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The Merchant of Death

Chapter Text

Dark eyes gazed down upon the battlefield. The dead wandered listlessly, many not even fully conscious of their passing, others stand, staring listlessly. He still pitied them, even after all this time. There were many who fought the end, dragged into death kicking and screaming or weeping over all the things they were leaving behind. In a way though, he preferred them, those who still cared. But these men were the worst to find. Numbed to the horrors of life and so by extension death. But there was nothing else he could do.

The fighting was almost over and one of the sides, he no longer bother tracking little things like names of the thousands of different armies he had seen over the years, was falling back. There were ragged cheers from the winning side, but he paid them no mind as he slowly drifted down to the torn ground. It was his turn now.

His feet lit upon the blood soaked soil and mud as his eyes closed, just briefly. Standing motionless he slowly raised his arms and watched a soft golden glow slowly curl down his arms, dancing around his fingers before swirling off in every direction.

As the gold encountered the souls of the fallen soldiers it began to shift and solidify into shapes. A smiling woman, a young grinning boy and elderly couple, a barking dog. Slowly the previously bleak battlefield filled with sound and light as hundreds of new figures materialized.

Teary smiles mixed with laughter and joy as those these men had lost over the years came to greet them. Just to his right the soul of a young man fell into the arms of his parents who had died in a bombing a year ago, while a dark brown dog bolted past his feet and bowled into the open arms of an elderly soldier who crouched to his right.

A soft smile played the corner of his lips as he watched the once blank faces now alight with emotion, and slowly the many souls began to fade.

Little by little the battlefield cleared until there only a few stranglers remained and his smile fell away into a grimace. There were always some in places like this, the ones that didn’t get to leave with the others.

He was too old to believe in such things as good and evil, but there were some acts which were too horrible to overlook. The people guilty of such things went to a far worse place. This is why he handled battlefields personally, because there seemed to always be more.

Slowly he approached the nearest man, twisting his face into a blank sneer, feeling powerful, dark wings unfurl behind him as he went. In moments he had donned the persona that had earned him his rank and title, and he felt himself relax into the familiar skin of fury and intimidation.

The man had appeared confused but once he turned his gaze his face went ashen.

”Oh dear god.”

He breathed as he sank to his knees before the approaching figure.
“Mmm no, not God. You forsook him many years ago, isn’t that right Alfred? Or you wouldn’t have dared to do what you did to those men, would you?”

“You- no! Demon! Stay away from me!”

Alfred screamed and spit as he scrambled.

“Come now, I’m no demon. I’m worse.”

In the blink of an eye he was standing over the man, his face an inch from the now paper white skin and bulging eyes.

“I am the Merchant of Death. Alfred Hangond for the crimes against your fellow men during your life and the defilement of your own soul you have been judged unworthy of peace in the afterlife. Face the punishment of your own making.”

With those words he reached forward and touched the man’s chest and in a swell of darkness Alfred was cast into the eternal where he would be properly judged for his crimes.

Straightening with a sigh he moved on and repeated the process with the others who remained until the battlefield was completely empty.

Dark wings curled back to his body as the last soul was dealt with and after one final glance around, he faded back into the darkness that would take him home.

Chapter Text

So this was the new kid on the block.

Sharp eyes followed the dark clad man making his way alongside a three-story apartment complex. The man was not visibly armed, but that meant nothing.

The Merchant wasn’t honestly sure what to make of this situation, his Mistress had summoned him to speak of the concerning number of deaths centered around the man, which would raise a few flags, but would otherwise not be concerning in the larger scheme of things. However, this guy was killing people who weren't meant to die.

There was no certain way to know the day someone would die, that would be too close to predetermined fate, which everyone knew was a myth. But, there were ways of knowing the general time frame the events leading to death would occur.

Usually, the Merchant could tell simply looking at a person, but those numbers shifted by the day and anything could change them. However, no matter the circumstance, the numbers never strayed far from a specific range. Some people would lose a few years here and then gain them back later, but the numbers only changed dramatically in drastic situations.

The people this man was killing, in some cases, had upwards to sixty years left of expected life with seemingly normal number fluctuations, but suddenly this man would appear and cut them horribly short.

This was understandably a problem as this was changing other numbers drastically, because suddenly someone who had maybe later saved a group of people was no longer there. It was more than a bit of a headache for him and everyone he worked with in keeping all this stuff moving smoothly, hence why he was currently, he didn’t want to say stalking because that sounded weird, but basically stalking this man.

He ruffled his feathers slightly and began to tap his fingers in boredom as he watched the figure sneak around the perimeter again. The Merchant of course understood that he probably would need to be sneaky when about to commit a murder, but he himself was a busy entity and his patience was growing thin. He wanted to catch the man in the act, for more impact and interest then anything else.

That was a lie, this man had become a high priority, but the Merchant had always been a creature of action and loathed the monotony of waiting.

He perked up as the man finally entered the house through a window he had carefully managed to pry open. As soon as the killer entered the building completely the Merchant fluffed his wings and effortlessly shifted himself into the main room of the home.

The black clad man slipped towards a door on the other side of the room where the current occupant of the house was sleeping, but the Merchant waited until the gloved hand came to rest upon the handle to make his presence known.

A quick snap of his fingers ensured the home owner wouldn’t awaken as he stepped forward and into the physical plane.

“I think we need to talk.”

The man whipped around and flung a dagger in his direction, which was easily dodged.

“Hey now, you could hurt someone like that.”

The masked man said nothing in response, instead choosing to lunge across the room in another attempt at an attack.

“Okay that’s it, I’m taking this outside.”

In a blink they were in a nearby patch of trees, the masked man suddenly finding himself tied to the base of one of the large trunks.

The man made a surprised sound and immediately began to struggle, as the Merchant waited patiently.

“Alright, now that you aren’t trying to gut me we are having an old fashioned chat about your actions as of late.”

The man froze and pinned him with a cold stare.

“Oh, of course, where are my manners. I don’t technically have a name anymore, but my official title is the Merchant of Death, but honestly I’ve really been feeling the name Tony lately, so I guess you could call me that if you want.”

The other man only continued to stare silently causing Tony to click his tongue in disapproval.

“You know social etiquette would want you to introduce yourself in return.”

Silence continued to stretch and Tony was about to just call it a lost cause and move on when a rough voice suddenly spoke.

“Asset.”

“Beg your pardon?”

“Name. Asset.”

Tony scrutinized the man before him, taking in the ragged appearance and dead look in the other’s eyes.

“Asset? That’s not a name, that’s a designation or something, come on I want your actual name. I mean I can find it out other ways, but I think this is simpler, don’t you agree?”

Suddenly something shifted in the other’s gaze, it was still cold and dark, but some of the blankness had disappeared, these eyes held more awareness.

“Winter.”

“Hmm still doesn’t sound like a name, but I guess that’s the best I’m going to get out of you, but do tell, is that the name of all of you or just you in particular because I have you under something a little more average.”

Tony couldn’t tell because of the mask, but he could practically sense the grin that stretched across the other’s face.

“So you noticed.”

“That I’m speaking to someone else, yeah I picked up on that, so what’s the answer?”

Winter relaxed his posture into almost a lounge and tilted his head to regard Tony.

“It was telling the truth, it goes by Asset, it’s the name it was given so it kept it. You aren’t human are you?”

Tony smirked at the blatant diversion of the topic but figured he would allow it.

“Maybe I am, maybe I’m not, but I’m not the topic of tonight’s conversation. You see, you have been killing quite a few people as of late and I’ve been sent to find out why that is. From what I can tell there is a pattern behind the deaths, but after watching you I have a feeling you're not the one calling the shots. So the bigger question right now is who is holding your leash?”

Winter’s stare grew harder and the lax posture stiffened.

“Classified.”’

Tony blew out a harsh breath.

“Yeah no, see that answer isn’t gonna cut it soldier, you have been making a lot of trouble with your little hits lately and it is in both of our best interests that you just tell me who is pulling the strings before I have to force it out of you. I know a name or two just from following you, but I can’t read minds, what’s the motive? Why these people in particular? And why you?”

“You stand tilted forward, like you’re compensating for a weight on your back, and you keep rolling your shoulders. Why is that?”

Tony stepped closer.

“Look kid I’m really not messing around, just tell me why your master’s want these people dead and how you are doing it without me knowing.”

“You call me kid like you are much older than me, but you appear to be, what are you?”

“Who told you to kill those people?”

“I’ll tell you what you want, if you tell me how you moved us sixty feet in an instant and how you found me.”

“No.”

“Then I guess this conversation is done.”

In a sudden surge of motion Winter broke his bonds and launched himself at Tony, plunging a knife deep into the other’s heart before he had a chance to avoid the attack.

“I look forward to seeing you again Tony. Maybe next time we can have a more productive conversation.”

“You son of a bitch!”

Tony stumbled back a step, already sensing the pull of darkness. This would not normally have hurt him, but he had been almost fully on the physical plane and that meant his body could be hurt just like any mortal form.

He sagged to his knees as Winter stood over him watching impassively and the last thing Tony saw was the other man’s eyes return to their previously blank state before he allowed his energy to pull him onto the eternal plane.

-------

“You got stabbed? What is this amateur hour?”

Tony groaned as his Mistress’ voice floated into his awareness.

“There was something wrong with him, he wasn't the one deciding the hits and I followed him long enough to know that there is someone powerful in that group he works for. He was just the messenger boy.”
“Oh, and who would that be?”

Tony groaned again.

“I don’t know. I couldn’t see the guy. He is hidden to us. This Winter also wasn’t going to talk, really I don’t think he is high enough to know the answer even. And then he put a knife through my heart which was a real conversation ender.”

There were a few moments of silence and Tony was starting to think the Mistress had left until her voice returned.

This is troubling information, and you are sure this man who is cloaked from our sight is mortal?

“There was nothing to make me believe otherwise.”

AVery well, we shall need to keep an eye on this man, did you at least learn of his name, or the organization he works for?

”No one spoke his name directly, but I did learn the name of the party. They call themselves Hydra

Chapter Text

“You know, millions of years of service, a flawless track record and power only second to your own, I really thought I had moved on from the whole overseeing single mortal deaths. So would you like to share what exactly is so important about his one mortal that I am personally overseeing his big day?

Death gave him an unimpressed stare.

“Truly Merchant-”

“I’ve been going by Tony lately actually.”

“Fine then, Tony, are you actually questioning this order after all the odd things I’ve asked of you?”

Tony huffed.

“Yes, because the other ones were interesting, this is just some random soldier.”

Death chuckled.

“Go my Merchant. I think you will find this man more than just a mere soldier.”

Tony grumbled lightly, but knew better than to defy the being before him. Closing his eyes, he reached out with his powers and pinpointed the time and place of the man he was being sent to follow and with a brief feeling like he was dropping he opened his eyes and found himself standing in the back of a plane.

The thing was rocking with turbulence and there was a strong energy source somewhere onboard. As he continued to snoop around what he was pretty sure was way too advanced of an aircraft for this time period, he heard a voice from the front. Curious he made his way to the cockpit and looked at the man he was meant to find.

Young, that was the first thing he noticed, though given that Tony was pretty sure this was near the tail end of one of the World Wars that wasn’t that surprising. Most of the men and women who died in war were young.

The man was talking to someone, a woman, on the radio, but Tony didn’t bother listening. Instead he started inspecting the man. Something had to make this one special, otherwise there was no way Death would ask him to handle this, but the kid looked completely normal.

On a whim Tony sent a little of his powers toward the other and then blanched. That couldn’t be right...

This kid, his time frame was pushing another hundred and forty years! How was that even possible? No humans lived that long, especially not during this time frame.

The man pulled out a small device and opened it revealing a picture of a woman, likely the one on the radio, and placed it on the console.
Then without even a flicker of hesitation the man pushed the throttle forward and threw them into a sharp dive. Wait, what was going on? This guy would never survive an impact of the crash! Tony looked at the numbers again, but they weren’t changing? He was about to die, but the numbers remained steady.

Tony watched silently as a long plain of ice appeared out of the clouds, the plane held course and the numbers didn’t still didn’t change by even a day.

They were just a few hundred feet off the ice when Tony finally realized why he had been sent here. This guy was going to die, but Tony had to stop it.

Aside from the Mistress he was the only one who had the ability to change a person’s death. It wasn’t a skill he used very often ,messing with a person’s death was a very serious matter that could have numerous bad consequences, but apparently he was about to do it for this impossible man.

The ice was close now, the man closing his eyes and bracing for the impact, the woman’s voice was still coming through the speaker. Just a little longer.

The front of the plane finally contacted the ice, the large glass front shattering inward and Tony made his move.

Quickly forcing himself corporeal he lunged forward and grabbed the other man and pulled him back from the spray of glass.

A hiss slipped out as he got hit by some of the glass instead but kept moving.

“What, who are you?”

The soldier yelped as Tony threw them towards the back of the plane, the jarring impact of the rest of the plane hitting knocking Tony off his feet for a moment. Being corporeal sucked, things were so much easier when physical things couldn’t hurt him, and that bitch gravity couldn’t throw him around like this.

The plane was breaking apart as it skidded across the ice, fire and smoke becoming yet another annoying obstacle.

“Dammit!”

Tony growled as he saw the other man trying to get up as the plane jerked to a halt and was still for a moment before lurching downward.

They had to have broken through the ice!

Tony’s fear was confirmed as freezing water began to pour in from the numerous holes in the hull quickly beginning to flood the interior.

Before the other man could regain his feet, Tony was next to him again pressing him back down to the floor and using some of his power to force him into unconsciousness. The man was able to fight it at first, which was a little concerning, but the other finally went limp and Tony went to work.

He lifted the man onto some cargo so the water wouldn’t reach the man till Tony was done, but he himself was standing knee deep in slush causing his frustratingly mortal body to shiver. Working quickly, he pulled his powers to himself and as an afterthought pulled a small knife he had started carrying with him for times he would need to be corporeal.

He directed some of his magic into the knife and pulled up the sleeves of the man’s uniform so show his wrists.

Tony quickly cut a simple geometric design into the soft flesh of the man’s wrists and after stashing the knife away again, grabbed both the man’s wrists firmly.

Concentrating, Tony slowly began pouring some of his energy into the man, using the symbols as an access point to the man’s own life flowing through his veins.

He needed to be careful, he had to use his energy to keep the man alive, but too much and he could accidently make the guy immortal, too little and the ice would kill him.
The chilling water had reached his stomach by now and was starting to lick at the unconscious man by the time Tony let go of the soldier’s wrists and staggered back a step as the power drain hit him. He could feel the small leech on his energy as he kept a continuous channel open with the other man.

Now he understood why the Mistress had wanted him to do this. He had power to spare and the constant drain wouldn’t even bother him even once he was actively keeping the man alive, but this kind of transfer could kill someone younger and less experienced than him. The initial power drain alone of establishing the connection was easily more power than some of the others controlled.

By now he was shivering violently, and the water was still climbing. He would feel it, when the other started to die and would have to monitor it to see if he would need more power to keep the guy going, but after that it would be out of his hands until someone found and resuscitated the man.

Quickly turning incorporeal again, he sighed at the lack of cold and shifted himself back to the Mistress.

“So, I guess you were right about him being different, why was his death time frame like that? Who is that guy?”

Death turned and looked at him for a moment before staring back over the realm of the dead.

“That man was Captain Steven Grant Rogers and he holds a key role in the future of the world of the living. His death is not at my command, but at that of the Fates. We have simply been tasked with keeping him alive until his role is to be fulfilled.”

“Not at your command, you mean you have no power over his death?”

“No, he falls under the Fate’s power and we do well to respect them.”

Tony contemplated this for a moment before realizing something.

“Wait, then how did I stop his death now? I didn’t change his number, but I still altered his death.”

Death finally turned to face him, a small smile gracing her features.

“You have been chosen by the Fates to protect this man till they have need of him. You too are needed in this future and neither you nor I could have refused their calling. This is why I sent you, because the Fates have already sewed your strings close together. You are linked to this man both in your power and fate.”

“But destiny and fate are all a bunch of superstition and the Fates are only able to mess with people to try to bend them to their will for the most desirable outcome right? They have no way of guaranteeing that this thing they need him for will even happen, let alone that he survives long enough to do anything about it.”

“That is true, there are billions of paths in which people's lives can play out, but there are some events that seem nearly universal amongst all these paths, and the one which they prepare for is one of those such events.”

“You sound like you know what it is.”

“I do and one day I may tell you, but for now simply know that the man Roger’s is important, and you should do what you can to help him.”

Tony gave her a contemplative stare before shrugging.

“Alright fine, I’ll keep the guy breathing, not like it’ll take that much effort. I’m kind of curious what this big scary event is anyways.”

Tony gave a sweeping bow.

“Until then I am off to do my normal job, until your next summons.”

And with that Tony vanished, feeling the tug of another series of deaths pulling him.

----------

Steve didn’t trust this Director Fury, but one thing was for sure, he really was a long way from his own time.

They had brought him back to the big facility he had woken in earlier, and Fury had sat him down in an office to explain what was going on and answer Steve’s questions.

He had just finished explaining how Steve had crashed and been recovered after years of searching when Steve suddenly remembered something.

“Wait, what about the other guy?”

Fury’s eye squinted at him in suspicion and what look a little like confusion.

“Captain Roger’s there was no record of anyone else on that plane with you when it went down. Are you telling me that is incorrect?”

Steve tried desperately to think back, it was all a little fuzzy, but there had been another man, he was sure of that.

“Yes, I don’t know where he came from, but just before I hit the ice this guy came out of nowhere and got me away from the front when the windshield blew in, I- I think he was hit by some of the glass. He threw me to the back as we were crashing and by the time I got myself back together he came over and I think he knocked me out?”

“Captain Rogers you are telling me that there was not only another man on that plane, but that he was able to throw you and knock you unconscious? I want a description yesterday Captain, was he hostile?”

Steve shook his head, eyes going a little wide.

“No sir, why would a hostile help me? He was probably the only reason I didn’t die upon initial impact. Uh, details are kind of fuzzy, but he was a white male, uh shorter than me, dark hair and facial hair, uh he looked older than me? Maybe thirties or forties? I’m sorry sir, the whole thing is pretty fuzzy, but he was strong, he tossed me like I weighed nothing.”

Fury sat there watching him, silently for a few more moments before finally nodding.

“Alright, we will look into that more, in the meantime continue with your questions Captain.”

They continued the back and forth questions and answers for several hours until finally Fury said that the medical team wanted to look him over and they would continue later.

Some men brought him to a room, different from the one he had woken up in and began doing what they said were medical scans, which looked very different from anything medical he had ever seen, but they weren’t hurting him, so he let them do what they wanted.

He stared down at his hands, trying to figure out why he had survived the crash. They told him it was the serum, but that just didn’t seem right. As he stared at his hands he noticed to small scars on his wrists. He hadn’t had those before he went into the ice.

“Excuse me.”

The nearest doctor looked up at him.

“Was just wondering what these were?”

Steve indicated his wrists and the doctor came over to look at them.

“Captain Roger’s those marks were already on you when they pulled you from the ice, we figured that they were scars. Are they not?”

“Oh no, no never mind, I just remembered I got them back during the war, must have slipped my mind.”

The doctor nodded and went back to what they were doing, but Steve continued to stare at the little geometric marks.

He had left out a little bit of detail when he told Fury about those last few moments on the plane. He remembered the man holding him down and his hand seemed to glow a little and suddenly Steve had felt warmth pooling through him.

He had tried to stay awake, but the warmth had been so comforting that he had given in fairly quickly. Even as he sat here he could still feel some of that warmth in his chest. Whatever that man had done to him, it was still affecting him, but it didn’t seem harmful, so he saw no reason to bring it up.

