"A little ficlet to help calm my mind." I thought.
"Maybe 1,000 words." I thought.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Theirs is a feud built on unsuccessful market monopoly, on precarious economic balance built between two radically different technologies of magic and engineering. In the city of Yggdrasil, House Stark dominates the fields of mechanics and electronics; House Æsir has long since devoured any potential rivals in the field of artifact-contained sorcery. This, unfortunately, means that people have two equally excellent methods of fulfilling daily needs.
"I'm thinking of getting a dishwasher." One random citizen would say. "Well, aren't cleaning spells more convenient? I hear they're doing a discount." Her friend would kindly inform.
Alas, the competition is brutal. Therefore it is unsurprising that the only relevant business corporation to be excluded from the invitation list for House Æsir's annual ball is Stark Industries.
It is equally unsurprising that heir Stark has no inclination to understand that no invitation means no.
The first time they meet isn't actively disastrous. It even starts out somewhat civilly, in Stark standards. A few days later, Loki will still not believe how he doesn't recognize the Stark brat from his horrible mannerisms alone.
"You are like a dove." The boy says, waggling his eyebrows and looking blatantly underage. Then he frowns. "Huh, Rhodey said comparing chicks to birds totally works. Is this working?"
"No." Loki says icily, because no, it isn't working, and no, he isn't a 'chick', and no, that line won't ever work on both men and women since it is the worst Loki has ever heard in his considerable experience in flirting with either gender. The skinny boy standing in front of him doesn't seem to get it, however, and frowns ever deeper, swaying a little on his feet. Loki stoops to pluck the nearly-empty champagne glass out of his grasp.
"'m Tony. You?" He- Tony offers, beaming up at Loki for no apparent reason. Loki sighs and steadies him with a polite hand to his arm.
"I am Loki, second heir of House Æsir, and third heir to House Jötnar should the need arise." Loki says, and watches Tony's eyes grow wide with something akin to awe. He braces himself for the inevitable commentary on his heritage, and doesn't expect the breathy exclamation coming from Tony: "Wow. You're Loki? I've read stuff you wrote, your work on anti-stealth equipment security warding is breathtaking. And the angry smurf thing you pulled in the 2012 Convention in Australia? I'm a fan."
Loki feels his lips twitch without permission. He should probably look stern, play the part of an adult that caught a child sneaking around a party involving alcohols, but the boy has big brown eyes and a slightly upturned nose and... well, he's honestly cute.
"Thank you. Now, where is your- guardian? Parent, sibling? Who did you come with?"
Loki's eyebrows rise when Tony makes a wounded noise at this, curling drunkenly into Loki's hold. "'s no one." He says in a small voice. Loki instinctively pulls him closer, and Tony ends up with his face buried in Loki's chest. "'Cause my dad doesn't want to see me. 'Cause he's mad. 'Cause I'm a failure..."
Loki is in no way prepared to have an inebriated teenager crying into his newly-fitted leather armor in a perfectly visible corner of the ballroom. He hastily deposits the champagne flute onto the plate of a passing servant, hands hovering uncertainly over the back that has, to his horror, started trembling slightly. He is almost certain he did not go sobbing at random strangers' clothes when he was in his teens; the knowledge does nothing to soothe the anxiety knotting his stomach.
"Shh now, we don't have to go find him. Why don't we, ah, go someplace quieter?"
He detaches Tony gently from his front, and is immensely relieved to find Tony's face flushed but yet devoid of tears. Loki ushers him toward and out to the nearest balcony, murmuring excuses and apologies as he shoulders his way past the guests. Tony turns toward him, already a few paces into the balcony and seemingly sobering up a little.
"Thanks." He says quietly, and a smile appears briefly on his downturned mouth. He looks weary, wearier than any boy his age should have to be. Now it is Loki's turn to frown.
"It's nothing." Loki dismisses, then continues in a gentler tone: "You should leave before anyone recognizes you and reports to my mother or father. You'll get a proper invitation to come a few years later, I'm sure."
Tony's face, which looked alarmed upon Loki's mention of him being recognized, settles into a chastened grimace.
"I'll be sixteen in a month. I'm only two years from eighteen." He says defensively.
"Then you hope somebody recognizes you, because you look even younger than that." Loki informs him.
"I'd really rather... not..." Tony says absently, peering behind Loki's shoulder. A light flashes suddenly across Tony's face, and Loki jerks around in search of its source.
"Shit." He hears behind him, but he doesn't have time to reply because there is a man in a flight-assist device hurtling toward them in the sky, one of Starktech's latest designs no less, and Loki knew the political atmosphere between Hourse Stark and his house has been hostile but he didn't think they'd so blatantly breach the sanctuary of their home-
The man lands on the balcony with a heavy thunk. Loki curses and gathers a hasty protection spell around Tony and himself.
"Tony." says the man, furiously. Tony's fingers spasm where they are closed around Loki's arm. Loki can't let out a word, struck by a sudden thought and short-circuiting on Stark, Tony, Anthony Stark, which is why he doesn't react in time when Tony yanks him down, even with his two decades of mandatory sparring with Thor.
"Thanks." Tony says again, lips moving softly against Loki's. Then he trots toward the man in Starktech flight gear who is apparently hisbodyguard, and who also looks like he is as mentally scarred by the turn of events as Loki is. But the man throws his arms around Tony without preamble, and a blast of jet-air later they are gone.
And Loki- Loki stands there alone, staring stupidly after the rapidly shrinking figures. Only a few seconds after they disappear completely, Thor bursts into the balcony, Mjölnir in hand.
