A/N: Things will be more one-shot-y again after this. And a little funnier. And then angstier again. Because of reasons.
Also, BRUCE next chapter! Nyahaha!
Tony knew he'd been an idiot to think that he and Loki could get through this without any more trouble from the press. The next press conference he held was supposed to be about the development of a new piece of technology from Stark Industries. Instead, it had focused on the development in Stark's love life.
A crowd had gathered in protest (of him, he realized, and that was a jarring realization), and just when he thought he was free from the press, he had to contend with the people. The reporters and cameramen stuck around to watch.
Tony plastered on his best "media-friendly" smile, but there was so much anger in the crowd for Loki, for the destruction he had wrought with his little... tantrum.
Tony tried to make excuses, to calm things down, but he only ended up getting booed.
"My wife was killed in that earthquake."
The crowd quieted as a burly man stepped forward. The cameras' glare shone in bright spots off the top of his shaven head and off the unshed tears gleaming in his eyes. His hands were clenched and his lips pursed and trembling.
"You're telling me," he said, "that that monster isn't going to get his due because he's trouncing around with some billionaire playboy?"
The crowd turned to Tony again with shouts and jeers, and all words stuck in his throat. "I'm sorry," he said, but the burly widower merely closed his eyes and shook his head.
Happy managed to escort Tony out as the crowd started throwing tomatoes at his face.
Tony hid himself away in his workshop (though he preferred the word "sequestered") and let Pepper deal with the company. He couldn't face the outside world right now, not like this, not when he wasn't sure if he was feeling guilty for siding with Loki or guilty for thinking of not siding with Loki, if only for a moment.
He was trying to keep himself busy when JARVIS announced that Loki was en route, and Tony cursed under his breath, though he'd known he couldn't hide out here forever. He told JARVIS to unlock the door for him, and that door was sliding open a moment later.
"Hey," Tony called over his shoulder, tried to sound cheery and to look busy. He sat at his desk and fiddled with the graphics for his latest suit design, trying to incorporate an anti-magic shield that wouldn't cancel out what little magic he had available (thank you, Loki). Mostly he just kept adding and deleting the same part over and over again.
He heard Loki sigh directly behind him.
"It bothers you," Loki said. His expression was inscrutable when Tony turned to look at him.
"What bothers me?" Tony asked, playing innocent. Loki merely raised an eyebrow, unimpressed. Tony deflated at that look and shrugged, rubbed the back of his neck and fidgeted in his seat. "Well, yeah, it bothers me," he muttered. "I mean, people died, Loki. People that meant something to other people."
He watched Loki for a reaction as he said this, and Loki's stare dropped from his, his expression still as stone, closed off. Tony both hated and envied that he could do that.
"What does it matter?" Loki mumbled, toying with a now-cold cup of coffee on the edge of the desk. "They were only -"
"If you finish that sentence with 'mortals', we are through, do you understand?" Tony snapped. Loki closed his mouth and pursed his lips, looking down and away. "We only have the one life, you know," Tony said. "We don't get a 'do-over' like you gods. This is it. In a way, that makes our lives more valuable than yours, don't you think?"
Loki grit his teeth and rubbed at his forehead. "Are you trying to make me feel guilty, Tony?" he growled.
"I think it would be a good start, yeah," Tony snapped. "You haven't exactly shown much remorse."
"Well, you and I come from two very different upbringings, Tony," Loki answered just as sharply, "in case you've forgotten."
"Oh, no, you're constantly reminding me." Tony pushed himself to his feet and started to pace, his back to Loki. Seeing Loki this cold over something that was still keeping him up at night bothered him. It bothered him more than the earthquake itself, than the mess with the tesseract. He could forgive doing something stupid as long as Loki actually felt guilty for it.
Loki stared at his back, and Tony watched him in the reflection off the glass of a window pane, watched his shoulders sag, watched him visibly deflate. He watched Loki cast about with a lost look in his eyes, mask slipping now that he thought Tony couldn't see. And that hurt too, the way Loki guarded himself so carefully. Pot, meet kettle, Tony thought and knew he couldn't blame Loki for it.
"What do you want me to do, Tony?" Loki asked. He sounded resigned. "Turn myself in?"
Tony closed his eyes and blew out a sigh, turning slowly to face Loki again. "No, of course not," he said, rubbing the heels of his hands into his eyelids. "I just want this nightmare to be over."
Loki did not respond, but his eyes flickered about the way they did when he was scheming. Tony decided not to dwell on it.
Tony watched Pepper field the press and the rioting crowd from the safety of his living room, face lit with the glow of the TV and mind blurred with the haze of alcohol. Light glinted off the cut glass of the tumbler in his hand, off the surface of the newly-refilled scotch and refracted into tiny kaleidoscopes of color that moved and morphed along the walls in time to the slow rotation of the glass.
Pepper was getting frustrated, he knew, could tell from the nervous way she kept tucking her hair behind her ear. He could also hear a touch of fear in her voice, and he felt guilty then, knowing that he'd thrown her into the line of fire just to save his own cowardly ass.
And then the crowd went deadly silent, and Tony leaned forward, elbows on his knees, to better squint at the screen.
"What crimes are you accusing me of?"
It took Tony's alcohol-fogged mind a long moment to recognize the smooth, clear voice as Loki's. By then the screen had blurred and refocused as the camera panned to the god, who was standing on a dais a good distance from where Pepper was standing. He was in full Asgardian armor, minus the spear, with his chin held up at a haughty angle, looking every bit the god and prince he was.
