When the so called All-Father banished Loki to Midgard, he could not have fathomed a worse fate. Death, as painful as it might have been, would have been more merciful. Then again, that was the whole point of the punishment he supposed. Now though, six months into his new living arrangements, there was a part of the Mischief god that recognized the fact that his new situation wasn't all bad. For one, Thor was trying his best to make his brother (as he insisted on calling Loki still) as comfortable as he could. Jane had relocated to New York, at Thor's request, so that her new husband could spend time with his brother and still look over her and Little Thunder (Stark's idea, of course,) whom she was carrying in her belly.
The Avengers were a surprise all on their own, it had taken them over month to warm up to the Asgardian god, but they had done it in the end. The hardest to give in, understandably, had been Clint Barton. In the first month or so, the archer had been extremely suspicious, distrustful, and had attempted to shoot Loki several times a day. A quick self-sacrificing move later during a fight with AIM, and Barton had forgiven the trickster for the whole brainwashing thing. Agent Romanov and Agent Coulson were very protective of the archer which meant the suspicions passed on to them as well. After aforementioned self-sacrificing move, the other two agents had tentatively begun to socialize with the other man. Doctor Banner avoided Loki as much as possible, even now, but it wasn't because of any grudge the good doctor had against him. The thing is, it was hard for Banner to control the Hulk even in completely calm circumstances. So, whenever the other man spotted Loki, he had to fight extra hard to fight off the impulse to "Hulk out," so they avoided each other much, but still had civil conversations and even joked during Family Night (again, Tony Stark.) The Midgardian man was quite witty in a dry way that pleased Loki. The Captain… well, the Captain had been a little harder to read and get good graces from. Even at the beginning when he vehemently denied his feelings for Stark, it was clear he was very protective of the other man, so it was a bit hard for him to forget and forgive the whole throwing Tony out a window debacle. Eventually, though, Stark had been able to convince the soldier to give Tony a chance and it was fair to say they were reaching a point of friendship.
The thing that surprised everyone very much, including Loki himself though it pleased Thor to no end; was the fact that the Trickster and Stark had… hit it off quickly. A week into Loki's banishment the Midgardian engineer had banged his way into Loki's living quarters and insinuated himself to his day. He had dragged Loki out for Family Night with the rest of the team, and had even sat next to him and threatened to repulsor Barton's ass if he even dared to take aim at the god. Loki had been angry, for one, but mostly extremely baffled. The stupid idiot was sitting next to the man who had threatened his world, destroy most of his city, thrown him out a window, and almost killed him with the whole nuke thing, how in the name of Odin could he sit so calmly next to what everyone else considered a monster? As Loki could not deal with not knowing, he'd cornered Stark once everyone had gone to bed and asked.
"Loki, dude, I get it, okay? That's why I'm doing this for you, though at the beginning I seriously wanted to rip you a new one. But then I realized, you and I are very much alike, I'm not as fucked up as you are though." And here Loki was about to walk away when Stark made placating gestures with his hands and continued. "I see the way you are, Loki, and I heard the things you've said about life with Thor. I… well, I understand living in someone else's shadow, okay? I lived in a dead man's shadow for most of my life, and I continue to do it even now. First it was Steve, I never measured up to him in front of my father, and he was supposedly dead at the time. Right now, I don't measure up to Howard because I'm not building weapons, I'm not managing the company "the way I should," or whatever the fuck else. But, buddy," he clapped a hand over Loki's shoulder and looked him directly in the eye. Very little people could hold that green gaze for long, very little people managed to capture Loki's attention the way this man was doing, and his words were finally breaking down Loki's walls. "You can't keep living like that, you gotta open up to somebody one day. Keeping all your shit bottled up inside, the way you've done until now? That causes Battle of New York shit to happen, and that's not good for anyone, not even you. Sure, it gave you an adrenaline rush, but how do you feel now?"
"Angry at all the nine realms, disappointed in myself for falling so low, guilty more than anything, so many people…" Loki blurted out, his voice giving up at the end. Tony looked at him dead on and nodded.
