Anthony was a lifeline.
He was the only thing holding Loki together– the only thing keeping him sane was the feel of Anthony’s warm body in his arms, breathing and alive and safe. They were as tangled together as it was possible for them to be, skin on skin, fingers pressing firm and lips brushing everywhere they could reach.
It was a close intimacy that they both needed, a reassurance that no matter what happened– they would stand by each other.
Loki wished there was a way that he could freeze the moment, that they could stay in their bed pressed together forever. But every minute that ticked by brought them closer to the time when they would have to leave– would have to, lest they be pulled from their bed by force.
The reminder caused Loki to tense, his arms tightening further around Anthony in a manner that was entirely possessive. No matter how many reassurances Anthony whispered into his ear, Loki blamed himself for this. He should have been able to predict this outcome, and he should have been able to find a way to get them out of it before it became so very much of a problem.
Before the Grandmaster placed a powerful current around their rooms, preventing Loki from being able to skywalk away.
Hel, even before the Grandmaster had made his horrifying proposal in the first place.
Looking back… it should have been so very obvious.
Loki had known that the Grandmaster desired him– it was something that he had decided to use to his advantage, though he had never planned on giving in. But Loki was a master of manipulation, and it was not hard to rise through the ranks on Sakaar for the price of a few smiles and suggestive looks. Because yes, the man was powerful, and that might have held something of an allure– but his personality was beyond grating, his overtures more than enough to make Loki feel inherently uncomfortable, and he was about as far from Loki’s preferred type as it was possible to get.
Anthony, on the other hand…
When Tony Stark had fallen from the sky and had been presented to the Grandmaster as a contender for the Arena, Loki hadn’t been able to believe his eyes. Tony Stark, an Avenger– and not only that, but the mortal that Loki had found more interesting than any other on his last, fateful visit to Midgard. Loki’s breath had caught in his throat, and while he knew he should not interfere he’d found himself unable to look away—
And when the Grandmaster had claimed that the mortal was too soft and weak and damaged to be thrown into the Arena, Loki had near instinctively lurched forward.
The Grandmaster looked to him slowly, a seedy smile sliding over his lips. “Do you know this one, young prince?”
Knowing better than to lie, Loki inclined his head. He then used the movement to lean down and look more closely at Stark, running fingers through the mortal’s hair in a manner that could not be mistaken for anything other than petting. “I have had dealings with Midgardians in the past,” Loki said smoothly. “I admit that this one is my favourite. It is… fortunate, that he is here.” Loki allowed his voice to turn into something close to a croon as he finished the sentence, and he slid his hand down to cup Stark’s cheek.
The mortal’s eyes were wide and bulging with anger, but the danger he was in did not appear to have escaped his notice. Stark’s gaze darted to the creatively named Melt Stick in the Grandmaster’s hands before looking back to Loki– and when they did, he looked determined.
Anthony, of course, was a survivor. Loki had known that from the beginning.
It didn’t take much convincing– the Grandmaster was a little put out that he lost his fun, but Loki knew how to smile and how to flatter in a way that got him what he wanted. And when the Grandmaster’s hand trailed over Loki’s waist as he walked by and leaned down to whisper that Loki could have his pet if it pleased him, then…
Well, it was a price worth paying. He hoped.
Anthony, of course, exploded a second after Loki removed his gag once they were safe inside his quarters, but it hadn’t taken him long to calm as he came to terms with the fact that Loki had done him a favour. And since Loki was the only person that Anthony knew on Sakaar, he was willing to accept Loki’s offer of partnership– and a safe place to sleep. Loki had heard what happened to people like Anthony, those who were deemed worthless by the Grandmaster but not killed– and he did not want to see the bright mortal suffer that.
Anthony, it turned out, had fallen through a portal while he had been in the process of attempting to create a replica of the Bifröst, having been trying to get away from a Midgard on which his best friend had perished in a fall from the sky and all the members of his team had betrayed him and everything the Avengers were supposed to stand for. Stark had been trying to get away. He didn’t want to go back, and when he saw what Loki was trying to achieve, when he saw what kind of potential this world had… Anthony had thrown himself into it with a vigour that Loki found exhilarating.
And rather than treating Anthony like the… ‘prisoner with a job’ as the rest of Sakaar would have expected him to do, Loki began bringing Anthony with him to the events he used to climb the social ladder. And while Anthony had remained close at Loki’s side for the first few weeks, ensuring that no one mistook him as someone that could be claimed, it wasn’t long before he was a staple enough sight that no one questioned his presence and he was able to branch out more on his own. And soon… the mortal proved his intelligence and worth with inventions that put a spark Loki disliked in the Grandmaster’s eyes, and it was not long before Anthony had a similar standing to Loki himself.
