The first time it happened, Tony thought he was going crazy. He hadn’t even planned to leave the tower, but after a couple of nights hunkered down in the lab, with only a few stolen hours asleep on a nearby bench, Steve had found him and demanded, “For the love of God, Tony, if you don’t get outside and out of this lab for at least an hour I’m gonna have to call Pepper over.”
Tony had grumbled back at him, but still threw on a hoodie and sunglasses and trudged his way out. He wasn’t really paying attention to his surroundings, only aware enough to realize that it was still dark outside. Given that it was Steve who had confronted him, he figured it must be some ungodly hour in the morning. His feet dragged him to a coffee shop about two blocks down. If he had to leave, he figured, might as well indulge in his one true love.
The shop was pretty much empty. He checked his watch. 5:48 A.M. He was slightly surprised this place was even open.
He went up to the counter and ordered a latte. The cashier either didn’t recognize him or didn’t care. Either way, he was grateful. As he stood to the side to wait for his order, he glanced around the shop.
He could see only one other patron there, sitting at a booth with his back turned to Tony. Black hair that reached his shoulders, and a fitted gray T-shirt.
“Tony!” the worker called. Tony’s attention turned back to the counter, and he picked up his drink from the counter. He debated staying in the shop for a bit, but decided maybe he would take a walk around outside instead. He could practically hear Steve’s praise for that one.
As he was leaving, his eyes caught the stranger’s at the booth. Tony’s eyes widened, mirroring the look of shock on the other man’s face.
But it couldn’t be . He glanced at the workers to see if they noticed anything strange. When he looked back, the man was gone.
Tony blinked. Looked at the workers again. They didn’t seem to notice anything strange had happened, gave no indication that they also just saw a man that looked suspiciously like a certain God of Mischief disappear into thin air.
Tony sighed. He had been up too long, if he was starting to hallucinate Loki in random coffee shops in New York.
He trudged back towards the Tower. As he sipped more of his coffee and began to wake up, he further convinced himself that what he saw earlier was just a figment of his sleep-addled brain. If Loki was really here on Earth, then he certainly wouldn’t be hiding in the shadows. From what Tony had seen of the god so far, he certainly had a flair for the dramatic.
“Welcome back sir,” JARVIS greeted as Tony entered through on the back (private) doors of the tower. “I assume your walk went well?”
Tony gave a small hand gesture in acknowledgment and stepped into the elevator.
“To the common room on the 51st JARVIS,” Tony muttered. “And do a scan of the area, 50-mile radius. Look for any unusual activity, anything dramatic or fiery or... green.”
“See something interesting on your coffee run, sir?” JARVIS inquired.
“God I hope not,” Tony replied. JARVIS, faithful as always, didn’t question any further.
He quickly forgot about Loki. JARVIS’ scans didn’t show anything unusual, and after keeping up the scans for another couple of weeks with nothing showing up, he told himself that he must have just seen another dark-haired man that looked close enough to Loki that Tony’s brain had pictured the god instead.
A few months passed. More long days and late nights. He was constantly in the workshop, except for when Steve called on him for a “training exercise.” Which was, unfortunately, more often than Tony appreciated. But no matter how long Tony worked, no matter how hard the team trained, Tony couldn’t shake the feeling that it wouldn’t be enough. Not enough for whatever was out there, not enough to face the nightmares Tony was plagued with every night.
So it was really no surprise that the next time Tony saw (or more likely, hallucinated) Loki was after yet another three-day workshop binge. He left the Tower for the first time in a week, and this time Steve didn’t even have to make him. Tonight, he was motivated by the growling of his stomach and a strong urge to get pizza. And instead of just ordering in as usual, well. Maybe he was kind of looking for an excuse to get out.
He left still dressed in a ratty old sweatshirt and jeans, an outfit that didn’t do much to protect him from the biting fall wind. But he only had to walk a few blocks before he reached Tommy’s Pizza, which was arguably one of the best pizza places in the city.
