It would be a lie for Tony to claim he'd forgiven Loki. He didn't think any of them really had, in fact. Maybe not even Thor. For his own part, Tony just wasn't the kind to forgive anyone easily, and especially not invading alien assholes who almost splattered him all over the sidewalk. Okay? No. That was going to take a while, if it ever happened at all.
But then it had turned out there was like a metric fuck-ton of weird and horrible circumstances and well, they could all relate, couldn't they? Surprisingly enough – or maybe not, after all? – Barton more than anyone else. So when Loki was brought back to Manhattan to make amends, Clint was the first one to step up and shake the guy's hand and offer his support. Which had turned the tide for Loki, completely.
Since then he'd helped with the clean-up, had acted as a source of information on the real threat out in the universe, and had even helped them through a fight or two. And then more than just occasionally after they found his scepter in Hydra's hands, and all the shit they had used it for.
They hadn't forgiven him, but they tolerated his presence, they were grateful for the help, and in his own hiding-in-the-shadows sort of way, he was part of the team.
Even so, it was a surprise when Loki showed up at the Malibu mansion one night. The surprise wasn't exactly that he showed up, because that happened sometimes. He was a sneaky bastard, curious as a fucking cat, and enjoyed making Tony nearly piss his pants by showing up unexpectedly at inappropriate times. It just came with having a trickster on the team, apparently. No, this was more surprising because Loki... well... he showed up at the front door. Ringing the bell. Like an actual human being would. And that? That had never happened before.
Not that Tony recognized the visitor as Loki at first, what with the huge, black hood covering his head. But then he turned to the camera, showed a pale snarl and glowing green eyes and even though there was something off in his face, Tony thought, he knew the guest was Loki. Maybe it was just the shadows playing tricks on his eyes? Jarvis scanned the unexpected guest and let Tony know that there was no doubt about his identity. The facial recognition ended up at 94,6% instead of 100%, though, so apparently something really was off, but the energy signature was Loki's, and that couldn't be faked. Even though it seemed sort of muted at the moment. Maybe he was just tired?
Tony ordered Jarvis to let Loki in and left the workshop to get upstairs, ready to meet Loki by the time he walked into the living room.
Loki really looked tired. And also twitchy and nervous and... weird. Even though it was hard to get a good look at him when he kept his head bowed down and just stalked over to the couch by the windows overlooking the ocean, sitting down without a word.
“Sooo... What's up?” Tony stayed on the other side of the coffee table. Keeping the solid piece of furniture between them, just in case.
And then Loki raised his head, let the hood fall back over his shoulders and looked straight at Tony. Not saying a word. The details he had noticed were off before suddenly showed clearly, and Tony swallowed at the sight. Then he had to actively stop himself from taking a step back at the glare that earned him.
“What exactly does this mean?” Tony stared at Loki's eyes, flaring green and with narrow, elongated pupils. At the iridescent black scales running up his forehead and into his hair. At the way his nose looked a bit flattened into his face. “You're... turning into a lizard?”
Loki's upper lip – which seemed even thinner than before – curled up, and his mouth opened as if ready to deliver a sharp reply. But then nothing came out. Instead he folded in on himself, burying his face in his faintly trembling hands. Tony noticed that his fingernails had turned black and thick, curving into sharp claws at the ends.
“I don't know”, Loki actually moaned, sounding wrecked and helpless. “Something went wrong, but I have no idea what. My magic won't come when called and I...” He swallowed so heavily Tony could hear it, and peeked up through his fingers. “I don't know what to do.”
And damn if that not-so-little confession didn't make Tony's respect for the guy reach a whole new level. Because he knew what kind of courage it took to admit something like that. Courage he himself had never had. Not even when he was fucking dying had he been able to admit to another living soul that he didn't know what to do. Unless you counted Jarvis, of course. He swallowed too, fidgeting a little, and then gave a deep sigh and walked over to sit down on the couch beside Loki. Not very close, but close enough that it earned him a surprised glance out of the corner of those reptilian eyes.
“Yeah, well, I can't claim that I know what to do either.” Tony clasped his hands and let them drop down between his spread knees. “But if you want somewhere safe to stay while we figure it out, I can give you that. At least. Okay?”
Loki stared. “We?”
Tony squirmed a little under the sharp look. “You came here looking for help, right?”
There Loki glanced away, rubbing his clawed fingers nervously over each other. “I never... thought you would be willing to grant it.”
And wasn't that pretty damn sad? He'd been desperate enough to come seeking Tony out, yet all the while believing he would be turned away. Even more sad was that a part of Tony still wanted to send him on his way, too. But he made himself stomp it down. Team. Team came first.
With a little shrug Tony leaned closer and bumped the side of Loki's arm with his elbow. “You're part of the team now, you know? Maybe we don't get along all the time, but we've go each other's backs.” At least that was the idea.
Another long stare, which made Tony realize how few and far between Loki's blinking was now, and then Loki nodded.
“Wanna tell me what happened?”
Again that thin lip rolled back in a snarl, showing too-pointy teeth. But it didn't feel like it was aimed at Tony this time. There was something self-deprecating and at the same time both sharp and pained in his eyes. “I was... experimenting.”
Not much Tony could say to that, was there? He could relate.
Then another thought hit him. “Wait… If your magic won’t come when called, how’d you get here? Last I heard you were still at the Tower with the others. And why didn’t you pop up inside the house, as usual?”
With an awkward half-shrug Loki looked down at his clawed fingers. “Not all magic I use is called when I need it. Some is always stored in my body.” His hands clutched each other while he carried on. “It wasn’t enough to get me all the way here, however, so I had to walk the rest of the way.”
Okay, that explained that, but it didn’t answer the really interesting question: why? The tense look on Loki’s scaled face and the tight line of his lips made Tony feel like he was better off not asking more. At least not right now. That could wait. The important part was figuring out what the hell he should do about suddenly having Loki as a guest.
“Well, guess I better give you somewhere to sleep, then.” Tony slapped his palms on his thighs in a ‘let’s do this thing’ kind of gesture, and stood up from the couch.
Slowly unfolding his long, lean body Loki left his own seat and quietly followed Tony up the stairs.
“My bedroom’s right over there”, Tony said, gesturing to the door on the left. Then he pointed to the door right in front of the stairs, the closest one to his own. “You can have this one.”
Like all the guest rooms this one held a bed, a wardrobe, and a door leading off to an ensuite. It wasn’t over the top fancy, but everything was in the same light, airy style as the rest of the mansion. Nothing like the tiny glimpses Tony had caught of Loki’s own rooms in the Tower, which had seemed all made up of dark wood and muted colours, bringing to mind an autumn forest with mossy greens and rich gold and rusty reds, and bookshelves full to bursting. But this was really the best he could do on such non-existent notice.
“Hope it’s okay?”
Loki stepped through the door, threw a quick glance around the room, and then nodded. “It will suffice.”
“Wow, don’t go nuts with the praise”, Tony said dryly, but with a little smile when Loki turned to glare at him. “It’s just a guest room, but it’ll have to do for now.”
“It’s fine.” With a nod Loki turned and placed a hand around the edge of the door, black claws clicking against the wood. “I need rest more than anything else, anyway.”
Tony could take a hint. He nodded in return. “You do that. If you need anything, just let Jarvis know.” He knew that Loki already was familiar with the AI; he’d lived in the Tower for months, after all.
When he took a step back, out of the way, Loki started to close the door. But when there was still room for it, their gazes locked. The trickster hesitated, and his reptilian eyes flicked away and then down.
“Thank you”, he murmured.
Before Tony had a chance to reply the door quickly closed with a sharp little snap. He remained staring at the pale wood for a moment before he sighed. “Welcome”, he muttered, and then went back to his workshop.
Tony had expected sharing a house with Loki to be sort of a pain in the ass when there were no other team members around to make it less awkward. Especially when Loki was in this state and under what seemed like a lot of stress. But actually he barely saw the guy over the next couple of days. Loki stayed in his room most of the time, only venturing out now and then in search of food, and he seemed to do his best to avoid Tony when he did.
How he was supposed to help Loki when he didn’t want to be in the same room as Tony was a mystery, but Tony had to admit that maybe he himself didn’t try very hard to do something about it either.
The few times he found himself face to face with Loki it was clear that whatever had been happening to him when he showed up at the mansion was still in full swing, though. The black scales on his forehead had spread and were now surrounding his green, reptilian eyes like some kind of hyper-realistic masquerade mask. This meant his eyebrows were gone, just a sharply marked, bony ridge where they had been. His nose was even flatter, the nostrils mostly slits. His lips were nearly gone, and the teeth behind them were all looking pointy and sharp. The front teeth were a lot smaller and there seemed to be a lot more of them, a neat row of needles, while his eye teeth had grown into fangs.
The claws on his hands had been joined by scales as well, and there was something really off in the joints of his fingers and wrists. Even if Tony was never allowed to study them long enough to make sense of what was going on there.
It was all pretty weird and disturbing, and a morbid part of Tony couldn’t stop from trying to imagine what the rest of Loki looked under his clothes. Were there scales in other places? Did he have claws on his toes, too?
There was no way he could ask, though. And as soon as Loki noticed him looking he would make sure to leave the room as fast as he could.
Late afternoon on the third day since Loki’s arrival, Tony got a message from Jarvis.
“Sir, I believe you should make your way to Loki’s room. He appears to be in distress.”
“He what?” Tony frowned as he looked up from tinkering with the helmet of his armour. The whole thing had needed a tune-up, which was the reason he’d come to Malibu to begin with. He just worked better out here.
One of the computer screens across the room flickered to life and showed a camera feed from Loki’s room, centered on the wide bed. It was obvious Loki was in it, all covered by the duvet, which was moving in quick, frantic, panicked-looking twitches. Tony couldn’t see anything of the man, but yeah, that didn’t look right. Not the odd movements, and not the shape of the body under the duvet.
“What the hell?”
Without stopping to think about what he could do, Tony leapt out of his chair, ran up the stairs, and was throwing the door to Loki’s bedroom open. Maybe he should have knocked or something, but he felt pretty sure he wasn’t about to catch Loki doing something naughty under that duvet. It really didn’t look like he was enjoying himself, at all.
