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White Lie

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Tony Stark awoke with a start when the person he had been resting his head on suddenly got up.

“Holy hell, don't just get up, you almost gave me a heart attack!”

“Well, no sleeping at important meetings, Stark.” Clint smirked down at him, shrugging.

“I sleep when I want,” Tony pouted. How boring was this meeting anyway? It was not like they had anything to talk about. People had invaded were living in his tower, they had been for almost three years now – with the late addition of one Norse trickster god only two years ago. It was not like any of them cared for Tony's rules, or his suggestions about finding their own places – not that he was serious about that anyway – so why was he required to attend these house meetings?

'Because you're part of the team,' Steve usually said when Tony complained.

'Because I have to be there, too,' was Clint's favourite answer.

But apparently, 'having to be there' was not obligatory for everyone. Today, Thor and Loki had left after the first half of their meeting to discuss something in private, and even Steve had left early to take an important phone call. To be fair, after Steve had left, there really was not much being discussed.

“Well, I'll be heading to the Nest,” Barton announced and there was a mumbling of acknowledgement from the other two, Bruce and Natasha, who were heading off themselves, each to their own favourite places and pastimes. 'The Nest' had become their nickname for Clint's room and at first the archer had frowned at them when they used it. By now, however, they had all gotten used to it and Clint almost took pride in having a fancy name for his room.

“But, but... I want to sleep on you! You're the most comfortable person around!” Tony had to admit that was not even a lie. Barton had the perfect height, he did not move or fidget or jump up surprisingly – unless he wanted to scare the living daylights out of a sleeping Tony – he really was the most comfortable person around.

“What happened to Thor then?” A grin and a pair of raised eyebrows met Tony's re-appearing pout.

“I said around, owlhead. He's 'out' with his brother to 'talk' to him about what Loki did to the vacuum cleaner. He still thinks we all don't know.” Pointedly doing little quotation-marks with his fingers, Tony assured himself that he most certainly did not look jealous at all.

“What do you mean, 'talk'?" Clint asked, adding his own air quotes. “What are 'these' for?” He made them again, a little more exaggerated than necessary.

“Oh you know what they do.” The archer frowned at the hand that was fluttered in his direction. Stark could not possibly think that... however, judging by the look on his face, he did. Groaning, Clint turned on his heel and stormed off. This could not possibly be true. He ignored the mix of feelings bubbling up inside him at the thought of finding Thor and Loki doing anything else than talking...

Tony stared after Clint, not sure what to make of that reaction. Instead of wasting precious thoughts on figuring it out, Tony leaned back against the back-rest of the couch. He felt pretty exhausted... maybe trying to get some sort of regular sleep pattern was not the worst of ideas after all.

Meanwhile, out in the corridor, Clint barely dodged Steve Rogers, who threw him a curious look.

“Are you alright? You seem... stressed.”

“Yeah I'm fine. I have something to interrupt,” Clint replied and moved past Steve, who, after a moment of confusion, decided to follow him, apparently suspecting his team-mate to be up to something stupid.

“Is it Coulson? Are you still on about him and Agent Smith? Is Tony doing another dangerous experiment that's going to blow us all up?”

“Nope and nope. For once it's none of the above. Just going to interrupt someone's... 'talk'.” Air quotes. Always the air quotes. “Don't worry about Stark.”

“You know it's impossible not to worry about him.”

“Well, Cap, maybe you should go and check on him then.” Steve seeing what the archer hoped not to be witnessing in a moment? No thank you, there was no need or capacity for helping Cap through that kind of mental scarring.

Steve grabbed hold of Clint's shoulder and stopped him – not roughly, but firmly.

“Promise me you're not going to get any of us into trouble.” He frowned, biting back on an 'again'. The smirk playing around the other man's features did not help alleviate his worries.

“Would I ever? I'm just gonna... have a word.”

Still not convinced, but lacking a reason to hold Clint up any longer, Steve nodded and let go of his shoulder. Also, he could not help but feel the need to check on Tony. Just because Barton said the engineer was out of harm's way did not mean Steve had no reason to worry. The two men were dangerously similar regarding their definition of 'being okay'.

“If this is going to cause drama again, I'll put you on the list for grocery shopping for the whole week, Barton.” Ignoring the muttered response that sounded vaguely like a “whatever,” Steve headed for the living room, where they had held their meeting, only to find Tony sleeping on the couch. Seemed like he really was okay. For a while, he was a tall, blonde monument watching over Tony's sleep, like even now he could cause something to blow up any moment. There may have been more reasons than just that for watching him, though. At the thoughts in his head, a faint blush crept over Steve's face.

'No, Steve, that is inappropriate,' he reminded himself and ran a hand through his hair. Then he frowned. It kept occurring to him that he chastised himself in much the same voice he would use on a dog. No, Steve, that's bad, Steve, sit, Steve, stay, Steve. Well, perhaps it was necessary. Looking around in the room he sighed, deciding to take care of the chaos everyone had left behind. There were empty glasses everywhere, wrapping paper and even a lost and lonely swizzle stick. Steve collected whatever he could carry without the risk of dropping anything, and began to clear the coffee table, transporting the dirty dishes to the kitchen. He had to step over a couple of pillows that had been flung at him earlier, when he had suggested a healthier diet plan for the group to be set up. Seriously, all that fast food could not be good for them.

By now, Clint had reached one of the smaller conference rooms one floor down, grumbling to himself. His head was full of images of Thor and Loki doing inappropriate things – things he had never even wanted to think about, at least not in a way that involved the two of them.

“Damn you, Stark,” he muttered, pushing the door open. For some reason, the room before him was the Asgardian's favourite room for having arguments. There was nothing special about it, but if they chose to retreat for their verbal sparring matches, they chose this room. Maybe it was just a nice move of them, to make themselves easier to find. Not that Jarvis did not keep an eye on them at all times. At Loki, mostly, because that had been their job for the past two years. 'Never let Loki out of your sight.' Odin and Loki really had some issues to discuss, if Loki was not allowed to even stay in the same realm as his adoptive father...

So far, luckily for all of them, Loki had not tried to cause trouble. Not on a major, I'm-going-to-rule-you-all scale at least. There had been some misunderstandings and problems with Midgardian customs, but that was nothing a little bit of shiny Stark-money could not fix. Well, and there had been that brief disappearance a while back that they had all freaked out over and then decided to ignore, when Loki returned in the middle of the night, claiming he had gotten lost and aimlessly wandered through the city. It was an image amusing enough to turn a blind eye to Loki breaking the rules, especially since he seemed half-starved and dirty enough to back up his tale.

It had taken all of them a long time to trust Loki enough to tolerate him being around all the time. Especially Clint himself had had a hard time, and had gotten in the one or other argument, either with Loki, or over Loki. The only people who really still had their share of problems with Loki were Phil Coulson and Nick Fury. Not that Fury did not have his share of problems with just about everyone. And Phil... Clint knew better than to think about him right now. Or ever again. Ever.

Thor's stare started to get physical, snapping Clint out of his thoughts. Both brothers were looking at him now, sitting on chairs facing each other, close enough to touch, but definitely still dressed and not engaging in any... pseudo-incestuous fondling. Damn you, Stark, and your weird, perverted thoughts.

“Hi,” Clint said and waved at the two men. “How are you boys doing?”

Thor, lifting his large hand from Loki's shoulder, where it had rested in a brotherly fashion, waved back cheerfully. “We are –”

“Busy,” Loki interrupted, “we're busy.” The look on his face screamed at Clint to leave. Loki really did not like people watching when Thor went all elder-brother on him, telling him off for misbehaving or playing pranks on people, or on Tony's various intelligent appliances.

Of course, that exact look was more than enough for Clint to gladly stay and share the brothers' company. Grabbing a chair for himself, dragging it next to theirs and putting it down facing the wrong way, he joined them, resting his arms on the back-rest in front of him, his legs to either side of it.

“So, what'cha doing?” Clint repaid Loki's death glare with a joyous smile and did not mind Thor putting his arm around his shoulders.

“I was just explaining to him again that messing with Tony's vacuum cleaner –”

Loki interrupted him again, with a groan.

“Would you stop it? Thor? This is not...,” he gestured at Clint and sharply shook his head. “Just don't.”

The archer raised his eyebrows, looking all but innocent.

“Am I interrupting anything? Stark reminded me you two were still talking... I figured it couldn't be anything important.”

“It wasn't,” Loki agreed and got up, strutting out of the room. Thor shrugged, heaving a sigh heavy with brotherly burden.

“He'll learn some day,” he said, his face optimistic as always.

“What exactly happened?" Clint asked, hazy on the details. That meeting had been tedious, going through so many things that nobody really cared about, but that amounted to a huge mess everyone was concerned with.

“Loki broke Stark's vacuum cleaner. It was going to be one of his silly tricks, but his magic does not appear to work with the intelligence Stark gave to the vacuum cleaner. It's astounding how he gives everything he creates a mind of its own. Within the confines of his realm, he may very well be a god, creating his own flock of metal friends.”

Silence fell between the two men, but not an unpleasant one. Clint's eyes scoped the room out of habit, moving over the tables and chairs. There was nothing personal to the room, it was so plain that it was borderline boring – its only saving grace being the view from the window. There was barely a sign left of the wreckage that had occurred just a few years back, when an army of aliens had invaded the city. People had moved on, life had moved on – everyone had found one way or another to cope with what had happened, for better or worse.

“So, anyway... Thor, buddy, how's Jane?”

Thor looked up, grinning like the love-sick fool he was. He very much reminded Clint of a golden retriever puppy sometimes. All that was missing was a wagging tail...

“She announced to speak to me over an important matter later this evening. Her voice was grave – I expect a proposal of marriage, even though I had the impression that even among your people it is customary for the men to come forth with such an offer.”

“Nah,” Clint shrugged, “she's a modern woman, it's all equality now. Congrats, man.” Although Odin probably was not going to like the idea of Thor getting engaged to Jane... Thankfully that was not Clint's problem and he was confident that Thor would handle his father just fine. He grinned at Thor, patting his shoulder, before getting up. “Enough small talk, I'm off...”

“I shall inform you all of her intentions once I figure them out,” Thor promised, trying not to get too excited already.

On his way out, Clint almost rolled his eyes at the sight of Steve casually leaning against the wall of the hallway, so obviously not checking on what Clint was doing that there was no doubt left that this was exactly what he had been doing.

“Night night, Cap.”

Blushing just slightly and following Clint back up, now that he had nothing left to do down here, Steve was glad that for once no drama had ensued. There had been far enough of that recently. It was like everyone was slowly but surely going crazy from the lack of work. Or maybe that was just Steve himself...

One story up, the two men came across Tony, who walked out of the living room, still sleepy and probably heading for either his bed or the workshop (or the bar). His face was covered in what appeared to be markings of black sharpie.

“What? Something on my face?" Tony asked yawning, then frowned at Steve and Clint, who had stopped short. Now, they both shook their heads, fighting to keep straight faces.

“I'm flattered, really, but also... busy,” he turned to the elevator and waved at them. “I'll be in the shop.”

“You should sleep,” Steve protested, knowing very well that whatever he said was not going to help. In fact, Tony did not even dignify it with a reaction. He sighed. Looking at Clint he said, “I'll go find Loki, before he breaks something,” and headed off. He felt like a shepherd dog herding sheep that were very intent on running away.

Chapter Text

It was too early for any mortal soul to be up, even the sun was still hidden, snuggled into the soft covers of morning mists. Only at the Avengers Tower, there was no man or woman left sleeping. All through the night there had been loud sobbing noises coming from the kitchen and while thick walls and high-tech soundproofing had allowed most of the inhabitants to remain unaware of the wailing, now, at four in the morning, alcohol had increased the noise's volume tenfold and it was impossible not to hear it.

Freshly showered after his morning jog, Steve walked into the kitchen, realising that what he had mistaken for some ungodly noise from Tony's workshop was in fact a very godly noise coming from Thor, half sitting at the bar, half lying on it; a heap of blond curls and tears, a rather pitiful mess.

“Thor? Are you... alright?” The redundancy of his question made Steve cringe, but Thor did not seem to mind. He looked up from a literal small puddle of his tears, his face red and swollen and generally looking as though he had been pretty much drinking and crying all night. He slowly shook his head and sniffed pathetically.

“What happened?” Steve moved closer, leaning against the counter.

“Jane...,” Thor sobbed. “My lady Jane...,” he flailed his hand, struggling to find words. “... she left me.”

“What?” Steve stared at Thor – he had not expected this. “Did she... did she tell you why?”

'Oh, yeah, great at comforting your team-mate, Captain,' he chided himself, 'remind them of what their loved one said they did wrong before they broke up. Way to go, Rogers, way to go.' And, just as expected, Thor started wailing again, his words an indistinguishable mess, accompanied by helpless gestures. Looking worried, Steve stepped closer, awkwardly patting the larger man on the shoulder to comfort him. Only a moment later, he found himself crushed in a giant hug, the god of thunder sobbing into his shirt.

Of course, this was just the right time for a sleep-deprived Tony Stark to enter the kitchen. He stopped, stared, walked back out, came back in, stared again, shook his head, rubbed his face, muttered something, stared some more, scanned the room and frowned.

“Where did all my booze go?”

In his wake, Clint wandered in, smirking at the dishevelled Tony, only to then stop and frown at the two blond men.

“Uh, you okay there guys?”

“Jane broke up with him.” A long wail from Thor followed and all heads, except for Thor's, turned into the direction the female voice had come from. Natasha had been sitting near Thor, going unnoticed, keeping him company and probably drinking with him all night. Setting her bottle down with an audible thud, she looked at all of them in turns. The guys stared back at her as though she had just manifested out of thin air. Maybe she had.

“My booze is gone,” Tony repeated in an accusatory tone, pointing at the collection of empty bottles.

“Tony...!” Steve frowned at him. Tony made a 'what?'-gesture at him, walking over to the counter to pour himself a strong coffee.

“Do we know why?" Clint asked, frowning. Natasha gave a quick shrug of her shoulders.

“It appears she's found someone, uh... 'less complicated'.” Steve accentuated her words with a pained gasp, as Thor held on to him more tightly.

“Less complicated?!" Steve looked appalled. “Thor... Thor, can you... let go? Please?” He wiggled around in Thor's embrace, fearing for the safety of his ribs. The sounds of his struggle and of the coffee machine were now accompanied by noises of Clint rummaging through the contents of the fridge.

“Sorry man. That sucks,” the archer said, closing the fridge. He had only found a yoghurt. Was this not the real tragedy here? It was too early in the morning to be discussing a god's love-life, however much he liked Thor.

Thor dropped his arms into his lap and looked very much like a kicked puppy, while Natasha returned to her bottle and Tony grabbed his coffee mug, heading back to the workshop mumbling something about women and his booze.

“Considering how much he drank,” Natasha started and looked at the wet front of Steve's shirt, “I wouldn't be surprised if even you got drunk just by having his tears touch your skin, super-soldier or not.” Her lips twitched with what could have been mistaken for a smile.

“I don't think that's gonna-,” Steve flinched, when Tony popped his head back into the kitchen, speaking before half of his head was even in view of any of the people he addressed.

“Does anybody know where Loki went? Jarvis says he left. In a hurry.”

As though it had waited for this cue, Thor's phone, which was lying on the counter, started ringing. The display showed a picture of him and Jane. For a while, the device was left to ring, Thor's horrified expression following the movement its vibration caused, until Natasha took pity.

“Do you want to talk to her?”

Thor stared at her as though she had gone mad, but that did not stop the phone from ringing. Nodding with the barest dip of her chin, Natasha slid from her chair and crossed the room to pick up the phone, tapping the green button and putting it on speaker.

“Jane Foster, you're on speak-”

“WHO OF YOU TOLD LOKI I BROKE UP WITH THOR?!” Jane's voice was accompanied by a cacophony of things crashing and an unfamiliar man's voice yelling something. Everyone flinched and took a step back, all of them staring at the phone with a mix of shock and disbelief.

“Now you know where Loki is, Stark,” Clint said, flinging a grape at Tony, who swatted at it, causing it to splat on the floor. Not that it mattered right now.

“Well, shit.” Tony turned to look at Steve, because if anyone knew what to do now, it would be him. Unfortunately, Steve was dumbstruck, alarm plain on his face.

“To answer your question,” Natasha said, appearing surprisingly calm, “Thor told us, but we haven't even seen Loki yet.”

“He must've heard...,” Thor threw a worried look at the phone. At least he had stopped crying. His eyes wandered towards Steve, joining Tony in staring him down hoping for a plan, while another crashing noise came from the phone.

Meanwhile, feeling all eyes on him, Steve felt just a tiny bit overwhelmed. This was not quite like leading the team into a regular battle. He did not even quite know what on earth was going on...

“Uhm, Jane, is... is everything alright?” He flinched at yet another loud crash coming from the phone.

“DOES IT SOUND LIKE EVERYTHING IS ALRIGHT?!”

Steve took another half step back, rubbing a hand over his face. Yet another redundant question. He should really take lessons in asking people things.

“Uh, no. I just... Why don't you tell us what's going on?”

“He's THROWING STUFF at us. He's trying to kill my boyfriend. Get your asses over here and DO something about it. Thor, I know you're hearing this, I swear, I will kill you if you don't show up here RIGHT NOW and get your CRAZY ASS BROTHER away from here.”

Raising an eyebrow at the phone, Tony was probably the only one seeming vaguely amused.

“She's got a boyfriend?" Clint hissed, scandalised, earning himself a glare from Natasha and an extra portion of kicked-puppy eyes from Thor. “Fine...” He made a zipping motion across his lips and settled next to Tony leaning against the counter.

“Not for very much longer,” Tony commented under his breath and nodded at Clint.

Another crashing noise. Thor hesitated, but then got up from his seat.

“We need to help them.” Again his eyes rested on Steve.

“We?!" Clint and Tony asked in unison. Tony shook his head.

“I'm really busy and I don't do emotions and breakups and shit, I've got people for that. And I just came here to find my booze gone, I don't even know what we're all doing here and oh, hey, look, coffee! Bye." Tony grabbed his mug and rushed out through the door, only to have a wild Captain Rogers appear, wordlessly dragging him back into the kitchen.

In the meantime, Natasha was still talking to Jane, trying to find out where she and her boyfriend were, while Thor looked at everyone in the room, straightened up, all warrior again, even though he was still a little puffy faced and red-eyed.

“We have to help Jane. We should also try not to let Loki harm her boyfriend too much.” The bitterness that came with Thor saying the word 'boyfriend' prevented most of the team from disagreeing. If this had to be done for the team, it was going to be done. For the team. For Thor. It did not, however, stop Tony from speaking up once again.

“Why do we all have to go? This isn't our business," he complained in his whiniest voice.

“I second that,” Clint sounded just as bored as he looked. “Why do we have to go? Thor just goes and picks up Loki and y'all go home. No big deal.”

“Because it'll be fun,” Natasha said and smiled a fiendish smile. Steve shook his head.

“Because I don't trust Loki as far as I can...,” he reconsidered, “... as far as Tony can throw him without his suit.”

Tony gave a huff of laughter and put on a short-lived fake sulk.

“Fine! But you owe me pizza later.”

“Alright. Let's go then, before Jane's place is a complete wreckage.” And with that, Steve dragged Tony along by the arm, letting Thor stride past them, out of the room. Clint grinned at the thought of yet another round of fast food, only to be rewarded with the promise of “No pizza for you, bird brain,” and a fierce poke from Tony, who apparently was still holding a grudge for being so rudely awoken the evening before.

 

It took them all a while to decide on which cars to take and on who was allowed to drive. Tony refused to let Clint touch his beloved cars, because “Barton drives recklessly,” and Steve was suspected of “driving so slowly, Loki would be home before we even got there,” and in the end it was down to Natasha and Tony himself driving. All of them finally managed to scramble to the scene of action, only to find Loki outside Jane's house, casually flicking debris at a young man, watching the stranger jump and run for cover. Loki looked almost bored.

“BROTHER! What is the meaning of this?!" Thor tried the subtle approach, the rest of the team trying to withstand the temptation of covering their ears. Loki looked up, flicking his wrist and sending another boulder crashing down right in the path of the running man.

“Thor. How nice of you to join me.” He grinned widely, flashing white teeth at the group of newcomers.

“Can't you just grab him and we all leave, please?” Tony waved his hand vaguely in Loki's direction. He let his eyes move over the chaos. While the house itself seemed fine, save a few broken windows and a missing door, the surrounding area was the picture book definition of devastation.

“What are you doing here, brother? This is a matter between me and Jane, you should not have come and harass her like this.” Thor stepped between Loki and... that... guy he did not want to think about, blocking his brother's view.

“I'm not harassing her, I'm having fun with her love interest. Look, I'm not even trying to hurt him, it's not my fault if he can't dodge, is it?” Just for the fun of it, Loki flicked a pebble at Stark.

“Hey!” Immediately Tony's amusement at Loki 'having fun with Jane's love interest' turned into annoyance. “What did I ever do to you?”

Loki shrugged.

“What did that guy ever do to me?” He flicked another tiny rock against Tony's forehead, just to tease him, apparently having lost interest in the other guy for now.

“Yeah, wouldn't we love to know?" Tony muttered under his breath. “If this is what I think it looks like, you boys need some serious therapy. Can we go? Now? Please?”

Loki nonchalantly dropped a heavy rock on the unsuspecting guy's foot and got up from where he sat.

“Sure. I'm done,” he shrugged and walked past Thor without so much as looking at his brother, only to be stopped by Clint Barton's hand on his shoulder.

“Okay... well that was fun, care to explain?”

“He's crazy!" Jane's boyfriend yelled, his face in pain while he was trying to move his foot out from under the rock. Loki suppressed the urge to wink and wave at him.

“He's dangerous,” Jane growled, glaring at Thor, as though he had sent his brother, while Thor himself just stood there, looking like he was about to cry again. Thankfully for him, Loki marched back towards him, grabbed him and dragged him off, rolling his eyes.

“Move, you big baby. Iron-Head here wants to go home and I'm bored.”

“I don't even know who you're jealous off, Lokes, but next time remember that violence is not the way to a girl's heart. Or your brother's... eh,” Tony grimaced, waiting back at the cars to get home for his promised pizza. His impatient gaze met Loki's stare, which was confused and amused in equal parts.

“I defended my brother's honour. And I needed some time off your leash. It's fine, nothing happened, I didn't kill anyone, he's-”

“NOTHING HAPPENED?!" Jane interrupted, her voice a furious shriek, marching towards Loki and poking his chest with her index finger so hard he was surprised it did not leave a dent. “My HOUSE is in RUINS. And you scared my boyfriend to DEATH!” Slowly, as though in slow-motion, Loki looked down at her.

“Your house is perfectly fine. Your driveway is in ruins. And you found yourself a new toy before my brother even knew he was to be replaced,” Loki bent down just a little, getting right in Jane's face, and snarled, “Did you know what he THOUGHT the reason for your talk was?”
However, before Loki could get any further, both Thor and Clint dragged him away from Jane.

“She doesn't need to know, Loki. Leave it be.”

Not only Jane looked startled – it seemed to surprise all of them to see Loki care about his brother. The trickster was now stubbornly staring down Jane until Thor moved him away. Both brothers were barely controlling their respective emotions, the younger not even trying to hide how much he wanted to shove a rock in Jane's face. He was still glaring at her, his hand twitching with the barely suppressed impulse to bloody her nose.

“Come on, Loki... I think she got the message,” Steve mumbled and calmly pushed Loki in the direction of the rest of the group so they could finally leave.

“I didn't even get started with her,” Loki replied under his breath, but let himself be directed away, while Thor awkwardly walked past Jane's still-stuck-below-a-rock boyfriend. He managed not to look at him and was quite proud of himself for that, even though it had cost him some effort.

“Oh thank god... literally. Pizza, here I come,” Tony did a little dance, but stopped and pointed at Clint. “Still nothing for you, Birdy.”

“What's your problem with me, what did I do to you?" Clint complained, frowning at Tony.

“You didn't let me sleep on you.” Yeah, because that was a reason.

“Well I hope I am invited?" Loki asked, seeming completely back to his usual self and totally calm, his posture being just that little bit too stiff, a little bit too edgy.

“Of course you are,” Tony grinned at first Loki, then Clint, and flung his arm around Loki's shoulder and subtly let it come to rest on his waist, “my freakishly tall friend. So... you and Thor? There is...” He stopped and awkwardly waved his free hand about in an attempt to communicate his scattered thoughts. “... you seem very close?" he ended his sentence rather lamely.

“We grew up as brothers...,” Loki explained, his tone clearly saying 'and you're supposed to be a genius, Stark?' He did not seem to mind the arm-around-back/hand-on-waist-situation though.

“Yeah, I don't think that's it though, Lokes. And by the way, I resent that tone,” he mock-glared at Loki.

“Of course you would,” Loki replied, using the same tone again, just to mess with Tony. “And I assure you, Stark...,” the words were heavy with an implication of 'I know what you're getting at', “... if I had a love interest, he wouldn't be a blond and brutish moron like my dear brother is one.” That clearly was another shade of his regular 'are you stupid?'-tone.

“Isn't that true... and is it the hair colour or the fact that he's like Conan the Barbarian on steroids?”

“Conan the...,” Loki frowned and slightly tilted his head, then shrugged. “It's mostly the fact that he's the Asgardian equivalent of a dense puppy with growth issues.”

Before Tony could reply, his phone rang. He listened to the other person with a mask of disinterest on his face, replied with a short 'yep' and then hung up.

“Alright, anyway, good talk, should do that again one day. Gotta go, bye!” And with that he was strutting off, not even bothering to take the car wherever he was going. “Save me some pizza!" he shouted over his shoulder.

“Where are you going?" Steve yelled after him, briefly looking at Loki, who simply marched on past him and got into the passenger seat of one of the cars, waiting to be brought back to the tower.

“Gotta run some errands... stuff... Dum-E needs a new hip... and then Bruce, you know...,” Tony trailed off, not slowing down as he walked away from everyone, leaving them behind in confusion.

“How long since he's slept?" Loki asked casually. Rash behaviour had become one of the major signs to recognise Tony's sleep-deprivation by. “Someone should watch him.”

“I wat-... saw him sleep yesterday...,” Steve trailed off and blushed, all eyes on him now. Clint let out a low whistle and grinned, his expression basically screaming 'I'm telling Tony.' Steve shot a helpless look at Natasha, who shook her head mouthing 'sorry,' a smile playing in her eyes. A chuckle from Loki drew everyone's attention back to his smirking form in the car.

“I know, Captain Rogers, I waited until you left to paint his face. That wasn't more than a half-hour nap though.”

“He's an adult, he can take care of himself,” Clint said and shrugged, ignoring all the disbelieving faces around him.

“I don't think we're talking about the same person any longer,” Steve sighed. “Let's just leave.”

“Actually,” Jane interrupted, “I would like to have a word with Thor. In private. I'll call him a taxi to get him home.” And so Thor agreed to be left behind, bracing himself for whatever was to come.

 

A good while later, the pleasant noise of half a dozen conversations being had across the room accompanied the music in the background and the occasional sound of glasses being lifted or set down onto different surfaces – the coffee table, one of several end tables, the book shelf, or whatever else was in reach of the people in the room. Some of them sat while eating, others walked through the room, discussing anything from movies to strategies to changes in their training routine.

Barely anyone took notice of Thor entering the room, but the closer he stomped towards Loki, the more the conversations died down. It was quiet when the tall, muscular behemoth smacked his brother around the head, just to storm back out and subsequently lock himself in his room.

A confused Loki was left behind, rubbing his head, while his other hand held a slice of pizza. He looked up to glare at all the people staring at him.

“Oh, I'm not the right person to talk to him right now, believe me.” His eyes focused on Steve, who threw up his hands, resigned.

“Fine. I'll go. Can someone try Tony's phone again? He's really running late.” With everyone's attention on Steve leaving the room, nobody noticed the look of concern washing over Loki's face for just a split second. It was long gone by the time Clint reached over to steal a slice of Tony's pizza and Loki casually slapped his hand.

 

In his room, Thor sat down heavily on his bed, staring down at the floor, and sighed. He was going over the conversation in his mind, again and again, yet he still did not quite know what he had done for her to leave him so suddenly. Maybe he had missed the signs. Maybe he had done something – but Jane had assured him repeatedly that this was not the case. Still, Thor's thoughts were so loud in his head, he did not even hear the knock on his door, nor did he notice it slowly opening.

“Thor? Can I come in?” Steve. Of course they would send the Captain. Thor gave a massive shrug, looking up from the spot on the floor he had been staring at.

“Did they make you come here? You don't have to deal with me, Captain.”

“Uh, not quite.” Steve closed the door behind him and sat down on a chair facing his team mate. “Do you want to tell me what happened?”

“I don't understand... I know I leave her waiting very often, but I wait for her as well. For this to be such a problem... She said she needs someone less complicated, whatever that may mean to her.”

Thor looked uncharacteristically helpless, almost vulnerable despite his size, and Steve did not quite know what to say to him. He could not imagine any person more easy going and open and caring than Thor. Sure, he was gone for weeks on end, sometimes even leaving this whole world behind for months, but as far as Steve knew, Jane had never openly complained after his first long absence. At least not reportedly – Thor was possibly keeping some of their talks to himself, even though he was quite openly sharing the details of their relationship.

“Did she ever mention anything that upset her? Or ask you to do anything for her that you did not?” Steve really was not an expert in the field of relationships...

“Well she...,” Thor made a repetitive circular motion with both hands, searching for words, “... she said it would be nice of me to stay with her for a little longer once in a while. It also seems that sometimes I get us into trouble. I am still not as familiar with Midgardian virtues and customs as I would prefer to be.”

A faint smile scurried over Steve's face, they had all experienced the occasional awkwardness that came with taking Thor out. Then again, there were so many things Steve himself did not know or understand – so many things had changed and even though both men were quick to learn and adapt, sometimes they still missed their cue.

But was that reason enough for Jane to end what had seemed like a perfectly fine relationship? Steve tried hard to keep his anger in check, his protectiveness for Thor about to get the better of him. Not only was Jane more or less throwing Thor's cultural differences in his face, but she had also already moved on from their relationship and found herself a new one. Had Thor meant so little to her? She must have known for a while that she wanted to break up, why had she not talked to Thor? Steve could never see himself hurt Thor's feelings like that, he valued both honesty and Thor too much for that.

“Captain Rogers? Steve?”

“I'm sorry. I...,” he sighed, trying to find something to say to comfort his friend. “You know, I once had... someone I was in love with. Very much. But, well... when I was gone for so long, of course she had to move on. I mean, I think she did. I would... assume she did.” Pausing for a moment, there was something very close to pain on his face, before he caught himself. “I never dared to find out. But unlike her, I hadn't been given the time to move on, either, just like you now.” Steve cleared his throat to keep his voice steady.

“Maybe your love for her will always be there... but you will also find someone else. Eventually. If you want to.” With a heavy sigh, Steve released some of the tension from his body, which he had not even noticed had been there. “I know this is hardly any comfort, but the best thing you can do is move on. The more you try to win her back, the more you may drive her away. Maybe she has changed too much, maybe she is not... the person you fell in love with any more. Or maybe you have changed, or her view of you has changed, or...” Steve stopped himself, realising that he was still talking about his own thought process and his own lost love rather than about anything relevant for Thor. However, the other did not seem to mind. Clasping Steve's shoulder with one huge hand, he seemed less upset than before.

“Thank you, my friend, for your kind words,” he said and got up, smiling and looking regal. “I am saddened by your tale, but grateful that you thought me worthy to hear it. I may need some time to come to terms with what has happened, but eventually I shall be fine. Let us return to the others. I am suddenly very hungry.” The giant of a man grinned, patting his belly.

Chapter Text


"Apparently, Stark's with Banner. Told us to stop worrying and leave them some pizza. We got one out of two.” Clint grinned and demonstratively folded the empty pizza box that had held Tony's pizza in half. Natasha just rolled her eyes at him, while Loki tried to hide a pout.

“I tried to defend it, but his gluttony outweighs even my abilities.”

“Did he say why he was there or when he'll be back?" Steve asked, trying to ignore the two men's bickering and instead addressing Natasha.

“He did throw in a couple of science terms, but who knows what they're doing,” she replied and shrugged.

“We're still accepting bets, Cap,” Clint added, grinning. “Loki said they're doing science, Natasha is for 'driving around in a big car' and I'm for 'making sweet love'.” He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.

“They are not having intercourse,” Loki snarled and judging by the expression washing over his face, he did so to his own surprise. To cover his reaction, the dark-haired demigod busied himself with clearing the table, washing the utensils, opening the fridge door and generally doing everything he could to look as though he did not have time to talk.

“Everything alright, Lokes?” the other froze at Clint's mocking tone, trying not to get violent or personal or harmful in any other way, but he seemed strained by the effort.

“Barton,” Steve's voice was sharp, having had enough love-related trouble today. Not that he was assuming anything, but he knew what Barton was hinting at – Loki's reaction was pretty suspicious. However, maybe it was something else, maybe it was not jealousy but just Loki being scandalised by the thought of two men engaging in sexual activity? Steve had no idea how the Asgardian societal norms were regarding homosexuality.

“Can we just watch a movie or something? I'm done for today,” Steve sighed, hoping to divert attention from any topics that could cause an argument or another form of drama.

“Sure,” Thor and Loki replied in creepy unison, sharing a short glare at each other. Neither of them had a clue about films. They never got to choose on movie nights, but they liked watching most films, regardless of their genre. Unlike them, Clint immediately jumped up, racing to the living room, as it was his turn to pick a DVD.

Natasha shook her head, grabbing a bowl of mixed sweets.

“We all have one veto each, Barton!” Setting everything down, she picked her favourite spot on the couch closest to the door. She left a spot for Clint. Thor sat down on a second couch, next to her, Loki claimed the single love seat next to that. According to him, it had the best view of the screen. He leisurely draped himself across and watched Steve sit down right next to Thor, between the brothers to assure peace and quiet during the movie, even though Clint and Loki were probably going to bicker just as much without even sitting near each other.

“How about... 'The Bords'?” Clint waved a DVD at everyone, loving how Thor and Loki both got so wound up about horror movies every time.

“No!" three voices shouted at the same time. Clint grumbled and picked another one.

“This?” He held up a copy of 'Hot Shots' and Natasha groaned and shook her head.

“You guys have no taste. Well, lucky me, no more vetoes.” He grinned and picked up a third box. Everybody collapsed in mock horror, sharing their disgust.

“What? There's absolutely nothing wrong with 'Notting Hill'!”

“You have made us endure it thrice already,” Loki reminded Clint. Thor appeared to be the only one who did not seem to mind.

“Yeah, but you guys used up all your vetoes, so... tough!” While Clint set up the DVD, Loki gave a dramatic, suffering sigh and leaned back. There were worse ways to spend an evening, he tried to console himself, especially when you had magic at your disposal to...

… a little while later, change the most beloved parts of the plot in strange ways, making the movie a bit more interesting, at least for Loki himself. Clint kept throwing him strange looks throughout the film, but not even he minded the slight – and not so slight – changes. That Spike's t-shirt said “You're the most irritating archer in the world” made him laugh more than it should have. And he laughed even louder when Spike turned around and Loki almost choked on his popcorn. Someone had obviously not remembered the rest of that scene... Or was Loki throwing hints now?

Near the end of the movie, a very drunk Tony sporting singed eyebrows entered the room, with a slightly worried looking Bruce in tow. He, too, showed signs of probably having been near an explosion recently.

“Science. I told you so,” Loki said and held out his hand to collect his winnings.

“That, my dear, is not proof of science where Tony is concerned.” Natasha kept watching the film, whilst refusing to pay up.

“We built a machine!" Tony exclaimed, grinning like an idiot. A drunk idiot, who was actually a genius, but desperately tried to convince his team otherwise, as it seemed.

“A machine that exploded,” Bruce clarified and managed to force Tony onto the couch next to Thor, the big guy and Steve moving over to make room for the engineer.

“And what was that machine supposed to do instead?" Steve wondered, while Natasha still insisted on refusing to pay.

“It was supposed to -,” Tony started throwing around some science terms nobody but him and Bruce understood, his words slurred from excessive use of alcohol and lack of sleep. Throughout his speech, Loki kept up his 'I told you so'- look at Natasha, who finally gave in with a smirk, handing over his share before getting up.

“Alright boys, I'm leaving, I have work to do. Don't kill each other.”

“I still don't quite know what that machine was supposed to do,” Steve mumbled, shrugged and started picking up the empty bowls and bottles and glasses, Thor getting up to help him. Loki, meanwhile, was counting his winnings.

“Do I even want to know what the others were betting on?" Bruce asked, a mix of curiosity and suspicion on his face. He frowned when Tony started snoring. After standing around for a moment, not sure what to do with himself, he settled onto the couch in Thor's vacated spot, and rubbed his neck to work out some of the tension.

“You wouldn't think it, but he's heavy...,” he gave a small sigh. “So, what's new?” Seeing Steve and Thor tense and Loki looking bored, Bruce guessed that either Loki had pranked someone again, or it was something personal for either Steve or Thor – or both of them. To his surprise, though, he was going to receive actual information and not just witty comments for once.

“Jane has... found another man to share her love with,” Thor explained, deciding to be brave and do as Steve had said – 'try to move on'. It was not easy and it hurt somewhere in his chest, but maybe that would stop in a while. Hopefully.

“Oh... wow.” Bruce looked stunned for a moment. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “You okay?” That was as much of an offer for Thor to talk about it as he was going to get – Bruce already felt quite strained being used as a therapist by Tony, he really did not need more of that. But he was too nice to not at least offer his help.

“I will be fine, thank you, Bruce.” Thor smiled at him and Bruce believed him, smiling back, thankful and relieved.

“Bruce,” Steve spoke up after a while, “did Tony talk to you about anything besides... that... machine? He kind of just left in a hurry and we couldn't reach him for hours.” Bruce shook his head and shrugged, noticing the worry on Steve's face.

“We've been working on it for weeks, we just tested it for the last... hour or so?”

“He's been gone for at least three.”

“Maybe he's been with someone else? Don't worry Cap, you know Tony's not really known for... uhm... not having needs.” Bruce nudged the sleeping mechanic's foot with his own.

“You're right, I know Tony and that's why I have every reason to worry. Didn't he... Loki, the two of you talked before he left, did you say anything to him? Did he mention anything?” Steve looked over at Loki, who was glaring at Bruce's foot, before giving the Steve a pointed look.

“I told him that I'm not getting it on with my brother,” he explained nonchalantly. Eyebrows shot up, outraged coughing filled the room and Clint let out a loud laugh.

“Loki! Explain yourself!" Thor demanded.

“Yeah, Loki, do explain yourself,” Clint mocked and threw a cushion at Loki, who was massaging the bridge of his nose and stopped the cushion with his other hand. Apparently the others had not bothered to listen to Tony's ridiculous assumptions earlier that day.

“It would appear that our genius here,” he threw the gently snoring Tony a look, “thinks it possible that I could fancy my brother.” His tone of voice made very clear how unlikely he thought that was. “And I explained to him that that was not within any realm of possibilities, no matter what reality we're in.”

“I wonder what gave him that idea,” Bruce mumbled and rubbed his temples with a faint sigh.

“Don't look at me, Cap, I have nothing to do with what's going on in there,” Clint pointed towards Tony's head. Loki threw him a strange look.

“In all my many years I have never heard anything more preposterous.” Thor sank down onto the nearest chair and looked as though he had seen a ghost. For a moment Loki looked insulted, then he nodded in agreement.

“I mean, I would understand if Thor wanted to, obviously. But me?” He gave a huff of laughter. Steve and Thor looked equally scandalised, while Bruce and Clint just shook their heads, smirking.

“Don't we all have work to do?" Steve sighed, feeling strangely exhausted. It was barely noon and he already felt like he had not slept in days. Maybe he should join Tony on the couch... Not that sleep held much rest for Steve. Or comfort. Now that he thought about it, maybe it was better to just stay up and get some work done. Or just run a few laps and train with someone. Anything other than sleeping was probably for the better.

“What about him?" Loki asked, pointing at Tony. “Is anyone going to carry him to his room or do we wake him up or just... let him sleep here?” There was a faint note of interest in Loki's voice and somewhere in his pocket there was a black sharpie waiting to be used as an excuse to get closer to Tony.

“Leave him here,” Bruce said, getting up himself, ready to leave. “It's not the first time he crashed on the couch. We should all be glad he's sleeping for once.”

One by one, everyone cleared out of the room. Loki pretended to be doing 'something', to have an excuse to stay a little longer, not really caring if anyone was fooled by that anyway. He then smirked and sat in Tony's lap, pen in hand, and started painting his lovely, handsome canvas.

 

* * *

 

The last time the Avengers had been out on a mission, Loki had been left at the tower, with two S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents to watch him. He almost felt honoured – during his first year on Midgard, there had been a guard for each door, each window and three more to stand by Loki, watching his every move. It seemed they believed he was making progress.

His two bodyguards – or babysitters, depending on who you asked about the subject – had soon busied themselves with playing poker and in the meantime, Loki had joyfully gone about re-decorating the common rooms. Kittens and plush in the living room and a tiny penguin living in the ice box, making angry noises whenever he was disturbed.

Tony had not liked the changes very much, the others had not minded them and Clint had almost seemed pleasantly surprised by how Loki had re-designed the living room. All of this, however, had been months ago, and while the Avengers were starting to get restless from having no work to do, Loki was downright bored. Not only did he generally have nothing to do – he still was not allowed to go on missions with the others or use magic in public – he also had to limit his pranks due to Banner, who was too easy to startle for Loki's liking.

However, every now and again Loki let out his boredom on Tony, who kept passing out in random places, thus basically offering himself as a toy. And what better toy could Loki ever wish for? The only downside was the resonance he got – as Tony did not seem to particularly enjoy being toyed with.

The billionaire awoke with a start to the sound of a camera phone going off, and lots of giggling going on. While Loki was over in the kitchen, innocently having a snack, Clint was the one having the most apparent fun with Tony's new look, Natasha and Bruce trying in vain to find an activity to cover up their presence in the room. 'Staring at Tony' was not really a mature pastime activity.

“This is going on the fridge!” Clint ran off to print out the photo he had just taken, leaving Tony behind to look around the room disoriented, hungover and cold.

“What the hell...”

Steve, whose wet hair suggested that he had just taken a shower, had followed the noise their amusement was causing to its source. He noticed Tony and suppressed a grin with more effort than should have been necessary, then hurried to the kitchen to return with a steaming mug of coffee for Tony.

“Thanks, Cap,” Tony mumbled, setting the mug down to hold his head in his hands, massaging his temples.

“Why is Beak Nose taking pictures of me? What did I miss?”

“Look at your hands,” Natasha said, patting his shoulder. “This time someone has been really thorough in decorating your body. If I'm not mistaken, you should check your chest as well. And I really wonder how far down these lines go...” She playfully poked at a black line running down Tony's exposed waist, before tugging down his shirt, smiling at the disbelief spreading over Tony's face.

“What the fuck...” Ignoring how hot it was, Tony gulped down his coffee and heaved himself off the couch. “I'm going to shower. Then I will find out who did this and kick his ass.” Tony left the others to wonder why they considered him a genius. Was there more than one person who could really be responsible for this?

Meanwhile, Loki had finished his snack and decided to make a trip to his room and hide in there for a couple of hours. He had gone a little too overboard this morning and had gone... exploring foreign territory. On his way out, Loki passed a grinning Clint, who was headed for the fridge, to pin the A4 sized printout of his new favourite photo on the fridge.

“He will be in trouble.”

