Pepper was deeply grateful for Loki's presence. He actually made Tony a bit more human sometimes, imperiously demanding food and dragging Tony up for it whether he was working on something or not. Tony started setting up silent alarms for meal times, and to prepare because Loki dragged him away regardless of what he was working on, sometimes leading to horrifically amazing explosions and in one memorable occasion a robot car developing a bizarre taste for Sprite.
Neither of them can really explain that, past the peals of laughter and guffaws of watching a little limited AI toy car with a swinging hammer on its hood honest to god purr when a stack of Sprite bottles were set before it.
Tony had made the engine run on a mix of soda and gas and even built a mini gasoline station in the corner for it. Loki named it Thor. Pepper honestly didn't want to know.
But there were other times she wanted to strangle both of them with her bare hands. Loki could probably take it.
Times like this morning, where Tony had been suspiciously well behaved in a shareholders meeting only interrupting everything to text once. It was about to end when the door opened and Tony walked in.
He'd looked blandly surprised, and turned right back around and walked out.
She still didn't know who was who.
But she still covered them with blankets when they managed to sleep, Loki seeming perpetually cold sometimes. She went and bought a variety of tea and a veritable mountain of hot cocoa powder and coffee for both of them.
Loki purchased a tea kettle, wrinkling his nose at the suggestion of heating up water in the microwave. It was a horrifyingly fascinating thing done in pea green and a little whistle that rattled when it started spewing out steam. It was ugly, but Loki seemed very fond of it so Pepper didn't fling it out the window at the first opportunity.
To be fair, he had been watching a documentary that talked about radiation and cancer. He'd given the appliance shifty looks ever since then. All in all he seemed like another Tony, albeit one who summoned strange bolts to incinerate the egg timer when it had gone off.
Actually, that sounded exactly like Tony.
There was a week that Tony had taken off and tutored Loki in technology and the Internet mainly. And had given him a shiny black plastic card, already his name embossed in silver letters, and shown him how to order things. And while in Asgard he was a prince -was and then everything seemed to happen- but here in Midgard Loki had not a coin to his name.
Tony made a complicated face and just handed him the card, and explained the monetary system and then gave him a million dollars to start off with.
Within the hour he was deeply immersed in a promotional copy of some book, and then buying the whole set.
He'd read various literature from other races, as his own Asgard focused mainly on how the strongest fighter always managed to beat everything with his muscles and weapons. It was...not to his taste, to put it mildly.
But humans. Oh.
They poured everything into words, from subjects that varied often he felt as if he identified with the characters so strongly sometimes, even though he knew they came from some mortal's imagination.
But then again, he was a God of Lies; and it would make some sort of sense he prefer fiction above all.
Even if Bilbo Baggins' quest didn't feel like lies; or Alex and his droogs made him endlessly curious about the world he immersed himself in. He wouldn't touch milk for a while after Burgess' novella. Tony didn't let him read any more dystopian fiction until Loki assured him he wouldn't take everything seriously.
But these mortals were practically ants under his boots, and yet they weaved such convincing lies with truths they were practically unable to be pulled apart. He knew how flight felt, and how changing your shape could feel; and authors seemed to know as well, without any speck of magic in them.
Loki was fascinated.
So now there were crates of books and movies being carted in daily, and it seems all he did anymore was lounge around Tony's workshop and read. From the familiar and unfamiliar fantasy of Tolkien's worlds to the interesting and annoying works like "To Kill a Mockingbird". He scowled fiercely and added sugar to his hot chocolate until even Tony could smell the sweetness from across the table.
He had to buy another five copies in order to actually get through the whole book, seeing as he kept setting it on fire. Accidentally.
Granted, he'd viciously ripped apart the pages before setting it alight with some matches. But no one except Jarvis would ever know.
"You know," Tony meandered over, "You don't have to keep reading it if you don't want to."
Gritting his teeth Loki snapped out, "I have to."
He had to know what to do when faced against such horrible prejudice against someone of different skin color. Obviously his own methods weren't working seeing as how everything went to hell when he was told of his Jotun heritage.
Besides, this was the fifth copy and he'd have to wait a whole night before the newer batch arrived. He was burning with curiosity as to the outcome of the court case.
Tony let it lie and merely warned him not to set anything else on fire. Loki ignored him because Tony was a hypocrite of the highest degree, warning Loki off of setting fires purposefully like he didn't make elaborate constructs of metal and wires for that exact purpose himself.
