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Listen To Your Heart

Chapter Text

Prologue



The first thing he knows is restlessness .

There is always warmth, surrounding him, keeping him safe and comfortable, but it's not enough anymore. Floating around in his dark tight space isn't enough anymore. He wants ... he doesn't know what he wants - he has never known anything else - but he knows that he wants something else, something different, something more .

So he turns in his space, now much too small for him - he vaguely recalls being able to turn around and around without difficulty, and now he has to twist himself and scratch over the rounded walls to explore their surface.

There is no edge, no difference in it, but something tells him that there is something beyond, and so tries again and again.

He grows tired sometimes - not of searching (he doesn't yet know how to grow tired or bored of something) but by it, and so he naps from time to time. One time he wakes up, and there is a difference in his surroundings. He doesn't know what it is, or how to describe it, but there is not only darkness around him anymore but a light shines through the walls.

He's intrigued immediately by this sign that there are new things he doesn't know yet, and he scratches harder at the walls, turns faster, but he cannot find anything. After an endless search he falls asleep again.

The next time he wakes up, the light is gone.



He learns that the light comes back. He doesn't know when, or how, but somehow he feels better now that he knows that the light comes back, and the dark comes back, and that it doesn't matter when he falls asleep or how long or often he sleeps, and whether he misses one. Once he was even awake, just floating, and he could see how darkness became light. Slowly, very slowly - and that is how he learns that there are things that are fast , and things that are slow - the darkness faded, and a redness - he doesn't yet know red , but he knows it is different from the usual light, and he knows that it is light all the same - came. His sight has gotten better and better, and he can see his own body almost like a blacker darkness in this strange light, can see the ecru walls red and uneven above him.

He just waits and looks as the light becomes brighter, less strange, and his body becomes lighter, too, and it is of a different color and making as the walls or the redness.

Curiously he taps at his body, and his paw comes into sight, the same strange color as his body, but darker than where he touches it.

It feels strange, touching himself with so much attention, and for a while he amuses himself by touching all of himself - the parts that he can feel where he touches - and the walls - which he can only feel on his paws, and can not move at will. The difference is worth exploring and so he rubs every part of himself against the walls, and against his paws, and he licks himself and finds out that it hurts when he takes his paw in his mouth and bites.

There is something at his other end, and at his back, and he tries to see it, but he cannot, because as much as he tries, he has grown too large to reach for it.

Tired and frustrated he gives up eventually, and turns so that he can see the light still through his closed eyes.



The change comes not long after - dark and light and dark again - when he hears something.

He has heard before, low and soft and warm, and he would know these sounds everywhere. They are good-noises he knows instinctively, can feel it rumbling in him, and when he heard it he had always fallen still, motionless, so he wouldn't miss anything.

This noise is different. It's a hard, loud noise, and it hurts his ears, and he turns and turns because he doesn't want that noise, he wants to not hear that, wants it to stop . But it doesn't, and then more loud noise, deep noise, and his walls shake and he shakes, and suddenly he feels different and the deep noise - the good-noise, it's the good-noise and it is not - becomes quieter, and he squirms again, he doesn't want to be away from the good-noise, he wants it to come back, and he wants the bad noise to stop !

A loud screech again, and then he feels heavy suddenly and he presses against the wall under him - just that he doesn't press himself, and it hurts where he comes against it. He's dizzy, but he has heard it, the crack when he became heavy, and some instinct tells him that the walls can be opened now.

There is new noise beyond the walls, and he's afraid suddenly by what may be outside. So far it has brought him light and good-noise and some small movement when the walls turned, but also bad noise and strange pressure and pain and dizziness, and he doesn't like that.

Another new noise, against his walls this time, a toc-toc , and the walls turn again, in the small movement, and then there is something above him - the walls break.

He's too surprised to react for a moment, and then he sees something above him move even in the last-dark-and-first-light that is, and curiosity wins out. When the movement recedes he paws against the hole above him, and he feels how his claws extract and scratch over the walls and finally, finally he gets a hold there and breaks the walls apart.

All nervousness is forgotten, and he takes the walls down easily, helped by the strange hard thing outside that makes more toc-toc -noises and breaks the walls apart, too. He stretches, tries to reach for the hole, and his head bumps against the wall above him and with another hard stretching the wall breaks and then he's outside .

