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The Only Constant is Change

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Bruce stared at the doors of the high school as other students passed him by. He hadn't been in a school for over 8 months and hoped this time, things would be better. With a sigh, he unfolded the schedule in his hands and looked it over. Tony said they'd have a class together, but he never found out which one because, as usual, Tony changed the subject. He hoped it was more than just the one. He’d never gone to a school where the classes were divided up by the days, and despite being a sophomore, starting a new school was always… well, awkward.

Looking over the list, he had three classes for the day—someone bumped him as they passed and Bruce stumbled forward as he caught a flash of red hair and a familiar smirk. Natasha kept walking, Clint at her side as Bruce chuckled quietly to himself and followed from a distance. He wondered though why she’d cut her hair short. She’d looked lovely during the summer with her long, curly hair.

An arm grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him off of the sidewalk. “Bruce!”

“Tony!” Bruce grinned and laughed.

“So, guess what?”

“Yes?”

“I get to be your guide for today and tomorrow! This means I get to cut part of my classes to drag you around the school and make sure you don’t get lost.” He looked quite proud of himself; probably talked his way into the position.

“Aw, buddy, you shouldn’t have!”

“Tony!” a blonde called and ran up. “You forgot your phone at my place last night,” she handed it over. “Oh, hi Bruce.”

“Pepper.” Bruce nodded to her then threw a look to Tony, who returned one that told him not to ask. He knew they’d broken up this last spring, but they still hung out from time to time.

“I guess I should be glad that Jarvis actually likes me.” She smirked.

Tony made a sound of disbelief. “He unlocked it for you?! Bad Jarvis!” he snapped at the phone.

“You gave her security clearance, sir,” a British accent chirped from the phone.

“MUTE,” Tony growled and shoved the phone in his pocket.

“I was just making sure you went to your doctor appointments,” Pepper told him with a smile and moved closer to hug him. “I wish you’d stop pretending you’re perfect.”

“But I am perfect,” Tony told her with a smirk as they pulled apart.

Pepper rolled her eyes and looked to Bruce. “He thinks that attitude is appealing.” Bruce just shook his head with a smile as Tony tried to convince Pepper. It was a losing battle.

“Ready to join the sheep?” Tony clapped him on the shoulder.

“Don’t listen to him, Bruce. Just be yourself and you’ll be fine. I’ll see you later,” she said and left them to join the stream of students heading inside.

“Well then, shall we?” Tony gestured at the door, and led Bruce inside. “Oh, how convenient! Here we have our trophy cases and such, mostly for sports, but I had the science ones moved up so everyone could admire my lovely face!” Tony gestured toward one that looked dedicated to showing off the awards he and other students had won for the school.

“I suppose you get to take them when you leave?”

“I think I’ll donate them.” Tony shrugged. “I’m not selfish.”

“Right.”

“Aaaand the sports ones! We’re kicking some pretty major ass in soccer so far. I think it’s all due to Steve.”

“Steve…?”

“Rogers.”

The name sounded familiar. “Isn’t that the skinny kid I met a few summers ago who lived near you? I liked hanging out with him. But tell me how he is kicking ass?”

“Ah, you remember him! He may have been skinny, but I’m sure you remember he was always a bit heroic.” Tony gestured to follow as he led Bruce to the soccer trophies and pointed at one of the pictures. “He had a bit of a growth spurt since then.”

Bruce stepped closer and then stared at the picture Tony’s finger hovered over. “You’re kidding.”

“No jokes here,” a new voice interrupted them.

The two spun to see the soccer captain himself standing with his arms crossed. Bruce couldn’t believe his eyes. The scrawny kid he’d met was gone, replaced by a tall, muscular and handsome young man. There was no way this was the same guy. This had to be a prank Tony was pulling on him.

“Hey, I remember you.” Steve pointed at Bruce. “We met at Tony’s place during middle school, right?”

Bruce could only nod. He couldn’t believe it. It really was the same voice, albeit a bit deeper.

Tony put an arm around Bruce. “Bruce, my best friend. You remember Steve, right?”

“Yeah,” Bruce croaked and cleared his throat. “Good to, uh, good to see you again.”

“Likewise.” Steve nodded. “Looking to join the team?”

“Oh, god no.”

“Bruce is more of a sit and tinker guy more than run and kick. Like me!” Tony grinned.

Steve laughed. “Well, are you going to come watch try-outs anyway? You always have a good eye.”

“Sure, I’ll be there. I’ll bring Bruce to assist.”

“Whatever, genius.” Steve waved as he turned to go. “I’ll see you later. Nice seeing you again Bruce.”

“Likewise.” Bruce returned the wave.

“Won’t miss it!” Tony called.

Bruce watched Steve walk away. Okay, he wasn’t watching the walking so much as he was staring at Steve’s ass. So what? He turned to Tony, his cheeks warm. “That’s him!? That’s…”

“Kind of amazing right?”

“I’ll say. He looks nothing like he used to. I mean, I only saw him a few times, but…”

“You liked him, right?”

Bruce nodded. “I can’t believe the change. Did you do some sort of experiment on him?”

Tony laughed. “No, Steve was a bit of a late bloomer.” Tony glanced at the young man who was at the doors now. “And boy did he bloom…”

“Yeah, I can—wait, what?”

“Oooooh dear.” Tony smirked and Bruce realized what he’d done.

“Kill me now,” he pleaded.

“Can’t. Watching this happen is just too damn much fun.” His attention shifted suddenly. “Natasha! And what are you doing here?” Tony looked to Clint who ignored him.

“What’s wrong with him?” Natasha asked.

“Nothing!” Bruce replied.

“Nervous?”

“Yeah, you could say that.”

“Yeah, about his—OW!” Tony coughed as Bruce’s elbow jammed into his side.

“Let me see your schedule,” Natasha offered as Bruce handed it over. “Well, we have Calculus together this morning, so you’ll be totally fine. Would you like to walk with me so you can get rid of captain inept here?”

“I think the word you’re looking for is adept?”

Natasha took Bruce’s arm and led him away. “I think you’ll like it here.”

“Really?”

“I’M STILL HERE!!” Tony yelled from ten feet away as they laughed and kept walking.

“Are we going toward the math department?” Bruce asked as the sound of Tony huffing faded.

“Yes.”

“Good, because Tony only showed me his trophies.”

“Are you in any way surprised by this?”

Bruce snorted and earned a grin from her. And that was when he noticed. “People are staring at us.”

“Probably surprised that you’re on my hip instead of Clint.”

“Are you popular?”

“Define popular.”

“Um…”

“Here we are!” Natasha led them into a room and shoved Bruce in the desk just inside the door and took the one behind his, the last in the row.

“Why here? I like sitting up front.”

“Easier escape route.”

“Again with the escape routes.”

“What? I have habits.” She smiled innocently. Bruce had learned over the summer that she and Clint had self preservation first on their minds, a practice they picked up from being incorrigible pranksters. Every time they walked into a room, they chose a seat for ease of escape or to have their backs to a wall. Tony sometimes overrode their decision based on reasons.

“Are you flirting with me, Natasha?” he teased as a group of entering students stopped and stared.

“Maybe,” she smiled sweetly as the teens moved, hissing back and forth at one another. “Getting into rumors on your first day. Congratulations.”

“Exactly what I need.” Bruce turned to face forward as the bell rang and class began.

It all went much smoother than expected. There were the usual first day introductions, but with the schedule being as it was, they started right in on the book. The second hour of the class was given to the students for studying. Bruce and Natasha did the homework together so they wouldn’t have to do it later. At least half the class followed their example, the other half gossiping instead.

Bruce parted from her after class as Tony picked him up and whisked him off to the English department where he had his class with Pepper. After that, lunch went much different than he’d expected. Instead of eating in the cafeteria, the group met others outside and they sat at a group of picnic tables, chatting and eating. Tony made sure to introduce Bruce to everyone as Pepper and Steve had brought friends along. Bruce wondered if things always went this well when Tony was involved.

“Do you always eat outside?”

“When it’s not raining,” Steve answered from where he lay on the grass.

“What do you do when it’s raining then?”

“Hm, we usually split up. My friends and I eat in the gym then play some basketball. Tony joins sometimes.”

“Pepper has a mean throw,” Tony piped up with a grin as she rolled her eyes.

“Or we drive to a restaurant,” Natasha offered. “What did you do before?”

“Sat by myself in the corner.”

“Were you ousted as a geek?” one of Steve’s friends asked.

“Yeah.”

“Well, we’re all geeks here, so don’t worry about that.”

Steve smiled so Bruce returned it, until he saw Tony’s smirk. Bastard.

After lunch, Bruce had his Chinese class, in which he knew no one. He was a bit bored, but he didn’t mind. His friends were all over so he could handle one class on his own. Once the school day was done, he felt much better. All of his classes had gone smoothly, and he had friends who actually liked his company. He felt like he’d worried all for nothing, but maybe that was a good thing.

“Move it, pipsqueak,” was his only warning as someone behind him shoved him to the side and into the row of lockers. Bruce winced as his elbow hit one of the locks and glanced to the side to see a group of taller guys glare as they walked past. He could have sworn he heard the word ‘leech’ from them as he shifted to lean back on the lockers, cradling his elbow.

“Hey!” Tony came around the corner and jogged up. “Ready to watch practice? What’s wrong?”

Bruce smiled. “Nothing, just hit my elbow.”

“Ouch. Funny bone?” He put an arm around Bruce to lead him away. “Listen, tryouts don’t take long, but I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.”

“Why do you have to put your arm around me?” Bruce grumbled.

Tony grinned. “Am I ruining your chances with someone?”

“No!”

Tony hummed happily then said quietly, “Trust me; I’m not here to ruin it for you. I think you and Steve would look very cute together.”

Bruce held his tongue as they exited the building. Denying his immediate fondness for Steve would have made Tony tease him that much more. He just let Tony steer him to the fields and up onto the bleachers where he was deposited next to Natasha, and also Clint who was nearby dozing a few rows down. He then watched as Tony went down to the side of the field and talked to Steve.

“Tony has a keen eye, is what Steve told me.”

Bruce raised an eyebrow at her. “How so?”

“He’s painfully honest as to who is actually good at what they’re doing.”

“You mean he has no brain to mouth filter.”

“Exactly. So, how was your day?”

“Not bad.” He rubbed his elbow, thinking back on what had happened just before he came outside.

“You’ll get used to it,” she said as he nodded. “So how did he convince you to come out?”

“He thinks Steve and I will make a wonderful couple,” Bruce joked.

Clint snorted. “Get in line,” he said as he pointed at a group of girls off to the side of the field—with his eyes closed.

“I didn’t know you liked him,” Natasha bumped her shoulder with his.

“I met him once before, but I don’t even know him.” Bruce shrugged.

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll get the chance.”

The next morning after his first class, Bruce grabbed Natasha and pulled her into a corner. “HE’S IN MY GYM CLASS.”

She blinked. “What?”

“Steve is in my gym class,” he hissed. “Why is he in my gym class? Why does someone that perfect have to be in my gym class?”

“Good question, because we put him in your history class.”

His panic disappeared. “What do you mean by that?”

Natasha smiled. “We hacked into the system and made sure one of each of us had a class with you.”

“Why?”

“Tony told us to.”

His heart dropped a little. “He didn’t believe in me?”

“No, no Bruce. He wanted to make sure you were comfortable. He said you had a really hard time at your last school and we wanted to help.”

“It’s true, I did.” He sighed. It seemed like a nice thing to do.

“But Bruce, I still don’t know why we’re doing this…”

“I’ll tell you soon Nat. I promise.” He smiled and she didn’t seem pleased by the answer. “Then you can tell me why you cut your hair.”

That brought her eyes back, sharply. “Sounds like a fair trade.”

“Good.” He nodded as they moved apart and he headed away for his history class. On the one hand, he was glad Steve wasn’t in his history class. It kept him from getting distracted. On the other hand…

Bruce let his head fall against the desk once he got to the classroom. Gym class. Of all the things Tony would do to him. Why? As the bell rang, Bruce sat up and noticed the classroom was blessedly clear of his friends, save a few people he recognized from other classes. Somehow it was comforting to know that after suffering through gym watching Steve sweat—augh no—running and being active, he would have a class without anyone to tease or taunt him about it.

“Hi.”

Bruce glanced over to see a browned haired girl sitting next to him. “Hi.”

“I’m Darcy.”

“Bruce.” They shook hands.

“So, how come you hang out with Natasha so much?”

Bruce smiled at her straightforward manner. “I met her during the summer, so she’s one of the only people I know here.”

“Then you should know about how whipped Clint is for her.”

He laughed. “I wouldn’t say whipped, but they are pretty inseparable.”

“Oh, good. Most guys crush wildly on her the first day. Let her borrow my tazer one time,” she told him with a grin.

“Oh, no. I have no interest in Natasha.” Or any other girls for that matter, he thought.

“Just be careful. I heard she got him in trouble just before classes started. He must be really devoted to still be with her despite that.”

Bruce frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t know the details, but there were rumors about her blabbering something to Fury,” Darcy told him as class started.

Bruce sat back and thought on it. That didn’t sound like her. As to Clint being whipped, well, Clint tended to do whatever he wanted, as long as he got her approval, and vice versa. Classic soul mates if he’d ever seen a set. He shook his head and sat up to listen to the teacher. Whatever was going on, he would find out eventually.

Once that class block was done, Bruce felt better. He’d let himself get lost in early American history and was now heading to his Professional Cooking class. Now this was something he might find a challenge.

He walked into the room lined with high tables and thought it to look similar to his old chemistry classroom. Maybe it had been converted, he thought as he took a stool at one of the tables near the window. A hand hit his shoulder as Tony took the spot next to him and grinned.

“This is the class?”

“Yep!”

“Cooking? You’re kidding.”

Tony just gave him a look and shrugged before resting his chin in his hands, swinging his feet off the stool. “I just figured I should learn how to cook properly. You know, living alone and all.”

“Oh.” Bruce suddenly felt like an idiot. All summer, more often than not, Tony came over to eat with Bruce’s family. When Tony had invited him over, they’d looked up random recipes and proceeded to destroy the kitchen every time, mostly on purpose. His maid often helped clean up the next day, but Tony seemed to really like the cooking adventures, even if Pepper found it immature.

“Mr. Stark.”

“Yes, Mrs. Bingley!” Tony sat up as the teacher walked into the room with an armful of books.

“I trust you won’t bring one of your contraptions to class to destroy whatever we plan to bake?”

“Perish the thought!” he answered with a grin. Bruce raised a curious eyebrow as Tony explained quietly, “Let’s just say I was overzealous last semester.”

“What did you do?”

“Don’t worry, it’s part of Mrs. Bingley’s safety spiel, which she’ll get to later on.”

Tony wasn’t wrong. By the end of class, Bruce’s morning worries were entirely gone and they were laughing as they walked out the door.

“So, I’ll probably see you tomorrow.”

“Wait, what?” Bruce stopped with Tony on the side of the hallway.

“I have a class at the university. You’ll be safe in Chemistry, right?”

“I always wear my goggles. Have fun.”

“Making adults feel stupid? Always!”

 

~**~

 

Seat in the front or seat in the back? This was an important decision for Tony as he considered his choices from just inside the door.

Oh, wait just a minute. Tony’s eyes followed a black haired young man entering the room and take a seat at the front corner of the room. Interesting. Tony took the seat next to the door, the corner furthest from the young man. It was easier to observe people from further away. He’d learned that from Legolas—er, Clint.

The young man that had caught his interest was tall, wore mostly black save the dark green t-shirt with gold writing under his leather jacket, and had longish black hair slicked back. Not a hairstyle Tony was likely to try, but it seemed to suit the guy. He carried himself with an air that said he was better than everyone, and Tony respected that. He also couldn’t miss the British accent when the young man spoke to another classmate. Now, would this guy be a good addition to his current friend pool, or would he be an asshole that needed to be knocked off his pedestal?

Tony sat back and waited as the class started. The professor went through the usual spiel of what the class was about and then took roll. Tony got the usual stares when his name was called. He acted normal, like the genius he was. No need to let them think any different.

The young man he’d been watching answered to the name Loki. Interesting. Tony wondered how high his parents had been when they named him. Loki looked very disinterested through the entire class introduction. Tony didn’t even remember his name registering for Loki when it was called. More and more interesting!

Tony’s phone buzzed. [Spill.]

He smirked. [Patience]

[Not likely for either of us.]

The first class turned out to be very informal, and the professor asked each student why they were taking the class. When they got to Tony, he rattled off how he was interested in robotics and developing clean energy, as his father had been doing. He left the bit about his father out though; he didn’t like bringing that up. Though when he spoke, it was the first time Loki looked up from scribbling in his notebook. The only other time was when Loki mentioned taking the class to learn how things worked and were developed. So humble! There had to be another reason. And the way he spoke, like some old fashioned gentleman, sparked Tony’s curiosity. Was it considered stalking if he just wanted to be an informed individual?

The professor then talked about what they would cover in the course and boring, boring, boring. Tony stopped paying attention.

[Well?]

[I think you’d like him]

[Him? Not her? Very interesting.]

[Well, not more than Clint of course]

[Of course. Tell me more.]

[I find it more interesting that you’re interested in my interests]

[Can’t say I’m surprised by it. You are you.]

[I am me, aren’t I?]

[Rolling my eyes hard right now, just so you know.]

[What can I say, I’m an equal opportunity interest kind of guy]

[You never told me that.]

Tony smirked. [You never asked]

Tony’s attention shifted as the professor said they would get started on Friday and let them all go. The urge to bother Loki arose and Tony found himself following the young man out the building.

“Hey!”

Loki didn’t stop. In fact, he could swear that the guy sped up. Tony wouldn’t stand for that.

“Yo! Slick!”

Loki glanced back at him.

“Yes, you!”

“You have got to be joking.” He stopped with an exasperated sigh as Tony caught up. This guy was really tall, around 6’2” maybe?

“So what’s with the accent and speech pattern? You can’t possibly be that old fashioned?”

Loki pinched the bridge of his nose. “It is no concern of yours.”

“It’s quaint!”

“It is part of a wager.”

Tony’s eyebrows shot up. He wasn’t expecting that. “Really? With whom?”

“My brother, if you must know. Now if you will excuse me…”

“But how will he know if you talk like a normal person?” Tony walked alongside Loki. Damn this guy was taking long strides. Hm, long legs mean… Tony cut that thought off.

“For someone who is considered so smart, you really are quite dense.”

“Did I miss something? Drama club bet?”

“Everyone on campus knows about our agreement. Did you just transfer?”

“Nah, I’m from the high school.”

“Oh, bloody…” Loki stopped short and took a breath to calm himself, then turned to leave. “Go away.”

“Nope! We’re classmates!” Tony chased him again, determined. To what end though, he wasn’t really sure yet.

“Not outside of the actual class!”

“Your accent is amazing.”

“It is real, I assure you.”

“What does your brother sound like?”

“An imbecile.”

“I bet you’re biased.”

“I could not agree more.” Loki stopped and held up a hand before Tony could speak. “For the love of god, leave me alone. I have no interest in your petty rich kid amusement or snide remarks to vex me.” He turned on his heel and walked away.

“See you Friday!” Tony called with a wave and slipped his sunglasses on as he walked in the opposite direction. Having someone new to pester always made him excited. He needed to call Bruce.

 

~***~

Chapter Text

The rest of the week went quickly and before he knew it, Bruce was in the school office, sitting with Principal Fury and Counselor Coulson (who looked vaguely familiar). Though, the placard on the desk said ‘Director Fury’ and Bruce wondered if he’d actually heard anyone call him the principal.

“You’re fitting in well from what we’ve heard from Tony,” Fury said as he looked over a piece of paper. Bruce wondered if they’d somehow debriefed Tony and made him write a report. “Your classes are going well?”

“As well as can be expected only having four days of class,” Bruce answered. There was silence that turned awkward as Fury stared at him. Was that a smart answer?

Bruce had a pretty good idea that they both knew about what had happened at his old school and tried his best not to fidget in his seat. He needed to seem confident and had made sure not to mention the small incidents he’d had. He hadn’t even told Tony about those. But he figured they would just fade away, especially with all of the friends he had around him. Most bullies wouldn’t bother if other people were there to make it difficult. Despite his confidence in this, the entire meeting still made him nervous.

“Well, I don’t see why this needs to go on any longer. Bruce, just make sure to see Counselor Coulson if you need to. He’s usually in his office during school hours.” That sounded like a dismissal if there ever was one, so Bruce stood.

“If you need anything, just ask,” the counselor added as he shook of Bruce’s hand.

“I will, sir.” Bruce gave him a nervous smile as he left. It was nice to know they were looking out for him—and probably the school’s reputation. He wondered if Tony had thought about that when he’d managed to get him into the school. It didn’t matter now. All he had to do was keep his anger under control and—

Someone grabbed him from behind and shoved him into the bathroom door. Bruce hit it, bursting through to find the room empty and was then shoved from behind to fall into the corner. Ow. He groaned as he cradled his arm, which had hit the ground first. Well, at least it was the other arm this time. He turned to look up and saw three guys, two he recognized as the ones that had been hitting and shoving him in the halls the past few days.

“What’s going on?”

They didn’t say a word as they advanced and the tallest grabbed the front of Bruce’s shirt. Bruce held up his arms to cover his face. If he protected himself and didn’t fight back, he wouldn’t get mad, right? It was crazy to hope that everyone would be safe with this plan, save himself.

“Watcha doin’?”

The bullies all spun where they stood and Bruce peeked out from between his arms to see Natasha leaning against the wall, just inside the door, carefully inspecting her nails.

“What the hell do you want?” the one holding him asked.

“I asked you a question,” she replied as her dark eyes caught theirs.

The boys froze, unsure how to respond before the tallest spoke. “Let’s get outta here.” He let go of Bruce’s shirt as they walked away and out of the room.

Natasha muttered under her breath and rolled her eyes before looking over at Bruce. After a moment of hesitation, he stood, waiting for her to say something. She moved closer and their eyes met. Would she say it? Would she say how pathetic he was being?

“Are you hurt?”

Bruce took a breath to calm himself. “I’m… okay.”

“Do you want me to do something?” She cocked an eyebrow up.

“That’s not really necessary.” He stood warily. “What are you doing in here?”

She smirked and glanced at one of the stalls as the toilet flushed and the door slammed open. Out walked Clint and he flashed a grin as he went to wash his hands.

“Do you need her to hold your hand while you pee?” Bruce asked, the amusement overshadowing his nervousness.

“Hey, it’s not my fault she follows me everywhere.”

“I just like to see the looks on their faces when I’m in the boys’ room, that’s all,” she said happily with a shrug.

“You see? She’s happy, everyone’s happy. Are you happy?”

Bruce snorted. “Now I am.”

“Good. Let’s go get food,” Clint said as he wrapped one of his huge arms around Bruce’s shoulders, “And complain about bullies, shall we?”

And that was how Bruce let himself be dragged to a burger joint with the two, laughing like it was summer again. They were talking about Natasha’s screw up in drama class before she finally changed the subject.

She took a sip of her soda. “So, why did you let them bully you?”

“Damn, straight away from her to me,” Bruce muttered and threw down the fries he’d picked up.

“It’s a legitimate question.”

“Just…” Bruce sat up as he spotted Tony getting out of his car in the parking lot. “Just promise you won’t tell Tony.”

“Bruce,” Clint warned.

“Please. He’ll be so damn mad at me!” he hissed before he sat back and grinned. “Heeey!”

“I got a text implying you were all having fun without me, which is impossible!” Tony slid into the seat next to Bruce. “I am the fun, right?”

“I thought you were made of awesome,” Bruce replied amused.

“Well, there is that!” He looked pleased with himself. Bruce knew he shouldn’t enjoy this, but watching Tony’s ego swell was too fun.

“Literally,” Natasha said with a smirk, glancing at his chest.

“No, that’s just energy, which is also awesome.” He chuckled. “So what did I miss?”

“Not much. Just making sure Bruce is adjusting.”

“Yes, we wouldn’t want our baby to be uncomfortable.” Tony put an arm around Bruce and pulled him in close and tight. “Right?”

Bruce grimaced. “Please let go of me.”

“Oh my god, I didn’t tell you guys yet!” Tony let go of Bruce and pushed him away to lean over the table. “I’ve found my reason for living.”

Natasha stared at him for a moment. “World peace?”

“His name is Loki, and I cannot stop bothering him.” Tony grinned and rubbed his hands together as Clint snorted and Natasha cocked her head to the side, a smile playing on her lips. “He’s in my engineering class and I completely owned him today.” Tony smacked his hand on the table and leaned back, pleased with himself.

“He was wrong about something and you rubbed it in his face, didn’t you?” she asked as she shook her head.

“Did you even need to ask? You should have seen his face. The horror!” Tony snickered to himself. “I had Jarvis take a picture. Wanna see?”

“No one should have to suffer your ego without their consent,” Bruce told him.

“Are you willing to suffer for the moment?” Tony asked very seriously.

“I guess I can give my consent…” Bruce shook his cup to hear only ice and frowned.

“Oh, and this guy is hot! Like glaring icy daggers hot!”

“Tony, that’s contradictory.”

“He’s so cold, he’s hot. Just—just trust me on this!”

“I guess I’m going to have to,” Bruce said as he shoved Tony out of the booth. “I need a refill,” he said as he wandered away.

Tony watched him go for a moment before leaning over the table. “So, tell me what happened. Really.”

Natasha shrugged. “He was bullied.”

Tony hissed and sat down again. “Should we…?”

“He’s trying Tony. It’s only his first week! They’ll get used to him being in with us. We are a kind of clique after all…”

“Yeah, man! Give him some time!” Clint agreed. “He’ll get over the awkward phase.”

“Just keep an eye on him for me?”

“If you’d tell us why we hung out so much over the summer and why we’re doing this now…” Natasha trailed off with a smile as Bruce returned.

