A/N: Hello, and welcome to my fanfiction. This story will be Loki-centric with a possibility of FrostIron (Or IronFrost, if I'm feeling it) later on. Starting out, I'm putting everyone in place. Thor and Loki are in Asgard, and the rest of the Avengers are back on Midgard, settling into life after Loki. I hope you enjoy.
Disclaimer: I do not own Marvel's Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Incredible Hulk, or Avengers.
The sun streamed through the high branches of the trees above, casting pale shadows over the brightly colored flowers of the garden. The calmness and quietude of the place stilled Loki's nerves and soothed his senses, and so he would often be found sitting beneath the largest of the trees, surrounded by the scents of nature. He sat cross-legged with a long forgotten book in his lap, dull green eyes half-lidded, and hand ghosting over blades of grass. He breathed deeply the rich air, a smile tugging at his lips. Forgetting was nice; forgetting was simpler.
"Here you are, brother!"
But forgetting was not allowed.
Loki glanced up through thick lashes at Thor's approach, but did not move a muscle, a bitter taste coming to his mouth and a sickness to his gut, breaking the peace of the garden. Tension knotted in his shoulders as Thor came up to him quickly, a deceptively passive expression on his face. Loki was not quite sure if it was a dark frown or a beaming grin that attempted to overtake his features. Sometimes it was hard to tell if he was still struggling with the events of three months ago. In the early days of their return to Asgard, when Loki had been confined to one magically warded room, Thor had visited every day without fail, but there was a simmering anger beneath his peaceful approach.
Loki had allowed bitterness to swallow him for these past months, speaking not a word to Thor, nor to Frigga who also came to see him. Thor made attempts at coaxing him to speak, but he gave nothing. Often, Thor would storm out in anger or frustration. Loki ignored the dull ache in his heart when, even after such days, Thor would always return the next.
He forced thoughts of bitterness and rage and anger and resentment for days upon days and in the end he just found himself weary. He was tired of being angry. He was drained and weak and so, after two months in that room, he finally uttered the first words he'd spoken since his capture on Midgard to Thor, who jerked his head up in surprise. His throat burned from disuse, his words coming out cracked and dry.
"May I... go to the gardens?"
It was such a pathetic request, but Loki could not bring himself to care. Thor had been enthusiastic, persuading Odin to allow it, and for a while he sat there with Loki as he read or leaned back against a tree and slept in the relative peace of the gardens. The conditions were well worth it, although the binding runes carved to his arm still burned somewhat. After a long while of no more words, Thor seemed disheartened and would leave him in peace during his visits to the garden, the attending guards keeping watch over him. It was easy, however, to get lost in the maze of trees and flowers, and Loki would make an effort to do so, finding somewhere secluded to be in silence. It did not escape his notice that the guards would not follow him.
Were they truly no longer afraid of him? Loki remembered the day he returned, people shying away and guards shifting uncomfortably in his presence. Loki had not looked in a mirror for some time, perhaps his tiredness was more evident than he thought. Again, he could not quite bring himself to care. The feeling of tiredness and apathy was familiar. It reminded him of those last seconds gripping Gungnir before he let go.
"Lost in your mind, brother?" Thor's voice broke into his weary musings.
Loki mustered a withering glare, to which his not-brother (even that was becoming tiring to think) rolled his eyes. His anger was an old one, anyway, a halfhearted one. Loki looked down and feigned interest in the text that lay open in his lap, flipping the page idly, forcing back the feeling.
"Brother, please," The desperate edge to Thor's tone made Loki pause, hazarding a glance back at the thunderer. He looked tired. As tired as Loki felt.
Loki closed the book gently, setting it beside him and tilting his head up to face Thor properly. The god smiled at his effort, seemingly gladdened by the small gesture.
"Brother, I require your counsel," Thor said.
Loki let a small, bitter smile turn the corners of his lips.
"My counsel?" He said, breaking silence for the second time since returning, "You wish my counsel so that you may ignore it and charge off on some ridiculous quest anyway, as always?"
