They assemble downtown to combat what SHIELD is classifying as a hostile magical attack, orchestrated by Loki and Amora. They’ve conjured up magical constructs of animals; Amora’s fashioned a convocation of eagle-like creatures whose proportions more closely resemble pterodactyls; Loki’s creations are wolves the size of bears. All the beasts are made of golden light, glittering with a similar translucency to one of Tony’s holograms.
“Good news guys,” Tony calls as he blasts one of the eagles with his repulsor beam. “The shimmers are corporeal. Course, that’s the bad news too,” he adds as he just barely dodges the talons of another.
“Are we really calling them that?” Hawkeye asks. He looses a swift succession of arrows into the torso of one of the wolves prowling at the boundary, observing for stress points in the beast.
There’s a roar, followed by “Hulk smash shimmers!”
Clint starts laughing and Tony’s face hurts his grin is so wide.
Natasha reigns focus back onto their mission. “What’s our play, Captain?”
Steve gives Thor the go-ahead to try some lightning. The bolt that he directs at one of the large eagles gets pulled downwards instead, drawn to the nearest wolf. The lightning courses through its body, absorbing it without much apparent damage. Thor huffs in displeasure.
“It is as I suspected. Loki has crafted his wolves to deliberately interfere with my lightning.” Thor glances over at his brother, but Loki doesn’t seem very interested in the arrival of the Avengers; he’s idly petting one of his wolves with a bored expression on his face. “Amora’s creatures may be more numerous but she lacks Loki’s finesse. They will be less durable than his are.”
Captain America nods decisively. “Hulk and I will stay on the ground, try to deal with some of these wolves. Hawkeye, Thor, focus on the eagles, take out as many of them as you can. Widow, I want you east side. If you get an opening, see if you can take Amora.”
Good plan, Tony thinks. If their opponent’s strategy is to have Thor stay away from the eagles, it’s best to task him with attacking them, using other means aside from lightning. Natasha’s armed with the new prototype Tony’s been tinkering with, which is close range but should shield against magical attacks.
“Iron Man, I want you to cause as much chaos as you can around Loki’s position. But do not engage him, Tony. Do not engage him.”
“Heard you the first time.” Tony rolls his eyes, even as he hoists Clint up onto the nearest rooftop. “No dancing with the god of mischief, got it.”
He heads towards the far side of the battleground and starts lobbing missiles at the eagles nearest to Loki, which shriek piercingly as they vaporise. Then he plunges downwards towards a wolf, continuously firing his repulsor beam at it. The wolf begins to glow brightly.
“We seem to have gained his attention, Sir.” JARVIS remarks dryly.
Loki surveys him with a special kind of lofty amusement, the look Tony likes to think is solely reserved for his antics. He circles around, still focusing his repulsor on that one particular wolf. Loki turns lazily on his heel to keep his gaze on Tony, placing his back to the rest of the fight. Success.
The wolf explodes into a shimmer of golden dust. Tony almost gets his leg bitten off by the second wolf that rears up in its place. He swerves backwards and blasts it into the ground.
Loki grins sharply. “Careful, Man of Iron. The beasts won’t be as considerate with you as I would.”
“You? Considerate? More like deliberate.” Tony can’t help responding. “Don’t you have anything better to do on a Friday afternoon? Seriously, every nine-to-five worker drone is disappointed in you right now.”
“And I suppose your evening is a full schedule of drowning your sorrows in drink and contemplating your inferiority?” Loki drawls.
“Not true.” Tony retorts easily. “I was thinking more blowing things up in my lab and target practise using cut outs of your face.”
Over the comm line comes an audible sigh from Steve, but he doesn’t protest Tony’s chatter.
“I’m honoured.” Loki steps nimbly to the side to avoid the shower of sparks from another exploding wolf. The remaining wolf flanking Loki bares its teeth at Tony.
“You should be.” Tony answers, adjusting his thrusters to hover a little higher, just far enough to put him out of what he hopes is the wolf’s leaping range. “JARVIS, you close enough to get a read on his magic output?” A moment later, a graphic appears on his HUD display, JARVIS confirming what he suspected. It’s obvious Loki’s putting concentrated effort into maintaining the wolves – after all, Tony’s hovering just a few feet away and the Trickster’s still yet to make any aggressive moves towards him.
Loki pretends to look thoughtful. “I suppose an effigy in my honour is the best you can hope for in terms of having esteemed company.”
“If we’re judging each other on the company we keep, you don’t really have any ground to stand on.” Tony points out. “Since when do you hang out with second-rate sorcerers?”
Amora, who had been focused on Thor up until this, whirls around, eyes blazing.
“I mean, the Enchantress? Really? Your standards must be lower than I thought they were.”
“Be SILENT, insolent mortal!” Amora screeches. She points at Tony, a bolt of pink lightning jumps from her finger and strikes him in the chest.
He’s hurled backwards, tumbling and crashing into the ground.
His teammates immediately start calling for him over the comms but Tony physically can’t answer them – when he opens his mouth no sound comes out. JARVIS immediately deduces something is wrong, of course, because he’s awesome that way, and the calm commentary about the state of the suit and his vitals helps Tony shove down his initial panic and outrage.
He clambers back up onto his feet and has to open the faceplate to stop the others shouting, waving his hands to indicate he’s mostly okay. Then he glares at Amora, who laughs when Thor bellows a demand to know what she’s done.
“I muted his voice.”
The response to this comes from an unexpected quarter.
“You did WHAT?” Loki snarls.
It’s hard to say who’s more surprised by his clear indignation, the Avengers or Amora. The Enchantress attempts to rally herself, scowling. “The Midgardian’s worthless, inane chatter – ”
It’s instantly clear this is the wrong thing to say because Loki’s expression twists so furiously that Amora actually takes a step back.
All of the shimmers waver; a ripple passes through the wolves that makes their fur stand on end; the eagles flicker rapidly, like a transmission trying to maintain reception despite the signal being on the fritz. Then they all vanish.
Amora plainly decides that a strategic retreat is her wisest course of action because she then vanishes also.
