"With our backs to the wall, the darkness will fall.
We never quite thought we could lose it all.
Ready, aim, fire...
And empires fall in just one day.
You close your eyes and the glory fades...

Off in the distance, there is resistance,
Bubbling up and festering...
A man on a mission, changing the vision.
I was never welcome here."

-Ready, Aim, Fire by Imagine Dragons

-o-o-o-

Not even five minutes had passed after Loki finished speaking before there was a knock on the door, startling them out of their reverie. They turned around in confusion, and when Tony glanced at Loki, the god was frowning. "No one should be here yet," Loki murmured in response to the unspoken question. He pushed away from the window and began to navigate through the piles of books strewn across the floor, but when he reached the door, he paused. Another knock, louder than the first and far more impatient, echoed through the room. Loki warily opened the door.

To Tony's surprise, it was Thor standing on the other side and not a platoon of guards. Loki was unamused by his brother's presence, and when the thunder god made to enter the room, he did not budge. "You're early." Loki started to close the door until only a sliver of Thor was visible.

With a scowl, Thor placed his hand on the doorsill, preventing Loki from shoving him out. "I know. That's not why I am here." He tried to enter again, but Loki obstinately held the door in place. With a groan, Thor asked, "Would you please let me in, brother? I don't have time for your games."

Reluctantly, Loki stepped from the doorway, and Thor slipped inside. As Thor closed the door, Loki retreated back towards where Tony stood in the center of the room. The god scratched idly at his hands, but thankfully ceased the action when Thor noticed, his blue eyes narrowing at the scabs that littered Loki's arms.

Thor opened his mouth to speak, but Loki cut him off. "If you're here to talk to me about the wonders of family, you're wasting your time. No matter what you say, I won't change my mind."

"I'm not here because of that either. You've made your… displeasure quite clear," Thor's dispassionate words were betrayed by the clenching of his jaw. Stepping farther into the room, he announced, "I have come to speak to you about the situation in Midgard."

"Then speak, Blondie. You're the king here." Tony flopped down onto the couch, knocking some stray books to the floor. When Thor just continued to frown at them from across the room, the man sighed. "We don't have all day, you know. Loki and I have things to get home to—like a 'thank god that didn't go worse' party with lots of alcoholic beverages and science."

If anything, Thor's hesitation intensified, and his voice was laced with confusion as he said, "I must admit that I underestimated the bravery of Midgard's warriors. Your resolve itself is enough to grant you entrance to Valhalla, and that may be just what every soldier needs, given the circumstance."

"Uhh… thanks?" Tony replied, unsure what the god was talking about. He assumed Thor came to talk about Loki's banishment and maybe make some more demands, not talk about the afterlife. He looked up at Loki, wondering if maybe Thor was just referring to something else, but the god was just as befuddled.

"Circumstance?" Loki asked, standing rigidly beside Tony.

"Yes, that's what I've come to talk to you about," Thor said, apparently missing the fact that his audience was completely out of the loop. "You've been informed, certainly. While I am saddened that you won't be staying in Asgard, I believe it is for the best that you are able to assist Midgard. They will need all the help they can get as he approaches, and your knowledge is a great boon. Asgard will offer help as well, of course, but-"

"Woah, Point Break," Tony said, interrupting the rambling god. Thor stopped, appearing as befuddled by the disruption as Tony and Loki were by what he was saying. "Start from the beginning. What the hell are you talking about?"

"I speak of the rise of the Mad Titan..." At Tony's blank look, Thor hedged, "I told the men in black about Thanos's coming months ago. You are aware… right?"

Loki gasped, and Tony started, half-rising into a sitting position before he even knew what Loki was reacting to. The god blanched, his skin turning pastel blue and frosting over, and he stared at Thor with dread. "Thanos? He is... actually alive?" Loki asked haltingly, as if he could hardly fathom the words, and it only took a moment for Tony to connect the dots.

Thanos was the extraterrestrial threat that Fury had informed them about forever ago: the one that they had dismissed because Loki was certain it was a false alarm. The one that Fury had continually pestered them to investigate but they never did for a number of excuses. The one that was apparently a very real threat, meaning...

"Oh shit ," Tony swore, scrambling off the couch. "Aliens are going to attack Earth?"

Their reaction alarmed Thor, and he hurried to say, "I thought you were aware of the situation and were preparing."

"We didn't think it was actually going to happen!" Tony exclaimed, regretting every time in the past few months that he and Loki had chosen not to investigate Thanos.

Though he was a bit more level-headed than Tony, Loki began to pace. "How do you know he's coming? How far away is he?"

"Heimdall felt something stirring beyond the Nine Realms, and when we scryed for the source, we found the Mad Titan on the other end. Unfortunately, no one can deduce how far away he is, but his forces are moving quickly towards us."

"And how quickly is that?" Tony asked, suppressing his initial fear and trying to think rationally. "Like, the Earth will be in ruins when we get back,"—he desperately hoped that wasn't the case—"or will it be twenty years before he arrives?"

"We are not sure," Thor repeated. "It could be anywhere from a few weeks to a few years. That is why I alerted you when we first learned of it, as Midgard will be his first target."

"Do you have the scrying pool still active?" Loki asked, and Tony was glad that at least now the god wasn't freaking out about his skin color… Though that it was because a creature even gods feared was coming to Earth probably wasn't an equal trade-off. When Thor nodded, Loki demanded, "Show me. I need to see this threat for myself and determine what your incompetent mages couldn't."

"But it is almost sunset-"

"Then it is best we hurry. Otherwise you'll be forcing us to fight Thanos blind. Midgard does not have enough latent magic to see so far beyond the branches of Yggdrasil."

Thor hesitated, and he searched his brother's face for any signs of deceit or manipulation. Though there were none, the thunder god still warned, "If you even think about stealing anything in the vault, I will not sit idle."

"I have no need for any of Odin's war trophies," Loki replied, and while Thor still seemed uncertain, he turned to the door; Loki and Tony followed close behind.

The guards stationed in the hallway snapped to attention as Thor left the room, but he waved them down. "I will escort Loki myself." Though they were confused, the guards raised their fists to their chests and remained where they were.

Thor, Loki, and Tony walked briskly through the halls. They journeyed deep into the castle, past where Loki's impromptu tour had ended, and ended up before a towering gold door guarded by a dozen soldiers.

"My lord, what-" one of the Aesir began, breaking rank to meet them, but Thor impatiently raised a hand to silence him.

"By my authority as king, I grant Loki and Tony Stark temporary access to the weapons vault. Step aside."

The guards hesitated just as Thor had, and they shot Loki suspicious glances. Tony couldn't really blame them, considering Loki's recent track record, but he had faith that the god wouldn't start another political incident so soon... at least he was ninety-nine percent sure Loki wouldn't; whoever gave Loki the title 'God of Chaos' was not mistaken in their observation.

