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If I love you
is that a fact or a weapon?

#

“Well. You’re going to grow up into somebody important, aren’t you?”

“What the heck is that supposed to mean?” Tony says.

There’s a boy hidden in the shadows. He’s dressed funny, in green and black, like he’s walked out of a movie full of knights and castles and kings. He looks about Tony’s age -- twelve, maybe thirteen years old. “I am the God of Mischief,” the kid announces, swinging a hand around from behind one of the room pillars, so that he’s fully visible. “That’s what my brother thinks who I’m going to be, mortal, because I’m rather fond of fooling him and his friends. They’re not very smart.”

Tony furrows his eyebrows. “‘Mortal’? Why’d you call me that?”

“I’m on Midgard, am I not?” the boy says, with a slight frown. “What do you people call it? Earth...?”

“Stupid. Of course you’re on Earth, what kinda idiot are you? And you’re not really a god. Gods don’t exist, y’know.” Tony takes a step closer to the boy, shooting him a haughty expression.

The boy scowls. “I’m no fool, human. Watch your mouth. I can do magic.”

“Also doesn’t exist.”

“I’m a prince.”

“Yeah, right. Of what kingdom? We have presidents, your highness. And Prime Ministers in other places. My dad is friends with ‘em. He’s famous.”

“Ignorant human,” the boy snorts. “How did you think I appeared on this world in the first place? I teleported, from my home in Asgard. That is magic. I am Loki Odinson.”

“Never heard of you,” Tony says, shrugging carelessly. “I’m Tony Stark.”

Loki says, “That I know.” He gestures a hand at the tools at Tony’s feet, the screwdrivers and pliers and batteries; one of his umpteenthh attempts of inventing, fixing, improving. “You’re one of mine, mortal.”

“...You’re really weird, Loki,” Tony says. He shrugs again. “Um, okay. Do you want to help me put this together?”

“Why ask me for assistance?” Loki says, looking genuinely baffled. “You’re perfectly capable of assembling this strange device yourself.”

Tony blinks. “Wish my dad thought so, too, weirdo.”

Silence. Loki purses his lips, and his his eyes are a luminous green, strong but hazy, and he’s just staring at Tony. “Interesting,” he breathes; the corners of his mouth crinkle into a little smile. Tony feels like he’s a bug being studied under a magnifying glass; this kid looks so oddly fascinated.

Then Loki is gone in a burst of emerald flame.

Tony rubs his eyes. What the hell was that about? Maybe it was just a dream.

He returns his attention to the wires below him, poking carefully at the circuitry.

#

He’s seventeen, and he’s drunk off his ass, having the best fucking time of his life. Tony’s just graduated from M.I.T. Tony’s finally free, and the world’s ready for him, ready for his work.

“Jesus Christ, you again?” he says when the green catches his eyes. “Hey, weirdo.”

“Anthony Stark,” the man -- he’s all grown up now, too -- says thoughtfully. “How does your life fare?”

“I’m doing good. If that’s what you’re asking, Loki -- that’s your name right? I hope I didn’t forget. I looked it up. You’re named after some Norse deity.” Tony waves his bottle of beer in Loki’s face. “You want a drink?”

“I am that Norse deity,” Loki says patiently, but he doesn’t seem irked -- just amused. The bottle -- which hovers a inch in front of his face -- is batted away with a swat of his hand, all imperial-like.

Tony frowns. “I’m too drunk for this, your highness. This better not be a dream, because I’m pretty sure I’m going to wake up with a killer hangover when it’s over.”

“This is not a dream, Stark.”

“Exactly what a dream-person would say,” says Tony. “Not convincing enough.”

“You are very bothersome when inebriated,” Loki remarks, and before Tony can protest, the guy just waves his freaking hand across the air, and the heaviness lifts off Tony’s head.

“The fuck--? Did you just--”

“I did,” Loki says, a smile quirking on his lips. “Put down the alcohol, Stark. I seek conversation, not inane ramblings.”

Tony opens his mouth to insist that he’s really not that ramble-y, he’s actually decently coherent, but then he shuts it once he decides that it’s not worth it. He puts the bottle down, settling it on the floor with a clink. Huffing a sigh, he points Loki over to one of the sofas. “Have a seat, Loki, if you want ‘conversation’. So, how does your life fare?”

“It fares well,” Loki replies. He settles into a seat, the cushion tucked comfortably behind his back. “I enjoy using my magic. I see many things, Stark, beyond your Midgard, beyond my Asgard. I frequently check upon my subjects, such as yourself.”