Clint jumped, his heart racing and turned around to stare at Thor. How could he not have seen Thor? How on earth was it possible not to see Thor when you were in the same room with him? Thor was... large, to say the least. Well, Clint guessed, when you're caught up in an awesome photo of Tony Stark's painted face, there's many things you're not going to notice.

“Who?" Clint asked, stupidly, not quite following through.

“Loki,” Thor replied, gesturing at the picture with his spoon.

“Ah. Yeah. Guess so – it'll be fun!”

“For us, certainly,” Thor agreed, hiding a brotherly smirk, only to look totally innocent and harmless when twenty minutes later a freshly showered Tony Stark walked into the kitchen. Clint had settled to sit next to Thor, by now, stuffing his face with a mix of ice cream and left over popcorn.

“Right, you girls have any idea who did that?" Tony pointed to the photo and glared when Clint raised his hand.

“I took the picture,” the archer sheepishly replied.

“I noticed, Bird Brain. Who. Fucking. Painted. My face? This is not funny, I'm a... I'm a serious person, I need to be respected. Who did that?”

“I didn't,” Thor said in his best voice of honesty.

“Me neither, although I wish I had...,” Clint grinned broadly, unashamed of his glee.

“So... that leaves Capsicle, Natasha and tall 'n' broody. And somehow I doubt it was Steve or Natasha...” Tony glanced at the other two to gauge their reaction. Clint felt like congratulating Sherlock on his brilliant deduction, when Thor called his attention to something else.

“I do not think it was the doctor, either,” Thor added, looking a little guilty at kind of giving his brother away, even though it was obvious that Loki was to blame.

“It speaks for how much I trust Bruce that I didn't even add him to the line-up.” And with that, Tony slipped back out of the kitchen, re-filled coffee mug in hand, heading down to Loki's quarters, where the unrecognised artist had hidden all his pens and occupied himself with a book.

Not even sure what he was going to do about this, Tony did his best to look stern. The way Loki had managed to cover a good seventy to eighty percent of his body in stripes and doodles was just a little bit... worrying. Most of his skin was ink-free by now, but there were stains left in some places that did not take a rigorous scrubbing too kindly. Knocking at the door, Tony did not even wait for Loki to allow him in and instead just burst into the room, glaring at the long-haired man.

“I know you did this.”

“I don't know what you're talking about,” Loki replied automatically, his face blank, but when his gaze dropped to Tony's left hip bone, which still showed Loki's 'artwork', he blushed ever so slightly. Tony was looking for signs of guilt, so he did not miss it. However, he was more angry at himself for not really being angry with Loki than anything else.

“You...! Can you NOT do that? Go paint Clint or... or Steve, hell, he might even appreciate it, being an artist and all. Me? Not so much. I'm a scientist. I'm a serious person doing serious things and I will not be mocked in my own home!”

Loki did not quite know how to respond to this and just watched Tony's well-built figure lean against the closed door. A part of him wanted to mock and sneer, but the other part felt almost ashamed. After all, he had had an ulterior motive, even though Tony hopefully had not caught that particular bit of information.

An awkward silence spread between the two of them, until Tony cleared his throat.

“Good. Now. Glad we talked about it.” He turned to leave, but stopped and turned back. “Oh right, one more thing.”

Loki had forgotten how pissed Tony was actually able to look. What else had he done? Had he forgotten something? Had Tony finally found out who had taken his -

“What's that?" Loki asked, holding his breath.

“If you ever,” Tony glared at Loki, eyebrows drawn together, “If you ever let Clint eat my pizza again, I will kill you. Twice.” He could not help but smirk at the expression on Loki's face, it was just too... adorable? What, how could he even think of such a word when thinking of Loki?

“Loki?" Tony raised an eyebrow at the other one, who just sat and stared, eyes wide. Hopefully Tony had not traumatised him in some kind of way... you never knew with Loki and Thor. Actually, Tony never really knew with anyone. Luckily, however, Loki snapped out of it.

“I wouldn't expect anything else, Stark,” he replied, turning back to his book. Tony frowned and considered explaining that he had made a joke, then turned to leave, feeling too awkward about the situation.

 

* * *

 

There were few personal things in Thor's room. He was not a man who liked to read, thus his shelves were bare of books. He was not an artist and did not own a pen or pencil. On his desk a clutter of things waited to be put away – an iPod Tony had given Thor for Christmas, a pair of giant socks, a belt, an empty box of cookies and a Thor plush toy Clint had bought to explain to Thor what 'merchandise' was.

There was a framed picture of Jane smiling down from the wall, another one of her on the shelf right next to one of her and Thor, smiling and waving at the camera. There was one of them at the fair, lying in a box on top of a picture of Jane in a bathing suit, which Thor had considered indecent, but he had kept it anyway. A picture of Thor braiding Jane's hair and its twin, of her braiding Thor's golden locks, were also in the box, right next to an envelope containing all those photos that had not made it to the walls and frames.

In a simple wooden frame, there was a picture of Jane staring off into the distance, out of a window. It seemed small as Thor cradled it in his hands, looking down on it with tearful eyes. She had not noticed when the picture had been taken, just like she now did not know Thor was looking at her, longing for her while she was with another man.

Carefully, almost gingerly, Thor set the frame down in the box, burying another piece of his relationship. Move on, Steve had told him. There was no way he could move on when the memory was always around. Every time Thor saw her face, it was like someone was stabbing him in the chest – an ache the like of which he had never experienced before.

Missing Jane while he was in Asgard had hurt, but there had always been the hope to see her again, be with her again, hold her and kiss her, that had kept Thor afloat. Now he was just drowning in his own tears, feeling as pitiful as he felt lost.

Without stopping to look at them, Thor gathered the remaining pictures and boxed them up. Then he stood, straightened his back and took a deep breath. He had to get out and away from all this for a while. Just to cool down. The physical distance would help, he thought, and once he was back he could concentrate on fighting evil with his team again. The way he was right now, he was of no use to anyone.

 

* * *

 

The sound of movement and heavy breathing filled the air and had anyone come down to the gym, they would have been able to almost smell the concentration, the focus of the two people sparring. Both of them holding back their force, going for speed and accuracy as to not hurt each other too much.

They had been going on like this for a while. Now, however, Steve raised his hand for a break. Natasha nodded and they both relaxed, heading for their water bottles. It was not like Steve was overly tired, or really needed the break to catch his breath, but he wanted to talk. Wherever Natasha went, she was gathering information, soaking it up like a human sponge. With all the restlessness going on, maybe she could shed some light on the questions in Steve's head.

“Do you... do you have any idea what's going on with everyone lately?” The question was broad, unspecific.

“Not really, no,” Natasha replied, but Steve sensed that she was not telling the truth – she was just waiting for him to ask in detail, so she did not have to give away anything he was not looking for. “Why do you ask?”

“Because I have to take care of the team,” Steve replied, shrugging as though that was the obvious answer. “Tony has been absent repeatedly, without telling anyone where he goes. Bruce as well. Loki has been restless and mischievous – more than he usually is – and Barton... Barton is just... I don't even know.” He rubbed a hand over his face.

“Maybe it's a special moon phase, or maybe their periods are finally in sync.” Natasha shrugged, pointedly ignoring Steve's reddening face. The decision he made that moment was plain on his face: If any of this was close to the truth, he did not even want to know. With a smirk, Natasha turned to face him and tried to give him some peace of mind.

“We've been out of work for a while. Everyone's getting restless. And Loki... well he has nothing to do and he's not stupid, he feels the tension. What he does is either his way of trying to help, or his way of trying to cope.”

Steve nodded, giving her a thankful smile. This was nothing he could change. The team was lucky that they were not needed right now, it was wrong to hope for something bad to happen just so they could get off each other's backs. But secretly, Steve hoped for a backfiring experiment, for a mutant creature or even an alien invasion – anything to stop himself from being so on edge and the others from causing trouble themselves. Trouble was better when it came from the outside.

 

* * *

 

Upstairs, Clint had pondered himself into a mood and decided to find Tony. Having just left Loki's room, Tony was on his way to the workshop. He did not seem particularly happy, but Clint did not mind.

“We gotta talk, Stark. I wanna know what you meant by that comment earlier.” Clint subtly blocked Tony's way. He had dismissed his thoughts about the matter at first, regarding them as silly jealousy, but by now, all kinds of suspicions and worries had formed in his head and Clint could not ignore them.

Tony stopped, giving Clint his best 'I'm clearly not in the mood you moron'-look, including a raised eyebrow as though to ask 'would that be all?' However, Clint did not budge and seemed pretty much unimpressed.

“What is it?" Tony sighed and crossed his arms over his chest. Better get this over with, if there was no way to avoid it.

“What makes Banner so special?”

Tony blinked, the typical, cocky grin spreading across his face.

“What, are you jealous, Barton?” He patted Clint's shoulder and attempted to move past him.

“Of you? Or Bruce?" the archer scoffed. “Yeah, nice try,” he added, still blocking Tony's path. Sure, what he had said had come out sounding more jealous than Clint had planned on, but he really was not...

“What is your problem?" Tony grumped, feeling the onset of a headache. He watched the archer open his mouth, and shifted impatiently while he waited for an answer.

“Nothing,” Clint finally replied, sighing and slumping. He patted Tony's shoulder awkwardly, before walking past him and mumbling an almost inaudible “Sorry...”

While Tony decided to pay his private bar a visit before continuing his way down to the workshop, locking the doors, cranking up AC/DC and just doing something to distract himself from the fact that his tower was full of maniacs, Clint's plans were not quite as elaborate. He was busy telling himself how stupid he was to get carried away by his own insecurities so much. Sure, trust was important within their team, but their conversation had been about a silly prank, nothing more. To assume that Stark did not trust his team – that he did not trust Clint, was just taking it a step too far. Or two.

Ever since that incident, ever since New York, trust had been a sore spot for the archer. Perhaps because he was the only one not really trusting himself.

 

* * *

 

His feet resting on his bed, Steve felt the weight of his own thoughts press him down against the ground. How he had ended up in this position, staring at the ceiling, was a mystery to even himself, but he found it to be quite relaxing.

His eyes focused on an unmarked spot on the white ceiling, while he tried to put his thoughts into order. The team was restless, nervous and bickering. Bruce and Tony kept leaving the tower to go about some unannounced business they were evasive about. Jane Foster had left Thor, who had announced that he had important business to take care of in Asgard. Well, Steve thought, at least that reduced the risk of the two brothers fighting.

Loki was just another problem right now. He was absorbing all the others' nervousness and reflecting it tenfold, not only by making up silly pranks, but also by starting fights and arguing a lot – perhaps not even on purpose. It was just his general being that seemed to further a tense atmosphere.

Usually it was Clint and him bickering about something. There was always an aura of wariness between the two of them. They joked a lot and kept up appearances, but they never got personal, they never actually talked to each other, unless it was in a teasing manner. Their banter was entertaining from time to time, but also an exhausting cover-up for their unresolved issues concerning the New York incident.

Every now and again, Tony felt the need to join them, either taking one or the other side, or even forming a third party. Then Thor would step in, commenting on something, asking something or reprimanding his brother. And at some point, at least two of the involved would part in dispute.

Sighing, Steve rolled to his feet and headed for his private bathroom, losing his clothes on the way, too exhausted to care and pick them up. The team needed family therapy, he thought as he turned on the water.

“If this continues, I will need therapy,” he mumbled to himself, stepping into the shower.

“Shall I schedule an appointment for you?”

Having been lost in his thoughts, Steve flinched, slipped and hit his head when he heard Jarvis' voice commenting on his thoughts. He should be more careful with what he said out loud in this house. Tony's little helpers were everywhere and Steve still could not get used to Jarvis' omnipresence.

“No, no... thank you, Jarvis.” He rubbed his head, glad that nobody had seen his little tumble. “I need a holiday, I think.”

“I could arrange a meeting with Director Fury for you to discuss your time of absence?”

“Yeah... maybe that's a good idea,” Steve mumbled in response, staring into space while the hot water rained down on his broad shoulders. The thought helped to ease his mind a little, a holiday sounded like fun. He had never actually had one...

A little while later, Steve stepped out of the shower, his feet leaving wet prints on the floor. The mirrors were fogged and he was thankful for that. Even after all those years, he felt alienated looking at his body. Not always, but sometimes. And Steve knew, feeling like he did, all gloomy and exhausted, that now was one of those times.

“Director Fury is on line seven,” Jarvis was happy to announce, effectively ripping Steve from his thoughts again. Instinctively, he hurried to his bedroom as to not make Fury wait and be at his service.

“Director Fury, that was... fast.”

“Captain Rogers -,” Fury stopped, staring at the butt-naked soldier for a moment, a strange expression on his face. “Is... there... a problem with the team?" he asked, dragging his attention back to the upper part of Steve's body. He displayed his quickly forming impression that Steve Rogers was losing his mind was quite openly.

“No, no we are... fine,” Steve was blushed a deep red, frantically searching for his clothes, he had definitely left them here... somewhere... “I just thought that with it being relatively quiet and Thor in Asgard – Thor is in Asgard, by the way, he had to... return, urgently, earlier today – that I could take a few days off. Relax a little, catch up... just a second.” He rushed back into the bathroom and emerged a moment later wearing a bathrobe, shooting the pants he now glimpsed a frustrated glare. For an instant, something close to relief rushes over Fury's face.

“This is a more delicate matter than you may realise, Captain. You're not only leading the Avengers, you're watching them. There are not many people who can do that job. Especially with Loki around.” Fury stopped to think for a moment. “I will see what I can arrange without taking too much of a risk. Agent Coulson will get back to you later today.”

“With all due respect, Sir, but I'm sure the team can survive a couple of days without me. Agent Romanov and Doctor Banner are quite capable of keeping everyone in line.” Steve frowned, trying his best not to beg – the amount of despair he felt at seeing his holiday plans disappearing was uncanny.

“I'm not discussing this, Captain. I agreed to let Loki stay with you and scale down security measures with nothing but your word to go by. I'm not risking him running amok again. Banner is a risk himself. Not to mention Stark. Agent Coulson will contact you. Until then, you will not leave your post,” Fury ordered, then disconnected without waiting for a reply. It seems he, too, was PMS-ing, even more than usually.

“But you... are gone already.” Steve sighed once more, then sank onto his sofa, head in hands. “Jarvis? Can you update me on everybody in the house, please?”

“Certainly. Loki is reading in his room, Agent Romanov is in the shower, Agent Barton is in the kitchen hiding Loki's snacks, Sir is in the workshop building something that is unlikely to explode, Doctor Banner and Thor are not currently at the tower.”

“Thank you, Jarvis.” Steve slumped to his side, laying down on the sofa. With everyone busy, there surely had to be enough time for him taking a nap...

Of course, the nap turned out to be full-fledged sleep, deep enough for Steve not to wake up when about half an hour later there was an angry voice to be heard in the hallways, magically amplified.

“BARTON! WHERE DID YOU PUT THEM?!”

Somewhere in the distance, unheard and unseen by the source of the yelling, Clint Barton scrambled into his wardrobe and covered himself with random clothes, chuckling and hoping for the best.

Marching down the hallway, his face angered and pale, was Loki. This was not the first time Clint had stolen his belongings – but even Loki was not usually getting this worked up about a box of abducted food. The way his jaw and neck were tense, his hands were fidgeting and judging by how upset he was, there was more to it this time.

“JARVIS! WHERE IS HE?!” Loki was using his best commanding king-of-the-world voice.

“I am not sure I know whom you speak of, Mr Laufeyson.”

Under different circumstances, Loki would have protested to be addressed in this manner, but right now, it seemed he had a more pressing business to pay attention to than Jarvis verbally flipping him off. His family-background had to be a matter of discussion at a later point in time.

“Barton,” Loki growled.

“May I enquire what it is you would like to know from Agent Barton?”

“Just tell me where he is. I need to talk to him.”

“I am afraid I cannot do that, Sir. It would be healthier for Agent Barton if you were to calm down first, before you speak with him.”

Loki gave the ceiling an exasperated stare.

“You're a machine! Do as I command you!" he hissed, glaring at the nearest camera before storming off towards Barton's rooms. It was as good a place as any to start his search – and he really needed that box back. What a silly idea it had been to use it as a hiding place for something so valuable...

Rushing past Natasha's room, Loki caught Jarvis alarming her and growled. He would have to speak to Tony about the defiance and disrespect his artificial intelligence was displaying.

“Agent Romanov, would you be so kind and rush to Agent Barton's aid? I fear Loki may be seeking revenge for Agent Barton hiding his snacks.”

In spite of Jarvis' thoughtful warning, Loki arrived at Clint's room first, with enough of a head start to set the archer's wardrobe on fire out of pure frustration. Barton was nowhere to be seen.

“BARTON!” There was a muffled noise, a yelp, then coughing, someone slipping and hitting their head – hard – and then Loki was being jostled aside roughly.

“He is in there, you idiot!” Natasha had rushed past him, ripping open the burning wardrobe door. The sprinklers dutifully started soaking the room in water, while Natasha dragged Clint, who had apparently hit his head hard enough to knock himself out, out of the wardrobe. Loki looked confused and a little sorry, despite himself.

“Wait, how do you know where he is?!" he complained, not seeing how the others must think he was overreacting and not paying attention to how he was going to get into trouble with Tony for setting his house on fire. There was so much more at stake right now. Loki's life, for one.

“Jarvis told me,” Natasha hissed, checking Clint over. “Jarvis, is he okay?”

“He appears to not have any severe burns.”

Loki continued to glare at Natasha, because he could not really glare at Jarvis.

“Well, now that we found you, would you mind telling me where you put the... my food?" he did his best to look very angry, but there was concern on his face now. Clint, however, did not care – because he was still out cold. In his place, Natasha took a deep breath, then looked at Loki with what he could only describe as wrath.

“You have five seconds to leave this room and get Bruce here. If you so much as mention any snacks, I will not hesitate to rip your tongue out and feed it to you. Five. Four. Three. ...” The determination on the woman's face was enough to scare Loki off, for now, and he practically fled the room.

Unfortunately, as it turned out, Bruce was not at the tower. Instead of finding him, Loki ran into Tony, who seemed pretty angry that someone had apparently set his house on fire.

“I really don't have time to talk now, Stark...”

“Yeah, me neither, some idiot's set my stuff on fire.” Tony tried to push past a rather surprised Loki, who was, after a moment's hesitation, trying to catch his attention.

“Stark... STARK!" he grabbed Tony's arms, turning the shorter man around to face him. “It was me. I set Barton's wardrobe on fire.”

“Why would you-”

“No, we haven't got time for this, we need Doctor Banner.” He was staring at Tony, willing him to listen.

“I should've known it was you, when is it ever not you?!” The engineer threw his hands into the air, exasperated. “Wait, what do you need Bruce for?” He threw Loki a suspicious look.

“It... it seems Barton fell asleep in his closet before I set it on fire. And no, I did not know he was in there, thank you very much,” Loki half-lied and then went on to answer the question before it was posed. Nonetheless, Tony gaped at him in shock, causing Loki to grimace. Yeah, he had overreacted. A bit. Kind of. Not really, though, he really needed to find his -

“Banner. Now. Where is he?”

“I'll call Bruce, you go back down there and make yourself useful, for once,” Tony growled and rushed off, leaving Loki standing in the hallway. The pale man rubbed his face and sighed. Once more he scolded himself for being so careless. He had known he should have hidden that apple in his room and not in his special snack box. Even though nobody but him ate it, Clint liked messing with Loki too much to ever leave it alone. How could he not have thought about that beforehand? Lightly banging the back of his head against the wall, Loki cussed in an atypical manner. What a mess.

Going back down to Natasha was out of the question. Loki honestly believed in her threat – that woman was no one to be messed with, he had learned that a long while ago. Figuring that if he, too, called Banner, one of them had to get through to him – modern Midgardian technology still was kind of a mystery to Loki – the trickster searched for Bruce's number on his own phone. He usually avoided using it, but, he reminded himself, this was an emergency. Also, it was still better than going back down to Natasha.

There was not even a dialling tone, just a pleasant, female voice telling Loki that Doctor Banner was currently not available and he should try again later. As Steve had explained to him a while back, this meant that either Bruce was out of service, or he had switched his phone off.

When Loki slipped his phone back into his pocket, Tony jogged back up and towards him.

“He's not available,” they both said in unison. Tony frowned at Loki, before they both hurried back to Clint, Loki staying behind Tony, because he was pretty sure that he disliked the idea of facing Natasha again while bringing her the wrong Avenger.

“That's not Bruce,” Natasha snapped at Loki, who opened his mouth to protest and tell her that he could see that himself and knew to tell the difference between people, but then knew better than to piss her off right now.

“He didn't pick up,” the two men replied at the same time – again. Loki blushed, Tony glared at him, trying to telepathically tell him to get out of his head.

“Fine.” Natasha's headache was plain on her face. “We need to get him to a hospital. Loki, you go and get Steve and Tony, get a car ready.” Both men rushed to do as they were told, while she remained with Clint, trying to get him to wake up.

Loki found his duties to be undignified, but followed her orders anyway. Arriving at Steve's room, he knocked, entering after a moment of hesitation to find the other sleeping. A little nervous, after having messed up already, he tapped Steve's shoulder, trying to wake the bathrobe-clad man up. Nothing happened. Frowning, Loki poked Steve's shoulder. Again he got no reaction, so he tried again, harder. This time, the other jerked awake, falling off the sofa.

“S-sorry.” Loki took a step back and tried not to look at whatever had been exposed by the fall. “Your friends require your assistance,” Loki reported, intent on not letting Steve know he had anything to do with the situation at hand. Ungracefully, the other got back onto the sofa and frowned at Loki.

“What?”

Trying to make himself useful, the trickster picked up a bunch of clothes from the floor and set them down next to Steve, guessing that was what he was going to wear. And even if not, at least the room seemed less untidy now.

“They need you to help get Barton to a hospital. There has been an accident,” Loki explained while he moved around, stomping down hard on that tiny tinge of guilt that may have been within him. It seemed that Steve had not picked up on the subtle hint toward his inappropriate attire, as the tall man simply got up and hurried off to meet his team. Thoughtful as always, Loki grabbed the clothes he had gathered and carried them after Steve.

As it turned out, the fire had caused the shelves inside the closet to collapse, one of them hitting Clint square across the head, knocking him out – which had been the bigger problem, rather than the damage the fire had done. A little singed hair and lost eyebrows were the worst losses Clint had to grief. Nonetheless, Clint had to stay at the hospital for the remainder of the day, just for observation. In the mean time, his team, grumpy and edgy, had driven back home and had ended up in the living room, with Loki nowhere to be seen.

None of them had moved much for the past few hours, when Agent Coulson walked in on them, barely so much as raising an eyebrow at their exhausted state. He waited for any of them to notice him, enjoying his chance to just watch Steve for a while. When Tony spotted him, the engineer just lazily waved his hand at Phil. So did the rest, following his example. Only Steve was polite enough to greet him with a friendly “Good afternoon, Phil,” and a smile. The other smiled his creepy little half smile and nodded at all of them collectively.

“Agent Fury sent me to talk to you...” He looked at Cap, guessing they would like to talk privately. He himself would, certainly, prefer that.

“Oh yes, of course. I almost forgot about that... Shall we go to the kitchen, or...,” he waved his hand indefinitely, waiting for Phil's input.

“... the kitchen is fine, Captain.”

Steve nodded and together they marched off, leaving only Natasha and Tony behind.

“Any idea what this is about?" the latter asked, raising an eyebrow at Natasha.

“Maybe he's putting you up for adoption?" she shrugged.

In the kitchen, Steve leaned against the counter, bracing himself for the worst. All around him, there were obvious traces of someone frantically searching for something,

“What's the decision?" he asked, expecting a day, maybe two he could take off at best, or none at all as a worst case scenario. No. The worst case scenario was that he had to take his team with him on holiday. He would definitely go mental if he had to do that.

“I'm sorry... Director Fury has not allowed any time off duty for you, Captain.” Steve slumped back against the counter in defeat, trying not to look too disappointed. “However, I have offered to stay at the tower for a week, while you are away and he would be happy to accept that if you agree to stay within the country and on-call. Also, the team has to agree with these terms.” By the time Phil had finished, Steve was grinning like a maniac.

“Thank you, Phil,” he said, knowing very well that Agent Coulson knew to appreciate the personal address. “I will go and speak to them.” There was almost a spring in his step when he walked back to the living room, where Tony and Natasha were staring at the door, waiting for him to return and talk to them.

Instead of Steve and Phil, however, Bruce entered first, seeming a lot more relaxed than any other person on the team. Right behind him, Loki slipped into the room, his face displaying the exact opposite of a calm mental state. He started to take the room apart in search of his still lost box, his nervousness sending out waves of stress, while he completely ignored everyone else in the room, bustling about.

“Can we help you?" Bruce offered, ignorant of all the drama that had occurred during his absence. Loki did not react to him, instead he kept searching frantically, muttering.

“Where is it? Where... is it...?”

“Are you still searching for your snacks? I'll just buy you a new box, jeez, don't worry...,” Tony frowned at Loki, watching him move around the room.

“It is NOT just some snack, you...,” Loki snarled an insult in his general direction, his eyes shut tightly as though he was in pain.

“Fine... whatever,” Tony shrugged and turned his back to Loki. “What's in it, heroin?" he mumbled, pouting. Bruce raised an eyebrow at him.

“Is there a story behind this? Anything? Anything you'd like to share with me? I noticed I had a couple of missed calls on my phone...”

“Ah, that. Yeah, Barton took a nap in his burning wardrobe. He's recovering in hospital. The God of Misplaced Things over there may be able to tell you more about that though.” Nicknaming people was only half as fun if they were not listening.

While Loki crawled around on the floor, Steve entered, his posture a sign of grave and important news. Phil hovered behind him, watching Loki with both concern and distrust.

“What's with the face, Spangles? Did someone steal your eagle?” Bruce groaned, mouthing 'Really?' at Tony, who just blew him a kiss. Steve ignored the engineer, clearing his throat.

“I better get right to it: Would you guys mind if Phil stayed at the tower for a week and I... well, took some time off?”

There were 'no's and 'nope's from Bruce, Tony and Natasha and a clear, slightly stressed-out 'yes' from Loki, who was still on the floor, now trying to look beneath the cupboard and the book shelves.

“Fantastic, thank you.” And with that he marched out, leaving all of them behind to wonder how a single person could be so happy all of a sudden. The remaining people in the room convulsed in a collective flinch, when Loki groaned and punched the book shelf, grimacing at the pain for a moment, before he got back up.

“Could anyone please ask Barton where he put that damned box?” He sounded so desperate and exhausted that Tony found himself strangely convinced that there was in fact heroin in that box. He took a moment observing Loki closely.

“Jarvis... where did Clint hide Loki's snack box?” His eyes never left the god's face and he could see the relief on it, when Jarvis announced that Clint had put Loki's snacks in the kitchen, behind the fourth ceiling panel of the fifth row from the left. A green blur rushed past the group, before the all scrambled for the door, following Loki to the kitchen and even Steve was too curious about the sudden action and delayed his packing to follow them.

Not taking the time to actually grab it, Loki just magically got himself a chair from the table and climbed it, blasting the ceiling panel away and grabbing the box, holding it close to his chest, almost cradling it, before attempting to make a run for his room – only to find his exit blocked by Tony.

“So, God Almighty. Mind telling me what's got you so wound up? I'd love to know what wondrous snack is able to make even you lose your cool and set my god-damn house on fire!” The last few words he shouted at Loki from close distance, causing the god to take a surprised step back. To Tony, this was as good a moment as any to get answers he should have gotten hours ago.

“It is none of your concern. I'm sorry for your closet. Let me pass.” Loki was still holding the box close, his jaws working. Tony extended his hand, demanding for Loki to hand over the box.

“No.”

“Yes!” The exchanged equally stubborn glares.

“No! This does NOT concern you!”

“Oh, it does, Loki, it does. My concern goes by the name of Clint Barton and is glad to be alive. You show me what is in that box RIGHT NOW, or I swear -”

Phil put a hand on Tony's shoulder and he shut up, only barely calming down. Behind them, Bruce, Steve and Natasha looked equally stern as Loki let his eyes wander from one to the other, considering his options.

“Where is Thor?" he asked, not relaxing but at least showing that he was willing to cooperate as long as his brother was not around.

“He left to return to Asgard earlier today,” Steve replied and frowned, an implicit question in his words. Suddenly, all of this reeked of more trouble than it had initially appeared to be... Loki was still hesitating, then finally lowered the box to reach inside and get whatever he was hiding out – even though he continued to be unwilling to actually hand it over.

“You gotta be kidding me! A fucking apple?!" Tony groaned. He could not believe what he was seeing. It was an actual apple. A golden one, but still. All this trouble for what – glorified vitamins?

“It was a present...” Lies, all lies, of course – how nice to be the God of Lies in this case. “It means a lot to me, okay?” Loki even managed to blush and simply hoped nobody knew what this apple really was.

“It is not just an apple, Mr Stark.” Of course the Agent had to know. Loki cursed him silently. “Knowing Loki, it is most likely one of the golden apples of Iðunn. It grants the Æsir their immortality and health,” Phil recited, all eyes on him as he smiled his knowing little smile. Loki's face was screaming 'will you shut the hell up', but he did not make a move or say a word that could give away that he had lied.

“Wait! What... no, hold on.” Tony held up his hands. “I'm assuming they all get an apple every, what...” He looked at Phil, apparently expecting an answer but not getting one. “... hundred years?” Loki rolled his eyes at that. “Or... so. Here's my question: Why have you got one? Why are you hiding it? Why haven't you eaten it yet? Why is it a secret? And why would anyone give it as a gift to you if you all get one anyway? Well, more than one question, actually. You can pick and mix, if you like. Go.”

Loki glared at Tony, hoping to be able to talk his way out of this situation. Luckily, his own history came in handy for once.

“Stark, this is something very special,” he explained, as though talking to a child. “I am not like the others. I am not one of them. Someone like me... we don't usually get these.” He held up the apple, heart pounding, hoping Thor had told them enough about their family history so that he did not have to explain this in detail.

“Huh. Someone like you, you say?" he looks Loki up and down. “You mean, your Smurf alter ego?” If the situation had been any other... Loki bit down on what he had to say to that and waited for Tony to draw his conclusions. “Didn't you find out about that just before you came down here all crazy eyed and manic? So, you either never questioned why you were never allowed near the special apple pie or this is all just bullshit,” the engineer spat. “I don't know what your plan is with this but I don't believe a god-damn word out of your lying mouth.”

Loki opened his mouth to explain, seriously exasperated with how little Tony knew, but Tony raised his hand.

“I've had it. You guys, deal with it, I'll go read up on this stuff.” And with that, he stormed off, plan in his mind to uncover the truth about whatever was going on here. Loki stayed behind looking annoyed and hoping that the others would simply walk away as well, giving him time enough to find a better hiding place for the apple before Thor was to return.

“You have some explaining to do, Loki,” Steve put on his authoritative voice, involuntarily sounding patronizing. “We'll wait until Thor gets back and then sit down and discuss this. Loki looked at him with all the stubbornness that was within him – which was a lot.

“This is business of neither yours nor Thor's.”

“It is. This is my team, you are part of it,” he ignored the scoffing noise Loki made, “... as long as you are here, you are part of this team and as such, anything that affects the team is my business. And Thor should be able to back up your story, so it should be in your best interest that we speak with him.”

It appeared as though Steve was smarter than Tony at least when it came to handling Loki and his tales. The god tried to drown out the despair and noise that filled him, trying to remain calm and think of a way out. There were not many options left for him – either he managed to hide the apple before Thor returned, or he needed to make sure his brother would not hear of it. Letting his gaze wander from one face to the other once more, still very much a cornered animal, Loki's shoulders slumped just a little, effectively ridding his posture of its pride.

“Will you let me speak to you in private, Captain Rogers?” Steve and Phil exchanged a quick glance, then Steve's eyes settled back on Loki.

“Of course.”

“Can we make sure Jarvis doesn't eavesdrop?” His voice was grave, he was still holding on to the apple, having set the box aside onto the counter. Steve hesitated for a moment, but then agreed and asked Phil to clear that with Tony. Loki nodded and marched off to his room, the others now shuffling out of his way instead of blocking his path. Steve was following him, Loki did not need to turn to know that.

When they entered his room, the god closed the door behind them and cast magic on it that would prevent them from being interrupted. It was visible as a faint shimmer in the air, if one paid attention to it. Loki hesitated, then sank into one of two chairs, setting down the apple on the table before him, a sign of trust towards Steve that almost hurt him physically. He did not say anything though, not sure where to start or what to say, and pretended he was only waiting for Steve to take a seat.

Steve took a moment to look around in the room. He had never been in here before in all of the time Loki had lived here. However, the room itself did not show many differences from his own room. It was tidy and clean, the shelves full of well-read books. Someone had made a point of matching the decoration with Loki's signature colours, green and gold, and while that had probably been Tony's doing, Loki apparently had not minded, as all the little things were still in place. It was not so much decoration around to make the room seem cluttered though, just... well furnished and inhabited, something Steve had not expected, even though he did not like admitting that.

“So... talk to me,” Steve prompted, sitting down opposite Loki, watching him closely.

“Thor must not know of anything I tell you,” Loki explained, his eyes pleading, but he did not wait for a promise he was convinced Steve would not keep. “This is not mine,” he said, trying to keep himself from touching the apple. He seemed nervous, almost haunted.

“Well... who's is it? And why have you got it?” Steve was trying to stay calm and open minded. Surely not everything Loki did was bound to mischief or evil?

“I... kind of... it's...” Loki hated himself for being like this, for not knowing what to say – he was known for his wit and his silver tongue, yet he did not know where to run, what to do, what lies to tell any more.

“I stole it,” he finally managed, flinching at his own words. Before Steve could reply, he went on speaking, explaining.

“Someone... asked me to. To steal it and to bring it to them.” He blushed, hating to admit that this was what he needed help with, if he wanted to get out of that situation safely. “I have decided that I have no intentions of doing as I was asked and bringing the apple to them, but I'm not going to just give it back to the Aesir, either.” Loki looked at Steve for a brief moment.

“This... it is... it is powerful. Not a weapon, not a spell, it is...,” he took a deep, shaky breath, “If someone was to get hurt, it could... bring them back.” Loki's eyes gave away that there was only one someone he intended to use the apple on, but he did not continue, did not give away who he was thinking of. He watched Steve consider the information for a while.

“Would you tell me who you stole this apple for? And what made you change your mind?”

“You wouldn't know him,” Loki replied. His tone was resigned, but not hostile or accusing. “His name is Thiassi, son of Olvadi.”

The name did not sound familiar to Steve and he frowned, watching Loki intently while he waited for the rest of the story. With his eyes focused on a point in the distance, his brows drawn together and his body so tense, Loki seemed almost anxious to him.

“I changed my mind because I have a plan of ridding myself of his... means of access to myself.” Technically that plan was still in the making. But being only a temporarily tolerated part of the team, Loki thought it better not to cause more trouble than he already had. Involving Thor – or Tony – would only do more harm than good anyway.

“You're right,” Steve said, nodding, “I've never heard of him. This plan though... what does it look like? I mean, what does it involve? Can any of us help?” He tried his best not to show the extent of his concern, knowing full well that Loki would not appreciate it. The god stared out of the window for some time, thinking, perhaps considering, then he shook his head.

“No. Anth- None of you have ever left this world. Stark in particular would just mess it up. And Thor would... mess it up more than Stark ever could... and you've got your vacation scheduled, Captain, haven't you?” The weak smile Loki managed had been intended to be a smirk. What he had coming for himself if his plan failed burned on his mind, but he did his best not to show it. It would only make things complicated if Steve knew what was at stake.

“I know a few tricks...,” Loki started, but suddenly, cold realisation dawned on him and he jumped from his chair, making Steve flinch.

“Thor... he is in Asgard you say?”

“Yes...,” Steve frowned, “...why?”

Loki was cursing inwardly, the one or other word slipping from his lips as he started pacing.

“They must've found out already. How long has he been gone?” His eyes darted to the apple. “Cap... Steve. When Thor returns, he cannot find this with me. He must not know any of this. And I'd... prefer to have dealt with Thiassi before Thor returns.” Suddenly feeling weak and overwhelmed, Loki sank back into the chair, lacking much of his supposedly brilliant plan.

“Okay, okay, Loki, I promise Thor won't hear about this, but we need to tell the others about it. They deserve to know and may be able to help.”

“They cannot help,” Loki repeated and his tone made it obvious that he did not want the others to know. There seemed to be a sense of embarrassment in his features. “I will do what I can to be done with this as soon as possible. There is no need to involve them.”

“Alright,” it was a sigh of defeat, “if you say so. If you change your mind, I'll be glad to help.” Steve really wanted to speak to someone else about it, but he respected Loki's decision, guessing that it was about time to put some trust in the other.

Nodding slowly, Loki pushed the anxiety as far away from him as possible. Maybe if he could play a trick on Thiassi... it would have to last long enough, be convincing enough for the giant to cut the connection between them, to free Loki of his influence...

“I... I should be back by tomorrow,” Loki mumbled and got up, full of nervous energy and desperate determination. “Will you take care of the apple for me? Put it somewhere safe, somewhere Thor won't look and nobody else can get, even if they find out that I took it.”

“Er, yeah, sure. I can do that.” Steve picked up said apple, stopping short for a moment. It felt a lot less heavy than he had expected, a lot like just any regular apple. Then again, of course it was not made of gold, it was only golden – not even the gods were eating solid gold.

“What do you want me to tell the others about where you are?" Steve asked, gingerly cradling the divine fruit in his palm. Loki shrugged.

“Tell them I'm bringing the apple back to the Aesir. Or tell them I got into trouble. The latter probably seems more realistic, don't you think?” He smirked at Steve, who was making his way to the door.

“I'll think of something... good luck, Loki.”

The god looked at Steve, almost surprised, then nodded his thanks. Once the other had left, Loki gathered whatever he thought he was going to need, headed up to the kitchen and grabbed one of the regular apples, before he left the tower to find himself a passage to Thiassi's residence.

Steve, who had returned to his room, considered his options. He ended up stuffing the apple into his underwear drawer, relying on people's decency and discretion.

“Jarvis? Make sure you have an eye on this drawer...”

Meanwhile, Tony and the others awaited Steve's return in the living room, eager to find out what the hell was going on with Loki and that apple.

“So?" Phil asked, his face serious and a little concerned when Steve joined them in the living room.

“Are we in trouble?" Natasha asked, expecting the worst.

“No, no, we're good,” Steve replied with a smile that came easier than he had expected. “Loki is taking the apple to the person it was meant for... Anyone for going out for dinner?”

The relief was almost tangible, hanging in the room for a moment before it dissolved into a discussion on where to go and what to eat.

 

Chapter Text

Loki descended to the realm of Thiassi with as much grace and dignity as was left by the nagging fear that something was going to go horribly wrong. While he had confidence in his abilities, this was not a small trick to play on a friend, there was much more at stake than a little fun and an eventual argument. An illusion made the ordinary apple in his hand appear golden, just like the one he had stolen – and the closer Loki got to its delivery, the more hopeless his plan appeared to himself.

The trickster looked around himself, at the ice and the stillness, searching for any sign of life.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” he whispered into the vast darkness, smirking to himself as he remembered having heard this phrase in too many Midgardian horror films. When his call was answered by the cry of an eagle, Loki cringed inwardly. Just as the first time they had met, Thiassi landed before Loki in his eagle-form, transforming back into his abhorrent self.

“Did you bring what you promised?" he asked, glaring down at Loki, who threw up a mask of both contempt and confidence where there was none. This was too big of a risk.

“I have indeed,” he said with a calculated smirk.

“Hand it over and you are free of my spell,” Thiassi promised, a strange shimmer in his eyes, his hand extended. The spell. That dreadful thing that bound Loki to Thiassi, that enabled the giant to call upon the God of Mischief and find him wherever he was hiding. No place within the nine realms could offer him protection while his connection to the giant existed. Only a faint mark on Loki's forearm was evidence of that connection.

Now, the god carefully took a step towards the giant, holding out the apple before him, his eyes never leaving Thiassi's. The giant took the apple and suddenly, by the touch of Thiassi's hand, Loki's limbs were encased in ice, rendering him unable to move.

“You are free of my spell, but not free to go, Loki. You shall remember this day as the day I have outwitted you, God of Mischief. For all the humiliation and trickery you have brought onto my family and the devastation you have brought onto my people, you will suffer from my hands.” Unceremoniously, he ate the apple, bathing in what he assumed had to be glorious everlasting youth washing over him.

Loki, literally frozen in place, started to panic. His only saving grace was that his fear was not visible on the outside – he could not have reached his age if he had not known how to manipulate and hide emotions, his own as well as any other man's. Right now, using this particular skill, he pretended further mockery, but it could not protect Loki from being transferred to a holding cell.

The air was freezing, making his eyes tear up from the cold and his tears turn to ice on his face. There was no place to find rest or comfort. And even if there had been, it would have been a mere taunt. Loki was rendered unable to move with his hands shackled to the icy wall in his back.

The windowless cell offered no way of tracking time, however, Loki knew it must have been hours that he spent waiting. He felt miserable. The cold was toxic. Due to his heritage, it was unlikely for Loki to take fatal physical harm from it. Nonetheless, the constantly biting chill got to his substance. He was in the very place he had been before being sent away to steal the apple, only with less chance of a bargain to free himself. There was no information, nothing Loki could do to ease what he had coming. Also, once Thiassi found out that the apple had been a fake, there was no telling what he was going to do to his prisoner.

Soon it turned out that Thiassi indeed intended to punish Loki for his crimes against the frost giants – for every prank and every attack. And once Thiassi himself was done, who could tell whether he would not simply keep Loki's punishment a pastime for his men. Before long, the pale god flinched whenever he heard their heavy steps in the hallway outside his cell. His stomach dropped once his cell door opened, and without any pretence of dignity, he struggled against the icy chains burning and biting into his skin when his captors beat him, mocked him and watched his powers dwindle. Rarely did they stop their harassment long enough for Loki to talk – and every word he spoke was punished harshly, as they feared the power of his wit, knowing what devastation it could bring.

Sleep was rare and no rest came from it. The hunger was a nagging pain in Loki's insides. But in his mind, he formed a plan and with nothing else to occupy his time, with nothing else to help him escape the agony, his plan grew quickly until he laughed in his torturers' faces while they beat him.

Was he losing his mind? Probably. However, that was not going to stop him from getting out of here.

 

* * *

 

When Loki had missed his 24-hour deadline, Steve had spoken to his team. He had tried to cover up for the god, told them he was gone to dispose of the apple and that he was going to be back within the next few days. Then Thor returned, five days after Loki had left and when he found his brother to be absent, he was upset. Now, after more than a week had passed, everyone was on edge.

“We have to inform Fury, Captain.”

Steve rubbed his face, looking exhausted.

“I know, Natasha, I know. I will call him, I'll handle this.” He was worried and did not try to hide it. So were Thor and Tony and Bruce, while Clint and Natasha kept their opinions to themselves, most of the time.

Steve had decided to have confidence in Loki and to trust him, even though keeping his promise to the god meant lying to his team. Loki did not seem to trust anyone else but Steve and it was not quite clear whether any of the others trusted Loki, either. Telling them more than they needed to know could only cause trouble...

“Are you sure he's not off somewhere trying to rule the world or... out on a killing spree or something?" Clint asked. It was utterances like this one that showed clearly that he was still pretty angry at Loki for being set on fire. And perhaps for more than just that.

“He is not, Barton.” Steve was fed up. It had been ten days of everyone throwing about wild accusations as to what Loki was up to. However, Steve would not have the team discuss suspicions about any of them – not even about Loki – and especially not as long as none of them really knew what was going on.

“Where is Thor, Jarvis?”

