A Good Man

After watching The Avengers, I found myself thinking that Loki and the Avengers actually all have quite a lot in common. They're all from broken homes and they all have issues. So this story was basically intended as a kind of 'what if.' I love Loki as a villain, but all he's ever wanted is to be accepted, and although the Avengers beat him, I think over time, they could actually learn to live with each other. So this is just my idea of what the beginnings of that dysfunctional relationship might look like.

Also, I really dislike Justin Hammer from Iron Man 2. The character is just...well, irritating, and nearly killed Tony. Who is one of my favourite characters. So I also wanted to see Loki messing with him a little bit.

I've tried to make the Americans sound American, but sorry if I've gotten anything wrong... and this is only the second thing I've ever written! Please go easy on me. Comments, reviews, constructive criticism welcomed.

As much as I wish otherwise, the characters belong to Marvel. I own nothing.

"I just don't think it's a good idea, Tony!" Pepper Potts called after her boyfriend / boss, as he wandered through the hallways of his enormous Californian cliff-top house, picking neatly arranged ornaments at random, studying them and then discarding them, leaving a messy trail behind him. "Remember what happened at your last birthday party!"

Tony, seemingly completely oblivious to what she was saying, picked up a strangely carved ornate paperweight from a hallway table and turned around. "Did you choose this, or did I?"

Pepper rubbed her forehead with the back of her hand exasperatedly. "You did."

Tony glanced from her face back to the object in his hand. "Wow. I must have been really drunk." He replaced it on the table and kept walking.

"Tony!" Pepper yelled after him, hurrying to keep up. "Last time you had a birthday party, you ended up getting drunk, peeing in the Iron Man suit, smashing stuff, scaring everyone away and then having a fight with Rhodey! And that was WITHOUT all of the Avengers being there to cause extra trouble!"

Tony turned, taking her hand in both of his.

"But Pepper, last time I was dying-"

"Which you didn't tell me-"

"Because I didn't want you to worry-"

"And a great job you did of that-"

"BUT, I'm not dying now. I've never felt better. Therefore I promise not to smash things, break anything, get too drunk, beat Rhodey's ass-"

"Didn't he beat YOUR ass?"

"I let him. I didn't want to hurt my buddy."


"C'mon, Pep, it'll be fun. I promise. Please? I hate those tiny 'go out for a meal' birthdays. They're boring. We all went out for Schwarma after the whole New York battle thing, and no one even talked. There's gotta be music, partying, loads of people and more alcohol than is sensible. If someone's not dancing like an old drunk man at a wedding, then it's not a party."

Pepper sighed in resignation. "Ok, fine, I see your point. I still think inviting two hundred people AND a highly strung team of assassins, supersoldiers, the Hulk and a God, is a bad idea. But it's your party."

Tony grinned at her. "It's OUR party, Pepper. You wait. It'll be great."

Pepper smiled back, automatically relaxing slightly. Tony's confidence was infectious.

"Whatever you say. Ok, fine. It'll be great. I believe you."

Tony beamed, pulling her into a massive hug. "Thank you, Miss Potts."

"One thing," she gasped, unable to breathe. He let go.


"If you're planning on drinking, the Iron Man suit stays locked in the workshop and does NOT make an appearance. Before you pee in it. Or nearly kill everyone again."

Tony pouted. "Fine."

"Don't look at me like that."

"…Are the puppy eyes not working?"

"Not on this occasion."

"Crap. I'm out of practice."

Later that day, Tony put on the Iron Man suit and flew to the Avengers Tower in New York, where the rest of the team now lived. Landing on the specially modified balcony, he began walking forwards down the stairs as mechanical arms removed pieces of his armor individually. Descending the staircase that circled round behind the bar, he observed the rest of the team. Thor and Steve were receiving a lesson on post 1945-music, culture and world events from Banner and Hawkeye. Banner was looking increasingly tetchy at Hawkeye's interjections, and Tony made a mental note to get Hawkeye to shut up before the giant green rage machine made an appearance and threw the archer out of the window. Natasha, who was lounging on the sofa cleaning her gun, spotted him and waved at him lazily, alerting the others to his presence. Thor waved at him excitedly, his childish enthusiasm a strange juxtaposition to his enormous bulk. Steve also waved cheerfully, having been introduced to music from the latter half of the century by Hawkeye. The supersoldier had discovered a liking for David Bowie and was humming under his breath, gently drumming the beat to 'Golden Years' on the desk. The final figure in the room was more reserved in his greeting. Loki was standing by the windows on the other side of the room as Tony descended the stairs. The dark-haired God gave him a slight nod of acknowledgement, moving a few steps further forward into the centre of the room. Tony had a sudden flashback to the last time the two of them had stood in those positions, him on the stairs, Loki in the centre of the room. Tony had 'threatened' Loki. Then Loki had seized him by the throat and thrown him out of a window. The image flashed into the front of Tony's mind and looking at Loki, he was certain that the God was remembering as well, due to his wide-eyed, valiant but futile efforts to look innocent. Tony sniffed reproachfully, glaring, and turned away to address the rest of the group.

"Right, guys, pack your crap, you're all coming to California. The party's happening the day after tomorrow at my house. Grab something nice to wear, then grab something else nice to wear for when you get so drunk you throw up on yourself. Bruce, leave the research here, Clint, Natasha, no weapons and no killing people, Thor, no bar fights, Steve, no calling people 'dames', and…"

He turned to Loki, not having thought through what to do with him.

The God just stared back quietly, a faint spark of amusement in his eyes.

Thor spoke from behind Tony.

"If I am invited to your party, Loki will have to come as well. He is my responsibility. And he knows what will happen should he cause any trouble – a return to a cell in Asgard and a much harsher punishment than he would get here. I am sure that if he remains supervised at all times, he will not be a danger to anyone there."

Tony turned to Thor, yelping. "I can't have him there! You know how many people he's killed! He's insane!"

A quiet voice came from behind the billionaire.

"If you take into account how many people your weapons killed over the years before you had your little epiphany and stopped producing them, I doubt I even come close. You killed thousands, maybe millions. And you weren't insane at the time, you knew exactly what you were doing, did you not?"

Loki smiled at the uncomfortable expression of guilt on the man's face. Since he wasn't meant to use much magic anymore, he could really only rely on his words to manipulate people. Despite himself, Loki did want to go to Stark's party. He'd been cooped up inside Avengers Tower for a few months now, and venturing too close to the windows or doors triggered an electric shock from the bracelets Stark had provided him with. He hadn't had a change of scenery for months, he was unbelievably bored, and had grown tired of Tony, Natasha and Hawkeye cheerfully referring to him as 'the pet parrot.'

Tony's face had fallen at Loki's harsh words and Loki could see the guilt trip working. He was certain that the billionaire would give in and let him come. He carefully kept his face blank and ignored Thor's disapproving expression.

Tony sighed deeply. "Fine. Fine. Loki can come as well. But any trouble, any at all, and I will have JARVIS zap you with so many volts that even your greasy hair will stand on end."

Loki grinned, inclining his head in thanks, ignoring Tony's jibe. He knew it was in retaliation to the earlier guilt trip, and anyway, he knew his hair wasn't greasy. To be honest, he was so desperate to get out of the tower that Tony could have said anything to him at that moment, as long as he still let him come.

Tony turned away. "Ok, guys, do what you need to do. Jet leaves at 19:00 hours on Saturday, I'll send a car for you all. See you in California. Dress nice."

Two days later

Steve looked out of the window of the car in amazement as they drove up the hill on the approach to Tony's house. He'd been expecting to be impressed by the scale of it, but this exceeded expectations. The elegant, enormous design of the house was perched on the top of a cliff, simultaneously looking at home there and looking like it might pitch into the ocean at any time. Banner's mouth was also open, his eyebrows raised. Having spent so long living away from major cities and spending time as a GP in third world countries, Tony's house seemed even more impressive. Hawkeye was scanning the house for potential weak security areas and spots that would be good for sniping. It was something he did with all new buildings. It was a hobby. Natasha wasn't even paying attention, having been there before. Thor seemed slightly impressed, but the house was still tiny compared to most of the structures in Asgard. He turned his head to articulate this thought to the man that, despite everything, he still viewed as his little brother, who was squashed between his enormous bulk and the window, but before he could say anything, his face had split into a huge grin, rendering him incapable of speech. Loki, completely abandoning his usual dignified, composed and regal exterior, had rolled down the window and had stuck his head out like a Labrador puppy, enjoying the breeze on his face for the first time in months. His long hair was rippling around his face and sticking up all over the place, a dramatic contrast to its normal shiny slicked-back style. Wordlessly, Thor nudged the rest of the Avengers to alert them to the sight, his finger on his lips. They turned silently, each of them breaking into a grin at the sight of Loki behaving so far out of character. Hawkeye snapped a picture on his phone to show to Tony, who had flown home two days before in the Iron Man suit to prepare the house for the party, leaving the rest of them to follow in the jet. All of the Avengers' faces were oddly friendly, considering who they were looking at. As much as they distrusted Loki, seeing him now…he wasn't the megalomaniac who had tried to kill them all and destroy a city. He looked almost innocent, childlike, and just so euphoric to be out of the tower in New York that he was actually laughing. Not the malicious, low chuckle that they'd heard so often, but more of a childish, manic chortle. The team looked at each other, amazed, as the car took a sharp bend, and the increased g-force sent Loki flying into Thor's shoulder, his hair messy and flopping all over his face, still giggling. He clambered back up and stuck his face back out of the window.

