Half past six on the evening of December twenty-third and Tony was done with all his Christmas-shopping, -building, and -programming. It must be some kind of a record for him.
Thirty minutes before his first guests would start to arrive and the entire floor below the penthouse looked like Santa's wet dream. Sure, many of the decorations were both tacky and kitschy but as long as there was too many of them nobody would really notice.
At the moment Tony was standing alone by the two bars, nursing a welcome-champagne glass. The serving staff were all in the next room discussing last minute strategies.
Tony looked down at the tabletop and the piece of paper there.
Each year he made two lists. The first one he wrote on a note, one of the few analog things he still bothered to do. It was for the people in his life who had become close enough to warrant his special attention.
The other list was who would receive a generous and very fancy fruit basket generically compiled together by a personal shopper. This list was digital and Tony only went through it to add or subtract names from year to year. It was consisting of mostly contractors, other 'heroes', or in some cases (like Reed Richards) both.
This year his fruit basket list was to its usual average, two hundred and forty seven. Twelve of those baskets were slightly adapted to fit teenagers and were going to Xavier's school to be shared around the lot there.
His first list consisted of a whooping nineteen people. Granted, some of them were off-world, pretending to be dead, or had really secret identities, but Tony had his ways.
Nineteen people was more than he'd ever had before. Only a few years ago that list had just three names on it: Rhodey, Pepper, and Happy. Tony was really moving in the world.
At the moment Tony's hand was hoovering over writing a twentieth name to the list under all the checked off ones. He had been considering it for several days now. This name wasn't going to be on the fruit basket list, and if Tony didn't decide to do this personally nothing would ever be done about it.
Problem was he did know what he wanted to give to this person, but he didn't know if it was going to be accepted. Many things, some of them quite fragile, would be put in the line of danger if he went through with this crazy plan.
He hesitated for just a second more before writing Loki's name on the list. He felt quite good afterwards though. Tony smiled at the name on the paper.
Then he quickly folded the paper up and hid it in the inner pocket of his newly tailored red suit jacket. He could just imagine what the others would say if they knew he was in planning on giving a gift to Loki. Especially this kind of gift.
He emptied the rest of his glass in one go.
What was next? Invite Dr Doom to tomorrow's brunch? Well, maybe as a distraction...
Giving Loki a gift wasn't too far off the grid though. The guy had been staying in the Avengers Tower for the last three days after all.
Well, 'staying' and 'staying'...
Loki was actually locked up in the basement.
In a high-security glass cell á la Hannibal Lecter, together with some awesome magical dampeners. Or if you wanted to be crude, as Tony often wanted to be, the cage was like a personalised peep show. Clint had asked him to at least compare it to Big Brother instead, but, frankly, Tony had never really seen much of a difference.
Tony had already visited once or twice, or a couple a times a day, bringing snacks, reading material, and of course some entertaining banter. And once to watch Loki sleep, he wasn't quite proud of that one.
Loki always seemed amused by his frequent visits. Though if it was more than amusement it was hard to tell. Tony guessed that they had been flirting a bit, but then again Tony was more or less flirting with everyone as a defence mechanism and Loki was quite delightfully apt in sarcasm.
It wasn't always easy to tell the difference for either of them.
Any way, it wasn't like he was enamoured with the crazy space alien. Not really... Tony just liked him, that's all. He liked him enough to put him on his special Christmas list, and give him... Give him... Something special.
Loki didn't understand Christmas anyway. Why would he? He was a crazy space alien. Also, to be considered, in viking-times the big mid-winter shindig mostly revolved around blood sacrifice.
Then again, Christmas had never been Tony's forte either.
He had been thirteen when he had gotten the flu and was finally allowed to stay at home watching television instead of hanging with his parents on pointless photo-ops. A new world had opened up to him. It had taken until Valentine's Day until he had caught up with all the pop culture.
Still, Christmas always seemed a bit foreign to him.
At least it was the time of year when he could spoil his friends without them complaining that it was too much. Most of the big budget had gone to the decorations and food for the party anyway.
"Hey," a familiar voice said as a big presence leaned on the bar next to him. "Starting early?"
"It's not that early," Tony smirked and turned to his friend.
Steve smiled back at him in good humour. He was dressed in a powder-blue tuxedo that would have looked ridiculous on anybody else. Perhaps it was because he had foregone the ruffled shirt and opted for a standard white instead. He was very handsome.
