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It Isn't Always Easy

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The Avengers – or at least the Midgardian ones – were not happy. That was okay, Thor didn't expect them to be. But still, there was more of a fight going on then he had anticipated – though, if Loki's smirk was a clue, he had certainly seen this all coming. And at an earlier time, Loki might have even told Thor what he wasn't seeing, but that was then, not now, and Thor was left to handle this on his own.

But he was better at winning brawls, not arguments, and things were rapidly getting out of hand.

“I am NOT living with that psychotic bastard!” Barton squawked, his voice cutting clear over the general clamor of the room. Out of all the people protesting, he was by far the loudest, but also the most unhelpful, just spewing hate and the pent-up rage held over from their last battle, nearly two months ago. Again, to be expected, but it was really just making everything worse because no amount of protesting was going to change the All-Father's decision on Loki's punishment.

So Barton's arguing was useless; Widow was acting the observer; Captain Rogers was trying to mediate impassively while suppressing his own doubts; Dr. Banner was avoiding the argument altogether; and Stark was inserting acerbic comments that only served to escalate things. Which left Loki taking the brunt of the abuse, though he was happy to use Thor as a shield, pitting the sole Asgardian against his mortal teammates.

Eventually, though, the Captain had successfully intervened, calming everyone down despite both Loki's and Stark's best attempts at keeping tempers high. With the tense silence left in the wake of the fighting, Thor almost forgot his intentions, just happy to be done with this all, but prompting from an annoyed Stark had Thor explaining the nature Loki's sentence – the mortality, the chance for redemption, and the desire to have Loki learn valuable moral lessons from the very best: the Avengers, heroes of Midgard.

After that, there really could be no argument, because as much as Stark and Barton would have liked to continue bickering about their unwilling participation in Loki's punishment, the Captain didn't give them the chance, making the decision to allow a former god and super-villain into the Avenger's tower as a guest.

Then the mortals were all clearing out in various displays of unhappiness, and Thor only let himself sigh in relief once they were gone. Loki smirked on, face as unreadable as it has been since the failed coronation, and Thor just kept silent, not able to imagine that this would help Loki at all, at least, not in the way both he and the All-Father hoped.

 


 

 

He can't really say how it happened.

He isn't even sure if this was only a recent development of his own – occurring over the past few days of living with the Avengers – or maybe he has been harboring this obsession for longer than he knows. What he can conclude, though, is that every time Tony Stark – Midgard's own Iron Man and Avenger, the mortal billionaire, and lover of so many – opens his mouth to speak, all Loki can see is the man on his knees. With that mouth still open, and eyes as emotive as always, he would not be interested in speaking at all, instead working on the other things that he could certainly do down there.

Loki supposes that there might be something wrong with thinking of these things when the object of his fantasies is sitting just opposite of him – sitting with his tongue between his teeth and his eyes narrowed in concentration at whatever he is doing.

But Loki's never been particularly interested in the distinctions of wrong or right. He might just have to start, though, because when Thor enters the room and gives him a strange look, all Loki can think is that the Oaf has miraculously developed the ability to read minds and can now see all those thoughts running through his head – which only serves as a reminder of how wrong this is.

In an effort to disrupt Thor's sudden telepathic skills, Loki tries to think of something else, anything other than curling his hands into Stark's messy, short hair and just thrusting-

But that's ridiculous; Thor cannot possibly know any of what happens in Loki's mind, and he is probably only looking so worried because of how Loki has been staring at Stark since he's entered. He most likely believes that Loki is planning to do something to the mortal. And well, Loki is, really, but not the sort of act that Thor would ever conceive, at least not involving his not-brother and his teammate.

But no, Tony Stark is not a man who will be subjected to mere pranks. And from the way that Loki's stomach tenses when the genius himself looks up and smiles at Thor, and from the warmth pooling there when their eyes briefly meet, Loki knows that this will not simply just go away. Not until he has Stark how he wants him.

 


 

Trying to seduce someone into his bed merely for pleasure is not a task that Loki would normally invest so much time or effort into, but Stark is either oblivious to his intentions or is simply choosing to ignore them.

Usually such a passing fancy would die down on it's own, so there would be no need for desperate measures, but it's already been several months of unrequited sexual desire and unnoticed advances. He guesses that this is likely due to his new living arrangements and spending so much time in close quarters with the Avengers.

After all, he would never have noticed how Stark's lip becomes an enticingly reddened shade of pink when it's been bitten in concentration were he still trapped in a cell on Asgard, now would he. He would also have never seen the messy-haired and sleepy-eyed Stark that is now shuffling out of the shared kitchen and sprawling onto the couch next to Widow while wearing nothing but boxers and an old shirt that is rucked up to reveal an enticing expanse of skin. No, being locked away in some dark room would never have provided such delicious imagery for his viewing pleasure.

“Move it, Ugly”, Barton mutters from behind him, still keeping the nickname he's dubbed Loki with even though nearly three months have passed with them all living together. It's a rather unpleasant interruption for Loki's thoughts, and he narrows his eyes at Barton, who is scowling. “C'mon, bowl of cereal coming through”.

Loki does move to one side, watching Barton walk past before sliding a single foot back out and smirking as the man goes tumbling down. It's a little cruel, especially as Barton has recently made an effort of containing his hatred around Loki, but he's seen Stark laugh at falls like this.

Especially when it's one of his friends who is falling.

On the ground now, Barton coughs out the end of his spoon that must have jammed into his mouth, and he blinks up at Loki in confused anger, but Loki doesn't even look at him.

Stark had indeed looked up from his games at the noise and is now staring at them both, holding the hand with the 'remote' in it above his head where he had been waving it around as he fought over the television with Widow. Loki smirks at him, reveling in his amusement of the situation, but he's completely ignored save for a simple roll of the eyes before Stark focuses on Barton, “You okay, Clint?”

There is no laughter in his voice.

“Fine”, Barton spits out, getting to his feet and kicking away the now empty bowl. “You know if Thor's here?”

Stark meets Loki's eyes then, and even Loki is a little surprised to see that much anger present. “Nope, don't think he is”, he says with mocking buoyancy, answering Barton's question.

That's the only warning Loki has before he's lunged at from the side and pushed against the wall.

 


 

Barton ends up breaking three of his ribs, and Loki again curses his mortal body as he has done ever since Odin ripped his strength away. He spends the week after in the quarters assigned to him, healing and ignoring Thor's calls for him to get up; instead, he chooses to lie in bed and think of Stark.

It's over this week that he discovers something new and rather bothersome: the heat that Stark inspires in him isn't just from being in the man's presence, but from envisioning his face in the mind's eye as well. Left to himself, Loki's thoughts breed new and improbable fantasies where Stark is curled above him, eyes alight with desire and thighs tight around Loki's waist as they grind together. And despite never having had the experience, Loki can very vividly feel the weight of Stark pressing down over him, can hear the breathy moans coming from that lewd mouth.

It is all rather ironic in a cosmic way, because just outside his room, Loki can hear the Avengers talk with one another. In the midst of gripping desire, he can hear Stark's teasingly melodic tone as he jeers at whatever is happening out there. And then, when he laughs, Loki's fingers dance across his stomach, teasing around his waistband before he gives in and cups himself.

A recent development this must be, or he really had enjoyed the feeling of Stark's neck under his hands, body held close before throwing him out of a window. He can easily remember that now, recalling just how tightly his own wrists had been held when Stark had latched onto him out of instinct and had called for his computer to help.

Loki would love to feel that again, if only in different circumstances. For example, Stark writhing beneath him, clutching tightly to his wrists as they kiss and touch where nothing can-

“It's a little funny, Steve. You have to admit that at least”, Stark giggles, just a step outside Loki's room now, and there is a light thud as he raps his knuckles against the door. “And I still don't see why this has to be my job”.

“It's your punishment,” the Captain corrects in a grumble, seeming to be quite near to where Stark is standing, and a stream of jealousy suddenly rushes through Loki's veins when the Captain joins Stark in his mind. It drives any intimacy away but doesn't touch the heat burning him from the inside.

The door is knocked on again, and the Captain's footsteps fade away just as Stark shouts out, “Wakey-wakey, Loki!”

Loki pulls his hands from the inside of his trousers at that, leaving him in a state of blurred arousal as he squints at the door in annoyance, but Stark just continues hammering away with an obnoxious tirade of vapid demands, “Get up already, you Drama-Queen. Come on! Up up up up up!”