“I’m not your subject, whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean.”

“Oh, you are.”

“In what way? You’re not a king or anything. Don’t you remember what I said last time?”

“Do you not remember what I said during our previous encounter? I am the God of Mischief.”

Tony kicks back the urge to pick up the beer again. “Come on, weirdo, you’re not your namesake. Next you’ll be telling me that you once turned into a horse.”

Heh. Now that was a myth. Picturing that scrawny kid he saw when he was younger turning into a foal had been once of his favorite pastimes. Lord, how does that even work?

Loki actually cringes. “Details of my transformation are vastly exaggerated, Stark. You are not my brother-- do not stoop down to his level of mockery.”

“You really believe that you’re Loki, don’t you?” Tony says, squinting at the man, tilting his head sideways. “Go back to the loony-bin, kid. Did you just come from a Renaissance Fair?”

“Ignorant mortal,” Loki says, accompanying the insult with a good ol’ eyeroll.

“Mm. I’ve been called worse. Y’know,” Tony says, his eyes finding Loki’s, “you have pretty eyes.”

“I believe you are still intoxicated, Stark.”

“Nope.”

“You are quite a creature, aren’t you?” says Loki. Before Tony can protest, the phone rings at his side, a shrill noise piercing the evening lull.

“Hold on,” he says, and reaches for it. “Obie, what’s up?”

“Tony,” Obadiah Stane says, his voice low and serious. “Son, there’s been an accident.”

Out of the corner of his eyes, Tony can see Loki up and disappearing again, and fuck, if he didn’t know better, he’d say that the god was real. That he knew.

#

Tony remembers his father’s tales about strong, courageous Captain America, a true super soldier, yadda-yadda-yadda. About putting this scrawny guy into a machine, and presto! You got yourself this muscly protector of justice. That was Captain America’s origin story.

Here’s his, and it’s shit from beginning to end.

He’s dirty and bloodied and hungry and hurting, rotting in a dark cave with his half-inventions, quarter-inventions lying scattered around him. He’s a fucking cheat, he is: inject a formula into Rogers’ body, and it’s him, it’s inside him and permanent.

Build a -- what is this, armor? -- a suit, and it’s just covering. It’s just protection. Temporary.

“It’s not a dream,” Tony mutters, “not now. It’s a hallucination, I bet.” He’s on his knees among the metal parts, guards outside with their guns, and Yinsen is sleeping in the corner.

Loki again.

Loki looks at him with his head crooked to the side, the turn of his mouth soft. “So this is how it begins, human? The Man of Iron...” His voice trails off, and he rests a hand on Tony’s slightly bowed, slightly raised head, playing with the tousled, sandied hair with gentle fingers.

Tony parts his cracked lips, so dry and in want of water. He leans into the touch, just relieved, just tired, just remembering green eyes in the evening. “Are you real?”

“Perhaps. Last time you were adamant in insisting that I am not myself.”

“Let’s not do this again, weirdo. Please--help--” Tony halts. He’s not used to begging. He’s not used to pleading, even to a person who is supposedly a god.

“This is your battle, Stark. Your honor, your life, your sacrifice,” Loki says quietly. “Build, Anthony. Build your contraption in this desert land, and fight for your freedom. It shall be a warrior’s battle.”

“I’m not a warrior.”

“You’re my warrior,” Loki says. “One of mine.”

“That’s the second time you’ve said that. It doesn’t mean a fucking thing.”

Loki’s hands stop combing through tangled strands of hair. “Prove it, then. Prove it to me. For you have no father to impress, after all.”

A growl rips through Tony’s throat. “You don’t know anything about my dad.”

“Oh?” Loki says, and god, he’s smirking. (It’s bitter at the edges, but Tony’s a fool, he doesn’t understand, not then.)

Tony shakes his head out of Loki’s grasp, hating himself for showing weakness. Hating Loki for treating him like a child. “This isn’t a fucking game, Loki,” Tony says angrily, “I can’t do this, I’m gonna fucking die soon. They’re gonna find out what I’m building; they’re going to take it away when I’m finished and they’re gonna kill me. Don’t you understand, your highness? Lose-lose, all the way.”

“These are merely doubts. You have gone too far to turn back, Stark. This whole time you’ve been working towards victory. And there is a reason why I’ve always been here.”

“To annoy the fuck out of me?”

“No,” Loki murmurs, and he’s on the ground too, Mr. I’m-a-Prince is on his knees. “Brave, Anthony. That is why I’m here. Brave.

Tony crumples. He buries his head into Loki’s chest, and shakes as if an earthquake is wracking through his body.

