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When Did This Become So Vital?

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"No thanks," Tony said.

All of the other Avengers turned to stare at him.

He looked utterly miserable, if they were all perfectly frank. They had been inclined to blame it on the hellacious fight he had gotten into a few weeks ago with a certain god of mischief. The Avengers still did not, on the whole, agree with the idea of that particular romantic entanglement from its beginning; although none of them seemed certain of when it had actually begun. Natasha insisted it had to have started six months before, Steve was convinced it couldn't have been more than three, and Clint seemed to suspect it had been going on even longer based on what he called "suspicious amounts of sassy flirting and eye-fucking during every single conflict involving the both of them" but he hadn't convinced anyone else except, oddly, JARVIS, which everyone found disconcerting.

So, they had not been shocked by Tony Stark spending the past three weeks buried in his lab, and booze, and who knew what else. Bruce hadn't even been allowed in for the last two weeks of it: only Pepper, and on one occasion Rhodey.

The occasion Rhodey had shown up involved a few explosions in the lab and an unconscious Tony Stark getting dragged out of the smoking lab by the Iron Patriot, who deposited him on a couch with irritated affection, and then left again without another word. That hadn't been surprising either.

But Natasha had just offered to get Tony some scotch while she was up getting vodka for herself, and he'd just said, "No thanks" like it was perfectly normal.

They were still staring.

Tony stared at them all very tiredly. He had been out of his lab for a few days last week, staying with Pepper, or on a business trip. The answers the others had gotten were vague. He had then returned to his lab, still under lockdown. He didn't look his best, but he looked... determined and a bit annoyed.

"What, you think I spent three days drying out with Pepper half an inch from calling 9-1-1 if JARVIS told her any of my vitals went critical, just to come back and drink, guys?" he said blithely.

Jaws around the room dropped. Except Bruce's. He'd gotten a call from Pepper halfway through the whole episode and she had freaked out at him for about twenty minutes straight, almost not even stopping to breathe, and he had talked her back to a calm place where JARVIS hadn't been able to alone, once the AI sent him Tony's stats and he could see that the mad inventor's health was not in deep peril.

Clint recovered first. "You... you what?"

"Dried out. Got some nasty withdrawal, but not as bad as it could've been. I'm trying to kick it, alright? Don't any of you dare congratulate me or I will set your mattresses on fire, it's only been a few days. Give me something worth congratulating like, a few months or something." He muttered something else, lower under his breath that towards the end sounding like "coming back" but only to Natasha's keen ears.

"What was that?" she asked.

He leveled an irate glare her way.

She nodded minutely. "Right. Sorry. I'm glad you're doing this and hope you succeed. Let me know if you need any help."

Tony nodded. "Thanks."

"Same goes for the rest of us," Steve assured.

"I know," Tony said. "Thanks." He smiled at all of them a bit more warmly and sincerely then. "It's a work in progress."

"Aren't we all," Clint said, with feeling.

The inventor raised his water glass and Clint met it with the neck of his glass root beer bottle, with a loud clink. They then drank to the silent toast and the rest of dinner went on as normal.

~~

Two weeks later, Kree and Skrull forces were both lighting up downtown Jersey. There were two ships, both of them elite military of a sort most of their countrymen back home wouldn't be allowed to know about: government forces wiping out threats too dangerous and diplomatically delicate for the general public of their whole civilization should really know about.

Like hunting down a fallen prince of Asgard currently acting as a vital diplomatic liaison for Asgard, Nifelheim and Jotunnheim all, these days. He seemed to have pissed them off a great deal, but not as much as Amora, who Loki had apparently been trying to hide in downtown Jersey while he distracted her hunters long enough to allow her powers to recuperate (the original plan had involved her wreaking violent retributions, of course, in the end) only for one of the ships to manage to accidentally find Skurge, and the other to follow Loki back to his own base near Amora's hiding place, and all hell to break loose.

City officials quickly evacuated the area, aided by bursts of green and yellow-gold magic alike, which would flash outside the safe perimeter, and deliver people who all insisted that just a few minutes ago they'd been trapped somewhere in the middle of the battle. Most of the cases of green magic seemed to be children. The gold was everyone else; Amora had been calling this area home long enough, hiding with Loki's aid, that she knew most of them by name, and had meddled in their lives enough to all sort of reluctantly care about them, after all.

The Avengers were stunned by those reports more than anything else about the battle. By the time they arrived, there was a dragon being shot down by both ships, but taking them down with him: talons scraping into the sides of one and teeth sinking into the other, dragging them to the ground in a flash of intense fire that was almost blinding. The sound of Kree and Skrull ground-forces and their unique weaponry followed, along with a dragon screaming.

On the list of sounds that would haunt the Avenger's dreams occasionally, Loki screaming in helpless agony as he was shot repeatedly, pinned down by wreckage and unable to shift, was certainly one of them.

On the other hand, they had never seen Iron Man take out heavily-armed infantry so efficiently before. He even got the Hulk to lift one of the fallen ships pinning Loki's dragon-shape in place, and fling it at the last of the Skrulls, who had made the mistake of trying to behind one larger pile of rubble handily in the middle of a larger area that already consisted of mostly rubble, clear of any survivors and bodies according to Amora's shaking voice over the comms. They were neatly splatted.

Then Tony was shushing a dragon the size of two double-decker buses while trying to pry the remains of the Kree ship out of one torn wing, while the Hulk took unusual care in freeing the dragon's hind-limbs (one broken) from under the other half of the torn Kree ship. The others combed the area, finding two badly wounded Kree survivors, who surrendered and were taken back to S.H.I.E.L.D. to recuperate and then be debriefed and negotiations made with the Kree empire for their return.

