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Lemon Boy

Chapter Text

There once was a bitter sweet man and they called him Lemon Boy
He was growing in my garden and I pulled him out by his hair like a weed
But like weeds do he only came and grew back again
So I figured this time I might as well let him be

~~~

They’d barely been given a few days’ worth of notice before the ship carrying the remnants of Asgard had landed. While Tony hadn’t exactly had a clear schedule, he’d hardly given any debate as to whether or not to meet Thor and Bruce in middle-of-nowhere, Scandinavia, and using what financial help he could to get the remaining Asgardians settled. There were so few, by the way Thor made things sound, that they probably wouldn’t have to sanction off more than a small town’s worth of land to get things started.

Now that he was here, Tony was starting to wish he’d sent Happy along with a nice gift basket instead. Especially when, walking off the ship just a few paces behind Thor’s confident stride and Bruce’s relieved scramble, slunk the very guy he thought he’d never have to see on Earth again.

“What exactly is he doing here?” Tony asked, gesturing to where Loki had paused at the base of the ship, quirking an eyebrow at him. Still a smug bastard – well, it was good to know some things hadn’t changed.

“Ah!” Thor’s voice boomed, a pleased smile on his face and holy shit was he missing an eye? “I suppose I had not mentioned my brother would also be among us. It’s a bit of a long story.”

Tony snorted. "Yeah, I imagine it is.”

Loki had started to draw back a bit from their group, but Thor reeled him back in with an arm slung over his shoulders. Loki visibly bristled, but didn’t look like he was reaching for a knife, so clearly something had changed since he’d last been on Earth. “Loki is going to help us rebuild and settle. I assure you, he’s quite changed since the last time you met.”

The alien in question rolled his eyes, snapping, “I’m quite capable of speaking for myself.” He disentangled himself from Thor’s hold, though he refrained from tearing himself free. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I believe I’m needed to help with disembarking.” He turned with an over-dramatic flourish of his cape, stalking back up into the ship, likely to corral the Asgardians inside into something assembling order.

Tony met Bruce’s eyes uncertainly, as if to ask are you buying this? Bruce gave him only a small shrug, not entirely convinced but clearly not concerned enough to protest. But Tony wasn’t so ready to give Loki a get out of jail free card, not until he really knew what was going on. He made a mental note to keep an eye on him, so at least someone would be ready when the side of Loki that was more inclined to maniacal laughter reared its head.

Chapter Text

Lemon Boy and me started to get along together
I helped him plant his seeds and we'd mow the lawn in bad weather
It's actually pretty easy being nice to a bitter boy like him
So I got myself a citrus friend

~~~

As it turned out, restructuring an extremely large and extremely wealthy alien land into a small fishing village in Scandinavia wasn’t an easy task. While paying for the land was easy enough – Tony had that one covered, it was the least he could do when faced with Thor’s big puppy eyes – there were plenty of other obstacles before they could even legally let the Asgardians out of the ship. Apparently Thor had put Loki in charge of more diplomatic areas, including securing refugee status for the Asgardians, and loathe as Tony was to trust Loki with anything, he was admittedly relieved he wouldn’t have to touch those negotiations with a ten foot pole. Despite his doubts, Loki seemed to be good enough at the task, as it hadn’t taken long for the new Asgardian presence to be tolerated, legally if not altogether personally.
But legal issues were only half their problems, of course, and the other much more grating issues to Tony were made up of the Asgardians themselves. Don’t get him wrong, he was sure losing the place you’d lived in for thousands of years wasn’t exactly peaches and cream, but those thousand year lifespans made the Asgardians a special brand of unaccommodating to new situations. Half of them were mad they hadn’t battled the Scandinavian government for their plot of land, and Tony caught a more than a few disparaging comments about the value of using your words. The other half were so caught up in the indignity of not having streets lined with gold, never mind that they’d spent the last few months on a ship drifting through space, that they were hardly willing to make any attempt to settle in at all.

At least Thor had managed to corral a few of the warrior-types into burning off steam through the wonders of carpentry. Unfortunately, that left Tony in the midst of the other complaints, when he’d feel much better if he was keeping an eye on Loki instead. Speaking of, he’d noticed Reindeer Games taking stock of supplies earlier, but now he was simply watching his brother put up houses and apparating tools as needed. Tony figured he should go over in case he was up to anything suspicious, and not at all because it wasn’t fair that Loki was taking a break and he wasn’t.

