"If you kick me one more time…" Loki let his threat trail off into the distance. Tony laughed.
"I wouldn't kick you if you didn't keep screwing up."
He was sitting on a stool next to his father's hovercar, looking at Loki's legs from where they stuck out from underneath. How would always be proud of himself for talking a God under the wheel of a half-century old car.
"Why I'm under this infernal thing in the first place is-"
"-because Pepper let me into the workshop, but she won't let me do anything fun. And if you're not under it, I will be. So just work your magic, Princess, and put your money where your mouth is."
There was unintelligent grumbling in response. Tony smiled to himself and kicked his leg up on the hood, making minor adjustments to the Iron Man boots he had taken up instead. One of the support straps kept tightening inexplicably.
"Go ahead and say Asgardian children are smarter than me again. See what happens." he challenged.
His boots sparked green as the strap tightened against his adjustments. Tony resisted the urge to kick him again.
"As entertaining as this is, Sir, you have someone here to see you." JARVIS announced. Loki ignored him and there was a bright flash of light from underneath the car.
"Magic is cheating!" Tony insisted, but he pulled his leg down and hopped off the stool. "Is it the pizza guy?"
He turned towards the door and saw Thor standing on the other side of the glass, looking in curiously at the workshop. He waved and the door clicked open.
"Biggest pizza guy I've ever seen. Wondered when you'd come around."
"T'was only a matter of… By Odin's beard!" Thor laughed, folding his arms as he caught sight of the car. "Is that my brother?"
Loki's head hit the top of the wheel and he cursed loudly over Tony's laughter.
"Long story. Well, not really, but..." He swayed as he felt Thor's arm come over his shoulders, pulling him into his side. "Woah. Easy big guy, got a hole in my chest."
Thor chuckled and let him go, looking down at his brother as Loki rolled out from under the wheels. He had a hand on his forehead.
"However did you find yourself under there?"
"I don't believe that's any of your concern." Loki sat up and took Thor's arm when he offered it, easily pulled up to his feet. "You're late."
Thor shrugged, smiling in his charming way. "We're hardly known for our punctuality."
"Speak for yourself."
"No, you just like to disappear for months at a time," Tony commented dryly. "What're we late for, again?"
"A conversation." Thor began, patting him on the back twice. "Come. Let's sit."
Loki nodded towards the couches and they went to sit together. Tony grabbed his medication as he passed by the kitchenette, popping bottles open as he sat down.
"Let me guess - the stones?" Tony asked around a mouthful of pills. "What about your bromance, Thor? Shouldn't Cap' and crew be here?"
He chuckled. "I've not yet had time to talk to the Avengers about the stones. Not in depth. Steve need not know the details for now. The fewer who do, the better."
"They know they're around. Natasha does, anyway. Which means Barton does, which means Bruce might, which means Steve is probably in the dark."
"Dysfunctionality at its finest," Loki commented. "But the truth is this: the stones and gauntlet have been together far too long already. This cannot continue."
"Sure. What's the plan?" He twisted around the back of the couch. "DUM-E! Fetch."
"They are the keepers?" Thor asked, skeptical. Loki rolled his eyes and lazily waved his hand in the air, summoning the Infinity Gauntlet to him.
"No, he just knows where one is." Tony shrugged. DUM-E was rifling around in the fridge with questionable intent.
"They should always be kept apart… but never have they been closer together," Loki continued, thoughtful as he removed the gauntlet from his arm. "Thanos had one, entrusted to the Other, which was in turn trusted to me. With the hopes I would bring him another. Instead he lost them both."
"And we intend to keep it that way." Thor nodded. "So apart they must be."
"Asgard's vault?" Tony shook his head. "If it's as secure as those dungeons, the stones are safer in my sock drawer."
"There have been three known breaches of Asgard's palace in all of history. Two of which were perpetrated by me, with another in secret." Loki pointed out. "Worry not. Few could replicate it."
"I will take the gauntlet back home." Thor said. "By my brother's account, Thanos is a formidable foe. If he comes-"
" When he comes." Loki corrected.
"-they will not be readily together."
"Don't we need something to fend him off?" Tony pointed. "I mean, the Avengers, sure, and me, but the first time… we were lucky."
"You were." Loki agreed quietly.
"Loki knows best," Thor admitted. "And now he stands with us. The stones will be close enough for a time of need, but not so close that they might-"
"So I just pick up the phone and call you if I need the gauntlet?" Tony tried not to be sarcastic. "Thor-"
"The mind stone will stay with you, Tony," Loki interjected. "The other with me."
