Disclaimer: Nothing from this Marvelous universe is mine.

Summary: Three months after Operation Avengers all is well. Or is it? When Steve and Tony hack into SHIELD to find missing weapons shipments they find more than they bargained for in the form of a prisoner who should, by rights, have been sent to Asgard long ago.

Warnings: Moderately graphic torture, hints of non-con.


A/N: ... I am so, so sorry for my delays. This is all D: *crawls away*


Chapter 35: Falling in Free Flight

The biggest problem, Tony decides, isn't going to be stopping the car. Stopping the car will be simple. It's driving down 3rd Avenue, past Starbucks, and unless there are a few superheroes or ninjas in the back with maybe the Abomination and a couple of tank missiles, the sleek black hatchback's got nothing to put up against him and Steve.

So nope. Not the problem. The problem is going to be the traffic.

Logically, of course, there shouldn't be much. Shitty storm, night hours—no one should be out in this. Logically. But this is New York and people are, and while it's one thing to watch a few dozen cars get squished when he's trying to stop Obie or Hammer or Loki, it's not quite the same to land smack dab in the middle of three lanes of traffic when no one is actively threatening them already. And that's without the whole issue of hostages, which nothing Polt's minions have done so far has suggested they won't be dirty enough to take.

"You could wait until they've stopped already, at a light or something? Land directly in front of them so you don't cut anyone off?" is Steve's offering, rough with static.

They're half way there already because Jarvis checked that the McDonald's cameras hadn't been hacked and beyond that neither of them could think of a better reason than 'It's drier' to plan in McDonald's rather than mid-flight.

"Not going to help with the other people on the road. I mean, you jog there daily. What do you think'd happen if I just randomly landed in front of one street? Only takes one person seeing us coming, swerving and—"

"And if we're unlucky, we get a pile-up," Steve finishes for him. "I know."

He's seen 'Cars'. He probably does.

"But you said they've been circling, didn't you? So we've got, not much, but at least a bit more time to think about it. And we can always hover, wait until we do have something concrete before landing."

"Yeah, except that when they work out no one's hiding in the Tower? My bet is they scram."

Steve says nothing to that.

"They disabled Jarvis. They didn't overwrite him like Phil used to," Pepper says, almost steadily, "If they try to do a manual search all over the Tower…"

"True," Tony allows, "At least until—,"

"Until quite a bit, Tony," Pepper cuts him off firmly, "They might be suspicious when Bruce doesn't become the 'Other Guy', but if they keep doing what they have been doing so far they'll try to up the concentration of blue venom and rely on it diffusing into wherever we've managed to hide. They've got no reason to think we have a way out of the Tower, or even out of that floor. And until the blue venom on that level goes they can't check to see where we've gone."

If, Tony thinks. But he can't deny the logic there, or the rising feeling of hope.

"Have I mentioned recently that I love you, Pepper?"

"Once or twice," she says drily.

Someone snorts. Steve, maybe?

"They could, however, have gas masks, as you and Steve do," Loki says, and wait, what?

"Loki?" Tony blurts out, "I thought you were supposed to be chilling with Bolt."

There's an awkward pause, before the demigod says coolly:

"I was. And now I am not."

Ah.

"That bad?" Tony asks sympathetically.

"That I am not with Thor," Loki says frostily, "Does not mean that things went poorly."

"In any case," Steve says diplomatically, "Pepper's got a point. If they bothered to use the blue venom at all, I'd say it was a fair bet that they were trying to avoid fighting you directly. But it's been twenty minutes now, and I'm not sure how long Polt's going to risk waiting. We need to think of something. Can you hack into the radio systems of the civilian traffic? Do a mass broadcast telling everyone who isn't them to clear out?"

"This is New York, Cap. No one's going to scram because I tell them too. Some of them wouldn't if the police told them too."

Steve makes a disapproving noise.

Tony half grins at nothing, without amusement.

"Does it matter? Truly?" Loki says, "When I walked those streets, there were people wandering everywhere. Someone will probably die in the crossfire whatever you do. But the longer you delay landing, the more chance there is that the serum will get away."

"It does," Tony says firmly, "Matter, that is. For one thing, buddy, no one is walking in this storm. Not in this part of the city. We stop the traffic, we solve all our problems. For another, the whole for the Ends justifies the Means shtick? That would be SHIELD's line, not ours."