As he approached Loki noted his presence with a flick of his eyes, but made no other comment. Ball now firmly in his court, Tony had never been much of the quiet type to begin with, so he took up the offer. “A couple thousand years of lifespan really doesn’t do much for the average Asgardian’s adaptability, does it?”

Loki surprised him with an upward twitch of his lips. “They are a rather stubborn sort, aren’t they?”

“They?” Tony asked, mildly surprised but mostly intrigued. He doubted Loki’s exclusion of himself was a mere slip of the tongue, but calling him out on it directly probably wouldn’t get him anywhere. “What, the brother of the golden god himself doesn’t want to be part of the party?”

There was a half-second of tension in Loki’s posture that shortly faded, and Tony got the distinct sense that had he asked the same question a few months earlier he might not have been so restrained. Instead, Loki seemed to compose himself before admitting, “Not quite. Adopted, as I’m sure Thor told you.”

“Yeah, he might have said something like that.” Tony paused, waiting to see if Loki would continue, but it seemed like he’d said all he was going to on the subject, so Tony let it drop. Maybe there was more reason behind the Asgardians’ comments about Loki’s methods of diplomacy than simple warrior culture after all, but if there was, Tony wasn’t going to find out about it today.

They stood side by side staring up at Thor singlehandedly heaving a wall into place, and it struck Tony suddenly how strange it was to be in a casual conversation with the guy who had thrown him off a building. Not, he reflected, that having friends who would just as easily throw you off buildings was uncommon in his life anymore. And not, he amended, that he and Loki were friends. He still didn’t trust the guy as far as he could throw him; though if trust was a result of one’s ability to be thrown, Tony would have a lot easier of a time understanding why Thor and Bruce seemed so ready to believe Loki’s change of heart, as he was willing to bet they could throw Loki pretty damn far.

But Tony, regrettable as it was, would probably have an awful lot of trouble even trying to lift Loki without the suit, so it seemed he’d have to keep an eye on him for a while longer.

~

Setting up infrastructure from scratch was, it turned out, exhausting work. Even letting the suit do most of the heavy-lifting and the money do the rest, Tony was looking forward to a nice hot soak in the bath tonight, kindly provided by the plumbing and heating systems they’d finished implementing earlier that day.

Unfortunately for Tony, a distinct glow of green coming from a door left slightly ajar meant his rest and relaxation time would have to wait. From what he’d gathered, magic wasn’t a very common skill in New Asgard, and magic that was so unmistakably green even less so. Changing course, he made his way over to the open door as quietly as he could, preparing his “told ya so” dance for when he heard maniacal laughter from the other side.

“…and with a great roar the mighty Thor leaped into battle, catching all of the Frost Giants unawares. He raised his great hammer Mjolnir to the skies, and with it called a thunderous boom and a wave of lightning that blasted his foes. Of course, he failed to check behind him as always, and as we were fighting I noticed a pair of Frost Giants sneaking up behind him, their eyes glowing a poisonous red and wielding great blades of ice, ready to strike the unaware warrior!” The gasps and cries of what sounded like a small group of children followed his words.

Tony blinked, thoroughly surprised. Not that he’d wanted Loki to turn all crazy evil on them, of course, but he’d been going half-crazy himself waiting for the other shoe to drop here. And here he was, finally using his magic, and he was… telling a story? To kids? Slowly, trying not to draw attention to himself, Tony edged around the doorway to peek inside.

It turned out one of the kids had inadvertently run a distraction for him anyway, as he watched a wide-eyed little girl tug at the hem of Loki’s dark green robes and ask, “What happened next Mr. Loki? Did’ya save him?” Tony took the opportunity to glance around the little room, where Loki sat amidst a pile of eight or nine Asgardian children, each one riveted to his storytelling. He had his palms spread out before him, and from them trailed little wisps of green light that ended in floating green replicas of an adorably miniscule Thor calling lightning down upon some sort of towering, vaguely-humanoid beast. Behind Thor stood a tiny Loki, daggers of green light flying from his hands, and two more of the big monsters, which loomed behind Thor, poised to strike. It seemed Loki was quite the artist.

Loki favored the little girl with a particularly warm smile, which looked unfamiliar on a face Tony had rarely seen do anything else other than brood, scowl, and look smug. He returned to the story, reassuring the children that he did indeed stop the Frost Giants from impaling Thor and together the two escaped relatively unscathed. While he spoke, Tony’s attention flickered from the magical replicas to the kids, watching as one particularly adventurous boy clambered up onto Loki’s lap where he promptly fell asleep. Despite himself, Tony let out a quiet little breath of air at the sight, because adorable. And really, the sight of Loki of all people being so sweet around kids was really making his brain wander off into dangerous territory where a Norse god was concerned.

