Title: Squares, Part II.

Rating: M for language and sexy stuff.

Characters: Loki, Thor, Tony Stark, Sif, Fandral, Volstagg, Hogun.

Summary: The one good thing that's come of Thor's behavior is security, believe it or not, because if Loki isn't even one bit sure how the circumstances of a situation will turn out, he at least knows for certain that he can rely on his brother to be unreliable. Loki-centric, part of the Brothers!verse.
AN: First of all, I want to apologize a thousand times for taking ten months to get this up. By the time you finish reading this, I should have a post on my Tumblr explaining myself, so I would definitely love it if you guys could check that out before you start stoning me (my url is theatrhythmss and the post should be under my 'Brothers' tag).

Secondly, there are several references to video games such as Heavy Rain, Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy VII, and Pokémon throughout this whole thing, and you might not get them if you haven't played the games or if you aren't familiar with their stories/characters. I kind of had a nerdgasm all over this chapter.

Thirdly, this chapter is for Len, Nat, Sydney, Kate, and Arlet.

For this chapter, I recommend these songs: Somedays, Regina Spektor; Forest Gump, Frank Ocean; Someday, The Strokes (for the record, this song is almost too fitting of Loki and Thor's relationship in this verse).

He's not going to change. No matter how many moments of weakness or ill-judgment Loki finds himself having – during which he begins to think that yeah, maybe he has matured a little bit – Thor will not change. It'd be a miracle for him to, and anyone who says he's going to or already has is a fucking moron.

And you know, when Loki has time to think about it really hard (he's been finding himself with quite a lot of that such time lately, no thanks to his bane of an injury), he realizes that Thor hasn't changed at all since he turned fifteen years-old. There's virtually nothing outside of his physicality that distinguishes him from the teenager he once was, and Loki almost feels guilty for resenting his brother so when in all actuality, the man is just a child in a body that's much too old for him.

Loki has taken to compiling a list of reasons why Thor has aged in a vacuum for the past seven years or so, a list that includes detailed, completely and ridiculously truthful entries such as:

He refuses to eat Rice Crispies and asparagus.

He believes that because he listens to the type of music he does (Aerosmith and Kanye West, for the record), he is a deep, emotional human being. He said so himself.

Everybody is a 'bro' or a 'chick' to him, including Frigga and Odin (who have been dubbed as 'momchick' and 'dadbro').

He doesn't understand his religion as much as he probably should if he's going to designate it as his spiritual views on Facebook and wear it like an armor of righteousness.

He couldn't type or text literately if his life depended on it, and he has to get Steve to revise all of his assignments before he turns them in.

Everything is a parade, a show, or a spectacle to him, even if it's less than positive.

He is so one-track minded it's insane.

He is incapable of speaking at a normal volume.

He doesn't know how to fold socks.

He also doesn't know how to cook anything more complex than a Pop-Tart. Even Velveeta macaroni cups are a challenge for him.

He likes to start conversations about absolutely nothing simply for the sake of talking (this baffles Loki the most, because – as mouthy as he can be – he will become legitimately and irrationally angry if he's forced to talk about something that has no intellectual or emotional value to him).

He is unable to feel more than one emotion at a time without giving up or getting frustrated, and such emotions are only defined by words like 'happy', 'upset', 'angry', and 'hungry'.

His favorite website is Urban Dictionary.

He can't read aloud without Loki wanting to kill himself.

He likes to ask Loki what the definition of certain words are.

He says 'no homo' a lot when he's around Steve or Clint.

He somehow manages to be both interested in sex and amused by it.

And let's not forget this gem:

The easiest way to pacify him is to give him food that is fried or is some sort of variation on pizza.

All this might come off as amusing to a bystander, but when you're forced to live with it every day, things go from being kind of funny to outrageously infuriating pretty damn fast. The one good thing that's come of Thor's behavior is security, believe it or not, because if Loki isn't even one bit sure how the circumstances of a situation will turn out, he at least knows for certain that he can rely on his brother to be unreliable.

Friday, October 14th at 2:36 PM.

It's been raining nonstop since around four o'clock this morning, and frankly, Loki's had quite enough of the godawful weather that's been plaguing Sidney for what feels like an eternity. Under any other circumstances, he'd be in love with all the angel tears dropping out of the sky, but because such angel tears are both a) partly-responsible for his sprain, and b) making it that much harder for him to get from place to place, he's taken to sitting around with a sour expression stuck on his face and his lips screwed tightly shut for the majority of the day.

Speaking of the day, shall I tell you how everything has gone up until this point?

First – Loki awakes at four-oh-nine in the AM due to a rather loud, rather frightening thunderclap. That such thunderclap (which could only be described as the kissing cousin of a fucking gunshot) results in him screaming himself – as well as Tony – out of the blissful void of sleep he'd been resting in, jumping about three inches off the mattress, and promptly falling completely out of bed.

Then – Tony spends about twenty-five minutes lifting Loki back into bed, making sure his fibula isn't broken or something (amidst Loki's frantic, hysterical cries of 'oh my fucking God, I broke my leg, I broke my leg, Tony, I broke my fucking leg'), replacing his icepack with a fresh, much less watery, much colder one, and kissing Loki's cheeks and wiping his tears and singing him nonsense songs and eventually just telling him to shut the fuck up, babe until he manages to fall back asleep again.

Then – Loki's alarm goes off at seven-forty-five, and Loki has to pester and bitch at Tony for eight minutes before the man finally gets his ass up (because 'I don't even wake up at eight to go to class'and 'No wonder you're so goddamn angry all the time – you don't get any sleep' and 'It's Friday and you're injured – can't we just lie around all day?').

Then – Loki limps down the hallway to Thor's room and beats his crutch against the door until Thor roars at him. He decided the night before that there was no way in hell he was going to waste his time and walk into his brother's bedroom when Sif is in there and they're both probably naked (he's had enough accidental sightings of partially-nude brothers and their partially-nude kind of-girlfriends this week to last him a lifetime).

Then – After much debating and arguing about the timetable they're trying to work on, Tony persuades Loki into taking a quick shower with him. Things don't get nasty between them, mostly due to Loki's nonstop threatening ('I'll cut your penis off, I swear' and 'Do you want me to kill you?' being some of his more stellar lines).

Then – Tony insists on buying Loki breakfast. When Loki makes it clear that he doesn't want to leave without making sure that Thor and Sif have something to eat, Tony reaches into the freezer, drops a box of Eggo waffles onto the dinner table, and calls it even.

Then – Tony and Loki eat bacon, hash browns, and toast at Waffle House. This is uneventful for the most part, save for when Tony leans across the table to kiss the tip of Loki's nose and the waitress serving them nearly spills coffee all over the place as a result.

Then – Tony drops Loki off at the 700 building in time for him to limp his way up the stairs, shuffle into Hell (also known as Dr. Doom's classroom), and plop down into his seat before he'd be considered tardy.

Then – Loki has psychology class. Nobody bothers him today, and he gets to learn neat things about typology.

Then – Tony picks Loki up and they buy brunch at McDonalds. Tony wants them to eat in the park, but because it won't stop raining, they end up parking outside of a Blockbuster and eating there. Tony lets Loki sync his iPod to his car and they listen to MGMT and Lana Del Rey all through their meal and on the way to Tony's house.

Then – Loki waits in Tony's truck while the man goes into his house and shoves some more things for his two and a half week-stay into his messenger bag. He counts the raindrops sliding down the windshield to pass the time, and when Tony returns, he casually looks through everything he's retrieved (Heavy Rain, Mass Effect, Dragon Age II, and about ten other video games, memory cards, and zip drives being some of those such things).

Then – Loki plays with Fenrir the best he can while unable to move (which basically means that he throws a rubber ball across the room and waits for the husky to bring it back to him) and watches Tony play Heavy Rain for an hour and a half. When Loki threatens to fall asleep or kill himself out of boredom, Tony tries (and fails) to teach him how to play. This results in nothing but arguing.

Then – Tony switches out Heavy Rain for Final Fantasy X. He and Loki get along much better after this, and Thor doesn't come home throughout any of this nonsense.

Then – Tony takes Loki back to the 700 building so he can go to his sociology class. They kiss each other goodbye this time.

Then – Loki takes an exam on Stereotyping in Western Civilization. He didn't get to study for it the night before (no thanks to his injury), but because he has near-eidetic memory, he ends up answering most of the questions with ease.

Then – Tony picks him up again and takes him home. They get utterly soaked on their journeys to and from the car, and in the time it takes them to get from the university campus to the front of his house, Loki's mood gradually declines from slightly bad to thoroughly disgusting.

And here is about where we began.

Loki is sitting on the edge of his mattress, clad in a dark teal sweater, coal black skinny pants, and his favorite pair of Toms. His crutches are splayed across his lap, he's waiting for Tony to finish feeding Fenrir, and he is absolutely, positively sopping wet and freezing cold (and therefore a ray of fucking sunshine, as I'm sure you can probably imagine). Every thirty seconds or so, a droplet of rainwater slides off of the tip of his nose and drips into his lap, and every single time that happens, Loki prays to some higher power for death or pneumonia, because if he suffered from either of those two conditions, he'd have a pretty damn good excuse to hate everyone and stay in bed all day and not talk to anybody for a week or two.

When Tony finally manages to plant his feet on the near side of his bedroom doorway again, the man stops and goes still and almost shocked as soon as he sees the state Loki's in – a reaction that's actually kind of ridiculous when he's just as wet and uncomfortable as his darker counterpart. Only a second before his stare becomes creepy, disconcerting, or annoying does he start to laugh, his features relaxing into this amused, silly grin that Loki wants nothing more than to slap or punch right off of his face simply because it's an expression of happiness (and he's nowhere close to feeling any such emotion).

"What's so humorous?" Loki asks, shivering rather bodily and leveling a primitive glare at his boyfriend.

Tony easily eliminates the distance between them, then, walks forward until he's looming over Loki in that stupidly insolent, smug-asshole sort of way he has. He keeps on with his chuckling and his smiling and his being all outrageously tickled and shit and replies, "Just you."

As I'm certain you could infer based on prior experiences and conversations as well the very core of his personality (one which he shares with a feral cat, Napoleon Bonaparte, and a goddamn hydrogen bomb), an answer like that rubs Loki completely the wrong way (even if it really isn't that serious), and – true to his nature – he isn't at all shy to make his displeasure apparent.

"I'm so delighted that you find my misery comical," Loki snaps, the scowl plastered across his face darkening exponentially when Tony's laughter intensifies at his remark. He narrows his eyes as Tony squats down in front of him, flinches and tenses when the man reaches behind his head and cups the nape of his neck in his hands, his fingers combing through the dripping, curly hair there and his face softening the tiniest bit.

"You've been grumpy today," Tony notes, and he says so in a way that isn't disappointed or upset or vexed, but simply observant and maybe even a little pleased. Unsurprisingly, Loki sinks further into the depths of irritation.

"I've got a sprained knee and every time I walk outside, I feel like I'm in a gigantic car wash," Loki huffs, cocking his head to the side in an extraordinarily bitchy fashion and giving Tony a sharp, wry little grimace. "I wasn't aware that I was supposed to be anything but grumpy."

"Well, it's a Friday?" Tony offers with a sheepish smile, rubbing the pads of his fingers into the hollow at the base of Loki's skull. He scoots forward ever so slightly, chops about an inch and a half off the space between their noses and assaults Loki with the most beseeching pair of eyes of all time even as the man glowers at him, unrelenting and stubbornly determined. "And you totally kicked Seymour's ass and didn't get Madison drilled to death?"

"I suppose I forgot to get excited, or whatever any other normal person would do," Loki grumbles. He lowers his eyes to the crutches in his lap when Tony inches towards him again, when the man brings them close enough together that he can feel breath on his lips if he pays attention, that he can smell tobacco and peppermint and consciously think 'holy fucking shit' the moment he does (because if anything has the miraculous, contradictory ability to turn him on and calm him down in tandem, it's the combination of cigarettes and mint he can smell and taste in and on Tony's mouth when they're this near to each other).

"I'm here," Tony points out somewhat arrogantly, tilting his head downwards in an attempt to capture Loki's gaze again. He grins a touch when Loki submits to his efforts, adds, "That usually has you in a good mood."

Loki blinks at that, his expression growing the slightest bit harder in only a second's time. Coldly and without more than a mere moment of thought, he counters, "Be here when I'm not soaked to the bone, physically incapacitated, thoroughly exhausted, and raising a twenty-one year-old blockhead, and I might be feeling a little decent."

If you've been getting negative vibes from this whole conversation as well as the recounting of the day that preceded it, you're reading everything exactly the way you should be and it'd be best if you kept on doing that. In all actuality, Loki and Tony have been arguing like this all day long, and Loki is pretty sure that the only reason why Tony hasn't walked out on him is the fact that doing so would mean leaving responsibility for his recuperation to Thor, therefore making his recovery thousands of times more difficult, therefore obliterating a lot of the trust Loki has for Tony, therefore causing him to act extraordinarily ugly and callous to the man, therefore causing them to fight like dogs, therefore causing them to start hating each other, therefore causing them to undergo a nasty, awful break up, and that, my friends, is extravagant, unnecessary, and the last thing either of them want.

That being said, today has been pretty damn difficult despite that they ate a nice breakfast and that they kissed each other goodbye and that Thor's presence hasn't really made a mark on anything that's transpired so far, and to be completely and brutally honest, all of that probably has a lot to do with the overbearing stressfulness of everything. Why, you ask?

Two words – sexual tension.

Remember last night, when Loki and Tony were literally centimeters away from a full-blown make-out session? Or perhaps that episode in the hospital, where the only things stopping them from just going at each other were their surroundings, Loki's injury, and Thor's being practically right outside the door? Loki does, and the fact that not only is his brother preventing he and Tony from carrying on the way they wish to – but his very own body is as well – accounts for a grand deal of the anger and exasperation he's been feeling today, and even though Tony is definitely faring better on the outside, he knows that he's frustrated too simply by the way the man's looking at him and touching him and acting like if they're together and they're at least semi-alone and they're not physically contacting each other in some way, they're sinning. Makes sense, right?

Tony gives him a long, exceedingly thirsty look, holds his stare until the air between them is hot and thick and muggy enough to cut with a butter knife, and then – like he isn't totally undressing Loki with his eyes and being just as suggestive and sultry as he can be – says, "Forget about Thor."

For the record, anything relating to Thor is something Loki considers to be the exact opposite of sexy or appealing, and Tony's very mention of the man's name does quite a bit to turn him off.

But rather than explicitly stating that, Loki scowls at the man, his voice strident and sharp when he replies, "I can't, Tony! You'd think I'd have done that already if I could, wouldn't you?"

"You're not listening to me," Tony cuts in before Loki can further his argument, moving his hands to rest against Loki's sides and squeezing the muscle there gently – both to force him to relax and to make him shut up and heed his words for once. He tilts his head into Loki's, lets their noses bump together as he repeats himself with a firmer, weightier, "Forget about Thor. Just try to, alright? Forget about your knee, too."

"You make it sound so easy," Loki sulks, rolling his eyes even as Tony nuzzles into the hollow beneath his cheekbones, even as the man winds his arms tight around his middle and feathers kisses over the skin at the corner of his mouth like he just might disappear if he isn't more careful.

"It will be easy," Tony replies just a little too matter-of-factly, leaning back to look Loki in the face again and smirking a bit. "I'm gonna help you."

Loki chooses not to respond to that verbally – mostly because he isn't sure how flirtatious that comment was supposed to be, if it was supposed to be flirtatious at all – instead opting to eye Tony in a way that could be hesitant or skeptical or curious depending on how the man decides to interpret his expression. Tony's smile only widens in response, quickly turns into one of those stupidly magnetic, makes you want to giggle hysterically for eleven freaking years for some odd reason grins that crinkle the skin around his eyes and overtake his whole face in the very best – if somewhat insincere – of ways.

"Look, I promise if you haven't forgotten about Thor or your knee in fifteen minutes, I'll, uhm…" Tony starts to say, trailing off indecisively and eventually furrowing his brow in thought when he finds himself devoid of a bargaining chip. The funniest thing about his uncertainty is the fact that it's smearing itself all across his features like war paint, the fact that it's so hilariously and blatantly obvious in his eyes, which he keeps locked on Loki's even after he's reached the most awkward and ironic and telling impasse of all time, and it's all Loki can do to not start laughing or betray his amusement beyond the infinitesimal twitching his lips are doing of their own accord and the nearly imperceptible glint of delight in his gaze.

"You'll?" he pushes in a deliberately aggravating manner, shivering again with cold.

"Shit, what don't I do for you?" Tony laughs, his words lacking any of the heat Loki expected they'd have. They make him frown regardless, though, because really – what doesn't Tony do for him? (That such a question has to be asked in the first place is almost depressing, truth be told.)

"You don't have to promise me anything," Loki says, his gaze dropping down to his lap once more. He doesn't have much time to mope, however, because almost as soon as he breaks eye contact with Tony, the man is brushing his lips against his cheek again, kissing him softly and pulling him closer and squeezing him with just enough pressure to make him the tiniest, most wonderful bit uncomfortable.

"It won't matter either way," Tony replies, nuzzling his nose with a small, silly smile. "I'll have you forgetting about everything in much less than fifteen minutes."

Loki groans quietly when Tony's mouth finally finds his, when the man unceremoniously knocks his crutches out of his lap and sucks his bottom lip into his mouth, hungry and possessive and assertive and oh – Loki knows how this is going to go, knows as soon as Tony has him breathless and trapped in his arms that he's going to have him in whatever way he wishes, knee sprained or not. And honestly, he doesn't mind that one bit.

(FYI: Later on, when their relationship has progressed beyond the initial oh my god we're just getting together and everything is all so very new and beautiful and if we aren't moving fast we aren't moving at all and hey what are those things people call 'caution' and 'forethought' and good old-fashioned 'consideration'? phase it's in now, the vaguely disproportionate amount of dominance between them might become an actual issue, but for now, the only thing that concerns them is the fact that they have skin and it's being touched at the moment.)

"How much less are we talking?" Loki pants once Tony breaks their kiss long enough for him to breathe and get a word or two out. He hisses when Tony gently nudges his thighs open, gets on his knees to crowd between them, and pushes his hands up and under the front of his sweater to palm at the damp, goosebumped skin there, his thumbs rubbing minute, inflamed little circles into his ribs.

"Give me like, five minutes," is Tony's cheeky, purring answer. The pad of his middle finger flicks over Loki's right nipple as he says that, and when Loki lets out a faint, uncontrolled sigh of pleasure and frustration in response to the gesture, this incredibly amused grin nearly splits Tony's face in two, and he chuckles, "Let's get these wet clothes off of you, hm?"

Loki barely has time to nod his assent before Tony is hurriedly peeling his sweater off of him, throwing it in the same general direction his crutches went in, and catching him by the mouth again, kissing him sloppily in his haste. Thoughts jumbled and quickly growing distant and vague, Loki parts his lips against the kiss and slips his arms around Tony's neck, his hands crawling underneath the back of the man's leather jacket and his fingers scratching at his shoulder blades through the thin fabric of his t-shirt. Tony's palms stay firmly wrapped around Loki's hips until he does that, and – refusing to pull away even the tiniest bit – he releases Loki only long enough so that he can shrug his jacket off and kick it to the side, where it's forgotten along with the rest of their clothes.

As soon as that thick, obtrusive leather barrier doesn't exist between the two of them anymore, Loki seeks out the hem of Tony's shirt and lets his fingertips dawdle just beneath it, and that small iota of teasing is the most he has the brainpower to do when Tony has him imprisoned half-against, half-beneath him, when if the man leaned forward only the slightest bit more, he'd be completely horizontal, when Tony's tongue is mapping the inside of his mouth so goddamn thoroughly and when his hips are grinding into his, easy and powerful and downright torturous, and he's not nearly as chilly as he was before anymore, and if he is, he can hardly begin to tell the difference between what's he's aware of and what he isn't, because Tony is everywhere all at once and his body is doing that wonderful space-heating thing it does and there – his back is hitting the mattress, now, and Tony is laying over him and Loki is bringing his hands up to twist his fingers into the back of his shirt and cling to the man, trying as best as he can to keep him where he is, pressed close and impossibly warm and impossibly beautiful and impossibly present.

But of course, Tony has to pull away as soon as Loki does that, and Loki is left gasping and red-lipped and tense and shivering and suddenly, horrifically cold for the five unbearable seconds it takes the man to reach behind his shoulder and pull his t-shirt off, his head emerging haloed with a mess of curly, dark brown hair and his palms finding the spaces beside Loki's shoulders as soon as they're free. Tony grins down at Loki, then, grins and chuckles and cranes his neck to plant a slow, openmouthed kiss on the skin just beneath his lower lip, and even though Loki is sighing his contentment into the curve of Tony's jaw, even though he's squeezing it into the muscles of the man's back, he's a little more than confused with his oddly giddy demeanor, and he doesn't hesitate to put a voice to that confusion with a quiet, breathless, "Why're you laughing?"

Instead of answering his question immediately, Tony goes on beaming, dragging his lips over the edge of Loki's chin and sealing them over the swell of his Adam's apple and laughing some more, all low and honeyed and so husky Loki feels feverish, and when he inadvertently tickles Loki's skin with the vibrations he's kissing into it, Loki ends up smiling and laughing, too.

Then Tony leans back to regard Loki fully, practically panting with jubilation and grinning like a fool as he replies, "Because I'm happy."

Loki's heart leaps at that (mainly due to the fact that Tony is rarely – if ever – happy enough to explicitly state that he is), and without a second thought, he moves his hands to bracket Tony's jaws, clumsily managing to be affectionate but not obviously overjoyed. Tony readily leans into his touch, nearly purring when he adds, "Because I love you."

"Tony…" Loki starts to say, his sentence cut short and forced to trail off into this nothing of a moan when his boyfriend turns his head to press a damp kiss to his palm, skates his fingers down his stomach and hooks them in his waistband and tugs.

"Because I'm about to go to town on you, and this time, I'm not dreaming," Tony croons, leaning back even further – almost out of Loki's reach – and easily prying the fly of Loki's pants open. Loki flushes at the mental image those words conjure, skin prickling with anticipation and breath quickly growing short, and all he can do is squirm beneath Tony and try not to disturb his knee as the man ducks his head low to mouth his way down his neck, his chest, his abdomen (his scar), and in a matter of seconds, every nerve in his body and everything in his world is revolving around the wet slick of a kiss Tony is licking over his navel, hot and moist and too sensual for words, and he's letting out these soft, ridiculous little whines and tangling his fingers in Tony's habitually unkempt hair and curling up into the man and shit, he just bent his leg, and that really fucking hurts, and that would be him letting out a heavy, gasping, painful moan, now.

