Tony is in a hurry. He has a training back at the Avengers Compound in less than an hour, he still has to write a report on a faulty experiment from two days ago and he’s definitely going to be in traffic at this time of the day. He only needs to pick up a package for him that had been delivered to Stark Industries instead of to the Compound, now he’s in the city anyway.
He ignores the people staring at him surreptitiously as he enters the lobby.
‘’Mr Stark?’’ one of his employees asks, staring at him like he’s grown a second head. Tony knows he doesn’t come down here that often, but that’s hardly a reason to look at him like that.
‘’In the living flesh,’’ he quips. ‘’Look, I came here to get a package, and then I’ll be on my way. I’m in a bit of a hurry, actually.’’
‘’Right,’’ the girl says, but she’s still staring. ‘’Sir, I don’t need to be rude but… why are your eyes golden?’’
‘’I am not exactly sure how this is my fault,’’ Tony complains. Pepper throws him a long-suffering look.
‘’You’re getting very bad at keeping secrets in your old age,’’ Loki says, and he presses a kiss to his temple. Tony wants to throw something at him, but knowing the god, he’ll simply let it faze right through him. Sometimes, Tony really envies him.
‘’I’m not old,’’ he says, now focusing on his fiancée. ‘’You’re old.’’
Loki shrugs. ‘’Astute observation, but hardly the reason you forgot to shift back to your human appearance this morning.’’
Tony huffs, but it’s true. It is his fault he’d got caught.
Thing is, he wouldn’t have been so careless only a few short years ago. Back when he was still hiding, when no one knew. But then he’d started slipping up, careless and done with his own deception, until Loki knew, and then the Avengers. He wouldn’t have slipped up outside of the comforts of home, but maybe it’s not a surprise that he would, one day.
It has been three years since they found an elven necklace on the battlefield, three years since Tony fell in love with Loki and three years since he let out the truth about being an elf. Shape shifting is a useful skill, when you’re an interplanetary refugee, but it wasn’t a truth he had planned to tell Earth at large. He’d grown so used to shifting back and forth from his elven form to his human form that – well.
He’d forgotten who he was.
Loki seems to sense his wandering thoughts, and comes back to stand beside him, the warmth of his skin draining away some of Tony’s tension.
‘’How exactly are we going to deal with this?’’ Tony asks, and it’s mainly aimed at Pepper.
She answers with a sympathetic smile, and hands him some papers. ‘’All the Avengers have your back, Tony. We’ll make sure no one comes after you, and we’ll make sure that you’ll still have the same rights. You don’t have to worry about a thing, if you don’t want to. You can go visit Bruce and Valkyrie on Asgard, or go to your home on Alfheim, if you want to get away from this.’’
It sounds great, escaping to Asgard or Alfheim. Tony has to divide his time between three realms, now, but Earth is still home. He sighs. ‘’No,’’ he answers. ‘’This is my mess, it’s time I cleaned it up. Tell the truth.’’
‘’All of it?’’ Loki asks. ‘’I hardly think all the details should go to everyone.’’
‘’Well, we can leave some stuff out,’’ Tony says. ‘’I don’t think it’ll go over well that SHIELD tried to hide aliens from the world. Maybe we shouldn’t mention that Howard knew he was adopting an alien, either. Maybe we should just skip all the stuff with Freya and Frey.’’
‘’There’s going to be a lot of questions,’’ Pepper warns.
‘’I know, but we can measure those,’’ Tony says, and he’s thinking about it. ‘’No one will care if Frey is my biological father – how the hell will they know he’s the ruler of Alfheim? No reason to make this thing bigger than it is. Tell them I’m an elf, that my mother brought me here to escape from my actual father. That Howard took me in, after my mother died too – it’ll surely endear him to the public, taking in an orphan. There’ll be some backlash, but it’ll be there either way. Tell them I grew up as a human.’’
‘’That’s not going to mask the fact that you’re not,’’ Pepper says carefully.
Tony laughs wryly. ‘’Aren’t I?’’
‘’That’s not what she means,’’ Loki says. ‘’She means that people will still criticize you over it. She’ll say that they’ll say that you’re not human at all.’’
‘’Biologically speaking, no,’’ Tony admits, and even after all these years it still stings, somewhere. Alfheim is where he was born and there’s a future for him there; but for years, he’s been more human than most. He’s bled for Earth, he’s loved on Earth. He became who he is on Earth, not on Alfheim. He would give his life for Earth.
He almost has on multiple occasions, and it ranks that still people will still criticize him for something as insignificant as biology.
‘’Some people don’t look past that,’’ Loki says, and Tony squeezes his shoulders. At least he hadn’t grown up on horror tales of elves; Loki hasn’t been as fortunate.
‘’Alright,’’ Pepper sighs. ‘’Maybe this will work, Tony. But we need to be quick, before everything spirals out of control.’’
