a/n: i'm really sorry for making you wait this long, guys
real life just ugh

on the bright side, plot. more plot. if you're mega confused by the end of this chapter, sshhh, you're supposed to be. it will all be cleared up soon, yes? ;A;

postscript; it was a little fun to see how quick you guys were to vilify poor Tony, eheh. =3=

xx. Sleeping Parabolas

Tony Stark was many different sorts of attributes, positive and negative (though he liked to believe he had more of the former than the latter), but his favorites were his wit and sarcasm. His good looks were a plus, and all three put together meant all he had to do was smile and poof, there went away the detention, but really, it was his mouth.

So, when he found himself facing one angry (read: furious) Loki, it was only natural that he turned to his quick tongue to help him get out of this mess.

Instead of saying something witty and clever, his mouth did this strange opening-and-closing-sort-of-thing that kind of made him resemble the goldfish he had at home.

Well, the genius prodigy sighed silently, performance issues, what can you do?

He didn't have the opportunity to lament any more after that, because then Loki had him by the scruff of his shirt and was yanking him out of the stall with a surprising amount of force. "Hey there, princess," Tony commented, trying for that shit-eating grin that seemed to work a lot.

Trust the first thing to come out of Tony's mouth to be "Hey there, princess."

"Before you start throwing me around-" Tony began, and, Loki did just that. The world spun, and then Tony's back rammed into something hard and positively vicious - also known as the sink. Something like, "Oh Jesus fuck-" escaped his mouth as he grappled for a handhold, lest should he fall.

"I trusted you!" he heard. That was a clean version of it, at least; Loki could apparently get very liberal with profanity.

"I can explain," he think he mumbled, but the world was this whirling vortex of tile and chlorine and it was really hard to talk, okay.

Two hands grabbed his shoulders, and Tony braced himself, expecting to be thrown again. Instead, there was a one, two, three second pause - and then the hands slipped away.

When he dared to peel his eyes open again, he was exposed to a sight that made his stomach drop with guilt.

Loki had moved away - to Tony's relief and wariness - and the younger boy's shoulders were hunched. Tony could see the way his jaw was set tensely, and how his eyes were reddening. He was so used to the kid being so proud, witty and...well, being Loki. He guessed he forgot that even Loki was human.

"I can explain," Tony thus repeated.

Loki's glare, despite the rim of red around his eyes, was scathing.

. . .

He really could.

Tony had not been directly involved, not at first. He was not the mastermind behind the whole thing. He had no vendetta against Loki or their English teacher. But he had also been targeted, and then coerced into complying.

His officially got involved when Peter lost his camera, and since he had such compassion for his classmates, he offered to help look for it. (Plus, Steve was really fond of the kid, so Tony thought it couldn't hurt.) Peter explicitly told him that he had already searched the most likely places; it was a surprise to find the rather expensive camera perched innocuously next to one of the computers.

It was plugged in, but the computer wasn't even on.

Tony lifted the sleek black device and inspected it, then unplugged it from the USB port. He thought nothing of it - Peter was a scatterbrain sometimes, and he probably just forgot about it.

Without even thinking, he turned it on and opened up the gallery. ("Hey, I spent all this time looking for it, so I should at least be able to see these, right?")

Most of its contents were pictures of some girl - Gwen, Tony thought her name was. Judging by how many images consisted of her back or her in some position that was not facing Peter, Tony figured there was some pining going on here. There was even one with-

-"Do I really need to hear this, Stark?" Loki hissed. "Get on with it!"-

To recapitulate: Most of them were pictures of Gwen, and Tony was going to turn off the camera when he landed on a picture that wasn't.

This one was not as clear as the others, a little blurry and a little crooked, which was strange. Whenever Peter took a picture, he simply held his camera up and clicked away. There was this slightly-freaky tendency for his pictures to come out good even without tact.

The first one was simply a close up of someone's front door. Tony was beginning to think that Peter was moving up to a whole new level of creepy, until he flicked the next button.

Here was when things started to get really strange; it was Thor Odinson, looking absolutely unaware. It must have been his house, then, Tony assumed. And maybe Peter had a thing for their English teacher, too.

In the next one, it looked like Thor had opened the door wider. Behind him, Tony could see a staircase and, when he squinted, the bottom half of someone that was descending.

The third one had a second, familiar face. Apparently that bottom half had belonged to Loki; in this one, he was standing behind Thor. He was half obscured, but one could clearly tell that they had just woken up. The pictures seemed like they had been taken in the morning too, which meant...

That was when someone joined Tony inside the photography room. "I'm no photographer, but I think those are clear enough, do you?"

Every nerve in his body was screaming at him to turn around. But Tony was unable to tear his eyes away from the photograph. Already, a hundred scenarios were running through his mind - and they weren't all necessarily positive. "Depends," he chose his words carefully, "what are you trying to make clear?"

"Maybe it isn't obvious enough, then, if even Tony Stark can't tell."

