A/N: Alright, let's simply move on with the next chapter. I hope you still have fun with it and like the developments in the next part. :)
I hope you enjoy it.^^
I Can't Let Go
The ride back home was as expected: bumpy. Tony was sure they'd made two stopovers somewhere on their way. He'd seen a coast line and a large crop field. What would happen if Loki made a mistake with this teleportation spell? Was he risking their lives?
They didn't land safely on the large balcony of the Stark Tower, no, they were halfway thrown on it from a two foot height. They all tried to catch themselves while they uttered a small cry or grunt of surprise and pain. One by one they stood upright again and looked around to see if the rest of the team was okay.
The glass door opened and Fury came out to rush towards them. "I see you're all alive. Have you been successful?" he shouted towards them in his voluminous voice.
Tony had no interest in answering him. What else would he have to say but a cynical remark? Instead he looked at Loki, who had his eyes directed at the city skyline. Everything was bathed in a warm light from the already sinking sun. Thick clouds hung low here and there, giving the sunrays something to play with.
There were hushed voices talking that pulled Tony's attention back to his friends. Clint and Natasha were on their way towards their boss and hand-signaled him to stay silent for a moment. Something squeezed the billionaire's wrist. It was Steve, who still supported Bruce with his other arm. "We got this," he said quietly, his eyes switching to Fury for a second. Then he tilted his head towards Loki and nodded to Tony. A sad smile crossed his features for a brief moment. Then he let go of the wrist and led Dr. Banner inside the building. The spies and the blond god followed them.
Tony watched them all one by one enter the building. Then he focused on the sorcerer again. He'd turned towards the city and clutched his scepter tightly with both hands. Sighing quietly, he made a few steps towards the entry. "You comin'?" he invited in a polite tone.
A small jolt went through Loki's body and he hesitated a second or two before he turned his head. The look of someone lacking some important context was clearly written all over his features.
"What?" Tony asked with a shrug of his shoulders.
"I thought…," Loki started, but his thoughts wouldn't form into spoken words. They didn't need to.
"What? That this was nothing but a deal? That we used you for our purposes and that's it? Please. You should know me better. Now take that royal ass of yours inside." He knew that, should Loki really have assumed that they would dismiss him right after the portal was closed and everyone was brought away from that island, then that might only be true for Bruce. Maybe for Steve, too. But the rest of them would rather have him locked away than running around freely on this planet - or universe, or whatever. Following Thor's and his own wish, he should stay on his free will. For a brief moment Tony feared that Loki would use the chance and leave for good.
Luckily he didn't.
"What do you wanna do now?" Tony asked the Ás at his side as they walked along the hallway.
"Sleep," answered Loki, who looked more like a ghost than anything else.
With me?, Tony wanted to reply with a grin, but he knew that this wasn't quite the time for stupid comments. "Okay," he said instead.
His eyes followed Loki's every movement, a hand ready in case the god tripped. But he didn't. Fresh tears rolled over dried ones and the god had long given up wiping them away.
They entered Tony's apartment. Warm evening light painted the whole place in beautiful colors. But it couldn't lift Tony's heavy heart. He guided the god to the bedroom and watched him lay down on the soft sheets.
"Please," Loki mumbled against the pillow, his drowning eyes staring into the distance, "Leave me alone."
Tony didn't want to. He wanted to stay. Wanted to help. Wanted to share the pain. Wanted to just be there. Anything to make himself feel less guilty. "Are you sure?"
"Yes."Nothing but a whispered answer. The blood- and dirt-stained armor looked way too heavy on the slender body inside it.
Tony took a deep breath and nodded to himself. "Okay." He made a few steps toward the door. "If there's anything you need, just tell Jarvis and…you know."
No reply followed and so Tony left the room with an unsatisfying feeling.
"Where is he?" Bruce wanted to know. He must have taken a shower, Tony noticed. Wet short gray-brown hair was combed back neatly, a bandage was wrapped around a wrist and a patch applied to his temple.
They were the only ones here in the lounge area. The rest of them still seemed busy getting rid of the remains of the fight. Tony was the only one who didn't feel the need to slip into clean clothes. Maybe this was because someone else under this roof was still in his armor.
"In bed," he answered shortly, his path leading him behind the bar. "Scotch?" he asked, lifting a bottle from the shelf.
"Why not," Banner sighed and let himself sink onto the leather couch with a small groan.
There was no strength in his muscles anymore, Tony realized as he poured the honey-colored liquid into the two glasses. His hands were shaking horribly, as if this was the hardest task in the world. "I feel every bone, Tony," he heard Bruce utter groggily, "And I mean it. Every. Single. Bone. I hurt in places I didn't know exist!"
It was enough to make the billionaire grin slightly. He corked the bottle up and carried the glasses over to his friend. Right after handing him one of the drinks he gracelessly slumped down next to him. "You've been a hero today."
"We all have," Bruce answered and tipped his glass against Tony's before he took a swig. "Most of all your lov-"
"Don't you say it!" Tony cut him off with a warning tone before he let some of the scotch rundown his throat.
"Sorry," Banner rolled his eyes, "But, besides whatever he is to you, he did something today that we will have to thank him for for the rest of our lives. If it wasn't for him we would be dead."
"True," Clint's voice came from the other end of the room.
"Why do you have to sneak in everywhere?!" Tony moaned, exhausted.
"'Cause we can," Natasha answered, following her partner down the stairs. "Where is he?"
Tony let his head fall back with a heavy sigh, obviously not being in the mood to answer the same question twice.
"Upstairs," Bruce took over.
"Why aren't you with him?" Clint wanted to know while he fished a soda out of the fridge.
Tony sighed again. Couldn't they leave him alone with this? "He didn't want me to." Suddenly he noticed something. "Where's Fury?"
"He left," Natasha replied and let herself fall into one of the chairs close to the fireplace. The billionaire smiled in relief.
The very moment Thor and Steve entered the room, all sets of eyes focused on the god in expectation. In the end it was his brother. If anyone knew how they should pin down the recent events, it was him. But the god - now in casual clothes - made his way to the kitchen first and found himself something to drink and eat, before he returned to his friends. With a sandwich and a cup in his hand he dropped down on an empty chair next to the soldier and chewed lazily. After swallowing down the first bite, he finally looked around at the waiting faces. "You've made your ancestors proud today," he stated solemnly and made an attempt to smile at them.
"Have we?" Tony muttered skeptically.
"Is there any reason to doubt that?" Thor asked and raised an eyebrow.
Tony felt like crying again. Maybe it was the stress falling from him - and the heavy feeling of guilt towards Loki. But he pulled himself together and just took another swig. "We've separated a father from his children," he spoke against the rim of his glass.