"Have you wished Loki a Merry Christmas yet?" Steve leered slightly.
"Well, I thought that since you have been down there every day since we caught him..."
"Have you been spying on me?"
"Tony," Steve gave him a look. "Are you forgetting who you are living with? We all know you have a thing for the guy. You aren't as subtle as you think you are. You have been flirting skills nice the first day, before you even knew it yourself."
Tony managed to stop himself from blushing. He could feel the list in his pocket.
"No, we haven't!"
Steve gave him the 'you-are-a-bullshiter-in-denial' look, then he took a champagne glass from the counter and gave it a small sip. Tony felt a bit shamed.
"You're not angry?"
"I think you are just as mad as he is," Steve shook his head. "But I'm not angry. I was a bit irritated at first when your interaction with him distracted from the battle."
"Not that distracted..."
"But the last few months since he came back I began to notice that his attacks were more about making mischief than doing real damage. He even helped us that time when he let those snakes free, even if it took a bit if extra cleaning."
"Yeah," Tony smiled, and shivered, at the memory. "But I can't exactly invite him to the party..."
He looked at his watch, twenty minutes until the party officially started, some of the live-in guests were already there. Clint and Bruce were talking over by the buffet, Jane and Darcy were admiring the enormous Christmas tree, Bucky was standing a couple of steps away waiting for Steve.
Thor wasn't there yet, he was to arrive from Asgard any moment though.
"Maybe I can take him some food... There is plenty to go around."
"Good idea," smiled Steve and patted Tony's shoulder.
Then he winked and left to join his boyfriend who offered him his good arm.
Tony watched them join Darcy and Jane by the big tree before taking another glass of champagne. He emptied that was well for courage.
As more and more and more party-guests trickled in through the two big elevators Tony managed to fill a plate with some mixed Holiday-themed finger foods. He got a long knowing look from Bruce that he played oblivious to.
Bruce amusingly smirked at him. Tony considered withholding the new electro-spectrometer he had bought the man for Christmas but decided not to be a grinch.
"Give my best," said Bruce and took a bite of a salmon-roll.
Tony sighed as he entered his separate private elevator. He didn't have to do anything for the machine to automatically start its descent.
He hadn't really planned on visiting Loki until the next day because of the party. But he figured that now was a good time as any, even if he neglected his duties as a host. Pepper and the others would cover for him.
He stepped out of the elevator on to the fifth underground level. Not even superhero billionaires were allowed build big basements in the middle of Manhattan, so he had had to stack them up. He sometimes missed the workspace he had in Malibu, but it was still under serious renovation.
Loki's cell was on the right. There were several locks and identifications to get by, but Tony used his override and got in after only doing one. There had to be some perks in being both the designer and owner after all.
As he stepped inside the 'viewing-room' Tony was surprised to find that someone had placed a large Christmas tree just outside the glass. It was about a half a metre taller than him and decorated in fairy lights, gold tinsel, and silver- and copper-balls.
There was a Iron Man action figure in a pink tutu tied to the top of the tree. Tony glared at it.
"Is that a family tradition?" asked a far too entertained voice from the other side of the glass. "I had the impression that you Midgadians either placed stars or renderings of angels on top of your sacrificed spruces this time of year."
"We do," said Tony with a sigh. "That's just Clint's silly sense of humour."
"Yes, I have always found him quite entertaining." Loki nodded with a fond smile.
Tony felt a bit nervous without really knowing why, he hadn't felt nervous before when facing Loki. A bit flustered and hot, yes, but never nervous. Was it because Steve's and Bruce's knowing looks, or was it because Loki's name on the special list?
Loki rose from his seat by the desk where he up until now had been writing something down in a thick notebook. Tony had asked once before what he was writing but only gotten evasive answers. It was possible it was a memoir, but it could also be a spell book or a precise and graphic description on how to gut humans.
There were seventeen cameras on Loki at all time but the guy had an amazing skill to always find the dead angles, even when there wasn't supposed to be any.
"Barton and Agent Romanoff were kind enough to give me this lovely tree a few hours ago. I must admit, though I have no real understanding for the custom, it does indeed create a cozy atmosphere."
