27: The End
A/N: Many thanks to everyone who read this and left feedback. Bless you for going along with my insanity.
Tony hardly slept for thinking about what Loki had said and done. He didn't stay in his own apartment, as there was the small matter of a squadron of dead Chitauri that needed to be disposed of, so he stayed in one of the guest suites instead.
His thoughts were consumed by the previous day for hours; even when he dreamed, he would re-live the experience, or re-imagine it differently. He had one nightmare in which the Chitauri had proven to be resistant to the sonic taser and attacked them in a swarm, killing Loki in the process – and Tony awoke in a cold sweat, his heart racing. These imaginings swirled around in Tony's mind in the darkness, coalescing with his memories of reality to such an extent that when he first got up, it took him some time and coffee to get the events straight.
The Other had been out to get Tony, and would have tortured and killed him if he had got the chance... so there was a sense in which Loki had saved him from that fate. If Tony had been alone when he had been taken, a couple of weeks ago, there probably wouldn't have been anything he could have done. But that didn't really excuse Loki's lies. Loki could have told him what he had planned from the beginning. Why hadn't he?
Tony trudged downstairs to Loki's apartment, though the man himself was now being kept in the other bedroom, the one without half the wall missing.
The door was closed, and Tony was seriously tempted to turn around and just leave, but at that moment the door opened, and Thor emerged. He shut it behind himself. "It will be a few hours before we can journey back to Asgard," Thor told Tony, and silently conveyed that he entirely understood that Tony had a lot that he needed to talk about with Loki.
Still, Tony gave it a few more minutes. Finally, then, he went over to the door and pushed it open. Loki was sat on the bed and looking at him, having already been able to hear him, knowing he would enter the room eventually.
Loki was dressed casually in black pants and a black sweater, looking disturbingly innocuous for someone who literally killed over twenty people yesterday. He did that within the context of war, Tony supposed, but there was still something deeply chilling about how he had planned it, how he had carried it out: impassively and without any hesitation or remorse.
"The things I said, yesterday," Loki began immediately, "that was all an act for the Other. I had to convince him that I had betrayed you, used you–"
"Yeah, well, you did a damn good job of convincing me, too," Tony replied, stepping into the room and shutting the door. He had no idea whether he could believe anything Loki said anymore.
"Do you still care for me?" Loki asked him.
Tony was not sure how to respond to that. He was tempted to deny that he had ever cared for Loki, but could not be bothered to lie in such a way. There had been enough mind games. He answered, "I can't. Not now that I know what you are."
"You always knew what I was, Tony."
A long, pensive silence passed. Loki was right about that, and Tony was still arguing with himself as to whether this was ever love or just temporary insanity – not just on his part, but on Loki's as well. They were both pretty screwed up individuals right now. Maybe it wasn't possible for either of them to know what the hell they were doing – or maybe, just maybe, in each other, they had found something, some kind of kinship, affinity and solace...
Tony asked, "Why didn't you just tell me what you were doing, Loki?"
Loki bit his lip. "I did not think that you would agree to such a plan."
"Well you're right there," Tony replied. "If you had talked to me, we could have come up with a better plan, together–"
"It was not the same, then," Loki retorted. "You forget, Tony, that when the Chitauri came for us, we barely knew each other."
"We barely know each other now."
"Indeed," Loki smiled, a little sadly. "I wish–" Loki stopped himself, apparently unable to find the words with which to complete his sentence.
Unsure how to move this conversation forward, or indeed in any direction, Tony asked, "Do you think you'll ever come back to Earth?"
Loki shrugged. "If I were free, I would choose to. But it is not up to me."
"Would you come to see me, or to fuck shit up?"
Loki laughed. "Why not both?"
Tony couldn't help but smile. "I really feel like you should be supervised by a responsible adult, and I'm not one of those. Besides, maybe I..." Tony paused, realising that he didn't want to piss Loki off, so had to think before speaking for once. "Maybe I don't think it's a good idea for us to be together."
"I disagree," Loki insisted. "I think we belong together. I think we could even work together for the protection of this realm."
Tony was sceptical. "You'd protect the people you tried to enslave?"
"It was never about enslavement," Loki replied, irritated. "But, yes. Thor wishes to protect Midgard from that which threatens you in the universe, that which you cannot yet comprehend."
"Don't tell me what I can't comprehend," Tony snapped.
Loki laughed and shook his head. "I expect that we will cross paths again, one way or another. And I would consider it an honour to fight at your side. But –" he added, "if you would oppose me, I would destroy you." An amused little smirk played across his face. "It is not in my nature to be honest, but if you insist on it, Tony, there you are."
Tony just looked at him, dumbstruck. He didn't see how be at this man's side ever again; he should never have been there at all. And he was deeply ashamed that he had let anyone get to him the way that Loki had. "You used me, you betrayed me," he said, hollowly.
"I did what I had to do, you understand. I did not know whether I could trust you at first – and I still don't." He paused, and his eyes flickered with what appeared to be genuine emotion. When he spoke again he did so quickly, and Tony could hear the constriction in his throat. "I do love you, Tony. It was not to flatter and manipulate you, please know that. I truly respect and cherish you."