"Brother!" He bellows. "I think I saw a brat from House Stark earlier this evening, the very heir himself. Have you had the same displeasure?"
Loki doesn't answer. Thor takes this as a negative and continues: "I will show him the might of Mjölnir should he show up again." and shuts the balcony door again, stomping off in pursuit of more mead.
Loki breathes deeply three times, follows his adoptive brother into the ballroom, and makes a beeline for the stronger spirits.
Loki has (mostly) managed to exile the memory of that evening from his mind when Tony ventures to make a second appearance. This time the encounter is markedly less civil. For one, it is done at four in the morning, and the location is none other than the balcony of Loki's own bedroom.
"Hey!" Tony calls cheerfully, struggling from the weight of his obviously self-designed skeletal flight gear. Loki pinches the bridge of his nose, willing down his blood pressure.
"To- Stark, you realize this is plainly rude. If you have matters to discuss with me you should have sent a servant, preferably with a letter so we don't need to schedule a face-to-face meeting."
Tony's face falls. An unsettling amount of discomfort blooms in Loki's chest, which he ignores; child or not, Tony is the Stark heir. He must be treated accordingly.
"Fine." Tony huffs, trying to hide his hurt and failing. Did he not receive training on keeping a blank face? "You're all for the stupid house feud going on, whatever, you talk like an old stuck-up. Makes sense if you think like one."
Loki feels genuinely annoyed now.
"I am twenty-three, so compared to your fifteen years which apparently were not enough to instill basic manners in you, I suppose I could be called old." He says, leveling a look at Tony that has made counselors twice his age evade his eyes. Tony is no different.
"Whatever." He grumbles again, shoulders slumping, then leaps off the balcony railing and wobbles away. Loki slides the balcony door shut and tries to go back to sleep.
Loki expects Tony's second visit to be his last. This is disproved when a week or so later, he wakes earlier than usual to find a note stuck to the glass door.
You suck, it says in unbelievably bad handwriting. Under it is a jar of honey, with a single rose balanced on its lid. Loki rolls his eyes, recognizing the rose to be from his mother's garden spread under his balcony. He places the jar on his bedside table- because why waste quality honey? - and, after some hesitation, tucks away the rose in the drawer.
After that it is like a dam broke; random presents appear on his balcony in a steady parade of sweets and pastries. It escalates to the point where Loki is sure Tony bribed one of the servants into giving him a list of Loki's favorite desserts, and that is when the taps and scrapes on the balcony door start.
At first Loki tries to dismiss as a bird- a disturbingly early-rising bird, but a bird nevertheless. On the fourth consecutive night of window-tapping, he admits to himself that it can't be anything other than the Stark boy, and promptly hurls his emergency dagger at the door, safe in the knowledge that he is not about to murder any innocent birds. It turns out that he is not safe from murdering the reputation of an innocent himself, however, if the surreptitious glances the servants give him as they clean out the shattered glass are any indication.
He retrieves the blade from where it lies abandoned across the doorframe. He didn't aim to break the glass, which is bulletproof and should have been able to withstand a casual throw, above-human strength or not. Well, at least the blade didn't so much go through the window as went down with it. There wasn't any real danger to Stark's person, though Loki imagines he did give him a fright. And it isn't as if Loki intended to scare him, so. Really.
Loki leaves the balcony door unlocked that night.
Which is, in the end, an unnecessary action. Stark does not come knocking on his window. But he does come flashing a beam of light through his window- an extremely bright, extremely white, extremely well-aimed beam of light.
"Fuck." Loki says, scrambling to shield his eyes from the ray of blindingly white light shooting straight onto his pillow. "You toothless slobbering Bigelsnipe, Stark!"
The light ceases abruptly. Loki squints half-blinded at the figure cautiously approaching the door. He takes a moment to swear viciously under his breath, then rolls into a stand beside the bed. He stalks to the balcony and wrenches the door open before Tony can so much as take a step backward.
"Come in." He grinds out, aware of the smile stretching ominously across his face. Tony looks suitably terrified. He seems petrified and unable to follow the order, so Loki does him the courtesy of grabbing his shoulder and pulling him into the room himself.
"So." He starts, forcing Tony onto his least plushy and therefore least favorite chair. "What brings you here?"
Tony crosses his arms. "You were ignoring my serenades." He says petulantly.
"Serenades." Loki repeats flatly. "Is this another suggestion from you friend Rhodey? Also, what serenades? Do you serenade in morse, Stark?"
Tony's face melts into bewilderment. "You didn't hear them? But I was singing, like, all the time. And loudly. I had to install sound dampeners around your balcony to keep from getting busted by your dad."
Loki resists the urge to facepalm.
"The glass is soundproof, of course I didn't hear anything." He groans. "And even if I did, how does that in any way justify your attempting to blind me at three in the morning?"
Tony looks betrayed, of all things. "I brought you muffins!" He cries. Loki wants to bake him into a muffin, preferably in the eternally burning flames of Helheim.
"Why do you so insist on winning my favor? You are too young for me, you must know this, and I'm sure there are many more appropriate candidates for friendship than a son of the house rival to yours. In fact, anyone would be a better choice than me."
Tony shrugs, and looks down at his feet, and refuses to meet Loki's eyes even when Loki lays a hand on his shoulder.
"But nobody is." Tony says finally. "They either want me because I'm a Stark or hate me because I'm Tony." He perks up a little. "You hate me because I'm a Stark. That's refreshing. The Tony part hasn't repulsed you yet," He peers up then, catching Loki's eyes hopefully. "Has it?"
And Loki- he really can't hate this boy. At all.
"No." He replies, exhaling heavily. "It hasn't. And I do not hate you."
