's back.  Is it the same for all the tenants?"

"He only took our stuff and Loki's," Tony shrugged. "Um, not that there's a lot of other's but yeah."

That garnered an eye roll, "Of course he did.  How are you and Loki doing?"

"What?" Tony asked, frowning. "Um, fine."

"Really?" Clint asked, giving him a long look.

"Well, yes," Tony replied. "I mean, there was only that one time I walked in on him with a client. But yes, everything is fine."

Bruce leaned against the table, considering his former roommate, "And that went 'fine'?"

"Well, I mean," Tony shrugged. "Yes? We survived it without major issue."

"Good to hear..."  Shaking his head, Bruce glanced around, "Phil out then?"

"Yeah, he's with Tasha," Tony shrugged.

"They're good for each other," Clint remarked, adjusting her skirt ad she sat.

"Do you say such things about me and Loki?" Tony teased and Clint gave him a long, disbelieving look.

Bruce's brow arched, "When we see evidence of it we will."

"What does that mean?" Tony demanded.

"Means I don't know how good it is for either of you since I haven't seen you around each other that much," Bruce answered.

"That's rather diplomatic," Tony pouted.

His former roommate shrugged, "It's the same reaction I had to Phil and Tasha.  I mean, if you manage to make it work, more power to you.  I just don't know how long you’ll be able to hold up with this, Tony."

Tony scowled. "I can hold up under a lot of things. Come on, Bruce. Like you haven't had bad relationships in the past?"

"I really hope you're not including me," Clint murmured.

Bruce crossed his arms over his chest, "I'm just saying, Tony.  How many times will you be able to handle possibly walking in on him with a client?"

"Frankly more concerned with walking in on him using drugs then whoring," Tony shrugged. "I mean, he slept with Fury. It can't get much worse than that."

His friend looked skeptical, but nodded, "I suppose that's almost true.  And he's been avoiding using around you?"

"Well, for now," Tony said, rolling his neck to stretch it. "We'll see how long that last."

Clint shook his head. "You are not very good at keeping yourself out of trouble, are you?"

"Never has been," Bruce supplied.  "But you have been getting a bit better at it, I thought, Tony."

"I'm fine at that!" Tony protested, spreading his arms. "I'm off drugs, fuck, I quit smoking and I've managed not to royally screw up lately. I'm insulted you think I can't handle a relationship."

"That's not what I meant, Tony.  We worry.  It's a natural state for me sometimes, you know that," Bruce murmured.

Tony sighed as there came another knock on the door. "Who the hell--?"

Hesitating, since it wasn't his apartment, Bruce finally went and opened the door, blinking at the man on the other side, "You've got quite a bit of nerve showing up here."

"Aren't I the benefactor now?" Fury asked, spreading his arms.

Bruce rolled his eyes and stepped aside, "In only the loosest definition of that term."

"I even fixed the couch," Fury said, strolling into the room.

"What do you want?" Tony asked, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Just to check in, see how everyone was. I actually stopped by to see Loki, and wanted to check on you lot too."

Something went cold behind Tony's eyes. "Right."

Shaking his head at Fury, Bruce moved over toward Clint, "You know, Nick, you're a complete bastard."

"Please," Fury drawled. "How even?"

"If that's all, you can leave," Tony pointed out. "Still my apartment."

"I still own the place," Fury said, flipping up Clint's short skirt as she walked by, Clint recoiling quickly.

Bruce whirled at that, acting before he thought better of it.  He caught Fury by the shoulder, spun him around and slugged him across the jaw, "Touch her again and I'll break your nose.  I'd like to see you explain that to your wife."

"What the hell?" Fury yelped, getting back to his feet.

Tony smirked and shrugged. "It's Banner, remember? Just go, alright?"

"I own this place," Fury reminded him and Tony sighed.

"Yeah, you do. Now get out of it."

Bruce clenched his fists at his side, his brown eyes narrowed, "I suggest you do like Tony says before I loosen a couple teeth."

Scowling, Fury dusted himself off. "Fine. Don't know why I bother doing any of you favors." As he turned, he passed near Clint, who took out her drum sticks, crossing them in front of her to keep Fury back.

Bruce drew a calming breath, resting a protective hand on Clint's shoulder as he watched Fury leave. "Well that was fun," Clint muttered once the door was closed.

"Remind me to slug him again when I next see him," Bruce murmured, shaking his head.  "Ass.  You alright, Clint?"

"Please, honey, I'm fine," Clint replied with a smile as Tony glared at the door.

"Can we lock our own landlord out yet?"

Bruce still hadn’t moved his hand from Clint's shoulder, "No, Tony, I don't think you can technically do that."

"Damn," Tony muttered as Clint leaned against Bruce's side.

Wrapping his arm around Clint instinctively, Bruce shrugged, "You could double check that with Natasha though."

"I will be sure to do that the next time she allows Phil up for air."

That garnered a faint laugh, "Well, we should probably head out?"  Bruce glanced at his lover for confirmation.

"Yeah," Clint said, pressing a bit closer. "I mean, you're sexy when you're protective. Bit scary but mostly sexy."

"Out," Tony said, pointing.

Bruce grinned at that, drawing the other up, "Alright, we're going then.  Take care, Tony."

"Yeah yeah," he said, waving them off. "Just get somewhere private before tearing off each other's clothes, alright?"

Smirking, Bruce drew Clint a bit closer, "Always."

Tony waved them off again, watching them leave, Clint laughing on their way out. "Damn it," he muttered to the empty apartment, rising suddenly and skipping down the steps to Loki's door.

Loki had been on edge ever since Fury had stopped by briefly and had seriously been considering the merits of going and tracking down his dealer.  He just about lunged for the door when he heard steps outside, "Tony."

"Was Fury here?" Tony asked, voice carefully mild, just a hint of curious.

Eyeing him warily at that being the first question asked, Loki nodded, "For a couple of minutes."

Tony sighed, running a hand through his hair. "Bastard. Are you okay?"

The other nodded quickly, "Yeah, I'm fine.  Come in if you like."

Shifting from one foot to the other, Tony nodded. "Yeah, okay."

Loki stepped back into the apartment, retreating to the couch almost as soon as the other was inside, "How did you know he'd been here?"

"Came up to say hi," Tony shrugged. "He seems to think mentioning you and him gets a rise out of me."

"And does it?" the younger man asked softly.

"Not as much as I think he wants," Tony replied. "But, yeah, a little."

Loki glanced at him, "Nothing's going on between us, Tony."

"But it did and he wants me to continue thinking it does," Tony said, hand fiddling with one of the few knick-nacks Loki had in the apartment.

"And..." Drawing a deep breath, Loki picked at a frayed patch on the arm of his couch, "Are you afraid he's right?"

"A little," Tony said softly, not really looking over at him.

The stripper drew his knees up to his chest, his gaze focused on the floor, "I'm...it's over between us, Tony.  I promise."

Glancing back at him, Tony set down the object in his hand, sliding onto the couch and against Loki, nuzzling against his neck. "Thought you said I wasn't supposed to get jealous."

"You said it wasn't something we'd need to worry about," Loki responded, tilting his head back a bit.

Tony bit at his throat lightly. "Didn't think it was."

The taller man sucked in a sharp breath at that, "You're dating me and you didn't think it was?"

"It worked for a while," Tony pointed out, still kissing Loki's throat between words.

Loki finally drew back slightly, tilting Tony's chin up and pressing a harsh kiss to his lips, "For a while, yes."

Even though he pressed into the kiss, Tony scowled when Loki drew back. "It should still be working."

"Can't always control jealousy," the other murmured, nipping at Tony's lower lip.

Huffing, Tony drew back slightly. "All things considered, you're acting remarkably calm."

Loki frowned at that, "What do you mean?  How should I act?"

"Come on," Tony shook his head. "I'm not saying our relationship ever had rules, but you all but demand I never get jealous and--"

"And what?  What were you going to say, Tony?"  Loki's frown deepened, his tone almost sharp.

"And I said it earlier, didn't I?" Tony said, standing again. "Not supposed to get jealous, and I usually manage that pretty well, but the thought of Fury actually--well it ticks me and it shouldn't."

"Look.  I get that you don't like him, and I get that the thought of him with me makes you mad.  But it's in the past.  Yes, I exploited that on New Year's, but I swear to you that that is the last time."  Shaking his head, Loki ran a hand through his dark hair, "I don't know what to do to prove that to you."

"I know. Isn't that the point of irrational jealousy though?"

"It's not irrational.  I'm surprised it took you this long," he muttered, wrapping his arms around his long legs and resting his chin on his knees.

Tony blinked at him. "It's not irrational?"

"You're dating a stripper and a whore.  It's irrational to think that I care about anyone else I sleep with like I care about you, but it's not irrational to be jealous."

Tony paused, processing. "Okay, backing up. You care about me more?"

"Yes," Loki looked at him for a long moment.  "I thought that was obvious."

"Oh," was all Tony managed a moment.

Tucking a lock of hair behind his ear, Loki shrugged, "I mean...I keep coming back to you.  That should say a lot."

"Well, it says some things, I'm just not sure it was a lot is all."

"What did you think it meant?"

"I don't know, really great sex?" Tony offered, spreading his arms out.

"Well...alright, that too.  But it's not something I usually do, Tony."

"I don't either," he protested. "But you, you actually care?"

Loki nodded, "I wouldn't be sleeping with you, and seeing you outside of that if I didn't."

"Well, that's, that's," Tony blinked at him before sliding back onto the couch. "I'll go with flattering."

Uncurling slightly, the taller man offered him an uncertain smile, "Good.  It was kind of meant to be."

Slipping his hand into Loki's hair, Tony slid closer, kissing him hard, tilting his neck into the touch. Loki arched into that touch, his arm wrapping around Tony and drawing him closer to him on the couch.

Throwing one of his legs across Loki's lap, Tony pressed into the touch. "Shall we see about having more of that really fantastic sex?"

Nipping at the other man's lower lip, Loki smirked, "Yes, we shall."

Chapter Text

Waking up slowly, Clint shifted his shoulders against the bed. "I like having hotel rooms."

Bruce stretched slightly before curling up a bit closer to Clint, "They are nice on occasion."  He tilted his head to kiss the other's cheek lightly.

Humming, Clint brought a hand up to rest it on Bruce's cheek. "On occasion? The only thing better would be an actual home."

Tilting his head into the touch, Banner smiled faintly, "Alright, that's true.  But for what we have, it's more like a delicacy to be able to stay at them.  A treat of sorts."

"A treat I earn," Clint reminded him, voice fond and sleep warmed.

"More than," Bruce agreed, drawing the other into a loose embrace.

Borrowing up into Bruce's arms, Clint grinned. "Well, or I just get a lot of lucky breaks."

That earned a quiet laugh, "Lady luck only smiles on those who seek her out."

"And I seek out such beautiful things," Clint laughed, spreading his hands across Bruce's chest.

Smiling shyly, Bruce rested his hands over his lover's, "You should always be surrounded by beauty."

Clint shook his head just the smallest bit. "But I never am. I mean, not usually. This life is all supposed to be about beauty and art and fucking the rules but it never really is, is it?"

"No, it never really is.  In the end it's just a less moneyed version of life elsewhere I suppose."

Huffing, Clint inched closer again. "I wish it was something strange and beautiful."

“Well, Bohemian life might not be, but I'd say what we have comes close," Bruce murmured, drawing him nearer.

"You, you're strange and beautiful," Clint smiled. "The rest of this life is not."

"Then let's get away," Bruce offered.  "Go somewhere where we can start a new life."

"Santa Fe?" Clint asked softly with a grin.

That garnered a faint grin in return, "Maybe."

"I'm sure it's a lovely place. Seems like it would be warmer too," Clint said, burrowing and bit closer into Bruce's chest. "It's just so damned cold here."

Bruce wrapped his arms closer around Clint, resting his chin on the other's head, "Then why don't we?  Forget this freezing Bohemian hell and strike off for our own futures."  For all that they may be short.

"Sure," Clint murmured. "Just... when I'm less tired. Not sure it's worth starting a new life when someone's this tired, right?"

Bruce ran his hand through the blond's hair, "Yes, when you're less tired.  Then we'll talk about it some more.  Set up plans, things like that."

"How'd we get out there?" Clint asked. "Bus? Train? Buy or steal a car?"

"I was thinking a bus would be our best plan.  Though a car would be re-saleable possibly for some starting cash," the other murmured.

"Are we stealing the car or trying to buy it?" Clint laughed. "Further, can either of us drive?"

"Well, in order to actually make a clean start we should probably try to buy it.  And I've learned to drive.  Haven’t done it in a while, but I did learn at one point."

"Oh good, then you can carry me off across the country to sunny places."

Bruce kissed Clint's forehead, smiling slightly, "Exactly.  So we'll try for a car, in some way or other, and head for warmer climes.  If we steal a car, I vote we take Fury's."

"Oh god. I will so hotwire Fury's car. The thing is ridiculous and he doesn't deserve it one bit."

"Alright, so buying a car isn't necessary, we'll hotwire Fury's."

"Soon," Clint murmured, head tilting and hand tracing a vague pattern on Bruce's chest.

"When you're rested," Bruce murmured, kissing Clint's temple and resting a comfortable hand on his lover's hip.

"When I'm rested," Clint agreed before glancing back up. "Though, if we have this room a few more hours, you could make me a little more tired..."

Bruce's lips curled in what was as close to a smirk as he got, "Well, we do have it for a few more hours and I'd hate to have them go unused."

Clint grinned, rolling over on his back, hand's pulling at the muscle's of Bruce's shoulders. "How're you using them then?"

Rolling with the other to lean over him, Bruce rested most of his weight on his arms, leaning down to kiss his lover, "Well, I can think of a couple of rather enjoyable ways."

Bringing one leg up, Clint shifted against him. "Care to let me in on them?"

Bruce ran a hand down Clint's side, canting his hips down against the other's, "How about I just show you?"

Titling his head back, Clint gasped, pulling Bruce down more. "Okay. I like show and tell."

Bruce kissed Clint's exposed throat, smiling against the skin, "Good.  I get tired of lectures and teaching."

Rolling his neck, Clint smirked, fingers digging into the small of Bruce's back. "Alright. No lectures." Bruce arched against him, leaning up to kiss Clint again, deeply.

o-o-o-o

Steve sat at the table that had been his and Tony's usual one up until four months before.  Stirring his coffee absently, he considered whether he shouldn't have just called the other the night before and backed out of meeting him.  It probably wouldn't have been a good idea, but it might have been a better idea than meeting with him.

Moments later Tony waltzed in, battered sunglasses pushed up in his hair but not actually covering his eyes. It barely took him a glance to figure out where Steve was, sliding into the seat across from him. "I'm still surprised this table doesn't like, have our names carved in it in a permanent reservation."

The blond's lips quirked into a slight smile at that, "I think they'd frown upon carving in the tabletop."

"I think they've frowned on a lot of things we've done to this table," Tony shrugged.

That earned a quiet laugh, "Oh probably.  How have you been?"

"Which sort of an answer would you like?" Tony replied, tilting the legs of the chair back.

"An honest one?"

"Well, there are variations of honest too, you know," Tony rolled one of his shoulders, one hand fiddling with the glasses in his hair.

"Then the honest one you're most inclined to give," Steve replied, blue eyes sincere.

Tony let out a long breath. "Right. Well, in that case... it's been functional, I guess. Fury has like, gone to the dark side but we already knew that, I'm terrified more days then not when Phil sleeps in later then me and Clint's not doing well either, and I miss you, and I finally figured out the stripper I'm sleeping with cares about me. How goes the painting?"

Steve blinked at him for a moment at that information dump and then shrugged, "Well, I suppose it goes.  I have a few new pieces, and I guess they're recieved well enough.  They just seem to lack something."

Tony gave him a long stare. "Something?"

"Yeah, they...don't have the life of my older work, to hear the critics tell it."

One of Tony's fingers started tapping on the edge of the table. "Ah. I don't really want to ask when that started, do I?"

Steve shook his head, as he picked up the coffee and sipped at it, "No.  Probably best if you don't."

"Great," Tony muttered under his breath, eyes darting away. "Um, other than paintings, how've you been?" Something he’d been sure was a safe subject suddenly wasn’t.

"I've been...alright.  Worrying about Phil and Bruce, and you.  Beyond that, it's been a quiet few months.  Nothing really of any note beyond a couple of gallery shows."

"No, um, people? New people?"

Steve considered him for a long moment before shaking his head, "No.  Not really.  Beyond people I work with sometimes, I mean."

"Oh," Tony said, looking down again. "Well... that..."

"I...suppose I haven’t really been trying to be all that sociable recently.  Spent most of it trying to get my paintings to work again," the blond dropped his gaze to his coffee.

"I'm sorry," Tony said, voice quiet.

"Don't be."  Steve glanced at him, "I'm the one who should be apologizing."

"Yeah, but," Tony started and shrugged. "Haven't you already?"

"Yeah, I have, but you've no real reason to apologize to me."

"Well, I did something to screw things up," Tony said, shrugging again, one finger twitching against the side of his glasses.

Steve's eyes moved to the glasses, hoping the other wouldn't actually put them on, "I still should have waited til you were mostly sober before considering leaving."

"That might have been appreciated," Tony said softly.

"I am sorry and I wish there was some way I could make it better, somehow."

"We're talking again," Tony replied, gesturing between them. "That's... that's something, isn't it?"

Steve offered him a faint smile, "Yes it's something."

 Tony poked at the table, having forgotten to actually grab coffee on his way over. "What did I say, anyway? That time?"

"Something about me not really having any right to care about you and your life and well-being."

Tony blinked. "You're... kidding. You're joking, right? I thought it had to be something much worse."

"Well, you told me to fuck off for the eighth time too," Steve murmured.  "But no.  It...I suppose in the scheme of things it wasn't as bad as it could have been."

Tony's hand twitched on the table again. "Right. Great."

"I'm sorry, Tony."

The smaller man just gave him a long look. "That's comforting. Really." Except it wasn't at all.

"No, I...."  Steve sighed, dropping his gaze again.  "I shouldn't have left.  I...This was probably a mistake..."

“Yeah, probably," Tony said, standing abruptly.

The blond flinched very slightly at that, looking up at him, "I...God, Tony. Take...take care."

"Right," Tony replied, voice flat and he turned to go.

Steve scrambled out of his chair, moving to catch up with him, "Wait.  Don’t go.  I...let me walk you back at least?"

Tony turned his head enough to see him, swallowing. "Phil would probably want to say hi."

"Something like that," came the muted agreement.

Shaking his head, Tony flipped his sunglasses down. "What did we used to even talk about? I feel like I don't remember anymore."

Steve thought for a moment as he pushed the door open, "My art, your music, and the drawings you did of inventions you had come up with.  There were other things, but those stand out to me."

"Well, we already talked about your art," Tony said, looking at the ground as he stepped outside, pushing the collar of his coat up higher.

"How is your music doing?"  The blond let the door swing shut behind them, hunching his shoulders against the cold.

"Um, good, mostly," Tony shrugged. "I mean, I don't know. It's the kick of the performance rather than making good music sometimes."

"And everyone knows you do well with the performance.  Have you been sketching up any designs recently?"

"Sure, some. I mean," he laughed, sardonic. "I don't even know what's the point in doing it."

"Are you planning to stay in Bohemian life for the rest of yours?"  Steve asked, arching a brow.

"Um, what?" Tony asked, looking back up at him.

"I'm just saying, eventually there's got to be more, right?  Somewhere you might have the chance to maybe use some of those designs."

"That would be me and which fortune, Steve?" Tony asked, looking up. "No one would fund such outlandish ideas."

Steve sighed, recognizing the conversation, "So work with less outlandish ideas until you can convince someone of them."

Tony's mouth twisted, recognizing the conversation too. "Sure. You make it sound like you want to give up the whole Bohemian life or something."

"I'm not saying any time soon, but in the long run..." Steve shrugged, "Someday it might not be a bad idea."

"Phil's heart would break to hear you say that," Tony huffed.

"I'm not saying it's a serious consideration and I sure as hell wouldn't give up my painting.  But sometimes it would be nice to be able to pay bills."

"Please, bills are for other people," Tony said, waving a hand in the air.

That earned a laugh, "Probably sort of true, but not always."

Tony just snorted again, shoving his hands in his pockets. Steve chuckled, shaking his head as he glanced at the other man. Tony stopped, looking up at Steve even through the glasses. "Steve..."

The blond stopped as well, turning to face Tony, "Yes, Tony?"

For a moment Tony just considered him. "I really don't know how to do this. Just, the talking thing."

Hesitating Steve offered him a faint smile, "No, not this sort anyhow."

"Damn it, Steve," Tony said, leaning toward him and barely stopping.

Steve's hand instinctively moved up to Tony's cheek, hovering a breath away from the smaller man's skin.

"Oh damn it," Tony repeated, jerking forward to slam his mouth against Steve's. Startling, Steve hesitated for only a brief moment before wrapping his arms around Tony and pulling him closer and he leaned into the kiss.

Breath catching, Tony slid his hands into Steve's hair, tugging on the blond strands and pressing as close as he could get. Tilting his head back, he made a soft sound in the back of his throat. Steve depend the kiss, one hand moving up to cup the back of Tony's head, twining in the dark hair and recognizing the familiar feel of them.

Hands still tangled in Steve's hair, Tony drew back with a jerk. "God damn."

Catching his breath, Steve watched the smaller man, "God...We..."

"Are utterly incapable of being in the same space as each other."

The blond nodded quickly, "We...we really are."

"You know," Tony said, managing to sound conversational despite the way their bodies were wrapped around each other. "There never actually was a time I was able to look at you without wanting you."

Steve's breath caught in his throat at that, "God, Tony.  I...It's been the same for me."  He glanced up the road briefly toward where the building was, "I..."

