Tony doesn't get sick. He's got an immune system as strong as Mjolnir. He's fit as a fiddle. He's in his prime. Echinacea flows through his veins.

"You have the flu, Tony," Bruce repeats for the ninetieth time, looking at the thermometer with a frown. "You can't fly this way. Your fever is almost one-hundred and four. Lay back down before you pass out, or I'm going to take you to the hospital."

Tony sways on his feet and narrows his eyes. He's having a hard time putting his thoughts together, so he just says the words that come to mind. "Can't. Amora. Bitch. Magic. Suit up."

Bruce hands him a few pills and a glass of water. "Take these. Now. We need to get your fever down, I need to go, and you need to rest."

Tony allows Bruce to push him back onto the bed and all but force him to take the pills. The water tastes metallic and no matter how many sips he swallows, his mouth feels dry and his eyes burn.

"Just rest," Bruce says.

"Oh, fine," Tony grunts. He closes his eyes against the light— why couldn't Bruce be a pal and shut the damned curtains— and opens them a second later to darkness.

For a moment, he isn't sure where he is, and he inhales, hoping to God he doesn't smell desert and blood. He can't smell anything, though, because his nose is stuffed up and he can barely breathe. Sitting up, he looks around wildly, hoping he'll be able to see something in the darkness, and finds himself staring at a pair of over-bright eyes reflecting the icy glow of his arc reactor.

"Uh, creepy. Jarvis, turn on the lights."

"Of course, sir."

The bedside lamp flickers on. Tony blinks, allowing his vision to adjust, then focuses. Loki is lounging in a chair a few feet from the bed. His dark hair is pulled back from his face, and he's wearing casual clothes that are wrinkled, like he's been sitting there for a long time.

"Stark," Loki says dismissively, though he watches Tony like a hawk. "You've finally awoke."

"Finally?" Tony echoes, grimacing. He must have been out for quite a while, long enough for daylight to die and his meds to wear off. His head throbs and he's freezing all of a sudden. "Where am I? What time is it?"

"You are in your bed, quite obviously, and it is nearly midnight," Loki responds, tilting his head to the side. A few strands of dark hair fall over his face. "Your Avengers were injured in their battle with Amora and Skurge. I've been sent here to monitor you while they lick their wounds."

Tony groans and lays back against his pillows. "Nurse Ratchet to the rescue, huh?"

"You know I do not understand your pop culture references," Loki states impassively.

"You disgust me. You've been here how long, and you still haven't watched One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?"

Even when he isn't feeling like death warmed up, Tony finds it odd that he and the God of Mischief can have conversations like these— conversations he'd have with Steve, who is almost as useless as Loki when it comes to knowledge of Earth's twenty-first century. He actually likes their conversations, too. They're mostly a series of witty retorts, and despite the haughty image Loki portrays, he's pretty smart, and Tony likes talking to smart people. He especially likes talking to smart people who are awed by his genius. Loki is silent about it, but Tony doesn't miss the softening of his hardened exterior when he visits the workshop.

The others have come to terms with him, as well, in their own ways. It is a tenuous tolerance, but it's there. Tony isn't sure if any of them would call it trust, not yet, but Loki hasn't given them reason to doubt him since he appeared, almost two years later, in the same room where Tony offered the god a drink just before said god tossed him out a window for his troubles.

The reappearance had been a day for the history books: a bruised, battered, supposedly dead Loki blinking back into existence and asking for protection.

Even though most of them wanted to say no at the time, the look of utter relief on Thor's face when his eyes landed on his brother had cemented their fate of Avengers plus one. They'd heard the story, the one where Loki died in a dark realm called Svartalfheim trying to save his brother and Jane Foster from the Dark Elves, and none of them had the gall to tell Thor to shove it after they watched him grieve for nearly a year, not even when Natasha pointed out that Loki obviously lied about dying.


So, they all hoped he was reformed enough not to kill them in their sleep, and Loki stayed. And maybe they do trust him, at least a little bit, because at some point between then and now, Steve Rogers, Captain America and leader of the Avengers, had enough confidence in the former enemy to send him as a babysitter for a sick, whiny Tony Stark.

