Author's Note: Despite appearances, this is not actually primarily a Tony/Loki love story. I say this because the first chapter or two certainly read like one, but later chapters will contain considerably less. It's in the fic, but it's not the primary purpose of the fic.

Loki falls.

It's a long, long descent, long enough that the primal terror of falling itself begins to pall. Terror, Loki has time to realize, is an illusion, a prediction of the mind of pain to come - but if there is no end to the fall, there is nothing to fear but the endlessness itself.

The bright vision of Asgard, framed against the background of stars and nebulae above, has long since flickered and faded from his vision, and yet there is no ground below to be found, no rocks on which he can dash himself to drive all sense from his head as it has fled from the universe around him. He falls, and falls, and yet there is nowhere he is falling to - just... away. Away from light, from life, from anything.

No, Loki. Those two words burrowed down into his chest like termites, eating channels in his heart and nerves until he was hollow, weak and brittle. He let his hand slip from the haft of the spear because he could not bear it, because he wanted it to end, why will it not end?

He comes to realize that it was unwise, perhaps, to choose this method to end his life. He wanted to be free of heartache, of guilt, of this hollow nothingness in his chest that eats up all his heart and his lungs until he can no longer breathe, but by slipping away into this void he has given himself far too much time to dwell on it.

He should not have sent the Destroyer after Thor, Loki decides. That was his mistake. He should have left his brother to the mortals in peace; if he had not sent the Destroyer, Thor would have had no opportunity to display his idiot courage, and the hammer would never have returned to him along with all that followed. (And that is the only reason he regrets it, Loki is sure; not that he is sorry to have hurt his brother, surely not.)

He was so close, he thinks, so close to the completion of his glorious plans. Just one more hour alone with the bifrost and it would have been complete; then he could go to Odin and say, see how clever I am, that I won your war without a drop of blood being spilled; see how loyal I am, that I would kill even my own kin-father for you - all for you.

No, Loki. And with just two words Loki understood that he was wrong, that he will always be wrong, that there's no going back - ever. He would always know just what he is, just what he's capable of, and he'd see it every time he passes a mirror - every time he sees himself in their eyes. He would hear it hissing under every word, every breath: monster.

Do monsters strive, Loki suddenly wonders, as men do? Do they have monster-peers who judge their performance in pillage and murder, monster-parents whose approval they seek by laying prizes at their feet? Do monsters realize their own evil and worthlessness and strive to overcome it, or do they know nothing but the primal purity of their own monstrous urges, no past or future but only the base satisfaction of the now?

If they do, then Loki almost wishes he could become such a monster, forget all the regret and anticipation of pain and live in blissful ignorance. That he cannot, that he can still not loose himself of the fetters of expectation and resentment and lost hopes and guilt and bitter, bitter disappointment, means that he is neither monster nor man; he is nothing, then, at all.

How long he falls - hours, days, years - he does not know; but in time the grief and pain and rage that Loki feels is too much to be contained only with himself. It boils out to spill on those around him, calling ghostly images from his mind of the parade of those who had betrayed him (the loved ones he had betrayed.)

How dare Odin look at him so, after all Loki had done, after all Loki had sacrificed for him, only him? How dare Frigga shrink away from his embrace as though he were some filthy creature from the swamp, she who had always claimed to love him, she who of all people should have been on his side? How dare Thor act like he was some sort of hero, some sort of bigger man, he who had sworn to 'kill them all' all throughout his childhood and yet a week ago still thought nothing of murdering any man, giant or mortal who stood in his way?

Those mortals! Loki saw only glimpses of them from his seat on Hlidskjalf, the golden throne from which the king of Asgard watches over all the universe; he'd gotten little more of a sense of them on his one unofficial sojourn to Midgard. But he calls them out one by one to his mind, to brood over them and craft dreams of rage and vengeance. The dark-haired man in the oh-so-tidy suit, who had the hubris to imprison a God. The white-haired grandfather who'd taken Thor out of there and, of course, promptly went and got him drunk, with little idea of what disaster he courted in a drunk and rowdy God of Thunder. The whining child with the dark-rimmed glasses framing her face. And, of course, the seidkona herself who had bewitched Thor, and caused him to forget his home and family and all the truths he'd grown up with, who had broken him into putty and remolded him into but a caricature of what he'd once been: her name alone did he retain, Jane Foster, Jane, Jane.