For a moment Tony was stunned into silence by the sentiment and the choice of words, but this soon passed. "Very poetic – a few seconds ago, you said you would destroy me."
Loki smiled weakly. "Sentiment is a terrible weakness; I would not let it stop me. But if I had to fight you again, it would make me profoundly sad. Afterwards." After a pause he added, "It matters not. We belong together, as allies."
Tony got up and paced up and down the room for a few moments, trying to think.
Finally, he turned to Loki. "If you want us to be on the same side, Loki, then you're coming over to my side. I won't come over to yours. Not ever."
Loki nodded thoughtfully. "It is not a matter of sides for me, you understand. It never has been, it never will be. I want what I want, and that may or may not coincide with what you want. I change sides all the time; it's in my nature. I expect it to be variable."
"Variable..." Tony shook his head. "Answer me one question," he said steadily. "How can I ever trust you, ever again?"
Loki leaned forward. "You can trust me to do everything in my power to avoid harming you – unless I have no choice. You can trust that..." he paused. "You can trust that I do love you." Loki swallowed hard and stared down at the floor. "Why would I lie about that now?" Loki added, emotion rising in his voice. "It serves no other purpose, anymore. It can only be true."
"Almost convincing," Tony replied, bitterly. "What about Thor? Do you love him?"
Loki fidgeted nervously, clenching his hands together. "Of course."
"Yeah, well, you tried to kill him twice, both times when you didn't really have any particular reason to. And he's your brother." Tony continued his pacing, trying to relieve some of the tension, and went on, "So I hope you'll forgive me if I'm just a little sceptical about your supposed devotion to me, who you've known less than four weeks."
"That is all in the past!" Loki retorted. "It doesn't have to be that way, in the future."
"You're telling me you can change?" Tony span around, and shouted to Loki.
"Well not if no one gives me a chance!" He replied, standing, reaching Tony in a few long strides and holding him firmly by the shoulders.
Tony met his eyes, seeing clearly on Loki's face all his unreconcilable feelings of betrayal, of being different and isolated from everyone around him. Tony couldn't help but feel for him. He clenched his jaw as he felt a surge of anger, towards Loki, towards himself for still empathising with Loki, still caring about this mercurial, dangerous, selfish, lying–
Tony lunged forward and grabbed him, planting a rough, aggressive kiss on his lips, bringing his hand up to his hair and taking a fistful of it, probably, hopefully, hurting Loki a little in the process.
He broke away to look at Loki, lips flushed pink where Tony had kissed him, his eyes uncertainly searching Tony's for the meaning of this, not that Tony knew what the hell the meaning was. Tony kissed him again and pushed him back onto the bed, crawling on top of him, pinning him down and assaulting his lips again, taking Loki's lower lip into his mouth and biting on it hard. Sounds of pleasure escaped Loki as Tony parted his legs with one of his, and pressed himself down against Loki's body. Tony broke away from Loki's mouth to move down to his ear, biting him again and rutting against Loki, consumed with a base, aggressive, almost atavistic sort of lust.
This was when they were at their best together, Tony thought, when they were in the throes of desire of a physical, sexual nature. This he understood, this was simple, this was their relationship. Loki capitulated completely, pulling at Tony's hair, and biting at his ear, behaving in a similarly primitive, desperate way – right up until the moment he managed to gasp, "I love you."
Tony paused in his movements and raised himself up on his arms above Loki, looking down at the god, face flushed, breathing hard.
Tony replied, "You're really just intense, aren't you?" Loki blinked. Tony went on, "You can't just say, yeah, the two of us have a rapport going on, personally and sexually. That's cool, if you're in town again, maybe we could hook up. You have to talk about love and the future and... you just take everything to the extreme all the time. You need to relax."
"Relax?" Loki let his head fall back against the bed. "I do not do things by half measures, Tony. That's not who I am."
"Yeah, well, your mortal pet is not who I am." Tony pulled away from him and moved to sit down, crossing one leg over the other.
Loki appeared exasperated and hauled himself to a sitting position. "That has never been who you are to me. I do regard you as my equal. I do not think you understand..." he trailed off.
"I don't think you understand how long I have waited to be with someone whom I may regard as an equal and may... reciprocate."
Tony turned to face him. "I'm not sure that I can reciprocate."
Loki looked at him thoughtfully. "Perhaps not in precisely the same way."
There was a long silence – Tony didn't even know how long it was, how long they sat there, facing each other, looking at each other occasionally, glancing away, thinking. He had never met anyone like Loki, and, apparently, Loki had never met anyone like him. Tony knew, of course, that he was pretty awesome, but to be regarded as unique and important by someone who had lived a thousand years in a civilisation full of remarkable people... that was really something - if it was true.
Finally, Tony sighed and leaned forward, extending a hand to Loki. Loki did the same, gathering both of Tony's hands in his own, looking at him intently. Tony thought carefully about how he was to phrase this. "Loki... these past few weeks have been incredible. Fascinating, exciting – and I don't regret it. But I think it has to end."