Tony couldn’t agree more. ‘’Sorry you have to deal with this.’’
Pepper’s smile is dry. ‘’I’ve dealt with worse from you.’’
It’s undoubtedly true.
There are dozens of cameras behind that wall, and Tony stares a little apprehensive. He has plenty of experience with the press, but he’s been hiding out in the Compound ever since the truth come out.
Or, well, truth: more like a lot of speculation, and some of it not even that far of the mark. Tony reflects wryly on the fact that their lives have become so weird that someone turning out to be an alien is something that can be guessed. Not that it matters, now.
Tony steps into the light. Loki isn’t there with him; their relationship isn’t public knowledge, either, and it isn’t the right time to let everyone know about that. Everyone that needs to know already is in the loop; so is everyone on Asgard and Alfheim. Suddenly, he wishes they’d stayed on Asgard a bit longer. It was hectic, with everything having to be rebuilt, but it was easier because there weren’t any secrets in Asgard.
But neither were the humans Tony had gotten himself so attached to, so he straightens his shoulders, smiles with a certainty he doesn’t quite feel and hopes his insecurity is hidden behind his orange-tinted sunglasses properly. Loki is standing somewhere in the back, his eyes following Tony steadfastly, and he lets out his next breath a bit easier.
Rhodey is standing next to him, and that makes it easier, too. Rhodey’s always had his back, and he smiles at Tony as he holds his cards in his hands.
‘’Hi,’’ he says, the role he’s played for decades coming to him easily enough. ‘’I’ve stood here before you a couple of times. Each time seems weirder than the next. I remember standing here years ago, telling everyone that I play a guy in a metal suit. You all went into a rage then.’’
The pause in his story gives one of the bolder news reporters the chance to say something. ‘’Mr Stark, is it true that you’ve changed your own biology? How can you explain your appearances from three days ago?’’
Tony laughs. ‘’I haven’t done a thing to my own biology, I’ll have you know,’’ he answers. ‘’Look, I could stick to the cards this time. I’m not sure it’ll make this whole thing blow over any easier. Thing is, I made a mistake. I was in a hurry, and my life has been crazier than any of you could imagine for the past few years. I’ve had a secret come out, and I’m here to tell you those secrets, too. Not that it’s actually any of your business, but I guess I’m a man of the people.’’
‘’What secrets are those?’’ Christine Everhart shouts, and Tony smiles wryly. Some things never change.
‘’I could start simple, and tell you that Howard Stark is not, biologically speaking, my father,’’ he says, and he watches the room go crazy. Still, he manages to get over them pretty easily as his eyes glow golden, all of a sudden. ‘’I could make it harder by saying that biologically speaking, I don’t have human parents at all.’’
The noise is deafening, and despite the chaos, Tony can’t help but grin. His eyes search Loki’s, who is still standing there with self-satisfied smirk on his face.
It’s not going to be easy – but hell if it’s not going to be worth it.
Pepper is right, as Pepper usually is. Tony gets backlash – a lot of it. In fact, most of the comments are negative. Even the ones that understand that Tony can’t actually help being an alien and being stranded on Earth comment on the fact that he’s been a public figure for so long that has never told the truth. Some even comment on the fact that Tony’s been withholding a universal truth from them – Tony laughs at those. What do they think would have happened if Tony had told the world that he’s not human? He would be dead right now, his brain dissected somewhere.
But there are the kind comments, and Tony isn’t an idiot to see Pepper and Rhodey carefully trying to get his attention to those people. The people that recognize his plight, that don’t fault him for it, that welcome him back anyway. Pepper tells him eventually this will become the reigning opinion.
Tony isn’t sure. He’s familiar with the fickle feelings of the public, but the truth is out there now. It’s a relief, in a way, even if he stares at the hateful comments sometimes. Loki doesn’t try to hide those: he simply mentions the ways in which they’re wrong, and that helps a bit.
‘’We should go back to Asgard,’’ Tony says after a few days of incoming comments. His statement has scattered records all over the world, and he’s getting a bit sick of it. He’d think that no one should care about his personal life, but it hasn’t been that way since Howard brought him in. The comforting quiet of the last few years has lulled him into a false sense of security, and now he’s paying for it.
Loki looks at him. ‘’I have never known you to run away from something unpleasant.’’
‘’I run away from unpleasant things all the time,’’ Tony informs him. ‘’Elves, Asgardians, whoever comes after me. I’m very good at running away.’’
But he’s even better at meeting things head on, it’s true. Thing is, he’s not so sure how to do that in this case. His home has turned against him, and he’s not so sure he’ll ever get it back. In fact, he knows it’ll never be like it used to be. Loki still eyes him sceptically. ‘’That may be,’’ he starts, ‘’but we can’t, anyway. We haven’t finished the courtship on Earth yet: three months at your home, and we have only been here for just over two.’’
