A/N: So, a bit of an explanation folks. I sat down at my computer way too many months ago, all hyped up and ready to type the final chapter of this story, under an alternate and happier ending than I had once planned. I opened google docs, set up my coffee, and in four hours, wrote two sentences.

I had a vague idea about what I wanted for this more pleasant ending, but it didn't work in execution. I wrote and rewrote and struggled constantly, and eventually, this came out. So this chapter was very, very difficult to write, because I don't even know. But I apologize for the horrible delay, and hope this was to people's satisfaction. It might be cheesy, all over the place, and out of tone, and I don't really know how I feel about it.

There might be an epilogue, but for now I'll focus on updating, editing, and submitting to AO3. It'll be under the same name as I fix it up and post it, so check things out there if you like. I'll probably use a different ending, maybe not so angsty as the original intending, but probably not this, or at least longer.

Tony didn't get to learn much of what had happened until almost a day later. Traveling to Asgard had been quick and convenient, free even of security checks and overweight flight attendants, since they were off the ground within seconds of Thor getting his hands on Schmidt's pride and joy. Tony had wondered in a distracted way how angry SHIELD would be about losing the tesseract, but it was around then that Loki had fainted dead away and he'd nearly collapsed against the effort of holding the god upright. Other than that the transport was easy, but the arrival... not so much.

Interplanetary politics were not the sort of thing Tony was capable of giving a shit about while he was so worried about Loki's health, but the rest of Asgard had not shared his priorities. In fact, if not for Thor's support he was pretty sure he and Loki both would have been sent down to Earth in as poor physical states as the warriors could manage to leave them, if they were lucky enough to dodge a dungeon stay. The whole mortal on Asgard thing did not sit too well with most folk, apparently, but even that seemed forgivable by most of the people he and Thor had to deal with on their way. What was not, however, was saving Loki's life. Thor had let him come up because he wanted to save his brother, and most of them were desperate to kick him out because they wanted to see him die.

That had not gone over well, exactly. Apparently gods didn't take too well to having a mostly physically-inept mortal insult their sense of morality, intelligence, and (often enough) personal hygiene. The arguments were dull memories, vague senses of unpleasant feeling and danger that Thor had, luckily, gotten him out of each time. Not too hard, really, since he was half unconscious himself before long, and his retorts became the sort of unintelligible slurring that resulted in confusion or pity, more than anger, from whoever he was yelling at. His damage, though, was nothing next to Loki's, and all the same Tony had been half-asleep, ever since Thor had left to deal with his dad, and undergoing pampering by attractive nurses. Or healers, as they demanded they be called, who used more magic than medicine and forced him to drink poultices that tasted like they probably contained newt eye and put him asleep before he could even babble out any protest.

By the time he had been woken up his chest had felt much better, but Loki was showing no visible improvement, and none of the healers would tell him a damn thing. So despite their orders against it Tony had sat by Loki's bed and talked to his sleeping form about anything that came to mind, most of which he forgot fairly quickly. His voice did enough for Loki's nervous groans of pain that he was allowed to keep it up, at least until Thor finally returned and Tony was, at long last, given a decent explanation.

What Thor claimed was most important, for the moment, was that Odin was allowing Tony's presence at Heimdall's recommendation, for whatever length of time it took Loki to recover. After that he would not say, but Tony did his best to reassure himself that there was no way Loki would consent to staying here anyway, if he could help it. Reassuring himself that Odin would give his "son" any choice in the matter, however, wasn't so easy.

Still, Tony found it easier to concentrate on what Thor considered minor news in comparison. They didn't actually know if Schmidt was alive or dead, just that he had been in very bad states by the time Thor managed to calm Loki enough to assure him that Tony was alive and almost well, the opposite of which he had apparently been fearing. That had been enough to drag him away, and with Loki too relieved and Thor too worried to confirm anything nobody had given much thought to whether or not Schmidt was breathing.

After a slightly longer bit of exposition on Tony's part they both agreed that they wouldn't be telling any of that to Loki, when he woke up. With any luck SHIELD would be smart enough to kill the guy if Loki hadn't already, when they arrived and found him lying there- assuming of course nobody from Hydra popped in to take him off to safety first. Fury was usually good at avoiding that sort of mess, though, and Tony had no way of knowing until he returned to earth (where a very angry government agency and very baffled media would no doubt be waiting to confront him), so his worries were more for what would happen if Schmidt did find his way back into their lives somehow. Loki would not respond very well to that, and his anger would probably be doubled by the fact that they hadn't told him there was any chance of Schmidt being alive in the first place.

But if they did? He'd obsess over it, and after everything Tony just wanted a damn moment of peace for Loki. He could risk a talking-to in the future if it meant giving him a little relief. This was the first time he had seen the god looking really relaxed in a long, long time, even if he was thoroughly unconscious, thanks to the healers' attentions. Normally the bar through Loki's stomach wouldn't have taken more than a crumbled rock to heal, according to Thor, but with all the abuse leading up to that, internal and external, the healers couldn't risk it. Apparently there was some risk of stitching the wrong parts together, or something, if more than one area was damaged- not a very nice image.

But Loki was healing, so Tony didn't worry too much. He wondered if he even could have worried- he was in another planet, sitting next to the god of thunder in a room where recovery came at the whim of magic. None of it felt real. He couldn't even be impressed with the fact that he was on another planet, because he'd only (coherently) seen one room of it, and the most godly person he had met so far was Thor. And it was really difficult to be in awe of somebody after their brother has told you stories of when said someone was a child and tried to make himself a beard out mashed potatoes.

Though being so freaking tall did give the god a little boost in that department. Tony hadn't been able to get a good, thoughtful look at the guy until he'd come in for this talk, and though they were both plenty big enough he couldn't spot a single similarity between Thor and Loki. The former was probably perfectly willing to believe what their father had told them about being brothers, but the Loki that Tony knew wouldn't be so accepting. He was critical, thoughtful, suspicious- had he wanted so badly to belong amongst these people he was nothing like that he would ignore even such obvious signs? He felt a pang of sadness at even the thought, made all the worse by Thor's silence, and the annoyingly caring way in which he watched Loki.

Tony didn't know why, but he wished Thor would leave. He liked the god, and he didn't want to. He wanted to understand why Loki hated him so much, or to at least stand beside him in that hatred, but talking with him wasn't making that easy. Then Thor opened his mouth, and he braced himself not to like anything that was about to be said. "I do not wish to... intrude-"

"Generally means an intrusion's coming up, so go ahead."

"We thought my brother dead all these months. Yet now I find he was with a mortal, and made no attempt to contact his home. Now that we are assured of his safety, I would like to know what has happened." Thor didn't once look away from Loki as he spoke, which Tony was almost grateful for. His turn to tell some stories, then?

No, he didn't like the sound of that. "Later. I get the feeling you aren't the only one who's going to be asking that, big guy, so let's save it for all at once, yeah?"