Loki sits up faster than he should have at the noise, and his head swims for a moment because of it. Mortal bodies are so irritatingly weak.

The knocking continues and Loki clenches his fists, tugging his trousers shut and buttoning them back up as he untangles the blankets from his legs.

This had better be good.

He stumbles from the bed to his feet, then yanks the door open with enough force that Stark – hand still gripping the doorknob – staggers forward.

“What.” He snarls at Stark, who just blinks up at him from his bent position before straightening and glaring at him.

“Steve? He's out now; I'm done and done”, Stark calls over his shoulder, folding his arms across his chest and turning away from Loki without so much as an apology. But before he can try to walk away, Loki steps around and towers over him, preventing his exit. “Uh, easy there, jackass. Nothing urgent is happening or anything. If you even care to know, I pranked Steve – a particularly beautiful one this time, not that he appreciated it – and getting you out of this room was my punishment, and now here you are!” Stark eases past him now, unconcerned, “Nothing lost, nothing – gah!”

Loki grabs Stark's wrist, pushing him against the wall. He barely restrains himself from wincing when his incomplete release is jarred by Stark's knee; he had been so close before the knocking had begun and – despite it being Stark that had caused all this to build up in the first place – anger mixes in with the arousal as he stares down at the other man, leaving a dark mess of heat twisting in his veins. He presses further against Stark.

“And if I am the punishment here, Stark, then why do you think I should let you walk away so easily?”, he hisses, and Stark responds by trying to shove him back, but – mortal or not – Loki's strength still holds out over him.

“Because you'll be pummelled by everyone here if you do anything to me”, is Stark's answer, and though he is right – though Loki knows he won't do anything anyway – he scoffs at the idea and leans in closer.

Stark squirms harder in his hold then, struggling to push him away, but each movement only drives yet another spike of arousal into that messy knot burning through his lower stomach. Loki groans when Stark's knee brushes over him again.

He freezes – they both do – but it's Stark who glances down just the once, growing pale.

“Get off me.” The demand is given near silently, Stark having gone quiet now, but it takes Loki a moment to realize why.

“Relax, Stark. I never take one that's unwilling”, Loki assures him, and he chuckles when Stark finally manages to shove him away in response. “But wouldn't you say it is kinder to deal with the – ah – 'problem' that you've caused me?”

“That I-” Stark gapes at him. Loki raises an eyebrow at him, and the man understands almost immediately. Good; Loki knows that there's a reason he likes this one out of all the Avengers. “Oh, god”. And it's actually a little amusing how someone as notoriously wild as Stark can flush at something so simple. “Shit, so you were just – uh – okay, that's – um – no”. It's clearly safe to say that he's flustered the man. “I – t”, and Stark's flush deepens as he comes to correct conclusion of what Loki had been up to behind the door to his room, but instead of slipping into a teasing role as Loki expect of him, Stark's embarrassment and/or disgust seems to only heighten. “Yeah, I – uh, bye”.

Stark darts out from under Loki's arms as though he thinks Loki would try to stop him. He's around the corner quicker than Loki can remember ever seeing him move.

Loki just sighs, leaning back against the wall behind him, and still he aches below, so very hard and unsated. With no one passing by, and no one likely to, he slides a hand back under the material of his trousers, chin dropping down until his breath fans out over his own body.

And then he comes hard, again envisioning Stark's expressive eyes gazing up at him with pleasure, mouth stretched wide and face flushed just as pink as it had been only a few minutes ago.

 


 

Stark begins to avoid him.

Luckily, the man seems rather embarrassed by this new development, and he has clearly chosen to keep the knowledge to himself. So for now, Loki is safe from any beatings that the Avengers may give him to protect their comrade from his devious desires.

The Widow, however, very obviously suspects something; she is constantly mentioning the change in Stark's behavior when Loki enters the room, and repeatedly giving him dagger-sharp looks whenever he passes her. Her interrogating nature is merely an irritation however, and Loki takes pleasure in knocking her of her feet, creating a new accident each time. At least, he does until the rest of them notice and force him to stop.

Instead of avoiding him like Stark, though, she chooses to hound his steps wherever he goes. Only in his own rooms does he have privacy now. Being made to sit with the team during their 'movie-bonding' nights has always been bad enough, but now the Widow keeps an eye on him throughout, ignoring anything else and even a simple shift from Loki causes her to tense.

He doesn't believe this is what the All-Father planned for when he sent Loki here – beatings, constant suspicion, and unending sexual tension don't impart much in terms of moral lessons.

Stark turns up to team bonding tonight, unable to stay away forever, it seems. When he slides down to sit beside the Captain, Loki stands to make his way over to the kitchen. Months of living here has taught him that if one person goes to get a drink, the rest are suddenly very thirsty. He ignores all the requests, smirking to himself when Stark stays only rigid and silent,. He makes a point of running a subtly hand over the back of Stark's neck as he passes, just to watch him shiver.

He expects Stark to snap at him, or to draw attention to Loki's behavior, but what he doesn't expect is Stark to get up as well and say, “I'd rather make my own drink”.

 


 

Stark isn't thirsty, it would seem.

He leans against the door to the fridge, watching Loki drink straight from a bottle as a display of the worst sort of manners his Mother had always tried to push out of him, though he’s receiving no protest from Stark so he continues at ease.

“So,” Stark starts, glancing to the side to check no one else is coming, “You … like me.”

Loki sets the bottle down, licking a spare drop off of his bottom lip, “No need to think of flattering yourself Stark, it’s only your body I’m interested in.”

Stark nods, once, “Right. Sex.” He pauses, biting his lip, “Is that what you want from me, then?”

Loki gives him a predatory look, “Are you offering?”

Stark gives him a look then that he has only ever seen on Sif's face before. It is a mixture of disgust, indecisiveness, and irritation. It's incredibly amusing to see it on Stark, and Loki can't help but to laugh at it.

“Why that hell would I be?”, Stark says, cutting over Loki's chuckles. “That wasn't exactly an alluring proposal”.

“I'm not asking you to wed me”, Loki replies before taking another sip from the bottle, then flicking the stopper back in.

“Good, because that would be a no, too”. Stark then attempts to turn on his heel and leave, but Loki is faster. He's in front of the shorter man before he can go, and then takes a step into Stark's space, forcing him to take one back.

“So what is this then, Tony Stark?”, Loki drawls, baring his teeth and advancing so Stark is pushed farther back. “You, who is always known for letting anything and anyone into his bed – so desperate for some love that he doesn't waste time with anything other than the act itself”, Stark is backed against the counter now, staring up, and from his position, Loki easily towers over him. “Who would have thought that you are frightened of bedding a god”.

Stark shoves at him, but it doesn't make a single difference. Loki's smile widens.

“If I wanted a god, I would fuck Thor”, Stark spits. “I don't want you because you're you. You're an asshole, a murderer, and frankly, you're so much more arrogant than me it isn't even funny”.

Loki leans in, smiling as Stark tilts his head back to keep their lips apart. “And here I would have thought none of that would matter to someone like you”, he murmurs as Stark's eyes flash in anger. “At least, that is the impression Barton gave me”.

“Barton didn't know me back then, and neither do you now. I may like sex, but I don't just let anyone have access to my-” whatever Stark might have said ends as Loki kisses him.

It lasts almost a minute before Stark punches him, breaking the kiss. The punch does hurt- he's mortal now, of course it would – but it seems to hurt Stark more as the other man hisses out in pain. And when he begins to shake his hand out, glaring at Loki, he kisses him again.

Stark's mouth was open already, and Loki slides his tongue in easily without invitation, pressing himself up against the smaller body of Stark; he already knows what to do with it, having seen it in so many of his -

Crack.

He bites Stark's lip at the sudden pain at the side of his head, and when he rears backward, Stark dabs at his now bleeding bottom lip, still holding the frying pan he'd hit Loki with in one hand. The glare Loki gets next is nothing short of venomous, and Stark swings the pan again when his fingers come away from his split lip dotted with blood.

Loki manages to duck, still a little stunned, and the ringing in his ears doesn't help. But the next swing of the pan is caught, and he tugs at it until Stark is pulled against his chest.

And that is when Widow walk in, followed by the Captain.

 


 

Loki spends a week in the hospital. His only visitor is Thor – whom he ignores – and the only gift is a bunch of poisonous berries sent over from Stark.