Thor barked a laugh, the sound startling Loki enough that his hand twitched slightly.
"Your counsel has gotten us in as much trouble listened to as ignored, brother," Thor gave him a long, meaningful look, amusement dancing behind his eyes.
Loki bit back a teasing retort. Too much. It hurt to remember. Forgetting was easier.
"What do you need of me, Odinson?" Loki said shortly in clipped tones. Thor flinched. Loki fought his own.
"Brother," He emphasized the word heavily, "With the Bifröst broken, travel across the realms has become very difficult, requiring the use of powerful dark magics. The tesseract has been shut away, father has forbidden its use."
"You want to know if there is another way," Loki said knowingly. Thor was ridiculously easy to read. He was returned to Midgard and then whisked away before he could even say hello to his little mortal. The hypocrisy of the rising anger at the thought of her was not lost on him.
"Please, brother," Thor pleaded, "I left Midgard vulnerable, and the Chitauri are no doubt preparing to war against them. I must return."
"So, it is not my counsel you seek, but my magic," Loki sneered, "Even if I wished to help you, I could not."
"I could find another to perform the spell-"
"Only Odin would know such a spell and clearly, he has denied your return."
"Is there no other way?"
Thor sighed deeply, regretfully. He turned his gaze away from Loki, sadness creeping over his face. Loki felt a pang of sympathy, but shrugged it off. Many times had he seen a lover die, and he misses them all, but Loki shall not allow such thoughts to give way to pity for Thor and his feelings for that mortal. Peace. He just wanted peace. It hurt to feel, it hurt more than it ever had before, and silence of his mind was the only thing keeping him sane. Loki let his head fall against the tree at his back, closing his eyes. He felt, rather than saw, Thor sit down beside him, and his body stiffened involuntarily. He tried to shake it off.
"Loki," Thor said softly, "We have been brothers for over a thousand years. I know the pitch of your voice and the turn of your words. I know when you are lying to me."
"Not so," Loki said bitterly, defenses of sharp words leaping to action, "You said yourself, once, a long time ago, that I am incapable of sincerity. Yet, you believe many of my lies to be truths. You believed that Odin was dead. You believed that it was your idea to march into Jötunheim. Although, it was not my idea to stay there and start a war. And you believed me when I told you to never doubt that I love you."
"I never have," Thor said, with a certainty in his voice that had Loki blinking back a stinging in his eyes, "And it was my idea to go to Jötunheim, I had decided upon it before you even spoke. I believed you about father because I was lost and upset and it was a lie so mired in truths that it was too painful to see. You are a talented liar, Loki, but you are capable of sincerity. I know it. I have seen it. My words were thoughtless and harsh."
Loki laughed darkly.
"And how would you know of my love?" He asked, "What makes you think I wasn't lying about that?"
"Because Midgard lies free," Thor said.
There it was. Loki felt his throat begin to close and his hands gripped the book in his lap tightly.
"I know when you are lying, brother," Thor continued, purposefully, shifting closer to Loki, "And I know that not a word of truth passed your lips while we were on Midgard."
"You lack conviction."
"You did not believe a word of what you said, Loki," Thor went on, ignoring Loki's wide-eyed unfocused stare.
"Shut up," He hissed.
"You are better at lying to yourself," Thor pressed mercilessly, "Than you are to anyone else."
"I said, shut up!" Loki turned violently toward the thunderer, breath coming in gasps. His head throbbed and he brought a hand to his forehead, shutting his eyes tightly. Thor took him by the shoulders roughly, drawing him close.
"No, Loki," Thor said, "No more. No more lying. Please, Loki, you are my brother, and I love you. You have done terrible things. Let us, together, make it right."
Thor choked slightly, and Loki ignored the trickle of something that began to make its way down his face.
"Please, brother," Thor rasped, "I miss you so deeply that it burns. I beg you to give me a chance to fix it. It breaks my heart to see you so lost. When Heimdall said you were on Midgard, that you were alive. I thought I would burst from joy. Oh, Loki, I am so sorry for whatever you believe I have driven you to. This madness behind your eyes is tearing you apart; please let me help. All I ask is a chance."