Jesus, did he want kids? Where had all this come from? Well, one thing was for certain, he most certainly did not want kids with Loki of all people, Godly powers of storytelling aside. Maybe he could rent out his bedtime story services though, provided he ever felt comfortable leaving Loki within 3 states of any of his future children.

“But perhaps we should finish this story another time. It’s getting rather late, and some of us should be heading to bed.” Tony’s gaze snapped back to Loki, only to find Loki’s eyes fixed on him, looking both caught off guard and extremely annoyed. Uh-oh, busted. Tony offered a sheepish grin to the peeved god, hastily beating his retreat out of the little house. If Loki was going to kill him in his sleep tonight, as the look in his eyes had promised, he was at least going to get that hot bath in beforehand.

~

“Stark, would you come here a moment?”

Tony paused where he was bent over power grid schematics, looking up in surprise. Had he heard that right? But yes, there was Loki standing in the doorway, staring at him expectantly and growing more annoyed by the second. Tony briefly considered grabbing Bruce as a body shield, remembering Loki still hadn’t delivered on that threat of bodily harm he’d communicated with his eyes after the storytelling incident, but figured if Tony Stark was nothing else, he was capable of following Loki four feet away into a kitchen.

Loki already looked like he regretted his decision, but nevertheless gestured expansively to the stove. “Show me how to operate your fire starting device.”

Tony blinked. “My what?”

Loki bit back an annoyed growl. “Banner requested I ‘put a pot of water on,’ but I see no way to heat it with this mechanism. Thor insisted one simply sets a fire in the underbelly, but as he nearly burned down the first constructed house trying to make ‘popped tarts’ I hardly believe him qualified to advise me on Midgardian tech.”

“Yeah, no, definitely don’t do that.” When he’d agreed to come down and help the Asgardian refugees get settled, he’d hardly expected his duties would include showing their princes how to use an electric stove. And yet, he couldn’t exactly expect them to figure out how Earth technology worked on their own. He started making a mental list of what else he’d need to show them to keep anything else from catching fire or exploding after he left. “Just use the knobs on the top there, here, like this-” he reached over to twist one of the knobs, very aware he was now very in Loki’s personal space.

Loki looked rather unimpressed at his display, and unbothered by their proximity. “I hardly see any fire.” He reached out a hand as if testing for heat, and Tony realized with a jolt he was about to slap his hand down on a very hot stovetop. Reacting more out of instinct than anything, Tony reached out and snatched his wrist to stop the movement. Loki froze, tensing for a beat in surprise, but he must have then felt the heat radiating from the stovetop as he didn’t try to continue his movement.

“The stove, it uh, it’s electric, so there’s no visible fire. It just gets red to show you it’s on.”

Loki didn’t comment, instead fixing Tony with an unamused look, saying only, “my hand, Stark.”

Tony’s face flushed as he realized he was still holding Loki by the wrist, and quickly released his hand. “Right! Sorry. Let me grab that pot of water for you then.” He took the opportunity to turn and rummage through the cabinet, diverting all his available brain power to trying to remember if he’d stocked these houses with big pasta pots or not and resolutely not using it to think about what the hell he thought he was doing.

~

Tony really had to examine how comfortable he was becoming around Loki. The longer he spent in New Asgard – and really, he’d only planned on spending a week here at most, what had happened – the more common it was becoming for him to find himself in Loki’s company. He told himself it was just so he could covertly watch the guy, and historically he’d always been great at lying to himself.

Today found him seated over those same power grid schematics from the other day, this time with Loki at his elbow, frowning. While Tony was just fine with the electrical component, Loki had also insisted that Asgard relied on certain channels of magic throughout the city as well, and these Tony was understandably a little out of his area with.

Not, of course, that he minded, as it only gave him an excuse to not-so-covertly learn about it from a pro. And no matter what else the Asgardians might mutter behind the backs of their princes, none denied that Loki was truly unrivaled in magical prowess.

Loki’s voice pulled Tony from his thoughts. “I can set up a rudimentary magical channel, but we’ll need to give it a power source outside of my own magic, as it wouldn’t be sustainable otherwise. If we can establish conduits – something stabilizing to allow the system to manage internally – then we could establish a self-sustaining magical flow.”

“Something like the iridium you used for the portal?”

