Of all the stupid suicidal things Tony had done in his life this had to be by far the worst.
Also quite possible the last, but then that wasn't new, was it?
And all because he had decided to ignore the alarms lightening up his suit’s helmet display , thinking it had to be an electromagnetic pulse or something similar. After all, when Thor talked about jotnar he used words like savage and brutal and almost killed my father , nothing of which lend itself to thinking that they might be able to even have electricity, much less ... this.
He hadn't come far after stumbling through the portal before he'd realized that he should have chosen another realm - any other realm, probably - for his first test. jotunheimr was so fucking cold that he could feel his feet getting numb even through the stealth suit and the specially isolated undersuit, reminding him forcefully that he was only human and not a guy who waltzed in here in nothing but the Norse God equivalent to a summer dress and complained about how chilly it was.
Thanks, Thor. Really.
Not that Tony wasn't also dumb for not listening to Jarvis' repeated advice to send a drone through first to check whether the portal worked and what awaited him on the other side. Which might have prepared him for the endless planes of snow leading in every direction as far as he could see, and the blizzard that made sure as far as he could see turned into as far as I can stretch with my hand within a matter of minutes once it had reached him. It was also what , along with the accompanying interference, forced him to wait until it died down before he could activate the portal again.
Which was how he had, stumbling half-blind through the white night and fucking fighting against the wind, found the entrance to what he had at first thought was just a natural cave. Might still think, actually, if not for the hope that going deeper into the cave would allow him to escape the worst of the wind's chill and safe his toes from frostbite (he was rather fond of them, thank you).
Just that the deeper he went into the cave, the less ... unused it seemed. The ground changed from packed snow to clear swept stone, strange signs popped up along the walls and a silvery shimmer had grown stronger the further he went, lightening the way until he could see almost as good as in broad daylight. Several hallways lead away from the main corridor, each of them marked with a different sign, and if not for the fear of losing himself within a strange maze he might have actually followed them.
And then he had reached the first door. Well, he assumed there had to be a door somewhere, what with it being a hallway here, and the glass - was it glass? Or just clear cut ice? - letting him see right into what could only be called a lab.
He hadn't recognized most of the equipment, yet the plain metal tables and shelves wouldn't have been out of place back on earth, and there were only so many ways to shape thinks like Petri dishes and microscopes before they lost their functionality so it wasn't too hard to recognize the room for what it was.
Which was very much occupied.
Thor had called the jotnar Frost Giants sometimes but Tony hadn't actually understood what that meant until he stood there, staring at the ... alien leaning over the microscope, slowly and carefully changing slides. Maybe it was because Thor himself had never seemed too strange but he hadn't expected them to be so ... so .
His first impression – before even the blue skin, or the lab coat, or the horns – was big . And not only large, like a stretched human, but really massive, with muscles playing under the skin on his arms whenever he moved and wrists that were easily thicker than Tony’s thigh. Yet for all its impression the size of the jotun quickly faded when he became aware that what he had at first subconsciously classified as clothing was actually their skin, a light blue not unlike a pretty summer sky, with darker lines running over it like old battle scars. And while he wore clothing – a greenish thing that might be a lab coat – a lot of his skin lay free, showing off his huge potential to hurt someone.
The smart thing to do at this point would have been to turn around and escape back to the entrance of the cave, making for the portal as soon as the blizzard died down and hoping that whatever had caused them to overlook him for so long hid him again until he was safely back on earth.
Of course, people who knew him also knew that the smart thing to do and Tony Stark didn’t go together that well for a reason.
So Tony had crept further into the cave, relying on his stealth suit to keep him hidden. And it seemed to work, yeah? He watched jotnar standing together in labs, arguing over whatever they were working on. Other jotnar sitting down - still massive enough to impress even Hulk, yet closer to Tony's own size - and pouring over notes that were projected into the air in such clear a picture that even Tony could only dream of ding such. Fuck, some of them looked so realistic it took him watching the jotun researcher interacting with it to realize it was nothing but a projection.
Not all the labs were occupied and he found himself itching with the need to go inside when he found a darkened window, yet he had at least enough common sense left to realize that they probably alarmed their labs against intruders. Not that that stopped him from looking back a few times while going on, wishing he could be sure that the suit would protect him against discovery when he tried opening the door.
Maybe that was the reason for what happened next.
He had only managed two more labs when happened what he should have expected the whole time.
There was only one jotun in the room, this one maybe a bit smaller than the rest, his skin a far darker hue than the previous ones - though that might also come from the lights in the room; there were several boxes there, all the same clear material that formed the windows, and each of it filled with what seemed to be a small plant and lightened by a differently colored lamp. The jotun was busy watering the plants - or, well, whatever liquid plants needed that grew at temperatures well below freezing, and Tony just knew that Bruce would be salivating at the pure thought of getting one of these plants into his hands -, the light flickering over his skin and coat and face, forming strange and exotic patterns.
Maybe it was because so far none of the jotnar had seen him, or he was just too careless this time, pressing just too close to the window pane, but when this jotun looked up, instead of gliding right through him, his eyes deceived by the stealth suit's chameleon function, they suddenly narrowed.
Tony felt his own eyes widening. His breath stocked and it felt a bit like the ground was giving out under him when he realized that the other saw him.
The shock had him stumbling back, almost tripping over his own feet in his haste to get away. The jotun blinked, whatever spell he had been under broken by the movement, and then he opened his mouth.
Tony's survival instincts might not be the strongest but right now they were blaring an alarm loud enough even for him. He didn't stick around waiting to find out what they had in store for trespassers but instead turned and made for the entrance of the cave, jumping into the air two steps in and activating the suit's repulsors so he could fly out as far as possible.
Which brought him back to the present, and the fact that he was going to fucking die here.
Because whatever the jotun in that lab had done, it had alerted the other jotnar to the fact that they had an intruder. The light changed, turned from bright silver to such a dark, almost not visible anymore blue that Tony had to switch to sonar and night vision to find his way. Cursing all the while the fact that his pursuers wouldn't have a problem tracking him now - he could mask the suit itself (as imperfectly as it had turned out to be) but the bright blue of the repulsors was a different matter altogether, especially in the dark.
At least the hallway was build for the giants, making it easily high enough that he could comfortably fly through it without having to worry about knocking into any walls or the ceiling. And yet even that wasn't enough when a lab door opened in front of him and a jotun stepped out. There was room between the alien and the ceiling, and easily enough room around him, but he was still so massive that Tony felt his heart beat right up into his throat.
Trying to calm his fear - he had fucking done worse than that, drawing circles around Chitauri while simultaneously dodging the beams of their weapons, and yet it still seemed worse somehow to do this here, on a planet not his own, without backup or anyone knowing that he was here, not even Jarvis' calm voice in his ear which felt way too fucking much like being back through the portal, dying alone to the spectacular view of an enemy's army being blown up - he checked again how much room he had on both sides of the jotun, ran some calculations on how best to dodge, and then swerved.
The jotun was surprisingly quick on his feet, turning to apprehend him far faster than he had anticipated, and it was only months of exercising with the Hulk that had him turn around just in time to dodge the jumping figure and fly past.
His heart was galloping in his chest so hard it hurt, but he couldn't spare the time to think about it - think about anything, really, like whether a jotun without armor was even a problem for the suit - because his helm's sensors were telling him that the hallway in front of him was closing.
His mouth curled around a curse but he didn't have time to spew it out. Not if he wanted to get out here, fucking alive, and back to his own world. Powering the suit to maximum speed - which was dangerous and he missed Jarvis' voice in his ear telling him so - he rushed towards the hole in the corridor, hoped that he could reach it, reach that one remaining exit to his freedom - and then he was through.
Relief flooded him, turned his limbs limbs weak with the endorphin rush. He had done it! They couldn't follow him through the ice behind him, not fast enough to catch him, and he only needed to -
He only needed to fucking pay attention right the fuck now or he was going to face-plant right into another ice wall.
Slowing his speed just enough he activated the repulsors. It was only ice, after all - he could see through it, in that vague way that you could see through glaciers and icicles - and a concentrated pulse of power should -
The suit stopped around him.
Not shut down, not leaving him in the dark, not disassembling, just - stopping .
"What the fuck ...?" He upped the power again, moving just enough that he could feel it, and then he stopped again, as if whatever held him floating in the air had strengthened their hold, too.
And Tony had thought he might die here before, but with the suit stopping around him - that had always been his nightmare, would always be, and he could feel his heart race again, could hear his breath coming in fast, jerky hitches. Stars within the endless black of the universe, beautifully swirling colors that seemed too peaceful against the dark bulks of an army ready to march onto earth. His suit going dark around him - dark like the space between the stars - and Jarvis' last sputtering dying in his ear. Dying as much as he did ...
Forcefully he reminded himself that he needed to be calm - yes, this had just taken a turn for the worse but that didn't mean he had to die here, he just had to calm the fuck down and stop running his thoughts in circles and think .
Looking down at himself he couldn't see anything that held him which meant, probably, a forcefield. Which should also mean that he wouldn't be able to move at all, if Thor's explanation was to be trusted, so he wasn't quite sure whether it really was one, but it probably was a machine and that meant ... he powered his thrusters up again and pointed them at the wall on his left. If he blew up everything around him he should be able to stop this whatever-it-was from working, and if he did it fast enough and got lucky when everything blew up around him that his suit wasn't damaged too much than he still had a chance to escape.
He had only just pointed his hand to the wall when suddenly someone said: "Whatever you are trying to do, don't . Or you will find out how it feels to die in flames."
The voice was deep, the English barely comprehensible, but the message was clear: they had some kind of weapon trained on him that they were sure would kill him. And even if he wasn't quite as sure of that as the jotun delivering this ultimatum he also wasn't sure they were wrong.
Not enough to risk his life when there was still a chance that they wouldn't kill him. Because why else threaten him instead of simply taking that killing shot?
Except if it was a bluff, but he could still feel the proof that they used superior technology keeping him stuck in the air.
And he did make a lot of stupid decisions but he knew when he was outnumbered and should surrender for the moment. He could always wait for his moment to escape, as long as he still lived.
Clenching his teeth he powered the repulsors down enough for a slow descending, then landed on the ground. Not sure whether they would understand it if he raised his hands he just kept them at his sides, well away from his body - as if he had a pistol he could pull out, or even a pocket to keep it in. This was his stealth suit, designed for sneaking around unnoticed, not carrying heavy weapons or thieving. And if he had known that he would run into a lab on this planet, or even just a number of jotnar, he would have taken a different one because he had problems taking on Steve in this thing here.
"Remove your armor", came another order, so at least they didn't seem to think his position threatening.
Yet a quick glance at the display in his helmet told him that he simply couldn't follow that order. Licking his lips and hoping that they wouldn't shoot him for his disobedience he activated the speakers. "When I come out I will freeze to death." It was way too fucking cold here. More than a few minutes and he would get frostbite, and more than half an hour and he would be as dead as if they had used their weapons on him.
A loud huff came from behind him. "You are not the first human we had to deal with. Remove your armor."
Hoping that the jotun meant that they knew how to keep a human from dying of exposure he took a deep breath, then ordered the suit to disengage.
The cold was as bad as he had imagined, hitting him worse than even a cold shower. Goosebumps rose all over his skin, and where his – ineffective anyway - undersuit ended at wrists and neck he could feel it biting with the force of thousands of years of uncontested winter. Shivering he tucked his hands under his armpits, hoping to protect them from the cold where he couldn't protect his nose and ears and face, while the suit collapsed into itself and refolded into a very heavy suitcase.
He caught the movement behind him with instinct more than eyes or ears, yet before he could do more than jerk away something heavy settled on his shoulders, falling down around him like a warm coat. Only when rough hands pulled a hood over his head, closing it in front by attaching it to the folds there did he realize that it was exactly that.
Blinking fast he looked down at himself, surprised to find himself even capable of doing so. But while he couldn't see well, his vision obscured by a veil of dull silver, he could see. And, more than that, he was quickly getting warm again; whatever this coat was made of was obviously much better isolation than his undersuit.
So they probably didn't want to kill him now that he was complying. That at least was good to know - though also a bit worrying because it wasn't at all what he had expected of the jotnar after what Thor had told him of them.
A shadow fell on him and he jerked up again, only to find one of the jotnar looking down at him. A hand reached for him and fingers far more nimble than their size let assume checked the clasps in front of the hood before looking up again and talking to someone behind him.
Tony turned around, unsurprised to find that more jotnar had joined them, making even the gigantic hallway seem crowded with their massive bodies. Yet what surprised him was the lack of hostility in their voices, the calm movements with which they walked around as if he hadn't just walked into their super-secret lab. As if they hadn't just threatened him with their weapons.
Weapons he wasn't even sure existed for he couldn't see any on the beings around him, but he wasn't willing to call a bluff that might not be one, not without his suit and surrounded on all sides by aliens much stronger and bigger than him.
Pulling the coat more securely around himself he listened to their voices as they debated ... probably about what to do with him. Which was way more intimidating than he wanted to admit. And it wasn't made better by their strange language, consonants like cracking ice and vowels straight from the howling of the winds.
Almost all jotnar around him wore lab coats, half-covering their hulking stature and muscles. Yet even those that went around wearing nothing but a strange kind of kilt and, in one case, a lose vest, didn't look like warriors. Massive, yes. Strong enough to rip him apart on accident, sure. Trained in combat? Probably, seeing how they had pursued him. But outright warriors?
With a sinking feeling in his stomach Tony realized that these people were scientists. Researchers assigned to this lab, whose work he had interrupted.
And he knew that people like Thor or Clint would prefer to be caught by some scientists than by warriors who might torture whatever secrets he had out of him. But then they also still thought the Hulk was more terrifying than Bruce Banner.
Tony knew better. He had seen enough lab mice and rats suffer to know that even the most inhuman torture could never compare to the indifference of scientists out to find a new medicine for cancer.
And he had fallen into the hands of a whole group of alien scientists.
Fear settled cold and heavy in his stomach, despite the coat doing its best to keep him warm and comfortable. You are not the first human we had to deal with. Just, were had they had contact to humans? And what kind of contact had it been?
A hand settled on his shoulder, almost making him jump, and he looked up at the jotun standing behind him. Knew that his eyes were too big, his breath coming too fast, but couldn't do anything against it.
It wasn't made better by the fact that this jotun seemed to be one of the larger ones, towering over him at almost twice his size, his eyes glowing bright red like freshly spilled blood.
Yet the hand on his shoulder wasn't doing anything but keeping him pinned and he tried to calm his racing heart by turning to logic. Freaking out now wouldn't end well for him.
"Come", the jotun said in a voice like rolling boulders. Tony wasn't sure but it seemed to be a different one than the jotun who had first spoken to him.
Not that he had long to contemplate this. The pressure on his shoulder increased, urging him forward, and with a last deep breath he complied.
They went back into the mace of hallways, though this time they left the main hallway very early on, his guide leading him through the ice without even the slightest hesitation. Two other jotnar followed them, putting a stop to any thought at escape, and Tony tried to focus on how best to set his feet on the cold floor instead of his dwindling hope to get back to his own planet.
They had gone quite a while before he looked up again. Which he immediately regretted for the labs that now lined the hallway were very obviously tech labs. Not many jotnar doing anything in them - those who where here were much too busy looking at him, two of them even stepping out of their labs and exchanging a few words with Tony's guards while making obvious gestures towards him. Probably asking whether all the trouble had really been caused by such a small creature. Yet what he saw had him wishing he had taken this corridor instead of the other with the same fervor that had him asking Thor for a visit to Asgard every time his friend brought up another impossible machine in some offhand comment, then had no idea what he was even talking about.
Clearly, whatever the aesir thought of jotunheimr, its inhabitants were quite obviously not the savage brutes Thor had told them about.
Well, at least not savage , Tony amended when the jotun behind him pushed him lightly when he had, again, almost stopped at the sight of a machine that was, if he saw this correctly, a much smaller particle accelerator than he had ever imagined possible. The thing with the brute had yet to be proven wrong or right.
Finally they reached a window leading into a dark room. Without light Tony couldn't make out much beyond their reflection - made more terrifying for the lack of details, like a human caught by winter demons, their eyes reflecting somehow brighter in the the ice than the rest of them. Then his guard stepped up next to him and put his free hand on something that might just be a panel within the window. A silvery light started to glow within the room and the door slid open just enough to let a jotun comfortable cross the threshold.
Not needing the slight push against his shoulder Tony stepped forward into the room, taking in whatever he could. Not that it was much - whatever this room served for it clearly wasn't a treasure trove of technological advancement. Instead there was a lone desk on the left side of the room and three chairs standing on both sides of it. Faint outlines betrayed where shelves hid along the walls, and to the right side he could see another clear pane, giving him an inkling what had the jotun bringing him here.
Yet against his assumptions he was lead over to the desk and the jotun even helped him up on one of the chairs - which were fucking high, making him feel far too much like a child sitting at the adult's table - before taking the other stool. Behind him he could hear one of the other jotnar step into the room as well and when he looked over his shoulder he found him leaning against the closed window, his arms crossed, while the last jotun looked in from the outside, before nodding to the one sitting opposite Tony and leaving.
A sound like moving glaciers – he might be clearing his throat or it may have been a word in a language he knew fuck all about - had him turn his head back to the jotun in front of him, only to find himself pinned by a look that was far too intense to promise anything good.
"Who are you? ", he - she? they? - asked.
Tony swallowed. Should he tell the truth? Or would that bring only more trouble? Depending on how much out of the loop they were they could very well have heard about Tony Stark, defeater of Thanos' army and Thor's friend, and he didn't think that being associated with Thor would endear him to the people here.
Carefully he put a hand on the table top - feeling, again, as if he had tripped into a nightmarish realm of giants; just that it wasn't a nightmare at all and wasn't that the worst of it - and answered: "I am Tony." Which would, hopefully, be enough.
The jotun huffed, obviously not satisfied, but thankfully moved on to another topic. "How did you come here, Tony?"
That was actually even more tricky. Should he dare tell them that he had build his own inter-dimensional portal? Would they even believe it, or just call him a liar and punish him for disobedience?
Yet when he hesitated too long he could see the jotun's patience wane, their eyes slitted in obvious displeasure, and he found himself blurting the truth: "I build a portal."
The jotun's reaction wasn't quite what he had anticipated. Instead of open disbelief he was met with cautious respect. "You build a portal to another realm? From Midgard?"
Tony swallowed, hoping that the burning curiosity in the other's eyes wouldn't precede him being dissected. Hesitantly he nodded.
His interrogator still looked impressed when he turned to the other jotun, exchanging some words with him in their own language. Tony wasn't sure, not without knowing at least a bit about it, but he had learned enough languages to find it sounded more thoughtful than scientific, so ... maybe he wouldn't end on someone's lab bench?
Which wasn't exactly a thought that he should have now, and he felt his heart start to race again. Dread shivered down his spine and he could only hope that the two jotnar wouldn’t see the coat shivering, or smell his fear. Pressing his eyes closed he tried to force it back, back down into the deepest recesses of his mind. He needed his wits right now - a panic attack could follow later, when he was safe or at least not bartering for his life anymore.
When he finally managed to wrestle the fear down and take in his surroundings again he found the jotun looking at him with a strange expression on his face - not that it was saying much; their faces might be more human than the Chitauri's but that didn't make them any easier to read. For all that he knew the jotun was looking at him hungrily and what he had thought curiosity was in truth appreciation for a good meal.
No! , he growled internally, cursing his own imagination not for the first time.
Thankfully, the jotun started his questioning again before his mind could come up with any other disturbing thoughts.
"Did you come here alone?"
This one was easy. Even if he had come with someone else he wouldn't have betrayed them, and bluffing that someone else had accompanied him to jotunheimr had too many possible ways to blow up into his face to be a viable option. "Yes."
By what he could - or thought he could - see on the jotun's face they didn't believe him. "You are aware that any friends of yours will not fare any better than you in the storm outside, and with us alerted to intruders they will also not be able to go unnoticed as you did within the labs. So are you really trying to tell me that you came onto a strange planet without anyone at your back, or ready to come after you should you fail to return?"
Tony ... felt the urge to laugh and just managed to suppress it. The jotun had clearly no idea who he was talking to - none of his friends - fuck, not even Fury - would be surprised by his action, too long resigned to him pulling stupid stunts like this without consulting anyone about it.
But there was no way he could - or would - tell his captor that so he just shrugged. "I do stupid shit sometimes."
The jotun looked at him for a long time before nodding. "As you wish", they said. "Take off the takki."
Tony felt his eyes widen, his hands clenching almost instinctively onto the warm folds of the coat. He didn't need to know the language to know what the jotun meant, but he still hoped he hadn't heard right. "I'm going to die from the cold", he said, hoping to persuade the other.
The look he received was so very alien again. "You will not", they said. "It is not on us to decide your destiny and you will stay alive until then."
Because that didn't sound ominous at all. But then Tony didn't really have any other option, what with the jotun behind him taking a step closer as if he thought that Tony would cause any trouble - if only he could! - and the one before him slowly standing up.
Taking a deep breath he reached for the clasps, fumbling a bit until he figured out how to open them from the inside, then braced himself for the cold before pulling the coat over his head.
If anything the cold was even worse than before, making him realize just how good a job the coat - the takki - had done at keeping it at bay. Yet before he could do more than feel himself shudder once the jotun had taken the coat from him and steered him towards the glass pane on the other side of the room, their hand on his shoulder surprisingly gentle. Opening it again with nothing but a touch he pushed Tony through, then closed it again behind him.
Turning around, a bit disbelieving - the jotun had said they didn't want him to die here! - he watched as they touched a small panel at the side of the window. And while he couldn't see what they did exactly he could feel the effect immediately when a wind started to blow against his side, quickly warming the inside of the glass cage.
Pressing his hand against the cool glass - it couldn't be ice, not with how warm it was getting in here, but after what he had seen here he was starting to consider some kind of plastic along with glass - he looked at the panel, then over to the jotun.
Who looked back at him with another unreadable gaze.
Licking his lips Tony asked: "What happens to me now?" Because they obviously hadn't read the villain handbook that made it mandatory for the captors to blurt out their plans.
Of course, Tony had been the one breaking into what could very well be a harmless, civilian lab complex, so he couldn't exactly call the jotnar villains .
Before the darkness of guilt rose again the jotun answered: "There is only one that might decide the fate of an intruder such as you: his majesty, King Loki."
The son of the king that had invaded Earth a few hundred years ago.
It took Tony less than five minutes to decide that the jotnar had chosen a very effective way to trap him. Had it been just the cage, he might have managed to hot-wire the door and have it open, or, depending on how resilient the material was, maybe even throw himself against the pane until it cracked. Even the jotun that now sat on the desk, going through their own notes - the same one that had served as a guard at the door during Tony's interrogation - could be overcome with some sneakiness.
No, the true trap was the cold. Within the cage the air had warmed until it was maybe a bit crisp, but certainly not cold anymore and worlds away from the life-life-threatening cold outside. If he still had the coat - takki , the jotun had called it - he might have risked it. Without it he knew that he had a higher chance learning to fly than surviving the cold long enough to find the portal again, especially without his suit's sensors telling him where to go.
The jotun that had interrogated him had left after a few last words to the other jotun. Which left him with an alien that seemed disinclined to talk, or maybe didn't understand his language at all.
With the adrenaline rush receding he noticed how exhausting the last - fuck, had it really only been 30 minutes or so? - and he stumbled over to the cot, suppressing the question as to why they would even have a cot inside a glass cage in the first place. At least it was big enough - and high enough as he remarked while literally climbing on it - to be made for someone more jotun-sized. There wasn't anything to do in here and he really didn't feel ready yet to face how dumb his idea had been this time, so instead he watched the jotun whose lab he had been so unceremoniously shoved into.
The first thing he noticed was how different he looked to the other jotnar. Not only that he was bigger ... most of them had been light blue, some of them edging towards sky blue, but none had been even close to the deep navy of this one's skin. It just made the red of his eyes look even more startling, even more since he wasn't wearing a lab coat. Didn't need one, probably, what with him being the most dangerous thing in the whole lab (and really, Tony wasn't even sure if it could be called a lab. Not when it had any tools or experiments or even some half-finished projects standing around).
A sudden move from the jotun had him freeze, but he was only standing up, getting something from a cupboard hidden in the wall of the room. Yet the movement had made the light shift on his skin, a few rays reflecting off it in a way that they shouldn't, not if his skin was even close to human skin. Which it couldn't, not if they could withstand the cold here, but it looked soft and things that were soft normally didn't glint like metal ... oh. Tony leaned forward, his feet bringing him closer to the window again almost without any input on is part, so he could better see.
There were lines on his body, lighter than his skin though not by much, forming patterns and whorls and stripes that were either inborn or done by a very good tattoo artist. Yet while they seemed to cover his body from the parallel stripes of his forehead, cascading in whorls all the way down over his chest - and probably his ass, not that he could see it with the kilt the jotun was wearing - until it ended on the top of his feet it wasn't this that had caught the light. This jotun wore jewelry.
Tony felt his jaw open around a surprised oh and was just happy that no-one saw his poker face fail him. He hadn't noticed it before, what with the other jotnar being so drably dressed - a part of his mind reminded him that there were lab rules on earth about secure clothing and closed shoes and jewelry in labs and workshops and he wondered whether the rules on jotunheimr were similar - and the pieces blending into the skin so much, but now he found his eyes almost attached to them.
There were chains around his neck, he noticed first while the jotun walked back to the table, dangling silvery with each step he took. More metal in his eyes, though it was almost hidden by the black hair falling free over his shoulders, and the blue stones set into them. More metal encased his left wrist in a lose band and it almost distracted him from when he put something on the table before sitting down again. He had no idea shat kind of metal it was. The closest he knew would be silver, cool and bright, and it reflected the light in a similar way, but wherever it lay in shadow it looked turquoise and that really wasn't something he was used to.
Of course, no not so strange metal could hold his interest anymore when the jotun waved his hand and suddenly the whole room seemed to be filled with light.
He might have gaped at the view - it would certainly explain why the jotnar was looking over to him for a moment - but he didn't have the presence of mind to actually notice. He had seen these illusions in the other labs before but somehow seeing them again, here, now, made it somehow more real.
They were clearer than any of his own projections, so detailed that he thought they might come to life at any moment. And the colors - where his own were mostly sticking to blue with the occasional color in it for pictures - yet here he could see all the colors. What made it real, though, was something else. Working with projections, the biggest problem was to take away the ethereal feeling of it. There was just no way to give light enough substance to make the watcher forget that what he was seeing was only a picture in the air.
Or so Tony had thought. Until he saw illusions hanging in the air that he simply couldn't look through, making him feel as if everything was real.
By the time he had recovered from the shock the jotun had started walking around the projected images and started to scribble over them with what Tony wasn't ready to bad was anything but a normal pen.
Sadly, even watching lines appear in thin air couldn't hold his attention for long, not when the signs appearing were in a language he knew fuck all about, commenting on diagrams he could only guess at what they meant. As far as Tony was concerned the jotun could plan an attack on New York or calculate the best way to grow a plant or research history - there was really no way of knowing and it left Tony with a frustrating amalgam of denied curiosity and boredom.
When he finally admitted defeat and returned to his cot he realized that he couldn't avoid analyzing his situation anymore. Not if he wanted to have any chance at escape, at least. Letting his head sink back against the smooth wall behind him and pulling his legs up as if it might keep the bad thoughts out he started to think.
It had all started with the Chitauri invasion a year ago. Or course it did - Tony was a genius but even he needed a bit more to go on to build a portal for planet hopping than what was currently available on earth.
But the Chitauri came and while he still had some nightmares about this whole stunt they and their commander, the Other as Thor had called him, were defeated, conveniently leaving a heap of very advanced technology behind. Which had had Tony's hands itch long before Fury finally let him play with - not that he would ever admit it.
Anyway, by the time the chronically underfunded SHIELD scientists had to admit that they couldn't understand the technology of a race they knew absolutely nothing about Tony had been called in and that had been ... okay, at first that had been the beginning of even less sleep at night, massive head aches and enough tools being thrown through his shop in bouts of frustration that Jarvis had asked him whether he should inquire about bulk discounts or rather start his own producing company (sassy bastard. Tony loved him). But once he'd gotten that and asked Thor - who, for whatever reason (Jane and fun fights for the world and pop tarts and escaping the nagging of his father) had stayed on earth and had access to manuals that helped Tony understand Chitauri tech - he had made head ways like you wouldn't believe.
Halfway through his pile of aliens tech he had called Jane - Dr. Foster, then, though between comparing notes on aliens and space travel and joking complaints about Thor they had both lost their last names very quickly; that being said he had loved her calling him Dr. Stark - and together they had figured out the mess pretty quickly.
Which had been when Fury let it slip that actually, the scepter of the Other hadn't been lost during invasion, and after that particular shit storm died down, leaving them with two added members of the Avengers and Steve's maybe-sorta-friend-but-definetely-exassassin, he had Jane fly over and work on figuring out the glowing marble of foreign tech.
Which in turn had lead to the possibility of instant space travel.
Which brought him here.
And that was the problem.
Because he was way too paranoid when it came to his work, and way too careless when it came to his personal safety. And when Jane had told him to sleep over their calculations and if they still worked out tomorrow they could send a drone through, first ... he had let her got to sleep while pretending to do the same, then slipped back into the lab, had Jarvis run the numbers to send him to jotunheimr - it was really convenient that Jane had worked out where the other realms connected by Yggdrasil were and she deserved a Nobel prize for this alone already - and then stopped only long enough to put on his arctic undersuit and the stealth suit and off he was.
With all the notes where he was going safely stored in his personal notes that Jarvis, who for all his sass and independence still couldn't go against his core rules, would defend to the very last.
"I'm an idiot", he realized, echoing the words Jarvis had said to him not two hours earlier over this exact matter. How long would it have taken him to scribble something on a stray piece of paper so that the rest of the team at least knew where to search for him? This way ... well, they would probably work out that he had gone to one of the planets Jane knew about, but that still left them with seven planets to search for, and that was if they even believed he had made it.
Or, in short: he was fucked, and if he wanted to get out he should better assume that he was all on his own.
A knock from the pane startled him and he bumped his head against the wall behind him. Wincing he suppresses his urge to rub at the resulting bruise and looked up.
The jotun stood in front of the glass and looked in, his hand still raised as if he was about to knock again. There was a strange expression on his face and it took Tony a moment to realize that he was ... concerned?
Oh. He was so used to being alone when he started in on a rant or cursed himself out for whatever dumb thing he had done that he hadn't considered that he might worry his lab host. Not that he would have imagined that he could worry him - he was a prisoner here and he knew how that went. The Ten Rings had certainly never cared for whether he had an existential crisis over his stupidity or not.
It just seemed that this memo had never reached jotunheimr for even when he put on his media grin and told him that he was ok the jotun was still staring at him in concern. A moment longer, then he pulled on hand up, as if he was vomiting in it? What ? Was he trying to tell Tony that he made him hurl?
Oh. Stop. Tony blinked as something shifted in his mind. He hadn't heard this jotun speak even though he had understood the other jotun just fine, even through the pane. So maybe he just couldn't speak English? After all, he was still surprised that any jotun was speaking it. And in this case ... maybe he wasn't insulting Tony but ... okay, was he asking him whether he wanted something to eat?
Hoping he was right - it would have been really embarrassing if he agreed to an insult - Tony nodded. The jotun looked at him a moment longer, then stepped over to rummage through another cupboard.
Tony had only a short moment to wonder whether he would even be able to eat whatever the jotun came up with before he returned, his findings held safely in the crook of his arm. Pressing his hand against the glass pane in much the same way the other jotun had done he opened the door and quickly stepped through, something Tony was really grateful for; even that short moment had let a cruelly cold wind into his nice warm cage.
Not sure what he should do he tried to stand up, only to be waved back on his cot again before the jotun let his pickings fall down next to him.
There was a flask that looked more or less the same as every flask he had ever seen, made from a clear material and sporting a cap. The liquid inside was clear so he supposed it was water which should make it safe - sans eventual bacteria that his immune system wasn't used to, ending in his agonizing death. But then he had already wandered over the whole place, getting in contact with all possible thing, so this train was long gone anyway.
Next to the flask was a package of dry ... well. Hard bread was the thing that came to his mind, but it was greenish and structured which made it look a bit like a big leave that had been cut and dried to resemble a slice of bread. Which still beat the fluorescent green berries rolling around in the lunchbox next to it because no way was he going to eat something that looked like it had been rolled in phosphorus.
"Thanks?", he tried when the jotun nodded for him to take it.
Yet his reluctance was too obvious to convince him. Rolling his eyes the jotun grabbed the lunchbox and pushed it in Tony's hands. "Earth", he said, his accent bad enough to make Tony suspect he had never before tried to say it out loud. He then proceeded to point at both the bread and the flask, repeating the word, before pointing behind him at the closed cupboard where he had gotten the food and saying: "jotunheimr."
Okay, that was clear even without a degree in linguistics. Though Tony was still not sure whether he really believed - like the jotun so obviously did - that this wasn't poisonous to a human.
On the other side, he was hungry and no one had ever said that Tony made the right choices when he could make interesting ones. Fiddling with the lid of the box for a moment he finally got it open and pulled one of the berries out.
Despite the color that made him feel half-disappointed when he couldn't see any glowing spots left on his fingers it looked a lot like a chestnut that had yet been pulled out of its protective shell, only that this shell here was soft and green instead of sharp and prickly. Looking over at his host to make sure that he shouldn't peal it in any way - apparently not for he only got a go on gesture for his trouble - he put it in his mouth.
It tasted ... well. To say it tasted like nothing that he had ever tasted before was somehow overly obvious but he couldn't find another way to describe it. There was for once the feeling - like a grape, but where a grape was falling apart once you bit it in half the same wasn't true for this berry. It reminded Tony a bit of like what it would be to eat a bouncy ball, or at least what he imagined it would feel like to eat one (not that he had ever done that). And the taste was ... spicy. Sweet. Warm? Definitely more like a meal than a fruit.
Well, at least, if he was poisoning himself than it was at least worth it.