"I do not trust your film recommendations any longer," Loki replies. "Not after— what did you call that monstrosity? Sharknado?"

"That was one bad movie," Tony defends, then starts coughing. He suddenly realizes how much everything is just aching. When he finally stops hacking, throat raw and burning, he wipes at his nose with the back of his hand and tries to keep his eyes open despite the horrible throbbing in his temples.

Loki has edged his chair closer to the bed, and his lips pull into a frown.

"You don't have to stay," Tony says hoarsely, uncomfortable with the way Loki blatantly stares at him. "I'm fine. Right, Jarvis?"

"Sir, your body temperature is at one-hundred and three point two degrees and rising. I would not categorize that as fine."

Tony curses under his breath. "You traitor."

"I would not leave you alone, Stark. Tell me what it is you need."

Maybe he's hallucinating, but he's pretty sure he sees concern on Loki's face. It hits Tony where it hurts, just a bit left of his arc reactor, and he isn't sure why. Maybe he's happy to see something other than disdain or annoyance directed at him. Maybe he just wants the megalomanic to like him. Maybe it's all the meds Bruce made him take. He doesn't read into it. He doesn't like reading, not unless it's on a pretty, bright touch tablet.

"More cowbell," he says instead.

Loki's expression darkens. "I understand that reference, but I do not appreciate your wit at such a time. Tell me what it is you need for betterment, Stark."

Tony sinks into his pillows, wishing they would swallow him whole, and sighs loudly. "Fine, mom. Can you get a cold rag? Or an ice pack? Something. Need to break the fever. I think I'm losing it."

"Have you ever had it, I wonder?" Loki asks, and disappears.

Tony looks around the room, but Loki is no where to be seen. The god frequently flashes in and out of existence, especially when Clint is around because the archer hates it so much, so Tony prepares himself for Loki to reappear in a haze of green light. He waits. And waits. And waits.

"Jarvis, where is that bastard?"

"I cannot pinpoint his location, sir."

"What do I even pay you for?" Tony grunts and stacks his pillows behind him so he's sitting up, because when he lays back he feels a pressure build in his head that threatens to blow out his eyeballs. Soon, he's given up and is starting to doze off when Loki reappears, sitting on the edge of Tony's bed like he's always been there. Tony jumps, flinging one pillow off of the bed.

"Did you miss me, Stark?" Loki asks, feigning innocence.

"What is wrong with you?" Tony wheezes, pressing a hand to his chest. The arc reactor hums contentedly, but his heart is thudding like horse hooves.

"Many a thing," Loki replies, flashing a devilish grin, then reaches forward and presses a hand to Tony's forehead.

Tony freezes. Loki's hand is cold, beautifully cold against his feverish skin, and it takes all his effort not to close his eyes against the sensation.

"You feel like a freezer. Are you anemic? Maybe you need to take more iron."

"It is my normal physiology, Stark," Loki replies, and Tony thinks he hears tension in the words. He chances a glance at the god, who is already staring at him from beneath half lidded eyes.

He doesn't look pissed, so Tony goes for it. "Like, Asgardian physiology? Thor doesn't feel like this. He's a goddamned walking space heater. I hate sitting next to him for movie night."

"Perhaps you should ask Thor," Loki says icily. "Or perhaps he is too disgraced to have a brother of Jotun decent."

He has no idea what a jotun is, but he can tell it rubs Loki the wrong way. The god straightens, eyes darkening, and his long fingers curl more tightly to Tony's forehead. Tony doesn't mind the fingers- damn, it feels good, but he doesn't like the look, so he avoids the Jotun bit all together. "Thor? Disgraced by you? You killed a lot of people and he still vouches for you. I doubt it." Tony leans in farther until Loki's fingers are sliding through his hair. He could get used to this.

After several moments of silence, the god looks away, some of the fight dissolving. "There are similar ailments on Asgard," he murmurs into the quiet of the room. "Similar to your flu."

Tony allows the subject change. He doesn't have the energy to defend himself if Loki decides to kill him, and if he's honest with himself— he's never honest with himself— he doesn't like the way the god's expression changes. He's seen that expression in the mirror before.