Once free of too much encumbering debris, Loki shifted back into his more natural shape; although he and his armor both looked worse for wear, and he almost immediately passed out, right after cursing for about a minute straight. No one said a word about Tony carrying him back to the Quinjet and strapping him down on a stretcher while everyone else prepped for takeoff. If he happened to stay in his suit, faceplate up, next to Loki, the whole ride back, that topic was also clearly verboten.

Loki woke up halfway back, though, and he and the trickster spoke quietly.

No one entirely knew what to make of it until they got back to the tower. Amora was waiting for them, along with Skurge, demanding to see Loki. When Tony stepped forward to say something, with his helmet under one arm, she hauled her arm back and slapped him so hard that it almost cracked a bone in his jaw, and sent him reeling backwards to hit the Quinjet with a loud thunk.

"What the fuck was that?" Clint shouted.

"That was for nearly shattering my childhood friend's heart by getting drunk and bringing an equally blind-drunk woman home with you from a gala, you thoughtless, careless, spineless smear of Bilgesnipe shit!" the Enchantress shouted. "I haven't seen him so desolate since Angrboða walked out on him and Sigyn and their daughter, you poxy son of a feral swine!"

"I thank you for the sentiment, Amora, but I am right here," Loki said dryly, leaning heavily against the door of the Quinjet, and not putting any weight on his left leg.

"Well you're a self-sacrificing and ridiculous asshole too, come here let me heal your sorry ass," Amora sighed, her eyes suddenly glassy as she charged forward, pushing past the Avengers carelessly and running up to Loki to hug him close with a sniffle, and then whack him sharply across the top of his head, making him cringe, then groan and shudder as his body was suffused with a healing glow for a few moments.

"Don't overtax your reserves," Loki growled.

"You don't get to advise me on that after today, you dipshit," she sing-songed, even as she tucked her head under his chin tiredly, the dark circles under her eyes suddenly a little darker. "You didn't have to evacuate me like that, I could've fought off some of-"

"You're still healing after their last attack, don't even start," the trickster chided.

All but Thor and Tony seemed a bit disconcerted by the two mages bickering like close siblings. Thor just looked a bit pained, like he missed being on the receiving end of that sort of chiding, which only made anyone who looked at him even more uncomfortable.

"So now you're both pretty much drained?" Tony inquired lightly.

They both glared at him.

"Stay in the tower. Recover. You don't even have to see me if you don't want to. Guys?" He shot the other Avengers pointed looks.

The usually-villainous pair had been quiet on the villainy radar, on earth anyway, for the past year, they all knew. Also they knew about how many lives the mages had saved: Amora from a shielded area on the outskirts of the battlefield, using just her magic, and Loki while multitasking all that battle and fighting business.

"Welcome to Avengers tower," Natasha said. "Again, in your case, Loki." She shot him a significant 'we should talk' look and then smiled in a deliberately guileless manner.

Amora shot Thor a particularly wary look.

The Thunderer only smiled faintly in response. “You take good care of my brother, Enchantress. You are welcome here.”

She nodded, then met Loki’s gaze in a manner that suggested he was not refusing, and leaving here alone with all of these damnably dull heroes.

Loki shut his eyes and exhaled sharply through his nose, but nodded once his silent consent, before letting Amora drag him all the way out of the Quinjet and toward the tower with the others. He didn’t look Tony’s way, even once. The others, though, were highly aware of the pained, and guilty, and quietly sorrowful expression on the inventor’s face, the whole way back.

~~

Predictably, Loki appeared nearby (not by teleportation for once, just by being about as quiet on his feet as Natasha herself) once the red-haired assassin was alone on the balcony for about three minutes. He looked disgruntled and miserable, as well as drained of magic and hideously sleep-deprived. Natasha had gleaned, little by little, from Skurge throughout the evening (they liked to talk about bladed weapons too) that Loki had been more insufferable than usual, particularly in and around Asgard. The queen of Nornheim had even gone so far as to put a significant price on his head, should he be caught within her lands, just to lure in enough over-powered bounty-hunters to get some peace and quiet for a month or two.

“You look like shit,” Natasha greeted, friendly enough by their standards.

Loki smiled without kindness or mirth. “What is it exactly, that you have to tell me, Ms. Romanoff?”

“Damn, why do I get demoted to formal,” she countered. “I didn’t do anything yet, Loki, come on.”

He sighed letting his head fall back for a moment before lifting it to again meet her gaze. “Just say it, please.”

Natasha lifted her phone up, displaying a photo. “Was this the girl?”

The trickster winced. “Yes. I’ll just be leaving-”

“She got dishonorably discharged for making a bet with her teammates that she could get into Stark Tower. She told Tony that she had urgent news from Maria Hill, and that they could only discuss it in a secure location,” Natasha said. “She was successfully scared out of committing to S.H.I.E.L.D. service by your anger, if it helps.”

Loki hesitated. “I’m to believe this?”

“I can have JARVIS confirm it for you from several fresh S.H.I.E.L.D. sources, if you’d like.”

The trickster rubbed a hand across his eyes, and lifted his cup of herbal tea, managing to utter, “He’s still an idiot,” quietly under his breath. “And that does not altogether explain their deportment or behavior.”

Natasha waited until he was mid-sip, with all the patience in the world. “Well, to that end, you should know he’s been sober for four straight weeks, now.”

