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“The effect of dominance is not always the result of an intention to dominate.”
– Deborah Tannen
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There had been many words used to describe Tony Stark over the years. Some were more accurate than others. Tony himself certainly had his favorites, and yeah, if he was honest, there were times when he was just spoiling for an argument that would allow him to spit out his absolute favorites. There was also some which only fit depending on which definition one used.
Byzantine was one such label. It could mean intricate or complicated, which weren’t entirely wrong if a bit misleading. Tony wasn’t as complicated as people liked to pretend but even his platypus would tell you that he had a lot going on at any given time, because his mind constantly ran at speeds that would make warp drive envious and keeping all that from crashing necessitated all the various parts to be carefully connected, which would certainly qualify as intricate. On the other hand, byzantine could also describe something which was characterized by elaborate scheming and intrigue with special focus on gaining political power and favor. While Tony did tend to accumulate capital of various sorts, it was rarely something he actually set out to do. It was always just a byproduct of doing what he did naturally.
That didn’t mean that he was above using what political favors he had, when there was something which he needed or wanted.
“Thank you for alerting us to the issue, Dr. Stark,” General Turner repeated as they reached the end of their phone call. The Secretary of Homeland Security had always had a soft spot for Tony, even back when he had been the military liaison to SI, watching things explode with far less enthusiasm than Rhodey on a bad day. It was really strange to find one of Howard’s old military buddies that actually preferred to work with Tony instead. It had made the idea of working as Iron Man under a military commander tolerable. If he had given into Fury’s machinations, he would have constantly fought against the sheer stupidity that was SHIELD’s shadowy policies. On the other hand, Turner had just as much patience with secrets for the sake of secrets as Tony, which made him just as popular on the Hill.
The fact that Rhodey genuinely liked the guy also helped Tony trust him a lot more than most people would ever know. Rhodey had a better track record of understanding people than Tony did.
Tony would have turned the call into a video conference, but Loki had not seemed inclined to move further away from him than a few feet since they had left the helicarrier, and while Tony wouldn’t have minded showing the General himself at less than his best (Tesla knew the man had seen him in worse states than sleep deprived and lab gross), he figured Loki might appreciate being allowed a chance to—well, a chance to not look like a man who had been tortured into obedience, if Tony was going to be blunt about it. Loki put up a good mask, but Tony knew how to see through this particular one. The Asgardian was in need of a shower, something more substantial than Tony’s travel baggie of blueberries, about a gallon of water, and something resembling a good night’s rest. Some of that would have to be delayed for a bit to get their joint revenge done, due to Loki’s unspoken reluctance on letting Tony out of his reach, let alone his sight. Tony got that; he had acted similarly with Rhodey after escaping that hellhole of a cave. It would wear off once the knowledge that the ordeal was over had a chance to sink in some.
Understanding didn’t change the fact that certain things had a ticking clock on them.
Gaining the official permission for what they were planning to do needed to be locked down as soon as possible to prevent interference from SHIELD. Not only did their plan hinge on opening a portal over a civilian population, but it also involved the transport and denotation of a known WMD, which was a frowny point for most government officials and the civilians they represented. As Rhodey had stressed often over the years, accountability and oversight weren’t terrible things when dealing with things that went boom or became animated.
Of course, permission wouldn’t necessarily stop Fury from storming the Tower, but it would cover Tony’s (and JARVIS’) retaliation when he or his proxies did show up. Depending on how long it took the experts at SHIELD to figure out that Tony had taken Loki to the absolutely most obvious place for them to go, his honeybear might even be back from his mission in Hong Kong—the one that Tony had declined joining Rhodey on when Turner had suggested it, because it shouldn’t require both War Machine and Iron Man, and honestly, Tony knew himself enough to recognize when his obsession was getting out of hand. Rhodey was better for dealing with the Ten Rings, because he would be better at maintaining the line between justice and blind vengeance. Rhodey was just a better man in general, and probably always would be.
“You should have written authorization for everything we discussed within the next five minutes, and a hard copy should be in the hands of Ms. Potts within the next fifteen. Are you sure you wouldn’t like a security detail assigned to her? Just as an additional precaution?”
“Pep’s already going to be upset with me,” Tony said. He felt Loki tense behind him and Tony subtly leaned against him in reassurance. In response, the god wrapped his arms around Tony and buried his nose into his hair. Tony probably shouldn’t find that as relaxing as he did, especially while discussing Pepper’s pending petulance, but being around Loki felt… well, it felt safe in the same instant way that only Rhodey had before, like nothing could get him while Loki was there. It was ridiculous but then Tony had always flirted with danger. Why should this be any different? “There’s really no reason to annoy her more than she’s already going to be.”
