It only took the looming end of the world to make Tony give in and finally go to visit Loki in his cell.
He knew that he could have before, at any time– Thor had offered with sad eyes and painful understanding almost immediately after they had caught Loki in New York, but Tony just couldn’t. It hurt far too much.
Of course, he also found it a little disconcerting that Thor had known, when Tony had never even met the guy before. But it seemed as if, despite everything, Loki had not kept the fact that he was in a relationship with a mortal secret from his family– because Thor had known who Tony was the moment he arrived on Earth.
Tony hadn’t been sure whether that made things better or worse, but either way it left a broken shard in his heart where his ability to trust had once resided, and an aching hole where his love had once made its home. And over the years, that ache in his heart never truly left, not since he’d accepted that Loki wasn’t coming back– not since he’d accepted that Loki had grown bored of being with a ‘mere mortal’, and had decided to find his entertainment through the destruction of the planet instead. The pain never abated, and it never went away– though Tony did his best to ignore it.
He knew that Pepper and Rhodey were worried about him, and that especially during the mess with Killian and Extremis, they had been more than concerned that he was being reckless because of all that he had lost.
On the other hand, the other Avengers hadn’t known at all, and Steve had suffered no hesitation in calling Tony up out of the blue to tell him that they were going to be looking for Loki’s sceptre. Apparently, it seemed that HYDRA had managed to get their claws on it before SHIELD’s fall, and they couldn’t afford to leave it in their hands. Tony had made his way through the conversation through sheer determination alone, glad that it had been over the phone and not a video call, because it meant that he only had to school his tone of voice in order to hide his reaction to hearing even just that name.
It was like he couldn’t escape.
It had been four years since Loki had headed off to Asgard for his brother’s coronation and then hadn’t come back– and it had been three since Loki had returned in a blaze of fire and death, heralding an invading army and forcing Tony to fight the one he loved for the safety of his own planet.
It had been clear that Loki didn’t care at all for Tony. He had all but ignored Tony on the flight from Stuttgart, and when Tony had confronted him in his penthouse, Loki had been angry and surly and had even tried to control Tony with the sceptre.
Loki didn’t love him anymore, that much was obvious– but Tony… just couldn’t stop. The person in the invasion had broken his heart, but that didn’t make it easy to forget the good times, all the soft moments they had spent together before Tony had been an Avenger, and before Loki had turned down a dark path where Tony knew he couldn’t follow, even if Loki had wanted him to. He hated Loki with all his heart, but he couldn’t stop loving him, either. It was a horrible tear that ran straight through his centre, and there was not a thing that he could do to change it.
So he had joined the Avengers, had tried to force himself to forget what it was that they were searching for, and did his best to ignore Thor’s sympathetic glances. He just focused on the mission, focused on finding the magical, powerful object that was going to do far more harm than good if they couldn’t get their hands on it.
It seemed like the universe was testing his resolve, then, because of course he had to be the one to find the fucking thing. And then, he had been so distracted trying to push away the memories that he did not hear it when one of the Enhanced that HYDRA had been squirreling away crept up behind him– and he did not even notice she was there until she was already inside his head.
The first thing that he knew was fear, and all he could see was darkness. It was the endless stretch of the void, no different to how he remembered it from before he had fallen from the portal. He could see all of his friends, lying battered and broken and bloody and surrounded by the corpses of Chitauri, too many and yet far, far too few all at the same time. But perhaps even worse than all that was the body on the very top of the pile, stretched flat with his head twisted at a horrific angle, his lips bloody, and his eyes open and staring– once bright green now dull and glassy.
Tony knew that Loki was dead, he knew that they all were, that they all had been defeated and that he was the only one left alive.
And yet, despite the horrible stillness of the scene and the pile of corpses, Tony could still hear a familiar, raw voice curling through the air– or perhaps it was echoing through his mind.
You could have done more.
Somehow, someway, Tony knew that all of this was going to be his fault. Even as he pulled himself from the vision, even as he realised that it had been a creation of the girl’s, and not something that was set in stone– even then, he knew that if he didn’t do something to change the path he was on, then the whole planet would suffer a terrible destruction.