When he comes back to the Tower, nothing much has changed, though the Widow has stopped playing detective. She would have drawn her own conclusions – probably the correct ones – after finding Stark bleeding from the lip and pressed against Loki's chest, holding the frying pan that had been used against the god.

The Captain, however, is not nearly as intuitive as the assassin, and has only concluded that a fight had broken out between the two. And Stark is still too embarrassed/disgusted to admit Loki's attraction for him. Though the Widow hasn't spoken either, which troubles Loki to no end because he can't understand her intentions. Perhaps she has confronted Stark, and he has demanded her silence, which is certainly plausible. But the not knowing is unnerving, and the Widow still watches him with open suspicion and hostility.

Thor and Barton are clueless as well. The archer only uses this to fuel his hatred and distrust, and Thor is persistent in getting to 'The Truth'. He questions Loki incessantly, but he gets nothing, of course. Loki would never speak the truth of this to Thor, and it's not worth the effort to construct a lie when silence works just as well.

Dr. Banner seems nearly uninterested. He is probably content to play the passive observer in this whole situation, and Loki won’t complain. He couldn’t handle an attack by the green beast in this body, and he won’t push his luck - no matter what the dark  burning in his chest says when he sees Banner and Stark bent together over the table in the kitchen, or sharing snacks and watching television together. The two are nearly attached to each other some days, and it's disgusting how much their closeness bothers him.

Stark’s behavior does change, though, in regards to Loki. He is once again behaving as he had before Loki’s attraction was made known. It’s curious, and if Loki hadn’t made a new resolve to control himself better - despite what the Avengers might think, he isn’t particularly proud of assaulting Stark - he would try pushing the man just to see what would happen. Instead, he chooses to view this as an opportunity for peace in the Tower, as Stark’s carefree attitude helps to ease the suspicions of his teammates, and that makes Loki’s life just a little easier.

And if at night, he still dreams of Stark’s body against his - calloused hands on his skin, the rough brush of facial hair on his inner thighs, low moans and harsh panting breathed into his neck - than he’ll never admit it. Nor will he admit - even to himself - that maybe there is something more going on.

 


 

With all that he is tangled up in this unfolding drama, it is no wonder that Loki is caught by surprise when Thor bursts into his room, overly-excited and in alarmingly good spirits.

“Come, Loki!” Thor’s voice is too loud in the silence of Loki’s room - he had actually been on the verge of sleeping, having finally relaxed enough to do so - and Loki only grumbles as he turns away, hoping Thor would get the message and leave. But it doesn’t work, and the bumbling oaf is quick in dragging Loki almost violently from the bed. Amongst the flurry of Loki’s kicks and flailing, Thor somehow forces proper attire onto him, and only then bothers to explain why.

“It is Tony Stark’s day of birth, and we have all been invited to celebrate with him!  We leave now to attend a feast at his favorite dining hall, and then we shall have drinks and exchange gifts”.

Disgruntled, Loki allows Thor to pull him along; he has no other choice in his weakened state. It isn’t much longer until he finds himself in a vehicle surrounded with the other Avengers, and Stark sitting confidently at the head of the group as the Tower disappears around a corner behind them. While all the rest of the group talks and congratulates Stark, Loki makes a fair attempt at hiding in the corner, doing his best to remain as unnoticeable as possible. This carries over into the restaurant that they arrive at, though some cruel joke of the Norns has Loki seated next to Stark himself, who only smirks at him briefly before turning away.

Eventually, wine is served amongst the group, and Loki allows himself to indulge slightly. He has no plans of getting drunk - can’t afford to lose control over himself - but he hopes the smooth warmth of the alcohol will help to ease the tension that has plagued him all evening. And it does help, but Loki quickly stops imbibing when he realizes that the alcohol burns through him quicker than he had anticipated. Stark’s presence isn’t helping either, as the man seems to be making it his own personal mission to torment Loki - both by constantly refilling his glass and by seemingly accidental touches of their hands.

By the time platters of food are brought out, Loki feels as if he could combust at any moment. So he doesn’t hesitate to devour the meal he can’t remember ordering, hoping that the food will dilute the alcohol and turmoil coursing through his blood. But the meal is far too short to really comfort him, and there is champagne now being poured out for them, which is sweeter and bubblier and only makes his head spin just a little bit more, but he can’t find it in himself to refuse when Stark hands him another glass with a cheeky grin and their fingers brushing for just a moment too long.

Loki is certain he is in over his mortal head now, but it doesn’t seem to matter any more. Not when there is a little fluttering of something like hope in his chest every time Stark’s attention turns to him.

The atmosphere subtly shifts, however, when the others begin to pull out small gifts and tokens for Stark. The man’s focus is no longer on Loki, and he finds that he almost misses it. And he especially misses the brief touches that had been bestowed upon him throughout the night.

He only stays silent, however, as the Avengers take turns in giving their presents to Stark, taking turns around the table. Loki doesn’t pay much mind to this, more intent on suppressing the choking rage that overwhelms him when Stark’s face lights up at someone’s gift. Had he known that  it was Stark’s birthday, and that something as simple as Thor’s gift of Asgardian mead could be so well-received, he would have brought a gift of his own. The man is a scientist, and surely one of the books of magic from Loki's old rooms would have intrigued and maybe even impressed Stark. And while the mortal could never comprehend the complex theories on his own, there was a powerful sorcerer - former sorcerer - more than willing to spend time in his presence, helping.

Caught up in these imaginings, Loki doesn't immediately notice when the laughter and cheerful conversation fade away. He does, however, notice when all eyes are watching him, feeling like hot brands against his skin. He stares back, not comprehending the expectant gazes until Stark easily draws his attention again.

"No gift for me, Lokes? I thought you liked me", the man says with an injured pout. Loki's eyes widen as he realises that they are all expecting him to have procured a gift for Stark. And why shouldn't they - Loki has been living off of Stark's generosity for months now. Surely a gift would be given as a sign of gratitude, but he is unprepared and with the drink clouding his already muddled thoughts, he freezes. There are vague feelings of panic bubbling up in Loki’s chest, but he quickly tries to suppress them, throwing up as blank a mask as he can.

“Apologies, Stark”, Loki answers softly, too soft to really sound confident, but Loki’s not at top form right now. “I hadn’t realized that your birthday was approaching, and I have nothing prepared”.

“But we’ve been talking about this all week”, the Captain interrupts, and if he hadn’t already shown himself incapable of cruelty, Loki would believe the whole group was attempting to torment him. The Captain’s face shows honest confusion, though, and Thor’s does too, so maybe they actually had been speaking about it - Loki couldn’t recall, too busy trying not to hear the soft snort of disbelief the Widow gives, or Barton’s stifled laughter.

Loki is turned, however, by a warm hand on his arm, and looks over to see Stark smiling almost mischievously at him as that hand slides up to his shoulder, then his neck. It’s intimate, affectionate - almost a caress - and Loki doesn’t want that hand to stop, wants it to keep burning along his body. But it doesn’t, and Loki can’t seem to be disappointed with that when it means that Stark is cupping his jaw and leaning slowly in. “It’s all good, Rudolph. I know exactly what I want for my birthday”.

Stark’s face is so close now, and Loki is holding his breath. He doesn’t think - can’t let himself think, because if he does, then he’ll hope. And he can’t possibly allow that, because it’s too much to hope that all this night, all the touches and smiles and drinking were leading up to this moment when he can finally have what he has wanted for so long. But even as Loki stares, Stark keeps moving in, and there is a challenge in his eyes. A challenge to pull away, to move, to deny that he wants this when they both know that he does so very much, or maybe it’s a challenge to push forward and give in, but Loki doesn’t know what it is and doesn’t know if he can meet that, so his eyes move away. But there’s nowhere left to look, just Stark everywhere and filling his vision, and as he feels Stark’s breath fanning across his lips, he lets his eyes flutter shut.

For whatever reason, though, Stark stops there, hanging just over the edge that separates rationality from temptation. They seem to be held in time together, just breathing the same air - or Stark is breathing and Loki is fighting to do the same even as lightheadedness cripples his composure. He’s sure that he’s trembling under Stark’s hand, but that might not be true; he can’t focus long enough to tell. Loki’s just waiting for Stark to move, to do something, to finish what he has started and steal Loki’s breath as he has in those illicit nighttime fantasies. But Stark isn’t giving in, and so Loki must take, but he doesn’t think he can. Not here, not now, not after the hallway and the kitchen and the concussion, not when there are people watching who will judge and condemn.