Loki gives the place where she’d been standing a disgusted look before he turns and stalks towards Tony. Tony starts a little as the god reaches for his throat, even if the gesture is nowhere near as violent as what he’s expecting. Loki tuts at him but obligingly halts the motion, his hand hovering in the gap between them. Tony’s slightly irked that he’s unable to voice a quip like he usually would in this situation.
“Loki.” Thor entreats warily.
“I’m not going to throttle him.” Loki retorts. His tone is far less patronising when he addresses Tony with an “allow me.” Tony considers the offer and nods. Loki touches two fingers over his Adam’s apple. There’s a warm tingling, which becomes a tickle in his throat, and he’s coughing as Loki pulls his fingers back. Everyone watches as he catches his breath, his friends concerned and Loki apparently indifferent, elegantly ignoring the arrow Clint has aimed at his head.
“Thanks,” Tony croaks. He clears his throat, then smirks. “So, you’re a fan of my inane chatter? Got to admit, I’m kinda flattered to hear that. Most people are eager to have me shut up.”
Loki rolls his eyes, as if he hadn’t just displayed a huge outburst about a minute ago over Tony’s forced silence. “Had she not interfered, I would have won our argument. That’s all there is to say on the matter.” He hesitates a moment. “Though, I will concede that your pitiful attempts at flyting are…diverting.” Then he disappears.
“That was unexpected.” Natasha comments.
Steve agrees, shouldering his shield as he frowns slightly in puzzlement. “What’s flyting?”
“Tis a form of verbal battle performed in the courts of Asgard, where opponents trade insults in verse.” Thor explains.
“Offensive poetry?” Tony clarifies, because that sounds awesome.
Thor nods. “Loki was by far the best skilled at it – it was not for nothing he came to be known as Silvertongue. He ceased competing in official matches after a time though. He deemed there were none on Asgard who could claim to be a worthy match for his attentions.” Thor levels a thoughtful look towards Tony at this.
“So, you’re saying that Tony derailed the fight because Loki enjoys it when they’re insulting each other?” Clint says slowly.
Thor gives a rather helpless shrug. “Loki has always enjoyed flyting.”
After they all return to the tower, Tony sequesters himself away in his workshop. He tinkers with a few miscellaneous projects and does some research.
It’s only a few days later when Amora and Loki make their reappearance, once again causing havoc with their army of shimmers, this time at an electrical plant. Amora has taken the high ground, standing on the ledge of a building and draining power from the relay tower. Most of the shimmers – eagles and wolves – surround her area. Loki is on the ground off to the far side, a handful of shimmer wolves prowling beside him as he dismantles one of the generators.
“You guys deal with the Enchantress and the horde of shimmer beasts.” Tony tells the team over the comms. “I’ll handle Reindeer Games.”
“Alone?” Steve responds. “You sure?”
“Don’t worry, Cap, I got this.”
Steve’s acknowledgement is followed by Thor’s battle cry and the Hulk’s roar. Loki glances up briefly, taking in the sight of the others converging on the shimmers defending Amora with Tony still hovering in the sky at their backs, before he dismissively turns back to his work. Tony flies down and lands on the ground a few feet away. The wolves between them close ranks slightly, assessing him. Tony ignores them, his attention on the god.
“Loki of Asgard, trickster and liar;
hath no one taught thee to not play with fire?
If thou fears the heat then turn tail and flee;
lest you burn trying to match wits with me!”
Loki spins around, eyes wide and jaw slack as he stares at Tony in clear astonishment.
Tony waits a few beats but when there seems to be no response forthcoming, he teasingly croons out another rhyme.
“Whatever is wrong, have you no words left?
You hide behind silence; my ears are bereft.”
A wide grin unfurls across Loki’s face.
“A challenge you set, a contest you crave?
You must think yourself exceedingly brave.
I wield words like knives, they cut and strike deep;
once I am done you will do naught but weep.”
Tony calls his answer back cheerfully, not oblivious to the fact that the wolf-shimmers nearby are now ignoring him, moving away towards to where the fighting is happening instead.
“An accord we have, so let us begin.
The sooner we start, the sooner I win!”
“You jest if you think you’ll keep pace with me.
You’re out of your league, you have to agree.
I see through your mask of conceited pride;
all the fears, the doubts, you struggle to hide.
You’re expendable, no one will dispute.
What value have you, if not in your suit?”
Tony retracts his faceplate, just so Loki can see how unimpressed he is.
“Expect me to cry? Fly into a rage?
It takes more than that to rattle my cage.”
“What.” Clint says flatly as he puts an arrow through an eagle’s wing. “What even?”
“It’s working.” Thor points out, gesturing to the shimmers. With Loki’s full attention elsewhere the wolves are beginning to degrade, their movements more lethargic and their forms fading around the edges. This time when Thor hefts Mjölnir the wolves no longer draw the lightning bolts towards them, leaving him to cut through a large swathe of the eagles instead.
“Loki!” Amora shrieks furiously.
“I’m busy!” Loki retorts snidely, eyes still on Tony. He jumps straight into another rhyme.
“Unlike when we met that night in Stuttgart,
I see now you’re just a coward at heart.”
“You speak of my heart but what do you know?
You think yours stronger? You cannot say so.
A reminder then, lest you’ve forgotten;
performance issues: not that uncommon.”
Loki actually laughs, delighted.
The wolves all vanish. Without them it’s quick work for the Avengers to dispatch the remaining eagles; despite their numbers, they’re nowhere near as powerful as Loki’s wolves were. Amora screams in wordless infuriation before she flees, vanishing in a whirl of pink flames.
It’s at this point Loki seems to realise that the battle has been effectively ended and there’s no way to justify lingering, exchanging insults with Tony, unless it’s simply because he wants to. For a moment Loki actually looks crestfallen but he covers it up swiftly with a scowl.
Tony flashes him a shameless smile. “This was fun. We should do it again sometime.”
Loki doesn’t say anything as he vanishes, but Tony’s sure he catches a smile in return.
“All in favour of having Richards cover the tab for dinner?” Clint suggests.
“Seems fair to me.” Tony agrees. “It’s happening.” He flies around the Baxter building again but his scans don’t reveal anything new.
Reed had only just managed to send him an SOS, streaming a data file of the readings they’d been recording, before Doom had worked his magic, trapping the Fantastic Four inside.
Well. Not necessarily his magic.