Loki makes a dissatisfied noise, but he doesn't argue.

Smart.

They're four minutes away.

The car's turned down East 51st Street now. There's less traffic there, and the streets are narrower which is okay. Good, even. But not good enough.

We need to stop the traffic.

"Jarvis?" Tony says at last, "I want the traffic lights on 5th Avenue and 51st street red. From now on? No one turns into 5th Avenue above 53rd Street or 51st street anywhere behind our Tesla Model S wannabe at all. And when it gets to the intersection, I want 5th Avenue to be the only way the lights'll let it turn. No one gets in after it. Got it?"

"Understood, sir," Jarvis says.

It's a gamble, yes. The car could stay banked up with… whatever banks up at East 51st when the lights don't change. People could get up, get out, and run. It could go down Park Avenue instead. But he's got four minutes and 5th Avenue's where the car's looped around the last three times and there's just not enough time to plan anything better.

There's a few moments of silence, where no one says anything. Then:

"Will that work?" Loki demands.

"At this point?" Tony says, more confidently than he's feeling, "It almost has to."

OoOoOoOoO

Steve talks a lot during the next few minutes. He speaks of preventing Polt's agents from taking civilian hostages. Of avoiding being seen too soon. Of remaining aware that anyone could be a shape-shifter and have weapons or the serum, and dismissing nothing just because it is small or fluffy or old and does not look like a threat.

Loki and Pepper listen.

For himself, he listens because he has nothing to say now. Steve and Tony know the risks. If they are not Thor, they are skilled enough at fighting. He can change nothing Polt will do by worrying and he can think of nothing to add that will make the chance of Tony's plan working higher than it already is. And anyway he does not feel like talking anymore. If he talks without purpose, he will talk about Thor, and he does not want to talk about Thor until he knows he will not be sick again on Pepper's carpet.

He doesn't know why Pepper does not speak.

"They'll probably try to call for back-up as soon as they know we're there, too," Steve is saying now, "So if you can locate whatever they're using to communicate, knock it out. If you can't, just focus on not being hit by anything they throw at us and making sure no one gets away until we've located this serum."

Tony makes a scoffing noise.

"I've got IR scanning modes and multi-targeting systems built into this baby. Also, spectra? Tissue paper. You just worry about not letting anything get through those tights. I mean, level with me here: Who even designed spandex as a battle suit?"

"It's not all spandex, Tony," Steve protests, "There's Kevlar too."

"You have Kevlar in your tights," Tony says flatly.

"… No," Steve allows, "But I have it on my upper chest. And my helmet."

"My point stands, Spangles. You should let me look at that for you though. Come up with some sort of mesh that manages to show off your muscles and give you decent protection. Tell you what, I'll put it on my to-do list. Right after the infinite-stretch Hulk-pants. And the StarkPhone."

Loki bites back an undignified snort.

"Tony," Steve groans.

"I'll do it for free, too. Wave the consulting fees. You know, I could even—"

"Or," Steve cuts him off ruthlessly, "Seeing as we're one minute away now we could focus instead on the plan. Which I assume is working?"

There is a slight pause.

"Yeah. We could do that," he hears Tony say, eventually, "They've turned."

They've turned.

They have turned and Tony was right and a sharp sickness is exploding inside him that is almost hope. Because they will move, Steve and Tony, to stop Polt now they are not concerned about their traffic and there will be no more delays and there will be an—No. No, not an end. But if this is the blackmail he thinks it has been, than the path to an end will at least open once the serum is destroyed. Will at least—

"You could not have said this before?" he hears himself say.

"I think you covered pretty much everything safety-wise though, Cap," Tony rambles on, either ignoring him or just not hearing, "And I mean, really everything."

His tone doesn't suggest it's a compliment.

"You'll be careful, won't you? Both of you," Pepper says, before Steve can respond, "Don't get hit by anything blue."

"I will. Not get hit, be careful. I'll be careful. Just like I always am," Tony says.

"Past history," Jarvis says, "Would suggest those two statements are not always entirely inclusive, sir."

"Thanks for that, Jarvis. Always nice to know you've got my back."

"Indeed, sir."

Loki does snort this time.