Loki looked hesitant, as if assessing whether or not Tony was purposefully bringing up New York. But Tony hadn’t meant to bring it up judgmentally, so wrapped up in puzzling out a solution to a unique problem that he’d hardly spared thought for the implications of bringing up the battle. Seeming to find no fault in Tony’s tone, Loki hesitantly responded, “Yes, I suppose that would work for stabilization. We’d just have to construct the conduits then.”

“Alright, I’ll get Friday to order us some.” Iridium might not be the most common metal, but neither was anything Tony worked with really, and with his connections it wasn’t hard to find some. They spent the rest of the day trying to develop the conduits, with Loki blueprinting, Tony doing most of the actual building, and then Loki running trials with his magic.

Loki held one of the conduits in his hand post-test which had fried a circuit or two from his magical input, frowning as he worked deftly to remove and replace them with something stronger. He must have been studying Tony just as much as Tony had been studying him, as he had little trouble swapping out the delicate machinery. For a guy who’d nearly placed his bare hand on a stovetop the other day, he’d made quite the improvement.

And, to Tony’s chagrin, he really did have to admit that he’d been doing some non-academic studying as well. It was nothing personal, he was sure, but the sight of someone in the lab, buried in tech and stacks of blueprints, little smudges of grease coating one delicate cheek as their fingers deftly maneuvered through intricate wiring? Tony could hardly be blamed, that was exactly his niche.

Tony suddenly found himself desperate for a breather. “Well,” he started, clearing his throat a little, “it looks like it’s gonna be a long night figuring this out. I’ll order us some food. Thai good? Wait, you’ve probably never eaten Thai before. You’ll like it, trust me.” He beat a hasty retreat, but not quick enough to avoid seeing the curious yet disconcertingly knowing look Loki threw his way at his rapid exit.

Tony deftly ignored it. It was definitely nothing specific to Loki. Nope, not at all.

~

It really wasn’t unusual for Tony to find himself awoken during the night, panting harshly, barely able to remember whatever dream had shaken him so badly. Though it had been years, the experience of taking the missile through that portal during the New York battle had never really left him, and neither had that horrible sense of dread that had followed him back to Earth. It was the dread that had spurred him to make Ultron, and later Vision, and the dread that had resulted in a number of global defense shield plans sketched furiously in the middle of the night over the past few years. This time, it drove him not to the laboratory, but instead to fresh air when he suddenly found the quiet, empty house he had been staying in to be too oppressive.

Leaving the house, he was surprised to notice he wasn’t the only one awake at this time. A figure sat towards the edge of the docks with its back to the village, legs dangling over the ocean water. Tony really wasn’t in much mood to deal with the Asgardians right now, but considering he’d gotten up because of how isolated the quiet, tech-less walls of the house had gotten to him, maybe any conversation would be preferable to being out here alone.

As he got closer, he thought he recognized the dark green robes the figure was wearing, and supposed he shouldn’t be surprised. If any Asgardian was going to brood out on the pier at 3 am, it was probably going to be Loki. He took care to make enough noise with his approach that Loki would hear him coming, trying to prevent himself from startling the god and getting magic to the chest or sending Loki toppling into the ocean.

Loki turned slightly as he got closer, eyes meeting Tony’s, and Tony was surprised by the tightly drawn look of his face that he was sure was mirrored in his own. Wordlessly Loki swept a hand out to the space next to him, and Tony sat, mirroring Loki’s position. They were silent for a time, but the silence was what had driven Tony out here in the first place, so he forced himself to speak first.

“When I went through that portal in New York…” he halted, feeling Loki tense a little beside him. What was he doing? “I didn’t expect to come back. Not alive, at least. I could feel this powerful… force, like no matter what I did I would never be strong enough to match it. And that feeling followed me back to Earth – drove me to paranoia, hell, makes me think I’ll never be able to escape it. Dread it, run from it… ”

“Thanos does have that effect.” Loki’s reply was a barely-there breath of air, almost as if he preferred Tony hadn’t heard him. Tony blinked, trying to reconcile the force in his nightmares with not only a name, but also the knowledge that it was probably not only his nightmares that he’d featured in.

“Thanos?” he repeated dumbly, mental wheels still spinning.

Loki frowned like he hadn’t considered his words. “I am… familiar with him, in a sense. Though the story is much less interesting than children’s tales.”

Ah, so he hadn’t forgotten about that incident after all. But Tony wasn’t about to let him deflect, not after he’d unthinkingly made himself so vulnerable. “We’ve got plenty of time.”

