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                One of Tony’s earliest memories is of a trip to the Bronx Zoo on a rare outing with his parents. Now, he remembers only pieces of the visit, brief snapshots that fit together to tell a semi-coherent story about what seemed to be a regular family doing regular family things. He vaguely recalls feeding a giraffe, sharing a funnel cake with his mother, and being fascinated by a pair of performing seals. Strangely enough (or not, given the reputation Tony would carve out for himself as an adult), his most vivid memory is of watching two lions mate. When asked, Howard Stark, as straightforward as ever, explained that the lions were “making babies,” then began to bicker with his wife over what was and was not appropriate to tell their five-year-old son. Really, though, Tony wasn’t convinced. He’d visited one of Howard’s workshops and flipped through a crewman’s dirty magazine before Howard caught him and snatched the magazine out of his hands; he’d had the same answer to Tony’s question then, too.

                The lions didn’t look like the people in that magazine, Tony thought. Obviously, because they weren’t people at all, but the act itself. It looked violent. Sounded violent. The female lion roared and growled while the male pinned her down, keeping her there not only with his weight but with his jaws fixed firmly around the back of her neck. That’s what puzzled him the most. It seemed so uselessly brutal, humiliating when she had already submitted herself, possessive only for the sake of making a point. After a few seconds, she bared her teeth and growled, then let out a pained scream that made Tony press worriedly against the pen enclosure.

                “Is she hurt?” he asked, turning anxious brown eyes back toward his father. Howard snorted and flicked the butt of his cigarette away, muttered something about that being a good kind of scream, and promptly received another lecture about watching what he said around Tony.

                Tony looked back at the lions, relieved to see the male finally back off and the female roll onto her back, reaching up one massive paw and smacking her mate across the face. Behind him, his father chuckled and then bent next to Tony’s ear, warned him that that wasn’t too unusual, either. Tony didn’t know what to make of that at the time.

                 Thirty-some years later, Tony could laugh at the way his life’s turned out, if, of course, his face wasn’t pushed deep into the pillows and he didn’t have a heavy as fuck maybe-might-really-be-a-god weighing him down, teeth biting into the nape of his neck and sinking deeper with every thrust of his hips. It’s every bit as brutal, humiliating, and possessive as the lions had been, and Tony’s just as uncertain now as he was then if it’s going to end with a throat being ripped open and a hell of a bloody death.

                He tries to communicate his concern, waving his hands in short, jerky bursts because the angle’s all wrong. He tries to lift his head and gets shoved harder against the bed, protests muffled. Fleetingly, he wonders if Loki means to suffocate him. Talk about a terrible way to go. Which, yeah, he’s always said he either wants to die doing something incredibly heroic or mid-orgasm, but he’s not there yet and there is definitely nothing heroic about sleeping with the enemy. Literally. Or not, given that Loki has yet to ever actually sleep when he pops in for these random visits.

                 He wishes he could say he has no idea how this all started. Loki just showed up one night, cast a spell on him, and Tony’s been his thrall ever since. That’d be a simple enough explanation. Neat, easy, and leaves no room for judgment because hey, Clint would back him up. Not on the sex part, but he knows better than anyone else on the team how impossible it is to break Loki’s mind slave spell thing. Unless that was something his alien masters gifted him with, in which case, awkward. Anyway, Tony wishes he could say that when he is inevitably caught and the truth demanded of him. He wishes he could say he’s taking one for the team; they need intel about Loki in particular and his villainous pals in general, and who better to seduce the God of Mischief than the God of Libidos? Hell, at this point he just wishes he could say anything at all in his defense, but he knows he can’t. What can he possibly say that could make this anything but a slap in the face to every single person who repeatedly puts his or her life on the line for him? How is he supposed to explain this, whatever it is, to Clint, who still has gaps in his memories because the clusterfuck Loki made of his brain is a puzzle with pieces jammed together even though they don’t actually fit? To Bruce, whom Loki intended all along to force into succumbing to the beast within that he tried so desperately to contain? To Thor, he of the heartbroken, exhausted look whenever anyone even mentions his brother’s name? To Fury, who Tony is convinced wouldn’t care even if he had the best excuse in the world, who might very well put a bounty on his head in the name of national, global, hell, even intergalactic security? (That last one is an unintentional boost to Tony’s ego, he has to admit, because being a threat on a universal level is like flipping the bird straight at God. Or gods. Whatever.)