“That will just have to wait, young lady,” Tony said as he stood to let Bruce into the booth again. “Well, I’m off.”

“What? Already?” Bruce asked.

“I’ve got work to do.” He put on his sunglasses with a grin. “College students don’t stalk themselves!”

There was a collective groan from the table. “Someone tell me he’s kidding,” Clint muttered.

Tony leaned down and tapped his chest. “Doc and I are meeting to think of refinements.” He stood with a smile at Bruce. “I’ll text you later,” he said with a wave and turned to leave.

“Is that a promise or a threat?”

“Both!”

 

~**~

 

“You would know about that better than I,” the doctor said with a shake of his head.

“Well, you know more about the medical stuff, so I’m still relying on you here,” Tony said as he stood back from the computer screen. Technically, he’d lied to his friends last night. Instead of meeting with the doctor, he worked on something a bit more personal, and met the doctor this morning. “Though Jarvis is catching up with you.”

“Indeed,” he eyed Tony’s laptop. “I bet the hospital would like one of those.”

“Nah, you wouldn’t want Jarvis.” Tony waved his hand as he paced away. “Too much personality! He’d insult one of your patients and then you’d have a lawsuit and everyone would be unhappy.”

“You have a point.”

“Of course I do!” Tony sighed. “I’ll make the adjustments and check in with you next month. By then the unit will be ready.”

“Are you sure you want to wait that long?”

“Well, from what we’ve seen, the damn thing is doing pretty well!” Tony grinned, tapping the metal embedded in his chest.

“But are you feeling okay?” The doctor tilted his head.

“What do you mean? I feel great!”

“I don’t just mean physically.”

“Oh, come on, doc. Don’t be like that.”

“I’m serious Tony.” He put up a hand to silence Tony before he could speak. “I know, you think it’s not important, but you should really talk to someone about this.”

“I’m not talking to a grief counselor. They’re creepy,” Tony said with a shudder as the doctor chuckled. “And I already have Coulson. But honestly doc, I have been talking. To my friends.” He sighed and sat on a stool when the doctor gave him a serious look. “I wouldn’t—well, couldn’t—lie to Bruce anyway. Not after what he’s been through.”

The doctor hummed. “You know, I saw the boy.”

“Bruce?”

“No, the other one.”

“Oh.”

“I’m glad he’s had someone to talk to.”

Tony smiled to himself. “You and me both.”

 

~**~

 

“I’ll meet you at the bleachers,” Bruce told Natasha.

“Where are you going?”

“Uuuh…” Yeah, that didn’t sound suspicious at all.

She crossed her arms.

“Gotta get my stuff then meet with one of my teachers. I’ll see you there,” Bruce told her and turned away before she could protest. Maybe he should talk to her, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

His second week at school was going about as well as the first. Bruce was falling into a pattern. The pattern was having figured out the hallways and such to avoid his bullies. Unfortunately, they were a bit more persistent than he thought they would be. Usually, if the going got tough, they just went on to the next kid to pick on, but these guys really had something against him. He couldn’t figure out why. Everyone in the school was smart, even the bullies. They had to be pulling damn good grades to get in. Why pick on him?

Skipping around the areas he knew they liked to wait, Bruce got to his locker and switched out his books for his homework. Quickly, he slammed the locker and took off toward the field. Maybe he could get there before Natasha. He could think up ways to start the conversation; get ideas from her on how to get rid of the bullies.

He climbed up the mostly empty bleachers and picked a spot before settling down with his homework.

“Here you are.”

Bruce looked up as Tony picked his way up to where Bruce sat. “Where have you been? You told me to meet you here after school.”

Tony sat down next to him. “Was getting back from the college. It is Monday, you know.”

“Why do you bother coming back? Why not just go home?”

“Why would I leave you without a ride? I already called your parents.”

Oh, right. Tony was supposed to give him rides when he could. “You really don’t have to.”

“No, they shouldn’t have to waste the gas.”

Bruce sighed and looked out to the field, his eyes following a particular player. “Why do you want to give me so much, Tony? You don’t have to.”

“Of course I do. You’re my best friend.”

“Yeah, but the tuition?”

“You deserve something better.”

Bruce tilted his head, glancing over. “Are you lonely?”

Tony picked at his nails. “It’s not an impossibility.”

“Why didn’t you say so?”

“Do you want to come live with me? I mean, it would be easier. Then we could just drive back and forth instead of me driving all the way to your place to get you in the morning. And we wouldn’t have to get up nearly so early.”

“You could have asked over the summer.”

“Dinner wouldn’t be microwaved…”

Bruce smiled and put his arm around Tony. “Are you really that bad at cooking?”

“We could practice.” He grinned.

“I’ll ask my parents when I get home.”

“Thanks.” Tony shifted out of Bruce’s arm. “Now, stop flirting and look single.”

“Uh…”

“I asked to meet here after school for reasons and I’m going to keep it that way,” he said as he stretched out along the bench and put his arms under his head. “I made sure you had a good view so enjoy it.”

“You…”

“Observant, awesome person?”

“Brat.”

“Love you too, bestie.”

Bruce went back to his homework, glancing up every once in a while to see how the practice was going. He noticed Clint was on the field warming up with everyone else and wondered where Natasha was.

“And you still got here before me.” Speak of the devil.

“I told you I’d meet you here.”

She sat next to Bruce. “So, do you really like him?”

Bruce watched the team split into two, Steve and Clint on the same team. “I’m not even sure I know him well enough to like him.”

“Steve is a great guy Bruce, but I’m not sure you two would work out. His home life was a bit crappy recently. His parents divorced and his dad was a huge jerk about him being what he considered a wimp.”

“What does that have to do with me?”

“I don’t know if you’d be able to relate.”

“Ah.” Bruce said half-listening as the two on the field shared a high five. “I have met him before though. This was a while back though, before I had a real interest in anything besides blowing things up in Tony’s lab.”

“True.”

“And he doesn’t seem like a vain person. He seems to be more interested in people he can get along with than popularity.”

Natasha smiled. “Noticed that, did you?”

“He keeps picking me for his teams in gym class,” Bruce admitted. “I told him I would probably guarantee a loss, but he just said he’d rather have friends on his side and have fun than win.”

“So noble!” She rolled her eyes in amusement.

“I can tell you we won dodge ball, mostly because I kept dodging and he kept throwing.”

“Have you talked?”

“Not really. I tend to shower really fast, and then bolt,” he admitted as she laughed. “Well, at least I’m not staring at him in the shower!”

“You’re so cute, Bruce.”

“Hey! He’s mine to make fun of, you hear me?” Tony snapped from where he was pretending to sleep.

“So how was your college class?” she teased.

“It was fine.”

“Ooooooh,” the two teased as Tony sat up.

“What was that for?”

“You haven’t said anything about that Loki guy. Did you fail to get his attention?”

“He has been very… amiable.”

“Didn’t you say you two were partners in class?” Bruce asked.

“Yes, and he’s much too good at ignoring my jabs. I have to assume the brother he has must do the same thing and he has practice at this.”

“The guy will crack soon,” Bruce whispered to Natasha, turning his attention to the field where members were switched out. Steve and Clint were called to the sideline.

“Hey! Wanna go get food after we’re done?” Clint called from the other side of the fence when he was switched out.

“We have homework,” Tony answered and stood.

“You do?” Natasha stood and stretched.

“I don’t care if you don’t believe me because I have things to do, like clean out a bedroom. Come on Bruce, I’ll take you home.”

Bruce shoved his things into his bag with a glance to Steve and caught his eyes. Nervously, he checked his bag to make sure he had everything, and to keep Tony from teasing him. When he looked up again, Mr. Coulson was talking to Steve, giving him advice and Bruce realized he was the coach.

“Was Coulson always the coach?” he asked as he followed Tony away.

“He was when I started here.” Tony shrugged. “He’s been like a dad to Steve, whose dad is kind of an asshole, so you can’t really get much worse.”

“So I heard.”

“Also, I disagree with Natasha. You two would be great together.”

“Can we stop with the meeting on the bleachers? I don’t need a matchmaker.”

Tony looked scandalized. “Would I do that?!”

“Yes.”

“You’re so accepting.” Tony patted his cheek before moving around to the driver’s side of his car. “Let’s get one thing straight though. When you’re finally married, I still get to steal you for science.”

“Just take me home!”

 

~***~

Chapter Text

“This is bigger than my room at home.” Much bigger, Bruce thought as he cast his eyes around the room, wondering what in the world he would possibly fill it with. Not that he would, seeing as this was only temporary. Or was it?

“You’ll live.” Tony grinned and clapped his shoulder. “Thanks for agreeing to this.”

“Hey, I don’t want you to feel alone. But remember, family meals on Wednesdays and Sundays.”

“As if I don’t already love your mother’s cooking,” Tony scoffed and walked into the room, gesturing for Bruce to follow. “I would come live with you, but I don’t think your mom would like it if I wired Jarvis into every room. Or blew up things in your basement.”

“No she wouldn’t!” Bruce laughed and tossed his bag onto the bed. “I hope I don’t get too used to this.”

“You’re welcome. Now, you already know your passcodes and everything?” he asked and Bruce nodded as the doorbell rang. “Good.”

“Ms. Potts is in the entry.”

“Hooray!” Tony mocked as they left the room to go and greet her. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

“My mother wanted me to make sure Bruce was getting comfortable and sent me over with casserole.” She held up the platter. “Still warm, even.”

“Then on to the next order of business—food!”

And with that, the three sat down to the feast. They talked mostly about class and when finished, Pepper helped them clean up before leaving. Tony saw her off, like the gentleman he thought himself to be and Bruce retired to his new room to get used to it and finish his homework. By the time he was ready for bed, he thought he should at least say goodnight to Tony.

He searched the main rooms before it hit him. “Um, Jarvis, where is Tony?”

“He is in his workshop downstairs, sir.”

“Thanks.” Bruce headed to the stairs and made his way down. It wasn’t a small workshop, but an entire floor where Tony worked on all sorts of things from the cars that he and his dad had restored, to tinkering with all sorts of hardware, like the Stark Industries phones he’d ‘upgraded’ and given to his friends. Tonight, Tony was tinkering with a robot that Bruce could see through the glass as he typed his code to enter.

“Hey.”

“Yo,” Tony answered without looking up.

“I’m heading to bed.”

“Okay.”

“You probably should too.”

“Nah, I’m still wide awake.”

“How much sleep do you usually get?”

Tony sat back, taking a breath as his eyes rolled skyward and he thought. “I think about… four hours.”

“Is that good?”

“I don’t think it’s necessarily bad. I don’t feel tired when I get up,” he said as he went back to what he was doing, Bruce watching his progress. “I was always wired to be like this; just don’t need as much sleep.”

“Considering your brain doesn’t work like everyone else’s, that’s probably true.” He sighed and shook his head as he started back toward the stairs. “Well, have fun. I’m going to sleep.”

“Bruce.”

“Yeah?” he turned back to see Tony looking back at him.

“Thanks. For coming. It’s, uh, it’s nice to have someone saying goodnight again.”

Bruce returned to Tony to pull him into a hug. “No problem.”

As much as Tony put on a front with his confidence, Bruce understood. And as he got into bed and set his glasses aside, he was glad that Tony had confided at least this much to him. It made him feel better about how Tony was feeling. As long as his friend still trusted him to tell him such things, he wouldn’t worry so much.

 

~**~

 

“Can you believe they decided to let us all tour the university? And the entire school, not just the juniors.” Natasha said from just behind Bruce, who was watching the fountain in the quad move. It was impressive.

“Well, they want our money, you know that,” Clint answered, then joined Bruce. “I thought they only had these in Vegas.”

“I think this is the one Tony’s parents donated,” Bruce told the two as they hummed in understanding. “I just can’t believe today ended up being an entire day of goofing off on the campus.”

“Don’t lie, Bruce. You liked the science department,” Natasha teased as they sat on the edge of the fountain.

“Well, it was pretty good, which was probably because of Tony’s dad. He was always very adamant about education and the sciences being important.”

“That’s good for those who live nearby and want to get a good education.”

“I was not wrong!

They all turned at the sound of the angry voice.

“But you weren’t exactly right in that particular context which makes you wrong on the whole,” Tony replied to the angry voice. They all looked over to see Tony chasing after a young man with black hair.

“You are infuriating!” he snarled and stopped in front of the fountain to face Tony.

“Thank you!” Tony replied happily as the young man growled and stomped off. Before Tony could continue badgering him, Bruce grabbed his friend’s hand to stop him. “Oh, hey guys!”

“Was that the guy? Loki?” Bruce asked as Tony nodded. “Why are you so mean to him?”

“What are you talking about? He was a total jerk in class, and was talking all this junk that was wrong so I corrected him and he’s angry about it.”

“Well, then you don’t have to sink to his level.”

“How else is he going to understand how he made everyone else feel?”

“He’s got a point,” Natasha jumped in.

“I thought he was your partner,” Clint added.

“He is.” Tony sighed. “Maybe you’re right. Getting the smartest guy in class as my partner then pissing him off might ruin our final project. Well, if I let him have any say in it…”

“Gee, ya think?”

“You! Puny high schooler! A word!” A tall, blonde student walked up and got into Tony’s face. “I fear you do not understand what you are stirring up with your behavior.”

Tony lit up suddenly. “You must be Loki’s brother!”

The blonde jerked back in surprise. “How did you know?”

“Yeah, how could he possibly be the guy’s brother? They look nothing alike.” Natasha gestured at, well, all of him. This guy was tall, but far more muscular, and the hair was a dead giveaway.

“Well, he’s speaking the same way.”

“Ah, you have heard of our bet, have you?” He laughed loudly, the sound echoing in the quad. “Are you friends with my brother? He does not have many.”

“I guess you could say that. We’re in engineering together.”

“I saw you two quarrelling and thought you might be harassing him. I see now this is not the case.”

“No, that is the case,” Bruce answered.

“Yes, and he needed to be taken down a rung,” Tony agreed.

“Oh, by all means. He needs a good defeat sometimes.” The young man grinned. “My name is Thor, brother of Loki.”

“Well then, I am Tony, son of Howard Stark. And these are my faithful squires, Bruce of little town in the middle of nowhere, Clint of the elves and Natasha of—er, Natasha,” he faltered when he saw her glare.

Thor laughed. “You are good. How long have you been attending?”

“I took classes here last year too, but I’m still enrolled in high school. My dad wanted me to be with kids my own age. Thought it would be better for me. To be fair, I was—am sort of juvenile despite my genius.”

Thor nodded. “My condolences for him. My brother won the scholarship last year.”

Tony raised an eyebrow. “Did he?”

“Yes. It was a wonderful relief for our parents, who were struggling to fund our college efforts. I took one year for travel with relatives while my brother started college so it would not be so difficult.”

“How do you manage to talk like that all the time?”

Thor grinned. “Delightful, is it not?

“Very!” Tony returned it and looked to his friends, who all smiled.

“Well, I shall be on my way then. It was a pleasure meeting you all. Farewell,” he said with a small bow and jogged back to his friends.

“Well, that was enjoyable and informative! His brother is so nice, isn’t he?”

“Maybe you should stop acting like a brat to Loki,” Bruce suggested.

“But… it’s so fun!” Tony glanced around. “Where’s Steve?”

“You know him. He’s in the gym,” Clint answered for them. “By the way, bitchin’ archery going on here.”

“Then maybe you should apply!” Tony clapped his hands and changed the subject. “Right, so he gets to miss out. Anyone up for pizza?”

 

~**~

 

“So, where’s Clint this time?” Bruce asked as he sat at a table with Natasha, who was reading and slowly making her way through the fries from her lunch tray. Bruce pushed his own food to the side and pulled out his history book.

“He’s having a chat with Coulson.”

“Interesting.”

“Nah, he’s been doing that since the summer. I think he’s getting career advice or something.”

“He didn’t tell you?”

“I didn’t ask.”

Bruce tilted his head curiously. “You didn’t ask?”

“He’ll tell me when he’s ready.” Her eyes caught his over her book. “So how was gym class?”

“I hate you.”

“He’s coming this waaa~y,” Natasha sing-songed.

“Shut up.”

“Hey, Bruce, can I ask you for a favor?”

“Shoot.” Bruce sat back from his book and smiled up at Steve.

“Would you tutor me?” he asked as Bruce frowned instead. “In math.”

“I thought you already had good grades.”

“Yeah, but we’ve gotten into some stuff I don’t get and Tony is being mean about helping me. He suggested asking you.”

Bruce glanced at Natasha, who was smirking at her book as she read. He looked back to Steve. “Sure, I don’t mind at all.”

“Great! Thanks!” Steve clapped him on the shoulder before jogging back to the table he’d been sitting at.

“You are so—”

“Screwed!” Bruce let his head fall with a thunk onto his textbook.

“Now this is interesting.”

“Hm?” Bruce looked up and followed Natasha’s gaze to see Steve frowning at another student talking at him—one of the guys from the bathroom incident. Natasha made to stand but Bruce grabbed her arm “Who is that guy?”

She sat and leaned closer. “That’s Chase, the one who grabbed your shirt. The guy behind him is Will. He’s on the soccer team; I think Clint knows him. The third is Derek, I think.”

They watched as Steve shook his head and made to leave as Chase grabbed his arm. Steve shook it off and walked away before Chase turned his glare to Bruce, and Bruce looked down at his book. “What do they have against me?”

“From what I gather, they think you’re a leech. As in you’re using Tony,” she explained. “Everyone really respects Tony here, despite his ego.”

“There’s a shocker.”

She laughed. “Well, you’re friends with him aren’t you? You know he’s a good guy. He donates money and time, just like his parents did, and he’s nice to everyone. When he suddenly turns up at school being all buddy-buddy with a mousey guy who doesn’t talk much with anyone else, it looks suspicious.”

Bruce twisted his pencil in his hands as he thought. Damn Tony and his outrageous friendliness. He thought he was helping Bruce fit in when it was making his classmates jealous. He would just have to remedy that. “I guess you have a point. What should I do?”

She shrugged. “That’s up to you. Talk to them? Join some club and make more friends? Personally, I don’t like responding to rumors much. Denying something tends to make it even more looked upon. Like when they ask when Clint and I are getting married.”

“When are you getting married?”

“When you and Steve do.”

Bruce snorted. “Considering that’s not legal yet…”

She smiled and he had his answer.

 

~**~

 

Tony whistled happily as he parked his car and got out to head toward the soccer fields. He and Loki had started ahead on a new project and he couldn’t contain his glee. During class, Loki had been silent as Tony yammered on ideas, only occasionally reaching over to scribble notes on Tony’s sketch ideas, but that only made Tony more eager to get him to crack. This was going to be a challenge, and a fun one at that!

Bruce wasn’t at the bleachers, so maybe he really had joined the science club. He’d been talking about it the last few nights. Tony smiled to himself and wandered away from the field to look for his friend. If Bruce was making that choice on his own, that was a good sign. He was doing social things without Tony’s direction and that was a relief.

Tony trotted in through the doors and headed past the main office toward the science department.

“I’ve been hearing things.”

Tony glanced to his left to see Director Fury leaning against the wall, looking as menacing as always in his black suit and eyepatch. How the hell did Fury always manage to sneak up on him? “What kind of things?”

“About Bruce being a leech. Why didn’t you address the rumors?”

He rolled his eyes. “Replying to those kinds of things always makes it worse.”

“They all think you feel sorry for him and that he’s using you to get a free ride.”

“I know, and it’s ridiculous.”

“Some of your classmates don’t think so. And they’re trying to make him realize his mistake.”

Tony’s hands balled into fists. “They wouldn’t dare.”

Fury shrugged. “I don’t like to interfere where you can finish it on your own, but just to let you know, they may have passed by here very recently,” he hinted with a nod as he walked into the office, and Tony glanced around quickly before taking off down the south corridor.

 

~**~

 

“Bruce, wanna go get food with us?”

“I think I’m going to head home,” Bruce answered with a smile as his classmate laughed and called him anti-social. “No, just social anxiety,” he joked to hear them laugh as the group broke up.

Everyone in the club had been pretty cool, except a few, who were still getting used to the idea that Bruce was not Tony’s pet project. But in the end, they’d come around and joined the conversation. They all enjoyed the first meeting, talking about their interests and realizing they weren’t alone in their science geekiness. He waved as he parted from one of the girls and turned down a different hallway feeling better, confident even. He could finally let his guard down.

But that was a mistake. The cowards came from the behind and slammed him into the lockers before taking him outside, dragging him to the southwest corner of the school, an area that was usually devoid of students. Bruce tried to shake them off, but it was no use. And this time, his friends wouldn’t be around to help talk them down.

“I heard Tony got you in. That you’re his little charity case.” Chase sneered. “You only got in because he felt sorry for you.”

Bruce’s hands balled into fists. “It’s not what you think.”

“We’ve seen you being all buddy-buddy with Tony.” Will stepped up and crossed his arms. “You’re not even pretending to be modest. You better learn some respect.”

These idiots had no idea. He and Tony had been best friends since their fathers met! “Look, this isn’t what it seems. That’s not how I meant it.” Bruce realized he was shaking in anger and forced himself to stare at their shoes. Don’t get angry, he told himself. Stay calm.

“Maybe you should try not to ignore everyone around you and act like a normal person.” Will moved closer and grabbed his shirt to wrench his gaze up. “Look at me when I’m talking to you, pipsqueak!” Pain exploded on the left side of Bruce’s face as a punch connected. His nails dug into his palms as he forced himself not to fight back.

“Yeah! Look him in the eyes!”

Everyone turned to see Tony leaning nonchalantly against the closest doorway, as if enjoying a scene from a movie.

“Oh, don’t let me stop you. Being big and buff and threatening is what you’re here for right? Because our sports teams may suck but you can always scare them into losing so we have an even amount of wins and losses.”

“This little wimp is using you to get ahead.”

“Isn’t everyone? And I know. I made sure of it.” It was Tony’s turn to cross his arms. “I made him come here.”

They looked to Bruce who didn’t know what to do, but still felt the urge a few punches would set them right. His face hurt, dammit.

“Go on, keep beating on him. I’m running an experiment—to find out what happens when you push him past his limit.” He looked at his watch. “I’m timing this so I can get the calculations juuuust right.”

“What the fuck…” Chase muttered. “What do you mean?”

“Go on, tell them Bruce.”

Bruce shook his head. No, no, no, this wouldn’t end well…

Tony dropped his arm and turned to face them. “You shouldn’t want people to fear you. You should want them to respect you. And I’d prefer it if you let my friend go with a bit more respect, or I will be the one to give you something to fear,” he said evenly as the guys backed away.

“Hey, we were just looking out for you, man.”

“And while I appreciate that, Bruce is my friend. Let it go, guys.”

They all looked at one another before glancing at Tony, then making a hasty exit. Bruce sank to the ground with a sigh of relief, hugging his bag. He just stared at the concrete and knew Tony was seething.

“Of all the stupid… Why did you let them do that?! Fight back or something!”

“What if I lose control again? I can’t let that happen!”

“Jesus, Bruce! They’re not even that tough if I can cut them down verbally!”

“I’m not you Tony! Stop trying to make me into you!” he snapped, immediately regretting it when he saw the look in Tony’s eyes. He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. Just let it go…

Tony paced away, rubbing his face before moving closer to crouch in front of him. “I’m sorry. But I—I just can’t stand seeing you like this. You never used to be like this. Yes, a bit socially awkward, but you don’t even look people in the eyes anymore when you talk.”

“I do with you.”

“But that was only by the end of summer. Even Nat knows something is wrong and she’s going to find out sooner or later when she finally gets curious and looks you up on the internet.”

“They don’t know yet?” Bruce felt a bit relieved.

“No, I was going to let you tell them yourself.” Tony stood and offered him a hand, which Bruce took. “But try to tell her soon. She’s kind of big on the whole trust and loyalty thing.”

“Fine.” Bruce dusted himself off.

“And you might find out a thing or two about her in the process.”

Bruce scoffed. “Oh, who can ever find out what’s in that girl’s past? She’s like a damn spy with all her little secrets.”

“You never know!”

 

~***~

Chapter Text

 

Tony stopped on the path. “So should we start in this weekend, or next class?”

Loki sighed in relief. For once, Tony was being serious and the conversation (mostly one-sided) would finally end. “Well, we need to buy the components for the device, so next class would be preferable.”

“Don’t worry, the professor has most of them, and I’m sure I have the rest.”

“Would you like for me to pay you back?”

“Nope! It’s cool.” Tony grinned and Loki almost hated him.

“Are you quite sure?”

“Yeah, why?”

Loki glanced away.“It is nothing.” Tony frowned and Loki had a feeling he got it. “Monday, then,” he said with a nod and turned to go.

“You do know it’s okay to rely on other people, right?”

Loki stopped. “I am just not sure how reliable you are, Tony Stark.”

Tony grinned again. “Oh, you’ll see!” He winked and jogged away toward the parking lot. All Loki could do was shake his head. Maybe it would be a good idea to work a bit on the project himself over the weekend. Then again, Tony had proved intelligent and dependable on the last assignment, and they’d been working ahead on next two assignments simultaneously.

“You know who he is, right?”

Loki turned to see his brother’s friend Jane sitting under one of the trees just off the sidewalk. She had her long brown hair tied back and various books and notes on the surrounding grass. He smiled, feeling mischievous. “Waiting to see my brother?”

She laughed. “Answer my question and I might answer yours.”

He sighed and paced over to sit next to her. “He is arrogant.”

“And you’re not?” She closed her book as Loki scoffed. “Do you see yourself in him?”

“I see someone who is unwilling to bend because it would ruin his image.”

“You see, it does sound like someone I know.”

“I am not, in any way, similar to him!”

“You are unwilling to be nice because it is a waste of time speaking with people who have no similar interests to you. He’s not nice because you aren’t. He’s just reacting to you.”

“Sometimes I dislike you.”

“Because I’m observant?”