Predictably, Loki almost choked on his drink and scarcely avoided a spit-take altogether. “What?!” he sounded incredulous and awestruck simultaneously.

“I shit you not,” Natasha assured.

“She doesn’t. I’ve been assigned to help him in these matters, and I have access, as you recall, to every aspect of his life,” JARVIS added, from overhead. “He is quite determined. And so am I.”

The trickster god looked utterly poleaxed.

Natasha patted his shoulder condescendingly. “Just think on it,” she said, and strolled back inside, closing the balcony door behind her.

~~

The next day, no one saw Loki at all, anywhere in the tower.

Amora finally cracked and asked Natasha what she’d said to him.

Natasha told her.

The Enchantress gaped openly for about a minute, then swore.

The assassin only nodded sympathetically.

~~

Loki strolled into Tony’s lab that night. The lockout protocols that kept all of the others out were no barrier to him.

Tony heard the door shut behind him and froze mid-motion, where he was taking apart a section of an older Iron Man model, upgrading some of its HUD systems to match the newer ones. He stayed frozen until Loki strode around him, and sat down on the workbench on the opposite side of the table. He met the inventor’s gaze and held it steadily. To most, the trickster’s expression might’ve seemed stony and remote, but Tony could see cracks in it: exhaustion, hurt, wariness and something like very reluctant, disbelieving hope.

“I would hear your explanation now,” Loki said quietly.

The inventor slowly set down his tools. “I really wasn’t planning to sleep with her. She said she had some urgent S.H.I.E.L.D. thing to tell me, somewhere secure. I was in a stupid enough state that the tower seemed like a good idea, and when she recommended the penthouse too, it seemed reasonable. All of that was a mistake. Not seeing that she was too  young and too flirtatious to be a field agent with sufficient clearance to even have that sort of news to deliver, was also a mistake. I... really fucked up, and I know that. I’m trying to get better, and I’d really like it if you’d consider sticking around and giving me another chance.” He swallowed tightly. “I miss you, Lokes. I’m so sorry I fucked up.”

The trickster examined his expression closely, a bit mystified by the raw sincerity in every line of it, the way every single word rang true even under the scrutiny of such an expert at prevarication as the god of lies. His hands, folded and resting on the edge of the table, lowered to his lap and he stared down at them, thinking for a few seconds, breathing in a deliberate manner struggling so hard to keep his breaths even and shallow that it appeared almost mechanical.

Tony strode around the table and sat next to him, a few inches of space between them. He waited.

“You hurt me very deeply,” Loki said, barely audible.

“I know.”

“I might’ve killed you both, had I any less control.”

“I know.”

Loki’s gaze snapped up to meet his again. “Do you?”

“Yeah. You nearly snapped altogether, and yeah, it was terrifying, but not actually as terrifying as the thought of you leaving, and never coming back, and never trusting me again, because I’d so royally messed everything up.” He hesitated. “I understand if that’s... not something you can forgive.”

The trickster pinched the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger, inhaling sharply with an exasperated noise. “Tony... I didn’t snap altogether because, it was you. I was hurt because despite the perceived betrayal I couldn’t find within myself the desire to hurt you. I only wanted to run. That has never happened to me before. Never once. I do not run from those who hurt me, you know this. I make them regret it, intimately and personally, but doing that to you would have only made me loathe myself more than I ever have before, despite how intrinsic that behavior generally is, to my very nature.”

Tony stared at him, stunned and just slightly hopeful. “Oh.”

With a miserable sigh, Loki stared at him again, disbelieving. “I am still livid with you, but I’m also so... incredibly tired of feeling pained by how much I want to reach for you, but feel too uncertain of wounding you if I do, whether or not I was under the impression you deserved it, or not.”

The inventor reached out, then, slowly as though trying not to startle a feral animal only just now allowing him even this close, and took one of Loki’s hands in both of his own, rubbing gently, then massaging in a way he knew the god enjoyed, working out knots from stress and the repetitive motions of weapon maintenance, and spell-work.

Slowly, Loki leaned closer until their shoulders touched and a shudder of relief when through both of them, making Tony pause. Their heads bowed together, until their foreheads leaned against one another and they breathed each other in a little.

It wasn’t much, but the trickster was still wound tight as a strained spring and afraid that unwinding too much and too quickly might cause damage to them both, and Tony was still hesitant to push for more, no longer certain what he was allowed, so he kept massaging, and they both kept breathing, for almost a full half-hour.

It was the most peaceful either of them had felt for weeks.

“I missed you, too,” Loki said softly. “I cannot...” He cleared his throat. “We both require rest. I... would prefer to sleep beside you, if possible.”

Tony stilled.

“Just to sleep.”

The inventor exhaled a long, ragged sigh. “Yeah, that sounds fantastic, actually. I don’t know if I’ve slept since you got here.”

“I have not. I... was unable to even lie down for long, without restlessness eating away at me.” He touched Tony’s face, then.

Leaning into it, the inventor’s eyes squeezed tight shut.

“Tony...” Loki sounded a bit stunned, and his lover wasn’t certain why until he felt soft lips on his cheek and realized they were kissing a tear away, first on one side, then the other.

Something in him cracked, and he wrapped both arms tight around the trickster’s ribcage, and buried his face in Loki’s chest, his breathing shaky and tremors going through him that should’ve been embarrassing, but Loki only embraced him in turn, all hesitation clearly a fear of himself more than rejection of the other man, based on how aggressively his grip tightened when he finally let go and pressed his brow against Tony’s hair.

They held tight for a long, long while, both of them breathing hard and just readjusting to being finally able to touch again.

