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 should never have discovered Korean TV Dramas, Kim Rae-won or Won Ki-Joon. (Credit goes to GothicCheshire & TheObsessor11294, for beta-ing this for me)


Chapter 43: A Study in Waiting

Tony's right, as it happens. He doesn't sleep.

Pepper doesn't either, but she's closer to it than him. Or at least, Tony assumes she is, because she groans and buries her head a bit further beneath her pillow instead of telling him to give it a bit longer when he rises and makes a stealthy escape downstairs after his thirty minutes are done.

Steve's reading in the loungeroom, when he passes it.

There's a handset on the table next to him, and the seat he's got overlooks the bay. He looks tired.

He glances up when Tony's half-way down the stairs, eyes questioning.

"Workshop," Tony offers.

"Right. Good luck."

"Thanks."

An underwhelming exchange, all things considered.

He's not sorry to abandon it.

The workbench is exactly how he'd left it last time when he gets there. Advantages of having You and Dummy relocated to the Tower, probably. That, and not yet being found by Polt. Though even if they are: Houseparty Protocol. He's got this. He pours himself a coffee, settles himself in front of a laptop, cranks the music up, and sets Jarvis to trawling SHIELD's servers for relevant info.

Then he settles down to apply himself to the noble art of cramming.

OoOoOoOoO

It's early afternoon when Loki trots downstairs to Tony's workshop looking scruffy, tired and slightly peeved.

He's slept a solid six hours, which is actually impressive, given the strange house and the recent stress. He blames knocking a book off the edge of the bed for the fact that he woke up at all, and looks, frankly, like it wouldn't hurt him to crawl back into bed for another ten or so hours. Tony says so.

"You are hardly in a position to lecture me," Loki tells him, "You have not slept at all."

"My house, my rules, buddy. I'm allowed to be hypocritical when I want to."

Loki rolls his eyes, and slumps inelegantly into a chair beside him.

"That is hardly fair."

"That's life for you. Tell you what, get a job— preferably with Stark Industries, R&D— get an apartment, and when I visit you, you get to tell me the ground rules."

"Tempting. But the satisfaction I would gain from that would not be worth the effort spent to achieve it."

The words are light, but there's something in Loki's eyes that doesn't match his voice. Not uncertainty, quite, but something close. If he were Pepper, he'd probably be able to read it. As it is, Tony's got nothing. It's more than a flicker, though, because it's still there when the demigod adds:

"Why work for what you give me now for nothing?"

"I admire your dedication to maximising the cost-gain benefit to our relationship."

"Thank you," Loki says, smile sharp. "It is one of the many skills I have honed during the long centuries of my existence."

A blatant lie. Loki wouldn't be the mess that he is if he'd done that. Still, Tony's not going to call him on it.

Is Loki worried he's going to mind if he sticks around mooching? Maybe. He's proud enough for it to be possible. Tony considers telling him that before he made her CEO Pepper bought his birthday presents for her with his money, and that even with a salary in the six-figure bracket, she still does. That most of his friends, pre-the-SHIELD-mess, were people he paid to stick around. He also considers telling the demigod that what he's done for them this far is a lot more than nothing, and probably even a lot more than Clint, who he's pretty sure he did actually hire to do this.

He doesn't though, in the end. He could be wrong, and besides, he's not had enough sleep for anything that's this likely to lead to a D&M.

He grins instead, and jabs a finger at Loki.

"Well then it looks like you're going to be stuck with my ground rules forever."

"I am, am I?" Loki says drily, "I would mind that more, I think, if you had any likely to constrain me."

"Believe me, I have them. Rule number one: No stabbing my cars on the premises."

Loki's smile turns more genuine. Whatever the look was, it's gone now.

"Oh? And when we are not on the premises?"

"... No stabbing them anywhere at all."

"Indeed?" Loki says.

His tone is deceptively mild. Tony frowns suspiciously.