“Because you made my brother into a better person.”

“We were talking about you, not him.”

All right, fine! I’m jealous!” Loki stood, sudden anger surging through him. “I see someone who has better opportunities than I did and wasting them because he likes having fun more than learning to do his share. He has that blasted Jarvis thing on his phone do all the work for him, and he has plenty of money to get everything he could want!”

“You say that about someone who probably coded that program himself? Whose company gave you the ability to go to this school?”

“The company belongs to his father, not him.”

“And soon he’s probably going to be running it. Loki, I don’t think you realize how much pressure is on him. Is it so wrong of him to get help from anything he can?” She set her books aside and stood up. “He wants your attention, Loki. Do you realize what that means?”

“He’s an attention whore?”

“Ooooooh, I’m going to have to tell Thor about that one,” she said with a smirk.

“Oh, for the love of—” he muttered, trying to calm himself. “Please, continue.”

“Don’t you think there’s a reason he picked you instead of someone in his class who would kiss his ass and fall over everything he said? You, Loki,” she said as she poked his chest. “He chose you because you would be honest with him, instead of someone being fake.”

Loki sighed and looked away as she waited. “No wonder my brother listens to you.”

“He listens to me, dear Loki, because respects honesty. And he doesn’t mind that I just might be smarter than him.”

“How do I get him to shut his mouth, then?”

Jane laughed as she sat down again. “Tony? Well, he doesn’t seem to find intelligence threatening. More like a challenge. Answer him? Tease him back? Outsmart him.”

That got the wheels turning as he mused aloud, “How does one outsmart Tony Stark?”

“Very carefully.”

“Unlike your driving skills.”

“I didn’t mean to hit him!”

 

~**~

 

“Understood?”

Bruce glanced over from his locker, surprised by Coulson’s tone.

“Yeah, yeah, see you next week!” Tony waved nonchalantly and walked away from the office.

Bruce stared in surprise as Coulson crossed his arms and shook his head. He closed his locker and walked up to the counselor. “What was that about?”

“Oh, hello Bruce. Nothing you need to worry about,” he replied calmly. “What happened to your eye?”

“Don’t try to distract me. He’s having weekly visits? What for?”

“Bruce, it’s nothing.”

“Come on, Mr. Coulson. He’s my best friend and I’ve been looking out for him. If he’s seeing you once a week, you’ve gotta tell me what it is.”

The counselor sighed and gestured for Bruce to enter his office and shut the door behind him. Bruce took the chair as Coulson moved around his desk to sit in his own chair, regarding Bruce silently.

“Are we going to have a staring contest or talk?”

Coulson smiled. “I’ve been watching you.”

“Um, what?” Yeah, that wasn’t creepy at all.

“When you had your incident, I had to start watching you.”

“What? Why?”

“I was, well, still am employed by Stark Industries.”

Bruce blinked, unable to think of what that might mean. “Doing what, pray tell?”

“Keeping Tony out of trouble. When his father died, I decided that taking up a passive role would be better than standing outside his door all day and night.”

“So, you’re his bodyguard?” How did he never notice Coulson? Was the guy never around when he was?

“Sort of. I counsel him, give him advice, make sure he doesn’t blow up his workshop, the usual.”

“Uh huh…” Bruce nodded, still extremely confused. “So you took this job.”

“Well, I was already giving advice, and I could keep an eye on him. This job didn’t seem much harder.”

“An entire school of teenagers?”

“You have to admit, Tony is much more difficult than the entirety of this school’s students.”

He had a point there.

“His father trusted me to help keep him safe and grounded. Do you know about trust, Bruce?”

“I trust Tony.”

“But not the rest of your friends.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“He’s worried about you, because he’s giving you a chance to tell your friends about what happened. He wants you to earn their trust and vice versa. You have to admit, Bruce, Tony wouldn’t try to give you friends you couldn’t count on. They’ve already survived his rigorous friendship process, as did you.”

“I just…” Bruce sighed. “All of my friends abandoned me before, when I became what they considered a loser.”

“Do any of them think you’re a loser?”

“I hope not.”

“You know they don’t.”

Bruce thought about it before he replied, “You’re right. I just don’t know how to start that conversation.”

“Take someone out for coffee.”

“I don’t like coffee.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I’ll think about it,” he said as he stood to leave.

“And Bruce.”

“Yeah?”

“I’m glad you didn’t use your fists to fight back, but if it happens again, use your words.”

Bruce chuckled nervously. Of course Coulson knew. “I’ll try my best, sir.”

As he wandered down the hall, he formulated a plan of some sort. The first part involved Tony. He tapped his best friend on the shoulder when he found him talking to a group of girls. “Can I borrow your car after school?”

Tony smirked in amusement. “For what, may I ask?” He handed over the keys despite not having gotten the answer yet.

“I want to take a lady out for coffee.”

“A development! I like this!” He grinned and squeezed Bruce’s shoulder before turning back to his conversation. Bruce smiled and pocketed the keys as he headed for his last class. Now to figure out how to ask Natasha out. He pondered all through class and decided, as the bell rang, simple would do just fine.

He found her in the commons with her shadow. “Hey, Bruce. How’s your eye?”

He shrugged. “As well as a black eye can be. Nat, would you mind going to a café with me? To talk?”

She smiled and looked him up and down. “Like a date?”

“Uh, sure.”

“Have fun at practice,” she said poking Clint’s shoulder before walking over to take Bruce’s arm. “I’ve got a date with this tough guy.”

“Don’t have too much fun without me.”

“Oh, trust me. She’ll definitely be worn out when I give her back,” Bruce teased as Clint laughed and walked away.

“So.” She looked at him, deviousness dancing in her eyes. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

“To whom, and Coulson.”

“Ah. He’s very persuasive.”

“He makes a very good point.” He steered them toward the parking lot. “Come on, Tony said I could borrow his car.”

She smirked. “This gets better and better.”

Bruce pulled out the keys and unlocked it as Natasha slid into the passenger seat. Their classmates stared at the action, but were ignored as Bruce started the car and got them out of the parking lot. At this point, who cared what they thought anymore? He had a date.

He drove them across town to a small café that he’d found near Tony’s house after he’d moved in. It was quiet and would serve its purpose well. They each ordered drinks before they moved to a quiet corner to talk.

“Would you like to go first, or shall I?” she asked.

“I was unaware you had secrets I should know.”

“It’s kind of important to the idea of trust.”

“Ladies first, then.”

“I was… I guess you would say a narc.”

“What do you mean?”

Natasha smiled and leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table, her chin in her hands. “Clint went to pull a prank, and I stopped him.”

Bruce frowned. “That doesn’t sound like you. I thought you two were like the legendary pranksters.”

“We are.”

“So why did you tell?”

“There are these two brothers who hate us, Clint particularly. One—well, probably both of them—wanted me, but Clint was always around to deter them. That and we pulled off a few spectacular pranks on them. They got the idea to hire him for a prank instead of trying to challenge us. Clint agreed, to try to clear the air between us.”

“I’m assuming it didn’t go well.”

“They tried to pin something illegal they were doing on him to get him arrested.”

“Oh, damn. What was it?”

“It’s probably best you not know.”

“Aw, come on!” Bruce whined.

In any case, I found out just after Clint left and tried calling and texting to stop him, but he ignored it. Things kind of snowballed from there and I had to tell Fury what was going on. Luckily, we got to Clint before he could carry out the second half, which, well…” She smiled knowingly.

“Psh, tease me all you want, it has no effect on me.”

She laughed. “Do you want me to tell the story or not?”

“Please continue.”

“When Clint found out I was the one who spilled the beans, he was furious. He’d been expelled and it went on his permanent record.” She paused and twisted a strand of her hair around a finger. “You asked why I’d cut my hair.”

“You’re kidding.”

“The yelling was fine. I understood that he was angry. But when he said I betrayed him and he didn’t trust me, that hurt. He called me a liar, trying to make myself look good at his expense—said he would never trust me again. He wouldn’t let me say anything while he was yelling, so I cut it. Right in front of him.”

“What did he do?”

“He was so shocked, he left.”

“Why did you cut it?”

“I figured it was the one thing that would get his attention. He likes—er,” she stopped abruptly and turned nearly as red as her hair.

Bruce smiled to himself and gestured for her to go on.

“It was the only way I could think to keep him out of jail.”

“How old is he?” Bruce asked, suddenly interested.

“Just turned 18 last month, so it could have been serious. I couldn’t get ahold of Tony, so I called Steve because he was already at the school.”

“And he said to go to the Fury?” he guessed.

“No, he had organized some early sports practices, and Coulson, who was helping, took his phone away. I told Coulson, and he got Fury.” She smiled. “I’ll be honest with you Bruce, as much as we pull pranks on Fury, he likes us, and he didn’t want Clint to get arrested any more than I did.”

“Wait, this was at the end of summer? The school isn’t closed?”

“They have summer classes, you know. And they were preparing for the new semester. Part of the prank was hacking into the intraweb.”

“Well, if he was expelled, does that mean he was taking summer classes?”

“No.”

“But he was there the first week!”

“Was he in class with you the first week?”

Bruce took a breath, but held it as he thought. “Oh.”

“Exactly.”

“So apart from that, you two are good?”

She nodded. “Now, it’s your turn.”

Bruce sighed. Better just get it out straight away. “I beat the living hell out of a guy who was bullying me.”

“That’s it?”

“Yeah.”

“Wait, are you the one I heard about from… oooooh! They were calling you The Hulk,” she quoted the old rumors and looked him up and down, more respect in her gaze. “No wonder Tony wanted us to hang out with you.”

“It happened just after the New Year. A bunch of guys cornered me near the courtyard after I was done with science club at my old school. I can’t even tell you what set me off, but the first thing I remember after being cornered was breathing hard and blood on my hands. Someone, I think a teacher, had dragged me off of the guy.”

“Damn.”

“Yeah.” He ran a hand through his hair and glanced around hoping no one had heard. “Do you know how scary it is to wake up and realize you nearly killed someone?”

“Can’t say I do.” She sipped at her drink. “Tony does.”

“Yeah, but Tony’s almost killed himself dozens of times.”

“Well, that one time he blacked out.”

“He's the reason I'm at this school.” Bruce sighed and gazed out the window. “For a while, after the accident, I was the only person he had, the only one he would let in. Nat, it is frightening when Tony doesn’t talk, because when it isn’t coming out of his mouth, I just know it’s going 100 times as fast in his head. I know he didn’t blame himself, but I bet he believes he deserved to die in his crash. Especially with that thing in his chest.”

“I knew him when it happened, even if I didn’t know you. But I know what you mean about him not talking. It’s just unnerving. He’s been different since it happened. In small ways.”

Bruce nodded. “Later, when I had my… incident, Tony came for me with my parents. I had kept him sane and he returned the favor. He talked to me, took care of me.” Bruce snickered suddenly as he remembered. “Did he tell you we kissed?”

“No! When?”

Bruce laughed. “Oh man, I don’t even remember, it’s all kind of muddled. But god, it was so awkward.”

Natasha snickered. “Pictures or it didn’t happen.”

“I bet that’s what he intends. I wonder if Jarvis recorded it. That was before Tony gave me one of his phones. Or was it?” He thought about it for a moment. “Like I said, I don’t remember much.”

“That’s a damn shame.” She smirked.

“Hey, he’s a pretty good kisser, but there wasn’t anything… there.”

“I bet he wishes otherwise.”

“Yeah. It would have been perfect. Science boyfriends or whatever,” he said with a laugh as Natasha snickered behind her coffee.

“Now that would be some good publicity.”

Bruce smiled. “I liked this. It was fun.”

“Feel better?”

“Yeah.”

“Me too.”

After Bruce dropped Natasha off, he called Tony to find out his friend was already home, having gotten a ride from Steve. So, Bruce headed back, to find out what the crashing sounds in the background of the phone call had been.

He trotted downstairs and into Tony’s workshop to find bits and pieces of everything everywhere. “What’s this?” Bruce asked as he looked over the one that looked the most assembled, pieces strewn over one of the tables. He nodded, impressed as he figured out how it all pieced together.

“Not bad, right?” Tony called from another bench where he was soldering something or another. “I came up with the main idea, but Loki managed to streamline it. Oddly enough, the guy understands where I’m going, even if sometimes I don’t. With long suffering sighs.” Tony imitated a dramatic sigh before turning away.

Bruce smirked as he picked up a stack of note cards, flipping through them before grabbing another set. “Presentations?”

“Yeah, a couple.” Tony finished and pulled his goggles off. “Want me to have Jarvis record them?”

“I don’t really need to ask. You’ll record them and make me watch them anyway.” Bruce tossed the stack of cards down and crossed the room. “Your ego wouldn’t have it any differently.”

“Always with my ego. That hurts.” Tony put a hand over the metal in his chest. “Sometimes I record them to improve on my presentations!”

“I don’t see why you need cards. You can do this crap off the top of your head. And you have the phone.”

“I figured I should try something different. If it doesn’t work, I’ll just do something else.” He rolled his chair over to Bruce to bump into him. “How was your date?”

“Enlightening.”

“Good.”

“They’re going to get married and have tons of secret agent babies, aren’t they?”

“Yes. And how is tutoring going?”

Bruce swore. “How did you know about that?”

“Natasha told me. Duh.”

“Is she your secret agent?”

“Hm, Agent Romanov. I like that.”

“We haven’t started yet.” Bruce shook his head. “I don’t think he needs tutoring.”

Tony grinned and rolled his chair away.

“Did you convince him to do that?”

“Nope! He did that on his own.”

“But, why?”

Tony gave him a look. “Why do you think?”

“No.”

“Yes.”

“You think so?”

“I know so.”

“Stop getting my hopes up.”

“Stop being a downer!”

“Arguing with you is pointless,” Bruce muttered as he sat on one of the stools.

“Yes, so just agree with me and be done with it.”

Bruce shifted to pull his phone out when it beeped. [Help]

“Who is it?”

“Steve.” [With?]

[I cannot figure out this phone]

Tony and Bruce snickered as he replied. “Did you tell Jarvis to tease him?” [Is it the one Tony gave you?]

“Possibly.”

[Yes]

Bruce shook his head. Tony had been tinkering (a generous word to use at this point) with his company’s phones and using his friends as guinea pigs. [I’ll show you tomorrow.]

[Thank you!!!!!]

“Oh, look. You have a date!”

Bruce rolled his eyes and shoved Tony’s chair before walking away.

“You’re welcome!!”

Bruce was grinning to himself as he took the stairs by two. He couldn’t help but enjoy this turn of events.

A few hours later, Bruce was interrupted by Jarvis. There was a beep and then, “Sir, you are requested downstairs.”

He glanced at the ceiling, wondering what crazy idea Tony wanted help with this time. “I’ll be down in a moment.”

“Very good, sir.”

With a sigh, Bruce set his pen aside and took his sorry butt downstairs. He found Tony on a reclining chair, components scattered around him.

“Hey, buddy!”

“What’s going on?” he asked suspiciously as he realized Tony was shirtless.

“I need you to help me install my new power supply.” Tony held up a small round device that glowed a soft blue.

Bruce took it with a frown, before it melted away as he recognized the design. “Tony, this isn’t a battery.”

“Well, technically, it is.”

“That’s not what I meant. The first ones were actual batteries. This… this is an arc reactor!” He glanced in disbelief from the device to Tony, and back again. “How the hell did you do this?”

“Little bit of elbow grease…” Tony smiled. “You thought I didn’t pay attention to my father’s most genius tech? I absorbed it and I’m going to refine it. This is just a small step.”

“Jesus, Tony. This is incredible.”

“Just help me switch it out.”

“What do I need to do?”

“Install the outer ring to what’s in my chest so I can just click the device in and out. Then I can make adjustments quicker and easier. Jarvis?”

A handy tutorial for the installation appeared on the screen next to them as Bruce studied it. “I didn’t know you were this into hardware. You’re usually the coding type.”

“Well, thanks to my class, I’m getting better at it. I did manage to get a few things out of Loki without him figuring out what I was doing.”

Bruce studied Tony’s chest. “He doesn’t know about this?”

“I don’t think anyone knows apart from our friends, to be honest. The media hasn’t gotten ahold of it, and I’d like it to stay that way.”

“Good thing your doctor keeps his mouth shut.”

“He’s a good guy.”

“So I have to take the current one out to install all of this, right?” Bruce waited as Tony nodded. “I have to do this fast.”

“Yep,” Tony answered as Bruce studied the screen again.

“Okay.” Bruce nodded, heart beating fast now as he knew he had to get this right. “Ready?” Tony nodded and laid his head back as Bruce rolled up his sleeves.

The switch went smoothly, Bruce quickly pulling out the battery to disconnect it and set it aside. It was when he was pressing the ring in that Tony made a noise. He raised an eyebrow but Tony just urged him to keep going. Bruce worked silently and finally picked up the small reactor to press and twist into Tony’s chest, hearing it click into place. Only then did they let out a collective breath of relief.

“Did I hurt you?”

“No, it’s just that ring pushed the casing outward a little and it felt weird. Should’ve expected that,” he muttered and sat up, looking at the screen to check everything. A smile grew as Tony turned. “This feels much better!”

“I’m glad.” Bruce sat on one of the stools. “Are you going to show anyone else?”

Tony hummed. “Maybe Pepper. I’ll have to show Clint and Natasha. Coulson will probably find out himself and ask to see it.”

“What about Loki?”

“Why would I show him?” Tony grabbed his shirt and pulled it on over his head. He was about to turn when he noticed the light showing through his shirt and stopped. “Gonna have to cover that…”

“Well, you said you got ideas out of him. It seems only fair.”

“We’ll see.”

 

~***~

Chapter Text

“I swear, this isn’t difficult.” Bruce laughed as Steve glared at the phone.

“But, it never unlocks when I want it to! And it locks when I’m trying to do other things.”

Bruce’s expression brightened suddenly. “Jarvis, unlock.” The phone unlocked and Steve sighed in exasperation. “Change admin to Steve, not Tony.”

“Very good, sir,” Jarvis answered, sounding amused. Tony liked teasing Steve about his techno-fail far too much. The phone beeped and the colors all changed to a red, white and blue theme.

“Patriotic?”

“I was into that kind of stuff when I was a kid,” Steve admitted and took the phone back, tapping the screen. “Can you show me how to change the icons?”

“Sure,” Bruce said with a grin and scooted closer to tap on the screen. “You can also just give Jarvis commands. Tony coded him for that.”

“I’d rather do it myself,” Steve admitted quietly.

Bruce grinned. “I do the same thing. It takes some getting used to.”

Tony grinned from the pillar he was leaning against as he watched the two put their heads together. Yes, things were all going according to plan. He snuck away and out to his car to head to his class on the campus, feeling quite smug. Genius was so hard to contain.

He met Loki halfway there and they walked together in silence, Loki carrying the device they were to present. They’d met earlier in the morning so Loki could give it a once over to make sure everything was perfect. Tony let him because Loki had flair, and Tony liked that. Once in the classroom, they unpacked their things and organized as the professor called to them, alerting them that they would be going first.

“That is unnecessary,” Loki muttered so only Tony could hear.

“We’ll just make everyone else look that much worse.”

“Exactly.”

They smirked at one another and took their things to the front as everyone took their seats and the room quieted. Tony set his phone on the front table and set it to record as he pulled out his note cards and flipped through them. He glanced at the device, then the cards. Oh, shit. He flipped through them again in disbelief. His stomach dropped as Loki held out his hand for them.

“These are the wrong notes.” He glanced at the device. Wait—

“You’re joking.” Loki stared and for a moment, and for once in his life, Tony didn’t know how to respond.

“No, I’m very serious.” Tony finally hissed as his eyes flicked between the project and the damn cards. He was so sure he’d grabbed the correct ones since they’d been working ahead on the next project as well. He then realized Bruce had been looking at them. Oh, well. It added character to the presentation!

Loki put on his professional face and began the presentation instead as Tony grabbed his phone, flipping through the applications and tossing the cards aside. With one hand, he showed off their project, the other searching for the outline he’d made. Once he had it, he handed the phone to Loki who didn’t lose a beat, reading off the specifics. Despite the rocky start, it went so well that Tony decided to take Bruce’s advice and lose the note cards. They were a handicap just as much as Jarvis and he might as well use the damn phone and laptop if he had them.

“Smooth,” Loki commented as they sat down.

“Very.” Tony was quite impressed with the entire thing. “We work well together.”

“Indeed.”

“Nothing else to add?”

“Imbecile.”

“Thank you.” Tony grinned as Loki looked the other way, but he could see the smile trying to work its way onto the taller man’s lips.

Busted.

 

~**~

 

“And this is my fault how?”

“You switched the notecards!”

Bruce rolled his eyes. “You still got an A.”

“I don’t see why this is so bad. You learned a lesson in being prepared,” Steve commented as he picked up his burger then took a bite.

“I was prepared and you ruined it! I didn’t even get to record it properly!”

“Oh, come on, Tony. Just admit you made a mistake!”

“Never!”

“I finh ou sould apo-ogie to Woki fo scwewing ih ub,” Steve said around his burger.

Tony glowered at them. “I don’t want to.”

“Oooooooh!” the two teased as Tony rolled his eyes.

“But it wasn’t my fault!”

“Keep telling yourself that.” Bruce grinned.

“When did you two get so buddy-buddy?” he shot back to see them glance at one another awkwardly.

“I’ve been tutoring him, you know that.” Bruce sat up and leaned over the table. “Which was mostly because of you.”

“Yeah, I’m awesome like that.” He leaned back and put his arms behind his head.

“I think you wouldn’t be complaining so much if you could just swallow your pride and apologize,” Steve told him. “Maybe he wouldn’t dislike you so much if you did.”

“I don’t mind the dislike.”

“I think you do.”

Tony glanced at Bruce. “Don’t be stupid.”

“Why did you pick him Tony?” Bruce pulled his glasses off.

“I don’t pick people,” he countered and stood. “I didn’t pick you, Bruce.”

Bruce smiled. “Yes, you did. You picked all of us.”

“You make me sound superficial!” Tony whined.

“No, what I mean is, you noticed us and picked us out. What happened after that was up to us getting along.”

“You mean I’m a genius? But I already know that!” He watched them roll their eyes. “You’re right. I did pick him. I was hoping he would be a good addition to the group.”

“And?”

“I’m not sure yet.”

“Then you should probably gain his trust and apologize.”

“Fine! Fine. Kill my pride.”

“I’m sure it’ll recover quickly.”

 

~**~

 

“Oh, now that is lovely,” Tony commented, his finger running over the top of the golden helmet on the table.

Loki sighed, wondering what god he’d angered to be saddled with this brat. “Why are you here?”

“Because I was told you were here.”

“And you asked because…?”

Tony shrugged and sat next to him. “Just wanted to thank you for saving my ass in class.”

Loki raised an eyebrow in interest. This was a new development. “Well, we are partners, so saving your ass meant saving mine.”

“True, but you could’ve dressed me down in front of the others, and you didn’t, so thank you.”

Loki gave him a bewildered frown before he nodded. “You’re welcome.”

“And what is this piece of finery?” Tony picked up a helmet with horns protruding from the top.

Loki took it and set it back down. Might as well be cheeky. “A helmet.”

“For?”

“A costume.”

“For?”

Loki’s eyebrow twitched. “Cosplay.”

Tony looked to the helmet, then back at Loki. “Like, in the bedroom?”

“No, you nitwit.”

“Then…”

“For a comic convention.”

“Aaaah. You work anywhere? Take time off for that?”

“A bookstore, nearby the campus,” Loki answered automatically before he realized he hadn’t wanted Tony to know that. He glanced over to see that familiar smirk before looking away to keep working on his project.

Tony sat awkwardly for a moment before standing. “Well, it was good talk, Reindeer Games. I’ll see you in class!”

Resisting the urge to chase and throttle him, Loki watched Tony walk away as his classmate Sif leaned over the workbench. “You didn’t tell him you switched the projects to screw with him.”

He smirked at her, feeling much better at the reminder. “Now why in the world would I have done that?”

 

~**~

 

“She’s really good,” Bruce whispered in awe as he watched Natasha onstage.

“Clint isn’t bad, but you’re right, she’s really good. I think she might go to an acting school after high school,” Steve hissed back, enjoying himself. Usually he was at practice, but today was a rest day and he was glad for it. He hadn’t been able to spend any free time with Bruce besides tutoring, and this was nice.

“What’s Clint going to do?”

Steve shrugged. “I don’t know. He never talks about it, but then again, neither does she. It’s pretty clear she likes acting though.”

“So, what about you?” Bruce asked, glancing over at Steve.

“Me? Probably a sports scholarship at a more local university. I’m not picky.”

Bruce nodded. “I think Tony might end up dragging us all somewhere with him so he doesn’t get lonely.”

Steve snorted quietly so as not to disrupt the drama practice. “You know, I do believe you’re right. He’s good at pulling strings. How long have you two known one another?”

“Just before middle school. My dad started working for his around that time, so when we went over for dinners, they would let me and Tony goof off,” Bruce explained as he thought back. “I miss being able to be that carefree, destroy action figures without caring.”

“Back when none of us had to think about futures and jobs.”

“Exactly.” Bruce nodded as he watched the group onstage blocking the next scene. “Do you wish life were more like a play? Someone gave you lines to say so you knew exactly what was the right or wrong thing to do?”

Steve laughed. “No! That takes all the adventure out of life. That and free will.”

“I suppose you’re right. It would be nice to have a mind like Tony though, quick enough to find the right thing just when you needed it.”

“But he isn’t. Not when he’s met his match.”

Bruce snickered. “This Loki guy is really making my life so much better. You have no idea how great it is to see him struggling!”

“Oh, I do!” Steve grinned. “He deserves to have someone who can bring his ego back down to earth. Let’s just hope Loki can keep him grounded.”

Bruce shifted as his phone beeped and he pulled it out of his pocket. “Ah, I’ve gotta go. I’ll text you later.”