How had she done it? She must have enchanted Thor somehow, woven spells about him of a foreign witchcraft that Loki had not been able to see. The magic of Midgard has grown drastically away from its counterparts in the other Realms; Loki had been able to sense it while he was there, humming in the walls and foundations of their homes, growling in the engines of their carriages, but he had not been able to recognize it. How do they do it?

Midgard itself has changed much since he'd last been there. He recalls the tiny little town seated on the wide, unforgiving desert plain: their buildings all of sharp corners and hard edges, their roads burning black under the sun and reeking of chemicals, strange tubes and wires running above and below the houses to ferry in water and air and magic. He sees again the bright, cold white lighting of the military base, lights shining veiled through the flimsy walls of plastic and wire they thought to guard their fortress -

Abruptly he feels the change around him, the endless fall that suddenly shifts in direction and speed, the sudden roiling jolt as he passes from one state to another. He had not noticed the lack of wind, sharp and tearing and whipping about his face and hands, until it returns to him. No more is he drifting, he is falling.

What he sees before him now, some would call darkness - but Loki knows true darkness now and there is no comparison. The stars spill their light against the terrain below, giving faint hints of definition to rocky crags, uneven horizons. The wind roars in his ears with increasing violence, and Loki realizes with a sudden jolt of panic that he really is falling now, and there will be a hard and unforgiving landing at the bottom.

He fumbles for his seidh, his hands and tongue numb from their long disuse, sluggish to come to his aid. It is harder than he would have liked to stir the tendrils of power to bind into his will, when he is free-falling through the atmosphere towards a target veiled in shadows with not a point of familiarity anywhere to ease his disoriented brain. At the last minute he manages it, gasping out an incantation which unfurls about his body like ghostly wings, beating back against the dreadful plunge and slowing his descent.

Not a moment too soon; he had underestimated the speed of his fall, and overestimated the margin of safety. He still feels the crust of stone shatter beneath him, hears the report that would have brought anyone within miles to investigate. But he is of Asgard and no mortal, and when he hits the ground his body is only bruised, not broken open like a smashed melon on the stone.

For a long time Loki only lies there, stunned from the impact, staring at the shadowed stone before his eyes and tasting blood against his teeth. As unpleasant as they are it is the first sensation - true sensation - that he's had since he slipped from the bridge, and his body does not know whether to welcome them or not.

At last he wills his limbs to move, and pushes himself up to his side so he can roll onto his back. It is night, and stars cluster thickly in the sky overhead, brilliant in their clarity with no moon to outshine them (but not, of course, as brilliant as the stars above his home.)

All the realms change, some faster than others, but the skies above them do not; and Loki knows the stars in this sky, the constellations he spent years studying when he first began learning to world-walk. A strange hysteria tickles in his throat and Loki begins to laugh, regardless of the pain it inflicts on his half-crushed ribs and lungs. He cannot stop.

Midgard. It is Midgard to which he has fallen, and the irony of it all will not release him. What kind of mad coincidence was it that the Bifrost should break, that he should fall, in exactly such a way that would bring him back to the very same place where all his plans were undone? Thor had spent his exile here; and now Loki will, too.

Somewhere out there in the endless sky is Asgard, he knows; uncounted years by the span of light, yet only moments away by the power of the Bifrost. For those who know the dark paths, such as he, it is less than an hour's trek between the folds of reality.

But the bifrost is broken, and even if Loki could walk the dark paths back to Asgard, there is nothing left for him there. The gulf between him and his family (not family, not family) is so wide that it might as well be all the light-years of this night sky.

I can never go home again.

Perhaps this is fate. What else can it be? He and Thor have changed places; he was a king while Thor was exiled to this barren rock. Now Thor will be king and Loki is nothing, fallen out from Asgard's gaze entire, given less regard than even the dead.

