Loki stays as long as he can, sitting beside Tony's bed, holding his hand, but after a while Tony's eyelids start to drop. He catches himself stifling a yawn and glances up at the clock—three a.m., and when did that happen—so he rubs his forehead, stands up. He gives Tony's hand a light squeeze—see you in the morning, love—and heads out. The doctor on duty tells him that Tony will probably be able to be released later in the week, either on or just before Christmas itself, and Loki thinks how perfect that would be. He smiles the whole way down to the first floor, and is still smiling when he walks into the emergency room. Thor is waiting for him; Natasha and Clint left when they heard Tony had managed to come back after the defibrillation.
"Brother," says Thor, urgently. "Is Anthony—"
"He's alive," Loki nods, and decides not to try and explain the electromagnet just yet. He's not even sure if he gets it himself—a circular magnet in the center of Tony's chest, something glowing and humming faintly with an energy all its own.
If he's going to be completely honest with himself, he's a little scared for Tony. (Not that he'd ever admit that out loud, because Tony would probably just laugh and make some sarcastic comment about how Loki worries too much, but still. He's pretty sure that whatever's in that device can't be good for Tony's bloodstream.)
They head home. The streets are nearly empty at such a late hour, and Loki leans his head against the cool glass of the passenger window, staring at the sky, at the faint swirls of snow still drifting down. When Tony is out of the hospital, he promises himself, they will go for walks in the snow until their cheeks are flushed with cold; they will drink hot chocolate; they will sleep in together, sharing the blanket and missing class sometimes just because.
I will never take you for granted again, Anthony Stark, Loki thinks. I will trust you with my life.
A few days later, Tony is still in the hospital—although he's seriously considering filing his own discharge papers and walking out, because he's bored and he wants to go home and have Loki over for Christmas dinner and tell him how much he means to him—and then he wants to fuck him, because he still can, even with this electromagnet in his chest. He's lying in bed, running one finger over the smooth metal edges of the machine, keeping the other hand wrapped loosely around the remote control—Doctor Who is on, but the commercials are shit—when there's a soft knock at the door.
"Tony," calls his primary doctor, the one who fitted him with the electromagnet, the one to whom he owes his life. "You have a visitor."
He thinks it's Loki, and a slight grin stretches over his face as he mutes the television and shifts his position on the mattress. "Tell him he can come in," he calls, twisting the edges of his robes around with his fingertips. He's actually surprised at how well Loki's been taking this whole electromagnet thing—he'd thought, initially, that once the relief of having Tony alive wore off Loki would realize that his boyfriend is now a freak, and would get away from him as soon as possible, but Loki comes to the hospital every day and stays for hours; acts like everything's normal, like Tony's not hooked up to so many intravenous machines, like he's not glowing constantly beneath his hospital gown. (Pepper came, once, the day after it happened; Tony's not sure how she heard, but she came, and stayed in the doorway the whole time, staring with a mixture of fear and disgust at the electromagnet. 'Have you satisfied yourself that I'm alive yet?' he asked finally, and she just nodded and ran off without saying goodbye. The others—Steve, Nat, Clint—like coming just to stare at it, and even though Tony knows they don't mean anything by it, he still hates it, and has taken to faking exhaustion just to get them out of the room.)
The door opens, and Tony's eyebrows rise almost to his hairline, because it's not Loki at all. It's Howard Stark.
"Anthony," says Howard. He steps forward one pace, then stops, hesitating. It's the first time Tony's ever seen his dad at a loss for what to do, and he has to admit it's a nice change.
"Finally decided to come see me, huh?" Tony says, and he can't keep the bitterness out of his voice.
Howard shuts his eyes for a few seconds; passes his hand over his face. "I couldn't just leave my work," is his excuse, and Tony wishes his electromagnet had some sort of special powers so he could shoot his dad with a laser beam, or at least zap him with a bolt of lightning.
"I guess if I'd died, you wouldn't have been able to leave your work either."
"Anthony, don't start—"
"You think you're suddenly a great father just because you were 'able to make time' to come see me in the hospital after I got fucking shot in the chest? What do you want, Dad, some sort of medal?"
"Don't take that tone with me," Howard snaps. "I had to drive three hours to get here from Jarvis' place, you know. I could have just as easily stayed home."
"I didn't have to ride up to the hospital after you had your heart attack, but I did. I came up here to make sure you were okay—a man who does not give a shit about his own son. Why'd you really come here, Dad? Was it to see how I'm doing—or was it to see what sort of a freak they've made me into?" He opens his hospital gown up enough so that his father can see the electromagnet, and doesn't fail to notice the way Howard's eyes widen, the way he steps back slightly. A small, self-deprecating smirk passes over Tony's lips.
"Now you have an excuse to disown me," he says. "But wait, that's right, you won't—you need someone to inherit the company name once you're gone."
There's a vein pulsating in Howard's temple; his masseter is clenched so tightly that Tony can see it from where he's sitting. "I didn't disown you when you came home with that freak boy Laufeyson—"
"Oh, now you're admitting that same sex relationships are grounds for automatic expulsion from the Stark family, I've been waiting for this day—"
"—and I wouldn't disown you just because you have some sort of machine in your chest." He pauses, dragging a hand over his chin. "Actually, I have a friend who might be interested in looking at that—"
"Because having a son who's an exhibit in the local science fair has always been your dream, hasn't it, Dad?"