Maybe the man had given him the scars? That was the only thing that made sense right now, but why? He wished he could see the man again and ask him and thank him for saving him.

He was pulled from his thoughts as the doctors began to ask him more questions, but he found himself continuing to rub his thumb over the small mark.

Steve hoped the other was okay.

Chapter Text

Apparently, Tony was no more important than an average Reaper nowadays, either that or he had angered the Mistress at some point. After all, why else would he be handling such mundane single person deaths? He stood on the ledge of a tall abandoned building trying desperately to think of what he could have possibly done to make her angry enough to make her this vindictive, allowing himself to become corporeal to enjoy the cool breeze of the night.

If he was going to be stuck running these little errands, then he was at least going to enjoy himself and one of his favorite little pastimes was indulging in brief moments of pretending he was human. Experiencing all the little things that humans did like food and relaxing in the sun and other such pleasures that they took for granted for his guilty pleasure.

He was supposed to be looking out for a kid who was going to die tonight, another little anomaly on the radar, as it seemed to be a pattern with this supposed “gifted” humans who were a little less human than most. The kid had avoided death for a while, his numbers jumping around constantly instead of sticking to the average range. One second, he would have a few minutes left of life then suddenly he would jump up to an average human lifespan. It was more than a little annoying for the reapers who showed up to handle the death only to leave empty handed and confused after the supposed death event.

That's why it was now his job to handle these special little humans and their weird anomalies. As the times advanced there seemed to be less and less mass level events, sure there were the occasional blips of a mass number of deaths, but Tony had found himself not nearly as busy as he used to be back in the old days.

Which he supposed was a good thing for humans, after all most of the wars he had handled in the past were rather pointless.

As it was this was apparently being left up to his judgment, the Mistress giving him full control on what to do with this kid. For now, Tony figured he would just observe, see if he could figure out why this kid’s numbers were so unpredictable. Then after he had all the facts he would decide.

So lost in his thoughts he somehow failed to notice a second presence on the roof until a young, hesitant voice spoke up from behind him.

“Uh sir, hey are you okay?”

Startled Tony turned around too quickly and nearly lost his balance on the ledge, causing the other to gasp and step forward before Tony managed to compose himself and cross his arms over his dark suit clad chest with a huff of embarrassment at his slip.

Before he could throw a retort, the kid, which he had to be judging by his voice, smaller size and pretty long-life expectancy, stepped forward a little more with his hands raised in front of him.

“Sorry about that sir, I didn’t mean to scare you. That was pretty close just now so why don’t you just step away from the edge a little more, so we can talk a bit.”

Tony was barely paying attention though, instead he was trying to determine if this was the kid he was here for, the stupid costume was making it more than a little hard to judge on appearance and the kid’s numbers were steady, so he couldn’t guess based on that.

“And why would I do that?”

Tony replied distractedly as he continued to assess the other.

“I- well I know things must seem pretty bad right now, but I know from experience that even if it all seems kinda of dark and hopeless that things do eventually get better. There are places you can go and people you can talk to and believe me it really helped me and soon you find out you can be happy again! So why don’t I take you back down to street level and we can grab some food and talk this out.”

This had to be the kid, who else but one of these self-declared heroes would be running around on roofs this late at night in a full body costume and mask at this exact location if this kid wasn’t- wait, what was the kid talking about?

Tony quickly mentally replayed what the kid had said as he took note of the fact the kid had been slowly inching closer with his hands still up.

Oh.

Curious Tony shuffled back a little bit and the kid froze, masked eyes widening.

Well how about that, no wonder the kid was being so cautious, he thought Tony was a jumper. He felt a little bad now that he realized the whole time he has been quietly musing this kid was standing there thinking he’s about to watch someone die. He can’t help but wonder just how many similar people the kid had encountered.

Deciding to end the poor kids torture Tony hopped off the ledge onto the rooftop causing the other to visibly sag with relief.

“There we go, uh, good, um hey what’s your name?”

Deciding to humor the other for now he walked a little closer.

“Name’s Tony and don’t worry kid I wasn’t gonna jump, just enjoying the night air before heading to work. So, who are you supposed to be anyways, isn’t it a little late for you to be out?”

“What? Oh, I mean that’s good because yeah, and um my name’s Spiderman, and no, I’m not as young as I sound. I just sorta help people around here, are you new to the city? I mean I don’t want to be that guy, but I am on the news a lot so I’m not sure how you haven’t heard of me at least a little.”

Tony was looking around himself suspiciously, there was no one else around and the kid’s number was a normal lifespan, so why was he here?

“Yeah you could say I’m not from around here, but to be fair I’m not from around anywhere really.”

Spiderman, really who chose that one, nodded for a second before freezing as Tony’s words registered.

“Oh, okay so did that mean the I travel a lot “from nowhere” or the I’m actually an alien “from nowhere” because if you’re an alien that would be really cool, but not if you want to hurt people cause that’s bad and I would probably have to stop you.”

Tony already liked this kid, seemed like they ran on a similar wavelength which was pretty hard to do with someone like Tony. Just for that little bit of kinship he decided to break the rules and come clean just this once, honestly the rules didn’t even apply to him much now a days anyways.

“More in the I’m actually a supernatural being from another plane of existence “from nowhere” actually.”

The silence didn’t last nearly as long as he thought it would before the kid came back with the age-old response to anything that sounded even slightly unbelievable.

“Bull shit.”

Tony barked a laugh.

“Nope! You’re looking at the genuine article kid, one ultra-powerful supernatural being at your service.”

Just because he was having more fun then he’d had in years Tony swept into a dramatic flourishing bow.

“There’s no way, can you prove it because honestly I want to believe that you are telling the truth, but my science brain won’t let me.”

Tony figured the kid would ask something like this eventually and thought about the consequences for a brief second before smiling and answering.

“Sure.”

The kid was practically vibrating with excitement causing Tony to smirk.

“Okay what are you first of all then show me proof.”

Tony nodded and just because he was dramatic by nature he allowed his dark wings to manifest behind his back and his eyes to flash and glow as he held his arms open.

“I am the Merchant of Death, passer of judgment, right hand of Death and the gatekeeper of the barrier. Believe me Spider I’m the most powerful being you’ll ever meet.”

Tony was a little surprised to see the kid suddenly shut down at his words, looking more hesitant and wary, but it became clear why once he spoke again.

“The Merchant of Death? You mean you kill people? And Death is a person? Also, you still haven’t proved it.

Tony shrugged fluffing his long dark feathers easily and stretching them out to the sides in a lazy motion that also showed off their massive size.

“The Merchant of Death is my title and technically my name earned over the thousands of years of service to the Mistress who yes is a terrifying woman who is technically Death itself. I don’t kill people kid I just take care of them once they do kick the bucket, judge them for their life, help them pass on you know, the works, though usually I handle much larger amounts of death such as war and stuff.”

“Wait usually? Oh my god, is that why you’re here? Because I’m supposed to die?”

Tony quickly realized his mistake as the other’s voice became panicked and his breathing sped up.

“Hey hey, listen I don’t know who I’m here for, I’m just under orders to deal with a death near this area sometime around now, but your numbers look fine so it’s probably not you.

“Numbers?”

“Years till you die, now how about some proof.”

“Wait you can see when I-”

“Okay! Let’s start with something simple, your name is Peter Parker, yes Spiderboy I know your name and what you look like so let's lose the mask now yeah? I also know you’re a sixteen-year-old orphan who has superhuman abilities.”

Peter hesitated before removing his mask and quickly throwing back.

“You could be a mutant! I know some have like telepathy, so you could have just pulled that from my mind.”

“Fair enough, okay I can also tele-”

Tony easily made himself incorporeal again and reappeared behind Peter.

“-port. Or close enough to it.”

Peter yelped and jerked around.

“Okay, but that is also a known mutant ability!”

Tony sighed, he understood the kid’s need to exhaust all options, but it was still a little annoying.
“Let’s face it kid, you know I’m not a mutant, plus don’t those guys usually only have one ability?”

Peter stood there silently as he seemed to work through processing this new knowledge and Tony for once forced himself to simply stand there and be patient, the kid was actually taking all this quite well in his opinion.

Less than a minute passed before Tony’s patience wore out and he clapped his hands together startling the other.

“Whelp whatever was going to happen doesn’t seem to be since the window has passed so I believe when you were trying to talk me down you mentioned getting some food?”

Peter’s mouth opened and closed a few times as it seemed to take him a second to catch up with the sudden subject shift before he nodded and seemed to force himself back to the present.

“Uh what, oh yeah! There is a twenty-four-hour diner pretty close by that has amazing stuff, but can you even eat? I mean, like do you need to?”

“Just because I don’t need to eat doesn’t mean I can’t or don’t like to treat myself every once in a while.”

Peter nodded slowly.

“Okay I guess. Sure, we can grab some food. I was pretty much done for the night anyways, lemme just grab my bag and change into something, uh a little less noticeable and you should probably put your wings away cause I mean people will probably just assume you’re a mutant and things are getting better for them these days, but there are still a lot of people that hate them and are mean and don’t think they deserve things like rights so it would probably be best to just avoid any of that, y’know?”

Tony laughed a little as the teen took a huge breath at the end as though in his rush he had forgotten how that he needed air.

Shrugging Tony made his wings incorporeal again and sat down on the edge of the building.

“Go grab your stuff and come back here then you can take me out for some good food.”

“Great, cool! Uh, I’ll be right back I guess, so see you in a minute I guess?”

Tony nodded as the other slipped his mask back on and jumped off the roof, using some sort of launching grappling rope to swing away as Tony watched in fascination making note to ask about it later.

It took Peter a while, Tony was really bad with tracking time at a mortal’s rate, to return, but when he did they walked to the diner and proceeded to spend most of the night just talking. By the time Peter saw the time and said he had to go Tony was surprised that the night was almost over.

He waved goodbye and promised to meet the kid again in two nights, making sure to pluck a feather and leave it, he would be able to sense it and judge the time and location better off of it so he didn’t have to wait for Peter to show up or accidentally lose track of the flow of time again and miss the date.

As he watched the kid leave Tony was shocked to find himself smiling and he felt oddly light. It took him a minute to realize that it was because for the first time in far too long Tony was happy and had truly enjoyed himself. It sounded a little morbid, but in his line of work friendship wasn’t really anyone's priority. Sure he knew some of the lower rank reapers, but that was just it, they treated him like a commander more than a friend and the Mistress was no one’s friend if he was being honest.

His earlier reason for being here was completely forgotten as he left the streets and went back to the other realm, already looking forward to meeting up with the kid again.

They continued their meetings after that, sometimes going to the late-night diner, other days meeting in the afternoon after Peter finished school and just walking around or going to somewhere Tony had never been, and each time they both left smiling and happy. Tony had always found mortals interesting and the more time he spent with Peter pretending to be one and touring the city, the more curious he became. It wasn't long before he had picked up the style and showed up in jeans and a dark t-shirt and casual suit jacket, much to Peter's amusement.

Peter was more than willing to answer all his questions and listen to his rants about work and weird mortal habits and in turn he answered Peter’s questions and listened to all the things that happened while he was Spiderman that he couldn’t say to anyone else.

It was peaceful and to someone like Tony who only ever really saw the worst of humanity it was a completely new experience.

Sure he couldn’t always meet with the kid, they both had other obligations, but they kept it consistent enough that one day when the kid’s aunt called to ask where he was Peter had said out with a friend and Tony had swelled a little with pride because he had come to view Peter as that and the grin on the kid’s face when he had said those words meant that Peter thought of them as that too.

Though like all things there was a catch.
Tony never mentioned it to Peter, the kid had enough to worry about, but Tony had noticed pretty early that something else was going on.

At first, he had thought little of it, just coincidences and false calls, but soon it was happening too often to ignore. Peter was turning up on the soon to die lists a lot, but when Tony would go to meet the kid at the time and place the death was to occur, it never happened. Peter was meant to have died nearly ten times by now, but when Tony would show up, tense and ready to face what he had always feared, nothing would happen, and Peter’s numbers wouldn’t even flux a little.

It took Tony much longer than it should to realize it was because of him. Whatever was supposed to happen didn’t because of Tony’s presence, whether it was because he was there physically or his energy, which he realized sometimes left a residue on the kid. The kid wasn’t dying, and for all he worried about what that could mean down the line Tony couldn’t find himself too disappointed in the kid’s continued life.

He had become attached okay? He knew how dangerous that was, but the kid had become his friend and he could barely stomach the thought that eventually the kid would die.

Which is why the night it all caught up with him he could do nothing.

Tony had met Peter before his patrol of the rooftops tonight, Tony having become quite good at picking out Peter’s life amongst all the others of the city, and they were chatting on the roof of an old office building a little away from the busy nightlife of the city. Peter still had his bag with his costume in it, though he was waiting till later to actually put it on.

Tony was nodding along to Peter’s latest tale of heroics down-town earlier that day when Tony noticed something and froze.

The kid’s number had dropped.

To a few seconds.

“Down!”

Tony heard himself yell and he lunged towards the kid as the world suddenly exploded with light and a deafening bang.

Corporeal as he was he must have gotten hit because the world went black and suddenly he was gasping and sitting up as a wave of pain crashed into him.

Coughing out a long wheezing breath he looked around. He was sitting in what was left of the building he had just been standing on, which had been reduced to nothing but rubble by whatever had hit them.

Them.

Looking around quickly Tony forced himself to his feet, swaying a little before finding his footing. Annoyed he tried to shift himself incorporeal to get rid of his painfully mortal injuries, but he couldn’t. With growing confusion and panic he tried again, but it was the same, he couldn’t shift himself.

He was surprised to find his breathing was speeding up. Wait breathing? He never did that unless he wanted to blend in? Pulling in another deep gasp he forced himself to calm down and think. That’s when he remembered that little conversation from so long ago.

“Few beings are truly invincible Merchant, you only are simply stronger than those we consider to be mortal. This is why you can be injured, because when you appear in to them you allow yourself to become more vulnerable. In those moments you allow yourself to be mortal and should your body at that time feel you are injured enough then you will become limited just as they would, your power focusing on healing you instead of fueling your abilities. That is why I so disapprove of your habit of making yourself corporeal, because while it will take much more effort to kill you, you can still be hurt and become trapped on that plane.”

Tony had listened to it all, but the real meaning behind that warning had been lost on him till now. That was the catch, the big mystery he had always waited to discover because it seemed everything had a price, his immortality would surely had one as well and it seems this was it. That his powers were not in fact as limitless as he had thought and should he be foolish enough to push himself to this point of injury his powers would be weakened, prioritize his corporeal body and he would be mortal till he healed enough that he could spare enough power to shift himself back.

Well shit.

More annoyed than anything now at this inconvenient situation he found himself in he was just beginning to look for the kid, but froze he saw him emerge from the rubble a few meters away.

Peter glanced around, confused but otherwise unharmed, which eased a little of the worry Tony had for this whole situation. The teen’s wandering gaze finally found his and his eyes widened in shock.

“Tony! Oh my god are you okay, oh god you’re hurt, how are you hurt I thought you were super powerful and stuff!”

Peter had run over by now and was fluttering his hands around in front of Tony, but Tony couldn’t focus on the kid’s panicked words, no, he was staring at his number.

Or more importantly, the lack of one.

His worst fear had come true, he hadn’t been enough to stop it this time.

Peter was dead.

Chapter Text

Previously

Peter had run over by now and was fluttering his hands around in front of Tony, but Tony couldn’t focus on the kid’s panicked words, no, he was staring at his number.

Or more importantly, the lack of one.

His worst fear had come true, he hadn’t been enough to stop it this time.

Peter was dead.

Now

Tony couldn’t process it at first. As ancient as he was he had never faced this situation before. He had always just handled mass killings and complete strangers. He judged them for their lives, but it was all done with perfect detachment. Never had he talked to them before they died, never interacted with them on any level other than their passing.

He felt something in his newly mortal chest clench at the thought of this bright young, god so young, kid dying like this, alone in an abandoned building by some unknown enemy.

It shouldn’t be an issue! How many had he helped pass over, some even younger then Peter and he had never hesitated, just done his job and moved on. He had only met the kid recently, how could he already be this terrifyingly attached?

It seemed tonight was full of firsts for him.

He startled a little as Peter’s hand brushed his shoulder causing the other to flinch back in surprise as well. It seemed that even if he couldn’t make himself incorporeal that he still resided at least partially on the same plane as the dead.

“Tony? Tony are you okay, some of these look pretty bad. Can you heal yourself? I mean I probably can’t call an ambulance but if there is anything I can do to help then just tell me what to do.”

He had to tell him.

He didn’t know he was dead yet.

He had to tell him.

“I’m fine kid just some unforeseen difficulties, but Peter listen.”

The kid was looking at him so openly, god how was he supposed to tell this kid it was over.

“Peter, thing is, god kid I’m sorry. Listen, Peter...you- you didn’t survive the explosion buddy. I know you probably feel fine, but kid, your body is still under everything over there. I-I’m sorry Pete. I wasn’t fast enough.”

Peter just stared at him for a moment looking a little blank and Tony knew what was coming. Could already feel his chest tightening.

“I- I’m dead?”

The boy’s voice cracked a little on that last word.

“Pete.”

“But, but I can’t be dead. No, that doesn’t make sense! I mean I feel fine, I look fine and I- I touched you!”

“Peter please.”

“Oh god Aunt May. She, she’ll never know what happened, she’ll never know why!”

Tears had begun to stream down the boy’s face and Tony could feel his own eyes moistening as this child, for that’s what he really was wasn’t he, slowly broke apart. The Merchant of Death shedding tears for a mortal, who’d have ever thought.

Then finally the words Tony dreaded the most.

“Wait! Wait you’re the Merchant of Death! Tony you could bring me back to life right? You said you had that kind of power, so you could do it right? ...Tony?”

Confused by the other’s sudden change in tone Tony was startled to find there were tears beginning to trickle down his face and he closed his eyes if only to block out that hopeful expression on the kid’s face.

“Pete I-, Peter when the building came down I was fully on this plane of existence. I- Pete I’m mortal. I can’t reach the other plane, my powers are keeping me alive until I heal, but that’s all they can do. I’m just a stupid, useless mortal right now.”

Tony spit the last part as he felt it all finally come crashing down. He was useless like this! All his ancient power and he couldn’t save the life of a single kid!

He couldn’t save his only friend.

“What do you mean you’re mortal? That can happen? And what do you mean they are keeping you alive, can you die?”

It seemed that Tony’s predicament had somehow distracted the kid from his own and Peter was now panicking over him. This kid was too good for this world or any other. Forcing himself back under control Tony gave the kid a small smile and winced when that pulled on a cut on his cheek.

“No one’s truly immortal kid, usually if I get hurt I just shift myself back to the other plane real quick or that happens automatically if I “die” while only partially on this plane, but I got sloppy kid, let my guard down.”

Tony sighed a little and looked down Peter’s feet that weren’t fully touching the ground.

“To really interact with this plane, I have to be on it entirely, no splitting the difference like I usually do when I come to this plane for a job. It’s how I can eat or feel temperature or...or push someone out of the way of an attack.”

He finished with a slight wince, a lot of good it had done. Peter might not have been hit directly, but he still hadn’t survived.

Tony risked a glance up at the kid who looked devastated for an entirely new reason.

“Wait you mean if you hadn’t tried to save me, you wouldn’t be hurt? You wouldn’t have almost died!”

“Peter stop.”

Tony had set his face in a hard mask now, staring down the boy who looked ready to cry again.