"And no scratching them either. Or killing th— Let's go with damaging them. No damaging my cars voluntarily in any way at all."

"Very well," Loki says placidly.

Tony eyes him a moment.

Loki holds his gaze, eyes bright; innocent.

"You've got about ten different ways to wreck those cars without breaking your word, haven't you?"

Loki grins, but doesn't reply.

Tony groans.

"Console yourself, Tony, with the reflection that you are insured."

"I've been doing that for the last nine hours."

"Oh? Is the thought of all of us here together truly that daunting for you?"

"Frankly? Yes."

Loki makes an abortive movement with one hand. If it were anyone else, Tony'd have said he was going for a friendly punch on the shoulder. It's not, though, and he's yet to see the demigod voluntarily going for physical contact with anyone, unless he's sparring with Steve. Probably just making himself more comfortable, then. It's not long before the careless laughter in Loki's eyes begins fade.

"Problem?" Tony asks.

"No. Well, perhaps. It is... strange. It is over, and yet I still feel..." Loki trails off, shrugging.

"Like a seagull's suddenly going to turn into a Jericho and blow this place right out from beneath us?" Tony offers flippantly. "Makes two of us, Robbie. Disadvantage of having a good imagination. Speaking of which, how possible do you think it is to get your magic well instantly and create a cure for the Elixir of Death?"

Loki squints at him, a bit doubtfully.

"What does that have to do with having a good imagination?"

"... Steve," Tony admits, glumly, "I kinda told him I could do it."

"Ah," Loki says.

Ah about sums it up.

"Was that during the period that neither you nor Jarvis bothered waking me, when you arrived home?"

Tony decides to tackle this situation like the mature adult he is.

"Maybe. But if you're blaming people, bear in mind that Steve, Bruce and Pepper didn't wake you either. I mean, at most, that leaves me with twenty percent of the blame."

Loki raises an eyebrow at him, looking like he's trying for unimpressed and mostly hitting 'amused'.

"You think so, do you? I disagree. The fact that you wrote Jarvis leaves you with forty percent of the blame, not twenty. You are leading the field."

"We're ordering you new clothes? Overnight delivery? That actually fit, and don't have me on them?"

"You, or Pepper?"

"... Well, Pepper. Obviously. But it's my money she's using."

"Because the CEO of Stark Industries is, naturally, short of funds."

Tony's pretty sure that doesn't have anything to do with Pepper using his money. Still. Moot point. The credit for that one's clearly not going to him.

He changes tactics.

"I can teach you how to drive a manual?"

The response is instant. The amused-slash-your-cars-will-suffer look on the demigod's face cracks into instant greed and something that's almost like longing. It's disturbing, in a way, how predictable that change is. Makes him wonder inconvenient, messy little things like what sort of response Loki's had in the past to asking questions, that's left him so unable to ask for the things he so clearly wants. He dismisses it. Thoughts like that tend to lead to pity, and that's the last thing Loki wants or needs right now.

"The Roadster?" Loki asks.

"Nnnye— Maybe," Tony hedges, "Eventually. She's not something you just start on. She's something that has to be earned."

Loki frowns sceptically.

"What must I do to earn her? Drive well?"

"... Essentially."

Loki eyes Tony thoughtfully. Then he nods.

"Very well. I will learn, and I will earn her. When it is safe to do so."

"Deal," Tony says, "Though for the record, that much intensity over driving? Mildly disturbing. Oh, and maybe wait until after I forge you a license too, or rope Pepper into doing it for me, because if you're going to be playing on the roads, you might as well have one. And a credit card."

Loki grins, and reaches for a pen. Starts fiddling.

"You realise that I will abuse your funds endlessly, if you give them to me."

"Billionaire, buddy. Besides, it'll have a cap on it. Maybe. If I remember."

Loki looks sort of touched, exasperated, and weirdly fond.

Tony decides not to think about the why of it too hard. He goes back to typing instead. Researching. Thinking.