Loki breathed deeply, beating back the painful hurricane of emotions and stared silently, tiredly at his brother. Still arrogant. Still selfish. Still unseeing. A half-crazed grin tugged at his lips and he laughed brokenly.
"Leave me, Thor," He said, breathlessly, "I have run out of chances."
"I am not your brother," Loki cut him off quietly, falling heavily back against the tree, slipping from Thor's grasp. He stared ahead at the golden chrysanthemums that shone before him for a moment before his eyes slipped shut, blocking out the world. Thor stood, thundering steps evidencing his retreat.
"You will always be my brother."
Forget. It's easier.
Two and a half months ago
"You son of a bitch," The words were whispered harshly and followed by the rough slam of the door, "You told us he-"
"You needed the push," Fury said solemnly, looking at the man who lay quietly on the bed, "Technically, I could say it was his idea."
"The push?" Tony hissed at him, "You didn't need to let us think Coulson was dead just to make us do what needed to be done."
"We didn't know if he was going to survive, anyway," Fury said, offhand, "It's nothing short of a miracle that he's still alive, that his heart and lungs were barely damaged. Regardless of what you say, it never would have worked if you didn't have something to avenge."
"He's going to be alright, though?" Tony asked, sharply.
"I think I'll be fine, Mr. Stark," Tony looked sharply to the source of the voice. Coulson's eyes were open, "It's not polite to shout when someone's trying to sleep."
"It's not polite to play dead," Tony bit out, sarcastic tone off put with a belying smile, "You get to tell Pepper. She cried for three straight hours."
"Of course, Mr. Stark," Phil said.
"You know," Tony mused, "You still haven't explained how you know each other so well, Phil."
"She has to have someone to complain to about you," Phil said with that smile of his that made it all suddenly real that he was alive and well and right in front of him.
Tony reached out a hand and set it on Phil's shoulder, fixing him with a serious look.
"I'm glad you're alright," He said.
Phil gave a thin-lipped smile, though it seemed a little softer than the usual.
"Yeah," He quipped lightly, "me too."
One week later.
Candy land, Tony had described it as.
Not far off.
Peace was something that Bruce Banner seldom found. He found temporary shelters, and left before they became home. Home wasn't something he could afford to have. It meant that there were people he could hurt, and the longer he stayed the greater the risk became. But this? Looking over the arc-reactor blueprints and reconstructions and improvements from the original to the one running the tower, he felt the familiar calm that came with work, and he thought that he could do this. He could stay here.
Tony Stark was a genius, Bruce thought wryly; of that there was no doubt. He had managed to snare him where all others had failed. The man's constant poking and prodding (sometimes literally) became a welcome part of his day. Pepper was pleasant company, as was Phil (He hadn't known the man well, but he liked him enough that he hugged him when he came back from the dead), who came around quite frequently lately. There was another, Rhodie, he thinks, that visits Tony regularly, but they hadn't really gotten the chance to chat. He's caught snippets of their conversations that lead him to believe this to be a very old friend that shows up to assert that Tony is alive and kicking.
The door to the lab slid open and Bruce looked up briefly, then did a double take. Clint Barton walked into the lab, seemingly without a care in the world, glancing around the room with a low whistle. Bruce let his surprise overtake his features.
"Agent Barton," He said, pulling off his glasses and wiping them idly on his shirt, "What a surprise."
"Nice digs," Clint said, leaning against a desk nearby, "You know. For science-y people."
"Well," Bruce said with a laugh, "Tony certainly knows how to live. So, what brings you to Stark Tower?"
"This and that," Clint says, waving a hand noncommittally.
"Tony's up on twelfth if-"
"How do you stand it?" Clint asked suddenly, staring at Bruce intently, "How do you walk around knowing that you hurt people, killed them. Good people."