But no. He is not dead, however much he might have wished for it in his moment of overmounting despair. He shouldn't have slowed himself, should have let his body dash upon the rocks - but he did, and he didn't, and it's too late now to choose otherwise. He lives, he lives and he is here in the place where all his plans came to ruin; he will not just lay down and die.

The sky at the eastern edge of the horizon has begun to lighten in anticipation of the coming dawn, by the time Loki can make himself stand from the hollow in which had fallen and look around him. In the distance he can see the glimmering lights of a settlement, and he staggers in that direction even as he begins to call on his seidh, conjuring clothes for himself that will let him walk unnoticed amongst the mortals.

Midgard is one of the Nine Realms under the rule of the King of Asgard; that much has always been true. But if they have truly changed so much that they no longer recognize their own gods when they walk among them -

Perhaps Midgard is in need of a new king.

If Loki intends to rule this realm, he'll have to learn how it works - he can't just barge in at the head of an army and expect to make any headway. (Even if he had an army, which he doesn't.) No. Brute force has never been Loki's way; he will maneuver himself into power through subtlety instead. He will find the reins of power in this land and insinuate himself at their helm, play the shadow behind the throne until all paths of power lead back to him.

It will take time (but Loki has no lack of that.) It will take perseverance (but he has always been stubborn.)

He was born to be king, and Loki means to live his destiny.

Within a few months of studying this realm, Loki begins to see where the lines of power fall. Where Asgard and the other realms esteem martial prowess, Midgard puts all its value in money. Loki has neither, but wealth will be easy enough to accrue with his magic to aid him. He studies the lay of the land and finds the social circles of those with the most money (and thus the most power,) and begins to work his way among them.

No one thinks to question his presence at a party; his dress and bearing declare unequivocally that he belongs here, and a minor expenditure of seidh is enough to fool the watchful eyes of machines and bodyguards alike. Loki mingles and matriculates, converses and confederates, making friends and allies and promises with equal, hollow ease. But mostly what Loki does at the party tonight is watch, and listen.

There is much to learn.

Loki has long practice in fading into the shadows, even without such advantages as magic. With his dark hair and suit it is easy enough to blend in against the dark background on the lounge wall, a drink in his hand as he watches the partygoers. Oblivious mortals. Peasants. Fools. They have accepted him inside without hesitation, but he will never be one of them. Never be in a place where he belongs.

For a moment his vision of the party darkens, and he bends his head. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees another body slip up beside him and sit down in the next seat over.

"So," the person says casually, "did it hurt? When you fell from heaven?"

What? Loki blinks his eyes clear and looks up at his companion, startled and wary. It's a mortal man, dark-haired and with his hair cropped short in the modern Midgardian fashion. He never forgets a face, he would know if he'd seen this man before and he never has. He can sense the life-force of all the different races of the Realms, and the man beside him is no more than an ordinary mortal, untouched by the uncanny. How can he possibly know?

"Quite a bit, actually," Loki admits, remembering the earth-shattering impact of his fall from the Bifrost. The empty hollow pain of the nothing before that.

"Huh?" The mortal turns to face him, confusion writ on his features, and Loki at least feels a satisfaction at sharing the headache. The stranger's eyes are a warm brown, bright and electrifying in a mobile face that is quick to smile. He wears a short beard that reminds Loki a bit of Fandral - that and his aura of easy charm, unconscious magnetism of a strength he hasn't found yet in many mortals.

"Why did you ask if you did not wish to hear the answer?" Loki asks, his confusion rendering him sharper than he means to.

"Umm... it was a pick-up line," the mortal admits. "Kind of a cheesy one, actually, but I've never gotten that response before. Never tried it on a guy before, admittedly, but still."

"Ah," Loki says, groping for his balance. A Midgardian social custom, then, that Loki knows nothing of. He must be careful not to give too much of himself away. "My apologies. I am not familiar with 'pick-up lines.' "

"That's cute," the mortal declares. "Love the accent, by the way. I'm Tony Stark." He sticks his hand out before him, and Loki knows this ritual at least, so he takes the hand and shakes it, careful not to apply too much pressure.