                 It makes him a hypocrite of the worst kind to visit Coulson’s grave and then fuck his murderer hours later.

                 Tony tried once to keep his friends’ faces in mind to ward off Loki’s advances the next time he appeared. All that accomplished was one very confusing and disturbing blowjob during which he kept seeing Steve’s wounded puppy face staring at him reproachfully, that look that said, “I’m not angry, Tony; I’m disappointed.”

                 Well. Maybe a little angry.

                 And then there’s Pepper. Tony has no doubts that he loves her. None whatsoever. She is his better half (two-thirds, really; actually, everything good about him that he can attribute solely to himself makes up, like, maybe a tenth) and though he has loved a lot of women, even a handful of men over the years, he has never been in love with any of them. None of them, that is, except for Pepper.

                 Stop thinking about her.

                 The voice sliding through his thoughts is acid and honey at once, a dagger cloaked in velvet, and Tony is glad his head is no longer being pressed into the pillows. That lets him glare over his shoulder, though the effect is lost when he notices Loki’s head is bent, his eyes fixed on his work as though fascinated by the turn of his own hips. They are great hips, jutting out sharply in a way that’s less “model with an eating disorder” and more “lean and hungry god.


                 He could never explain this to Pepper, and yet sometimes, somehow, he thinks he might not have to. It isn’t because she understands the whys and hows, because really, even she and her brilliant insights into his head can’t sort out the mess he’s tangled up in with the God of Daddy Issues (Tony likes to think that makes him the Demigod of Daddy Issues, an apprentice, something). It’s just that she knows. She looks at him now and then with this odd, sad little half-smile that rends his heart and makes him ashamed to even breathe the same air that she does, not least of all because he remembers his mother looking at his father much the same way. Howard loved his wife with all his heart; Tony is as certain of that as he is of his own love for Pepper. The problem is that Starks are good at and known for multitasking on a level approaching insanity. It isn’t enough to have just one problem; they feel the need to juggle four or five at a time, and one way or another they manage to devote themselves totally to each issue. Statistical and rational impossibilities, that’s the Stark way, and Tony’s so much like his father sometimes it hurts just to meet his own eyes in the mirror. They love like they work, wholly and passionately and in great bursts of energy and brilliance. Unfortunately, they also multitask with love affairs. The world insists on throwing its bounty of beautiful people at them and they respond in kind, gluttons in every sense, only too happy to take on the burden of bedding half the population of the Western Hemisphere. Tony doesn’t know or want to know if his father ever cheated on his mother, but the coldness Maria Stark radiated around Howard after a long business trip and the flowers that were delivered to and displayed around the house for days afterward hinted at more than a normal marital spat.

                 Tony bought Pepper a new car two weeks ago. She smiled and thanked him, but all he could think of were dozens of roses in the living room and his mother numbly watering them every day until they wilted.

                 The bed shifts, and Tony grunts as he’s pulled up and back, arching and moaning pitifully at the change of angle that drives Loki that much deeper into him. Loki laughs in his ear, low and dark, a noise without humor, and Tony shivers when an impossibly strong hand wraps around his throat and squeezes. Not all at once, because Loki doesn’t seem to want to break his toy just yet, but the grip gradually tightens, fingers closing like a python around Tony’s neck and slowly cutting off his air. It’s not quite dangerous right now, but Tony can feel his breath coming faster, his body starting to panic as his lungs struggle and fail to take in as much oxygen as his brain knows they should. The hand flexes once, a warning, and Tony chokes down the urge to escape. Loki doesn’t understand the concept of “safe words,” and that was a fascinating conversation all by itself when Tony tried to explain why it just wasn’t okay to draw that much blood during sex.

                 “Safe word,” Loki had repeated that night, smirking over the rim of his wine glass, eyes flashing with the promise that he was going to test Tony’s resolve in every way that mattered. “Mortals. You either crave safety or oblivion, and yet you would ask me to allow you to have both. Perhaps you should ask a fire to be less destructive.”

                 So the safe word talk hadn’t gone well.