When the green fire flames through Loki’s body, evaporating the god from Tony’s hold, it doesn’t burn.

#

“Do you forgive me?” Loki says, and hey, what a surprise, it hasn’t been years since he’d last visited. Just the whole fucked-up fiasco with Obie, and for the first time, Tony’s holed up peacefully in his lab, working on something not related to the Iron Man.

That isn’t a real question. It’s curiosity. It’s a test.

“What’s to forgive?” Tony says shortly.

“You mistook me for a Midgardian god, back in that cave,” Loki says cautiously, tip-tapping his fingers across the counter of tools. “One who answers your prayers. It is not my way.”

Tony huffs out a brief sigh. “Look, Loki. Just, I don’t -- it looks like we’ve decided that you’re real, I guess. But what are you looking for? Besides popping in and out of my life like a dog owner checking into the pet hotel making sure that the tiny Pomeranians are getting their baths? I mean, who the fuck are you, really?”

“The God of Mischief.”

“Liar,” Tony laughs. “I told you, I looked you up. I heard that you lie. I heard that you’re chaos. I heard you gave birth to an eight-legged horse.”

“Do not belittle me, Stark,” Loki says warningly.

“You’ve been saying stuff like that,” Tony says, scoffing. “Like you think you’re better than me just ‘cause you’re a god. But I’ve got news for you: no way.”

“Pitiful mortal,” says Loki. “I have -- I have plans, to fix my kingdom. To insure that my brother shall not run it to the ground. To find the peace that my father has not achieved. I am cunning, I am trickery, and I will succeed.”

“I’m not just a pitiful mortal,” Tony bites out, “I’m one of yours, remember?”

Something in Loki fades out, dims. “Yes,” the god says distantly, “you are.”

Easy as that, the animosity in Tony deflates. “How’ve you been doing, Loki? You say you’re planning stuff...how’s your brother like, anyways?”

Loki sniffs. “He is a crude individual. Thor is to inherit the throne, but he lacks good judgment. My father is not ignorant of Thor’s faults, of course, but still he insists.”

“Not good enough of the throne, are you?”

“I do not desire the throne,” Loki says in a sharp tone. “It is not my place.”

Then it all clicks in Tony’s head. “You -- okay, then. I’m not the only one here with daddy issues, am I?”

“Stark--”

“So am I right?”

Loki is silent. He looks at Tony, those green eyes flickering to and from his face, and he whispers, almost inaudible, “I could be so much more, Anthony. Why does Father not understand?”

Tony moves away from his computer, so that he’s closer to the god, so that they’re full-on face to face. “You don’t need to prove anything to him, Loki. Forget about this sibling rivalry crap. Prove it to me, how about that?”

Loki doesn’t say anything.

“Hey. Chin up, your highness. You’ll do fine.” He pats Loki’s shoulder awkwardly. “I-- I got you, okay? I got you.”

And then Loki’s just pressing against Tony’s body, so that they’re set firmly from hip to hip, and they’re not hugging, not really, just sharing skin space. It isn’t a sexual sort of thing: it’s comfort. Tony can’t find Loki’s face, because it’s tucked deep against the cold metal of the arc reactor, hiding away.

“Gotcha,” Tony says, and he breathes, slowly.

#

Tony overhears Agent Coulson taking a call from Director Fury about some wormhole disturbance in New Mexico. Coulson, of course, has been stopping by to check on Tony periodically about his suit, and it’s really been pissing him off.

So, he decides to be obnoxious as usual and tag along.

“Stark, you realize that you’re sticking your nose into confidential matters,” Coulson says, glaring. “You’re not needed -- this isn’t your area of expertise, anyways.”

Tony wants to stick his tongue out. “Who cares? I’m a billionaire. I can do whatever I want, and what I want is a vacation in New Mexico, where I can point and laugh at your outdated tech.”

“Our tech is perfectly functional. How many times have we been over this?”

“A thousand, maybe five thousand times,” Tony says. “But I wanna have fun with the nice Agent, c’mon. I might be able to help, who knows?”

“No.” Coulson glares a second time, his eyes shooting daggers. “You might be needed elsewhere.”

“But I’ve barely done anything here. Honestly. Cross my not-heart. I’m bored -- who knows what I might do?”

Coulson’s shoulders give way -- he’s given up, this one time. “Fine. Fine, Stark, you can come. But please be discreet and do not, under any circumstances, bring along your private jet. And I’m blaming you if anything bad happens.”

“Thanks, Coulson. You’re a dear.”