"I understand. But I assume there are things you will not tell my father or his court, and I would like to know all you are willing to speak of," Thor explained without a hitch, in such a fancy manner that Tony almost replied in the same way.

But he checked himself to silence in time, even gathered the state of mind to think the request over. There was so much he didn't want to say, and even more Loki would never forgive him for mentioning, but there were things Odin didn't need to know about that might give Thor some comfort. Tony could understand the need for a little closure. "I found him when he hit the ground. He was in a pretty bad shape, but I patched 'im up after awhile. He stuck around- guess I was just too pretty to leave."

"Pretty?" Thor cast a baffled look at Tony's beard, and despite everything he found he had to laugh at that.

"Yeah, pretty, can't you tell? I rock it in a dress 'n heels, prom queen and everything."

"I... do not understand."

"You don't need to. So, anyway, he attracted some unwanted attention, and was kind of drafted. Willingly. I think if it were unwilling there'd be a lot of "boom" and dead people. Well there were anyway, but far as I know only people who deserved it. Like the guy who called you down." Tony knew his answer was incomplete and probably confusing, bits of indecipherable or useless information that were all he felt willing to share. "He was kind of a… sore spot, with Loki, like I said. Tried to kill me, tortured him, you get the idea?"

"More than I once may have. I never took my brother's concerns to heart when we were younger, it was only recently… He always let his hatred brew, so that none of us noticed it if we did not wish to. I think he became all the more vengeful because of it." Thor's voice was wearier than Tony would have thought it capable of growing- which was, to say, not actually all that much, but he could see a sort of pain in the god's eyes and glanced away, uncomfortable, to watch the almost-steady rise and fall of Loki's chest. "You told me before about your hunt for that man, how it consumed him. I fear he will never escape from that. Be it that mortal, his blood, or some other threat, there is always some madness he will cling to. I should have thought if there were anyone he could look at so fondly as he did you there would be no reason to worry, but it happened all the same."

"Of course it did. I may be awesome, but I'm no panacea, Rocky. Sleeping with me does wonders for plenty of things, but mental trauma probably isn't included. In fact, asking most of the ladies I've been with it may actually be a symptom, but that's beside the point. He… he needs-" Something. Tony let out a sigh and a shrug, knowing that no matter how much time he'd spent in Loki's company he could hardly be called an expert in the god's psyche. "What'd your dad say? If he thinks he's going to lock him up-"

"No. My father is as happy as I to see Loki home. There are those calling for his blood, but they will not have it. He will be punished I do not doubt, but not in any terrible way." Was it Tony's imagination, or did Thor's voice waver on that promise?

No, it was paranoia, nothing else. Thor's look was determined and confident, and Tony was beginning to get the idea that if this guy were so fixed on something he'd get it one way or another. So Loki wouldn't be arrested, or tortured. Not like Tony would have allowed it, not after everything else he had seen and heard the god endure. He just wished he'd gotten a little more personal payback with Schmidt- maybe he'd just take his frustration out on Hammer when they finally got things settled down. SHIELD had probably found him by now, after all, and as far as Tony cared he was as much to blame in this as the master-mind.

A few nurses bustled by, passing through the door with just enough of a gap for Tony to see the vague outline of somebody standing by. Whether they were trying to get in or not he couldn't tell- but he was more interested in figuring out if they were friendly or malicious, which the nurse prevented by shutting the door as she cleared the room. "So what's going to happen?"

"Father will speak to you and Loki privately, and then likely in the royal court. My brother's crime was complicated, but the people will be interested in it all the same. Though I think it is your presence that intrigues them the most. There is much resentment for how easily you were allowed passage into our realm," Thor begrudged, though with a light enough tone that Tony figured he wasn't too upset over all the political tape he must have been cutting through while the others had been passed out cold.

Though he was still surprised, in all honesty, that he hadn't been sent home or attacked for his audacious presence in this big fancy place yet. Did he have Thor to thank for that, or was Odin just worried what Loki would do if he didn't have Tony around to keep him calm? "Yeah well, always wanted to visit this place. Just wish it hadn't taken all this to do it."

How close had Loki been to dying? A few minutes, said the healers, or a few inches further to the right from that pipe, or… or a lot of things. Tony knew any human would be long gone, but it was still strange to see even this much fragility on a god, to see Loki paler than usual under the eerie glow of magic keeping him stable.

Thor seemed almost used to the sight, even if he was no less worried. "My father will wish for Loki to remain here, on Asgard. And he will not permit a mortal to remain."

"Loki wants to come back with me, I won't stop him," Tony scoffed with indifference he hardly felt. There was no way for him to stay here, but would Loki want to come back with him? Would they let him come back?

"I will admit that I prefer my father's will in this case. I would not like to lose Loki again- with the tesseract we can return to earth when necessary, but visiting would hardly be easy. Even if there were any reason for a Prince to abandon his home for so long." Thor didn't sound happy to say it, and no wonder- if Tony hadn't been thinking the same thing he probably wouldn't have responded to well to that. He was more than a little tempted to retort anyway, but Thor was one of the only guys he had on his side up here, and contrary to popular belief he was not quite idiot enough to ruin that. "But I do not want to ruin whatever happiness he has found."

"My lord?" A girl's head peeked through the door, a thin face framed in fluffy blond hair. She looked about sixteen, but Tony knew she was much older than he was. "Your mother would like to speak with you. Shall I tell her you are occupied?"

"Mother?" Thor frowned, but when Tony waved him on he nodded, moving to stand with a brief look toward Loki. "No, I will speak with her. I will not be long, Anthony."

"Take your time, Goldilocks. Bears won't be awake for awhile yet."

Thor's bemused expression didn't last so long as it had during their first few conversations, which was probably a sign that the Asgardian was used to being out of the loop where crazy mortals were concerned. "If he wakes, lock the door. He will not want any other company."

Including, no doubt, Thor himself; whose look of guilty pain was not missed even by Tony, who had no need to wonder at the story behind it. Without a doubt the god's perfect version of all this would allow him to rush to his brother with apologies and smiles and plenty of far-gone sibling normality, when it was more likely he would only get a heavy dose of hatred if he so much as approached Loki while the god was fully conscious.

Some selfish-and admittedly large- part of Tony was happy about that; he wasn't going to argue anything that let him have Loki all to himself for awhile. Of course, he knew it would be better for the both of them to meet some sort of reconciliation, but he also knew that the moment, whatever it would be, was going to be a long time in coming. So he waved in a sort of bored manner at Thor's retreating form, watched for the door to swing shut with more of a bang than a click, and turned immediately back to Loki, half expecting to see him spring upright now that the other was out of the room.

It was somehow disappointing when he only continued to sleep, his chest following an unsteady cadence of sharp and shallow breaths. Recalling the ease from before, Tony wondered if Loki were troubled- through pain, nightmares? Both were familiar enough. "Easy there, big guy. If you go freaking out I don't think I'll be much use. So try not to convulse or anything."