The bell dinged as he entered the shop. He went up to the counter to place his order. The cashier, a woman with black hair somewhere in her 30s and 40s, gave him the typical customer service smile for a second, before her eyes widened in realization.
“What can I get for you today Mr. Stark?” she asked, only a little bit breathless.
“One large sausage and pepperoni would be fantastic,” he responded, giving her a dazzling smile. “And maybe a large Coke while you’re at it.”
The worker, whose nametag Tony could now read said ‘Jan,’ seemed to recover from her surprise at seeing him there, and entered his order. “It’ll be right out Mr. Stark.”
Another dazzling smile. A $50 tip in the jar just because. Then on to find a seat and wait for his order.
This time, he caught the black-haired man working on a computer at a booth, a half-eaten pizza on the table beside him. His hair was tied up in a bun this time, and Tony wouldn’t have recognized him if he hadn’t turned around momentarily to catch the attention of one of the servers. Tony’s eyes widened. There was no mistaking those sharp features.
He abruptly got up, hearing a clatter as he did so. Loki turned in his direction. Loki raised his eyebrows momentarily, then quickly shifted his focus back to his laptop. He seemed completely unconcerned that Tony was here, which just made Tony more suspicious.
“Your pizza’s here,” Jan said, bringing out a steaming plate. Tony’s attention snapped away from Loki momentarily as Jan placed the plate on the table. Tony then looked back towards the booth.
Loki had already disappeared.
Tony was going crazy. After that second time, he kept seeing Loki everywhere. At coffee shops, at diners, hell, even during team training exercises, he would spot the god out of the corner of his eye. But every time he went to approach Loki, he would get stopped, distracted by something mundane, and by the time he turned back to where Loki had been standing, the god would be gone. He would turn to his teammates, see if they had noticed anything weird. But all he would get was a “Tony, eyes on the field!” from Steve. No other acknowledgment that something was off.
“Hey Cap,” Tony brought up one day at the Tower. “Have you noticed anything… odd, lately?”
Steve just gave him a quizzical look. “Other than you, well, not really.”
“It’s actually a bit weird, how quiet everything is,” Steve said. “I was expecting, after the New York attack, that ... ”
Steve trailed off, but Tony understood.
“Why, have you been seeing anything?” Steve asked.
Tony shrugged. “No, I just. Well, same as you. Expected that something else would have happened by now.”
Steve glanced up at him from the newspaper in front of him, giving him what Tony could only describe as a pitiful look.
“We’ll be prepared, Tony,” Steve softly. “We’ve all been working hard, including you. Including SHIELD. We won’t be unaware.”
Tony sighed, the weariness of the past year seeming to hit him all at once. “Whatever you say Cap,” which was the closest to an agreement Tony would get to.
Tony reached his breaking point when he saw Loki in his workshop. In the tower. In his workshop.
Tony blinked when saw the God appear across from him. Glanced up at the ceiling. No alarms went off.
“JARVIS, you seeing anything?” he asked, eyes trained on the unassuming god in front of him.
Loki looked perfectly at peace, looking around at all the fun things in the lab. Didn’t seem at all worried about being in one of his enemies’ houses. Didn’t even really acknowledge Tony, which was almost more surprising.
“Nothing out of the ordinary, Sir.”
Tony was going crazy. That had to be it, the only explanation for why he was the only one who noticed a thousand-year-old god who had tried to take over the world just wandering around in New York.
Tony’s first instinct was to try to get Loki’s attention, sound the alarm, start a fight, but he bit his tongue. He then continued fidgeting with the pesky wires of one part of a project he was working on, observing Loki out of the corner of his eye. After a moment, Tony started to think that Loki didn’t realize Tony could see him. Magic bastard probably thought he was invisible. And, knowing Loki, he probably was. Except to Tony, who, for whatever crazy reason, could see him.