"Exactly, my friend, that's what happens when you bottle shit like that. I know, because I did it until the Avengers came in and knocked some sense into me. Steve… Well, Steve taught me how much all of that was hurting the people I care about and myself. You're better than that, Loki, in there" and then Tony did the most clichéd thing ever and tapped Loki's chest where the heart was supposed to be.
"I… I suppose so," and the Trickster hated how little and rough his voice sounded. He had conquered armies, damn it, why was this mere mortal affecting him so? Still, though, Loki knew he needed to change. He wanted to change, but the bitterness and hatred was hard to let go of so the next words out of his mouth were "So I suppose I owe you now, for your sound advice."
Stark had snorted and shaken his head at the Asgardian. "You don't owe me shit, but you can start by not trying to piss everyone off enough to kill you, okay? They'll give in, just give them time. As of right now, you can hang with me for a while, yeah?" Stark had waited only long enough for the god to nod his head minutely before he clapped his shoulder again and walked down to his lab.
So, after that, the two had begun a tentative relationship that included sparring matches in the communal gym, Tony making him a tablet for his personal use, explanations on how Loki's magic worked, and weekly Supernatural viewings in one of the rec rooms. The Asgardian found himself enjoying the companionship quite a lot. When Tony was busy, the trickster would have to entertain himself with whatever he could find until Steve began trying to accompany him. They both enjoyed some Midgardian television show that had to do with someone's mother. after the life saving incident, Barton had begun teaching him how to cook, Coulson caught him up with pop culture, and Natasha enjoyed their sparring sessions (though that might be because she was the only one who ever really got him hurting.)
The catalyst of all, though, had been Anthony Stark. Genius, Billionaire, Playboy, Philanthropist Anthony Stark who was "as fucked up as Loki will ever be." So, it is pretty needless to say that Tony was Loki's first friend, and Loki was very protective of the people he loved. He'd demonstrated it with Frigga, and Thor many times, which was why he was eyeing the Midgardian Captain with mischief sparkling bright gold in his eyes. Nobody hurt his friends. Nobody.
Steve stood in front of a red faced Tony in the common room of the communal floor, a shield-shaped object on one hand while the other clutched aimlessly at his other side. He hated when Tony got like this, spiteful and defensive. It had been one thing, only one favor had asked of his best-friend-slash-almost-something-more and all he had gotten back were insults and defensiveness. In times like this one, Steve felt like Natasha's and the media's views of Tony were right. He didn't care about anyone but himself, how else could he explain the way he treated him? It didn't help his anger that Tony had decided to do this in front of all the others. In the commotion, everyone had gotten to their feet. Bruce had retreated to a corner and was eyeing everyone warily, Nat and Clint were standing to his left watching between them as if witnessing a tennis match, Thor was still on the floor but his posture was tense. Loki, Steve noticed vaguely, was standing behind Tony as if ready to attack him if Steve so much as thought about throwing a punch at the genius. As if that would ever happen.
"I want all that shit out of here, Steve, I'm not kidding and it is not up to discussion," Tony growled again, crossing his arms over his chest and standing rigidly straight.
"It's not your goddamn call. Fury gave me the files, he gave me the prototype; he gave me everything! You have no right to tell me what to do with it!"
"I don't give a flying fuck! This is my goddamn tower, if I say I want it out of here, it better be gone the next time I look," Tony was not backing out of this one, Steve could tell. All the signs were there, the stiff posture, the closed off look in his eyes, his wide stance, and the constant rolling of his left shoulder. Had Steve been in a better mood, he would have noticed all of that and acquiesced to Tony's request, but he super soldier was pissed and he barreled right through it without a second thought.
"Not everything is about you, Jesus, did Howard never teach you otherwise? Didn't he knock some sense into you for being so goddamn narcissistic?" Steve felt the tension spike about a million percent. Natasha and Barton straightened, Loki glared daggers over Tony's shoulder and the billionaire's arms dropped, his hands insistently clenching and unclenching at his side.
"Don't," was all the other man said. Steve ignored his request.
"Honestly, I don't even understand how you could be Howard's son sometimes, Tony. He was good, kind; thoughtful… the man was brilliant. You're smart, hell; you run circles around me all the time, why can't you be a little more like your father? He was a better man that you are now, Tony, why can't you even—"the words died in the super soldier's mouth as he noted several things at once.
