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Tony runs his hand through his hair as he looks at his watch.

"I'm going to be late," he states. "Really late. Like, I may miss the meeting altogether late."

"You're always late," Happy points out from the driver's seat. Tony let him drive today because the hangover. God, the hangover.

"Pepper is going to kill me this time. She was very specific. She smiled and everything. Ergo, I will soon be dead."

Happy nods sagely. "It was going to happen eventually."

"You're right." Tony sighs and taps his reactor. "I need to stop for coffee, then, so I can run if I need to. Maybe I'll have a chance then."

Happy barks out a laugh, but he says, "JARVIS, can you search for the nearest cafe or coffee shop?"

"Of course, Mr. Hogan," the AI's voice sounds through the car, and then there's a pause before JARVIS states, "There is a small, privately owned cafe three-quarters of a mile from your current location that is reviewed highly on Yelp. I have loaded the address into the GPS."

Happy follows the AI's directions while Tony hunches in the backseat of the car. He hopes the coffee shop has good pastries. It's always easier for him to bribe Pepper into not murdering him when he's toting around a box of buttery, chocolatey pastries. Also coffee, because if his headache doesn't receed, there's no way he's going to be able to put a sentence together with enough pizazz to convince Pepper not to murder him.

Tony pulls up the lapels of his coat as he steps out into the cold. It's March, but it looks like it might snow and the wind is brutal, so he hurries across the street with Happy following behind him.

The cafe is small but cute with a painted sign hanging above the door that reads Coftea Cafe. A bell jingles as he opens the door. It's as quaint on the inside as it is on the outside, with mismatched wooden tables and kitschy signs about coffee and breakfast hanging on the walls. It smells divine, the aroma of high-grade coffee blending with the scent of baked goods. There's hardly anyone in the small space, just a few college-aged kids wrapped up in bulky sweaters with their headphones on, faces lit by their computer screens. None of them look up when he enters, and Tony is fine with that. He doesn't have the energy or the time to be famous today.

A middle-aged woman with a thick blonde and white braid hanging messily over her shoulder stands at the counter. She's wearing a flour-splattered apron and smiles as he and Happy approach the counter. Tony knows she recognizes him by the way her eyes widen, but she steels herself quickly.

"Good morning," she says as he finally reaches the counter. "What can I get for you today?"

"Two vanilla lattes and the best chocolate pastries you have," Tony says as he approaches the counter. "I have to appease a woman so that I am allowed to live another day."

This woman's eyes narrow and a smile tugs at her lips. "Can't go wrong with my s'more muffins, then."

"Oh my god, s'more muffins? You're a woman after my own heart. I'll take six."

"You have to appease six women?" she asks stoically.

"You're right. Better make it a dozen."

She chuckles and looks over his shoulder at Happy. "And you?"

"Just a medium black coffee, ma'am."

She rings them up and Tony doesn't wait for her to say the total, just hands her his credit card and then stuffs a fifty-dollar bill in the tip jar while the payment is processing.

He's signing his receipt when the bell behind him sounds again.

"Your usual, Luke?" the woman behind the counter says, her voice warm and friendly.

"Yes, thank you."

Tony freezes, and he feels Happy tense next to him. Tony knows that voice. He knows it because the person it belongs to tried to kill him before, and he still hears that voice in his dreams sometimes when his mind goes back to an endless blackness sprinkled with stars and shadowed horrors slithering in his peripheral vision.

"The fireplace is on for you," the woman continues. "Since I know you freeze easily. And I've got raspberry or blueberry scones today."

"Raspberry," the voice replies. "You're wonderful, Ana. Thank you."

"Tell my husband that," she mutters, then looks down at Tony, still hunched over the counter with the pen in his hand. The warmth drops from her voice, replaced with concern. "Mr. Stark, are you all right?"

There's the sound of wood clattering and Tony slowly straightens up and turns around.

Loki stands there, hands balled into fists as his side and eyes wide. The chair belonging to the table he claimed by the fireplace is pushed about two feet away from him, his black peacoat hanging off of it and dragging against the floor. His dark hair is cut shorter that it had been the last time Tony saw him almost three years ago, falling in soft waves just above his shoulders. He's wearing dark jeans, snow boots, and a black button-up shirt. He looks so unassuming, so unlike Tony remembers him, that if he wasn't staring at Tony like he'd seen a ghost, Tony wouldn't have thought it possible.

Tony's heart thuds to the left of the arc reactor and sweat beads down his back. He was freezing a minute ago, the winter chill still laced in the threads of his clothes, but now he's in some uncomfortable in between, face and hands freezing while his core seems to be igniting. His brain, too, feels like it's about to overheat. There are a million questions running through his head. Why is Loki on Earth? Why is he dressed in Earthy clothing and not his Renaissance costume? Why is he spending his time being doted upon in some random little cafe in New York? Why did the woman call him Luke? Why isn't he trying to kill Tony? Why does he look so damned scared?

He could ask any of these things, but instead he blurts out, "Long time no see."

Loki swallows, his Adam's apple bobbing, and replies, "I must say, this is not how I expected to start my morning."

"Do you two know each other?" Ana says tightly, sounding like she's about two seconds from calling the police. Of course she's nervous, Tony thinks. The tension in the cafe could be cut with a cheap plastic spoon, and while Tony's sure he managed to reign in his shock for the most part, Happy's got his coat open and his hand on his holster, and Loki's as pale as a sheet and as taut as a guitar string.

"We're old acquaintances," Tony supplies when it seems like Loki isn't going to answer. "We met under, uh, poor circumstances a few years ago."

"Poor circumstances," Loki repeats and licks his lips.

Tony just shrugs, trying to play it cool. He's not about to risk Happy's life, let alone any of the people in the cafe or surrounding area. "So, how are things? I didn't realize you were still around."

Loki smiles then, a slow, deprecating thing that causes Tony to shiver. Next to him, Happy shifts nervously.

"I'll have your order up in just a few minutes," Ana says, fumbling with the milk steamer, and then disappears to the back.

Tony's willing to bet she's never gotten an order together so quickly in her life.

They all stand there silently, the college students still unaware of their existence. Tony rocks back and forth on his heels, unable to stand still, his fingers itching to press the cuffs on his wrists that would call his suit to him, but Loki doesn't move; he thinks it's best that he doesn't, either. Hell, Loki barely even blinks. He can't think of what to say, so Tony just stares back, studying the god who tore the sky open and literally reigned hell down upon them.

It hits him after a few seconds. Something is different about the god, and it isn't just his choice of clothing. There's something missing in the way he stands, in the way he speaks. Even his eyes seem duller. It bothers Tony and he doesn't know why, except that he remembers seeing that face in the mirror after coming back from Afghanistan as a walking time bomb.

"Your order is ready."

Tony starts, not having realized the woman had reappeared, but he quickly rallies and plasters a smile on his face as he turns back to her. There's a cardboard tray on the counter with three drinks as well as a box that's tied neatly with a red ribbon.

Ana smiles, still unsure, but her eyes keep redirecting to Loki, who still hasn't moved even though the smile's disappeared. It leaves him looking statuesque and vacant.

"Smells fantastic," Tony says, giving an appreciative sniff above the box before he grabs the tray of drinks. "Thanks for the great customer service."

He heads for the door, Happy right behind him with one hand still on his gun, the other balancing the box of cupcakes. Tony pulls the door open with a sweaty hand and hardly feels the cold that washes over the sweat on the back of his neck and around his temple.

Once they're in the car, Tony says, "Go back to the Tower."

Happy cranes his head around, eyebrows drawn together. "But the meeting with Ms. Potts—"

"The Tower," Tony snaps.

***

He checks his phone while Happy pulls onto the street, and as expected, there are several missed calls and a few colorfully worded text messages from Pepper. He texts her back, a simple, "Avengers business, will need to reschedule meeting." She'll still be pissed, but Pepper understands how important his work with the Avengers is to him. She hates it, and she left him for it, but she understands.

Tony doesn't what's going on, however, so he plans to find the one person who might.

***

Thor is in Asgard more often than not, but he visits regularly to touch base with the Avengers and see Jane. Tony is lucky that he's on Earth now, and as soon as he's in the Tower's living quarters, he asks JARVIS, "Where's our friendly neighborhood Thunder God?"

"Mr. Odinson is currently in the common room with Agent Barton and Agent Romanoff."

His three colleagues are curled up on a sofa watching reruns of How I Met Your Mother. Tony is not surprised in the slightest. When the Avengers moved into his tower, Tony was surprised to find out that when they aren't on a mission, Clint and Natasha are amazingly lazy and addicted to television and video games. It was easy for them to drag Thor into their cushioned domain.

Tony doesn't even bothering saying hello, just stands in front of the television.

"What the hell are you doing?" Clint demands, sitting up straighter. "We're watching TV, man."

Natasha doesn't speak, just stands gracefully, takes one of the lattes, and then sits back down as she takes a sip. "This is very good," she comments and reads the table on the cup. "Coftea Cafe. I haven't been there before."

"I bet you'll never guess who has, though," Tony says and looks straight at Thor.

The god blinks. "I have not visited such a place," he says.

Tony cocks his head slightly to the side. "I was thinking of a different god."

Natasha frowns, Clint looks confused, and Thor's eyes widen.

Bingo, Tony thinks.

"Anthony," the god begins, but Tony cuts him off.

"How could you not tell us?" he demands, taking a step towards them. "How long has he been here, Thor? Were you ever going to tell us?"

"What are you guys even talking about?" Clint asks, looking back and forth between the two of them, but Natasha sits stock still, legs tucked under her, facial expression grave.

"Do you want to tell them, or should I?" Tony asks and sets the coffee tray on the coffee table.

Thor purses his lips, but he stands and faces Natasha and Clint. "My brother is on Midgard."

Natasha's expression doesn't change. Clint's, however, morphs quickly from surprise to betrayal to rage. "He what?" the archer demands, standing up. A pillow goes flying, narrowly missing the remaining latte on the table. "He's on Earth? He's in New York?"

"Yes, he is," Thor sighs.

"How long has he been here?"

Thor doesn't answer and Tony feels his stomach drop to his pelvis. "He's been here a long time, hasn't he?"

"Yes," Thor murmurs, resigned. "I am sorry I did not tell you, my friends, but I feared for his safety—"

"His safety?" Clint shouts, so loudly Thor winces. "You were concerned for his safety? Are you freaking kidding me?"

The archer continues to yell, and Thor continues to look guilty, but Tony doesn't watch them. He watches Natasha, still unaffected, both hands wrapped around her stolen latte.

"You knew," Tony says, his words barely audible above Clint's rampage. He steps around the coffee table until he's looming over her. "You knew."

Clint stops yelling and turns to look down at Natasha. "What? You knew he was here?"

"Yes," she replies stonily.

Clint's nostrils flare. "How long have you known?"

"Since he was sent here two years ago."

The room is silent for several long seconds before Clint stalks out of the room.

Natasha closes her eyes and takes in a deep breath, and when she opens them, she glares daggers up at Tony. It's the look she gives before she's ready to snap someone's neck.

"Oh, no," Tony sneers, pointing at her. "You do not get to give me that look. You knew that an batshit crazy alien terrorist— no offense, Thor— was here, and you didn't think to tell us? You didn't think it was important? What if it wasn't me that happened to run into him, but Bruce? How would you explain that disaster?"

"I was ordered not to divulge any information, especially to the Avengers," Natasha replies stoically.

"By who?" Tony holds out a hand before she can respond. "Actually, I don't even know why I asked. This has Fury written all over it."