“I suppose we do.” Loki hesitated, as if searching for a place to start. “You remember the story I was telling that night, don’t you? About Thor and I fighting off those Frost Giants.” Tony nodded. “Well, we were there – In Jotunheim that is – as a result of Thor’s coronation, or lack thereof. You didn’t know Thor back then, but if you think him short-tempered now you would be surprised by how stubborn and thirsty for battle he had been at the time. Anyone could have seen that crowning Thor back then would have been a disaster for Asgard, which indeed he proved when Frost Giants invaded the palace on the day of his coronation, and he put an age-old peace treaty in jeopardy in a wild bid for revenge.”

Tony didn’t have to be there to read between the lines and know just who was responsible for letting the Frost Giants in in the first place – Loki’s expression said it well enough. Instead, he asked, “you had a peace treaty with these Frost Giants?”

Loki nodded. “Asgard had previously been engaged with a very long and brutal war with the Jotuns, to which all families had lost members. Though Asgard was victorious, it was inevitable that with so many lost, relations between the two realms would be… strained, at best. The peace treaty sought to lessen conflicts between Asgardians and Jotuns, though it did little to change the heart of the people, who so despised their enemy that Frost Giants became a monstrous fable to tell the children.”

He paused there, something in his expression darkening, but before Tony could speak the look faded and he continued. “I accompanied Thor and his band of warriors to Jotunheim, and his rashness got us involved in a battle. We fought them off, but the Frost Giants are a very dangerous enemy – they run so cold that when one comes into contact with their skin, one’s own flesh rapidly grows frostbitten. Many warriors have lost arms to such ice. However, when we were fighting, one of the Frost Giants managed to grab hold of me. Fearing the loss of my arm, I glanced down at it, only to see it not turning the dark black of frostbite but instead a deep blue.”

Tony lifted an eyebrow. “What’s blue supposed to mean?”

Loki gave a tight-lipped smile. “I did mention I was adopted, yes?" Oh. "Well, I did not wish to accept what I had seen at first – certainly there had to be some other explanation. Surely the royal family had not taken a monster into their court and raised him as one of their own, lied to him his whole life, raised him as a contender for the throne while knowing he could never truly rival his brother Thor? But Odin made the truth very clear to me.”

His eyes slipped shut for a brief moment, and Tony sat silent, knowing there wasn’t much he could say. What do you say to a guy who found out he’s the space god equivalent of the boogie monster? He remained quiet as Loki briefly detailed his ill-fated reign over Asgard, and finally his “fall” from the bifrost that Tony was more than a little skeptical about being an accident.

“I fell for what felt like years, though time was immeasurable for me, until finally someone pulled me out, or I crashed, the details are a little fuzzy. Much of the time I spent with Thanos after the fall is. And of course, you know the rest.”

Loki had a haunted look about him as he spoke of Thanos, and Tony tried resolutely not to let his mind wander back to Afghanistan. As awful as it was, he was almost relieved someone else shared his terror of Thanos and whatever primal fear he’d instilled into Tony after New York. It wasn’t that he wanted someone else to feel what he felt, and especially not with the upsetting number of father-related issues they also shared, but the value of camaraderie was not lost on him either. He felt validated in his fears at least, validated that even someone with as much raw magical power at his fingertips as Loki knew Thanos to be a powerful enemy, even while it made the dread in the back of his mind multiply. Maybe the same sense of camaraderie had driven Loki to share this story with him in the first place.

They spent a few more hours looking out over the ocean, speaking quietly and eventually wandering to other, less traumatic topics. When they finally returned to their houses, the sun was just cresting the horizon, but Tony found that for once rest came easy to him.