"Can you fix it?" he asks instead, almost whines. "I don't like being sick. I'll give you whatever you want. Endless kettle corn. A room full of weird reindeer hats. Anything."

He's rewarded when a smirk tilts up the corner of Loki's mouth. "Whatever I wish, you say?"

Tony's glad he's already feverish, because that look is sexy and he might have flushed. "I change my mind. Get yours out of the gutter, Laufeyson. I'm redacting the deal. Only option is endless kettle corn, which is probably the best option anyway, to be honest."

He thinks he sees Loki fighting a smile, but the god's willpower wins and his mask settles back in place. "Has it occurred to you that I only listen to a small percentage of what you speak?" he asks.

Tony laughs out loud at that even though it hurts his throat. "Well, that's more than anyone else does. So, what do you say, doctor? Can you fix it?"

"I cannot. My healing abilities do not stem into illness, though I may be able to dull your head and body pains." Loki raises a brow, almost challenging him. "Would you like me to try?"

Tony puts a hand to his mouth and widens his eyes."Well, my word. You're asking my permission? Who are you and what did you do with the real God of Mischief? Have you been compromised? Show me where the man with the magic spear touched you."

Loki snorts and slowly closes his eyes, and then the hand on Loki's forehead begins to glow a soft verdant green.

The magic is cold, much colder than Tony expects, and he gasps. It seeps through his eyes and ears, swims around his head, and then settles, tickling his synapses like a fresh snowfall. He feels almost immediate relief and leans into it, sighing.

"Okay, I admit it, your magic mumbo jumbo is pretty impressive," Tony mutters, eyelids heavy. "Is this what hypothermia feels like? If so, color me kinky because I kinda like it."

"Do you ever stop speaking, Stark?" Loki says, a note of annoyance in his voice. "Or is such a task beyond you?"

"Um, you're in my bed. My bed, my rules." Tony pauses, thinks better of it, but says it anyway. "And you're slightly too clothed for my bed buddy liking. At least you've lost the leather. Totally not my thing. I prefer naked."

Loki does not respond, merely presses his other hand to Tony's bare chest, his cool palm covering the light of arc reactor.

Tony's eyes widen and any other smart-ass comment he thinks he wants to blather at the god dies in his throat. No one reaches out to touch his reactor. It's an unspoken rule. Not even Pepper, and Pepper's touched a lot of places. But this isn't Pepper. This is a god, and not just any god. This is Loki, his former enemy, and he could dig his magic fingers in and tear the reactor from Tony's chest without even breaking a sweat if he wanted to. Tony doesn't think he will, but the fear curls in his belly, anyway.

He gets nothing from Loki. The god's face is still blank except for a crease between his eyebrows and a downward curl of his lips. Tony can feel the magic coursing through him, snaking through flesh and muscle and bone. It mingles with the energy of his arc reactor, synching to the rhythm until it is a melodious, electrical hum inside of his chest that spreads through his body until he can feel it in his toes.

"What are you doing?" Tony whispers finally, and even though his head feels great, albeit a bit swimmy, he doesn't think he's ever felt so vulnerable in his life.

"I have always been curious of the blue cylinder in your chest," Loki murmurs as he removes his hand from Tony's head but keeps the other planted against his chest. "Ever since I touched the spear to it and you did not become mine. I was prepared to conquer Midgard, but I should have known failure was imminent when I could not conquer one man. Would I have known then how things would change. What do you mortals call this? Poetic justice, isn't it?"

Tony swallows. The god's voice is surprisingly husky, and it's curling something else in his belly besides fear. He's definitely not reading into that. "That sounds about right," he says, but his focus remains on Loki's hand. "Or maybe Karma. You're stuck with me for all eternity now after ruining my window."

"Is it not you who is stuck with me?" Loki replies quietly, the words strained.

Tony feels a pang. He remembers what it was like when he was hailed as the Merchant of Death instead of Iron Man. He remembers a time before Friday mornings with Steve in a pink apron making pancakes, before he had Bruce to do sciencey things with, before he was involved in this college fraternity house setting that he hated the idea of at first but secretly loves now because back then, he couldn't prank Clint whenever he wanted, or play cards with Natasha, or coordinate movie nights or board game nights or margarita nights or whatever nights he wanted.