"It was my request, Anthony," Thor says hurriedly. "I did not want it publicized, even to my comrades. It is not Natasha's fault, nor the Director's. They only did what I asked of them."

Tony feels a headache starting behind his eyes and fights the urge to bang his head against the nearest hard surface. "Why the hell is he even here on Earth? And why does no one else seem concerned? He's dangerous, Thor. He tried to kill me. And you, twice. Not to mention his alien invasion and the people who died during it."

"There were few casualties," Thor says quietly, frowning.

Tony has to give him that one. Somehow, despite the alien horde raining down on Manhattan along with a lot of building materials, the casualties were minimal.

Except then Thor ruins it and adds, "He is dangerous no longer."

Tony laughs at that. "Oh really?"

Natasha speaks up. "His magic was taken from him. It was that or execution."

Tony's laugher dies on his lips and a bad taste rises in his throat. "What?"

"The Allfather banished him from Asgard," Thor says, voice roughened by emotion. "There was no other place he could go safely aside from Midgard."

"Why the hell not?"

"They would find him and kill him."

"Who would find him?"

Thor doesn't speak.

Tony just shakes his head. "You know what, I don't care. You should have told us, Thor."

Thor looks Tony straight in the eye when he says, "I feared that learning of his mortality would prompt you into action."

Tony blinks once, twice, and then stutters for a second before he manages to speak. "Are you saying you were worried one of us would kill him?"

"That was exactly my concern, yes."

Tony looks at Natasha, his mouth slightly agape. She just shrugs.

"I can't believe I'm hearing this." Tony rubs a hand over his face. "Did I fall into another dimension or something? Is this Fringe? Are we on the other side?"

Natasha rolls her eyes and finally stands, setting the empty latte cup on the table. "I'm going to find Clint."

"Have fun navigating those waters!" Tony calls after her retreating form. When she's gone, he turns to Thor. "Tell me one thing. Does Steve know?"

Thor closes his eyes and exhales. "Yes."

Tony pinches the bridge of his nose. "Jesus Christ, there is no goodness in the world. I expect Natasha to hold back these kinds of secrets, but Steve. Fuck. I need a drink."

He starts to leave but is stopped by Thor gripping his shoulder.

"Please," Thor says. "Please, leave him be. Allow him peace. There is much you do not understand about him, Anthony. I make no excuses for his actions and for the pain he caused. I cannot bring back the lives he stole. He has done horrible things, but I assure you, he deserves some peace."

Tony shrugs Thor's hand away and leaves him standing there. He's a lot of things, but he isn't about to make a promise he isn't sure he can keep.

***

He's good and drunk on the top floor of Stark Tower when Pepper shows up. She's dressed in a fitted gray dress and her hair is twisted over her left shoulder in a cascade of strawberry blonde waves. She looks gorgeous, as always, except she has a frown on her face that could emasculate better men than Tony Stark.

"Avengers business," she says, gritting her teeth. "You told me you had Avengers business. Is that was this is? Because it looks like a load of—"

"Pep, please."

She snaps her mouth shut, eyes still blazing.

"I'm sorry," Tony says, maybe slurs a little. "I'm sorry. This is just me responding to Avengers business. I promise there was business before this. And now this is my business. And you run my business. This is getting confusing. Fuck."

He takes another drink, and Pepper gives him the look, the one where she purses her lips and inhales through her nose, eyes narrowed, like she's trying to figure out if he's lying or not. Finally she sighs and sits down on the chair opposite of him.

"What happened?"

Tony stares past her, his eyes traveling between the window Loki threw him through and the patch of floor the Hulk dashed Loki into.

"Tony?"

He starts and looks at her. She just smiles sadly. She knows he isn't going to tell her, and Tony realizes with a sinking feeling she's happier that way.

"It's nothing important. Just stressed," he finally manages and shoots her a dazzling smile, all teeth.

"Next Tuesday," she says and stands. She was never good at watching him self destruct. "I rescheduled the meeting for next Tuesday at 11am. JARVIS, please put it in his calendar and do not let him forget."

"Yes, Ms. Potts," the AI replies. "His calendar is updated."

Pepper leans forward and places a hand on Tony's shoulder. "Whatever it is," she murmurs, "it will be fine."

Tony shrugs, nuzzling his cheek against the back of her hand inadvertently, and feels a pang in his chest as she pulls away. He wants her to stay, he realizes, but she won't, and he won't ask her to. They tried it, and they're better as friends, as colleagues.

Tony waits for her to leave and drinks straight out of the bottle.

***

The Avengers are summoned to SHIELD headquarters the next afternoon for a briefing. Thor isn't there, and Tony isn't surprised. He knows what this meeting is about, and he knows where Thor's gone. Once they're all seated around a table, Fury stands at the front of the room, arms crossed over his chest, and stares out at the group.

"Is this about Loki?" Tony asks before the Director has a chance to say anything.

"What?" Bruce says at the same time Clint mutters a string of curses.

Fury focuses on Tony so hard he's sure his good eye is going to burst into flames, but it doesn't, and Fury says, "Loki is on Earth."

"For how long? Did you say that part yet?" Tony asks, leaning back in his chair and resting his feet on the conference table.

Fury's nostrils flare. "Mr. Stark, are you trying to start a fight?"

"Damn right I am," he snaps.

"Tony, please," Steve says from his seat across the table. "Let the Director speak."

Fury doesn't give Tony a chance to say anything else, just launches into an explanation. "After the alien invasion, Mr. Odinson brought Loki back to Asgard. He was banished and stripped of his powers in lieu of execution. Mr. Odinson asked to allow Loki to reside here."

"And we just said yes?" Clint demands.

"In return, Loki offered us some intel. He wasn't acting alone during the invasion. It has helped us prepare more thoroughly for future attacks."

"But he killed people," Clint snaps. "He killed people— he killed Coulson— and he took over my mind. Are you shitting me? We just let him stay?"

"It was a necessary bargain," Steve says. He doesn't sound happy about it, but he nods as he speaks, as if that will reaffirm everything he says. "His powers were taken from him. He can't hurt anyone, and since he's been here, he hasn't bothered anyone. We can't ask for a better deal than that. We need Thor on our side."

"You couldn't, like, send him somewhere else?" Tony asks. "Couldn't he have gone somewhere else?"

"We wanted him close so we could still monitor his activities," the Director supplies.

"If he has no magic, Director Fast and Furious, why the hell does he need monitoring?"

Natasha speaks up. "Clever minds don't need magic to do bad things."

"So what you're saying," Tony says as he removes his feet from the table and sets his elbows in their place, "is that he can hurt someone if he wants to."

The entire room is silent for a few seconds, and Tony can't help but give himself a mental high five. Steve glares at him in the way that only Steve can, but Tony just gives him a shit-eating grin in response.

"I think it's a good idea."

They all turn towards Bruce, who sits stick-straight in his seat. He avoids looking at Tony.

"I mean," Bruce continues hesitantly, "if he wasn't acting alone, we can only assume he was acting with or for someone else. So it's probably best to get whatever we can from him and to keep him close in case they come looking for him."

"Exactly," Steve says with an approving smile.

Fury looks directly at Tony. "More importantly, we need to know what we're dealing with, and while Thor is a helpful asset, Loki had his fingers in more cookie jars before Odin stepped in. We need to be able to protect ourselves."

"Isn't that why there's an Avengers Initiative?" Tony asks. "Isn't that what we are? The line of defense."

Fury doesn't answer. Steve does, and this time he isn't smiling; he's looking at Tony with big, blue eyes like a goddamned puppy. "You almost died, Tony," he states. "We had to rely on you to almost kill yourself by flying that missile into the portal. If we can get information to minimize the need for you or any of us to martyr ourselves to save the planet, then we should take it. We're needed here, but you can't help if you're dead."

Tony feels like he was just punched in the gut. He's not sure what to say, but he's saved by Clint, who is sliding down in his seat.

"If he does anything," the archer says, making intense eye contact with Steve, "I will kill him. I'll put an arrow between his eyes."

Steve nods and says, with complete seriousness, "Okay."

"Get the hell out of my conference room, then," Fury adds and walks out.

***

Tony drinks some more when he gets back to the Tower, and then he works on his suits.

***

He finds himself standing out in front of Coftea Cafe a few days later. He hasn't slept aside for a few half-hour naps since the meeting and he's vibrating with misdirected energy, his system chock-full of scotch fumes and what amounts to probably ten pots of coffee. He doesn't really remember how he got here except that he drove and his car is a few blocks down. That should be a warning signal, but he shrugs it off.

He almost doesn't go inside. It's actually kind of nice out, compared to the cold spell that's been chilling New York for the last few weeks. Except, from where he's standing, he can see Loki through the windows, sitting in the same spot near the fireplace, hunched over a laptop like the college kids scattered around the other tables. His hair is tied back and he keeps reaching up to tuck errant strands behind his ear. There's a mug of coffee sitting next to his right hand, which occasionally twitches like it's going to grab the handle, but then he doesn't, hunching closer to his laptop screen.

Tony squares his shoulders, feels for the cold metal of the suit's SOS bracelets against his wrists, and walks into the cafe.

No one looks up when the bell above the door chimes except the woman from last time. Her hair is pinned away from her face today, and she's got on a different apron that's equally flour spattered. Her smile fades a little as she regards Tony.

"You're back," she says. "Why?"

Tony raises a brow and tries, "I really liked your latte?" but his eyes travel towards Loki, and when he looks back at the woman, she's frowning.

She leans forward and looks him straight in the eye the way Steve does. "I don't want any trouble here, Mr. Stark. I don't care who you are, or what you've done or can do."

Tony grins, a bit charmed by how damned undeterred she is despite who he is. "No trouble, just…" He trails off, because he doesn't know what this is. "I need some closure. I can't really explain more than that."

Ana— he thinks that's her name, Ana or Amy— raises a brow. She studies Tony for a few seconds then punches a few numbers into the cash register. "Vanilla latte, wasn't it?" She pauses thoughtfully, then says, "He drinks a peppermint mocha. He'll probably be needing a refill by now."

Tony almost laughs, because the woman is unabashedly forward and he loves it, but he says, "Sure, and a peppermint mocha," and hands her his credit card.

With two steaming mugs in hand, Tony heads towards Loki's table. He hasn't noticed Tony yet, the world drowned out by whatever is blaring through the headphones in his ears. What kind of music do Norse gods listen to? Tony wonders as he sets the green mug of peppermint mocha, which smells amazing, next to Loki's laptop.

Loki looks up with a smile, but it quickly falls away when he realizes it isn't Ana bringing him a drink. He immediately rips the earbuds out, classical music playing just loud enough for Tony to hear, and pushes his chair back, ready to stand. Before he can, Tony pulls out the chair across from Loki and sits down, wrapping his hands around his own mug.

"She makes a mean latte," he says conversationally. "I mean, I've had a lot of coffee— a lot of coffee— and I've got a nine-hundred dollar French Press in my kitchen, but I prefer this. It even tastes like real vanilla. Does she use real vanilla? I don't know why I'm asking you."

Loki just stares at him, pupils blown and eyes wide. He's afraid, Tony realizes with a twist of his gut. The god who threw him out a window, the god who lead an alien horde through a portal in the sky, the god who was willing to stand toe-to-toe with the Hulk, is afraid of Tony, and Tony isn't even in his goddamned suit. He feels raw thinking about it.

"Mocha smells good, too," Tony adds and leans back. "Peppermint, huh? You seem like a peppermint kind of guy to me. I can't do mint. It makes my nose burn."

Loki continues to stare and then, gently, asks, "Did you want something?"

Tony flashes a smile. "Just some company."