"What am I gonna do with that?" DUM-E came rolling up with tupperware in his claw. The stone in question sat innocently within, rattling around in plastic.
"Nothing, which is exactly the point." Loki took the tupperware from the bot before Tony could. Thor was staring at it incredulously, glancing back over to the fridge as DUM-E whirred away.
"I've proven that I quite fancy the ability to control other people's minds," Loki continued. "There is every reason for you to harness the possibilities of an endless energy source."
"Already got one - the arc reactor." he pointed out. "What? Don't trust me?"
"The less they're used, the harder they'll be to find."
"And the Aether is realms away." Thor added.
Tony sighed and leaned back into the couch. Loki popped open the container and took the stone in hand, rolling it into his palm. By the time it settled the other stone had appeared, both of them gleaming off a flash of Loki's magic.
"All right. So that's three, out of what? Six? For sure."
"If I may," JARVIS interrupted. "Mister Stark has been conducting energy readings of the planet…"
"Thank Veronica," he shrugged. "Where you need a Hulk-buster, you'll probably need a Hulk-finder."
" ...and the results revealed energy signatures that are consistent with the data I've collected from the stones. "
"Yes," Loki sighed. "All the more reason to move others away."
"More stones?" Thor asked.
"Overall, the readings are inconclusive. They could result from other stones or items that have been in contact with them."
"Then it is decided?" Loki asked.
"I guess." Tony took the mind stone from his hand, rolling it between his fingers. Maybe he'd need to find somewhere safer to store it.
Thor nodded, placing the Infinity Gauntlet on the coffee table and placing Mjolnir on top of it as a safeguard. It was quiet. Too quiet.
"Well, c'mon. Enough of this." Tony decided, standing up. "Loki told me an Asgardian brat could fix my car before I could, but he still can't get it up." Thor snorted. "How 'bout you take a crack at it, Thundercat?"
He looked up, amused. "Do I hear a challenge?"
"Just don't hit it too hard with your hammer."
And that was how Tony got two different Gods to work on his car in the same day.
It never took flight.
Six months later, Loki was gone again. Tony was alone in the workshop, spit-shining the finished Mark XLVII before he took it out for a spin.
"Tell me what ya got, Jarv," he requested, tossing a dirty rag over his shoulder as he admired his work.
"I've compiled all the requested research and taken the liberty of writing a disclaimer that you'll ignore completely. I still recommend asking Loki directly for accurate information."
"Blah, blah, blah." Tony stepped back, snapping his fingers. The suit opened up like a fly trap, ready for testing.
"As you say..." Tony entered the suit and let it close around him. "According to myth, Loki has six children. Hel, Jormungandr, Fenrir, Sleipnir, Vali, and Narfi - also known as Nari. Loading interface, checking diagnostics, cleaning system data-"
"Don't need to hear the spiel, bud. Talk to me."
Tony tested the repulsors and jets, flexing the suit while JARVIS continued with his findings.
"You substantiate the existence of Hela, presumably Hel, so I assume her brothers are also legitimate. They are a wolf and a serpent."
"Color me surprised. How's the arc reactor?"
"Functioning at one hundred percent. Congratulations."
"Would you look at that? Guess the suit doesn't need me anymore."
"In theory. Shall I start autonomous prototypes?"
"Don't talk dirty to me."
"Request logged for another time."
"All right, so we've got a creepy skeleton lady, a wolf, and a serpent. Give me backstory and get me my jewelry."
An arm lowered down from the ceiling, holding a glittering infinity stone. Tony watched as it lowered and felt the arc reactor bloom to accept it. It clicked into place and the chestplate vibrated softly before things settled and the arm retracted back up to the ceiling.
"Arc reactor stable," JARVIS reported, "According to surviving translations, Loki's children were outcast from Asgard due to predictions regarding Ragnarok."
"Sweet. Prophecies and an apocalypse story. Book my flight yet?"
"Routing flight path to New York. I have concerns about battery life."
"See if you can route energy out of the arc reactor."
"You've only just been cleared-"
"Do it, JARVIS. In the name of science."
"You listen to no one, including Gods."
"That's a great tagline. Add it to the biography list." Tony replied flippantly. "All right. Ready?"
"Flight systems online."
"Kick it, Jay."
They went soaring out the garage and up into the Malibu skies, headed East towards the coast. JARVIS controlled most of the flight with Tony along for the ride, letting him listen to his Norse Mythology crash course. By the time they landed his head was spinning.