"And we've saved the lives of billions of people," Natasha retorted and pulled her legs up onto her seat.
"Loki is smart," Bruce said and tipped his shoulder against Tony's, "He'll find a way to see them again."
"He is not just smart," Steve noted, "He is a genius! I mean, how was he able to do that?! All those subtextual messages?!"
"He had to improvise all the time," nodded Clint, "And hell, he is one damn good liar."
"Actually I wonder how much of what he said was just made up," Thor mumbled, "and what of it he meant for real."
Tony watched the god stare thoughtfully at his half eaten sandwich. Silently he agreed. Some things had been said with so much conviction and well thought reasoning that it was nearly impossible to believe that Loki had made it up on the spur of the moment. Maybe that was why he'd been so persuasive.
"You think it is good to have him alone upstairs?" Steve wanted to know, feeling quite uncomfortable over the situation. But Thor nodded twice and looked him straight in the eyes. "Yes. It is best for him - and for us."
"Erm…," Bruce made, but didn't go on. Instead he furrowed his brows and stared at a random distant spot while concentrating on an obviously interesting thought.
"Yes, doctor?" Natasha asked with a mixture of curiosity and amusement.
As if being nudged in the ribs, Banner snapped out of his musing with a little start. "Ah, sorry," he answered, "It's just…did I get it right that Loki was able to get out of that wristbands the entire time?!"
They all knew the answer and there was a silent understanding that no-one needed to speak out loud. Tony, for his part hadn't thought this over - until now. Too occupied was he to take care of the sorcerer after the fight was over. He hadn't had time to look under the surface. But now that he could come to a rest, the deep meaning behind Bruce's question sank in like lead would in an ocean. The day he'd captured him, that cursed day that he'd hurt him so deep in a way he would feel ashamed for for the rest of his days, Loki could have freed himself if he'd wanted to. He could have left the cell at every single moment. He could have killed him in his sleep - if he'd been fast enough even without waking him up. "Please…don't lie to us," was what Tony had asked him right after they had let him out of the prison, right before Loki would tell them how to shut down the portal. There had been this gleam in his eyes and Tony had had no idea what it meant. Now he did. Loki had been lying every single moment. He had tricked them while proving that the cuffs worked. All those small signs he'd been giving them, those signs of defeat, had been set with care. And they'd been falling for it.
"I don't say this easily, but," Steve spoke up and ended the meaningful silence, "I start to trust him."
Thor chuckled slightly, before he looked at him. "My brother would probably give you advice not to do that."
"Yeah, in his typical warmhearted way, I suppose," Tasha replied and winked at him.
"And what would you advise?" Steve asked the god, his expression still sober.
Thor inhaled deeply, kept the air inside for a brief moment and exhaled slowly. "I want to trust him," he answered as if the answer were causing him some inner pain, "I really want to, but…maybe it is better not to."
Tony studied the god's face for a minute. His love for his brother was perfectly written on his face. But there was also the acceptance that Loki was who he was: a deceiver.
They looked at each other and it was Clint who asked the question: "So, what are we gonna do now?"
"What did Fury say?" Tony threw in. Not that he cared much about what the bald man wanted, but it was never wrong to ask.
"He said it would be our decision. He'd rather have Loki here under observation than anywhere else in this universe. But he doesn't want to see us in any unnecessary danger either." Bruce sipped on his drink after finishing the last sentence.
"How courteous," Tony commented, but he appreciated it. No stupid restrictions this time. Time would tell what Loki would make out of it.
They sat together for a while, recapitulating the fight and different perspectives on what had happened within the last hours. It kept Tony from pacing around in front of the door to his apartment.
He told himself to wait. But with every passing minute he grew more and more restless. To distract himself he went down to the workshop to see how much damage his suit had taken, but he didn't even mind that highly important pieces might be wrecked. How could he concentrate on this?
So he went upstairs again and tried to engage himself in a discussion with Clint and Steve, but he didn't even listen to their words, or to his own ones. His mind was all on Loki.
When nothing else helped, he made his way to the top level. He wanted to give the god as much time as he needed, but he also needed to know if he was all right - at least as much as possible. Right after he left the elevator, he almost bumped into Thor's back.
The Thunder God stood motionless in the middle of the hallway. His strong hands clasped around a tray which he balanced in front of his chest. Tony gave them both a moment of silence before he opened his mouth. "Is this for him?" he asked the obvious.
The blonde turned his head to the side to face the human. "It is."
Why wasn't he entering the apartment? What was holding him back?
"Can you bring this to him, please?" Thor said with a thin voice.
"Sure," he answered, "But why?"
"He will shout at me." Blue eyes closed before they stared at the wall behind Tony. "And I do not think I can take it right now without shouting things right back at him that I will regret afterwards."
It wasn't the moment to call it into question, though Tony had a different opinion. Instead he walked in front of the god and wrapped his fingers around the rim of the tray and waited for Thor to let go.
His eyes wandered over the items on it. There was a bottle of water, a glass, an apple and a few cookies on a small cream-colored plate. And far on the side lay a long white round item that Tony couldn't identify at first. It was made of…was that white wood?! It was as white as bleached bones, but had the vein of oak wood.
"What's that?" Tony asked and nodded at the item.
Thor made a step backwards and let his arms fall to his sides. "It's a pipe," he answered with a strange and sad tone in his voice. "It is his."
"Oh. Okay…," made the billionaire and tried to pick a not-so-offensive question out of the ones in his head, "...and what is it doing on the tray?" Why does Loki have a pipe? Can he play it? Why do you have it? What is it made of? What's the purpose of giving it to him now? He used his thumb and tried to roll it around until he could see the holes. There were nine of them.
The bigger man sighed and directed his gaze along the hallway. "I-…I just want him to have it back." There was a story behind this, a very deep meaning. Tony could sense this much.
"And you think he won't shout at me?" Brown eyes were glued to the instrument.
Thor let his gaze linger on the pipe for a long moment. "Because he is mad at me," he finally said, "Not you." And with that their eyes met.
"I'm not so sure about that," the billionaire sighed, but then he nodded. "Okay, fine, I'll do it."
Tony had put the tray on the nightstand and had filled the glass with some water. He'd whispered gentle words, had made a joke of the silly type, had taken the heavy boots from the god's feet, and had tugged a strand of hair from his face. He had stood in front of him with a million pleas in his heart and not a single word to say.
All the time Loki lay on his side, his eyes open, unfocused and filled with liquid grief. Tired fingers dug into dirty fabric and grasped at it, as if begging for comfort that would not come.
