The god comes stumbling into Stark Tower a few days after the Manhattan fights had left them all reeling and exhausted. He staggers to Tony’s couch and collapses onto it, a small line of blood trickling from beneath his hairline, and the first thing Tony says to him is:
“What happened to you, Reindeer Games? Too many shots of mead?”
Loki glares at him, gaze icy beneath the emerald irises, and it is then that Tony notices, for the first time, that his skin is flickering, dancing between its regular pale hue and a strange shade of sapphire. “This is none of your concern, Stark,” is all he will say. “I require nothing from you but a few silent hours in which to recuperate.”
Tony raises an eyebrow. “You wanted silence, you should’ve gone to Steve’s.” He walks over and sits on the small part of the couch not taken up by Loki’s six-foot frame: that hollow, hungry face; the lean torso; and those long, long legs. “Come on, Rock Star, you’re bleeding all over my upholstery. Either I get to know what’s going on or I’m calling your brother in here.”
Loki raises one thin, fine eyebrow. His skin changes again, for a longer moment this time, long enough for small ridges to start forming on his arms and forehead. A small shadow of pain creases the space between his eyebrows, and he looks annoyed as he replies:
“I am not his brother.”
Tony rolls his eyes. “Whatever. Family issues? I’m sure you can work that out later. I just kind of really need to know what you’re doing here. I normally don’t have guests that just appear in my house—although there was that one time when I took one too many sips of that really strong whiskey and—”
“By the Nine, Stark, do you ever shut up?” Loki hisses, though he sounds more pained than truly angry.
“When I get what I want, sometimes,” Tony replies, and a slightly self-satisfied grin crosses his face. “Though that usually only applies when what I want is an act that requires me to shut up—”
Suddenly Loki’s in his face, the blood still running in a steady stream down his temple, over his cheekbone. It is dark against his skin—which, Tony notices, is staying blue now—but as it drips onto the gold of his armor, the engineer sees it’s relatively the same color as human blood; reddish and coppery, not unlike Loki’s eyes. The god’s upper lip curls over his teeth. His skin is freezing to the touch; Tony can feel a burning pain on his wrists where Loki is gripping him.
“I said I need silence in which to recuperate, not your mindless chatter.” The ridges on his skin are a darker shade of blue, more navy than sapphire, edged with turquoise, and Tony feels a brief, strange urge to reach out and touch them. “I would like you to leave me alone; I will be gone by sundown.” He releases Tony, who jerks back, rubbing his wrist, which is bright red and sort of steaming. For a few seconds, they stare at each other, and Tony thinks Loki’s eyes remind him of fire. He stands up, and Loki lies back again, wincing slightly.
“You know, you look like Violet Beauregard post gum treatment,” Tony says casually, just to see what will happen. All Loki manages is a weak growl and a vague burst of emerald smoke, and it’s then that Tony thinks maybe something serious happened to the god.
He leaves him alone for the rest of the afternoon.
In the middle of the night, Tony is awoken by a crash, followed by a loud curse that doesn’t sound English. He sits straight up in bed, the arc reactor illuminating part of the wall and the door.
“JARVIS?” he calls. “Have any idea what that was?”
“Sir, it would appear that your Norse guest has not left the room you last saw him in,” the AI replies after a few seconds.
“Shit,” mutters Tony, swinging his legs over the side of the bed and calling for the lights.
“My sentiments exactly, sir,” JARVIS says calmly. “Shall I inform Director Fury of this?”
“Uh,” says Tony distractedly, pinching the bridge of his nose as he stands. “No. Fix me a cup of coffee, though.”
“Will do, sir.”
Tony leaves his room and heads down to the bar area. He turns on the lights and is surprised to see Loki lying in a heap at the edge of the sofa, his skin relatively pale but still tinted with blue around the edges. Shards of glass surround him and it takes Tony all of three seconds to realize that Loki probably stood up too quickly and tripped on the coffee table. He makes a mental note to get Pepper to replace it later and walks over, eyebrows up.
“You broke through glass,” he says. “This is a turn of events… you know, from… all that.” He gestures vaguely at the window Loki threw him out of—it’s still got masking tape around the edges, not glamorous at all—and a tiny smirk flicks on the corner of the god’s mouth.
“I was merely trying to get out of here,” he says.
“By going through my coffee table.”
