Summary: It wouldn't be the first time Tony Stark had flirted with death. But no matter what the others said, reading stories to the quarantined God of Mischief was definitely one of his better ideas.

Fandom: Marvel's The Avengers

Rating: T

Pairing: FrostIron - Loki Laufeyson x Tony Stark

Warnings: language, slash, poor humor and feels

Disclaimer: The characters are the property of Marvel and associates. The book, The Little Prince, quoted and featured throughout this fic,is copyrighted to its author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The translated version is by Richard Howard (improvised by Tony Stark).

Author Note: So, this is my first foray into Avengers, and my first try at FrostIron. I'm rather addicted. This story is in three/four parts. I hope you enjoy. Feedback and constructive comments are most welcome.

Edited: 9/8/2012

Just a Rose on a Star

Part 1

"The little prince sat down on a rock and looked up into the sky.

'I wonder,' he said, 'if the stars are lit up so that each of us can find his own, someday. Look at my planet-it's just overhead. But so far away!'

'It's lovely,' the snake said. 'What have you come to earth for?'

'I'm having difficulties with a flower,' the little prince said.

'Ah!' said the snake.

And they were both silent."

~ The Little Prince

There was a skip to Tony's step he hadn't felt in a long time. Perhaps it was the way no one in SHIELD had yet to notice he was there, waltzing easily towards the quarantine section of the building, cocky grin in place. It was early morning, so early few people would even be considering being awake, but this was just sad. The security detail needed some work and he made sure to say so to the first camera he saw, obnoxiously saluting with his curled up newspaper as he passed, knowing the footage would get to Fury eventually if the man wasn't already watching.

A few guards littered the long hallway, but none made a move to stop him, too busy doing convincing impressions of statues as he walked past. He frowned at a few of them, made faces at others, but none deterred him, nor tried to impede his progress towards the newest resident of the prison. He snorted at them, turning on his heel to send a pointed look at another camera before rounding the corner.

He would catch hell for this, he knew, but that was part of the fun.

"Good morning," Tony smiled at the first agent he saw, flashing his teeth and being louder than was probably necessary. Not that he cared much. He was having a good day, and considering the hour, it hadn't even technically started yet. The young man just blinked at him, rolled his eyes, and punched in a code. Tony frowned in response, wondering at the cold reaction, before carelessly shrugging and sauntering through the entrance once the heavy metal door had rolled away with a trembling moan. "Thanks very much."

The rational part of his brain (the part that sounded suspiciously like Jarvis), once again asked him just what the hell he was doing. He just chuckled to himself and fixed his grip on the paper, adjusted his sweater, not knowing the answer. He was dying, but unlike the last time, when everything was a time-bomb and the days were numbered, he knew what it took to save his own life. It was just a matter of playing a waiting game, a game that had grown far too boring to play alone.

His teammates would never understand this newest escapade. If worse came to worse, Tony supposed he could blame Doom and Hulk, who had completely destroyed his workshop in their latest battle and, therefore, his means of recreating an arc reactor that wouldn't slowly poison him to death. None of the Avengers had walked away from that one unscathed, though Tony had taken the main brunt of it. While blocking an attack on Steve, Tony's left wrist had nearly been snapped in two by a glancing blow from Hulk's fist, the force of it sending him careening towards the nearest wall, his entire right side smashing hard into the unforgiving concrete. Three broken ribs and a fractured scapula, a ruined suit, and a heavily damaged arc reactor later, he'd been officially out for the count, unable to do anything but watch as Steve was thrown from a window, Doom was ripped to shreds in Hulk's rage, and Thor's shoulder dislocated as he forced Hulk to the floor, pinning him down by placing Mjölnir on his back.

His equipment had been flung in all directions as make-shift weapons, his delicate instruments ripped to shreds as bodies plowed into them. Even Jarvis had not been spared as his main drive was torn from the ceiling by wicked fury and Doombot hands. Only his suits remained as testament to all the hard work he'd just lost.