Nonetheless, they were in a hurry, and Thor brandished Mjolnir. "This is no trick. There is an urgent matter I must tend to. Let us pass."

"Yes, sire," the guards chorused, and with a salute they stepped aside. Thor stormed through the double doors and took a sharp left turn, leading them down a short stairwell and past displays of weapons and talismans. Thankfully, Loki stayed by Thor's side, not even glancing at the weapons that surrounded them.

After a few more turns, the exhibits ended, and they reached a nondescript door. The first thing Tony noticed upon entering the small room was the colors being cast across the ceiling and walls. The murals of light originated from one of six basins in the back of the room. Loki increased his speed towards the stone bowl, and when he looked over the rim to whatever was shone within it, his red eyes widened and he cursed. Tony, following closely behind the god, reached the edge of the basin and stared down at the radiant image. It took a moment for the sight to register, and then his response mimicked Loki's.

"We are so screwed…" Tony breathed, gripping the sides of the stone bowl and leaning in closer to the shifting contents of the bowl. It was like a scene straight from a sci-fi movie: monstrous ships blotted out the backdrop of stars and nebulae, each one illuminated by an eerie red glow. The light, originating from bottom of the vessels, flickered across silver metal as the spaceships shifted back and forth, their speed apparent only from way space seemed to fly past them. With the carriers nearly touching wing to wing, it was impossible to discern the exact number of ships in the the mass, but the number was astronomical. While the largest spaceships appeared to number only in the twenties, there had to be hundreds of smaller ships, and they circled around protectively. As the ships passed through the sheen of red light, the guns mounted on their hulls became apparent before fading back into darkness; they were equipped for war.

Loki abruptly reached forwards and ran his fingers across the surface of the screen, which misted around his fingers in a state caught between liquid and gas. The image rippled from his touch and began to change. The ships blurred as the scene rotated and zoomed in, piercing through the thick to focus on an asteroid hovering between the ships.

At the bizarre sight, Tony frowned and asked, "How in the world is that keeping up with the ships?" He tilted his head and peered closer, but the asteroid was poorly lit. Still, he could discern what looked like a staircase and a... throne? on the surface. "What's the deal with the space rock?"

He glanced at Loki, but the god, riveted by the scene, didn't respond. He gripped the basin tightly, and a thin sheen of frost spread from his hands to coat the stone. Surprised by Loki's response, Tony returned his attention to the image, trying to see what it was that he had missed. One of the carriers passed over the asteroid, and the red light shone brightly on the rock's surface. Tony felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise as he got a clear glimpse of what was indeed a massive throne, decorated with a plethora of skulls and twisted bones. However, it was not the sight of the throne itself that unnerved Tony, but the person who sat upon it.

The humanoid figure towered in his throne of death, almost as large as one of the small spaceships, and his skin shown a bright purple in the ambient light. Yet it wasn't the creature's strange appearance that unnerved Tony but the sense of power he exuded as he sat on an asteroid in the middle of space. There was something inherently wrong about him.

"So that's Thanos..." Tony muttered; it wasn't a question. Even without hearing the stories of the Mad Titan, just the sight of him sent a thrill of fear through Tony's veins. "He looks..." Adjectives flashed though Tony's mind—terrifying, dangerous, murderous—but he settled with a nervous swallow and, "Imposing."

"I had thought you were already making preparations to fight him," Thor repeated, sounding guilty even though it wasn't his fault Tony and Loki couldn't follow orders. "Forgive me for my assumption."

"You really think any amount of time will make a difference?" Loki asked caustically. "Midgard cannot stop Thanos. The Nine Realms cannot stop Thanos."

Ever the optimist, Thor said, "Thanos was defeat once before. There's no reason we can't do it again."

"But they didn't defeat him, now did they?" Loki refuted. "He nearly obliterated the Nine Realms, and all they managed to do was delay our demise."

"There isn't anything we can do but try." Thor's eyes were drawn to the image in the basin before he averted them. "Can you tell how long it will take his army to arrive at Midgard?"

Loki twitched as he pulled his gaze away from Thanos, as if he had lost himself in the aura of malevolence that the very image of the Mad Titan exuded. With a frown, the god ran his fingers across the rippling surface once again, and the minacious throne was obscured by hundreds of battleships. After a minute of peering closely at the ships, occasionally muttering to himself, Loki claimed, "They're moving quickly, but a fleet that large will have to stop and refuel often. It'll take them maybe a year to reach Midgard's solar system, but not much longer."

A year. Tony let out the breath he had been holding. They had a year to prepare for the end of the world. It wasn't much, but they could work with that... right? "We can do a lot in a year," Tony said, pushing away his own doubts. "If we notify SHEILD immediately, they can start contacting agencies around the world, and the Avengers won't sit idle, either. We'll be ready for Thanos when he comes."

"If only it was that simple," Loki said, and as he continued to stare at the fluid image, a glint of determination flashed in his eyes. "Either way, we won't go down without a fight." He traced his fingers across the contours of one of the larger ships before withdrawing his hand and clenching his fist.

Then Thor spoke up, drawing their attention from the basin."Brother, it is nearly sunset. You cannot remain in Asgard any longer."

Loki grimaced and roved keen eyes across the scrying pool before reluctantly stepping away. Abandoning the portent of death, they allowed Thor to lead them back through the weapons vault and to Loki's quarters. When they arrived, Thor waited outside with the guards as Loki and Tony finished packing in near silence. It only took them a few minutes, and their pace was quickened by the darkness falling outside.

Then they were escorted through the palace to the Bifrost, where they stood before Heimdall with the bridge to Asgard in front of them and the cosmos at their back. What was meant to be a ameliorating occasion was marred by the images of warships that flashed through Tony's mind, and the guilt-laden realization that they could have known Thanos was coming over a month ago.

"Loki, give me your wrists," Thor instructed, and the god complied without enthusiasm. In a process that was just as disturbing as having the bracelets put on, Thor pulled the golden bands away from Loki's flesh. As the tendrils receded, blood dribbled down the god's hands and splattered on the metal flooring below. When the second bracelet was removed, green mist accompanied the blood, and Loki winced as pale flesh struggled to overcome sapphire blue.

Though he was once again concealed in the guise of an Aesir, Loki was not relieved. The grimace remained, and his eyes were haunted. Tony swore to himself that once they had informed Fury about Thanos, he would chase that darkness away. Loki more than anyone deserved a break, and while their time was limited, Tony would ensure that he got one.