Chapter Text

But soon his bitter sweet started to rub off on me
You'd think smelling like lemon zest would be pretty neat
I found out that my friends are more of the savory type
And they weren't too keen on compromising with a nice lemon pie

~~~

From the screen of his Stark Phone, Pepper raised an unimpressed eyebrow. “You really think you can trust Loki?

Tony ran a hand through his hair, ignoring the part of him that would rather hit ‘end call’ than marshal his thoughts into anything coherent. He missed Pepper, he really did, and he wouldn’t give up the video calls he could manage to squeeze in every few days for anything in the world, but boy did she have a tendency to cut right to exactly what he didn’t want to talk about. Or who he’d rather not talk about, in this case.

It would be pretty easy to just say no, reassure her that he was only spending so much time with a certain God in Green to keep a suspicious eye on him like he’d originally planned, and wave the whole thing off. But he really hated lying to Pepper, and unlike when he lied to himself, she was pretty good at telling the difference.

So. A coherent, truthful answer. Kind of. “Honestly? I didn’t at first. But we’re two months in and he hasn’t thrown me out even one window, which is an all-time best for most people I know. I didn’t really believe Thor either, but now… I don’t know. I don’t think I can just write him off as ‘waiting until the most convenient moment to stab me in the back,’ in any case.”

Pepper worried her lower lip between her teeth, not quite convinced. “I know I’m not there,” something else Tony wasn’t exactly thrilled with, but Pepper had insisted that someone had to run Stark Industries, and she did do it best, “so I can’t see if you’re right for myself. And I know you wouldn’t even think of saying that unless you thought it might be true. But… just be careful, Tony. Come back in one piece.”

“Me, do anything reckless? You must have the wrong guy.”

Pepper’s laugh sounded strained. Or maybe that was just the connection for calls between New York and Scandanavia. “See you soon, Tony.”

When all this was over, Tony was going to take a nice big vacation. If he ever made it out of the pile of New Asgard zoning permits on his desk, that was.

~

“Man of Iron!” Thor’s shouts could typically be heard from half a town away. Being within ten feet of the guy didn’t change his volume level much. “I must thank you again for all the work you’ve done for New Asgard. We may never again have what once was, but it is starting to feel as if we have a home again.”

Mushy stuff. Oh boy. Despite himself, Tony warmed a little at the compliment. “Happy to help.”

“And we are happy of your aid. You’ve spent many a month with us here.” A flicker passed over Thor’s face before he continued. “I only regret that we have kept you from home for so long. Though I’d selfishly wish you to stay, you must wish to return home soon, my friend.”

Tony considered this for a moment. Thor definitely wasn’t wrong; if his calls with Pepper had reminded him of anything, it was how long he’d been away, and that he really should be getting home soon. Still, he didn’t hate the idea of spending more time here either, not like he had initially. The Asgardians still weren’t exactly his style, but he wasn’t in any immediate rush to get home either. “Actually,” he half-admitted, half-evaded, “I don’t mind. You’ve certainly had enough problems needing creative tech solutions to keep me busy.”

Thor smiled, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes- uh, eye- in the way it used to before he’d left. “Happy as I am to oblige you that, I suspect that isn’t the only reason you linger.”

It was Tony’s turn to plaster on a smile, slipping back into clipped snark. “Haven’t the slightest clue what you mean, Point Break.”

“Stark,” Thor began, drawing one of those I’m-about-to-be-serious breaths, “I don’t wish to interfere. If you have deemed your suspicions of my brother’s insincerity unfounded, I am all the happier for it. I am certainly happy to have him at my side again myself.”

“I’m sensing a but.”

“But,” he continued, and Tony mentally groaned, “I don’t think I expected you to be quite so… enthusiastic either. I fear he may be what keeps you here, and I would caution you to be wary.”

Tony raised an eyebrow, trying not to betray his sudden tenseness. “Thought you said your brother was a good guy now.”

“He no longer seeks to invade Midgard,” Thor allowed, “but that does not make him harmless. Not destruction like in your New York, I don’t believe, but Loki has long had habits of betraying those close to him.”

Thor paused briefly, just long enough for Tony to get a little panicky about how easily Thor had decided he was now “close” to Loki. “I will always love my brother. And of course I would care to know anyone’s intentions towards him. But I no longer trust him. Truly, I do not know if I ever can again – he has betrayed me so many times before, that I often feel as if I am waiting for the knife in the back when I least expect it. I merely encourage you to take similar precautions in your befriending of Loki, lest you suffer the same fate.”

Something about the way Thor said befriending and intentions slid under Tony’s skin uncomfortably. Maybe Thor had meant to imply it, maybe he hadn’t, but Tony’s own reservations about how comfortable he was becoming with Loki weren’t helping him think straight. “I’m not befriending anybody, least of all Loki,” he snapped, though even he could see he was just in ‘panic panic go full denial mode.’ But he didn’t want to admit or explain to anyone, especially Thor, exactly what he thought he was doing with Loki, because truthfully he didn’t know. He couldn’t forget what Loki had done, but he was starting to think he might be able to forgive it, and that scared him worse than any amount of anger would have.

Unfortunately, before he could even attempt to organize his thoughts, least of all put them into words, he and Thor became aware of their audience. Loki stood in the doorway, hands still curled around the frame, with his face tipped away into shadow. Guilt crawled up Tony’s throat and silenced him.

“Ah,” Loki broke the silence, “I see you two are… busy. I suppose I shall come back another time.” His voice was dry, sarcastic rather than hurt, but his hasty retreat told a different story than his casual tone.

“Shit,” Tony breathed, his and Thor’s near-argument all but forgotten as they watched him go. “Well, that could have gone better.”