Natasha curses as her bullets pass clean through the Doombot she’d targeted, her opponent flickering out into nothingness. “I’m thinking more than half of these Doombots are illusions of Loki’s.” She leaps at another, gratified when she connects with this one, deploying her widow bites. “I can’t tell the difference until I hit them though.”
“They’re trying to wear us down.” Steve says, throwing his shield. It only hits two of the six he’d been aiming for and he figures Natasha is right. “Has anyone had eyes on Loki yet?”
“Nay,” Thor replies. “My brother has hidden himself well. He will not reveal himself until his aim is met.”
Tony still can’t raise any communications with Reed and tells JARVIS to keep trying. Then he addresses the team. “Maybe I can do something about that.” He makes a beeline for Doom, sweeping around the area close enough to gain the man’s awareness.
“Iron Man. You and your Avengers will bow before the might of Doom!”
Tony lands on the roof opposite the man’s position. He shoots a Doombot in the face as it comes up over the ledge. “Sorry, Doc. You may be ruler of your little kingdom, but you’re not the king of me.” Several of the other Doombots nearby go still and turn to look at him. Now that I have your attention, Tony thinks.
“There once was a god known as Loki.
He spreads mischief and chaos with glee.
He wants to be king
but here is the thing:
there’s no crown for one such as he.”
Loki appears out of nowhere, right beside him. He’s grinning.
“And here be the mortal in armour,
who thinks himself to be a charmer.
But it makes him ache
to know he’s a fake
and that all prefer the performer.”
“Says the diva who thrives on a show.
Plays composed until he’s told no.
I laugh as he wails
whenever he fails.
He sulks and hides back under shadow.”
Tony’s not sure how well the last line plays, but he’s too busy firing his repulsors at the Doombots which have taken an interest in him to end the limerick with any more finesse than that.
Loki makes an irked noise, glowering at the Doombots rather than Tony. He slashes two fingers through the air and those Doombots collapse into pieces with a sizzle of failed electronics, which Tony absolutely does not find interesting.
What he does find interesting is that Loki has once again defended one of his adversaries against his temporary ally. Multiple data points indicate a pattern.
“That wouldn’t work on my suit, right?” He jokes lightly.
Loki’s lip curls in a way that’s clearly meant to stir up trouble. “Perhaps. I wouldn’t know yet.”
“Eh. You wouldn’t do that to me anyway.” Tony grins, knowing Loki will hear it in his voice. “Too easy, no challenge to it.”
The Trickster turns back towards him. “Oh?” But his smile is one of agreement.
“You know, aside from me, your buddy standards still leave a lot to be desired.” Tony points out. “Doom, now? It’s clear this plan is all his, and you’re just lending some colour. So, what are you getting out of it?” The words are a challenge. There’s nothing Loki would get out of this, except Tony’s presence here. Tony’s the only one Reed would contact for this kind of data.
“That’s not the question you’re asking.” Loki counters easily. “You want to know if this excursion was Doom’s idea, or mine.”
If it was Doom’s, Loki’s taking advantage of the opportunity. But if it was Loki’s, he’s sought Tony out. Tony’s thrilled; he loves it when someone can keep pace with him. “He’s got an agenda too. He’s been watching us this whole time and didn’t even chew you out for blasting his Doombots.”
Loki rolls his eyes. “It’s inconsequential.”
“Maybe.” Tony says. “Depends on whether he wants knowledge, or leverage.”
Tony half-expects the god to focus on the claim of the latter and dispute the implication. But instead, Loki looks intrigued by Tony’s thought process.
“You know more than you wish of the dark.
When betrayal and rage hit the mark
you’ll give in to fear;
lose all you hold dear.
They will paint you the villain then Stark.”
The words aren’t half as insulting as the god’s tone means them to sound. If it is a warning, it’s not a threat per se. Tony decides to think on it later. The tone of his retort is far more light-hearted.
“From you that’s a sweet accusation
though you aim for a confrontation.
So since you’re such an ass
let’s avoid any glass;
tempt you not to defenestration.”
Loki smirks sharply. “Such a sweet temptation.” His eyes flicker across to where Doctor Doom stands, still watching them both.
When Iron Man crashes through the window of the Baxter building, the magic shielding it shatters along with the glass. Loki still leaves his fake Doombots behind though.
Even with the Fantastic Four joining the fight it takes a while to tackle all the remaining Doombots and illusions. Doom himself escapes, but Reed promises to deal with him.
Steve eyes Tony in a way that makes him glad he left his faceplate down; the suit has one hell of a poker face. “Are we going to debrief SHIELD on your tactics, regarding Loki?”
Tony hesitates. “No,” he says slowly. “Not yet.”
Steve considers him. “Okay then.”
Tony is warmed by this show of trust. Loki’s been causing a lot of havoc recently, especially for the Avengers, but it’s been nothing too extreme. No reason for SHIELD to get antsy over Loki’s motives just yet. The spy twins look a little unsure but both nod at Cap. Cap looks at Thor. Thor looks towards the roof Loki and Tony had been on before, his brow furrowed.
Hulk huffs at the team. “Puny god likes speaking clever words with Tony.” Tony blinks, then beams. But before he can comment, the Hulk’s gaze shifts to him. “Tony likes speaking clever words with puny god too.”
“Uh.” Tony’s smile wavers, but he doesn’t deny this. “Yeah, I guess. It’s fun.”
The team’s mood changes suddenly, their unease being replaced with something else Tony can’t quite identify, but the glances they exchange seem somewhat speculative.
“It’s harmless,” he adds lightly.
“Hmm,” is all that Natasha responds with. Which could mean any number of things.
Tony takes flight, deciding to skip the debriefing anyway.
The mutated army soldiers are mostly about a head taller than Tony, but they have enough bulk on them to rival an illegitimate love child of Captain America and Thor. Whatever individual features they may’ve had before has been washed away – their faces are bloated, with bloodshot eyes and gaping mouths. They don’t seem to have any thought-processes other than attack mode now either.
“Ross’s fingerprints are definitely all over this.” Tony snarls, blasting one of the zombie-like soldiers through a wall.