~~

By late afternoon the next day, no one had caught a glimpse of either Tony Stark or a certain trickster god, but the same thing had happened yesterday, so no one really took much notice of it, until Pepper arrived with a very distinct displeased/worried frown on her face.

She went into Tony’s lab, and then promptly left again.

Natasha was playing chess with Amora in the common living room, while Clint read a few comic books laying on a nearby couch. Bruce was in a chair nearer the window, drinking tea meditatively. Steve could be heard humming from the kitchen, making something with the blender. They all glanced up at Pepper’s rather abrupt return from the lab, and noticed her frown had deepened, leaning toward confused more than worried, now.

“Uhm... have any of you seen Tony?” she asked lightly.

The others exchanged glances, except for Amora, who was still looking over the chessboard with a look of intense concentration.

“Uh... Amora, have you seen Loki either?” Bruce asked delicately.

“Sleeping like the very long dead,” she responded. “I tried to wake him. Well... from across the room, with only small and harmless projectiles; I am not, after all, suicidal. I mean, he was still fully dressed and everything––they both were––but he was practically in a coma. I was a bit impressed.”

Everyone stared. Even Steve stood in the doorway to the kitchen, just to stare. Thor appeared at his shoulder a second later, still chewing a mouthful of sandwich.

“Oh thank god,” Pepper sighed. “I thought I was going to have to murder them. Or, you know, trick them into a blind date or something with a puddle of super-glue in Tony’s chair, which we would have to bolt down, and Mjolnir strapped to Loki’s ankle.” She ignored the looks Bruce and Clint sent her, which were surprised and amused and, in the archer’s case, a little impressed.

“Wait, they weren’t even naked?” Clint asked. “What the hell, man?”

Pepper shot him a glare that left the archer looking genuinely terrified. “Joke how you want, Barton. Loki is the best thing to happen to Stark Industries in years. We had even gotten him actually attending more than half of his mandatory-attendance meetings! Do you know how many years it took me to get him to even attend 20% of them after I first started working for the company? Four!” She stepped forward and jabbed the air in front of Clint’s nose, making him whimper slightly. “Furthermore, he makes Tony Stark genuinely happy, and more relaxed than I’ve ever seen him. He’s in a relationship with someone sufficiently nigh-indestructible that he can have hundreds fewer contingency plans for how to keep him safe, compared to anyone human, who understands all of his work, and has actually led to a steady decrease in PR scandals for the whole of the company, and the Avengers too; so you might want to cut this shit with you lying to yourself that Loki isn’t a major part of our lives beyond a fuck-buddy for Tony, because I don’t think he would stop drinking even for the best fuck-buddy in all the universe. I have had to deal with the potential of him being absent possibly-for-good for the past five weeks, both professionally and personally, working with JARVIS to minimize the damage short- and long-term, and let me tell you: projections and forecasts for how things were going to look for every single person in this tower were not at all good. They were, in fact, looking like a countdown to some sort of armageddon if Loki went back to full-time villainy again. So, Barton: fuck you, buddy!”

The archer was left gaping after her when she then pivoted on her heel and stormed out, loudly requesting that JARVIS arrange for the flight to the meeting in Japan after all, since matters back in the tower were finally less volatile, and to do something unpleasant to Barton later if he got the chance: inconvenient, not injurious.

The door closed behind her with a little bit of unnecessary force.

“I feel like my life just flashed before my eyes,” Clint squeaked.

“Serves you right, man,” Bruce muttered.

“Should we have some sort of meeting over this?” asked the archer. “I’m still sort of not okay with this... whole... Loki thing.”

“I don’t think it matters, Clint,” Steve said, still in the doorway. “Everything Pepper just said was right. Tony has been healthier, and happier, being in love with Loki. Loki has been less of a pain in everyone’s behind ever since they started... doing whatever they started out doing, at first. He’s only improved since then, to the point he saved lives last night, at the risk of his own, while fighting off Kree and Skrull forces that wouldn’t have been as much of a challenge for him, if he hadn’t over-exerted his magic on all those remote teleportations, which we’ve learned from fighting him ourselves how much those drain him, compared to when he can touch who and what he’s teleporting just along with himself.” The super-soldier shook his head slowly. “I think acceptance is the only way we’ll be keeping Tony as our friend, and not just someone we sometimes fight with. He’s already gotten more distant from us, because he feels like he has to keep his relationship and all the other parts of his life that relate directly to it, away from us, and even so, we’ve still become a better team. Imagine how much we might improve further if he fully trusted us not to kill his beau at the first convenient opportunity that Loki might happen to be doing something suspicious-looking, without even investigating further?”

Clint sat up and buried his face in his hands, swearing a little. “I know! I know. I just...”

“He’s a good spy, and a good ally, and a shrewd tactician,” Natasha pointed out. “Just accept that he’s not the enemy anymore, and treat him like anyone else from a S.H.I.E.L.D. division you’ve never met before: you don’t have to be 100% polite, but you aren’t allowed to kill him. I know you’re capable of that much professionalism, Clint.”

The archer raised his head. “Yeah. Okay, but who’s telling Fury? 1-2-3 NOT IT!”

“Not it!” Natasha and Bruce chorused.

“Not it?” Thor said, hoping he was getting this custom right.

“Exempt, unless you wish him to have a coronary,” Amora muttered.

Steve frowned at all of them. “Not fair.”

The others just beamed at him.

~~

Tony Stark always liked fairly heavy amounts of blankets and smothering warmth on the few occasions he indulged in deep, uninterrupted recuperative sleep. Naps, he could be fine with any mostly-flat surface, but if he was going to be somewhere for eight, maybe even ten hours? It better be decadent.

