"Welcome back, Sir," Jarvis says, voice dry and unaffected as always. Tony just about wants to cry. He doesn't even manage to reply "good to be back"; he just wordlessly walks over to the sofa and sinks down into it carefully – dropping down dramatically like he feels like would hurt more than it would feel good.
Everything feels normal. He isn't surprised at the sofa's softness, the house doesn't smell odd, he doesn't suddenly realize that when he imagined his home back there that he forgot something or got details wrong.
It's strange, he expected there to be more of a dichotomy, but everything is just… normal. It's almost cruel in the face of the fact that Tony is anything but.
"Sir," Jarvis says hesitantly, pulling Tony out of his thoughts. "Mr. Laufeyson resides in the bedroom."
That distracts Tony instantly from any and all maudlin pondering. "What?" He stands up and takes several steps towards the stairs before halting, hands balled into fists.
"You never revoked his access rights to any of your residences," Jarvis points out, and Tony knows that but he's almost forgotten. He hasn't properly seen Loki in two years.
He turns around and walks to the window, stares out into the endless expands of the ocean. "Did Pepper send him here?" It's the only possibility Tony can think of, though he has no idea why she would. He certainly didn't have the chance yet to drunkenly ramble at her how all he could think of in Afghanistan – when he wasn't thinking about what he was going to do to his capturers, that is – was Loki. That's not because of any restraint on his part; he simply didn't have the opportunity yet. He just got back today, had his press conference and then went to stare thoughtfully at the big arc reactor at the plant. At that point (and mostly due to his stunt at the press conference) Pepper had found more urgent things to do, and Tony had decided to go home.
Well, as much as this is home, anyway. One of the things Tony had realized in that cave is that he doesn't really have a home anymore, not in any way that matters. Not in two years.
"Not that I'm aware of," Jarvis answers his question, sounding bewildered. He's right too; why would she? She's never liked Loki and more than once over the years tried to get Tony to see her point of view: that Loki was a bad influence. Truth of the matter is, though, that one had been as bad as the other and that Tony hadn't done any better without Loki during any of their many break-ups; rather the opposite, really. As a result, he reckons the last two years – their longest separation by far since their first meeting when they were both in their early twenties – must have proven her wrong by now. "Mr. Laufeyson has been here regularly since your kidnapping became public knowledge."
Tony keeps very, very still and tells himself very, very firmly to get a grip. This probably doesn't mean what he wants it to mean. "How regularly?"
Thing is, Loki had left. With good reason too, and he hadn't come back, despite the fact that this house is as much Loki's as it's Tony's. They had planned the Malibu residence together; Loki had loved the view and Tony the location, high above all else, comparably remote and luxurious. They'd designed it together, from architecture to interior design, and Tony had gotten the stupid waterwall he'd always wanted for some reason. It's gurgling away happily right now. This house is very them and Tony had called it home from the moment they moved in seven years ago, but it stopped being that when Loki moved out, even if he stubbornly refused to acknowledge that until recently.
"Almost daily, Sir," Jarvis tells him.
Tony bites his lower lip and tries really hard not to ask, but most of his willpower has been leeched out. He's tired, and it's ridiculous to keep on pretending that their break-up was exactly what Tony wanted, that he's better off, that he doesn't need and miss Loki at all. Ridiculous and futile when he knows so very well that it's not true.
"What has he been doing?"
"Sleeping," Loki says from behind him. "I come here to sleep."
Very slowly, mostly because if he doesn't show some restraint now things are going to take a turn for the painful (or more of one, really), Tony turns around.
Loki looks horrible. He's pale and sallow, eyes reddened and hair a mess. He's wearing one of Tony's hoodies, Tony notes, and his wrists look too thin where they poke out of the too-short sleeves.
This is the moment where Tony is supposed to reply, something sassy or something to let Loki know that it's okay, even just a greeting if that's all he can manage, but all he can do is stare, drink in the sight of the most important person in his life – there's no point in trying to deny it. Everybody's always known it's true.
And it appears Loki is returning the favor; he stares at Tony, eyes flickering over his body; the brown dress shirt with the top button undone, the blue sling his right arm is in, the cuts and bruises on his face. Tony knows how he looks, hair more messy than he's ever allowed it to be, beard shaped clumsily in the silly attempt to conserve some part of himself, his old life. He's never had to do it himself before and it shows.
Eventually the silence becomes oppressing. Licking his lips, Tony takes several steps towards Loki, pauses. "Hi."
The clumsy overture certainly doesn't warrant the reaction it invokes; Loki hunches in on himself like he's been hit as his face crumbles. He covers his mouth with one hand, gaze dropping off Tony, whole body tense.
"Hey," Tony says, feeling like the bottom is dropping away from him. He's never seen Loki look like that, not while sober. "Hey." He walks up to Loki and, after only a little hesitation, touches his shoulder. This is idiotic; he feels helpless and awkward, doesn't know if he has any right to touch but can't pretend anymore there's anything he wants to do more right now.
Loki shudders at the touch and closes his eyes, takes several deep breaths. When he takes his hand off his face there's a veneer of calm all over it but it's clear it's fragile as glass. "I watched your press conference," he says, voice shaky. Very carefully, Loki steps forward and frames Tony's face with both hands, the touch very light. "Tony, what happened?"