There was no reply, not even the usual half-grunt the god usually gave when Tony talked to him while he slept. "You know, it's rude to ignore people. You should really pay attention more, what if somebody comes praying to you to save their puppy or something and you're too busy sleeping? That would be lame."

Loki's breathing was unchanged, and Tony fell back against his own bed with an exaggerated sigh. He wanted the god to wake up, and he didn't. Talking to him, knowing he was okay, finally being able to relax without the impending doom of SHIELD or Hydra were all wonderful futures. But his response to his surroundings, the meeting with Odin, his decision about whether to stay or go- Tony saw nothing good to anticipate in any of that. He knew down on earth everything would be a mess, that even if he did return with Loki at his side the world would have to know his boyfriend wasn't just some mechanically gifted guy from England, that Tony Stark could not have been alive without the help of a few supernatural talents. He probably could even have convinced them he'd pulled another Afghanistan, but the possibility of nobody getting that fight on their phone and sending it for the whole wide world to know was... slim.

Ah, well, SHIELD could come up with some BS excuse and Tony could ruin it, as always. Loki would probably be more than happy to make his abilities public knowledge- he'd complained often enough about arrogant mortals and their ignorance. So long as he didn't start blasting fireballs at people.

God, it was fucked up how fondly he thought of that image. Not the burning people alive part, no wat, but the idea of Loki up and well, his usual half-way-to-evil self. Or anything, really, other than the mentally damning anger of the last week and the absolute nothingness now.

Then Tony grinned, and he was glad nobody was around to see. He'd finally found his way not only to a new planet but an entirely different realm of reality, and he was doing the exact same thing he'd done on earth: playing nursemaid for Loki. Pepper was never going to believe it, if she ever stopped yelling at him enough to even listen to the story.

And there went the grin. Tony wasn't sure if he was imagining their next meeting with more trepidation or guilt, but he knew both were there in some almost-equal measurement. He'd basically disappeared on her- no warning, no explanation, and he wasn't even on the same planet this time, so there was no way she could count on somebody finding him and bringing him back. This was going to be hell to explain. Worth it, of course, but still. Maybe he could just hide in another cave until she became more worried than angry and decided not to kill him when he came home.

There was a soft sound outside the door, something like a whisper struggling not to become full voice, and Tony realized with some surprise that Thor and his guest were waiting just in the hall. Or else someone else was hiding at the door. He listened and waited, but couldn't tell one voice from the other or decide if there was one person, two, or however many creating the noise. "Guessing you wouldn't fancy any more guests?"

No answer. Tony reached out and took Loki's hand, expecting nothing but getting a reflexive squeeze that became a grasp, stubborn and surprisingly strong. Tony tugged experimentally, found he was more or less trapped in the god's grip, and resigned himself to one-armed activities for the time being. Really... close by one-armed activities. Which meant picking up his cup of water, turning it slightly, and putting it back down. Absolutely riveting.

More whispering, a little louder now and then a lot quieter, settling at an inaudible medium that droned at the back of Tony's mind for a few minutes. He tensed, expecting anger and wondering if Thor could hold off anybody who'd come to do Loki harm, then relaxed both as he realized that yeah, he definitely could, and that the voices were more excited than malicious.

But for now they were staying outside, and Tony wasn't letting anyone in until Loki gave him permission to do so. The god still wouldn't stir, but his next breath came with a sort of sleepy whine, more like an agitated puppy than a deity. Best to keep that a secret. "You should stop being so cute. It makes the whole evil image a little shallow." Of course, Loki responded to that with half a yawn and a slight toss of his head, brow furrowed in discomfort.

It was amazing how... cuddly the guy could look when he was sleeping. Tony knew a psychiatrist would say it had something to do with his lack of affection throughout most of his life, with his fear and his need for comfort that he was too afraid to ask for. Personally, Tony just suspected he was part cat.

Speaking of cats. Had Pepper been feeding Fenrir? He hoped so, or the little monster was likely to have sneaked out and knocked a group of old people down the stairs to satisfy his hunger. He was way too evil to go after birds, and probably not smart enough, either. Tony almost missed the little guy- if Loki couldn't or wouldn't come home with him, at least he'd have that bratty thing around to keep him company. If he could even put up with being reminded of Loki day in and out, knowing he was up in this unreachable world that looked like something out of a rejected Star Trek set-

And where he was, too, for the time being at least, without any guarantee if Loki would be leaving or not. The whispering at the door grew louder for a moment, and Loki's hand tightened marginally then relaxed, enough so that Tony was sure he could get free without disrupting his sleep (more like coma- could someone even disrupt a coma? Wouldn't that be a good thing? He should try it one of these days) if he wanted to. And he suddenly found that he did, that he couldn't look down on Loki looking so empty like this any longer, and extracted his hand, found his feet, and made his way half to the door before simply sinking to the ground and letting the wall catch him.

God dammit, where was it written in the laws of the universe that Tony Stark wasn't allowed to be happy? He was making himself sick with worry staying here, and he couldn't take more than two steps away from Loki's side without some sort of residual panic setting in. He was beginning to steel himself up for another attempt when Loki let out a soft noise like a cough, followed by the slight creaking of the bed as he rolled over. Tony glanced up, anxious, and almost felt his heart stop when he saw two bleary eyes blinking down at him from the mattress.

"Darling, why are you on the floor?" He wondered, yawning and reaching out to give Tony an amused yet condescending pat on the head.

Still somewhat in shock, Tony let the movement pass uncontested. "Um, better question- why aren't you on the floor? Jeez, get with the times, Lo."

"I will remain a happy and comfortable outcast, thank you very much." Another yawn, and Loki turned his head for a lazy survey of the room. "This... is not SHIELD."

"Good job, one point to you."

"It is not your home, either."

"That's two points."

Loki let out a soft snarl, and Tony quickly bit his tongue, aware of a few more smart comments building in his throat. Obviously, he wanted answers more than jokes right now. "We're in Asgard. The medical place. Healers' rooms, that's what they're called? Something like that. you dealt with Schmidt... twenty seven hours ago, and passed out about twenty six hours ago. Thor's not here at the moment, and speaking of which..."

Tony put a hand against the wall and gave a quick shove, staggering to his feet with more clumsiness than pain. He was still sore from the fall he'd taken during the fight with Schmidt, and his muscles still a bit agitated by the shock from the tesseract, but he was feeling a lot better than he had during the past week. Loki watched him with confusion and apprehension, but he flashed a reassuring smile and merely crossed the room to lock the door, hearing the voices falter briefly on the other side before taking up again, even more quietly than before. Tony considered staying to listen, but the thought barely lasted a moment before he whipped around, finding himself with a grin on his face, the feeling of it so odd that his cheeks ached.

"You're awake." Loki nodded, as if this somehow needed confirmation, and Tony resisted the urge to return to his bedside in a few hurried steps, instead opting to turn the grin into a smirk and walk back at his usual ambling pace. "You know, you sleep a lot. Do gods hibernate, or something?"