Tony had been forced to spend two weeks at the hospital. With the state of his home, Pepper had only been able to bring him an older palladium core, one she'd kept for reasons he hadn't bothered to listen to. Forced to put the poisonous arc reactor in, he'd been strictly ordered by his beloved assistant to stop with all Iron Man shenanigans for the time being, lest another repeat of his last brush with death happen. He had to hand it to Steve, the old soldier had a damn good poker face, not saying a word as Tony asked him to lock up his suits. Asking to be pulled off the fight roster indefinitely after his recovery date had made Steve's eyebrows do that concerned furrow-thing that Tony always felt guilty for causing, but he hadn't questioned the reasons behind the request. Tony knew he owed him a good case of scotch for that, even if Steve used the time off to get Tony to do normal things like eat and sleep.

In those weeks of his hospital rest, his entire workshop had been cleaned out, no scrap of metal left behind. It had been worst-case scenario from the start. With no access to a power source or a metal piece to harness the new element, Tony was stuck with the palladium core, his days numbered like the old nightmare of years ago. Only worse. His body had no resistance to the palladium this time around, and the toxicity levels grew steadily daily, rising up four percent every two days, even when he remained in bed, staring miserably at the ceiling.

He only had three weeks of total physical and mental clarity left in him, tops, as long as the palladium continued to ooze into his blood at a steady rate. It was unlikely at best as the more poison that piled up, the more quickly it would become toxic, so he prepared for only about two weeks before he kicked the bucket, two weeks to gain the parts he needed and create a new core. He had to re-establish Jarvis's connection with Stark Tower too, at some point. But he was always one to tempt fate and so had no qualms to ordering the required equipment from overseas instead of hashing out what he needed from what was left of his workshop. Besides, the only available place at the Avengers Headquarters was lacking in element-harnessing materials since it had more or less been converted to Bruce's permanent lab and home, and he definately wouldn't be the one to upset the stability and peace the troubled doctor had finally found. He'd put himself on a tight timeline that could either lead to the end or another last minute save and no one but Pepper knew about it. It was just his nature, flirting with death, and she knew it. And because she was always right, it meant no having parties, no Iron Man suits, no fun for Tony Stark. All the money in the world and he'd already started to go mad with boredom.

And then, two days ago, Steve had approached him with news that Thor had brought Loki back to earth, after his long stint in prison on Asgard. Placed into quarantine in the newly built SHIELD base the moment he took a step on their soil, the God of Mischief had been placed into a clear cell much like the one that had held him before, cut off completely from his brother. SHIELD was doing nothing less than tempting Loki into escaping, dangling a carrot Loki had, so far, refused to acknowledge, and the Avengers' once enemy had been quiet the first week of his stay, offering nothing, asking nothing, just staring intently at the cameras watching his every move. Upon hearing the news, a strange resolve had grown in his head, perhaps because of his impending death, perhaps because of his boredom, but it became an itch he couldn't ignore. A chance to bug the fallen trickster? The opportunity had been far too good for Tony to pass up.

Thus, here he was, waving a newspaper cheerfully at the God of Mischief himself, who looked over at him from the far corner, rather unimpressed.

"I suppose I should be more surprised than I am to see you, Stark," Loki said dryly. Tony stopped just short of two feet from the glass of his cage and he laughed as the god frowned. "Come to gloat, I suspect?"

"Well aren't you just a bundle of sunshine," he shook his head, still grinning. "Perhaps I just wanted to grace you with my pretty face."

"I shall try to withhold my excitement," Loki stated, rolling his eyes. The dry humor was refreshing and almost nostalgic to hear, and Tony couldn't help another laugh while he carefully settled on the walkway, back pressed to the railing. Loki's green eyes narrowed in suspicion as he got himself comfortable, jaw tense and clenched in irritation. Oh yes, this had definitely been a great fucking idea, sore muscles and bones notwithstanding. He'd just have to remember to bring a chair next time.

"You look pretty rough," Tony assessed, giving Loki a quick glance-over. He seemed thinner without all that flashy armor and paler too, his skin an almost unhealthy white, the color shocking against the modest green tunic he was wearing. His black hair fell in lank tendrils about his face and over his neck, dark circles under his eyes and in the shadows of his gaunt cheekbones. There was gray and purple bruising around his neck and wrists, hidden with an easy tilt of the head or movement of cloth. Everything about Loki seemed less than before, more contained, but somehow still wild and untamable. His very presence filled the entire glass cage like a looming fog, the air about him charged with magic and suppressed emotion. Tony clicked his tongue and opened the newspaper to hide his interest, trying not to look entertained. "How long has it been? Two years?"