"I will journey to Midgard within a fortnight to speak with the men in black about Thanos," Thor announced, dragging Tony from his thoughts. The God of Thunder was burdened with grievances of his own, and though he kept his distance for the sake of their audience—a squadron of guards who were stationed outside of the dock and watched the interaction with piercing eyes—it was impossible for Thor to disguise his love and his sorrow. "Midgard will become a battle ground when the Mad Titan arrives," Thor continued, his voice lacking its usual boom. "He is a foe unlike any we have ever fought before. I apologize that right now, I can offer you little more than my blessing in your endeavors, but I have faith in your abilities."

That was the closest Thor could come to saying 'I know you are strong, but please be safe', and Loki frowned at the admission. However, the god did not immediately reply with a bitter response as Tony had come to expect; rather, Loki gazed at his brother with an emotion akin to regret.

Without a word to Thor, Loki turned to Heimdall and said, "We are ready to leave." Heimdall glanced over to Thor for confirmation, and the god nodded reluctantly. Sword in hand, the guardian turned his attention to the pedestal in the middle of the bridge and raised the weapon above his head.

Just as the sword's blade struck home, Thor said, "Farewell, Loki."

And as the Bifrost swept the world away with swirling colors, Loki quietly replied, "Goodbye, brother."

-o-o-o-

In Loki's experience, speaking with Director Nicholas Fury was often unpleasant, especially when delivering bad news. However, the god found that none of those times were as unpleasant as informing Fury about Thanos, because this time he had no excuses. Loki didn't need Fury yelling at him—"Do you know how much time we have wasted because you two never do what you're asked? And then you run off without any warning! SHIELD wastes time and money keeping the two of you out of trouble. Was one spell really too much to ask?"—to regret his months of noncompliance.

Loki wasn't the only one embittered by guilt, either, and Tony tried in vain to curb Fury's legendary anger. "But you do have something in place for an alien invasion, right?" he asked when the director paused to take a breath. "It wasn't a complete waste of time."

Fury glowered at them with his one eye, not placated by Tony's words. "Oh, we prepared alright. We prepared for fighting about a hundred aliens like him ." The director pointed harshly at Loki. "What we didn't prepare for was an entire fleet of warships from a different galaxy."

"If we start preparing in earnest now, we might still have a chance," Loki said with feigned optimism. His mind was running through a list of things that will have to be done if they were to have any hope against Thanos. A year wasn't enough time—not even close to enough time—but if they started immediately, maybe it would make up for the few months he was responsible for wasting.

And yet, while Loki's mind churned, his body resisted. His muscles ached, and Fury's shouting had only aggravated his pounding headache. Before Thor destroyed their ignorance, Loki thought that when he and Tony left Asgard they'd have a few days to lounge around and recuperate. Ever since Tony nearly died in New York, they had been plagued by stress or deadlines, and Loki thought that for once, they'd be free to enjoy themselves. It was a naïve wish, but he wanted it all the same.

Instead, they had no choice but to report directly to the Helicarrier after the Bifrost deposited them in New Mexico. Loki had teleported them to the conference room he had been brought to months ago—the one where he had first learned about Thanos and erroneously wrote off the threat as a hoax—and set off multiple alarms, prompting the irritated director to come down and investigate. Of course, his ire then was nothing compared to how he reacted once he learned of their folly.

"And here I thought we'd sit around playing cards while aliens took over the world," Fury said sarcastically, reaching up to and turning on his headset. "Agent Hill, we are now operating under code 7448. Assemble the Avengers immediately. ...I am aware that Romanov is in the middle of an operation, and I'm ordering her to withdraw. I want all of them on the Helicarrier within four hours. We don't have time to delay."

Agent Hill acquiesced, and Fury lowered his hand, returning to glowering at them. With a tone that booked no argument, he said, "Before they get here, you are going to tell me everything you know—no matter how insignificant it may seem—about Thanos and his army."

"Wouldn't it make more sense to wait until everyone is around?" Tony asked, his tone not so much obstinate as it was tired; Loki was not the only one in desperate need of a break.

Fury glared at him. "Stark, I believe it'd be in your best interest to do exactly what I tell you. Now start talking."

Although neither of them wanted to do anything but curl up and sleep, they obeyed. Loki went first, recalling anything and everything he had learned about the Mad Titan and his first invasion. He told Fury about how, a very long time ago when Yggdrasil was nothing more than a sapling, Thanos came to the Nine Realms. Obsessed with Lady Death, he sought to please her by destroying everything. He came to Midgard with the six Infinity Gems and used the planet as a gateway to wreak havoc upon the other realms. He brought ruin to everything—slaughtered the people and reduced the land to waste—before the mightiest of each realm banded together to defeat him. It was only by tricking Thanos and using the power of the gems against him that they were able to subdue the Titan and scatter the gems across the realms. Thanos himself was fatally wounded and flung into space, where everyone assumed he had finally met his mistress.

Despite being able to relay the tale of Thanos's rise and fall, Loki knew next to nothing about the Mad Titan himself. All he knew was that Thanos coveted Death above all else, and sending lives to his mistress was both his method and motivation. And while such information certainly was better than nothing, it was the most important details that Loki lacked. He could not answer Fury's questions of 'what are his weaknesses?', 'does he have any infinity gems now?', and 'how did they trick him before?' with anything other than, "I don't know."

Frustrated with that unsuccessful line of questioning, the director began demanding details about the warships they had seen. Tony handled the majority of those inquiries, and did his best to describe vessels the like of which Midgard had never seen before. They were undoubtedly massive ships, though there wasn't a good comparison point in which to judge their full size, and almost all of them were visibly equipped with weapons. It did not appear that they had nuclear bombs, but it was also possible that such weapons were held in the interior of the spacecrafts or were merely unrecognizable. Yet even without nukes, the ships were outfitted with enough fire power to raze every city on Earth to the ground. As for what species Thanos had recruited or where they had come from, neither Loki nor Tony could answer that. All they knew was that whoever their enemy was, they were clearly ready for total warfare.

Though they offered up everything they could, the information wasn't enough to satisfy Fury. "There's nothing else you could figure out?" He looked between them in disapproval. When they didn't speak up, he continued to interrogate, "What about weak spots on the ships? Can they be boarded, or will we be required to shoot them down? What is their fuel source?"

Tony groaned and lifted his head from the table to reply, "I don't know, alright? We only saw them for a little bit, and they aren't even in the same galaxy. Can we please leave now? I swear we've told you everything."

Fury obviously didn't believe them—or maybe making them talk in circles for hours while they were worn-out was his way to punish them for not doing their job sooner—but they were saved by an incoming call from Agent Hill. "Director, the Avengers are now all present and accounted for. They are waiting for you in the west conference room."

"Inform them that we're heading over." With a pointed glare at Tony and Loki, Fury spun on his heel, exited the room, and stormed down the hall.