He needs more coffee. His heart might be objecting, just a little, to the eight cups he's had so far, but it'll cope. He's had worse.

"What are you doing?" Loki asks, after a moment or two.

"Cramming."

Silence.

"Developmental sciences," Tony clarifies, "Intelligent drug design. Molecular engineering."

"I thought you said that you were hoping I would have some way to cure the serum with magic."

"Kind of. I mean, it'd be awesome if you did, but I'm not that optimistic. Even if you can work out what the cure is, we've got to replicate it for a whole planet. Ideally, indefinitely. Does your magic operate on that large a scale? Like, on a curing entire planets of people forever sort of scale?"

"No," Loki admits, "Not really."

Tony hmms his agreement.

"Have you a strategy, for this research?"

"Homework first, strategy later. If Steve asks though, I'm going brilliantly and I've already started working on a solution."

"Of course you have. The first step to finding any solution is research."

"Exactly," Tony agrees.

"And if Bruce asks?"

"If Bruce asks, tell him to trot down here. I'm planning to rope him into helping me, at least until we get up to the practical part of the exercise. He's going to be my tutor slash sounding board slash science buddy while I play around with virtual simulators and chemical databases and whatever research SHIELD left on their servers on the stuff that I can still access, because he's the one who actually has a clue about what I'm going to be doing with the serum."

"Why exclude him from the practical part?" Loki asks.

Tony swivels his chair a bit to look at the demigod.

"Serum. Breathable. Lethal. Any of this sounding even vaguely problematic, if we're doing it in the same room as Bruce? I mean, PPE exists, but still."

"You intend to experiment on the serum, rather than the pre-serum, first?" Loki frowns.

Tony stares at Loki.

Loki stares back.

"... I've been up for thirty-three hours," Tony defends himself.

Loki's gaze flicks pointedly down to the coffee mug, then back up to his face.

"That means that you should have tried harder to sleep before now instead of drinking coffee, not that that is not an abysmal idea."

"It's not that bad," Tony defends himself, more for pride than because he actually thinks the words leaving his mouth are actually true, "I mean, we don't know what the pre-serum even does when it hits the human bloodstream. We don't know what it looks like, what happens to it, what—"

"Do we need to?" Loki cuts him off, coolly.

"Um, yes? I mean, I'm not an expert, but I don't need to be to know that we're kind of stuffed if we don't know what the thing we're targeting even looks like. It's not like I've got the setup here to play around with X-ray crystallography. I'm an inventor and a mechanic, not a biochemist. The tools for that are all at the Tower. We can't invent something to chop off the active site on a molecule when we have absolutely no clue what the thing even looks like."

"And your chances of analysing the true serum here are better, are they?"

"... Maybe?"

Loki snorts.

"Concede defeat, Tony. You are beaten."

"I'm not beaten until I know whether SHIELD has any info for me on either serum," Tony counters firmly.

Loki rolls his eyes.

"Well, assuming that I am right and you can determine where on mutated genes the pre-serum binds, would it not be easier to simply... occupy it with something else instead? Something that fits better, that would prevent a reaction from taking place at all?"

"That depends. If it's adding itself to the same spot every time, maybe, or if the pre-serum is a catalyst. But if something being in that spot is what the serum needs to do whatever it does to kill people? If even tiny doses are lethal? Not so much. We won't know until we try to track what the serum actually does when it's added to mutated DNA. Even then, the fact that the DNA's going to lose whatever we add to it after it self-replicates is also going to cause problems. It's a chemical weapon we're talking about, not a disease. I don't think it's going to be possible to invent a vaccine."

Loki's frown deepens.

"For someone who claims to know little about the subject, you seem to know rather a lot."

"Cramming," Tony reminds him, "It's a thing humans do. Well, college graduates, anyway. Though in fairness, I'm pretty sure everyone above the age of ten has mastered it. This just has ten times the pressure of your average exam and a bigger penalty for failing."

Loki makes a dismissive noise.