Bruce had run out of the room, somewhere, the Hulk roared. Steve hoped he'd reached his containment room. Natasha gave this little gust of breath, as stoic as the woman was, she might as well have dramatically gasped. Clint swore viciously under his breath, Thor was on his feet and shaking his head sadly at the soldier while Loki's eyes glowed eerily gold.
All of that, though, wasn't able to grab and keep Steve's attention for more than five seconds. He felt dread pull in his belly slowly as he saw the quick succession of emotion in Tony's face. The genius's eyes and face were so expressive, Steve could always spot when something was wrong, and this time was no different. He saw anger, solid and ugly and dark, cloud his eyes first. Then came something close to disappointment, and that sent a stab through Steve's chest. The last one, though, he'd rather endure a thousand days of torture rather than to see that look. Tony's eyes dropped; defeat, his chest stuttered once, the beginnings of pain, and finally, the tears pooled at the corners of his eyes. Finally, what hurt Steve the most, shutters fell over those liquid-chocolate eyes as Tony shut him out. Steve's mind chanted with closed secrets pain hurt him why what is it Tony I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry tell me I'm sorry just stop pain pain hurt him hurt him why idiot.
"You know what," Tony's voice was rough and laced with pain. "You do whatever the fuck you want with Howard's shit, Captain. Though, I doubt you'll find much of his possessions in those crates. His whole goddamn life was about you, I doubt you'll find anything other than shit from your pathetic old life." with that, he walked away without a backward glance. The only sign that he was distressed was how robotic his walk was, other than that; he might as well have been in front of a crowd.
There was utter silence as the rest of the team watched Iron Man walk away, because that wasn't Tony. That controlled, deliberate voice and stance, that wasn't Steve's Tony. Tony was bright, and loud, and exuberant, and eccentric, and funny, and witty, and… the person who had just walked out was nothing but shattered. Loki was the first to break the silence.
"You have been living in his tower for months" the trickster spat, eyes spitting golden fire at the soldier, "and it's as if you didn't know him at all. How dare you speak to him that way? Are you that stupid?"
"Loki," Thor chastised gruffly, though his voice carried no conviction of stopping Loki's tirade. The fact that no one was telling the Asgardian to shut up told Steve enough. They agreed. And Steve had no words to defend himself because he was starting to see just where and how he'd gone wrong.
"Howard Stark was never the man you think him to be. He was never as he was with you in front of anyone else. Especially not his son. Anthony was abhorred, he was a mistake for his parents, he was rejected and scorned and abused. And you ask him to be like the father who subjected him to all that and more? And you claim to care for him?"
"Howard… he couldn't…" Steve choked on the words, looking at Loki pleadingly to take the words back. Howard could have never hurt his son that way. He had been good, he'd always been kind and understanding towards Steve. To think he would… that Tony had to live with… no, it was impossible.
"Maybe you should see for yourself what Stark's life was like," Loki muttered and suddenly Steve was surrounded with gold mist, a voice in his head screaming in pain, and barely heard Thor yelling for the Trickster to stop before everything went black.
Steve woke up God knows how long later, his back pressed against grass, the sun in his eyes, and a very serious Loki sitting crossed legged beside him. Understandable, the Captain threw himself at the other man but it was only another of Loki's mirages. Steve sprang to his feet, ready to throttle the other man, before he focused on his surroundings. He was standing in some kind of lawn; a pompous Victorian house was in front of him. Steve tilted his head, he recognized this place, it just looked very different all cleaned up of vines and weeds. It was the Stark State.
"Recognize the place? Quite pleasant, I'd say. If, you know, you're not Anthony Stark," the Trickster was at easy reaching distance but the Captain couldn't even move towards him. Fear curled like angry tendrils in his stomach, spreading slowly towards his spine.
"What did you do?"
"I brought you to Anthony's childhood home. He should be… around seven now, I believe. It's time you know about your beloved's life, as I doubt he'll tell you, especially after today."
"If anyone sees me, they'll recognize me," Steve managed to grit out. It was futile effort to run away from the situation, but Loki saw through it and shot it down quickly.
"They cannot see or hear you," he motioned towards the house. "After you."