"I doubt it is company you seek in my presence," Loki replies roughly. "I have done nothing to warrant your attentions, Stark."

"Except you're here." Tony takes a sip of his latte. "I didn't know that you were on Earth, let alone in my city. In the city you tried to destroy. It was a bit of a surprise. I'm still surprised."

"It was not my choice," Loki hisses, eyes flashing.

They're green, Tony realizes. He remembers them being blue the time he was literally nose to nose with the god before the defenestration. There's a lot he doesn't know, and it annoys the shit out of him." Then why did you come here?"

Something dark passes over Loki's face and he almost struggles to get the words out. "Because Odin did not deem me worthy of death."

Tony tries not to flinch, but he doesn't think he's managed it by the way Loki's nostrils flare. "That's a depressing way to look at it," he says as lightheartedly as possible.

Loki looks away and just shrugs. "I am nothing if not truthful."

"Aren't you, like, the God of Lies?"

"I was the God of Lies," Loki murmurs, and then he meets Tony's gaze. "I am no longer a god."

They stare at each other for several seconds and then Tony says, "Coffee isn't strong enough for this conversation."

Loki just smirks.

"I haven't slept," Tony admits, "since I found out you were here."

Loki laughs, actually laughs, and tucks a strand of dark hair behind his ear. "I haven't slept since I was sent here."

Tony's surprised at how companionable the heavy silence is.

***

"You went back to the cafe," Steve says stonily, cornering Tony as he walks into the kitchen the next morning.

Tony is groggy, the way he always is when he sleeps 14 hours after being awake for six times that. He's actually surprised how well he slept, because when he does sleep, he usually tosses, or turns, or both, and then he has dreams or nightmares. He's as restless asleep as he is awake. He's not going to overthink it, though, and he doesn't want to ruin the slightly euphoric feeling bubbling through him, so he just pushes Steve out of the way and beelines for the coffee machine. Someone's brewed a new pot recently. Tony finds the largest mug in the cabinets and fills it before taking a sip.

"Tony, this is serious," Steve continues.

"I didn't do anything to him," Tony says in between sips of coffee. It's good, but he still wonders if he can convince the woman at the cafe to divulge her secret. "I just wanted to talk to him."

"Tony—"

The coffee finally hits his brain and alarm bells ring perkily. Tony turns towards Steve with eyes narrowed. "Did you follow me to the cafe?"

Steve takes a step back and tips his chin up. "No," he says firmly, and then adds, "Natasha did."

Tony rolls his eyes and makes his way out of the kitchen. "Then she saw that we only talked. I'm going to get some work done. Let me cope with this my own way, Miss America."

"Your way of coping usually involves self destructive behaviors!" Steve calls after him.

"Self destructive," Tony calls back sweetly. "So Loki is safe! It's just me you'll need to scrape off the tile!"

***

Tony goes back to the cafe a few times, and even though Loki isn't there, he sits by the fireplace and works on his tablet. Ana still eyes him warily, but after a few visits, she just starts making his latte when he walks through the door. The cafe itself is calming, and Tony doesn't really know why. It's very unlike Tony, and Tony's house, and Tony's workplace— it's cluttered and old fashioned; some of the art on the walls is slightly crooked; none of the tables match the chairs pulled up to them; it's common ground to someone who's tried to kill him.

So much is wrong with it, but he goes back anyway.

He finds himself there at 6 o'clock in the morning on Tuesday. He's tired, but he stayed up all night working and can't sleep now because he's got a meeting with Pepper at 9am, and if he misses it she might skin him alive. It's still dark out, and the cafe is eerily empty since most of the college kids who huddle in their usual seats have gone home for spring break, but Ana is there and a miniature, young version of her with darker hair and tighter clothes stands next to her.

"That's Iron Man," the girl stutters, pointing at Tony as he approaches the counter. "That's Tony Stark. Oh my god, mom, you didn't tell me he was a customer."

"Yes, honey, it is," Ana sighs. "Don't be rude."

"I'll take a selfie with you," Tony says with a wink, and the girl's eyes widen and then she disappears into the back of the shop.

"Oh, dear lord, you'll just make it worse," Ana says, but she's smiling as she rings up Tony's drink.

"Some Tony Stark headlines might drum up business for your little business," Tony says, gesturing at the empty cafe.

"We make just enough to stay afloat. Plus, I like it this way. I didn't start this place to turn into a Starbucks and them retire on a beach. I like the work."

"If you weren't married, I'd marry you. Do you want a job at Stark Industries? I need someone with some work ethic," Tony says with a grin as the girl reappears with her phone clutched in both of her hands. Tony motion for her to stand next to him, and she hurries around the counter and sidles up to him.

"So, you want duck face or genuine smile?" he asks seriously.

"Duck face. Definitely duck face," the girl says.

"What's your name?"

"Margaret."

"All right, Margaret," Tony says and throws an arm over her shoulder. "Let's do this."

Ana laughs while they both purse their lips together and Margaret snaps a few photos with her phone. Tony has never shied away from things like this. He's in the spotlight, has been since he can remember, and he likes it for the most part. He uses it to his advantage most of the time, but his favorite instances are ones like these. Instances like the humvee that he shared with a few excited soldiers before they all died in front of him.

He doesn't think about it anymore, and it's easy because Margaret grins brightly. "Thank you. Can I post them online?"

"Oh, yeah, have a blast," Tony says with a smirk. "Worse about me has made it onto the internet."

The door opens and Tony glances over his shoulder as cool air tickles the back of his neck. Loki stands there, hair a tangled mess around his face and cheeks flushed pink. He narrows his eyes when he sees Tony, but then his gaze lands on Margaret and the iciness melts.

The girls runs to him for a hug, and Loki opens his arms and delivers.

Tony watches, somewhere between stunned and uncomfortable. He hadn't been surprised over Loki's relationship with Ana— Loki's a regular at the cafe, so obviously they would get along to some extent. Watching Loki smile like that at someone else, though— some whip-thin, gawky college freshman who doesn't know him from Adam… well, Tony wasn't expecting that. He wasn't expecting Loki to have much of a life, didn't think he agreed with Thor's second chance rant. He can't help but thinl about Natasha, the woman he trusts (for the most part) with his life, the woman whose history is mostly redacted because it's classified, because for a lot of it she fought against the country she now tries to protect.

Tony suddenly feels like a third wheel, like he's interrupting some special moment, so he turns to Ana, who's smiling warmly.

"She adores him," she says quietly. "He tutored her while she was still in high school. She's a smart girl, my daughter, but I'm convinced Luke got her into college. He helped her with her essays. Anyway, let me finish your drink so you can sit."

Tony waits at the counter while Ana works and Loki and Margaret talk excitedly behind him. He gleans that Margaret goes to college on the west coast and that Loki was on some work trip the last few days, and then Ana hands him his drink and he retreats to the other side of the room. He sinks into one of the cushioned chairs in the corner and pulls out his tablet. He still has a few hours to kill, and he doesn't want to seem like he's running away.

Running away from what, he isn't sure.

It's nearly an hour later when Loki pulls up a chair and sits across from him.

"Ana tells me you continue to come here," he says.

"Is that a problem?"

Loki's voice drops. "I do not like to be toyed with, Stark."

"I'm not toying with you."

"Then what is it you're doing?"

Tony sets his tablet on his lap. "I like it here. It's nice. I like the coffee."

"Unsurprisingly, I don't believe you," Loki retorts.

"I do like it here, but you're right, that's not the only reason," Tony admits.

"Then what is it you want?"

"Answers." Tony taps his fingers over his reactor, unable to calm the nervous tick. "Why did you do it?"

Loki starts. "What?"

"Why did you do everything you did? They tell me you were working for someone else. Is that true?"

"I do not wish to speak of it," Loki begins, but Tony cuts him off.

"Too bad," he says and leans forward in his chair. "Who were you working for? And why? It doesn't look like things played out well for you, though you seem pretty cozy here."

"You know nothing," Loki snarls.

Tony can't help it, his heart rate rises. Loki may not have any magic left with which to set him on fire, but he's still terrifying in his own way.

"I fell from the Bifrost into the void," he continues lowly, his eyes glinting in a way that makes Tony wonder if they really took all of his magic away. "I fell into the void after finding out that I was a monster, the monster Asgardians tell their children about, and was found by a monster worse than myself. Do you know what it means, Tony Stark, to have another force you to be what you do not wish to be? I was born a monster, but I did not desire to be one. Ah, but Fate has plans for us all."

Loki angles towards Tony, so close that he can feel Loki's hot breath on his face.

"And do you know," the former god whispers, "what it is like to have your very life stolen from you? Do you know what it feels like to come out on the other side of death, and then to have your very lifeblood torn from you as a punishment for crimes that are not just your own to bear?"

Tony doesn't speak at first, not trusting himself. There's a baseball-sized lump in his throat, and he's having trouble breathing around it. He thinks this is a mild panic attack, remembers the same feeling creeping up his chest and into his esophagus when his suit shut down in the darkness of space. Loki just stares at him, waiting. He isn't going to let him off easy.

"Yeah," he finally manages, voice raw. "Yeah, I kind of get it."

Loki slowly sits back, interlocking his fingers in his lap. "Barton told me of your history," he says, tilting his head to the side. "He told me that you were tortured in a dusty cave after they were forced to put that contraption of metal in your chest to save you so that they could use you for their own benefit."

"No, please, continue. This isn't awkward at all," Tony says, some of the snark coming back.

Loki smirks, but there's nothing amused behind it. "I do not ask forgiveness for what I have done. I know what I am, Tony Stark. I was torn apart by grief, and I allowed the Titan to use me as a pawn. I wanted to harm. I wanted to destroy. I wanted everything to be eaten by the flames. Anger and betrayal burn black in the hearts of gods as much as they do men."

Tony thinks back to Obie, thinks about how he felt nothing when he had Pepper press the button that fried him to a crisp. He would do it again, too. He would do it every single time.

"They should have killed me, however," Loki finishes with a sigh. He sags back into the cushions of the chair. "They should have had some pity, those I once called family, and they should have killed me. But they did not, and here I am." Another pause, and then, "Why are you here?"

"Closure," Tony replies without hesitating. "I saw your void briefly. I still have nightmares about it. I remember the darkness after my suit shut down, and then I remember waking up on Earth feeling like nothing would ever be the same."

Loki smiles ruefully. "It won't be the same."

"Is he still a threat?" Tony asks. "The monster you mentioned."

"Yes, but not for some time. My failure will set him back considerably."

Tony raises a brow. "Failure and defeat aren't the same thing, pal. Own it."

Loki grins now, showing teeth like he's preparing to have Tony for a meal. "I had some control, in the end. Failure is the correct word because I wanted to fail." Before Tony can respond to the admittance, he continues, "I gave all of the information I could to your SHIELD. There is nothing else I can do but wait and hope that he does not find me before I have withered and died."

Tony decides to let the former god steer the conversation. "So you're really mortal, then? Like, killable?"

"I was always killable," Loki says with a snort. "Now I am just more easily killed."

"Good to know," Tony replies with a smirk. "So, what does an easily killable former god do for work?"

Loki blinks, confused, before his expression settles into a pleasant mask. "I am an academic of sorts."

"What does that even mean?"

"I write and edit scholarly articles regarding Norse history and mythology. I'm occasionally consulted for museum exhibits, as well, which is what I was doing the last several days while you attempt to stalk me."

Tony laughs. "Stalking is a bit of an overstatement. Did SHIELD help you land the gig? They must have."

Loki smiles, and it's the first time there's nothing else fueling it. "They did. I had no past, no identification. I would not have lasted long had they not provided some aid."