He knew he must have looked disturbed when he met back up with the others, because they all gave him odd looks. And on the flight home– yeah, he tried to speak with them all about it, of course he did. He tried to tell them that they needed some kind of defence system—
Sounds like a cold world, Tony.
—and that they needed to be ready.
No, Tony, we can’t. Every time someone tries to win a war before it starts, innocent people die. Every time.
Yet every time he voiced his concern, every time he tried to raise even a discussion, he was shot down. They told him that he was being paranoid, that they had their own defence, that the Avengers were going to be more than enough for what was out there.
“You don’t know what’s out there! You haven’t seen it!”
“And neither have you, Tony. What you saw… that was just a nightmare.”
Tony had tried to recruit Bruce to help him build a peacekeeping program, and Bruce even began to agree to it– but Tony knew that he didn’t agree with the reasoning. And if Tony didn’t even have the support of his science bro, then what was the point in trying to get the others to understand?
The program was going to be a bust before it had even started. He thought about working on it anyway, just going ahead and proving them all wrong with a completed, working project like he had so many times before in the past… but as he stood there in the workshop, contemplating the sceptre, a different idea invaded his mind.
The Avengers were never going to accept Ultron, and the world would likely condemn Tony for trying to create a more powerful AI than JARVIS before they even began to think of the capabilities, of the things it could do to help. There was no joy there, no chance of creating something that would actually work.
But Tony had been thinking about Loki again, from the presence of the sceptre to the truly horrifying image of everyone Tony had ever cared about lying dead. And it was then that Tony came to realise– Loki had seen what was up there, he knew what it was that they were dealing with. And Tony knew Loki– he knew that the god would be willing to do what it took to save his own skin.
After all, Loki had failed in his mission to invade Earth, had he not? And there was no way Loki would have gone to Asgard as easily as he did if there weren’t some benefit in it for him. Yet he didn’t fight, and he didn’t struggle– he didn’t try to get away at all, not even after he had been left smashed into the ground by the Hulk. Yes, he was injured – injured enough that Tony had actually felt a little worried, no matter how deserved those injuries were – but Tony had seen what Loki was capable of. He could have just left in an instant.
But he hadn’t– and the only explanation Tony could think of was that he had been running from something, and he had seen the Asgardian cells as a safer place than trying to run from the Avengers at the same time as from whoever else would be angry with his performance on Earth. So perhaps… if Tony gave him the incentive of a chance to win the fight, then maybe Loki would be willing to help.
So, perhaps, even with the Avengers fighting him at every turn, maybe there was another option– a last, desperate hope.
Well… there was only one way to find out for sure, and it was with the determination that thought allowed him that Tony walked into the tail end of a party he had forgotten all about. It looked like the guests had left at least – and from the number of glasses strewn around, it seemed like there had been a fair few of them – and the Avengers were all sitting around the coffee table, watching and jeering with laughter in their voices as Clint tried to pick up Mjölnir. Tony ignored almost all of them, stepping into the middle of the group and speaking to Thor point blank.
“Thor,” he said. “I need to see Loki.”
The other Avengers suddenly broke into a confusion, asking questions like how and why and what the fuck? But Thor merely offered a small, sad smile, his previous mirth melting away.
“Of course,” he said. “You know that you are permitted to see him whenever you wish.”
Whenever you wish.
Tony had always known that, even if Thor had been kind enough not to remind him of that fact. But the thing was, Tony still didn’t really want to– and yet he yearned for it with everything he was. But perhaps that was why he shouldn’t, because it was more dangerous than it should have been. Tony was half afraid that he would see Loki and fall back under his spell, and only end up hurt again. He didn’t think that he could survive that– so it was better to just stay away.
Loki was a relic of his past, a memory he wished he could look back on fondly, but even that had been stolen from him. Everything about Loki was just too painful to want to contemplate.
“I’d like to go as soon as we can,” Tony said. “Please, Thor. I don’t think I’ll be long, but I just need to speak with him.”
“Then we shall go now,” Thor said firmly. He stood and raised his hand, and Mjölnir flew straight past Clint to land in Thor’s outstretched palm. “Do you have all that you require?”
