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The Game That Never Ends

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Loki would have refused Tony, had he been thinking with his head instead of his heart.

There are innumerable reasons why Tony coming with him is not a good idea. Frey dislikes Midgardians for their perceived weakness and sheltered home, and his sister is not much better. The elves of Alfheim are not safe company for a human who is not familiar with their tricks and fancies. Besides, while the Vanir are gifted with All-Speak, the elves are decidedly not, so Tony wouldn’t even be able to understand them.

Besides, Loki knows Alfheim well. If anything is to go wrong, he will be able to get himself out of a dire situation rather quickly. While Tony has his suit, he lacks the basic knowledge of the nine realms, and Loki may not have the opportunity to take care of himself and Tony at the same time.

However – well, Loki was not thinking. Tony may be passed off as a representative, but Loki does not mean to announce to all the realms that Midgard is now well-aware of the life outside their own world. Thanos is defeated, but there are other harmful things out there.

Loki was not thinking, and now he has brought the person he’d jeopardise last into the vast and endless darkness that knows no master.

~*~

The Guardians plan to drop them off directly at Frey’s palace, which Loki is secretly grateful of. He imagines Tony is eager to investigate this new world, the first time leaving Midgard, but finds his lover staring at the ethereal beauty of Alfheim with a pensive look on his face. Even when Peter Quill is making jokes and ribbing him, no response comes.

Not even Rocket, who has become a weird sort of friend to Tony but steers clear of Loki, can get him to snap out of it. Gamora just gives Loki a careful look, clearly communicating that she expects of him to find out what is going on with Tony.

Loki carefully thinks about it, like he does with everything around Tony. The Avengers turned out to be less clear-cut vulnerable humans like he first thought them to be when he was the invader, especially Tony, with his quick wit and clever mouth, brain going too fast for others to follow. It is what endeared the inventor to him when he returned to Midgard with Thor, and what convinced him to pursuit the mortal.

And Tony may be extraordinary, but he is still essentially human, and Loki sees it reflected in his ambitions, feelings and morals. He doesn’t know what he thinks of other planets, and a different species altogether may leave a larger impression upon him than Loki anticipated beforehand, even if he took all aliens on Midgard in stride.

Tony’s silence may mean nothing, or it may mean everything.

So while they’re landing, Loki sits down to him carefully. He makes sure his expression is schooled before he lays a hand on Tony’s shoulder.

Tony twitches, and turns his head to look at him. His eyes are filled with something Loki hasn’t seen in them before. He doesn’t know what to make of that, considering he’s spent quite some time with this man while preparing for Thanos, and in the aftermath of the most destructive fight he’s seen in quite some time.

‘’Why did you come?’’ Loki asks carefully. He’s not sure whether it’s the root of Tony’s peculiar behaviour, but they haven’t talked about it yet. Tony is likely to avoid answering any question he doesn’t want to answer, and in that, they are very much alike.

Tony shrugs, and focuses his eyes on the nearing palace, on Alfheim that can be seen even hovering quite some distance above it, glittering silver among the dark woods. It would seem eerie, were it not for the pale green sparkling of the leaves. ‘’I couldn’t let you go alone, I guess. This is still Earth’s battle. It’s not quite over yet.’’

Loki personally would like to think it is quite over, if only because Thanos is no longer a threat. He has the necklace in a bag, however, feels the power seeping from it. Maybe it isn’t quite over after all. Maybe things such as these will never be quite over.

The necklace they found on the battlefield still is here, after all, and they don’t know why Thanos had it in the first place.

‘’I am grateful,’’ Loki begins, ‘’that you came with me.’’

Tony glances at him, amusement dancing in his expression. ‘’Don’t lie to me, Loki. You think it’s inconvenient. You’re probably right.’’

Well, then. ‘’It is inconvenient. Nevertheless, I am glad that you are with me. I do enjoy your company, Tony, even if you seem to gawk more at Alfheim than give me any time of the day.’’

‘’I give you the time of the night,’’ Tony says flippantly, ‘’And more. Besides, I don’t usually go road-tripping around planets, no matter how you godly types run around the universe and beyond.’’

Loki circles around him so he can crouch in front of the mortal. Tony is not lying to him, but there’s something else, he senses. No lie, but an omission. ‘’Why did you come?’’ he whispers again, fixing his eyes on Tony.

