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Dance a Little Dance

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            It didn’t begin like one of those romantic comedies you see chugged out of Hollywood every December or February, like clockwork. It didn’t begin like some clandestine, torrid affair that they both tried to hide from the rest of the Avengers, Asgard and S.H.I.E.L.D. in general.

 

            Whether he knew it or not, it began with Tony walking down the street in Malibu, California, in a sweatshirt and jeans, the hood pulled up and sunglasses helping to hide his face. Being a famous genius billionaire was fantastic, really, but sometimes it was fun to just play the Regular Joe for a while.

 

            So, he’d been walking. No Happy, no entourage, just some streetlights overhead during a late-night run for some good ol’ American junk food. The bag of burgers and fries was still steaming in his hand, but the glint of something out of place caught his eye from across the street. When he turned to find the source more purposefully, it was gone. For a moment, Tony stared in the direction it’d been, then shrugged and continued on his way home.

 

            He forgot about it.

 


 

            A few weeks later – during the kind of 5:00 AM coffee run only ascribed to by insomniacs revving up for another day or the truly dedicated caffeine addicts getting their fix before going on a swim or a run or whatever those ambitious workaholics did first thing in the morning – and Tony was walking home, again. The streets were still blissfully empty, giving the impression of a ghost town were it not for the lit signs of the stores buzzing all around him. He passed by a café whose line didn’t quite stretch out the door, yet, glancing in the window as he passed, to check himself out, before stopping cold.

 

            Beyond the glass was a familiar face.

 

            Mind processing all the possibilities, his body entered the café of its own accord and strode up to the person he’d seen without preamble. Standing at the side of the small, rounded table, Tony noted all the relevant details. This man was wearing a simple black suit with a black tie and white shirt. A green-and-yellow, thin, patterned scarf hung around his neck, and he seemed to be engrossed in his book. Black hair was swept back from his forehead, neatly slicked to give the impression of a pristine appearance.

 

            “Fancy seeing you here.” The man’s eyes flicked up to Tony, at the comment. Every line of the man’s body was calm as he made no other move; not to lean back, not to close his book, even.

 

            “‘tis a ‘free country’, is it not? That is what you say?” Tony smiled tightly.

 

            “Sure is. You know, you look like someone I know.” The stranger had the gall to appear mildly interested, eyes sharp with amusement before they turned back to his book, idly picking up his cup of tea to take a sip.

 

            “Do I, now?

 Art for DALD by Batwynn. <#

[Art by Batwynn.]

            “Yeah.” Tony plopped into the seat across from him, his coffee set in front of him, grin all teeth and misplaced anticipation. He waved a hand towards the other man. “Only he’s usually in leather and silver and likes to fuck with people.” The man’s eyes flicked back up at him, a slow, engaging smile curling against the rim of his teacup.

 

            “He sounds to be quite the intriguing individual.” Those tones were smooth, unruffled. Tony didn’t take his eyes off him.

 

            “Yeah. He would be, if he weren’t a wanted criminal. Last I heard, he was gonna be locked up for a long time. Eons, maybe.” There was a mild click of porcelain as the teacup was set back down, and the man’s eyes returned to his book, every inch of him still radiating a dismissive calm.

 

            “I am certain you exaggerate.”

 

            “Not really.” Tony suddenly shot back, abruptly annoyed. “Two years isn’t long enough for that debt to society to be paid in full. Trust me, I know.” The man smirked, but didn’t bother to look back up at him.

 

            “’You know’, do you? How, praytell?”

 

            “I have my sources.” A glittering glance from over his book was all Tony was afforded, for that one. The man’s eyes seemed black in the shadows of his face, a corner of his mouth pulling in a subtly smug smile.

 

            “Sources can be unreliable.” Tony narrowed his eyes at the man.

 

            “So I’m finding. What’re you doing here, anyway?” The man took another sip of his tea, demurely.

 

            “Reading. That is, until you so kindly forced your presence on me.” Those dark eyes settled on him, again, narrowing slightly in a subtle threat despite the liar’s congenial smile the man was sporting. Tony didn’t flinch, just returned the look with equal bravado.

 

            “Like I said, you reminded me of someone. Wouldn’t any good citizen turn in a wanted criminal, if they had the chance?” Tony neglected to mention he wasn’t exactly known for being a ‘good citizen’, but the man’s eyes flashed, anyway.

 

            “Are you implying something?” Tony grinned at him, again, crooked and bullshitting.

 

            “Depends on if you’re going to act like a criminal or just some bookworm in a coffee shop, I guess.” The surreal blackness in those eyes faded away, replaced by sharp, pale green as the man assessed him, finally leaning back in his seat. After a long stare-down, the man broke it, his voice soft and contemplative.

 

            “A criminal would lie about his true intentions.” Tony paused, looking up briefly at the ceiling, considering.

 

            “Well, yeah.” The man’s mouth pressed into a firm, thin line of irritation.

 

            “Then what is your point?” Tony shrugged, shifting in his seat and finally grabbing his coffee off the table.

 

            “You had two options; say yes, say no. You picked the third. Or was it the fourth?” Tony squinted in thought, then shrugged. “Either way, a true criminal wouldn’t admit his guilt. He’d hide it. Or try to justify it. Guess it wouldn’t be too likely he’d be sitting here sipping tea instead of causing havoc.” The man studied him. Tony watched him even as he lifted his tall, paper coffee cup, for a drink.