“Thor is currently pacing his room, Captain.”

Tony set down his drink and frowned.

“If you tell Fury, he's just going to think what Clint just said. But he won't be waiting for Loki to prove your word right – not again. Loki was here so we could watch him and now he is not here any more. Fury will be pissed.”

“When he finds out we withheld information like this, he will be more than just angry,” Steve replied. “I just... need to ask Thor something before I speak to Fury. He may know where Loki is and maybe even tell us how much trouble his brother is in...” Steve felt Tony's eyes on him and avoided to look back at him. “Jarvis? Call Thor to the living room, please?”

“Certainly.”

Of course he was aware of the fact that Tony was too perceptive to miss that Steve knew more than he let on. If he demanded to talk to Thor in private now, he would only leave room for more suspicions and right now was a very bad time for any added distrust among his team members.

It only took Thor a couple of minutes to join them, his quick, heavy steps audible long before he entered the room. His eyes searched the room for a trace of his brother and he looked obviously discouraged when he was unable to find him.

“Just us, big guy,” Tony apologised and took a sip from his drink. “Captain Spangles here wanted to talk to you.”

Steve could not quite hide his discomfort. He knew Tony was on to something, but he had no idea how much the engineer had figured out for himself already. Being uncovered for having more or less lied to his team about Loki was not going to help the situation in the least. Still, he might as well get it over with, Steve told himself.

“Thor... does the name Thiassi mean anything to you?” Thor's frown bore grave news, his slow nod almost making Steve cringe with its foreboding.

“Þjazi... he is a giant. Son of Olvaldi. Thrymheimr is where he lives... why? What is your business with him? He is not one you would want for company. Does this have to do with Loki?" Thor asked, sounding worried – and looking even more so when Steve nodded.

“He... uh... he said he had to go and-”

A deep growl interrupted him; Thor was livid. Almost comical in his exorbitant manner, Tony looked back and forth between the two of them.

“This is bad, I take it?” It was obvious that out of their team, only Steve and Thor really knew what was going on – the former only just beginning to realise the gravity of the situation, the latter puzzling together the matter of context. The rest of the team, however, was still pretty much at sea about the situation.

“We need to go to Thrymheimr!" Thor exclaimed, already in battle mode, but a look around the room revealed to him that he was the only one. “Now!" he added, emphasising the urgency of his proposal. Tony raised an eyebrow at his enthusiasm.

“I don't want to be a party pooper, my friend, but... where the hell is this...,” he waved a hand about, “place, and why do we have to go there?”

“How would we even get there, if we decided to go there?" Clint added. There was an unspoken thought shared between at least Phil, Clint and Natasha: If this was Loki's problem, why make it ours? What if it was a trap? Was it not beneficial for all of them if Loki was... quietly disposed of? Their collective distrust hung heavily in the air, while they all waited for more information. All eyes were on Steve now, Thor's included, even though it was him to speak up next.

“Thrymheimr is on Jötunheimr and -”

“So he should feel right at home, huh?" Clint interrupted. Thor glared at him, but the archer only shrugged, unimpressed.

“Guys, please...,” Steve raised both his hands and tried to calm everyone down. Seeing his opportunity to avoid giving away more of Loki's plans, so as to not break his promise completely, Steve planned on taking advantage of Thor's concern and energy.

“Thor, how can we get there? Is there... transportation?”

The god opened his mouth to speak, but out of the corner of his eye, he saw Natasha get up and turned to look at her. Her face was pale and concerned and one by one the others followed her eyes, all of them ending up staring at a ragged, bruised figure, pale and panting, holding on to the door frame to steady himself. Despite his state, there was a tight-lipped smile on his face.

“Brother!” That snapped everyone out of their trance. There was shuffling, one of the armchairs was cleared, Bruce put on his professional I-am-a-doctor-face and everyone else managed to look helpful, concerned or at least innocent of suspicions.

“You are injured! Is this Thiassi's doing? Why did you not come to me? I could have aided you in this!” Loki flinched at the volume of Thor's voice – or maybe just at Thor in general.

“Thor, give him some space, please,” Steve stepped closer to Thor, gently but firmly putting his hands on the muscular arm before him to keep the god from crowding his brother too much.

“I'm fine,” Loki lied, his voice thin and hoarse, not wanting Thor to cause a scene. “Thiassi is dealt with” - 'for now', he added to himself. Unwilling to explain to Thor that he had not expected any help from any of them, he glanced over at Steve for a moment, his face unreadable, then he walked over to the free armchair with as much grace as he could muster. He felt all eyes resting on him, everyone expecting an explanation.

“Do you need Doctor Banner to take a look at your injuries, Loki?" Steve asked quietly, the stress pushing him back to professional, impersonal mannerism. For Loki of course, the attention that rested on him made this entirely the wrong time to show weakness, however hard it was to hide it, thus he shook his head.

“I'm not injured, I am just -,” he stopped abruptly, flinching and suppressing a groan when Tony casually put his hand on his shoulder, squeezing, just a little. It was a gesture that looked welcoming, glad and comradely, but it expressed a simple statement: no bullshit. The two men exchanged a glare.

Barely able to contain his anger and concern, Thor naively believed Loki's words, or at least used them as an excuse to skip 'going easy' on his brother and interrogate him right away.

“Brother! You need to tell me what happened. What business did you have with Thiassi?”

The angry voice caused Loki to raise his shoulders. His whole being felt like one big sore spot.

“Any business I had has been resolved, Thor, it is none of your concern,” he mumbled. He sounded exhausted and wished nothing more than to be left in peace. Maybe he should have gone to his room straight away... Loki hesitated, then looked at Steve.

“How long have I been gone?” He avoided looking at anyone else, not willing and probably not even able to talk about what had happened. It had not been his first – and very likely not his last – encounter with violence and blackmail and torture.

“Ten days,” Steve replied before Thor could pester Loki with more of his questions. The ragged man seemed surprised for a second, but then reined his emotions back.

“I will be going to my room now,” he decided, slowly rising to his feet. “Do not concern yourselves with this any longer.” Loki ignored Thor's growl as he walked away, swaying slightly. Once he was out of the room, he ditched the act and slumped, one hand holding on to the wall to steady himself, until he finally reached his room. He was exhausted and in pain and still afraid that his plan might backfire on him and send him right back into that cell. Once he was in his room, he carefully closed the door behind him, but did not lock it, leaving himself a quick way out if he needed one. His hands were shaking as he undressed himself, carelessly tossing the rags that had been his clothes onto the floor.

Back in the living room, Tony decided to voice his suspicion. He looked at Steve, his face stern. His intentions were not solely based on curiosity. When had he become so emotionally involved in this?

“What are you not telling us, Cap?”

“It's not my place to tell. He's back and that's what matters. If you want to know more, you can go and ask Loki yourself.” Steve looked tired – and he felt it more than he let on. He really needed to finally go on his holiday and leave all this stress behind for once.

“Yeah, good luck with that,” Clint mocked, but Tony ignored him, actually marching off to go and speak to Loki. He ignored Steve's frustrated “Not right now!" because this was his house and damn it, why the hell not? Not that he was going to admit to anyone how glad he was that Loki was back or how worried he still was about the state the other was in. Thankfully, Steve had Thor to babysit and could not go after Tony right now.

When he burst into Loki's room, forgetting to knock or maybe deliberately not doing it – you never knew with Stark – he was startled for a moment by the sheer amount of naked, pale skin he was confronted with. Although large parts of it were not the usual creamy white, but had taken a blue, green, red or dark violet colour...

“Thor, I said-,” Loki started and turned around to face the intruder he had mistaken for his brother. He looked shocked to find Tony to be the one staring at him. Dumbstruck, he just stared back.

“I... uh... right. Pretty artwork, 's it new?” Tony nodded at the bruises and Loki flinched.

“Get out!” Instead of complying, Tony closed the door from the inside.

“No can do, Picasso. I would like for you to tell me why the hell you look as if you had a second go with Green'n'Mean and where the hell you've been for ten days and, oh, do tell me what happened to that apple of yours. Cap refused to part with that particular titbit of information. Well, I say refused, but he looked more like an awkward schoolgirl who got found out cheating on a test...”

“STARK! Do cease your jabbering!" Loki pinched the bridge of his nose. He looked so exhausted, it hurt just seeing it, but Tony wanted answers. Leaning against the door, his face showed his determination not to move an inch until he had what he wanted.

“Why would you need to know? It is none of your concern,” Loki repeated his new favourite phrase. Maybe he would have talked to Steve, had the blonde man asked, but to none of the others, especially not Tony. To be seen like this was humiliating enough – to talk of his struggles would be a blow to Loki's pride that he did not wish to take. And his pride was not the only part of his mind that protested. Loki got up, his body trembling with pain, and wrapped a blanket around himself, to conceal most of his nudity and injuries from Stark. Even though he could barely stand upright, he refused to show more weakness than he already had.

“My house, my rules,” Tony countered with his own favourite phrase. “Someone gets hurt, I want to know why. Plus, you owe me in case you have forgotten your little bonfire the other day.” This was going to be a death match of stubbornness, and Tony Stark was well aware that he had the upper hand. There were only a handful of people who could out-stubborn him and at least right now, Loki was not in the condition to be one of them.

And truly, Loki was too tired and hurt to join in with his usual threats or banter.

“I brought him the apple, he did not hold up his end of the bargain and we came to a misunderstanding over it. I anticipated this and made my way out in one piece, which at least for myself seemed pretty desirable. Now, if you don't mind, I would like to sleep. It's been a while.” By now, Loki was holding on to the backrest of one of the chairs to support himself, trying to keep his knees from giving in just long enough for Tony to leave him – and praying that Tony would.

“Fine. See, telling didn't hurt, did it? I still think you should let Bruce have a look at those, though,” Stark vaguely indicated Loki's bruises, then glanced at Loki one last time before he turned and left the room. He was stubborn, but not an asshole. Well, not all of the time. Not right now.

Loki sank down onto his bed, a shaking mess, thankful for his body and mind to be too exhausted to let the pain keep him from falling asleep. Thankful, until the nightmares started.

 

While Tony had been in Loki's room, Steve had worked hard to try and calm Thor down and keep him from joining 'the Man of Iron.'

“He's back, he's alive and he does not want to talk about it. You heard him,” Steve repeated, over and over again, and he soon got the impression that he was going to have to point that fact out to Thor at least a dozen times more. Sometimes, Steve thought, Thor really was as much of an oaf as Loki liked to say.

“But I must speak with him. I must know why he travelled to Thrymheimr without telling me. I could have aided him, I could have prevented him getting hurt! There may still be trouble waiting.” Thor was agitated and was pushing past Steve, towards Loki's room. Even a serum-enhanced hunk of a human stood no chance against a stubborn mountain of Norse god.

“THOR ODINSON!" Steve yelled in his best commanding super-soldier voice with a not so faint hint of 'I'M SO CLOSE TO A FUCKING MENTAL BREAKDOWN'. Everyone else more or less stared and felt awkward, while he stomped after Thor. An angry, exhausted Steve was not a fun Steve.

“If you go in there now -,” he started, then stopped because he really did not know what he was going to do then. “Just. Don't do it, damn you, Thor!”

“Yeah, listen Grease Lightning, I wouldn't go in there right now.” For once, Steve was glad that Tony entered a conversation of his unbidden. The engineer blocked Thor's way, raising his hands to, if necessary, push him away. Steve could not help but smile at the gesture – Thor would just steam-roll Tony without batting an eyelash at any resistance.

“Let me pass, Stark!”

“Mmh, yeah, nope.”

Steve saw the moment Thor snapped and had the foresight to pull Tony out of harms way. The engineer was pretty startled, although also more than just a little bit pleased to find himself in Steve's arms. However, the glorious 'prince charming and the damsel in distress' moment passed and the two of them hurried after the rage machine that was Thor bursting into Loki's room – the crash of the door followed by what started out as a startled yelp and ended as a half panicked, half very much pained groan. Apparently, being awoken from the first five minutes of a nightmare by your angry, not-quite brother did not sit well with Loki.

Now that Tony was no longer in danger of being punched into the nearest wall, Steve let go of his arm, which he had protectively held on to, and rushed to join Thor in Loki's room, where the pale god was still trying to get a grip on himself, because now was definitely the wrong time for a panic attack.

“Get... out!" he snarled as dangerously as he could without being able to breathe.

“But brother...,” Thor's rage seemed to have dissipated. In its place was now his usual kicked-puppy-look, at least for a brief moment, while Steve tried in vain to get Thor to give up on his quest of getting Loki to speak to him right now.

“Thor please, let him rest. I'm sure this can wait until Loki has recovered.”

“If you don't leave... right now... I will set you on fire,” Loki threatened, breathing heavily, looking haunted and exhausted and in pain, but more than all of that he looked humiliated and very, very willing to carry out his threat.

“OBJECTION! One fire per year is more than enough,” Tony had decided that if he could not prevent this, he at least wanted to be part of it. For some reason, his re-appearance at this point in time caused Loki to hide his face in one shaking hand, going just a little paler. The only person who was less supposed to seem him like this than Thor had just walked right back into the room. Loki knew there was nothing he could say now to make Thor go away or to stop Tony from gloating and still the panic would not subside and the pain did not stop. Without thinking Loki sent a chair crashing into the wall right next to Thor as a wave of panic rushed through him.

“Get OUT,” he yelled and his pleading eyes found Steve's while he struggled to breathe, struggled to pull himself together. Everything was just too much. Why did they need to watch him fall apart?

“Tony, you need to help me get Thor out of here,” Steve ordered, his back straight, his face full of determination. This had gone on long enough, not even Thor could be so blind to his brother's needs as to not see that Loki did not want any of them here right now. Tony looked at Steve and back at Loki who had rolled himself into a shivering ball on his bed, whimpering.

“Leave me alone! Please... please.”

Even Thor seemed to finally see sense. Steve, about to put his hand on Thor's arm to steer him towards the door, was shrugged off.

“No need,” Thor sighed, defeated. “I will return tomorrow and see how he fares. Can your servant keep an eye on him, Stark?”

“Sure, big guy,” Tony said, his voice strangely strained. Awkwardly he patted Thor's arm and the two of them left the room, Tony throwing one last look back at Steve.

Loki did not move, did not look up to see them leave, but the sound of the door closing defeated his last defences and he broke down, shaking and gasping for air. Images of Thiassi and his men flashed through his mind. Images of the beatings and the sneer, the humiliation. Images of the Other, of Loki's time in the Darkness. And the pain never left, it accompanied Loki even into his dreams when he finally passed out from exhaustion, still curled around himself.

Unbeknownst to Loki, Steve had never left the room, he had been watching, helplessly, not knowing what to do or how to help. When it had become apparent that the god had fallen into restless sleep, he gently covered Loki with a second blanket, careful not to wake or startle him, and sat down in the remaining chair. He watched over the sleeping god, his thoughts concerned and exhausted in equal parts.

Steve did not realise he had fallen asleep until he was woken up by Thor carefully opening the door and peeking into the room. Their eyes met and Steve slowly got up, his limbs stiff from spending at least a couple of hours dozing in a chair.

“Thor,” he whispered, “let's go to the kitchen.” He gently pushed Thor out of the room with a hand against his chest and closed the door behind them.

“But I would see how he is...”

“Thor, no.” Steve was really trying to be patient. “Give him time. Let him rest and he will come to you when he is ready. He's not going to talk to you at all if you keep putting pressure on him like that.” He shot Thor a pleading look and the other heaved a deep sigh and nodded.

“I fear you are right, friend.”

Upon reaching the kitchen, the smell of breakfast rose to Steve's nose. How long had he slept? Even in a bed he barely stayed out for longer than four hours, but in a chair? That was... most unusual.

“How's our sleeping beauty?" Clint asked, mouth half-full of cereal. Steve quickly scanned the room, a routine he did not even notice any more. Tony was nowhere to be seen, Thor was behind him, Loki was sleeping, Natasha was having breakfast, sitting next to Clint. Phil was probably already working. Bruce was sipping on a glass of orange juice, looking over at him.

“Did you sleep at all?” All doctor and professional concern.

“Kind of,” Steve mumbled, deciding against talking about it, for now. “What's for breakfast?”

“Anything you like, sunshine,” and with that, as though he had waited for his cue, Tony walked in, in an unusually happy mood – which could only mean he really was in a bad mood, or had had too much coffee, or too much to drink. Or both.

“Will you tell Fury about Loki?" Natasha asked, not waiting for Steve to fully wake up to be discussing business. Clint made a noise and shook his head.

“If he doesn't already know, it's better for all of us if it stays that way.”

“I agree,” Thor said, slumping down on a free chair. “Director Fury needn't know what happened to my brother. It will only anger him and I for one do not wish to deal with that at the moment. And probably not ever.”

Natasha's gaze followed Tony around the kitchen, her expression vaguely amused, remembering a similar crowd in the kitchen not too long ago.

“Have you found your alcohol yet, Tony?” The reminder of that morning sent a wave of mixed feelings through the room.

“What I had left fell victim to Thor's failed relationship and lack of self-control, so I had to order new stuff. The cheap booze will be up here for you to enjoy, I'll put the good stuff somewhere safe.” Tony shrugged.

“Have we talked about your drinking habits yet?" Bruce asked, still all doctor, still all professional concern.

“Only twice a day,” Tony replied, sweetly, but everyone felt the temperature in the room dropping by a few degrees.

“What's with the mood swings, Stark?" Clint asked, earning himself a light cuff around the head by Natasha.

“I can see why you're losing your nerve, Captain,” Phil said, who had been sitting in his chair unnoticed, reading the morning papers. How could Steve have missed him? The blond man frowned. Phil's ability to go unnoticed was remarkable – and remarkably creepy.

“Yeah,” Steve sighed, after the initial start had waned, then grabbed a mug to fill it with much needed coffee.

“About that...,” he pauses, glancing at Phil who nods at him to proceed, which he did, in an announcing voice. “Seeing as Loki is back and there don't seem to be any other threats at the moment, I'm hoping to get away for a few days. As most of you already know, Agent Coulson offered to stay here until I get back. Is everybody still alright with that?” The team mumbled their vague approval, the whole thing not really being news any more, even though during its first mention Thor and Clint had been absent. The blonde god sensed his chance to confront Loki and pester him a little more, but he knew better than to say that out loud.

“Where are you going to stay?" Bruce asked, having travelled a lot and being curious.

“I don't know yet,” Steve replied, seeming pleased and relieved that everyone was okay with the arrangement. “I'm just going to head west. Cliché, I know,” he smirked.

“Why not go a little further? Europe,” Tony suggests. “London or... or Vienna? Vienna is nice. I can get you a nice hotel reservation? Or Japan. I have friends there.”

“Maybe next time, thanks Tony.” Steve smiled warmly at the other. “I think I've seen more of Europe than of my own country, so it's about time I catch up on that.”

“When will you leave?" Thor asked, “Do you need company?” He sounded worried, as though someone was going to try and steal Steve off the street.

“I was hoping to leave as soon as possible. Agent Coulson is already here so how about I just... pack and head off in an hour or so? No point in hanging around... unless you need me for anything?” His eyes rested on Thor for a moment, hoping the others would at least try to protect Loki a little. The team seemed a little sad for a moment, like children who thought they had done something wrong, then they all shrugged, more or less in unison.

“Do you need any help packing?" Thor offered, trying to be nice, while Tony grabbed his mug of coffee and retreated to his workshop.

“Take your phone with you,” he said when he moved past Steve, gaining himself a frown, which only met his back, as he did not stop to wait for an answer.

“No, I'm... I'm okay, thanks, Thor.”

“Right,” Phil folded his newspaper and got up. “Have a good holiday, Captain. I'll let Director Fury know and keep an eye on the team.” And with that, he, too, left the room, off to Fury-calling-duty – a job nobody envied him for having. Just a moment later, Bruce and Natasha had followed him, Thor had inhaled his breakfast and set off to his room to enjoy Midgardian television and only Clint remained with Steve, watching him.

“Are you alright?”

“Yeah,” Steve huffed, noticing his hands shaking a little. Maybe he should get a nap before getting on his bike... “Just need a time out.”

Clint got up and put his hand on the taller man's arm, almost protectively – a gesture he had reserved for a moment when the two of them were alone, because god forbid he showed anything resembling affection to anyone or anything but his bow, while there were people around. Especially Phil...

“You shouldn't stress yourself so much,” he advised Steve, smiling, because he knew very well just how harmful stress could be to certain people. “I know we're all quite the handful, some of us more than others, but you're not in this alone. We're a team, Cap.”

Steve chuckled. Usually it was him giving the motivational 'team-spirit'-speeches. Setting down his mug, which was empty by now, he smiled thankfully at the other.

“I'll be fine. A few days of distance will do wonders, you'll see.”

“I'll miss you though.” The confession caught Steve on the wrong foot and he felt himself blush just a little. “The others will be unbearable, especially since they've been so cranky recently,” Clint rambled on, enjoying the look on Steve's face as the taller one realised he had not meant it 'that way'. Or had he?

 

* * *

 

Loki awoke groaning, his body a mess, his mind dull and tired. He sat up in bed, a little disoriented. A motion to his right made him jump and back up against the wall and he relaxed only slightly, if at all, when he noticed it was his brother, pacing. Loki watched, kind of hoping Thor would just go away, or disappear, or walk himself into the ground. It took a while for Thor to realise that Loki was awake, but when he did, he got right to the point.

“Brother! You have slept far into the day. It is time for us to talk about the events that caused your injuries!”

Loki groaned, glaring at Thor.

“What do you think it was, you mutt,” he spat, not willing to talk about it, especially not to Thor. He considered asking for Steve, him being the only person Loki felt like talking to – and they had to talk, Steve still had the apple after all – but Loki knew better than to admit that to Thor.

However, Thor was not going to give up easily. In fact, he was not going to give up at all, it seemed. He had sworn to watch over Loki, so that was what he was going to do – even if in this case it had to be done in retrospect. Also, who knew what kind of unrest Loki's trip may have caused? Thiassi was not a good choice of person to mess with.

“You must tell me!”

“Or what?" Loki looked at Thor coldly. He leaned against the wall to take the strain off his sore muscles.

“Or I will find a way to hear another's truth,” Thor threateningly stepped closer.

“You've never been good at finding ways, Thor.” Thor's eyes narrowed at his younger brother's patronizing tone.

“You leave me no choice then. I will return to Asgard immediately.”

“What for?" Loki asked, sounding a little alarmed. It was not likely that they would notice the stolen apple if they had not noticed it after all this time, but Loki still did not like the risk of the remaining probability.

“I will consult Heimdall. If anyone knows, it will be him. Unless you had the foresight to conceal your whereabouts, he shall be able to answer my queries.”

“I've been concealing myself from Heimdall ever since I was a little boy, Thor. My methods are subtle and now that I've been banned to Midgard, it's only been all the easier.” What Loki did not mention was that he was not all that sure whether he had been able to sustain his magic throughout the beatings. However, he would have been a fool to give away his doubts.

“I shall take my chances,” Thor shrugged Loki's words off and marched out of the room. He was going to find out one way or another.

Silently cursing his brother, Loki fought his body off the bed. Of course he was too slow to stop Thor, so he did not bother trying. Cussing, he shook off the blanket and put on loose, concealing clothes, before he made his way upstairs. He would have preferred to stay in his room, by himself, without the prying eyes of the others, but maybe he could find Steve...

He made his way to the kitchen, surprised by how hungry he felt. Right now, there was nobody around, so he grabbed some finger food, before he proceeded his way down to the gym, in hopes of finding Steve there. The gym was not usually a place Loki was interested in and during his stay at the tower, it had not been a place he had often bothered going to. And even now, his visit was a brief one, as it was unoccupied.

Wondering where Steve could be – and where everyone else was – Loki returned to the living quarters' corridor, after a second quick trip to the kitchen to grab himself something to drink. Maybe now was a good time to take a shower? He suddenly felt very filthy, after all this time he had spent imprisoned. His body still hurt and he still felt tired, but that did not mean he had to look uncivilized and dirty. Also, it would be a while until Thor was back and he had to deal with him and until then Loki had nothing better to do.

However, when sitting in his room after his shower, dressed again in lose clothes to avoid pressure on his bruises, Loki became increasingly nervous. Whatever Thor would find out, even if it was nothing, it would not be pleasant. Restless, Loki got up and left his room, just so he felt like he was doing something other than waiting for his brother.

Going through how their conversation was going to go in his mind, Loki gave a startled noise when he walked straight into Thor, who had been on his way to the trickster's room. Loki instinctively backed away. One look at Thor's face told him that the other was far from pleased.

“You're back,” Loki said, still backing up without even noticing. Thor growled and followed his every move, Mjolnir firmly in his hand.

“It did not take me long to get the information I required,” he replied. “Heimdall was unable to observe your presence on Thrymheimr, although he saw you leave behind much chaos and destruction. I shall give you one last chance to explain your actions.” He raised his hammer just slightly, but enough for Loki to notice. Although he found a sense of relief inside him when Thor did not mention the missing of an apple, he still knew that he was in a bad spot. There was no way he could explain himself without giving a much greater crime away – one that would certainly have its consequences if uncovered.

“I had to get out of there somehow,” he hissed, as though that had to be explanation enough.

“You have yet to reveal your reason for visiting Thrymheimr in the first place!” Thor was not letting Loki get away with this. If he saw any fear in his brother's eyes, he ignored it.

“What, can't I visit my family if it pleases me?”

“You do not have family on Thrymheimr, brother.” Thor disliked the venom in Loki's voice, but his aversion was nothing compared to how much Loki hated when Thor did not get his blatant over-generalisations.

“Oh please, when did they stop being all the same to you?" he sneered, but there was nothing but tense focus in his eyes as they rested on Thor's hand, whose knuckles were white from his grip on Mjolnir. Thor could barely contain his anger – he had always been bad at that. From Thor's knuckles, Loki's eyes darted to his brother's face, then to the empty hallway behind him. Where could he run to, if he did? What could he say to get Thor off his back?

“The only clan residing on Thrymheimr is Thiassi's and the two of you are known in all nine realms to be on opposite sites. I will ask you this one more time: What was your business with Thiassi?”

“I gave him something he desired and he did not give me what I wanted in return. It took me some effort to leave. That's all. Can you please stop concerning yourself with things that are none of your god damn business?”

“What did you give to him?”

“Food,” Loki replied, cursing his brother and avoiding to look at him.

“Don't play me for a fool, Loki,” Thor snarled in return, getting right in Loki's face, hammer raised enough for it to clearly represent a threat now. Instinctively, Loki flinched, shock plain on his features for a moment, before he got a grip on his face, changing it to a carefully blank expression. His back was pressed painfully against the wall and his muscles were tense. To him, it was not a question of whether Thor would strike him or not, but only a question of how hard and Loki's own ability to dodge.

“It was. Food,” Loki repeated, gritting out each word pointedly. “I gave him an apple. A regular apple, but he does not know that.” He paused, giving Thor time to comprehend. “You're a fool without my doing, Thor.”

“Why would he believe this apple to be anything but an apple?" Thor asked without backing up an inch. He was not planning to, either.

“Because I made him believe it was something else,” Loki explained, talking to Thor as though he was a particularly dumb child, and struggling not to add a 'duh'.

“And what reason did he have to believe such a thing?” Thor was really trying to understand, it seemed. Loki stared at him, exasperated.

“I can do magic, you oaf. Surprise!” He waggled his fingers and tried to move past Thor's huge body now, to get away from him and his hammer.

“Need I remind you of what you face if Father hears of this, brother? Bringing chaos and destruction into another's realm, I believed you over such arrogant thoughts.” Thor pushed Loki back into the wall and held him there, not caring for the expression of pain briefly flashing over Loki's face. The younger froze at the mention of Odin and once more tried to control himself, not wanting to show his fear or pain to his brother.

“Well, I would suggest you don't tell him, if you really are as concerned for my well-being as you pretend to be.” His eyes locked on Thor's, cold and dark.

“Loki, I will not betray the Allfather's trust.” The 'unlike you' went unspoken, but not unheard and Loki's eyes narrowed.

“Of course you wouldn't,” he gave his brother a thin lipped smile, “Why do you think I didn't tell you about it in the first place?” There was a strange note of something in Loki's voice, like Thor had just proven a point, but it was hidden behind cynicism and bitterness and provocation.

Thor would have none of it though. To him, his duty to his father and his people had always come before any feelings of guilt and certainly before any feelings of loyalty to his brother.

“Why did you give Thiassi an apple, brother?" he repeated his question, speaking every word like a blow against Loki's armour of stubbornness. However, the more angry Thor became, the less inclined Loki felt to give in. It was more than just brotherly stubbornness, it was a sense of self-preservation. The angrier Thor was, the more likely he was going to lash out at Loki if he found out the truth. Loki knew teasing him was not a smart move, either, but hopefully, eventually, Thor would realize he was being an obnoxious idiot and just stop. Because that was so likely. Yeah, that was not going to happen in a million years. But admitting to Thor that Loki had let Thiassi blackmail him? That was even more unlikely.

“Because he wanted to eat healthier,” Loki scoffed. “I already told you he did not know it was just an apple, why would I give him an apple?” He threw his hands in the air, exasperated, as much as he could in what little personal space Thor was currently granting him.

“ENOUGH!” The hand grasping Loki's collar flew up to wrap tightly around his throat instead. The movement was harsh and violent and Loki's head collided with the wall behind him. “You broke the promises you made that were bound to your stay on Midgard,” Thor growled, “You put Asgard at risk of Thiassi attacking. I will not have you do any more harm and I will not have you mock me!”

Loki was shaken and a rush of memories made all colour leave his face. He could not help the pained sound slipping from him and instinctively tried to kick Thor to make him let go, while his fingernails dug into his brother's arm. Despite his rising panic, a scornful smile appeared on his face.

“Doing daddy's dirty work again, are you, brother?" he choked out to the best of his ability with Thor's hand around his throat.

“I trusted you! I gave my word that you would not cause any more trouble and you betrayed me!” In his rage he did not realise his fingers tightening around Loki's throat.

The trickster choked and once more, panic washed through him, cold and hard. 'I had no choice!', Loki wanted to yell at Thor, panic stronger than even his stubbornness and pride, but no sound came over his lips. Before he even thought about it, he counter-attacked, having been through too much recently to be rational right now. His hands, still grasping Thor's arm, turned blue and ice-cold, the cold burning Thor's skin where Loki touched him. Just for a moment, but hopefully this was going to be enough for his brother to let Loki breathe again.

The pain Thor felt was excruciating and coupled with his rage, the god fell back, pushing Mjolnir in the opposite direction in defence without thinking twice.

Only the weakness of his own body in its current state saved Loki from a direct blow. Instead, the hammer met his shoulder when Loki half staggered aside, half sank to the ground, gasping for air and composure. He did not even notice the attack until pain exploded in his shoulder. Like a wounded animal, he hissed at Thor, knowing that he could not win this battle if that was how Thor was going to play this.

Loki groaned, raising his uninjured arm to cover his face, as though expecting another strike. He was well aware of how pathetic he looked, but his pride had not regained prevalence over his fear just yet. His hands still shimmered blue, ready to defend himself, but his knees were weak and shaking – from fear, from pain, from panic. Instead of ice, though, Loki sent a vase crashing against Thor from behind, and another one flying at him from the right, obvious and visible enough to draw attention to it. The precious seconds this won Loki were enough for him to disappear, leaving behind only an illusion of himself.

Thor swayed at the impact of the first vase and smashed the second one with his hammer instinctively. A second later, he was back in front of Loki. The physical aspect to their fights was nothing new, but never before had Loki dared to use his Jotun powers against Thor. To side with the monsters he shared his blood with...

“You have gone too far, brother! I will be taking you back to Asgard, where they may once and for all deal with your lying and cheating self!” Once more, his hand reached for Loki to pull him up, get him outside to a place from where they could be transported back by Heimdall – only to grab nothing.

“LOKI!” Thor's voice rumbled throughout the corridor and he stomped off towards where he hoped his brother had fled, leaving the copy of Loki behind to slowly, almost mockingly dissolve.

By now, Loki had found himself a hiding place, at least a temporary one, his magic even hiding himself from Jarvis. While he did make his presence known to the AI, so nobody could accuse him of not being in the tower, Loki kept his exact location a secret from the machine. It took him a while to finally fend off the panic and he kept ignoring the throbbing pain in his shoulder. The way things were going, he would have to stay hidden for a long while... If Thor was really planning on handing him over to Odin, staying in the air vents sounded like a very good life for now. Where the hell was Steve when he was needed?

Meanwhile, Thor had reached the end of the hallway after searching the whole floor and he was now impatiently waiting for the lift – only to take a half step back, when Tony stepped out of it.

“What's with all the noise? God dammit, how am I supposed to work if you guys can't keep it down? Wait where...” Tony noticed the broken vases and Thor being alone and frowned. He had expected some destruction, there was always a little broken glass when the boys got into a fight – but he had also expected Loki, and the trickster was nowhere to be seen. It was very unlike Thor to fight with anyone else and as there was nobody else around, either and Thor was not likely to fight with himself, Tony was all the more curious about what had happened.

“Man of Iron! Have you seen my brother? He cannot be far... he must be taken back to Asgard immediately!”

“What did he do now? Did he kill someone? I swear, if he killed someone in my tower... wait, what do you mean, he's gone again? You can't just lose your brother like that, he's just returned from being gone for almost two weeks!”

“I questioned him about his whereabouts this past weeks, but he refused to part with the information,” Thor explained, “I must find him before he wreaks any more havoc!” His words earned him an annoyed groan.

“Didn't Cap talk to you about this like... seven times?” Tony started dragging the god into the elevator. “Jarvis, where is Loki?" he asked, waiting for the lift to stop again and then continued to take Thor to the living room.

“I am afraid I am not able to detect his location, sir. However, I can confirm that he is within the tower,” Jarvis replied, his voice following the two men through the hallway.

“What? What do you... how...,” Tony was frustrated and confused and frowned. “Nevermind, I'll figure that one out. Jarvis, call the team to the living room. We have a situation. And you, Beef Mountain,” he kept dragging Thor like he was an unruly little boy, “you'll explain to them how you lost Loki.”

Naturally, it took the team a while, but eventually everyone was seated and looking at both Tony and Thor expectantly.

“So, where's the fire, Stark?”

“Funny you should ask, Barton,” Tony smirks at him. “Well, take it away, He-Man.” It took Thor a moment to realise Tony meant him. He never really got used to all the nicknaming. Wearing his best kicked puppy look, Thor pouted.

“Loki is gone.”

“And?" Tony prompts him.

“It was not my fault, Stark!” The two men had a brief staring contest, which Tony won only due to the fact that Thor felt guilty. “Very well. It may have been my fault. I... may have threatened to take him back to Asgard. But he attacked me!” He looked at Tony and slumped when he realized just how he sounded. The engineer, satisfied, patted Thor's shoulder.

“We can't find him,” he explained to the others, “and neither can Jarvis. Jarvis says he's in the tower, but he can't locate him, which means Loki is hiding, deliberately. I will try to go over the video footage and see if I can find out where he went. We need to... I don't even know, but if any of you see Loki, just... try and... put him somewhere safe? And make sure Fury doesn't find out or he'll kill us all. And mess up Steve's holiday.”

Everyone nodded and mumbled their approval, not quite getting what the fuss was all about. If Loki was still in the tower, they were good, right? Sure, he was hurt and nobody really knew what he had gone through over the past two weeks or what exactly he had done, but Loki was an adult, older than even Steve, he surely could take care of himself and would know when to come back out: Right?

Tony returned to his workshop to view the video feed of the hallway in front of Loki's room, while in the living room, nobody really moved or said much. Nobody knew what they were expected to do and they certainly were not going to search the rooms for Loki like he was a little child gone lost.

“What happened to your arm?" Bruce asked after a while, nodding at the red palm-prints on Thor's forearm. It looked like a bad burn, or -

“Frost. Loki and I came to a misunderstanding. He...” Thor stopped, grudgingly showing the doctor his arms, before leaning forward, not wanting the others to hear his words.

“I may have... touched him with my hammer.”

“What do you mean, 'touched'?” Bruce adjusted his glasses, frowning a little. The guilt in Thor's voice and the fact that he admitted to it worried him.

“I...,” Thor was trying to avoid having to say 'hit him', but he was not sure how else to put it. “I didn't mean to?" he tried, looking stubborn.

“Thor! If he's hurt – more than he already was before your fight, and we don't even know how hurt he was – it is doubly important that we find him,” Bruce said, not caring to keep his voice down any more. He had not even gotten the chance to check over Loki's injuries from wherever he had gone for two weeks. The trickster had seemed pretty beaten up. Adding whatever Thor had done to him... Bruce really hoped Tony had any luck in finding out what happened between the brothers.

As if on cue, the engineer stormed in and smacked Thor square over the head with what seemed to be all of his strength and fury.

“What's WRONG with you?" he yelled and nobody in the room had ever seen Tony Stark be this angry this openly. He was royally pissed off.

“What the HELL is wrong with you?!" he repeated and, with a flick of his wrist and pressing a button on what appeared to be a remote control, still images of the video footage appear along the walls. Downstairs in the workshop, Tony had fast forwarded through the video material for a while, until he had found what he had been searching for. Whatever had been said was known only to the two brothers, but their postures, their actions, were now visible to all of them.

“This,” he pointed at the pictures, “is not tolerable. I will not have this happening in my tower and not to anyone I know.” Tony paused. “Not even to Loki,” he added but there was a strange note to his voice, a darkness, a roughness and protectiveness, before he snapped out of it and put on his regular Stark-face, rage still hot beneath the surface.

“Bruce” – Banner flinched – “can you say anything about how bad his injuries are? Does he need help?” Silence lasted heavily on the room and everyone just stared at Tony, then at the pictures and then at Thor – who was still staring at Tony.

“You dare attack me?!" Thor thundered, getting worked up again, although Tony did not seem to care too much about that.

“Yeah, Pop Tart, get with the program. Bruce?!”

The doctor jumped at that but seemed to have come to a temporary conclusion.

“His shoulder, seeing the impact, may be shattered. It would certainly be if he was human. I'm mostly worried about his 'old' injuries, though, and the state of his mind.” All throughout Bruce's little assessment, Thor and Tony glared at each other.

The latter, having dealt with his own share of an abusive family, seemed to have lost quite a bit of respect for Thor and it showed, in his posture, on his face, in his eyes. He was not backing down and did not seem to be afraid of the god, despite knowing that if it came to a fight, he would not fare very well.

“Natasha, Barton, try to find any trace of him. He won't be able to move very quickly. I'll see if I can find anything else on the cameras, but it seems he just vanishes from the tapes at one point. Jarvis, check the systems for him, any trace, any anomalies, anything. Coulson... just try not to tell Fury. Bruce, please just make sure Thor doesn't hurt anyone else, because right now? I wouldn't put it past him.” There was an unusual amount of venom in his words that spoke of more than what he had just witnessed and before anyone else could say anything, Tony rushed back down to the workshop, trying to hide how worried he was.

“STARK!" Thor moved to follow Tony.

“I wouldn't do that if I were you.” The god whirled around to see Bruce looking mildly green, arms crossed and in no mood to argue. During their stare-off, Clint, Natasha and Phil felt that the family dynamics becoming apparent explained a lot about how Loki was all kinds of messed up. They quietly got to work, Phil staying in his seat, his eyes slowly moving from one picture to the other, while Natasha and Clint started to systematically search the tower. None of them were quite as upset as Tony, though, who was down in his workshop, trying not to make the conscious connection to what he had experienced himself.

The only one who refused to do as he was told was Thor, who took his chances with Bruce and stormed after Tony, his new babysitter on his heels. They found the door to the workshop unlocked – apparently Tony was not willing to risk shattered glass or other drama.

And truly, it seemed like Tony had been waiting for Thor to follow him. Or at least he did not seem surprised to find the god storming towards him and had strategically placed himself behind a work bench to force some space between them. He did not mind the confrontation though. If Thor wanted to talk to him and complain – or justify his actions – sure, but he would have to deal with Tony working on finding Loki in the meantime. He was not going to drop everything just to pay attention to Thor. Hell, he could multi-task with more difficult things even when running on less sleep and more alcohol.

While Thor positioned himself in front of Tony, striking a towering, regal pose, Bruce stayed in the background, watching them both. He could hear what they were saying, but he was not paying much attention to their conversation, only to the sound of their voices, to judge the likelihood of escalation and he stayed close enough to intervene if things went downhill. Right now, there were a few angry gestures and aggressive postures, but nothing too bad.

Suddenly, Tony took a surprised step back, a blur of grey and white and metal whipping past him and only a moment later, Dum-E's mechanical arm whacked Thor against the chest.

“Dum-E... Dum-E, no, bad Dum-E, leave him alone,” Tony commanded, frowning. He really did not want his bot to be broken by the God of Thunder, even though Thor usually liked Dum-E. They kind of hung out a lot – it was almost creepy.

Thor awkwardly pushed Dum-E away from himself, with no patience to deal with the protective bot at the moment. Stubbornly, Dum-E positioned himself between the two men, facing Thor.

“Loki needs to answer for his actions against Thiassi and his clan. For that I need to take him back to Asgard. Why would you stand in my way?”

“Why does he need to answer for anything?" Tony crossed his arms over his chest. “He told me they had agreed on a bargain and that this... Thiassi-person didn't hold up his end. Whatever troubles Loki ran into, it seemed he had deal and got his share of payback on the spot. I mean, look at him, it's not like he has been treated well. I know you don't trust Loki, no-one here really does, except maybe for Cap. But you're taking this too far, Thor.” Being the voice of reason was an unusual role for Tony, but he felt he was doing a rather good job of it.

“My father took his vow that he may not leave Midgard and he is not to engage in battle or harm or endanger others. He has broken all those rules and that is what he needs to answer for. Now will you let me take him once we find him?” Apparently, Thor was hoping for a peaceful solution, seeking Tony's approval. Nonetheless, Thor straightened a little, his shift in position making him just a little more threatening. He glared at the engineer for daring to question his actions, ignoring the way Dum-E followed his change in posture with his usual protectiveness.

“You don't even know the whole story! What if he had to...,” Tony waved his hand, searching for words, “you know, defend himself or something?” He vividly remembered seeing Loki covered in bruises and frowned. “What good will it do if you run to your father and tell him? It would only cause trouble.” And with that Tony turned to finally get to work and see if Jarvis could somehow figure out where Loki was.

“My brother is a master of deception and he refuses to tell me about his dealings with Thiassi. Instead, he mocked me for my concern. We may not be as we used to, but I had hoped that he was able to seek my help or confide in me. Seeing as he has not, I must assume he is hiding something of a more sinister nature.” By this point, Tony was staring at him, shaking his head in something close to disappointment.

“He told Steve,” Tony said all of a sudden, hoping this was going to appease Thor. “I'm sure Loki has his reasons for not telling you,” and now we all know what these reasons are now, don't we?, Tony added silently, “but he told Cap. And if he did not try to stop Loki, he will have had his reasons for it.”

“The Captain knew?” Thor looked equal parts shocked and disappointed to find his brother confiding in someone that was not him. However, Steve keeping it a secret when he had known how worried about his brother Thor had been, was no less disconcerting.

“I don't understand...,” Thor frowned, staring into space.

“You... don't?" Tony shook his head in disbelief. “Thor, have you seen yourself act recently? You broke your brother's shoulder because he refused to trust you. And you wonder why he doesn't?”

“But he mocked me and lied to my face! I had no choice but to show him-” Thor flinched when Tony slammed his fist on the nearest workbench.

“SHOW him?! Show him what? That you're willing to hurt him to get what you want?” There was a deep rooted rage in Tony's eyes, something that went back far more than just to what he had seen Thor do to Loki.