Helplessness accompanied Tony back to the hallway.
"And now what?" Tony asked out loud. He'd locked himself away from the rest of the residents and tried to enjoy some alone time in his workshop, where the remains of his suit lay spread out on the floor. For quite a while he'd done nothing but pace and rummage through parts of his armor.
"The sensors are damaged beyond repair, Sir," Jarvis started, "But with-"
"Not what I meant, J.," Tony replied softly. He felt drained and tired. But he couldn't even think of sleep.
"Then what is it that is on your mind?" the AI wanted to know.
The billionaire rubbed his palms over his face and let his fingers comb through his hair. "What do you think; has this…thing…between Loki and I have a chance?" He couldn't believe how it could have come so far. For the longest time of his life he had avoided deep relationships with other beings and he'd been fine that way. Then, with his relationship with Pepper and the Avengers living with him under one roof, he'd opened up without noticing it. And suddenly the thought of a life without Loki became unbearable and painful.
"I am not supposed to act as a relationship consultant," said Jarvis.
"I know," Tony mumbled and let out a heavy sigh. How could he even think about Jarvis being able to give him a helpful answer? With his shoe he tapped lightly against a shoulder part and caused a short whirring sound. Usually this would have made him curious, but today he couldn't care less.
Suddenly he lifted his head and closed his eyes. "Jarvis?"
"Are there any chances to stop anununseptium atom from falling apart?" He knew the answer. And yet he hoped for some different result.
"This is impossible," Jarvis immediately told him and the billionaire sighed again. He thought so. "But with the latest measured data a lot of variables have changed," the AI went on, "Some of the laws of physics have been called into question."
"Which means?" Tony dared to ask.
"That means that under the current circumstances a lot of what we thought we knew for sure must now be reconsidered."
For a moment Tony said nothing. He'd rephrased his first question into something the AI could handle, but he hadn't believed in such a positive answer. A small part of him even realized all the physical possibilities and engineering-related challenges that he would be able to explore. But right now all that mattered was that if there was a hint of a chance in his metaphor, than there might be a chance for what it stood for.
"Thank you," he replied softly and from the bottom of his heart. "Thank you so much," he repeated and headed for the door. There was nothing left he could do or find down here.
It was a few hours after sunset and Thor and Tony left the elevator together to make their way to the apartment. This time the god was determined to talk to his brother. The billionaire didn't ask what had changed his mind.
The door opened and revealed to the dark rooms inside. "Jarvis, dim lights, please."
Everything looked like it always did. They silently walked through the apartment and entered the bedroom, where Loki lay in exactly the same position Tony had left him hours ago. This time his eyes were closed and moved restlessly under the lids.
The human in the room looked down at the raven haired god and allowed himself a tiny smile. It felt like exhaustion putting the sorcerer to sleep was a progress. The footsteps behind him didn't draw his attention, but the closing of the door did. He turned around to notice that Thor obviously had left the apartment, and he wondered why. His eyes searched the room for anything noticeable and it took him a while to see the white pipe being thrown half way under the sideboard, where it now lay alone and unwanted.
Tony's smile vanished. With a concerned expression he picked the small item up and wanted to place it back on the tray. But he decided otherwise and gently, carefully put the instrument into Loki's fingers. He didn't know why he did it, but it felt right.
The weather couldn't decide on what to throw down on the world. So a constantly changing mix of ice-cold rain and too warm snow fell out of the mass of paunchy dark-gray clouds. The buildings glistened with a layer of almost frozen water. Wherever some of it tried to run or fall down further, the strong wind carried it away as if it didn't weigh a thing. Only an idiot would go out into the open without a really good reason.
But Loki was no idiot.
Tony had fallen asleep on the leather couch in the lounge last night and was awakened by Jarvis' gentle voice dropping from the ceiling, telling him that Loki had just teleported from his private apartment to the landing. This was two hours ago and since then not much had happened outside. The trickster god had taken a seat at the edge of the landing where there was no balustrade keeping him from falling. He let his legs dangle over the edge and propped his elbows on his knees, balancing the white pipe in his hands and staring down at it. Tony spent the first half hour to watch him in his soaked, thin clothes, until he felt the need to act. He'd made a strong cup of tea and carried it into the vicious joke of weather, just to receive a harsh rejection from the god in the rain.
He'd gone upstairs, changed his wet clothes and the dirt-stained sheets - no staff was allowed to enter his apartment, and Pepper was…not here anymore - and went back to the lounge area again.
Eventually Thor, usually the first to be up, joined him, sat down on one of the chairs facing away from the window, read the first page of a book, started anew, read it a third and a fourth time, gave up, went into the kitchen to find himself some food, ate while he observed his motionless brother, sat back on the chair, closed his eyes for a minute and started reading again.
Meanwhile Tony simply watched. His mind was busy compensating for yesterday's events and he was more than glad that no-one expected any constructive work from him today. "Wanna talk?" he asked out of politeness rather than the need for actual conversation.
"No," Thor answered, not even looking up from his book.
Tony shifted his legs into a more comfortable position. "Allow me a question though?"
"Is this your weather?"
"No. Just weather."
He heard the elevator open and close. It took him a while to be motivated enough to turn his aching neck far enough sideways to see who it was. Natasha's back crossed his vision before she disappeared into the kitchen. After a short moment of noises of rummaging in the fridge she headed for the elevator again, a small box and doggy bag on her arm. Their eyes met and she stopped in her tracks. "Mornin'," she mumbled.
"Mornin'," Tony replied.
"Why're you two up?" He'd never seen her this tired before and he would bet she was on her way back to bed, probably just broke sleep to eat something. The fight still gripped them to the bone.
"I happened to sleep here," he told her, "I may appear awake, but the only part awake enough for anything is my head." That said he rolled on his back and threw his legs on the couch, his head dropping on the leather surface and Natasha vanished from his vision. "Oh, and Loki is up."
"Where is he?" she asked, suddenly sounding a little alarmed.
"My brother is outside," Thor finally joined the conversation.
Silence followed and Tony closed his eyes for a minute. "Don't you guys fall ill?" Tasha asked.
"Not that I know," the god answered.
Tony wanted to say something, but his mouth stayed shut, and so did his eyes. Sleep came and he had no chance but to give in.
"…not forever, does he?"
There were voices around him, way too loud for his liking. Why couldn't they shut up again?! Why couldn't they let him sleep?! Assholes!
"This has to stop!"
He turned his back to the voices and tried to find silent shelter in the crook of the backrest. Footsteps echoed unfiltered in his ears and he threw an arm over his head. Maybe this would work.
