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Stolen Fruit is Sweetest

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The alarms didn’t go off, was the thing.

Tony didn’t depend on SHIELD's alarms though; he designed this place and he never liked giving up all his secrets, and one of them was that the alarms tripped silently every quarter-hour, and if they didn’t go off, another alarm went off instead. Tony liked having backups. So when JARVIS murmured, “Sir, the medical unit cameras are …”, Tony got up and wandered off, hands stuck in his pockets. The weight of the homing bands clasped around his wrists were suddenly very comforting.

Rogers caught his eye as he was leaving. He tilted his head to the side, just barely, and Tony shook his head. Rogers was in the best shape of any of the team besides Tony, who’d pretty much ruined the suit he kept at SHIELD base. Natasha and Barton were folded over each other, Barton’s head against Natasha’s shoulder so her red curls fell over his face like a blanket. Bruce was in a corner staring at nothing in particular.

Thor had taken the brunt of it.

Tony’d watched the video a few times, trying to understand what had happened. Thor was so big, so muscled and almighty and well, Thor-ish, that the idea that anything could take him out kind of hurt Tony’s head. “Like Pokemon,” said Darcy Lewis at the debriefing. “Thunder type versus a ground type.”

“I’m going to assume that made sense in your head,” said Natasha wearily.

Rogers said, “Is Pokemon that little video game thing you were teaching me last week, Miss Lewis? Pikachu?”

“Yes,” said Darcy proudly.

“Please stop teaching Captain America current pop culture,” begged Tony.

It only distracted them for a minute before they were all silent again, thinking of Thor lying in the medical wing. There was nothing SHIELD’s doctors could do for him, really, besides monitor his vitals and wait. It had taken three tries to get an IV into Thor, and they didn’t dare give him anything but saline.

Give the team something to hit, and they were fine, but this waiting -- waiting was not a thing any of them were good at.

It was a relief when JARVIS murmured in his ear about the alarm, and Tony could go see what was up.

Medical was mostly deserted; it was the middle of the night after all, and everybody who could be patched up had been sent away to recover in their own quarters. It wasn’t like they couldn’t keep track of people in their rooms. Tony walked through the hall as softly as he could. The lights of the monitors were cold and blue, and he wondered briefly if he couldn’t install something to make them less like a set out of an Aliens movie. Set the monitors to warm tones at least.

Thor’s room was empty except for his still figure lying in the bed. Tony looked around once and thought about going back, but as long as he was here, he should at least say hi to the big guy. Useless, probably, but maybe Thor could still hear things. They knew less than nothing about Asgardians, anyway. As he moved forward his phone gave a soft ping and JARVIS murmured, “Sensors indicate two sets of vital signs in the area, sir.” Tony stopped and looked again.

“I know someone’s there,” he said out loud. He kind of wished that he’d taken Rogers after all, but he put his chin out aggressively. “You might as well show yourself.”

“Did you realize that yourself, or did your familiar tell you?” said Loki’s voice. As Tony looked, he saw the air waiver like a mirage before Loki’s form resolved itself into visibility.

“That’s for me to know,” said Tony.

Loki was perched on Thor’s bed, cutting up apples with a wicked-sharp black dagger. Tony didn’t think it was steel. It gleamed, dark and oily, in the fluorescent lights of Medical. He was cutting the little rabbit ears out of the apple peel, too, just like Tony’s mother used to do. The finished ones were all piled neatly on an embossed silver platter.

Thor’s crazy evil brother was cutting him up apples while he lay unconscious in a hospital bed. Tony supposed if he had been Loki, he would have cut the security feeds too. Couldn’t do much for his reputation with the other evil doers of the world.

Tony wasn’t much on apples - or fruit - or food, really, unless Pepper was in earshot, but the smell of the apples made his mouth water. “Where the hell did you get those from? SHIELD’s not much on fresh fruit.”

“It’s not from here,” said Loki, shortly. “It’s an apple of Iðunn.”

“What,” said Tony, and then a dim memory of boarding school literature classes floated up, and he said, “Oh my God, no, really, are you fucking crazy? You brought that here? You literally brought the apples of immortality into a shady secret government agency’s headquarters?”

Loki looked over him with about the same expression that Pepper had gotten the first time she had seen her boss stagger into a boardroom after a three day engineering bender, only with a little less amazement and a lot more open contempt. “Thank you, Master Stark, for the vote of confidence in my ability to avoid your little council’s shoddy attempts at security.”

“Hey,” said Tony feelingly, although less than he probably should have. “We kicked your ass last week, dickwad.”

“Yes, my brother and his companions,” said Loki. “Not SHIELD.”

Tony opened his mouth, closed it again, and then said, “I guess that’s valid.”

Loki set the platter aside and slid his arm carefully under his brother’s shoulders. Loki was about half the size of Thor, all around, even though he dwarfed Barton and (he could admit privately) Tony, and was nearly as tall and broad as Rogers. Thor was one of the biggest sons of bitches that Tony had ever seen, but even so, Loki lifted him easily. He settled Thor’s chest half against his, so Thor’s head leaned up against Loki’s shoulder. It seemed easy and familiar the way he did it, as if he’d done it a thousand times before.

Tony wondered what it would be like, to be so comfortable in someone’s space, even when you were fighting so bitterly. He said, “Aren’t you afraid of being caught? I managed to see you, so --”

“No,” said Loki. “Do you think me a fool? I might let my brother’s companions see me, but why should anybody else be allowed?”