He still stopped just inside the doorway before he called out, although admittedly more for his own safety than anything else.
At once the shape in the bed stilled, but Tony could see how it still shifted a little with what had to be quick breaths. Which also made him realize that the body hidden there was a lot smaller than it should be, just a lump in the middle of the mattress. It had seemed a lot bigger when it was still moving around.
For a little while everything was still, Tony frozen in place, Loki unmoving and still hidden. Then the duvet moved again, less frantically this time, and was slowly pushed aside so the shape under it could emerge, standing up on the bed. And then it was really clear why the body in the bed hadn’t looked like Loki’s.
Loki wasn’t Loki anymore. He was something completely different, and Tony hadn’t been that far off in guessing that the guy was turning into a lizard, actually. Although that wasn’t the word that popped into his mind now.
Loki wasn’t just any lizard – he was a dragon.
The dragon was about the size, shape and build of a house cat, albeit a pretty big one. His legs were a bit longer but with the same kind of joints. The toes he balanced on were also longer, and ended in scythe-like claws that didn't look like they could be retracted, curving into the sheet and mattress. His head and neck were the parts most different from a cat's, really, more shaped like a horse's – the face narrow and elegant below a wide forehead – but his huge green eyes were set more to the front than a horse's would have been. Clearly more predator than prey. He had no external ears that Tony could see, but a crown of spikes around his head and the top of the neck. That neck was long and moved sinuously as Loki was apparently trying to get a good look at Tony as well. It continued down into a spine arching the body up just like a cat’s, and then snaked on into a long, slim tail.
All of Loki's dragon body was covered in slightly iridescent scales that were mostly black but shifting into green, the colour brightest on his chest, the underside of his throat, and along the middle of his face, like a horse's blaze, running up into the spikes around his head. The scales made the shape of him very clear, every sleek muscle visible.
It all made Tony for a while not notice the wings attached to Loki's shoulders, tucked down along his back. They looked small, but Tony was willing to bet a sizeable fortune that it was deceptive, just an efficient way of folding them together. Spread, he guessed they would be pretty impressive.
At first, all Tony could do was stand there and stare at the dragon in his guest room, before he found his words again. But he had no idea what he would say until he heard the words come out of his mouth.
“You're fucking gorgeous.”
Loki's long neck stopped moving as all of him froze, green eyes glowing while he stared, looking completely stunned.
“Have you even seen yourself?”
The dragon bared his teeth in a hiss. Except for the way Loki’s jaw was now narrow and a bit elongated, the teeth looked the same as before – needles in the middle and fangs in the corners.
“I'll take that as a no”, Tony muttered, but refused to be scared off. Instead he slowly sidled into the room, over to the wardrobe, and pulled one of the doors open. Just like in his own suite, it had a full-length mirror on the inside. “Come on, have a look.”
Loki just kept staring for a while before he took a couple of slow, hesitant steps to the edge of the bed. He had some trouble coordinating, and Tony guessed it wasn’t that easy suddenly walking on four feet instead of two. When Loki reached the edge he crouched down, looking at the floor below, shifting his weight from side to side, tail flicking nervously. Then he let himself shift forward until gravity took over, pulling him off the mattress. At least he managed to get his feet under himself in the brief fall, but he landed with a sharp little thud that looked more jarring than it should have been for such a short drop.
The poisonous glare Tony received once Loki had collected himself and could look up again made the man bite back the little chuckle that wanted to bubble up in his chest. Apparently satisfied that he wouldn’t be mocked for his uncharacteristic lack of grace, Loki slowly walked, almost waddled, over to the mirror. There he stopped dead and stared at himself. Blinked. Then turned his head on his long, slim neck, and tried to take in as much of himself as he could.
He startled when his long tail flicked into view behind him, as if he hadn’t noticed that it was there, and twisted his head impressively far around to blink at it. He made a bird-like chirp in the back of his throat, half surprise and half delight, and startled again at his own noise.
And then Loki noticed his folded wings. A look of intense focus came onto his face, glowing eyes narrowing slightly in concentration. Then the wings started to unfold. The right one faster than the left, probably because Loki was right-handed. Then the other followed. Both moving a bit jerkily, Loki obviously not sure how to handle these two extra limbs.
Finally his wings were spread around him, and Tony knew he had been right – they were a lot bigger than they had looked. Made up of many fine, thin bones and a scaly membrane that was black on the back, but bright green on the underside.
“Wow”, Tony breathed.
The little word made Loki startle once more, and he threw a quick look Tony’s way before he folded his wings back up. With a lot more ease than when he had unfolded them, actually. Maybe moving more on instinct than thinking actively about what he was doing. Then he sat down on his haunches, wrapped his tail around his feet as if trying to hide them, and looked away.
“So…” Licking his lip Tony slowly crouched down beside the mirror, bringing himself closer to the same level as the little dragon. “This was what you were turning into, then. Guess it could have been worse, really.”
Loki didn’t turn back. He just hunched up a little, head dropping lower between his sharp shoulder blades and the jutting tops of his wings. He didn’t look happy at all.
“There was nothing I could do to help you prevent this, I suppose”, he continued, “but maybe there’s something I can do to help get you back?”
No reaction from the dragon.
“Want to at least let me try to find out?”
For a while the scaled shape remained unmoving, but then the spike-crowned head bobbed in what had to be a nod.
“Okay then.” He stood back up straight. “Let’s get down to the ‘shop.”
Maybe there was a part of Tony – all right, a majority of him – that wanted to get Loki down to the workshop and examined and scanned just because he was so damn curious he was about ready to burst. He tried to rein it in, even though he honestly suspected Loki already knew.
But what was he supposed to do? Loki had come here for Tony’s help, and this was the only kind of help he could offer – science.
So when Tony walked out of the room and down the stairs Loki followed. He moved hesitantly, but he followed. Taking the stairs in awkward little jumps, claws clicking and scratching against the hardwood. At least he seemed to be getting the hang of walking now and had no real trouble following Tony once they were on the level floor of the workshop.
It took quite a lot of fiddling around with different scanners and readings before Tony found some that were of use in trying to figure the dragon’s inner workings out. Most of the scans he had that were made for a body and not for technology were from the days of monitoring his palladium poisoning. They didn’t really look like they would give him much to go on here, but he did what he could.
While Jarvis processed the data collected and Tony started going over it, he watched out of the corner of his eye as Loki explored the workshop. Seeing it from so close to the floor had to make it seem a lot different from the times he had visited before – uninvited, Tony might add – and now he studied the tables with wide eyes. Loki carefully avoided the robots who were rolling after him, obviously curious, by crouching down low and slipping in under a cluttered shelf.
Once the ‘bots gave up and returned to their chores Loki came sneaking back out, sticking close to the wall until he reached the glass cases with Tony’s suits. He sat down to stare up at them for a long time, the tip of his tail moving in agitated little twitches.
Tony wondered if the armours looked threatening to the tiny dragon, in a way they didn’t when Loki had been his usual size. Having a whole row of them glaring down at you like that would probably be pretty disconcerting – especially if you could remember meeting them in battle, like Loki could.
At last there came a little chime from the computer telling Tony that the calculations and readings had come to an end. There was nothing more he could do with the data on Loki at the moment, so he called him over to the workstation.
As Loki got back to his feet and moved across the room Tony noticed that he was moving a lot slower than he had before, even though he had no trouble using his four feet anymore. Just relaxing into the new movement pattern seemed to have done the trick. But still, Loki was more or less dragging his feet, the far-between blinks of his eyes more lingering than they had been. At least it didn’t stop him from making a pretty controlled jump up on the chair next to Tony’s, after just wiggling his little dragon ass from side to side a moment, head pulled back on his neck to take aim, tail out for balance.
And then he surprised Tony by jumping up on the table from there, settling down with his tail around his feet again, eyelids drooping a little.
Most of the data was just simple facts. Measurements, weight, and the like. Tony still went through it all while Loki watched, unmoving. Maybe something there could be of help even if Tony had no idea how.
Then he moved on to the way the dragon’s body seemed to work, which was a bit more interesting in Tony’s opinion.
“So, according to these scans it looks like you're cold-blooded.”
The last word actually made the dragon flinch, and what the hell was that about? Tony frowned, but since he couldn’t very well ask he just tried to smooth his face and turned back to the graphs and data on the screen.
“Or, to be more accurate, you're an ectotherm. Which basically means that you get your body heat from outside sources instead of producing it yourself. So I'm guessing you'll want to seek out warm spots, like any reptile, or you'll just turn slow and sluggish. Sounds familiar?” He glanced down at Loki, who pulled his head back on his curved, sinewy neck, considered this, and then nodded. Very slowly.
“Right. And if you don't get enough warmth, you'll keep getting slow and tired until you go into torpor. So some heat would probably be a great idea pretty soon, I’m guessing.”
Then Tony took a look around the workshop, all concrete and metal and tools and cars, and frowned thoughtfully before looking down at the dragon again.
“So do you... wanna cuddle?”
And fuck, but if looks could kill that glare would have made Tony drop right there.
“Hey!” Tony didn't drop dead, so he opted for glaring right back instead. “I'm not the one who literally needs it to live, so don't be like that. Just trying to help.”
Loki didn’t look the least bit impressed by this. He just got on his feet, arched his long back into a cat-like stretch, and then jumped back down on the chair and to the floor from there. Nearly stumbling on his heavy feet but in the end managed to regain his balance before he faceplanted. Then he started walking away across the workshop, toward the door opening to the stairs.
“No, but hey, seriously?” Tony pushed his chair away from the table, stood and followed him, at a little bit of a distance even though he caught up quickly with how slowly the dragon was moving now.
It looked like he did it reluctantly, but at least Loki stopped and turned to look up at him.
“You need to get warm, Loki. It’s important.”
The dragon just stared at him at first, and then made a funny little face, eyes narrowing, nose scrunching up. He pulled in a hissing breath and then... sneezed. Shooting out two thin, sharp blasts of green fire through his nostrils. They very narrowly missed Tony's favourite sneakers (with his favourite feet inside them, no less), and only because he quickly danced back out of the way. The crackling flames still set the concrete floor on fire.