"So you're telling me he's got a horse for a kid?" Tony asked, pulling off his helmet. Avenger's Tower was ready to greet him. "Okay, he's weird, but not that weird."
"As I said, this is all compiled from unreliable sources, unless you've learned to forgive Wikipedia without my knowledge." JARVIS continued over the speakers. "Perhaps you should ask him."
"I will never forgive Wikipedia."
"Ask who what?" asked Bruce Banner. He was standing in the entryway to the Tower with one hand shoved in his pocket and another raised up in greeting. Tony smiled.
"Hey, you. Looking pleasantly not-green today."
"As always." He adjusted his glasses as Tony came up and joined him, ducking out of the hanger and into the living areas. He patted him on the back.
"How's it been?"
"Quiet, up until now. Dr. Cho's been-"
"Helen Cho? The geneticist? She's brilliant."
"-yes, she's been working on a smaller regeneration cradle for us. Thanks for that, by the way."
"First I'm hearing of it," Tony lied. "Send flowers to Pepper."
"Mh-hm, sure. Did Steve call you in for the meeting?"
Tony blinked wildly. It wasn't very convincing. "There's a meeting? I had no idea."
Bruce rolled his eyes as they rounded their way around the couches and up the stairs to the workshop. Its tinted windows faded as JARVIS began to resume control of the building.
"Nice, Tony," he drawled. "You could just rejoin the team, y'know."
"Not a chance in hell."
"Still, offer's there."
Tony threw his arm around Bruce's shoulders as the lights came on around the tables. The lining of the computer screens bled gold as the resident A.I. went into standby to make way for JARVIS.
"All right, give me the run-down," Tony whispered conspiratorially, leaning over a holographic display of the Avenger's logo. "I've got something cool for you in return."
"You spill first," Bruce dared, smiling to himself.
Tony smiled, popping the mind stone out of the arc reactor.
"Something I like to call the Ultron protocol…"
Steve's meeting with the Avengers was about a rumor coming out of Eastern Europe. The footnotes version was that Baron von Strucker was allegedly (and illegally) experimenting on humans out of a not-so-secret Hydra stronghold. Tony took his time to point out that he could substantiate these rumors with the energy readings that JARVIS had been picking up in the area, which suggested infinity stone activity. Why he had held onto the information instead of sharing it immediately was a point of contention until Thor stepped into the fray.
"This must be where Loki recovered the scepter." he said, "Let us just be grateful they no longer have it."
"It's a Hydra base, anyway," Clint added. "We're going regardless."
So they went. In short: they came, they saw, and they conquered.
It was all going fine until Tony found himself deep in a dungeon staring at pieces of his robots, carcasses of Leviathans, and the ghosts of a different time.
"What is this?" he asked the air, gesturing to the table he stood in front of. "An alter? A tech alter? Talk to me, buddy."
"It appears to be a scanning apparatus." JARVIS answered, watching through the security cameras and echoing from the intercom. "A data collection point. I'll attempt access."
"The perfect size for an alien scepter."
"It appears so."
And then the world stopped. There was a whisper behind him, distant like a breeze or a draft, and warmth crawled behind his eyes. It bloomed like a flower, magic spreading faster than he could comprehend.
He blinked. The Leviathans above him shook in their chains and shed their prisons. The ceiling turned to a starscape; the universe opened up around him like a nightmare. He was standing on that rock where they had found Thor. The empty throne.
The steps leading up to it were littered with bodies. Mostly people he didn't know; Asgardians, donned in gleaming armour and speared with brighter weapons. Among them were the people he knew: the team, his family, his Pepper. All dead. Bleeding all the same.
In a cold panic, Tony threw himself to the stairs. To Pepper's side, desperately checking for vitals. But her stare was blank and wide to the open sky. Leviathans roared and he saw that his hands were infected, blue chasing up his skin and lining it with silver scars.
A hand reached out to him and grasped tight around his forearm. He saw Steve cough blood, holding tight - tight enough to break bones.
"You could've saved us."
"No." He wrenched away from Pepper to turn to the Captain, holding his face and hoping it wouldn't frost him. "Cap', don't."
There was a yell from beyond them. Thor's call for battle. He could see the silhouette of a fight behind the throne, barely visible from his angle. But he knew how those horns arched better than he knew the sound of Steve's voice. He looked down to him again, feeling an ache in his chest that was pure dread, and blinked away gathering tears.
