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fear and loathing

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The day news came that Loki had escaped the confines of Asgard, everyone seemed surprised except for Clint and Natasha.

Tony had theories with regards to this involving crazy SHIELD experiments and cyborg spies with no emotions, that would have been a sound theory and really, really fun for him to investigate, if it wasn’t for the fact that he’d seen both Clint and Natasha bleed on several occasions now. Not that the fact threw his theory off entirely, but it was safe to assume he was being creepy again, and that he shouldn’t take himself seriously as usual. It was still fun to bring up around Pepper.

That aside, everyone else seemed to be freaking out in their own personal way.

They’d spent enough time around each other in the not-so-newly constructed Avengers Tower to be able to pick up on that sort of thing now, and while Tony enjoyed being able to tell when the expressionless super-spy was PMSing, he didn’t enjoy that Captain America could tell how far into a bottle he was before he got far enough in for his own comfort.

It was fun, though, definitely, in its own way. After the Chitauri invasion, they’d had a lot to answer for, but the Avengers had Tony Stark on their side. He was an expert at dodging bad press, or rather; he had people who were experts at putting a spin on it to suit him. It took some time, obviously, a lot of scrutiny, a lot of press, and a lot of pretty public appearances, but they got the public on their side. They even got half the government on their side, but Tony wasn’t too worried about that. The government were tied by the people in this matter, and the people loved the Avengers.

Tony threw his energy into redesigning the upper levels of his Tower when they all agreed they’d be needed again, pushed any tasks for Stark Industries that didn’t require his direct attention to the people he employed for that kinda thing. Pepper was used to being in charge, and the company were used to Pepper. Win for everybody, right?

Only he and Bruce stayed at the Tower full time. It was his home already, and for the time that he decided to stick around, Bruce had nowhere else to go. Tony was more than happy with having him around anyway; the man’s ideas were of a genius on par with Tony’s, and that was exciting.

Steve hung with the SHIELD crew most of the time, which Tony definitely wasn’t offended about at all, right? He did make the redesigns with the knowledge in mind that they’d all be coming and going a lot, but Tony’d kinda of assumed Steve would’ve joined him and Bruce at the Tower. He knew SHIELD had provided him with an apartment, and it kind of rubbed him the wrong way to think Steve preferred hanging out there on his own than stay with him, Bruce, and the others. He stayed for days at a time when they had something to do, but didn’t come often if they didn’t.

“He was literally fighting a war when he fell asleep,” Bruce would say, shrugging. “He’s still in that frame of mind, he saw terrible things. Give him time to come round to people again.”

He would’ve stayed if Howard was still around, Tony knew, but he shrugged that off and moved on. Most of the time.

Overall, the Avengers (excluding Thor) had gotten a lot done in the months they’d been working as a team. They’d even worked with the Fantastic Four once or twice, and had a whole store of knowledge on this Victor Von Doom guy, and his appearance and methods offended Tony personally. Reed Richards was a funny guy, though. Tony and Bruce had both mutually agreed on taking up his invitation of a visit to the Baxter Building when the fate of the city wasn’t riding on their actions in the next ten minutes.

It was only when he did that, and returned to the Avengers Tower again, that Tony realized things weren’t going as awesomely as he thought they were. It actually did come as a pretty big surprise when, after a year and a half, Pepper sat him down to tell him she’d changed her mind. She couldn’t maintain such a deep personal relationship while also maintaining their work relationship, she said, and things had changed since the day she decided she could try.

“The Avengers weren’t on the table then, Tony,” she’d tried to explain when he insisted he didn’t understand. “There was none of this—I thought it was finished with Vanko and that Iron Man was—I don’t know what I thought it was, but I thought you were done putting your life in danger like this.”

“I do it for—“

“I know why you do it, Tony.” She said quietly, giving a sad smile. “I wouldn’t—couldn’t, like, abandon you entirely, ever. I just can’t handle what you’re doing to yourself, the way we are. I can’t help you and help everything we’ve both worked for, so I’d rather take the step back and keep you, even as a friend, and keep working on the company, than lose you entirely in more ways than one when I can’t handle much more.”

“If it’s the company, then I’ll just—I can do that, you don’t have to do this for the company.”

“I’m doing this for you, Tony, and for me. Trust me.”

Needless to say, his press people really came in handy in the few weeks after that. He had no more drunk-in-suit birthday incidents, he’d made sure a long time ago that could never happen again, but he’d caused chaos before he had the suit. He was still just as good at it. It went on for weeks, with Bruce even avoiding him, and the day he realized it had to stop was the day he realized, hey, wait, Steve hasn’t left the Tower in two weeks.

Even Natasha had been seen around occasionally, and Clint had been there for a few days. He built this Tower for a team, he remembered, and he wasn’t being a great team player. He’d never been great at that, but after giving them this opportunity, after giving Bruce a place in the word, after what he’d lost with Pepper, he owed them that. He had to pull himself together.

So he did. He started slowly rebuilding things with Pepper, going back to how they’d been before, and it was faster done that he thought it would be. Who was he kidding? He couldn’t have lost Pepper even if he tried. Steve didn’t go back to his apartment, saying something about being too settled in now, Clint and Natasha were around more often, and the team was more efficient than ever. The people still loved them.

He wasn’t sure how they were going to feel about Thor’s return, though.

He wasn’t even sure how the team felt about it. So far, Loki was definitely the hardest challenge they’d faced together, but he had no army anymore, right? Not that any of them wanted to underestimate him.

“He was assisted, for sure,” Thor said grimly in the conference room. “He was carefully imprisoned, the Allfather sent him to a—realm of silence, a place in which his magics would have no influence. It would take an outside interference to free him.”

“Does he have friends in high places?” Tony asked, almost wearily, while Bruce shook his head at the joke.

“There are those who have also betrayed the realm, though none that I know Loki to have affiliation with.”

“We’ll find out soon enough, if his business is here.” Clint narrowed his eyes, and Natasha nodded.

“I will remain here as a caution,” Thor stood up, towering about the table and the rest of them. “If revenge is what Loki seeks, he will find he is not the only one.”

“Whoah, you’re pretty ticked off, huh?” Tony commented, raising his eyebrows, and Steve stood along with Thor.

“We’ll be happy to have you,” he interrupted quickly, nodding in Tony’s direction. “Right?”

“Sure,” he shrugged, leaning back in his chair. “That’s what I built the place for.”

“I thank you for your hospitality.” Thor set Mjolnir down on the conference table heavily, and the crack that appeared as a result had Tony making mental notes about house rules that were long overdue anyway.

“We’re gonna have to alert Director Fury.” Natasha stated, toneless as ever. Tony knew better than to think she was asking permission, so he just shrugged again.

Clint crossed his arms. “I’m staying. I never got to put that arrow in Loki’s eye socket.”

This was gonna be fun.

It wasn’t long until Clint heard from Fury, though it came as a surprise to them all that he wasn’t just pissed off at Clint taking leave of his SHIELD duties for the time being; Natasha had decided to join them, and returned any curious glances with a heavy glare of her own. Tony actually admired how they managed to respectfully ask that Fury take a hike, and they stayed in the conference room for hours afterward, catching Thor up on the strategies they’d worked out in his absence, gathering together everything they knew about Loki to work out new ones for as many situations as they could imagine.

 

 

*

 

 

Tony did a lot of listening in those first few days, all of his own accord, which surprised him as much as anyone else. Not just because Thor was pretty easy to listen to once they were all gathered in the living room with a few beers and a take-out, which seemed to have become a tradition, but because the subject was actually pretty interesting.