The bread was a lot more boring, definitely meant to go with something on it - probably something that would send Tony into an early grave - but not too bad, and the liquid was water, even if it tasted slightly sweet, so he might actually survive this meal.
The jotun had stayed the whole time beside him, and Tony felt himself wondering whether the air that felt a bit chilly to him would be too warm for a creature used to much colder climates. But he wasn't saying anything, any Tony couldn't well ask what with there being the language barrier.
Something else he could ask, however, and so he pointed to the berries and made an overly questioning face towards the jotun.
Hos host only needed a short moment to catch up before he said: "Tammet." Without further prompting he pointed to the bread - "Merilev" - and the flask: "Vesi."
Well. At least he could ask for water now if he ever stranded somewhere on jotunheimr. Not that he supposed that this would happen any time soon.
When he was finished with his meal the jotun picked everything together again. Tony made sure to bow deep to show his gratefulness - this had most likely been part of the jotun's own meal, and that he had shared it with Tony had been more than nice by him.
The jotun pulled another strange expression at that, bowing back in a very similar way before walking out of the cage and leaving Tony wondering over strange customs.
Tony must have nodded off at some time, too bored to actually bother with staying awake. He woke up to a rap of knuckles against the pane and, when he sleepily blinked his eyes open, a jotun standing outside and staring down at him.
His sleep hadn't been particularly restful - dread and worry had resulted in vague yet terrifying nightmares as usual - so he needed a moment to recognize the jotun. In his defense, this time around his inquisitorial friend had changed quite a lot since they last spoke. Instead of a lab coat he now wore a dark blue kilt set off with gold and red, and more gold hung from his neck and ears, similar to the way Tony’s host’s jewelry did. It made him look a lot less like the mad scientist he had looked like ... yesterday? Yeah, it probably was yesterday; he had been here at least a few hours. He didn’t even want to think about what that would do to his friends at home.
Forcing his mind away from this thought - he couldn't afford to worry about them right now, not with his life still on the line - he stood up and walked the few steps to the wall. "Yeah?"
The jotun blinked, thrown for a minute - it made Tony wonder again where they had learned English, and when - before recovering. "We are heading out for Linnasenna."
Tony didn't need to be a genius to know what that meant.
Trying to keep his fear from showing he nodded, then stepped back so the jotun could open the door. The takki was handed over again and he realized that he was getting the handle of the fastenings when he didn't even need to search for them anymore, instead clasping them shut within seconds.
It might have made him proud if not for the fact that it also meant that he might only die so many seconds earlier.
The jotun nodded once when he looked up again, more pleased to be out here fast than Tony, then turned and made for the door. Tony closed his eyes for a moment, took a deep breath to calm himself – he was not going to die, not after all the other shit that he had survived! -, and then followed him. Only to stop mid-step half-way to the lab door when his eyes fell on the other jotun, the one that had served as his guard for the last few hours, sitting at his desk and watching them.
The same jotun who had made sure that he was alright when Tony had gone lost in his mind and then shared his meal with him. And yeah, there were a lot of people who would call Tony an asshole but there was no way he could walk out just like that.
So when his interrogator turned to look what held him back he returned his gaze, held it a moment to make sure he really had his attention, then nodded towards the other jotun who was watching them from his place amidst the projection. "Could you please tell him thank you for me?"
The jotun blinked and Tony would bet all his money that it was in surprise. "You want to … thank him?"
Tony nodded, unsure how to explain his reasoning.
Luckily the jotun wasn't asking anymore questions, instead turned to the other scientist and - hopefully - relayed his request.
It had the other jotun's eyes go wide before he jerked towards Tony, rumbling something that Tony couldn't actually understand but that the first jotun quickly translated. "Tuire says offering you common courtesies was no bother at all, and that he, in turn, would like to thank you for not interrupting his work."
Which was ... so many kinds of weird that Tony had no idea how to even address it. A captor who thanked their captive for being quiet and not drawing any attention to themselves? They couldn't have much experience with prisoners here.
Not sure how to respond he managed a smile and another bow towards the jotun - Tuire, apparently - who responded in kind.
It left him wondering again how much of what Thor had told them about the jotnar was actually correct. Or, well. Maybe he had just managed to fall in with the nice guys while Asgard always dealt with the assholes. Which sadly meant that he might just be about to face the savage brutes Thor had always talked about any time soon, and with his luck going as it usually did he might just end up accidentally insulting one of them.
Yeah, that sounded about right.
There were two new jotnar waiting for them outside the lab and this time at least he was sure that he had never seen them before. For once, neither of them had hair. It made Tony do a double-take to make sure that he wasn’t seeing things but yes, both of them had their hair shaved right off. It reminded him uncomfortably of soldiers with their distinctive hairstyle, especially since both of them also wore something that was definitely some kind of uniform: A dark white that would let them hide out on the snow, offset with green symbols along the shoulder and green collar and hems. The only thing looking even slightly familiar were the bands of metal encircling their bare upper arms and wrists, but even those looked more martial on them than on Tuire or the other jotun.
One of them, with a scar over the right side of his face, had an ax strapped over his back. The other wore two crossing straps holding a couple of knives and something that Tony wasn't entirely sure was not a laser pistol taken right from a star wars set.
As if he had felt Tony's gaze the jotun - and Tony really shouldn't dub him Han but without any introductions his natural penchant for nicknames only gained strength - turned to him. Not sure how to read his expression Tony tried a smile - he was good at this, damn it! Everyone knew that Tony was good at making friends with people!
By the way Han blinked it wasn't what he had expected, but after a moment he inclined his head and Tony was almost sure that he wasn't looking quite as grim anymore when Nestori lead him past them.
Which was really good because even so he felt his neck prickle disturbingly when they fell into step right behind him.
“They were send up to accompany us down to the palace”, his guide explained.
Tony really didn’t like the sound of this. “The palace?”
“As I said, it is not on me to decide what will happen with you now.” The jotun nodded to the right, as if to indicate a direction. Not that it meant anything to Tony. “Fortunately, the palace isn’t so far from here, so when we send word of your … unexpected arrival High King Loki decided to have you brought to him so he may speak to you directly.”
Of course – it was just Tony’s luck that when he opened a portal onto an alien planet it would be right next door to the ruler of said planet.
A ruler that he had heard far too much of already.
Trying to shake this thought of he asked: “How close exactly is close?” Because the takki was cool – well, warm, but whatever - but it wasn’t covering his feet. So while walking through the clean-swept hallways of the lab was okay it would be an entirely different thing if the ground was covered with snow.
“I fear my grasp on your language is better than my knowledge of how you think about time, so you will just have to believe me that it won’t be too much for you. Especially not” a smile appeared on his lips and Tony got the distinctive feeling that he was amused. “Since Lumi will carry you.”
Sometimes life just went exactly like a movie, going for the greatest situational humor possibly.
Which was how Tony found himself running directly into a wall of white fur in this exact moment.
Yelping - and he was happy that his pride was too secure to take a notch by the sound he made - he stumbled backwards, only to have the fur following, then produce a giant maw of teeth attached to what seemed to be a wolf snout. If the wolf was bigger than him and completely white, with eyes that sparkled at him in what could be either hunger or curiosity - he wasn't betting on it being the latter - and paws the size of an elephant's foot. It looked, actually, as if it could swallow Tony whole and then ask for seconds.
If not for his surprise he would probably have turned and run already before his guide could step up next to him to get a good grip on the giant wolf and haul him back off him. Yet instead of getting rid of it Tony saw the jotun hold him up and tell him off like some misbehaving giant puppy.
Which, he realized when he heard the wolf utter what could only be described as the most pathetic whine, might just be true.
When the jotun turned back to him Tony had just managed to stop his legs from trembling and take a step to the side. At least this way he could get another look at the wolf. Not that it changed much – apparently it really looked like an overlarge wolf.
With a harness strapped to her chest.
Tony had a really bad feeling about this.
"I have to apologize for Lumi", the jotun said, distracting him easily from his thoughts. Tony could be wrong but he thought the low rumble in his voice might be suppressed laughter. "She is very easily excited and I fear she has never seen a human before, so she does not know how very ... er ... delicate you are."
Definitely laughter, but Tony wasn't even angry about it, not now that he knew that he didn't have to fear the huge ... well, canine. "She looks like an earth wolf", he commented and stepped closer. Taking a deep breath - as if he could ever brace himself against the cold of jotunheimr - he pushed a hand through one of the flaps in the takki and offered it to her the way he would to a dog, hoping she wouldn't take it as an offer to bite him. Or, well, that the jotnar would save him if it came to that.
For a moment he thought he had made a mistake when the huge snout descended upon him, but then she just sniffed at his hand before huffing, her breath surprisingly warm on his numbing fingers, and rubbing herself against him.
Her fur was softer than he had expected, with thick wool under the coarser outer hair, and he found himself scratching her almost without conscious input. She obviously liked it if the way she stepped closer was anything to go by, almost running him over again in the process, and let out a deep rumble that reminded Tony of a large content cat.
"She's gorgeous", he couldn't help saying, his voice fond, and he rubbed her ears which just made her push her head in his chest again.
"That she is." The jotun came closer and reached for her, making her yelp at him when he ruffled the fur in her neck. "Her mother is a kynsi of the Royal Hunt. The day she chose me I was so proud … beyond words." As if to prove her devotion the wolf jumped up, easily reaching his chest with her front paws braced against him when she licked over his face. Laughing the jotun petted her, then proceeded to rumble to her, probably telling her what a good girl she was if his tone was anything to go by.
Grinning all over his face Tony pulled his hand back in the warmth of the takki, grimacing a bit when the life returned to it with the prickly sensation of needles poking his skin. Not that it kept his curiosity from getting the better of him. "So she's a – a hunter?"
"A better one than I, certainly, though we don't go run as often as we probably should." Carefully he pushed her down only to have her dance around him, her tail held high and whacking while he tried to get a grip on her mane.
When he finally held her - though she still tried to move over to him, her long violet tongue lolling out - he looked over to Tony again. "Come here."
Oh yeah, that was what he had been afraid of.
"It is good that she likes you", the jotun said, his hand running through her fur to keep her calm. "That will make it easier."
Definitely what he had been afraid of.
And, okay, the wolf – kynsi – was cute, in an overlarge, dorky, dangerous way, but that still didn't mean that he wanted to ride her. Not to mention the fact that the takki was falling around his legs like a dress - there was no way he could sit on her without it slipping upwards and exposing his skin.
Or, well, there was, as he learned when his guide – after asking for his permission which he had, against his better knowledge and the fear making his heart pound loud enough to drum the beat for some of his favorite songs, given - grabbed him by the waist and hauled him up onto her back, making him sit sidewards the same way he had seen some of the women do when his mother had still forced him to take riding lessons of the less fun way.
Though the horses he had ridden had been a lot less curious about the weight on their back than the wolf under him now, and only a quick clutch of the fur in her neck stopped him from falling off when she turned around, trying to see and sniff what was there.
There was laughter in his voice when his jotun calmed her again before offering: "Lumi is still young, I fear she hasn't quite learned yet that not everything I put on her back is something she can eat."
Oh, good. Exactly what he needed. "You don't want to eat me", Tony told her while carefully patting her back. "I'm not big enough to make a meal, and I'm way too bony. I may just get stuck in your teeth." When her only reaction were some curiously twitching ears he slowly moved around until he found a way to brace his feet against the strap around her midriff.
"Tony?", the jotun asked and he looked over - over, not up because sitting on Lumi's back he was actually almost as big as the other - only to find him watching with that expression that he thought meant he was amused.
Blushing he looked away again, down at where his hands still grabbed the thick fur through the fine material of the takki. "What is your name?", he asked, then wanted to hit himself for it.
But the jotun didn't seem to mind. After a moment that could be surprise he answered: "Nestori."
Nestori. It ... well, Tony didn't know what it meant, but somehow it suited him.
One of the soldiers – guards – whatever – said something and Nestori looked over, then nodded before turning back to Tony. “We are heading out.”
Well, there wasn’t anything Tony could say to that, so he just nodded and held fast to Lumi’s fur while the jotun lead him to what could very well be his last march.
Tony didn’t have a watch on him but it didn’t feel like they were walking for more than half an hour at most. It certainly didn’t feel that long, not with how much there was to see.
When Thor had told them about jotunheimr he had described a barren wasteland, only snow and stone and hills as far as you could see, and what Tony had seen yesterday, during what was probably a blizzard, had seemed to confirm that.
Today, however, he saw a completely different place. Well, not completely different – there was still snow, stretching from one horizon to the other, sparkling white that should have blinded him (he supposed he had the takki to thank for that he could still see, too).
But the land itself was far from barren. They saw some small animals that reminded Tony of rabbits with the way they ran away at their approach and shapes high I the clouds that had to be the local equivalent to birds.
When Nestori caught him looking after them with wide eyes he grinned. “These are just pesky. The really big birds don’t come close to the city.”
It was difficult to judge the size of a bird in the sky but Tony had gotten quite good at it after the second time he flew into a whole formation of wild goose. And the shapes up there looked definitely big enough to belong something the size of an eagle.
But not only the fauna was richer than he had expected. There was no grass here – no wonder – but they passed a few weirdly colored bushes. Tony threw a look a the silvery and violet and outright blue leaves and made a mental note that, if he survived this, he really had to find out how photosynthesis worked on this planet. Or, well, if it even happened, because for all he knew the jotnar inhaled carbon dioxide and exhaled oxygen.
Yet what really had his jaw fall down was when they ascended the first hill and he realized that what he had thought was an elaborate structure at the horizon was in fact ... a tree. A tree the color of old rust and silver, growing into the sky like reversed lightning, grabbing for the clouds and sun like any skyscraper ever wished to and never really managed. Unable to tear his eyes away Tony watched as it got caught in a gust, its branches moving as if it tried to stretch further, to just snatch that for the thick clouds ...
"Sydäni. A young one though."
Tony turned around, knew that he looked like the very picture of astonishment yet couldn't keep himself from asking: "They are growing higher ?"
Nestori laughed. "Much higher, aye. We are too far south, here, but around the poles? You can even see them reaching through the clouds from space, though ... a lot of the oldest have shattered, I fear. The warming doesn't become them."
"Warming?" He frowned. He knew that earth had problems with global warming but he hadn't thought this planet had such problems. Though, given, he hadn't seen much of the planet yet.
By the way Nestori's eyes narrowed this wasn't a topic he liked to discuss and Tony already wanted to take his question back - he wanted the other to talk to him and pursuing a topic that made him angry didn't seem helpful - when he suddenly ground out: "The aesir."
After that Nestori had changed the topic and they had ended up talking about his family and life on jotunheimr in general. Which was way more interesting than Tony would have thought. Apparently they lived in family groups, though Tony wasn’t sure whether he understood that right because Nestori casually included friends into his family and excluded his sire (which, well. Tony could understand. But it left him confused as fuck). Even more, Nestori seemed to be considered an elder which made no sense because aside from their lacking hair he looked more or less exactly like the two warriors walking with them.
It was this that had one of the warriors join their conversation, mostly because his last comment had Nestori look like he was trying to keep himself from howling with laughter, and maybe the way he looked between them and Nestori; fuck, he loved the jotnar even if only for the fact that they could appreciate his theatricals. “One doesn’t have to be old to be an Elder”, he corrected. There was still no smile on his face but his voice sounded friendly enough. “Elder Nestori is the Elder of the Kobol Lab.”
“It’s more about knowledge than actual age”, Nestori confirmed, his lips still twitching.
“So you are not old?”, Tony tried to make sure.
It had Nestori shrug his shoulders. “I have a son that is old enough to roam the realms on his own, but not old yet enough to have children of his own.”
Father but not grandfather, gotcha. Though … “Roaming the realms? Are you saying that he is … traveling between the planets?” Either they hid space ships somewhere under all this ancient ice, or they had portals on their own that the aesir – or Thor, at least – didn’t know about.
“He is a sorcerer”, Nestori said instead as if it cleared everything. And, well. Tony knew Strange so in a way it did. And yet … he had only a vague idea about how strong a mage had to be to open portals between worlds but from what Strange had said it was on the very high end of the scale. A whole planet with beings capable of that ... a planet that might still be hostile to earth ...
Trying to distract himself from the ice in his chest he decided to better change the topic again, even though what else he needed to know wasn't any more pleasant. For him, that is. "So we are going to the High King?"
"High King Loki, yes", Nestori agreed.
Only to be interrupted by the other warrior. "High King Loki Laufeyson, Bearer of the Crown of Winter, Tamer of the Great Wyrm, Defeater of Jörmundgandr, Caller of the Void, Protector of jotunheimr and Counter of Lies."
Han snorted. “I don’t think I have ever heard anyone call him by all his titles before.” Catching Tony’s curious glance he winked.
Tony grinned back reflexively but his mind was racing already again. What the guard had said – Loki didn’t insist on ceremony? That could be good if it meant that he would overlook Tony’s transgression, or bad if he decided to kill him outright.
Yet the guards were loyal of him, and the tone in which Nestori had said his name suggested he respected him. People didn’t like kings who just killed on a whim – they feared them. So maybe Tony was lucky for once and he wouldn’t have to deal with a capricious king.
Who was a High King, apparently, and that normally meant ... "You have more than one king?"
"Of course." Nestori shook his head. "jotunheimr is vast - how can one person hope to ever oversee it all? We have, oh, 32 kings, all of them ruling their own kingdom. The High King only deals with matters between different kingdoms when they cannot resolve them on their own, and he is the one dealing with other realms."
They had dealings with other realms? Thor had said the jotnar stayed mostly separated from other races, so how ... a thought occurred to him and he really hoped that Nestori hadn't meant wars .
Not that he could do anything about it as long as he was just a prisoner so Tony forced his mind back onto track. "And he is ... I mean, is he -"
"Likely to kill you?", Nestori ended for him. Laying a hand on his thigh in an obvious attempt to calm him he turned towards him again, easily catching his eyes with his own red gaze. "I cannot speak for the High King. Ever since the aesir brought war to our home we have been a wary people, more likely to shut our doors in the face that want to help us than open them to someone who want to try harm. And where the old ones still remember how it was before, the young folk has grown up to tales of our people being invaded. Yet Midgard was always a special place to us, and you have come alone ..." He looked away, out at the snow as if it held any answers. "You are a good man, Tony, and I have never known King Loki to be anything but fair. But in the end it is his choice to make."
And as much as he seemed to like Tony he would carry him there to be executed if that was his king's wish.
Not really something Tony wanted to discuss further. “Okay, so, tell me something else. What do you people do to get high?”
At least the way Nestori looked at him, scandalized and amused, while the more fun guard tried to hide his spluttering in his shoulder took care of any lingering tension.
Tony was just laughing at a story Viljo, as Han had turned out to be actually named, was telling them from when his wolf - his kynsi, he had learned - had somehow gotten into his neighbor's kids' bed when Nestori suddenly looked up.
"We are here", he only said.
That made Tony's good mood die down like a candle under a bucket full of ice water. There was only one here Nestori could mean.
Swallowing hard he tried to remind himself that he had survived worse, had defeated no-win situations before. This should be a walk in the park, just a chat with his going-to-be new best friend High King Loki, and then he would walk out of here. Sure, he would probably have to promise that he would never tell anyone of the lab he had found here or the wandering sorcerers or anything, but that wasn’t hard, was it? He just had to make sure that Loki never found out that one of Tony’s friends had killed his father, or that Tony was a lying liar that had talked his ways out of situations before only to then turn around and kill the offender – not that he planned to, this time; if they let him go he would definitely not do anything to call attention to himself again – or that he was actually one of the people that had signed the treaty with Asgard. That would be easy, no?
Yeah, he wasn’t believing it either.
An so it was with heavy heart and a cold hard knot sitting in his stomach that he first saw the city of the High King of jotunheimr.
It was ... not what he had expected. Somehow, maybe because of what he had seen in the lab complex, he had expected something more akin to New York or maybe the few pictures of Asgard that Thor had shared with them. Something high and proud and glorious enough to go with a civilization that was so very obviously build on technology and magic and power.
As it turned out, Linnasenna was anything but.
If Tony had to find a comparison than the closest thing that came to his mind was actually Tolkien’s Shire: There were large mounds there, big enough to easily accommodate a large family of jotnar and so many that the only reason Tony could see them all was the hill they were coming on in. Wide streets wound their way between them like lazy rivers or maybe just walkways that had been there for more decades than the more hectic streets of New York could dream of, content to just let time flow by.
These houses weren’t proud proof of a technology far ahead of Earth. Instead they seemed far more like they were part of the landscape, testimony of a people that tried to live with their planet than subduing it.
The only thing disrupting that picture where the towers that rose around the city, high pillars of dark power that easily overshadowed even the highest mound and seemed to stand watch for the city.
Which they just might; Tony had no idea what kind of trouble there was on jotunheimr or what might hit it from beyond. Having a way to defend yourself – however that happened – seemed like a good idea.
Tony shook his head. Just because Earth was a dangerous place didn’t mean jotunheimr was the same.
Looking back at the city again he noticed something that had escaped him before.
The blizzard that had caught Tony had brought new snow to the city and even with the clouds hanging thick and deceptively soft over them the whole ground was glittering like, well, like only snow can glitter under the sun. It was probably this that had hidden the building set right into the middle of the city, despite it being easily the largest one. And Tony felt the dread sink down cold and heavy in his stomach when he realized that this had to be the palace of the king he was being brought to see.
Nestori clocked is tongue and Lumi started again, carefully walking down the hill and towards the city.
The closer they came the more he could see of it – walls of folded ice that actually provided privacy, murals carved into the houses and colorful stones or maybe ice that formed mosaics in the ground around the houses as if they wouldn’t be covered with white every time another snowfall hit the city.
There were people on the street – large blue people that weren’t looking so different from the jotnar accompanying him. Most of them wore that kind of skirt that he had already gotten used to, only in many more colors. There were red ones and green and blue and white and even more those that were all the colors of the rainbow as if their wearer couldn’t decide on only one color. Metal glittered on most of them – chains hanging around their necks and earrings and bands around their wrists and ankles. Some of them even wore bells at their ankles, chiming at their every move, and he wondered whether it was a cultural message or a personal one.
Tony couldn’t stop staring, not even with the palace growing ever larger at the edge of the vision. There were so many jotnar here. Listening to Thor talk he had thought there were maybe a few left, the same as the aesir seemed to be a rather small people, but this … there had to be hundreds of jotnar living in the city alone and Nestori had said there were 32 kingdoms . How had the aesir ever won against all those people?
He blinked, and something shifted in his vision, and suddenly he understood. The people he saw wore no weapons – even those few knives that he saw looked more like cooking knives than actual arms. And the aesir were a race of warriors, without civilians that they had to protect.
That … wasn’t actually a thought he wanted to have.
They walked on and Tony tried – and failed – not to stare too much as curious children looked up from their play and called out to his guide in their rumbling language. Nestori answered them with a wave and a smile, then called back.
“They have never seen a human before”, he explained to Tony.
Viljo snorted. “And they think you look like a scale-less kani.”
Nestori quickly looked away, but not before Tony caught the twitch of his lips.
“I’m assuming that’s not exactly a flattering comparison.”
Neither Nestori nor Viljo answered but the way they both quickly looked away was answer enough.
They passed a part of the street were the ice looked almost black under them, winding under their feet, but it took until they had already left it behind for Tony to realize that there had been an actual river under the ice.
Yet even with so many to see he couldn’t help the way that his mood grow heavier the closer they came to the palace, as if it was a particularly sparkly and white demon waiting to swallow him down and spit out his bones. Dread settled in his chest, made his hands clench tight in Lumi's fur until she shook her head in an effort to have him loose his grip. If he had to walk he wasn't sure he would have been able to.
Laufey was the king of jotunheimr, Thor's voice whispered in his mind. He invaded Midgard, killed people that had no way to defend themselves against him. My father saw a village that they had so utterly destroyed - slaughtered the people, burned down the houses and all their livestock.
jotnar are savage. What they cannot conquer, they destroy.
... and I saw him there, standing over my father. My father who was laying helpless, with no-one by his side but mother. Without her holding him up until I could stop him he would surely have slain my father as he lay there!
… He has two sons, one more dangerous than the other. The older one is said to be gigantic even for their race and able to defeat even his father in a fight. The younger, ever envious of his brother, walks the realms in the guise of a harmless traveler, then tricks the innocent put of their honor and livelihood ...
A shiver ran down over Tony's spine and he couldn't even pretend that it was the cold. He had listened to too many of Thor's stories to truly believe that he could come out of this unharmed, for all that he wanted to believe that maybe, just maybe this king wasn’t the savage that Thor had painted him as. Even if what he had told them was exaggerated the same way his stories usually were he still had to deal with a king that had no reason to love humans, had in fact every reason to hate the realm that Thor had so boldly - and, his ever rebellious mind couldn't help but point out, very impertinently - put under his protection. And that wasn't even taking into account that he was brought before him as an intruder, crashing not only the planet but also breaking into a lab complex that he had no right to be in - even though his mind wanted to point out that it was science and science was always the place he ought to be.
When he looked up again he found Nestori mustering him with a very intense expression. When he saw Tony returning his gaze he tilted his head. "Our king has honor. He will not punish you for what was a honest mistake"
Tony couldn't help a tired smile. "And how would he know that?" Humans lied. aesir lied, he knew that, even though Thor was very bad at it. It would be very strange if the jotnar were not aware of that.
"He is the Counter of Lies. If there are lies spoken around him he will always know."
Oh. So, yeah, that would do it. At least it meant he would be believed if he told him that he wasn't here as the herald of an invasion or to harm anyone on this planet.
On the other hand, if he asked him for his name ...
Trying to swallow the fear that thought caused was a bit more difficult. At least the breathing exercises Bruce had made him relearn were paying off now, carrying him all the way to the gate of the palace.
And Tony had heard Thor describe Valaskjalf so often, gold and majestic and monument of centuries (often enough that he had some day found himself remembering the name despite his best intentions), yet he had difficulty imagining a place more imposing than this. The whole palace was glittering, sparkling ice, reflecting the light of the sun as if it wasn't hidden behind a thick layer of clouds, and it rose in front of him so high that he had given up trying to see to the top a good way back. And he knew that this was partly an optic illusion, that it seemed only so high because there way had been leading down, in the belly of the snowy plane, for quite a while, yet he couldn't help the awe he felt when he saw how small even the jotnar guarding it seemed. It reminded him, quite suddenly, of the scene in Lord of the Rings when the fellowship was passing the two stone kings on their little nutshells of boats, just that it was even more imposing when he was the one standing in front of it and staring up at the gate.
A gate that, he realized with a jolt, was even more awe-inspiring than he had previously thought. What he had thought were random scratches in the ice turned out to be carefully cut scenes of jotnar and plants and planets, interspersed with symbols he didn't know the meaning of but could still recognize as magical, like the symbols Strange drew in the air for his own fancy tricks.
His head felt like it was spinning from all the fancy and he looked down, collecting his thoughts just in time to see one of the guards approaching them and exchange some words with the cranky guard. The open glances in his direction made it clear what they were talking about and he felt anticipation rise in him again. What was the proper way for an intruder to enter jotunheimr's palace? In chains? Naked? Oh please, not naked. A laugh born from pure hysteria bubbled up in him when he imagined that scene: him turning blue and then white within minutes, and later, the giants standing around his frozen body and trying to figure out how to get him to talk and - fuck, stop!
Pressing his eyes closed he tried to control his breathing again, to focus his thoughts on being in his workshop, on machines lying around half-build and Dummy beeping in his corner because he wanted to help and Tony hadn't build him to do things as delicately as adjusting screws he could barely see without magnifiers and away from how he would be killed by a king he had never thought to meet on a planet several light years from home, without anyone at home ever hearing about.
And then Lumi was moving again, was slowly trotting forwards and when he opened his eyes, shocked, he found that they were just passing the gate. Nestori was still walking next to him, something in his eyes that might be concern when he gazed at Tony, and Tony found himself trying for a smile though he wasn't quite sure how it had turned out, seeing as that the jotun didn't seem reassured.
So he took another deep breath, and when he let it out he looked around.
The hallway - and it was a hall way, high and wide enough to match the gate - they were walking down was hewn from the same crystal ice as the gate itself, yet where the gate's only adornment had been the relief someone - several someones, probably - had been very busy decorating these walls. There were colorful inlays of gemstones, emerald green and blue sapphire and ruby and yellow and all other colors of the rainbow, catching the light filtering through the ice and transforming it into something beautiful. Here and there Tony thought he could almost recognize something - a dark blue kynsi, a roaring fire, lightning hitting the ground - but most of it was simply colorful chaos. Even the floor, made of what seemed to be wood or maybe stone, had seemingly no other color but the rainbow cascading over it, and when he looked up the ceiling was formed into spires that created rainbow all in themselves.
jotunheimr is a very bleary place, only ice and stone and blood.
"Well, you've never been here, buddy, were you?", Tony murmured under his breath.
They passes another set of doors, the guards this time only waving them through when Nestori suddenly stopped, only a few paced inside the new room.
There was another jotun here, tending to the walls with something Tony was almost sure was a brush and a bowl full of tiny colored stones - was he fixing one of the pictures? Or was he doing a new one? Tony almost got a crick in his neck when he tried to keep an eye on him while Lumi trotted past.
So well, maybe he was a bit obvious about it, for the jotun looked up and, after a moment of surprise, winked at him.
This time he could feel the crack in his neck when he turned back too fast and he grimaced at the reminder that he wasn’t as young anymore as he often pretended to be.
Nestori looked at him in concern – did jotnar do neck cricks? - but he just waved it off. “All good.”
The jotun didn’t look convinced, but he let it drop with a shrug of his shoulder. “The magic in the Palace of Linnakoti is meant to welcome guests. It makes the takki unnecessary, so you can take it off, if you want to.”
If he wanted to. Well, that was the question, wasn’t it?
On one hand, the coat was hindering him, and it impacted his sight. On the other, it was the only thing keeping him alive in an environment that was decidedly deadly.
And not taking it off might just be an insult to Nestori and the king that would decide his fate.
Didn’t sound like much of a choice.
Carefully he turned to the side so he could slip off of Lumi's back. The kynsi turned to him, sniffing at his hair - and he was not still intimidated by her size, no way, not after riding her for the past hour or so - while he held onto her side, trying to convince his legs that, yes, they could carry him and, no, he wasn't made for riding the rest of his life. Fuck, he hadn't felt like this since ... damn it, the only time he had felt like this was when his mother had made him take riding lessons at her country club, and not having sore muscles anymore after his teacher had decided they were fit enough to go out had been one of the perks of throwing a tantrum that got his mother to stop forcing him to go.
Once he found his legs he opened the clasps at his hood and carefully shoved it off his head, always ready to slip it back on if he found out that he was still in danger of freezing, only to find to his surprise that the air on his skin wasn't cold. Wasn't even cool, actually, nor warm or anything at all, just ... was.
He must have betrayed is surprise in some way for Nestori made this low rumble that he thought might be their laugh. "This place was made to entertain guests. Given how delicate most creatures are when it comes to cold the sorcerers of old had to find a way for them to stay here that didn't involve several layers of pelt."
Well, that made sense. No-one wanted to visit a place they could only endure while walking around like a living snowman. Especially since several layers of cloth could also hide someone's identity, letting people in that had no business being in the presence of the king and might be out to kill him.
Stripping himself of the takki didn't take long. When he stood there, not sure what to do with the cloth, Nestori simply held out his hand for it and then rolled it up, only to claps it onto the harness Lumi still wore. The kynsi turned to sniff at it, then huffed and moved forward, impatient to go on.
"She smells her mother, I would think", Nestori commented dryly, then patted her neck and followed.
Walking - and trying to keep pace with the jotnar, though the tempo Nestori set was far slower than before - meant he didn't have as much time anymore to watch the halls they went through. At least it also kept him from wondering what was going to happen to him, so he wasn’t actually on the brink of a panic attack anymore.
There were more jotnar around, now. Most of them seemed to be servants of some kind - they wore a kind of light green kilt and all of them were either tending to the other jotnar or just hurrying past. None of them approached their little group, not once they had seen the guards accompanying them.
The other jotnar however fell silent as soon as they caught sight of them, then continued to watch while they made their way through the halls. It ... well, Tony had grown up in the public eye, so he was used to being stared at, but when it were really tall, ridiculously strong aliens doing it it turned out to be a whole new level of intimidating.
Not that he would ever admit it, and he put his media smile on for them, the one that was radiant and beautiful and meant absolutely nothing while hiding everything.
They finally reached another set of doors, this one almost as enormous as the outer gate and with what Tony would bet was a steel core - or whatever metal they used instead of steel that could deal with the cold and the ice - under all the layers of gemstones and carefully cut ice. The guards on both sides of it threw them questioning looks before opening the doors.
Tony ... stared.
After the gate and the hallways he had thought there was nothing here anymore that could surprise him. After all, what else could you do with ice and stone and metal that hadn't already been done to impress guests?
As it turned out, quite a lot, still.
The hall - throne room - was even higher than the halls before, the ceiling easily four times the height of any jotnar in attendance, and wide enough that he could only barely see the walls. Double rows of ice pillars supported the ceiling on both sides of the middle aisle, each of them cut to the form of a giant jotun holding a ball - a sun Tony would bet - up and looking down at the crowd in a manner that could be stern wisdom or admonishment. The whole floor was done in light turquoise and white stone, forming patterns of magic and something that might be words in that same language he had seen Tuire use in his notes.
There were no gemstones, no other colors used in the whole room. Yet it took Tony a long while to notice that because the ice was cut in just the right way to refract the light, making the whole hall come alive in a rainbow of colors that reminded Tony of the fireworks at New Year's.
It was … awe-inspiring, and really, Tony wasn’t one to use this phrase lightly.
Compared to the size of the hall the number of jotnar lingering in it was very small. There were barely more than a dozen, and that included the guards on both sides of the throne and the servant standing next to it, attending to the king.
A king that had Tony staring even more.
He had expected him to be ... well, a warrior, probably. Like Thor, he should be huge enough to fight for his people, with bulging muscles (that totally didn't make Tony's mouth go dry when he saw them) and the arrogance of a king who had been born and raised to rule. He had expected gold dripping from his form alongside ruby blood, maybe a skull or two forming his shoulder armor and a few smaller skulls - or fingers or teeth - forming a necklace. Someone fit to be called Tamer of the Great Wyrm and Protector of jotunheimr.