He feels... not well, no, because mostly he still feels tired and sore, and like he wants to stab Odin through his remaining eye and maybe rip Polt apart slowly, piece by piece, while he screams. But he feels better. Less like standing will make him be sick again and less like he is one giant nerve, bared raw and bleeding for everyone to see.

He rises. Pepper looks up sharply at the movement, and he mouths Bruce and news and sends her the most reassuring look he can.

She nods. And then Tony is speaking again, voice suddenly serious.

"Better prep yourself, Cap. We're going in."

OoOoOoOoO

They land directly in front of the car.

Or rather, Tony does, shoulders braced and repulsors readied for impact. Steve rolls up to his feet where he got dropped just slightly to the side, shield raised defensively.

"Aren't you going to—"

Whatever Steve is going to say is cut off by the impact of over one ton of solid metal against Tony's stomach which, yes, he'd expected, but still. Inconsiderate is what it is. Couldn't they have at least tried to brake? His breath leaves his lungs in a gasp that's frankly pathetic and he knows he's going to get bruises from this. He adds both to the already lengthy list of Reasons he Dislikes Polt.

His feet scrape against the asphalt, sparks flying.

For two seconds, his HUD flickers. He hears a crash. Something hard bouncing off his armour.

And then sight flickers back into existence.

The car's worse off than him, from what he can make out. It's skidded to a halt a few meters away and its tyres are blown. Its front vaguely resembles the face of a Persian cat. Two of the car doors are open but he can't make out a thing inside it through the darkness and the rain. He switches the HUD input to IR. Not perfect, not even close, but at IR is at least coming up with vaguely human-shaped blobs.

"Tony?" Pepper says.

"All fine here, Pepper. We're good," he says, and then: "There's six of 'em, Cap."

"On it," Steve says, and then dives to the side as something small and hard lands with a sharp hiss in the water almost exactly where he was.

Silenced bullets? Tranquilizers? Tony doesn't know and he's not going to look.

"Comms?"

"Scanning for them."

Another something bounces off his armour, hard enough to bruise.

Tony fires back, multi-target on, for the six blobs. One bullet shatters the window. The other five slam into the outer shell, barely denting it.

Not unexpected. Still unwelcome.

"There are six," he hears himself say, mouth on auto, "Six signals. My guess is they've got earpieces. I give it, what? Five minutes? Ten, if we're lucky? Before backup gets here. They have to have contacted HQ by now."

Probably, Steve knows all this. But he nods like it's useful anyway.

Steve, Tony decides then, could probably nod seriously listening to dating advice from Hammer.

"Watch out for snipers, Tony. Clint can't be the only one they've got."

Tony nods, and returns the favour by not reminding Steve that he's the one who needs to be watching out because he's the one who's in spandex. And then he hasn't got time to think about Steve or snipers because he's closing the ten feet of distance between him and the car doors, ignoring the steady hail of bullets from the blobs that are coalescing now into shapes that are definitely human.

Humans with zero cover.

Two of the agents keep firing at him with their handguns anyway.

And, "Seriously? Handguns?" he says, "I'm feeling slighted here. Where are all the tank missiles?"

"Fuck you, Stark," one of them snarls.

Inventive they are not.

He'd waste more time insulting their weapon choice except: backup.

He fires again, and while one of them twists to the side, two more slump to the ground. Not dead, going by the one who's heat signature says she's moving and trying to pull out another weapon, which says disturbing things about the quality of body armour these agents must have. Then again, he thinks, sending them two more shots, they were thinking they'd be dealing with the Hulk…

To the side, he sees one of the men leap at Steve.

Steve's shield cracks against his chest and he— doesn't even flinch?

'Tony?' Bruce says, flaring static, 'If it's anything like the pre-serum, the serum should be releasing abnormal radiation. If you can, scan for that, or for an area where even normal levels of radiation are absent in case they've put it in lead casing.'

Right.

"Jarvis? Get on that."

'Yes, sir.'

He fires a full-powered dual repulsor blast at the next one and this time, this time, he gets a result. He doesn't know if it's good or bad that he blows away part of a chest and the upper shoulder but he's going with a definite negative that the agent's chest is closing over and she's getting up.

"Shit."

"How inventive, Stark," the agent drawls.