Taking a deep fortifying, Steve started the short trek towards the house. Whatever he found, he thought, would help him formulate and appropriate apology for Tony.
The first thing Steve heard, besides his own breathing after he'd walked straight through a way, was a woman shouting. He cocked his head to the side, trying to find the source, before following up the grand stair case to the second floor. He followed as the volume increased and Steve saw a woman and a child standing right in the middle of the hallway. He recognized Tony immediately, he was beautiful. Short for his age, Steve noticed, with a mop of dark brown curls, deep wide eyes, full cherry red lips, and flushed cheeks. He was wearing something that looked like a school uniform, tan pants, a white button down and navy blue, wool sweater with some kind of crest on the left side of his little chest. He looked wide eyed at the woman in front of him, his tiny fists clenching and unclenching anxiously.
"How many goddamn times, Anthony?!" the woman screeched again. She was wearing a black skirt, and lilac blouse, her hair was artistically piled on her head. Her posture was rigidly straight; she was clutching one tiny wrist in one hand while the other gesticulated wildly. Steve noticed how Tony kept himself frozen except for his fists, and the way he kept glancing at the woman's moving hand.
"I'm sorry," a gush of air fled Steve's lungs as he heard how tiny and frail Tony's voice sounded. What unnerved him the most was the fear in the little boy's voice.
"We have told you time and again, Anthony, do not disturb your father in the lab. Every single day! What is it going to take for you to understand?"
"I just… Mom, I finished my robot! I wanted Dad to—"
"You wanted your father to waste time from his busy schedule to see some mediocre attempt at a robot? You couldn't even make it work, Anthony, why would he want to see that?" the woman replied harshly. Steve felt tears in his own eyes as he looked at Tony's devastated expression.
"I just wanted him to see," Tony whispered.
"If you built something worthwhile, he might. Now, I believe you know what happens after you've disobeyed." The woman's voice was cold and harsh, no trace of sympathy in her voice as Tony pretty much broke down. His breathing became harsh, and the tears came faster. "Don't you dare cry! This is your entire fault, Anthony." Tony just cried harder, begging his mother to not do… whatever. What greeted him was a slap, and Steve could do nothing but bite his lip to keep from screaming in sympathetic pain. And yet, Tony still cried.
"Shut up, Anthony, your father doesn't want to be disturbed!" She gripped Tony's wrist tighter as she dragged him down the hall. Steve and Loki followed, the soldier threw the god a quick glance and he noticed the other man was pale. Loki looked back to him and swallowed, it was the most vulnerable the trickster had ever looked.
"Did this really—"Steve couldn't continue, hoping this was some kind of sick joke on Loki's part. His hopes shattered, however, when Loki only nodded and ran a shaking hand through his dark mane of hair. They followed Tony and his mother as she dragged the begging little boy towards a door at the end of the hall, pushed the child inside and proceeded to double lock it from the front.
"Now you will stay there until your father is ready to discuss this with you," the woman said as she turned to leave. Steve felt bile rise in his throat as she walked in his direction. She was beautiful, he noted, perfect features set into a cold face. Like a statue of Athena, dead and cold but still beautiful. He felt a chill run through him as she walked right through his body.
"What's behind that door?" Steve questioned Loki. The other man didn't reply, merely motioned towards the door. Taking what he hoped was a fortifying breath, he walked into the room. It was a closet, there was barely any spaces for the boxes that were piled high. It was cramped, and dark, and damp. Tony curled into a little ball to the right of the door; he roped his arms around his tiny legs and rocked himself back and forth, crying all the while.
Steve crutched down in front of him, one ghostly hand attempting to pet his hair as he'd done just the day before to grown up Tony. The little boy didn't feel it, however, and there was no way to comfort him other than stay there and watch over him. Eventually, Tony began whispering. Steve had never given much thought as to why Tony talked to himself, now it made so much sense it hurt. There was never anyone to talk to when little Tony was locked in the close other than himself. It wasn't until a few minutes later, paying attention to the words rather than the broken, hitched sounds from the little boy, that Steve recognized what he was saying.