                 Tony now (stupidly, he realizes) trusts Loki not to kill him or cause any permanent harm because why should he screw up a good thing? He gets a good lay, temporary refuge from whatever kind of hovel evil would-be global warlords live in, and – oh. Right. A recharge, too.

                 Tony gasps sharply (as much as he can, considering), shuddering when Loki’s free hand plants itself over his arc reactor, siphoning off its energy and drawing it into his own body. Sometimes Tony still wants to punch Thor for talking him into saving Loki; then he remembers what a monumentally terrible idea it would be to punch a god (no matter how high it might be on his bucket list) and he goes on to linger in his own self-pity and irritation.

                 The first time, some whackjob Asgardian mage (and really, Tony’s beginning to think the place specializes in that particular trade and that Thor is just an anomaly) put the whammy on Loki, splitting the Avengers more or less straight down the center in regards to how to handle him. As he withered, his magic stripped and his health seemingly tied to his powers, Clint and Natasha reasonably argued that he was their enemy. It wasn’t as though he’d go out of his way to save any of them. Quite the opposite, in fact. Thor argued for his brother’s life, and Steve, swayed partly by his loyalty to him and partly from his ceaseless devotion to Doing What’s Right (Tony imagines he says that with capital letters and everything), tried to bring his team around to the idea of not letting someone die on their watch. That left Bruce and Tony. Bruce steadfastly refused to take sides on the issue; Loki made his own enemies and brought his fate upon himself, but Bruce also understood better than most how difficult it was to live with an inner creature capable of such terrible fury and destruction. If it comes down to it, Tony will just point out that someone had to be the tiebreaker.

                 No one said he had to try so hard to save the bastard, though.

                 Tony doesn’t remember how many hours he spent in his workshop, crunching numbers and running tests and practically growling with frustration because Loki was something that just didn’t make sense. Jarvis probably has a log of it, down to the nanosecond, which makes a pretty handy timeline of Tony’s most recent decent into caffeine-fueled, sleep deprived madness. Every time he thought he had the answer, the question itself shifted just far enough to throw him into a fit of hair-pulling despair. There was no physical explanation for Loki’s rapid demise; as far as Bruce’s excruciatingly thorough examinations and tests were concerned, Loki was abnormally healthy. That in no way negated the way his body continued to waste away, cheeks going far sharper than usual, every bone poking out in painful relief. His normally pale skin took on an eerie grayish tone, his hair turned dry and brittle, and even his notoriously barbed tongue seemed to lose its fearsome edges. He was dying, quite clearly, and without identifying a cause no one could even begin to find a solution.

                Finally, after nearly three days without sleep, Tony decided to indulge his whimsical side and imagine that Loki might really be magic. That in turn meant acknowledging that magic itself was real and would one of these days demand that Tony reevaluate everything he believes to be true about the universe and his place in it (just slightly left of center, naturally), but Tony’s always been good about pushing existential crises off for later. Consumed with a new puzzle, he tried everything that came to mind to at least halt the progression of Loki’s strange illness, if it could not be cured. Thor insisted on asking Erik Selvig and Jane Foster for advice, by which point Tony thought, sure, add a couple astrophysicists to the think tank. They could toss around differential diagnoses like they did on House.

                 Two weeks after the first symptoms appeared, Tony was awoken from an involuntary nap at his workbench by the sound of a metal cart overturning and spilling tools everywhere. He’d fallen asleep while waiting for Jarvis to process the last set of data from Loki’s energy signature into something Tony could actually use (because magic isn’t real, dammit, it’s just how humans deal with alien technology, that’s all). Loki himself, meanwhile, collapsed after attempting to stand, pulling a rolling toolbox over with him when he tried to keep his balance. By the time Tony reached him, Loki’s breathing was dangerously shallow and his eyes were open but unseeing. All Tony could imagine was how painful Thor would make his death once he discovered that Loki died while supposedly under Tony’s care.

                 “Shit. Hey. Look. You really can’t die right now, okay? That’ll look really bad on me and Thor might kill me—not that you’ll care, since you’ll be dead and all, and you probably don’t care now anyway, but still. Just. Breathe, okay? You do need to breathe, right? I’m not really clear on medieval space Viking physiology, and I’d kinda like to pick your brain about that if you, you know, live, so…try to live, okay?”

