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The Pain of Too Much Tenderness

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They throw quite some elves off the tree in their haste to get away. Loki freezes one to death and steals his knife.

‘’Cut my bonds,’’ Loki tells Tony, handing him the knife. Tony, or not-quite-Tony, as it is, quickly nods and slides through the green-glowing rope with ease. As they hit the ground, the colour leaves it and it becomes ordinary rope again.

Loki feels his magic rush back and his normal colour return to him.

Tony hops onto another branch, looking down at the world. Looking at him, otherworldly and elven, Loki feels the sting of deception once again. ‘’We need to get to the bridge,’’ Tony says. ‘’I’ve got someone who’s maintaining its appearance, but he was hurt when I left him. We may need to help him.’’

‘’Leave him,’’ Loki snaps, ‘’He’s an elf.’’

Tony looks at him, oddly hurt. His eyes are a dark gold, Loki notices, beautifully complimenting his olive skin and long lashes. ‘’I wouldn’t have been able to get you without him.’’

‘’Maybe you shouldn’t have,’’ Loki mutters, then speaks up louder. ‘’Do you still have the necklace?’’

Tony shrugs, and there’s something so human about it that Loki’s heart aches. ‘’Yeah. It’s in my pocket.’’

‘’Freya will come after us, for both the necklace and revenge,’’ Loki states.

Tony grimaces. ‘’We won’t be able to leave Alfheim. There’s no ship anywhere near, and the Guardians are out of range for communications.’’

They’ve reached the stairs, then, and start going down. Tony is holding his injured arm, which must definitely hurt, but Loki doesn’t offer any comfort or help, and they go in silence.

~*~

Going down the bridge takes a much shorter time than going up. Tony doesn’t like the silence they go in, tense and uncomfortable, but doesn’t think it’s the time for small talk.

In getting Loki back, he may have lost him for good.

So they don’t speak, but walk, albeit hurriedly, in case any elves are coming after them. Or if Freya has regained consciousness. But for now, they’re free, and they’re safe, but Tony still doesn’t know how they are planning to go home.

He has enough to think about, anyway. He remembers seeing Loki, skin blue and eyes red, magic-binding rope around his wrists, faintly glowing green. Wryly he reflects on the fact that apparently Loki has also not been very forthcoming with his true race, as apparently, he is Jotun.

And Tony has grown up with stories about the Jotun monsters, and he thinks Loki must have too. So it’s not very strange Loki changed back as soon as he could. And maybe this will fill in some gaps of Loki’s background that Tony has never really thought about before.

Maybe he should be afraid of Loki, now, but Tony finds he isn’t. It’s still Loki, and the only evil thing about Loki is the path he’s chosen for himself, a path he’s no longer on anyway. Loki is redeemed, even if he won’t admit it himself, and choosing to be a good guy when you’ve always believed you're a villains is a hard choice to make. Tony knows this, because he became a hero after a lifetime of wrongdoings.

They just need to talk about this, and maybe Loki will forgive him. Tony doesn’t know what to do if he won’t.

~*~

Egil has been Anthony Edward Stark for two months now. He hasn’t shifted to his natural form in two months, and he hasn’t seen his mother in two months, and he has been having nightmares for two months. He wants to go back home. He’s had to shift into a baby for a few times, and people came to stare at him, and he wasn’t allowed to speak. He thinks he’s done pretty well, and Howard told him he’d done a good job in brisk tones, and called him son. He doesn’t want to be Howard’s son.

Maria is kind to him, though, and she explains better why he’s there than Howard did. She teaches him how to play piano, and says he will be able to shift to other forms than a baby very quickly, and that in a few short years he’ll have more freedom on Earth. He has to maintain the same form, though, only a growing one.

He likes Maria, and he likes Jarvis, and he likes technology. Being a human is better than he would have imagined, but it’s not him.

But he has no choice, so he will become human anyway.

~*~

Tony isn’t sure what happens. Birger is waiting for them by the black lever, leaning against the wall. When he sees them, however, his eyes widen and he pushes himself away, as if readying himself to run.

Loki pushes past Tony. Birger makes a run for it, but Loki slams him down with magic.

‘’You,’’ he growls.

Birger makes a noise. ‘’You could’ve told me you were going to save Loki Odinson, gold-eye,’’ he says from the ground.