"It's funny how these things work out," Tony muses. "Did you know that once upon a time, before you broke open the sky with a bunch of weird fucking alien whales, I wasn't even considered a viable asset for the Avengers Initiative? Look at us now, Lokes."

"Fate has quite the sense of humor, yes."

They're interrupted by Tony's phone blaring loudly from his pocket. He fishes it out and is surprised that it's an alarm, set by JARVIS, telling him to get his ass to Pepper's meeting. He didn't realize it was already 8:30, didn't realize he and Loki had been talking for so long.

"Time for work," he says and stands.

Loki watches him from beneath his lashes as Tony wraps his scarf around his neck and pulls on his coat. Tony feels oddly self conscious— who the hell knows why— but he plays it cool and looks down at Loki expectantly once he's bundled up and ready to go.

"Well, good chat, Luke," he says, since Ana and Margaret are watching them from across the cafe. "See you around."

"Looking forward to it," Loki says dryly with a wave of his hand.

***

Tony makes it to the meeting five minutes early. Pepper is so surprised she drops her binder.

***

Tony is in his workshop, tinkering with a new gauntlet design, when the doors whoosh and Thor walks in. He's dressed in his Asgardian armor, red cape trailing behind him, and stops in front of Tony's worktable.

"Buddy, you know that much fabric is dangerous in here," Tony says without looking up. "If you catch on fire, I'm not calling Dum-E off. It'll be your own fault."

"Heimdall tells me that you have visited my brother again."

Tony tenses, then carefully taps the top of his portable soldering iron on a wet sponge before returning it to its stand. He looks up at Thor, who is staring down at him with his Thor-powered frown. Tony's never met anyone aside from Pepper who could frown with their whole face.

"Then he probably told you that I haven't done anything horrible," Tony says. "We talked. It was a good conversation. Case closed."

"Anthony—"

"I know, Thor. I get it. I'm not out for blood or anything. I got what I needed."

Thor frowns harder somehow, the crease between his eyebrows and the lines on his forehead deepening. He takes a step forward and just stands there for a moment before he finally asks, "Is he well?"

Tony just… he stares. His mouth might be open a bit. He realizes that the frown isn't aimed towards Tony, not in the "I'm so disappointed in you" way that Steve frowns at him or Pepper frowns at him or, hell, everyone else frowns at him. "Wait," he says, the pieces clicking into place. "You haven't seen him, have you?"

"He blames me," Thor replies quietly. "He still blames me for his sentencing. He wished for death, Anthony. The All Father was willing, but I could not allow it."

Tony isn't really sure what to say. He isn't really the person people come to for family advice. His relationship with his father was distant at its best, combustible at its worse, and he loved his mother, but there wasn't some crazy intense bond.

There was Obie. There was Obie. Hell, no one should go to Tony Stark for family advice.

"I do not mean to burden you," Thor says uncomfortably, ripping Tony from his thoughts.

"You're not. I just… I don't know how to help you. My closest family member wasn't actually related to me and tried to have me killed, so."

It dawns on him as the last few words tumble out of his mouth that he and Thor probably have more in common than he originally thought. He sees the same realization strike Thor, too, and then the Thunderer grins lopsidedly.

"Give him my regards when you visit again," Thor says as he turns to leave.

"Visit again?" Tony scoffs. "I'm not going back there. The cafe is filled with hipsters, Thor! They're almost as bad as people who try to kill me! Why would I go back?"

***

He goes back a few days later. He wonders if Heimdall will see it if he flips the bird to the sky the same way he does to the ceiling in the tower when JARVIS is being a smartass. He decides to test it out at the last minute. He receives a ton of looks ranging from startled to disgusted since it is four o'clock in the afternoon and there's a decent amount of people on the street, but he just smiles brightly for the few people who pull out their phones.

"Pepper is going to have a field day with those headlines," he mutters to himself as he walks into the cafe.

It's a lot busier now than he's seen it in the morning. Ana is behind the counter— Tony wonders if she ever takes a day off— and Margaret is behind her making drinks. There's another girl there, too, one Tony hasn't seen before and couldn't care less about.

And, of course, Loki is huddled over his computer near the fireplace.

He doesn't order, doesn't need coffee this late in the day if he wants some sleep. It's been two days, and he could probably sleep tonight if he avoided coffee and just drank some scotch after seven. He sits down across from Loki. The former god startles and then narrows his eyes, lips turning down.

"You are like a child," he states as he removes his headphones. "This is where I work, Stark. You are interrupting my work."

"Do you ever, you know, go out and do anything?" Tony asks.

Loki's eyebrows draw together. "Excuse me?"

"Do you have a social life?"

Loki takes a deep breath and closes the lid of his computer. "I… no, not particularly."

"Why not?"

"Because I do not wish to socialize."

"Why?"

"I should charge you per question," Loki hisses.

"I don't know if you've heard, but I have a lot of money," Tony says brightly.

Loki quirks a brow. "I do notice the large bills you slip into the tip jar."

Tony laughs. "I'm a generous man."

"Are your attentions towards me generosity, then?" Loki asks stonily.

"Oh, no. I'm just curious."

Loki sighs, the same way Thor does, with a lot of exasperation behind it. "I do not have time for this, Stark."

"Sure you do," Tony replies.

Loki grinds his teeth. "Why are you here?"

Tony sits back and crosses his arms over his chest. He has a few snarky comments on the tip of his tongue, but he decides truthful might be the best approach. "I don't know, honestly. I get bored sometimes. You probably understand the feeling. You know, the one where you're the smartest person in the room and you crave something else to get your gears going."

Loki rests his elbows on the table and leans forward, eyelids heavy and mouth slightly open. His hair is loose today, and it falls over his shoulders, curling along his chin and brushing against the small section of collarbone peaking out from the neck of Loki's shirt.

"Do I get your gears going, Stark?" he asks lowly, his voice like smoke and whiskey.

And, well, fuck, that definitely does it. Tony's glad he's still wearing his peacoat because he doesn't get hard-ons for men often, but he's sporting a partial now, and he doesn't really want Heimdall to notice and report back to Brother of the Year and Daddy Dearest.

He's pretty proud of himself when he speaks because he sounds, amazingly, completely unaffected. "See, if you had a social life, you'd be able to practice line that on pretty men and women so you can have a good time while you're on this godforsaken rock."

"You're pretty enough," Loki retorts, lips pulling into a devilish smile.

"Pretty enough?" Tony demands. "I'll have you know I've been voted as one of People's 100 Most Beautiful every year since 2006. Also Most Influential. I'm a fucking catch."

Loki is full-out grinning now. "Please, tell me more about yourself."

"Don't patronize me, Rapunzel. I could talk about myself all day."

"I do not doubt you, surprisingly," Loki says drily.

"Come on," Tony says, hard-on now hard-off, and stands up. "Let me talk about myself over dinner. My treat."

Loki, who has kept up with him for the most part through their banter, sudden draws back. "Dinner? Why?"

"Because mortals— you know, like yourself— need to eat."

Loki's eyes narrow. "I required sustenance when I was immortal. That has not changed."

"Don't be such a wet blanket. Come on, I'll even let you talk. You can tell me some good stories about Thor as a kid. I bet you have good ones. He always talks about the pranks you pulled. We've got a prank war going on in the tower. Clint is leading the assault so far. The fucker can climb through the goddamned air vents. How am I supposed to work around that?" He raises a brow and looks down at Loki pointedly. "I could use some pointers from a master."

Loki rolls his eyes, but he still puts his laptop into his bag and pulls on his coat.

***

They eat burgers at an old-school diner and Loki gets a chocolate milkshake. Tony's surprised to find out that the former god enjoys sweets. They talk about things like movies, and music, and nothing horribly personal, and Tony hates how much he enjoys it.

When they part ways, Loki offers a wave, and Tony speed walks back to his car and wonders what the hell is going on.

***

He doesn't go back to the cafe for over a week. He's busy testing his new suit prototype, playing around with a new AI model, and fighting off the horde of magic-fueled robots that Doom sends to ruin Tony's weekend. After the Avengers debrief, he makes his way back to his suite, falls into bed with his clothes still on and sleeps for seventeen hours straight.

"Sleeping Beauty's awake!" Clint crows when Tony trudges into the common area after a shower and a shave.

"Who'd have thought that ass-kissing you gave me would do the trick," Tony says sweetly and beelines for the pizza boxes piled on the coffee table. "How old is this?"

"Only a few hours," Natasha replies. She's sitting next to Clint on the couch, sinking into the cushions with her feet crossed on his lap.

Tony opens a pizza box and crams a slice into his face. "Oh my god, it's so good."

Natasha's lips quirk. "You seem like you're doing okay. You took a pretty nice hit to the helmet."

"Yeah, if Bruce hadn't assured us you didn't have a concussion, we were going to take shifts poking you," Clint adds. "Bruce always ruins our fun."

"He's a goddamned saint." Tony piles several slices of pizza onto a plate and sits down in one of the armchairs. "Where is Brucie?"

"Still sleeping off his Hulk hangover."

Tony stares at the television for a bit after he's devoured the pizza on his plate as well as a few more slices, then he wanders down to his workshop. He's never been good at sitting still, and while he likes a good action flick, binge-watching Netflix doesn't keep his brain occupied enough, and most of the time, he needs his brain occupied so he doesn't get carried away.

The suit he wore to his dance with Doom has seen better days. He doesn't have to worry about having nothing functional when another idiot comes knocking because he's had more than enough time to put together about, oh, two dozens suits. He's bothered, though. They haven't had to deal with any magical enemies since Loki, and as Tony stares at the damage, he wonders if it's time to start delving into some magic repellents, especially if there's some big, bad alien out there. He realizes he doesn't know much about the monster under Loki's bed, and he makes a mental note to ask the former god about Big Bad's capabilities the next time he sees him.

"Huh," he says. "Next time."

"Next time, Sir?" JARVIS replies.

"Nothing, Jarv. Can you fire up the bots? We can get started on suit repairs before I need to tinker with the wiring by hand."

"Of course, Sir."

When the repairs are in progress, he sits down at one of his workstations. He has a list of projects he could work on, including finalizing specs for an automated, arc-tech drone meant to skim oceanic surfaces for debris and plaster.

"Jarv, put on some mood music, will ya?"

JARVIS obliges with some Bob Segar, and Tony loses himself.

***

He works until the sun comes up and Pepper shows up with a box of donuts and a vanilla latte from from the bakery near her condo. It's a thing she does after he's almost gotten himself killed because romantic relationship or not, Pepper loves him. She worries even though she doesn't bother saying it anymore because it falls on deaf ears, so she does what she can, and Tony eats it up because even though he couldn't give Pepper the great love she deserves, he's damn ready to gorge himself on sugary breakfast foods if it will make her glare less when she studies his bruises.

He's in the middle of shoving half of a chocolate long john into his mouth when Pepper asks, "Are you going to tell me what's bothering you?"

Tony coughs on the icing. "What?" he manages around a mouthful of dough.

"Something's been wrong," she says with a frown. "At first, I thought you just weren't sleeping again, but Steve's told me you've been sleeping semi-regularly—"

"Do you and Steve seriously talk about my sleep schedule? Pepper, come on."

"I wouldn't have to mother hen you if you took care of yourself," she retorts. "Plus, the amount of coffee you drink to stay awake after not sleeping for a week is bad for your heart."

"Says the woman who brought me a damned latte." He wiggles the mostly empty drink in front of her face. "You're so manipulative, Miss Potts."

"Stop trying to change the subject."

"There isn't a subject," Tony says with a smile.