                When Loki stretched out his arm, Tony accepted the too-thin hand as a last gesture of some meaning, perhaps that Loki was reaching for sympathy or merely company in his last moments. He did not anticipate Loki snarling at him and ripping his hand from between Tony’s, only to then curl his bony fingers into the collar of Tony’s shirt and rip a jagged hole down the front.

                 “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” Tony had teased early on when he caught Loki staring inquisitively at the glow of his arc reactor beneath a thin t-shirt. He felt kind of cheated when Loki tore his way straight through to his heart while he was dying on Tony’s floor. That felt rude.

                 And then it just felt like he was dying. For a split-second, Tony felt as though every organ in his body had been liquefied and was rushing in its new fluid form through the reactor. Fire burned in every nerve, and this, this was never how he imagined he’d die, on his knees with a former (?) enemy using his last remaining strength to boil him from the inside. He opened his mouth to scream and only gaped at the ceiling, involuntary tears rolling down his cheeks as every cell in his body seemed to twist and snap at once. Tony has felt a lot of pain in his life from a lot of different sources, but nothing has ever compared to the sensation of his brain being sucked through his nose with a coffee stirrer, which he still feels is not an accurate-enough description of the kind of pain he felt that day with Loki’s hand over his heart.

                 But it was only for a second. A very long, mind-bendingly horrible second, and then it just as abruptly became too good. Maybe his brain shut off or it was the sudden backlash of Loki’s magic after his bizarre jump-start; even now, Tony has no idea what made him arch and groan and dig his fingers into his thighs until his nails split, or what left him panting and feeling more wrung-out and heavy-limbed than even the hardest battle. It wasn’t until his vision cleared and he stopped seeing everything in double that he recognized the electric tingle against his skin and the taste of sweat on his upper lip; it wasn’t until Loki laughed at him, the ungrateful prick, that Tony recognized the uncomfortable dampness in the crotch of his jeans.

                 “. . .fuck did you do?” he mumbled, only to get another sharp laugh and a curt “thank you” before Loki vanished. Vanished. Just like that. And seriously, fuck magic.

                 Two days later, Tony nearly cut his own throat while shaving when Loki’s reflection suddenly appeared in the bathroom mirror. And, true to form, Loki himself was standing right beside the oversize tub when Tony turned around, palm out as if to blast him with a repulsor that he didn’t have without the suit.

                 “You’re bleeding,” Loki noted casually, striding forward with the unhurried confidence of . . . of a god, really, and Tony set his jaw in stubborn determination to quit giving any merit to those thoughts.

                 “And you’re breathing. Still. I guess. Jury’s still out, since you skipped out on me last time, which, by the way, you’re welcome, and don’t ever fucking touch me again you sick bast—”

                 The words died in Tony’s mouth, cut short when Loki crossed the distance between them far quicker than human eyes could track. Tony might have let out an undignified noise (probably not, but he admits that he might have, maybe, to the untrained ear) when Loki threw himself forward with alarming speed and grabbed Tony by the throat, because evidently he liked doing that, and shoved him back. Tony’s head hit the mirror hard enough to hurt but not, he noticed with gratitude, hard enough to crack the glass; considering Loki could have very easily shoved him through the mirror and the next several walls, the gesture was taken for the posturing that it was. Regardless, Tony couldn’t suppress a shudder as he took in the unhinged expression on Loki’s face and the way he seemed to peel Tony’s very skin away to look right through him. No, not through, into him.

                 “I will touch you when and how I please, Stark. Animals were made for your kind’s sport. Do you care to guess how my kind feels about yours?”

                 “I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say you’re not big on meet-and-greets.”

                 “You are sport. You are whores and food and vermin, and most don’t care about the order.”

                 Tony swallowed hard and felt his Adam’s apple struggle against the firm press of Loki’s palm. “So I shouldn’t take it personally that you’re really bad at saying thanks.” He paused, eyes narrowing slightly. “Wait. Does that mean you guys fuck rats or, I don’t know, pumpkins and shit? ‘Cause you just lumped, and I quote, ‘whores, food, and vermin’ all together, and I’m really not comfortable with the lack of distinctions there.”