It's ... strange. Much much more strange and different and more than he could ever have anticipated, and he sees so much - so much light and things and movements and and and he hears more, and smells and - the fear comes back and he huddles there in his broken walls, and he hopes the good-noise will come back and he will be back in his walls and everything will be as always.

There is movement again, and he looks to the thing-that-moves. It's dark and strange ... not like him. He's seen himself often enough to know how he looks, and this doesn't look like him, and it's not making the good-noises, and he wants it to not be here.

But the thing-that-moves doesn't care what he wants, and it comes closer and closer, and then the hard thing that makes toc-toc-noises comes close and he remembers the pain and the dizziness and instinctively he claws at the thing.

He paws it, and it feels strange to him, not smooth and round like the walls or his body, but softer, and somehow colder.

The thing doesn't like it, lets out another loud scream, and he shrinks back. And then it comes at him again , and he feels something cold and heavy in his body that he never felt before, but it's not unlike what he felt when the scream took him away from the good-noises. It comes at him, and the long hard part of the strange thing strikes him and it hurts, hurts, hurts so much ! He screams, loud and fearful and angry and hurt and there is again coldness in him, but it is different, it's coming through him like the light through the walls, saturates his entire being, and then it's breaking through him. White and Cold and Hard break through his body, and the thing in front of him screams loud and retreats, but he wants it to hurt , too , and somehow he can feel the Coldness, and he makes it go after the thing.

It's screams cut off abruptly, and it's looking differently now, bigger and heavier and it's not moving anymore. The Coldness dies down, moves back into his body, and suddenly everything is quiet.

He feels the silence almost like a heaviness he never knew existed. There's nothing around him, or there is a lot, actually, but he doesn't recognize anything. There are no good-noises and no warmth and no slow movements. Only the light is there, and he can now see that it's coming from one side, from something that's red and light and like a paw reaching over darkness.

Huddling in on himself he instinctively tries to hide, tries to become even smaller than he is, but there is only so much one can do without something to hide behind, and he knows nowhere that would be safe than in his walls, and the walls are broken.

Shaking and cold and alone - a feeling he doesn't know, never knew, and yet feels like an empty hollow coldness within him - he sits there and watches as the redness becomes lighter and the paw crawls over him.

The more light there is the more noises are there around him, but all are strange and neither is a good-noise , so he twitches when he hears them and then just ducks again, hoping nothing will hurt him again.

Hoping the good-noises will come. Hoping anything will come that is good and warm and not-alone-anymore.

In the end it comes with loud noises that are strange-and-yet-not, and when he ducks his head he sees something come up to him. It's ... it's like the walls when the light comes, and it makes some strange loud noise and comes at him very fast.

He searches for the coldness in him that kept the other thing away, can feel it hiding deep within him yet ready to respond to his call, but before it really rises in him this thing stops . It stops, and it is silent, and he feels as if it looks at him like he looks at it.

He doesn't understand this feeling, but he doesn't like it, and he searches for the cold again - and then that thing makes good-noises.

He stops what he's doing, stares at it. Somehow, somehow that thing is making good-noises, and he can feel them in his chest, can feel how they reverberate through him, and when the thing comes closer, when it stretches a paw at him, he sees that it looks like him. It has paws, and things on his back, and even though it looks bigger some instinct tells him that yes, it is the same as he and he can trust it.

And so he slinks closer, his belly low over the floor protected, his whole self as small as possible, and when this other paws him it's soft, and it doesn't hurt, and the rumbling in his chest gets stronger, and he nudges against it with his head. In response, he's getting more touch, more warmth and softness and more good-noises, and he's finally finally feeling as if he's found what he was waiting for inside his walls.

Waiting for the good-noises was tiring, and when the pawing and licking continues he feels himself drifting and then falling asleep. He's safe now, and warm, and yes, there is a growling in his belly that he doesn't know and doesn't like, but it's not too bad yet, and so he falls asleep pressed against the other-like-him.

 

Chapter Text

Tony fucking hated Yggdrasil.

It was a whole planet full of jungle – hot and damp like in that damn palm house Maria once visited with him back on earth. Breathing was like trying to swallow down water, cloying and lumpy all the way down his throat, and when they first came here he'd thought he would suffocate. It really only ever got better after rain, when the short but heavy showers had cleared the air. Though that was a very short reprieve before the air became sticky again, and the rain before was so hefty and hard that everyone was running for cover. Tony had been caught unaware only a very few times, and he had always felt as if someone was jumping on him from on high, driving all the breath out of him and having all of his clothes soaked and heavy in seconds.