"Fuck," Tony muttered, burying his face in Steve's chest. "Do you remember it? When Phil dragged me to your gallery show after blowing our entire's mouth budget on your paintings? They were gorgeous, sure, but I'd been expecting to eat and Phil wouldn't shut up about this great artist so I went with him and... And since then..."

"Since then I haven't been able to get you out of my head," Steve murmured, pressing his lips to the top of Tony's head.

"You're a real son of a bitch, you know that?" Tony managed.

The taller man grimaced slightly, "Yeah.  I know.  God, I should let you go and not come by again, shouldn't I?"

"It'd kill Phil," Tony said, trying to deflect and taking a deep breath. "Okay, and me too. You should though. Because this thing, I'm trying and you walk in and it goes to hell. And I think he needs me more."

Nodding, Steve finally started to draw back a bit, "He really does.  Much as that hurts to say."  He glanced away, "I'll walk you the rest of the way, say hi to Phil...and we'll figure out how the hell to do this and keep us from screwing up this thing you're trying."

"I should be able to do this," Tony murmured, stepping back and letting his hands drop.

Steve ran a hand over his blond hair to smooth it down just a bit, "Maybe so.  We...we didn't part by your choice though, so I don't know how much you can be held to blame.  Come on, I'll see you the rest of the way and then go up and say hi to Phil."

Tony huffed out a breath. "I can be blamed for cheating. On someone who's a whore. This is a rich irony I don't want to think about." Turning on his heel quickly he started walking again.

Flinching slightly, the blond hurried to catch up to him, "Alright, that's true  And...irony may be putting that lightly."

Barking out a laugh, Tony shoved his hands in the jacket's pockets again. "Yeah. Not thinking about it, thanks."

That earned a wry smile, "Yeah, well..."  He glanced up as they reached the apartment building, realizing they'd been closer than he'd originally thought when they'd shared that rather public kiss.

Tony did everything in his power not to react as he opened the door and started up the stairs. "He's already jealous of you as it is. Which is, again, funny in that horrible ironic way."

Steve followed him in and up the stairs, "He's jealous of your flirting too.  It was pretty obvious when we were setting up for the protest."

"I hate irony," Tony muttered as he walked.

The door to Loki's apartment opened as they reached the landing of his floor and the subject of their conversation paused at the sight of them.  Steve hesitated, but slipped past Tony to head up to the loft.

Tony paused, watching Loki. "Hey. What's up?"

His green gaze was focused on where Steve had disappeared until he heard the loft door open and close, "I don't know.  What’s he doing here?"

"Does it matter?" Tony asked, voice soft but a challenge there.

"I'm not quite sure yet.  Because I'm still trying to figure out if I saw what I thought I saw when I took a bit of air on the fire escape a few minutes ago," the younger man wrapped his arms around himself defensively.

"Fuck," Tony said, blinking once. "Irony really is a bitch today, huh?"

"So you did kiss him," Loki folded further in on himself.

"Would you be jealous?" Tony asked, wincing as soon as the words left his mouth.

"Would anyone in their right mind not be?"

"You're kidding. You... you sleep with other people for money and you say no one in their right mind wouldn't be jealous of a freaking kiss?"

Loki's expression at that might have best fit the description of a sulk, but he drew a deep breath, "What do you want me to say?  That I'm okay with you kissing your ex-boyfriend who you're blatantly obviously not over?  Because I'm not.  Yes.  I sleep with people for money.  For my job."

"It was just a kiss," Tony said, voice quiet. "I'm sorry. But it wasn't anything more. It used to be but that wasn’t."

Shaking his head the other ran a hand through his hair, "I...I can't share you.  Call me a hypocrite, but I can't."

Tony blinked. "Yeah, I'm going to call you one hell of a hypocrite. But, but look. Out there? I chose you. You'll have to share a part of my heart with Steve 'cause he has it for pretty much ever. But me? Myself right now? I chose you over him so you had damned well appreciate that."

Loki didn't look like he was sure how to react to that, "And..."  He drew a deep breath, "And when you come to regret that decision?  What then?"

"I'm not really bit on regret," Tony shrugged. "It's about the future isn't it? On what might happen, the possibilities that can happen, not on the past."

"I-I guess so, yeah."

"Good," Tony said, softly.

Loki's gaze drifted to the stairs, "Are you going up?"

"It was my intention," Tony shrugged and paused. "Do you not want me to?"

Dropping his gaze, the other shrugged, "Up to you.  I don't care."

"Yeah, you do," Tony huffed.

"Fine.  Yeah, I kinda do.  But I'm hardly going to insist you not go up to your own apartment just because I'm being hypocritical."

Leaning forward, Tony slid a hand into Loki's dark hair, kissing him deeply. "I'll go up because I'm not that much of an ass. But I'll come back in a little bit, okay?"

The other returned the kiss possessively, "Alright.  I'll see you soon."

Tony let out a long breath, hand stopping on Loki's chest for a moment before patting him and turning to take the remaining stairs. Loki watched him go before sighing and re-entering his apartment.

o-o-o-o

Adjusting the brown wig, Clint glanced over at Bruce. "Are you sure you haven't gotten us lost on the way to this gallery?"

Bruce shook his head, "I'm pretty sure I know the way to the gallery.  It should be--" they turned another corner, "Ah, there it is."

Clint laughed. "Oh good. I was really starting to think we'd be lost forever."

That earned a faint laugh and a shake of Bruce's head, "I told you we weren't lost."  He opened the door, holding it for the other.

Swishing inside, Clint shook his head. "Could have fooled me."

Bruce followed his lover, slipping an arm around Clint's waist as he scanned the gallery for Steve. 

The artist spotted them about the same time Bruce saw him and he made his way over, "Hey Bruce.  And...Clint, right?"

"Yeah," Clint said, holding out a hand. "Clint will do fine, Steve Rodgers."

Steve shook the offered hand, "It's good to see you again.  What brings you two by?"

Bruce shrugged slightly, "Haven't seen you in a while and I was wondering what was going on with the gallery, if anything much had changed."

Glancing between them, Clint slipped away to start considering the different art but staying within hearing range.

"Well, there's a couple of new pieces, but not much else has changed.  It's good to see you though," Steve responded.

His former roommate arched a brow, but shook his head, "A lot of stuff's changed since I was in here last."

"Not much art has changed, Bruce."

"There we go.  Been doing much of your own art?"  Banner asked, his gaze moving to where Clint was.

"Not really.  I mean, I've got a few new pieces, but in the last few months they've tapered off.  No cause for inspiration."

That earned him a long look as Bruce shook his head, "I'm not going to say anything except: whatever Phil already said, assume it goes the same for me without the filter of hero-worship toward you."

"Oh I expect nothing less.  Anything new with you?"

"Well, I just about broke Fury's jaw recently."

"That was quite exciting," Clint remarked, reappearing. "So, which pieces are yours? Come on, let's have a tour."

"You were there?"  Steve glanced at Clint.

"She was why," Bruce answered.

"…Right.  Alright, yes, a tour,” the artist agreed, "I haven't got as many pieces hanging at the moment, there's a couple of newer artists we wanted to give some decent exposure to, but..."

"Then show off which ones are yours and which are your favorites," Clint said with a laugh.

The taller blond grinned, "Alright, that I can do."  He led them through the gallery, growing more animated the more he talked about the art and the ideas behind some of his own works at the gallery.

Clint smiled throughout, nodding along and asking all the right questions. He paused in front of Steve's latest piece. "There's something different. Like you have two obvious phases. One before and one later."

Steve hesitated, nodding, "Yeah, I've been hearing that a lot.  Critics seem to want the older stuff more, though when I was making that they claimed there was just a little too much...light in them, or something like that."

"Just can't win, huh, honey?" Clint asked with a smile and a hand to the hip. "Personally, I liked the earlier stuff too."

That earned a faint smile that didn't reach Steve's eyes, "Yeah.  So did I."

Bruce slipped an arm around Clint's waist, watching his friend, "When did the second phase start?"

"After you left....about three months after that."

"So when you left, you mean?" Bruce's gaze focused on Steve's expression as the blond nodded.

Clint sighed. "That was really not your best move was it?"

Steve shook his head, "No.  It really wasn't.  It was a really bad mistake on my part, but I can't take it back."

Eyes softening, Clint laid a hand on his shoulder. "Sorry."

Shrugging very slightly, Steve offered a faint smile, "He's happy, or headed there, and that's what matters."

"That's big of you."

"Hardly," Steve muttered.  "I talk a good talk, but I'm kind of hoping it doesn't work out..."

"Well, sometimes if you talk enough you'll end up believing it," Clint murmured.

"That's what I keep hoping."

Clint offered him another smile. "You'll get there sometime."

Steve returned the smile, "Thanks for that vote of confidence."

"It's better to be confident then the alternative," Clint shrugged, adjusting the purple skirt.

"That's true.  Don't see a lot of people around with that philosophy," Steve murmured.

Bruce gave a half-shrug, "More people should, though."

"In a perfect world," Clint agreed, tilting his head. "I really like this painting, though," he said, gesturing to the one in front of them.

Steve looked the painting over, smiling, "I did that one on New Year's after I got home from dinner at the cafe.  I think it turned out a little more like what I was intending."

Clint arched a brow. "So what were you intending?"

"Mostly to get that night on canvas, but there was a certain chaos to the whole thing, sparks of bright points, but a whole mess of mixed up life.  I mean...for my part it was the first time I saw Tony since...well, since.  And some parts of it felt like nothing had changed.  And others reminded me that it had--completely."

Clint gave him a long look. "Oh honey..."

Steve shrugged, "It's been well-received if nothing else."

"You have got to do something to get Tony off your mind," Bruce murmured and shook his head.

Clint glanced at his lover. "Yeah. But any ideas on how to even start doing that?"

Bruce sighed, "Not a clue.  Painting obviously hasn't done it.  You got anything else you do with your time?"

"Not really.  You know what the life's like, Bruce,” Steve replied.

Clint sighed, looking around. "And there's no one else like him for you?"

Steve just looked at Clint for a long moment, "You've met Tony, right?  No.  There's no one else I've ever met that could come close."

Glancing at Bruce and leaning a bit further against his side, Clint grinned. "Alright, I suppose if that's your cup of tea you couldn't much find anyone else."

Bruce's arm tightened slightly around Clint as he smiled, "Steve's always been that way, haven't you?"

"Head over heels for Tony?  Yeah, pretty much since Phil dragged him in here that first time," the artist murmured.

"That must have been some meeting," Clint remarked.

Bruce laughed, "From what I heard, yeah."

That earned a faint grin from Steve, "Phil'd spent their month's budget on my paintings and then promptly dragged Tony down here to see some more of them himself.  Hard to call anything 'love' that quick, but he sure did get my attention." It was a story he’d once hoped to be telling people years down the road.

"Love can happen that quickly," Clint murmured. "Or at least it can start to."

"Well, it sure did in our case," Steve replied, nodding slightly.  "Tony's an amazing guy, and I wish him well."

"Yeah," Cllint said, eyes sliding to the painting. "I can tell you do."

Steve smiled faintly at that, "Yeah, well it was good to see you again, Bruce,a dn good to really meet you, Clint, but I should probably actually go see about getting back to the rest of my job."

"Don't want to keep you," Clint said, offering him a smile.

"Good luck, Steve," Bruce smiled.

"Thanks.  See you both around.  Take care, both of you," Steve replied before slipping away to check in with some other visitors.

Clint looked up at Bruce. "That was enlightening."'

Bruce nodded, his gaze still on Steve, "It really was."

"Lovely art though," Clint said, looking around again.

"It is.  Beautiful art, and a nice gallery too.  It's a good location."

"Most of those in New York are," Clint laughed. "Comes from the whole swarm of artists."

That earned a laugh as Bruce pulled him slightly closer, "I do suppose that makes sense.  The place is teeming with them."

"So maybe it's nice he got to the top of the pile," Clint shrugged.

Bruce kissed his lover's temple, "It's very nice.  He's a good guy, and he's landed pretty solidly on his feet."

"Just so long as no one brings up his past lover," Clint shrugged. "But I'm still glad for him."

Chapter Text

Several days later found Tony singing along to something on the radio as he sketched, pausing as he thought he heard a knock on the door. Tilting his head back, he considered, Phil calling from the bathroom. "You answer that!"

Muttering, Tony rose, moving over to the door and sliding it open. "Yeah?" he asked, mildly and froze when he saw who was standing there.

Pepper Potts stood on the other side, her eyes widening when Tony opened the door, "Oh m God I finally found you."

For a second Tony's jaw worked but no sound actually came out. Pepper drew an uneven breath before she quickly embraced Tony and stepped back, blinking rapidly and trying desperately not to actually cry, "Thank God."

He rested a hand on her shoulder, as if making sure she was there. "Pepper? I mean, you're real right? I know I'm not on anything and I don't think I'm dreaming."

She nodded, reaching out and tracing a hand over his face and the leaning in for another hug again, burying her face in his shoulder for a moment, "I thought I was never going to find you."

"You were looking?" he asked, embracing her automatically.

The redhead's shoulders started to shake as she nodded again, "Of course I was."

"Oh," he managed, hand coming up to stroke her red hair.

"God...Are...are you alright?"

"Um, depends on the definition," Tony managed, drawing her into the apartment and closing the door. "Yes? I think yes?"

She took a step back and drew a breath as she attempted to dry her eyes, "Thank God.  And...you're clean?"

"Actually, yeah," he said, running his thumb under her eye. "Did you know about that or were you just hoping? Because fuck, I even quit smoking."

"I was just really hoping," she admitted, swallowing hard and telling herself she wasn’t going to start crying again.

"Well, the guy I live with is a total health nut," Tony murmured. "He kept kicking me until I did what he said." It was an over simplification and a joke, but also a desperate attempt to get her to smile a little.

It worked, garnering him a faint laugh and a ghost of her old smile, "I'll have to meet him and thank him."

"He's either hiding in the bathroom or the fire escape, so we'll totally be able to get to that at some point," Tony nodded, dragging her over to the couch and sitting her down.

Pepper sank down onto the couch gratefully, "I swear I've been all over looking for you. You hid well."

"Well, it," he paused and shrugged. "Wanted to hide from dad after all. It's been, what, three years?"

"Yeah.  I know you two don't get along, but...would you consider calling to let him know you're still breathing?"  Pepper asked quietly.

"Uh, no," Tony said, shaking his head. "If he cared, he could have found me long before you did."

She drew a deep breath and finally nodded, "Alright, I suppose that is true."

"How have you been?" Tony asked, suddenly. "I mean, three years is a long time."

"I've...been worried about you, but I've been alright.  Life's gone on, and I'm starting in the business world."

"Business world?" Tony said, a faint smile playing on his face. "That doesn't surprise me at all."

Pepper offered him a smile, "No, I don't figure it would.  It's where I'm comfortable."

Tony laughed. "I can't actually imagine you anywhere else. Are you still seeing that girl, what's her name?"

"Sif.  Yes, we're still together.  I think I would have gone nuts these last few years without her, honestly."

For a moment Tony's mouth started to form an apology, but he stifled it instead. "Good. Three years is a long time. Well, and change even if I remember her."

Pepper offered him another faint smile, "Yeah.  It is.  But I know where you're at now, and God am I glad of that.  I've missed you, Tony."

"Missed you too, Pep," he said softly, hand reaching for her hair again. "Though I'm a little surprised, considering how I left."

She leaned into the touch, "Tony, it's me.  I worry about you.  I always have.  Yeah, you left...well, yeah.  But it doesn't change the fact that you were my best friend for years before that."

"I was trying pretty hard to make sure no one would come after me," Tony said, pulling back and leaning against the arm of the couch.

Pepper kicked off her heels and drew her legs up next to her, "Well, you almost managed it.  But I couldn't let it stay that way.  I'll admit it took me  little longer than I'm proud to say, but I wanted to see you again, see how your life was going, see if you had found anyone, see if you'd gotten clean."

"Only person then to have any faith in me," he said, shaking his head slightly.

"I don't know if that's quite true," she protested, even as she knew he was mostly right.

"From that life it sure is," he said and shrugged.

Pepper sighed, "Alright, maybe... But you've made good friends here?"

"Yeah," Tony said softly. "We'll say that."

"I'm glad."  And she was, even if there was a slight pang at not knowing any of them and how good they actually were for him.

"I know that look," Tony said quietly. "You're concerned again, aren't you?"

"Sort of?  I mean, not massively...I don't think.  It's just strange not knowing who you're spending time with, y'know?"

He laughed. "While I can guess who you spend time with? If you stick around for a while, I'm sure you could meet--" he stopped short, re-gathered his thoughts and continued. "Some of them."

Her brow arched, "Well, I can promise to stay for a bit, and I'll certainly be coming by more now that I know where you are."

He blinked at her. "I can't decide whether that's terrifying or not actually."

"Well...I mean I can stay away if you like, for a while at least."

"Think that would do either of us any good?" Tony asked, softly.

"No.  I think I'd be out of my mind in a month--tops--and that would have Sif pounding on your door and no one needs that."

"From the little I remember of that woman? No, please don't set her on my door. The poor thing is old and weak with age."

Pepper laughed, "You remember her about right then.  I'll try to avoid that.  I expect to hear from you at least?  You have a phone after all."

"When the power is on, yes, I have a phone," Tony nodded.

She arched an eyebrow at that, but nodded, "Fair enough.  I expect to hear from you then, now that I've finally found you."

"Well, you could always knock down the door if you don't," he said, voice faint.

"Or at the very least knock on it," Pepper replied softly.

"Actually, yes, let's knock," Tony said, grinning though it was strained.

"And you're sure you're doing alright, Tony?" she asked, voice going softer.

"Ups and downs," he managed as Phil finally made his way back in from the fire escape, where he'd escaped out to the moment Tony went to open the door.

For a moment he glanced between Tony and Pepper.

Pepper glanced up, offering him a bit of a smile, "You must be Tony's roommate."

"Phil Coulson," he said, holding out a hand and giving Tony a very long look.

She shook his hand, not moving from where she was seated, "Pepper Potts.  I'm an old friend of Tony's."

"I've heard," Phil replied softly.

Pepper considered the man for a moment, before seeming to reach a conclusion and nodding very slightly, "It's good to meet you."

"It's good to finally put a face to you as well," he said, inclining his head. "I hope you'll stay longer, because I have to go and meet Natasha now."

He was almost at the door when Tony called out. "AZT?"

"Taken," Phil replied, rolling his eyes.

"Good boy," Tony grinned at him.

Pepper watched him go before turning to Tony, "AZT?  So he's..."

"Living with AIDS?" Tony asked, tilting his head. "Yeah, actually, most of the people I know are. I kicked drugs the first time when he came home HIV positive. It's just... hard to justify killing yourself when everyone around you is hoping so damn hard to live just a little longer."

Nodding slightly, concern lit Pepper's eyes as she considered her childhood friend, "When was that?  That he tested positive."

"Year and a half," Tony replied, carefully not drawing his knees up to his chest like he wanted to.

Her eyes widened and she slid a little closer to him on the couch, "Oh Tony..."

"Oh Tony what?" he asked, eyes flickering away. "He has it, Bruce has it, Tasha and Clint and god knows how many other people do too. At least we can afford the stupid meds. What few of them they have."

"Yes.  At least that."  She glanced away trying to find something else to talk about, and hating that she didn't know enough about his life to manage it.

He paused a moment, eyes finally returning to her face, reading her expression. "Well, neither of my lovers had it. Has it. Whichever tense is appropriate."

Pepper offered him a faint smile, something grateful in the expression that he'd given her a topic to latch onto, "I...have to say I'm glad to hear that.  Tell me about them?"

Tony blinked. "Well, one was a blond artist who was possibly the best thing to ever walk in on my life, except he sorta walked right back out of it too, and the guy I'm currently seeing is addicted to the same drugs I was and works as a stripper and whore. So, still trying to settle on that one," he shrugged.

That earned a long blink from Pepper, "You really don't go for middle of the road do you?"

"There's a middle road?" he asked, looking quite serious.

"Sometimes, yes.  I mean, not always, but those are some vastly different people."

He sighed. "You could certainly say that. I mean, I don't know. I take what shows up at my door."

"Which can work out well," she admitted.  "And you cared, care, about them both?"

"That's still present tense on both," Tony shrugged and nearly stopped dead. "Huh. Hadn't quite admitted that before."

"Oh Tony, you really do get involved don't you," her tone settled somewhere between fond and concerned. “But it should work out, right?  One way or another?"

"One way or another," Tony agreed and stood. "Look, I should, uh, show you around. Or at least show you the view. Or you can talk about yourself."

Pepper rose as well, "About myself?  Because I have so much practice doing that..."

"You used to around me," he pointed out, pushing the window open and stepping onto the fire escape.

She followed him, leaning on the railing after a moment of considering the safety of such a move, "Well, I'm not real sure where to start.  It's been a long three years."

"Well, girl, business," Tony shrugged. "I don't know. Any news of people we used to know? Do you still have the same favorite cereal? When you decided to style your hair differently?"

"Well, like I said earlier, Sif and I are still seeing each other.  We have several differences, but we've worked through a lot of them.  Had a rough patch a couple years ago that I wasn't sure we'd pull through, but we made it, and it's all the better for it too."

"That's how relationships are supposed to go, isn't it?" Tony asked, crossing his arms over the railing and putting his entire weight on the rickety structure.

Pepper nodded, "Typically, yeah.  Pity some people just let it slip through their fingers when they hit those speed bumps.  But, yes, it is how they're supposed to go."

His finger twitched and it was obvious that he wanted a cigarette. "Or they walk out the door."

Pepper sighed softly, "What happened between you two?"

He paused. "Um, I got high, drunk, said something, he walked out. And, uh, never came back. It was not the most shining moment in our saga."

"He didn't even wait to talk to you?"

"No, the first time he talked to me again was New Years, four months later," Tony said, hand still twitching as he leaned harder against the railing.