Loki dropped his gaze to the floor. "Do you still want me to go back to Asgard?"
Tony shrugged. "You have to go. Odin needs Thor – he needed Thor two days ago. You can't stay."
"That is not what I asked you."
Tony took a deep breath and finally answered, "No."
Loki broke into a smile. "I don't want to go," he said, apparently relieved. "But I know that I must. Next time something happens, next time the Avengers need Thor, I hope that I will come back here with him. And not in chains. As his ally, his equal."
"His brother," Tony added.
Loki took in a sharp breath, something he probably could not help doing, though he did not confirm or agree with what Tony had said. He stood and gently encouraged Tony to stand with him. Tony did so, wordlessly stepping forward to wrap his arms around Loki and hold him. Tony would never have imagined himself hugging Loki like this, and for such a long time, but by this point he was surrendering to his own emotions. Tony closed his eyes and let Loki hold him, as well.
It was bitterly cold, as it always was this high up, on the roof, the December air as sharp and piercing as ice. Darkness had almost completely fallen, as it did so early in the evening.
There was a glow of golden light, and Tony saw that Loki was wearing his coat and scarf again, though he was already shrugging the coat off himself. "Loki, I'm fine..." Tony insisted, his breath misting in the air. But Loki said nothing, simply getting Tony to put the coat on, followed by the black, grey and green scarf, with all of its softness and familiarity of scent. "Don't you need it?" Tony asked.
"No," Loki said softly, shaking his head.
Thor explained that he had already bid farewell to Jane, and that he and Loki must now return to Asgard. Loki could return them to Midgard at any time, but that may not be possible, depending on what else was going on in the nine realms.
"And you're sure I can't come?" Tony asked, his tone joking, but actually thinking that he could go; he could do with a break from this place...
Thor shook his head and explained that Loki may not have enough power for that, even if the All-father had not expressly forbidden it.
For all this time, Loki didn't say anything. He was just stood there, looking at Tony, unsure as to how to proceed, unsure where they stood with each other. Tony faced him, his arms falling to his sides, hoping, in his subconscious, that he would not be required to make a more blatant invitation than that.
Loki approached and embraced him again. There was a fleeting moment of uncertainty before Loki kissed him, tenderly. Loki could be tender, when it suited him, or perhaps when he really did care – Tony just wasn't sure. Perhaps it didn't matter, after all. He and Loki had had this time together, at least...
Loki embraced him again. "I love you," Loki whispered in his ear, holding Tony tightly. Loki pulled back and looked into Tony's eyes. Tony fought with himself, with the indecision of whether to say the same thing back, he had said it two days ago– Loki closed his eyes and let his head fall in disappointment, and when he raised it again to look at Tony, a couple of tears fell from his eyes.
Tony felt a lump in his throat, the need to make this easier somehow. "Loki, I'm really going to miss you, okay." Tony assured him, his voice breaking a little on the final word. Loki nodded, his mouth a thin line, another tear falling.
Loki made to let go, to step away, but Tony pulled him in for one final kiss, one final moment together, feeling Loki's lips against his, kissing him back in one last exchange of affection, one last moment of intimacy, trying to say, through that, what he could not bring himself to speak aloud.
But then it was over, and Tony and Loki let go of each other. Loki stepped back, back away from him, not quite looking at him. Tony thought of running to Loki, telling Loki he loved him, but he had never said it like this. He had only said it in the heat of the moment and he couldn't work out whether he had meant it then or whether he would mean it now if he were to say it.
Perhaps by his actions, Tony reasoned, he had expressed it. After Tony's fury with Loki earlier in the day, the way that Tony had behaved since would only be possible if he truly cared for the God of Mischief. Loki would surely understand that, wouldn't he?
Loki then stood in front of Thor and embraced him, pulling him close, hiding behind him so Tony had no idea of the expression on his face.
Thor looked at Tony with an expression of so many things – understanding, sympathy, regret. "Farewell, Tony," Thor said, and it was all Tony could do to nod.
It evidently took Loki a moment to generate enough power to make the journey; a cloud of golden light appearing around the two of them, some kind of static electricity building in the air. As Thor wrapped his arms around his brother, Tony stepped a little further away, watching all the while, holding Loki's coat closed and wrapped tight around himself. He felt an acute sense of panic, his heart racing, his lungs struggling to accept the icy cold air as breath. Loki was really going, this was it, it was too late to do anything about it now–
There was a flash of light, a snap of breaking static tension, a whoosh upwards in which Thor and Loki disappeared and a shockwave which sent icy winter air rushing away in all directions. The wind whipped around Tony, pushing him, tugging at his coat, and then, just like that, he was alone on the desolate roof, Loki and Thor gone.
Tony looked up into the night sky, seeing nothing there but patches of clouds, scant stars visible through them. Directions like up were probably meaningless here, but Tony looked up anyway, staring as if he could see out through the cosmos to where Loki was, to Asgard, to where the gods lived.
But Loki was gone.
As Tony stood there, alone, gazing up into the heavens, he said, "I love you."