“Fucking hell! What was tha-”
A whooshing sound from behind him cut Tony off, and suddenly the burning patch on the floor was covered in white powder, snuffing the otherworldly green flames out – and at the same time covering the dragon in the same substance.
“Whoa, that's enough!” Tony pushed DUM-E aside and at last made the robot stop spraying the room with his fire extinguisher. “Yeah, yeah, you did good, buddy”, he praised the 'bot, patting its claw-head as it bleeped happily. “Now go sweep something.”
When DUM-E rolled away Tony turned back to find the dragon sitting frozen in place, covered in white, only his huge, green eyes blinking up at Tony in shocked confusion at what had just happened. And god help him, but Tony couldn't stop himself from bending nearly double at the waist and laugh until he cried. It was just too hilariously adorable, it really was. But when he managed to get himself back under control and looked up it was clear that Loki didn't agree. The narrow little face was an obvious enough dragon-scowl that it showed even under the layer of powder.
“I'm sorry”, Tony choked out, tried to swallow another bout of laughter and ended up making a throughly unattractive snorting noise. “Really! I know what it's like on the receiving end of that, so I shouldn't laugh but oh my god your face!” Then he slapped a hand over his mouth to hide his grin because the dragon was glaring at him in a way that promised bloody, burning murder. “Sorry!”, he repeated in a muffled mumble behind his palm.
Loki kept glaring for a few moments, but then he seemed to deflate under the powder, wings drooping down his back, head lowering, the glowing eyes turning wide and hurt, like he was a scaly puppy someone had just kicked. That “someone” being Tony.
He sighed and took a couple of steps forward to crouch down in front of the sad little critter. “All right, I'm not gonna laugh at you anymore, okay? Promise. So how about we get this stuff off of you instead?”
A slow blink that felt like a yes made Tony stand back up and wave the dragon along to the little decontamination shower that was hidden away in a corner. He’d never had to use it himself, but this felt like a good moment to take advantage of not having to bring the powder-covered creature up into the house. The water in this shower wasn’t very warm, but the pressure was enough to rid Loki of the powder, even if it took a while to get all of it off. It had gotten into his scales and all the many folds of his huge wings and between the spikes around his head.
And he wouldn’t let Tony help rub him clean. The first time he tried reaching out a hand Loki whipped around and snapped his teeth together a couple of inches from his fingertips, growling like a pissed-off pit bull, a sound unexpectedly deep and guttural for the tiny dragon to make.
Tony didn’t try again. He just moved the shower head around as Loki tried to rub himself clean with his bony little nose, spread his wings and flicked water and wet powder off himself. In the end Tony was more thoroughly soaked through than the dragon, and probably dirtier.
“Yeah, okay, I think that’s enough.” He turned the shower off and was just starting to shake the water off his hands when Loki sort of did the same.
The dragon arched up and shook his entire body in the same wave-like, head-to-tail kind of movement a dog would use, showering Tony all over again. Then Loki gave him a wide-eyed, innocent look that didn’t fool Tony for even a second.
“Nice. Thanks, pal.” He huffed and rubbed the water off his face. “I think that means it’s time for a dinner break.”
Tony reheated some steak from the day before and settled at the table, startling just a little when Loki jumped up on the table right by his plate. Eying the meat covetously. And belatedly Tony remembered that of course Loki wasn’t able to fix himself some dinner anymore. (He’d never been a pet kind of person, okay? So sue him. He kept to machines and AIs for a reason.)
“Right. Guess you’re hungry too, huh?”
For an answer Loki just licked his mouth with a salmon-coloured tongue, forked like a snake’s, never taking his eyes off Tony’s plate.
With a sigh Tony cut a piece off his steak and carefully offered it to the dragon, still on the end of his fork, because no way in fuck was he hand feeding anything with teeth like those.
Loki stretched his neck and daintily picked the meat off the fork with his front teeth. Then he twitched his head back in a quick little movement, tossing the scrap of food down his gullet without chewing even once. His long, greenish throat moved with the swallow. Then he turned wide eyes on Tony again, flicking down to the meat, then back up. His head dipped a little lower, long jaw parallel to the table, looking up at Tony instead of facing him head on, the new angle making his luminous eyes seem even bigger. Pleading.
Please sir, may I have some more? Look how tiny and helpless I am. You wouldn’t let me starve, now would you?
Okay so that particular brand of begging was irresistable. Check.
“You guilt-tripping little shit”, he muttered as he cut a second piece off the steak.
Loki gleefully swallowed that down too, obviously unrepentant.
In the end Tony thought he himself got a bit less than half of his dinner, so he consoled himself by getting a glass of scotch to swallow it down with. If he had ever needed a drink it was after today. This amount of pure weird required some alcohol. At least that was what Tony figured as he took the last sip.
Right then Loki's mouth stretched open impossibly wide with a yawn, jaw even unhinging slightly in a way that made Tony wonder what kind of stuff the dragon was actually meant to eat. Probably nothing Tony would consider bite-sized, by the look of things. He definitely had a set of seriously scary-looking teeth, running really far back into his head. The inside of his mouth was a soft, pale pink, and his long, forked tongue came curling back like a cat's.
Then his mouth snapped shut again and he gave a sluggish blink, his eyelids not moving entirely in sync.
”You getting sleepy there, hatchling?”
Instantly Loki's green eyes flew wide, his mouth opened again and a stream of furious growls and snarls and some pretty vicious pterodactyl noises came rolling out.
Okay, so that nickname was a definite keeper.
”Whoa there!” Grinning, Tony raised his hands with placating palms out. ”Seems you get cranky when you're tired. Maybe we should get you to bed?”
Still grumbling and hissing Loki made a sharp turn away from him, jumped off the table and stalked out of the room. When Tony followed he eventually found the dragon sitting a few steps away from the door to his guestroom on the second floor. Loki’s back was to the stairs, wings tightly folded to his spine, tail curled around his feet, but the tip of it was whipping around in a clearly agitated way.
Tony was just about to ask why the hell he was sitting there, when he realized that Loki of course couldn’t open the door himself. His clawed toes were damn flexible but not made for doorknobs. So after his dragon equivalent of storming out in a huff he hadn’t been able to run to his room and slam the door, and had obviously settled for waiting for Tony right outside instead.
Trying to suppress the smile that wanted to curve his mouth up Tony walked over and placed his hand on the handle. He didn’t open the door though, suddenly struck by a thought, which an angry growl from his feet snapped him out of. Loki was glaring up at him when he looked down, waiting not-so-patiently to be let into his own room.
“You still need to get warm, you know.”
The green eyes turned away from him.
“Okay. Got it. Yeah, well, you know where my bedroom is if you change your mind.” And with that he opened the door, allowing Loki to slink inside. Which he did immediately, disappearing in the darkness beyond.
Tony left the door open, so Loki would be able to get out again, and then went to his own room, where he also left the door ajar. He highly doubted that Loki would come in here, but he still felt strangely unwilling to shut the dragon out if he did.
He tossed his clothes on a chair, went to brush his teeth, and crawled into bed.
Tony was close to drifting off, but not yet all the way asleep, when he heard the very faint whine of the hinges on his bedroom door. He blinked his eyes open in the darkness but didn’t move, just listened to what had to be the slide of a scaly body moving between the edge of the door and the doorjamb. Then all was quiet for a few moments, before he suddenly felt the bed dip as a small weight landed on the edge of the mattress. Staying still, breathing slowly and evenly as if he was really asleep, Tony smiled into his pillow.
The weight shifted a little, Tony’s duvet pulling in different places as Loki carefully placed his feet on it. Then the pulling disappeared and a cool draft of air touched Tony’s back. He didn’t quite have time to figure out that the dragon had crawled in under his duvet before he felt the little dips in the bed coming closer, closer still – and then he felt the smooth slide of Loki’s scaly side against the back of his ribs. The little creature was indeed very cold in comparison to the heat Tony had already accumulated under the thick duvet, and it took a lot of willpower not to instinctively flinch away from the sudden chill.
After a while of hesitation, he could feel Loki stretch out a bit more behind him. Pressing as much of himself as he could against Tony’s warm skin. When there was no adverse reaction, the dragon gave a long, slow sigh; Tony could feel it flex the long body behind him and hear the soft huff when Loki let it out. And then he all but melted into Tony’s back.
Apparently he had realized that he really did need some borrowed heat to make it through the night.
Tony was just about to fall asleep after all when a strange noise brought him back awake. It was coming from the scaly lump pressed against his back, and he could feel it, too. A vibration through that now much warmer little body. And then he realized that it was Loki purring.
Although it was more a rattle than a purr. As if someone under his duvet was softly shaking a tiny wooden box full of nails. Really damn weird. But after a while it somehow turned more soothing than disturbing, and in the end Tony fell asleep listening to the sound of Loki the dragon cuddling for warmth under his covers.
How was this his life?
Tony was sitting in the workshop two days later, one hand slowly tapping and swiping at a holographic screen in front of him, holding all of his data on Loki so far. It wasn’t much. It was kind of pitiful, to be honest. And it was still the best he could do from here. He scowled at the screen, sighed, and then awkwardly turned his head to look at the dragon.
Loki was curled up in his new favourite spot – on Tony’s right shoulder. He had learned how to balance there even when the man moved, without cutting him open with his claws in the process. Although Tony had a few band-aids on his shoulder blade and clavicle as souvenirs from Loki’s learning curve. The dragon's stomach was soft over the bones and muscle in Tony’s shoulder, and his tail was wrapped securely around Tony’s neck.
The first time Loki had done that, instinctively used his tail to cling on for support, it had nearly made Tony panic, memories of Loki’s hand gripping his throat suddenly vivid in his mind. He’d grabbed for the thing squeezing his throat now, wanting to rip it away. The movement and touches had startled Loki in turn, and he’d instantly whipped his tail free and scrabbled to get away. Most of the scratches on Tony’s skin had originated that day, actually.