He remembers what it was like to be alone, even when he was surrounded by hundreds of people, and its why he was the only Avenger, Thor aside, who wanted to give Loki a chance. He saw the expression that flitted across Loki's face when Tony listed his comrades just before the god tossed him out a window. He knew longing when he saw it, no matter how well it was hidden behind rage and violence.

Tony watches the pale figure now and wonders when it started, this odd affection, then says, "Stuck with a friend for all eternity? Especially one who can just magic shit into existence? Seems like a pretty good deal to me."

Loki jerks at that, and Tony thinks his mouth quivers, but the mask is back before he can discern the look.

"Stop speaking," Loki grits out. "I am trying to work."

Tony almost laughs, because he's said that to Loki about a million times when the god decides to just appear in his workshop and tinker with everything. After another coughing fit, he asks, "What is it you're actually working on?"

Loki doesn't respond, but after a moment, he pulls back suddenly, shock apparent. His eyes reflect the reactor's light, washing him out until he looks like a ghost, all sharp planes and dark shadows. "It protects your heart form the metal shards surrounding it."

Tony feels himself closing off immediately. He hates having this conversation. He brags and puffs out his chest, spouting off about arc technology and all that jazz, but it chips away at him each and every time because its a stark reminder of everything he's lost.

"Yup," he manages, voice steady, but something's unfurling in his chest that feels a lot like anger. He shouldn't be angry. He knows Loki likes to push buttons. He does the same. In fact, he's done nothing but breach the boundaries Loki's tried to set since he arrived—

"You do not fail to astound me, Stark," the god states, shaking his head. There is a smile falling into place, and he regards Tony cooly. "You are quite a specimen."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Tony bites back.

Loki raises a brow, then leans forward and taps the arc reactor with his nail, allowing his fingertips to graze the glass and metal and occasionally the surrounding skin that's fuzed to it. "You don that metal suit and fight for the lives of others when you stand on the brink of death daily. I recall a time when you removed the suit and offered me drink as I lay waste to your city. It is impressive, your resolve. And your stupidity."

"Are you…" Tony clears his throat, trying to ignore the thudding of his heart. "I know I heard the word stupid in there, but are you complimenting me?"

Loki full-out grins now, eyes glinting, and he pulls back his hand. "Take it as you will, Stark. I will not dissect it for you. I quite enjoy watching your mind emit smoke as you attempt to problem solve."

Tony opens his mouth to say something, but all that comes out is a series of dry hacking coughs. He falls back into his pillows, suddenly exhausted. "Well, unfortunately for you, I can't problem solve because I'm dying."

Loki closes his hand, and when he opens it, there are two white tablets that look familiar.

"Gasp! Did Bruce put you up to this? I thought we were bonding but you're actually fraternizing with the enemy."

Loki just smiles his aggravating smile and holds out his hand, producing a glass of water in the other.

"Well, I'm tired of dealing with you, anyway," Tony says. He takes the pills and a few sips of water without arguing. "Jarvis, lights."

"Of course, sir."

The room goes dark. Loki's presence leaves the bed and Tony thinks he's gone, but then he hears when it settles back on the chair in a creak of wood.

"Are you really staying?" he asks.

"I was tasked by the Captain, after all," Loki replies, but its a weak excuse, and Tony's sure they both know it because like Tony, Loki rarely listens to the Captain when he can get away with it.

He can just barely make out the long lines of the god's body, highlighted by the arc reactor's glow, as he slides down in the chair until his legs splay out in front of him.

"You're making my back hurt just looking at you."

Silence, and then: "Are you inviting me to your bed, Stark?"

Tony closes his eyes and exhales. He'd do it, he realizes sleepily. He'd take the god to bed, and he has no doubt it would be explosive. He might even stick around after for some cuddling. He's pretty sure Loki would do it, too, because Tony doesn't just hear a smirk in his voice. No, he hears the huskiness again, the slow burn of desire.

But maybe another time, when he isn't dying of the flu and his head isn't swimming. "I'm an expensive date. I don't think you can afford me," he yawns.

Tony falls asleep almost immediately to the sound of Loki's soft laugher.