"You might believe it of Thor," Loki conceded with a wary smile, his eyes reflecting more exhaustion than happiness. "Why are we here? I would not have expected them to allow you here. I do not wish to see my family, Tony, you should not have let Thor bring us to Asgard."

"I wouldn't've, babe, you know that- but you were dying. Call me crazy, but I thought the awkward family reunion would be worth it." Even though he knew there was a high chance this could be the last time he ever spoke to Loki. It was better to be separated, and both alive, than for him to be dead, though, and Tony hadn't been willing to take a risk like that, not after listening to him tortured.

Yet the look Loki turned on him was furious, betrayed, and a good bit frightened. "That should not have been your decision to make. You know I would not have consented to this- what if they do not let me leave? You can't ask me to face my father again! I'd have thought you would understand why I wished to stay away."

"I do." It was probably stupid or cruel, but Tony felt his heart quickening with relief- so Loki wanted to return to earth? "It's... not as bad as you think. Odin wants to talk in private, to both of us. All right? I'm not leaving you alone for a second, you don't have to deal with them by yourself."

"You think he will listen to a mortal's counsel?"

"I don't give a damn if he listens to me or not- he'll just have to realize the hard way that I'm not easy to bully."

Loki bristled, but rather than explode into an argument he froze, winced, and deflated as Tony watched, raising a hand to cover his face and smacking his hand none too gently when he tried to reach out and comfort him. "Damn you, Tony. Don't even consider it. My f- the Allfather would have you whipped for your insolence, if he didn't simply strike where you stood. You are not on Earth, we do not solve our problems with a few curt words and a smile, here."

"You saw how I solve my problems down on earth. I'm not thinking about words." He had no suit, no real technology- he had about nothing, really, and though Tony's heart quickened at the nakedness of being away from his tech, he knew he could get by. Had gotten by before, on much less than what little he had now. "I'm not going to let him-"

"I am familiar with your arrogance, Tony, but do not let it step the boundary into foolishness. For all your intelligence and prowess on earth, you are nothing to Odin. He could kill you with an unfriendly thought." Loki glanced up at last, his eyes tired and clouded. "Do not claim to understand this world, Tony. It will not treat you kindly if you do."

"I don't care. Look what it did to you. I-Okay, yeah, I'll take your advice. I won't sass off to the man in charge. Not too badly, anyway. But I can help, babe. I'm with you in all this, remember?"

There was a long silence, during which Loki would not look at him or move, hardly seeming even to breathe. And then- "You are very difficult to forget, Tony."

The words were whispered, half choked, but earnest. Tony sat beside him, hesitating, and when there was no flinch or glare wrapped his arms around the familiar form; so tall, full to the brim with power, capable of ripping through metal with muscle as easily as magic, of dominating him well and completely; and yet, he felt like the smallest thing in the world in that moment, relaxing into Tony's arms with a muffled whine of relief.

They'd been through a hell of a lot, lately, but it was usually Tony who found comfort in the other's grip and words, Loki who had to soldier through both their burdens and beat them all down with a dogged, almost fanatic determination. Loki who was overdue for a good, long cry, and who had Tony more than willing to hold him through it, muttering the few assurances he could, with a kiss and a small, sad smile at his lips.

They fell asleep like that, though when and for how long Tony couldn't have guessed. All he knew was that he'd drifted off some time during his reassurances, and when he woke Loki was half-asleep but nearing consciousness, lying over his chest and, despite having curled up to avoid crushing Tony, providing enough weight to make breathing a bit uncomfortable. He didn't mind really, so he only blinked away the exhaustion he hadn't known was present, casting about a few cautious glances for anything that might give him an inkling of how much time has passed. The sounds outside the door had stopped, but that was about it.

Loki was awake enough to glance up at him, but he gave no signs beyond that and lay his head back over Tony's chest, simply staring at the opposite wall with little to no visible expression. Tony grimaced at the silence, but pulled the god closer and kissed him against the throat, relieved when he felt a slight relaxation in the tension of the body in his arms. "Any better?"

"That shall depend on my father." Loki didn't turn to look at him, but he did consent to lean in a little closer. "When will he request an audience, I wonder?"

"Probably as soon as he realizes you're up. Here." That water on the bedside was there for a reason, and if Odin was going to be dragging them off for an awkward family reunion, Tony wanted to make sure Loki had least had had something. The god stared at the cup as if he'd been offered a glass of too-sweet poison, but his internal struggle was brief enough that Tony didn't even have the chance to press the issue before he'd swallowed the whole thing.


"So demanding," Tony taunted, nonetheless complying. Now was not the best time for teasing, not genuinely. He filled the cup and returned it, watching with some awe as it was all swallowed in two eager movements of Loki's throat. "Wow. why don't I just hand you the pitcher?"

"Yes, do that."

"Aaaand you're serious. Okay. Don't spill."

Loki did not, though it seemed almost impossible that he should tip the whole thing down so quickly and not drench himself in the process. "Isn't that dangerous? If you're dehydrated-"

"I am a god. Water will not harm me," Loki assured, the only pause he took in his drinking until the pitcher was empty, and the speed of his gulps had settled at something approaching normality. "I have had nothing to drink since we were in the hotel, if you recall. How long has that been?"

"'Bout a day. Fury's probably throwing a fit." Tony tried to sound amused, rather than worried, but he couldn't help but be fully aware how badly he needed to get back home, and how unlikely it was that that was going to happen any time soon. Despite how impatient Loki tended to be, Tony doubted most gods were too bothered by the concept of lost time.

But at least the one next to him was, enough to frown for his sake, at least, before handing back the pitcher to be returned to the bedstand. "I will see he does not wait long. Our cat must be getting worried."

"Fenrir? You're worried about Fenrir?"

"Who else?"

"I dunno, Pepper? Rhodey?"

"They will not worry for me. Fenrir will," Loki explained simply, sitting up straight with a stretch and a grimace before Tony could get his arms around him again. "Can you stand?"

"Yeah. I wasn't the one who had a pole shoved through my already sufficiently maimed gut, you know."

"It was a pipe, actually." Which personally, Tony would have thought would feel worse, what with the hollow middle, but had apparently not been bad enough that Loki could not stand now, even if he trembled slightly when he did it.

Talking him down would be impossible and probably pointless, so Tony hopped to his own feet in a much smoother movement, reaching out all the same to snag his arm around the god's waist. Loki glared, but did not protest. "So what spurned this extremely horrible idea, exactly?"

"I will not wait for the Allfather to beckon me as he sees fit. He will see me now, when I choose. I will have that, at least."

Loki's face was determined and brutal, so Tony nodded, but did not let go. Proud as the god may be, there was little to no doubt that he would collapse if he did, and he'd rather risk sleeping on the couch than watch Loki fall to the ground. Based on the look he was getting as they started off, he could look forward to a very uncomfortable back for the next few weeks.