It was easier to bear in the jungle itself, where the trees formed a thick canopy overhead, blocking the force of the water and letting it trickle down in small rivulets over the foliage for fucking hours , small waterfalls dripping from colorful blossoms and drops flowing down along thick vines and creepers, letting mosses grow on every tree trunk and stone and fallen tree, saplings and greens and ferns sprouting up from dead leaves and muddy soil until walking in there was nearly impossible without constantly tripping. Standing outside of the jungle, gazing inside, it was hard to see how anything could live in there, move in there. There was no way, a thicket made of ferns and small trees and other plants blocking every path other than those that had been hewn into them with machetes to reach the research stations further afield. The air was even more cloying under the foliage than in the human village – Midgard – but at least the rich green filtered the blazing light to a greenish twilight and protected one's eyes and skin from the burning sun.

Not that he was allowed in there anyway. According to Maria – and most of the other adults – it was too easy to get lost in there and children had therefor no business playing in the jungle Resulting, of course, in Tony's skin developing a tan now that his blisters had finally healed. Though he was still far paler than everyone else here bar his mother, which had Ricky and his gang - the only boys close to his age on this whole damn fucking planet - calling him milk face and newbie and fresh meat for it.

And Maria wanted him to wear a hat with a wide brim against sunstroke. Nope, Mom, no. He was eight, too old for that motherhenning by far.

Which was also the reason he spend almost all the time that he didn't have to sit in school with Signor García Álvarez glowering at him over his textbook and a lot of dumb average children stumbling through things he'd taught himself ages ago either in his makeshift workshop – equipped by himself, thanks Dad for thinking I'll start a fire if I had a real one of my own – or exploring the forbidden paths into the jungle, trying to find the way to the research stations.

He was desperately curious about the natives, having seen only two of them so far and with the research data being hidden behind a firewall he hadn't managed to hack yet (which reeked of Vulcans and oh would he like to meet some!). But he really wanted to learn more about the natives, about their kids. He would rather be bored to death than play with dumbass-Ricky, but the natives … well, they looked like humanoid dragons, and playing with someone who had tails and frills and wings would be so cool – Tony had been on Pern once, and he had been allowed into their dragon weyr, and playing with the future dragon riders and their dragons had been so much fun! Sure, he'd had no dragon himself, but he was there because his father improved their communication and stuff, and that was cool enough for the kids.

And he had been allowed to ride on one of the adult dragons out to the weyr, too, and that had been fucking amazing, even if they weren't getting into the between .

But here on Yggdrasil there were no other children he could play with, and while he hadn't had any friends on earth at least he could have had them! He could have gone to school with them and -

"Damn!" , he cursed when a drakeling ran into him. Flailing his arms he tried to regain his balance, but then there was another lizard and he completely lost it. Another curse escaped him when he landed hard on his ass, a jolt of pain racing through his spine up into his skull, and he glowered at the two drakelings sitting a few meter from him, looking back at him with expressions that ranged from stunned over sheepish to slightly smug.

"Fuckers!", Tony muttered, glowering at them. Yeah, that's what he needed right now – two of the Yggdrasilian pigeons deciding he was fun to annoy. As if it wasn't worse enough that they were all over the village, stealing cola and adding their noisy calls to the dreariness of a scientist village on a backward planet.

Trying to scare them away he waved his hands, and as if that was a signal they came over to him. First the bigger one, a hot rod red lizard with a golden web pattern over the scales. It had it's wings almost fully folded – obviously it didn't think of Tony as a threat – and its light golden frills laid messily around his head and neck. Which was only a tiny little bit calming – they were almost as high as Tony's shoulder, and while he had never heard of any drakeling attacking humans the way it simply, if cautiously, advanced made him worry.

The other lizard kept its distance, though it was also slowly drawing near. And having two of them come up at him … and he was still sitting down, with no way to get to his feet without possibly goading them … he swallowed and tried again to shoo them away.

The bigger one completely ignored his efforts and didn't even hesitate before climbing in his lap and licking his face with its long raspy tongue.

"Urgh!", he made and instinctively tried to shove it off, but the little fucker just clawed itself into his trousers and legs and refused to budge, even went so far as to snarl at him, its frills and spines suddenly flared out so that it looked even bigger.