Her eyes narrowed at that, but she reached over to coil her fingers around his, "It's probably good he isn't here right now..."

Tony glanced over at her, smiling faintly. "That's the Pepper I know so well."

She offered him a half-smile, "Well, he's got no right to do that to you.  Not without talking to you first."

"Mama bear," Tony murmured, sounding strangely fond. "But he had the right to do whatever he wanted. Just doesn't mean it made me feel any better."

"Damn straight.  Tell me someone at least has given the guy a piece of their mind about this?  And I mean a piece that I might remotely agree with."

"I think Phil guilt tripped him into talking to me again?"

She frowned, "Not sure I quite count that, but I'll give Phil the benefit of the doubt and we'll give it a half-point."

"I'm pretty certain Phil has never gotten a half point in his life," Tony laughed.

"Well, he just got one," Pepper nodded decisively, though there was humor in her eyes.

"I'll have to break it to him gently," Tony grinned.

Pepper laughed finally.  There was noise a level down on the fire escape as Loki climbed out of his window to get some air, half considering going up to see Tony. Tony grinned at that, before leaning further over the railing, hair that was getting too long again falling in his eyes. "Hey down there."

Loki looked up and grinned, "Hey.  Mind if I come up, or do you have guests?"

"It's a guest that might want to meet you, so you're call," Tony said, shrugging his shoulders.

Pepper arched a brow at Tony as she heard the other man start up the stairs, "Is this...?"

"Not the one that walked out on me for four months," Tony replied, catching Loki around the waist the moment he appeared.

Loki grinned, allowing himself to be drawn close, his green eyes appraising the young woman even as she did the same.  After a moment Pepper offered her hand, "Pepper."

"Loki," came the reply as he shook it.  His gaze flickered over her business suit and the nylons she wore--the heels still in the loft by the couch, "How do you know Tony?"

That earned a faint smile as she caught the underlying questions about her relationship to him and how much of a threat she posed to where he stood with Tony, "I'm a childhood friend.  I haven’t seen him in three years."

"You may also call her Mama Bear," Tony said, with a tiny shrug.

Loki relaxed t that, his smile growing more genuine, "Good to meet you."

"And you."

"I retract that," Tony said, glancing at the sky. "Only I can call her that. But she got me through some of the worst years in mostly one piece. At least through college before dear old dad booted me out."

Nuzzling against Tony's cheek, Loki shot Pepper a grateful glance at that, though his stance was a bit wary as she continued to scrutinize him.  He couldn't feel like he was being compared to something, and had a feeling he was going to fall short.

Kissing Loki's cheek quickly Tony leaned against the railing again, not distancing from Loki but trying not to drape over him quite so much as usual either. "So, Pep, how long are you staying?"

"I don't know yet.  I was considering sticking around to actually meet your roommate, but," she looked the two of them over again, "I think I may do that next time I come by."

Something looked terrified in Tony's gaze, as if expecting Pepper to never appear again. "Right. I mean, you can stay, or whatever you need to do."

Pepper took a step forward, resting a hand on his arm for a long moment as she looked him right in the eye, "Tony, have I ever broken a promise to you?"

"When we were five," he managed. "So, once?"

"Once.  And we were five.  So believe me when I say that I promise I will be back to see you, soon."

"Okay," he said, voice gentle. "Okay, I'll believe you then."

She offered him a faint smile as she stepped back, "I refuse to lose you again."

"That works for me," he said, stepped toward her and pulling her into a hug again.

She returned the hug tightly before stepping back again, "Take care, Tony.  Good to meet you, Loki."

Loki nodded once, "You too, Pepper."

Tony didn't quite seem inclined to let her go, following her to the door and only forcing himself not to see her down the stairs through force of will. Pepper offered him a wave and then was gone.  Loki had trailed after them both into the apartment, watching Tony.

Closing the door and swallowing, Tony turned back to him.

"She seems rather amazing."

"You have no idea how many years she put up with me," Tony said, softly, leaning against the door. "Or how long she spent looking for me. I didn't realize..."

"She seemed really relieved to find you," Loki murmured, moving over to stand next to Tony.

"Yeah. Wasn't expecting that," he said, a strained smile on his face.

The other man considered and then nodded slightly, "Yeah..."

"Come here," Tony said, motioning him forward.

Loki crossed the few remaining paces between them smoothly, his hand moving to rest on Tony's side. Humming, Tony drew him closer, burying his nose in Loki's hair. "Hey."

Wrapping an arm around the other, Loki smiled a bit, "Hey."

Tony hummed again, fingers tracing along Loki's hips. "So, how's your day?"

"Getting better by the moment," Loki replied, smirking.

"That's flattering," Tony laughed.

"It was meant to be."  Loki paused for a moment, drawing the other closer as he leaned down to kiss him, his hand snaking up under Tony's shirt to trace patterns along his spine.

Tony shuddered, arching his back into the touch. "Okay. I can live with that. Start moving, would you?"

Loki smirked against the kiss, moving backwards and drawing Tony with him toward where he knew the other's mattress was.

o-o-o-o

"Do you want, I don't know, food?" Tony asked, sometime later, tangled up in sheets and staring at the holes in the ceiling, wondering if Pepper had noticed them or not.

Loki half-shrugged where he was curled next to Tony, his head on the smaller man's chest, "I probably wouldn't say no to it if you've got it to spare, but I'm really comfortable here and not really inclined to move yet."

Tony laughed. "Oh, okay. I'm comfy too. You do nothing for my motivation."

"Which I probably shouldn't take pride in."

"No, probably not," Tony agreed, rolling over to better drape himself over the other's slender frame.

Loki made a sound of displeasure at the shift, adjusting his position accordingly, but offering Tony a bit of a grin, "I gotta say, time spent with you is always interesting."

"Interesting?" Tony repeated, hands tangling in his hair. "Dare I ask if that's a good thing?"

"I like interesting things.  So yes, it's a good thing."

"Glad to fulfill your need then," Tony said, not quite rolling his eyes or otherwise reacting.

Loki nuzzled against him, "Oh don't be like that.  Interesting is a compliment.  Everything else is so fucking boring that when there's something interesting it's the next best thing to amazing."

"Okay, I might take amazing, not sure about this next best thing to though," Tony laughed, the sound rumbling deep in his chest.

Smirking, the younger man shook his head slightly, "Well, I might be able to put it on part with it somedays.  There are certainly times when what we have is purely amazing."

Tony hummed again. "Which times?"

Loki answered before he processed what he was saying, "When you admit me to your friends."

Tony blinked and pushed himself up to stare down at the other. "What?"

Green eyes blinked up at him as Loki finally processed what he'd said, "Nothing."

"Is that actually a surprise?" Tony asked.

Loki rolled a shoulder, "Not really?"

Tony poked him in the stomach. "Yes it is! Why is it so surprising? Who would I damn well hide you from?"

Wrinkling his nose at that, Loki batted the other's hand away, "No one.  It's not that surprising I suppose."  For most people.

"Yes it is," Tony insisted. "I know it is, or you wouldn't have said it like it was amazing."

"Well, I'm me.  And I mean it's one thing when it's say....Phil, or one of your other friends who lives around here.  But even then, you actually admit it."

"You're surprised I told Pepper," Tony stated, not really questioning.

Loki hesitated for a moment before he nodded, "Well, yeah."

"No offense? She's probably seen worse. I admitted you were a lover, not someone I found drunk off the streets."

That earned a long look before the other finally shrugged, "Alright then."

Tilting his head down, Tony captured his mouth in a long kiss. Pressing up desperately into the kiss, Loki let his hand move to rest against Tony's chest.

"I'm not ashamed of you," Tony said, pulling back enough to meet Loki's eyes and say that. “Not the type to be ashamed of anyone.”

Loki's smile was faint, but his eyes clearly held gratitude at that, mixed with surprise at the thought.  He leaned up to press another kiss to Tony's lips, unable to respond further than that. Tony leaned down into the kiss again, before drawing back. "Fuck. Didn't we just do this?"

Loki's lips curled into a smirk, "I think so."

"Are we doing it again?" Tony asked, nuzzling Loki's nose.

Loki nipped at the other's lower lip, his green eyes alight, "If you're up to it."

"Well, fuck, there's no way I can turn that down now is there?" Tony asked, laughing.

"Should hope not."

Laughing, Tony ran his fingers down Loki's sides, skittering over his ribs. Loki drew a sharp breath at that, arching into the touch.

o-o-o-o

Pepper entered her apartment, shrugging out of her coat and blazer and kicking off her heels.  Hanging the coat up and picking up the heels to put them away she glanced toward where she could hear her girlfriend, "Sif?"

Sif appeared at the doorway, pulling her long brown hair back into a high ponytail. "Pepper. You're home late?" she said, using the phrase as a gentle question to see if Pepper wanted to talk about it or not.

The redhead smiled faintly at that, relief in her expression, "I found him.  I found Tony."

Eyes widening, Sif sat on the couch. "Really? He's still alive even?"

Pepper nodded, sinking down next to her, "Yes.  And clean.  He's still hardly living well, but he's clean."

That got a wide eyed expression from Sif. "Alright, now that I wasn't expecting. But you say he's still not living well?"

"Relatively speaking.  He's...honestly he's living a life that I wouldn't have expected of him, but that sort of suits him, I guess?"  She shrugged, "the life of a poor artist with next to no food as far as I can tell.  He mentioned the power being shut off frequently enough, things like that."

Sif's eyebrows shot up. "That... somehow I really didn't think he would find happiness without money. He seemed the type somehow, to fail without a fortune backing him up." She shook her head again. "Did he want to see you then?"

"I...I think so.  He seemed really concerned that he wouldn't see me again, but that may be me projecting?  And he seems to have found that happiness, though...I don't know how long it's going to last."

Reaching out an arm, Sif ran it along Pepper's back. "You're getting tense again. Why won't it last?"

Pepper glanced at her and tried to relax, but found it futile, "He got clean when his roommate tested HIV positive."  She hesitated, "And I have no idea what to think of his current relationship."

Sif laughed. "Okay, surprise number... five now? He's in a relationship?"

"Second one since he was thrown out from what I can understand..."

For a moment Sif didn't look like she believed that at all. "Wow."

"He's in love with both of them," Pepper murmured.

Sif's eyes widened slowly. "I'm trying to be positive here," she said. "But you're telling me Tony Stark loves someone? Legitimately? More than one person?"

Offering her a long look, Pepper shook her head slightly, "You underestimate him."

"That's probable," she nodded. "But I did know him three years ago. Not nearly as well as you did, but..."

"Yeah, you did.  You saw what we all went through with him.  All I know is from what he said and the way he looked at his current lover?  He's crazy about them both."

Sighing, Sif ran a hand through Pepper's hair. "That doesn't seem like a good situation to be in."

She leaned into the touch, "Has Tony ever been in a situation that it is good to be in?  I can't really say he has.  But he'll figure this one out, he always does given time."

"And occasionally massive property damage and injuries," Sif pointed out, drawing Pepper closer.

Pepepr rolled her eyes slightly, but leaned against Sif, "Occasionally, though I don't think this will require that extreme an action."

"I hope not. He's in New York, right?"

"Yes, over on Avenue B," came the quiet response.

"Then let's hope it doesn't involve property damage," Sif said with a faint smile.

That finally gained a quiet laugh, "Yes, let's hope."

Leaning forward, Sif kissed her lightly. "Do you feel better now? Having found him?"

Pepper nodded, "I really do.  It's good to know he's still alive."  She reached up to rest her hand on Sif's cheek before kissing the other woman in return.

"Good. You've been worried about this for three years. It's high time you were able to move on from worrying about him."

That earned an arched eyebrow, "You really think I'm ever not going to worry about him?"

"Well," Sif shook her head. "I meant worrying about whether or not he was even dead or alive or where he might have hidden. It's different, isn't it?"

"It...can be, yes.  Now it's a whole different set of worries, like what he's going to do if his lover overdoses, or when his roommate takes a turn for the worse."

"I thought you said he was clean?" Sif protested.

"Tony?  He is.  His lover isn't," Pepper sighed.

"That doesn't seem sustainable," Sif said, a frown between her eyebrows.

"No.  It doesn't.  Hence the new worries.  His roommate seems the sort to watch out for him when he's able to, but..."

"He's giving me a headache already," Sif said, stroking Pepper's hair again. "His roommate is sick, isn't he? How much could he do?"

"He's sick, yes, but still more than capable of worrying about Tony.  Keeping him grounded.  I..." Pepper sighed gain, leaning harder against Sif's side, "I don't know.  It's....going to be hard."

"Well, he has you now too," Sif smiled. "Even though I'm sure I'll want to stab him before this it over with."

"And for the fact that though you want to you won't, I am forever grateful."

Sif laughed. "I like my girlfriend too much. Displaced loyalty or not."

That earned a genuine smile and a soft kiss, "Good.  I like mine a lot, too, frankly."

"Come on," Sif said, rising and pulling Pepper with her. "Knowing you, you haven't eaten yet and you need to start relaxing. We're going to have to re-instate the Tony induced stress massages aren't we?"

Pepper laughed and allowed herself to be pulled from the couch, "No I haven’t eaten yet, and the stress massages probably won't go amiss."

Drawing Pepper in by the waist, Sif smiled against another kiss. "Then let's work on that."

Pepper twined her arms around the other woman's neck, pressing up into the kiss, "Lead on."

o-o-o-o

Loki stretched, levering himself up into a sitting position, "Alright, we really do need to actually move now...  I think you mentioned food?"

"It's that way," Tony said, face smashed into the pillow and gesturing with one hand.

Arching an eyebrow at that, the other man rose and pulled on his pants, "You planning to move there?"

"I was entirely intending not to," Tony muttered. "You feed me."

"...Right.  Alright, I'll see what I can do there."  He made his way over to where Tony had indicated, rifling through what food there was to see what could be put together with relative ease.  Mixing up some basic pancake batter and getting those started he glanced around, gaze focusing on something in the corner for a moment.  "You're going to have to move when I finally get this made."

"I can roll over and sit up?" Tony offered.

"You want me to serve you breakfast in bed," Loki's tone was unimpressed.

"Um, yes? Why not?"

"No reason I suppose."  He flipped the pancakes, his gaze moving over to the canvas covered thing in the corner again, "How do you like your pancakes?"

"Um, pancakey?" Tony supplied. "I don't know, cooked?"

That garnered a laugh as Loki searched to see if there was anything that could be put on the pancakes, but came up pretty much empty-handed.

"And that would be why," Tony said, rolling onto his back and glancing over at Loki. "We might have powdered sugar unless that fled the moment Banner walked through the door last month."

"There's some here.  So I'll be putting that on them if you've no objections."

"Great," Tony hummed, finally sitting up, blanket pulled up around his shoulders.

Loki dished up the pancakes, bringing a plate over and offering it to Tony. Tony hummed. "Wow. This is sweet."

"Oh?  How do you mean?"  Loki sat down next to him, picking at his own food.

"Breakfast in bed, it's cute," Tony grinned. "Or, well, dinner in bed. Whatever hour it is anymore."

That earned a faint laugh, "Afternoon at the very least I'm sure."

Tilting his head back, Tony considered the sun. "Right. We'll say afternoon."

Loki ran a finger around the edge of his plate to catch the scattered powdered sugar, licking it off his fingers before he thought about it, "I hope the day's been good for you?"

Tony blinked once. "Yeah, hard to find better ones. Why, is this a 'I hope it was good for you too' sort of conversation?"

That earned a dry laugh, "Hardly.  I am more than aware of how good I am in bed."

Eyes going wide, Tony laughed. "That was modest. Yes. Today was a good day. How's yours?"

"Dull until I showed up here," Loki responded, smirking.  "I notice Phil hasn't been around all day."

"Tasha's," Tony shrugged. "Something about enjoying all the time one has. Also, he knows when to retreat."

"It's not a bad philosophy."

Tony eyed him. "So, you're all for taking what you can today as much as you can?"

Loki rolled a shoulder, "Maybe?  Sort of?"

"Did today live up to standards?" Tony teased, waving his fork in front of Loki's face.

Smirking, the other nodded, "More than."

"Good," Tony said, leaning in to kiss him around the taste of pancakes before pulling back and finally getting out of bed, dragging the sheet and his dishes with him. Loki rose again, following Tony and setting his dishes down next to the sink before wandering past, poking around the apartment in exploration.

Leaning his hip against the counter, Tony watched him move around. "Looking for anything in particular?"

"Not really, just snooping a bit.  You don't mind do you?"

"Um, no?" Tony offered. "I don't think I have anything worth hiding."

Loki nodded once, weaving his way through the apartment until he finally reached the canvas in the corner and drew it back, pausing at the sight of the paintings.  His green gaze swept over them seeking a signature of something and he thought he could make out a small S.R. in the bottom corner of the front one, "These are quite good."

Tony's shoulder line had tensed. "Yeah. They are."

"Who did them?"

"Does that actually matter?" Tony asked, aware as soon as he said it that he made it matter.

Loki turned his head to look at the other, "They’re Steve's, aren't they?"

"Why do you think they're covered and not on the wall?” Tony shrugged, admitting it.

Letting the canvas fall back into place, the taller man nodded once, "I see."

Tony turned, shifting around to start a pot of coffee. "Do you?"

"I...sort of."  Loki finally admitted, neither focusing on Tony nor the canvas, though unable to ignore either of them.

"Does it bother you?" Tony asked, looking back at him.

"Are you surprised that it does?"

"Sorta, still, yeah," Tony shrugged.

Loki drew a deep breath, "Yeah, it does bother me.  I always come out second.  I know you say I'm not, but it's hard to get that set in my head."

Tony frowned at him. "If you'll notice, they're hidden. You're not."

"I can see that.  Look, it's my own set of issues, we've all got them."

Moving forward, Tony slipped an arm around Loki's waist. "Doesn't mean we can't work on them. Come on, babe, aren’t we all looking for baggage that goes with our own?”

Loki smiled faintly at that, though it didn't quite reach his eyes, "No.  It doesn't."

Tony traced a finger under Loki's eye. "Oh come now, don't be like that..."

Tilting his head back slightly from the touch, Loki blinked at him in moderate confusion, "Like what?"

"Nevermind," Tony shook his head and paused. "I've seen too many smiles people don't mean, okay?"

Lok let his smile fade away to nothingness, "Well that's novel.  Someone who can actually see when I'm not smiling."

"I'm good at that," Tony murmured. "Did it myself too much as a kid, shit like that."

That earned a mirthless laugh, "Takes one to know one, huh?"

"Somethin' like that," Tony grinned, leaning in to kiss him again. "I would say come back to bed but we did that twice."

Loki kissed him back, finally offering him a faint but genuine smile, "Yes, we did.  I actually ought to go get ready for my shift."

Something flickered in Tony's eyes. "Shift, right," he said, kissing Loki lightly again before drawing back, leaning down to twitch the covering back over the paintings, to keep them free of dust and any possible light damage.

His lover hesitated, but finally just shook his head and turned for the door, "I'll see you later?"

"Not planning on going anywhere," Tony replied softly.

Loki paused at the door, watching him for a long moment before nodding, "Then I'll see you later."  With that he slipped out, his footsteps echoing in the stairwell. Tony watched him go impassively, eyes straying down toward Steve's paintings and sighing, running a hand through his hair.

 

Chapter Text

Several days after last seeing Loki, Tony took the stairs down to his lover's apartment. Pepper had found him a couple weeks ago, and had at least kept her promise to come by again. Things may still have been strained between them in ways they had not been three years ago, but even seeing her red hair made his chest warm.

She had been over for dinner with Phil and him, bringing enough groceries to light Phil's eyes up. It felt like a good day all told, and Tony wanted to see Loki.

Loki was perched on the arm of his couch, turning the small bag of heroin over in his hands, his gaze focused on it.  His needle and tourniquet were in plain view and his hands shook.  He'd been nearly a full day without the drug already, but he was starting to feel continually shaky and nauseous and he knew that a quick fix would make that leave.  He was on edge for any number of other reasons--not the least of which were the paintings in Tony's apartment that he couldn't seem to dismiss as nothing.  He knew that was illogical, but at the moment logic had absolutely nothing to do with anything.  Closing his hand around the bag he reached for what he would need to get it set to shoot up.

Freezing in front of the beaded curtain that was the only divider in Loki's apartment, Tony braced his hands on either side of the doorway, eyes wide.

Loki looked up at the slight rattle of the beads, his eyes widening as he set the rubber tubing down, "Tony...I..."

"I know," Tony said, with a tiny shrug. "So don't." He shook his head once before turning and stalking out of the apartment.

Watching him go, Loki started to rise, but glanced back at the paraphernalia.  He picked up the needle, looking at it for a long moment with his hands still shaking.  He threw it aside, wincing as he watched it roll under the only permanent fixture in the apartment.  He looked at what he had left of his stash and tossed it away as well, retreating to his bed and curling up.  This was going to be hell on earth.

Tony stormed back into the apartment, Phil looking up in surprise. "What--?"

"Don't," Tony snapped, sliding out onto the fire escape and bracing his arms against the railing. "Don't even."

Phil blinked and nodded. "Alright," he said, rising from the couch to put a pot of coffee on, taking a warm cup out to Tony the moment it was done. "Here."

Not looking over at him, Tony accepted the coffee, taking a long swallow of it. "Thanks," he ground out.

"Do you want to talk about it?" his roommate asked, voice quiet in the cool air.

"Not really," Tony shook his head, sipping at the coffee and looking over New York's lights. Nodding, Phil slipped back into the apartment, leaving the window open for whenever Tony felt like coming back inside.

o-o-o-o

Loki spent much of that night in the bathroom of his apartment, dry heaving about twleve hours after Tony had walked out because he had nothing left in his stomach.  He curled close in on himself, his back against the claw foot tub, arms clutched tightly around his body as he shook, a cold sheen of sweat covering his skin and making the shivering worse through the chill.  His joints started to hurt somewhere around hour eighteen and he folded in further, resting his head on his knees and hoping that something would make it stop.