~~~

So Lemon Boy and me, we just gotta get along together
I'll help him plant his seeds and we'll mow the lawn in bad weather
It's actually pretty easy being nice to a bitter boy like him
So I got myself a citrus friend

~~~

It took Tony surprisingly little time to find Loki again. Not because he hadn’t expected Loki to be at the docks again, because why give up a good moping spot when you had one, but – well, the guy could turn himself invisible. If he didn’t want to be found, he wouldn’t be.

So when Tony approached the docks and not only saw Loki’s distinct figure on an out of the way pier, but also didn’t get blasted into next Tuesday or suddenly feel an oncoming case of warts where the sun didn’t shine, he was more than a little surprised. He suspected it might have had something to do with the god’s own pride though – if Loki retaliated, he’d have to admit he’d actually been hurt by Tony saying they weren’t friends, and that? Neither of them would have survived that.

Tony took his usual position seated next to Loki, and damn if that wasn’t strange to think, and noted how Loki leaned a bit away but didn’t make an attempt to stop him. “Careful Stark,” he said, voice tinged with venom, “wouldn’t want anyone thinking we were friends, would we?”

Yeah, he’d probably deserved that. Tony sighed, trying to get his thoughts in order if they would just make any damn sense. “Listen, what I said, what Thor said-”

“What Thor says causes me no grievance. He expressed as much to me already, before Asgard burned. He’s made it quite clear I’ve gone one knife-in-the-back too far.”

Tony winced, unable to argue. Thor had said as much to him, hadn’t he? And really, he didn’t think even Loki could blame the guy for being cautious anymore. You could only fake your own death so many times. Still, it had to hurt to hear out loud.

But Tony couldn’t apologize for Thor; he could only speak for himself. And now that he’d cooled down a little, Thor’s words to Tony sounded much less like accusations.

“I got defensive,” Tony admitted. Loki’s gaze snapped to him, but waited for him to continue. “Because yeah, it does scare me that I’m three feet above an ocean, in Scandanavia, sitting next to a guy that two months ago I would have expected to drown me. It surprises me that the guy who threw me out a window is sitting in my lab more often than not. And it’s more than a little concerning that Thor seems to draw his own conclusions about uh… intentions.

Loki, who had been pretending not to listen, nearly choked; looked like Tony hadn’t been as off-base with that implication as he had hoped. “So I panicked, and lied. But honestly?” he continued, “I know a thing or two about getting stabbed in the back. And I know just as much about being the one doing the stabbing. It’d be pretty hypocritical to let something like that deprive me of a lab partner.”

“Are you quite done, Stark? All this talk of friendship is rather unbecoming.” But Loki’s lips twitched upward, and the tension had faded to a low hum rather than a roaring waterfall, so Tony counted it as a win even as he rolled his eyes.

Chapter Text

But what if I run out of fertilizer
What if the clouds run out of rain

~~

It was over. They’d lost.

Thanos had come, the horrible nightmare that had lived in the back of his mind for years had really come true and Tony was... alone.

Well, not entirely, but Nebula wasn’t much for company. She’d helped to stave off some of the horrible loneliness, the defeat, the despair, but there was only so much someone could do to liven up the joint when half of the universe had been wiped out in front of your eyes.

He didn’t know what had happened to anyone on Earth. He didn’t know if-

He’d been in New York for business – for the first quick trip back since he’d been to New Asgard, it was supposed to be quick - when the spaceship had shown up. He’d brought Bruce along with him, figuring he could help catch everyone up on what they’d missed during his extended space vacation. Loki and Thor had stayed in New Asgard, still wrapped up in its establishment. He hadn’t said as much, but Tony was also pretty sure Loki had no desire to return to the place he’d made ground zero for his attack all those years ago.

At the time Tony hadn’t made much fuss, but now, with Bruce still on Earth and Strange gone and Peter disappearing in his hands like ash-

Tony swallowed thickly. He needed to know they were okay. Pepper, and Bruce, and Thor, and yes, god damn it, even Loki. Especially, he admitted to himself, in the way he could only do when he was drifting through the cold expanse of space with no hope of rescue, especially Loki.

He was so royally screwed. And ironically, that was the least of his problems right now.

~~

What if Lemon Boy won't grow no longer
What if beaches dry of sugar cane

~~