"Erm … Thor?"
This caught his mind's attention, yet his body wasn't convinced to have reason to wake up.
A door opened, the footsteps subsided, and a door closed.
Tony forced his eyes open and rolled his horribly aching limbs to the other side. The chair that Thor had occupied earlier was vacant now. Close to the desk stood Bruce and Steve, a bit further away from them Clint and Natasha. His gaze searched for Loki and, after adapting to his still blurry vision, he found him sitting outside in exactly the same position. Even the weather hadn't changed.
Then there was Thor, slowly making one step after the other towards his brother. The snowy rain had only had seconds with the god, yet Thor looked like he'd been outside for hours. He stopped halfway.
From one moment to the next Tony's heartbeat doubled, his vision cleared, his body jumped off the couch and he found himself getting nearer to the window to have a better view. No-one dared to utter a word. Somehow they all felt the importance of this moment.
Thor's lips moved, so much they could see from this angle. But the words were heard only by the wind and Loki. Whatever he'd said, the fire god seemed completely unimpressed. Thor said some more, but nothing changed. For a short moment Tony was sure that he would leave without having achieved anything and come back inside. But then the blonde made another step towards his brother. And another one. Tentatively he closed the distance until he stood so close he could almost touch his back. And then he offered some more words. This time Loki shook his head once.
It went on like this for a while; Thor standing almost motionless in the ice-cold weather, probably trying to talk some sense into Loki, who barely reacted at all.
"I hope that's not ending in another fight," Bruce dared to speak his thoughts. The other's made noises of consent.
That's when Thor started to yell. He shouted so loud that even with the wind, the rain, and the thick glass windows, the audience understood enough to realize this was that Æsir language again. He gesticulated wildly and if Tony would have to guess, he would say that Thor appeared more desperate than ever before. The shouted monologue came to an abrupt end and a heavy silence followed.
Until Loki started to answer. Maybe it was one word. Maybe it was two. Thin lips stilled again. Broad shoulders dropped. Wind played with raven and golden strands and blew thick droplets out of them.
Thor's chest heaved, as he started a reply, but Loki was faster. Green eyes clung to the white pipe as his mouth spilled a chain of words.
A minute went by.
The God of Thunder balled his fists.
Two minutes went by.
Blue orbs looked helplessly to the sky.
Three minutes. Loki didn't pause.
Thor made a careful step forward. His gaze fixed on his brother.
One minute and an eternity nothing moved but the words and rain that fell endlessly.
Until Thor fell on his knees. His legs hit the ground next to Loki's hips. His chest covered the slimmer back. Muscular arms closed around his little brother's shoulders.
Tony held his breath. He didn't even dare to blink; afraid he might miss something. Afraid, too, that Loki might run away from this. But the god seemed to endure it, motionless and quiet. His lips had stilled the second his brother had touched him.
Thor spoke up again. Syllable after syllable fought their way out of a too tight throat.
Loki cut him off - not with a word though. He lifted a hand and encircled his fingers around his brother's wrist.
A few heartbeats later he did the same with his other hand.
Thor's chin dropped on top of black hair.
The tension in both gods subsided. Bit by bit they leaned into each other and closed their eyes. The way Thor's arms were wrapped around Loki it appeared as if he was pressing the world's most valuable treasure to his chest. The way Loki held onto his brother's wrist it seemed as if Thor was his lifeboat after years of swimming through a coastless ocean.
Tony heaved a sigh of relief. This was more than he could ever have wished for. And it was what he'd had predicted a few days ago. He knew Loki would need Thor when the time came. He just hadn't dared to hope for such big progress. But it was all the better this way. Maybe this was the first step for the two gods to become true brothers again.
The weather got worse as the afternoon hours went by. Thick threads of almost frozen rain flew endlessly from the bulky-gray clouds to the glistening city. High above it a vivid warm light shone through the windows above the blue neon "A" of the Stark Tower.
At first it was just Bruce and Tony chatting about the physical possibilities of different kinds of energies in one universe and the possible interactions between them. And of course how it might be possible that there was an existing element able to shut off Bruce's transformation into the Other Guy. They tried to joke about the last part, but for Banner it was both frightening and a small spark of hope.
Half an hour later Thor joined them, with dry, fresh clothes upon him, his hair still a bit damp. He took the seat across from Tony's, the other one closest to the fireplace. A long minute he did nothing but stare out into the city, before he opened his mouth. "He will join us soon," he announced his brother with a deep and calm voice, "He won't ask you for this, but I know that he needs you and me to be here and talk to him." His blue eyes went from one face to the other. "Can I count on you?"
"Sure," Bruce answered immediately, while Tony wordlessly nodded. "Anything we shouldn't address?"
Thor just shook his head and looked out of the window again. Suddenly it was awkwardly quiet in the room with only the crackling of the logs and the distant noise of the raging weather. Tony wondered how they should start a talk with Loki without making the situation any stranger.
A door opened and slid shut again. Footsteps came closer - slowly and barely audible. The billionaire knew who it was without having to look around. None of his teammates walked like this. When Loki finally came into view, Tony was a little surprised. Regular midgardian clothes were something he wouldn't have expected. Barefoot, the god strode past them to the fire and didn't hesitate to put some new logs into it. He sat down on the floor and leaned his back on Thor's chair. It was something that somehow pinched Tony's heart. Green eyes stared, unfocused, into the flames, blinking every now and then. With his knees pulled to his chest and the oversized hoodie, Loki looked a lot smaller than he actually was.
Bruce cleared his throat and pulled at least Tony's attention to him. The scientist opened and closed his mouth a couple of times as if wanting to say something. Then finally the words left his lips. "Can I take a look at that pipe later?" He obviously complied with Thor's wishes and made an attempt to start a conversation with the sorcerer. He must have seen the pipe earlier and used it as a first step.
Tony lifted an eyebrow in amusement over the surprising question. It sounded utterly sincere and he was sure that Bruce was really curious about that little item. Loki instantly dug his hand in the pocket of his hoodie and pulled the white instrument out, holding it up into the air for anyone to take it from his fingers. Thor reached out and handed it over to Bruce, who took it gently in his hand and eyed it closely. Meanwhile the Thunder God let his gaze fall to the dark locks of his brother and smiled mildly.
"Is that really wood?" asked Dr. Banner and turned the little object around.
Thor waited a moment and gave his brother time to answer, but he didn't. "Yes," the blond god finally said.
Without thinking about it, Bruce lifted it to his lips and blew into the mouthpiece. Against all expectation the instrument stayed silent. "It's not working," he mumbled and furrowed his brows.