‘’It’s not exactly fair, is it?’’ Tony tries. He doesn’t want to stay, not like this. It’s not home like this, with the Avengers pitying him and questioning his decision and everyone else staring at him like he’s suddenly someone else. ‘’We’ve spent months at Asgard, and we’re going to Alfheim next. Why do I have two home planets? It’s not like we’re going to Jotunheim.’’
Loki’s lips are tight, and he stalks away before Tony can even think about what he said. He has a tendency to ramble, to say something before he thinks it through – in this case it’s the worst thing he could have said. Loki has worried his ass off to make the courtship work. It had almost slipped Tony’s mind, in the chaos of everything, and he immediately feels bad. He knows it’s never out of Loki’s mind; he knows it’s the period that will ensure they are able to spend their lives together in the eyes of the Asgardians. It’s important, even more so than a wedding on Earth would be, and here Tony is, not even paying attention.
Here Tony is, suggesting they don’t fully complete their courtship.
He’s an idiot.
‘’I’m sorry,’’ he says later that day. Loki doesn’t look up from the chair he’s in. His bad mood is tangible, almost radiating off him. ‘’I shouldn’t have said that. I’m glad to do the courtship here, as well.’’
‘’I know,’’ Loki only says.
It’s not enough, and Tony slides down until he’s crouching next to Loki. ‘’You’re putting a lot of effort in the courtship, and I’m sorry I’m not as involved as you are. It’s no excuse, but I’m never quite sure what to do; these three months, they’re for meeting the family, right? I don’t actually have any family, and you know everyone that’s important to me. So if we’re supposed to be dining and out having fun –‘’
‘’That’s not it,’’ Loki interrupts him. ‘’You don’t understand, Tony. You keep – going around in circles, on this. You dearly love Earth. You adore the people on it. Yet, by suggesting we leave before the three months, you are renouncing it as your home planet. Then you comment on the fact that we’re not going to Jotunheim.’’
‘’Wait,’’ Tony says slowly. ‘’You’re renouncing Jotunheim?’’
Loki looks at him. ‘’Do you think I would go to Jotunheim, and return to the tender care of Byleistr and Helblindi? Did you forget they kidnapped you and murdered your grandfather?’’
‘’Well, my grandfather wasn’t spectacularly nice,’’ Tony notes.
Loki huffs. ‘’I am renouncing Jotunheim, Tony. You have chosen to keep Alfheim, and I well understand it, despite your own treacherous father and aunt. The elves are growing fond of you, and you are undoubtedly one. It’s not the same for me.’’
‘’But it’s part of you,’’ Tony protests. ‘’I’ve just told an entire planet that I’m not the same species, but that I still belong to them. It’s true, and it’s the same for you for Asgard. But you can leave Jotunheim behind just as well as I can leave Alfheim. Byleistr did the wrong thing – he kidnapped me, he tried to manipulate you, he did a lot of things I won’t forgive him for. But we both agreed he had a few good reasons, even if he went about it the wrong way. You can’t condemn an entire race based on what he did.’’
‘’Or every king before him?’’ Loki interjects. ‘’I will not change my mind, Tony. I’m not condemning an entire race; I’m not trying to kill all of them. I am Asgardian first and foremost, and I do not mean to go back to Jotunheim. Besides – Thor asked me to.’’
‘’Thor doesn’t have anything to do with it,’’ Tony protests.
Loki shrugs. ‘’Thor is more my brother than Byleistr or Helblindi. And it is not for personal reasons – he has not said it in as much words. Thor, however, wants me on his council. Not now, not in a year, but when I am ready for it. I cannot be on the council and be Jotun.’’
‘’That’s a stupid rule,’’ Tony tells him, ‘’and you shouldn’t let it decide to give up part of your identity.’’
‘’I will think about it,’’ Loki says, but Tony has a sinking feeling about it, because Loki is only saying that so they won’t continue speaking about it.
Still, he shuts up and lets himself lean against his lover.
It takes two weeks for Tony to even dare go out on the streets again. It’s unlike him to wait for so long, but the backlash had been so enormous that he didn’t want to risk it. It’s not only his safety in danger, after all, because he knows everyone he cares about will follow him immediately. They’ve done it before, and he doesn’t want anything to happen to them.
Rhodey goes with him, and in the end they just sip on overpriced Starbucks coffee in the middle of New York. People stare at him, but almost no one goes up to him. Tony feels fake, in his human skin, and it’s a feeling he’s never had before. It’s not as if he has cause to, anyway: elves are shape-shifters by nature, never keeping one form. This is as much of a true form he’s had, more than his natural one, but the looks that are sent his way make him feel like a fraud.
He ignores them all. Tony has never cared about what other people think, and he’s not about to now.
