Stark is drunk and it has somehow fallen to Loki to get him to bed safely. He wonders if this is some sort of ritual to initiate him into the Avengers; if so he thinks the others could have designed a much crueller task, for although Stark seems incapable of keeping his hands to himself when inebriated, he is relatively easy to pull away from the party and cajole up the stairs to his bed. The hardest part is convincing Stark that, no, Loki is not getting into bed with him no matter how much he begs or promises that it will be fun. Stark pouts like a child denied a new toy, but obediently lets Loki relieve him of his shoes and suit. He then pulls Loki down onto the bed and gently knocks their noses together. “Eskimo kiss!” he laughs as Loki extracts himself from Stark’s loose grip with a sneer and a quick spell that sends Stark straight to sleep. The spell will amplify the inevitable hangover, but by this point Loki has had enough of playing nicely and has decided that Stark deserves all he gets. He turns out the light and leaves the room without looking back.
“Go to bed Stark,” Loki says in a tone that brooks no argument.
“You need to rest.”
“No I don’t.”
“I think you do; your hands are shaking so much you just smashed a mug trying to make the coffee you need to keep you awake.”
Loki grits his teeth in an effort to control his temper. “If you don’t go to bed right now I swear to the AllFather I will put you to sleep.”
“You wouldn’t dare,” Stark says with a glare that he seems unable to focus on Loki for more than a few seconds.
“Try me,” Loki says dangerously. After a minute in which Stark fails to move he reaches out for the genius’ temple. Stark recoils and falls off his seat onto the floor. Tired of this game, Loki drags him to his feet by his shirt and once again readies the spell that will render Stark unconscious.
Loki pauses at the serious, pleading note in Stark’s voice. He stares at the engineer and waits for him to continue.
Stark seems to deflate under his gaze, all the fight and arrogance leaving him as he whispers to Loki’s shoulder, “When I close my eyes I see their faces. All those people in the earthquake I couldn’t save. They ask me why I wasn’t there for them. I promised I’d stop people from getting hurt and yet so many died...”
Loki is silent for a moment as he regards Stark carefully. “That wasn’t your fault. There was nothing more you could have done.” He has learnt during his time on Midgard that these are clichéd, often empty, words – but in this case they are entirely truthful. Iron Man had continued to search for survivors of the disaster long after the Avengers had been told to stand down. They’d spent days ceaselessly searching through ruins and rubble before Fury had ordered them to stop and recuperate before aiding in the effort to establish shelter and a supply of clean drinking water for the survivors. Stark had not followed orders and Loki suspected that the only reason he was not still out in the field was because he had finally succumbed to hunger and the need for caffeine. It was admirable, his dedication, but completely incomprehensible to Loki.
Stark laughs bitterly, his face twisted in a look of self-hatred that Loki has not seen before. “Not my fault? That earthquake was caused by stolen tech from Stark Industries. Are you still sure that those people’s deaths aren’t on me?”
Loki masks his surprise and his sudden understanding. Softly, he says, “You are not the one who pulled the trigger.”
“But I am the one who made the gun.”
“It is not your fault if others decide to use your technology to cause harm.”
“Tell that to the families of the people who died because of me.”
Loki growls in irritation. “Stark, I am not here to listen to your self-pity or to try to make you feel better; I’m here to get you to rest before you do yourself permanent damage. Dying from exhaustion may make you feel better but it will be an incredibly selfish act. I do not want the burden of completing your tasks on top of my own, nor do I want to have to explain to Miss Potts why she will need to find herself other employment. If you want to help people and make amends for the wrongs you believe you have committed then you will rest and begin again in the morning.” More gently he adds, “I can give you a dreamless sleep. You will not be plagued by your demons tonight.”
“Promise?” asks Stark in a quiet tone that reminds Loki of a vulnerable child.
After that Stark allows Loki to drag him to the place where the rest of the Avengers are already sound asleep. Stark crawls into the camp bed and Loki whispers the spell for dreamless sleep. The inventor goes lax as his guilt and fear are washed away. He looks so peaceful that Loki hardly recognises him as the arrogant superhero who sees life as one big joke told to amuse him. Then again, he supposes he shouldn’t be surprised by that, not after the conversation they have just had. Tony Stark is a complicated man with many layers, and Loki has yet to see more than a few of them. Against his better wishes he is intrigued and looks forward to finding out more about the man behind the iron mask.