 

            “Perhaps his motives are not criminal, then.” Tony raised a brow at the quiet tone, the man’s eyes on his steady and seeming to be waiting for the axe to fall. Tony set down his coffee.

 

            “If that’s the case, then how’s he a criminal? Sure, he should be locked up, but this guy’s powerful. Doubt we could hold him if we wanted to, unless we had some outside help.” Tony watched him carefully as he said this, and the man blinked slowly at him before smirking faintly and returning his eyes to his book.

 

            “A valid point.” The man said diplomatically, making a show of turning the page even though Tony knew he hadn’t been reading. His eyes hadn’t moved in that classic typewriter-action across the page, once, during their entire discussion. “But what’s to stop your friend from reverting to his old ways, if this is indeed him we’re talking about?”

 

            “He’s not my friend.” Tony stated abruptly, and the man jerked his gaze back up to Tony, eyes wide for a moment in surprise before narrowing in anger. Tony put out a hand, palm-out in the universal gesture for peace (if you weren’t Iron Man, that is). “Don’t get me wrong. He opened a fucking alien portal over my penthouse, unleashed chaos on NYC, and messed around with a whole shit-ton of people.” The man’s eyes flickered, threatening black again, but Tony continued, pointing his hand like a gun at him. “But you? You wouldn’t do all that, right?” Tony’s eyes were steel; warning of an inevitable outcome. “Because you’re not sitting here like a criminal. You’re not just pretending to read a book but really plotting all these ways to screw the world over, again. You’re just sitting there drinking your tea and having a conversation with the one, the only, Tony Stark, because I’m a devastatingly attractive charmer.”

 

            The man stared at him. Tony kept his face unreadable, watching him. The situation could spiral out of control at any moment, and he might need to be ready. But then again, it might not.

 

            After a long time, the man turned back to his book with a soft chuckle.

 

            “Are threats and blatant narcissism the standard protocol for all your new friends, Mr. Stark?” Tony mostly resisted the smile that was trying to claw onto his face.

 

            “Only the ones that deserve it.” He conceded, and was rewarded with an amused look for his trouble, before the man’s eyes dropped back to his book. Slender fingers curled around his teacup, again, lifting it.

 

            “I shall keep that in mind, then.” The man murmured, taking another sip. Tony watched him for another minute, trying to adjust to the weirdness of what had just happened. Then, he decided he’d had enough intrigue for one day, and stood up. “Leaving already?” Tony glanced down, noting the man’s eyes were still on his book. He shrugged.

 

            “Sort of in the middle of a project. Just went out for some coffee.” The man smirked.

 

            “I would have taken you for the sort to make your own, in an expensive machine.” Tony blinked at him, interested at the amount of research it’d probably taken the man to be able to make that comment.

 

            “Well, yeah. But sometimes there’s just nothing like getting cheap shit from down the street. Good for the neurons.” A soft scoff greeted that, but the man shooed him lightly away with one hand, nonetheless.

 

            “Do not allow me to keep you, then. Off you go.” Tony grinned down at him, feeling oddly accomplished.

 

            “See you later, toots. Be good, now.” Tony spun on his heel and beat it out of there before the man could change his mind about being a civilian, not a criminal, this time around.

 

            Some part of his mind was tugging at him, wanting to know why Tony hadn’t just called for a suit and hauled Loki’s ass in to S.H.I.E.L.D. But Loki hadn’t done anything, at least not yet, and wasn’t this the country that prided itself on ‘innocent until proven guilty’? If he’d escaped Asgard’s prisons, then there was nothing Tony or any other human could do about it. Maybe Thor could’ve helped, but he was in Arizona and Tony got the feeling a little brotherly reunion would probably do more harm than good.

 

            He’d seen the way Loki fought Thor, back in New York; all tricks and subtle jabs and daggers in the stomach and biting comments through the big guy’s heart. New York had almost been for Thor – in a look-I’ve-got-my-sights-set-on-your-precious-humans-u-mad sort-of way. Tony did not want to get in the middle of whatever issues those two had. If Loki started returning to his old ways, then Tony’d call up the team and they’d go at it and beat him down, again. But for whatever reason, Tony got the impression that Loki was almost… on vacation?

 

            Weird.

 

            He got home, and didn’t think about it as he automatically asked Jarvis to do a scan of that coffee shop and see if he could glean any energy signatures at all from Loki, in addition to the ones they’d gotten during that conversation in Stark Tower, two years ago. It would make Tony sleep better at night, if he could somehow track Loki. Jarvis obliged, and Tony buried himself in a whirlwind of building, calculations and science while the program ran.

 


 

            When Jarvis reported, hours later, that he couldn’t detect any abnormal energy signatures among the usual humans coming and going out of that shop, Tony came to one of two conclusions.

 

            Either Loki had left as soon as Tony did, knowing Tony’d try and tag him, or Loki’s magic really was magic, and couldn’t be explained by scientific means. It might be impossible for Jarvis’ scanners to pick up that wavelength of his energy. Then again Loki hadn’t been cloaked, from what Tony could tell. He’d just been sitting there, innocently enough, acting like any other patron.

 

            Still, it wasn’t in Tony’s nature to just give up.