It's kind of weird, how clear-cut everything is, and how bright, when he's like this.

He's staring at his pen. When did he start?

So maybe he's slightly drunk, as well as overtired. Ah well. He's been worse.

"Tony?" Loki says.

"Yeah?" Tony asks.

"Are you—"

"I'm fine."

Loki doesn't look like he's buying it. He doesn't challenge it though, at least, not out loud.

Just looks at Tony a moment longer, before shrugging.

There's a moment or two more of silence. Then:

"If we cannot invent a vaccine, we cannot permanently occupy every site to which the serum can bind, we cannot find out what the pre-serum looks like before it reacts with mutated DNA, and we cannot examine the serum because you lack the facilities here to do so... How do you intend to invent a cure?"

Tony massages his forehead, fighting a budding headache.

"I'm a genius. I invented the suit in a cave. I'll think of something. The serum emits radiation. So does the pre-serum—and we need to think of a better name to call that, by the way. Or at least a nickname. But whatever it does, it should be traceable. If Bruce is happy donating me blood to test, I can add some of the serum to that and see what I can work out. It'll have something."

They will have something. Right? Right, Tony tells himself firmly.

Still. First step's first. Homework. Then he'll see what he can find out from SHIELD's database.

"My magic..." Loki starts, then shrugs, forcing a smile, "I will see what I can do."

"How much does it hurt?" Tony asks, idly.

Loki stiffens slightly.

"C'mon, this isn't a pity-party I'm throwing you," Tony needles. "Tell you what, you answer me honestly, and I'll tell you honestly how I'm feeling."

"How you are feeling is obvious enough," Loki counters coolly, "You are overtired, overstressed and overcaffeinated and would do well to sleep now while it is moderately safe in case we are attacked here later and do not get the chance. But you will not. You are like Bruce was, before we arrived; a spring, too tightly coiled. You will wait until you are drunk on weariness or you collapse before you try."

"... I was going to go with 'sleepy', but okay. And for the record, Bruce left to sleep twenty-odd minutes after I got here."

Loki sends him a sharp smile.

"Yes. So Steve told me."

Tony rolls his eyes and goes back to typing. Resists— barely— the temptation to push.

He's rewarded for it, after a full two minutes of silence.

"My magic, Tony," Loki sighs, "Was like turning on a badly-wired switch. The power is there, surging within me, but it merely... It burns, that is all. It is not pleasant, but it is not the worst thing I have felt. I had intended to rest it, for a day or so, in case the fault was merely over-straining it. To see if it would obey me then, or if I must seek out some other solution to the problem."

"Not a bad plan," Tony says.

"No, I did not think so," Loki agrees. He hesitates, then adds: "If Bruce asks, my efforts to heal myself go painlessly well."

"Fussing, is he?" Tony says sympathetically.

"Yes. I do not know why. He did not when I had a dagger wound in my side, or in front of Thor."

"He's a tactful guy," Tony says, "You kind of go all squishy and small whenever Thor's name comes up, and when you're in the same room as him it's like, I don't know—"

"Nor do I," Loki says sweetly, "I would not tax myself, if I were you, thinking up a suitable metaphor."

"... Fair enough. Whatever you do then. He's not going to embarrass you in front of your big brother. He'll save it for the after-battle private time. Like I say. Tact."

"A quality you seem to lack."

"Yep. Pepper's been failing to instil it in me for years."

"She has my condolences."

"... I can still revoke the credit card, Robbie."

"You promised a phone that you have yet to give me," Loki says carelessly, "I will believe in the possibility of your credit card when I see it."

"... Jarvis," Tony says, "Tell Pepper to add a StarkPhone to the list of things to order."

"Yes, sir."

Tony turns back to Loki, triumphantly.

"Ha."

Loki's lips are tugging upwards now, into a reluctant smile.

"I stand corrected. You do not make your own?"

"From scratch?" Tony says, sceptically, "I mean, I could, but why bother? My designs are perfect already. I wouldn't mass produce 'em if they weren't."