The next morning, Tony slipped down stairs again, feeling guilty for the way he'd stormed out the day before. "Hey, Loki?" he asked, rapping on the wood beside the curtain, looking around before slipping toward the bathroom.

Loki had managed to lever himself up into a mostly standing position, though he was leaning heavily against the edge of the tub.  He glanced toward the sound of Tony's voice, managing a weak, "In here," from where he was still standing on shaky legs, his arms tightly wrapped around his torso.

Turning the corner Tony froze. "Jesus. What the hell?"

"Wh-what does it look like?" he grit out between clenched teeth, pupils wide rather than the constricted pinpricks associated with the high from the drug.

"Fuck," Tony muttered, stepping forward to support Loki. "Come on, there are more blankets up stairs."

"Up..." Loki gave him a look of moderate disbelief, but shifted his weight to lean most of it on Tony.

"Yeah. You can handle one flight of stairs, right?" Tony asked, taking his weight and holding him up.

Swallowing hard, the taller man nodded, "I...I think so."

"Then come on," Tony said softly, pulling him with him.

It took time and effort, but they eventually made it up the stairs to Tony's apartment.  Loki looked even more ready to collapse after the climb than he had in the bathroom and his gaze darted around the room feverishly.

Tony planted him on the couch, glad Phil was out for the day at life support again. "Stay here," he said, the word unnecessary as he went to find several blankets, and a bucket just in case.

Loki drew his knees up to his chest, grimacing at the effort and the pain that throbbed in his joints at the motion.  He rested his head against his knees, trying to draw a deep breath, but not finding that a real possibility.

Coming back over, Tony moved him slightly to bring Loki's back to his chest as he sat, wrapping blanket's around Loki's shaking form. "Here," he murmured, a hand on Loki's forehead.

"Th-thanks..." the younger man leaned back against him, closing his eyes tightly as he rested his head back on Tony's shoulder. "Fuck..."

"Yeah," Tony rumbled, "I know. Just try to breathe."

Loki clutched the blanket tighter, shivering despite it, "How long does this l-last?"

"Depends," Tony said, swallowing. "Why are you doing it?"

"C-cause I couldn't take that look again."

Swallowing, Tony buried his nose in Loki's hair. "God, I..." he sighed. "I thought you said you wouldn't do something like this unless it was worth it."

"I did,” Loki doubled over on himself again, trying to minimize the pin, but knowing it wouldn't help.

Tony tightened his grip. "Oh. Is this...?"

"F-fuck.  Do we have to talk about this now?"

"No," Tony said, swallowing past his thick voice. "No, I'm sorry."

"Yes.  I think it's worth it," Loki murmured, leaning back again and trying to find some position that didn’t hurt.

Humming, Tony ran a hand up and down his side. "You can do this," he murmured.

"Y-you overestimate me."

"No," Tony murmured, kissing his temple. "No, you can do this."

Loki leaned harder against him, drawing a shaky breath, "It hurts so fucking much."

"I know," Tony said softly. "I do, I remember."

"How the hell did you do this t-twice?"

"Finding something worth it," Tony murmured, smiling faintly into the distance. "It'll get better." Eventually, someday, or so he was still hoping.

"Stronger than I am..."

"No I'm not," Tony said, petting his hair again and laughing softly, sardonically. "I'm the weakest person in the world."

Loki shook his head at that, "Not true."

"Yeah it is," Tony said. "But that's not the point here."

Green eyes darted to him and then away, "Sure. If you say so."

"I do," Tony murmured, rocking Loki back and forth slightly. "Can I do anything?"

"Just don't let go?"

"Course not," Tony murmured and paused for a moment, before starting to sing softly, an old lullaby that he couldn't remember who taught him. Loki let his eyes close again, not figuring he'd get anywhere close to anything resembling sleep or rest in his condition, but doing his best to relax as he let the other's voice sweep over him.

o-o-o-o

It had been several weeks since Clint had the energy to get a job, or earn any money, which meant he was relying almost entirely on Bruce. Even going outside was difficult. Bruce entered the small apartment they'd been able to find.  It wasn't much, but it was a roof over their heads and what he was able to bring in was just enough to keep it that way.  Closing the door and drawing a deep breath he moved over to where Clint was, "Hey, Clint, I'm home."

"Hey," Clint said, peeking out from where he was buried in the covers. "I would never have guessed you were home, with standing here and all," he said, offering a muted smile.

He earned a weary smile in return, "I guess that would make sense."  Bruce sat down next to where he was laying, running a hand over his forehead, "How are you doing today?"

Clint reached out to catch Bruce's hand. "Fine. Why wouldn't I be fine?"

The other's gaze swept over Clint's form, but Bruce squeezed the hand lightly, managing a bit of a smile, "No reason.  I was just checking."

"Right," Clint muttered, pushing himself up even though he took most of the blankets with him, wrapping them around his shivering frame.

Bruce drew the smaller man into his embrace, angling himself so he was supporting Clint, "You're too cold, love.  I should get you to a doctor."  How they were supposed to pay for it was a different matter entirely.

Clint shoved at his chest. "No. Because all they'd say is I need to go to the hospital."

"They wouldn't be wrong," the older man murmured before he thought about it.

Scowling, Clint shook his head and leaned back. "I don't want to go to the fucking hospital to die."

Bruce drew a deep breath, closing his eyes for a moment, "I know, love.  I know.  I didn't...I don't...I don't know how to help you." He finally admitted, mutedly, his gaze moving to Clint's face.

"No one does," Clint said, eyes drifting down.

Breath catching slightly at that, Bruce rested a gentle hand on his lover's cheek, "We'll see this through, together.  One way or another."

Managing not to mention how one of them probably wouldn't see it all the way through and it wasn't entirely something they could do together, Clint just nodded.

"Can I get you anything?"

"Probably not," Clint said, taking a long breath.

Swallowing hard at that, Bruce nodded and fell silent, drawing Clint just a bit closer into his embrace. Swallowing, Clint leaned against him for a moment. "Do you think... it would help? Going to a goddamn stupid hospital?"

"I...I don't know.  I think it might?  I think it might make it as comfortable as possible?"  But I really don't know."

"How the fuck could anyone be comfortable in a hospital?" Clint muttered, shaking his head slightly.

Bruce sighed slightly, "I don't know.  I'm hardly going to make you go if you don't want to, but it could help.  I..."

"What you?" Clint asked, sounding tired.

"I'm worried," He finally murmured.  Running a hand over the other's hair, Bruce kissed his brow, "I love you."

Clint sighed, pressing into the touch like a cat. "I know. I just... not yet."

"Alright.  Not yet," Bruce agreed, his hand still petting the smaller man's blond hair.

"But you're going to say soon, aren't you?" Clint asked with a tiny, force smile.

"I won't know until the day comes," he admitted.  "But, it will probably be sooner than later."

Scowling again, Clint took a deep breath and nodded. "Alright."

Bruce traced a thumb over Clint's cheekbone, sighing quietly, but falling silent again. Not quite rolling his eyes, Clint moved to lie down again, pulling at Bruce to take him down too. "Come here."

Bruce lay down next to his lover, stretching out on his side.

o-o-o-o

Just about a week after his worst night of withdrawals, Loki exited the Cat Scratch Club in the early evening, the sun barely starting to set.  He'd been gone too long, and there were other people who could do the job.  Perhaps not quite so effectively as he had, but there were plenty of people willing to step into his slot in the evening performances and earn the cash.  He swore, kicking a can down the sidewalk.  He was clean--or nearly so--and now he was out of a job.  Figured.

The can rolled to a stop and he followed it with his gaze, pausing when he spotted the blond man not too far away.  The blond made his way over, "Loki?"

Scowling, he shied away, "Steve.  What brings you here?"

"I was on my way past from the gallery.  Something the matter?"

"Like you care," he muttered.

Frowning, Steve shook his head, "You matter to Tony, so yeah, I care.  What happened?"

"Nothing.  Fucking out of work for the night is all."

That earned raised brows, "For tonight?"

"Alright, for good from the looks of it.  I've got no way to cover the rent or food now."

"'Food'?"

Loki's lips curled back in a snarl, "Yes.  Food.  I'm off the smack now.  If you're here to judge just keep right on walking."

Steve sighed, "Sorry, that...I mean, you need a job right?"

"Just said so."

"I know of one, if you don't mind taking an offering from me."

"What do you want in return?" Loki asked warily.

"Nothing.  Like I said, you matter to Tony,” Steve shrugged, trying to keep his expression as neutral as possible.

"Where is it?"

"There's an opening at the gallery."

"Art?  Seriously?" Loki sneered, shaking his head slightly.

"Odd jobs around the place for now, mostly," Steve replied.

Loki scowled, "I don't know..."

"Well, it's an opening.  If you can start, show up tomorrow at eleven and I'll show you the ropes."  He offered a half salute, "Take care."

"...Yeah.  You too."  He frowned after the blond, trying to figure out what the hell had just happened and if he was even half considering the offer.

o-o-o-o

A short while later found Loki passing the landing outside his apartment and heading up to Tony and Phil's loft, still in the clothes he'd been intending to wear for work.

Tony answered the door when he knocked, and blinked. "Whatta?"

"Hey.  Mind if I come in?"

"If I'm keeping you from anything," Tony said, stepping back as Phil pulled the curtain across his little area.

Loki shook his head, stepping inside.  He hadn’t even processed what he was still wearing, "No.  Apparently I'm not dancing at the club anymore."

"You're not--" Tony blinked. "What?"

"I was gone just a shade too long and they gave my spot up to someone else," he replied testily.

For a second Tony looked like Loki had slapped him, aware of why the other had missed work. "O-oh."

"I might have a new job, though.  I'm just not sure if I can actually do it."

"But, job!" Tony protested. "Why couldn't you do a job? Jobs are good right?"

 Loki offered him a long look, "Because I have a hard time accepting help from Steve Rogers."

Tony stared at him a long moment. "Come... come again?" he asked, and that got Phil's attention, peeking his head out of his curtained room.

"Steve fucking Rogers found me outside the Cat Scratch Club and told me there was an opening at the gallery and that if I wanted it I should show up tomorrow by eleven so he can 'show me the ropes'," Loki looked confused as to whether he should be irritated or relieved.

Tony meanwhile just looked like he might go into hysterics. "So, Steve offered you a job?" he managed. He wasn't sure he could live with that.

Phil just smiled faintly.

Nodding, Loki crossed his arms, "Yeah.  And damn it, I don't have much choice about taking him up on it, either."

"Excuse me a moment," Tony said, holding up a hand and retreating to the phone.

Loki watched him go before glancing at where Phil was. Phil just arched a brow as Tony punched in Steve's number with more anger than usual.

Steve picked up after the second ring, "Hello?"

"What are you doing?" Tony asked, glancing at Loki and Phil and scowling at the latter.

"What do you mean?" Steve asked, voice confused on the other end of the line.

Loki settled himself on the couch to wait until Tony was off the phone.

"Job, boyfriend," Tony replied. "There are motivational things here."

"Oh.  That.  He needed a job, I knew of a job.  So I offered it to him," Steve's voice was matter-of-fact.

"Steve," Tony said, voice low and not quite panicked but close.

"Look, Tony.  He needed help, I could help.  And...well...he matters to you."

"He--" Tony took a deep breath, cradling the phone in his shoulder to better wrap the cord around his hands into something that almost looked like a cat's cradle. "And you think this could work?"

"If we don't talk about you, yeah I think it could.  There's odd-jobs to be done around the gallery and if he finds a niche there, all the better."

"But not talking about me?" Tony asked, an old lilt to his voice.

"Do you really think we could actually interact civilly when he's extremely jealous and I still not over you if you came up?"

Tony's eyes drifted down to the complex web he'd made out of the phone cord and sighed. "Thank you, Steve."

"Yeah...take care, Tony."

"I tend to do that," Tony muttered into the phone.

"I know you do."  Steve paused, "I'll see you around."

"I--yeah," Tony said, untangling his hands. "See you around."

Steve hung up after another hesitation.

Tony sighed, dropping the phone down. "So, are you going there tomorrow?"

"Probably," Loki replied.  "I don't have another option after all."

"'m sure you could find one," Tony muttered. "But this... this could be good."

Loki offered him a long look, "Yes, it could.  I'm going to try and make it work, anyhow."

Tony sank down on the couch next to him. "So, erm, if you aren't dancing anymore..."

"Which I'm not..." Loki prompted.

"What about the other part of the job?" Tony couldn't help but ask.

"I got my clients through the club.  Yes, it was good money, no I don't think I'll be doing it.  I don't know at the moment, but I don't think so."

Drawing his knees toward his chest, Tony crossed his arms over the top and leaned back. Loki drew a deep breath, "I don't see any reason to keep taking clients.  It was risky to begin with, and...well, I'd rather not keep risking it."

"That's nice," Tony remarked, sounding more idle then he felt.

"Tony, I didn't even know until less than an hour ago that I was even going to be out of the dancing job.  What do you expect me to say?"

"Nothing," he said, tapping a finger against his knee.

Loki frowned at that, "Right."

"So, get you anything?" Tony asked, standing.

"I'm fine," the other muttered, his gaze focused on his hands.

"Well," Tony said, looking around and going for the coffee pot.

"Well?"  Loki glanced in Tony's direction before drawing his knees up to wrap his arms around them.

"Well then this calls for coffee," Tony said, drumming out a rhythm on the counter top.

That finally garnered a faint smile, "Is there anything that doesn't call for coffee?"

"Funerals," Phil replied, deadpan and Tony laughed.

"Or, I don't know, going to the circus," he added.

Loki shook his head, smile turning to a bit of a grin, "I think even the circus might call for it, but I'll grant funerals as a place not necessarily suitable for coffee."

Phil and Tony shared a look before the latter busied himself with the coffee pot again.

Loki drew a deep breath, finally rising, "What's going on?"

Looking over his shoulder, Tony shrugged. "Going on?"

"He's miffed because you told him flat out that you couldn't share him but he had to share you and now you won't even commit to returning the favor," Phil remarked idly and Tony blinked at him.

"Get out," he said once his brain processed.

"I pay half the rent," Phil shrugged and his roommate scowled.

Loki allowed that to sink in before turning to Tony, "Is he right?"

"Well," Tony started and shrugged. "Yeah? Coffee?"

"I..." He hesitated before nodding, "Coffee would be nice.  I...Tony, I can promise you to do my best to make it so you don't have to share me, but I can’t do more than that."

"I didn't technically ask for that either," Tony muttered, handing him a cup.

"But you wanted it," Phil remarked.

"Would the peanut gallery either shut up or leave?" Tony snapped and Phil smiled faintly.

"Please. You need to come with narration."

Loki sipped at the coffee, hiding a smile, "Asked for or not, it's what I'm offering."

"Oh, well, then I'll take it," Tony said, smile actually brightening his face.

Tucking a lock of his hair back, Loki grinned, "Good."

Tony sat down again beside him, drinking the coffee slowly and not even caring about the time of night. Loki tucked his legs up, curling up against Tony's side without thinking about it. Glancing over, Tony slipped his nearer arm over Loki's shoulders and tried to relax even more.

o-o-o-o

Loki considered the door to Tony's apartment for a long moment before knocking on it.  He'd been at his job at the gallery for a few weeks and had settled into it easily enough.  It still felt strange to be doing a job that didn’t' require attracting attention, but it was an interesting change.  As it stood that evening, he was antsy and needed to get out, though more to remind himself he could than anything else.

There was a muffled curse and Phil opened the door, Tony having tripped over the couch and still attempting to stand. "Oh. Hello," Phil said, sounding mild.

Loki offered him a faint smile, "Hey.  Is Tony intact?"

Phil glanced over his shoulder and nodded. "He should be."

"May I come in then?"

"If you feel like it," Phil said, abandoning the door in time for Tony to pick himself back up and cross the room.

Loki stepped inside, offering Tony a bit of a smile, "Hey."

"Hey yourself," Tony said, leaning against the wall. "Can I help you with anything?"

"What do you say to going out tonight?"

Tony blinked, considering. "How out?"

"Dancing?"

"Like, club dancing and not Cat Scratch dancing?" Tony asked, still trying to figure out the parameters.

Loki nodded slowly at that, "Yes, like club dancing."

"I can do that," Tony said with a nod. "Give me a minute to find something with less holes--or at least more symmetrical, attractive holes."

Loki smiled, "I suppose I can let you do that."

"You'd better if you want company," Tony said over his shoulder, digging around in the fourth-hand dressed brought back from a flea market.

"Then I guess I'll wait.  We've been over how boring it is to go out alone."

Rolling his eyes, Tony found what he was looking for, changing quickly in the middle of the room, since anyone who was there to see had probably seen worse already.  Loki smirked, leaning against the wall and letting his gaze travel over his lover's body before returning to his eyes, "Not bad."

Tony rolled his eyes again, throwing a bundled up shirt at Loki's head. "I would fucking hope not."

Ducking the shirt, Loki swept over, looping an arm around Tony's waist and pulling him close, "Oh come on, no need for htat."

In reply, Tony cupped Loki's chin and kissed him. "Fine."

Loki pulled away after a brief moment, "Come on, let's get going."

"Going, right, there were plans to go," Tony said with a grin and laughed. "Phil?" he called in question.

"Oh just go already," Phil replied. "Please. Out."

Laughing, Loki pulled Tony with him toward the door, "We'll see you later, Phil." Tony grinned, leaning against Loki's side as they walked.

"Thanks for coming out tonight," Loki remarked as they rounded a corner toward the club he was aiming for.

"Well what else was I going to do?" Tony asked, giving him a sideways look.

He shrugged, "I don't know.  Stay in like usual?"

Tony gave him an odd look. "Well, the reasons for that are diminishing. Besides, you make it sound like I don't know how to have a good time."

"Well, use tonight to prove to me that you do," Loki offered.

Tony looked at him, expression hard for a moment. "And you've been doing alright? With not..."

"I haven’t gone to a dealer since that night you walked into my apartment and walked out again," Loki replied sharply.

"Alright," Tony said, eying him again.

"What?" the other frowned in response to the look.

"Nothing. But I am glad."

"...Right.  Good, glad you're glad."

Tony hesitated, unsure whether to push that or not. "Are you not?"

Loki shrugged, mostly telling the truth, "Course I am.  Why wouldn't I be?"

"No reason," Tony said, stopping in front of the club's doors. "This one?"

"Yeah, this one."

"Nice looking place," Tony remarked, only half sarcastic.

"It's better inside," Loki murmured, pushing the door open and giving a nod to the guy standing just inside.

"I follow on your command," Tony said, grinning at the man and trailing after Loki.

That finally earned another smile as Loki took his hand and pulled him toward the dance floor, "Then come on.  Let's get a couple of dances in."

"I missed dancing," Tony remarked, following Loki still and sliding his free hand around his waist.

"Did you used to do it much?" the taller man asked, moving easily with the music, though a little more uncertain with a partner.

"Yeah," Tony said, and nearly plastered himself against Loki's frame.

Loki almost asked "with who" but decided that was a bad plan and instead let the music sweep aside all such thoughts as he held Tony just far enough away that they still had some chance of moving with the beat.

Grinning, Tony trailed his hands along Loki's spine. Arching at that touch, Loki drew a sharp breath, "We're not going to make it through that many songs are we?"

"Are you kidding?" Tony said, smirking. "Anticipation is part of what dancing is all about."

"That does rather seem to be the case.  Anticipation and seduction," Loki responded, hands running down Tony's sides to his hips.

Moving into the touch, Tony just grinned. "And the point is to see how long you can draw it out. Think you'll make it?" Tony teased.

"Think you will?" came the retort, as one of Loki's hands traced circles on Tony's hip and the other slid around to the small of his back to pull him closer.

Eyes lighting up, Tony nodded, one hand stroking the back of Loki's neck. "Please. You should know better than to challenge me."

Loki smirked, "Oh probably."

The song changed and Tony pulled him closer. "Then we'll just have to see, won't we?"

"We shall, yes," Loki replied, his fingers tracing along the hem of Tony's shirt. Using one of his hands to grad Loki's, Tony lifted it away from his shift edge, dropping it on his mid back.

Tony and Loki made it through four and a half dances before Loki finally admitted defeat and pulled Tony off the dance floor, "Home I think?"

Tony laughed, trailing after him. "Giving up?" he teased, sounding breathless.

"Considering other ways we could spend our time," Loki smirked in response, his voice low as he led the way through the crowd and out the door.

[6"But I like dancing!" Tony protested, stumbling after him.

Loki grinned crookedly at that, "There's more than one type of dance, and I was thinking perhaps a more private one?"

"A lap dance?" Tony teased once he took in the cool air outside.

"That's certainly a possibility," the taller man smirked, drawing Tony close for a brief, but passionate, kiss.

"Oh, my lucky day," Tony laughed, leaning hard against him.

They eventually managed to make it back to the apartment building and up the stairs to Tony's loft, though Loki had stopped at nearly every landing to press another kiss to Tony's mouth.

Stumbling, Tony nearly tripped through the door. "Phil?" he called in question and frowned when the flat was dark and there was no sound.

Loki reached for the light switch, half-surprised when it turned on, and glanced at Tony, "It doesn't sound like he's here...Was he planning to go out tonight at all?"

"No," Tony said, glancing around in some concern, finally noticing the note on his mattress--Phil had apparently figured where he was heading as soon as he got back and hoped Tony would notice the crinkle of paper. Moving over quickly he plucked it up.

Following the other man, Loki frowned, "What's it say?"

"Clint's in the hospital," Tony said, voice hollow.

"He..." Loki's eyes widened, "Oh, God... No.  That...  We should go."  He couldn't seem to catch up with the thoughts racing around in his head, denial collided with the knowledge that had been there all along that this was something that was anticipated.

