Tony started noticing the change in his bots a few months ago. He then tracked it back even further and worked out it started a few weeks after he almost died defeating Thanos.
He’d assumed it was all related, but instead of the clinging, worried mass of robotic limbs he would have expected his near-death to prompt, his bots started... maturing? Was that even the word for it? Tony didn’t know.
Dum-E didn’t force Tony to play “fetch” with him anymore. He would still ecstatically play if Tony initiated, but he was happy to patiently wait for Tony's go ahead. U even started making him shakes properly. There were no vile and dangerous surprises inside; they were just tasty, healthy drinks.
Butterfingers though, he was the only one who had behaved even remotely like Tony would have expected, only instead of overwhelming worry, it was a softer concern. He would tap Tony’s shoulder and make little anxious noises if Tony was overworking or looked too tired.
More than once, his bots had led him to the cot in the lab to lie down and sleep. He still loved his girl FRIDAY, but it was almost like having JARVIS back. These bots were some of his oldest creations and he truly loved them.
It had also been a little lonely now that he was no longer with Pepper. He knew he had a tower full of super-powered humans and demi-gods to talk to, but they weren’t as close as he’d like them all to be. So knowing he could come down to the lab and be surrounded by his caring kids? Yeah, Tony liked it, and he wasn’t going to complain about their change in behaviour.
It was why, after waking up from a nightmare, instead of going to his personal bar or trying to fall back asleep, he made his way down to the lab, not to work on any projects, but to see his bots. Tony had just wanted to enjoy the affection of his kids and the mindless fun of playing with Dum-E. He didn’t expect to find the lights in the lab on or that someone would already be in there.
Yet, sitting on the floor of his lab and smiling faintly was Loki. He was chatting with the bots and playing with them. They were excitedly chirping at him and Dum-E was even prompting Loki to play fetch.
Loki was normally the shadow of the tower and Tony rarely saw let alone spoke to him. The mage stayed on Thor’s floor and he sure as hell didn’t enter Tony’s lab.
But... but his bots were interacting with him even better than they did with Rhodey. Loki wasn’t flinching at them or batting them away, he was grinning and laughing. He was as at ease with them as Tony was. He wasn’t even glancing at the blank screens of the computers or any of Tony’s tools.
Tony knew Loki had helped fight and kill Thanos and that he was, for all intents and purposes, not an enemy, but that hadn’t meant Tony thought he was part of the team. Mostly, because he’d expected Loki to get the hell out of the tower the moment he was recovered.
But, here he was, and Tony wanted an explanation as to why.
Tony might be in his pyjamas and looking sleep-ruffled, but he still slid open the lab doors and fixed Loki’s carefree form with a suspicious glare. “Why are you in my lab, playing with my bots?”
Loki froze, one hand on U the other on Dum-E, before he slowly turned to eye Tony warily.
"Stark,” he said cautiously.
The bots also turned, revealing varying levels of excitement and happiness at Tony’s presence. They didn’t move from where they were surrounding Loki though; they were happy, unthreatened and comfortable with him. He was familiar to them.
How long had he been sneaking down here? What the hell was the purpose? FRIDAY would have alerted him to anything malicious. Of course, he would have preferred she tell him about Loki’s visits at the start (and he would be having stern words with her about that later).
Stepping further into the lab, Tony continued to watch Loki, waiting for an answer. Loki had slowly retracted his hands from the bots, but Dum-E was now insistently poking him, unhappy with that action. It was telling, when Loki’s hand automatically rose again, stroking in noticeable comfort. He didn’t even seem to be aware he was doing it; like stroking a pet or soothing a baby.
Tony was becoming more flabbergasted by the second, and that feeling only continued when Loki finally answered.
“I found your creations; I sensed magic and was confused as to the source.” Loki glanced away and smiled at the bots softly. “I knew you to be talented, Stark, but even I did not believe you able to create souls without magic.”
His smile became almost sad as he stroked Dum-E. “Your creations are kind and enjoy my presence. I am fond of them and I come here of an evening to visit them.” Loki’s eyes flicked to Tony and held his gaze, firmly assuring him, “I touch nothing in your lab nor peer at your experiments. Your FRIDAY will confirm as much. I am only here for them.”
“It’s true, Boss,” FRIDAY chimed in. “Mr Liesmith comes only to visit his friends.”