"Loki Laufeyjarson," Loki intones, giving his name (or at least, the alias he's been using) in return.

For some reason, despite the vast gulf of differences between them, the faint resemblance of this mortal to Fandral is only growing in Loki's mind. Maybe it's the way he's leaning into Loki's space, pressing, the way Fandral does with ladies he wishes to charm. "You're not from around here," Stark observes. "European?"

"No," Loki says, and smiles secretively. He comes from much further away than that.

"Really? Because with the name, and that suit, and the accent, I was really thinking European. Plus you didn't react when I told you my name."

"Should I have?" Loki asks, and Stark laughs.

It's a breathtaking laugh, one that transforms his features from rather ordinary-looking to astonishingly handsome. His face lights up, his eyes dancing and his grin flashing all of his teeth as he tosses his head back in merriment. Loki finds himself rather inexplicably warm.

"No, no, I kind of like the change of pace," Stark says. Then he sobers up abruptly and leans forward into Loki's space, his eyes intent. "But seriously, I came over here with the full intention of making a pass at you, if in the clumsiest and kitschiest way possible. You know, I don't usually go for guys, but who could resist, you really pull off the handsome-and-brooding look very well. I'd like to see other looks on you. What do you say?"

Loki chokes. The sharp, instinctive Know your place, mortal! that leaps to his tongue collides with Certainly, when do we start? and the two seem to cancel each other out. He is suddenly intensely aware of his own body beneath the stiff black Midgardian clothes, and the stranger's body sitting alongside his under his clothes. Stark is short but compact, his hands strong and his face and eyes heated with quickening energy. What strength, what suppleness resides in the rest of him? He can only guess at its lines and limits, concealed as it is, and he is stricken with a sudden desire to see how close his guesses come to the reality. He wants, spontaneously and more sincerely than he has wanted anything since he fell to this benighted planet.

After a too-long pause and several false starts, Loki manages to get out, "Why?"

Stark grins. "Well, your pretty eyes and legs that just don't quit are two reasons," he says, then frowns as he reconsiders. "Or possibly - four reasons, but the point is, that's not actually why. It was more that I saw you sitting over here, looking like your world had just come down around you."

Loki feels himself stiffen, leans away from Stark's electric presence. "Pity is hardly a seductive quality, Mr. Stark," he says coldly.

"No, it's generally not," Stark reponds. "And it's not pity, honest, it's more a matter of - fellow feeling, I guess." He smiles, and it's so tight-stretched and full of pain that for a moment his face looks like it will break only.

Loki hesitates, studying the man before him. And what loss could Stark have possibly felt, that could in any way compare with the destruction of Loki's life in Asgard? What could any mortal know, in their too-short lives, of pain that compares with his?

If you don't go with him, you'll never find out, a thought whispers. And despite himself, Loki feels his mouth curve into a smile.

He did come here tonight to make connections, after all. Stark's name might not be familiar to him (yet,) but he would hardly have been at this party tonight if he weren't rich and influential; that was the whole point. But that's all justification, really, for the real reason he gives Stark his hand and they rise together from the dark corner.

He wants this man. And Loki always does what he wants.

Stark has his own car and driver, which is good because the routes Loki took to get here are not ones that a mortal can take. The drive is not long, for the party was not so far from their destination; indeed, Loki can see it (though he doesn't know what in Yggdrasil he's looking at) from miles away.

The tower of metal and glass is quiet and dim, at this hour of the morning; dim, but not dark. Very little in this mortal city is ever truly dark. Loki keeps an eye on the furnishings, the floors, the sheer size of this dwelling; the other is watching Stark move around in this space, how carelessly he owns it through his sheer presence, and his estimation of Stark's power in this realm goes up accordingly.

"Care for a drink?" Stark offers, going straight to a lavishly-decked bar in the corner.

"Certainly," Loki replies, and as Stark busies himself with the tumblers and bottles, he wanders over to the large, floor-to-ceiling plate glass windows that line the room. The view over the glittering, humming city is magnificent; for a moment he can almost pretend he is back in Asgard.