During the Chitauri invasion, there were moments when Tony really hated Loki. He wasn’t exactly the world’s biggest people person, but there were few things that he truly and honestly hated. He didn’t even hate Obie, but in certain moments he’d hated Loki, when it seemed like they were losing after having lost so much already, fighting such a huge battle and making no progress at all. He hated that he could read Loki to an extent, because that suggested they were similar, and he hated that idea more than the rest.

But the more he heard from Thor’s storytelling, the harder it became to deny. Loki came from such an incredibly different background, but with similarities to Tony’s that shook him, because they were the reasons Loki became who he was. Just like Tony had his reasons for turning out the way he did. He ignored it as much as he could, and kept his mouth shut when Thor would tell some story about how Loki landed himself on trouble in his youth for some hilarious reason that was probably pretty sucky for the poor Asgardian victim, but that Tony could see, acknowledge and even admire the intelligence behind. Sometimes.

Mischief, the rest of them kept in mind. The God of Mischief. Unpredictable, unbalanced, dangerous. They noted it all with a frown on their faces, and while Tony agreed that yes, Loki was a pretty bad guy, some weird interest piqued inside him. Unpredictable, unbalanced, dangerous…. Impressively so.

None of that was gonna stop Tony bringing him down, though.

Which was why, when Loki finally surfaced, he threw himself into their plan entirely. Loki would want revenge, and everyone on Earth, Midgard, whatever they wanted to call it, knew that Thor was back. So the plan was simple. Hang back a little, let Loki focus on Thor, wait for him to attack, and hit him with everything in that opening.

“Are we sure this bait isn’t too obvious…?” Hawkeye’s bored voice came in over the comm system. “We’ve been standing here for what, an hour?”

“Keep patient,” Cap put on his best figure-of-authority voice. “It’s not really bait, anyway, we’re not leading him anywhere.”

“We’re just letting Thor serve himself up on a plate.” Bruce always sounded depressed before a job.

“Who wants to sing us a song, keep spirits up,” Tony mumbled into the suit, watching a bird cross the skies of Manhattan in the distance from his position atop Avengers Tower.

“Can’t you hijack it to play something good before Hawkeye actually starts?” Tony would’ve considered it if he had to hear that tone from Bruce again, he’d be going into the fight slow otherwise.

“I can sing!” Clint objected, followed by a brief moment of static as Steve breathed into his mic.

“What’re we asking for here, a little Zeppelin, the good old AC—“

“…Iron Man?”

Tony ignored Steve’s voice, frowning at the bird he wasn’t so sure was a bird anymore. It was getting too big to be that far away for starters, and it looked like it was coming in fast. No fucking way, he thought, getting into stance and charging his repulsors. You’re not getting my goddamn building again.

Tony had just enough time as Jarvis was zooming in on the incoming Loki to spot some sort of green fire being hurled directly at him. He blasted himself into the air, but whatever projectile Loki sent his way caught him on the left foot, and he veered too far sideways for his liking, moving his hands to rebalance himself while Loki found the time to catch up and whack him in the side with a new fucking spear or something. He went flying to the right, through his own window and landed heavily in the carpet in the middle of the room, pulling himself to his feet as quickly as he could.

“I got company,” He called over the comm, straightening as Loki strolled through the hole in the window with a big grin on his face. “Time to come in, kids!”

“On our way!” Steve replied, with some sort of interference that might’ve been wind.

“Come for a round two?” Tony commented, side-stepping off the carpet, keeping his eyes on Loki.

He was wearing his usual Asgardian armour, but no creepy helmet for Tony to crack jokes about this time. His coat was missing the gold plating, too, and the only hard armour he seemed to be wearing was over his chest and on his gauntlets. He was still tougher than any human, but the suit started marking possible weak points for him to use anyway. The shorter, silver spear seemed to be his only weapon, but Tony was beyond underestimating magic, and knew enough from Thor to assume the inside of his leather coat was probably decorated with throwing knives.

“I’ve come to play, I suppose you could say,” He responded, still grinning and following Tony’s steps as they paced in a circle across from each other. If Tony could get in front of the window, he might be able to stop Loki leaving the building when the rest of the team got here. They might be able to confine him yet.

“Big brother’s not home, I’m afraid,” He said, not sounding sorry at all, still pacing.

Loki passed his spear from one hand to the other, and tilted his head. “What makes you believe I came here for Thor? This is your home, is it not?”

That took Tony aback for a moment. “Miss me that mu—“

Loki didn’t let him finish the sentence, and Tony discovered that this new spear charged a hell of a lot faster than the old one. The blast caught him directly in the stomach, back-flipping him into the air and landing him on his bar of all things. He gave a frustrated groan, watching the screen as he extracted himself from the bent and twisted metal, scattering broken glass everywhere. Not much damage, burning, mostly, though a few of those in the same spot could burn through to his undersuit.

“Fetch me that drink while you’re down there, would you?”

“Oh, ha ha,” This was weird, Tony decided, straightening up for the second time. What the hell was keeping Loki from laying on the attack? He was smart enough to know Thor’d be here pretty soon.

“You’ve cleaned the place up quite well.”

“I’d like to clean it with your face.”

Loki grimaced for a moment. “Harsh,” he hissed over-dramatically, then grinned again and took another blast. Tony’d expected that one, though, and he took off quickly to his right to avoid it, cursing at the huge smashing noise that followed as it struck the other glasses, pictures, and knocked the light from the roof. He didn’t have time to slow down our land again, because Loki turned to follow him, expression full of amusement as he continued to take hit after hit, attempting to catch Tony. His ears were ringing suddenly as the room was filled with the noise of glass smashing, window frames falling to the concrete outside, flames crackling, and Loki laughing.

The room was too small for Tony to turn in flight, to continue to avoid him, and Loki caught him in the same foot as earlier just as he was passing the elevator, slamming him into the doors. He wondered, as he shook his head to clear it, sliding to the ground, if he’d be able to see the dent of his shoulders in it afterwards. He looked up to Loki standing over him, tip of his spear under Tony’s chin.

“You have quite some cleaning to do now,” He said, tilting his head back as if to further look down on Tony. “Do you think you are up to the task?”

“Oh I’ll have help.” He knew Loki couldn’t see him narrowing his eyes behind the suit, but it made him feel better to do it anyway.

“From your team, of course,” He rolled his eyes. “Tony Stark, billionaire playboy, The Merchant of Death. Doesn’t play well with others, as you have been known to say, and working with a team. What does that say?”

“I’m kinda more curious about the sudden character analysis,” Tony shot back. “Do I get a turn?”

“Is it your last desperate hope to give something back to a world you once wrought chaos in?”

“Are you jealous?”

Tony didn’t get to hear the answer to that question, interrupted by the rumble of thunder above the Tower. Loki looked up, but didn’t seem too worried. He turned his eyes back to Tony, grinning one last time, before withdrawing his spear, his form clouding slowly into transparency. “Until next time, Mr Stark.”

Tony was left embedded in the elevator doors when Thor arrived, swinging Mjolnir in one hand.

 

 

*

 

 

“Director Fury doesn’t want to believe the whole thing.”

Tony rolled his eyes at Natasha’s news, leaning forward to grab a slice of pizza from the table the team were gathered around.

“Fury never wants to believe something I tell him.”

“But he concedes that you’d come up with something more clever if you were lying.”