“You’re my friend kid. I don’t regret what I did, and I would do it again, the only thing I regret is that I still didn’t save you and that I’m too weak to fix it.”

“It’s all right Tony, I’m glad I’m not alone at least.”

Tony felt his newly mortal heart shatter and suddenly he was angry.

“No, you know what? It’s not alright Pete! There has got to be some way I can fix this. I’m nearly a god for Hel’s sake!”

Peter seemed a little surprised at his friend’s sudden mood swing, but it distracted him from his current dark thoughts, so he was willing to follow this new conversation. Plus, Peter had always loved solving the seemingly impossible.

“But you said you were mortal and that all your power was focusing on healing you.”

Tony nodded, blinking hard as that made his vision blur a little, gods being mortal was annoying.

“I am yeah, and my power is healing me, but that means my power is still there and well, powerful, it’s just been diverted. So! I have to go back to the basics here now kid. Okay so, after a human dies it’s not always immediate, that’s why you’re here because you are tethered to your body still. You haven’t been here long enough yet to be trapped on this plane because you haven’t started fading yet, you are still basically opaque which is good!”

Peter was a little lost, but the older man was on a roll now, so he just nodded. Plus, if his rants to Ned had taught him anything any questions asked during this rant were rhetorical and just a way to organize his thoughts.

“Okay so if you are still tied to your body then by all technicality you can be put back in it and healed back to your young healthy self without your body having too much of a chance to start decaying or becoming too detached from you to accept you back in.”

“But you said you don’t have your power.”

“No Peter we covered this! My powers are still there they are just diverted to another task, which means if I force it back on task it should still work as normal.”

Peter shook his head.

“But aren’t they keeping you alive? I mean I’m not a doctor Tony, but your injuries are pretty serious. Would it be safe to mess with the healing?”

Tony looked exasperated at his comment.

“Who cares if it’s safe kid we might have a shot at bringing you back!”

“Well I care! What good is it if you bring me back but kill yourself in the process?”

Tony shook his head again, slightly slower this time.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there, plus come on kid I’m made of heartier stuff then that! Now where is your body? I need to see how bad it is to see if this is even possible.”

Peter looked worried, but slowly made his way over to a pile of debris.

“I’m pretty sure I’m under there.”

Tony nodded grimly before bending down and beginning to shift debris away from the spot. Peter tried to help, but his hand just passed through causing him to stare at it in morbid fascination.

It took longer than Tony wanted it to, he quickly found out that his right arm was basically useless, and his side hurt if he bent and his vision would black out if he stood up too fast, but eventually he had cleared enough to pull the kid’s body out from under it.

It was surprisingly clean thanks to a lucky beam that had taken the weight of the debris. There were places stained with blood and his one wrist was bent at a very incorrect angle, but it was obvious what had been the killing blow. One side of his head was covered in blood and seemed almost dented inwards.

Peter noticed with a detached feeling that it was actually quite surreal to look at one's own body and not feel any of the pain from it.

Meanwhile Tony had dragged the body completely free and had carefully arranged it on a flatter patch of concrete pieces panting a little from the effort.

“This is a clean death Pete, I think I can actually fix this!”

Peter was pulled from his musings by the excitement in the other’s voice. Glancing up he saw Tony grinning madly as he prodded at the head wound on his body.

“For real? You think it’s possible?”

Peter asked breathlessly as he came to stand closer careful to avoid looking at the body too hard. Next to him Tony’s grin became almost ferral.

“Well only one way to find out! Stand still kid this is probably gonna hurt a bit.”

Before Peter could say anything, Tony reached out and pressed the base of his palm against Peter’s forehead and gripped his head as he mirrored the movement with his other hand on Peter’s body.

Closing his eyes Tony scrunched his face in concentration and dug deep for the core of his powers, feeling it flowing away from his center to all of his injuries.

Well here goes nothing, he thought to himself before giving those lines a harsh tug and forcing them all to redirect to his hands. His body felt like it was burning as he forced his power through his fingertips and into both Peter and his body.

It was like nothing he had ever felt before. He was fully connected to Peter and grounded to this plane by the kid’s corpse. Peter began to shudder beneath his touch and he could vaguely hear the kid screaming as he forcefully drew the kid’s spirit into him, absorbing the spirit and turning it into raw energy sending it straight through his core before pushing it through the hand touching the body.

He felt the moment the kid’s spirit was back in its body and despite the fact his entire being was screaming out in pain he knew he needed to work fast.

Lowering his other hand he kept his injured arm laying on the kid’s head as his other hand found its place above the kids center and he pushed more and more energy through his fingers into the body as he slowly knitted together skin and bone and muscle and finally he sent one last push of pure energy into the kid and felt him his lunges lurch to life as his spirit was slotted fully back into its mortal shell.

And even as darkness closed around Tony and he heard the kid yell his name Tony could feel the smile stretched across his face because he had done it. Peter was alive.

And Tony knew no more.

------------------------------------

Everything came back slowly in waves of pain, each from seemingly a different part of his body. Which was weird right? He shouldn’t be feeling pain. Annoyed Tony tried to shift himself out of this plane but was met with a weak spluttering from his power and a warning pulse from his injuries.

He must have made a sound because there was suddenly a rush of movement somewhere to his right and a worried voice right next to him.

“Tony? Tony talk to me! Come on Tony you’re really scaring me cause you aren’t healing and you’re not human so I don’t know what to do! Should I call someone? What can I do! Tony please open your eyes.”

Oh ya, the kid had died, and Tony had brought him back. Go him!

With a small grunt of pain Tony managed to shift his head and open his eyes allowing Peter’s terrified face to swim into view.

“Oh, thank god, Tony what am I supposed to do? I used my webbing to stop the bleeding, but it’s still bad. You are basically mortal right now right, so could I take you to a hospital?”

Tony took a moment to think that over, but eventually shook his head slightly.

“Still not really human kid.”

Wow he sounded terrible, no wonder the kid looked worried.

Peter meanwhile was chewing on his lip in a somewhat frantic manner as his eyes darted around. Tony could vaguely hear the sound of those human law enforcers, they probably were finally responding to an entire building coming down. Little late in Tony’s opinion.

Peter was suddenly touching him, and he focused back to what the other was saying.

“Okay, okay we can’t stay here. Tony listen I know it’s gonna hurt, but we gotta move okay? I’m gonna lift you up and we can lay low for a minute while I figure out what to do.”

Tony sighed already knowing this was going to be rough but nodded in consent. He was even managed to hold in the scream when the kid got him upright. Panting from just that action alone Tony managed to keep his feet under him as Peter helped him stumble his way out of the rubble and down an abandoned street.

Tony actually managed to keep it together a lot longer than he thought he would before his right leg suddenly buckled nearly sending them both to the pavement. Cursing quietly Peter managed to pull him to the side where a park bench made up a sad bus stop.

After he was seated, and Tony had ducked his head to simply focus on taking short breaths to see if breathing was something that would help his head stop pounding, Peter started pacing off to the side.

Finally, he made the decision to do what he did any other time he had a problem he didn’t know how to solve, he called Ned.

“Pete?”

Came his friendly groggy voice from the other end of the line.

“Ned! Ned listen it's an emergency, I don’t know what to do!”

Ned, thank god, must have heard the urgency in his voice and realized what time it was because he immediately replied.

“Oh man what’s wrong? Is this a Spiderman kind of emergency? Do I need to call the cops or something?”

“No! No cops, but yes this is a Spiderman emergency. Listen Ned I have someone here with me, remember that guy I was telling you about? The not quite human guy who is actually really cool and I hung out with sometimes?”

“Yeah?”

“Well something really bad happened tonight and now he’s really hurt, and I don’t know where to take him cause he’s not human Ned! I can’t take him to a hospital, but I need to do something because he’s really hurt, and he can’t heal himself and I- I don’t know anything about this kind of stuff. I mean I’ve read about it, but I don’t know how to actually do it and I don't have any supplies!”

Peter broke off and tried to calm down a little. He didn’t have time to panic he needed to do something to help Tony.

“Pete, I don’t know, I mean could you take him to a super? Like is there any other superheroes you could ask for help?”

“Ned I’m just a friendly neighborhood Spiderman! I don’t have any of other heroes on speed dial or anything!”

Ned was quiet for a second before coming back cautiously.

“I mean there is an obvious answer here, it’s not a great option, but like if you're careful you can make it work and even then, it’s gonna be bad, but not like catastrophic and adults know this kind of stuff so I mean it’s better than you just doing it yourself-”

“Who can I call Ned just say it!”

“You can call Aunt May.”

Chapter Text

Ned was quiet for a second before coming back cautiously.

“I mean there is an obvious answer here, it’s not a great option, but like if you're careful you can make it work and even then it’s gonna be bad, but not like catastrophic and adults know this kind of stuff so I mean it’s better then you just doing it yourself-”

“Who can I call Ned just say it!”

“You can call Aunt May.”

Peter froze for a second before practically yelling back at his friend.

“I can’t call Aunt May!”

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Tony flinch at the volume and he gave him a small grimace of apology before he turned the other way and said again in a slightly lower tone.

“I can’t call Aunt May! She doesn’t know about any of this stuff!”

“Dude everyone knows about this stuff, it's not like you have to tell her about you! Just tell her a half truth. This guy saved you from a villain attack a while back and you kept in contact because he seemed cool and you both were really into science. You were out taking pictures for the Bugle tonight because it’s early enough in the evening and that’s where she probably figures you are anyways and this guy tagged along for whatever reason and then the villain got a close hit and he protected you!”

Peter started to argue more, but his friend was right. He hated lying to his aunt, but Tony needed help and if he explained what happened she would definitely help him.

“Okay, okay you’re right. Alright I’m gonna call her, I’ll keep you updated. Thanks man!”

“Good luck!”

Peter ended the call and with shaking fingers brought up the contact he had for Aunt May. Oh god he couldn’t believe he was about to do this. He glanced back over to where Tony was still hunched over and hesitantly called over.

“Hey Tony? You still doing okay man?”

There was a short pause before the older man’s? God’s? hand turned over and he gave a shaky thumbs up. Peter nodded and swallowed, looking back at his phone.

“Okay good just hang in there yeah? I’m gonna call someone who can help.”

The other gave no response to that and Peter wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not. He took a few more steadying breaths before he finally managed to press his thumb to the call button.

It picked up on the second ring and his aunt’s voice immediately burst from the speaker.

“Peter? Peter where the hell are you? Do you realize how late it is! When I agreed to you taking pictures tonight I thought you would be home at a reasonable time! It’s dangerous out there at night you know that!”

Peter was stunned silent for a moment by the rush of words before he quickly cut her off.

“Aunt May I’m really sorry I didn't realize how late it had gotten and I was taking pictures of Spiderman for work with a friend, but the villain noticed us and attacked the building and I’m fine not even a scratch but my friend got really hurt and I don’t know what to do cause he’s not human so I can’t take him to a hospital but he’s really hurt-”

“Peter!”

Peter stopped and gasped a quick breath realizing he hadn’t taken one in his panic to tell her what was happening.

“Peter, where are you?”

“Uh somewhere on the southside? Uh hold on I'm near a bus stop for the Lynx busses, uh it’s stop 14.”

“Okay where is your friend? Where are they hurt and how bad?”

Peter could hear the frantic rustling of clothes and jangle of keys and was swamped by relief that his aunt was coming. He knew she would grill him later, but for now she was going to help.

“Uh, I don’t really know. He was really dizzy so probably got hit in the head, and I know his right arm is hurt and his leg too. There’s a- a pretty big amount of blood but his clothes are dark and it’s hard to tell where it’s coming from and I really don’t want to move him a lot.”

“That’s fine that’s okay just stay there, and I’ll be there as fast as I can. Is he conscious?”

Peter glanced over at the other to check really quick before coming back on the phone.

“Yeah, yeah he’s still conscious, but he was unconscious right after the attack.”

“Okay, Peter I want you to hang up and make sure he doesn’t lose consciousness again okay? I’m almost there.”

Peter nodded before remembering she couldn’t see him and giving a quick affirmative and hung up. Putting his phone in his pocket he walked back over to the bench where Tony was still hunched.

“Tony? Hey, listen my Aunt May is coming to get us and she can help okay? How are you doing? Is anything worse?”

There was a long moment of silence before Tony’s dark eyes opened and drifted up to look at him, though Peter was concerned by how wide the other’s pupils were and the fact he seemed to be looking a little to the side.

“I’m doing dandy kid, no worries.”

Peter frowned at the rasp to the other’s voice.

“Are your powers healing you yet?”

“Not really, I really smoke checked them pulling you back kid, I can feel them starting to work on me, but it might be a few hours before I have enough juice to heal anything major.”

Peter nodded and looked up at the sound of a car approaching, smiling in relief as he recognized his aunt’s car. She rolled to a quick stop and jumped out leaving the keys in the ignition as she quickly ran around the other side of the car. She paused a little at the sight of Tony and Peter realized she had probably been expecting someone closer to his age and not an adult.

The pause was only momentary before she carefully knelt in front of the hunched man.
Tony must have been watching as he immediately raised his head a little to look at her before she could say anything and rasped out a greeting.

“Ah the famous and beautiful Aunt May I’ve heard so much about. Sorry we had to meet like this I promise I’m usually a much more charming person to be around.”

May looked a little thrown off for a minute before she smiled indulgently.

“I’m sure you are though I’m afraid I haven’t heard much about you, though I’m sure Peter will be willing to fix that once we get home, right Peter?”

At the last part she threw a glare at Peter over her shoulder and he winced causing Tony to chuckle a little before groaning. This drew May’s attention back to him as she, probably without realizing it, began to run her hand over his hair in a soothing manner as she looked him over closely.

“Okay we need to get you into the car so I’m gonna help you up really slow and you let me know if anything hurts too bad. Alright?”

Tony gave a grunting affirmative as he forced himself to straighten as May and Peter moved under his arms to keep him steady.

“Okay three, two, one up!”

At the end of the countdown the two stood bringing Tony up with them as he swayed dangerously for a moment before regaining a little of his balance. Together they moved their way to the side of the car where Peter broke off and opened the door as May carefully maneuvered Tony into the seat before leaning carefully over him to buckle the seatbelt.

It was a quiet ride to the apartment as May and Peter shot worried glances at Tony as he instead focused at not getting sick from the motion of the car as his head swam.

Before long they had parked and maneuvered Tony from the car, to the elevator and into the apartment with no incidents. Peter once again moved ahead of the other two and cleared off the couch and quickly laid a blanket down as May and Tony finally stumbled into the living area. Both May and Tony were out of breath as she finally helped him lower to the couch.

“Peter go get the first aid kit from the bathroom and grab some of Ben’s old clothes from the closet for him to change into.”

Nodding quickly Peter bolted from the bathroom as May moved to the kitchen and grabbed some dish cloths and wetted them under the tap.

Coming back into the room she found the man had leaned back into the couch and had his eyes closed again and May paused a second to get her first good look at him.

He looked even worse under the harsh overhead light and she could see slightly darker patches on his dark shirt. Peter had said the man wasn’t human, though she could see no signs of such a thing and she couldn’t help but wonder how Peter had met this man in the first place.

She approached and was about to get his attention when she realized that she didn’t even know the man’s name.

She was saved when Peter came back into the room and sat down next to the other and gently nudged him.

“Hey Tony, we gotta take your shirt off real quick and clean you up then you can just lay back and relax yeah?”

Tony grunted a confirmation and May moved forward to sit on his other side. They quickly found the poor man couldn’t raise his right arm, so they had to cut the shirt off, May hissing slightly at the amount of bruising the other man sported on his chest and right side as well as a long, but thankfully shallow cut near the bottom of his ribs. At least now they knew where the blood was coming from.

May worked quickly and as gently as she could, quietly explaining what she was doing as she did it and giving quiet encouragement as she moved from one injury to another.

After they had cleaned up his torso and did her best to immobilize his shoulder she moved on to the nasty clumps of blood that clung to the side of his head. She had taken the time to wet it earlier and the dried blood had loosened enough that she was able to get all of it off his skin and hair giving her a clear view of the damage beneath. From her earlier checks she already knew he had a concussion and she desperately hoped it was only that and not something more serious.

She told Peter to go get a fresh washcloth and wrap some ice in it to hold against the area for now as she carefully used medical tape to apply a small gauze patch as to not have the open part of the injury pressed on directly by the cloth and potentially become stuck in the blood still oozing slowly from its deepest part.

After that she checked his ankle thankfully finding only a sprain, which she wrapped in an ace bandage for support, and cleaned up the area. Peter was still hovering nearby as he watched the man thank May and continue to hold the ice pack to his head.

Once finished she carefully helped Tony pull on the old shirt and sweatpants. May offered to help him lay down to rest a little to which he gave a thankful acceptance. Once Tony had been settled May finally turned her attention to Peter who looked even more nervous now.

“Peter let’s let Tony rest, and in the meantime, we can have a chat upstairs.”

May felt a vindictive pleasure when she saw Peter’s eyes widen in surprise and a hint of fear. Good, he should be scared after tonight.

Peter climbed the stairs ahead of his Aunt doing a pretty good impression of someone approaching the gallows. They finally reached his room and he couldn’t help the slight flinch when he heard Aunt May close the door behind them.

“So, Peter would you care to explain how exactly I’ve come to have an adult man with a multitude of semi-serious injuries that I apparently can’t take to the hospital sleeping on my couch? And better yet, how and why you know this man?”

“Uh, well you see I was out taking pictures for the Bugle a few months back and I got a little too close to one of the fights and Tony came out of nowhere and saved me so after I thanked him we started talking and he was actually really smart and cool and fun to hang out with, so we started meeting up every once in a while.”

May really didn’t like the idea of her teenage nephew hanging out with a random adult, but he had saved Peter’s life, so she kept quiet for now.

“And so uh, he started coming with me when I tried to take action shots of Spiderman fighting, you know to make sure I stayed safe and everything and that’s what we were doing tonight, but- but the fighting got more intense and suddenly the building we were in came down and Tony, he-he saved me Aunt May, but he got really hurt and I didn’t know what to do so I just got him away from there as fast as I could and called you.”

“And why can’t we take him to the hospital?”

Peter hesitated a minute before looking down.

“Because he’s a mutant Aunt May and you know that they have a different biology so that already makes it harder and with all the protests and stuff I thought it would be safer to do it here.”

Aunt May frowned at the mention of the recent mutant hate that had been circulating and felt her heart break for her boy who obviously had been shaken by what had happened and was still worried for his friend.

She took a deep breath before letting it out slowly.

“Okay, he can stay here, but Peter you know we aren’t really equipped to handle it if any of his injuries get worse. I’m just worried that we missed something.”

Peter shook his head quickly.

“No, Tony would have said something if we missed any and I don’t think it will take too long for him to heal, he told me his mutation helps him heal way faster than other people. I was just worried that it would be harder for him to heal if we didn’t at least clean him up a little.”

Aunt May nodded slowly before her eyes suddenly turned hard again.

“Alright now that we got that out of the way we can talk about how reckless you were tonight!”

Downstairs Tony couldn’t help but smile as he listened to May lecture Peter relentlessly. He was just lying there for now and he wondered if he should sleep, but he had quickly realized that he had never slept before and didn’t even know how to fall asleep, so he guessed just being still would have to do.

It was a while before the yelling stopped and he heard footsteps coming down the stairs. A few moments later May appeared and made her way over.

“You really should rest, Peter explained about your healing, but I can’t imagine some shut eye would hurt.”

Tony huffed a quiet laugh, so apparently Peter hadn’t explained everything.