And then she's shifting, transforming into something that's colder and stronger and Tony switches the HUD back to the visible spectrum just in time to see a cold, grey-scaled fist going straight for his chest. He grabs it half-way. Squeezes. He's as strong as—her? him? It. But barely.

"You are a weak man in a tin suit, Stark. You will lose. And you will kneel."

"I honestly don't know whether that says more about your lack of intelligence or your under appreciation of mine. No wait. That's tautology right there."

It sneers, forcing his hands slowly upwards.

"You fear us. You should."

There's a bulge starting out from its side and shit, is that an extra limb forming?

It is. He knows, because moments later it's ripped through its own shirt and is tearing at a joint in his right pauldron, bending the metal back through sheer strength. At its other side, a second lump is forming. Another arm? He decides not to wait this time to find out.

He powers up his chest and kicks it in the shins. Hard.

His hands are somewhere above his head now.

"Pathetic," it hisses.

And then its eyes widen, as Tony sends it a full-on, frontal blast, straight at its unprotected, suit-clad sternum. This time, it doesn't rise. Just collapses into a smoking heap, a hole roughly the length of his foot blown straight through the middle of it. He makes a mental note of that. Apparently, an incinerated heart equals lethal, even to... whatever the hell that was.

"Loki," he says, switching back to IR and targeting the vital organs of a pair of agents trying to shoot at Steve, "What's your general knowledge like on creepy, scaly shape shifters?"

'The Chitauri and the Skrulls come to mind. But any decent shape-shifter could cover themself with scales if they so desired.'

Right. Helpful.

The two agents go down, ridiculously easily. Bluffing? Maybe. Or maybe they're just not all whatever the scaly one was.

Three left.

He fires.

Two left.

They're not getting up again and they're bleeding out, so Tony decides they're dead.

Definitely not whatever Scales was.

'Why?'

"Oh. You know," he says, sending a blast at the agent that's fighting Steve, "Just killing them here. I think there are two of them."

'Ah. There was one at the Tower, too. I imagine they are working as thugs for Polt.'

"Yeah. Kind of got that. Failed to mention the whole regenerating chest thing. And the extra arms."

Steve's agent is transforming too now.

He's barely registering in the IR spectrum and once more Tony switches the HUD back to normal.

'Granting oneself additional limbs is not hard. And transforming from a wounded body into a healthy one is relatively straight forward, provided one is not dead. I lived through decapitation once.'

A bullet whistles over Steve's shoulder and Tony shoots the last car-agent in the back of the neck.

One left.

"I could have lived without that mental image, thanks."

Loki snorts.

The next few seconds pass in a blur of shouting and silenced gunfire and Steve demonstrating exactly why he deserves a black belt in something for his fighting skills. Like Scales I, Scales II seems all but immune to gunfire, and Tony attributes that to the regeneration rate.

He'd finish it, but he can't get in a clean shot without risking hitting Steve.

'Sir? I am detecting an absence of normal radiation, located at the left thigh of the shape-shifter you terminated.'

"On it, Jarvis."

Steve's still fighting. He's got his shield, hasn't thrown it, which is good. He's not been hit yet. But then, his opponent doesn't seem to be growing any extra appendages.

Tony scans the nearby buildings for backup, but so far there's nothing.

"Cap? You got this, or do you want a hand?"

Steve twists out of the way of another blow.

"If you can, I'm going to say yes to that hand. Nothing I have seems to be touching him."

"Disadvantages of fighting retro, buddy."

"Thanks, Tony."

Tony grins, and switches off the external audio.

'In two seconds, I'm going to fire at its back. Get ready to duck.'

Steve doesn't nod, but he shifts his stance and grips his shield a bit more firmly, and that's all Tony needs. He waits until Scales II is properly distracted—it seems to be trying, and failing, to put Steve between it and Tony—and sends a chest-based blast at its back. It's full power, and apparently it works because the agent collapses to the ground. Steve bends down and feels its neck.

"Dead."

Tony nods.

Then he kneels down and reaches into the pocket of Scales I, feeling for the serum. Or rather, for the small lead case he suspects it might be inside and opening it. There's a dart in it that looks like a tranquilizer emitting exactly the radiation he needs.

"It's it," he says, turning towards Steve, "We've got it."

He expects something close to happiness on the captain's face. He doesn't expect concern.

And then Steve shouts "Watch out!" and dives towards him, and he still doesn't get it.