“Why would I bother lying?” Tony insisted through a mouthful of pizza, and Steve pulled a face. “Sorry, Cap,” he mumbled, swallowing before continuing. “But, yeah, it was weird, I know, but you guys know what I know. Not like I don’t think it was strange, too.”

“Perhaps a—more complex agenda has not occurred to Loki yet,” Thor suggested, frowning. Tony’d had a conversation with Selvig about Thor once, heard stories about his ‘stupid grin’ and pretty carefree attitude most of the time, but the Thor he knew frowned a lot. Unless he was talking about Asgard, or his ‘youth’. “To me it seems nothing but a simple trick.”

“A simple trick that put my elevator out of order, destroyed my windows, my bar…”

“Could’ve been worse.” Clint pointed out. Clint was only ever pessimistic when it came to conversations about Loki.

“It’s almost like he’s trying to get our attention…” Steve mused, elbows resting on his knees. He had his sleeves rolled up, causing creases all the way up the arms in the blue undershirt of his uniform, and his hair was still mussed up from his helmet. It was the messiest looking Tony’d seen him walking around the Tower when he wasn’t training.

“Can we just—eat our pizza like normal people and talk strategies after?” Tony asked. He wasn’t sure why, but something about the whole discussion was getting on his nerves. Steve gave an apologetic smile, Thor shrugged, and the conversation moved elsewhere for a while, to his relief.

When he returned to his room with a carefully measured glass of Jack that night, it was still bothering him. They’ been right that it made no sense for Loki, didn’t match any current agenda they could think of. It just—well, it just seemed like a bit of simple mischief, really. The one suggestion they left out of the discussion was one that occurred to Tony earlier, but that he didn’t want to bring up. What if Loki had no big evil plot this time? Maybe he just didn’t know what else to do with his freedom.

Or maybe he was just personally offended by Tony after last time, which wouldn’t surprise him considering the nicknames, the snarking, and the insults in general… Hitting him in the face with the Mark VII as it deployed…. Now that was a theory that made sense, which kind of disappointed him. There was probably no puzzle at all.

It was gonna be bugging him forever, either way.

He was even more ticked off, though, when nobody woke him when they brought Loki in.

He sort of understood when he woke up at 5am to Jarvis alerting him of a call from Steve—who hadn’t been woken either, as a matter of fact—telling him that he’d been caught, but that he’d been caught by Thor.

“He’s tied up like we agreed,” he explained to Tony and Bruce, where the three of them had gathered in the living room again. “Same as last time.”

“Um, okay, where is Thor?” Bruce frowned, bringing up the obvious question since Steve apparently didn’t want to address it on his own accord yet.

“And why didn’t we invite the G-Men?” Tony added.

Steve sighed, crossed his arms, and looked at his feet. “Thor asked me not to. He doesn’t want SHIELD to know yet.”

Now that was interesting. “…Oh really.”

“Yeah, uhm. He said he and Loki talked, and Loki agreed to the cuffs and everything himself.”

“While we were asleep?!

“Hang on, Tony,” Steve looked like just continuing was a torture to him. “There’s something else. He asked if he can bring Loki back here, first.”

“No, you gotta be kidding, right?” Bruce gave a nervous laugh. “He wants to hold the crazy supervillain here, in the middle of the city, with us, afte—“

“Tell him yeah.”

It was kinda hilarious how Steve and Bruce blinked in time with each other, and then turned in time with each other to stare at Tony disbelievingly.

“Yep,” Tony clarified. “Bring him in. Let’s see what he’s got to say.”

Steve leaned in, lowering his voice. “Are you sure about this, Tony?”

“Nope.” He patted Steve’s shoulder and turned to make his way back to his room to get dressed. “When’s that ever been a problem before?”

He tried to imagine the whole conversation Loki and Thor must’ve had as he searched through his wardrobe. Loki talked Thor around somehow, that much was for sure. It must’ve been good, considering how frowny and pissed off Thor kinda was about the whole thing. To make him believe something that would spur him into bringing Loki here instead of to SHIELD or to Asgard… That was impressive. But not entirely successful, when he thought about it. Thor still cuffed him up, all the same.

He went for a pretty monochrome color scheme when he dressed. Black Jeans, black trainers, a heavy grey v-neck t-shirt. He didn’t think he had any kind of effect he wanted to set in mind when he did pick, but he wasn’t gonna deny he was vain about certain things, and he looked taller in darker stuff.

He met Steve and Bruce at the elevator, on their way up to his personal living room. Thor was coming in through the roof, under cover of night since the sun hadn’t quite risen yet, but they still didn’t want to run the risk of conducting this whole thing outside.

Bruce was edgy while waiting. Steve was edgy watching Bruce be edgy. Tony was up earlier than he remembered being up in, like, ten years, so he poured himself a coffee. Seemed like the sensible thing to do before a rendezvous with their deity of a buddy and his psychopathic little brother.

It was a tense moment when Jarvis alerted them to Thor’s return, with his company literally in hand. He must’ve been a bit more gentle this time, Tony thought, observing no injuries on either of them and watching as Thor made Loki walk ahead of him, and yet didn’t keep his hammer raised. Loki was cuffed and gagged (or muzzled, Tony hadn’t decided how to put it yet), but he walked with his  back straight. This was really interesting. His eyes flicked to the doors, where his Mark VII was waiting behind them, ready in case of emergency, then back to the two gods crossing the threshold.

“I apologize, friends,” Thor said, and to his credit he actually did look a little sheepish. “I did not see time for summons.”

“Why were you summoned but not us?” Steve asked, eyeing Loki warily. Loki rolled his eyes, and raised his eyebrows at Thor, who frowned back at him.

“Loki wishes for me to explain that his ability to communicate telepathically stretches to me alone, of this group.”

“Did you know he could do that?” Tony asked suddenly. That was news to him.

“It was a link reserved only for when either of us required assistance.”

“Okay… Is it story time yet, then?”

“I think we’re all dying a little to hear.” Steve agreed.

Thor and Loki both glanced at each other at the same time at that, their eyes meeting, Loki’s questioning, and Thor frowning. They both wore odd expressions, and it was only then that it fully occurred to Tony that these guys were brothers. He knew it before, obviously, but it was like, their shared moment of mutual nervousness made him only just understand. They’d grown up together, over the course of millions of years. Loki had damaged that badly, Thor made clear, and Loki seemed to believe Thor had damaged it, and at the minute it was like they were almost too afraid to talk about whatever had happened that night in case they broke whatever tiny bits they seemed to have mended.

“We had a discussion,” Thor answered, vaguely. “Loki revealed much and I….listened.”

“….I see?” Bruce looked from Tony, to Steve, then back to Thor, clearly no more enlightened than the rest of them.

“I wished—I wish to return Loki to Asgard. He has made plea for an alternative. If our team be willing, I, in turn, have offered him this single opportunity.”

“Which is?” Tony asked, and held his breath as Loki slowly turned his eyes on him. He narrowed his eyes, and Tony followed suit, refusing to be the first to break eye contact. Loki rolled his eyes and looked away again.

“He does not wish to return to Asgard, the realm of silence is a loathsome place that I would not condemn any to for eternity,” Thor explained. “He insists that he harbours no desire for war, only to live his days away from the watch and interference of others. He believes he will have peace without the influence from, or on, others.”

“Wouldn’t the realm of silence have suited that pretty well?”

“He did not have his freedom in the realm of silence.”

“He doesn’t deserve his freedom.” Tony could tell from Thor’s face that he was treading dangerously here, especially if Thor had chosen to give Loki the benefit of the doubt this time.

