In the aftermath of destruction, they find a necklace. It looks it is made of silver, but glows softly, like when the sun is hiding just behind the clouds. The pendant on it glows a dark blue, nearly black. It’s enchanting, and to humans, it would seem otherworldly.
It reminds Tony of the home he left behind on Alfheim.
‘’This does not look like a Chitauri weapon,’’ Steve says as he picks it up, and he sounds worried. In their line of work, the unknown is probably the worst thing to encounter.
Bruce comes to see what they’re talking about and joins them in staring at it. ‘’Is that dangerous?’’ he asks, looking at Tony. His entire posture is tense, as if he’s afraid the battlefield they’re collecting the dangerous alien stuff from will make him Hulk out again. No cleaning crews for this stuff anymore: Peter’s adventure has made Tony see the dangers in that.
Tony shrugs in the suit, as if this whole alien-coming-to-Earth mess doesn’t remind him of things he’d rather forget. ‘’Hell if I know,’’ he lies, as he always does.
If Tony isn’t broke after this, he never will be.
The Avengers, after Thanos, are numerous. Steve says that they’ve also never been better, and Tony likes to believe him. The trust between them is fragile, but the entire Universe is rebuilding from Thanos’ attack, so maybe they should too.
Fact is, Tony has had to rebuild the Avengers Compound, and he’s had to rebuild it to be bigger. From their original six, five remain, and a lot more join. Some join temporarily: T’Challa agrees to helping out when necessary, and Wanda asks to first join Stephen Strange before making a choice whether to return or not. Spiderman asks, shyly, to be an honorary Avenger, because his aunt has agreed that if he’s going to join the fight, he may as well have allies. Ant-Man and Wasp join them, but the Guardians of the Galaxy are planning to return to their previous Galaxy-saving instead of hanging on Earth.
Maybe that’s for the best. Tony is kind of afraid of the friendship between Gamora, Natasha and Valkyrie. Between the three of them, he’s not sure how much alcohol he’s paid for. The bill for Valkyrie’s drinking alone is enough to bankrupt a poorer man.
Some other strange friendships have come out of this as well. Ant-Man and Peter Quill hit off immediately, and Steve seems to hang out with Groot sometimes. In the meantime, Tony is surprised to find himself drawn to their former enemy Loki.
Maybe it’s not that big of a surprise, really. When Thor, Loki, Bruce and their jolly band of Asgardians came back from their trip to space, they immediately reached out to Tony and Steve, who were not on Speaking Terms at that moment. The news of a universal Armageddon has a way of bringing people together, however.
Loki could tell most about their upcoming foe to Tony, claiming he’d spent some time with the Mad Titan before the Battle of New York. Tony had been uncertain about trusting Loki, but considering the relaxed stances of Bruce, Thor, and Valkyrie in his presence, it seemed he’d joined the good guys, for the time being. And thus, a wary friendship came to be.
‘’It’s not Chitauri,’’ Loki tells them immediately, when Steve shows him and Strange the necklace. Outside the bleakness of a battlefield, its glow seems even more ethereal.
‘’It’s not man-made, either,’’ Strange says, his eyes locking with Loki’s for a moment. Tony’s not banking on Dr Strange figuring this out, though; the man is very skilled, but does not have the knowledge about the Nine Realms that Loki and Thor have (and, incidentally, Tony, but he’s not going to give the answer).
It’s only the five of them in the room. Bruce and Tony are supposed to be running data on the Chitauri weapons, and Steve only was there to get them to eat – just like old times, Tony guesses. Steve is trying very hard to make up with Tony, and he just kind of lets him. They both have to regain their trust if the Avengers are to work, and it’s simplest to let Steve do his thing.
‘’Why did the Chitauri have it, if it’s not theirs?’’ Bruce asks, and glances at Steve. He seems to be relieved to be back on Earth, from what Tony’s heard from him, but he’s mainly been with Thor, Loki, Valkyrie and Tony himself since his return. He seems to mostly avoid the Avengers, though, and Tony does not yet have an answer as to why.