                 Loki blinked, seemingly surprised by Tony’s inability or unwillingness to stop talking even while at such a serious disadvantage. Then he smiled, far too many teeth flashing at once (and he has a nice smile, Tony realized, and he hated himself for even noticing), and pressed his hand against the arc reactor. Tony’s entire body tensed as it waited for the immediate, blinding pain of last time; it did not, however, prepare to skip that and go straight to the good part.

                 Humiliating as it was involuntary, Tony arched again and sucked in a well-earned gasp, knuckles clutching white against the countertop. Instead of the sudden rush of intensity like before, it was drawn out and tempered, slowly drowning him in the waves rather than flooding him with a deluge. Either way, the result was the same: he still ended up panting for breath and all but grinding where he stood pinned between Loki and the sink.

                 Forcing his eyes open again, he saw the last traces of a green fire he didn’t feel disappear from his chest. Looking higher, he then saw Loki watching him, eyes wide and bright and not nearly as dull and sunken as they were. His lips were unnaturally red at one corner, and Tony didn’t even need the nausea creeping up his throat to tell him that there was a matching smear of blood at the razor cut on his neck.

                 “Thank you.”

                 Tony stared, uncomprehending both of Loki’s actions and his words and his goddamned not fucking science as he made a slashing gesture with his hand and disappeared without so much as a puff of smoke. Tony counted to five before he allowed himself to slide to the ground, barely making it before his shaking legs buckled and sent him crashing against the tile.

                 Two days after that, Tony woke to find Loki standing next to the bed, calm and curious as ever.

                 “Fuck!” He scrambled up against the headboard, immediately reaching for the remote bracelets on his nightstand, then swearing more when he encountered empty air.

                 “Interesting jewelry you’ve got here, Stark. A bit plain and ugly, but well-made, at least.”

                 Tony groaned and dropped his head back, welcoming the dull pain of his skull connecting with the wall. “Look, Edward, we’re gonna have to have a talk about this creepy ‘watching me sleep’ bullshit.” Loki barely glanced up before going back to turning the bracelets over in his hands to inspect them. “You wanna freak me out by popping in at all hours, fine, but at least do it when I’m dressed, huh? I’m starting to get the wrong idea here.”

                 “Perhaps you’re only getting the right one.”

                 “What, that I’ve got a stalker? You’re not the first, pal, not by a long damn shot. I don’t guess a restraining order would work on you, would it?”

                 Loki smiled that too-shark-like grin and gave a short shake of his head. “You know why I’m here.”

                 “Uh, outside of filling your creepy quota for the day? No, actually, I don’t.”

                 Loki’s eyes dropped to the arc reactor glowing like a beacon in the center of Tony’s bare chest, prompting Tony himself to back up farther against the headboard even while Loki stepped closer.

                 “Whoa, hey, no. No. Do you hear me? Stay. Sit. Play dead. Whatever. I am not okay with you showing up for random booty calls, got it? I don’t know what you’re getting out of this besides just screwing with my head, but—”

                 “Stark,” Loki interrupted with a weary sigh, the mattress dipping beneath his weight as he leaned forward on one knee on the bed, “do stop talking.”

                 “Quit being weird.”

                 “Shh. This will be over soon.”

                 “Yeah, see? That. That’s what I’m talking about, the whole creepy th—Jesus,” was all Tony got out before Loki stole the words from him yet again. As before, Tony’s body went ramrod straight in horrid anticipation, only to be surprised by the sheer, overwhelming pleasure racing through its veins. Heels digging into the bed, Tony surrendered and let Loki crawl up the bed and latch onto his bare shoulder. If nothing else, the move gave Tony the perfect excuse to loop his arms around Loki’s shoulders for leverage, which is exactly what it was because he was not clinging. He might have been whimpering a bit, maybe, but that was it. He’ll also freely admit that he swore enough to strip the paint from the walls when Loki got him off and then left, Cheshire Cat grin and all.

                 All right. So he had an undoubtedly insane alien-who-thought-he-was-a-god stalking him and working some kind of magical mojo to force him to orgasm at inconvenient times. Not precisely an incubus, but close enough for Tony’s purposes. And really, what did he have to complain about? Sure, this could only ever end in tears and bloodshed, but what a way to go. Up to that point, barring that first unfortunate encounter, Tony was no worse for wear when Loki showed up to . . . do whatever the hell it was that he was doing.