Loki spent the next ten minutes continuing his exploring. Tony had grabbed the metal wristband that would call a repulsor to him, ready in case Loki tried to damage (or even touch ) anything, but Loki seemed content to just watch. He spent a good while following Dum-E around, a baffled look on his face as he watched the robot attempt to make a smoothie, then immediately spill it everywhere.
“How many times am I gonna have to tell you?” Tony said, only half-serious. “No smoothies in the workshop. You know what happens.”
Loki shot an amused glance at Dum-E as the robot gave a sad little beep and proceeded to find a towel to clean up the spill with.
Tony knew he couldn’t let the god escape again. And his initial assessment showed that Loki wasn’t set on destroying everything in his workshop and attacking the Avengers.
A small part of Tony’s mind told him that he should call for Cap, for SHIELD. But he was never known for his good decisions, so why start now?
“Amused by Dum-E are you?” Tony said casually, still playing with the wires in his hand. “He was one of my first, you know. Built him when I was like 17. Not very useful, but I don’t have the heart to give him away.”
Tony glanced up at the god, making eye contact. Loki seemed startled, an expression quickly overtaken by rage, mixed with something that seemed a little like...fear.
Well that was odd.
Tony held his hands up. “I promise you, I don’t want a fight. At least not here in the shop. If you really wanna go at it, I’d prefer a field somewhere. Hopefully with no one nearby. You know, civilian casualties and all. What a headache.”
Loki narrowed his eyes but still didn’t say anything.
“Not in the mood to talk?” Tony continued. He put the wires down and stood up, facing the god. “That’s ok, I’ve been told I can talk enough for two people. So what brings you here? Looking to take over Earth again? Looking for Thor? I should let you know that he’s not here right now. Oh, and I can’t let you use your mumbo jumbo on Earth again. So.”
“I am not here to take over Earth,” Loki responded with a roll of his eyes. Glad to know Tony’s charm was still kicking. Or at least, his ability to annoy gods into talking. “How can you see me?”
Tony shrugged. “Beats me, Reindeer Games. I’m guessing you’re supposed to be invisible or something?”
Loki gave a slight tilt of his head in acknowledgment.
“I’ve been told I’m special like that,” Tony said. “Able to see things that aren’t supposed to be seen? I’m your man.”
Loki continued to stare at him, not saying anything more. Then, with a slight smirk, he said, “I guess I’ll see you around then, Stark.”
With that, he disappeared into thin air.
“Aw come on,” Tony muttered. He sighed. He should tell someone about this. Though, knowing his luck, they would probably just think he was finally going senile.
“Catch any of that, Jarv?” he said.
“I can make a lovely recording of you talking to nothing, sir,” Jarvis replied.
Tony sighed again, running a hand through his hair. Not even his ever-intelligent, all-knowing AI could see Loki. He would have to fix that eventually. But for now, well. He had a new personal project that he could only hope didn’t blow up in his face.
The next time Tony saw Loki was in the middle of a meeting with SHIELD. With all of the other Avengers there.
They were in a conference room somewhere in the depths of SHIELD headquarters, practically impenetrable. And Loki had somehow wormed his way in, suddenly appearing directly behind Director Fury’s chair, right across the table from Tony.
Tony’s eyes briefly widened with surprise at the sight of the god. Loki put a finger to his lips. Not that Tony would say anything anyways - he still didn’t think anyone would believe him.
“Stark did you hear me?” Fury said with a pointed look.
Tony blinked, forcing himself to focus back on Fury. “Hmm?”
Fury rolled his eyes. “Have you been listening at all this entire meeting?”
“Mhmm, yep. Stopping space aliens or whatever, I’m guessing you want me to work on some time spacey thingie?” he said absently, trying not to appear too distracted as he saw Loki bend over Fury’s shoulder to read the papers in front of the man.
“We need to be prepared Stark,” Fury said gruffly. “I’m not asking you to make more weapons or anything, but if you could use that big head of yours to help us find a way to track or see whatever’s out there, magical, alien, or whatever, I think everyone would benefit.”
