"So, quick note, uh.. Loki's going to be staying with us for a while."
The sudden silence that greets him is almost startling. Tony leans back in his chair, crossing his arms. Around the table, his teammates stare at him unabashedly. Captain America's directly across from him, leaning against the table, confusion blossoming on his face. To Cap's left, Bruce raises both eyebrows. To Cap's right, Widow glowers at Tony, her face frozen, eyes livid. Clint's to her right, raising an eyebrow and frowning.
Honestly, it's so hilarious that Tony almost laughs, save for the fact Widow would probably rip his throat out on the spot.
"Right, so we agree," Tony says, clapping his hands together and standing.
"Wait, Tony, I really think we should-" Steve starts, but Natasha interrupts.
"Sit, Stark," she intones dangerously, her voice low, and Tony does without question. "What do you mean, Loki is staying with us."
"Exactly what I said. Funny, how language works." Tony cocks his head at Natasha. This was going to be the hardest fight. Bruce knew exactly what was up, and Steve could be convinced eventually (especially with that bleeding heart of his) but Natasha wouldn't back down. She hated Loki. She wanted him dead. She had not once spoken to Tony since he'd brought Loki to the Tower. Since he'd saved Loki's life.
"Don't," Clint murmurs, and looks at Natasha, a note of worry in his eyes. Tony's not sure who he's talking to.
"Look. It's actually safer to keep him with us than anything else," Tony starts, leaning on the table. Natasha's face is terrifying, the very picture of hatred and wrath.
"How's that?" Steve asks, trying to dispel the vibrant tension in the room.
"If he's with us, we can better control his actions. We can keep him from interaction outside the Tower, we can keep him from hurting anyone or doing his crazy-ass magical city-destruction thing." Tony glances at Bruce, who shakes his head, ever so slightly, as if to say tell the truth. "I can keep him with me. JARVIS can keep an eye on him, and I can track the energy signatures of his magic, make sure nothing's getting out. His little teleportation trick can be seen with the suit. I can tell when he isn't really there with the Iron Man."
"And what happens to you, when he decides to kill you in the middle of the night?" Natasha hisses. "JARVIS won't save you."
"No," Tony replies, his voice low, "I was kind of hoping one of you would be able to."
"So, you're expecting us to keep your little pet project from stabbing you in the back, 24/7?"
"He won't," Tony replies. "I know for a fact he won't attack me."
"Oh? How," Natasha demands.
"That's a good question, Stark," Steve chimes in again. He looks genuinely worried. "What's stopping him?"
Bruce fixes Tony with a very pointed stare.
"You'll just have to trust me, Cap," Tony murmurs. "But I can promise you, this isn't a bad idea. He won't betray us. It'll all work out."
"I can't just take your word on this," Steve replies uneasily, shifting slightly. "He's a dangerous fugitive. I'm sure I don't have to go through everything he's put us and the innocent civilians of this city through."
"No, I know that, and you're right, it's a hell of a gamble, but ..." Tony struggles to find any words he can to explain it without really explaining it. Airing his dirty laundry in public was never a problem before he started screwing Avengers Enemy Number One. "...How can I make this work?"
"Lockdown. He needs to be confined and drugged." Natasha's voice is surprisingly neutral, considering her look is terrifying enough that Tony's surprised his heart hasn't stopped yet. "He needs to be controlled and monitored. We should have SHIELD-"
"No," Tony interrupts. "No. SHIELD has no place in our business, 90% of the time."
"We'd be housing a fugitive," Steve interjects. "If we don't tell SHIELD, it could be worse off over time."
"If we do tell SHIELD, they'll set up here, start trying to run the show, again. We have enough of that from them as is," Tony argues, shooting a glance at Natasha and Clint. "The less they're involved, the better it is in the long run. Besides, if they know we have him willingly, they'll do anything they can to sink their teeth in. Interrogations, torture - that has no place here."
"But allowing the man who has tried to destroy the world and kill Clint stay here of his own free will without consequence is perfectly acceptable." It's obvious which of the two offenses Natasha finds more grievous.