Tony glanced down over himself, seeing the T-Shirt and jeans that he had been wearing as he had worked in the workshop. It was nothing special, but… there was no need to dress up, was there? It wasn’t like the Aesir would know what tidy Midgardian clothing even was, and Loki had seen Tony in far worse states than this. And he had a wristwatch gauntlet with him, something that would be more than capable of at least buying him some time against even an Asgardian– though it wouldn’t be much help against Loki.
Whatever. This was Tony’s last chance. If this didn’t work, if Loki said no, then they were all dead, anyway.
“Yeah,” Tony said, clenching his fists. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
That, of course, was a lie.
He was about to see Loki, the man he once thought was the love of his life for the first time in three years, for the first time since they had fought tooth and nail against each other– and all he felt was trepidation.
Tony felt more than nervous when he and Thor walked down the rainbow bridge, hardly even taking in the words that Thor was chatting in his ear about the history of Asgard, about the places that maybe Tony would like to see while he was there. And he knew that Thor was only trying to help, trying to take Tony’s mind off it all, maybe– but there was no way to take his mind off what lay ahead of him, now. He’d been trying for years to no avail.
But maybe… maybe finally facing him would give Tony some closure. Maybe there was a chance here that Tony would be able to finally move on.
The Einherjar led them through the palace and toward the dungeons easily, but they peeled off then, and only Thor came with him between the cells and down toward the isolated area at the back. Loki was separated from all of the other prisoners– apparently, since the attack by the Dark Elves two years earlier, Loki was not trusted to be anywhere near anyone else.
Tony tried not to let that bother him– tried not to think about the fact that Loki had been down here for so very long, without even a single person to talk to.
After all, Loki fucking deserved it.
They rounded the corner, and then Thor stopped, his expression downcast.
“I will leave you here,” Thor said quietly, so that Loki would not be able to hear him in his cell. They were still several yards away, but Tony could already see the figure sitting on the ground with his head pressed back against the wall– a figure that he would, of course, still recognise anywhere. “If you want to pass through the barrier, you will be able to– it will hold Loki in, but it will not cause any issue for you.” Thor paused for a moment. “Be aware, though, that he has full use of his seiðr inside the cell. I do not believe that he would harm you, but I would advise caution.”
“All right,” Tony said, half glad for the privacy and half wishing that Thor would stay so that he didn’t have to face this alone. “Thanks, Thor.”
“There is no need to thank me,” Thor said. “And Tony… I do not know all that happened between you, but I know that he truly does—”
“Thor, please don’t,” Tony cut in. “Please just… I need to do this, but I really…” He didn’t have the words, but thankfully, it seemed that Thor understood what he was trying to say. He clapped Tony’s shoulder and held it firmly for a moment in a show of support before turning away and leaving Tony to face the monster behind his nightmares.
Once, Tony had felt more comfortable in Loki’s presence than he had with anyone else– even more so than he had when he was alone. He had anticipated every moment together with the kind of excitement that could be felt through your whole body, and the warmth of knowing that he would always be safe and cared for, so long as they were together.
But now, he felt only dread as he stepped up to the cell, pausing a few yards from the orange glow of the barrier.
Tony cleared his throat, unsure of how else he could announce himself. A ‘hello’ felt like it would be ridiculous, and he wasn’t about to say anything nice.
Loki, it seemed, was not about to say anything nice either, for he remained exactly where he was as he snapped, “Leave me be, Thor. I do not wish to hear another one of your pleas today.”
His voice sounded brittle, like it hadn’t been used often enough. But Tony steeled himself against any emotion, and focused on why he was there over everything else.
“I’m not Thor.”
Loki’s eyes finally opened at that, snapping wide. He stared for only half a moment before a smirk curled at the corners of his mouth.
“Stark,” Loki said, and the use of his surname stung a little more than it should have, considering everything else that had happened the past few years.
“Loki,” Tony said. “I thought you’d have nicer digs than this, considering Thor told me you actually made a few good choices recently.”
“Thor gave me the choice of helping and returning to the cell, or not helping and missing out on the chance to avenge my mother,” Loki replied, and Tony couldn’t help but grimace.