“It’s fine, thank you for allowing me to stay here, I can’t imagine having a complete stranger in your house is easy to do.”

May sighed a little and began to tidy up the clutter from when they had treated his injuries.

“I’ll admit this isn’t how I expected my evening to go, but I know that you saved Peter’s life, more than once it seems, and I am beyond grateful for that, plus how could I turn away someone who already has it so hard? No, I am disgusted by how people act, that anyone should have to fear doing something like getting medical help. You can stay as long as you like, and you will always be welcome in our home.”

Tony was silent for a moment as he processed this, more than a little surprised at the venom he heard in her tone. Peter had told him about mutants before, and how they were often the target of a lot of hate and discrimination. He must have told his aunt that Tony was one to avoid any awkward questions. Tony had to hand it to the kid, it was quick thinking.

“Thank you, Mrs. Parker, I am extremely grateful for your help and kindness. As for helping Peter, he’s a great kid. He’s smart, talented, kind, which all came from you I’m sure.”

May gave a small snort causing Tony to grin.

“But really in all seriousness Peter is a fantastic kid and I am actually pretty honored to be his friend. I’m sure that me being an adult gave you some worries, but Pete is like a younger brother to me and I swear on my life I will do what I can to keep him safe and happy.”

May paused in her cleaning and looked over at him with warm eyes.

“You know, I don’t know why, but I believe you. More than I probably should with nearly a stranger, but I do somehow believe that you will keep my Peter safe.”
Tony smiled at that and May moved over to the light switch. After a nod from him she turned it off and began to make her way back to the stairs but paused at the bottom.

“Tony?”

“Yes?”

“I’m glad Peter has a friend like you. He’s been happier lately and I think you have a lot to do with that. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight Mrs. Parker.”

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Peter woke later than usual, cursing himself for accidentally turning his phone’s sound off, before the previous night’s events caught up to him. He quickly pulled himself from bed and after tugging on his jeans and a shirt made his way downstairs.

In his rush he didn’t even registered the voices in the kitchen till he rounded the corner and was met by the sight of Tony sitting at the kitchen bar still looking a little banged up but smiling as he talked to Aunt May who was leaning on the counter with a cup of coffee.

Tony was the first to see him and his grin widened.

“Hey Pete, nice of you to join us. Don’t you have school today?”

Peter paused a moment and visibly gave the older man a once over to check if he was still injured, before grinning and making his way over to give Aunt May a hug and grab some cereal.

“Yeah, my alarm was off. What about you? Did you heal? You still look kind of hurt. I thought your healing was supposed to kick in by now?”

Tony was about to answer when May stepped in and handed a mug of coffee to Tony who smiled in thanks and immediately began to chug it.

“Tony says that he is almost completely healed, and I checked to make sure he was telling the truth.”

Tony nodded as he placed down his now empty mug.

“Yup, your beautiful aunt is correct! I’m almost good as new, any cosmetic damage is just left over right now since my healing took care of the more serious stuff first, but it’s just a matter of time till I’m back to my dashing and handsome appearance.”
Peter nodded as he shoveled down his breakfast and May grabbed her bag from the counter.

“Okay boys I’m heading out for work, Peter make sure you get to school on time and Tony please be careful and take it easy, you’re free to stay here for now and you are always welcome back.”

“Thank you Mrs. Parker, but I think I’ll head out with Peter. It was nice to meet you and thank you for all your help and kindness.”

“Of course, have a good day both of you.”

With that she closed the front door and Peter stopped eating to look Tony in the eye with a serious expression.

“Are you really okay? Not just saying that?”

Tony nodded and leaned forward onto his elbows.

“Yeah, kid I really am, my healing took care of everything that was serious, and I can heal the rest by hopping back to the other realm, but I figured it looked more convincing to your aunt if I still had some cuts and bruises so I figured I’d hold off on that for now. Speaking of all that I really owe you one kid, I’ve never had something like that happen, but you handled it like a champ and helped me out so thanks.”

Peter stared in shock before coming back.

“Are you kidding? I should be thanking you! You almost died saving me and then you had to suffer! And I didn’t handle it well, I panicked!”

“But you still got me help and kept both of our identities a secret so really I call that a win! Plus, I got to meet your Aunt so that’s a plus.”

Peter stared for a second longer before huffing out a breath and shaking his head.

“I’m just glad everything worked out. Listen, go ahead and heal the rest of your injuries and then if you want, you could come back and walk to school with me?”

Tony nodded.

“Sure, thing kid, go grab your stuff and I’ll be back in a second.”

Peter gave a salute and put his dish in the sink as Tony seemingly blinked out of existence.

As he was making his way back up the stairs he heard some clattering and the water in the kitchen turn on.

“Geez kid were you raised in a barn? You know what, no, I know your aunt taught you to wash your own dishes!”

Peter grinned and grabbed his books and bag and made his way back down to the sound of Tony shouting insults about his manners and “back in his day”.

Chapter Text

Bruce leant over the man at the back of the small hut. He had been monitoring this outbreak closely for a few months now, but so far, he couldn’t find a conclusive cure that worked for everyone. Some patients would reach well to some medications, but then another’s symptoms would have sudden downward turns after being administered the same dose. It was beyond frustrating and Bruce could feel the mounting stress that each new case brought.

Thanks to the Other Guy he was immune to the effects, so he didn’t worry about being around the victims, but he was concerned for the health workers that he had been working alongside. As often as he could he made sure to take on the worse cases in hopes of sparing the other volunteers from too much exposure.

Though it was a fairly new strain it was proving to be fatal in several recent cases, with those who had contracted the disease early on being the first to succumb before any treatments were found.

Bruce himself had spent every waking moment not with patients working on finding a possible cause or source for this outbreak as it seemed to be unique to this region. Digging through his bag he quickly swabbed a patch on the man’s stomach, talking to him lowly as he carefully drew the medication into the subcutaneous syringe and pinched some of the fat there. A quick countdown and he administered the dose and swabbed the spot one last time before pulling the other’s shirt down and carefully disposing of the needle into a small bio container he started keeping with him.

With a slight groan he pushed himself to his feet and made his way back into the main area of the shelter him and the other volunteers had set up for this village. He glanced down at his watch and found that his shift was over for now.

Taking a minute to flag down another volunteer to let them know he was leaving for the night he made his way out of the shelter and over the wear the jeeps they had been using were parked.

Checking one out on the roster he climbed in and started the short drive back to the main city. They had hoped that by separating the affected individuals they may help with slowing the spread though so far, they hadn’t seen any conclusive evidence that it was working.

Twenty minutes later he arrived at the back of the main medical facility and parked the car in the lot. Making his way in the back entrance he immediately went into the changing room where he disposed of his clothes to be heavily washed and took a quick shower. This procedure was something he had personally insisted on for all volunteers upon offering his help with the disease to help contain the illness.

So far it seemed to be working as not many of the volunteers themselves had contracted the illness.

After finishing his shower and changing into a fresh set of clothes that he had dropped off earlier this morning he made his way down a separate hallway then the one he had come from that lead out a side exit into the main street.

Even this close to the evening the area was still alive and bustling, one of the things he actually loved about this place. Yes, the crowds and rather lax security here helped him to hide, but despite what many assumed Bruce loved cities like this. The pure thrill of life gave him a sense of joy and freedom that he so often struggled to find. There was always something happening around him and he felt himself get lost in the thrum of just existing.

He slowly made his way back to the small rundown hotel he was staying at while here. Due to his rather small budget he often found himself staying in similar places, but he was a simple man of few needs and found that such places suited him just fine.

He made a slight detour to a nearby food stall that he had taken a liking to this past week and after bidding the owner goodnight crossed the street to the hotel. A short trek up some rather dimly lit stairs and he had reached his own room.

He fumbled his keys from his bag and unlocked the door. His had was just turning the handle to enter when the Other Guy suddenly reared his head, snarling and pushing against his mental barriers.

Startled Bruce let his hand drop from the door and he began to breathe deeply in an attempt to keep the other at bay. What the hell was setting him off? He allowed the Other Guy’s voice to wash through his mind for a moment and though there was no words he was nearly overwhelmed by the sheer sense of danger that the Other Guy seemed to be feeling from his room.

The more he listened the more shocked he became because for the first time since the accident the Other Guy was afraid. Whatever was in this room was a bigger threat then even the Hulk wanted to face and that alone terrified and in a sick way intrigued the doctor.

Forcing the other to remain quiet Bruce carefully grabbed the door handle again and after taking a steadying breathe, pushed the door open.

He dutifully ignored the roaring in his head as he stepped into the dimly lit room. He had left a lamp on in the main area and it cast long dark shadows. He couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary from here though. Another step and he had enough space to close the door behind him and with a final click that was that, he was closed in with whatever this thing was.

Moving slowly, he reached to the wall next the door and flicked the light switch on, all his senses on high alert for any sign of an attack his eyes darting around frantically trying to spot the threat.

But there was nothing. The room was just as he had left it, empty and untouched.

Confused he stepped further into the small space, quickly glancing around the frames of the kitchen and the bathroom as the Other Guy continued to rage in his mind.

“What the heck is your problem there is nothing here?”

He mumbled as he did one last sweep of the place before figuring that he was at least alone in here. He immediately began to run through possible scenarios and after dropping his bags he began a more thorough search, checking for possible signs of a break in, checking and closing the window curtains incase the attacker was actually set up on a neighboring roof. He checked under and behind every piece of furniture for possible bombs

Nothing.

There was nothing here.

“Why are you so afraid huh? What could possibly be dangerous to you?”
“Oh, sorry that might be me.”

Bruce didn’t even realize he had moved before he was facing the door with a chair in his hands looking at a man he was certain had not been in the apartment a moment ago.

The strange man was mostly shadowed, but Bruce could see him raise his hands in a universal sign of surrender. In his mind the Hulk was still fighting viciously for control. He forced him down and watched as the stranger stepped forward a little into the light of the main room.

He was a little shorter then Bruce, with tanned skin, dark hair and a beard. He wore a plain black shirt and jeans and was staring at Bruce calmly, but Bruce didn’t need the Hulk to notice the aura the other gave off. This man was dangerous.

From the way he walked to the way he held himself and even his eyes screamed apex predator, this man had the confidence of someone who didn’t lose and that set off every red flag Bruce knew.

“Hey, sorry didn’t mean to startle you, especially not you of all people, right?”

More alarm bells went off at those words. This guy knew who he was, what he was and that was dangerous.

“Some would say that. Then again I think it’s hard not to be startling when you just show up in someone's home uninvited.”

The other man grinned at that and gave a sheepish looking shrug.

“Guess you got me there, but what can I say? You my friend have a hell of a reputation where I come from and a guy gets curious.”

Bruce was frantically thinking of exit plans, he had already had several made, but he wasn’t sure if anything like that would work with this man. There was something off about him that made Bruce feel like a cornered animal.

“I see and what kind of reputation would that be?”

Stall him, he could get out of this without it getting violent he just had to think. The man lowered his raised hands and hooked them slowly in his belt loops. Too close to his pockets. Did he have a weapon? He knew who Bruce was, so he couldn’t have a normal weapon right?

“A pretty amazing one actually. The mystery man who controls the spirit of a raging beast and can’t die but spends his time in backwater hospitals treating the sick for free. You are quite the anomaly. I mean I’ve been watching you for a while and if it weren’t for that dark little shadow of yours you could be doing some pretty big stuff couldn’t you.”

Bruce felt a bead of sweat drip down his temple.

“Guess we’ll never know huh?”

“Ya, that’s a pity. You seem like a really great person Doc but guess that’s just life.”

Bruce shifted his weight subtly as the man rocket forward a little, ready to move should the other make any move of attack.

“So, it seems you know a pretty good amount about me, but I don’t even know your name.”

The other looked confused for a moment before his mouth formed a ‘o’ and he whispered a small “oops”.

“Oh, oh shoot I didn’t, I didn’t introduce myself, did I? Damn sorry about that I don’t do this very often, can you tell? I guess I’m kinda rusty on the whole social etiquette thing. Uh, so ya let’s uh try this over I guess? Man, okay how about this.”

Bruce tensed as the guy wiped his hands on his pants and looked down for a second. Suddenly the man looked up, smile on his face and held out his hand.

“Hi my name is Tony, I’m a huge fan of you and your beastly other side.”

What was this guy playing at?

“Listen-”

“Tony!”

“Right Tony I’m just going to be straightforward with this, what are you? Cause I know I’m not usually the one to say anything, but you definitely aren’t human.”

Tony’s smile looked a little less bright as he lowered his hand back to his side.

“Oh uh, um ya you would be right. I mean I thought I was doing pretty good with the whole human look, but man I guess I still don’t quite have it down. Honestly, I was hoping you wouldn’t pick up on it that fast and I could just kinda get to know you the human way, but this works too I guess.”

Tony’s look of dejection almost made Bruce feel bad in a way? But the Other Guy still being on high alert wouldn’t let him feel too bad, but he still couldn’t help but want to reassure the other a little.

“Oh, I mean it wasn’t your appearance that gave you away, it’s more cause I have a built in danger sensor you ‘know? Plus, I mean wouldn’t it be easier for us both to come clean if you wanted to talk to me?”

What was he doing? This man scared the Hulk and here he was trying not to hurt his feelings and have a conversation with him?

Tony seemed to think about that for a minute before shrugging.

“Fair enough I guess. So ya you already know I’m not human so that’s out of the way. As for what I am I’m called the Merchant of Death-”

Bruce went completely rigid at that, who just casually threw out a name like that, better yet what kind of person earned that name?

Tony must have seen the other tense because he immediately threw up his hands in a placating manner.

“Hey! No no no it’s not that bad really! It’s kinda a title? I’m kind of like what you call the Grim Reaper? Is that what you guys call it these days? Language changes too damn fast, but ya I am essentially your everyday reaper just a little higher on the totem pole? But I’m not here for you! No no like I said I had heard of you, so I wanted to come meet you in person cause like I said I am actually a huge fan, not many people with as much power as you decide not to just go on a killing spree and create a bunch of work for me so really thank you for being a good person.”

Bruce was reeling. A Grim Reaper? He knew there was a ton of lore about such beings, but he never actually thought about it as being a reality. Honestly by this point in his life he didn’t even know why he was surprised by crazy things like this anymore, he turned into a giant monster.

“Uh Doctor Banner? You okay there? Like I said I really just wanted to meet you, if I’m making you uncomfortable though I can leave. I’ve been told many times I’m not everyone's cup of tea and I absolutely won’t be offended. “

Bruce visibly got his mind back in order with a slow shake of his head.

“Okay okay, let’s say that what you are saying is true, how does this make you want to break into my apartment?”

Tony was shifting his weight from one foot to the other, could supernatural beings have nervous ticks?

“I mean like I said, you’re a pretty unique guy even by my standards which are pretty high if I do say so myself. I haven’t had a lot to do and was in the area for the disease anyways so when I saw you I just knew I needed to pick your brain. If you don’t mind that is. How bout this, we can both sit down, you eat your food that’s going cold and we ask each other questions, you can pass on anything you aren’t comfortable with and we can both learn some things? Sound good?”

The Other Guy was still screaming in his head, but Bruce forced him down and found himself nodding slowly.

Tony lit up and his entire posture changed into a more at ease and approachable stance.

“Great! Okay so what do you want to know?”

What followed was the most confusing and informative conversation Bruce had ever had. The hours flew by as he had his entire view of reality and existence itself flipped around and he learned things that people had only ever speculated.

Finally, in the early hours of the morning the conversation finally started to trail off to a natural end and Bruce and Tony both sat in companionable silence as they took time to process everything they learned. It was a lot.

The silence was interrupted when Tony pushed his chair back and stretched a little, Bruce wondered if the position had caused the other’s wings to cramp up, one of the many oddities he had learned about Tony over the last few hours.

“Okay so I think we both have a lot to think over and you should probably sleep? Humans do that a lot right? So ya it really was a honor to meet you Doctor Banner, like I don’t say that often, but I really did enjoy this talk. Hey who knows? We may get to do it again sometime.”

Bruce nodded and rubbed his face a little, only now realizing how tired he actually was, and stuck his hand out to Tony.

“Ya maybe? Either way I hope we do get to talk again someday. You’ve definitely given me a lot to think on. So, thanks.”

Tony stared at the outstretched hand for a moment before grinning and gripping it in a firm and enthusiastic shake.

“Well I guess I’ll see myself out! Oh, I almost forgot, Banner that third petri dish you were waiting on is done and I think you will be very pleased with the results you find, I see an end to this disease pretty near in the future thanks to your research. Good luck Doctor!”

And with that Bruce was suddenly alone in the room. He simply stood there for a moment before shaking his head in disbelief before making his way over to his bed. He would deal with all this in the morning.

Chapter Text

The palace halls were quiet as the soft light of dusk filtered gently through the windows. T’Challa stood staring out one such windows, watching as the people below began to close their stalls and retire to their homes.

T’Challa had never hated being a prince or begrudged his position, he was honored to be able to serve his people and he tried constantly to do everything he could for them, but even he got tired sometimes.

Baba had been giving him more freedom to make decisions and he had been attending more council meetings. He finally felt like he was nearing the end of his preparation as a future king and wielder of the gift of the Black Panther, but the transition was hard. Suddenly he was not only expected to speak at council meetings and other gatherings, but for his words to hold weight and sway. The weight of his invisible crown had never felt so heavy.

T’Challa sighed as he turned away from the window and adjusted his robes. He wished to speak to his father before retiring for the night. Though Wakanda remained hidden and posed as a farming nation they remained an active part of the world and as such T’Challa was expected to keep himself informed and up to date on foreign policy, trade and relations. He had been pouring over the notes of the last European Union meeting but had found himself confused by the wording of a particular point. It was rather minor information in the larger scale of current events, but the little details were what often held his waking mind and kept him awake long into the night.

His shoes, another stealth prototype he was testing for Shuri, made only a slight whisper on the polished floors as the young prince made his way to his father’s office. As he approached T’Challa could see the lights on through the cracks as he knew it would remain far into the evening as his father swore he did his best work in the stillness of the Wakandan night.

It wasn’t until he was within a few meters of the door that T’Challa paused in his stride ears straining at the unfamiliar sound. Voices.
Frowning the prince moved slightly closer recognizing his father’s deep, rumbling tone, but the other voice was unfamiliar, smoother with an unfamiliar accent something about the voice made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

Moving slowly T’Challa reached to his hip where he kept a small collapsible blade and freed it from its sheath allowing it to extend to its full size. Though he had never needed to use the weapon before he had always kept it on his person, now more than ever aware that he could need to defend himself at any time.

Moving slowly, he approached the closed doors to his father’s office. He kept his arm lax at his side, taking advantage of the loose material of his over coat and it’s natural folding to hide the blade in his hand. Bracing himself just outside the door he decided his course of action. He could burst in and take the potential enemy by surprise, but he was still not even sure this was an enemy. He took a steadying breath and reached out, he would trust his father to be able to respond quickly should this stranger be a threat.

Raising his free hand, he rapped his knuckles on the sturdy wood. Immediately the voices within cut off and a few tense moments later his father called for him to enter. Tightening his grip on the knife T’Challa let his hand fall to the handle and opened the door.

He stepped over the threshold and immediately picked out the stranger, letting his gaze quickly sweep the other man. A foreigner, it was obvious from his lightly tanned skin and casual suit. Baba had allowed him here?

The other man was short, with dark eyes and neatly styled hair and facial hair and the way he nearly slumped in the chair showed a complete relaxation and ease, strange. T’Challa could feel the other’s gaze reciprocating the analysis, but the other’s posture didn’t even tighten leading the prince to the conclusion that this man felt no threat in his presence, so either arrogant, confident or felt he had no reason to feel threatened here.