He proceeds not to care, even though Rhodey is definitely paying attention to everyone’s murmurs around them. Tony just wants to suggest leaving until a young girl shrieks in joy, coming to his table while her mother watches her warily, clearly wanting to grab her but not acting. ‘’Mr Stark!’’ the girl says, and Tony smiles at her.
‘’Hi there,’’ he says. ‘’What’s your name?’’
‘’Lily,’’ she answers easily. ‘’Are you really an alien? That’s so cool! Do you think I could be an alien?’’
‘’I am,’’ he says. ‘’You can be one, too, in fact. You just have to visit a planet that’s not Earth.’’
Lily’s eyes grow with wonder. ‘’What planet are you from?’’ she asks.
‘’Alfheim,’’ he answers honestly. ‘’You know what – if you’ve grown up, and you go there, you’ll have to tell me, and I’ll show you around. How about that?’’
Her smile lights up Tony’s entire day, and suddenly it doesn’t feel so bad. ‘’Thank you, Mr Stark,’’ she says kindly, as her mother takes her hand.
No, maybe it’s not so bad at all. Just different.
Tony is watching the stars from the roof of the Compound, and remembers other times. He’s not even sure why he’s there: it feels like he’s waiting.
It’s not until Loki lies down next to him that he realizes that Loki was who he was waiting for.
‘’I have accepted that I am biologically a Jotun,’’ Loki says softly, looking at the stars. ‘’That does not mean I have to accept Jotunheim.’’
‘’Doesn’t sound like you’ve accepted it,’’ Tony retorts quietly, but there’s no heat behind it. ‘’Besides, you don’t have to renounce it officially. You can just… let it be. Make your peace another day. We have centuries.’’
Loki turns and kisses him, soft and apologetically. Tony leans into it, but it’s over far too soon. ‘’You do not understand my reasoning.’’
‘’I understand just fine,’’ Tony disagrees. ‘’I just don’t think you’re making the right decision.’’
Loki is silent for a while. ‘’My biological father was called Laufey,’’ he starts. ‘’I murdered him for Odin. You know this. When I was on Jotunheim, looking for you, I talked to Byleistr. He told me that Laufey cared for me before I was taken; that he loved me. That he had named me Loptr, before Odin gave me another name. All of my identity, neatly stripped away, with the truth being labelled as monstrous and horrifying. How could I ever make peace with it?’’
Tony kisses him again. The combination of daddy issues Tony had gotten from Frey and Howard combined are nothing compared to what Loki had received from Odin. ‘’You’re not Jotun,’’ Tony says. Loki opens his mouth, but Tony kisses him again very quickly to shut him up. ‘’No, listen to me. You’re not Jotun, just as you’re not Asgardian. You’re a combination of those things, and that makes you who you are. I know you never shift into your Jotun form, and I know that you’re still thinking of the childhood stories they told you. But here it comes: a race isn’t full of monsters. Loki, you’re who you are, and no matter how much you want to deny it, part of it is because you’re Jotun. It’s part of you, and I love all of you. I think your Jotun form is beautiful, and I think your Jotun magic is amazing. You don’t have to acknowledge Jotunheim: you don’t have to call it your home planet. But pushing away a part of you isn’t going to make it go away fully. It’s just going to make you deny yourself even more, and that’s not what I want.’’
Loki looks at him, his green eyes unreadable. Then slowly they turn into red, his body turning blue with it. Tony takes the cue, and drops his human looks; his eyes become a shining golden, age lines falling away with his immortal appearance.
‘’I love both parts of you equally,’’ he says. ‘’And it’s kind of cool, isn’t it? We’ve got four species to call our own. We could conquer the universe.’’
‘’I think I’ve had quite enough of universe conquering,’’ Loki replies dryly. ‘’We’ve barely brought democracy to Alfheim. Make up your mind.’’
Tony laughs at him, but Loki doesn’t switch back to his Asgardian skin right away, and Tony counts it as a win.
The backlash fades with time. People go about with their life, and Tony can walk on the street again without feeling like a stranger in his own skin.
It feels surprisingly freeing.
They end the period of three months on Earth, which only leaves them Alfheim to visit for their courtship. Tony is sorry to say goodbye to the Avengers and his family – Peter comes to say a farewell too, hugging him, and Tony remembers why he doesn’t want to leave Earth behind yet.
It’s home, and its people are his people, and that’s worth everything.
‘’Don’t you ever think about cutting your losses?’’ Loki asks, and Tony knows he doesn’t mean it in an unfriendly way. It’s just the way it is: Tony and Loki have longer lifespans, and he knows he is going to lose everyone on Earth in a matter of time. But he still has some decades, and he means to make the most of those.
‘’It’s far too late for that,’’ he answers, and Loki nods and pulls him closer.
He will have Loki at the end of the day, anyway.