Loki didn't know what he had expected- but the level of hostility that met him as he limped through the halls was worse than even that. If not for Tony, and the knowledge of how Thor would react, Loki did not doubt he would have been thrown against a wall within five minutes of setting out. As it was, he let his gaze wander to the glares and threats that came his way, allowing himself the pleasure of smirks that flashed his teeth and vicious looks of his own, lacking somewhat in intensity. Schmidt was dead, Tony was safe, and they were together, even if in Asgard. It didn't matter so much, somehow, that the people who had once bowed at his passing now looked at him with their hatred brimming for all to see. People who should have kissed his feet and begged forgiveness for even the slightest trespass, yet met his eye with almost equal disdain to his own.

He wondered what crime their judgment was for, or if they were merely taking this chance to offer their hatred to the weaker Prince. Maybe it was something as simple as heritage that drove their spite, or perhaps they considered his claiming of the throne to be treachery. Loki would feel no guilt for that. Thor would have made a worthless King, and the title had been offered him, not taken, no matter how temporarily it was his. The attack on Jotunheim should have earned their awe, not their hatred. He had done more to thwart their life-long enemy than Thor ever had.

And yet they hated him, and Loki had expected no different. They thought him weak, cowardly, monstrous. Maybe he was. But it did not matter whether he was all or nothing of what they made him to be- it never seemed to make a difference to Tony, and Loki thought his opinion worth more than Asgard's entire lot combined.

Or so he thought, at least, while they encountered no more than familiar faces and casual acquaintances. It was outside the royal chambers where he stopped and felt himself growing cold, violently aware that there were those whose words still held some power over him. And oh, how he hated the way even thinking of Frigga left him her little boy again, feeling small and weak, eager to please the one person who he actually could. It was different with Odin, who had been a factory of awe, fear, and self-loathing for Loki all his life. He had never expected anything more than disappointment from his father, but with Mother (and perhaps even with Thor, though he would never come near to admitting it)...

"Hey." Loki did not look toward Tony, but he let himself lean into the man's hand when it found his shoulder, relieved. "You'll be fine. I can give a very glowing recommendation of your character- and sexual prowess, but I think I'd better leave that part out."

"If you do not, I will strangle you with your belt."


"Is anything not, for you?"

"No, but you've got to admit that one was pretty-"

"No, Tony, I do not. Just keep your mouth shut until you must do otherwise, please," Loki muttered, his jaw tight with annoyance. And yet he was breathing more calmly than he had, and took Tony's hand in his own as he knocked on the door, grasping until the very moment it swung open.

The servant at the door was cordial until he realized who he had just come to see their King. His eyes grew wide, then disgust took over, and yet he bowed, stiffly and shortly, and stepped aside, with no more than a weak muttering of the required courtesies. Tony stared at him with unabashed amusement, but Loki ignored the servant as easily as he always had, except to order him, in no uncertain terms, to be out of the room before he had him whipped.

Clearly his authority was in question, for the servant seemed to regard this order with contempt. But he nodded, tightly, when Loki finally met his eye, and hurried from the room. And a good thing, too- Loki may have had some difficulty finding a guard to follow his orders, but he could have put a switch to the man's back himself, if he was in the mood for it. Tony, luckily, saw the threat as a bluff or joke, and only grinned at the man's retreating back, then whispered something playful about a better use for whips.

Loki's lips nearly twitched into a smile, but he kept the look under control before it earned him any more of his father's suspicion. Odin and Frigga, sitting as ever side by side, had fallen almost comically silent at his entrance, but now seemed to be keeping quiet out of their own accord. The Queen looked like she had much to say, but her husband must have given her some signal for silence, because she did not so much as stand, and Loki was left with no clues as to how best to behave next.

Normally, Loki would barge into the throne room with a polite knock and a disregard for the flustered servants who might try and see him out, and if there was no business under way he would get on with his own, no formalities necessary. These had been his family, after all, and even the more polite prince was allowed a few failings of protocol. Now, however, he bowed stiffly, and flicked his wrist, forcing Tony to do the same when it became clear the man's pride would stand up to all but magic interference. He gave a yelp of indignation and surprise that had Loki feeling almost guilty, but it was worth it when he straightened and saw the looks on his "parents" faces'.

"I was informed that you wished to see me once I was well, Allfather?" Loki wondered, in the voice he usually reserved for dignitaries and ambassadors, or at least those which he did not count as friends. There was no hint of affection or even hatred in it, and he could see Frigga and Odin both stunned by the lack of the one emotion or the other. Good. Loki could have snapped and raged, or cajoled and taunted, but nothing would have been so satisfying as seeing their shock for absolute nonchalance. What did they expect? After lying to him so long... they had made it clear that they were no family of his.

Odin studied him a moment then stood, his expression unreadable. Frigga whispered something that he seemed to ignore, and Loki narrowed his eyes to meet the Allfather's as he crossed the room, struggling to keep his expression otherwise neutral as he approached. And then, after they had locked gazes for long enough that Tony began to look worried, Odin's hand fell lightly on his shoulder, and he replied, "Eir was to contact me when she thought you fit to leave the medical bay. You do not look well, my boy. Sit, I won't have you hurt."

Now it was Loki's turn to be floored. He stared back at Odin, just as blank as before, and took a step back, then another, until Odin's hand fell away. He went still again, then shook his head in two rough turns. "I am walking. But I thank you for the hospit-"

"Loki. I will not order you, but as your father I ask you to speak to me honestly." Odin's voice was quiet, soft, and frustratingly... honest. Loki knew the man's voice well enough that he had always thought he could understand when he was lying, but he must have lost the skill, for he saw only the truth in this welcoming manner, and that must have been wrong. "You are worrying your mother."

"Really? How strange, considering I have never met her."

Frigga looked hurt, and came to her feet with such an expression of concern and pain that Loki had to turn his gaze away, some unwelcome emotion gnawing at his stomach like a wild animal. He wasn't entirely sure why he had said that, but he did not feel quite prepared to apologize. Tony shot him a look partially surprised but primarily concerned, which Loki did his best to keep out of even his peripheral vision. What were they expecting, smiles and sunshine? He could not have been prepared for this, for coming home.

This was not how this was meant to have gone. Loki felt frantic, not pleased, at the looks his supposed parents were wearing- where was their anger, even their sadness? He could have reveled in and laughed for that, instead he was being met with what seemed to be fear. Not of him, but for him, and Loki bristled at the concern. They would patronize him even now, after all that had happened? He hadn't forgotten the final words the Allfather had given to send him over the edge of the bifrost.

"Don't. I did not come here for sentiment. Whatever you wish to say to me, save us both the time and just say it. I have to pay for what I've done, apologize to the guards' families, sit the stocks? Whatever you have decided, get on with it. Then leave me be, Allfather. I have no interest in remaining in your kingdom longer than I must."