Loki was ... different.
For one - and Tony had to admit, at least to himself, that his mind lingered far too long on this point - he was small . It was hard to say with the way he sprawled over a throne that seemed to be made for a man twice his size, but he couldn't be much bigger than Tony himself, if that. And while he could see the gold on his form even from a distance there was definitely no blood. No skulls, either, and Tony was really grateful for that.
When they came closer, Lumi and Nestori still at his side, he could see that the king wore barely more than anyone else in this place. There was a white skirt covering everything from waist to mid-thigh, and a white pelt arranged around his shoulders that made him look a bit b roader, but anything else was just a beautiful expanse of turquoise skin.
A horned golden crown rose from his forehead, stark contrast to his matt skin, and when he came closer Tony could see a few fine necklaces tangling on his chest with the lines engraved into his skin. He could have been a fine aristocrat, someone who had never seen a fight or used a weapon, if not for the thick bands of gold encircling his wrists and upper arms - so similar to the ones Viljo and his partner had worn - and the wicked claws resting on the sides of the throne.
All in all ... w ell, he definitely didn't fit the image Tony had had of the son of Laufey.
They stopped at the height of the last pillar, still a good twenty meter from the throne, while the king continued to speak to the jotun in front of him as if he hadn’t noticed that they had entered.
Not that Tony minded; it gave him another chance to look him over.
He really was small, though the way he filled the throne spoke of confidence and the unconscious arrogance of a high-born (Tony would know – he had it himself). The same kind of confidence filled his voice, coupled with cool self-assurance, and Tony could see the jotnar he was talking to responding to it, the way the lowered their heads when turning to him, there deferent tone of voice. Tony didn’t need to understand what they were saying to know when they stopped arguing with him and simply agreed – their bodies spoke clearly enough.
And by the way Loki looked more indulgent than angry, his left foot lazily bobbing on its perch atop his right knee, this was a common enough scene that it wasn’t even registering anymore.
After a lat deep bow of the visiting jotnar, to which Loki responded with a nod and wave of his hand that looked as if he couldn’t quite make it any lazier, they were excused and left the hall.
Tony could feel the anticipation grow in his stomach, turning it to lead. He tried to swallow around his suddenly dry throat without making it too obvious what he was doing, but he wasn’t too sure that he succeeded. Everything suddenly felt as if a spotlight had been turned on him, as if every single jotun in the whole all was staring at him, judging him. Probably condemning him, too, just because he was human.
Stark men are made of iron.
Well, thanks dad.
At least for once this mantra did something good, breaking the descending fright and reminding him that he could draw himself up, square his shoulders and paste a smile on his lips.
Tony Stark walks the desert with the same suits as he does the streets of New York because that’s what Tony Stark does.
The king's lips curved up at the corner, amusement clear in his eyes, and Tony cursed himself. Of course the jotun would see his change in attitude.
Pepper always said his mouth was getting him in trouble. Looked like it wasn't only his mouth, though.
"What is that?", he finally asked, and Tony blinked, surprised. Heard the murmur of the advisors and saw Nestori's aborted move at his side.
Nice to see that they were as surprised as Tony was that the king was using English to communicate with his prisoner.
Or well, no quite with him, because a moment before Tony could open his mouth and say something that would probably get him killed on the spot Nestori answered.
"My king, we found this human wandering through the corridors of Kobol. By his own words, he has come alone and does not want to hurt anyone."
Loki looked far more awake now, sitting straight and only at the edge of the throne anymore. It should make him look like a too eager child; somehow he managed to look no less regal. "How did he come here?"
That had Nestori hesitate, probably because he was still not sure whether he believed Tony.
It truly wasn't Tony's fault that he butted in, not when they left such a silence after asking a question that he could answer much better than the jotun. "I build a portal. Sorry for taking your planet as my destination for the test drive."
Okay, maybe there was someone judging him for budding in. Ir at least that was how Tony would interpret that look on Loki's face. With a move that looked far too practiced he slipped from the throne and came over.
Tony swallowed. If he were a panther instead of a jotun he would now feel as if he was stalking towards him, every move a deliberate show of power and grace that only made him look more dangerous than any of the other jotnar towering over him.
Scratch that. It didn't matter that he was a jotun, he was definitely walking as if he wanted to eat him.
When he came to a stop it was close enough that he could feel his breath cool on his face, the smell of his skin like ice and raw metal in his nose. Tony had been right by thinking that Loki was only about his size - a bit larger but not much, especially compared to the other jotnar around him. It wasn't helping; he had a force about him that was definitely larger than his body, cool and dark and assessing as the gaze with which he mustered Tony now.
And Tony knew that most people would be cowering now, hoping for mercy, but he was Tony Stark and he bowed to no-one. Instead he grinned up at the ki ng, his nerves hidden behind pride and pure insolence. “Are you going to tell me that I’m lying?” He wasn’t sure what he should hope – that the king knew that he was a genius, or that he thought him a liar. Either could easily end with him dead.
Yet Loki tilted his head, a curious glint in his eyes. “You do not stink of Asgard”, he said and Tony blinked. Asgard had a smell? “And you speak the truth. Or believe that you do.”
Well, if that didn’t sound nice and trusting. Turning up his most winning smile Tony said: “Yeah, I’m quite sure I do. I think I still have the oil stains to prove it.”
“Do you now?” The king still looked entirely too much like a cat that hadn’t yet quite gotten what it came for and Tony felt with every passing minute a bit more like the mouse that tried to get away.
Which he wouldn’t show, even if that was like standing on the beach when the flood came. But then challenge had always made his spirit flare higher so it probably wasn’t a wonder that he dug his heels in the way he did.
Or that he grinned up at the cat that could eat him with a thoughtless word like he had no fear in the world and taunted him.
“Yup. So, since we have cleared that I only dropped by on accident – there a problem with me dropping back and forgetting everything that I have seen?”
If there were Oscars given out for charming your captor, Tony would totally win it.
Even if Loki seemingly hadn’t heard about that yet. Looking still cool – though with his lips twitching upwards and Tony totally counted that as a point for himself – he stood there in front of Tony and considered him with an unreadable expression on his face. “Tell me”, he eventually said. “What is your name?”
Fuck. He couldn’t very well tell him that he was Tony Stark, could he? If he had heard of Iron Man he might have heard his true name, too. So maybe he should just borrow a different name, from one of his tech guys for example, or Rhodey’s … no, not Rhodey’s; if movies had taught Tony anything than that shit like this came always back to the spinner of the lie.
Spinner of the lie.
Counter of Lies. That’s what Nestori had called him, hadn’t he?
Swallowing he decided that sticking to the truth might be better. Well, part of the truth.
“Anthony Edward. But my friends call me Tony.” Another winsome smile, inviting Loki to be one of his friends.
Which the king clearly got – and rejected. “Anthony then. So tell me Anthony, why should I trust that you will truly forget everything that you have seen and learned here?”
Pulling out the big guns. Fuck. “Who would I tell? Who would believe me? I mean, not to offend you or anything, but what I have seen so far from aliens was mostly pretty much swords and glowing cubes, so ...”
“Don’t”, Loki snarled. “Compare us to Asgard!”
Oh fuck. Blundering right in. “Sorry, didn’t-”
A hand on his throat, the claws almost touching, the palm so cold he could feel his skin trying to crawl away from where it not-quite touched his neck. The lines on Loki’s hand had lit up – not much, just a shimmer, but fuck, if there had ever been a moment to not open his mouth this would have been it.
Red eyes glared at him and he tried to not swallow the lump in his throat, afraid what would happen if his skin made contact with Loki’s. Their skin is so cold that it can hurt an aesir. A M idgardian, it would kill on contact.
“Do you know what the aesir would have done had they found you wandering their golden ways and glorious halls of victory?”, Loki spat.
And Tony had a bad feeling about this because he had spend enough time with Thor to also realize that trying to visit his friend’s home was a big no-no. Not that he would say anything. Loki looked ready to kill him if he so much as opened his mouth again and he had some survival instincts, even if they were buried under sand and blood and the taste of motor oil in icy waters.
At least it seemed that Loki wasn’t going to make him wait long. “They kill everyone who has not passed their golden gatekeeper, without questions asked as tow hat they want.” He whirled away, his kilt flying behind him while he strode back to his throne.
“I have made up my mind”, he proclaimed while he took his seat, his pose even more regal than before and Tony could feel Nestori stiffen at his side, could feel himself freeze.
Loki wouldn't really kill him, now would he?
Those angry red eyes found his and held them for a moment before he motioned with his hand. And Tony had seen Strange use magic, had seen him make light appear from nothing, but it was a lot more intimidating when the one who did it was someone who you had just managed to piss off. The hair in his neck rose slowly while he watched Loki move his hands, golden light appearing around them in a series of tiny sparks, connected by nothing but the will of the caster.
Slowly the sparks began to move, a lazy dance of dust in the air. Just that this dust particles were moving towards him and he backed up almost on instinct. Saw Nestori move as if to catch him and heard the sound of knives being drawn from sheaths. For a moment he stood there, staring at his impending doom, all his muscles tense while he contemplated whether to fight his way free.
How to fight his way free. There way no way he was letting these little sparks of doom catch him without knowing what they would do to him.
As if he had heard his thoughts the king spoke up: “These will not hurt you. They will only protect you from the cold.”
Tony froze, unsure what he should do – could he trust the jotun? - when suddenly, like a lioness who had advanced on her prey, the magic jumped for him.
He jerked back but it was too late, there was gold everywhere, in his eyes, on his skin, glittering under his skin and cold-warm-sparkling sensation gliding through him, like champagne but everywhere, or maybe mites biting him and then it hurt and he just wanted it gone, he wouldn’t accept this, wanted to scratch his skin away if he had to to make it -
It took him a moment to realize that, his hands still busy rubbing over his skin, but the light receded and the itch died down. Slowly he stopped rubbing his skin and just felt inside himself, tried to find if something was different, altered.
There was nothing.
He looked up again at the monarch when he started to speak again, but it was in their own language, for all that his eyes were still directed at Tony. It made everyone look at him in clear astonishment and at least one of the jotnar by the throne tried to speak against it but Loki just silenced him with a look.
Beside him, Nestori shifted again, but at least it didn’t seem to be in order to kill him. And those swords and laser pistols or whatever they wore also stayed in the guards’ sheaths so that was something, yeah?
Fuck it, what had Loki done?
A slow grin crept over Loki’s face as if he knew exactly what Tony thought. Waving the servant at his side forward to his side he explained, clearly way too fucking pleased with himself: “As I cannot let you walk away and tell out secrets you will have to stay here, Anthony Edward. So this is my ruling: You will live on jotunheimr as one of ours and we will treat you with the respect and love we would treat another child of the ice. But should you ever try to leave you will be killed on the spot.”
Tony stared at the king whose eyes met his – unreadable red – and he wanted to scream and throw a tantrum and demand to be allowed to go – this would break the heart of the people he loved – but there was nothing he could do, now could he? Not when the eyes that stared back at him where still filled with the memory of his father’s death at the hand of the aesir and really, Tony had had to bring this up, hadn’t he?
The servant stopped beside him and, when he looked at him, waved him to follow him.
With a last parting look at Nestori – the jotun gave him an encouraging smile and a short bow – he followed him out of the throne room.
The servant, Tarja, spoke English almost as good as the king. Which was good because the first thing he did once they had left the throne room was turn to Tony – which was, when it was a well-muscled giant towering easily a meter above him, very intimidating, not that Tony was willing to admit it - and ask: "So, what am I supposed to do with you?"
As it turned out, this was a far more loaded question than Tony would have thought - though since he had been mostly occupied with thinking about surviving this meeting, not what came after it, he thought he could be forgiven.
Anyway, between him not having been raised in an environment even close to the palace - which was odd; he would have thought living in an actual palace would be similar to the Stark house, even if he had to live it from the other side, but apparently jotnar and human had very different believes in a lot of things - and his lack of knowledge about their culture - language, living, even just the layout of the palace itself - Tarja eventually turned him into the odd-job man.
He might have protested - he was a genius and a warrior, not a lower servant - if not for how good this decision turned out to be. Also, interesting. And useful, for his eventual escape (he hadn't given up on that. Never would).
And, even better, workdays on jotunheimr were short. Like, ridiculously short. Which was good because otherwise Tony might have done something dumb as soon as the newness wore off but he could keep himself from creating chaos a few hours at a time.
The palace he had learned when Tarja had given him a brief tour and an even briefer explanation of the places he hadn't shown him, was a lot more like a town hall than a palace, with the guards acting more like peace keepers than to actually prevent someone from entering. Most of the halls were open to all jotnar, especially the gardens and the council's meeting room. There was a kitchen in the higher areas that would feed everyone, and even some kind of art collection just off the hallway leading to the throne room (Pepper would so dig it).
Deeper in the belly of the palace where the living quarters of the Council members as well as those of the royal family - not that he'd ever set foot there. Tarja had been very adamant about him not going past the guards guarding those hallways without reason.
(As if he ever actually wanted to see Loki again. Fuck it all – if he never saw him again it would be too soon).
The servants - as far as they lived in the palace at least, like Tony now - had their own living quarters not too far from the kitchen.
That, too, had turned out to be quite a surprise. Most of the jotnar working at the palace lived in the city itself the way he would have expected.
The few who didn't … well. Tarja called it perhe, but he quickly learned that it was both the name for the rooms as well as the community living within. Which was strange in itself. Vilppu – the jotun who Tarja had relegated him to because he, too, spoke English and how the fuck even were there so many jotnar who spoke any language from earth? - had explained that this was how they lived – a family bound together more by like-mindedness than blood and it really shouldn’t make him think of the Avengers back home but … well, it did. This sounded a lot like what they had.
Anyway, there was a central hall, outfitted like one would a living room with low couches made of some clear material that was softer and yielding like the best mattress. They didn’t really need to be padded with the thick blankets and pillows and pelts that were thrown over them, not when even without they were so much more comfortable even as his own couch at home. Intricately woven rugs covered the floor and there were tables spread throughout the room, between the couches and pillows. Every evening would find them here, the adults relaxing from the day and the children running between them in play or dance or asking to be told stories. It was … a lot like those big family gatherings they showed on tv, just that it was every night, and there were a lot less arguments than they showed in those movies.
The newest pastime seemed to be Teach our strange new pet – okay, so no-one had actually called him that yet , but he knew those looks; like Pepper when she had to care for him - our language.
At least he was a good student. Aside from their strange grammatical rules about tenses he was getting the hang of it fast enough that Vilppu had offered to start him on their script within a week. (Which, he hoped, wasn't a joke, though with the way the jotun always smirked and the others' laughter he wasn't sure.)
(If it turned out that it had been a joke he could always steal Vilppu’s kilts or knot them together or something; somehow the bastard had become something like a friend which meant he had an open invitation in his room and he would use this to get back at him).
Anyway, if he couldn’t stand their company anymore – couldn’t stand anymore to be the odd one out (which had been bad in the beginning and shouldn’t somehow begin to vanish the way it) – he could always hide in his own room.
Corridors – much smaller and a lot less grand than the ones outside but still with walls that had been decorated by generations of jotnar living in this rooms – led away from the common room and one of them led to his own room. It was spacious even for a (normal-sized) jotun, though quite clearly not intended for someone who liked to spend a lot of time alone. There was a bed in one of the corners of the room, made from the same material as the couches outside, and when Tarja had turned up with him in tow he had quickly gotten enough blankets and pillows to play The Princess and the Pea.
Several kilts, too, in the color of the servants, and underwear and shoes that actually fit. Given that neither of the other adult jotnar had even close to his size and none of the children wore a servant uniform he wasn’t sure where they had gotten them so fast but he had quickly forgotten the question while being pressured into putting his clothes away in the chest of drawers on the other side of the room.
Taking off the undersuit and slipping into the open kilt had felt … strange, at first. Like he gave up on part of who he was, a part that was of earth, not jotunheimr, and he felt a shiver run down his spine when he saw himself the first time in his new clothes.
Brown where the jotnar were blue, and smaller, stockier, without the lines and the jewelry all of them seemed to wear. Worse even, the reactor glowing blue in the middle of his chest.
He hadn’t wanted to change into the kilts. Fuck, he wanted to stay in the undersuit forever, having it hide the glow of the reactor and the scars on his chest, but he knew that it wasn’t possible. He had designed the thing, he knew what it could withstand. And a few weeks of constant wear definitely didn’t make the list.
Walking through the group of jotnar that he was supposed to call family for the first time with the ARK-reactor displayed open on his chest … it was strange. Humiliating. Vulnerable.
As if he had a chance against them, even without shrapnel encroaching on his heart and a literally glowing target on his chest.
The looks he got when he first walked among were curious but once he made clear that this was private they stopped bothering him about it.
Well, except Vilppu. Who asked him whether he was envying them their beautiful skin color so much that he had to start coloring his own.
He was going to kill him. As soon as he managed to shake off the minor case of being struck dumb in the middle of the room.
Food was … well. Tony had already resolved himself to sticking with the same two things that he already knew he could eat when he learned that they had a very easy way to detect which food worked for him.
Staring at the database Vilppu showed him of things he could eat – and who had collected this data anyway?! - he shook his head. “You could have told me that you raided the Enterprise.”
By the way Vilppu blinked he didn’t get the reference but that was okay. At least Tony could now sit down and eat without wondering whether he would die from his foot or maybe just turn purple and sing Martian warrior songs.
Also – the absolute best thing about their food? They might not have discovered coffee, and kahvi tasted a lot like more like tonic water than actual coffee (also, it was beet-red) but it got his caffeine-addicted brain to work in the morning and that was what mattered in the end.
One of the things that really got to him was the fact that he was almost always indoors.
Like, there were no windows in the palace – obviously since it was underground – and while it didn’t seem to bother the jotnar he missed the sky.
The king’s decree hadn’t forbidden him from leaving the palace per se but he still felt uncomfortable when he came close to the outer gate, as if at any moment someone would turn up and ask him what business he had trying to walk outside.
Whether he was trying to escape.
At least there were always the gardens, he thought, trying to keep up with Vilppu and failing at it (but only because the other had legs that went up to Tony's shoulders and really, he would never have thought that the image that phrase sparked up in his mind wasn't of a very long-legged, sexy woman).
"Are you sure that you are alright, Tony? We wouldn't want you to exhaust yourself too much, with your short legs and tiny pink -"
"If you call me a marsu again I'm going to make you very sorry."
Not exactly his best threat, but he was still short of breath - Vilppu was the kind of asshole who wouldn't slow down enough for him to keep up until he asked him to and he would be damned if he did that - so he thought he could forgive himself.
Vilppu of course only grinned back at him. "If you say so."
Sadly, Tony's glare bounced harmlessly off the back of his head when he started walking again.
"You wanted to come help with the resorting", the jotnar reminded him.
And Tony wanted to be angry, he really wanted to - it wasn't as if he had much of a choice, not when Tarja had no problem with reassigning him wherever he chose to when Tony couldn't find a decent work for himself; not having a steady work sucked - but just then they reached the door leading outside and all his anger vanished in the face of the glittering white snow.
The gardens were always beautiful. They were outside - which was a major point for them -, lying above most of the palace and connecting it to some of the outer houses, but also open to every other jotun who wanted to visit them.
The first time he had seen them Tony hadn't thought too much of them, since they looked almost bare compared to the gardens he was used to. There were no thousands of differently colored flowers, no carefully pruned hedges or trees formed to animals. Instead it looked more like a Japanese zen garden - strangely formed stones sitting within cleared snow, here and there a small tree growing up from the ground or a more colorful piece of art - a mosaic, or a hologram - coloring the scenery.
And yet the more often he saw that, the more it had grown on him. He had never quite liked the gardens Maria had dragged him to - too colored, too chaotic to find rest in. This one, he found, suited him quite nicely, and when he returned home he might actually have to install a garden like this on one of his still empty floors.
Homesickness send a pang right through him, but he gritted his teeth against it. He would return home, there was no question about it. The jotnar might be more effective in keeping him here than the ten rings, yet they also left him more freedom to search for ways to escape - even if so far he hadn't turned up even one - and he had returned from Afghanistan, he would return from here, too.
A short word that he had learned was a curse word in their language - though no-one had been willing to translate it for him, instead making that strange face that he had learned meant they were terribly embarrassed and would be a fair portrayal of a tomato if they were human - had him look up to where Vilppu was walking ahead of him. The jotun wasn't the kind to appreciate the gardens so he had gained quite a distance on Tony, yet when he looked up he saw him slow down to almost a standstill before he started walking again, now in a much more sedate pace.
Quickening his own pace Tony reached him within a few steps, then had to fight his own urge to stop when he saw what had made Vilppu falter.
There, ahead from their path, sat a lone figure on one of the benches dotting the gardens, holding one of their reading devices - that looked so terribly like tablets though without the actual machinery to back them up and that so far none of his new acquaintances had allowed him to so much as touch - and seemingly fully engrossed in it. Tony had seen him, once or twice, in these last days, yet he had always been surrounded by several servants and guards and whatever those other jotnar were - advisers and petitioners, Vilppu had called them - and it wasn't as if Tony had actually wanted to be seen by him, too afraid he might change his mind and kill Tony yet.
Not that he had the chance to duck out now. Loki hadn't seen them yet, but the guard next to him had, and if he tried to avoid him Tony would have to double back and find another path over to the Master Artist. Which would look suspicious anyway, and even more so with Vilppu keeping just walking on. Swallowing Tony tried to keep his nerves from flipping and followed his new friend down the path.
It almost seemed like they would pass the king without him even noticing and Tony was almost giddy with relief at being not noticed - something that didn't happen often - when the jotun looked up.
His heart skipped quite painfully and he almost stumbled over his own feet when his gaze found him. Somehow he managed to keep his balance, only to almost run into Vilppu who had stopped just ahead of him and now inclined his head in something not quite a bow. Hurriedly Tony followed suit, hoping there was no different protocol for guests-slash-prisoners.
The king simply returned their greeting with a much shallower nod, then returned to his reading - now without a last, lingering look at Tony - and Vilppu started up again.
The magic the king had used on him meant he didn't feel the cold, but so far he had also not managed to sweat. If he had thought that this, too, was a byproduct of the spell he was now proven wrong for there was clearly sweat running down his back now, tickling his skin and making him feel just that little bit colder.
It took him a while before he managed to open his mouth again - probably good because he didn't actually knew how good the jotnar's hearing was. "What is he doing out here?", he asked, then wanted to brain himself. As if that hadn't been obvious!
Yet Vilppu answered his question as if it was anything but: "King Loki likes the gardens. He is often out here to read when he us not busy with, well, reigning, I guess. Another thing he has in common with you."
The last was said in a little teasing tone, rounded up with a quick glance back to make sure that yes, Tony had understood, and he rolled his eyes, though now his mind was racing to find the meaning behind Vilppu's words.
"You mean his size?", he finally asked, cutting an edge by jumping on a stone set close to it so he could keep up with his companion.
Who send him a mocking glare at his antics, yet answered freely: "That, too, but I actually meant your science. You said you were a scientist, didn't you? Well, Loki is, too. Mostly magic, but from what I hear he's interested in most everything? They call him a genius, after all, not that I would know - I'm lucky my teacher didn't throw me out after all the shit I pulled in his lessons."
"That doesn't mean you're not intelligent." Nothing Tony had seen from him so far had indicated that he was dumb.
Vilppu only grinned down at him, his smirk wide enough to almost reach his ears. "Nope, but I'm definitely not a researcher. Causing trouble is more my forte."
Yeah, that was the Vilppu he had come to know. He was like the brother-in-mind that Clint would never meet. Trying to distract himself from the pain that thought kindled he asked the first question that came to his mind: "Why is Loki so small?" And hoped to hell and back that that wasn't a cultural sensitive question because running head-first in every sandtrap had also always been his thing.
Yet Vilppu only looked a bit surprised. "He's a sorcerer", he said as if that explained everything.
And maybe it did. "So all sorcerers are ... human-sized?"
Vilppu grinned. "Na, normally they are still a bit bigger than you" W hat a dick. "But the king is small even for a mage. Well, a bit small. They say it's because he's been born just in the last days of the war, and grown up in the warming afterwards. But, well, so did I, and I'm every bit as tall as I could be, aren't I?" He spread his arms and turned on himself, like a girl trying to make her skirt puff up.
Which looked silly enough to make Tony grin. "Yeah, sure. Just make sure that you are not growing any taller or they might have to make the halls even higher." And then he raced ahead, trying to outrun his friend the last few steps to the studio.
It wasn't until two days later that he saw Loki again, and this time it was a completely different situation.
He had just finished another delivery to the Master of Mosaics - which sucked balls because Senja was about as thrilled about Tony's being here as Tony himself was but it still beat sweeping the hallways when every broom they had was bigger than he was tall - and had met up with a few of the other servants, talking - gossiping, really, but who was Tony to throw stones here? - about some of the younger sons of the lesser kings that had been send here to learn about ruling when suddenly one of the jotnar stopped abruptly and clutched his stomach.
Tony's language skills weren't yet good enough to catch what he said - something had broken? - but whatever it was, it remade their little group of people walking along into a flock of excited hens. Including clucking.
With the bigger jotnar forming a protecting wall around the first one - he wasn't one of the jotnar Tony shared his perhe with but he thought his name was Aamu - and helping him over to the wall to sit down Tony found himself left standing at the other side of the corridor, blinking confused at the sudden hectic.
Though, no, not hectic. Once the first excitement had died down the jotnar turned into a well-functioning machine again, with Elmi taking lead and sending most of the other jotnar away to do their tasks, while he and another jotun stuck close to Aamu who still had his hands pressed to his stomach.
It wasn't until most of their little group had dispensed, leaving only Tony with the ill jotun and his two caretakers, that Aamu spoke up: *I still have to deliver-*
Elmi cut him off right there: *You are an idiot. Loki won't be mad if one of us does it for you.*
*Especially*, the other jotun inserted. *As you shouldn't even have come to work today. I don't even ... what were you thinking?!*
Aamu threw them both a glare that lacked a lot of heat with the way he was still holding his stomach. *I am not an invalid.*
*No, but an idiot you are. Tony can deliver your message if that is so important.*
Startled by the mention of his name Tony came closer. *Sure I can*, he offered. Whatever the jotun had looked really painful and he didn't want to be the one responsible for him trying to do his duty instead of resting as he quite obviously should. Grasping for the words he still felt not quite comfortable with and rasping them out - ignoring the burn in his throat - he asked: *What ... erm ... what does he have? If I can ask?* So far he hadn't encountered a taboo in their society but that didn't mean he wouldn't.
But not today it seemed, if Elmi's amused face was anything to go by. *Aamu is in* followed by a word that Tony didn't knew. Which seemed to be quite obvious, because the other jotun explained, no less amused: *He’s is about to get a child.*
Oh. Oh. The jotun was in labor?
Tony couldn't help but feel himself back away a bit. He knew next to nothing about childbirth but he somehow felt that, well, shouldn't they do something? Like get him to a doctor? Or was that only done on earth? And - wait, wasn't he a guy ? Sure, so far Tony had only ever seen male jotnar, and everyone had referred to their partner as consort or partner but that didn't mean ...
He was an idiot, was he? He was doomed to live with them for the rest of his life (if he didn't found a way back home which he would ) so there was no reason for them to hide any female jotnar unless there were no female jotnar. Which, really. Yes. He might have realized that earlier if he hadn't been so stuck on how things worked on earth with humans.
And, you know, they seemed to work with the kynsi, too. So why was it different with jotnar?
Didn't matter right now; there was something more important to do.
*Okay, so what do I do?*, he asked, finally.
By the way both Elmi and the other jotun still looked way too amused they had been following most of his thoughts by the way they had been displayed right on his face, but at least Aamu had been too out of it to grin, too. Instead he produced one of the round crystal plates they used to deliver messages - something really like the things they used in Star Trek, complete with hologram and speech but minus the interference and static that always made them sound like someone from the 22nd century had tried to copy a video from the 20th - and held it up for him to take. His hand was steadier and when Tony looked over he saw his face not twisted in pain anymore - somewhere in the back of his mind he remembered Bruce telling him that contractions only lasted a few minutes in the beginning, that one time that he had teased him about Pepper and children and how sweet they would be - so he reached out to take it.
*This is from the Head of Teaching for High King Loki.*
Tony almost dropped the sphere. For High King Loki? He - what - he was supposed to bring this to Loki ? To the very king he had been trying to avoid for more than a week now?! Because he might end up killing him if Tony’s tongue ran away from him again?
Yet it wasn't as if he could say no, could he? Even though Aamu looked steadier he shouldn't be left alone now, and it would be better to have two jotnar at hand to hold him if he actually needed someone to carry him. Which left only Tony to deliver this message.
*Okay*, he said. *I ... I just have to bring it to him, yeah?*
Elmi had his head cocked in a way that reminded Tony that he was living with him and had, most likely, picked up on Tony's reluctance to talk about Loki, might even have come to understand what it was about. The other jotun however only nodded, and that was all Tony needed, especially if it meant getting out from under Elmi's thoughtful eyes.
So he just pulled the plate close, nodded to Aamu a promise that he would deliver this message, and then dashed down the hallway towards where he knew the king's rooms lay.
He had never been down here before but he still remembered Tarja's explanation from his first day and between this and the ever grander hallways it wasn't hard to find his way.
When he reached a last hallway - this one way out of every place he had been before - he came to a stop in front of the pair of guards. Not quite sure whether he was allowed through just like that - there had to be a line somewhere where even palace servants couldn't just walk in? - he asked: "Hi? I'm here to deliver a message for ... High King Loki?" Everyone else only ever called him Loki or the king, but this seemed like a moment where he should be a bit more formal.
One of the guards smiled down at him - yep, they had recognized the palace's pet human - and nodded. *Please wait a moment.*
Wait -? Oh. The guard opened the door and vanished inside, giving Tony a short glimpse at a room that looked like a more formal and certainly less untidy version of their living room before the door fell closed behind him again.
Leaving Tony alone with his growing nerves and the other guard who looked down at him as of he was only so much dirt. Tony didn't need to be told twice that this was one of the jotnar who didn't like Loki's decision to let him live, and while he wouldn't normally had let that stop him from starting something he was right now standing literally just outside of the door to the person who kept his live in his hands and Tony didn't want to tempt fate that much.
See, Steve? Tony could learn restraint.
A moment later the other guard returned and nodded him in. *He is waiting for you.*
Tony nodded his thanks back and then went through the door.
The room behind it was as formal and lifeless as he had anticipated - he knew his receiving chambers - but there were two doors leading out of it on the other side. One was closed but the other was slightly ajar and Tony took this as a hint as to which way he had to take.
There was another living room behind it, this one rather more lived in. A couple of couches, all of them high enough for the taller jotnar, yet the tables closer to Tony's own height. More rugs and blankets than even their own communal room had, and Tony looked at the doors leading from here - five all in all - who shared this living space with the High King. His brother? His late father, when he was still alive?
A close friend, maybe, now, or a lover?
There was no way to know, and since the man himself wasn't here he followed the next open door into what turned out to be a short hallway leading even deeper into the ice. Hesitating for a moment on the threshold Tony looked back, at the empty room behind him - had he misunderstood this? Should he even come here?
His eyes fell to a clear sphere on one of couches, clearly one of the jotnar's tablets. His fingers itched to walk over and play with the thing - if it was a computer he wanted to know how it worked, and after trying to figure out the Chitauri's tech he was sure he would figure this out, too - but he reminded himself firmly that if he really wanted to have a chance at escape he couldn't act on what could very well be nothing but a trap to show his true colors.
Clenching his fingers to keep himself from running over had the side effect of also reminding him of the sphere still in his hands and the duty he had to bring it to its recipient. Turning around he started down the corridor.
The first door on the right was closed, and so was the second, but the third was open a bit. Taking a deep breath Tony carefully pushed it open.
The room behind it was ... odd. There was a table just off the middle that could have been a lab table, yet instead of the typical tools there were a mortal and pestle and a bowl filled with liquid. Shelves lined the walls, overflowing almost with more strange things - gemstones, crystals, bones. In one of the edges stood one of the tablet-spheres, just almost as big as a normal computer.
All in all it looked like a bizarre cross of a witch's house and a nerd's sleeping quarter. So maybe it wasn't a wonder that it took Tony a long moment until he actually saw the person crouching on the stone floor behind the table. And an even longer moment to connect the loose kilt and undecorated skin with the royal figure he had seen the king strike at every other time before. Might even have taken longer if not for the sharp look out of eyes that were trained far too intently on him and had probably seen every bit of hesitation and curiosity since he had entered the chamber.
Blushing bright red - this felt too much like being caught by his father in his lab and that was really not a good feeling to have, especially in this moment - Tony lowered his head, trying to imitate the bow Vilppu had greeted him with the other day. Hoped, again, that this was the right way for him to greet the man that was - at least for now - his sovereign.
"Anthony Edwards", the king finally said and Tony took it as invitation to look up again, only to see him roll to his feet in a far too elegant move. "What brings you to me?"
Which ... yeah, sounded not at all how Tony thought a king should sound (and he should know; he had slept with a fair amount of kings and queens - and princes and princesses - in his time).
Grasping the sphere and offering it up for the king to take he explained: "The Head Teacher sends this." Only when the words left his mouth did he realize that the king had spoken English and he had followed suit. Which was weird; why would he do that?
Loki didn't seem to realize that. Instead he had his eyes still locked on Tony, mustering him in a way that made him terribly aware of the fact that he only wore a kilt that he didn't even really own, that he lacked the blue skin and lines of a jotun and the trinkets of accomplishment to decorate them. A shiver ran down his spine and not crossing his arms in front of his chest was hard and why couldn't Loki just take the damn thing and let him go?!
It took all his self-restraint to not sigh in relief when Loki finally wandered over to one of the shelves and picked a small crystal up, turning his eyes on whatever he could see in it.
"You may put it on the table", he said, almost carelessly, and Tony nodded before walking over and doing as he was told.