"Careful," Tony hums, pausing in his ministrations to look up at Loki's uncomfortable, pinched expression. With a brief, reassuring smile, he rocks back onto his heels, gently grabs Loki by the hips, and scoots him up so that his legs aren't hanging over the edge of the mattress anymore, rumpling the sheets below him and unfortunately eliciting another pained groan from the man when he does. Then he crawls between his thighs, runs his palms over the insides of them (and oh Lord, if that doesn't make Loki want to scream), grasps Loki's waistband once more, and asks, just this side of teasing, "Are you alright with me cutting these off of you, or…?"

"Just take them off, please," Loki huffs, shaking his head dismissively and idly clawing at his bedsheets. He bucks his hips a bit for emphasis, watches the way Tony's lips twitch with amusement in response.

"It's going to hurt, you know," Tony notes, pulling Loki's pants down his hips even as he says so.

"I don't ca– fuck…!" Loki curses, that last expletive escaping him in a sharp, surprised yelp when Tony takes it upon himself to just yank his goddamn pants over his knees (thanks very much, you asshole).

"Oops," Tony chuckles, every bit as devious and cheeky as he usually is. Loki aims a nasty, wounded scowl at the man.

"That hurt!" he cries, watching Tony indignantly as he slips his pants the rest of the way off, significantly more cautious and considerate this time around.

"I told you it would," is Tony's sassy retort. He tosses Loki's pants to the ground, wraps a gentle hand around the underside of the man's knee, and if doing so wouldn't put him in more stinging, seething, horrible-awful-really bad pain than he's already in, Loki would probably jerk out of his boyfriend's grip just to be spiteful.

"You could have at least gone a little slower, or warned me, or talked me through it or something," Loki complains, sitting up on his elbows so that he might look a tad more dignified or menacing (a feat that's kind of impossible to accomplish, considering his position, his injury, his lack of clothing, and the fact that he's still dripping with rain). He's more than ready to go on bitching (and why wouldn't he be, being Loki?), but – mostly because Tony is exceptional at picking up on his mood and even better at improving it – his desire to spark yet another pointless argument rapidly diminishes when Tony moves to drop a careful kiss on the top of his knee, lets his lips linger there until Loki's breathing has decelerated several paces and he's tantamount to a lump of Jell-O beneath him.

"I'm sorry," Tony mumbles against his skin, gazing at Loki with his terribly dark, terribly thirsty eyes. He skims his palm down to the juncture of Loki's femur and pelvis, trails his mouth along the inside of his leg until he trembles, and then – like he's programmed to make Loki totally lose his shit at all costs – bites him, slow and deliberate and on the soft, tender skin at the very middle of his thigh, and Loki has never once imagined anyone putting their teeth right there, but now that Tony just fucking did, he thinks that he might be dying or something because it sounds like his heart is in his ears and he feels a little woozy and he just forgot what oxygen is and there's something sweet and unbearable boiling in the pit of his stomach and his underwear just got a lot tighter than it was only seconds ago and Tony's just watching him while he has this beauty of a breakdown, all wolfish and hungry and like he'd eat him up if he could, and then man asks him, "Do you forgive me?", and under most circumstances, Loki will swear up and down to Jesus Christ himself that Tony isn't that sexy, but at the moment, he most certainly is.

"Yeah, sure," is Loki's spectacularly dumb, bewildered response. He swallows around the arousal constricting his throat, tries to inhale a deep, easy breath, but Tony seems determined to keep him from, I don't know, breathing correctly?, because without warning, he's ducking his head and wrapping his mouth around Loki's erection through his underwear, and he really, really likes to do that, you know, and Loki doesn't know what the fuck just came out of him, but it sounded a whole lot like a sob, and his back is arching off of the mattress and his head is falling back and he's bent his leg again, goddammit, but that doesn't matter when Tony is sliding his tongue down and pushing it against his perineum through about three millimeters' width of cotton.

"Careful," Tony echoes, and he says that with his mouth still pressed against Loki's crotch, so as a result, Loki ends up feeling the word more than he ends up hearing it, and oh God do those two tiny syllables feel marvelous when they're wet and they're vibrating and they're punctuated with just a bit of suction, and Loki might actually start purring if Tony keeps on doing that, and he's suddenly hit with the most ridiculous thought to have at a time like this – what if this is how they had all their conversations? – but before he can go completely insane with lust, Tony is raising his head and catching him off guard for the umpteenth time in less than five minutes by hooking his thumbs in his briefs, tugging them over his hips, and slipping them off of him without an atom of trouble, and then Loki is exposed and flushed and hard and shivering again, and for some reason, this is always the worst part to him – letting Tony see him naked – and when he's naked, he can't say 'no' and he can't stop moving and he becomes so pliable and wanton and unusually emotional (and by unusual, I mean much, much more than he typically is) and of course, his scar is showing, and his scar has to be the ugliest, most loathsome thing on his entire fucking body, and only the fact that Tony likes to pay a little extra attention to it with his fingers and his lips makes it a somewhat bearable sight to behold in the mirror, but he's naked and the lamp is on and Tony's eyes are focused solely on him, and such a situation never fails to psych the hell out of him.

Ironically, Loki's pretty sure that Tony likes him best this way – not because he's anxious, and not even so much because he's nude (and apparently really sexy, or whatever), but because he's vulnerable, and Tony has a serious thing about him being open and unguarded and uncontrolled and completely accessible to him, and now that he's consciously realizing that, it makes so much sense to Loki why Tony always tries so hard to just destroy him when they're having sex. That knowledge doesn't stop him from getting apprehensive, though, and he's not sure if or when it ever will.

Tony starts to shake his head a bit after he's swept his eyes over Loki's body a fourth time, and then this dazed, vaguely pleased smile stretches itself across his face, ambiguous and without any clear pretense, but before Loki can get too nervous about the way the man is looking at him (which is akin to the way someone would stare at the sea and dream of drowning in it), he chuckles, "You don't even know how beautiful you are, do you?"

And Loki can't help but begin to throw a wall up against that comment, being just as defensive and as downright awkward as he is, but he can't really shut himself off too much when Tony is crawling up his body, pushing his thighs apart until they're spread as far as is comfortable to him, and locking him in a firm, breathtaking kiss, and when Loki pulls away for air, Tony is quick to follow him and catch him by the mouth again, and Loki is wrapping his arms around the man's neck and letting him ease him down onto the mattress and parting his lips so that he can push his tongue against Tony's, and here – this is easy, just kissing, and he can hang onto Tony and listen to the man's heavy, languid breathing and the feeling of their tongues sliding together and their lips and teeth catching against each other is flawless in its slipperiness and its slowness and its roughness and occasional inelegance and he's okay with losing himself in this because kissing Tony is one of the best ways he can think of passing the time and it's not like he's ever going to fall apart while he's doing it, but then Tony is curling his hand around his dick and he's bent his leg yet again and oh, yeah, he can feel himself collapsing with every flick of his boyfriend's thumb, every slow, careful pump on his shaft and every fleeting nip Tony takes at his bottom lip.

"Oh, fuck," Loki curses, the words coming out of him in the form of low, choked, breathless sobs. They end up getting lost in Tony's mouth, licked right off of his tongue and smeared along the seam of his lips, and Loki can't see the man's face or anything, but he's pretty sure that Tony is smiling right now.

"There we are," Tony drawls, trailing his lips down to Loki's jawline so that he can suck these wonderful, moist little kisses to the skin there and murmuring, "God, you're so fucking perfect," like he's in total awe of Loki's very existence and his own existence and their shared existence and the miracle that is their ending up together. He keeps on jacking Loki off even as he speaks, but as soon as it becomes uncomfortably apparent that there isn't anything easing the friction between his palm and Loki's cock, he's forced to draw away from the man so that he can reach into his nightstand and grab the tube of KY there. Loki doesn't hesitate to seize the opportunity to unfasten Tony's jeans while he's distracted, and he manages to get the man's waistband under his ass before Tony pushes his hands away and finishes the job himself, shedding both his pants and his underwear in one go. Unsurprisingly, Tony's just as aroused as he is (and that alone just goes to show that Tony really does have a thing about bringing him to this point).

"I'm gonna try something, okay?" Tony huffs, neglecting to wait for Loki to reply before he's coating his fingers with lube and taking Loki's dick in his palm again, rubbing the pad of his thumb over the head and letting out a pleased sigh when Loki moans in response, arches up into his hand as much as he's able to and digs his fingernails into the sheets beneath him in his desperation, and by now, Loki isn't distressed anymore – he's just fucking urgent, and that's probably because he can't afford to fuss over all the trivial implications of being naked when Tony has his hands on him.

And then, when Loki is panting and whining with need and barely capable of coherence, Tony slicks himself up, hooks Loki's uninjured leg around his waist, aligns their cocks together, and starts rocking their hips into each other to an easy, mostly inaudible beat, and even though it's frustrating as all hell that he can barely move without Tony moving him first and even though his knee is halfway to screaming at him, Loki is falling apart at the seams in the very best of ways and every rough inhale and exhale that passes between Tony's lips and every murmur of a groan that escapes him and every sharp snap of their hips is simultaneously the most obscene and beautiful thing Loki's ever heard, and as Tony begins to lose his rhythm, he braces his hands against the mattress, plants them in the spaces on either side of Loki's head, and leans down to kiss a sloppy, wet line from his bottom lip to his Adam's apple, and Loki is winding his arms around the man again and tangling his digits in his hair and breathing unadulterated ecstasy against Tony's temple, and at this point, he's hardly making a sound anymore even though his mouth is hanging open and he's so fucking close, and Tony is laying over him like a too-possessive ocean trying in vain to keep the secret of sand – the water saying to the land that, 'you are not gold, but you belong to me' – and he's rutting against him so erratically that Loki knows that he's close, too, and when that dawns on him, he whispers, "Come here," moves his hands to cup Tony's jaws and tilts his head up so that he's facing him, so that he can press their lips together and swallow the quiet little moans that are coming out of the man, and Tony is gasping against his mouth and spending himself all over his hip and Loki is thinking about how fucking beautiful Tony is when he's not as cool and collected as he likes to be and how odd it is, that wonderful-awful feeling of resistance and the best-worst kind of tension that coils up tight in your belly before you go falling over the edge, and then his orgasm is slamming into him like a tidal wave, washing over him and ripping into him and dragging him almost completely away from the pain in his knee and from Tony's presence and from the light in the room and from the high, keening noise that's coming out of him, and what do you know? – everything Tony told him to forget about is lightyears away, now.

Tony is shivering in Loki's arms, his forehead pressed against his and the tip of his nose brushing along the crest of his cheek. For a second, they're a little awkward and unmoving, Loki with his elbows bent at odd angles and Tony trapping Loki beneath his weight – and let's not forget to mention the mess of semen between them – but it doesn't take long for Tony to push himself up to give Loki some breathing room (as if Loki really wants any), and when he does, he's struggling to catch his breath and gazing down at him the same way he did the first time they had sex – dazed and adoring and almost surprised, and Loki might think that his expression is funny if he were capable of paying more attention to it, if he weren't so weirdly disconnected from his senses.

"Loki…" Tony starts to say, and Loki mistakenly assumes that the man is going to ask him a question or actually tell him something before he's being kissed again, firmly and sweetly on the mouth, and he can't stop himself from letting out this helplessly pleased, helplessly helpless humming sort of noise when Tony trails his lips across his left cheek and down to his jaw and the column of his throat, every kiss bruising and bittersweet. It's when he reaches his collarbone that Loki starts to realize that his bones are liquid for some reason, that there's an electric current thrumming through him, and that his groin is uncomfortably sticky, and while he feels like he could possibly be a little grossed out by that, he isn't entirely sure at the moment.

Then Tony nuzzles at his neck, and Loki is only strong enough to squeeze the man for a second or two before he's pulling away to sit back on his haunches and observe the mess they've made (or take a good look at Loki; same difference). His lips quirk up into a smirk as he notes, almost sarcastically, "We didn't get anything on the sheets, thankfully."

Loki is sure that he's going to smile and laugh at that, but at the exact instant that he's preparing to do such a thing, his knee starts calling to him again, so instead of doing what he thought he would, he ends up grimacing and letting out a sharp, pained groan that has Tony's features immediately contorting into something worried and confused.

"You okay, babe?" he asks, watching Loki anxiously. It occurs to Loki then – of all times, then – that he's probably the center of Tony's attention a whole lot more than he actually realizes or appreciates.

"Mm-mnh," Loki replies with an infinitesimal shake of the head, and the seemingly unbearable inertia of that one action has his head lolling to the side and falling heavy against the mattress, and holy shit, he's not supposed to be this weak after Tony's done all the work (except he is, no thanks to the busy day he's had). He makes a feeble gesture towards his leg and mumbles, "My knee," to clarify exactly what's bothering him.

"Oh, shit," Tony swears, and just like that, he's back to being Loki's big bad nurse again. Quickly and gingerly, he detangles himself from Loki and gets to his feet, and it takes Loki ten embarrassingly dim seconds to realize that oh – Tony is probably going to get him some ice or something and he's not just standing up for no particular reason. Yeah. That makes sense.

As Tony wipes himself clean with his discarded t-shirt (and honestly, that's kind of hilarious to behold), Loki attempts to reboot his central nervous system and regulate his breathing and stay awake long enough to at least watch Tony walk out of the room (because yes – he's still exhausted, and that he was just steamrolled by an orgasm that could honestly be classified as a fucking eight on the Richter scale doesn't help at all). When he regains enough control of his observational tools to realize that Tony is staring at him in all his naked, sweaty, semen-covered glory, he frowns a bit and blurts without an ounce of forethought, "Shut up."

"I didn't say anything," Tony chuckles, snatching his boxers from the floor and making quick work of pulling them on.

"You thought something," Loki grumbles, making to grasp the edge of his comforter and pull it over his lower half, never mind the fact that he'd probably end up wanting to destroy everything if he actually succeeded at covering himself and therefore dirtied his perfectly clean blanket.

(Un)Fortunately, Tony grabs his wrist before he can even get his fingers around his quilt, smirking down at him as he retorts, "Yeah, about how gorgeous you are." Then he manages the impossible and disgusts Loki while somehow also amusing him by leaning down and swiping his tongue over a smudge of ejaculate on his hip, and even though he probably only lapped up a drop of it and even though it doesn't really surprise Loki that Tony would have a little semen in his mouth at least a few times in his life, there's no way to tell whose spunk he just licked – as in, put his fucking tongue on – belonged to, and it came off of Loki's hip, and why the fuck did that even happen, and now he's moving to kiss Loki and oh my God, he is not going to put his mouth on Loki's if it's the last thing Loki's sure of before he dies from a lethal dose of a dangerous combination of embarrassment, exhaustion, and love.

"Oh, ew!" Loki cries, cringing away from Tony when the man lunges for his mouth and wrapping his hands around his shoulders without really trying to push him away.

"C'mere, silly," Tony laughs, caging Loki with his arms and chasing him with puckered, hungry lips, and for the record, he is not trying to be creepy on purpose – he's just an eccentric asshole (an eccentric asshole that Loki utterly adores, but an eccentric asshole nonetheless).

Loki grabs Tony by the cheeks, then, holds him about an inch and a half away from his face and whines, "Tony, that's gross!"

Tony's expression turns impish at that, his eyebrows raising just a bit and his mouth curling into a tiny, wonderfully naughty smirk as he says, "Did you know that sugar makes up about seventy-percent of human semen?"

"Did you know that you're fucking crazy?" Loki retorts, just this shy of hysterical (and please, don't be worried by this oh-so-sudden and unexpectedha – shift in emotion, not after Loki's just had sex for the second time in three years with his favorite person in the world/BFFL and he's sort of beside himself as well as excruciatingly weary and he has a mental disorder and he's actually kind of crazy to be honest, and congratulations, reader – you've just been spoon-fed the critically acclaimed biography of Loki Skywalker).

"Only for you," is what Tony counters with, and if that isn't the cheesiest, mushiest, most delightful thing Loki's ever been told in his life, he doesn't know what is.

(And see, I'd like to point out that this is another reason why Loki will sometimes find himself sitting around doing absolutely nothing and feel like he's on top of the world with happiness, why he might tear up a little bit when Tony comes to mind and nobody but Fenrir is present to judge him, because this – this ridiculously silly, rom-com sort of dialogue Tony will throw at him like he's fucking privileged to be in a situation that allows him to even think such things – is like 'turtledove', and it belongs to Loki and it's all his and he can hold it like a good luck charm and let it make him feel great about himself for the few seconds it takes his brain to come up with something negative to throw at him and make sure he doesn't stay too content for too long – but more than anything, it belongs to him. And that's so perfect it hurts – the kind of hurt that crawls up in your cheeks when you've smiled too hard or laughed too much, that is.)

Loki is at a loss for words for a second or two, every ounce of stubbornness having been drained right out of him at Tony's comment, and when he does manage to speak, he's sighing, "Oh, I hate you so much," and he's pushing his fingers into Tony's hair and Tony is kissing him and his knee is still hurting but he doesn't care that much right now because he can't taste anything but tobacco and peppermint and Tony and he'd be content with his pain for ages if it just meant he could lie here and be kissed.

"I'll be right back," Tony promises against the corner of Loki's mouth, dropping one last peck there before he makes for the door. "Don't fall asleep," he adds on his way out of the room, almost as a playful afterthought.

In spite of that imperative, as soon as Loki can't hear Tony's footsteps anymore, he throws an arm over his eyes and lets himself drift off for a few minutes, never mind how uncomfortable he is lying in a supine position (which is honestly the worst way to sleep ever, in his experience – especially when he tends to undergo sleep paralysis if he does opt to slumber in such a fashion), uncovered by any sort of blanket, and sporting body fluids all over his abdomen.

After maybe a minute or two, Loki is half-awoken by the sound of Tony's voice coming from down the hallway, calling in his characteristically cheeky tone, "You better not be sleeping, Loki."

Loki smirks a bit in response, refusing to remove his arm from his face as he challenges, "And what if I am?" He's pretty sure that the rustling noise he hears when he says that is Tony walking into the room, and his prediction is more than confirmed when the man laughs in a direction that sounds a whole lot like slightly above him and somewhere around the foot of the bed, when he replies, "Well, I'd have to wake you up, wouldn't I?"

"I'm tired, sweetheart," Loki sighs as if to excuse himself, soft and weary and near-pathetically feeble. He peeks from beneath his forearm just in time to watch Tony reach for his knee, only a second before he's hissing with pain and shivering against the icepack that's being wrapped around his sprain. Tony makes a faint shushing sound that's meant to comfort him more than it's aimed towards shutting him up, gesturing to the space above Loki's head and saying, "Gimme a pillow so I can elevate this."

Loki quickly obliges, passing his boyfriend a pillow and attempting to whine as little as possible as the man props the cushion below his knee. Then, he patiently waits for Tony to finish wiping his abdomen clean, throw his washcloth in the pile of laundry by the door, snatch a water bottle and a pill bottle (that he presumably acquired while he was out hunting for ice) from the floor, and crawl into bed with him. Tony is hasty to kick his boxers off and onto the carpet once he's under the covers and he's made sure that Loki is comfortably blanketed as well, and such an action doesn't fail to draw a tiny smile and a laugh out of Loki – things that mostly Tony only ever gets to behold when they're completely genuine.

"Here," Tony says, handing Loki the pill bottle he's brought and giving him a brief, amused grin. "I thought you'd appreciate a couple of painkillers."

Loki immediately pops two capsules (Of Aleve? Or Tylenol? Motrin? Does the difference really matter?) into his mouth, reaching for the water bottle Tony is passing to him soon after and washing the medication down. It's only after he's handed the two bottles back to Tony and turned onto his side that he lets out a quiet, "Thank you."

"You're very welcome," Tony returns somewhat awkwardly (probably because he doesn't get thanked very often, to be honest), dropping the water bottle on the floor and shoving the painkillers underneath his pillow. He grabs Loki's arm and drapes it over his stomach once he's nice and horizontal again, maneuvers them so that Loki's cranium is resting atop his bicep, brings a hand around to push his fingers into his inky mess of hair, and turns his head to press a moist kiss to his temple. Loki is too tired to do much more than tuck his face below Tony's chin and snuggle into the man's embrace, just as weak and as mortal as he can be.

"I'm gonna go to sleep, okay?" he eventually mumbles, long after the silence between them has gone from being somewhat uncomfortable to just shy of blissful.

"Have sexy dreams about me," Tony jests, trailing his fingertips across the back of Loki's shoulders and smirking a bit when Loki hums with laughter and kisses the side of his neck.

"I like you," Loki whispers, his voice muted and hushed like he might be telling a secret or something.

"Well, of course you do," is Tony's sarcastic, pompous reply. "I mean, why wouldn't you?"

Loki shakes his head with a weary chuckle, cutting Tony off and sighing, "No, no – I'm serious. You're pretty much my favorite person."

Tony makes a pleased noise at that, wraps an arm around Loki's back and brushes his lips across his forehead as he murmurs, "You're my favorite person, too."

"You sure about that?" Loki asks, only a little caustic, only a little bitter. "Because, you know, there's half the student body to consider –"

"Oh, shut up and go to sleep," Tony laughs, swatting gently at Loki's shoulder in mock-punishment. He gives him a tender squeeze after he's snickered in turn, adds – teasing and affectionate – "Favorite."

That's about all Loki needs to hear before he drifts off, not a single worry haunting the spooky horror story attic of his consciousness. Of course, when he wakes up a few hours later, he'll be just as insane as he was before Tony took it upon himself to blow his mind, and of course, it's not like the near-perfect combination of sex and sleep is going to fix everything for good, and of course, Tony won't always be around or in the mood to put a smile on his face, but at the very second before Loki finally, finally falls asleep, there isn't one thing going terribly wrong in his world.

Saturday, October 15th at 4:28 PM.

He's sitting on the living room floor, reading one of his well-loved paperbacks, and trying to play with Fenrir by kicking his rubber ball around and waiting for the husky to bring it back to him when Thor ambles into the room, walks right up to him, and announces, real solemn-like, "We're out of Sprite."

Loki doesn't look up from East of Eden as he replies, distracted and aloof, "Oh." You honestly can't expect him to care all that much about a deficiency of junk food.