“Say if of Loki only if you can say it of yourself.”

Oh. Burn. Tony felt an anger welling up in him at those words, at Thor standing there judging him for who he was, hitting him right where it hurt, because whether or not he wanted others to believe he was past it all, it still bothered him. The part that made him angriest was that he couldn’t shout at Thor and call him wrong, because for starters, Thor had his hammer in hand, and secondly, he wasn’t wrong. Loki was watching him again, almost curiously now.

“Well, I can see why we didn’t invite our SHIELD buddies…” He muttered.

Bruce was shaking his head, but Steve’s brief silence was worrying Tony. Thanks to how Thor put it, this was exactly the kinda thing Steve would be all over. Freedom, second chances, bla bla… Second chances were a thing Tony believed in, too, having had several of them himself—and he was aware how little sense that made—but this time he wanted to stomp his foot and throw a tantrum or something.

“…Clint will find out, Thor,” Steve said eventually. Clearly he’d decided for them. “Natasha might go with it after some talking, but I don’t think Clint will.”

“He may, in time,” Thor shrugged. “I believe time will be the deciding factor in all of this.”

“So…” Bruce raised his eyebrows. “We just, what? Babysit Loki, send him home if he’s bad and give him a treat if he isn’t?”

The edges of Loki’s eyes wrinkled with amusement at that statement, and even Thor smiled a tiny bit.

“It would seem so.”

Ground rules.” Tony growled. “I’m gonna write them up. Right now.”

 

*

 

 

The inevitability of Loki’s presence not being appreciated by Clint didn’t seem to bother Thor that much as the day began, but Tony made him explain this whole plan about three more times anyway, because this was his building, and he remembered last time way to well.

It did make sense, in a really weird way when he thought it over a few times. For as long as they knew Loki was at large, they’d be looking for him. If he surfaced, they’d be all over him. If Loki truly had no big evil agenda in mind, it was hell of a lot easier for them all if Loki hung out at the Tower where they could see him. Loki didn’t have to make it his life’s priority to avoid the Avengers, the Avengers didn’t have to make it their lives priority to find Loki, and hey, maybe they’d all learn a thing or two from the experience.

The only problem was that Tony refused to trust Loki.

He would admit that the situation took his interest. He would admit that Loki took his interest. He didn’t mind the idea of letting people know the while magic idea intrigued him, and that he wanted to know more. He wanted to know what Loki had said to Thor, he wanted to know why Loki kept giving Tony specifically the evil side-eyes. He wanted to know about Loki.

But he did not want to trust him.

He considered all of these things as he stood in the hallway, in the shadows of the doorway like a creep, not that he cared, watching Loki, Thor, Steve and Bruce sat around the table at 9am, after he and Bruce went to arrange Loki’s glorified cell disguised as a room, on Thor’s floor. Tony went back to his room to shave and clean up after, and everyone just seemed to have gathered here. Thor was talking with Loki in a low voice, and Loki just looked plain bored, staring at something on the ceiling. They’d removed the mask, and the chain connecting his cuffs seemed longer for better movement. Steve and Bruce sat in the couch opposite the gods.

Tony frowned, thinking, as he watched Loki. He would glance at Thor every now and again, raise an eyebrow almost sceptically, shake his head, or nod, but mostly he seemed intent on ignoring his brother. He was tense in his seat, shoulders and back completely straight as he listened.

He blinked, while Tony was watching, and turned his head to look directly into the shadows where Tony, who knew without asking that Loki could see him standing there.

“So, ground rules,” he said suddenly, walking through the doorway and hoping Loki didn’t realise how long he’d been standing there. “No wandering the building any lower than the Avengers’ levels. In fact—maybe just stick to this floor, Thor’s floor, and the gym, maybe. No using phones, computers, Jarvis, any other form of communication without asking. No going anywhere without at least one of us with you.” He continued talking as he made his way into the room, counting the points on his fingers without looking up. “No burning, smashing, breaking, throwing, or any other form of destruction, of any of the contents or structure of the building. That includes the people in it.” He only looked up when he could think of nothing more from the top of his head, looking to his teammates. “Agreed?”

“Steer clear of Clint, at least for now, maybe,” Steve suggested, rubbing at his chin with one hand, and Bruce gave a non-committal shrug probably in agreement, and looked to Thor.

“The rules seem just, to me. Will you consent, brother?”

 Tony finally looked at Loki again, to find him watching him still. He wondered if he was watching him the whole time, with that weird angry-mixed-with-thoughtful expression. While he would barely look at Thor, he hardly seemed to take his eyes off Tony. “I will.”

“And to any that I make up while I think of them.” Tony added, clasping his hands behind his back.

Loki pursed his lips tightly before replying, and narrowed his eyes. “If they be fair.”

“You don’t get to decide what’s fair yet.”

“Stark,” Thor interrupted, looking from Tony, to Loki, and back. “There is no reason to challenge my brother so soon.”

Tony could think of a few good reasons, but none that applied to the deal they were setting up. They were supposed to pay attention to anything Loki might do from now on, not what he has done, so Tony resolved to keep a good, tight eye on him.

“Fine,” he said, releasing his hands and stuffing them into his pockets. “Coffee first, it’s nine in the morning, jesus.”

 

*

 

 

In retrospect, Tony should have seen the whole babysitting rule going badly for him. It did work for like, a whole week, though, which helped when he was convincing himself it had been a totally good idea and it was all Loki’s fault for complicating things when he shouldn’t be here anyway.

He was in his own living room, at the very top of the Tower, legs crossed comfortably while sitting on the carpet, a few tools, a drink, and Pepper’s old laptop sitting on the table in front of him in pieces. It hadn’t been like that when she left it with him, obviously, Pepper was too careful for that kinda destruction. She’d gotten a newer, better model, and she wanted the memory expanded and everything from her old laptop transferred over while she was overseas, and it gave Tony something to distract himself with for half an hour.

He’d finished a while ago, and was just screwing with the old one out of boredom while avoiding everybody else. He’d been spending a lot more time up here and a lot less time with the other live-in Avengers since Loki seemed to be everywhere he turned, still giving him that weird look, or wearing some annoying triumphant smirk. What he was happy about, Tony didn’t know, but it was easier on his mind and his nerves to just not look at his face. He felt personally offended that Loki was walking around smiling triumphantly, looking godly as usual as he did, in Tony’s tower, and he couldn’t put his finger on why it bothered him so much.

He braced himself for something horrible when he heard the quiet ping of his private elevator, leaning back from the table to watch as the doors slid open and Steve walked in….trailed by Loki.

“Uh, sorry, Tony,” Steve rubbed the back of his neck, smiling apologetically. “I know you’re busy, but Thor’s out, Bruce is sleeping, and I’ve got a— a thing,” he explained vaguely, looking at Loki pointedly. Something for SHIELD, then.

“It’s okay,” he shrugged, looking Loki up and down. He always stared at Tony when he was around, and Tony felt suddenly self-conscious. “Has it had supper? When’s bedtime?” He joked, tonelessly, leaning over the table again.

He heard Steve shuffle awkwardly. “I can’t tell if you want me to answer that or not,” he admitted, probably to his shame, so Tony turned and gave him a smile.

“Sorry, buddy, it’s fine. Go, don’t be late.”

“Thanks, Tony.” Steve walked backwards into the elevator, smiling gratefully at Tony and glancing nervously at Loki before the doors shut. Steve and Thor always seemed grateful when Tony co-operated with this whole Loki situation.