Loki nods, then winces, pressing a hand to his lower back. The blood is gone from his face, though he does still look pretty exhausted—there are bags under his eyes, and his robes are torn in places. There is also a strange burn on the back of his right hand that Tony hadn’t noticed before—and he doesn’t really want to ask about it now, so he heads into the kitchen and gets his coffee.
When he comes back, Loki is half sitting, half lying on the ground, slightly further from the glass than before. He trails his eyes unashamedly up and down Tony’s body and he actually smiles for a second. “You look quite dignified tonight, Stark.”
Tony’s wearing his Avengers underwear—the red ones. He matches Loki’s smile, takes a sip of coffee. “Don’t I? I had these custom made. My name’s sewn into the back of the hemline—wanna see?”
“Don’t be vulgar,” Loki mutters, staring at his blue-tipped fingers.
“Aw, c’mon, Shakespeare—”
“And stop with those ridiculous nicknames, Stark, honestly. You’ve called me three different things in the past twenty-four hours.”
“Twelve,” Tony corrects.
Loki waves a hand dismissively. But he doesn’t do that weird thing again where he’s suddenly in Tony’s face, and he doesn’t make anything erupt from his palms or cause anything to shatter, so the engineer sits down next to him.
“You never did tell me why you showed up here,” Tony says.
Loki’s skin flickers like strobe lights, and he sighs and flexes his arms. “It involves Odin,” he says, “and the Chitauri.”
“The Chitauri? You mean that alien race we destroyed Tuesday? I thought they were all gone.”
“Mortals,” snorts Loki. “Gods, you’re more ignorant than I’d thought. No wonder Thor’s taken a shine to this race.”
“Hey,” says Tony, putting a hand over his heart. “You’re talking to a genius here.”
“That’s debatable.” Loki flexes his arms again. “No, Stark, my story has nothing to do with your genius. It involves torture, and I would prefer if we did not discuss it.”
“Torture,” Tony repeats, a bit skeptically—although judging from the state of Loki’s robes and the way he was limping when he first came in, Tony thinks maybe for once he’s not lying. “What kind? Who did it, Odin or the Chitauri?”
“I said I do not wish to discuss it,” Loki snarls, attempting to stand again and falling back to the floor. A faint line of ice forms in one of the cracks where the glass dented the wood, and Loki clenches his fists.
Tony sighs. “Listen, Shakespeare,” he says, and Loki either doesn’t catch the reference or is too tired to protest again, “you can’t stay on my floor all night. You’re either going to have to go somewhere else or come stay in my room—and honestly of the two options, I’d prefer you to come stay in my room.”
“Oh yes, invite the god who could slay you where you lie into your bedchambers,” Loki murmurs sarcastically, chuckling darkly. “That strikes me as one of your less brilliant plans, Stark.”
“Fine,” says Tony, shrugging and standing up, setting the empty coffee mug on the edge of the now-ruined table. “You’d have been more comfortable in there, but suit yourself.” He walks out, and pretends he can’t feel Loki’s intense gaze on his back the whole way to the elevator.
In the morning, the god is gone, and the table is repaired. Tony wonders if he dreamed the whole thing until he sees a faint splotch of blood on his couch.
The air smells faintly of winter.
A week later, Loki returns, while Tony is fixing a car in his lab. His music is blaring too loud for JARVIS to make himself heard—not that JARVIS would actually turn the music down, because Tony’s programmed him to know better than that—so Loki’s presence is completely unknown until Tony has to turn around to grab a wrench off the table behind him. He yells, stumbles backwards, and falls in a very undignified heap on the ground. Sweat is standing out on his forehead and his hair is messed up; he smells of gasoline and alcohol.
“Jesus fuck,” says Tony. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Loki rolls his eyes. His skin is a steady color now, and his eyes have lost that hunted look they had seven days ago. “I changed my mind, Anthony.”
“Not ‘Stark’ anymore? What a loss—”
“I will tell you what happened to me,” Loki finishes, ignoring him.
Tony struggles to his feet. “Yeah, well, that’s great, but I’m in the middle of something here—”
Loki waves his hand, and the car jerks to the left. A small screw wiggles into place in the bumper, and the engine briefly hums to life, as though letting Tony know it’s there. The puddle of oil vanishes from beside the front tire, and Dum-E lets out a soft, surprised whirring sound as the spare rearview mirror is taken from its grasp and put into place.