The vague, black and khaki blob that is Thor's body shifts a bit in Loki's peripheral vision. "We don't have any hot dogs, either," the man adds, his voice matter-of-fact and imperative in a way that makes Loki actually want to vomit with irritation, because if there's one thing he absolutely cannot handle, it's people passive-aggressively insinuating that he has do something and not just explicitly asking him to do it like anyone with sanity or at least a smidgeon of forethought would (and while we're here, I'd like to point out that this is probably a huge reason why Loki started getting along with Tony a lot faster than he has with anyone else ever; Tony hasn't made a habit of beating around the bush with him, not like his family has for most of his life).

"Are you trying to tell me something, Thor?" Loki asks, just barely refraining from growling at his brother and settling instead for the slightly miffed, faintly edgy tone that comes naturally to him.

"Well, uhm…" Thor starts to say, but he quickly trails off after those two maddeningly meaningless words have left him (presumably so that he doesn't say anything that has the potential to send Loki sailing into a rage). It's only when Loki forces himself to tear his eyes away from his book and look at him that the man concedes, "I thought you could come with me to Wal-Mart or something."

That was unexpected.

"I don't know if you noticed, but I kind of can't walk," Loki points out, quirking a sassy, insolent eyebrow at his brother and watching the way Thor's face darkens a bit in response. Oddly enough, he doesn't feel at all intimidated or apprehensive (for once).

"You have your crutches, and the doctor said you should try to move around as much as possible," Thor retorts, crossing his arms over his chest and giving Loki this look that could convey anything between irritation and entitlement and even hopefulness, and Loki doesn't know why, but he latches onto the anticipation he thinks he sees in his brother's gaze like it's a lifejacket and he's drowning, and oh God, isn't it odd, how easy it is for him to go tripping over his emotions like his life is a gravel driveway and he can feel every rock beneath his feet as he walks because he's wearing the wrong kind of shoes?

"Forgive me if I'm not one-hundred percent into your bid for my health," Loki comments, deadpan. When Thor's expression morphs into something frowning and indignant and juvenile, he chuckles, "I'm kidding, you oaf," and holds a hand out towards the man, gently closing his novel as he does. "Help me up and we'll go."

It takes Thor a few seconds to realize that oh, Loki is saying yes for once (which is kind of funny to think about when you consider the fact that you could probably count how many positive things Loki ejects in a week on only two hands), and his face is overtaken by a relieved, almost surprised smile as he laughs, "Oh, cool!", moving to pull Loki up and off the ground as painlessly as possible.

Loki clings to Thor's ridiculously massive shoulders once he's propped up on his left foot, tries (somewhat unsuccessfully) not to find too much discomfort with his brother's hand when it's pressed against the small of his back, and waits a bit impatiently for the man to grab his crutches, and it occurs to him then that the two of them used to touch each other constantly; now, they can barely stand to look at one another for over ten consecutive seconds if words aren't vacating them.

And see, that's really something to think about. From the time they were infants up until Thor's fifteenth birthday, Loki and Thor were in near-perpetual physical contact, whether they were holding hands as they walked from place to place or bumping sides when they sat together or snuggling close when they shared a bunk or just hugging each other a whole fucking lot, and neither of them ever considered such a practice to be unusual or embarrassing until Thor decided he was too old for something as childish as affection (because of course, it's just so immature to express your love for another human being when you're a high school freshman and you don't want your popular friends to think you're gay because you and your little brother like to sit super-duper close to each other). After that, the possibility of getting shoved away and criticized had Loki avoiding moving into Thor's personal space as much as he possibly could (mostly due to the fact that his heart would end up getting completely obliterated any time Thor so much as cast a disapproving glance his way), and when the accident was over and done with, the thought of even being in the same room as his brother would literally bring Loki to tears.

It's been four years since that day in November (only three days before Loki turned eighteen, Jesus Christ), but Loki still hasn't totally gotten over his inability to let Thor casually touch him. It's a trust thing at heart – he knows that much – but lately, he's been thinking that his skin starts crawling and his tolerance begins to splinter simply out of spite for his brother, and that, quite ironically, Thor seems to want to touch him more often than he did after his misplaced sense of maturity took over in the first place. And Loki doesn't know what to do with that when he can't force himself to be an adult and act like it's alright for Thor to put his hands on him because they're brothers and he's kind of-sort of striving to let himself get comfortable around Thor, or whatever, when he doesn't even understand why Thor suddenly deemed it to be a-fucking-okay to touch him again. It's not like he can just ask him.

"Thank you," Loki manages to sigh once he has his crutches anchored beneath his armpits (which are exceptionally sore after all the abuse they've been taking), glancing at Thor a moment before he's shuffling towards the hallway and saying, "I'll be right back, okay? I have to grab my shoes."

"Okay," Thor replies in that relaxed, perfect way he so easily possesses. There's a note of optimism in his tone, something cheery and jubilant and so hilariously Thor that Loki can't help but recognize it and wonder whether he finds it endearing or infuriating. He quickly decides it's better to not make a choice at all.

Loki doesn't know why he's going to the grocery store with Thor, and you should note that when I say that, what I mean is this – Loki doesn't know why he's voluntarily getting into a vehicle with Thor, a vehicle which Thor will be driving to a location that is several miles from his (their?) house, a location that will be chock-full of loud, obnoxious people Loki has never met before, and all while he's injured in a way that will make this whole ordeal exponentially more difficult. There's no logical explanation for why he'd do such a thing, but honestly, that's just it – he isn't being logical, and that's mainly because he's trying out this whole ready, fire, aim thing in regards to hanging out with Thor; if he didn't, he wouldn't be down with doing anything with his brother, and that means he'd be breaking his promise to be friends with him again. Ergo, casting common sense to the wind is exactly what Loki's going to do (for the moment, at least).

This is what he's thinking about when he hobbles his way into his room. Loki immediately zeroes in on his shoes and commences towards his bed, where Tony is comfortably reclined and has his nose stuck in a Nintendo DS.

"Hey, chickadee," Tony greets as Loki carefully sits down on the edge of the mattress, leans his crutches against his lap, and bends over to grab his Toms.

"Salutations," is Loki's simple response. He listens to the digitized sounds coming from Tony's DS and automatically identifies the game he's playing as a Pokémon one while he attempts to slip his shoes on without hurting himself too much.

"Are you going somewhere?" Tony asks, the tone of his voice just a bit distracted. He makes a soft, grunting noise of concentration after he's spoken, something Loki can't help but chuckle at.

"Wal-Mart," Loki replies, dragging the back of his shoe over his heel with a quiet hiss of discomfort. "We're running low on a few groceries." (Never mind that said groceries don't actually matter or anything.)

"Are you gonna be alright?" Tony questions. Loki knows Tony well enough to tell that by asking that, he's not just expressing concern for his well-being – he's trying to warn him against accompanying Thor (who is obviously going to be the driver on this journey) to any public place, especially one as crowded and hectic and downright aggravating as a supermarket like Wal-Mart.

"I don't know," Loki sighs. He turns his head to glance over his shoulder just as Tony starts crawling up behind him, gives the man a tiny shrug as he adds, "I guess we'll find out in an hour or so, hm?"

Tony lets out this ambiguous, vague sort of hum that could easily mean both acceptance and dissatisfaction, and while Loki would totally spend over fifteen minutes psychoanalyzing the man's oddly (but not really, when you take the time to break down Tony's psyche) indifferent, taciturn reaction if he could, he can't when Tony is leaning over to nuzzle his nose and kiss him on the lips. He can't think at all when Tony does that, to be honest.

"You have to play this when you get back," Tony murmurs against Loki's mouth, leaning his forehead against the other's with a faint, receptive mirror of a smile and waving his DS in the air for a moment.

"And why would I be required to do that?" Loki asks, just as pretentious as he's allowed to be around Tony and in a way he knows is endearing in the most aggravating manner. A quiet laugh escapes him when Tony smirks, pinches his side through the hoodie he's wearing (which happens to be Tony's, by the way).

"Because, I made you a team," Tony replies, resting his chin atop Loki's shoulder and winding his arms around his middle. Unfortunately, it's that confining action that reminds Loki that Thor is waiting for him in the front and that if he makes the man wait at least two minutes longer, he just might get beaten up. Oops.

Instead of attempting to put an end to his conversation, though, Loki says, "I already have a team on my own game."

"I know, but this one is special," Tony insists, giving Loki a brief squeeze and kissing the side of his neck, right over a hickey he left there the previous afternoon. Loki seriously considers staying in bed with Tony and never leaving him, then.

"I'll play with it," Loki promises with a small smile, a smile that widens into a full-blown grin when Tony makes this happy, purring sort of noise and hugs him again, his nose pressing into his hair and his arms tightening their hold on him.

"You should go," Tony eventually mumbles when it becomes apparent that Loki's not going to move without a little nudging. He chuckles a bit, adds, "I don't want King of the Universe to hurt you or anything."

"Behave," Loki chuckles, smacking Tony's arm a second before he lets go of him.

Tony lets out a snorting laugh in response, watching as Loki gets to his feet much like a child would watch their parent, all eager and curious and wonderfully adoring, and once Loki is on his crutches and ready to go, he asks, a little impulsively, "Does that mean I can't smoke in the house?"

Loki sets his expression in a comically deadpan glare, drawing another amused laugh out of Tony, and retorts with only an ounce of levity in his voice (not enough to negate his words, mind you), "Don't even think about it."

"Understood," Tony says, giving Loki a solemn mock-salute that's only spoiled by the slight, impish quirk of his lips. Loki rewards him with one last brief kiss before he's limping out of his room and into what honestly feels like the Mariana Trench.

The second he's in the passenger seat of Thor's Hummer, anxiety starts to crop up inside of Loki. It never occurred to him that he might actually start freaking out when he was making an active attempt not to think about this whole thing, but now that he can hear the near-obnoxious purr of Thor's engine and smell the old sweat (which is honestly the most disgusting thought Loki can even fathom at the moment, especially when it's accompanied with the knowledge that people like Steve and Clint and Logan have ridden in this car and occupied his seat countless times before) that's practically embedded in the leather interior and turn his head and see his brother with his hands on a steering wheel, he thinks he may just start hyperventilating. And when the radio comes on – oh God, when the radio comes on – the volume is at a deafening 29 and Aerosmith is working on blowing Loki's goddamn ears off and Loki is imagining himself ramming his crutch straight through the stereo and then laughing maniacally as Thor grabs him by the neck and flings him out the window, but in reality, he just ends up jumping a little and glaring at the sound system like it's kicked him or something. Fun stuff.

Thankfully (and surprisingly), Thor immediately reaches over to turn the music (read: noise) down and mumbles out a brief, "Sorry."

Loki wants to say 'It's okay' or something else to that effect, but he's suddenly thirteen years-old and unable to talk without radiating the nuclear waste that is awkwardness, and just like yesterday, he's not sure how to be grateful without coming off as too friendly, and even though he wants to be friendly with Thor, actually succeeding at doing so is terrifying and weird and – dare I say it – out of character, and Loki has no idea what to do with variables like that, so he ends up saying nothing and acting like he didn't hear Thor – a tactic that actually sort of makes sense when you consider that Thor apologized so quickly and so quietly.

And then Thor goes, "I have to go get gas," and because Loki really can't just not respond to that, he forces a crisp, "Okay," between his lips. Speech doesn't end up being as hard as he thought it would.

So they're going to a service station. And there's Aerosmith on. And Loki keeps wanting to look at Thor, but he can't physically make himself turn his head. And he keeps wanting to at least try to speak up, but every topic that comes to him isn't exactly Thor's favorite thing in the world (he highly doubts that the man would be terribly fascinated by the indie movie he ordered last week or the book Tony bought him awhile ago or the idle, existentialist musings he'll have whenever his mind is vacant enough). And he's seriously wondering how he and Thor ever managed to live together for so long.

(Just so you know, all this doesn't go to say that Loki and Thor are incapable of talking to each other in a non-argumentative fashion, because they are. It's just that most of the time, if they're having a conversation, they're not exactly bending over backwards to cater to one another's interests or feelings or anything, and a disagreement between the two of them is imminent enough to be considered divine prophecy.)

Seconds before Loki decides it would probably be best if he just withdrew into himself completely, Thor says, "Fandral wants to come over tomorrow and make dinner."

That's reaction-worthy.

"Oh," is what comes out of Loki's mouth first, and that short, one-syllable response ends up sounding a whole lot sharper and uglier than he intended it to (honestly though, that's how almost everything he says turns out).

"Do you want me to tell him not to come or…?" Thor starts to ask. It will only occur to Loki hours later that this is the first time Thor's ever offered to do something like this for him. At this very moment, though? He's too caught up in his own thoughts to notice.

"No, it's just… unsettling to think about Fandral cooking a meal in my house," Loki replies, staring out of his window and into the damp, gloomy grayness of the day. He spies a fat, flustered tomcat fluffy with moisture sitting on a picket fence across the street as Thor turns a corner.

"Why?" Thor questions. At first, Loki thinks that the man is being confrontational by asking him that, but when his brain replays the brief inquiry for him, he realizes that Thor is genuinely curious about why he feels the way he does, and that hasn't happened in years, or at least he hasn't been aware of it happening, and for the first time since he was fifteen, he considers telling Thor exactly what's going on in his head, and after the accident and all its awful repercussions, he's only ever done that with Frigga or Tony, and really, he's been doing way too much comparing the then to the now within the past twenty or so minutes than is healthy or beneficial to him (but what's surprising about that?).

It's a few seconds before Loki totally convinces himself to partially remove the filter between his mind and his mouth and say, "Because he's practically incapable of being in the same room as me without trying to jump in my pants. And I don't think he's allowed to have any redeeming qualities, or whatever."

Thor makes a face at the road, his mouth quirking into this funny little question mark of a smirk as he chuckles, "That's kind of petty, don't you think?"

"I think I'm entitled to be petty when I've been sexually harassed by him since before I even started college," Loki retorts. He isn't lying or exaggerating, believe it or not.

"Flirting isn't sexual harassment, though," Thor argues. Loki has the remind himself who he's dealing with when anger threatens to come snapping out of him at his brother's tone, at his offhanded, thoughtless invalidation of his feelings (which is truly the main reason why Loki stopped sharing his thoughts with Thor in the first place).

"Well, what would you define as sexual harassment?" Loki asks, turning his head to level two slightly curious, jade green eyes at Thor. It doesn't surprise him when the man fixes his face all weird again at the question.

"Uh, I dunno," Thor says, his voice conveying the kind of apathetic uncertainty Loki expected it would, and really, even though it'd be like him to get pissy about this, Loki's not even angry that Thor isn't investing much in deciding what constitutes as sexual harassment and what doesn't, because Thor's never been sexually harassed, not like he has (and he's been harassed a lot), so it would be unfair of him to demand that he form an opinion about something that hasn't directly affected him. That doesn't mean he doesn't want the man to understand him, though.

(And while we're here, I'd like to point out that Loki is super embarrassed to be having a conversation about a subject like this – not because he's having this conversation with Thor, but because he's hyper-aware of the fact that Tony has sexually harassed him more times than he can remember, and that kind of makes him feel weak and silly and stupid for falling for him like he has.)

"Okay, then," Loki sighs, glancing out of his window again and squinting his eyes a bit in thought. "If, say, Steve started making really suggestive comments to you, would you consider that to be sexual harassment?"

"I might feel a little weirded out, but like… he's my best friend. He'd probably be kidding," is Thor's careful, somewhat apprehensive answer. There's a tiny note of tension in his voice – something Loki finds way too much delight in picking up on.

"What if he wasn't your best friend?" Loki pushes. He has to force himself not to chuckle at his own question, mainly because asking it is just about as advantageous as trying to get Thor to imagine a world where pigs fly and the grass grows bright purple.

And see, instead of replying to the query, Thor just frowns and asks, "What kind of a question is that?"

But Loki isn't done yet.

"What if it was Kurt Wagner who did this? Or Tony? Or what if Steve tried to make out with you without your permission?" The more he goes on, the deeper Thor's scowl grows and the tighter his hands wind around his steering wheel. "Would you consider that to be sexual harassment?"

"I don't understand what you're trying to get at," Thor huffs, shaking his head at the red light in front of him and leaning back in his seat. "And I don't understand why you're only listing guys." He turns to Loki almost comically fast after he says that, asks, "Are you trying to make me uncomfortable?"

Loki can't stop himself from laughing in amusement in response to his brother's question, smirking a bit with a playful, relatively unconvincing, "No."

Thor utters a nervous little chuckle, starts to say, "I mean, I know you're gay, but–"

"I'm not gay," Loki cuts the man off, and when Thor gives him a surprised, puzzled look, he clarifies, "I'm bisexual."

Thor's expression contorts into something oddly satisfied and almost prideful. Loki actually considers punching him in the face, then.

"But that's not the point, Thor," Loki says, easily slipping back into the semi-serious, businesslike demeanor he'd been wearing before Thor sidetracked him. "I didn't intend for you to get uncomfortable, but I'm glad you did, because that's how I feel when Fandral is howling at my bedroom door and singing Hungry Like the Wolf or trying to put his tongue in my mouth."

Thor watches the road for thirty long, thoughtful seconds, idly tapping his fingers against his steering wheel and clearly unsure about how he should respond to Loki's argument. Eventually, just before the light turns green, the blond points out, "That was pretty funny when he did that, though."

Loki doesn't know whether he should get bitchy with his brother or just let it go. He reasons that because he's about to spend at least another hour in Thor's company alone, he should drop it, but those are his feelings getting pushed to the side for the fifty-millionth time, getting made into a joke, getting laughed at, and after twenty years of enduring such belittlement, one begins to get sick of letting it go.

But before Loki can get pissed off enough to snap at Thor, Thor just up and says, "I think you should have gone out with him."

And suddenly, Loki wants nothing more than to open his car door and roll on down the street until some considerate driver takes it upon themselves to obliterate him beneath their tires, and that makes him remember that he's in a car with Thor, and Thor is driving said car, and that throws his mood into a pit of epic proportions, and honestly, what Thor just said to him is pretty high up on the list of things Loki has dreaded ever hearing from the man, right below 'Steve has a schoolboy crush on you' and above 'I think I broke your [insert object that may or may not be of some value to Loki]'.

"Oh, really?" Loki snorts, crossing his arms over his chest and casting Thor a vaguely appalled look that he doesn't see (and hopefully won't end up seeing, because he'd have to turn his head to do so, and Loki just might pitch a gigantic bitch fit if Thor takes his eyes off of the road for even a second).

"Yeah, really," Thor replies, sounding just as disgustingly self-righteous and sincere as he can be. "I think you guys are really compatible."

For a second, all Loki can do is sit and gawk at the dashboard as if he's just been slapped in the face, stuck halfway between shock and revulsion and about two-hundred percent done with this conversation and everything it entails. When he manages to regain the gift of speech, he says, obviously indignant, "What would we talk about? What would we do? How would we even interact without me caving his face in?"

"Loki, he's not a bad guy," Thor argues, speeding up momentarily in an attempt to beat a red light and thoroughly succeeding at scaring the living shit out of Loki. "And it's not like he wants to go out with you just because he thinks you're hot. He actually likes you, you know."

"Why would he like me when I've been nothing but an asshole to him?" Loki sighs. He thinks about Tony as soon as that question has left him.

"I don't know, but he does," Thor replies, glancing at Loki with a bemused little grin that Loki seriously contemplates slapping right off of his face. "I mean, he talks about you sometimes, and he thinks you're funny and stuff–"

"Oh, of course he does," Loki cuts Thor off, rolling his eyes and thunking the back of his head against his seat and generally looking every bit the exasperated, anxious young man he is at the moment. "That's what it always is."

Thor frowns a bit, confused, asks, "What are you talking about?"

What Loki is talking about is the propensity of people – especially people who, for whatever reason, are attracted to him – to assume that he's funny, a propensity that does a spectacular job at infuriating him, because, to be completely honest, he isn't a funny person. He's sarcastic, sure, but that doesn't make him humorous, and the reason why he's sarcastic is because he's vain, and the reason why he's vain is because he harbors an intense dislike for people in general, and that, my friends, is not funny in the slightest. But people – people like Fandral and Kitty and Tony – like to think that he's just oh-so fucking hilarious because he can make a biting-yet-clever jibe at person A or predicament B, when really, he's just the human equivalent of hydrochloric acid and therefore extremely corrosive and not comical in the slightest. It's not funny to be sarcastic when you're just using irony to hide the fact that you'd rather kill yourself than stand to live another three minutes making your stupid, cowardly, sarcastic little comments that are the exact opposite of honesty and just the kind of amusing thing everybody loves to hear.

But Loki isn't going to explain that to Thor, because if he did, he'd only end up getting angrier than he already is (and this whole exchange is reminding him too much of his relationship with Tony and the flaws it might have for his comfort, and yeah, he's absolutely certain that he'll love Tony no matter how imperfect he can be, but every interaction he's ever had with the man just goes on to say that loving him doesn't guarantee being with him, and right now, the thought of not being with Tony is about the most awful thing Loki can imagine – thanks, Thor). Instead, he replies, "It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that Fandral likes me for me. He doesn't respect me, so it doesn't matter."

"Are you just saying that because he flirts with you a lot?" Thor asks, pulling into the driveway of a service station just as he's punctuating that question.

"Tony flirts with me a lot, but he respects me enough to back off when I tell him to," Loki retorts. "He doesn't belittle my feelings or objectify me like Fandral does, and even besides that, Tony and I have things in common and we like to talk to each other about actual stuff." He runs a hand through his hair, makes a face at the air in front of him as he asks, "What is Fandral interested in, besides first-person shooters and apparently cooking things and the shortage of himself in any situation, most especially my bed?"

Thor looks at Loki long and hard for saying that, his eyes wide and shocked and his expression almost comically awed. "That was harsh, bro," he comments, keying the engine off with a quiet, bewildered laugh.

"Only because it was true," Loki counters. He and Thor share a lengthy, somewhat uncomfortable look, then, and it almost feels like a challenge, the way they stare at each other like they're daring the other to say something foolish or inflammatory, and Loki feels like they're teenagers again when his eyes are locked with Thor's and there's too-familiar, too-bitter defiance springing up in him at the shade of his brother's irises, and he's not sure if that makes him uneasy or tickles him the slightest bit. Maybe it does a little bit of both.

"If it makes you feel better, he doesn't try to disrespect you," Thor offers when it becomes apparent that Loki's not going to say anything more. "He just really, really likes you, and I don't know. I guess that makes him act like an idiot sometimes."