Loki was wearing a pair of black jeans and a black button-up shirt. He looked like a misunderstood former goth punk teenager still cool in his early thirties. Tony envied and admired that look. He had no idea what any of that just meant, but he knew he himself could never pull it off himself.
Tony looked back at the doll on top of the tree, it's tiny arc reactor was glowing. He knew a camera when he saw one. Now, if this camera was to stump Loki in one of his impossible dead angles, or to capture the look on Tony's face when he saw it, was impossible to tell.
"Have you had any other visitors?" Tony turned back to Loki.
"None that I know of..." Loki had slowly sauntered up to the glass. "Unless..." He nonchalantly followed one of the seams between metal and glass with his forefinger. "...unless you came down to watch me sleep again."
His eyes met Tony's, even through the barrier separating them from each other Loki's height felt a bit close and towering. Tony caught himself before blushing and managed to keep his outward calm.
"In your dreams," he said.
"Maybe..." Loki smirked and pursed his lips. "Though we both know that I was awake the last time you were here spying on me."
"I wasn't spying."
"You keep telling yourself that, Prancer."
"Ah, yes," Loki turned around and walked over to his bed. "That reminds me. Dr Banner was kind enough to bestow me a gift. He has really been a absolute delight these few days."
"Bruce has?" frowned Tony.
He knew that Bruce had gone down to the basement just as often as he had during Loki's capture, but he assumed it had been mostly for experiments on Loki's magic. Should he be jealous? Why should he be jealous? He wasn't obsessed with Loki, and the fact that he wanted to give Loki a special Christmas present wasn't at all a cause for...
"You look very handsome," said Loki returning to the glass holding a big, but thin, children's book in his hands.
"Big party upstairs," Tony patted down the front of his red jacket. "What's that?"
"Dr Banner gave it to me," he held up the book. "'Santa's Reindeers', it's somewhat interesting. I'm not sure if he wanted to tease me or educate me in your nicknames of me."
Tony wasn't sure either way, probably both. Bruce had been teasing him quite a bit about visiting Loki so much, though not really owning up to his own frequency of visits. Tony had tried to ignore it but Bruce's jibs were beginning to cut close.
"So..." Loki casually started leafing through the book, it had very colourful pages. "A party? I see you brought me some scraps of the table."
Tony suddenly remembered the plate he was holding.
"Well, I would invite you but some of the guests might have some problems with that."
He walked over to the cage's hatch and punched a code that opened it up. He placed the plate inside it and pushed through to the ledge on the other side.
"Just was well," Loki looked at him through his eyelashes. "I'm not a big party person. I prefer more intimate gatherings."
"I like both," Tony closed the hatch.
"So I've gathered."
He had tucked the book under his arm and was curiously looks my over the plate. A piece of cheese rolled up in a slice of ham seemed to catch his eye. He pinched the toothpick it was speared upon between his forefinger and thumb and brought it up to his nose for a smell.
"It's not poisoned," Tony rolled his eyes. "Just very expensive French cheese and Italian ham. And for your information, they are not 'scraps of the table'. The party just started, you are basically first served."
Loki pulled the food off the toothpick with his teeth, baring them in a way somewhere between sexy and predatory. Tony had to clear his throat slightly, hopefully avoiding to look too aroused at the gesture. Loki examined the empty toothpick as he chewed.
"I also see you have lifted the ban on sharp objects in my cell."
"You already have pens," huffed Tony. "What are you going to do? Prickle us?"
"Shouldn't you go back to your party?" Loki tested the small sharp point against his thumb as I considering Tony's suggestion. "I'm sure they miss you."
"There's enough booze and tinsel up there that that won't miss me for ages."
"So that's your strategy? Numb them and show them shiny things?"
"Worked for me so far," Tony smiled.
Loki gave him a combined half shrug and feigned disinterest before returning to the reindeer book. Tony couldn't imagine it being a captive reed for anyone over the age of six, let alone someone of a thousand and six.
"I believe..." Loki turned the book and pressed the open pages against the glass. "This is the one you refer to me as most. Is this how you see me?"
The pages showed a happy cartooned reindeer surrounded by elves decorating its horns with baubles, brushing it's fur, and feeding it gingerbread. 'Prancer' it said in big red letters over the first page.
"Actually, I would love to call you Vixen more often, but it wouldn't be appropriate when in combat."