"Such modesty," Loki says, splaying a hand across his heart.

Tony grins. He'd reply, but his brain picks that moment to go perfectly blank. Disadvantages of over-tiredness.

He goes back to staring at his laptop screen. Developmental sciences. Research. That's it.

That, protein databases, and reliable reaction simulators.

"Thor will be coming, soon," Loki says.

"Believe me, I'm aware of that."

And then, because there'd been a note of something, there, in that:

"See, this is why Bruce gets all overprotective of you. And Pepper. You sound like that and then when you say you're fine all it does is make us want to give you a hug or something. I mean, come on. No one's going to think any less of you if you admit that he makes you feel kinda like clocking him on the jaw or hiding in a corner somewhere because he combines Tarzan's respect for personal boundaries with Kronk's level of perceptive. Kronk's everything, maybe. Except his cooking skills."

"Thor can cook," Loki says, mildly, "On campaigns, on quests, most of us learned. And Foster taught him how to cook your meals, during his exile."

"Which you know because...?"

Loki flushes, and won't meet his eyes.

"I used to watch him. Sometimes. When I wasn't busy ruling," he admits, sounding sullen.

"That's weirdly cute, as well as creepy. You worried about him?"

Loki sends him a dirty look.

"I'll take that as a yes."

"I was watching him to see if he was close to proving himself worthy, or if I had time to prove that I was better, not because I cared. If I had cared, I would not have sent the destroyer to Midgard to kill him when his friends tried to visit him. If I had cared, I would not have told him that Odin had died from the grief Thor's actions had induced, and that Frigga would not allow me to bring him home. I would not have told him that he could never go home and let him think that he would be stuck in his mortal shell until he'd lived out his meagre lifetime and died unworthy, sickly, frail and alone."

Tony clicks his pen in and out a few times, digesting that.

"That was mean," he says at last.

"It was intended to be."

"Why?"

Loki makes an impatient gesture.

"Why not? I felt like hurting him, at the time. He had everything— not then, perhaps, but Frigga had made it clear enough that he would. And I... It matters not."

It does, Tony suspects. He's just not sure how.

"I'm starting to feel insecure here. Speaking, you know. As a billionaire and a superhero."

Loki eyes him blankly a moment, before understanding flickers in his eyes.

"I would not hurt you. You are my friend. And even if you were not, you did not gain what you have by taking it from me, or begrudge me what little I have left. You do not tell me to know my place and be silent when I speak out of turn, and nor do you say things like 'I will teach the Jotnar to fear us, so that they never cross our borders again' or 'father, let us slaughter this race of monsters together'."

"... Thor said that?"

Loki shrugs.

"In his defence, they had broken the truce between our realms, and killed two of the Vault guards."

"Thor mentioned that, actually. The dead guards, I mean, as opposed to the blatant racism. In the context of your shoddy Asgardian security."

"It is not 'shoddy.'"

"Your entire security network revolves around one guy who isn't protected by anyone and has to run and deliver reports manually."

"It is not quite that bad," Loki says, rolling his eyes. "There are wards on most restricted areas that alert the King when people perform actions there that are illegal. Defence mechanisms, like the shield that protects the main Palace, and the Destroyer, that are activated remotely."

Tony eyes him sceptically.

"Tell me, Tony, how long has your electricity been used? Two hundred years? Three?"

"I'm going to assume that's rhetorical?"

"Two hundred," Loki says, ignoring him, "And how long are your fossil fuels supposed to last?"

Tony can sense, vaguely, where he's going with this.

"Arc reactor technology will have kicked off long before they run out."

"Because it is so readily accessible. So simple, for the world's population to use."

"Once I've perfected it, yes."

Loki raises an eyebrow. Tony meets his gaze stubbornly.

After a moment or so the demigod laughs, shrugs and looks away.