The only problem, then, was occasional overheating.

This problem, he had been thrilled to discover, could be easily solved by having a frost-giant for a body-pillow.

Loki’s temperature was usually within human norms, slightly lower than the average Aesir, but tended to be lower when he slept, and especially even lower when he was stressed, or exhausted, or recovering from heavy exertion of magic, which was Tony’s excuse to pile on an extra couple of blankets gleefully.

He awoke in what was possibly the most ridiculously comfortable state between warm blanket-cocoon and conveniently-sexy cooling body-pillow, to date. It was fantastic. Then he worried briefly whether that might be because Loki was colder than usual due to being more unwell than he’d already appeared, or if it was slightly warmer due to the both of them being fully clothed and thus adding extra layers between himself and Loki’s skin. He couldn’t pinpoint it, still half-drowsing as he was, between thoughts.

“Why do you pile on so many extra blankets if you’re just going to so desire cold?” Loki mused.

Slowly, the inventor realized that Loki was controlling his own temperature, in a way that suggested he’d watched the mad inventor in his sleep with enough close attention to determine correlations between increased or decreased cold, and whether it made Tony more or less comfortable.

“You clung tighter,” the trickster deadpanned, in a way that suggested he was aware that Tony was unaware of having spoken his thoughts aloud, “when I was colder. I wanted to see if it was out of concern or if you just liked the cold, and I’m amused to discover you really are just as hedonistic as should’ve been expected.”

Given that Loki usually tended to get colder still when having nightmares, that actually made sense.

“You cling, and then you sigh. It’s adorable,” the god muttered, smiling broadly when the inventor peered up at him.

“You’re the solution to a life-long problem.”

Loki blinked. “Pardon?”

“I like feeling buried under blankets like this, but it’s usually too warm. You make this possible. S’perfect,” Tony explained succinctly.

“O-oh.”

“Are you blushing?”

No.”

“Are you using a glamor now to hide that you’re blushing?”

“You ask too many questions.”

“Perpetually,” Tony concurred. “You like it.”

Loki stroked his hair, fingernails scritching gently. “I do.”

“Now if I could just get you to repeat that in a slightly different context.”

“... Sexual, I presume?” he inquired dryly, but didn’t sound disinterested.

That was progress, Tony thought. Then he realized what he’d just said and his eyes widened slightly. “Actually, no.”

Loki raised an eyebrow at him. “Whatever are you talking about?

“All-Speak. Right, probably a syntactical thing. Uhm... what words did you say, exactly?”

“I consent?”

“Huh. Close enough.” Tony had taken on deciphering the nature of language itself by studying the minor blips in the nature of language-patterns of earth versus errors he was mapping out in various languages and contexts between what was said and what Loki or Thor heard. It passed the time on long flights. The trickster god himself had figured out what he was doing and occasionally pestered him for updates and argued with him over certain theories. “What I heard you say was a two-word phrase that is spoken at the end of a particular ceremony, in one way or another, throughout the western world on earth. That was what I was, uhm, thinking of. Yeah.”

Loki blinked at him. “Ceremony.”

“Yeah.”

“... Ceremony.”

Tony genuinely couldn’t tell when Loki’s thoughtful shrewdness switched to stunned realization, but that might’ve been due to just how quickly Loki’s mouth went from within arm’s reach, to within tongue’s reach, after which point the inventor found himself being devoured.

That was very, very encouraging. Tony wasn’t even a little bit ashamed to melt under the onslaught of heat and wet and close and Loki. And yes, so maybe there was a little clinging.

The trickster pulled back abruptly and inquired, “Just how ‘accidentally’ did you just propose to me?”

“By ‘accidentally’ do you mean ‘on purpose’ or ‘with intent’? Because no to the former, but I wouldn’t actually disagree with the latter. You could even ward the wedding band against S.H.I.E.L.D. agents altogether from getting within reach of my genitals.” He paused, considered. “Actually, that’s not a bad idea for a lot of reasons.”

Loki gave him a moderately bemused look for a second. “Pardon?”

“If you’re asking if was planned? No. If you’re asking if I meant it? Well... surprisingly yes.”

“You’re certain?”

“Yeah. I thought about it, after I said it, and yeah. Actually a brilliant idea, however accidental.”

“... Publicly?”

Tony stared at the incredulity in the trickster’s expression and wanted to kick himself. “Fuck yes, the point here is ownership. I tend to advertise it, you might’ve noticed. By the way, do you mind getting a tattoo?”

“You’re not trying to distract from this-”

“No, still aware I fucked up, although honestly, I think it’s fair to say anyone aware who you are, and who I am, and us being serious, would think twice about going anywhere near the penthouse with me in any suspicious way, for fear of violent retribution. Advertising would provide me that extra behavioral buffer, along with the sobriety, which I’m also working on, as well as sort of both of us finally committing to the whole... not wanting other people. Just you. Thing.” He swallowed. “See, it’s an investment in repair, not actually a distract-”

Again with the kissing. Tony was very fine with the kissing. Very excellent fine with it trailing down his throat and then becoming a bite right where his neck and shoulder met. So fine, in fact, that his thoughts might’ve gone in an unusually devout direction when he felt Loki getting hard and slowly ripping his t-shirt down the middle in a bid to get at more skin.

“Did you just pray to me?” Loki sounded awed.

“Uhm... was that out loud?”