“I agree.” Bruce says darkly over the comms. When the report had come in about the outbreak at a supposedly abandoned army base, all six Avengers had unanimously agreed Bruce should remain at the tower, to monitor the situation and to keep Bruce-and-Hulk out of Ross’s grabby hands.
Tony’s still preening over the fact that Bruce feels safe at the tower and that Hulk trusts the team to smash Ross’s things for him, without him. “Surely this is enough for SHIELD to do something about the lunatic.”
“I doubt it,” Bruce grumbles.
“Well if they don’t, then I will.”
Black Widow’s voice comes in over the comms. “I can’t get into position. Could use a distraction.”
“I’d be three minutes.” Hawkeye responds. “Anyone closer?”
“Hold up, distraction imminent.” Tony announces. “J, put everything into the thrusters.”
The tank that goes flying and collides with the security field generator a few moments later is probably more direct action than distraction, but hey. Whatever works.
“That’s one way to do it, I suppose.” Natasha says dryly, before slinging her thighs around the neck of an opponent and hurling him to the ground.
Tony’s about to respond when one of the soldiers leaps up and collides with him. The two of them careen sideways and smash straight through another tank. Tony hits the floor, the soldier looming above him. One of its hands finds Tony’s throat, the other pummelling punches into his side. Tony scrambles at the hand on his neck, peeling back the fingers. The suit groans, red warnings flashing on his HUD.
“Sir, structural integrity is forty eight percent and dropping,” JARVIS warns.
“Unibeam?” Tony grunts, even as he considers how long it would need to charge and dismisses the idea. He draws a breath to tell JARVIS to use every flare they’ve got when the soldier is abruptly hauled backwards, off and away from him.
A fierce looking Loki hurls it across the field.
His expression settles into something more condescending when he turns towards Tony. “The measure of you may be that of a pushover Stark, but even so, that was truly pathetic.”
Faceplate discarded, Tony smiles sweetly at the god. He isn’t oblivious to the soldier in his peripheral vision that throws itself forward, hits an invisible barrier, and rebounds with twice as much force. “Oh, so it’s going to be like that, is it? Well, I’ve got your number pegged too.” Tony pauses for emphasis.
“Loki, lie smith, useless fellow;
Outcast, rogue, haphazard villain;
Knees weak, mind mad, belly yellow;
Invasion foiled, thrown in prison.”
Loki ponders his rhyme, clearly picking apart the broken phrasing to find the hidden thread. Tony can’t help the burst of satisfaction when comprehension flits over the trickster’s expression. L-O-K-I. The god takes a step towards him as he responds.
“Swagger and ego;
Temper and stress;
Arrogance leads to unfortunate deeds;
Tony raises an eyebrow and offers a shrewd grin. “Sure you’re talking about me with that example? And what’s a classy fellow like you doing in a dump like this anyway?”
Loki’s smile is lazy. “The charming General Ross is under the impression that I’m currently contained in his holding cell. He didn’t take kindly to my questions about whether the blood samples he was using in his little experiment came from an Abomination.” Loki gestures to encompass the zombie-soldiers running amok.
“Tony,” Bruce chimes in then over the comms. “Clint says the crew have started evacuating. He thinks he and Nat will nab most of the small fry, but not Ross. If there’s any of those samples left, Ross can’t be allowed to leave with them.”
“Yeah, that’d be bad.” Tony agrees. And Ross was bound to have shielding in place against scans for gamma radiation. Tony thinks for a moment, then eyes Loki conspiratorially. “You wouldn’t object to ruining that imbecile’s day, would you?”
Loki gives him a look.
Tony bats his eyelashes. “Pretty please, terror tease?”
Loki’s lip definitely twitches before he vanishes.
Tony manually switches his comm back to an open channel. “I take it Bruce told you guys I’m working operation flyting-liaison-in-progress.” He pulls a face. “That’s a mouthful. Should I call it FLIP for short?”
“No, Tony,” Cap replies with a sigh.
“Or, I’m thinking, flyting-under-chaotic-conditions, which would make it operation –”
“No, Tony.” Cap cuts in, much more firmly, as Clint cackles in the background.
“Spoilsport.” Tony watches as another zombie-soldier bounces off the barrier Loki’s still holding in place. “Anyone need back up?”
“We’re good here,” Natasha says. “This internal security grid is even worse than Hammer-tech.”
“Nay, Man of Iron.” Thor responds. “The Captain and I can handle the rest of these soldiers. Continue your liaison with my brother.” Tony squints, trying to work out whether Thor’s being oblivious or sly in the way he stresses ‘liaison’ in that comment.
Clint is far more transparent. “Attention whore. Try not to trip all over yourself chasing after Loki, Stark.”
“Excuse you.” Tony retorts. “He approached me, I’ll have you know Barton. And just what do you take me for?”
The answer to that comes from beside him.
Tony can’t help it, he laughs. “Well, I am Iron Man,” he concedes, turning the comms back over to JARVIS to monitor.
Loki is holding a small vial in his hand, which he wiggles when Tony looks at it. “This is all that’s left of the original samples. I destroyed everything else that was synthesised. We’ll see if he calls me an inferior creature again anytime soon.”
Tony holds out his hand hopefully, much to Loki’s clear amusement. “If a meagre insult inspires you to steal it, surely a decent insult is worth surrendering it?”
“Hmm.” Loki rolls the vial between his fingers. “Go on then.”
Eternally the enemy;
Loki stills, his expression inscrutable. Tony waits. He’s spoken to Thor at length before about the whole Odinson versus Laufeyson issue and he hopes he’s made the right call.
“Alone you tread;
Nothing brings peace;
The void you dread;
Onslaught of red;
Nightmares won’t cease;
You feel as dead.”
Tony tries not to show how smug he feels at the promising response, but he knows Loki can probably tell.
“Were we on Asgard, the All-Father would likely throw you in the dungeon for such brazen impudence.” Loki informs him.
Before he can stop himself, Tony says, “that self-entitled ass wouldn’t be able to handle my insults.”
Loki stares at him with a peculiar expression on his face then, one that Tony usually equates to someone ‘buffering’ in the wake of his genius. “You would…flyte, with the All-Father?”