Coulson knits his eyebrows together, and Tony hopes that somebody would finally give the man a coffee, for god’s sake.

He boards the S.H.I.E.L.D. plane -- which is modified to look like your usual government transport, thank you very much -- with a sense of victory.

Said sense of victory is crushed by having to wait in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s makeshift facility while the Real Scientists (TM) deal with a random hammer stuck in a rock. And making scans of whatever the fuck happened with the sky.

Tony’s yawning, and watching the monitors second by second (this screen shows the damned hammer; this screen shows scientists hunched over computers), when the alarm suddenly goes off.

“There’s been a breach!” one of the agents says into his walkie-talkie (pfft, really, how is that advanced in any way?).

Tony squints at the security footage, and he’s surprised to find a small figure darting across the white paper tunnels, throwing punches at any guard or agent in the way. Jesus. He leaps up from his chair and hollers to Coulson, “Hey! Need me to go out there? I packed my suit.”

“No,” Coulson says, his mouth compressed into a thin line. “I’ve already notified another agent to cover from above -- he’s got this. Last thing we need is for you to be spotted in your ridiculous get-up.”

“I’m not going to go outside--”

“Or any possible damage you might cause.”

“How immature do you think I am?” Tony complains, but then they’re both distracted by the monitors. The stranger’s just finished trashing this uber big muscled guard, and another monitor reveals a man on a balcony above, an arrow notched in a bow. “Where the fuck did you recruit Robin Hood? What century are you people in?”

“Quiet, Stark,” Coulson says, flicking a finger in his direction. “I want to see this.”

The intruder -- who is uber big and muscled himself, blond hair soaked and messy from the rain -- reaches for the hammer, arm tense and ready like it’s that sword from the King Arthur story, the sword in the stone. Coulson mumbles to the archer to hold on, and they all do, time floating still just for a second.

The rain is pouring outside, and Tony is trying to remember something, something about myths, something about that weapon in the sand. A name. A deity.

The stranger can’t free the hammer.

Only those worthy of Excalibur, yeah?

It’s over, Tony thinks, his nails digging into his palm.

The guy on the balcony doesn’t release his arrow. Other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents rush in and dogpile the stranger, and when Tony catches a glimpse of the man’s face, he is startled at the open hurt buried in blue eyes. Tony unclenches his fist, and wonders at the word Mjolnir.

“Show’s over, people. Back to work,” Coulson announces, and starts to hurry out of the room, probably to interrogate the poor bastard.

“Hold on,” Tony says. He clears his throat. It feels dry, dryer than the roughness it had been back in that desert cave; it’s just coarseness running along the surface of his limbs and his stomach. “I think I know who that is. I’m coming along for this one, too.”

This catches Coulson’s attention. “Is he somebody you recognize from Afghanistan, Stark? He could be part of a terrorist cell -- specially recruited and trained for jobs like this.”

Tony barks out a laugh. “Nothing like that, Coulson. A brother of a friend, actually. Though whether he’s a threat or not -- well. You probably should be careful; it looks like he can sure pack a punch.”

A brother of a friend? Stark, if you’ve been trading weapons or feeding information to raging crazies like him, your ass is dead.” Coulson doesn’t wait for Tony’s response, and immediately starts to haul out the questions. “Now: who is this friend of yours? And more importantly: who the hell is this guy, and what does this have to do with a hammer nobody can seem to pull from the ground?”

“All in good time,” Tony says, a crooked smile on his face. “C’mon, let’s go. If we can’t get the answers from him, I’ll tell you what I know later. And that’s a promise, alright?” Tony pushes a door open, quickening his pace. “Now, lemme introduce you to Thor. Thor Odinson.”

At the sound of his name, the man lifts his bowed down head, bringing his forlorn eyes upwards. “Greetings,” he says in a low rumble, not bothering to brush the hair out of his face.

“Hey, buddy, what’s up?” Tony says cheerily.

“Who are you?” Thor says. “How do you know my name, mortal?”

“I’m Tony Stark. And this is Agent Coulson.” Coulson inclines his head slightly in an awkward head bob. He peers at Thor warily in the corner of his eyes, but for now, he lets Tony do the talking. “I’m acquainted with your brother. How come you’re not back in Asgard with him?”

Thor starts. “Loki? You know Loki?”

“He’s like my fairy godmother. First met him when I was twelve years old. And then three times after that. But enough about Loki,” Tony dismisses. “How about you, big guy? Does Mjolnir have, like, maintenance issues?”