"If you're scared that one day someone might come
To your house, your neighborhood, your city
You best not be
America has a hero, a hero for all
A hero to protect: big and small
You don't need to be strong, brave or rich
Captain America protects all."
Steve slumped down on all fours as the little boy kept repeating his propaganda speech over and over again. Then he began reciting more, using that amazing memory of his to provide self-comfort. After a while, Tony began to slump down. The propaganda speeches changed to a little tune. Tony lay down on his side, still curled up as small as he could. Steve scooted closer, placing a hand over his tiny side, feeling him breathe.
"Baby mine, don't you cry. Little one, when you play, If they knew all about you, From your head down to your toes,
Baby mine, dry your eyes.
Rest your head close to my heart,
Never to part, baby of mine.
Pay no heed what they say.
Let your eyes sparkle and shine,
Never a tear, baby of mine.
They'd end up loving you too.
All those same people who scold you,
What they'd give just for the right to hold you.
You're not much, goodness knows.
But, you're so precious to me,
Sweet as can be, baby of mine."
Little one, when you play,
If they knew all about you,
From your head down to your toes,
Tony was asleep by the end of the lullaby; his tiny limbs went slack as one final tear ran down his cheek. Steve's own eyes were wet, as were his cheeks, the pain in his chest felt impossible to handle. He sniffled and crawled a little closer to the little boy. Tony groaned in something like pain, bringing his right wrist up to his chest, before settling again. Steve uselessly stroked his hair.
"From what I have seen inside Stark's mind, it has been happening since he was three years old. Maria seems fond of this particular cupboard. Howard… well, I suppose we shall see what he prefers soon."
"All those things I said…" Steve whispered, keeping his eyes on the figure of the little boy in front of him. Tony was sniffling again.
"Were said in anger, yes. But you should have seen his pain, Captain."
"I did. That's what's ripping me apart. I could tell I was hurting him, I felt it as if it were my own pain but I was so stubborn. God, Loki, can I even fix this?"
Loki was silent for a very long time; Steve feared he might say no. The Trickster knew Tony quite well; they'd gotten to know each other in the last five months. If Loki or Bruce said no to something related to Tony, everyone might as well count it as a lost cause. This time though, Loki merely looked at him for a long while before inhaling. He watched Tony sleep, his face contorted in something like sympathetic pain, before looking back at Steve.
"Stark loves you very much, to the point where it is nauseating to watch him trying to win your approval. I believe we can agree that he should hate every living creature on this forsaken realm, he's suffered greatly, and yet he loves you with every fiber of his being. If there is anyone that can make this," he gestured to encompass the whole room, "then that person is you. But you must show him he is capable of love, Captain. And you must try hard, he is a very shattered and self-depreciating man."
"I know," Steve whispered, glancing at child-Tony again. "I just wish—"Steve was interrupted as the doorknob rattled. He sprang into a defensive crouch in front of Tony, muscles tensing, before remembering that he couldn't do a damned thing about whoever was coming to get Tony. It had been hours.
The door opened, and Steve stood face to face with the mighty Howard Stark. He'd aged well, Steve noticed, there was barely any white in his hair, the lines around his mouth and eyes weren't many but they were very severe. They spoke of scowls and frowns more than of smiles. He wondered how many of them were directed at the child who was now groggily sitting up. Howard scowled down at his son, making the lines even more pronounced. Tony's moment of oblivious bliss lasted only long enough to notice who it was that had come to fetch him. He blanched.
"You and I need to have a discussion, Anthony," Howard said. Steve frowned at his friend; he remembered Howard's voice and speed. This man's voice was slow, almost deliberate, but with a little gruffness at the end. With a violent twist to his stomach, Steve realized Howard was drunk. And not merely tipsy, but very drunk if his faltered step and unnecessary force to grab Tony was anything to go by. The only thing that kept the other man from slurring, the soldier guessed, was years and years of practice. Howard dragged Tony out of the cupboard.
"I'm sorry, Dad, I'm really sorry. I shouldn't have gone down there; I should have stayed in my room like you told me. I won't let it happen again, Dad, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Tony babbled as he tried not to wince in pain. He was cut off by a harsh slap across his cheek. Steve almost doubled over as he saw a trickle of blood at the corner of Tony's tiny mouth.