Tony smiles. He grins like it is the best thing he has heard from anyone in his life; Loki smiles back helplessly, and resigns himself to befriending this nighttime visitor.
Thus begins their unlikely acquaintance. Tony, in between the demanding education as heir that he complains endlessly about, manages to fit in biweekly visits to Loki's balcony, letting himself in through the door that is now permanently unlocked. Loki makes it a habit of himself to go to sleep with a small plate of meat pies on his bedside table, for the purpose of stuffing them down Tony's throat when the opportunity presents itself- because one of the first things he learns about Tony is that he rarely pays attention to nutrition or to sleep.
"When did you last sleep." Loki said, in the third night following their unspoken truce.
"Um, I ate lunch." Tony said instead of answering, incapable of high-level cognition.
That night Loki wrestled him onto the bed and threatened to smother him with a pillow should he not keep his eyes and mouth shut for the following three hours. Tony whined his mandatory amount of complaints, but otherwise slept like a dead man until dawn seeped in and Loki woke him to send him back before his absence was noticed.
As days grow into weeks, Loki learns many other things about Tony beside his self-destructive tendencies: that he is a prodigy in his area, that he builds AIs to be his friends, that he feels himself to be a disappointment to his father no matter how brilliant he strives to be. Tony in turn learns that Loki despises rudeness ("Sorry about, you know." Tony says sheepishly, upon learning this. Loki wordlessly ruffles his hair.), that he loves his brother and hates his stupidity, that he feels increasingly estranged to his adoptive father as days pass by. They disclose to each other things they dare not voice among their closest, especially among their closest who are respectively members of the Stark and Æsir houses. Loki finds Tony to be pleasurable company, shrewd and easily entertained. Both find each other to be excellent listeners.
They continue in this fashion for months, then for a whole cycle of seasons. Tony gifts Loki on his birthday with a painstakingly perfected salsa dance that leaves Loki snorting sporadically through his breakfast with the Vanir envoy, and Tony for his own seventeenth birthday receives a snow-white dove trained to inform him of the precise timing at which he is required to take meals, no compromise, it's going to tell Loki if Tony skips. Tony, for all that he is revealed to be allergic to routines, doesn't let up on their arrangement except the time he participates in an all-night social gathering at his home. Even then he sends a rather disoriented little machine the night prior to let Loki know.
This is why Loki is worried, when Tony doesn't show up for an entire week.
"Loki, does something bother you?" Frigga asks across the breakfast table, in the morning following the seventh night of Tony's absence. Loki merely shakes his head, offering her an easy smile. Judging by the way Frigga narrows her eyes, he is no more successful at fooling her this time than he has been for the past twenty-four years of his life.
"He has stayed away from fair maidens for far too long, mother, that is the problem. Or fair boys, for that matter. He needs a good-"
Thor wisely shuts his mouth before he slips and blurts out some crude variation of 'flaming night of ecstasy with the hottest lay in town' in front of his mother, to quote one of his questionable choices in friends.
"I do not." Loki grits out from between his teeth, still smiling. Frigga gives another worried look in his direction, but lets the subject drop.
"I had a report earlier this morning." Odin says instead. "Howard and Maria Stark passed away from the car accident that happened a few days ago. News hasn't broken yet. Anthony Stark is now the head of Stark Industries at seventeen, but I doubt we can expect any instability in management that we can exploit. Obadiah Stane is the godfather of Anthony Stark and an experienced businessman, and he seems to have temporarily taken over management."
Loki nearly drops his fork. "I see." He manages, struggling to compose himself. Fortunately Frigga has her attention fixed on her husband, as is Thor, and no one notices. The topic switches to another matter soon enough with the specifics of the morning's report left for more formal debriefings later in the day. Loki steadfastly demolishes his spiced boar slices, adjusts his tie, and goes about fulfilling his daily duties like nothing has happened. It is summer, and the day is longer than any midsummer's day has the right to be.
Fourteen hours of vicious verbal battle with a supplier later, Loki retires to his quarters and wraps the body of a raven around himself, feathers darker than the night and eyes keener than any land-walker could hope to achieve. He glides away from his room with a few practiced twists of his wings, and flaps his way over the vast stretch of golden architecture that earned his home the nickname of palace. Tony's home is- despite the million miles of emotional distance between their houses- only a few minutes' flight away, located the exact same distance away as Loki's is from the well of Mimir that marks the center of Yggdrasil. Unlike the majestic buildings and spacious domes that is the house of Æsir, the house of Starks is a single towering skyscraper with sleek lines and gleaming glass. Loki scales the wall of the tower, concentrating on the locator spell he slipped around Tony sometime during his tenth visit, and comes to a hovering rest in front of one of the topmost floors. The floor-to-ceiling window is crowded with every protective technology available, even anti-sorcery wards of Loki's own design, but Loki manages to infiltrate them all without disturbing any. Artificially cooled air greets him as he lands on his feet inside. Loki surveys his surroundings, foregoing most things of interest in favor of searching for Tony.
The place is- not a bedroom. Lights are off and there is no sign of movement. Tools and transparent screens are scattered haphazardly on the benches, on the table, on the floor. Tony himself is sprawled against one of the benches with his head laid sideways on the metal surface, watching Loki unblinkingly.
"Tony." Loki says, and hastens to his side. Tony doesn't move, only his eyes tracking Loki's movement as he crosses the room in a few long strides and folds to wrap his arms around Tony. Tony reaches up to him, eyes dry, hands listless, and Loki takes the offered hand but does not know what to say. He does not know what to do, for perhaps the second time since they first met. But the marble floor is cool and uncomfortably hard beneath his knees and the one thing Loki knows is thatTony does not need coldness right now, when the reality alone is cold enough. He pulls them both upright. Tony relents without a sound.