Loki stalks forward, gets Birger up by his collar and pushes him against the wall. ‘’How nice to run into you, Birger,’’ Loki says, in a tone that suggest the exact opposite. ‘’It will make it so much easier for me to kill you.’’

Tony raises his eyebrows, and tries to get between them. Of course, it’s just his luck that the one elf that helps him has somehow found himself on Loki’s bad side.

‘’Loki, you’re radiating a bit too much homicidal god for me right now,’’ he says casually. ‘’Please refrain from killing the one person that helped me actually get to you. We don’t have time for this. Freya will be after us the minute she’s awake, and knowing our luck, she probably already is.’’

‘’It doesn’t matter,’’ Loki growls, ‘’your friend here has probably already told her everything, as the treacherous little elf he is.’’

Birger holds up his hands in surrender. ‘’I promise I didn’t. I’m not of Alverbyen anymore, Loki, I swear it.’’

‘’Your word means nothing to me, and neither does your life.’’

Tony pulls at Loki’s arm, but to no avail. ‘’Loki, we’ve got to leave, now.’’

Loki scowls and releases Birger, pushing away Tony’s hand.

‘’He doesn’t seem to be very pleased with you,’’ Birger whispers to Tony.

Tony grimaces, but shakes his head. ‘’That’s between the two of us,’’ he remarks. Birger may have helped him and has yet to receive anything from it, but that doesn’t mean he can pry into his and Loki’s relationship. Tony has to figure out how to fix this himself.

He hopes he can fix it.

~*~

They go to Birger’s house for the time being, but Loki knows they’re not going to be safe here. It’s not going to be long before the elves have regrouped and for Freya to start following them.

Besides, it’s Birger. All Loki wants to do is stab the elf’s heart out for betraying him in the first place, all those centuries ago. But Tony won’t forgive him that, and Loki probably has better things to be doing than killing Birger.

‘’We need to talk,’’ Tony says resolutely, staring at Loki. Though he has an elven form now – and hasn’t shifted once apart from the first one – he still looks strikingly like the mortal Loki used to think he was. His hair is a dark brown, still messily and curly at the ends of it, and his face hasn’t changed all that much. His nose is a bit straighter, maybe, and his face has become a bit more shapely. The biggest change is the colour of his eyes, a glowing dark golden. He’s ethereal, and that isn’t a thing Loki used to say of Tony. Handsome, certainly, but beautiful is new.

He thinks he would prefer the mortal, though.

‘’We need to find a way to get away from Freya,’’ Loki snaps.

Tony puts his hand on his thighs. ‘’If you fucking snap at me one more time, Loki, I’m going to return that necklace back to Freya myself. We need to talk in order to get away, because we need a plan. There’s no one bat-shit insane enough to go against Freya.’’

Loki huffs. ‘’We took on Thanos.’’

‘’Yeah, with a lot more people and a lot more preparation. We still don’t know what this thing does, and –‘’

‘’It protects,’’ Loki says. ‘’I thought it did, which is why I slipped it to you. What I don’t know is how far it capabilities reach, and against what it will protect.’’ Tony sits down, and takes the necklace out of his pocket.

‘’It saved me when I fell,’’ Tony says quietly. ‘’And protected me when the elves tried to put us to rest with a spell. But it didn’t protect me when someone came at me with a knife.’’

Birger comes closer to Tony, with a guarded look at Loki. ‘’Freya made that necklace herself,’’ he comments. ‘’I still lived in Alverbyen, at the time. She carried it around all the time, this one, together with another one. Looked like this one, but with a red pendant. Then she lost that one. I didn’t know she lost this one.’’

‘’How did she lose it?’’ Tony wonders aloud. Loki’s mind strays to Thanos: the Chitauri weren’t the type to steal, especially not things like this. The only thing he can think of is that Freya gave the necklace to Thanos; but why would she? The Vanir are the peacemakers, and Thanos is death personified.

Loki moves. ‘’Birger, leave us. Go steal some horses, we’ll probably need them. Now.’’

Birger responds immediately, likely noticing Loki is ready to rip out some intestines if he doesn’t comply at once.

And that leaves him alone in the room with Tony, who gives him an indecipherable look.

For a few seconds, it’s silent. Tony wrings his hands, something Loki has seen him do many times. It means he’s nervous, and yet, Loki can’t bring himself to care too much.