Tony already was heading back for the door, note crumpled in one hand. "Yeah." Loki hesitated before following him quickly.

Chapter Text

It took a while for Phil to reach Natasha's apartment. He'd taken the long way, hoping it would allow him some space to think, but by the time he knocked on her door he still felt as lost as he had.

Natasha answered the door as soon as he knocked, her eyes flickering over his expression.  She'd been to see Clint daily since receiving the call nearly a week before to let her know he was in the hospital and every time it felt like something else was being torn out of her.  She recognized the look in her boyfriend's eyes as she stepped aside to let him in, "Phil?"

"Tasha," he greeted, engulfing her and burying his head in her hair. "Hey."

She leaned hard against him, clinging for dear life, "You went to see him today?"

"Course," said and sighed. "Besides, if we didn't go, Bruce would lose his mind."

Nodding very slightly against his chest, Tasha drew a shaky breath, "How are you doing?"

"I... I can't actually figure which is worse," he said after a pause. "Watching someone slip away or watching the person who loves them watching it too."

Or knowing that you'll be in one of those positions in a relatively short time. She didn't voice the thought, settling for, "A bit of both.  Clint's an old friend of mine, but to watch Bruce..."

"The funny thing with Clint," Phil said and paused. "Well, it's that he makes everyone like him in so short a time."

Natasha pulled back enough to draw Phil over to her couch to sit down, "He's too kind to not like.  Always sees the best, and has a level of sass to him that no one can compete with."

Phil laughed, the sound strained and followed. "I almost wish that wasn't true."

"He wouldn't be him without it," she smiled faintly and curled against him.  That was part of the problem, seeing Clint's vivacity fade away and with it the light in Bruce's eyes was agony to those that cared for them.

"I know, but if he wasn't him then we wouldn't have to... have to go through this."

"No.  We wouldn't, but life with him wouldn't have been nearly so joyful."

"Maybe not," Phil sighed, shaking his head.

Tasha turned her head against his shoulder, "It hurts to watch them..."

"I just can't help but worry about you, and Tony. We're here for Bruce now but eventually..."

"Don’t worry about that now, Phil.  We've enough to worry about without borrowing from the future."

"But the future's coming,” he reminded softly.

"But it's not here yet.  Please, tonight, try not to worry about it?"

"Alright," he managed after a moment. "Not tonight."

She leaned harder against him, "I just...God, Phil."

"Sh," he said, one hand coming up to stroke her hair. "Just... sh."

Natasha curled into his side, her eyes tightly closed, "It's not fair."

"Nothing in life is," Phil replied. "But what brought that on? The obvious?"

She nodded slightly, "We shouldn't be losing him."

"But if not him then who?" Phil asked, leaning his head against the back of the couch.

"We shouldn't even be having to ask that question."

"But we are," Phil said, sounding snappish for him. "We made some mistake or another to bring us here and we are."

Natasha drew a deep breath, "Yes.  We are."  She ran a hand over her face, "I'm sorry.  I just...Seeing him like this.  Seeing them like this..."

“Sorry," he said, glancing away for a moment.

"Don't be.  We're both dealing with the reality we suddenly can actually see in front of us."

He sighed softly again. "It's easier in abstract, isn't it?"

Tasha nodded, curling closer, "So much easier.  I look at them and all I can see is us."

"But we're not there."

"No, but we will be.  I don't know when, but we will be."

"I thought you said you didn't want to think about that?" he said, mouth thinning.  "Tasha," he started and sighed, letting his head fall back further at her expression. "Come on."

"I'm sorry."  She sighed, "I know I’m being changeable and unreasonable.  I just...I'm sorry, you didn't come here to hear this."

"No, I really didn't," he said softly with another sigh, feeling like he was too big for his skin.

Natasha pulled back enough to look at him, resting a hand on his cheek, "I'm sorry, Phil.  I'll stop."

He let out a deep breath. "Alright." She nuzzled against his neck, gently, banishing her fears for the moment.

o-o-o-o

Loki sat, alone, in his apartment.  HIs knees were drawn up to his chest, long arms wrapped around them, and his gaze remained focused on the needle and rubber tubing that sat on the small table in front of him.  All he was missing was the drug itself.  It was a fresh needle, though that thought caused a bitter, almost hysterical, laugh to catch in his throat.  What was it Tony had said that first night? "You’re killing yourself in another way."  That was it.

He couldn't do it any longer.  Watching Clint fade away, watching everyone else become half-people in their grief.  It hurt too fucking much.  He wasn't supposed to feel as much as he had been.  That was part of the point.  Part of why he left, and part of why he'd stayed where he was.  If you kept yourself numb and kept people away you didn't have to deal with things like pain, like grief, like worry.  He couldn't keep up with them, not without something to dull the ache in his chest and the pounding in his head.  He just wasn't strong enough--would never be strong enough.  Surely one hit couldn't hurt?

Who was he kidding?  He knew exactly how much damage one hit could do.  He had the makings of a promising life here.  Tony, a job, hell he even had friends.  He and Steve were even working on getting along. But really what all was that?  Tony, that might be something to keep but did he quit because of Tony or because of the guilt he felt knowing that he was dating a former user and might well influence a relapse?  The job, didn't pay as well as his previous one, but it worked, but it may have been given out of pity.  Friends...they were all going to be gone in the next couple of years anyhow.

He ran his hands through his dark hair, finally coming to a decision.  Loki hesitated for the briefest of moments longer.  He picked up the rubber tubing and turned it around in his palms before taking the needle in hand that would administer the drug again.  Just a couple of hours without feeling.  That's all he asked.

It was a short while later that Tony was walking home, mind only half on where he was turning his feet and more focused on what was happening in the hospital and the future. He paused at the alley where he remembered the dealer usually worked, not really thinking about it when he glanced down it. He froze.

Loki palmed the stash he'd just purchased, watching as the dealer left.  He turned to go up to his apartment and stopped in his tracks when he saw Tony.

"What the fuck?" Tony managed, something dark in his voice.

"Don't start," Loki grit out, starting past him.

"Don't start?" Tony asked, watching him move without following, head turning to track Loki. "Don't start?"

"Yes.  Don't start."  He drew a breath but kept going.

"What do you think you're doing?" Tony asked, voice small. "What do you honestly think you're doing?"'

"What does it look like?  You're smart, bordering on brilliant.  Figure it out."

"Oh, I more than figured it out," Tony snapped. "I want to see if you've actually thought about it. Because this is insane."

Loki whirled to face him, "Insane?  Really?  I told you I wasn't strong enough for this.  And I’m not."

"Yes you are! Why do you think you're not?" Tony asked, reaching out and grabbing Loki by the shoulders.

"Because I never have been!"  Loki snapped, desperation edging into his voice as he pulled away from the touch.

"Yes you have!" Tony protested. "You can be. Just..."

"Just what?  I'm not you, Tony.  I can't do this."

"Why not?" Tony repeated, wanting to shake him again.

"Because I'm not supposed to feel!"

"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?" Tony asked, grabbing him again by the shoulders. "You're not supposed to feel. What aren't you supposed to feel? I thought you were supposed to feel good. Wasn't that why you took drugs?"

Loki shook his head, trying to pull away again, "No.  It wasn't.  That was as much of a lie as me having a cold.  I take them because I'm not supposed to feel.  Not supposed to get attached.  Nothing's ever true.  Nothing's everlasting.  They let me stop feeling for a couple of hours."

"Not supposed to get attached," Tony repeated, eyes going wide. "Well you've either done a really good job or a really shitty one."

"No.  And when I did....I can't handle any of this, Tony.  It all fails eventually."

"You think I'm going to fail you? Well that's a fantastic vote of confidence."

"That's...I don't mean you will.  But something will go wrong.  Always does.  I don't fit.  I don't feel.  I can't."

"You can't," Tony repeated and shook his head. "So you just can't. What the hell does that mean? What are you not going to do?"

"I'm done feeling," Loki dropped his gaze, "I can't manage it anymore.  There's too many of them.  I don't know what to do with the emotions."

"And me?" Tony asked, "Where does that leave me?"

"I-I don't know.  I...even with this in my blood" he held up the stash, "I still feel around you."

"Do you want me to regret that?" Tony asked. "Is that what you want? Because otherwise I have no idea."

"No.  I don't.  I'm confused by it.  I don't know what to do with it.  I don't like that, I want....I....I hate feeling."

"But you feel around me," Tony said, something going dark in his voice. "And you don't want to feel."

"I don't want to feel what I'm feeling," Loki corrected. "I hate grief.  I hate it.  I hate sorrow.  It's too raw."

"Well you can't damn well escape it!"

"Watch me!" Loki snarled back.

"Where would you run?" Tony demanded hotly. "You can't hide just with drugs you know."

Loki shook his head, backing up, "I can't do it, Tony.  I-I...I never have been able to.  Last time I ran half-way across the country!"

"So what do you want me to do?"

"Fuck off and let me live my life how I choose.  If I don't want to feel then fuck off and let me not feel."

Tony gaped at him a moment and step back. "You--fine."

Loki looked him over for a moment before nodding once and turning toward the building, "Good."

Staring at the wall opposite, Tony let him leave, waiting for him to get upstairs before finally turning to return home himself.

Finally reaching the apartment, Tony was nearly stumbling. "I need, I need to go, get out, I need to do--" he was saying, noticing Phil standing by the phone.

"Tony--" Phil started.

"No," Tony waved a hand. "I mean, Loki, and feelings, and apparently he feels too much so he wants me gone and I need to--"

"Tony!" Phil repeated and that got his attention finally.

Tony paled when he finally looked at Phil. "What--what happened?"

"Clint just died," Phil said, softly. "We need to go." Struck dumb, Tony just nodded and followed him out.

o-o-o-o

Barely a week later, in the cold October air, a small group of people gathered in the local church for the funeral of Clint Barton. Tony didn't recognize everyone there, and he tried not to react when Steve walked in. For the most part he sat, shoulder to shoulder with Bruce, listening to everyone who in turn told their stories about Clint. Every once and a while he would turn to make sure Bruce was holding most of it together.

Bruce spent most of the funeral with his gaze locked on the coffin, picking at the cuticle of his left thumb.  It was a habit he'd broken years before, but it gave him a pain to focus on rather than the knot in this throat and the ache in his chest.  If he let himself cry now he was certain he wouldn't stop, and he refused to break so completely here and now.  He would do that later, once the others were gone away. 

As the last of their friends who were going to speak finished and stepped down, he steeled himself and rose.  He placed a single red carnation and a small sprig of rosemary on the coffin, resting his palm flat against the hard surface, drawing a breath and trying to find a way to speak without his voice betraying him.  "Forever, Clint.  A thousand kisses, a thousand years, a new lease on life.  Forever, love.  You opened your life, and never will there be another for me.  Forever."

Phil rose but Tony beat him to their roommate's side. He wrapped an arm around Bruce's waist to use as support. "Come on," he said, picking up Clint's drumsticks that had been on the coffin, handing them to Bruce to keep.

Bruce closed his hand around the drumsticks, pressing them to his lips as he nodded very slightly, a quietly murmured thanks for the support.

Tony glanced out over the small gathering, trying not to wince when he noticed both Loki and Nick Fury sitting there. Loki briefly met Tony's gaze before glancing away.

Bruce drew a steadying breath, "Can we go out in the churchyard, please?"  He couldn't stand next to the coffin any longer if he planned to keep what little cal he still had to his name.

"Yeah, come on," Tony said, trying to catch Steve's eye to get his help. Bruce wasn't much taller than him but he was heavier and Tony wanted emotional back up as much as any physical support.

Steve stepped forward, moving over to Bruce's other side and earning a ghost of a smile from Bruce that quickly faded, "Good to see you, Steve."

"I wouldn't have missed being here, Bruce."  He murmured, helping Tony guide their friend out of the church.

"Look! Fresh air!" Tony said, too much punch behind his words, trying to ignore the chill or the fact the leaves were all orange and purple and red. For being so bright, the colors just felt depressing.

Bruce looked around, chill though it might be, it was a beautiful autumn day.  He wrapped his arms around himself, swallowing hard when his fingers brushed the leather of the coat Clint had bought all those months ago.  The others had trailed out after them and he sighed very softly, "Thank you all for coming."

"Where else would we go?" Tony asked as Phil just nodded, arm tightening around Natasha's waist.

"Still..."

Natasha spoke softly, leaning slightly into Phil's embrace, "You're welcome, Bruce.  If that's what you need to hear, but Tony's right, we wouldn't have not come.  It's Clint."

He offered her another faint smile, nodding, "It's good to know how many other people cared..."

"It was Clint," Phil remarked quietly and Tony forced a smile, even as he noticed Loki step out of the church.

"Yeah, and god knows he needed a good send off," Tony said. "Deserved it," he added and paused when he noticed Fury walking over.

Loki followed behind Fury, quietly, not meeting Tony's eyes.  Bruce glanced in their direction, blinking slowly, "Nick?  What are you doing here?"

"Paying my respects," Nick answered as if that should have been perfectly obvious. "Where else would I be today?"

"...Everyone else here knew Clint, though," Bruce murmured, not entirely certain how he felt about Fury being there.

Something passed behind Nick's eyes. "Maybe. Look, I know we haven't been entirely on good terms here," he said and glared as Tony snorted, biting back what he wanted to say. "But you really think I wouldn't be here to support my friends, my former roommates?"

Bruce offered a faint smile at that, though it faded quickly, "Thank you." Nick nodded once, ignoring the way Tony was still glaring at him.

Loki slipped up, quietly, to stand a bit closer and urmur his own condolences to Bruce, who accepted them mutedly.  Loki's gaze darted to Tony and away again as Steve guided Bruce away from the center of the group, having seen the shift in his former roommate’s posture at the number of people in close proximity.

Tony looked once at Loki and turned away again, stepping to Steve's other side.

The priest stepped out of the church, "Bruce Banner?"

Startling slightly, Bruce looked in that direction and stepped away from Steve and Tony, "Coming."  He slipped past his friends, avoiding their looks and any offer of touch, and entered the church to speak with the minister.

Fury looked after them with a small frown. "Will he have the money to pay for this?"

Tony laughed in his face. "Seriously? No."

Natasha spoke quietly from where she stood, "As it is, he's going to be lucky to cover what the hospital charged.  We don't have the money for the burial too."

Moments later the priest and Bruce reappeared. "Leave the premises!" the pastor snarled. "We don't give hand outs here!"

"What happened to rest in peace, you asshole?" Tony demanded.

"That's no way to send him to meet his maker!"  Bruce snapped at the priest, every line in his body tense with a combination of the emotions he was tamping down so solidly on.

"Off the premises!" the pastor said again and Fury stepped forward.

"Stop it. I'll pay for it,” Nick said, voice firm, Tony whipping his head around to gape at him.

Bruce startled slightly at that, turning wide eyes on Fury, "You..."

Nick shrugged, following the pastor aside, settling the debt quickly. "There. Is everyone happier now?"

"Not sure happy is the right term," Tony muttered.

"Grateful though," Bruce murmured.  He hesitated and then smiled faintly, wryly, "Though I think I should tell you, you just paid for the funeral of the person who killed your dog last year."

"Yeah," Fury snorted. "I figured that out. Hated that dog anyway."

"Thank you, Nick," the shorter man replied quietly.

"Well," Nick started to say and paused before finishing. "Any time," he said, realizing exactly what that promise might entail. "Let's go get drunk."

"For the first time in a very long time," Bruce admitted, "I like the sound of those words."

"Then let's go," Nick said, hesitating before lightly clapping Bruce on the back. Bruce startled at the sudden contact, but let himself be led away.

Tony watched them go, shaking his head slightly. "Has anyone figured that guy out?"

"Just because he has times of being awful, doesn't mean he doesn't care about his friends," Loki murmured.

Tony gave him a hard look and turned on his heel, stalking away from Loki and the remaining group of their friends. Loki tensed, but followed him quickly, "Tony, wait."

"No," was the answer he got as Tony kept walking.

"Please," he quickened his steps, hurrying to catch up and finally reaching out to put a hand on the smaller man's shoulder.

"No!" Tony repeated, jerking his shoulder away but actually turning. "Fuck do you want then?"

"To apologize," Loki offered quietly, hoping he at least sounded remotely sincere.  He was sober today, but his hands shook, and it was the only day since going back to the drug that he hadn't shot up to slip away for a few hours.

"To," Tony looked at him and shook his head. "Don't bother."

"I...Tony, please..."  Loki wasn't sure why he was asking for forgiveness.  He knew he didn't deserve it, and some small part of him wasn't even sure he wanted it.

Tony nearly snarled. "What do you want me to forgive?"

Loki took a half-step back, "I...my words.  Forget it.  Goodbye, Tony."

"What?" Tony snapped, his posture melting into unsure for the first time.

"I said, goodbye.  I wanted to part on better terms than this, but..."  He shook his head, "You were right, months ago, I am killing myself.  You don't want this baggage.  You don't need this baggage.  I'm changing buildings, finding somewhere else to live."

"You're running away again," Tony deadpanned.

"What of it?  It's what I do.  What do you care?"

"I--" Tony's eyes narrowed. "I care. Of course I care. You're the one that doesn't want to feel, remember?"

Loki flinched, "That hasn't changed.  I just wanted to say goodbye.  I've said it now, you don't need to worry about me anymore."

"You think it's like a goddamn switch?" Tony yelled and realized some of the funeral goers were still around, and really wished they weren't.

The taller man frowned, "No.  But I never asked for this.  For you worrying, for me caring as well!  I don't want this!"

"Well you got it anyway!"

"Well, take it back!"  Loki snapped.

"I can't!" Tony yelled, feeling like the words were punched out of him. "I'd like to try, it'd be better if I damn well could but I can't!"

"Guys..." Steve murmured from where he'd neared at their raised voices.

"Stay out of this, Rogers," Loki snarled before turning back to Tony.  "Then what the fuck do you expect of me?"

"Nothing," Tony said, crossing his arms over his chest and closing off. "I would be an idiot to expect anything of you."

Loki flinched back at that, "I could have told you that months ago, spared you all the trouble of choosing."

"Choosing--?" Tony started and looked struck. "Oh don't you dare."

"Don't I dare, what?" he demanded, his green eyes darkened.

Tony's eyes darted to Steve and back to Loki. "Make this about anyone except you."

"It's never been just about me," Loki growled.  "Not a single fucking thing."

"Oh you idiotic son of a bitch, yes it damn well has because I loved you!"

Green eyes widened at that confession and Loki took a full step back, shaking his head frantically, "You...n-no.  No."

"But you're scared of feelings and attachment and emotion right?" Tony demanded, trying not to think about how vulnerable he felt and driving the stake into someone else's heart instead. "So go skittering off into your hole and pretend no one cares because that makes it easier for you."

Loki drew a sharp breath at that, "I--you can't.  Not me.  Never me."

"Good god," Tony threw his hands up. "You won't even believe me? I... to hell with you."

"Fine." Loki hesitated, but turned, "Goodbye." With that he headed for the street, planning to walk back to his apartment and tune out the rest of the world for a very long time.

Tony gaped after him, crossing his arms over his chest. Steve watched Loki go, having stayed out of the conversation since his initial arrival, "Tony?"

"What?" Tony asked, posture tense and eyes refusing to focus on Steve.

"You're going to let him walk out?"

Tony finally turned to look at Steve, eyes wide. "Are you serious? What the fuck else am I supposed to do?"

"I...I don't know," the blond admitted.  "But I've seen the two of you, and whether he likes it or not, he cares about you.  And you just said you loved him."

"God, please tell me you didn't not believe me either when I said that," Tony snapped. "But how can you convince someone who refuses to believe it?"

Steve looked him in the eye, "I believed you.  Every word.  That was part of our problem, remember?  And you convince them by showing it.  By acting on in."

Tony stared at him a moment before he no longer could. "We cannot be having this conversation. It just isn't fair."

"The conversation where I try to convince you to go after your current love?"  Steve shook his head, "No, it isn't fair."

Cocking his head to the side, Tony swallowed, watching him. "You still hung up on me?" he asked, voice catching in the middle before he smoothed it out.

"I think I probably always will be," he admitted quietly.

"Then we really can't have this conversation," Tony said, swallowing again and already turning to go.

"Tony..."  Steve hesitated before taking a step toward him, "Why not?"

"What do you mean why not?" he demanded, shoulders going up defensively.

"I mean...okay, it makes sense why we can't.  Just...don't run away, please?"

"I'm not the one running, didn't you hear?" Tony asked, voice strained.

"Then he's making a mistake.  He'll regret it too," Steve murmured.

"Not everyone regrets walking out on me," Tony snapped.

"They should."

"Not everyone's you," Tony said and felt vulnerable and open for the second time that day. So he turned on his heel and hoped this time Steve would let him walk away.

Steve drew a deep breath, but finally let Tony leave.

o-o-o-o

Tony made it back to the apartment long before Phil or anyone else did, which hopefully meant Phil and Tasha had trailed off with Fury and Bruce and had not in fact witnessed that fight. Fumbling around, he made his way to the phone, trying to recall Pepper's number on the way.

Pepper answered on the third ring, "Hello?"

"Um, hey Pep," Tony said, realized what his voice sounded like and cleared his throat. "Got a minute?"

"Tony?  God, yes, always."  She picked up his tone, "What's wrong?"

"Nothing, I mean, a lot. Um, so where are you and that girlfriend of yours even living right now?"

"We've got a place on 59th street near Central Park.  Do...do you need a place for the night?"

"Do you happen to have anywhere further away?" he asked, voice sounding strained again.

Pepper hesitated, "Well, I’m not technically at the apartment in Alphabet City anyhow.  I'm in Malibu for meetings for the next week.  Mergers and things.  There's room, if you can get over here."

"Week," Tony repeated. "I could deal with a week. You wouldn't happen to be able to spring for a plane ticket at this time of night would you?"