Loki didn’t move after Steve left, though. He just stood there, looking around the room curiously, and Tony suddenly remembered last time he was in here.

“Remember what I said about destruction,” he warned. “Are you just gonna stand there or…?”

Loki blinked and looked over again, as if he’d forgotten Tony was there. With all the staring he was doing, Tony didn’t believe it. He crossed the room to the circular couch surrounding the carpeted area in front of the fire and folded himself into it slowly, his chain rattling. “Have you done something with the place?”

“Ha ha.”

Loki gave a grin, showing his teeth, and leaned back comfortably into the couch, stretching his legs out in front of him. He’d removed most of his Asgardian garb, leaving the leather trousers, boots, and belts in place, but wore a dark top of pretty normal looking fabric that hung loose around his shoulders. For a bizarre moment, Tony wondered how he changed with the chains on, but pushed the thought away and put down the screwdriver and pieces of a disk drive he’d been holding, rising to his feet.

The back of his knees were sore and stiff from sitting on the floor for so long, but he tried to keep any signs of it from his walk as he strolled toward the bar in his bare feet. He chastised himself mentally for not having the bracelets on already as he slipped them around his wrists and made for a glass.

“Are you going to fetch that drink eventually?” Loki called over. “Or were they empty words? A display to distract me?”

“I love a good display,” Tony reached for a second glass. “But that’s the third time I remember hearing you ask for a drink, so I feel like shutting you up.”

“How generous of you.”

“I’m a generous guy, if you think about it,” he talked while pouring, not bothering to ask what Loki wanted and pouring him the same whiskey he’d decided on for himself. “I mean, I gave you a room here, haven’t told Fury you’re here, yet, and you’re one of his favourite people….”

“Yet?” Loki repeated, watching Tony’s feet as he walked, returning to his place in front of the fire. He paused as he passed Loki, to hand him is drink, and Loki tilted his head to look up at him. Even when he was standing over him, Loki took the glass confidently, sipping as if he owned the place. He raised an eyebrow, then, and Tony realised he was staring. Moving on….he thought to himself, taking a seat in the couch opposite Loki.

“That was the deal, right?” He asked, following suit and sipping. “You be good, we watch and keep our mouths shut.”

“It sounds very dull when you put it that way.”

“It’s not supposed to be front page news.”

“But it is interesting.”

“Is it?”

Loki moved his glass to hold it in both hands, and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and watching Tony closely, intently, and Tony did look away this time, unsettled. He looked to Loki’s hands instead, to his long fingers around the glass, at the cuffs hanging from the curve of his slim wrists to remind himself of why Loki was here, that he was—sort of—their prisoner. But still dangerous. “Of course it is,” he spoke finally when Tony looked down. “I need not read your mind to know that you agree.”

Tony lifted his glass to his lips again, draped an arm over the back of the couch and crossed one leg over the other, looking into the fire and giving no response.

“I, in turn, find that very interesting,” Loki continued anyway. “You make it clear that you do not wish to trust me, but you opened your doors to me nonetheless. Your plays at disinterest fall short,” he sighed, and Tony looked over when he heard fabric brushing as Loki mirrored his pose, crossing one leg and watching the flames dance. “But why you insist on them is the interesting part, and why you allow me to sit here against—supposedly against—your better judgement.”

“You’re still boring if you thought I wouldn’t see through that,” Tony responded tightly, rubbing the side of nose quickly. “I dunno what you’re trying to get me to talk about but you’re gonna have to do better than that.”

Loki looked over at the movement, and smirked. “I don’t need you to speak to know what you think.”

“Is that so.” Tony blinked slowly and looked back into the fire, sighing.

“I can read enough from your body language to when you lie.”

“That one of those crazy god of assholery tricks?”

“One of them.” Loki uncrossed his legs, leaning forward again. “So, do tell, Stark. Why did you open your doors to me?”

“Because I was overruled by your brother and Mr Freedom out there?”

“I do not think so.”

Tony sighed, frowned, and looked directly at Loki, at the chains between his hands, and at the confident grin he wore all the same. “I don’t think telling you to shut up will work if you haven’t taken the hints already, so keep talking. I’m so fucking curious as to what you think.”

“I think you did it for the fun.” Loki tilted his head, and Tony frowned deeper. “This isn’t a typical team mission; you have yourself convinced that it is a terrible idea. But it’s dangerous, and it’s fun.”

Holy shit, you have an ego bigger than mine.”

“You are enjoying the thrill of it, of hiding it from Fury and his lackeys. However, you don’t wish to believe this is the case, and thus are aggressive.”

Tony took a sip from his glass as Loki was speaking, and then lowered it again, resting it on his knee. “If you think I’d be anything but aggressive toward you, you’re a hell of a lot crazier than we thought.”

“Oh, I don’t mind you being aggressive.” Loki followed suit, taking a sip and leaning back in the couch again, legs uncrossed and looking confident as ever. “It’s fun, watching you refuse to come to terms with your natural being.”

“Well, I think you’ve got me all wrong.”

“And I can still tell when you lie.” Loki lowered his voice, and narrowed his eyes ever so slightly. “You think yourself so much greater than me, the hero, and the genius. Your world’s heroes are no more balanced than myself, you more so. They will be the downfall of this place.”

“So, what, you suggest I go around blowing Manhattan to pieces instead?” Tony lowered his voice to match Loki’s tone. The conversation was getting dangerous, and soon Loki was gonna say something to make him snap, but he couldn’t see himself stopping. If this was Loki’s game, then Tony’d play along; bait him, until he had reason to kick him to the kerb of an Asgardian prison again.

“Is it so far from your areas of expertise?”

“You dunno what you’re talking about.”

“Or so you would like to think.”

“Shut the hell up.”

Loki laughed. “Do you not see? This is how you react when confronted with truths you would rather not hear. I like this. This is interesting. You are destructive at nature, Tony Stark, be it to yourself or others. Living in denial will be your downfall, and I will be watching.”

“Not if we hand you back to the Asgardians again.”

“If you wanted to do that,” Loki smirked, raising his glass to his lips again. “You would have done so days ago.”

“Your ignorance is gonna be your downfall,” Tony stood with his empty glass, strolling over to the bar again quickly. He needed to get rid of Loki somehow, get him out of his sight until—he wasn’t really sure what he needed to do, he just didn’t want to keep listening to this. “You think you know us, but you don’t. You still underestimate the people on this planet,” he pointed out, pouring. “You learned nothing.”

“Of course,” Loki agreed, voice dripping with sarcasm. “I see you have taken offense to my words.”

“Not really,” Tony didn’t return to the couch, just leaned against the bar while drinking. “Just because I won’t trust you doesn’t mean I’m offended, I couldn’t care less.”

“For a man offered so many second chances in his own lifetime, you have learned very little with regards to offering them.”

“You killed a good friend of ours; think I’d just welcome you with open arms after that?”

“And you killed millions in your line of work.” Loki stood suddenly, setting his glass down on the coffee table. “We are no so unlike each other, Stark.” He said, sounding tired. “Unfortunately.”

Tony opened his mouth to ask where Loki was going, but then he heard it too; thunder. Too quick to be natural thunder.

“Jarvis, open comms,” He mumbled, then looked up after hearing a small beep. “That you Thor?”

“Aye,” Thor’s voice always came back with static, probably because of his magic. Tony decided to look into that. “I apologize for being late on my return.”

“Don’t sweat it, call us even if you drop by the roof and pick something up.”

