Tony pulls. He doesn’t know how he does it, or how he is able to go on, with the pain that courses through his entire body, but he does. All he knows is that he needs to continue. It’s becoming the only thing to live for, as he pulls, and pulls, and pulls Loki back from wherever his mind has fled.
Someone is pulling at him, too, but Tony claws deeper into his own mind until the outside world is not there anymore, for him. The pain tears at him, and maybe he’s shouting, but he really wouldn’t know. He can feel Loki there, somewhere, confused and resisting. And he just needs Loki to come back with him.
Tony does not know where he is, but it’s not his own mind. Nor is it Loki’s – it is somewhere in between, and it is only for a split second. He thinks he sees a flash of Alfheim, and then Loki’s eyes are all he sees, the green obvious. They are wide open, looking at him, and he thinks Loki is shouting something at him.
It’s undoubtedly Loki’s voice, but something is wrong. Tony looks up, biting through the pain. Loki extends his arm to help him up, but as he goes to grab Loki’s hand, his own goes right through it. Loki watches on, emotionless, and Tony starts to crumble down again.
Too little and too late, Tony Stark. Too little and too late.
Loki opens his eyes, and is immediately in the middle of the action. Because of course Tony Stark will sacrifice himself if Loki isn’t there for a minute to keep an eye on him.
He sits upright immediately, Birger’s voice still clear in his mind. Tony, beside him, is deadly pale, his wound reopened and bleeding, emitting a soft black glow. Sweat mingles with the blood, and just as Loki is about to grab him, Tony keels over.
Loki doesn’t feel very steady himself, and curses as he sees Stephen Strange crouch next to Tony. ‘’He is very cold,’’ the wizard remarks, eyeing Loki, ‘’but he did manage to wake you up.’’
Frey is there as well, a worried glint in his eyes that he can’t hide. ‘’He is going to die.’’
‘’Not if I have anything to say about that,’’ Loki rasps.
Frey huffs. ‘’You’re hardly in any state to perform any magic now! This will become just a game of saving each other until you both die!’’
‘’The necklace,’’ Loki wheezes, pointing at Frey. ‘’Get it now. If we can take the edge off Tony’s injury, he may yet have a chance.’’
Frey leaves, but Strange just gives Loki a pointed look. ‘’Tony had the necklace while he was injured before, isn’t it? Why would it help now?’’
Loki turns, and grits his teeth. He is still dizzy, just having woken up, and has to close his eyes for a second before he manages to answer. ‘’It will help,’’ he says, and Strange manages to get Tony on the bed beside Loki. Loki holds the man tightly, feeling him tremble.
He presses a kiss to Tony’s temple, praying he will hold on.
Thor barges in, together with Frey. ‘’Brother!’’ Thor exclaims, but Loki shushes him. Tony has gone icy cold beside him, and even the trembling has stopped.
‘’Give me the necklace,’’ Loki snarls. He has no time for being polite.
Frey, however, does not say anything, but hands it to him and sits down next to his long-lost son, eyebrows creased. He shifts on the bed, but Loki pays him no heed. Without further ado, he slides the necklace over Tony’s neck, so the gem sits on his collarbone. For a moment, nothing happens, and hope begins to leave Loki – but then Tony takes a shuddering breath.
‘’Why does this help now?’’ Strange asks.
Loki runs a hand through Tony’s soaked hair, wanting nothing more than to close his eyes and sleep beside Tony, breathing in the spice smell of his lover.
‘’The necklace works as long as you have it with you,’’ Loki explains, recalling Birger’s exact words. ‘’But it works best when it is where it is supposed to be – around a neck. It protected Tony before, but it wasn’t used optimally. Even now, it’s only taking the edge off. But luckily, that’s all we need. Now, it can work against the poison.’’
‘’He will live?’’ Thor asks, eyeing Tony. Loki has to admit, he is still looking quite fragile. They’re both a mess, probably; Loki can feels his own wound slowly oozing blood again. But the mortal danger has passed, and Loki can live with being dirty, injured and uncomfortable. Tony has saved him, and Loki has managed to save Tony back in turn, and there is no one in their vicinity that is very likely to stab them anytime soon.
Perhaps that Pepper woman that Tony is so fond of, if she returns to the Compound.
And for the first time in ages, Loki feels like it might be finally over.
Things are never completely over. One adventure prompts others. There is no true beginning, nor a true ending; anyone could tell Loki this. And Loki is aware of it.
Tony is awake, smiling at him in that way he only does when he has just woken up. Loki is still getting used to see it on an elven face, both alien and yet Tony, and becoming more familiar every day. His injury, with the help of the necklace, has sped up his recovery immensely. After the wound closed, Tony forced the necklace on Loki, for his own injury.
Loki suffers through Tony’s caring with grace, as they both heal. And the necklace does look nice on him.
Healing completely takes weeks for both of them. But there is a lot to be done in the meanwhile.