When the dragon had been crouched on the table in front of him and they had both stared at each other, both waiting for an attack that wasn’t coming, they had eventually calmed down.
“Wasn’t prepared for that”, he’d muttered. “Warn a guy, all right?”
Loki had blinked slowly, nodded, and then always been careful to announce his movements in the future.
That grip on his neck still felt a bit unnerving if Tony let himself think about it too much, but Loki had learned how to make it tight enough to keep himself feeling safe without making Tony feel like he was being strangled.
The rest of Loki was heavy and relaxed now, basking in Tony’s body heat, eyes just pleased little slits of green.
The closest eye slid open, pupil narrowing to fix on Tony’s face.
“Great. So, I was thinking.” He pointed to the screen and saw Loki’s eye roll around to follow the movement. “This is really the best I can do out here, and yeah, it’s not much. The smart thing would be to get our asses back to the Tower. There’s a whole lab there, and a Bruce. He might not be a medical doctor or biologist, which I guess would have been more ideal, but he’s far more about the living things than I am.”
He waited until Loki’s eye was back on him, and then raised an eyebrow. “What do you think? You okay with that?”
There was clear hesitation and apprehension in Loki’s expression, but after a while of apparently thinking it through carefully, he gave a minute nod.
“Let’s get this show on the road, then.”
Traveling to New York wasn't a problem in itself. Tony quickly had the jet ready to take off within the next couple of hours. Transporting them there without anyone getting an eyeful of dragon, though...
Digging through his wardrobes in a search for something that could help them, Tony eventually unearthed a huge duffle bag he could no longer remember when or why he'd bought, but which looked sort of useful right now. He put it on the bed, unzipped it, and took a step back to let Loki inspect the find.
The dragon carefully came sneaking closer over the bedspread, stretched his long neck as far as it would go and suspiciously sniffed a corner of the bag, snorted a little at the smell, and then tried again. He stepped close enough that he could then stick his whole head down into the opening, and Tony could hear more sniffing faintly echo out of there before Loki lifted a front leg high and carefully placed it inside, without touching the edges, then the other, hind legs following gracefully. He turned a bit awkwardly to make room for his wings, but in the end only his long tail was sticking out one end as he dove head first into the bag to sniff around some more.
It was a lot like watching a curious cat get into a box.
At last the tail disappeared too, and Tony stepped up to the bed again to peek into the duffel bag, seeing nothing of the dragon but a pair of luminous eyes peeking just as expectantly back up at him.
”So, that's a yes on the bag?”
A slow blink.
”Neat. Then I'll just...” Tony grabbed the tab of the zipper and started pulling it closed, but as soon as it was a little more than halfway there, Loki made a protesting growl and his head poked out of the opening to glare. ”Yeah, I get it.” Sighing, Tony stopped pulling at the zipper. ”It's just until we get on the plane, though, okay? I don't want anyone seeing you.”
Loki's eyes narrowed. He clearly wasn't happy to hear that.
With another sigh Tony turned and sat down on the bed next to the side of the bag where Loki's head was sticking out of it. Bringing them not really face to face, but a lot closer than when he was standing up.
”It's to protect you, hatchling”, he said, saw Loki's little snarl at the nickname and didn't care. ”If someone sees you and figures out you're you, they might try to get to you. Or figure out that you're basically out of commission and try to get to the Avengers as a whole. You're sort of a vital part of the team these days. People know that. We're weaker without you.”
The series of blinks that followed that statement was faster and looked like a Morse code of bewilderment as Loki's eyes darted between Tony's, trying to catch the lie.
”So no, it's not about me being ashamed to be seen with you or anything like that. Honestly, people have seen me do weirder stuff than walk around with a dragon for company. Trust me on that one.” Tony shrugged. ”Just keeping you safe. I told you I would, right?”
Another long, but more thoughtful look from the dragon followed. Then Loki slowly retracted his head back into the bag and either closed his eyes or curled up in there, because Tony could no longer make out the green glow in the darkness.
”Thanks”, he said softly, closed the zipper – but not all the way, leaving a little hole for light and air – and picked the bag up. Lifting it off the bed and walking slowly to the front door, trying not to swing the bag around too much.
The stewardess didn't so much as raise an eyebrow when Tony wouldn't let her take the duffle bag away when he boarded the jet. She just smiled and nodded and got him the bottle of scotch he asked for as soon as they had taken off, and then left him alone when he said he was tired and would try to sleep some on the flight. It wasn't much of a trip, and she'd been around long enough to know Tony could take care of himself until they touched back down.
As soon as he was alone Tony picked the bag up off the floor and put it on the seat next to his own, ending Loki up closest to the windows – it wasn't like anyone was going to be looking in from the outside up here, anyway – and opened it. The green eyes blinked at him from the darkness inside the bag, Loki obviously waiting for a sign that it was all right to come out.
”Yeah, it's okay”, he said, leaning back in his seat to give the dragon some room. ”It's just us now.”
Loki didn’t hesitate to push himself out of the bag after he got the all-clear. He sniffed around on the seat for a moment, exploring the leather texture, then the edge of the table between their pair of seats and the ones opposite them, before he discovered the window above the armrest. At once he moved over, placed his front feet on the armrest for support, stretched his head up and looked outside.
For a long time after that he didn’t move at all. As Tony watched, curious about his reactions, Loki’s head just tilted and angled slightly, taking in the clouds below, the blue sky above, the haze of the horizon. He was completely absorbed in the sight. When Tony started talking he didn’t even move a muscle.
“I’ve always loved flying too. When my parents took me on trips, the ones where we had to use the plane were the best. Not that they took me along that often, but that just made it even better when they did. It’s just something about the way you can see the edge of the world curving that always gets me, you know?” He’d almost forgotten he was talking out loud by then, but still asked the question, never waiting for an answer. “It’s like the world is endless, just waiting for you out there. And then when I built the suit it just… got better.
”I mean sure, the suit is still this thick metal shell, but it's not like a plane. At all.” He placed his elbow on the armrest between heir seats and propped his chin in his palm, gazing out through the little window above Loki's spike-crowned head, blue sky as far as the eye could see. ”Flying in that... It's this crazy rush and I'm so close to the sky that it feels like it's part of me. Or I'm part of it. Or both. I don’t know. Either way, it's the most free and alive I've ever felt.”
Tony gave a happy little sigh and then blinked out of his thoughts, returning to here and now. Where Loki had turned his head from the window and was staring at his face with unblinking eyes, mouth slightly open, and an expression that almost looked breathless, awed, before he blinked too. Visibly shook himself out of it, and looked back outside.
They both spent most of the trip looking out the window, Tony just now and then sipping on his glass of scotch.
When the captain politely informed him over the intercom that they were landing in about twenty minutes Tony interrupted Loki’s dreamy stare outside, telling him it was time to hide again. The stewardess would be back soon. He sighed and went, reluctantly.
The minute but cool draft from the window and the air conditioning on the plane had obviously not been great for the dragon. Loki was slow and awkward when he clambered back into the held open bag and Tony had to help him get his wings inside properly.
Loki gave a tired-sounding little chirp from inside his dark hiding place.
Tony took the bag from the seat and placed it in his lap, where the warmth from his legs would bleed through the cloth and into Loki, and then decided to also stick his hand in there with the dragon, to help things along even more. He felt the little body go tense under his touch at first, but then Loki must have felt the needed body heat and almost seemed to melt under Tony's fingers. The dragon was smooth and sleek, but he didn't feel as soft and supple as a snake would, all shifting muscle. Loki's body was a lot firmer, even when relaxed. It wasn't altogether unpleasant to the touch, really, even though he was far too cold.
Before he'd thought it even halfway through, Tony found himself slowly stroking Loki's side, a thumb rubbing by the joint where his wing attached to his shoulder, fingertips sliding over his flexing ribcage.
Again, Loki tensed and froze. Then he shifted and turned and suddenly Tony felt Loki's mouth catch three of his fingers, his teeth four terrifyingly sharp rows of knives, needles and razors. Swallowing, Tony went completely still as well, suddenly sure he'd lose at least a couple of fingers because he hadn't been able to keep them to himself. But then Loki just... nibbled them a little in what felt like some weird blend of warning and affection – a mix Tony couldn't make sense of – before he slowly let the fingers go.
Tony made the decision to pull his hand back out then, not taking any more chances. There were a bunch of red indentations dotting his fingers when he studied his hand, but Loki hadn't actually broken the skin anywhere. Impressive.
He zipped the bag mostly closed again, just to be sure, but let it sit in his lap until they landed and then he carried it to the waiting car. With the bag on the passenger side he turned on the heat installed in the seat, and then headed for Manhattan and the Tower, wondering what the rest of the team would say about all this.
Then he turned on the stereo and tried not to think about anything at all for a while.
When the car rolled into the garage under the Tower, Tony asked Jarvis to have the Avengers gather in the communal area, telling them that he had something they all needed to discuss.
And for once they were all there when he walked in, with Loki clinging on to his shoulder. Usually at least someone was off on some mission of their own, but at the moment the whole team was assembled. And at the moment, the whole team was staring at them in curious confusion. Or, most of the team. Thor didn’t look confused at all. He just gave the dragon a light nod, and Tony realized that Thor had known at once that this was actually Loki. Huh. How about that?
Tony waved them all over to the couches by the TV set, placed himself in front of the huge screen where they all would see him – and the dragon – clearly, and waited for them to arrange themselves in and around the seats.
“So, if you guys have been wondering where Loki was these last days…” He made a little flourish with his hand toward the critter.
Glances were exchanged, foreheads were creased, hands placed on hips and glasses nervously polished. All the expected reactions. Almost.
”Well, you seem a lot less bothered than I would have thought”, Tony commented as Thor just stood to the side, watching Loki perch on Tony's shoulder.
”I have seen my brother take on far stranger shapes than this one over the years”, Thor commented with a shrug.
Even as the thought 'don't tell me – I don't want to know!' was passing through his head, Tony could feel Loki bristle, and the vibrations of the deep, growling grumble the little dragon gave in response. And they'd all heard this exchange between the Asgardians to know exactly what he wanted to say: I'm not your brother!