In an instant, Steve was gone. Instead he saw Frigga staring up at him, her grip stronger around his arm and her nails digging deep into his blue skin. She was golden and beautiful, splattered with blood that shined against the stars. He touched her cheek and his fingertips iced against her skin.
"You could've done more." she whispered. "You're not my son."
She died. The Leviathans roared again and Tony stood in shock, staring blankly out at his legacy: aliens attacking the Earth, destroying everything he wanted to protect. That big, blue world that was so terribly vulnerable.
Between himself and that portal that opened up to swallow everything he loved, he watched Loki run his spear through his brother. Thor fell. Lighting struck around him - from him - and encased them both. Loki screamed.
"What is this?"
The was a cold breath on his neck, crawling down his spine, and the vision faded. The ice melted from his fingertips. There was a haze of green around everything he saw and he turned to see Loki staring at him in the darkness.
"What've you done?" this echo of Loki asked. Tony was at a loss. He blinked.
The world returned to normal.
But not really.
The Enhanced had revealed themselves, but they managed to get away. When the Avengers stumbled back home, no richer in information than they had been before, Tony saw Loki standing at the precipice of the hanger. He was silent as he flew the quinjet over him and landed with care, opening the hatch and letting the others leave before he pushed his chair back from the controls. But before he could stand there were hands on his shoulders that offered a cold comfort.
"What happened?" Loki asked. Tony felt something inside of his chest start to crumble.
All he could do was stand and lean into Loki's arms.
Hawkeye announced his retirement from the team that night. Tony threw a party to pretend that nothing was wrong.
Everyone was invited. Steve brought old war buddies, Rhodey popped in for a visit, and even a few of SHIELD's mightiest made their appearance. Thor brought some knock-you-on-your-ass Asgardian booze that didn't even make Steve blink. Coulson tried it and had to be sent home in a cab by Hill and Natasha. Bruce came out of his antisocial shell for half a second and Loki ghosted around the edges of the party (pointedly avoiding Colonel Rhodes, who had promised payback in no easy terms).
"Whatever, man, it's a trick!" Clint announced, twirling drumsticks between his fingers.
They all lounged in a ring of couches and arm chairs, their guests gone.
"I don't know about that." Tony said, sitting on the armrest of the couch Loki had chosen.
"If you can lift it, it's gotta be a trick. Worthy my ass."
"Put your money where your mouth is, Barton."
"'Fraid I'm not sitting on a pile of Benjamins, Stark."
"I'll give you a loan."
Loki seemed amused, draping his arm over the leg that occupied his arm rest. His fingers worried at the knee, but he said nothing as he drank out of Thor's flask.
"Well, please, be my guest." Thor challenged, gesturing towards Mjolnir. It sat on the center coffee table, as unassuming as it had ever been.
"C'mon." Tony taunted.
Clint rolled his eyes and rose to the challenge, but Tony kept on with his prodding.
"Now, Clint, we know you've had a tough week. We won't hold it against you if you can't get it up."
There was sniggering all around. Natasha sighed and adjusted on the couch she shared with Loki, bringing her feet up to rest on his lap. He glanced to them briefly before pushing her heels back to the floor.
Clint gave Mjolnir his best shot, but the hammer didn't budge. Thor smiled in a polite way that really meant 'you dumbass.'
"Smell the silent judgement?" Tony teased.
"Please, Stark, by all means!" he offered, gesturing to the challenge. "Show us the way, oh mighty one."
"Oh, I'll show you the way all right. Right off the balcony." Tony stood up, unbuttoning his blazer. Loki's hand slid off his leg.
"Uh-oh." Rhodey laughed.
"Mm-hm. Never one to shrink from an honest challenge." He rounded the table to address the hammer, shrugging towards Thor. "Let's see how much she likes me. It's all physics, right?"
"Physics." Bruce commented dryly.
"Yeah, physics. Look, if I lift this again, I rule Asgard?"
"Yes, of course," Thor obliged.
"Good. When I do, I'm knocking your Dad's shiny ass off that shiny throne."
Loki snorted into his drink and Thor shook his head, chuckling as Tony tried his luck. He promised himself he wouldn't think of Amora as he took Mjolnir and pulled like he thought it would give for him again.
Loki walked to the windows, away from the party, and Tony shook his head.
"All right, all right." He waved away the Avenger's chuckling, then pointed to Rhodey. "You. You're on my team. Rep' Team Iron Man, I'll be right back."
He clapped him on the shoulder as he passed by, stepping away from the games to join Loki. He was watching the city below as he swirled the flask, contemplative.
"Quite the performance," he whispered when Tony came up on his side.