“If that is what it takes...,” Thor growled and behind him, Bruce grimaces. For a moment, Tony seemed to sway, his face a hard mask of anger. When his eyes settled back on Thor, there was, again, disappointment in them.

“Then how dare you consider yourself his brother?” He noticed his hands shaking and started typing code and commands into the console, just to busy his hands. “Nobody needs family like that,” he muttered bitterly.

“I think it best if you leave now, Thor,” Bruce cut in before the god could say anything else. Thor just glared at Tony, then turned to leave.

“I wish to be informed as soon as you find him.” He left the shop and Bruce was grateful there were no doors to break on his way out.

Tony tried to get a grip on himself and to not think about anything else than the task at hand – especially since Bruce was still around and he could almost feel the worried look his friend was giving him.

“Jarvis,” Tony barked, then took a deep breath to calm his tone. “Go through every inch of the building, any anomalies, any hint of... anything, you report back to me.”

“As you wish, Sir.”

Tony watched the little simulation of the tower spinning before him, as Jarvis began scanning the tower floor by floor.

“I'm fine Bruce, just... tired.” Tony did not turn around. Instead, he fiddled with an unfinished project that had been left on the workbench. Bruce nodded, unconvinced.

“What are we going to do if we find him?" he asked, his skin losing some of the green tint as he was calming down.

“I have no idea,” Tony replied, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Just... keep Thor away from him.”

“What do we do if we don't find him? He must be in a lot of pain...”

“He's gotta come out of wherever he is eventually. If he doesn't, we'll smell him at some point.” Tony gave a humourless grin, hoping that it would not come to that. “Jarvis? Any news?”

“I'm afraid not, Sir. He is still in the tower, but something seems to prevent my systems from figuring out his location.”

“Magic?" Bruce asked, frowning. “The last time he used magic on one of your AIs, it exploded...”

“Can you pinpoint the location of where that resistance is most concentrated? Maybe we can narrow it down...,” he trailed off, deep in thought. Magic was a thing he was not comfortable with, he did not understand how it worked and had no means to deal with it.

“I'm afraid not. Judging by the video feed it is most likely that Loki has made his way through the air vents. I cannot say if he is still in them, but I would consider it likely, since almost every other inch of the tower is under constant surveillance. Then again, it seems he is able to manipulate the video feed, seeing as he just disappeared off the screen.”

Bruce was not sure if he liked the thought of any of that. He knew there were cameras everywhere, but he preferred not thinking about it. And Loki being able to manipulate the surveillance videos... who was to say how much truth was to the pictures of his fight with Thor then? On the other hand, Thor had admitted to hurting Loki already, and he had not protested to anything shown on the images, so maybe it was all true...

 

Chapter Text

For once, the exhaustion was a pleasant one. It was nice to be home again, it was nice to have travelled so much and to feel calm for once. Steve felt as if he had the energy and motivation to do just about anything. He should go on holiday more often...

Sneaking into the living room to surprise the others with his early return – he had not planned on arriving before later that evening – Steve found all of them together, discussing. And they certainly did not seem to be discussing tonight's choice of film... His face fell, and a little bit of the old exhaustion crept back into his frame.

"What's wrong?" he asked, causing everyone to jump. With a quiet 'thump' Steve set his bags down and leaned against the door frame.

"Look who's back...," Tony smirked, pouring himself another glass of Scotch. "Let's hope you got enough relaxation," he took a sip, "... you'll need it." He raised his glass in Steve's direction with a sarcastic grin. "Welcome back, Captain!"

Out of habit, Steve rubbed a hand over his face, briefly pinching the bridge of his nose. He was very close to just walking back out again.

"Stark, what did you do? Who did what?" His eyes settled on Bruce, hoping to get some non-crazy information. Tony just threw up his hands in protest, flinging himself into the nearest empty chair and started complaining about the "assumption that it's always something I've done...". Naturally, everybody else just ignored him.

"Uh, it's Loki... we can't find him," Bruce explained and looked guilty.

"Again?" Steve sounded worried. "Why? How long has he been gone?" Great. This was just great. Could these guys not do anything without a babysitter? Wait, they had had a babysitter! Steve's eyes came to rest on Coulson now.

"Weren't you supposed to watch them? How could Loki go missing after just having returned?" he complained. Phil calmly looked back at him.

"Sadly, I am still unable to be in several places at once and at the time of Loki's disappearance seven days ago, I was needed elsewhere."

Steve groaned.

"Yeah. Right. Why did I ever think I could go on holiday without something going wrong?" he muttered to himself and slumped a little. "Do we have any idea where he could be? Anything? Why... why did he leave in the first place? Was he taken? Can someone just... tell me what happened?" Steve settled himself into an armchair, feeling a headache growing behind his forehead.

"Do you want the short or the long version?" Tony asked, tilting his head.

"Short. Really, really short. Please." Steve sighed and wished he could get drunk.

"Loki came back from... that place," Tony waved his hand around, not caring to come up with the name again, "then you left, Thor tried to talk to him and Loki disappeared. The end."

Steve let out something that sounded a lot like a feral growl and glared at Thor.

"Did we not talk about this?" It was surprising to everyone how little of Steve's usual niceness was left in his body posture and tone of voice right now. "What did you say that made him run and hide for a whole damn week, Thor? What could you possibly have said?!"

"I merely requested he tell me about his travels to Thrymheimr, but..."

"... fuck you did...," Tony mumbled into his glass.

"Someone care to tell me what really happened? Loki wouldn't hide for nothing, he's far too proud for that." Steve frowned at everyone, one after the other.

"Why don't I show you and you can make up your own mind?" Tony suggested, uncharacteristically calm, like a cat stalking its prey. Out of the corner of his eye, he was watching Thor.

"You what... videotaped it?" Steve asked, raising an eyebrow. He tended to forget that everything happening in this tower was constantly being recorded by Jarvis. And right now, Tony was about to tell Jarvis to roll the tapes – not that there were actual tapes, Tony had not been that backwards for centuries – but Phil got up and stopped him.

"Maybe we should talk in private, Captain Rogers." He waited patiently, not expecting opposition, smiling calmly at Steve who moved out of his seat and let Phil lead the way. Tony stayed behind, scowling, and when the door closed behind Phil and Steve, Clint looked over at Tony, then at Thor and then back at Tony.

"You shouldn't... push it like that, Stark," he started, raising a hand before Tony could flip his shit again. "We've all seen it. None of us are happy about it. But look at Cap. He cares about the team. All he wants is to find Loki and get this over with. He really doesn't need this now."

"I don't know about you," Tony snapped, "but I also care about the team and I am not a happy bunny when we accept bullies on it!"

"I'm not – ," Thor started, but was cut off by a quick, firm shake of Natasha's head. Over the past few days, Thor and Tony had repeatedly been at each other's throats, the rest of the team generally on Tony's side, but still trying to somehow keep the peace and stay out of things.

"Tony, let's just... can we just keep it down, at least until we find Loki and everything's settled a little? We can discuss it then, we'll all sit down, with Loki, with Thor, and talk about it. But right now, let's just find Loki and see if he's alright, okay?" Bruce's voice was calm and his hand rested on Tony's shoulder, almost a brotherly gesture. Thor mumbled something and crossed his arms before his chest.

"Fine," Tony grumbled, "but don't expect me to play nice until then." The inner fight over what he should be doing as opposed to what he wanted to do made him fidgety. However, he knew the others were right, there was no use in bringing Steve up against Thor right now. That could wait until after they had found Loki – and maybe the trickster had his own share of things to say about that particular issue.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Steve expectantly waited for Phil to talk.

"So? What's this all about?"

"I wanted you to have a chance to listen to this before the others – and by that I mean Tony – tell you how to feel about it." He sighed. "As soon as you had left, Thor went back to Loki's room and demanded an explanation. You have three guesses how Loki reacted to being made to do anything he did not want. The whole thing escalated. The last thing we know is Loki walking away from his room and we haven't seen him since." Phil was being deliberately vague, the team dynamics and possible fights more of a concern to him than any hurt feelings (or hurt prisoners).

"You mean he just... but why? I mean, why hasn't he come back yet, where did he go? He could be anywhere, did you search the city, does Fury know?" Steve, who would never think Coulson would lie to him, or even omit such crucial parts of the truth, seemed pretty shocked.

"We've had Jarvis scan every inch of the tower, but he has come across some kind of resistance that prevents him to pinpoint an exact location. So it looks as though Loki is still here somewhere, we just don't know where."

"Oh. So he's in the tower? And he has been hiding for a week? In the tower?" Steve looked incredulous. "You've got to be kidding me. This is my punishment for taking a holiday, right? Oh, this has Tony Stark written all over it, you got me, fine, great joke." Phil's expression did not change. Steve stared at him.

"You're serious." Steve's jaw almost hit the ground when Phil nodded. He was dumbstruck, trying to get a grip on himself. How incompetent could his team possibly be, losing one of their team members in their own home?! For a week!

"You did try and find him though, right? Tell me someone looked for him."

"We did," Phil said with a small nod. Steve threw him a look.

"How can you lose someone in a house full of cameras?"

"When that someone's magic interferes with them," Phil replied, calm and collected, all cool façade as usual. "There is a video of the incident between Thor and Loki, if you would like to see for yourself what happened."

"Do I even want to know? Is it... I mean, of course it must be more than the usual, because Loki doesn't usually hide away for a week, but... well, I guess it's my job to watch it, isn't it?" Steve sighed.

"Not all of us are as convinced of the benefits of you watching the video as Stark is, Captain," Phil replied, trying to be diplomatic. "Even without it, we know by now that Loki is hiding because Thor has threatened to return him to Asgard. It is likely that the standing threat is what keeps Loki away rather than anything else that has happened between him and Thor."

Steve gave a slow nod.

"I will –"

"– not watch it," he was interrupted by a ragged, tired-looking Loki, who simply walked in like it was the most normal thing in the world to just reappear after a week of absence. His arm was drawn close to his chest and there was a faint bruise visible above the neckline of his shirt.

"Can we talk?" he asked, ignoring Phil completely. He had waited for Steve's return, the Captain being the only person he trusted enough and knowing that Steve would never let Thor take Loki back to Asgard – or so he hoped.

Both Phil and Steve stared in shock at where Loki was leaning against the wall, the agent managing to get himself back under control far quicker than Steve.

"What... how... Loki?"

"Can we talk?" the trickster repeated, urgency in his voice and throwing a nervous look over his shoulder. "In private?" he added, glancing at Phil, seeming haunted – or hunted – and in pain from merely existing, not to mention moving around.

"Yeah, sure, of course... uh... where do you want to go?" Steve was still confused, but relieved that Loki had come out of his hiding place. It meant a lot less stress and worry.

"My room? I guess that's where they expect me least," he gave Steve a weak smile, hoping that he was right and also that Phil was not going to rat him out to the others just yet. With careful steps he left the room, stopping in the hallway to wait for Steve to follow him.

Exchanging a glance, Steve and Phil silently agreed that the agent would cover for them, then Steve followed Loki to his room, hoping he could finally get to the bottom of this mess that had been going on for far too long now.

As he lowered himself onto the last remaining chair in his room, Loki grimaced. He waved at the broken one on the floor apologetically. Steve remained standing, closing the door behind him.

"I... I'm afraid I must request your help once again, Captain Rogers," Loki started, cutting right to the chase, his expression withdrawn – an obvious mask to hide behind.

"Sure... just... what happened after I left? Why... what's on those tapes that I'm not supposed to see?"

"Nobody was supposed to see them in the first place," Loki muttered. "I should've anticipated Stark watching them, but I was... I did not." He paused for a moment, then shook his head – just slightly flinching at the pain searing through his shoulder. He settled for staring down at his hands instead of causing himself any more pain by moving.

"You know why I had to deal with Thiassi. And you know why I cannot tell my brother. I... I do hope the apple is still in your possession?" he looked up, but did not wait for a reply. "Thor does not know any of it and he wouldn't quit... pestering me about it. There is nothing else I will ask of you in this matter, but please... please don't let him take me back to Asgard." There was something close to a plea in Loki's voice.

Steve stared at him for a while.

"You're asking a lot. You've already asked me to lie and to deceive my team. I don't know if I can do any more of that..." He turned his gaze to the floor, thinking. Loki gave him a weak smile.

"Lying and deceiving are two of the few things that come naturally to me." The trickster sighed and looked guilty for a moment, dreading what he was about to admit. "But even I have to speak the truth sometimes and so I will. Steve Rogers, you are the only person I can ask to do this for me. You are the only person with no agenda of their own, hidden or not. Let Fury deal with me if you must, let Thor think of a punishment if there is no other way to appease him, but please," and now he was actually, openly begging, "please don't let him send me back to Asgard."

"Why? What would happen in Asgard if he took you back?" Steve was already convinced to agree, but he could not imagine what Loki had to fear if he went back. Adopted or not, they were still his family, were they not? How big of a crime was stealing an apple anyway, magic or not? And was it really just that incident that would get Loki into trouble?

"I stole a treasure very dear to many people, if only a small part of it. And what is probably worse, I broke parole," Loki explained. "The best thing that could happen is that they lock me up in that cell again, for the rest of the eternity that I was supposed to spend in there. But that is... highly unlikely and I'm not exactly a lucky person, you know? In Asgard, Odin's word is the law and with my...," he chuckled at his own use of Midgardian terminology, "... with my criminal record, the law is not happy with me. Why lock me up and risk me getting away when there are other means to deal with me?" Loki shuddered visibly at the thought of facing the Allfather. Steve considered his words and their implications for a moment.

"Okay, alright, I agree. Just don't make me regret this, Loki." How often had he said this to the trickster during the past two years? And so far, Loki had usually managed to keep true to his promise. Still, there was a slight frown on Steve's face when he asked for it. Loki shifted uncomfortably at the hint of distrust, but he did not directly react to it or even mention it.

"Thank you." There was a pause stretching between them until it became awkward.

"Do you need to see a doctor? Should I call Bruce?" At Steve's suggestion, Loki grimaced, but the pain was strong enough for him to swallow his pride.

"That... would be nice, yes. If he doesn't mind." Without thinking about it, Loki let his hand hover over his broken shoulder, almost as if he was trying to protect it, even though he knew Banner was not going to do anything to it. Nothing bad, at least.

"I'll send him to your room then. Would you like for me to keep your return a secret for now, or...?"

"Please," Loki replied without hesitation, then stopped and thought for a moment. Steve had already opened the door, when Loki spoke up again, causing him to turn around again, raising an eyebrow. "Actually... I... I don't... can you tell them without any of them running down here? Could you... try to calm Thor down?"

"Yeah. I'll see what I can do...," Steve turned and left an exhausted Loki behind, slumping in his chair, trying not to think about the huge, steaming mess he had gotten himself into. Unsurprisingly, it was so much easier to be a proud asshole than actually having problems and having to admit that for the sake of saving your life. That really was no fun at all.

While Loki stayed behind feeling miserable, Steve pulled himself together and walked back to where the others were still chatting. His bags still sat in the doorway, right where he had left them. All eyes turned to him when he dropped himself into an armchair.

"So, what are we going to do?" Natasha asked, as though he had never left. "Are we just going to wait until he shows up again?"

Steve looked around the room, gauging the mood.

"No need to do anything. He's back."

Thor immediately jumped up and stormed towards the door, which prompted Tony to do the same, which in turn made Bruce try and calm the engineer down, all the while Steve just looked startled at the emotions and tension that had cooked up in the room at his unceremonious announcement.

"Can we all please sit down and talk about this?" Phil was as calm as ever, still his proposal sounded like a command.

"What do you mean he's back?" Thor and Tony asked in unison, glaring at each other.

"Just like that? How is... is he fine?" Tony added, worry lacing his words.

"I don't know why he suddenly returned and I don't know where he was, but he is back and he doesn't want to speak to anybody," Steve pointedly looked at Thor. "Bruce, he asked for you to have a look at his injuries, if you don't mind." Bruce nodded and left his room.

"But don't talk to him..." Tony mumbled, trying not to mind the fact that he was not going to see Loki and talk to him – about whatever, about kittens if nothing else. He could see why, of course, but it still bugged him, because now that he knew what Thor was willing to do – and had done and still planned on doing – it seemed like Loki was a whole different person. He just... made so much more sense to Tony.

"Anyway, now that that's off the table... Cap, welcome back, how was your holiday?" Tony poured himself yet another drink and put on his most relaxed face. He was making a show of how unbothered he was, perhaps to calm himself down, perhaps to even calm Thor down. For a second, Steve was thrown off balance by Tony's nonchalance.

"Uh... fine, thank you."

"What'd you do, where'd you go?" Tony asked in his best interviewer-voice, while the rest of the team just stared at him with various grades of disbelief and amusement on their faces.

"Out... west. Somewhere."

"Wow. Elaborate. And precise." Tony toasted Steve with his glass. Apparently, small-talk was something they had to practise. Among other things.

"I don't know, nowhere specific. I just rode my bike and stopped where it looked interesting enough," Steve added and shrugged, blushing a little. The room fell silent. For a while, Thor's fidgeting was the only noise.

Meanwhile, back in his room, Loki struggled with taking off his shirt so Bruce was not going to see him fight his way out of it. He managed to free himself halfway, when the door opened, causing him to flinch. To his great relief, it was just Bruce and not Thor or Tony or even Fury.

"Doctor Banner," Loki greeted the other, as though this was an ordinary doctor's appointment.

"Loki. Good to see you again." Bruce adjusted his glasses and opened the first aid kit he had brought. For now, his supplies would have to do, anything else they needed he could bring at a later time. "Is there anything specific you would like me to look at?"

Loki was glad for the lack of questions about his absence. Bruce's professionalism and focus were calming. Loki almost allowed himself to look friendly while he worked to fight off the rest of his shirt.

"My shoulder." He tried to fall into his usual body posture, his usual tone, his usual attitude, but found his injuries and exhaustion and the remaining anxiety – and the hunger, because stealing food without revealing your position was hard when there was only one kitchen stocked in the whole damn tower – getting in the way.

Bruce checked Loki over in silence. The trickster would speak if he wanted to and Bruce himself was not concerned with anything else than the information he had been provided with. If Steve thought things were fine now that Loki was back, things were going to be fine and it was not Bruce's place or responsibility to suggest anything else. And why would he? As far as he knew, Loki had not done anything bad. He had been in trouble and not caused it, for once. Casually, Bruce checked some of the older bruises Loki still carried from his visit to Thiassi, but they were fading and nothing to worry about.

"Is it bad?" Loki asked after a while, having enjoyed the silence and the lack of pressure to talk. He was unaware that Bruce – and the rest of the team – knew what had happened and why he had been hiding, although he could guess that Thor had told them his version of the story.

"No," Bruce shook his head, "You need a lot of rest and a decent meal, but everything seems to be healing nicely. I'll give you something to help rest your shoulder." He gave Loki a small smile. "You should shower first, though," he added and almost smirked at the blush that crept over Loki's face. Hiding for a week had kind of affected his personal hygiene routines.

A few stories above their heads, Tony had left for his workshop, Natasha, Clint and Coulson for work – effectively leaving Thor and Steve behind in the living room alone.

"When will you let me speak to my brother?" Thor asked, barely waiting for the door to close behind Phil. At least he respected Steve's authority now that the other was back...

"It's not so much me letting you speak with him, as it is Loki agreeing to speak with you," Steve explained.

"He has no choice," Thor shook his head, raising his hand. "He has to answer for his actions."

"Thor...," Steve leaned forward, resting his elbows on his thighs. "I don't really know what happened and I'm not sure I want to, either, but I'm told that you and Loki had an argument that resulted in him hiding from everyone for a week. I think you need to accept that at this very moment, he doesn't want to and will not speak with you. Give him time to recover and maybe then he'll be happy to see you." He tried his best to give the other an encouraging smile.

"This is not an argument between brothers, Captain," the god explained, his face stern. "'tis about a criminal who has to answer to his king for breaking parole. I know Loki has not told me all I need to know to fully understand the extent or purpose of what he has done and while this pains me, all I can do is take action on the basis of what I know. And that is he attacked another realm's king, risking a war and it is my duty to report that to my father and king."

Steve frowned. Nobody had mentioned a potential war to him and from what Loki had told him, he had not gone to Thrymheimr to start one, either.

"Have you considered that he may have acted in self-defence?"

"He certainly looked like it when he returned, but he refuses to explain himself," Thor replied, throwing Steve a stubborn look.

"Then maybe you should give him the benefit of the doubt and wait for him to approach you or give his okay for you to go and speak with him?"

Luckily for Steve's nerves, Thor had had enough time to calm down and think about things. The god nodded, even though he did not seem to like that he had come to the same conclusion.

"But even if he does explain himself, Captain, he still broke the rules bound to his stay and he needs to face a punishment. If not by the hands of Odin, then one of another form. He must cease to endanger himself and other people, for whatever reason he may have had."

"What would a punishment like that look like?" Steve did not seem happy about the idea of punishing Loki, yet he understood that just like Thor, he himself did not have enough information to assess the extent of the problems Loki had caused.

Thor shook his head at Steve. He knew of his current reputation within the team and he was not going to act as the villain when he could prevent it.

"That is not for me to decide on my own, Captain. Perhaps the team has an opinion on that. Or the Director..."

"I don't think we'll be involving Director Fury in this. There is no need for him to know."

Thor looked like he wanted to object, but he did not.

"Very well. Then we shall have a meeting concerning this matter?" he asked.

"Right now? No. I'm beat. I need to find some food and go to bed. But we can schedule it for tomorrow." Both men nodded at each other, before Steve got up and headed towards the kitchen.

Unlike Thor, who remained in the living room, brooding for hours, Tony had managed to sneak past Bruce and into Loki's room, unnoticed by anyone but Loki himself, who gave him a dreading look. His hair was still wet from his shower, his arm in a sling, which made it difficult for Loki to put his shirt on without hurting himself.

"Need some help with that?" Tony asked. He stood leaning against the door, bold enough to walk right into the room without knocking but unsure about his reception. Part of Loki wanted to scream 'yes', but instead he clenched his teeth and kept fumbling with the shirt in a very undignified, ungraceful way.

"Why are you here? Have you come to mock me for hiding from my brother like a coward? I need not be reminded of that, thank you." He looked up for a brief moment, his expression unreadable.

"No," Tony paused. Why was he here? What made him want to talk to Loki so desperately, made him feel the need to check on him? "I've come to see how you're doing, you know after... all that's happened."

"How would you know what happened?" Loki asked, even though by now he was fairly certain Tony had seen whatever recording there was of the incident – and he did not like the thought of that.

"Well, let's see," Tony started, slowly pacing the room, counting down on his fingers. "You've disappeared for ten days, came back injured, then disappeared again for another week, still injured and weak as a kitten and I don't think these," he gestured impatiently towards Loki's injuries, "are from a pillow fight with your girlfriends. Something happened. Am I right or am I right?" That had been a briefer overview than Loki had feared.

"I don't have girlfriends," he commented, not knowing what else to say, because the obvious answer was too... obvious. Tony just looked at him for a moment.

"Yeah," his voice turned uncharacteristically soft, "I didn't think so." The engineer lowered himself to the floor, making a mental note to get Loki a new chair.

"Loki, I've seen the tapes, okay? I... you know how Jarvis records everything?" Tony paused, he was never sure how much of the technology that was around Loki and Thor actually noticed or understood. The god nodded, paler than he had been a moment ago. "I watched them to see if we could get some information about where you had run off to and why. I'm... sorry," Tony admitted, knowing he had invaded Loki's privacy, even though he had had a good reason.

Loki avoided to look at him. This was a nightmare. Even though he had expected it, the reality of it was gut-wrenchingly shameful.

"Don't you dare tell anyone what you saw." His voice was unusually rough, horror and a sense of something close to repulsion laced the words. Tony cringed.

"I'll have to disappoint you there already," he looked down at his hands, then glanced at Loki's face. "Everybody but Steve knows, they... were in the room when I went through the video feed." It was a small lie, Loki did not need to know how... openly Tony had distributed the video stills just to confront Thor with what he had done. From personal experience, Tony could relate to how the other felt. He knew that for Loki, having been seen in a situation like that by everyone, having shown weakness and fear, was intolerable – and that probably was an understatement. And indeed Tony could see pure horror washing over Loki's face. The trickster made a few inarticulate noises before he decided to never take a step out of his room again.

"B-but... Banner was here. Just a few moments ago... He... he never-"

"What?" Tony interrupted, slightly irritated. "He didn't mock you? Loki, I don't know what's going on in that head of yours, but none of us enjoyed seeing the way Thor threatened and hurt you. Nobody's gonna 'mock' you or tease you or whatever else you think is gonna happen." Tony frowned, trying to keep his voice calm.

"They may not show it as openly as my brother did, but I know what they think, Stark," Loki replied, sounding as though he was speaking from experience. "'We're out there saving the world and he dares share our space and food and can't even stand up to his own brother'." Loki regretted the words once they had come out of his mouth, not having planned on revealing as much of his own thoughts to Tony. The latter just sighed, rubbing his forehead.

"Loki... None of us would've been able to stand up to much in your place. You'd only just come back from... you know," he waved his other hand about in the air, "that cold place. And you were injured... and I saw how Thor threatened you! God dammit, he strangled you and attacked you with his fucking hammer!" Loki flinched when Tony suddenly jumped up and started pacing again, the god's jaws working at the memory of the argument between him and Thor. He did not know what to say or do, and was not sure what to think about Tony getting worked up like that. He did not want the others to think of him as weak – and he certainly did not want their pity, much less Tony's.

"It's fine, calm yourself," he mumbled, his words missing the edge.

"Calm myself? I've barely even started!" Tony did not even look at him, firing up his rant about Thor and 'the incident' and family matters once more.

"There is nothing to get started about, Stark," Loki spoke sharply. Remembering that he was only half dressed, he finally pulled his shirt down to look a little more dignified. "That's what Thor is like, he's on your team, I'm almost amazed to see you surprised by this." All intimacy and vulnerability was gone from Loki's voice, back-biting his brother seemed to help him find his way back to his regular self. Tony, however, turned on Loki.

"Gods," he stopped, grimaced, "People who abuse and hurt their little brothers are NOT. ON. MY. TEAM."

Loki swallowed the rush of feelings he felt stirring inside himself and raised an eyebrow at the other's words. 'You've spent years assisting him', went through his head, but he stopped himself from saying it, even though it showed on his face. He had never so much as hoped for someone taking his side in his fights with Thor and so far, Tony's team had ignored them at best, if not openly supported Thor.

"That is something you should discuss with your team leader then, and if you do that," Loki got up with whatever grace and regality he had left to display, "if you mention any of this to Captain Rogers, I will -" again, Loki stopped himself, not wanting to threaten Tony, because he knew that was not the way to get Stark to do him a favour. "This is a matter that does not concern anyone other than my brother and me. Rest assured that Thor would never turn on his friends and the people close to him and both of which is what he considers his team."

Tony just stared at Loki.

"You want me to pretend none of this happened and act like we're one big happy family?"

"Basically, yes." Loki gave him a slow nod and managed something resembling a mockingly hopeful smile.

"You're kidding, right? You're gonna let him get away with it?"

Loki threw him an incredulous look.

"What do you think are my options, Stark? What do you think they have ever been? Letting it rest will be for the best, trust me. Nothing good will come of trying to prove a point and whining about what happened."

 

* * *

 

The rich smell of fried meat filled the kitchen. With everyone seated around the dining table, even a room as large as this seemed cramped. Clint was cooking, Tony was telling a story and Steve and Thor were talking about a weird little gadget Steve had found in a catalogue that, apparently, was supposed to wake you up in the morning by throwing raw eggs at you. Nobody noticed Loki slipping inside and taking a seat among them, while cautiously assessing the team's mood. It had been a full day since he had come out of hiding and he had waited until now to present himself 'publicly'.

When Clint decided the food was done, Natasha got up to dish out. However, when she came to serve Loki, everyone suddenly froze. It seemed they had not expected him. Natasha was the first to continue as though nothing had happened and put a plate in front of Loki.

"Enjoy," she said and gave him a smile that was probably the warmest he had ever received from her. Loki thanked her politely and avoided looking at anyone else. He could feel Steve's pleased smile and it was irritating already. Earlier today, Bruce had helped Loki put his arm back into the sling after getting dressed and now he was wearing a jacket to cover up his injury. However, seeing as he was going to need to cut his food, he stopped and considered his options for a moment. One-handed cutting was not going to end well...

"Would you like some help with that?" someone opposite him asked in a low voice, as though the others were far enough away to not hear it. Loki looked up, noticing Bruce offering him his own plate discretely, the food neatly cut into bite-sized pieces. Stubbornly, the trickster shook his head.

"Thank you," he said and pointedly waved his hand to use magic to cut his food. He was perfectly capable of handling this on his own and he was going to show them all that he did not need their help or their pity.

"Alright then," Bruce chuckled, raising an eyebrow in amusement at Loki's concentrated pout, before he finally turned to his plate and started eating.

Enjoying his lunch in silence, Loki still avoided to look at anyone – especially his brother, who in turn kept trying to make eye-contact, which was very, very annoying. Luckily, the food was good enough to distract Thor – at least until it was gone and even the god of thunder's mighty appetite was sated.

Waiting for Thor to finish eating, the team had sat and talked about all kinds of things. Now, they had all fallen silent, exhausted and satisfied the way only a good meal could make you feel. But Thor was not going to let them get up and leave just yet.

"Are you all... free this afternoon?" Thor asked after a while, exchanging a look with Steve, who did not seem pleased but let Thor do what he thought was right. After all, they had talked about this and agreed on finding a solution with the team. Everybody else glanced at Thor, then at each other, effortlessly guessing what this might be about.

"Why do you ask?" Natasha asked nonetheless. She thought it best to ask for clarity after seeing Tony tense at Thor's question. Apparently, there had been some planning going on between some members of the team – or maybe Tony just had his suspicions. Whichever of the two possibilities it was only barely mattered. Tony's suspicions were rarely wrong when it came to unpleasant meetings. He had enough experience with those, after all.

Before the mood could turn too sour, or Thor could say anything insensitive, Steve intervened.

"Thor and I have been over his plans and what he considers his duties and we agreed that neither Odin nor Fury need to be involved in the... situation we had. However, Thor insists in discussing taking further action with the team." Steve tried to sound as diplomatic as possible, trying to sell the idea as one that was not bad – but also not his. Nevertheless, Tony still glared at Steve when he was done.

"What kinda 'further action' are we talking here? Because, you know, I thought we're all just sweeping this under the rug..."

Loki prayed silently that Tony would keep his promise and not talk to Steve about what he had seen on the tapes. And that none of the others were going to bring it up, either, although Loki could hardly imagine they cared enough to do so.

"To be fair," Clint interjected, looking back and forth between Tony, Steve and Thor, "Loki here should be happy nobody has reported anything to Fury yet. It's not like he has... you know, played by the rules a lot. Bloody hell, if we're going to make him do the dishes for a month, I'm all for it. Why not discuss this now, we're all here, the matter is almost literally on the table, what do you suggest, Thor?" And there was just that one little hint of a provocative note in his voice. Thor frowned at his suggestion and tone.

"I don't see why you mock me so, Hawk. It is not I who made the rules of Loki's stay on Midgard and at this tower, but it is I who must enforce my father's will when he breaks them."

"He does have a point," Natasha agreed and shrugged, nodding at Thor. "Whatever reasons Loki may have had – and he hasn't been exactly cooperative in letting us know about them – he broke the rules. I'm almost sure we're past the whole 'enslaving the world' thing, but this is not a vacation stay and if Fury ever so much as heard about Loki leaving the tower without a guard, he'd have all of our heads." She spoke matter-of-factly, almost bored, and looked back at Thor. "Still, I would also like to hear what you suggest, Thor."

Tony was almost jumping up and down in his seat. He could not believe what he was hearing, how they all just seemed to forget what Thor had done to Loki and how he was unable to say anything even remotely related to that day because of that stupid promise he had made. The genius did not pick up on the way his team manoeuvred Thor into a corner, making the best of the situation without straining the relationships within their team any further. Instead of participating in the debate, Tony proceeded to glare at his fork, missing most of what was being said. Clint's voice brought him back from wherever his thoughts had carried him to.

"... fine. Fine I can work with the babysitting part, Thor, but that's enough, really. You can't expect us to follow him around IN the tower. Can we just..." trust him, was what Clint had in mind, but he realised it was not the right thing to say. Trusting the god of lies was not well regarded with many people and although Loki kind of was accepted as part of their household by now, he still did not have the reputation of being particularly honest or trustworthy.

"So, Loki," Steve looked at the trickster, just a tiny bit annoyed with how things had turned out. Loki himself had remained silent throughout the debate, not defending himself or protecting himself from any of the things the team had come up with. His face was curiously blank.

"Are you alright with this? Do you accept this as the consequences of your actions?"

Loki suppressed the impulse to give a stubborn shrug and nodded slowly.

"Very well," Steve said and leaned back, sighing. "You may not leave the tower without a guard, this is a rule we will have to reinforce. Tony, can you get Jarvis to keep an eye on the execution of this rule? Loki is not to leave the tower on his own, under no circumstances. He will also have to report back on a daily basis whether he has encountered or caused any mischief or trouble," Steve gave Thor a pointed look, making sure the other understood how ridiculous he thought that rule was, "and when he leaves and returns to the tower, he will have to undergo a brief," Steve could not have stressed the word more, still looking at Thor, "body search to check whether he is carrying dangerous or troublesome devices."

Tony gaped open-mouthed at Steve. That was the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard.

"Seriously? A body search?" he looked at everyone, hoping this was a joke.

"Stark, we talked about this. The whole time. All of us. Where have you been?" Clint asked, incredulous. Loki could not help but smirk, this was such a characteristic thing for Tony to do, he did not even mind that the other had not defended him.

"Depending on who does the search, I may just as well enjoy this," Loki commented, his smirk widening into a grin. Tony choked on his drink, Steve turned bright red, Thor looked scandalised, Clint and Bruce chuckled and Natasha showed her approval with the slightest curve of her lips.

 

Chapter Text

 

"You agreed to it, now do your part. Jarvis won't let me leave without a babysitter and you don't look like you've got anything better to do," Loki pointedly looked at the stack of paperwork in front of Clint.

"Can you not ask someone else?", the archer scowled at Loki. "As you may have noticed, I'm a lil' bit busy here," his hand swept out, indicating the papers covering most of the table.

"Paper waits, I cannot. I really have to go out, it won't take long. I promise." Loki did not move an inch. Of course he did not need to go out, he just wanted to. Not that this made any difference to the urgency of it.

"No, see, this is where you're wrong," Clint replied in a mock-friendly voice. "This can not wait. This needs to be done. Now. Not in five minutes, not in three. Now. So go away and find someone else to take you for a walk." He sent one last angry glare at the trickster and turned back to his work.

"I could set them on fire? You could blame that on me and wouldn't have to work through it anymore?" Loki offered, sounding as though he considered his offer helpful and not at all a threat.

"No! Now go away!" Luckily, Clint was saved from whatever Loki had planned to do next to convince him, by Thor walking into the room. Loki instinctively took half a step back and looked innocent and uninvolved.

"Pft. I'll find someone else then," he mumbled and turned on his heels, marching away to, indeed, find someone else to annoy. After only a short march, he stumbled across Natasha in the hallway.

"Oh. I've been searching for you. Barton said you'd take me outside."

"Good timing then, I'm on my way to SHIELD. Where did you want to go?" She grabbed her sunglasses and keys and headed towards the elevator. Loki, surprised to find someone willing to take him, shrugged.

"I just need to get some fresh air, sitting around all day doing nothing is not all that exciting if you're not doing it voluntarily." Almost cheerfully, the trickster followed Natasha outside. Their drive to SHIELD headquarters was uneventful and quiet. In his head, Loki debated whether it was wise of Natasha to take him to SHIELD – and how bad it would be for him if he got into trouble.

When Natasha got out of the car, she started walking towards the entrance, only to stop and turn back to Loki, who had not moved away from the car.

"Uh... you coming?" she gestured towards the door behind her. Loki stared at her for a moment, then got out of the car.

"You're... going to take me inside?" he asked, not even trying to hide how surprised he was at that.

"Yeah. I can't leave you in the car out here alone, so you'll have to come with me. I have work to do." Without waiting for an answer, she started walking again. Loki shrugged and nodded. That made sense, he guessed. Of course, taking him into SHIELD headquarters was still a curiously careless move, but oh well... who was he to complain.

For a while he just followed Natasha around wherever she went, guessing she did not mind if he heard anything confidential, or she would have told him to wait somewhere. His fingers were itching to have some fun. Nothing big, nothing dangerous, just... transforming a stack of papers into a rhinoceros or something like that...

Only an hour later, two agents escorted a smug-looking Loki outside, while another two were looking for Natasha Romanov, who had reportedly taken the trickster to the headquarters in the first place. Nothing 'bad' had happened, apart from a few people freaking out about their appliances coming to live and/or transfiguring into animals. However, people around here kind of had a sore spot concerning Loki to begin with. Outside, the guards stayed with the trickster until Natasha hurried towards them and sent them away. Loki gave her an innocent look.

As soon as they were alone, Natasha grabbed Loki by the arm, dragged him to the car, opened the door, pushed him inside and shut the door in his surprised face. Then she walked around the car and got in on her side.

"Did you have fun?" her mocking tone matched her dangerous, overly friendly smile.

"Well, yeah, as a matter of fact I did," Loki replied, shrugging and acting unimpressed, with a note of defensiveness to his voice.

"Well, isn't that just good for you. I'm glad you had a good time while I had to run around and sort out your mess and apologise to people for the crap you pulled on them...," she glared at him. Then, however, her lips twisted into a smirk. Apparently she was not as angry with him as she should have been.

"My favourite bit was the pink My Little Pony wallpaper all along the hallways. I knew Clint should never have shown you that stuff. And the Fury pony...," she may or may not have snorted at this point, wiping an imaginary lone tear from her eyes.

Loki bit his lip in a shy grin, looking flattered. It was unusual for anyone to appreciate his pranks.

"I wonder how long it'll take them to find the midget rhino, though. It ran off somewhere..." For a while they exchanged stories and grins. Loki was delighted by her amusement and his own. For the first time in two years, he felt no resentment, no suspicion towards him and it was probably also the first time he was completely relaxed ever since he had been with the Avengers – and particularly since his disappearance a while ago.

"They won't let me back in there any time soon, though," Loki mused after a while, still smiling.

"Wanna bet on how long it will take for Fury to show up at the tower?" Natasha grinned at him and then started the car to drive them home.

"He can do the pat-down, if he likes," Loki suggested and shrugged, a grin playing around his lips. "Although I would prefer someone else to handle that particular job..."

"Who do you have in mind?" Natasha asked, her face back to the usual mask, not giving away what went on in her head.

"Oh, you'll see," Loki smirked, "It'll be fun."

To the trickster's great delight, it seemed that after Tony had heard from Jarvis that Loki was going out with Natasha, he had figured it would be worthwhile to hack into the video feed of the SHIELD headquarters' surveillance cameras. At least that was what Loki made of the grinning pair of Tony and Clint greeting Natasha and him when they arrived at the tower. Thor was frowning, Bruce and Steve both wore carefully blank expressions. None of them, not even Thor, mentioned the body search, until Loki leaned against the wall in the hallway, refusing to proceed further into the building.

"Captain Rogers," the trickster purred, throwing Natasha a brief look. "We're breaking the rules..." And who was he to break the rules? Thor nodded, standing his ground.

"The search. We must do it. He could be carrying a weapon or another dangerous device." Loki gave him a mocking nod and struck an almost luscious pose, eyes still locked on Steve, because it was so easy and so much fun to watch him blush.

"I think I need to confess that I may have nicked something from the offices. But I can't for the life of me remember where I put it."

Everyone tried very hard to refrain from laughing and giggling at Steve's bright red face and wide eyes. He seemed... ambushed. Everyone, that was, except for Thor who looked determined and did not seem to notice the innuendo.

"Captain, be thorough in your search," he said, gruffly.

"Yes please. Be thorough," Loki teased, holding back a grin. He arched his back a little, presenting himself to Steve and for a moment his eyes searched for Tony, trying to catch a glimpse of his reaction.

The engineer was enjoying this way too much, he decided. Steve's face was priceless and Tony had taken his phone out to take a picture. The video feed of Loki's antics at SHIELD earlier had been entertaining for everyone and this was just the icing on a dish served cold... uh, no wait. That could not be right. Tony pondered on the phrasing of his thoughts for a bit. Revenge was best served cold and having fun with these stupid rules was revenge, but it was also pretty hot...

"Hey, you're missing the show," an elbow was shoved into his side and Tony snapped out of his thoughts. He had almost missed Steve's flustered attempts at searching for weapons on Loki's person.

The trickster arched his back, presenting himself in a way bordering on pornography. He had actually hidden a pen in his underwear and was waiting for Steve to find the 'stolen office supplies', wearing a smirk. Every now and again, Loki dared to throw a quick glance in Tony's direction – which was making it all the easier for him to pose with the befitting determination.

Everyone watched as Steve took a deep breath and drew up his soldier-persona – head held high, back straight. Tony cursed under his breath, when Steve indicated for Loki to turn around, before grabbing his arm and pushing him face first towards the wall he had been leaning against when the god did not react to his request. He was not trying to hurt the trickster, but he was not being gentle, either.

"What are you doing, Captain?" Thor looked concerned for a moment, remembering Loki's injuries.

"I'm doing what you asked me to do. This is how it's done, last time I checked," Steve explained offhandedly, while starting to pat down Loki's arms, only briefly glancing over his shoulder at Thor.

Loki grit his teeth at the twinge of pain from his shoulder. He had been taken by surprise... Luckily, Steve had held and turned him by his good arm, but the position was unpleasant nonetheless. Still, Loki kept his act up, if only to get back at Steve for being so professional about this.

"You're enjoying this," Loki mumbled, loudly enough for everyone to hear it, yet quietly enough for it to seem private. Sadly, Steve did not dignify his uttering with a reply and continued his search, ignoring the snickering and the whispers from behind. He finished with Loki's boots, then stood up.

"Turn around, please." Once Loki was facing him, Steve tapped his finger twice against the god's left hip, his eyes finding Loki's. "Nice try."

Loki grinned at him with childish pride and produced a black pen from the spot Steve had indicated. The other nodded at him then turned and left, leaving everyone staring after him.

"That turned out less spectacular than I was hoping for...," Loki sighed, but grinned nonetheless. "Call me!" he yelled after Steve.

"This is not supposed to be for your entertainment, Loki," Thor growled.

"Well," Loki's tone had turned quiet and icy in an instant, "lucky me then that I can defy my fate and am able to enjoy myself anyway, don't you think?" he hissed, the grin wiped off his face, a humourless frown replacing it. With everyone else around he felt bold enough to stand up to his brother, even though his posture gave away the tension and wariness he felt.

Clint watched Tony as the engineer inched closer to Loki, his eyes dark with anger. He looked back at Thor who was visibly trying to decide what to do or say next.

"Should we break them up or goad them on?" the archer whispered to Natasha. Her eyes moved from Loki to Thor to Tony as she watched them intently.

“Go nuts, what's the worst that could happen?" she replied and shrugged, ready to intervene if she had to.

"We'll see how lucky you are when you break the rules. Again," Thor growled, his voice just like the thunder he commanded, a low, rumbling threat. Apparently, it was no question of whether or not Loki was going to break the rules, only a matter of time and place.

"When?" Loki sneered. "Oh brother," he spat, "it is always comforting to know you have such confidence in me." He tried pushing past Thor, having enough of this game already. His good mood was ruined. However, his arm was grabbed none too gentle by his not-quite-brother to hold him back.