There is a decently cushioned couch placed at the far side of the room. Loki manhandles Tony onto it, and goes down with him when he won't let go of Loki's suit jacket. Loki slouches down on the couch like he never has before, chin on his chest, and Tony stretches out on the rest of the seat with his head half on Loki's lap and half on his torso. Tony grips at Loki's knee and stays silent; Loki for the life of him can't figure out how to break this silence. All those names they call him, Silvertongue, Liesmith, Master Storyteller, and he is mute when he needs his speech the most. Loki supposes this is one of the prevailing rules of the world: gone when is most needed.
"I think my mom loved me." Tony says eventually. Before Loki can hyperventilate properly at the prospect of conjuring a safe reply to this, he continues: "She left me this journal, you know? The one she wrote when I was a baby. It has pictures of her hugging me. A lot of them. I don't have much memories of hugs."
Loki would hug him all he wants if it would stop Tony from thinking those thoughts. It wouldn't, but Loki does curl his arms around Tony's shoulders, and Tony leans into the embrace with a sigh.
"Dad- Howard left me the company." Tony pauses. "I don't think he loved me."
Loki wishes he could say that Howard Stark did love Tony, he loved Tony enough to leave him his life's work. But the truth is probably closer to that Tony was simply best suited to bear that burden and Howard was too smart to miss it. Loki settles for pulling Tony closer. It seems to be enough, for Tony relaxes minutely.
"I can't keep visiting you. I'll be even more closely monitored, and I'm not allowed to have quirks anymore. No nighttime adventures, no daring escapades. It's what's expected of a future CEO. And it's too close a future, Loki, I turn eighteen in nine months and I'll inherit when I am of age."
Loki runs his hand gently through Tony's curls. "Then I shall visit you." He murmurs. "You flew through my door for over a year- this time I shall fly though yours. Leave your windows open for me, will you?"
Tony squirms around on Loki's lap, situating himself so that he can look up at Loki with his back on the couch. His eyes are eerily calm in the faint moonlight filtering through the window.
"I will." He says quietly, like a vow. Loki can only nod, unable to look away. He reminds himself, as he has done for far more times as of late than he would like to admit: seventeen, he is only seventeen.
Time passes too quickly. Loki does not kiss Tony, and leaves when the first hint of purple seeps its way through the shroud of black in the sky.
Back home, time flows glacially. Their twice-a-week visits dwindle down to brief weekly chats, comprised mostly of inquiries after health, tight hugs, and some random storytelling completely unrelated to the political maelstrom that is the current atmosphere between their houses. Obadiah Stane is an aggressive temporary CEO; whereas Howard Stark was grudgingly resigned to maintaining the peace between Stark and Æsir, it is instantaneously clear that Stane is eager to break the balance should the right occasion arise. Thor does his best to help, but he simply was not born to speak the subtler language of negotiations. Loki finds himself with less and less time to sleep, and knows it is the same for Tony. He can't imagine what it must be like for Tony to lose the entirety of his small family in an accident, having to live instead among distant cousins that carry the name and brains of Stark but share none of the camaraderie that seals together Loki's own family. Loki can't even imagine losing one member of his household, the sheer sense of loss is unimaginable.
And then, when Tony is a mere month away from eighteen and the whole city crackles with the tension between the two houses, Loki loses Thor.
Loki watches the footage. Of course he watches the footage, he has been regularly updating all sorts of spells around Thor since he first cast a tracking spell on his brother at the age of five. One of the spells provides a grainy hologram of the recordings from the short battle, and Loki replays it about a hundred times in the privacy of his room.
As to who is at fault, it is unmistakable. Thor very clearly picks a fight with a dark-skinned man dressed in casual metal armor that bears the Stark insignia. The man, who Loki recognizes as Tony's bodyguard from their memorable encounter at the ball, even walks away after Thor throws several insults in his way. It is Thor that is incensed by his own taunts. Loki clenches his hands by his sides as he watches his brother challenge the man into unwilling battle, and then proceed to knock him to the ground with a hefty swing of Mjölnir. Tony jumps into the scene, holding a defensive knife in front of himself and shielding his friend. His stance is painfully amateur, but Thor lunges at him with a yell- after that it is a jumble of limbs and incoherent cries, a mess of a struggle that ends with Thor's body limp and lifeless on the pavement and Tony standing over it with blood all over his front. Loki ends the recording there, every single time, and stares at the knife frozen mid-drop between Tony's lax fingers and the ground.
Frigga is devastated. Odin is not so much angry as exhausted. Within three days the necessary arrangements are made, Thor's funeral is done with the traditional boat and the floating lights, and Loki officially becomes the first heir of Asgard Spells&Artifacts.
He flies to Stark tower come night with the scent of ceremonial candles still lingering on his skin.
The window is open, not just free of layers of security but left ajar with the wind rolling inside through the space opened between the building wall and the upper part of the glass. Tony is standing close to the window when Loki follows the air current in, and does not move to give Loki enough room to change back. Loki perches instead on Tony's forearm, glad not to have a mouth with which he will have to speak.
"Rhodey's never going to use his right arm again. His shoulder's shattered." Tony says after a while. He ducks his head. "I'm sorry. Your brother..."
Loki pecks at the inside of Tony's elbow, and when he doesn't look up, flings himself off Tony's arm to land beside him as a man.