"It's not like I didn't tell them."
"But you didn't. Not fully." Loki passed his flask and Tony took a swig, ignoring the bitter taste. He only coughed once. "That was not the power of a Midgardian mystic that overtook you."
"I know what it was. If I had been wearing the suit-"
"-but if I had been? Wouldn't have been a problem."
"Yet it was."
"You could've told us, y'know." Tony snapped. "About them. Before the experiments were done."
"Perhaps," Loki retorted. "I could've told you many things. But we were rather distracted with other matters, weren't we?"
Tony shook his head, crossing his arms. Loki sighed.
"Listen. Those… enhanced persons," Loki said, struggling with the terminology. "The stones are akin to a drug. It gives them terrible power with no guidance. They're formidable-"
"I know. I know, but-"
"She was not just showing you your nightmares, Tony. She was showing you mine."
Tony's mouth opened but nothing came from it. Loki turned fractionally to face him, cornering them both into a triangle with the glass.
"The boy's speed can be overcome. The girl is powerful, reckless and untrained, but fallible. 'Tis you she hates. Her contempt for the Avengers is miniscule in comparison."
"Wait - you were in my head? Literally? That wasn't her?"
"An echo, yes. Left behind to protect you."
"Loki!" he whispered, sharp. "You can't just-"
"Did it not work? Nevermind it - if you leave now, her focus will be scattered. The good Captain may be able to talk sense into them both, considering their shared circumstance. Or go down another route in neutralizing them."
Tony paused. "...What do you mean, if I leave?"
Loki nodded. "If you leave. With me. Tonight."
"Loki, we've talked about this."
"Aye. Midgard needs you. But look." He gestured out to the Avengers, who circled in kind laughter as Bruce tried to wrench Mjolnir from the table. "Midgard has something. If they cannot protect it..." Loki touched his cheek, looking back to him, "...they will avenge it. As you said."
Tony smiled weakly.
"I'd rather it not get to that point, y'know."
He sighed and pulled away, looking back out towards the city.
"Y'know, the Avengers aren't permanent. They all… we all want to go home someday. Hang up the hat and let the world take care of itself."
"But could you? Truly?"
"I hope so. If I could make something that could stand in for us? Something to protect the world when we couldn't?"
"And if you did?" he wondered. "Would you turn your back? Join me?"
"And this vision of yours, would he be the sentry you leave behind?"
"Look at you, talkin' dirty about space travel," Tony laughed. "I guess I might."
"Then do it." Loki said. "Create your puppet so we might finally address the greater terrors of this universe."
"So dramatic." He pressed Loki's flask back into his chest. "Get over there and go pull on Mjolnir or something. You're bringin' me down."
"I don't need repeated rejections from the damned thing, thank you."
Tony shook his head and laughed to himself, putting a hand on Loki's shoulder. He stared down at the city, watching the lights shine and glitter against the night. There was silence shared between them for a long moment.
"How could you ever want to destroy that?" he wondered aloud. Loki watched with him.
"Oh, it was never about destroying." He took a drink and hooked his arm around Tony's waist. "It was about ruling."
"No throne here." Tony said, echoing himself from a conversation that seemed lifetimes ago.
"I don't need it anymore."
Loki pulled him close and rested his forehead against his in peace.
"I need to go," he admitted quietly.
Silence lasted a brief moment before impulse won out over propriety. Loki drew him in for a kiss that would likely silence anyone in the room who was paying them any mind. It was the same as it always was: both of them kissing like they were hidden away in a dark corner, unsure of whether or not they would see each other again. There was muttering from the other side of the room.
Tony just stuck his hand out in the open air in response, waiting as he ignored his friends. There was the sound of something soaring through the air - Steve yelped in surprised as an Iron Man gauntlet careened passed his head on its way to Tony. It encased his arm and its brothers followed, attaching and locking into place.
"What are you doing?" Loki asked, pulling away as pieces of the suit came dangerously close to hitting him on their way to Tony.
"Can't imagine good 'ol gatekeeper's going to give you a free ride." He stepped back as the suit attached to his chest, expanding and crawling around his torso and up and over his shoulders. "Thought you might want one."
Loki's eyes flashed in minor alarm. The window above them opened with a crack of Tony's smile, soon hidden behind the face of Iron Man.
"Don't you dare - Stark, by the nine, put me down!
But Tony was laughing too hard to care. They were already shooting through the sky, Loki in his embrace, soaring miles above the city. A portal opened by a stone's whim and closed behind them, hopefully used for the very last time.