"Hey, Thor?" Asked Hawkeye quietly.


"If he's like this now, what the hell is he like when he's drunk?"

Thor considered, grinning, as a happy sound of 'ehehehehehe' issued from the window.

It had been years since his brother had sounded this happy. He hadn't realised quite how much he'd missed that laughter.


Tony was sitting in his living room, calmly playing the riff to 'Thunderstruck' by AC/DC on the grand piano, as he waited for the rest of the Avengers to filter down from where they were getting ready upstairs. Pepper, as always, had been a paragon of efficiency, and the whole ground floor of the house looked incredible. The floors and ceilings glowed soft shades of blue and red, blending to throw deep purple shadows in the corners of the room. The most valuable items (although everything was ridiculously valuable in Tony's house) had been locked downstairs in the workshop for safety, and the Iron Man suit was also locked away, with the warning that if Tony put it on for any reason other than an emergency, Pepper would go on holiday for a week, leaving him to fend for himself. There was also enough alcohol in the house to knock out a blue whale, as well as vast quantities of food. Tony argued that this amount was necessary, as they were catering for one hundred and fifty people, who would eat and drink half of this, and Thor, who would probably eat the other half. And if the Hulk made an appearance, they could try using several hundred mini-pizzas to calm him down. If that failed, they could try knocking him out with buckets of vodka martinis. This didn't fill Pepper with confidence.

Natasha and Hawkeye were the first to come downstairs, the archer in a pale grey two-piece suit and light blue shirt, the Russian assassin in a dark red dress that was nearly the same shade as her hair. Both looked very different than they usually did, but utterly comfortable nonetheless. Tony absent-mindedly realised that the reason they looked so comfortable was that they probably had to dress up for formal functions frequently, so that they could infiltrate exclusive events and assassinate important people.

Hopefully that wouldn't happen tonight.

He quietly wandered over to a wall speaker, as the two assassins meandered over to the bar, Natasha grabbing several bottles and mixing herself a white Russian, Hawkeye beginning with a bottle of coke. Tony spoke into the microphone on the wall under his breath so that the assassins wouldn't hear him.

"JARVIS, scan those two and check them for weapons."

The AI system was silent for a few seconds before replying. "Sir, Mr. Barton has a small-calibre pistol concealed in the lining of his jacket and a switchblade in his left trouser pocket. Miss Romanoff has two knives , one strapped to her leg, one at the small of her back."

Tony sighed before launching himself across the room to confiscate the weapons. "You're not here to kill people! This is not a mission! This is MY BIRTHDAY PARTY. Hand them over."

"Hand what over?" Both assassins chorused simultaneously, innocent looks on their faces.

"You know very well what. The knives and the gun. Gimme."

Hawkeye reluctantly handed his over. Natasha didn't move until Pepper walked in, saw her and gave her a suspicious look. Remembering that she had been a large part of the reason why Tony's last party had ended in half the house being smashed, the assassin looked uncharacteristically sheepish and removed the two knives, passing them to Tony before turning away from Pepper's glare and returning to her drink.

Steve was the next to come downstairs, fiddling awkwardly with the cufflinks on a smart black suit.

"Looking sharp, Capsicle," called Tony, wandering over to the captain to help him with the cufflinks. "You look a little uncomfortable, though. Surely the suit must chafe less than the sparkly tights?"

Steve gazed at him reproachfully. "I've kinda gotten used to the tights."

Tony chuckled as Bruce hesitantly walked down the stairs and, like Hawkeye and Natasha, made a beeline straight for the bar, hoping that drinking would relax him and minimize the chance of the Hulk making an appearance. He hated parties. He hated anywhere where there were large crowds and potentially a lot of people to hurt. If this hadn't been Tony's party, one of Bruce's only real friends who not only knew and accepted what he was, but thought it was downright cool and didn't treat it like some kind of disease, he wouldn't have showed up. The scientist looked much the same as always, black trousers and a dark purple shirt, but to be fair to him, they were slightly more expensive versions of the ones he normally wore. Tony recognized the effort that had been made, and knowing that his friend was dreading having to spend time in a room with a hundred and fifty other people, he clapped his friend on the back reassuringly. Bruce gave him a weak smile as the final two members of the group clattered down the stairs. The rest of the Avengers glanced up and stared. Loki looked the same as he always did, still in his green, black and gold Asgardian armor. However, Thor was wearing a grey suit and a dark red shirt. His hair was tied back off his face. It was clear that he was feeling slightly uncomfortable, but had made the valiant effort to dress like a Midgardian in honour of the occasion.

"Whoa!" Tony cried, walking towards the two Gods with a huge grin plastered on his face. "Looking good there, buddy. It's kinda weird though, seeing you without your armor on…" He slapped Thor on the shoulder cheerfully, then sighed at what he'd felt. "Dude, you're not meant to wear armor under the suit. No one's gonna attack you here."

"He was feeling uncomfortable without the armour. Actually, he was getting rather paranoid that someone would try and stab him as soon as he removed it," Loki interjected smoothly. "So I enchanted the suit to make it slightly bigger so that armour could fit underneath it, whilst not looking bulky or getting crumpled."

"That's handy," Tony replied. "Do you do dry-cleaning as well?"

Loki raised an eyebrow at him, refusing to answer such a ridiculous question.

"Well, whatever works for you, big guy," Tony continued, now talking to Thor. "I'm warning you though, you're gonna overheat when the dancing starts."

Thor's brow creased. He hadn't considered that. He walked over to the bar for a drink, rummaging through various fridges and coolers, then yelping in delight as he discovered a crate containing various brands of ale and mead that Tony had thoughtfully shipped over all the way from England, in order to make the two Asgardians feel more at home.

Tony turned back to Loki. "So, you not changing your clothes, then? You realize you're gonna be the only attendee at this thing looking like he just escaped from a Renaissance Fair?"

Loki smiled at him smugly as his clothing rippled with a golden light, morphing into a white shirt, black tie, black trousers and black knee length jacket, a finely woven green and gold scarf draped around his neck. To be precise, the outfit he had worn in Stuttgart all those months ago. He'd gotten rather fond of it.

Tony whistled appreciatively. "Neat trick."

Loki inclined his head in thanks, still smiling smugly.

"Nice suit."

The smile turned into a grin.

"You look a hell of a lot more cheerful than you have done for the last few months."

The God shrugged. "It's nice to be out of that tower. I was going insane."

"Let's face facts, man. You were already insane."

Loki sighed. He couldn't be bothered to start an argument right now.

"More insane, then. And bored. So, so incredibly bored."

"You just sat there most of the time. You could have played ping-pong or something. Or watched TV."

"No one would play me at ping pong. I could have created a duplicate of myself to play against, but Thor told me I'm not allowed to do that. And I did watch the television. I enjoyed it for a while, then accidentally watched 10 minutes of something called 'Jersey Shore' and that put me off it completely. If there was ever a reason that you should have just let me take over the world, that programme is it."

Tony hesitated, considering. Then he nodded slowly. "You may have a point there."

It was strange. He was finding that he minded the dark-haired God's company less and less. Whereas before, all of the Avengers had seen him as being a purely evil, murderous, insane, megalomaniacal agent of chaos, after spending so much time with him, they had collectively begin to see different sides to him, especially after seeing the video of him sticking his head out of the car window earlier that afternoon. They were still wary of him, but he actually sometimes made them laugh. For example, a few weeks beforehand, after Banner had complained that the weather was too hot and it was making him irritable, Loki had reverted to his natural Jotunn form and made it snow inside the Avengers tower. Although the blue skin and red eyes had initially freaked everyone out and caused Natasha to point a gun at him, the three hour long snowball fight that followed was so enjoyable that she apologized. Nick Fury had walked through the door that afternoon to check on the team and had been greeted with the sight of Thor tobogganing down the curved staircase on Steve's shield, Steve making a snowman (that was wearing Loki's horned helmet and had snooker cues for arms) on top of the bar, the two assassins lying on the floor making snow angels, and Bruce and Tony both buried up to the armpits in a pile of snow, holding sketchpads and designing a snowball cannon, cackling gleefully. A certain blue-skinned, red- eyed, smaller-than-average Frost Giant was sitting at the top of the stairs, legs hanging over the edge, arms outstretched, making the snowflakes chase each other in a choreographed blizzard.

"The Avengers. Earth's mightiest heroes. Defenders of the planet." Fury had said loudly, arms folded, looking at the scene before him. "God help us all."

He had then noticed the Jotunn at the top of the stairs. "Hey! What the hell is Loki doing without his shackles and gag on? The rules were – "

He was abruptly silenced as Tony nailed him in the eye with a well-placed snowball. Everyone in the room had collapsed laughing. Thor had laughed so hard that he fell off the stairs, landing in a snowdrift. Even better, the whole event was caught on CCTV by JARVIS. Tony watched the footage at least once a week.

A few weeks after that, Hawkeye had wanted to make target practice in the Avengers tower more interesting. Loki, who was incredibly bored, had actually bent beams of sunlight, trapping the dancing specks of dust within them so that the light seemed solid. He had then shaped these sunbeams into grinning Chitauri faces and sent them hurtling all over the room. After gawping at the beautiful display of magic for a while, Hawkeye had shot each one directly through the eye socket, at which they exploded into showers of golden dust. The archer had grinned at the god, momentarily forgetting his antipathy towards him, and despite initially being surprised by Hawkeye's uncharacteristic lack of a scowl, Loki had hesitantly smiled back. A loud round of applause from the rest of the Avengers at the quality of shooting and sorcery had issued from behind them, making both men jump.