He felt something sharp at the thought of Loki being forced to deal with his mother’s death alone, grieving in this cell without a shoulder to cry on or arms to hold him tight while he fell apart– but Tony tried to push the thought away. After all that Loki had done, Tony should not be feeling sympathy.
“Is that why you’re here? Are you looking for help from a disgraced mage?” Loki asked– though he didn’t wait for an answer. He snorted derisively, and shook his head. “Of course you are. What other reason would you have for coming to see me that would have taken three years?”
“Why should I have come to see you, Loki?” Tony asked, the anger finally bubbling over and forming words of rage. “Why would I have wanted to, after you left me with nothing, not even a word? I was afraid that you had died, and I never would have known. Can you even imagine what that was like for me?”
“I think that maybe I can,” Loki replied, and Tony’s teeth clicked together.
“Oh? So you know what it is to love someone so much that every moment with them is a gift, and you find yourself hoarding every smile, every touch, because each one makes you feel more alive than you ever have before? You, you know how it feels to want nothing more than their happiness– only to learn that while you have been worried to the point of sickness for a year, they have been plotting to kill you and destroy your home?”
Loki’s voice was choked as he said, “Anthony—”
“Loki,” Tony hissed, no longer wanting to hear that name. “I would have done anything for you, but then you turned around and threw that in my face. And now you have the gall to say that you can understand what that’s like? That you know how it feels to have your heart torn from your chest and ripped to shreds by the one person who you always thought you could trust to keep it safe? Don’t you dare,” Tony finished, his voice starting to crack on those last few words. “Don’t you dare tell me you know what that feels like.”
Loki’s expression was shattered, as if he no longer cared whether Tony saw through the mask that had remained in place during his whole visit to Earth– well, at least right until the very end, when he had smiled at Tony as he had asked for that drink– and when he stared angrily in the park with his mouth held tightly shut. There was something about the slump to his shoulders that seemed almost defeated, and when Loki spoke again, Tony caught himself wondering if maybe there wasn’t something a little more going on here that he hadn’t yet teased out.
But that thought was getting close to dangerous waters. He needed to be more careful.
“You will never forgive me,” Loki said, the words a simple statement of fact– and Tony refused to believe that was sadness hiding in Loki’s gaze.
“Hoping to try and manipulate me further, were you?” Tony asked. “Please. I may have been an idiot before, but I am not about to fall for the same fucking trick twice.”
Loki seemed to turn that over in his mind for a few moments, his lips pressing together tightly before he said, “And yet, you have still come to ask for my help. Perhaps there is still a part of you that wonders whether what I did was—”
“Loki, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t my last hope in hell,” Tony snapped. “I don’t particularly want your help, but I need it.”
“Then… you must be desperate,” Loki said, tilting his head.
“Yes, I’m fucking desperate,” Tony snapped, so worked up that it wasn’t even hard to admit the truth. “I’m scared– I’m terrified, in fact, because I know what’s coming and no one else is listening to anything I have to say. You’re the only other person who seems to have a clue, so yes. I’m asking you to help me, because if you don’t, then none of us have a hope.”
Loki only considered that for a few seconds before giving his answer, as if he didn’t have to think about it at all. “I will not help the Avengers—”
“Loki, please,” Tony said. “Aren’t you listening? You’re the last hope for more than just us, for more than just Earth. This is bigger than I think anyone else realises, but they all just—”
“Of course I’m listening. You said you’re here because the Avengers aren’t listening to you, but you’re the one that is being obtuse,” Loki shot back. “I know exactly what it feels like to not be listened to.”
And, yeah, Tony could remember Loki ranting about how no one else could see that his brother was not yet fit to be king, that he was going to have to do something to bring an end to the coronation for the good of the realm. Thor wasn’t king, so Tony supposed Loki’s plan must have worked. He wondered if Loki thought it was worth it.
Loki sighed heavily at Tony’s lack of answer. “Why do you think I have something that could help?” he asked, his voice a little curious but mostly just sounding tired. “What has made you believe that I could have any information on this matter at all?”