“I have been banished from Asgard by my father,” says Thor. “I-- I have been rash, Stark, and now I am paying for my mistakes.” The god’s voice cracks.

“Don’t cry, dude,” Tony says soothingly, laying a sympathetic hand on Thor’s shoulder. “Look. Um. Is there a way for you to go back? ‘Cause it must suck, being stuck here. Any way to call your brother?”

“I am not merely stranded on Midgard, Stark. My godhood -- my command over storms, my mastery over Mjolnir -- it has all been stripped away from me.”

“Wait. What? Loki said you’re supposed to be the king, Thor--”

Coulson clears his throat, interrupting the conversation. “Excuse me. As fascinating as this discussion seems, I have no idea what the hell you two are talking about. Will somebody just pause for one moment and hand me the memo?”

Tony sighs. “He’s a god, Coulson. From a different world called Asgard. Have you ever read Norse myths?”

A blink. Another blink. “What kind of game are you playing at, Stark?”

Thor says solemnly, “The man speaks the truth, Son of Coul. I realize that mortals are not familiar with the concept of Yggdrasil...but, I am, according to a Midgardian friend, something called an alien.”

“...That isn’t my department of government work, gentlemen.”

Tony claps a hand on Coulson’s back. “Actually, I’m pretty sure it is. Welcome to the M.I.B., Agent C.”

Coulson twitches, and Tony suspects that he’s about to say FUCK IT STARK THIS ISN’T A JOKE, but he’s too professional for that sort of thing. “Stark. Odinson...is that right?” After confirmation, Coulson continues, “Should I take this breach as a threat? Should I take away your toys, Stark, for not informing me of the existence of alien planets? Should I throw both of you in interrogation rooms so you could finally brief me? Well?”

“What is with you and your paparazzi-reminiscent questions?” Tony says under his breath, but Coulson ignores him and takes a step outside, dialing rapid-fire on his cell phone. Ugh, the Fed’s running to his superiors, what a cliche.

“So what are you going to do now?” Tony says quietly to Thor. “Since you can’t get the throne, the thunder, or the throwing utensil.”

“Wait, I suppose,” Thor says. “There are allies, here on Midgard. Lady Jane, Lady Darcy, and Doctor Selvig. They are scientists, and they are researching the bridge that I arrived from. Perhaps they can find me a route back home. I suppose I can attempt to plead my father to restore me, or at least accept me back into the family. For I have erred greatly.”

“Big guy, you know that your brother can teleport, right?”

“I am aware of that,” says Thor. “But I do not know whether he, like my father, forgives me.”

“You too, huh?”

“What?”

“Nothing.”

They don’t speak for a moment. Tony’s mouth moves to form the syllables Loki, and the soft rustle of a coat brushes at his back.

“I am here, Stark. I did not realize that you would be with my brother.”

“Is everything okay?” Tony says, leaning against Loki, and when green eyes bloom into view, he freezes. “What the fuck happened to you?”

“I bring bad tidings from Asgard, Stark. It is none of your concern. Thor,” Loki says, turning to his brother, “Father is dead. The burden of your actions, the thought of an approaching war -- it--it destroyed him.”

“No,” Thor says in a horrified whisper. “That cannot be true, brother.”

“I am sorry, Thor. I am left to take your place as king -- and I will do the best I can in your absence. We have made a treaty with Jotunheim on the condition that you do not come back. I cannot refute this clause without provoking war, brother. And Mother -- Mother has forbid your return personally.” As Loki speaks, he edges closer into Tony’s side, as if he could tuck himself under the folds of Tony’s jacket.

Liar,” breathes Tony, so soft, too soft, and fuck it, he knows what this is -- this is Obadiah fucking Stane right here, right again.

Thor looks like a kicked puppy, like somebody’s drained the whole life of him, and Tony just -- just doesn’t know, really.

Loki, he thinks, your highness, weirdo, what do you think you’re doing?

Brave, Tony tries to focus on instead, because maybe Loki’s nothing like Obie. Maybe Loki is Tony taking charge again, once Obie’s gone. Maybe Loki is Pepper reining in a crazy-ass leader. Brave brave brave brave.

This is wrong.

He opens his mouth to say so, but he’s one of Loki’s. He owes Loki. He’s a liar. He remembers the boy with the green eyes telling him that he’ll be someone important one day, and he can’t say anything at all.

“This is farewell, brother,” Loki says in a muted undertone, and he fades away slowly, not in a burst of flame this time. Just a wisp of wind vanishing into air.

The last touch Tony feels is a hand on the small of his back, fingers curling against the fabric and the skin beneath.