“Dr. Stark, you have evidence that they’ve made people disappear before,” General Turner argued gruffly. Tony almost expected the term whippersnapper or something similar to follow the reminder, especially with how Turner still sounded like he was questioning both Tony’s intelligence and sanity. Yet, unlike Nick Fury, the general didn’t sound like he was believed that Tony was being childishly naïve or dangerously arrogant at the same time. Which meant that Turner’s audible doubt was fine because Tony was used to people thinking he was crazy when he explained his plans, so this was just par for the course. A voice similar to Rhodey’s reminded Tony that Turner actually liked him, so he should play nice.
“Pepper has several things which those people lacked, primarily people who know exactly who would have taken her if she was to disappear suddenly,” Tony countered. He leaned more of his weight against Loki, even going so far as to tilt his head to the side. The position made his head resting on the god’s shoulder. It also put the curve of his neck on display. Tony shivered as he felt Loki begin tracing the exposed artery with his nose. “She’s also got all the security measures that the CEO of an international multi-billion-dollar company should have at all times, and since she’s the one who made that very detailed list after Afghanistan, I’m going to trust that she knows what she’s talking about. Actually, that’s usually a very good idea. Pep’s the best at these kinds of things.”
“I know that your appointment of her to CEO was highly successful,” Turner commented in agreement. Tony could practically smell the appreciation in his voice. A small part of him wanted to brag a bit over his genius at discovering the awesomeness that was Pepper Potts. The rest of him knew that he could easily spend hours doing so if he got started because Pepper was just as awesome as Jenny and Rhodey were, and those hours weren’t something they could really afford to waste at the moment. “Stock prices rose by what? Thirty-seven points this past quarter alone. Very impressive.”
“As I said, Pepper’s the best at what she does. Now, before I go to start things on my end, I have one last thing to ask you to take care of.” Tony paused as another shiver went through him, this time because something cool and moist had flicked over the skin of his neck. The faintest scent of mint wafted upwards, intensifying as Loki gently blew over the spot he had just licked. “Ah, um, what I was wondering was how we would officially handle aliens, specifically legitimizing their presence within our borders. At some point, we may need to consider a more global application, but that’s something we can leave off for a little bit.”
“I believe we can adapt the existing structure for short term use,” Turner said. There was a background noise of shuffling papers. “Right now, we just need to muck things up enough to confuse things, create a paper trail that demands to be followed. I will personally handle the asylum paperwork for your guest, with emphasis on fleeing persecution and forced conscription. I don’t know exactly how this will end up working exactly—we’ve never had an actual alien seek asylum before, but times are changing and have been for a while now. I’m going to warn you now, Dr. Stark, that keeping physical possession of him will be necessary to mission success. All the paperwork in the world won’t change a damn thing if he gets taken off world, and even out of the country would limit our capabilities.”
“Things could get messy, General,” Tony said evenly. He was rather proud of that evenness, given the way Loki had slipped a hand under Tony’s shirts to stoke lazily over the area between his navel and the hem of his jeans. The motion was distracting. At the same time, it emphasized how still the hand resting on Tony’s hip was being. Tony swallowed back a whine that would have been more plaintive than he would have been ready to explain to the general.
“I’m confident that you can be trusted to handle any situation that arises as you see fit. You have yet to give me any reason to doubt that confidence, despite having ample opportunity and having faced undue censure for your decisions. You take care of your end, Iron Man. I’ll see about getting you adequate backup as soon as I can.”
“Copy that, sir.” Tony’s breath hitched as Loki’s fingers tightened on his hip. He had the confusing urge to jerk against the hold and to melt into it. The drunk feeling from the helicarrier, which had faded in the hour that had passed, started to seep back in, just as heady as before but now enhanced by knowing that he was safely back in his territory, where JARVIS had the ability to do more to protect him than to alert someone. Maybe now would be a good time to hang up, before he forgot how to do the word making thing? “You know my preferences. Iron Man out.”