Tony looks back, determined. They’ve not been together romantically for all that long, but Loki knows how to read people, and he’s quickly learning how to read Tony.

But Tony gives away nothing.

~*~

Loki does not think there is imminent danger from the necklace, the entire reason to make this journey. If he were to make a guess, he would guess it serves to protect the wearer. He knows better, however, than to assume when it’s about Thanos. They are not even sure it is elven; they are not sure what it does, and that is a risk. Loki is allied with the Aesir for now, and helping Midgard in his best interest if he wants to start over. And starting over is, for now, the goal.

He may fool others, but he cannot fool himself in thinking that he does not care.

~*~

The travel through space goes like this:

Loki watches Tony watch the darkness that is space, the ocean of nothing, going on for all infinity.

He sees Tony shiver and turn his eyes towards Alfheim again. Even Loki, who has no fondness for either Vanir or elves, can readily admit that Alfheim is one of the most beautiful realms there is. The planet is mainly covered in enchanting forests with occasional cities, light and ethereal.

Tony, when seeing Alfheim, scrunches his nose at looks scrutinizing it, as if he can’t really believe it actually exists. He leans the tiniest bit forward, trying to capture it, and his eyes get a fraction bigger.

Loki watches, and Loki sees, but this is an enigma he has yet to solve.

~*~

They land just outside Frey’s Palace. It’s afternoon, and the sun is shining brightly upon them, but it’s colder than one would expect, looking at Alfheim.

Loki sees Tony shiver and stands closer to his mortal, as if to give him any warmth he seeks.

Tony’s knowing smile is radiant, and Loki is still shocked to find himself welcoming the brightness of Tony, even though he knows that he cares more than he perhaps should. But this is Tony, and Loki wants him; and Loki has a habit of taking what he wants. Perhaps he shouldn’t be surprised that in getting Tony, Tony has ensnared Loki as well.

But they are not equals in the eyes of Alfheim’s population, even if Loki is unconcerned with the opinion of others. Tony waves goodbye to the Guardians before they leave them stranded here, but Loki’s eyes are on the Palace, and his thoughts on what answers will be awaiting them there.

The elves and the Vanir may not see Tony as anyone worthwhile, may not even see him as a sentient being, but while they are on Alfheim, Loki will keep him safe.

~*~

Tony and Loki, when arriving in Frey’s hall, are not welcomed warmly.

Loki does not expect much hospitality, anyway. He is no friend of Frey’s, nor of Freya’s, and the only reason he knows both of them quite well is because they spent so much time with Thor, when all four of them were still children.

The last time he’s seen Frey was at least two hundred years prior, back when Loki was still simply an Asgardian prince, Thor’s confidante and Odin’s younger son. Matters were simpler then, and even then Frey looked down upon him. Freya was even worse: she was gifted in magic, much like Loki, but he’d been much further along in learning. She has never quite forgiven him for being better at something, though Loki, at that tender age, would have liked nothing more than to have someone to be able to share his spells with.

Because of all past grievances, he’s not sure they’ll even listen to him, this time.

They are waiting in a hall filled with colours. Or at least, Loki is waiting impassively, while Tony is inspecting every nook and cranny. ‘’Did a rainbow explode here, or something?’’ Tony says, watching a statue of Frey’s father with curious eyes.

‘’Elves like their colours, and the Vanir have copied them in this,’’ Loki says, examining the sculpture as well. He has never talked to Njord, as far as he is aware, but he is quite sure the god did not have a purple beard.

Tony huffs out a laugh. ‘’You’d think gods would have a better fashion taste than this.’’

‘’You’d be surprised,’’ Loki offers. Tony smiles at him, dark brown eyes alight with humour.

Had the doors not opened at that moment, Loki would have enjoyed to kiss him.

~*~

There was an elf that Loki had been friends with, once.

All elves have a certain fragility, unlike the Aesir muscles. They are quietly strong in their own way, but also have a mischievous streak Loki appreciates. It was a time Thor and he often went to Alfheim, if only to get away from the pressures of Asgard, that Loki learnt what elves really were.

They have no loyalty but to their Vanir leaders. They don’t feel companionship with any other than their own people. They are impulsive and change their mind often. Their otherworldly beauty hides their core.

And maybe they were Magic, like Loki, but not really like he was. Magic and reality-bending was part of their souls, their entire culture. It was nothing like what Loki was used to on Asgard, where magic was far from being the norm.