Loki was so desperate not to return to Asgard, where the punishment for his crimes would be harsher, that on Earth, he wasn't behaving too badly. He was still mischievous, but no longer malicious, or so it seemed. Loki's reason for trying to take over the world in the first place was that he wanted some respect, some admiration, after living in Thor's shadow for his entire life. And whether they realised it or not, the Avengers were slowly beginning to trust Loki a little more, and whether Loki realised or not, he was beginning to feel like he was accepted for what he was. It almost felt like, for the first time in his life, he had friends.

Even if they were friends that he'd tried to kill.

And had then defeated him and held him prisoner.

All things considered, though, things could be worse. It might be a dysfunctional relationship that the members of the group shared, but then again, none of those members had ever really known any other kind.


One hour later, and most of the guests had arrived. The majority of these people were either rich, famous and important, or just incredibly good looking. The more good looking people arrived, the faster Bruce would down his drinks, looking increasingly nervous. Natasha walked past him, making a 'take deep breaths' gesture. She glanced over at the dancefloor, where a slightly tipsy Hawkeye was with Steve, attempting to teach him the electric slide.

"Dancing wasn't this complicated in the 40s…" Steve muttered.

"Times change, man. You said you'd always wanted to learn to dance."

"With Peggy Carter, maybe. Dancing with you wasn't what I had in mind."

"Aw, come on. Words hurt. Be nice. Now move forwards with your left foot." He sighed. "Your other left, Steve."

Tony and Pepper stood at one side of the room, looking out at everyone having a good time. Tony pulled Pepper in to his side, kissing her on the forehead. "I told you it'd be great. With you putting it all together, how could it be anything else? Thanks for my party, Pep."

She smiled. "You're welcome, Tony. But I wouldn't thank me yet. Wait to see how Thor acts once he gets drunk first."

"Nah, he'll be fine. He'll probably just challenge someone to an arm-wrestle, get the munchies, hunt down a box of poptarts and then start hugging everyone…."

Tony tailed off as he spotted someone in the crowd. Someone he absolutely loathed. Someone who, due to the fact that he was also a billionaire, had hired some of the best defense lawyers in the world and was consequently not currently in prison. Justin Hammer, CEO of Hammer Industries, was lurking around the edge of the room, probably searching for things to break, things to steal, or ways in which to ruin the party. Tony pointed him out to Pepper. "How the hell did that jerk get let in here?"

"I have no idea. He's probably only here to cause as much trouble for you as possible. You know him, he lives to make trouble."

Tony's face slowly split into a grin. "He's not the biggest troublemaker here, though…"

"Shall I have him thrown out, Tony?"

"No, no! Wouldn't dream of it. That would be rude. I have a better idea. Just keep an eye on him for me, will you, Pep?"

Still grinning, he located the person he was looking for and set off across the floor towards them, staying as far away as possible from Justin Hammer. He arrived at the other side of the room, where the God of Mischief was lounging, catlike, on a chair by the foot of the staircase. Tony paused as he saw that Loki had a bottle of mead in his hand and a piece of paper hanging around his neck that read:

Hello, my name is Loki.

A few months ago, I killed 80 people in two days.

You remember when Manhattan got destroyed earlier this year?

Yeah, that was me.

I'm a deranged megalomaniacal God who likes playing tricks on people and messing with their heads. And sometimes killing them afterwards.

I'm only here so the Avengers can keep an eye on me.

I'm not allowed to date, so please don't ask me out.

I'm not allowed to dance with you either. Sorry.

Please, no photographs.

Thank you.


Tony grinned as he walked over and sat beside him.

Hey, Loki, I need to ask a favor."

The God glanced up, surprised at the rare use of his real name. Tony usually nicknamed him. 'Rock of Ages', 'Professor Snape', 'Son of Hannibal Lecter' and 'Reindeer Games' (if Loki was wearing the helmet) were some of his favourites.

"A favour?"

"Yeah." Tony's curiosity got the better of him. "Look, what's up with the sign around your neck?"

Loki grinned wickedly. "Fifteen women and three men have so far approached me and expressed an interest. Hawkeye made the sign for me because he thought there were certain things they should probably know before attempting to start a relationship."

As he spoke, a tall brunette in a black dress glanced over at the two of them, looked Loki up and down with interest and began walking up to him. Loki looked directly at her as she paused to read the sign around his neck and then flicked her eyes up to his face, her expression shocked. Loki winked and raised his drink to her in a cheeky salute, smiling pleasantly. The woman looked at Tony uncertainly, who just returned her gaze solemnly, making small rotating motions at his temple with one finger in an ' it's true, he's crazy' gesture. Loki chuckled as she hurried off, disappearing into the crowd again.

"Enjoying yourself?" Tony asked indulgently.

"I am, actually. Compared to the crushing tedium of the last few months, this is the best party I've ever attended."

"So glad you're having fun," Tony replied dryly.

"You wanted to ask a favour?" The God calmly reminded him.

"Oh, yeah," Tony said, suddenly remembering. "You see that guy over there, other side of the room? Tacky, out-of-date beige suit, brown hair, glasses, punchable face, expression somewhere between shifty, constipated and pissed off?"

Loki stood up. Being over 6 feet tall, he easily saw over the heads of most of the crowd. He chuckled quietly as his sharp eyes found the man that Tony was referring to. "You mean the one currently using a fork to scratch your windows?"

Tony's eyes widened and he scrambled up onto the chair to get a better look. When he saw the God was right, he growled under his breath. "Oh, he has so got to go…" He turned to Loki. "And that was the favour I wanted to ask you."

The God squinted, confused. "I'm your prisoner, here because I'm being punished for killing a lot of people, and…you want me… to kill this man?"

"No, no," Tony replied. "As tempting as it is to take you up on that offer. No. That weasel is Justin Hammer, one of my main business rivals. He is responsible for crippling the armed forces, and also funding the enormous Russian maniac who tried to kill me, then unleashed a buttload of killer drones on the city, then put my best friend in a suit that was actually the same as my suit but with more big-ass guns strapped to it and making my best friend try and kill me by remotely controlling that suit. Then he blew up those drones all over the city, nearly killing a lot of people, one of whom was Pepper. He should be in prison, but because he's rich and can hire lawyers who are cleverer than he is, he basically got away with it."

Loki raised his eyebrows.

"And before you get any ideas about admiring the guy for all the problems and mayhem he caused, he didn't even know that the Russian maniac was doing any of that stuff. It was all behind his back. He's a moron, and an annoying moron at that. And he's just gatecrashed my party. JUSTIN HAMMER just gategrashed MY party. GATECRASHED it."

Loki nodded slowly. "Fine, but you still haven't told me what this favour is."

"I want you to mess with him. No killing and no maiming. No physical injury of any kind. Or permanent psychological damage. Psychological damage is fine, but not permanent damage. And you ONLY mess with HIM, no one else here. It'd be best if no-one else knew what's going on…just make sure I can watch. Can you just mess with him a little bit to freak him out so he learns his lesson and never comes back here? Please? I deserve a tiny bit of revenge, he's a real asshole…." Loki was still looking at him suspiciously.

"Why are you asking me to do this?"

"You're bored. I want revenge. You like messing with people. I want the guy messed with. It's synergy."

"And if I do this, I won't be sent back to Asgard or get in trouble for it? You're explicitly giving me permission to use magic?"

"Buddy, I am giving you permission to go all-out 'Pissed-off-God Of Mischief' on his ass."

The grin Tony got in reply was so wide, and so utterly evil, that it would have sent a crocodile running in terror.

"So," Tony said, slightly unnerved by the glint in the other man's eyes. He took a swig of champagne. "Any ideas as to what you'll do?"

"I could put a spell on him that will make his genitals turn into those of a woman, and they'll turn back to normal every time he tries to visit a doctor about it… "

Tony snorted with laughter mid-drink and sprayed champagne out of his nose. "Harsh. Harsh but so very tempting," he choked. "Oh my god, that burned…No. No. No lasting physical harm, I said, Loki."

"That's not technically harming him…" Loki wheedled.

Tony looked across the room at the man he hated so much. "If you did that…could you make it wear off after one week?"

The mischievous grin returned. "Yes."

"Ok, then. You can do that one. For a week. For now, can you just freak him out so much that he'll run away from this house screaming like a five-year-old girl?"

Loki looked at him sideways. "If I were to do this, would this be like your birthday present from me, then?"

"I guess so, yeah. Why?"

Loki stood up straight, took the paper placard off from around his neck and flexed his fingers. Bright blue and gold sparks began dancing around them, throwing patterns of light on his hands. His excitement was tangible, it was rolling off the God in waves. His fingertips and the tips of the spiky flicks of his hair were trembling, his eyes wide and bright, a smile on his lips. He looked down at Tony.

"Because it feels more like you've given me a birthday present. Thank you."

He grinned again, moving his hand through the air. As he did so, a thin golden line appeared on the floor around Tony, cutting off the area in which he was sitting from the rest of the room.