It is Stark, however, who breaks the thin wall that has been holding Loki together. Because it’s just a soft breath against slightly parted lips, a nearly silent exhale of ‘Loki’, but it’s enough to ruin him entirely, and he doesn’t waste a second more in waiting as he leans forward to chase after his name on Stark’s tongue.

His kiss meets only with empty air.

Where before there was the heat of Stark near him, a hand on his skin and lips so close, Loki blinks his eyes slowly open to see that the man has pushed himself back, openly laughing at what must be confusion on Loki’s own face. And he is confused, so pitifully slow in understanding what has just happened, or why Barton is laughing just as hard as Stark, and Widow too looks amused.

“Tony”, the Captain speaks up, frowning as he admonishes a still-laughing Stark. Thor is frowning too, but he remains silent. Loki can recognize that Thor is probably too drunk to understand, just as Loki is too addled to do the same, but Thor is as he has always been - blind to the actions of any he titles a friend. The Captain’s displeasure is not quite so complacent, however it hardly phases Stark, who only stops laughing a long minute later so that he can speak.

“Relax, Spangles. It’s just an inside joke, a little game we have. Isn’t it, Reindeer?” and Stark is looking back to Loki again, but this time with a smirk like a sharpened blade, and just as cutting. Because that’s just what this is, that is what this whole night has been - a game - a lead up to this prank done most likely in revenge for the kitchen incident, and Loki should have seen it from the very beginning. He should have seen through the false warmth, the liberal application of alcohol, the manufactured excuses to touch, but he didn’t because he damn well didn’t want to.

Something hidden down deep breaks just a little bit more from it all, but Loki ignores it in favor of pulling together a semblance of calm, gathering just enough of himself to answer both the Captain’s and Thor’s enquiring looks. “Of course it is. Just a bit of competition to keep us both entertained”.

That’s not Loki’s best lie, but it is enough to wash away the suspicion from both the two most noble of the Avengers. Thor happily returns to his drink, and the Captain holds his tongue, though his looks says there will be words exchanged later. Loki finds it beyond his abilities to care about the future, however, when Banner is sitting across from him and looking very displeased.

Maybe he had misjudged Banner and Stark’s relationship before. Maybe they are indeed a well-hidden couple, and Stark’s behavior just now has made Loki an open target for the other man’s jealousy and ire. It’s a terrifying thought, because any attack of the green beast against him would certainly be enough to kill him; he would be torn apart in moments before anyone else could intervene.

But Banner doesn’t attack - or even speak - and when his gaze focuses on Loki specifically, it softens. There is something like pity or concern there; perhaps sympathy? Whatever it is, it seems that Banner places the blame solely on Stark, for which Loki is grateful. A spiteful voice in his head is hoping that the two men fight later, then maybe there will be some retribution for what has happened this night.

There is still the rest of the evening, however, and it’s not as if Loki can make his way back to Stark’s tower on his own. So he’s trapped in this company, and drinking more champagne seems like the best way to make time move faster. Perhaps if he drinks enough, he won’t remember  this overwhelming mortification - and hurt - in the morning.

So that’s exactly what Loki does, testing the limits of what his human body can endure. No one really notices just how much he imbibes, too caught up in the celebration to pay any mind to their unwanted houseguest.  Eventually things began to wind down, and the Avengers all begin to stand, ready to leave in good spirits. Loki stands too, but he lists dangerously to the side before an arm wraps around his waist in support.

It takes a long moment for Loki’s drunken brain to piece things together, but when it does he almost wishes it hadn’t. It is Stark who has an arm around him, holding the former god upright. He is close enough that Loki can easily smell him. And he does, doing his best to remember that scent for later - the smell of rain-soaked earth and forged steel, something warm and heavily spiced but still powerful, natural and intoxicating. Loki closes his eyes, wanting to  lose himself to the balm of forges and wood-fires, the sharp contrast of liquid iron and ancient forests, the heady musk of sweat and sex. But before he can do more than inhale deeply, he is roughly shoved back, stumbling on unsteady legs as he blinks blearily at the other man.

“Pull yourself together, Princess”, Stark mutters, turning around and leaving the rest of them all behind. No one pays any mind as they follow, though, for which Loki is thankful. Being so close to Stark - despite the man’s earlier cruelty - still sends waves of lust rushing through him. If not for the alcohol-induced sluggishness of his body, he would definitely be fully hard already.

Rather than think on that, though, Loki focuses all his attention on placing one foot at a time. He is entirely unstable, and only just manages to avoid stumbling into another patron of the restaurant before Banner takes pity on him, slinging Loki’s arm over his shoulder then leading him out. Loki is too intoxicated to mind the help, or to be fearful of the man who is providing it.

The Avengers and Loki all gather at the sidewalk outside, waiting patiently for Stark’s vehicle to arrive. Well, all except Stark, who is muttering and stomping about, complaining of temporary drivers or something equally ridiculous ruining his birthday. No one pays him any mind. The rest are all conversing jovially, except for Banner, who is attempting to speak with a Loki too far gone to focus on his words.

Then there is an explosion just at the corner, and Loki can’t hear anything over the ringing in his ears.

 


 

“This is fucking ridiculous.” Stark mutters, both arms wrapped around his torso as he shivers from the cold air.

Loki is wedged in beside him, their legs twisted together and their backs against the opposite ends of the tiny hole they’ve managed to get stuck in.

Everything that happened before is a bit of a blur from both alcohol and adrenaline, but Loki does remember being shoved towards Stark after the explosion, then the both of them running before they collide together and tumble into an abandoned building. Neither of them had noticed the sign saying ‘unstable floor’, and they had then fallen straight through. And when another blast from whatever it was attacking hit the walls, the ceiling collapsed atop them.

“Perfect day to have this happen,” Stark grumbles, warily glancing up at the fallen debris over them, “No suit, no cell phone reception, and no coat.” He rolls his eyes, “Great Birthday.”

Loki sighs, stretching his legs when they begin to cramp. He ignores Stark’s kick when they push him against the rocks at his back.

“And I’m stuck with you.”

“A perfect day.” Loki repeats with a mocking smile, refusing to show just how much he has been affected by this whole evening before yawning behind one hand. He feels so exhausted now that the high of fleeing is gone, and the exertion is churning up his stomach. But in such an enclosed space, he can’t afford to be ill, so instead Loki focuses on drumming up anger towards both Odin and Stark.

It’s easy to feel justified rage at the All-Father. After all, were it not for him, Loki would never be in this situation at all. He would never have been made mortal, never have been cast down to Midgard in disgrace, never be weak enough to become so pathetically trapped. Yes, being angry at Odin is the most simple of tasks.

Stark is another matter though. Loki should be angry with him; the mortal did make a fool of him after all. But instead, Loki is only upset. He hurts in a way that is unfamiliar and almost terrifying. Loki wants to be angry, to reach across this small space and strangle the bastard before him, but he can’t.

Norns curse his mortal body. He feels too damn much in it.

An uneasy silence sits in the air between both men. Stark makes no attempt to dispel it, content to pout and be miserable. Loki briefly entertains the notion of  using their entrapment to question Stark about his earlier prank, but he is still more than a little drunk, and Stark could surely speak circles around him now. So the quiet draws out until Loki is on the verge of sleeping. Then, Stark sits a little straighter and stares at something above Loki’s head.

“Hey”, he says, scrambling forward, his hands sliding over Loki’s body in ways he didn’t think he’d complain about, were they in a different situation right now. “Stay still”.

At another time, Loki might bristle for being ordered about so, but he knows that if he does move now - judging from the position Stark is in - his head will hit the other man in the crotch, which will not garner him a reaction he’d like to have when stuck in a hole. Especially since his head had ached for three days straight after the incident with the frying pan.

“There’s a gap above your head, so if you hold still for a while”, Stark mutters while biting his lip, letting out a low grunt as he shoves his fingers through dirt, “I think I can get to it.”

Loki blinks sharply, staring at the space past Stark rather than at the man’s hips, which jolt slightly forward with every move the man makes. Another yank and Stark’s effort-filled sounds begin to sound a little erotic; unless it’s just the alcohol and Loki’s own thoughts affecting his hearing. But whichever it is, when Stark continues to make those sounds, and when his hip and crotch continue jerk downward just before Loki’s face, he cannot help but stir below for the second time that night.