”Seriously?” It was impossible to hold back an eyeroll. Tony turned his head around to scowl at Loki, who glanced away with a little disdainful curl of his lipless mouth. ”I told you. We're a team and we're all going to try to help you, so could you possibly stop being so damn contrary?”
Without looking back Loki stayed stiff and still on his shoulder. But at least he stopped growling. Tony guessed it was as much of a sign of good-will as he was going to get.
”Help him?” Okay, now Thor sounded about as concerned as Tony had expected him to be from the start, his golden face a worried frown. ”Why does he need our help?”
Raising a hand with palm out at Thor, asking him to hold on a moment, Tony looked at Loki again. ”You wanna be here for this discussion? Or leave?”
For a couple of moments Loki was still, considering, then he unwound his tail from Tony's neck and took a smooth leap off his shoulder, landing with a soft thud on the floor, and walked out of the room with elegantly swaying shoulders. Giving a flick with the end of his tail as he disappeared around the corner and was out of sight.
”Guess that answers that...” With a sigh Tony turned back to team, who had all been quietly watching the exchange between them. ”All right, I'll tell you what's going on. At least as far as I know myself.”
It didn’t take long because there really wasn’t much Tony knew, and summarizing it into a few sentences made him realize how little it actually was Loki had told him.
By the end Thor looked even more concerned. Clint and Natasha were sort of blank, but those were their usual faces when they were thinking about stuff and didn’t want to give anything away. Bruce was tapping his fingers against each other, as if he was trying to calculate something in his head – and maybe he was.
Steve folded his arms over his chest and looked worried. “You think someone attacked and did this to him? If they can get to us here we’re in trouble, Tony.”
Tony shook his head. “No. He said he’d been experimenting, and I believe that. Also, if there was an outside threat to the team, he’d tell us. I mean yeah, he loves fucking with us, but he would never let anyone else do it.” Tony had no idea why he was so sure of that, but he suddenly was. He shrugged a bit awkwardly. “Like, trickster’s honour, or something.”
Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Thor nod his agreement.
Steve’s eyes moved between them and then settled on Tony again. “You think it’s safe to have him here in this state?”
“He’s been like this for a few days already and I’m no worse off.” Okay some scratches that had bled a bit, but nothing worse than he’d done to himself in the ‘shop more than once, so he kept that to himself.
“And now you’re going to fix him?” Clint was leaning forward with his elbows on his knees where he was sitting on the back of a couch. Tony had given up on telling him off for having his feet on the seat cushions.
“If I can. But so far I have no idea if that’s even possible. That’s why we came back here, really. I was hoping the lab – and Bruce – could be helpful.” He looked over at Banner as he said his name.
The doctor’s mouth jumped up at the corner a little, and it was clear that he had expected this request to be heard sooner or later. “Sure. Dragons aren’t exactly my area of expertise, but I can have a look. Tomorrow?”
Tony nodded with a wide smile. “Knew I could count on you.”
After that they all split up fairly quickly.
Tony found Loki in the kitchen, curled up on the countertop – right on the warm spot above the running dishwasher.
When Tony woke up the next day, feeling slightly disoriented for a moment before he remembered that he was back in New York, he found that Loki had already left the bed. He had a feeling that couldn’t be a good sign. Groaning and stretching he rolled over on his back, an arm thrown across his eyes.
“Jarvis? What’s our scaly mischief maker up to this fine morning?”
“He has been examining his surroundings from this new perspective by the look of it, sir. So far he has worked his way through your private suite as well as the entire communal area, and managed to make Captain Rogers feed him a healthy serving of bacon when he had breakfast about an hour ago.”
Tony chuckled at that. Good to know he wasn’t the only one helpless to resist Loki’s very effective brand of begging.
“At the moment he is sunbathing on the balcony, although he does seem fairly distracted by the pigeons.”
“Okay, that I need to see.” Tony rolled out of bed, still grinning, and started to pull his clothes on. “Don’t tell him I’m up.”
After a quick detour by the kitchen to get himself a cup of coffee Tony went sneaking up to the penthouse windows, peeking out over the balcony. Where Loki had by now given up all pretense of sunbathing and had gone pigeon hunting full-time. He was sneaking up on a brown one at the moment, so low against the floor he was almost flat, and then stopped half a dozen feet away, wiggled his ass in the air just a little, head shifting minutely from side to side to help his depth perception. Then he exploded into fluid motion, pouncing on the bird. The dragon was only inches from sinking his claws into the feathery body when it caught on to the threat and flapped out of reach. Leaving the surprised Loki to end up in a tangled heap of limbs on the floor instead.
By the time Loki had sat back up, shaking himself and righting his wings, Tony had managed to stop cackling. So he walked over to open the door, the sound making Loki’s head swivel toward him.
“I heard you like bacon, hatchling. Want another helping?”
Apparently the mention of bacon was the way to get Loki to forget about the hated nickname. Without so much as a snarl he was rushing past Tony into the penthouse, heading for the kitchen. Hunting pigeons seemed to be great for building an appetite.
It ended up being late in the afternoon before they got to the lab, since Tony had to deal with a few business calls and e-mails. While Loki prowled along the windows, watching the birds fly by, his wings twitching.
By the time they got to the lab Bruce had already set up everything for the scans and tests he’d figured out could be useful. He asked Loki to jump up on a metal table in the middle of the lab, floor clear around it, and ran the scans. Then he got ready for the tests, having Loki open his mouth so he could swab the inside of his cheek, shone a flashlight into his eyes to study the contraction of his elongated pupils, and so on and so forth.
Everything was going just fine, until Banner placed a syringe on the table in front of the dragon, cap already off the needle.
With a high-pitched yelp Loki scrabbled away from it, claws scratching and screeching against the metal, tail whipping, head drawn back and teeth bared. Eyes wide and the usually so narrow pupils blown and black. He was about to back up right over the edge and fall on the floor when Tony reached out to grab and stop him.
“Whoa there, hatchling! Don't hurt yourself!”
He got an arm behind Loki and received a stinging lash from the slim tail for his troubles. Tony didn't let that stop him though, he just changed tactics. Now that he had Loki’s attention, even if it was a frozen, staring, panicked kind of attention, he raised his hands palms out, and without thinking made a hushing noise at the terrified critter.
“Easy now. We’re not trying to hurt you, okay? Bruce wanted to take a blood sample, yeah? That’s all. If you don’t want to, we’re not doing it though. Swear. Just relax a bit, all right?”
At first it didn’t seem like Loki was even listening to his rambling, but then he blinked, quickly at first, then a little bit slower. Crouching close to the table, casting a fearful glance at the syringe, he took a few careful steps closer to Tony, slipping into the inviting circle of his open arms.
When Tony glanced up Bruce was giving him an odd look, shifting between Tony's face and the dragon's back where Loki was now tucked up into the front of his t-shirt, face pressed into a pectoral, but Tony didn't care. What was he supposed to do? Let the poor little guy panic? No way! Tony knew what that was like. He wouldn't wish that on anyone. Not even if that “anyone” was someone who usually was over six feet of arrogant, tricksy asshole.
Not that Loki was very arrogant anymore, when he thought about it. He kept to himself a lot and didn't talk so much around the team. Or was it around Tony? But he was nice and polite enough. He’d even learned Tony’s preferred settings on the coffee maker and always made an extra cup if they happened to be in the communal kitchen at the same time.
Not much of an asshole these days either. Loki had actually saved all of their asses. More than once, too.
He was tricksy, though! And over six feet. And also pretty damn gorgeous, come to think of it.
Wait... There'd been a point somewhere around here, hadn't there? Oh, yeah, right – don’t let the dragon panic.
Tony curled his arms a bit tighter around the scaly body, mindful of the fragile, folded up wings. “See? You’re fine. We’re all friends here. Just… friends being all friendly, asking for a blood sample. As one does…” He cleared his throat and looked at Banner again. But the doctor was now looking clearly amused and being no help at all, so Tony turned back to find Loki carefully peeking up at him. “There you are”, he smiled. “Think you’d be okay with Bruce taking a sample after all?”
Loki just tilted his head, looking unsure but not at all scared or panicky. So it didn’t seem like it was the idea of giving up some blood that had freaked him the fuck out.
Frowning in thought, Tony glanced at the syringe again, and thought he got it. “Not a fan of needles, huh?”
Loki's head moved in a tiny but sharp shake, eyes glinting with worry.
“Bad experiences with them from before?”
The only response was a little shrill, brittle whine in the very back of Loki's throat. Then he tilted his spikey forehead back into Tony's chest with a thump, and that was that. Tony assumed it was a yes, though.
“I get it.” He rubbed gentle fingers down the ridged back of Loki's long neck. “It's okay. We’ll just leave it at the scans and that’s that. It’ll be fine, hatchling. Promise. We’ll still figure it out.” As he spoke he felt the dragon slowly relax under his hands. “Come on. You’ve had a long day. Let’s go to bed.”
Loki made no objections as Tony’s hands moved in under his back legs, to give him a little boost up from the table to Tony’s shoulder, and he was careful not to scratch Tony's hands, chest or shoulder as he settled on his usual perch by Tony’s ear, tail wrapping around his neck for support. Scales cold from the metal table, muscles coiled just tight enough to make him feel secure.
“He… Uh… Sleeps with you?”
Tony had almost forgotten that Bruce was there, so focused on calming Loki down, and he just threw him a short, distracted glance as he stood up, balancing the dragon’s weight. “Yeah. He needs to be kept warm.”
Bruce nodded, looking a bit blank. “Warm. Yeah, that… makes sense.”
Already walking toward the elevator now, Tony raised a hand to wave at the doctor, without turning his head. “We’ll look at the data tomorrow, okay?”
Instead of staying pressed against his back, that night Loki slept tucked into the curve of Tony’s front, one of the man's arms stretched like a protective beam across him, shielding him from harm. And Tony discovered then that the dragon could make that rattling purr even in his sleep. Perhaps from dreaming of warmth and safety.
No matter what caused it, it made Tony feel oddly satisfied.