“I apologize, I had not realized you would be hosting a guest tonight, my business may wait.”

T’Chaka rose from his seat with an easy smile and physically waved the comment away.

“Nonsense, I believe it is high time you two met.”

The other man remained seated as T’Chaka approached poured himself a glass of spirits and a second which he handed to the strange man.

“That means you can put away the knife kid, me and your dad go way back.”

T’Challa felt himself bristle at the casual tone the other took as he subconsciously noticed a slight American lilt to the others accent, but there was still something off. He glanced at his father to see if the other was offended by this man’s familiarity, but the older man just smiled with a twinkle in his eye and retook his seat behind the large desk. T’Chaka pointedly looked at the seat next to the strange man and T’Challa slid his blade back into its sheath and moved to take the seat, his posture stiff.

“So, this is your kid, I’ll admit he grew up way faster than I thought he would, or maybe it just seems like that to me.”

T'Chaka chuckled with a rueful smile and sipped his drink.

“No, no it is the same for me. I see feel like his was just a babe just a week ago.”

The two smiled and T’Challa felt his heart tug at just how old his father looked in that moment, but he focused his attention back to the man next to him.

“You speak as though you knew me as a child.”

The other man smiled at that, though he looked as though it was far more amusing then it should have been.

“Sure was, now seeing as it seems daddy dearest didn’t bother to tell you about me till now and we have established I’ve essentially known you your entire life, I think we should do a proper introduction.”

The other placed his drink on the desk and pushed to his feet in a quick motion. He unbuttoned his suit and tugged it straight before holding out his hand with a grin.

“Good to meet you your highness, my name is Tony.”

T’Challa eyes the hand for a moment before standing and shaking it hesitantly as he heard his father give a small contemplative hum from behind him.

“‘Is that the name you walk under these days?”

Tony turned his smile on the king and shrugged as he and T’Challa regained their seats.

“I’ve found I get a little better reaction with this name when I’m not on the job, the other was a little intense for casual conversation don’t you think? Plus, your name for me always made it seem like I was way more powerful then I really am.”

The king shook his head amused by his old friend’s words.

“I’ve known you too long to believe any of your humble ways iqabane.*”
T’Challa tilted his head a little.

“Do you often change your name? Are you a foreign agent of some sort?”

Tony actually laughed at that and took another large gulp of his drink.

“I guess you could say that, your highness would you like to explain what I am or should I?”

What he is?

T’Chaka seemed to think on the question for a moment before straightening.

“I will tell him, you can correct me should I get any details wrong or something no longer applies.”

Tony nodded and settled back in to his chair as T’Chaka turned a serious gaze on his son, who straightened, recognizing the importance of what he was about to be told.

“What I tell you never leaves this room, this secret and knowledge has been passed down since the first of our ancestors and could be extremely dangerous not only to Tony, but the world should this information reach the wrong hands.”

“I understand.”

T’Chaka smiled softly and nodded before folding his hands in front of him and looking at Tony.

“This story begins back near the beginning of Wakanda, not long after Bast first gave the first black panther the heart shaped herb. The other forces of the celestial plane began to take an interest in Bast’s chosen people, watching and observing as the world evolved around us. But one such being decided to take action. Asase saw how brutal the world was becoming and recognized the peaceful ways the people of Wakanda were trying to achieve so she sent one of her own to help us.”

“The ancestors called them Ukufa uThixo** and this creature bound themselves to the first Wakandan chief. Ukufa uThixo was Asase’s*** judge deciding the fate of mortal souls, but they decided to become a protector of the people of Wakanda and the bond has been passed through the line from chief to chief. I now hold the bond and when I am gone, it will pass to you, my son.”

T’Challa was silent as he absorbed this new information. Asase’s, Old Woman Earth’s, judge, a celestial of that power bound to the Wakandan people?

“What does this have to do with Tony?”

Even as the prince said it he caught sight of the look on the foreign man’s face and everything fell into place. Tony seemed to see the moment T’Challa figured it out because he gave a sharp smile.

“I like to think I look good for my age.”

T’Challa was speechless, he was sitting in the presence of a literal god and his father was sharing a drink with him. T’Chaka was giving him a sympathetic look as he sipped his drink.

“Take your time my son, I know just how much this information is to take in, I accused my own father of lying when he first told me of the bond.”

T’Challa’s frown lessened a little at that, he often forgot that his father was supposedly quite a hot head in his younger days, truly unbelievable given his father’s current warm steady demeanor.

Tony, it seemed wrong to call a celestial something so, casual sounding, perked up at that.

“Oh, he told me about that! He didn’t think you would take it well, but you straight up refused to believe it till he made me come visit and prove it. Your face when I actually did was hilarious, one of the best reactions of all of time, and that’s a really long time for me.”

T’Chaka and Tony were both smiling brightly now, but T’Challa had gotten caught up on something Tony had said.

“How did you?”

The celestial turned his gaze to the younger man and cocked his head.

“How’d I what?”

“Prove to my father you were what you claimed?”

Tony’s grin was almost predatory as he flowed to his feet and placed his hand on his popped hip.

“Ah the little prince believes, but wants a show, is that it?”

The prince looked horrified and began to sputter a denial, but Tony suddenly laughed, and his entire posture shifted to something much friendlier and more playful.

“Alright, just this once though.”

T’Challa felt like he had whiplash with how quickly the other would swap moods. As he watched Tony cast a quick glance at T’Chaka who nodded before turning back to T’Challa.

“Okay, since I know for a fact you already actually believe what I am I won’t go too flashy for both of our sakes. How bought I show you my real form? That got your dad pretty fast.”

“True for-”

“You didn’t think an age old being actually looked like this right? Nah, I just have taken a liking to this form and it seems like mortals get a little overwhelmed by anything not generically human looking. No, my real form is a little much for the average human to handle. Now, I’m being completely serious here, you can only look at me for a second or two, no long gawks or your eyes may literally melt. My real form is pure energy okay, that’s how I can do the things I do and exist on any plane I’m needed. So, you have to swear to only glance at it because I really like you so far and I would hate to literally blind you this young.”

T’Challa took a moment to process this new set of overwhelming information before nodding resolutely. Tony also gave a serious nod and then stepped back.

“Okay, close your eyes and when I tell you open them for just a second.”

Father and son both nodded in unison and closed their eyes. T’Challa waited in the darkness of his own eyelids for what felt far longer than it probably was before it was suddenly bright, the light nearly blinding even with his eyes still firmly clenched closed.

“Okay, just for a second.”

Tony’s voice was completely different, gone was the normal male tones and instead his voice didn’t even seem like a voice, more of just words impressed into reality itself. Bracing himself T’Challa blinked his eyes open for a moment before closing them tightly again, but even that brief glimpse had been enough to show him something he would never forget.

He felt that no language could describe Tony’s true form, at least not accurately. It was beautiful and horrifying and huge, and the prince had never felt so small and humbled before.

“Okay you can open your eyes again.”

T’Challa did and before him stood Tony again, looking plain and human once more, but the younger man knew better now.

“I so often forget how beautiful you are like that iqabane.”

“Are you saying I look ugly like this, I’m wounded your highness, truly!”
His father laughed heartily and turned his gaze back to his son.

“You likely have many questions and much to think on, but I’m afraid there are important manners upon which I must speak with Tony about that cannot be discussed even in front of you. We will talk more in the morning my son.”

T’Challa was reluctant to leave but recognized that there were still many things he did not and would not know of for some time. Nodding he gave a short nod to his father and Tony.

“Of course, Baba, I will see you in the morning.”

“Goodnight, my son.”

“Nice to meet you kid, I’m sure we will talk again soon.”

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

T’Challa clutched his father to his chest tears streaming from his eyes. How, how had this happened? His Baba couldn’t be dead, he wouldn’t accept it!

All around him the building was in chaos, emergency workers were starting to appear, there was screams and cries from survivors, but T’Challa could only feel numb. Suddenly the world quieted and when the prince opened his eyes he found the colors around him dull and muted.

Before he could even question what was happening, he felt a gentle touch on his shoulder causing him to flinch violently and whip his head around to look over his shoulder.

“Hey kid.”

Tony stood just behind him, looking just as he had that night they had met in his father’s office, but gone was the carefree smile of that night, instead the other looked stricken and tired.

“Tony.”

T’Challa flinched at how raw his voice sounded.

“Ya, it’s me. I’m sorry.”

The ancient being was staring down at the body of his father and for once T’Challa could believe he was centuries old.

“What is happening, where are we?”

Tony tore his gaze away from his father and glanced around.

“I temporarily pulled you onto my plane of existence so that this would be more private. I-I felt the bond break, so I came here to do this personally. He deserves at least that.”

“Do what?”

“Help him to the plane of the ancestors.”

T’Challa stared down at his father as a new wave of tears welled in his eyes.

“So, this is it, he is truly gone.”

Tony did not reply as T’Challa curled over his father’s body with a low keening sound as he allowed himself one moment to drop his usual restraint and mourn for his father openly. He stayed like that body trembling as he allowed all his grief to pour from his heart.

Eventually he forced himself to straighten and release the tight grip on his father’s limp form. With immense care he laid his father on the floor and gently folded his arms over his chest, delicately removing his father’s ring as he did so. That done he leaned forward and kissed both of his father’s closed eyelids and rested his lips on the older man’s forehead and a hand on his heart as he whispered a gentle prayer to Bast asking her to watch over him.

Finally, he pulled back and slowly let his gaze drift to Tony who at some point had backed away, respectful of the intimacy of the moment.

“What will happen to him?”

Tony slowly turned to regard the younger man and gave a sad smile.

“Once I send you back to the mortal plane I will start my duties and help the souls of those killed here pass on to the next stage of their existence. Don’t worry, believe it or not they are usually quite happy when they actually pass on, I try to make sure of that.”

He seemed about to say something else, but hesitated before starting again.

“Now that the bond is broken, I will need to forge a new one with you soon, but not now. I will come to you once the period of mourning is over.”

T’Challa nodded and after staring at his father for a few more moments turned his gaze back to Tony and nodded. The other returned the nod and after stepped forward to place his hand on T’Challa’s shoulder and give a brief squeeze before suddenly the world was in motion again, sound and color rushing back causing T’Challa to flinch a little. When he looked around Tony was gone and there was a emergency worker quickly approaching. With a deep breath he forced himself to stand and meet them.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

It was the night before his coronation when he next saw Tony. He fell asleep to find himself in a large field that looked not unlike how his father described the ancestral plane, but instead of the black panthers of the past instead he saw Tony standing a little way ahead of him. Making his way forward T’Challa came to stand next to the other.

They stood in silence for a moment before the prince finally broke it.

“I assume you brought me here?”

The other man finally turned to face him and smiled.

“Yup, from what I hear you are to be crowned king of Wakanda tomorrow, so I think it’s also time for you to form the bond.”

T’Challa nodded as the other drew a small knife and stepped closer holding out his right-hand palm up as the knife in his left took on a faint glow.

“This will actually be much easier than fighting for the right of king, almost like a tattoo. Give me your hand.”

Curious T’Challa did so. Tony clasped the prince’s right hand and then flipped it so T’Challa’s wrist was exposed. Moving slowly Tony placed the skin on the blade on his forearm, just below the crook of his elbow and with a sharp sting and quick motions, carved a small geometric design into the flesh there.

He waited patiently for the other to let go before the prince pulled his arm back to inspect the marking which retained a faint glow.

“That is all?”

Tony barked a laugh, ya that’s it, it pretty simple process, but it’s a permanent bond. You are now linked directly to my power, so I have constant read on your state of being and link to you should anything serious ever happen that would require my interference. It used to involve a lot more ceremony, but I found that it works just the same without all that stuff.”

T’Challa continued to admire the new mark as it began to heal before his eyes, glowing a little brighter. He turned his gaze back to the other.

“You only pass this mark on to the next in line once the previous marked has passed on correct? Does that mean I am the only one with this mark now?”

Tony stopped and got a bemused look on his face.

“No, not anymore at least. There is one other man who has that same mark, though he doesn’t know what it means. I think he’ll have to learn about it eventually, but for now he is just living his life completely unaware that he has an all-powerful being actively keeping tabs on him and feeding him some power.”

“Who-”

“I think it is best I don’t say actually, but I’m sure you’ll get to know him eventually, seems that just how things work out sometimes.”

T’Challa nodded slowly before both turned to look back out over the sweeping fields and colorful sky. They stayed like that for what felt like hours before Tony seemed to ruffle himself slightly.

“Well, my job here is done and you have a big day ahead of you, so I will let you return to your normal sleeping habits, it was nice to see you again your highness.”

“Actually, I would stay here for a while if you would allow, I find it extremely calming.”

Tony stared at him with an odd look for a moment before nodding.

“Sure, thing kid, and hey, be careful tomorrow okay? You never know what can happen.”

T’Challa’s brow furrowed and he turned to ask the other what he meant by that, but he was alone in the field. Confused he pushed the thought aside for now and focused his gaze back at the far horizon, eyes slipping closed as he took the time to ready himself for what was to come the next day.

Chapter Text

Hey guys it’s Des!

This will concern future plans for this fic and I would like your input. If you don’t care, then that’s cool just skip right past this to the new chapter~

I hope you all enjoy the newest chapter and as usual I am sorry for the stupid long gaps, but that is part of why I am making this author’s note. One of the largest reasons for the delays in updates with any of my works is just a super busy life, but you guys don’t care about that so let’s address the second reason for such a random update schedule.

I started this out with a few clear ideas of what I wanted to write, but once I finished those I was left with the inevitable question of any writer, what now? I think I have been doing okay so far with newer ideas, both of my own and also as suggestions from you guys which are fantastic, but I am coming to where I am starting to think of a larger outlook for this.

As I stated in earlier chapters these were all separate stories unless I specified they were connected. I also mentioned before that I was thinking of turning one of the shorts into the beginning of a chapter fic so here is the deal.

As I am now I am maintaining three active stories and honestly I am surprised that I am even managing that without completely dropping one or pushing it to the back burner like I did with Stranger Universe and Journey so at this time starting another long term chapter fic for this idea just isn’t plausible for me because I know myself and something would have to be sacrificed and I don’t want to do that so instead I am proposing another idea.

As I have been writing these shorts right now none of them interfere with each other’s timelines that I can tell, other than the one with T’Challa which I will address should this be how we go forward, and as a result I am thinking of just declaring these all take place in the same timeline of the same universe and progressing them in a semi chronological order.

What does this mean?

This means that I would treat this as a series of shorts or chapters in one big story in which all of these meetings have happened and as a result Tony knows all of these people and I will start merging these different character’s roles in this story into a big story timeline where they all start converging into a single cohesive plot. That is why this new chapter has him talking to Fury and referencing past meetings like Steve’s and Peter’s, because Shield is going to serve as my catalyst for this timeline’s convergence moving forward and this is somewhat a sample of how I would start tying all these little one shots into a single universe.

I have tried something similar with my story One of the Team and found that a series of connected shorts is a nice way of keeping the story timeline loose enough to play with, but also allow for a more understandable story progression, character development as well as overall flow of content and ideas to world build a universe. Think of it like a TV show where there is a storyline, but each episode is a different story that all play into the complete story progression.

So basically, this would be like a chapter fic but still maintain that each chapter is it’s own story within the bigger story timeline.

So what do you guys think? Is this something you would like? Should I just continue as I am with little one offs and leave them all on their own little timelines? Let me know your opinions on this after all this is for you guys first and foremost!

Thank you so much for all your support so far and going forward!

Now go on and enjoy the new chapter!

Chapter Text

Tony stood leaning casually against a railing overlooking the channel far below where ferries and personal ships floated gently in the early morning light. He had gone more casual with his attire today, just a dark dress shirt and jeans. Peter had said that he stood out too much in his full suit, though personally Tony saw no reason that was necessary a bad thing, nothing ever came from being boring, it was the people who stood out that usually made history.

He really had no purpose for being here today, he just seemed to find himself here by accident really. The little bridge connecting two long country roads was quiet at this time of day and he found that time seemed to slow to a lazy meander here. Things had been slow for an all-powerful spirit, so he had decided to take a day off. The Mistress had commented that he had been spending a lot of his free time amongst mortals now a days, but what could he say, humans were fun to watch. They had such short lives and they lived every day to the fullest.

He had kept his wings hidden today, just because it made things easier, but that didn’t stop them from fluffing at the feeling of eyes on him. He stayed perfectly still, not allowing himself to tense under the gaze. Let them watch, he had no reason to fear them and he had never been opposed to others stares.

It took another twenty minutes before he felt the presence of a soul on the bridge. He continued to lean and watch the boats as the other approached at a steady pace. Confident, and with a direction in mind, Tony’s direction it seemed as the other drew closer still.

A pair of arms wrapped in a dark professional suit found their resting point on the railing a foot or so to his right, but he continued to ignore the other, let them make the first move.

“It’s a nice morning.”

Tony’s lips quirked in a slight smile at the ease in the other’s tone and posture, he was going for smooth and casual, but Tony could feel the slight unease the other couldn’t hide. Interesting.

“Sure is, always loved watching boats on the water, what about you?”

Tony could play this game, this careful dance around the actual subject, both feigning casual ignorance. He had practically invented this game.

The man next to him hummed quietly, neither of them were looking at the other directly.

“Boats are nice, personally though I like the sky, that feeling of sitting above the world everything just small problems far below you, the wind in your face. It’s peaceful.”

Tony made a sound of agreement and they both just went back to staring at the water for a few more minutes before the other finally broke the silence and turned to face Tony directly.

“Unfortunately, I am actually here on business. My name is Agent Phil Coulson, I’m a representative of Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.”

“Okay and what business does Shield have with me?”

The other gave no outward reaction, but Tony could tell the other was unsettled by Tony’s hint of previous knowledge of Shield.

“You seem like you know who we are.”

“You and your people have been around for a while, I’ve heard the whispers. Some of them aren’t very good. So again, what business do you have with me?”

The other seemed to consider Tony for a moment before nodding and continuing.

“We’ve also heard some whispers about you and we have become...interested by what we have heard. I was hoping you would accompany me back to our headquarters so that we might talk.”

“About?”

“Possible further relations.”

Tony allowed a quick smirk to twist his lips out of sight of the man next to him, before smoothing his face to a more neutral one of intrigue and finally rolled himself so his hip now leaned on the rail and his body faced Coulson.

“And what kind of relations were you and your boss thinking exactly? I’m nothing special, just a guy who’s been around the block a little.

Coulson gave a tight smile as he pushed off the railing, straightening his jacket and turning to face Tony head on.

“There is no need to keep up the charade, we have been tracking your appearances and activity for decades. You have an entire department specializing in you, given it’s only a few agent’s, but believe me when I say we know that you are a little more than average.”

Tony splayed a hand across his chest, widening his eyes.

“An entire department, why I’m flattered, really!”

Coulson’s jaw tightened slightly, before smoothing again, but Tony smirked internally, it seemed the Agent wasn’t as unflappable as he seemed, just good at hiding it.

“Mr.-”

“Tony, please.”

“Tony, I am sure you are quite a busy man so if you would follow me we can take you to a more secure location to speak and not waste anymore of your valuable time.”

Pressing his fist to chin and mouth Tony pretended to think about it for a minute before smiling and replying.

“No.”