He was friends with an elf, and he was still young, and thought that maybe he’d found people like him. He gave his heart to someone, only to have it betrayed.

It would hardly be fair of him to hold a grudge towards an entire race because of the actions of one elf, but Loki does not care about fairness.

~*~

‘’Loki Odinson,’’ Frey says when they enter. He’s sitting on an iridescent throne, the stone glimmering and phasing out of view when walking towards it. The room is brightly lit with a combination of candles and a setting sun, giving the room a red glow. It matches Frey’s fiery hair and beard. There is no one else in the room but the three of them.

Frey is clearly a Vanir, with dark golden eyes and pale skin. His hair has the colour of fire, and his body is more like that of the usual Asgardian than that of the elves he rules. He smiles, but there is no emotion behind it. Loki knows that he is wondering why they are here.

Loki bows shortly before him, and feels Tony next to him copying him. Loki has already instructed him not to speak. ‘’King Frey,’’ Loki says smoothly. ‘’This is Anthony Stark, a warrior and scholar of Midgard. We come to you in search of a solution which we hope you may give us.’’

Frey stands up from his throne. He is a tall man, perhaps even taller than Thor. Loki feels Tony watching him for clues, but keeps his own gaze on Frey.

It is silent for long seconds, until Frey’s voice reverberates in the light hall. ‘’I have heard that Thor has sought refuge on Midgard, after all that destruction Asgard has seen. I was not sure of the extent of it, but Asgard has been quite the source of rumours for the past few years. You yourself have starred in quite a few of them, and not in a positive way. Actually, last I heard you were dead, but that was clearly not true.’’

Loki dares to take a step forward. ‘’Rumours usually have a hint of truth, but it is hard to distinguish which part of it is the one that actually happened.’’

Frey laughs. ‘’Are you saying I should trust you to tell me what happened? I may not be as smart as you, but I am no fool.’’

‘’Yet you would trust Thor.’’

‘’Thor, yes. But Thor does not trust you, I imagine, after all that happened between the two of you. A lot of rumours about that, so there must be some truth in it.’’

Loki takes another step, ignoring the mocking look in the King’s blazing eyes. He hasn’t come for trading insults or debating loyalties. Frey raises his eyebrows at him. ‘’Whether Thor trusts me or not your concern, Frey, nor the purpose of this visit.’’

‘’And yet here you are, asking me to trust you.’’ Loki shakes his head.

‘’Not even that. On Midgard, we found a magical relic. I believe it’s from Alfheim, but I’m not sure why it was there and what it does.’’

Frey huffs. ‘’If it’s a magical, you shouldn’t come to me. The elves make countless artefacts on a daily basis. You know quite well their nature is to keep creating those silly things.’’

Loki takes the necklace out of the bag, and raises it. In the setting sun, it reflects the pale red light. Frey walks towards him, a frown on his face. ‘’You know what this is?’’ Loki asks him.

A pale hand rises, ready to touch the cold material the necklace is made of, but retracts itself at the last moment. A hint of worry flits across Frey’s face: it smoothens out the next moment, gone as if it were never there, but Loki knows. ‘’I know what it is,’’ Frey says, ‘’And I know who made it.’’

~*~

‘’Do you believe he’s telling the truth?’’ Tony asks Loki later, after they’re walking towards the chambers Frey has given them for the night.

Loki considers this. He considers Tony, who seems to have a hunch that not all is as it seems. He considers Frey, who told them quite something about what they carry, but has not explained everything.

Loki steers Tony inside their rooms. ‘’I think he told the truth,’’ Loki said, and stares at the mortal before him. ‘’But I also think he didn’t tell the entire truth, which is as much misdirection as a lie could be.’’

He’s not sure why. Certainly Frey has his own agenda, peace-loving Vanir aside, even if it is protecting himself and his elves. Loki doesn’t know Frey well enough to have any actual knowledge on the man’s desires, however.

Loki looks up at Tony as his human puts a warm hand on his arm. ‘’We’ll go on his clues for now,’’ Tony states, ‘’And then we’ll take it from there, okay? We don’t have to figure out Frey. We’re just here to figure out the necklace, and then we’re gone.’’

‘’I wasn’t aware you were so desperate to return to Midgard,’’ Loki says jokingly, but there is something wrong about this statement.

Tony just smiles back, crooked and warm, and still gives away nothing.