"Goddamn it, stop crying like a goddamn baby, Anthony! I have told you, many times, soldiers don't cry," Howard yelled down at his son. Tony barely whimpered before biting harshly at his lip, more blood poured out. "You think Captain America fought and won the war for us by crying? You think he would think anything but contempt for you if he saw how weak you were?"
"Stop! Stop yelling at him like that!"
"You think he would even care about you, Anthony, if he saw how pathetic you were? Steve was a soldier, he was the best man I have ever met, and he was very strong. All he would feel for you is disappointment!"
"Stop lying to him! Can't you see you're hurting him! Stop, Howard, goddamn it stop hurting him!"
"He would hate you, Anthony. He would be disgusted by your weakness, the same way I am. Captain America does not care for disobedience or inadequacy. Don't disturb me in my goddamn lab," he cuffed Tony across the head, making a sickening thud sound that echoed down the hallway. "Don't speak to me unless I do so to you first," another cuff, this one seemed to be harder. "And don't come to me for stupid shit that doesn't work, Anthony. I don't have time for your childish behavior!" he hit Tony one last time. "Do you understand me?"
"Please, stop. Stop it. You're hurting him. Can't you see what you're doing to your son? Stop, stop, stop."
The little boy mumbled a response that Howard didn't seem to hear though both Steve and Loki heard the desperate yes, please, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, please. Howard grabbed a fistful of hair and pulled Tony's head up. The way the little boy looked just about sent Steve to his knees. He'd stopped crying, his face looking older than it had just minutes before, and his lip still dribbled blood. "I said, do you understand me?"
"Yes, father," Tony said clearly this time, his voice devoid of feeling. Apparently satisfied, Howard pushed the boy roughly away. To Steve it didn't look like enough for the boy to fall down, but Tony went down hard. He whimpered as his ankle twisted his fall, but didn't cry. Maybe he'd been surprised, or unbalanced from Howard's yelling, maybe—
"Sprained ankle from a similar episode last week. Anthony tripped down some set of stairs," Loki informed him. Steve felt as if he were close to retching.
"Good. Now go to your room, and pack. You're leaving for school tomorrow," Howard announced and then strolled down the hallway, left, and disappeared down the stairs. Tony stayed on the floor a little longer, now on all fours; his little shoulders quaked as he cried as silently as he could. Steve went to kneel down next to him.
"When you grow up," Steve told him, eyes blurry with tears, even though the boy couldn't hear him. Loki looked on, pleased, as he began to pull at his magic to go back to their time. "You're going to be the greatest man I know. You're going to create amazing things, you're going to do such amazing wonders that leave everyone speechless, when you grow up, you're going to make me fall madly in love with you. Your father will leave, he will be gone, he won't hurt you anymore, nobody will because I'll be there. I've always been here, Tony." Steve swallowed hard. "You're so goddamn strong, and I love you."
"A hero to protect: big and small. You don't need to be strong, brave or rich; Captain America protects all." Tony chanted the stupid speech like a mantra as he tried to stop crying. It took him seconds, minutes, hours it seemed before he could finally get up and wobble his way to his room. He slithered inside and closed the door as quietly as he could. Everything was dark, but the little boy didn't turn on the light. Steve's serum helped him look around the room. It was completely bare save a small bed with dull, brown covers and a desk. There was nothing that marked it as a child's room.
Tony kneeled down next to the bed and pulled out a small suitcase, he robotically opened it, checked its contents and rolled it to sit next to the door. He'd been prepared to leave all along, and he was barely seven. Then he took off his shoes and lay down on the bed staring at the ceiling. He began to sing himself to sleep again. It was all Steve could take.
"Take me back, now. I can't… I can't do this anymore," he begged Loki. His eyes full of tears as he stared at the Trickster. Loki decided he'd made his point and began to work his magic. Tony's lullaby would haunt them both for a while.
"If they knew all about you, From your head down to your toes,
They'd end up loving you too.
All those same people who scold you,
What they'd give just for the right to hold you.
You're not much, goodness knows.
But, you're so precious to me,
Sweet as can be, baby of mine.