It took a bit of wheedling, but eventually Loki got Tony to explode the book in the backyard after he finished it.
He still refused to talk about it, but Tony looked up the plot on Wikipedia and merely patted his head. He was heard complaining about how no one had said the book was to be a tragedy for days.
As the tide of books seemed to be slowing down, Loki lessened his needling of Tony more and more until all Loki had to do was crack open a book and Tony was there besides him, sometimes writing out equation after equation. They very rarely went five feet away from each other. He seemed to have a little pet project concerning the human element table.
He got that accursed song in his head.
And Pepper seemed to feel some sort of sadistic pleasure in hearing him absentmindedly hum and mumble to himself.
"There's antimony, arsenic, aluminum, selenium..."
Tony always sang along and seemed dually frustrated and overjoyed Loki was willingly partaking in the "superior study of SCIENCE."
He also showed Loki his complete collection of a show titled "Bill Nye the Science Guy"; apparently he was one of the teachers of basic Science. Loki followed along pretty well so he could not completely trip up when Tony did his week long marathon of "Mythbusters".
Pepper informed them that they were successfully mutating into couch potatoes.
Loki had not seen his skin transform into the meat of a small, brown vegetable; but he didn't really see much outside of the television these days anyway so what did he know?
"Can a potato know it's a potato?" He asked out of the blue one day, and Tony mumbled something portals and apertures and science?
He truly worried about his human's sanity sometimes.
Tony gets a new secretary.
Loki merely walks into the room and practically tastes all the lies emanating from this "Natalie" and sits only to stare placidly at her.
Hours later even Tony begins to notice and raises a questioning eyebrow, to which Loki finally speaks to Natalie, going on a strong hunch.
"So how is Director Fury?"
She's fired on the spot.
Pepper had kicked them out of their house. She used her shiny new powers of CEO to do this; Loki didn't know what that WAS, but Tony made it a point to educate him so he set it on a list to look up later.
Of course they could have teleported back in, they were only halfway through the entirety of Doctor Who, but it was the principal of the thing. And between Loki and Tony, both seemed to have enough pride that it continually surprised them while working on a project that they didn't seem to self implode from the sheer ego each of them generated.
Another project to be further studied he supposed.
A brilliant idea seemed to pop up, "Loki, I have a need!"
"Out of luck, we were just kicked out."
"No you crazy god! The need for speed." Tony grinned maniacally.
Racing in Monaco seemed like great fun. Loki doesn't regret sitting it out, sniffing disdainfully at the thought of going at dangerously high speed around in a circle, while trapped in a ready made coffin of metal and rubber.
He nevertheless hijacks a car and a couple of seconds later crashes it into the crazy bastard that showed up to slice everything to ribbons. One transforming briefcase that has been altered into being lightweight by a few merging of spells and tech, and that fiasco is averted. Tony goes to see the crazy bastard, Vanko, in prison. He comes back shaken and Loki is getting a sinking feeling between his ribs.
He ambushes Tony in the shower, unmindful of the mortal's feeble protests for his virtue.
Although he does know when he's cornered and doesn't even try to cover up the sickly black web of veins crawling from his arc reactor. Loki is frozen there, hair plastered against his forehead by the steamy water that Jarvis quietly shuts off after a while. He can't seem to find his voice.
"I've contacted the leading astrophysicist. She's search for what sounds like this Bifrost bridge you've told me about." Tony starts, apropos of nothing. "I've given her a starting fund, and she agreed to take you along as a favor."
"Where- No." Loki shook himself and stared imperiously down his nose at the foolish mortal who has been doing idiotic things without consulting Loki. He should look into pet training. "No."
"No. This is not happening." Loki gripped his shoulders and kept Tony's gaze harshly, spitting out every syllable to make sure he understood. "You are not going to be sending me away."
Small gestures and other actions suddenly bridged out in his mind. Pepper being given the company, Tony's near frantic work with elements, the both of them were barely feet from each other at all times.
He was planning for this.
Picking him up by the shoulders he ignored the protests and slammed him up against the tiles, snarling. "You weren't going to tell us." It wasn't a question and a small part of him recoiled at the bruises he was making on Tony's skin.
The rest felt like murdering something.