"One year, three-hundred fifty-seven days, and this morning I presume, in regards to your calendar." Loki didn't miss a beat did he? Tony smirked into his paper, whistling loudly.

"And he counted the days. Aw, did you miss me that much?" He could see the outrage blooming red over Loki's face before he stubbornly turned away. It was a little strange that the bait hadn't been bitten immediately, considering it was Loki, but Tony let it slide, allowing the god to take his time. At least he didn't look like the walking dead anymore.

"Quite the contrary," Loki sighed after a moment, the ghost of a smile thin on his lips. "I so enjoyed not having to listen to your mindless chatter, I counted the days we were apart with utter delight."

A hint of wit was better than none. Tony winked at him before turning the page, shuffling it with as much noise he could muster. Loki's attention fixated onto the paper and he slowly wandered away from his corner, steps quiet and labored as though each stretch of his legs was an effort. He headed towards Tony until he stood an equal distance away from the glass between them, arms crossing over his chest while his eyes raked over the front page.

"You heard about your buddy Doom?" Tony asked him, stretching his neck to peer at the picture of Stark Tower and Hulk hanging out of one of the windows was featured, the shredded Von Doom in his fist. Loki scowled at the use of buddy but shrugged a shoulder in response, not caring.

"Victor was foolish enough to enrage the creature," Loki said simply, as though discussing the weather. "That it managed to bring about his end was inevitable."

Tony had expected as much. Loki could be a cold bastard if he wanted to, and clearly there was no sense of camaraderie between the god and villain. He returned to the paper, checking out the comic section with feigned concentration.

"Did my brother send you?" Loki asked him after a few moments, and when Tony turned to him, he was surprised to see the taller man laying on his back, legs bent upward, long fingers tapping mindless rhythms on his ribs, regarding the ceiling with a bored expression. So, Thor had managed to get back to brother status huh? Just what the hell had happened to them in Asgard?

From the angle he was in, Tony had a better view of the bruises smeared around Loki's throat. Perhaps he'd been forced to wear a collar and shackles? The thought was both oddly pleasing and unsettling all at once. Tony forced his eyes to Loki's face.

"No he didn't, though I'm sure he is sorry about, you know… getting you arrested and thrown in a cage," he pointed out, glancing about the cube. There was a small flap on the right side of the front panel that hadn't been there before. It looked like a mail slot. "He didn't think SHIELD would be so mean to you."

Loki actually scoffed at that, an airy sound that almost held a laugh. "Thor is naïve. He simply cannot fathom that others do not share his devotion and… faith, in me."

"Give the guy a break would you?" Tony huffed, shaking his head, trying to look condescending even as he grinned like an idiot when Loki slowly shifted to meet his gaze. "Not his fault he loves your unforgiving ass."

Loki didn't look like he had any way to respond to that, blinking rapidly as his brows furrowed. "…my backside has nothing to do-" then he paused, catching the meaning, and scowled at Tony when he snorted.

"Charming," Loki spat, determinedly staring back up at the ceiling.

"It's been known to happen," Tony smiled. He folded up the paper and tossed it aside, eyeing the other curiously. If Loki noticed his stare, he didn't acknowledge it, his eyes closing as his legs slid out, one by one, until he was fully spread out on the floor. A pained breath left him at the movement, but otherwise he remained still, lost in some place Tony couldn't see.

"…why are you here Stark?" Loki asked and his voice was low this time, tired and rough and grainy with ghosts. "Surely it was not to irritate me into speaking?"

"Why? Is it working?"

Loki's glare was hot enough to burn through his sweater, but Tony just smirked, glad to have hit a nerve. Irritating a god wasn't something one could do everyday, especially not a god who had caused so much trouble as this one.

"Stark," the other breathed, but there was no heat in it, just an exhaustion that told Tony he was quickly tiring of their conversation.