From your head down to your toes,
As soon as Steve recognized his room, he sprinted to the bathroom. His sorrow, and guilt, and shame came out in the form of retching. His stomach rolled with him. Loki merely waited for him outside, part of his mind berated him for causing the Captain pain and invading Tony's privacy, but Steve needed to know. Howard couldn't keep hurting Tony even years after his death. The billionaire deserved some peace.
"Is Tony in the workshop?" Steve asked hoarsely as he came out of the bathroom. Loki nodded, and the Captain moved towards the door wordlessly. When he reached the threshold, however, he stopped and looked back at the Asgardian. "Thank you, for making me understand. I will owe you… everything, if Tony forgives me." He didn't give the other man a chance to answer before he was running out of the room.
Tony had been in the lab for four hours when JARVIS announced that Captain Rogers was making his way down to see him. The genius turned all his equipment off; he wanted Steve to know he had Tony's full attention. Whatever they had been trying to start with each, that tentative I-like-you-more-than-as-a-friend feeling had lodged in Tony's chest and he could not let something like Howard Stark get in the middle of it.
Tony should have known Steve would want Howard's stuff, it was a connection to the life he'd had. Steve was connected to Howard in ways Tony couldn't understand, couldn't covet because he hadn't lived those memories with him. Howard was a dear part of Steve's life, one of the only people the soldier had ever been close to, of course he'd want Howard's belongings. Tony should have known better than to start an argument with the man over that. The thing was, Howard was a sore subject for Tony. No, not a sore subject because that would imply that Tony could stand the mention of his father's name. No, Howard was, after all these years, an open wound that bled and doubled Tony over in pain whenever he was brought up. Howard's mark had imprinted itself into everything that Tony did, and having Steve of all people defend him… well, it hurt.
All his life, Tony had heard people telling him how great his father was. The accomplishments SI was making, how his father was revolutionizing the world, how he was such a perfect man, someone even called him a hero at one point. But all of them didn't know the Howard Tony knew, they didn't know the drunk, vicious and sadistic presence that hid behind Howard's genius. His father needed an outlet for his frustration, and he had found it in Tony. The genius dropped down on his rear and wrapped his arms around his knees as he remembered himself in a tiny cupboard, voices of people long gone echoing in his head.
"Howard is a great man, you should try to be more like him, Tony."
"How lucky you are to have such an amazing man as your father."
"You are a disappointment, Tony."
"Your father has done great things, you must be proud."
"Captain America would have adored your father."
"You're weak, and pathetic, and incapable of doing anything. Who would want a child like you? Your mother should have gotten rid of you the moment she knew."
"Oh, Tony! Look at that robot, you're as smart as Howard, aren't you?"
"Like father like son."
"You're going to be just like Howard in the end."
"TONY! TONY! C'MON, LISTEN TO ME. FOCUS ON MY VOICE. TONY. TONY, PLEASE, LOOK AT ME."
Tony knew that voice, it didn't belong in the pass, that voice belonged here. Tony realized he was shaking and that he had hot tears in his face, but none of that matter as he looked at the two blue pools that were looking worriedly at him. Steve was so goddamn beautiful, he was good and kind and understand, why had he ever fought with him?
Without dueling much on the decision, Tony launched himself into Steve's arms and burrowed into the nook where the soldier's neck met his shoulder. He was still shaking, and Steve let out a harsh breath before wrapping his arms around the genius.
"Tell me it's not true. Tell me I'm nothing like Howard," Tony begged into Steve's shoulder. If he weren't so vulnerable, or if it were anyone other than Steve, the genius would have deflected or kicked whoever had come in out. But this was Steve, and Tony trusted Steve with everything. This was the man he loved with ever fiber of his being, the man that made his heart hurt more than the reactor with how much he cared, the man who loved him, Tony realized. The way Steve was burying his face in Tony's hair, how he was being held tenderly but tightly, the way Steve was murmuring Tony's name… dear God, when did that even happen? How was he even that lucky?