Again, Loki finds himself thinking of Tony. He lowers his gaze to his lap so that he doesn't have to see Thor anymore, picks at the fabric of his boyfriend's hoodie and echoes himself with a soft, resigned, "It doesn't matter."

Thor watches him for a few seconds after he's said that, his gaze physically obtrusive and unsettling in that weird way only gazes operate in, but Loki doesn't let himself look at the man, doesn't let himself acknowledge his there-ness (which is different from his presence, mind you) until he asks, all out of the blue and without any sort of pretense, "Do you want me to get you a soda or something?"

Loki is only half-surprised by Thor's seemingly arbitrary question, and that's because he knows his brother well after having grown up with him and, once upon a time, been so close to him. Thor has never been one to get sentimental about conversations, so if he sees fit to end one, he won't think twice about doing so, and the realization that Thor asked him such a random question, a question that was most likely intended to kill the talk they were just smack dab in the middle of, makes Loki fear that he upset the man by insulting Fandral (never mind how justified he was in doing so), and that makes him fear that the two of them are going to spend his whole recovery arguing about each other's friends, and that fills him with a sort of antipathy that would suffocate him if he let it (and I use the word 'suffocate' quite literally).

"Uhm, maybe some tea?" Loki replies, taking in the disconcertingly ambiguous expression on Thor's face. He's twelve years-old and just starting to find out what it's like to be awkward and uncertain around his brother.

"'Kay," is all Thor says in response before he's opening his car door and sliding out of the cockpit. Loki keeps on staring at the space Thor had previously been occupying well after the man is gone.

It takes Loki awhile to consciously recognize that he's upset. After that, it occurs to him that he's always upset, and that he's always upset about multiple things all at one time, and that such a happening is what makes him so angry and hateful more often than not. He's good at having useless epiphanies, wouldn't you say?

But, really. Loki realizes that he's legitimately distraught about what just happened, and not because of Fandral, and (mostly) not because of Tony, and not even because of anything Thor actually said to him. It's what Thor didn't say, and what he didn't say, and what they both didn't say and didn't do and didn't even think to say or do that makes Loki want to go lie down for a long, long time and not get up or talk to anybody if his life depended on it. Especially if his life depended on it.

He misses Thor. That's all there is to it. He doesn't miss him in the sense that he yearns for his company, because believe me, he has that in uncomfortable and infuriating amounts already. No, no, no – Loki misses Thor being his best friend, and that is something he doesn't feel like he has at all.

Now, I'm not trying to say that Loki doesn't appreciate Tony being his best friend, because he really, really does. It's no lie that Tony is probably the most spectacular friend Loki has ever had, in terms of how their friendship has developed and strengthened over time and the overall chemistry between them. But Loki is suddenly, horrifically aware of the fact that Tony can't be his best friend if Thor is his best friend, and vice versa. And that he's forced to be two different people on a daily basis – version one of himself being Tony's version, and version two being Thor's. And that he's not really sure which Loki he truly is anymore, not sure if he's being himself or just a brighter clone of his own ego when he's around Tony, not sure if the Loki Thor grew up with is the identity he takes on around his brother or if it was lost in all the debris and broken glass and fractured bones of the accident. And that he hates himself for being so duplicitous. And that it's nearly impossible for him to reconcile the life that Tony occupies and the life that Thor does, and that's awful because Tony stimulates him and protects him and keeps him sane and keeps him wanting, but Thor is constant and familiar and addictive and his brother, and Loki needs both of them so badly that it could honestly be called a matter of life or death, but he can't have them both the way he wants to have them – he can only choose one of them, and at this point in his existence, Tony is definitely the more comfortable and fitting option. That's a bearable thought under most circumstances, but when Loki feels like he's ten years-old and he needs his brother to look at him and give him a great big hug and tell him that everything's going to be okay because that's what best friends do for each other, it breaks his heart to think that the person he loves more than anything is keeping him from being as close as he wants to be with Thor, in a roundabout sort of way.

And for a second, he just wants the accident to never have happened. He wants to have never grown up. He wants to have never fallen in love. He wants to have never met Tony.

That's a thought that stops Loki cold and steals the breath straight from his lungs, because he'd never, ever permit himself to think anything of that sort if he were in his right mind, because Tony is the person who saved his life in the sense that Loki would probably have offed himself if the man hadn't strolled right into his world with all his stupid charisma and his selective ability to say the right thing at the right time, because he's never been happier in the company of anyone in all his twenty years, because Tony is someone who makes him feel like a character in a musical or a Disney movie, who is the farthest thing from Prince Charming and yet plays the part perfectly when he's in his presence, who – certain as the sun rising in the east – is magic and friendship and romance and whimsy to Loki, who is something wonderful, and here Loki is, wishing he'd never met him because Thor – who almost killed him, by the way – isn't his best friend anymore. 'Conflicted' doesn't even begin to cover the way Loki is feeling right now.

Loki jumps a bit in surprise when Thor opens his car door and reaches over to hand him the green tea he requested. There's a moment where he just stares at the beverage like taking it might actually mean something, like he and Thor are a point on a number line and his accepting of the man's drink will move them up a notch or two, but his relationship with Thor isn't a video game, and they're not going to level up just because Loki has elected to accept a bottle of tea from his brother. They are much more complicated than that.

"Thanks," he mumbles as Thor passes him his drink, only allowing himself a momentary glance at his brother and offering him a brief, forced smile. Thor seems to see through the expression, though, because his own face makes a frown in response.

"You okay?" the man asks, leaning further into the car so that he might get a better look at Loki. Loki doesn't let that gesture force him to return Thor's gaze, though, instead chooses to keep his eyes firmly glued to the green cap staring up at him from his lap.

"I'm fine," he lies. There's a pregnant pause after he says that, uncomfortable and telling and full of accusation, and Loki knows without even looking at his brother that Thor can see right through him, but honestly, his thoughts are so scattered right now that he can't even be bothered.

That is, until Thor points out, "You promised that you'd tell me whenever something's wrong, remember?"

He most certainly does. And he feels like a fucking moron for ever swearing something like that to his brother.

"I'm just confused, Thor," he sighs, finally allowing himself to turn his head and regard the man fully. He gives a small shrug, adds, more to lessen the weight attached to his problem than to exonerate himself, "And that's alright, because I'm always confused."

"That's like saying 'I have cancer, but that's alright, because I always have cancer,'" is Thor's brilliant reply – a reply that has Loki's face splitting in two and a rare, unprecedented laugh (I say 'rare' because it's an odd day when Thor gets Loki to let out a genuine laugh with his words or actions) tearing its way out of him.

"I'm okay," Loki assures Thor, more certain of the truth in his statement now that his brother has oh-so splendidly (and most likely accidentally) equated his confusion to terminal illness (and you know, the reason why that's so funny is probably because Loki was doing the same thing, in a way, but he was actually taking himself seriously). When Thor refuses to stop looking at Loki like he's lying to him (which he kind of is) or like he's on the verge of breaking down (which he kind of was), he gives the man a soft, awkward little smile that feels all wrong on his face (because only Tony is supposed to see him look like that) and says, "You don't have to worry about me."

Thor scowls a bit, giving Loki one last disbelieving glance and an incredulous, "Alright," before he's closing his car door and making it his mission to fill his fuel tank with gasoline. After that, Loki is left alone with his tea and his thoughts, and while that in and of itself is a little novel in just the way Loki likes, he isn't terribly fond of his thoughts more often than not, and his tea isn't even hot.

He closes his eyes and sees an abundance of Thor – Thor in profile; Thor sitting across the table from him that afternoon at the library, staring up at him with his icy, clear blue gaze; Thor dancing in Steve's living room amongst all the jocks and cheerleaders at the homecoming party; Thor standing on the other side of Loki's doorway that evening in August, asking if he can live with him 'just for a little while'; Thor sprinting across a football field, happier than he'd ever be otherwise; Thor peering down at him from his bunk; Thor right next to him with nothing but the sea beyond, clutching his hand tightly and murmuring meaningless reassurances; Thor running ahead of him down the hallway back at home, clad in nothing but a bedsheet and a pair of tidy-whities; Thor in the cafeteria, seemingly miles away and surrounded by Clint, Steve, and Balder; Thor red-eyed and intoxicated and completely unaware of the weeping, broken, equally high brother across the room from him; Thor beside him in the snow, a perfect, almost radiant smile plastered across his face as he brings his arms up to spread the wings of his snow angel; Thor growling and angry and drunk and not paying attention to the road and headlights casting him in shadow from behind seconds before there's glass and metal everywhere, and Loki knows he's going to die, but more than anything, he's afraid that Thor won't make it out alive.

Loki forces himself to open his eyes, screws his bottle of tea open, takes a long, deliberate sip, then lets his eyelids fall shut once more. This time, he brings the cuff of his sleeve up to his nose and takes a whiff of the Axe and tobacco and oil embedded in the fabric, and he's seeing Tony – Tony watching him with adoring eyes as he's shaking off cobwebs of sleep; Tony beneath him, slack-jawed and rapturous and in love as he loses himself; Tony in the light of his own doorway, looking like some sort of lonely, lovelorn angel; Tony in the passenger seat next to him, anger slowly creeping into his expression in response to his heated rant about Thor; Tony staring at him all wide-eyed and shocked and helpless as he spills the contents of his soul, as he throws around terms like bipolar disorder and clinical depression; Tony dancing and contagious, grabbing him by his hands and forcing him to move; Tony on New Year's Eve, wasted and half-asleep and mere inches from kissing him; Tony wrapped in a blanket from his childhood, cursing and crying and quaking with withdrawal; Tony deftly dodging his clumsily aimed punch, only to duck his way into his arms; Tony grinning at him, a Christmas present in his lap and a holly wreath on his head; Tony before he even had a name, when he was just another person Loki didn't want to meet in sunglasses most people wouldn't be caught dead in; Tony sitting in the grass in his backyard the day before Thor moves in, smiling sadly and promising him the world, and Loki's never felt more wanted than he does when Tony says, "You're always welcome at my place, you know."

Loki's reverie is shattered when Thor opens his car door and drops into the driver's seat, unceremonious and abrupt and characteristically Thor. Amid the man's offhanded comment of, "And to Wal-Mart we go," and the obnoxious revving of the Jeep's engine, it occurs to Loki that he's emotionally fucked now and he can't do a thing about it. Spectacular.

Thor crowds the shopping cart around the supermarket while Loki limps along beside him and tries to avoid any and all lingering eyes that might wander his way. Every now and then, Thor will end up outpacing Loki and Loki will make a huge deal out of stopping in the middle of whatever aisle they're in until the man comes to meet him and agrees to slow down a little, but for the most part, they manage to be not awkward and as much of a team as they'll ever be.

"What do you want for dinner?" Loki asks when he realizes that they're approaching the frozen dinner section. He figures it's better to get that out of the way while they're here.

"Could we get a pizza?" Thor throws back at him in response, not even waiting for Loki's answer before he's leading the way down the aisle. Loki makes a slightly flustered noise as he turns himself on his crutches to follow his brother.

"Sure," he replies somewhat dumbly, feeling just as useless and ignorable as he always does. He sighs quietly when he comes to a stop beside Thor, who is inspecting the various pizzas before him like one might a car they're considering buying.

A few quiet, inactive moments pass, and then, much to Loki's surprise, Thor asks him, "Which kind do you want?"

Loki looks up from the speckled teal square he's been studying on the floor to give Thor a puzzled glance, says, a little gauchely, "I don't care."

Thor turns to him like he might have actually insulted him (oh, God), questions, "You're going to eat, right?"

Because Loki hasn't quite yet reached his quota for patience today, all living things in his immediate vicinity (namely Thor) are spared certain death via word venom and are instead blessed with a mildly sassy, halfway-to-chilly, "Well, yes."

But because Thor is blissfully unaware of the borderline lethal statements floating around in his brother's head – most of which had a fighting chance at coming out of him – he foolishly decides that it's okay to work on Loki's temper and ask, "Then why wouldn't you care?", and that's when Loki realizes that the man is actually confused by his absence of opinion and that that such absence is an idiosyncrasy that would be practically impossible to explain to Thor and oh my God, they barely even know each other anymore.

And see, it's not that Loki genuinely doesn't care about what they're going to eat or that he doesn't have a preference, because he does (thin crust and all the toppings, to be specific). It's just that he's learned to stop placing importance on his own predilections when it comes to feeding Thor, because feeding Thor is a lot like feeding a growing teenager, and Loki doesn't fancy the idea of having a grumpy, hungry brother on his hands in the event that he isn't satisfied with whatever meal he's happened to prepare. So, his opinions usually have little to no weight when it comes to dinner. Thor acting like they do is unusual and aggravating, to say the least.

But rather than saying all that, Loki shrugs and replies, "Pizza is pizza. Whatever's on it doesn't make that much of a difference to me."

Thor's face puckers, and all of a sudden, he has the audacity to glare at Loki like he's actually done something wrong or – dare I say it – offended him, and it takes the willpower of the gods for Loki to refrain from starting a legitimate fist fight or a screaming fest with the man in the middle of this fucking supermarket, to instead look directly at him and say, simply and (for the most part) calmly, "I don't understand why this is such a problem."

"It's not," Thor quickly replies, his tone defensive and absolutely grating to Loki's ears. "I just thought you'd have more of an opinion about what you're going to put in your stomach, that's all."

(FYI: The reason why Thor has such an issue with Loki's lack of a clear stance on this whole dinner thing is because the Loki from before every breakthrough they've had over the past month, the Loki he grew up with and the real, unadulterated, uninhibited Loki and the Loki he apparently hated being around would definitely care about what kind of fucking pizza they're going to eat for dinner. That Loki would say how he felt and say it quite boldly. That Loki would try his very hardest to make sure that Thor knew he was important enough in their household to have an opinion about pizza toppings, and that Loki is a Loki that Thor is uncomfortable without, to be completely honest. No matter how hard it is to live with that Loki, Thor only ever knows how to act around him, and the fact that Loki is actively attempting to compromise and, I don't know, not be an asshole has thrown him off his groove in a way neither of them expected, let alone realize.)

"Well, I was just trying to be considerate," Loki snaps, feeling his brow tighten and furrow with irritation. He shifts on his crutches, glancing across the aisle in an attempt to be dramatic and standoffish without the use of his arms. "Sorry if that's such a bother to you."

Thor doesn't react to Loki's words for several lengthy seconds, and Loki briefly thinks back to the days when they were children and they'd give each other the silent treatment in retaliation against some perceived offense they might have suffered at one another's hands (and for the record, he's more than a little ticked off that Thor is catching a fucking attitude with him over a goddamn pizza, that the man is actually upset with him for being the exact opposite of himself and showing him a little kindness, which is supposed to be what he wanted all along). The sound of a pizza box hitting the bottom of the shopping cart is what ends up breaking the silence between them; Loki notes with a tiny scowl that it has three-meat toppings – one of his least favorite kinds (But is he going to complain? No.).

"We should also get some candy," Thor interjects once they're moving again. Loki isn't sure whether he should be relieved or pissed off by the man's move to change the subject.

"Why?" he retorts, managing to be the slightest bit snippy with his response. The noise that comes out of Thor then sounds a whole lot like a huff.

"Because Halloween is coming up and you love me enough to let me have it," Thor smoothly replies. His answer catches Loki off guard for two reasons – one, because it's so offhandedly amiable, and two, because the word 'love' is in it, and the two of them haven't explicitly expressed their love for one another in years, and Thor just saying something like that so casually and with such certainty makes Loki pretty uncomfortable for reasons I'm sure are fairly obvious. But Loki is careful to make that as unapparent as he possibly can, considering the weird, ambivalent sort of mood he's in (a mood he's found himself in with increasing frequency since he sprained his knee).

"Uhm, it's the 15th today," he points out as he and Thor approach the flamboyantly ostentatious display set up in the middle of the store, complete with buckets of individually packaged, bite-sized candy, huge fake spiders, and the full cast of Peanuts in Halloween costumes. "You have another half a month to go."

"But, Loki," Thor half-whines, grabbing a sac of assorted candies from one of the plastic bins and holding it up for his brother's inspection. Loki absently notes that the bag fits almost wholly in the man's hand. "Could you humor me?"

Loki doesn't know the answer to that question. Could he? Could he really? Is today the day he transforms himself from a frosty icicle of a person to the human equivalent of a toaster strudel (in the sense that he's gooey and warm on the inside and also something most people enjoy)?

(It turns out that he kind of could.)

"You're paying for it," he grudgingly concedes after he's been assaulted by the full, unadulterated force of Thor's gaze, which honestly resembles that of a wounded puppy (and will the eerie similarities between Thor and Tony ever end?).

Thor chuckles like he's said something funny, smacks Loki on the bicep with his free hand (a thoughtless move, considering that a full-fledged hit is what constitutes as a 'smack' for Thor and that Loki is being nearly completely supported by his arms at the moment), drops two bags of candy into their shopping cart, and retorts, all stupidly entitled and pompous like he normally is, "Of course I am."

Loki is at a loss for words at that, having expected (and maybe even wanted, knowing him) Thor to get a little irritable or something with his reluctance. He feels somewhat slighted as he watches Thor toss yet another bag of tooth decay into their basket, as he lets out an unwilling, half-confused, "Thanks."

Mere seconds from punctuating Loki's perfunctory expression of gratitude and totally ignorant of the man's blatant lack of enthusiasm (or acting like he is, at least), Thor asks, "Dude, do you remember these?" He's pointing at a package of rings with black, orange, or violet plastic spiders on them, and yes, Loki does recall when such trinkets were things he, Thor, and their cousins would wear and scatter all about their parents houses around the time Halloween rolled around.

"Yeah," he fumbles just as Thor grabs a pack of them and pitches them into their cart along with all the unnecessary pounds of pure sugar that are already there, and before he can even open his mouth all the way to ask just what Thor thinks they're going to do with one hundred plastic spider rings and if he'd be down with footing Fenrir's medical bills in the event that the dog decides to eat some of them, something even more intriguing catches the man's eye, and he lets out a pleased laugh as he turns to Loki with a pair of fuzzy black cat ears in his grasp and promptly shoves them onto his head. Because polite people with standard social conventions do these kinds of things.

"Now you're a kitty," Thor crows with a radiant, easy smile that's ingrained in the very fabric of his personality, a smile that has gained him heaps of friends and whole mountains of admirers and one very envious, very bitter younger brother over the years. Loki almost has the heart to be tickled by him, almost lets himself chuckle at Thor's infantile, playful observation of his sudden transformation into a feline at the hands of a mere costume piece, almost keeps himself from being a bitch or a stick in the mud or a killjoy or anything he normally is.

Instead – and mainly because he's too done with courtesy (no thanks to the three-meat pizza sitting in his shopping cart) to do otherwise – he offers Thor a deadpan, "Ha," aims a juvenile pout at the man, and inclines his head his way. "Take them off, please. People might stare."

"So?" Thor snorts just in time for a teenage passerby to come running up to the display opposite them and give the pair a quick double take. "I thought you didn't care about what other people thought about you."

"I don't, when such people aren't young children that are convinced I'm an adorable cat who wants to play with them," Loki quickly retorts, but as he's saying this, he's eying a pair of bunny ears by the same manufacturer as the cat ones resting on his cranium with an impish sort of interest – something that's always been inherent to his nature wherever Thor or his family is concerned.

And then, without thinking, he just reaches out, snatches them up, and spends ten embarrassingly long seconds placing them on Thor's head. The sole reason why it takes him so long to succeed at doing so is because he can't raise his arms all the way without letting his crutches fall to the floor, and he's only able to get the damn ears on Thor's head after the man has gotten tired of being entertained by his difficulty and fastened them there himself, the asshole.

"Is this payback?" Thor asks when Loki lets slip a small, vaguely satisfied smile in response to his abnormally undignified appearance (except – just because it's Thor we're talking about here – he really doesn't look all that undignified; he just looks funny).

"I don't know," Loki replies with a careful shrug. "Does it feel like it is?"

"Not really," is Thor's comically pleased answer. He starts walking away from the display, then, like he and Loki totally aren't wearing fake animal ears or anything, and when Loki follows after the man, he does it hesitantly and with several pairs of curious eyes on him (like people haven't ever seen a grown man with cat ears on his head before).

And see, this is silly to a nearly unbelievable extent, what they're doing right now, and it's weird and it's childish and it makes Loki feel so much younger than he actually is and not in an entirely bad way, and it has him wondering if his relationship with Thor really isn't as tempestuous as he thinks it is half the time (but it is) and if they're actually capable of being this way again – offhand and frivolous and just like they were before the accident (but they aren't – not at this point), and to Loki, those possibilities are almost worth looking like an idiot in the middle of Wal-Mart or limping all over the place on a pair of crutches or relinquishing an afternoon with Tony to spend some time with Thor, and that, my friends, is a terrifying prospect when you consider the fact that one – acting foolish, two – enduring any sort of pain, and three – being away from Tony are pretty high up on Loki's List of Least Favorite Things To Do.

Welcome to the Twilight Zone, everyone.

"Are you planning on buying these ears, too?" Loki asks as soon as he catches up with his brother, panting with exertion and wincing at the pain in his armpits. Thor looks over at him after he's voiced that question, his expression only a little sheepish (because he forgot that he's got a cripple for a brother for the six-hundredth time today, Loki assumes, and while we're here, I'd like to point out the fact that Thor has never been adept at taking care of Loki in a physical sense – he's much better at assessing and assuaging his mental state).

"Yeah, sure," Thor says, steadily approaching a monstrous checkout line with all the resolve of a determined war general leading his troops into battle – his troops being a somewhat weary, semi-incapacitated faux feline of a younger brother, that is. An ambiguous smile plays on his lips as he adds, "Who knows? We might find some use for them."

Coupled with that possibly suggestive remark, the mental image that Thor's words conjure up (which is actually pretty hilarious and mainly involves Tony and a gross lack of clothing) makes for a spectacularly flustered, uncomfortable, and – believe it or not – amused Loki. He lets out a brief, self-conscious little chuckle, his cheeks growing the tiniest bit rosy, and even when Thor gives him a bemused glance, he keeps himself from saying anything, half-afraid of what might come out of him if he did.

It's only after they've checked out and gotten settled back in Thor's Hummer that Thor seems to realize exactly why Loki was so tickled by his comment.