"Perhaps. Asgard may even buy that technology from you, if you do manage to make it work. That or simply steal it. A renewable source of energy, that will not leave their atmosphere festering and dead in a few thousand years' time would be popular, I think. More practical on a large scale than magic, and Asgard needs its defences upgraded anyway. I do not think we have done that for nearly nine centuries, now."

"I need another scotch, I think," Tony says, trying to comprehend the enormity of going nine-hundred years without improving military defences.

He rises. Walks over to the bar. Pours himself one.

It doesn't help.

"Nine hundred years."

"Comfort yourself with the reflection that if Asgard had met any threat in that time it could not easily defeat, we would have done so."

"They don't find the idea of a nuke going off even vaguely disturbing?"

"Tony," Loki says, sounding amused, "Are you jealous? Do you want Odin to see you as a threat?"

"... No," Tony says, reluctantly.

Loki grins.

"You do. You should not. Knowledge is what concerns him, not power. He is like Heimdall, Tony. If he can see what you are doing, when you are doing it, he does not fear you. Why should he? You cannot strike him without him knowing what you intend, and none in the Nine Realms can match him in power. Not in Asgard, with the Odinforce at his command. It is subtlety and stealth, not raw power, that he fears."

Tony grimaces, and downs another mouthful of scotch.

"So they feared you, then?"

"I doubt it," Loki says shortly, lip curling, "I was loyal enough to him, back then. Pathetically so, even."

"When you weren't signing away provinces or killing Baldur."

He's not sure the last one's right, until Loki sucks in a sharp breath, frowning.

"Myths," Tony offers, by way of explanation.

He pours a second scotch, and wanders back over to the demigod. Plonks it down next to him, and reseats himself.

Absently, Loki takes it.

"I need to read them, I think."

"Yeah."

They're silent for a while. Not comfortable, quite, but something close.

"I was still loyal to him," Loki says, eventually, a bit sullenly. "To Asgard, and Odin. I did not mean for Baldur to actually die. I just wanted him to hurt."

Tony eyes him.

"I'm kind of glad I'm not your sibling. No offense. Just saying."

Loki glares at him.

"Did you ever consider, I don't know. Talking? As opposed to starting off with potentially fatal assault?"

"Sometimes."

"... And?"

Loki shrugs.

"I asked Baldur, once, to stop flinching at the sight of my children, and to treat them like his nephews instead of beasts. He told me that he was not a good enough liar to pretend my children were not monsters. I confess that I stopped 'talking' with him about how I felt about him after that. I was jealous, I think. He had so much— was Frigga's favourite, the fairest son of Odin, loved by all, and he gave his own love back so freely— and yet he would not give me that. But then, I was not very fair. I hated him, but he was still young then, and he was not the only one who made it clear that he could not bear the sight of my family."

"He sounds like a jerk," Tony says.

"He was not. He was... imagine a cross between Giselle, from Enchanted, and— and Thor."

"You might have to help me out here, because I'm guessing I'm not supposed to be picturing a bearded lady."

Loki snorts, eyes distant.

"You are not. He was handsome, strong, and painfully naive. The sort of person who would dive into floodwater to rescue a drowning kitten and tell a wrinkled crone she was beautiful and mean it. If the serving maids found any spiders, he was the one they went to to remove them. He never laughed at them. He also tended to tell the tutors whenever Thor and I slipped out when we should have been in bed, to raid the kitchens or visit the tavern or simply to stir up trouble. He was... annoyingly virtuous."

"One of those kids," Tony says, with sympathy.

Loki sends him a lopsided grin.

"You are supposed to be reproving me, Tony. You have just found out that I murdered my bro— my adopted brother. You are a hero, not a villain. You should not approve."

There are a thousand ways to deflect that one.