Not until he hears the soft clunk of something hard against the shield which is now covering his shoulder as something jagged and fast from high above thuds against it and drops to the ground. Could it have hit? He doesn't know. Doesn't have time to think about it, because suddenly Steve is arching backwards, every tendon in his neck bulging with strain, mouth open in a howling scream. He's going for his leg, gouging at it, and Tony dives at him to stop him before he can think because this is too much like Loki after Clint and this is Steve and this isn't supposed to happen. No one was a ninja and they'd known snipers might be there and this wasn't supposed to happen.

'Tony? Tony what has happened?'

'Have you got the serum?'

'Are you okay? Tony, are you okay?'

'Captain Rogers has been injured, Ms Potts.'

Silence.

He drags Steve back, behind the car.

He thinks that works because he doesn't hear any more shots.

'Tony' Bruce says calmly, 'I need you to take Steve here. You've got the serum. You're done there. Bring Steve to me and Loki here.'

He shouldn't need to be told this.

"Right," he says, mechanically.

He wonders if he's in shock.

"I'll be there soon. Get ready for us."

He doesn't wait for a reply. Just picks up the serum. The shield. Keeps holding the thrashing, still-screaming Steve. Forces his arms to his sides so he won't fall or tear himself apart mid-flight. Tries not to think about what might have happened if he had just been a few minutes faster.

Tries not to think about how the person screaming should have been him.

He flies.

OoOoOoOoO

Loki paces.

Tony is taking a circular route to Pepper's apartment.

He doesn't know if that's good enough to shake pursuit. He hopes it will be. It should be.

His hands won't stop shaking.

"Brother?"

He doesn't reply.

"Brother," Thor says, more firmly, and suddenly there is a hand on his shoulder, warm and loose enough for him to pull away.

Perversely, he stills.

"He will be well, brother."

"And if he is not?" Loki says, viciously soft.

"Then we will avenge him. And I will hunt down Polt at your side until he lies at our feet in pieces," Thor replies steadily, holding his gaze.

It is Loki who must looks away first. He who must wrench himself free and pace and pace and remind himself he doesn't need Thor and he doesn't want Thor and a few easy, empty words change nothing.

It takes Tony ten minutes to reach them.

Steve doesn't stop screaming

OoOoOoOoO

Bruce is waiting for him when Tony lands, hand in a white cast. They're all there, actually, now he looks.

Thor looks well, Pepper horrified and Loki like shit. But they're all standing and none of them are screaming and that's maybe still not good but it's good enough.

"Can you—?" Tony says, moving forwards.

He doesn't quite release Steve but he doesn't hold him as tightly as before because he needs them to do something because he isn't a doctor and he isn't a sorcerer and he doesn't know what to do to fix this.

Bruce moves towards him, face grey with strain.

"I think it's an over-stimulation of the neuron cells. Sensory overload. If we could—"

Loki steps forward, and then he's speaking, cutting Bruce off with a hissed:

"Hold him still."

Tony tries. It's difficult mainly because the pain is making Steve stronger even than his normal, super-strong self and he's trying to rip his leg apart and Tony's still hampered by the fact that even though the suit's tough he's not used to restraining people and he's trying not to hurt Steve more and this is Captain America and he's not supposed to be able to hurt and can he even be hurt more than this?

And then Loki's arm's moving and he's going to use magic or draw out the venom or—

Loki's fist collides with Steve's chin with a sickening crunch. The supersoldier slumps bonelessly against Tony's chest, and he swallows drily. The silence is deafening after the screaming.

"The hell, Loki?"

"It worked, did it not?" Loki snaps, kneeling by Steve's legs.

"Brother?" Thor starts, uncertain.

Loki ignores him. His hands don't look quite steady. But then they move, lightning fast, and something thin and hard and sharp is out of Steve's leg and in his hand. The demigod sneers at it, disgusted, before tossing it into a corner.

Not fainting then.

Steve's leg bleeds sluggishly red.

"Take him to the bedroom and lie him down."

Tony's brain is stuck.

"You wish to keep on holding him?" Loki snaps, eyes flashing green fire, "Fine. But he will not thank you for it when he wakes covered in bruises and bleeding, nor when he must extract himself so that he can drink."

Numbly, Tony moves.