He could almost hear Thor’s brief confusion in the short silence, before he spoke again. “Ah. Loki?”

“Think he’s getting a little tired.” He joked, and watched as Loki rolled his eyes.

Thor didn’t talk about wherever he’d been, and gave Tony a significant look when he asked where Steve was, glancing at Loki. Tony’d waved him off, deciding he’d ask Steve later, just anxious for Thor to get Loki out of there. He waited at the bar as they left through the elevator, breathing a quiet laugh, staring at Thor’s back, at how he always waited until he’d descended and the doors opened again to turn around, but the moment of humour was short lived as Loki turned, smirking widely at  Tony as the doors closed on them.

He asked himself what he’d been thinking when he joined a team as he topped up his glass.

Chapter Text

Tony spent the next few days following back the line of events that ended with Loki taking up residence in his Tower, and cursing every development that lead to it. SHIELD’s fault for messing with the Tesseract and luring the son of a bitch to Earth. Thor’s fault for getting banished and bringing Loki’s attention to it. Johann Schmidt’s fault for unearthing the Tesseract to begin with. Hitler’s fault for giving Schmidt power.

He stopped when he got to the stage of blaming Loki’s existence on dead Nazis.

Whatever caused it, he was stuck with the problem, now. Stuck with the crazy not-Asgardian psycho-analysing him at every opportunity. How did he do that? He’d known Tony in person for about a day before this deal.

If that was Loki’s game, though, Tony could play one back at him. Annoy him just as much. He’d figure Loki out and bug the hell out of him. He’d use every prank in the book as well as fucking him over mentally, and he’d get away with it because this was his Tower and Loki started it, and eventually Loki would do something to get himself kicked out. Right? Right.

He started by getting Jarvis to mess with the elevator when Loki was in it, sending Loki back to his and Thor’s floor every time he tried to go anywhere else. That worked until Loki dematerialised the roof of the elevator, climbed the elevator shaft, and dematerialised all the metal doors in his way, which didn’t exactly break Tony’s ground rules. Cheater, he thought, but said nothing.

The next day Loki asked him how many people he’d killed over breakfast, so Tony ordered an ice sculpture of a reindeer and put it in Loki’s room.

He re-thought that plan a little too late, when he walked into his private living room and fell on his ass, finding everything put the carpet had been turned into an ice rink. The dark, ever so slightly swollen bruise on his upper thigh had him walking funny when he placed mythological drawings of Loki looking like a Christmas decoration in random but numerous walls of the Tower.

The very personal prank-war didn’t end until three weeks later, but it did end somewhat explosively. Thor wasn’t supposed to be the next one at the fridge, but Tony should have factored in his appetite when he timed it. A little to late when Thor was opening the fridge and springing the trap that proceeded to spray glow-in-the-dark paint all over him.

Tony was already stepping out with hands spread, apologies tumbling out one after the other, “Holy shit Thor, I’m so sorry, that was an accident, you weren’t supposed to—shit I’m sorry,” when Thor turned, spitting paint and probably ready to zap him into a pile of apologetic dust. He fell silent, jumping back, when Thor was suddenly flipped upside down, suspended by something invisible around his ankle from the roof, cape draping to the floor like some sort of curtain, dripping a puddle of paint onto the floor.

He stared, bewildered for a moment, from Thor’s face, to his ankle, to the fridge, to Thor again, and then as he spotted movement in the corner of his eyes, to Loki in the doorway, both hands over his mouth. Thor’d clearly stepped unwittingly into one of Loki’s counter attacks for Tony. Both he and Tony were speechless for once.

Thor moved, then. He lifted his arms to wipe paint out of his eyes. “….WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?” He demanded in his best thunderer’s voice. Tony wore the building shook.

Loki lowered his hands from his mouth, but whatever he was about to say was lost, when more paint dripped from Thor’s beard into his eyes again. Loki pressed his lips together in a valiant effort not to smile.

That set Tony, off, though. A quick huff of laughter escaped him, and he crossed an arm over his chest, covering his mouth with the other one.  He tried to school his expression into one of concern, but it was no good—his shoulders shook as he felt the hysteria bubble up, and his battle was lost when he let himself erupt into a fit of muffled laughter.

Loki lost his own determination a few seconds later, and his laugh was the strangest sound Tony’d ever heard, so unlike anything that had ever come from him before in his sly or angry tones. It set Tony off laughing even more.

“Loki! Release this bond at once!” Thor roared, obviously not appreciating the joke as much as them. Loki did as he was told with the wave of a hand, laughter dissolving into slow, silent shakes, but he didn’t stop grinning when Thor fell in a fluorescent green heap on the floor.

Tony worked hard to make himself stop, sniffling and blinking and covering his mouth. He couldn’t believe that had just happened, but shit he needed to stop laughing, it was probably inappropriate, Thor was pissed, and he was the only human one in the room, but his body didn’t want to listen to him.

“It washes right out, Thor, I swear—“

“Apologies, brother, the trap was not meant for you.”

Thor shook his hair back into place when he stood, flicking paint everywhere like a dog. Tony bit down uselessly on his grin and Loki let out a short laugh that sounded almost like he was in pain. Thor looked from one to the other, at both grins, and gritted his teeth. “Explain.”

“He started it,” Tony said immediately, pointing at Tony.

“It was you who altered the controls of the—“

“You swapped all my booze with mouthwash  and—“

“It was necessary, you were intoxicating people by simply speaking—“

“ENOUGH.”

Tony cringed when Thor interrupted, any urges to laugh fading away as he imagined what Mjolnir to the face would feel like.

“Leave me, both of you,” he ordered in a low voice. “Before I commit acts both unbrotherly and ungodly.”

Tony didn’t need telling twice. He didn’t even argue that it was his Tower, he just took the opportunity when it was presented. Besides, he’d probably be able to take Thor more seriously when his beard wasn’t glowing. He darted across the room to where Loki was already turning in the doorway having probably also decided to hightail it out of there too, and poked him in the back to hurry him along.

Loki looked over his shoulder as they walked down the hallway, at Tony, back into the kitchen where Thor was still fuming, and opened his mouth. Tony gestured at him to shut up before he made a noise, pointing a thumb back at the kitchen, shaking his head, and then nodding toward the elevator. Loki’s expression didn’t change, but he didn’t speak. 

It was an awkward few seconds waiting for the elevator, both of them probably wondering if Thor would change his mind and come after them, and Tony wondering if he should pants Loki or something while he had a chance, just because Loki probably wasn’t expecting it, and he did love to be a few points ahead.

The doors opened before he could act on it, and they both stepped in. Tony had a few moments of panic at stepping into a confined space with a super-powered someone he’d been making it his life goal to drive crazy the last few weeks, so when the doors closed, he blurted out, “Truce?”

Loki tilted his head, and hit the button for the communal living room. “…Truce?”

“Yeah. Y’know, in the event of us both being in danger of the big angry blonde.”

“Mmmm,” Loki hummed agreeably. “It would be difficult to make ourselves scarce if we continued laying traps, I suppose.”

“Just a temporary one,” Tony clarified, pointing a finger. “I didn’t win yet, so.”

Loki finally turned to look at Tony when the doors opening, grinning dangerously. “Were you starting to have fun?” He asked, in an innocent tone that didn’t match the mischief in his expression.