"Of course.  I'll book you a flight if you can get to JFK for it."

"I can get around the city, just not across the country," Tony said, running a hand through his hair and still feeling panicky.

Pepper could be heard typing quickly, "Alright, there's a 9:30 from JFK to LAX.  It's a direct flight and I can be there to pick you up.  Will that work?"

"I forget how efficient you are," Tony said with a shaky laugh.

Her faint smile could be heard in her voice, "Thank you.  Shall I book you on that flight?"

"Going across country? Yeah that sounds like a great plan," Tony said, truly only meaning to get away for a week, maybe two.

"What?" A voice demanded from the doorway and Tony glanced over to see Phil glaring at him in fury.

"Actually, hold that thought."

Pepper hesitated, "Tony?  Should I call back?"

"I'll, uh, let you know if I'm still breathing," Tony said, meeting Phil's eyes across the room. "But let me put you on hold."

"Alright," she murmured, keeping the phone cradled against her shoulder to wait.

"You're running away?" Phil asked, crossing his arms over his chest and Tony could remember the last time Phil had been this angry--it got him off drugs the first time.

"No, I mean, yes but--"

"How could you?" Phil snarled. "How could you just walk away?"

"God, who do you think I am?" Tony asked, spreading his hands, having dropped the phone back on the receiver. "You think I'm so strong, that I can stand up to all of this without wanting to go and hide. Don't you remember who I am? I used to hide in everything just like my dad used the bottle to ignore his life. So, yes, I'm running. I can't believe you think I'm not coming back!"

"Would you?" Phil asked, walking onto the apartment and slamming the door shut.

"Of course I'd come back," Tony replied, eyes narrowing.

"For what?" Phil asked, giving him a long look. "You say that, but--"

"After all these years and you don't trust me?" Tony snapped. "Honestly? You think I would just go without saying good bye and move across the country?"

"Didn't you do that once?" Phil asked, cocking his head to one side.

"Fuck you," Tony replied. "And that was different--"

"Because people got so sick of you they kicked you out?"

"Why, you that sick of me, Phil?" Tony demanded and took a breath. "No, that's not--"

"Someone dies and you just drop everything?" Phil was saying, moving around the apartment, almost circling Tony like a predator.

"I'm not!" Tony managed. "But do you really think that's something I could handle? Watching everyone I care about die in front of me, watching as the mourners start trickling off too? Is that what you want for me?"

"I want you to be here for us!" Phil cried.

"Then who's there for me?" Tony demanded, bracing his hands on the back of the couch.

"So you don't want to watch us die. You don't baggage without, what, a life time guarantee?"

"Yes! I would like a goddamn limited warranty on my relationships but that isn't what fucking happens now is it?"

Phil's eyes narrowed and for a moment they stared each other down across the apartment. It felt empty with only the two of them there anymore.

"You know what your problem is?" Phil said finally and Tony took a deep breath.

"I'm sure even if I didn't you're about to tell me."

"You keep talking about passion and love and the energy of life, but you're the one that detaches. You hide, you put on a mask and pretend everything is fine. Then you break and no one can put you back together! You're that little boy that got kicked out by a father who never loved him."

Tony's eyes widened and his head drew back. "Yeah, well, who's the guy that couldn't handle the pressure of the business world and decided to be an artist instead?"

Phil winced. "It wasn't like that. It wasn't the pressure--"

"Yeah," Tony said, shaking his head. "It's always not like that, isn't it? Look, damn it--"

"I thought you were angry at Loki for running," Phil added.

"I'm not running!" Tony yelled, wondering if anyone was listening. "I just need to go somewhere else for a while. I would have come back, you bastard."

"For what?" Phil asked.

"For you! For you and Bruce, and Tasha, and everyone else in this town I care about and wish I didn't! It's not a switch. Did you think I could just turn it off?" Tony snarled and straightened his spine. "Because if so you're the second person today."

Phil drew back slightly and silence fell between them again.

"Okay, you know what?" Tony said, softly. "I won't leave town. But I need to go tonight. I'll see you in the morning," and with that he grabbed a jacket, out the door before Phil could reply.

On the other end of the phone line, Pepper quietly hung up when she heard the click of the receiver, closing out of the airline's site, but keeping it bookmarked, and promising to call Tony the next day if she didn't hear from him.

Chapter Text

Steve sat in his apartment, alternating between his sketchbook and the painting he was working on.  Too many things were spinning around in his head for him to fully settle on just one of the pieces.  The painting was for Clint, well, for Bruce, but with Clint in mind, but the sketch...that was to sort out everything else.  That was for himself.

Moments later there was a frantic knock on the door. Steve set his brush down and went to answer the door, glancing briefly at the clock and blinking at it, "Yeah?  Tony?  What are you doing here?"

"I left before Phil could kick me out," Tony replied, looking up at Steve through the sunglasses that were in the jacket pocket when he left. "Which is a funny thing to say since he was only ticked at me for talking about going out of town."

"Kick..."  He stepped aside, "Come in.  You were going out of town?"

"I was considering it. You have a phone right?"

Steve nodded, motioning to where the phone was next to his easel, "Yeah, you're welcome to use it."

"Great," Tony said, trying to keep his pace even and not actually think through the fact he was standing in Steve's apartment. He'd never actually seen it.

Watching him for a long minute, the blond closed the door and picked up his sketchbook, "Where were you going to go?"

"Malibu, possibly," Tony said, picking the phone up and glancing at Steve, biting his lip a moment.

The other blinked at him, "Malibu?  I thought you said you wouldn't ever go back there?"

"I said I wouldn't go back to my father, not the city," Tony protested. "Well, okay, I might have said I wouldn't go back to the town either but I really meant my father's house."

"Where over there would you go?"  Steve watched him, glancing down at his sketch once in a while.

"Pepper has a place," Tony said. "Apparently. Working for my father has benefits. Who'd have thought it?"

"You called her then?"

"Yeah," Tony said and glanced over. "Did you not hear about the time she showed up on my door step in tears a little bit ago?"

Steve shook his head, "No, that's something that I don't think I heard about."

"Oh, I sorta figured Phil was like your mole in my life or something."

That earned a faint smile, "No.  Phil wouldn't spy for me, even if I felt like being that underhanded."

For a moment Tony looked like he realized how bad of an idea this really was. "I, erm, hung up on Pepper. Promised to let her know I was breathing," he said, hoping to look away from Steve long enough to actually call.

"Feel free."  Steve motioned to the phone in Tony's hand before he hid his face behind his sketchbook.

Taking a deep breath, Tony punched the numbers in the second time that night. Pepper's voice came on the line quickly, "Hello?"

"Hey again. Breathing still."

"Good.  Have you decided what's going on tonight?"  Her relief was audible at hearing his voice again.

"I, um, can't leave right now. Phil didn't quite say it, but he's right about some things. And how could I leave Bruce right now?"

Pepper's voice held a note of fondness, "You've grown up, Tony.  I'll be back in New York by the end of next week.  I'll see you then?  Is there anything I do for you before then?"

"I'll take a cure for AIDS if you can find one by then?" Tony asked, voice strained.

"Oh, Tony....If I could I would."

Steve looked up at that, setting the sketchbook aside and moving over softly.

"I know," he said, shoving his hand through his hair and not noticing Steve. "I know. You can't. But fuck. So, I'll see you next week?"

"As soon as possible after I land, I promise."

"See you then? Say hi to... to Sif for me, yeah?" He was just proud he remembered the name.

"I'll see you then.  And yeah, I'll pass along the message.  Take care, Tony."

"Take care, Pep," he said, and held the phone to his ear a moment even after he heard the dial tone. With a sigh he set it back down.

Steve spoke softly, "Tony?"  He reached out and set a hand on the other's shoulder, having spoken mostly to give him warning that he was there.

Tony jumped, eyes snapping to Steve's face underneath the shades still. "Jesus."

"Sorry, didn't mean to scare you."

"Uh, you should know better," Tony said with a swallow. "Can I help you?"

"I...yeah I probably should."  He drew his hand back, "I just...you showed up and I'm still trying to figure that out."

"I really shouldn't have," Tony said, glancing away. "I just couldn't think of anywhere else."

"You needed somewhere to go.  I'm glad you ended up here, don't get me wrong, I'm just surprised."  Steve looked around the apartment, "I'll take the couch tonight."

"Oh no," Tony said, holding up one hand. "I'm smaller then you, I fit better."

"It's a large couch," Steve protested.  "And I'm hardly making you sleep on it."

"Steve, being noble about this is a really bad plan tonight," Tony said, shaking his head. "Besides, the couch is more neutral territory."

The blond hesitated, "It's...I'm not meaning to be noble, but guests should have the bed."

"Yeah, Steve, I really don't want to end up in your bed," Tony said, tilting his chin back slightly and making sure the shades were still on.

It finally sunk in what he'd been saying, and Steve's eyes widened, a blush tinting his cheeks, "Oh God.  I mean...  If you want the couch, you're more than welcome to the couch."

"I think that would be safest," Tony said softly. "All, all things currently considered."

The blond swallowed, nodding, "Y-yeah.  Safest."

Tony took a breath, slipping over to collapse on the couch. "Safe is a good plan. Right? Safe is good?"

Steve nodded, slipping over to where he had his sleeping area curtained off, finding a spare blanket and pillow and bringing them out, "Safe, yes, safe is good."

Tony sighed, looking at the blankets. "I could still probably afford a hotel."

Shaking his head, Steve offered him the blankets, "Nonsense.  You'll be wanting that money for groceries before you know it.  One night won't kill us."

"Actually I'm already thinking it might," Tony said, unable to stop himself from pressing his face against the pillow for the fact it smelled like Steve. "I really think it might."

The blond glanced toward where his sketchbook rested, half-thinking the other was completely right but unwilling to admit it, "One night.  You can get a hotel tomorrow if you need another night away and can't handle it here."

"Trying to get me to stay?" Tony asked, a half smile on his face. "So, what's your sketchbook been looking like?"

"Not...not much, really," Steve sighed, picking up the book and perching on what passed for his coffee table.  "I mean, there's a few things in here that work, but a lot that doesn't.  Mostly it's just the miscellany of thoughts, you know how it gets."

"Can I see?" Tony asked, voice soft.

The blond hesitated for a long moment, the sketchbook currently in his hands was one he'd been using on and off for the past several months for things that had no concrete plan to them and held a piece of everything going on since then.  He finally handed it over.

Tony accepted it, looking through what felt like familiar territory. Only it wasn't quite anymore, and there was an edge in Steve's art that hadn't been there in the past. Steve watched him for a moment before rising and moving over the his in-progress painting and picking up his brushes to clean them out for the night.  He wasn't sure he really wanted Tony to see the more recent sketches, though ti could have been worse.  They could have been the ones from the weeks after he had left.

Tony came to the end and stopped. "Oh."

Steve glanced up from where he was finishing putting his supplies away for the night, "Oh?"

Tony closed the sketchbook, handing it back. "Sorry. That was probably prying."

The blond offered him a faint smile, "If I'd thought it was too much I wouldn't have let you see them."

"I, alright," Tony said, hand twitching on the cover before he let it go into Steve's hands.

Steve set the sketchbook aside, trying to figure out what to do next.  Going to bed and trying to sleep was probably his best plan, but he wasn't sure he wanted to at the moment, and he knew he wouldn't sleep.  Normally he'd stay up and paint or draw, but if Tony was using the couch....

With a huff, Tony leaned back against the couch. "I think your couch is nicer than ours. So how do you keep yourself occupied alone here?"

"I paint, I draw, I spend most of my days at the gallery and the other ones wandering," Steve replied, settling onto the coffee table again, leaving space between them.  "The same sort of things I did when I lived with you guys...just on my own now."

Tony glanced over at him before swiping Steve's coffee and claiming it as his own. "Isn’t that lonely?"

Steve's lips quirked into a faint smile at that action, a familiar one, "It can be.  Often, depending on the month."

"I'd say I'm sorry but," Tony said, carefully not looking at him.

"But it's my own fault," Steve finished.

"Yeah," Tony said, finally looking over at him, free hand taking the tinted shades off.

Steve ran a hand through his blond hair, part of him relieved that Tony had finally taken the shades off and another part really wishing he'd left them on.  "This is probably a really bad idea..."

"What is?" Tony asked, voice having gone soft.

"Us.  In the same apartment again..."  He murmured, no conviction to his words.

"Steve," Tony said, body leaning toward him.

Before he could think better of it, Steve rested his hand on Tony's cheek and he leaned in to kiss the other man. Fumbling one hand over, Tony tried to set the coffee cup down blindly without spilling it, entire body wrapping around Steve the moment his hands were free.

The blond pulled him closer, not breaking the kiss as he shifted their positions enough so that they were both on the couch.  His hand move to tangle in Tony's hair, his free arm wrapping around Tony's waist.

Moaning, Tony rolled over to press his back against the couch, pulling Steve back over on top of him, fingers scrambling on his back. Steve pressed down into this kiss, breath catching as his hand trailing down Tony's side to settle on his hip.

"Steve," Tony said again, voice breaking. "Steve, I--"

Steve drew back slightly, his breath catching and his gaze sweeping over the other's features before focusing on his eyes, "Tony...."

"What, what is it?" he asked, trying to get his brain to focus back on the other, hands still trying to pull him closer again. Steve shook his head, scattering any lingering doubts as he leaned back down to kiss Tony again, his hand slipping under the other man's shirt and ghosted over the familiar skin.

Whimpering, Tony pressed up. "Missed you..."

Steve tilted his head own to kiss Tony's throat before he slipped the smaller man's shirt off, trailing soft, almost teasing, kisses down Tony's chest.

"Hey," Tony said, stopping him to get his attention. "Are we really?"

The blond looked up at him, blue eyes wide, "If we're not, you need to stop me now."

Tony's jaw worked for a moment and he smiled. "I thought I told you already I could never help myself around you."

Steve offered him one of his crooked grins, before leaning up to kiss him again, "I've missed you, Tony." Tangling his hands in Steve's hair, Tony kept the kiss soft, careful.

Resting a hand on Tony's chest, Steve pressed into the kiss, almost hesitantly, testing the boundaries they had. Trying to keep it as soft as he could for as long as he could Tony finally gave up, pressing his entire body against Steve, hands slipping down his spine.

Steve arched at that touch, moaning softly against Tony's mouth. Tony returned with a groan of his own, mouth slipping over to bit Steve's ear. "Keep me anchored?" he asked, very softly.

Breath catching, Steve nodded and traced a hand down Tony's side again, "As long as you'll let me."

Tony carefully didn't mention who left last time, just nodded and dragged Steve back onto another bruising kiss, plastering the line of their bodies together. Steve gasped against the kiss, one hand tracing along the waistband of Tony's pants as the other hand tangled in the smaller man's dark hair.

"Right then," Tony breathed, shoving at Steve's chest. "Up. Go." The blond grinned, rising and pulling Tony up with him, taking another moment to kiss the smaller man before drawing him along to his curtained sleeping area.

Tony stumbled with him, pressing as close as he could without tripping before shoving Steve down on the bed and straddling his hips. "How long has it been?"

Steve's hands moved automatically to Tony's waist, "Since you."

"Since," Tony stared down at him a moment, before reaching out and pulling his shirt off in one quick movement. "That's been at least a year."

"Haven’t met anyone else I was willing to take to bed," Steve responded, his hands moving up and down Tony's sides, before one moved back to trace over his spine.

Arching his back, Tony shivered. "W-why not?"

"I just haven't.  Haven’t really been looking, but I guess I'm picky about that."

"Picky," Tony repeated, rolling their hips together. "How the hell did I get past your vetting process anyway?"

Steve's breath caught at that, his focus shot to hell, "I liked you.  You've got charisma and smarts too in addition to being, god, completely gorgeous."

Dropping his elbows to either side of Steve's head, Tony licked back into his mouth, unsure what he could say to that. Steve moaned softly at that, kissing Tony back almost desperately, his hand moving from the smaller man's side to the button of his pants.

Laughing, Tony reared back, reminding his lungs they actually needed air before twisting out of his clothing. "I still can't believe you waited a year," he said, trying to keep his voice light and not think about the way it made his chest hurt.

Arching off the bed enough to shimmy out of his own remaining clothes, Steve offered Tony one of his crooked grins, "I hadn't really thought about how long it was..."  He reached up to pull Tony back down for another kiss, "But god..."

"Miss me?" Tony said, still trying to tease even when he couldn't catch his breath, hands running down Steve's chest and working on remembering every inch of skin.

"So much," Steve murmured, tracing his hands over Tony as he re-familiarized himself with the other's body.

Groaning, Tony gave up any pretense at being in control, pressing down into another kiss, fingers scrambling at Steve's side. Steve rolled them over, not breaking the kiss until Tony was on his back.  The blond drew back enough to graze his teeth lightly over Tony's throat, kissing the spot, his hands tracing over the smaller man's skin and his breath catching.

"Steve," Tony whined, pulling at his back to bring him further down. "God, I--"

Steve slanted his hips against Tony's as he leaned up to kiss the corner of the other's lips and claim his mouth again.

o-o-o-o

Steve woke slowly the next morning, slightly disoriented at the warmth by his side.  He glanced over, smiling faintly when he saw Tony there.  After another long few minutes, he carefully got up, trying not to wake the other man.  He slipped on a pair of sweats and pushed the curtain aside, tying it back before he made his way over to his easel and picked up a blank canvas.  He'd work on the other painting later that day, at the moment something else entirely was in his head.

Tony woke up with a burst of panic, looking around and trying to remember where he was. He'd never really seen Steve's new apartment and it took his sleep addled brain a while to remember exactly why his hips hurt in a different way than normal.

For a moment he just lay in bed, processing as much as he could without coffee before rising, grabbing one of Steve's shirts and his boxers and slipping out. "Please, god, tell me there's coffee."

Steve glanced up from where he was mixing a particular shade of red paint and nodded toward the coffee maker, "Just got it brewing."

"Oh thank god," Tony said, moving over before actually finally looking at Steve. "So, hi."

The blond offered him a bit of a smile, "Hi yourself."

Tony swallowed, leaning his hip against the counter. "Uh. What're you working on?"

"A new piece.  I've got a couple going, but this one needed to be started at least now," Steve answered as he set to work with the red and considered how it blended with the other colors already in play on the canvas.

Tony paused, looking over the painting. "What's this one?"

"What do you mean?"

"What're you painting that required such rapid work?"

Steve rolled one shoulder, and dipped one of his smaller brushes into a gold paint to work the color in around the red, "Something I had in my head months ago, that I don't want to lose again."

Tony moved over, wrapping one hand around Steve's waist and leaning his cheek against the taller man's shoulder. The artist smiled softly at that, glancing at Tony out of the corner of his eye before turning his attention back to the figure that was starting to take shape on the canvas.

For a while Tony watched him before the coffee went off. "You want fuel?"

Steve glanced back at him, "I won't say no to it."

Tony nodded, pouring the coffee into two cups, considering the logo on the side of one of them and smiling. "We should... we should probably talk, huh?" he asked, paying more attention to the coffee.

"…Probably."  Steve turned his attention to cleaning the red out of his brush.

"That was a rousing endorsement of the plan," Tony said, handing him one of the cups.

Setting his brush aside and taking the cup, Steve turned to look at Tony, "We really ought to talk.  Doesn't necessarily mean I want to."

Tony paused. "What, exactly, are we talking about?"

"Where this puts us," Steve answered, sipping at his coffee.

"So, where does this put us?" Tony asked, not meeting his eyes.

"I don't know.  More confused than we were originally?" he offered in return.

Tony frowned. "That's actually not an answer at all. We slept together. And you certainly can't tell me you didn't--"

"Yes we did.  And no, I can't.  I wanted to, God knows I'm still in love with you.  But are we really up for trying again?"

"I don't know, are you?" Tony asked, carefully asking Steve.

"I'm not going to walk out on you again, if that's what you mean," Steve answered.  "Yes.  I think I am.  Are you?"

"It's certainly what I was considering asking about," Tony said, looking at the coffee again. "And... I..."

"You?"  The other prompted softly.

"God, Steve," Tony shook his head. "I just told someone I loved them and they walked out. Clint's dead, I don't even know if Phil is talking to me, and--" he paused. "And I never really got over you anyway. It still feels like I'm trying to run away."

Steve dropped his gaze at that, "It's not a good idea now.  I...I mean, you've got other people who need you.  I'll always have your back, but...I really should just let you go."

"Let me go?" Tony asked. "To, to what, exactly? What would I do if you just let me go?"

"That's...that's not entirely what I meant.  God, Tony, I don't know.  I don't know if we should have even been in the same space last night, though I don't actually regret it for a minute."

"What about us in the same space this morning?" Tony asked, brain kick starting as he finished the coffee and set the cup down.

Steve took another swallow of his own coffee and glanced at the painting he'd started before looking back at Tony, "Today...I want you to stay."

"And tomorrow?" Tony asked, swallowing.

"And tomorrow.  And the day after that, and the one following that," Steve answered.

"You serious?" Tony asked, slinking closer.

"I wouldn't say it if I wasn't."

"But," Tony started and took a deep breath, shaking his head slightly. "It's one thing to still be hung up on someone. But you walked out for a reason and if--"

"And I've had over a year to grapple with it and figure it out, and see where I reacted and to realize that if I could change things I would have waited until we were able to talk," Steve insisted.

"And the next time I fuck up?" Tony asked.

"We wait until we've calmed down and we try to talk, see where we're coming from?"

Tony gave him along look. "That sounds downright mature."

"You say that like it's a bad thing,” Steve muttered.

"No, it's unusual," Tony said, looking to the side and lifting one of his shoulders in a half shrug.

Steve sighed, "Are you up for considering this again?"

"I don't know," Tony said, "I mean, god, yes. I want you. I'm not sure that's going to stop, you know? But... with everything..."