"Stay inside the line and you'll be able to see what I'm doing. No one outside the line will see any magic apart from Hammer," Loki muttered, and set off through the crowd, people parting before him like the red sea. He was moving smoothly, gracefully, but never took his eyes off the oblivious Justin Hammer, who was still vindictively attacking Tony's windows and walls with the fork. As he watched the God move, Tony was reminded of a shark, and leaned back in his chair, smiling. If there was one thing he trusted about Loki, it was his ability to cause chaos. And chaos was exactly what he wanted right now, at least for the man who had nearly been responsible for his death. Hawkeye and Black Widow, who, observant as ever, had seen the God setting off purposefully across the room, that all-too-familiar smile on his face, walked over to Tony, sitting on either side of him, inside the golden line.

"What's going on with Loki?" Hawkeye hissed. "He's got that look."

"What look?" asked Tony innocently.

"That 'I'm going to do a bad thing that isn't allowed and has been expressly forbidden by the Avengers but I'm the God Of Mischief, I can't help it, it's an impulse' look. The same one he got right before he turned that sofa into ice cream while Thor was sitting on it."

Tony tried not to laugh at the memory. (Loki hadn't gotten into trouble for that one purely because everyone was laughing too hard at Thor's face. Once his initial anger has subsided, however, Thor had eaten all of the ice cream, pronouncing it delicious, and had as a result completely forgiven his brother, even going so far as to ask if Loki would also mind turning the armchair into a giant poptart. Loki had obliged, Thor had dived on the armchair happily, and Tony had had to step in to prevent all of the furniture in the tower from being turned into components of Thor's dinner.)

"If you must know," Tony said to the two assassins quietly, "I asked Loki to play a few pranks on someone for me so that they would leave. He's gone to mess them up a bit now. I gave him permission."

"Who is it?" hissed Natasha angrily. "You shouldn't encourage him!"

"It's Justin Hammer."

She blinked. "That moron who basically let a load of killer droids out at your Expo last year? The ones that nearly destroyed the city?"

"Yep, that's the one."

"Oh, okay then." She settled back in the chair, crossing her arms and legs calmly. "This ought to be good."

Pepper joined them. Tony explained what was going on. Pepper raised an eyebrow, replied "oh good, he's had this coming all year," and also sat down.

"JARVIS?" said Tony.

"Yes, sir?"

"Message to the caterers down in the kitchens. We're gonna need popcorn sent up here. Quickly."

"Of course, sir. Might I assume that you require the popcorn because you plan to watch Mr. Laufeyson playing pranks on Mr. Hammer?"


"Shall I also assume, then, that I should switch the CCTV recording in that room from the standard-definition to the high-definition cameras, burn hard copies of the footage to DVD and also send the footage to both your phone and to the Avengers Tower?"

"I'm so proud of you, JARVIS. I've taught you well."

Loki reached the other side of the room, but didn't immediately approach Hammer. Instead he lurked behind the chocolate fountain, which was larger than most actual fountains, the better to observe his target. Hammer had put down the fork which he had been using to scratch Tony's windows, and was now holding an entire bottle of vintage champagne, presumably trying to eat and drink the most expensive things available in order to cost Tony as much as possible. Although he was making an effort not to be seen and was therefore hunching his shoulders and keeping quiet, there was still an arrogant look in his eye that showed that he thought himself superior to everyone else. It was a look similar to the one both Tony and Loki usually had, but Tony's superior look was warmer, casually cocky and infinitely more charming. Loki's superior look was more regal, cold and elegant, and he could also be incredibly charming when he wasn't throwing people from high buildings. Justin Hammer's superior look, however, had no charm whatsoever. It was just irritating. Loki found himself getting annoyed at the man purely by looking at his face. He glanced back at Stark to see that the billionaire had been joined by Miss Potts and the two assassins. All four were eating popcorn and eagerly anticipating what he would do. So he had an audience now. That was fine by him. He couldn't help himself – he was a showoff, a performer, a showman. Without even noticing, he became more determined to make the show a good one for them and quickly checked to make sure that the spectators were all inside the line that would allow them to perceive the magic he was about to perform. Then, looking out over the crowded dancefloor, he splayed his fingers slightly so that a magical web of thin golden strands, that only he could see, flew over the heads of everyone in the room and floated down to rest about their heads and necks like cobwebs. No one noticed, apart from the four spectators and the only other being of magic in the room. Thor, although his magic was limited, could see the strands as well. He immediately located the source, frowned and began to stride towards his brother with the intention of stopping him. He was stopped by a sudden hiss. "THOR!"

The god turned impatiently to see Tony, Pepper, Hawkeye and Natasha beckoning to him urgently. He stamped over.

"Well? I must go and prevent Loki from causing mischief. He is casting a spell on everyone in the room, this could be dangerous…" He tailed off as Tony shook his head, calmly tossing a piece of popcorn into his mouth.

"Relax, big fella. This is sanctioned mischief. Loki's doing me a favor. He won't harm anyone, he's only messing with the one guy."

Thor's brow creased. "You asked him to use magic, even though he is forbidden from doing so? And you actually trust him not to harm anyone?"

Tony inclined his head to concede Thor's point. "I still don't trust him. But he's been cooped up for so long, unable to do anything, that now that he's been given permission to actually cause some trouble, I'm pretty sure that he'll be so grateful for the bit of freedom that he won't push his luck too much, so that he'll get more freedom in the future. He's not stupid."

Thor grumbled, wishing he had a weapon with him. He wasn't happy about it, but he, too, sat down, watching intently.

On the other side of the room, Loki, once he was satisfied that the golden strands were covering everyone and everything in the room, stepped out from behind the chocolate fountain and walked up to his prey.

"Mr. Hammer?"

The man jumped at being addressed unexpectedly looking up at the tall, black-clad man with the deep English accent who was now gazing at him calmly. He took a deep breath in preparation to argue with the man, thinking he was about to be thrown out, but stopped when he realised that he was being smiled at warmly. The man with the strange dark hair held out a hand. "My name is Loki. I'm a huge fan of your work."

"My work?" Hammer asked stupidly, passing his champagne bottle into his left hand so that he could shake the man's extended right one.

"Very efficient weapons designs," Loki said smoothly, recycling what Tony had told him earlier. "And you nearly destroyed Stark's business, I hear."

"Yeah, nearly," came the reply. Loki's jaw tightened. Hammer's voice was even more irritating than his face. It was whiny and he spoke though his teeth. "You don't like Stark?"

"Can't stand the man." Loki answered. "I tried to kill him myself a few months ago. Threw him out of a top-floor window. The bastard survived."

"Yeah, he's good at that. Prick keeps on coming back, he never goddamn dies."

"Mm. Rather like a cockroach."

Hammer chuckled, warming to the man in front of him. Being as unperceptive as he was, he didn't realize that he was being manipulated. Loki wasn't nicknamed 'silvertongue' for nothing. Hammer glanced across the room to glare at Tony, who hurriedly looked away, pretending to talk to Pepper instead and attempting to hide the popcorn. Hammer swiveled his head to look back at his new friend, only to find the head of a giant green snake protruding from Loki's shirt collar. The snake opened its mouth wide, displaying a long, forked tongue and two fangs, each the length of an index finger. Hammer made a strangled noise of shock, reminiscent to a cat with its tail stuck in a door, and leapt backwards, slopping champagne down his front. He glanced down at the sudden cold sensation and then frantically glanced back up at the monster before him…only to find that it was a perfectly normal, human-headed Loki, who was staring at him with some concern.

"Are you all right?" he asked, head cocked to one side questioningly.

Hammer stared at him for a few seconds, looked down at the bottle of champagne in his hand accusingly and set it down on the table behind him.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine, man….thanks. I thought I saw…never mind, it doesn't matter. That stuff's stronger than I thought."

On the other side of the room, the five members of Loki's audience were staring. Tony whooped. "Holy crap, did you see that? He turned into a goddamn snake!"

Natasha and Hawkeye were looking impressed, despite themselves. Pepper was wide eyed with shock but still giggling at Hammer spilling champagne down his front. And Thor was still eyeing Loki suspiciously, but had relaxed slightly after seeing that all of the other guests at the party were unharmed, and Tony had given him a basic rundown of Hammer's crimes so he felt less guilty about allowing Loki to play with him a little.

Loki passed Hammer a handkerchief from his pocket so that he could dry his trousers slightly. Hammer accepted it, still looking at Loki's mouth warily as though he expected fangs to sprout from it at any time. None did, so he dabbed at his trousers, grumbling, then straightened back up and held the handkerchief out again for Loki to take. "Thanks, man."

"My pleasure," Loki replied, smiling and reaching out to take it back. As Hammer felt Loki's fingers brush his own as he took hold of the handkerchief, he jerked his head down in shock. He hadn't felt the long, pale fingers that he was expecting, but instead had felt…bone? His mouth fell open as he saw a white, skeletal hand deftly fold the handkerchief and slip it back into Loki's pocket. It wasn't only the hand that was skeletal, either. The blood rained from Hammer's face as he saw that carpal bones, a radius and an ulna disappeared into Loki's shirt sleeve. The hand was temporarily obscured from view as Loki replaced the handkerchief in his inside jacket pocked, and when the hand reappeared, it was a fully formed, flesh-covered one. The skin was very pale, admittedly, but it was undeniably a living human hand. Hammer started shaking violently, actually causing his teeth to chatter.

"Really, Justin, are you all right? You're incredibly pale. What's wrong?"

"Nyurhand… a skeleton…whut?"

"That's not a word, Justin, that's not an answer. Are you all right? You look like you've seen a ghost."