"Do I need a reason to see you?" Tony smoothed over, wrapping his arms around his knees. "How do you know I'm not here because I just want to be? Maybe I had nothing better to do. Maybe I wanted to see you. For no reason at all." Again, he had reduced Loki to silence. That had to be a new record or something. Emerald eyes dark with pain and something haunted soaked him in, gauging the truth of his statement, mulling over his words, sharp with contemplation. "Or maybe I really did just want to grace you with my pretty face. I mean come on… after two years, you gotta be deprived."

And finally a laugh. It was nothing more than a few sharp puffs of air, but the smile that accompanied the sound was lopsided and lit up Loki's face, if just for a moment. His eyes glinted in the white light, skin crinkling above his cheeks. It was the first glimpse of the old, eerily cheerful Loki he had been once, and Tony couldn't help but feel a little proud for bringing a bit of sunlight over the shadows of his skin.

"You are a strange one, Anthony Stark," Loki lauded, eyebrows quirking. "Will you ever change?"

"Nah," Tony stood, groaning loudly as he stretched his sore muscles, wincing when his bones screamed, dull pain exploding behind his eyes. Oh yes, a chair was a definite must for the next time, at least until his injuries healed. "You'd get bored."

With a smile, he gave the newspaper another good fold and slid it through the slot in the glass, giving a small salute before walking off.

"Until we meet again," he called in his best sing-song voice, waving over his shoulder. Loki didn't respond, but that was just fine.

There was always tomorrow.

"Would you mind telling me just what the hell that was in there?" Nick Fury was on him the moment the door groaned shut behind him, looking far too exhausted to be functioning so early.

"Oh, so you are awake." A quick glance at the wall showed it was almost five in the morning. Fury gave no answer but his dark eye was bright as he regarded Tony firmly, crowding him against the nearest wall.

"What?" Tony scoffed, blinking up. "Oh come on, really? It's a crime now to talk to someone?"

"It may be when that someone is Loki Laufeyson."

Tony frowned at that, rolling his eyes, and sidestepped Fury, making a beeline for the coffee machine against the opposite wall. "Hold onto your oversized pantyhose," he snarked, pouring himself a generous cup and drinking deep. "If it was really that big of a deal, then maybe your security guards should've done a better job of keeping me out." He offered a cup to Fury, but put it down as the other man scowled.

"What're you thinking Stark?"

"What am I thinking?" Tony regarded him, incredulous. "I come by to say hi to a caged super villain and suddenly I'm the one with a hidden agenda? You're the one who's all but forcing Loki to try to escape, just so you can have an excuse to exile him from earth forever. But go ahead. Tell me how I'm messed up for talking to the guy. Who knows? Maybe I can annoy him so bad he'd swear off - what do they call this? Midgard? - yeah. He'll swear off Midgard. And once again I'll be doing your job for you." Game. Set. Match.

Fury could only gape at him as he walked by, smugly taking a swig of his coffee. A furious retort was certainly on the tip of his tongue, his footsteps speeding to catch Tony, when a huge form beat him to the punch. Tony's cup went flying as a pair of crushingly strong arms enveloped him, lifting him clear off the ground and onto a bare chest. Raucous laughter reached his ears and then suddenly he was being spun, damp blonde hair whipping violently into his face.

"Thor! Thor - goddamnit… THOR!"

The thunder god only laughed harder, if that was possible, shaking Tony with the force of his mirth. He stopped spinning Tony at any rate, allowing him to gain his bearings, though breathing became difficult as Thor hugged him tightly, his body shrieking in response.

"Thor no. Bad Thor!" Tony gasped, desperate. God, it was just a little too early for this. Witty sorcerers, fine. He could handle that, no problem. Half naked, crazy thunder god warlords with baby brother complexes? No, just… no. Not without at least three drinks in him first, and that wasn't happening anytime soon. "Let Tony down. Tony wants down. Gently now, I'm delicate remember? Gently… good boy."

Thor set him down - dropped him more like, if his stinging feet were any indication - and gripped Tony's face in his large hands before he could stagger out of reach, his rough palms puckering his lips. He'd just showered by the look of him, his pants thrown on haphazardly and dangerously close to sliding off. Thor didn't seem to notice, staring down at Tony as though seeing him properly for the very first time.