"I'm not saying that," Tony replies, frustrated. "That's not - My point is, I don't want Nick Fury breathing down my neck at all hours of the day."
"I agree with Widow," Steve starts uneasily. "I think he needs to be kept in some kind of ... imprisonment, here. We can't guarantee he'll be stick to his word in anything, no matter what, and if we're going to risk it, we might as well be safe about it."
"..What if I can find a way to keep him incapacitated on the whole magic front?" Tony's voice is almost to himself, struck with a sudden idea. "Can we agree to let him stick with me if I can control that?"
"How?" Steve asks, leaning back. "Because if you mean your word again, Stark, I'm sorry, bu-"
"No, no, something physical," Tony interrupts. He sits up in his chair, the idea taking form in his mind. "If I could stop him from using magic at all. It'd be-" he touches his neck, staring at the table, his eyes reading over invisible blueprints, "-something he'd have to wear all the time, like a bracelet, or a necklace, that would dampen his magical ability."
"A drug?" Steve asks, frowning. "That doesn't sound sustainable."
"Not necessarily," Tony replies, pointing at Bruce. "It wouldn't have to be a drug if it could emit - I don't know, uh.. some kind of energy signature, maybe, something that naturally disrupts his ability to manipulate the energy around him?"
Bruce shifts uncomfortably. "That's entirely dependent on whether or not his magic is something natural or has an energy signature that we could trace or control," he replies uneasily. "Look, Tony-"
"But it's possible, right?" Tony's more forceful than he means to be, but he needs this, and he sends Bruce a glare that says as much. "You and I - we could make something, like a house arrest cuff. Keep him here, keep him tracked, keep him controlled."
"..It's possible," Bruce replies, and his voice sounds hesitant and uncomfortable. His eyes say but not probable. Just tell them, but Tony ignores it.
"Give me a chance. Let me try and build this thing, see if I can make it work."
"And if you can't, and the God of Mischief kills you and everyone else in the house?" Natasha snaps.
"Just have some faith in me. Please?"
"Faith is for the blind," she spits, standing and stalking from the room.
"All in favor?" Tony asks the room, ignoring the uncomfortable silence.
"That was too close," Tony sighs, leaning against the counter.
"Why didn't you just say something," Bruce murmurs, his voice just the slightest bit angry. "It would have been easier than anything else."
"Because do you seriously think 'I know he won't kill me because we're in love' would work?" Tony replies, irritated. "Not even I believe that."
"Are you?" Bruce asks, fixing Tony with a stare from across the table, looking up from the laptop he's leaning over.
"Am I what."
There's a brief silence, both men staring at each other. "I don't know," Tony murmurs eventually, looking away.
"You don't know," Bruce repeats, his voice a deadpan.
"No, I don't," Tony snaps. "Problem?"
"No, it just seems like you're risking a lot for something you're not sure about," Bruce replies, looking back down at his computer screen. "And you're asking everyone else to risk it, too."
"I just.." Tony pushes away from the counter, running his hands through his hair with a heavy sigh.
"Nothing, Tony. You just nothing. You're flying blind."
"You said it was obvious what we were doing," Tony tries, pointing at him with a screwdriver from across the room. "You said that just Thor and Cap had no idea, right?"
"There's a difference between sex and love, Tony," Bruce replies, wearily. "Do I seriously have to explain this to you?"
"But nothing. What and who you do in your spare time is none of anyone's business. This is different. This is Loki, living in our house." Bruce sighs. "You said you knew this wouldn't work."
"I'm trying anyways. I need to. If I can't make this work.."
"Then what, Tony? What happens, when it falls apart? You're setting yourself up to fail."
"Thanks for the rousing support, Bruce."
"You know I'm right. Don't give me that."
"When - no, if. If it falls apart, you have every right to laugh in my face in the last few seconds I'm breathing. I won't blame you." Tony tosses the screwdriver back down into the drawer he'd pulled it from, and shrugs. "Until then, I need you to at least pretend you're going to help."
"Oh, I'll help you. That doesn't mean I'm going to stay silent the whole time," Bruce replies, glancing at Tony.
"I kinda miss the time you weren't sassy."