Tony merely bowed his head against Loki's, eyes closed, dark rings around them like a bruise. Loki distantly noticed his hands were shaking. He couldn't feel it.
Everything felt cold, and he had a chunk of ice in his throat because even swallowing sent stinging pain through him. His face felt hot and tight and he slowly let the mortal go. Tony threw his arms around them and they sunk to the ground; foreheads pressed together.
It should have been ridiculous, because Tony was naked and wet, and Loki had his damp clothing sticking to him uncomfortably.
But he saw the black marring on tan skin and all he could think of was that it looked kind of like Tony had slept against his books and gotten ink all over his chest.
Dry eyed but coughing wetly, tears stuck in his throat, he shook and trembled against Tony who merely held him tight and whispered things like "palladium poisoning" and "life expectancy" and ran useless numbers by him and percentages that made Loki want to break-
They huddled together on the sofa, dry and clinging, and called up random movies to see what would catch their interest.
A pair of pajamas that look like a tux for him, Tony's present for him for his birthday -or at least what he now declared as his birth date- and sweats with long sleeve shirt for Tony. They call up room service for what Jarvis describes as comfort food. Sweet, buttery and very unhealthy delicious food is delivered. Tony drinks a disgusting concoction that is to help slow down the poisoning.
They eat ice cream as they watch sappy and nerdy movies that none of them will admit to even knowing. Dark curtains shut out the world and Tony makes a half strangled laughing cough when pieces of shrapnel embed themselves in the love interest.
Loki finally feels small tears come up when the horrible doctor dons a new coat and becomes fully evil; he isn't looking at the screen and scrapes the bottom of his ice cream bucket with great concentration.
Neither of them say anything and merely go on to the next movie.
Every time he looks at Tony he mentally traces the black patterns, even through layers of clothes. He leaves now, beginning with another room and then outside the house completely. Sometimes he's even gone for two days.
It hurts, something tender and broken in his chest because here, his mortal is dying. And Loki is...
Useless. Without his much of his magic. He can't stand to look at Tony's brightly burning crash; not until all options are gone to him.
He's been tracing rips in the world, short cuts that he can take without having to expend much of his magic.
They all seem to be sealed off to him. He almost kills a village that stands over what used to be a forever opened gate to Hel.
It refuses to let him pass and he is about to just blow it all to kingdom come, when he receives a text message. "Pepper's mad at me."
"Did you deserve it this time?"
Loki teleports home early and joins Tony in the garage, ranting on and on about the idiocy of mankind and how every single portal has been giving him trouble. Tony should just go home with him and eat these delightful little apples that seem to be made of edible gold.
Tony hums noncommittal replies and cards his hand -stained, greasy- through Loki's hair until the pizza man rings the doorbell, something of his old self peeking through even as he retries more and more elemental combinations.
Loki arrives earlier after that; wondering if he has become too much like these mortals. He wants to spare himself the pain but also hates seeing the loneliness in Tony.
He texts, constantly and sometimes just calls to listen to the other breathe and work and claw his way out of another cave with a timer on his heart.
He followed other villains, other heroes; stalked about their labs, and barely survived the fights that eventually ensued when he was discovered. The world didn't know him as Iron Man's partner, and he made sure to wear a different face each time. It helped that his weapons, now up another staff and a sword, were a strange mix of technology that Tony never revealed to the public and the enchantments he wove into it.
Sometimes he wiped himself out, searching for portals or a hint of any rips in the realms. He sent weak flares of magic for the AllFather, Thor or Heimdall to find and send help. Exhausted his barely recovering magical reserves in fits of teleportation, leaving only enough magic to port back home to spend his nights alongside Tony. Blinded with rage and bitter grief he screamed for anyone to hear until his throat bled.
After a spectacular bout the left over scraps of magic were used to keep his insides within him. He took a bus back home, limping and cradling his now only bruised ribs. The shaking hands that Tony used to wrap the bandages made him swear to be more careful.
But time seemed to run faster, and he was a god, he had the rest of his ridiculously long life to nurse a couple of scrapes. Tony only had weeks it seemed like, and Loki merely grit his teeth against the countdown that pressed against the both of them in slow creeping moments until all they were aware of was Tony's life slipping out minute by minute.
"I'm going to have my birthday party." Tony said apropos of nothing one day; they had taken to lounging together, Loki keeping his face to Tony's chest, alternating his temperature to make Tony chuckle hoarsely and to see if he could freeze the poison in its place.