 

            Seeking Loki out when he seemed to be on a relatively peaceful visit sounded suicidal, at best, and Tony decided it was smarter not to poke the tiger. If there was anything weird going on he’d notice it. Briefly, he wondered why Loki had chosen Malibu. Was it the sunny climate? The earth-friendly populace? Loki struck him as one of those ‘earth mother’ types, now that Tony thought of it. When the guy wasn’t trying to conquer the world, of course. Loki’d seemed relatively mellow today, almost as though he was on top of the world. He’d had an assured serenity about him that Tony hadn’t seen in New York.

 

            That? That had been all desperation and a bid for attention, even if Loki wouldn’t admit to it.

 

            What had changed, in two years? Tony remembered hearing about something going on in London, a few months after all that shit involving the Mandarin and Pepper being kidnapped. The news cameras had been all over it, but the quality had been pure shit. After that mess, Thor had returned, too, explaining what had gone on in England. He also said that the All-Father – Odin, anyway – had allowed for him to stay on Earth with Jane. Tony thought that was pretty decent of the guy, considering his past judgments. Thor hadn’t said anything about Loki, and the Avengers hadn’t asked. They’d all assumed he was still locked up in Asgard’s jail.

 

            Apparently not, Tony thought to himself privately.

 

            Regardless, he put it out of his mind and dove back into his work.

 


 

            The next time he runs into Loki, Tony doesn’t see it coming at all.

 

            It’s a night club – one of the ones he really likes, but hasn’t been to in a while – and he slips in as he usually does, slapping the bouncer companionably on the shoulder as he enters ahead of the line. The staff all know him here, and bless their souls the bartender already has his drink of choice set out for him with an amused grin.

 

            “Been a while, Tony. Busy with those supervillains?” Tony grins at him, bright and wide, and takes a sip of his drink, leaning forward on the bar.

 

            “You know it. But I figure I’d deprived you guys of my presence long enough. Your DJ know what I want?” The bartender chuckles, shaking his head as he polishes a glass.

 

            “Go ask him. He’s new, I’m sure he’ll be properly star-studded at seeing you his second night on the job.”

 

            “Hey, as long as he throws down some phat beats, I don’t give a damn.” Tony waves the bartender off as he winds through the crowd towards the DJ, intending on insisting about his requests. They even have a playlist for him here – none of that classic rock he uses for thinking music, but modern pop with a good bass line and shitty lyrics. If there’s one redeeming quality about how bad mainstream music’s become, it’s in the now-acceptable grinding up against perfect strangers. Had Howard Stark seen what passed for ‘the youth’s entertainment’, these days, he would’ve probably had an aneurysm. Grinning meanly at the thought of the old man shouting at the top of his lungs at a roomful of partiers, face red, Tony ducks and dodges around the dancers to put in the request for his party playlist, slipping the shell-shocked, wide-eyed new kid a $100 bill and winking as he disappears back into the crowd.

 

            It’s halfway through the playlist and he’s off to the side for a breather, peering around the room for tonight’s Mrs. Right, when two slender arms come up from behind him, around his chest, and there’s a sultry whisper in his ear.

 

            “Dance with me?” The voice has a cadence to it that Tony can’t quite place, but the whisper of her soft hair presses against his cheek as she leans forward.

 

            “Well, that depends. Do you really wanna dance or shall we take this elsewhere? Because you’re already all over me and I – ” He turns in her arms as he speaks, grin cocky and not a little lecherous, but he trails off when he catches sight of her face. It’s delicate but sharp, thin but softened around the edges, and her eyes are hooded under slender eyebrows as she watches him. Her hair is an endless curtain of solid black, some falling over her shoulders, straight but curled at the ends, as though she’d treated it to get it that straight. She’s taller than him, too. Tony’s grin has gone slack and he’s quick to dial the charm back up, smoothly sliding his arms forward. She’s not thin, not like some of the girls here, but not fat; solid, in a late-twenties sort of way, her stomach soft as his palm brushes past it and her waist slightly tapered, enough for his arms to feel at home as they settle around it, locking her in. Tony decides the rest of the girls here can go straight to hell – not that he’d tell them that, there will be other nights, after all –

 

            “Is that a yes?” She’s angling her face down at him, eyes laughing at him, and goddamn it Tony’s the player, here, he shouldn’t be so taken from one look alone, it’s not like he’s not been propositioned before –

 

            “No, that’s a where-have-you-been-all-my-life and do you like classic cars?” Tony shoots one of his usual lines in an uncharacteristic flustered reaction, but she laughs smoothly at him and cups his cheek with one hand, the other pressing against the nape of his neck, eyes dark and fiery and intent and oh shit he’s really screwed because now he’s imagining doing all sorts of things to her.

 

           He drove here, after all. In one of said classic cars. Which will probably get all kinds of messy if things go as planned. The woman leans in and mouths at his ear unexpectedly, breath hot.

 

            “My dance, first.” Tony doesn’t wait to drag her onto the dance floor. If that’s what he’s gotta do to seal this deal, he’ll do it in a heartbeat. She presses to him and he pulls her in and they’re doing what two pros such as them do best – well, next to engineering, for him – and her hands are in his hair and god she isn’t shy, not at all. Some girls try too hard to win him over, some play the domestic, but this woman takes what she wants and doesn’t ask for permission, just drags him in for a kiss halfway through their dance and then they’re basically dry-humping amidst all the other couples doing the same. The dress she’s wearing is satin with a sheen to it, something that makes his hands slide off it if he doesn’t grip tightly enough.