Tony frowned. Wasn’t that obvious? “Because you were working with whatever’s out there,” he said. “I know you’ve seen it, so you should know better than anyone what’s coming.”
“For,” Loki corrected quietly.
“I’m sorry what?” Tony asked.
“I was not working with them, I was working for them,” Loki said, his voice a little stronger now, almost back to where it had been before. “It is a small distinction perhaps, but one that I would prefer you make, even if you do not care to wonder why.”
Tony immediately took a mental step back, retreating behind what shields he could. There was the chance that this was just another manipulation– a testament to how well Loki had come to know Tony during their time together, because of course ending a statement that way almost guaranteed that Tony was going to ask that very question.
He knew that he shouldn’t, that he should focus just on what he had come to do. But he just needed to know, and even if it was another manipulation…
“Why?” he asked, keeping his eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Why should I wonder? What aren’t you telling me?”
“You said that you’re the only one of the Avengers who has seen what’s out there,” Loki said, his words hesitant and unsure. “Then you know about the threat? You’ve seen—”
“This isn’t answering my question, Loki,” Tony interrupted impatiently. “Why don’t you just—”
“Why don’t you just listen?” Loki asked, his voice breaking a little with frustration. “You jump to conclusions and you assume the worst—”
“The worst?” Tony asked incredulously. “I don’t see how I could assume anything else, after what you did—”
“You never even gave me a chance to explain,” Loki snarled. He was on his feet, though Tony couldn’t say when Loki had stood– and he stalked closer to the barrier until that was all that was between them. “I asked you if you wanted a drink, I thought that you would understand that I wanted to talk—”
“Why would I have wanted to talk to you? You tried to kill me—”
“I was trying to keep you safe.”
Tony paused, staring in disbelief. “Sorry, say that again?” he asked flatly. “You were what, exactly?”
“I couldn’t risk that they would see what you meant to me,” Loki insisted, speaking quickly now that Tony was giving him the chance. “I knew that if they learned that, they would use you to control me even more than they already were. I could fight against the Mind Stone, I could still try and subvert them where I could, but I knew that if they managed to get you into their grasp, there was nothing I would not have done to ensure your safety.”
“Loki,” Tony said, his eyes wide. “You’re not making any sense.”
“Aren’t I?” Loki asked, his voice shaking and cracking almost pitifully. “Anthony, I know what it must have looked like, because I specifically engineered the situation to look that way. He was watching me, and I couldn’t risk… I did everything to keep you safe, I swear to you.” Loki raised a trembling hand, as if he wished that he could reach through the barrier, but he paused and let it fall with a sigh. “I don’t know how to make you believe me,” he whispered. “And I’m not going to help the Avengers, not when you say that they refuse to try and understand the gravity of the situation, and when they will not listen. But I will help you.” Loki’s expression softened, and Tony had to swallow hard to get rid of the lump that lodged in his throat. “Anthony, for you, I would do anything. You only ever need to ask, and I would do whatever you wanted, if it meant that I could help to keep you safe. And I know that forgiveness is far too much to ask, but… you’re just going to have to trust me.”
Tony was already shaking his head. “I can’t,” he said, still feeling a little choked. “Loki, I can’t, not anymore.”
“Then give me the chance to prove it,” Loki begged, his arms wrapping around his middle. “Anthony, let me show you that I still—”
“No,” Tony snapped, his eyes blazing. “Don’t.”
Loki’s breath left him in a heavy gush of air, and then he turned to face the far wall, his hands running through his hair in obvious distress.
“One day,” Loki whispered. “I don’t care how long it’s going to take. One day, you will believe how much I care for you, and you’ll be able to trust me again.” But it sounded more like prayer than a promise, and when he turned back to Tony, his expression was determined but sad. “Even if you never forgive me, I’m not going to stop caring. I’m not. You will always be safe from me, and I will always help you. Even if you don’t believe what I said before, then please… at least believe that.”
Tony was still wary, still a little unsure– still perfectly aware that this could be trick. But he had seen Loki lie before– he had seen him cheat and scheme and manipulate, and he always did it wearing a blank mask or a charming smile. Never had Loki revealed anything so raw unless it was truly meant.