“You are really messed up,” said Tony. Loki was turning Thor’s face upright with a gentle hand, which probably saved Tony from being thrown through another wall. It didn’t stop Loki from shooting him a look of acute dislike, however.

He pressed a slice of apple to Thor’s lips. Thor was pretty deep in fabulous comaworldland, though, and didn’t respond. A faint crease appeared between Loki’s eyebrows, and he said, softly, coaxing, “Come, brother, after all the trouble I went to get these for you, not even a bite?”

Tony kind of wondered about that. It seemed to him that if you had a disgraced and very angry trickster child out to destroy you and everything you held dear, keeping the apples of immortality away from him would be a high priority.

On the other hand, Tony had the impression that Thor and Loki’s mother was the sort of person who said, “Just so, my love” to her husband and then did as she damn well pleased. So if there were apples left where Loki could maybe reach them, if he really tried, and they disappeared -- well, Loki got the apples without being given them like charity, so Loki’s pride was salvaged, and what Odin could ignore wouldn’t make him upset, would it.

Tony watched Loki take the apple slice from his brother’s mouth and pinch it, soaking his fingers with juice. He began to hum under his breath, a low droning sound, as he stroked his wet fingers over the seam of Thor’s mouth. He’d done this before, Tony realized. He’d sat beside Thor and coaxed him to eat so many times that Tony couldn’t even imagine it. Asgardians didn’t really die of old age -- well, they did eventually, but it took a hell of a long time -- but they did die. They could be killed, Tony realized, because otherwise Loki wouldn’t be trying so hard now.

Loki kept moistening his fingers with the apple’s juices and rubbing it over his brother’s lips until Thor sighed and his mouth slacked a little. His breathing was a little better too, Tony realized. Loki took a slice of apple and nibbled at it for a minute, and then bent his black head to his brother’s golden one.

It took Tony a second, and then he said, “Did you just - okay, gross, buddy.”

Loki licked at Thor’s mouth as if to make sure all the apple pieces had gotten into his brother’s mouth. “If this is revolting you, Stark, you may certainly leave.”

“Yeah, no,” said Tony.

“In that case, be silent,” said Loki. He chewed and fed Thor two more apple slices while Tony watched uncomfortably. There was something definitely not brotherly about this. And --

“You’re doing something to the apple,” he said suddenly. “When you chew it.”

Loki lifted his head and Tony saw that he’d gone from pale to pasty. Thor’s color was improving by the minute, and when Tony glanced at the monitors they all showed nearly normal readings. “What of it?”

“You -” said Tony, stopped, and tried to put his thoughts in order. “You really have done this before. You just -- this voodoo thing, with your mana or whatever. Does he --”

“I said, be silent or leave,” said Loki. He bent his head to Thor’s again, offering him more apple. It was getting to be a hell of a lot less like baby birds and a hell of a lot more like some deliciously messy champagne kiss, tasting wine on each other’s mouths. Thor was still out of it, but he opened his mouth to Loki’s now, making a dreamy effort to follow the taste of apples. Tony thought he was at the point of waking naturally soon. Maybe not. Loki was probably keeping him asleep with the spell he was using to drain his own energy into Thor.

Thor stirred and opened his eyes, looking up at Loki with sleepy eyes. He smiled, dreamy and content, and Loki picked up a piece of apple to give to him. Loki’s face was covered by the fall of his hair, hiding his expression from Tony.

Tony was sort of glad about that. He didn’t want to see the look on Loki’s face. He thought that Loki must have been breathing this secret thing in and out for years, eating and drinking it and bleeding it out. It was too fragile to be out in the open, where Thor in his well-meaning loudness and vitality could crush it, and not even know it had been there to be sorry for destroying it.

Tony let out a breath and said, “Well, if you’re just going to sit here and creep on your brother, I guess I’ve got better things to do.”

“Are you not afraid I’ll harm him?” said Loki. He didn’t lift his head.

“Considering all the trouble you just went through to keep him alive,” said Tony, very slow, “I think I’m not really that worried about you killing him for at least tonight.”

“The night’s young yet,” said Loki. He lifted his head. “But I suppose it would be a waste.” His hand flashed out, throwing something toward Tony. Tony caught it on reflex.

It was one of the golden apples, small but perfect. It smelled delicious.

“Don’t waste it, Stark,” said Loki shortly.

“What?” said Tony blankly.

“We’re even now,” said Loki. “Don’t waste it.”

Tony wasn’t even going to try to understand that tangle in Loki’s head. “Turn out the lights when you leave,” he said, and turned to go.

Loki didn’t answer. When Tony looked back, he was bent over his brother again, staring at him like he would never stop.


Tony walked back to the common area, tossing the apple up and catching it again. When he came to where the others were waiting, he said, “Hey guys.”

Rogers lifted his head from where he’d put it down on the table. “Find anything?” he said.

“Found an apple,” said Tony. “Here, Natasha, gimme a knife that isn’t poisoned.”

“An apple?” she said. “Here?”

Tony shrugged. “It looked pretty good.” He took the knife she passed him and cut it into five even pieces. “Eat up, kids, this may be the only piece of fresh food on this entire damn boat.”

He passed the slices around and took a bite of his own.

It was a really good apple, he thought.