"What time would that have been?"
Loki speaks the second Tony enters the room. His eyes are bright, intense. Tony pauses, shutting the door behind him.
"You're looking better."
"Yes, it is an unprecedented turn of events," Loki snaps. "The woman keeping after me is insisting I cannot eat, no matter how hungry I have insisted I indeed am, these idiotic machines are noisy and kept me from sleeping well, and I have been sitting in this blasted, pure-white purgatory waiting for any word that you've not yet been slaughtered in your sleep."
Tony steps across the room, moving a chair to Loki's bedside as he speaks. He sits, holding his hands up. "Calm down, baby. I'm here now, and last I checked I was definitely still breathing."
"I cannot promise that will continue unless you tell me exactly what I wish to know," Loki hisses, his hands balling up in the sheets, leaning forward with a snarl on his face. "What happened."
"I told them you're staying," Tony replies, leaning back in his chair. His poor baby. Loki was so stressed and scared. The nurse had told him Loki'd had nightmares the night before, that he'd torn an IV from his arm and had to be sedated before they could replace it. There was ugly purple and yellow bruising on his forearm, and he looked just as tired as Tony felt, with an extra dash of "dragged behind a bus" to him. "They said that's fine, but.."
"But?" Loki catches his hesitation immediately, hungrily. "What."
"I told them I'd find a way to, uh.. keep you from using magic." Loki's blank, lost stare urges him to keep talking, and Tony shifts uncomfortably, leaning forward. "They wanted you to be detained, maybe drugged, and I told them I'd find a way to neutralize your magic so you could stay with me."
"You what," Loki hissed, shooting forward and grabbing at Tony, who leaned back suddenly, narrowly avoiding his fingers. "What have you done."
"I did what I had to. If I tell them I'm controlling your magic, that you can't hurt them, they have no problem letting you stay. If they think you can't use your abilities, everything works out."
"I'm not sacrificing anything I haven't already," Tony snaps, cutting Loki off. "Look, if you want to leave, you're welcome to. You said you wanted to stay. I did what I had to to ensure you could." Loki starts to lean back, his breath slowing. "I want you to know that, no matter what, I'm trying to make this work. I need this to work. I'm going to work with Bruce, try to understand your power, control it, but.." He sighs heavily. "I need you on my side. I'll make it as easy as possible."
"And if I refuse."
"Then you refuse, and you walk out. I can't keep you here. We keep doing what we were doing, as long as we'll have each other, but that can only last so long, Loki. You know that."
Loki stares at him coldly, lips pursed. His breath is slow, deliberate, as if he's trying to convince himself not to tear the tubes out of his arm and rip Tony into pieces.
"Please, babe. Work with me. Figure this out with me. We'll start here, we'll work up. If we can get the others to trust you-"
"Do you trust me."
"Do. You. Trust. Me."
"...Yes," Tony replies quietly.
"A moment of hesitation. You can trust me only so far," Loki murmurs.
"Can you blame me? Seriously? I mean, come on. After all we've been through? There's always going to be that chance that you'll want to do something, change something, start something, and I know that just as well as you do. The only reason I haven't tried this before is b- ....is because I knew that." Tony looks down from the intense gaze Loki has on him, sighing. "I don't want you caged up like this. I think you have endless potential to do whatever you want, and I like to think, someday, you'll want to stand with the Avengers instead of against them, but.. That's just a dream. And it's kind of stupid, all things considered."
Loki shifts slightly, looking away from Tony. He seems cold, suddenly. The whole room seems cold.
"Please, Loki. Please just give this a chance. Eventually we can fix it, get you on equal standing with the Avengers. Eventually it's going to be easier, I promise."
Tony's off balance for a second. "..What?"
"Leave," Loki hisses, glaring at Tony. "Now."
"B.." He can't find words. Something is breaking and he can't stop it. It's falling through his fingers. "But, I-"
"Out!" Loki roars, and the fury in his eyes is breathtaking.
Tony stands slowly, trying to find any answer in the furious face glowering at him. Trying to find any reason for this. Trying to stop himself from panicking.