                 Tony kept his mouth shut and was rewarded when, like clockwork, Loki showed up exactly two days later while Tony rode the elevator from the common area down to his workshop.

                 “Son of a bitch!” He jumped back against the wall, eyes wide, chest heaving, as Loki materialized from nothing. He seemed amused by Tony’s alarm, prompting Tony himself to hold out his phone as if to somehow ward off an evil spirit. “Down, boy. We really need to have a little chat about boundaries if you’re gonna keep this up. Can’t you just use a door like anyone else? Or at least call first?”

                 Loki clucked his tongue in disapproval, one side of his mouth twisting up into his ever-present smirk. “You’ve absolutely no sense of spontaneity, do you?”

                 “I just like not pissing my pants on a regular basis.”

                 Loki’s right hand flew out to the side and slapped the emergency stop button. The elevator jerked to a halt, the overhead lights cutting out and plunging the car into total darkness for a moment until the backup lights flickered to life. Tony didn’t have time to wonder how many times Loki had ridden in an elevator (or how much television he’d watched) to learn that trick; he barely had enough time to suck in a startled breath before Loki pushed him against the wall and pinned him there, hand already moving directly toward his chest.

                 “Wait,” Tony blurted at the last possible second, swallowing the cold fear knotting in his throat. Loki must have sensed it, his hand stilling just millimeters from the arc reactor. Tony cleared his throat and tried again. “Wait. This is how you’re jump starting your magic, isn’t it?”

                 Loki’s head dropped to the side, lips going slightly pursed. “For such an allegedly intelligent creature, it certainly took you rather long enough to figure that out.”

                 Tony rolled his eyes, refusing to be goaded so easily. “I’m just clarifying here. So you show up, steal a little of my . . . I don’t know, my energy or whatever, and I am not a goddamn battery, by the way. But that’s cool, I get it. I guess. But why does it . . .”

                 He trailed off, mouth drying up into a desert as Loki pressed closer, pushing his knee forward until his thigh was caught firmly between Tony’s legs, and it really wasn’t fair that he had such a height advantage that he could just rock forward a little and get such a response. Tony’s mouth dropped open and he pulled in a slow breath through his nose that did not calm him down at all, and Loki knew that, damn him, judging from the way his grin widened.

                 “It would be rude of me to take without giving.”

                 “Right, because you’re ordinarily so concerned with manners.”

                 Loki ignored him outright. “You give me something I require. I give you something you want in return. Capitalism, I believe that’s what you call it. You’re familiar with that, aren’t you?”

                 “But what do you do?”

                 In, closer, cool breath against overheated skin, and Tony just didn’t have it in him to even try to get away as Loki’s mouth brushed his ear, when – God help him – he felt the wet tip of a tongue flick against his earlobe. “This is what magic feels like, Tony Stark. You will never, could never hope to understand it, but you can feel it.”

                 “Yeah,” Tony agreed numbly, entire body shaking with nervous energy. Loki’s hand pressed flush against the reactor and Tony bit down on his lip to stifle a moan that Loki nevertheless stole from him anyway, locking their mouths together in a frightfully gentle kiss. Figured, because the last thing Tony wanted just then was gentle. He just wasn’t a gentle kind of guy, and if he was really going to make out with a fucking god in an elevator (and it had never occurred to him to put that one on his bucket list), he wanted hard and dirty and demanding. Leave it to the so-called God of Mischief to deny Tony the one thing he thought would be a certainty in Loki’s nature.

                 Tony at least managed to drop his jeans and underwear to his ankles before he came and ruined them, and when he opened his eyes again, he wasn’t at all surprised to find that the elevator had reached the workshop and Loki was nowhere in sight.

                 And so it went, Tony walking on eggshells every other day because he knew Loki delighted in scaring the hell out of him like some kind of demented jack-in-a-box. Tony even came to look forward to their meetings, though he promised himself it was a purely physical response.

                 Three weeks in, he woke up just after two a.m. and barely managed so much as a yelp when he caught Loki lounging in his bed, one fingertip drawing lazy, idle lines around and over the reactor, his expression far more relaxed than Tony could recall ever seeing it. In the dim light and with that stupidly curious look in his eyes, Loki seemed very nearly boyish, or at least far more innocent than he really was.