Sighing, Tony grabbed his suitcases and wobbled to his feet. Loki was no more enthusiastic about getting up—a migraine had built up beneath his temples and each beat of his heart made his head feel like it was going to split open—but Fury was right that they did not have time to waste. The sooner everyone was on the same page, the sooner they could prepare to fight for their lives. If anyone had a chance at stopping Thanos, it was Fury's rag-tag team of heroes.

Said heroes were sitting around the conference table when Loki and Tony trudged in, and their conversations quieted as Fury, with an even more dour face than normal, stalked to the control panel in front of the room. With all eyes on them, Loki and Tony made their way to the two seats in between Banner and Barton and sat down. Well, Loki sat down; Tony sort of toppled into the chair while his suitcases crashed to the floor.

The Avengers stared at the man in varying degrees of concern and confusion, and Barton looked Tony up and down before asking, "What the hell happened to you? You go out of town for less than a week and you come back looking like you belong at a Renaissance festival." At those words, Loki belatedly realized that Tony had never changed out of his ceremonial clothing; he had ditched the helmet at some point, but layers of silk, leather, and metal still weighed the man down. By the way Tony glanced at his clothing with a frown, fingers idly tracing the embroidery of his cloak, it was clear that he had managed to forget as well.

"Yeah, well, I figured I might as well look the part," Tony murmured, then let go of the fabric to tiredly rub at his face. "But trust me, it's as uncomfortable as it looks."

Barton frowned and tilted his head, but this time he studied Tony's face instead of his clothing. "Jeeze, do you even sleep anymore? You look like crap."

Tony scowled at the archer and tried to look more alert, putting his hand down and straightening his back; no one was convinced by the act, and when the man noticed everyone's scrutiny, he snapped, "What are you all looking at? Last time I checked, you weren't called here to criticize my sleeping habits."

There was a shuffle as a few of the Avengers turned away, pretending to be interested in Director Fury as he set up files on a holographic screen, but Rogers and Romanov kept glancing over at Loki and Tony. Barton didn't even bother hiding his curiosity, and he continued talking.

"Does that mean you two know why we're here? Because no one else does. Though it figures that you nutcases are at the center of it."

"If you'd stop talking, Agent Barton, then I could inform you why you're here." Fury stepped away from the control screen and drew the group's attention. The director crossed his arms behind his back and stood rigidly. When Barton remained silent, Fury reached over to bring an image onto the screen, and the back wall was covered in surveillance footage of Thor.

Without farther delay, Director Fury began the briefing. "A few of you may recognize this video and what it means. For those of you who don't, this is footage from about four months ago, when Thor of Asgard brought us news of a potential galactic threat. As we were unable to confirm this claim, minimal resources were put into a plan of defense." The director glared at Tony and Loki, and while some of the Avengers looked on with confusion, they remained silent, caught in the seriousness of the moment. "Today, we received confirmation that the threat exists, and is not only en route to Earth, but possesses enough fire power to obliterate the human race. As of now, the Earth is at war against an alien race."

-o-o-o-

Tony had been completely exhausted before Fury began to speak; by the time the director finished—almost four hours after Loki and Tony had first arrived at the Helicarrier—Tony could barely form a coherent thought. If someone held up three fingers right then and asked him how many, he would probably have guessed seventeen and thought that that was the answer.

"Tony?" Loki asked, sounding far away. "Are you ready to leave?" The man blinked rapidly, trying to get his sluggish mind to work faster. He raised his head to look into concerned green eyes. Loki was leaning over his chair, one hand on the arm rest and the other on Tony's shoulder. Tony hadn't even noticed that the god had been shaking him.

"What?" he asked unintelligibly, then yawned and tried again. "Is Grumpy done talking? I think I remember him dismissing us..." Tony glanced around the nearly empty room, with only he, Loki, and Bruce remaining. The physicist was looking a bit jet lagged as he unobtrusively typed away on a laptop.

"Fury ended the meeting almost fifteen minutes ago." Loki tightened his grip on Tony's shoulder. "Are you alright?"

"I'm good..." Tony mumbled, waving the god's concern away. "Just a bit tired, that's all." He found his gaze drawn back to Bruce and noticed the man watching them with a soft smile. Tony perked up slightly, and with a goofy grin he said, "Hey, Big Green. Long time no see. What'cha hanging around here for?"

"I'm helping SHIELD with some radiation data, remember?" Bruce turned his laptop towards Tony, and the engineer leaned forwards to get a better look. But even if his vision wasn't blurry, the sequences of equations made no sense to his tired mind. He frowned at the screen, and Banner chuckled lightly. "We can talk more about it later. You should go

home and sleep."

"I'm gonna hold you to that," Tony said, though his tongue felt like rubber and the words came out slurred. "You're a science bro too, ya know, and nerds got to look out for other nerds. Fellowship of the Nerds... Catch my drift?" Judging by the patiently amused look Bruce was giving him, the answer was 'no', and Tony groaned in defeat.

With far too much effort, the man dragged himself to his feet—only to topple into the table. He planted his hand on the polished wood and regained his bearings before stepping away, far too exhausted to even consider being embarrassed. It had been over two days since he'd last slept, and even longer since he'd slept well. If anyone had a problem with how he was acting, they could fuck off... Wait, that wasn't true. Loki had to stay. Tony still needed him to take them back home.

"And here I thought you liked me for more than just my magic, Stark," Loki murmured into Tony's ear, and the man realized he had been rambling out loud. He shook his head, as if that would remove the exhaustion, but he was beyond lucidity. Beside him, Loki sighed and grabbed onto his arm, keeping him from slumping over. "I think it's time we leave."

"Yeah, that'd be good..." Tony began, but then he remembered something and backpedaled. "Wait. Your magic. It's super low, right? You said it was. Will you be okay teleporting us?" Because while he wanted nothing more than to go back home, and probably couldn't walk five feet, let alone to a quinjet, there was no way he was letting Loki overtax himself. Just teleporting them to the Helicarrier made the god clutch at his chest in agony.

Dismissing his concerns, Loki said, "I should have enough to get us home." And then, before Tony could understand what was wrong with that statement and protest, they were suddenly in Malibu. The spell deposited them in the middle of the living room, and when Loki's grip slackened, Tony sunk to the floor. A moment later, Loki slid down beside him, his eyes scrunched shut.

"Hey," Tony said worriedly, clumsily reaching out to shake Loki's shoulder. "You okay?"

The god cracked his eyes open, and he covered his grimace with a smile. "I'm just tired," he parroted. "It'll go away in a bit."

Tony stared at Loki for a moment, and then, inexplicably, he began to laugh. It started as a soft chuckle, and then, when the god gave him a bewildered look, it became an all out guffaw that made his eyes water and his sides burn.