Hammer staggered to a chair and fell into it. He looked up at the people on the dancefloor, but none of them seemed to have noticed anything. He stared back at Loki, who was still standing and as a consequence, was now towering over him. The confused man dug the heels of his hands into his eyes and ground them into his eye sockets as if trying to rub the image from his retinas. When it started to hurt, he removed his hands and glanced up again, to see Loki's face gone completely and a grinning skull in its place. It flickered there for a split second, then vanished, leaving Loki's body entirely headless. Justin Hammer howled in terror, falling off his chair. On the other side of the room, Tony Stark howled with laughter, also falling off his chair.

Hammer curled up in the fetal position on the floor, hands over his ears, eyes scrunched shut. "He knew I was here, didn't he?" he was moaning. "…That bastard Stark knew I was here and the smug bastard put something in the champagne. Oh, Jesus, I've been drugged, I'm gonna have him arrested, no, I'm gonna kill him myself…"

Loki struggled to hide his grin, bent over and tugged Hammer's hands away from his ears. Hammer opened his eyes, yelped, then realised that the dark-haired man's head had returned and he appeared to be entirely human.

"I…your head….a skull…" He gabbled frantically. "Your head was a skull."

Loki looked confused, then chuckled. "How much have you had to drink, my friend? No skulls here. See?"

He gestured to himself, then at the dancefloor. Hammer turned to look and froze, a high -pitched wheeze issuing from his windpipe. Every single person on the dancefloor was a skeleton. Still dancing, but their clothing hung loosely around them and a loud clacking noise was made as thousands of bony joints moved together. The golden cobweb-like substance that had covered everyone actually stopped them from sensing any kind of magic. As far as the party guests were concerned, nothing had happened. Only Loki, Hammer, Thor, Tony, Pepper, Hawkeye and Natasha could see any differently, Hawkeye's mouth fell open, a piece of popcorn falling out. Tony stared at his guests. "That is so damn creepy," he said finally, then added "and kinda cool, as well. Looks like a music video."

Thor was the most calm of them all. Loki had played this trick many years ago back in Asgard, at one of Odin's feasts. Loki and Thor, being too young, had not been allowed to attend, so Loki had turned into a fly, flown into the Great Hall, perched on one of the rafters in the high ceiling, turned back into his usual form and turned everyone in the room into walking skeletons. He had then transformed back into the fly and escaped the room, rejoining his brother and high-fiving him, both collapsing in giggles. However, that time, the guests had been perfectly aware of their sudden change in appearance and, furious, had chased after the adolescent Gods until Loki changed them back to normal. Thor smiled ruefully as he remembered the bond that they had used to share. Although he felt that he should not be allowing Loki to play these pranks on the guests, the sight of a room of walking skeletons reminded him so vividly of the happier times he had once spent with his brother that he hadn't the heart to do anything to stop it. Anyway, they weren't actually being harmed in any way….Thor was jolted out of his reverie by Hawkeye's sudden gleeful exclamation.

"Guys, you see that skeleton over there? The tall one in the black suit? Leading the electric slide?"

Tony located the skeleton. "Yep."

The archer raised his eyebrows pointedly and grinned.

Tony gawped, looking back at the skeleton. "That is NOT Steve."

"Yes, it is," Hawkeye replied smugly.

Natasha nodded approvingly, smiling slightly. "You taught him well, Clint, he's not bad."

Tony's eyes were still bulging out of his head. " The Ice Princess. Sleeping Beauty. Captain Tightpants. Doing the electric slide. As a skeleton. Oh my god."

Thor tapped him on the shoulder, pointing out another figure. A purple-shirted, bespectacled skeleton was curled up on top of the bar, hugging an empty bottle of Jack Daniels like it was a teddy bear. Or a comfort blanket.

Tony grinned wider. "And a skeletal sleepy Hulk as well. God, I'm so glad this is being filmed."

Hammer was now on the floor, staring at the dancefloor, rocking backwards and forwards and making a very strange noise. It sounded like a combination of hysterical laughter, sobbing and hiccuping. Loki fought hard to hide his grin as he crouched beside Hammer.

"What is it, Justin?" He murmured, patting the other man on the back soothingly. "Do you want a glass of water?"

Hammer twitched away from Loki's hand as if he'd received an electric shock, unable to get the image of him as a skeleton out of his head. He dropped his head into his hands, taking deep breaths. Loki waved his hand to get rid of the spilt champagne, then neatly deposited himself on the floor next to Hammer. He grimaced. Being this close to Hammer, he realised that the man smelt…beige. There was a cloying smell of beige about him, beneath the thick layers of overpriced cologne. The man exuded dullness. Loki began to see why Stark hated Hammer so much. The God had a very low boredom threshold and at least all of the members of the Avengers were interesting or reasonably intelligent. Hammer seemed to be neither and Loki became even more determined to get rid of him in the most embarrassing way possible. He checked that the arms dealer beside him still had his head in his hands, then raised his hands, constructed an image in his head and deftly moving his fingers, began to paint that image into the air. On the other side of the room, Tony, Pepper, Thor, Natasha and Clint's mouths simultaneously fell open as vines and leaves crawled up the walls and vegetation began to grow up through the cracks between floorboards. Tony's chocolate fountain glowed gold and turned into water, and the lights in the ceiling turned various shades of green and yellow, giving the impression that the entire room was an indoor forest. The dancing skeletons still hadn't noticed anything.

"Oh my God," breathed Pepper. "What is he doing?"

"The room looks kinda nice, Tony, you should keep it like this," Hawkeye said, nudging Tony's shoulder. Tony ignored him. He, Thor and Natasha were watching Loki intently. The God was sitting cross-legged on the floor, arms held up in front of him as if he was conducting an orchestra. Hammer was still rocking back and forth beside him, hugging his knees, face buried in his arms. Loki's fingers glowed and tiny spheres of light floated from his fingertips, passing along the golden threads that still connected the skeletal dancers. As the spectators watched, their flesh began to grow back until the all looked entirely normal again. However, the transformation didn't stop there. The dancers' shapes continued shifting, their joints clicking and twisting. Some grew in size, some shrank. Suits and dresses changed colour and either became furry or turned into smooth skin. Faces and features morphed and stretched. Hawkeye started swearing quietly, his eyes wide. Natasha began muttering shocked expletives in Russian. Tony was staring at his guests. Or rather, he was staring at a dancefloor full of various animals. Where Steve Rogers had been, there was now a Labrador, who was still obliviously attempting to do the electric slide. Behind him stood a bear, a porcupine, a raccoon and an otter, who were copying him. In fact, all of the animals were moving in odd ways that suggested that they were still attempting to dance. The buzz of chatter had been replaced by a din of yipping, grunting, snorting and other animal noises, but judging by the lack of panic, it seemed that all of the guests were completely unaware of the fact that they had been shapeshifted. Tony looked at Loki, beginning to get worried that this constituted harm to others and that the God might be getting carried away. Across the room, Loki caught Tony's eye and grinned, giving him a thumbs-up cheerfully. Seeing the expressions on Tony and Peppers' faces, he quickly made a 'calm down' gesture with his hands and cocked his head to the side innocently.

Tony leaned down to speak to Thor, who was looking at the foliage and dancing animals in amusement. "He'll be able to change them all back, right?"

The blond God nodded simply. "Loki has done this many times. Shapeshifting is his speciality. We are the only ones in this room who can actually see things as they really are, as far as your guests are concerned, nothing has changed at all."

"That's what that golden thread thing does?"

Thor nodded, reaching over to take more popcorn. "It prevents them perceiving magic."

Slightly reassured, Tony straightened up again.

"You know what?" Hawkeye said slowly. "I think each of the animals is like…a reflection of the person's personality, in a way."

Tony looked at him, eyebrow raised. "What do you mean?"

"Well, I lost track of who most of them were when they changed. But see the rhino over there by the bar? He's that heavyweight wrestler you invited."


"And Steve is a giant Labrador."

"Oh, right, I see what you mean. Strong, loyal, brave, reasonably intelligent, likes playing fetch, plays dead for like, 70 years, helps old ladies across the street…"

Hawkeye cut him off. "Exactly. One of them turned into a cobra, by the way. They're probably not a nice person."

"She's not. I saw who that one is. It's Grace Sullivan."

"The supermodel?"

"Yep. Total bitch."

"Then why'd you invite her?"

Tony looked at Hawkeye incredulously. "Because she's hot."

Across the room, Hammer finally raised his head from his arms upon hearing the sudden cacophony of animal calls that were coming from the dancefloor. He opened his eyes gingerly and let out a high-pitched shriek that resonated all of the cutlery and glasses on the tables, causing all of the animals to turn and glare at him before they resumed dancing. Hammer shuffled along the floor, wedging himself behind a table and staring at the tablecloth as if it held the secret of life. A vein was pulsing in his forehead and his eyelid was twitching. Loki scooted over to sit beside him, catching Tony's eye as he did so. Tony gave him a huge grin and a double thumbs-up at the sight of Hammer hiding behind the tablecloth.

"I'm drunk, aren't I?" Hammer said through gritted teeth. "Or that bastard Stark poisoned me."

"I honestly have no clue what you're talking about, Justin," Loki said, just the right balance of soothing calmness and concern in his voice. It was so nice to be lying to people again. He was so very good at it.

