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“A cage stokes our emotions and imaginations, regardless of whether you are inside looking out, or outside looking in.” – Michael Makai
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Tony Stark was not a team player.
At least, that’s what certain dossiers claimed. Those same reports used words like textbook narcissist and disregard for authority, though. Anyone who knew even a bit about psychology would dismiss the first label and anyone who knew anything about the authority figures Tony was disregarding would dismiss the second. In general terms, a civilian contractor is not under any obligation to follow the orders of military personnel not tied to their contract, especially when said order went against both ethics and logic. The government was not allowed to just claim the personal property and research of its citizens, regardless of how many people it might benefit. At least, it wasn’t legally allowed. Mocking one’s government officials when they do something stupid and illegal was not just a right; it was a duty.
Anyone who suggested that Tony Stark was incapable of teamwork usually lacked the ability to see past their own ego and incompetence. There were a few people of Tony’s inner circle that would have very pointed words with anyone suggesting such a thing. Tony’s preference was to work with others. The problem had always been finding people who could keep pace with what he was doing.
Tony Stark was reckless and liked to stir up problems.
That was actually true.
Life had taught him fairly early on that everything had risks and that the worst things in life didn’t kill you. The people who tended to surround him (with few exceptions) had taught him that his worth only laid in what he could do for them, not in anything intrinsic, and most of those things are easily replaceable. The combination lent itself well to a daredevil attitude about risk assessment. Combined with a prodigious intellect that was easily bored, that made for a dangerous cocktail.
So Tony Stark had developed something of a habit about poking bears and tickling dragons.
Which is how he ended up in the special containment area of the SHIELD helicarrier alone with an alien who had publicly proclaimed his desire to subjugate the world. Thor had claimed that Loki was leading an army, but generals didn’t tend to actually lead the army. Nor did they do grunt work like fetching things. That was minion work, which meant that someone else was actually in charge. Fury wasn’t the only one keeping secrets (though Tony was willing to bet that his were boring, like pulling a Hydra and using the Tesseract to make weapons. Meh. JARVIS wouldn’t take much longer to get through the paper-thin walls that SHIELD thought were protection). Adopted brother or whatever, Loki stank of desperation and madness.
The million dollar question was: what did it take to break a god?
Tony let his gaze flick around the cell, taking in little details. He noted six different ways that the place could be improved, maybe eight if the material of the struts were made of what he thought they were. As he sorted through those thoughts (more out of reflex than anything else), Tony contemplated other things he knew from simple observation. Loki let him do his evaluation in silence. Not once did he even fidget in his stance, seemingly content in just watching Tony look around the room.
“You probably weren’t expecting me,” Tony finally commented, taking out a bag of blueberries from his pocket. Idly, like he didn’t know what it would communicate, he popped a few of the berries into his mouth. He chewed obnoxiously loudly, before making a show of swallowing the food. “Nicky the Pirate probably wants you to feel isolated and trapped. In fact, I’m fairly certain that the ant & boot conversation was supposed to intimidate you.”
“Really? I don’t particular feel intimidated,” Loki returned, seemingly unperturbed. Tony hummed in agreement around another couple blueberries. He made another show, this time of examining the controls for the cage. Through his lashes, Tony glanced at the captive god, just to verify that he was watching. In return, Loki scratched the bridge of his nose nonchalantly. His tone was bored when he spoke again. “Should I worry about you sending me plummeting to my death?”
“Is this the part where I pretend that you’re really trapped?” Tony countered. “I mean, that is the story you were going with, right? We caught you, trapped you. We bring you back to our flying fortress. After a bit, your minions catch up with us to liberate you to carry out your nefarious plan. They’ll probably damage the helicarrier in the process, which as distractions go is a pretty good idea. It ensures that everyone is more focused on keeping the thing in the air rather than keeping the prisoners secure. Depending on how things go, you might even be able to trigger Banner to transform, which will definitely give One-Eye and his shady company something they’d deem more dangerous than you, so that’s where they’ll send Point Break and the Capsicle. Natasalie will definitely be seeking out your minions for the very specific one she’s gonna want back, so she won’t be in your way. Sacrificing Barton would let you pretty much waltz out of here unopposed.”
“That would be a very clever plan,” Loki said. The slight widening of his eyes betraying his surprise was only noticeable because Tony knew how to read past the best of masks. “Shouldn’t I have been the one monologuing about it, though? Is that not how villainy works on this miserable ball of mud?”
“Traditionally, yes, and I’m so sorry if I spoiled that for you, but I was hoping for something a bit different than the usual song and dance.”
“And what is it that you hope to sell me on, merchant?”
“Well,” Tony said nonchalantly and drawing out the single syllable, “I’m thinking nothing short of good, old-fashioned revenge.” Ignoring the obvious shock now covering Loki’s face, Tony offered the opening to his snack bag. “Blueberry?”