"What in the Nine Realms are you laughing about?" Loki asked incredulously, but when Tony tried to answer, he ended up laughing even harder and fell onto his back. While Loki remained dumbfounded by the man's sudden burst of hysteria, he smiled softly as he watched Tony clutch at his sides and continue to cackle wildly.

Finally, Tony managed to get himself back under control, and in between wheezing breaths, he asked, "Did you ever think you'd end up here? I don't mean 'here' like 'on the floor here'—I've done that plenty—but in this situation? Like, so much shit has happened lately, and now it's like, 'Oh look, alien invasion!' I mean, who does that even happen to?"

"I fail to see how our situation is humorous," Loki said flatly.

Grinning widely, Tony replied, "Me either." He was aware on some level that it was his over-exhaustion talking, but at the same time, he didn't care; Tony chuckled again. "But seriously, you have to admit that it's ridiculous. At least I'm never bored."

With an expression torn between exasperation and fondness, Loki rolled his eyes and shifted his gaze to the room around them. Tony tilted his head slightly to get a better look at his friend, and he was pleased to see that Loki had relaxed slightly, and the harsh lines on his face had faded into an amused twitch of the lips. Yet when the god turned his attention back to Tony, he became somber. "I am grateful that you journeyed to Asgard with me. You did not have to."

Tony sighed and reached over to pat the god's arm; he ended up hitting Loki's foot, but he figured it was good enough. "That's what friends do, princess. It's not a big deal."

There was a moment's pause, and an unidentifiable emotion flittered across Loki's face. "You are a good man, Tony Stark," the god said sincerely. "I am glad the fates brought me here."

Tony grinned doltishly at Loki, but then the exhaustion tugging at him grew too strong to be ignored; his mumbled a random series of words that were intended to be a reply as his eyes slid close and his thoughts drifted.

For a few minutes he floated in the peaceful state between sleeping and waking, and when Loki spoke again, it sounded as if the words came from the other end of a long tunnel. "You shouldn't sleep on the floor."

"Too bad... I'm gonna..." Tony mumbled in reply, too far gone to even consider getting up and walking to his bedroom. Besides, the floor was oddly comfortable, and he felt as if his body had fused with the tile.

Tony was practically asleep when the god spoke again, startling him and pushing back the blanket of nothingness. "Where is Choronzon?"

"Hmm?" Tony hummed, rousing his muddle brain in an effort to answer Loki. It took a moment for the strange word to register, and when it did he slurred, "Oh, Coro? I dunno." The lack of attention-demanding yowling meant the little monster was probably not in the house. "Pep probably has him."

Problem solved, Tony let himself slide back towards unconscious, hoping Loki would stop asking questions; he had no such luck. "What should-" Loki began, but Tony groaned loudly and cut him off.

"Shut up and go to sleep," Tony muttered, lifting an arm to cover his eyes as if that would block out Loki's voice. "We'll deal with it later." 'Later' being when he wasn't so tired, the floor wasn't so cozy, and he wasn't fading out...

Distantly, Tony registered that Loki had shifted position to lay down beside him, and the man mumbled something that might have been an attempt at 'goodnight' before he finally succumbed to sleep and was completely dead to the world.

-o-o-o-

"Sirs?" someone said, their voice originating somewhere beyond the veil of sleep. Loki, who for once was not plagued with nightmares, tried to ignore the noise and cling to the peace of unconsciousness. However, the British voice continued to pester him—"Sirs, Director Fury is requesting to speak with both of you,"—and Loki found his mind stirring against his body's will, bringing with it an unwanted recollection: a fleet of warships that flew through the cosmos with the intent to raze everything he held dear, and with them, the scourge of the Nine Realms.

Jolting back into consciousness with a gasp, Loki's eyes flew open and his muscles tensed for a fight. But the only thing that greeted him was the bright morning light, blazing through the massive windows to reawaken the god's lingering headache. He squeezed his eyes shut, and after a moment, he cracked them open to see that Jarvis had dimmed the interior lights, making the brightness barely tolerable.

Beside him, Tony mumbled something and rolled over, his arm smacking into Loki's chest. Loki smiled fondly at the man, but then he became aware of just how uncomfortable the floor actually was now that he was no longer overcome with fatigue. He debated the merits of getting up, but with Tony's arm still slung across his chest, he wouldn't be able to without waking the man, and Tony seemed content to continue his impromptu nap on the floor. While Loki could very easily shove the man off, he didn't feel like it; Tony deserved the rest, and Loki himself craved the respite.

Regardless of the god's preference, that decision was taken out of his hands; "Sirs?" Jarvis repeated. "If you do not get up I will be forced to use the Wake-up Protocol."

Loki didn't know what the 'Wake-up Protocol' was, but the threat of it was enough to make Tony stir again; he rolled off of Loki and grumbled, "I'm up, I'm up. Just give me a second."

Without the excuse of waking Tony, Loki could no longer ignore his responsibilities and clambered to his feet. Sleeping on the floor had done him no wonders—he stretched out the soreness in his muscles with a groan—but he at least felt recharged and had magic stirring in his core. When the last kinks were worked out, Loki glanced down to find that despite Tony's words, he had yet to move.

"Come on," Loki said, nudging the man with his foot. "We've wasted enough time."

Tony lifted his face from the floor to glower at Loki, but the god continued to poke the man until Tony smacked his foot away. "Fine, I'm getting up." He began the arduous task of picking himself off the floor. While Loki himself had been by no means graceful, Tony was even less so as he pried himself from the tile, grimacing every time he shifted.

As Tony started to shake out the numbness in his limbs, Loki glanced out the window and frowned; it appeared to be midmorning already, and while he wasn't sure exactly when they had passed out, it couldn't have been that late. "Jarvis, how long were we asleep?"

"Twelve hours and twenty-seven minutes, sir," the AI promptly reported.

Tony, who was finally alert and standing but not looking happy about it, said, "Huh... I don't think I've ever slept that long without being on morphine or something in... forever." Then he shrugged and, with a grin, clapped Loki on the back. "I can't believe you actually slept on the floor with me."

"Sirs, the director is requesting to speak with you and is getting impatient," Jarvis announced.

Tony sighed, and his good humor dwindled. "I guess our break is over now, huh? Alright, Jarv, put Fury through."

The director didn't waste any time on pleasantries. "The council is requesting that you speak to them directly about Thanos. You and Loki are to answer their questions as well confirm what you saw for various agencies. Report to the Helicarrier immediately."

"Woah, wait," Tony said incredulously. "Can't you at least give us some time to eat? You know, that important thing that people need to live?" The man scrunched up his nose and added, "I also am in serious need of a shower. When I think I smell bad, it has definitely been too long."

There was a pause in which Loki thought the director would demand they come in anyway, but eventually Fury snapped, "You have one hour, and one hour only," before disconnecting.

