Nick Fury arrives with Natasha Romanov at the wheel. The Black Widow drives like she fights - sharp angles and economical movements - and Tony Stark winces at the shrill screech of brakes and tires as the car stops precisely at the front door.

"Stark. They are inside?" That is less of a question than a statement, and Tony glares at Fury through his sunglasses.

"Yes," he bites off, and adds, "Why can't we do this like civilized people? At, say, three in the afternoon instead of bright-and-too-fucking-early eight in the morning?"

Fury casts a cool assessing look at the inventor. "We've been up since five a.m. for debriefings and sparring practice."

"I slept at five," grunts Tony. Still cradling his coffee, Tony waves Fury into the house. "Thor is out back with my girlfriend, trying out taichi or yoga or some shit. Pepper's got him hooked with talk about greater flexibility and balance."

"And Loki?"

Tony grunts again. "Watching Thor, of course. They're hardly separate from each other for more than an hour, and anyway Loki just wants to watch Thor get sweaty." He turns his attention to Natasha. "And you look as lovely as ever in that suit. I was devastated when you didn't come with Pepper last week. Busy with birdwatching duties?"

Natasha levels a death-glare at Tony, and knows that the glare bounces off Tony's ego with nary a scratch. She never stops trying though, bless her super-spy heart.

Fury ignores the two and strides to the back of the house as if he owns it, and Tony knows that Natasha must have given the schematics of the building to Fury because the director navigates the corridors successfully until he comes to the wide patio doors.

It is a surreal scene. Thor is mimicking Pepper's motions as she leads, arms pushing and then circling back towards herself, and there is a fine sheen of perspiration over Thor. Loki is seated off to the side of the back porch, clad only in a thin T-shirt and cotton pajama pants, and sipping from a Japanese teacup. The God of Mischief and Discord glances over when he detects the newcomers, but he does not say a word. His attention is focused only on Thor, and that focus will have been unnerving for anyone else. Yet Thor is either oblivious to it or he is basking in it.

Tony will put good money on the God of Thunder basking in the admiration.

"It's creepy," he confesses in a low aside to Fury and Natasha. The two operatives don't even look at him, but a subtle shift in their stance indicate that they are paying attention. "I mean, first the big blond tells us they are brothers, and when I found them they were going at it like rabbits. For days. And now whenever they think no one is watching they're all touchy-feely. Like hormonal teens in lust."

Natasha cracks a small smile. "It must have been very frustrating for you."

"Don't even begin. I swear, I hear one more moan out of Loki-"

"-you will manfully pretend that you didn't and go back to whatever you were doing," Fury finishes, before throwing him a Look. "I can't afford to have people guarding an irate god, and you seem to have the situation well under control."

"I am definitely not under his control," says Loki suddenly, and he slides out of his sitting position with feline grace. Tony has to avert his eyes when he realizes that the shirt and pants are obscenely thin and Loki has no underwearn (No, Tony did NOT just observe that Loki has no underwear. He has to keep telling himself that.) Loki saunters forward and cocks his head. "This is such a beautiful morning. Would either of you like some tea?"

They are now sitting in a small room on the second floor. 'They' being Loki, Nick Fury and Natasha; Thor and Pepper are having breakfast downstairs and Tony is outside the door, determinedly not listening in. He is instead listening to his music player on his cell phone, and he can't be blamed if Jarvis just happened to synch the sound to the recording of the conversation inside the room.

Loki smirks and crosses his arms. "Ask away."

"You are here of your own volition?" Fury begins.

"No. I fell through the realms again and this time we landed here. I didn't know I was on Earth until Stark came to offer his hospitality."

"You have all your powers?"

Loki shrugs. "As far as I know. Odin didn't seal them away when I was on Asgard, but if he did within the past few days I didn't feel it."

Fury narrows his eye and leans forward. His fingers link together and there is a faint smile on his face. "The last time I heard, you were Thor's brother. Incest is a thing among gods now?"

"I am not his brother," hisses Loki.

"Adopted, he said. Still kind of... what's the word now?" Fury snaps his fingers. "Icky."

Loki scoffs. "You try telling Thor not to do what he wants. And besides, who else do I have, Director Fury? I'm not exactly the kind who gathers thousands of lovestruck fans, throwing themselves at my feet for me to ravish."

Fury decides to never tell Loki about the Loki supporters, those who see him as a means to come out of the oppression of the rich and obnoxious, nor to inform him of the many despots and terrorists eager to make his acquaintance "to bring down the infidel USA".

As if he can read Fury's thoughts, Loki smirks and sits back in his chair. "Tony Stark will not be able to keep me here. If you want to set a jailer on me, you better well talk to Thor. However, director... a word to the wise."

Fury makes no expression.

"If I truly did wish to rain destruction on your realm again, you will not know that I have made my move until you are staring at pure, unbridled chaos. So don't push me, Fury, because I have very little left to lose - and a lot to gain."