“Not anymore,” Loki says, and Tony detects a faint air of amusement mixed with an almost defiant pride in his voice. “I would require your presence upstairs.” He walks out—he’s not wearing his Asgardian armor anymore, just a regular pair of dark pants and a green tunic—and it’s a full sixty seconds before Tony realizes he was staring at Loki’s ass. He takes the elevator up and finds Loki leaning against the bar. He straightens up when he sees Tony and folds his arms.
“Before I start… I’ll still want that drink, Anthony.”
Tony rolls his eyes. “Okay, that’s getting old too, Shakespeare. If you want me to give you my whiskey, you’re going to have to call me Tony.”
“Don’t call me Shakespeare and I shall consider it.”
“Deal’s off, then,” but Tony’s grinning, and he can see Loki fighting a smile as well. He walks behind the bar and pours them each a glass of his finest alcohol—aged, expensive, rare; a gift from Pepper on his thirtieth birthday, the only time in his memory that she’d ever indulged his drinking habits. He hands Loki the drink and sips his own, the whiskey sliding down his throat, burning.
Loki tastes his and shrugs. “It’s not as strong as Asgardian liquor, but it’s all right.” He sets the glass down on the marble-top table and leans on it again. “Now… you were, I believe, curious as to why I appeared in your home several days ago, bleeding and ill?”
Tony bites his lower lip. “You said it had to do with Odin and the Chitauri torturing you.”
“To put it in simplistic terms, yes, that is what it was. When Thor and I arrived back on Asgard, Odin removed my magic and chained me by my ankles over a sea of seething vipers. I experienced pain, Anthony—” and for once, Tony doesn’t have the heart to correct him—“pain such as a mortal as yourself will never know. The poison damaged something in me; when Odin at last saw fit to release me and restore my magic, I was weak, too weak to stand. He cared not, though; he cast me out and saw to it that I was banished from Asgard for an indefinite amount of time.
“I tried to come straight back to Midgard—although I suppose the obvious choice should have been Jötunheim, where I could have returned to my natural state and given myself a few months to recover—but the Chitauri came upon me first. They did not like that the Tesseract had been destroyed by your people—and they were the cause of the blood you saw. I have no desire to see that race again.” He grips his glass hard enough to make his knuckles turn white; takes another, longer, drink from it.
Tony’s watching him carefully from behind his own glass. “So you were going from normal to blueberry because you were weak?”
Loki’s eyes narrow slightly. “Do not make light of this, Anthony. Had I not come here, I may have died, and I cannot be sure my daughter would have been allowed to accept my soul.”
“Your daughter—what?” Tony looks confused. “You have a daughter?”
“Yes,” says Loki, and for the first time his expression grows almost fond. “Her name is Hel. She rules the land of the dead—also called Hel, I believe you Midgardians know of it?”
Tony nods. “But if you’d died… where would your soul have gone, if not to your daughter?”
“Niflheim.” Loki frowns. “Hel has less power there. It is reserved for the dishonored who have fallen, and it is not a warm place.”
“Well, no,” says Tony. “I mean, you’re dead, so…” He pours another glass and offers the bottle to Loki, but the god holds up one long-fingered hand, shaking his head.
“I must leave,” he says. “Thank you, Anthony, for your hospitality.” He sets the glass down and starts for the center of the room. He’s nearly there when Tony calls out:
“Wait. Why did you come here? You could’ve gone to Steve, or to Nat—I know she’s kind of scary at first but she grows on you, really—you could’ve even gone to your brother—”
“Thor does not know I am here,” Loki interrupts. “He travels between realms far too often to keep track of my whereabouts. And as for my reasoning, Stark—”
“Oh, we’re back to that, too bad, I was getting used to the formalities—”
“—that shall be for another day.” He vanishes, leaving behind a trail of green vapor and the faintest hint of something spicy lingering in the air.
Tony understands nothing except that Loki’s coming back, and he drinks himself into a stupor and passes out. Pepper finds him there several hours later, slightly conscious and mumbling about Norse gods, and she drags him to his bedroom, wrinkling her nose at the way he smells and wondering privately if it’s too late to get rid of the alcohol stash.
The third time Loki appears, it’s at three in the morning. Tony’s just gone to bed, his bright, overtired eyes shining in the glow of his arc reactor, equations and variables racing around in his head, when Loki shows up at the foot of his bed. He lets his cape fall to the floor, and underneath it he’s wearing nothing, and Tony stares, unabashedly, at the expanse of pale skin in the glittering moonlight coming through the window.