Without really knowing what he is doing, Loki leans down and kisses Stark’s forehead. He blinks, confused as to the reasoning behind the gesture. In the end he chalks it up to tiredness and retires to his own temporary bed to replenish his energy and sanity.
Loki can feel the tears welling up behind his eyes as the shadow-creature stands before him wearing Thor’s face. It tells him that he is disgusting and that Odin should have left him to die. It says that even when it thought they were brothers it still despised him; he was nothing more than an annoyance, a disappointment, a freak it never wanted to call brother. It was glad that it finally knew the reason it hated him so.
Loki knows this isn’t the real Thor, that the creature is simply reflecting back his own fears, but that is exactly why it hurts. The creature is giving voice and form to all the thoughts that have haunted him, to his insecurities and self-loathing. It causes him pain because every word sounds like a truth he cannot deny because they have all occurred to him before. The words resonate with something within him and open old wounds that bleed and prevent him from blasting the creature out of existence.
The creature grips his throat and lifts him off the ground. It sneers and continues to taunt him using his brother’s face and his brother’s voice; and now the tears are overflowing as the creature shifts into Odin, whose words and disgust mimic Thor’s. Then the creature screams and drops Loki.
When Loki finally looks up he sees Tony with his gauntlet raised, his face ashen as he stands above the corpse of Howard Stark. He slowly stumbles towards Loki, his face and neck bruised and cut where the shadow-creature had pried off his helmet and clawed at his face. He collapses before Loki, his expression one of exhaustion, and cups Loki’s cheek. The metal is cool against his skin as Tony leans forward and kisses the tears from his eyes.
Tony’s mouth is warm, his lips soft, and both are immensely inviting. Loki wishes he could kiss him forever (he would love nothing more than to remain in bed with this man until the world ends and then for some time after) but they have both been summoned to headquarters to be briefed on their next mission and Loki has learned that it is not a good idea to keep Fury waiting.
“We need to go,” he mumbles against the lips he can’t seem to prevent himself from kissing.
“I’ll get up when you do,” Tony says, smirking.
Tony’s hands traverse Loki’s waist in a way that should be illegal. A noise that is part protest and part pleasure escapes Loki’s throat before he sighs, defeated. “I suppose five more minutes won’t make us late.”
Tony laughs before Loki swallows those sinful lips in another kiss.
“Honey, I’m home!” Tony calls as he walks into the living room of the Stark mansion and leans over the back of the sofa to kiss Loki’s cheek.
Loki ignores him in favour of the astrophysics textbook he is reading.
“You’re supposed to say ‘How was your day dear?’” Tony practically whines, and Loki can clearly envision his pout without needing to turn around and see it.
“I don’t have time for your ridiculous games Stark,” Loki replies, his mind focused on the complex equations mortals use to express principles of magic that have seemed as simple and natural as breathing to him for the longest time.
“Well,” Tony says in that stubborn, childish tone that has caused despair to many a teacher (or teammate, or underling, or boss), “then maybe I don’t have time to take you to that fancy Norwegian restaurant you like.”
Loki pauses in his reading, but makes no other move to show his interest. “You need to book months in advance to reserve a table and I highly doubt that you had the forethought to do so.”
“Maybe not,” Tony whispers into Loki’s ear, his voice laced with mischief. “But when the guy who just offered to build them a restaurant in New York City turns up with his date demanding a table it would be rather rude of them to say no.”
Finally, Loki turns his gaze from the textbook to Tony. “You’re building a restaurant here?”
Tony grins and replies, “I thought that might get your attention.”
“You’re an idiot,” Loki deadpans before pecking Tony’s cheek. Then he smiles sweetly and adds, “You should have called ahead darling. Now I’ve spent the day slaving over a hot stove for nothing.”
“I’m sure one of the neighbours will enjoy the fruits of your labour.”
“After the Apple Pie Incident I don’t think they’ll eat anything I’ve made ever again.”
Tony snickers as he presses another kiss to Loki’s cheek. “You might want to start getting ready Sweetie; the time difference means that our table is ready now.”
Loki nods and with a snap of his fingers they are both dressed to the nines. Tony looks approvingly over Loki’s choice of outfits before holding out his hand. Loki takes it and teleports them both to their destination – a quiet restaurant on the outskirts of Oslo that reminds him of home and the first time Tony Stark said, “I love you.”