‘’You certainly live a lie,’’ Loki breaks the silence, ‘’Pretending to be a human being an elf among the elves and humans. How long have you done this?’’

Tony huffs. ‘’Fifty years. And I haven’t pretended. Not for a long time now. I don’t want to be an elf; I’ve been on Earth for a longer time than I was on Alfheim, really.’’

‘’Would you have told me?’’ Loki presses.

‘’What do you want me to say? ‘Hey, Loki, by the way, I’m actually from Alfheim, but don’t worry, I’m still me!’ That would’ve worked, you think? You don’t even like elves!’’

‘’For this exact reason,’’ Loki bites. ‘’Because you’re treacherous, and you lie to me, and you betray my trust in you, over and over and over again. Because there’s nothing of worth beneath your exterior!’’

Tony stills, and looks downwards.

‘’Maybe that’s true,’’ he says then. ‘’But I can only do what I’ve always done, and that’s try to be better. And it’s not fair that you’re calling me out on this while you’ve not exactly been forthcoming with that Jotun thing as well.’’

Loki drops his appearance, then, skin growing blue and eyes red. Slowly he walks towards Tony, who stares back in defiance, until they’re but inches apart. One wrong move, and Loki can kill Tony. ‘’But I didn’t know,’’ Loki whispers, ‘’because it was withheld from me. Because for hundreds of years, I was of Asgard, and believed it. Can you say the same?’’

Tony says nothing, but keeps his eyes on Loki’s, determined and yet soft.

Loki doesn’t know what to make of this.

~*~

Birger has managed to secure three horses. Tony can see that Loki definitely doesn’t want the other elf to join them, but Birger will surely be killed if he stays. Besides, Tony has promised him robots, and he hasn’t had the time.

Tony tries to stay with Loki, but Loki steadfastly ignores him. There are no passing glances or fleeting smiles or hidden grins, and Tony’s heart aches in their absence. It’s becoming clear very fast that Loki isn’t going to forgive him that easy, or at all, and he can’t bear the thought of it. Falling in love with Loki was like – he doesn’t know how to describe it. It’s easier than anything else has ever been, and now it’s fucked up beyond measure.

Okay, so, well, Tony has never really thought about being in love with Loki before. Sure, they liked each other and each other’s company, and they were kind of exclusive, but Loki used to think he was mortal. Tony may have loved Loki, but Loki thought he was going to die in a short few decades. They’ve never talked about it.

And now ‘it’, whatever it was, is certainly gone.

They’re on their way to Frey’s Palace. They won’t be welcomed, of course, but Loki said that Frey was the only one close by with any space ships at all, and they’ll need those if they want to leave Alfheim. So they’ll have to sneak in, steal one, and figure out how it works before they’re found.

Easy.

~*~

But of course, life is never easy for Tony Stark, secret fugitive elf extraordinaire, because what will the world come to if it is?

He probably should write a book on it, or something, and give it a catchy yet sarcastic name. There’s only the fact he’s still keeping the fact he’s an elf under wraps, though, even if Loki has become an exception. There’s not guarantee yet that Loki’s not going to tell anyone.

Perhaps, Tony reflects wryly, he should start thinking about more important things.

‘’They’re following us,’’ Birger says. Tony sees Loki shoot the elf a glare that could kill.

‘’It seems highly probable, yes,’’ he snaps. He’s doing a lot of that, lately. Tony hopes Loki will turn around soon, but that, in contrast, is much less probable.

Birger makes a noise. ‘’I’d say it’s a bit more than probable. They’re coming.’’

‘’How do you know?’’ Tony asks, peering behind them. It’s dark, yes, but he doesn’t see anyone on the horizon yet.

Birger shrugs. ‘’Magic.’’

‘’I hate magic,’’ Tony grumbles, then looks over to Loki, catching the end of what might have been a surprised look. It’s hard to tell, because Loki’s face smoothens over as soon as Tony catches it.

Loki pats his horse. ‘’We could teleport. We all have magic here.’’

‘’I’d say that, but unless you are in favour of leaving your friend behind, Tony’s not exactly a peach in the magic department,’’ Birger comments.

‘’I’d be offended, but you’ve never built an AI, so I’m not sure I mind failing my magic classes,’’ Tony retorts. ‘’What does having magic to do with teleporting, anyway? Couldn’t one of you just… take me with you, or something?’’