"Tony Stark," he chuckled, delighted, blue eyes dancing. "How in all of Midgard did you do that?"

"How did I do what?" Tony forced out, starting to feel annoyed. He'd expected a backlash, but seriously, all he'd done was more or less pick a wit-fight with the most famous trickster on the planet and possibly the universe. All things considered, they should be questioning his stupidity and his sanity. Why was everyone starting to act like he'd performed some form of treason… or miracle?

"My brother… you made him talk," and Thor was laughing again, his whole face flashing like the sun. "Loki swore to ignore everyone until he was released, yet you, Man of Iron, not only did you get him to speak, you made him smile." So, Loki had resorted to the cold shoulder treatment on everyone huh? That's why Fury had been freaking out. What an entertaining thought. Thor pulled Tony in for another hug, scattering his thoughts, the thunder god chuckling and shaking with overwhelming happiness. Tony couldn't help but smile back, slapping Thor's shoulder awkwardly with his good hand, wincing as his injuries jolted.

"That's great big guy. Glad I could… help." It felt weird to say, since the whole visit with Loki had been entirely self-serving. And with the way Thor was looking at him like he was a god on earth made him feel like a right bastard. He glanced away, coughing into his sleeve as he was finally released and bent to retrieve his coffee cup.

"Ah, my apologies," Thor was quick to say, though with the size of that grin, he didn't look very sorry.

Tony surfed through his dressers at Headquarters, laughing in triumph when he came across two disks. He let them fall to the ground, nodding as they snapped easily into the shapes he'd expected. He grabbed his sweatshirt and slipped the disks inside the pockets, heading for bed until great inspiration struck and he hailed a limo back to Stark Tower.

He didn't get any sleep that night, but it was worth it.

"Good morning Starshine," Tony smirked as he approached the cage, box of donuts in hand, back pack slung over one shoulder. Loki slowly turned his head to acknowledge him from his spot splayed on the floor. He didn't look as though he'd moved at all, and Tony wouldn't be surprised if he hadn't. His gaze could freeze Hell but Tony just laughed at him, tilting his head when he was within a couple feet from the glass, setting down his bag. "The Earth says hello… oh, I suppose that would be Midgard huh?"

"What could you possibly want now?" Loki groaned, sighing in displeasure. "At such an unreasonable hour no less."

"It's only four you baby," Tony chuckled, wrestling with the box. He pulled out a chocolate bar donut and smiled wide. "No different from yesterday, so up and at 'em Loki. Breakfast time."

Loki eyed him like he had just slithered out of a tar pit. "I'll pass."

"No pass," Tony insisted, pressing the box to the glass. "No one says no to donuts."

"I believe I just did."

"I believe you're an ass, but that doesn't stop me from doing this." With an uncaring huff, he slid the box through the flap, smirking at the loud smack it made as it connected solidly with the floor. Loki winced at the sound, glaring at the offending object but not bothering to move to retrieve the sweet inside. Oh well, at least no one could say he didn't try to feed the captive god.

Stuffing the donut in his mouth, Tony grabbed one of the disks from his pocket and let it fall to the floor. It immediately sprang up into a small but sturdy chair and he grinned at Loki with his best, look-what-I-made-don't-be-jealous eyebrow tilt that made those sharp eyes roll. He fought the childish urge to stick his tongue out - an urge well avoided, since it would've pushed the donut out of his mouth - and slid the other disk through the flap where it too became a little seat.

"Midgard says hello so get your lazy ass up and greet the sun."

Tony settled into his chair, nodding appreciatively as he worked the donut around on his tongue. He matched Loki's gaze, leaning forward obnoxiously as he waited for Loki to get up. It took a few moments of Loki glaring at him before he seemed to realize Tony was not going to leave him be. With a pained sigh, the god eased himself upright, eyeing the chair and box with disdain. Just to irk him, Tony scooted his chair forward a bit, letting the feet scrape and screech against the floor. Then, on the final bite of his donut, he leaned back and stretched, crossing his ankles. The toes of his boots pressed against the cage.