-"Who was it?" Loki was clutching Tony's arm now. He was still visibly tense, but moreso from anxiety and anxiety than anger. This impaled a stake of guilt into Tony Stark's heart, because he knew that he was part of the reason why Loki looked on the verge of a breakdown.

"I'm getting there," he replied tersely.-

He turned. It was a girl, as he'd figured much from her voice, and she stood a solid four-or-so inches taller than him (though most of that height came from her rather painful looking heels). Her blond hair fell in waves over her shoulders; her outfit resembled the standard teacher's, except greener and...with more cleavage.

To be honest, she looked like the type that Tony would have dated except: Steve was already a pretty damn good boyfriend, and Tony was pretty sure she worked somewhere in the building.

"Uh," Tony began brilliantly, "have I had you for class?"

The woman rolled her eyes. "Tenth grade. Chemistry. Teacher assistant, but with the dimwit who runs that class, I might as well be the teacher." She huffed, crossing her arms and cocking her hips. Tony thought she looked like an overgrown high schooler, one of those girls who wore their cheerleading uniforms to an abnormal amount and twirled their hair and batted their eyelashes when they spoke.

Her eyes flickered to the camera. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt you," she said silkily. "Keep on looking - you're bound to find one you'll like."

Tony took a step back, the camera pressed protectively to his chest. There's more? "What the fuck are these?"

(Could teacher assistants give out detention slips?)

"Language," she said off-handedly. "But these are the fruits of months' worth of labor."

"Months?" Tony echoed. "You've been stalking my English teacher for a multitude of weeks?"

"I like to call it devotion," she corrected pleasantly.

"Devotion to what?"

Her green eyes flashed. "I've heard about you, Stark. You're smart enough to figure this out yourself, aren't you? What Thor Odinson is doing is wrong. This is devotion to exploiting that fact."

"They're both of age," he countered heatedly, "and they're both consenting and willing parties."

"That does not change the fact that he is a teacher, and Loki is his student. Why are you so quick to come to his defense, Stark? Do you really truly care, or-" Mirth crept into her tone. "-perhaps you can relate to his situation?"

To his credit, Tony didn't miss a beat in replying. "Of course I care, the kid's my friend."

There were voices outside of the classroom, and they both froze. Obviously, the woman wasn't supposed to be here, either. Tony's eyes darted between her and the door, wondering if he could trust his legs to run as fast his mouth tended to. But the voices eventually faded off, and the silence was broken.

"And is this the part where you threaten me, Mr. Stark?"

"No, this is the part where I tell you you've lost, because now I have your camera." Tony raised said device up. "You know how long Peter's been looking for this thing?"

"Oh, that?" She waved her hand carelessly. "I've already printed out the best ones." Tony watched as she pulled out several photographs from her bag and held them up. The photo paper gleamed in the light.

-"How many?" Loki's voice had died down to a croak. "How many copies did she make, Stark?"-

"I have enough," she answered stiffly when Tony asked.

"It won't work." For some reason, the words sounded strange coming out of his mouth. Yet he spoke confidently. "Your grand prize will just be a restraining order. Why are you so hellbent on doing this, anyway? Hell hath no fury like a scorned woman?"

She actually seemed to falter. "You'll see," she said, calmer. "In time."

Something buzzed, and Tony watched wordlessly as she pulled out a phone from her bag and answered the call. There was a muffled voice from the other line, and then the woman barked, "Can't you do anything right?"

She flipped the phone shut as quickly as she had opened it, and then turned her glowering stare to Tony. "The camera," she said, stretching out a hand.

Tony's thumb hit a latch, and he prayed that she didn't hear the click. "And if I don't hand it over?"

She shrugged. "Like I said, I've already printed out the best ones, but I will be needing that for more copies. If I have not given you enough incentive already, then you should know that you and your boyfriend aren't the most discreet human beings."

Tony met her gaze evenly. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Private property, the sign read," she mused. "Yet the gates weren't so much as locked. Hand the camera over, or you and Rogers will get dragged down, too."

"There are security cameras."

"By the time you actually find a shred of evidence, it will be too late."

(Maybe it was just Tony being desperate, but she sounded hesitant, for a second. He would have to remember to look through the tapes later.)

But for the meantime, he let her take the camera.

-"What?" Loki demanded. "Why on earth would you give her the camera?"-

It wasn't until she left the classroom that Tony opened his palm and stared contemplatively down at the memory card, the gears in his mind already working.

. . .

"I thought I could think up of something faster, before she used the pictures."

"And you never thought to tell me?"

Tony cringed at the bitterness, barely unmasked in Loki's voice. "I was this close to figuring something out," he said helplessly. "But then she cornered me again, you know? Threatened that she would send in the pictures of me and Steve, too, if I didn't help her. So I agreed to slip the pictures into your bag-"

"You what?"

"She said that once Fury got the pictures, he'd probably have your stuff searched - and if one of those pictures were found with you, too, then it would be even more incriminating."