‘’Perhaps they stole it,’’ Strange contemplates.
Loki snorts. ‘’The Chitauri are Thanos’ army. They do not simply steal, like petty thieves in the night.’’
‘’Well, they got it from somewhere.’’
‘’Yes,’’ Steve interrupts, ‘’But from where?’’
Loki sighs, and takes the necklace. ‘’On first sight, I would say it’s Asgardian,’’ he says. ‘’But there is some magic in this. I am not sure what it does: it is not quite like my own. The elves from Alfheim made this, I think. They are magical creatures, curious and ethereal. Asgard does not have much contact with them, but they are ruled by someone named Frey. We are rather familiar with him. Thor used to be friends with him, when we were younger.’’ He turns the necklace around in his hand. The sun catches it in the right way and it lights up the room for a second, before it disappears behind the clouds again.
‘’It’s beautiful,’’ Steve says, staring at it.
Loki smiles fleetingly. ‘’Many things the elves make are quite beautiful. Alfheim is the most peaceful of all the realms. As far as I know, Thanos never went there. Elves are magical, but their power comes from their own spirit, a connection to their own soul. It makes their magic reliable, but also limits them. Alfheim didn’t have anything to offer him.’’
‘’So why is it here?’’ Strange asks. No one can answer.
Loki approaches Tony when he’s on the roof, watching the stars in the company of a helicopter parked there.
‘’I did not take you as someone who likes stargazing,’’ Loki says, keeping a polite distance.
Tony turns his head to look at the Norse god. ‘’I used to, when I was a boy,’’ he admits. I missed home, he dares not say. He’s not even sure why he missed Alfheim, except for the fact that he’d had his mother there. If life had been good for them there, they never would have left.
He’s not even sure why he kind of misses Alfheim now, really. Maybe it’s just the reminder that his home is somewhere, that it still exists, even though Tony hasn’t been there for about half a century. Maybe it’s just that he’d like to go back to a simpler time, before becoming Tony Stark, before Iron Man, before Earth became as complicated as it is now. Maybe it’s just nostalgia.
Loki remains silent, so Tony goes on. ‘’People have always wondered if there was something more, you know? So many movies made about aliens. And here we are, and we have fought aliens. And now, people are wondering what else is out there, but they’re afraid that it’s never going to stop. That now that it’s come, it will continue to come.’’
‘’Did you wonder?’’ Loki asks.
I already knew, he’d like to say.
‘’I’m just disappointed you’re not green,’’ he says instead.
Thor also investigates the necklace. Bruce and Tony have officially made it Loki’s responsibility, claiming they already had the Chitauri weapons to take care of. Tony’s schedule is already full, even if he’s momentarily put inventing for Stark Industries on hold. Cities need to be rebuild and the Avengers need to be formed, and Steve and he have yet to find a compromise for the Sokovia Accords, to be honest. Tony doesn't believe they'll ever agree on responsibility, but the least he can do is try. General Ross is calling him daily, but so far, FRIDAY has been taking care of that.
‘’Why do you feel responsible for the Avengers?’’ Loki asks, a few days later.
Tony looks up. They’re in the workshop together, a place most Avengers know not to bother Tony. Loki ignores every boundary, however.
Tony puts down the gauntlet he’d been working on. The Iron Man armour he’d used to fight Thanos is completely wrecked, but it had been a good exercise in finding his weak spots.
‘’Because they make the world a safer place,’’ he answers. ‘’Why did you become a good guy?’’
Loki huffs. ‘’I’m not a hero.’’
‘’You’re kind of like a honorary Avenger now,’’ Tony grins. In the time spent with Loki prior Thanos’ attack, he noticed that he and the other merry men from Asgard never mentioned Loki’s sudden shift in sides.
Loki just shrugs. ‘’My alliances do not lie with the Avengers.’’ His eyes seem to challenge Tony to ask where they do lie.
Tony doesn’t ask.
The thing is –
Tony’s not quite sure what the thing is.
If his life wasn’t complicated enough before becoming a superhero, it certainly is now. Ten years playing at this, and look how far they’ve come: saved the world enough times for it to have become routine.