"You are not doing it right then," Loki said evenly and without turning his head.
"What am I doing wrong?" Bruce wondered.
Tony was positively surprised about how easy Banner seemed to break a little crack into the shell in which Loki was hiding. It came all naturally and without force, just the way the trickster seemed to need it. But just as the pale lips opened for a reply, the doors of the elevator slid open and the rest of the team burst into the room.
"Guess what we got!" Clint almost shouted over at them with a large paper bag in his hands.
Thor shut his eyes tight and let his breath out with a silent sigh. Loki pressed his lips together again and stared back into the dancing flames.
"You've been out?" Tony asked, trying his best to hide his anger over the ruined moment.
Natasha nodded, rushed past her partner with an equally heavy looking bag in her arms and headed for the kitchen.
"Thor?" Steve asked and made a step towards the god, "Do you guys heat mead in Asgard or do you drink it cold?"
The blond god looked quizzically at the soldier. "Depends on the weather," he answered.
"Then warm it is," Clint piped up from around the corner to the kitchen.
"Do you think we should bring some to Loki?" Steve mused aloud. From his angle he couldn't see that the trickster was here with them as well. The two spies were oblivious to the fact as well.
"No thanks," Loki muttered as neutral as possible.
Being a little startled Steve walked further into the room until he could peek around Thor's seat. He made a face that clearly said 'oops'. Dropping his voice he went on, a little more restrained: "Who of you wants one?"
"Me," Tony answered with a small grin.
Bruce nodded once. "Me too."
Thor just looked at the blond man, lifted his hand and made a finger sign that he wanted two drinks.
Steve nodded his understanding and followed the other two into the kitchen, scratching his neck in slight embarrassment.
A few minutes later the three of them returned with a tray full of steaming hot mugs. It was placed on the low table in the middle of the group of chairs. Natasha, having her seat shoved close to Clint's, rested her legs on her boyfriend's lap. Steve took the vacant place next to Tony, but his eyes lingered on the motionless sorcerer.
Thor grabbed a mug with each hand and leaned down to place one beside his brother. "In case you change your mind," he stated and flopped back against his backrest.
One by one they took their drinks and enjoyed the taste. Clint started a random conversation about some unimportant issue and within a minute he had Natasha and Bruce engaged in it. The whole mood seemed to lift with each passing moment. Half an hour later even Tony couldn't fight the urge to laugh lustily. While he tried to get himself under control again, he noticed a change in the flaring flames. They still moved unpredictably, but somehow they had something like…a rhythm. He was about to wonder what this was, but he was quick enough to glance over to Loki, who now sipped on his mug and had the other arm rested lazily on his knee, his fingers moving elegantly through the air. For e few minutes Tony couldn't do anything else but watch the sorcerer manipulate the fire. It appeared that Loki wasn't really concentrating on it, no, he seemed deeply in thought. And yet he was able to subconsciously move the flames at his will like a puppeteer. "Just like the fire," Tony said out loud, though it was meant to be thought only.
All sets of eyes except Loki's settled on him and waited for an explanation for his random comment. The trickster's hand stilled.
The billionaire sighed and took another sip of his mead, licked his lips and pointed at the fire. "I feel related to the fire," he told them while he looked at Loki, "You think everything you do, you do on your free will, but actually it is him pulling your strings." Now green eyes turned their attention on his.
"Isn't this how it's supposed to be with a god?" Steve mused.
"I cannot do this with you," Loki replied and balled his hand into a tight fist, causing the fire to go out and leaving the room in darkness.
The sudden lack of light was creeping under Tony's skin. Every sound, every rustling of fabric from someone shifting uneasily in their seat, were unnaturally loud - and so were his words, as he answered: "I think you could if you wanted to."
"Really?" the velvet-like voice remarked, "I made the flames kill themselves. Would you do the same if I asked you to?" To an inexperienced ear it would sound like curiosity, but Tony knew it was sarcasm.
"You should have done that with Surtr's fire," Clint threw into the room.
A tiny spark flew from Loki's hand to the logs and ignited a new small flame, that took its time to feed itself and grow. In the dark orange-red light Loki's eyes shone in a strange color. They still lingered on the human who'd once stolen a kiss from his lips. "This is different," he answered.
"How," Tony wanted to know.
"It is too complicated," Loki shrugged and turned his attention to the slowly growing fire. He emptied his mug and looked disappointedly at its bottom.
While Bruce and Steve served another round, Tony let the matter rest and changed the topic. "Maybe this one isn't: How could you be so sure that I would activate the wristbands?"
"I know you," Loki said, straight-faced.
The engineer sighed heavily and nodded a "Thank you" to Bruce as he got his refill. "Okay. Anything else I didn't noticed yesterday?" He really hadn't had a clue that the god had made him do this on purpose.
"Not much," Loki answered with a freshly filled mug in his hand. He sniffed it and wrinkled his nose.
"He'd cooled down your suit several times," Clint mentioned, already sitting in his chair as if he wouldn't plan on getting up again today.
Tony nodded. He'd already noted that every time his armor was close to overheating, some kind of frost spell had hit him. "Anything else?"
The God of Fire started to manipulate the flames again, playing with it like he'd done earlier. "Maybe." It was spoken surprisingly soft and as much as Tony longed for a more precise answer, he felt that now wasn't the time to demand it.
Steve had already taken his seat again and now Bruce lifted up the small pipe from the seat before he sat down as well. "It was close, wasn't it?" he mumbled more to himself than to anyone else, "We could all be dead by now." It seemed that he really meant it that way, including himself.
"Say thank you to that blind archer of yours for that," Loki said sharply.
Clint and Bruce just exchanged looks that didn't need any commentary.
"Loki, please," groaned Thor and threw a glance at his brother's head.
The sorcerer lifted the mug to his lips, mumbled a "Shutting my mouth again." and drank from the mead he obviously found to be the worst he'd ever had.
Tony was a little surprised. It was the first time he'd witnessed the god silence up so fast, and he wondered if it had something to do with the talk he had with his brother or if his weakened condition and all the circumstances were the reason. Whatever it was, it caused Loki to sit there as he did earlier, one hand playing with the fire and the other lifting his mug every few minutes. The billionaire remembered Thor's words the one evening they killed his most valuable whiskey. If Loki could really drink as much as his brother was able to eat, then this could become an interesting evening.