“That was the most arousing thing I’ve ever heard. I request more,” Loki insisted and sank below the blankets just a bit faster than Tony could try and fling them away and applying his mouth to the head of the inventor’s cock with intent to reward.

Tony loudly began spouting reverent prose of a sort he wouldn’t have previously considered himself capable. He managed to keep at it until two slick fingers pressed into him slow and purposeful, fingertips pressing up to apply force and pressure and friction to just the right spot to make his whole body shudder. Reverence then gave way to profanity.

He then whimpered when Loki’s mouth pulled back off of him with a lewd sound and then trailed back up his body. “Spread yourself for me.”

The inventor offered a hint of a sly grin as the only warning before he pushed up with a clever move he’d made Natasha teach him, and flipped the trickster onto his back, straddling his hips. Only then did he obey, hands on his own behind, holding himself exposed as he lowered his hips and felt Loki’s hand between them, guiding the sinfully slow penetration as Tony slid down the god’s length to the base in one long slide.

Then he pinned Loki’s wrists down on either side of the trickster’s head and panted, “I need you, you know.”

“Tony...”

Beginning to slowly grind his hips, hard enough to make them both shiver with it, the inventor kissed the corner of Loki’s mouth softly, almost chastely, until his tongue darted out to trace the god’s lower lip. “You’re tangled up with me. I didn’t even fully know how deep until you ran, and it was like I had a hole punched in my chest all over again, except it wasn’t my body it was everything.

“I know,” Loki whispered. “I know, because all of those roots I’d grown around you, anchoring myself here, were left exposed like raw nerves.”

The inventor began to move with more determination, then. “Then bury them again, where they really belong.”

The trickster shuddered and tried to clench his eyes shut against the way they burned at the corners, but Tony only kissed both eyelids and the tears escaped anyway, and were kissed away too, as the inventor huffed desperation and need against his skin. “Trying to tie me down this time?”

“Embracing new growth, and letting it ensnare me, more like. I know I can’t shackle you, but I can let you hold me as tight as you can,” Tony countered, releasing Loki’s wrists in favor of entwining their fingers and squeezing tight, feeling the god squeeze back and begin to buck under him, right in time with the inventor’s own established rhythm, making him see stars and emit a breathless moan.

“It would take more strength than I have to run again,” Loki hissed.

“Unless I really fuck up?”

The trickster shook his head, teeth dragging across his lower lip.

Tony felt something in his chest break. “Oh.”

Then Loki began to take control of their rhythm in earnest.

“Y-you c-can’t––” can’t trust me with that, can’t give me that power, no one should have that power over either of us, the inventor tried to whisper, when he could catch his breath past the struggle not to come, to make this last a little longer. Then he realized, really, that Loki already had that power over him. It seemed obvious, then.

“I promise you, Tony, I swear on my life, that I am yours,” the god panted in his ear, and the words hummed with power. “Never forget that.”

Helplessly, the inventor fell apart, into a thousand pieces, into a flash and crackle through every nerve ending and a strangled cry of Loki’s name, followed by shivering whimpers as the god freed his hands from Tony’s slackened grip, seized the inventor’s hips and fucked him through it, until Loki too crested, wavered, and fell still.

It took them several quiet minutes to get their breaths back, before Tony broke the relative silence.

“Yeah, yeah I still stand by the ‘getting married’ idea, surreal as that is to hear myself say, being who I am, but then I remember who you are, and you know what? It works.”

“Clearly I have more work to do. Usually you remain speechless for far longer.”

“You’re out of magic, and still battered and bruised visibly. For once, I don’t think either of us are looking at a short refractory period.”

“... I could try.”

“Save it for me to enjoy properly later, and I’ll make it worth your while.”

“Hmm. Very well, then.”

Two creatures who could never be kept imprisoned against their respective wills, no matter how hard the most powerful beings in the nine realms might try to hold them. Both of them, now, exactly where they wanted to be, could not be moved by heaven or earth.

It wasn’t so much unstoppable force meets immovable object, as two unstoppable forces intertwining themselves irreversibly.

Even though they were far from Heimdall’s sight, and Odin’s, Asgard had finally gone over two days without something chaotic happening due to Loki’s prolonged and dramatic fits of restlessness since whatever had previously kept him occupied (and, more importantly, less destructive and wrathful) for almost a full year previous, ceased to keep him reigned in.

There was only one thing to be done.

~~

That evening, Sif strode into the ground floor of Avengers Tower looking harried and resentful. “I need to speak with the Avengers.”

The woman in the Information kiosk looked a bit uncertain, like she was trying to figure out if this was a particularly devoted cosplayer trying to fool her again (one had actually passed for the Iron Patriot with malfunctioning thrusters and she’d never heard the end of it) or genuinely an alien like Thor. “Uhm. Right. Who should I say is-”

JARVIS interrupted her, from the nearest speaker-phone, making the woman jump almost a foot in the air, “She has sufficient clearance, Rebecca. Please guide her to the appropriate elevator.”

Once guided by the profusely apologetic, highly loyal Stark Industries employee to the concealed elevator in question, Sif let out a heavy sigh. “Do pass on to Loki, will you JARVIS, that he should at least allow Heimdall some visibility to just a patch of harmless rooftop around here. I’m honestly getting a bit tired of all of the cameras that appear when I disrupt the local populace outside this building, arriving via bi-frost.”

“He is currently––occupied, but I will inform him as soon as is convenient.”