As if he has not been embarrassed enough.

Yes, he has made his thoughts clear, and yes, he has made his intentions less than subtle, but if the Avengers came now they would know that the ‘little game’ between he and Stark was entirely serious on his own part.

“Ah - almost there.” Stark grunts again, but he must have grabbed too much because his grip loosens and he slips down over Loki. His head butts Loki in the nose, which causes him to jerk backward; at that instinctual reaction, Stark falls over him with an emphatic, “Damn it”.

Loki freezes, already hard and aching, but now, with Stark sprawled over him, he can barely stop himself, doesn’t want to stop himself from -

Stark struggles to find a good enough grip to get back up, but the mud under his hands shifts, which causes him to slip further down. “Ugh - help me up, I almost had that.”

And Loki would. He wants to get out too; he doesn’t want to be stuck down here forever. But Stark’s head is too far down to be ignored now, his breath washing warm over Loki, and-

“Restrain yourself,” Stark says dryly, looking up at Loki from between his legs, “And help. Me. Up”.

At the frank disdain, Loki glares down at him, and now he’s starting to feel the anger that was missing earlier. He suddenly wants nothing more than to buck into Stark’s face, shove himself into that uncontrolled and rude mouth and keep him muffled and quiet; he only wants to hear the moans and gags that -

“Hey! I don’t want to stay down here forever, okay. Especially not with your fucking dick hard in my face, so pull me up. And stop thinking that too.” Loki raises an eyebrow at Stark’s presumptions, but the man only rolls his eyes. “Please, it’s so obvious, it’s embarrassing. For you.”

“I don’t think I can possibly be any more embarrassed after your earlier actions”, Loki scowls out. He sounds a bit muddled, but manages not to slur, and that seems like accomplishment enough.

“Oh get over yourself, Mr. Sensitive. It was just a fucking joke”, Stark rolls his eyes, still draped across Loki’s body.

“Is that all you think this is? This is only a game, a bit of fun for me? Do you think I enjoy this, Stark?” Loki hisses, pressed tightly back and away, though anger was quickly overwhelming the desire he had been suffering through before. “Do you think I wish to have this weakness, this cursed desire in me? I didn't ask for it, didn't foster it or seek it out. Yet you persist in acting as if I chose this, as if I am planning on attacking you at any moment or that I'm using this wretched burning as a tool to ruin your life?

“You're the one that assaulted me in my own kitchen, you bastard!” Tony spits back.

“And you beat me over the head with cooking tools! Since then, I have made no moves against you, have done nothing to incur the ire of you or your team; I have not even come within an arm's reach of you, Stark, except by your own design, and still you taunt me”.

“So what? You want me to feel sorry for you?”

“I want this to stop!”

“Oh, so I'm supposed to pity you? I'll take you to bed and fuck around with you because poor Loki is so misunderstood; poor Loki is sexually frustrated; poor Loki just deserves a break once in awhile”, Tony jeers, ranting into the semi-darkness.  “Well too fucking bad, your princely-ness, because I don't do pity fucks, and I especially don't do pity fucks with you!”

“I don't want your pity, fool”, Loki returns in a dangerous growl, hands gripping tightly at the ground below him just to restrain himself from either strangling Stark or biting him. “Don't think you are ever worthy of that”.

“What do you want then, huh?”

“I want you to feel as I do! I want you to go through this with me – to suffer together!”, Loki yells, voice loud enough to disturb the fragile nature of their pocket in the debris, but neither of them care. “I want you to understand this wretched existence so that it might end! That is what I want, Stark. That's what I want from you”.

There is only silence in answer from Stark, but the man slowly pushes up to his knees, perched on Loki’s legs and staring blankly forward. Then, rather suddenly, Stark’s eyes refocus on Loki. Loki doesn’t make any attempt to stop this, instead just eyeing him warily.

But he is not expecting one of Stark’s hands to cup his erection, stroking him slow and hard through his pants. Breath catching in a surprised staccato, Loki’s head falls back. Something has happened, or the game has changed, and Loki doesn’t know if he should stop this or let it go. He thinks he should push Stark away - the man’s earlier actions support that idea - but Loki would still be trapped down here, and his body has been through too much abuse to do much in terms of fighting. It seems easier to just give in to the pleasure that Stark’s hand sends through him.

Then Stark’s voice sounds quietly in the small space. “This is what you want, then? Want me to touch you willingly? How about I hold you close, tell you that you’re mine and I’m yours. I could do that”.

“Stark”, Loki moans. The hand on his arousal is moving too slow to really satisfy, and while Stark’s words certainly fuel the flames, it still isn’t enough. Stark doesn’t acknowledge Loki at all, though his stroking becomes faster and harder so that Loki can’t hold back a moan even if he wanted to; it just feels so good. And maybe things aren’t perfect - there are splinters and rubble digging into his back as he writhes on the ground, and Stark isn’t exactly participating - but Loki can’t form a thought long enough to care. His back arches as he tries to lever his hips up for more friction, and Stark is lifted too, forced to lean over Loki by the low ceiling. The change of angle, the new closeness makes it all more intimate, and when he hears Stark’s breath in his ear and feels the heat of it curl across his neck, he’s coming with a shout.

Almost immediately, Stark is back across the tiny space. He looks impassive and somewhat unfocused, but then that’s gone in second as he growls out, “There. You got off. Now just let me be”.

Not replying, Loki just tries to readjust his pants so that he isn’t too uncomfortable in them. Stark seems fine enough. The man has given up on whatever escape he was trying to fabricate, instead leaning back and closing his eyes. Loki makes an attempt to do the same.

He can’t remain so relaxed, however. That doesn’t make sense, as he has gotten a small part of what he has wanted, but he feels cheated somehow. Maybe it’s because though Stark was there, he wasn’t actually enjoying himself like Loki was. Or maybe some small part of Loki recognizes that he really wanted what the man had said; he wanted Stark to be his only, and more terrifying, he wanted to be Stark’s in return, and in ways that went just beyond sex. Because Loki’s dreams - his fantasies - no longer feature just blood-poundingly hot sex, but also witty exchanges of banter and knowledge, or just watching the human as he worked, and maybe even sharing space and touches that weren’t arousing, just... nice.

He still chooses to resolutely ignore what those things could mean, though, because down that path only greater madness lies. And Norns know that Loki doesn’t need that.

 


 

The rest of the Avengers find them a very long hour later. It’s a quite an achievement that they both managed to coexist in such a small space for so long, or that Stark managed to stay quiet for that long either, and Barton says so, but neither Loki nor Stark bother to answer. The god just looks dead on his feet; the night’s events have finally caught up with him, and Thor ends up having to actually carry Loki from the wreckage. Stark is able to walk, but he looks withdrawn. Steve makes an attempt to ask him what’s happened, but the genius shrugs him off aggressively. Bruce steps in to handle it, and they all had back to the Tower.

 


 

 

The next week is a study in uncomfortable silences at Stark Tower. No one can get Loki to talk about his time spent trapped with Stark, and he knows that Stark isn’t speaking up either. The Widow asks questions about something more happening, even insinuating that Loki had taken advantage of Stark, but Loki’s discomfort and Tony’s wariness speak to something different. But whatever it was that occured, she does see - along with everyone else - how Stark seems incapable of honest amusement. It’s a distressing change in him when he is normally so quick to be teasing and playful.

Loki too notices the change; it would be impossible not to when he is still so drawn to the other man. It leaves doubts in his head, though, that make Loki’s nights longer than he would have them. He truly can’t puzzle out what has changed between he and Stark, only that it started with the arguing and Loki’s drunken confession of wanting.

Or maybe it changed - for Loki, at least - with the almost-kiss at the restaurant. In the silence of his room, Loki is left with plenty of time to think over his reaction. The memories themselves still hurt too much to sift through, and not just merely from the embarrassment or the rejection, but awareness is finally starting to creep in, and tolerance - if not acceptance - of the depth of his feelings for Stark is following. Because now Loki finds himself in the unfortunate position of caring for the insufferable man, and he finds that memories of Stark are clinging to him with unusual tenacity.

For so many months now he has tried to seduce the man into his bed, only to be inadvertently and unknowingly charmed into real affection instead. It should be aggravating, and it is, just not nearly as aggravating as the situation would call for.