"It was not your fault." He whispers, for it is true. Thor's death is no one's fault but his and even a fool can't deny this, regardless of what the fury of Asgard's people would like to believe. Tony steps closer, and Loki pulls him into an embrace that feels too familiar now, too familiar and too close to be an embrace between two friends.
"I'm leaving." Tony says into his shoulder. "It's too dangerous for me to stay, and Obie- Obadiah suggested a trade expedition to Afghanistan. Show off some weapons, collect approval. Probably for a few weeks, until right after my birthday."
Loki nods. The motion buries his nose in Tony's hair, and he doesn't bother bringing his head back up. "Good." He says. "I should- I should go. The rituals haven't finished yet, and I'll be required to attend in a few hours at most."
Tony doesn't ask what ritual. He pushes himself away from Loki instead, and the loss of his warmth is staggering as Loki collects his magic to leave. "I should go." He repeats, uselessly, then- then he takes a step forward, leans down, and kisses Tony on the mouth.
He retreats and is in the air before Tony can so much as lay his hand on Loki's cheek.
Loki is alerted, more quickly than most people, when news arrives that the vehicle transporting Tony across the deserts of Afghanistan is blasted apart by missiles from a local terrorist group.
The body is not found. A week passes, then two, then five. Loki hopes. The rest of Yggdrasil accepts.
With the arrival of the sixth week since Tony's disappearance come two unwelcome news: one, that the house of Stark is about to give up on the search for its missing heir, and two, that rumor is spreading that the house of Æsir arranged the attack on him. Obadiah Stane is preparing to step up as semi-permanent CEO of Stark Industries, the political atmosphere is more hostile than ever, Jötunheim.Security announces an impending change in leadership, and Tony is now presumed dead in the opinions of anyone other than Loki. As for Loki, he still hopes, and more than hopes- he believes Tony is alive.
In the midst of everything, this is when Loki realizes he has to confront Odin.
"'Tis a fool's rivalry that ails our houses." Odin is saying, sitting heavily on his seat at the head of the table after a particularly difficult meeting "It always has been. But my eldest is dead by the hands of their only, and already our servants are taking vengeance on the lives of Stark's servants. I fear peace is lost, Loki. War may be upon us."
Loki looks sharply toward his father. "Thor died by the hands of his own foolishness alone, and he is dragging the rest of us down into bloodshed." He becomes aware that he has started pacing, a behavior unfit for the company of an elder, but the tension roiling in him is too restless to ignore. "You know this, father. You cannot start a war from his death when we all know that no fault lies in the side of Stark. And I- I am acquainted with Anthony Stark, through overlapping academic interests. He is not one to start a war lightly."
Odin makes a sound of agreement. "He did not seem to be. But he is dead, son, the vehicle exploded with him inside. In his place stands Obadiah Stane, and he is a man far greedier than a Stark ever was. He will not let this chance pass by untouched."
Loki stops dead in his steps. "No." He says, half to Odin, half to himself- to the flicker of a spell that burns alive somewhere in the middle of the desert of Afghanistan. "No, no, he is not dead. Anthony is not dead. I have a locator charm cast on his person, unbreakable, undetectable. He wears it still. He lives."
He draws in a breath and barrels on before Odin gathers enough wit to intervene. "If no one thinks to go searching for him among the terrorist camps in the desert, then I shall go. I know fully well that I may not return, and that even if I do, such prolonged absence in a time like this cannot be excused. I relinquish my rights to the inheritance of Asgard. Cousin Balder will take my place."
Silence descends in the room. Loki does not shift under the fixed stare of Odin's single eye. And stare Odin does, for a long few minutes; when he speaks, his voice rings doubly loud in the stifling stillness of the air.
"You would give up your life for the boy?" He says, bewildered. Loki shrugs.
"That is what lovers do, I hear."
Loki's own mind reels at the words. He steels himself for his father's response, heart beating a mile a minute. He anticipates outrage, maybe disbelief or denial. What he doesn't expect is the snort of laughter that escapes Odin.
"He was your nightly visitor." Odin marvels, words strained with an ample amount of incredulity. Loki can do little more than blink. "My son, his sound dampeners were of sound quality, but they were too few. I had to prove the superiority of our technology over Starktech's- again- by painting silence spells around your balcony to get a good night's sleep. I would have confronted him, but Frigga insisted some privacy was necessary for a healthy adolescent romance, unfortunately-"
"Father!" Loki interrupts, thoroughly scandalized. Odin grows abruptly somber then, and he regards Loki with a faint smile that leaks more sorrow than mirth.
"If you do give up your rights as the Æsir heir, you are still the third in line of House Jötnar. Theirs is not a position that can be surrendered by any other reason than death. As soon as you escape my care, Laufey will demand your loyalty and aid."
"Then death I shall suffer."
At the look on Odin's face, Loki considers the possibility that he is perhaps, as Tony put it, 'overly theatrical, you drama queen.' He hastily adds: "A fake one. I need only stay 'dead' until Helblindi inherits Laufey three weeks later. Then the foremost rights of inheritance goes to Helblindi's children, and I will be what, thirtieth in line? Certainly not important enough to require constant residence at the manor of Jötnar."
Odin hums thoughtfully. "I refuse your resignation of the position of heir." He says, and holds out a hand to stay Loki's protests. "You are too brilliant a manager of this business to abandon. But you are right that the kind of absence you are determined to undergo is inexcusable. I cannot afford to have my leadership questioned from excusing you. You, on the other hand, are a renowned trickster."
Loki groans. "I see where this is going. Fine. I'll take the foul name. I will feign death, then return alive with Anthony in tow to resume my career as the heir that ran away from a house at the verge of war to elope with his dashing lover, and then decided he wanted the fortune too, what a bastard. Laufey may disown me from the shame alone. I would."