“I’d hurl insults at the All-Father.” Tony stresses. “Because he’d deserve every moment of the public humiliation I’d serve him. But I’ll only flyte with you, Snowflake.” He squashes the sudden burst of acknowledgement at what the truth of this statement says about the depth of his feelings towards the Trickster. Uncertain whether Loki would also realise just what he’d meant by that, he keeps babbling. “We should team up for that actually. Can you imagine the look on his face? Together, we could probably reduce the whole court to tears.”
Tony falls silent when Loki takes a step towards him. “Careful Stark,” Loki says, his eyes dark with something that is definitely not fear or anger. “I might start to think you’re propositioning me.”
After Loki leaves, Tony considers the vial sitting in his hand. He pointedly ignores JARVIS’s observation on his elevated pulse.
All things considered, the gala’s going pretty well up until the A.I.M soldiers crash it. The undercover SHIELD agents spring into action, immediately engaging the minions, whilst Natasha corrals the civilians to safety. Rhodey, in the War Machine armour, joins Hawkeye’s fight against the flaming boss-minion.
Tony meets the gaze of the Trickster across the room, still standing beside the window which had been the first to blow out. Loki’s wearing a suit-and-scarf ensemble resembling the one he’d worn in Stuttgart, prior to the invasion.
Tony tilts his head in invitation, then walks casually across to the bar. He fetches two glasses, snags the bottle of expensive scotch he’d stashed there earlier in the evening, and pours generously. Loki joins him, toasting wordlessly before sampling the drink.
The low noise of appreciation he makes slides through Tony faster than the alcohol does. Tony lowers his glass and waits expectantly.
“Oh, how my thoughts race Anthony;
You must be insane
to be defenceless before me.”
Loki drags his gaze deliberately over Tony, in a way that’s clearly meant to be an appraisal rather than commentary about the lack of his armour. Tony knows exactly how good he looks – even without Rhodey’s earlier jabs about him selecting his best Armani suit for tonight. Tony sets his glass down with a smirk, slowly tracing his finger around the rim.
“Be it pleasure or pain,
Loki, this only ends one way:
muzzled jaw; bound in chain.”
“Perhaps with words I’ll make you sway,
bend you to my will,
and steal your fairest gem away.”
Loki leans forward as he purrs the words. His fingers trail down the front of Tony’s shirt, a feather-light touch that’s barely there, stopping over his arc reactor. Loki taps it gently.
My reactor or my heart? Tony wonders. One is yours already. The other’s non-negotiable.
“Last to try I had to kill.
But do go on,
apply that silvertongue skill.”
Tony wraps as much insinuation as he can around that last line, running his own tongue along his bottom lip for good measure. He holds himself still in an effort not to give into the urge to suck the god’s tongue into his mouth, not until one of them ends the chain.
Loki pulls his hand back to pick up his glass, then downs the rest of his scotch. He chuckles lowly, lip curling.
“Your penchant for flirtation,
charm out in force,
speaks to your reputation.”
Tony arches an eyebrow before tossing back his own drink. He tops up both their glasses, Loki’s intense gaze fixed on him. He wonders exactly what research Loki may’ve done regarding Tony’s reputation. He grins at the Trickster.
“You’d know all about that of course:
is it truth or lie,
the tale about you and that horse?”
Loki’s answering grin is wicked. He reaches out as he starts to speak, wrapping his fingers around Tony’s wrist.
“You’d be a better mare than I.
And here’s the deal:
surrender to me now or die.”
The mental imagery of their respective positions, implied by Loki’s terminology, sends a bolt of arousal straight through him. Tony flexes his wrist experimentally, but Loki’s grip doesn’t give, reminding him how much stronger the Norse god is.
He wonders if Loki can feel how fast his pulse is racing.
Loki looks confident, self-assured. Tony leans in until his lips brush against Loki’s ear, his voice a low whisper.
“You have the upper hand now, you feel?
I can change that with ease:
What say you, if I offer to kneel?”
Loki’s hold on him abruptly goes slack.
Tony starts to draw back, but he doesn’t get very far before the grip tightens again. Their eyes meet, mere inches separating them.
“You on your knees?
Oh, yes, please.”
Loki sounds breathless and Tony feels pleasantly drunk on the victory. He licks his lips and Loki’s gaze falls to them. Tony reaches out with his free hand, sliding it up Loki’s arm, along his shoulder, fingers brushing the back of his neck. The chain is finished, and he wants Loki’s mouth on his now.
A body flies through the air above their heads, crashing into the back of the bar, and tumbling to the floor. They startle apart slightly – Tony’s hand slipping down to Loki’s chest instead, Loki still keeping hold of Tony’s wrist. The not-so-flaming-anymore boss-minion lies unconscious in a crumpled heap.
“Fight’s just about over.” Hawkeye says casually as he approaches. “Figured you hadn’t noticed.”
Loki sighs quietly. “This is when I take my leave then.” He releases Tony’s wrist, fingers sliding around to cup Tony’s hand instead. He inclines his head just low enough for the motion to be considered a bow. “Until next time, Anthony.”
“I look forward to kicking your ass again.” Tony teases.
Loki’s eyes glitter with amusement. “Indeed.” He lets go of Tony’s hand and disappears.
Clint snags Loki’s glass, polishing off what’s left as he side-eyes Tony.
“Fuck you,” Tony says without any heat. He can’t help flexing the fingers of his tingling hand even though he knows Clint tracks the movement.
Clint waits until Tony’s raises his own glass to his mouth before he says, “pretty sure you’d rather have him for that.” And then he smirks as Tony chokes on his drink.
He manages to give the SHIELD debrief the slip for the better part of three days before he walks into the communal lounge to find Nick Fury standing there. The other Avengers are all seated, in their civilian clothes, as if they’d actually gathered for the movie night Tony had been expecting.
“Traitor,” he tells Steve, who’d been the one to summon him, and Steve does look a little guilty at this. But Fury was bound to corner Tony eventually anyway.
“Sit down, Stark.” Fury demands.
With a put-upon sigh, Tony flings himself into the vacant loveseat, sprawling across it. “JARVIS?”
“I do apologise for the lack of warning, Sir. But I lost a bet with Doctor Banner.”
Tony looks to Bruce, who shrugs. “I lost a bet to Thor, who lost one to Natasha.”