They discussed the fight some more, even weighted the possibilities for Clint to maybe having been able to see what Loki's schemes had been. They talked about how all this must have been planned weeks before the actual fight, weeks before any of them was even thinking about participating on their free will. They appreciated each other's ideas to bring the fight to a successful end, explained each other's moments of doubts and hopes, even threw in single impressions. The mood was suitable for the whole topic – serious, but still spiced with a good sense of humor. With every emptied bottle it grew more frolicsome. The only one appearing oddly out of place was the black haired god, sitting there on the floor with his restless moving fingers, the calm stare into the fire and the steaming mug at his side.
After almost two hours Tony began to honestly worry if everything was fine with Loki, circumstances considered. But asking him precisely this was absolutely out of question. So he tried something else, since the god didn't seem to have any interest in participating in the current discussion. He searched for eye contact with Bruce and signaled him to hand over the pipe. Once having the object in his fingers, he closely looked at it, then at Loki, Thor, back at Loki and at the instrument again. 'How old might this be?' he asked himself. It didn't look exactly new, but it didn't have scratches on it either. Each of the nine holes was shaped slightly different and none of them was cut in a perfect circle. The surface felt extremely smooth under his fingertips, almost like oiled silk. And yet the instrument wasn't perfectly straight in itself. There were little irregularities everywhere, which made the item look organic. No ornaments adorned the surface, but as he took a closer look at the inside he found it completely inscribed with a tight rune pattern. And it was heavier than it looked. Besides that it seemed no different from any other pipe he'd seen before.
With a shrug and a quick glance to Thor, who watched him, he lifted the almost white item to his lips, held the holes closed with his fingers and blew into the mouthpiece - with the same result as Bruce's earlier attempt. Thor's neutral expression turned into a knowing smile. But Tony wasn't satisfied yet. He held the holes open and tried it once more. Again nothing happened. 'What is that?!' he wondered and blew some air into the other end of the pipe, though he already knew that this would most likely not work. He was right about it.
The Thunder God leaned forward to him and held his palm open. Tony put the instrument into the hand and watched Thor in expectation. The rest of the team grew silent and either looked at their engineer or the blond god.
For a short moment Thor hesitated, emptied his mug - his fifth, if Tony had counted right - and took a deep breath. Then he handed the pipe down to Loki, holding it solidly between three fingers. "Would you?" he asked kindly.
Loki kept staring into the fire, for a moment appearing as if not having heard his brother at all. "Would I what?" he finally replied. His voice sounded a little different. Maybe the reason was that he was four meads ahead of his brother.
"Play for us?" the blonde specified.
"Why should I?" was the sharp reply.
Thor sighed and shifted a little in his chair. "Play for them, then?" He bit his bottom lip as if he feared a certain reaction from his brother. The 'them' seemed to mean someone else but the attendant persons.
"I doubt they'll listen," the trickster said and raised a brow for a second.
His brother let the pipe tap against Loki's shoulder. "It is worth a try, don't you agree?"
Tony was torn inside. He wanted to see how that instrument worked, but at the same time he wished to know who 'they' were. Suddenly he felt observed and let his eyes wander to the others. He found Natasha looking sternly at him and pressing her index finger against her lips. Could this woman read thoughts? Quickly he pulled his attention to the two gods again.
"They won't listen," insisted the younger one. Tony was surprised how much that usually controlled voice slurred now. It wasn't much, but it was clearly recognizable and a strange contrast to the normal sound.
Thor took a deep breath and smiled his mildest smile. "How do you know that?!" he replied softly.
Loki's fingers stilled. His gaze dropped to the floor and lingered there for a moment, while the god seemed to ponder over the question. Then he swallowed and grabbed at the pipe. His fingers ran gently over the smooth surface and then, each of them in their own time took their position over the holes. "Which one?" he asked in a hoarse whisper.
Tony saw Thor smile in a way that told him how much this meant to him. "Whatever comes to your mind," the blonde answered, ever so quietly.
Green eyes stared into the fire again, while long pale fingers lifted the instrument to slightly parted lips. And then there was a first tone, and it did not just fill Tony's ears, it filled his heart. He didn't know why he'd expected an ordinary sound while he should really know better by now. There wasn't a single straight tone, but it wasn't a chord either. If any words could describe it, it would be warm, full, inscrutable, complex and sublime. Fingers moved and another tone rose. The transition was soft and smooth. But Loki only played a short melody and stopped again. "I don't know...," he muttered and trailed off.
Tony frowned. Was it just him imagining things or was the god really drunk? Something about him seemed to be so much not his usual self. Maybe it was the sudden insecurity trailing along his words?
His brother sighed for the hundredth time this evening, but it didn't change his good mood. "What? Can you not remember the lines? Or have you forgotten how to play properly?" It sounded like Thor was mocking the trickster. "Or…," he went on, but stopped again and made a surprised face. "Really?" he asked and began to grin, "Still?"
Tony pulled his legs up on his chair. More and more questions rose in his mind and begged him to speak them out aloud.
Loki didn't answer his brother. He didn't even move. Only the constant raising and falling of his chest gave him the appearance of being alive.
For a long while Thor looked down at his sibling and his grin turned into a smile. Eventually he opened his mouth and began to sing. Tony didn't understand a single word, since it was obviously in Old Norse, but he was impressed what a talented singer the God of Thunder was. He recognized the melody as being the one Loki had just played. It sounded so complicated and easy at the same time and he wished he knew what the lyrics were about. Much to his surprise and liking he watched and heard Loki join in with the pipe.
'Not from this world,' was all Tony could think as he listened in awe. The sound of the instrument seemed to wrap itself around the voice of the singer. It was hard to tell what the mood of the song was. It sounded sad and yet blithe. Maybe it was some kind of ballade telling a real story. At least Tony found that idea very fitting for someone from Asgard.
His eyes settled on Loki's fingers dancing so swiftly over the white piece of wood. He could watch this forever. But suddenly he had to narrow his eyes and take a closer look. Was there a small light shining out of the holes? He was almost sure he saw a weak red glow whenever the god lifted one of his digits off of the instrument. As much as he wanted nothing more than sit back and enjoy the moment, his curiosity forced him to concentrate on this detail.
Way too soon the song ended and silence spread out in the room. It took a moment until Clint uttered a whispered "Wow!". None of them could think of a more suitable comment. Thor smiled in response, though his eyes still lingered on the black locks of his brother. Loki went on staring into the fire.
"Another?" Thor asked him.
Loki lifted his mug into the air and answered, "Another."
The blonde let out an amused snort. "Of course. And then another?"
"Hn," made the trickster. Tony couldn't tell if this was a 'yes', a 'no', or a 'we will see'.
Wordlessly, Thor stood up and refilled every mug, even if one of them wasn't even partly empty. Then he dropped into his chair again and hummed a new melody, suddenly stopped and turned a little more towards his brother, who didn't wait to drink from the hot mead. "How about you play for real this time?"