 

            Some time later they make it to the car and she suggests going back to his place. Tony’s not thinking with his higher head, by this point, and so he forgets the bit about doing it in his car and instead steps on the gas to head back to his swish house. As soon as he parks, she leans over the seat and kisses him, hand groping for his crotch and – just like with all the other girls at this point in the night – Tony thinks he’s in love. They somehow make it out of the car and Jarvis unlocks the door as he presses her against it. They stumble inside and to the bed and he pulls her into the right room before she tackles him, kissing down his throat and already pumping him and his body is singing with pleasure.

 

            It’s a long, satisfying night. They switch places often, because she won’t have it any other way, and Tony falls asleep near dawn after a particularly mind-blowing orgasm, with her arm draped over his hip. His hand’s in her hair – no longer straight, but in damp black waves and tangled – so he can’t really complain.

 

            What’s strange, is the next morning he wakes and she’s not there. It doesn’t really bother him – he’s familiar with one-night stands, and hey, this saves him the awkwardness of Pepper needing to take care of it. So he gets out of bed, just pulling on a pair of boxers and a T-shirt, and heads out to the living room for some easy cereal for breakfast. What startles him is seeing her sitting primly on his white leather couch, staring out at the stunning panorama the large windows facing the sea offer. After the Mandarin’s goons had destroyed it, Tony’d rebuilt his house better and more reinforced, but he was always a sucker for the awesome view. The glass was well and beyond bulletproof, this time, though.

 

            What strikes him, next, is that she’s not wearing the dress from last night. The only reason this seems important is because he hadn’t remembered her bringing any clothes, and the low-cut vest and chic pencil skirt strike him as things he would’ve remembered. Her hair is perfect again, pulled back in a long braid down her back and Tony realizes he’s just standing there, saying nothing. She glances back at him before he can, though, her eyes dark and challenging and he takes a step back, putting his hands up as she stalks over to him.

 

            “Hey, whoa, I know last night was great but uh – ” He’s always been bad at this part of the night. Sex is easy. Morning-afters are hard. Most girls who catch him in the morning want to stay and cozy up to him and be his wife. Tony hopes to god that that isn’t the case, here. But her eyes aren’t possessive. They’re – loathing? Tony’s eyes widen and he laughs highly, nervous. “Ohhh, OK. I’ve pissed you off. Um. Maybe you should just – just go home? I mean we knew what this was and what it wasn’t, and you don’t strike me as the type to – ”

 

            “Tony Stark. Are you really such a fool?” He’s brought up short, at that accusing, low tone, and blinks at her, startled. He doesn’t get the joke.

 

            “What?” The woman strides up to him, her height looming over him, eyes burning in her face. She reaches a hand up to hold him roughly by the back of the neck, and hisses down at him, her face a fearsome mask of fury.

 

            “You. Are a fool. Is a pretty female face all it takes to get past your defenses?”

 

            “What are you – ” And then she starts to glow around the edges and by the time Tony sees a flicker of something green – like electricity, no, like magic – flicker over her face, he realizes it a split-second before it changes to something much more masculine and familiar, but no less incensed.

 

            “You – you little shit, what the fuck was that for?” Tony bursts out, suddenly feeling vulnerable and none-too-comfortable with the knowledge staring back at him, his eyes wide and mouth slack with equal parts shock and fury. Loki’s still gripping his neck, hard, and Tony shoves him away with a sense of impending doom as he stares at the god, incredulous. “You… I… we…” Loki peers back at him, grimly.

 

            “Yes, Tony Stark. You have copulated with me.” A smirk climbs high on one side of Loki’s face. “Do you regret it that much? You seemed so eager last night – ” Tony gapes at him.

 

            “I thought you were a woman! Shit! What kind of messed-up world do you live in? What the fuck, man?” Loki considers him, eyes hooding dangerously.

 

            “My gender is that much of a deterrent?” Tony makes a frustrated noise, and shoves him in the chest, back teeth grinding as he glares up at him.

 

            “So not the point, here! Shit!” Tony runs an agitated hand through his hair, turning his back on Loki and trying to calm down from the realization. He shakes his head. He can’t make sense of it. “Not that I’m complaining, but – ” He glances back over his shoulder, sharply, towards where Loki’s standing; a solitary silhouette in black jeans and a green V-necked shirt against the blue sky, through the windows. “Why?” Clearly, Loki’d done his research on him. But why? Just to fuck with him? Curiosity?

 

            Loki looks away, surprising him.

 

            “I am… doing research on mortals, while I am here.” He offers, stiffly, still not looking at Tony. “The differences in how each gender is treated are intriguing. Also, females lack the ability to impregnate others and so in taking that form, the risk of spreading half-god children through the human race is eliminated, since I have a choice in allowing conception. Beyond that, taking on a female form assures more anonymity and such as – ”

 

            “So you decided to fuck the great Tony Stark so you can go bragging to your supervillain buddies about how easy I am when it comes to girls?” Tony’s not sure who he’s angrier with; Loki, for tricking him with obviously ulterior motives, or himself for not seeing it coming.

 

            Loki surprises him, again.

