A/N: This was originally meant as a oneshot (I'm writing a darker fic which is not yet posted,and will be Loki/OC, and I seriously needed some fluff, even if it turned out a little less fluffy than inteded. Besides, I ship Frostiron like crazy), and it will most likely stay one, too, but there's a whole story growing in my head, so some of the unknown things that could have been explained are not. There's nothing missing, though, it's not like Loki would tell everything, either. He might come acros a bit OOC at times (hopefully not), but in my head, he has perfect reasons (they're written in a note in the end).

I don't own any of the characters. Sadly. Nor the image.

And I hope you'll forgive me my mistakes (sorry, not a native speaker).

Also, I listened to Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi soundtracks while writing: Shunjun suru Kimochi; Tsunoru Kiogokoro; Shiawasena Yume; Issho ni Itai; Himeta Omoi; Shinobiyotu Kage. Enjoy

December 24th/25th

Candles in the window,
shadows painting the ceiling,
gazing at the fire glow,
feeling that gingerbread feeling.
Precious moments,
special people,
happy faces,
I can see.
Somewhere in my mem'ry

John Williams: Somewhere In My Memory

Tony Stark did not like Christmas.

No, wait. That was an understatement. He liked it about as much as Fury was fond of the council.

Okay, so maybe he liked it a little. One could probably even see the part of him that hosted this fondness if they looked through two or three dozens of magnifying glasses. Most likely three and a half.

Or one could simply be Tony Stark and know about its existence. He still wished there was no such part of him. Because that little fondness towards the crappy holiday was what always left him disappointed.

It started when he was six and discovered Santa didn't exist, so much sooner than other kids, but he'd got used to being a couple of steps in front of them by then. It hurt, because Santa was supposed to be giving presents to children who were good, and if he got presents, he was good. It meant somebody was satisfied with him instead of constantly pushing him to be more, or ignoring him. If it was just his parents instead of Santa …

Well, they were giving him things all the time. Just never what he wanted most.

Growing up kept him wondering why he never felt the warmth and the sense of wonder other people talked about when he sat down with his parents for the short hour they dedicated to it. He wondered how Christmas looked like in the rooms he sometimes caught glimpses of when he walked down the streets.

Howard and Maria died. He spent the next few Christmases either alone or at some party, getting wasted in both cases. There were always girls. And once a guy, almost.

Obadiah tried to keep him in check. But they never spent Christmas together.

Business was strictly separated from it as well. Even Tony didn't know why. He could socialise at New Year, but Christmas was …

That was the point when he started to pretend it didn't exist at all. A little later he started lying to himself that he had succeeded. Sex and drinks had long since become regularity.

He thought this year was going to be different. He had Pepper. But there were things. Like the reappearance of Hydra. Or Fury bugging her whenever he couldn't get to Tony. And tears when Tony ended in a hospital after a building had almost collapsed on top of him. There were things, and then there was agent Agent. No, practically coming back from the dead did not give him the privilege to be called by his name. He took Pepper. And even though Tony couldn't resent them, he still felt something ugly stir inside of him every now and then when their happiness was so much bigger than his.

So he thought this Christmas would be horrible. And then he stopped thinking, because the team practically claimed his tower in the afternoon, Steve, Pepper, and Bruce hijacked his kitchen, and after too long a time his table finally bent under something home-made. They were all together, the Avengers (sans Thor, who'd decided to spend Christmas with Jane and her friends), Pep and Coulson, Rodney had promised to call the next day, since he was spending Christmas eve with his family, and Tony'd even got a card from Fury, which almost made him believe in miracles.

It was nice, the warm smell of food, the lights on the Christmas tree, the presents they opened in the evening (Tony threw the etiquette Steve had bought him at Cap's head) because tomorrow was a new day and their ways would part, an orange with cloves Tony had made in a moment of nostalgia. It wasn't just nice, it was home. However dysfunctional, they looked out for each other—they were family.

Natasha and Clint left first. They had somewhere to be, they said. Burce followed just after that with some mysterious excuse, but Tony wouldn't be Tony if he hadn't known there was a certain Ms Ross involved. He was happy for his friend, he really was.

Pepper offered him an apologetic smile that said goodbye better than words around one in the morning. She left with Coulson's arm around her shoulders, and Tony couldn't help but swallow. In some other life, it would have been his arm. But he was Iron Man as much as he was Tony Stark, and he didn't believe in reincarnation anyway.

He opened a new bottle of wine for Steve and him then, realising with surprise that he actually wasn't drunk for the first time in so many years.

The conversation was a bitch to lead, strange as it was, seeing they both had nowhere else to go tonight. But this was Steve's first Christmas in the present; it probably gave him enough to think about. Tony could understand the wish to be alone with memories. He offered the soldier a room a floor or two under the top, Cap accepted, and Tony was suddenly left alone with piles of dirty dishes in the kitchen, empty glasses on the club table, and torn wrapping paper near the Christmas tree. He picked it up; it didn't belong there.

It was an impulse, telling him to turn off all the lights save the ones on the tree, but Jarvis didn't comment. Tony was grateful. Something was swelling inside of his chest, and his mind wandered back, back to when he had to tilt his head to look at the Christmas tree, to the smell of cinnamon, and a pat on the head. He remembered having real candles instead of electric lights, and cloves his mother had always decorated oranges with, in those rare, precious hours she'd spend with Tony before Christmas. It had been her mother's tradition, too, she'd said.

Tony's chest suddenly felt too tight. He picked the single orange from the club table and moved closer to the tree, suddenly feeling the emptiness of the room intensify. For a while, he didn't so much as move a muscle. His eyes rested on the little lights, but his gaze was distant, fingers clutching the orange with more pressure. This was what it had come down to; everybody had gone their ways, and was this his way, standing all alone in the dark, wishing for candles that had long since burned down?

Thousands of lights flickered outside the windows. Surely it was easier to breathe there, the air was so thin in here …

He grabbed his coat, put boots on, and wrapped a scarf around his neck on the way down. Cold wind collided with his face when he was about half way through putting the gloves on his hands, and he shivered. Hissing, he put the hood on.

The night was silent. People had gone home, parties were far fewer than on New Year's Eve, and if they were outside, they weren't here. He saw no one; the only movement was the flickering of lights and the slow, hypnotic falling of fluffy snowflakes. Tony didn't remember New York being so peaceful. Ever.

He headed for the Fifth Avenue, pushing his hands deeper into his pockets and pulling his head in between his shoulders. It was cold as hell, or, or cold as the look Pepper had shot him when he hadn't liked the socks she'd bought him (he didn't need the Avengers on his socks, he could see them life practically every other day, thank you very much).