His maunderings are interrupted by the sound of the mortal clearing his throat behind him, so Loki turns and accepts the proffered glass from his host's hand. Stark leans against the bar in a casual hip-slung pose very similar to how he approached Loki at the party, smiling.

"So, now that I've invited you back to my crib and everything," Stark says. "Mind telling me what's up with you?"

Loki gives him a slow blink. "What is... up with me?" he repeats slowly. It's not that he doesn't understand the meaning of the words, but he's not sure just what aspect of himself Stark can be alluding to. Surely the little mortal can't have noticed -

"You're not human." Stark holds up one wrist, encircled by a glass and metallic device that is flashing in various colored codes. There is a matching display, Loki now sees, on the wall behind the bar. "Tower security systems do a basic scan of every visitor I bring up here. Not normally a big deal, except that every reading I've got on you is way off kilter for an adult human male. Including the gamma detector, which I honestly didn't expect to ever use unless Bruce Banner came to visit someday. One or two could be a glitch, or some sort of medical condition, but all of them? Which really leaves me curious as to what you are."

He ought to be offended, Loki supposes, except that the mortal is speaking with such a tone of affable, friendly curiosity as to make it no offense. Far from sounding hostile or suspicious, he sounds like he just honestly wants to know. As though he invites travelers of the Nine into his home every day and is merely making small talk while they wait.

Loki considers. He's been on Midgard long enough to pick up that mortal society has changed drastically in the last few hundred years, to the point where marvels of technology have long since crowded out old beliefs in magic. A silly cultural prejudice, but judging from their surroundings, Stark seems more invested than most. "Do you want the real answer, or the one that it will be easier for you to accept?" he offers.

"The real answer, but now that you've said that, I'm curious about what the easy answer would be," Stark says promptly.

Loki smiles at him, and takes his drink. "I am an alien shapeshifter, who traveled here through a wormhole, and am currently engaged in infiltrating and studying human society."

Stark's mouth opens, then closes like a fish, and Loki stifles a chuckle behind his glass at the flummoxed expression on his face. "I... okay, that was not what I was expecting to hear for the easy answer. That's, that's going to be pretty hard to beat when it comes to tough things to believe before breakfast. What's the real answer, then?"

Loki sets his glass aside and advances a step or two into the mortal's personal space. He stands his ground, even when Loki raises a hand to hover near the side of his face. "I am Loki Liesmith, son of Odin All-father, warrior of Asgard; and I fell to Midgard from the Bifrost Bridge after a battle with Thor, God of Thunder."

For a moment Stark just stares at him; then slowly, he raises his glass and downs his drink in one gulp. "Yeah, that'd do it," he says. "Um. I think I'll stick with the alien thing, if that's okay with you. I don't think I can really cope with the, the whole God idea."

Loki shakes with silent laughter. How absurd these mortals are, that they would rather believe in something widely acknowledged by their own culture to be an invention of complete fiction, than in truths their ancestors had known for thousands of years.

"So, what's an alien shapeshifter doing on Earth? Or rather, what's all the infiltration and study in aid of?" Stark wants to know. "Intergalactic cultural exchange? Anthropology fieldwork?"

Loki's eyes narrow, even as his lips turn up in a smile. "Why, what does any alien come to Earth to do?" he says, and then lets his voice drop into the deep registers. "Try to take over the world."

Stark snorts in laughter, then covers his face with one hand. "Oh God, that should not be such a completely adorable turn-on," he says.

Loki smirks, and takes the last step forward until his body is flush with Stark's. The other man draws in a heated breath, and then surges forward to meet Loki as their lips join in a kiss.

"Does it not disturb you?" Loki says, when they surface from the kiss for air. He has both hands under the collar of Stark's shirt and one knee between his thighs, and it's not anything like enough contact to satisfy him. "That you - ah - will take to your bed someone you know so little about? Not only a stranger to your house, but to your world?"

"Well, I've always been more of a kinesthetic learner," Stark says. His face is flushed, his eyes glazed, breath unsteady; yet still he finds air somewhere for witty quips. "More... um. You know. Hands-on. I learn about things by getting right in there, taking them apart, getting my hands dirty..."