"What cause have I given you to expect so little of me, Loki?" Norns damn him. Odin was pulling the disappointed-father look again, eyes drawn together sadly, as if he was hurt that Loki would think anything but the best of him. He glared in return, and had to restrain himself from taking a step away. He'd almost forgotten Tony was there until the man put a familiar hand on his shoulder, thumb massaging his back slowly, and Loki managed to breathe easier. He had come here to be in control, hadn't he?

So he smirked, unkindly, and replied with his usual composure,"Would you like a written list, or should I just begin rattling things off until you're satisfied?"

Frigga was beside her husband now, the four of them standing in an almost perfect square, each rooted to the spot by an almost physical tension. "We did not call you to punish you. We- thought you would be happy to come home," the queen said at last, once the silence had grown unnerving even for Loki. Tony must have been half mad with impatience.

"I do not have a home. You both made that clear enough."

"How? By taking you in as our child? By not advocating your attempt to destroy an entire realm out of anger?" Odin did not step forward, but his voice had hardened, and something in Loki jumped to listen at that. He cursed the instinct, the familiarity of the commands from the man who had called him father, but waited for him to speak all the same. "I made many mistakes, and they almost cost you your life. But whatever you believed, we have never thought of you as anything but our son."

Loki flinched, and drew his lips back in half a snarl, softened to a frown, narrowed his eyes. Shut up, damn you. Stop. Why couldn't he get a fix on his own damn expression? He was torn between not breathing and breathing too quickly, wanted to curse, laugh, and throw this silence back in Odin's face. All three, at once? Impossible, but his body was trying. What had happened to control? There was nothing particularly unusual about any of this, he ought to have been able to... he should have...

"That's the problem with bad parenting. Nobody realizes they're fuckin' up until too late, hence the whole genocide-attempt fiasco. I can't really talk from experience, but I got to deal with the aftermath, so I think that counts for something, yeah?" Tony's grip tightened, and his voice was a little too loud, but his smile was huge, sarcastic, and Loki felt something melt at the sight. "Okay, let's all get on the same page here, folks. You guys have been mellowing in this whole 'holy shit we drove our son to suicide' level of grief thing for awhile, haven't you? Like, months. I mean, that might not mean much to you guys, but I can't even imagine what that must have felt like. You thought your son was dead. Strong emotions take up a lot more time than normal ones."

Loki didn't like the way his parents glanced at each other, the truth of Tony's words obvious in the looks they shared. Did they have to talk about this, now? "And who are you?"

"Loki's boyfriend. You guys have that word here? Lover? Dearest? We have sex and hold hands and stuff. Anyway, so you guys feel really bad about that and you're all relieved to see him back, and you've been sad and... whatever. I mean, when you feel like shit about something happening, and you find out it didn't really happen, you're happy. And you expect everyone else to be happy, too. Well Loki's spent all that time remembering what pushed him off that bridge. So all that stuff you guys spent these months saying 'I wish we'd said' or 'I hope he knew'- well, he doesn't get it. He never got to hear all of that. And I am terrible with feelings, ask any of my ex girlfriends, they want to light me on fire or something, but trust me when I say- he needed to hear it, and he didn't. So. That's what happened, yeah?"

"Shut up, Tony," Loki growled, reaching up a hand to wipe at his eyes, relieved to find them dry. He wasn't- he had not given any of them the right to analyze him. Though it was almost worth it, to see the way Odin and Frigga frowned, and then the way they looked at him- "Stop that. Stop looking at me like that. Haven't you made it clear enough? I don't want anybody's pity. I- I want-"

Frigga stepped forward, and suddenly he was in her arms like a child again, and though she was so much smaller than he was now, the familiar warmth, the smell of her perfume, were all around him, and he could not move. "You are my son. Our son. You have been through so much, and we were blind to it. But we love you, Loki. Both of us."

And it sounded like nothing, really, like all they had said so far, like the first thing he would have said if he were attempting the same thing as them. But the way she said it was enough, and Loki let his head fall against his mother's shoulder, and took in rapid, deep breaths, his chest burning with the effort of keeping his eyes dry- and he was angry, but Tony's arm was on his shoulder, Odin and Frigga both were soon holding him like family, and he could not find it in him to push them away.

It was wretchedly embarrassing, standing here in front of the full court again. It had not been long since he and Thor had been on these steps for his brother's doomed coronation, and now here they were again- except now it was he, Loki, kneeling in front of their "father", and Thor on the steps. And it was not the lady Sif or the warriors three taking their stances but Tony, decked out in reds and golds that suited him far better than such colors ever should. He looked vaguely alone standing up there, but Thor was near, and he was grinning like a reassuring idiot despite the stares of fascination or disgust shot his way, and Loki supposed he could hardly complain, in comparison.

But Norns be damned kneeling hurt. His stomach had hardly recovered from the abuse it had been put through- admittedly with his willingness and for a greater purpose he would still not regret- and it was very difficult to listen to Odin's dramatics while his body alternated between pain and nausea to see which would actually get him to move out of this horribly uncomfortable position.

If he'd been doing this for a reward, like Thor had, it might have been easier. Instead his head was bowed in humility they all knew to be false, and Odin's words were ringing with command, just the right amount of disappointment and affection mingled in the listing of each crime of his. The most humorous had to be harming Heimdall, he had to admit, because then the King paused, and Loki was finally permitted to look up. A trial for show was still a trial, and audacity would get him nowhere, but his neck was horribly stiff.

"Heimdall has protected Asgard for as long as it has stood. He is due a place of honor in our land as well as any member of the royal court, as you well knew, Loki. Yet your actions nearly caused his death, and it was only through Thor's arrival that your intent there was thwarted."

They had not discussed all of this beforehand- Loki had expected surprises, but not this one. He licked his lips, contemplating his words carefully, and resisted the urge to smile at the way Tony made a very obvious show of stifling a yawn. Despite the uneasy reconciliation he had brought between them, Tony did not like either of Loki's "parents", and he did not approve of this public trial, either. The court demanded punishment, however, and worried as they had been, Loki knew Odin and even Frigga were not pleased with what he had done.

Still, this was the first accusation not metered with a small touch of guilt, and so Loki felt he owed Odin more than the usual 'Yes, Allfather, I have done as you have said and regret my crimes, so on and so forth' in this case. "I did not attack Heimdall with the intention of killing him, Allfather, though I knew the casket was capable of doing so, and that if it did not, the Jotuns may."

Jotuns- his people, more than those around him now, but it would do no good to remind them. "But I did not kill him myself, for I knew Heimdall could break his way free, if any could. Call me a coward, but he had already lost our fight, and I chose to give him the chance for another." He was glad the gatekeeper was not here this moment, though he was probably watching. Loki was not too fond of Heimdall, any longer. "Though execution may have been more appropriate a punishment, for attempting to murder a king."