He continued to walk like that, taking shortcuts, mouth hidden behind his scarf, leaving soft footprints in the thin inch of snow on the ground. Cold air burned his lungs a little, but it was so much easier to breath. He didn't even feel like he was walking away from something; the sole movement helped his mood, even as nostalgia and remnants of melancholy lingered, mixed with some strange sad kind of contentment.

When he slipped into an alley between two buildings and passed a figure curled in on itself, pressed against the wall, he kept walking, but his valet suddenly felt very heavy in his pocket. Christmas was a time for good, right, for forgiveness, and new beginnings. He could buy the whole Manhattan, what were a hundred bugs for him. He would never be a real hero, that much he knew, but he could be a good person.

The snow under his feet creaked a little. Walking back, he pulled out a couple of banknotes and crouched down in front of the person, a man with his knees drawn to his chest and his head hanging low, hair hiding his face. His arms were wound tightly around his form.

"Here." Tony waved the notes through the air. It got him no response. He sighed, then put the money down beside the person, and got up. "Merry Christmas."

He turned on his heels and—wait, wait, wait, the current temperature plus being outside plus unresponsiveness … Ah, hell.

He squatted again, this time taking hold of the guy's shoulder. He felt muscles tense under the fabric—God, that was just a layer of leather—so he shook it, finally earning a response; the person lifted his head a little—

And Tony tried, and miserably failed, to recoil, ending up falling on his butt. Because—



But the face, even in the dark, was unmistakably his. Clothes fitted, now that he took a better look; boots, and what looked like a tunic made out of combination of fabric and leather, or maybe that was just an extra layer of leather over it, or was it some kind of a coat? It was hard to tell with him sitting like that.

"Loki? What the hell? Shouldn't you be in Asgard? What are you doing here?"

Tony's guard was up immediately. But why on Christmas? Couldn't this encounter have waited for two days, or maybe until after the holidays? Here he'd been, having the best Christmas in ages, and now this.

"Minding my own business." Loki's voice was as cold as the snowflakes falling on his dark hair. "You should be, too."

"The safety of my city is my business."

"I don't see any threats."

"I do. You're right here." Tony was back on his legs by now, though still crouching.

A corner of Loki's mouth twitched up, meant to show disdain. It didn't work that much, though. Something in his expression was not as controlled as the god probably wanted it to be. Tony just didn't know yet what he was seeing through that crack.

The half-smirk disappeared, and Loki tilted his head to a side just the slightest.

"I'm no threat to your beloved city, Stark. I could do some serious damage to you nonetheless, but I'm not inclined to move too much. Your lucky day, it seems."

Tony set his mouth. "And why the hell should I believe a word you say?"

"You asked for my words."

Oh-oh, Loki's indignation was growing. Not smart. Tony really needed to install a brain-to-mouth filter on himself. He ran a hand over his face.

"You've got a proof?"

Loki pressed his lips together.

"Look, either we clarify this now, or I'll drag you to SHEILD, and they'll beat the answers out of you."

Loki fixed him with a glare. Then he slowly untangled one hand from his body, keeping the other one in place, and equally slowly extended it towards Tony, who looked at it suspiciously. Loki had no gloves; his skin was pale in the darkness, marred only by a trail of black markings that started on the knuckle under his middle finger and ran across the back of his palm only to disappear under the sleeve. Hesitating for a moment, Tony reached out and pushed it back with one hand, confirming what he's suspected; the line continued up towards Loki's elbow.

"What is this?" he asked.

"Runes," Loki answered shortly. "They keep my magic away."

"Oh." Well, at least Loki had received some sort of punishment. "I take it you still found a way out of your cell?"

"This is my cell, Stark." Loki snatched his hand back. "Banishment worked for Thor; Odin thought it would work for me, too." He snorted.

"So daddy sealed your powers and sent you to Earth? Without the Bifrost or the Cube?"

Loki grimaced. "There are other ways."

"Yeah, I figured. Can Thor confirm your story?"

Loki shrugged. "If Odin told him."

Great. Another dad who thought he knew better than all the others.

Tony knew he should call Thor, but it was the middle of the night, Christmas night on top of it, he didn't have the heart to bother him. Or anyone for the matter. A sigh escaped his lips before he could contain it.

"Let's say I believe your story. What do I do with you now?"

"You could leave me alone." Loki's voice was so full of sarcasm.

Tony didn't have to be told twice, either. His legs were already killing him, straightening up felt like heaven. He hated squatting. Pulling his hood further over his face, he turned to leave when Loki spoke again.

"Unless you've got some milk?"

Really? Really?

"Seriously, if that's what you want to drink after spending time out here in the cold, you've got to be a mental."

"Not for me!" Loki snapped.

"No?" Tony turned back to him. "What for, then?"

Loki let out a puff that was somewhere between irritated and pissed, and waved a hand for Tony to crouch again. Well, sometimes things came with a price even if one was a billionaire. He complied with Loki's gesture. The god finally unwrapped his left arm from around his body and slightly peeled away the top layer of leather. Tony leaned closer to get a better look before he frantically rubbed his eyes, because no. Maybe he wasn't as sober as he'd thought. Yep, that was it, he shouldn't have opened that last bottle. Steve would tell him the same if—when—he asked him. A scolding sounded so much more probable than Loki nursing two tiny, scrawny kittens which were desperately pressing against his chest and each other for some extra warmth. Because, come on. Loki. Kittens. No.

The two fury balls seemed to tremble slightly, and Loki covered them with his, um, was it a sleeveless coat, again; the gesture bordered on protectiveness, and what the hell?

"Ookaay," Tony drawled. "Where'd you get them?"

Loki scowled at him. "I found them out here. Abandoned."

And Tony's forehead mirrored his scowl, because there'd been so much weight in the last word, more than just Loki proving to be a puzzle, an enigma, once again, so much more than should have been allowed for a single word to carry.

"I didn't know you were the type to save homeless kitties. Do you sell scout cookies, too?"

"Stark." Loki's mouth stretched into a sweeeet smile. "Would you do me a favour? Lean closer so I don't have to get up to strangle you?"

Tony had a history of foolish, dangerous, even a little suicidal things, but there was a line that shouldn't be crossed. Not on Christmas. On New Year, perhaps, because crossing the line always made for the best parties and a lot of bragging stuff …

He raised his hands apologetically, though. "Look, I'll just go back to my tower now, and you take the fur-balls to your supervillain's lair,"—Loki's scowl deepened, but he also averted his gaze just the slightest so it was now resting on Tony's mouth, not eyes—"or, maybe not the lair. Just wherever. To some not-so-lair-like hiding place."