 

            “No!” He sounds just as incensed as Tony, shooting a reproachful glare back at him. “I did not know it was you, Tony Stark! The lighting in the club was dark, I had only pegged you as a man seeking a partner for the night and you moved well to the music – I thought it would be child’s play to coerce you into my bed. I was right.” Tony stares at him.

 

            “You seriously don’t expect me to believe this was all a coincidence, do you?” Loki’s glare spikes, aggressively.

 

            “You accuse me of lying?”

 

            “Considering I’m talking to the fucking God of Lies and Deception, I’d say that’s a yes!” Tony bellows back at him, and Loki’s moved forward to grab him by the collar of his shirt, pulling him up. The fabric stretches in protest, and Tony’s a little afraid it’ll rip, but he’s more afraid of the sparking green fire in Loki’s eyes than anything else. Not that he lets it show. But Loki doesn’t say anything to his accusations, so Tony just plows on. “What, didn’t feel like stopping? What, didn’t hear Jarvis welcome me home, last night? Just wanted to mindfuck me? Too busy plotting my demise?” Loki snarls at him, leaning in as he drags Tony up and closer, teeth seeming unnaturally sharp in his rage.

 

            “You assume too much, mortal. I was… otherwise engaged, as were you, otherwise I would have noticed these details before you shared my bed. It was dark…” That last comment is murmured ruefully, Loki’s eyes slanting off to the side and Tony takes the opportunity to grab his hand and try to pull it off him.

 

            Loki surprising him seems to be the theme of the morning, because Loki lets Tony pull himself free. And if he’s anything like Thor, Tony’s meager strength probably felt like a kitten’s, to Loki. It’s that which gives him pause, which makes Tony peer back up at the God of Mischief like he’s never quite seen him, before.

 

            “… wait a minute. If you don’t want little baby Lokis running around, why not just use condoms like the rest of us?” Loki’s nose wrinkles and for an insane moment Tony actually finds it funny.

 

            “I despise those wretched plastic socks. It cuts down on the experience.” Tony eyes him, fingers still curled around Loki’s wrist, which Loki hasn’t tried to take back, yet.

 

            “Then why not just ‘control yourself’, like you do with conception in a female body?” Loki sends him a nasty look, but it’s tempered by something Tony can’t quite place. (… Uncertainty?)

 

            “Anatomy does not work that way. On the female level, when I shift forms, I have the option of ensuring there are no eggs to be fertilized.” Loki’s tone is icy, as though he doesn’t enjoy explaining this. Tony can’t understand why, as the concept is fascinating. Imagine if real women could do the same! Loki continues, oblivious to Tony’s tangential thoughts. “On the off-chance I miss one and do conceive, I am fully aware of the conception after a day or two and so can nullify the pregnancy before it becomes an issue.” Tony stares at him.

 

            “So, you just like being a slut instead of a player?” Loki shoots him a look as though he’s not entirely sure Tony’s not insulting him, and Tony grins lightly, releasing Loki’s wrist to put his hands up in front of his chest, in surrender. “Hey, no judgment, man.” Then his curiosity gets the better of him. “So what’s it like?” Loki stares at him.

 

            “… What?” Tony presses on, grinning lasciviously and leaning in.

 

            “Being a woman. What’s it feel like? Did you like it when I – ” The hand that covers his mouth is one of lighting speed, and Tony feels a little gratified at seeing a light flush high on Loki’s goddamned cheekbones. The fingers digging into his cheeks in a bruising hold aren’t as much fun, though.

 

            “If you value your life, mortal, you will not finish that sentence.” Loki states, lowly, and Tony resists the urge to grin cheekily up at him. He doesn’t know what’s going on, here, but Loki hasn’t tried to kill him and he didn’t kill him last night, so things are looking pretty good. Tony nods, acquiescing when it’s clear Loki won’t let him go until he agrees. True to form, Loki releases him at that point. Tony rubs his jaw, as they consider each other.

 

            “So. A one-time thing, right?” Loki’s lips purse, and Tony’s narcissism gets the better of him. “I mean, I know I’m fabulous, a real diamond in the rough, but – ”

 

            “You do not know the meaning of humility, do you?” Loki asks dryly, and Tony grins wide at him.

 

            “Nope! But. A one-time thing, right?” Loki sighs, and Tony has the strong suspicion he’s resisting the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose in frustration.

 

            “No. Yes. Never again. You have your…” Loki waves a hand in an out-of-character lack of vocabulary, and Tony snorts.

 

            “Yeah, I don’t think the team would be thrilled. Or Pepper, for that matter. Definitely not Thor.” Loki winces, at the name, and shoots a warning look at Tony.

 

            “Not a word to – ” Tony’s already shaking his head, putting his hands up, palms out.

 

            “No worries, there, man. I’m not suicidal.” Loki sniffs at him, and Tony thinks he’s covering a laugh. Then Tony realizes his half of the situation. “Oh, um. You’re not gonna say anything to… ?” Loki blinks, then smirks a little.

 

            “Your bedroom secrets are safe with me, Stark. As satisfying as it might be to gloat over how easily I breached your defenses, in the right disguise, I believe I would lose the other villains’ respect if they knew you had… What is the Midgardian term? ‘Nailed’ me?” Tony chokes a little on his snort, and waves off Loki’s look of mild concern.