Tony crushes a fist against the flimsy white walls as he strides out of the room.

#

“Hey, Pepper,” Tony says into his cell phone, a grim smile on his face. “You handling the company well?”

“Tony, I’ve been calling for hours! Where are you? I called the Malibu house, but you weren’t in. What are you doing?” Pepper sounds frustrated, but Tony knows that she’s used to him being a dick. He thinks she’s more relieved than angry now, because he actually bothered to phone this time.

“I’m in New Mexico. With Agent Coulson,” Tony adds hastily. “He wanted some consultation work done. I’m sorry I didn’t leave you a message earlier, but I’ve been busy.”

“New Mexico?” Pepper says. “Did you take the jet?”

Tony pouts. “Coulson didn’t let me, Pep. Said it’s too conspicuous, and that we’re supposed to be as hush-hush as possible. Doing top-secret work for Uncle Sam, dontcha know.”

Tony can hear the smile in Pepper voice as she says, “Tony, I don’t believe he would willingly bring you along. You begged, didn’t you?”

“I’ve been bored. That’s a significant reason.”

A laugh. “I hope you haven’t been too hard on Phil. He told me he feels like he’s a babysitter around you.” Pepper pauses. “Hold on a minute, you called me...are you doing okay? You don’t usually stop your work unless--”

“Yeah,” Tony says. “Yeah. I -- I don’t know. I think I did something wrong. Like, enabling asshole kind of wrong.”

“God, Tony...you know, you don’t have to use me as your personal therapist. You don’t even have to be the genius you are to know things. I think you can figure a lot of things out by yourself. In fact, I think you’ve already got it figured out. If that makes any sense,” Pepper says, exasperated.

“Thank you,” Tony says softly. “But you shouldn’t have so much faith in me, Pep. I’m a mess right now. If I had access to beer or whatever -- I’m a mess.”

“There’s one thing you got figured out,” Pepper says. “And you said that you’re being an enabler. Fine. Stop enabling. That’s the second thing.”

“Simple enough,” Tony concedes. “I’ll -- I’ll try, Pepper. This time.”

“Don’t think too hard about it. Just go, Tony. Go fix up whatever mess you created.”

A smile creeps up Tony’s face; he says, “You’re the best, Pep. Make sure you remind me that I owe you dinner when I come back. That Italian place again, right?”

“Yes, of course. But I’m taking Tasha. You’re not invited.”

Tony fist-pumps in the air. “You finally asked that ginger ninja out! Go get her, Pep! I can’t believe it took you so long -- fellow Stark-babysitters unite, is that what it is?”

“Shut up, Tony,” Pepper says, but not without fondness. “I’ve got to go right now, and manage your sorry excuse of a company. Clean up after your own disasters, and please try not to get your name in the tabloids again. I’m paying the PR department too much already.”

“I’ll do my best,” promises Tony. “See ya. Give Agent Romanov my regards.”

“I think she’s sick enough of you, Tony,” says Pepper, “but I’ll tell her all the same. Stay safe. Don’t be too much of a jackass.”

At that note, she hangs up, and Tony feels a bit more relaxed, like the pent-up stress is starting to evaporate.

Okay. He can do this.

#

“You know,” Tony says (it is midnight now, according to digits on his watch, and Tony is sitting down on one of the cots in the temporary S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters), “I think we should have less emotionally charged meetings. Maybe we should go out for coffee.”

“Why do you call me, Stark?” Loki says. “I cannot help my brother, if that is what you are attempting to ask.” He’s like motherfucking Batman, emerging out of the shadows in an outline of green, what is with Loki and his green? Tony hides a smile, but it’s gone in a second.

“So. About Asgard. Time works different, like Narnia, doesn’t it? Thor said that you’re both maybe a thousand years old.”

“I am a god,” Loki replies easily. “We have prolonged lives. It should be no surprise to a mortal like you.”

“Makes sense. So, what I’m really asking here, is how long has it been since you last visited me? How long was the gaps between our meetings? How long did it take for you to turn into a brother-betraying, weasel-faced fucked-up liar?”

“Stark--”

“Don’t ‘Stark’ me, Liesmith. Just -- it happened to me, you know. Obadiah Stane put a target on my head, and you saw me there, in that cave, and you left me there. Just like you’re leaving your brother.” Tony’s practically growling at this point. “He’s a sweet big guy, even if he is a little rough on the edges, and he had his Doctor friend call me a minute ago. His friends from Asgard came for him. They’re pointing fingers at you.