"Oh yeah, that's the stuff," he murmured to himself, eyes closing in bliss as he settled down deeper into the seat. A much better option that the concrete floor. He could take a nap here, it felt so nice. He heard a soft snort and the scuffling noise of the chair being cautiously situated, and peeked through an eyelid to see Loki settling himself slowly on the seat, long legs bending easily towards the glass. His boots lined the sides of Tony's like a broken picture frame.

"For one so eager to greet the morning, you seem far more interested in sleep."

The haughty tone made Tony smile, and he opened his eyes, noting with a hint of pride that Loki was carefully prodding open the donut box, as though expecting a snake or other creature to pop out.

"Don't worry, I didn't let Fury booby-trap it or anything," he assured, hooking his hands behind his head. "And I haven't slept for over twenty-four hours, thank you very much." Loki's expression pinched just slightly, but he pulled the box open without another word and slid the round, glazed donut out, gazing at it intently.

"…what is it?" Loki asked him, tone serious.

"It's the 'o' in orgasm," Tony replied, just as serious. "Sugar heaven for your mouth." Loki didn't seem so sure about that so Tony winked at him, trying for his best seductive face. He spread his hands wide. "Trust me."

And Loki took a bite.

It was amazing really, how a kick of sugar could effect someone. It had surprised Loki, completely, and his eyes crinkled in shock, his mouth twitching. He didn't quite smile, but there was a genuine delight on his face that hadn't been there before as he ate the treat slowly, savoring every bite. Tony mentally gave himself a pat on the back. Frosted glaze donut. Unexpected success.

Not daring to ruin the priceless moment that was Loki drooling over a Krispy Kreme, Tony remained silent as possible, biting his lip to keep from laughing himself to the floor. Oh, if only he could see Thor and Fury's faces right now. They were probably spitting out popcorn in the viewing room at the sight. Snorting to himself, Tony waited as Loki sucked the last remains off his fingers, somehow making it seem elegant, before leaning forward to regard the god.

"Thor told me you'd decided to ignore everyone," Tony told him. "So why talk to me?"

Loki's lips twitched upward, something dark shining in his eyes. "Because unlike you, everyone else eventually gives up on the endeavor of getting under my skin. You however, will speak merely to hear your own voice. To not speak would be to subjugate myself to hours of your pointless babble. At least by responding I spare myself from poor conversation."

Tony's eyebrow rose at that and Loki sighed, shaking his head before Tony could go off on an ego-tangent. "We may have been enemies, but I have never doubted the expanse of your intelligence."

It was strangely touching, even though he knew it could've easily been a beautiful lie. This was the Liesmith after all. Still, Tony let his words dissolve between them and reached for his bag, grabbing the tome within. He'd spent all night searching for this book in his library, and it'd been hidden within a long forgotten corner. He smirked at the prospect of reading aloud to the unknowing God of Mischief.

"Do you recognize this?" he held up the large book, catching Loki's attention. His eyes racked over the cover, hungry intelligence and curiosity lifting the dark emerald to a far sharper hue. "The Poetic Edda?"

"These words are known to me," Loki admitted slowly, eyebrows furrowed. "But I cannot place this title."

Tony smiled wide in victory. Oh, this was going to be fun.

"This, my fine fellow, is the story of you and your brother as told by my people's ancestors." Loki's look of surprise didn't last long when he realized just what was about to happen, a dark scowl casting harsh shadows over his face as Tony thumbed through the pages, trying to find the perfect story to start with.

"So you wish to hear yourself speak after all," Loki hissed, voice flat and hitting that low pitch Tony had heard the night before. "If you'd merely wanted a chance to elevate yourself, you needn't seek out my company."

"Oh c'mon Loki," Tony rolled his eyes. "Stop being an overdramatic bastard. As much as I love my voice, I figured you had to be curious to see just what us Midgardians view the great God of Mischief as. But hey," he changed tactics, immediately pulling the book open fully on his lap, propping it up in his hands, "if you aren't interested, I can just sit here and read it to myself. Who knows, maybe I'll find something that Thor would enjoy."

Something dangerous flashed over Loki's face, a shadow as quick as a bird flying overhead, and Tony was almost sure he'd imagined it, but then Loki's chair was screeching as he scooted up an inch, gaze flaring hot. There was no denying the interest gleaming deep inside, and Tony bit the inside of his cheek to keep from sniggering.