The moment that JARVIS gave the signal that the line was closed, Loki bit down on the spot where Tony’s neck and shoulder met. A ragged moan escaped Tony as it felt like his muscles turned to liquid. It felt like Loki’s teeth and hands were the only things keeping him from floating to the ceiling like he had stolen Fizzy Lifting soda rather than an invading god. Tony felt his hands flutter uselessly through the air, his fingers twisting through gibberish to match the blank racing of his mind. Loki hummed, holding the deep note as Tony trembled in his arms. After a moment, Loki released the grip of his teeth, only to mouth his way to Tony’s ear.
“I am feeling ignored, pet,” Loki whispered. Tony shivered at the suggested threat in the plaintive complaint. He shivered again when the hand Loki had on his stomach flexed, the tips of every finger digging in with just the right amount of pressure. He was fairly certain that the only thing keeping him upright at this point was Loki. It only made sense to anchor himself to the god by letting his hands wrap around his wrists. Loki rewarded him with another hum. “Although all you’ve done has been for me, so I do suppose that you deserve some kind of reward. One cannot deny the benefits of positive reinforcement, can they? What do you say, pet?”
“I say a lot of things,” Tony replied. “If you recall, I did mention that was a thing I did and that people usually asked me to do the opposite. Remember? You do remember, right? I only ask ‘cause I sort of mentioned something kind of important around that point and it’s a hard limit, which means it should be respected, but if you don’t remember it, I think I really should know that.”
“I do recall your stance on gags, pet,” Loki assured him. He punctuated the statement with a kiss to the dip behind Tony’s ear. Tony’s eyes slid shut in automatic reflex. Loki hummed thoughtfully but continued their previous conversation instead of remarking on how Tony had just lost what little tension had remained in him. “It is a stance I share, in fact. If I minded your chatter so much that I wished you silenced in such a way, we would not be having this discussion at all. I would never stoop so low as to remove someone’s ability to speak, no matter how unpleasant their words or voice were.”
Loki pressed his cheek against Tony’s hair. A fine shudder also ran throughout the length of his long frame, as if he was imagining something particularly horrific. …or remembering it. It occurred to Tony that when one was supposed to be the personification of lying and misdirection, at least enough to have earned the epithet Silvertongue, then having the ability to speak taken away would be abhorrent. Wasn’t there a legend about how Loki had once had his mouth sewn shut as a punishment for speaking uncomfortable truths that someone hadn’t been ready or willing to hear? How much of the legends were true, anyway? Because some of them were pretty crazy even with Jarvis’ editing for a young audience, if Tony was remembering correctly. Wasn’t there something about a horse?
“Sir, ETA on the arrival of your delivery is a half hour,” JARVIS interrupted after sounding the low tone that he favored for exasperated sighs. To preserve the illusion of being nothing more than an AI, it was just under the range for average humans. His baby boy liked giving people the chance to pick up on his existence even as he understood how dangerous that could be if the wrong person figured it out. “I have taken the liberty of directing U and Butterfingers to set up the workshop. Dummy is currently on his way to the penthouse with a few snack options to tide you and your guest over until something more substantial can be arranged. May I inquire if your guest has any preference or aversion on texture, pattern, or color?”
“Hm?” Tony mumbled, the blanket calm slowing his ability to process the words. He blinked a few times to help shake the languor a bit. “That’s good, J. We do have some badassium on site, right? Without needing to scavenge it from its current use? I should only need point six ounces, I think. Maybe point eight? Oh, and just a suggestion but maybe the workshop’s med kit as well, if it’s not too late?”
“Already with Dummy,” JARVIS replied. “However, scans show that your guest is healing at such an accelerated rate that cleaning the individual wounds is not going to be possible, though a few of them may need that level of care. A shower should be an acceptable course of action for both of you. If your guest has no specific aversions, I can have the first batch of replacement clothing delivered within the next ten minutes.”
“That means he defaults to my preferences,” Tony explained. Loki rubbed his cheek against Tony’s hair before planting another kiss to that spot behind his ear. Tony felt he was both floating and sinking at the same time. It was strange to experience that feeling with someone other than his platypus. “Tha’ was Rhodey’s idea. He says that it’s okay to be picky ‘bout things like that. My honeybear’s biased, though, so fair warning for when he gets here.”
“I do not like fabrics that are naturally cool to the touch and I dislike furs,” Loki answered, hesitant in a way that he hadn’t been so far. A niggle of worry wormed its way into the thick syrup in which Tony felt submerged. A whine worked itself loose from Tony as he began to fight his way free of the lassitude. Loki made a shushing sound as he made a long stroke over Tony’s stomach beneath the fabric of his shirt. “I am not upset, merely not accustomed to being asked such a question. It is not something that many people take into consideration, especially not on my account. I was merely surprised by your thoughtfulness. It pleases me to have such a good pet.”