Tony went very very still at that. He couldn't help but recognize that the lizard here had very sharp, very many teeth, and they were right there, directly in front of his face. His heart stopped beating for a long moment before it resumed its task in doubled speed, and there was definitely a whole river of sweat running down his back. Yeah, he would really rather not have it bite him right now, nops, no way.

He was distracted enough by the lizard's display of strength that he completely missed the other little fucker approach. What he didn't miss was the drakeling tapping against his hand and then licking his wrist. Startled he whipped around, momentarily forgetting the other, probably bigger threat, and looked down at the little thing that had jumped back at his sudden movement.

The small ones were the most easily frightened, he knew. Drakelings were all over the city and in the forests surrounding it, living with the natives like the pigeons and rats at home, though they were far more tolerated by the people here. Actually, one of the rules that Signor García Álvarez had ingrained in them was that the drakelings were to be left alone und er any and all circumstances, and that means you, too, Rick Gordon, or I'm personally whipping your ass.

Tony would just prefer it if the drakelings left him alone, too.

In right this moment the bigger one started licking him again, but only for a moment before it was nuzzling his cheek and neck, and while he was feeling his heart rate go up even further for a moment - who knew what it was going to do? - he was strongly reminded of an overlarge cat with scales and frills around its head and little leathery wings on its back, and hesitatingly he brought his other hand - the hand not currently nuzzled by the other drakeling - up to stroke carefully over its head.

The lizard was startled at first, but then it bumped his hand to indicate he should continue. A small whine from his side told him that the little one felt left out, and so he began stroking it, too.

Not five minutes later he was sitting there in the middle of the street (if one could call the packed earth here street ), not caring the least about the spots the afternoon's rainfall might leave on his jeans. The bigger lizard had curled up in his lap like an overlarge, scaly cat, warm yet strangely light-weighted for its size. Tony couldn't help but stare; he had never been that close to drakelings before.

Small red scales covered the whole, really more cat like than lizard body, except for the stomach where the scales turned a dark golden shade. Like the dragons of Pern they had six limbs; four legs with six toes - four of them pointing forwards, two backwards - that ended in sharp wicked claws which right now digging lightly into Tony's clothes. Right above the shoulders sat another joint; bat-like wings growing out of the body. Even neatly folded as they were there was no mistaking that they were larger than the rest of the body, with red scales covering the powerful muscles and bones and golden skin stretched between them. Like the paws there were six fingers - four between the wing's webbing, the other two formed to wicked claws at the edge of the wing.

The lizard started to purr, a low sound that made its whole body shake, causing Tony to startle and almost stop his ministrations. Really, if not for the scales and wings and the lizard-head he would have thought this creatures related to cats.

Turning his head the drakeling pushed it into his hand and he slowly carefully stroked over it. Small ridges started right on the forehead, growing in size while he let his hand glide further up, between the short horns and the mane that started right there. It consisted of soft golden spikes, feeling like smooth malleable skin but he wasn't fooled. These same spikes had gone up like a collar as soon as the lizard had felt threatened. There were trinkets woven between them, feathers and stones and wooden beads – signs that someone cared for the lizard. He could feel the ridges between the spikes, sharp edged things with much more structure than the smooth skin flaps. Tony remembered the cats at home and he let his hand glide down behind the ear-flaps, made of four bony spikes and skin flapping between them, and the purring turned louder and more demanding.

It was around this time that the smaller drakeling dared to come closer again, and the other lizard turned to him, made some sounds that weren't at all the loud cries Tony had always associated with the little dragons. And when the smaller lizard answered he felt his jaw fall down; its voice was deep and smooth like nothing he would have ever thought for a drakeling. And yet it somehow suited him, his velvety black scales and more lite body frame.

Absently Tony continued to stroke the bigger lizard, noted how the ridges went on over the whole back until they ended halfway down the tail, while he watched the other approach.

It was obvious that it was terribly shy, having stayed out of Tony's reach so far and even now coming closer with small, tentative steps, the eyes trained on Tony. The intensive focus actually made Tony self-conscious, and he'd been raised under the all-seeing eyes of the media.