This meant he could go now, yes?
Apparently not, for when he turned back to the door he heard: "The portal you came through has been found and destroyed."
Another shiver, this time more pronounced and even worse. The way Loki said destroyed , as if it was important, made him realize that he, too, could be destroyed if this man so wished.
Not sure how he was supposed to react he only nodded again.
For a moment he couldn't hear anything and he was just starting to hope that he would be finally allowed to leave when a sudden move at the edge of his vision announced the king drawing near. Again he had to keep himself from reacting, but the way Loki smirked he probably had seen it.
Trying to keep a scowl from your face wasn't getting easier just because the other person was an asshole that could kill you. But, well, Tony had always known that, hadn't he?
Loki didn't seem to mind though there was no way he couldn't see it, not standing there right in front of Tony and smirking down at him (because of course the fucker was still taller than Tony, even if he was a magical runt).
And yet Tony knew this kind of smirk - it was one he wore himself often enough. Not the evil I'm-bettter-than-you-and-will-use-this-to-destroy-you -smirk but more a kind of I'm-bettter-than-you-and-will-taunt-you-with-this-as-much-as-you-will-let-me -smirk, which, well, wasn't that much better but at least less likely to get him killed. Or ending with explosions.
Who was he kidding? Most of those smirks ended with explosions when he wore them.
"I have seen this ... armor that you have used to come to jotunheimr", Loki finally broke the silence.
And it probably was the fact that he had tried to leash his tongue for too long, and also because he did hate to hear his suit described as armor when he didn't like the army, but right then he couldn't keep from cutting in: "It's as suit, not an armor. I only needed it to keep the cold out."
Loki didn't seem to mind his backtalk. Instead his smirk grew a sly edge that had the alarms sound in Tony's mind. "And now you don't need it anymore to stay warm", he said, one hand trailing down Tony's bare chest (and this shouldn't feel so good but fuck, he couldn't deny that Loki was hot and between the coming and going of kids in their community and his lack of partners (also the racing thoughts on hoe to escape that had made focusing on more pleasurable actions hard. Or, well, not hard) he hadn't had time to get rid of that tension. Of course Loki's next sentence effectively killed the mood for Tony. "I think I might like to cut it apart, and see how it works this way."
"No!" Not caring about shit like Loki being a king anymore Tony pushed forward, into his space. "Keep your smurf fingers from my suit!"
Loki grinned back at him, an expression that shouldn't be as delighted as it was. “Are you telling me what to do with the thing I found?”
Tony felt his eyes slit in anger. "It is still my suit", he growled.
Again that indulging smile on Loki's face, making Tony feel like he had just walked right into a trap. "Well, if you will not allow me to take it apart, you will have to be there, explaining it to me."
Explaining it to ... what? There were no schematics of the Iron Man suit - any Iron Man suit - outside of his personal servers and protected by the best Jarvis could do for a reason, and Loki wanted him to just show it to him? Why? Because he was asking? Should he try to find everything out for himself, it wouldn't do him much good. Not without the codes Tony used to keep the suit from self destructing, or the other codes to have the software offer up all the actions the suit was capable of.
And yet even while he was still thinking those rebellious thoughts, could still feel his lips forming into a Forget it, another part of his brain was already busy calculating how he could use this. If Loki wanted to examine the suit he would have had it brought into a lab. A lab that was closer to here than the lab complex he had first stumbled into. A lab that could hold the possibilities of Tony's safe return home, if only he played his cards right.
And so he bit down on those words sitting right on his tongue, forced himself to take a deep breath, and while he couldn't help the glare he shot at Loki when he answered he thought it was probably only adding believability to his act when he asked: "And what do I get for that?"
The grin spread over Loki's whole face. "The chance to pay me back for letting you live is not enough?", he asked and it sounded every bit as evil as one if the bad guys in a James Bond flick.
Tony thought of the respect with which Vilppu spoke about Loki, even while still calling him only by name. Thought of Nestori doing the same, and some of the older ones in his home making jokes about their king while still chiding the children every time their jokes crossed the line towards disrespect. Thought of Loki, sitting on his bench and reading, nodding back at Vilppu's respectful yet slightly floppy greeting. Thought of every evil smirk and delighted grin he had shown Tony just now, the way he had so easily forgiven Tony attacking him, and felt all of this coalesce into a picture of a man that wouldn't want payback for something that he had done out of conviction, yet might take teasing just that step too far.
Hoping he wasn't wrong to call this a bluff Tony returned the king's gaze with all the conviction he could muster. "I might explain my technology if you explain yours."
The grin on Loki's face was now decidedly evil. "Oh, so we are comparing techniques now ... how forward of you."
At least Tony wasn't one to blush at sexual innuendos. "Well, I never slept with a jotun before so I guess there are some things that I can learn about it", he retorted with a grin.
Only to have the pleasure of watching Loki startle into a laugh that was far too delighted to not turn his own grin wider as well. Especially since it seemed that his gambit had payed off - he couldn't be angry with Tony if he was laughing like this, could he be?
When his laughter died down Loki came closer again, a hand trailing along Tony's arm. "You are a delight, Anthony Edward", he said, sounding like he meant this. "Very well. I will teach you about our ... technology in exchange for yours, but only under one condition."
Tony felt his eyes narrow. "What condition?" Had he read him wrong?
But Loki only looked amused as all hell when he delivered his response. "Don't call me smurf again. I will admit that there are certain ... similarities, what with us having blue skin and referring to ourselves as male, but I really don't like hats at all, not to mention white hats, and I think, as the odd one out, you would not like me to call you smurfette."
The next morning Tony was still reeling from that odd visit to Loki's chambers, might even have thought that he had dreamed it up if not for the very solid memory of Loki telling him to come by this evening so they might enjoy showing each other their gadgets. Loki's words, not Tony's, and he couldn't quite forget the smirk that had accompanied it. Not when it reminded him so much of himself, trying to irritate people.
Of course that wasn't exactly helping him focus, as shown by the way Taisto could sneak up on him and wrap his him into his arms without him even noticing until he couldn't move his arms anymore.
Not that that mattered. The boy might be almost as tall as Tony but he was still a kid and far from a trained warrior. It took Tony only a quick swipe of a foot - the same kind of swipe that the king had taken without a complaint - to have him stumble. Quickly he used the loosening of the arms surrounding him to leverage himself free, then turned on the kid and swiped his foot out, again, making him fall down - Tasha would be so proud of him - before pinning him to the floor with a knee in his lower back.
*Fuck!* Taisto twisted so he could glare up at him. *I almost had you!*
*Still not enough, kid.* Someone was chuckling behind them, the sound like boulders rolling over gravel, and Tony felt himself tense for a moment before he reminded himself, again, that this - tussling with a child as long as no-one was hurt - was actual normal behavior for the jotnar. More so - the way Hilja had explained it this was necessary for the young to learn how to take on some of the greater dangers out of the cities and refusing to teach them was the kind of insult few would be willing to forgive.
Trying to get the grin back on his face he held a hand out to help the boy back to his feet. *You don't want me to sweep your feet out from under you you need a better stand.* That should be an universal truth, yes? Even if they were different species.
The boy scowled up at him as if he was making fun of him. "I do know how to stand!", he insisted.
*I think you might learn to stand better, as Tony said*, a voice said from behind them and Tony remembered, in that moment it took Taisto to look up at whoever had watched them and get really wide-eyed, that there had been someone laughing at them.
Turning around he saw a jotnar wearing a very light tunic, which was strange in itself - so far the extend of clothing he had seen were kilts and a variety of shawls and pelts that were more decorative than actual protection. But it wasn't the only thing that set this jotun apart - he was darker, his skin more navy than the azure of the jotnar he had seen around here, just a shade a two lighter than Taisto with his still almost black children skin. His lines were different. Tony hadn't yet quite gotten the hang on what exactly they meant, would never be able to read them with the effortless ease of a creature born to them, but he could see the strange angles and the forms that just weren't quite like the lines he had gotten used to in the last days.
And yet he still looked familiar, as if Tony had seen him before somewhere. Which was insane - the only place he had been on this planet was the palace (he hadn't even left it for the city so far, too unsure whether it would be allowed or not) and, before that ... oh.
Tony mustered the jotun again, yet despite his memory he couldn't quite pull up a clear image of the jotun that had shared his lab with him. But he remembered that he had been darker skinned than Nestori and most of the other scientists, and he had known Tony by name despite not being from here ...
*Tuire?*, he ventured a guess.
The jotun's lips curled in a smile and he bowed in that way they used to greet each other. *Tony. It is good to see you again.*
So Tony hadn't misremembered the part were they parted on good terms, though he wasn't quite sure what exactly Tuire thought of him. After all, last time he had seen him he had been utterly incapable of speaking their language at all.
Before he could say anything more the youngster tackled him into the side, sending him sprawling all over the ground – fuck, that hurt! - and ran away, a loud *You suck* called over his shoulder as parting shot.
“Yeah, you too”, Tony grumbled while he tried to figure out if he had damaged something during his unexpectedly close acquaintance with the ground. Nope, didn’t seem so, but he would sure be sporting quite a few bruises. Awkwardly he rolled back onto his feet, not without throwing a few of his own curses after the absent boy – and really, was it such a mystery why his new vocabulary included a lot of profanity if he was surrounded by the likes of Taisto and Vilppu? (Not that he was complaining, but he knew that other people - cough Pepper cough – would)
(If they ever found out about it.)
(And him being here, not dying.)
*I am sorry*, Tuire said and Tony was beyond grateful that he had stopped his downward spiral into guilt and homesickness that he really couldn't effort.
*What for? Did you tell him to deck me?*
There was a faintly amused smile on his face now. *That I did not. But I fear I distracted you when you weren’t yet aware of how careful you have to be around children of a certain age.*
*Yeah, well. Still not your fault.* And Tony had known it anyway. Rolling his shoulders to get the last crick out of them he asked: *So, what are you doing now?*
Tuire smiled and nodded towards the direction Tony had been going as well. “I was on my way to the garden.*
Tony blinked. *You like the gardens?* Well, sure, most of the jotnar did, but then Tuire was a scientist and since when did have scientists like art?
A quiet laugh answered him. *Of course I do. They are the most beautiful place of the palace.*
True, even if they had likely entirely different reasons to think so. Tony shook his head. *They are just not what I am used to*, he admitted.
The way Tuire looked at him made it clear that he didn't know what Tony was talking about.
*Er ... on earth, a garden has ... * How did he explain grass to a being who lived all his life on a planet that didn’t have any? *I mean, like, plants that cover the ground? And ... flowers? Which are also plants, to be precise, but these ones are very colorful instead of green and ... I'm not good at explaining this, am I?*
The other only laughed. *I know plants - jotunheimr has rather more of them than you have probably seen, living so far in the north and in the palace on top of that. Just explain to me, and I think we will work out what you mean.*
The grin on his face was infectious, and Tony found himself returning it without a thought.
Tuire, it turned out, was quite good at making him forget about time or duties, or even meeting stupid kings in the evening that might end with him getting a step closer to escape or maybe death, depending entirely on the man's mood. Which was why, when the scientist said his goodbyes, Tony realized with a start that between talking about jotunheimr's flora - which was way more diverse than he had ever thought - and admiring the gardeners working with but a fraction of it he had lost quite a chunk of time.
The good thing about having to hurry with his duties - and earning quite a nagging by Tarja - was that he at least had no time to worry about his play date this evening.
Not that it mattered - as soon as he stood in front of the doors to the royal chambers he found his stomach knotting up in a way that left him hoping he wouldn't vomit right on the king's feet.
There were different guards on duty today, neither of them making a comment when he told them that he was here to see the king, so he was obviously expected. One of them opened the door for him before he had to stretch up to reach the handle, and Tony nodded in thanks before he slipped through.
The formal room looked exactly as he had seen it the day before, right down to the blanket thrown seemingly carelessly over the back of one couch, but when he went on to the real living room he found himself hesitating in the door.
There was someone sitting on the couch directly under the left shelf, holding a book and seemingly quite engrossed in reading. Yet when Tony gathered his courage - he might not actually own this room but he would be damned if he let himself ever be intimidated by something enough to not walk into one as if he did - and stepped further inside the jotun looked up, his sharp eyes trained on him immediately.
He had seen him before, Tony realized. It was that very same jotun he had seen trailing the king so far every time outside this room, the one who had watched over his solitude in the gardens. Taller than most, he remembered, with muscles that strained against the numerous gold bands laying around his upper arms and wrists. There was more gold along the shell of his ear and woven into the singly strand of silver hair falling down on his shoulder.
He wasn't wearing a guard's kilt now. Instead he wore an even shorter cloth of bright red that left Tony's eyes wandering to the edge of it, and then a slight disappointment that no, he couldn't actually see what was under it, curling tight in his stomach.
Swallowing he ripped his eyes from that tantalizing cloth - and really, it was only because so far he hadn't seen one of them naked, far too unsure whether he would invite unwanted attention by sharing a shower with them.
*Hey? I've got a date with High King Loki*, he said, cursing not for the first time that he didn't know enough about their culture to know what he was supposed to do when entering another hobbit cave and happening upon another person than he was seeking.
At least he didn't seem to have done too badly, for the jotun nodded. *He mentioned that you would come by, Anthony Edward. He is waiting for you in his lab.* A quick tilt of his head, a twitch of his mouth. *The second door to the right.*
*Thank you.* Tony bowed a little, too unsure of the other's rank to risk offending him, only to have the other return his bow in quite the same way, before he left.
The hallway leading down to Loki's personal rooms was empty at least, and he followed it down to the door the jotun had said the king would be. Wondering who he was, that he would guard the king in the world outside, yet obviously share his living room the same way Tony did with the jotnar in his perhe.
Not that it mattered now. Because right now he had a play date with a king that would, hopefully, end with him learning more about the science of this planet he had stumbled onto.
He thought about knocking, than decided, screw it . If Loki wanted to keep him out he could very well just use on of the locks Tony was sure these rooms had.
Instead the door started to glow green the instant he touched it, then slid open just the way had gotten used to, revealing a lab that could have very well been his own back home, or maybe one of the labs back at the lab complex. Metal tables, most of them covered in scraps and wires and whatever. Shelves filled up to the brim along the walls. More machines cluttering up the floor that only someone who knew his way through wouldn't stumble.
And there, on one table that seemed to have been cleared in haste if the rubble around it was anything to go by, his own stealth suit.
Tony had taken two steps towards it already before he noticed the jotun sitting on the other table (seriously, what was it with King Loki and him not noticing him? Did he turn himself invisible?) and stopped cold.
"So you are here, Anthony Edward", Loki greeted him with a slight nod. Making Tony realize how he pronounced his name - not like his guard had done, as a name , but more like a challenge . As if to say I know that you lie about this, I just haven't yet found out how, or what you hide.
As far as Tony was concerned he hoped Loki wouldn't ever find out.
"Had nothing better to do so I thought I would drop by", he said as if this very thing hadn't kept him up half the night, wasn't tying his stomach in knots right now. As if his fingers weren't itching to run over the metal lines of his suit.
Loki just chuckled - he had to know that it was a bluff, but he seemed too amused by it to actually call it/play along. "How nice of you. And since you are here - how about you use this chance to explain to me your ... suit."
"It's quite easy, actually", he said and shrugged as if the first Iron Man suit hadn't been built with blood and tears as much as with steel and fire. As if his own dreams of escape - his dreams of protecting those that he loved - weren't hinging on this very same suit.
Finally, finally he reached the table the suit was laid out on, his fingers gliding over the familiar curves. If they had tried to open it at all there were no signs of it, no scratches or deformed metal. His fingers found the button that would open up the suit, would make it fold around his body if he so wanted to, and he thought of just doing that. Of letting the suit encase him and then turning around, shoot the king that had thought to keep him captive. Or hold him hostage, in exchange for free passage from this planet.
The jotnar had some strange ideas, but Loki didn't struck him as an idiot.
Something that Tony, sadly, couldn't always say of himself, too. Though he preferred to call it recklessness, or, better, risk-taking propensity.
"What would you do if I just turned this into a weapon against -?"
He hadn't even finished his sentence when he felt the cold of ice against his neck, the line of a dagger drawn faster than he could speak. There was a presence behind him, a body almost pressing to his own, and the feeling of breath against his ear.
"Ah. I guess that answers that." He took a deep breath when the cold line left his neck.
Loki chuckled behind him. "You are either a fool, or very brave."
"Neither-nor." Tony felt his lips twitch into a wide grin. "Bravery is by far the kindest word for stupidity, don't you think?"
"Ah." It was an exhale more than anything, but Loki was still obviously amused when he came around, his eyes glinting when he asked: "And what is your connection to Sherlock Holmes?"
Tony ... stared. The smurf comment, okay, he could believe that. It wasn't as if they were unobtrusive. But to catch this quote he had to have watched the series!
A smile played around Loki's lips, yet he only gestured towards the suit. "I think you wanted to explain this?"
Shaking his head Tony returned to the present. The king was right; he had revolutionary technique to explain, and wheedle information on how to escape from here out of Loki.
Tony tried to keep his explanations to a bare minimum - he really did. But the king was, as it turned out, not only a sorcerer and regent and probably warrior if Tony remembered his reputation correctly, but also quite knowledgeable when it came to machines. Not on Tony's level, sure, but with the pure range of his knowledge Tony could easily see why his people were calling him a genius. He certainly reminded Tony a lot of himself.
And he was smart enough to connect the hole in the suit with the ARK-reactor yet into Tony’s chest. For a moment, Tony's breath stopped when the king came closer, his finger not-quite resting on it, the shine of the reactor giving his blue skin a ghostly hue. What was he thinking? Had he connected the light to the light that shone out of Iron Man's suit?
But Loki only looked thoughtful. "This is very powerful. A wonder that Asgard let you keep it."
Tony liked Thor, and he was quite hopeful about the Earth-Asgard relationship. But there was one thing he was very sure of: "They try to take my technology, they will learn that no-one messes with me and mine."
By Loki's bloodthirsty smile this was something he approved of very much.
Loki let him drop the subject of the ARK-reactor after that, even though he clearly knew that it was an integral part of the suit’s function. Exhaling in relief when Loki nodded slowly to his claim that it was fucking private, thank you very much, Tony proceeded to give him a more thorough explanation of the suit than he had intended, but as long as he stayed away from the reactor the suit wasn’t much worth to him anyway.
And Loki looked suitably impressed w hen he showed him the boot jets, and the repulsors even got an approving nod.
And Tony ... well, he did like to show off, so yeah? What else was new? Why couldn't he just show the man how beautifully this thing that he had created worked, how it interacted, how he could make metal fly him around? And if the undivided attention and the growing awe in the man's eyes made him explain just a bit mire than he originally wanted to ... well, what was Loki going to do with it? The suit was coded to him, and short of building a new one using all these parts that Tony had carefully omitted there was nothing Loki could do with this.
It was Loki bowing over the suit and touching a part when he had so far refrained from doing so that brought Tony back to the moment. Not that the king noticed, too engrossed in his studying of the - to him - foreign piece of machinery. "Why did you use such a thick cable? It greatly reduces your movement."
"Thinner cable wouldn't withstand the pressure", Tony answered, almost on autopilot, before he shook his head and asked: "Of course, if you do have cable capable of withstanding such pressure I would be more than interested in seeing it. I seem to remember being promised a exchange of knowledge anyway."
Judging by the way Loki blinked at him several times before his mouth quirked up in a somewhat helpless smile the king had been as unaware of the progressing time as he. Yet he simply threw a last glance at the suit before nodding towards Tony. "You are right, of course. Then tell me what you want to know."
Tony hadn't expected to be given such leeway in what to ask about but he quickly recovered. And it wasn't as if he didn't already have something that he desperately wanted to know more about.
"The ... the clear plates, that you use as tablets. Computers, I mean" - though certainly someone who memorized quotes from Sherlock would know that, wouldn't he? - "the ones that -"
"The levy, you mean." Loki nodded. "What about them?"
As if it wasn't completely obvious. "How do they work? I mean, you can literally look right through it, so I don't think there are any chips inside. And that is just in case there even is a clear material that can be used as a chip, but that doesn't work because even if it is clear you would see it, wouldn't you?"
"Not if the whole levy is the same chip."
The whole levy was ...? Tony wasn't sure what face he made, but it had to be quite a sight for Loki to grin the way he did. "Ah, I'm simplifying. Forgive me for forgetting that I'm talking to a master of this very field. Maybe I should ..." Loki turned around, then went through one of the piles on the table behind him before returning with a levy in his hands, handing it over to Tony.
It was ... lighter than he would have expected. Clearly not glass, though he wasn't sure he had ever seen plastic like this before. The edges were strong and hard, just like glass, and the way it refracted the light was more like glass as well.
Looking up at the king he found him mustering him with a strange kind of smile.
"We call the material kide. It is ... ah ... it us a kind of-"
The knock from the door cut him off, and when they both looked over Tony could see the small dark stature of a jotun adolescent. Before either of them could say anything further the kid - adolescent, really; he was almost a head taller than them - put his hand to the door which glowed just like it had with Tony before sliding aside.
Very unlike Tony the kid wasn't bothering with a greeting, but then he was also wearing a strange kind of tunic that covered half his body completely, with a glove hiding that arm as well, setting him apart from the servants though not giving any explanation as to what he was.
*Loki, do you have any idea what time it is? You have a meeting with the council tomorrow, about-*
*The trading treaty, I remember. Thank you, Hela.* Loki sounded quite defeated and when Tony looked over he saw him try and hide a tired expression. Weariness turned lines that had spoken of excitement only a moment before into wrinkles, and Tony had to admit that if this was an act, then it was a good one.
Not that this stopped the disappointment in his chest from growing. For surely, Loki would use this as an effective way to get rid of him, leaving him without lab access or any new information.
Yet when Loki looked over to him all he could see was honest regret edged into his face. "I fear we will have to cut this short here. But I would like to keep my part of the exchange." A short, thoughtful frown, then: *I think I should have the evening free tomorrow, if you are willing to come over again?*
If he was willing? *Try keeping me out*, he grinned.
The boy - Hela? - twitched in surprise, but Loki only smirked. *You are lucky that I don't take that as a challenge.*
Hah. Those walls around them might be impenetrable ice and stone, but the guards were not and Tony had every confidence in getting past them if he really wanted to. Which probably showed on his face, for Loki's eyes narrowed and he looked at him as if he had just detected a new side at a known specimen.
Now that was an expression Tony didn't often see pointed towards himself, yet he did make a point of toning down the challenge. He didn't actually want to go up against the guards now - he might end up doing so at one point, and it was better if they weren't forewarned about it.
So he just bowed in goodbye and saw Loki nod to him in response, the boy a wide-eyed statue next to him, before he left the royal chambers. Tomorrow promised to have an interesting evening.
He tried to be there the next evening at roughly the same time, but it seemed then someone had managed to spill oil all over the entry hallways, meaning they had to all go up and sweep the floors, again, at an hour when most of the servants living in the city were already gone. At least Vilppu had the grace to look ashamed and thank everyone for helping him (not that they could have done differently; if anyone had passed these hallways while they were still slippery they might have fallen and native to an ice planet or not, even jotnar could crack their bones).
As it was they were just packing up when a familiar boy came down the hallway, looking at Tony as if he couldn't believe what he was seeing (and Tony might have felt a bit self-conscious about the sweat making his kilt stick to his legs and the spots on his skin were Vilppu had decided he would look funny if he put oil on but he had given press conferences while wearing dark oil smudges on his forehead like a badge of honor and he simply refused to be intimidated by a kid that was ... okay, probably not half age - mental note, ask Vilppu about jotnar's ages - but certainly not considered an adult by his own race).
*Anthony?*, he said. Well, asked, rather, as if he wasn't sure whether there were any other humans in the palace. Or at least hoped there were other humans out here so he didn't have to be seen talking to Tony any further. Really, he was just as pompous an ass as Justin Hammer - though maybe less of an idiot; Tony hadn't seen quite enough of him yet to judge - which was funny because so far Tony hadn't met any jotnar of the nose-up-in-the-air type despite having had to talk to some of the important advisors of the court.
It wasn't getting better when he caught Vilppu's look of complete bafflement out of the corner of his eye. At least it seemed his friend was as blind-sided by this as he.
Anyway, at least his memory had scrunched up a name to this face and the tunic that, again, covered up the whole left side of his body, so he just inclined his head and tried to keep the grin off his lips. *Yeah. How can I help you ... Hela?*
The boy started sputtering, his eyes as wide as plates, and Vilppu seemed caught between horror and amusement from where he was bracing himself against the wall on Tony's right. The rest of their group, Tony noticed, had gone quiet, but he could feel the amusement coming from them in waves.
The reason for that became obvious when the boy finally got his tongue to behave and spat out: *It's Prince Hela, of Latsokip.*
*Yeah, and?* So maybe Tony shouldn't taunt the insane, but he had never liked people who spoke to him as if he was inferior. Loki, at least, stayed down on earth while judging you.
Which made him wonder what the kid was doing here. He couldn't be part of Loki's family, was he? So far everything he had heard about Loki - and Byleistr, the brother he hadn't met yet - said he was as down to earth as he had appeared to Tony so far, and this little prick definitely wasn't.
Nor was he used to be spoken to the way Tony had done, it seemed, for his lines went white in shock before he visibly collected himself and actually stuck his nose high in the air. *High King Loki was inquiring about what took you so long.*
*Cleaning up this mess*, Tony answered, because wasn't this obvious? Anyway, before the kid could really shit his fancy tunic he rolled his eyes and, giving the broom a little shake, went on: *Let me just clean up and then I'll come down.* He had been looking forward to this meeting after all.
The kid looked at the broom in his hands with an expression as if it was a foreign object - and even ten-year-old-Tony had known what a broom was for, so how had this kid grown up? - before he nodded. *Cleaning up seems to be a good idea*, he commented, taking it entirely the wrong way, before turning on his heel and marching down the corridor. Leaving Tony staring after him half-wishing they had somehow overlooked a spot of oil that would send him sprawling down.
It was Vilppu who came up to him after a moment. *Did you just ... completely fail to show Hela respect?*
Sudden unease curled through Tony. *Is this going to be a problem?*
His friend snorted and he heard some of the other jotnar chuckle around him. *Hela definitely deserves to be taken down a notch*, Vilppu offered.
One of the others, who Tony knew was Taisto's sire even though he didn't know his name, commented: *The kid's father died when Thor came to jotunheimr and attacked High King Laufey. Loki has taken him in, but after his loss no-one actually did something against his spoiled attitude.*
Which was the closest to any complaint about Loki that Tony had heard so far, and if that wasn't impressive for a king than he didn't know what was.
Anyway, he had a science date that he had been looking forward to all day, so he thrust his broom into Vilppu's arms. *Looks like his Impatientness wants me down asap. Could you -*
*Sure*, his friend nodded, before his expression turned shrewd. *And when you come back you are going to tell me what King Loki wants with you.*
Oh. Yeah, he hadn't told anyone about this, had he? Rolling his eyes he nodded, then said his goodbyes to the other jotnar, most of whom seemed still amused as fuck both by Hela playing fetch and Loki wanting to meet him, then took off down towards the royal chambers.
The hallways almost felt familiar already and when he turned up at the last door he saw one of the guards look at him in such surprise that he had to see him come in - or out, maybe; he hadn't been paying much attention who was in guard when he left yesterday - before. At least it meant that he was let in without a fuss, and found himself less than a minute later standing in the door of the lab.
Loki was looking up at him, for once not hidden by magic or convenient shadows, and he looked every bit as High Impatientness as he could which had Tony to bite down on his lips, hard, to suppress a smile (he didn't fear Loki going angry at him for being late or just him being here anymore - which was curious in itself - but he didn't want to push him by showing too openly just how amused he was by the display).
"You are late", he said.
Keeping his eye roll to himself Tony walked further in. "There was an accident down in the entryway and we had to clean up. Or would you have preferred people slipping by the dozens when they use the corridors?"
"Oh." Loki's posture softened, as if he had expected Tony to forget about their meeting, or maybe come late just to piss him off. Which, yeah, Tony was prone to, but not when it came to his only chance of science on this whole fucking planet.
Coming closer Loki put a hand next to where Tony's suit was laid out, still. "If it is too late for you we can meet again at another day", he offered.
Which, well. Tony had wanted to test his theory anyway but this was a bait he couldn’t have not taken anyway. Grinning he quoted one of Howard's favorite sayings: "Whoever thinks of going to bed before twelve o'clock is a scoundrel."
Loki blinked, surprised, before that smirk that was becoming way too familiar to Tony, too, spread slowly over his face. "If you start in on poets with me I would have expected you to use someone with more class."
Well, yeah. Tony was officially freaked out now. After all, the only reason he knew that quote - and who it was from - because he had looked it up after his father's death, trying to find a perfect quote for his tombstone (without Obie's intervention he would have used that quote with all the sarcasm it implied about Howard just not trying hard enough to stay alive. On most days he still hated Obie for it).
Yet he really didn't want the king to know any of this so he made sure to past his media smile on and said: "I was considering Shakespeare 'It was the nightingale and not the lark', but then I couldn't decide whether it was more referring to your impatience or the little peachick."
Loki closed his eyes, looking rather defeated. "Hela." A sigh. "What did he do now?"
That ... wasn't what Tony had intended. "Nothing", he answered truthfully because being a snob and an ass still wasn't enough to get him in trouble with what seemed to be his warden.
Yet Loki only looked at him out of way too intelligent eyes. " Nothing doesn't have half of my palace watching him with annoyance and trepidation." Tony opened his mouth to say something - not sure what but he was confident his tongue would find some words to twist around - yet Loki only raised his hand to silence him. "Don't. You have made your point about my ward, as unintentional as it might have been. He is spoiled rotten and so far I have failed him and his sire both in knocking him from his high horse, which is my problem and shall not interfere in this our time together."
This was definitely one of the best ways Tony had ever heard someone declare a topic closed but since this really wasn't his place to discuss nor even something he would want to he only nodded and followed Loki over to another, almost empty table.
"You were asking about the levy", Loki started while picking up the - well, levy.
It still looked like a glass plate to Tony, especially since it was about the same size as a jotun's palm, making it easily big enough to be a tablet for Tony and Loki both.
But he wasn't here to complain about the name of the thing. "I still don't get how it works", he said. "I mean, we use tablets, too, okay? You know, little-"
"Computers, yes. I've been to earth." Loki looked rather amused by his rambling.
Rolling his eyes Tony barely stopped himself from shoving the jerk. "Yeah, well, tablets work because they are computers which means there is a hard drive in it and chips and stuff and that means metal and cables and - nothing that is transparent!" At least not to the point that it was absolutely completely clear.
Loki grinned and picked the levy up, held it out for Tony to see. "We use kide. Which is, before you you ask," Tony glared at him, earning another smirk. "An artificial chemical compound that it both conductive and completely transparent. It is also very durable so we use it for the doors, too."
Tony couldn't help but look back at the door. That ... hadn't even occurred to him yet, but it explained that. "Chemical compound?"
Loki chuckled, yet when Tony turned back to him he only shook his head. "I shouldn't have doubted that you build it yourself", he said before he put a finger on the clear surface of the levy so it came active with a dim green light.
Frowning Tony tried to keep his mind on track of their conversation long enough to not pick the thing up and take it apart because he just needed to know where the fucking light came from and how did they program it and fuck, if Loki wasn't going faster he was going to find it out himself. "Build what myself? The suit?"
"Yes. I thought ... earth didn't seem so different to many other realms, were someone who learns and builds rarely uses what they made."
That caught Tony's attention, if only because it was too true, sadly. "There are exceptions to everything", he said and he could almost feel the weight of the many humans that had researched and discovered new ways to help people, only to have their discovery being taken out of their hands and used to kill.
There was a reason he kept the secrets of the suits to himself.
Maybe Loki picked up on it for he send him an odd look before inclining his head, agreeing.
Trying to get them off the strange mood Tony reached for the levy. It was cold against his skin, which was surprising - not much really felt cold anymore. There was also a strange hum, like electricity, and the light changed. Symbols appeared on the surface of the disc that he couldn't read and he cursed Vilppu again for not being so slow in teaching him their script - he wanted to read this, wanted to be able to dissect and understand and use and improve it, and he needed to know what it meant, first.
"So, what do you want to know first?", Loki asked.
And maybe it was the strange mood that overcome him, or the fact that he hadn't seen the inside of a lab for more than a week now, but Tony couldn't help himself when he looked up at the king. "Everything", he breathed.
By the way Loki's eyes started to glow he wasn't against this at all.
Tony had no idea how late he had left the king's chambers but it was definitely late enough that he hadn't seen anyone on the way back, and even Vilppu and Sipi who were notoriously known for staying up far too long had vacated the living room. Judging by the way his head was still filled with cotton when Vilppu woke him up the next morning to grill him about his evening with the king it might even be more early than late; he normally didn't have a problem with little sleep.
Yet not even a lack of sleep could prevent his thoughts from running a few hundred miles per hour.
What Loki had shown him was little more than a beginning into their science, Tony was sure of it. Yet what the jotun hadn't realized was that Tony was a genius, his mind easily flipping between what he had learned and observed to come to entirely different conclusions.
Loki might have only explained how the levy worked, but his careless mention of the kide being used for the doors as well meant that most of the doors in this palace were being controlled by software - software that he had seen just enough of to get the basics. And he wouldn't be Tony Stark, earth's best engineer, if he couldn't extrapolate from there to actually understand the rest of the programs, too. Of course, it would take time - things like this always did, especially since he had to first learn more if their script and hide what he was doing - but in the end it would give him access to almost every room in this whole palace.
Including the store rooms where he was bound to find something that he could use to escape from the planet.
Which meant ...
He still had the whole math of Jane's and his work for the portal memorized, including the coordinates for where he had started and where he was now. Of course, with the expansion of the universe and the therefore ever getting wider gap between jotunheimr and earth not to mention the movements of both planets around their respective sun that had to be added in - a movement that he could calculate only once he got someone to translate time for him; one jotunheimr day being a little longer than an earth day was by far not exact enough for the kind of math he had to do here.