She sighs. "Fine. As long as you keep coming to meetings on time, what do I care. Unless you're doing drugs. I can't handle that PR disaster, Tony, not after your drunk striptease at the gala last year."

Tony grins, knocks her knee with his own, and grabs another donut. He wants to tell her, except he isn't sure what's wrong and Tony refuses to admit that he doesn't know something. All he really can say for sure is that the latte Pepper got him, which is the same latte she's been getting him for years, just doesn't taste all the great.

***

"I thought you were dead," Loki says off-handedly when Tony sits across from him at the cafe a few days later.

"Oh, yeah, nice to see you, too," Tony deadpans as he slips out of his jacket.

"With such a ridiculous name, I didn't think that Doctor Doom would cause you so much trouble, but the footage on the news was quite riveting. The great and powerful Iron Man, tossed about like a rag doll."

"You know, if you didn't want to do the academic thing, you could probably be a motivational speaker. I mean, I am feeling great right now."

Loki doesn't look up from his computer screen. He just smiles this little piece of shit smile, so smug and amused.

"You're glad, though," Tony adds. He can play this game, too.

"Glad of what?"

Tony scoffs, mock-offended. "That I'm not dead, obviously."

Loki looks up through his lashes. "Why on earth would I be glad?"

"Everyone loves my winning personality."

"If I recall correctly, your winning personality got you thrown from your own building the last time I went toe to to with it," Loki replies dryly. "You are very presumptuous."

"I thought we were getting somewhere," Tony says with a dramatic sigh.

Loki doesn't respond; in fact, he stays quiet long enough, eyes drawn back towards his computer screen, that Tony wonders if the former god has decided to just ignore him. It wouldn't be the first time. Pepper's not-so-gently told him that most people only listen to about twenty percent of the things Tony says… if he's lucky. If he isn't and he's talking to Clint, it's more in the two percent range. Sometimes the bastard just removes his hearing aids mid-conversation.

And then Loki says, "Where is it you would like to go with me, Tony Stark?"

Tony doesn't really know how to answer that because he isn't quite sure. He finds Loki interesting, and Tony has a habit of obsessing when he finds things interesting, but it still doesn't make sense. He does a lot of things he shouldn't. It's his thing, the thing Steve yells at him about all the time over the comms and Pepper warns him against. Bruce is the little angel on his shoulder, but he turns into a green rage monster, so he can only listen to so much. It's why he's wrapped up in the Avengers, and why he flew through a portal into space. He likes to do things he shouldn't.

Except this is Loki, and while he does a lot of things he shouldn't, he really, really shouldn't be befriending the alien (former) god who nearly killed him and the only people he can call family.

Except he doesn't say that. Instead, he says, "To get some pizza. I'm starving."

Loki huffs out a laugh and gently closes his laptop. "I do enjoy pizza."

They eat large slices of greasy pizza at some hole-in-the-wall pizzeria. Loki may no longer be a god, but he still eats like one. After finishing his second slice, Tony sits back and watches Loki inhale a third and then start on a fourth.

"They took away your magic, but not your metabolism. Jesus. Do former gods suffer heart attacks?"

Loki smirks and wipes his mouth with a napkin.

Tony waits until he's chewing again to say, "Can I ask you a kind of personal question?"

Loki gestures with his hand; Tony takes that a "yes."

"So, your magic's been revoked. How is that even possible, though? Isn't it, like, a part of you?"

Loki doesn't bat an eye, but his hands curl more tightly around the napkin as he swallows. "Your kidney is a part of you, but they can remove it, can they not?"

"It cannot be that easy."

Loki sighs quietly. "It is not. I am… not Aesir, not by blood, so it is not as simple as Thor's punishment. He does not possess magic in the same sense, and Mjolnir can be revoked since its power is bestowed."

"Okay, so you still have magic or you don't?"

"I do and I do not. Think of it as a tourniquet." Loki offers Tony what can only be described as a self-deprecating smile. "A limb deprived of blood will wither and die."

"I was just curious with how all the magic mumbo jumbo worked, but now I'm just depressed." He takes an obnoxiously loud sip of his Coke.

Loki smirks. "Does this mean I get to ask you a question?"

"Sure, I'm an open book."

"The device in your chest. Tell me about it."

Tony hesitates. He can't help it. Open book or not, ever since his chest became home to the reactor, he's been stingy about sharing information about it. Or, really, ever since Obadiah all but tore it from his chest and left him to die. Loki, once upon a time, would have probably done the same had he known about it. Tony studies the former god, who's watching him with quiet curiosity, and wonders if he would still do it if he could.

"It's a magnet," Tony finally says. "The arc reactor—you know, the glowy bit— produces clean energy that powers an electromagnet that keeps the shards of metal in my chest from puncturing anything. You knew that, though. Clint told you, if I remember correctly."

Loki nods. "He did not have details, however. Just the necessary facts."

"It's a long story."

Loki raises a brow. "I have no prior engagements, but I understand if you must be going."

For a moment, Tony wonders if it's a trap, if Loki is trying to goad him into divulging the story, into finding his weaknesses. He doesn't know how the information would be useful to him now, since he mortal and magic-less, but he wouldn't put it past the former god. Except there's something soft about the way Loki looks at him now.

"I have no plans," Tony finally says, and he's not sure if the twist in his gut is regret or not.

***

They end up back at Loki's apartment.

Tony stands in the hall by the door and watches Loki slip out of his shoes and his coat. He looks over his shoulder expectantly when Tony just stands there and stares, so Tony does the same and hangs his coat up next to Loki's.

He follows the former god down the hall. He gets quick glimpses of an office (filled to the brim with books), a kitchen (old-school tea pot, bottle of wine on the counter), and a bedroom (curtains instead of shades, pale walls, grey comforter, abstract art hanging on the walls), and then he's in the living room and Loki is motioning towards the couch.

Tony sits, but Loki doesn't. "Wine?" he asks.

"Yeah, definitely," Tony replies, and then the god disappears down the hall.

Tony looks around the room and realizes he doesn't know Loki at all. He expected a lot of greens and gold or other bright, in-your-face colors, and he expected old, even ornate furniture and decorations. However, Loki's apartment is quiet. The walls are white, the art is abstract but not overwhelming, and his television is a flat screen. Most of the wooden furniture— a coffee table, end tables, some shelving— is finely sanded and painted dark. There isn't a speck of gold anywhere. Nothing is green, either; the couch is gray, and the accent pillows are grey and white.

Loki returns holding two glasses of wine. He hands Tony his glass and then sits down on the couch as far away from Tony as possible.

"Story time," he says with a daring smile.

Tony would prefer scotch for this conversation, but he takes a gulp of wine and begins. "My best friend and the man I wished was my father sent me to the Middle East to sell weapons." He stares down at the glass and swirls the wine as he talks. "He paid some not very nice men to blow up my transportation. Several men and women died trying to protect me, and a pretty hefty handful of metal lodged itself in my chest. I almost bled out, I wished I had, but I was of better use alive than dead."

Loki stares intently at him, hardly blinking. Tony can't look at him.

"When I woke up, I was tortured, and then I was thrown into a cell with a kind man who attached me to a car battery and cut open my chest to put a magnet there so the metal didn't slice up my heart. When I woke up, they threatened to kill me if I didn't make them weapons. They were already using my weapons, mind you. My good friend was selling them under the table to the highest bidder. The terrorists, though, they wanted new weapons. Stronger weapons."

"But you didn't make them weapons," Loki says quietly.

"Of course not," Tony scoffs and leans back against the cushions. "I said I would because I can be a great liar, and then I made a giant fucking suit of metal, and the man who saved me, he sacrificed himself so I could bust my way out."

Loki doesn't say anything, just takes a sip of his wine.

"Obadiah, my friend, my father figure, my mentor," Tony murmurs. "He tried to kill me himself, but he was a coward. Instead of shoot me or slit my throat, he used this fancy device to paralyze me. Once I was helpless, he took the fancy new reactor I made out of my chest, hoping the adrenaline would pump the shrapnel right into my heart."

"And you killed him," Loki states.

"Yeah, I did. Well, Pepper pushed the button." Tony looks up at Loki. "You can imagine how thrilled I was that your little scepter of mind control didn't work. I don't like having my agency taken away."

"Neither do I," Loki replies.

"You made your choices," Tony begins, but Loki cuts him off.

"You cannot understand."

"But I want to," Tony stresses. He means it, too. Loki isn't what he expected, isn't who he expected, and he's curious.

Loki sets his wine glass on the coffee table. "What?"

"I want to understand you," Tony repeats.

Everything happens quickly after that. Startled, Tony drops his wine glass. It shatters against the floor, and as merlot rushes over the wood and bits of glass fly everywhere, Loki straddles him, hands pressed on either side of Tony's face, and he kisses him in a way Tony has never been kissed before. The hunger behind it is almost overwhelming and Tony gasps against it. Loki swallows the sound, runs his tongue over Tony's lips, and nips at his bottom lip.

Tony may be a superhero, but beneath the suit, he's only a man, and a man can only stay still for so long. He wraps his arms around the leaner man and pulls him in, arching against Loki's weight because fuck, he's as hard as a rock. Loki moans, fingers combing through Tony's hair, and then he yanks Tony's head back so he has access to his throat. He kisses his way from Tony's ear to his Adam's apple and sucks hard enough to bruise, then laps his tongue over the spot before licking the same trail to his other ear.

He nips at Tony's ear lobe and whispers, "If you will regret this, tell me now, because I will stop. I cannot handle any more regrets."

Tony grabs the former god's chin and kisses him with so much force his lips throb. "Bedroom," he pants. "Now."

They stumble down the hall towards Loki's bedroom. Tony steps on a shard of glass and wine soaks his socks, but he doesn't care as he unbuttons Loki's shirt and spreads his hands over the hard planes of his chest and stomach. They stop at the foot of the bed. The former god's muscles ripple as he inhales and exhales raggedly. He pulls Tony's t-shirt over his head and kisses and licks a trails around the reactor as he unbuttons Tony's pants, slides them down over his hips, and palms Tony's hard cock through his briefs.

Tony closes his eyes and arches into the touch, but the pressure disappears as quickly as it appeared. Tony opens his eyes and his mouth to complain in time to watch Loki drop to his knees and pull down Tony's briefs until his cock springs free.

Loki grins before his lips close over the head.

Loki slides forward slowly, staring up at Tony with his pupils blown so wide the green is gone, and Tony's entire body trembles. Loki uses his teeth, the barest amount, and Tony's hands fly to the former god's head and fist in his hair. Loki sucks as he pulls back and Tony clenches his teeth so hard he thinks he might have cracked a tooth.

"Are you sure you're not still a god?" he asks breathily and nearly comes when Loki laughs around his cock before pulling off with an obscene pop.

Before Tony can say or do anything else, Loki pushes him back onto the bed and slides out of his pants and boxers. Tony barely has a chance to appreciate how fucking sexy the god is before Loki climbs on top of him. Tony raises himself onto his elbows as Loki reaches for his nightstand, pulls open a drawer, and retrieves a bottle of lube.

Tony keeps his eyes trained on Loki's face as he slicks his fingers. He isn't really sure where this is going, and even though he hasn't bottomed for any man since college, he's willing. Loki stares back, face flushed, and then begins to prepare himself.

Tony's fine with that, too.

Loki stretches himself, fucks himself with his fingers, writhing and moaning above Tony until he literally cannot hold himself back. He arches up, cock rubbing against Loki's hand, and Loki just grins like a fucking shark, like he expected Tony to cave first, before he grabs Tony's cock and sinks down onto him until his ass is cradled by Tony's hips. They stare at each other for a a few seconds before Loki arches forward, flattens his slicked hands over Tony's stomach, and begins to ride him.