"With everything."  The blond nodded, "We should wait, see where we go from here."

Tony tapped a finger against his leg for a moment, looking at Steve. "Okay. Okay, here it is. I really hate waiting. I'm not good at letting things come or go or whatever. And as much as I care about Loki, and yeah, that still feels like a bleeding wound in my side, I would go crazy without you. Again."

Steve considered him for a long moment before finally speaking, "So you're saying no to waiting and yes to trying again?"

"Steve," Tony said, looking away and tapping the top of the canvas he'd been working on all morning. "Who's this painting of?"

The blond glanced at the canvas, looking at it for a long moment before answering, "You."

"Then, yeah, I'm saying we're trying again," Tony said, meeting his eyes finally. "Especially if that means you naked and moaning my name again really soon."

Steve blushed slightly at that, but offered tony one of his crooked grins, "I'm good with that."

"Good," Tony said, taking a step forward and curling his fingers around Steve's waist. "Because if you weren't, we might be having a few problems."

Steve let his arms rest loosely around Tony's waist as he leaned up from where he was still seated to kiss the other man gently. Bending his back, Tony sighed softly, before sliding to sit on Steve's lap.

Drawing back after a moment, Steve ran a hand down the side of Tony's face, "God, Tony...I've missed you."

"We've established," Tony said with a faint smile.

The other grinned, "Alright, yes we have.  Doesn't change it.  And doesn’t change the fact that I can hardly believe you're here."

"I'm here," Tony assured, shifting his hips. "See? Totally solid."

Steve's breath caught slightly at that, "I didn't say I actually doubted that."

"But you couldn't believe it," Tony said, settling again and wiggling. "Amounts to the same thing."

Gasping, Steve pulled him closer for a harsh kiss, "Hardly believe, not couldn’t believe.  You've convinced me."

"I'm good at that," Tony laughed, melting into the kiss, hands coming up to cup Steve's face.

Steve leaned into the kiss, His arms tightening around Tony's waist and drawing him just a bit closer.

Laughing, Tony tilted into the kiss. "I love you," he said, very softly and carefully in the space between them when he pulled back.

Steve rested his forehead against Tony's, his blue eyes focused on the other, "And I love you."

"Good," Tony said, laughing breathlessly. "That's a nice change to hear."

Grinning, Steve leaned in to kiss Tony again.

o-o-o-o

A couple hours later, Tony slunk back up to his apartment, sunglasses on his nose and leather jacket sitting snugly on his shoulders. "Hey," he said, knocking on the door jam.

Phil looked over. "You're still here."

"Said I would be," Tony said, moving around the apartment, touching the couch and table as he went. "Besides, I couldn't leave you alone here. You'd have an empty nest. Only middle age parents should have to deal with that."

Phil couldn't stop the tiny smile that lifted the corners of his mouth. "Where'd you go?"

"I can't tell if you're going to yell at me for this or be really happy," Tony muttered, taking his shades off and setting them by the phone. "I went to Steve's. It was the only place I could think of."

Eyes widening, Phil looked him over. "You look... happy and well rested," he remarked.

"Yeah," Tony said, eyes going sideways.

"So, you and him," Phil asked, arching a brow.

"Something like that," Tony murmured. "I don't know. I don't know what I'm doing. But Phil, I wouldn't leave you guys. I might talk about it, I might think about it, but I would never leave. Not forever. Even with Pepper... god, I just miss her and I needed to get away. But it was only for a week."

"Just a week," Phil repeated.

"You know, a vacation," Tony said and Phil laughed. "They exist! People take them!"

Shaking his head, Phil moved forward, drawing Tony into a brief hug. "Alright. Are you still going?"

"No," Tony said. "And that was awkward. You know that was awkward right?"

"Yeah," Phil said and nodded. "But it was good."

Tony laughed. "And we're... we're okay?"

"If you are," Phil nodded. "We're still in this together."

o-o-o-o

Loki showed up at the gallery looking by far the worse for the wear.  He was coming down off of his last high, the effects of the drug nearly gone.  He'd been missing work on and off since Clint's funeral, spending some of his nights hanging around the Cat Scratch Club to pick up some of his old customers again rather than worry about spending his days at the gallery working in close proximity to Steve Rogers.

"Loki?"  Speak of the devil, the blond was there, working to get a painting hung, "Hey you mind giving me a hand here?"

The dark-haired man considered him for a moment before shrugging and moving over to get the painting hung on the hook, "Why're you here?"

"I work here too, remember?  Besides, it's the premier day for this piece."  Steve watched Loki carefully, taking note of the way his hands shook and the slight sheen of sweat on his brow.

"Good colors.  Different than what you've got here otherwise."

"New thoughts to it," the artist murmured.

Loki looked at him in confusion for a moment before turning back to actually look at the painting. Focusing on the figure in the center of the portrait he tensed.  The painting was evidently New York, the lights in the background blurred, but obviously the signs three streets over.  The person in the foreground seemed almost a part of it, while set apart.  The way the lights highlighted his features and the rich colors of the clothes the man wore evidenced intimacy Loki wasn't certain he wanted to consider when the man in the painting was obviously Steve's depiction of Tony--set apart while still personable enough to be ready to help those that mattered to him. "You painted him."  Something edged into his tone that didn't bode well.

"You knew what I think of him," Steve answered.

"Yeah?  Well, it sure isn't so clear in your others."

"Loki..."

"Oh fuck off, Steve.  You're sleeping with him again," Loki almost growled.

"And if I am?  You walked out on him, remember?  After he told you what he felt about you."

"Seriously.  Fuck off.  I didn't come here to talk about Tony.  I came to pick up my check."

"Why?  So your dealer can cash it?"  Steve frowned, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Don't even start judging me, Rogers.  It's no secret you've done so since New Year's, but don't you fucking dare start again."

"You've got a lot going for you, Loki, I just don't get why you'd toss that all away for the next hit," Steve protested.

Loki's green eyes narrowed, "I have a job given out of pity, I have an ex who's back with his ex, and I have friends who are my ex's friends who are all dying at different rates.  Oh yeah, I've got a hell of a lot."  He shook his head, "I'll just get my check and get out of your way."

"Loki..." He reached out to touch the other man's shoulder, but was shrugged off as Loki turned and left.

o-o-o-o

Tony nuzzled against Steve's shoulder, sheet tangled up around them somewhere and he didn't care. "I hear there's actually been some interest in that latest painting of yours."

Steve ran a hand over Tony's arm, nodding, "People seem to like it.  I keep getting questions about the inspiration and the model."

"I can pose nearby if you like," Tony laughed.

That earned a faint grin, "Nah, I prefer to keep them guessing."  He paused for a long moment, his hand moving up to Tony's hair, "Have you heard from Loki recently?"

"Have I," Tony blinked at him. "No, I haven't."

The blond frowned very slightly at that, "Huh.  I was just asking cause he hasn't been in to the gallery since that painting got hung, so it's been over a week.  I figured he was skipping like he's been, but...." He shook his head, "If you see him would you let him know he needs to come talk to someone there?"

Tony blinked. "He's not been around? Like at all?"

Steve shook his head, "We haven't heard from him at all."

"Not at all?" Tony asked, pushing himself up on an elbow and shoving a hand through his hair.

"No, Tony.  Not at all.  I'm starting to get worried."

Tony frowned. "Well, missing how? I mean, okay, he's missing, but, was there anything before?"

"He'd been missing work quite a bit, came in high a few times, late others.  He's been whoring again from what I was able to dig up," Steve murmured, not looking like he really wanted to impart all of that.

Tony really looked like he didn't want to hear it either. "He's back to... Jesus."

"I'll check with the Cat Scratch tomorrow, but...."

"But, who knows," Tony shook his head. "I'll look around, see if he's at any of the hot spots."

"Alright.  Keep me posted about it?"

"Yeah, sure," Tony said, rolling over and burring his face in the pillow.

Steve sighed, gently running a hand over Tony's hair, but not saying anything more. Tony sighed softly into the touch, rolling his shoulders.

Chapter Text

Except when Tony went the next day to check on Loki he couldn't find him. He tracked down his apartment, and found it empty and unused. He even tracked down the dealer, asking him only to get punched in the stomach for his trouble and informed even the dealer hadn't seen Loki in several days.

Two weeks later found him dropping into Steve's apartment, crashing face first on the couch. "Fuck."

Steve looked up from where he was going through some old sketches to see if anything could be used.  It was a way to clear his head, but he set the book aside and moved over to Tony.  He'd been out most of the day trying to find Loki when he wasn't at work, "Still no luck?"

"No luck," Tony agreed, groaning. "How's your day been?"

"The same as the last two weeks.  No luck, and a long time spent at the gallery."

Tony sighed, rolling on his side. "I just don't know. I don't know where he could have gone. I don't know if he's still in town. Last time he mentioned running across the damn country."

"We'll find him, Tony," Steve spoke with a good deal more certainty than he felt.

"We can't comb the entire country. Phil's been out and about too, and god knows Bruce and Tasha have been doing all they can but..." he sighed again and groaned when Steve's phone rang.

Steve sighed, moving over and answering the phone, "Hello?...Yes....Yes he's here."  He held the phone out to Tony, "It's Pepper for you."

Tony blinked at him, pushing himself back up and shuffling over. "Pep?"

"Hey Tony.  Calling to check in and see if you'd be up for dinner."

"Dinner? Like now?" he asked, running his hands through his hair again.

"Like...in two hours?"

"Two hours," Tony said and considered. "I think I could make it up there in two hours. You'll feed me right?"

"No, I thought I'd invite you to dinner to watch Sif and myself eat.  Yes, we'll feed you.  Bring your boyfriend too, if you like," she answered.

"My--Pep, you know I don't like that word."

She sighed, "Fine.  Bring your lover then."

"Alright, I'll be able to do that then," Tony said with a small smile. "See you then?"

"Yes, we'll see you then.  Talk to you soon, Tony."

"See you then, Mama Bear."

She laughed fondly, "See you then."  She hung up to go see about getting ready for two guests.

Tony tilted his head back and looked at Steve. "Up for food?"

"I won't say no to dinner, are you kidding?"

Tony smiled, the expression almost strained. "Okay. Yeah. Between the two of them, there should be good food to be had. Which I think, everyone needs right now."

"I think so.  And you need to see Pepper anyhow," Steve responded, resting a hand on Tony's shoulder.

"Yeah," Tony agreed, sliding against Steve and holding on. Steve wrapped his arms around the other, holding him close and resting his cheek on Tony's head.

o-o-o-o

Tony knocked on Pepper's door, one hand loosely holding Steve's through sheer force of will. Pepper answered the door a moment later, her hair pulled back into a half ponytail.  She offered them a smile as she stepped aside, "Tony, Steve, good to see you.  Come on in."

"Hey, Pep," Tony said, stepping inside and nodding to Sif. "God, this place is posh. I don't even know what to do with all this posh anymore."

"That's because you're living in an apartment with holes in the ceiling," Sif said.

"Well, technically," Tony shrugged.

Steve stepped in, glancing around before offering Pepper a bit of a smile, "Good to see you too."

Pepper closed the door before turning and giving Tony a brief hug, "Come on, dinner's just about finished."

Returning the hug quickly, Tony trailed after her into the kitchen.

"It's nice to meet you," Sif said, holding a hand out to Steve, eyes clearly tracking over him as if trying to file him.

Steve offered her a firm handshake, meeting her eyes, "And you as well."

Her smile softened slightly. "I hear you're a good guy and good for certain people. Also hear you're a good artist though I'm waiting still to see the proof of that one."

He offered her a faint smile at that, "You should come by the gallery, then.  I don't carry my art with me, just some of my inspiration."

She almost laughed at that. "That's one hell of an inspiration to carry around. It's almost too bad he doesn't fit in your pocket."

"I'd hate to confine him like that," Steve rejoined, his gaze moving toward the kitchen where Pepper and Tony had disappeared.

Sif nodded, swishing her long ponytail over her shoulder. "You are good for him."

The corner of his lips quirking into another faint smile, Steve shrugged slightly, "I hope so."

She patted him on the shoulder as Tony came back out of the kitchen. "Look! Garlic bread!"

Steve laughed softly, "God, it's been a while since I've had that."

Pepper followed Tony out of the kitchen, setting a dish of lasagna down on the table, "Well, we could hardly go without it for this meal."

"I think half the point was that we haven't had a meal requiring actual baked garlic bread in a while," Tony laughed. "I mean, breadsticks and french fries are one thing."

Pepper shook her head slightly at that, going to fetch the salad.  Steve's brows rose at that, "You ladies are serving us a feast, you know that right?"

"There are courses," Tony told Steve with a straight face.

Steve nodded, "So I see.  You really didn't have to go all out..."

Pepper looked at him, "We didn't?  This is dinner with guests, hardly going all out.  Took less than an hour to put together."

"What she means is going all out tends to involve five courses not three," Tony said, giving Pepper a fond smile.

That earned a smile from Pepper, "Yes, exactly.  And a lot more planning."

The blond just shook his head, "Still, thanks."

Sif shuffled them both into seats, handing out food. "I hear that everyone's been a little stressed lately," she said, looking up.

Steve glanced at Tony, not knowing how much or how little the other had told Pepper about what was going on, "That might be putting it mildly."

"Someone we know's been missing for a couple weeks now. Entirely off the radar," Tony said, breaking a piece of the garlic bread and giving it a long look.

Sif made a quiet sound. "I'm sorry. I had a friend in college who had their brother disappear. He never really got over it."

Steve nodded, "It's been a rough few weeks.  We don't even know if he's in the state anymore."

Pepper watched them for a moment, before speaking, "Who is it?"

"Loki," Tony said, meeting her eyes.

Sif tilted her head to the side, considering. "That name sounds familiar..."

"Oh, Tony...."  Pepper murmured.  She glanced at Sif, "I may have mentioned him."

"Maybe," she nodded. "What was his last name?"

"Laufeyson?" Tony shrugged. "I don't know. He wasn't very free with the name or anything."

Steve nodded slightly, "Laufeyson sounds right, I think that's what he put down for the gallery."

"Phil knew more than I did," Tony said, sighing and trying to remember his appetite.

"And you all have been looking for him for weeks?"  Pepper asked.

Steve nodded, "Everywhere we could think of."

"Dealers, homeless shelters, galleries, strip clubs," Tony started ticking off and shook his head. "Last time he said he went across the country. I just don't know how far he could have gotten."

"Even on foot, a couple weeks can get a person a long ways," Steve murmured, shaking his head.  "We've all been looking and asking around as best we can, but there's only so many avenues we have."

Sif looked between them. "We could hire a detective, see if there's any avenues closed to you by money."

Steve glanced at Tony, even as Pepper nodded.  The redhead tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear, "I can make some calls, do some looking around this part of town just in case."

The corners of Tony's eyes pinched, wanting to reject the help. "Thanks," he said finally, the food becoming fascinating again.

o-o-o-o

Later that evening, when they had moved the conversation to the couch, Sif rose when the phone rang. "I'll get that," she said, swaying over and grabbing the phone. "Hello?

"Always a pleasure to hear your voice," the deep voice on the other end rumbled.

"Thor," she said, pleased.

"You sound surprised," he laughed and she could imagine the smile on his face. "Did you forget I've called you every Thursday for the last several years."

"No," she said, smiling in return. "Since college. My girl had a somewhat unexpected dinner tonight is all," she said, glancing over at where Tony actually had his head in Pepper's lap, on his back and talking with his hands. "They are so lucky I'm not the jealous type."

Thor laughed again. "Will you still be coming out next week?"

"Of course, Thor. I would hardly miss that, and it's for business."

"I'm glad to hear I rank above business," Thor rumbled and she laughed again.

"Say," she said after another moment, considering. "Does the name Loki Laufeyson mean anything to you?"

She could almost hear how attentive Thor's posture suddenly became. "Where did you hear that name?" he said and there was a crashing sound, as if he'd just knocked over a table or chair.

"The guy over," Sif said, blinking, having gotten Tony's attention at the mention of Loki. "He said the name. Apparently he's here, but missing. Was that your brother?"

"Yes!" Thor said, and there was a hurried conversation between Thor and a female voice as Sif heard a great deal of rustling. "He was in New York? How long? How is he?"

Sif considered where Tony had been checking for him and bit her tongue. "He's been missing again for weeks. I'm sorry."

"I'll be there tomorrow," Thor replied, still moving on the other side of the phone. "Ask him what this Loki looked like."

Steve had turned to look at Sif at the mention of Loki's name, before glancing at Tony.  Pepper's hand stilled, where it had been combing through her friend's black hair.

"Um," Sif said, softly. "What did Loki look like?"

"About 6 foot, dark hair, really pale, green eyes," Tony replied. "Why, who's on the line?"

"That friend from college I mentioned?" Sif said, before turning back to the phone and repeating what Tony said.

Thor started swearing. "I am booking--Jane! Thank you for that, I had no idea where it was. I am booking an overnight flight right now."

"I'll pick you up," Sif said, Thor already more focused on something else. Moments later she set the phone down, turning to the three eyes on her. "Well. It appears your missing person is linked to my best friend's missing person."

"His brother," Steve murmured, their own conversation having fallen silent to listen to Sif's end of the phone call.

Pepper glanced at Tony, still combing her fingers through his hair, "Did he mention family?"

"No," Tony shook his head. "Rather studiously did not."

Steve nodded slightly, "Not really unusual."

"Well, he has one rather large, loving brother," Sif sighed. "God. Thor was already away at college when he went missing."

"How long's he been missing?" Steve asked quietly.

"From there? Just about two years."

He nodded very slightly, glancing at Tony. Tony rubbed a hand over his face. "So, his brother...?"

"Will be here by the morning," Sif finished. "Will you be alright?"

"Course. Can I come with you to pick him up?" Tony asked.

"You two can stay the night if you want to," Pepper offered.

Tony glanced over at Steve, a question in his expression. The blond shrugged slightly, nodding, "Thank you."

"Yeah, thanks," Tony said, taking a deep breath. "Do you have a spare room or are we overtaking the couch?"

"We've got a guest room," Pepper offered.

"Great," he said, standing abruptly.

Steve rose and Pepper just pointed to which door the room was.  The blond offered her a ghost of a smile in thanks, before he started in that direction. beat him to the door. "I don't know why I'm so affected," he said, glancing away.

Steve reached up to rest a hand on Tony's cheek, "You gave your heart to him, or a good portion of it.  I'd be surprised if you weren't."

"I didn't even know he had a brother," Tony said, not meeting Steve's eyes.

"Maybe he wasn't ready to tell you," the blond offered quietly.

Tony gave him a disbelieving look. "Yeah. You think he ever would have been?"

"I don't know.  Maybe?"  Steve shook his head, "I never really understood him."

"He wouldn't have," Tony said, shaking his head. "I could give him anything and he wouldn't have."

"Oh, Tony," the other man sighed.  "You did everything you could.  Gave everything you could."

"Wasn't enough," Tony said with a tiny shrug, pulling off his shirt and crawling into the guest bed.

Steve shrugged out of his own shirt and slid in on the other side of the bed.  Not having anything to say to that, he reached out to lay a hand on the other man’s arm, offering him the option of physical touch if he wanted it.  Stiffening, Tony laid there for a moment before moving over quickly, burrowing against Steve's chest and wrapping his arms around his waist.

The blond gently settled his arms around Tony, just holding him and giving him what touch he might need.

o-o-o-o

Tony glanced over at Sif in the morning, hands shoved into his jacket pockets as they stood waiting next to security. "So, this Thor guy..."

"You'll see soon enough," she said, shaking her head slightly.

Steve glanced at them, his arms crossed loosely where he stood on Tony's other side.  Pepper slipped up next to her girlfriend from where she'd been checking on arrivals and double checking that they were at the right spot.

"We're in the right place," Sif said, glancing down at her girlfriend. "We'll be fine," she looked up as people started streaming out of security. "We're totally in the right place," she said, smiling as a mountain of a man made his way over, blindingly blond and with a smile at seeing his old friend.

"Sif!" he said, moving over and actually picking her off the ground when he hugged her.

Tony actually pulled his sunglasses down to look at him. "Jesus Christ..."

Steve's brows rose, "Wow."  Pepper smiled, having met Thor a couple times over the past few years.

"He's bigger then you," Tony said, glancing at Steve again, sounding surprised anyone in the world was.

Thor finally set Sif down and glanced over. "Greetings," he said, smile becoming slightly less warm.

"There are Loki's friends," Sif said, nodding to them and Tony shoved his glasses up further to cover his eyes again. "Steve Rodgers, who employed him for a while and Tony Stark."

"Stark?" Thor asked, glancing at Sif in some surprise. "And you knew my brother?"

"Yeah," Tony said, voice thick. "Well, sorta. Did anyone actually know the guy?"

Thor's smile became more strained. "I did."

Steve set his left hand on Tony's shoulder gently, as he held out his other hand to Thor, "Wish we could have met under other circumstances."

"So do I," Thor said, shaking his hand and looking at where Steve's hand was on Tony's shoulder.

Pepper glanced between them before speaking, "If you have your things, Thor, we'll head back to our apartment and talk on the way?  Or when we get there."

"Of course," Thor said, shrugging his bag over his shoulder. "Just this bag."

Sif looked him over. "I think we'll all fit in the same cab."

Pepper nodded once, turning and leading the way to the curbside where she hailed the next taxi to pass. Tony attempted to sit as far away from Thor as possible but ended up squished next to him. "How did you know Loki?" Thor asked, glancing down at him.

"Well, first I noticed him at the bar where he worked as a stripper, but then the power went out and he had no matches," Tony shrugged and Thor looked horrified. The shorter man winced, adjusting his shades again. "Sorry. You didn't know any of that did you?"

"I haven't heard from him since he dropped out of college," Thor said.

Steve grimaced slightly at that, tone apologetic, "This is going to be a bit of an eye-opener then..."