Swallowing hard he found himself having eye contact with the lizard, the emerald green shine mesmerizing. Remembering that this was something that should be avoided at all cost with wild predatory animals lest he invited an attack he swept his gaze over the rest of its body. It was smaller than the other drakeling, even more so with his front pressed to the earth, but not by far. Its scales were black, like dark-fucking-night-black, with a dark green shine like a raven's feathers, and it almost vanished in the shadow of the scrubs it had taken as cover.

When it left the shadows Tony could see more - emerald green stripes along the lower edge of the wings. Light catching in the golden spines around its head, the golden scales forming patterns on its back, running along its lighter-colored stomach scales. It had no ridges like the other one. Pointed twin horns, colored a dark ivory and far larger than the other lizard's, sprouted out of its head like a bull's.

The drakeling stopped only a very small distance from him, close enough that Tony could touch it if he reached out. He didn't. Instead he waited while the shy little one accessed him. Strain in his lungs reminded him that he had stopped breathing - not because he feared that the lizard would hurt him, but because he really wanted for it to come closer, to trust him, touch him.

A few minutes ago he would have given everything to get away from the two drakelings. Now he couldn't imagine anything better than having both of them here, purring loud and content like two exotic jungle cats.

It took the small lizard a few more minutes to decide that it could trust him. A dark paw reached for Tony, claws pin-prickling over his hand, and he just watched the small drakeling gather all its courage, its eyes slitted and wary, before it came forward and nudged Tony lightly in the side with its snout.

Realizing he was grinning so broad his cheeks hurt Tony slowly, slowly reached for the lizard, let his hand settle lightly on the paw. It was warm, smooth but for the slightly erected, bigger scales right along its foreleg. Green eyes followed his daring hand, but at least it didn't jump back.

When he stroked up over the leg, to the shoulder and body, the small one seemed to gain confidence for it approached slowly and nudged Tony again, then settled under his hand. The red drakeling made a low growling sound, but the black one responded only with a sharp hiss, its paws striking for the other's tail, before it settled again.

Tony watched them, carefully making sure to give both of them enough attention. He knew he was probably grinning like a fool, but he couldn't help it - he felt better than he ever had since Howard dumped them here.



^^



The drakelings stayed until the sun was going down, and for all that he had cursed them more than once in the course of the afternoon for nipping playfully at his fingers, or scratching him with their claws when they changed position or simply decided to climb over him, he was sad to see them go. But well, at least they left him with soft chirps and deep rumbling sounds that sounded as if they were sad to see him go, too, before the smaller one butted into the female's wing and had her flying away, quickly following in her shadow.

After watching them disappear into the foliage of the jungle, it felt even more lonely to walk the last stretch of way home. It was quickly getting dark now, and since living by the First Directive meant introducing as few technology to the native's life as possible - something the Yggdrasilians seemed to not be interested in anyway - there were no street lamps on the earth paths connecting the houses with each other.

Midgard, as the human had called their colony on Yggdrasil, had been a scientist colony for a few decades now. It had only opened for other – private - use two years ago, something that could still be easily seen in the way that most houses were still no permanent structures, more like cabins and better shacks. There were a few hover carts in the colony, but no cars, and while bicycles were allowed no-one used them on the uneven, often overgrown pathways.

Tony didn't go into the village that often if he could avoid it, but then there wasn't much to see out here anyway. A community hall where the villagers met to vote on certain matters, and the few religious people gathered once a week for the mass - something Tony only knew because Maria made him accompany her when his father wasn't on the planet to sneer about her for believing in God – one of the few things Tony and Howard agreed in. Then there was the school - well, it actually was Signor García Álvarez's house, but it had a room to teach the few children on the station, and some computers to help with that that had been old before Tony was born.

Really, he couldn't understand why Segnor García Álvarez was angry about him disassembling them and improving them in his first week. And he should just let him have another look at them, he was sure he would get that problem with that picture of Darah Knightley fixed - it wasn't as if he wanted to look at her naked every time the computer booted.

Otherwise, there was not much to see in the whole village - a bar that only the adults ever went into, and a small shop that he sometimes accompanied Jarvis to, when the butler was on Yggdrasil. A small smithy whose owner also doubled as baker – she really made the best cinnamon rolls in the whole galaxy. And the piazza, of course, where they gathered for feasts and where Ricky and his gang could be found in their free time.

Most of the research stations - the only cool places around here, with all the technology and equipment - were far out of town, somewhere deep in the jungle, and could only be reached by pathways that the kids weren't allowed to take. Not that it would have kept them away if not for the fact that every now and then someone actually turned up hurt or dead or not at all.