Somehow Tony thought that after that little incident, and after Banner’s tests failing to tell them anything new or useful, everything in the Tower would sort of go back to normal. Which was silly, really. A home shared with a mischievous dragon knows no such thing as normalcy. Tony found this out fairly quickly, too.
He first started to figure it out when he was watching a movie with Nat the next night. Tony had eaten most of the popcorn on his own and then slipped down low in the seat, almost nodding off. Natasha was still sitting up straight, although leaning back in her seat. Unusually relaxed for her.
Then, in the middle of the dramatic final show-down, there was a huge, loud explosion on the widescreen, flashing the dark room in bright, fiery lights, and from behind them there suddenly came a wild, blood-curdling scream. Tony, barely awake, flinched and sputtered. Natasha? She was out of her seat and had made a head first dive across the coffee table in less than a heartbeat, flipping over in the movement and landing in a crouch with a gun aimed at the spot where she had just been sitting.
Still confused, Tony turned his head to find out what she was looking at. He wasn’t that surprised to see Loki perched on top of the backrest, wings half spread and flashing green in the lights from the screen, eyes burning, teeth bared and claws dug into the coarse cloth of the cushion. Hissing. It was just really difficult to tell if it was at Nat, or at the screen behind her back across the room.
It was a lot easier to tell what Natasha thought he was hissing at, if her scowl at the dragon was any indication. At least the assassin put her gun away, stood up, and just kept glaring at Loki.
”You managed to sneak up on me”, she muttered. ”We're even.” And then she turned and walked out of the room.
When Tony had stopped gaping after her and turned back to Loki, the dragon had tucked his wings tightly along his back again and was cowering a bit where he was sitting. Looking for all the world like the explosion really had scared him as badly as he had let on.
”Uh-huh... Right. Scare easily do you, hatchling?”
Loki didn't glare at the nickname, but just crouched down even lower on the back of the couch, looking tiny and miserable, eyes wide and pleading.
Knowing full well it was an act, Tony still patted the seat next to his own. Loki had chased off his movie-buddy after all, and watching alone was boring. So when Loki slid down onto the seats, came slinking closer, and then didn't stop on the seat next to Tony but came to curl up in his lap insted, Tony didn't even object. Just gave a sigh and relaxed back in the seat, pretty soon falling back to sleep.
The next day Nat gave him a pointed glance. ”He just wanted you alone, you know that, right?”
Tony blinked, honestly confused. ”Uh... what?”
She raised a dark red eyebrow.
That made Tony give an unimpressed snort. ”Yeah, well, if he had some dark and sinister deed planned for me he botched it. I fell asleep and everything, so he totally had his chance.”
Natasha gave him a long look, said nothing more, and just left.
Wow, people were really this suspicious of Loki, still? Yeah, Tony knew that he had been walking around waiting for the other shoe to drop since Loki had come back, but still...
After that it wasn’t more than a couple of days before the next evidence of Loki’s mischief showed up. When Clint came stomping out of the elevator one afternoon and slapped a pigeon down on the counter of the bar where Tony happened to be standing at the time. A very, very dead pigeon.
Tony tore his eyes from the mauled bird to frown at the clearly pissed-off archer. “So… I don’t know if you’ve heard”, he started, “but we don’t actually have to hunt for food anymore?”
“Maybe you should tell Loki”, Barton growled, rubbing his hands on his pants with a disgusted face. “He must have missed that memo.”
Well, that actually made a little bit more sense. Possibly.
Carefully keeping his fingers away from the ruffled, bloodstained feathers Tony picked up the glass of scotch he’d just finished pouring himself when Clint walked in, and took half a step back from the counter.
“Maybe he was just, you know? Trying to be nice? Maybe he thought you were hungry?”
“Well then he shouldn’t have stuffed it behind my couch, should he?” The archer gave him a sharp look, and then turned to leave. “Now I’m going to burn these clothes and have an hour long shower.”
“Hey! You’re seriously gonna leave me here with this cadaver?”
“Just trying to be nice!” Clint threw the last over his shoulder before he disappeared into the elevator again.
Okay, so maybe he needed to have a little chat with Loki. But on the other hand he was apparently keeping the pigeons off the Tower, so Tony figured it could wait.
Then one afternoon a couple of days after that, it was Captain America who came rushing into the penthouse and slammed his shield down on Tony’s coffee table when Tony was sitting in the couch and working on a tablet. At least it wasn’t something dead and bloody, but the table creaked a bit precariously under the impact.
“He bit a hole in my shield, Tony! A hole! Clean through it! How is that even possible?!” Steve looked equal parts amazed and horrified.
And true enough, right by the bright red edge there was a hole piercing the metal, just the size of one of Loki's small but fucking sharp fangs. Making clear exactly how fucking sharp they were. And Tony found it difficult not to think about the time on the jet when Loki had been nibbling on his fingers. Knowing that the little dragon could bite through Steve’s shield actually made that even scarier, in retrospect.
Blinking, Tony turned to glance over at the dragon, now sitting in the window where he could soak up warm sunlight. Licking his lipless mouth with a forked little tongue, as if he was savouring the lingering taste of vibranium. Perhaps he was.
“You're just one impressive little shit, aren't you?”
Loki gave him a slow, pleased blink, like the cat that got the whole damned cow and not just the cream, and then promptly curled up in his patch of sun, ready for a nap.
Cap, for his part, didn't look pleased at all. His blue eyes were dark and serious when Tony turned back, and his mouth just a tensely set line.
“Hey, come on! It's not like it's ruined”, Tony pointed out, gently patting the star at the center of the shield. “See? Still good!”
“That's not the issue and you know it.” After throwing a glance at the apparently sleeping dragon, Steve then gave Tony another long look and slowly moved to sit down on the seat next to his. “You said it was safe to have him in the Tower like this, Tony, and we trusted that you knew what you were talking about.” His long, strong fingers laced together, hanging between his knees. “But did you, really?”
That turned Tony serious at once. “He’s still Loki, Cap. We’ve had him on the team for almost a year, so you know both the pros and cons that come with that. He’s no more or less safe than he has ever been. You either go with that or you don’t. Just tell me which so we can deal with it.”
Steve kept his steady gaze at Tony for a few tense moments. Then he glanced at the napping dragon, before looking back. “I’ll go with it.” He picked up the shield, stood and walked away. “Just try to keep him out of trouble, all right?”
“Yeah, sure, and the ocean dry while I’m at it”, Tony muttered while Steve disappeared into the elevator, before letting himself slump down on his back on the couch.
He had just been about to nod off there, tired of dealing with all of these Loki-related issues, when Jarvis announced Thor’s arrival. At least the guy was there to talk to Loki, not Tony, but it didn’t take long for that to turn sour. Of course.
Barely five minutes into the one-sided conversation consisting of Thor asking questions and Loki either eying him warily or blinking at the sunlight, Thor sighed and said: “Perhaps we should go back home? I’m sure mother or father could help you with this trouble.”
Loki was on his feet instantly, claws scratching deep grooves in the marble window sill. Again there were those guttural, furious pit bull growls, and Thor actually took half a step back, hands coming up in a placating gesture.
“You’re still their son, Loki, and they would -”
They didn’t get to find out what the king and queen of Asgard would or wouldn’t because at that point Loki arched up like a cat and screamed at him and Tony couldn’t take it anymore.
“Okay enough, guys! Shit! For the sake of my ear drums, please cut it the fuck out.”
Thor looked pained. “I only meant to -”
Tony desperately waved his hands to stop him before he said anything more to set Loki off. His ears did really fucking hurt. “I know you meant well, big guy. Really do. But he’s not going to change his mind in the next five minutes, and by then I’m pretty sure this place would be on fire. So until you two can sit down and actually talk this through, please, for the love of all my stuff, just drop it. All right?”
With a somewhat reluctant nod Thor wished them both a good night and left.
Tony felt about ready to scream a little himself.
Tony woke up flat on his front in the bed the next morning. He’d kicked most of the duvet off during the night. so it was now only covering his legs. But there was still something resting at the small of his back. Or rather someone, judging by the slight shift of smooth scales against his skin.
Rubbing a hand over his eyes Tony turned his head and looked at Loki, who was comfortably curled up right above the waistband of his boxer briefs. Tail wrapped around his own body and the tip right by his snout. The corners of the dragon’s mouth were always curled up slightly, high by the hinge of his jaw, making him look like he was giving a very pleased smile, sort of like a dolphin. Tony found it hard not to smile too at the sight. But then his smile shifted to a thoughtful frown.
The last few days had really made him realize that Loki needed something to do beside managing mischief – and the other Avengers needed him out of the house for a bit. Actually, this was not an entirely new situation for Tony to handle, the difference was that usually he was the one who needed to get out of the house so the annoyance could cool off. So, what did he do when that happened?
“You know what I haven’t done in a while?” He kept his tone conversational, suspecting that Loki was already awake.
The closest of the green eyes slid open to give him a level gaze.
“Taken the suit out for a ride.”
For a moment the glowing eye regarded him, then it fell shut again, unimpressed. Or just uninterested.
“Wanna come with?”
At once Loki’s head left his back and both the dragon’s eyes were wide open and looking at him full of bright focus.
Yeah, Tony remembered how fascinated Loki had been with flying when they had been on the jet, the awed way he had listened to Tony’s description of flying in the suit, and how he kept staring at the birds outside. If something could get Loki out of the Tower for a bit, take his mind off things, it was this.
Tony got dressed in his undersuit, they had a quick breakfast, and then Tony wandered out on the platform to be encased in his suit. He could feel his heart rate go up just from the snug, secure feeling of it closing tight around his body.
When he was done he looked down to find Loki crouched by his feet, looking more uncertain than he had before. Still with the visor up, Tony grinned down at him. “I know it’s your first time, so I’ll be gentle. Promise.”
That made Loki give a hiss, but at least it also made him arch up out of his crouch. At once looking less hesitant.
Tony bent down and held a hand out, palm up, close to the floor in front of the dragon. Offering him a boost up. Loki eyed the repulsor in the middle of it warily, but finding it gray and inactive he finally decided to trust the offered hand. He carefully stepped up on it, and from there climbed up Tony’s arm to his usual spot on his shoulder. Tony couldn’t feel the tail around his neck through the interlocking plates around his throat of course, but his sensors still told him it was there, so he knew Loki was settled in place.