"You're some kind of freak, you know that?" the man suddenly blurts as Loki clicks his seatbelt on. Loki looks up, slightly puzzled, to find his brother staring at him with the most astounded look on his face, and the grin that overtakes his expression then is bright and devious like it only ever is if Tony's the one beholding it, and he's not sure if that frightens him or comforts him or manages to do both at the same time or neither, but for once, every pretentious little thought or idea that might fly through his head doesn't matter that much, because Thor isn't truly disapproving of him and this whole situation is honestly kind of funny and being silly – being silly with Thor – feels good. It actually feels really good.

"Maybe I'm just especially imaginative," Loki says, shrugging impishly and watching how Thor's eyes follow the action, careful and intrigued and like one might read a favorite book from their childhood, and then Thor is grinning, too, but unlike Loki (and unlike himself, for that matter), his smile is soft and sentimental – qualities he nearly never has.

That would be Loki's heart thawing and melting and slowly seeping through the spaces in his ribcage right about now (not that he'd ever admit it, and no X-ray would be able to prove it, thank goodness).

"That's you," Thor laughs, keying his engine into gear. "My 'especially imaginative' baby brother."

The words 'baby brother' should bother Loki. They really should, and they almost do. But the odd sensation that curls up in his chest means a world more than a simple little 'almost' ever could, and Loki doesn't know what to call it or how to identify it or why his psyche has been doing jumping jacks for the past half-hour or why Thor's the only person capable of causing said jumping jacks even after all the bullshit they've been through, but it's warm, and it's suffocating, and it's uncomfortable and unwelcome and grounding all at once, and it's not quite pride and it's not quite nostalgia, but there's just enough of both mixed into it that Loki knows it's not going to kill him to just sit with it and enjoy its company for a little while.

They wear their animal ears on the ride home because Thor is eager to see how many people will notice them at intersections. Loki indulges himself in too many peanut butter cups and unwraps bite-sized Three Musketeers' for his brother. They don't talk about anybody or anything in particular for once, and the absence of music is soothing instead of painful or awkward or simply unbearable.

In other words, they're normal for several music-free, sugar-filled, nonverbal, absolutely wonderful moments. They're normal, normal like they haven't been for eons, normal like they used to be when they were young and foolish, normal like only perfect people ever have the luxury of being. They're normal, and Loki couldn't be happier if he tried.

When Loki shuffles on into his bedroom, all decked out in his faux-feline apparel and wearing three spider rings on his fingers, Tony has given up his DS in favor of his laptop. His face is a mask of concentration the moment before he looks up upon Loki's arrival, and in the relative dimness of the room, his body is cast in a pale, blue-tinted glow that seems like it belongs on him, like the idea of him should always be accompanied by that somehow beautiful artificial halo.

And in the brief, nearly nonexistent second before Tony's eyes land on him, the second before the man's brain can register the sound of him opening the door and the hazy vision of his silhouette entering the room, Loki sees Tony in a way that he usually wouldn't think to appreciate or have the time to pay attention to, because even though he knows Tony exceptionally well, he isn't quite familiar with the person he becomes when they're not together, and Tony tends to talk about that facet of himself in a less than positive light. But Loki sees that Tony for the most fleeting moment, and when he sees that Tony, he's on the verge of winding down from the agony trip he took all the way down the hall – a trip in which he remembered himself wanting to have never met his boyfriend and pondered how he might deal with that knowledge when Tony is kissing him or touching him or talking to him like everything is normal, which everything would be if not for his habit of thinking himself into conundrums so complicated he could suffocate on his own air.

That Tony is sitting in Loki's bedroom – meaning the room Loki sleeps in and reads in and does his homework in and keeps most of his personal possessions in and surfs the Internet in and curls up and thinks in and hides from the world in and talks on the phone with him in and has had countless conversations and sleepovers with him in – with no lights on because he's probably been on the computer since Loki left, and when he gets on the computer, he loses track of time and doesn't pay attention to the way the world dims as the minutes go by or the fact that the world even exists, and he's focused on whatever he's doing or reading in a way one can only be when they're completely alone, and the right side of his lip is pinched and tight, so Loki knows he's biting the inside of it, and he's wearing a t-shirt with Cloud Strife on it, and his hair is the mess it always is, and he doesn't appear to be drunk or engaging in any sort of reckless activity or trying to lose himself in any way, and upon seeing that Tony, Loki is hit with the simple, not at all alarming realization that he'd be dead if he'd never met this man, and that he loves him very, very much, and no amount of nostalgia or longing for Thor could ever change that.

And when Tony looks at him, it's like his whole being clicks into a with Loki gear, because his eyes start smiling and he takes on this alive quality that Loki never sees him with in the event that the man is unaware of his presence or surrounded by any of his other friends (the friends he claims are absolutely wonderful, by the way).

"Hey, chickadee," he greets him, the nickname coming out of him almost on accident, as if he doesn't even realize that he's been attaching these adorable bird-related pet names to the end of every something he'll say to Loki for the past week. He amends his statement with a playful, "Or should I say 'kitty cat'?" when Loki advances farther into the room and the cat ears on his head become more apparent.

"Please, don't," Loki replies with an unwilling smile, bowing his head without thinking as he sidles up next to his bed and carefully drops himself down onto it. "Thor thinks that my wearing these silly things is amusing for some reason."

Tony hums from behind him – a low, appreciative noise that Loki's not too certain how he feels about, and then – "He has a good sense of humor."

"Wow, Tony," Loki grumbles as he props his crutches against his nightstand and winces at his impossibly sore armpits, only half-sincere. What he's really meditating on is the fact that Tony sort of-kind of just complimented Thor, and even though the remark was a teasing one and made only in an impish attempt to vex him, Tony's usually way too proud to contradict his disdain for another person like that.

"No, really," Tony quickly recovers, and this time, his words are occupying a space much closer to Loki than they were before, and Loki feels helpless in a way that's a bit romantic instead of infuriating when the man's chin finds his shoulder and his arms are wrapping around his middle, pulling him further into bed (what a warm thought). A kiss below Loki's ear makes his lips curve upwards the tiniest bit, and Tony's breath tickles his skin when he says, "I think they're cute."

"You think they're sexy," Loki retorts, turning his head as much as he's able before Tony nips at his jaw in a manner that could either be reprimanding or just flirtatious. Tony's arms tighten around him (an even warmer thought).

"Sue me," Tony purrs, and oh – the thing his voice does when he says that is insane in the way it basically kills every last cell in Loki's brain, and seriously – Tony's not supposed to be that alluring, and there's another kiss against the shell of his ear and another on the lobe and another right underneath it, and Loki is actually starting to think that the whole sexy cat thing isn't that crazy –

Except it is when the words 'sexy cat thing' are crossing his mind in that order and in that context. Yeah, that's not going to happen any time soon.

"Are you gonna wear them for Halloween?" Tony asks, helping him lift his legs onto the mattress and grabbing a pillow to elevate his sprain on. As soon as Loki can look Tony in the eyes again, he sees a light in them that he'd been missing when his back was turned on him, and he's more than merely warmed by it – he's enchanted.

"Maybe I'll put them on for trick-or-treaters or something," he muses in reply. Loki leans back against his headboard and watches as Tony grabs his laptop and scoots backwards to sit side-by-side with him, and then Tony's kissing him again, but on the mouth rather than on the ear, and he's kissing him quickly and sweetly instead of with the intent to put him in a coma or melt his skin off, and Loki finds himself wondering why he didn't try out this whole relationship business sooner than he did (but he already knows the answer to that question, and it's an answer that threatens to murder his steadily improving mood).

"Imagine you in cat ears, doling out candy to seven year-old vampires and princesses," Tony chuckles, his attention now half-concentrated on the image he's editing in PhotoShop.

"Actually, I think superheroes are the in thing this year," Loki notes, absurdly thrilled with the pleasantly idle conversation he and Tony are maintaining (keep in mind that idle conversation is something he abhors under most circumstances). He considers doing something really weird the instant that he isn't speaking anymore, and I only say that it's weird because for his entire life before last week, he wasn't a cuddly person. Now, he's one half of a huge, dramatic love story that probably only exists in his head.

Now, he wants to lean against Tony's side. No, not leansnuggle.

And see, have you ever noticed that for the most part, the bulk of Tony and Loki's physical interactions have been initiated by Tony? Of course, Loki seldom finds cause to complain about or reject such interactions, and Tony was the one to fall in love first, but the point is this – between the two of them, Tony is the one who's holding and kissing and touching and doing most of the time, and that suddenly makes Loki feel very inferior for some obscure reason, and then he's conflicted and self-loathing and in a funk like he normally is, and wait – what exactly did he want to do again, and why was it a source of emotional discord to him?

"You're thinking," Tony remarks, breaking Loki out of his self-imposed reverie. Tony's not looking at him when he says that, and hasn't been looking at him since he turned back to his computer, and as a result, Loki isn't sure how the man picked up on his state of mind so accurately.

"How'd you know that?" Loki asks, tilting his head just slightly and shifting so that he might look at Tony more directly. Tony doesn't so much as twitch in response, and the gaze he has trained on his monitor doesn't falter for even a second.

"There's a certain kind of quiet you get when you start thinking," Tony replies like he's known the answer to Loki's question long before it was even asked. His head tips back a bit as he adds, "And you get really still and tense."

It's then when Loki realizes that he's holding himself rather carefully where he lies, then when he starts to make a conscious effort to relax and breathe easier (mostly because he's hurting his knee when he's all stiff and constrained). He's only partially successful in this endeavor.

"Don't you ever stop doing that?" Tony asks, playful and insolent but with an edge of seriousness Loki doesn't fail to miss – an edge that prevents Loki from finding the comment particularly funny. The man chuckles briefly as he glances at Loki, and his perky expression only falters imperceptibly when he sees the somber look on his face.

"I think the universe as we know it would collapse if I did," Loki replies with a wry little smile.

"I think all that philosophizing, or whatever, is bad for your health," Tony counters, turning to face Loki fully and inclining his head towards him, as brazen and self-satisfied as ever. A smirk plays on his lips as he goes on, "And by 'philosophizing', I mean thinking yourself into a migraine. And you hold a lot of tension in your forehead when you're stressed…" – his arms shoot out without warning, and Loki blinks in surprise when he finds his jaws clasped in Tony's palms, his temples warm beneath the man's fingers, and his body's semi-subconscious responses to the storm running rampant in his mind suddenly common knowledge (to Tony, at least) – "… I imagine that makes for a lot of headaches."

Loki swallows thickly, abruptly self-conscious (even though he shouldn't be, even though this is Tony and it's okay that he's aware of this, even though Tony knows more about him than anyone, and hey – even if he isn't all that knowledgeable about his past aside from the fact that his family has been absolutely awful to him for the most part and that Thor and his father crafted the complete and utter mess that is his psyche the way master artists create works of art, Tony knows his personality and his ways better than he does his own). An abstract sort of smallness comes over him when he says, a bit quietly, "It does."

Tony's expression softens at that before growing slightly, suspiciously cheeky. Right before Loki decides to question the change, the man removes his hands from his face, his fingers leaving heated little trails in their wake, and hums, "I know when you stop thinking."

A seedling of fear sprouts in Loki's heart at that for some reason (stupid, stupid, stupid), and he isn't thinking when he asks, impulsive and ironically mindless, "When's that?"

Instead of answering the query definitively – like normal people do – Tony just gives him a brief, toothy smile and leans over and kisses him on the mouth again, and even though there's a great deal of inner monologue occupying Loki's head at the moment, he can't really seem to hear it when he's focusing on parting his lips just enough to be coy and sultry for Tony and when Tony's teeth are grazing over the inside of his bottom lip and when it takes nearly all of his energy simply to time his breathing just right for this kiss, and then he's not thinking at all and Tony is parting his lips even further and their tongues are pushing against each other and he suddenly wants to be so much closer so he starts to move towards Tony and there – that crazy, stinging pain in his knee is what stops him with a sharp, breathy groan, and that's when all these thoughts pile onto him again, and Tony is laughing at him, and he isn't sure whether he should be pissy about being so easily tempted or totally beside himself with feeling, so he just goes with the latter because it'll look better in hindsight and chuckles right along with his boyfriend, enjoys the feeling of the man's breath on his lips as he concedes a somewhat pleased, "Nailed it."

Tony seems to like his response quite a bit, because his grin is steadily widening and his laugh is growing sugary and he's moving to kiss Loki again, and it occurs to Loki then that if he just made out with Tony all the time, he'd never be troubled with any of his fantastically gloomy thoughts again. Is that a good thing? He's not entirely certain, but the idea is so exquisitely perfect that he can't find it in himself to care that much.

"Hey, do you want to watch a movie?" Tony asks him as soon as he's pulled away with a quiet, damp smack, all out of the blue and accompanied with the sort of impulsive childishness that's impossible not to find endearing and so ridiculously Tony that Loki almost wants to say 'no' just so Tony can stay right where he is and kiss him some more.

But his rationality (goddamn it to hell, his rationality, that thing that's saved his life time after time and made the world a worse – but infinitely more organized – place to live) and his legitimate desire to watch something prevents him from doing much more than shrugging his shoulders and letting out a small, "Sure."

Tony gives him a parting smile of sorts before he's swiftly shutting his laptop and swinging his legs over the side of the bed. "What do you want to put on?" he asks, already starting for the door. He seems to suddenly remember something when he's halfway there, though, because he pauses for just an instant and then begins to move in a completely different direction, towards his duffel bag where it sits on the floor next to Loki's bookshelf.

"Uhm, would you mind Moulin Rouge! too terribly?" Loki questions, his tone half-distracted as he watches Tony bend over – the man's shirt riding up his back as he does – briefly poke around in his bag, and eventually retrieve his DS from earlier. That's when Loki remembers his grudging promise to play with the team Tony made him.

"I think I love you just enough to endure the senseless romance and unnecessary musical numbers," Tony jests, smirking playfully and walking over to toss his DS into Loki's lap.

Loki instinctively takes the console into his hands and squeezes it a bit between his fingers. He has his eyes on the Pikachu sticker that's on the verge of peeling off of the top cover of the DS when he asks, "And how much is 'just enough'?"

Without warning, Tony's lips are pressing against Loki's forehead, and Loki only ends up looking up in time to catch his boyfriend jogging out of the room, replying, "Enough to give you that."

It doesn't take Loki long to realize what Tony means by that. Adorably affectionate kisses and the like are things Tony reserves for him and him alone; he'd never be so tender with anyone else. Loki has a moment like the one he had yesterday afternoon then, one where he feels light and perfect and sore all at once, and his lips twitch ever so slightly as he powers Tony's DS on and waits for the Start screen.

Tony's reply gains new meaning when Loki gets a look at the team he assembled specially for him – a team that includes six of his favorite Poke̒mon – and therefore most likely took quite awhile to put together and/or evolve (keep in mind that Tony has the attention span of a small child) – and all with names Loki vaguely recognizes as foreign words for love: a Charizard named Pyāra, a Mightyena named Ai, an Espeon named Meilė, a Ninetales (a Ninetales) named Agapi, a Weavile named Elsker (a term Loki used to see in his father's books somewhat often), and a Mismagius named Amour.

And then – at almost six in the afternoon on a Saturday night and with a sprained knee and both his brother, an immensely popular linebacker and the quite possibly the most well-liked person at EU after Steve, and his boyfriend, an equally popular functioning alcoholic who's pretty much equivalent to James Dean in charisma, rebelliousness, and legendary status, occupying his home – Loki starts to cry over Tony's Nintendo DS, and he isn't crying tears that are fat and ugly and so natural to him it's cruel, but the little kind that just sit on top of your eyelids until they overflow, the kind that are sweet instead of angry or bitter or melancholy.

Tony returns – DVD in hand – just as Loki is wiping his eyes with the cuff of his sleeve. He stops still in the doorway as soon as he sees him, and they watch each other for several long, half-comfortable seconds, almost mystified and maybe even a little bashful (on Loki's part, anyways), before Tony notes, "You're crying," like Loki totally couldn't tell himself.

Loki simply nods in response.

Instead of raising hell like Loki half-expected him to, Tony just smiles a complacent little smile and goes on to pop Moulin Rouge! into the DVD player hooked up to Loki's TV, self-satisfied in a way he almost never is, in a way that totally isn't egotistic for once, in a way he'll only ever be when he's made Loki cry happy tears and he doesn't feel like a total shit about himself.

Loki sings along with every number and Tony kisses him way too much for him to follow the plot as much as he would otherwise, but that doesn't matter, because it's what Loki wanted all along and he has six new Poke̒mon that are all named 'love' and he and Thor actually kind of got along today and he's had a really lovely afternoon, considering everything. Yeah. A really, really lovely afternoon.

Sunday, October 16th at 5:45 PM.

The sound of approximately one-hundred and fifty-five pounds of muscle, genius, and sassy alcoholic falling on the ground – a sound that consists more of a breathless, "Fuck!" than anything else – is what makes Loki open his eyes, sit up, and survey the scene before him. He finds Tony sprawled out in the middle of his backyard, grass and dirt plastered to the soles of his bare feet, and Fenrir galloping around him with his tail wagging happily and his ears tall and perky. An amused smile immediately overtakes his face as he watches Tony roll onto his side with a melodramatic groan.

"I'm done for, milady," Tony cries, all histrionic and stupid and characteristically Tony. He lets out a quiet 'oof' when Fenrir steps on his chest, then begins to laugh as the husky licks at his chin and jaws and adds, "The beast has conquered me!"

"'Milady'?" Loki questions, putting his sunglasses on top of his head and hooking his hands over the edge of his lawn chair. Before he decided to lay back and take a siesta, he'd been watching Tony run around his yard with Fenrir in his place, seeing as he's (unfortunately) not at liberty to do such a thing and the husky was in desperate need of some physical activity. Now, he's 'milady', and Sir Tony is apparently exhausted from his duel.

"Yeah, because you're totally graceful and like… eloquent, or whatever," Tony replies, peeking around Fenrir's muzzle at Loki and absently rubbing his hands up and down the dog's (or dragon's – same difference) neck.

"Forty percent of my vocabulary is composed entirely of expletives, Tony," Loki argues with a slight smirk. "And my knee is sprained because I QWOP'ed my ass across the patio. That doesn't sound graceful to me."

"I think you're graceful," Tony throws in, scratching his fingers through the thick fur on Fenrir's scruff. "You dance really great and you don't walk like an elephant."

Loki just stares at Tony for a few lengthy seconds, vainly attempting to puzzle out Tony's logic, before he decides it's not worth the strain and quips, "I guess that settles it, then."

"Of course it does," Tony chuckles, just as whimsical as he can be. He pushes his upper body up and off of the ground, spends a moment or two playfully tussling with Fenrir, then crawls across the yard and onto the patio and just drapes himself across Loki's lap, his elbows at either side of the man's hips and his chin level with his sternum. Loki lets out a quiet laugh when Tony kisses his chest through the fabric of his Star Wars t-shirt, moves his hands to rest atop his boyfriend's shoulders just as the man asks, "Did you have a good nap?"

"I didn't actually fall asleep, so I guess not," Loki acknowledges with a tiny, inconsequential sigh.

Tony's expression turns a tad contrite just before the sound of four – four – car doors slamming within microscopic time intervals of each other catches both his and Loki's attentions, and after the initial moment of acknowledgment has passed between them, something like disappointment settles over their heads like a thick cloud of fog or a disgruntled wooly mammoth.

"Oh, great," Tony grumbles sarcastically, pulling away from Loki and moving to stand up. "Your court has arrived."

Loki can't help but scowl a bit at that, can't help but glower at the bright red paint beneath his toes and let out a rather insincere, "I'm thrilled," in response.

"Then I'm sure you can imagine how I feel," Tony huffs, not quite snapping at him, but with a self-entitled kind of irritation that Loki can hear plainly and clearly in his voice and instinctively know that he's rapidly evolving into one of the more aggressive, arrogant subspecies of human.

In case you're wondering what's going on (and you should be), today is the day Fandral planned to swoop on in and prepare a meal in light of Loki's injury, and Fandral's presence automatically necessitates the presence of Sif, Volstagg, and Hogun, and their collective presence typically puts Thor in the annoyingly overjoyed, top dog sort of mood that rubs Loki exactly the wrong way, and such a situation means that the nostalgic, feel-good, slightly ephemeral bond Loki and Thor have shared over the past twenty-four hours or so and the summery strain of romance Loki and Tony have been getting high on is going to have to take the backseat to absolute chaos for the rest of the afternoon, and all of this conspires to have Loki just this shy of pull-his-own-hair-out anxious and turn Tony into the most absurdly territorial creature on the face of the planet. Awesome, right?

"Can you hand me my crutches, please?" Loki asks instead of addressing Tony's semi-hostile comment, because he knows if he does say anything about it, he and Tony are probably going to get in an argument, and if they get into an argument right before all hell breaks loose, he just may kill himself before the night is up.

And see, Loki is acutely aware of the fact that not only is Tony pissy on his behalf – considering his less-than-friendly feelings towards Thor's posse – but he's also displeased with what he perceives as an infringement on his territory (his territory being Loki, mind you), and he's also the slightest, most irrational bit cross with Loki himself for letting this happen and not throwing a fit of grand proportions like he probably would have liked him to, and he's alsojealous of the quartet that will be entering his world in just a few moments, jealous of the fact that they (mostly Fandral) can provide Loki with something that he can't – a home-cooked meal. And that just makes Loki even more nervous about this whole ordeal, because even though he could care less about whether or not his boyfriend can cook something more complex than instant macaroni and cheese, he understands that Tony places a lot of priority on being his big bad alpha male and lacks self-awareness as well as self-esteem, and if he doesn't tread carefully or manage to be both straight and affectionate with the man, this evening could crumble to pieces and there's a legitimate possibility that Tony could run away from him (keep in mind that Tony is exceptionally good at running away from people; he wouldn't be here with Loki if he wasn't). That's something he can't afford to happen.

Unsurprisingly, Tony doesn't acquiesce to his request, but instead of being a total asshole like Loki more than expects him to, this all-knowing, all-seeking grin overtakes his expression and he starts to loom over Loki in a way that's moderately uncomfortable and yet not entirely unwelcome, and Loki doesn't have time to start to deflect whatever Tony plans to throw his way before the man is chuckling, "How about a much less painful mode of transportation, hm?"

And then, without any sort of forewarning, Tony gets his arms under Loki's thighs and across his back side, and it's all Loki can do to wrap his arms around Tony's neck and hold on as tightly as he possibly can in time for his chair to disappear from beneath him. A sharp laugh-cry escapes him when Tony swings him around in a tight, playful circle, and Tony is practically humming with amusement and nosing into the hollow of his cheek even as he's hissing, "Tony, stop!"