“Tell me if he went through with it!”

“Aye aye!” Bruce saluted as he slipped out of the row and jogged out of the auditorium.

Clint hopped down from the stage and sat next to Steve. “So.”

“So?”

“Did you tell him about Tony yet?”

Steve made a face. “No.”

Clint grinned. “I don’t think he’ll be as bothered as you think.”

“Did you talk to Natasha yet?”

“Low blow, man.”

“You started it.”

Clint clicked his tongue. “Let’s agree to be waiting for the right time and be done with it.”

“Agreed.”

“I like what Bruce said though. Knowing the right thing to say would be nice in certain situations.”

Steve sighed as he watched Natasha close her eyes and murmur the lines to herself. “Sometimes, I think words wouldn’t be enough.”

 

~***~

Chapter Text

“Always a pleasure, Coulson.” Tony flopped down in the guest chair.

Coulson smiled in his mild mannered way and sat back. “Let’s just get started.”

“Yes, sir!”

“Who is this Loki Odinson?”

Somehow he wasn’t surprised that Coulson knew about Loki. “Guy in my college class. My pleasure in life is making his hell.” Tony sighed dreamily. He was still trying to think of a new way to get Loki to crack.

Coulson leveled him a stare. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah. Why?” Tony thought it odd for the guy to take such a sudden interest.

Coulson narrowed his eyes. “You like being around him?”

“Yeah, I guess.” Tony shrugged.

“He’s smart?”

Tony nodded, suspicious.

“Handsome?”

“Pretty hot, yeah.”

“Your heart beats faster when you see him?”

“Yeah!” Tony’s eyes went wide as he slapped a hand over his mouth. “I mean, NO!”

“Tony.”

“No! I don’t like him!”

“Tony…”

“I can’t like him!”

Tony.

“Oh god, I like him!” he whined, hands on his head. “I don’t want to like him, I want to like Bruce! It would work out so well because we’re best friends, but I don’t!” Tony got up and reached over the desk to grab the counselor’s arm in a panic. “Coulson, what do I do?!”

His face was unreadable. “Try not to push him away with the smartassery,” he answered as Tony whined again and flopped back into the chair. “Find out his interests.”

“I already know what he likes.”

“Talk about things other than yourself.” Coulson smiled again, clearly enjoying this.

“But I am extremely interesting!”

“Yes, I know.”

Tony sat up. “Are you just messing with me?”

“What do you think?”

Tony rolled his eyes and stood. “Is this okay? I mean, my liking him?”

Coulson shrugged and sat back. “I don’t work PR, I’m here to make sure you’re healthy and safe.”

“Do you think it’s a good idea?”

“Considering all the things you’ve done…”

“Yeah, yeah.” Tony waved his hand and tried not to think of the things he’d blown up over the years. He certainly did not want to blow Loki up. That would be rude to his charming brother.

There was a knock at the door and Clint poked his head in. “You asked to see me?”

“Ah, yes. Sit.” Coulson gestured to the other empty chair as Tony frowned, curious. “I have a few of your acceptance letters.”

Tony raised an eyebrow. “Is that so?”

“Clint wanted your input on which were the best schools,” Coulson said as he handed the envelopes to Tony.

“You’re asking me for advice?”

“You’ve been to the places, right?” Clint asked as Tony sifted through them, impressed by the names.

“Why not just join the army? You’ve got the guns—I mean, bow,” Tony teased, eyeing Clint’s arms.

“I want to be able to see Natasha.”

Tony’s eyebrows shot up. “Really?”

“I don’t see why you’re so surprised.”

“Have you told her about this yet?”

“No.”

“She’ll hate you.”

“No, she won’t.”

Tony sighed and sat. “You’re right. But she’ll be angry, and I’m not helping out with that.”

“Yes, you are.”

“Why are you calling all the shots today?”

Clint grinned.

“Whatever, fine. I just don’t want to get punched. She’s scary when she’s angry!”

“Fine. I’ll keep her from hitting you. Wouldn’t want to damage that pretty face.”

“Thank you.” Tony stood and put his sunglasses on. He handed the envelopes to Clint. “I’d choose the one on the top.” With that he moved to open the door. “My work here is done.”

“Where are you going?” Coulson stood.

“I confessed my crush and advised a friend all in one meeting. That seems like progress, don’t you think?” Tony smiled and waved as he slipped out the door and exited the office. Now, how the hell was he going to convince Loki that his feelings were genuine? Was he even convinced himself?

 

~**~

 

“Hey, Reindeer Games.”

Loki flinched at the voice, then turned to glare at Tony. “What are you doing here?”

“Need some light reading.”

Loki pointed at the Children’s section.

“Clever! Where’s the science section? Never mind, found it!” Tony trotted off as Loki sighed and headed up front to help out the cashier. Ten minutes later, he was confronted by a familiar smirk and a stack of books. From the titles Loki recognized, they weren’t really ‘light’ reading. Then again, it was Tony Stark.

As Loki scanned the books, Tony kept swiping his card through the reader, as if it was going to magically go through each time. Loki’s eyebrow twitched as he grabbed Tony’s arm.

“Stop it.”

“But how else will I get a rise out of you?” He looked so damn smug and Loki resisted the urge to punch him. He glared as he shoved Tony’s books in a bag and hit the total button. “No bag, please.”

“You’re getting a bag. Swipe the card.”

“Are you sure? A moment ago, you said—”

“SWIPE.”

“Swiping!”

The transaction progressed smoothly thereafter.

“I’ll be in the café.”

“I’ll kill you in your sleep.”

“That sounds promising!” Tony said as he walked away backwards. “Like you’d have to break in to do so. Very Edward and Bella.”

“Don’t make me tie you down and read those to you.”

“Leaving!” Tony hurried away with a cackle.

Loki sighed. “Typical.” He helped the next few customers, trying not to think about the encounter. Finished, he called his manager and clocked out for the day. What in the world had prompted Tony to visit the bookstore in the first place? Should he bother going to the café?

After changing into his everyday clothing, Loki threw caution to the wind and passed by the café to see Tony sitting off to the side, perusing one of his books. Loki hesitated, wondering what the hell he was doing. He shook his head and entered the area to buy a tea. Hopefully, it would calm him in some way. With a defeated sigh, Loki finally sat down and set his drink on the table.

“Didn’t think you’d join me.”

“I switched the projects.”

Tony set his book down. “What?”

“I switched the projects to see what you would do.” He fingered the lid of the drink, waiting to see Tony’s reaction.

“You sabotaged our project just to take me down. That’s evil.”

“Yes, well, I assumed you would notice because you’re usually quick about that sort of thing. I don’t feel so bad about it after your behavior at the cash register,” Loki told him honestly as he took a sip of his tea.

“God, that’s hot.”

“What?”

Tony seemed to grope for a response. “I mean, your drink. Isn’t it hot?”

“Not really.”

“Oh.”

This was getting strange. “Why do you care?”

“Wouldn’t want you burning your tongue…” Tony muttered as he fiddled with the pages of his book. “Anyway, I just came to ask if you wanted to finish up work on the other one this weekend, and then start up on the next. Saturday morning, since I have plans in the evening.”

“I don’t see why not. The lab should be open.”

“Good because this would be a great opportunity for us to bond and all and working with you is actually kind of fun. Not unlike when Bruce and I work on stuff. He follows orders better though…”

Loki rolled his eyes as Tony chattered on. Fed up, he reached over the table and grabbed Tony’s chin. “For those of us who have opinions, kindly let us voice them?” He frowned and let go when Tony just stared, unable to speak. “Very uncharacteristic of you.”

Tony cleared his throat and took a sip of his water. “Let me, uh, get your number. So we can coordinate.” He held the phone out over the table. “Just speak your name and number in. Jarvis will do the rest.”

Loki did as requested, surprised at the fact that Tony managed to keep his mouth shut, but also intrigued by his interesting change of character.

“Thanks. I’ll call you around 8? AM that is.”

“Sure.”

“And have a breakfast idea in your mind,” Tony said with a wink before he grabbed his bag and trotted toward the door.

Loki watched him leave then shrugged to himself. Well, at least he had a nice ass.

 

~**~

 

Bruce wandered into the kitchen, carrying his empty plate and glass. “Oh, here you are,” he muttered as he noticed Tony sitting on one of the island stools, head in his hands.

“I think I’m going crazy.”

Bruce frowned at Tony as he set his things in the sink. “I thought you already were.”

“HAH, THAT WAS GREAT!” Tony glared at him.

Bruce rounded island and sat next to Tony. “What brought this on?”

“Loki told me he switched the projects.” Tony slumped onto the counter. “How did I not notice?!”

“So it wasn’t my fault?”

“No.”

Bruce smiled smugly. “I told you! And that’s what you get for working ahead on two projects at once.”

“BUT WHY DIDN’T I NOTICE?” Tony looked distraught. “I NEVER MISS THINGS LIKE THIS.”

“You really like this guy, don’t you?” Bruce had to bite his lip to keep from giggling when Tony whined in response. “Maybe you should tell him.”

“I can’t tell him that! He’d think I was lying and hate me even more!”

Bruce laughed, then even harder when Tony shot him a glare. “It is so fun seeing you at a disadvantage for once.”

“Thanks bestie.”

“Hey, has my advice gone south yet? You said he responded well to the apology!”

“How am I supposed to know if he’s into guys, though?”

“Um, ask?”

“Have you asked Steve?”

“The way you guys have been hinting, I don’t really need to.”

Tony cursed. “You’re getting to be too perceptive.”

“Learned from the best,” Bruce said as he patted Tony’s back. “Just… try to be nice?”

“I’ll try.”

“I guess that’s all we can hope for.”

 

~**~

 

True to his word, Tony had Loki’s phone buzzing at 8am, Saturday morning. He’d been up for all of ten minutes, but was lying lazily in bed, expecting to not hear from Tony for another few hours. He held the phone up to his ear, blocking sunlight from the window with an arm over his eyes.

“Rise and shine, Reindeer Games!”

“Oh, for crying out loud.”

“Yeah, not at that stage of our relationship, but we’ll get there.”

Loki’s hand hit his forehead. “What makes you think I would date an obnoxious, little prick like you?”

“Ah, but you aren’t altogether against the idea of dating guys!”

Loki rolled his eyes. “I really do not have a preference, nor do I care.”

“Another thing in common.”

“Please state your business or I am ending this call.”

“I thought we were meeting to work on the project.”

“Clearly.” Loki let the annoyance drip from his voice as he longed to go back to sleep.

“What are you hungry for?”

Loki glanced at the door. His parents wouldn’t be up for another hour, and by that time, he’d be gone. And his mother made wonderful… “Pancakes.” That sounded like something Tony couldn’t get for takeout and would cause him headaches.

“Brilliant! I’ll meet you on campus in an hour. And don’t underestimate me.”

The line went dead and Loki growled as he rubbed his face. Why did he have to get partnered with the teenage brat who had a penchant for trying to get his goat? Never mind that. If he could just get through today, he would have all of Sunday to himself. It wasn’t that he didn’t like Tony, it was that he thought he might be starting to enjoy Tony’s presence a bit too much. Despite the jabs they threw back and forth, he was enjoying someone who could respond with some excellent come backs. And that, in and of itself, was quite disconcerting.

Breezing through his morning routine, Loki got ready and made his way to the campus. He found Tony dozing on a bench next to the main fountain, a box at his feet. The weather was cool, it being late fall and all, but that didn’t seem to bother him. Loki was thoroughly amused by the fact that Tony’s height couldn’t take up the length of the bench.

“Awake?”

Tony pulled his sunglasses down. “I am now.” He sat up then stood. “Ready for science?”

“I can hardly contain my excitement,” Loki answered deadpan.

“I’ll pretend you’re jumping up and down on the inside. Now, what’s there to do, we have to go through the wiring to make sure everything is up to snuff and connected properly…” he started counting items off his fingers, then paused and pulled his phone out, instead dictating to it.

Loki sat on the bench as Tony talked to himself, switching topics as fast as he came up with them. It helped to liken Tony to the fountain behind him, changing its rhythms and patterns just as quickly, flowing fluidly into the next. How could Tony deal with a mind that moved that fast? Did he ever get headaches? If Loki thought he was good, how was he compared to Tony? Was the bastard ever wrong? Or come up against problems he couldn’t solve?

“You okay?” Tony asked and bent over.

“Don’t you ever get tired?” For once, Loki was genuinely curious.

“Around 2 or 3 am?” Tony tilted his head. “Why?”

“I mean, doesn’t it get tiring with your mind moving that fast? Does everything else seem trivial in comparison?”

Tony sat beside him. “Am I boring you?”

“Not particularly. You just jump from one thing to another so fast.” And it is too damn early in the morning, he thought.

“Sorry, it just helps to let my brain go wherever it wants.”

“And if you do not?”

“I swear I can be honest and sincere without stopping my brain.”

Loki chuckled. “Are you quite sure?”

“I’m hanging out with you, aren’t I?” Tony grinned. “I wouldn’t be spending extra time with you if I didn’t like you.”

Now that was an unintentional ego boost. “Thank you, I think?”

“Don’t sweat it, Reindeer Games.”

“Never going to live that down, am I?”

“Well, I haven’t told anybody that one, yet.” Tony held up the package he’d brought. “And this is for you.”

Loki frowned. “What’s this?”

“Breakfast. I thought it appropriate since we were getting up early to meet and work on our project after all.”

Loki opened the bag and looked inside the box, amused when he saw pancakes and all the condiments as Tony kept talking. He did say he was craving pancakes. But why bother to get him breakfast? Despite his predilection for mischief, Tony was being awfully nice lately…

“Are you,” he paused as Tony finally did the same. “Are you trying to court me?” He waited as Tony’s face went blank like a deer in headlights before his cheeks turned an interesting shade of pink.

“I—um. I…”

Loki smiled, a bit confused, but also kind of pleased by the turn of events. “That’s very charming of you.”

“Charming,” Tony repeated, looking pleased.

“And what, pray tell, brought this on?”

“Coulson.”

Loki raised an eyebrow in confusion at the sudden admission.

“That’s not what I meant.” Tony sighed as he collected his thoughts.

“I’m listening.”

“I just… you see, the thing is…” Tony tried.

“So eloquent,” Loki teased as he glanced away, amused.

“I like you.”

What? His eyes flicked back to Tony to see the genuine smile. “But, why?”

“Does it matter?”

“Yes.” Loki had to bite his lip to keep from laughing at the sudden frustration on his face. “Use your words.”

“Shut up, I’m trying!”

“Not hard enough.”

“Don’t make me use ‘that’s what she said’ jokes. This is not the appropriate moment.”

“I could not agree more.”

“I’m serious, Loki.”

“Are you entirely sure?”

“Yes. I mean, can’t we just wait and see where this goes? I mean, technically it doesn’t have to go anywhere…”

“I suppose that is fair.”

“Ho, brother!”

“Oh, for the love of god,” Loki muttered as Thor swaggered up to them.

“How does it look?” Thor turned in his costume. It was suitable for someone of his stature, but why in the hell was he wearing it around campus? “I think it looks marvelous! Especially the cape!”

“Dashing.”

“Shakespeare in the park?” Tony recovered suddenly. “Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?”

Loki snorted as Thor smiled and replied, “Good one.”

“Thank you.”

“It is for a play, in which we have been cast,” Thor explained.

“We?”

“Why, yes. Did Loki not tell you?”

“No.” Tony grinned. “No, he did not.”

“He has the lead role. I expected you would have told all of your friends, brother!”

“Some of us are a bit more modest, and it is one of the lead roles.”

“Come now!” Thor leaned toward Tony. “His role is the best!”

“When is it?” Tony asked.

“It is the weekend after final tests,” Thor answered.

“I shall put it in my calendar.” Tony pulled out his phone with a sly look to Loki, who ignored him.

“They are doing costume fittings this early in the morning?” Loki asked his brother.

“It is happening all day. Yours is this afternoon, is it not?”

“It is. You should probably return that to the costume department before they panic and wonder where it has gone,” Loki suggested.

“Only too true, brother. Good luck with your project. Though I am sure you do not need it, as both of you are very capable.” Thor gave them a half bow before walking off the way he came.

“My brother, the oblivious,” Loki muttered with a vague gesture of his hand.

“I dunno, he seems pretty smart, saying we were capable and all.”

“I fear he might be missing the common sense gene.” He turned to a wide grin on Tony’s face and worried what had caused it.

“Now, what day was that play?”

 

~***~

Chapter Text

“What do you mean?” Tony asked as he stopped. Bruce was currently recounting his tale of woe from class and Tony, being his best friend forever, was being a good listener, mostly because he couldn’t believe it.

“They thought you did all of it for me!” Bruce snapped angrily. “I mean, really? Chemistry?

Tony didn’t take that as an insult. He did know Chemistry better than most, but it was Bruce’s thing, not his—not yet. “Of all the stupid… did you do the presentation?”

“I almost couldn’t!” Bruce complained as he sank down onto a chair in the commons. “I was so angry, I nearly threw the entire thing against the wall.”

“But you didn’t.”

“No. Clint helped out. I fixed what they’d screwed up and pretty much proved that I’d done the entire experiment myself.” Bruce sighed as he sat back and stared up at the ceiling. “They were testing me Tony. They made it so I could fix it if I knew what I was doing.”

Tony rubbed his face and stared down the hall at the students milling around during lunch hour. He wasn’t really thinking about the incident though. He was more excited about Bruce controlling his anger. “I can’t believe it,” he muttered to himself.

“I can. I’ll prove to them that I am not using you.” Bruce stood and started pacing. “I even heard a rumor that we really were a couple and, and UGH!” He threw up his arms. “And Darcy said we would be the coolest science boyfriends ever!”

“This has been stated and she makes a very good point.”

“Not that us being a couple would be bad, but can’t you be serious for a second, Tony?”

“Calm down.” Tony grabbed Bruce’s hand and pulled him down into the chairs again. “Look, I know it’s frustrating, but just laugh them off. You know we’re better than going around beating on anyone saying anything stupid. We should pity them for not being nearly as smart as we are.”

Bruce snorted. “I suppose you’re right.”

“I know I’m right.” Tony snapped his fingers. “Now, back to what I was going to say. I convinced Loki to get us all tickets for his play opening night.”

Bruce sat back, eyebrow raised. “How did you manage that?”

Tony shrugged. “I went with nice instead of naughty? Though at this point, I think Loki would respond to both.”

Bruce laughed. “When is it?”

“The week after Clint and Natasha’s play.”

“Wow, theirs is only a week away.”

Tony nodded. “This semester has gone way too fast.” The holidays were quickly sneaking up on them.

“Tony, that’s the night…” Bruce didn’t bother finishing as Tony was already nodding.

“I know.”

“What do you want to do?”

“We can go afterward.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yep.” He smiled as Bruce reached up to squeeze his shoulder. “So you find out if Steve is free, and I’ll get the other two, okay?”

“Sure thing.” Bruce stood and turned to go.

“And remember,” Tony said as Bruce paused. “No making out during the play.”

Bruce threw him a glare before walking away, and Tony grinned to himself. He had a feeling they would have wanted him to be having fun.

 

~**~

“Hey, Nat, have you seen Steve?”

She tapped her chin. “Heading to the locker rooms, I think?”

“Thanks!”

“Bruce.”

He turned back. “Yeah?”

“Good luck.”

“I thought it was break a leg!” he teased as he turned to go, but then realized she shouldn’t know what he was doing. He glanced back, but the hall was empty. She could be so damn creepy sometimes.

Bruce headed down toward the gym and found Steve walking with Clint.

“Hey! Steve!”

They turned and Steve waved Clint to go on without him as he stopped. “What’s up?”

“You know about the play right?”

“Yeah, it’s next week. We’re all going right?”

“Yeah.” Bruce nodded, then stopped as he realized how much Steve towered over him. What was he going to say?

“What about it?”

He stared as he completely forgot. “Uh…”

Steve smiled a little. “You wanna make it a date?”

Wait, what? “T-That, er, I mean…” What had he just done? Or not done?

“We can if you want.”

“Well, it’s a group thing, so…”

“No worries. It’ll be fun.” He smiled. “That all?”

“No, there was uh…” Bruce shook his head as it finally hit him. “There’s a play the week after. Are you free? It’s the one at the university.”

“Sure thing! Tell me about it tomorrow when we study? I need to get to practice.”

“Oh! Right, sure!” Bruce smiled nervously. “Tomorrow.”

“I’ll text you later!” Steve called as he walked backwards, then into the locker room.

Bruce let out a breath of relief and glanced around to see the hallway blessedly empty save himself. That was… crazy. Had he just asked out Steve Rogers? Holy hell, he had.

He needed to text Tony.

 

~**~

 

“Excuse me?”

“What’s wrong?”

“Why the hell should I wear a suit?” Bruce frowned at Tony’s reflection before turning around to glare at the smug grin.

“I thought you were going on a date?”

“This is a group thing, and don’t you dare think you had anything to do with it being a date.”

“But I did.”

Bruce rolled his eyes and turned back to the mirror to finish putting his tie on. He tugged on the cloth in frustration, wishing Tony weren’t watching. He could never get the hang of these damn things.

“You know,” a pair of arms snaked around his shoulders to take hold of the tie, “I didn’t discourage it.”

With a sigh, Bruce watched as Tony expertly weaved the cloth back and forth into a perfect tie. Years of practice had Tony an expert at formal events. That had mostly been his mother and Pepper’s doing.

“Also, I was the one who said to go ask Steve!”

“It’s not a date.”

“You’re doing that thing again.”

Bruce rolled his eyes. “What thing?”

“That thing where you refuse to expect something good to happen.”

“Jesus, Tony. It’s Clint and Natasha’s play, not a date.”

“You will be sitting in the dark with him watching entertainment! Of course it’s a date!”

Bruce pursed his lips in frustration. He had no other choice. “Will Loki be coming, then?”

Tony narrowed his eyes and pulled his phone out. “Cheap shot.”

“You were asking for it!” Bruce shrugged as he turned back to the mirror to check his reflection yet again as Tony tapped furiously on his phone. It was nice to knock Tony off his pedestal for once. “Ready to go?” He turned to see Tony standing next to the door, looking as innocent as ever. “What did you do?”

“What?”

“You did something. What was it?”

“Loki has to work tonight. Are we going or not?”

Bruce smiled and moved to pat his friend’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. Next time you’ll get to watch him onstage.

“Don’t worry, I’m already plotting your demise,” Tony replied with a grin.

“Are we going to start a prank war?” Bruce chided.

“If it seems necessary.” Tony shrugged. “We’ll see just how much you vex me tonight.”

Bruce grinned and followed Tony out. As much as they put up with one another (more Bruce putting up with Tony than the reverse), he would never get tired of at least trying to one up Tony.

Tony drove to the campus and they met everyone outside. There was short conversation before everyone quickly entered to escape the cold air and searched for their seats. Bruce considered himself lucky to have Steve to his left, just on the aisle. It made for a perfect escape should Tony prove annoying.

“So I heard they refused to both take the lead parts because the characters had a kiss.”

Bruce raised his eyebrows at Steve as they sat. “Really?” He smiled as Steve nodded.

“Yeah, they’re super against PDA. Oh, excuse me,” Tony hissed as he slipped past them, practically shoving his ass in their faces, to take the seat next to Bruce. The other two rolled their eyes as Pepper tried to scold Tony.

“Well, I’m with them on that,” Bruce commented happily.

“Next week is the play at the university, right?” Steve asked as Bruce nodded. “What are you doing after?”

Bruce opened his mouth to answer, then hesitated, glancing at Tony as his friend gestured him to go ahead. “I… have to go somewhere with Tony.”

Steve caught on quickly and nodded with a smile.

“Tell him about last year, Steve. It’s less awkward if you just get it out,” Tony said with a dazzling smile.

Steve turned an interesting shade of red as he glanced away and Bruce had a feeling he knew what was going on. “Does this have to do with the late bloomer comment?”

“You are so smart, bestie.” Tony playfully punched his shoulder.

“How long did it last?”

“A week,” Steve answered.

“He’s a pretty good kisser, isn’t he?” Bruce asked, surprising them both. “Mine was awkward though.”

Steve laughed. “Guess we’ll have to make it forgettable.”

“Oi! I am a damn good kisser!” Tony protested as Bruce and Steve snickered against each other, their hands intertwining. As the lights went down, Bruce decided he liked it, and didn’t plan on letting go.

The play went well, and while Bruce did enjoy it, he was a little distracted. By the time it was over, the hand holding seemed more natural, comfortable even. Without asking, Steve let go when they went out to meet the cast and congratulate their friends. Bruce liked that.

“Where are we meeting for eats?” Tony asked some of the senior cast members as he pulled out his phone.

“He’s going to reserve the entire place, isn’t he?” Steve whispered.

“That’s what he does,” Bruce answered with a grin.

Steve sighed with a light chuckle. “God help us.”

Tony walked over to them as he was talking into the phone, and then leaned closer to Bruce. “You can ride in Steve’s car.”

Bruce was amused by the sudden change of plans. “Trying to give us…” He trailed off as Tony turned, pulling his phone away from his ear as Loki approached from one of the doors and talked quietly to Tony.

“Is that who I think it is?” Steve stared.

“I am just as surprised as you.” Bruce shook his head in disbelief. They watched as Tony said something to make Loki laugh, then talked into his phone again before putting it away. Loki then leaned down and whispered something in Tony’s ear that made him smirk. Bruce wondered just what they were planning.

“This is real, right? I’m not imagining this.”

Bruce glanced at Steve with a grin. “This is going to be very interesting.”

The cast, crew and all their friends headed to the restaurant, invading and making a hostile takeover. Clint and Natasha sat with their friends instead of their cast members, but people moved from table to table, so it wasn’t as if conversation ever got boring. Everyone who stopped at their table seemed to like to listen when Loki was talking, and Bruce could see why. He had a way with words that wasn’t all the bet with his brother.