Tony watches Howard's fingers twitching against his thigh as he struggles not to walk over and slap his son. Both men are quiet for a long time. Tony becomes aware of the ticking of the minute hand on the clock. Doctor Who switches to a rerun of Sherlock.
Finally, Howard clears his throat, straightens his suit. "I suppose I should be going," he says. "This visit has not done anything but prove that you and I will never get along."
Tony's eyes darken. "At least you came," he mutters, but Howard doesn't hear him, and a moment later the door clicks shut.
An hour later, Loki comes for his daily visit, and Tony can't explain why he's still crying.
He's discharged the following day, on Christmas Eve, by the doctor who saved his life. The man is smiling as Tony walks out of his room—he refuses to sit in the wheelchair, or use crutches, and Loki cannot stop squeezing his hand and thinking, how characteristic of you, Stark—and as they stand at the elevator doors and wait to be taken down, the doctor taps Tony on the shoulder.
"Live a full life, Mr. Stark," he says. "Promise me this."
Tony nods. Then, for reasons he can't quite articulate, he hugs the doctor. "Thanks again, Dr. Yinsen," he mutters into the man's ear. "Have a great Christmas—give your family lavender hospital masks. Think of me when you use the refrigerator."
Yinsen laughs, the elevator pings, and Loki and Tony step on and head down. They go to the Stark mansion in Tony's car—which Loki drove to the hospital—and spill inside, shivering and laughing in the cold. Once the door is shut, Tony pins Loki to the wall, trailing hungry, hot kisses down his pale, exposed throat. Loki wraps his arms around Tony's waist, and almost smiles when he feels the way Tony is shaking, how desperate he is for contact.
"How I have missed this," Loki murmurs. Tony grunts in agreement, and they move to the couch, fumbling and kissing and subconsciously avoiding the electromagnet, sliding their hands across each other's skin, slick with sweat, trembling with want.
Later, sitting up on the floor, wrapped in a giant flannel blanket, mugs of hot chocolate pressed in their hands, Chopin playing softly on the stereo, Tony presses his nose against Loki's skin. The glow of the magnet has increased in the darkness, and it reflects like moonlight off Loki's bare shoulders, makes his eyes look almost blue. They don't say anything for a while, just stare out the window, at the snow gathering softly on the ground, but after a few minutes Tony turns to Loki and asks:
"You okay, babe? You look—I don't know, tense." He shifts slightly, lifting his hands and pressing his thumbs into the muscles making up Loki's upper back. The younger man lets out a quiet sigh, moving back into his touch and shutting his eyes.
"It's just…" He hesitates, and Tony nudges him slightly with his toe.
"Just…? C'mon, Shakespeare, this electromagnet didn't give me psychic abilities."
Loki's lips twitch. "I cannot bear the thought of losing you again," he says quietly, after a bit.
Tony works his fingers against Loki's shoulders, curling them around his long, dark hair. "You won't," he says. "I don't know if I told you this, but when I died in the hospital my life flashed before my eyes and I saw you more than anyone else."
"Only about a thousand times," Loki murmurs, but he's smiling.
"Yeah, see?" Tony nudges him again. "So now you know—you mean a lot to me, Loki. Don't ask me to say it too often, though."
"Oh, no, I wouldn't want to hope for too much."
Tony grins, then shifts himself some more, so that he's facing Loki completely. The electromagnet glows softly between them as he lifts one hand and tucks his fingers under Loki's jaw.
"Serious answer," he says, locking his eyes onto Loki's. "I told you I love you in the hospital, and that still stands true now. You aren't going to get rid of me that easily, Shakespeare," and he leans in and kisses him again, more gently than before.
When they pull away, the clock is striking midnight. Loki leans against Tony and lightly kisses his neck. "Merry Christmas, Stark," he murmurs.
"Yeah, you too, Laufeyson," Tony replies quietly, running his fingers through his hair and thinking of how lucky he is, how desperately he wants it to work out this time. He can no longer imagine life without Loki, and he knows that means feelings, which Tony Stark has never done—but he figures maybe, just this once, he can make an exception.
In the morning, they are still wrapped up in the blanket together, one of Tony's arms draped across Loki's waist, Loki's fingers curled elegantly around his.
A thousand miles away, in an isolate forest in upstate New York, Thanos stretches out over the dank, leaf-covered ground and sighs, staring up at the dark branches, at the star-littered sky visible between them. Trees in winter have always reminded him vaguely of skeletons, with the way they shed their leaves and then stand, bare, exposed, all winter. He lifts a leaf and holds it up near his face for a few minutes before ripping it to shreds with his long fingers and tossing the pieces aside.
He watches the wind scatter them.
Thinks of Loki, of Tony, back in Manhattan; of all the destruction he's caused.
Looks down at his shirt, the one that reads, 'the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death'.
A/N: This is the last chapter, guys, after this there's nothing except the sequel.
Also many, many thanks to all my lovely readers and reviewers; you guys helped with the plot more than you know.