“What is he occupied with so often down here? That’s what I’ve been sent to find out, after all. He’s been too quiet for his usual schemes, and for far too long. We honestly thought he’d gotten saner or something, until recently he did a bit of rampaging. Odin says he’s not actually one of the Avengers, which I’m sure is a relief to all concerned, but he has this whole tower cloaked from the sight of all but himself and possibly his children, and I would know what here is so important to him, to merit that.”

“It may not be my place to say, save to suggest that Loki’s fascination is not with a ‘what’ so much as with a ‘whom’ in this case,” The AI offered.

Sif’s eyebrows raised. “Really? Is it the assassin? I do like her.”

“No, Lady Sif.”

“Well... I’ve been authorized some impressive leeway in the bargaining department, to make sure that whatever, or whomever, has been keeping Loki on the less destructive end of his personal chaotic-functionality spectrum out of our sight and not setting us on fire, has significant incentives to keep keeping him there,” the shield-maiden mused.

“I would recommend, then, that you discuss the matter first with Thor, before gaining approval from Asgard for the obvious price.”

“Obvious?”

“Tony Stark’s life: prolonged.”

“Stark?” she barked, then considered. “Actually, I can see that with terrifying clarity and it makes an appalling degree of sense. Is this a demand, then, from Tony?”

“No,” JARVIS responded. “I am only 97% certain that it is the best way to keep them both alive and in the... safest possible state (if only by their unique standards) for the longest time, with the fewest overall potential casualties. Furthermore, it would be well-timed, for a number of reasons, most of which include Loki’s return to this tower and continued stay, for the overall health of all parties concerned.”

“Did Loki ever tell you that you sound a bit like his son, sometimes?” Sif asked. “Or would that be too awkward? It’s difficult to say.”

“I have met Fenrir, and I am flattered, Lady Sif.”

The shield-maiden balked. “You’ve met him? He voluntarily left Helheim? It’s been over a century since he...” Her expression fell open in shock. “By Odin’s beard...”

“I’m glad we understand each other,” JARVIS declared, polite and mild as an NPR reporter with any diplomatic official.

“Do we?” Sif asked. “I feel like I’ve just stepped into an alternate reality. Again. That would be the fourth time this decade, and that just cannot be good for my sanity. Is he really in love with a mortal? Loki? That deeply?”

“He is in love with Tony Stark,” the AI insisted, with dry humor but no little bit of personal pride, as well.

The shield-maiden opened her mouth, then closed it again and gave it a little more thought, then jabbed a finger at the only visible security camera in the elevator. “You may have a fair point, there, dumbfounded as I am to admit to that, too.” She considered further. “In fact, is there actually any real reason I need to talk to Thor, aside from enjoying his company? It might be more efficient to just tell Odin...” She considered. “Oh, I see. Thor is the only one ever able to persuade him when Loki actually isn’t tricking people, because he’s presumably the expert for how many times he’s been duped by it himself... or, admittedly, foiled a few. Only ever a few.” She frowned a bit. “About as few as ever Loki actually hadn’t done it, and Thor was right to defend him, I think, looking back.”

“Yes, and I will have an opportunity to witness the look on Loki’s face when he finds out tomorrow morning that you took Thor back to Asgard with you. I’ve made certain the other Avengers will not be aware of your presence in the least,” JARVIS mused.

Sif giggled helplessly. “You really must’ve gotten on with Fenrir. I’m deeply impressed, JARVIS. I never would’ve suspected you of such a trick.”

“It may or may not have been an idea inspired by him, but not his intended use for what I learned from the tale, I suppose.”

“I’m sure he’ll be impressed, seeing the footage?”

“A gift for him, yes, in exchange for something he gave me.”

“I can tell you he will absolutely love it,” she assured.

“Thank you,” JARVIS said, and opened the elevator doors.

Sif stepped out and nodded to Thor, who nodded back. “So,” she said. “Your brother has gone and done exactly what he told you not to do on a couple of occasions, in falling for a mortal, and you have been selectively omitting certain facts about it you have told Odin and the rest of us in Asgard, keeping it concealed from us?”

The thunder god looked momentarily sheepish. “I have been inclined to respect their privacy.”

“Why?” Sif asked, sincerely interested.

“By the time I myself became aware that the pair of them were anything other than strictly enemies, there was considerable evidence available for me to conclude that the pair of them are... the opposite of a danger to one another.”

“Evidence?”

“The life-blood was draining out of my brother, full of poison, and he would not stop calling for Tony, though his voice was only a whisper. Tony took him from me without hesitation, and sacrificed his suit’s arc reactor to lend Loki enough power to purge the toxins from his system and repair enough of his injuries for him to survive the rest of the battle,” Thor recounted coldly.

The shield-maiden swallowed tightly. “I’m so sorry.”

“Be not so,” Thor responded. “I was gladdened, once the confusion wore off, to find someone values Loki as highly as I do.”

Sif’s face again fell open into an expression of pure shock.

The Thunderer only chuckled. “Yes, that was my reaction to most of it, too.”

“Next you’ll tell me they’ve eloped,” the goddess cried.

There was a low, but very distinct beep from the ceiling. “Well...”

Sif would not have believed it, if not for Thor’s own expression slowly morphing from confusion, to shock, to disbelief, to horror, to realization, and thence into one of his biggest grins. “Tell me they haven’t, JARVIS,” she pleaded softly.

“Eloped? No. The plans have not yet been made.”

Slowly it sunk in, for both Aesir, that the AI meant that only the date and arrangements were still in doubt.

“This is why I hate diplomatic endeavors,” Sif groaned, rubbing her hands over her face. “I swear it’s always a surprise betrothal.”