He saw Loki pout a little even as he wrapped his arms tighter around him, and Tony looked at him. Really looked. Maybe it wasn't just a play of shadows that made his complexion even paler or cheeks sharper, maybe the two dark spots were there because of the hollowness of his cheeks that was just a bit too prominent to be attributed to his bone structure only. Maybe his eyes didn't just seem less biting because of the softness of snowflakes.

"You … don't have a place."


"Jeesh, you're gonna freeze out here!"

Loki's chortle had all the sharpness of broken glass. "No," he said again. "Think of it as a part of my heritage."

Tony raised his eyebrows. "Really? Thor always complains about cold."

Obviously not the wisest choice of words; Loki's expression darkened, somehow closed off and cracked at the same time, and Tony found himself really wondering for the first time what had happened between the two gods. He'd been somewhat interested from the beginning, but the opportunity to ask had never really appeared; Thor had to be approached directly, and there'd been no time during the fight. Then he'd gone to Asgard, and after he'd come back with the news for the team and SHIELD, saying Loki would be punished by the Allfather, nobody had wanted to think about Loki too much. His magic, that was an area Tony had allowed to let his mind wander to, for scientific purposes and such, but the family history of a crazy demigod was not really a thing he would usually ponder over. Although … the only thing that had seemed crazy about him was his trying to rule Earth. Other than that …

"Well, I'm not Thor," snapped Loki, and ouch, Tony's must have hit a sore spot.

"No, of course not."

And maybe that hadn't been the wisest thing to say, either. Mental note, Loki didn't hate Thor only when the blonde was standing in his why while he was trying to subdue a planet.

Another mental note, he should not be getting nervous under Loki's scrutinizing glare. Wow, two mental notes already, he should buy a mental whiteboard and a handful of magnets to keep them all in one place.

Okay, wrong thoughts. Forget mental whiteboards. Mental whatever. Loki's staring was getting painful.

"I mean…" He let the genius part of the brain look for a solution. It was simple: find X. X always solved everything. "You're not Thor. Nobody is Thor … Just Thor. We're all … um, different. One of a king and all this shit."


Now that was an awful lot of tired in here, and he couldn't be that hard to listen to.

"Shut up."

"Yeah, about that … See, it's one of the rare things I'm not good at. Like teamwork or following the rules. Ask Fury. Or maybe not, it's Christmas. He'd strangle me if you bothered him now."

Whatever the reason, some tension dissipated from Loki's shoulders. His eyes softened. His voice, too. "What is Christmas?"

And Tony had to smile. He'd never thought he'd hear anyone ask that. Christmas was Christmas, just there, something they all knew, what did it matter where the focus of their attention lay, it was normal like life, like breathing.

"It's a holiday," he said, trying to shift his weights because he was getting cramps in his left leg, but the attempt threw him out of balance, and the only thing he could do save to throw his arms through the air like an idiot was to grab Loki, close a hand around the wrist that was resting on the said-guy's knee, and, oh great, that threw him out of balance, too, and he ended up with his knees in snow.

An amused expression crossed Loki's face. There were occasions when Tony would smile at his own clumsiness, too. Not now.

"Do tell me," he started (not wide-eyed, not even a bit), "this cold thing I can feel through my gloves is not your hand."

He expected Loki to snatch his hand away and snap at him, but the other not only did not move, he actually looked just this side of shy (Loki! Shy!).

"I said I shan't freeze," he said grudgingly, "not that I can't feel the cold."

True. Who would have thought, the God of Lies speaking the truth. Okay, maybe not the best train of thought. He did have a habit of spoiling every situation with some inappropriate comment flashing through his head. Sometimes he wished he didn't.

"Look, my legs are killing me. They were not made for that much crouching, thank you very much. I had to stretch them, or they'll fall of. Which, not cool. So why don't we walk a little, and I'll explain Christmas to you, hum?"

How he managed to file away the fact Loki was capable of what seemed like sincere befuddlement and simultaneously almost not think about anything when he gripped Loki's hand (and it fitted, it shouldn't have fitted) and tried to pull him on his feet, was beyond him. The god apparently got the idea, albeit his expression was still a tiny bit suspicious, and allowed himself to be pulled up (magic or not, Tony was painfully aware he couldn't force Loki into moving if the latter didn't cooperate).

It was only after they'd been standing in silence for a while that Tony realised something was expected from him and stopped observing the snow. It seemed so gentle, with its elegant movement, so feather-light. Pure.

"So …" he started. "Have you seen the Rockefeller?"

Loki arched one perfect eyebrow in a wordless question.

"I'll take that as a no. C'mon." He tugged at the sleeve of Loki's free hand. "I wanted to go there anyway. Supposed to be a big deal. Christmas tree and skating ring and all. Terribly crowded during the day."

"You have these … trees everywhere," Loki said slowly. Did he even know he hadn't torn his sleeve out of Tony's grip yet?

"Yeah. It's sort of a tradition. See, there's this religion here … One of many, actually, but most common around here. Well, the God's son was born on Christmas to die later and save humanity from sin."

Loki was silent for a second. When he spoke, it was slowly and Tony could hear thoughts racing behind his every word.

"He … did not do a very good job then."

"Hey, I'm not an expert. All this religion stuff, it's another thing on the Tony-Stark-does-not-do list. But it's not about people not sinning anymore, it's supposed to be about forgiveness. So … Yeah.

"Although all the kitsch you see around here, most of it is for profit only. Like Santa. The fat, old guy in red and white? Yeah. Coca-Cola borrowed him from legends and … That doesn't make much sense, does it?"

He glanced at Loki, who shrugged once. Tony's hand slipped a little lower.

"Let's see, how to make something as simple as Christmas simple …" He took in the shop windows, decoration all over the streets, advertisements for discounts, the whole little world of the Fifth Avenue, and shook his head without noticing.

"Christmas is for Good," he said at last. "Things like, like forgiveness, and generosity, and … It has some kind of a spirit, you know?" When had they stopped walking? "People give each other presents. It's the time they spent with their beloved ones."

He had to, he just had to look at Loki, to see if he got it, if a supervillain could understand such a concept, only he couldn't remember anymore why he would call Loki that, and then he wished he hadn't looked, because Loki was returning the gaze, and his eyes said too much, so why couldn't Tony understand, it wasn't like he'd never seen anything similar, but this was Loki, and his eyes were sad and so much more that Tony didn't comprehend, but he knew Loki got it, and maybe it would be better if he didn't, because the billionaire didn't want that look on him. It made him think that, somehow, it had been there all along, just without the words to point it out, or somebody to pay attention to it, which wasn't true. Right? Right.

He diverted his gaze. What else should he have done?

"So," he moved to pick up the pace again, "what are you planning to do with the cats?"