Yet… Anthony remained by Loki’s side– that is to say that even when they split apart at functions to speak on opposite sides of the room, they would always gravitate back together when it was time to leave, and they would always retreat to Loki’s quarters. Anthony never gave any indication that he wanted to spend time with any of the others on Sakaar any more than he wanted to spend time with Loki.
Of course, their social presence was slightly limited. The pair of them never attended the Arena– in the safety of secret conversations, Anthony deemed them barbaric. Their lack of attendance meant that they lost a little standing in the social circles, but… it made Anthony happy, and while Loki couldn’t quite pinpoint when that became his first priority, he knew that he would be willing to lose everything that he had fought for – everything he put up with the Grandmaster’s advances for – if it meant that Anthony didn’t lose that smile.
And… Loki hadn’t counted on falling in love. But as the weeks progressed to months, that was exactly what had happened. Loki had come to love Anthony more dearly than anything, and he believed his mortal when Anthony told him that he felt the same way.
He thought that he had finally managed to find happiness, a place where he and his love could live free from the people who had tormented them, where they could continue working a system that would allow them to have everything that they ever wanted.
But, Loki should have remembered how he had gained his position, he should have remembered the way that the Grandmaster had acted when he had allowed Loki to save Anthony’s life—
Maybe then, when the Grandmaster hinted that he not only wanted but expected that Loki would send Anthony to warm his bed… Loki might have been better prepared to provide a successful answer.
“I apologise,” Loki had said, half lowering his head even though he would have far preferred, in that moment, to bury one of his daggers in the Grandmaster’s heart. “But Anthony and I are together, and in our cultures… sharing your partner is not done. Even with someone as illustrious as yourself.”
From the way that the Grandmaster’s lips pulled into a smirk, Loki was sure that the Grandmaster had known that already. In fact, Loki would have placed money on the fact that the Grandmaster had asked because of that.
Because… in the months that Loki had been falling in love with Anthony, when they had held each other close and come together with soft kisses and a fiery passion more powerful than anything Loki had ever felt before, he had stopped looking at the Grandmaster the way that he once had. And while before, the Grandmaster might have been happy with the mere suggestion, with the implication that he was desired and that he held some measure of control over Loki– now that Loki had stopped pretending, the Grandmaster clearly felt the need to take hold of his control elsewhere.
And so… he was exercising that control by demanding that Loki give him that which he held most dear– that which, truly, was not even Loki’s to give—
Because Anthony was his own person. The entire situation sickened Loki to the core, and it only grew worse when—
“You misunderstand me, young prince,” the Grandmaster said, his tone dangerous in its sweetness. “I am not asking. You will send the mortal to my quarters, and soon. If he is not ready and waiting for me on my bed by the time I leave this party, then you may not find your stay here quite so… ah, pleasant, as it has been thus far.”
And, yes. Perhaps, had Loki thought a little more clearly, he could have come up with a better manipulation, a way that he could have got around the problem. Maybe, he could have even offered himself. Perhaps that would have been better.
“I will not,” Loki hissed. “I will not do anything of the sort. Anthony is free to sleep only with whom he wishes, and at the moment, he wishes to sleep only with me.”
“Are you disobeying me?” the Grandmaster asked, his tone sharper now—
And, as if his switch in tone was a switch in volume, the entire room fell silent at the sound of it.
“I am,” Loki said firmly, his voice ringing through the quiet. “Do not misunderstand, I am more than grateful for all that you have done for me– for us. But I cannot hand Anthony over to you, when he is my partner.”
“He is not your partner,” the Grandmaster said cheerfully. “He is my property. And he will continue to be so, until you offer a fair price.”
The words tasted foul on Loki’s tongue, but if this was what it took– “How much do you want?”
“I don’t mean money,” the Grandmaster replied. “Oh, no, no, no. My dear young prince, if you want to win him, then you will have to fight for him.”
The once-bustling room was silent enough that Loki would have been able to hear a pin drop, and he easily recognised the sound of the footsteps that approached even before a warm hand slid into his own, squeezing his fingers in comfort.
“You can’t fight Loki for me,” Anthony said, his tone firm and unyielding. “Not when I’m choosing to be with him.”
The Grandmaster’s expression changed as he turned his gaze on Anthony, shifting from the leery look he wore when conversing with Loki into something one might wear when cleaning muck from their shoe.