"Why would I want to do that?" Tony challenges with a whisper of a smile, holding Loki tightly in his grasp.

"Maybe because I have a sprained knee and it hurts when you swing me like that?" Loki replies, and despite his every intention to be just as belligerent and pugnacious as he can be, his words come out halfhearted and involuntarily spirited. He even chuckles a little as he adds, "You talk about a less painful mode of transportation…"

"Hey, I'm sorry," Tony soothes, turning him a bit more mindfully this time. He carefully shifts Loki into a more comfortable position, smirks just slightly when his hand slips over the curve of his shoulder and down across his chest, then moves to kiss the bridge of his nose, mumbling, "I must've lost my head."

Loki lets out a soft, yielding breath and leans into Tony's kiss without thinking. He's halfway to laughing again when he replies to Tony's apology with a quiet, self-conscious, "Ditto," and when Tony gives him a puzzled look, he only cranes his neck and presses his lips to the man's jaw in response.

Coincidentally, Thor, Fandral, Sif, Volstagg, and Hogun materialize quite visibly in the kitchen just as that rather tender display of affection is taking place, and as a consequence, whatever illusion of privacy Loki and Tony might have had before comes crumbling almost violently apart. Loki only keeps his eyes on Thor for a second after he's arrived, but he still gets the brunt of all the discomfort and disapproval radiating off of the man; no amount of forced ignorance or reinforced glass would be able to dilute that tenor of emotion.

More urgently, however, Loki surprises himself by actually getting embarrassed about Thor and his friends finding him this way. He's not sure whether his shame stems from the fact that the expectations of others have recreated him into a being that – according to the laws of society – shouldn't be in a relationship, the fact that he's in a vulnerable position and Thor and his posse can see it, or the fact that he's suddenly on the borderline between two facets of himself – one that Tony dictates and one that Thor brings out of him. The distinction between these three reasons really doesn't matter all that much, though, because Loki is embarrassed regardless, and unless Tony puts him down immediately or Thor White and the Four Dwarves spontaneously cease to exist, he's not going to stop being embarrassed any time soon.

"I think I'd be better off limping," Loki fudges, political as ever. He looks to Tony as he says that, and, to his great misfortune, he finds himself faced with the expression of a man determined to conquer or destroy everything in his path, a man who in all likeliness will not put him down, and most importantly, a man who will probably sabotage his evening if he doesn't do anything to stop him. He's seen this expression on Tony's face before in the past, and almost every single time, he's ended up with a mess of some sort on his hands. Needless to say, he's fucking terrified.

"Oh, no," Tony purrs (purrs) in reply, shaking his head defiantly and just as doggish as he's always been. "And run the risk of you hurting yourself again?"

"You're more likely to accidentally drop me on the concrete than I am to injure myself, Tony," Loki points out, but Tony has long since made up his mind about this, and he makes that outstandingly clear when he feigns to dump him on the ground, effectively drawing a rather undignified, rather mortifying shriek from Loki's throat. Loki instinctively tightens his arms around Tony and curls into the man's chest despite the fact that he wants nothing more than to cave his fucking face in, and then Tony is just throwing his head back and letting out a full-blown, altogether tooamused laugh, and Thor and Sif and Fandral and Volstagg and Hogun are watching this whole thing as it's happening, watching frigid, angry, wild-animal-sort-of-ferocious Loki Skywalker cower and cling to obnoxious, insane, literally-the-biggest-asshole-you've-ever-met Tony Stark, watching Loki be himself (or at least the part of himself that should be mostly private), and Loki thinks he might start crying or screaming or exploding or something right then and there because of it, because of them ('them' including Tony, by the way).

Of course, it hasn't quite registered to anyone yet that Loki is on the verge of a nervous breakdown – not even Tony with all his empathy where his significant other is concerned – and instead of paying any mind to Loki's bizarre shortness of breath or the half-silent whimpers that are coming out of him (which he's probably writing off as mere melodrama, considering Loki's personality), Tony just leans over and brushes their lips together and says, "Now, where'd you get an idea like that?"

Loki can only let out a whispered, indistinct curse before Tony's advancing towards the kitchen, and then his heart is flying straight out of his chest and a sizable chunk of his self-control is falling to pieces, and then they're inside, and he's vulnerable and just inches away from having an anxiety attack, and Tony is using him (oh my God, he's using him) to make a scene for no good reason, and they're actually all in the same room together – all seven of the most ridiculous people to grace the halls of Elysian University – and Thor and Fandral and Sif are staring at Loki and Tony with nervousness plastered all over their faces, and Loki suddenly remembers for what has to be the sixth time in the past two minutes that his boyfriend is a fucking asshole when the man lets loose a vaguely confrontational, 'dare you to say something, bitch' sort of, "Hey."

That's the moment when Loki says, as calmly as he's able, "Please put me down."

"But you can't walk, babe," Tony replies almost immediately, and the way he utters the word 'babe', the way he practically savors it as it comes out of his stupid, stupid fucking mouth, the way he breathes it into the space between he and Loki's faces makes this whole exchange a brazenly deliberate act of seduction, and this is how Tony talks to Loki when they're in bednot standing in the middle of Loki's kitchen with his brother and his brother's dreadful friends – and motherfuck if that doesn't make Loki want to throttle this man (or at least sucker-punch him in the teeth).

Loki's expression must reflect all of the fury and hurt and anxiety running rampant inside him, because when he looks Tony straight in the face and simply repeats himself with an abortive, "Please," something in Tony's demeanor changes and the man carefully steadies him on his feet without a word of protest.

A cloud of uneasiness settles over the room the instant Loki is standing, knee bent uncomfortably and hands still on Tony's shoulders, and for several unbearable seconds, all anyone can do is stare at each other with imaginary question marks floating over their heads. All Loki has to do is take in the struggle in Tony's eyes and the tension in Thor's shoulders and he's starting to lose himself in a faint haze of hyperventilation and scrambled thoughts – a haze that's only half-broken by a question coming from somewhere to his left: "You okay, Loki?"

It turns out that Fandral is the one asking him this, and Loki is so dazed with apprehension that it doesn't even occur to him that such concern from him – the person who has been sexually harassing him for over two years now – of all people is unusual, unprecedented. Instead, he turns to the man and replies, "I'm fine," even though it's obvious to everyone in the room that he's miles from being fine, even though anyone paying close enough attention to him would be able to tell that he's shaking the slightest bit, even though his gaze is wide and unfocused enough to be legitimately worrisome, even though he's supporting himself on one fucking leg

And that would be Loki limping his sorry ass right on out of the kitchen, ladies and gentlemen. He has to grasp every piece of furniture he can get his hands on to make it there, but he manages to survive this wordless journey without falling and busting his head on the tile or getting swept off of his feet by Captain Boyfriend or Brother Bear (thank God), manages to get himself horizontal and alone and in one piece on the sanctuary that is his sofa – a wonderful place where he can stare at the ceiling without actually seeing it and pretend to not have a panic attack.

You can tell he has stellar ideas, can't you?

Speaking of these such ideas, while Loki is in the process of trying to regulate his breathing and bring himself down from borderline hysteria, he engages himself in the insanely therapeutic activity known as giving oneself a mental ass-kicking. Since when did the idea of the combined personalities of Thor's posse plus Tony's very presence seem okay to him? Since when was it alright to trust himself with making decisions like these? Since when was running across his patio in the rain to catch his dog a safe thing to do? Since when was simply existing in a world like this ever a good option? These are the sorts of questions Loki consistently fails to answer when it counts, my friend.

Loki is halfway to being vaguely alright again when the sound of footsteps brushing against the carpet registers to him, and he can tell by the rhythm of each footfall that it's Tony who's come to break him out of his partially-formed reverie. He isn't sure whether he feels angry or indifferent, so he decides on the former emotion because it's most like him to react in such a way to the mere sound of another human being (most especially a human being that's responsible for ruining his mood).

"Loki?" Tony's voice comes asking – not particularly quietly, but muted and carefully enough for Loki to know that the man is aware he's treading on ice that's at least some kind of thin.

Loki doesn't really know how to answer the not-question, but he opens his mouth and waits for something to come out of it nonetheless. "That's my name," is what his sharp, biting reply ends up being.

This nearly imperceptible, ticked-off sort of sigh comes out of Tony then, and that's all Loki needs to hear to realize they're about to have an argument. Instantly, he's on the verge of panicking again, and his nerves are completely shot, and he's appreciating the luxury of not having to look Tony in the face for as long as he possibly can before the man is suddenly right next to him, gazing down at him from where he stands beside the sofa, and well, I wouldn't be lying if I told you that Loki feels like his heart is trying to plow its way out of his ribcage right now, and all because of the half-cross, half-confused look in his boyfriend's eyes.

"You're upset," Tony notes, lowering himself to the floor and folding his legs Indian-style so that he might have a conversation with Loki at eye level. How considerate.

Instead of ejecting something characteristically confrontational and harsh (because he really, really, really doesn't feel like fighting with Tony and he doesn't want to be right enough to convince himself it's worth it to do so), Loki simply nods in response. After a moment, though, his irritation takes hold of him long enough to squeeze a sarcastic little, "I agree," out of him. He's good at making decisions, can't you tell?

"And just why are you upset?" Tony half-sighs, his tone thick with the sort of tired exasperation Loki wants to punch him in the face for, because no, he has absolutely no right to be fucking frustrated about this, and he's the one that wanted to start this relationship in the first place, and he can't just immediately start acting like he's totally blameless when he's not even clear about why Loki's so distressed (but he always, always will, considering that he's Tony Stark).

Loki levels a dark glare at Tony, one that's somewhere around 'oh hell to the no' on the What the Fuck Did You Just Say to Me? Scale, and his voice is taut and clipped like it only ever is when he's trying to combat the kind of feigned stupidity both Thor and Tony like to throw his way when he replies, "Uh, maybe because you decided to make a show out of me?"

"What are you talking about?" Tony asks, still insistent on playing the fool.

"I'm talking about the fucking panic attack I had out there!" Loki retorts, hastily pushing himself up into a sitting position. "I'm talking about the fact that you decided to just parade on into the kitchen with me all helpless and broken in your arms because you had to prove that you were so much better than they are!"

"Loki, that's something I don't even have to try to prove," Tony snorts, and Loki nearly balks at the sheer arrogance of his words (because even for Tony, that was ridiculously cocky – almost repulsively so, and keep in mind that Loki likes the man for his pride). He brings his arms up to fold his hands behind his shoulders, his wiry biceps flexing with the action (and dammit, Loki isn't supposed to be attracted to him when they're in the middle of an argument), and asks, so suddenly and so confrontationally, "Why are you defending them?"

A weird, interesting thought burrows into the pocket of Loki's subconscious, then, a thought that makes him uncomfortable and mystified and infinitely more pissed off than he was in the first place, a thought that's more or less along the lines of, This is the man I'm having sex with. That eventually evolves into, I'm arguing with the man I'm having sex with, and, I want to punch the man I'm having sex with in the face, and, Why is it possible that I could be so angry at the man I'm having sex with?, and of course, Tony is much more than just the oft-mentioned man he's having sex with, but the idea that Loki is literally centimeters away from being furious at the one person with which he's ever had the staggeringly beautiful physical connection that can only be experienced when you're in an intimate relationship with someone is, for whatever reason, blowing his mind. And that – as I said before – just has him even more exasperated than he was already.

"I'm not defending them," Loki carefully chews out, nearly laughing with anger as he balls his hands into tight little fists he's only half-sure he's not going to go throwing at his boyfriend's nose or something.

"Then what are you doing?" Tony counters without missing a beat, voice harder and eyes sharper, darker, rolling upwards for the most loathsome split-second, and Lord have mercy on this poor man's soul (or his face, which is going to get caved the fuck in if he doesn't stop being so rude).

"I'm calling you out on your shit is what I'm doing!" Loki snaps. It seems like Tony actually looks at him for the first time since the onset of their conversation, then, like he finally, finally sees him, because his gaze gets all focused on his face (which is most likely red and warped with wrath right now) in a way it wasn't before the instant the word 'shit' flies out of Loki's mouth, and in the brief, near-atomic moment before Tony can school his expression into something as hard and as oh-so-fucking appalled as he'd like it to be, a trace of shame flashes in his eyes, and that's almost enough to make Loki forget why the hell he's so furious in the first place.


"I'm in pain, Tony," he concedes after a long, heavy silence, a silence in which he valiantly attempts to make himself softer, gentler, just as deliciously vulnerable and open as Tony likes him to be, because maybe if he presents himself as the broken little bird Tony wants to hold and love and never, ever scream at or even begin to think of as a bitch or a shrew, the man will hear him just as much as he sees him. Loki swallows thickly, watches the gradual breakdown of Tony's passion behind the six-feet thick glass of his eyes. "I'm physically incapacitated. I can't do anything but wait for you, or for Thor, or for anyone else who will give their time to me." He gestures to the kitchen with a careful jerk of his head. "They're giving their time to me. They're doing something nice for me. And I know that I don't care much for them and I know you don't care much for them and you know I don't care much for them, but I need almost all the help I can get, sweetheart."

"But, baby," Tony interjects just as Loki is punctuating that statement, inching closer to the sofa and grasping one of Loki's slim, pale hands in an uncharacteristic, desperate display of what? Intimacy? Devotion? Everything so far from anything Tony's ever had with anyone before Loki? "What about me? What about..." – he pauses, out of his element – "... what about what I can give you?"

There it is – the insecurity that Tony is usually so talented at shoving behind a mask of certainty and playful insolence, the insecurity that Loki wants nothing more than to kiss away or shove to the side because it honestly has no business being cramped up in Tony's subconscious like it is, the insecurity that only makes everything more complicated and really doesn't do anyone any good. And Loki can see that such insecurity threading its way into the fabric of Tony's expression as he shakes his head, looks away, and adds, partially to himself, "No, no. This is the way it's supposed to be."

"What do you mean?" Loki asks, feeling exceptionally dumb as the question passes between his lips. A shock of terror takes hold of him for the split-second in which he waits for Tony's answer – an answer that happens to be just as awful as he anticipated it'd be, an answer that's so, so outrageously wrong (but so, so painfully right).

"I mean that I'm not good enough for you," Tony replies much too quickly, not daring to look Loki in the face when his words leave him. He doesn't see the way Loki's heart breaks all over his face and down deep in the cavern of his chest when he says that, doesn't see the war raging inside him, and for several seconds, all Loki can do is stare at his boyfriend and let his spirit die a rapid, miserable death, because fuck – there's no easy way out of this one, not in the long run. He can't take Tony to bed and make everything alright, can't kiss him at football games and tell him stories from his childhood and expect him to feel important anymore, because in all actuality, Tony became as important as he thought he possibly could the moment he started being Loki's significant other. If he's capable of being inadequate even then, when he's as great as he can get, there's nearly nothing that's going to make him feel significant – not anymore.

And see, Tony is good enough for Loki – when it comes to loving him unconditionally and illuminating his days and setting his soul on fire and kissing-touching-fucking him senseless, that is. But let's face it – he's not the best at giving Loki an ample amount of much-needed space or being more than simply aggressive or sardonic about his own feelings or exercising empathy where other people (most especially Thor) are concerned, and even though that's okay and even though Loki can live with that at this point in time (because more than anything, love is being satisfied with the mere existence of another person – no expectations, no end-user license agreement), Tony will never be able to accept that, at least not fully.

For about the hundredth time this week, Loki realizes that even though he and Tony haven't altered the way they interact with each other or even their habits and tendencies, their relationship has changed so radically since they decided to be an item – and all because they've been labeled as being together. This is part of what terrified him so much in the first place.

"Tony..." Loki starts to say, but that's about as far as he can get before he loses his breath and is forced to just sit and stare at the space between them, which is suddenly unbearable and heavy and humid and shit, how did things get so emotional so damn fast?

(Well, this is Loki's life we're talking about.)

It doesn't take long for Tony to decide it's alright to kiss Loki – a move that's both warranted and wholeheartedly desired on both sides of the equation that is their existing in this moment. It's an unusual kiss – soft enough to be considered gentle, yet solid and assertive in a way only Tony can pull off with all his tough tenderness and penchant for behaving like a human oxymoron, and when the man pulls away, all Loki wants is to turn back time and relive that fleeting moment in which they were okay, when they weren't trying to argue each other down or breathe or do anything other than be together, but he can't – he can only try to get out what he was trying to say before.

"You are good enough for me," is what comes tumbling from Loki's lips once they're (unfortunately) free of Tony's, and immediately, he can see in the way Tony's eyes tighten and the way his shoulders tense that he's writing his off words as halfhearted and vain (in an 'oh, you're just saying that' sort of way, mind you), and when he starts to pull away, avert his gaze and turn from him and recoil in his discomfort (because no, Tony will more than likely never be okay with getting down and dirty with his feelings or his shortcomings), Loki grabs him by the wrist and yanks him, effectively planting the man's attention firmly on him with a somewhat desperate, somewhat panicked, "Listen to me, Tony."

Tony's gaze, hard and obstinate and afraid, lands on his; a sliver of triumph worms its way into the forefront of Loki's mind.

"You are," Loki reiterates in a moderately calmer tone, watching as Tony's features gradually soften and gel and feeling the tension in the man's arm evaporate beneath his hand. He lets a beat of silence sit between them, then, lets his words sink in and make an impression on Tony before he goes on any further, before he adds, "Granted, you're one of the most obnoxious and ridiculous people I've ever met, and sometimes I feel like I might just yank my hair out when I'm around you..." – that garners an uneasy chuckle and a sheepish, self-deprecating smile for the ages from Tony (a lovely breakthrough, a victory) – "... but I'll be damned if I'd have you any other way or if that makes you worth any less to me."

Tony is still chewing around the reluctant smirk plastered on his face by the time Loki has said that, still fighting with his expression as he grumbles, half-hearted and mostly-playful, "You're only saying that because you think I need to hear it."

(And you know, I'd just like to point out that Tony doesn't really think that Loki is bullshitting him. In fact, he's almost never thought that, not since the day the two of them decided to establish a genuine friendship with one another. In this particular instance, it's a blessing rather than a curse that the man doesn't believe in his own words, wouldn't you say?)

"I'm saying it because it's true, you asshole," Loki retorts just this side of irritably. Something a whole lot like love has his own lips quivering the slightest bit when Tony laughs again, more enthusiastically this time, and Lord, if that doesn't warm him to his core, if that doesn't make him want to shoot himself in the face for ever getting upset with Tony in the first place (never mind that he had a pretty legitimate reason to be pissed off with the man), and it only takes a moment for him to succumb to the increasingly familiar urge to smile, for him to give Tony's wrist an affectionate little squeeze, for him to point out with the sort of Hallmark wisdom he rarely if ever feels comfortable with verbalizing, "If our flaws made us unlovable, do you really think we'd be where we are now?"

"Alright, alright," Tony huffs, unceremoniously masking his embarrassment with exasperation and rocking up onto his knees to press a kiss to the soft skin at the corner of Loki's mouth. His expression is quickly transitioning to its default state of effortless insolence and pseudo-nonchalance when he leans back and groans, "I get it, Aesop."

Loki releases Tony's wrist to smack him playfully on the shoulder, chuckles, "I'm serious, Tony." He lowers his back down onto the sofa once more, letting himself get comfortable with his cranium pillowed in his arms and his muscles nice and loose. His eyes remain on his boyfriend's as he adds, "But I meant what I said, about them." – he gestures with his head in the general direction of the kitchen – "As much as it pains me to admit it, I need their help, and it's just my luck that they're willingly giving it to me. You can't do everything all by yourself, you know."

"Oh, yeah?" Tony snorts without any of the heat Loki half-expected from him, scooting forward so that his front is flush against the couch and crossing his arms nearly on top of Loki's middle. "Who says?"

Loki's smile is gentle and only a tad bit patronizing when he replies, "I do." At Tony's pinched expression, he notes, "You're just a man after all."

A quiet, virtually imperceptible sigh leaves Tony, then, and Loki takes a fraction of a second to marvel at the peculiar smallness his boyfriend takes on at times. "I'm your man," Tony murmurs into the gauzy air around his mouth, mostly to Loki, but to himself, as well.

(It's amazing how childish that man can be, isn't it?)

And Loki doesn't want to remind Tony that he loves him. He really doesn't. He thinks that it's a little fucking ridiculous that he should have to, especially since the fact that he loves the man at all doesn't seem to do anything to deter any of the self-deprecation entrenched deep within him. But the look on Tony's face has him feeling somewhat foolish, so he leans his head back and closes his eyes and lets out a whispered, impossibly sincere, "Of course you are."

Tony only hums in response.

Of course, that little heart-to-heart simply turns out to be the calm before the storm (and when I say 'storm', I'm referring to, in most explicit terms, an argument more dreadful and explosive than a goddamn hydrogen bomb, a full-blown panic attack – complete with all the uncontrollable sobbing and shortness of breath they tell you about on the label – and a much-awaited breaking point), and – because, lest you forget, this is Loki's life we're chronicling – all the things Loki feared would happen (namely Tony turning into King of the Jackasses and Thor White and the Four Dwarves awakening the partially-hidden homicidal urges laying dormant inside him) happen. They don't happen immediately, though, and that's part of what makes this whole ordeal so awful in the end.

It starts with a rallying cry that comes bellowing from the kitchen wearing Thor's voice – a thunderous, entirely too enthusiastic, "Time to feast!" – and a surprised little start from Loki, who had been on the verge of slumber just seconds before (and isn't it a bit noteworthy to point out that he's been sleeping a lot more often than usual ever since he sprained his knee, and much to his own benefit?).

"Holy shit," he mutters once he remembers how to breathe correctly, momentarily driving the heel of his palm into his eyes before instinctively looking for Tony (the man has only been with him for three days and he's already learned to expect his presence as soon as he wakes up). Loki finds him with his back pressed against the front of the sofa and his gaze thrown over his shoulder, fixed squarely on his face and laced with an odd combination of amusement and concern. They both smile at each other in unison – Loki with an abnormally generous dose of affection and sheepishness, Tony with barely-concealed satisfaction of the insolent sort.

"I didn't know your brother knew what a word like 'feast' meant," Tony half-whispers, effectively turning Loki's smile into one of exasperation and grudging delight and earning him a flimsy slap on the shoulder.