(Tony wouldn’t give up Iron Man for the world. He knows he will always have nightmares, but he’s more afraid that he will always be indebted to the world that he helped destroy. He’s always afraid that he hasn’t done enough.)
But even the superhero business aside, after Thanos, Tony is not sure what he is supposed to do with his life. For now, he is Iron Man, and he likes to think that the Avengers need him in this period of fragile trust and careful rebuilding. But Rhodey is an Avenger now, and Steve is back, and there’s a lot of other people who can contribute to the team besides Tony. He’s not sure how long he’s wanted anymore.
And he’s not sure he’ll ever fit in with the Avengers again. Not after the mistrust they had for each other. Not now he’s been thoroughly reminded of the life he left behind, and the lie he built this existence on.
The necklace continues to mystify the resident Asgardians. They don’t know what it does, what it’s for, and why Thanos had it, or how he got it in the first place. Heimdall confirms that peace continues on Alfheim, so Thanos was never there.
Loki gets frustrated.
‘’If we are to know what it is, we need to go to Alfheim,’’ he states in a meeting with all Avengers currently available. That comes down to Strange, Tony, Bruce, Thor, Ant-Man, Rhodey, Steve and Wanda. ‘’Or, perhaps, get one of the elves of Alfheim to Midgard to identify it.’’
That wouldn’t necessarily work, Tony knows. He has by no means much talent in the magical apartment, but if Loki can’t work out that necklace from here, an ordinary elf wouldn’t do the trick. Elves, by nature, can only draw on magic from their own energy. Loki has a far superior power, as to draw on the energy around himself.
Hence the reason elves use trinkets to help their magic along. Still, drawing energy from oneself is the reason they are such capable shapeshifters. This is how Tony manages to keep his appearance as a human at all times: he hasn’t shifted back into his elven appearance since Howard took him in.
But, Tony Stark, vanilla human, has no way of knowing that. However, he does know the difficulties of getting to any world without a space ship at the moment.
‘’There’s no passageway, and your ship is wrecked. You could hitch a hike with the Guardians, but then there’s no guarantee as to when you’ll be back.’’ Besides, the Guardians were planning to leave in a short time.
Loki sighed. ‘’That hitchhike might be necessary.’’
‘’Why?’’ Wanda asks, and gives a wayward glance to Strange.
Strange cocks his head. ‘’We’ve sensed it outputs energy, so it is actually doing something. However, it is impossible to figure out without using spells. Having said that, using spells might be a bit too dangerous when dealing with unknown alien trinkets.’’
‘’It can go boom?’’ Tony asks. What the heck does he know of magical necklaces, really. It’s not like he actually practiced a lot of magic when he still lived on Alfheim.
The people who are actually well-versed in magic nod.
Okay, so Tony has other things to do than worry about necklaces. Sue him. After the meeting, he goes back to neutralizing the Chitauri weapons with Bruce, chatters with FRIDAY, and skips dinner. Then he tries to work out a way to make the suit ready for space combat, but doesn’t find an answer before Loki comes down.
Tony blinks away the calculations in his head and turns around. ‘’If it isn’t my favourite redeemed super villain. How can I assist you today?’’
Loki grins, casually leaning against the wall. ‘’I’m on Stark duty. You’ve been down here for two days.’’
Tony tries not to be surprised. ‘’Well, you know how it is. Busy, busy. Can I – why is there a Stark duty? Don’t you band of gods have better things to do?’’
‘’I volunteered,’’ Loki says. He waves with his hand, and a cup of steaming coffee appears in it. ‘’I am not going to belittle you, Tony. Your dedication to improvement is admirable, but even you have your weaknesses. Have coffee with me.’’
‘’It’s a date,’’ Tony replies. He goes with Loki, drinks his coffee, manages some food and has a lovely evening with Loki before falling face-first into his bed. He dreams of dark hair and pale skin. Only when he wakes up, he realizes how screwed he is.