"Shit," Tony muttered, wiping a hand over his face and hoping he was hallucinating. He prayed that Loki didn't end up killing more people.
Loki repeated himself, voice ringing loud and clear over the crowd, "What crimes are you accusing me of?"
For an agonizingly long moment, no one dared speak, and then everyone started to speak at once, voices shouting over one another, men and women gaining strength in the anger around them.
Loki barely so much as blinked. "Murder?" he said, arching an eyebrow. The crowd quieted again. "Destruction of property? Goodness." He chuckled softly. "I believe it was the earthquake that was to blame for that, yes?" He smiled that wide, tight smile that reminded Tony of a shark. "Who's to say I had anything to do with that?"
The crowd took up its outraged shouting again with renewed intensity.
"For all you know," Loki said, and again, the crowd quieted. "For all you know, I was trying to stop the earthquake. It is rare around here, yes, but not unheard of." He eyed the faces turned towards him silently, and the crowd waited.
In his living room, Tony waited, chewing on his thumb nail.
"Whatever you believe happened," Loki said, "you would have to prove it in a court of law, yes? That is how your legal system works?"
Tony fidgeted, unsure if he should be impressed or concerned that Loki knew that.
"If you can find any such proof that a man like me created such a storm," Loki continued, "I would be more than happy to testify, as you say, citizen of your country or not. But then you'll have to sue Thor for all the damages caused by his thunderstorms, or any thunderstorms, unless you can find a way to specify which were caused by him. And then you'd have to do the same with any and all weather patterns throughout the country, and really. Is it worth the headache?"
Loki's eyebrows rose in a question, in a challenge, but no one answered. "Is it?" he asked again. The silence was so complete Tony hardly dared to breathe.
And then Loki smiled, shook his head and vanished, and the reporters started hurling questions at Pepper again, who looked wide-eyed and flustered once the cameras panned back to her.
Tony was unsurprised when long fingers wrapped around the glass in his hand and took it from his grasp. Loki sat beside him, dressed now in jeans and a t-shirt (one of Tony's t-shirts) and looking for all the world like nothing out of the ordinary had just happened. Tony eyed him for a long moment, watched as Loki downed his scotch, and he laughed softly, shaking his head.
"You would have made one hell of a lawyer," he said, and he thought that maybe there were worse things Loki could be other than the God of Mischief.
A slow smile crept over Loki's face. It fell again the next moment, and Loki turned to regard Tony, looking through him in a way Tony (loved) hated. Loki's fingers traced the edges of the tumbler in his hand in a way that spoke of unease, and Loki looked down at the glass, at his hands, as he said, "I want you to know, Tony, that..." He paused to lick his lips. "That just because I don't show something doesn't mean I don't feel it." He shifted in his seat, still not looking at him, and Tony knew that this admission was making him uncomfortable.
It took Tony a moment to understand what he was talking about. Then he remembered their earlier confrontation in the workshop. "You mean the whole..." he said, gesturing vaguely, "the guilt thing?"
Loki looked mildly offended at the word but nodded, glowering now. "I never enjoyed killing, you know," he murmured, gesturing with the glass. More comfortable now, Tony noted from that movement. He smiled softly and nodded in encouragement. "It's just..." Loki stared out at nothing and managed to look both ancient and lost. Tired, Tony realized. Only then did Loki raise his gaze to Tony again. Tony couldn't read all the emotions that passed over that expressive face, and it occurred to him that Loki blocked himself off, not because he felt nothing, but because he felt more and more plainly. Because feeling that much hurts, and it's easier sometimes to shut your heart off altogether. Tony knew that better than anyone.
Loki smiled at him, a smile slow and bittersweet. "The way you look at me," he said softly, and something in his voice and in those words gave Tony pause. "It makes me wish I knew what you saw. Tony, I... I want to try." He paused, and Tony saw his adam's apple bob as he swallowed. "I want to try to be the person you seem to think I am."
Tony eyed him for a long moment, trying to understand. "What do you mean?" Tony asked in a voice equally soft.
Loki smiled crookedly and answered, "I mean no more..." He waved at the TV, which was showing scenes of the "earthquake" now. "No more that. I've always thought of myself as a monster and acted accordingly. You don't see me as a monster and – and I want to be worthy of that."
Tony sighed, knew that Loki was thinking of his Jotun heritage and of those godsdamned prophecies again. He wanted to find these "Norn" bitches and give them a piece of his mind. You make your own destiny, he'd always believed. This was America, after all.
And then it occurred to him what Loki was trying to say.
This was Loki giving in, Tony realized. Waving the white flag. Setting down the whole super-villain schtick.
He stared in amazement at the god and wondered: was this really all Loki had needed, that a drunk with self-destructive tendencies could help him? He wondered how much Thor would hate himself if he knew.
He wondered if Fury had seen the changes in Loki and had agreed to forgive him because he had anticipated this moment.
Loki's eyes narrowed, and he held up a finger in warning as he said, "But I'm not joining the Avengers. I refuse."
Tony's smile widened and turned devilish. "That's what we all said, Loki."
Loki's eyes grew wide. "No," he insisted, jabbing his finger in Tony's face.
"Come over to the dark side, Loki," Tony said, dodging the finger and leaning in.
"No!" Loki repeated, scooting back along the couch.
Tony followed until he had Loki pinned and horizontal as he chanted, "One of us. One of us."
Loki smacked him lightly and pretended to struggle, all the while laughing and repeating, "No! I refuse!" Eventually he shut up Tony by pulling him down into a kiss.
Clint walked in to find them making out on the couch, blinked, and walked right back out.