“The fate of the world hangs in the balance and you bargain with fruit.”
“SHIELD frowns on alcohol on their super-secret bases of doom, especially if they fly.”
“You’re mad,” Loki said.
“It comes hand in hand with genius,” Tony replied. Loki appeared beside him and the image of Loki in the cage lingered an extra moment before fading away completely. Tony shifted to offer the bag to the god now standing beside him. With a shrug, Loki took a few berries and popped them into his mouth. Tony continued as if the prisoner that he had been visiting hadn’t just escaped in the space between heart beats. “But everyone always forgets that unless they’re using it as a reason to hate me.”
“Tell me, mortal,” Loki said after swallowing his blueberries, “why do you think I would need your assistance if I wanted revenge?”
“Oh, I didn’t say?”
Tony tilted his head upwards to keep looking at Loki’s face despite how near the god was standing now. Strangely, Loki didn’t emit heat like a human would or even the staticky feel that Thor had. The idea caught on the edge of Tony’s thoughts, idly tugging at half-forgotten stories from the original Jarvis. Beyond magic and lies, what was Loki supposed to have dominion over?
“No, you left that out,” Loki crooned, seductively soft. A surprisingly floral but dark scent, like heather mixed with patchouli, filled the air around them. It went to Tony’s head like century old whiskey, leaving an almost drunken feeling in its wake. “You wish me to buy into your notion that I need help seeking vengeance for some mysterious wrong? Sell your claim, merchant, before I tire of this charade of civility.”
“Is it really a charade?” Tony asked in bold accusation. As quick as a viper, Loki’s hand struck out to wrap around Tony’s throat. The suddenness of the motion sent a shot of adrenaline through him, making him higher than he had ever gone in the suit. Yet the unyielding fold of Loki’s fingers had a tenderness in it that belayed any of the very real possibility of threat. Involuntarily, because he had always flirted with danger, Tony’s eyes closed halfway. “Mm, kinky, which is really sending me mixed signals and you should think about which way you want to go with that.”
“Speak,” Loki commanded. Tony swallowed hard. The action emphasized the grip on his neck.
“I am,” Tony insisted with a smirk. “By the way, I think I’m legally obligated to point out that people are usually asking me to do the opposite. I really think that’s why so many of them try to introduce gags. I’m all for trying new things, but gotta respect a person’s hard limits, you know.”
“As delightful as this negotiation is, you troublesome creature,” Loki said in a tone which would have been more threatening if his thumb wasn’t stroking Tony’s neck, “I do not have so much time to waste forever awaiting the details of your grandiose offer meant to sway me from my present course. I suggest speaking quickly.”
“Yes, sir,” Tony replied. There was just enough emphasis on the honorific to twist it away from any potential respect. Loki’s eyes narrowed pointedly. Tony licked his lips before continuing. “You don’t need me to get revenge, no, but it would certainly be easier with my cooperation than without it. It can also be done with significant less risk to your very fine body. I’m not even joking. I saw the footage of you in that tux. A-plus all around with special bonus marks for a proper strut.”
“You’re drifting from the point, pet,” Loki cut in smoothly. He angled his thumb to forcefully tilt Tony’s chin further upwards. Tony’s whine was practically sub-vocal. “You may spill your compliments later. At the moment, you’ve captured my curiosity and I require details of your plan. Share generously and I may become inclined to do the same.”
“Not only do I know a high-yield fusion generator which should work to power a stable portal, but with a couple hours, I can have an equally high-yield non-nuclear bomb to shove through it before snapping said portal shut. If you ask nicely, I might even tinker a bit to increase the destructive capabilities before we send it off.”
“And if I’m disinclined to ask?” The god’s dark tone was warm with unconcealed amusement.
“Well, I guess it would depend upon what you did instead, wouldn’t it?” Tony taunted in return. Loki’s lips turned upward as he brought his face closer to Tony’s. His hand slipped around to the back of Tony’s neck. His fingers tightened around a fistful of Tony’s hair, using the grip to hold Tony in place. Tony felt a warm breath of air over his lips, carrying the faintest flavor of blueberries and mint, before the sensation was replaced by a damp sweep of agile tongue. Tony whined unconsciously as he opened up to the now actively plundering kiss. His hand tremblingly sought out the ungiving leather of Loki’s jerkin. The contrast of leather and slick metal against his palms did little to anchor the engineer against the sweeping tide of arousal the god unleashed within him. He whined again, more demandingly, when Loki finally drew back.
“You were saying, pet?”
“I dropped my blueberries,” Tony noted absently, barely aware of having lost the minor battle of wills. Then again, it was possible that he had just peacefully resolved this whole invasion thing. Bribery really was just a matter of finding the right price.
Good to know that blueberries were a universal currency.
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