~~

The trickster and the mad inventor snuck down to the kitchen fairly late, once JARVIS assured them that they would not be interrupted, and Loki proceeded to clear out half of the refrigerator’s contents, while Tony helped himself to an only slightly smaller meal. They then retreated back to the penthouse and slept late into the next morning.

After pleasantly slow, slightly sleepy morning sex, they joined the others for breakfast, snarking sharply when they were greeted with cat-calls, though Loki softened a bit when Amora just hugged him and punched Tony hard enough in the arm to earn a pained noise.

“Where’s Thor?” Tony asked.

“He was met by Lady Sif yesterday evening, and after some discussion, followed her back to Asgard,” JARVIS informed them all coolly. “Sif also requested of you, Loki, that you might at least allow Heimdall some visibility to just a patch of rooftop for the sake of bi-frost arrivals, so that they will not be swarmed by civilians with cameras and camera-phones upon arrival anywhere on the ground nearby.”

Loki’s face was a stricken study in quiet panic and very loud shock.

“Wait, we’re not visible to them? The tower?” Clint asked.

“Loki placed such wards months ago, going so far as to anchor them permanently so that they require only occasional maintenance,” the AI explained, in the same casual tone.

The Avengers stared at the poleaxed trickster for a few long seconds.

“Thank you,” Natasha said. “I actually find that a comfort, really.”

The others murmured agreement.

Loki emitted a faint, high noise in his throat.

Amora squeezed his shoulders firmly to get his attention fixed back on her. “Loki, dear, believe me when I say Asgard has no reason to try and take from you your anchor and the cause for your recent months of near-sanity. I’m certain of that,” she assured.

Tony might’ve blushed slightly.

“It has been more frequently their tendency to try and destroy that which makes me happy,” the trickster said quietly.

“They won’t like what I do to them if they try,” the inventor said, with a cold grin full of promise in his lover’s direction, as he met Loki’s gaze.

At that, slowly, Loki began to smirk in return. “Very true.” He then tilted his head up until his gaze leveled with the nearest (supposedly hidden) security camera. “You did not feel a need to alert us earlier?”

“I did not,” JARVIS said, very sincerely.

After looking over at the inventor to find Tony was clearly doing rapid calculations in his head to trace JARVIS’ meanings and purposes with a proudly awed sort of expression (as he often wore whenever the AI did something unprecedentedly sentient and very much JARVIS’s own) and, Loki shot the same camera another look. “My compliments,” he said. “I’m quite impressed.”

“I feel like I’m missing something here,” Steve muttered to Clint.

The archer waved it off. “Robot prank, I think.”

“You’re sure he’ll speak up for both of you? Thor?” Bruce asked, out of sheer curiosity, but not surprise.

“He knows better than to not,” Loki said, low and thoughtful. “It would tear all he loves apart, and he does know it. It wouldn’t even be intentionally aimed at him, for once, I assure you. It would be aimed foremost at Odin.”

“Odin tends to strike me as having healthy survival instincts. Well, healthy enough that he’d know better than that,” Tony suggested.

“No more questions,” Clint demanded, staring back and forth between them with narrowed eyes. “I begin to suspect they’re getting of on this.”

Both trickster god and mad human inventor beamed at him beatifically.

The archer emitted a small noise of unease. “I’m sorry, please stop that, it’s fucking terrifying.”

The pair met each other’s eyes then and barely managed not to laugh; although Tony did snort self-deprecatingly. “Shut up and hand over the pancakes, Clint,” the inventor said, taking his seat at the table.

Loki sidled into the chair next to his and laid claim to some bacon, and no one spoke further of possible wars.

~~

Frigga arrived with Thor upon his return, three days later. She greeted Loki first, pulling him into an embrace that made the tall, dark-haired trickster look genuinely tender for a moment, before she pulled away and his wary shrewdness returned, further examining her expression for clues to innumerable unspoken questions. She only touched his face, then, and turned to the others, sight fixing firmly on Tony with keenly appraising curiosity, as though he had exceeded her expectations so far, and she looked forward to seeing more of his work.

Then Thor introduced her to Clint and Steve, who still hadn’t met her; although Natasha seemed surprised that she already knew Bruce, which the archer and the Captain both silently wondered about.

Greetings finished, Frigga announced casually, “I’ve come here today to offer peaceful alliance between Asgard and Midgard, and you, Loki.” She narrowed her eyes at him a little. “To be frank, it is for our own peace of mind, Tony Stark, that we ask whether you would become a citizen of Asgard, and a member of our royal house, with all that entails, in exchange for equivalent welcome of the same nature for my son Loki, here in Midgard?”

Tony considered it. “Do you mind if we do so through marriage?”

There was a choked-off sound from Steve’s reaction, but when Clint turned to shoot him a questioning look, the old soldier only looked deeply apologetic. “I was unprepared,” he hissed, barely loud enough for the archer to hear it, and Clint had to bite his own lip very hard to keep from cracking up entirely, at that.

Frigga, by contrast, didn’t miss a beat, and turned to Loki. “If my son consents?”

“I do,” he assured. “I do consent.”

Tony noticed the wording and felt himself smiling stupidly to realized it was a conscious alteration of All-Speak, for his sake. Just to remind him.

“Then welcome to my family, Tony Stark,” Frigga said, with a sly smile, before pulling him into a sincerely welcoming embrace.

Loki exhaled a long breath he hadn’t known that he was still holding. When then inventor met his gaze again, the trickster could only beam at him, until Tony clearly couldn’t resist any further, and strode up to kiss him, possessive and relieved and confident.

It was better than they truly deserved, but all the sweeter for it.