Straight to the point, then. The painfully sharp, jagged edged point. The haunting in Clint's eyes was horribly familiar; he remembered seeing it in the mirror on the low days. On the really low days. There was an edge to his tone that left Bruce feeling not quite alone in his suffering, but that wasn't as comforting as he thought it might be. It hurt to see someone so low. As low as he can remember being. Lets-go-jump-off-of-Stark-Tower low.
Where was Agent Romanoff when you needed her?
Off shutting portals to other dimensions, probably.
"By running, mostly," Bruce answers, finally, "When you're running, there's not much time for thinking, and you're not surrounded by people constantly reminding you what you did. But you're not one to run away, are you? No, you need to get straight to the part where you realize that it wasn't you and that you can't do this to yourself."
"That's what Tasha said," Clint said, frowning slightly down at the floor, "But she's wrong. Because I was completely conscious of everything going on around me, I just... didn't care. I could tell you more about the Tesseract than I understand, I could tell you every move I made when we stormed the Helicarrier, I could tell you the exact damn shade of that crazy son of a bitch's eyes – Oh, damn! I never got to put an arrow in his eye socket."
"Believe it or not, that anger is what makes all the difference," Bruce said, "You realize that it was Loki that did all those things, and you're pissed off at him. You can't start doubting that every time someone looks at you funny. And maybe spend a little less time on the Helicarrier. Lord knows there's room here."
Clint laughed shortly.
"If there's a decent shooting range in this building somewhere, sign me up," He said, with a half grin, finally meeting Bruce's eyes. He seemed much calmer, and Bruce breathed a soft sigh of relief.
"It wouldn't surprise me," Bruce replied with a roll of his eyes, "I doubt Tony would mind you staying, but if you want to ask, like I said, he's on the twelfth."
"Thanks," Clint said, pushing away from the desk, and Bruce knew the depth of that simple word. Clint left the lab in much higher spirits, leaving Bruce to further contemplate this new place he liked to call home, and the family that was slowly building up around him.
Three days later.
The invitation was open, but Steve hesitated to take it. Stark Tower would certainly be the place to get slapped in the face by modern technology, something he sorely needed, but...
He couldn't look at Tony without seeing Howard, and he knew that Tony doesn't deserve that.
It's not just what is Howard that hurts, either. It's all the ways that he isn't and Steve feels sick with guilt every time he thinks 'Howard wouldn't have done that'. He can't help it, though. Howard had been a true friend, and he misses him, damn it. And, even though he knows Tony is his own person, isn't even close to a shadow of his father, and he trusts the man with his life, with the world, he just can't help it. He feels terrible about it; horrible.
The punching bag flew into the wall and broke open with a sharp rip of fabric, sand beginning to pour out.
He really has to stop doing that.
He wants to be friends with Tony, he really does. He's a genuinely good guy underneath the bravado and attitude. He's got this wit and fondness for sarcasm and dry humor that reminds Steve of Bucky, and this passion, especially in anger, that reminds him of Peggy-
Oh, hell. The man was all the ghosts of his past wrapped into one convenient package. Steve fell against a wall heavily, sliding to the floor and burying his head in his hands. It was all a terrible mess. An obnoxious buzzing sound came from his bag suddenly, and Steve rubbed his eyes tiredly, grabbing at it and pulling out the cellphone Tony had gifted him with. He pressed the button on the screen and put it to his ear. It is absolutely ridiculous how many things Tony told him this phone could do. Steve stuck to using it as a phone for now.
"So, Barton moved in," Tony's voice drifted over the line, making Steve contemplate a new adaptation of 'Speak of the devil and he shall come' ('Think of the devil and he shall call'), "I'm thinking I should just rename the place Avenger's Tower and be done with it."
"Hey, Tony," Steve greeted simply, a small smile playing at his lips as Tony continued on.
"But, I'm narcissistic, so I wont. When are you planning to get settled here? Clint kind of highjacked the room I thought you'd want, sorry about that. Had the best view of the city. JARVIS has all your details in the system already, so whenever you're ready-"
Steve almost laughed. Tony Stark might play host to all of his ghosts but the man also knew how to make him feel welcome better than anyone. Steve wondered what made him think for a second that he wouldn't be living at Stark Tower.