He hadn't turned on his illusion with Tony in weeks; anything to have him distracted tracing the whorls on his freakish blue skin than to dwell on the timer in his chest.
"Hm." A sigh and Loki squeezed the mortal in his arms; hiding his face in the ratty shirt. "I haven't gotten you anything." He mumbled, ignoring how it became painful to swallow, and a sharp burning arose in his eyes.
Tony seemed to be wracked with cough, but he was smiling so Loki tentatively labeled it laughter. A small, wobbly smile filled his face; it crinkled in his eyes and made his eyebrows furrow. He leaned down and pressed a fierce kiss to Loki's forehead, ignoring the frost that settled on his lips.
Nothing more was said about that.
In the morning Loki kisses a still sleeping Tony's brow, murmuring a simple spell that will have minor pranks going off throughout the house. And dresses up before teleporting to the office of a certain one eyed man.
Nick Fury was an unknown, and Loki sensed familiar meddling; there was nothing else for it. This lead had to go somewhere or Tony would be sad.
Because Tony would be dead and then Loki would be forced to decimate everyone in the nine realms; and pointless slaughter would make Tony sad. So. Something to be avoided.
"Visiting hours are over." Fury didn't move from his desk, and Loki continued his scrutiny, sprawling comfortably on the chair in front of the desk. He ignored the rapid entrance of Natasha Romanoff and Phil Coulson, guns at the ready.
"You knew my name. And I could have sworn we'd never met before." Loki stated, not bothering to look for tells, this mortal was too clever for that. Not as clever as his Tony, but not a lot of beings were.
Loki never claimed to be impartial anyway.
"How is Stark nowadays? Media's been hounding him down these past few weeks, seems to be on a downward spiral towards something. Know anything about that?"
The room grew colder.
"A couple months ago, around the time Stark was kidnapped; I received a very interesting visit. It came from someone calling himself the Allfather. Warning me that a Jotun who'd taken the form of his youngest Loki from his realm was in my territory." Loki's heartbeat quickened, questions welling up and mixing in with the haze of confusion.
"That's-" Loki couldn't spit the words out. The only straight forward way a message like that could be delivered was in person. But that was impossible. It was because he'd been looking into ways and he'd ultimately failed in those ventures. All exits were sealed and the only one left really, was...
"That's impossible." He found his voice, tensing his posture, "The Bifrost was destroyed by Thor."
Fury leaned back, sensing he had the upper hand now, the shark. "Really? That's your rainbow bridge isn't it? Seemed to be working pretty fine from what I saw."
They couldn't have rebuilt it that fast, if what Fury says is true; and yet Odin had seen him here, and had come here himself.
And yet he'd never made contact with Loki.
He could have tracked him down, and released him from that accursed cave, brought back both Tony and Yinsen alive and well in a heartbeat.
But he didn't.
Gritting his teeth, he felt a pit of dread beginning to coil in his stomach and his old anger rise at his father. Always inscrutable and unwilling to let others into his plans and machinations.
"That," Loki grit out,"Is besides the point. Tony is dying, palladium poisoning."
And oh, that stung. How was he suppose to rule anything, if both mortals he had sworn himself to protect died? One in that wretched cave and the other from his own heart?
"And what am I suppose to do about that?" Fury calmly asked, pointedly glancing over at Natasha. "We would have known sooner without your interference. What's stopping me from just letting Stark die and then using his tech? At this rate it won't take longer than a week."
Loki's face seemed to twitch before smoothing out into something unpleasant and smiling. Although he practically tasted the lie, there was a sticking point he needed to make. He leaned over Fury's desk, mindful of the way Phil and Natasha readied their stances. Looking into Fury's eye he let his control over his form slip the slightest bit.
"Because," His breath came out in a cold cloud of ice, his eyes changed to red,"If Anthony Stark does not survive this, then the whole of Midgard shall pay the price."
There was a thick silence that fell throughout the room, and even the other agents were beginning to look vaguely unsettled, the place where his hands touched the desk had a layer of frost spreading outwards and everyone's breath hung in a white cloud in front of their face.
"Heimdall." A feeling of effusive glee was hidden in Fury's tone. "Open the Bifrost."
Thrown off guard, Loki had only the chance to utter a startled, "What-" Before he's snatched away to Asgard.