Anyway, there was no-one out anymore at this time of day, and the lights were all shut out behind dark shutters, making Tony feel as if he was the only living soul here.

And maybe he wasn't that wrong about it, as he realized while he walked the way up to their house.

It was a far cry from their home on earth with the manor, the carefully manicured gardens and an army of maids and nannies and chauffeurs taking care of everything. Here their house resembled a small villa - still far more than anyone else could even dream of owning here - with an equally cared for but much smaller garden, surrounded by a high fence mounted with the best security possible. In concert with the smaller estate there was also a smaller staff - only the cook and a housekeeper for cleaning and a gardener that came by trice a week. And the guards, sure.

Maria constantly complained about this, but Tony didn't mind. Actually, he rather liked that part of their moving - at least he was free of a nanny now, so no more admonishments how he wasn't behaving like his father's son, or running too fast, or hadn't cleaned his hands enough. Of course, now and then Maria took notice of it, but most of the time he was free to do as he wanted.

Free to be bored out of his mind as much as he liked.

If only his father would let him use his workshop, or allow him his own!

Though he didn't think that would happen sometime soon, even less with Howard being this confrontational every time he visited them here, and Maria in her anger and dissatisfaction riling him up.

As if his thoughts had evoked him - or maybe because such a good day as he had had couldn't be allowed to end the same way - Tony found signs that Howard was here as soon as he entered the house.

One, there was no sound of piano playing in the air, and his mother was almost religious about her daily session, going so far as to admonish the cooked if she served too early. And apropos the cook – Anjeana should have been around busying herself with the china and cutlery, seeing as setting the table was the last of her duties.

Her last - as long as Howard hadn't come for one of his surprise visits, and Maria had send her home to prevent her husband from making eyes at her.

Tony wasn't dumb - he had heard these arguments often enough, had seen his father act like it too often to believe his mother's accusations weren't founded in reality. Yet still he couldn't believe that his father would willfully cheat on her. Not with his father's true love being the same technology that he loved so much, too.



It was Jarvis who greeted him, coming to the door, and that confirmed what Tony already knew.

Not that he cared about it anymore, because this was the best thing about Howard coming to visit - most of the time Jarvis accompanied him, and when there was one thing that he hated about Yggdrasil the most it was the fact that his father's butler wasn't with them here.

"Young Master", he greeted him, his voice firm and yet friendly; far more like he imagined a father would be than he could ever remember Howard to act. "It is good to see you again. How are you?" His smile was honest, and Tony couldn't find it in him to give the same poisonous answer he would have given everyone else.

Instead he gulped down the tears that threatened to spill at this show of genuine care - Stark-Man are made of iron - and tried to smile. "Hey Jarvis. And, you know how it is - I'm fine." He felt his smile waver at the man's searching eyes and looked down at his feet to avoid the man's gaze - ups, he had a hole in his socks, again.

"It's just ... I'm missing home, you know? The workshop, the house, school ... I'm even missing you, you know?" Trying not to show his real feelings he made his voice lighter, made himself smile and look up to show that this was a jest, not the real painful truth.

He didn't need to care, what with Jarvis sighing and pulling him close into a warm, firm hug. "I find myself missing you as well, young Master. The house is simply not the same without you."

Being so surrounded by the one person in his life that he actually cared about, hearing him say that he was missed, too, that the other cared about him ... Tony buried his face against the butler's chest, inhaling the familiar mix of tobacco and honey that seemed to be the other's scent, and felt how his eyes spilled over in the end. His small arms came up so he could cling to Jarvis' waist, and he felt a few sobs shake his body, felt Jarvis gather him closer so he was held securely and save.

When he pulled away again Jarvis only gave him his tissue and gently smoothed a wrinkle out of his clothing, and Tony was relieved that he wasn't mentioning his breakdown. Howard would have his hide if he knew about this - well, if he even bothered to take notice of him for long enough, that is.

"Your parents have elected to eat on their own, young Master", Jarvis eventually cut into his thoughts again. "Would you like me to keep you company while you eat? I would also be very interested to know what has happened here since last we met."

Tony found his smile turning much much brighter and more honest. This was what he was looking forward to with Howard's visits - having Jarvis all for himself, even if it was for just a few hours, and to tell him about his projects - those at least that he could work on without proper tools and parental supervision.