Agent was looking even tenser, and though he made no outward motion, Tony could sense the presence of several other people moving smoothly closer before stopping again, still some distance from the pair, but definitely close enough for a long-range weapon. How quaint. If they had learned so much about him then they likely knew that those little weapons stood a very small chance of actually hitting or hurting him, but he figured it made them feel a little less powerless, so he decided to allow them for now. Instead he opted to simply quirk an eyebrow at the man in front of him, noticing the subtle signs that his unspoken disappointment was received.

“We really do feel that this would be safer for both parties if you agreed to accompany us to a more secure location.”

“I understand that your dark and mysterious boss would love to get me into his secure and safe little base, but as I said before the answer is no. Now I like you Agent, but let me be clear that I have been called fickle in the past and my opinions of a person can change rather quickly and so far, I am not getting a very good impression of your employer.”

His tone remained open and friendly, but Tony could feel his grin become sharper as he spoke, his hidden wings flaring almost unconsciously. He had no intentions of making any threatening move against the mortal before him, but he also wasn’t a fool. This mystery leader of Shield obviously wanted to have this conversation on his turf where he would be secure in his power, but that was no way to conduct a business meeting.

“I understand your possible reluctance to enter our base of operations, but I assure you we merely wish to discuss further interactions and cooperation’s on even ground.”

“Then why not here? You and me have been having a lovely conversation right here in the open, but that can’t be the issue, not when your men have this so well covered so let’s just stop dancing around the fact that your man wants the homeland advantage during our little talk and instead lets get him on that sneaky little earpiece you have and get him down here before something comes up and I am forced to call this little get together short.”

The other man finally frowned, good Tony was getting tired of that false calm act he was pulling and after a brief moment moved off to the side to start talking into the earpiece. Tony was kind enough to turn back to watch the water in an attempt to at least look like he couldn’t hear everything that was being said. A few minutes later and it seemed the “Director” had come to the right conclusion.

Not long after that there was an increased breeze as a small ship dropped its cloaking and landed not far away. Tony finally pulled himself from the railing completely and stood with his arms and shoulders loose and nonthreatening.

A man dressed in all dark clothes stepped off of the ramp, clothes whipping around his body in the wind created by the sleek stealth craft as Coulson moved to meet him, speaking to the new man briefly before falling into step next to him as they both approached the bridge. As the new man approached Tony finally got a good look at him and admitted that he wasn’t overly impressed. The man held himself with an obvious air of authority, but in Tony’s many eons of existence he had come upon far more threatening figures, but this man held power here on the mortal plane, so Tony would give him a chance to explain himself.

The Director and agent came to a stop a few feet away as the darker skinned man regarded Tony with a sharp eye, Tony now noticing that the other only had one.

“I was told you are going by Tony these days.”

“I heard you’ve been wanting to talk to me for a while.”

The other man squinted his eye at the being before him.

“You could say we have taken an interest in your little excursions here on our planet and what their purposes were.”

Tony grinned at the careful phrasing.

“And why would that be exactly? Agent here was talking about relationships, but I’ll admit it takes a little more than that to get me interested, you know what I mean? So, Director Fury, what can I do for you this lovely afternoon?”

The Director didn’t even flinch at the unexplained knowledge of his name, this guy was even better than Coulson. Instead he clasped his hands behind his back and regarded Tony steadily.

“I will get directly to the point then. Shield has been tracking your movements since our first documented case of your appearance during World War II where a soldier reported seeing what he described as an angel of death in the middle of No-Man’s-Land following a bloody battle on the front. At the time it was written off as a hallucination as the man just taken part in one of the bloodiest battles of his life, but his description was a little too detailed for some people’s comfort. As the war continued there were scattered accounts of similar apparitions.

Shield took note of each of these cases and documented them as it was our job, while also going back in historical records where other such events had been described. There was no solid links for a very long time, just a series of disjointed documents scattered through history, reported by men and woman who had been in stressful situations which could have resulted in hallucinations. Then we had a man who near the end of the war was near fatally wounded, the medics gave him mere hours to live by the time they got to him. As he was laying there he started talking. He was panicking as he appeared to be looking at a nearby soldier’s body and asking who the other man was, the one standing above him. He was asking questions like why he was dressed like that, why he had wings, what was he doing there.

As he was treated he kept rambling about this other man that was walking around the battlefield. The medics thought he had lost it with the fever, but during it all he was adamant. The man survived and was questioned about what he thought he saw. He gave so clear a description of the man he had seen on that battle field that many began to think he hadn’t imagined it.

It was the clearest proof we got of you possibly being an actual being, but we were still unsure, until Steven Grant Rogers was recovered from his crashed ship and asked me about a man who had been in the plane that he sent into the ocean. When asked to give a description, he might as well have copied that soldier’s description verbatim. After that it was a matter of keeping our eyes and ears out to try to work out a pattern for your appearances. Which has lead us here. So I will go ahead and ask formally and on the record, who and what are you.”

Tony stood silently as he considered the information he had just been given. The fact that there had been enough documented cases and reports of him to devise a pattern enough to track him was a little concerning, but he couldn’t help but once again be impressed with the sheer tenacity of mortals. The time frame in which Shield had been documenting him spanned at least a generation and they had been dedicated enough to actually get proof and results.

Fury was looking slightly impatient with his continued silence in the face of the man’s questions, but this was not a simple decision. Tony had gotten sloppy and brought his situation on himself, but his decision here could affect a much larger scale of events. He would need to handle this carefully. He knew the Mistress would trust his judgement, but he would have to be cautious. Keeping a carefree manner and stuffed his hands in his pockets.

“Now see that is a lot more complicated of a question then I think you realize. As you have surely figured out by now, I have been around for a while and names start to get a little less permanent in the overarching scale of things. So right now, you can just call me Tony or Anthony if you are too formal for that sort of familiarity. As for what I am, why should I tell you?”

Fury was looking grim and seemed about to retort back, probably to demand the right to the information like the arrogant child he was, but Coulson stepped forward and cut in.

“You must understand that we are in a unique position here. Our organization has been tasked by the people of this world with not only finding and learning about enhanced beings, but also being able to protect our people from them should they pose a threat. With as little as we know about you we are having a very hard time accomplishing any of those. We have no intentions of making an enemy of you, in fact we would, as I said earlier, like to discuss future beneficial relationships. So please understand our position and answer our questions to the best of your abilities.”

He liked this man, he knew how to phrase things diplomatically and in a way, which diffused tensions. He reminded the elder of the old diplomats of history that would end years of war with simply chosen words.

“Well when you word it so eloquently. How about we make a deal? I will answer the questions that we agree are necessary and then you stop dancing around the real stuff and tell me what this is really about.”

Fury looked ready to protest, but Coulson once again cut him off with a nod and held out his hand, which Tony humored the other by shaking on it.

“Excellent, so I will repeat an earlier question if you don’t mind, what are you?”

Tony thought about it for a moment.

“In the simplest terms I am what a lot of your cultures would probably call a Grim Reaper, though those are only loosely based upon lore about things like me. I am essentially Death’s right hand and I keep the Barrier, though I have plenty of other duties. I have been around for a very long time I’m afraid so that would be the short version of things.”

Coulson looked vaguely stunned, but Fury jumped at the silence.

“So, what, you’re telling me you’re death? And you said things like you, how many of you are there?”

Shaking his head Tony gave him a look like a parent who was tired of explaining to an impatient child before reiterating.

“No, I said I was the right hand of Death, think of me as the highest advisor or general of Death if it makes it easier, and yes there are others like me, just not as old or powerful, like lower ranking soldiers. You following? Good, so I only come to this plane when I am on a job, dealing with the deaths of mortals or when I take a day off to relax, like I am today. So, what did you really want to discuss with me?”

His faintly glowing eyes focused on Coulson as he waited for a response. Fury may think he was in charge, but Coulson held all the strings, Tony could tell.

The other two men shared a brief glance before the shorter man turned back and spoke.

“As it is now we are realizing that we are just a small part in a much bigger universe and with more enhanced appearing by the day, both hostile and friendly we are finding that we no longer possess the resources to handle these new threats. As a result, we have been gathering a team of these enhanced individuals in order to serve as a last line of defense against the things we could never plan for. We have already contacted several candidates who are willing to join the fight, however, we would like to formally extend our request that you agree to help us should future events require something more powerful than we can safely handle.”

“I can’t just join your little team and stay on this plane, I am a busy man. And as it is I am never supposed to interfere with the lives of mortals unless there is an event that is not fated to happen or there is a disruption of a natural timeline of events.”

“People’s lives-”

“Are not my jurisdiction! I only really interact with mortals after their lives, you are asking the impossible of me!”

Coulson quickly raised his hands in a placating manner.

“We would not ask you to remain here, or to serve as a permanent fixture of this team, nor am I asking that you go against what you have been told you can and cannot do on this plane. All we ask for now is that should I truly devastating threat arise, we have some way of contacting you.”

“Coulson.”

Fury growled, but the other ignored him, instead watching the ancient being before him as he thought over Coulson’s words. Finally, the other spoke up again, Coulson noticing the more serious shift in demeanor immediately.

“I cannot interfere with a fixed point, if the fate of hundreds is to die that day then I cannot stop that from occurring, it is not my place or job to make that decision, but there have been events before which should never have happened, and I have been sent to stop them. If you encounter something like that, then I would be able to help you.”

“That is agreeable terms for now.”

Tony still seemed to hesitate for a moment before his face smoothed out and he reached behind him to pull a long black feather seemingly from midair. He stared at it a moment longer before he stepped forward and handed it to Coulson with a hard expression.

“It isn’t a permanent solution or something binding, but think of this as a ‘in case of emergency’ sort of signal. Burn that and it will summon me. I will come and if I deem it a situation I can assist with I will help you, but if not then I will leave, and you will do nothing to stop me. Do you agree?”

Coulson brushed his fingers over the feather as Fury observed silently.

“I believe we have a deal then Anthony, thank you for offering your assistance, even though I hope we will never need to call you.”

“Same here. Good talk then Agent, but I should get back to where I belong. Good afternoon gentlemen.”

Suddenly there were only two people standing on the bridge and Coulson turned to meet Fury’s eyes.

“You think this will work?”

Coulson turned the feather over in his hands absentmindedly.

“We will just have to trust it will.”

Chapter Text

When it happened, it reached every corner of the galaxy and rippled across every plane. The fear, the sheer loss reverberated across time and space as beings crumpled to their knees as they felt the immense loss of life, like they themselves were dying with the thousands of innocents on that day.

Tony curled over himself, hunched on the floor, jaw cracked in a silent scream as the Fate’s echoed him. Their carefully bounded strings snapping loose and burning away with the echoes of the deaths of thousands of innocents. Long stretching lives were extinguished out of their time, taking with them millions of events that were foretold to occur.

A gentle hand was laid upon his shoulder and just as sudden as the echoing screams and pain had reached him, they bled away, though he could still hear the faint thrum of wrong that tugged on his very being. He looked up at the Mistress and met her drawn face. With a silent nod he carefully rose to his feet and after taking a short steadying breath, phased himself to the site of the devastation. A planet called Zen-Whoberi. He had no idea what he would find there, but whatever it was, it was powerful.

He arrived in what looked like a courtyard, remaining incorporeal he quickly swept his gaze, taking in the pile of bodies which lined one side of a walkway, and the empty adjacent. The souls were thick, and their forms jumped and wavered in their fear and anger, the emotions threatening to rip them apart and anchor them here.

He had barely taken a step in their direction when a voice spoke up behind him.

“I wondered when you would show yourself here. After all this time you can always count on your arrival. Why, it’s almost too easy.”

Tony spun, frantically reaching to draw a weapon from his small pocket dimension, but before he could fully open the rift he felt a hand grab the back of his neck. With a sharp yanking motion Tony was dragged fully into the corporeal plane and thrown harshly to the ground.

Flaring his wings and thrashing, he lunged forward and twisted unto his back, catching sight of his attacker for the first time. Gray-gold eyes pinned him in place as Tony craned his neck to look up at an impossible sight. Thanos’ lips peeled back into a malicious grin as he tilted his head up to sneer imperiously down his nose at the fallen man before him.

“So, pet, where is your Mistress? I worked so very hard to announce myself.”

“What have you done?”

Tony snarled back as he finally pulled himself free of his shock and in a blink was lunging towards the Titan, newly materialized blade gleaming.

Thanos huffed and before Tony could avoid it, had caught the smaller man’s arm and grabbed his left wing, using Tony’s own momentum against him to spin with the attack and slam him back to the ground, shattering the stones of the courtyard with the impact. Tony himself yelling out in pain as the joint of his wing snapped under the pressure of the other’s grasp.

As he hit the ground the Mad Titan released his grip on Tony’s arm, but kept a hold of his wing as he easily stepped forward to plant his boot firmly on Tony’s back between his wings, pinning him effortlessly. Tony snarled and squirmed like a rabid beast under the other and quickly tried to force himself incorporeal but screamed again as Thanos tugged on his wing in warning.

“Ah ah ah, you can’t fly away this time little raven, not when I worked so hard to get you here.”

The bones in his wing ground against each other and Tony grit his teeth against the pain. This was bad, he needed to get out of here. And the souls, they were already barely maintaining themselves, if they didn’t move on soon they would be trapped here.

He tried to move again, but the other kept him pinned.

“What do you want? Do you realize what you’ve done? What you have caused!”

The boot pinning him suddenly pushed down harder, his ribs beginning to creek in protest as the air was forced from his lungs. Suddenly the weight was gone and he was being grabbed again and hoisted from the ground to be held, dangling from the grasp of the being before him. His own dark eyes met the cruel ones of the Titan.

“Ah, the little reaper, it’s been sometime since we saw each other. Tell me, how is your Master? I do so miss her.”

Tony held perfectly still as he began to gather his powers as subtly as he could.

“And of course I know what I’ve done child, but you see I had to do it.”

“What?”

Thanos smiled at him, almost patiently, as though he were talking to a naive child as he carefully began to stroke the feathers of Tony’s immobile wing, not damaging it more, but a clear threat all the same.

“The universe is not so infinite, you know this better than most little raven, and you must also see that she is reaching her limits.”

His power was gathering quickly into his hand, though invisible for now, but would it be enough? Thanos had always been strong, but something had changed.

“Every day there are more people draining her, stealing her resources and making more and more people, but it’s not enough. She is falling behind. You must have seen it by now? The wars, the poverty, the hunger, she has become over burdened with life and life is not slowing down. That’s why we- I must do this.”

“So, what? You think that just killing thousands of people is somehow going to change things? All of those people had a purpose, a reason for existing and you just murdered them!”

Anger flashed across the Titan’s face for a moment before it smoothed into a calmer and pitying expression.

“No, not murder. I didn’t choose who would die. There was no selection, no predetermined fates due to money or status or age. All are equal in death and therefore all have the same chance of dying. Don’t you see? This is the solution, this is how we will continue our existence.”

“You’re insane.”

Tony breathed as he listened to the other.

“No, not insane, just no longer blinded by the reserves that have submitted so many to this fate. I can see the solution to all this turmoil, but I am one of few which means it is up to me to set this in motion.”

Thanos smiled at Tony gently, looking both pained but determined.
“I will wipe out half of all living things so that life may regrow and recover. I will do what is needed of me to ensure the survival of life itself.”

Tony was cold, his entire being felt frozen as he stared into the face of the Mad Titan and saw that he had meant every word he spoke. He truly meant to kill half of the universe because he thought he could save it.

Tony let his power fade away as he realized he couldn’t leave, not without finding out more, he needed more to know what Thanos’ plan was so he could stop him.

“You can’t, you may be ancient, but you are far from the strongest of beings, there are many who remain your greater and they will kill you way before you could even try.”

“You’re right, I’m not the strongest, but I don’t need to be, not right now. You see I have a plan and it may take centuries, but I know my purpose in this life and I will fulfill it. That’s why I brought you here little raven. You are old and strong as is your Mistress, so I made this lovely little offering for you both.”

Thanos leaned in closer to Tony’s face, his eyes and face smooth and gentle as he placed Tony carefully back on his feet and knelt before him, though his large hand still rested possessively on the back of the smaller man’s neck while his other cradled Tony’s cheek. A twisted version of a lover’s touch that made Tony feel violated and sick. These hands were washed in the blood of millions and yet they were so careful against his skin. It horrified him.

“I have long loved your Mistress, but for centuries she has denied me. I see now I was never worthy of her love. I was weak minded and foolish. I hunted for the thrill of the fight and high of the kill, thinking that by giving her so many I would draw her affections and she would be mine.”

Thanos huffed a small laugh.

“What a love-struck fool she made me. But I understand now. It was not meaningless offerings which would sway her favor, I needed to prove myself, to show I was worthy of her. This, this is my greatest feat, my magnum opus which will show her and all of the ancients that I am powerful enough to stand amongst them and reclaim my title and status. And you, my little raven, you can help me achieve this.”

The Titan’s hand squeezed gently on the back of Tony’s neck and the ancient being looked almost excited as he gazed into Tony’s eyes.

“I do not wish to stand alone in my victory, after all this will be a victory for every living creature, not just me. You have served your Mistress and the Fates for so long, but even you must tire of the chaos. Help me to remake the fate of this existence and begin a new path where the universe may be at peace and loss and pain and fear of the future will be no more. Walk with me Merchant and join me in my dream of a flourishing future.”

Tony was stunned. This, this went beyond anything he had ever witnessed, and Thanos wanted him to be a part of this, was asking him to help kill billions for his twisted crusade.

Tony backed away shaking his head slowly, carefully pulling from Thanos’ grasp, who allowed his hands to fall back to his side as he watched the smaller man with clear disappointment.

“I can’t, you want to kill billions, innocents who have lives and strings of fate and could do so much with their lives. How can you possibly expect me, the one who has to look at the faces of those killed and judge them, how could you expect me to ever want to help you?”

His power still thrummed in his hand, but Tony had become numb, the fight gone in the face of the horror of what Thanos was planning, what he wanted Tony to do.

“You know that this is the way to save everyone Merchant, you are just still too blinded by your ways, but don’t worry you will see. Once everything begins you will open your eyes to a new understanding and then, you will find me, and I will welcome you with open hand onto a path to a grateful universe.”

Thanos carefully rose to his feet and stared at Tony for a few moments longer before his gaze drifted to the bodies.

“Go on, little Raven, I will leave you too your work. The spirits of this place are very emotional, and I don’t want them to be trapped here because I was to selfish with your time.”

What?

Thanos smiled at him again and turned to walk away, talking over his shoulder to the shocked reaper.

“Don’t worry my little Raven, we will meet again and when we do I will have begun my path and you will have seen a glimpse of a better world and we will meet as equals.”

A few moments later he was gone, having passed beyond sight and Tony still stood frozen. It was sometime later that he was finally able to force himself into motion again. Slipping onto the spirit plane he went about his tasks woodenly, some of his power working to heal the damage to his wing as he was able to help all of the spirits move on. When he was done he simply stared at the bodies a while longer, before he closed his eyes and travelled back to the plane of the dead.

As he arrived his Mistress was waiting her face blank as he slowly raised his eyes to hers.

“Was it him?”

Tony nodded, holding her gaze as her face became grim.

“Tell me or what has happened.”

Chapter Text

Thor = 960 y/o (12 y/o)
Loki = 480 y/o (6 y/o)

 

The orange of the setting sun bled through the trees casting long shadows over the underbrush as two small figures crashed through it with shouts of panic.

“Hurry Loki!”

The larger of the two boys yelled back as a smaller boy scrambled after him, both covered in scrapes and dirt.

“Thor it’s gaining!”

Loki gasped out. His lungs burning at their mistreatment so soon after recovering from fever, but he dared not slow. Behind him he could still hear the thundering of heavy hooves.