 

            “Um… yeah, no, I get it. So.” He puts out his hand, and Loki peers at it for a moment before reaching his own out, to shake. “Never again.” Loki nods at him, and Tony grips his hand out of something nameless – something wrong, that’s quickly buried.

 

            “Yes. Farewell, Tony Stark.” And just like that, in a flash of green magic, Loki is gone.

 

            Tony eats his breakfast, goes down to his workshop and takes one of the engines of his cars apart. He doesn’t think about it for the rest of the day, by sheer force of will.

 

            (Except for that part of his brain that can’t help replaying everything they did, only now painting Loki’s more familiar male face over the aggressive, dominating female one caught in pleasure so many times over the course of that night.)

 


 

            Enough time passes that Tony forgets about it. No, he actually does, and this isn’t some denial working. For a few weeks he’s a little too weirded-out to go clubbing again, but after his newest stroke of genius for updating the suit followed by working for 46 hours straight and then 10 hours asleep, he wakes up ready to hit the town again. If there’s anything Tony knows about life, it’s work hard and play harder. Considering making things technically falls into the category he enjoys, though, Tony arbitrarily sticks meeting with the board meetings or with the Avengers as his work, and everything else as play.

 

            Speaking of, now that Thor’s back on Earth for an indefinite sabbatical from Asgard (they have a pool running about how long it’ll take Odin’s good mood to end, and call his son back, though), their meetings have been upped to once a week. The big guy seems pretty happy, and a lot of that probably has to do with Jane Foster. Tony’s pretty sure Thor never thought he’d get to spend as much time with her as Odin’s letting him, now. Maybe the war-father up there in Asgard actually has a heart, after all.

 

            (It almost makes Tony jealous. Big Wolf Howard Stark, genius of his age, couldn’t spare a hug for his own kid. Didn’t give a fuck when Tony tried to bring home his first girlfriend; didn’t even bother to meet her. The family dinner his mom had planned all fell apart when Howard called to say he couldn’t make it out of NYC, big things to do, big projects to push through. They ended up having dinner with just the three of them; Tony’s mom trying too hard, Tony’s date feeling awkward and uncomfortable at the unvoiced family tension sizzling in the air, and Tony realizing how little his life mattered to his own dad. Sort of tells you why Tony buries himself in machines and one-night stands, doesn’t it? When he’s creating he’s in that ‘other’, no-self state of mind – until he runs the tests, anyway, and then it’s all posturing for the camera DUM-E’s sporting – and when he’s fucking he’s purposefully choosing not to think anything.)

 

            Tony’s conscience is battling with his pride, about mentioning he’s seen Loki. Steve, he knows, would give him this disapproving look for not saying anything earlier. Natasha would see right through him, know the truth in an instant, and then examine her fingernails, bored. Cliff would get this vengeful light in his eyes and Tony just knows he’d go to stalk the places he’d mentioned, seeking out payback for Loki using him when he came for the Tesseract. Bruce would probably blink, and give no visible outward reaction, but would corner Tony later and carefully ask him for the real story. Bruce wouldn’t pressure him like Steve would, though, because he’s cool and definitely not military-minded, like that. Bruce would just want to know, to make sure Tony’s OK. Steve would want to know for the ‘safety of humanity’ or something like that.

 

            Thor? Thor would probably call for Mjolnir in a heartbeat, punching a hammer-sized hole through a good amount of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s reinforced walls in the process. And Tony’s OK with that, really; Fury’s pulsing angry vein should have its own soundtrack built around it. He’d protest that Loki’s locked away in Asgard, unable to commit any acts of mischief, but would then proceed to book it home, just to check. And then who would have to explain Thor’s sudden absence to Jane Foster, if Odin then decided he wanted his first-born son and heir home, again?

 

            Tony. Tony Fucking Stark.

 

            All of that drama is definitely not worth it, especially when 1) Loki’s not done anything, yet, and 2) It’s been months since that run-in in the coffee shop and the weird accidental tryst they had.

 

            So Tony leaves it alone.

 


 

            An end to the stalemate comes in the form of Clint one day shrieking from the balcony that there’s a huge-ass crow out there. Tony is one of the first to get there, and indeed – it is huge. The bird must be three meters tall, to say nothing of its probably equally impressive wingspan. Natasha was sunbathing beside Clint, and Tony can tell she is watching the bird carefully from behind her sunglasses, for all she still looks relaxed. Tony hears Steve come up behind him, looking out of one of the floor-to-ceiling windows that look out on the balcony and pausing visibly, hesitating.

 

            “Why do you think it’s here?” Steve asks him, not taking his eyes off the bird but voice quiet enough that he’s clearly addressing Tony. Tony shrugs, eyes skimming the sheen of the sun on black feathers for lack of anything better to do. Clint must have spilled his drink all over his own lap (like a boss), but he’s otherwise staring up at the thing with something almost akin to awe, now that the shock’s worn off. Tony squints, thinking he sees a golden medallion sporting one letter hung around the crow’s neck. ‘M’? Why ‘M’?

 

            “Muginn?” Thor’s voice echoes from the open door to the balcony, and Tony and Steve turn to catch Thor’s thunderstruck (hah!) expression, before it melts into confusion. The bird cants its head and looks directly at Thor.

 

            “The All-Father requests your presence.” Thor frowns while Clint silently freaks out to Natasha (in pantomime; Tony’s not blind) about the bird actually being able to talk. Steve’s taking it all in stride, eyes sharp and brow furrowed towards the crow and fuck if Tony’s going to be the only one acting uncool, here, so he’s calm, too.