Thor breathes in and sighs with a pleased noise. "That was an invigorating session, Lady Virginia. I am honored by your instruction."

Pepper laughs. "Just Pepper will do, Thor. You've really picked up the skills very fast - Tony can't even complete one rep without complaining of his sore back or legs!"

"I heard that," Tony calls down from the second storey and he jogs down. Snagging a pancake from Pepper's plate, he explains, "I'm not very flexible."

"If flexibility is an issue, then I'm sure Loki can do all the exercises with no problem," says Thor blithely. "He can bend and twist his body in remarkable ways. I'm quite astounded by how much he can stretch sometimes."

Tony almost chokes on Pepper's cup of coffee, but Pepper herself remains composed. She asks, "How long have you two been... the two of you?"

"I do not understand," Thor rumbles.

"Together," Tony clarifies. "As, uh... lovers."

"Since the day we fell on your land, Stark," answers Thor honestly. His face is shadowed for a moment; a crease appears between his brows. "Our love is yet young, and I have yet to court him properly."

Pepper rubs the tip of her nose and glances at Tony, who raises his eyebrows. She rolls her eyes at him affectionately and begins, "Thor, I don't know if, um. You are sleeping with Loki, right?"

"I have been making love to him, yes. And he is a most wondrously responsive lover." Thor grins and drinks his orange juice happily.

Now both Pepper and Tony choke. Pepper recovers first and continues, "But most people assume you are brothers."

"We are not siblings."

"Raised as brothers."

"Yes, we were," says Thor, and there is - yes - a thunderous expression building, but it is not directed at Pepper. The blond god shakes his head. "It would not be unaccepted in Asgard, for we are not blood kin, but Loki's recent actions have made him anathema to my people, and they will never accept him as a consort."

Tony clears his throat. "I think you might want to go with less... publicity about your relationship with him, should people find out that you've returned to Earth."


"Um, announcing your love for him would be bad," said Tony quietly. He inhales deeply and says, "Most of us don't trust him. Kind of hard to trust him, since he did claim that he wants to grind all of us under his boot heel, and I know for a fact that he still has magical powers. I'm not feeling calm and safe with that knowledge, Thor."

Thor remains silent, and then he pushes up from the table. His face is grim.

"Loki is my responsibility," he says at last. "I will keep him from doing harm. But to trust me is to trust him - you cannot shelter one and deny succor to the other. We two have been, as Lady Pepper puts it, the two of us, ever since I chose him over my realm, and before that, when we were young, he was the only person I placed as being more important than my own pride and power. And I do understand your reservations, Stark, so I do not begrudge you that and I thank you immensely for allowing us to stay with you. I will not announce my relationship with him to the world, but for those who know us, I see no reason to hide it."

Pepper bites her lower lip. Thor has a sincerity and depth of trust in Loki that she has never seen in anyone before, not even between Tony and Rhodes, and those two are pretty darn close to being blood brothers. If Thor is a prince of Asgard, wherever that is, then by coming to Earth he has effectively given up claim to his rightful throne.

"Won't your father come and get you back?" asks Tony. "Odin, you know, big guy in the sky?"

"He might," replies Thor. His bright blue eyes seem to darken. "But I will not return without Loki, and Loki has no wish to return."

"That's kinda selfish of him-" Tony comments, and is pushed against the wall of the kitchen roughly.

"What would you know of it?" Thor snaps suddenly. His growl is deep and menacing, and Pepper actually feels herself quake. The clouds amass outside; the lawn, so bright a moment earlier, is now cast in shadow. "Loki has nothing left, no one left to him. He has no family that wants him. He has magic, yes, but he is also cursed with Father's spell. He has no place to go. I am here because I need him to know that he has me. He still has me, and even if all of the nine realms discard him and reject him, I will still want him. Do not call him selfish, Man of Iron. His self is all he has that is purely his. And if I am to make sure he does not lash out in loneliness and anger, then I will stay here until Ragnarok comes upon us, and even then I shall not abandon him."

Tony is released and the God of Thunder takes a few deep breaths. The clouds clear harmlessly. Pepper finds herself gripping her coffee mug and gently disengages her fingers.

"Thor? Where are you?"

"Loki, I am in the dining hall," Thor calls out.

Loki emerges and sidles up to the taller male. Fury and Natasha follow behind and turn down the coffee and pancakes Pepper has made. The two Norse gods exchange gazes, and Tony knows he is not the only one who sees how Thor slides his beefy arm around Loki's waist to keep him close.

There is a moment of tense silence. Then Loki smirks at all of them except Thor, and says, "For all your bravado, Fury, you must know this: if you thought fighting me alone is tough... imagine fighting the both of us together."

Thor's jaw tightens and he studies Loki, before he looks at the humans. He says, "I will stand with him."