"Tha' would scare them," the younger god stated.
"It won't," replied Thor and chuckled lightly. Then he turned to his friends and hand signed them that everything was all right and there would be no reason to get nervous. They trusted him and they trusted in his judgment.
Loki didn't respond, he simply sat there staring into the orange-red flames. "Ketill's journey?" he suggested instead.
"Just go ahead," Thor answered, facing the fire again and leaning back in his chair.
The sorcerer sighed and nodded. "Fine," he almost whispered before he lifted the instrument to his lips. This time the melody was a calm one. It fitted the mood Loki was in. Yet something else caught Tony's attention. He had to blink twice before he even dared to believe his eyes. A tiny flame leaped out of the end of the pipe and licked carefully into air. He knitted his brows and wondered if this had something to do with Loki's warning and if he should be concerned or excited.
Thor began with the first line and instantly the little flame flared higher and formed itself into a man made of fire, who grew to his full height. The contours were blurred, and yet there were so many details; even his emotions could be read in his face. And he looked strong and proud, like a dauntless warrior of an ancient time. Next to him another man appeared, looking very much alike the first one. Tony guessed that it might be his brother or father.
Suddenly the melody of both Thor's voice and the pipe changed into another, but not the same. Yet both new melodies complemented each other perfectly and danced around the other one, alternating in tempo and intensity, until they both fell back into the original melody together, starting a new strophe.
Those two men seemed to get along very well and obviously had a close connection. But suddenly an argument started between them that got more and more intense by the second until at the end of the strophe the first man killed the second one with his sword and left him lying dead on the ground. In the next refrain he did nothing but walk away, though the fire image didn't move from the spot. Tony took a closer look and found the flames hovering close above the floor, not touching it. His eyes went to the two gods again. Thor watched the fire telling the story for everyone in the room to understand, while Loki's lids were closed. Tony remembered what the god had told him one of the first days on the island, back in that night he'd painted the ceiling of their shelter with pictures made of sparks; he'd had to form those motives by his own. Most likely Loki was concentrating hard now to both play the right notes and manipulate the fire.
The picture changed, letting the man meet an extraordinarily beautiful woman with long curly hair. She looked wise, but not old, and she stared sternly at the warrior. He talked to her, and though the fire images didn't make a sound bar the usual unique one fire was making anyway, Tony felt like he was hearing the man speak over Thor's singing. The woman silenced him up with a sign of her hand and pointed at his weapon. The warrior's expression turned fearful and he tried to explain, but the woman wasn't interested in his explanations. Her lips moved and her hands waved through the air. 'A spell', Tony mused as the man magically turned into a butterfly.
The refrain came and with it the woman vanished into thin air, leaving the butterfly alone, which now made attempts to use its wings. After a few tries it managed to fly and made its way to the table in the middle of the group of heroes, landing there right in the middle. It was amazing how lifelike it looked and moved.
As Thor went on with the story, little sparks ignited themselves at random spots in midair, grew fast to a bigger size and turned into other butterflies, one by one starting to whizz around the room. Some of them interacted with each other while some of them kept to themselves. There was a significant difference between the color of the transformed warrior and the other insects; the butterfly on the table had a much redder shade than the rest of them. One of the fire animals sat down on Steve's knee for a short moment before it headed for their protagonist, landing right in front of him. Much to Tony's astonishment Steve hadn't tried to wipe away the butterfly-shaped flame; instead he watched it carefully and with fascination.
The two insects in the middle took their time to interact with each other, undisturbed by the other butterflies, until they even flew around each other as if they were dancing. In the eyes of the billionaire it felt like it was some kind of companion, a partner, someone the warrior felt connected with.
Out of nothing the flames in the fireplace flared up wildly, revealing a huge bird that wasted no time to chase after the swarm of butterflies. With its wings wide open it soared above the Avenger's heads, catching one small insect after the other, putting the others in a flurry. But as much as they tried to escape, they were without a chance. Though obviously being in a hopeless position, the warrior in his butterfly shape confronted the bird, attacking him again and again.
It was a short fight and it was over as soon as the aggressor killed the last butterfly, leaving only the warrior alive. The bird targeted the fireplace and dove into the flames, vanishing out of sight. The red butterfly landed shakily next to its dead companion and repeatedly tried to nudge it as if he wanted it to come back to life. He even managed to push it up into the air and flew against it from below to bring it higher and higher. But in the end he had to give up. His companion's body fell down to the floor, the wings spread out on the ground.
Though he knew that it was only a tale, though he knew this was a murderer in the form of a stupid butterfly, though he knew that what he saw was nothing but imagination coming to life, Tony felt deeply for the tiny thing that had decided to sit down so close to his dead partner. He watched the light of the other bodies go out until the only light came from the fireplace and the two insects. His eyes flickered to Loki for a brief moment, noticing that he still had his lids shut and that now his brows knitted in concentration too. For someone not wanting to do this in the beginning, he looked very determined to make the best performance possible.
Just as the next strophe started, the red butterfly rose up into the air and started to fly as fast as he could, obviously having a clear destination somewhere far far away. The billionaire held his breath, not believing his eyes. Loki made the insect move on the spot a couple of feet above the low table. The illusion of flying at high speed he created by forming a semi-transparent layer of mist-like gauzy fire shaping landscapes that rushed from the fireplace to the bar and went around and through the audience. Curiosity got the better of Tony, so he reached out to touch it and let it flow around his fingers. It felt warm and it tingled on his skin, but it was far from burning hot. What kind of fire or illusion was that?! How was Loki able to do this?
The landscape soon turned into a coastline and then into the open sea. Sharp wind threw the small butterfly around and the waves grew higher and higher. Suddenly a huge wave emanated from out of the fireplace, so big that it almost touched the ceiling. The humans in the room let out small noises of tension as the fire water washed over them from above. It pulled the insect down with it and whirled it around underwater. Instantly the thin fire-layer rose further up, high above their heads, imitated the sight of waves seen from below and turned its color into a dark bluish shade. With its last strength and determination the butterfly tried to flap its wings. Magically it began to transform again, now growing fins and turning into a fish. Other creatures of the sea, real ones and chimeras, came to hunt the little fish, but it fought hard and managed to escape each of them.
Then the sea level sunk until the fish had reached a beach. Boldly it sprung out of the water onto the dry sand, transforming into a horse to run along a wide steppe made of a bright orange fire carpet. Long clouds chased along the imagined sky and threw shadows on the ground. Thor's calm voice underlined the whole scene like a never-ending soundtrack of a movie.