"I forbade Heimdall from allowing anyone the use of the bifrost. He chose to ignore my orders, because he was upset that I had moved around outside his sight, as was my right, as a prince and then lawful King of the realm. He let the warriors three down to earth, where they sought to end Thor's banishment, defying your orders, and my own." All because they had not, had never, trusted him. Loki felt a surge of anger at the memories, but it did not last long. He was satisfied to see looks of reluctant shock throughout the assembled crowd- and some shame from his brother's friends. No doubt they had never thought of their actions as anything but heroic, despite the laws they had broken on no more ground than suspicion. "I saw no purpose in ending your punishment, Allfather, as Thor had hardly then given any cause to believe he had truly learned his lesson. Apologies, brother, but you know this is true."

Thor nodded, reluctantly. Three days was so little, so meaningless, that Loki found it a wonder it could ever have counted, even if he had saved those mortals. It seemed so insufficient a punishment for nearly starting a war, when Loki was facing a trial for a little backseat trickery. "I went to rebuke Heimdall, and when he admitted to disobeying my, his King's, orders, I dismissed him from his post. He took the liberty of attempting to behead me, and I defended myself."

Thor was sufficiently shocked by that, and Frigga, and most of those around them- only Odin kept his composure entirely, and Loki did not doubt Heimdall had told him of this all before. The gatekeeper kept no secrets from the Allfather. "Of course, he never really liked me. Most of them didn't. But I was given the throne because I was the next in line for it, through legal and traditional means, and his suspicions did not, in my mind, justify attempted regicide." He paused here, and shrugged. "Well, he was partially right, of course. I was lying to him. But I was working against Jotunheim, not Asgard, doing what I thought I was right. He had no cause to interfere- you and Thor were the only ones allowed to make that decision, and you did."

"He's lying!"

Loki did not know who shouted it, but he was surprised they had waited so long. Odin barely bothered to look up. "No, Heimdall confirmed his story long ago. Owing the circumstances, neither of you shall face punishment for those particular crimes. Is this acceptable?"

No, not really. Loki would have loved to see the gatekeeper punished- but he would never have it, and his relationship with Odin was shaky at best, and he did not entirely trust his father to make what Loki himself saw as the right decision. "Perfectly."

"Good. Then let us continue."

And on and on it went. They had both wanted to put this off, Odin and Frigga, but Loki would not allow for it. He still felt lost in the halls which had once been his home, and the more pity they showed him, the worse the feeling became, so better they treat him like a criminal for the court. He had already been assured his punishment would be a mild one- much, Loki predicted, to the disappointment of this crowd. People he had not seen since Thor's coronation, gathered around to watch him facing judgment, like he was somehow no longer their prince, their better. He wanted simultaneously to curse them and to hide away from their glares, but he did neither, gaze fixed once more on the floor as Odin listed the remainder of his transgressions.

"And so, Loki, on the behalf of those you have wronged, will you hear your punishment?"

What would they do if he said no? Loki was tempted, but again, aggravating these people would do him no good. Odin had promised him something minor, so long as he did nothing more, and he would hold his tongue for that, if nothing else. "I will."

"Very well. Your actions brought harm to realms beyond our own. Rebuilding Jotunheim would be the just course, but is for many reasons impossible"

Nobody protested that one, though Loki imagined they would happily have seen him off if not for the fact that he might actually do the frost giants some good, before they realized who he was and killed him. Jotunheim would have to do without his aid. "That leaves us of Asgard, and those of Midgard. I, Odin Allfather, sentence you to serve both in kind. On my land, you will act as counsellor to your brother, Thor, for so long as he sees fit, no less than a decade. Do you accept this term?"

"I do." Serving Thor? For a decade? Loki wondered if he would stop breathing then and there. He had always known it would be his lot in life to advise his brother, loathe as the oaf would always be to listen, but now? Ten years, away from Tony, away from earth. He cast the man a brief look, struggling down the fear in his eyes. He just smiled, damn him, and gave what he probably assumed was a reassuring sort of wink. Did he not understand? He could very well be dead in that time- look how close he had come in just these past few months, how fragile he was... How could Loki leave him so long, when they had such little time already?

"However-" Loki did not look away, though Tony did turn to Odin as he spoke, looking much too calm from this distance. He was sure that if he stepped close, he would see the minute signs of worry in the mortal- the soft quirk of his lip, the lines about his eyes, the way he fiddled his fingers about when he was agitated. "In order to make amends to earth, and to serve a purpose beyond that of Asgard, you will return to Midgard, where you will remain without question except when Thor sees fit to call you home to serve. Your powers will be in tact, and you will use them to serve the mortals under the supervision of the Man of Iron, here today, until he gives you pardon. Anthony Stark, as the only man present to speak for Midgard, do you accept? You will need to keep watch over Loki whenever he is within your realm."

What? "Yeah. I uh- I mean, yes, Allfather. I accept these terms? That the right-?" Tony glanced toward Loki, who quickly nodded, and then repeated the motion, grinning in that cocky way which would have earned him a slap from about anyone else. "Yeah, I think we'll find some use for him."

Odin nodded, his expression seemingly grave, and turned toward Loki, who realized he should have looked the same, for the benefit of the crowd. But his open-faced shock was enough to satisfy them, the hall on either side of him rustling with laughter and muffled jeers. The proud, foolish, wayward prince, forced to work for the mortals. How pathetic, how low.

How perfect.

"Very well. Then this court is dismissed- Loki, you shall remain so we may meter out your sentence."

Nobody wanted to go, he could sense that. They wanted to stay and bask in his failure, to indulge in the sight of their prince's indignation, but they could not, and would have been sorely disappointed if they had. Sif shot him a particularly nasty look from across the hall as she and the warriors three made their reluctant exit, and though his very genuine grin in response had her narrow her eyes in suspicion, it was worth it to see the others' confusion. Thor snapped at him under his breath to stop, and Loki turned away, still grinning, and ducked his head in a show of submission that was a laughable performance at best, especially measured to his standards.

His family all seemed annoyed or worried by this -there were still stragglers in the court after all, a few even turning to shout at him over the din- but Tony laughed, and Loki's smile only grew broader. Odin may have thrown him this favor, and he still did not know what conditions lay beneath it, but he felt he owed him little, and that it bothered him that Loki was playing the distraught criminal so poorly was only a bonus.

At last the halls were cleared, even of the guards, loathe though they were to follow Odin's order to leave them. And then, though Loki wanted for the first time since his childhood to get up and jump to hug his father, or to take his mother's hand and spin her around, to move because he was so damned happy- he stood, his grin flickering, his eyes locked in their downward cast. "Why? Those were not lies. I committed crimes, I betrayed our people. And so you reward me?"

"It is not entirely a gift, Loki. You will have to fight for Midgard, and if you turn on the mortals, your powers will be bound, and I will not be so lenient then." Odin's voice had gone from grand and formal to grand and familiar, though the words carried no less weight because of it. "But I do not expect such measures to be necessary. Not while Anthony is around, at the least. I have never seen you so fond of a human."