Tony nodded. Loki had now moved on from Fury and was standing over Steve, watching the soldier through narrowed eyes. What on earth did this guy want?
Fury looked at Tony, as if expecting him to make some rebuttal. If this were any other day, then maybe he would have had something to say, but his focus was on a certain God of Mischief at the moment.
“Sounds good, I’ll keep you updated,” Tony said shortly. Then for good measure, he gave Fury a sweet smile, rapped once on the table, and said, “Well, I gotta be out of here. Important spacey detector thingies to build, and all that.”
“But Tony, we still have to-” Steve started, before he was interrupted by the door closing as Tony made his way out.
Tony strode quickly out of SHIELD, checking behind him every so often to see if the god was following him. He knew he couldn’t try to interact with him here, not when there were cameras everywhere. Even if SHIELD couldn’t see Loki, they would certainly notice if Tony started talking to an invisible friend, and then they would start asking questions. He was, however, betting that Loki would show up to the Tower once Tony got back.
When he arrived back at the penthouse, Loki was already waiting for him in his kitchen. Same schtick as before - hands behind his back, this time, carefully observing the line of empty liquor bottles on the top shelf.
“Don’t know what you’re expecting to find up there,” Tony said, walking up to the kitchen counter. “No cartoon Robin Williams is going to pop out of those and grant you three wishes anytime soon.”
Loki turned around. Tony caught a brief flicker of surprise on Loki’s face, before the god’s expression turned blank.
“How long have you been able to see me?” Loki asked.
Tony shrugged, then placed his hands on the counter separating them, leaning forwards. “Oh, give or take a couple months. You keep popping up in the weirdest places.”
Loki raised his eyebrows. “And yet you have not said anything? Why have not let your little merry band of heroes know? I gave you the perfect opportunity today.”
“Well, at first I thought I was going crazy,” Tony said. “Especially since whenever you showed up, you just sort of. Wandered around. Didn’t try to kill everyone in your way and all of that. Seemed a bit off-brand for you, even if you were just a hallucination - I was curious where all your murderous intent had gone.”
Loki’s eyes flashed, and he moved closer towards the counter, leaning across to meet Tony, mere inches from his face. “And you are so sure that I will not turn that ‘murderous intent’ on you now?”
Tony smirked. “You would have done so by now.”
Loki gave a slight hmm, then turned away, walking over to another one of Tony’s liquor shelves.
“So what’s your game plan then huh?” Tony pressed once he realized Loki wouldn’t say anymore. “Subtly infiltrate the Avengers, find our weaknesses, destroy us, then the world?”
There was a long pause before Loki replied.
“I am afraid,” Loki said slowly, “that may not entirely be in my capabilities right now.”
Loki turned around, and there was a bright flash of light. The god’s immaculate appearance transformed into tangled hair, ratty clothes, and most prominently, a giant gash across the man’s face.
Tony’s eyes widened in shock. “Um yeah, I guess I can see that. What happened? Why are you here? Have you brought something, some enemy to us?”
Tony’s tone sharpened with the last question, and he leveled a suspicious look at Loki. Loki may have looked pathetic, but he was the god of mischief. This could very easily be a trick.
Loki just laughed.
“Your precious little world is safe Stark, do not worry. And as for me, well-” Loki clasped his hands together. “That is not your concern.”
“Using Earth as a safe haven, then?” Tony quickly realized, drumming his fingers against the counter. “Running away from all the other enemies you managed to make?”
“And what if I was?” Loki responded, his voice filled with a trace of...something Tony couldn’t quite identify. “What will you do with me then Stark?”
Tony opened his mouth, about to spit some insult at the god. He should call the team, should have Loki locked away and questioned. Despite what the god said, there was a very good chance even if he wasn’t a danger himself, he was still attracting other dangers to Earth.
But what Tony ended up saying was, “You want a room?”