                 “What did I tell you about this creepy shit?”

                 “When do you suppose I began listening?”

                 Tony had to chuckle at that. “Okay, point.”

                 Silence fell over them, the adrenaline rush at the unexpected intrusion giving way to something dangerously like contentment, and no, Tony scolded himself, bad body. Bad. If Loki noticed the turmoil, he made no mention of it.

                 “We’ve gotta get you a new power source. Uh, you didn’t hear that from me. I’m pretty sure Fury’d have my balls for breakfast if he knew about that.”

                 Loki shrugged one thin shoulder. “I broke Amora’s spell weeks ago.”

                 Tony blinked. “So you totally don’t need to keep stalking me.” And that wasn’t disappointment in his voice. It was late and he was still groggy, for God’s sake. Cut him some slack. “You haven’t needed to all this time.”


                 “So what, then? This weird obsession is all you?”

                 Propping himself up onto his elbow, Loki stared down at Tony and smiled. Actually smiled, seemingly without malice, and Tony hated him for it and hated himself even more for enjoying it.

                 “There are precious few things on this miserable rock which can hold my interest. And you, Tony Stark, interest me.”


                 “Don’t be glib. That’s quite an honor. Not especially surprising either, I imagine, as I might have killed you dozens of times over by now. Surely you are aware of that.”

                 “I try not to think about it,” Tony lied to the god of lies, not one of his better moments, and the peculiar gleam Loki’s eyes took on told him that it rang just as hollow on the other side. He shifted uneasily beneath the combined weight of Loki’s hand and stare. “Still doesn’t explain the orgasms. Not that I’m complaining about that, of course.”

                 “Of course.”

                 That, Tony sees now, was the real beginning of the end, when things went from just unsettling to flat-out addictive and terrifying. When he thought Loki was only playing head games with him, when he thought Loki really needed the energy he siphoned from the arc reactor, Tony could handle it. He could joke and play it off and go about his life as usual. Only when he understood that Loki not only did it for his own amusement but for Tony’s as well, feeding his magic back into a human body that was never meant to take it and could only interpret it as the most intense kind of pleasure, that was when Tony began to panic. And that, appropriately enough, was when Loki tightened the noose to keep his prey from escaping.

                 That night, after he learned the truth, Tony couldn’t find the words to protest as Loki gathered strength from the reactor and reciprocated by setting Tony’s entire central nervous system on fire, or so it felt. He said nothing – nothing to make Loki leave, anyway, because he said quite a lot, actually, even if it wasn’t all intelligible. That night, after he learned the truth and learned a whole new way to lie, Tony let Loki fuck him. Let, because that sounds much better than “begged like a wanton, desperate slut.” Loki actually called Tony wanton, and Tony had laughed for a solid three minutes over that. He didn’t object to the rest.

                 That night, Tony came with Loki inside him and feeding off his reactor at the same time, and he’s not sure what it says that it was far and away the best orgasm he’s ever had.

                 Seriously, though. Fuck magic.

                 He might have ended this entire screwed up ordeal a while ago. He could have made it clear that he wasn’t willing to be used in whatever fashion Loki fancied. He could have told his teammates what was happening (with some necessary omissions) and that probably would have been the last of it. But as always, his ego got the better of him. He has a god strung out on something he created.      How many people can say that? How many can say that they’ve tamed the God of Mischief, even for just a fraction of a second?

                 He could have ended it. He tells himself this all the time, though perhaps not as frequently as he should, and it really doesn’t matter either way now when he’s leaning back against Loki’s chest, riding him in the same bed where Pepper sleeps most nights. He could have, but he didn’t. Still doesn’t, not even when he’s struggling to breathe with a hand wrapped firmly around his throat and pressing expertly into his windpipe, another hand spread over the disc in his chest and pushing tendrils of green-tinged energy into his blood with agonizing slowness. It should hurt, he knows, and in an abstract way it almost does, but it’s just this side of oh god stop please that Tony can’t help but want more.