“Don’t be ridiculous, I am hardly that uncivilised,” he said dismissively– and then he looked back to Loki, leer returning. “We will, of course, have our own champions. They will fight each other in the Arena.”
Anthony tensed, but Loki gently shifted his fingers, a silent request for Anthony to remain quiet. He didn’t want his partner gaining any more attention than he already had.
“It would be a poor show. I don’t have a champion,” Loki said, hoping that would be enough to dissuade the Grandmaster from his plan. But, unfortunately—
“Then you must find one!” the Grandmaster exclaimed. “You cannot take any of my own contenders of course, but you may reap what you will from the scrapyard. I am sure there are still some wandering about, and more fall every day.”
“And if I can’t?” Loki asked.
“Then you will fight, of course. Come on, use your brains. The fight will be to the death, so it is a rather clean solution. If you die, you will have no need for the mortal, anyway.”
Anthony felt like he was about ready to snap, and Loki—
Couldn’t let that happen.
“Of course,” Loki said– and then, aware that it was likely to make the Grandmaster more displeased but needing to know that Anthony wouldn’t do anything rash, Loki curled an arm around Anthony’s waist and pulled him close. Anthony came willingly, and although he didn’t relax he did lean into Loki’s chest. And, in an effort to distract from the way that the Grandmaster’s eyes tightened slightly– “Who is it that my champion will be fighting?”
The Grandmaster’s lips pulled up, his teeth glinting slightly in the lights of the diminished party. “Of course, you have not been attending the Arena,” he said, spreading his arms. “So you have not seen him. But surely you have heard that he has not lost a single match?”
“I have heard that he has killed every opponent he has faced,” Loki replied. And he tried not to let his nervousness show, because he was sure that he would be able to get through this. Sure that no Sakaarian gladiator would be able to best him.
Well, at least until—
“I will tell you, so that you may look forward to what you – or your champion, of course – will be facing tomorrow morning,” the Grandmaster said– and Loki knew that he wasn’t oblivious to the fact that Loki would never find anyone willing to be his champion in so little time. But the cold hand that closed around Loki’s heart at that was nothing compared to– “My champion is an amazing green beast, who calls himself the Hulk.”
Anthony’s breath left him in a long gush of air—
And Loki felt like he was frozen, like he couldn’t breathe at all– like every bone in his body was cracking and snapping all over again, his entire being screaming with agony.
He needed to go, now, he needed to leave—
And he had to take Anthony with him—
He was aware that Anthony was saying something, the low tone of his voice soothing Loki more than anything else could, save perhaps the way that Anthony’s fingers were digging hard into Loki’s forearm like an anchor in a storm.
But Loki remained unaware of the words themselves, his body trembling—
Loki turned his gaze down to meet Anthony’s, suddenly aware that Anthony’s hand was stroking his cheek.
“You will have a champion,” he said. “And you will watch them win.”
That was enough to calm Loki down, to clear his head so that he could glance back up to the Grandmaster—
And the Grandmaster looked so very smug that Loki was surprised he had not burst with it. But, why? The Grandmaster didn’t know what had happened to Loki on Midgard, he couldn’t. So why—
“With your permission, we will take our leave now,” Anthony said, inclining his head.
“Go,” the Grandmaster said, waving his hand. “I will look forward to seeing you tomorrow.”
Anthony did not wait any longer– he stepped out of Loki’s arms and took his hand, and then began to tug him away from the party and toward the apartments that they had begun to call their home. But by the time the doors closed behind them, the thought of having a champion was no longer a calming one– it was shortening Loki’s breath, was making him panic further. Because the walk had given Loki the time to think, and he’d realised—
If they pulled someone out of the scrapyard, the same place where every single one of the gladiators who had already fallen to the Hulk had come from, then they would lose. And if they lost—
Loki was powerful, but he did not wish to pit himself against the Grandmaster. Especially not when Anthony’s wellbeing was on the line– but he would have to in that case, because there would be no way that Loki would be able to sit by while the Grandmaster took Anthony by force.
And so, when they reached their rooms, Loki pulled from Anthony’s arms and turned to face him properly, their only contact Loki’s hands on Anthony’s hips.
“I cannot allow someone I do not know to fight for me,” Loki said. “I cannot trust that they will win.” He leaned forward, and pressed is forehead to Anthony’s as his eyes fell closed. “Not with what’s at stake.”
“You won’t have to,” Anthony replied. Loki pulled back, and frowned– because there was something in Anthony’s voice that he wasn’t sure he liked.
“No,” Loki said. “Because I will be fighting.” The words were hard to say, but they were better than the alternative.