He thought maybe he'd heard Loki inhale a little sharper than usually, and if he had to tug his sleeve to pull him along that was perfectly normal; even gods were allowed to get lost in thoughts every now and then.

Loki flinched back to reality, moved his feet to catch up to Tony. His reply was curt.

"Keep them alive."

"Mhm. Sounds like a good plan. Better than ruling the Earth."

Loki's eyes narrowed. It was too dark to see their real colour; they only looked black.

"If you think I am powerless, you are very much mistaken, Stark. Or very arrogant to think so highly of yourself. You don't have your shinny suit."

That struck a nerve. Because, stupid deities. He had so many better things to do than take a walk with a god who was just looking for opportunities to lash out at him.

"And I don't have to stick around here," he snapped. "There's a warm bed waiting for me. A couple of them to choose from, actually. So yeah, I won't let them wait much longer, and you can go curl up somewhere with your cats and die."

He turned on his heels (his father had always hated when he'd done that, because it was followed by Tony's storming away in a child's tantrum as a rule), the movement pulling his hand far away from Loki, and made an angry step in the opposite direction. He managed two more before an icy hand closed around his forearm and he was swirled around again. Blinking, he found himself staring straight into a pair of big, wild eyes that allowed him to see deeper than he was supposed to. They were close for a moment. Then Loki let go, taking a step backwards, while his mask slipped back on. He was so good at fashioning a smug expression in situations when it had no place on his face.

"I would much rather see the tree," he said. The smile ghosting over his lips reminded Tony on their encounter in his penthouse. Or better still, on Loki. Of course this was the same Loki here, but at the same time … it wasn't?

"I thought you would," he returned the smugness.

"Show me then." Loki dug his free hand into a pocket, fisted.

Tony nodded. They moved again (if they continued at this pace, they would just reach the Rockefeller by New Year). Questions had formed inside Tony's head, yet he didn't ask. Cats were the safest conversation topic he could think of, and wasn't that sad, he was Tony Fucking Stark, for god's sake! Or … not a god's.

"But really," he said therefore, "why did you pick up the kitties?"

"I told you." Loki's voice was not particularly nice, but it still lacked the real edge. "They were left to die."

"Look, I get it. You just don't strike me as the type to save kitties. They're just … kitties. No offense here, I cherish my life despite what it looks like."

Loki snorted. "Of course they're just kitties! Their deaths would mean nothing to humanity. But like this," his voice softened, "there's a chance they might become something of a meaning to somebody."

"Didn't think you were much of a philosophy guy either," Tony blurted, not really giving it a second thought. Or the first one.

And Loki smacked him.

Tony's head was thrown to a side, mouth opening, his body followed a little. His hand covered his throbbing cheek on its own as he glared at Loki's back. He had no idea why he'd deserved this now. Besides, his mind was preoccupied with the fact that, of all the things Loki could have done, he'd smacked him.

It hurt like a bitch.

"What the hell was that for?!" Indignation was painted on every vowel.

Loki looked over his shoulder. "That," he hissed, "was for pushing it. I'm contemplating doing some other things to you for thinking you know anything about me."

"All I said till now was what I didn't think about—okay, okay, sorry."

They seriously needed to keep walking.

"I'll try to spare you my comments."

"Don't hurt yourself."

"Now you're concerned for my wellbeing? How kind."

"Let me guess, another thing you didn't think me capable of?"

Loki's glare was so stubborn. More than that, too. Curse the darkness, Tony wanted to read those eyes, study them, because they were something he didn't understand, and he took all the things that he didn't understand apart. Wait until he got to the brain behind … It could have been the most fascinating thing he'd ever got the opportunity to study …

He sighed. "I said I was sorry. Let's just walk, okay?"

Why was he even bothering? It was Christmas, and this was Loki, and it wasn't like he'd wanted to take a walk with him. Trying to not let them be mean to each other was nothing he'd ever planned. It could be that brain again … Trying to get close enough for just a sneak-peek.

It could be something else.

It could be the sole fact he didn't know, for he just had to find out now.

They continued in silence, with snow still falling on them. Loki's hair was soaked already, but right now Tony paid more attention to the way the fronts of his shoes disturbed the smooth surface of the puffy, white layer. They'd fallen into pace anyway. With his lack of brain-to-mouth filter and Loki's sharp tongue, silence was probably the better option.

Seconds passed by in time with snowflakes, Tony's breath coming out as mist. He could practically feel movement keeping him warm, but his hands still felt cold, so he pushed them into his pockets. He raised his head a little despite the extra cold his face got exposed to, and was greeted by the sight of Rockefeller Plaza, the Christmas tree looming in its usual place.

"Here we are," he said. Loki just nodded; his gaze was turned into the direction Tony had pointed in. His face betrayed nothing.

"Well, let's go up to it." Tony nudged him in the arm. This time the Trickster followed without being pulled behind, and a part of Tony wondered whether that should be considered an improvement, or if this whole thing should not be wondered about at all.

Nonetheless, they ended up right under the tree. It was strange, the lack of people everywhere; where there were usually masses, now walked only a couple of lone figures and couples. Almost like he'd taken a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in a different city. It seemed Christmas was an even more special occasion than he'd thought.

He still had to crane his neck to look up at this tree; some things never changed. Not like his tree had. Forget the decoration, it wasn't even in the same place, much less surrounded by the same people. The Avengers were a good family, but he found himself longing for a time when he was still young enough his parents would have a little time for him, for his mother's embrace when he'd run to her excited over this great present he'd just got and how smart Santa was that he always knew what little kids wanted, he missed the smell Christmas had had at home, and how he would ask to keep the Christmas tree out just another day when they should have really thrown it away already …

He hardly noticed the pressure at first. It came after him a few seconds later, nearly making him flinch, and he realised Loki's hand was resting on his shoulder.

He watched Loki notice him notice, watched Loki watch him for a reaction, but there was none; as much as it was strange, the small weight of his hand felt kind of comforting. Come to think of, in its basis that was a comforting gesture.

Tony did frown now. Loki appeared to search his face for the meaning behind the gesture, as if unsure of what to do, then slowly lifted his hand and offered a little sheepishly,

"You seemed distressed."

"Yeah. I ... um, kind of was, I guess?" He shrugged. "It's got nothing to do with you." Some random part of him had forced the words past his lips. "Not now, at least. So, um, thank you?"

"You're welcome," Loki muttered, looking down. "What … were you distressed about?"

Wow, and wasn't that the world record, Tony had been able to exchange more than two sentences with the god without bickering. Impressive. Almost like they were leading a normal conversation.

"I was thinking about the past," he admitted. Why the hell was he telling this to Loki? "What Christmas was like then, before it started to suck. We were always a family on Christmas, but then … Like I said, it sucked. Year after year. Not so much tonight. Tonight was nice. But it got me thinking … Things were different back then. Like … Like we used candles instead of electric lights. And now it's just … this."