“You would have to design him a muzzle,” Loki said, clearly referring to Tony.

“I could make it so he can’t speak for the rest of his life,” Natasha offered as Tony made a face of dismay.

“But where is the fun in that?” They shared a grin.

“My heart is swelling to three times its normal size,” Tony replied blandly.

“Keep it in your pants, Captain Drama,” she replied as the table erupted into laughter.

“Well, I’m glad you’re all getting along,” Tony said.

“We already know one another,” Loki told him.

“What?”

“We met him on IRC,” Clint replied before taking the last bite of his pizza.

“And no one told me?”

Natasha shrugged. “How were we supposed to know he was the guy in your class?”

“Then how did you figure it out?”

Natasha leaned over the table and tapped Loki’s shirt, which prompted the young man to pull his jacket open to reveal the golden words on it—God of Mischief. “I had this shirt made for him. Goes with his screen name.”

Loki grinned. “She introduced herself when we were in the entryway of the restaurant and you were busy talking to the restaurant manager.”

“Your perception points are dropping,” Bruce hissed at Tony, who waved him away, genuinely interested in their online antics.

It wasn’t long before talk lulled and everyone began to look sleepy, so checks were requested all around. Soon, they were standing outside shivering, saying goodbye and Bruce wished he didn’t have to ride with Tony.

“Natasha said you’d have something to tell me,” Steve said suddenly when they were standing off to the side of the group. “Something about bullying?”

“Ah.” Bruce nodded. “Yes, I should probably tell you about that soon.”

“You could tell me now.”

Bruce smiled as Steve pouted like a puppy. “Much as I’d like to, now is not the time since we’re all freezing, and things like this are best discussed over coffee. I can tell you about it, and you can tell me about your dad.”

Steve smiled. “Like a trade? Sounds fair.”

“Good.” Bruce let Steve pull him into a bear hug. “I’ll text you tomorrow and we can figure out when to meet up.”

“You’ll get him to his car?” Tony asked Steve, who nodded and looked to Loki.

“Where did you park?” Steve asked as they walked away.

Bruce sighed and followed Tony. “Too bad we’re going the other way.”

“Normally, I wouldn’t care about gas and stuff, but for some reason, I felt like tonight wasn’t the night,” Tony answered quietly.

“So unlike you!” Bruce said with a laugh. “But you’re right; it would have seemed forced for both of us.”

Tony smiled as he unlocked his car. “See, I can be perceptive too!”

 

~**~

 

“I am so glad finals are over!” Tony stretched as he got out of the car.

“No kidding.” Bruce smiled at his friend over the roof. “We aced everything though.”

“Duh!” Tony rolled his eyes and grinned. “Ready?”

“If you are.”

Tony and Bruce each grabbed a bouquet of flowers out of the backseat, leaving a third by itself. That was for later. After they entered the building, they found the gift table and left the two bouquets there, one for Thor and one for Loki. They then met up with their friends, and while most patrons entered the auditorium, Tony dragged his friends away toward the dressing rooms.

“Let’s wish them luck!”

“You have to say ‘break a leg’ or it’s bad luck,” Clint informed him.

“Yeah, yeah!” Tony waved a hand as they followed him down the hallway toward the backstage area. A few of the girls waved hello, recognizing Tony and asking why he was there.

“You’re not supposed to be backstage!” one teased.

“I bet you can make an exception for me,” Tony flirted as his friends all rolled their eyes.

“You received free tickets, what more could you possibly want?”

Loki stood in the doorway, arms crossed as everyone stared, even Tony. He was done up as a prince, looking regal in gold armor from neck to toe and he carried the royal blue cape rather well.

“Damn,” Bruce finally spoke for them. He looked amazing.

“See? The costume looks marvelous!” one of the girls told Loki. “He was nervous about it.”

“I do not pull off regal and princely as well as my brother, I’m afraid. And I do not think blue is my color.”

“Nonsense!” Tony said as he circled Loki, admiring the costume. “You’re both tall and handsome. Who says Thor looks better?”

Thor strode up next to them and smiled. “Hello, friends! It is good to see you here.”

“I do,” Natasha blurted out before Clint elbowed her.

“Be ready, dear brother. The curtain rises soon!” He clapped Loki on the shoulder and walked away, murmuring lines to himself.

“I should do the same,” Loki told them with a slight bow.

“You can practice here!” Tony suggested happily.

“Is it not lovely how he thinks he is never in the way?” Loki said through a sly smile as everyone tried not to laugh.

“I’m not. Talk amongst yourselves.” He gestured at his friends. “Oh wait! Let me tell you guys about when I was in a play in elementary school!”

“Thrilling,” Clint muttered.

“Really! My father helped design machines for smoke and stuff and one of them malfunctioned the night of the play and completely filled the auditorium with smoke and it was totally ridiculous! They then had to figure out a way to get the smoke out because they kids were all freaking out at the fact that they might not be able to perform after practicing for so damn long! So then he—”

“Shut up! Just shut up!” Loki grabbed Tony by the shoulders and shook him. “I need to concentrate! Can’t you be quiet for five minutes?”

“Make me!” Tony taunted between the shakes.

Loki stopped and narrowed his eyes. He anchored his hand on the back of Tony’s neck and laid one hell of a kiss on him. Bruce found it impressive to note that even for half a second, Tony froze before going with it.

As they pulled apart, Tony stared.

“There now.” Loki patted the stunned young man’s shoulder. “That worked splendidly.” He turned to find Clint and Natasha staring. “What?”

“Well, if I’d known how well that would work…” Clint trailed off.

“You are nowhere near as hot as him!” Tony snapped finally as Loki ignored all of them, muttering his lines to himself.

“Come on, Tony. You’ll get to see him onstage.” Bruce took his friend’s arm and dragged him away.

Tony walked backward as Bruce pulled him away, watching Loki. Just before he got to the corner, Loki glanced up and winked. God of Mischief indeed.

Tony grunted. “God he’s hot.”

Bruce just shook his head, earning a smile from Steve. They found their seats without incident, Tony being pushed into the aisle first this time so he couldn’t shove his butt in their faces.

“You people have no appreciation for a healthy body!”

“Just sit!” Bruce growled as Steve crossed his arms to back him up. Tony muttered to himself as he sat. The lights went down and the play began.

Tony had been to plenty of plays throughout his life. Bruce knew this because their parents often dragged both of them and fundraising events so many times he lost count. Often times, he saw plays and musicals he’d seen before. Thankfully, neither hadn’t seen this one, so they could actually pay attention.

Though, Tony seemed to find it was hard to concentrate on the lines.

“…glorious purpose!” Loki recited, looking triumphant. He was very good at stage acting.

“That’s so hot,” Tony hissed as Bruce elbowed him and told him to shut up.

After a standing ovation, the group waited for the aisles to clear before taking themselves out into the atrium. Bruce overheard quite a few people complimenting both the brothers, but Thor’s name overheard the most. Loki did play the villain though, so he should have expected that.

“People just don’t appreciate a well-played villain,” he said to Loki when he approached.

“You were fantastic,” Natasha told him. “I liked how you played the revelation scene.”

“Thank you,” Loki smiled and bowed slightly.

“I think I might want to see it again,” Tony admitted happily.

“Really?”

“Let’s just say sometimes he got distracted,” Bruce muttered next to Loki’s ear. He stepped back as Tony found himself under Loki’s intense gaze. Bruce felt a bit like a matchmaker. But just a little. It was nice to give Tony a taste of his own medicine.

“Hey, guys. Thor says the cast is going out for food… What’s wrong?” Clint asked as he stopped next to Tony, who was frowning at his phone, face red.

“I need to change,” Loki said suddenly and walked away toward the dressing rooms.

“Do you need help getting that armour off?” Tony asked nonchalantly. “I’m good at disassembly.”

Loki paused, but kept walking until he was out of sight.

“Did you see his ass in those pants?!” he hissed as Bruce rolled his eyes and Natasha giggled. Loki returned with his brother soon after.

“Now who is up for a feast? I fear I am starving!” Thor boomed happily.

Tony and Bruce glanced at one another knowing it was time for them to bow out. Steve smiled and Bruce just shrugged.

“I’ll text you tomorrow,” Bruce told him quietly. “Don’t know exactly what’s going on.”

Steve nodded and gave him a bear hug. “Stay warm.”

“You’re not coming?” Loki asked quietly. “Do you want to go out tomorrow?”

Bruce had to glance away when he saw Tony smile then answer, “Sorry, Bruce and I have a previous engagement, so we’ll be busy the next few days. I’ll call you, though.”

Loki nodded as the two said their farewells and broke off from the group, heading out to Tony’s car. Bruce chanced a glance back to see Natasha talking to Loki. She would tell him so he wouldn’t be in the dark.

Tony stopped and tossed Bruce the keys. “You drive.”

Bruce nodded and walked to the driver’s side as they got in and left the campus behind. Tony was silent during the drive and Bruce concentrated on the road. It was always weird when Tony didn’t talk. Once they arrived, they got out and Tony took the last bouquet as they walked toward their destination.

The grave was untouched and Bruce helped Tony clean it off before they stepped back and Tony placed the flowers down, remaining down on one knee. He closed his eyes as Bruce waited, thinking his own silent prayers. He missed Tony’s parents much more than he realized. He blinked the tears away as Tony stood and Bruce noticed tears on his friend’s cheeks. He hadn’t cried at the funeral; hadn’t cried since before it happened.

“Almost enough to make you want to buy a bike.”

Bruce put an arm around Tony, who rested his head against Bruce’s shoulder. “They would be proud of you, and you know it.”

“As much as I am I scientist, I’d like to think they’re somewhere, a place where it doesn’t hurt.”

Bruce found himself agreeing, then the thought fled him as Tony slid out from his arm and fell. He managed to grab his friend before his knees hit the ground, and lowered him slowly. “Are you okay?”

“Didn’t sleep last night,” Tony admitted with a sheepish smile.

“So, you really do need sleep to function.” Bruce shook his head and helped him up. “Let’s get home. I’ll get Maria to make that soup tomorrow.”

“That would be really nice,” Tony said, leaning on him as they turned around to make their way back to the car.

“If you fall asleep in the car, I’m not carrying you in.”

“Killjoy.”

 

~**~

 

[I miss them]

[I know.]

 

~***~

Chapter Text

Steve sighed as he set the bags he’d had on his arms on the counter. “I don’t know how I got talked into this.”

Tony pulled his jacket off as he tilted his head at his friend and could swear he knew exactly how they got Steve to come. He glanced at Bruce, who was peering into the fridge, then back at Steve.

Steve’s cheeks went red as he cleared his throat. “Shut up.”

Tony smirked. “I didn’t say anything.” Steve leveled him a look. “Don’t worry. If this goes as planned, you’ll be leaving with a smile on your face.”

“I wish you wouldn’t say things like that.”

“Why?”

“Nothing always goes as planned.”

“Geez, you guys are made for one another. Look, as long as people don’t try to ruin it, everything I plan always goes perfectly.”

“You’re right, Loki isn’t here.”

Tony glared at Steve who just grinned. “Thanks for that salt.”

“You walked right into it.”

“Hey, Bruce! Steve has something he wants to tell you!” Tony called as Steve stared at him in panic. “You’re playing with the master, buddy.” He patted Steve’s shoulder, wandering away as Bruce stopped next to Steve.

“What’s up?” he asked.

“Uh, I… I’m just excited to get started with the cooking and all!” Steve recovered as Tony grinned to himself. Inviting his friends over for Christmas Eve celebrations had been planned in advance, but Tony had been making slight alterations to his plans the more he saw the way Bruce and Steve were getting along. In his opinion, it wasn’t going fast enough. They should have kissed by now, at least, which they hadn’t. He had weaseled that particular factoid out of Bruce in 10 seconds flat.

“Hey,” Natasha said as she slipped her shoes off and walked over to present Tony with a pie. “Mom and I made it last night.”

Tony smiled as he took it. “Same as last year?”

“Well, seeing as you never ate that one, we figured you might want to taste it for once.”

“Thanks,” he said quietly and moved to put it in the fridge. Clint joined him, pulling spices Tony had requested of him out of a bag. Bruce moved to the sink side of the kitchen to start pulling out pots and pans from a cupboard as Pepper set up a cookbook.

There was a flash and Tony held his hand up to block it. “What the hell, Natasha?”

She shrugged with a grin from behind her camera. “You don’t want this grand experiment chronicled?”

“This better not go on Facebook, and I can record anything I want! Right Jarvis?”

“Quite right, sir. But keep it from getting on YouTube this time?”

“Oh, no, I want my own proof of our incredibly fail cooking skills.”

“We’re not that bad,” Bruce told her. “You should have seen the decoration Tony put on the cake we made for our final.”

Natasha raised an interested eyebrow as Clint sat next to her on the other side of the island. “Are there pictures?”

“I’ll show you later.” Tony waved a spoon at her. “And pictures later too. Clint wants to talk.”

“Clearly. He told me on the way over.”

“I’m thinking about moving to the east coast for college.”

Pepper nearly dropped the plate she’d been holding, fumbling to catch it as everyone in the room stopped in surprise.

“I wanted all of you to know.”

“And Tony knew before I did.”

Tony glanced up at Natasha. He could tell she was pissed as all hell. “He asked me for advice on which to pick.”

She carefully set the camera down and left her stool, walking across the living room area to open the door and step out onto the balcony.

“Jesus, Tony, did you have to be like that?” Bruce hissed.

“Chill, Bruce. I knew she was going to be angry.” Clint ran a hand through his hair and slipped off of his stool. “Time to go explain myself.”

“Good luck.” Steve nodded.

“I’d rather have her break my leg,” he muttered in reply as he headed for the balcony.

The four that were left in the kitchen got started on the soup recipe the cookbook was open to. Steve silently chopped vegetables as Tony and Bruce read the instructions, adding the ingredients.

“Awesome Christmas plan, Tony.” Pepper stacked the flatware on the counter. “Though, I mean that both honestly and sarcastically.”

Tony glanced up at the couple outside the soundproof doors talking. They weren’t yelling, so it wasn’t going badly. “According to plan, so far.”

“Anything else we should know about?”

Tony’s thigh began to ring so he planted Bruce in front of the pot they’d been filling. He slipped the phone out of his pocket and set it against his ear. “Tony’s Express Eatery.”

“Congratulations on our impeccable final presentation.”

“Teamwork can be a beautiful thing. May I take your order?”

“I’m not hungry, but you will find your gift quite interesting, I think.”

Tony’s eyes darted around the room as he felt his heartbeat pick up. “No hints?”

“You don’t need any.”

He glanced at Bruce who was smiling down at the soup he was stirring. “I have a traitor in my midst.”

“Really, Tony. I thought you would have him on surveillance by now.”

“It’s really bad form to put my best friend on surveillance, but you do have a point.”

“Who is it?” Pepper called.

Tony waved his hand at her as he looked around again. What looked out of place?

“Go on and tell her.”

“That takes all of the mystery out of it,” he replied as he spotted a small green wrapped box with silver ribbon on the fireplace. Tony smirked to himself and snatched it off the bricks to give it a closer look.

“Yes, you are quite right.”

“Besides, I’ve found it.” Tony pulled the silver ribbon off and opened the little green box to find… well, not what he was expecting. He wasn’t really sure what he was expecting, but it definitely wasn’t a random dome of metal with what looked like a tiny lens. It looked familiar as well—

“Oh, did you?”

Then he noticed it, just past his field of vision. There was another small green box next to the foot of the sofa.

“Son of a bitch.”

“Merry Christmas, Tony.” The line went dead as Tony’s mind flew into gear. He went straight for the other box and ripped the ribbon off to open it and find a completely different piece to the one he’d found previous. He knew this one though—a piece of the Enterprise. He glanced at the other piece in his hand before it hit him and he smacked his forehead.

“Is that the top of R2D2?” Pepper asked as he grabbed her arm.

“There are more of these, help me find them!” he ordered as his eyes searched the room.

“Why do I have to help you?”

He pulled her close and nodded to Bruce and Steve, who were laughing together. “Because the love birds over there need time to flirt and if you don’t let them, I will personally find a way to make your life unbearable.”

“Coming from you, I know you’ll do it,” she whispered back as she looked away. “There’s one.” She pointed to the bottom edge of a box showing from under the curtains.

“Alright. Find as many as you can and meet me in my room, go!” he said as he went for the stairs to his workshop first. Bruce had access to that room, so clearly there had to be some down there. His intuition did not fail him as he found seven boxes hidden throughout the room before heading back up. Pepper had already gone through the guest rooms, so they tore up Bruce’s room (for fun) and found one box before destroying Tony’s room to get 30 boxes total.

They settled themselves on the floor as Pepper opened all the boxes and Tony lined up the pieces, organizing them by part then set about putting them together. First, he put together the R2D2, which made sounds once he set the last piece in place. He grinned and handed it to Pepper before going for the Enterprise next.

“Who are these from?”

“The God of Mischief,” he answered, finishing yet another set of pieces to have it snap out, “EXTERMINATE!” Pepper took it with a laugh and set it next to the Enterprise. After that was a small model of Serenity, then a little robot whose sound caused Tony to make a face.

“You don’t like it?”

“It makes the wrong startup noise,” Tony grumbled and tossed it on the bed to put together the last set of pieces.

“What do you mean? I always liked the noise Wall-E made!” she moved away to retrieve it.

Tony ignored her cooing at the small robot as he put the last set of pieces together, his heart racing as he knew what it was. He snapped the last piece into place, and it made the signature revving sound like no other.

“Holy shit,” he muttered.

“Oh, wow!” Pepper took it and admired it. “Did Bruce set this up? Are you making Steve run interference and not telling me something about him moving in?”

Tony wasn’t listening. He was thinking about Loki and how he could possibly know that Tony absolutely and wholeheartedly adored the movie Tron. Considering Bruce had clearly helped Loki with his little plan, his best friend was the inside man behind this entire thing. Interrogation time!

“Are you even listening to me?”

He took the light cycle back from her. “Huh? Yeah, Bruce helped set it up. I’m sure of it.” He stood and made his way to the door, Pepper following.

“Well then, who are they from?”

“That’s what I’m making sure of now. Why are you carrying them?”

“Because they’re cool! And anyone who goes through this much trouble to send you gifts to tinker with and put together is clearly someone that’s perfect for you!”

Tony scoffed as they turned the corner into the kitchen. “Pepper, perfect couples don’t exi—”

He cut off when he came into view of Bruce and Steve making out right in the middle of the kitchen. Finally! This was a promising development. Not wanting to completely ruin things for them, Tony glanced away and loudly cleared his throat. The two jumped apart in surprise.

“Oh, good. You’re done. You didn’t drool in the soup did you? Because that would be highly unsanitary.”

“No, we did not!” Bruce frowned as he grabbed the spoon to stir again.

Tony walked up behind Bruce and rested his chin on his best friend’s shoulder. “Oh, that looks delicious.” He reached around Bruce to pretend to drive the light cycle on the edge of the pot.

“Like your gifts?”

“You conspired against me.”

“More like, conspired for you.”

“You told him my greatest weakness.”

Bruce smirked. “I would never do that.”

Tony stepped back and looked to Steve. “He’s ticklish.”

“TONY!”

Tony grinned and made his light cycle rev again as he slipped away, pulling his phone out as Pepper laughed at Bruce and Steve’s awkwardness. He was about to type when he noticed Clint and Natasha on the sofa.

“Made up?”

“Yep.” Natasha nodded as she flipped through channels.

Tony looked to Clint, who shrugged and stood. “I’m going to help them in the kitchen or they’re going to make out constantly and it’ll never get done.”

He sat next to Natasha. “You’re awesome at lying.”

“Shut up.”

“I would, but this is important.”

She sighed and sat forward to toss the remote on the coffee table. “You’re right. It is.”

“I don’t want you to be mad at me.”

“I’m not mad at you.”

“Then what?”

She shook her head, so Tony sighed and put an arm around her. “Look.” He held out the light cycle and she lit up.

“Oh, wow! Haha, it even makes sounds. Where did you get this?”

“Anonymous donation.”

“Loki.” She smiled as she gave it back. “Do you want to know what Clint gave me?”

“Do tell.”

“Old Playbills his mother was going to throw out from when she went to see shows in New York. They’re gorgeous, Tony. Pristine condition.”

“Need a book for them?”

“Yes.”

“Consider it done.”

“Thank you.”

“No, thank you for coming today.”

“Aw, getting all soft on me?” she asked as they hugged.

“Just sharing the love.” He picked up his phone again.

“By the way, I’m the one who told him.”

Tony sifted through screens. “Told who what?”

“Loki, about your collection.” She nodded at his DVD wall.

“I can’t trust anyone around here anymore,” Tony muttered as he went back to his phone.

[You win this round]

 

~**~

 

Tony felt disoriented as he came fully awake. He was not in his own bed. With a yawn, he sat up as he remembered the events of the day before. The afternoon had gone as planned, apart from his little scavenger hunt with Pepper, and dinner had tasted fabulous. All was well: Natasha and Clint were besties like normal, Steve and Bruce had finally gotten together (officially) and Pepper was telling Tony what to do, as always.

After dinner, they played video games until they just couldn’t anymore, and said their goodbyes, leaving Tony and Bruce alone. The two loaded up the dishwasher, packed their things and headed Bruce’s home to spend the night with his parents. Tony had immediately taken the guest room and passed out, as he had gotten up far too early the morning previous. Or maybe he hadn’t slept the night before. He couldn’t quite remember.

With a stretch, he shifted and turned to get out of the bed, pausing when he noticed the little toys on the bedstand. He picked up the light cycle and smiled. He didn’t know how Loki managed it in such a short amount of time, but they were the best presents he’d gotten in a while. He wasn’t sure how he was going to top this without spending a lot of—wait. They weren’t technically a couple, and yet…

“Jarvis,” he paused when he heard his phone beep and realized he wasn’t at home and therefore did not need to check on things. Besides, it was Christmas.

“Yes sir?”

“Nevermind.”

He carried the toy with him as he went downstairs to check out the tree.

“Good morning, Anthony.”

Bruce’s mom always called him that. She liked his name. “Good morning! Thanks for having me over.”

“It’s not Christmas dinner without you, dear,” she told him and kissed his cheek. “Get Bruce up, would you?”

“Yes, mother,” he teased and took himself back upstairs, but not before noticing a present under the tree with his name on it. Pajamas. They got him pajamas every year. He couldn’t argue; they were useful!

Tony didn’t bother knocking on Bruce’s door, but just let himself in and then slipped into the bed.

Bruce glared at him before he turned over. “This bed is not big enough for the two of us. It never was.” He was clearly referring to last year at this time when Tony was a complete mess and sleeping with Bruce to keep from falling apart. Not that those were great memories, but Tony kind of missed sleeping with someone.

“You’re going to need practice for whenever Steve comes over. Come on, work with me here!”

“Tony, I’m not an idiot. If I get laid, it will most definitely not be in this bed, but in the one you have given me.”

“You say that now, but what happens when you move out by yourself and you only have the bed you lived with all your life.”

“There is a floor.”

“Too hard.”

“If you have morning wood and are looking for a handjob, I swear to god I’m going to punch you,” Bruce growled as Tony laughed. He finally got out of the bed and smacked Bruce’s behind to earn a small yelp.

“Your mom wants you to come down and open your presents. I’d listen if I were you. Moms know best.”

“Yeah, yeah. Has Loki said anything yet? You didn’t get a reply before we left last night.”

Tony glanced at the door, the urge to run to the guestroom overwhelming. “I should probably check that.” He wandered out of the room and back to his. He grabbed his phone off the side table and turned it on.

[Hm, a bit slower than I was expecting.]

Tony smirked and sent back, [Cheers!]

Breakfast was ready when the two made their way downstairs, so they loaded up on food and joined Bruce’s parents in the living room to open presents.

Tony happily sat on the couch, chomping on bacon as Bruce opened his presents from relatives and friends. After a while, they handed Tony his gift and he set his plate aside. When he opened it, he graciously thanked Mr. and Mrs. Banner for the lovely pajamas. Bruce also got pajamas—and a new laptop, an external hard drive, as well as an mp3 player.

“The Christmas bonus was very helpful,” his father said with a smile as Bruce stared at him incredulously. Tony didn’t bother taking credit for that one. Mr. Banner’s boss had deemed him worthy.

There was one more gift under the tree with Tony’s name on it. With a grin, he accepted it from Bruce, expecting socks. He was mistaken.

“Merry Christmas, Tony.”

Tony let out a breath of surprise. It was a picture of everyone at the after party of Clint and Natasha’s play. Even Loki was in the picture, smiling graciously.

“I think this is the best Christmas present I’ve ever gotten.”

“Compared to…?”

Tony punched Bruce’s shoulder then pulled him into a hug. “Thanks.”

“Merry Christmas, Tony.”

“Merry Christmas, bestie.”

 

~***~

Chapter Text

Tony had not given Bruce anything for Christmas yet. This was sort of tradition. Tony always took him shopping after the fact so they could laugh at people scrambling to return crap they didn’t want, or to buy things too little, too late.

“Why are we going here again?” he asked Tony as they got out of his car.

“Because you wanted books.”

“But why are we going to the bookstore next to campus? We could have gone to the one near your place.”

“This one has a better selection,” Tony said as they walked in.

Bruce saw Loki handing a book to an older lady and gave Tony a look. “Better selection, huh?”

“Go on and pick out what you want,” Tony said with a wave of his hand and made a beeline for Loki. Clearly he’d found what he wanted. Bruce just shook his head and he watched Tony approach Loki as the taller rolled his eyes with a smile. Tony reached into his pocket and pulled out something that made Loki laugh—the light cycle.

Bruce leaned against a pillar to watch. Natasha had texted him the day after Loki and Thor’s play, commenting on how much Loki liked making Tony’s life hell. This obviously meant they were perfect for one another, so Bruce asked Jarvis for Loki’s number and called to see if he needed any help.