"He certainly sounds stressed," Tony commented as he headed towards the kitchen. "You hungry? I'm hungry. You should make me something." Loki followed behind Tony, unable to ignore his own body's needs, and watched as Tony opened up the fridge only to find that it was practically empty. The man scowled, but a quick search through the cabinets revealed that they were in the same state.

"And how do you expect me to do that?" the god asked, joining Tony on the hunt for food. "There's nothing here that's edible." His eyebrows raised in disgust as he pulled out a moldy... something from the depths of the pantry, and he threw it towards the trash can.

"You're smart. I'm sure you'll figure it out. I don't even care if it's bland." Tony gave him a cheeky grin, almost hiding the stress lines around his eyes and mouth, and swiped a tablet off the counter. "While you're working on that, I need to call Pepper."

As the man sat down at the table, Loki continued the search for food, but the effort remained futile. He ended up grabbing half a box of dried pasta and some frozen vegetables and threw everything into a saucepan. While he waited for the water to boil, he leaned against the counter and watched as Tony called Pepper's number. The dial tone echoed through the room, and the phone rang once before the call was picked up.

"Tony!" Pepper exclaimed in relief. "Oh thank god you're back. Are you alright?" Then her tone became panicked. "What about Loki? What happened to him?"

"He's okay. Loki came back with me. We're both fine," Tony placated. He glanced up at Loki, and, in an overly cheerful voice, he asked, "Right, Lokes?"

"We are both unharmed," Loki agreed, which,considering their lives, was all they could really ask for. As long as they were both alive, they'd make things work.

"I'm glad you're both okay," Pepper said. "When I heard your message, Tony—you and I really need to talk about this whole last minute notice thing, by the way, because it's getting ridiculous—I thought the worst. But it's over now, right? They won't make you go back to Asgard?"

"Nope, we're all clear," Tony confirmed. "And I'm sorry for not telling you sooner. It just... It's kind of a long story. I promise I'll tell you later, but... we don't have the time right now." At those last words, the stress Tony had been trying to hide leaked into his voice, and Pepper noticed.

"Tony, what's wrong? Did something else happen that you're not telling me?" When Tony didn't respond immediately, she continued, "Loki? What's going on?"

"Like Tony said, it's a long story," Loki deflected. "But I assure you both of us are okay."

Pepper sighed. "I thought that by having the two of you together, I'd have a better chance of learning what's going on, but both of you just get more tight-lipped. It's okay letting other people share your problems, you know. That's what friends do."

"I know," Tony said, "but there isn't time right now. We'll probably stop by New York today or tomorrow, and I swear I'll tell you everything then."

"I'll hold you to that," Pepper replied, though judging by her tone, she didn't put much stock into that particular promise. Then she switched topics and said, "Loki, I have your cat. I wasn't sure how long you'd be gone so I brought him to New York."

"Thank you," Loki said, but then he paused, unsure if he should say he'd take Choronzon back. While he wanted the cat with him, they'd be busy for the next few weeks, and he wasn't sure if he'd have time for Choronzon.

"We'll pick him up when we swing by Stark Tower," Tony said, and when Loki shot him a questioning look, the man's expression clearly said, 'I know what you're thinking, but if you want him here then he's damn well going to be here.' "Anyway, we have to go now, but I'll talk to you later, okay? I've missed you, Pep."

"I've missed you too—both of you. Please don't do anything stupid."

Tony grinned wryly. "When do we ever?" he asked, and then he disconnected. Silence fell over them as Loki drained the pasta and Tony became lost in thought. The man absentmindedly trailed his fingers across the tablet screen, a frown setting deep in his face, but then he shook off the worry and slid the tablet to the side. "So, what's for breakfast?"

Loki set a plate down in front of Tony and sat across from him. The man gave the food a skeptical look, and Loki said, "You were the one that asked me to cook. It's all we have, so eat it." The god followed his own advice, and while the food wasn't good, it was edible. With a shrug Tony followed his lead, and they ate quickly, going through the motions until all the food was gone.

Casting a woeful glance at the empty pot, Tony stood and deposited his dish into the sink. Then he scowled at himself and announced, "I'm going to go take a shower and finally get out of this damn armor." The god nodded, and Tony grabbed his suitcases and retreated to his room. After clearing the table, Loki copied the man and went to his own quarters.

He stood under the spray of warm water, letting it chase away the lingering memory of frozen skin. As his mind cleared, temporarily free of worries and constraints, he found himself thinking, 'This is it. This is the life I will have, from now until I die. No more Asgard. No more golden palace. No more exploring magical places beyond the city walls. The culture I had been raised with, the world I am most familiar with, I'll never see it again. All that's left is Midgard...'

'And I'm okay with that.'

Because Midgard was home: Midgard was where his family was. Loki could spend eternity here and still be content. Exploring Asgard was only so entertaining when he was alone, but each day spent here with Tony was new and exciting. Even if it meant Thanos would kill them when he came, Loki would rather be on Midgard until the end.

With the last of his doubts burned away, Loki turned off the shower and adorned a more formal set of armor. Unlike Tony, the god was not bothered by the weight of his traditional clothing, but he decided that if he was going to remain on Midgard, he should eventually acquire more suitable attire. Right now, he only left the house on official Avengers business where no one could care less that he wore full sets of armor, but one day that would change.

Tony's shower was still running, so Loki teleported into the lab to wait for him to finish. Their absence was apparent in the abnormal tidiness of the room, and though the god looked, Dum-E was nowhere to be seen.

"Dum-E!" Loki called as he walked deeper into the lab. "Tony will be displeased if you broke something while we were away!"

His suspicions were confirmed when there was excited beeping from the garage, followed by two loud crashes. Loki sighed (though his lips were upturned in amusement, and he felt the knot of stress in his chest ease) and went to go see what the robot had gotten himself into. Dum-E's eager chatter hadn't stopped as the god approached, but it didn't sound like the robot was getting closer; Loki saw why when he turned the corner.

Dum-E had somehow managed to overturn himself, and his treads revolved uselessly in the air as he laid on his side. Next to where he had fallen, the door of Tony's newest car was smashed in and the front windshield shattered. Judging by the cleaning rag that was impaled on a broken shard of glass, the scene before him was the destructive aftermath of an failed attempt to wash the car.

"I'm sure Tony's going to be thrilled to see what you've done," Loki said amusedly, moving to assist the robot who was flailing around in an effort to right himself and greet the god. Pressing a foot against Dum-E's base, Loki reached down and shoved the robot over. When Dum-E was upright, he squealed and wheeled around to face the god, nearly knocking himself over again in his exuberance.