But Anthony was shaking his head.
“You will not have to do that, either,” he said– and he lifted his hands to cup Loki’s face, holding him in a tender kind of way that made Loki feel as if he were something treasured. “I told the Grandmaster that I will fight for you,” he continued, his thumbs stroking over Loki’s cheeks. “I will be your champion.”
Loki felt like the wind had been knocked from him, or like he had been smashed into the ground all over again. “No,” he groaned. “No, you can’t, I can’t let you—”
“I can. And besides, I’m the one who should be fighting anyway. I know you only got into this because you were protecting me, I heard what he said—”
“It was my mistakes that brought us to this point in the first place,” Loki countered. “This is my fault, and I will not let you suffer for it.” Loki’s voice broke, and Anthony’s expression softened, his hands sliding back so his fingers could thread through Loki’s hair.
“It’s all right, sweetheart,” he said. “This isn’t your fault, okay? And hey, Hulk is my friend, he won’t hurt me—”
“How do you know he hasn’t been changed by this place?” Loki asked hoarsely, leaning forward again, this time to rest his head on Anthony’s shoulder. “How can you be sure?”
“I can’t be. But I am sure that I’m going to do this for you.”
“You will not fight for me,” Loki tried, his hands gripping Anthony’s shirt. “I am a mage, and I am… Asgardian. I will be able to survive so much more than what you can—”
“Are you calling me weak?” Anthony didn’t sound offended– if anything, he seemed like he was doing his best to lighten the mood. But that wasn’t what Loki needed.
“I can’t lose you,” he whispered.
And Anthony sighed. “Loki, I believe that you are one of the most formidable fighters in the universe,” he said. “But I cannot let you fight against the Hulk. Not when just hearing his name makes you freeze like that—”
“I will be fine—”
“Yeah? And what happens if you freeze up when you see him, and he grabs you? What then?”
Loki looked away, knowing he didn’t have a true counterargument. He could claim that he would never have that problem, that the heat of battle was different to being caught off guard in a party.
But… he couldn’t be sure that was the case, could he? And was he willing to risk it?
“We will find another way,” he said, looking up to meet Anthony’s gaze. “Neither of us will fight the Hulk. Between us, we have more intelligence than the rest of this Nornsforsaken place put together. We will get out, we will leave, and we will go somewhere that the Grandmaster will not be able to reach us.”
Anthony’s smile was small. “How will we leave?” he asked. “You know the Grandmaster will have eyes on our door.”
Loki drew in a deep breath, and he closed his eyes as he gathered his seiðr. Skywalking was not an easy trick, but it was one that came easier to him than it did to anyone else. He had mastered it at a young age, and even though it took great focus, it was second nature for him to reach inside and gather his seiðr, pulling it around both himself and Anthony like a blanket—
But when he tried to take them through the fabric of the world and onto the branches of Yggdrasil, he felt like he was stepping through tar.
When Loki opened his eyes again, his jaw clenched tight, Anthony was watching him with a sympathy which suggested he had expected this, and Loki had to look away. Loki had known that the Grandmaster was powerful, of course he had– but this was a possibility that he hadn’t foreseen. Once again, perhaps he should have.
The Grandmaster liked playing with his toys far too much to be willing to let one of them go.
But, no matter.
Because that didn’t change a thing.
“We will find another way,” Loki said. “We will.”
Anthony sighed. “And if we don’t?”
Loki refused to be swayed. “You will not fight against the Hulk,” he said firmly. “I… I cannot…”
Instead of completing what he wanted to say, Loki drew Anthony close and pressed their lips together, allowing his kiss to speak the words that he could not. Anthony responded by parting his lips and kissing him back with just as much emotion, the kiss tasting slightly of salt. But it was a kiss of love and comfort, not only passion, and when they pulled off each other’s clothes and fell into their bed together it wasn’t for sex– it was just to hold each other close, to feel as much of their skin pressing together as was possible.
The feel of Anthony against him calmed Loki like nothing else could, and he… well, he really wasn’t exaggerating when he considered Anthony as his lifeline. The feel of Anthony’s breaths on his skin and the sound of his heartbeat was all that was keeping Loki calm, all that was stopping him from doing something rash. With Anthony in his arms… he could almost convince himself that everything was going to be all right.
And maybe he tensed a little at that thought, or maybe it was just that Anthony could, as per usual, tell that Loki was upset– for Anthony shifted in his arms then, his eyes blinking open to gleam in the dim light.
“Lokes?” Anthony asked, his voice far too clear for him to have only just woken. And he didn’t add anything else– he didn’t need to.