Tony swore mentally when no reply came to him. He narrowed his eyes a little at Loki, neither of them moving to leave the elevator yet. It hit him very suddenly that he’d forgotten, or hadn’t been focussed on the fact that the whole thing was supposed to be to get rid of Loki. He’d gotten caught up in it, working to figure out Loki’s next move, to beat someone as intelligent as himself, and he forgot that ‘beat’ was supposed to mean ‘get rid of’. He decided he didn’t want Loki to have that to use against him, so he said, “Maybe.”

The response seemed to surprise Loki a little, and Tony turned away from him, stepping into the living room. He heard the quiet movement of fabric when Loki followed. “I’m allowed to have fun getting you out of here.”

“That isn’t what happened, and you know it was well as I.”

Tony reached for the TV remote and turned, arms crossed. “Then what did happen?”

“The game became interesting.”

Tony watched Loki’s eyelashes lowering a little when his eyes narrowed. “Because it got so bad that Thor was upside down and covered in green.”

Loki grinned again. “Yes.”

“So?”

“It can still get worse.”

Tony picked up the little twist in Loki’s tone there, but he didn’t know what it meant. He wasn’t really sure what to say, because he kind of—wasn’t worried about not focussing on getting rid of Loki, anymore. He didn’t know what he was instead, and not knowing himself was confusing him. The prank war was fun. It was a challenge. Loki was sort of fun, in a horrible, lethal, has-killed-people sort of way. So have you, he told himself, and then huffed. Time to stop thinking.

“Except we have a truce. We’re supposed to get out of each other’s way or play football between the trenches or something.”

“There are no trenches, and I cannot leave, so perhaps we’d better find an alternative.”

“What? You can just—“

“The only Avengers in your building are you, and Thor.”

Oh. Ground rules. Loki’s not allowed to go anywhere on his own. Nice one, Tony. “Who was with you when you were lurking around setting that trap just now?”

Loki shrugged. “I placed it earlier in the day. Thor does not notice the little things when he’s eating.”

“Greeeaaat.”

“You could of course, change your rules…”

Tony turned his back on Loki, throwing himself onto the couch and flicking the TV on. “That desperate to get away?”

Loki said nothing at first, but Tony spotted him rolling his eyes as he lowered himself to sit at the other side of the couch, crossing his arms. “I suppose not.”

“Don’t sound too happy about it,” Tony put one foot on the table, and crossed the other over it at the ankle. “This was your idea; spend quality time with the Avengers.”

“Thor’s, actually.”

“Your fault for coming knocking at my door. Or knocking out my door, same difference.”

Loki shrugged again. “I was bored.”

“So you came after me?” Tony poked, remembering  that Loki’s capture didn’t exactly solve the mystery of why Loki even showed up at the Tower before that.

“You irritate me.” He answered quickly.

“You would’ve done the job if that was the case,” Tony pointed out, wondering if he was crazy for challenging that idea. “You wouldn’t be sitting here playing games with me for a month.”

“You wouldn’t keep me around for them if you wanted to be rid of me as much as you claim.”

Tony came up short on that one. He had no idea what was going on here anymore; if Tony conceded to enjoying having Loki around for the challenge, like Loki wanted him to, then Loki was pretty much admitting to lying about Tony irritating him, and in turn, lying about why he seemed  to enjoy picking on Tony so much.

“Shut up and watch TV,” he said eventually, filing the information away to figure out after he’d figured himself out. And Loki did shut up, which only added to the confusion.

 

*

 

Steve returned eventually, and Tony didn’t waste any time getting clear of Loki. He’d been trying to think the entire evening, but Loki’s silence didn’t last long. He started asking questions about the TV, about what Tony was watching, about what references and abbreviations stood for- - about everything and nothing, as if he knew and sought to prevent Tony from reaching any conclusions, he realised when he was back in his own room with the door shut and locked, rubbing at his temples.

His theory about Loki lying all counted on his admitting that Loki was right, to admitting that he enjoyed the games and minor chaos, which was getting harder and harder to deny, especially after bursting into laughter after what happened Thor.

So, maybe—maybe, if that battle was lost, he wouldn’t be too pissed off about it if he’d learned something from it. In letting Loki have that win, he gained the information that Loki was lying.

Let’s go with that, he told himself, and felt curiously and worryingly relieved about letting himself enjoy it all. Moving on.

So, Loki was lying. He didn’t show up and randomly blast Tony’s living room to pieces because he irritated him.

But that didn’t tell Tony why he’d done it, or that Tony doesn’t irritate him anyway, given the prank war, the picking on him, the staring and the evil eyes.

Loki’s reasoning was an enigma wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a crazy god of mischief exterior, and it was getting to a stage where Tony couldn’t let it go.

It didn’t help that he ended up having to spend a lot of time with Loki for a while as they both avoided Thor. When Loki would normally stick to Thor, he ended up having to follow Tony around when Steve and Bruce were both busy.

Thankfully, probably because of the truce, Loki laid off the serious talk. In the first day, he stuck to questioning Tony about everything on the TV when Tony decided to stay in his own living room rather than let Loki follow him anywhere else. Not feeling as grumpy as the previous night, Tony answered, gesturing and explaining the ways in which sitcoms were not accurate.

He ordered in to avoid going anywhere, going for his usual pizza every time these days after severely regretting insisting they all try shawarma long ago and having to pretend he liked it rather than let his pride be wounded. He started using his own housemates as examples, making Loki imagine how bizarre some of the stuff on TV was when he imagined people he knew doing them, and it turned into a very, very long conversation of how the Avengers could actually become a pretty well-built sitcom.

Tony would obviously be the typical, loud, womanising character that went over the top with everything, Loki pointed out, and Tony couldn’t help but agree.

“Bruce is the nerd,” Tony followed. “Quiet, has hilarious, sarcastic one-liners.”

“And angry,” Loki added.

Tony nodded over his can of coke. “And angry,” he agreed, reaching for another slice of pizza.

“Thor is the blissful idiot,” Loki held his slice in his hands, refusing to eat with his mouth full. “He is rather intelligent but under the circumstance…..”

“I was gonna say Steve, but yeah, Steve’s better adjusted than Thor.”

“He is the group responsibility.”

Loki took a mouthful of pizza after that, and Tony picked up the majority of the speaking until he was done. “Yeah, definitely, how’d I miss that one… Natasha’s the token lady character. Usually there’d be more than one but Natasha’s more dangerous than like, four angry female sitcom characters.”

Loki raised an eyebrow. “Is she, really?”

“Yeah, did you like—learn that from Barton?” Tony froze mid-sentence, not really sure it was an appropriate subject, but decided to go for it anyway.

Loki didn’t seem to mind, actually grinning a little. Weird, maybe the guy appreciated Tony not holding back on it. They’d all take to not bringing up their previous encounters with Loki, but Tony didn’t see why. That’s why he was supposed to be here, wasn’t it?

“I assumed his opinion on the subject was—clouded.”

“Oh, right, cause they’ve got the angry hots for each other.”

After a few days of actually getting used to each other—and Tony had to take a moment before he fell asleep to wonder how the hell that happened—he started noticing little changes in how they were both acting. The pranks picked up again, but neither of them brought it up to a dangerous level anymore. It became more fun than infuriating. Even when Steve and Bruce were around, Tony would find himself migrating to the seat beside Loki during lunch, or he’d snap out of his fixation with something on TV to realise that Loki had been sitting on the other end of the couch stealing his chips for a while.

Maybe it was because Thor was making them both edgy, but Tony wasn’t sure. Thor hadn’t exacted his revenge yet, but Loki seemed sure that he would try something. He’d also been sure that he would know before he did, but with every day that passed normally, he was less sure.