”Stop this at once!” Loki snaps. “Don’t betray me, Anthony, why don’t you understand? I’m making everything better, I’m changing things! Don’t betray me, not you of all people--”

“Just because I gave you a hug, Liesmith?” Tony scoffs. “You’re pathetic, Loki. You’re petty and jealous, and you don’t deserve your brother. I could still hear him arguing with those Warriors Three or whatever when I was on the phone, saying that you wouldn’t do something like that, you wouldn’t lie to him.”

“Thor gets everything, Stark. Everything. The fortunate son...and who am I, at the end of things? I am -- I should be -- as much as a king as him.”

“You selfish fucking bastard--”

“Yes!” Loki screams, and the tears are at the corners of his mad green eyes, Tony can see, and Jesus Christ, Loki’s gone, he thinks, Loki’s too far gone. “Bastard, that’s exactly what I am, Stark. I am a stray, a dangerous miserable child Odin picked up from Jotunheim and dragged home. I cast powerful magics, I am blue underneath this Asgardian illusion, I am--”

“Shut. Up.

“You dare--”

“Shut up,” Tony says. “Stop trying to prove yourself to Thor or to Odin, to anyone else who shouldn’t give a fuck. Grow up, you stupid fucking brat, don’t you see that you’re hurting people?”

His breath is coming out in desperate pants. He stands, pulling himself up to his full height, and he lungers, grabbing onto Loki’s coat collar and slamming him down onto the cot blanket.

Loki lets him grab, lets him push, and all Tony sees is the shattered sharp green cutting gaze in Loki’s eyes. “You fool,” Loki whispers. “You are one of them, when the truth reveals itself. A warrior of useless strength, of boasted caliber.”

“No. No, I’m one of yours, remember?”

“You do not understand, Stark. You do not see the absolute stupidity my brother has been demonstrating.”

“Loki,” Tony says, his hands tightening on the sheets on both sides of the god, gripping and gripping and gripping as he looks down. “Brave.

Loki shakes his head. “No,” he says, and it’s almost as if he mouthed the word because Tony can barely catch the sound.

“Idiot,” says Tony, “you’re going to be something one day, I swear.”

“Somebody important?” Loki says, and he chuckles, harsh and dark.

“No. A monster, I think. Here’s your origin story, Liesmith, and you’re not the good guy, not at all.”

“The world is not like that, Anthony. Not hero and villains, avengers and murderers. I think it’s more,” and Loki’s raises a hand, folding it against the side of Tony’s cheek, “liars, and everybody else.”

“Stop it, Loki,” Tony says, and the hand is cold, not the temperature of a human at all. “Don’t do this. I liked that silly little kid who didn’t want to help me with my personal science project, y’know. I think I still might like you now.”

“I love you,” Loki says.

“I don’t--”

“You’re mine, Stark. All this time. You embody my chaos, my godhood, my isolation. So go. Be a hero. Dance on your bridge between order and chaos, and I’ll wait for you to fall.” And Loki smiles, completely and utterly beautiful. Completely and utterly insane. “I’ll be seeing you, Anthony.”

Loki tilts his head upwards, presses his mouth to Tony’s forehead, fingernails digging into skin.

Then he melts away, and Tony tumbles down onto the cot, his left cheek stinging like hell.

Tony’s fingers go to his face, following the trail of blood. He laughs, sending tremors through his body, and he says, “Well, fuck.

#

The cell phone vibrates in his pocket, and Tony whips it out. “Yeah?”

“Stark,” Doctor Selvig says. “There’s-- there’s some metal creatures attacking us right now. Can you and your government friends..?”

“I got it,” Tony says, running to haul out the silver briefcase from under the cot. “I’ll be there.”

His hand lingers to his pocket. He’s got S.H.I.E.L.D. on speed dial, but -- no, he’s capable of stopping this. On his own.

In less than a minute, he’s finally suited up, glinting gold and red in the daylight. So, fuck secrecy. He takes off, streaking across the blue sky, and then he finds the battle: Thor’s friends from Asgard, shining with their armor and their swords, taking on what looks to be giant robots.

He’s kind of late -- Thor’s down, and a young woman is at his side, clutching at his hand. That must be his Lady Jane, Tony thinks, and he flies down, hoping that the guy’s not dead, Loki wouldn’t do that, right?

“Big guy!” he says, hoping that Thor’s friends can distract the metal monsters for the moment. “Are you okay?”

Jane raises her head, long brown hair falling onto her shoulders. Crap. She’s crying. “You’re -- you’re Iron Man,” she says.