He walked up to the edge of the platform, and then stopped. “You ready, buddy?”
Loki made a shrill little chirping call Tony took for a 'hell yes!', so he just leaned forward and let them both fall off the ledge. The dragon's claws scratched and scrabbled a bit against the metal plate of Tony's shoulder, probably scored the paint. But he managed to hang on while Tony fired up the thrusters and pulled them from their freefall, climbing up above the Tower. Slower than he would have if he had been on his own, making sure the dragon could hold on.
The raptor-like shriek of pure joy by his ear told Tony this had been an awesome idea. So he couldn't resist turning them in a lazy corkscrew as they continued higher into the sky, bright blue above the haze of city air, and the shriek turned to a series of short, sharp noises that almost sounded like laughter, making Tony grin like an idiot inside the helmet.
High above Manhattan, when the buildings looked like something out of Sim City and Tony's heart felt soaring and light in that way it only did when he was flying, he stopped. Just hovered, arms down for balance, and turned to see Loki now perched on his shoulder with his narrow little face raised toward the sun, eyes closed. Wings half spread to soak up the warmth, showing the bright green inside of them.
“Yeah, this is pretty fucking great”, Tony agreed.
For a while they stayed like that, all but invisible to the world below. Then Tony cleared his throat.
“So. You want to give flying a try?”
At once, Loki blinked his eyes open and turned to stare at him, his pupils going from huge, almost round patches of pitch black, to slits so narrow they were barely visible in the green glow of his eyes. Then he tilted his head pointedly, as if trying to say that they already were flying, silly mortal.
“No, I meant you. On your own.”
Wings fluttering a little, Loki looked around and then down, the tips of his claws whining against metal as he clung on harder.
“No worries, hatchling.” He was sure the smile in his voice would be heard even through the speakers. “I'll catch you if you fall. All right?”
The glare he got told him Loki was just daring Tony to mock him, but then his eyes fell to the long stretch of empty air dropping down below them, and the longing in them was clear. He shifted his weight from side to side on his hind legs, like a cat preparing for a jump. Tony's cameras showed the slim, snakelike tail whipping in nervous, quick little sweeps behind them.
“Just go, Loki. You know you want to.” He said it softly, kindly, but with conviction.
A little chirp escaped the dragon – and then he took the leap. Off Tony's shoulder and out into thin air, head first and all four legs tucked back along his sides, falling away in an elegantly arched curve of a dive. At first his wings were folded tightly against his back but soon they spread out to catch the air resistance. And just like that, Loki was flying. Guided by instincts no doubt programmed into his scaly, tiny body he flapped his wings to gain height, coming back to Tony's level, and then just spread them to catch the wind, making a lazy turn around the spot where Iron Man was still hovering, slowly rising in a spiral like a bird of prey.
Tony watched it all, slightly awestruck, and was happy Loki couldn't see him gaping inside the helmet. Part of him had been afraid he would actually have to dive to catch the dragon as he plummeted toward the ground, but no, Loki did just fine. He handled those wings like a pro, as if he’d never done anything but fly.
“Nice!” He called out, and laughed as he got another shrill, ecstatic shriek in return. “Race ya!”
It turned out Tony was the faster one, but he had absolutely nothing on Loki’s maneuverability. The dragon could make sharp turns in no distance at all, tip into crazy, spiraling dives, and once he even blew Tony’s mind by making a twisting flip that made him instantly turn back the way he had come, barely losing any momentum.
But in the end the dragon had less energy to draw from than the suit, and he had to find his way back to Tony’s shoulder when his wings were so tired he wobbled precariously in the air. He panted heavily when he landed there, but his eyes glowed so brightly it made Tony’s heart do a strange little jolt in his chest.
Reactor must be acting up.
For a few days after their flight Loki didn't work any more mischief, and was even looking more content and at peace than before. He slept stretched out along Tony's back, the sharp little snout often buried in Tony's hair. He napped in the sun or went sneaking around the workshop while Tony tried to get some work done. He still chased pigeons, and he seemed to enjoy making off with small, shiny objects and drove everyone in the Tower crazy by stealing their keys and coins and cufflinks, but that was the limit of his tricks. And when Tony unearthed his twinkling little hoard under the couch in the communal livingroom he didn't even seem upset. Most likely he hadn't wanted to keep any of that stuff, simply taking it because he could.
Tony had almost started settling into this as an everyday routine when Thor came to visit them in the workshop. Again he seemed to have something on his mind, but this time he wanted to speak to Tony. Lucky, since Loki was sleeping on the far end of the table where Tony was working on some stubborn circuitry, and he was a cranky little shit if you woke him up in the middle of a nap.
“What’s on your mind?” Tony pulled his protective goggles off and turned his chair around to face Thor.
“You seem to genuinely wish to help him, so I think I should tell you what I know.” Thor glanced at the sleeping dragon on the other end of the table, and lowered his voice. ”Loki isn't my brother by blood.”
Following a little shrug, Tony just nodded. They'd all known at least that much from the start.
”To me that makes no difference; I still consider him my brother. And perhaps one day, he will too.” Sighing, Thor folded his arms over his chest, a thumb rubbing his own elbow in an unusually nervous little gesture. ”But it's more than that. He was not simply taken in from another family on Asgard. He was born on Jotunheim, and he is a frost giant, not one of the Aesir.”
Blinking, Tony tried to make sense of that. ”You're telling me you're not even the same species?”
”But you both look pretty much the same?”
A headshake. ”I told you, Tony; he is a shapeshifter. That wasn’t something he was taught, but something born to him, and the skin he usually wears isn't his true one either. We simply never knew that, growing up.”
”Wait, wait, wait...” Tony forced himself to whisper as he made 'slow down there, big guy' gestures with his hands. ”Are you implying he was living in a magicked up shape his whole damn life? And didn't know? How the fuck...?” He was so baffled he couldn't even finish the whole question.
At least it seemed as if Thor got it anyway. ”On Asgard, we have some manner or creatures that can change the colours and texture of their skin, to hide from predators. You surely have some here as well, yes?”
”Well, yeah, a bunch of them, actually.”
Thor nodded. ”Do you think those creatures know that they are shifting colour, and think about doing it? Or do they simply do it out of instinct, knowing it's what will keep them alive?”
Tony only had to think about that for a moment before he understood where Thor was going with this. He nodded slowly, and then frowned again. ”But that would mean that his people, the frosty thingies, considers you guys... predators?”
There was a pained twist to Thor's mouth at that, but then he nodded.
”Oh.” Tony felt a tiny little bit sick to his stomach at all the implications of that revelation. ”Oh, fuck.”
”That is about the sum of it, yes”, the huge blond agreed, voice tight. ”But with all that in mind, I found it strange that my brother would be caught in a skin not of his own choosing, so I went to his rooms, and I found old spellbooks.” He rubbed even more vigorously at his elbow. ”I do not know much about magic, in all honesty, but from what I saw I believe he was trying to...” Thor hesitated and glanced over at the still softly snoring little heap of black and green scales. The tip of Loki's slim tail was twitching as he dreamed, but Thor still lowered his voice even more. ”I think he was trying to somehow counter his own true nature. Trying to make himself into something... new. Not an Asgardian, but not a frost giant, either.”
And Tony remembered how Loki's face had looked when he had told Tony he had been 'experimenting', and it all made a sad sort of sense.
”He was trying to... warm himself up?”
Thor shrugged one massive shoulder. ”In a manner of speaking, yes.”
And then Tony also remembered the little flinch when he had called Loki's dragon form cold-blooded, and he winced. ”Damn.” He swallowed, glanced at Loki's now silent form on the table. ”Any theories about how to undo this, too?”
Thor shook his head. ”By the look of his notes on this spell I thought it should be something that would wear off, but then again, something obviously didn't go according to his plan.” He spread his huge hands in a helpless little gesture.
”Yeah, I get it.” Sighing, Tony rubbed his palms over his face, suddenly very tired. ”Thanks for telling me, though.”
Nodding seriously, Thor gently patted his upper arm. Which still almost made Tony topple right out of his chair. Then he turned around and left the workshop in silence.
Tony rubbed the back of his neck, stared out into nothing, and tried to think. Thor had said he had thought it would wear off, and it sort of made sense that Loki would construct a spell he was only trying out to not be permanent. He was willing to bet a lot that having his magic cut off had scared the shit out of Loki though, because that would never have been a part of the plan, Tony knew that sure as anything. Of course he would think it had all gone wrong, that the thing had turned permanent and he would be stuck like that, helpless. No wonder he had been panicked and desperate.
Had been felt like it triggered something in Tony’s brain. Because the past tense there was important. Loki hadn’t seemed worried in a while now. Like he was getting comfortable in his new, scaly skin. Or as if he knew that he wouldn’t have to endure it for much longer. Was it possible…?
He glanced over at the sleeping dragon on the other end of the worktable, and then did a double-take when he saw the green glint in the slit of a barely open eye, peeking at him. That eye quickly fell shut when Loki realized he was looking, but by then it was too late.
”I know you're awake, hatchling.” Tony slumped over the table, chin coming to rest on his forearms, folded on the burnt and scratched surface, which put his head at a level with Loki's as the green eyes opened all the way. ”Were you when Thor was here, too?”
Loki's eyes shifted away and and then down while his claws curled in tighter to his greenish, iridescent chest. A very defensive little gesture. Tony had become pretty good at reading the dragon by now, and this all screamed 'busted!' too clearly to miss. But that wasn't all he was reading, really. Loki also looked... defeated. Smaller. As if all the air had been sucked out of him.
”So...” Tony cleared his throat and made Loki twitch a little, before the dragon eyed him warily. ”How long have you been staying in that shape voluntarily?”
Wide, green eyes stared at him for a frozen moment of shock. Then they blinked, glanced away, and next a green-and-gold flare of light passed over the little scaly creature. Leaving Tony looking at Loki's legs instead. About a mile long, folded like a tailor's where he was suddenly sitting on the table in his usual shape, dressed in his casual leather pants and green tunic.