Loki and Birger exchange glances. Tony doesn’t know what’s so bad about it. ‘’It’s only the first rule of teleportation magic to not bring anyone with you,’’ Loki says dryly.

Tony huffs. ‘’How am I supposed to know?’’

‘’You are the most clueless elf I’ve ever met,’’ Birger says. ‘’It’s the only option we have. Freya is maybe ten minutes away, because she doesn’t know our position yet. But we’re all tired, and she’s not going to stop.’’

‘’God, it’s like I didn’t spend my entire life on Earth, or something,’’ Tony gets off his horse.

‘’Less talking, more concentrating,’’ Loki says, but it’s almost like he’s thoughtful. ‘’Tony, focus on Frey’s hall. Do you remember how it looked like? The statue of Njord?’’

Tony shrugs. ‘’Yeah, sure. It was –‘’

‘’Don’t tell me, just imagine going there. Imagine the flow of Yggdrasil putting your feet on the ground in that exact hall.’’

And Tony focuses. For a moment, he’s sure there’s something – but then it’s gone again, and he feels sick. He’s swaying on his feet, and Loki’s face comes into view. ‘’Damn it, Tony,’’ the god whispers. ‘’Don’t get lost in between worlds. Close your eyes. I’m going to bring you to Frey’s hall.’’

‘’Thought it was against the rules,’’ he manages, holding onto Loki. All his wounds seem to be hurting again. He feels Loki’s hand against his clammy skin, like an anchor. Then he gets swept up in the feeling from before. There’s a feeling of intense vertigo and weightlessness as they break through space, and then his knees are on the ground.

He spills the contents of his stomach on the floor, breathing heavily.

‘’You broke the rules of magic for your friend here,’’ he hears Birger in the background. ‘’Seems like you like the guy well enough for all you were staring daggers into him.’’

Loki hisses back, ‘’If you do not shut up right now, I will punch all your teeth out and make a magical bracelet out of them that will freeze your tongue.’’

Tony thinks he hears a mutter about how specific that is before he vomits a second time. Loki’s hands come back to his shoulder, rubbing carefully. ‘’We need to get up,’’ Loki says to him, and all Tony can focus on are his green eyes. ‘’Tony, get up. We need to leave, now.’’

And then Tony passes out.

~*~

Loki curses as Tony’s form slumps back and catches him quickly. ‘’He’s not taking it very well,’’ Birger remarks, ‘’But I imagine that’s what you get when you teleport with two people.’’

Loki shakes his head. There’s something else about this. He feels at Tony’s burning forehead and frowns. ‘’It was only a small distance,’’ he mutters. But he can feel Birger’s impatience – they need to leave and find Frey’s ships, and they need to do it now.

He finds himself strangely worried over Tony, seeing as how he mad he still is. But he doesn’t have the time to reflect on it as he takes the elf into his arms and lifts him up. He is lucky that he’s familiar enough with the Palace to know where the ships are stationed. It had been the place they had stored their ships, after all, the times that Thor and he visited.

He runs, and Birger follows, and they run into no one.

When they reach the hangar, there are a few ships. Loki doesn’t waste time and gets into the first one. ‘’Start the engines,’’ he barks at Birger, who gives him a look.

‘’You’re asking the elf without any experience on space travel?’’

Loki huffs and puts down Tony on a cushioned bench, as gently as he can. The elf whimpers in his sleep, and Loki is loath to leave him. ‘’Look after Tony,’’ he then orders, and rushes to the controls. He’s no expert on space travel, either, and the Vanir ships are different to what he is used to.

He manages, however, and within five minutes Loki has managed to turn the ship on and start the engines. It’s hard to believe how lucky they actually got, when he looks back on it. Frey nor Freya had caught up to them and they still had the necklace and their lives.

Then Birger yells at him to come. Loki takes a minute or two to find the autopilot option, and sets course for Midgard. Then he hurries to Tony’s side, where Birger has stripped Tony off his shirt.

The knife wound Tony had got during Loki’s rescue is definitely infected, and there’s a black glow coming from it, subtle but noticeable against Tony’s skin, now white as a sheet. Loki drops to his knees to inspect it further. He hasn’t heard Tony complain about it, except in a joking way, and even then only once. It didn’t seem to hurt earlier, so it must’ve been the teleportation that started it.

Loki runs his hand over the wound, carefully. Maybe they hadn’t left so intact as he’d thought.