“It’s all right,” Loki said, his lips brushing over Anthony’s shoulder. “I am going to be all right.”
“Yes,” Anthony agreed, a spark of determination in his tone. “You will be.” He shifted a little then, so that he and Loki were less entwined and they could see each other properly. “For that, we both need our rest, though. Are you having trouble sleeping?”
Loki arched a brow, and Anthony chuckled in response.
“Okay,” he said, pulling away from Loki entirely– but before Loki could protest the loss, Anthony spoke the magic words. “I’ll go and make you some tea.”
Loki felt a little cold as Anthony walked into the kitchen, but it wasn’t too long before he was back with a steaming mug in either hand. The sight was more than gorgeous, and again, impossibly, Loki found himself smiling as he accepted his drink. More than a lifeline, Anthony was his sunshine, brightening even the darkest of moments with just the smallest of gestures.
They leaned close together as they sipped at their mugs, slow and calm. Anthony started up a conversation, talking about what he had been doing at the fateful party a few hours before– chatting up one of the prominent merchants on Sakaar and convincing him to lend Anthony money. Anthony, you see, had been thinking of starting a business again, one that would both allow him to pursue his own interests with more vigour as well as helping to consolidate his and Loki’s position in Sakaar.
It was something that they would likely no longer be able to do, not if… when they came up with a plan that would help them get away from the Grandmaster’s ploy.
But…they needed more time than they had. Loki was just so tired. The calming tea left his mind pleasantly hazy, and it was not long before he was leaning his head into Anthony’s shoulder, his eyes falling closed as he nuzzled into his partner’s neck.
“Sleep,” Anthony soothed, taking Loki’s empty mug and then rearranging them so that they were lying together once more.
“You’ll set an alarm?” Loki asked, already feeling his eyes begin to droop.
“Of course I will,” Anthony replied– and when Loki felt Anthony’s lips press to his forehead, his own pulled into a smile.
“Love you,” Loki whispered.
“Yeah,” Anthony said, holding Loki so very, very close. “I love you too. So much.”
Those words were always the most comforting to hear– though as Loki finally fell into a deep slumber, he thought he heard an apology whispered across his skin.
When Loki woke it was slow, the ache over his eyes recognisable as a result of sleeping too deeply for too short a time. He groaned and squeezed his eyes more tightly together, the heels of his hands pressing over his sockets to try and keep out the light that was streaming through their bedroom window—
Only for a loud banging to crash against the door of his and Anthony’s apartment, accompanied by the harsh, angry voice of a particular scrapper who never failed to get on Loki’s nerves.
Then the scrapper began hollering, her fists hitting the door hard enough Loki might have worried that it was about to splinter, if he hadn’t set the wards upon it himself. “Hey, Lackey, wake up! The Grandmaster sent me to fetch you, and if you aren’t down in the VIP viewing box in ten then he’s going to flay us both.”
Loki groaned, trying to make sense of her words in his exhausted mind.
“The viewing box?” He murmured– then his eyes flew open—
He’d overslept. He’d meant to wake up earlier, so that he and Anthony could think up a way to get out of the nightmare they had found themselves in—
“I’m not meant to be going to the viewing box,” Loki said. “Contenders are supposed to wait in the…”
Loki’s voice trailed off as he stared at the empty space on the mattress beside him, and as he reached out and pressed his hands to the sheets– he realised that they were stone cold.
“Come on,” the scrapper was shouting. “Your champion is about to enter the Arena and I’ve got a few thousand credits resting on his death. Hurry up!”
Loki hardly heard the words, though he was sure they said nothing more than what he already knew.
Because the green armour he had taken to wearing – slightly less Sakaarian than what he had worn before Anthony had proclaimed how much he loved seeing Loki in green, but still not entirely in the style of Asgard, either – which he had thrown on the ground the night before was gone—
And so… was Anthony.
Loki didn’t think about what he was going to wear, he didn’t think about anything other than getting to Anthony before it was too late. He simply summoned clothes to wrap around him, the first that he thought of– leather pants, a dark green shirt and a sleeveless brown coat that was hardly dressy enough for the company he was about to keep, but Loki couldn’t bring himself to care.
Anthony must have sneaked out while Loki was sleeping, he must have managed to—
Oh, by the Norns, that tea—
Well, if Anthony thought that he was going to be able to get away with this—
If he thought that Loki was going to let him do this—
He threw the door open with a blast of his seiðr before charging through it. The scrapper had to quicken her steps to keep up with him, but she only bothered for half a hallway before letting him go with a dismissive mutter– for he hurried toward the gladiator’s preparation area as quickly as he could without actively running, though even then he came close—
Only to be stopped right before he reached the door, the very last person he wanted to see sweeping through the halls with his yellow coat flowing about his ankles.