"So you are the one who's been rifling through my things-"

"And today, you caught me trying to take those pictures back." Tony clasped the younger boy by the shoulders and leaned down, eyes wide in what he hoped to be an expression of sincerity. "After about a billion enhancements, the security tape was finally clear enough, and I have evidence against her, Loki, good evidence. I'm already talking to my dad about it-"


"Don't worry, he thinks it's one of my ex-girlfriends stalking me." Tony bit back a wince. "Point is, I'm gonna get us out of this mess, but you have to trust me."

"Fury's already seen the pictures," Loki reminded him. He sounded uncharacteristically sullen. "And I'm pretty sure my reaction didn't help."

"Hey, hey, don't go into one of those moods now." Tony grabbed him by the cheeks and forced him to look up. Doubtful green eyes stared back at him. "You're going to go marching back into there-" he glanced down "-clothed, and with the all of the sass you can possibly muster, do what I'm about to tell you to do."

He paused.

"Okay, so maybe not sass, but something that will make it convincing. Do you understand? Blink once for an affirmative."

Loki blinked once - then again, a few seconds later.

"Two blinks? But I said-" Tony shook his head. "Never mind. I'm taking that for a yes. Now, listen to me, because we only have one shot at this."

He went on to explain.

(He was glad that Loki hadn't asked any further about the woman. He probably didn't need to know that Tony had found out her name, and that she was no stranger to Thor Odinson.)

(Needless to say, Tony was going to be having a little chat with someone later.)

. . .

Between the time that Loki had left for the changing rooms and Thor was left alone with his boss, it was not completely silent in the office. Rather, a lot came up. It was nothing about the incident, mostly about Thor's past: Why he decided to become a teacher in the first place, where he worked before, oh, your father owns a company?, why aren't you working for him, then? Still, the way Fury spoke so calmly set Thor on edge.

The pictures laid on the table, out for the world to see. There were three of them: two of him and Loki at his house, and another of them stepping out of a car together.

His very first instinct had been to go after Loki, but he knew that would have made things worse. He very quickly realized that was a mistake.

When Loki did come back, Thor was ready to just lead him back out, to take him to his car and drive them somewhere preferably far away. They had been caught, right? What was left to damage by running?

Then Loki took a deep breath and said: "Thor and I are becoming stepbrothers."

Thor had to bite his lip to keep his mouth from going agape. He moved to object, but Loki shot him a look that pleaded, Trust me.

Fury leaned back in his chair, rubbing his chin. "Elaborate," he said, and it was more of a demand than a request.

So Loki did. His mother was going to be marrying Thor's father, and in a matter of months, they would become stepbrothers. Loki had been spending time over at Thor's per his mother's request - they were going to be family, after all, so why shouldn't he get to know him a little better? "I'm not sure who managed to take those pictures nor why, but clearly there was a misunderstanding. By any means, you can call my mother to confirm this - actually, I'd prefer that." Loki's eyes were trained downwards the whole time he spoke; Thor wasn't sure whether he was staring at the floor or at the pictures. "I want to get this cleared up as quickly as possible. Being accused of having an affair with your teacher - and future stepbrother - is mortifying."

There was a terrifying moment of silence.

"Is this true, Thor?" Fury asked.

Thor nodded mutely. It occurred to him how easily Fury accepted the story - maybe he didn't want to the other scenario to be the real one, and was glad for something more rational, safer to believe.

"I'll be making a call to your mother, Mr. Laufeyson."

The relief was short-lived.

"And, Thor, you haven't already forgotten what we talked about, right?"

Thor could feel Loki's eyes on him now. He would answer his questions later. "Of course not."

"Good." Fury gave a long suffering sigh. "Mr. Laufeyson, you have permission to go back to your classes. Thor, I reckon you have much to do."

And unfortunately, in that long list of things to do, there was no time to talk to Loki.

He and Thor left the office in silence, but as soon as the door shut behind them, the questions came. Loki was supposed to be heading off to his science class right now, and Thor's classroom was in the same direction; so Loki was confused when his teacher started to turn the other way.

"Th- Mr. Odinson?"

"Go to class, Loki."

"Are you angry at me?"

"I'll explain everything later, okay? You have my address. I want you to come over as soon as school ends, understood?"

Thor pushed away the guilt, knowing that this was for the best. He would need as much time as possible to explain several things to Loki's mother.

(And to start packing.)

. . .

He didn't even have the car started when there were three violent taps on his window. Thor rolled down the window and saw, to his confusion, one of Loki's friends.

"I have several things to ask you about," Tony Stark said, and he sounded breathless, like he had been running.

"You have a class to go to," Thor reminded him, slipping the key into the ignition.

"I know what went down. I know who took the pictures. I can help, if you just let me talk to you."

Thor drummed his fingers against the steering wheel. "You have five minutes before I drive away."

He heard the student take a deep breath, like he was bracing himself. "We need to talk about Amora."