Tony was definitely worried, though. Not about Loki exactly—he was always worried about the supervillain sleeping downstairs—but about his own state of mind. He very, very grudgingly admitted to himself that he was beginning to enjoy their conversations, the pranks, having someone of equal intellect to battle with, but he didn’t want Loki to be right.

He could enjoy a challenge without wanting the same chaos Loki’d been looking for, couldn’t he? And slowly befriending (if that’s what was happening) someone who could carry a conversation with him wasn’t weird, was it? Just look at Bruce. If Tony put the whole supervillain thing out of the equation, it wasn’t that big of a deal. The fact that he was talking himself into it worried him.

“What are you doing?”

Tony jumped a mile out of his chair and spun it away from his desk to face the door, one hand over the arc reactor and another on the edge of the desk. Loki raised an eyebrow at his fright, so Tony composed himself, pulling a face and turning back to the computer screens. “I thought you weren’t allowed on this level?” He pointed out, distinctly remembering that his workshop wasn’t one of the floors on his list of ground rules.

“You weren’t answering on the comms,” Steve’s voice came suddenly, and Tony took a second look behind him as Steve stepped into the doorway beside Loki.

Tony glanced at the bottom of the screen, verifying his memory of hitting the mute button with his thumb a while ago when Jarvis was chastising him over his god-stalking.

“Whoops,” he mumbled, then raised his voice to speak clearer. “Is it my turn?”

“Loki says he can’t go to Thor’s room?” Steve explained with a hint of a question at the end of the sentence. “And I’m meeting Clint and Natasha on the roof, I thought in case they come inside….”

“Right, I got it.” Tony’s eyes moved up to the top screen, where the surveillance camera was showing the outline of a chopper landing slowly, the lights of the city at night blocked by its bulk. “Don’t stay out too late and don’t talk to any strangers.”

Steve didn’t even dignify that with an answer, but Tony watched his reflection as he shook his head with a bemused smile, before offering Loki a nod and leaving them there.

“What does Steve do with you when he’s watching you?” Tony asked, suddenly curious.

Loki took his time making his way over to Tony, inspecting the room around him with a questioning eye. “He watches.”

“…What, he doesn’t, like….do his training while you’re there, or watch TV, or..?”

Loki shook his head, stopping two feet from Tony’s chair. “He follows, and watches. I read, mostly. He’s taken to making conversation recently, though.”

Tony laughed. That was so typical of Steve. He knew that he and Bruce just got on with what they’d usually do and just made Loki stay while they did it, and Thor was—well, Thor. He talked Loki out of it for hours. But he should have expected Steve to be the one who actually acted like he was on guard duty.

“That’s gotta get boring….” He commented, sliding a hand across the screen and minimizing all his windows.

“The hawk and the spider still don’t know I’m here.” Loki said. He didn’t phrase it as a question, but Tony was getting kinda used to him and knew it meant elaborate.

“Nah, we’re still puzzling that one. Thor’s not happy with you—or me—right now. And they’d kill you too quick.”

“But you won’t.”

“Hmmm, maybe I will,” Tony grinned, rising from his chair and stretching. “I mean, Thor’s not gonna jump to save you right now, and he doesn’t like me anyway….”

Loki tilted his head. “Oh, but you forget I can take care of myself.”

“All bound up? I dunno…”

“Haha,” Loki smirked to match Tony’s grin. “I’m very… physically capable. Even more so when bound up, perhaps.”

A sudden image of Loki popped into Tony’s head, bound at the wrists, beads of sweat over his chest—and he blinked, panicking mentally. Whoah. He was pretty sure he was flirting with the guy he was supposed to hate. He was sure he should push the image away, but part of him didn’t mind it, and started adding more little details—messy hair, hungry grin—he stopped himself when he felt the heat building up low in his abdomen.

He really hoped Loki couldn’t mind-read.

“We’ll have to test that someday,” he said eventually, and cursed himself for continuing it, but it was fun. No, Tony, reel it in, Tony. “Anyway, I remember saying this floor was out of bounds, so c’mon. Upstairs.”

He didn’t like the smile Loki gave—or maybe he did, what the fuck—but he turned and made his way to the elevator anyway, walking in front of Tony. Tony took the few moments of silence as an opportunity to clear his head, but messed it up pretty badly. Being in such a confined space and shoulder to shoulder with someone you’d just imagined tied to a bed, breathing heavy, weren’t good conditions for the opportunity.

So it was that, even though he was really hungry, he took Loki to the living room rather than the kitchen and threw himself into the couch, trying not to look at Loki while he sat down too, his shirt moving loosely about his waist. Oops, he looked. Some good, mind-numbing TV was what he needed.

He didn’t even get that, though, thanks to his stomach rumbling fifteen minutes into the next episode of Friends on their list. It was probably a good thing. Loki’d been sitting with one ankle resting on the other knee and—well, Tony needed a break. Loki followed him to the kitchen silently, and rested his elbows on the countertop as he leaned against it, eyes following Tony while he moved through the kitchen.

“Did you want something, too?” Tony asked pointedly after a few minutes of it, his sandwich half-made. Loki shook his head. “Then quit staring, it’s distracting.”

“Sorry. I was thinking.” Loki straightened up. “I didn’t realize making a sandwich needed much concentration.”

Loki was teasing him. What the f—

“That’s because you don’t make sandwiches like me. My handiwork is amazing, okay, now—shh.”

“You are notorious for how good you are with your hands.”

Tony decided then and there that it was Loki’s fault he couldn’t clear his head of the image and more, that the blame was entirely his, and worse, he was doing it on purpose now.

“I’m just gonna assume you’re talking about my suits,” he said, glancing over at Loki to find him smirking, then turning his back on him to close the irons over his sandwich to toast it. He wasn’t really hungry anymore. He didn’t know.

“You’re ruining the fun.” He heard Loki say.

“And you’re playing a more dangerous games than the ones we’ve been playing so far.”

Loki laughed. “More dangerous than igniting Thor’s wrath?”

Tony turned around and leaned back against the counter, crossing his arms, to find Loki grinning, both hands in the pockets of his black jeans looking ridiculously human and ridiculously Loki still and ridiculously good in that pose, one hip pressed against the countertop and back curved.

“You’ve gotta stop that,” Tony said, raising both eyebrows.

“You enjoyed the other games.”

“That was—different.”

“This one is more fun.”

They both stood at either side of the kitchen, Tony staring and Loki grinning, until Tony huffed and turned back to his sandwich, dragging it onto his plate. “Cut it out, I can’t think.”

He heard Loki take a few steps. “I haven’t given you anything to think about, yet.”

The image flashed through his mind again, and Tony shivered, feeling like a warm finger and just run down his spine and stopped at the base, letting the heat pool there, his skin prickling as he wondered how close Loki was actually standing. “Oh you’ve given me plenty.”

Loki gave a sigh, and Tony almost jumped when he felt the air hit the back of his neck. He worked on standing very still when he heard the rustle of fabric when Loki drew his hands from his pockets. His skin was on fire for those few seconds of silence, his body wanting to shiver again, a crazy voice in his head telling him to turn around and grab Loki by those hips he’d been checking out earlier and drag him closer.

In the end, Loki side-stepped away quietly, and took a few more steps toward the doorway. “Let me know when you’d like some more,” he said, turning to lean against the doorframe where he waited for Tony to finish his food. “But don’t take too long.”

Life was about to get way too interesting.