How can Loki be truly angry at all when his mind so readily provides memories and daydreams of talking with Stark, or of watching movies with him, or volunteering to help the man to prepare dinner on that one night when the Captain complained about having too much take-out? Yes, that was another attempt at worming his way into Stark’s graces and pants, but then there was the morning he awoke too early and had wandered into the common area only to find Stark sprawled asleep in the kitchen, face peaceful and arm stretched out towards a mug of coffee long gone cold. Had JARVIS not been watching, Loki would surely have stroked the lines of Stark’s jaw, or traced the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes that were eased in slumber. That's a gesture that Loki is still forced to deny himself whenever Stark is sleeping somewhere he shouldn’t be.,

But accepting these softer feelings is different from acting on them, or admitting to them. Stark has made himself unapproachable, not only to Loki, but to all the team besides Bruce, who even then struggles for anything more than a conversation on science. And sometimes, Loki can feel the engineer’s stare as a heavy weight on the back of his neck, always turning to catch Stark watching with too avid an interest and too serious a countenance. It ratchets the level of tension in the air up several notches, and it leaves Loki wondering just how much that man can see, because he feels exposed under such intense focus.

So the week after Stark’s ill-fated birthday passes in long stretches of uneasy silence as the man himself stares incomprehensibly at Loki over tumblers of barely touched alcohol. Then movie night rolls around again, and Loki settles in on one of the corner armchairs, hoping that by sitting in the opposite direction of the screen from where Stark customarily sits, he will discourage the unsettling observation. It doesn’t work, of course. Stark seems to have no problem with blatantly staring at Loki, who tries his best to ignore the man. It’s hard to, however, when all the other Avengers have noticed and are glancing between the pair of them.

It’s when the film - which Loki cannot recall for the life of himself - is finally over that things take a turn for the even stranger. Before any of the rest can move from their seats, or before Loki can flee, Stark is standing in front of them all with a wide grin that’s slightly more normal.

“Announcement time, boys and girls!” he calls out with a grandiose wave of his arm. Then, as everyone waits with quickly thinning patience for this announcement, Stark takes a long drag of his drink with a smirk in his eyes. It’s only when Loki starts to rise that the man moves on. “So, since my last birthday was trashed, we’re going to have another one!”

“That isn’t how birthdays work”, the Captain says with a long-suffering sigh. It’s futile to try and deter Stark, as they all well know, but the Captain is at least going to put up a token resistance, even if the Avengers are a bit relieved that  Tony’s odd mood seems to be dissipating.

“In case you’ve forgotten, old fella, I’m Tony Stark. I can have as many birthdays as I want”, Stark shoots back, grin turning a bit impish for a moment. “That’s why we are all going to head out for drinks right now. I know this perfect little speakeasy that’s got just the atmosphere for just relaxing. Even you’ll like it, Captain Tight-Ass”.

“Right now?” Banner question, looking more than a little disapproving. It’s a feeling that they all seem to share, but still, no one wants to shoot down any idea that Stark could put forth right now.

“Yeah, right now!”, Stark  calls, beginning to shoo everyone into motion. “Pepper and Happy are both downstairs waiting and I had the whole VIP section rented out so you can avoid the crowds if you want”

And that is really all the prompting it takes for everyone to begin to move. Well, everyone aside from Loki, who is hoping that if he doesn’t move, then they will all forget his existence long enough to leave. He has no desire to spend another night out with the Avengers - but mostly Stark - which of course means that Stark is going to make it his personal mission to see Loki goes.

Having already ushered the team into the elevator, Stark turns back to stare at Loki, who has made it only half-way across the room. The doors of the elevator close against the protest of the others, who have only just now realized that neither Stark nor Loki are with them. Completely disregarding this, Stark continues to stare, and Loki stares back. He feels pinned down, and he can’t will his feet to move even when Stark steps closer.

But Loki stops the man before he can come within touching distance. It feels much too close already, and Loki very much wants to flee but he has the feeling Stark will only chase him down, using JARVIS to eventually corner him. Instead, he lets Stark come reasonably near, then speaks quietly, “Do you not have friends to attend to?”

“That’s sort of what I’m trying to do right now” Stark quips back, and that gives Loki a reason to stop and think. But that doesn’t make any sense, and it must read on his face because Stark sighs, looking unsurprised but put out. “Yeah, I know that I haven’t exactly been nice, but I don’t actually hate you, Shakespear. You’re clever and smart and a little bit scary crazy, and I appreciate those things. Plus, you haven’t tried to kill anyone yet, so points for you”.

Going quiet, Stark looks up at Loki, but the trickster is still trying to process all this, because it’s just not making sense. It doesn’t match up at all with the man’s previous behavior, and while Loki should be grateful that he’s being offered a sort of peace offering, he just wants to shake Stark until he spills his secrets and this is all explained away. Nothing is immediately forthcoming, however, and Stark seems mildly disappointed before he’s talking again, “Anyway, I’m just rambling. All I’m asking is that you come out with us, let me buy you a few drinks, and then sit through my bastardized attempts at an apology for being such an ass before”.

This is... not at all what Loki was expecting. But the prospect of any kind of apology is an alluring one, and it will hopefully provide a few more answers to the puzzle behind Stark’s mysterious repentance. Or this could all be another cruel trick, but if so, then it’s one that Loki cannot read into. There doesn’t seem to be anything that Stark could possibly gain from leading Loki on like this, and as long as he keeps the drinking to an absolute minimum, the Loki can be fully prepared to head off any sort of trap. With solid reasoning - and even still the desire for Stark - Loki hesitates only briefly before nodding, and he is rewarded with a smile softer and more genuine than Stark’s normal grin.

It makes Loki’s stomach flutter uncomfortably, and when Stark head for the elevator, Loki follows.

 


 

Loki is impressed. Without knowing what a speakeasy was, he had expected something close to the restaurant they had visited for the first attempt at Stark’s birthday. Instead, he is following Stark through what appears to be the door to a basement apartment on a dull New York street. But inside, it’s not simple living arrangements at all.

No, straight from the street, Loki walks into what can only be described as a lounge. The lighting is dim, the noise never strays above a quiet hum, and the room is warm and comfortable. Antique leather chairs are arranged in small clusters at the edge of the room, with a handful of people spread around. The customers all match their setting, blending seamlessly into surroundings so that it almost feels like their group has the whole place to themselves. Even the servers are nondescript and indistinct, moving through the soothing atmosphere that settles him. If Stark had planned all this just for the chance to talk with Loki, then he did very well, as Loki feels calmer and more in control already.

And there are other rooms too, which Stark shows off with quiet excitement. There is a kitchen, which is a little brighter and a little louder, and patrons can gather to watch drinks being mixed or to speak with the staff. Past that is a garden, with a terrace and some seating, unlit except for tiny lights hidden in the netted covering so it looked as if the stars are always out, even in the heart of New York City. Loki’s favorite room, however, is what Stark labels The Parlor.

The room is a collection of small and intimate booths, each separated by a light curtain that lends privacy to each table. The walls are lined with bookshelves that hold an eclectic collection of well-worn novels, with some trinkets and other items intermixed. Immediately, Loki is running his fingers over the books, gently pulling out one at random. It’s binding is entirely blank, but when Loki makes to put it back, a hand on his arm stops him.

It’s Stark, who is smiling a little bit as he nudges Loki towards one of the empty booths. “Grab a seat and kick back with that book. No one will care that you’re reading it, and it will take a bit to get the drinks anyway”.

So Loki does, slipping into one of the chairs in the farthest alcove, and he’s quickly lost in a story of a time and culture he is unfamiliar with, but the themes of illicit affairs and a hostile society are at least familiar. Soon enough, the others all return with drinks, and they settle in around Loki. He doesn’t notice at first, and so he’s a bit surprised when he finally glances up to see the Avengers and Stark’s guest all conversing and laughing in the same soft-spoken manner that is around them.

And suddenly it makes sense why Stark had urged him to take the novel. The man wanted to use this as an opportunity to speak with Loki, but he wished to do so in private and without the other’s knowledge. So, while they all sat together, he has given Loki the means to do as he pleased without being pulled into tedious conversation, and when the others all wander off - as they would eventually - then they could speak. Loki smirks slightly as he picks up the clear drink someone has brought him. Catching Stark’s eye, he subtly tilts the glass in a quiet salute to a clever plan, and Stark’s returning smirk is conspiratorial, but it’s gone in a moment when he’s caught up in some story of Barton’s, and Loki returns to his book.