That he had to do it all in his head wasn't making matters easier but at least this way no-one knew what he was working on. Even if it meant he was looking into space like an idiot for long enough that Vilppu noticed which meant horrible teasing.
Anyway, he had actually managed to turn most of the equations around - and gotten someone to do the math about the days; it seemed a day here was exact 1 day 9 hours 46 minutes on an earth day which meant that he was now missing 3 weeks 2 days 4 hours and a bit which he wasn't thinking about because if he did he would just remember Pepper's face again from when she had picked him up, back then after Afghanistan - when live in the palace suddenly ... changed.
It wasn't obvious at once. Sure, he had heard the excited talk about Byleistr coming back from his trip out in the wild to deal with some off-planet smugglers - and Tony still wasn't sure who would be insane enough to put up their smuggling base on jotunheimr of all planets though that might have been exactly why - and with him a hood chunk of the warriors and some of the servants that one obviously needed to go campaigning. But he hadn't understood what it meant until he saw the increase of bald jotnar roaming the hallways, looking down at him oddly as if he was a little dog that had gone lost here and needed to go home. Really, without the other's intervention he would have been send out more than once and did he hate that shit.
No, really, he was sort of relieved when it got late enough for everyone to retire, which meant that even the new arrivals went back into the barracks - or whatever they called the community houses of warriors set on the west side of the palace - and he could get out from under the fucking intrusive looks of people who just didn't know how to keep to themselves.
(Really, he didn't remember it being so jarring when he first turned up here, but then he hadn't been feeling as if this was sort of his home back then.)
Of course, because fate didn't deign to give him a rest, he stumbled into some stranger right outside their fucking door.
Tony blinked, twice, before his mind disentangled itself from the mysteries of space jumps enough to actually process what he was seeing. The guy standing in front of him was definitely a jotun, what with his blue skin and lines and kilt and all. He was also definitely one of the servants - Tony had gotten used to those damn green shade by now - so it was entirely possible that he belonged in here, too, and had only just returned with the warriors (because those guys could cook as good as Tony - namely, heat deep-fried Pizza in a microwave that they had no access to out on the ice - and needed someone else to do it for them).
He was also about as tall as Tony which stumped him quite a lot before he dredged up that memory of Vilppu telling him of sorcerers being small.
*Hi?*, he tried.
The man wasn't looking any friendlier. *What are you doing here?*
Of course, there had to be someone in his size who also shared living quarters with him, and he had to be one of the 'Why didn't the king kill him'-guys.
Rolling his eyes he took a step forward, then favored him with his most arrogant glare when he didn't budged. "I got lost on your planet and King Loki decided he preferred to keep me around to ogle at his leisure" well, not exactly but he was sure it would piss this guy off and after the day of being watched like an attraction he really needed to vent his anger in some way.
By the way his eyes went wide the jotun was more confused than angry, though the way his lines turned slowly dark indicated that he was recovering.
Not that Tony was quite finished. *I live here*, he declared, ignoring how his subconscious always demanded that he didn't when someone else told him so. *So - what are you doing here?* Fuck him if he thought he could bully Tony around.
A silvery light started to buzz around the jotun's fist and it might have been intended to be a threat but Tony refused to react. Baring his teeth in a wide dazzling smile he dared the other to come at him.
The light went out and the stranger did a fair imitation of Hela's looking-down-my-nose-pose. *I guess someone had to get a pet for the home at one time.*
Pet. Tony felt himself blink, then that strange sensation when your gut couldn't quite decide whether to be angry or laugh out loud. He settled on grinning eventually, even if only because it was bound to piss the other off. *And it is so nice to see that it finally arrived.*
They stared at each other for a long moment and Tony could see the moment when the stranger decided he had had enough, yet before he could act on this decision suddenly the door slid open behind them and Vilppu burst out, hugging both the strange sorcerer and Tony in one go. *Risto, you're back! And you already met my new friend Tony!*
Being hugged by someone whose chest you barely reached and who was easily strong enough to hold you down as long as you weren't willing to actually hurt him meant that Tony suddenly found himself pressed against his friend's chest, barely a foot away from the asshole that had just equaled him to a dog.
Their eyes met over the distance and Tony could almost see the sparks coming off.
*Tony, this is Risto, my brother. Risto, Tony. You are going to be awesome friends, believe me!*
Going by the disbelieving look on Risto's face, he thought this as likely as Tony.
Contrary to what either of them expected Vilppu turned out to be not entirely wrong. Not that they would ever be best friends or Tony would ever tease him as easily as he did Vilppu over his hair (that had a new color every few days; it was currently a gleaming deep black with red strands that let the gold beads in it shine like stars) or his choices for breakfast (he never drank kahvi. Never. Tony wasn’t sure how he could even be friends with such a person. Even Bruce drank green tea). But they both liked Vilppu and being civil to each other wasn’t that hard when it brought a smile to his friend’s face.
And there was one thing that he shared with Risto that Vilppu would never get.
It was when he was trying to get something out of one of the cupboards that had been mounted with the size of a regular jotun in mind when the cup he had been trying to reach for suddenly floated down, right into his waiting hand.
Turning around he saw Risto standing behind him, a strange expression on his face.
"It isn't always easy to live in a world that's not always the right size for you, don't you think so?", Risto commented and Tony could see the silver light dancing around his hands, dying off under his eyes. And then Risto looked up and somehow there was this understanding in them.
So, yeah, he and Risto bonded over being the only adults not obscenely tall in their community. It could have been worse.
It was good that he had someone else to improve his free time with because nothing else worked out the way he had hoped. He had - in his free time and as secretly as possible in a palace where everyone recognized him on sight alone - explored the palace, his new knowledge of its working - especially the working of its doors - giving him a freedom he hadn't ever dreamed of.
Not that that had been easy. The first time he found a door in a rarely used corridor to try to manipulate the software of he had almost wrecked everything. And yes, he meant everything - he could have forgone learning that all the doors were connected to the same security system, meaning that ineffectively manipulating one and therefore triggering security would have send alarms right through the whole building, possibly the whole city, and activated certain security programs that would have secured/caged him in his little corner of the palace until someone turned up to set him free and also probably bring him to Loki to kill.
The only reason he came out of this alive was because he was awesome and also dumb luck at realizing this just a second before he couldn't tap out of the system anymore, so it wasn't a complete failure at least.
On his second try he was a lot more careful, especially in regards to whether he had a way to escape that wasn't only doors - not easy but there was a rather secluded door leading into the gardens and there weren't that many people using them late in the evening, for obvious reasons, so it was mostly safe - and it didn't take him long to find a way to access most of the palace via any door he found. Which would have been way easier if he didn't have to type in the same sequence every time he did so but for all they were so good at telling him that they trusted him there was a suspicious lack of abandoned levys lying around whenever he wandered past.
Anyway, cracking their security - which was good, especially for a society that didn't seem to know the meaning of willful trespassing - meant he could open every door that wasn't also guarded by one of the palace guards.
Dumb was just that, after entering every single storage room and every hidden nook, Tony had to admit that while he could find most of the parts he needed for a new portal he still lacked the tools to actually create one, or the power to make it work.
He needed a lab for that. And there was no lab in the whole palace that he could access, and even if there was one in the city there was no way he could get his materials there unseen, nor would he be able to get there often enough without raising suspicion.
Which meant that there was really only one lab he could have access too. If he managed to somehow get Loki to let him in again.
Which, yeah, fucking unlikely. But then so was escaping from a group of terrorists in the middle of a desert, or taking out a whole alien army by himself.
He didn't believe in impossible, and he definitely wouldn't let himself be stopped by unlikely.
First he needed a reason for Loki to let him back into the lab, which wasn't quite as difficult to find as one would think. Not with the picture his memory showed him of Loki not-quite-touching the ARK-reactor, the reverent way he said "I'm surprised Asgard let you keep it" . There was a history here - and thinking back of what Thor had told them of the aesir making sure that no jotun would ever invade Midgard he had more than a hint as to what this was about.
And Tony had made sure to keep all but the most vague explanations on how the reactor worked to himself. Which meant that his paranoia might offer him a new chance, here.
Of course, it also meant that he had to trust the king of a realm that had already invaded earth once with his most guarded secret, but then he would just have to cross that bridge when it came to that.
His second problem was making sure that Loki didn't suspect a thing, which was, well ... once he thought about it he almost brained himself for being dumb enough to think this would be a problem. He just needed a way to distract him from his real goal and if he really were the nerdy loner that he had presented himself to be, what would he want in exchange for his most precious knowledge?
Which was how he found himself in front of the royal chambers, again, one evening after all his work was done, wearing what alluded to be his best kilt - it was freshly washed - and trying not to show his nerves.
As far as he knew - which meant, as far as the gossip went that seemed to be the one thing most of the servants needed as much as food and air - the day had been a calm one so Loki should hopefully be in a good mood. A careful survey of the gardens had made sure that he wasn't there, reading or whatever, so chances were good that he was in and might be willing to talk to Tony.
Of course, he could also screw up every chance he ever had of getting him to talk by ignoring every single rule that forbid citizens to just seek out the king but then Tony had never been much for playing by the rules.
Also, with the way Loki had looked so fucking amused that time Tony had actually threatened him he was almost sure that he would invite him in just for shit and giggles.
The two guards on duty didn't look familiar so he probably couldn't count on them being lenient. On the other hand, at least they also didn't look like he had just crawled out from under their shoes which was definitely a step avoided.
*Hey*, he started, which had one of them raising what would be an eyebrow if he hadn't shaved it off while the other continued to look at him rather unimpressed. Not that Tony would ever let himself be intimidated by such a display. *So, the High King said I should come by if I ever wanted to talk about the reactor and I thought I might be willing to. Is he in or should I come back later?*
That should enough to get the idea across, yes? At least if he could convince the guards that this invitation actually existed and that they should let him in. Or at least ask Loki about letting him in; he was, after all, willing to bet his chance of escape on the king being curious enough to actually offer said invitation.
The unimpressed guard looked at him as if he was an imbecile. *You might consider setting up a date with King Loki when he hasn't already retired to his rooms.*
Which, yeah, he had a point there, but ... *Have you ever seen him walk around the palace? The only way to get through his entourage to actually talk to him is to accidentally appear on this planet, and I have already done that, once. Don't think he's going to believe the accidentally part a second time.*
The guard looked as if he couldn't believe he had heard right while the other tried to hide a grin behind a snort - not that it worked, and his colleague gave him the stinkeye for it.
When he turned back to Tony he looked rather more annoyed, though still a far cry from where Tony would have feared for his safety.
Though he would probably have thought differently about it without, you know, living with the guys for two weeks now.
*I will ask the High King*, he growled at last, his mere tone suggesting that Tony had better spoken the truth or else.
Tony gifted him with a beatific smile.
When the door closed behind him the other guard looked over to him. *You really sure that the king invited you? Because otherwise it would be better to run now - Verna can get really angry about pranks, but he'll calm down in a few days.*
Tony raised his own eyebrow. *You people run around playing pranks on your king often?"*
The guard grinned. *Stay around and you'll find out.*
Which, well. It almost made Tony want to find out. If not for, you know, his family back on earth.
The door opened again, with enough force that Tony thought Loki hadn't taken his bait and he would now be subject to the anger of a jotun that he really couldn't take on without his suit. For a long long moment he froze under the look of unbridled fury the guard send him before jerking his head to the still open door. *He is waiting for you.*
Well. Let it never be said that Tony couldn't swindle himself into even the most holy of secret lairs.
Indicating a shallow bow full of glee and sarcasm towards the guard, then offering an equally jovial though much more sincere salute to the other, he stepped into the receiving room - still as formally dead as always - and further into the living room.
Somehow it had never occurred to him that he might find Loki there, actually relaxing if one could call reading what seemed to be at a cursory glance a text heavy with diagrams and charts relaxing. Nor had he accounted for him to be joint by what seemed to be his favorite guard, Tuire, another guard and another jotun who was sitting in the former guard's lap and quite obviously not intending to let himself be disturbed in his making out just because Tony had come in.
Which he didn't mind, actually. He had been caught on video doing worse than doing tonsil-hockey and some serious petting so he really couldn't complain here.
It still left him not knowing how exactly to react - and he really really needed Vilppu to tell him how to greet people upon entering another hobbit den - so he defaulted to what had served him alright so far.
That got the not-guard jotun to actually look over at him with a rather disbelieving look while the more familiar of the guards snorted and Loki hid a grin behind the levy in his hands. Tuire, at least, just looked amused.
*When you said that you let him stay I wasn't aware that you meant you let him stay here *, the strange jotun said.
Now that he was leaning back to talk to Loki Tony could see the thick gold bands encircling his upper arms, with two more sets around his wrists. There was more gold around his neck and in his ear and Tony might not gave been on jotunheimr for long but together with the carefully shaved scalp it wasn't hard to figure out that not only was he a warrior, but a rather high positioned one. A general, maybe? Or whatever the jotnar had instead. It would certainly explain why he was here in the royal chambers.
Loki let the levy sink down in his lap and, not taking his eyes off Tony, answered: *I fear we haven't quite domesticated our little human yet, brother.*
Brother . Yeah, well. That was another possible explanation. And it might explain why he was so disgruntled with Tony's absolute lack of respect. Oops.
Offering a apologizing grin towards said brother he said: *Sorry, but no-one actually got around to teach me how to greet members of the royal family. Bowing?* The last was said to Loki, who grinned so wide Tony almost feared he might end up hurting himself while both the guard and Tuire - and why the fuck was Tuire even here? - stifled laughs. Which, yeah, quite impressive when the ones in question were big enough and muscled enough to be statues of Greek heroes. Just in blue, you know?
Anyway, at Loki's eventual nod Tony bowed as deep as he could while still staying on his feet - which was further than most people would believe thanks to trying to out-bow his Japanese branch manager and doing yoga with Bruce (surprising people in bed with his agility made the sweat and pain and unholy early hours so so worth it). *Thank you for receiving me at this late hour, your majesty, prince Byleistr.*
When he straightened again Byleistr had thrown his arm over his eyes while Tuire had given up any pretense of not laughing.
*Keep him if you must, brother*, Byleistr said from under his cover. *Just keep him away from me.*
This actually startled a laugh out of Loki, a sound much sweeter than Tony would have anticipated, but he recovered fast and then rolled to his feet. *Of course, Byla.* Turning to Tony he nodded towards the door leading down his own corridor. "If you would?"
Tony nodded, then bowed again in goodbye, more shallow this time, and received nods by both guards and Tuire in turn while Byleistr still hadn't changed from his melodramatic pose. Grinning he followed Loki down the corridor.
Not surprisingly they went down to the lab, where Loki opened the door with a touch of his hand, then waved him into the room before closing the door behind him again. Tony had only a quick chance to see that nothing much had changed, even his suit still lying undisturbed where he had left it, before Loki said from behind him: "Since I do not remember inviting you back I would guess you have a very good reason to chance angering me."
Which, okay. His voice was definitely not as amused as Tony had expected but he had let him in and he didn't sound angry. Tony could work with that.
Turning around to see the king leaning against the door he tried for a grin. "Well, you seemed like you were interested in the reactor so I thought you might like to know more about it."
Loki didn't say something about him having learned everything about it already which was more relieving than Tony had thought - he had feared that, with being as much of a genius as he supposedly was, Loki had already figured out what Tony had tried to hide from him but maybe luck was on his side this time. Instead he studied him for a long moment before narrowing his eyes. "I will not give you back the suit."
"What?" Tony blinked, startled, before he realized - Loki knew that there was something he was after. And he thought it was the suit - thought the reactor's secret was worthy of getting back the suit. Which meant he had to sell his story well or the king simply wouldn't buy it. Good, then, that Tony was the best bullshitter of the whole damn planet.
"I don't ... I don't want the suit. I mean, sure, I wouldn't say no, but ... that's not what I am after." He looked up, not quite surprised when Loki still looked far from convinced. This wasn't working, not like this, not without him actually baring more from himself than he wanted to. Trying to show his earnestness he bit his lip before continuing. "I ... look, I'm ... when I was three I build my first proto computer. It was shit but it was more than most people can do, you know? And - people came to me and asked how I did it and I would just tell them that ... there are numbers in my mind, you know? Numbers and schemata and plans and sometimes all I can do is go down in my workshop and let them out until my head is free again. And ... that's how it's been for me my whole damn life. I can't - I don't know how to do anything else and now I'm here and I'm trying to be good, I really am, but ... there are these ideas, and all this, this science that you have here, know here, and it's like I just have to reach out and grab it and I could do wonders but I can't and it's making me ... it's like I'm going insane and I know you don't trust me, I wouldn't trust myself, but if I can't get this out then I don't know what I'm going to do."
His eyes had somehow dragged themselves up from the floor to Loki's face and he could see that blank expression that hid something. Disbelief probably that he had let someone like Tony alive with all his insanity and the lack or reverence and ... fuck, what had he done, vomiting this amount of bullshit (truth) all over Loki's nice lab floor? He was going to kill him or at least send him away, somewhere where he couldn't bother him again and where he wouldn't have access to a lab ever again.
Somewhere where he would go insane.
Because, under all his worries about his life and how to escape and the normal things he had to do and think about here every day ... he hadn't lied. There were all these plans, all these programs that he could use to improve the suit based on what little he had learned from Loki and what he had seen in those programs that operated the doors and ... he went to bed every night with his fingers itching to apply those programs and his head telling himself that he couldn't and it was. Driving. Him. Insane .
He looked away, his eyes squeezed shut, and swallowed before saying: "Sorry, that's ... didn't want to throw this out like that." His voice was hoarse but he would probably think that it was embarrassment - people rarely ever picked up on his mood anyway.
A gentle touch on his arm surprised him out of his thinking and he jerked away before he realized that it was the king. Wasn't sure he shouldn't have jumped further when he realized it.
There was a strange emotion displayed on the jotun's face and Tony needed a moment to recognize it as empathy.
Not pity, not sympathy. Not like the face of someone who heard him speak of numbers in his mind and thought insanity, thought he had lost his mind.
Instead this was as if Loki, too, had something in his mind that drove him, drove him to do things, change things, invent them for if he didn't that same thing that drove him onwards would drive him insane.
"Knowledge of an energy source great enough to draw Asgard's envy, in exchange for the knowledge jotunheimr has to offer." He raised an eyebrow and it took Tony a moment to realize that he was offered a bargain beyond anything he had expected. All the knowledge of jotunheimr? All the knowledge?
"Why?" There had to be a catch, a trap or -
"You will not leave jotunheimr", the king said, his voice low but so steady he might as well have stated a unshakable truth. "And jotunheimr is not a planet that allows second-best. If you are a scientist, an inventor, than naturally you will contribute best by being a scientist. And this means you have to be allowed to learn."
Tony stared at him. "Are you not afraid that I just take everything you teach me and then run?"
Loki only leaned back and looked at him, and Tony wondered what he meant - that Tony wouldn't have access to the materials to build a portal? That he of course wouldn't teach him what he needed to know to run (which would be dumb because he had managed to come here just fine and Loki didn't strike him as dumb do what the fuck was going on?)?
Tony had always been good at keeping his thoughts from his face, but right now his confusion was too much - or maybe he was just unlearning that habit because aliens - for Loki explained: "I don't know how the portal that you used to come here was constructed but I would bet that you need tools to build it." Tony kept very very still so as to not give away that yes, this was why he was here. "So I think you will only ever have access to this lab, and only while I'm here."
Loki had eyes like a shark, searching for the tiniest weakness. It took all Tony had to countered his gaze with a blankness that was only just not an admission of guilt, and even then he had to hope that Loki would take it as, well ... everything but what it was would be good. If he really thought that Tony's sole reason for being here, offering what he did, only on the chance to escape ... he couldn't go back to not even having the hope to create. Could feel the hopelessness of that future crush down on him like the heavy weight of those red eyes that were staring right into his own.
When he finally turned Tony felt his legs grow weak and he had to subtly steady himself against the table behind him to keep from loosing his feet.
Loki, meanwhile, was strolling deeper into the lab, a careless shrug accompanying a rather lightly voiced: "Another lab wouldn't have much use to you anyway - there aren't much of us who are interested in mechanics."
Another shrug. "jotnar born with the ability to do magic. Smaller jotnar."
Oh. Well, he certainly hadn't thought of that. "Why aren't they - aren't you?"
A snort and there was something bitter in it for the first time. "Because if you are born to do magic, to learn and manipulate the universe - why wouldn't you?"
That ... hadn't occurred to Tony yet. The only small jotun beside Loki that he knew was Risto and while he used magic he had made it very clear what he thought of sitting in a room all day, nose buried in his levy and trying to figure out what someone had tried to say back in the old times. But if that was actually an unpopular opinion ... well, maybe Tony was lucky that Loki liked science beyond just giving him an in to the other.
Something else occurred to him. "What do you need the ARK-reactor for?" Because he was an Avenger, a protector if earth, and he wouldn't give an energy source like the ARK-reactor - a potential weapon for mass destruction - to a people that had invaded earth before without at least a question as to what they would do with it.
By the way Loki returned his gaze he knew exactly what Tony was asking, and his next words confirmed that. "Not attacking someone", he said, his tone wry even though there was something like anger burning in his red eyes. "Even if I were dumb enough to try something like this - there are few planets that could actually sustain creatures that need temperatures like us to survive."
Oh. Well. But -
"We need it for the outer research stations, the ones that we use to observe the thawing and to pump water to the surface." A smile that was almost bitter, as if he remembered something he didn't want to share with Tony. "What we use for the cities and labs is more powerful than the ... ARK-reactor, but it is also more dependent on the sun. We can store the energy, but ... well. Too much energy to store, the unpredictability of snow storms, the hardware needed to control it from afar ... let's just say that while we can produce more power than this" he nodded to the suit, the reactor, "your reactor is much more suited to what we need for them."
More power. Depending on the sun? Tony could feel his mind racing while he tried to fit the puzzle pieces into a picture that looked sound.
Solar energy wasn't as powerful as the ARK-reactor. Back on earth. Here however ...
But the king was still looking expectant at him and he realized that they were negotiating the price for jotunheimr's scientific knowledge. Shaking his thoughts off he focused back on the king. "Okay", he said.
A smile appeared on Loki's lips. "It's a pleasure to do business with you, Tony."
Tony had had no idea what to expect from working with Loki but it certainly wasn't this . He still had to spend most of the days working under Tarja's sharp eye, but his evenings he increasingly often spend with Loki. He came to know the guards at the royal chambers who by now only waved him through. The few times he ran into Byleistr the prince threw him disgusted looks - he made it a point to bow as deep as possible whenever that happened though it only seemed to make matters worse. (Which might have been a reason he kept doing it). Not that it seemed to be as bad as he thought; when he asked Loki about it he doubled over laughing.
Maybe it was this that made the evenings with the king - with Loki - so much better than he had expected in even his best dreams: aside from his knowledge and his quick wit Loki hid a humor that matched Tony's in a way that was almost creepy. No wonder the guard had thought Tony was trying to trick his way into the lab; what he experienced let someone tricking the prince seem like child's play.
There was that day when Tony turned up, only to find Loki sitting on his desk, wearing nothing but his jewelry and his trademark smirk (and Tony was just happy that he was used to seeing beautiful persons around because fuck, Loki was gorgeous). Another day, when a strange kind of plant had seemingly taken over all of the lab and it took Tony going at it with a Bunsen burner for Loki to let the illusion go, falling over backwards and holding his sides (and Tony threatening to use the burner on him had only made him laugh harder).
His worst prank had been the thing with the energy source that he had told Tony about and which he told him was an actual plant. Since the energy charts that he showed him were unusual enough to confuse even a genius it had taken Tony four evenings to realize that Loki was having him on, at which point he started to retaliate.
And really, Loki's face when he activated the suit from a distance, then grabbed for Loki and jerked him behind cover while gasping: "You activated the self destruction sequence" was only surpassed by the expression of pure betrayal when Tony couldn't hold onto it any more and fell down laughing. It came complete with blazing red eyes and Loki straightening up to his full size (which might have been rather impressive if Tony wasn't used to normal jotun size by now). Anyway, the whole effect was quite impressive and frightening.
It only made Tony laugh harder.
At least Loki was good sport when it came to being pranked. Once he'd gotten over his indignation he had joined Tony on the floor, and when Lokis favorite guard turned up to look after them this was how he found them (He had ended up throwing a sharp look at them, then shaking his head and holding his hand up, proclaiming "I don't even want to know" before he vanished out of the door again.)
It wasn't only Loki that made Tony look forward to these evenings (though more and more it was the jotun king, not that he would ever admit it). Aside from all the banter and jokes it was the pure science that Loki knew and shared with him that captured him more than he could ever express.
There was the power plant Loki had joked about - a joke Tony hadn't gotten because the energy readings were so similar. Which only made sense, he realized once he got to see hoe they worked because they actually did produce energy the same way plants did, at a much higher rate than even the most progressive form of solar panel that earth had produced so far.
That same energy - Tony didn't exactly dare to call it electricity for not all of it was stored that way - was then used to power machines that even Tony hadn't often dared to dream about.
There were the levy – more or less the upgraded version of an earth tablet. And it was no wonder that Loki had seemed quite curious when he mentioned tablets to him because sure, instead of a display it used holograms, was completely watertight and almost impossible to destroy (which Loki was happy to demonstrate by putting it on the floor and letting a large stone fall on it) and yes, it was a lot more powerful than anything earth currently had, but 80 years ago – the blink of an eye for a being as old as a jotun could become – they had build the first modern computer.
So even if it was so far everything that Tony needed he wondered how long it would take earth to catch up to jotunheimr.
Not that he voice that question – so far no-one had brought up any hostilities against earth but he really didn’t want to poke the sleeping dragon.
Anyway, the levy. And, directly connected to it - the question as to how they communicated over distances.
"You don't hide satellites up in the clouds, do you?" He supposed it could be possible, since they were so much more progressive, but that didn't explain how fast every transmission was, or how clear -
Loki grinned so broadly that he aborted that thought right there. And fuck, when had he gotten so good at reading his Your so far from the truth I really want to laugh myself silly face that seeing it from the edge of his vision was enough to recognize it?!
Glowering at the king he ordered: "Explain. "
The grin grew into an outright smirk as the man bowed in mock. "But of course, my lord."
It really shouldn't make him have to hide a grin.
Vilppu and Risto noticed him vanishing in the evenings and he got more than one question about introducing them to his new lover - no amount of rolled eyes could sway them go actually believe him when he told them that he was seeing the king about science.
Well, it didn't until that day maybe three weeks into his private lessons, when he and Vilppu were busy readying one of the extra chambers for guests when Loki walked by. And maybe it was inappropriate - scratch that, it definitely was inappropriate - but Tony couldn't help himself to grin up at the king, ignore his entire entourage and dignity and wave his hand in greeting. *Good morning.*
Vilppu almost let his duster fall. The dignitaries looked at him as if he had lost his mind (they were obviously not as happy with Tony's casual relationship with their king as said king himself, not that Tony cared). The guards, too used to Tony's casual disrespect by now, tried to hide their snickering behind raised hands.
Loki grinned. *Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?"
Tony couldn't help but stare. *You didn't really memorize that, did you?*
The jotun's grin only grew. *It's such a beautiful phrase, how could I not?* Then, more serious: *Will I see you this evening? Helblindi returned and I thought you might want to get to know him over dinner.*
Helblindi ... Helblindi - oh. The Royal Court's absent Head Mage. Or, well, not so absent anymore it seemed. And Loki had told him that some of jotunheimr's information network was amplified with magic, though he didn't understand it enough to explain it to Tony the same way someone like Helblindi did.
Still ... *Isn't this going to piss prince Byleistr off?*
There was a very thin jotun standing just so on Loki's right side, with a lot of golden jewelry in his hair and on his chest and arms that spoke of wealth and rank. He was probably one of the king's chief advisors, used to polite speak and deference; right now he was glowering at Tony as if he had insulted a member of the royal family.
Which he hadn't. He had called Byleistr by his proper title, hadn't he?
Not that Loki cared anyway. Shrugging he said: *He'll have to deal, I fear.*
Had to be nice, being the highest-ranking member in your hobbit den. *Then sure. Same time as always?* Right after his work day ended.
Loki grinned. *If you come any later I can't promise you that there will be still something left.*
Now there were very weird expressions on the faces around Loki, but at least this time he knew were they came from. Inviting someone and then not offering all the courtesies of a host was considered very uncivilized and could - had , according to Risto - trigger animosities.
And here Loki was, joking about just that. It made Tony wonder how exactly the man had been raised, and where he had been traveling all those years before he ascended on the throne.
Grinning Tony brandished his broom. *Don't worry, I'm always on time when there's food.*
Ignoring the still outraged people around him Loki returned his words with a smirk and a nod, before he continued his walk down the hallway.
Turning back to his friend he felt his grin grow even wider at the wide-eyed look he was met with.
"Told you - the king and me are totally best friends forever!"
Or, well. At least until Tony found a way to return home.
This evening Tony found himself - again - down in front of the royal chambers. The guards on duty barely even looked at him anymore before they waved him in - which was good because one of them was the guy that always looked at him as if he was out to steal the crown jewels or something. Which he wouldn't. Except if it were Loki's crown jewels.
Well, at least he knew not to let his libido make the important decisions. Even if Loki looked ... tasty.
The formal receiving room was a familiar sight by now and he had managed to find the fastest route through it. Less familiar was the view of actually every single inhabitant of the royal perhe sitting in the common room and looking up when he came barreling in, but at least he had managed to talk to Vilppu about proper greetings when entering another family cave so at least he wasn't alienating prince Byleistr with his blundering anymore.
Well, not so much anymore, at least.
Bowing deep with his hand over his chest - fingers splayed because he was no warrior, or at least not a warrior as the jotnar defined it - he offered: *Ymir's blessing for this house.*
He got some surprised looks back before Byleistr remembered his manners and nodded back. *And your's, friend of my brother's.*
He still sounded as if he would rather drown him. Not that Tony thought he would actually do it, as long as Loki wanted to keep him around.
A quick look over the room showed him that Loki wasn't here, but the prince was, the two guards that normally stayed over were, and a strange jotun with the same short statue of Loki was sitting on the cushions next to Loki's guard that Tony assumed was Helblindi.
There was food laid out on a low table between them, enough to easily feed double the number of jotnar present, but then being royalty had to have its perks, didn't it? Not to mention that he had seen Risto eat - if it was normal for a mage to eat twice as much as a normal jotun they might actually need this much food.
For a moment he stood in the door, not quite sure what to do now. He had been invited by Loki so there was no question as to what he was doing here, yet the king was also all he had in common with this family, especially since Tuire had left again for the lab. So was he supposed to wait for Loki to appear or should he ask after him or - fuck it. He had attended parties since before he was able to walk, he had crashed parties - and been the center of most them - since before he was legally allowed to drink. So maybe Byleistr couldn't quite stand him and he didn't know the names of half the people in attendance; that was still better odds than most of the parties he went to.
Ignoring his insecurities and plastering a broad smile all over his face he strolled over to Helblindi and let himself fall down on the cushion next to him.
*Hey, I'm Tony, Loki's pet human.* He bowed a bit in the more polite way they used when actually greeting someone.
Helblindi blinked at him in that rapid way of the utter flabbergasted, which Tony counted as a win. Confused people tended to need a while to come up with a way to get rid of him, and by then they had mostly forgotten why they even wanted to.
Sending another bright smile to the jotun he continued: *Loki said you're like the only person on this whole planet that knows more than him about magic.* Well, he hadn't, not exactly, but compliments were never wrong, were they?
Apparently not, because his words startled a laugh out of the mage. *And here I was thinking he was exaggerating in his accountings of you.*
*Oh no.* Tony couldn't help but preen a bit. *Normally people undersell me.*
A long, assessing look swept all over him and the amusement on Helblindi's face gave way to a more serious expression. *He also said that you are quite dangerous, Anthony Edward.*
Oh fuck. Well, it wasn't as if he hadn't expected Loki to look through him but he had hoped he wouldn't run around and tell everyone.
Not that it mattered. If he reacted to it in any way he would just give them cause to question him. So instead he just allowed his smile to get a lascivious edge and said: *Don't worry, Loki is quite enough for me.*
It got him wide eyes from Helblindi, spluttering from Byleistr - who was obviously eavesdropping; rude - and a snort from the warrior. Looking over to the jotun he realized: *I never actually got your name.*
Red eyes widened, then he bowed his head slightly in agreement. *We were never introduced, no.* He settled back, took on a pose that looked ... challenging. Why? *Jörmundgandr, Commander of the Royal Guard.*
Ok, well. The name was pretty strange but that didn't explain ... stop. Stop. Shit. Back then, when Tony had first come to the palace, Nestori had actually recited all of Loki's titles. Voice of the void and protector of jotunheimr ... and defeater of Jörmundgandr. What the fuck ...?
His poker face could do with some improvement it seemed because by the way the jotun looked at him - fierce and proud and just daring him to say something - he could read enough to know that Tony had heard his name before.
Sandtrap could have been his middle name but he wasn't exactly keen on stepping into this one, not when it was so obvious and the jotun in question looked as if he could rip him apart on a whim. Grinning broadly and guilelessly he asked: *You know, when I first asked about Loki I was told he was the defeater of Jörmundgandr. Care to explain?*
Okay, so. He was Tony Stark, after all. And curiosity got the cat killed, you know?
At least his open approach - and probably the fact that he had no idea what he was actually asking - kept the jotun from actually ripping into him. Instead he measured him with a very long look - Tony tried to hide the sweat running down his back, chased along his spine by some very pronounced shivers - before snorting again. *Loki deserves you.*
Well, and that wasn't ominous at all.
At least he didn't look like he was going ballistic on him so Tony allowed his limbs to relax and reached over for what was a fish-equivalent dish that he knew he could eat. Settling back he looked up with an expression that hopefully conveyed how much he looked forward to hearing this story without insulting the story teller and tried to keep himself from actually running out on Jörmundgandr.
*jotunheimr was ... different, under king Laufey*, Jörmundgandr started and Tony realized suddenly that he might have underestimated the chance for disaster this story could cause. Trying to keep from tensing up again he couldn't help but peer over to Byleistr, couldn't help but see the cold look on his face and the way he decidedly didn't look over to their little group.