He crouched to pick up a small bulb that had somehow ended on the ground. Vandalism, probably, seeing as it wasn't the only one.

"LED lights," he said, offering the bulb to Loki, who hesitantly took it, long fingers handling it more delicately than needed. He held it up, and light hit the dark blue surface. There was an intensity in his gaze that made something in Tony's guts twist; the simple piece of blue plastic seemed to have captivated all his attention, erased the worlds around him, and blurred the edges of reality. It wasn't right.


The latter started, fingers jerking involuntarily. The next second he was holding only shards.

"I'm sorry."

"What for?"

"I broke it. I'm sorry."

Tony furrowed his brow a little and then some more, watching Loki stare at the pieces in his hand. Bickering he could deal with. This … was either a very successful lie with some underhanded purpose, or something was wrong.

"You all right?"

The god nodded. His didn't move his gaze for a millimetre.

"You sure?"

Another slow nod.

"Look, I know you're a liar and all, you'd get a job the moment you'd set foot into Hollywood, trust me, and I might be falling straight into some kind of a trap, but you don't look so good."

"I believe you just told me I'd get a job in Hollywood. Changed your mind?" A dry smile, hell, a parched smile, and he still didn't look.

"No, Loki, it's a figure of—"

"Don't say that!" Loki's head snapped up. Something livid lurked deep in his eyes. "I know what it is!"

"What did I say now?" Tony lifted his palms in surrender, but his voice carried an offensive undertone. "Are you upset over a Christmas light?"

"I am not!" Loki hissed, reminding on a venomous snake too much, but he could as well have said he was currently lying on a beach in Malibu.

"Why? It was just a light."

"I told you I'm not." He threw the pieces to the ground, his gaze following them and pulling his head down as well.

Tony sighed. "Fine. Then what are you upset about?"

He saw Loki's lips purse. "I am not upset."

"And I am not convinced."

This was wrong, this wasn't Loki, he was supposed to be parading around with an ego the size of Milky Way, an infuriating smirk on his face, and cheekbones that could cut diamonds. Oh, right, he still had those. But this was all wrong. This was everything the world never ought to see. From anyone. Because some things only belonged behind four walls.

Only …

Well, Loki had a lot of walls. Just not his own four walls.

He also didn't dignify Tony with an answer. So the genius billionaire (etc., etc.) mirrored Loki's earlier gesture; his hand went to rest on the god's shoulder. Muscles stiffened under his touch. Otherwise there was still no reaction. Just … Was Loki cold enough that it made his body tremble?

Well, if he said it wouldn't kill him or so …

"Loki," Tony said, noticing for the first time how the name rolled off his tongue and left the slightest aftertaste, like a rich dark wine, or maybe like scotch he liked so much that lingered in the shape of a burn. Both. Just like Loki could be both.

"If I say 'you seemed distressed' now, will you play the game?"

"And proceed to explain my take on Christmas?"

Tony imagined a smirk tugging at Loki's lips, but the latter's voice held none of the teasing mockery he'd encountered at their first confrontation in the penthouse.

It didn't matter at the moment, it couldn't. Loki was a trickster, games were in his blood, and if either of them wanted to finish this one, Tony had to make a move in accordance to the rules. Little did it help that they kept changing by the minute.

"What would you tell me?"

Loki tilted his head, so that he was looking at the Christmas tree again. It was the only motion he made, apart from the slight trembling of his body, which meant Tony's hand was somehow still resting on his shoulder.

"It's for people." Loki's tenor was even and steady, but if there was not an undertone to it, Tony was willing to take every single bottle of alcohol he owned and empty it into a sink.

"Well, yeah." He tried to keep it going. "We're the only race that celebrates it."

"Yet you are not with 'your loved-ones'."

It wasn't a question. Tony would be a fool to pretend otherwise. Images of an orange arose in his mind.

"No." He shook his head slightly. A bit of snow slid off his hood. "But I was. They gave me a Christmas after so long … And I came out here to share it with the ones who used to give it me but no longer can."

He had a feeling Loki somehow knew that. It was common knowledge that Tony's parents were dead.

"You won't find them out here."

Soft, and sad, and Loki knew.

"No, I won't." Tony knew, too. There was only one place he could ever find them. He had simply needed to go out, get some air. "I didn't think I would. In fact, I didn't think I'd find anybody. The streets are deserted."

"Not completely."

True. But what was a person here and there compared to the usual bustling of the crowd? Pursuing this topic made no sense.

"You're cold," he said instead.

Loki shrugged; Tony could feel his bony shoulder move under his palm.

"Doesn't it bother you?"

"Why ask, Stark, it's nothing you can change."

Tony frowned, opening his mouth, but Loki beat him. "What did you give them?"


"You said mortals exchanged gifts, did you not?"

"Oh, that! Some trips to nice places for Clint and Tasha, and Pep and Coulson …"

"He lives."

"Yeah. Made it through. Barely. Just don't go killing him again. Come to think of, don't go killing anybody, especially not me all of a sudden, I'd like to live a few more years, thank you very much for taking that into consideration. Not that I'm complaining, I'm not complaining, but why am I not lying dead in some ally already?"

Loki stiffened. "I haven't a death wish," he whispered, just this side of audible, sending a shiver of unease down Tony's spine.

"You okay?" the man asked on an impulse.

"Yes, Stark." The voice of a king. "Although your concern for my wellbeing would be touching if it wasn't so irritating."

Tony could have snorted at that. Would have, too, if he didn't suspect very strongly that he'd just been lied to by the God of Lies—how surprising was that—and, well, maybe if he wasn't just a tiny little bit worried. Very tiny little bit.

Staring at the back of Loki's head any longer reeked of futile. Tony wanted truth, because truth explained how things worked, and if he needed to reach trough Loki's eyes and literally pull out the how-Loki-works manual, he would do it. (He preferred less nasty ways, though.)

A short step brought him to Loki's side, close enough to reach out, cup the god's cheek with one gloved hand, and slowly but determinately turn his face towards himself.

True, he hadn't expected to be thrown over the Christmas tree, but he had thought Loki would push him away. Instead, he found the god's eyes closed, his whole body trembling just the slightest, and he leaned, leaned, into Tony's touch. The latter stared. Then Loki's eyes snapped open, and he recoiled as if bitten by a snake. One of the kitties mewed, a sound that tugged at Tony's heart (he would never admit it, ever). Loki shifted his arms.

Tony sighed. "I don't care what you claim, you are going to freeze out here."

Loki pouted stubbornly. "I won't."

Stubborn to a fault.