Pepper drags back the bedclothes for him, and back up after he dumps Steve down. Then Tony moves back to allow in everyone else. Tries to not think about how pale Steve looks beneath the bedclothes. Occasionally, a part of the supersoldier twitches with short, wracking spasms.

"It's not lethal, the blue venom. Not in small doses," Loki says, hovering by the bedside, "It," a fleeting glance upwards past his shoulder, to Bruce or maybe Thor, and then a stiff shrug, "Hurts. That is its purpose. Like Crucio. Everything is inside the mind. Nothing is actually being damaged. And that, I think, is all he was stuck by. But I admit I do not know how long it will take him to recover. I have not seen it used on a human before."

"You can't do anything to," Tony waves a hand vaguely, "Fix him faster?"

"Perhaps," Loki says, "But I would prefer not to."

"Why?"

"Would you test out an untried, unknown cure for a common cold on Pepper?"

"... Fair enough," Tony allows, "Mind, I don't think I'd punch her in the jaw either..."

"Thank you," Pepper says.

Loki doesn't smile.

"You would if you had ever felt the blue venom yourself," he says.

There's not much Tony can say to that one, so he doesn't reply. Just watches as Steve's hand clenches again and Loki reaches out and sort of just... rests his fingers on it for a moment, and then twitches them back like he's not sure touching people is okay.

"I will remain with him," Loki says, after a moment or two. "In case I am wrong and anything does change. But I doubt," a pointed look at Thor, "That all of us will be needed."

Comforting, Tony thinks.

Still. It is, in a way.

At least Loki seems to vaguely know what to do.

"I'll stay too. Doctor," Bruce adds.

He isn't the right sort, technically speaking. But then none of them are, so Tony doesn't challenge it.

Neither does Loki. The demigod just shuffles backwards a bit and lets him start feeling Steve's wrist.

"BP," Bruce clarifies.

Loki nods, eyes blank.

There's a moment of silence. And then:

"I'll wait in the other room. With you, Thor. If that's okay?" Pepper announces.

Thor blinks and then nods at her and Tony wonders, suddenly, if some non-verbal exchange just happened that he missed because Pepper's moving past him looking determined and Loki's expression, before it morphs back to that careful blankness, is almost grateful.

"Is there anything I can do to help you, brother?" Thor says, hesitating. "Before I leave?"

"I need nothing."

"And Steve...?"

Slightly, ever so slightly, Loki thaws.

"He needs rest."

Thor nods, brow clearing a bit.

"I shall leave you then, brother. Bruce. If you change your mind or there is something I can do for Steve or for either of you, tell me. I will be in the other room."

"Thanks, Thor," Bruce says, "If we need you, we'll call."

Loki is silent.

Thor leaves. Or rather, he half does because he pauses at the doorway when Tony steps aside to let him pass and turns to look at him, eyes painfully earnest. His voice, when he speaks, is low.

"They are… friends? My brother and Steve?"

Tony shrugs. Nods.

The point of this is what?

"They are," he says anyway, and then, because it's not just Steve, "And me. And Bruce. Hard to not like him, really. I mean, he gets science and likes Star Wars. Hope you're hearing this, Robbie," he adds, slightly louder, "For future reference, ego boosts and black coffee are a fair exchange."

Loki shoots Tony a distinctly unimpressed look.

Thor plows onwards, ignoring him, still radiating sincerity.

"I guessed as much. If that is so then you were willing to befriend my brother, to offer him a place in your home and at your side after SHIELD taught my brother the lessons he so sorely needed, even after all the harm he brought to this realm. For that, you have my gratitude, Tony Stark, and my friendship. You, Bruce and Steve all."

Wait, gratitude? Friendship?

For what SHIELD did?

He stares at Thor, stares at his smile, and feels his right hand bunching into a solid fist.

He's about to say the hell SHIELD taught Loki, how can Thor be sick enough to call what happened needed, but he's still looking at Loki and suddenly he realises the demigod's expression has flipped one-eighty. All the blankness is gone. He's white. His hands are white and under the bruises his face is white and even his lips are white and in his eyes is raw fear mixed with a terrible, desperate plea. His hands are curled into fists, nails biting into his palms hard enough to draw blood, and Tony wonders if he even knows he's doing it. Bruce's back is very still.