“There you are, young prince,” the Grandmaster said, stepping forward to place one hand on the small of Loki’s back as he guided him in the wrong direction. “I did wonder if you would be coming at all. Surely you wouldn’t want to miss the fight which decides the fate of that darling mortal.”
Loki tried not to show how dry his throat had become, and he tried not to flinch as the Grandmaster’s hand slid a little lower, and as his voice slipped into a seedy drawl when they stepped into the VIP viewing room.
“Just in time,” he crooned. “Let’s get a good seat, shall we?”
Loki swallowed down against the bile as he followed the Grandmaster to the long couch that stood empty in front of the tall windows—
But the moment Loki caught sight of the scene below, the Grandmaster ceased to matter.
The Arena was larger than Loki had expected, and entirely round. The sands were mostly a greyish blue interspersed with a pattern of red, and the crowds that rolled across the stands flashed with bright colours. There was a hologram the Grandmaster standing above it all, giving something of a speech– pre-recorded, clearly, since the Grandmaster was at Loki’s side.
Speaking of the Grandmaster, he thankfully made no complaints when Loki sat on the exact opposite end of the long couch, probably recognising that Loki’s eyes and mind would not be leaving the Arena, not for anything—
And especially not as the holographic Grandmaster announced the entrance of the Mechanic.
One of the doors set into the walls of the Arena opened—
And then a single, lone figure strode out, so familiar to Loki that he could have recognised him by his gait alone– which was lucky, actually, because Anthony looked rather different to how he ever had before.
He was wearing Loki’s armour, the magical properties woven through the leather and metal causing it to fit him perfectly. And the green and black armour embellished with silver and gold metalwork – along with a fierce streak of bright emerald war paint over his right eye – marked him as Loki’s champion more effectively than anything else ever could. Except, perhaps, the sword that he had sheathed at his back, for the hilt was a gleaning green and the pommel was curved gold in a shape that was immediately recognisable to anyone who had ever seen Loki’s battle helm.
But perhaps the most striking feature of all was Anthony’s expression. Despite the way that the crowd was calling for Anthony’s blood, and despite how small he looked as he stepped into the very centre of the Arena, Anthony’s gaze never left the window of the VIP box. His dark eyes could have been spitting fire for all the rage that they held, his lips set determinately, his entire countenance unflinching.
And despite the spark of fear that lanced through his heart, Loki didn’t think it was possible to feel more pride than he did in that moment.
Under any other circumstance, Loki might even have enjoyed the sight of Anthony in his armour, wearing his colours for the whole of Sakaar to see– loudly declaring his allegiance despite the Grandmaster’s now public desires. And… it didn’t even matter that the crowd were still loudly jeering and shooting off canisters of the Hulk’s colours, because—
As Anthony’s cold stare cut straight through those windows… the entire room fell completely and utterly still.
The silence was heavy enough that Loki heard the Grandmaster clear his throat, and even despite the fear that was causing his heart to race Loki couldn’t help the way it made his made his lips turn up—
But that only lasted long enough for the Grandmaster’s hologram to begin announcing the arrival of the undefeated—
The Arena exploded with the sound of a roar as the Arena doors opposite Anthony’s burst open, and the Hulk came thundering through in a blaze of broken metal.
Loki’s eyes widened and his lips parted in horror as he stared, that lance of fear intensifying a thousandfold as the Hulk’s roars sang along to the tune of the surging crowd. He felt like there were icy shards clawing up his throat, like a large serpent had taken residence in his gut and would not stop writhing. And yet… Anthony stood firm. And it was only when the Hulk began to move toward Anthony with his wickedly large weapon ready and his lips twisting into a snarl of attack that Anthony finally let up on the fiery glare he had been holding on the Grandmaster.
Loki’s breath stopped, and he waited for Anthony to reach over his head to draw his weapon– but Anthony didn’t. He faced the Hulk with his hands outstretched, his glare turning into something equally firm but nowhere near so aggressive—
And Loki’s hands were clenched in fists so tight that his nails were cutting into his skin, leaning forward in his seat—
But then, rather than smashing Anthony into a pulp as Loki feared that he would…
Hulk stopped, and he stared.
Loki let out that breath in a sudden rush, though he found it caught in his throat once again when he tried to draw it back in.