And maybe he couldn’t trust anything that had happened in the past. Maybe all of it had been a lie, but… well, standing there, separated only by a thin barrier, it would be all too easy to fall back under Loki’s spell, to be wrapped up in how Loki had once made him feel.
His heart was still guarded, but Loki’s words had hammered a crack in the carefully built walls that threatened to crumble the whole structure.
Because… what Loki claimed to have suffered during the invasion was almost too terrible to contemplate, and Tony nearly found himself hoping it wasn’t true for Loki’s sake. To have someone in your head, always watching, always waiting for a weakness to exploit—
The memory of how Loki had looked when he had stolen the Tesseract rose up unbidden, that image of pale, sweaty skin and eyes lined with darkness. Tony had been too upset at the time to feel anything other than his own betrayal, but looking back on it now, and with Loki’s explanation in mind…
Loki was right. He had been making sense, Tony just hadn’t wanted to see it.
“We don’t have time for you to prove yourself,” Tony said. “But… maybe there’s another way.”
“How?” Loki asked. “Just tell me how—”
“Show me,” Tony insisted. “Loki, show me the truth.”
There was a moment where it was clear that Loki did not understand, but then his eyes widened with realisation, his lips parting in shock. Tony knew why– he had just said that he couldn’t trust Loki, and yet here he was offering for Loki to use his seiðr to enter his mind. But… the way he saw it, he didn’t have much of a choice. Thor still seemed to think that Loki wouldn’t hurt him, and even if he did… if this was the way to get Loki on side against the threat that waited beyond the stars, then Tony wasn’t really risking a thing at all, was he? If this went wrong, then they were all dead anyway.
So he drew in a deep breath, pushed away the doubt, and stepped through the orange barrier. It prickled at his skin like something electric, clinging to him for a moment longer than it should before it snapped back into place– and then suddenly, Tony was on the other side.
He didn’t say anything. He just waited, watching patiently as Loki seemed to gather his nerves. Loki’s expression was marred by a mix of conflicting emotions, all warring together, flashing through his eyes so quickly that Tony couldn’t hope to decipher them. Eventually, resolve won out and Loki stepped forward. He reached up slowly, still hesitantly– but rather than placing his hand on Tony’s head, he gently cupped Tony’s cheek. Tony wasn’t sure whether he was fighting the urge to flinch or to lean into the touch, but he knew he was fighting something, and he made sure to hold as still as he could.
“Are you sure?” Loki asked.
“Yes,” Tony said firmly. “Do it.”
He waited for the feel of another mind brushing against his own, for that sense of not real that he had gained with the vision from the Maximoff girl. But then, right when he had that thought, Loki flinched back—
“Someone else has been inside your head,” he said, his hand pulling away, his eyes pained.
“Yes, I know,” Tony replied through gritted teeth. “That doesn’t matter, I’m fine. Just do it.”
There was no further hesitation. Loki’s eyes blazed green, and then his hand came to rest on Tony’s forehead. Tony braced himself once more– but rather than feeling like an invasive press against everything that made Tony himself, he felt something of a tug, and a smooth slide as he was drawn toward something instead. And then Tony realised that Loki wasn’t going inside Tony’s mind, he wasn’t projecting anything. He was pulling Tony into his own mind, doing the exact opposite to what Tony had expected.
Tony gasped, because– just that alone was more than telling. Tony never would have thought of that option, and Loki had to know that. He had to know that he could have simply pushed his memories into Tony’s mind, that Tony never would have uttered a complaint, not the way that things stood. Not when Tony had asked him to do it.
Yet… Loki was opening up, was showing Tony everything that he was even though he didn’t have to, and before he’d even seen anything Tony already found himself trusting Loki just a little more.
And then Tony was met with an explosion of feelings, and his thoughts were emptied of everything save for Loki’s experiences.
He saw it all. He saw Loki’s memories of their time together, how happy Loki had been with Tony, and how proud he was to tell everyone on Asgard that he had a lover. How he had been working with his mother to craft the best way to ask his father for the means for them to be together forever, to match their lifespans. How Loki had been so in love with Tony that it was hard every time he was on Asgard, that he wanted to spend as much time with Tony as he could. He felt Loki’s reluctance to leave for Thor’s coronation, his wish that he could just stay on Earth with Tony.