Tony had been out carting Pepper around for last minute Christmas shopping, so getting Loki into the house before his shift was easy enough. He took Loki down to the workshop and helped to quickly piece together the figures Loki had been working on. Jarvis has been extremely helpful. Luckily, Tony never thought to suspect his computer butler as treasonous.

“I was making them for myself,” Loki had told Bruce. “But when Natasha told me he liked sci-fi shows, I figured I should give them to him.”

They disassembled the pieces, wrapped each, and then had a blast hiding them all over the house. When Loki started putting them in more and more difficult to see places, Bruce asked if Tony might miss some pieces.

Loki just grinned. “Why, I think he will rather enjoy the challenge, don’t you?”

They really were perfect for each other.

Bruce bit his lip to hide a smile as Loki tried to shoo Tony away. Maybe he should give them some time together, despite Loki being at work. Bruce wandered away through the shelves to the science section and began picking out the books he wanted. He had a pretty hefty stack when Tony appeared at his elbow with a basket.

“He can’t come hang out for New Years.”

“Well, that’s a shame.”

“Family obligations.”

“You really do like him, don’t you?”

“I told him a while ago.”

Bruce turned to stare. “When?”

Tony shrugged. “Coulson pointed it out and I kind of blurted it out when we were going to work on a project.”

“Wait, are you together and didn’t tell me?”

Tony shook his head and was silent.

“Holy shit. You really like him. You didn’t start making out with him seconds after meeting.”

“Shut up.”

Bruce laughed and put his books in the basket. “Come on, Tony. There will be plenty of time to spend with him later. Like, tons of your life.” He didn’t miss the way Tony glanced down, he assumed toward his chest, but Bruce chose to ignore it. How long that life lasted, he wasn’t sure, but he was going to make sure Tony at least lived it.

“What if he doesn’t want to spend time with me?”

Bruce had to fight the urge to roll his eyes. “I think that is the dumbest thing that has ever come out of your mouth. And considering all the dumb things that come out of your mouth…”

Tony whined and rubbed his face. “Bruce, he’s the only person I’ve ever met who didn’t care about my status besides you guys. He… he…”

“He’s perfect for you. Just shut up and let it happen. No more plans, just let it happen.”

“THAT IS THE DUMBEST THINGTHAT’S EVER COME OUT OF YOUR MOUTH.”

Bruce just laughed and took his basket from Tony. “Come on Insecurity Boy. Let’s buy me some books.”

“Do I ask him on a date or wait for him to do it?”

Bruce spotted a piece of black hair around the edge of the far end of the bookcase. “Tony Stark asking me for love advice, this is rich. I need to tell Steve about this.”

“Seriously, Bruce. I want to, but I’m not really sure how.”

“You say, ‘would you like to go on a date with me?’” It probably wasn’t helpful that he’d taken Tony’s head in his hands and tried to open and close his mouth with the words.

Tony shoved him away. “I know how to talk, thanks.”

“This is certain. And you’ve never had an issue before! Then again, you never really asked me out, you just kind of kissed me out of nowhere.”

“That is totally different! It was a moment and it required a kiss!”

Bruce laughed. “So just kiss him.”

Tony pouted. “He’ll punch me.”

“Why didn’t I think of that?”

“Bruce!”

“He’s already kissed you!”

“He only did that to shut me up.”

Bruce rolled his eyes. “Tony, stop being stupid. You’re being stupid.”

Tony shook his head. “You’re right.”

“Just be yourself.” Bruce stopped. “Wait, no. That might not be sound advice.”

“Do you want those books or not?”

Bruce smiled. “Oh, look, the relationship section.”

“Man, I’m serious! These books are for people who are nuts.”

“You are nuts.”

“It’s like arguing with a cat.”

“I’d like to think you asking me to live with you is like adopting a cat. I feed and take care of myself, and I let you talk at me when you have problems. Like now.”

“Should’ve gotten a cat instead,” Tony grumbled and poked at the books as they walked by.

“All I’m really saying is you don’t have to do anything. It’s just…” Bruce smiled to himself and leaned against one of the bookcases. “It’s really nice having someone like you for being you, isn’t it?”

“You think he likes me?” Tony asked suspiciously. “He could be lulling me into a false sense of security.”

“Then, damn he is good.” Bruce said as they moved on. “Just be your rotten little self, and I’m sure dozens of pranks will fall into your collective laps.”

“Thanks, Bruce.”

“That’s what the cat is here for, listening to Tony Stark whine about getting a boyfriend.”

“Shut up.”

“Love you too, bestie.

 

~**~

 

New Year went by uneventfully. Thank god.

After he’d moved in, Bruce had scoured the house for alcohol and gotten rid of all of it, periodically checking. Tony’s dad had been pretty relaxed about Tony drinking in their presence, and Tony sometimes drank without them around for fun. With them gone, Bruce had no idea if Tony was abusing the privilege. Luckily, Tony hadn’t noticed the disappearance, and if he did, he never said anything.

That being said, all they did for the New Year was spend the day channel surfing, and watching each country’s New Year in real time as they called friends. Tony demonstrated his extensive list of friends by calling a few in Europe. Bruce wanted to punt him across the room for the obnoxious look on his face.

Once their own time zone hit midnight, they were on the couch singing together before cheering at the fireworks display and downing some champagne Coulson had bought for them. Bruce was impressed. He preferred this quiet affair to the alternative of going out with friends and getting smashed, or ending up in a crash. He had a feeling the latter made Tony want to stay home for the night. Bruce happily sang along with Tony as they jumped on the couch, and then Tony kissed him, just to be contrary, the brat.

But then, just after midnight, Tony got a call, and Bruce watched as his friend’s face changed entirely. His expression lightened when he checked the screen, and the identity of the caller was obvious to Bruce.

“I’ll be right back,” Tony said distractedly as he answered the call.

“Take your time,” Bruce told him to get a wave as Tony wandered away toward the sliding doors. He couldn’t hear the conversation, but somehow, he got exactly what it was by the way Tony leaned. His friend turned and Bruce caught the smile and fondness in Tony’s eyes.

“Your mom,” Tony replied and laughed.

Bruce couldn’t help but roll his eyes. This might take a while. Thankfully, his phone beeped.

[Happy New Year!]

Bruce couldn’t help smiling at the text. [Back at ya]

[Ready for the new semester?]

[Is anyone?]

[When are we going to go on that date?]

This intrigued Bruce. [We have to do that?]

[It’s tradition!]

He laughed, making Tony turn with an eyebrow quirked. Bruce ignored him. [Christmas didn’t count?]

[Alone]

[Oh, I see. You want to get in my pants.]

[In public]

[This is getting racier and racier]

[Bruce!]

He was laughing into a pillow as Tony gave him another look, clearly confused. [Sorry, to used to living with Tony.]

“I think my roommate is getting a little excited, so I better go.”

“No, no it’s fine!”

Tony’s eyes flicked to the side as he grinned. “Oh, I can make a recording happen.”

Bruce rolled his eyes and glanced at his phone.

[He’d have Jarvis record it.]

Bruce looked up at Tony suspiciously before replying, [I feel like this is a running gag now]

[Wouldn’t put it past him!]

He had a point. Bruce watched as Tony sighed and hung up the phone.

“You forgot to ask him on a date.”

Tony’s jaw dropped before he yelled in frustration and ruffled his hair. “Dammit!”

“Go bother him at work.”

“That’s creepy.”

Bruce stared at him. “How is that creepy?”

“It’d be like that awful 50 Shades book, where he just shows up at her work 3 hours away.”

“How have you possibly read this book?”

“I got bored. It was easy and overwhelmingly mind numbing. Remind me to never read a quote-unquote ‘erotica’ novel again.”

“But you visited him before.”

“Well, the first time it was because I was performing an experiment…” he paused for a moment, glancing away, “and to get on his nerves. When you came with, I warned him of impending arrival.”

“And now?”

“Doesn’t that seem like reaching?”

Bruce rolled his eyes. For all of Tony’s meddling in his love life, apparently he couldn’t take his own advice. “You don’t have a class with him anymore, do you?”

“Nope.”

“Well, meet up with him on campus, and talk to him about it. Campus is a neutral territory, right?”

“Perfectly neutral.”

“Good, I’m glad we sorted that out,” Bruce said with a roll of his eyes as he stood. “I’m gonna make sure I have my things together and get to bed. You gonna sleep tonight?”

“Eventually.”

“One can only hope you will pass out, therefore keeping the world from blowing up for one more day.”

“Hey, I am not a comic super-villain. I’m just dating one.”

“I am really going to regret encouraging your relationship with Loki.”

“Look at it this way. Maybe someday you and Steve can be a super hero team and fight against us. It’s too bad you’d lose.”

“Some days, I don’t know why I bother.” Bruce said with a grin as he headed toward his room. He glanced at his phone as he walked in and shut the door, and noticed another message.

[So…?]

He grinned. [Isn’t it a little cheap asking someone out over a text?]

[You’re making this difficult on purpose. Is Tony giving you advice?]

He had to laugh at that as he sat on the bed. [Nope. Just learned too much from him.]

[Well, then I’ll see you in class next Wednesday. Prepare for mushy-ness.]

[You’re going to embarrass me, aren’t you?]

[Texting Tony for advice now.]

Bruce smacked his forehead. He’d practically asked for it.

 

~**~

 

“Yo.”

Loki looked up from his notebook to see Tony approaching before sitting next to him. “How did you find me?”

“You left your GPS on.” He grinned when Loki eyed the phone. “I’m kidding. I was just heading toward the science buildings and I saw you on the bench.”

“Right, now I have a stalker. Never should have accepted that damn phone.” Loki teased.

“Don’t lie, you like Jarvis.”

“Well, I don’t dislike Jarvis.”

“Is he helpful?”

Loki picked up the phone to look at it. “I’m not used to it yet.”

“Still tapping away like everyone else, I suppose.”

“I feel weird giving it commands.”

“He was made to be like a butler for a reason. Man, you guys have to use him so I can get some good testing out of it.”

Loki chuckled. “I knew there was an underlying reason.”

“I can’t make him better if no one tests him properly.”

“So what are you doing here? Our class together ended.”

“Does that mean we have to stop hanging out?”

“Not particularly.” Loki smiled. Tony liked it when he smiled.

“Doing an independent study. Was gonna talk with my professor about it.”

“Nothing else interested you?”

“Well, you weren’t in the class I wanted to take, so no.” Tony smiled when he saw Loki smirk a bit and put the phone away. “Come on, walk with me.”

The two got up and Tony led them in a random direction. They didn’t speak as Tony glanced up to see the clouds building and moving closer, thunder rolling quietly in the distance. Maybe they should move inside.

“Where are we going?”

“Anywhere.” Tony shrugged with a grin. “It’s just cool hanging with you.”

“I’m flattered.”

“You never replied before.”

“To what?”

“When I said I liked you.” Tony turned to face Loki when he stopped, noting how conflicted he looked. “You don’t… have to reply. I get it if you’re not interested.”

“It’s not that.”

“Worried about the fact that you’d be dating Tony Stark? The genius kid? Or maybe all of the girls who are always vying for my attention? They are pretty vicious sometimes, so I can totally understand that.”

“You asked me to let it happen, to see where it goes.”

“Yes.”

“I’m not really sure where this is going, because you haven’t made a move.”

Tony blinked. “What?”

Loki covered his mouth and chuckled. “Aside from the outrageous flirting, you are the most extroverted person I know, and you have not made one definite move. Even though I managed to give you a Christmas present.”

Tony realized his mouth was hanging open and closed it as he swallowed nervously. He really hadn’t done anything! He’d been so worried about the idea that Loki would say no in the end that he hadn’t made one move to finish what he started. How stupid was he?

As he looked up, there was a flash of lighting, thunder rolling overhead as the bottom fell out and suddenly they were both getting drenched.

“Let us take ourselves indoors,” Loki suggested and gestured at the building to his right.

“Agreed.” Tony followed him as they jogged down the already wet sidewalk to the steps and up to get inside. They shook themselves off in the entrance, and Tony ran a hand through his hair, shaking it off as he followed Loki in.

“I am sure you will find this extremely difficult,” Loki muttered as they passed through the doors.

“What?” Tony asked as he pulled his jacket off, realizing with annoyance that he’d had a hood.

“Managing to keep your mouth shut in the library?” Loki said as Tony let his gaze to sweep the floor to see that they had indeed run into the campus library.

“Oh, come on. They let people tutor in here!”

“Sssh!” one of the librarians hissed to his right as he made a face at her.

Loki smirked and started toward the stairs to the second floor as Tony hurried after. He had a mind to take up this challenge! He followed Loki through the stacks to the tables that lined the outer walls at the back of the library. They were empty save one at the far corner occupied by a girl clearly working on some kind of paper.

The two silently chose the table at the opposite end and Loki set his bag down as he shrugged his coat off and Tony tried to ignore just how nice a wet Loki looked and set his own bag down to pull out his laptop. Tony kept glancing at one hair that had managed to escape and hang down Loki’s forehead. It became too much of a distraction when Tony finally reached over the table to push it back with the rest as Loki sat.

Their eyes caught as Loki looked up at him questioningly, and Tony just shrugged with a smile as he sat and typed in the password to his laptop. That wasn’t creepy at all, right? Right? He glanced up as his OS loaded to see Loki watching him.

“What?”

Loki opened his mouth, took a breath, then let it out without saying a word. With a shake of his head, he turned to his bag and began pulling things out. Intrigued by the move, Tony stayed silent, wondering what was going on in Loki’s head. Had Loki liked what he had done? Curious.

Tony loaded up the outline he’d worked on with his professor and skimmed over it again, wondering if he should tweak it in any way. He grabbed the screen tablet and detached it from the keyboard as he opened another program to start scribbling down ideas, moving things around. Once he was satisfied with the order of it all, he reattached it and went back into the document to rearrange and type it properly.

He liked the library, he really did. But he was missing the ability to pace around in his workshop and talk his ideas out with Jarvis. His pent up energy released as his leg started to bounce. Then he began wagging his pen around in his hand, tapping the table. Sometimes, Tony thought he should take up a sport with all the energy he had. Steve had suggested it more than once, but that would detract from science time.

Loki grabbed his hand to stop the tapping and Tony glanced up. Their eyes caught, and Tony being Tony, decided that now was as good a time as any, and made a move. He shifted his hand to hold Loki’s in his own. He relished the blush on Loki’s cheeks as the young man looked back down at his notebook, scribbling with his free hand, but not taking his other hand away. And then Tony realized he didn’t want him to. Tony felt his heart racing and—he panicked. He was scared. For once, he was actually scared.

He let go and abruptly stood, walking into the rows of books, wondering just what the hell he was doing. They’d been flirting back and forth for weeks now. He’d been waiting impatiently, hoping for something to happen. Now, as he’d finally made that move Loki had been looking for, he was running away? What the hell was wrong with him?

“Are you okay?”

Tony realized he had been staring at the same shelf of books for far too long. “Yeah.” He turned to Loki and shook his head. “No.”

“Was that wrong?”

“No, not at all!” Tony moved closer to try to tell him, but he couldn’t find the words.

“Should we talk about this here?” He looked genuinely concerned.

“Probably not.”

“Come on.” Loki took Tony’s hand, urging him back toward the table. But Tony stood rooted to the spot as Loki frowned at him. He knew what to do. Now. Do it now.

He reached up, one hand resting behind Loki’s neck as he pulled the taller man closer, then down into a kiss. And damn could Loki kiss. Tony felt it all the way down into his toes as an arm slid around his back. Yes, yes this was going exactly where he wanted it to go. And it needed to go to an area more private.

“AHEM.”

They quickly broke apart to find a librarian trying to get by with a cart. They quietly apologized and made their way back to the table. Tony chanced a glance at Loki and they dissolved into silent snickers as they sat back down before resuming their work. Tony got an idea and pulled out a piece of paper, scribbling on it quickly before sliding it over to Loki:

Would you like to go out with me?

□ yes

□ no

He could tell Loki was judging him by the look he was getting. The paper returned with a new option:

□ Loki’d

Tony rolled his eyes and checked this option, sliding the paper back, waiting as Loki scribbled something and it returned with: A+

“We are very mature.”

“Yes, very.”

They grinned at one another. Yes, this would work out quite well.

 

~***~

Chapter Text

10:

 

“Truly?”

Loki nodded and glanced at his brother, who had the biggest grin on his face. He almost wished he were lying, to get a better reaction, but alas. That would have to wait for another day.

“Well, honestly brother, I never thought I’d see the day.”

“That I have a significant other, or that it is Tony Stark?”

Thor laughed and clapped his brother on the shoulder. “Both?”

“Honestly, I never saw it coming myself.”

“You are not teasing me, are you? This is not a lie.”

Loki smirked, unable to contain himself. “Well, now that you mention it…

“No, you would not lie about something like this!”

He laughed. “You are correct. I would not lie about this.” Not now anyway.

Thor breathed a sigh of relief. “Of all the things to tease me about! Do not toy with me when you are talking about something serious like this!”

“And I’m pregnant.”

Thor laughed and shoved Loki off of the bench they were on. “Always with the jesting! Will you next tell me that it is an eight legged robotic horse?”

“Now that is a fabulous idea to create,” Loki replied from the grass, laying back to get comfortable. His phone buzzed in his pocket so he pulled it out to squint at the screen.

[Where are you?]

[Use the GPS if you’re curious.]

[You turned it off]

He smirked as Thor got curious and sat down on the grass next to him. [Oh, so I did.]

[Well…..?]

[At the park.]

“Is that him? Why did you call him Genius Billionaire Playboy Philanthropist?”

Loki sighed. “It was already programmed that way. I can’t change it.” He’d figure it out eventually. He probably just had to say ‘please’ to Jarvis, and didn’t want to.

“What do you mean?” Thor took the phone as Loki handed it to him. “This phone is not the one our parents purchased.”

“Tony gave it to me,” Loki explained as it buzzed again and he took it back.

[Testing my patience. I like it]

Loki rolled his eyes and got up. “Come on, let’s see if he can find us on the move.”

“He gave you a phone?” Thor asked as he took the hand offered to him.

“He’s testing the OS.”

Thor nodded thoughtfully.

“You want one.”

“Of course!”

Loki smiled. “I’ll see what I can do.” His mind ran with the endless possibilities of outsmarting his brother with the thing.

“What’s different about it?”

Loki held up the phone. “Jarvis, show me where Tony is.” The phone beeped and brought up a map, marking Tony’s location as Thor sounded impressed, but Loki frowned. “Hm, I did not expect that.”

An Audi pulled up on the street some feet away and Loki stared as Tony leaned over Bruce, who was in the passenger seat.

“Get in loser, we’re doing science.” Tony grinned.

Loki rolled his eyes and started toward the car, stopping when his brother followed. “Now, where do you think you are going?”

“With you.”

“Dear brother, you will be bored to tears.”

“Oh!” Thor grinned. “I would not miss this for the world!”

Luckily, as they approached the car, Thor’s phone began to make thunder noises and as he pulled it out, his face cracked a grin. “My apologies, brother. It seems Jane needs me. Do call me and tell me how it goes.”

“I shall,” Loki smiled with relief and watched Thor jog away before getting into Tony’s car.

“You’re welcome,” Tony said, grinning in the rearview mirror before hitting the gas. Leave it to Tony to make life more convenient.

When they arrived, Tony showed him around his place, making commentary to fill the emptiness of what seemed like a house that was far too large for one young man. Bruce followed along with Loki quietly, adding a comment here or there, but for the most part, Loki could definitely tell there was something missing—two someones, he suspected.

As they wandered the house, Loki noticed something blue on Tony’s chest, lit up under his shirt and wondered what sort of contraption he had attached under there. Bruce caught him looking at it and made a face that made Loki wonder if it was more serious than he’d thought at first.

Eventually, the three ended up down in Tony’s lab as Tony showed off all of his equipment. At this point, Loki wasn’t even jealous of Tony’s toys anymore. Okay, well, maybe a little, but at least he would get to play with them.

“And this, boys, is what we’ll be working on today!” Tony gestured to a heap of parts and cables and wires. Loki smirked. He liked a challenge.

“What exactly is it?” Bruce asked, crossing his arms in annoyance. Loki had a feeling he’d expected something different.

“A helper robot. To hold things for me, like a video camera when you’re not around. Gotta give orders to something.” Tony grinned as Bruce rolled his eyes. “Oh, crap, I left the cables upstairs. Be right back!”

He dashed up the stairs as Loki took the opportunity. “So, when did you start living here?”

“Just after school started in the fall.” Bruce sighed and sat on a stool. “Really should have moved in over the summer. I never realized how lonely he was.”

“I can imagine.” Loki glanced around the spacious workshop. “Without the sounds of other people, I’m sure the emptiness can really get to a person.”

“I worried about him before. But after he asked me to live with him, not so much.”

“Why is that?”

Bruce smiled. “Well, he confided that much. I knew if he really did need something, he would trust me enough to ask for it.”

He made a good point. Tony almost always said what was on his mind. “You’re a good friend, Bruce. We’ll have to find some way to exploit that later on.”

“I cannot wait for the day!” He laughed.

Loki took it upon himself to take another stool. “Still, I feel a little inadequate around him, sometimes.”

“Why?”

“He is seventeen, lives on his own, has the skills to do so and is probably much smarter than I am. Here I am living at home with my brother and my parents, wondering when I will be that independent.”

“You know, I bet he’d trade it all to have what you do.”

Loki stared at the floor. It was nothing but true.

“I don’t think anyone understands how lonely he is.”

“Except us, you mean.”

Bruce nodded as they saw Tony speeding down the stairs again, and back into the room.

“Please stop talking about me.”

“You were saying about his egotistical nature?” Loki asked casually as Tony stopped next to him and gave him a quizzical frown.

“What about it? I need an ego to match my genius!”

“Clearly, because his penis can’t quite do it.”

“Ooooh, you are messing with the wrong Stark,” Tony warned as he leaned closer. “Don’t think I won’t take that up as a challenge.”

Loki smirked. “And so easily trained.”

Tony rolled his eyes and turned away to rearrange pieces as Bruce snickered into his hand before asking, “Can I go get some popcorn?”

“No! Time for science!” Tony rapped on the table.

Bruce took his glasses off as he inspected one of the pieces. “What do you need us for?”

“I need you guys to help me attach the pieces since I need more than 2 hands for this part, and then help me fiddle with the programming. I want to make sure they’ll understand speech almost as well as Jarvis.”

“Not using the same programming?” Loki asked as Tony shook his head. “I suppose something simple is fine. And you brought me because I have an accent?”

“Yep!”

“Are you naming them?” Bruce asked.

“Hadn’t thought about it. How about Hey You and Dummy?” Tony grinned.

“He’d call everyone that if he could,” Bruce muttered as Loki grinned.

“Only enough space in my head for science, not names.” Tony stopped to look them both in the eyes. “Look, I’ve been hearing things from the company, about them going in the direction of making more weapons. I want to stop this and the best way, I think, is to move into higher level electronics and robotics. I want to get through college and steer them back to electronics market, to refine the process and make it cheaper for everyone. Hence the robots and the phones—”

“Wait, you didn’t make the phones, did you?” Bruce asked.

Tony shrugged. “I modified the ones they have on the market right now. I may have bricked a bunch in the process…”

Bruce looked impressed as Loki took his jacket off and reached to the ceiling, stretching. “All right, what do you need us to do?”

“Thought you’d never ask!”

The three got started on the build, and it was hours later before they’d realized how much time had passed, and just how hungry they were. Tony ordered some pizza as they kept working, and they finally took a break when food arrived. The break wasn’t long as the pizza quickly disappeared and they were back to work.

It wasn’t until the three were testing voice commands that Bruce looked at the clock and yawned.

“Guys, I think I’m going to head up to bed.”

“Aww, but this is the fun part!” Tony whined. “I need to program in the command to grab someone’s ass!”

Bruce rolled his eyes and started toward the stairs. “I’m sure Loki can devise a way to get it to only grab yours. That I don’t doubt.”

“You wouldn’t.”

Loki just grinned as Tony muttered something about overriding commands, typing into his computer. Once Bruce was gone, Loki watched as the robot rolled toward him and poked its grabber claw gently against his stomach. Tony was silently smirking at the screen.

“Tony Stark, are you flirting with me?”

He glanced over. “I think it likes you.”

Loki snorted. “I think its maker programmed that in.”

“Who knows why our pets do what they do?”

“So why is Bruce living with you?”

Tony eyed him. “Why do you ask?”

“Everyone seems rather careful around him, but you poke and prod him all the time.”

“I didn’t expect anyone to notice that. It is very subtle.”

“I think he is the only other person I’ve seen Natasha hanging off of… besides Clint.”

“He has anger management issues,” Tony replied with a shrug as Loki frowned in confusion.

“He does not seem like the type.”

“He was bullied at his last school and finally exploded, nearly beating another kid to death.”

Loki sat on the stool next to him and pondered this. “I can relate, though my older brother was often close by to break it up with just a look.”

“Lucky.”

“Truly. I’m adopted.”

“Really? Wouldn’t have guessed.”

“Don’t be a smartass.” Loki could defy it all he wanted, but he liked the retorts.

“I can’t really stop…” Tony trailed off when he noticed Loki’s smile. “You know about my parents.”

“Yes, I read about it when it happened.”

“What makes you bring this up?”

“I don’t know. I guess I just find myself grateful to even have them. I don’t know what it would be like without my family, despite wanting to kill my brother from time to time.”

“It’s a legitimate urge to have.”

“I’ve never really told anyone about this, but I just feel like they love my brother more. I mean, they’re always supportive and encouraging but, they just never seem interested. Especially, my father.”

Tony considered him quietly. “Does he like science?”

“Who?”

“Your father. I mean, is he a geek like us?”

“No.”

“More football geek?”

