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To Walk Upon Stranger Roads

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Darkness is a funny thing.

It’s eternity, in a way, and yet, one single candle has the ability to destroy it. It’s fear. Tony doesn’t know anything nice that’s associated with darkness, or if he does, he can’t think of it.

When Tony thinks of darkness, he thinks of caves. He thinks of a wormhole, and the cold creeping up on him. He thinks of the certainty of knowing that this, this is the last breath you will draw. Or this one will be. He thinks of being left in the cold by his friend. Maybe this is his last breath. He thinks of Loki’s dark hair sweeping across pale skin, tousled in the morning. He thinks of Loki’s scowl when he combs it, and even if Tony prefers it messy, he’d give anything to see that scowl now. He would give anything for Loki, because this will be his last breath.

Maybe this one.

Or another one.

Tony keeps breathing. Everything is still dark.

He opens his eyes, and sees himself in a cocoon of golden light, the necklace that started this journey floating above him. The cold thing Loki slipped into his pocket, Tony realizes. He’s not sure why Loki did that, or if he knew this would happen, but it definitely saved him.

But if it protects, Tony thinks he would have preferred for Loki to keep it.

~*~

Darling, you need to leave.

Don’t ever tell them who you are, my boy. Midgard is ignorant, and they need to stay that way.

Become Anthony Stark. Forget Alfheim.

~*~

‘’If this is about my pet snake –‘’ Loki begins, until one of Freya’s beloved elves slap him in the face again with a magic spell.

They have bound his magic with a rope that has taken on the shade of Loki’s magic, and that hurts far more than anything they could to him. Magic is a part of him few other things are – and besides…

Besides, the rope apparently also has decided that Shapeshifting, no matter if Odin has bound it as Loki’s natural form, is magic, and thus needs to be gone. Which has the unfortunate effect of Loki taking on the blue skin of the Frost Giants he so despises.

Loki hardly feels the punch anymore. They have an efficient way of binding his magic, with their wrist-bonds. They first looked like ordinary rope, to Loki, but it now has turned a familiar shade of green. The colour of Loki’s magic. The very thing he needs to have, right now, or escape will become a very tricky thing indeed. Even as he contemplates that, he has the time to notice how odd the green looks against his deep blue skin.

At first sight, escape would seem laughably easy. He’s in a cell block in one of the branches of the tree that Alverbyen is built on. A simple spell would have him out of here in no time. But all forms of magic are blocked, and the wood is very strong. Besides, even if he were to find a way out, Loki doesn’t know the way down again.

The lack of escape isn’t even the thing really bothering him, nor is the torture he is enduring. Not even his blue skin is the foremost thing on his mind.

Freya stands in front of him. Her dress is a perfect white, making her face look even paler than it is. Her fiery red hair is all the more noticeable for it.

The first thing it reminds Loki of, is blood in the snow. The snow of Jotunheim, perhaps.

He laughs, and doesn’t stop thinking of Tony, falling.

~*~

Tony has come to a conclusion he would rather not have come to.

But finding Loki has priority over everything else, anything else. Tony is worried out of his mind what has happened to him, after Tony fell. Freya turned out to be not as harmless as Thor claimed, when leaving home, and that has cost them their safety.

But Freya will think he’s dead, now, and no one knows who he is. No one cares, and they will care even less if he’s just another elf, another wanderer in the forests and villages of mystical Alfheim.

Tony closes his eyes, and shifts until he reaches his natural form.

When he opens them, they have a golden hue over them, determined and grim.

~*~

The city is nearby, but in the middle of the night, there are far fewer people around than when Tony and Loki started climbing. Even so, a few elves are staring as Tony, ragged, tired and more than a little pissed off, puts a hand against the cold trunk of the giant tree.

He reaches for magic, for a sign of Loki, but it’s been so long that he has nearly forgotten how.

‘’Hello there,’’ an elf says beside Tony, offering a sly smile.

‘’Get lost,’’ Tony tells him in no uncertain tones, his mother tongue coming infinitely easier to him than any magic other than shifting.

If anything, the man’s smile grows bigger. ‘’I’ve got the feeling you’re lost already. Just remember, for relics, you go to Birger! At the marketplace, every day!’’

Tony raises his eyebrows at him.