Ahead of him Thor threw a frantic look over his shoulder as a dark bulging form slammed through the forest not forty meters back from his younger brother. The flayed bull’s rotting flesh flapped limply with its movements and its remaining eye rolled with madness.

They had merely wished to explore the forest, they were older now and their mother had said they could play near the tree line, but the forest was nearly untouched by the Æsir and had presented an inviting figure to the young princes. They had wandered in its expanse for nearly the entire day before stumbling onto the old structure. How were they to have known it housed the dead, as worn and old as it had become, they would never have approached. As it was no sooner had they begun to search through its crumbling structure had the draugr appeared. Its rotting stench had nearly gagged the young princes as they had fled, but the blacken, swollen form had pursued, soon utilizing its trollskap to take the form that now hunted them.

The sun was sinking further, and the princes were tiring, but they knew that if they stopped now, they would surely perish. Thor pushed on ahead of his brother, his blue eyes wide as he desperately searched for somewhere to hide. Finally, just ahead he caught sight of a rocky overhang, perhaps they would find a cave to hide in at the base!

Thor had just begun to turn to call it out to his brother, when his heart dropped to his boots at the sound of a surprised cry from behind him. He jerked to a stop his blond hair whipping around his face as he turned in terror to see his brother fall, rolling with his own momentum. In a blink the bull had caught up and lowered its enormous horned head while continuing its charge.

“Loki!”

His brother had kept his bearings during the rough tumbling and had since regained his footing, lurching back into a run, but it had cost him precious ground and speed. Realizing what was about to happen Thor cried out warning as he grabbed for the short sword strapped to his side.

Terrified green eyes met his and after seeing his position the younger ducked at the last moment allowing Thor to draw his blade and swing at the beast’s head and spin to the side to avoid the sharp horns.

The draugr bellowed in rage and pain as the strike bit into its rotting flesh, but it wheeled around in a large arc and immediately charged again.

“Thor! Thor it won’t work! Only iron can harm it!”

Loki managed to position himself just behind Thor’s left side and the elder quickly used his elbow to shove Loki further back.

“It matters not now, we must hold our ground if we are to stand any chance! Now get behind me, when I move you move.”

The younger boy sounded as though he meant to protest but was cut short when the bull reached them again. Thor swung his sword as hard as he could while twisting his body out of the creature’s path once more, feeling his brother mirror his movements fluidly at his back, a small dagger burying itself in the bull’s head. But still the draugr continued, snorting and bellowing its fury.

Thor rounded to face the bull again and Loki shifted with him, though he could hear his brother muttering frantically in the old tongue. He could only hope his brother finished his enchantment quickly. The beast charged again, and Thor was ready, bracing himself he swung again and began to twist away, but this time the beast twisted with him swinging it’s massive head around with unnatural speed.

A scream tore from the blond prince’s lips as the sharp horns ripped into his side. He felt his fingers slip from the hilt of his weapon and his knees impact the dirt and his vision was stolen by the pain.

Gore spilled onto the soil as he vaguely registered hands grasping at him, but he couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe past the agony. As consciousness fled, he thought he heard his brother shouting something, but he had not the strength to linger any longer. He prayed his brother did the clever thing and fled, but before he could even finish that thought, he slipped away.

(~)

Loki felt his blood freeze as his brother sagged limp in his arms, but he didn’t dare stop or stutter, though his voice rose to a desperate shout as he continue to recite the words of the spell he had been studying. A teleportation spell, he had read of it in the book his mother kept, but he had never attempted such complex seidr.

The bull was almost upon them as his voice rose, but he dared not speak faster for fear of fumbling the precise words and killing them all. Three more words as the bull reached them and he desperately pictured the edge of the forest in his mind. The last word left his lips as he felt the sharp horn tip pierce his upper arm, but there was a sudden nauseating twist in his chest and suddenly they were surrounded by blackness, then blinding light. Blinking his eyes desperately Loki cleared his vision enough to see that they were no longer in front of the bull.

Elated relief poured through him and he almost laughed as the adrenaline stole his thoughts, but then he heard the angered screams of the draugr just off their right and his eyes widened.

The spell had worked, but not how he had intended.

A new surge of energy shoved him into action as he saw a rocky outcrop a few feet in front of him and a small dark opening at its base. His seidr sang in his veins as he frantically cast it towards the cave, a simple detection spell assuring him that the cave was in fact empty.

With a ragged sound he lurched to his feet and grabbed Thor’s shoulders, tugging and dragging the larger boy towards the sloping entrance. A few steps later he realized that he was leaving a clear trial of blood and froze, before grabbing his brother and heaving him over his shoulder in one desperate lift.

The smaller staggered under the dead weight but locked his knees and stumbled the last meter to the entrance of the cave, carefully ducking them both inside.

He could see nothing in the darkness as he staggered deeper in, using his feet to try the judge the slope of the floor and search for anything ahead. Finally, he felt the grit of the floor even out into a flat surface and after shuffling forward a little more, collapsed to his knees.

He knew he was bleeding, but the numbness of adrenaline blocked out everything as he focused enough to make a small ball of light in his hand. He immediately set to work inspecting Thor. The wound was grisly, and if Loki were thinking more rationally, he would have recognized there was nothing to be done. But as it was, he placed the light down and dug into his pack for his water skin and shed the outermost layer of his tunic. Tearing it into strips he folded a large chunk into a makeshift compress and held it firmly against the gaping wound as his other hand worked to uncap the waterskin.

Bracing himself for a moment, he quickly pulled the padding of fabric away and poured water over the wound allowing him a slightly better view of the damage before he pressed a new compress against it, carefully securing it with a few longer strips of the ripped fabric.

It was by no means a proper dressing, nor would it do anything in the long term, but for now it would help until he figured something better out. Shifting he quickly made to stand, after all he needed to cover the entrance or move them further in before the draugr had a chance to find them. However, as soon as he was on his feet he was overcome by a wave of dizziness and before he could even begin to react, he felt the world slip violently to the side as he too fell unconscious next to his brother.

(~)

Loki woke to pain and the smell of blood. Disoriented he tried to move and was stunned by the shear exhaustion that rolled through his body. He simply laid there a moment, allowing his mind to drift slightly as he struggled to remember what had happened and just bask in the heat of a nearby fire.

Fire?

His mind snapped to alertness just as he heard the rustle of fabric nearby and the memories of earlier began to snap back.

It took all his willpower not to stiffen or give any outward sign he was awake as he quickly ran through every possible scenario. The earlier exhaustion he had felt echoed through his very core as it always did when he overused his seidr which meant he would not have the strength to cast anything large for quite some time. He still had his daggers and a short sword on his person. Odd that this new threat had not removed them, but he would not waste his good fortune.

He listened carefully to the sounds of movement to determine where the other was, judging how fast he could stab them before they had a chance to escape. And Thor, where was Thor? No time, he would deal with this new threat first then he would worry for his brother.

Taking a slow breath, he finally tensed and in the blink of an eye was up, sword drawn and lunging at the dark figure a few feet away.

The other person jerked as they registered the attack and with a shout brought their arms up to protect their head as Loki’s sword swung down at them.

Only to pass through empty air a mere moment later as the other vanished. Snarling in surprise and anger Loki turned sharply and threw his back against the wall, eyes darting to every shadow in an attempt to locate his foe.

“Stop this, I was helping!”

Loki merely snarled again and spun to where he had heard the voice, but there was still no one there. This being was using seidr, they had to be, but his own was worn too thin to sense their energy. His eyes flickered to the prone form of his brother a few feet away, trying to judge his state, but in the low light it was impossible to tell if he had been harmed further.

He could probably make it if he moved fast enough. If he got to Thor, then he might be able to drudge up enough seidr to teleport them out of here so they could escape. Dropping into a lower stance he readied himself to move, when suddenly the voice spoke again.

“You need not fear me princeling, I was called here to help, and I plan to do so.”

“And who spoke this call? Certainly not I!”

The other made a noise of agreement, Loki’s gaze following it as it seemed to travel around the small space.

“A far greater power then you or I liten viper (small viper). But for now, you must trust me to complete my work. I feel you may find it most beneficial.”

“And what work is that?”

“Bringing your brother back from the gates of Valhalla.”

Loki’s heart stuttered as his eyes fell back on his brother, finally recognizing the stillness of his chest and dullness of his skin. Without his permission a small wounded sound squeezed from his throat.

“Impossible, he is gone, he cannot be returned, so state your true purpose here liggende lur (lying coward)!”

The other finally appeared at the opposite end of the cave and Loki could finally make out his features in the flickering light. He was handsome, dressed in dark leathers and armor pieces he had tanned skin and bright eyes framed by dark hair and a neatly braided beard. Beads shifted in its strands and caught the light as he spoke again.

“I know of your grief young one, but I assure you that death is not so permanent.”

The young boy’s eyes widened as the words registered.

Død uærlig (death dishonorer)r ! I would never allow you to dishonor his spirit in such a way!”

He hissed and spit in disgust at the mere thought of the man raising his brother in such a fashion. He would die himself before casting such a fate on one as honorable as Thor.

“You misunderstand, I am not one who creates those such as the being which caused this, I am he who serves Death herself. It was she who instructed me to seek you this night and to heal the wounds you and your brother bare. Please, trust me and allow me to show you what I can do. If my intentions proof false, then I permit you to strike me down.”

Loki hesitated, he should not even entertain the idea, but it was Thor, his brother and best friend, and in his heart, he knew that he couldn't pass by the chance to set things right. His hands trembling, he slowly lowered his sword and spoke in a wavering voice.

“Do your spell work stranger, but I will strike you down if your words prove lies.”

The other nodded and knelt next to Thor. Carefully he placed a hand on the blond prince’s head and another on his chest and bent his head. As he watched Loki saw strands of golden light begin to slither and wreath around his hands, and his own seidr trembled in the face of the sheer power that now ebbed from the other’s bent form.

In the face of it’s overwhelming presence Loki felt himself sink to his knees, his seidr flagging and trembling as it brushed at the edges of the force and his mind and body numbed to the outside world.

He was broken from his overwhelmed state an unknown time later when a raspy voice broke the silence.

“Loki?”

The younger prince’s eyes slowly focused back onto his brother as his previously still form shifted, his chest rising and falling softly.

The man had shuffled back and now leaned on the wall of the cave, his power having been pulled back as he watched silently.

Loki began to stand but felt himself still weakened and dizzy from the other’s power so instead managed crawled to his brother’s side just as Thor’s blue eyes fluttered open.

Loki could not stop the tears that welled in his eyes as he realized that the stranger had been telling the truth, his weakened seidr gently drifting over Thor and sensing no darkness.

Thor who was becoming more aware by the moment frowned as he caught sight of Loki, his hand clumsily coming up as if to touch the other’s face.

“Loki? Loki what’s wrong? Why are you crying?”

That was all it took for the stress and tension in the younger prince to finally push forward in the form of a rough sob before he grabbed his brother’s hand and held it close as he quickly worked to regather his composure. Thor’s eyes widened at his brother and he immediately sat up and curled himself around his younger brother, asking softly what was wrong and trying to soothe him.

So concerned for his brother it was several long moments before Thor registered the presence of the other man in the cave. Upon seeing the stranger so close he tensed and in a slightly disoriented movement managed to get himself into a half kneel with his brother behind him, one arm still in Loki’s grip.

“Who are you? Why are you here and what have you done to Loki?”

The man snorted and raised both hands in a placating gesture.

“Peace Thor son of Odin, I have not harmed your brother, nor do I mean any harm to you. I am merely here to help.”

“Help?”

“Thor it’s alright, he is speaking the truth.”

Thor glanced over his shoulder as Loki finally released his grip on Thor and straightened, his face now back to its normal composure and eyes calculating as they stared at the strange man.
“You’re the hyrde av sjeler (shepherd of souls) aren’t you.”

Thor startled at his brother’s words and he immediately turned back to regard the man with no small amount of shock.

“Such a formal title of old. I prefer to simply be called Kjøpmann (Merchant) if you would, it makes things far easier on this plane.”

Loki nodded shallowly as Thor looked quickly between the two in utter confusion.

“Loki what happened?”

The younger seemed to struggle to speak for a moment before the Merchant spoke up, pushing off the wall.

“You were fatally wounded by the draugr and fell. Your brother was also wounded and overextended his power to save you both. You died of your wounds shortly after he collapsed in exhaustion. But Death has other plans for you both and deemed it important enough to send me to offer aid. As such I was able to pull you back from the path to Valhalla and heal you and your brother.”

Thor nodded and relaxed his posture, still awed by the being before him, but hiding it well.

“Then we owe you our thanks and a great debt Kjøpmann and as a son of the All Father I should see that debt repaid. Name your price and I shall see if fulfilled to the best of my power.

The Merchant shook his head firmly.

“Though your offer is well Odinson, it is unnecessary, I only do my Lady’s bidding and have no need for compensation. You are of importance in a greater scheme as is your brother and as such it is my duty to offer my aid. However, just because you know I am looking over you that does not mean that you should needlessly endanger yourself in life. You are still mortal despite your heritage.”

The Merchant glanced at Loki as he spoke the words and the younger boy’s eyes narrowed in confusion, but the other was speaking again.

“I shall see you safely back to the main city and then I shall be on my way. You will find your injuries healed but your body and minds will need time to recover the energy I used to heal you. Now come, the Lady Frigga must be worried.”

Thor nodded and carefully rose to his feet, gently tugging Loki up with him and holding him steady as the younger weaved slightly from exhaustion. The elder prince nodded once in permission and the Merchant returned the nod as he stepped forward and placed a hand on each boy.

Mere moments later they were stood just inside the front hall of the palace, both swaying in the older man’s grip as the events of the day truly caught up to them. Assuring himself they would stay on their feet the Merchant carefully released his hold and before he could speak another word there was a call from the end of the hall as a guard recognized the princes and called to another to alert the Queen they had returned. He glanced over before nodding to the two boys and vanishing into thin air.

 

(~)

430 years later

Shouting and the harsh ringing of metal on metal greeted the Merchant as he materialized on the battlefield. The dirt was soft under his boots from blood and the field was already littered with bodies. Angry spirits flashed and shivered all around him as the brutality and anger in their death forced them to cling to their corpses.

He was careful to remain on the parallel plane as he looked around him. The battle would not be a victory for either side, not with this kind of bloodshed. He sighed as another young woman was cut down a few feet from him and blood splattered through where he stood. The beast that had slain her roared in triumph as its nearby companions answered the cry. Such a waste of life these battles were, was there not enough death without introducing slaughter into the equation?

He began to carefully walk through the fighting, his wings pulled close to his form as he surveyed his surroundings, though he knew they would not actually touch any of the physical things around him. Usually he would arrive after the fighting was over and perform his duties all at once, but something was different this time. There was to be another death for him to prevent, he just didn’t know where, only that amongst the throng of bodies there was one who was meant to live.

All around him numbers dwindled into mere minutes and his eyes scanned each face as they fell, but none grabbed his attention. In war it was nearly impossible to tell who would survive.

Nearly an hour later and he was growing frustrated, there had been no indication of who he was meant to save, and the battle was still in full swing. He was about to take to the air when someone yelled his name.

Kjøpmann, it has been long!”

Startled the Merchant turned and met the bright blue eyes of the eldest prince of Asgard. He was covered in gore and blood but grinned widely as he fought his way to the older man. He had nearly reached the baffled spirit when a smaller figure appeared next to him in a flash of gold light.

“Hel Thor, I told you to hold position till I got back!”

Thor simply laughed and cut down another creature.

“But brother, we have an important ally on the field!”

To the Merchant’s utter befuddlement, the younger prince turned and immediately pinned him with an annoyed and then surprised gaze.

Kjøpmann?”

“You shouldn’t be able to see me!”

Loki raised both eyebrows as the older man blurted that out even as Thor snorted in amusement.

“Then I hate to disappoint, but you are as visible as any. What brings you back to our plane on this day of battle mächtig (powerful one)?”

But the Merchant didn’t reply as he double checked that he was in fact still firmly in the parallel plane, going as far as to push his arm through a nearby beast, watching in confusion as it passed through as it was should.

“No, you misunderstand, I should not be visible as I am in no way present on your plane. I should be invisible to all even though I am here. How is it you two can see me? What do I look like to you?”

Loki ducked his brother’s hammer and stabbed viciously into an enemy approaching his back, then spinning to throw a dagger into the face of another charging creature, before he focused on the Merchant looking intrigued.

“I see. To us you appear exactly as you did during our last meeting except it is harder to gaze upon you for long and you appear to have gained wings since our last encounter. As for why we can perceive you, perhaps a discussion for a slightly later time?

Loki created a stream of green flames and spun to scorch the foes closest to him as he answered, Thor moving forward to cover him as he prepared his next spell. The Merchant watched this for a few more minutes, lost in thought as he puzzled over what this could mean, when something flashed in the corner of his eye. Focusing himself back to the present he froze as he realized what had changed.

The numbers above both brother’s heads, previously long and healthy lifespans, had dropped to a few minutes. Straightening his posture, he darted his gaze around the battlefield, trying to discern where the threat would come from, but there were too many enemies around them. Growling in frustration the Merchant stepped forward as he made a decision. Why wait for the threat to appear? Why wait for them to die before doing something? Most of these men, woman and creatures were to die soon so why should he not step in now?

The Lady had long since deferred to his judgment in the moment of how to handle his jobs. With this thought fresh in his mind the Merchant stepped forward and materialized a long, onyx sword as he allowed himself to slip fully into the physical plane.

Stepping forward he executed a perfect arc, lopping the head of an enemy which had meant to take the head of the eldest Odinson. Said prince heard the other’s death and spun around with a grunt, only to stop at the sight of the Merchant standing there with a blood covered blade, dark wings flared in aggression.

The blonde prince regarded the other man for a brief moment before a large grin broke ono his face and he called out cheerfully, also drawing his brother’s approving gaze.

“Well met Kjøpmann! We shall defeat this enemy together!”

The Merchant grunted a reply as he was forced to turn and parry a strong battle axe aimed for his side, but he could hear Thor laughing and yelling still.

What followed was the bloodiest, grittiest battle the Merchant had fought in a very long time. The brothers, young as they were, proved extremely talented warriors. The two fought together seamlessly, Thor’s brute strength decimating foes and covering for Loki’s more wide scale seidr attacks, while his younger brother effortlessly flowed around Thor taking out any enemies that made it too close.

The Merchant began to drift away from the two when he first began fighting, not wanting to interrupt the obviously practiced flow of their attacks, but soon found that he had underestimated the pair again. The princes easily accommodated him into their dance, moving in perfect tandem with his own attacks and together they became a well-oiled machine of destruction, striking down foe after foe until the horns of victory rang out of the field and finally they lowered their weapons, the battle rush fading from their veins.

The three stood there, covered in blood and dust as their chests heaved in exertion, but feral grins stretched their cheeks. Tony’s power sang as his mortal muscles burned and in all his time as the Merchant he had never felt as alive as he did now.

He dipped under the heavy arm that Thor threw over his shoulder and laughed as the two brothers snipped back and forth about the other’s many mishaps during the fight, soon being drawn into the easy banter. And it was many minutes before a shout rang out, as a startled warrior saw the Merchant.

“Thor what demon have you captured?”

The large blonde looked up and grinned at the sight of four warriors approaching the three. The three men and woman stared openly at the Merchant, their eyes flickering between his wings and the arm that Thor had kept on his shoulder.

“Nay, he is an old friend who came to bask in the glory of the fight today and glorious it was my friends!”

The others agreed heartily, their suspicion of the winged stranger already faded, and the Merchant nodded along as he was addressed by each as they introduced themselves. The warrior three and Lady Sif were apparently long friends of the princes.