And he had been trying to make the prince come around to liking him. Well, there went that chance.
*I don't know how much the king told you, but when the aesir brought war to jotunheimr the force of the Bifrøst caused the planet to leave its orbit and nudged it closer to the sun. Not much, thankfully, but enough to cause a few thousand years of warming climate which, in turn, caused both flora and fauna of jotunheimr to diminish.*
Oh. Tony could see were this was going. *Famines*, he whispered, and the bile in his mouth suddenly tasted like sand and petrol and blood.
Jörmundgandr nodded. *Together with a high king that was too caught up in his hatred to care for his people and a crown prince who wandered more abroad than planetside ... I was not the first to rise against the regime, just the most successful one.*
*What.* Tony licked his lips. *What made you change your mind?*
A chuckle that was more bitter ash and tears than humor. *Who said I did?* When Tony looked up he caught him with eyes that had seen too much, had seen their own version of Afghanistan and the Chitauri. Their own Stane - betrayal by someone they had trusted.
*We might have succeeded but for the crown prince returning just in time to save his father's hide.* There was venom in his voice, and just at the edge of his vision Tony could see prince Byleistr, moving in an unsettled way. Not saying anything, as if he could understand the other jotun and yet didn't dare say anything against his own father.
*He offered me my people's lives in exchange for my servitude.* Jörmundgandr fixed his eyes on Tony again and he couldn't help the shiver over his spine when he recognized the memory of desperation in those red eyes. *You ask what changed my mind? He did. Because I only learned later, after, that in all this time when he was away he was trying to find a way to stabilize our planet's course and stop the embargo Asgard had imposed upon us. Where king Laufey was living the past, he was searching for a future for our people.*
And Tony ... well, he could see it. Because he had heard the comments about Asgard and global warming and hunger, the curses and dark looks and the hints as to what the jotnar of his family den would like to do if they ever got a chance to lay their hands on Odin or Thor. And yet he had also seen the reverence with which they bowed to Loki, with which they spoke of him, and it was with that same gleam in their eyes that he could see it Jörmundgandr's eyes now - hope were before was only desperation.
Yet it also left them with an awkward atmosphere, a silence no-one dared to fill because as true as Jörmundgandr's words are - they are about the former king whose son is sitting not five meters away, teeth clenched together as if he had to keep a lot of words in.
It was Helblindi in the end who saved the day. Turning to Tony with a smile that was only a little forced he asked: *Loki mentioned you were interested in magic.*
*Not ... well, not exactly.* Because Tony had done that - asking about magic and trying to understand it and trying to make it work fir him and for once he had had to admit defeat when the universe wasn't bowing to his whim and he really didn't want to have another sorcerer look at him with the kind of superior look that Strange had. No, what he was interested in ... *He said you are augmenting your technology with magic? That your whole network is working without satellites because it is connected to ... ley-lines?* Or, well. Loki used another fancy word for that energy structure but it still sounded a lot of those ley-lines Tony was reading about when he was still trying to make his own brand of magic work.
Helblindi ... grinned. *Ley-lines. Haven't heard that for a while.* He tilted his head to the side, then nodded. *You are right, Anthony Edward - is something wrong?*
Tony grimaced. *Sorry, it's just - can you call me Tony? The only one who ever called me by my full name was my father.* And even Howard had only ever done it when he was angry with him.
The jotun blinked, then nodded. *Of course. I should have remembered ... it's been too long since I last saw earth.*
It was the weariness in his voice more than the comment itself that made Tony look at him again. On first glance, he didn't seem that different from the rest of the jotnar - his skin was the light blue hue that he had come to realize meant he was born far from the equator, even lighter when he was sitting next to Jörmundgandr with his almost midnight skin. Eyes the color of rubies and lines of white, his hair the dark green he didn't dare call black only because he had seen Loki's hair before.
And yet ... there was a weariness to him, a tiredness to the way he held himself that made him expect wrinkles and lines where jotnar didn't have any.
*You are old*, he realized suddenly, too stunned to be tactful.
If, you know, he had ever known what tact was.
Yet Helblindi didn't seem to mind. Instead of anger he started to smile again and even leaned forward to not-quite-touch Tony's arm. *I am, yes*, he said.
And Tony should have expected that. One couldn't become the head of something of an entire planet without the knowledge accumulated in a full life.
*You haven't seen much of jotunheimr yet, have you?* Jörmundgandr tilted his head. *Not when you have spend almost every evening with Loki.* Was that a twitch of his lips?
But he was right - between his work and charming Loki out of his secrets (spending time in the workshop) he had barely stepped out to see the garden, and everything beyond the gates ... *I wasn't aware that I was allowed to leave.*
Helblindi moved, a sharp, cut-off gesture, as if he was startled, and even Jörmundgandr looked slightly surprised.
Before either of them could say something there was a slight commotion in one of the hallways, and a moment later Loki emerged, followed by Tuire and three more jotnar that Tony hadn't ever seen before.
Startled - he hadn't known that there were any other people living here - Tony tried to figure out who they were.
One of them had the typical bald scalp of a warrior, with the golden wrist bands of a royal guard. Yet there was no other jewelry and Tony wondered whether that was a deliberate choice - surely someone who was invited into the home of the royal family of jotunheimr would be a bit more decorated than he seemed to be. After all, there were children running about who wore more jewelry!
The jotun he was leaning against was his startling contrast: there were gold chains hanging off his neck and ears, with something very crown-like encircling his forehead and more gold dripping from his hair, letting it seem more like a fall of treasures than real strands. Even his clothes were richly decorated - golden stitching on a heavy black fabric, with a sparkling belt holding everything together around his waist.
Tony was quite sure that the wealth decorating him could have easily bought a few houses back on earth. Even Loki wore less gold. Who was this guy?
The last one walking, following a step behind them, seemed rather mediocre - not that Tony had much time to wonder for as soon as their group appeared in the door Byleistr surged to his feet and everyone else followed suit, forcing Tony to scramble for his feet as well.
Yet he hadn't quite found them when he heard Byleistr bellow: *Father!* and run forward, to envelope the golden guy in a mighty hug.
Oh. *That's Loki's father?*, he whispered towards his own two companions.
He could see Helblindi offer a minute shake of his head, yet it was Jörmundgandr who explained, in an equally low voice: *His sire, Farbauti.*
Well. At least, after that moment of completely incomprehensible panic back in his second week on jotunheimr, he actually knew the difference.
It also reminded him anew that Thor had killed Loki's father . And the few times the topic of Asgard had ever come up while they were here together it had always been Byleistr who was spitting mad over the death of his sire.
Tony didn't knew Loki like he knew his friends, not from just the month he had spend with him. But he knew him well enough to know that he wouldn't have forgiven Thor for this. And the cool indifference he showed whenever someone mentioned Asgard even in passing might look calm compared to Byleistr's anger but Tony suspected that it hid a rage frozen to hate that might just prove to be much more dangerous than any mere ire could be.
When the ... what was he? The dowager-king? How did jotnar call their late king's partner? Anyway, the mountain of gold and his three companions followed Byleistr over to his part of the room, which was alright with Tony. He wasn't keen on accidentally insulting Loki's sire and ending up banned completely from these rooms and therefore his biggest chance on escape (even if it was hard to build anything under Loki's careful eye, but he would manage somehow).
With Farbauti out of the way, Loki and Tuire came over to them, closely followed by Hela who threw Tony his usual distrustful glare. Tony gifted him with a very brilliant and toothy smile in return.
*Sorry for being late*, Loki said while he let himself fall down next to Jörmundgandr, close enough that his side was pressed against the other jotun whose lips twitched at the gesture of familiarity. *My sire wished to speak about Kaunissa.* Then he looked over at Tony, his lips rounding in a proper smirk. "I hope you have left me something to eat."
There was still enough on the low table for half a dozen jotnar more but Tony wouldn't ever pass up an invitation to a verbal spat. "Well, that depends. If you are out to ruin your figure it might actually not be enough."
It was easy to see who of their little round spoke English by the way they reacted to this. Both Helblindi and Tuire seemed amused, Tuire more so even than the mage but then he was also more expressive. Jörmundgandr seemed very focused, as if his vocabulary wasn't good enough to follow their words easily, but it was easy to see when he figured out enough to get the gist for that was the moment he started to grin as well. Hela, of course, just looked as angry as ever - maybe even more so now that his king stooped so low as to talk to his human pet in an alien language that he couldn't follow.
Not that Tony saw more of that than an impression from the edge of his vision. No, his eyes were firmly on Loki who returned his look with a grin of his own, so visibly up to take that challenge.
"I was not aware that you cared for my figure."
Challenge. Or was he flirting?
Tony couldn't help himself when his eyes flickered over the king again, taking in his form, so pleasant on his eyes. And yet what made him blush wasn't what his eyes showed him but the memory of a too-sharp smirk, of words just so straddling the line between politeness and teasing and falling to the darker side more often than not.
Yet Tony wasn't the kind to be struck silent by a few clever words. Instead he returned his smirk with one of his o wn, sharp as a shark's and every bit as challenging as Loki's own. "Well, if you start to look like Violet Beauregarde so s hortly after I came here I'm bound to be blamed, am I not?"
He could see the moment Loki needed to place the name, could see when he did, and the minute twitch of his lips as he realized what Tony had just accused him of. Could see him opening his mouth to deliver a proper riposte and felt himself burn with anticipation - he hadn't had so much fun with anyone in quite a long time.
Of course, this was the moment someone had to ruin it. In this case Jörmundgandr who, despite looking at least as amused as Tony felt, reached out and clapped his hand over Loki's mouth - and nose and half his jaw as well because his hand was just that big compared to the mage. *Don't."
Loki grinned - Tony could see as much in the way small wrinkles formed around his eyes - but made no move to remove the hand.
Hela breathed *Thank you*, and it had the rest of them chuckle - after all, the boy hadn't even understood what this was about, and was probably too young to recognize the tone in which they had spoken.
Finally, Loki turned aside and Jörmundgandr took his hand away to reach for the plate again.
*Since I am not allowed to talk with Anthony any longer you might want to tell me what you spoke about before I interrupted you?*, he suggested.
Jörmundgandr had his mouth full and Tony suspected that he would just get his own hand to silence him if he so much as opened his mouth in response to Loki's question, so it fell to Helblindi to answer.
*Did you know that Tony hasn't yet seen anything of Linnasenna?*
Hela mumbled something along the lines of Who wants to see the city but quickly shut up when he got several disapproving looks in return for that.
*He - You haven't?* Loki looked at him in obvious surprise. *Why?*
Okay, so he hadn't been right to assume that he was a prisoner. Or at least wrong in his estimation of the size of his prison. Blushing he was about to confess when Jörmundgandr came to his rescue.
Grinning wide enough to leave no doubt that he was about to say something very unhelpful he said: *I guess your little pet was waiting for you to take him on a walk.*
Tony felt his jaw fall down but for once he had no idea how to respond. It was one thing to have everyone joke about him being the palace pet or himself to see himself chained to Loki like one, but he had never even thought about bringing this particular thought up with Loki.
At least the other man was choking on this phrase as well if his wide eyed look was anything to go by though he caught himself quickly enough, amusement encroaching again on his face. *Anthony is no dog*, he smirked, his eyes wandering over to Tony again. *As would everyone know who has spend a few minutes in his company.*
No way was he going to let him talk like this without retailing. *Are you complaining about my lack of tail-wagging when I see you?*
*Ah ... no. I think seeing you shake your ... tail ... into my face would be rather off putting.* There came a few unbelieving snorts and a loud complaint from Hela which Loki easily ignored. *And no. I was merely referring to the fact that while you seem to have mastered Fetch , commands like Stay or Explain still seem to be above you.* Another smirk, as if something had just occurred to him. *Not that this is so difficult.*
*Was that a dig against my size? Because if it was - very mature. Haven't heard it before.*
Loki tilted his head, admitting graceful defeat.
Someone - Tuire - pushed a baked roll at him and he took it more in reflex than hunger. Yet the motion alone brought back the fact that this wasn't one of their usual evenings, and he wasn't alone with Loki. In fact, they were in the living room together with several friends and Loki's brother and sire, both people Tony wasn't sure would approve of the king spending do much time with him.
It hit him, suddenly, how different Loki was when he was with Tony. Maybe he should have seen it before, when he saw him in the hallways or the few times he had seen him in the great hall - cold and distant and somewhat aloof. Yet they had never interacted then, not the way they did when they were alone, and so it was now, when he saw Loki's friends reacting to the way they usual talked, that he understood just how beautifully they merged. Just how good Loki was at taking his words and answering them, challenge and feelings and obvious meaning.
When had he last had so much fun with someone? Not with Rhodey who was, for all his own brilliant mind, simply not willing to face the challenge. Pepper was too focused on her goal - challenging her ended with a raised eyebrow and a few scathing words. His team ... well, those who might be willing most often didn't even notice his hidden meanings and those who did had their own reasons to stay away from bantering with him.
On all of earth there was no-one willing to verbally spar with him (safe Jarvis but then the AI had been made to do that).
And yet he found himself here, on a planet as different from Earth as a planet could be, with someone able and willing to match him word for word.
It was ... strange, to say the least.
It was the first time he left the palace since the day four weeks ago that he rode in on Lumi's back, and he could practically feel himself breathe freer just from being out of the icy walls. He knew that it was an illusion - there was absolutely nothing stifling about a palace made to suit a people that are mostly twice his height - yet just seeing the sky over him and the horizon at the other end of the street made him feel better.
When they first came in it was late afternoon, going on dusk, and between that and their way leading straight to the palace Tony never got around to see anything else.
This time they left the street at the first crossing and once Tony set a foot on those smaller streets it was as if he had entered a whole new world.
The houses rose up on both sides of the street, easily high enough to accommodate a jotun and yet still with steps leading down to the entrances. The walls were solid ice dusted with snow, like an igloo except so very much larger that one of the them might easily swallow up an entire village while still reminding Tony far too much of a hobbit cave. Pictures sprawled out over the ice - cut in lines, and colors and what Tony knew by now was the almost indestructible wood of the Sydäni, the red-brown a beautiful contrast to the bluish white of the ice.
Between the mounds flowed streets like rivers, packed snow that was kept from becoming slippery by the planks of more Sydäni put into it.
Tony still wouldn't attempt to run on it, not the way the children did. Would definitely not attempt to try what the kids did just over there, jumping and running and holding themselves up as if they were practicing for a complicated dance that again and again brought them right to the threshold of breaking their necks.
"Shouldn't ... someone stop them?" And yeah, Tony knew how hypocritical that was; he was taking enough risks with himself that he surely had no right to complain here. But in his experience people tended to get antsy about kids trying to kill themselves.
Loki looked over at him from where he was just talking to one of the artists, a mocking grin on his face. "From working on their dance for the equinox? You can try but I wouldn't bet on your survival."
*Is there a problem?*, the jotun he had been talking to asked.
*No.* Loki turned back to him with a wide grin on his face. *It just seems that the equinox rites are too dangerous for his delicate tastes.*
*Come again?*, Tony spluttered while all the jotnar around them started to laugh and Loki stood in the midst of it all, his innocent look entirely ruined by the smugness he radiated.
Loki seemed ... different, too, since they had left the palace. Tony had expected him to take some of the guards or at least Jörmundgandr since he had never seen him alone except in the protected inner sanctum of the royal chambers, yet when he had met him at the outer hallway he had been completely alone. Not wearing his kingly clothes, either, just a long kilt that reached down the knees - which might be modest if not for the fact that it was slit up almost to the waist band and no, Tony had not caught himself wishing for a breeze that would flap it up - and his jewelry reduced to just the thick golden band around his neck that Tony had yet to see him without and the warrior's bands around his upper arms.
There was still no way for him to pass unrecognized, not with his unique coloring - even more noticeable out here where the sun glittered on the light blue skin that almost all the jotnar around seemed to share, but the only reaction anyone had to him being here was a deep respectful nod - bordering on a bow yet not quite crossing that line and how did they even remember how to greet everyone right in the right situation?
Anyway, with how many jotnar there were about Tony got a good and very vivid lesson in how to properly behave around jotunheimr's High King when he was trying to blend in with his people.
It had surprised him at first, the sheer number of jotnar on the street. Wandering a human city, most people living there would be found inside, working in stores and factories and office buildings and - barring lunch time - reducing the number of people on the streets to a mere fraction of the number of people living there.
jotnar clearly didn't believe in hiding inside.
At many places, the streets opened up to become open piazzas instead, and those places were packed. Tony had wondered about the looks his perhe had given him when he'd rather stayed inside the common room or even his own room, restrictive as it was, but only now did he actually get it.
Life on jotunheimr happened outside.
There were people selling fruits and meat on the street, just like they would back on earth, and artists like the one Loki was still talking to that offered their creations. But they were also working at their goods here. Over there, the jotun who was embroidering some kilt with blue thread while animatedly talking to the gold smith. Next to them another jotnar was working on setting stones together to a create one of those mosaics Tony had wondered about. The last place they had passed there had been children sitting together around two adults and it hadn't needed the preoccupied expression on their faces or the way they had alternatively stared at their levy or the projection one of their teachers had put up in the air to recognize them as a school class.
Tony was still not fluid in reading their script but he was almost sure that they had learned about the internal structure of the planet. A part of him had wanted to sit down with them and learn, but Loki wandering off had him reluctantly following him.
A sudden noise from the other side of their current plaza had him look over. There were three jotnar arguing about something one of them had projected in the air, making them even louder than the kids still throwing themselves in the air and laughing at almost killing themselves by not coming back down with the right foot.
Tony threw a glance to where Loki was still engrossed in his discussion about the quality of gemstones and decided to wander over. For one, he wasn't actually a dog put on the king's leash, and for another, the schema looked like science and he was always for learning more about alien technology.
It took him maybe two minutes to translate enough of the diagram to understand that it was about some kind of transport vehicle, and another minute of listening to them that the problem was that it wasn't receiving messages as fast as it should.
And that wasn't the kind of thing Tony had ever worked on, and he knew that messing around with another scientist's notes was a big no-no, but they were distracted and the notes were projected right in the open for everyone to see, and when he put his fingers in the middle of the projected schema it responded so beautifully, so how could he not read more of it? Especially since this was something he had talked about with Helblindi, the things that could increase or decrease the sensibility of receivers to the waves they got via ley lines, and if he put it together with what he knew about the substances they had used ... it was so obvious where the problem was, just an isolation that had to be a bit more to the right and another that should be a different material - would be better for the durability anyway; steel just wasn't made to withstand the forces that would acted upon it at the speed this thing was made for ... and when he was here anyway he could just modify this as well ... would allow for more speed while still preserving the stability ... and why even was there this part, that made no sense at all ... oh, they did it because otherwise it lost balance in curves but that could be so much easier fixed when you did that, and it had the added advantage of strengthening this part and then there shouldn't be a need for the use of heavy-
He almost messed up the last line of calculations, just barely managed to hold his hand still until he could make the sign to stop recording his changes with the other hand before he looked up. There was still a train racing through his mind, meant to work with an energy source that had easily trice the power of his ARK-reactor, the calculations to make it go faster and more secure continuing in the back of his mind, and for a moment he couldn't comprehend what he actually saw.
There was Loki, standing next to him with an expression that was both worried and awed, behind him the same three jotnar he had just seen arguing over the very car he had just fixed, and a few more jotnar, all of them looking at him with surprised expressions.
"Oh shit", he thought, only noticed that he had said it out loud when he heard his voice. The new projection was still in front of his eyes, overlapping with the old one, and he could see all the changes he had made like the red pen his teachers had always used to correct him wherever he had made a mistake, back then when he was still learning. Remembered Rhodey's exaggerated sigh whenever he had done something similar himself on the homework his friend had left lying around sometimes.
*Sorry?*, he said, trying for an appropriate embarrassed smile.
Yet when one of the scientists started for him it wasn't in anger. *How did you do this?!*, he asked. *We've been ... we've been working on this for months!*
Oh. It had been .. it had been so long, literally years, since someone last asked him that. *I'm a genius?*
The jotun just shook his head, his eyes wide. One of the others, the smallest one who just so straddled the line between normal sized and mage, spoke up in his stead. *Can you stay?*
Could he ... stay? As in - did he want to work more with them?
How was that even a question?
Tony could feel his heart leap up at the thought of doing science with them, of actually doing something with all the knowledge he had accumulated in these last weeks, and he was about to nod when he remembered who it was that taught him all he knew, and who still stood silently beside him.
Who had told him, in no uncertain terms, that he would see the inside of no other workshop than his own.
Yet when he looked up at the king there was a speculative expression on his cold face, thawing only when he noticed Tony's look. His eyes found Tony's and held them, as if his questioning glare can see right into the heart of Tony and read his intentions.
Intentions that had been, until a moment ago, perfectly innocent and centered around nothing but his excitement over science and working and creating, and he did his utmost to keep this in mind when he returned the king's look. To only show his joy over being around other scientists and be useful this way, instead of feeling that first inkling of plans as how to escape from the planet with the freedom this would give him.
Finally, Loki nodded, and when Tony turned around to the other jotnar he found them smiling back at him - though with a curious air about them; they obviously didn't think how this might give him a chance at escape, or that he would want to escape at all - and he was quickly drawn in by their planning of when he might see them again.
Yet they didn't have much time until Loki spoke up. *I have to return soon now, Anthony. Do you wish to accompany me, or come back later?*
And really, this wasn't fair. Because as much as he wanted to stay longer with his new acquaintances Tony knew all to well that he wouldn't find his way back on his own. Knew also that, while this could be remedied, he didn't want to return to the palace alone.
Back there the jotnar knew him. And sure, there were still jokes cracked at his expense, and distrustful looks, and a few guards and servants that preferred to avoid him at all, but he wasn't new. In the streets outside he had been stared at too much to feel entirely comfortable navigating the city alone, without its king and ruler at his side.
"Nope, I'll come back with you", he decided and he might just imagine the fleeting expression of relief on Loki's face before he turned around and gave his excuses and goodbyes to the scientists.
It didn't take long for them to start on their walk back. Contrary to their way out, where both of them had been more concerned with watching all there was to watch - or, Tony had been at least; he suspected that Loki had always kept a watchful eye on him - they now walked next to each other. It felt ... strange. They were not touching - jotnar did not touch without invitation or only those that they cared about a lot - and they were silent, each of them lost in their own thoughts. And yet it was not entirely awkward, not the way it could have been - should have been, actually, what with Tony feeling a bit like a kid that had decided to rather accompany its parents home than continue playing with its new friends without them around.
Instead he could feel himself enjoying the changed atmosphere around, the way smaller children were called back in and people disappeared inside as well at their own leisure. When he looked up he could almost see the sun behind its layer of clouds, a cool distant ball of gas and light barely visible the way it was, setting in the east.
"How late is that?", he wondered. When they had left the palace it had barely been after noon - and he really wasn't looking forward to having to cover half of Vilppu's shift tomorrow just to gave half of his own being taken care of by him today but it definitely was worth it - and that meant quite a few hours had passed by with them strolling outside.
"You should be back in time for dinner." Loki sounded amused, and Tony blinked, admittedly surprised by the answer to what had been, after all, more a question to himself.
Yet when he turned to the king he found him staring at him with a rather thoughtful air around him. Tilting his own head he wondered what had gotten in Loki's head now. After all, these kinds of looks normally preceded a new lecture after Loki had finally admitted, to himself, that his student had already sponged up what he had taught him before.
It also never lasted long until Loki finally shared his thoughts - if he thought to share them at all, that is - and this was true for this time as well. Reaching out for Tony's hair yet not quite touching the too-long locks - Tony really ought to cut them but it seemed that jotnar didn't think short hair to be stylish and he didn't dare give himself in the hands of someone to wield knives about his head anyway - Loki shook his head slightly, a hiss escaping from between his lips.
*It doesn't look right", he said. "You are a member of a perhe, and a servant of the palace. Even if you share no blood with anyone on this planet you should still wear the signs of someone's love for you.*
Tony stared. Signs of someone's love for him? And what had being a member of his jotun-family to do with wearing something? He was completely clothed, after all.
Glancing down at himself to make sure that he hadn't accidentally lost his skirt or shoes might have been a bit much yet he couldn't help himself. With the charm on his skin he wouldn't notice if he ran around naked and it would explain some of these strange looks he had gotten today.
But he had barely ascertained that yes, he was clothed - more than on several videos that existed on YouTube of him, and felt the pang of homesickness and bit his teeth against it with unwelcome familiarity - when Loki's hand appeared in his view, waving him forward.
*Come*, he said. *I have waited long enough. If your perhe and your friends will not do you the service than I will welcome you into our home.*
Still uncomprehending yet willing to leave it for now - he trusted Loki to not harm him without reason and their acquaintance so far had taught him that he would learn faster what this was about if he didn't try to extract it from him before he was ready to share - he followed Loki over to where a jeweler was still offering his goods, though talking to two other jotun instead of working on the little piece of ornament he had resting in his hand.
This changed immediately as he noticed the king's approach and both he and his discussion partners offered him respectful nods which Loki politely returned. Not sure what to do with himself Tony offered his own greetings while Loki looked through the jeweler's offerings. His clever fingers quickly sorted through the metal, putting aside the larger pieces such as arm bands and ankle chains. For a moment they rested on a strong golden chain, small yet with discernible chain links that made it look even stronger than it was, but then he moved on.
Not sure what he was searching for Tony saw the jotnar exchange equally bewildered looks, yet when the jeweler offered his help it was declined with a quick smile and a shake of his kingly head.
The jotun didn't offer again.
Finally, Loki's fingers cane to rest on a very small ornament. It was a golden spiral of no more than maybe Tony's index finger in diameter, with ornamental signs cut delicately into its surface. He had seen them before, though mostly a bit larger, in the hair of his perhe.
Yet he was not at all prepared for Loki to pick it up and turn around, holding it up against Tony's hair. *It will do*, he said, satisfied, before turning to the jeweler to ask for the price.
Tony could only stand beside him, not sure whether he understood. Was Loki ... buying him jewelry?
It seemed so, for once he had settled the monetary matters to both their satisfaction Loki turned around again and asked, the little scrap of metal held between them: *May I?*
And Tony could only nod, too stunned by the fast proceedings, which he took as permission to approach even more until his skin almost touched Tony's bare chest.
He shouldn't be able to feel anything from this, not when the magic was working through him, but he couldn't help the shiver that started in his spine and worked its way all through his body. Had someone asked him, before, if he was craving touch, he would have laughed. Sure, he shared the bed with many people, and he tended to greet people with hugs and kisses that were as shallow as the smiles he faked for the media. Yet he was happiest alone in his workshop and while he needed someone to talk to, to bounce ideas off, he didn't need this someone to have a physical body as was best proven by Jarvis.
Staying on jotunheimr had taught him differently. jotnar, as he had learned, were quite peculiar about touching, with anyone but the smallest of children only being touched after having given their consent to it. And while it was seen far looser within a perhe Tony hadn't shared any meaningful touches with anyone but Vilppu and Risto for quite a while.
It made him ... more aware of them. Like back in the middle ages, when a woman could freely show her breasts to feed a baby in public yet would be looked st scandalized if so much as the barest hint of an ankle was visible his own perception had started to change.
Touching meant something here, and he could feel it in the sudden weight of the other jotnar's looks on them - not only the jeweler and his friends but every jotnar around who could see the king voluntarily step into the personal space of the odd human he had chosen to spare. Could feel it in the way his hairs rose at the sudden proximity, the tension that seemed to grow between them. For a moment he barely dared draw breath, not sure whether he would touch the king then - not sure he would be allowed to - and he wondered what he had given his consent to.
And then there was a touch in his hair, nimble fingers separating a strand of hair from his temple and quickly rolling it between themselves, then threated the spiral through it. His hair was not yet long enough to be quite braided, but between endless duties to Stark Industries back on earth and the following weeks were he had shut himself away in his workshop it had grown quite a bit longer than usual until he saw a haircutter, and with the month on jotunheimr now it was easily long enough to be drawn through the ornament and then secured further back with a pin that Loki simply drew from his own hair.
*So*, he said, his voice light as if he didn't knew the effect he had had on the jotnar in the street, on Tony. *This is much better.*
Tony could only stare, and lightly feel for the piece of jewelry decorating his hair now. It was such a lightly done thing, yet he felt as if something quite profoundly had changed.
How right he was became clear as soon as he stepped back into the common room.
It was as packed as solid be expected at this time, with maybe a few less children running about than usual. Having been part of this perhe for a month now barely anyone paid him any notice when he crossed the room over to where he could see Vilppu's crazy hair sticking out of the group. It had obtained a neon pink hue that would have made the creator of Hello Kitty envious since he had last seen him this morning; someone had obviously talked to him about the green grass that he had turned his hair into a week ago.
Grinning he let himself fall on the cushion next to Risto and one of Taisto's older siblings. *If you tried to stand out in absolutely every crowd - congratulations, you managed.*
Vilppu rolled his eyes before he was looking over. *It's not like - what is that?* His eyes caught on the ring Loki had braided into Tony's hair, his voice high and loud enough to stop a few conversations around them.
And Tony didn't do self-consciousness but he remembered the strange looks the jotnar on the streets had given him when Loki had wound it into his hair. He had wondered what had prompted them yet not dared to ask Loki when he had seemed so casual about it.
Of course, he had quite expected his friends to react like this.
*That is from Loki. There a problem? Please tell me he didn’t mark me as his mistress.*
Vilppu prided himself on being almost impossible to surprise. Between his reaction to Loki trading words so casually with Tony yesterday and the way his jaw fell down right now it seemed his reputation wasn't going to survive.
It was Risto who reached out and carefully touched the strand Loki had woven the little spiral around, more hesitant than ever since Tony had more or less given him permission to more or less touch him freely.
*The king has given you jewelry for your hair?* His voice sounded as astonished as Vilppu looked. Vilppu, and most everyone else Tony could see.
*Okay, you’re really freaking me out here.* He really did and Tony could feel himself start to ramble. Not that there was something he could do against it, with the way Vilppu and Risto both stared. *Please tell me he didn't really ask for my hand, I don’t think I would look that good in white. No, that’s a lie – I look good in everything but I think white makes me look fat. You think he would let ma wear gray?*
A moment later Tony bit on his tongue, not sure whether his being flippant would make this worse.
Instead it loosened the tension when chuckles rose around him. Elmi, one of the jotnar Tony hadn't had much to do with but knew that he worked on repairing the splintered mosaics in the palace, bowed forward from where he was resting on a low couch. *Not with hair-decorations but you might be wary if he starts with earrings.*
*Which he won't.* Vilppu had caught himself again it seemed because he shook his head now, reaching for Tony's hair and pulling another strand towards him. *I mean, this is just a polite gift. You spend this much time with him, it would be strange if you didn't exchange jewelry. Actually* His face took on a vaguely embarrassed expression. *He has been more polite than we. I mean, you are not from jotunheimr, but you are one of us, now. We should have shown our welcome.*
Risto nodded. *Vilppu is right. You are our friend, and yet you still walk the halls of Linnakoti as if you are an exile.*
Tony stared at him. He had suspected that Loki's gesture had a lot more meaning than he had shown but this seemed big. *You might want to run that by me again. Preferably as if I had no idea what you are speaking about because I really truly don't gave.*
It took them a while but finally Tony understood why both his friends as well as many more of his perhe seemed both affronted and embarrassed.
As he had suspected, jewelry was a serious matter. Not quite level with touching but certainly a good bit above clothing, with rules of who might gift another what, and under what circumstances and of which worth.
Beads and rings and other decorations for the hair, like the spiral Loki had given him, were the least intimate, exchanged between acquaintances or given to someone you respected without expectations that it might become something more.
The next step up where the chains that almost every jotun had dangling from their necks and sometimes wrists and ankles and that symbolized friendship.
*I mean, theoretically everyone of your perhe could give you one but really, most people only gift it to their friends*, Vilppu explained while Risto nodded and pointed out: *You can even gift it to someone who is not part of your family.*
Which was quite the contrast to the armbands and wristbands and the thicker bands on ankles. They might look like they were nothing but a thicker variation of that same bracelets , yet Anssi was quick to point out that arm bands stood for warriors, or at least some fighting prowess.
*Most everyone can fight, so most jotnar have some. But not everyone is willing to wear them.*
*Or willing to put up with youngsters trying to puck a fight with them because they think you a worthy challenge.* The way Anssi rolled his eyes made quite clear what he thought of that.
Anyway, the thing about gifting someone warrior bands, like they called it, was - you didn't. Well, you did, but only ever to your blood family or, if you and they were too estranged, your perhe, but by the way Risto admitted to this, a s if in an afterthought, it wasn't a common practice.
And then there were earrings, or anything to decorate ears at all, which was absolutely off-limits for everyone who wasn't your lover.
And if that didn't explain so much. Tony couldn't help but look around, at Vilppu's and Risto's bare ears that told everyone who knew that they were single, at the other's ears - some naked, some dripping gold or silver, and other decorated so much that it was hard to make them even out under all that metal and gemstone.
And back then, when Vilppu took a look at Maire and knew that he had broken up with his mate ... he must have taken his ear pieces out and everyone here just knew it.
Shaking his head Tony tried to put this away in his slowly acquired knowledge of their culture, of the way they saw themselves. Saw him, as long as he was here (he wasn't going to be here all his life).
*So me not wearing anything ...?*
Vilppu hang his head, hissing a bit though it seemed to be mostly at himself. *It was equally to saying that we didn't welcome you into our perhe when in truth we just didn't know how to ... you are alien to us, Tony. And we didn't know how you would take it.*
*Though the prince offering you jewelry is definitely surprising*, Risto grumbled.
Tony looked at him, surprised, but Risto didn't give any explanation for his grumbling. Yet the way he said there, so obviously put-off, reminded him of Byleistr, and the way he had seen him last, sitting in the royal common room next to his sir-no, father. A father who - *Farbauti wears this circlet thing around his forehead*, he remembered. *What's up with that?*
That had Vilppu rolling his eyes. *It's something they did, like, a few hundred years back. I mean, it was out even when Loki was born, you know?* Which, yeah, thanks, Vilppu. Very helpful.