~*~

Freya stares at him from the other side of the bars. She is sitting on a chair that resembles an iridescent throne, and Loki hates her vanity.

They are a contrast, like this; Loki’s cell is freezing cold, thanks to his Jotun skin, and a thin layer of ice has formed on the walls. Freya, in her freedom, is still like a burning fire, candles burning bright in the richly decorated hall.

‘’It’s bad enough that you locked me up,’’ Loki remarks, ‘’but having you as company is even worse.’’

Freya smiles sweetly. ‘’I wouldn’t have had to lock you up, had you cooperated.’’

‘’I may have cooperated, had you not thrown my companion from a ledge,’’ Loki bites.

‘’I may not need your cooperation, anyway,’’ Freya remarks. ‘’I would have expected you to keep the necklace for yourself. Then again, I wouldn’t have expected you to be secretly Jotun! Besides, my brother told me you have no idea what the artefact actually does.’’

Loki doesn’t say anything, because he can’t say anything that will make the situation any better.

‘’Anyway,’’ Freya continues, ‘’if you are truly so attached to the mortal, I will make sure the elves fetch his body, along with the necklace. I’m not sure if you’ll recognize him, of course, but you may think him better company than me.’’

Loki rises from his place on the floor. He knows he looks dangerous with his blue skin and red eyes. The rope lights up with his repressed magic, and he bares his teeth. ‘’You will lie dead at my feet before the end,’’ he swears, his voice low and gravelly.

Freya raises her chin in defiance. ‘’And your mortal will still be dead,’’ she says.

~*~

The street fills up with people, and Tony stares in wonder. When he was with Loki, he didn’t quite have the time to take in everything, but now he has. Now day has come again, the people are busy with their daily activities. A few children run past him.

This almost reminds him of Earth, the life there is here. There is a marketplace built around the tree, for all kinds of artefacts, food, clothes, magic books, small statues.

And Tony realizes he… kind of missed this atmosphere. It’s life like anywhere else, but among the elves, there is still a certain kind of grace to every move, a light to their life that is not there on Earth. And for the first time, it occurs to him, that he could stay.

Whatever reason his mother fled for, surely no one will recognize him. His mother is gone, and he’s here. He doesn’t have to return to the Avengers, to a life full of responsibility and lies. He can stop being Howard Stark’s legacy, he can just be.

But the thought leaves as soon as it came, because no matter how hard it may be, that life is still what he built for himself, and so what if he built it on a lie. He has some years left on Earth, and after that… well, after that, maybe he can do whatever he wants to do. He doesn’t want to leave the Avengers, not now, after all has come to an end, of some sort. Not now they’re on the verge of a new beginning. He wants to be scolded by Pepper, and get drunk with Rhodey, and steal kisses from Loki and endure his long-suffering look. He wants to be human.

But maybe, somewhere, he kind of wants to stop living a lie and accept he’s an elf, too.

Tony sighs and leans against the trunk of the tree. It’s not the time to be making any kind of life-changing decisions. Freya has Loki, which means that Frey has played them, which means Tony has to avoid the Vanir and save Loki on his own. The elves are loyal to only their rulers and themselves, and while Tony knows they have fought enough battles to be renowned warriors, the elves like peace above anything. They won’t help him.

Tony has to do this on his own.

He pushes himself away from the tree, mixing in with the crowd. If he wants to free Loki, he has to make use of everything he has. He lost his suit in the fall, and anyway, he doesn’t think it would still work, considering the height Tony fell from. He could fix it, of course, but that would require searching, and that is time Tony does not have.

He does have his (admittedly weak and unpractised) magic, and his technological prowess. Besides that, he knows Freya is a bitch, Frey a snitch, and they’re probably still up there in that damned tree village. He can climb it, but that probably won’t be the best idea, even if he’s thought dead.

There has to be a way.

~*~

‘’Why are we leaving?’’ he asks, trying to keep up with his mother’s step. ‘’Why are you shifting all the time? Mum? Mum?’’

His mother glances at him, her face set determined. ‘’I will explain later, darling. Get on this ship, and don’t touch the button. This nice man has promised us a way out.’’

The nice man she is referring to doesn’t seem very nice at all. His skin is blue, but he doesn’t think the man is a Jotun, though he has never seen one. Mum says they’re dangerous, though, and definitely wouldn’t let him near one.