"I take it you missed me?" Loki asked with a grin, and Dum-E bobbed his head. "Tony and I should be spending more time in the labs soon. Then you can have something more..." He glanced over at the wreck the robot had made of Tony's 'darling'. "Productive to do." Dum-E took in the effect of its handiwork and bowed it's arm, vroo-ing sadly. "Don't worry about that. It's not a big deal." Tony would probably disagree, but he wasn't there, and Loki despised cars. "Come. Let's go to the lab."

The robot trailed behind Loki and they returned to the lab, where the god busied himself with browsing through the books he brought home from Asgard. As he searched for anything that might help them in the coming year, the robot rolled around him and picked up the books he discarded, making a pile of them on the table. It hadn't been more than ten minutes before the god heard the door open, and he glanced up to see Tony entering the lab.

"I figured you'd be hanging out in here," the man said in greeting, and Dum-E rolled over to say hello. "You behaving yourself?" Tony asked the robot, who nodded enthusiastically. "Good. Keep it that way." Then he draped himself over the back of Loki's chair, reaching forwards to flip through the pages of the book the god had been reading. "Have you found anything interesting?"

Loki shook his head. "Not yet." He closed the book and ducked under Tony's arm to rise from his chair."Are you ready?"

"Ready as I'll ever be." Tony held out an arm for Loki to grab onto. The god complied, and in a heartbeat they were back inside one of the Helicarrier's conference rooms. Unlike when they appeared yesterday, the walls didn't start blinking red and wailing at them, and they proceeded unescorted to the bridge.

As expected, Director Fury was there, speaking to an agent in hushed tones. He lifted his head when they came in and dismissed the agent before sweeping towards them. "You took your sweet time coming here." He came to a stop in front of them, hands clasped behind his back, but when Tony made to speak, Fury motioned for him to be silent. "The council is waiting to speak with you. Follow me."

They were led to a dimly lit room adjacent to the bridge whose only distinguishing feature was the four large screens on the back wall. Each panel showed the dark silhouette of a person, and as the door slid shut behind them, sealing with a click, Tony scowled.

"Dramatic much?" he quipped loudly, ensuring that the four people on the screens heard, and came to a halt beside Fury in the center of the room. Curiously, the director himself seemed equally displeased with the council, and his rigid posture emanated distaste and not respect.

"I have brought Tony Stark and Loki as you have requested," Fury said, and even though the faces on the screens were obscured, their displeasure was clear. "They'll answer your questions from here on out. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a job to get back to."

Fury turned and went back to the door, putting his hand on a scanner and stalking out into the hall. The door closed behind him, leaving Loki and Tony alone under the callous inspection of the council. Even before they started speaking, Loki decided that he despised them.

"So you are the two who cry wolf," the woman on the far right panel said. "Forgive us if we do not believe you."

Tony scowled at her. "If you refuse to listen to the truth, ma'am, then I think that's your problem."

"You will prove to us that your words are true," the man second from the left asserted. "On the off chance that you are speaking truthfully, we will allow SHIELD to act accordingly. But if you are lying, the consequences will be severe."

"Then I guess I have nothing to worry about," Tony retorted, "seeing as how I don't know why anyone would lie about this."

"It would not be the first time Tony Stark has made a scene to get attention." The contempt in the woman's voice so thick that it was almost tangible. Though her attitude towards Tony riled Loki, he held his tongue; if these four humans held control over SHIELD, it would be in his best interest to not unduly anger them.

"Tell us what you know," the man farthest to the left demanded.

"Ask nicely, and maybe I will," Tony said uncooperatively, but before the situation could escalate, Loki stepped forwards.

"We have seen Thanos's army with our own eyes. He comes with a fleet of hundreds, and if you do not take this threat seriously, Midgard will be destroyed." The god held his head high under the disgusted stares of the councilmen. He would not be belittled by mortals.

Finally the councilwoman backed down. "Go on."

Again they recounted what they had seen on Asgard, and somehow, the council managed to ask more questions and make more demands than the director had. As precious hours wasted away, Loki grew more and more annoyed. His responses grew curt, and Tony's sarcastic retorts increased in frequency. The council was a group of fools, and Loki could not see why anyone would entrust them with the safety of their nation.

At last, the man on the left said, "I think that is enough. We will review what you have said," and the screens abruptly shut off, leaving Loki and Tony in darkness with equally annoyed expressions on their faces.

"I hate politics," Tony growled as he stomped over to the door, but when he tried to open it, it was locked. Vexed, he pressed his hand against the scanner, but it remained red. With a scowl, he turned to Loki. "Want to get us out of here?"

Just when the god was about to step forwards, the door slid open and Fury stormed in. The director stood imposingly in the threshold, blocking the exit so Tony couldn't sneak around. "You aren't finished yet. There are others waiting to talk to you. You're going to remain here until everyone is up to speed and willing to cooperate."

"You're just punishing us for not finding out about Thanos sooner," Tony protested.

"And whose fault is that, Stark? If you had obeyed my orders when I first gave them, we'd not be here right now." Fury was unmoved by Tony's objection. It was their fault for not finding out sooner, and they weren't the only ones working demanding hours. Fury had on the same uniform from yesterday, and Loki wouldn't be surprised if the man had yet to sleep. "We have the commander of the United States army waiting in line. After that, the European sect also wants verification."

Tony sighed, but when Fury stepped further into the room, the man returned to where Loki was standing and watched as the director typed a passcode into a holographic screen. Three of the panels activated, and this time the people were not obscured, though Loki didn't recognize anyone either way. Apparently Tony did, because his expression brightened a bit. "Hey, Rhodey. Long time no see."

'Rhodey', a man with a crisp military uniform and a stern face, smiled in return. "Tony," the man said amicably, "I should have known you would be at the center of this." Then Rhodey's eyes wandered to Loki, and his expression became neutral. While Loki had never met Tony's other friend—the two times he had come over, Loki had been out of it—Tony would mention him fondly. But they both had demanding jobs that kept them separate, just like now.

"General Rhodes, you may speak to your friend later. Right now we have urgent matters to tend to," the woman in the center chastised, and Rhodes nodded.

"My apologies, Ms. President." The atmosphere reverted back to seriousness.

"Mr. Stark, the threat you have announced is a serious matter," the president stated. "We ask that you explain the situation to us fully so that we may handle it appropriately."

For the third time, they began to explain, and once the United States government was satisfied, they had to speak for the fourth time. Then the fifth. That was how they spent their day: talking to anyone who had questions or concerns, no matter how inconsequential or redundant. A few times, either Loki or Tony would complain (generally after speaking with a particularly idiotic politician), but they continued to do as they were asked until the screens went dim and stayed that way.

When it looked like they were done, they breathed a sigh of relief, but then Fury said, much to Tony's displeasure, "There's one last thing before you leave."

"You can't be serious," Tony said irritably. "We have talked to like, every single person there is. What more can you possibly want?"