Odin tuts and waves a hand at him, the dismissive gesture one of the few things that Loki inherited despite their adoptive relation. "Much is forgiven by the people under the name of young love. Your reputation will recover in time. You may go, now. Go lie in your bed and die."
Loki laughs, his first since the news of Thor's death. "Thank you." He says one last time, then turns on his heels and leaves. Convincing his father was the easier ordeal; now is the time to tell his mother.
The thing about his body that makes this a feasible plan, Loki thinks as he arranges himself into a strategic sprawl at the foot of his bed, is that he is a Jötunn by blood. Few people do not know this, but even fewer give serious thought to the implications of that fact. Loki's blood runs unnaturally cold by standards prevalent in Yggdrasil, namely standards set by citizens of human descent or of the rarer Æsir-Vanir bloodline. The Æsir skin Loki wears is already pale enough, and he is cold and dry to the touch without warming spells to assist in the facade. Add some clever spells that hide pulse and breath to that and he is practically a corpse. All he has to do is to make sure he doesn't accidentally move his eyes behind his eyelids, and he will be fine.
This proves to be a true challenge, however, when the servants come in a few hours later and discover him. Their initial reaction is to shake him like a doll and shriek into his ear with abandon. Well, their master is seemingly dead, and Loki doesn't think that bodes well to the stability of their payroll so they do have a reason to panic. They cart him away to the healers' rooms, where a middle-aged healer lifts his eyelids and waves a sly thumbs-up two inches away from his eyeballs. Then he is wheeled away to wait for his hasty funeral while Frigga and Odin receive the report of their son's death and pretend to be consumed by inconsolable grief.
It takes much less time than he would've thought, scarcely more than a day, before he is floating serenely down the river Gjöll dressed in full ceremonial armor and swathed in a frightening amount of flowers. He waits until the sniffling sobbing crowd gathered along the riverbank are well out of sight, then sits up, making a face at the flowery fumes permeating the ten feet radius of the funeral boat. He sits there patiently and watches the roaring waterfall in the path of the river draw steadily nearer, the so-called 'bridge' of Gjallarbrú that connects the realms of the dead and the living.
Only when the deafening sound of the water drowns out everything else does he take off into the air as a raven, ensuring that the boat slides off the fall and is lost in the ferocity of its currents. Then the taxing part begins, flying east and east over Yggdrasil to the desert that spans the outermost area of the vast city. It is attached to the right side of Midgard, a section where the ground is even and easily accommodates the architecture. Loki cocks his head to the side, listening to the call of his magic hiding within Tony's still-pulsing veins, and beats his wings in time to the rush of air carrying him eastward.
In that moment, across the entire length of Yggdrasil in a damp cave lit by gas lights, Yinsen breathes his last. Tony for his part breathes his first lungful of fresh air since his initial imprisonment six weeks ago, blazing through the air with his repulsors in full blast and wrecking havoc at the center of the Ten Ring's military refuge. Every time his heart beats is like a punch to his sternum; if organs could bruise, his heart definitely feels like it is covered in bruises. His breathing is rapid and dangerously strained but he can't stop igniting the boxes of missiles stamped with the Stark signature, stacks upon stacks of illegal weapons that would have been used to slaughter innocents. Weapons that Tony hasn't ever agreed to being sold to terrorists.
The whole area is a single bright circle of flames lighting the night sky by the time Tony finishes and blasts himself to higher altitude. By then he can hardly breathe, and it's all he can do to point himself westward toward his home while the arc reactor does the rest of the job and fuels the metal armor encasing his body. Logically, Tony knows that the reactor is soundless and doesn't give off much heat. It seems to burn in his chest, though, sending off a steady hum that vibrates through his bones and makes them ache. Also logically, Tony acknowledges that this is likely a combination of fatigue and trauma fooling his senses. Knowing this doesn't make the sensation any easier to ignore.
Dawn is chasing his tails when Tony at last crashes into his workshop in Stark Tower. He lets himself collide against the window with momentum enough to break the glass, trusting the suit to keep him unharmed. It does, mostly. There is some blood, some cuts and bruises that will hurt horribly when he recovers enough to feel them, but for now nothing feels broken or shattered. Tony rolls up into a tight ball and tugs the helmet off his head.
It's Obadiah. Tony doesn't know what Obadiah is doing in his workshop, but he can't express how glad he is that it isn't some random security guard that found him first. Sirens are blaring in the distance, but Obadiah crawls out from behind the table and rummages through his pockets for his phone. He barks orders into it as he jogs over to Tony and the siren stops immediately. Tony wants to reach out but peels off the chestplate first, needing his godfather to see, to understand.
There are a hundred questions tripping over each other in Tony's mind, and a hundred answers clamoring to burst out of his mouth. In the end, the first thing he gasps out is:
"Obie, I want to marry Loki."
Obadiah's hands halt where they are about to touch Tony.
"This-" Tony jerks his head weakly toward his chest. "-is an arc reactor. It helped me escape. I built it, and it's a near-indefinite energy source. Loki's going to help me harness it, and I'm going to break down our weapons department- did I mention someone's been sneaking out our weapons to terrorists? Also, I love him. Loki, you know, not the missile thief." He laughs wetly. Something's probably wrong in his chest. Again. "God, that's messed up. I love Loki. Obie, can I call him right now?"
Obadiah's fingers slowly close around Tony's metal-clad shoulder. He looks into Tony's eyes for a moment, expression unreadable, and says, "No. We can't."