"Sounds good to me," Loki says with a chuckle bare inches from Stark's lips, and dives back for another taste.

When morning comes, Stark is up and out of the bed, but he has not gone far; he is in the suite's tiny kitchen, summoning mortal magic. To cook with, apparently. He asks Loki to demonstrate his shapeshifting, offering as payment a batch of waffles, and Loki obliges him, changing his hair half-a-dozen different colors before reverting to normal. (But not his skin, no, never that, and certainly not blue.) Even this small magic leaves Stark gratifyingly impressed.

They eat the waffles in bed, and clean each other's fingers, and end up not going anywhere until well after noon. They talk until night falls and Stark's stomach rumbles with neglected meals; then they retire to bed and do it all again. When Stark finally peels himself away, reluctant, to tend to his duties as master of his company, he tells Loki he can have his pick of the rooms on the twenty-third floor, and to order out for dinner. He also tells Loki to call him Tony.

That's the first day. There are many more like it to come.

It is easy for Loki to fall into Tony's bed, into his life. Tony does manage to distract him from his conquest of Midgard; actually, living with Tony Stark goes a long way to obviate the need for it. Tony is wealthy enough to keep him well supplied with whatever luxuries this backwards realms can provide. Besides that, he knows that in the strange calculus of this new world Tony is powerful; he has his eyes in all corners of the realm, and employs thousands of lesser men to do his bidding. If he seduces Tony to his will, he can have all the power and influence that his heart desires.

But the truth is that he doesn't get halfway through making Tony Stark fall for him before he's falling himself. They're well matched, in more ways than one - in all the ways, it seems, that matter. Both of them are well-mannered, having been brought up in high society, and both of them have scorned that society in favor of doing as they please.

Loki learns quickly that despite being a mortal, Tony is terrifyingly intelligent, more than a match for himself. It's one thing to know it in an abstract sort of way, and another thing entirely to be watching the television 'news' one evening and make a droll observation on the narrative habits of the newscasters, only to have Tony return it with a clever quip that leaves him stunned. He is not used to talking with people who can keep up with him, and he soon finds himself scrambling in a game of wits to sharpen old flyting skills long left rusty from lack of exercise.

He soon realizes, though, that Stark is as much out of practice as he. They are both too used to being the smartest man in a room, to being surrounded by humorless drones who don't react to a quarter of their jokes (even if they got them, which Loki thinks is less likely, considering his own company.) It is a surprise and a wonder to find someone else who appreciates his silken-sharp wit, and can match it with a cynical humor that stuns Loki breathless.

They can make each other laugh, and that is a joy that neither of them has known in all too long of a time.

Sexually, they're even more compatible than Loki would have ever dreamed. He has lived for centuries, and over time accumulated quite a resume of lovers - but what Tony lacks in time, he's more than made up for in frequency. Loki has knowledge of the sexual customs of all the Realms, but Tony has the Internet. They both have quite active, curious, and unabashedly perverted imaginations; and any props or aids that Tony cannot construct in his lab, Loki can supply with his magic.

They have quite a lot of sex, and never exactly the same way twice - but they always end it the same way, resting together with their bare skin lined up side by side, Tony's arm hooked over Loki's and their hands intertwined.

They make comfortable roommates, settling into a routine with astonishing ease considering that both parties have intensely reclusive tendencies. It helps that Tony's tower is so large, and so full of wonders, that if Loki wants to seclude himself for days surrounded by walls of books and silence or if Tony needs to lock himself away in his laboratory with the music blasting all night long, they can do it.

Loki learns when he can intervene, when he can sneak into Tony's labs past the locks and distract him with a kiss and a chin hooked over his shoulder, drag him out for a meal and a bath and a round of enthusiastic sex on the plush bathrug... and when it is best to just let Tony be.

And they both understand, when the other shakes out of an uneasy sleep in the night and slips out of the bed to go stand in the living room to watch the city lights for a time, when to speak and when to stay silent.