It made one thing impossibly clear. Loki truly had loved Tony, before—
And that made it all the harder to watch while Loki learned of the lies. Tony felt it when Loki’s world was torn apart, when everything came crashing down on top of him until he felt like he couldn’t breathe. He felt Loki’s horror, his indecision like it was his own– Loki’s absolute surety that even if Tony still wanted to be with him knowing he was a Frost Giant, Tony deserved something better than that. Tony no longer felt like he was watching as Loki decided to destroy Jotunheim– he was there, he was seeing everything through Loki’s eyes. Loki decided to destroy a whole planet, a whole people because he had been brought up to believe that was the only way to keep Asgard safe, and because he wanted to prove that he wasn’t the monster everyone would claim him to be.
When Loki fell from the bridge, he was silent– but Tony screamed for him.
The pain that followed was indescribable. Everything was dark until Loki was found, and there was a moment of hope– but that hope only made what happened next seem all the worse. They tore his body apart knowing that his seiðr would piece it back together, and for a full year his own screams were the only sound that Loki heard. The Other found almost every weakness that Loki had– all bar one. Because Loki didn’t see Tony as a weakness. Loki knew that if he let the Other find out about Tony all would be lost, and he used his desire to protect him to keep himself sane, to hold on to all he had left, to give himself something to fight for.
And even when Thanos finally came forward with that fucking sceptre and the Other managed to force his way inside Loki’s mind, Loki still held on. He refused to let them see anything of the mortal he had come to love, and that determination allowed him to keep just enough sanity to keep control even with the Other so firmly entrenched inside his head.
Yes, Loki attacked, and he killed a lot of people– but through it all the one thought at the forefront of his mind, battling against the power of the sceptre, was that he needed to keep Tony safe. He needed to make sure that his invasion failed but he needed to do so in a way that would appear real, because he couldn’t afford for the Other to decipher his motives.
And in the end, Loki succeeded– he lost, and when the Hulk smashed him into the ground, it shattered the connection to the sceptre.
Loki already knew that it was too late– he waited for Tony in the penthouse, but when he looked up and saw only hatred in Tony’s eyes he knew there was nothing he could say which would earn him forgiveness. After all, Loki was a monster. His actions had only created further proof of that.
So he made a joke, he tried to brush it off– because Tony was safe, and to Loki, that was all that mattered. And he was pleased as he went to his Asgardian cell, because he knew that while he was there, he would be out of Thanos’ and the Other’s reach. While he was locked up no one could hurt him, and there was no one to stop him from falling apart as he realised all that he had lost.
Suddenly, Tony felt like he was hitting up against a wall, or moving though a puddle of tar. Everything began to slow, and he realised that what he was feeling was Loki’s current reluctance. There was something here that Loki was hesitant to show, something he didn’t want Tony to see—
But rather than making Tony curious, it gave him reason to pause. Because he had already seen so much pain, so much horror– so what was it that Loki was now trying to hide?
What could be worse than the torture?
He didn’t have to wait long for his answer—
The barrier fell and the floodgates opened, a rush of colour and emotion that was more than enough to overwhelm. It was everything that Loki had felt in his cell, everything that he was feeling right now. Every moment of isolation, every wish, every prayer– every time he yearned for Tony’s arms around him, every moment he spent remembering and longing with a bone-deep ache for a time long gone. Tony felt Loki’s heartbreak as if it were his own– and in a way, it was his own, because he knew what it was to miss someone with your entire being, to feel like one half of yourself had been cruelly torn away. Loki knew that he only had himself to blame, and when the years went by without a visit from Tony, Loki understood.
Even though that hurt enough to make Loki feel physically sick, through it all he only hoped for Tony’s happiness.
And when Loki had the chance to escape– when Thor had left him alone and injured on a planet so very far away… Loki went back to his cell. Because he knew that if he was out and free, the first thing he would do would be to return to Tony, and he knew that was something Tony didn’t want.