‘’Well, hello,’’ the man says and grins dangerously, bowing down to get eye to eye with him. ‘’My name is Yondu Udonta, specialist in trafficking people, such as yourself. I’ll be escorting you to Midgard, as per request.’’

‘’Why are we going to Midgard?’’ he asks, looking at his mother.

It is Yondu who answers, though. ‘’Because no one ever wants to go to Midgard, that’s why,’’ he says merrily. ‘’Now, boy, what’s your name?’’

‘’I’m Egil of Alfheim,’’ he answers.

His mother ushers him forward. ‘’Get on board, darling. Midgard will be wonderful for us.’’

~*~

Loki’s head throbs. Elves are stronger than you’d give them credit for, seeing their slender figures. At least he’s certain that this will be his last visit to Alfheim in a while.

If he makes it off Alfheim in the first place, that is.

He doesn’t like thinking much further into the future, though. Tony is dead, probably – he dares not hope otherwise. If he dwells too much on it, Loki loses all motivation to even escape. But he owes it to Tony, at least. He owes it to him to find his body and bring it to Midgard, to his home. He owes it to him to try to live, because Tony would want him to live.

He owes it to Tony to kill the bitch back that killed him.

Maybe he even owes it to himself, to avenge the person that Loki – well, the person that he could have grown to love.

Loki doesn’t want to think about that, not about Tony’s dark eyes filled with emotion in the nights, nor about his soft smile when he’s tired and his grin when Loki does something unexpected.

Yet it seems to be all he can think about.

He doesn’t want to return to Midgard without Tony, did not expect he would have to in the first place. Of course he knows that Tony is – was – mortal, that he only had a few decades left of his natural lifespan, but that doesn’t mean he was prepared for this. There should’ve been something he could do.

But he’s trapped, and hurt, and his magic is gone. Freya is, for some reason, in search of the necklace she herself made and apparently got into Thanos’ ownership, though he’s still not sure how. The necklace he slipped to Tony just before battle, just in case his previous musings were correct and it actually was for protection. Just a last attempt to even the odds.

But Loki can’t be sure of anything, and he’s afraid to hope.

~*~

He knocks on the wooden counter rapidly. A plethora of trinkets lay on it; Tony waits patiently as an elf shoots up, grumbling as he knocks his head. ‘’What do you want?’’ he grumbles. His hair has turned a golden brown and his face is a bit more oval, but Tony has no trouble recognizing him.

‘’Birger, right?’’ he says casually. ‘’I find myself in the sudden need of some artefacts.’’

The elf suddenly seems to recognize him, and the sly grin comes back on his face. ‘’Well, can you pay?’’

Tony grins back, and leans on the counter. ‘’I don’t have any currency on me, but I have another way of making a deal.’’

Birger regards him with silence, for a few seconds. ‘’What will that be, then?’’

‘’Well, Birger, have you ever heard of a thing called ‘robots’?’’

He watches as eyebrows rise with interest. ‘’Heard of it, but never seen any. Are you saying you’ve got any of these things? Got them from some outsiders, did you?’’

‘’Not quite,’’ Tony answers, enjoying the way Birger leans forward. There’s a reason he’s a business man, and when he turns on the charm, he’s damn good at it. When Tony Stark wants a deal, he gets a deal, and this will be no exception. ‘’Learnt to make them myself. I will make you some, if you can give me what I need, of course.’’

Birger cocks his head, glint in his eyes. ‘’How do I know you’re telling the truth?’’

‘’You don’t. But imagine if I am. Your artefacts can be made again easily, you know how, you know where. But I’m the only one who will have this offer for you.’’

He can see it the moment that Birger is convinced. ‘’Well then, mister. What do you need?’’

Tony tells him.

~*~

In the far distance, three elves find a broken suitcase filled with machinery. They scout the entire area diligently, until one of them gives up and uses a tracking spell, aided by a staff that seems to suck the light out of the nearby area.

The elf frowns at it, seeing the faint golden glow that trails back to the village.

He calls one of the other elves to him. ‘’Go to the Queen,’’ he says, eyes tracing the trail. ‘’Tell her that the mortal isn’t dead, and he still has the necklace.’’

The third elf joins them, staring pensively at the trail. ‘’Tell her we’ll bring her the mortal as soon as we find him. Dead.’’