"Awww, you're fond of me? Now I feel special," Tony teased, his hands coming to cross over his chest as he ducked his head in an award-worthy schoolgirl impression. It was excessively disturbing, but Thor's expression at the sight more than made up for that. "But seriously, babe, don't go blowing shit up, okay? I like my planet intact."

"I make no promises." Loki doubted the others would appreciate the joke as Tony might, so he gave them little time to consider it, and forced himself to meet Odin's eye, dragging his thoughts away. "You still have not explained why you have granted me such a favor."

Why did they have to come back to this wretched realm? Loki hadn't had a single comfortable moment since. Normally, he found awkward atmospheres amusing, but right now he wanted to shrink away and hide from his own questions- while simultaneously fighting the urge to grin like an idiot. It was not a good combination. The pause was not long, startled at his suspicion more than anything, but it was Thor, not Odin nor Frigga, who broke it. "You have done more good than you know, brother. You returned the tesseract to us, and kept it from the hands of one who would certainly have misused it. And in doing so you saved many of the humans. We all have reason to be grateful."

"And so you saw fit to absolve me of punishment, in light of this change of heart, is that it?" Loki was grateful, yes, but not so much so that he couldn't scoff at the sentiment Thor had just offered. "Not that I don't appreciate this endearing newfound optimism of yours, but you could have saved a good deal of trouble making that point for the court."

"We feared they would not accept it so readily. None of them is happy with you for what you did, and if they did not see you punished, their resentment may never fade," Thor explained, slowly, almost regretfully, and Loki was momentarily floored. Not by the words, they were about what he had expected, but by his so-called brother being the one to give them. The Thor he had left behind those months ago would hardly have given these matters a thought, yet alone recognized a diplomatic solution. "I suggested we present your return to earth as a punishment. Our people will see you do good, and when you return they will be more willing to forgive."

"Guess fame's no different realm to realm, eh? The general public still feels entitled to a part in every aspect of your daily life. Hey, at least you guys don't have cameras. I can see it now- 'Prince Loki caught actually enjoying himself on earth- scandal!'." Tony raised his hands, thumbs together to frame an imaginary newspaper headline, and grinned at Loki through the gap. He got rolled eyes in response, but the affection was clear, and so he only laughed and hopped down the stairs, slipping past Thor to come up by Loki. "Okay, not my best material. Don't mind me- I'm just happy."

"And we both know that's never good."

"Well then you should just hang out here, 'cause I'm going to be very happy while you're around."

"Don't sound too pleased, or they might take back the offer."

"Right then. Man, does your company suck. I am so not looking forward to any number of years of sass, sex and-"

"That is enough."

"What? Not family friendly talk? Hey, mommy and daddy god, is it weird that a mortal's f-"

Loki's hand snapped over Tony's mouth, despite his hope that the man would have censored himself for once, though the man's laugh was yet audible behind it. Odin and Frigga certainly seemed floored by the sudden brashness Tony had taken up, and Loki didn't particularly want to deal with awkward questions later. "Your mistake, letting him become comfortable with the lot of you. He's even worse when he's not trying to impress."

"I see as much. I think we'll both just have to become accustomed to each other- if he is going to be so attached to my son, anyway." Frigga was the first to respond, her bemusement expressed in an almost warm smile as she too stood, gliding down the stairs with much more elegance than Tony had done. "You had better take very good care of my boy. He'll be alone on earth but for you, do not forget that."

"I am right here." It was all he could do not to add the whining inflection of an offended child, and harder still to keep composure. That she should still treat him as her son was... unnerving, but it seemed his whole family was determined to be, well, just that. "Enough of that. All of you. I- you understand, I am grateful. You could have made this all much worse for me. But do you understand how strange this all is for me? You can't act like this is all normal. Certainly not for me."

"Really, Loki, I thought we'd gone over this. We know you are not ready to forgive us, but we are trying to be the best parents and rulers we can. And right now that means warning off your mortal boyfriend in case he gets the idea that being in a different realm will protect him from an angry mother," Frigga explained, her voice dipping from sweet to harsh and then lifting in a laugh at Tony's expression. "We're not going to trap you here when you clearly aren't ready to come home. I won't say that I wouldn't rather have my whole family here again, but I know you need time. You will have to come back whenever Thor calls on you, though, it wouldn't be a punishment if you didn't."

Ah, yes, he'd almost forgotten that part. Loki winced, and Thor shot him a look of weak sympathy, coming across as more of a grimace through his attempts not to smile. "Asgard still needs to be run, brother. We have duties to our home, and it is about time I learned to fulfill them."

"And I'll be doing the teaching?"

"Who would be better?"

"I am not in the mood for you flattery, Thor," Loki growled, to little effect. He was not angry enough to be intimidating at the moment, but that would not stop him from trying. "If I am to help earth well, they will have to learn what I am. What we all are. Any rumors Thor started when he landed will be confirmed the first time I fight an open battle, not to mention when we reveal Tony is alive. Are you willing to have that?"

"We have never hidden from the mortals. They chose to forget us, but it will be no harm for them to remember," Odin assured, far too quickly, almost as if he were eager (were the Allfather ever eager for anything) to make the same amends as the others had. It wasn't likely that any outside of this room would recognize the change in his verbal behavior, and Tony's lack of a reaction was a testimony to that- though there was always the chance that he simply wasn't paying attention. "This is strange to you, son, but do not think of it only as a reward. I have hopes that Midgard will teach you more than I could."

"Do you?" Loki felt Tony's presence at his side very strongly at that moment and turned toward him, unsurprised to see he had done the same. The man was smiling, and of course that meant Loki had to as well, even if the oddity of it hurt his lips. He tried to remember the last time the mere sight of someone had left his heart feeling so warm it ached, how the mere idea of a future by their side could make him feel like less of a monster, weaken the blow returning home had dealt. He wanted to do good for this man, unless to help him would require something worse, and he could imagine wanting little more than however many years he could have of waking up by him beside him. For that he would endure SHIELD, make amends with and even befriend Pepper, and aid, take the debt of, the mortals, but not rule them as he had once wanted. Were there a way to thieve Idunn's apples or tear him from Hel's side when the time came, he would.

If that meant he had learned the same weaknesses as Thor, then so be it. Loki did not want an easy or meaningless future, but for once he did not think of stability as boredom. There was a word he had never let himself speak floating in his mind over Odin's explanation, and he decided that he had long grown tired of being afraid. His hand snaked through Tony's, and he chuckled at the man's indignant muttering even as his calloused fingers closed around Loki's softer ones. Then he raised his eyes to those of the man who may or may not have been a father to him, and merely smiled.

"Yes, I do think we can count on that."

A/N: And there we go. I have no idea if this is satisfactory, especially given how long I've made you all wait. But if I get into returning to earth, it'll be a whole other story, which may happen one day. For now I thank you all for the wonderful ride, putting up with my long delays, and supporting me with reviews and simply by reading. Now, it's time to make this thing all glossy and new for AO3.