Quickly Tony sat up straight in his chair, blinking up at him.
”Not very long.” Loki sounded as defeated as the dragon had looked, even though his humanoid shape was better at hiding it, his pale pokerface perfect. ”My magic only began returning to me about three days ago.”
Around the time of their flight. So Tony's guesses had been right – that was when Loki had known he wouldn't have to stay a dragon forever.
”But why did...? How could...? When were...?” Tony realized he sounded like an idiot and just settled for: ”Why?” He couldn't get the whole question out, but he thought Loki would know what it was even so – why did you stay a dragon when you didn't have to?
They stared at each other for a while in the kind of silence where you can almost hear each other's heartbeats. Then the left corner of Loki's mouth curled up in a self-deprecating, bitter, sharp little twist that might have been very distantly related to a smile.
”Because you kept me warm.”
Tony felt his lips part as he continued staring at Loki. He had no words to force out between them, but oh, yeah, he understood now. He was sure he did.
In a probably kind of desperate attempt to magic away something Loki didn't want to be and wanted rid of badly enough to try reckless, unknown spells, he had turned himself into something else he didn't want to be. Something Tony had thoughtlessly called cold-blooded... But then? Then Tony had also helped clean him up after the incident with the fire extinguisher. He'd fed Loki off his own damn plate. Given him a warm spot to sleep in his own bed. Offered help. Defended him in front of the rest of the team. Comforted him when he was scared. Taken him out to fly...
He'd never reflected on what he was doing, but he knew now that he'd actually accepted Loki-the-dragon in a way he had never accepted him in his current form. Maybe it had just been easier to not see Loki as the guy who had tossed him out the window when he was the dragon flying by his side instead?
But then again, Loki had never actually been that guy, had he? That had all been an act, and by now Tony knew that Loki was one hell of an actor. As the dragon he hadn't been acting. The skin was different, but the dragon purring under Tony's duvet had been the real Loki far more than the raging conqueror had ever been, and he knew that now. Now, he could see the difference.
While Tony's world view shifted violently, Loki was throwing his legs off the edge of the table and sliding down to stand on the floor. Already moving to walk toward the elevator while Tony was scrambling for words and actions and not sure what to say that would stop Loki. Just knowing that he had to stop him. That it was important.
Loki was only a couple of steps from the sliding doors when Tony found something to blurt out, even though he hadn’t thought it through at all.
Steps slowing, Loki came to a halt close enough that the doors opened to let him in, but he didn’t step inside. Instead he turned his head and glanced at Tony over his shoulder, looking weary. Silently allowing him to elaborate.
“Why did you come to me with this to begin with?” Tony got off his seat and took a step closer, gestured between them with a flick of his hand and then raked his fingers back through his hair. “I mean, yeah, genius over here. But you could have stayed right here with Thor, the guy who would do exactly anything to help you, and was the one who actually figured out what you had done. When this genius had no fucking idea. But instead you spent your last bit of magic to warp across the country to come find me.” He jabbed a finger at his arc reactor at the last word. “Who couldn’t do shit, except, apparently…” There Tony trailed off and almost swallowed his own tongue because suddenly, he knew why – and he could see Loki’s shoulders stiffen, as if he knew already what that pause meant. “…Keep you warm… Oh. Fuck.” The last was a whisper, mostly aimed at himself.
The cheekbone on the side of Loki’s face he could see flushed red as he turned his head back toward the elevator. But he didn’t actually start walking again.
Rubbing his hand over his mouth Tony considered what to say. Nothing seemed right, but he felt like he had to say something.
“I’ve been completely fucking blind, haven’t I?” Obvious statement is obvious.
He saw Loki’s shoulders slump, and then rise and fall in a heavy sigh. “To be fair, I never intended for you to know. What would have been the point?” Again he glanced back, the blush on his cheek already fading to turn him even paler than he had been before, green eyes hardened. “I’m nothing but the monster that threw you out your own window. You forgot about that for a while and I… I took advantage.” His weight shifted forward and he started walking into the elevator again. “But you remember now.”
On the inside Tony was flailing wildly for something more to say, something to stop Loki in his tracks, and wasn’t even sure why that felt so damn vital to him. But in the end he came up empty and had to just stand there and watch Loki step into the elevator, disappear behind the sliding doors, and get whisked away from the workshop.
Tony spent another few hours in the ‘shop, mainly staring into nothing. Trying to remember how to breathe and think at the same time and often failing.
Loki was in love with him.
Loki was in love with him.
Loki was in love with him.
Loki was in love with him.
No matter how he moved the emphasis around it didn’t help him deal with this new information. He couldn’t figure out how he’d been so oblivious. But then maybe it wasn’t that strange. Most of his focus had been on avoiding spending too much time alone with the guy, after all. There had been too much lingering anger and resentment and he’d known that now, when they were on the same team, he couldn’t allow that to show. They had to somehow get along, work together, and showing his feelings wouldn’t be conductive to that.
Part of him had been sure he was still holding on to those things, but that hadn’t stopped him from stepping up to speak on Loki’s behalf, in his defense. To offer him safety and comfort when needed. Loki had been right – Tony had forgotten who he was for a while. But he actually disagreed with the second part of his statement; he didn’t believe that Loki had taken advantage. What he had been given, Tony had offered voluntarily.
And the things Loki had ”tricked” out of him, well, they had been obvious enough that Tony could have easily refused. Like acting more dristressed than he was about being sprayed with the fire extinguisher so Tony would have mercy, stop laughing and help him clean up. The pitiful begging for food. Or acting terrified of a movie explosion so he would get to be alone with Tony, to curl up in his lap. (Yeah, of course Romanoff had seen through that one even when Tony hadn't.)
But then there had been the time Loki actually had been terrified – the time he had been panicking over the needle in the lab. That hadn't been an act or a trick. Tony was willing to bet the arc reactor in his chest on that. But he had still come to Tony for comfort, even after showing a weakness like that. And Loki's obvious, unbridled joy when they went flying... That hadn't been fake either, and the memory still warmed Tony's heart.
In the back of his mind a tiny voice chose that moment to wonder what it must be like, to know that the one you wanted was only kind to you because he couldn't see your real face. And then he felt his guts heave and had to lean forward with his head between his knees for a while, breathing slowly, or he'd have thrown up.
Still, he wondered if maybe the truth wasn’t so much that Tony had forgotten about who Loki was, and more that he’d forgotten about his own idea about who Loki was.
Reality wasn’t anything like that idea of an arrogant, invading alien asshole. The real Loki was funny and smart and curious. He was brave and vicious and affectionate. He was also pretty broken. And right now he was vulnerable. Brittle. Tony suspected that if he wanted to, he could make the guy shatter with one well-aimed blow.
Or, he could help make him a little bit more solid.
Tony finally stood up from his chair, got in the elevator and went to the floor where the other Avengers had their private rooms. He hesitated outside of Loki’s door for what felt like a couple of years, at least, but then he raised his hand and gave it a soft knock. Waiting for the door to open lasted another decade, he was sure, but then the handle moved, the door opened, and there was Loki.
He looked like he’d recently come out of the shower, hair all wet, heavy curls on his shoulders, leaving damp spots on his green t-shirt. He wore black jeans with it, out of his leathers and all modern, but his feet were bare. Long and pale and looking so fragile against the floorboards that Tony quickly made his eyes dart back to Loki’s waiting, wary face.
“Yes?” That one word was lead-heavy, laced with misgivings.
“You know”, Tony started, glancing away, awkwardly shifting his weight from one foot to the other as he rubbed the back of his neck, fingers snagging in tangled hair, “if you still want help to keep warm at night...” He trailed off, not sure why Tony Stark suddenly felt shy about inviting someone to his bed. Especially someone who had already shared it for a while now.
When Tony raised his head again, Loki was the one looking away, biting the side of his bottom lip, looking as uncertain as when he had been about to leap off Tony's shoulder and fly. Then he slowly turned to meet Tony's eyes. His mouth stayed silent, but that look spoke volumes.
Tony just wished he could have been able to read whatever language those volumes were written in...
“I don’t need to be kept warm anymore, Stark”, he said at last, voice level and neutral.
“No, see, that’s the thing; I think you still do.” Tony cleared his throat. “And I don’t think you’re the only one. So just… just think about it? Okay?” Loki only stared when Tony left him room to reply, so instead Tony eyed his own shoes with great interest, again scratching through the hair at the back of his neck. “Yeah, I’ll go. You know where to find me if you change your mind, or... Well. Fine. Night. Bye.”
He spun on his heel and refused to refer to what he was doing next as “scurrying away”. Damnit...
When Tony got back up to his own room it felt too big, empty and quiet and… lonely. Over the past weeks he’d grown used to having someone around he could talk to, someone who was physically around him pretty much all the time, poking his scaly snout into anything and everything Tony did during the day, purring up a storm during the night.
He was going to miss that. A lot.
Several hours later Tony woke up to a dip in the bed. And probably only because it was a much heavier dip than he was used to by now. A waft of cool air brushed his back when his duvet was lifted, and he felt someone slide in under it. Not touching Tony, but ending up resting fairly close behind his back.
All was quiet for a while, both of them feeling the moment out.
“So, now that you have your magic back”, Tony started, keeping his voice soft in the night’s stillness, “could you shift into something that’d let you come out flying with me again?”
Loki hesitated a moment. “I suppose I could.” His tone was still a bit guarded, but Tony could make out a tense note in it that he actually thought was more restrained excitement than fear of rejection.
“Good. Because that was the most fun I’ve had in a long time.”
“I can second that”, Loki said, and this time there was definitely a smile in the words.
“Then it’s a date, hatchling.”
A sharp sigh, almost like a hiss, came from Loki. “I had so hoped I would never have to hear that awful nickname again.”
“Come on, it’s not that bad!”
“Oh? How would you feel if I started calling you ‘baby’?”
And Tony couldn’t help himself then – he giggled. Trying in vain to smother the undignified noise in his pillow before he managed to catch his breath. “You know what? I think I might be able to live with that just fine...”