Tony groans and throws his head back, but Loki grips his chin and forces Tony to look at him. His hair hangs around his face, dark and wild and tangled, and his lips. Jesus Christ, his lips. Tony reaches up and pulls Loki down his he can run his tongue along those lips. Loki's hips stutter and he moans, and Tony uses the change in pace to his advantage. He digs his fingers into Loki's hips and thrusts up.

Loki doesn't look away, doesn't speak, and when Tony feels the white hot pressure building at the base of his spine, he wraps a hand around Loki's cock. A strangled moan hisses out between Loki's clenched teeth and he thrusts himself into Tony's hand even as he's riding Tony into the mattress.

When Loki comes, he grinds down onto Tony cock. His entire body vibrates, muscles twitching and clenching, but he doesn't moan. He doesn't yell. He sighs, eyes closing, and allows his head to drop back.

"Oh my god," Tony groans, thrusts up, and spills himself inside of the former god.

Neither of them move for a few seconds. Tony's afraid to break the silence, afraid of what this means. After his breathing behinds to slow, Loki leans down until they're chest to chest, not bothered by the stickiness of cum and sweat between them, and buries his face in the crook of Tony's neck with another sigh. Tony's trails his fingers over Loki's back and stares up at the ceiling.

He just had sex— great sex— with an alien.

An alien who tried to kill him.

An alien who left his city in ruins.

An alien whose brother he works with on a pretty regular basis.

Tony thinks he's probably made worse decisions.

***

It's dark when he opens his eyes again. His first thought is huh because Tony can't remember the last time he slept soundly without nightmares unless he drank a decent amount of alcohol prior to passing out, and he doesn't feel hungover or still drunk. His second thought is where the hell am I. Not at the tower because these sheets don't feel like his sheets (his sheets are Egyptian cotton and these are three-hundred count at best), and his sheets usually don't include a warm body. He doesn't take anyone home, not since Pepper, and there's definitely a body pressed alongside him and a hand resting on his chest, covering the light emitted by the reactor.

Ergo, he isn't in the tower.

His brain finally powers up and he remembers. Loki. Loki is the body, the surprisingly warm body, draped over him. Tony stares up at the darkness and the ceiling beyond it and wonders what the hell he's going to do, what he's going to say. He's not really sure what line he's crossed, if there were any lines, and he's not sure what Loki is going to expect. Tony doesn't want him to expect anything.

Tony's considering slipping away while Loki still sleeps when the former god yawns and stretches, and then the room is filled with a cool blue light.

"You're awake," Loki murmurs, and there's a hesitation there.

Tony isn't sure what he's supposed to say, so he just says, "Yup."

Loki nods against him, not moving away. "Your Avengers, will they wonder where you are?"

"They're used to me not coming home occasionally, or waltzing in at odd hours. So, no, probably not."

"Ah. That is good, then."

"Heimdall, though. He probably knows. The sick bastard."

Loki pushes himself up onto one elbow and stares down at Tony, dark hair tousled and draped over one side of his face. Fuck, he's beautiful, Tony thinks, heartbeat picking up speed, and then he has to look away. He stares up at the light fixture above.

"Heimdall?" Loki says sharply. "Why do you say that?"

"Thor cornered me once after Heimdall told him I'd visited you a few times," Tony sighs. "He wanted to know why. That was awkward. This is going to be even more awkward. He seems like the over-protective type."

"Why?"

Tony laughs. "Why? Because Thor's gonna know I banged his brother."

"I meant," Loki whispers, "why did you keep coming back to me?"

Tony's heart rails against the confines of his chest. He swallows and still doesn't look at Loki. He can't look at Loki because he knows what the former god is asking him, and he can't look at him when he doesn't have it in him to say something like I kind of like you.

"I told you," he says instead. "I get tired of being the only smart guy in the room. You're a smart guy. Oh, and I wanted to talk to you about magic."

"Magic," Loki repeats neutrally.

"Yeah. You know, so I can make my suit magic resistant. We got distracted, though. Not that I'm complaining."

Loki is silent for several seconds. Tony tries not to fidget.

"Do you have any of his magical robots in your possession?"

Tony looks at Loki now. His head is bowed, hair concealing all of his face, but there's something rigid about his posture, something distant about his voice. He hit the nail on the head, then, and splintered the shit out of the wood.

"Yeah, I do," Tony murmurs.

"You may need to adjust your scanners— I assume you have some kind of machine to measure energy. Magic is energy that is concentrated and directed, much like your repulsors."

Tony blinks. "It can't be that easy."

Loki shrugs. "You just need to find the right frequency to measure the different signatures. You can create something similar to an EMP once you isolate it."

Tony sits up, giddy butterflies flapping through his stomach, but before he can reach for him, Loki slides out of bed. Tony watches as he pulls on his pants. The butterflies all drop dead.

"What's wrong?" Tony asks.

"You should be going," Loki says as he looks at Tony over his shoulder, expression impassive. "It's late, and I need to work in the morning."

"Loki—"

"You got what you came here for, did you not?" Loki asks, and even though his voice is level, there's a weight behind the words that transfers to Tony's chest. "I trust you can let yourself out."

Loki disappears into what Tony assumes is a bathroom. The sound of a shower putting to life punctures the silence.

Expectations are a bitch, Tony thinks, and I'm an idiot.

***

"Where were you last night?" Clint asks the next morning. "Game night, remember?"

They all stare at him expectantly, and Tony considers going back upstairs and walking off his balcony. Of course the one night the team would expect him to be around is the night he chooses to have a sexual rendezvous with their second-favorite Asgardian. He's thankful Thor isn't there, but that means Thor is probably in Asgard, which just makes him queasy.

"I went out for a drink and got distracted," he offers.

Clint shrugs and Steve frowns and says, "but it was game night" because he likes their team building exercises, but Natasha and Bruce all give him the look.

Tony ignores it and goes back to his pancakes.

"Steve won Cards Against Humanity, by the way," Natasha adds when the silence runs too long.

Tony nearly chokes on his pancakes.

***

Tony avoids the Coftea Cafe for two days and runs every scanner he has on Doom's stupid bot; he locates the frequency and dances around his workshop. He considers going to the cafe on the third day, and he's ready to apologize for being a dick, but Pepper shows up and drags him to a social event that JARVIS reminded him about and Tony promptly forgot.

On the fourth day, Hydra decides to blow up a few things, and Tony, along with the rest of the Avengers— including Thor who showed up that morning— are called in to sweep the area for more explosives and rescue some of the civilians trapped under rubble.

There ends up being Hydra agents hanging around, and they've got some fancy new firepower that is definitely not human-made, so on the fifth day, Tony is laying in a SHIELD hospital bed with a pretty decent head wound and a cracked rib or three. He's allowed to go home on the sixth day after concussion watch is gone, and then he's forced by Bruce, Pepper or both to stay in bed for another three days before they finally give up, bind his ribs as tightly as they can, and forbid him from drinking or getting into his suit.

Thor hangs around, and even though he doesn't say anything, Tony knows the Thunder knows something, but if he isn't going to ask, Tony isn't about to offer.

On the twelfth day, he finally gathers the courage to go to the cafe, but Loki isn't there.

"Thank god you're okay!" Ana exclaims when he walks in, and if she sees him stare too long at Loki's empty seat, she doesn't mention it. "I saw everything on the news. Margaret said to tell you goodbye, by the way. She left for school a few days ago. She considered trying to get in to the hospital you were in by showing them the selfies you took together."

"I'm sorry I missed her," Tony replies. "How's business?"

"Just fine," Ana says and begins making his drink. "You look like you need a large today."

"Definitely," Tony says.

Except when she's done, she doesn't hand him his drink. She puts a teabag into another cup and pours water over it, and when she catches him staring at her with his eyes narrowed, she says simply, "He's got the flu."

She sets both drinks on the counter and waves away his credit card.

"On the house as long as you deliver that tea for me."

Tony stuffs a few twenty dollar bills into the tip jar and smiles charmingly at her. "I'm no one's delivery boy. I hire people to do that."

Ana just rolls her eyes. "Bring him the tea."

And that's how Tony ends up standing in front of Loki's building with two hot drinks and a few scones in a bag.

He stands there for several minutes (nineteen, to be exact) before he finally gathers the courage to ring the bell. The door buzzes a second later, and Tony makes his way up to Loki's apartment.

Loki opens the door, nose bright red and eyes rimmed with dark circles. He takes one look at Tony, hisses, "I thought you were the delivery man," and goes to slam the door, but Tony shoves his foot in the way just before it closes. He grits his teeth against a yelp as pain shoots through his toes but doesn't flinch away.

"I brought you tea," he says.

Loki opens his mouth to reply, but he sneezes, and Tony take the opportunity to push his way into the apartment. A stream of curses, coughs, and sneezes come out of Loki, who turns around and stomps down the hall towards his bedroom.

Tony closes the door and leans agains tit. "This was a horrible idea," he mutters, and then he makes his way to the bedroom.

It's a mess. The sheets and comforter are strewn about the bed. Empty mugs litter the nightstand and the top of the dresser, along with several different boxes of cold and flu medicine. The garbage can next to the bed is piled high with used Kleenex and cough drop wrappers, and a few of each litter the surrounding floor.

Loki stands by the window with his back to the door. He's dressed in a worn t-shirt and a pair of flannel pajama bottoms, and his greasy hair is tied back into a messy bun at the nap of his neck. The light from the window highlights the goose bumps raised across his pale arms, and there's a light sheen of sweat glinting at his temples.

"You may set the drink down," he says, voice hoarse and gritty, "and leave. Thank you for bringing it."

Tony sets it the drink tray and bag of scones down on the dresser, but he doesn't leave. He walks forward until he's a few inches from Loki, and he reaches forward to slide his hand across the other man's forehead. Loki stiffens and hisses out a breath, but he doesn't pull away.

"You're burning up," Tony sighs.

"I can take care of myself," Loki grouses, but when Tony slides his other arm around Loki's waist, he leans back against him, deflating like a balloon.

"Let's get you into bed."

Loki doesn't fight him. He collapses back onto the mattress when Tony pushes him and says "Your face looks horrible" with a half-hearted sneer as Tony pulls the comforter over him.

"The things that come out of your mouth are poetry, Lokes. Pure poetry."

Loki smirks. "Do you need more advice?" he asks scathingly.

Tony rolls his eyes, kicks off his shoes, and climbs into the bed next to Loki. He doesn't touch him, aside from the brush of their shoulders. "I mean, I did need advice, and you're my resident magical genius."

"Now you're just trying to placate me."

"I'm Tony Stark. Of course I'm trying to placate you." He pauses. "You interest me. I can't say anything other than that. That's all I've got for right now."

Loki doesn't speak for several minutes. Tony usually hates silence unless it's in his workshop and the hum of his machines fills the void, but he lets it go and stares down at his hands, waiting. He's kind of embarrassed, really, because his palms are sweaty and he's actually nervous about Loki's response. He feels like this is a "it's not you, it's me" conversation, a conversation Tony is not used to being on the other side of.

"I have always known loneliness," Loki finally offers. "Even surrounded by Thor and his Idiots Three, I was alone. I always knew I was different, but I never let it affect me too greatly because I had the time and the ability to go elsewhere if I so pleased." He sits up straighter and angles himself towards Tony, eyes narrowed. "I have lived more lifetimes than you can imagine, and now that I am relegated to this short, piteous one, I will not waste my time."

"Can't blame you," Tony says. "I should tell you, though. I waste a lot of time. Like, a lot of it."