Perhaps Anthony was right? Loki almost didn’t dare to hope, but the way that the Hulk was tilting his head, the way that he was staring at Anthony with something almost bordering on curiosity gave Loki cause to at least wonder.
It looked like Anthony was saying something, his lips moving quickly but far too low for Loki to be able to hear over the din of the crowd and through the thick glass.
Loki felt like he couldn’t lean forward any further, perched right on the edge of the couch. And then—
The Hulk charged forward, raising his weapon in the air and roaring for all he was worth.
Loki felt his heart seize– but then, finally, Anthony reached over his shoulder and drew his sword.
But– Anthony wasn’t—
Loki had helped him learn to fight with a sword these past few months, both of them thinking that it might one day come in handy– but it seemed that he had forgotten all of Loki’s teachings, for the sword was not held at the ready at all. The jeers of the crowd grew louder as the people anticipated the spilling of blood over the sands—
Loki leapt out of his chair, knowing there was nothing he could do but, not able to just sit—
Then the Hulk’s free hand lashed out and—
His arm wrapped around Anthony’s waist.
Loki stared, because—
Surely, he was seeing things. The Hulk was the Grandmaster’s champion, so, by all the accounts they had been given he should be smashing Anthony into the ground.
But. The Hulk wasn’t using his weapon, and he wasn’t smashing– he was carrying Anthony under his arm, holding him securely while Anthony kept his blade out of the way—
“What is he doing?” The Grandmaster was muttering. “Oh no no, this is not—”
Then, the Hulk leapt up into the air with one fist outstretched—
Loki threw himself out of the way and– on the other side of the room, the Grandmaster was doing the same, his eyes wide and angry—
Then the Hulk shattered through the window in a cascade of glass. Loki flung an arm over his eyes to protect them, turning his head away from the shower of sharp shards—
And by the time he looked up, Anthony and Hulk were both standing amidst the debris, both holding their weapons and both wearing a kind of vicious smile that made Loki freeze—
“Hi, honey,” Anthony said, though the bright tone was at odds with the emotion in his gaze, his expression morphing into something almost comforting as he looked to Loki. “Fancy seeing you here.”
And half of Loki wanted to shout, wanted to snap and snarl at Anthony for drugging Loki to sleep and then throwing his own life on the line– but the other half won out. And when Anthony held out the hand that was not gripping his sword, Loki went without thinking, his boots crunching over the broken glass as he moved to stand beside his partner—
So that they were both facing the Grandmaster, side by side and standing tall.
The Grandmaster’s eyes were wide– but only from surprise, not fear. And it took him a rather short time to recover, his lips pulling back into a smirk that had Loki twisting his seiðr in his hand, allowing a dagger to fall into his palm.
The other VIPs were gone, the last few tails of coloured coats darting through the door– but that did not seem to bother the Grandmaster. His gaze turned hard as he stared them down, and one of those slightly disturbing smiles crawled over his lips.
“My my, this is interesting,” he said. “A mortal, managing to tame my champion—”
“Hulk not tame!”
The roar made Loki flinch—
But when the Grandmaster raised his hand to display a remote which Loki recognised all too well – for it was the very one he had seen used on Anthony right back at the beginning – Loki pushed out with the hand not holding his dagger and used his seiðr to force the remote from the Grandmaster’s grip, sending it clattering to the floor.
The Grandmaster’s brows shifted up on his forehead– and then he started to laugh. The sound of it was grating, scratching at Loki’s every nerve. “Do you really think that this is going to work?” he asked. “Oh, no. Topaz is already on her way with my Melt Stick—”
“She won’t have the time,” Anthony replied, lifting his sword a little further. “Either we’ll be gone by then, or you will be.”
The Grandmaster looked only amused at that. “You don’t really think that you can boss me around, do you?”
“I think that anyone who tries to tear Loki and I apart for their own selfish motivations more than deserves what’s coming to them,” Anthony replied, lifting his sword a little in a rather clear threat. His voice was hard, even as he gave the Grandmaster an inch. “However. If you swear that you’ll leave us be, then that can be the end of this whole mess.”
The Grandmaster was still smiling, though Loki was somewhat pleased to see – if put a little on edge by the fact – that the smile was tighter than before, a little more forced.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” he said, shrugging as if it were hardly a problem at all. “As much as I would love to. You see, if this goes unpunished, then I’ll have other people thinking that they will be able to get away with the same—”
“It won’t be unpunished,” Loki hissed, moving a little closer– and taking note of the fact that Anthony and Hulk moved with him, the three of them advancing together. “Because Anthony and I will be going. Tell the people that you exiled us, or that you boiled us alive. It doesn’t matter, because we will not be here.”