It was sometime later that the Merchant once more found himself alone with the two princes as they bathed the remains of the battle from their skin in a large heated pool in the palace. Though hesitant at first the Merchant had eventually agreed to indulge in the small luxury of joining the two, and now found himself drifting lazily in warmth as the soothing smell of scented oils wafted over him. The releasing of those killed in the fight had been taxing.

“Did you ever discover the reason we could see you?”

Loki’s voice roused him as he glanced over at the younger prince before shaking his head.

“No, by all laws and happenings I should have been unperceivable by any mortal. There had to be something linking me to you two or allowing you to glimpse beyond the physical plane. Do you know if there is anything that may be capable of such a feat?”

Both brothers seemed to contemplate that for a few moments before Loki spoke up again.

“Could it be my enchantment?”

The younger prince waded across the pool to where their armor lay and after digging through the pile of fabrics produced a small stone carved charm shimmered with a green light on a thin chain.

“I created them after we encountered a deceiver who used illusions as a weapon. Thor and I wear them at all times now as to never be misled by such deception again. I meant to allow us to see through any cloak, but I was unaware they would break through the plane of physicality.”

As he spoke, he handed the necklace to the older man who in turn inspected it thoroughly, probing at it with his power. At first, he found nothing that would cause such an ability, but then his power brushed something familiar and a theory began to form in his mind.

“No, it should not affect such things, but perhaps because my own power flows through you? Do you remember the feeling of my power when we first met?”

“It was crushing, I could barely hold onto myself.”

“Yes, but your own power was drained at the time and you felt such effects because your own core tried to absorb my power to feed itself. It was too much while your core was in such a vulnerable state, but it is likely that you managed to absorb some of my energy. I felt your drain at the time but didn’t realize how little of your own seidr remained. This enchantment contains some of my own power, though it has since been adapted to fit your own signature more, but I can still recognize it.”

The younger magic user’s brow furrowed as he took in the other’s words.

“My magic did feel strange after it recovered from that night, but eventually it seemed to be fine, so I gave it no further thought.”

“It’s likely your own seidr adapted it to work with your own.”

Thor who had been listening silently till now finally spoke up.

“But Loki made those amulets many years after you healed us, should your own power not have faded or been used up by then? Does he still possess its influence?”

The other two bathers nodded as they realized he made a good point. Finally, the Merchant interrupted the silence.

“Well there is a very simple way to find out, Loki if I could feel your core, I may still be able to sense my own power’s presence in you.”

Loki seemed to hesitate for a long moment as his hands unconsciously came to rest on his chest, but a few seconds later they dropped, and he gave a sharp nod which the Merchant returned.

Projecting his movements, the Merchant slowly placed his hand on the other’s sternum and allowed a small amount of his power to seep into the bath warmed skin, feeling Loki’s seidr stir in response. Careful to regulate the connection he allowed his power to blanket the other’s, twisting around it and prodding gently. He was about to declare that there was nothing there when he finally felt a little pulse near the very center of the prince’s seidr. Cautiously he followed that trace back to the source and finally found the answer to their questions.

Thor and Loki watched the older man as he finally drew back, a small frown on his face and their own apprehension grew.

“Well?”

“Well, I found what happened and I have no idea what it means. There is a part of your core that is completely my power, as in you likely over stressed your seidr to the point it crack or fractured and mine patched it. Or something along those lines.”

Thor shifted closer looking outright concerned now even as his brother’s face fell into a perfectly blank mask.

“And you have no idea the possible repercussions of such a merging of our magic?”

“No, but if it is any reassurance your magic seems to have bonded to mine pretty seamlessly so if you haven’t seen any effect up until this point, I doubt any new ones will arise now.”

Loki nodded and cast a look at Thor who after looking back at him for a moment begrudgingly shifted back to his former seat and said nothing.

The three soaked in silence for a long while before that before Thor broke the silence with a comment on the Merchant’s wings and from there the friendly chatter was revived.

(~)

Sometime later they had all redressed and as the princes turned to make their way to the feast, they bid their goodbyes. The Merchant watched them walk away, his gaze fixed on the long, healthy numbers and smiled slightly as he allowed himself to fade onto the other plane.

He had no idea then what awaited the younger prince or the effects it would cause going forward.

Chapter Text

The Merchant was in full swing as he swept through the burning remains of the city. The crumbing forms of the Gar-jak people looked like hundreds of shallow graves as he carefully picked his way through the souls as his powers gently guided them.

This had been a tragedy, but unlike the deaths caused in war, the souls here left peacefully and there remained none who he would need to forcefully pass to be judged. The Gar-Jak were a very spiritualistic race and believed in the strings of Fate and the teachings of the natural way.

So when the great volcano around which their cities were built had become active and they knew they were to die and they had accepted it. Those chosen to carry on the clans of the city had left days ago, and the elders who remained had all gathered at the base of the mountain to welcome the end chosen for them.

Though the Merchant found it to be rather morbid, he also found their way of life to be oddly satisfying and envied the certainty they held in their time and purpose on this plane.

As he moved among the departing spirits he allowed himself to truly walk among them as he had with their ancestors in the first age of their people and culture. The elders nodded and greeted him as passed by and he took the time to personally share greetings and brief touches of respect with the eldest of each clan. Several of the older clans carefully attached beads and charmed jewelry to his clothes and limbs, one, the eldest clan’s leader even carefully clasped a delicate piece onto the feathers of his right wing.

Soon, after he watched as the last of the elders faded away he summoned a gusting wind with a surge of his powers, blowing their ash into the winds to be carried to their final resting place as their tradition dictated.

As he watched their ashes scattered over the land he was suddenly struck by a twinge of pain. Startled, he snapped his power close to his body and flared his wings, searching for the threat. A moment later a second twinge struck, this one sharper. Puzzled he realised that the pain came from his core.

The Merchant stood motionless as he waited for another spark and sure enough a few moments later came another. He traced the pain through his own power and was surprised to find that while it was certainly his power, the pain was not his own. It seemed to be an echo of pain from a piece of his power elsewhere.

With more of a direction he began to pull his consciousness inward and trace his power through the links he knew he held with the mortals in his care. It didn’t take long to realize that it didn’t come from the humans, nor any other of his established links across the galaxies.

What else held his power? Who else other than those he held a deliberate link to...the princes. He had forgotten his accidental link to the young Asgardians.

Now that he knew the source he began to try to deliberate what caused a pain great enough to echo through the link.

First he narrowed it down, finding that the pain specifically came from the younger prince and it seemed that the deeper he dug the more he realized that this was the culmination of layers of different hurt which seemed to have built and grown enough to effect the prince’s very core and his link by extension. The Merchant contemplated what he was feeling through the bond knowing he now had a decision to make.

The Mistress had always deferred to his judgment when it came to the few links he had established with the mortals and he knew that this decision rested upon him and him alone and she would not interfere should he act.

He wandered through the smoldering remains of the city as he considered his options. He knew it would be simple to just allow the events occurring to play out as intended. He could tell that the other, while in great pain, was not in danger of dying. However, a pain that close to one’s core, especially a seidr user’s who drew from their center of power, could be dangerous and had the potential to taint their powers and drive the mind mad if left to fester.

The Merchant thought back to his time with the princes over the last few centuries and finally made his decision. Casting out for the link he allowed himself to fade back into the plane of the eternal and easily follow that thread of the link to the princeling.

It wasn’t until he had arrived that The Merchant realised how dire the current situation actually was, not only the prince, but himself.

As soon as he arrived, even on the parallel plane he knew where he was and he felt his wings puff and draw close in apprehension. The cold darkness of the terrain surrounding him seemed to seep through reality itself, sending shivers across his skin. This place was one of death and disease of which he had not encountered in a long time.

Making his way forward he paused as the rasping shrieks of a creature rose up from ahead and he watched as two armored forms hissed and chittered at each as they made their way past him. As soon as they passed beside him he recognized them for what they were. Chitauri, a hive minded race which dwelled in the darkness between the worlds, places such as this, abandoned by time and life. Why would Loki be here?

The Merchant carefully made his way forward, casting his powers out to warn him of anyone approaching. Finally he came upon a cave of sorts, slopping into the ground and guarded by two more armored Chituari. A gentle pulse of his power told him all he needed to know as he immediately slipped past the guards and into the darkness of the hole.

It was only a short walk before he found what he was looking for, and the sight caused his ancient heart to ache.

Loki knelt in his true skin, naked and bleeding. His wrists were chained above im and his dark hair hung in dirty clumps around his bowed head.

“Oh little prince, what has happened to you?”

At his words the other’s head jerked upwards and he looked around frantically, his eyes blown wide in the darkness.

“Kjøpmann?” He whispered in evident shock, the words sounding raw and dry, causing the Merchant to wince at how it must hurt the other.

“Liten viper, how have you come to be in such a foul place?”

As he spoke softly he knelt before the other man and allowed himself to become fully corporeal. The other, upon seeing the Merchant let out a broken mix between a laugh and a sob.

“It is you, or is it simply another trick to make me submit even further to His foul will? Please, please I beg if you are an illusion then leave me in peace.”

The younger man’s words concerned the elder as did what he was implying. Carefully he reached out to laid his hand against the blue skinned cheek to prove his existence, but Loki saw what he was doing and suddenly flinches back harshly rattling his chains with the movement.

“No! My very skin will burn you in this wretched form!”

“It’s alright kid, you can’t hurt me.”

As if to prove his words he closed the distance and carefully rested his hand against the cold blue skin. Loki stayed completely still for several moments, waiting for the inevitable burn of the other man’s flesh, but when nothing happened he went limp with relief and exhaustion, pressing into the soft touch with a soft keen of pain and utter despair. The Merchant carefully bowed his own head to rest against the crown of the other and whispered soothing words in the old tongue as the young prince before him seemed to fight to remain composed.

He could admit that despite his attempts to remain unattached to mortal beings he had become undeniably fond of the brothers and it hurt him deeply to see the once proud and clever prince broken to this point. The Merchant wished he could stay and comfort the younger man until he was able to lift his head on his own once more, but this place was dangerous and he needed to know what was happening if he was to help in any way.

Reluctantly he drew back, his eyes sad as he felt the young Jotun try to follow the fading touch.

“Loki, I need to know what is happening. How did you get here? Who is keeping you here?”

Glittering red eyes slowly rose to meet his and all he could see was pain and a deep resignation in their depths.

“I-I cast myself from the Bifrost and fell. I fell for so long before I landed here.”

“What? Why would you do that? Loki what has happened in the time that I have been gone”

Loki broke eye contact quickly, but not before he saw a flash of anger in them.

“I was betrayed by those I trusted most. I found out what I really was, what I had always been. A stolen chip on the playering board of the All Father!”

Loki spat the name like a curse causing the Merchant wince, already beginning to understand what may have occurred.

“You mean you discovered your heritage.”

The prince’s head snapped up so fast it must have hurt and there was such betrayal in his eyes that the elder almost felt the need to look away, but instead he met the hurt in those eyes with a steady calm.

“You-you knew, didn’t you? All those years you knew what I was and you never told me? Why? Why must you too betray me?”

“I never betrayed you-”
“Then why did you never-!”

The Merchant flinched at the raised tone and quickly pulled the other to his chest, muffling his furious cries in the dark fabric at his shoulder and wrapping his wings protectively around them both.

“Hush! I did not betray you, nor did your family! I was there at the battle where the All Father first found you. The massacre of the Jotuns drew me to the battlefield to help them to pass on and join the Eternal Winter and I saw you Loki, I saw you and I was there to take you with me.”

“What?”

The sound cracked from his lips and the Merchant held him closer as he continued.

“You were dying Loki, I was ready to take you when the All Father found you in that desolate place and I watched as you warmed to his touch and gathered your Aesir skin around you and laughed as he smiled and held you as if you were the most precious of treasures. You were not betrayed Loki, they kept this truth from you only because they thought it would protect you from unnecessary hurt the truth would cause you. They may have waited too long and allowed you to find out in some harsh way, but they never meant for you to be hurt, I am certain!”

Loki remained still against him as he slowly let the other’s words sink in, anger still present, but fading in the face of the ancient beings words which he had always trusted as truth. Finally his entire frame shuddered and he let out a soft sound of mourning and loss into the dark plumage.

“Kjøpmann I fear I have done terrible things.” He whispered in the old tongue.

“Fear and hurt can drive us to do many things young one.”

“But I murdered them, I thought them monsters to slaughter for the All Father’s approval!”

The Merchant pulled back and sternly met the other’s eyes.

“You are too good to ever need to rely on the approval of your father, and I think you think of yourself as more of a monster then you actually are. You forget who I am , though many did die and I knew of it, there were not enough for me to go to it personally. You killed them, yes, and you will need to repent for that one day, but you did not slaughter them as you believed.”

“You-you speak true? They survived?”

“They did, I can promise that though they mourned many, you did not wipe them out or break them. Already they have started to rebuild, but now we must speak of the current matter. You can think long and hard about all of this later, but Loki I need to know what is happening now before we are interrupted.”

Loki continued to stare for a long moment before he nodded harshly and pulled back forcing himself to push aside his thoughts and put on a brave face much to the Merchant’s pain.

“You’re right, He could return at any moment. He does so love to play with his new toy.”

The words were bitter, but there was a fire in them that the Merchant had feared may have been pulled from the man before him.

“After I fell, I eventually landed here. The Chitauri… those things, found me and I tried to fight them off, but their master resides here on the planet as well. The Other, that is what he calls himself. For so long he ripped apart my mind and played with my very thoughts and memories before finally his master arrived. I didn’t believe it at first, but the Other, that horrendous creature is working for the Mad Titan.”

The Merchant felt his blood turn cold at the mention of the Eternal One, but he forced himself to merely give a grim nod as Loki forced himself to continue, though he heard the waiver of fear growing in the younger’s voice.

“They, they plan to take their armies to Midgard, for what purpose I know not, but they have been flaying my mind in search of information about the items in the All Father’s vault. I can not tell what they are searching for, but I know that if they get it they will kill thousands.”

The other shuffled slightly as he cast his head down.

“I-I tried to withstand, I tried and fought their prying fingers in my mind for so long, please you must believe me that I did all I could...but-but whatever it was they were looking for, they found it. I- They plan to attack Midgard soon, but they are only sending their armies, they will not go with them. I- the Mad Titan speaks of my part in this, he raves about how I will lead us into this victory and will rule in his stead. Please, I know not how he plans to attack, but you must stop them, the mortals are small and powerless, but they will all perish if he succeeds! I want no part in his massacre!”

The Merchant watched the panic return to the graceful blue features and he once again laid his hand on the other to calm him and draw his attention.

“Loki listen to me! I will stop them, I will, but I must leave now if I hope to warn the mortals in time. Loki there is a reason you have been kept alive. If they truly had finished their use of you then they would have killed you by now, but they haven’t and your numbers have not changed since the last time I saw you. Loki, I need you to be brave and strong, gods stronger than any time before this. I must leave you here-”

“What!”

“Listen to me Loki! If Thanos is to attack Midgard then I cannot stop it, not now and not alone! I can’t interfere with the events of the Fates or of the living, you know this. I can’t break this rule, even for you, but I will help you! If Thanos really means to send you to Midgard I will find you and I will help you, you won’t be alone. Once you are separated from him I will come for you and help you escape whatever binds he hold on you, you have my word! Trust me. I will not abandon you.”

Loki visibly struggled to control the fear on his face and the Merchant waited patiently until finally the other took a deep breath and met his eyes with burning red.

“I trust you. Warn the mortals, I will find out all I can here and wait for the day you come for me.”

His entire body slumped in relief at the younger’s words even as his chest clenched at what he was about to do. Nodding he leaned forward and touched their foreheads one last time, feeling the other slump against him, before drawing his powers to him and allowing them to seep into the link they shared.

Loki gasped at the feeling of the surge of power and looked at him in confusion as the golden warmth pooled in his chest.

“To steady your core and protect it from the festering darkness that lurks in this place. If it becomes too much, fall back to your center and I will absorb what I can to protect you. I cannot do anything else, or Thanos would know I have been here, but I can at least do this.”

The young Jotun nodded and a small grateful smile touched his lips before he set his face in a look of determination and spoke, voice strong even through the rasp.

“Thank you for this. Now leave and go to the mortals, they need you more than I. We will cross paths again soon, but until then, good luck.”

The Merchant nodded and rose, his massive wings flaring as he looked down at the brave young soul before him.

“You’re strength will save thousands Loki, I will see you soon.”

And with those words the Merchant sank back into the other plane and directed his gaze outwards to the feather he had left with the mortal organization. It still shone brightly where it lay in time and space and he stared at it for a long moment, before turning away and calling out to his Mistress. There was much to discuss.

(~)

“Merchant, you have been busy.”

Dark wings flared as he stepped forward and inclined his head to Death.

“I need to commune with the Fates, I must know if Midgard is to fall or if I may intervene to stop Thanos’ plan.”

Death stared at him passively, seeming to take in his stance and words before she spoke again, her voice echoing with the voices of thousands.

“Speak then Merchant of Death for we have heard you wish to call to us.”

The Merchant knelt, forced to the floor by the sheer pressure of the Fates’ presence and struggled to gather his thoughts in the face of their power.

“Oh Fates, Sower of the Strings of time and space, Creator of circumstance, Seer of the many paths I request your guidance. The Eternal One, The Mad Titan he who was Dione, but now walks under the name Thanos seeks to attack and slaughter the mortals of Midgard in a search for conquest and to retrieve something unknown. Your will is final and your visions are true and guide my path, but I must know if this is foretold to be.”

The Fates’ voice’s shreieked and echoed for a moment, causing the Merchant’s face to screw up with the pain of their turmoil before finally the voices merged once more and the Fates spoke.

“You were right to seek us Merchant of Death, Keeper of the Barrier and servant of Death, for we have indeed long foretold these occurrences, but they must not succeed. The Mad Titan seeks to burn our Strings in a search of his own desires. Your Mistress spoke to you long ago of a great convergence which you would hold place in and that time has come. No longer will you observe the living as The Merchant of Death, but instead stand beside them in battle against the Mad Titan. It has always been foretold and so it shall be that you play a part in stopping the Eternal One’s destruction. The mortals are in possession of objects of great power which they are unable to guard any longer. You will help them to prevent the Titan retrieving these items. The Strings are not yet woven for the events in this time and occurrence, but we will continue to weave as the many paths converge and fray. Go to them now Merchant of Death and do what we have foreseen in your path. You have our and your Master’s will.”

The Merchant trembled under their will as ancient words soaked into his very core. Slowly the pressure of their power faded and he was able to lift his head to gaze upon his Mistress who now stood before him.

“It seems I will not be seeing as much of you in the near future my Merchant.”

“So it would seem, though I hope my actions may prevent any need of me so soon, and I will continue to serve you as I help them mortals.”

“Indeed you shall, but Merchant, do know that I have also grown quite fond of your presence and as such I expect you to return to me once the Fates have been satiated.”

“Of course. Now, call me Tony, it seems I’ll be taking up that name a lot more for a little while.”

Death let out a soft chuckle, sounding like the moans and pain of thousands of beings, but brought a small smile to Tony’s face all the same.

“Very well then Tony, now be gone from this realm, you have mortals to attend too who know nothing of what is to occur.”

The good humor now gone Tony took a step back and curled into a bow, pushing every ounce of love and respect he held for her into the sweeping movement before straightening with a cocky grin and salute before casting himself through the planes to where his feather still pulsed its golden light on Midgard. It was time the mortals knew of the coming threat.