"I'll be there in an hour."
One week later.
"I gave him leave," Fury bit out, "After all he's been through, I'm surprised he didn't ask sooner."
"You're supposed to be monitoring him," One of the council shot back, "He was under Loki's control for days, and the initial Psyche exam judged him unstable. Where is he?"
"You always judge him unstable," Fury growled, "You hate that he's here, you hate that he's an agent, and you're just looking for excuses to watch him or get rid of him, just like you have been from the beginning."
"Your attitude does you no favors, Director," Another spoke darkly, "You refuse to answer for the Avengers, you let a war criminal leave the planet with the Tesseract, and now you refuse to keep watch on a compromised agent."
"Agent Barton doesn't need to be watched," Fury said, "And if you don't have anything else to talk about, then I suggest you leave us alone."
With that, Fury cut the call, stalking away from the monitors in frustration. Leaving the room, a quick glance out of the corner of his eye revealed Natasha leaning against the wall just outside.
One month later.
"Stop hogging the popcorn, Tasha."
"I can have JARVIS make more."
"It's the principle of the thing, Stark."
"It's just popcorn, Clint, go make some more."
"Seriously, I can just tell JARVIS to-"
"They're not listening to you, Tony."
"A man can dream."
"Is anyone even watching the movie anymore?"
Tony held back an affectionate smile as the scene around him unfolded. Natasha and Clint bickered on the largest couch, and Bruce looked at them with an expression torn between amusement and exasperation. Steve was actually the only one still watching the screen in front of them, enraptured by the special effects, no doubt. It was a bit of a shame that Thor wasn't here, he hadn't really had an opportunity to get to know the guy at all.
Of course, they were a bit preoccupied with his brother. Tony glanced at the repaired windows. It was, in fact, in this very room that the Defenestration of Tony Stark occurred. Also, a relatively civil and slightly amusing conversation with (threatening of) the Norse God of Mischief. You know, before the defenestration. Damn, now he wanted shawarma. One of the greatest things about being Tony Stark:
"JARVIS, order us some shawarma," He called over the rising voices of the other Avengers, he glanced at Natasha and Clint, the former of which was at the edge of the couch holding a bowl of popcorn away from the latter, "And put in another bowl of popcorn."
Clint sent a glare in his direction.
"Of course, sir," JARVIS replied, sweet, sweet, wise-ass AI, "Will that be all?"
"For now," Tony said, standing and walking over to his bar.
He pulled down his favorite single malt and a glass, the noise of the movie fading under the sound of the bickering assassins. How on Earth he came to the conclusion that it would be a good idea for them all to live here at Stark Tower he'll never even begin to comprehend. It's not like he didn't get out to Malibu for some alone time, though, so it wasn't unbearable. Bruce was useful to have around, and was actually a full-time employee now.
It's entirely possible that Bruce didn't know that, but lord knows it's nice to have someone to speak science with, and Tony can be grateful when he feels like it.
Clint and Natasha would not be found apart, and it seemed that they'd both gotten extended leave (you earn that kind of thing when you save the world) so they were always around. Natasha was her usual, beautiful, surly self, though he'd seen her laugh a grand total of five times in the last month. Clint seemed to have a positive effect on her.
Steve kept to himself the most out of all of them. He was constantly bewildered by just about everything around him, as was evidenced by the look on his face as he watched the movie in fascination. He didn't seem too keen on going out much, though. Baby steps.
Inviting them all to stay here was convenient, Tony decided. It was for them. They all needed somewhere to relax and take a break. Clint and Natasha needed to get away from it all for a while, Clint especially. Bruce needed something to focus his attention on, work and intelligent conversation, and somewhere he can maybe call home without fear. Steve needed somewhere to find his place in the world again. This was for them. All for them, because they saved the world together, and he kind of couldn't take all the credit, and they deserved this. Them.
This was not, by any means, a forty-some-number-he-didn't-want-to-think-about year old man's promise of a family.
A/N: Reviews, please?