Tony bobs his head understandingly. "You're right. It's barely dawn. I'll wait until-"
"Tony, we can't call him because Loki Æsir is dead. Rumor is that he had a stroke, the stress was too much. The funeral was just yesterday."
Tony freezes. The grip on his shoulder grows uncomfortably tight.
"What- what? No, you're mistaken, he wouldn't do that. He can't do that."
Obadiah's eyes are fixed to the arc reactor glowing at the middle of Tony's chest. Tony doesn't see it, shaken as he is by a possibility that should not exist, that must not exist, how can Loki do this to him?
"Listen, Tony." Obadiah says slowly, leaning closer and giving a firm squeeze on Tony's shoulder. "Who else knows of this arc reactor? Beside you and me?"
Tony's lips feel numb. "No one." He says dully. "No one knows."
Midway across the barren moors of Svarthalfheim, Loki feels the spell on Tony shift. It flares and unfurls a little, as if unsettled, then starts moving with considerable speed toward the center of Yggdrasil. Loki's heart beats thunderously. It can't be- but it could be. He tilts himself sharply to the right, curving gracefully and adjusting his direction toward Stark Tower. Could it be that Tony escaped on his own?
Despite his fear, Tony seems to move smoothly and without being interrupted. Loki could cry in joy when he feels his spell come to stop at the exact location of Tony's home. He is still a good two hours away from arriving there himself, but there is now a high chance that Tony is safe, is discovered and attended to. Tony is back and he is alive. And Loki will tell him this time, without failing, that he is precious and loved and absolutely must stay by Loki's side for the rest of his existence.
But just as Loki allows himself to be relieved, his spell moves again, in a path that forms a right angle to Loki's own. It takes Loki only a few confused minutes to realize: Tony is headed to the river Gjöll- specifically, to the place where Loki's funeral boat was launched. Loki knows then, what false news caused Tony to move again. What grief must drive his exhausted body to take another journey.
Loki wills the wind to carry him faster.
Another chunk of armor falls away from Tony's torso as he dips suddenly in his dizziness. Obadiah in his advanced flight gear is hot on his trail, and Tony only hopes he reaches the river before the man catches up. Obadiah has some firearm on him, that much is clear; even if he didn't, he has half a foot and a good forty pounds on Tony. Tony isn't even sure why he is bothering to flee. He will be shot down as soon as he attempts to reach help, and Obadiah will take the arc reactor- right, there's the reason. Tony's own godfather sold the weapons to the terrorists, he said so. Tony can't let him have the most dangerous piece of technology a Stark has ever invented. And if he's being perfectly honest with himself, there is also this small voice at the back of his head, at the edge of a thick oblivion that threatens to drag Tony under and never let go, that whispers: this is not the right place, not the place I want to die.
Tony struggles on.
Somewhere along the way his repulsors start to flicker and stutter, but it doesn't matter because Tony can see the water, the depth of its embrace and the rest it promises. Just out of reach-
Obadiah barrels into his back.
The current of air changes direction around the time Loki seriously considers changing back to human form and pursuing Tony in an actual automobile. he lets out an involuntary yelp as an invisible burst of force pushes at his back, sending him spiraling through the sky in a feather-flattening rush. He welcomes the change, beats his wings harder, and intercepting Tony before he nears the river doesn't seem as unlikely as it did a few minutes before.
Then they meet, Tony and Loki.
What Tony thinks is this: He is alive and Loki is dead. What Loki thinks is this: He is alive and Tony is dead. Both are wrong. Loki is nearly correct. He also has solid reason to believe what he believes, since the first thing he sees when he crash-lands on the soft soil beside Gjöll is Tony's body spread limp on the ground. There is only the barest tremor shaking Tony, easily mistaken for the kind that wracks the muscles of the newly dead. Loki's spell stops, just stops, the heart attached to it on the brink of failing, too weak to supply the tiniest amount of energy needed to keep the spell alive. Loki feels this, and he sees, and he has reason enough to believe.
Then he takes in the hunched figure of Obadiah Stane, staggering away from Tony's prone form with something glowing clutched in his hands. This is when something breaks in Loki.
Being Jötunn, he possesses strength greater than a human's. Being himself, he possesses a temper greater than most others'. Loki blinks, and Obadiah Stane is no longer alive. He is also no longer vaguely resembling a human form. Something sticks Loki's lips together a little when he opens his mouth to breathe harshly through his mouth, and it tastes of iron and cheap salt. He forces himself to look toward Tony, then down at him when his legs carry him closer on their own accord.
Tony opens his eyes, unseeing.
Loki falls onto his knees, and there are no words for what he feels as he fumbles his hands over Tony's face, his neck, his chest. His chest with its hole lined with metal casing, glaringly empty and- Loki looks at the blue crystal in his hand, looks at Tony's chest, and looks at Tony's eyes. The stone slots neatly into the hole. Tony's eyes close, but they open again, and this time they have focus.
"Home?" Loki says, voice raw and thick, not at all like his own. Tony smiles, the barest twitch of lips.
Loki alerts every single magical alarm in the house of Æsir in his haste and joy. The first of his people arrive half an hour later; they find the heirs of house Stark and house Æsir huddled together on the ground, battered and stained and very much alive.
And so, theirs was a feud born of unsuccessful market monopoly, on a more humble basis than most notable feuds are ignited upon. Most feuds start out romantic; this one started out practical. Therefore it makes perfect sense that in its closure it must be more heavily romantic than the rest: they loved, and they both lived, and they did so happily ever after.
I apologize to all fans of Thor for bashing him a bit. He died without being exiled or meeting Jane Foster and having his epic romance of enlightenment, so he was mostly an ignorant idiot for the length of this story.