“Details later,” Tony insists, before turning to Fury. “Let’s get this over with then. I want to watch Sherlock Holmes, as was promised.”
Fury indicates the TV screen, which starts displaying footage from the gala. “Interesting viewing, don’t you think?”
Tony’s eyes flicker to the screen. It shows what all the surveillance footage taken from the gala shows: a battle armoured Loki fighting against Iron Man, the two of them fairly evenly matched in combat. It ends with Iron Man kicking Loki’s ass, and the god making as if to surrender before he escapes.
“Interesting? What’s so interesting about me kicking Loki’s ass? Unless you didn’t think I could, which shows what you know. I can easily take Loki’s ass.” Tony pauses, realising how that last part sounds, thinks a moment but decides not to bother amending the statement.
Fury’s having none of it though. “It’s interesting because it’s not what one of my agents says happened.”
Tony had known, of course, that Fury was bound to have assigned an agent to the gala to keep an eye on him and Loki instead of getting involved in the fight. Even though they’ve not mentioned the particulars yet, Fury’s smart enough to connect Loki’s appearances to Tony’s withdrawals from the fighting in their past missions.
“It’s an accurate representation.” Tony wonders whether the agent who’d reported to Fury had been close enough to overhear his conversation with Loki – he doesn’t put it past Fury to somehow already know what they’d spoken about. “He wanted me to kneel before him and I accused him of once lying with a horse. Just more of the usual banter.”
Fury scowls at him. “You need to take this seriously. Have you even bothered to consider whether he’s playing you?”
“Of course he is.” Tony rolls his eyes. “But it’s not the sort of game you think it is.”
Fury’s eye narrows. “And you’re not going to enlighten me as to what this game is then?” Tony doesn’t bother responding to that. “Loki’s dangerous.”
“So am I.” Tony retorts. “So is everyone else in this room.”
Bruce speaks up then. “Loki’s always causing mischief, but none of its been malicious, not for months.”
“Bruce is right.” Steve says. “And Loki’s caused less problems for Tony specifically since they’ve been developing this, er, new rapport.”
Displeased, Fury turns to Natasha. “Your assessment, Agent Romanov?”
Natasha doesn’t hesitate. “Loki’s far more invested in this game than he is in any of his other plans; and Tony’s dedicating a lot of attention to his own efforts. They both find their banter stimulating. Whatever this is now, it’s not going to stop.”
Fury looks like he’s just sucked on a lemon.
“I’d advise you not to try and stop it either, Nick.” Tony says quietly. Neither he nor Loki will take very kindly to that.
Fury rounds on him again. “He could be using you.”
“I started this.” Tony states.
“In the matter of flyting, I know my brother well.” Thor contributes. “Loki would not risk flyting in front of me if he had designs he wished to conceal.”
“I know what I saw at the gala.” Clint adds.
Frustration sharpens Fury’s tone. “Barton?”
“It’s not a problem, sir.” Clint says firmly. “And we all trust Tony to know what’s he’s doing.”
Fury still looks unhappy, but he’s still quick to change tracks. “Perhaps we can use this to our advantage then.”
“No.” Tony snaps. “This is mine.” Loki’s mine. He and Fury glare at each other.
“Sorry to interrupt, Director Fury.” JARVIS interjects, not sounding at all sorry. “But there’s a situation unfolding which requires the Avengers.” The TV screen displays new footage – this time a live feed of Central Park, where Loki watches as the landscape around him progressively transforms into an icy winter-land.
“Permission to assemble?” Tony mocks.
Fury levels him a flat look. “This isn’t over, Stark.” Then he sweeps out of the room.
Steve waits a minute to be sure Fury’s gone before he speaks. “I think you should handle this one on your own Tony.” The team murmur their agreement, and every single one of them is amused, Steve included. Tony feels a rush of affection for his team.
Tony lands in the small circle of grass untouched by the frost. “Miss me?”
Loki’s eyes fix on him hungrily, with an intensity which belies his perfectly pitched tone of boredom. “It’s only been three days, Anthony.”
A smirk spreads across his face. “Yeah, but you’ve been on your lonesome, clearly.” Tony gestures around at the abandoned park. He’s heard from Charles Xavier that – according to Magneto – word of their flyting has spread throughout the underground, and everyone’s reluctant to get involved in their game anymore. After all, hero and villain alike, no one’s likely to forget the disastrous fallout from the aborted chess match. The facts are that Loki’s crazier than Erik, and Charles is a much better man than Tony.
“Neither do I see your Avengers.”
Tony hears the underlying question implied. “The team sent me over on my own, to prove a point to Fury.”
“Ah, Director Fury.” Loki rocks on his heels, as casual as you please. “Naturally, he has concerns about you being threatened by me.”
“Nah. He thinks you’re using me.” Tony corrects. He notices some news crews have started to loiter on the fringes of the park, at the point where the ice has stopped spreading. He’s quick to dismiss them.
“And do you think that?” Loki gazes idly up at the sky, as though he’s not interested in the answer. When Tony easily replies with a negative, he then asks, “and how threatened do you feel?”
Tony’s answer to that is to open up his suit and step out of it. He makes a show of looking the Trickster up and down. “You? A threat to me?” He scoffs. “Please.”
Loki pounces at the opening, just as Tony had both hoped and expected him to, taking two deliberate steps forward.
A wolf scents you
Prowling, stalking closer
You freeze, naught but a helpless wretch
But I am as the sun
The radiance of my star strong.
Tony takes three steps forward, the distance between them shrinking fast. He sees Loki’s fingers twitch before the god folds his hands behind his back.
Loki smiles indulgently. “What do I see, Stark? The son of a sow, squealing over a legacy of muck? Barely worth my time.”
Tony shakes his head and grins. “Don’t play at being a fool now. Let’s not deny our fun.” He spreads his arms; the showman, encompassing the stage. “I assume you won’t object to a different kind of satisfaction?”
“As opposed to the intangible benefits that result from our flyting?” Loki’s expression turns intrigued, faux-thoughtful, as if he’s got no idea where Tony’s going with this. “What do you have in mind?”
Tony strides forwards, four paces. Only one separates them now.