Soon the steppe made place for a thick forest, forcing the horse to change direction again and again to find its way through the trunks. Hot steam came out of the nostrils, the hooves stumbled here and there and repeatedly large branches slapped against the running body.
And then the forest ended and a mountain towered in front of their eyes. How Loki managed to create this illusion was a complete mystery to Tony. It was like they could look up for miles, making the ceiling of the room nonexistent for the eye.
The stallion reared up. Hooves turned into feet and hands, the rest of the body following to find the shape of a human again. Within seconds the warrior, clothed in his former attire, stood there at the foot of the mountain and stared down at his hands. He pulled his sword and every other unnecessary ballast from his belt, threw it on the ground and started to climb for the next whole refrain.
With the first word of the next strophe the warrior reached the top of the mountain. Sharp rocks lay under his feet and a heavy wind blew his hair in each and every direction. He cried out something they couldn't hear, cried it out again and again and fell on his knees. The flames in the fireplace spit out a whole bunch of sparks that made their way to the protagonist, lit up like the pre-butterflies did earlier and morphed into the woman again. By now Tony wondered if she was some kind of witch, or even a goddess.
The warrior begged her, pointing straight at the dead butterfly still lying on the floor. The woman answered to him, her expression serious but a lot milder than the first time they'd met. And the warrior simply nodded as if accepting some big consequence.
Though the melodies switched into the ones of the refrain again, the text wasn't the same this time, this much Tony understood.
Moving her hands, the lady spoke another spell, causing the warrior to collapse lifelessly on the floor. In his last moment his face showed nothing but deep and pure relief. She closed her eyes and vanished into thin air herself. Then the illusion of the mountain disappeared along with everything else belonging to the scenery. The only thing staying was the dead butterfly on the floor, the companion of the warrior.
They all stared down at it, a feeling of sadness slowly creeping up to their hearts. Thor sang the last line of the song, and with his very last word the wings of the fragile insect flapped up again. Guided by nothing but Loki's play it pulled itself to its feet, tried its wings again and then, carefully, rose into the air. Tony wondered if the warrior had given his life for the small animal. Probably yes. A chill went down his spine as the butterfly drew a few circles above their heads before it finally dove into the flames of the fireplace.
With that Loki stopped playing the instrument and emptied his mug in one long gulp, somehow appearing to be the only one unimpressed by the situation. At least the billionaire had witnessed Loki drawing pictures with fire before, so he didn't have to deal with acceptance of this being even possible. And yet it was still strangely overwhelming to witness those two unlike brothers perform. To him the story was one of redemption, of making up for done evil, of a lecture, and it was one of finding peace. Why had Loki chosen exactly this piece?
"This was…unbelievable!" Bruce whispered in amazement.
"It was a child's tale," Loki replied contemptuously, washing away the doctor's smile in an instance.
"It was your choice," Thor muttered after he finished rolling his eyes over his brother's resentment. It was a sign that he didn't intent to treat Loki with kid gloves.
The sorcerer nodded and put the pipe away. "Because it was for them, remember?"
And there Tony realized who he spoke about. It was his sons, the two now separated from him. Though he had no idea on the how, he at least figured that there must exist a possibility for them to be able to hear it and to understand that it was meant for them. Immediately he realized that there may be a lot more to all of this than this one fact. But again this wasn't the right moment to ask. Especially since Loki's body tensed up and it seemed to only need a tiny reason for him to go and leave the room. Something about all this must have made him extremely uncomfortable. And that was something Tony feared, because it would only widen the gap between the group and Loki - something they didn't need right now. He thought of something to say to make Loki stay. "I bet they waited for a sign like this," were the words that left his mouth, sounding utterly sincere, "I would have if I was in their place."
For the second time this day those green eyes met his. They were unreadable, cold and distant.
"Would you, yes?!" the god shot back harshly and with a slight mocking tone. He made no secret out of having another opinion.
"I would," Tony answered as if he had to stand his ground. How often had he watched his dad, waiting for a small sign that he would care for his son, that he would love him. It was the best lecture in patience he'd ever had in his life.
He heard someone move around in his chair, but didn't even think about being the first to break the stare. "O-kay," Clint made, "who else needs a new drink?" The billionaire was thankful for someone else taking over and filling the silence.
Eventually Loki relaxed enough to go back into his former position and stare into the fire as if nothing had happened. The magic of the moment vanished as fast as it had appeared and every attempt to get through to the trickster god was blocked off by cold ignoring. At least he stayed with them.
For about another hour they had a pleasant conversation until tiredness got the better of them. One after one they left, until it was only Tony. And Loki.
The god kept staring into the flames. Tony leaned back into his seat and observed him in silence. The orange light of the fire bathed the ivory skin in a warm glow. Images of Loki turning himself into fire came to his mind and forced him to gasp quietly. What a unique creature he was, that humanlike looking person on the carpet. Tony felt like he had him seen at his worst and his best all at once yesterday.
Green eyes blinked every now and then, and black lashes painted long moving shadows on the tangerine skin. Eventually the lids stayed closed for a moment, the god swallowed hard and they opened again. A sigh fled from his lips before he slowly rose to his feet. Slender fingers wrapped around the rim of his mug and lifted it up.
"You don't have to…," Tony spoke softly, his voice trailing off. Loki didn't seem to notice him anyway. He watched the god slowly make his way to the kitchen. If only he would at least have the courtesy to look at him! But it was like he wasn't even there! It was frustrating!
With a suppressed sigh of his own he got to his feet and followed Loki, who'd just vanished around the corner. When he finally reached him, he found him standing in front of the counter with his back turned towards the human. The fingers still clung to the mug; his other hand lay next to it.
Tony came to a halt and waited for the god to turn around. Endless moments went by, but nothing happened. An uncomfortable tension wrapped itself around the two beings who both were very well aware of the presence of the other one. A human tongue slid along the inside of the line of teeth. And suddenly Tony couldn't endure it any longer. He walked closer to Loki, until he stood right behind him. His palms hit the counter left and right next to the sorcerer with a loud thud. The tip of his nose almost touched the hair that flowed down Loki's neck. The god didn't even flinch.
"Talk to me!" Tony commanded, "Damn it, Loki, I'm no suppliant! I need you to tell me what you expect me to do. I know I've fucked up! And I'm not gonna guess what you want from me, 'cause I sure as hell choose the wrong thing, so…help me! …You decided for me, right? So, what was it all worth if you don't let me through to you now?!"
This time he didn't need the solid glass wall of some cell to feel this unbearable distance between them. It held him tied to the spot with invisible shackles, and he needed Loki to step out of his self-made prison to come and free him too.