 

            “He had given me permission to remain on Midgard. What is – ”

 

            “It is not to be spoken of, here.” The crow peers around at the Avengers (sans Dr. Banner and Mr. Hulk), and Tony feels small for an instant as the ancient gaze pauses on him. But still, Thor presses.

 

            “Why not send Sif, or the Warriors Three?” Muggin – is that its name? – returns its beady black eyes to Thor.

 

            “They would not be fast enough. There is no time, Thor. You must return.” Muggin – really, that’s the name that’s going to stick, no matter how wrong it is and now Tony can’t get the image of the crow in a trenchcoat holding up some poor schmuck in a black-and-white film’s alleyway somewhere for his wallet – is firm. It spreads its wings, talons flexing on the railing where it perches. Thor frowns again, but calls Mjolnir to him anyway. Tony winces as he hears the sound of the hammer punching through his walls, and resigns himself to new (and fabulously innovative!) renovations as it claps home in Thor’s palm. Thor is dressed with a literal bolt of lightning, and he casts an apologetic smile to the group as Muggin leaps into the air. Tony’s distracted; he sees the crow flying upward in a spiral, and out of the swirling clouds overhead appears a round portal of a bright, shining city.

 

            Is that Asgard? He thinks, not a little in awe, wondering how fast he can get in his suit and follow. His brain is itching with questions, it notwithstanding that Jane Foster is the only human ever to set foot on Asgard. He’d peppered her with questions until she told him to stop – not that it mattered if he stopped or not, because his mind was still running over everything she’d deigned to tell him, which wasn’t much.

 

            But Thor is talking, now, and Tony tunes back into the conversation. He tries to ignore the scientific salivation going on in the back of his head, too.

 

            “ – her?” Tony assumes it was about Jane Foster when Steve nods his head.

 

            “I’ll tell her.” Steve gives a crooked smile which Tony guesses is from memories of Peggy (yes, Tony read the file – so what?). “Come back soon. Don’t make her wait.” Thor gives Steve a look that reminds Tony of a sad, troubled old man, but it is gone when Thor looks up, lifting Mjolnir towards the sky. Thor shoots up and through the portal as fast as – well, lightning. Muggin cranes its neck to observe the Avengers – sans Dr. Banner and Thor, now – watching from the balcony, before flicking its wings and soaring into the shimmering reflection of a city. Tony notices the surface ripple before it sucks in on itself – as though someone were drinking up a puddle with a straw – making an audible ‘pop’ that Tony guesses is Earth’s dimension closing back around the space occupied by the portal.

 

            The sky is blue, with clouds, not a sign anywhere of what has just occurred.

 


 

            Thor is gone a week, and when he returns it is with the Bifrost, alerting everyone in the tower and making them scramble for the roof. They hadn’t expected him back so soon, although they’d (and Jane Foster) been hoping.

 

            Tony theorizes that Muggin and Huggin – he read up on some Norse mythology while Thor was gone, all right? – have their own ways to travel through the Nine Realms, and so can easily open portals for themselves. Tony figures those two crows would be pretty inconvenient for Odin-the-war-father as his means of communication and reconnaissance if they had to use the Bifrost to come and go, every time.

 

            And no, by the way – “Muggin” and “Huggin” are not their real names, but they’re sure-as-shit easier for Tony to remember!

 

            Thor’s face is troubled when the light of the Bifrost fades and Steve strides forward, all wholesome concern.

 

            “What happened, Thor?” Thor looks at each of them in turn, his face a twist of anguish.

 

            “I have not told all, my friends. For that I am filled with regret. Come, let us talk over the Table of Meeting.” Not used to their usually-exuberant resident alien prince being so somber, everyone just follows. They call Bruce in from Stark Tower’s R&D floors, and settle in the Avengers conference room. It’s here where they meet on video calls with Fury, and it’s here that Thor sets Mjolnir down by the door, and then proceeds to pace while the rest of the Avengers remain seated, waiting patiently.

            “The events of 2013. You recall them?” Tony answers.

 

            “You mean Greenwich, England? Yeah. You were the one who briefed us on that party, big guy.” Thor nods.

 

           “As Jane can attest, there were other issues besides Malekith and his nefarious plot. I have not shared these with you.” Thor seems to hesitate, and everyone in the room can feel the atmosphere tighten. Thor lifts his head and there is nothing but sorrow in his eyes. “Malekith’s ships nearly destroyed our palace. He sought Jane and to reclaim the Aether within her. To prevent Jane from falling into the hands of Malekith, my mother battled with him. She bought us time, and fought well. But Malekith had one of the Kursed with him – a suicidal power-enhancing ability thought long lost to time. This Kursed killed my mother, and Loki and I journeyed with Jane to Svartalfheim and killed him.” There is a fevered strength to that last sentence, of vengeance delivered with satisfaction, Thor’s eyes over-bright and impassioned. The room rings with the silence of this revelation.

 

            Tony feels the echoes of his lost parents. He’s sure Steve feels it, too. Bruce, Natasha and Clint he can’t speak for, as they don’t talk about their pasts much. It makes sense, now. Why Thor’s smiled a little less ever since coming back to Earth since 2013. Why Jane Foster is so protective of him, these days.

