Tony takes over Stark Industries when he’s twenty-one.
By the time he’s twenty five, half the weapons systems in the world bear his name. By the time he’s thirty, it’s not just weapons anymore. It’s kitchen appliances and mobile phones and computers and medical equipment. His weapons are on the black market, spreading to corners of the world he would never actually make business with.
Obie worries and Pepper bites her lip a lot, but Tony doesn’t care. Tony has a million more ideas in his head and they want out so badly he can’t sleep, can’t eat, can’t do anything but work until he’s ready to fall over.
When he wants quiet he gets drunk and fucked-out and when he’s recovered, he kicks out whoever he took home the night before and gets back into his workshop.
Half the world is his and he thinks he could probably take the rest over in under a week (You didn’t really think there isn’t a backdoor into everything he’s ever built, did you?), but if there is one thing Tony Stark lacks, beside tact, it’s drive.
He just makes his art. What happens to it after that is none of his concern. Jarvis keeps track, that’s good enough for him.
And then Afghanistan happens and... Afghanistan happens. There’s really not anything else to say.
And suddenly Tony has the drive he’s always been missing.
He has ways into just about every weapons system of the world, he can access computers and phones and fucking blenders remotely if he wants to and Jarvis isn’t just hooked up to the internet, he pretty much is the internet and Tony spends hours, sometimes, wondering how the fuck no-one is catching on.
“The world is not your playground, Stark!” Fury yells at him one time, after he maybe brings down a building or two and Tony just laughs because, seriously, yes it is.
He owns it.
And with a metal heart in his chest (Made it myself, look, Ma!), he’s going to clean it up.
No more weapons. No more war. No more dirty energy, no more famine, no more disease. Because he says so. Because he spent three months in an Afghan cave being tortured and yelled at and starved and beaten, spent three months listening to a man who’d lost everything and still dreamt of better things, still had hands steady enough to shake Tony out of his nightmares and a voice gentle enough to sooth him back to sleep.
Because there was no booze and no warm, willing bodies to get lost in and hello, reality, it’s so nice to meet you. Tony built this world’s weapons and never cared what happened to them until one of them tore him apart.
He’s learned his lesson.
If you don’t want to get hurt, make sure there’s nothing and no-one in the world that can hurt you.
(What? Yes, of course it’s about him. He’s always been selfish. You know that. Calling yourself a philanthropist doesn’t make it so.)
“Of course, Stark,” Fury says, rolls his eyes, doesn’t listen at all. “SHIELD will work with you.”
He hears Loki’s rhetoric. Everyone does.
No more war, no more death. No more humans slaughtering each other for fun. The others scoff, but Tony looks at the video feed of a god with fever-bright eyes and yeah, he recognizes that look. There’s empty words and then there’s desperate-afraid-hungry-please.
“I want to talk to him,” he says, cutting Hill off mid-sentence. Fury glowers at him with his one eye, dark and dangerous, and Tony raises an eyebrow, smiles. “Pretty please.”
They let him only because he promises to play nice and everything else failed. Like he’s some sort of puppy, some errant child to need permission.
“Jarvis,” he mutters on his way to the cell, “make a note. Also, Project: Playground.”
In his pocket, his phone buzzes once, a quiet acknowledgement.
He slouches in the chair Natasha left behind after her failed attempt to trick the god of tricks, stretches his legs long and asks, “So, what exactly are you going to do, once you have the world?”
Loki smirks, too many teeth, and leans against the glass.
“Rule it, of course.”
Tony flaps a hand. “Yeah, obviously. Genius here, figured that out myself, thanks. I meant how. Mass slavery? Genocide? Torture people for fun?”
And yes, that one hits home (He knew it would, he remembers his reflection in the mirror, thank you very much. This is what pain looks like, this is what panic under a thin veneer of bravado looks like. This is what broken to fucking bits and crazy-glued back together looks like, are you blind?).
Loki snarls, slams a hand against the glass, wild like an animal. A cornered animal. One that Fury’s been poking with a stick for the past twelve hours.
Then he catches himself and exhales slowly, visibly pulling himself together. Pulling the mask back down, not gold and red but just as effective.
“Genocide?” he parrots, “You are all beneath me. Why would I differentiate? Why not murder every one of you snivelling ants?”
“Lie,” Tony points out, just because he can. (The lie isn’t what you think it is, though.)
Paradoxically, it makes the god laugh. It shouldn’t surprise Tony. Does. “I would rule you all. Stop your squabbles over land and resources. Stop you from destroying each other. Stop you from ruining this world utterly.”
Truth. Liesmith, Thor called his brother. Tony is getting the impression that Thor doesn’t really have a clue. (Who does?)
“So basically, you want a safe place to land.” Loki’s expression tightens almost imperceptibly and Tony hits it home, “Somewhere to hide from your torturers.”
The room grows so cold so quickly that Tony can see his breath freeze in front of his face, can feel the tips of his fingers start to prickle, can close his eyes and smell winter, smell old ice, old death. So this is what a god’s rage feels like. He imagined fire, but the ice fits Loki, in hindsight.
It fits him all too well.
Tony shivers, fights not to curl into himself and puts on his own mask, bright smile, perfect sales pitch. (A weapon you only fire once.)