"Oh, I didn't know we were in combat," Loki smirked. "How intriguing. I would have changed my clothes."
"Run a brush through your hair while you're at it."
"I'll wish for one for Christmas."
This reminded Tony of the list in his pocket. He had forgotten it for a moment, but now it was back on his mind. He glanced up at the Iron Man doll at the top of the tree again. To where was the camera sending? How many people at the party were huddled together around a small screen in Clint's hands?
He cleared his throat again.
"Is that what you want for Christmas? A brush?"
"It would be nice to have something other than my own fingers though my hair."
To demonstrate the pulled his fingers through his hair. Tony had almost mimicked the gesture before even noticing he that had raised his hand. Loki smirked again.
"Why are you here, Stark?"
"To give you some food," Tony pointed to the plate.
"Rogers brought me supper over an hour ago," Loki gestured to a tray on his table with an empty soup bowl on it. "I thought perhaps you were here to clear it away. But judging how this food is obviously just an excuse, and also by the way you are too conscious of what ever you have in your inner pocket makes me think otherwise."
Tony huffed. Steve had conveniently forgotten to mention that.
"Aren't you the regular Sherlock Holmes?" He adjusted his jacket. "I thought you said you hadn't had any other visitors."
"A quick drop off of food without ulterior motives hardly counts as a visit."
"You trust too easily."
Loki looked like he would have choked if he had been eating. Tony rejoiced in taking him so off guard. Still, his courage was slightly failing him. Maybe he should just go back to the party and save this for later. He put his hands in his pockets and weighed back on his heels.
"So you read that whole book, Prancer?"
"All twenty-two pages," Loki shrugged of some of his initial shock. "I'm of course more used to more substantial and complex texts, but this was mostly images so I managed."
"What do you want for Christmas?" Tony made a flirty smile.
"What about my freedom?" He looked around his cell. "I must admit that I do prefer it to my prison on Asgard, but it's a bit... confined."
"It's not really mine to give..." Tony glanced up at the Iron Man camera on the tree, he wondered if anyone was watching from the other side.
"Do you want me to trade you for it then?"
Now it was Tony's turn to be shocked. Loki watched him for a moment through lidded eyes. Tony's mouth went dry when Loki leaned forward towards the glass, touching it with his chin and nose. A patch of fog formed over his mouth.
The next moment Tony went cold. Had Loki just been leading him on to get free? Tony didn't doubt the guy was above trying something like that. Was that the reason for the extra camera? Was Clint and Nat worried that he was going to fall for some trick?
Perhaps it was too soon to know.
"How do you feel about fruit baskets?"
"Fruit baskets?" Loki blinked in confusion.
"Well, there's not just fruit in them. There's some cheese, chocolate, wine, a new phone, or music player...some toys, perhaps some DVDs." Tony cleared his throat. "I give several of them away every year, they are usually much appreciated. Would you like one?"
"What are you blabbing about?"
"Or..." Tony took a breath, this was ridiculous. He was goddamn Iron Man, he could do this. "Or would you like to have something else?"
Loki's left eyebrow rose in as sudden intrigue as both had done in surprise before.
"So I was right..." he leered. "You haven't just come here to tease me."
"No," Tony took a step closer so he too was up to the glass, he had to tilt his head slightly upwards to meet Loki's downward eyes. "I haven't. Though you have been teasing me quite a bit."
"You weren't that subtle."
"Neither was you."
Their breaths on the glass were almost obstructing their views of each other but neither seemed to want to move away.
They were suddenly interrupted by the outer door opening and Thor stepping inside with a great smile on his face. Tony jumped away, a bit taken back by the intrusion. In his periphery he could see Loki stepping back from the glass as well.
"My friend!" greeted Thor as he walked over and patted Tony hard in the back. "Steve told me that you were down here waiting for me."
"He did?" Tony frowned.
"Yes?" Thor looked at him and then to Loki who had taken his plate and started eating with feigned interest. "Didn't he tell you that I was to bring these?"
He held up a pair of leather bracelets twisted with thin silver treads. They were quite pretty but Tony had no idea what Thor was talking about.
"Are those...?" asked Loki slowly.
"Yes, Brother. Father has finally agreed to let you earn your forgiveness. He said it was appropriate since it is the Midgardian season of giving."
Tony felt very confused as Thor walked over to the cell door and opened it simply by pressing his hammer against the entire electronic keypad.