“Yeah, actually. History buff as well.”

Tony smiled.

Loki had to admit, he had a point.

“You must have at least one thing in common.”

“There are a few things, now that I think of it.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Shut up.”

Tony just kept smiling. “Anything else I should explain for you?

“You still haven’t told me about that.” Loki nodded at Tony’s chest. “I’ve never seen that before.”

“Oh, this?” Tony pointed at the blue lights glowing through his shirt. It seemed Tony had been hiding something rather large—or small, depending on the perspective. “From my accident.”

“Accident?”

Tony smiled sadly. “It was a bad night all around.”

“When did that happen?”

“It wasn’t publicized, but it was that same night.” Tony unbuttoned his shirt to reveal the device sitting in his chest. “Apparently, I managed to get out of the car before it exploded. That’s what Coulson told me. He was the one who found me, kept it quiet.”

“Damn. So what does it do?” Loki got up and moved closer to touch it. He’d expected the metal to be cool, but it was warm to the touch. “Keep your heart going?”

“There was a piece of metal the doc couldn’t remove. This keeps it from going into my heart. So in a way, I guess you could say it keeps my heart going.”

“I bet your father would be proud.”

Tony buttoned his shirt again. “I wouldn’t need this if he were here.”

Loki wasn’t sure what to say to that.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean…”

“Still, it’s true.” He rested a hand on Tony’s shoulder and pulled him closer. Tony resisted for a moment before resting his forehead against Loki’s shoulder.

“I miss them. Every damn day.”

“I’d be worried if you didn’t.” He thought for a moment. “Who is Coulson? You keep mentioning him.”

“He’s kind of like my caretaker.” Tony leaned back against the table behind him and grinned. “My dad was busy with his work a lot, so he hired Coulson to watch me and keep me from doing anything really stupid when he wasn’t around. Mostly, he gave me advice and threatened to taze me.”

Loki snorted. “Did he ever follow through?”

“Yep. I was being exceptionally bratty that day.”

“Was it yesterday?”

“Oh, you think you’re funny, huh?”

“Mm hm.”

“I bet you also think you’re smooth with your arms around my waist.”

Loki blinked and glanced down. He hadn’t even realized he’d done so.

“Don’t worry, I don’t mind.” Tony leaned closer. “Just keep them on me.”

After all the bragging he’d heard, Loki was quite pleased that Tony was exceptional at kissing. Considering the last few times, they’d both been caught off guard, this time when their lips met, it went significantly better. Not to mention they weren’t in public anymore, so all bets were off. He felt Tony’s arms wrap around his neck just before he broke the kiss off.

“Table digging into my back.”

“I’ll have more digging into you soon enough.”

“Record, off. Mute!” Tony snapped at the ceiling.

“If I didn’t know any better, I would think you were crazy,” he teased as there was a beep.

“Good idea—wouldn’t want this ending up on the internet.”

“I said mute!

“You programmed in sarcasm?”

“Of course!” Tony smirked. “And you’re lucky I remembered to turn recording off. Someday I might forget.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“The bedrooms don’t have the record function, luckily, so I don’t think you’ll have to worry. Yet.”

“With you around, I’ll just stay on my toes, thanks.”

Tony turned and shoved everything off the table behind him.

“Oh, you think this is a desirable location?”

“Why not?”

Loki smirked and grabbed Tony, hefting him up and over his shoulder to hear Tony grunt in annoyance. “Jarvis, kindly direct me to Tony’s bedroom?”

“I would be happy to, sir.”

“Let’s see if you are as good with human interaction as you are with engineering.” Loki swatted his bottom for good measure as he carried Tony up the stairs.

“I like this experiment!”

 

~**~

 

Loki awoke feeling warm and realized the bed felt different. He thought his heart might stop when he opened his eyes to find Tony lying facing him. Luckily, he was not in a novel and it did not stop, and the world also kept spinning.

He glanced down at the device sunken into Tony’s chest. He hadn’t really gotten a very good look at it before and was impressed by the work. He had a sneaking suspicion, by the design, that some of his own ideas had gone into it.

He shifted to reach up and touch it, the movement waking Tony as the young man breathed in and opened his eyes. Tony yelped in alarm and scrambled backward before he collapsed against the edge of the bed in relief.

“What the hell…”

“Whoa, it’s just me,” Loki told him calmly, hands up. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“Okay, wow.” Tony rubbed his face and looked apologetic. “I am so sorry about that.”

“I suppose suddenly waking with another person in your bed can come as quite a shock.”

“A little, yeah,” Tony said with a smile and scooted back over. “Never saw myself as the cuddle type.”

“Oh, you were very cuddly last night.”

“Was I?” Tony feigned interest.

“You didn’t want to get out of my lap,” Loki reminded him and waited as Tony smirked and crawled into his lap.

“Like this, right?”

“I see you remember.”

“Oh, I don’t think I could forget,” Tony murmured as he leaned in and Loki decided it was acceptable to give up a kiss for that kind of compliment. When it ended, he glanced down at the device in Tony’s chest.

“It is quite odd thinking to put my head against your chest and seeing this thing instead.”

“Sorry,” Tony said with a chuckle. “It’s just… there.” He shrugged.

“You don’t like talking about it. Because of what it means.”

“It means I lost something.”

Loki shook his head. “It means you were given a second chance.”

“I suppose.”

Loki decided now might not be the time to talk as he glanced to the side. He could have sworn he heard Bruce calling for Tony down the hall. The rooms did seem quite soundproof…

“So… you doing anything for spring break?”

“Are you planning something?”

“Maybe.”

Loki could swear he heard footsteps and glanced up. “Jarvis, um, un-mute?”

“Bruce approaching, sir.”

“Let’s have some fun, shall we?”

“Oh, I like fun.”

The door burst open. “Oh my god, Tony! Why aren’t you… Oh.” Bruce stood in the doorway, staring awkwardly at the image of Tony straddling Loki. “Good… morning… Loki?”

He gave the young man a cool smile. “Good morning, Bruce.”

“Didn’t know you—uh, stayed!” He glanced in all directions that weren’t near them.

“Did you need something?” Tony asked.

“Just wondering when you were getting out of bed. Okay, I’m gonnagonowbye!” Bruce slammed the door and ran off as the two dissolved into snickers against one another.

“So mean!” Tony said between gasps.

“So fun!”

“Ah, the beach will be so much more fun with you around.”

Loki raised a questioning eyebrow. “The beach?”

 

~***~

Chapter Text

“Finally, a day off.” Steve stretched his arms into the air as they walked and Bruce grinned. Despite dodging the ‘date’ question, he’d really been looking forward to this.

“You mean a day without Tony and his ego?”

“Is that what he calls Loki?”

The two snickered for a moment before settling into a comfortable walk together. The day was nice for the end of winter. The sun was out, there were birds singing and the season was quickly becoming spring.

“Oh, did Tony ask you about spring break?”

Steve nodded. “Mom said I could go as long as Coulson was there to supervise.”

“Cool.” Bruce nodded. “I think you’ll like the place. It’s right on the beach. Great view.”

“Even better if you’re there.”

Bruce grinned. “Lies.”

“It’s called flirting.”

“You’re very good at it.” Bruce realized he was blushing.

“Thank you.” Steve took his hand and pulled him toward a restaurant. “This is the place I was telling you about.” Bruce followed as his stomach growled. Despite the nervousness he’d had about meeting up with Steve, his stomach didn’t seem to care. That and smells from the kitchen hit him as he walked in and he promptly forgot he was supposed to be on a date as hunger took the wheel.

After lunch, the two wandered along downtown, looking at various wares in windows, sometimes entering the shops to look around and just enjoyed themselves. Bruce liked how much fun he was having doing normal things with Steve. A guy could get used to this. Especially the way Steve smiled when he found something he liked. Bruce had to mentally file the information away for later, for birthday presents and such.

They ended up at the arcade, a place Bruce used to spend time with Tony until other kids realized who Tony’s father was, and they had to play consoles at home. The place had changed, but at least he was used to the atmosphere. He and Steve played a few fighting games against one another, Bruce beating Steve to a pulp before they finally stepped back.

“What do you wanna play?” he asked and Steve grinned, dragging him over to an empty air hockey table.

“I might actually be able to beat you at this!”

Bruce snorted. “You don’t know how many times I kicked Tony’s ass at this!”

And the game began. Bruce wasn’t surprised when Steve scored the first three points, but he made a quick comeback, keeping the score even. When Steve won by only two points, they decided to go best out of three, and Bruce ruled the second game. They were just starting the third, throwing taunts back and forth when Bruce realized just how much fun he was having. He caught Steve’s eyes and he knew this was going to work. Then Steve scored a goal right under his nose and Bruce cursed in response.

“Best stop staring at your boyfriend,” Steve teased.

“Very good advice,” Bruce replied with a laugh as he set the puck down.

“Boyfriend?”

The two looked over at another guy their age who sneered.

“You on a date?” he taunted.

“Theo, leave them alone,” the girl next to him hissed.

He turned to the girl. “Aw, but the fags are so damn cute!”

Bruce slammed his mallet down on the table as everyone jumped. “What did you call me?”

“Calm down, Bruce.”

“No, I want him to say it to my face,” Bruce growled as he advanced on Theo. He stopped short when Steve grabbed his arm to stop him.

“Let it go, Bruce.”

“But—”

“Please.”

Bruce backed off as the guy smirked. Steve stepped forward, lunging at him to get a yelp as the guy jumped. He ran off, tail between his legs as his friends followed him out.

The girl turned to them with an apologetic look. “Sorry,” she said before running after him.

“Let’s get out of here,” Steve murmured as Bruce balled his hands into fists, squeezing them as he let Steve steer him out of the arcade. He couldn’t believe how horrible some people could act to total strangers. He kept fuming as Steve walked beside him and it wasn’t until he saw the pinpad that he realized he’d been stewing all the while Steve had driven him home.

With a sigh, he punched in his code then stepped into the entryway, rethinking his actions and wondering what in the world he’d done. He slipped his shoes off as Steve did the same and let himself be directed to the living room as Steve turned the TV on and put a controller in his hands. Bruce allowed himself a little smile as Steve loaded up Soul Calibur and they spent the next hour beating on one another virtually.

“Better?” Steve broke the silence as Bruce set the controller down to stretch.

“I guess.” He shook his head. “I’m really sorry about that—ruining the date.”

“No, it’s totally acceptable to see red when someone insults you like that.”

“Yeah, but I really did want to beat on him. At least it didn’t get that far this time.” Bruce stared at his empty hands. He had a feeling what had set him off last time.

“This time?”

Bruce decided it was time and told Steve about the incident he’d had and the Hulk rumors. Steve listened quietly and patiently as Bruce related everything he could remember, even the parts with Tony. He wasn’t surprised that Steve accepted it. He wasn’t fazed by much anymore, after being friends with Tony and his craziness.

“I don’t like bullies,” Steve muttered finally.

Bruce smiled. “After I met Tony, I found out he’d been bullying other kids.”

“Yeah, Clint and I called him on it in middle school. He stopped talking to us for a while.”

“Must have been around the time I met him. He was complaining about it and I told him the truth. He got pissed, of course. But I made him listen to me about what it did to me—to other kids.”

“And I talked to my dad.”

They turned to see Tony in the entryway, pulling his jacket off with a smile.

“Speak of the devil,” Steve said with a grin.

“Shut up, I’m being nostalgic.” He punched Steve’s shoulder before sitting next to Bruce. “We talked about that, then went on to talk about making people’s lives better with technology and by being a good role model.” He sighed with a cheeky smile.

“Are you saying we changed your life?” Bruce teased.

“No, I’m saying that I just took some well given advice. Because I, as a genius, saw it as damn good advice.”

The door opened again as everyone looked over to see Loki walk in. He stopped and glanced around suspiciously at the silence. “Am I interrupting?”

“We’re crashing their date!” Tony called as he put Bruce in a headlock.

“Such a good role model.” Steve rolled his eyes as they fought.

“Don’t piss me off man! I already almost went social justice on someone!” Bruce growled at his best friend.

Loki pointed at the door. “Should I go? If you’re busy…”

“No!” Tony immediately let go of Bruce and jumped up to take Loki’s jacket and hang it for him. “No, we have things to destroy and rebuild. Off to work!” Tony said as he shuffled Loki toward the stairs to his workshop.

Loki smirked back at him. “Not going to tell Bruce about revenge?”

“Maybe later, Reindeer Games. Time for science!”

 

~**~

 

“What Bruce doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”

Loki glanced at Tony, who was wearing a pair of shades that made him look handsome, but not incognito, which is what he was going for. Or so Loki was hoping, which made it all the more hilarious.

“So, we’re spying on your friends. Why?”

“Because it’s fun!”

“Are you going to write fanfiction about it later and post it on the internet under a pseudonym?”

Tony gasped in horror. “HOW DID YOU KNOW??” The grin that followed was a little too quick and ruined his acting. “Get out of my head, monster.”

“He calls me a monster yet he’s the one spying on his friends.”

“I am observing!

“Right.” Loki took a sip of his coffee.

“Just seeing what a date is like.”

“You mean a quote, unquote, “normal” date?” Loki teased. Technically, this could also be a date, and considering who they were, Loki rather liked it.

“Yes, those peasants and their normal dates.” Tony waved an uncaring hand. “We must observe those beneath us to understand their needs and urges.”

“You just want to cockblock him.”

“DUH!” He pulled his sunglasses down as the other two walked into a restaurant, cutting off their view. “You hungry?”

“We just had coffee.”

“Have you eaten yet today?”

“No.”

“They’ll be in there for a while, so why don’t we go get food too?”

Loki tilted his head. “Like a date?”

Tony cleared his throat. “I was under the impression we were already on one.”

“Only you and I would consider spying a date.” Loki stretched before standing. “Where to?”

“Hungry for anything?”

“You pick.”

“Pizza sounds like a good date food,” Tony said as he nodded to a small place across the street.

Loki nodded and tossed his empty cup in the trash as they left. Loki glanced back and forth to make sure he wasn’t walking into traffic and went into the street without a care. He heard Tony squawk from the sidewalk in annoyance, following quickly.

“You certainly keep a guy on his heels!”

“It wouldn’t be any fun if I didn’t,” Loki said with a glance back to see Tony smirk in response.

“Soon I’ll be a delinquent because of you.”

“Tch, you were born a delinquent.”

Once inside the restaurant, the two queued up at the front as their eyes searched for a table.

“The one in the corner looks nice.”

Loki nodded. “Go grab it.”

“Are you paying?”

“Maybe just this once.”

“Just pepperoni.” Tony grinned and wandered away as Loki rolled his eyes. Idiot. Next time Tony would be paying.

Loki ordered when his turn came, but as the girl was getting the food, felt like someone was watching him. He noticed the young man behind him staring, so he nodded politely. The guy responded with one of those chin up type nods, so Loki turned back to the counter.

“Nice outfit.” The guy smirked.

Loki looked down at himself, confused. He was wearing jeans, a t-shirt and a leather jacket. “Uh, thank you?”

“What’s with the hair?” He nodded towards it with his chin again.

Loki tilted his head. “What about it?”

“Are you gay?”

Aha. “A most astute observation.” This fool was clearly asking for a confrontation, but Loki didn’t feel like playing to his needs.

“Is the bouncy little queer your boyfriend?”

Loki leaned closer, keeping eye contact. “Yes.”

Finally unnerved, the guy stepped back and away. “Whatever, man.”

“Problems?” Tony asked as he appeared at Loki’s elbow.

“He might have a few issues, but none that can’t be contended with.” Loki watched as the guy returned to his friends and a girl punched his shoulder in annoyance. “Besides, it is probably in poor taste to give attention to someone else on a date.”

Tony smiled, then turned red and glanced away. “Uh, yeah. Come on, I got the table.”

Loki paid for the food and followed Tony to a booth in the back corner. “Are the black eye twins getting to you?”

“Black eye…? Oh! Yeah, they’ve taught me a few things,” Tony admitted as he sat on the side that faced the door. Just to be contrary, Loki motioned for him to scoot over, and sat next to him.

“Now we are both safe with our backs to the wall.”

“But now I can’t stare at you over the table. It was what kept me from groping you!” Tony put a dramatic hand to his forehead. “How will I cope with this much sexy next to me?”

“Fine,” Loki said as he made to move, but stopped when Tony grabbed his arm. He raised an eyebrow.

“Changed my mind.”

“Fickle.”

“Do you think that guy would get all disgusted and leave the restaurant if we started making out in the booth?”

“Please, Tony. I am trying to eat.”

Tony took a ravenous bite of his pizza, obviously trying to look seductive as he waggled his eyebrows, half the bite hanging out of his mouth. Loki laughed into the back of his hand as Tony managed to somehow chew and swallow the piece.

“Now I’m not even hungry.”

“Liar.”

Thankfully, lunch ended before Loki could drag Tony over to the warming racks and shove his face into the cheese. Or rather, it ended when Tony finally finished his pizza and had no more food to play around with, trying to get Loki to choke.

“You are one tough nut to crack.” Tony said as he leaned back and rubbed his belly.

“Well, I just don’t have any weaknesses,” Loki replied, feeling smug.

“Now that is just one big juicy lie.” Tony rested his chin on a hand, smiling idly.

“Oh?”

“Yep. And I’ll prove it.”

Loki tapped his fingers on the table as nothing happened. “I’m listening.”

“Later.” Tony winked as Loki rolled his eyes. He had a feeling he’d just gotten himself into trouble—and he might like it.

“Ah, there they go,” he said as he caught Bruce and Steve walking by the windows.

“Onward!” Tony called as they headed out to follow.

The next few hours were spent surreptitiously following their friends, casually looking it at things they had no interest in, and turning to hide their faces just before they could be spotted. At one point, Tony had to duck into a closet to remain safely unnoticed. When Loki went to retrieve him, he ended up getting yanked into the closet.

“What are you do—” Loki was cut off by Tony’s lips on his, and he didn’t bother ever finishing the sentence. When they caught up to the other couple half an hour later, Steve and Bruce were a few blocks down in an arcade.

“Oh, man, we used to come here all the time,” Tony said as he looked around with a soft smile.

“That’s what she said.”

Tony snorted and shoved Loki as he walked toward the video games. “Wanna have a go?”

Loki glanced back to see Steve and Bruce in a heated air hockey match. “Sure.”

They made in through two rounds before Tony looked over to check up on their friends again.

“Uh oh.”

“Hm?” Loki turned to see the young man who had questioned him in the pizza place was now going after Bruce. “That little shit.”

“I just want you to know, if Bruce Hulks, I’m not responsible and I won’t step in, because that little bastard has it coming,” Tony hissed.

“Hulks?”

“Just watch.”

And Loki did, surprised by how Bruce reacted to the guy with a challenge instead of backing down. Steve had to step in to stop him and pull him away. “Interesting…”

“I told you he had a spine.”

“Didn’t know it was made of steel,” he said as they slipped out of the arcade before Bruce and Steve could see them. “How does he put up with you?”

“I’m not cruel when I tease him, and he knows it.” Tony said as he typed furiously into his phone. Loki leaned over to see him hacking something and left him to his device. The group with the bully left, standing in a haphazard ring as one of the girls yelled at him, Steve and Bruce heading out and away shortly after.

“Do you think I should send him packing?” Loki asked as Tony’s attention finally left the phone.

“Nope! My turn!” Tony said as he stepped away from the wall and went straight for the guy, who was arguing with one of his friends. “Hey, dickhead!”

“What the—oh, you.”

“Next time you want to screw with someone, make sure his best friend doesn’t know how to fry every piece of electronics you own.”

“And just how are you supposed to—the hell?” the guy glanced down as smoke poured from his pocket. Panicked, he pulled his phone out and dropped it with a yelp. “What the…”

Tony backed away, blew a kiss from each hand, then turned and grabbed Loki, planted a kiss on his lips before happily waving at the guy and walking away. Loki just pretended this was normal and followed along, refusing to break his calm until they were around the corner.

“I can’t decide whether I’m delighted or disgusted.”

“You liked it, don’t lie.”

Loki just grinned. He refused to confirm or deny his enjoyment of Tony’s actions. “By the way, my brother is coming along next week.”

“Wait, what?!”

 

~***~

Chapter Text

12:

 

“Aaaaand this is our room!” Tony kicked the door open and led Loki in. He tossed his bag against the end of the bed as Loki looked around.

“One bed.”

“Yeah.” Tony cocked his head to the side. “Problem?”

“No. Somehow I thought Coulson was here to discourage that.”

Tony snorted. “Nah. He trusts me.”

“About as far as he can throw you.”

Tony shrugged. “Hey, I’m legal in most states.”

“Not this one.”

“Technicality.”

“Reality.”

“You’re willing to risk it.”

“Risk? One does not date Tony Stark without weighing the risks,” Loki said with a grin as he set his bag down just inside the door. Tony nudged him and mirrored the grin before they set about organizing their things. If there was one thing Tony was good at, it was organization. He knew where everything was, where everything belonged, and before long, Loki was standing at the window, admiring the view.

“A very good location.”

“I think my mother picked it.”

“Which room was theirs?”

“Coulson took it.”

“Good point.”

Loki turned to lean back against the window sill. “I know this is a silly question, but have you talked about it?”

Tony sighed and sat on the bed. Loki took that as a no. “Pepper keeps trying to get me to cry on her shoulder.”

“That sounds… bothersome.”

“You have no idea.” He rubbed his face. “But she’s right. I just… don’t know what to say.”

“The famous Tony Stark not knowing what to say. That’s new.”

Tony grinned up at him. “Now that sounds like a challenge.”

“Well, then it is.” Loki moved to sit next to him, amused when Tony looked impressed.

“We can talk about it later. I promise.”

Loki nodded. “Sounds good.”

Tony stood suddenly, pacing away as he promptly changed the subject. “Natasha likes to stay warm, so I stuck her and Clint in the small room on the end. They can curl up together or something.”

“They sleep together?”

“I’ve seen them fall asleep on each other.”

“Interesting.” Maybe they would get together after all.

“Your brother is in the room with Coulson. He keeps calling him Son of Coul, by the way. Is that more of the whole speech thing?”

“He does love that. Son of John. Son of Ander. It never really stops.” Loki smiled and watched as Tony’s expression changed. The smile on his face really lit up before he caught himself and shook his head. The action amused Loki as he listened to Tony prattle on about room assignments and ideas he had about what to do.

It wasn’t long before they went down to the living room, and Loki found himself being dragged down to the beach by his brother. Despite Thor trying to get him to build a sand castle, it wasn’t so bad. The suyn was out, the weather was warm and the breeze wasn’t cold. He just stood there, watching the waves as he took a breath of the clean air. This was far too calming. Time to get up to mischief.

First, he convinced Clint to lay siege upon the sand castle his brother was building. This didn’t take much effort as Clint had been eyeing the damn thing the entire time. He wandered over to the group crouching on the ground just as Tony got there.

“Cute,” Tony commented on the crabs the group had found. Loki glanced at Tony to find an invitation for misbehavior in his eyes.

“Vicious,” Loki replied with a look of distaste.

“And how would you know that?” Natasha asked.

“I’ve seen them fight. Exoskeleton is like steel.”

Bruce frowned on confusion and glanced at Steve, who shrugged.

“A few have evolved and have what seems like metal in their shell,” Loki told them as Tony nodded.

Natasha eyed them suspiciously. She wasn’t falling for it, but she didn’t completely dismiss it.

“Used to go to the beach a lot when we were kids,” Loki explained.

“I’ve never heard of it.”

“I have. And the female tends to kill its mate more often than not,” Tony told them as Loki nodded. The three on the ground commented to one another on the subject as the two young men finally looked at one another and smirked, almost unable to keep it in.

Loki grunted as an elbow met with his side. “Ow.”

“He is only jesting,” Thor told them.

“What?” Natasha looked up in confusion.

“He told me that lie when we were ten.”

“And you believed it until just last year,” Loki replied smoothly.

“Party pooper,” Tony muttered and wandered away toward the water.

“Apologize.”

Loki scoffed. “They could have researched it on Wikipedia if they were diligent.”

Thor frowned.

“I am sorry that you are all so gullible,” he told them with a sly smile and wandered off after Tony.

“I have this sinking feeling that tells me, letting them meet and date was a horrible idea.” Bruce shook his head.

“I’m going to have to Google things a lot now, aren’t I?” Natasha asked as she flopped down onto the sand.

Loki enjoyed the comments as he and Tony wandered away. “That was entirely too fun.”

“Lasted much longer with you there to help out.” Tony winked. “Normally, they don’t believe me at all the moment I start.”

“You have to add a touch of theatricality to it. Makes it just outrageous enough that they’re willing to believe it might be true.”

“Hm, hadn’t thought of that.”

“And that is, dear Tony, why you need me.”

“If this is the way the rest of this vacation is going to go, I might really enjoy it!”

 

~**~

 

“This is really nice.” Bruce said as he leaned on the deck railing. “I mean, even if it’s just a few days, it’s great to get away.”

“I am glad he thought of this,” Loki replied, admiring the sunset. It was too bad the storm clouds moving in would cut it short.

“Hey.”

Loki turned away as Tony stopped next to him. “Yes?”

“Want to have that talk? I stalled earlier…” he rubbed the back of his neck with a sheepish smile.

Loki snorted. He had tried to take Tony aside earlier to talk, but Tony had demanded dinner with everyone first. “Yes, you did.” He glanced at Bruce to see a smile.

The conversation was cut off by yelling inside as Steve won at a game of cards and was dancing around as Coulson rolled his eyes and threw his cards down. Natasha and Clint did the same, but then glared at one another.

“Is it just me, or did something happen while we were not paying attention?” Loki asked quietly as he watched the two. “They were tense just before dinner.”

“He said something about last spring break, and she started giving him the stink eye after that,” Tony told him.

“This will not go well.”

“But it’ll be out in the open when they finally explode.” Tony shrugged. “Let’s hope it happens sooner rather than later.”