‘’I feel like I have to explain a lot,’’ Tony says to the room full of Avengers, in elven appearance. He shifts back whenever he feels like it, but as long as his wound is still there, he spends most time in his natural form. He thinks he’ll return to his human appearance soon enough; there’s not really much of a reason to shift back at the Compound.
He smiles. ‘’It’s not really all that big a deal. If there’s anything we can do, it is shape ourselves. Humans are resilient. And don’t doubt that I am human. I’ve spent the majority of my life here. This is my home, and I protect it. I was born on Alfheim, but I became who I am on Earth, and that is what counts the most. I could go into a big explanation about how I came here and stuff, but none of that really matters, in the end. I am here, and I am an Avenger, and I stand with all of you. And that’s all I wanted to say.’’
Tony doesn’t stay to hear them discuss any of it. Loki is in their room, waiting for him, and that is way more interesting than to hear what people think of him. Even if they’re the Avengers.
They find Birger’s body in the demolished part of the Compound after a few hours of searching. After a quick discussion with Frey, they decide to simply bury him. There’s not a lot of people after they have managed to dug a deep enough hole. Tony has managed to get a decent funeral ready – he has the money for it, after all, and feels sadder about Birger’s passing than he would have imagined before. Loki only stares silently as Birger’s casket disappears into the ground. Frey says a few words, and Steve hesitantly adds a comment, and then the few Avengers that are there seep back inside. Only Tony and Loki remain standing there, for a while.
‘’I feel kind of guilty,’’ Tony says. ‘’If he hadn’t helped me, he would still be on Alfheim now.’’
‘’Everything he has ever done in life was his own choice,’’ Loki says.
Tony shrugs. ‘’Sometimes, you don’t know the consequences of choices.’’
Loki agrees, and thinks of Birger’s final choice. ‘’I forgive him,’’ he then says. ‘’And I hope you forgive me for thinking the worst of the elves. It was Birger’s fault, and it angered me for a long time, but perhaps I should reconsider condemning entire races because of a single person or perception. It has cost me more than it has gained me anything. And he helped me save you, in the end.’’
Tony looks at him, a soft smile on his lips, and takes Loki’s hand, caressing it with his thumb. They don’t have to say anything.
After finding out the truth, Pepper slaps Tony, then hugs him, cries, and watches Say Yes To The Dress with him for an entire evening, drinking wine and eating fancy cheese. Loki joins them in the middle of the fourth episode they watch, manages to drink an entire bottle of red wine, and criticizes the dresses. Then the three of them think of what the perfect dresses would look like for the different races in the realms.
At the end of the evening, Tony is sure Loki should make wedding dresses for a living.
Rhodey just pats Tony on the back. ‘’You’re still you, man. Both the drunk boy in college and the man who made me walk again,’’ he says. ‘’I knew being friends with Tony Stark would be weird. This is just a reminder that I should never think you are done surprising me.’’
‘’I don’t think I have more secrets,’’ Tony says to him drily.
Rhodey shrugs. ‘’How about that holiday back in ’94? Are we talking about that now?’’
‘’That,’’ Tony answers, ‘’is still a secret that no one needs to know.’’ Rhodey grins at him.
Steve is a bit more wary. ‘’This was not in any way a secret that was relevant to you,’’ Tony points out when the Captain is waiting for him, clearly intending to talk with him.
Steve smiles uncertainly. ‘’But it became relevant.’’
‘’And I was ready to tell you guys about it,’’ Tony says. ‘’Look, Cap, no harm done. I’m hardly the weirdest person on this team anymore. We can say, ‘no more secrets’, but we’re human, right? Well, kind of. We don’t tell each other everything. But we count on each other to tell us the things that we need to know from now on, yeah? You know me, Steve. Do you trust me?’’
‘’Yes, Tony. I trust you.’’
Tony pats Steve on his back. ‘’Right back at ya, Cap. Right back at ya.’’
The rest of the team just kind of follows. They fall into a pattern, and no one looks at Tony twice, whether he walks in the Compound as a human or as an elf.
In fact, Tony thinks they have desensitized the Avengers. They don’t even look up when Loki adopts a new baby snake and calls him Ahi.
Nor do they look up when Thor becomes the snake’s favourite, and the god of thunder plays with it for hours.
Nor do they look up when Loki transforms himself into a snake and joins his brother and pet.
Tony just sighs, scratches his beard, and accepts that this is the way things are going to be, from now on. Maybe he should just get that cat he always wanted to have. But well, fragile things have a habit of breaking in the Avengers Compound, so that would be a bad idea.
‘’I have to leave for Alfheim again,’’ Frey tells them. ‘’Leaving the elves without supervision is never a good idea. But I am not quite sure what to do about Freya.’’
Freya is still trapped in the Mirror Dimension. No one is very certain about what should be done about her.
‘’She does not fall under Asgard’s jurisdiction,’’ Thor says. ‘’You are King of Alfheim, Frey. It is up to you what to do with her.’’
Frey raises his eyebrows. ‘’It is,’’ he admits, ‘’but she is also my sister. Putting her into a dungeon on Alfheim will not work. Neither will leaving her to walk freely.’’