Tony should have felt relieved when the glowing space lady had set their ship down back on Earth. In some sense, he absolutely was – now that the certainly of his own death wasn’t hanging over his every breath, it was a lot easier to muster words for Natasha and Rhodey and even Steve, clipped as those words were.

His relief lasted about as long as it took to catch a glimpse of Thor. Because when he saw the look on Thor’s face, a part of him knew.

Thor dragged his gaze up from the ground to meet Tony’s eyes, looking anguished and guilt-ridden, and that small part inside him wailed where Tony had repressed it. “Tony,” Thor started, his voice shaking and uncertain, his throat raw. “Tony, he-”

“What happened?” Tony’s own voice was a barely there breath, dampened by days of hunger and thirst and loss and a horrible knowledge he did not want to know. “What happened?

“He’s gone.” Tony gritted his teeth at the words, wrapping his fist in the material of Thor’s shirt and tugging desperately. The movement jostled Thor’s own clenched fist, which loosened just a fraction, just enough that stray grains of dust spilled between his knuckles. Tony watched them fall, then get caught in the wind, and felt distantly sick.

~~

The whales start to beach themselves
Tortoise shells tear away from their spines
It happens all the time, it happens all the time

~~

Tony couldn’t find the energy to do much of anything for those first few months after the snap. He’d spent most of them recovering in bed, on a strict IV and bedrest regimen and finding it hard to open his eyes for most of it. When he was really out of it, it was easy to pretend it had all been just another fucked up dream. But reality came crashing in soon enough.

When he’d finally felt well enough to shuffle out of bed, he’d gotten clearance to head to Queens. That was… not a conversation he liked to dwell on for long. It was about three weeks too late anyway, though he couldn’t have lived with himself if he hadn’t gone.

After that, he’d done what he could to… to move on. He and Pepper tried the whole relationship thing again, but it just felt hollow after everything. She was ready to let the past go, as much as it pained her, while Tony found it impossible to let his past go, never quite able to get certain memories to fade entirely.

Pepper had done her own moving on after they split for good. She had a kid now, a real sweet girl, and whenever he was able Tony would visit. Seeing her, watching a baby grow into an amazing, strong, and smart little girl just like her mother felt like a desperate scrap of hope in the world. It felt like moving on, even if his heart was stuck in the past.

Maybe that was why it had been so hard to let himself buy into the whole time heist plan at first. It was selfish, but he didn’t want to rewind the clock, not on this. Much as he loved the little girl, Pepper’s kid was never his, could never be his – but how could he take that from her? How could he look in the eyes of a five year old he’d practically helped to raise and know that he held the power to unwrite her entire existence?

So he’d refused and bristled and pushed his friends away, much as he wanted them to stay, much as he wanted to give in to the looks in their eyes that screamed don’t you want to bring them back? Don’t you want to brink Loki back? That was, until he’d cracked it.

A trip into the past. A chance to grab the stones before they’d ever made it into Thanos’ hands, and undo the snap without undoing everything that had happened in those five years. A chance to bring everyone back, and fix what they’d broken. A chance to avenge Earth, one last time.

~
Everything had gone smoothly – well, about as smoothly as a time heist could reasonably go - until they’d reached the top of the Stark Tower. Tony took one look at the Loki of the past and froze. He was whole, and alive, and his heart stopped a little when dust shook loose from Loki’s coat but it was just the plaster of the stairs and he took a gulping breath in his relief.

He could go out there right now and feel him, alive again. He could put a hand on his shoulder and see the same begrudgingly soft eyes looking back at him that he remembered, the same amused tilt of the lips he got whenever Tony had made a fool of himself in an especially endearing way, the same-

“-Tony. Tony, can you hear me?” Tony blinked. Cap’s voice crackled through his suit speakers, and he turned to seek him out across the room. Steve met his gaze sympathetically, but solemnly, and not for the first time Tony wondered exactly who had told Steve about any of his personal business. “He’s not your Loki, Tony. Not yet.”

And goddamn it, it was true. If he went out there now, he was much more likely to see eyes narrowed in confusion and anger, pain, hurt, nothing Loki was equipped to deal with within himself yet. He wouldn’t see a smile buried underneath the metal casing over his mouth.

But if he got the stones back, if they pulled this off, then maybe he’d get to see all that again.