"You are nothing," Steve said fiercely, holding Tony's face tightly in his hands to make him look at him. "Like that man. You are utterly perfect and I'm so, so goddamn sorry for not seeing it before. For hurting you by comparing you to something so low, and vile, and cruel. You are the best man I have ever known, Anthony Stark, and I am in love with you so much that it hurts." Steve leaned down and kissed Tony softly on the lips, tenderly. The way he'd always wanted, and Tony let him. He needed it, needed soft and sweet whispers of lips against, needed strong, and tender arms wrapped around him, needed reassurances whispered into his ears until his treacherous heart believed them. Tony needed to feel alive, he needed to feel cherished; Tony needed Steve because the other man was everything and more.
Steve leaned back against the wall, Tony still cradled in his lap, and both men remained like that for long minutes. The genius would have felt mortified had he not felt so drained and vulnerable and broken. Steve understood all that now, he understood how fragile Tony really was, so he only cradled him closer to his chest and told him how much he loved him. After a while, though, Tony pulled back to look into his eyes.
"Why did you change your mind about Howard?" he asked, grabbing the soldier's face to force him to look at him. Tony could always tell when Steve was lying. The other man hesitated for a moment, enough for Tony to see the truth, and he blew out a breath. "Loki told you." He wrapped his arms around his middle, not sure whether to be angry or relieved. At least now Steve knew the truth, they could move on.
"He showed me something, from when you were seven years old… I… Tony, I'm so sorry for ever comparing you to someone so… so…" Steve was working himself up; he couldn't even find an expletive bad enough to apply to Howard Stark. Tony place his hand over Steve's mouth and smiled sadly at him.
"I understand now, I get why you defended him. he was your friend, Steve, and I know you enough to know how you are about your friends. It was my fault for insulting him without explanation. I just… thinking about you comparing me to—"he was cut off as Steve gave him a hard kiss, desperation and love mixed between their lips.
"I'm sorry, love, I'm so sorry," Steve rested his forehead against Tony's and closed his eyes. Guilt will plague him for days, perhaps even months, he knew. But he had Tony safely in his arms now; he could cuddle him and make him loved because he should never feel otherwise.
"It's okay, I know. I love you, I know," Tony mumbled in his ear as he nuzzled into his neck again. Steve relaxed and leaned back.
"You were right, you know," Steve tells Tony after a while.
"About what?" Tony responds, and Steve can feel him frown into his neck.
"If they knew all about you, they'll end up loving you too. All those same people who scold you, what they would give just to hold you,"Steve whispers in his ear and then just holds on as Tony breaks down in his arms and finally lets go.
Loki went to the roof of the Tower after Steve went to patch things up with Tony. He liked the peace up there, it was quite of the team's distractions and weird conversations. He could hear so many sounds, so much life around him, and it helped calm down the bitterness. Now though, he was there with another purpose. A few stories down, Anthony Stark was letting go of the wounds his father had caused, and Loki had been following the mortal's lead for so long. He figured he could let go of his.
"Odin, I am not sure if you can hear me or if you even care after all I've done. I would not blame you if you did not, but I feel like I must say this. I… I forgive you, for hiding my parentage from me. I understand, now, that you were trying to protect me. I understand how incredibly lucky I was to have people care for me the way you, Mother, and Thor have. I am sorry for the pain I have caused you, but I… I am trying now. I am… feeling. So, I thank you, for banishing me here. I am learning so much. Thank you, Father."
Once his speech was done, Loki opened his eyes to look at the horizon. He could feel it, lightness in himself. Anger, he realized, was only fuel for short periods, after that all it did was drag you down and waste you away. He could have sworn he heard Odin's voice in his head, calling him son, saying he'd made him proud. He knew he had, after so long, he was finally driven with something good. Not anger or pain or bitterness, but love and protectiveness for his brother and his new group of misfits. With a small smile, the first one he had allowed himself in Odin knows how long, he strolled down towards the communal floor.
The Avengers were still there, they'd just moved to the living room. Their heads snapped up as they saw him stroll in.
"Where are the Captain and the Man of Iron, Loki?" Thor asked him with concern.
Loki looked around the room, at each one of their annoyingly perfect faces, and realized the answer went not only for the two lovers in the workshop but for him as well. He smiled, the real one, and saw the others relax a bit. He draped an arm around Thor's shoulders and felt the other's surprise, but his brother quickly clasped an arm around the Trickster.
"They're home, brother, they're finally home."