‘’Can’t you send her to your father or something?’’ Tony asks, thinking of the statue in Frey’s Palace. Immediately, Thor, Loki, and Frey turn their heads toward him. Tony gives them a questioning look.
Loki grins. ‘’Njord lives in Jotunheim, I hear. With his new wife. A Frost Giant.’’
‘’I fear that Skadi and Freya will not like each other that much,’’ Frey says, but he also has a smile on his face that does not match his words. ‘’Perfect. Jotunheim is not known for its magic, and the environment will surely put her off. My father has his ways, and Skadi is a huntress. I doubt she will escape, and she will definitely be kept there for a few years.’’
Tony beams, putting an arm around Loki.
That night, when they’re alone in bed, and Tony hangs above Loki, kissing him slowly, he can think of only one thing to say. ‘’Apparently, falling for Frost Giants runs in the family.’’
Loki, by now, has figured out that the best way of shutting Tony up is kissing him thoroughly.
Everything returns to as much as normal as it could be, for them. When Tony is completely healed, he shifts between an elven and human form, whatever he feels like at the moment. The world does not need to know he is an elf, Tony has decided. That only would lead to more questions and chaos, and after Thanos, the world has deserved a break. Tony kind of think he and Loki deserve a break too.
He does manage to do tests on his own physique, now, regularly joined by Bruce and Peter, whenever the teen has some time. Not that Bruce is always able to join them, though; Tony is a bit afraid to ask what he does, all the time that his friend spends with Valkyrie, and so he leaves them to their own devices. If the bills for the alcohol Valkyrie consumes go down – just the tiniest bit – he doesn’t mention it.
Loki sometimes joins him in the lab, too, but mostly when Loki’s there, they test magic. And then Loki teaches Tony how to do proper spells, but only for a bit, because Tony is fine with not doing magic. And when they’re not doing magic, well – there are plenty of ways Tony and Loki can amuse themselves.
It’s a sleepless night, for Tony. Loki is off somewhere, helping Thor with something. It has something to do with a way to rebuild Asgard, but Tony’s not too worried about it. He is working on building his own space ship, and it’s coming along pretty okay. Which, of course, means it’s awesome.
Besides, Loki will not leave him, he knows.
He’s watching the stars again on the roof, like he did before Loki first kissed him. The habit he had as a boy is returning, but Tony doesn’t mind. It’s peaceful, among the jets and helicopters parked. Only a part of the roof is still intact, but that doesn’t matter.
He still kind of misses Alfheim, but it’s not like before. He knows Frey is there, and that the Vanir is a decent king, even if Tony still doesn’t manage to think of him as a father. He doesn’t know Frey that well, but he has a standing invitation to return to Alfheim regularly. Maybe he will, sometime, with Loki.
Alfheim is still there, but Earth is his home for now. And where his path will lead after – well, Tony doesn’t mind the question that much anymore. He can be whoever he wants to be, and the best part of it is that he has Loki by his side for all of it.
‘’Still disappointed aliens are not green?’’ Loki’s voice comes. Tony turns his head to look at him, as Loki sits down next to him and kisses him slowly, taking his time. Tony is breathing hard when they break apart, but manages to give a mischievous smile.
He shrugs. ‘’I don’t know. I think I like the blue ones the best.’’ Loki rolls his eyes at him, but kisses him once again.
‘’Thor wants to return to Asgard,’’ Loki then tells him. ‘’Just with a few people. To start rebuilding. I will remain here in his absence, to take care of the other Asgardians.’’
‘’Look at that! King Loki.’’
‘’Don’t take it too far, prince Anthony of Alfheim,’’ Loki pushes back, and Tony sniggers.
They sit in comfortable silence, for a few moments, watching the sky. The other realms are not visible from here, but Tony doesn’t have to see them to know that they are there, hidden between the stars that are like fading distant lights. That there are possibilities for them beyond Earth. But he still wants to be an Avenger. He’s attached to Earth, and Alfheim will not disappear overnight.
‘’Do you know the word ‘hiraeth’?’’ Tony asks. ‘’It means longing for a home you can’t return to, or one that was never yours. I felt that way about Alfheim for a long time. But I think that’s gone now. And I think I owe that to you.’’
Loki takes his hand, staring up at the dark sky pensively. ‘’I am not a creature who is bound to one place very long,’’ he answers. ‘’And I don’t think I’ve ever felt at home anywhere, let alone that I wanted to return to it. I told you once that my alliances do not lie with the Avengers. You didn’t ask me where they lie, then. I’m not sure I would have answered then as I would now. I serve only my own causes, there is no doubt about that. But Thor’s causes have become my own, as have yours. I do not care for many people, Tony, nor easily. But if I have a home now, it is bound to you.’’
Tony kisses him.
Loki is right, of course. Home is Earth, for Tony, but it is also Loki, because when Loki was planning to leave, Tony was willing to leave everything to go with him. Home has multiple meanings, but none of them is something Tony has to long for anymore.
He’s never felt more at home anywhere than where he is right now, and that’s the truth.