                 The command arrives unbidden in his mind and Tony obeys without thinking, jerking himself to completion just as Loki delivers one hell of a finishing move; he eases up on Tony’s throat suddenly, flooding his body with fresh air, while at the same time sending a strong pulse of magic through the reactor and out in every direction through Tony’s body. The effect is an immediate rush of endorphins that would leave Tony screaming if not for the fingers Loki helpfully shoves into his mouth to silence him. He bites down and tastes blood, hears a hiss of pain that is somehow encouraging at his ear, and he unravels from the very pit of his stomach.

                 He’s not sure how long it takes for him to come back to himself or how long he spends trembling with aftershocks. Loki must have finished at some point during Tony’s mini-blackout, as he’s only making small, lazy movements now, rolling his hips against Tony and murmuring against his sweat-soaked neck in a language that sounds vaguely Germanic. He just knows that he’s half-delirious and out of his mind with bliss, and Loki isn’t making things any better with his gently roaming hands.

                 “She will be returning soon,” Loki points out, more of a statement than a question, and Tony curses him silently both for ruining the moment and for so rudely plunging Tony right back into his increasingly bottomless pit of guilt. And Loki, damn him, Tony can feel him smiling against his neck, can feel the subtle shift of his mouth, and he knows the bastard’s so pleased with himself he can hardly stand it.

                 He wants to tell Loki to get the hell out – out of him, out of his bed, out of his tower, out of his life. It’s over. Whatever “it” is. They had their fun, Loki has successfully ruined the only good thing Tony has ever had going for him in his life and also proven once and for all that Tony Stark is ruled only by his dick. That’s it, and now it’s time for him to go back to plotting to crash the earth into the sun or whatever it is he does with his free time. Tony wants to throw himself at Pepper’s feet and beg her forgiveness – or, more likely, throw himself off the top of the building because he doesn’t deserve her forgiveness, and he’d rather do that than admit he’s done exactly what he swore he would never do to her. He won’t even mention Loki. It’s of no consequence anymore.

                 But as usual, Tony picks the worst times to deny himself what he actually wants. He stays where he is and keeps his eyes focused on the soiled sheets wound about his knees. He wonders if he has time to wash them before Pepper returns, or if he should just burn them. He thinks he might burn them anyway.

                 “I do hope you freshen up a bit before then,” Loki continues, oblivious (or not) to the blade he’s twisting deeper around Tony’s heart without quite hitting it. That would be too merciful. “It smells positively filthy in here. Like . . . sex and ozone and shame.”

                 Tony rolls his eyes. “Jesus Christ. Do you have to be so dramatic all the time?”

                 Loki answers him by way of withdrawing in one swift, brutal movement, shoving Tony forward onto the bed in the process. Tony, meanwhile, groans and hides his face in the sheets, valiantly trying to ignore the way they stick to his stomach. Bile rises in his throat, mirroring the abuse no doubt visible on the outside with suspiciously finger-shaped bruises ringing his neck. He touches them and winces, then squeezes his eyes shut when he hears Loki’s brittle laughter.

                 “As much as I would dearly like to stay and see how you explain your many new markings, I must be going.”

                 Tony still says nothing, curling the sheets in his fists. Loki waves a hand and is dressed again in an instant, not bothered in the least by Tony’s uncharacteristic silence. He kneels next to the bed and brushes sweaty hair back from Tony’s forehead with deceptive tenderness, eyes nearly convincing in their softness.

                 “Goodnight, viligísl. I will call on you again later. Unless, of course, you’d rather I did not . . .” He waits expectantly, smile splitting his face again when he’s met only with stony silence.  “As I thought. Have fun with your guilt, Stark.”

                 The subtle shift in air pressure alerts Tony that he can open his eyes and try to regain some of his composure now that Loki has left. He flinches as he moves, muscles already going stiff and protesting sharply as he trudges into the bathroom. He stares at his reflection in the mirror, gut churning to see Howard staring back at him through younger eyes and with a bruise-ringed neck. Before he steps into the shower, he tells Jarvis to place an order at a nearby florist. He’s not sure if it’s Maria Stark or Pepper’s accusing eyes that drive him into the hot spray of the shower, but there’s no mistaking Howard’s and Loki’s laughter ringing in his ears.

                 Tony turns the water up as hot as it will go, looking for some sort of absolution and settling, as always, for just more punishment.