It’s quite some time before Loki emerges from the story again, and he knows it must have been two hours or so because he has entirely finished the novel. It takes a moment to blink himself back to reality, but when he does he finds that now only Stark and Miss Potts are sitting with him in the alcove. They are both deep in a conversation about something business related - or Potts is deep in a one-sided conversation as Stark stares blankly at a wall and pretends to listen. Still, when Loki sets the book down, the dull thud seems enough to catch the attention of both, and the woman grows suddenly quiet in the middle of her sentence.

Stark, however, looks very relieved at the interruption, and he turns to his friend with a wide smirk, “Pepper. Pep. Sweetie, babe, honey muffin. Light of my life, center of my universe, the milk to my Oreo's, the lube-".

"Don't you dare finish that", Potts interrupts harshly. Stark ignores her, of course.

"To my engine", he chuckles, then looks mock-offended at the disbelieving glare Potts continues to shoot him. "Why, Miss Potts! What a vulgar mind!"

She doesn't dignify that with a response, instead rolling her eyes before standing. "Try not to kill each other", she offers as she leaves the alcove.

And now Loki is left to feel something akin to nervousness clawing at the back of his throat. He’s been alone with Stark before, but this is serious now and there is an imminent conversation that might very well damn him, or at least be taxing and emotionally draining. And Stark isn’t talking or doing anything, just staring at him, damn it all!

But before anything more happens, one of the staff steps through the curtain and asks about drinks. Loki would smite the woman - if he could of course - but Stark doesn’t even blink before ordering something for them both. Loki doesn't protest that, as having a drink will give him something to focus on besides Stark, but it still leaves some awkward waiting first, and Stark refuses to do more than stare at him. It's an unnerving stare, too, not angry or overly serious, but only slightly amused, and Loki could strangle him for it.

Finally, the woman returns with their drinks - two glasses of something slightly green that she sets before them. With nothing more than that, she’s gone, the curtain settling into place behind her. And though Loki had no intentions of drinking anything stronger than the cocktail he had been nursing before, this feels like it will be a very long conversation, so he grabs the glass and makes to knock back the entire thing.

Stark stops him, leaning forward across the table to place his hand over the lip of Loki’s glass. He nudges the cup back towards the table, shooting Loki an arch look. “I wanted to talk with you, not watch you drink yourself under the table”.

“Then you should not have brought me to a bar”, Loki quips back, but he only takes a small sip when Stark relinquishes his glass. It turns out that Stark’s interruption was quite necessary, as Loki almost gasps from the potency of the drink. His throat burns with how heady the green drink is, and so he immediately sets it down, though he keeps his hand on it, running his fingers around the rim.

“Not a bar”, Stark returns, “a speakeasy. Much classier than a bar”. Loki hums noncommittally, enjoying the banter but not willing to wait any more for this apology Stark wants to give.The other man catches on quickly enough, sighing and taking a long drink of his own before facing Loki straight on. “So right, apologizing...”

Stark is looking at him almost imploringly, but Loki has no intentions of making this any easier for him, and as such, he keeps silent. Finally, it’s Stark who looks away, but only to grab his drink and quickly swallow it all down before slamming the glass down with fierce determination.

“Okay, I’m sorry. I was a real ass to you last week, and it wasn’t all that cool of me. I’m not stupid enough to try to excuse it with ‘I was drunk’, though I kind of was and it really didn’t help things. What I did at dinner was... bad. And then after, in the hole, that was even worse”.

“Oh?” Loki questions, an arched eyebrow revealing how much he doubted the sincerity of this apology.

“Yes - look, I’m really trying here, okay?” Stark’s face is soon hidden as he rubs at his eyes, looking frustrated and a bit annoyed. “I do feel bad about that entire night, and I told you before that I don’t hate you, but fuck, I never would have done any of it if you had just told me how you feel”.

“I thought I made my intentions quite clear, Stark. I desire to have you in my bed”.

“Not that. I got that just fine”, Stark rolls his eyes, before staring seriously at Loki. “But you said before you only wanted me for my body - which I would never go for with anyone, not since Iron Man; I’m too mistrusting to just let anyone in my bed, and I already know how dangerous you are. If you had just told me, though, that you actually cared about me, it might have been different. Well, I still wouldn’t have just hopped into your bed, but I definitely wouldn’t have pranked you or made fun of you or anything like that. It’s fine to joke about boners and stuff, but I try and keep away from real feelings, you know?”

Loki blinks, and then stares. He isn’t sure what else to do because Stark knows. Somehow, the man has figured out that Loki has developed an attachment to him that goes beyond just physical, and that’s threatening to send Loki spinning into a panic. How can Stark know? How can he have figured it out when Loki only just realized himself? Was he really so transparent in his humanity that the man who was oblivious to months of sexual overtures could pick up on this in less than a week! That must have been what all the staring was about, but Loki isn’t just going to confess to this. He’s exposed himself enough to Stark - and embarrassed himself enough - that the only solution is to deny it.

So, with a scoff and a roll of his eyes, that’s exactly what Loki does, clenching his glass in both hands to hide the tension that might still give him a way. “Don’t be ridiculous, Stark. I couldn’t care less for you. You just happen to be the most pleasing of all the Avengers, and the easiest to lure into my bed. I only care that I am satisfied”.

“Is that why you looked so damn happy when I said I didn’t want you - when I said this was all just a game?”, Stark spits back in anger, but his expression melts into something softer and guiltier. “Don’t you realize how fucking heartbroken you looked after that dinner, and it was even worse after I rubbed you off. Someone would have thought I had just spat on your dead puppy or something”.

“How utterly preposterous that you would ever think my heart was involved with you, Stark”, the former god growls, but it’s getting harder to lie. Instead, he decides on escape, and it only takes a moment to stand and move away from the booth. But before he can push through the curtain, Stark’s hand clasps his wrist. Loki glares down at him, but the man doesn’t release him, just gazes up.

“Please don’t leave, not yet. I know I’m right, and I know how you feel, so let’s just talk”.

“No, not this”. And then Loki tugs his arm away and moves out into the lounge. He doesn’t stop long enough to see if Stark follows, and whatever mask he’s wearing right now must be intimidating because immediately Potts is at his side and offering to take him back to the Tower. He accepts, happy to put more space between him and Stark, and soon enough he’s sitting in the back of a town car with Potts and Stark’s other friend driving.

The drive is quite a long one with traffic at this hour, and Potts is tapping away at her phone, so Loki has time to think about what just happened. He could have admitted the truth to Stark, and it might have even worked out in his favor. Stark had already came to the right conclusion anyway, and he didn’t appear at all bothered or disgusted by it - he even seemed to care in some capacity, or he wouldn’t have been apologizing at all, right? Maybe that is what he should have done, but it’s a little late for that now, which is more than a little embittering. Added in that even he isn’t sure what he was saying no to at the end of their discussion - trying to say that Stark wasn’t right or that Loki didn’t feel that way? Or maybe that he didn’t want to just talk - and Loki already regrets his haste to flee, because while in the silence he can now think properly, it might have done him more harm than good.

That unhappy train of thought is brought to an abrupt end, however, when an explosion rocks the car they all sit in. Staring out the window, Loki sees a series of similar blasts occurring down the street, and then a small army of ridiculously costumed goons are flooding into the street. Loki sighs, scooting away from the window. The Norns must truly look down upon him; or perhaps they hate Stark and wish to ruin his birthday. Either way, it is all very untimely, but not too pressing. All the fighting is behind them, and the traffic before them is wisely fleeing the scene.

But then the car is sharply turned around, speeding back in the direction they just came from - and straight into the worst of the fighting. Scrambling up from where he had been thrown by the car’s movement, Loki grabs tightly to the seat in front of him, hissing at the driver. “By the gods! What are you doing?”

The man ignores Loki at first, but Potts speaks up too, a quiet cry of ‘Happy’ getting the man to speak.

“Mr. Stark is back at that bar, but we’ve got his portable suit in the trunk here. We can’t just leave him defenceless with all this going on!”

Loki bites back a curse at the man’s stupidity. He appreciates the sentiment, but he isn’t as foolish or blindly faithful as this man is - Stark is a genius and battle-hardened, surrounded by his superhero team full of idiots who would protect him with their lives. They - Potts, the driver, and Loki - are three humans, only one of which has any battle experience, and lacking his normal strength and powers, he will be of little help. But logic doesn’t seem to be the man’s focus right now, so as the car is being hit by a myriad of blasts, Loki takes the time to show him the error of his ways.