The view from the penthouse at night has always been Loki's favorite thing about Tony's palace. (Tony and Loki have had more than a few (mostly) playful arguments on this topic; Tony continues to insist that his home is not a 'palace.' As far as Loki is concerned, this is absurd. It is a grand building large enough to house the lord and a small army of his servants; richly decorated and luxuriously furnished, the better to show off his wealth and power to the lands around; and with Tony's defenses installed, it is an impregnable fortress as well. It is, by any definition of the word, a palace.)

During the day, there was no way you could ever mistake New York City for anything other than what it is - a tediously dirty, noisy, ramshackle collection of buildings filled to the bursting with the mortals who abide. Loki is fond enough of Midgard, in a way - the mortals are amusing, in their small ways, and ever thinking of ingenious new ideas (like chocolate fondue).

But at night - at night, when all the smudges and smears are hidden behind the veil of darkness, and the cityscape opens itself below and around his feet in a glittering array of shapes and colors - Loki can almost pretend that he is home.

Tonight the view brings no comfort to him, though, nor does the warmth of Tony's bed. Sleep proves elusive, too many dark thoughts and old memories chasing themselves round and round in his head. Memories of his greatest triumph and his worst shame all mixed together, one and the same.

He hears the shuffling step of Tony stirring behind him, and watches in the dark glass of the mirror as the mortal pads towards him, stifling a yawn. The arc reactor in his chest glows in the low light, and Tony's reflection walks across the tops of the buildings beyond the glass like a star striding down from the sky.

"Gorgeous view, innit?" Tony's husky voice breaks the silence, right before the man himself wraps his arm around Loki's ribcage from behind. He presses his face against Loki's shoulder, his breath damp against his skin, before he adds in an offhand tone, "The cityscape's not bad, either."

This wins a soft snort from Loki, but no more. Tony's smile fades as he studies Loki's expression in the window. "Tough crowd tonight, huh," he says. "What's on your mind, babe?"

"Sometimes I wonder," Loki says softly, reaching up to rest a hand against the cold glass. "What I have done to deserve all this happiness."

"Well, you deserve it just for being an awesome person," Tony says, kissing his neck. "I mean, you've got it all: beauty, brains, brawn, impeccable taste in boyfriends..."

Loki shakes his head. "You don't know what I've done," he says. "I've done terrible things."

The ugly laugh Tony lets out then surprises him. "Yeah, join the club," he says.

Loki turns to him with a frown. "What club?" he says.

"I dunno, I just think we should form a club," Tony shrugs. "We can make a flier, have weekly meetings and a twelve-step program. We can call ourselves Atrociholics Anonymous."

At the incredulous look Loki gives him, Tony sinks in on himself a little, letting out a sigh. "Look, don't mind me. You know I deflect serious topics with flippancy, it's just how I cope. But seriously. You can tell me anything, I promise. It's all right."

Loki looks away, turning to face the window again although he's not seeing the scintillating city lights any more. "I tried to kill people," he says softly. "A lot of people."

He can see Tony's silhouette in the window, but it's dark; he can't make out his expression. "Did you succeed?"

"No." Loki gives an angry little shrug. Thor stopped him, and he can never decide whether to be hateful or grateful for that. Maybe both at once. "But I meant to."

Truth to tell, he's not sure how many of the frost giants he did kill. He has not Heimdall's long sight, and he never made it back to Hlidskjalf to watch the destruction unfold. He knows the Bifrost wasn't open for long enough to actually crack the planet, nor to raise a storm powerful enough to kill. So it's really just a question of how many of the Jotnar were caught in the direct path of the Bifrost's beam. And how fast the rest of them could run.

Tony takes a long, shaky breath. "Yeah, well," he says, and clears his throat. "I managed to actually kill off a lot of people, without even meaning to. So I guess we're two halves of a pair."

Tony's arms tighten around him, his hand sliding up to rest against Loki's breastbone. Automatically Loki puts one hand up to cover Tony's with his own, twining their fingers together as they rest above his heart. Loki hopes that the matter will end there, but his lover's curiosity is insatiable.

Sure enough - "Why'd you do it?" Tony asks softly.

"Does it matter why?" Loki replies.

Tony shrugs, a motion more felt than seen. "If it matters to you, it matters to me," he says.