Loki reaches towards him and presses his hand to Tony's chest over the arc reactor. "I'm not sure that's accurate."

Tony smirks and turns his face towards Loki. Before he can respond, the the other man leans in and kisses him. Loki's breath is stale, his nose is red, and his lips are chapped, and Tony could not care any less.

"You won't be bored," he admits and combs his fingers through Loki's unwashed hair before he leans in and presses his lips to the salty skin just below his jaw. "I don't know if you've heard about me, but let me tell you, one-hundred percent satisfaction."

Loki chuckles, coughs, and then sags back against the pillow. "Did you say something about tea?"

Tony grabs their drinks and the bag of scones. They drink and eat and doze, and then, after a bit of coaxing, he drags Loki into the shower. As he's crowding the other man against the tiled wall, reveling in the breathy sighs and raspy gasps he hears above the stream of water, he wonders if this is another waste of time or something else entirely.

***

Tony learns a lot about Loki over the next few months.

He enjoys reading poetry. He likes watching movies with explosions and fast cars as much as he does the black and white classics. He loves sushi and Thai food, but he won't eat anything with pineapple in it. Not surprisingly, he prefers classical music, especially if it involves a violin or cello. Surprisingly, he also quite enjoys European metal.

He speaks about a dozen languages. Immortality and magic or not, Loki's mind is like a steal trap, and Tony can't believe how much it turns him on. When he talks about magic, which he explains is just another way to look at physics, Tony all but melts.

Loki sleeps about as much as Tony, which isn't a lot, so when he can't sleep he watches old episodes of the X-Files. He's seen every episode about six times. Tony learns relatively early on that the reason Loki doesn't sleep has nothing to do with him being an alien or a god and everything to do with nightmares. Tony's woken up to him thrashing and tangled in the sheets. He never speaks or cries out, just wheezes and gasps, and when he finally claws his way back to the present, he doesn't offer details. Tony understands, and he doesn't pry, for once, because this is something that he gets. He knows what it feels like to wake up still breathing in sand and smoke and feeling like his lungs are going to collapse.

It works. They're both broken, and it works, and it scares Tony, so he pretends it's nothing until he can't anymore.

***

Tony knows he's fucked when Loki traces the scar tissue around his reactor one night and says, "Is it wrong for me to be glad of your misfortunes?"

Tony laughs and tugs on a lock of black hair. "Yeah, kind of."

Loki hums his agreement, but then he leans over Tony, hand stilling over the reactor. "You must consider the possibilities. If you were not betrayed, you would not be here. The strings of fate are many. You would be a much different man. We may never have met."

Tony's chest constricts and he wishes Loki would stop touching him because he's sure that the other man will be able to feel Tony's heart flopping around like a goddamned fish out of water.

Loki frowns— at Tony's frantically racing heart, at the silence, Tony isn't sure— and says, "Or, you could have been here, if my path remained the same, but perhaps your tower was merely a stage for my war. You may not have had a suit to protect you from your flight out the window. It is the same for me. Had I not found out about my heritage, I would never have taken the steps that lead me to fall from the void. I would not have met the Mad Titan, and I would not have had an army to lead to earth. What reasons would I have had to meet you?"

Panic flutters in Tony's stomach. Loki was a god, still is innately a fucking god, and Tony thinks he's trying to tell him that he's concluded that his suffering was worth it since he ended up here. Tony doesn't know how he's ended up here, but suddenly he's terrified and feels like he might crawl out of his skin.

Loki must see it in his eyes because he leans down and brushes their lips together. The panic flares and turns into something hot that curls in the pit of his stomach. Tony shoves Loki onto his back and climbs on top of him, sucks on his lower lip and moves on to mouth his jaw. Loki gasps and arches into it, his nails digging into Tony's shoulder blades.

Yeah, he's fucked.

***

She waits for the other shareholders to leave the room before she pounces.

"So, who is she?"

Tony stiffens. "What?"

Pepper smirks and drums her nails on the table. "I'm not an idiot, Tony. Who is she?"

"There isn't a she," Tony says carefully.

He's never been good at lying to Pepper, though, so she sees right through it. "A he, then?" She raises her eyebrows. "It's been a while since you were interested in a man."

"I could say the same about you, Ms. Potts. You need a social life."

"I would have one if not for this deadbeat inventor I work for. Well, he works for me, but he's kind of useless on the business end of things." She puts the rest of her paperwork into his binder. "You seem happier."

"Sex will do that for a person."

She stands and walks towards him. Tony spins in the chair slowly, following her trajectory, and they both stop moving when Pepper is standing between his knees. She leans down, the hair tucked behind her ears spilling forward. "Seriously, though," she says gently. "You seem happier. Are you?"

"Yes," Tony replies immediately and leans his head back, closing his eyes with a sigh. "It's going to be a PR disaster when it breaks, Pep."

She frowns. "Who is he?"

"I'm not ready to divulge that information."

"Oh, Tony," she sighs.

Tony's lips quirk into a smile and he cracks open one eye. "I have horrible taste in partners."

She doesn't bite, just smiles sadly.

***

Tony knows it's only a matter of time before things implode. He's too happy, too content. It never lasts.

He's right, of course, he just doesn't expect it to happen the way it does.

It's a beautifully clear summer Saturday and Loki has the windows open to allow in the warm breeze. One minute, they're sitting in Loki's living room watching the Hobbit, and the next the curtains begin to whip around. Loki's on his feet before Tony can react and he looks like he's ready for war with his feet spread apart and his hands fisted at his sides.

The sky outside darkens, gray, mottled clouds rolling in like waves. Lightening brightens the murky expanse, and thunder claps in the distance.

"Oh, fuck," Tony says, mutes the movie, and stands.

Less than a minute later, Thor storms into the apartment. The door opens with such force that it dents the wall it slams into.

"At least he used the door?" Tony offers, but neither brother is paying attention to him.

"Loki, you must come with me to Asgard at once."

Loki's eyes widen, and then his surprise morphs into a savage snarl. "You dare barge in here—"

"It is important, Loki, or I would not have come here," Thor says gravely. "It cannot wait. If you will not come with me by choice, I will force you."

"What the hell is going on?" Tony demands.

He regrets it almost immediately. Thor turns towards him and his eyebrows shoot up as if he hadn't realized Tony was there in the first place.

"Anthony, forgive me," he says. "I did not realize…" He doesn't finish the sentence, just lets the thought trail off.

There's a tense, amazingly awkward silence— even the thunder and the wind quiet down— and Tony's forced to interrupt it before it swallows him whole. "So, care to explain why you barged in during movie time?"

Thor glances from Tony to Loki to the television— Bilbo has a house full of dwarves— before his gaze lands back on Loki. There is something in his eyes that makes Tony's skin itch, and when the Thunderer speaks, Tony gets it, and he hates it.

"It is time, brother. He comes."

Loki pales, visibly pales, and his fingers curl and uncurl as if he can't control them. "That cannot be possible."

"It can be, and it is. He comes, and we have word that he comes first for Asgard."

Loki laughs brokenly and runs a hand through his hair. "What do you expect to garner from me? I have given SHIELD all the information they could desire, and you and your father have already taken everything else."

Thor flinches. "Loki, I will not discuss this with you now. Time is of the utmost importance. I am to be crowned king soon—"

Loki kicks the coffee table and it falls over, the crack of wood on wood making both Tony and Thor jump. Loki's face has gone even paler, if possible, except for the angry red splotches on his cheeks and the fiery green of his eyes. "Get out," he growls. "Get out!"

The thunder commences, the sky darkens even more, and the wind whips at the curtains so violently that Tony's afraid they're going to be pulled down. Thor is so tense the muscles in his neck look like they're going to burst through his skin. His hand curls around Mjolnir's handle. "I will return your magic to you, you stubborn boar, if you agree to help us defeat the Titan."

"You are cruel to play such games with me."

Loki's hoarse voice betrays him. Tony can hear the tremble in it, the hope, and something inside of him drops like a load of bricks into his stomach. He sits back down, and neither Loki nor Thor pay him any attention, which he's glad for, because he's pretty sure he's having a midlife crisis.

"It is not a game, Loki. Once he is defeated, I will allow you to leave. Neither Asgard nor Midgard need to be your home. As long as you do no harm to another, I will not seek you out."

Tony knows it hurts Thor to say such things because it means that Loki can just disappear, and the likelihood that he will is high. His relationship with his brother has been a disaster at best, a catastrophe at worse, and Tony knows that Thor wants nothing than to have his brother back.

Tony feels sick.

"Will you come with me?" Thor implores.

"You should go."

Both Loki and Thor turn their attention to Tony, who lounges back against the couch and smiles, all teeth and cocky mask in place, because it's easier that way.

"I should go," Loki repeats. His eyes are narrowed, but his voice is level.

Tony swallows around the lump in his throat. "Yeah, I think so. You know he wouldn't be here if it wasn't important."

Loki bows his head and is silent, again, for nearly a minute. "Come back tomorrow, Thor, and I will tell you if I will come willingly or if you will have to drag me there."

"Loki, time is of the essence—"

"One day will not matter, surely," Loki snaps.

They stare each other down until Thor finally folds. The tension drains from him and he nods. "I will be back tomorrow, then."

"Fantastic."

Thor nods at Tony, and Tony waves, and then he watches the Thunder God leave the same way he came, except he closes the door with much more care than he opened it. Tony feels like laughing about it, actually, the mania bubbling inside of him like over-heated soup, but he clamps his lips closed. He doesn't think it will go over well.

"You wish me to go?"

Tony scrubs a hand over his face. "You don't tell me much about your life before Luke Laufey, but I'm kind of a genius, Loki. I've put the pieces together. I know how much you hate Big Bad, and I know you want your magic back. It's a win-win for you."

"Hate is not a strong enough word."

"Exactly," Tony sing-songs. "You can repay him. I understand that feeling better than most people. I would understand if you went. Plus, even if I didn't necessary want you to go, at the end of the day, I'm a goddamned Avenger. My traitorous sense of justice supports it."

Loki moves towards the couch. He bypasses the toppled coffee table, bare feet dragging on the floor, and settles down on the couch next to Tony. "And if I did not come back to Midgard once my magic was restores?" he asks quietly.

Tony smiles and shrugs even though he thinks his heart fractures a bit in his chest. "I was wasting your time anyway, right?"

Loki chuckles, but it's not a happy sound.

They don't speak after that. Loki is rough with his teeth and fingers, and Tony's sure he's going to bruise.

***

The next morning, Loki is in the shower when Tony dresses and leaves. He's not good with goodbyes, and anyway, he's got twenty-nine missed calls, several voice mails, and fourteen text messages about an emergency Avengers meeting at Headquarters.

He's not surprised to find Thor there. They lock eyes and Thor seems to be trying to ask him something, but Tony ignores it and sits down next to Bruce.

"Rough night?" Bruce asks.

Tony laughs and rubs at his neck. He looks like a teenager, covered in bite marks and hickeys. "You can say that. What's this all about?"

"I'm not sure yet. They're being pretty tight lipped about it."

They wait for Fury and Hill to walk into the room, and Fury looks less pleased than normal, which Tony didn't even think was possible.

"Thor has informed us that there is an alien threat with a penchant for destroying worlds on his way to his side of the galaxy," Fury opens with. "Asgard, as well as a of the other realms, are preparing for war. The hope is that he never makes it here, but if he does, we need to be ready."

***

The Avengers get ready.

They find other powered people, other intellectuals, and other assets, and they bring them on board. SHIELD headquarters is teaming with new faces. They build weapons and Tony builds special armor that can adjust itself to be more effective against protecting the wearer from different energy frequencies. Tony gets a chance to test his newest suit that's equipped with said technology against Doctor Doom, and it works.