“You’re here again,” he says, as Loki crawls into bed beside Tony, sliding the sheets down and placing his hands on either side of Tony’s head.
“Surprise, surprise,” Loki mutters, flicking his wrist and causing Tony’s underwear to vanish. Tony raises his eyebrows, but before he can say anything Loki’s kissing him, roughly, pinning him back against his mattress by his wrists. He drags his teeth along Tony’s lower lip, nearly hard enough to draw blood, and Tony arches into the touch. Loki slides his hands along the shorter man’s chest, encircling the arc reactor with his fingers, and Tony feels a brief spike of fear flash through him at the closeness before Loki’s moving down, down, down, kissing his neck, biting him, marking him. Tony is going to have bruises tomorrow, and he doesn’t care. He threads his fingers in Loki’s long, dark hair, gripping the sheets, gasping for air. Loki kisses him gently, then roughly, then gently again; sucking his skin, licking him. He raises himself to eye level with Tony, and the engineer grabs him and pulls him down, slamming their mouths together with such force that Loki grunts, surprised. They kiss, they exchange, they melt. Loki rolls Tony over onto his stomach and presses his hips against Tony’s ass with an urgency that startles both of them.
“Lube—” Tony is gasping, but Loki’s already produced it by magic; and then he’s in Tony, rocking their hips together, gripping the mortal, wrapping himself around him like a shell. It takes Tony approximately two-point-four seconds to get used to Loki, and then he’s pushing back, demanding fuck me, and Loki’s chuckling even as he thrusts into him—must you be so coarse with your language, Stark?—and then both of them are yelling, incoherently, loud enough to make the windows shake a little. It does not take long for them to climax—and they do almost simultaneously, which Tony thinks might be a little bit magically-induced as well—and Loki’s saying things in Old Norse, and Tony’s breathing ‘fuck, fuck, shit, fuck, Loki’ over and over again, and neither of them stop to question it; this… thing.
Afterwards, Tony pours them both glasses of whiskey, but Loki declines. He curls up on the sweat-stained, sex-scented mattress, tucking one foot elegantly under the sheets, and murmurs:
“You asked me to sleep in your room once, you said you wanted it. I shall do as you requested tonight.”
Tony raises an eyebrow. “What—” He means to ask, what are you doing all this for, but Loki misunderstands, and interrupts, sounding annoyed, with:
“The night I briefly lost my powers, Stark.”
The tone of his voice is the equivalent of an Asgardian duh, and Tony is too miffed to try again. Great sex or not, Loki’s still an arrogant asshole. He watches the god slide into sleep, his breathing slowing down and his eyelashes fluttering softly against his cheeks.
Suddenly he remembers that he still has no idea why Loki came here in the first place, but he guesses waking up the god wouldn’t be a great idea. He curls against him instead; thinks about asking JARVIS to turn the air down, but then decides against it, because Loki’s skin is cool enough for him as it is.
His hair smells like winter.
It becomes a regular thing for them, to meet up once or twice a week, to have sex—mind-blowing, muscle-weakening, all-senses-removed sex—to banter and drink and occasionally exchange magic and science down in the lab. Twice, Tony tries to find out why Loki’s here, of all places; twice, Loki evades the question. Eventually, Tony gives up, figuring he can find out by deduction anyway—because as good as Loki is at hiding things, he does slip up sometimes.
This is how Tony knows that Thor still has no idea where Loki is, and that Loki could not give a single fuck that Thor is probably worried sick about him.
This is how Tony knows that Loki likes those miniature cinnamon bagels that heat up in the microwave in thirty seconds.
This is how Tony figures out that on Sunday mornings, Loki likes to sit at the kitchen table and drink coffee and read the newspaper.
This is how Tony realizes that Loki despises the family he grew up with, and detests his biological family even more.
This is how Tony, over the course of two months, two weeks, and five days, begins to slowly start to understand that he and Loki are really just two sides of the same coin. Looking at Loki, and the way he acts, the way he speaks, is like looking in a mirror, except the mirror’s cracked on one side.
One morning, Tony wakes up alone and hears voices downstairs. Loki’s elegant accent is raised and shouting in that strange language he uses sometimes, when he’s really angry or really excited; the other voice is lower and less angry, more desperate.
It takes Tony about five seconds to realize that Thor has found his little brother.