"Whoa there, McGrabby, calm your horses," Tony intervened, glaring at Thor. "We're not gonna go down that road again, not if we – and by we I mean you – want to stay in my tower any longer."

To his surprise, Loki turned to glare at him.

"Stark, I told you to stay out of this," the trickster hissed, then turned to face his brother. "Let go of me. Right. Now." Stark barging in just made everything worse, as usual. Now he looked like a weakling who needed others to fight his battles for him. Thor hesitated for just a moment, then let go of Loki.

"I will be watching you, brother. Closely."

While the others had been observing the triangle-bitch-fight, as Clint called it in his head, Bruce had sneaked away from them to see if Steve was fine. Bruce tried not to startle the other when he had finally caught up and approached him.

"I'm... sorry, Steve. We shouldn't make fun of you."

"It's alright. I know they mean no harm, though it does get a bit old." Steve was staring out of the window, down at the city. After a while he turned around, grinning. "Plus, I think I won."

"Yes you did," Bruce chuckled, "Loki seemed almost disappointed."

"I think he deserved that," the other replied, still grinning, very proud of himself. Bruce enjoyed Steve's pride, glad that he could be just as childish as the rest of them, sometimes.

"You know he'll try to get you back for that, don't you?" Bruce moved closer to stand next to Steve, enjoying the view over the city.

"I'd be surprised if he didn't."

For a while, they stood in silence.

"Are you alright?" Bruce asked, not looking at Steve. "You've been... you know, stressed lately and when you came back from your trip, you didn't exactly get a 'welcome home' party."

Bruce waited, while Steve pondered the question for a moment, then shrugged.

"Yeah. I didn't exactly expect a party, but I was hoping for a chance to acclimate again before being thrown straight back into... business." He paused, looking at his hands, then out of the window again, before turning to his team mate. "Bruce, am I... right in thinking that there's something that happened between Thor and Loki that I'm not being told about?"

Of course he was, he knew he was. But despite his best efforts, he could not help being curious about what it was. He watched Bruce rub a hand over his face – the other had apparently hoped to not be the one having to explain this.

"Loki has... requested that you're not to be told about it. If it had been entirely up to him, none of us would know. Tony showed us video stills from the feed, he was probably the one who was most upset about it..." Bruce paused for a moment, taking a mental note, then continued. "I don't know Loki well, but I think it embarrasses him to be seen as inferior to Thor. I think he'd prefer handling things on his own, even if that means he'll fail at handling them at all."

"I understand," Steve mumbled. This basically was not news to him, but it still disgruntled him that he was going to be the only one unaware of the nature of a problem in their team. Of course he could just request to see the video feed anyway. However, he felt it was right to respect Loki's wish, particularly after Loki had revealed to him that Steve was basically the only one he trusted.

Steve turned away from the window once more, walking over to one of the couches to sit down. Left standing by the window, Bruce felt awkward for a moment, before he decided to just keep looking out at the city for a little longer, enjoying Steve's company and being available if the other needed to talk.

Downstairs, Loki had marched off. His mood had turned sour. How easy it was for his brother to ruin a day that had been such fun...

Clint and Natasha had decided to take a trip to the Gym together, leaving Tony and Thor behind, eyeing each other warily.

"Why do you oppose me so?" Thor asked after a moment of staring at the engineer. "I always valued our comradeship."

"So did I until I came across your little one-sided sparring session." Tony scowled at the god who now just looked confused.

"Is this about Loki?" Thor asked. He remembered their arguments about his educational methods, but he never quite understood why Tony had such a problem with them – especially after what Loki had done.

"No, this is not about Loki. This is about you taking advantage. This is about you not listening and not stopping when he asked you to. And this is about you not respecting his wish NOT to talk about what happened on Planet Ice." Tony had started pacing, waving his arms about, furious with Thor and frustrated about Loki not wanting his help and unhappy with the situation in general.

"What happened in Thrymheimr could have and still can put Asgard at war," Thor explained once more. He did not sound aggressive, and simply tried to make Tony understand his position. "Whatever Loki has done was not just a prank among friends, he put people's lives at risk. My people's lives. It is my responsibility to protect them and I cannot do that if I don't know what is going on." Why was it that nobody understood that?

"You have a point there, Meatloaf, and I appreciate that you're trying to do your job and keep your promise to dear daddy Odin, but your methods are not okay. I said it before, I tell you again: My tower, my rules and nobody gets beaten up in my tower, least of all when they're injured already." He glared at Thor, whose face clouded over, even though he nodded.

"I got carried away and I apologise. Things work differently here and I will try not to fall back into old habits. For now, our team has agreed on a way to handle Loki and I am grateful for that, even though he does not seem to take the punishment for his actions seriously. How would you handle such a thing, if it were up to you? How would you... make sure he learns his lesson?" Thor looked up with his usual puppy eyes, actually asking Tony for advice – and not just to clear the air between them. He honestly did not know what to do anymore.

"Well, we're not talking about disciplining a toddler here. This is Loki, and as his brother you should know him best, right? Then again, it seems that you don't, or if you do, everyone else knows precious little...," Tony stopped, re-ordering his thoughts. "Loki doesn't want you to know about what happened on... Thrymr...hymr... there for a reason. He hates being seen as weak, he hates asking for help and he hates when you walk around treating him like an unruly child and a prisoner." He stopped again, waiting for a sign of understanding, or questions, a reaction, anything.

"But that's what he is," Thor pointed out. "He is not here on his own accord and he keeps breaking the rules. The only difference is that he is not a child anymore and he should know better."

"That doesn't give you permission or even a goddamn reason to attack him like that! You strangled him, for fuck's sake!" Tony found it very hard to keep himself from shouting. He pinched the bridge of his nose, squeezing his eyes shut. "Thor...," he exhaled audibly, letting his arm fall back to his side. "... please tell me you understand what I'm trying to say here." He looked at the god expectantly, waiting for an answer he doubted he would get.

"I was angry," Thor tried to defend himself, but his voice sounded weak even to his own ears. Of course it had not been right to do what he had done. It was... a force of habit, more than anything. Whatever Thor had lacked in wit or good arguments or patience, he had always made up with physical superiority.

"I understand what you are saying, but how else am I going to get him to respect my authority? How else am I going to discipline him? He won't listen to a word I say, he never did." Of course, that was not entirely true. Loki had had his times of something resembling loyalty, but that part of the story did not fit the point Thor was trying to make.

"So you're trying to beat respect into him?" Tony asked, incredulous. "Newsflash, Chris Brown, it's not gonna work that way. Do you even... Do you respect Loki?" It made Tony want to shake Thor, when the god actually had to stop and think about that question.

"What is there to respect him f... I mean, I do, I respect him as my brother, although he insists he is no brother of mine... and an ally in combat, although he is currently excluded from that... he has often times served us well in Asgard."

Tony sighed, shaking his head a little.

"Right. So... you don't, but you do, but you don't. I'm guessing you don't respect him for what he did to that Thiassi guy? Or to New York, or Jotunheim, or whoever else he ever had a fight with?"

"Of course I do not. I do not respect nor accept the evil he does. That would be madness, it would only encourage him." Thor looked confused, not following Tony's train of thought.

"Sooo... you don't respect him for using violence to get his point across or get people to do what he wants them to do?"

Now the god of thunder let out a groan and shook his head, seeing Tony's plan.

"There's nothing wrong with violence if you're right," he said, flinching at how much he sounded like his father. "I don't respect him for killing innocent people and putting good men's lives at risk. There is a difference between trying to get people to do what you want and trying to protect the people you love, you should know that just at well as I do."

"Right. You know, in the case of New York, you may be right. But last time I checked, Asgard sounded a lot like a frat house full of jocks and cheerleaders and starting a fight was what you guys do. How is that any different than what Loki does? Yeah, yeah," he waved his hands before Thor could protest, "I know, he's crazy. Bag of cats and all that." He paused. "Look, if you want Loki to talk to you, hurting him is not the way to go. Maybe you should ask Steve how he did it, apparently the two of them had a little chat or two about what happened." Tony was out of patience and glad when Thor nodded. He felt a little sorry for handing this over to Steve, but oh well... Rogers was not the team captain for nothing.

"I shall do that," Thor replied. He hesitated, then decided to try and make peace with Tony, if possible. "I thank you for your advice, my friend," he added, gravely extending a huge hand to Tony, who grabbed it with deliberation to shake it.

"No problem. It's all part of the service chez Stark." Tony flashed Thor his PR grin, before the two men took off simultaneously, Tony for his workshop and Thor to talk to Steve about how to get Loki to talk.

Meanwhile, Natasha and Clint had started beating each other up for training purposes. They had been moving through all of the gym, attacking, dodging, counter-attacking, luring and sometimes being struck down. For a long time, they had just trained in silence, focused on what they were doing, getting warmed up and into the flow of a practice they had maintained through years of working together. These days, training sessions were as intimate as it got between them.

"So, Banner, huh?" Clint asked in between dodging and blocking Natasha's kicks.

"What about Banner?" Her movements never faltered, she did not bat an eyelash and looked perfectly calm and collected, which was something Clint would never not be in awe of.

"Nothing," he replied, despite the smirk in his eyes. "I just never thought he was your... type," he explained, switching from defensive to offensive to land a few blows.

"Oh? Do share with the class what you believe my type to be then, Barton." One of Natasha's eyebrows was raised ever so slightly, while she easily dodged his first attack, blocking the next and then counter-attacked out of the same movement.

"Well, me, obviously," Clint replied, in turn blocking her counterstrike. He was only half-serious and a smirk was now plastered plainly across his face, while he tried to attack Natasha from her right.

However, his comment only caused her other eyebrow to rise as well, before she scoffed, "In your dreams, Barton." With that she smiled an overly sweet, almost pitying smile, before spinning low and kicking his legs out from under him. Clint, too focused on his own amusement for a moment, lost his balance and landed on his back, only to roll back to his feet and brace himself for whatever attack was coming.

"You don't deny it then? Banner? Really?"

"I'm not saying anything, as you may have noticed. It's you who's reading something into nothing." She smirked, calmly planning her next attack.

"Oh please, the only one who hasn't noticed yet is Steve, I'm sure. Or maybe even he has, you know, you've been remarkably obvious in staring at Bruce," Clint points out, although he was probably the only one paying enough attention to Natasha and being able to read her well enough to have noticed.

"I'm not surprised seeing as his attention is currently focused on someone else," she suddenly spun around him and pushed him onto the ground, one hand pinning his left shoulder to the floor while her right pulled his left arm behind his back. In a sing-song voice she teased, "And no, I'm not gonna tell you who."

"Oh please," Clint grunted, repeating himself. "You're not the only person with eyes here, Natasha." There was something close to grudge in his voice though, as though he was not happy with who Steve's attention was on.

While Natasha was holding him down, Clint did not try to struggle and instead enjoyed the weight of her against him. "Are you going to talk to Banner?"

Natasha got up and grabbed her water bottle.

"About what?" she asked, innocently.

"About your hormone levels?" Clint sat up and stretched, watching her.

"What about them?" She was really not making this easy for him.

"They're so damn high, you're basically making us guys pregnant just by sitting near you. Thank god he's also a doctor, don't you think?" Clint smirked, secretly a little happy that for once it was Natasha staring at a guy and trying to get him into bed and not Clint himself.

Natasha barely avoided choking on her water and for a few seconds just stood and stared at Clint and his smug face.

"Wow...," she shook her head, turning to the bench and grabbed her stuff, ready to leave.

"Oh come on!" Clint got up and moved past her, casually leaning in the door way. She was not going to give him the 'I don't know what you're talking about'-treatment.

"Are you going to talk to him about it? Because, you know, he's not one of those people who will notice something like that by themselves." He was serious now, personal and not grinning for once.

"Nope," Natasha replied, making the 'p' pop, before she pushed past Clint.

"Well, maybe someone else will have to drop a hint then?" Clint threatened, knowing full well that he would be dead if he so much as tried to pull that little stunt on her. However, Natasha only turned around to face him, walking backwards now.

"Bye, Clint." She waved at him, turned back around and left. A crazy idea formed in Clint's head and he shook it to get rid of the thought. He had his suicidal days, but even then there were things he would never consider doing, and going out with Bruce to make Natasha jealous enough to speak to him was one of those things. Definitely top of the list.

Upstairs, Thor joined Steve and Bruce in the living room. The latter two had been chatting quietly and now looked up in unison.

"May I speak with you, Captain?"

Steve exchanged a glance with Bruce, who nodded and got up.

"I will see you both at dinner later, I guess," he said, smiled his usual smile and left the room, while Thor sat down in the spot he had just vacated.

"It is about my brother, Captain," Thor started, "The Man of Iron has made me realize that my ways of dealing with him may be... outdated. I come to you for advice. Tell me, Captain, how do I make him speak to me?"

"Hm." Steve was surprised to hear about Tony giving advice and people actually listening to it. He thought for a moment. "Well, what have you tried so far?" he asked then.

Thor counted his previous choices on the fingers of his hands.

"I have asked him. I have tried to persuade him. I have shown him what consequences his actions may have. I have threatened him. I have punished him." He shrugged and sighed. "He's like a little child.

"And what did he say when you asked him?" Steve had a feeling that he knew where this was going, and although he felt pity for Thor for having such a hard time understanding, he found it hard to be patient with the other man by now.

"He said it was none of my concern. He does not seem to understand that it is. And he talked to you about it, did he not?"

"He did," Steve confirmed. "Thor, maybe it really is none of your concern?" he tried, knowing that it was a futile attempt. And indeed, Thor shook his head.

"But it is, Captain. He put lives at risk, and unless I know what for, I must assume he knew what he was doing and what the consequences were."

Steve tried a different approach, hoping for more success.

"You said you punished him? What did you punish him for?" He wished he had seen those video tapes or that someone had at least told him what had happened between the brothers. Right now he felt like a blind man searching for a lost ring.

"The situation may have gotten a little out of hand," Thor admitted. "I had just heard of the attack on Thiassi. I feared and still fear an attack on Asgard in return, and Loki's stubbornness and refusal to talk to me angered me. It was his doing after all. I hoped a... a little pressure would get him to speak, but I must admit that in my anger, I am prone to fall for provocation – and Loki knows that, too. It seems he would rather have me furious than help me protect my people."

"So, Loki came back, injured and exhausted and you went after him, straight away, and cornered him? Thor, I know it's not what you want to hear, but I have told you before, you have to give Loki some time."

"But what if there is no time? You know Loki. After New York, do you think he was given time to make up an excuse for what he did? He is not called the god of lies for nothing. This is not about his feelings, Captain, it is about making sure nobody will die because of what he did – whatever it was."

"Thor," Steve sighed in apology, "I don't know what else to tell you." That was it. He gave up. Thor clearly did not want to consider a different approach, all he wanted was for someone to tell him he was right. The god of thunder seemed discouraged.

"What would you do? If Loki had done something to threaten the people you're responsible for? Our team, or this city? Could you remain calm and wait for him to make up his mind?" Thor hoped that finally someone would understand and maybe even take his side. Steve was in a position where he should be able to relate to Thor...

"I don't think it's quite the same situation though, Thor," Steve rubbed his eyes, then looked back at the other. He really wanted to stop repeating himself, he wanted Thor to give up his stubborn attempts to get Loki to confess to something or admit anything he did not want to.

Thor sighed heavily. It seemed there was no way to make this easier – he would really just have to wait for Loki to say something, or go with what he had.

"Thank you, Captain," he said, sounding defeated.

"Anytime," Steve replied, although, and he felt bad thinking it, maybe not again too soon. Gladly, his thoughts did not display in his words.

Thor let his eyes wander through the room, only to find Clint standing in the doorway.

"Hawk," he said, not sure if the other had just arrived or been there for a while already. Thor did not approve of eavesdropping – especially not when the matter discussed had not progressed as nicely as he had hoped.

Clint grinned and wiggled his fingers in a 'Hello'.

"Have you seen Tony anywhere?"

"Have you checked the workshop?" Steve asked, because where else would Tony be?

"Nope...," Clint replied and Steve raised an eyebrow. It was rare that Tony was anywhere but his workshop and usually people checked there first. He guessed the archer had been eavesdropping after all.

"I should check there," Clint added and grinned sheepishly, before heading off to the elevator.

Down in the workshop, he was greeted by loudly blaring music. ZZ Top was taking Tony's mind off things, while the engineer worked on his latest project – which was almost done and he was already looking forward to trying it on someone. The door was unlocked, so if anyone needed him, they could just walk in.

And that was just what Clint did, he walked straight into the room and stopped right in front of Tony, waving a hand in front of the engineer's face to get his attention.

"Stark!"

Tony jumped, startled, his yelp drowned out by the music.

"JARVIS! TURN DOWN THE MUSIC," he yelled over a particularly noisy solo, then straightened himself and glared at Clint.

"Can't you say 'hi' like a normal person? Jeez, you almost gave me a fucking heart attack."

"Right. Sure. Next time." Now that it was so quiet in the workshop, Clint felt a little self-conscious, which was ridiculous. He groaned inwardly. It was ridiculous that he had come here in the first place, but Natasha's words had struck a strange cord within him. Tony seemed the type for gossip and maybe Clint could get whatever confirmation or negation he needed.

"Sooo... how's it going?" the archer asked. Tony gave him a concerned look. It was very much unlike Barton to engage in small-talk.

"Oh, you know, working...," he replied in the tone he usually saved for boring cocktail-parties and old ladies. "Are you going to ask me about my wife and kids now, or do you want to tell me why you're here?"

"Fine. Whatever. Be like that," Clint sniffed, then picked up a random object from the workbench and fiddled with it. "Have you noticed anything about our resident evil god and Rogers lately?"

Tony shrugged. He was not going to tell Barton just how much about Loki he noticed every time they met in the hallways.

"Well, they certainly like to talk? Maybe you should join them and let me do my work?" Tony replied, watching Barton's hands so he did not touch anything that was likely to explode.

"Yeah, but how often does Loki just sit and talk to anyone? And all behind closed doors. Does that not look weird to you?" Clint had no clue what the object was that he was tossing back and forth between his hands.

"Y... don't shake that too much, Barton, you won't like it," Tony warned and took a careful step back. "What exactly are you saying? You think they... they're up to something? You know Cap, he'd not let Loki talk him into anything that would harm the team." The engineer was serious now, because he knew he was moving towards a topic that Barton had his issues with. Maybe his experience with Loki's mind control was the basis for his suspicions?

The archer glanced at Tony and decided to better put whatever-that-was down and instead jumped up onto the almost empty workbench closest to him.

"What, like... plotting?" Clint snorted. "I don't think Rogers even knows what that is."

"Oh, you don't give him enough credit. I'm sure if he wanted to, he could take us all down and we wouldn't even know it. He just doesn't want to." Tony put the thing Clint had toyed with away. "But if that's not what you meant, what did you mean?"

"Don't you think they're awfully close... in a non-plotting kinda way? I mean... Loki's always like 'Where's the Captain? Have you seen the Captain?' and then what was all that 'Oh Captain, I want you to search me!' all about?" Clint did not sound spiteful or, worse, jealous. No way. He was sure of it. Almost. His impression of the god though, was scarily close to the real thing and the over-the-top flirtatious tone was laced with disdain.

Tony stared at Clint, incredulous.

"That's...," the thought alone was horrible, Steve would not... Loki would not... he would not, right? "You think so?" Tony cleared his throat, the noise his voice had just made was not something he wanted it to do – especially not when Clint was around. The archer shrugged.

"I dunno... that's why I'm asking you. Didn't you see them when Nat and Loki came back from SHIELD?"

"Well, yes I... but...," Tony had seen them, but he had been kind of busy watching Loki's luscious posing. For once, he was dumbstruck with a feeling that came suspiciously close to jealousy. "Did you ask Steve about it? This can't be good, I mean, for the team, you know?"

"No... don't think I will, either," Clint replied, pouting a little, staring at his feet swinging back and forth. "I overheard them earlier, Thor 'n' Steve, I mean. They were talking about Loki." He looked up at Tony and grimaced in a 'surprise surprise' gesture, because, honestly, what was not about Loki these days? There was silence for a long time, both of them deep in thought.

"Maybe you can talk to Steve? Aren't you like... best friends or something?" Clint asked. Tony snorted.

"Yeah, right. Some people tolerating me more than others doesn't make them my best friends, Barton." Tony still did not like the feeling he had, but part of him at least started to realise the reason for his jealousy. Not that 'liking Loki' was much better than simply being jealous for no reason. If anything, it was worse – seriously, Loki? Loki would not spend time with Tony unless he was forced to, fancying him was really not a wise move.

"I'll... I'll talk to Spangles. If you talk to Loki," Tony looked at Clint, hoping that he was not mistaken in classifying that hint of worry in Clint's voice as the same thing that Tony felt himself. Just, hopefully, for a different person. They could not all pile on Loki, after all. Oh, the trickster would like that, of course...

"Seriously? Me? You want me to talk to that... yeah, oh, fine. I'll do it.," he threw his hands up dramatically and glared at Tony. If talking to Loki was all he had to do to find out where Steve's interests lay, that was a job he was willing to do.

"Good," Tony nodded. "Tell Jarvis once you're done, we'll meet down here then. You know where Cap's at right now?"

"Last I checked... before I came here, he was chatting with Thor in the living room." Jumping off the workbench he had been sitting on, Clint made his way to the door. Better get this over with...

"Jarvis, call Steve to conference room five, please," Tony ordered, before marching after Clint, to have a very important talk with Steve. Conference room five was no different from any other of the countless conference rooms within the tower, Tony had chosen it completely at random. Five was a nice number.

About to head to the kitchen and and grab himself a snack and a drink, Steve was asked by Jarvis to go and see Tony in one of their meeting rooms. He snorted, shaking his head. If this was about Thor and Loki, too, Steve was sure he was going to jump off the top of the tower.

"Thanks Jarvis. Tell him I'll be there soon." He proceeded to prepare himself a tea, grabbed one of the left over donuts and took the lift to the floor Tony was on. He found the engineer waiting in the conference room, rolling around in one of the office chairs, occasionally spinning it.

Tony was deeply in thoughts. How was he going to go about this talk? He could not just ask about it... or could he? How certain was he anyway that this was more than just gossip? And how would he ask about it, without showing that he had a personal interest in the matter?

"So, what's up?" Steve asked, after getting comfortable on the other side of the huge table.

"Uh? Oh," Tony stopped the chair mid-spin and turned it to face Steve. "So, you and Loki, eh?" he asked, disregarding all plans he had made in his head. Steve calmly finished chewing the last of his donut and washed it all down with some tea.

"What about me and Loki?"

"That is exactly what I want to know," Tony crossed his arms before his chest. "What is going on with all the private cuddle times between you two?"

Both of Steve's eyebrows shot up, his eyes widened and he was glad he was done eating, because he would definitely have choked on his donut.

"I... I don't... what?"

Suddenly, Tony felt a little silly. What if there really was nothing to it?

"A little birdie told me the two of you like to... retreat. I was just wondering whether that was, you know, in everyone's best interest." Oh, he could have kicked himself. "No pressure from me, certainly, I mean, I'm all for sharing the love and all, you know that..." - 'Stop, Tony, just stop talking, right now,' he yelled at himself, desperately.

"Well, that's ridiculous and you can tell your 'birdie' that," Steve made little quotation-marks in the air with his fingers, then grabbed his stuff and got up. "Is that all?"

Tony was surprised by just how relieved he could feel. Quickly he tried to get his face back under control.

"Really? Nothing? Well, wow. That... heh, never mind then, off you go...," he made a shooing motion with both his hands, leaning back in his chair, slowly spinning it again.

Steve just shook his head once more, frowning, and then made his way back to his room. He was done being Agony Aunt Steve for the team for today. In the hallway, he found Clint right outside the door to Loki's room.

The archer had been standing there for a while, debating his next move. This was going to end badly, he just knew it. But having certainty about whatever was going on between the trickster and Steve was worth it.

"Here goes nothing," he sighed, took a deep breath and knocked on the door.

After his fight with Thor had almost escalated and Tony had felt the need to 'save' Loki, the latter was now still fed up with pretty much everyone and everything. He lay in his room, on his bed, sulking at the ceiling, feeling restless but too exhausted to get up and do something. Not that there was anything for him to do anyway. How many books did people expect him to read?! However, it seemed there was something to do for him after all, as there was a knock on the door. Not Stark, Loki thought, nor Thor; neither of them knocked and waited.

"Come in, if you must," he answered the intruder, not bothering to even sit up. In walked Clint, and Loki was not sure what to make of his visit as of yet. This could be very tedious, very horrible, or very entertaining.

"Can we talk?" Clint asked, putting on his exaggeratedly cheerful grin.

"If we must," Loki sighed, guessing this was going to be the same conversation he had had with most of the others already. Did these guys not share their information? Had Loki not expressed clearly that he did not want to talk about Thiassi?

"Awesome," Clint beamed and closed the door behind him, before throwing himself onto Loki's bed. Loki yelped and flinched when he saw the other man's body fly toward the bed, then bit down on a groan as Clint landed half next to, half on top of him, bed rocking. It was a broad single bed – apparently whoever had put it here did not think Loki was going to have any company any time soon – and Barton was lucky to have landed on Loki's good shoulder. Still, the look Loki cast him made it pretty obvious that he was not pleased.

"Well, this is about as pleasant as I thought it would be to ever find you in my bed," Loki snarled and moved out from under Clint, sitting up. The other held his hand over his heart in a mock display of hurt.

"You wound me, oh Dark Prince," he chuckled. "Anyway... were you hoping for someone else? Maybe...," he pretended to stop and think, stroking his imaginary beard, "... Steve?" He flashed Loki a wide grin, but it was strained around the edges.

Loki stared at Clint, mouth agape with an unspoken reply, frowning with just the slightest twitch in his eyebrow.

"Did you hit your head again?" he asked after a long pause, his syllables sharp and stressed, using the same tone and rhythm anyone else might have used to say 'are you fucking kidding me?'

"Nope, just checking," Clint had propped himself up on his elbows, the fingers of his left hand playing with the bed-covers. "You sure? You can tell me, you know?" He glanced up at Loki with a smirk. The trickster snorted. Who did this man think they were, teenage 'bff' girls sharing boy stories?

"If it was the case, you'd be the last person I'd talk to, right next in line before my brother," Loki informed him, a ring of honesty to his voice. "I certainly would not kick him out of bed," he gave the archer a pointed look, "but I have no intentions, nor plans to get him there in the first place."

"Hm," Clint chewed on his bottom lip, then suddenly jumped up, apparently having come to a conclusion. "Well, great chatting with you. I gotta go!" And he quickly walked out the door, slamming it shut in his haste. Loki stared after him, puzzled. What had this been about? Why on earth would Barton need to know whom Loki wanted in his bed? Was he... was Barton interested in him?

Loki's face turned to something resembling abhorrence. He had better talked to Steve about this, if anyone knew how to stop the archer's advances before they really started, it was going to be his team captain, Loki thought.

"Jarvis? If you don't mind doing as I ask for once, would you kindly call Captain Rogers to my quarters?"

While he waited, Clint almost ran back down to Tony's workshop. Once there he barged straight in and hopped back on to the same workbench he had sat on earlier. To his surprise, Tony was already back, too, immersed in his work as though he had never left.

"Right. Shoot!" Clint prompted. The engineer did not even look up from his work.

"You're an idiot, Barton."

"Maybe," Clint shrugged, "but they were behaving suspiciously, and it is in my nature to investigate suspicious behaviour." He nodded, self-satisfied.

"They were just talking. Loki had the shit beaten out of him and honestly? None of us other than Steve and Bruce are really trustworthy." Tony had had enough time to rationalize things and think about them. It felt good not to be jealous anymore and not to have to worry about probably liking their prisoner. At least for now.

"Soo...," Clint twisted a thread on his knee in his fingers. "Since Loki and Steve are no longer and never have been 'Loki and Steve'...," he shot a glance at Tony, who was still busy with whatever he was doing – honestly, Clint had no idea what the engineer did all day. The other looked up and met his eyes.

"...yes?" Tony asked, trying to get Clint to finish his sentence, curious about what confession was going to come out of the archer's mouth. He had a mental candidate list, of course, and was hoping that 'I love Loki' was not going to make it.

"Are you interested in anyone? Anyone I might now?" Clint tried to play it cool and casual. Tony chuckled and smirked.

"Like whom?" he asked, not planning on making this easy for the other. Not that he was going to admit it, anyway.

"Well, I dunno... Pepper... or... what's her face? How about Natasha?" He looked at Tony with a strange expression. "Or maybe Captain America is more to your liking? Or maybe you like authority and the reason you always piss Fury off is because you like the attention you get from him?" He grinned.

With every suggestion, Tony's face became more amused until he started laughing at the mention of Fury. The thought alone...

"Natasha would kill me if I tried to touch her. You may be into that kind of risk, but me? She's almost as creepy as Coulson – no offence. You know, speaking of Coulson, are you sure that's not a ranking of 'people bird-brain has the hots for'? Do you want to take Steve back to your nest, is that why you got all paranoid?" Tony smirked, the two of them sounded like teenagers, but he did not mind. It was not like he had ever grown up, anyway.

"I can assure you that it is not so, no need to feel threatened," he smirked, although the expression seemed a little lopsided.

"I couldn't do Steve. I'd feel like corrupting a virgin," Tony replied and his grin turned a lot dirtier. "I mean, technically, that's exactly what it would be," he mused.

"Yeah well," Clint cleared his throat. "Fine, not Steve then. Anyone? Come on, give me something," he whined. It was more than just curiosity in his voice, he had a reason to ask – he wanted someone to talk to, someone who could maybe even help him get who he wanted... However, Tony just shook his head.

"Did I ever seem picky to you?" the engineer asked, smirking and trying to avoid having to give an answer.

"Not really, no," Clint sighed, giving up since he clearly was not going to get anything from Tony. The engineer was too well trained in speaking to paparazzi to give his secrets away. Seriously, he could outdo some of SHIELD's agents with his secrecy... "I'll head back upstairs. See you later at dinner?"

"Meh, I'm working on something. Distract Steve, maybe he won't notice if I'm not joining you..." Tony tried to avoid dinner every now and again. It seemed like an unnecessary waste of time that could be much better spent on a project.

While the two men had been talking, Steve had received Loki's request to talk and was now once again in the trickster's room, hoping that this was going to be the last of these private talks for today.

"Your team is insane," Loki started right away, as soon as Steve had entered his room. He was pacing nervously, unable to calm himself down. "You've got to stop Barton. Before something happens. I really can't – if something happens, I won't take the blame."

Steve frowned, wondering what had happened between now and the last time he had seen Loki.

"Loki... you need to calm down, I have no idea what you are talking about."

"He has expressed an interest in me," Loki complained, as though that was something unspeakably horrible. At his words, Steve felt his stomach drop. He tried to remain calm and collected, but he felt as if someone had punched him in the chest.

"He has?"

"I'm certain." Loki looked appalled and shook his head. "He asked me the silliest thing. I would appreciate if you'd try and keep him away from me."

"Of course... yeah... sure," Steve mumbled, confused. Without waiting for the rest of the conversation, he turned around and left, somehow managing to find his way back to his room despite his dazed state. Loki stared after him. What the hell was wrong with these people today? Was there nobody normal to talk to?

 

Chapter Text

Loki had spent the past few days quietly in his room, to let things settle after the episode at SHIELD headquarters. It seemed Fury knew better than to even speak to the team about it – although Loki imagined he had at least groused at Steve during a lengthy video call. Now, however, the trickster was getting restless and nervous, so he left his quarters to find someone willing to accompany him outside.

"Staaaaark," he singsonged, leaning over the workbench toward the engineer. "Stark, I'm so booored," he nagged. Loki knew that his commanding voice was wasted on Tony.

"Go and read a book." The engineer did not even bother looking up, he was 'way too busy', he felt.

"I've read all my books. Twice," Loki grumbled and took a seat on the workbench, ignoring whatever his behind had to shove aside to make space for that. "Come on, Stark! Take me to a bar or something. You know those places. I've never been to a bar."

That made Tony look up at the god in disbelief.

"What kind of bar are we talking about? I'm pretty sure I heard Thor mention that you guys have taverns in Asgard. You've seriously never been to one?"

"Well," Loki's posture stiffened a little, "of course I've been inside a tavern... it's just that...," he paused, giving Tony a pointed look when he went on, "... drinking alone has never had much appeal to me. And I would assume Midgardian bars are different. The last time I have been to one must've been centuries ago. That does not count."

Tony took pity on him and put down the tool he had been working with. He always forgot how much older Loki was than him, while looking so young. And still, it seemed the trickster had missed out on a lot of fun.

"Fine. What have you got in mind? There are many types of bars... pubs, karaoke bars, sports bars, dance bars, gay bars...," he trailed off, waiting for a reaction from Loki.

"Gay bars?" Loki asked, frowning. "As in, bars where everyone is happy, or bars where you can... do something related to homosexuals?" You never knew with these Midgardian people. If dance bars were for dancing and sports bars for watching sports, then gay bars were more likely for being happy, because 'being homosexual' was nothing you could limit to a certain place, was it? Maybe they did not allow alcoholics and people who had just been dumped? It kind of made sense...

Tony smirked, wondering whether he should tell Loki what a gay bar was, but decided against it. Time to have some fun.

"Yeah, they're fun places, shiny happy people and all that, why don't we check one out?"

"Indeed, why not?" Loki agreed and smiled. "What kind of garment will be required for such a place?" Thanks to his magic and illusions, Loki was pretty flexible when it came to dress-codes and not limited to his actual wardrobe. He waited until Tony was done looking him up and down, pleased with the appraising looks the engineer gave him.

"Hm. Casual's fine," Tony vaguely gestured at Loki's outfit.

"Very well," Loki shrugged. "When will we leave?"

"I'm gonna go out on a limb here and guess that you won't give up until I agree to go with you tonight, so why don't we go right now? Actually, Jarvis? What time is it?"

"Half past nine. Evening, Sir," Jarvis replied promptly, the machine just slightly mocking Tony's inability to even tell whether it was day or night, because of his irregular sleep and windowless workshop.

"You're not going out like that though, are you?" Loki pointed at Tony's oil-stained clothes.

"Right... shower. Meet you in thirty?"

"Sure," Loki sighed and stayed right where he was, already looking bored and impatient.

"What, thirty too much? Do I need to hurry? Will you fade if you get too bored? And are you gonna go like that?" he gestured at Loki's clothes.

"You said this is fine!" Loki complained, sounding just a little offended. Tony chuckled.

"Okay, okay, fine... Let me just...," he started walking off towards the elevator, "... meet you in fifteen, then."

"Sure," Loki repeated, his expression unchanged except for the smirk that played around his lips.

When Tony returned, he found the trickster staring intently at one of the screens in his workshop. "Ready?"

Loki turned to look at Tony.

"The machine won't let me pass," he complained. "Banner has explained to me how these things work, there are things on there, but the machine won't let me look at them. It says I require a password." Loki seemed appalled by the thought that his authority was not respected. It did not seem to bother him that he had been caught snooping.

"Nobody but me has access to those files, so don't worry your godly little head." The engineer flashed Loki a smile. "Ready to go?"

"So you have the password?" Loki asked stepping away from the screens and toward Tony, ready to leave for a night at a happy-people-bar.

"Yep... Jarvis, you know the routine!" With that most of the lights and machines turned off, leaving only a few key areas lit. Tony turned back towards the elevator, not waiting for Loki to follow. The god hurried after him, strangely excited.

"Can we skip the pat-down on our way out? I promise I'm not carrying anything dangerous." Without the audience – and the risk of actually enjoying the body-search too much – Loki was eager to disregard the tedious rule. Thor did not have to know, and Tony surely would not tell him.

"Yeah, sure," Tony smirked, looking back at Loki over his shoulder, "but I'm pretty sure at least one of the Righteous Twins is going to insist on it when we get back later." He turned back around when they reached the ground floor. They left the elevator and walked through the lobby. Happy was waiting outside, next to a nondescript black car. Tony had called him before he had taken his shower.

"Oh, and I don't believe for a second that you're harmless..." Before Loki could reply, Tony had climbed into the back of the car. The god followed, biting back a comment. Of course he was never harmless, as long as he had his magic and his wits...

"So, Stark," Loki said after a while of silence and watching the city moving past his window. "How are they going to know we're happy people? What if they... I mean, maybe they won't let us in?" He had only just thought of that, not considering himself much of a joyful person. Sure, he had a lot of fun when he was playing tricks on people, but generally? Loki was not a happy person...

"Oh, don't worry, they let you in even if you're unhappy. It's what happens inside the bar that's supposed to make you happy."

"Oh. I see," Loki nodded, relieved. Again they sat in silence for a while, until Loki spoke up again. "I don't have any money," he mentioned casually, looking innocent. He had figured out by now that money was not something Tony was lacking or paying a lot of mind to. Still, he was polite and respectful enough to at least mention that Stark had to pay for their entertainment. Tony just snorted and kept looking out of the window and Loki shrugged, smiling. He felt increasingly nervous. Seeing the city at night, all the lights and the fancily dressed people – he almost felt as though he was free to go wherever he wanted.

Finally, they reached their destination. Tony could barely keep it together, he could not wait to see Loki's face when the god figured it all out... if he was going to figure it out.

"Right, here we are." They got out of the car after Tony had informed Happy about when to pick them up again and they both approached the entrance to the 'bar', which was a lot more of a gay night club than a tavern.

Loki curiously followed Tony towards the bar. The music inside was very loud and... interesting, and so were the people, it seemed. While there were a lot of what Loki would consider 'regular people' around, many of the customers seemed to wear either very tight clothes, barely any clothes, or women's clothes – while there were barely any actual womenfolk around. Well, Loki thought, women were not really required to feel joyful, were they now. Unaware of the looks people were giving both him and Stark, Loki followed his companion to the actual bar inside the club.

Tony ordered two beers and settled in to survey their surroundings, always aware of Loki next to him. It was quite obvious that the trickster tried his best not to stare at people too openly, but sometimes he just could not help it.

"Your people have... a strange concept of happiness," he commented. "Where are they all going? Those... every few minutes they just go back there, what is over there?" he asked, craning his neck, but unable to see anything. The area was kind of crowded...

Tony quickly took a sip of his drink to hide his smile.

"That's the quiet area... people go there to chat and uh... get to know each other better."

"Oh?" Loki raised an eyebrow at that. "Well, that certainly sounds nice." He shrugged and turned to his beer. "It's pretty loud, maybe we should... you know, go to the talking area?" he suggested after a while, frowning at the thudding bass.

Tony nearly spat out his drink and discreetly coughed, trying to think of a reply.

"Sure... maybe later... didn't think we came here to chat now, did we?"

Loki nodded in vague agreement, even though he still thought the music could be quieter and the light brighter and the people fewer. He was kind of... overwhelmed. Which helped him drain his beer all the quicker.

"What are those fancy drinks?" he asked, nodding at what a young man – or boy, rather, Loki thought – had ordered a little further down the bar.

"They're called cocktails... you want one?"

"Why don't the cocktails Barton makes look this good?" Loki complained, but nodded at the offer. Of course he wanted one. They looked delicious.

Tony ordered a Ruby Red Breeze for each of them, then turned back to Loki, watching him watch the crowd.

"What are they... oh dear – that's... what...," Loki mumbled, staring at two younger men getting 'friendly' on the dance floor. Not unclothed-friendly, but they appeared to be attached to each other by their mouths in a manner that seemed far too indecent to just be considered kissing. Loki turned to Tony, looking scandalised and taking a big sip of his red cocktail. Immediately, his face lightened up a little – this tasted even better than he had expected it to.

"Do you come here often?" he asked Tony, resting his elbow on the bar and propping up his chin on his hand.

"Not really. Haven't been here in years." Tony cast a look around. Not much had changed. "Do you want to go somewhere else or is this okay?"

"This is fine, as long as I can have more of these," Loki replied with a smirk, pointing at his cocktail, which was already half-emptied. Why go slow if you were sitting next to a money machine? Also, this weak Midgardian alcohol, as his brother called it, could never make him drunk anyway. Right? Not that he had ever been drunk before... the only occasions of drinking had been such where his brother was around and Loki avoided losing control with Thor in near vicinity.

To prove that he could have as many as he wanted – or could take – Tony ordered him a Peach Martini.

"So, do you have anything like this on Asgard?"

"Not quite," Loki shouted back. Trying to be louder than the music was both really straining and really undignified, he thought. "Our taverns are... quieter and our drinks are not as tasty." He smiled, not noticing how the alcohol was starting to relax him. When Tony leaned in closer, Loki cocked his head to the side to hear him better.

"How about dancing? Do you do that in your cloud castle?"

Of course they did, Thor had proven that to the team more than once, even though they had been alienated by his moves. However, Loki looked almost shocked at the suggestion.

"I... I never... I usually don't dance," he replied, taking a long sip of his red drink to calm his nerves. Seeing how the other people around them danced, he would love to dance with Tony... but that was something he could never allow, he would never give himself, his... preferences away like that.

"Yeah, me neither," Tony looked out at the dance floor, watching people get close to each other, imagining himself there with Loki...

The trickster himself was a lot more disappointed than he wanted to admit and emptied his drink in mild frustration, turning to the peach one that had just been put in front of him. He glanced at his company. Tony appeared to be in some form of trance – staring at one of the couples dancing and making out right in front of him. Content with just looking at Tony for a while, Loki did not mind the other's absent mind.

He had barely finished his second cocktail, when a third one was placed before him. It was of an alarmingly green colour and there was a note attached to it. The barkeeper pointed at a tall gentleman down at the far end of the bar, who was staring at Loki intently. From what Loki could tell despite the dim, ever-changing light, he had reddish-blonde curls and finely cut features, high cheekbones and a gorgeous smile. Loki raised an eyebrow at him and turned to the note. There was a string of numbers on it.

"Stark, what is the meaning of this?" Loki asked, handing the note over before proceeding to taste his new, fancy drink. When Tony did not react, but instead kept staring at the kissing guys, mesmerized, Loki impatiently waved the note around before his face.

"Huh? What?" Tony jumped, then saw the note in Loki's hand and felt a little self-conscious about daydreaming in a place like this. He took the note and read it. "Congratulations, you have an admirer," he explained grinning widely at Loki and handed back the piece of paper.

"Huh," Loki said, clearly not interested, but thankful for the new cocktail. He set the note aside and kept drinking, surprised by how his body slowly but surely started to feel as if it was moving a lot faster than it was supposed to. Or maybe his mind just became slower to track it... Loki frowned, he could not possibly be tipsy. Stark was going to think him weak if he showed any sign of that!

Not paying mind to Loki's state of sobriety, Tony was rather surprised when Loki seemed to completely ignore the note and its sender.

"Uhm... you should at least thank the guy, Lokes," he reminded the trickster and vaguely gestured towards the corner of the bar the note had come from. Loki looked up and gave the guy a smile, lifting his glass to toast at him, before he looked back at Tony – for more than just a moment. Just looking at him. Loki was not even really aware of staring...

Tony almost laughed out loud at the frown on the guy's face when all Loki did was toast him in thanks. That man did not look like someone who was used to being rejected, and at the same time he seemed so nice just by the look of him that Tony almost felt sorry for him. It was rare to find someone in a place like this who did not resort to simple rear-grabbing as a pick up method.

"So," Loki said, taking another sip, "you really don't dance? Because if you did, you could teach me, you know?"

"Uhm... I used to sometimes go to clubs and dance, when I was younger. Mainly to pick up girls..."

Loki's face fell at that. Girls, he thought, of course. Had he ever seen Tony Stark pick up a guy? He bit his lip, staring down at the remains of his green cocktail. How easy it was to forget things when you really, really wanted something.