"SHIELD has a different, more important task for you now," Fury announced, and there was something about the way he said it that made Loki tense and Tony frown. "We need you to return to making weapons."

Tony's eyes widened, and the blood drained from his face, making him appear ghostly in the dim light. Then he grit his teeth, infuriated. "No."

Fury was not surprised by the rejection, but he did not accept Tony's answer. "We have respected your wishes for years, but now-"

"No. I meant it when I said it, and my mind hasn't changed since. I will not make weapons for other people to abuse." Tony's hand reached up to touch against the center of his chest, and Loki could hear the soft clink of the arc reactor beneath. "Never again."

"We aren't asking you to return to war profiteering. What Stark Industries does in your business. But that doesn't change the fact that you were the best in the industry," Fury stated harshly. "If Thanos is going to come down our heads with an entire armada of ships we've never even seen before, we'll need everything we can get, and that includes you."

"I won't do it." Tony clutched at the fabric over his arc reactor before yanking his hand away. "And you have some nerve asking for me to."

"I am asking because it's necessary," Fury said without a hint of sympathy. "We have our own means of fighting against Thanos, but our progress is limited. The simple fact of the matter is that you're the best in the field, and we need your talents. Are you really willing to risk the end of the world as penance for events that happened a decade ago?"

"I won't make weapons for you," Tony repeated, but Loki had stopped paying attention as Fury's words stirred up an old memory. It was coated in a vagueness associated with blanking out, but Loki snatched it and his eyes widened.

"Listen here, Stark. This is-"

"You have the Tesseract, don't you?" Loki asked, and the director whipped his head around to stare at him. His surprise quickly warped into suspicion.

"How do you know about that?" Fury's expression was thunderous.

The accusation fell on deaf ears; information was churning in Loki's mind and details fell into place. The Tesseract was an Infinity Gem. It had enough power to rival Thanos, and the Mad Titan would no doubt be seeking it and the others to rule the universe. That Loki had forgotten about it—fog or not—was ludicrous.

"Do you even even know the Tesseract's potential?" he asked. "It has enough raw energy to power your entire planet... and to fight Thanos." The more Loki thought about it, the more he realized that armed with an Infinity Gem, they might actually stand a chance.

"The Tesseract is none of your concern," Fury growled. "SHIELD will utilize it as we see fit."

"Tesseract?" Tony joined in with a frown. "That's what was found with Capsicle, right? I thought SHIELD deemed it too unstable to use."

"Of course it's unstable, and yet they had the audacity to try and tame it," Loki said sharply, and Fury's eye narrowed further. "Infinity Gems are beyond the stretch of your science. You'll never be able to use it to its full potential."

"And you think you can?"

"I know I can," Loki replied confidently; honestly, he has never worked with an artifact that old—the closest being the Casket of Ancient Winters, and he had sequestered that away and never touched again—but he had no doubt that he could learn faster than any human scientist.

"Do you honestly believe I would entrust the Tesseract to you? While I'll admit you've behaved yourself these past two years, it is never wise to give power to those who seek it."

"Nor is it wise to doom your people due to unfounded doubts. I am not asking that you hand the Tesseract over—only that you let me help harness its power."

"Thanks, but no thanks," Fury replied, blinded by his lingering doubt. Loki grit his teeth, frustrated with the director's idiocy, but Fury ignored him and turned to Tony. "I am not finished with you. Think about what I've said. We could really use your skill set."

"Obviously you can't need it that much if you're willing to ignore Loki's assistance," Tony retorted.

"I have better things to do than argue with you all night, but don't think that this is over. Even if you don't want to do it, Earth needs you to." Tony met the statement with a defiant glare and the clench of a fist. Fury growled, "If you're not going to cooperate, then get out of here," before stalking out the door and letting it slam shut behind him. The click of a lock echoed through the room, and when Tony tried to open the door, it wouldn't budge. He pounded on the steel door, but it was clear that they had overstayed their welcome until they were needed again.

Even so, Loki could find not fault with Director Fury's actions towards Tony. They were on the brink of war—of annihilation—and needed every advantage they could get. The desires of one were not worth the end of all. Yet as Loki watched Tony smack the door and fume, calling Fury every foul word he could think of, he did not challenge the man's decision. It was both parts cowardice—he could not have Tony angry at him, not again—and compassion—because he understood what it meant to have demons and had no desire to reawaken Tony's.

After a few minutes, Tony exhausted his ire (and his insult repertoire) and slunk back towards Loki. "Well this has been a fun day," he muttered, hand once again reaching up towards his chest, but before the man's fingers touched the reactor, he let his arm drop. Tony shook his head and took a deep breath. "Do you really think the Tesseract will help against Thanos?"

"I did not lie: the Tesseract possesses unimaginable power. It is the best chance we have. Director Fury's refusal if foolhardy at best."

While Fury's demands of Tony did not irk the god, his obstinacy with the Tesseract did; if Fury wanted to save his realm, he should have listened to Loki. The god considered stealing the Tesseract, taking matters into his own hands, but then he thought better of it. If he created a rift between him and SHIELD, which was the undoubtable outcome of his theft, it would only make the situation worse. They would pursue him as Asgard had pursued him, and Tony would be trapped in the middle. No, it would be better to wait and convince the director to change his mind. They didn't have the time to repair the consequences of a rash decision.

"We'll think of something," Tony said. "Fury is paranoid bastard, but he's also a practical one. Besides, now that you've mentioned it, I'm pretty sure Bruce has been working on the Tesseract. Maybe he'll be willing to share some information."

"It is worth a try." Loki shook the vestiges of theft from his mind. "For now, we should go home. It's been a long day."

Of course, he would be returning to the house just to search through his books and start preparing spells; he was far too anxious to rest. But Loki had to remember that Tony was only human, and the man still hadn't recovered from running himself to the ground in Asgard.

Tony, however, liked to forget that he had limits. "Take us to New York. There's some stuff I have to do there, and you can pick up Coro. I'm sure he misses you."

"That can wait. I think you should take care of yourself for once," Loki insisted, but Tony shook his head.

"I'm not tired." His lie was betrayed by the dark circles around his eyes. "I'll just grab a bite to eat at the tower, and then we can get to work."

Loki frowned, but knew that if he argued, it wouldn't change Tony's mind. Even if he took Tony back to Malibu, the man would still push himself too hard. Besides, neither of them had the time to waste. "If that is what you want to do..."

Tony nodded sharply. "It is."

The god sighed. "Then I will teleport us to New York." For both of their benefits, he grinned and joked, "I guess it is better this way. If we went to Malibu, you'd see what Dum-E did to your car."

He grabbed Tony's arm, chuckling softly, and Tony incredulously shouted, "Loki!" as they were whisked away in bright green light.