Scrambling to his feet, the engineer manages to just avoid catching his foot in the tangle of sheets on the floor as he grabs his jeans and pulls them on, hopping towards the door as he does so, forgetting until he’s on the elevator that he isn’t wearing a shirt. He rides down to the bar area, and there he finds Loki face-to-face with Thor, who is dressed in his full-length Asgardian garments and looks worried, pleading. The trickster god’s eyes move at the sound of the elevator door opening, and, perhaps for Tony’s sake, he switches to English—or maybe Tony can just hear it as English now, he’s not sure.
“Come home, brother,” Thor is saying. “Please, we want you to come back—”
“Why?” Loki hisses. “So that your father can continue to torture me for his own amusement? So that your friends can continue belittling me, as they have done my whole life? No, Thor, I’ve had enough. I shall return one day, perhaps, but not now.”
“Stop,” Loki snarls, and his hand comes out and wraps around Thor’s neck, “calling me that.”
They are both quiet for a long time. Loki does not grip his brother tighter, and Thor doesn’t try to move. Tony feels a bit uneasy, like he’s watching something he shouldn’t be, but he doesn’t want to leave, either. At last, Loki releases Thor, stepping backwards. His skin is flickering again; Tony can feel the temperature dropping by degrees.
“Why are you here?” Thor asks, and Tony perks up slightly, wondering if Loki will finally reveal what’s going on with him and his strange decision to stay, of all places, in New York City—technically in Stark Tower, because he’s started coming a lot more often than just once or twice a week; he’s practically living with Tony, not that either of them have ever said anything about it.
Loki hesitates, glancing towards Tony. Thor follows his gaze, and a smile splits his face.
“Man of Iron!” he exclaims. Evidently the fact that Tony has been listening to their entire exchange doesn’t faze him at all.
“You asked me, once, why I chose your home, when I could have gone anywhere,” says Loki, speaking to Tony now, instead of Thor. He starts forward, then stops, clenching his fists, uncertainty battling with anger on his face. “I am here because I saw you first, Anthony; I saw your wit, your intelligence. I was not aware that any mortal could possess such a level of genius as you do.” It’s the closest thing to a compliment that Loki’s ever given him, and Tony can’t help but grin.
“He’s not wrong,” he says, and the god rolls his eyes, fighting back a smile.
“Don’t let your ego go to your head,” Loki says, and Thor’s eyes flick between them both.
“Brother,” he says, “is this—”
“I care for Anthony Stark,” Loki interjects, in a tone that makes even Thor shut up. “Over the past two months—” and two weeks, and five days, Tony thinks, and can tell that Loki’s struggling to hold back these extra measurements of time—“he and I have grown closer. I would not wish to break that bond now by returning to Asgard.” He walks the rest of the way to Tony and kisses him then, slowly, ignoring Thor, sliding his hands into Tony’s back pockets.
“Brother…” Thor says when Tony and Loki have pulled apart. His voice is gentle, and for some reason it tears at Tony’s heartstrings. “Do you—”
“He saved my life after the Chitauri attacked,” Loki says, interrupting again, looking down. “I owe him a debt, and I will repay it in kind, in the way I choose.”
And then suddenly Tony sees it, in Loki’s eyes, sees the desperate longing for affection, for love; a hunger that has exhausted him; the god’s emotions are stripped raw before him, and Tony understands, even if Thor does not, that this is no longer about any debt.
The thunder god hesitates a second longer, then sighs. “Very well, brother,” he says. “I will not deter you… I will return home and tell Mother and Father that you have chosen to stay on Midgard for the time being. But know this: I will not abandon you, Loki. Whether you wish me to or not.” He walks out, through the back door that leads to the stairs, and Tony laughs a little when he thinks of Thor walking down thirty-five flights of steps.
When the door is closed again, the engineer turns back to Loki. “So… a debt?”
“Mm,” mutters Loki, his jaw clenching. He looks miserable, broken, defiant, proud, anguished, and almost hopeful, all at once, and Tony bites his lower lip.
“…I love you too, Shakespeare,” he says quietly, after a few seconds of debating with himself, and Loki turns that brilliant emerald gaze on him, his eyes widening, and Tony finds himself pinned to the ground, the god straddling his hips, kissing him with varying degrees of intensity, his pale cheeks flushed. The scent of frost and wine fills the air, and Tony slides his hands down to cover Loki’s hips.
Two sides of the same coin; his beautiful, shattered reflection.