"Right," he mumbled and tried to smile. Maybe all of this had been a bad idea? The music was still so loud, Loki could barely hear his own thoughts. Tony noticed the change in the trickster's demeanour only because he had been watching him closely. It changed back to carefully distant in a heartbeat, but Tony knew the sadness had been there. People always underestimated his talents in the field of observation.

"There's not really much to teach. You just move with the music. Whatever makes you feel good."

After three cocktails and a beer, Loki now had to admit that he had underestimated Midgardian alcohol. He still tried not to let it show, but was not sure how much of a good job he did. He certainly felt brave and decided that even if it was impossible to make Tony fall for him, he could at least sneak some closeness into their dancing lessons.

"Move with the music? I don't think I get it," he admitted, smiling a little. "I don't suppose you could show me? It looks... fun." He nodded towards some of the few people who were 'just dancing' more or less innocently, so Tony would not think Loki was hitting on him in inappropriate ways.

Meanwhile, Tony was not sure he was drunk enough for something like this. He was blind to Loki's advances, or maybe a wary part of him was ignoring them on purpose.

"Just...," he waved his hand towards the crowd, "what they're doing. That's all. No magic to it."

"I'm not good at things that have no magic to them," Loki said and his smile broadened a little. "But if you refuse, let us... just go somewhere where we can talk? I think I need a break," he admitted and threw a look over at the supposed 'quiet area' they had talked about.

Tony glanced at Loki, surprised at the change of plan and suddenly unsure whether he should go through with this. Loki apparently had not caught on to what this club really was... or he was taking it surprisingly well.

"Uh, sure... you want another drink?"

Loki considered this. He had actually meant the alcohol, when he had mentioned needing a break, just as much as the music, but he nodded anyway.

"Sure, why not?" He was not that drunk yet, right? What bad could another drink do? He grinned at Tony, excited to try yet another new cocktail. While Stark ordered two more drinks, Loki waited patiently, watching his back – quite literally so. The trickster was more relaxed than he had ever been around Tony. His whole body was just waiting for a chance to get close to him, heated up thanks to all the kissing and groping and otherwise inappropriately engaged people around. What would it be like to kiss Tony? For a moment Loki was lost in thought and imagination, his lower lip drawn in between his teeth and a dreamy expression on his face.

He was startled out of his thoughts when Tony started moving. Loki was slow and sluggish to get off the bar stool – something he was not used to being. Moving without something to hold on to proved difficult and he quickly fell behind, lost in the dancing and groping masses. Half-way through the room, Loki had lost count of how many hands had touched his behind... He was starting to panic, when he made out Tony's hair in the distance and tried to move toward it, swaying even more than he noticed himself.

Tony looked around in the room, having reached the other end of the dance floor. When he finally found Loki – three hallelujahs the god was as tall as he was – he got an eyeful of Loki and another guy all over each other, groping at each other's clothes. Tony was not even sure, because it was dark and the strobe lights kept blinding him, but it did look like they were kissing...

When suddenly the lights had started blinking rapidly, switching from bright white to complete darkness, Loki had been taken by surprise and stumbled, falling against someone he could not identify. Fighting for balance and struggling to fend off the panic, Loki took a step back, only to find himself pulled into a close embrace, hot lips pressing against his.

His eyes widened in shock and for a moment he just did nothing, trying to understand what the hell was going on. Then he pushed both hands against the other man's chest, trying to separate the two of them, which did not really work. Loki frowned. He pushed harder, almost roughly, but the other was apparently at least as drunk as Loki himself and did not seem to mind the other's struggling. When Loki managed to break free, the other pulled him closer, hands on the god's ass, lips now on his neck. Loki was scandalized.

"Stop it!," he commanded, but the music was too loud for even himself to hear his own voice and the light kept making him feel dizzy. Dear lord, where was Tony when he needed him? A sudden pain in his neck – apparently the other man had bit him – made Loki jolt, and just like that he slid into full blown panic, fighting tooth and nail to get rid of the other person, until finally resorting to a more drastic method. Green light erupted between them and the stranger was shoved into the crowd by a strong surge of magic. Loki stumbled away into the general direction of where he remembered Tony to be, not caring whether the other was hurt or anyone was wondering what the hell had just happened.

Tony was still shielding his eyes from the flash of light that had come from the crowd in front of him, when he suddenly had an armful of Loki. He was not even sure he wanted to know what had just happened, holding the trickster felt too good to be followed by any kind of trouble...

And Loki just held on to Tony, he was shaking, but so relieved to have found Tony and not being lost any longer. He was trying to slow down his breathing, to focus on what was going on instead of what his mind made of it, but the panic was stubborn.

There had been a moment when Tony had considered just going home, but he gave up on that option now that things were moving in a seemingly promising direction. He got up and simply dragged Loki with him to the 'quiet area'. Maybe that was not the best place for them to be right now, but it was quiet and there were no strobe lights, so that would help Loki relax, Tony guessed. Still holding on to their drinks, he manoeuvred the other onto a bench.

The immediate darkness and quiet indeed helped Loki calm down. He was unaware of the other noises that surrounded him for a while, drunkenly leaning against Tony.

Whilst Loki was calming down, but hopefully not falling asleep, Tony sipped his drink and stared into the darkness. What had started out as a prank was now quickly becoming awkward and uncomfortable. Also, they had to be careful not to be spray-painted with bodily fluids if they remained in a place like this.

When the panic had subsided and Loki heard moaning and... other things, he turned to look at Tony – even though he could barely see a thing. For a moment, Loki felt scandalised once more and he was about to ask what the hell this place was, but then he just leaned over and started kissing Tony. The other just froze, unsure of how to react.

Loki was too drunk to notice for a while that this was not what he had had in mind originally. There was no reaction whatsoever from Tony. When he finally realised what he was doing and that unlike in the movies, where things like these always worked out, Tony did not seem to be into kissing him – he stopped. His wide eyes shone in the darkness as he stared at Tony, not sure what to say or do. He should never have made this move, there was no way he could take it back or talk his way out of it. And the moaning all around him made sure that at least his body did not want to take it back. Quite the contrary...

As soon as Loki's lips left his, Tony snapped out of his frozen state and took a quick sip of his drink, his heart beating fast.

"Must've been some potent stuff in those cocktails." He smirked, trying to regain control over all the emotions and thoughts running amok in his head.

Loki nodded and forced a grin onto his face.

"I underestimated your Midgardian alcohol," he apologised, as though he had just knocked something over, or said something stupid – and not kissed Tony Stark on the lips, with full intent to do much, much more. He made a joke of it, internally screaming, because it was anything but that.

"You did that on purpose, Stark," Loki chided him. "Taking me here, making me drunk – I know you." He was still grinning, the expression frozen on his face.

"And why would I do that?" Tony took another sip, still holding both their cocktails.

"I know how you try to get people into bed, Stark. I've seen the... women you've brought home. I'd never thought I'd fall for it, honestly. But I see through it now, I caught you." Loki reclaimed his cocktail from Tony and took a long sip. He ignored the newcomers, who had settled right next to him and started going at it like rabbits. He wanted to go home and forget this evening and he really, really wanted Tony to forget it, too.

Tony finished his drink and set it down, sighing, then turned towards Loki and grinned.

"I think you're underestimating my considerable charm," he waggled his eyebrows, leaning in a little. "No alcohol needed."

"You wish," Loki snorted. The knuckles on the hand holding his glass were white. He wanted to kiss him. Again. Longer. "You know, Stark, now that I know what you're up to, I think it best if we return home. I don't even want to know how sticky my clothes are just from being in here. I wasn't aware you frequented such... places."

Apparently, he had finally caught on to what kind of establishment this 'bar' was.

"You don't have these 'places'," and he made the air quotes accordingly, "in Asgard?" He chuckled. "Asgard, Assguard... great name for a 'place' like this."

Loki swiftly rose to his feet with an 'enough of this nonsense' expression on his face.

"We have places like these. You should ask Thor about them, he frequents them regularly." Something inside him wanted to scream at Tony, or hit him, hurt him, just to make him see how wounded Loki felt. But instead, the drunk god steadied himself by putting a hand on Tony's shoulder, before marching off towards the exit, hoping that Tony was going to follow, because he really, really did not want to get lost on that dance floor again.

He made sure the people who dared trying to grope him on his way out burned their hands – quite literally. Somehow it made him feel better. But only a little. Everything was spinning and he felt a little sick and he knew Tony would mock him for weeks for kissing him. With horror, Loki thought about what would happen once Thor heard of it – or even Barton. Barton, who still had a crush on Loki, or so the trickster thought. It seemed the horror was only just starting...

Outside, the cold night air hit Loki like a hammer and he immediately felt a lot more sick than before. He held on to a lantern, while waiting for Tony to catch up, leaning his forehead against the cool metal. What a mess he had made of everything... and how nice it had been to kiss Tony – how much nicer it could have been if Tony had wanted to kiss him back... Loki cussed silently.

When Tony had finally managed to fight his way through the crowd and stumbled outside, he spotted Loki and slowly approached him, debating whether to keep his distance or get closer.

"Loki?"

The trickster looked up, quickly hiding the glare that flared up in his eyes.

"How about you have your happy driver pick us up from this happy place?" Loki's voice gave away that he did not feel well. Whether that was from the alcohol or anything else was hard to tell.

Tony elected to stay quiet and just nodded. He called Happy, who arrived to pick them up just ten minutes later. Ten minutes of more awkward silence that Tony spent on his phone, occasionally glancing over at Loki, who was apparently experiencing the full blown effect of his drinks right now. Neither of them spoke until they were already in the car.

"I don't like being drunk," Loki mumbled after a while. He had not planned on telling Tony that he had no experience with intoxication, but he felt it was necessary to point out how uncomfortable he felt with the world spinning happily away around him. To his dismay, Tony just shrugged.

"I'm not overly fond of what follows," he turned and smirked at Loki, who just frowned at him, eyes half closed.

"What... follows?" the trickster asked after a while, wary. Thor had never spoken of anything following and Stark was permanently drunk, so nothing could ever follow. What was he on about?

"Oh, just... hangover, you know. Headache, nausea... the works."

"I will not... that's... I'm a god, I will not have a hangover," Loki said, as though that was obvious, but he really was not as sure about it as he tried to sound.

"You can do some stuff that helps make it better," Tony offered. "Like drinking lots of water... taking an Aspirin, yada yada yada."

"You know," Loki groaned, "I'd prefer a headache over the constant spinning." He leaned forward, holding his head in his hand. "Is it always like this? And you.. you do this all the time? Every day?"

"You get used to it," Tony murmured and went back to staring out the window.

"I'm not sure I want to," Loki replied, feeling as though he was going to fall off the earth any moment. He suddenly felt very tired and leaned back, mildly aware of how awkward his new pose was looking. With his head tipped back, throat exposed and body limp – but it felt so good. So good that he actually dozed off.

When they finally reached Stark Tower, Tony looked over at Loki, only to find the god asleep. He nudged him and pulled on his sleeve awkwardly until he woke up.

"We're home, Lokes..."

Loki felt as if his head was thrice as heavy as it was supposed to be. He somehow managed to climb out of the car, holding on to Tony, too dizzy and tired and drunk to care how he looked. However, he was clear-headed enough to spot his brother waiting for him in the hallway.

"Oh no, Stark, can you make him go away?" Loki whined, letting Tony steady him while they walked inside.

"Brother! Friend Stark! It is good to see you back. We did not know you were gone until you failed to partake in dinner. Jarvis told us you had left, but he did not know where to." Thor's way of speaking hurt Tony's brain right now, so he just waved him off while trying to keep Loki from stumbling over his own feet.

"Yeah, yeah... we had a drink. Nobody got hurt." And with that he tried to walk past the god of thunder, but Thor gave Tony a dispraising stare.

"The search, Man of Iron," he insisted and Loki groaned, leaning heavily onto Tony. Tonight was the worst night to be searched by Tony, it really was.

"Can't we just... skip it?" he whined, really wanting nothing more than to just go to bed.

"We cannot. You know the rules. If you resist, I will have to use force." Thor ignored the glare Tony shot in his direction, while Loki leaned his forehead against Tony's shoulder. His own had just healed enough for him to walk around without the sling and he was not looking forward to any kind of force.

"Can you just hurry?" he mumbled, barely holding himself in a standing position. How could he be so tired?

"Lokes, do you want Thor to do this, or me?" Tony just hoped they would be done soon. Loki was getting really heavy, increasingly relying on Tony to keep him upright rather than really standing himself.

"Nooh, I want you to do it," Loki whined, his consciousness not present enough to see that he was getting dangerously close to hitting on Tony again. Swaying, Loki moved over to the wall and slumped against it.

"What's the substance on his garments?" Thor asked, frowning.

Tony was glancing at Loki, amusement plain on his face, when his eyes snapped back to Thor's, then down at Loki's clothes.

"Uhm, just some... bar dust," he patted at Loki's back as if to brush it off.

“Go ahead then. And afterwards we shall bring him to bed,” Thor replied with a grave nod. He sounded worried, just like any brother would probably have been worried to see his younger brother intoxicated like this.

If he had known how awkward this evening was going to become, Tony would have stayed in his workshop. As it was though, he was about to check Loki for weapons he knew the god didn't have on him, just so his brother would not run off to daddy to tell on him. He stepped closer to Loki then, thankful for the light buzz the beer had given him.

“Let's get this over with then...”

Loki was leaning against the wall, eyes closed. He was probably sleeping, or at least dozing in booze-induced indifference. Nonetheless, there was a crooked half-smile on his face. Reluctantly, Tony stepped up next to Loki and started patting down his chest and sides. He was increasingly hesitant the closer he got to the god's hips. After what had happened tonight, he did not want Loki to mistake the search for an intimate touch. Luckily for him though, Loki could barely keep awake, hovering between unconsciousness and awareness. He felt hands on his body, but had no idea what was happening. And when Loki did not react to his touch, Tony guessed it could not hurt to get the rest of the search over with. He knelt down to search Loki's legs – and ignored how much he liked doing so. Oh, if Thor had not been watching, who knew what could have happened... clearing his throat and head, Tony got up.

“I think we're done.” It had been a brief search, but Loki was about to pass out and Tony really did not want to have to carry him upstairs without what little help the trickster could yet provide to keep himself upright. Loki was surprisingly heavy.

Loki was floating. That's what it felt like. That point between awake and asleep where dreams felt real and reality felt like a dream. So, when he felt hands on his legs, wandering up and down, his mind supplied pictures that, after what happened in the club, came as a surprise. However, they were oh so welcome. His own hands curled into fists and he smiled but then the touch was gone and someone was talking and Loki's body was pulled on until someone picked him up.

Luckily for Tony, Thor volunteered to carry his half-comatose brother. Once they had set Loki down on his bed, Tony was very aware of the stains on Loki's clothes. Thor really did not need to see and figure what they were.

“I'll take care of him, I just wanna make sure he doesn't vomit all over the place in the morning,” Tony said, and so an unsuspecting Thor wished him a good night and left. Tony proceeded to try and get Loki to undress, so he did not sleep in his dirty clothes.

“Come on you stubborn son of a... Loki don't fall asleep now, work with me here!”

“G'way...” Loki was aware that he was lying down on something soft but he was still being pushed and pulled around and it made the spinning sensation behind his eyes even worse. Uselessly, the drunk trickster swatted at what he thought was the person responsible for his misery.

“You useless annoyance of a person,” Tony muttered, even though he did not mean it. A part of him – far far back in his mind – enjoyed this way too much. He tugged on Loki's shirt, trying to get it off the half-sleeping man. The skin that came to show beneath it was unblemished this time, the bruises all healed up except for a faint green tint around his shoulder. It screamed at Tony to touch it. In a moment of weakness, Tony rested his hand on Loki's bare chest. There was nothing but a happy sigh from the other.

Tony blinked down at Loki, blushing a little. He should not be doing this. He should not like this. This man was dangerous and a liar and... and certainly not someone Tony should have an interest in. Nonetheless, his fingers trailed down the god's chest until the lingered right above his hips. This was wrong. Even if Loki had not been the wrong person to do it with – which he was, certainly – this would still be wrong. Loki was drunk and more or less unconscious and... so... innocent. How could someone like him look so innocent? And that skin, that smooth, pale skin...

An unexpected snore dragged Tony back to reality and he quickly got Loki out of his pants, leaving him with only his boxers. Tony took a step back, pulling the covers free from under Loki and putting them on top of the sleeping god. He then went to the kitchen to get Loki a glass and a bottle of water and some Aspirin for tomorrow morning, as well as a plastic bucket, just in case. For a while longer the engineer stayed in the room, just looking at Loki, before he dragged himself away, grousing at himself.

Chapter Text

“Thank you for waiting for me,” Bruce smiled at Steve as he sat down.

“Any time.” Steve scanned the room, his gaze lingering briefly on the two empty chairs, before darting to his wrist watch. “Jarvis, did you let Tony know dinner has been moved to ten? Is he still in his workshop?” Steve frowned.

“Sir has left the tower. He was notified of the delayed dinner time, but has left no message to excuse himself.”

“Is that so... do you happen to know where he went?” Steve handed his plate to Clint, who was serving, and thanked Bruce for filling his glass.

“I believe he took Loki out to visit a gay bar, Captain,” Jarvis reported dutifully. The small group was collectively stunned.

“He must've misheard,” Clint muttered to the others, disbelief and amusement mingling on his face. “Tony wouldn't... well, okay, but Loki wouldn't... gods, I hope Loki knows what he got himself into.”

“Anyhow, I think we'll be having dinner without them,” Bruce concluded and shrugged. It was a decision the team could easily agree with and so they started eating. Between bites, Clint speculated and made up stories about the circumstances that had let to Tony and Loki frequenting a gay bar. His friends reacted with varying grades of amusement.

“I volunteer for the clean-up, “ Clint offered when they had all finished. “I have nothing better to do anyway.” And he sure as hell wanted to be around in case Tony and Loki returned early from their night out. After cleaning up, he would have to find a different excuse to stay in the common area, but he would find one. The team shrugged in agreement and Clint got up to start carrying dishes over to the kitchen.

When the others had cleared out, only Steve remained with Clint and he seemed to have plans to stay a little.

You have a minute?”

“Sure,” Clint continued stacking the plates and cutlery into the dishwasher without looking up. “What's up?”

Steve cleared his throat and fidgeted with a piece of plastic wrapping he had found on the kitchen counter. “Well... I had a... an interesting... a talk with Loki, recently,” he started. Where were all the things he had prepared in his head? This had seemed much more straighforward and easy when it had just happened in his mind. Steve saw Clint pausing briefly, apparently intrigued. “About what?”

Steve occupied himself by carefully placing a couple of glasses into the dishwasher. “Well he... said you had made advances to him and he,” Steve paused noticeably, “would like you to... not... do that, anymore.” He was avoiding to look at Clint, his face bright red.

“He what?!” Clint stared at Steve, horrified, frantically trying to remember what he had said and done when he was in Loki's room earlier, coming up empty-handed.

“H-he... he said you had been coming on to him and he'd... like you to not do that,” Steve repeated, still not looking at the other man. His hands were shaking and he stuffed them into the pockets of his trousers, trying to breathe and look professional and uninvolved.

Well he's a fucking liar, I didn't do anything!” Clint's heart was beating too fast, he was embarrassed, outraged even. This was ridiculous! “Why...?” He started pacing in the limited space between the open dishwasher and the counter, unsure what to do with himself. “I need to talk to him!”

“He's not back yet.” Steve watched Clint, trying to make sense of Loki's accusation and Clint's harsh response. It helped take his mind off his own strong reaction. Perhaps he was embarrassed? Or hurt? That sounded likely? “Clint it's... it's perfectly fine if you... you know.. if you like him. Even if he doesn't share that feeling you don't... you don't need to...” - 'cover it up' was what Steve wanted to say, but his brain was still stuck at 'perfectly fine', because it certainly was not fine at all if Clint liked Loki. Not. Fine. And definitely not perfectly so.

“But I don't!” The archer stopped pacing and the two men stood looking each other in the eye. “I really don't.” He slumped down into a nearby chair, a hand raking through his hair. “Fuck...”

“Oh well, it's...” Steve fought to keep a straight face and stop himself from even the faintest trace of relief. “It's not that bad then, is it? If you don't, then... but what... what did you do, he must have reason to believe... did you... I don't know, did you try to sleep with him?” Steve felt rather clumsy about his methods of interrogation, but he could not imagine a scenario that would lead Loki astray like that. And Loki was an attractive man, Steve would understand if someone with a weaker set of morals than himself would be interested in... philandering with him.

“I don't even know,” Clint sighed, rubbing his eyes. “I asked him about something to do with someone from the team... and he must have gotten the wrong idea.” He glared at the wall. Tony should have considered something stupid like this could happen.

“And you really... I mean, you have no interest in...?” Steve seemed too eager to know for sure and noticed himself leaning forward, his hands holding on to the counter he was leaning against.

“What interest? In that maniac? No,” the archer scoffed and got up, having once more gained control over his emotions. “Never. No. Not now. Not ever.” He displayed a mostly fake grin and thumbs up for Steve's sake. “Are we good?”

For a moment, Steve's wishful thinking got in the way of his understanding and he beamed at Clint, before he blinked and put up a more serious face. “Sure. Certainly. Very... good. Yes.”

“Excellent.” Clint moved past Steve and continued filling the dishwasher, before he started the program. He would definitely need to have a word with Loki about this. Later.

“I'll uh... I'll be... going then,” Steve announced awkwardly, but did not move for a while, until he realised that he was still standing in the kitchen. He marched off, trying hard not to whistle. All was not lost – Clint had not set his eyes on Loki after all. By the time he was in the hallway and thus out of Clint's sight and earshot, Steve lost all restraint.

Behind the Captain, Clint was still furiously wiping down the counter. Once he was done, he decided he might as well go and see if Natasha wanted to train, seeing as he now had all this negative energy to burn off until Loki returned. Catching Tony and Loki coming back had lost most of its appeal. He found Natasha in the living room, reading. It was rare for her to spent time in the common areas, but apparently it happened.

“Wanna go spar?”

Natasha looked up at him, raising an eyebrow. “Again? Are you up to something?” She got up nonetheless. “Jeez, you people are energetic today,” she added, nodding towards the hallway, as though Steve was still dancing down it. Of course Clint could not see him, because the Captain was long gone.

“Yeah... need to let off some steam,” Clint frowned, unsure what she was nodding at. However, he dismissed it and followed her to the gym.

It only took Natasha a moment to see it, but she granted him a couple rounds of sparring. Then, she lazily cuffed him around the head.

“You're distracted! If you call me down here, at least focus,” she complained.

“Yeah... sorry. Maybe I should just head to bed,” Clint mumbled, his negative energy having turned around to bite him in the ass. Moody, he grabbed his water bottle. “You okay?”

“Am I okay?” Natasha frowned at him. “The whole team is crazy. Stark taking Loki to a gay bar? Crazy. Steve dancing and whistling ? Crazy! And now you – I don't even want to know what Thor and Banner are doing.”

“Steve was dancing?” He was trying to picture it. Nope. Not happening, not even in his head. Natasha shrugged.

“He was dancing just now, before you asked me to come down here. Not sure what got into him, I've never seen him like that,” she watched Clint's face closely, her expression unreadable, while her partner was chewing on his lower lip, thinking.*

“Hm. Interesting,” he mumbled, then coughed to cover it up. “So... how's Bruce?”

“Very well,” Natasha replied, sweetly, knowing what he was on about and not caring about misleading him. She gave him her sweetest smile and picked up her stuff, heading towards the elevator. “If that's all... night, Barton.”

“Night, Tasha,” he smiled back equally as sweet, waving. Then he practically ran back to his rooms, showered and made his way to Steve's floor. On his way, he asked Jarvis to confirm the Captain was still awake. Hopefully Clint was not jumping to the wrong conclusions again. He could not be wrong this badly twice in a row, could he?

Swing music came from behind Steve's closed door. He himself was grinning like an idiot and could not keep still. Ever since his talk with Clint, his mind had gone overboard with possibilities and speculations of what they could become, now that it was clear that Clint was definitely not into Loki. That was one man less for competition, right?

For ten minutes, Clint just stood outside of Steve's door. Ten minutes exactly, because he had an artsy wall clock to stare at in procrastination. Why was it that ten minutes ago, he had known exactly how this talk was going to go, but now he just felt silly and unsure about everything, and was about to turn around and just go to bed and think this over. And suddenly the door opened.

With rosy cheeks, Steve stood in his doorway, staring at Clint for a moment. After so much time spent dancing and fidgeting and jumping around, he had felt he needed to calm down and grab himself a cup of tea from the kitchen.

“Oh, did you... can I help you?” It looked as though Clint had been waiting for him, or had been headed for his room, but Steve was unsure whether that was only wishful thinking. Clint may just have passed his room to get somewhere else.

“Er, hum... yeah I, uh... wanted to see how you were doing,” he trailed off, scratching his neck, cringing inwardly.

“Doing fine,” Steve replied, grinning at him. “What did you really want? Did you break something?” Clint was being silly and nervous – they had spoken just an hour ago and Steve had not been the one who had been upset after their talk, so he had no reason to check on Steve, other than to confess something.

“I uh... what's gotten you in such a good mood? Whatever it is, maybe you could share some of it?” Why was this so difficult? If he could, Clint would be kicking himself.

“Oh, well. Good music,” he pointed over his shoulder with his thumb, towards the inside of his room where his swing music was still playing. Steve had only turned it down a notch when he had left for the kitchen. “Dancing,” he added, blushing a little.

“Right,” Clint nodded, a smile curling up one corner of his mouth. “I'll pass,” he paused, taking a deep breath. “How about a drink though?” With more force than necessary, Clint shoved his hands into his pockets to stop himself from fidgeting. He heard Steve chuckle.

“I was about to make myself some tea. If that counts as a drink, feel free to join me,” he offered and marched past Clint, closing his door behind him, to continue his way to the kitchen. Inwardly, he was squealing. Of course he wanted to spend time with Clint, but he was not going to be too obvious about it. He was the team captain after all. Unless he was sure his 'enthusiasm' was going to be appreciated and returned, he would patiently bide his time and be... low-key.

“I was thinking more of the alcoholic kind, but I guess since that doesn't do much for you anyway... sure, tea's fine.”

“Of course you were,” Steve replied and chuckled once again. He was quite adamant in his views on alcohol – especially since most of his team had a rather liberal way with it. Leading the way to the kitchen, Steve enjoyed sharing the limited space of the elevator for a bit. He was looking forward to calm himself down and be a little more clear-headed. It was truly unprofessional to act like a lovesick teenager around Barton.

Clint just trailed along behind Steve, enjoying the view. Likely thanks to the scenery, he missed Steve asking a question once they had reached their destination.

“Barton?” Steve repeated, his head slightly tilted to the side. “Which would you like?” He held up a couple of boxes, two cups standing before him, water boiling in the electric kettle.

“Hu? Ah... uh, whatever you're having.” The archer slumped down into the same chair he had used just a little while ago.

Steve smiled inwardly, but his face was straight while he prepared tea for the two of them. Setting one cup down next to Clint and keeping the other next to himself, Steve risked a glance at the other.

“So...” he was not sure what to say. Everything that had been on his mind for the past hour was better left unsaid in this company. Or probably in any.

“So...” Clint repeated, his fingers tapping on the table. The silence was getting awkward but Clint didn't know what to do about it. “So... Loki and Stark, hu?” He grabbed his cup, sipping on the too hot, barely brewed tea just to have something to do.

Steve felt that twinge of jealousy again, a tiny part of him still not convinced that Clint was not simply very good at covering his interests up.

“Yeah. I'm... not sure I want to know what they're doing right now,” Steve said, trying to see if Clint was going to be jealous at the suggestion that Loki was having sex with someone. Luckily for him, the other just snorted.

“Knowing Stark, this is all just some ridiculous prank. I doubt Loki knows what the hell a gay bar is.” He smirked, drawing nonsense shapes on the table with his fingers. “Would've loved to see his face when he figured it out though.” He took another sip of his tea.

“He's a trickster though, I'm pretty sure he'd try to get back at Stark for pulling a prank on him... he'll turn the whole thing around,” Steve mused, toying with the string attached to his tea bag. “Or maybe they're just having a massive orgy by now.” He shrugged and smirked, still trying to provoke a reaction from Clint.

The archer slammed his cup down and started coughing.

“Oh no man, stop that,” he waved his hand around and pulled a face. “I don't need those mental images, thanks very much.” Steve felt queasy, was this a sign jealousy after all?

“Well, as long as they're not bringing the party here, and we don't have to watch them, I hope they're enjoying themselves,” Steve said and fiercely grinned into his cup, taking a sip.

“Yeah...” Able to breathe again, Clint sat staring into his cup, a faint smile still on his face. “What about you... have you ever been to one before?” This time it was Steve who was close to choking on his tea.

“To... an orgy?” His eyes were wide at the suggestion.

“No! God, no...” Clint threw his head back and laughed. Steve's expression of horror mixed with his blushing innocence was hilarious. “Sorry... oh man... no, I meant a gay bar.” He smirked mischievously and Steve looked as though he wished for the ground to swallow him up. However, he managed to regain a bit of his composure – enough to answer Clint's question, at least.

“Not... really, no. I mean, I... I don't think it's the right place for me.” He stopped, not wanting Clint to think he was generally not interested in men and trying to find a way to subtly express that he was, in fact, very much interested. “At least not from what I've heard, I'm... probably too old for that kind of place.”

“I thought you're like 25 or something.” Clint really wished he had a beer, this was no talk to be done over tea of all things.

“I was 22 – seventy years ago,” Steve reminded him. Of course he still felt and looked like he was in his twenties, but the way he had been raised, the time he had grown up in, sometimes made him feel very old and out of place nonetheless. “Perhaps old-fashioned, rather than just old.”

“So?” Clint shrugged. “A bar is a bar and dancing is dancing. Sure the music's changed and the boys are waaaay more open about stuff but it's still only a night out, right?” He lifted his cup, only to put it back down when it turned out to be empty. “There's not by any chance a lone beer around here, is there?”

“Fridge,” Steve replied, smiling. He got up himself to hand Clint a bottle and make himself another cup of tea. “You know... Actually, I've never been the type of person to go out a lot,” he explained. Remembering the times he had been around people back in the thirties always came with remembering his 'other' self. Sometimes he was still surprised to find that big muscular man staring back at himself from within the mirror. He frowned, seeming thoughtful for a moment.

“What did you do back then?” Clint popped the lid off his beer and took a sip. That was much better. “I mean... did you have anyone back then? To go out with?”

This was a blow Steve had not expected. While a part of him had moved on enough to fall in love with Clint, there was another part denouncing himself for just that. For leaving behind a person he loved for another. Why was it so hard to breathe all of a sudden?

Steve heard that familiar voice in his head, remembered the last time they had talked and he forced himself to stop, because he knew he was still unable to deal with what was following that memory, with what was so closely connected to that conversation. It was something he had been pushing from himself ever since he had woken up – for years now he had been avoiding it, fooling himself and others into believing he had indeed moved on, from everything.

“I'm sorry, I...” he mumbled, hands shaking and his mind all over the place, trying to think of anything but that face or the cold or love or emotions. He looked helpless, and he felt like it, too.

“Shit,” Clint muttered, jumping up from his seat. He quickly made his way over to Steve, who seemed to be in a world of his own, staring off at something only he could see, his face pale. “Hey, you okay?” He received no reaction. “Steve,” Clint put a hand on Steve's shoulder, “I'm sorry I said that... I shouldn't have.”

“No, it's... I shouldn't...” Steve fought to calm himself down, but the stress he was experiencing with the team had left his nerves too bare. “Clint, I'm sorry, I shouldn't be... I mean I'm your team Captain, I'm not supposed to... be like this.” Steve was still visibly upset, but at least he had managed to bring himself away from thinking about voices and faces to instead thinking of his own failure – a train of thought that had always come rather easy to him, but did not really help calming him.

Clint squeezed his shoulder once in sympathy, then lowered his arm. Steve knew at least some of the ordeals the people on his team had been through, being the go-to-person for pretty much everyone and everything. However, Clint was suddenly aware that Steve himself probably had not talked to anyone about his own problems yet. Crashing a plane and freezing to what to Steve would have seemed like death was probably not the easiest thing to digest.

“I might not be the best person to talk to, but if you, you know, feel like you want to or whatever...” he trailed off, unsure, mortified for having asked such an insensitive question, and a little bit curious about what exactly it was that had Steve break down like that.

“I really shouldn't,” Steve said, trying to sound firm and assertive. He wished Clint's hand back onto his shoulder, and at the same time felt horrible for wanting that. He took a step back, busying himself with preparing his tea now that the water was hot. It was a small wonder he did not spill anything with how much his hands were still shaking. “I'm sorry, really. It was an ordinary question. I shouldn't have... overreacted like that.” He forced a smile on his face, slowly but surely regaining control over himself and pushing his inner turmoil away for now.

Clint just stood in the middle of the kitchen, mad at himself for having made Steve remember something painful, and sad that he had ruined the mood. “I'm just...” he gestured towards the door, but Steve wasn't looking in his direction, busy with his tea prep. “I better leave. I'm sorry.” He began walking backwards, hoping to catch Steve's attention, to wish him a good night at least or something.

Steve looked up, not wanting Clint to feel guilty – and definitely not wanting to be alone. “Didn't you want to drink?” Steve asked, pushing himself to sound like his normal self. “I don't know much about drinking, but I heard it's better if you do it in company.” He nodded at the beer that was still ready and waiting and wished dearly to be able to get drunk, because he felt that was just what he wanted to be right now.

“Are you sure?” Clint clearly was not. He should probably leave and never speak to Steve again unless it was necessary.

“I'm sure,” he heard the other say. He mentally kicked himself once more for being an idiot and sat back down, grabbing his half finished bottle to hold on to. For a while, the two men just sat in awkward silence. Steve jumped when suddenly Jarvis' voice rang through the kitchen.

“Loki and Sir have returned to the tower,” the AI announced. Steve blinked.

“Do they... need help? Are they alright?” he asked, because, knowing Tony, he was guessing that at least one of them was drunk beyond all hope.

“Thor is already heading downstairs,” Jarvis replied, although that did not really make Steve feel any better.

“Could you... is there... a video-thing around?” he asked and of course there was, this was Stark's home after all. “Just... making sure they don't kill each other,” Steve explained to Clint and he was glad they both had something to focus on. It appeared as though Loki was pretty much out of it and Steve felt himself smile at the sight. “Must've been one hell of a party...”

Clint watched the video feed for a while before turning his gaze to Steve, who was watching intently. He suddenly remembered why he had gone to speak to Loki earlier in the day, though after a few minutes of observation he could not tell whether that expression on Steve's face was because of what Tony was doing to Loki on screen or because it was not him doing it. When it looked like Tony was going to violate a sleeping Loki in his room, Steve had half-risen to his feet. However, before he could get up properly, Tony had stopped fondling Loki and left the room.

“Thank you, Jarvis, quit the feed...” Steve mumbled, looking at Clint wide-eyed. “Do you think Tony is...?” he started, not even daring to say it out loud.

“What?” Clint emptied his bottle and considered getting another “Do you mind if I have one more?”

“Go ahead, I would, too, if it made sense.” Steve shrugged, getting himself another cup of tea instead. In a while, he would really need to use the bathroom badly, he thought. “Do you think Tony ... has... wants... Loki?” Steve didn't even know how to phrase it, did Tony Stark even fall in love with people? He only ever brought home women, and if he did, they didn't stay for more than a night, if at all.

Clint grabbed himself another beer from the fridge. then closed the door and leaned against it.

“Looked like it, but with Stark you never know. He's a horndog.” He shrugged.

“What don't you know?” Tony asked, casually strolling into the kitchen to grab a glass and a bottle of water to bring to Loki's room. He was carrying a bucket under his arm and there was a pack of pills in his hand. Apparently, he did not feel the need to comment on the 'horndog'. Steve looked to Clint to handle this, because he certainly was not going to say to Tony's face that they had just watched him fondle a passed-out Loki.

“Just wondering if you're trying to get into the nut job's pants or not...” The archer smirked, winking at Tony whilst he took another sip of his beer, still leaning casually against the fridge. Steve covered his face with his hand, his shoulders shaking with silent laughter.

“Very subtle, Barton.”

Tony just stared at the two of them. “What, can't two guys have a night out?” he asked, still unaware that he had been watched. Clint pointed his bottle towards the little collection of utensils in Tony's arms.

“So who you're playing nurse for then?”

For a moment, Tony looked defensive, then he huffed at Clint.

“I really don't want to deal with a hungover trickster-god tomorrow, do you? It's self-preservation.”

“Sure it is,” Clint grinned knowingly. “Good luck with that.” He waved as Tony left the room with a huff.

“Tony and Loki?” Steve mouthed at Clint when Tony had left, not sure if he found the idea entertaining or frightening. The other just shrugged again.

“If you think about it... it even makes sense, in a way. They're both full of themselves, both delusional and both... I'm sure there was another reason, but I don't want to think too much about their kinks, 'cause I just got rid of that other image.”

Steve actually chuckled, carrying his new cup of tea back to the table to sit back down.

“What do you think Thor will have to say about it?” he asked, knowing that Thor's temper was something they would all have to deal with when the problem arose.

“Let's hope he doesn't cave Stark's head in with his hammer.” A short but prominent silence followed his statement. Steve ran a hand through his hair.

“I'll... watch him. And them. I guess,” he mumbled. Not that he was not doing that anyway, but with that kind of threat hanging in the air, it was probably best to be extra careful, before someone got hurt. “I don't think anyone else is going to have a problem with it though,” Steve added, his tone making it a request for confirmation.

“Pretty sure everyone's cool with it... except probably Fury, but he doesn't need to know, does he?”

“Oh hell no,” Steve burst out and shook his head.

“Great,” Clint grinned. “If you're okay here, I think I might head to bed...” Once again he looked and felt unsure and threw Steve a questioning glance.

“Sure. Go ahead. It's late,” Steve replied waving his hand in dismissal. He kept sitting though, with his tea in his hand. Needing only a couple hours of sleep every night was another thing he resented. Of course, it was fewer hours of nightmares, if they happened, but it also meant he was spending more time awake, worrying and stressing himself and thinking and generally not knowing what to do with himself.

“Okay... well... good night,” Clint waved awkwardly and left, feeling marginally better that the night hadn't ended on a negative note. Steve smiled at him and then, once Clint was gone, let his head fall forward to rest on the table. There were so many things on his mind and he really did not want to deal with any of them. Could he not just go back to being mindlessly happy like he had been a few hours ago?

Returning to his tea, Steve had Jarvis confirm everyone's positions. Except for Tony and himself, the team was in their rooms. Even Bruce was at the tower, using one of the guest rooms to sleep in. The tower was laid out so that Loki, Tony and Steve shared a floor, each with their separate bedrooms and private bathrooms, and one floor down, Natasha, Clint and Thor had their rooms. Loki's room had been Bruce's once, but when the trickster had moved in, Bruce had moved out. For relaxation purposes, he now had his own 'retreat' outside the tower, but there were a couple of floors with guest rooms – after all, the tower had more than enough floors, and Tony had really been at a loss concerning any other purpose for most of them, other than adding guest and conference rooms. And bars.

Over in his own room, Tony was finally settling down. Rarely had sleep felt like such a good idea to him. There was just too much his mind had to think about if he stayed awake any longer. He would not even start going through the list of issues he had right now. Pulling the covers up to his ears, Tony squeezed his eyes shut and commanded his body to shut down. Surprisingly enough, his body obeyed.

All around him was just pleasant warm darkness. So that's what it feels like to sleep, Tony thought sluggishly. At this rate, he never wanted to stop. He would spend the rest of his life lying in his bed, enjoying the warmth and the peaceful drifting and –

“You know you're an idiot, right?”

“Of course I do,” Tony replied without thinking, too relaxed to care. “Why exactly am I an idiot right now?”

The person just materialised. Right in front of Tony's floating self, there was a blurry copy of himself, a jackass grin on his face as he lounged on an invisible surface.

“Seriously, Loki? He's nine cups of puppies kind of crazy.”

“That's not even a real metaphor.”

“It gets the point across,” Dream-Tony shrugged. “You know you can't just go about hobnobbing and canoodling with that nut.”

“Not like he has a lot of interest in that.” Tony wanted the silence back. This was turning into a far less pleasant dream all of a sudden.

“Even if Loki did have an interest in you, he's a prisoner.”

“He probably doesn't even know how to cook,” a new version of himself materialised, casually leaning against an invisible wall.

“But he's so hot. I mean really, have you seen those hands?” Tony-three was sitting in an invisible arm-chair, holding a Martini. He wore a bathrobe. Tony was fairly certain he had seen the whole posture and scene before. Yes, he thought, he certainly had. It was a picture of Howard, rotting away in a box somewhere. This was all kinds of disturbing, really.

“Steve would mind,” the first Tony pitched in again.

“Thor would probably gut you.”

“Fury would have a heart attack.” All four of them agreed that was not necessarily a bad thing.

“He probably hates me after tonight, anyway. Or at least after tomorrow's hangover.”

“But he kissed you,” the Tony in the Howard-pose reminded him.

“He kissed me,” Tony agreed.

“He hates your guts for it, though.”

“They'll think you're compromised and lock him up again.”

“I'm not – ”

“Everyone would be disappointed.”

“What if he goes all crazy and evil again, what do you do then?”

“Maybe he'll let you brush his hair...”

“Guys...”

“No really, it's a stupid idea.”

“Yeah, dude, you should – ”

“Oh, screw you all.” With a strained groan, Tony rolled out of bed and dragged himself to the kitchen to get himself some coffee. A night at the workshop then. Fine. He would probably think less bullshit while he was awake, anyway.

Several hours later, Steve was back in the kitchen for yet another cup of tea. It was almost five in the morning and he had barely slept, but that was nothing unusual for him. Even in his dreams he had debated with himself whether he still had responsibilities concerning his lost friends, or if it was time for him to move on. And even if he did, was it a good idea to move on to Clint of all people? Did he even have a chance? Frustrated about not having an answer to any of these questions, he stared broodingly into his cup, not noticing Natasha enter.

“Morning Cap.” Natasha headed straight for the kettle. She was usually the only person up and around this early, aside from Steve himself and the occasional Tony, who really lived an a time-zone of his own anyway.

Once Natasha had her cup of green tea prepared she sat down opposite Steve.

“Rough night?” Steve looked up, his eyebrows rising just slightly at her assumption.

“No it's – ” he started, but stopped. Natasha knew Barton. She was the person to talk to, wasn't she? “– actually, do you mind uh... helping me out with something?” Steve asked, his back straightening. If he could confide in someone, it was Natasha. Thor had his own problems, Loki and Tony were... out of question. Clint, too, for obvious reasons. Bruce denied himself the right to live in a relationship, so Steve would not bother him with this. Natasha, however, was rational about everything. She should be able to clear up this mess in Steve's head, right?

“Yeah, sure.” She sipped her tea, looking expectantly at Steve, who in turn looked tense and nervous. At least, considering the time, he didn't think there was much of a risk of anyone walking in on them, especially with how late everyone had gone to bed last night – and half of them drunk, too.

“I don't quite know where to start,” Steve admitted, uncertain of how much she even knew about him. She had probably read his file, and she was in contact to Coulson, who had probably told her the one or other thing, too. Steve rubbed a hand over his face. “Before... before I woke up, I had a... well not really a partner, but it was heading that way, I think. I'm... pretty sure.” Steve tried to calm his rapidly pounding heart and took a sip of his tea. “If I... was interested in someone now, do you think that... could work? I mean, I... it's kind of hard for me to find closure on that relationship and I'm not sure it would be right to move on just yet, you know? It feels like... betrayal,” he admitted and stopped talking, nodding once to confirm that that was all he wanted to say. He was tense now, his hands both wrapped around his mug, knuckles white but the grip not hard enough to crush the mug just yet.