*It's a warrior thing*, Risto put in, which wasn't helping much either.
Raising an eyebrow he waited for an explanation that would make sense which Risto finally provided. *If two warriors are very close to each other, sometimes lovers but that's not actually necessary, they can share blood and become blood brothers. It is a very close bound, and often closer even than a lover's bond. Nowadays most warriors who share such a bond simply inscribe their names on a band and exchange those, but back then they still exchanged circlets to show off their devotion.*
*So Farbauti has a warrior bond with someone?* He remembered all too well the forbidding look on the jotun's face and he couldn't imagine to be friends with someone like that, not to mention share a bond that seemed to be a lot more closer.
*High King Laufey*, Vilppu said, shaking his head. His voice was hushed, sad, and there was a gloomy look in his eyes. *They were like ... most kings don't actually take a mate for life, it's to hard to spend that much attention on anyone when they also have their duties. But with Farbauti and Laufey, that was this great romance ... I think there are still ballads about them.*
A great romance ... Tony had never been someone to care for such a thing (he had always craved it but never thought he might ever get into one himself) but it sure sounded like a good thing.
Which was of course when Anssi leaned over and said: *And then the aesir came and killed King Laufey.*
Tony had expected his plan to escape - to build a new portal for interdimensional travel under the nose of his new scientist friends and then activate it - to ho faster than it actually did. Well, the building it under there nose part was coming along quite well - his view on their projects was just different enough to theirs, both because he was from earth and because he was a genius, that the solutions he crafted in response weren't easily seen through by them. So what if he now and then build something, only to discard it again after a bit of tinkering? They weren't Loki, traveled and educated enough to see through his deception.
Yet the thing that hindered Tony was the simple fact that they weren't working on it every day. Maybe he should be grateful for that - between his own responsibilities in the palace and seeing Loki every evening - he's not going to stop that until he has to (it's too much fun and too much knowledge and just too much Loki to pass up on) because otherwise Loki might just see through it and realize he had been used - he would never be able to go out into the city every day. Yet it was frustrating, to know that he could have been so much further along with his plans if his companions weren't metal workers and tunneler in their daily lives.
That had been ... actually, that had surprised Tony a lot. On earth, people were either designing things, or they built them, most often with a very big chasm in both education and payment between them. Here there are scientists who aren't doing anything but science all their day - those in the big lab he had fallen into, like Nestori and Tuire - but there are also a lot of people who work with their hands, or at least power tools and whatever else they have here, and design inventions whenever they need them, or they think of them.
Like Asta , the one whose levy he stole all those weeks back and who is actually part of a team of jotnar that build trains. And Vesa whose sh o rt statue belied the fact that his clothing - a tunic that covered his arms and most of his legs and was therefore almost the equivalent to a nun's robe - hid tightly coiled muscles. He had promised Tony that he would take him down one day, to see the tunnels he was helping to drill and maintain throughout the planet's crust.
Kalevi was probably the strangest of all because he was actually a fruit farmer that had stumbled in with them because he had an interest in engineering. Tony still hadn't quite gotten his mind wrapped around that, probably because a part of him was still - even with all the evidence to the contrary - stuck on the image of the jotnar as savages. And barbarians weren't the kind of people who let farmers work on the important things.
Yet no matter how long it took ... Tony looked over at the machine parts that he had smuggled, part for part, into one of the unused palace rooms. It was still far from complete and he hadn't yet figured out what to use as an energy source - the prototype had worked with an ARK-reactor and the only reactor on jotunheimr was in Loki's workshop, where he had no way to get to it - but he could see it take form. Like a puzzle, compared to the picture on the box - he could see what he had finished and what was still waiting for completion. But he knew what he had to do, and he knew he would make it work.
Pepper, Rhodey, Jarvis - wait for me. I'll come home.
His friends' distress at seeing Loki put the spiral in his hair should have warned him of what was going to happen, yet it had never occurred to him that they would end up showering him in jewelry.
The first one was, of course, Vilppu, who turned up at his door bright and early the next morning and more or less wrestled him down before he was quite awake and pulled a chain over his head. It took Tony a moment to realize that his friend wasn't actually trying to kill him, at which time he had already used one of the moves Natasha and Steve had taught him to subdue bigger and stronger opponents. The look on Vilppu's face when he found himself on his back with Tony kneeling on his chest was one he would treasure for the rest of his life.
Risto was a bit more considerate, waiting until he had started in on his breakfast and gulped down his cup of their fake-coffee before he presented him with a truly breathtaking set of a golden chain and bracelet.
There were other people of his perhe that turned up at odd times over the next days to offer him a few delicate chains or, more often, another small piece to braid into his hair. Even some of the warriors that he had met and somehow become quite friendly with - in another life this might have been just the right kind of planet for him, with warriors who laughed at his jokes and encouraged him with nods and grins to go further - pressed small trinkets into his hands.
Vilppu, ever amused by how this turned out, helped him braid his hair - at long last he had found out why he hadn't yet met a jotnar with short hair and even the warriors often kept a long strand of hair - until it was shimmering all over and he felt as if his head weighted at least trice as much.
*If you put even one more in ill will be too heavy for me to even lift my head*, Tony groaned when his friend finished with another.
Chuckling Vilppu pushed the surplus - three more round metal beads and a spiral with a few red stones - into his lap. *You don't have to wear them all*, he admitted. *Though I have to admit ...* He moved back to better see Tony, mustering him with a smile. *Yeah, you look better. Not like a little exile anymore. Though still small.*
Tony rolled his eyes. *Really funny*, he grumbled. *Why do you always comment on my size anyway? Your mages aren't any larger than me either.*
Vilppu grinned. *No, but they are still dangerous. I guess you just look too much like a kid.*
Tony wanted to flip him off - he wasn't dangerous? Hah! - and had already opened his mouth to give him a piece of his mind when suddenly - Did Vilppu know how far he was off?
He had never told anyone here who he was, couldn't really without risking that his connection to Thor became known, so no-one here knew that he regularly put his life on the line in his fights against terrorists and aliens and whatever else dared to threaten his home that day. The only ones who might have had an inkling that he could be dangerous were the scientists back in the lab who had seen him in the suit, had maybe even handled the suit itself and seen the weapons in it. But he hadn't fought back then, wasn't dumb enough to fight when he knew that he was outnumbered and there wasn't anything but his own life at stake.
Nor was he dumb enough to correct his friend's assumption when this believe might give him the edge he needed the day he needed to escape.
Instead he changed the subject, nodding down at the hair ornaments in his lap. *Shouldn't I give something back?*
Vilppu blinked, obviously thrown by the topic change, then just went with it. *You don't have to*, he said. *I mean, it's customary to gift something in return for a chain but that's more because it is expected that you get it from people you consider friends. And there is nothing wrong with giving nothing back for the beads, especially since you got so many in such a short time.*
Tony shook his head, felt the weight of the beads, the way they fell around his head with the movement. Could feel the necklaces around his neck – three all in all, one each from Vilppu and Risto, and another from Tarja. *I have no idea how to even get you something in exchange*, he admitted. Not when he wasn't Tony Stark with the monetary weight of Stark Industries to back him up but just Anthony Edwards, nameless scientist and more or less prisoner of the jotun king.
Vilppu looked a bit confused. *You've been out in the city, didn't you see the gold smiths?*
Yeah, well. That was the part that Tony got. *Vilppu, I have like, no idea how this whole world works? I mean, do you have* And he really had never heard the word, wasn't even sure there was one in their language, so he used the English word instead, hoping that his friend would understand. "Money. Do you have money? Or how are you even paying for things?"
The face Vilppu made in response was priceless, all wide eyes and open mouth and astonishment practically dripping from him. *Are you telling me no-one explained this to you?!*, he finally managed.
*Would I ask if someone did?* Really, would Tony ever voluntarily admit to not knowing anything? Belated he realized that he could have borrowed Vilppu's or Loki's levy to find out.
Too late now.
*We have money*, his friend answered, not knowing of Tony's inner cursing, and he made sure to memorize the new word. *Well, not money as in coins or gold. We abandoned that … oh, a really long tome ago. Really, we only ever use it if we are dealing with other planets.*
*Are you telling me you use credit cards ? Electronic money, I mean * Tony stared. He was a child of the electronic age and he had been telling people again and again that they didn't need cash, only to be rebuked that it was to unsafe and a society needed cash to work or s omething. And despite his own thoughts on the matter there had been Thor, product of a rather more advanced society than earth, and cash had been a completely normal thing for him, far easier to handle than paying by card. It had left Tony wondering whether those people that had told him he was wrong maybe weren’t secretly right.
And now here was jotunheimr with the most advanced society he knew of and they weren't using cash either. It made his heart do a little victory dance.
*So how does it work?*
Vilppu shrugged. *Your account is linked to your name. It's actually quite easy to send money using your levy - remind me to show it to you when we are back home.*
*If I had money, you mean*, Tony reminded him.
Vilppu blinked. *But you do? I mean, you are working for the palace?*
*Yeah, well, not sure they pay prisoners.* It sounded flippant but Tony actually wasn't that sure anymore. After all, so far both the other servants as well as Loki had treated him as they would any other jotun.
And there was Vilppu, looking at him in quite surprise. *If the king weren't paying you you would be not better than a slave, wouldn't you? And we don't do slavery. More - we wouldn't allow one of our perhe to become enslaved.*
*Are you telling me that I've been payed all this time?*
*Of course.* Vilppu still looked bewildered, but at least explaining things to Tony seemed to calm. *I mean, you are part of a perhe so a certain percentage is going into the joint account to pay for things for the perhe, but we are living in the palace so food is paid for already and with how you haven't bought anything yet ... well, you are not rich but if you want to buy something it shouldn't be a problem.*
Well. That was a problem being taken care of. After all he wouldn't want Vilppu and Risto to think that he didn't like them by not returning their gifts.
And when he was at it there wasn't anything wrong with getting Loki something small as well, was there?
Tony still had work to do as a palace servant but learning that he was free - or at least as free as one could be who wasn't allowed to leave the planet - and having a rather substantial budget meant he left the palace more often. Of course, he still spend most evenings with Loki and two afternoons every ten-day with his new scientist friends, but that still left him with a lot of time between his work and the time Loki stopped working.
(Pepper would love Loki and probably for his work ethic to rub off at Tony. If not for, you know, Loki being the reason that Tony couldn't return home and actually do work.)
Anyway, with so much free time he found himself wandering the streets of Linnasenna.
He hadn't ever had any interest in architecture, much to his mother's dismay, and there wasn't actually much in form of architecture to wonder about in this city so that worked out well. On the other side, what he had always been curious about were science and people, and he found both aplenty here.
As he had already thought when he wandered about with his royal guide life here was mostly spend outside. Sure, there were tasks that even jotnar couldn't pursue under the open sky - things like delicate lab work or being a plumber or such but mostly? There were no shops, no schools, no banks in Linnasenna . If you wanted to sell something you did it from your blanket or cushion or just the pile of snow you had chosen as your current spot. If you wanted to buy something you were best served asking around for someone who offered the goods you were interested in or, not as good but much faster, you could check your levy and have it direct you to the next best seller. It was like Google map, just better (which wasn't that surprising - there was a reason Tony had Jarvis direct him whenever eh was searching for something. Maybe he should just create an app once he was back home ...).
Anyway, no shops. No schools either. He had already seen children sitting around their teachers and now that he wandered the streets at his own tempo, stopping and watching whenever he was interested, he found that not only were they outdoors and classes much smaller than what he was used to from Earth, there was also a big difference in their ages. Sure, he still wasn't seeing them like someone growing up on jotunheimr but he could see the difference in their size and color, with the darker hues and round faces of younger children and the lighter tones of the older. Teenagers or whatever the jotun equivalent was.
Not that the kids were in school all the time. Or the adults working. Actually, like Tony with his work as a palace servant, he found that most jotnar only ever spend a few hours each day working, or maybe they worked a few days and then took a few days off. No wonder that his new friends had the time to be scientists in their free time - they just had a lot of that. It left Tony wondering how exactly work got done when most everyone he had met until now treated work like a hobby.
Another thing - he got a levy for himself. Nothing fancy, just the standard model. Even working in the palace for a month and not buying anything for the money didn't allow him to get a special model.
Since he could program it himself once Loki got around to actually teach him the finer points of their most commonly used coding languages he didn't feel like he missed out on something.
Maybe it was the levy and their ensuing lessons - and discussions; oh man did they disagree which coding language was better for what! - but somehow they ended up working on creating an AI.
Tony wasn't sure what exactly had prompted that. Only that one day, Loki made a strange noise when he read the line he had just been typing out one his levy.
Looking up at the king Tony had found him watching the projected picture with rapt interest. Which was strange because there was nothing interesting to see - just a bit of Dum-E's basic code that he had been trying to translate into their programming language. Surely the jotnar had already programmed far more advanced AI's?
Though, he hadn't seen anything indicating this since he arrived on jotunheimr, and now that he thought about it - he hadn't heard a word for artificial intelligence yet either, or if he did he didn't remember.
Since he wasn't sure what Loki was so caught by he asked: *See something you like?*
Loki's answer was a completely blown away look. *I have never ... I mean, there are people researching into this field, but we lost so much there ... and after what happened there aren't many who are actually interested in a possible repeat.*
It took Tony a moment to understand this but when he did he felt his eyes go wide. Staring at Loki he asked: "Are you telling me you had an AI go SkyNet on you?"
For once his reaction to Tony being Tony wasn't his usual amused smirk. Instead there was pain flashing over Loki's face, almost as if he, too, had lived through this. *We haven't always lived here - on this planet, I mean.* Tony blinked, thrown; was Loki saying they had been traveling the universe? Like, active traveling, not just wandering the way the aesir seemed to do? *Our home planet - the one our race was birthed on* He did. Fuck. *It is long gone now in a star's death. Yet when we still lived there we ... well, we were very similar to humanity now. Careless with nature, careless with machines, careless with our future.* The wry smile on Loki's face made him suddenly look old and Tony couldn't help but wonder whether they were actually able to share memories. *So some people build artificial beings - what you call artificial intelligence, just given a body to move around - and within a few years ... it's suffice to say that it wasn't ending the way the scientists intended.*
*Did they try to enslave your race?*, Tony couldn't help but ask.
But Loki shook his head. *Our world was already dying and they were created in a hurry to man the ships bearing us away - we didn't then have the means to travel by portals as we do now. Not all ships arrived at their destination.*
That sounded like a story. A tragedy worthy of a drama, yes, but also as if Loki had skipped several chapters in his history book.
Not that it was any of Tony's business if Loki didn't want to speak about this. Something else was more important anyway. *You said created in a hurry?*
Loki nodded, a bit of his usual professionalism returning to his mannerism. *Those scientists that try to create another ... AI. They argue that the beings were not more than babies when they were sent to work. That they were given bodies like a jotun and with this the expectations of a jotun as well, something they could never hope to fulfill. That they would never have done what they did had they been raised a better way. Of course, since there are no AIs out there no-one can proof it.*
Tony blinked. *But there-* He bit on his lip - why had he let this slip out?
Yet Loki's raised eyebrow told him that it was too late to hold back so he carefully went on: *The universe is vast and I know that there are people researching AI's even on earth. Are you trying to tell me that there are no other AI's at all out there?*
A low chuckle came from Loki, a little bitter, a little amused. *There are. A lot, even, a whole planet full of robots. But since they killed all their creators off before ever leaving their planet they serve as a hood warning against what can happen if this goes wrong.* He fell silent again before nodding, hesitantly, to the few lines of codes Tony had scribbled over his holographic notepads. *This is actually the most advanced line on code I have ever seen so far.*
Well, with all the universe terrified by the fate of not one but two races harmed by their experiments it didn't wonder him. And yet ... *I build one.* Three, actually, but he thought it better not to shock Loki quite that much. *And I've never had reason to believe he would turn on me.*
Loki ... stared. For long enough that Tony started to fear he might have somehow broken some taboo he didn't know about.
And then he waved through the code and ordered: *Show me.*
It definitely wasn't what Tony had expected. Loki, already always a sponge when it came to knowledge, seemed to practically inhale the things Tony shared with him - parts of Dum-E's code (not the whole thing because it felt just too ... too intimate, too personal a thing to share with a stranger and Loki accepted this without problem) but also stories about things he had experienced with him and the mistakes he had made.
And then they started working on Friday.
Yes, like the weekday. Yes, Loki had red Robinson Crusoe. No, Tony had no idea why he chose that name for an AI.
Working on the code together was ... strange. He had already started to think of Loki as something like a friend - aside from, you know, the fact that he had to hide his true identity because otherwise Loki might kill him - but somehow creating an AI - a person - together ...
Sometimes they were just working on their part of code separately but more and more one of them came over to the other, to look over the other's shoulder and try to find out what they were doing and how it fit together with their own part of the code. Pointing out the errors with a grin in his voice only to have Loki snatch his fingers and pull him over which might be intended as a half-assed punishment but only ended with them both holding their sides laughing when he suddenly sat in his lap, his legs bridal style over Loki's legs and his head up in the code that it looked like a halo.
*A very blue and cryptic one*, as Loki commented when Tony shared that observation which set them both off again.
At other times it would be Loki who turned up behind Tony, his head resting on Tony's shoulder and making him realize that somehow, they had crossed that line between acquaintances and friends because jotnar didn't do casual touching with just anyone. It was a bit humbling, to know that someone who most everyone on this planet bowed to and respected and practically put on a pedestal he could never be touched was okay with being touched by him, was laughing with him and sharing grins and jokes and ... all the things he had never had anyone to share with.
That was maybe the strangest of all - he had Rhodey to laugh with, and Bruce to do science, and had just started out to live his more mischievous streak with Clint. But never in his live had he had someone to share everything with.
It left him looking at Loki in a very different way.
One of the days, when he talked to Risto and a few others in the common room about reading and books - which his ever expanding use of their script while programming it hadn't taken long to become completely fluid in it - he suddenly stumbled over the fact that they had no books.
Staring at Sipi with wide eyes he asked: *What do you mean, no books. You have a word for it!*
The jotun laughed, his hands catching in the ringlets of hair he had curled around his fingers when he threw his head back. *Of course we had books, the way you do now on earth. Printed and bound in thick leather. But that's ... uff ... how many thousand years ago did we stop using them?*
*Ten?*, one of them suggested, while another corrected: *Closer to eleven I would think.*
*Not actually that long ago*, Risto translated with a roll of his eyes. *There are still books out there even, but they have to be kept in a special environment to keep them from disintegrating. All in all, using the levy is better for the environment and it's also easier to carry . I mean, would you ever want to drag several books around just so you always have the right at hand if you have to look something up? *
Something Tony had been preaching for years now, only to be shouted down by the fans of the smell of books (cough – Steve – cough).
Still, if what Risto said was true, then … * So you can access books from here?”
The other tilted his head. *Yes, why?*
As it turned out, there were - next to texts about jotunheimr's geography and history and botanic and astronomy and every other science book he could only dream of – novels A lot of novels . Including the classics.
Tony felt his lips curl into a victorious smirk.
Finally he could quote right back at Loki.
Tony and his scientist friends had managed to finish their train project a few days ago and it seemed that whoever was overseeing the whole rail network was pretty enthusiastic by the whole thing. Not that Tony was surprised - there was a reason people called him a genius .
Anyway, even though he had been part of the team that developed the most advanced train of their time he had yet to see one of those trains or even just the rail network it belonged to. Tesla's blue balls, he didn't even have an idea where to find a station on this whole damn planet!
When he mentioned this to Loki - and only because the man had managed to ask after Tony had just ranted in his own head for half an hour over that very same thing - the jotun just shrugged and said: *I have to leave for a diplomatic visit south in a few days. If you want you can join me - would certainly make the whole thing much more pleasant.*
It caught him a bit unprepared - he had been all ready to continue his rant for a bit and finding such fast agreement threw him. Yet it wasn't that unexpected, was it? At least not the part where Loki left.
The king had been gone every now and then all the time, similar to Byleistr though the prince had been out far more often, barely spending more than a few day at a stretch in the palace. Which was quite contrary to their father and sire - Farbauti hadn't left the palace even once since he returned, not even to so much as visit the city. Vilppu even wondered whether he might fear to leave the palace after his mate's death; not that Tony would blame him if he did.
Anyway, Loki had been gone a few times so Tony wasn't unprepared for him vanishing again but it certainly was the first time that he had been invited along.
Not that he was about to pass up on that opportunity. *Sure thing.* And because, if he was going with him, he should probably know what this was about - he didn't really want to traipse into some potential fight or such: *Anything special going on?*
Loki turned from where he was bending over the parts of his little robotic spider ball experiment. *The Muspelar ambassador has managed to find the time to accept my invitation in his overly filled schedule. Either his wife is driving him insane, bless her cold little heart, or one of his other ... hobbies has stopped holding his attention for the time being.*
This ... didn't sound like a friendly visit. *Then why is he not coming here? If it's your invitation, I mean?*
A loud snort. *He does not trust the wards in this palace to keep him comfortable. Our south is slightly warmer, making it less likely for him to die should something malfunction, the slimy little warmblood.*
Yeah, not friendly. Definitely. *You realize that I'm also a warmblood, yeah?*
*And yet you have somehow managed to refrain from implying that living on an ice planet automatically makes you inferior.*
*Are you kidding? You guys are light years ahead of earth! I try to stick to the truth when I insult people.* Though now that he thought about it ... *Are they so much more advanced than you, on Muspel-whatever?*
*Muspelheimr.* Now Loki seemed ... really amused. *And to answer your question - they stumbled upon how to work portals between realms quite by accident and have since then preyed on the people and technology they have found there.* A flicker of utter distaste. *I assume you have Asgard and her king's vow of protection to thank for that they have, by and large, left earth alone.*
Tony suspected that it had cost Loki to admit that so he quickly moved on. *So they would terrorize earth otherwise.*
Loki opened his mouth to answer, then stopped and tilted his head, obviously thinking over this again before he suddenly started to grin. *You know, Anthony Edwards, I think if they decided to attack earth now they would find quickly that they have bitten off too much to chew.*
Tony stared. *And these guys dare to insult you?!*
*Not everyone manages to stumble upon our closest guarded secrets.*
Did he have to laugh about it? Grumbling Tony picked a screw from his table and threw it at the other who it easily ducked. *Yeah, well. I have a talent for this.*
It made Loki only laugh harder.
Anyway, going on vacation with Loki. As someone who hadn't ever been working for someone else before he was grateful for Risto's help in persuading Tarja to give him the time off - he would have to make the time up but that was okay - to go on his journey with Loki. Not to mention that he and Vilppu had him helped packing - otherwise he might have ended up packing his servant's kilt instead of the casual clothes that he had started to pile up.
Casual clothes as in, kilts that were red and gold and, in one case, short enough that Vilppu had suggested he might not want to lean forward in them
It had Vilppu rolling his eyes and commenting: *You are the king's guest, not his servant on this trip or he would be paying you. Really, Tony, have you never gone on holiday before?*
Tony chose not to answer because otherwise he might have had to admit that normally he PA packed his things.
The station certainly wasn't what he had been expecting. No, really - it was pretty much the complete opposite, for the simply reason that it was pretty much the cleaner version of a earth station was. It reminded him that convergent evolution was a thing, even when you left earth.
They hadn't had far to go to reach the station which was lucky because otherwise the advisors Loki had dragged along - and who had been shooting him unhappy looks since he had sauntered in to join their group with his backpack - might have ended up advising him that he should leave the strange human behind since he was only slowing them down.
As it was, he was still with them when they made their way into the station. The outside of the building had been the same as of any other house around, the different function only advertised by the walls being cut into reliefs of trains and the far smaller size of it.
Inside there were no stairs as he had half-expected but a great hall with three holes in the floor. Blinking Tony walked over to inspect them better.
They were about big enough for three of the bigger jotnar and leading straight down, and when Tony moved his hand over the abyss he could feel a strong wind starting up, making him suspect what this was.
Still, when Loki came up to him he asked: "Don't tell me you forgot the elevator cabin when you installed the turbolift."
Loki chuckled and shoved the strap of his own pack - a lot smaller than Tony's, probably because he was only carrying the things he hadn't entrusted to the care of the three servants coming with them - back up his shoulder. "I'm sure those lifts were fun. A few thousand years back when we still used them."
Tony gave him the look he deserved but it only made Loki laugh more.
Going down the lifts was ... at once the closest Tony would probably ever come to real flying and at the same time absolutely nothing like flying with the suit.
There was a strong current coming up from the bottom of the pits, yet it wasn't doing much more than slowing his fall to something that didn't make him feel his stomach was crawling up his esophagus - if his stomach hadn't already thrown the towel at everything Tony was making it go through - while a strange pressure appeared under his feet, stabilizing his descend and keeping him upright. It felt a lot like going with a roller coaster where you had no influence on how you went and Tony decided that he really didn't like it.
Stop was a combination of the field under his feet slowing and the current being reinforced from stronger blazes from the bottom, forcing him to stay upright and for a moment even to loose his stand on the field - obviously this thing hadn't been build with humans in mind.
Then he stepped from the landing platform and saw the station and all his complaints vanished.
The station looked like a earth train station, sure - but it had a size that would have fit three different train stations, with a ceiling that arched so high over their heads that Tony could barely make out any details - how far under the surface were they? There was only a smooth gray floor on their side of the station, with a few lone jotnar standing around and waiting, but when he looked over he could see a innumerable amount of golden lines on the ground, all of them tangled with each other as if they were the doodle of a small child instead of a carefully designed rail network. While he looked over Tony saw a colorful shadow whizz from one side of the station to the other, fast enough that he would have missed it if he had blinked in the wrong moment and he wondered what he had seen until he remembered the numbers he had been working with while designing that train.
They had been just numbers then, unbelievable - incredibly - high numbers. Now he actually saw them in reality when trains passed them by with a tempo that maybe wasn't the same speed as light but not that far off either.
Traveling once around the whole planet within two hours, he remembered, swallowing. He wouldn't ever admit to it but this was intimidating. And even though he had worked on improving the trains he couldn't imagine designing the original trains, being the one that had realized just how he had to build them - just which materials to use and how - so they wouldn't burn up due to friction.
Someone stepped up to him and he didn't even have to turn his head to know that it was Loki. "That's impressive", he admitted.
He could hear the smile and the pride in his voice when he answered: "That it is."
A car stopped in front of the group of jotnar that had been waiting before them and he watched them step on. It still looked vaguely like a train - all long and smooth at the tip and quite similar in the back but everything else was just a little ... off. Like the lack of windows and the lack of any connection to the earth, or -
*Are you coming?*
Tony turned around, surprised, only to find that their own train car had come to wait before them and the others were already starting to board.
Hurrying over he found Loki waiting for him with an amused smirk on his face before waving him over to the bench he had found to sit on. Well, bench - it was closer to a couch, with soft seating and backrest and definitely nothing Tony had ever seen in any public transport before. Even if this was the special royal version it was pretty awesome.
Not that he would admit that.
Grinning he sauntered over and let himself fall down on the seat next to him, completely ignoring the outraged looks the other occupants shot his way. *Need someone to hold your hand during the ride?*
*Me?* Loki seemed even more amused than before. *I think it was you who looked rather disheveled by using the 'vents.*
*Just the wind wanting to get fresh with me*, Tony retorted and reveled in the laugh this startled out of the other. *What can I say - even the elements know how awesome I am.*
There was a strange look in Loki's eyes for a moment before he grinned again, his hand coming to rest on Tony's thigh, just under where his short casual kilt ended (and fuck was he happy that he hadn’t chosen the really short kilt. Or maybe he meant disappointed). *Then I should probably hold you now, before gravity thinks to get fresh with you, too.*
Blinking and not sure he understood correctly - was Loki flirting with him or was he just imagining this again ? - Tony stared down at the hand. Thanks to the spell he couldn't feel whether it was cool or warm - though he imagined that it was warm, for a jotun at least; Loki was the kind of spirit that seemed too fast, too hot to be anything but burning - but he could feel how heavy it rested there. The softer, leathery plane of his palm with its whorls and calluses, the smoother tips of his claws where they were resting lightly on his bare skin. It could be everything, mean everything - a threat even, as he had seen his perhe use these claws to rip flesh apart that was far more robust than his.
And yet ... maybe it was that maybe-flirting that Loki had done before but suddenly Tony became very aware of how close they sat. Of how close that hand rested to other parts of his anatomy, parts that were suddenly very interested and fuck, he couldn't get a hard-one right now, no matter how hot Loki looked, or how confusing the signals were he was sending. What was even wrong with him? Loki was a friend - as much as he could be a friend, with Tony hiding his true identity and the threat of death and his imprisonment -, a friend like Bruce and he wasn't attracted to Bruce either?!
But then, no matter how much he flirted with his fellow scientist, Bruce always responded with the indulgent patience of the old and weary, while Loki only fanned the flames, challenged him to offer more and take more and do better.
Like now, where he grinned over at him as if he was waiting for Tony to on-up him and fuck it if Tony wasn't going to do just that.
Grinning he opened his mouth, ready to ask whether it wasn't Loki who was straddling boundaries - asking whether he really was flirting - when the door closed with an almost silent clang and a minimal jolt told him that they had started moving.
And Tony couldn't help it but he entirely forgot everything, from the touch on his thigh to the rest of the people to what they had been talking about. Because he had seen the trains move, had seen the statistics and numbers and data but nothing, literally nothing could prepare him for this. Because he knew that they were moving with something like 20000 km/h but he couldn't feel it. He had seen the data of the inertial dampers, had heard Asta tell him that some of the earlier models had been used in their spaceships, but he hadn't known what that meant until now that he sat in here and felt nothing .
*This is ... wow*, he heard himself say and he knew he would cringe at himself at a later time - because yeah, lame - but he couldn't help himself.
*I thought you were part of creating just such a vehicle yourself?*, Loki teased and he could just imagine the raised eyebrows even though he was far too busy staring at the opposite wall - yeah, right that place with the greenish tint and under this guy's ear, thank you very much - and going over all the data he had on this. Calculating how this train car he had been working on would be feeling compared to this one - assuming it was one of those AF4T3 models they had told him were the most used ones right now. It would be ... well, the start might be less smooth but that was because they were accelerating faster - maybe if they gave up a bit of the awesome design they could fit in another damper right there in the front ... it would mean that they lost some space but then Tony had just helped them gain a lot with his redesigning of the engine, hadn't he?
*Is something wrong with the human?*
And they could maybe get some more anyway ... Asta had tried to explain to him how these trains worked but it was completely different to see them glide over their tracks ...
A low chuckle. *Oh no, I assure you, he is completely alright. I just fear that we are not as interesting as whatever goes on in his head right now.*
He had known they didn't connect to the ground but he had still thought it would be more like a magnetic rails, not like this - had that been an affectionate tone? - this was more ... okay, Tony didn't have a word for it but that was okay, he could make it work anyway ...
He just had to think about it some more ...
In the end he completely missed most of their ride and only woke up when Loki stroked his hair back - fuck, it had grown a bit since he was here, Pepper would have trouble recognizing him ... Rhodey not. He would probably say something of how it reminded him of Tony's wild college time.
And fuck, it still stung to think of them.
*Anthony? You with me?*
Blinking he came back to the present, the mix of blueprints and memories and Pepper crumbled around him while Loki's face came into focus. "Huh?"
Loki seemed entirely too entertained. *Are you with us again? I fear we have to step off the train.*
Step off the ... oh. Blushing furiously Tony scrambled upwards from where he - fuck, he had leaned all over Loki's naked shoulder, he could feel the imprint of his lines in his cheeks and neck as if he had tried a very cheap jotun cosplay, and his hair was flattened on this side ... the cool smell of Loki clung to his nose and his skin probably and he blushed even more when he realized how this must have looked to - fuck it, those stuffy advisors had shared a train with Loki and him and they had seen everything. The last time he had been so embarrassed - fuck it, he hadn't been this embarrassed when Pepper woke him up to tell him that his orgy of the night before had been uploaded on YouTube, including several zooms right on his ass and dick. He was handsome, there was no reason to be ashamed of it, yeah?
But this time ... and then nothing had even happened. Would ever happen, what with who Loki and Tony were. But somehow drooling all over the hot alien he was somehow allowed to call friend felt much more intimate than sex.
Hot alien. Oh fuck, Tony was in so much trouble.
Forcing a grin on his face he tried to hide his thoughts. *Sorry for that. I didn't think you would be such a comfortable cushion.*
*Nor I, but I am always happy to learn of new ways in which I am ... good.*
Yeah, because Loki would never use words like awesome when speaking over himself but that tone and the accompanying smirk? He meant awesome, no doubt there.
They might have gone on for longer if not one of the pricks had made a sound, reminding them both that no, they weren't home and free but they had something to do here.
Judging by the way Loki deflated a bit he wasn't happy about that either.
They were expected out on the station. Not really the kind of official reception that Tony was used to from earth but then most of the people here acted very casual around their royal family anyway.
At least as long as Loki wasn't in the throne room. Tony would never forget the cool arrogance the king had displayed there in the face of an intruder, nor the haste with which his orders had been carried out. For all that most of the time everyone acted like Loki was just another jotun who happened to have more responsibilities than most they never forgot the power he wielded.
Anyway, there was a large warrior jotun waiting for them outside of the station who bowed deeply when Loki greeted him as the local crown prince - Aatami , not that Tony intended to remember his name - and a bunch of advisors and servants and a few guards as well who all quickly formed a wall around Loki and their prince, pushing Tony to the very edge of their circle. Which mostly worked because Tony was too busy staring at them; he had gotten used to how jotnar looked in these last months, or at least he had thought he did, because these here were looking quite differently. Where at home Tuire stuck out because he was too dark it was Loki and them who looked different here, too light, too strangely clothed. Most of the jotnar here wore something akin to Tuire's tunic, making Tony question his earlier assumption that Tuire wore his to hide the scars on his back. Rather, it seemed to be the local fashion.
And why wouldn't it? They might have only traveled a bit less than half an hour but on foot it would have been the same as walking from Canada to the equator - by far distant enough to have developed a different fashion style.