Tony opts for looking Loki straight in the eyes, and saying:

"No, I've just found out you accidentally killed a guy. Compare that to the myths, where it was your evil plan from the get-go, and New York? I'm not saying it's not bad that you meant to injure him, but I watched you deliberately, intentionally roasting people alive on the streets of New York. I was out there, clearing up the wreckage and lifting cars off people's legs and dragging rubble off half-crushed kids. I'm hardly going to be more disapproving of one count of manslaughter however many centuries ago than I am for that. I mean, which of us— Avengers, I mean— haven't killed people, directly or indirectly, who we didn't mean to? Well, besides Steve," Tony amends, because he's pretty sure Steve's past is as spotless as a set of white teeth on an Aquafresh commercial.

Loki's brows twitch into a frown, half unsure.

D&M alert be damned.

"Do you know why they used to call me the 'Merchant of Death'?"

"Because you earned your fortune by facilitating slaughter. Most of this country's military operations, at least until around nineteen months ago, were conducted using your weapons, and in selling them you profited from the deaths of your enemies. Those projects Stark Industries worked on that were not warlike in nature were funded either by your weapon sales or by your army directly."

Tony frowns.

"Clint?" he says accusingly.

Loki inclines his head.

"You know, this was going to be the bonding moment where we suddenly realised that we had a shared history of killing people we wish we hadn't that we're trying to move away from, and you realised that actually most of us had histories just as dirty as yours," Tony tells him, peeved.

It earns him one raised eyebrow, and a sceptical look.

"Because, of course, creating weapons and selling them for the sole purpose of protecting and strengthening your part of this realm is exactly the same as destroying blindly, without remorse and without care as to your target, and not realising a man who was supposed to be your friend was illegally selling your inventions to both sides with neither your knowledge nor your consent is not different at all from deliberately trying to slaughter an entire city because you lost your temper and wanted to hurt your not-brother for no reason that makes sense now at all. Yes. I see precisely why we would have bonded over that."

There have been people who haven't cared that he used to design weapons for the military— that thanks to him being busy throwing parties and getting drunk and not seeing what was happening in his own company, those weapons killed who knows how many US soldiers and probably ten times that number of civilians. There are people, because there's Pepper, for one. Rhodey, for another. All of SHIELD, for that matter.

It's still strange to have it dismissed so easily.

To have someone not just try to console him for it, but genuinely not care.

He's been silent a fraction too long, he thinks, going by the way Loki's watching him.

"Yes. Well," he says, forcing his thoughts to move, "That's not... Different intentions, same end result."

"Intentions matter though, do they not? At least to some extent. If a doctor in this realm attempts surgery and the patient dies, is that not better than the same doctor deliberately cutting wrongly and purposefully ending them?"

Easier to say than feel, but he can't argue the logic there.

"... Fair enough. So bonding's out."

"I would not say that. Your intent was clear enough. And touching."

"Touching," Tony echoes.

Just how tired is he?

"Yes. I do not have many friends, who try to console me for the fact that I have killed and do not regret it."

"... You're making me feel mildly like a sociopath now."

Loki snorts again, and downs the rest of his scotch.

"That was not my intention. I simply... As I said, it is rare. Most of my old friends would have been shouting at me by now, or hitting me, reciting a litany of the full horror of my deeds at me, and telling me all the ways that I am a monster for not feeling the sort of guilt you do for your past. I used to pretend I did feel something, sometimes. Especially for Mo—for Frigga. She used to cry, sometimes, especially when she was alone."

"Mothers tend to do that, when their kids die."

"I know."

He probably does.

They're silent for a while.

"Your friends hit you?" Tony says, eventually.

"Your friends do not?"

Tony remembers Rhodey, this mansion, and a very unfortunate party.

"Point."

They're silent for a while more.

"You should Google PTSD at some point," Tony says.

Loki glances up at him, startled.

"PTSD?"

"Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder."

"I do not suffer from any disorder," Loki huffs.

Tony hesitates.

Honesty wars with pride.

Honesty wins.

"You're lucky then. I do."

"... You do?" Loki frowns doubtfully.

Tony shrugs. Smiles. Downs another mouthful of scotch. Loki knows, he reminds himself. Not the details, but that it happened. And he's survived worse.