"Okay. Okay, you won't. What of the kittens, though?"

Loki's gaze dropped to the small shapes shivering under his coat. "I'll keep them alive."

"They need a place to stay."

"They,"—Loki looked up, staring into Tony's eyes, through Tony's eyes right into his soul—"need a place to belong."

"That's what I said."

"You didn't."

"Yeah, I did."

"There's a difference."

"No, there isn't."

"Yes, it is.

Once again there was more weight behind his word that should have been allowed.

"Although …"



"Nothing what?"

"Nothing. I suppose … I'd like to see them again."

Aww, and wasn't that cute.

"Look." Tony shifted, trying to get some warmth back to his legs. "If you swear you won't kill me or harm me or anyone around, you can come to my tower to melt your frozen ass, and I'll get something for the little guys to eat. I mean …" Tony diverted his gaze. "It's Christmas and all. And I wouldn't want more deaths on my conscience. So,"—he stuffed his hands deeper into his coat pockets—"yeah."

What the hell? He had not just invited Loki over. He had not. Tony Stark didn't do that, and he opened his mouth to tell him he changed his mind, but something stopped him. It was impossible to tell what. Maybe the way snow lay on Loki's head, or the way his fingers were digging into his upper arms, or maybe how his whole face screamed I don't understand. And then the look changed to I don't trust you faster than Steve could scold him for cursing, because his offer did have trap written all over.

"No hidden agenda," he added. "I'll tell nobody of your presence, you can leave whenever you want, unharmed, no tracker or anything, SHIELD will never know about this. I'll promise all that if you swear not to hurt anybody." He tried to make his looking away seem nonchalant. "So? What do you say?"

He could practically hear the gears turning inside Loki's head. It was a stupid offer, Tony'd admit that. No more conversing with the demigod after drinking—

Oh, God, they really were conversing, weren't they? Christmas miracle?

He'd never decided whether he believed in miracles. There's been a time when a "no" would smoothly slide off his tongue. Now? Not so fast. What he'd survived …

But he didn't have the courage to say yes. Believing would lead to hoping, hoping to disappointments, it was how his world worked. He'd maybe thought his relationship with Pepper a kind of a miracle. The outcome was hardly surprising. (He wanted her to be happy still. She deserved it.)

In the end, he'd still be forced to say no. There were no miracles, only weird Christmas-night situations.

"I accept."

Loki's voice was reality calling him back.

"But should you break your promise, I will find a way to destroy you."

Tony shrugged. "It's either a lose-lose or a win-win situation. Guess we both have reasons to keep our words."

"Perhaps. But I still don't trust you."

"If it makes you feel any better, I don't trust you either." Tony brushed snow off his hood. "C'mon."

Wrapping his arms around himself tighter, Loki glanced at the broken LED light on the ground once more before hurrying to fall into step with Tony.

They walked in silence. A couple walked past, definitely having seen more sober days before. Snow crunched underfoot. The crossed a street.

"How long have you been of Earth anyway?" asked Tony when he became thoroughly irritated by Loki's constantly walking half a step behind. He didn't even know why it annoyed him, it just did.

"Does it matter?"

"I suppose not." Breath turned to mist, twirling like a cigarette's smoke. Who would have thought, there was one bad thing one could do to oneself that Tony Stark didn't engage in. Did they smoke in Asgard? The thought of Loki, dressed as he was plus the shiny armour, holding a cigarette, almost made him smile.

"Will you tell me, though?"

"Depends. How desperate are you to know?"

"Not at all."

"Pity. I rather hoped you wouldn't be afraid of a good bargain."

"My ass you did."

"I also hoped we could keep your ass out of it."

Damn god! This was headed in a completely wrong direction. But Tony couldn't back out. He would never.

"I think my ass is totally worth the attention."

"You think to highly of yourself."

"Well, my ass did not get kicked half a year ago. Whereas yours did. Hard."

He heard Loki start saying something that would have probably turned out to be a snarky reply, but the god never got past the first two letters. Scowling, he looked at his feet. Snow was slowly melting on his skin, droplets trailing down his neck and under the collar.

That seemed to be the way their banters went, from teasing mockery to tense silence.

Tony sighed. "Fine. I'll bargain."

He wondered if Loki smirked at that. The bastard was still half a step behind, maybe just so he could annoy Tony, who hated looking backwards. He'd had a close encounter with traffic signs a few times too many.

"What can you offer?"

It didn't actually matter, not in this game. Bargaining itself did.

"You get to warm your sorry ass in my tower?"

"Leave my ass out of it. And no to that."

"It's a valid offer."

"Part of a deal made beforehand, nothing more."

"You're just sore 'cause I mentioned your ass."

Loki hissed. "What is it with you and your fascination with behinds?"

"Look, just because nobody has ever been fascinated with your ass, doesn't mean mine isn't great."

Loki's face shut down, becoming a façade of everything and nothing. Even his eyes were suddenly hidden by some sort of a mask. There was no way to read him.

"All right," he said impassively. "We've established you have a great ass. If this is the only thing one can discuss with you, you are a sorry excuse of a genius indeed."

Tony swallowed a retort. It seemed everything was always personal when Loki was involved.

"I'll give you food. No? Drinks? Drugs? What do you want?"

Only silence answered him, and he glanced over his shoulder, hoping traffic signs would be kind to him. In that moment, he'd be willing to bet all his money Loki was lost in thoughts, memories perhaps. How he wished he could see inside the god's head …

"A penny for your thoughts?"

Green eyes (dark, actually, the colour was just a product of his mind) lifted. "You can't have my thoughts, Stark," Loki said sharply, defensively. Then more quietly, "You can't have that."

He should be put into a cheesy Hollywood movie. Only then he'd have to deliver the lines more dramatically, with a tragic, torn expression, and to some beautiful girl, words like No, not my thoughts, please, they are all I have left, I'm begging you, leave me this one last thing … Nah, Loki would never sound like that. He had a way of making things simple when he wanted. Sure,he did have a streak for dramatising, and overly so, but that was much too cheesy.

Wait, wait, wait. The main reason would be because it wasn't true, forget the style. But Loki was a liar …

Okay, no more mixing the Trickster and Hollywood.

"Can I have an answer then?"


"I'm curious."

"Three days."

Oh. "And, um, what have you been doing?"

"That is not for you to know."

"If you say so … And until you got here?"

Loki pressed his lips together. His expression was mostly hidden, because his head was bowed; one of the kittens was shifting, making that heart-wrenching sound that made Tony want to cradle it again.

"Okay," he said instead. "I suppose that can be an answer, too. You feel like talking about anything?"

"I don't know."

And that took him by surprise, since as far as he knew people either wanted to talk or they didn't, or just didn't mind, but even then they knew they had no particular wish and were not truly against it either.