"Tony Stark has put SOMETHING in my drink as revenge for what I did to him. Or he's got that bitch Pepper Potts to do it for him. I'll kill them both. I'm gonna kick that jerk's smug smile right off his face," Hammer hissed, looking Loki dead in the eyes. He looked fairly deranged now. Loki stared back calmly.

"Are you going to kick the smile off his face while you're hiding behind a table on the opposite side of the room? Or are you planning to go over to where he's sitting with the two professional killers and the massive God, and beat him up there? Because frankly, both of those sound as if they'd be interesting to watch."

"Tony?" said Thor, looking over at the bar.

"Yes, 'O Viking of haircare?"

"That small brown creature which is lying on the edge of the bar underneath that empty bottle. Is that not where Dr. Banner was sitting?"

Hawkeye whooped with laughter. "Oh my god. The Hulk has turned into a tiny brown ferret. I'd have thought he'd become an elephant or a bear or something."

"That's not a ferret, Clint," Natasha told him, eyeing the small creature warily.

"What is it, then?"

"It's a honey badger."

"That doesn't sound very scary, considering that's what the Hulk turned into."

"It's the cutest Brucie has ever looked," Tony agreed. "That's not scary at all."

"You wait," she replied. "They're vicious. And insane."

"Yeah, but he's tiny. And completely smashed." Tony replied. "Any trouble, we can pick him up and shut him in the washing machine until he calms down."

As they watched, a chimpanzee (who was one of Tony's friends from MIT) leapt from the ceiling onto the bar, eyeing the sleeping Bruce curiously. The monkey grabbed the empty bottle of Jack Daniels from the clutches of the snoozing badger to check it for any remaining liquid. Bruce woke up, startled by the sudden loss of his glass comfort blanket, and lunged for the chimpanzee in an attempt to get it back. However, due to his state of intoxication, he misjudged the distance, missed the bottle entirely and rolled off the bar onto the floor, where he found himself unable to climb back on. Tony could see the little creature getting more and more irritated.

"As I was saying," he said smugly, "good thing he's so small right now. Otherwise he'd be having a full- scale Hulkout right now…"

He tailed off as he realised that unless he was very much mistaken, the tiny, furious, cute-looking creature was turning a distinct shade of green.

"Is he…?" asked Pepper, quietly.
"Yep," Hawkeye replied, as Bruce the badger became the size of a dog.

"Aw, hell," said Tony, as a green honey badger the size of an elephant turned to face the dancefloor and screeched.

The guests froze, then scattered, animals running in every direction as the incredibly drunk Badger-Hulk barreled after them. Captain Labrador slunk out from behind the staircase, staying out of Badger-Hulk's line of vision, and trotted over to the shocked spectators. As soon as the dog crossed the golden line on the floor, however, he was engulfed in a golden light, causing them to shield their eyes. When they looked back, Steve Rogers was standing before them, looking impatient.

"Sorry to disturb you, but in case you haven't noticed, the Hulk is running around trying to kill your guests, Tony. Do you plan on doing anything about it?!"

"I preferred you when you were a Labrador." Tony replied, looking around Steve to see where Banner was. Steve looked confused.

"Labrador? What?"

"Turn around, twinkletoes."

Steve turned, his jaw dropping as, for the first time, he saw the room as it really was, covered in foliage, animals running all over the place, being chased by an enormous green honey badger.

"What the…why is the Hulk a ferret? Why's everyone an animal? Where did the forest come from?!" His eyes narrowed as he answered his own question. "Where's Loki?"

"Can't really blame him for this one," Tony replied sheepishly, gesturing to the other side of the room. Hammer was cowering behind the table, looking like he was about to have a heart attack. The entire left side of his face was twitching now and his glasses had fallen off. He was also making small mewing noises. Loki was peeking over the edge of the table, surveying the chaos that reigned in the room and looking like he was thoroughly enjoying himself. Every time Badger-Hulk charged past, he ducked behind the table, then popped back up, grinning. He still remembered the last time he had been Hulk-Smashed, and he had no desire for it to happen again. The best thing was, he hadn't even caused the chaos, so he couldn't get in trouble for it. The other guests, still affected by the spell that stopped them from perceiving his magic, would only be seeing the usual, humanoid Hulk, not the badger-shaped one. But no-one could blame him for it.

"We need to stop him. Now. Before he hurts someone," said Steve urgently, on the other side of the room.

"None of you have your weapons or armour," Thor replied. "I have armour, but I do not have Mjolnir."

"Yeah, you won't be able to do anything without the Star-Spangled Ballerina costume and shield," Tony pointed out to Steve. "We need to think of another solution."

"Stop calling me the Star-Spangled Ballerina, Stark."

"It's basically what you are."

"That's rich, coming from the human nightlight," Steve retorted, gesturing at the Arc Reactor in Tony's chest, the glow shining through the material of his suit.

"This isn't helping, boys," snapped Natasha, as Badger-Hulk charged past again, chasing the chimpanzee who had knocked him off the bar.

"Oh, for God's sake," cried Pepper, waiting for the chimp to run back to the other end of the room and for Banner to follow. She then ran to the bar, pulling one of the cupboards open and puling out six tranquiliser guns. Her arms full, she staggered back to the group, who were staring, wide eyed.

"Why the hell were those under the bar?!" Tony demanded.

"Because I thought at a party like this, I might need to tranquilise quite a few people! Thor, if he got drunk and started a fight! Loki, Miss Romanoff and Mr Barton if they got drunk and started killing people! You, if you got drunk and did anything stupid! Or Bruce, if exactly this happened!" She answered, giving two guns to Natasha, two to Hawkeye and two to Steve. "Six should be enough to knock him out. They're designed for large animals."

"He's definitely a large animal," Steve muttered, as Honey-Badger-Hulk crashed back into the room, now chasing a panicked grizzly bear. The supersoldier and the two assassins took aim and fired simultaneously, hitting The Hulk in the shoulder, neck, legs and side. The creature wheeled round, furious, but the sedative had already begun to take effect. It staggered, blinked a few times, and crashed to the floor.

Natasha lowered the guns. "Bruce is going to be really upset that he ruined your party, Tony."

Tony, however, was cackling. "Ruined it? This was the best birthday party ever! No-one's hurt. I don't particularly like most of the people here anyway. And Justin Hammer is curled up in the corner over there crying to himself and making a high pitched whining noise. I couldn't have asked for more."

He waved at Loki, catching his eye and beckoning him over. The god stood up from behind the table and strode over, beaming mischievously from ear to ear, leaving Hammer to sob in the corner. Loki spread his arms as he went, causing the foliage around the room to recede back into the walls. The sleeping Badger-Hulk on the floor glowed golden and morphed back into the normal, humanoid Hulk. "All back to normal," Loki announced, arriving back at the group.

"Man, you exceeded expectations," Tony grinned, clapping the God on the shoulders. "That was beautiful. The skeleton thing? And then the jungle and the animals! And then the Hulk-out…"

"The Hulk-out wasn't my fault," Loki interjected smoothly.

"Nonetheless, I'm pretty sure it made Hammer over there soil himself, which is no less than he deserves. No-one got hurt and not too much got smashed, all things considered. Thanks, man."

"My pleasure," Loki replied. "Should you need any more people 'messed with', I'm happy to help."

"Careful, Loki," Thor warned good-naturedly. "Do not get into the habit of causing this amount of mischief."

"I was given permission to do this, Thor."

"Well, do not do it too often."

"Of course not. You know me, I always follow orders."

Thor burst out laughing. "You have been disobedient for as long as I can remember, brother." He suddenly noticed Hammer slowly getting up on the other side of the room. "Tony, your nemesis appears to be trying to leave."

Tony glanced at Loki. "Hey, magic-man, remember that last prank we were talking about earlier? The one that will last for a week?"

An evil grin split Loki's face in half and he raised one hand, pointing it at Hammer.

"What thing…what's going to last for a week?" Hawkeye asked.

"Tony, what are you doing now?" asked Pepper.

Natasha and Thor were gazing at the escaping arms dealer calmly, not making any attempts to stop whatever Loki was doing. Tony pulled Pepper into a one-armed hug, grinning. "Believe me, Pep, he deserves it."

On the other side of the room, Hammer suddenly froze in his attempt to reach the door, due to a tingling sensation in his underwear. Tony started giggling.

Hammer gingerly grasped the waistband of his trousers and underwear in both hand, pulling them away from him as he glanced downwards to see the cause of the tingling. The blood drained from his face and he stared in horror for a few seconds, before letting out the loudest, most terrified scream imaginable. The scream actually caused most of the guests to come out of hiding and poke their heads into the room to see what had caused it. And so there were approximately one hundred people who witnessed Justin Hammer screeching in shock while looking into his underpants, then sprinting to the door, wrenching it open and sprinting down the driveway, clutching his crotch with both hands, beige suit covered in champagne and chocolate stains, howling like a banshee.

Loki and Tony collapsed with explosive laughter, both crumpling to the floor and clutching each other for support, tears streaming down their faces. Tony's face and sides ached from laughing so hard and he absent-mindedly considered the strangeness of the situation. If someone had told him three months ago that he'd be sprawled on the floor, clutching the shoulder of the insane God who had tried to kill him, as both of them howled with laughter, at his birthday party, at which Loki had given him the best birthday present imaginable, he'd have laughed them out of the room. But here they were. Hawkeye and Thor were also both laughing hysterically, Thor's booming chuckle echoing off the walls. Natasha was chuckling, which for her was the equivalent of anyone else having an uncontrollable laughing fit. Pepper and Steve were also laughing, but kept stopping themselves, looking guilty. Then the mental image would resurface and the giggles would bubble up again.