The Grandmaster’s gaze sharpened. “See, this is why I wanted you to be mine. You’ve got a clever mind, young prince.”
“My name is Loki,” he hissed. “Yes, Prince of Asgard, but also the rightful king of Jotunheim, God of Mischief– and partner to Anthony Stark. I am not your property, neither of us are, and we will be going. If you do not allow that, then we will make you.”
The Hulk gave his approval in a loud roar, and in the corner of his eye Loki saw Anthony smirk. And then the pair of them turned to walk toward the door, not waiting for permission when they were perfectly capable of simply leaving.
“This world has been perfect for you, Loki,” the Grandmaster called after them, his voice curling around the k in Loki’s name in a way that Loki didn’t like. “You know it. You could stand by my side if you wanted to, you could be second in—”
The Grandmaster was cut off as a blast of energy suddenly struck him in the chest, knocking him backwards and over the side of the couch.
Loki’s head snapped to Anthony, who shrugged at him as he flexed the red and gold gauntlet that covered his left hand before retracting it back into the metal band on his wrist.
“Sorry,” Anthony said, not sounding very sorry at all even as he used his other hand to sheath his unused blade back over his shoulder. “I couldn’t just let him get away with saying that you could be second in anything.” Loki felt his own smirk grow at that, and then Anthony added– “Well, except perhaps in the good looks department.”
“I will admit you do look rather fetching in my colours,” Loki drawled, reaching to out to take Anthony’s hand in his own—
But then he flinched at the sound of a roar from behind, and he turned to see… possibly one of the best sights of his existence, save perhaps the aforementioned image of Anthony wearing his colours so blatantly. (Well, or perhaps the image if Anthony wearing nothing at all.)
The Hulk was holding the Grandmaster by the ankles, so that he was dangling in the air. The reason for it was obvious– the gold and orange Melt Stick was lying on the floor, as was an unconscious Topaz. She must have entered through a side door without Loki or Anthony’s notice– but, thankfully, Hulk had it covered.
“Now, now,” the Grandmaster was saying, his face starting to turn red as gravity flushed all of his blood to his head. “There is no need for this—”
“Grandmaster hurt Hulk’s friend!” Hulk thundered, lifting his quarry a little higher– and then whipping his arm down hard and slamming the Grandmaster face first against the ground. Then Hulk pulled Grandmaster out of the crater in the ground before lifting him up and smashing him again– and again– and again.
Loki and Anthony just stared as Hulk finally let go and left the Grandmaster groaning in the crater. Their heads turned to follow Hulk as he practically pranced past them, and then they met each other’s gaze with incredulous stares.
Then, almost in unison, both of their lips became painted with bright grins, and they entwined their hands as they followed after him.
“It’s a shame really,” Anthony sighed as they walked, hands swinging between them. “He deserved a lot worse.”
“We wouldn’t be able to kill him, Anthony,” Loki said. “Trust me on that one.”
“We could have made him regret it a little more.”
“We didn’t need to,” Loki replied. And as much as he wanted to find a way off this planet as quickly as he could, he couldn’t resist pulling Anthony around and taking his other hand, entangling their fingers between them. “If we leave now, he will not bother us again. I’m sure of it.”
“But he was right,” Anthony tried, sounding almost worried. “You do seem to like it here—”
“I like being with you,” Loki corrected. “Everything else is secondary.”
Anthony’s smile was soft, and Loki squeezed his hands.
“And, thank you,” Loki whispered. “For fighting for me. Even if I disagree with your methods.”
“You’d be proud if I’d put the drug in anything other than your precious tea,” Anthony teased– and Loki’s lips quirked.
“Seriously though Loki,” Anthony said, the softness of his smile melting through his voice. “Anytime. And besides, you were going to do the same for me.”
Loki leaned down to press their foreheads together, his eyes fluttering closed. “I’d do anything for you,” he whispered. “Up to and including fighting the Hulk and leaving this mess behind for something far better.”
“I like the sound of that,” Anthony replied– and he lingered for another second before leaning back and opening his own eyes. “Shall we go then, and exchange our mess for a bit more chaos?”
Loki grinned, and let go of Anthony’s hand to gently cup his cheek, still enjoying the sight of the green paint on Anthony’s skin far more than he could say.
“Yes,” Loki whispered, holding Anthony’s gentle gaze. “Let’s go.”
And they exchanged one last smile before they continued moving forward, heading toward their new beginning with their hands still entwined between them.