"I knew he was on drugs," Thor said with a tiny shrug.

"Yeah that--" Tony paused and took a deep breath. "That didn't really change."

Thor glanced at him again. "Are you--?"

"Please tell me you're not going to ask me if I'm a junkie too,” Tony said, tone flat.

"Tony's been clean for over a year," Steve murmured.  "Your brother...got off the drugs for a while too."

"It didn't hold," Tony said when hope kindled in Thor's eyes.

"In all honesty," Steve spoke again, quietly, "We're not even sure where to start looking for him again.  He's been missing for a few weeks now."

"We've gone everywhere we knew he used to go," Tony said. "Last time he said he went across the country."

"He told you that?" Thor asked in some surprise.

"Is it true?"  Pepper finally spoke from where she was settled in the jump seat.

"Well, yes," Thor nodded. "He went pretty far from California to here."

Steve blinked at that, "California?"  He glanced at Tony at that.

He shrugged, slouching in the seat. "Never heard that bit,” he said, not wanting to think about Malibu.

"New York's a big place to get yourself lost, though.  Guess it makes some sense," the artist murmured.

"So what's your last name then?" Tony asked and Thor blinked.

"Odinson," Thor replied, blinking and Tony considered screaming.

"You're fucking kidding. No wonder you recognized my name. Why's his name different?"

"He... found out he was adopted when he was seventeen, changed the name when he turned 18 and went to college and... from there disappeared," Thor said quietly.

"And he didn't give any hints that he was going to?"  Pepper asked softly, something like disbelief tingeing her tone.  Sure, Tony had dropped off the face of the earth, but looking back there were signs that it was coming and it was even at the time less of a surprise than it might have been.

"Not like that," Thor said and sighed. "He never got along with our... well my father. I'd hoped that getting away to college would help but..."

"Sometimes you do everything you can and it still..."  Pepper shook her head slightly.  She'd gotten her not-brother back, Thor still hadn't.

Thor sighed, running both hands through his longish blond hair. "God. I shouldn't have left him alone that last year.

Pepper reached over to put a hand on his knee, "First rule of this, you can't blame yourself.  There are choices made and mistakes made as well, but don't blame yourself."

 “You sound like you know,” Thor said, glancing over and Tony sighed.

“Hey, I went awol for three years. She sorta does.”

Thor glanced back over at him. “You know most of California think’s your dead, right?”

Tony laughed. “Thank my father for that, would you? Is that the rumor that’s gone around?” Thor nodded.

Pepper offered Tony a faint smile, "I thought I'd leave it up to you for when that gets dispelled...Howard Stark still doesn't know."

 “Really?” Tony asked, actually pulling his shades off to stare at her.

"As far as I know.  Unless you've heard from him.  I didn't tell him, I figured that was up to you to decide when he found out," the redhead answered.

 “I haven’t so I assume he hasn’t,” Tony shrugged, pausing before sticking the sunglasses back on. “We’re almost to your place, right? I’ll call Phil when we’re there and see if we can think of anywhere else to start looking.”

Pepepr nodded, "Yeah, just a couple more blocks."

Thor glanced over at Sif, raising his brows in silent question and she smiled back at him, nodding slightly.

o-o-o-o

It was almost Christmas time and Thor was still in New York. He’d been staying at Sif and Pepper’s in the extra bed room, even though most of the search was run from Tony’s apartment, due to location.

Even with the extra eyes and money, they’d made no progress and Thor’s father was growling at him every night over the phone to make it home for the holidays, and what did he really think leaving his wife at the holiday time was a good idea?

“He must have gone out of town,” Tony said, throwing a map down and rubbing his temples.

Steve ran a hand through his blond hair, looking the map over, and considering the quadrants that were shaded over in pencil--the ones they'd searched.  There wasn't much left and even if Loki was still in town it was possible he was moving around.  "Pepper hasn't been able to find anything any further out either, though."

Bruce entered, shaking snow off of his coat, "You can cross of sixteenth street, too.  No luck there."

 “Banner,” Tony said, looking up and face lightening slightly. “God.”

Bruce offered them a bit of a smile, setting some money down on the table next to the map, "If you can put it to good use.  So, no luck elsewhere either?"

 “No luck what so ever and oh my god, where did you get money?” Tony asked, eyes snapping over.

"Tutoring again?"  Steve asked, coming over.

Bruce shook his head, "No.  I reprogrammed the ATM at the supermarket.  If you have the code it'll pretty much make you a rich man."

 “What’s the code?” Phil asked from the kitchen as the door opened and Thor entered, shaking snow out of his hair.

"C.L.I.N.T." Bruce admitted softly, leaning against the table.

Tony’s eyes softened. “He gonna be our guardian angel then?”

Thor looked between them before picking up the map, carefully shading off the area.

"Well, it won't give quite enough for Santa Fe, but it's something," Bruce murmured, offering a sad smile.

Tony gave him a struck look as Phil slipped over, carefully wrapping one arm around Bruce’s shoulders. “So, no luck?” Tony asked, looking over at Thor who just shook his head.

Rapid footsteps were heard on the stairs at the same time as Peppers voice could be heard from the street below, "Tony!  Thor!"

Phil went to the door as Thor and Tony bolted for the fire escape, leaning over. Natasha yanked the door open, her gaze darting to Phil, "They found him."

Pepper and Sif were just outside the front door, Pepper calling up, "It's Loki, he's in a bad way.  We can't get him up the stairs!"

Tony darted back into the apartment to take the stairs down but Thor just thundered down the fire escape.

Steve followed Tony quickly to help if he could.  To say Loki was in a bad way was an understatement, his dark hair was stringy and his eyes, when they were even half-open were unfocused.  He'd lost a good deal of weight and was far too hot to the touch as well.

 “Brother,” Thor said, barely managing to keep his voice down as he quickly took the other from the two women, holding him easily and heading up the stairs, meeting Tony and Steve on the way.

Loki blinked at that, his eyes glazed with fever as he pressed his cheek against Thor's chest, body limp, "Th-Thor?  Not s'pposed t'be here."

 “I came for you,” Thor rumbled, holding him closer. “Been looking around for a long time.”

"Hide'n'seek," the younger brother mumbled in response, his eyelids drifting shut again.

 “Found you,” Thor said as Tony stopped dead, leaning against the stair railing and yelling up.

“Bruce! 911! Now!”

Loki's eyes flickered open at the voice, "Tony?"

Bruce already had the phone in hand and was dialing, hoping that or once the phones and lights stayed on.  Natasha moved over to sweep everything off of the long table and grab a pillow and blanket, it would keep Loki up enough that they'd be able to try and tend him easier.

 “Hey babe,” Tony said quietly, turning back to Loki, touching his cheek. “Fuck. You’re running a fever, come on,” he said, gesturing Thor up the stairs quicker.

Loki shook his head as they finally got into the apartment, "No.  Cold."

 “Yeah, that still means you have a fever,” Tony muttered, leading the way up the last stairs.

Bruce’s gaze darted to Loki as Natasha shoved the pillowe under the young man's head.  "Y-you looked f'me."  Loki's voice was quiet, but confused, and his breathing ragged.

 “Yeah, for weeks, you moron,” Tony said, pulling a blanket off his mattress and draping more of them over Loki. “You’re not supposed to freak people out like that.”

"Said goodbye," the other murmured, eyelids fluttering shut again.

 “Your goodbye needs serious fucking work,” Tony said, bracing his hands on either side of Loki’s head. “Hey, hey, focus.”

The other forced his eyes open again, "Should...should have told you so much."

 “Get better and we’ll talk,” Tony said, glancing at Thor who was staring at his brother. “And I think Thor wants to say some stuff to you too.”

Loki shook his head at that, "Too sick.  Cold, hot, sick.  I...Tony...I..."

 “It’s what hospitals are for. Speaking of which, what are you doing here and not there?” he said, eyes darting up to Pepper and over to Bruce.

"This was the nearest phone," Pepper answered.

Bruce shook his head, "I'm on hold."

Tony took a deep breath, looking back down at Loki. “Come on. You can hold on.”

Loki shook his head again, "Tony...I, l-listen?"

 “Do you think I’m going anywhere?” Tony asked, voice breaking. “Course I’m listening.”

That earned a faint smile, Loki managing to reach up and rest a hand on Tony's cheek, "Not strong like you.  I..." he drew a rasping breath, "I l-love you.  Did then.  Do now."  HIs eyes started to flutter shut again.

Tony’s eyes snapped wide, jaw working but unable to say anything. “No, Loki, don’t you dare. Don’t you dare do some death bed confession thing. I will not allow it.”

Giving a breathy laugh that dissolved into a coughing fit, Loki shook his head, "You...needed to.  I needed to...tell you.  I, I'm sorry."

 “No, no, no,” Tony said, bending over him, hands going to cup Loki’s cheeks. “Stop it. Do you know what it’ll do to me, you doing this? Stop thinking I’m strong enough, ‘cause I’m not. You are. Pull through it.”

"Stronger than that, Tony," Loki's words were almost imperceptible.  "Can't.  I...sorry."  His vision was rapidly clouding over, and his breath rattled in his chest.

 “Loki!” Tony yelled. “Hey!” as Thor moved over, resting a hand lightly on Loki’s chest.

“Come, brother,” he said, softly. “Please.”

Loki's gaze moved to Thor, trying to track between the two of them, "Give mother love.  Don't look so sad."  He tried to draw in another useful breath, but couldn't seem to catch one, his breath rasping as he shook his head, "I'm sorry.  Failed you...again."

 “You never failed, brother,” Thor shook his head. “Come now...”

Tony looked between Thor, Loki and back to Bruce on the phone, eyes desperate.

"The ambulance is on its way," Bruce finally relayed.

"Can't afford that," Loki murmured.  "Don't waste your money."  His gaze moved away from Thor and back to Tony, focusing on the other, "Don't break."

Tony’s eyes widened again. “Don’t--don’t what?” he asked, voice breaking.

"Break.  Live, please? I...I'm sorry," Loki shuddered, breath catching as he arched at a ripple of pain.

 “I won’t break,” Tony said, softly. “But hey, hey, pay attention. Remember when I said I love you? Come on Loki...”

Thor’s eyes snapped up to Tony.

"Y-you mean when I l-left?"  Loki asked, fading further.  "After I told...told you I c-couldn't feel."

“Well clearly you lied,” Tony said, tapping his chest. “And I love you. So don’t you dare.”

"Can't stop now," Loki shivered. "S'cold."

Tony glanced up as sirens finally sounded down on the street. “Loki,” he said, softly, smoothing down his hair. “Just a little longer.”

Loki offered him a faint smile, his hand moving to the smaller man's cheek again as he drew another shaky breath, "Dead when I woke up."  He tried to draw another breath, and as it left his lungs his hand slipped from Tony's face and his body went limp.

“Hey,” Tony said again, shaking him slightly.

“His pulse is fading fast,” Thor said and Tony looked around the room panicked as they finally heard the ambulance team coming up the stairs.

The paramedics entered the room moments later, moving quickly over and doing everything they could to revive the young man as one of them asked questions regarding the information they would need, provided they could revive him.

 “This could have been averted if you just got us earlier,” one of them said, looking at Tony who tensed.

“Yeah. We were put on hold, you bastard.”

The man shrugged, having seen too many similar cases in the area. “Well, the call was still too late. I don’t see why you even made it.”

Tony moved forward, Phil grabbing him around the chest and pulling back. “Thank you for your time,” Phil said coldly.

“Sure,” he said with a shrug as they wheeled Loki out on a stretcher. “Who’s paying?”

Before Tony could snarl any other reply Thor and Sif stepped forward at the same time.

Pepper moved over to Tony, reaching out to touch his arm as the medics left with Loki's body, "Tony."

He shrugged her off, swallowing hard and moving out onto the fire escape, looking down at the ambulance.

Having told Thor and Sif where they could pick up Loki's remains, the ambulance pulled away, heading back to the morgue.  Bruce moved out to sit on the fire escape, not saying anything to Tony, just watching with him the look he gave to anyone coming near the window was enough to warn even Pepper off for the time.

Chapter Text

Loki's family had come to New York for the funeral to see their son laid to rest properly in one of the cemeteries near where he had chosen to live.

Steve stayed near Tony, there for comfort if the other wished it from him.  Bruce, who had barely left Tony's side in the time since Loki's death, remained by his friend as a silent companion, making certain the other man got what he needed, and had an ear to listen when it was needed.

Tony leaned harder against Bruce’s side then he did Steve’s, something brittle between them as he watched Thor obviously try not to turn around in the middle of the service and punch his father.

“These things don’t get easier, do they?” he asked vaguely, not sure if he was talking about family or funerals or heart ache.

Bruce shook his head slightly, murmuring, "No.  Things ease up sometimes, but no, they don't get easier."

 “Okay,” Tony said, taking a breath and turning to follow Thor as he stalked toward the grave site.

Bruce glanced at Steve before they turned and followed Tony.

 “Hey, Thor,” Tony said, catching up to him. “Look, I know we don’t really know each other much but--”

“You loved my brother,” Thor said, not quite turning to him, and saying that as if that made Tony his family, knowing him well or not.

Tony tried not to look punched in the gut. “I tried to anyway.”

“No,” Thor shook his head. “You don’t try to love him. You love him any you just try to get him to love you back,” he paused, looking at Tony. “Which you did. It’s more than most can say.”

“Still, I,” Tony started, unable to think of anything to say and finally just held out his hand, which Thor glanced at before accepting, shaking it firmly.

Loki's mother glanced in their direction, quietly as she considered her eldest son and the man who looked far to broken to have simply been a friend of Loki's.  She said nothing as she stepped away from her husband's side and to Thor's.

Tony glanced at Frigga. “Ma’am,” he said, fully intending to call the retreat after that greeting, inclining his head to her and taking a step back.

Frigga looked him over before murmuring, "Thank you."

 “I... really wouldn’t thank me for anything,” he said, shaking his head.

"You grieve as one who loved him.  You did, and still do, don't you?"

 “I grieve as--” Tony took another step back. “I, that is...”

Frigga shook her head slightly, "Peace.  I thank you for loving him when he considered himself unlovable."

 “Yeah well,” Tony said, glancing away. “Idiot should’ve known he was lovable.”

Frigga smiled ruefully, "Yes, he should have.  It doesn't mean he did.  I am sorry."

Tony took a deep breath. “Nothing you have to apologize for.”

"For your loss," she murmured.

 “Unless somehow this was your fault, it’s better if you don’t,” he said, and turned on his heel.

Frigga closed her eyes and nodded, resting her hand on Thor's arm. Thor glanced down at his mother rather then watch Tony leave. “Are you holding?” he asked quietly.

"A mother should never have to bury her child, I will hold until I am away," Frigga murmured in response.

Thor nodded, draping a hand over her shoulder. “I worry about how long he intends to hold,” he said quietly, having watched Tony during the weeks he was there.

"He has friends to see him through when he breaks," Frigga murmured, her gaze moving to Bruce and Steve.  "But I fear it will not go well."

Thor looked at her again and shook his head. “This shouldn’t have happened.”

Frigga closed her eyes and shook her head, "No.  It should not have."

Eyes going over to where his father was standing, Thor swallowed his anger. “Let’s go home.”

Drawing a deep breath, her gaze moving to her youngest son's grave, Frigga finally nodded, "Yes, it is time for us to do so."

o-o-o-o

Tony managed to get back into the apartment before Steve or Bruce, Phil and Tasha still at the funeral for all he could tell.

Bruce entered the apartment a short while later, having told Steve to wait a little before following him, "Tony?"

 “What?” he asked, still pacing. He’d been to the phone several times and backed off.

"Just checking on you," Bruce replied softly.  "Making sure you were here."

 “Where else would I be?” Tony asked, glancing over.

His friend shrugged, moving over to lean on the back of the couch, "I don't know.  Are you...ready to deal with the others or should I have them wait to home home?"

 “It’s their home too,” Tony said, looking away. “Hey, Bruce?”

"Yeah, Tony?"

 “Do you still wanna go to Santa Fe? If you had the money?”

Bruce looked at him for a long moment, "I...yeah, sometimes.  Alright, often.  Why?"

 “Would you go?” Tony asked, finally looking back at him.

His friend frowned in confusion, "That's beside the point.  I haven't got the money, but...yeah, I would."

 “Everything revolves around money, doesn’t it?” Tony said, rubbing a hand over his face.

Bruce sighed, "That's the way of the world, unfortunately."

 “Right then,” Tony said, coming to a mental decision and nodding, stalking over to the phone again.

Watching him, Banner fell silent, moving to sit down on the couch.

Tony stopped in front of the phone again, hand hovering over it. “What’s the worst that could happen?” he asked the air above it.

The other end rang several times. “This is Stark,” a crisp voice said. Tony nearly slammed the phone back down.

“Hey, dad,” he said, voice neutrally light.

There was a long silence. “So you’re not dead then?” Howard Stark asked, not sounding unduly impressed.

“Despite all the odds, no, not dead and actually border lining really healthy at the moment.”

Howard snorted. “Healthy? You?”

“Well, despite some malnourishment due to extreme poverty that Pepper’s been trying to stop by feeding me every chance she gets, sure,” Tony said.

“So Pepper knows where you are then?” Howard asked and actually had the gall to sound surprised.

“Yes, she does,” Tony said, gritting his teeth. “Added that you were all but letting people assume I was dead.”

“I had no evidence to the contrary,” Howard said and Tony could almost hear him shrug.

“You’re a bastard, you know that? You kicked me out, I get it, but Jesus Christ could you pretend you cared enough to keep tabs on me?”

“I thought you would kill yourself long before this,” Howard replied coldly. “You were certainly going down that path.”

“Got off it,” Tony snapped. “Look, I need a favor.”

“Which part of ‘disowned’ did you not understand?” Howard replied.

“Considering why you did is no longer a factor since I’m off drugs, actually in a possibly stable relationship, and quit smoking, you’re doing me this favor cause I need the money to go to med school.”

There was shocked silence for a long moment. “You didn’t even finish college.”

“Well, college and then med school,” Tony said. “Doesn’t matter. Need it.”

“Why would I pay the money for you to go back to school only to have my investment wasted when you drop out again?” Howard asked after a long pause.

“’Cause can you imagine the press’ reaction when they find out Tony Stark is not only alive despite what you let them believe but going to med school on student loans? You’d be roasted by your stock holders, investors, and the press would kick you to the curb. Well, enough of them would anyway.”

There was another angry pause. “Why do you want this?” Howard asked.

“Cause I’ve seen too many people die and I’m getting insanely sick of it, and I might as well put my mind to some use,” Tony shrugged, still staring out the window rather than at Bruce or anyone else that might have entered the apartment.

Howard paused. “I’ll get in touch with you about arrangements through Pepper,” he said finally.

“All I can ask,” Tony replied and slammed the phone down.

Bruce's eyes were wide and he glanced at Steve where the other had entered, "Tony?"

 “Yeah?” Tony asked, bracing himself against the table and turning around finally.

Steve took a couple steps nearer, "Was that...?"

 “Was that what?” Tony asked, tilting his head.

"You called your dad?"  Steve sounded like he couldn't quite believe that.

 “Seemed like the idea at that time,” Tony said, pushing his hair back from his face. “So yeah.”

The blond nodded very slightly, hesitating, "Where are you thinking to go?"

 “Uh, here?” he said, arching a brow. “New York has the greatest concentration of colleges of any and every sort I could think of--where else would I go?”

Steve shrugged slightly, offering a quiet, "There are lots of places."

Bruce shook his head slightly at Steve as he spoke, "We're glad you're staying here."

Tony glanced at Bruce and finally stepped toward Steve. “You do know that if I needed to move back to California I’d take you with me, right? But it’d be counterproductive anyway, and I mean, I couldn’t really move the entire community with me.”

Steve hesitated before placing a hand on Tony's cheek uncertain how the touch would be met that day, "I know that, I was just trying to figure out if he had any requirements, beyond keeping his name out of the press."

 “Well, the funny thing about pseudo blackmail is I’m the one with the terms and--I think he’d prefer me across the country anyway,” Tony said and looked down.

Steve shook his head slightly at that trying to dissipate the urge to give Howard Stark a piece of his mind that eked into his thoughts whenever Tony spoke of the man.  "Then school here it is. And you can't beat the rent."

 “Do you think Fury’s going to try and kick us out again this year?” Tony asked, arching a brow.

Bruce scowled at that, "Let him try."

That earned a faint smile from Steve, "What he said."

 “Okay,” Tony said softly. “He can try.”

Bruce rose from the couch, "I'm going to go see about picking up something more for dinner, I'll see you two later."  With that he slipped out.

Steve watched him go before glancing back at Tony, "How are you holding up?"

 “Holding up?” Tony asked, not quite meeting his eyes. “Fine.”

Steve didn't look like he believed that for a minute, his gaze skimming over Tony's features as he moved his hand to rest it against the other's cheek again.

Tony raised his eyes. “What?”

"Don't lock yourself away, please.  I don't expect you to deal with it today, but I do expect yuu to deal with it before you shatter, alright?"  Steve spoke quietly.

 “I’m not the shattering type,” Tony said softly, honestly, his eyes tracking up to Steve’s. “So alright.”

"You know what I mean," the blond murmured, his expression filled with concerned caring.  "And I'll be here to catch you, alright?"

Tony’s smile was strained. “Course you will,” he murmured.

"We're gonna make it through this, Tony," Steve's voice was soft, "It's gonna hurt like hell, but you'll make it."

 “Course I will,” Tony huffed, trying to make it sound obvious. “Then I’m going to go back to school and spend quite possibly the rest of my life researching a cure for this.”

Steve offered him a faint smile at that, "And you'll do it.  Or at least make it a whole hell of a lot easier for the person who does."

 “Yeah,” Tony said, looking faintly hopeful and very determined. “I will.”