“Stark is surrounded by superheros! He is safe, and you’re going to get us killed before we’re anywhere near him! Turn around, you fool!”

The driver quickly shoots a glare at Loki in the rearview mirror before he focuses on the road again, spitting back angrily, “Look, I know Tony’s not anything but a sucker for you to mooch off of, but I actually care about him!”

“Oh, by all that is sacred in this thrice-cursed city! I do care about saving his obnoxious ass; I even-”, but Loki’s dignity is saved from further embarrassing revelations this week by a hard hit from a powerful gun, flipping the car several times before it crashes into a storefront. Loki isn’t feeling too grateful as he lies bloodied and bruised in the twisted wreckage of their vehicle, bits of broken glass grinding into his back. Potts is laying near his feet, but she appears no more injured than he is, and Loki’s glad for that - Stark seems incapable of surviving without this woman around to help him.

Loki turns, however, when he hears the scraping of metal behind him. Through the broken window, he’s the driver already up and moving about. This should be reassuring, but it’s not, as the stupid man is pulling the Iron Man suitcase from the trunk, limping off down the sidewalk filled with rubble and bodies. Potts looks equally mortified by this, but she doesn’t hesitate to clamber out of the vehicle and down the street after the fool.

Extracting himself from the ruined car and building, Loki doesn’t immediately follow. He has no desire to die today, and he is fairly certain that Stark will be just fine - though if he isn’t, the price of Stark’s life will be extracted from the flesh of Thor and his human playmates. But then he realizes that these two fools who have just taken off are Stark’s friends. Despite their weakness and foolhardy desire to rush into danger, Stark will mourn their loss rather fiercely.

An intense need to protect Stark from that pain, no matter the cost, rushes over Loki, and he’s scrambling off after the two humans. It doesn’t take but a minute to catch up with them, as even weakened he is still swift, but they have already gotten themselves backed into a corner by a troop of hideous beasts. It shouldn’t be a surprise, really, as the creatures seem to recognize the design of Stark’s portable suit, even when in portable form.

This time, there is no hesitation before Loki is moving; he no longer has the luxury of time, and so he merely strikes out as he can. There is a broken piece of iron from a nearby fence, and he swings it like a club at the creatures, targeting joints to stun and slow them. It’s mildly effective, but not anywhere near lethal and there are still more beasts moving in, their attention drawn by the commotion of the fight. At least Potts seems to have some usefulness, as she finally forces the driver to give up on his ridiculous quest and seek shelter in a nearby building.

Loki moves backward, following the two humans even as he defends attacks from the villains. A nasty blow sends his only weapon sailing away, however, and his fists are near useless against the attackers. But he’s going to keep trying because to fail now would mean death for them all, and still Loki wants to spare Stark that pain if he can. So even as the blows rain in, Loki does his best to block or deflect them, keeping his body between the building’s door and his attackers.

The beasts are winning, though, beating Loki down, and for every one of their number he injures, another three are waiting to fight. Eventually, one aims a blow to his hip that he is sure cracked something important, and he can’t quite manage to stand. Falling to his knees only makes things worse, though, as now the hits can come in from above too. A sharp hit to the base of his skull sends lights flashing across Loki’s vision, and then he’s somehow on lying flat on his stomach as kicks are directed at his head and sides. He does his best, and he tries to look for Potts or the driver, but everything is whirling about now, and the pain is unending, and he can’t even really breathe.

It’s a relief, then, when unwavering darkness swallows him, and everything is just gone.

 


 

It’s incessant beeping that finally pulls Loki away from the oppressive black that has been suffocating him. He doesn’t immediately open his eyes, however, instead taking stock of the damages he feels. He can’t quite remember everything that happened, but he knows there was fighting and an attack after leaving the speakeasy, and for a reason he can’t quite recall, he hates Stark’s driver-friend. But for what he does remember, there are surprisingly few injuries, though his left leg and side are completely immobilized. But his head doesn’t hurt at all, so he finally opens his eyes, looking around him.

At first everything is a dull blur, but blinking rapidly brings everything into focus just as the lights snap on, nearly blinding him again. Hissing, Loki tries to throw an arm over his eyes, but something stops him. Or someone, actually, as he realizes the grip on his arm is warm.

Eyes still readjusting, Loki squints in the general direction of his visitor, but he can’t make out anything more distinct than a silhouette. The figure doesn’t speak either, so Loki makes an attempt, but that fails miserably as his throat is too dry to manage more than a pitiful wheeze. The figure chuckles, and it’s disconcertingly familiar, but Loki can’t place it until the figure talks.

“JARVIS, why don’t you raise this bed a bit so that I can help our newly-minted Protector of the Innocent to drink something”.

Then the bed moves, and Loki is slowly raised to a reclined position before Stark presses a cup to his lips, tipping it up so that Loki can greedily drink down the contents. The water glides down smoothly, easing the worst of cracking in his throat, and so he tries to speak again, “Stark”.

It comes out drawn and withered, but it’s something, and Stark chuckles again. “Good to finally have you back,  Megara. Thought we were going to have to send Thor out to the Underworld to fight for your soul or something”.

“What nonsense are you spewing now”, Loki mocks, finally starting to gain details back to his vision. That’s when he notices Stark looks like shit - his facial hair is only half-heartedly trimmed, there are dark circles under his eyes, and the man’s skin is sallow and haggard. So it seems Loki’s attempts at protecting Stark’s people were unsuccessful; that is unfortunate, and maybe even a bit sad.

“Ah, we haven’t gotten to Hercules yet, have we”, Stark mumbles, but then he’s smiling at Loki, sincere yet tired. “I’m saying I was getting real tired of sitting at your bedside like a grieving wife, Lokes. It’s bad for my image”.

“And we wouldn’t want to ruin that”.

“Mmm”, is all the reply that Stark gives, looking off into the distance over Loki’s bed. His expression slowly becomes more serious, and then finally he snaps back to himself, looking now to Loki. “I guess I should say thank you, then”.

Brow furrowing, Loki questions, “For what?”

“You saved Pepper and Happy in that fight. When they ran in there like two stubborn idiots, you followed after and then got the shit kicked out of you like a bigger idiot, but you bought time for Steve to arrive and take over”.

“Oh”. So Loki had succeeded, but then why was Stark so ragged looking?

“Why’d you do it?”

The inquiry catches Loki a bit off-guard, mind still trying to piece together the mystery of Stark’s appearance. “Well, they are your people, Stark, are they not? And you never settle, so if they are yours than they must be important and worth saving”. Not the best lie, but he was just waking up after.

“So”, Stark drawls, making it all sound like a joke, but his expression is still serious. “What you really mean is that Pepper and Happy are my friends, and you thought I would rather have them alive than you”.

That was painfully insightful.

“I don’t know. I’d rather have all of you than have to pick”, the engineer sighs, kicking his feet up to rest on Loki’s bed. “Yeah, Pepper and Happy have been with me forever now, but well... You’ve got potential, Sherlock. I’d hate to see that wasted by some two-bit villain using mutant attack dogs for his army”.

Loki blinks up at Stark, not sure how to reply, but he doesn’t get a chance. Stark is suddenly smiling and leaning forward, his normal teasing and playfulness returning. “But I guess that means you really do care, Loki!”

“Absurd”, the Trickster deflects, looking away indignantly.

“Oh, stop pouting. Just own up that you like me, darling. You like me like me”.

“You are absolutely ridiculous, Stark. I can barely tolerate you, let alone have feelings for you”, Loki huffs, still looking away. He’s not sure he could keep this up if he had to meet Stark’s gaze.

“Whatever”, the genius chuckles, finally standing now. He steps away from the bed and moves to the door. It’s only with a hand on the doorknob that he stops and looks back to a still petulant Loki. “I’m sending Banner in to check you out. Try to play nice, Pouty”.

Loki refuses to respond to that name. He isn’t pouting.


“And if you ever decided that you do like me, let me know. We’ll do dinner and movie”, Stark says, striding out of the room just as Loki’s head whipped about to stare at the man. He can’t see, but Stark’s mouth is curled up into an amused grin as he heads out to find Banner, and then plan a date with a former deity. After that, he just has to wait.