Not that they seemed to be happy with Tony staring at them, or maybe it was his being so obviously human, but the glances he got were even more faintly hostile than the ones he had gotten in his first weeks back at Linnakoti so he was very happy when Maire waved him over to walk with them.
*Don't take it personally*, he said, completely ignoring the surprised look of the local servants who helped them carry stuff. *He's just busy most of the time.*
Tony rolled his eyes - he knew that; after all, he had lived the last months with them, hadn't he? - but before he could make a comment one of the other servants commented: *And he's probably a bit embarrassed, too.*
An awkward silence came over their group, with the strange servants looking like they were about to blow up from curiosity. Tony blinked a few times himself, not sure what this was about. After all, it had been he who had drifted off to the thoughts of train improvements, not Loki!
Or ... had he somehow tarnished his reputation by drooling all over him? It was normally quite easy to know if he had done something wrong - Loki wasn't the kind to let it live him down when he trampled all over their taboos; case in point: how to properly greet a member of the royal family - but maybe he hadn't had the time what with them having to exit the train and greet their host.
*Did I do something wrong?*, he asked, just in case.
It got him some more strange looks in return.
*Are you joking?*, Maire asked.
When Tony just looked at him - did it look like he was joking? - he continued, slowly, as if not sure whether Tony really hadn't noticed: *The king is treating you like he would a lover, rather than a friend. And yet still neither of you wears any sign that you have been taken?*
Tony ... blinked. Loki did what? Surely they were mistaken. Of course, Loki was all over him when they were together, he joked with him and teased him and, well, touched him a lot, but that was nothing Vilppu didn't do as well! And, more importantly, he would know how to show his interest to a human like Tony, would know that Tony wouldn't be able to read his intentions if he went all proper jotun on him. Like flirting, for example, or inviting him over to dinner, or ... letting him join him for a trip if Tony showed interest in this.
Oh. Fuck. Sweet baby DaVinci. Tony was such an idiot.
*You really didn't know*, one of the other servants said, astonished.
Tony only shook his head. Sometimes he really was slow.
Walking the streets of Ruhona 's capital city Tony was reminded again that he wasn't in Linnasenna anymore. The snow around here was darker, not the blinding white he had gotten used to but a dark gray that gave everything a far more earthly air. Especially since the buildings were ... well. If Linnasenna was the Shire, then this city was Gondor, with houses that rose up multiple levels and long spires towering even above them, the palace a giant mountain in their midst. It reminded Tony of New York with its skyscrapers and the bustling about, and he half-expected the thought to sting terribly,
And it did, hurting enough to remind him that he missed home. And yet he couldn't help but notice that it stung less when he thought of the rooms that he had come to learn was home, too, the people that were his family, his perhe. And his friends. Loki.
It couldn't take away the pain of being plugged out of his life, of having no way to reach his friends and know they were worrying for him - he still remembered the face Pepper had made when he returned from his abduction, remembered Rhodey hugging him as if he would never let him go, still heard Jarvis say "I calculated your chance for survival at 12 percent".
And yet there was an undeniable difference between back when the ten rings had kidnapped him and now. A lot less pain, for once. Less weapons, no threat that he would be killed - except if he tried to escape. All the science he could imagine served up on a silver platter. Civilians running around. Civilians welcoming him in their family. Loki.
And, of course the fact that he had brought it on himself this time around.
He wasn't here because of some nefarious plot or someone betraying him. No, this time he was here because he had miscalculated and accidentally stumbled upon something he shouldn't have. That he was still alive ... look, Tony supported SHIELD and what they stood for - mostly - but he knew that, if it had been the other way around, Fury would have had him killed and not lost a night of sleep over it.
Instead of this he was walking free and befriending the king (not that he would have wanted to befriend Fury).
In another life - a life were he was really only the nerdy scientist Loki thought him to be, without his friends back home waiting for him ... this could have been something. Sure, Loki would live much longer than him, but they merged together in a way that had Tony guess what they could be. In another life, another universe, he might not hesitate after bring told that a hot, smart, witty, attentive alien king was wooing him. He might have said yes and maybe they would have tired of each other at one point but with the way so beautifully snarked at each other, challenged each other, Tony suspected that this time would have come after his death.
Anthony Edwards might have found happiness with Loki.
Tony Stark only hesitated because the thought of betraying someone who was falling in love with him was the cruelest joke this universe could dream up.
At the palace - it looked even more like Gondor from close-up, including the high spires, and really, it just made Tony want to call the mountain lab Moria because fuck it all - they were directed to the guest rooms.
They had the same general set-up as the ones at Lin n akoti, with a few separate rooms for Loki, another separate apartment for the advisors, and the servant's room. All of it was clean and smelled like freshly scrubbed yet the grayish ice made it look sub-par. Not that Tony was complaining - they had windows here that looked out over the whole city and that already improved the whole place in his eyes.
Since he had no idea where he was supposed to sleep - he was Loki's guest but what exactly did that mean when it came to sleeping arrangements? - he left his things with the servants before taking the vents down. (And he was just so happy that he had used those vents before because using them the first time around the strange jotnar? Really not his idea of fun).
He wasn't quite sure where he was going - except that he assumed Loki in the throne room - but fuck if he would ask anyone for directions. Any servants he saw stopped to turn and stare at him and more than once did he get the impression that they thought he shouldn't walk around unaccompanied. Which might have been explained if Tony didn't know that he had made headlines for at least a week after his arrival here (or well, that was at least what Vilppu had told him back then when he had still learned their language and script, making him rely on the jotun to know what was going on) so they should know who he was.
And hey, it wasn't as if he had stolen the crown jewels or something since he was here, so they really had - for once - no reason to stare that suspiciously.
Without directions but the vague idea that great halls had the tendency to appear in the forward middle of most jotnar palaces Tuire had made him study the blueprints of he finally managed to find the right place.
And not too late; by the loud voices he could hear even from outside the giant door it was already really exciting
The warriors guarding the door looked at him as if he were so much mud under their feet and Tony mentally prepared himself for a strongly voiced denial and a few weapons pointed his way when another warrior moved out of the shadow and waved him over. He was one of the lighter colored guards that had accompanied them from Linnakoti , so Tony wasn't surprised when he turned to the other guards and said: *High king Loki is waiting for him* before preceding him through the door, not even waiting for the other guards to answer.
Tony thought he deserved a medal. He actually managed to keep from showing the locals his tongue.
Inside, the throne room looked a lot less intimidating than the one in Lin n akoti and Tony wondered if this wasn't maybe another reason Loki indulged the ambassador in his demand to be met here - with a very advanced lab complex just around the corner and the throne room itself showing a lot of signs of being build with high technological tools it might just be safer to keep the man away.
A man who was standing in the middle of the room, his feet scraping over the beautiful mosaic laid into the floor, and trying - and despite their size difference somehow failing - to tower over Loki, who was coolly observing him from Ruhona 's king's throne while the king himself was absent, reminding Tony that dealing with guests from other planets was actually solely in Loki's job description. Well, his and the servants who had to pamper those guests.
Anyway, the Muspelar reminded Tony a lot of senator Stern . He was easily the same size as all the non-mage jotnar, just with a red skin that seemed to be burned in places to a hard, cracking black hide. Horns towered over his head, giving him extra height, and both hands and feet seemed oversized, making him seem somehow like a cross of a cold blood and a tiger. He wore a pair of long leather trousers, held up with a belt that also held a long sword and a laser weapon. (Tony checked; not one of the dozen or so guards in the room carried anything more advanced than an axe. Open, that is).
Yet despite having all the resources to seem intimidating it got lost in his hunched-over pose and the way his eyes darted from one guard to the other, completely ignoring Loki as a threat. Tony wanted to shake him and tell him that he was acting like an idiot, ignoring who was most likely the one going to kill him.
Well, if not for the fact that Loki seemed quite amused by the display.
He didn't think that the ambassador saw this - he was too busy currently going on about how they had just raided some outpost or another and how it had cost them greatly and did Loki really risk the wrath of warriors already devastated by their comrade's death (Tony was pretty sure that the guard at his side who was now leading him over to the sidelines scoffed at that line) by demanding more than their due for the pitiful goods they offered their high and mighty kingdom.
But Tony had gotten to know Loki quite well in the last weeks of working together and between this and knowing that, if Loki willed it so, this high and mighty kingdom could be only so much dust tomorrow, it was easy to see his amusement in his twitching lips and the way his skin was just so crinkling around his eyes.
He barely said anything to the Muspelar which seemed to enrage him even more, going on and on until Loki finally stood up right in the middle of his tirade.
*It seems I have been wrong when I thought your emperor might have need of the kide. Please accept my deepest apology for intruding upon your valuable time. You will of course find yourself as well as your entourage be welcomed in this house for the night, and I hope that you won't bear jotunheimr ill will because of this.* With a wave of his hand, two of his guards followed him from the throne, before another wink told Tony to come as well.
Unable to help himself Tony looked at the ambassador who seemed to be struck silent, his eyes bulging while he watched Loki walk away.
When the doors fell shut behind them again Tony asked: "Isn't that going to be a problem?"
Loki snorted, then followed suit in speaking English - obviously Tony had been right to think that the natives here wouldn't be as casual about Tony's unapologetic disrespect as the people back home had become.
"Muspelheimr needs the kide - a lot more than we need what they offer us, and Akula knows this very well. He was just trying to distract from it by pretending he had the upper hand. Tomorrow he will be back here and beg for another audience with me."
"Well, he's done a bad job at this. Fuck it, I could have done it better and I'm far from being a diplomat!"
That got him a low chuckle, yet when Tony threw a dark look in Loki's direction he quickly choked it back and waved him to follow. "Come. I know how you love the open sky above you, and the opportunity to explore something new. Let me introduce you to the dark jewel of our planet."
Loki hadn't promised too much - the city was beautiful, in a stricter, colder way that Linnasenna, like New York City compared to the picturesque villages of an impressionist painter. There were even parks there, little spots of snow and stones and small trees that one could gaze at from one of the benches lining the ways. And with Loki walking beside him, so clearly enjoying his company and making sure that he was there no-one dared to voice a protest against his being here. The looks he got were, if not welcoming, so at least more friendly curious than hostile, and the treat Loki bought him at one of the vendor's was tasty as hell.
And yet he couldn't really enjoy it. Not when there was Loki walking beside him, so attentive, his eyes so warm, so ... loving.
How hadn't he seen it before? They had shared hours in the lab together, going from outright anger back at their first meeting over intrigue and necessary to shared laughter and open smiles, to touches that were both casual and not because there was nothing casual to touches in a society that saw them as a thing to be shared only with friends.
And that was what Tony had thought they had become - friends. And maybe it was the fact that he had had to hide so much of himself, had to hide Tony Stark, Iron Man, his plans for escape ... but he had never noticed when friendship turned to more. Had never noticed the touches lingering on his skin, the looks turning loving and possessive instead of simple affectionate.
And what would have changed if he had realized it? Would he have acted different? Would he have risked his plan, his future, just to spare Loki's feelings?
The thought alone hurt. He had never wanted to become one of the people that could smile while betraying another's trust, and yet here he was, doing just that. And he could say that Loki was his captor, the one who had sentenced him to a life far away from his home, but he knew that this wasn't true. Hadn't been true for a long time.
Loki was his friend. And the only reason to betray him were the faces of his other friends that he still carried in his heart.
"Is something wrong?"
Damn the man for always knowing when ... Forcing a smile on his face Tony looked up. "Wrong? What should be wrong?"
Judging by the way Loki didn't return his smile he shouldn't chose a career as a professional actor. Instead he stopped, right there in the middle of the street, and stared at him as if he tried to see right into his soul, read whatever was on his mind.
Unease crept cold down Tony's spine and he felt his smile falter. Because he knew that face, could recognize worry when it looked at him. "It's nothing", he said and remembered too late that Loki would know exactly that he had been lied to.
"Come", he said suddenly, his hand clasped around Tony's arm not giving him a chance to refuse when he turned on his heel, towing Tony behind him while he marched down the street.
They got a lot of surprised stares but Tony couldn't even return them, too busy trying to stay on his feet with the speed that Loki chose. When he finally managed to catch up with him they had already turned into one of the smaller side streets and marched right up to one of the little parks.
"Loki?", Tony tried to stop him.
Yet the jotun strengthened the grip on his arm and walked on. Only when they had left all the other jotnar behind came he to a stop, abrupt enough that Tony almost walked right into him.
Catching himself in the last minute Tony stared at him. "You mind telling me what this is about?"
Loki wasn't looking at him, instead staring off into some unseen distance. And Tony might not be the most sensitive guy around but he could see how stiff he looked, the fists balled at his side as if keeping himself still took force.
It was enough to dampen the irritation Tony had felt. "Loki?", he asked again, and this time Loki turned around.
Whatever he had expected it wasn't the expression on the other's face. There was anger there, hot and bright, and Tony almost stepped back, afraid that he had done something wrong.
But Loki's voice was gentle, worried, when he took Tony's hand and asked: "Did something happen? Has someone hurt you?"
Had -? "What? Why do you ... no! What makes you think I would let someone hurt me?"
Some of the stiffness left him at his words, to be replaced by faint confusion. "But you ... you always enjoy being outside? When we are back home - I know you are in the gardens as often as possible, and you go into the city even when you don't meet up with the other engineers. And today ... oh." Loki's face fell. "Is it ... did you not want to go with me?"
Did he not want to go with Loki? With who would he want to go, if not with him?
But that wasn't what Loki was talking about, wasn’t it? What he was asking whether Tony liked him. Whether he loved him.
“Do you really love me?”
And he really, really wanted to hide under a stone right after because that wasn’t what he had wanted to ask, wasn’t what he – he didn’t want Loki to think that he loved him. He couldn’t love him, no matter how fun he was, and how hot. Had to ignore the knowledge that he and Loki meshed like pieces of the same puzzle, the spark of something between them.
He couldn’t have this. Not when he wanted to return.
Not when he didn’t want to hurt Loki even more than he already would.
There was still silence between them. A silence that, as soon as Tony became aware of it, only seemed to grow in density until it hung there, a dark cloud of all that he didn’t want to face.
He didn’t want to look up at, didn’t want to look at the friend whose heart he might have broken. Didn’t want to look up and find that maybe Loki had understood wrong, that he thought that Tony, too …
But for all his failures there was one thing that Tony had never done (not since Afghanistan) and so he looked up and into the face of the one person on jotunheimr that he loved most.
The face he looked into was open as seldom before, and he felt his chest hurt at the raw emotion that he saw there. Love, hidden so long – or maybe he had just never seen it -, and pain, and longing and … more love. There were tears in Loki’s eyes and Tony wanted to reach out and brush them away before they fell down and then he just couldn’t.
Not when it was him who had hurt Loki so much.
“I’m sorry”, he whispered.
But Loki only shook his head.
“There is nothing you have to be sorry for, Anthony. I knew when I fell in love with you, and I knew that the chance of you reciprocating my feelings was … slim, to say the least.” A smile moved hesitatingly over his face, curved his mouth, and he blinked to catch the tears. “I have … I am not one to fall in love this easy, this fast, but you are a wonder, Anthony, and in more ways than one. But I am king of the jotnar, Highest Ruler on this planet, and you ...”
“I am prisoner here.”
Loki nodded, slowly. “You are a prisoner here, and I cannot expect you to forget it. I do not expect you to forget it. So just … I don’t need you to love me, Anthony, but … I would be honored to be your friend.”
And there were tears in his eyes now, and pride, and love, and Tony would have to be a crueler man than he ever wanted to be to reject this offer.
“Sure”, he said. “I – I can do that. Be your friend. I mean” And yes, he was rambling, but he couldn’t help himself when he saw Loki slowly brightening again, the lines of his face becoming softer. “I mean, I thought we are friends already?”
And Loki smiled at him and took his hands, brought them up to his mouth and kissed them, his lips soft and dry against Tony’s hands and sending a lazy tingle down his spine.
“We were, Anthony”, Loki promised. “We are.”
And Tony only wished that this moment would never end, and he would never betray the trust in those beautiful red eyes.
The day when everything went to shit started out like just any other day.
He woke up long before he was ready to - mostly because Loki and he had made some more leeway on the AI’s speaking systems – and he really thought they should call her Siri, even if just because it would be awesome to have earth’s Siri having a younger, much cooler sister - which had resulted in him returning late enough that even Vilppu had already gone to bed - and mostly managed to get going because Risto practically poured the kahvi into his mouth until he managed to keep his eyes open for more than a few seconds at a time.
It had the added advantage of stopping the disgusted looks Tarja was sending their way, so there was that.
That day he had been scheduled for messenger duty so he spend most of the day walking around the palace, only now and then waving at someone he knew or exchanging a few words with someone else.
And everything would have gone on like this, right till the end of his sift when he would have left for the city and his afternoon with the hobby inventors and, after that, his evening with Loki. Would have turned right into another day like the ones before, part of a routine he had become comfortable in. Just that right about the time he was thinking about getting something to eat for lunch there was a sudden commotion going on in the hallway connecting to his. Someone was running, and he could hear excited voices - anxious voices, he would think, though it was still a bit hard to figure out with a language like rolling stones - getting louder.
Surprised and a bit worried - had someone gotten hurt? Or had Byleistr and his troop returned with wounded? Not that he worried about the prince per se but it would hurt Loki if his brother was hurt - he turned and made for the group, intend on getting informations.
There were a couple of warriors marching down the corridor just in front of him and he had to wait a second for them to pass by, pressing himself against the walls like the jotnar on the other side of the hallway did. There were four, one of them Veeti, two others familiar faces that he knew lived in the city and the last one wearing the servant's kilt of a different royal house, so he was probably an emissary from another court.
What they all had in common was the wide-eyed, terrified expression on their faces, the fear clear in their voices for all that their volume had gone down with the warriors passing them.
What had happened? An attack? But by whom? The Darkalfarheimr ambassador might have threatened them but even not knowing which secrets jotunheimr kept hidden under its thick ice it would be crazy to attack them. The jotnar were warriors and mages and even those that weren't trained in the martial arts were deadly. Who would be idiotic enough to actually attack them?
A sudden sinking feeling in his stomach made him wonder if he didn't knew even before he made it to the other jotnar and asked: *What happened?*
There was only one person that he knew who would attack even knowing that the jotnar were deadly, only one person who might think to have enough reason to wage war on another planet without thought.
And really, when one of the servants looked up it was to confirm the bad feeling Tony had. *The bifrøst has been seen used out on the Red Plain.*
Thor. Fuck .
Trying to keep himself from giving everything away he forced himself to remain calm. *Do we know who it is? And what they want?*
*They are aesir*, the courtier spat. *Have they ever wanted anything but to wreak destruction on the universe?*
My father spoke to him in peace even though he came without the courtesy given even the lowest servant on Asgard. Yet when he couldn't find the answer he was searching for on jotunheimr he started to slay us where we stood ... I have seen the place, Anthony, and the snow is soaked with the blood of my people.
Little wonder that the jotnar expected an attack.
The same servant as before shook his head before he looked to Tony to continue. *With prince Byleistr gone king Loki is going out to meet them.*
And that ... if he had already felt like falling before this was worse . He could feel himself grow cold, a hard constricting force crushing his ribcage. Only decades of hiding his true feelings at press conferences or events allowed him to keep his calm, to not betray the sudden fear that had taken possession of him.
Thor was a mighty warrior, no doubt, but he was also an idiot who rushed head-first into danger if provoked. And Loki ... Loki was a warrior and mage and just angry - hating - enough that he might provoke Thor into a rage that gave him the excuse to kill Thor.
And here Tony was and he feared for both of them. For Thor, who was trying to overcome the blood-thirsty idiot he had once been, who was his friend and here to rescue him. And for Loki who had lost his father and his freedom at the hand of Thor, had kept him caged here, yet had also shared his time and passions with him and become his friend in an even more intimate way than Thor. Had, somehow, wormed his way under Tony's protective shield to the point where Tony dreamed of a different world, a world where he could be together with him.
When the two of them met ... the best he could hope for was that both survived. The worst ... the worst case, they killed each other, Byleistr became king of jotunheimr and declared war on Asgard and everyone died for some other realm to pick up the pieces, like a bloody interdimensional version of Hamlet.
Yet even in the best case ... Tony felt the blood drain out if his face. Even in the best case, Thor would ask for Tony. Would probably yell it out loud enough to be heard right until the gates of Linnakoti. And even if he used his real name instead of Iron Man, Loki was smart enough to draw the connection within a heartbeat.
And he was also smart enough to know that Thor couldn't know know that Tony was here or he would have come earlier. Might actually draw up some story about the dangers of jotunheimr and how a solitary human could die so easily in the icy vastness.
And then he would return to the palace and kill Tony for his deception and his connection to Thor and for betraying the trust Loki had offered him.
He couldn't die. Not now, after all he had learned, all he had done, all the heartbreak he had endured to get here. Not without seeing his friends again.
He didn't remember what excuse he gave to the other jotnar for leaving but he found himself walking down the hallways, his mind crystal clear. If - when - he wanted to leave now then he had to complete the portal. There was no other way - even if he could make it out to the line in time he had no idea where the next station to the Red Plain was or how far it was from there to where Thor had landed and definitely no other way to reach him before Loki threw him off his planet.
Yet he still had to get an energy source for the portal. And with the portal keyed to work with an ARK-reactor there was really only one thing he could do.
The warriors guarding the Royal chambers were still there but where they normally seemed quite relaxed they now vibrated suppressed violence. Clearly, these warriors hadn't forgotten Asgard's attacks on jotunheimr either.
Still, after months of visiting Loki on a regular basis and wearing the necklace bearing his crest open on his bare chest they waved him through when he mentioned having forgotten something in Loki's rooms. After all, Loki trusted him, didn’t he?
It still set his heart racing and it wasn't getting better when he walked through the formal receiving room and the living room - empty for once - and then down the corridor into Loki's apartment. What if Loki had changed the setting on his lab door back, leaving Tony to stare through the near-indestructable door without hope to get to what he needed to escape.
Yet when he put his hand on the smooth pane it glowed and opened just like it always did, the door sliding back and giving the way free for him to walk into the lab.
Lights flickered on in the room and Tony had to clench his hands into tight fists to keep himself from looking over to the other projects. The AI they had been working on, the coffee maker, the early stage of a better lightning system ... gritting his teeth he forced himself to pass them by.
He didn't want to take them, didn't want Loki to think he had been exploited. Didn't want him to think that Tony would return to earth just to give away all the secrets and knowledge he had gained on jotunheimr.
Not that he could, even if he wanted to. There was still the ARK-reactor he had made him, sitting on the sideboard Loki had put him on last, handled as easily as if it were just a toy when in truth it could blow up the whole palace. It would be easy to hide under his kilt, but none of the other things could be easily taken out without the guards noticing.
His look fell on his own suit, still standing in the corner of Loki’s lab, half forgotten by both of them. A token of another life almost, a life in which he wasn’t one of the High King’s palace servants, his friend and maybe lover, but a superhero and engineer on earth who should be the enemy.
If his life had a soundtrack, then in this moment it would be the low, sad sound of someone realizing that they had come to a crossway where they had to leave a part of their life behind, where they had no choice but to choose one way and discard their former life.
Because this was what it felt like. Tony had to choose his life as a superhero because life with Loki … there was no life with Loki, no chance of one. Because if Loki returned now, knowing who he was, he would be his enemy.
More on instinct than anything else he moved forward and unfastened the right arm of the suit. It didn’t have as much power as it would if it were still attached to the ARK-reactor in his chest but when he had reworked the suit after his last disaster he had made sure to give the repulsors some power backup for when the ARK-reactor failed. Yet used as a weapon - especially against a jotun - it wouldn't work for long. One shoot, maybe two.
Not that he wanted to fight them. His fingers stilled on the metal and he looked down at the repulsor. Thought back at all the jotnar he had gotten to know - guards and servants and courtiers and all the other, regular citizens of the city. Thought of the friends he had made and his family, his perhe, that had welcomed him as if he had chosen them instead of being imposed on them by Loki. Even those that had always thought him a waste of space ... neither of them deserved to be shot at, deserved to be hurt.
To be betrayed like they would think he had, once they discovered his disappearance.
"I'm sorry", he whispered in the empty room, knowing the little AI would record everything he said even with her ability to respond still damaged. "Loki, I ... I promise, I never wanted to deceive you. No, that's wrong." He laughed, the sound bitter and painful and he couldn't help the burning in his eyes where he wanted to cry. "I wanted to deceive you, from the start. Because that was the only way to be safe. The only way to escape. But I never wanted to hurt you ... never wanted for you to fall in love with me. Never wanted to fall in love with you in turn." The last whispered, so low he wasn't sure the microphone had even picked it up.
Shaking his head he tightened his grip on the reactor and the arm, tried to focus on what he wanted to say Loki. After all, this was his last chance of telling him something without them standing on different sides again.
"I love you, Loki. I love this planet ... and ... I know what you think now, but ... I promise you. Your secrets - jotunheimr's secrets - they are safe with me. I know you are hurt now and I can understand that you won't believe a word I say now, that you will doubt any word I ever said - but believe this: I will never betray your mercy and your love."
He stared at the blinking light in the corner of the levy that housed their AI, not sure if it was enough, not sure how he could convey what he really thought, really felt ... but then he just turned around. He had no idea what he should say - could say - and either way, his time was running out. Loki would be returning soon enough.
"Good bye, Loki. Forgive me."
The walk down to the storage room Tony had hidden the portal in took only minutes but it felt like hours. Every warrior that passed him by seemed suspicious, every servant a possible spy. It didn't help that they were all on high alert, with fear and hate and white hot anger coloring their every move.
It made Tony feel like the worst human alive but he trusted that Thor had changed enough to not attack the city even if Loki made him lose his temper. And right now ... if he stopped to care for them he would never escape in time.
Getting the portal to work took not much time but he could feel himself start to sweat even though he only wore a kilt. The time burned down and he felt as if every moment the door would spring open with a bang and Loki appear right there, burning with anger and shattering everything with his icy touch.
His hands, normally so calm even in the midst of disaster, shook when he activated the sequence to return home and he needed two tries to make it work.
With a low hum, the portal warmed up, a shimmer of reactor blue appearing in its center.
Tony exhaled hard. Only a few more minutes five, maybe ten, for the portal to connect to the right coordinates and he would be home again, returned to his tower in New York as if he had never left. Back where he belonged …
He hugged himself, his hands gliding over his naked chest, tangling in the chains he had gotten from his friends. From Loki.
Chains that he didn’t deserve anymore after this.
He hesitated for a moment then his eyes flickered over to where his undersuit rested in the corner. If he wanted to leave jotunheimr behind then he should do it properly, shouldn’t he?
It was only a thing of a few minutes to strip himself of the kilt and fold it down on the ground, the chains following suit. The beads in his hair took a moment longer – there was a reason Vilppu always needed so long to braid them in – but finally he had gotten them all out as well and placed them on the kilt.
His undersuit felt rough and constricting after the freedom of the kilt but he ignored it.
This was a part of earth. Like he himself. Part of the place where he belonged, and where the ever more glowing portal would transport him to in just a few minutes.
Of course, that was the moment he heard heavy steps coming down the hallway outside of his little hide-away.
It could have been everyone - a servant, a warrior, just anyone - but Tony knew who it had to be. There was only one person in all of jotunheimr who would know where to search for him - only one person who had put a spell on him that connected him to them in a way much more intimately than Tony had ever thought. And it was also the only person who would seek him out alone, angry and confident enough to think he could take him on alone if that was what he needed to do.
And maybe, maybe Loki also still hoped to be wrong, to find out that Tony was still only Anthony Edwards, and not Tony Stark, Iron Man of Earth.
Tony closed his eyes, hard enough that it almost hurt, and took a deep breath. There was nothing he could do anymore to salvage anything from this … thing, that was between them. Once Loki walked in here he would know that everything Thor had told him was true.
So the one thing he should be focusing on right now was returning to his friend’s, his home.
Because right now, it was the only home he still had.
Throwing a glance back at the portal he saw that it was still in the process of warming up, so … another two minutes, maybe three, until he could go through. Not long anymore but too long to go without Loki noticing. Which meant …
Taking a deep breath Tony braced himself, then touched his suit’s arm. The metal folded over his arm like a second skin and he could almost feel himself become stronger, less the harmless little scientist he had played at being for the last months. Loki’s spell made it feel smooth and hard, without the deadly cold that would certainly kill him, and he shuddered at the sudden reminder that there was a very easy way for Loki to stop him from going anywhere.
He threw a last glance over his shoulder – still not finished warming up – then tapped the door and left the room.
It was indeed Loki who stood there, halfway down the hallway. He wore a kilt that had been lined with gold and studded with gems, his crown rising from his head like imposing golden horns. There was no jewelry on him for once – no warrior would wear jewelry when going to war against Asgard, not when they thought it a greater insult to go naked – and it left him looking different, all endless blue skin and hard muscles and strong lines and Tony’s chest – his heart – clenched at the expression of helpless disbelief on Loki’s face. It morphed quickly – disappointment, mourning, anger, but Tony had seen it, had gotten that small last glance into Loki’s true feelings.
For it would be his last glance. If they ever met again Loki would have the same cool facade up he showed now, had shown back then when Tony fist saw him, and Tony would probably be grateful if Loki didn’t kill him on the spot.
*So he was telling the truth for once*, Loki said, and Tony could feel himself grow cold at the empty tone that he knew to hide all the anger and … sadness, over Tony’s betrayal.
*Would it help if I said that I was sorry?*, he asked.
Loki never took his eyes off him *No.*
And then he attacked.
Maybe anyone else would have talked it out but Loki could see the portal through the door frame behind him and he of all would know what it meant that it glowed. Knew that he had only minutes to stop Tony from leaving.
And Tony might be one of the few persons who would expect him to attack instead of trying to talk it out, trying to keep Tony from leaving, and his heart wept at this sign of how good they were suited to each other, of how they could have been each other’s heart and soul.
In another life …
Gritting his teeth Tony moved back, escaping the attack by barely a hair – he was human after all, no real challenge for a jotun warrior of Loki’s caliber. But then he only had to hold Loki off for a few minutes more …
The king was fast, changing direction in a heartbeat and coming at him again in a flurry of blows that Natasha would be hard pressed to escape. Somehow he managed to keep from getting hit too hard, adrenaline flowing through his veins instead of blood and keeping the pain from hindering him.
Still, he lost ground and found himself backing up towards the storage room.
If Loki managed to get past him all it would take was a single shot of ice or magic and the portal would be a pile of junk.
Why wasn’t Loki using his ice against him already?
Not that he could actually pursue this thought, not with Loki coming at him again. Kick – evade, kick with left leg – evade – fuck that hurt. Right arm – duck – that was close – kick again and – fuck, no, he couldn't let him – he brought his right arm up, still not sure whether he actually wanted to use the repulsor against Loki or just use the metal to save him from the hit – the hit that never came, instead pain blossomed in his stomach from a knee that he hadn’t seen coming …
Try as he might he couldn’t stop his body from sacking down. A shimmer in the air above him alerted him to the active magic but he couldn’t react, not even when Loki brought his spear down at him … brought it down and swept him off his legs, leaving him half-sprawled like a carcass, ready for the kill.
Tony stared up, helpless, the breath kicked out of his lungs from the force which with he had fallen on the floor, and he knew that he was all but dead like this, like a lamb being brought to the butcher.
And yet when Loki’s eyes met his he couldn’t see his death in them. Instead they were burning – anger, desperation, sadness. For an endless moment their glances locked and Tony tried to make his mouth say what he felt - “I’m sorry; I forgive you” - but his lungs failed him leaving his lips to move around unsaid words.
Maybe Loki could read it anyway, or he had his own reasons, but instead of bringing his spear down he turned away, ready to move on and destroy the portal – Tony’s only chance to return.
He had no idea where he got the power from but he somehow managed to leverage himself up and grip Loki’s leg, forcing the jotun to shift his balance to keep himself from falling, and that was all the time he needed to bring his other hand up and activate the repulsor, shooting right into Loki’s back.
The force was enough to shove him a few meters across the floor, but that was nothing compared to what it did to Loki.
The jotun had been shoved the whole way into the wall, crashing into it hard enough to make the mosaics splitter around him. The ice wall had crumbled where he had crashed into it, the pieces flying everywhere, and Tony could see the darker parts where it had become flecked with the blue blood of a jotun.
Staring at the king he wasn’t sure what to do. Had he … had he killed Loki? He hadn’t wanted to – fuck, no, he hadn’t wanted to hurt him, that was the whole point of slinking away in silence! And, and – Loki was a jotun ! He had seen them take damage even beyond this – had seen them stand up after even more – and – this was Loki! He was their king! He shouldn't be able to be felled by something like this!
A shudder came from the still form and Tony could feel himself exhale in relief, then coughed and realized at the sharp pain in his chest that he had forgotten to breathe. Hadn’t noticed it, or the tears running down his face or his own pain – scraps and scratches that would heal in no time even on a human and bruising that would take longer but still, nothing major.
Carefully he came to his feet and moved over to the still form, yet still kept his distance. But even so he could see Loki breathing, the blood easily explained by a wound on his head – head wounds always bled more – and he could feel himself breathing easier.
For all that this hit and the resulting crash into the wall could have easily killed a human it seemed that Loki had survived with not much more than a concussion. At least that was something that wouldn’t weight on his conscious.
Should he call for help?
It took him only a moment to decide that this wasn’t necessary. We would have to destroy the portal behind him to keep anyone else from getting through and gaining entrance to his tower, and the explosion should be loud enough to alert someone and have them running here.
As fast as he could he made it back into the lab where the portal had now taken on the glowing blue of being in working order and he stepped towards it. A last glance at the clothes and jewelry he would leave behind, lying there in the corner of the room, then he took the arm, quickly activated the self-destruction sequence and placed it next to the portal.
A very last glance over the room, the world that had been his friend and cage for months, then he stepped through the portal to return to his own world.
Edited to add: Yes, I'm still planning (and writing on) a sequel (21.05.2018)
Sequel's still in progress but there's Loki' POV of the last chapter up now if you're interested (Interlude, 30.10.2018)