Rock of Ages
Dissolve your icy walls
Claim from this hearthfire idiot
The word has barely left Tony’s mouth when Loki takes that final step and – finally, finally – does just that.
Loki kisses like he fights, like he flytes; with single minded focus, fierce and furious. Tony’s hands come up, his fingers threading into Loki’s hair, while Loki’s hands grip his waist. Tony moans as they press together. He licks his way into Loki’s mouth, shivering partly from the coolness he finds there but mostly out of desire.
Eventually, Tony has to pull his mouth away to catch his breath. He doesn’t relax his grip though.
Loki looks smug.
Tony counters this by nonchalantly pointing out the change he’s noticed. “Looks like we steamed things up enough to thaw out your ice.”
Loki glances around. The park isn’t so frosty anymore, everything’s damp instead where the ice has melted, but Loki’s gaze settles on the news reporters instead. Sunlight glints off the lenses pointed in their direction. “I wonder what your press will think of our interplay?”
Tony doesn’t give a shit about the media right now. He finds the expanse of Loki’s neck far more interesting and proceeds to mouth at it. “Hmm. They’d not be impressed if this was just meaningless flirtation.” He hears Loki’s breath catch at the implication of more and smiles against the side of his jaw. “But I’d planned for them.”
It was actually JARVIS, yesterday, who’d had the foresight to suggest he warn his PR team. Pepper had laughed until her face was red when he’d explained things to her. She was probably laughing at them at the moment too.
“Ignore them,” Tony murmurs, nipping at Loki’s ear. “Your attention should be elsewhere.”
One of Loki’s hands slides further down from his hip around to the small of his back. “Oh?” Loki shifts his weight and slots one of his legs between Tony’s, pressing firmly against the hard shape of Tony’s arousal.
Tony bites his lip, thumping his forehead onto Loki’s shoulder. “Fuck.”
“Excellent suggestion, Stark.”
Tony has to kiss him again at this, arcing his body as he pulls on Loki’s hair. “Yes. Let’s get on that. Now.” He’s not ashamed by the fact he’s pushed up onto his toes, trying to near climb Loki in an effort to get closer. Tall bastard. “Your place or mine?”
“Mine, I think.” One of Loki’s hands disappears off him, too briefly for Tony to mourn its loss, before it reappears pressed against the back of his left thigh. His fingers curl, the motion deliberate enough to suggest he anticipates having to support Tony’s weight in a moment. Tony wholeheartedly approves of this idea.
“Don’t forget my armour,” Tony instructs before he hoists himself up, wrapping his legs around Loki’s waist. They start kissing again, probably sending the reporters into a frenzy as they then disappear together, along with the Iron Man suit.
The unveiling of the new Starkphone model is progressing without a hitch, so far. Tony rattles off details about the new software upgrades, the improvements to both tactile and voice interfaces. He then moves on to promote the new ‘Avengers Assemble’ app, stressing his hope it’ll appeal beyond the inevitable popularity as a gimmick.
He’s particularly proud of the app he’s designed. It features a different function for each Avenger. Enabling Thor’s icon reflects the current weather climate on the screen’s background, with a bonus Mjölnir if there’s a storm. Hawkeye’s automatically adjusts the brightness of the screen according to the ambient light of one’s surroundings, as well as generating little arrows to travel across any loading bars. Black Widow suspends all other phone functions until the current calendar appointment is marked as resolved. The Captain America GPS is full of stars, stripes, and patriotic anecdotes. The clock function is two-fold: the Banner setting calmly recites the time when prompted; alarms are signalled with an announcement of “Hulk SMASH!” And, of course, the Iron Man virus protection is the best commercial firewall that exists.
Tony resists the urge to sigh as he points at one of the raised hands. “Yes, Miss Everhart?”
Her smile and voice are both sugary sweet. “And having an Iron Man graphic swoop across your open browser and ‘destroy’ a warning symbol isn’t a gimmick?”
He aches, because she’s trying to insult him, and her efforts are so lacklustre compared to what he’s used to, what he wants. “Well, Iron Man’s awesome.” He smiles at her, adding more seriously, “the visual would teach people to be more aware of their cyber security. But there’s a ‘stealth mode’ available, if you don’t want me taking up all of your screen space.”
This gets a round of laughs.
As he points to another reporter, his phone buzzes silently on the podium, the screen lighting up with a text from an unknown number.
Should I feel slighted? I deserve recognition for my part in the first call to assemble
Tony beams. He picks up his phone, texting back even as he answers the question about the Hulk’s lack of snooze option. He sends the words enable your glorious purpose with a software update attached.
The Loki icon isn’t available to the public. It only exists on Tony’s phone, and now the god’s own too. He’s mildly disappointed he doesn’t get to see the reaction to the generated ‘insult of the day’ in person, but he’ll get JARVIS to pull him the security footage later.
“No other questions?” He asks absently, setting his phone back down.
An unprompted query is shouted out. “Mr Stark, do you care to comment about your relationship with the Trickster Loki?”
There’s an immediate sharpening of everyone’s focus.
Tony whips off his glasses and glances at the reporter who’d spoken. “I gave a statement last week about that. Which you already know, because it’s the only thing every one of your news outlets have been running with all week.” He rolls his eyes. “You want new facts for your gossip? Okay then.” Tony pauses, pretending to think, as the press holds their breath with anticipation. “Loki’s extremely amused by our common use for mistletoe, given its unpleasant reputation in his culture.”
His response isn’t the sort of sordid, incriminating factiod they’re expecting, obviously, and there’s a brief bewildered silence.
Tony swipes up his phone and turns on his heel, stepping away from the podium. A clamour of other questions starts up when they realise he’s walking out on them, but he ignores them. He opts instead to text Natasha a picture of mistletoe, then a set of daggers, followed by a whole bunch of question marks. He finished making the daggers this morning, but he’d like her opinion before he adds the engravings.
He’s almost reached the doorway when there’s an explosion.
He flinches back as the shattering glass of the full-length window sprays out around him, and he automatically triggers the SOS on his phone.
Several things happen at once then.
Screams break out, and there’s a scramble of feet as people move away.
The distant sound of the Iron Man suit in flight grows louder, approaching from the next room as it hones in on his wristbands.
And an energy beam hits Tony square in the chest. He’s thrown backwards, crashing into one of the display stands and crumpling to the floor.