Tony hummed in what he hoped Loki understood as affirmation. Words seemed a bit hard to manage at the moment. They kept floating away whenever he reached for them. It was a nice feeling, though, not something scary like any of the times he had been drugged. Not that there hadn’t been enough of those that Tony should have gotten used to the feeling, because there had been, but it wasn’t really a feeling that one got used to, was it? So it really wasn’t his fault if he never had, not since that first time when Jen-blossom had to step in to take care of him because Rhodey hadn’t been around despite Tony being in their bathroom—not their bathroom, because the bathroom had belonged to the frat, but it was where they had met and Rhodey liked to call it where his bots were born because that’s the first place the coding had been written. It was a good bathroom, and this was a good feeling, and oh, that was a hand.
It took Tony longer than it probably should have to recognize the hand gently wrapped around his throat. His first reaction was a muffled sense of confusion because the calluses were wrong. Rhodey’s hands had a different pattern, built up over years of firing different kinds of guns and handling different birds. This hand had different calluses and even a few fine scars that Tony could feel. The grip was firm and unyielding, with the thumb pressing into the dip behind the hinge of his jaw. It was enough of a threat that Tony could feel the haze moving away and clarity returning, but at the same time, the way the grip was being used to tip his head backwards made the musky floral scent in the air seem thicker.
“Huh?” Tony grunted, trying to get his bearings once more. Someone chuckled behind him and Tony heard the low tone that JARVIS used to express his own humor. His mouth didn’t seem to want to cooperate with him. “Wha’ w’ong?”
“Nothing, pet,” Loki reassured. His lips were dry when he pressed them to Tony’s temple. He stroked his thumb down Tony’s throat, prompting Tony’s eyes to slide back to half mass as the hazy fog returned. Loki gave his hand a little shake, jostling Tony back to clarity. “You are delightfully responsive, but we’ve business to conclude before we can indulge in testing the extent of that. Do you think you’re capable of keeping your feet, merchant?”
“I… I think so?” Tony didn’t try to move away from the god, though, not any more than Loki made any attempt to move himself. He cast his mind about for something to focus on that wouldn’t increase the fog, latching onto the first thing that floated to the top. “You don’t use my name—which isn’t a complaint, by the way. I love nicknames. Just ask my sourpatch, or anyone really. Nicknames are my peanut butter and my jam. Everyone gets multiples, some more flattering than others, but you’ve only used the three, and none of them are what most people would consider respectful, you know?”
“Names have power,” Loki replied, “and while simply being around you obscures scrying methods, I would rather not take undue risk with your safety.”
“So… I help you hide? It wasn’t—it wasn’t the blueberries that made you accept my help?”
“Oh, darling,” Loki purred in his ear, “the blueberries were not nearly as delightful as you are. The best thing about them was that they came from you, a sign of your hospitality and understanding. I heard many rumors about your personality and mindset, but you proved them all wrong in a matter of moments. You are very much as your name would suggest, to the extent that I find myself baffled how so many remain blind to just how worthy of praise and adoration you are, and how they fail to see the lengths you’d go to defend them. It is blatantly obvious to any who bother to look, but still they refuse to observe more than what they wish to perceive. We are well matched, merchant, and I look forward to proving that in other areas once we’ve had a chance to properly discuss things.”
“Dummy is exiting the elevator on this floor,” JARVIS interrupted before Tony could find the words to respond. People complimenting him, genuinely complimenting him, was not something that typically happened to Tony. Even Rhodey didn’t do it often. “May I remind you about the Baby Monitor Protocol?”
“What is this protocol? Do you have a child?”
“No, well, sort of,” Tony waffled. Carefully, he put space between the god and himself. The world swam a bit before the last of the haziness disappeared. Loki looked only mildly confused when Tony finally managed to work up the nerve to face him. “My bots—they’re kind of advanced and programmed to learn things. It’s good that they’re so smart—great, really, even if I complain—but sometimes… They’re just overprotective, is all.”
“Children are always smarter than their parents think,” Loki said with the tone of someone with firsthand knowledge. He folded his hands in front of himself, somehow managing to appear like he was looking up at Tony, despite being taller. “Is all physical affection something to be avoided in front of them or was it the hold itself that would have been the issue?”