"M-hm. I just thought, I don't know, it's silent." And Loki had a pleasant voice. A soft lull sometimes, sharp edges other times, slight British accent. Smooth.

"I'm guessing you like cats?"

There, that was neutral enough, wasn't it?

"Pretty much."

"Uh-huh. I've never had a cat. Or any other animal. My parent wouldn't let me, I didn't want it later. I'm not sure Pepper would allow me to have one now, she'd probably be worried sick I'd forget about it and let it die. I know I forget to eat sometimes, but some on, that's totally different. I wouldn't just let a pet die! Well, especially not if it meowed or barked loud enough. Who knows, maybe I could teach a cat to place dead mice at Fury's feet if he came over. Or birds. There might be birds on the roof. I don't have mice anywhere. Except if there's a business selling them. It's probably not very successful. I remember when I was still in primary school, there was this kid who had a cat at home, big and orange. A hunter. He brought a dead mouse to school once. Left it on the teacher's chair, so she sat right on it. She shrieked like a little girl, really, and …"

He went on with the story, and then started to consider if teaching a dog to pee on Fury's shoes would be a better idea. It was easy to talk like that, silly stories and bad ideas. But after a while he noticed Loki's silence. Not that he hadn't before, but he became aware now. There should have been "mhm"s and "yeah"s somewhere.

They'd reached the tower by now. Pushing the back door open, Tony quietly ordered Jarvis not to make footage of this and held the door long enough for Loki to slip in. The contrast between his pale skin and dark crescents under his eyes was even more obvious now that there was light caressing his face.

"You okay?"

The elevator door opened with a silent hiss. Loki entered without a word, which was an answer by itself.

"You're not, "Tony concluded out loud anyway. "You know, if you told me what's wrong, I might be able to help you."

"Or you might not be." Do you think it's that simple spoke his eyes. Tony almost told them no.

"Or you could simply refuse," Loki added.

"Try me."

The glare was icy. "Do not pretend you care one bit! You just don't know what to do with yourself, because your so called family abandoned you when you were supposed to be together!"

If they were not in an elevator, Tony would have walked away immediately. How dared he. How. Dared he. He opened his mouth to shout, and cruse, and kick him out, but the moment he sucked in a breath, words faded away.

"You're wrong," he said. His hands weren't even clenched into fists. This was the truth, and he knew it. For once, he didn't have to hide. "This was the best Christmas I've had in years. They didn't abandon me. They have people who are important to them, and worthy of their time. There will always be a time when they'll go home, but leaving doesn't mean abandoning. Demanding all of their time would be selfish and unnecessary."

Loki stood like a marble statue, a dark shape against the mirror wall. His expression was closed off. His defence mechanism, Tony had figured that much out, but he still wanted to know what was behind. Rage? Agitation? Sadness? His eyes were walls, holding back on ocean, but of what?

They didn't talk until they reached the top floor. The penthouse was exactly as Tony'd left it, dark, empty, silent. Jarvis switched on the lights, the billionaire took of his coat and nonchalantly threw it over the back of the nearest couch.

"Food or shower?" Tony kicked off his boots, glimpsing at Loki, who was standing beside the elevator like a shadow. The latter shrugged.

"Shower then. Come." Tony weaved his hand and led the god through a door opening into the corridor where his private rooms were located. There was only one bathroom (but it made for the lack of quantity in its size), and the only way to it through the bedroom.

"That's it. You'll find towels in the cupboard. There should be a robe somewhere, too. Shampoos are in the shower, just choose whichever one you like."

Loki, who had yet to say something after his verbal attack in the elevator, nodded shortly. Tony did, too, about to walk out, but he remembered something that stopped him.

"Give me the kitties. I'll feed them in the meantime."

Again Loki obliged without speaking. He parted what turned out to be a thin sleeveless leather coat, taking hold of one little body that he gave to Tony, who suddenly had no more trouble grasping why Loki held them like they were made of glass. The kittens were tiny, hardly a week old, the first one black as night, the second covered in grey stripes. They trembled in his hands. How could anyone be so heartless as to throw them out to die?

He didn't voice his thoughts, though; usually, when one offered a shower to someone, one didn't linger. But he did take a towel, and when he was back in the main room, he set the kitties on the counter and wrapped them into said towel.

Luckily, there was still some milk in the refrigerator. Miraculously even; Tony drank his coffee black. Anyhow, he didn't have a baby-bottle, and he had no idea where to find a suitable piece of fabric to leak the milk through. (There was probably some kind of a thing he could use in his lab, but his toys were his toys, in other words—off limit.) Maybe he could use his finders, he concluded while waiting for the milk to warm. He dipped in his index finger, then held it in front of the black kitty's snout. A tiny raspy tongue flicked over his skin, the sensation strange but not at all unpleasant. He dipped in the other forefinger as well and offered it to the other kitty. The little guys (or girls, were they girls?) should definitely be checked over by a vet …

Both were hungrily lapping droplets off his fingers when Loki appeared, dressed in his clothes—black trousers and just as black leather tunic—minus the coat, which he held in his hand together with the boots. A towel hanging around his neck prevented wet strands to get plastered on to his neck. He looked lost.

For a nanosecond, Tony considered offering him a change of clothes, but there was a whole collection of reasons that gladly chased the idea away; they'd be too small, you didn't offer clothes to SHIELD's ex-most wanted criminal, Loki could just disappear with them (what? Tony was fond of his stuff, he didn't like anyone taking it), and plainly Loki wearing his clothes was a notion that bordered on intimacy, which—no.

There, plenty of nice reasons. He could find more, too.

"Were exactly did you get them?" he asked instead, nodding towards the cats, waiting for the moment of truth—would Loki speak?

"In the park."

Well, short, but still words.

"You know, for someone called Silvertongue you sure don't speak much. Or does the nickname derive from elsewhere?"

Yes, that was so called for. Really, Tony, good job.

Loki decided not to dignify it with a reply. His eyes found the Christmas tree.

"Oh. Yeah, that's my tree. A bit smaller, but at least you don't have to crane your neck. And I could buy the whole Rockefeller anytime, so. Hey, I'll turn on the Christmas lights, it looks much prettier then. If you ask me, that is."

Not that he needed to be asked. A short command given to Jarvis sufficed to get the Christmas lights turned on, and the rest off, and the whole place was left flooded with dim, somehow magical light.

Loki took a step forward, intentionally or not, who knew. He looked … touched?

Or maybe it was just a trick of light that danced over his face.

And then his gaze returned to Tony, and the genius didn't feel so smart anymore, because he had no idea what to make of those glistering emeralds. He simply did not know. They were so, so green, despite the half-darkness surrounding them, despite the lack of light, they were green and filled with something to the point of overflowing, and Tony didn't know what.