A familiar voice cuts across the chaos. “Anthony!”
Dazed, Tony looks up as he tries to get his hands under him. The man standing across from him is wearing a bastardised hand gauntlet, one that’s so substandard Tony could build something twice as good while drunk off his ass and sleep deprived. In fact, he has.
It takes Tony a moment to place the man – who’s loudly proclaiming “I am Artax” – as the employee he and Pepper had written up last month for his repeated, insistent proposals for Stark Industries to restart the weapons division.
Should’ve fired him, Tony thinks.
Artax raises his gauntlet again. As he fires, the Iron Man armour lands in front of Tony, blocking the beam with an open palm. But because Artax’s gauntlet is so shit the energy beam destabilises, splitting into three smaller rays. One strikes the suit, which remains unaffected; one hits the ceiling, blowing a hole in it; but the third clips Tony’s shoulder. It sends him sprawling back across the floor. His head hits the ground hard.
A gold and green blur appears beside him, but the rushing tunnel of blackness quickly swallows everything up.
When he comes to he finds himself laid up in a bed, blinking up at the ceiling in SHIELD’s medical bay. Tony groans.
“If you attempt to leave before you’re recovered, I will tie you to the bed.”
“Promises, promises.” Tony blinks a few times before he turns his head to look at Loki, sitting in the chair by his bedside. He’s surprised to find them alone. “Where’s…anyone?”
“Doctor Banner’s our chaperone, but he’s stepped out.” Loki taps at a tablet he’s holding. “A transparent attempt to give us some privacy, while Romanov and Barton occupy Fury’s attention.”
Tony takes a moment to piece together what happened. “Artax?”
“The insect that attacked you? I dealt with him.”
“…Is he still alive?” Tony asks curiously.
“Yes,” Loki says grudgingly. “But only so you can determine his fate yourself.” He frowns at the tablet. “The Captain and my brother are guarding him presently, probably so I don’t break any more of his limbs.”
“The gauntlet?” Tony doesn’t want it in SHIELD’s hands, inferior quality or not.
Loki’s nose wrinkles, as though he finds the knock-off as offensive as Tony does. “I destroyed it.”
“Good.” Tony smiles viciously, which slides into something much softer as he keeps gazing at Loki. “Hi.”
Loki smiles warmly, eyes flitting up from the screen to glance at him. “Hello.”
“My hero,” Tony teases. “Swooping in to save the day, defending me like I’m your damsel in distress.” Loki rolls his eyes, pointedly turning his attention back to the tablet. But Tony can still see the hint of a smile lingering at the edges of his lips. “My hero,” he repeats.
Loki responds, without looking up from the tablet.
‘Kvað ek fyr ásum, kvað ek fyr ása sonum,
þats mik hvatti hugr, en fyr þér einum
mun ek út ganga, því at ek veit, at þú vegr.’”
Tony makes a noise and has to take a second to compose himself, because Loki’s voice is dangerous enough without Tony developing a sudden and intense language kink. When he’s able to think again, he realises the words sound familiar.
He squints suspiciously, examining Loki, who’s now smirking, lightly drumming his fingers against the side of the tablet –
“Is that my tablet?”
Loki’s grin grows wider. “Yes.”
His tablet, the one he’d been using before the press conference, when he’d been re-reading his notes on Norse poetry. And which also had the entire edda on it, both in its original Norse as well as the English translation.
The warm flush on his face is not a blush because he’s not embarrassed. But the heavy weight of Loki’s gaze does make him squirm a little.
“JARVIS, you traitor,” he complains half-heartedly. But to be fair, he knows that JARVIS was probably due this sort of retaliation given his patience in being the main ear for Tony’s pining since…well. Since before the whole flyting thing even began, if he’s being honest.
“Don’t pretend you don’t love it,” he tells Loki. But the words sound more hopeful than teasing, more like he’s asking for confirmation, and Tony realises too late he’s set himself up. “My attention to detail,” he adds, in a hopeless attempt to gloss over the slip.
Loki doesn’t take the out, though. He sets the tablet down and picks up Tony’s hand, cradling it between his own. “I love it.” He agrees quietly. They smile knowingly at each other and when Tony tugs at him Loki leans down to kiss him, sweet and gentle. When Loki sits back, Tony sighs contentedly.
After a few moments of pleasant silence, mischief creeps back over Loki’s expression. “If I was to say I didn’t find your focus flattering…?”
Tony responds enthusiastically to the bait.
“Attention attests to attraction,
Fighting, flyting, flaunting, flirting;
It’s an intricate interaction,
Cursing, chasing, coaxing, kissing.”
“You seem to be doing well.” Comes Bruce’s voice from the doorway.
“Brucie!” Tony grins at him. “I’m awesome. So, can I get up now?”
“No.” Bruce and Loki say simultaneously, then glance at each other in wry amusement.
Tony whines. “Oh, come on!” It was only a small knock to the head. He’s had worse!
Bruce eyes him critically. “I will allow you to work on some blueprints, provided you stay in a bed.”
Clint’s voice suddenly sounds out over the comms, loud enough to be audible to all of them. “Bruce, warn the pair of poets Fury’s on his way.”
“Ugh.” Tony really doesn’t want to be interrogated right now. “I will fucking marry you if you get us out of here.”
Loki stares at him, momentarily startled. Tony does so love seeing that expression on him. Then the satisfied smile returns. He squeezes Tony’s hand as he raises a questioning eyebrow at Bruce.
Bruce pulls off an incredibly convincing look of innocence. “I said Tony had to stay in a bed, not necessarily this bed.”
Tony laughs, and Loki’s grin is all teeth. In a whirl of magic the medical bay fades away, replaced with the familiar sight of Tony’s penthouse bedroom. Tony groans a little at the sudden vertigo and before he can protest, Loki’s tucking him into bed. Tony tugs at him, gratified when Loki slides in beside him.
“You’re brilliant.” Tony says, closing his eyes.
A hand curls around the back of his neck. “I hope you’re more eloquent when we announce our betrothal to the whole of Asgard.”
Tony presses his lips to Loki’s neck. “I’ll write an epic soliloquy,” he promises before settling back in to sleep.