Tony closes his eyes. Pepper had spoken of therapists and Tony is far enough gone to know he might even need it but fact of the matter is, a therapist wouldn't understand. Obie clearly hadn't, not even Pepper had – not that he'd told them anything, but the way they had reacted to him shutting down the weapons manufactory of Stark Industries was enough. Obie had been busy with damage control and Pepper had treated him like she was thinking he might have cracked.
He has, in a way, but that doesn't make him certified, the way she had treated him.
Loki asks. Not what were you thinking or do you know what you're doing (does he ever – perhaps for the first time in his life, he truly knows what he's doing). He asks.
So Tony explains. "They had my weapons," he says. "The ones I designed, with my logo on them. Someone in my company-" Tony pauses, takes a few breaths to calm down. "I nearly died. I'm still dying."
Loki squeezes his eyes shut, bites his lower lip. "Why?" he croaks, voice nearly breaking at those three letters.
Tony unbuttons his shirt. Part of him wants to close his eyes so he won't have to see Loki's expression but he knows that if he does, he'll just watch it on the security tapes later. And if he allows himself to do that once he'll do it again and again and again. He's always been good at torturing himself.
There's confusion on Loki's face when he spots the arc reactor, shock and a bit of horror. He doesn't get it yet, though, so Tony explains – quietly, any impulse to hurt Loki faded enough as to be irrelevant. "I was hit by shrapnel, shards too tiny to get out. If they get to my heart I'll have a very slow heart attack and die. This is a magnet that's keeping them out."
Loki stares at it for a long time. Then he asks, "How does it work?"
All the air vacates Tony's lungs. Those had been the first words Loki had said to him, all those years ago when they were twenty-three and reckless. Tony had spent all evening trying to find out who he was, the elegant young man with the long legs and the condescending smile. Once he'd finally managed to get Loki on his own he'd smiled smoothly and said something slick and inconsequential; Tony doesn't even remember what now. And Loki had smiled his condescending smile – he had to have known who Tony was, but he could care less – and asked, "How does it work? CEO of your own international company, genius, millionaire, ladies' man. How does it work?"
"Perfectly," Tony had replied. Loki had sneered and made as if to turn away; reckless in the face of rejection, Tony had added, "but I really should do something about the ladies' man part."
That had been the beginning.
"It works," Tony says now, a slight smile curving his lips, more sweet than bitter. Then he reaches out and pulls Loki in, wraps his left arm around him tightly. Loki returns the hug, tentative so as not to hurt him but no less desperate. Maybe Loki is crying; certainly he has trouble breathing. It doesn't matter. Tony feels like maybe he is crying himself, face pressed into Loki's neck, but he's not paying attention. It's been two years since he last got to touch Loki.
"Please don't make me leave again," Loki whispers after the longest time. Tony thinks back to the last time they met – the last time they truly met, here, not those uber-polite meetings in between, in public with all eyes upon them.
When they want to hurt each other, they sleep with other people. It's all they had needed for years, but they'd become more and more self-destructive as time went on, until Tony had felt the masochistic need for escalation and had started an affair. He'd made Loki find out, and he'd not been surprised at the result. Shouldn't have been.
Enough of that now. "I won't," he says, for the first time, and he means it. "I promise."
"Then I won't leave again," Loki replies. "I promise."
Tony closes his eyes, exhales. He didn't know how much he needed to hear that.
They don't say a word, just stand there for a while until Loki breaks the silence again. "Let's go to bed."
God, that's the best thing Tony has heard in far too long; way longer than three months.
They head over to the bedroom and take their clothes off. Loki doesn't comment on how thin Tony is and Tony doesn't comment on how thin Loki is. Really, they're both not exactly in top condition, but Tony has injuries all over his body, cuts and bruises and his arm, of course. Loki looks at them and while he makes a valid attempt to keep his face neutral it's still clear how much this is affecting him. Especially when Tony winces and has troubles finding a comfortable position without a couple of pillows even though he's always hated pillows.
In an attempt to lighten the mood, Tony raises an eyebrow at Loki and says, "What kind of stalker are you anyway, sneaking into my bedroom when I'm not there."
Loki sniffs and curls up on his side, carefully molding his body around Tony's uninjured side. "Glasshouses, babe. I saw those files on your hard drive."
Betrayed, Tony glares up at the ceiling. "Jarvis, why do I have security protocols if you circumvent them whenever you see fit?"
"You never revoked Mr. Laufeysons security privileges, Sir."
Oh, right, there was that. "Uh. Which files?"
Loki sends him a look. "All of them. Stalker paparazzi pictures of me getting coffee, fashion shoots, articles, interviews, all ads and movies I starred in. Everything you collected about me and ferreted away like a squirrel."
Yeah, well. "It got me through winter, didn't it?"
That sobers Loki up instantly. They have habits in their fights; one of them cheats for some reason, they break up, they make up, they fuck. They never admit that they've missed the other when they were separated, even if it's patently obvious that they're not half as good on their own as they are with each other.
Reaching out to brush the hair out of Tony's face, Loki leans over and kisses him gently. He doesn't say anything, but he doesn't need to. He's said more than enough already; they both have.