"Um. Sure. Cool," he hears himself say, tearing his gaze from Loki's, "I'll remember that. Maybe. Possibly. You realise I don't do feelings, right?"

Loki draws in a shuddering breath, and turns his face away.

Thor laughs and claps him on the shoulder.

Tony thinks he feels his teeth rattle.

"I am grateful nonetheless. There are not many who would have done as much for my brother. And many who would have done less."

Less. Right.

He sends Thor a fake grin that seems to do the trick because Thor grins back and says he hopes Steve wakes soon feeling better and repeats that if they need him for anything, anything at all, he will be in the other room with Pepper. And then, after one last, lingering look at Loki that reminds Tony of a small puppy trying to not ask for a walk, he leaves.

Tony says he'll be out in a moment.

Then he closes the door and wanders over to Loki, now studiously examining the carpet.

"So. What'd you tell him happened at SHIELD?"

The demigod's eyes snap up to his, startled. Wide.

"Don't even try it, Robbie. He didn't get that story from Heimdall. Might have got it from your dad, seeing as your dad seems like a giant bag of dicks, but somehow I'm thinking not. Not with the puppy eyes you just shot me. Spill."

A hint of defensiveness creeps into Loki's face.

"I simply told him that SHIELD fed, clothed and washed me, and that I was bored. I allowed him to draw his own conclusions."

Tony raises an eyebrow.

"Uh huh."

Loki's gaze slips from his face down to where Bruce is now fussing over Steve's leg, like oil down wet glass.

"... I may have implied I was fine, and that their priority was my welfare and my so-desired 'redemption'."

Tony slumps down at the foot of the bed. There are lots of things he probably should say here. Sensible things like, Too many people know. Everything was filmed. Eventually, someone's going to tell him or he's going to ask Heimdall and you'd be better off doing it on your own terms now while you can. But he remembers Afghanistan and he thinks maybe, if Obie had asked or Rhodey, if he'd had happen what Loki had happen, he might have just said, They tried to make me build a 'Jericho' and I said I would and built the Iron Man suit instead and allowed them to draw their own conclusions too.

"We're going to have to warn Steve. Tasha and Clint too, if Thor's going to keep saying things like that," he says, eventually. "And Pepper."

Loki breathes in, a shallow hiss.

"You… you do not intend to tell him, then?" he says, carefully flat.

"That would be a no. Or did you miss the whole, 'Okay I'll accept your gratitude and not punch you in the face you oblivious asshole' thing back there?"

That gets a quick glance and a smile, razor-thin and fleeting but there.

"I did not. I thought you might perhaps be planning to tell him somewhere else, where I could not hear. To be..." Loki looks like he's searching for a word that isn't 'a lying little shit'. After a delicate pause, he produces a lame, "Tactful."

Tony snorts. Bruce doesn't.

"I want that on record, Loki. You, thinking I might be being tactful."

The smile lasts a bit longer this time, and it's softer somehow. Almost fond. Then Loki goes back to staring at Steve's hand. Tony wonders if there's enough room unoccupied by the supersoldier to flop backwards on the bed. His eyelids feel like lead.

The door clicks open before he can try.

It's Pepper.

"Steve's fine," Tony says, lurching upright, "Loki? You're officially in charge of alerting me if Steve wakes. When he wakes. And Pepper. Pronto. Yes?"

"I will," Loki promises.

Privately, Tony wonders.

Loki looks like he'll be asleep well before that happens. But he doesn't say so. Just because the demigod looks like he's lost a battle with a meat grinder doesn't necessarily mean he's close to collapse. He's seen people stay awake through worse. And anyway, there's Bruce. Still... making a vague, be-there-in-a-moment gesture to Pepper, he leaves the room, fills two glasses with cold water sets them on the table next to the bed. And then fetches what Thor helpfully tells him is Bruce's coffee.

"For when Steve wakes. And in case Misters Green-and-Ugly and I-Need-Nothing get thirsty at some point." And don't fancy sneaking out past Thor, he doesn't add.

Bruce looks touched. Loki doesn't.

"I am capable of walking ten meters out the doorway to the sink, Tony," he says ungratefully.

"Sure you are," Tony agrees placidly.

Loki shoots him a dirty look.

But he doesn't say anything more.

And as Tony leaves, he also catches him reaching for the glass.