“Please,” he scoffs, even though he’s freezing and the look on Loki’s face promises a fate worse than death. He spreads his arms, here I am, and doesn’t hide. “I recognize that look. I’ve worn it. They picked you up wherever you landed after you fell and they fucked you up because, no offense, but you don’t strike me as the guy to fight for others’ goals. If you want that cube, you want it for yourself. You just bargained your way the hell away from them in the hopes of finding a quiet little corner of the universe where they’ll never touch you again, even if you have to carve it out of this world, am I right?”
The Chitauri are Loki’s Ten Rings and he’s two days out of his own, private Afghanistan. Tony thinks someone beside him should have noticed that, but then they all believe him when he says he’s fine, so maybe he’s overestimating mankind as a collective.
His mouth is open, his eyes wide, his hands limp at his sides. He didn’t expect anyone to see through him, to even care enough to try. He didn’t expect to have it thrown in his face. (Not used to people noticing things, either.)
In other words, he didn’t expect Tony goddamn Stark to come and pull him apart, even though he should have because he has Barton and Tony’s sobstory is not exactly a secret among SHIELD.
(The poor little billionaire who broke in a cave and came back wanting only peace and puppies.)
SHIELD promised to help him. SHIELD hasn’t delivered.
(Tony said, “No more,” and the world said, “Okay,” and then went back to shooting each others’ heads off. Tony doesn’t like to be ignored.)
“So here’s the deal,” he goes on. “You’re gonna have to work on the random killings because that shit’s just nasty. And then we’ll have to figure out a way to get rid of your new friends without giving them the Tesseract because from the looks of you, they’re not the kind of people you invite to your birthday bash, or, you know, your planet?”
“What are you trying to say, Stark?” the god asks, eyes narrowing, shoulders straightening, holding himself very still, the way hope makes you, or fatalism. (And aren’t those the same things?)
“I’m saying,” Tony draws out, “That I’m helping you take over the world. On a few conditions.”
He grins winsomely. Loki cocks his head to one side and, okay, yes, Tony can see it now, that quicksilver brilliance everyone warned him about, because Loki doesn’t need him to spell it out again, doesn’t need to have the conversation anyone else would need to have right now, so slow, so boring. He simply blinks twice and catches up to Tony and Tony, sitting on that rickety plastic chair, thinks, yes, and meets a god’s gaze calmly.
“Why?” Loki asks.
He shrugs, crossing his legs. “Because two years ago, I broke out of a cave that was supposed to be my tomb and told the world that I was done. No more weapons. No more war. I told them I was going to fix it and they patted me on the head and told me to go play outside.” His smirk is slow and dark, glistening like the damp walls in a cave that no longer exists.
It is a tomb, but not his. Never his.
“So here I am. Playing outside.”
There is a commotion at the door, so he adds, “Jarvis, door.”
“Already taken care of, sir. Would you like me to take control of the other systems, too, just in case?” the disembodied voice asks from the speakers in the ceiling. His voice echoes throughout the ship, no longer a secret, no longer hiding.
Tony built this ship, why doesn’t anyone remember that?
“Go ahead, buddy,” he orders, then turns his attention back to the god in front of him.
“Why would I agree to accept your help, mortal?”
He rolls his eyes. Seriously? Mortal? “Because I own this planet. Weapons, communications, medicine. You name it, I can control it. I have a backdoor into every damn system there is. You work with me, there isn’t going to be a war.”
Because war isn’t what Loki wants. What either of them want.
Tony thinks he can hear Fury roar just outside the deadlocked door, but he’s not sure. With a sigh, he stands, makes his way around the cage to the console. Hand hovering over the buttons – unlock or dump – he asks, “So?”
Head cocked still, eyes glittering manic-bright, Loki asks again, “Why?”
Why? Good question. Because he wants it to stop. Pain. Dying. War. He wants to stop everything that hurts because he still wakes at night, screaming from imagined fists and branding irons, from water in his lungs and shrapnel in his heart.
He wants everything to just stop and Loki might murder him in his sleep, but that’d be another kind of stop and no-one ever said Tony wasn’t a tiny bit suicidal, even before he had Pepper push that button to kill his oldest (only) friend.
“Because you’re not the only one that got a bit messed up,” he says, because he can now, because he wants to, because Loki is kind of like him. Fucked up the same way and he thinks that together...
“Because you’re not the only one that came out the other end a bit crazier. And because, between the two of us, there’s not a fucking thing anyone can do to stop us.”
They want the same thing, in the end. They want enough power to make sure nothing and no-one can ever touch them again. They want a world incapable of raising a hand to them ever again.
Something is the god’s gaze shifts, flaring bright and then receding. Madness, maybe. Agony. Tony can’t name it but he understands it because the same thing is happening to him, settling into his bones.
With Loki by his side, same nightmares and same look in his eyes, he feels, for the first time in two years, safe. It makes no sense, but then, sense has never been something people accused him of. So.
“Release me,” the god says.
It’s not a ‘yes’, but it’ll do.
Tony hits the button, Jarvis uploads himself into every piece of electronic equipment he can reach, and Loki smiles, sharp and broken and rattling with madness.
Tony smiles back.
(In another world, he says, “If we can’t save the earth, you can be damn well sure we’ll avenge it.”
He draws a line in the sand between him and everything he could be. He pretends he doesn’t know the lost, scared look in Loki’s eyes, pretends he couldn’t turn this world on its ear on a whim.
Vanko called him a god once, but even he didn’t understand the truth of that word. Tony does.
He turns away from it, feels a bit deader, inside.
Takes another sip from his glass.