The word made Tony look at Loki, really look at him. Sitting on the floor in the middle of the night playing with and talking to a bunch of robots because they were the closest he could find to a companion in the tower. A guy so lonely he found solace in machines.
Fuck, and aren’t we two peas in a messed up pod, Tony thought.
“I would be grateful,” Loki continued, his words low and his gaze back on the bots, “if I could continue to visit them.”
He thinks I’m going to ban him, Tony realised. And that... that hurt. Loki sounded unsure yet hopeful. He was also stroking the bots tentatively.
Did he think this might be his only chance to say goodbye?
And God, what kind of asshole would Tony be to take Loki away from the bots? They obviously all liked each other and Loki seemed to have precious few beings left in his life that he trusted and liked. He could use the companionship. And it had helped his bots to settle, knowing that they had someone else they could bombard with affection and attention.
Tony took only a few seconds to run through the facts and reach his decision.
“I’m the one who should be grateful.” He came further into the room and pulled out a chair, feeling Loki’s gaze on him the entire time. He’d have sat on the floor too, but with his knees? Forget it. “The kids have been much better behaved lately. I think you’re tiring them out.” Tony flashed Loki a smile. “It’s nice actually, seeing them connect with someone else.”
Loki still seemed uncertain, his sharp eyes analysing Tony for lies or unhappiness. “You will allow me to continue visiting?”
“Hell yeah.” It was a whim, but Tony added, “And feel free to stop by during the day too. I’m sure the kids would love to see more of you.”
Loki smiled at him, honestly relieved and happy. “Thank you, Stark.”
Tony just grinned back. He also relaxed in his chair, happy to sit back and watch one of the most powerful mage’s in the universe play fetch with Dum-E and get handed a shake by U. Butterfingers alternated his time between Tony and Loki, double and triple checking they were both happy and okay.
Watching Loki interact with the bots, Tony found himself surprised at how well Loki simply fit.
Pepper and Rhodey had navigated his lab, but were never really a part of it. They were always outsiders, welcomed and adored, but always on a time limit and getting ready to leave. Loki? Tony doubted he’d move from the spot unless he was forced. Unless Tony kicked him out.
He was happy here, and that made Tony surprisingly willing to have Loki stick around.
After gaining permission, Loki became a permanent fixture in the lab. He would visit the bots every day and at all hours. Tony would usually be working and wave or grunt at him, depending on how focused he was.
Tony did notice that when Loki wanted to avoid Thor, his visits lasted longer. Tony had got into the habit of covering for Loki and running interference so that the mage could stay down in the lab for some much needed peace and quiet.
It took about a month before the two of them actually started to talk to one another. It started when Tony had walked into the lab with a coffee to find Loki sitting in a chair and waiting for him.
Loki occasionally beat him into the lab, but he was always with the bots and far away from Tony. It wasn’t avoidance; they just weren’t here for each other. Loki’s pointed presence in the centre of the lab made Tony frown. The mage didn’t look apologetic or upset, but he was uncertain.
“What’s up, Loki?”
“Your creations, they are well looked after and I do not intend to slight your protections,” Loki began, his words earnest, “but, I wished to further fortify them, if you would be amenable.”
“Uh.” Tony hadn’t expected that. “How do you plan to fortify them?”
Loki noticeably hesitated. “Protection spells.”
Tony’s eyebrows rose. Tony didn’t know much about Loki but he knew that Asgard had never appreciated his magic and, because of that, Loki was downright secretive about it. If he was offering his magic to the bots, it meant he must really like them.
“I have a condition,” Tony said and despite Loki’s eyes narrowing Tony just gave a friendly smile. “I get to watch.”
Loki didn’t seem surprised, but he did seem relieved. He stood and announced, “Very well.”
Tony followed eagerly as Loki stepped further into the lab to where the bots were waiting. They both reached out and petted Dum-E at the same time, their hands brushing and sending a static charge between them. Tony pulled back his hand with a frown, Loki just eyed Tony suspiciously.
But, when nothing further happened, Loki began to get to work with Tony hovering close behind and forgetting about his cooling coffee in order to ask the mage questions. Tony hadn’t anticipated he’d get any answers, but after barely a beat, Loki began to explain what he was doing.
It was fascinating and Tony didn’t hesitate to tell Loki as much. He also pulled up one of his monitors to track the energy fluctuations as Loki scrawled the first sigils against Dum-E’s machinery. Loki just took to smiling and shaking his head at Tony.