"He's not a Neanderthal," Loki sighs without nearly as much conviction as he would like, rubbing his hands over his face as he forces himself up into a sitting position. He gradually becomes more and more aware of his surroundings with each passing second – the dimness of the room, the pleasant chill of the air conditioner, the distinct sound of human life (ugh) flowing out of the kitchen (i.e.: "Why the hell are there only four chairs in here?" "Ah, you know Loki – he doesn't have that many friends. Why would he need more?"), the Jersey Shore marathon that's currently streaming on television. Tony leisurely rises to his feet in the midst of his slow-going observation, stretching his arms over his head and running his fingers through his mess of hair and letting his eyes linger on Loki just a tad bit hungrily (which is kind of ridiculous when you consider the fact that Loki has just woken up from an almost-nap and consequently doesn't exactly look any kind of fantastic at the moment).

"You sound so sure of yourself," Tony quips, sarcasm thick in his tone, and before Loki has a chance to come back at him with an equally caustic comment, the man is drawling on, "I'm assuming you're opposed to the idea of me carrying you into the kitchen."

"Don't even think about it," Loki retorts just as soon as Tony has punctuated that statement, gingerly lowering his legs over the edge of the sofa and miraculously managing to train a rather sharp glare on his boyfriend through his discomfort and pain.

Tony lets loose an airy, brazen laugh, then, meeting Loki's glower with a lazy smirk and chuckling, "I can still give you a hand, though, can't I?"

Again, the man doesn't wait for Loki's response before he's springing into action, hooking his hands under Loki's armpits (which are just as sore as can be at this point in time, not to mention incredibly ticklish) and hauling him up onto his feet. The noise that escapes Loki is somewhere between an involuntary giggle and a yelp of pain, and his hands automatically come up to grasp Tony's shoulders, squeeze them tightly, dig his nails into the flesh beneath the man's t-shirt as he tries in vain to stay as bitchy and as unimpressed as he's usually so good at being, but Tony is making that feat an impossible one when he's tickling him ever so slightly and holding him so close and smelling just like Loki loves him to and holding his gaze without any fear or uncertainty or anything but the sort of want that used to scare the living hell out of Loki (and still does, at times like these), and dammit, Loki can physically feel the prickliness inside him evaporating beneath Tony's eyes and he's thinking to himself that he really needs to learn how to control himself around his boyfriend and that would be a smile playing on his lips right there, teasing Tony, teasing him, betraying his reluctantly pleased state of mind and warming the meager bit of space that separates them.

"Could you be any rougher with me?" he asks, and even though he's able to squeeze just the right amount of playful disdain into the question, his words come out a bit too calmly for his liking (not that he's going to complain or anything).

Tony laughs again at that, his voice nothing more than a bone-melting purr when he replies in no uncertain terms, "I can be just as rough as you want me to be, baby."

Loki makes a mental note to himself to hire someone to check up on his air conditioning soon. Oh, wait – it's not faulty AC that has the temperature suddenly so damn high in here, is it?

And then, at the exact instant in which Loki and Tony meet each other halfway for what could quite possibly be the six-thousandth kiss they've shared this past week (believe me when I say they haven't quite figured out how to, you know, not want to jump each other's bones for any substantial period of time since they got together), their lips just barely brushing together and the air between them nonexistent and Tony's hands smoothing down Loki's sides and around to his back and Loki's fingertips pushing none too gently into the muscles in Tony's shoulders – at that exact instant, Thor decides it's a good idea to walk out of the kitchen. And he is promptly faced with the sight of his brother almost making out with the spawn of Lucifer, as far as he's concerned.

"Hey Lo–oh–ki," the man stammers, his steps grinding to a comically abrupt halt in the doorway once he realizes exactly what's playing out before him.

And just like that, Loki is suddenly in the mood for anything but kissing and anything but flirting and anything but Tony's hands at the small of his back and the man's breath fanning over his face and his body so close to him he's almost feverish with desire, and he pulls away from Tony so fucking fast it would be hilarious if not for the fact that he nearly falls backward from the force (but, hey – if slapstick is your cup of tea, you go right on ahead and have yourself a good chuckle), turns to face Thor only a little bit frantically, and addresses him with a hyper-anxious, almost biting, "What?"

Thor continues to stare between Loki and Tony like he's witnessing some kind of crude Satanic ritual or natural childbirth for several unbearably long seconds, his brow warped into a borderline perplexed little triangle and his mouth hanging slightly ajar (as if he's never caught Loki and Tony in a compromising position before, and let's not forget that one time he was about a minute and a half away from finding Tony fucking the brains out of Loki), before something (Loki's guardian angel, maybe) compels him to finally say, "Do we... do we have any extra chairs around here?"

You hear that? That's the distinct sound of Tony sucking his teeth so hard Loki can actually feel the pure, unadulterated exasperation and vexation and 'You really disturbed us for some goddamn chairs?' radiating off the man in heavy, violent waves, the kind that knock you off your feet and drown little kids on the beach and make Loki nauseous with anxiety. Loki fights the overwhelming urge to sneer.

"There should be some in the storage shed in the backyard," is his mostly-diplomatic response. It occurs to him then that he's about to sit down to dinner with six other people (three of which he absolutely despises), and for a moment, he's ready to sigh so deeply he might just die from the lack of oxygen.

It takes Thor only a fraction of a second to turn completely on his heel and haul his ass right on back into the kitchen after Loki has answered his question, absentmindedly tossing a hurried, "Thanks," over his shoulder in his haste to get the fuck out of the room as fast as humanly possible.

(Is this night going to be long, you ask? Why, my dear reader – of course it will.)

Silence looms over the room in Thor's wake for a few uncomfortable moments, tickling the back of Loki's throat and rendering Tony's touch the slightest bit awkward. Loki lets his eyes linger at the doorway, still tracing the phantom outline of his brother, before he turns to Tony, who is regarding him rather intently and has a look of mild irritation and something akin to desperation plastered all over his face. Oh, boy.

"What?" Loki echoes, this time with the kind of resigned frustration Tony is used to hearing in his voice at this point (especially since he sprained his knee). The only thing that keeps the query from being too harsh is the glint of warmth and sincerity in his gaze.

Tony's mouth tightens for an instant, and then he replies, "I think that if you'd just moved in with me before all this started, you wouldn't have to deal with shit like this."

And see, Tony says 'you'. He says, 'you wouldn't have to deal with shit like this'. What he means – and what Loki hears – is a self-righteous, sanctimonious, unabashedly audacious 'we'. Loki can barely contain the aggravation that springs up inside him at that (and just in case you're wondering why that ticks him off, consider the fact that people have been masking their own egotism with so-called concern for him his whole life).

"All he wanted were some chairs," he points out in a mildly clipped, 'don't even fucking start with me' sort of tone. He gives Tony's shoulder a small squeeze, briefly jerks his head towards the kitchen, and adds, "You said you were going to give me a hand, didn't you?"

A hint of a smirk toys with Tony's lips for a second or two, and then he's hooking his arm around Loki's waist, slinging Loki's arm around his neck, shifting their position so that Loki can lean on him as they walk, and pulling Loki flush against his side in a brazen show of possessiveness, of affection. As he guides Loki into the next room, he asks, more mocking than confrontational, "So you're defending him now?"

Loki flicks Tony in the face with his free hand, garnering a snickering laugh out of the man, and replies, "Maybe I'm just point out how much of a baby you're being."

"Oooh, I'm hurt, Loki – really, I am," is Tony's sarcastic retort, uttered just as they cross the threshold into the kitchen. His face takes on a decidedly unimpressed expression the instant they're in the room, and Loki decides right then and there that he's more than regretting his decision to let Fandral and his fellow dwarves help him out tonight.

That is, until he notices what's on the table: an assemblage of meats, vegetables, and cheeses accompanied by a plate of tortilla bread – obviously taco fixings – and several bottles of beer plus one singular, thoughtful can of sweet tea. There are no words to describe the struggle taking place inside Loki right now.

Only Sif and Hogun are in the kitchen when Loki and Tony enter, and the little snippet of a conversation they were having before quickly dies out as soon as the two have made their presence known. Loki is careful to not make eye contact with either of them, much preferring to forgo any sort of unnecessary socialization for as long as he feasibly can.

But of course, it's not like he can have his way, right? (The cosmos would most definitely fall apart if he did.)

"You okay, Loki?" Sif asks, forcing Loki to tear his eyes away from the speck of dust he's currently examining to regard her directly. She doesn't look sympathetic, exactly, but at least her face isn't the steel mask of 'fuck you' and 'I'm better than you' and 'I'm gonna kick your ass if you so much as look at me the wrong way' it is about sixty percent of the time.

And just as Loki is ejecting an even little, "I'm fine, thanks," Tony is being the obnoxious jackass he is and talking over him, replying to Sif's question (that was not directed at him in the slightest) with an impudent, entirely unnecessary, "He's fine."

(Because it's not like Loki was literally just saying that.)

Loki shoots Tony a considerably dirty look for all of about two seconds – two seconds in which Sif schools her expression into something not bitchy, Hogun manages to suppress a laugh in the most inconspicuous manner imaginable, and Tony magically transforms into a gigantic puppy dog, complete with droopy eyes and all the sweetness in the world smeared across his face – before turning back to Sif, giving her the faintest of smiles, and reinforcing the obvious. "I'm alright, Sif. Thank you for being concerned."

Sif shrugs lightly in response, mirroring Loki's not-smile a moment before Thor, Fandral, and Volstagg are charging full steam ahead through the patio door and into the kitchen, lawn chairs in hand and silly, sanguine grins splitting their faces.

(FYI: Let it be known that it is nearly impossible to find Thor in a bad mood or devoid of a reason to be happy when he's around his friends, and that, for all the man's faults, he's probably one of the most joyful, loving, and genial people you could ever meet when it comes to the people he cares about.)

"Oh boy, here comes the fire brigade," Tony mutters with all the venomous sarcasm to put down a rhinoceros under his breath (or at least it would seem like he would, if not for the fact that he says it loud enough so that everyone in the room can hear him). He earns a swift, jabbing elbow to the ribs courtesy of Loki for that.

Fortunately, nobody else seems to take offense to the comment (much to Tony's chagrin, probably), and Thor, Volstagg, and Fandral fill the time following it by making quick work of clumsily jamming Loki's seldom-used lawn chairs into the measly little spaces available (note that Loki's dining room table is pretty damn tiny). Fandral's head cocks up about halfway through this ordeal, his eyes abruptly and uncomfortably on Loki, and asks in an unsettlingly open display of friendliness, "You ready to eat, Loki?"

And suddenly, all Loki can hear is this, ricocheting off the back wall of his brain and burrowing deep into the center of his mind – 'Since when did any of you give a shit about me?'

And again. 'Since fucking when did any of you assholes give a shit about me?'

But, as luck would have it, that's not what ends up coming out of his mouth. Instead, he meets Fandral's gaze with only half the discomfort he thought he would and quips, just because he can't let his guard down too much lest he ends up crushed or maimed or tremendously damaged in any other way, "As I'll ever be."

Fandral's amicable expression falters for a second. Tony's hand tightens where it's resting against Loki's hip.

Before things can get too unbearably awkward, though, Thor is saving the day (something he's actually remarkably good at doing, by the way) by announcing to everyone present, with his habitually douchey good humor, "Then what the hell are we waiting for?"

And so it goes that Loki, Tony, Thor White, and his four faithful dwarves gather around the too-small dining table and settle down to eat. Loki gets the privilege of sitting in one of the normal, sturdy wooden chairs, thanks to his injury (and his unusual apparent status as the most important person in the room, or whatever), and, rather unsurprisingly, it doesn't take Tony long to take a seat beside him, scoot his chair as close to his as possible without being too outrageously belligerent, and – shit you not – rest a hand on his thigh.

(And if you think Tony's venturing a bit too far into cantankerous jackass territory, I will tell you right now that one – Loki agrees with you wholeheartedly, and two – this is only the beginning.)

Thor plops down into the seat on Loki's other side, Volstagg falling in place beside him, and then Hogun beside Volstagg, and then Fandral beside Hogun, and then Sif beside Fandral, thus completing the crowded little circle around the table. For several minutes, the only sounds in the room are those of tacos being prepared and Fenrir's distant barking from the backyard, and to be totally honest with you, Loki would very much like to keep it that way for the remainder of the night. I mean, it's not like he's raring to get a conversation started with such an intensely varied group of people as this (and when I say 'varied', I'm only talking about the difference between Thor and his posse and Tony – a difference so palpable that Loki can legitimately feel electricity in the air whenever Thor and Tony so much as reach across the table for the same thing), and why would he be?

However, Loki just so happens to be the sole person here who feels that way, and consequently, the dialogue he so dreads explodes upon the table as soon as Thor is halfway through his first bite (keyword: halfway).

"Oh my God, this is fucking amazing, Fandral!" the blond exclaims, his words coming out muffled and bulky around the food in his mouth. Loki indulges himself in an internal cringe at the sight.

"I helped," Sif pipes in, emphasizing her words with a raised index finger and an arched eyebrow, but her outburst is mostly overlooked due to the fact that Fandral is ejecting an overly pleased, "Thanks, man," right on top of it. When Loki takes a glimpse at Sif's expression, he doesn't detect any of the crossness or dourness he expected he would, and he briefly muses that maybe she's accustomed to being skipped over (and you know what? – for the tiniest, most awful little moment, he actually feels bad for her).

"Where'd you learn how to cook these?" Thor asks, still chowing down on a mouthful of taco mush (and continuing to disgust Loki as a result). A dopey smile overtakes his face a second after he's voiced that query, and he gestures towards Loki with a casual jerk of his thumb as he adds, "I bet you a lot of money Loki could 'em better than you."

That would be Loki refusing to look up from his plate and stubbornly focusing on swallowing his food and the smell of Tony from where he's all but pressed against his side, because no, he's not a part of this discussion and he won't be a part of this discussion until someone asks him a question or personally offends him or slaps him in the face or something like that.

And then Fandral has to go ahead and do exactly what Loki didn't want him to and cry, "Oh, come on!", turn to face him (oh dear), and ask him (as in, compel him to respond to a useless and unwanted inquiry), "D'you like it, Loki?"

Loki has just barely wet his lips to answer before Thor is throwing in, with an astounding amount of seriousness and fervor, "I'm serious, bro! Loki's the best cook I know!"

(Well, that's something Loki's never heard coming out of Thor's mouth before today.)

"Oh, I bet he is," Fandral chuckles in reply, a fair bit of good-natured sarcasm peppering the remark, and it's almost hilarious how quickly Tony tenses at that, his body going still and taut and rigid, and Loki can fucking feel the man holding on to all the breath in his lungs like it's absolutely necessary that he become a human balloon just to show how ridiculously offended he is by that insignificant little comment. Fandral's eyes find Loki a second time when he asks, "Think you could give me a run for my money?"

And again, before Loki can even begin to say anything back to him, someone else is cutting in with some sort of exclamation of their own – this time, it's Volstagg. "I say we find out for ourselves!" the man declares, and Loki can hear the phantom noises of a triumphant movie soundtrack underscoring his words as he persists, "When Loki gets better, we should have us all a cook-off and see, eh?"

"I'll tell you now, no joke – Loki's gonna kick your ass," Thor crows, sipping thirstily from his beer bottle and punctuating the half-threat with a heavy gulp.

Fandral laughs openly, exuberantly, in a way so unusually down-to-earth and characteristically charming and not at all mocking and shit, Loki actually kind of likes the way it sounds before he consciously reminds himself about that one time Fandral backed him into a fucking counter and pretty much raped his mouth (and oh God, the thought of the man's lips on his nearly has Loki nauseous with distress, especially since Tony's so close to him and especially since Fandral is sitting literally three and a half feet away from him and especially since it wasn't the first time someone forced themselves on him). The man wags his finger at Thor, eyes devilish and playful, says, "We shall see, my friend, we shall see." He looks at Loki for a third time, then, waves the base of his beer bottle in the general direction of the man's plate, and echoes his earlier question of, "So? D'you like it?"

Much to the world's surprise, nobody makes an outburst. However, thanks to a combination of a fear of being interrupted, the uneasiness brought on by the memory of Steve's party, and a simple unwillingness to speak, Loki just gives Fandral an awkward, inelegant thumbs-up and pretends his mouth is full instead of verbalizing his response. (As you can see, he's a total pro at socializing and acting like a normal college student.)

"Oh, he's just saying that so your feelings don't get hurt," Thor huffs, amusement stretched clear across his face as he leans back in his lawn chair.

"You just said so yourself that this was 'fucking amazing'!" Fandral exclaims, momentarily throwing his hand in the air and regarding Thor with accusing blue eyes.

"I'm afraid you did, baby," Sif puts in, one of her rare, genuine smiles swiftly landing on her face and rendering her suddenly several years younger and several times more beautiful (and it's not like she isn't anything less than gorgeous normally).

Volstagg and Hogun follow Fandral and Sif's comments with their own remarks of assent, and suddenly, all four of them are speaking at the same time, raising their voices and talking over each other and protesting and teasing and laughing – "You can't just go back on what you said like that!" "Come on, Thor, I thought you were better than that!" – and in that moment, Loki feels like his head is going to fucking explode from the sheer degree of noise in the room (and isn't it something that he hasn't said a word the whole time they've been sitting here, and neither has Tony?).

Thor puts an end to the ruckus by being louder than all of his friends combined. "Alright, alright – can we change the subject?" he thunders, somehow managing to be both vexed and entertained in the same breath.

It's mindblowing (not to mention noteworthy) how quickly everyone shuts up.

"That's what I thought," Thor snorts, his expression glowing with what's possibly the most self-satisfied grin anyone has ever grinned ever. If you're wondering what that sound is, it's Tony sighing so sharply and irritably Loki can feel the chill of it against the shell of his ear.

Rather than addressing the man's frustration, though (if he even heard it, that is, and he probably didn't, seeing as he's not throwing a plate across the table at him), Thor launches right on into storytelling mode and goes, "So let me tell you guys about what happened at practice last Friday."

Loki is borderline shocked by the collective groan that overtakes the table then, by the halfhearted eye-rolls and playful grimaces Fandral, Sif, Volstagg, and Hogun assault Thor with, and it only takes a moment for it to occur to him that maybe he isn't the one person in the world who gets fed up with hearing about Thor's exploits as the second-most popular football player in the whole university – after all, nobody at this table, save Thor and Tony, is extraordinarily high up on the social ladder here, and honestly? That puts a lot of things into perspective for Loki.

"Oh, shut the fuck up!" Thor laughs, smacking Volstagg cleanly on the back of the head with the palm of his hand and subsequently causing the man to spit a small spurt of beer into his lap. Loki very nearly falls over just watching that exchange take place, and he spends the next thirty seconds trying to keep his face impassive and only vaguely annoyed at the lack of table manners being used.

(And, oh, wouldn't it just break his heart to know that that's only going to get so much worse in the coming minutes?)

Once all the moaning and bitching has quieted down a bit, Thor picks up where he left off with, "So we're on the field, right? And all of us are having a quick cool-down, because we're sweaty and hot and fucking Happy Hogan can't breathe, and Steve and I are getting ready to just leave these assholes behind when the cheerleaders show up out of nowhere–"

Loki interprets that as his cue to tune the fuck out of this conversation (because he'll be damned if he wants to hear about how hot Jean Grey or Emma Frost is yet again), turn to face his boyfriend for the first time this whole dinner, and ask, his voice low enough so that only Tony can hear him, "How're you holding up, hm?"

The look Tony gives him in reply would be hysterical in almost any other context but this one – all raised, angled eyebrows and scowling lips and his left eye narrowed the slightest bit in a not-so subtle expression of ire – and he holds Loki with that look for several seconds before he snorts, just as insolent and pissy as can be, "I'm just peachy, thanks."

There goes Loki's patience, dropping down a good few rungs on the imaginary sliding scale of His General DonenessTM.

"Could you stop being a child for at least five minutes?" he hisses quietly, his face tightening incrementally with exasperation. Fandral chuckles rather loudly at something Thor has said, then, temporarily breaking him out of the self-formed bubble of ignorance he's caged himself in just before Tony is pulling him right back into it with a roll of his eyes and a near-inaudible scoff.

"Well, I'm so fucking sorry if I'm not as happy as you'd like me to be with this situation," Tony sneers, instantly succeeding at hurling Loki from simply vexed to downright angry as well as making a complete ass out of himself. "I can accept it without being pleased about it."

"What you just said to me defies logic, Tony," Loki snaps in a tone marginally harsher, more acidic than the one he was using before, his eyes constricting, growing dark and stormy and oohnow you did it, Tony, now he's going to slap you in the face and shove you to the ground and kick you in the dick if you so much as breathe incorrectly around him.

And of course, being the fuckass he is, Tony doesn't think anything of coming back at Loki with a spectacularly immature, "Maybe I'm not a logical person." (Believe me, we all agree with you there.)

"Maybe I'm not going to punch you in the face if you stop acting like a goddamn three year-old," Loki retorts, and just as he's punctuating that statement, the look on Sif's face catches his eye and he's not so interested in besting Tony in a war of words anymore.

It's not a pretty look, not one of amusement or satisfaction or intrigue or anything Loki would expect to see plastered all over her features in reaction to Thor. No, she looks crosshurt, even – and her gaze is cast downwards and her lips are pursed tightly and she looks like she would kill to be anywhere but here, and just because Loki is so incredibly used to feeling the exact same way as Sif looks like she does right now, he shifts his attention from whatever the hell Tony is saying to the words coming out of Thor's mouth (and boy, oh boy does he feel for Sif when he does).

"I mean, she's fucking gorgeous!" is what Thor is rambling on about when Loki starts listening to him again, and the blond's icy blue eyes are open and vibrant and his face is radiant in a way a man's can only be when they're talking about a beautiful woman and his arms are spread wide for emphasis, and Fandral and Volstagg and Hogun are all just nodding and humming so complacently and agreeably and without any regard to their very obviously distressed friend, and Loki feels like he could breathe fire if he really wanted to when Thor says, "Any guy who could hit it with her is a damn lucky one, and I don't mean to brag or anything, but I think I'm one of those guys."

Yeah. He went there.

Before Loki can stop himself or even think to get a hold of his self-control, he's got a full-force glare leveled directly at Thor and he's asking, quite tersely, "Can I just... interrupt this conversation for one second?" His words sound like splinters when they come out of his mouth.