He averted his gaze. The method he'd chosen for feeding the kitties may have been stupid, but it proved to be a distraction. At least the job would get done more slowly, and it was more fun also. The kitties were so fragile, so completely dependent on him in their helplessness. He couldn't remember ever being needed in the same way. Sure, there was Iron Man, saving the world, but that was different, it was faceless crowds he was saving, and they weren't completely helpless either, it was not the same. He was needed here as a person not as Iron Man, as a man not a hero.

And it felt nice, more than nice, being good enough just the way he was, not failing to meet somebody's expectations, not needing to try, to strive for more and more albeit always knowing there'd be someone to shake their heads in disapproval in the end (or in the middle, what did it matter).

Was that why his relationship with Pepper hadn't worked? Or had it been a sign it wasn't going to work, because he was supposed to feel complete, not think how things would be if he weren't Iron Man, if he didn't still get drunk from time to time, if he were more considerate, if only he were different, if only he were right for her.

But he wasn't.

"You think I could ever be?" he murmured, directing it at the two fluffy balls wrapped in the towel. Only after there was nothing but silence did he realise he might have been expecting a response nonetheless. Loki was just curious enough to comment on such a question, even if he didn't feel especially talkative tonight. Come to think of it, Tony had actually forgotten to keep tabs on him … Turing your back to the God of Mischief—not good.

Tony's eyes shot around. What if Loki had broken his promise and took the opportunity to cause damage? To get revenge for his defeat? What if—

Or not. However odd the scene before him was, Loki didn't appear to be up to anything. He was lying on the floor in front of the Christmas tree, unmoving, with his back to Tony, whose eyes widened a fraction in surprise. Hi picked up the towel with the kitties and walked over to the god. He nudged the latter with his toes.

No response. Tony crouched, leaning over Loki to find his eyes closed and lips parted slightly, and the orange with cloves right beside his opened palm.

"Hey, fellow. You sleeping?"

Probably; green eyes did not snap open, pale lips formed no snarky reply.

"And without dinner." Tony shook his head. Who in their right mind fell asleep on the floor, under a Christmas tree no les, when there were couched in near vicinity? Comfortable, too, he only liked the best for his ass. Or Pepper's, when they had still been…

Maybe Loki had been watching the tree before having dozed off. He had seemed fascinated with the one on Rockefeller Plaza. He must have been tired, too.

Tony sighed.

"This is all crazy, you know?"

Great, he was talking to a sleeping demigod, people were right after all; visiting a psychiatrist wouldn't hurt him (he couldn't claim the same for the unfortunate doctor, though). But the said demigod was looking less like a god right now and more like …

Well. Tony may have accepted three strays into his home for the night.

Hesitantly, he reached put, knuckles ghosting over Loki's cheek; the skin was still cold.

Was Loki human now, having been banished, or still a god only without his magic tricks available? Was he even telling the truth about that?

Three dark signs were visible on the back of his right hand, stark against pale skin. In a way, they screamed to be touched. On the other hand, Tony didn't ever want to do that. Why would he anyway?

He looked away. Manhattan resembled some twisted reflection of the sky, a sea of lights but with none of the peaceful darkness, of infinity. Was Asgard somewhere out there, hiding amid the stars? It seemed abstract, the idea of a place, of gods existing in a place far away, despite the two gods being right here on Earth, nearby, and tangible, and real. How far away from home were they really?

He lay down, placing his head on his arms. Sleep was out of question, not with Loki being in the midst of the Avengers' nest, but nothing would prevent him from lying. It was late and he was tired, too.

The dark, blissful fog shifted. Somebody nudged his shoulder, and those sounds he distantly registered might have been his name. Something else followed. It resembled all the things he didn't particularly want to hear in the morning …




He opened his eyes, only to find Steve looking at him.

"Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas to you, too, Cap," he replied and pushed himself into a sitting position. "You look … awake."

"I only just got here. Why were you sleeping here?"

Awareness crept in. He was on a couch. Why was he on the couch? Where was Loki? Had the others found him?

Purposefully ignoring the fact he wasn't supposed to worried, he let his eyes flit around. He had given a promise after all. But he only found Steve, and a blanket pooling around his own hips, and a towel … with the kitties. He breathed a sigh of relief; if Loki had time to put him onto the sofa, he had surely left on his own.

"I was tired," he offered.

"Oh." Steve sat down next to him. "How was your night?" He looked at the towel.

Tony shrugged. "Subtle, are we? It appears I became a babysitter for abandoned kitties."

"Where did you find them?"

"I went for a walk." An omission was not a lie, right? He scratched a tiny grey paw. "They'll need to be washed and checked by a vet."

Steve patted the other kitten's head. "They're so scrawny. I never thought you'd be the guy to save homeless kittens. But you saved their lives."

Tony averted his gaze. Guilt bit him in the face.

"Yeah," he said slowly. "Funny, the things we don't think about one another."

Steve may or may not have frowned at that; Tony had yet to look at him. His eyes picked up something else instead. He stroke the black kitty this time, pushed his hand further into the towel, then moved away and got to his feet. His fingers were closed around a piece of paper as he walked towards the Christmas tree.

"Have you named them yet?"

This was automatically assuming he would keep them. But really, how much choice did he have? His heart wouldn't let him give them away, even to a shelter, not after he'd held them, felt their pulse race and their tongues on his skin. But he hadn't saved their lives, and even if they were his now, they weren't his to name. He hadn't thought he was what Loki'd had in mind when he'd said they needed a place, and then there was the matter of the little "I'd like to see them again", and for some reason the prospect of Loki reappearing wasn't as appalling as it perhaps should have been. It was, kind of, sort of, a tiny bit thrilling. Maybe. On good days. On very good day. Maybe not. But he should be the one to name the kittens, not Tony.

"No." He bent to pick up the orange lying there. "Give it some time."


Tony shifted the orange in his hands, his back to Steve, and while it seemed he was looking at it, his eyes were focused on the little piece of paper.

Two black words were scribbled on it.

Merry Christmas.

Tony put the orange back under the tree. It belonged there. He smiled softly.

"Merry Christmas to you, too."

He heard Steve say, "You said that already," clearly confused, but he shook his head and headed for the bathroom, leaving his teammate with a chance to ponder over his confusing behaviour.

A/N: So, um, about Loki ... I imagine his magic is very much a part of him, and he would suffer from its loss a lot. Let's say losing it is like losing a sense for normal people. Also, and maybe that can be seen from the story, he's attracted to Stark. In case I ever continue this, it will become more apparent.

Thanks for reading. Reviews are appreciated.