Except… Tony was long past thinking that Loki was his enemy. Tony was aching, his whole body screaming with the knowledge that– well, this wasn’t entirely his fault, but he had long since realised that he could have fixed this.
Because through it all, through the pain and the heartbreak and the utter, bloodcurdling agony, there was one thing that continued to keep Loki sane. Holding him together and keeping him going from one breath to the next was a love that burned, that made the world feel a little brighter even though it hurt.
“Loki,” Tony gasped, and as his eyes flew open he realised that they were stinging with tears. “Oh, Loki.” He fell forward without restraint, his hands pressing into Loki’s back, drawing him as close as he could manage, burying his face against Loki’s shoulder.
Loki was trembling, but he didn’t pull away. His arms were hesitant at first, but then firm as he held Tony just as tightly, leaning his head against Tony’s and breathing in as if afraid that everything was false, that Tony was about to disappear.
“Anthony?” he whispered.
“I’m so sorry,” Tony said, his voice choked. “Loki, I’m… All that time, you were in pain, and I thought—”
“You thought what anyone would have,” Loki said firmly, his hands bunching in the back of Tony’s shirt. “You thought what I wanted—”
“But you didn’t,” Tony said. “Everyone else, yes, but I shouldn’t have been fooled. I should have seen, I should have– oh, god, Loki, you said you didn’t think I could forgive you, but how are you supposed to forgive me?”
Loki whined, holding Tony so tight that it almost started to hurt, but Tony wasn’t about to complain. “You did nothing wrong,” Loki whispered brokenly. “There is nothing to forgive.”
That cracked through Tony’s very being more harshly than anything else, because how could he believe that he had done nothing wrong when Loki had been suffering so much?
Even if he had not felt it himself, he knew now that he could understand the helplessness that Loki had felt, the knowledge that there was nothing he could do to possibly make up for all the bad that had occurred between them.
But… what had poisoned them had come from the outside, very little of it had been their own doing. And Tony knew, that if they were willing to fight for it, they would be able to come back from this. And for Loki? For the love that he thought he had lost?
Oh, Tony was more than willing to fight.
It was going to be more than hard, Tony knew that. They weren’t simply going to be able to go back to the way that they were, because the kind of suffering they had been through was going to leave scars. Tony’s heart had been damaged for much too long to simply bounce back, and although in that moment he wanted to, he knew he wasn’t ready to simply hand it back for Loki to hold. Although, given time, Tony felt able to say that he would get there.
Tony sighed, and shifted his head to a more comfortable position. He wasn’t planning on moving, but it seemed that Loki took it that way, for his muscles tensed.
“I know that I have no right to ask,” Loki whispered, his words skittering over Tony’s skin. “And I know that this is only happening because you feel remorse for what you saw, but… please, will you stay? Just for a few moments more?” Loki’s voice was soft, and it was clear that he was trying not to be pushy– but Tony could hear the plea in his words, and it made his heart ache.
“I promise, Lokes,” he replied, and he smiled as he felt Loki’s intake of breath at the nickname that he had once claimed to hate. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Loki slumped, his whole body going boneless as he melted into Tony’s hold. They both slid down to the ground, curling against each other, relearning the way that they fit together even as they let the familiar sensations wash over them with a comfort they both believed to have fallen permanently from their grasp.
Tony wasn’t lying. Now that he knew the truth, he didn’t want to leave Loki’s arms, not for anything– and he wished that he could just wipe away everything else and stay in their own little world, their own tiny fraction of peace for as long as they both needed.
Unfortunately, though, there were other things they needed to deal with, because even with Thor’s support the Avengers would not simply accept this. Tony also needed to work on his plan to get Loki out of the cell – though with the new information, he knew he had a better chance of perhaps getting Odin to listen – and then, they still had to defeat the threat that was coming for them all.
But Tony knew that when the danger came, he and Loki would be facing it together– and for now, that was enough of a reassurance to calm his racing heart, and to let him just relax into Loki’s arms for the first time in far too long.
Things weren’t perfect, and they weren’t healed– but they had made a solid start. And for the first time in four years, Tony finally felt like there was a chance for everything to be okay.