“Last spring break?” Natasha hissed. Clint’s face fell into his hands as he groaned.

Loki raised an eyebrow. “It looks like they chose sooner.”

Pepper appeared in the doorway. “Tony, can I talk to you?”

Tony rubbed his face, his eyes flicking from Loki to Pepper and back. “Can’t this wait?”

“No, it can’t.”

Loki didn’t miss the way she glanced at him and decided she probably didn’t want him there. “It is fine. I will see if I can moderate those two.”

Tony snorted. “Lies, you’ll just watch.”

Loki just smiled and made his way through the door. He stood just inside so he could hear them. Tony could handle himself, but it was good to be close just in case he needed some help. Bruce was with the two though, so nothing would happen.

The conversation started with pleasantries and slowly went exactly where Loki thought it would. He understood when he heard his name a few times. He shook his head when Pepper finally broke and got to the point.

“He’s just a distraction, isn’t he?”

“He’s not a distraction, Pepper!”

“But you’re just going to toss him aside—”

“Like a toy?” Tony scoffed and Loki waited to hear the answer. “He’s a goddamn human being.”

She sighed as Loki rolled his eyes. No wonder they broke up. Tony and Pepper were clearly not on the same wavelength.

“Say what you really want to say Pepper, instead of distracting him about Loki.”

“Fine, fine. Jesus…”

Loki’s attention shifted as voices rose in the cabin and he looked up to see Clint and Natasha yelling at one another in the middle of the room. He frowned and moved closer, trying to keep his ears on both conversations.

“Have you even properly mourned for them?”

“Did you think about my feelings in this, Clint?!”

“Crying won’t bring them back, Pepper!” Tony snarled finally. Footsteps echoed as he heard Tony walk in.

“Smooth,” Bruce hissed at Pepper as Loki looked at Tony, who stopped next to him with an exasperated sigh.

“Oh, and you could think of something better!?”

“Maybe I could!”

“Maybe you should let him do this in his own time.”

“If it were up to him, he’d never do it, never admitting how lonely he is!”

Loki rubbed his forehead as yelling bombarded them from all sides. Thor leaned closer to him and muttered, “This is getting a bit out of control.” He couldn’t agree more.

Tony turned to snap at the door, “I CAN HEAR YOU!” They stopped in surprise and came inside amidst the yelling.

“What’s going on?” Bruce tried to see past as Loki moved for him.

“From what I can tell, she is angry that he has decided to move,” Loki told them.

“But she knew that!”

“Well, it wasn’t set in stone before.” Tony rubbed his forehead. “This needs to stop,” he muttered as thunder rolled overhead and the rain began to pound on the roof.

“Calm down, Natasha,” Coulson tried to intervene.

“No, let her yell if she wants,” Clint told him calmly.

“Okay, stop!” Tony stepped in. “No more fighting. I’ve had enough of this shit today.”

“Oh god, Tony. Shut up!” Natasha waved her hand at him, trying to dismiss him from the discussion.

“No! I will not let my second parents get a divorce!”

“This has nothing to do with you!”

“Of course it does! I arranged this trip and it’s for relaxing and not fighting—”

“Dammit, Tony!” she snapped. “Why is everything always about you?!” Tony stepped back in surprise, his anger melting away from his face in the silence. Everyone stared.

“Because…” Tony took a breath, holding it for a moment. “Because if I put the problems on me, you won’t have to deal with them. Because it keeps me thinking; keeps me distracted…”

The room echoed with the sound of rain driving down against the roof. No one moved. Loki glanced at everyone else, wondering what to do.

“Tony, I—I’m sorry…”

“Me too.” Tears streaked down his face. “It just… everything reminds me, and I miss them so much.”

Pepper moved first, hugging him and they all finally looked away as if they weren’t supposed to see. All except Loki, who wished he had moved first. Tony pulled out of Pepper’s arms and ignored everyone as he wiped his face on his sleeve and headed to the door, exiting so quickly that no one knew how to respond.

Bruce and Loki shared a look and then quickly followed. They weren’t about to let Tony do something stupid alone, and Loki knew Pepper would never follow Tony out into the storm. He trailed after Bruce down the stairs, ignoring the pounding rain as they walked across the property to the edge of the beach where Tony stood.

“Tony!” Bruce called.

“It’s raining!” he yelled back over the wind.

“We know, Tony!” Bruce replied, looking confused.

“But, where?” Loki added, knowing Tony didn’t mean the weather. He waited as Tony turned and moving toward him, grabbed fistfuls of his shirt and cried. Loki sighed in relief as he wrapped his arms around Tony and glanced at Bruce to see the same on his face. When Tony reached out, Bruce took his hand and squeezed it. Sometimes, Loki thought, it was nice to have people to rely on, especially for Tony.

When they finally made their way back up, Clint was waiting at the top of the stairs, having watched over them. Steve was waiting just inside with blankets and smiled as they entered. Loki ignored his to make sure Tony was taken care of until Thor reached up with a towel and rubbed it all over Loki’s head. When he pulled it away, Loki’s hair was all over the place and the last thing he could feel was pleased.

“Thank you,” he replied deadpan to his brother’s grin.

Tony snickered and suddenly, Loki realized it didn’t matter that much. He ran a hand through his hair and smiled. “Let’s change, shall we?”

Tony nodded and they went upstairs, followed by Bruce and Steve.

“That was a bad idea,” Bruce said between his teeth chattering.

“I’ll warm you up,” Steve told him with a smile.

“You’ll do no such thing!” Coulson called from the main floor as everyone rolled their eyes.

Once in their room, Loki helped Tony out of his shirt, which stuck in all the wrong places because of the water, causing laughter. That taken care of, they got Tony out of his pants, and then it was Loki’s turn. Tony changed his underwear and then wrapped a blanket around himself as Loki pulled a new shirt out from his luggage.

“Do you think they’d be angry if we just stayed here for a while?”

Loki glanced up. No longer did he see the cocky teenager with the world at his fingertips. He saw a tired, young man ready to break—already broken. The tears returned as Loki haphazardly pulled a pair of shorts on and moved Tony to sit on the bed.

“Jesus, this is stupid!” Tony grumbled as he wiped his face. “I already know crying does nothing!”

“But you haven’t properly mourned for them, have you?” Loki sat next to him. “You told me as much before.”

Tony shook his head. “I just… I couldn’t—can’t find any words that could possibly explain how I feel. That fact scares me a little.”

“Considering how much you talk, I’ll bet.”

“Kicking me when I’m down?”

“Don’t lie, you enjoy it.”

Tony smiled to himself, then it faded as he sighed. “I wasn’t home when my parents died. They were coming back late from a dinner party or something. I had been out with friends even later than them. Coulson found out first and called Pepper, and it was decided she would tell me.”

“I am assuming this did not go well.”

“I was driving at the time. She kept telling me to pull over because it was important, and you know me, I just egged her on to tell me.” He shook his head. “She lost her patience, and I should have listened.”

“You hit something then?”

“Coulson told me I hit a lot of things, but that I managed to crawl out of the car just before it blew up. Don’t ask me why it blew up, I don’t know and I don’t care. I don’t even remember getting out. Some pieces of metal hit me and the doctor couldn’t get all of them out, so he hooked up a little electromagnet to try to keep them away from my heart. I enhanced his design.”

“How did you manage to attend the funeral?” Loki remembered it being mentioned in the newspaper.

Tony smiled. “I forced Coulson to take me. I really wasn’t well enough, but I could stand, and considering how annoying I am, he had no choice.”

“Clearly.”

He was silent as he looked down at the device. “I didn’t cry.”

“Why not?”

Tony shook his head. “It wasn’t going to bring them back. It wasn’t fair.”

“You wish you could bring them back to life the way this keeps you alive.”

“But it won’t happen. They’re gone, and I’m still here.”

Loki watched Tony bite his lip and blink away the tears threatening to escape. He said nothing. He didn’t know what to say, but he knew he didn’t really need to. At this point, Tony just needed someone to listen.

“Okay, no.” Tony stood from the bed and was about to move away when Loki grabbed his arm.

“Running away doesn’t solve anything.”

“What’s there to solve? They’re dead! They’re not coming back.”

“Yes, Tony. But you’re still here. And you haven’t come to terms with that yet.” Loki felt his heart go out as he saw the pain on Tony’s face. “You think you don’t deserve to live. But why? You never did anything wrong.”

Tony pulled away from Loki to paced back and forth. “Because I was supposed to be there. I should have been there with them!”

“You think you could have stopped this.” Of all the childish…

“Maybe! I could have saved them! What if I’d been there and kept the car from crashing?”

“No, Tony. There are too many What Ifs. You cannot possibly think like that.”

“Then why did I crash too? Maybe I was supposed to die with them.”

“Well, then maybe I shouldn’t have been born.”

Tony stopped to stare at him. “What?”

“Well, someone clearly didn’t want me, so I shouldn’t exist.” Though he was grateful that whoever his mother was, she had the right to choose.

“How can you say that?”

“Might as well. If you think you should have died, then maybe I shouldn’t be here either.”

Tony opened his mouth, then shut it. “I’m sorry. I just… They didn’t deserve to die. Not like that.”

“Neither did you.” Loki reached out and pulled him back onto the bed to tap the reactor in his chest. “But you got a second chance. Everyone should be so lucky.”

Tony scoffed. “Luck. I don’t think it was luck.”

“Even so. We both got second chances. And I think we should use them before someone else takes them away.”

Tony searched his eyes for a moment before letting his gaze drop to the bed. “I’m graduating this year.”

That came out of left field. It left Loki feeling like he had nothing to hold. “What?”

“I skipped a grade. I could have skipped two or four if I really wanted, but I figured I could just teach myself things if I wasn’t learning them.”

“What’s going to happen?”

“College. On the east coast.” He shrugged and then finally met Loki’s eyes. “Are you angry?”

“To be perfectly honest, I don’t know what to think. You’ve only just told me.”

“Ah.”

“And I meant my question on a personal scope.”

“I didn’t know how to tell you. But seeing as I am Tony Stark, this life comes with advantages.”

“Like?”

“Ignoring the fact that I can and will get caught up in what I’m working on, that won’t stop me from coming back to see you and everyone else as much as I can. Or, you know, flying you out to see me.”

“That seems a bit over the top.”

“With me, most things do.” He paused for a moment. “I’d like you to come with me, but I think you’d decline.”

“Most graciously.”

“Had a feeling.” Tony chuckled. “Transfer?”

Loki shrugged. “It is a possible thing.”

“Possible is good.”

“Good.” Loki leaned closer to press a kiss to his lips, surprising the younger man. “We’ll start with possible.”

Tony smiled. “It’s like death and taxes.”

“What?”

“The only constant you can’t really avoid is change.”

“So profound,” Loki teased.

Tony smiled a little and wiped his face with the blanket. “That’s kind of scary too—how well we get along. Hard to put it into words actually.”

Loki shook his head in amusement. “Sometimes there just aren’t any words to describe feelings. Words are insignificant to the way our emotions work. Sometimes words are just that—words. You don’t need them.”

“Just the opposite of what everyone is telling me.”

“Tony, you’ve been talking this whole time. It’s just that no one is listening.”

“Bruce listened. And you did.” Tony looked up to catch his eyes. “You knew what to say.”

“And knowing you, it’s entirely possible you’ve been saying all the wrong words.”

Tony laughed. “I am never wrong.” He then suddenly sat up straight as he stared at Loki. “Hey! You’re using contractions! You’re talking like a normal person!”

Loki smiled. “Thor and I agreed that while alone with significant others, the bet is off.”

Tony hummed thoughtfully and nodded. “Must have been hard on his sex life.”

“You have no idea how enjoyable it was to draw out my decision about it.”

There was a knock at the door and Coulson stuck his head in. “Everything okay?”

“Counseling session! Busy talking about feelings!” Tony waved a hand at him.

“Keep me posted.” Coulson nodded and shut the door again.

“That was far too easy,” Loki muttered.

“Nah, he just likes to make sure I’m not getting up to things.”

“Does he regulate your sex life?”

“Actually, I’m pretty sure he was just checking to see if I’d broken anything in a fit of anger.”

“Do you do this often?”

Tony shrugged. “When I was little…”

“And you are still little.”

“Hey, now.”

“Compared to me anyway.” Loki smirked.

There was a thump and laughter from the room next to theirs, then the sound of squeaking from the bed. Loki glanced at Tony who was shaking from silent laughter. That made little sense. Loki bounced a bit on the bed.

“This bed doesn’t make noise.”

“Nope!”

“You gave them a loud bed.”

“Yep!”

“You truly are evil.”

Tony just smiled and Loki had to admit, that was pretty damn good. This relationship was going to leave their friends with early graves.

“Well, then.” Loki reached up and ran a finger down Tony’s jawline. “Let’s see just how quiet you can be.”

“Preeeeeeetty sure I’m supposed to be mourning or something.”

“Hm. Maybe you’re right.” Loki stood and stretched. “I guess I’ll go sleep in my brother’s room.”

“Whoa, whoa!” Tony grabbed his hand, dragging him back down to the bed. “I never said you had to leave or stop trying to distract me. I mean, distracting is totally acceptable. I am open to any and all distrac—”

Loki cut him off with a kiss and mentally congratulated himself for having figured out the best way to shut Tony Stark up.

“I don’t mind the distraction,” Tony said when the kiss ended.

“Oh, I never thought you did. I’m just not sure now is the time.”

“Let’s face it. I’ll never stop being reminded of them. I mean, I want them to keep living on in my memories.”

“Just… “ Loki sighed and looked him in the eyes. “Don’t ignore your feelings in things like this. You need to deal with it before you can move on. But I have a feeling you accepted it already.”

Tony nodded. “When I visited the graves. Talking about it was good. It just... never really goes away.”

“That’s because they mattered, and the world is just that much less good without them.”

“Stop being so goddamn good with words.”

“I cannot stop.”

“Okay, my turn then.” And Tony kissed him.

 

~**~

 

“Waffles?”

Tony looked up at Loki from the waffle iron with a smile, his chest feeling light. “Well, it’s less mess than pancakes because you don’t have to flip the damn things.”

“Lazy,” Loki muttered as he poured himself a cup of coffee. Tony turned to say something, but stopped when he saw Loki glance around. He was surprised when Loki leaned over and pressed a kiss to his forehead. Tony smiled at the sudden affection as Loki shrugged before taking a sip of his coffee. He wondered if this would be a normal occurrence. He might not mind at all.

“Can you do me a favor?” Tony asked.

“Hm?”

“I need to go let Natasha apologize.”

“What a kind thing to do.”

Tony grinned at Loki’s half-hearted mocking. “Because then I can play matchmaker.”

Loki tilted his head. “Color me curious.” He set his cup aside and took Tony’s place.

“Trust me.” Tony winked and made his way across the room his partner in crime watching casually. He stood behind his prey and waited patiently. Natasha was watching Clint and Coulson play a game of chess and he waited until Clint made his move before speaking.

“Walk with me?”

Natasha glanced up with a smile and left her chair to follow him to the deck.

“He’s like a spy or something, right?” Tony commented as he glanced back.

“Who, Coulson?”

“Yeah.”

“Doubtful.”

“I’m quite sure his first name is just Agent.”

“You think everyone is a spy.” She shook her head in amusement and leaned against the railing. “So, this vacation has been… interesting.”

“That’s a good word for it.”

“I’m sorry about what I said last night.”

“No, you were right. Everything is about me. I am pret-ty sure about that.”

She laughed. “Because when is it not?”

Tony smiled and looked out at the waves hitting the beach. “I’m going to talk seriously now.”

“Okay.”

“I haven’t been able to tell Loki this yet. I don’t know when I will be able to.”

“Hm?”

“It’s very jarring to wake up one day and have the two providers of your livelihood and security suddenly gone; taken away by something violent that can’t be avenged or compensated for.” He waited through her silence as she took that in. “To know that their lives—your life—is just so fragile… That my friends could be ripped away from you in just the same manner. It’s… disturbing.”

“How long were you thinking about that?”

“Always.” He watched the waves crashing against the sand and wondered if it would ever stop changing. “Slept with Bruce a lot. It helped.”

From the surprise in her eyes, she hadn’t found out about that. “How long did that last?”

“Until I realized I couldn’t let the fear cripple me. I had to accept the fact that people would die eventually, and that I needed to spend as much time with them as possible before they did leave.”

“You’re trying to get me to crack.” She smiled. “You’re good.”

He chuckled. “That’s only the first part.”

“And the second?”

He put his hands on her shoulders and looked her straight in the eyes. “You mean the world to him.”

“Tony, I know that.”

“But you don’t see the way he looks at you like we do. Natasha, he knows you. He loves you and respects you. And he knows that everything must be on your terms or it doesn’t work. You’re so blinded by wanting him to do something that you never thought that maybe he was waiting for you to make the move.”

Natasha stared at him, the realization moving through her. “You’re not teasing me or something, are you?”

“No. Natasha, he’s always been waiting for you to decide. Because when it comes down it, if you said no, he would listen.”

She broke from his arms suddenly, staring at him in shock, the thought really hitting her before she ran inside. Tony followed as he watched her hurry to Clint and put her hands on his shoulders the way Tony had to her. He saw Bruce move on his right and put a finger up to stop him. He couldn’t let them be interrupted.

Both looked like they wanted to say something, Natasha most of all, but she shook her head suddenly and leaned in to kiss him instead. He responded immediately as Tony breathed a sigh of relief. Finally!

An arm wrapped around his shoulders as a pair of lips whispered in his ear, “Good job.”

“Yeah, I am made of awesome after all.”

“Genius, rather.”

“This is also true.”

“I overheard.”

“I talk too loud.”

“You do.”

“You know, I meant it. What I said it before, about visiting.”

“I know.”

“I don’t know how long this thing will keep me alive,” he tapped the circle in his chest, “but I’m going to make the most of it.” He paused and took a breath, wanting to say something else, but changed his mind.

“What is it?”

Tony just smiled and shook his head.

 

~***~

Chapter Text

Tony leaned on a tree as he watched Loki laze on a bench in the park. He would have looked the image of serenity if not for the crowd. Tony glanced around at the people talking loudly, milling around as they waited for the event to begin. The event in question was a large scavenger hunt for the high school students that Stark Industries was sponsoring. He wasn’t allowed to participate because of this. Not that he minded, he thought as his gaze settled on Loki again.

He pushed off the tree and walked over. “Do you always sit like that?”

Loki had his head leaned back on the bench, his legs spread eagle as he sighed. “Like what?”

“Like I can easily fit between your legs?”

Loki lifted his sunglasses and smirked. “If all you’re seeing is an invitation…”

“Stark Industries probably wouldn’t appreciate the heir to the empire getting caught giving his boyfriend head in the park.”

“Understandable.” Loki stood up and moved closer to Tony. “Why exactly am I here when I do not need to be?”

“You don’t enjoy my company?”

“I do not enjoy other people.”

Tony grinned. “Don’t worry, Reindeer Games. Once this is all over and Bruce has won, he and Steve will go off to make out, as will Clint and Natasha. Then we shall have the peace we’ve been working toward.”

“Which we can then destroy,” Loki said, tapping his fingertips together as Tony laughed.

“Glad we’re on the same page.” Tony began walking toward the stage, Loki beside him. “Not sure they’ll enjoy our brand of humor, though.”

“Then I shall have to teach you how to pull pranks on your friends without getting caught.”

“What makes you think I’d get caught?”

Loki stopped to pull off his sunglasses and look Tony in the eye. “You would want them to know the prank was yours.”

Tony fidgeted. “Maybe.”

The conversation ceased as someone on the stage quieted everyone and welcomed them to the scavenger hunt. Tony noticed Natasha waving and motioned Loki to follow him over.

“Everyone ready?” he asked his friends. Clint nodded as Natasha shrugged. They were on a team with Bruce and Steve, who were trying to psyche themselves up, off to the side. Just past them, Tony caught sight of Pepper and her team. Somehow she had gotten Darcy and Maria on her team, along with a girl whose name he couldn’t quite place. He’d dated her a while back, and she’d interviewed him for the school paper at the time, but he was horrible with names so he didn’t bother thinking about it.

“Tony?”

He turned to see Coulson at his side, motioning him to follow. With a grin, he raised a hand at his friends to bid them farewell and followed Coulson to the side of the stage. There, he waited, his leg bouncing. Anticipation was always a bit annoying. It wasn’t long before he was introduced and jumped up on stage to greet everyone. He was a bit of a celebrity (he could admit), but not as much as his father had been. It would be difficult living up to the legend, but with his ability to speak in public, he had a feeling he’d do just fine.

He gave a casual, short speech to the crowd about respecting intelligence and science, and then somehow managed to tie it into the scavenger hunt. It wasn’t too difficult, and soon enough he was descending the stairs and was once again at Loki’s side.

“Where’d they go?”

“Starting line.” Loki pointed to see all of the teams gathered on the far side of the area. “Did they get a list?”

“Nope!” He smiled when Loki frowned at him. “It’s riddles. They can’t use phones or anything. They have to figure it out themselves.”

Loki hummed impressed. “You think they’ll win?”

Tony shrugged as he kept smiling. “We’ll see.”

“I feel like you know something I don’t.”

The starting gun went off and the teams raced to the tables that had the first riddle, and they grabbed the papers to read them off to their teams.

“At night, they come without being fetched. By day they are lost without being stolen. What are they?” Tony recited as the teams went quiet.

“Was this your idea?”

“Let’s just say I have them all memorized,” he said as he tapped his temple and they stopped nearby their friends.

“Stars.”

Everyone stared at Steve.

He blinked. “What? The answer is stars,” he whispered, glancing back to make sure no one had heard.

“How did you know that?” Natasha asked.

Steve shrugged. “Seemed obvious.”

“Go tell the moderator,” she told him, so he jogged over and received a paper in return.

“It says to proceed to the Falling Stars stained glass installation on campus.”

“I hope everything is within walking distance,” Bruce replied as they all turned as a group and headed away.

“You knew,” Loki said as he watched them go.

Tony shook his head. “I had a feeling. He had a thing for riddles in middle school.”

“Unfair advantage.”

“Nah, look! There are a couple other teams chasing them.”

“What’s the next one?”

Tony smiled. “The person who makes it sells it. The person who buys it never uses it, and the person who uses it doesn’t know they are. What is it?”

Loki frowned as they walked along. “I don’t know.”

“Let’s go find out.”

The two caught up with the group as they emerged from the building. They gathered together as Loki and Tony approached, reading the riddle aloud.

“A coffin,” Steve blurted out.

“How are you doing that?!” Natasha demanded as Steve shrugged with a laugh.

“Just go tell them!” Clint nudged her and she ran over to get the next location.

Tony laughed and motioned for Loki to follow. “Graveyard,” he said as they headed in that direction.

“Rather morbid.”

“Nah. Respect for the dead. They might want to watch the festivities.”

“Would your father like this?”

“Oh, yeah. He liked sponsoring events for kids.” Tony sighed as he thought back. “He was a bit cold when I was younger, pushing me in school and stuff. He got really busy with the company and didn’t think that maybe he should spend time with his own kid instead of doing all of that work junk.” He waved his hand carelessly. “It wasn’t until after we met Bruce’s family that he and I started spending time together more. He had to make up time for letting me become a bully after all.”

“I see.”

They stopped a ways off from the next checkpoint as the teams hurried by. Still, they could hear Clint reading the next one.

“What English word has three consecutive double letters?”

“That’s not a riddle.” Steve frowned.

“I got it!” Bruce said and suddenly ran off to give their answer. He returned out of breath with a paper stating the next location. “It’s a bookkeeper. The library on main is the next spot.”

As the team hurried away, the two watched, slowly walking in a different direction.

“I get this weird feeling you wanted your friends to get really close this year.”

“My last year has to be epic,” Tony said with a nod. “Can’t let them have a crappy year can I?”

Loki smiled. “It seems like quite a lot to plan.”

“Not really, but it helps. Memories and all that.”

“Are you afraid? To go off on your own, I mean.”

Tony stopped. “Terrified,” he admitted. “But I can’t let that keep me from doing what I want to do. By the way, thank you.”

“For what?”

“You listened. You deserve a medal.”

Loki laughed. “I hardly think that’s a distinguished position.”

“With me it is. People get sick of listening to me.”

“One wonders why.”

“Hah. Hah. You are so funny!”

“I date you for the creative commentary.”

“I’ll show you creative!” Tony dragged Loki behind a cluster of trees, shoved him up against the bark and kissed him hard.

“I hardly think—”

“Later. I’ll show you later.”

Loki smirked. “Is that a promise or a threat?”

“Both.” Tony socked him in the stomach and walked away, smiling to himself as Loki caught up.

“You think you’re such a hard act to follow,” Loki hissed in his ear. Tony yelped when Loki grabbed his ass and squeezed.

“Scandalous!” he hissed back. They laughed and Tony caught sight of their friends hurrying across the campus. “Let’s wait over here.”

The two lingered by a water fountain as they watched the teams scrambling around the area, their friends heading toward a restaurant. Tony was rather glad he couldn’t be on the team. Rushing around for a prize wasn’t really his style. He’d just go buy himself one if he wanted.

“If Bruce wins, will someone challenge it? I mean, you are living together.”

Technically, I don’t know the answers,” Tony said with a little shrug. “Besides, I don’t give out the prize. I was just there to show we were sponsoring.”

“I see. But you told them to enter.”

“And look how well they’re working together.” Tony nodded at them and sat on the edge of the fountain. “I like that quote, the one where it’s not about the destination, but the journey itself.”

“And as for you?” Loki asked as he sat and poked Tony. “How has the journey been so far?”

Tony sighed as he thought. “Tough.”

“But?”

“But totally worth it.”

Loki gave him a suspicious look. “There’s something else.”

“You know how I said the only constant is change?”

“Yes?”

Tony smiled. “I’m glad that’s not the only thing.”