He said Tony would not be able to use ‘Midgardian Science’ to understand his seidr.
Tony just told him with the start of a manic grin, "Challenge accepted, Rudolph."
Tony would be the first to say, he never expected to make a friend through his bots, but that was exactly what happened; Loki became his friend.
The mage escaped to his lab not just for the bots, but to talk to Tony about life in the tower, life on other realms, magic, and even occasionally Tony’s projects. Loki even started to bring down magic texts in order to catch up on his reading or practice his spells.
Tony only complained about that because Loki’s magic was distracting and how was he meant to get any work done when he couldn’t look away? Loki only laughed at him, the expression even crinkling his eyes with the extent of his humour.
The months continued to pass and during that time they grew closer. Loki would visit his penthouse if Tony couldn’t be found in the lab. Tony would send a message to Loki if he wanted to hang out with the mage. They still spent most of their time in the lab with the bots, but their friendship broke the boundaries of that room.
Loki started to draw protection sigils on Tony’s suit and Tony started to build tech for Loki to use in battle for when his magic and daggers were low. Tony stored Loki’s brand of tea and favourite foods in both the lab and the penthouse, and Loki started to bring him back trinkets from his trips to the other realms.
Tony also started to lavish Loki with as much physical affection as he did his other friends, and surprisingly, Loki accepted and offered it back just as readily. Loki liked hugs. He just didn’t have many opportunities to gain them outside of his brother.
The sharing of touch and affection sometimes found Tony leaning against Loki when he was tired, or, if Loki was sitting on the lab’s couch, he would drop down on top of him, demanding cuddles and a body pillow. Loki often whacked him gently with a book, but for the most part, allowed Tony to stay where he was.
Tony didn’t think much about what their behaviour was doing to the bots. Actually, he didn’t think about it at all, not until his was in the lab and had Butterfingers pushing him in the back while U pushed Loki until they were pressed chest to chest. Dum-E was beside them, holding up a fire extinguisher in a threatening manner.
Tony was confused, Loki less so (apparently Allspeak allowed him to pick up, if not words, then impressions from the bots and that made translating them easier. Lucky bastard. Tony was not envious of that at all) and he explained, “I do believe your creations are attempting to ‘get us together’.”
Tony blinked, feeling stunned as he looked around at the very determined bots. He then looked at Loki whose eyes were bright with amusement as a smile pulled at his mouth.
“Are you serious?” Tony shook his head, laughed and sent the bots and exasperated look. “What? You think Mum and Dad have to hurry up and be a couple already?”
Loki chuckled and answered for them. “Apparently so.”
Tony only turned back when he felt Loki’s hand lightly brush his wrist. Loki’s eyes were incredibly green up close and his expression had faded from amusement to hold Tony’s gaze seriously. “I must admit, although it was not something I had planned to bridge with you yet, I would not be against this outcome, Anthony.”
It wasn’t something Tony had considered, if he was honest, but it was easy to run the calculations; mage with a genius intellect, a smoking hot body, fun to be around, a friend and someone he trusted?
Tony had never needed much prompting to figure out an answer, and this was no different.
“Yeah,” he admitted, smiling, “me either.”
The grin Loki gave was one of his wide, delighted ones and it made Tony feel a flare of warmth and pride for inspiring it. The moment could have gone on for longer, it could have remained sweet and dare he say, romantic, if Tony hadn’t seen a flash of red from the corner of his eye.
Dum-E was waving the fire extinguisher with increasing agitation. Tony narrowed his eyes. “Don’t you dare, Dum-E! We said we’re going to try for more, and we mean it! What more do you want?”
But, apparently a ‘sure, let’s date’ agreement wasn’t enough for the bot. Loki was muffling a snigger.
He could see Dum-E’s grip getting tighter on the trigger and he groaned, “Alright, alright!”
Tony turned back to Loki who was shaking with his attempts to quell his amusement. Tony just gave a mock glare and grabbed the other man’s shirt, starting to pull him down.
“I blame you,” he accused. “They weren’t half so mischievous without you around.”
Loki just looked delighted and he said, completely serious, “I am very proud of the children, Anthony.”
Tony was already smiling by the time Loki shifted the remaining distance forward and pressed their lips together in their first kiss.
And as Tony wrapped his arms around Loki’s neck to deepen the embrace, Tony had to privately admit, he was proud of the kids too.