It doesn't make it easy, but it makes it easier.

"Yep. Bathwater. They dunked me, in Afghanistan. It was—" he breaks off, which is strange because he'd kind of meant to spit more out, "Cold, I guess. I remember, when I have baths. So I don't. That's PTSD. Symptoms of it. Avoidance and the flashbacks."

Loki drums his fingers idly on the bench.

"I do not like mirrors," he admits at last, sounding cautious. "Or falling."

Tony nods. Wanders over to the bar, and refills their glasses.

"Google it," he says, again.

Loki hesitates, then glances at him.

"I will Google it if you will sleep."

Tony raises his eyebrows.

"I'm not tired, Robbie."

Loki's mouth twists into a lopsided smirk.

"And I am not suffering from any disorder. Shall we research this cure together, then?"

Tony frowns at him severely.

"That's blackmail."

Loki's smirk widens.

Still, in the game of who's manipulating who, Tony's not sure he's losing. Is it sad that he and Loki are both substituting manipulation for open conversation, and not choosing to look after themselves without that? Probably. He's sure it's a symptom of something else that's wrong with them.

"Well, Tony?"

Tony sighs.

"Deal."

OoOoOoOoO

Loki reads, dutifully, the multiple entries on 'PTSD' for Tony once the mortal has left.

The symptoms of it are disturbingly accurate. It irritates him. He does not want his mind to be sick. Bad enough to be afflicted with an ailment he can mend, without one that seems to persist indefinitely and for which quaint solutions like talking are required to fix. Talking. Loki sneers at the slew of words, eyes dark. So. They would have him share his secrets, these nameless professionals, and relive everything, would they? And for what? 'Wikipedia', at least, suggests that this does not always work. And even if it might, if he has not spoken of Fenris, of Svadilfari, in centuries, what then?

If speaking quickly is necessary to prevent long term effects, he has missed his chance to be free of it centuries ago.

He wonders if Steve has read this too.

Probably. Steve had been far too happy when he had told him the little he had of his past.

Loki glares at the screen, and wonders if he should feel resentful or touched.

He gives up, after an hour or so.

Googles cures instead, and mutants, before getting sidetracked onto Tony.

There are videos of him, on YouTube. Loki decides, eying their titles doubtfully, not to click on them.

He will ask later why so many of them seem to feature Tony without clothes.

He switches to Thor next.

To Steve.

The Battle of Manhattan is the top result for both of them.

Both of them look tired, in the footage of them watching New York burn. Odd. He does not remember that.

But then, perhaps that is because Steve had not mattered then, and he is too used to thinking of Thor as he does of Odin; radiant, confident and invincibly strong. He does not look so here. In these photos, Thor looks... weary, Loki decides. Tired, resigned, and perhaps unhappy as he shades his eyes and stares upwards at the sky. Loki watches the image for a short while, feeling a curious stab of... something. There are more photos of Thor, and video clips. Thor blasting the Chitauri from the sky, and kicking cars. Stupid of those filming, to waste time on that instead of flight. Stupid, but convenient. He wonders why he is wasting time with this at all.

His lips twist, brittle and sour.

Abruptly, impatiently, he clicks the 'Thor' search result tab closed. Moves the cursor; makes to close the 'Captain America' one too.

This distraction gains him nothing.

And then he stiffens, suddenly cold, eyes snagging on a string of words a few results down from the top of the page.

Betrayed: Superheroes Harbor New York Killer. (Posted 43 minutes ago.)

It can't be. Can't—

He clicks the link. A news website, of some sort. Sees the headline, larger now and bolded. Beneath it, two photos run together, side by side. The first, a screenshot from New York, is of him flying, shooting at a group of mortals cowering beneath him, too stupid or too frightened to run. The second is of himself once more, but blurred this time, and grainy, and seated beside Steve drinking coffee.

"Jarvis?" Loki says, rising abruptly, "Put me onto Romanoff. Now."