That act in it self was so technologically shocking that Tony first didn't register that Thor had entered the cell and was now approaching Loki. Loki himself looked just as dumbfounded.
"Come, Brother, you are welcome to come and take part in the winter feast above."
Loki's eyes moved rapidly around the room for any form of deceit as Thor took his left wrist and started tying one of the bracelets around it. Tony saw the silver shimmer in blue as the knot was finished.
"What's going on?" asked Tony walking up to the open door but not stepping inside. "When was this decided?"
"Dr Banner witnessed before Odin," Thor continued with the other bracelet. "Have they not told you? Loki has been given probation under the guardianship of the Avengers."
"Bruce did? Bruce has been to Asgard?! And didn't tell me?!!"
"Steve as well, didn't they tell you?"
"No. They didn't."
Tony felt a bit betrayed. He had thought they were bros. Bros don't go to other planets without telling each other.
"Is this a trick?" Loki asked, feeling the bracelets by rubbing his wrists.
"No," Thor shook his head, then he smiled and laughed fondly at a memory. "Father refused the request at first, but then Banner challenged him for it."
"Wh- what?" Loki and Tony said simultaneously.
"Odin sent forth one of his mightiest warriors thinking that Banner would be easily intimidated to submission. But Banner just called on the beast and defeated the warrior in mighty battle. Father will not be so quick to belittle the champions of Midgard again."
"So..." Loki took a few hesitating steps towards the door and Tony. "I'm free?"
"Under restrictions," Thor reminded. "And some amendments. Clint and Natasha negotiated quite a good deal for you with the Midgardian authorities."
"They knew as well?!" Tony took a deep breath. "Are they watching?" He turned to the doll on top of the tree. "Are you watching?"
Thor looked up at the doll as well, obviously not understanding what it was.
"What restrictions and amendments?" Loki asked suspiciously.
"We can discuss them tomorrow, those that none that I think you will object too much to."
"Don't think, Thor, it doesn't suit you."
Tony suppressed a laugh. Thor rolled his eyes.
"For now I believe there is a feast upstairs. I have promised Jane a dance and I prefer not to keep the lady waiting for to long."
"You go on ahead," said Tony.
Thor looked at him for a moment and then at Loki who was too busy examining at his new bracelets to even bother to ignore him.
"Very well," Thor inclined his head. "But I will expect you joining the feast not for long." He gave Tony a threatening glance as he passed. "A prince of Asgard is entitled to a proper courtship."
"Mind your own business," spat Loki.
"Is that what you told Jane?" asked Tony.
Thor just smiled, shook his head amusingly at them, and left. He left the outer door unclosed.
Well alone Tony and Loki listened to Thor's footsteps disappearing and the low sound of the elevator going up. Loki was the first one to clear his throat.
"What was that you said about Christmas wishes?"
"I didn't," Tony shifted. "You said wanted a hair brush."
"Can I change my mind?"
"If you have proven anything, ever, is that you can do that. So, yes."
The stood silent for a while looking at each other.
"Why did you come down here?"
"I wrote you down on my Christmas list," Tony took out the paper from his inner pocket. "It's kinda special. For me. I mean. Yeah."
"Oh," Loki pulled on one of his new bracelets without really putting any force behind it. "What do you wish for for Christmas?"
Tony gave a short laugh.
"I think I got it."
Next moment Tony felt hot breath next to his his left ear.
"Be careful what you wish for," came a whisper. "I'm not a easy man to please."
"Good thing," Tony turned his head to face him. "I'm even worse."
They watched each other for a moment again. Loki smiled mischievously before walking over to his desk and taking up his big notebook. He held it close to his chest.
"Do you mind if I borrow a change of clothes for the feast? I seem to be a bit too restricted to get my own."
"Absolutely, my closet is my closet."
"You really think I'm too trusting, don't you?"
Tony smirked and held out his arm towards the open doors. Loki looked him over as measuring him up for midwinter sacrifice.
They walked towards the elevator. Tony looked at the book.
"What do you have in there?"
"Diary," Loki held the book tighter.
"Diary of what?"
"Like I'm going to believe that."
Tony stood to the side to let Loki into the elevator. Tomorrow he was going to have a long talk with his friends, but for now he was going to have some fun. And if there was time he would might go to the party as well.