Tony wishes once, just once, that Loki was around to see it, and then he never thinks about it again.

He's kept busy. Most days, he doesn't leave the workshop. When he does, it's to eat, clean up some Hydra mess, or attend Pepper's endless list of galas and black-tie dinners. He tries to use the "preparing for war" excuse, but Pepper just smiles, hands him his tux, and says, "The world hasn't ended yet, so you still need to live in it."

Tony doesn't have much time to sleep around, either, or that's what he tells himself, and he laughs along with everyone else when Clint talks about Tony nearing forty and probably needing to build a suit to keep his dick up.

Thor is gone for the better part of two years. He visits infrequently, and they find out about eighteen months in that the Titan has arrived and Asgard is at war. They hear nothing for another three months, and during that time, they're all on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting to assemble and fight.

Except the time never comes. The next time Thor visits, he's bruised and battered, but he's alive, and he smiles that lop-sided smile when he has when he says, "My friends, he is defeated."

***

Thor also mentions that he's been crowned king of Asgard, so Tony throws a huge fucking party where the most powerful and intelligent people on earth and a few not from earth (including a genetically modified raccoon that Tony follows around for two hours) get together, and they all drink champagne and act like idiots. There's loud music, and confetti and balloons and jello shots. Thor waltzes with Jane, who has barely let go of him since he came back to Earth. Tony dances with Darcy, Natasha and even Clint, and he manages to get Steve do to the foxtrot.

It's a good time. Tony feels lighter than he has in years.

He still goes to bed alone at four o'clock in the morning.

***

"You've got to be shitting me," Tony snarls into the comms. "What is this magical bitch thinking? Is this what Asgardian soap operas are like? No wonder Thor went for a human woman."

Natasha laughs into the comms because she thinks this whole situation is hilarious. From the air, Tony watches Clint dodge the giant Asgardian with a similarly giant axe. He's slow to move due to the sheer size of his body, but the power behind his swing rivals a light and therefore painfully powerful punch from the Hulk. Steve and Nat are right behind him, but Skurge is like a goddamned mac truck.

He isn't even their biggest problem. No, their biggest problem is busty, blonde, and brokenhearted.

Tony hadn't expected Thor's good news ("My friends, I have proposed to the Lady Jane, and she has accepted!") to include fireworks. Not the raging bitch kind, anyway, but here they are instead of celebrating. He isn't sure if he feels worse for himself or Jane, who's sitting back at the Tower with a handful of their non-superhero friends and waiting for her husband-to-be to not be involved with a murderous, powerful admirerer.

Thor tries to talk Busty Blonde (Tony can't remember her name) down, but blondie isn't having it. She's firing blast after magical blast in Thor's direction, and the green magic is mangling everything around them.

"Amora!" Thor calls. The wind picks up and the sky darkens. "Please, stop this."

"She is a mortal!" the Asgardian woman hisses."I cannot believe you would marry a mortal woman, and even worse, you dare to even consider giving her an Apple of Idunn! You are a disgrace. How Odin would even think to pass the crown to you is beyond me!"

"She is worthy of it," Thor growls, but it's the wrong thing to say. He just barely dodges as a particularly noxious wave of green energy flies towards his face.

"I should be queen!" Amore snarls— there's the truth, Tony thinks— and the ground beneath her shakes.

Tony rolls his eyes, fires up his palm repulser, and aims for her forehead, except as he's about to fire, a certain behemoth of a bodyguard throws a goddamned axe at him.

"Sir," JARVIS says, always calm, and Tony dodges, but not fast enough. The blade clips his foot, and the jolt reverberate through his suit. The boot thruster sputters and dies out, which throws off the suit's stabilizers, and Tony spirals down like a brick.

"Thank god the suit has good shock absorption," he yells into the comms as he tries— and fails—to gain control back.

He braces, and he hears Clint say "what the fucking fuck" before he hits the ground.

Except he doesn't hit the ground. At first he think Sam finally showed up and managed to catch him, but no, he hits a man in green and black leathers who catches him like Tony's Buttercup jumping out of the castle window at the end of The Princess Bride. The man isn't wearing his signature golden horns, and his hair is longer, but there's no mistaking that shit-eating grin.

Tony raises his face plate as Loki rights him. "You look well," he says stupidly.

"You," Loki murmurs and trails a fingertip over Tony's cheek, "do not."

He's gone before Tony can reply, and Tony lands on his ass in the dirt.

Loki, brimming with magic, helps them clean up the mess, and twenty minutes later, Amora is bound in Asgardian-strength chains, the behemoth is knocked out cold, and Thor is smiling brightly, his arm around his brother. Loki stands next to him, surveying them all with a cool, collected look.

They don't really have a chance to get into the Loki being back thing because Steve wants the civilians taken care of now and there's nothing more stubborn than a 90-year old man. There's cleanup and a debrief, all of which Loki helps out with and attends. By the time they're all done and back in the tower, most of their friends have left, and Jane and Darcy are passed out in the living room, several empty bottles of champagne around them.

Tony doesn't wait for the explanation, just heads to his room, and as he's stripping himself out of the black bodysuit, he feels his skin prickle.

"Sir," JARVIS says, but Tony's already turned around, hand on one of his wrist bracers and ready to call his suit.

He can't say he's super surprised that he finds Loki leaning against his bedroom door.

"God help us," Tony deadpans and continues undressing, "if you can just pop in and out of places like this. The world is your oyster."

"There is a lot I can do," Loki says and tilts his head. "You won't even ask me, Stark?"

"No, I don't think I will. Mostly because you want me to."

Loki grins.

Tony weighs his options and decides to hell with it, so he steps towards the god. "Okay, fine. I'll play. Why are you here, Loki? Are we going to catch up over margaritas like middle aged women?"

"I merely wished to see how you fared." Loki, undeterred, takes a step forward, as well. "How do you fare, Stark?"

Tony wants to look away, but he can't, and he thinks Loki is suffering from the same pull because the god is all but devouring him with his eyes.

"I'm well enough," Tony says with a shrug. "You know, saving the world and all that jazz. You, too. Thor told us about the war. I'm glad you got your chance. Was it worth it?"

"Yes," he says, except even as he says it, Loki's smile falters. Tony can only imagine what Loki suffered in the years he was gone, what got piled on top of the baggage that he already carried. He looks good, sure, but Tony knows better than most that the things you don't show to the world are the ones that hurt the most.

"I'm surprised you came back to Earth," Tony admits and finally steps away, finishes peeling himself out of his body suit. He leaves his briefs on. "I didn't think you would."

"Neither did I, but Amora was a childhood friend of mine. When I heard of her Midgardian rampage, I thought I could lend a hand."

"How gallant of you," Tony laughs. "Well, this chat was wonderful, but I'm going to grab a shower."

Loki doesn't say anything, so Tony just shrugs and walks into his bathroom. He hates how much he wanted the response to be "I came to see you." It's been a long time, though, and people change, so he assumes gods must change, too. He takes his time in the shower, standing under the hot water until his fingers prune and he's lightheaded from the heat.

Not surprisingly, Loki is still there when Tony enters his bedroom with a towel wrapped around his waist. He's discarded his heavy leathers in favor of a black shirt and black slacks, and he lounges in the chaise by the balcony doors like a cat. He holds a glass of what looks like scotch, and there's another one sitting on the table next to him.

"I was never a fan of margaritas," Loki says. "But I remember your fondness for scotch."

Tony doesn't bother with clothes, just grabs one of his silk robes hanging off the door and slides it on, removing the towel and tosses it to the side once the robe's tied securely. He takes the glass Loki offers him and takes a sip. "I appreciate the sentiment."

Loki nods.

The silence that falls isn't comfortable. There's a tension there, something building up, and Tony doesn't know if he has the energy for it to boil over. He's thought about this scenario dozens of times, and yet he doesn't know what to do.

"Were you worried?"

He glances down at Loki, who's staring out the window at the blanket of lights coating the city. "Worried that you would fail? No, I didn't think you would fail."

"That's presumptuous of you."

"You're a determined son of a bitch."

Loki snorts. "That is quite true, yes."

"I'm glad you're not dead, though," Tony admits and leans against the balcony door. "I was worried you'd self destruct in an effort to take the bastard out."

A smile twists up the corners of Loki's mouth. "It was a concern of Thor's, as well."

"We just know you so well."

"Then you know why I am really here."

Tony takes a sip and relishes in the burn as it spreads through his chest. "You said it was because of Amora."

Loki finishes his drink, sets the empty glass down, and stands. "I visited Ana, as well."

"I hope you didn't wear your leathers," Tony says. "I mean, that would totally give you away.

"She tells me you still go there, on occasion."

"She still makes the best damned latte."

Loki takes Tony's drink from his hand, and Tony lets him, heart jackhammering in his chest. Loki calmly sets it down and then crowds Tony against the balcony doors until they're chest to chest. Loki cages him there with his arms, palms pressed against the glass on either side of Tony's shoulders.

"Did you miss me, Stark?" he asks lowly.

Tony meets his eyes. "Not at all."

Loki huffs out a chuckle. "You dare tell falsehoods to the God of Lies?"

"I'll take my chances."

"As will I," Loki murmurs.

"Are you saying you missed me?" Tony retorts, angling his head up.

"Not at all."

Tony grins. "You're a shitty liar."

Loki kisses him.

There is no slowness, no savoring. Loki kisses him like he's been drowning and Tony is a fucking life vest. He grabs fist-fulls of Tony's hair and yanks his head back, knuckles knocking against the glass, and when Tony gasps he licks into his mouth and bites down on his bottom lip. His hands slide from Tony's hair down to his waist, and he unties the belt of the robe, body still pressed against Tony's. The robe slides down and pools at their feet, and Loki's hands trail from Tony's waist up his stomach and chest, around the reactor, across his shoulders and down his arms. He rests his forehead against Tony's and breathes out, eyes closed, and the expression on his face is almost pained.

"What is it?" Tony rasps, breath ragged and pulse pounding in his ears.

"I hunger for you," Loki hisses.

Tony swallows down a moan. "Buffet's open, pal."

Loki angles his head and nudges his nose against Tony's, then opens his eyes. "My sentiment has not changed despite the return of my magic. I will not waste my time."

"Are you, like, asking me out?" Tony asks, trying not to laugh.

"Your answer, Stark," Loki demands, upper lip curling.

Tony's done a lot of weird shit over the years, but he thinks a magic-wielding, sometimes murderous Norse god asking him to go steady will probably skyrocket towards the top.

"Sure," he says and grins. "You wanna go to the movies for our first date? You missed a lot of good films while you were off saving the universe."

Loki cards his hands through Tony's hair again and tilts his head back more gently, exposing his throat. He ghosts his lips along Tony's jawline and smiles when it elects a shiver. "Of course. We never did get to finish the Hobbit films."

"They were just okay. Mad Max, though, you're gonna love. I mean, it's like two hours worth of car chases with flame throw—"

Loki kisses him again. There's no talking after that.

***

Tony goes down for coffee the next morning, and when he grabs and fills two mugs, he's met with several curious looks. Clint waggles his eyebrows and asks, "Who's the lucky lady?"

"I have been known to turn into a woman," Loki says from the kitchen doorway, "but Anthony has not yet had the pleasure of me in my female form."

Clint falls out of his chair, but thankfully, no one pulls out a gun (Natasha) or accidentally destroys the kitchen for the twenty-seventh time (Bruce) even though they tense up. Steve just sighs and goes back to reading the paper. Tony counts that as a win.