Loki takes a deep breath, then lets it out in a sigh. How can he explain? He'd have to go back a thousand years of history to be sure of telling it all. Instead, he decides to just cut right to the heart of the matter - the simplest truths are the ones that cut the deepest. "I thought it would please my father."

Tony's breath catches, as though he's taken a dart to the chest. Loki feels him swallow, clear his throat, before he can speak again. "Yeah, well," he says. "I've been there, and one thing I've learned is that some fathers aren't worth pleasing. I think it's pretty safe to say that any dad who asks for blood sacrifices from you isn't worth your time."

Loki shakes his head, feeling vaguely obliged to defend his father's honor to Tony. "That's not... not how it was," he says; it comes out feeble. "It's not that he asked me to do it. It's just that... I wanted to be great, to do something great, to make myself a hero in his eyes. And... where I come from, the only way to make yourself a great hero is to slay many foes."

"Ah. Warrior culture, huh," Tony says knowingly. It feels strange to reduce it to words that way, to have a name for something that was always invisible to him as water was to a fish. It helps a little to name it, as though by doing so he can remove himself from it, or else remove it from him, he isn't sure.

"Yes," he whispers.

"S funny," Tony says thoughtfully. "Here on earth, we tend to think more highly of heroes who don't kill people." He gives Loki a squeeze. "So it sounds like you're well on your way already."

Loki shakes his head sharply. "I don't want to be a hero," he says forcefully. The very idea makes his stomach roil, after what happened the last time he tried. "Not there, and not here either. I do not have the soul for it."

"Who said anything about souls?" Tony says reasonably. "Being a hero isn't about racking up kill counts and getting crowds to cheer for you. It's about seeing a job that needs to be done, and knowing that you're the only person with the skills and the guts to do it. It's about doing what needs to be done."

And that, Loki reflects, so perfectly describes Tony, and describes all the ways that he and Tony will never be the same.

"Well," Tony says. "Now that that's settled, let's get you back to bed."

Loki shakes his head. "I don't think I could sleep right now, Tony," he admits. "You need not worry. I require far less sleep than you do."

"Now, who said anything about sleep?" Tony says, with a suggestive waggle of his eyebrows.

Loki just stares at him in amused outrage. "Do you really think that the conversation we just had is the sort to put me in the mood?"

Tony sighs. "Look, babe," he says, in a slightly more serious tone of voice. "I can't just make this go away for you. No matter how much I'd like to, there's no magic wand I can wave to make it better. But I've been where you are, and I know that you can at least distract yourself for a little while."

Loki considers this for a few minutes, resisting Tony's encouraging little tugs at his shoulder. At last he nods, and they turn together towards their bedroom.

It does not particularly bother Loki that his lover is a superhero. After all, he comes from a culture where dressing up in enchanted armor and going out to seek evildoers to smite is the most popular pastime among the leisure class. He does not particularly wish to partake in Tony's heroics, but he can certainly understand them.

No, what distresses Loki is that Tony goes out on these mad quests alone. Even Thor, the mightiest of Asgard's warriors, never went anywhere without a band of strong and loyal shield-brothers (well, and a shield-sister) to watch his back. No one can be vigilant in all directions, at all times. Even the mightiest of warriors sometimes falter. And if Tony falters, surrounded by danger and far from home, he may never come back.

They have tearing arguments over it, sometimes. Tony insists that he works alone, that there is no one else who can keep up with him and anyway his preferred tactics aren't designed to work in a group. Loki points out that he could change his tactics if he wished, he could create more suits to give to trusted companions if he weren't such a paranoid misanthrope, at which point Tony yells about stones and glass houses and they must take their leave of each other before they come to blows.

Late at night Loki will sneak into Tony's workshop and cast more protective wards on his suit, but it's made difficult because Tony keeps changing his suits around and he bristles like a cat dumped into water at any evidence of "hocus-pocus" interfering with his technology. The only ward Loki can consistently keep on him is a rune drawn over Tony's heart in the dark hours which is entangled with his own seidh; if Tony's heart ever stops beating, no matter where he is, Loki will know.