“We're talking about Peggy, right?” It was hard to read the brief flinch and the way Steve avoided to look at her. It could mean she was right – and from what his file had stated, it seemed likely that she was – but it could also mean she was far off track and the truth was too painful or scandalous for Steve to admit.

“I don't think saying that you should move on simply because it's been seventy years is quite fair. It has been far less time for you, personally.” She paused, taking another sip of her tea. “I can't really tell you what to do, and I hate employing platitudes, but you should listen to what your heart says.” A small smile played in the corner of her mouth. “If you can't let your partner go just yet, then maybe it's not the right time.”

Steve nodded. There was a slight frown crinkling his brow.

“What if... there was someone else?” He tried, the tone of his voice and his expression making it pretty obvious that this was no 'what if' at all, but a definite statement. There was someone else.

“Then you would either feel enough for that other person to let go of Peggy... no, not forget her,” she quickly added, seeing Steve ready to protest. “What I mean is, remember her and what might have been. Considering you can't change the fact that it has been seventy years, all you would achieve by clinging to the past is avoiding your chance at a future with someone else.” She had to smirk at the utter cheesiness of that statement even if it was the truth.

Steve hesitated to take the next step. He was surprised to find that he had already moved on a lot further than he had thought. All he had really wanted was a confirmation that it was okay to do that. That did not make what was to follow any easier, though. Steve was well aware that over the past decades many things had changed, and dating routines were part of that. Hopefully, Natasha was the right choice to go to for dating advice...

“If I... were to tell you who it was, would you help me? You'd tell me if you knew I don't stand a chance, right?” To decide to take action and then be rejected was a horrible thought. If Clint had any interest in Steve, Natasha would know, right? They were friends, after all...

“If it would make you feel better, I could try and help you without knowing who it is,” she offered and winked, smiling. Steve considered that.

“Alright,” he agreed. “Thank you.” He emptied his tea and looked determined. “So. How do I do this? How do I... make sure he's interested?” One of her eyebrows went up in surprise, but Natasha's expression was blank before Steve could notice.

“How about you ask him out?”

“I don't... want things to be awkward if he doesn't have an interest in me. It's... kind of important that we get along,” Steve subtly hinted at the fact that is was someone on their team. Of course he would never put the positive atmosphere within the team at risk just to get a date.

Natasha allowed herself to guess at who Steve was referring to, though she gave up soon, realising it could be anyone. They all seemed likely candidates... well, apart from Clint. And Loki. Those two just wouldn't work in the relationship with Steve her mind was happily imagining. Though Steve and Loki had been rather close lately. A cough snapped her out of her thoughts.

“Sorry.” She smiled and got up. “Another tea?”

“Yeah, thanks.” Steve handed over his cup. “Do you think it would... affect the team if I asked him and he said no?” He was clearly hoping for a 'no'. Natasha took her time to think about it while she refilled both their cups with hot water. Instead of sitting back down she leant against the counter. However, before she could reply, Loki shuffled into the kitchen, clothes rumpled and hair all over the place.

“Morning,” he yawned, earning a snort from Natasha and a wide eyed stare from Steve.

“Good Morning,” Steve dutifully replied after regaining his composure. After the way Loki had more or less passed out last night, he had expected the trickster to show more of a hangover. “Had a nice night out?” he asked, a little disappointed that he had to end his talk with Natasha prematurely. He really needed the confirmation that if he asked for a date it would be fine, no matter the answer.

Loki growled at the question, then grabbed Steve's cup and drank his tea in one go.

“Good morning to you, too.” He flashed him a wide, fake smile before once more glowering at him.

Natasha took pity on him.

“If you think they might help, I could get you some pain killers, Loki...”

“I'm pretty sure Tony had some set aside for him,” Steve mentioned, remembering their encounter in the kitchen a few hours ago. “I'm surprised to see you around again, I would have... expected you to stay in bed a little longer,” he admitted. 'All day', he added silently, 'or at least until noon'. Was Loki even sober yet?

At that moment, Clint walked into the kitchen. He offered a quiet 'Morning' and poured himself a cup of the seemingly endless and always freshly brewed coffee, courtesy of Jarvis. Natasha frowned at his unusual grumpiness, but was distracted when she noticed the look Steve threw at Clint. This morning really was full of surprises.

A moment later, Steve caught himself staring and blushed faintly.

“I'll uhm... be in the gym,” he announced, grabbed his mug from Loki to rinse and put it into the dishwasher before he went off to the elevator. To his surprise, he met Tony in the hallway, heading towards the kitchen. It seemed everyone was up early today. If Tony had even slept, that was.

“Morning Cap,” Tony strode into the kitchen. “Morning Lokes, morning the rest of you.” Tony patted Loki's shoulder to test him for any hangover-ish aching and sensitivity. “Feeling well, Snow White? You slept like a log before we even reached your room, I almost feared you'd need a prince to kiss you awake.” Tony grinned. He was in a suspiciously good mood.

Loki froze before shaking off Tony's hand and stepping away from him. He clearly remembered what had happened the night before.

“If you need a plan for what to do today, how about staying away from me,” he bit out. He couldn't be around Tony today, not after last night's humiliation. Loki all but ran out of the kitchen, leaving everybody behind, wondering.

“Last night wasn't nearly bad enough to justify this drama,” Tony explained to Clint and Natasha. Then he just shrugged and moved over to grab himself a cup of coffee, ready to head back off to the workshop.

“What was that all about?” Natasha asked Tony, arms crossed, one eyebrow raised, curiosity clear in her eyes.

“I don't know!” Tony lied. Seeing as she did not even try to believe him, he attempted a different approach. “Well, I'm... not sure. I didn't do anything, though, honestly. Which... appears... to be the problem? I don't know, hell, who knows what's going on in his head,” Tony groused, because the only thing he could think of was that Loki either still felt rejected or was just generally hungover and regretting last night.

Natasha nodded, sure Tony would not let Loki get away with acting strangely. Tony would want to get to the bottom of things – and knowing him, they all would soon find out about 'last night' anyway. Tony shrugged, took his coffee with him and marched off. Which meant Natasha could now turn to Clint.

“You ok?” she asked quietly.

Clint looked at Natasha, making a vague noise. Was he okay? He didn't even know.

“Talked to Banner yet?” he tried to change the subject from himself to something that would hopefully annoy Natasha enough to lose interest. Right now, Clint didn't feel like talking about what was on his mind, not even to her.

“No. Have you talked to Steve yet?” She smirked when his head snapped up, eyes wide.

“Actually, yes. I did. Last night. And uh... remind me again of why I would need to talk to Steve?” Clint replied, a little more testy than he had intended to. He took a too big sip of too hot coffee and grimaced. Natasha's face gave away no reaction.

“Clint, Steve's in the gym probably hoping for someone to spar with, and as much as I'd love to, I have an appointment.” She smirked, walking slowly backwards, out of the room.

Clint hesitated and waited for Natasha to be gone and his coffee to be empty to do as she had suggested and find Steve down at the gym.

 

Down in the workshop, Tony was pacing. He really wanted to know what was going on with Loki. How much had he messed things up last night?

“Jarvis? Show me what Loki's doing. One way covered video call. He really doesn't need to know.” Just moments later, Tony was staring at a screen that showed Loki reading. For a while, nothing happened. Occasionally, Loki would massage his temples and he spent an awfully long time on one page of the book, starting from the top over and over again. Groaning in frustration, Loki put away the book and got up, stretching. He slipped out of his clothes and headed for the bathroom.

Tony shot up out of his seat. He intently studied anything his eyes would settle on, nervously biting his index finger.

“Right, Jarvis... uh... how about we keep that between the two of us?” He imagined that if Jarvis could, he would have smirked.

“Of course, Sir.” Jarvis copied all open video and audio files from Loki's room into a folder on Tony's private server. The very private private server. Then he proceeded to delete them from the main network.

“Would you like me to stop the video feed, Sir?” Jarvis asked, as technically, he could show Loki showering, even though those cameras were usually disabled. Tony grimaced then sighed, looking defeated.

“I have no idea, J. Not a single fucking clue...”

“I'll just leave it running then,” Jarvis announced and suddenly there was a naked, showering Loki on the screen.

 

* * *

 

“Hey uh... how you doin'? Would you mind if I join you?”

Steve had been beating up his sixth sandbag when Clint walked in and he was sweating, red faced and out of breath.

“Uh...no, not at all...” he panted, wiping the sweat off his forehead.

“Alright... let me just get warmed up, I'll be right with you,” Clint grinned and started jogging, then stretching, before joining Steve in the centre of the room. He congratulated himself on being a subtle ass dude, because it was really, really hard not to just stare at the Captain right now. At least he had the chance to grope some of those muscles now that they started sparring.

Steve had the advantage of being serum enhanced, but Clint had enough practise to level the playing field. After a long time of back and forth, he had pinned Steve to the ground and straddled him, holding him down. Clint was grinning and breathing heavily, all kinds of unruly thoughts in his head. Oh how he wished he could act on them...

“Alright, you win,” Steve laughed, letting his head fall back, panting for breath, face flushed. Adrenaline was coursing through his system, he was high on endorphins and it was possibly Natasha's words in the back of his mind that gave him the push he needed.

“You are an excellent sparring partner...” He slowly laid both hands on Clint's thighs, all the while studying his face to gauge his reaction and when none came, moved them slowly up to lightly grab Clint's hips. Neither of them dared to look away or even blink.

Clint was frozen in place, although frozen did not account for the heat he felt coursing through his body. It took effort not to over-think this, not to doubt what he thought this meant.

“Thanks,” he replied, late and breathless, the grip he had on Steve's shoulders weakening to the point of merely a gentle touch as he was staring down into Steve's eyes, wanting nothing more than to just bend down and kiss him, but he did not dare to move and risk losing Steve's strong hands on his hips.

When Clint didn't move at all Steve briefly considered panicking but what he saw in Clint's eyes helped dispel any lingering doubts.

“In fact, I'd like to do it again sometime, if you're game...” While he spoke, he ever so slowly pushed himself up with one hand, the other moving along Clint's spine, brushing the hot skin of his neck before taking hold of the short hair on the back of Clint's head. He still hadn't moved or made a sound when Steve wordlessly asked permission. He took the tiniest of smiles and Clint's closing eyes as a 'yes' and their lips met with a barely there sigh.

Clint's hands moved from Steve's shoulders, one to his neck and one to rest on his waist, both of them pulling himself closer to Steve as much as possible. It was like their kiss had flicked a switch within him. He was not just testing the waters any more; he wanted to drown in Steve.

“Any time,” Clint gasped in between their kissing, his one hand now brushing down Steve's side and slipping beneath his shirt. The relief Steve felt when Clint finally reacted was immense, the sudden rush of euphoria playing tag team with the adrenalin was overwhelming. Pulling away, their heavy breathing was occasionally interrupted by quiet swearing that made the other chuckle. Steve's fingers loosened their tight grasp on Clint's t-shirt and at the same time he enjoyed the sharp pull of a hand in his own hair...

Clint focused on feeling the other's skin with his hands, his fingertips moving up Steve's waist and ribcage, his other hand brushing through Steve's hair, grabbing a fistful of it. For a brief moment of clarity, the word 'fuck', went through Clint's mind and he smirked. He never wanted to do anything else again, just sit here and enjoy mutual fondling with Captain America... He pulled Steve's head back, not being too rough, but determined and opted for the other's neck instead of his lips, kissing the tender skin, running his teeth along it and breathing in Steve's musky scent.

“Mh... maybe... we should... take this s-somewhere else...?” Steve suggested.

Clint chuckled. “You think?” he mumbled against Steve's neck, giving it a little nip. “Natasha's got an appointment she said... no-one else ever really comes down here,” he went on, not really focusing on whatever he was saying, too distracted by Steve's scent, his skin, his taste...

“Well...” Steve shifted so he was leaning on his right arm, his left gripping Clints waist tightly. “I hope you're right.” He pulled his legs up and with a well executed move, and just enough warning and time for Clint to dig his fingers and nails into Steve's neck, he had the archer pinned beneath him, his gasp caught before it could be heard.

Clint hungrily kissed Steve, the thought of Steve being willing to do this right here was enough to turn him on immensely. This was already beyond anything he had imagined... And Steve was a surprisingly good kisser. Clint wrapped his legs around the taller man, drawing his hips in closer. While his one hand was still holding on to Steve's neck, the other feeling the firm muscles of Steve's chest.

“I am sorry to interrupt, but Miss Romanov would like to inform you that she is on her way to the gym.”

They both froze, groaning in annoyance, but thankful for the warning. Steve glanced shyly down at Clint and the two of them grinned at each other like teenagers.

“Would you like to go out for lunch later?” Steve got up, offering a hand to Clint.

The other did not bother putting his appearance in order after Steve helped him up. He wanted to show Natasha very clearly what she had just interrupted. He was not too happy about it...

“Lunch sounds... very good,” Clint agreed, suddenly nervous to be asked out by Steve. Dates were still a big deal to him, right? Oh god, Clint would ruin this, he knew it... “How... how fancy are we talking here?” he asked, just to be sure. He ran a hand through his hair, ruffling it some more and had to keep himself from just going back to kissing and groping Steve. Clint did not want to embarrass him in front of Natasha...

“Hm... how about Sushi?” Now that the adrenaline was leaving him and the haze had lifted from his mind, Steve felt incredibly nervous, almost anxious. Had he been too forward, assumed too much?

“Sure... you want me to ask Tony for a nice place? He knows about every restaurant there is in this city...” Clint was just as excited and now could not help himself but draw Steve into an embrace and another kiss – the height difference between them when they were not lying on the floor was making things just a little difficult. Somewhere behind him, Clint heard Natasha enter the gym and he really did not care right now, because holy fuck, he was kissing Captain America.

“No, it's alright I hmnhhm...” Steve melted into the kiss, wrapping his arms around the smaller body pressed close to his.

“Don't mind me.”

They broke apart, faces flushed once more, this time for different reasons. Natasha grinned smugly at them and proceeded to warm up. They both grabbed their things and hurried to the elevator. She almost grinned when both unbeknownst to the other mouthed a Thank You at her.

Chapter Text

Clint sincerely hoped they were going to spend their time until lunch together, preferably making out. But then again, he did not want Steve to think him insensitive, or to believe Clint was only in this to have sex with him. Maybe he should wait until after their 'date' to take any further action? Insecure, Clint shot a sideways glance at Steve.

“So, before lunch...” he started when they were in the elevator, unable to keep his hands off Steve, feeling him through his shirt. Steve smiled down at Clint, his fingers playing with the archer's hair, the other hand resting on the small of his back.

“Is there anything you'd like to do?”

“Oh, loads,” Clint shot a dirty grin at Steve, before he leaned his forehead against the other's chest. He should not be rushing this... but he wanted to... he'd have Steve right here if he could... The elevator came to a stop, the doors opening on the communal floor. They separated and walked out into the common room.

“Jarvis, is anyone around?” Steve asked. The AI declared the floor empty so the two men decided to get comfortable on one of the huge sofas. “So, where were we?” Steve smirked, pulling Clint into his lap, knees on either side of him. The other smirked, very content with his position, and pushed both his hands beneath Steve's shirt this time, while kissing him first on the lips, then his chin and jaw until he was back at his neck, teasing the sensitive skin.

Steve let his head fall against the back of sofa and his hands creep underneath Clint's shirt in turn. He couldn't believe that not even an hour ago he had been sure the archer wasn't interested. All of this development was overwhelming but he decided to just go with it, he had missed one opportunity of happiness in his life already and wouldn't let the same happen again. Grabbing Clint's waist, he pulled him closer.

Clint felt himself shudder when Steve's hands touched his bare skin beneath his shirt and it did not take much pulling to get him to move closer. He kissed along the side of Steve's neck, occasionally teasing him with a gentle bite. His lips moved towards Steve's throat and from there he made his way down. When he reached the brim of Steve's shirt, he just ignored it and used the fabric to dull his teeth enough to allow him to bite Steve a little more, not painfully hard, just... hard enough.

For a while, Steve put up with the teasing. Then he sat up a bit to get as close as possible, his left hand pulling Clint's head away from where he felt him nibbling at his skin. Lips red and parted, breath coming in quick gasps, Steve pulled him into a passionate kiss. He needed that mouth on his like air...

“Don't mind me, just need to... ah here it is. Proceed.” The elevator door closed behind Tony and the room was quiet except for Clint's muttered swearing.

“Maybe we should just go out for lunch and then...” Steve shrugged helplessly, one hand still clutching Clint's hair, the other in the process of removing his shirt.

“Fuck lunch, lunch can wait,” Clint breathed, his head too clouded by lust to even notice his insensitivity. To stop Steve from protesting, he started kissing him roughly, full of need, pausing only to pull his own shirt over his head and throw it somewhere. Steve kissed back with all that he had, but once they broke apart to breathe, Clint nuzzling against his neck, he gained clarity again.

“I think... we should really go out... and then... stay away from public places...” His grip was still tight on Clint's waist, his words interrupted by kisses wherever his lips found hot skin, but he was determined. Whatever was going to happen didn't need an audience. They'd have to wait until they could be alone. There was no need to rush, anyway.

Clint collapsed on Steve with a huffed groan. He was hard. But he knew Steve, he recognized the tone of his voice and he knew no matter what he did or said, they were going to have lunch first and everything else had to wait.

“Lunch... right...” He was breathing heavily, trying not to whimper. Clint gave Steve's shoulder a little nip and a frustrated growl, but he was grinning. This was Steve. Steve who blushed at dick jokes. Steve who was probably a virgin. Steve who... smelled so fucking good, god there was no way Clint could wait...

“Alright then,” Steve playfully slapped Clint's ass and grinned. “Off you go.” They both peeled themselves off each other and the couch and headed for the elevator.

“We... uh... I'll... shower? First?” Clint asked, because they had been working out and doing other... things that had made him pretty heated up, and while he didn't really care how he looked or even smelled right now, there was something he really needed to take care of before they went out to a public place.

“Sure. Meet you in the lobby in thirty? Is that enough time?”

“Yeah. Plenty.” Clint was tense with effort not to touch Steve and be all over him again until the elevator stopped on the floor his rooms were on. “Right. In thirty.” He grinned at Steve and before he could stop himself, kissed him once more, before dragging himself away to the shower.

A few floors down in the local workshop, Tony downed what little coffee had remained in his mug. He had been busying himself for a while, forcing himself not to go through with the plans pestering his mind. Still, a few particularly nagging thoughts would not leave him alone and by now Tony was desperate enough to indulge them.

“What's Loki doing?” he asked, sitting back and grabbing a box of tissues.

“He has finished his shower and is currently reading again,” Jarvis reported. Tony looked a little disappointed.

“Can you turn up the heating in his room?”

Without another word, Jarvis pulled up the feed from Loki's room. The trickster was lounging on his bed, reading, only wearing a bathrobe – and even that barely so. Tony bit his lower lip.

“Turn it up just a bit...” Because, who really needed bathrobes?

“Very well, Sir.” Smirking, Tony waited for a change of scene. However, on the screen nothing happened for quite some time. Loki just sat, reading, and occasionally chuckled or shook his head.

“Turn it up more,” Tony pouted, waiting impatiently. He wanted to see...

Only a few minutes later, Loki's hand moved to his shoulder and pulled on the fabric, pulling it aside. Again, nothing happened for a while, then Loki looked up, his lips moving.

“Sir, he is asking me to turn down the heating.”

“Tell him it's broken.” Tony licked his lips, feeling just a little guilty. On screen Loki was talking and frowning, shaking his head.

“Sir, he...” Before Jarvis could finish his sentence, Loki jumped off the bed, undid the bathrobe and stalked over to his wardrobe. Tony's breath caught in his throat when for a precious moment he could see Loki's bare ass. The other proceeded to get dressed in jeans and a randomly chosen t-shirt, pulled on shoes and left the room.

“The last... ten seconds. As a loop. To my phone, private folder,” he mumbled.

“Sir, Loki is currently on his way to the kitchen.”

Tony cussed and got up, finally feeling bad for his abuse of power and surveillance. He was creepy, he decided. A happy creep though, for the blissful few moments he had been able to catch Loki unclothed.

“Uh... cut the feed. Copy the files, nobody but me – you know the drill.” With that he hurried off to the kitchen, not wanting to miss a slightly sweaty Loki, even if it was a dressed one. Not to mention the fact that Loki was going commando... As casually as he could, he strolled into the kitchen just a little later.

“Lokes, Jarvis told me you had a... heating problem?”

“Yes and I expect you to take care of it,” Loki growled, sipping his ice cold water.

“Is that so?” Tony raised an eyebrow, ignoring the pleasant tingling Loki's attitude caused in his stomach. “And what do I get in return?” He smirked. “Will you go on a second date with me?” His smirk broadened into a grin, but he could not shake the feeling that this had been the wrong thing to say.

Loki's grip on his glass tightened. “Last night was not a date, Stark, and I fail to see why you think to assume I would want to go on a date with you in the first place.” He turned away, busying himself with refilling his glass, hands fumbling just a little.

“You seemed eager enough last night?” Tony knew he was pushing his luck. In his stubbornness he had forgotten to sound playfully teasing and instead his tone was questioning and serious, almost accusing.

Loki gripped the counter, hard. “That was a misjudgement, fuelled by too much alcohol. You should know all about that.”

There was no humour to Tony's chuckle. “Yeah, I live on these...” He turned to walk out of the kitchen again and stopped in the door way, deciding that either Loki did like him and didn't want to admit it – or there could really not be any more harm done. So why not risk it?

“So, the offer stands. You want your heating fixed? Go on a date with me,” he smirked and marched off. He was dead. Loki was going to kill him. And then use his magic to revive him to kill him again. Blackmailing a trickster god into a date? Bad move.

Loki let Tony leave, needing to regain his composure. He wouldn't agree to this date, sure that the engineer was mocking him. Although there was a faint glimmer of hope that maybe it was all just in his mind, threatening to collapse his hurriedly pulled up defensive walls.

A few hours later, Tony was in his workshop, finishing up another project. His thoughts kept going back to a certain set of files on his private server, but he knew that he better not open them while anyone could possibly walk in on him. Instead he hoped Loki would consider his 'offer' and go on a date with him. Or stay in his room, sweating.

The trickster on the other hand had finished in the kitchen and gone to sit on the balcony and enjoy the view... and think about what Tony had said. Not that he was actively considering to take him up on the, well, offer was not quite the right word, was it now. He'd just sleep somewhere else. In fact, he didn't need much sleep anyway. Loki sighed. This whole thing was ridiculous and all because of a momentary lapse in judgement.

"Mr Stark would like to inquire when you intend to set a date for your outing, Sir," Jarvis' voice interrupted Loki's thoughts. Tony had become restless and returned to spying on Loki and, seeing as the other didn't appear to have anything useful to do (because when did he ever?), Tony decided to force the matter.

“Never,” Loki replied flatly, staring out at nothing.

"I'm afraid he insists that 'never' is not an option."

Loki rolled his eyes. “Tell him to go and find one of his usual companions, I am not available.” There was a pause, that stretched into a silence long enough to be mistaken for the end of the conversation. A couple of minutes later, there was the hissing noise of the automatic door opening behind Loki.

“You don't look very busy,” Tony observed and leaned against the wall, toying with something in his hands.

“I don't have to run around like a headless chicken to be busy, Stark,” Loki didn't look at Tony but kept staring at the horizon.

“You're never busy. The only time you're busy is when you complain to someone about how little you have to do.” Tony crossed his arms before his chest, anticipating the glare when Loki turned around to face him.

“Me being busy or not has no part in my decision to not go on a date with you.” He turned his gaze back to the city.

“What's wrong with going on a date with me?” Tony was not going to give up, not now that he knew what he wanted. He always got what he wanted.

“I will not be some cheap entertainment for you, to be mocked and then discarded,” Loki spat, eyes flashing, but still not turning to look at the other again. This was infuriating, why wasn't he giving up this ridiculous charade already?

Tony was silent for a while, he had not meant for Loki to feel mocked. Well, maybe a little. But not in a way that would hurt Loki, because Tony knew the trickster was kind of sensitive, even though he'd never admit it.

“I'm not... you're not cheap entertainment,” Tony replied after a while, serious. “If I wanted that, I'd just... go pick up some woman.” He felt bad for saying it, but at least he was honest and there was no woman around to hear it and smack him for it.

Loki, stayed silent. It didn't matter what Tony said, he couldn't simply forget the humiliation of the night before. “It doesn't change anything,” he said quietly, hoping Tony would leave him alone. However, stubborn as he was, Tony didn't move from the spot.

“Why did you kiss me?” He would leave Loki alone, if he was certain that Loki had no interest in him. For now. Until Tony would come up with a better plan to win the other over.

Loki cursed inwardly. “My judgement was impaired, thanks to your Midgardian concoctions,” he briefly glanced at Tony, hoping he'd be satisfied with that answer, but not expecting to have such luck.

Tony tried not to show what he thought of that answer. “What did your impaired judgement tell you that your usual judgement doesn't?” He asked and strolled over, showing that he had no intention of leaving until this was talked about.

“That I should stay away from alcohol...” Loki, in turn, got up. If Tony wasn't going to leave, he would have to find another place to rest and think. Or maybe he could go and train in the gym, get rid of some of the frustration, he thought, moving towards the door. Tony, seeing his window of opportunity close, felt equally frustrated.

“I'm not that bad of a kisser,” he complained, having run out of things to say to make Loki speak.

Loki stopped and turned back towards him, his face blank, but eyes full of emotion he was trying to hide. “I wouldn't know about that now, would I?” He didn't wait for a reply but stepped back inside and took the elevator to the gym. His whole body was tense with nervous energy and anger, mostly at his own stupidity and their respective stubbornness, and he was desperate to rid himself off it lest he lash out and hurt someone. And so, Tony was left behind, dumbstruck. There was something he was missing, he was sure of it. But what? Frowning he took Loki's place and stared out at the city, thinking.

Down in the gym, Natasha looked up when the elevator opened. To her surprise it was Loki who stepped out. She rarely ever met him down here. And right now, he seemed upset.

“Did you have another fight with Thor?” Natasha asked rolling her shoulders to relax them.

The trickster seemed partly annoyed and partly glad to see her. She'd be a good opponent in a sparring match, but he would've preferred to be alone for a few minutes. “We did not. Would you be interested in a fight? I could use the exercise.”

Natasha looked him over. She knew well not to underestimate him just because he looked so... unimposing, physically. “Sure. But no magic,” she warned him. She was not in the mood for tricks. If it was not Thor, she wondered who had upset Loki enough for him to come down here, but she kept her mouth shut, knowing that if he wanted to talk, he would do it on his own terms and if he did not, there was nothing she could do or say to make him talk anyway.

An hour later, they both slumped against the nearest wall, water bottles in hand, exhausted but grinning.

“Thank you, I needed that.” Loki took a sip of his water, panting slightly. He was glad now that Natasha had been in the gym, as she was a worthy opponent in a fight and her company was far less noisy than that of Clint or Tony. Thinking of Tony made him sigh in frustration.

“Usually I hear that after a different kind of activity...” Natasha smirked. She was in better shape than Loki and not out of breath as much, but she was exhausted and glad for the workout. Loki was an interesting sparring partner, because his technique was different than what Natasha was used to.

“Is that so?” Loki chuckled. They grinned at each other before sitting in comfortable silence for a while. Natasha always forgot too easily how much of a good time she had with Loki when he was around. The others on her team were always so tense around the trickster that sometimes that attitude rubbed off on her.

“I heard about your night out,” Natasha mentioned casually, not knowing yet that this was not a good topic. “Tony took you to a gay bar? Whose idea was that?” There was an amused smile playing on her lips.

“Not mine,” Loki bit out, getting up. His good mood was gone and he felt very tired all of a sudden. It wasn't hard to notice that last night was something Loki did not want to talk about.

“Maybe you chose the wrong person to go out with... I'm pretty sure anyone on the team would know more appropriate locations than Stark. Even Steve.”

Loki shrugged. “Probably. Although I doubt I am going to sample this city's night life again any time soon.” There was no way he'd tell her how Tony had tricked him into entering an establishment like that in the first place and then left him to get assaulted by drunk strangers. He flinched a little at the memory.

“Well, we can always stick to daylife,” Natasha suggested, wondering what on earth Tony had done to traumatize Loki like this. “You like our movie nights, right? We could all go to the cinema, that would be... something else?”

“I will think about it.” Loki was grateful that she didn't push for answers unlike some people. He nodded at her and then turned and left, headed straight for his room and a shower. As soon as Loki closed the door behind him, the heat slammed into him and he grabbed the first thing he could find and flung it across the room all the while cursing Stark in a language Jarvis couldn't translate. Loki ended his rant in the shower with his clothes half torn off and wet from the cold water... Who knew wanting to be with someone could hurt so much? But Natasha was right, Tony was the wrong person entirely. He probably had some stupid bet going on with Clint on how long it would take to get Loki into his bed. Loki was not going to fall for his tricks and talk.

For the day's second shower, Loki stayed under the water for quite some time. When he was done, his room had cooled down to a nicer temperature.

“It appears the heating system has been restored. Mr Stark apologizes for the inconvenience,” Jarvis announced, while Tony himself was down in his workshop once more, grumpy and frustrated, because he had let himself get carried away with his weird fancy for the trickster god. It was fairly obvious that his advances were not only unwanted, but made Loki feel uncomfortable. No more of that, Tony groused at himself, no more spying on him, no more forcing dates. No more being a creepy asshole. Just work. And drinks. Lots of drinks.

“Thank you, Jarvis.” Loki welcomed the cool temperature, although he didn't want to analyse why. He grabbed his book on his way to the bed and sat down, drained of all energy. “Jarvis, please let Steve know I won't be attending dinner today.” He arranged himself comfortably with his book, but was asleep a few minutes later, after having read only a couple of lines.

 

* * *

 

Lunch had been a lot more awkward than Clint had thought. After their intense making out back at the tower, the discreet distance they kept to each other in public felt strange and wrong. Their meal was a rather quiet affair, neither of them really knew what to talk about – and Clint was particularly eager for them to go home, even though he kept reminding himself that he wanted to take things slow, if Steve needed them to be that way. On their walk back to the tower, Clint felt himself become increasingly nervous – as though a part of him feared Steve would change his mind about the two of them before they reached home.

Despite the slight awkwardness between the two of them, Steve had enjoyed himself on their date. However, he worried the strange atmosphere was his fault, considering how little experience he had with relationships... or dating. He blushed at his own thoughts, heart racing. Who knew where this would lead? He didn't know what Clint actually wanted, whether he was interested in a relationship at all. Steve was so caught up in his own mind he didn't notice how tense Clint had become next to him until they eventually stepped into the elevator that would take them back to the communal area.

“Is everything alright?” He mirrored Clint's posture, who was leaning back against the wall.

“I hope so?” Clint replied, trying himself at a relaxed grin and failing. He sighed. “Do you... do you think we should talk about...” he waved his arms around, back and forth between them. “... this?”

“This?” Steve asked carefully, unsure.

“Well, us.” Clint said, blushing a little. He wasn't good at talking about these kinds of things, he was a man of action, not of words. “I mean... you know... the things people talk about when they kiss a lot. Given that we are not drunk and know each other's names, there are... kind of options to what this could be...” Clint explained awkwardly.

“I see,” Steve smirked, delighted by the blush on Clint's face. “What do you think this is then?” He kept his voice calm, gentle even.

Suddenly, Clint's heart was beating fast and hard up in his throat. He was not prepared to open up like this, not even to Steve. What if what he said was wrong? What if Steve just needed some... sexual relief after all that time of being alone? Then again, they'd just had lunch together, that meant something, right? Bracing himself, Clint gave himself a mental kick. He was a grown man, he could damn well talk about his feelings. He could do it. Just... do it, Clint. Open your mouth. Yes, just like that. And now talk, or you'll just look stupid.

“...” Clint took a deep breath, so deep and long he feared he was going to pass out before he was done. “I love you,” he then said in a rush, releasing all the air he had gathered. Wow. Had he meant to say that? Not that he didn't mean it, but he was pretty sure he had wanted to say something more... elaborate or... dignified, perhaps. There was silence for a while, while Steve just stood staring unable to process what he'd just heard.

“You... what?” It wasn't easy to keep his voice steady. The elevator had reached its destination, but neither of them moved. Clint was pale, but he straightened up, as though he was heading to battle. There was no backing down now, only moving forward. Even if Steve rejected him, Clint would stand his ground and be honest and... oh god, he hoped Steve wasn't going to reject him...

“I love you ,” Clint repeated and it sounded like a mission report.

Steve's hands were gripping the rail behind his back. Keeping his breathing under control made him light-headed, a herd of elephants was stomping all over his insides and his heart was trying to escape his ribcage. Steve took another deep breath, gathering all his courage, then pushed himself away from the wall of the elevator and took the few steps to where Clint stood looking up at him anxiously, still blushing. He stopped right in front of him, the tips of their boots touching. Hands still clasped behind his back, he leaned closer, suddenly smiling, cheek to cheek.

“I love you too.” He shifted, but only to capture Clint's lips in a gentle kiss.

The archer, however, was just lost. His brain had barely registered Steve's words and what little he had understood was gone the moment their lips touched. He just stood there for a moment, before it finally got through to him that Steve had not only not rejected him, but had returned his exact words. Steve loved him. Once that part was understood, Clint kissed the other back, giggling into the kiss like a madman, throwing his arms around the taller man and holding him so tight he might have broken him, had Steve been an ordinary man. Clint felt drunk with relief and knew he was acting like an overly hormonal teen, but he really could not believe his luck. Breaking the kiss he beamed up at Steve.

“So, I take it I'm now officially dating Captain America?” he asked, not letting go of the other.

“I don't know, you'll have to ask him next time he's around.” Steve pulled Clint closer and returned to kissing him. “'m 'fraid... you'll have... to put up with... lil ol'me... until then,” Steve mumbled in between kisses.

“Sounds even better,” Clint mumbled back and stepped away from the elevator's wall, towards the doors, hands dragging Steve with him so they did not have to stop kissing while Clint tried to steer them towards whatever floor they were on. He really could not care less where they were, as long as they stopped blocking the elevator. Once they found themselves a room, public or not, they could get Jarvis to block access to other people while they were busy.

However, as soon as they stumbled out of the elevator the cat calls started. Steve broke their kiss and looked up only to see his remaining team mates grinning wildly and in one case – in the form of a blond Norse god – waving at them. He sighed, dropping his head on Clint's shoulder in defeat.

Clint on the other hand grinned with a weird sense of pride and possessiveness and held Steve close with one arm, moving him backwards towards the elevator. With his free hand, he flipped his team off, but at the same time beamed at them with an "I know right? Steve and me! It's a thing!"-kind of expression.

“Private quarters it is,” he mumbled to Steve right before the doors of the elevator moved closed.

“Hello, Clint. Steve.” They almost jumped apart, startled, when Phil spoke. “Don't stop on my account.” He was facing the doors, as calm and collected as always. Clint cringed at the voice. When had Phil suddenly turned up? And why the hell had he turned up anyway? He was the last person Clint wanted to see right now... although it did fill him with a sense of satisfaction that he was now officially in a relationship with the one person his ex-boyfriend adored more than anyone else. It was a very dark, very good feeling. Still, Clint was a little uneasy around Phil, it was the first time since they had broken up – since Phil had broken up with Clint – that the archer had been with another person romantically.

“Phil.” Steve's greeting felt awkward, he was blushing and he didn't know what to do with his hands. Phil smiled at him, then turned back to face the doors once more. “So, what brings you here?” Steve mouthed 'what' and cringed when Clint pinched him for engaging Phil in conversation. Meanwhile, Clint did his best to look as though he did not care much that Phil was here, but he was not sure how successful his attempts were.

“Collecting reports. Some of you are a little behind on that.” He shot a pointed look at Clint. Steve had to stop him from running off as soon as the elevator reached their desired floor. It had only taken mere seconds for them to get here, but the tension inside the carriage had made it seem much longer.

“See you around, Phil,” Steve nodded at the other and once the doors had closed between them, he grabbed Clint's hand and pulled him along into his room, closing and locking the door behind them.

It wasn't until a few hours later that Clint drew Steve down to kiss him, both of them panting. Steve collapsed next to him, and Clint rolled onto his side, putting his arm around his lover. He had no problems admitting that he was a cuddler after sex. He was a damn good cuddler.

 

On the common floor, Tony had been grinning at the elevator door after it had closed and swallowed Steve and Clint back up. “I hope Steve doesn't end up pregnant,” he commented when they were all back at the common room, settling in for a movie.

“Tony, do we have to sit down and talk about the birds and bees again?” Bruce asked while Natasha just shook her head.

“I do not understand what the bees and the birds have to do with Steve carrying a child. Also, I was not aware Midgardian males were capable of such.” Thor was very, very confused.

“Again?” Tony complained, mockingly. “The last three times were boring enough, Doc Croc. Better have that talk with Thor while I plan the wedding. I can't leave that up to Steve, he'd ruin it.” He added some dramatically flailing for good measure.

“You guys are ridiculous.” Natasha left to go and fill the popcorn bowl. Meanwhile, Thor was still hung up on the biological metaphor.

“Whose wedding are you planning, Tony? Will there be bees and birds at this wedding?” He was looking from one to the other with a frown, hoping for an explanation.

“Loads,” Tony deadpanned, “no good wedding without some hefty birds and bees, if you ask me.” He patted Thor's shoulder. “C'mon people, Steve and Barton need a party, we should plan, really. It's not like we have anything better to do, people are being too nice and not crazy-super-villainous enough anyway.”

“I don't see how this justifies a party?” Bruce knew protest was pointless, but he tried nonetheless. Once Tony was set on this party, he was going to have a party, with or without anyone's consent.

“Love!” Tony cheered, even though he really didn't care, he just loved parties. “Isn't it worth celebrating? You know this... this is probably Cap's first relationship ever. It kind of is something special, don't you think?” He looked to Thor for support.

“How do you even know this is a relationship?” Everybody looked at Bruce, various degrees of 'oh come on, please' on their faces. “Okay fine, I know 'it's Steve' we're talking about,” he relented, shaking his head in defeat. “Fine. A party it is. When?”

“Jarvis, how much time do we need to plan?” Tony asked, grinning like the maniac he was, occasionally.

Based on previous planning, I would say anywhere from three months to thirty minutes, Sir.”

Tony looked at Bruce with a 'there you go'-expression and toasted him with his drink.

“How many people are we talking here, Stark?” Natasha calmly ate the popcorn she had just fetched. She did not seem intent on sharing. While she looked disinterested, the fact that she had asked gave her away. She was not opposed to this party at all.

“Just a private little thing, we don't want to scare them, right? A hundred people? Two hundred?”

“No!” Natasha could only marvel at Tony's idea of privacy. “No more than ten people and oh, guess what that's pretty much us and your friends, Stark.”

“That's not even a party! That's just... that's... dinner!” Tony complained. “Fifty,” he tried to bargain, arms crossed in front of his chest.

“Tony, this party is not about you and I think they wouldn't want fifty random people show up here to celebrate their love,Bruce cut in before this could become an argument. He watched like a strict parent when Tony opened his mouth to say that they 'would not be random people, but a very selected bunch'. Luckily, he only sighed in defeat.

“Fine. Do strippers count as people?” Everyone groaned while Thor still looked lost. “Is that a yes or a no?” Tony, for a moment, looked no less lost than Thor.

“That is a very definite 'no' on the strippers.” Natasha enlightened him. All petulant child and rolled eyes, Tony huffed a sulking sigh.

“But we can have music, right? And alcohol?”

“Yes, of course. What about food? Should we just order lots of pizza... and popcorn?” Bruce smirked at Natasha who just shrugged in response, the bowl half empty in her hands.

“How about a buffet? Something exotic... you know Steve loves trying new food and Clint eats just about anything anyway.” Tony had started a shopping list on his smart phone.

“Why don't we order a selection? Pizza, Thai... whatever else you think people might like?” Everyone nodded at the suggestion, mumbling their approval.

“Sure,” Tony shrugged. To the long list of alcoholic drinks, he added a variety of food. “What about... do we... do we invite Coulson?” he asked, aware of the tension between the agent and Clint.

“Are you planning this as a surprise party?” Natasha moved closer to keep an eye on his shopping plans. Luckily for Tony, there were no strippers on the list. Yet.

“Huh. Yeah. Why not? They'll be too busy to notice anyway,” he grinned.

“Okay, so I can't ask Clint about inviting Phil.” She looked thoughtful for a moment. “Maybe it's time they learned how to be around each other again. And this party might help.” Another shrug from her, then she got up. “I say invite Phil, too. If you boys can handle the rest, I could go to the gym...”

“I can handle it.” Tony's grin widened. “Not my first party,” he pointed out as though she didn't know.

“Exactly. Someone needs to keep an eye on you.”

“So, who's on that 'no more than ten people' guest list? It's us three, Clint and Steve obviously, Natasha, Phil...” Bruce counted everyone on his fingers, eyes turned to the ceiling as though the names were up there for him to read out.

“Loki,” Thor and Tony added simultaneously. They both started to say 'Jane', but stopped themselves, looking at each other awkwardly. “I could invite two strippers? Male or female, or both, or a mix of everything, whatever you like...” Tony offered.

“Why are you so desperate for strippers?” Bruce frowned in response.

“Strippers are nice! They look good and they're fun to watch. No party can be boring if it has strippers. And, you know, creating secure jobs and all that.”

“No strippers, Tony.” Tony recognized Bruce's 'I'm warning you'-voice, but shrugged nonetheless.

“Who else do we know?” he asked, painfully aware of how none of them really had any friends to speak of.

“What about Pepper and... James, was it? Or Fury?”

Tony frowned, trying to decide which was the least evil to choose. “Pepper and Rhodey,” he decided, “unless we have anyone else available?” Pepper and him basically had the same problem Phil and Clint had. Only that Tony had sacrificed a bunch of his stuff for Pepper and it still hadn't been enough and – no. He was not going there right now, he was so over all of that. Totally over it. He emptied his drink.

“I can't think of anyone else.” Bruce had seen the moment of hesitation from Tony. Since he was the other's go-to person for personal trouble, it was not hard to guess what had Tony dread inviting Pepper. “Are you ok? We don't have to include anyone outside the team if you want...”

“What? No, I'm fine, this'll be awesome,” Tony cheered, making a mental note not to party too hard. He couldn't afford to make any more attempts towards Loki, particularly not when Pepper and James were around. It was bad enough if his team would find out he was into guys, Peppers reaction would be moderate, Tony guessed, but Rhodey? Conservative, stuck up, always frowning Rhodey? No way in hell.

“If you're sure... Fine, that's settled then. Did you want to move on to the film or...” Was there any more to plan? Bruce didn't have a lot of experience with parties. He looked from Thor to Tony who was still busy typing on his phone.

“Film? Oh. The film. Well... nah. I'll take care of the rest of the planning, you go watch it with Goldilocks here.” Tony gave Bruce a quick smile and went off, phone in hand, to plan and be alone.

 

Chapter Text

“No! And now go away!” Loki did not look up at Thor who was standing in the doorway, asking him to join the team in 'celebrating the joyous occasion that was the Captain and the Hawk finding love.' He rolled his eyes, ready to throw something at his stubborn, insistent brother. What a ridiculous reason to celebrate. Not to mention all the noise and people he didn't care one bit about.