His life becomes even busier when Pepper demands he starts helping Stark Industries along again. Of course, he couldn’t stay in Superhero Land forever, but he has to manage his schedule somehow.
He already has so little time between helping with the rebuild after Thanos, sorting the Chitauri business, managing to keep the press at a distance and Ross even further away, trying to rebuild the Avengers and some trust between the various members (mainly Steve and him, though), improving his own amour and other gadgets for the other Avengers, that his plot to avoid Loki works quite well without trying.
Well. He’s still trying a little.
He hadn’t quite realized how close Loki and he have gotten during the whole invasion thing. Now the business with Thanos is coming to an end, things are slowly getting to an end with their friendship too. Thor hasn’t mentioned it yet, but the Asgardians will want to rebuild their own realm. They can’t stay on Earth forever, and Thor is their king. The danger has passed – little is left to stop them from returning to their home, or possibly finding another one.
And Loki will go with them, Tony knows.
So no matter what Tony’s feelings decide to do, no good will come from it.
Except for the fact that Thor and Loki are still not finished helping Earth, seemingly.
Tony always runs into numerous people. Sometimes Steve, and then they quietly talk and try to understand each other. Tony thinks this is very mature of himself. Other times it’s Rhodey, and they get drunk and reminisce. Occasionally he even runs into Bucky, and both of them never quite know what to say or do.
Loki is the one running into him this time, because Tony is still Avoiding Feelings. ‘’Such a coincidence!’’ Loki says merrily, but his face is a thunderstorm.
Tony, on his part, is not smooth. ‘’Uh – hi.’’
Loki does not back down and pin Tony against the wall. Tony does, decidedly, not find this attractive. Except that he kind of does. Shit.
‘’Stop avoiding me,’’ Loki says.
‘’I wasn’t avoiding you.’’
Loki’s eyes narrow. ‘’Liar.’’
‘’I would take offense to that, but I know you don’t care.’’
‘’I don’t, indeed.’’ Loki’s face comes dangerously close to Tony’s. After that, he’s not sure what he expects, but he sure doesn’t expect the kissing.
Except the kissing is what happens.
What the hell.
Their usual daytime activities don’t really changes after that, except for the part where Loki comes bugging Tony a lot more and Tony gives Loki some more nicknames. He’s not sure the team knows, because he realizes they already kind of acted like this only now Tony is aware of Feelings.
The night-time activities are a lot of fun, though.
But well, sometimes Tony wakes up before Loki, and he feels guilty, because Loki called him a liar, and Loki was more right than he thought.
‘’We need to go to Alfheim,’’ Loki says. His eyes are focused on Thor, and he holds the necklace tightly in his hand. Tony thinks it would look good on him.
‘’You don’t know when you’ll come back,’’ Tony says. He thinks his voice doesn’t betray him, but the thought of losing Loki now – he’s not sure he can handle it. Which is ridiculous, because Loki lived through more things Tony can ever imagine, and will continue to live long after his charade as Tony Stark ends. Tony’s still not quite sure what will happen by that time, but he’s learnt to improvise. Loki, on a daily basis, leaves Tony breathless with wonder, and that is not something that he takes lightly.
Loki’s green eyes rest on him, now. ‘’The necklace has a tremendous energy outflow. If we do not find out what it is now, we do not know what the consequences will be.’’
Thor sighs. ‘’If Loki says this is necessary, then it is,’’ he says. ‘’Do not worry, Tony. I know King Frey, and I know his family. There is no danger on Alfheim.’’
‘’Famous last words,’’ Tony bites, but he doesn’t want this. He doesn’t want Loki to leave him.
Loki levels him with a look, and rests his hand on Tony’s own. ‘’I promise,’’ Loki swears.
Tony has no choice but to concede.
The Guardians are ready to depart two days later. Loki stands with them, his battle armour on and curly dark hair framing his face.
Tony has a suitcase with his armour in it, a phone and a laptop and a dozen contracts for Pepper to settle things. The other Avengers that are there to see the group off look at him with some surprise, but Tony has made up his mind.
‘’I am coming with you.’’
Tony is going back to Alfheim.