Also, this is unedited and was written in some sort of trance. Any pointouts in grammar/structure/etc are appreciated, and comments make my day♡
"-and I swear, if you pull that reconstruction excuse on me again- I'm literate, you know, I can read headlines. Your manufacturing lines have been whole and hale for two fucking weeks-"
"Okay, fine, language. Past two freaking weeks. And where're my blueberries? There were at least three packs right here this morning."
There is the unmistakable sound of Loki sighing his lungs out at the other end of the line as Tony rummages through the drawers under the kitchen sink, phone tucked between cheek and shoulder. Loki continues to speak into his ear, patient in a way that he knows means Loki is actually five seconds away from internal combustion.
"I get what you mean. As for your accusation, the machines haven't yet been cleared to function- which you would've known had you bothered to read beyond the headlines, Stark. And no, I'm not allowing the factories to start producing with unapproved equipment, no, it's not my fault they're dragging the process like this, and yes, your blueberries were there this morning before I appropriated them."
Tony makes a disgruntled sound. "Quit with the Stark, Æsir. I'm not budging an inch until the collaboration papers are signed." Then he reconsiders Loki's statement. "You ate my berries?" He hollers.
Loki's voice comes distant and tinny when he answers, like he is holding the phone a foot away from his ear. "I didn't eat those sugared monstrosities of yours, Tony, some of us prefer to keep our health. I fed them to your dove. Don't skip dinner and she may regurgitate some for you."
The line goes dead. Tony turns to Rhodey with a look of appalled betrayal, who is watching the proceedings with a distinctly unsympathetic smirk on his face.
"He stole my berries. He wants me to die from vitamin deficiency." Tony whines. Rhodey shakes his head, the traitor.
"You stole an entire branch of his company's metal suppliers. I say he has reason to be pissed."
Tony scoffs, flipping a hand at his friend and launching a search for raspberries instead.
"I had money, they had stocks. Business is a colder world than you civilians think." He says.
"Yeah, and it's a pettier world than I thought." Rhodey grins evilly. "The lady CEO of that supplier company was awfully pretty, wasn't she? Quite interested in Loki, too."
Tony stops, straightens slowly, and points a threatening finger at Rhodey.
"You forget I'm your employer and your landlord. Congratulations, mister James, you are now fired. Also homeless."
Rhodey raises his hands in mock surrender and shrugs, with both his shoulders. The supplement spell supporting his right shoulder glints a faint silver along the steel band encircling his bicep. Finer motor control is lost to him, and his fingers still jerk occasionally, but he can lift things and channel force enough to spar. He owes Loki there- Tony owes Loki there. While it doesn't excuse Rhodey being a traitorous asshole, Tony supposes it does excuse his being rather fond of Tony's husband.
Tony is about to give up on his daily fruit quota when Rhodey slips off his chair by the table and saunters over, producing a bag of blueberries out of nowhere and thrusting it at Tony. Tony gives him a meaningful look.
"You're reemployed." He tells Rhodey. Rhodey laughs.
House of Æsir, Asgard
Loki shrugs off his jacket and shucks it at the nearest flat surface with perhaps more force than is necessary. The day was long, and exhausting, and irritatingly Tonyless; all he has had to lead him through the nightmare of three consecutive meetings is a sleep-fuzzy memory of Tony drooling liberally onto the pillow that morning, one leg thrown over Loki and one leg tangled in the lump of blanket he was hogging. There is also the memory of his truly horrible morning breath imprinted into Loki's brain when he made the mistake of leaning in to kiss Tony before he slipped out of bed, but that hardly counts as something pleasant.
Loki contemplates the benefits of purchasing a nice cozy building between Stark Tower and his house as he strides along the corridors of his house, an option he knows will be discarded as soon as the negotiations tone down to a level that doesn't make the ten-minute journey seem as taxing. He and Tony are both too attached to Loki's bedroom- and Tony's, now that his workshop comes armed with a king-sized bed. Nearly a decade after their marriage, the windows to both are still regularly being opened to let in each other. Old habits do not die hard, Loki figures. They don't die at all.
"Jarvis." He calls out, rounding another corner.
"Milord. Will you be heading to your bedroom?"
"No, I will be flying over to the tower tonight- on second thought, I'll be taking the Bifrost. The wind is too strong."
"Shall I alert Sir?"
"No need. Alert Heimdall instead, I will arrive at the gate in ten minutes."
"Done, milord. But may I suggest a detour to the bedroom first? I believe Sir expected you to stay here tonight."
"If he shoved his documents under my pillow again, tell him I will burn them."
"Sir did not leave any of the kind."
"Oh?" Loki says, too tired to be intrigued. He halts his steps in front of the door to his bedroom and pulls it open, the lights going on as soon as he steps in. He scans the room in search for anything conspicuous- if Tony thought to leave a surprise present that is not a legal paper, it is bound to be something fancy. From past experience, it could also be bright-colored, or spiky, or possibly slimy. Or alive and yipping and shedding fur on his furniture. Loki remembers retaliating to that one with Mealdove ver.02.
What he finds instead is a small, unassuming jar of green honey, nearly invisible against the dark moss color of the bedsheet. Placed neatly on its lid is a post-it note, letters scrawled over it in bold cursive.
You suck harder every day, honey, Loki reads. This, from a grown man well into his mid-twenties. Loki bites down a smile.
At least his handwriting has vastly improved.
a) Loki keeps updating the doves. They now monitor Tony's nutrition, sleep schedule, and the appropriate amount of sass allowed per day.
b) Green honey is a real thing. It's expensive(from what I remember?) and correspondingly delicious.