 

            “Thor, I’m so – ” Steve starts, ever the good guy, but Thor raises a hand to stay him, shaking his head.

 

            “There is more.” Thor’s face has taken on the tired, world-weary look of the aged man, again. Tony wonders at it. “In the battle on Svartalfheim, Loki and I struggled against Malekith’s Kursed companion while Malekith made his escape to Earth. We fought well, and Loki saved my life, but the Kursed impaled him on the very sword Loki stabbed him with. In parting, as he fell, my brother – ” Tony hears the fight in Thor’s words, as he does not allow this painful memory to get the better of him. “ – activated the wormhole-grenades held on the Kursed’s belt. The monster was sucked into oblivion.” Thor’s jaw sets, and he raises his chin as though in defiance of his next words. “Loki died with honor.”

 

            The words ring in Tony’s head, but he can’t believe them. Suddenly, the memory of a few months ago comes crashing down around his ears in excruciating clarity. First of all, Loki is alive. Tony doesn’t know what happened during that battle in Sv-whatever-heim, but he’s 99.9% sure the Loki he met a few months ago was not an illusion, not a ghost, not anything but the real Loki. Tony opens his mouth stupidly, to contradict Thor’s comment without thinking of how he’ll explain his way out of keeping his two random meet-ups with Loki a secret.

 

            “But it was only another trick.” Thor looks visibly relieved, at this, smiling wanly at his friends and their concerned faces. And Tony realizes it matters but it doesn’t matter, that Loki’s alive. Thor still lost his mom, and nothing will change that. “A week ago, Loki returned to Asgard.” Thor smiles at them with effort, and Tony knows he’s right about Thor still missing his mother, as thankful as he is to have his brother back. “He claimed he had faked his death, in order to slip away from an even greater threat. But he warns us that this threat now threatens Asgard and Midgard, and so emerged from the shadows. For Loki’s protection, no one but my father and I know of his return. He was sly enough to catch father alone, and to keep his return a secret from the court, who still believes him dead.” That last sentence, Tony can hear the pride in, and he grins reflexively as Thor smiles at him, catching a whiff of where this is going.

 

            “Earth, too, eh? Does that mean we all get to take a trip to Asgard in the name of defense and collaboration?” Tony snarks. He knows, as much as Asgard professes peace and equality with Earth, that the Asgardians don’t like mortals on their turf. Thor surprises him by beaming.

 

            “You are always clever, Man of Iron! Yes, my father has extended an invitation to the Avengers, as Midgard’s mightiest warriors, that some of you would come and speak with us concerning the threat posed to our two worlds.”

 

            There is a long pause. Then Clint whoops, springing up onto the table and Natasha rolls her eyes at him. Bruce and Steve are staring at Thor as though he just announced he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Tony just lets out a sharp laugh.

 

            “Well that was unexpected. Odin finally pull that stick out of his ass?” Thor’s brows furrow at him and Tony grins, more.

 

            “My father rules the Nine Realms. He does not have a donkey with a stick in its anus.” Steve covers a snort, but shakes his head.

 

            “As good news as this is, we can’t all go. It’d leave Earth undefended.” He says, simply, and Tony looks towards the ceiling in thought.

 

            “Good point, Cap.” Tony concedes. “So, who wants to take a trip to an alien homeworld? Tony grins as Steve winces, and then Tony glances towards Bruce, who gives him an apologetic smile. “Nobody?” Clint is, of course, practically dancing (badly) on the table with joy, and Natasha is unreadable, as usual. Tony shrugs. “Count me in if you’d prefer to stay in your corner of the universe, Fearless Leader.” Steve gives him a Look and Tony counters with a charming smirk, leaning back in his seat and gesturing with his hand. “My suit would come in handy for a good impression, anyway, I’d think, since you Asgardians are all about armor. Is that a no, Bruce?” Bruce smiles at him, sheepishly.

 

            “I don’t think the Big Guy’s a fan of the Bifrost.” That startles a snort out of Tony, but he shrugs.

 

           “Hey, whatever floats his boat. I’ll take some notes on the science over there for you.” Bruce gives him a grateful look, and Tony smiles at him, knowing that Bruce’s curiosity about Asgard was probably on par with his own, even if Bruce would never take the risk of going, himself. The Hulk in literally alien territory was an intergalactic incident waiting to happen – or so Bruce thought, anyway. Tony, however, had always trusted him, especially after New York.

 

            (He knew who had been the one to save him from dying on impact with the ground, at the end.)

 

            “So that’s Cap and Bruce staying, Thor, me and Clint going… what about you, Natasha?” She stares at Tony for a moment before shrugging, and leaning back in her chair, ever poised.

 

            “Seems smart to divide it evenly, don’t you think? Three go, three stay. Works for me.” Her tone is neutral and unaffected, and Tony blows her a kiss.

 

            “I’ll bring you back a souvenir, sweetheart.” Natasha just deadpans at him, not rising to the bait like a normal person would – because giving him what he wants is beneath her – and he grins at her.

 

            A trip to Asgard, hunh? See these aliens that think themselves gods be on equal footing in a discussion with ‘mere mortals’, drink their ale that Thor’s always going on about, poke around at their science and technology – or maybe their magic and knowledge, according to Asgard – flirt with some freakishly-strong alien women…

 

            This is going to be fun.