Thor marched into the centre of the room, flexed his muscles and grunting, began to push the Hulk towards the stairs. "What shall we do with Banner?"

"Shove him into the lift, big guy, I doubt even you'll be able to carry him upstairs," Tony replied, hiccupping with residual giggles. Loki's slender frame was still shaking with laughter. "He'll fit in the lift, it's bigger than is sensible. Then shove him in one of the bedrooms so he can sleep it off."

Thor nodded, grinning, and with Steve's help, began to roll the unconscious Hulk towards the lift.

Hawkeye nudged Loki. "What did you actually do to Hammer?"

"Swapped his genitals for those of a woman," Loki hiccupped. "They'll remain that way for a week, unless he goes to a doctor, in which case they will return to normal. So presumably, the doctor will then tell him that nothing is wrong and send him away. Whereupon they will return to being those of a woman again. No harm done, but I imagine it'll have an impact on his self-confidence. And his sex life."

That did it. The entire group collapsed with laughter. Hawkeye actually shook Loki's hand in admiration and even the normally- stoic Natasha had tears in her eyes. Tony was just lying face-down on the floor at this point, laughing so hard that it was completely silent. Loki sat there, surrounded by the people who held him prisoner. He had considered them enemies. But here they sat, shaking his hand, crying with laughter at his tricks and thanking him for a great party. Even back in Asgard, when he had still seen Odin and Thor as family, his tricks had normally landed him in trouble. No-one had appreciated his skill with magic. The Asgardians placed more value in physical strength. That was part of the reason why he had always felt isolated and different. But here, his magic was being congratulated and appreciated. It was strange. He was surrounded by enemies, yet he felt…at home. He actually felt the happiest he had done in years.

Most of the guests went home after that, still feeling shaken b the encounter with the Hulk. Some considered suing Tony for mental anguish and trauma, but quickly realized that attempting to sue the richest man in the world, who also happened to be a superhero, was probably not a good idea. About 20 people stayed in the end, most of whom were Tony's close friends. Fellow students from MIT, Rhodey, and the man from the donut shop who gave Tony huge discounts were a few of those who stayed. And of course, the Avengers. Tony found that he actually preferred it that way, with less people there. It felt less like he was expected to act in a certain way, and more like he was surrounded by friends. The dancing resumed, Steve and Hawkeye triumphantly leading the entire room in the electric slide. Thor was attempting to dance with a bottle of ale in one hand and a pop-tart in the other. Natasha and Hawkeye had found their confiscated weapons and were taking turns at target practice. One of them would Frisbee a mini-pizza through the air and the other would hit it with a throwing knife. Then they would swap places. Bruce eventually staggered downstairs in a shirt and trousers which Tony had left for him, barefooted and rubbing his aching head. He was met with cheers from the rest of the Avengers.

"Hey, I'm so sorry, Tony," he said, guilt etched on his features. "I didn't mean to break stuff, I didn't want to Hulk out, I'm so sorry, no-one got hurt, did they?"

Tony cut him off. "Relax, man. No worries. No-one got hurt and it was actually hilarious to watch."

"But I broke everything."

"And I'm crazy rich, no big deal. I can replace everything. Calm down. Find some shoes and go and have fun." Tony replied, smiling reassuringly and gently shoving Bruce towards the dancefloor. As Bruce wandered off, still rubbing his head and looking guiltily at the damage done to the room, Pepper came and stood beside Tony. "I told you something would happen." She said, smugly.

"Yeah, yeah, you were right. You're always right. Sorry. Hey, it was fun though, right? And good thinking with the tranquiliser guns."

"Thanks. And yes, it was fun. Seeing Justin Hammer running down the driveway screaming was worth all the damage done to the room."

"That was fantastic, right?" Tony agreed, as Loki walked over to them both. "Hey! The man of the hour! Why aren't you dancing? The L'oreal Viking's over there gettin' on down. Do evil supervillains not dance?"

"I'm a very good dancer, actually," Loki replied. "And I wanted to ask you something."

"Fire away, man."

Loki took a deep breath. "I know I have to wear the electric shock bracelets on my wrists, and the electric shock collar, and I know why you don't want me going near the windows or doors. I don't expect you to trust me after what I did. But could you extend the range on the bracelets and collar slightly so that I can at least go on the balcony of the tower? Please? Today was the first time I'd smelled fresh air in months. I know I can't go outside, but could I at least look out of a window every once in a while?"

Tony looked at the God. Loki's eyes were wide and pleading. He looked desperate. Tony glanced down at Pepper, who had a sad expression on her face, clearly feeling a little sorry for Loki. Tony looked back at the God and smiled slowly. "Ok, I'll make you a deal. Magically repair all damage done to this room, conjure Bruce up some shoes, and enchant him a pair of trousers that will grow and shrink as he Hulks out, so that he's not always running around half-naked when he de-Hulkifies again. You do that, and I will alter the range on the bracelets so that you can go on the balcony and nearer the windows. You can use magic, but anything vaguely harmful or malicious and you will be deep-fried by JARVIS. I will also make a portable unit for Thor to carry so that you can leave the tower and go on walks with him, and you only get zapped if you get more than 30 feet away from him. Deal?"

Loki's eyes widened. It was more than he had dared hope for.

"Thank you."

Tony nodded graciously. If he was honest, seeing the video of Loki that morning with his head stuck out of the car window, looking so childlike and happy, had altered the way he saw the God. Whereas he'd previously seen him as insane and evil, he now began to realize that more than anything else, Loki was sad. Deranged and damaged, yes, but sad all the same. He'd also given Tony the best birthday present imaginable. And he was surprisingly good company when he wasn't trying to take over the world.

Loki gave Tony and Pepper a grateful smile each, turned away and raised his hands. Bruce's feet and trousers glowed with a soft golden light, causing the scientist to wheel around in shock. He stopped and calmed down, however, when he saw that Tony was giving him a reassuring nod. Bruce suddenly realized that he was wearing shoes and socks, where before he had been barefooted. He glanced at Loki, who inclined his head. Bruce walked over. "Thanks."

"My pleasure."

"Mind telling me why you did it?"

"I have a deal with Stark. Incidentally, your trousers will now grow and shrink with you, should you 'Hulk-out.'"

Bruce's jaw dropped. "You mean I won't have to buy new pants every time?"

"Precisely. If you bring me other pairs of trousers, I can enchant the rest so they all…mnmff." Loki was cut off as the scientist grabbed him and pulled him into a tight hug. Tony chuckled at the look of crazed gratitude on Bruce's face and the look of shock on Loki's.

"Thanks," Bruce said, then let go of Loki and hugged Tony and Pepper as well, before excitedly dashing off to tell the rest of the Avengers. Pepper laughed, kissed Tony on the cheek and went to dance. Loki was left staring after the scientist. Tony looked at the God, his dark brown eyes thoughtful.

"You never got many hugs from your dad, growing up, did you?"

Loki turned to face him. "No. How did you know?"

"Ah, just a guess…. I know what it feels like, always feeling like your dad's disappointed in you, never feeling wanted, you know? We've all got daddy issues, man. You need to find a healthier outlet for those issues than world domination, though. You want respect? To feel accepted? Stop demanding respect and FORCING people to look up to you, and do something that'll make them WANT to look up to you."

Loki stared at Tony. "Is that what you did?"

"Me? No. I've always been a handsome, rich, incredibly charismatic, very modest genius. People have always respected and loved me. But once I became Iron Man and started helping people, they respect and also LIKE me, y'know?"

Loki stared into space, contemplating this.

"I mean, you might as well try and be a good person, because if you ever try world domination again, we'll kick your ass all the way back to Asgard," Tony continued cheerfully.

Loki paused, looking carefully at Tony. Then he held out his hand, casting a golden fog over the floor and walls, making the dancers stare in amazement. When the fog cleared, the damage to the room had all been repaired, and the floor, which had previously just been smooth floorboards, now was studded all over with minuscule diamonds that caught the lights above and glowed soft rainbow colours, giving the floor a beautiful but subtle sheen, like oil on water. Tony stared, amazed, as did all of the guests.

"Wow, that's…wow. Nice. That's really nice, man. Thanks. Is this you starting to turn over a new leaf, then?"

"I don't know. It might be," Loki replied quietly. "I can't promise to not cause any mischief at all. I'm the God of Mischief. I can't help it. But I promise to try not to do anything more serious than that...Well, I'll try not to hurt anyone."

"Glad to hear it."

"All I wanted was a little respect. Some recognition, for once. I grew up in Thor's shadow, all my life."

"He's pretty chunky, I'm not surprised he cast a long shadow."

"It was a very long shadow." Loki cast his eyes down, staring at the newly shimmering floor.

Tony paused. "Well. We'll see how you cope with being…you know. Non-evil for a while. Be nicer, and you might find you actually get some of that respect you want so bad." He clapped Loki on the back, and began to walk away to the dancefloor, calling over his shoulder as he did so. "Thanks for my party, man. And the Hammer thing. And the new floor."

"No," said Loki, quietly, although he knew Tony wouldn't hear him. "Thank you."