“Brother, you are being rude. I do not want your childish stubbornness to ruin the Captain's mood. You and I both know he will worry if you do not attend the celebrations.” Thor frowned at Loki. He wanted to go back to the party, and if Loki didn't want to, he personally was fine with it. But he knew that the others would mind.

“Surely it would be rude of me to join you all only to be miserable and wishing I was someplace else? You may relay my congratulations to the Captain, but I am tired.”

“What are you tired from? You do nothing but read books all day. Join us and eat something, at least. You do not have to stay long. Just... make an appearance. Pretend you’re happy for them, you pride yourself in being the god of lies, do you not?” Thor paused, reigning in his temper. “It is just us, there are not a lot of people. The doctor even brought a sweet drink, I am sure you will enjoy it.”

Loki said nothing for a while, just stared at the book, reading the same line over and over. Finally, he got up in one fluid motion, set the book down on the table and pushed past Thor towards the elevator.

“Five minutes, not a single second longer. Are you coming?” he called, not looking back or even stopping to wait for an answer. Thor, satisfied with himself, turned and followed Loki to the party floor, where everyone else was already busy having a good time. Steve and Clint had been pleasantly surprised by the party, and even though Tony still mourned the lack of strippers, he was enjoying himself. Thor helped Loki to a glass of punch – which was sweet enough to hide the high alcohol content – and then he was off to chat with Pepper.

Loki was left behind leaning against the wall, the surprisingly enjoyable drink in hand, eyes scanning the room. The Captain and Barton stood close together, smiling, listening intently to whatever Bruce was telling them about. Natasha was in the process of topping up her glass and Thor was engaged in an animated chat with Stark's assistant. Speaking of Stark, Loki couldn't spot the engineer, which was odd. Usually it seemed that Tony was drawn to parties and attention like moths to the light.

It took a while longer before Tony showed up, Rhodey following him. He had taken his friend aside and... well, not exactly warned him, but warned him that they were kind of pretty much celebrating that Captain America had found himself a gay lover. Strategically placing Rhodey far away from Coulson, to avoid a cluster of bad mood, he left his friend by Loki’s side. Tony himself went over to chat up Phil and take his mind of the fact that his ex-boyfriend was now dating his childhood hero.

Rhodey was no more comfortable around a super villain than he was around a gay couple, so he quietly sipped his glass of water and nodded at Loki, trying not to be too impolite. Who knew what chaos the other would break lose should he take offense to a missing greeting.

Luckily for Rhodey, Loki simply nodded back, and then left to refill his glass. This drink really was the only thing making this party worthwhile, he thought. By the punch bowl, Loki was joined by Steve, who was refilling his own glass. Not for the alcohol but because the drink actually tasted pretty nice.

“Hey there... everything alright?” Steve asked, not only for reasons of small-talk.

“Everything is fine, thank you for asking,” Loki smiled a small smile. He liked Steve and was happy for him, though he was at a loss as to what to say. He did not do small talk.

“Thank you for joining us,” Steve added and smiled back at Loki. There was something to his face that had been missing for a long while: relaxation. It seemed his relationship to Clint was already doing him good.

“Yes… of course,” and for a second Loki felt bad for having considered staying in his room. The whole celebration seemed to matter to Steve, and he seemed genuinely happy to have Loki there.

Steve kept his kind smile directed at Loki for a moment and then let his eyes wander through the room to find Clint's. He grinned and floated away to be with his lover without another word. Love was quite distracting, apparently. In his stead, Tony joined Loki to top of his glass. He preferred less sweet drinks, but for now, this would do fine. He didn't even notice Loki until he found himself staring at the trickster for a couple of minutes, lost in thought.

“Is there something on my face?” Loki sighed in annoyance. Technically he could just walk away but something kept him from fleeing back to the safety of his room. He blamed the drink.

Tony stirred, shaking his head.

“Sorry. No. Want more punch?” Nodding at Loki's empty glass, Tony tried his best not to be awkward around him. He still felt terrible for having been such a creep – regarding both the parts which Loki knew of and those he didn’t and shouldn’t know of. If Loki ever found out Tony had spied on him, Loki would probably castrate him. Or worse. What had gotten into Tony in the first place to get this carried away? He should just accept a ‘no’ when –

“Yes, why not,” Loki held out his glass expectantly. “Anything to make this less dull,” he added, muttering.

“Hey!” Tony complained, frowning as he filled the glass and handed it back to Loki. “Don't insult my party, the lack of naked people is not my fault.” Strippers generally just gave parties a whole different… vibe.

“Who said anything about naked people? Stark do cease thinking with your nether regions.” Loki turned away, eyebrow raised, sipping his drink, once more observing. Judging by the moment of silence, Tony was unable to think of a witty remark for once. Loki could almost feel the heat of Stark’s blush in his neck – when had the other become this sensitive to a few jabs?

“What is it then? Missing something?” Tony asked after a moment, taking a sip of his drink.

“No, I simply do not care for gatherings like this.” Loki frowned into the room, at none in particular.

“Don't you guys have parties in Asgard all the time?” Tony asked, raising an eyebrow. “From what Thor says it sure sounds like it...”

“Oh, we do. But I try to avoid them if I can.” Loki took another sip, still not turning back to look at Tony. “Imagine a hundred versions of Thor getting inebriated and rowdy. It is not a pretty sight... though…” he smirked at Tony, “come to think of it, it might be just to your taste.”

Tony frowned and looked at Thor for a while, then he looked back at Loki and shook his head. “Goldilocks? No. He's... big and handsome and all, but... nah, not my type.” He bit his lip to shut himself up before he became too bold and started talking about who else was at this party who was exactly his type. “What about you? don't you have a... type? We talked about this before, remember? You did hint at something.”

Loki shot him a confused look, wondering how they had ended up at this point of their conversation, but the confusion was quickly masked by a look of boredom. “Then you should know my answer. If you paid attention.”

“Well I... I said hint, I'm not good with hints.” Dissatisfied, Tony helped himself to some more punch. He wondered if Loki was aware that there was alcohol in the drink, and he was about to mention it, since this subject clearly wasn’t going anywhere, when Loki sighed and finally turned back around to face Tony.

“I like them tall and blond. Does that satisfy your burning desire to ask personal questions about matters that do not concern you?”

That stung. Somehow, Tony had a different memory of what Loki had said last time... or maybe that had just been wishful thinking after all...

“Yes. Yes, it does,” Tony replied and offered Loki his best PR-grin before casually marching off to stand with someone else. Anyone was better at this point, really, so he ended up with Pepper and engaged in unpleasant small-talk. It was still better than trying to talk to Loki.

Said trickster refilled his glass once more, furiously drinking without really tasting. He was relieved to be rid of Stark's incessant prodding for answers to things that were none of his business, but a small part of him was angry at himself for driving him away. It was probably for the best if he returned to his room now, nobody would miss him and the five minutes he had agreed to stay had turned into nearly thirty.

As though he had read his mind, Clint moved over to Loki, begrudgingly leaving Steve to talk with Phil to join him at the punch bowl. Just when the archer was about to start chatting, the music became a little louder and more dance-able and the light dimmed just enough to create a mood private enough for the first tipsy people to start dancing.

“Do you dance?” Clint asked Loki, not sure he could even imagine Loki swinging it to the beat.

“No. Why, are you asking me for a dance, Agent Barton?” Loki fluttered his lashes, smiling coyly. He decided that if he couldn't escape he could at least have some fun... His own brand of fun.

Clint grinned. “Anything to see you dance,” he replied and set down his glass before indicating towards the free space in the middle of the room, where Bruce, Pepper, Thor and a very enthusiastic Tony were already dancing.

As it turned out, Loki was not a bad dancer, considering that he was from a different world and all. The two of them danced for a while and Clint had a lot of fun. Yet when Steve asked for a dance, Clint did not hesitate to switch partners. They had all had a lot of punch by now and Steve was probably the only person in the room who was not at least tipsy, if not drunk by now. Nonetheless, Steve was enjoying himself just as much as anyone else and soon he and Clint were completely unaware of the people around them, kissing and dancing and holding each other.

Tony, exhausted from his own dancing and holding on to a drink, leaned against the wall, watching them. Or rather, watching the man that stood close to them, too close for his liking. Loki. ‘Tall and blond, eh?’ Tony thought, his face almost as grim as Phil's. Tall and blond... Steve was taken now, and Tony was glad for it, because if his clouded, drunken mind was right, he did not like the look Loki cast at Steve every now and again.

Gathering his courage, Tony shuffled over to Loki and put a hand on his shoulder. That was it. Whatever else he had planned on doing, Tony had forgotten on his way over.

Almost instantly, Loki whirled around, pupils blown wide, face flushed and hair no longer neat and slicked back. He stared at Tony, then at the hand on his shoulder.

“What is it, Stark?” There was a hint of a slur to his words, but it may just have been disdain.

Tony just stared at him for a moment. And another moment.

“Steve's got a boyfriend now,” he finally pointed out, as though Loki didn't know.

“Yes, I'm aware.” Loki swayed just a little and felt the grip on his shoulder tighten.

Tony nodded. Tall and blond. Tall and... his eyes widened, and he opened his mouth. “He's your brother!” he gasped.

Immediately, Loki pushed the hand off in disgust and crossed his arms over his chest.

“You are an idiot, Stark.”

“Not true,” Tony complained, letting his arm hang uselessly by his side. He shrugged, a little petulantly. “We only know two tall, blond people,” he pointed out.

“Has it not occurred to you that maybe it is neither of them?” Loki sounded exasperated. “For all you know it could be someone from Asgard!”

Tony had indeed not thought about that and he nodded slowly. “Is it? Someone from Asgard, I mean.”

“Maybe. Why do you even care?”

Tony hesitated, too preoccupied with his deductions to notice how Loki was avoiding to look at him. He shrugged weakly.

“I don't,” he lied and watched Steve and Clint make out. He really, really wanted to kiss Loki.

“Jealous?” Loki asked, having followed his gaze. He smirked at the badly hidden expression of longing on Tony's face, not thinking the implications through.

“What? No.” Tony looked a little too defensive for his own liking. Why was his glass empty? He needed something to drink... more so the longer Loki kept up his smug grin. And yet, Tony was tempted to try his luck, just one more time, just to see if he could at least get Loki into his bed – but that wasn't what he wanted. For once, he wanted more than just a nice night.

“You're the one who likes tall and blond. Steve's not my type,” Tony mumbled, his words getting lost in the music, and turned to find himself something to drink. Of course he hoped that Loki would follow him to continue their conversation. But Loki stayed where he was, still looking at Clint and Steve, considering Tony's words, and his own. He did not like tall and blond. Not even close. Loki closed his eyes, sighing. This whole mess was his fault, only because he couldn't let Tony get close to him. Not after what had happened.

Naturally, Tony was disappointed when Loki did not follow him, and he was desperately searching for a way to get back to him without being too awkward. Filling his glass with punch – which was slowly but surely running short – he grabbed a second glass and filled that one too, before heading back to Loki.

“Thought you might want something to drink after all that dancing.” He offered the glass to the trickster, his eyes on Steve and Clint again, who were retreating to a darker corner. Watching them was still safer than watching various forms of mockery and disdain play out on Loki’s face.

Upon Tony’s arrival, Loki had snapped out of kicking himself mentally and turned to Tony, nodding and taking the offered drink. For a moment the two of them were just nodding their heads to the music, sipping their punch. The awkwardness was steadily increasing, when out of nowhere a dancing Thor waltzed past them, forcing Tony to step closer to Loki. Instead of stepping back away, Tony stayed in his new place, as though to test the waters within Loki’s personal space. To his surprise, Loki did not step away either, and they stood in comfortable, slightly less awkward silence. Well, if a group of drunk, dancing people and loud music could be considered silence.

Suddenly, Tony was grabbed by his shoulder, as was Loki, and they were squeezed together in a strong hug, a scratchy blond beard between them.

“Friend, brother, are you enjoying yourselves?” Thor asked drunkenly and swayed, pressing the two smaller men against each other. He must have had more than punch to have reached this state of inebriation.

“THOR! Unhand me! Immediately!” Loki struggled to free himself, but unsurprisingly did not have the strength necessary, so he just stood and glared. He should have just stayed in his room. The night had been a failure. Well, fine, he had enjoyed the dancing. And the sweet drink. And standing this close to Tony as a result of his brother's over-enthusiasm...

Mostly by reflex, Tony put an arm around Loki's waist to support himself against Thor's force – and really only for that reason, of course. His heart was racing, he could feel Loki's body, he could smell him and all that was missing was the taste of his lips. It was a matter of millimetres, really, and Tony was so very tempted... Thor made no move to let go of them, he probably hadn't even heard his brother's words and instead was swaying to the loud music, still holding them to his chest, paying no mind to the people he had captured.

Yet before Loki even had a chance to renew his struggles, the arms holding him in place let go and he was stumbling backwards. From his new position sitting on the floor on his smarting behind, Loki watched Thor being dragged back to the makeshift dance floor by Tony's assistant. Apparently, judging by their flailing and grinning and yelling, this was their favourite song. Loki huffed and would have rolled his eyes but then there were two hands grabbing him and pulling him back onto his feet.

Tony, who had been as surprised as Loki but hadn’t lost his balance, helped the trickster regain his footing and then somehow forgot to let go of him afterwards. He was standing just as closely to him as he had when Thor had still pushed them together, acting as though he was worried for Loki’s ability to stand.

Everything within him was screaming at Loki to pull away from the man opposite him. He forced himself to stay, to look at Tony. As he did, he noticed his own hands, in an attempt to steady himself, had come to rest on the engineer's chest. Loki stared at his hands, fighting his instinct to run.

Tony felt the warmth of Loki's hands burn through his shirt into his chest, the arc-reactor glowing between them. Following his instinct, blocking out all reason with the help of the alcohol he had had, Tony pulled Loki just that little bit closer, hesitated, and finally closed the distance between their lips to kiss him.

Loki was not surprised – until he found himself kissing back. A part of his mind was screaming and fighting like an angry cat, but the alcohol and the tingling and a strange sense of joy blocked out the unpleasantness quite effectively. After a while, his hands on Stark's chest balled into fists, pulling the man closer by his shirt. Had Loki been thinking about what they were doing right now, he would at least have been confused. However, now was not the time to think.

“Way to steal our thunder, guys,” Clint called from his dark corner, grinning widely. There was a squeak from Pepper and a surprised 'Brother?' from Thor, but Loki took no notice. Tony made a rude gesture towards them, pretty similar to the one Clint had made towards him when they had caught Steve and Clint kissing in the elevator.

“Sir wants you to please shut up and not ruin his moment,” Jarvis explained, used to translating Tony's gestures if need be. Now, of course, all eyes were on Tony and Loki, which definitely ended the romantic moment for the two of them and would have made any more kissing rather awkward. Tony pulled back, not letting go of Loki and looked at him, then at the others.

“It's a party, people kiss, leave us alone,” he said, but was grinning like a cat nonetheless. This was proof. Loki wanted him, too. God this was... so incredibly awesome, he had no words for it.

Chapter Text

“How do you deal with all those people?” Loki asked quietly, running his pale fingertips down Tony’s chest. He made sure not to get too close to the reactor, not wanting to startle the other out of their mutual relaxation.

“People?” Loki’s fingers left a cool trail on Tony’s skin. It helped well against the heat that had built up between them during their time together – and the alcohol did its own part to make Tony feel warm. Not to the point where it was uncomfortable, but Tony did welcome the cooling touch.

“You know… everyone. You’re constantly surrounded by people, not just the team. Journalists and… people. How do you do it? With everyone looking at you at all times.” Loki was used to a certain kind of attention – it came with the reputation, mostly. But the way the public was always around to watch and judge Tony, that was different. Even witnessing it was unnerving at times, particularly because their opinions often seemed biased and not necessarily in his favour.  

“Well,” Tony said, thinking about it. How did he do it? “I guess I just… wear my pants high and my head higher.” His words earned him a hearty chuckle from Loki, and a quiet “that you do.” There was contemplative quiet after that, neither of them sure whether they were ready for the kind of deep and personal talks people sometimes have after sex, when they lie half next to and half on top of each other. Drunk, in their case. Considering neither of them was a particularly open person, they probably weren’t quite at that point yet. And who was to say they would ever be?

What if one of them asked a question that made the other uncomfortable? Or if they actually started speaking about feelings, and started arguing because they had different wants and needs? It would ruin whatever it was they had just started. Neither of them wanted to risk that and thus, almost simultaneously, they turned to each other and resumed their activities where they had left off, kissing and rubbing and sharing each other’s bodies.

In the morning, Loki found his bed empty. Entirely so, since he must have fallen out at some point at night, and was now sitting on the floor, tangled in sheets. Some parts of his body felt sticky, his head was swimming and aching, but what bothered him most was that Tony was not here to share his fate. So was this what that night had been? Loki felt a rush of disappointment. A one-night-stand after all. How… unsurprising.

Fighting to keep his composure, Loki untangled himself and kicked the sheets under the bed. Damn them. And damn this place. And damn Tony Stark. No. He couldn’t bring himself to agree with his own thoughts. Damn himself for letting hope and naivety get the better of him. Every time.

Loki threw himself a tense and spiteful look when he reached his private bathroom. His hair was a mess, he was pale and there were red and purple marks all over his upper body. As he found out while showering, their presence was not limited to his top half. Damn that sweet punch, too, he thought. While he was not exactly missing any memories from last night, some of them were hazy at best. Had they talked? Surely, he would remember if they had talked, at least if it had been about anything important.

“JARVIS, where is Tony?” Loki asked, a small, masochistic part of himself hoping that the other was just out to grab them breakfast. Perhaps bring Loki coffee or a tea. The kind of things people did in those stupid romantic movies. Whatever his intentions, Loki thought, Tony wasn’t a romantic.

He is in his workshop,” Jarvis was kind enough to announce.

“Of course he is. Because where else would he be, right?” It was hard not to throw anything, but Loki managed to bottle up his energy until he had dressed himself and made his way down to the workshop, remaining unannounced until he stood right behind Tony, fuming.

“Good morning to you, too,” he hissed, clearly unimpressed by Tony’s manners.

Tony, in turn, almost had a heart attack.

“Jesus Christ!”

“No, just me. I was hoping you’d at least remember my name, but alas, I don’t seem to even have that much privilege over your other conquests.” Luckily for, both of them, Loki’s looks couldn’t kill. But he sure did try making them.

“Con…quests?” What was this all about? With a gesture, Tony had Jarvis turn off the music and set his tools aside. Alright. So, by the sound of this, Loki had some regrets. Perhaps he had taken their time as a one-night-stand and now felt it was beneath his dignity or something. Big deal, Tony thought. He could… live with that. He’d just pretend it had been just another fling, just like Loki thought it had been. Simple. Right? At least then they were on the same page.

“Look, I know you’re not supposed to take advantage of drunk people, but I was pretty drunk myself last night. Blame the punch. So really, if we’re playing the blame game, have your fair share.” Two could play this game. Tony definitely wasn’t going to admit that he had wanted what had happened. For months. Loki clearly had not, and was upset that it had happened at all. Time for some damage control. “If you want, we’ll never speak of it again. To anybody. We’ll just act like it never happened.” Everything inside Tony screamed ‘no’ at this suggestion.

“Fine,” Loki spat.

“Fine,” Tony said with an exaggerated shrug. Damage controlled. Casualties: One. But that casualty wasn’t gonna go and beg Loki to think about what a good time they had had last night. That casualty had gathered every shred of dignity and self-preservation he had left, so he could build a wall from it to hide behind. No need to invite Loki’s mockery if he revealed his feelings now.

There was a pause, the two men glaring at each other, taking the time to process what had just happened, and what that meant for their mutual experience of the previous night.

“May I ask what brought this on?” Tony asked after a moment, rubbing a hand over his face. “You didn’t seem opposed to it last night – I mean, not that you can’t change your mind, but…” The trickster had some unnerving ways to send mixed signals, he thought.

“Change my mind? You’re the one who snuck out of bed this morning without a word.”

“I didn’t sneak. I actually fell over you,” Tony corrected Loki with a frown. “So what, I get up to work, like a decent, normal person-”

"You did get up after two hours of sleep at five in the morning, Sir.”

“Thank you, Jarvis. As I was saying, like a decent, normal person, I get up for work in the morning and your conclusion is that… what? I didn’t care about last night?”

Loki shrugged meekly, feeling a little silly now that Tony put it that way. Tony’s words did explain the unusually large bruise on his ribs, too.

“So, you do care?” And damn himself thrice for still having so much hope and for putting it all into those four words. Loki was going to break, he was going to lose himself if Tony wasn’t going to – put his arms around him? How could he smell so… comforting?

“I do care. About last night. And about you,” Tony said, and as difficult as it was to say these words, as warm did it make Tony feel to notice the tension leaving Loki’s body. Then the trickster wrapped his arms around Tony as well. Memories of their bodies moving in the darkness and of their mutual sounds made Tony hide his smile against Loki’s shoulder. Now was not the time for a repeat, but if this talk was any indication, there would be time later. More than once.

“Brother!” Thor interrupted their closeness, and was promptly met with two very annoyed looks. “I had hoped to find you in your quarters and when you weren’t there I headed to Tony to talk to him first,” he explained himself. “Brother, we need to talk!”

“Do we now, Thor? What is it this time, am I corrupting Tony’s innocence? Or are you still on about my travels to Thry-”

“There has been a message, brother. From Thiassi.”

Once more, Tony felt Loki tense. They had turned to face Thor, but Tony still had his arm wrapped around the other’s waist.

“What does it say?” Loki asked tonelessly.

“It is a box. A messenger delivered it from Asgard. Nobody has been able to open it.” Something about the way Thor was avoiding to look at Loki suggested he knew something else. He wasn’t lying, at least not that Loki could tell, but there was… more.

“Let’s take a look at it then,” he said, with all the dread of a man approaching the executioner’s block. He had hoped Thiassi would just let things rest and know himself beaten. Outwitted. Apparently, the old giant was more vengeful than Loki had anticipated. Whatever was in that box could only mean trouble.

           

The office was meticulously tidy and held no shred of personal information on its occupant. No pictures, no items of sentimental value. Everything was functional and tidy and in its own, designated spot. As it should be. Phil Coulson felt right at home, even though the office wasn’t his. Hands clasped behind his back, he looked out at the premises through one of the large floor to ceiling windows. The buildings were curtained by heavy rain, the muddy grey of their façades making the neon lights inside the room seem all the harsher. Waiting for Fury to consider his report, Coulson felt at piece. For once, his news had not been entirely terrible. Worrisome perhaps, depending on the implication one suspected, but promising for the same reasons.         

“Fact or speculation?”

“A bit of both, honestly, Sir. There have been tensions for a while, indicating some sort of emotional involvement. Sides have been taken. There was… enthusiastic physical contact.”

“Stark making out with people is not an indicator for emotional entanglement, Phil.” Fury looked at him from across the room.

“I know, Sir.”

“And still you think there’s more to this? That Loki may have… an unnatural influence over Stark?”

“Either that or Tony Stark’s self-destructive tendencies have finally gotten the better of his judgement, Sir.”

Fury paused. “Both options sound equally plausible, but let’s have some faith in Stark for now. Keep a close eye on them. And Agent Coulson,” he looked straight at Phil with his usual unnerving intensity, “should it turn out that their relationship is genuine…”

“… I won’t let anyone sabotage it, Sir. It’s a useful pressure point for either of them.” Fury nodded. They understood each other. And by the gods, they could use some pressure points for Stark, perhaps even more than for Loki.

 

After Thor had fetched Loki, the Avengers had assembled around the kitchen table. In their middle sat a plain, wooden box, so dark it was almost black and so innocent that it was ominous by default. Loki was one step closer to it than the rest of the team, eyeing it with suspicion.

“How do we open it?” Clint asked, ready to take cover should it explode. He had been against bringing it inside in the first place, but Thor and Jarvis had both reassured him that there seemed to be nothing inherently dangerous about the box. Most likely, they had all agreed, it contained some sort of personal offense tailored to Loki.

The latter was staring at it still, as though he was trying to look inside it without opening it. His magic, limited as it was due to his status as a prisoner, did not detect anything unusual about the box either.

“Did you try lifting the lid?” Tony suggested. Standing next to Loki, he had his hands crossed in front of his chest and generally looked a lot more tense than his voice gave away.

“Actually,” Loki said, “I have not. Let’s try that, shall we?” And so he reached out, touching the lid with both hands. He hesitated, everyone holding their breath, and then tried to lift the top off the box. It moved without a problem – and Loki paled, setting it aside gingerly.

 

Loki had a history of getting gifts he didn’t particularly enjoy. As a little boy, Thor’s gifts from Odin had always been slightly bigger – and they had often been used to chase Loki down the halls. That in itself didn’t make what Loki was given bad in any physical way, but the ongoing comparison and their constant falling short led Loki to dread the days on which presents were given. It was only thanks to Frigga that Loki had received the one gift he valued to this day: a thorough education, particularly in the art and practice of magic. Still, at that age, knowledge didn’t yet outweigh the envy Loki felt of Thor.

With age and a growing list of people who were less than fond of Loki, the trickster learned to be warier of gifts. From Thor’s crude practical jokes – silly plots without guile or wit – to actual threats and danger wrapped in a pretty bow, Loki had experienced all kinds of things. Most frequently, members of Odin’s halls sent him barely disguised insults. Items alluding to Loki’s presumed sexual preferences were among their favourites, particularly whenever one of those people had fallen victim to the ‘womanly art’ of Loki’s magic.

Few presents, however, had compared to the vicious gifts of former lovers. They rarely shied away from abusing Loki’s personal possessions, sending back gifts he himself had made them with care with their own crude adornments. Mutilated figurines, fractured rings, broken charms… the personal insult was usually worse than the actual damage done.

Things that came in boxes rarely meant good news. If the sender preferred their gift to be a surprise, Loki more often than not preferred to stay well away from it. Besides the possibility of the box exploding, Loki had encountered a creative array of other traps and tricks – he had used some of them himself, as well. There was no need to pretend he was innocent when it came to the giving of dangerous gifts. It was simply than unlike Loki, other people were surprised when their presents tried to kill them.

However, no matter the insult or threat or actual danger that came with a gift, he could not remember ever feeling this intense a shock upon opening an unassuming box like this. Even though he had anticipated a threat – the box was from Thiassi, after all – what he saw turned his blood into ice.

 

“It’s a head,” Tony said, pulling a face. “A… a wolf’s head.” This was tasteless, but he suspected there was more to it. Particularly because of how strongly Loki was reacting to the sight of the severed head in the box. Honestly, the smell wasn’t so great for any of them, but they all did their best to keep their positions.

“A wolf’s head,” Thor repeated with a frown. His eyes rested on Loki – and Tony had a strong suspicion that Thor knew what kind of message this little present was supposed to send.

When Loki replied to the unspoken question hanging in the room, his voice barely rose above a whisper.

“Fenrir.”

Chapter Text

Nobody had ever seen a wolf as large as this. And this one, they were assured, was little more than a cub. Among the bravest warriors of Asgard, not one wished to imagine how much larger the beast would become over time. It was not only the animal’s size that intimidated them and fuelled their distrust of the creature. It’s very nature was to destroy, it was said. And, of course, there were the rumours of the monster’s parentage: son of Angrboda, the giantess, and Loki, the trickster.

For a while, some of the braver or more curious among them liked to play games with Fenrir the wolf. The wiser and more cautious men and women saw it as a test of the creature’s potential and character. Fenrir himself, being aware of the general distrust people had for him, was glad enough for the attention and for his chance to prove that on the one hand he was generally good-natured and would not harm those who did him well; and on the other he was every bit as powerful as they suspected. It was a matter of pride to him, really.

“How strong you are!” the warriors marvelled often, “how fast!”

And Fenrir preened. He chased them, and he wrestled them, and they praised and challenged him again. And every day, Fenrir grew a little bigger and a little stronger. Every day, in turn, the warriors became more apprehensive.

“Fenrir, you’re so strong! I challenge you to let me bind you, so you can break free!”

It was their newest game, and Fenrir was eager enough to prove himself. They brought him chains of increasing strength, and every time they bound him, Fenrir did indeed break free. Until the day he couldn’t. For the Asgardians had asked their allies to forge the strongest chain ever built, and even though it looked light and breakable, Fenrir could not free himself.

“You beat me, now untie me!” he demanded, but the warriors would not. Instead, Fenrir was taken away to a cave, far away from any people, and in that cave, they tied him to a boulder and left him behind.

 

 

“I know not where,” Loki concluded, looking thoughtfully down at his folded hands.

“Neither should Thiassi!” Thor exclaimed indignantly.

“Is that what this means?” Tony asked and gestured at the severed wolf’s head in the wooden box. It certainly was too small to have belonged to a giant wolf, so that was… probably good? He watched Loki shake his head without looking up.

“I don’t know what it means, but I’m certain it is a threat. He knows about Fenrir – that much is clear. Whatever else he knows… maybe it’s nothing at all. Maybe this is an empty threat, but the alternatives are all too dangerous to not consider them.”

On the other side of the table, Thor nodded. “It cannot be risked that this monster is freed. It will destroy Asgard and–”

“Fenrir is not a monster,” Loki spat, glaring at Thor. “Simply because Odin is so talented at making enemies does not mean those who wish to retaliate are monsters.”

Before things could get out of control, Steve stepped up, hands raised.

“Let’s just focus on what we can do. We need to figure out how immediate this threat is and how we can prevent whatever it is that is supposed to follow this,” he pointed at the box, “from happening.”

They could all agree with that, and were glad for Steve’s military leadership qualities that kept them on track while they plotted and discussed. It took all morning to get Thor to agree that until they knew more, this was still a personal matter between Loki and Thiassi and nothing that required Asgard’s direct involvement. Nonetheless, he was sent to Asgard to gather information – anything he could find out without arousing suspicion. It spoke volumes for the seriousness of the situation that not even Loki felt the need to comment on Thor’s dubious talents regarding stealth. It was equally telling that Thor left for Asgard right away, not willing to waste any time.

After Thor had left, the rest of the group returned to their deliberations.

“So, assuming there will be a fight of some sort… we can’t just all travel to that ice planet and kill their king because we didn’t agree with his choice of Christmas gift,” Tony said.

“We can’t invade their planet,” Steve agreed, “and I’d like to avoid starting an inter-planetary war in any other way, too.”

“It would have to be on earth.” Even Loki seemed surprised to hear this suggestion from Bruce, and they all frowned at the doctor, waiting for him to elaborate. He raised his hands defensively. “Not a war,” he specified, “but fighting Thiassi. Alone. If we manage to lure him here, he won’t have backup. He’ll be on foreign territory. He’ll be seen as a legitimate threat and-”

“… and unless he decides to leave peacefully, he’ll be seen as the aggressor. We’ll have the right of self-defence,” Tony finished, nodding.

“Unless someone finds out we tricked an alien king into coming here so we could ambush and kill him,” Clint remarked with a shrug. There was silence for a moment, before Loki spoke up.

“Thiassi’s people are divided. They follow him because he’s the strongest. If Thiassi is gone, killed even… I hardly think they would come to avenge him. Even if they were a people who believed in that sort of thing, I wager they’d be too busy fighting over the throne to insist on waging war with a people of unknown strength on a planet inaccessible for them.” The others nodded. “We’ll just have to catch him alone. And get him here,” Loki cocked his head in Bruce’s direction in a sign of agreement.

“We still don’t know if such a thing is necessary,” Steve reminded them, before they could get into figuring out how to dispose of Thiassi. “We won’t speak of murdering anyone unless we’re absolutely certain there is no other way to deal with this issue.”

Loki agreed, even though Thiassi did not seem to be the type for diplomacy. They would wait for any information Thor could provide them with before making further plans.

“What if Thor comes back without news?” Natasha asked, focused on Loki.

“Then I’ll go gather my own information.” Loki didn’t seem too keen on this prospect, but he was determined nonetheless.

“On Thrymheim,” Tony stated, not even trying to make it sound like a question. Loki nodded, and their expressions darkened. They all hoped Thor would bring back something they could use.

Luckily, as they learned late the next day, Thor did indeed have news. Their content, however, was less welcome.

“He has the runestone,” Thor thundered as soon as he waltzed into the room. Loki perked up from the tome he had been brooding over, while the others gathered. They had all busied themselves with smaller tasks that kept them around the common area, all of them too antsy to stray too far.

“Thiassi has the runestone that seals the cave,” Thor elaborated, catching his breath.

“And he must know what the stone is for,” Steve said, “that’s why he sent the… head.”

Thor nodded. “We don’t know if he knows where the cave is, but if he has gotten hold of the stone, it is only a matter of time until he finds it. We cannot risk Fenrir being freed. Whether Fenrir retaliates on Asgard or Thiassi uses him to attack earth to retaliate for whatever his quarrel with Loki is… we cannot risk it.”

The air was electrified with their thoughts, everyone trying to find a way to connect the fragments of their plans to the situation at hand. In the end, it was Loki who broke the tense silence.

“We’ll have to get the runestone from him. And if Thiassi is willing to go this far… I don’t think he will just let us take it.” Loki’s posture and apprehension made it clear that he had already set a course in his mind, it was just a question of how and how much he would let them know.

“This is my mess, so I will take the risk,” he said, closing the tome in his lap. Before any of the others could protest or agree, he raised his hand and continued. “But I will need your help. I will need a big fire. And…” he hesitated briefly, looking at Steve, “I will need full control over my magic.”

 

 

There were loopholes over loopholes, and way too much trust was necessary to make even half of this plan work. Steve did not like it, nor did the rest of the team, but it was still the best plan they had. It would have been right to involve Fury. To make the whole thing official. It would have been safer. But it also would have been a lot more complicated, time consuming and overall less likely to happen. Luring an alien king of unknown power to earth? An alien king who potentially had command over a giant, planet-destroying beast – or at least knew how to release it? Despite Loki insisting Fenrir was not a monster, that he was sentient and could be reasoned with, nobody could say just how big the creature had grown, and what state of mind he was in after having been chained to a rock in a cave for centuries.

And so, the operation was kept secret. Loki was to leave in the morning, gathering strength during a last night’s rest, while the rest of the team would prepare their defences. Under any other circumstances, Tony might have been embarrassed about how tightly he was holding Loki that night. He couldn’t sleep, his mind wrecked with worries and worst-case-scenarios. Most of them were about Loki getting hurt, but there was quite a real possibility that deliberately opening a portal onto this world for an alien to step through would invite more than just the one. And they had all seen what an alien invasion was like, it wasn’t pleasant – but Tony had witnessed the potential that was still out there.

He kept going through the plan in his mind, hearing Loki’s voice echo in his head.

“Thiassi’s a shapeshifter, like me. He is notorious for one form in particular, and very proud of it.” Loki had appeared certain that he could not only find and steal the runestone, but also do it in a way that would have him discovered without getting caught, able to flee back to earth with Thiassi pursuing him – in the form of an eagle. All the team had to do, Loki had assured them, was light a fire big enough to engulf Thiassi and burn him crisp. Preferably without also catching Loki in the firestorm. It was a fantastical plan, and it left Tony with too little to do to feel good about it.

Before Loki had even left for Thrymheim, the team had already cleared the streets. Whatever Steve had done to set up such a thorough and quick evacuation, it had worked. There were no civilians around, and Steve was handling the disgruntled and suspicious officials while the rest of the team was waiting in their stations.

Lines of suits were positioned in a large radius around the tower, the main cluster waiting right in Tony’s line of sight. It was where Loki was supposed to lead Thiassi, the remaining suits were merely backups. Tony had spent all morning setting up the framework for what they had deemed the hellgate: simply put a frame of powerful flamethrowers, with as many additions and fail-safes in place as Tony could manage in the time he had. The suits were similarly equipped, but with an active targeting function. They were also there in case the flames were carried on to any of the surrounding buildings.

Steve had petitioned for a safer area at first, but Loki had insisted - not unsuspiciously – that it had to be near the tower.

“If I fled to an unpopulated area to save myself, he would smell the trap. It would never work.” The plan was hinging on Thiassi thinking he had the upper hand at least until he was too close to stop himself from being flame-grilled. Once he was close enough to spot the machinery outside the tower, he’d hopefully be unable to slow down fast enough to avoid getting caught in the hellgate. However, that also meant that none of the team could get involved up until that point, without risking the plan going wrong.

Tony was stationed the closest to the hellgate, suited up and ready to give Thiassi a final push towards the fire if needed. Peering down from the landing pad, he went over the plan once again, when he was startled by a deafening screech. He whipped his head around to make out the source of the noise, his suit focusing on a spot in the distance, where seemingly out of nowhere a man-sized hawk tumbled from the clouds. It caught itself and picked up speed, racing towards the tower.

For a moment, the bird was the only thing to see. Then, behind it, a large shadow dropped out of the sky, each wing the size of the entire hawk it was chasing. Tony could see why Thiassi was proud of his eagle form. There was another angry screech and Tony held his breath as Loki approached. He was fast – but the eagle was catching up faster.

“He’s not gonna make it.”

Chapter Text

“He’s not gonna make it.”

Tony had jumped off the platform before he had finished the sentence, right after Loki had rushed past the tower. It was not far until the hellgate, but the distance between Thiassi and Loki had shrunken to the point where it was only a matter of moments before Thiassi would catch him – before reaching the gate. Letting himself fall in-between the two giant birds, Tony managed to come up right in front of the eagle. He redirected his power to the uni-beam. If he was lucky, he’d strike the eagle directly, but if not, he might at least disorient it, or blind it, anything to slow its pursuit.

The sound of the beam mixed with another angry shriek. Tony had blinded both the eagle and himself, but by the sudden gust of wind he could tell Thiassi tried to break his speed. Ducking out, dropping himself so he wouldn’t collide with the eagle, Tony hoped to have bought Loki a few seconds, enough to escape without Thiassi abandoning the chase. However, the moment Tony was about to rise and head for the platform again, the air was violently punched out of his chest. A moment later, there were alerts blurring his vision. And pain.

 

 

Loki heard the sound of metal colliding with something hard, and then the sickening screech of – no. He couldn’t bring himself to picture what it was he had heard, he couldn’t think of those talons now, not when he was so close – he had to focus. Loki did not slow down, rushed as fast as he could manage in-between the buildings and behind him he could hear and feel fire erupting. ‘Gate’ had been an understatement, the entire length of the street was a raging inferno by the time Loki had reached its end. He rose high above the buildings until the sound of pained shrieks were far enough underneath him to be sure Thiassi could no longer follow him. Only then did Loki dare look back at the eagle, who had turned into a flaming ball of burning feathers, caught in a circle of Tony’s suits. They were closing in on Thiassi, likely to keep him from colliding with any buildings and spreading the fire. But Loki almost wished them to move away from the giant eagle, just so he could make out the one of them that mattered…

Then he spotted Tony. Dropped from Thiassi’s talons, his armour was falling, fast, and there was no movement to indicate he was going to catch himself. Loki was diving down before he knew it, but he was too slow. The impact took his breath away. He couldn’t even scream.

The moment Loki neared the ground, he turned himself back, his feet rushing over to Tony almost as fast as his wings had carried him just moments ago. The suit was torn. Frantically, Loki moved his hands along the metal to find some sort of release trigger, anything to get Tony out of this thing. Things were getting brighter, heating up, and Loki looked up to find Thiassi screeching and falling, fiercely attacking the suits around himself with weakening strength. When he inevitably fell, he would come down straight on top of them. Cursing, Loki grabbed hold of the suit, no longer bothering to free Tony from it, and teleported the two of them back to the tower.

 

 

“Tony was hit,” Natasha relayed to Steve and the rest of the team. Clint and Thor were both on their way to the hellgate now, abandoning their posts, but it was the Hulk who got there before them, jumping atop the burning heap of bird and metal.

“Where are they,” Steve asked, already running. He had stayed at the tower, to handle the incoming calls, and was now leaving Fury mid-sentence.

“They disappeared.”

Common Room.” Never had Steve been this glad to hear Jarvis’ voice.

 

 

“OPEN!” Loki yelled at Tony’s lifeless suit, kneeling besides him. He didn’t dare use magic to tear the thing apart, not knowing which parts of it had pierced Tony’s body, or how badly Tony was hurt overall. To his endless relief, the suit did open in parts, revealing an unconscious face. The parts of the suit that had been lodged in Tony’s body stayed in place, and Loki felt strange gratitude for the instances of injury that had Tony consider safety measures like these.

But they would not be enough. Tony was bleeding, and with his hand against the side of Tony’s neck Loki could tell his heart was racing. It wouldn’t be for much longer.

“Jarvis, where is Captain Rogers,” Loki asked, praying the AI would help him for once.

On his way,” Jarvis replied tersely. If he had thought the AI capable of emotion, Loki might have thought him worried.

“Tell him to hurry.”

There wasn’t much Loki could do. He had never been a healer, but he knew enough to still the worst of the bleeding. By the time Steve burst into the room, he had managed to remove the remainders of the suit. It was difficult to keep his hands from trembling, to keep his mind focused on the task at hand instead of drifting off into worries and panic.

“What do I do?” Steve asked, quickly kneeling on Tony’s other side.

“Do you have it?” Loki’s eyes searched for Steve’s hand and for what it held. His relief was visible. “We don’t have much time. I will turn the apple into a liquid, but I’ll need my hands for this, so he will start bleeding again. You’ll have to make him drink, I’ll make sure he swallows and that his airways are blocked for the time, so he doesn’t inhale the liquid. We’ll have to let him breathe, but we have to be quick about him drinking, or we’ll lose him.” Steve nodded, and Loki took a big breath to calm his nerves before he let go of the spell and took the golden apple from Steve’s hand. With a flick of his wrist, Loki grabbed a vase from a nearby coffee table. It came flying into his hand within a moment, its contents quickly tossed aside. Within another second the apple had turned into a watery golden liquid inside the vase and Loki passed it to Steve. With a hand on Tony’s throat, Loki used his magic to seal Tony’s airways and Steve started pouring, slowly but steadily. Loki tried his best to ignore that what had been a racing heartbeat was now barely there.

 

 

“This should never have happened.”

Coulson nodded solemnly. It had been a terrible oversight.

“Something like this cannot happen again.” They agreed on that, too. They agreed on many things, really. That they needed more control over the team. That Loki needed to be kept in check. That what had happened could not be repeated and had to be explained to the public in a way that wasn’t necessarily the truth, but that people would understand and be fine with. Particularly the more powerful, critical parts of ‘the public’. And then there was the matter of Tony Stark…

“What about…” Coulson started, and Fury knew what he was talking about.

“As it stands, the benefits outweigh the risks. The situation as it is now doesn’t require… handling. But I want you to keep an eye on it.”

Once again, Coulson nodded. Another thing they could agree on. Unexpected as it was, the relationship between Loki and Tony Stark had been ‘beneficial’ so far, indeed. And as long as that remained the case, Coulson was glad he did not need to interfere with it.

 

 

As had been the condition of Loki’s barrier being lifted, he had brought the runestone to Thor once everyone had returned to the tower. Thiassi’s remains, what little of them there was, had been sealed in the wooden box the wolf’s head had arrived in. Thor was now holding on to it, and to the stone Loki had handed him. He would return both objects to Asgard, for Odin to decide how to deal with them.

Late that evening, Loki busied himself in his room, trying his best not to look towards the bed, where a pale but very much alive Tony was resting. Loki was still hesitant to stray from his side too far, or for too long, just in case… He wished they had let him keep his magic at its full potential, but there was no bargaining with the team. Luckily, it seemed like he wouldn’t need his magic for now – not to help Tony, at least. But Tony being alive and getting stronger quickly was a greater comfort than Loki could even admit to himself.

While Loki was quietly bustling about, Tony pretended to still be knocked out from the pain killers. But he could see Loki slipping a small object into a hollowed-out book, putting it safely back onto the shelf.