At first, nobody answers Loki, and an uneasy stillness settles over the table like a nimbus cloud ready to burst with rain as anxious glances are exchanged and Loki continues to be pissed the fuck off. Then, Thor turns to face him, and what happens as he does this is something Loki can identify immediately because he's been watching it happen all his life, and this such something is an ever-so subtle shift in his demeanor, in the line of his shoulders, in the light in his eyes, in the angle of his brows, and the man is in all-out better-than-you mode when he lets out a vaguely pompous, "What?"

(Fun Fact: Every time Thor pulls that haughtiness bullshit with him, there's an infinitesimal moment where Loki feels smaller than he could ever possibly, save for the times when he's depressed out of his mind, a moment where he feels like a child again, a moment where he feels just as wrong as growing up surrounded by his family taught him he should. That moment ends the instant he reminds himself how little of a fuck he gives about Thor's pride.)

"Your girlfriend is sitting right there," Loki bites out, gesturing briefly to Sif without tearing his daggered eyes away from his brother. A beat, and then he's going on in an infinitely more irritable tone,"Do you really have the audacity to harp on about every other female in the student body right in front of her? How much more disrespectful could you be?"

Fandral coughs uncomfortably.

For several seconds, Thor simply stares at Loki as if he's just so perplexed beyond belief as to why he'd be so incensed about this, but it doesn't take long for his expression to morph into something as arrogant as it was before as he tilts his head the littlest bit and laughs, oh-so superciliously, "Why do you care?"

Loki glowers darkly at Thor, damn near physically recoiling from that unabashed hit on his character, barks with an intimidating cock of the head, "Why shouldn't I?"

Thor actually appears to get uncomfortable at that, his hand coming up to run through his messy flaxen tresses and rub along the back of his neck and his eyes swiftly averting themselves from Loki, and his voice is half-chuckle when he starts to bluster, "Well, I mean... it's not like... you... you don't–"

"I don't what?" Loki snaps, rapidly growing impatient with his brother's bullshit, and to be completely clear, that's exactly what it is – bullshit – because Thor knows what he wants to say and Loki knows Thor knows what he wants to say. The blond is just trying to find the least offensive way to say it, not that Loki particularly cares for the sentiment.

And because Loki cares so little about that such sentiment, Thor looks him right in the face and says, "You don't give a shit about her."

You know that feeling, that feeling that paints the inside of your chest a deep red and makes the inside of your head a little warmer than it should be and reflexively draws the muscles in your face taught and sinks the very core of you right down into your diaphragm where it slowly begins to rot? I'm not talking about anger, my dear – I'm talking about shame, and shame is what finds itself getting shoved down Loki's throat the instant Thor has said that, because even though Loki has been experiencing these odd little bursts of sympathy for Sif as of late, his behavior has rarely if ever reflected that he thought of the woman as anything more than a waste of space and a nuisance in his life (to be honest, though, until several days ago, that's literally all she was to him, and for good reason).

However, he can't really ponder on that thought for longer than a second and a half, because suddenly, the most irate voice in recorded history is going hurtling past his ear and straight into Thor's face like an expertly-aimed sucker punch to the nose, saying, "Like you know so much about how he feels about her."

Tony was bound to enter this conversation at some point, right? (That would be Loki wishing he had a gun to shoot himself with, thanks.)

"What?" Thor echoes, this time with legitimate confusion tainting the question.

"Like you would even have the foggiest fucking idea what he thinks about other people," Tony goes on, his voice growing progressively harsher, more argumentative as he leans forward in his chair to address Thor directly with his eyes as well as his mouth. "Like you're any kind of invested in his social life, which, uh –" He pauses to release a spiteful, sarcastic little chuckle. "– I don't know if you could tell by my mocking tone, but you aren't."

"You say that like I don't even know him," Thor retorts, the beginnings of his trademark blind fury cropping up in the spaces between his words and his brow furrowing with anger.

"Maybe you don't," is Tony's rapidfire response, promptly punctuated with a shit-eating smirk.

An imaginary lightbulb goes off in Loki's head right then, because in that moment, it registers to him that beyond the whole initial, obvious thing of 'I love him more than you, you damn, dirty bastard!', a lot of the conflict between Thor and Tony has to do with the fact that both men are so irrationally possessive of their right to know things about him – his past, his wants, his fears, his preferences, his idiosyncrasies, his every little thought and his every little grievance and his every little dream and his every little way of looking at the world around him – and their right to claim some sort of perverse ownership of these things, as if one can feasibly own the personality traits and the memories of another person. You know how disgusted that makes Loki when he thinks about it that way?

(Hint: Pretty fucking disgusted.)

"Maybe you should quit acting like you fucking know me," Thor growls, his fist visibly tightening where it's planted on the tabletop and his eyes like cerulean embers in his skull. (Oh, joy – we're playing the 'maybe' game again.)

"Maybe you should quit calling my boyfriend an uncaring bitch!" Tony borderline yells across the table, casting an inflammatory hand into the air, and his expression is no longer that of a man who's overly amused by his own fuckery, no – now it's a straight-up mask of 'not fucking around' and 'dare you to challenge me' and 'I'm ready to raise all kinds of hell in here', and quite frankly, Loki kind of wants to slap it.

"I didn't call him anything!" Thor exclaims, abruptly slamming his knuckles against the table. He lets out a deep, leonine pant for a second, raises his hand to point an angry, accusatory finger at Tony, and points out in a tone intended to shut Tony's mouth as swiftly as possible, "And he's not just your boyfriend – he's my little brother, too!"

"Well, you do a great fucking job of treating him like he is!" Tony counters with just as much passion as Thor, eyes going wide and frenzied with ire and instinctive excitement carving deep gashes of tension into his face.

That's when Loki gets really tired of hearing this shit, really tired of seeing the wildfires raging in Thor and Tony's gazes, really tired of having to watch Fandral, Volstagg, Hogun, and Sif stare between the two of them and between each other with matching expressions of discomfort and displeasure, really tired of the words getting flung across his lap and the total lack of order at the table and, more than almost anything, the noise.

(And I mean, to be honest, he was tired of all this the very instant it began. Now just so happens to be the exact moment in which he can muster up the bravado to stop jumping and flinching every time Thor or Tony opens their mouth and speak the fuck up to them – two men who are equally hard to confront when they're as pissed off as they are now.)

"Stop yelling!" Loki shouts over the cacophony, impulsively reaching a hand out to press against Tony's chest in a half-conscious attempt to bring the man back down to earth (Lord knows he's anywhere but with him right now). Tony's breathing is heavy and brisk against his palm as he adds, "I didn't intend for this to turn into an argument."

"You're just gonna let him lie about you to your face?" Tony snaps, drawing Loki's harsh stare his way. His face isn't openly livid like it was when Thor was looking at it, but the irritation slicing clear across it and the unconcealed scorn in his eyes does horrible, horrible things to Loki's stomach, to his heart, and his voice is unforgiving when he asks, "And you're going to fuss at me for trying to defend you?"

I want you to take a guess at how long it takes for that to make Loki hate Tony. (If you're in the milliseconds, you're on the right track.)

"I don't need to be defended!" Loki retorts, quickly drawing his hand away from Tony's chest as he lets loose the full brunt of the fury and the hurt he feels, lets it bleed out of his eyes and seep into the angles and the hollows in his face and twist his brow and part his lips regardless of all the people watching. "I'm not some weak, frail thing you have to protect at all times – I don't need you to save me!"

The dark, ironic smirk Tony gives him in response is enough to have Loki blacking out with rage, but oh – it's nothing compared to the words that come out of his mouth next – "Not from where I'm standing."

The voice that escapes Loki then is frightening in its ferocity, in its sharpness and its viciousness and its volume, and it functions both as an honest expression of his anger and a verbal bitch-slap when he yells right in Tony's face, without any hesitation, "Oh, will you shut up!"

(And I'm telling you right now that this is the most angry Loki has ever been at Tony in all the time they've known each other – ever. This is his strength of will being invalidated, here, just like it has been time after motherfucking time, over and over again until he could vomit he's so damn tired of it all.)

The room goes absolutely silent, then, silent and still and quickly growing cold as Thor gawks at his brother like he's never seen something so dangerous in his life (never mind the fact that Loki's been even more pissed off and savage with him several times before), Tony stares at Loki with wrath and distress and shock painting his features, Fandral, Volstagg, Hogun, and Sif watch all this transpire with slack jaws and wide eyes, and Loki contemplates the fact that he just told Tony – who also has major inferiority issues and is probably in one of the worst states of mind for that sort of thing at the moment – to shut up.

And then Fandral opens his mouth and coos (coos), all quiet and amused and straight out of middle school, "Oooh, dude got schooled..."

It's a fraction of a second before Tony turns his gaze, now full of straight-up ire and with none of the semisolid angst it held when it was beholding Loki, onto Fandral and spits, so full of venom and malice that it's almost unbelievable how charming and wonderful this man is capable of being, "Excuse me, but I don't fucking recall asking for your opinion, you autistic mouthbreather."

The responding look on Fandral's face is downright comical, like that of a man who's just been given one hell of a slap – all bugged eyes and raised brows and gaping mouth and pallid cheeks – and the funniest thing about it is the fact that it's being mirrored by almost everyone at the table in varying degrees of shock, outrage, and fury.

"In fact, I don't remember anyone asking for your fucking help, especially not Loki," Tony goes on, obviously still insistent on fighting for Loki's honor and not-so discreetly getting off on being the most scandalous and offensive person present.

That's when Fandral stops being flabbergasted just enough to get pissed, to narrow his eyes and scowl and lean forward and come back at Tony, indignant and astonishingly sincere, "Hey, I'm doing Loki a kindness, but I can understand why someone like you might find that hard to understand."

Tony laughs openly at that, raucous and spiteful and not at all amused, and his expression is like hard candy and rat poison as he says, the words coming out progressively harsher as they escape him, "It's nice to hear that coming from a person so oblivious that it took a fucking slap to the face for you to realize that my boyfriend doesn't want to ride your dick."

There it is – the nausea, pushing its way up into Loki's throat and wrapping itself around his pharynx, squeezing, and he feels somewhat dizzy at the repeated memory of Fandral kissing him, so hard and forceful and angry, at the idea of maybe even having sex with the man, and oh God, he can feel himself tripping inside the cavern of his mind, feel himself stumbling and falling and scraping his knee and striking his head against the hard floor of that thought because Fandral is kissinghim and all he wants to do is get the fuck out of Steve's house as fast as he possibly can–

"Hey, stop talking to my friend like that!" Thor explodes, unleashing a whole new murderous wave of sound right against the side of Loki's face, punching him with his words even as they're directed at Tony.

And then there's Steve and his stupid smile and his endless charisma and all the times he's looked at Loki or looked through him or looked at Tony and his 'Yeah, why her?' (why you, Loki?) and his 'It's no big deal' and his strong arms around him and he's grinning so brightly and he smells like sweat and friendship and he wants to be his friend? Why?

"Stop talking to my boyfriend like that!" Tony yells back, matching Thor's volume to the decibel – another blow to Loki's face, this time clipping him in the jaw.

And then there's Tony and his unfathomable magnitude, his gravity, his easy smirk and the metallic melancholy in his eyes, and he scares Loki a lot, you know, scares him more than he would like to admit and more than he intends to when he looks at him like he's in love with him (he is, and Tony Stark doesn't fall in love with anyone but himself) and when he kisses him on that one Valentine's Day and when he's so strong and when he can handle him so easily in bed and when he's such a good French-kisser it's worrying and when he gets so fucking angry and Loki knows he could seriously injure someone if he really wanted to, and for all of Loki's fire, he's never been that angry, never wanted to strangle someone like he knows Tony does and can–

"You don't own him!" Thor thunders. He can't see the spot of red growing on the crest of Loki's cheek, quickly darkening to a deep purple, bruising the flesh there, can't see the skin of his lip splitting and bursting and the blood dribbling down his chin, dripping onto his plate, can't see the bones in his jaw fracturing with each heavy-handed word – 'you', crack, 'don't', crack, 'own', crack, 'him!', crack.

And you know, Loki can't see the wounds either – he was only ever able to behold the faint, scarred remnants of them when it was all over and done with and he was out of the hospital and he'd been high on morphine for so long that his face had healed up by the time he could look at himself in a mirror again, but he used to like to imagine the way he must have looked when Thor hit that fucking Subaru, the way his face bled and the shards of glass that sliced into it, and he would always envision his face bruising whenever they all sat down to dinner and screamed at each other like they're screaming now, Thor and Odin growling like animals, Freyr and his own father doing the same, Frigga and Volla aiming knives and needles across the table at one another, Freya crying out in a vain attempt to end it all, Odin's eyes on his own stained with tears and his voice so even and cool – "Stupid, weak child."

"You don't own him!" Tony roars. That's when Loki's skull splits.

That's when he's had enough.

"I'm here!" he yells at the top of his lungs, the exclamation tearing at the inside of his throat with sharp talons on its way out of him and hitting the air like a gunshot, oxidizing and shattering in the center of the table. He doesn't look at anyone, doesn't do anything but try to let oxygen come to him as he cries, "I'm sitting right in front of you! Why are you talking about me like I'm not here?!"

Nobody answers him or dares to move a muscle in their shock, all the air having been sucked out of the room by the sheer gravity of his question, and Loki can feel the unbearable warmth of anguish build in his cheeks and his eyes grow hot with molten lava tears when he lets them finally land on someone – Tony – and cries, "I am so unbelievably tired of you –" He sweeps his gaze and the tip of his index finger around the table, touches every person present with each. "All of you – talking about me like I'm not sitting right fucking here!"

Loki is forced to stop, then, and that's mainly because he's found that he can't fucking breathe anymore and the nausea he was experiencing earlier is ten times worse and he's crying so hard he can barely see and his body is legitimately shaking and his heart won't stop beating so damn fast and it won't stop pummeling against his chest cavity and it won't stop punching itself up towards his esophagus and his head is pounding in time with his pulse and more than anything he can't fucking breathe, so he props his elbows up on the table and buries his face in his hands (because no, he can't cry in front of these people again and let them see they've won, they've done it, they've beaten him one more time) and sobs into them, lets his body go on quaking and breaking and his lungs plead in vain for oxygen and his head crack open against his palm and spill its contents all over the table for everyone to see. And it seems to go on for an eternity.

Nobody speaks. Nobody breathes. Everyone just listens and watches and bleeds as Loki has a full-scale panic attack right in front of their eyes, afraid to touch him and afraid to speak for fear of breaking the imaginary glass cage he's sealed himself in, and fucking Christ – they're scared of him. Do you have any idea how awful it is to be feared?

And then, in a muted, exceptionally gentle tone, Fandral says, "I'm sorry, Loki."

When Loki raises his head to regard the man through his tears, he's initially taken aback by the blatant sympathy coloring his face. Fandral's gaze falters a bit under his, and the blond sounds unsure and insecure when he adds, "I mean, if all this –" He gestures to the table, the food. "– is a burden to you – "

"Stop," Loki cuts him off with a sharp sniff, shielding his eyes and his nose with his palm and shaking his head ever so slightly. He exhales shakily, his voice a quiet strain as he says, "It's more than I could ever ask from you."

He doesn't see the way Fandral nods slowly in acknowledgment. He doesn't see the look of absolute defeat on Tony's face. He doesn't see the way Thor's hand moves to caress his shoulder, then stops in midair only to fall back to the table. He doesn't see any of that. The silence reigns on.

That is, until Sif takes her chance to speak up and offers Loki a soft, "Thank you." She doesn't have to specify what for.

Loki lets out a faint, sad little chuckle in response to the irony (wasn't she the one standing up for him the last time they had dinner together?), lowers his hand from his face, and gives Sif a hazy, forced smile as he replies, "Don't mention it."

Then, he braces himself against the back of his chair and the wood of the table and pushes himself to his feet (his foot), hissing audibly at the pain in his knee and the simple effort of moving in the state of mind he's in. He's only limped two paces away from the table before Volstagg is out of his chair and rushing to steady him, positioning one of his thin, limp arms around his broad shoulders and carefully helping him around the table and across the kitchen, and Loki can't help but cry even harder at the unusually friendly, supportive gesture, can barely suppress the sobs just begging to come out of him as Volstagg guides him out of the room and into the dark, cool hallway.

He doesn't look back at anyone as he leaves.

Volstagg eventually gets him into his bedroom and sat on the edge of his mattress, where Loki wastes no time in collapsing into his own lap, arms folded over his knees and forehead shoved unceremoniously into the curve of his elbow. He lets himself break, then, lets himself fall apart and shatter into a million tiny pieces at the foot of his bed, his tears seeping into the creases in his skin and his breath coming in deep, quick gasps.

Volstagg just stays with him for a moment or two, watching him without a word, before he rests a brief hand at the spot between Loki's quaking shoulderblades, murmurs a quiet, "Sorry for ruining your night, Loki," and walks out of the room, gently closing the door behind him.

A minute passes and Loki doesn't move, doesn't react, doesn't change.

Two minutes and he can hear Thor's voice from the kitchen, booming, thunderous – "What the fuck is wrong with you?!"

Three minutes and it sounds like another world war is raging on the other side of the house – Tony screaming at Thor, Thor screaming at Tony, Fandral and Sif screaming at the both of them, curses and insults and accusations flying like bullets, like bombs, bombs spreading their awful radioactivity all the way back to where Loki sits and wishes the battle would end already (why can't it just be over with?).

And when he hears Tony yell, "I've done more for him than you could ever possibly hope to do yourself!" and when he hears Thor yell, "You? A disgusting piece of shit like you?!" and when he hears Sif yell, "You're both just making things worse, you assholes!", Loki crawls to the head of his mattress and curls himself up into a tight little ball and shoves the heels of his palms against his ears and weeps.

He thinks about what Tony said earlier – "Not from where I'm standing." – and he wonders if the man really thinks him so weak, so helpless, so fragile. He wonders if that was just his anger talking. He wonders if his supposed weakness is what endeared him to Tony so much in the first place.

He wonders if he did the right thing, consenting to a relationship with the man. It's only been a week and they've already changed so much. And sometimes (like now), he feels like he's drowning under the weight of it all. And he doesn't want to lose Tony as a friend.

Oh, he doesn't want to lose Tony as a friend.

He falls asleep with that thought perched at the forefront of his consciousness.

The skin around his eyes is dry and crusty when Loki wakes. There's a blanket that wasn't there before covering him and the lamp by the bed has been switched off. The only noise he can hear is coming from the opposite side of the room, and it sounds a whole lot like a video game when he's aware enough to really pay attention to it.

Loki sits up slowly, letting the blanket fall from his shoulders and pool in his lap as he takes in the sight before him – Tony, cross-legged on the floor and nothing more than a silhouette in the dark, playing Final Fantasy X on the PlayStation 2 hooked up to Loki's television. He hasn't changed his clothes from earlier, and his hair is the mess it always is.

Loki contents himself with simply watching the man for a lengthy moment or two, his words echoing faintly in his head – "Not from where I'm standing, not from where I'm standing..." – before he stops thinking long enough to let himself ask, "Why are you on the floor?"

Tony starts a bit, reflexively pausing the game and whirling around to face Loki. At first, his eyes are wide and almost scared, but when he sees the softness in Loki's expression, the fire in his own dies down to something more warm. His lips stay parted several seconds before he actually says something, before he replies, "I didn't want to disturb you."


When Loki doesn't do anything beyond nodding his assent and running a hand through his unkempt raven hair, Tony tosses his controller to the ground and rises to his feet, circles around to the side of the bed and sits on the very edge of it, like he's afraid to get too close to Loki just in case he upsets him. He watches him carefully, chewing at the inside of his lip, then murmurs, "I'm sorry, Loki."

That's the third apology tonight.

Loki scoffs quietly, giving Tony a small smirk much like the one the man showed him earlier. "You should be," he retorts.

"I know, I know," Tony sighs, abruptly reaching out to snatch Loki's hand from where it rests in his lap and squeeze it gently in his own. "I fucked up." He mirrors Loki's smirk, then, right down to the tiny pocket of bitterness hidden in his right dimple, adds, "What more could you expect from a guy like me?"

There isn't a trace of uncertainty in Loki's voice when he replies, "A lot more," and when Tony's face turns solemn and skeptical, Loki doesn't hesitate to scoot on closer to the man, cup his jaws in his hands, look him in the eyes, and say, "You're easily capable of being the most wonderful person I know, Tony."

"I'm also capable of being a total jackass," Tony argues with a chuckle, and Loki knows that he's only laughing at his pain because it's the one way he won't get bad again, the one way he's not going to go resorting to anger and hostility to make himself feel better.

"That only matters if you let it matter," Loki evenly points out, and Tony looks at him like he might have fallen in love with him all over again, and Loki smiles and lays his head against Tony's shoulder and Tony lets out a sigh deep enough to leave him out of breath.

And the two of them sit like that for a long time, their arms intertwined and Tony's cheek leaning into Loki's cranium and Loki content with simply smelling Tony and reminding himself that this is the man he loves, this is the man he wants to be with, this is the man he wouldn't mind drowning with in a million years, and this is the man he will never, ever let go of if it's the last thing he does, and when Tony finally breaks the silence, he's murmuring, "Thor and I talked."

Loki doesn't move his head. His tone is quiet and inquiring. "You did?"

Tony hums in assent. He runs his knuckles up Loki's side as he explains, "We both decided it's pointless to keep fighting over you when we both care about you so much and when... when you need both of us."

That's when Loki turns to look at Tony, his eyes tired and soft, and Tony returns his gaze with just the slightest bit of apprehension, and they watch each other, breathe each other's air, attempt to understand, for what seems like a year and a half.

And somewhere in the back of his mind, Loki is aware of the distinct possibility that this could be a temporary thing, that Thor and Tony could go back to the constant arguing and the unabashed animosity and the blatant disrespect for Loki's self-worth in a heartbeat, that he's going to have a night like this again sometime in the near future, but you know what?

Loki doesn't care about that right now – he's too exhausted to. He only cares about the fact that Tony and Thor agreed with each other at all, and that they did it for his sake, and that they love him (they lovehim).

So he kisses Tony on the corner of his mouth and whispers a soft, "Thank you," and returns his head to where it laid against the man's shoulder, and Tony lets him stay that way until he feels like moving again.

It's finally done.

I'm not going to say a whole lot here simply because I'm in a hurry to get this posted and the majority of what I need to say is going on my blog, but –

Thank you to all of those who supported me.

Thank you to all of those who stayed with me.

Thank you to all of those who were patient.

Thank you for loving this story. You make my world go round, babes.

Friendly reminder to please check out that post and leave me sweet things and tell me about any and all issues you find in this chapter. I love you all.

- Gabi.