Tony declared the rest of the night to be his best birthday ever. Loki seemed to have taken Tony's words to heart and his new privileges had put him in a very good mood. Tony had had a quiet word with the rest of the Avengers about Loki's attempts to be a nicer person and consequently all of the team made efforts to be friendly to him and treat him more as an equal. Tony still nicknamed him, but because he nicknamed everyone, Loki didn't mind too much. Although some of the names confused him. He told Tony this, as they sat with Pepper and Thor at a table, getting their breath back after dancing.

"Which ones?" Tony asked.

"'Son of Hannibal Lecter' and 'Professor Snape'." Loki replied.

"Professor Snape is a scary pale guy with long black hair who dresses in black, does magic and seems evil, but he's got a soft side. That kinda suits you, don't you think?"

Loki tilted his head slightly. "And 'son of Hannibal Lecter?'"

"You should take being called 'son of Hannibal Lecter' as a compliment," Tony said. "Silence of the lambs is a classic, Anthony Hopkins was brilliant in it. He won an Oscar."

"Who is Anthony Hopkins?" Thor and Loki asked simultaneously.

"Never mind. I'll point him out to you next time he's on TV. You both watch TV a lot, you never know, you might recognize him from something."

Later that evening, everyone in the room was thoroughly drunk, including Loki, who, due to his slight frame, was quite a lightweight. Tony was swaying on the spot, quietly singing Bohemian Rhapsody at the floor. Natasha and Hawkeye were still throwing knives, but because they were so smashed, they were no longer bothering to aim. Thor had to shove Rhodey out of the way of a particularly wild throw from Hawkeye to prevent the Sergeant from getting a steak knife wedged between his shoulderblades. Loki cracked up laughing at that, earning him an eyebrow raise from Tony.

"Loki…s' not funny, he coul've been killed. To death."

Loki looked back innocently. "Bu' Tony, h's fine. If he'd been killed t' death I wouldn't hve laughed, promise."

Bruce leaned over the table, hugging Loki around the waist. "I l've you, Loki. Thanks f'r my new pants. And I'm srry for…smashing you into the ground l'ke a piñata two m'nths ago."

"'S water under the bridge, d'nt worry 'bout it," Loki slurred back.

Tony glanced at Steve, who was also sitting at the table, looking annoyed.

"W's wrong, Captain Tightpants?"

Steve stared at Tony. "Don't call me that."

"Srry. Was'ser matter?"

Steve sighed. Everyone around him was utterly sloshed and he'd never even been drunk. He didn't drink before he'd had the serum administered, and afterwards, his metabolism was so fast that he was incapable of getting drunk. He just wondered what it was like. He articulated this to the group and everyone looked sympathetic, apart from Tony, who looked scandalized at the thought of never being inebriated. Loki looked at his hands, then at Tony, then at Steve. He leaned over the table and touched the Captain's forehead with two fingers. Steve jerked away. "What are you doing?"

"Hold still. 'M being nice." Loki muttered, and a few seconds later, Steve started giggling.

"What did you do?" He laughed, swaying in his seat. "Am I drunk? How am I drunk? I can't get drunk! WHOA!"

"No, alcohol has no physical effect on you because you break it down too fast." Loki replied. He seemed to have sobered up. "What I just did is use magic to fool your brain into thinking you're drunk. To be precise, I passed MY feeling of intoxication to you. Which is why you now sound drunk and I do not."

Steve looked at Loki strangely. "Thanks, Loki… 'S nice of you. I've always wondered what this is like."

"Don't thank me yet," Loki replied, smirking. "My motives weren't entirely altruistic. You'll also have my hangover in the morning."

The rest of the night consisted of a drunken karaoke session, a dance-off between Clint and Steve (Clint won), an arm-wrestling contest between Thor and Natasha (Natasha won, due to the combination of Thor being so drunk, her kicking Thor in the crotch under the table, and Loki standing behind his brother using magic to tickle him) and Loki and Thor collapsing underneath a table and singing 3000-year old folk songs in Norwegian. Tony dragged Loki out by the ankles. Steve and Rhodey dragged Thor out by the ankles.

"Ok, guys….party's over," Tony slurred sleepily. "Thanks for making it a good one. Go upstairs, find a room, crash and sleep this off. If possible, try not to throw up on anything expensive."

All the Avengers, Rhodey, Pepper and the other guests traipsed upstairs sleepily, Bruce walking into a potted plant and apologizing to it as he did so. Only Loki remained, standing by the windows. Tony turned to him. "Hey, Loki... you coming? There's enough rooms for everyone."

"Thank you." Replied the God quietly.

"For the room?"

Loki paused, then nodded. "…Yes. For… for the room."

"No problem," Tony answered. "Thanks for the Hammer thing earlier, it was brilliant. And thanks for the new floor as well."

Loki grinned. "It was fun. Thank you for letting me."

Tony grinned, starting up the stairs. "Nice of you to help the Patriotic Ballerina get drunk, as well."

"Well, it saved me from a hangover."

"So... just you being evil and self-serving as usual then?"


"That's too bad. Goodnight, Mr. Evil Overlord."

Loki smiled slightly, nodding at Tony, and turned to look out of the window in the darkened room.

Tony reached the top of the stairs, then sighed and looked back at the long-haired figure silhouetted against the window. He paused for a moment, conflicted, then came to a quick decision. "JARVIS?" he whispered.

"Yes, sir?"

"Unlock the balcony doors."

"Is that wise, Sir? Mr. Laufeyson is near those doors."

"I know, JARVIS. Unlock them."

"Doors unlocked, sir."

Tony stared silently at Loki's back. The God was gazing out at the Pacific Ocean, not moving or making a sound. Tony had often stood in the same place when he couldn't sleep.

"Hey, Loki," he called, quietly. The God turned around.

"The doors are unlocked. You can go on the balcony if you want."

Loki's eyebrows quirked upwards. "While everyone's asleep, you would let me out of the house, unsupervised?"

Tony paused. "Yeah, I think I would. I think you've been cooped up for a long time and you've got some serious life-evaluating to do, am I right?"

The God nodded slowly, silently.

"And I know you could escape. Everyone's either asleep or smashed, no-one's prepared for a fight right now, and a God with magic powers could easily survive a fall into the ocean from this height. We both know that."

Loki said nothing.

"But you know what? I don't think you will try and escape. You could, easily. But I saw you this evening. You were having fun. You got to use magic and play tricks on people. You were hugged by Bruce. You got drunk. You were dancing. The Avengers are still wary of you, but they know and accept what you are. And in time, I think they could learn to trust and respect you. Thor's strong, he hits stuff with a Hammer and destroys things. So do I. So does Cap. So does Hulk. We can all break stuff. But you can trick people, outsmart them. We could use the help of a strategist. Help us save the world instead of trying to take it over, y'know? Might start getting some of that respect you want so bad."

Loki blinked several times. "You really think your team would ever trust me?"

"Sure. It might take a while, especially for Clint and Natasha, but then they don't trust anyone. Your brother doesn't think you're beyond redemption. I don't either. Neither does Bruce or the Captain. So give us all a reason to trust you. Doors are open, man, go outside if you want. But right now, you're with the only people in the world who will accept you for what you are. We're all pretty messed up here."

Loki swallowed, hard, and looked back out of the window at the ocean.

"Think about it," Tony said, continuing up the stairs. "Oh, and Loki?"

Loki turned back to face him. They stared at each other, two genius-level intellects, both unappreciated by their fathers. Both growing up surrounded by people, but both of them lonely. Both playful, mischievous and narcissistic, but both with an underlying current of self-loathing and disgust. Both responsible for so many deaths and both of them wanting to atone for it. Both knowing that they never could.

"I changed." Tony said quietly. "I have friends now. I used to think that fear and respect went hand in hand, that it was best to have both. But let me tell you, man, having love, and friends, and respect, feels a lot better. Because you know people are choosing to respect you. You've earned it, you're not forcing them. It's not too late for you to change. You can still have that respect. Just stop throwing people out of windows and stuff. Try being the good guy."

Loki looked at him, his expression unreadable.

"So." Said Tony, calmly. "I'll see you in the morning."

It wasn't a question. It was a statement.

Loki nodded. Tony waved cheerfully, yawning, bounded up the stairs, bumped into a wall and disappeared down the shadowy landing towards his bedroom.

Loki stared after him, then slowly turned towards the doors, pushing them open silently and stepping out onto the balcony. His sharp black suit rippled with golden light as he did so, shifting into a green tunic and black leggings that he slept in. His bare feet padded silently over the stone tiles of the balcony as he leant on the railing and looked over to ascertain the length of the drop down the cliff. He could survive it easily, then shapeshift into some kind of sea creature and make his escape. Without noticing, however, his feet had carried him backwards to sit in a chair on the balcony, overlooking the ocean. He sat there for hours, and he knew that he wasn't going anywhere. Over the last few weeks, he'd felt the happiest that he had in years. Most of the Avengers came from broken homes, or had trauma in their pasts. They were the outcasts, the pariahs, the ones who had been different all their lives. So even though they didn't trust him, to a certain extent he had been accepted as one of them, because he was also an outcast. And Tony was right, Loki had had fun at the party. He'd actually been congratulated on his use of magic, something which had rarely happened back home. The Avengers had looked at him with admiration for it. And Loki had to admit, it was a nicer feeling knowing that they CHOSE to be impressed, rather than being forced to respect him. Loki leaned back in his chair, enjoying the sea breeze on his face, staring up at the full moon.

"A good man," he murmured softly.

It was worth a try.