"Read to me then Stark, if it so pleases you."

And so, with a faint smile, Tony started.

He read through the various myths of Old Norse gods, secretly eyeing Loki over the top of the book to catch any reactions the god made. Though it was gratifying to see Loki smiling bemusedly at some of the stories, Tony watched because he wanted to know which myths were actually real, which stories were part of the history Loki had desperately tried to bury. He knew that direct questions would either be ignored, shot down, or negotiated with his own personal secrets, but in this book, with the very legends of the brothers laid out, it was far easier to discover which tales were truth and which were truly fable by watching the changes that came over Loki's face.

Loki only gave a few secret stories away, one because he could not stop the smile from forming as Tony read him Þrymskviða. Tony himself had barely been able to read at all through his snickers as he read about Thor being dressed as the goddess Freyja to retrieve his stolen hammer from the Jotun Þrymr, Loki himself dressing as her handmaid. Loki had been far more effective in his disguise, and had been forced to cover for Thor because the thunder god, hands down, just made the worst woman ever.

"Are you serious?" Tony snorted, glancing at the nearest camera after he read about Loki saving Thor's ass by making excuse after excuse to cover Thor's awful lady manners, and just lost it imagining what Thor's face had to look like right then as he was, no doubt, listening in. Loki himself looked far more amused than Tony had seen on this new Loki, a glimmer of the old fun-loving, slightly manic, true God of Mischief shining through.

"I'm afraid so," was all Loki managed to get out between Tony's loud peals of laughter.

"Oh dear god, I'm never letting him live this down."

"I should pray not."

The humor turned cold once Tony turned back a few pages, stumbling upon the ending of the Lokasenna. The tension was palpable as he read about Loki's insults to the other gods, the long lists of offensives he'd racked up before Thor had been forced to intervene, chaining him to a rock while a great serpent coiled overhead, it's poison oozing and dripping down over Loki's chest, burning him like white-hot fire. Loki's silence made Tony watch him carefully, looking for any giveaway, for any twitch or glance that would prove this story was true. His gut was twisting as he studied Loki's face, but the god gave away nothing, not moving, just staring, soaking up his words.

The god's jaw was clenched tightly, hard enough his teeth had to be in agony. Every swallow was a flash of white moving on a pale throat, and if Tony looked hard enough, he could see the ghosts in Loki's eyes. His stomach dropped with the realization.

God, Thor had…

Not to say Loki didn't deserve it, because his crimes in this world had been ruthless and for the jugular each time, but being burned by poison for nearly two years under the orders of his own brother and father…

With shaking fingers, he turned the page, telling himself to forget it. He had his own demons he needed to exorcise. He was no stranger to betrayal on that personal level. He knew personally what it felt like to swallow his own emotions and bury his heart. He had no right to point fingers or judge anyone, and quickly found a more brotherly story that lifted the atmosphere out of the trench it had gotten into to a more bittersweet one. When Tony had finally exhausted himself, and he stood to go, something unspoken in Loki's face had given him pause, and he slid the book through the flap in the glass.

"To keep you entertained," he said simply, when Loki gazed at him, a strange, intense fire in his eyes, as he stood to cradle the book in his hands, his fingers tracing every curve of it. "You'll need something to fill the silence until tomorrow. I know it's a poor substitute for me, but beggars cant be choosers."

Then he'd packed up, and with a final wave and a promise of more donuts tomorrow, Tony turned heel and left. Loki gave no response, lost in the cover of a book with his stories, secrets graciously returned without a word. What felt like Loki's magic shadowed his every step, sweeping around his ankles. No one came to harass him as he left the cell block and only silence followed him home.

That afternoon he found himself in Bruce's lab, pouring over recipes while the chemist readied his instruments. Tony wasn't sure what he was doing, but thanks to the destruction of his lab, Bruce didn't even think to ask. It took all day to complete and all night for Tony to find the perfect container. Why it all started to matter so much, he couldn't even begin to guess. But somehow it was important all the same.

The prospect of death felt different this time.

This time, he wasn't alone.

End of Part One.

To be Continued…