"Okay," he replies, and his voice is so quiet. He's not sure why; he's numb, he's lost, he's breathless. Rejection wasn't something he'd never encountered, but very rarely did he open himself to this level of loss.
He wanders to the elevator, trying every piece of the conversation over and over again in his head. He could have explained that better, he could have figured that in, he could have done everything so much differently. He hisses, leaning against the wall in the elevator. His mind is detached, trying to shut down the affected emotional drives, like a computer trying to stop a virus. By the time he reaches the lab, his face is neutral.
"Well?" Bruce's voice greets him as the doors open.
"That could have gone about a thousand times better," Tony replies, his voice disappointed and a little hurt. He wanders over to where Bruce is working, crossing his arms. "He, uh... He wasn't thrilled."
"I'm surprised you thought he would be," Bruce murmurs, distracted.
"He kind of got really, really upset, if I'm going to be honest with you, Bruce."
"Mmm." Bruce leans closer to the screen.
"I think I wasted my time."
"I warned you," Bruce reminds him helpfully. Tony rolls his eyes, looking away. "Keep it down, I'm trying to isolate something here."
It honestly doesn't surprise Tony, sitting and working in his personal lab (truthfully the garage, with his custom tweaks) within the Tower, when JARVIS lets him know that Loki disappeared around three in the morning. It also doesn't surprise him that the bastard had left a card: "I've made my decision", proclaims an elegant script in what looks like quill-written, bright green ink. He tosses it onto the workstation he's sitting at, sighing. Back to business, then.
For two days, Tony throws himself into work. Half of it is because he can't bear to look the others in the eyes just yet, especially not Steve or Natasha; the other half because every time he pauses, even for a second, he can feel those wicked, cool lips against his ear, hear a quiet laugh, taste lips on his, and he growls and forces himself back into the work. He hasn't slept since the day Loki left, instead working tirelessly either on the collar he'd designed for Loki or the Iron Man suit, making ridiculous upgrades that honestly weren't helpful, needed or useful, testing them and then taking them out again. He fixes tiny bugs in the coding, or upgrades the timing of some of the weaponry and response time; he drinks his weight in coffee and forgets to eat, aside from what Bruce and Steve quietly leave for him.
He comes close to a breakthrough, using Mjolnir with Thor's permission, but hits a roadblock. Without Loki's energy signature, he can't configure the collar to match the man. Tony stares at his prototype, the glowing, floating, ethereal screens around him showing his own designs and numbers, for a good few minutes.
"Pointless," Tony murmurs, swiping the screens down. "J, bring up the Iron Man Mark VII files. Let me see the last upgrades I did."
"Are you planning on sleeping any time in the near future, sir?" the computer replies, the screens reinstating with the Mark VII info. "Ms. Potts has requested I ask."
"Of course she did. Say maybe," Tony murmurs, slipping his Colantotte bracelets on again. "Run a diagnostic on the helmet. I think it could probably be faster."
"If you insist," JARVIS intones.
He remembers to shower somewhere around four in the morning on day two. It's all Tony can do to stay awake in the shower, leaning, hands against the tile, letting the water run down his body. "This is so stupid," he mutters to himself. "What the hell's the deal, anyways." He leans into the water, head back. "He's a fuck. A damn good one, but still just a fuck. Right?"
His heart's not in the little pep talk he gives himself, demonizing Loki and his stupid silver tongue and reminding himself that one night stands were his forte, and after a good ten minutes of it he growls and hits his forehead against the tile. "Tony Stark: The Invincible Iron Lovesick Puppy," he mutters angrily.
Tony's almost disappointed when he's still alone in the bathroom after his shower. He towels off, bare feet padding out into his bedroom, which hasn't been touched for almost three days by now. He glances out the window, letting out a quiet sigh.
"Business as usual," he murmurs. "Business. Gotta remember that."
The lure of the bed is finally strong enough, and he wanders over to it, dropping the towel on the floor as he plods over, weary. It takes him all of forty seconds to fall asleep, once he's comfortably nestled in the silken sheets and convinces his brain to shut off temporarily. His dreams are plagued with bright, piercing green eyes and wickedly curved lips.