“Yeah, that’s me. Tony Stark, nice to meetcha. Is he alright? Did that thing get to him?”

“It got him,” she says. “It--”

And then one of the metal giants is lunging, lunging at them both, and Tony holds an arm out and lets an orange blast fly from his palms. The dash of light doesn’t seems to slow down the thing at all, and Tony curses.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he says, and he’s panicking, his mind is in a jumble like the chaos is piercing into his skin, he can’t think straight -- should he shoot, should he tackle, should he run? It’s like somebody is whispering in the shell of his ear, like somebody is prying away at his not-heart, trying to peel it open--

Lightning rips the sky. Thunder rumbles -- something’s stirring, Tony thinks, and a hammer whistles through the air into an outstretched hand, and the man lying dead on the ground is a god.

“Go get ‘em, Thor,” Tony says, as the chaos in his head spins spins spins, and of course it hurts him of all people, of course Loki’s attacking him with a weird magic power, of course of course of course--

Shake it off.

Tony grinds his teeth together and brings out the big motherfucking guns out, finally. He soars up into the stormy sky, and topples the metal giants in his wake.

#

And then the story continues, and Loki and Thor disappear. This is Thor’s origin story, after all, and Tony’s not exactly sure what happened. Just that Thor ran after his brother, and now, that rainbow bridge of Thor’s doesn’t exist any more.

(“Let me come with you,” Tony had said, prepared to take off after the god.

“I have to face my brother myself, Man of Iron,” Thor had replied. “This is not your responsibility. And you are a Midgardian. It is unheard of, to take a mortal into the realm of gods. This is not your battle.”

And Tony had listened, just this time. Thor is Loki’s brother, and that means a lot of things. Loki didn’t stop when Tony had asked. Maybe for his brother. Maybe.)

“He’ll be back,” he says to Jane, laying a heavy metal hand on her shoulder. She has her neck craned to the setting sun, her eyes stubborn and desperate. “You’ll find him.”

“I will,” she says. Jane walks away, the orange light highlighting her slim shoulders, and Tony wishes that he could hold his head up as high as her.

#

The origin story of the Avengers Initiative is beginning, and it’s because of Thor. Captain America’s woken up from his long sleep in ice; the Hulk’s been found and roped along; Clint and Natasha are at their battle stations, waiting.

Tony spends most of his time designing the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, itching for action.

#

One month later, Tony takes a lazy stroll to a coffee shop, making sure that his dark sunglasses are intact. Pepper and Natasha have made it clear that he should not in any way force the staff to make or buy any beverages or snacks, because it obviously is an abuse of resources.

And the damned coffee machine is broken because of stupid Dummy, that useless bot.

So he sits outside in the coffee shop terrace, sipping on hot coffee and hoping that the paparazzi are not on the prowl. He’d picked a high-end place, known for the gourmet coffee and tea and pastries, but the prices aren’t bad so everyone of all sorts are free to come and go. It’s definitely not one of the inclusive restaurants that Tony is prone to frequenting.

“What happened with you and Thor?” Tony says, when Loki suddenly appears on the chair across from him. He doesn’t flinch. “Did you guys make up?”

Loki merely shakes his head, a crooked smile on his lips as he studies Tony.

He looks worse than last time.

“Stark,” Loki says, “I believe I owe you something. Proof.”

“Bravery,” Tony supplies.

“I am about to reclaim my glory,” Loki says. “Come with me, Stark. I have found powers that not even my father could fathom. In realms that not even he could reach.”

“No.”

“Let us talk,” Loki says, and easy as anything, his hand finds Tony and they’re walking down the streets of New York. “I do not wish to wait. You will fall, I am certain, but I cannot wait. The time is approaching.”

“To what?” Tony says. “What king will you try to usurp this time? I’m not going to help you, Loki.” He takes a swig of coffee, feeling the bitterness hit his tongue. “I’m going to stop you.”

“Stark--”

Tony grins. “I’ve fought my share of villains, Loki. I know Obadiah Stane and Ivan Vanko and Justin Hammer. They all tried to make their way to their top, and I knocked ‘em down. You’re next, Liesmith.” He tosses his coffee cup into a nearby trash can, not breaking eye contact with Loki.

And Tony smiles, and kisses Loki firmly on the lips, pulling the god closer with one hand. And predictably, Loki kisses back.

I love you, Loki had said.

Tony’s other hand drifts towards his pocket, brushing against his cell phone.

Gotcha.

#


Your truths, painful and boring
repeat themselves over & over
perhaps because you own
so few of them

----”We are Hard on Each Other”, Margaret Atwood.