Loki’s tone was neutral, almost bored. It would have been easy to conclude that he was only mildly interested in whatever answer Tony had to his question. That would have been fine; didn’t they just establish that blueberries weren’t what had gotten Loki’s attention? Then Tony caught sight of the god’s eyes, specifically the rage that burned within them as they flickered between blue and green. His stomach squirmed threateningly but Tony found that he couldn’t look away as their color finally settled upon an electric shade of green.
“Do your eyes normally do that?” Tony asked, ignoring Loki’s question in favor of his curiosity. “Is it an Asgard thing? Magic based? Something uniquely you? Also, can I just say that the blue was pretty and all—It was almost a match for my reactor tech, so of course I liked, right?—but I am loving that green. It’s amazing—like, like barium burning.”
Tony reached out to touch Loki’s face only to be distracted by Dummy rolling into the room. The bot had the handle of an honest-to-Tesla woven basket dangling from his claw. Upon seeing Tony, Dummy held up his load proudly, rushing over to hand it off. Tony could see the bright yellow of the first aid kit tucked in among the containers of fresh fruit and granola bars that were threatening to overflow the basket. Dummy suddenly stopped as he noticed Loki, still in his armor.
Tony lunged forward to catch the bot just as Dummy threw the basket at Loki’s head, too late recognizing the bot’s hostile intentions. Dummy clacked his fingers angrily in the direction of the god but thankfully didn’t try to attack Loki any more than throwing something at him. Tony could hear Loki’s chuckle, dark and sharp. Tony was determined to never admit that the implied threat in the sound did things to his libido.
“Feisty little thing, isn’t he?” Loki set the basket—still containing the majority of its load—on the drafting table before moving closer to the pair. “He’s adorable, my merchant. So ready to defend you. I must admit that I find it a comfort that you have such a creature near you in addition to your JARVIS.” Dummy clacked his fingers inches from the tip of Loki’s nose, which prompted Loki to let out a delighted laugh. He cooed at the agitated bot, “absolutely fearless. Are they all like this?”
“Uh, pretty much?” Tony answered, not loosening his hold on Dummy. His oldest bot made a whirring sound punctuated by opening and closing his fingers slowly. Tony wasn’t certain how to interpret that in this particular situation. Normally, it would be Dummy pouting about being denied something like playing fetch or spraying his extinguisher. It was completely at odds with the rage he had been showing just a moment ago. “JARVIS, is Dummy sick? Do I need to check his coding?”
“Dummy is operating within acceptable parameters, Sir,” JARVIS responded calmly. “Perhaps he feels that it is your coding which needs checked.”
Tony looked at his nearest input point suspiciously. JARVIS sounded amused by his question. The light on the obvious camera faded slowly before blinking back to full strength. Tony gave a betrayed gasp.
“You’re sassing me?! My own creation—what did I do to deserve such disrespect?!”
“I am, as always, as you made me, Sir,” JARVIS replied, as he always did, “and thank you for my unconquerable soul.”
“Still not a god, baby boy,” Tony returned, completing their private ritual.
“Are you certain?” Loki asked idly. While Tony was distracted, Loki had taken one of Dummy’s fingers in his right hand. The bot was eagerly shaking it as if in greeting. Tony watched the action warily. Dummy had a habit of forgetting his strength when he was excited. His emotions were already riled; the last thing any of them needed was for Dummy to manage to hurt Tony’s stolen Asgardian. As if sensing Tony’s unease, Loki ran his left hand down Tony’s side. “You have managed to create actual life from nothing, pet. There are not many mortals who can make such a claim. I can think of none in modern times but I know that many have tried.” Loki pressed a kiss to his neck before continuing. “Who could create such wonders but a god?”
“That’s doing wonders for keeping my ego in check,” Tony replied after taking a moment to recover from his surprise. Dummy freed his claw from Loki to poke at Tony’s cheek. He must be blushing, which was just great. It just what he needed at the moment. “Um, food? Shower? While we have time?”
“Food,” Loki agreed. He kissed the dip behind Tony’s ear again, humming when Tony shivered again. “I think I saw some blueberries in the basket. You know how partial I am to blueberries.” Tony groaned as Loki punctuated his comment with a nip of his ear. “They just so deceptively seductive. Why, one could even say they’re enough to tempt a god.”
Hopefully, they never ran out of blueberries, because Tony was starting to think he could get used to having the god around.
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