Jarvis didn't wait for his answer, just offered his hand and brought him down to the kitchen, making him sandwiches and honeyed milk like a small child. And Tony loved it, found himself bathing in the attention and preening under praise that he hadn't gotten for his work from anyone so far.

He ate his sandwiches with more appetite than he had had for a while, and told Jarvis about Ricky's attempts to get to him - which had all failed, because Tony was a genius obviously - and how he had hacked into Signor García Álvarez's computer - again - to repair the glitch but had to flee before he could do so because some neighbor had seen the light of the computer and informed the teacher. He told him of his projects for school - which were all boring - and those he found on the net - which were far far more interesting. He spoke at length about the idea for an AI he had, and when Jarvis admitted that he was speaking of things that were far beyond him but sounded like they might work he was almost glowing with pride.

Only one thing had him swallowing heavily, and that was when he had almost finished and Jarvis asked, carefully: "And don't you have any friends in the village, young Master? Or at least someone you might have that you can talk to about ... anything?"

Tony wasn't dumb. And he had never believed Jarvis to be dumb, so he knew exactly was the butler was talking about. Therefore it shouldn't come as a surprise that he was choking on his bread, coughing and heaving heavily until Jarvis was carefully knocking on his back, helping him get up whatever had landed wrong.

"Are you okay, Tony?", Jarvis asked, and Tony's heart ached to hear his given name out of the other's mouth, knowing full well that it was a sign of worry Jarvis wouldn't show anyone else.

"I'm - yes, sure. I just swallowed wrong", he grinned and took a large sip of his milk to show that he was alright.

Jarvis' worried face eased somewhat, yet he didn't relax fully and Tony understood why when he put down the cup and Jarvis just said: "So you still don't have anyone to talk to." It sounded sad and defeated, and Jarvis looked so old and unhappy about it that Tony didn't even contemplate his normal answer of him being a genius and all others beneath him.

Instead he shook his head, smiled and said: "But I do!"

The butler blinked, a small hope blooming in his eyes, yet he asked, sternly: "And who might this be, young Master?" His tone forbidding lies, but Tony, for once, didn't have to tell one.

"It's - they are drakelings, you know? The small dragons they have here. There are two of them - a large one who's really forward and a small one that's totally shy, and they are gold and green and red and, and they are absolutely stunning!" He grinned, remembered how it had felt to play with them, how the big one had snatched after his hand and the smaller had only watched, one eye closed and rolled up on his lap, as Tony teased its companion with leaves, making it jump after them and try to get them. He was so absorbed in the memory that he didn't notice the way Jarvis mustered his face and then smiled fondly, relieved, at what he found there.

"So you made friends with ... how did you put it, flying and shrieking rats?", he teased gently.

Tony grumbled a bit. "That was before I met them", he said, as if that explained everything, and maybe it did. "And they aren't like rats at all. They are ... they are like cats, or dogs ... no, they are better than them. You should meet them, really!" Only when he said it he remembered that he might not see the drakelings again - that for these two, he might not be anything else but another large two-legged person that had played with them for a while.

"What is it, young Master?", Jarvis asked softly, a hand coming up to gently stroke a strand back behind Tony's ear.

Leaning into the caress Tony admitted: "I only met them today, and I don't know whether I'll see them again." Admitting it out loud made his heart sink even lower.

But Jarvis only put a finger under his chin, made him look into his eyes. "You have told me that these drakelings are very smart, Tony. If they are, then they will know that you have a big and very good heart, and they would be very dumb if they wouldn't come back, don't you think?"

Tony found himself smiling in self-deprecation - if it only took intelligence to see that Tony was worth anyone's while, then why wasn't his father seeing it? - but nodded all the same.

Jarvis smoothed over his head, straightening his hair a bit, before he said: "And now I think you belong to bed, young Master. It's better to always be prepared when one is meeting one's friends, don't you think?"

Tony never had had any friends, but he had seen enough movies, read enough stories, and he knew how to answer this question. So he nodded, and smiled a bit, and maybe, maybe he even believed it a bit when he let himself be brought to bed in his big, cold bedroom.

At least he smiled when Jarvis straightened his covers, and pressed a hand against his cheek which felt far warmer than all the kisses that Maria left there whenever she thought to bring him to bed, too.



^^



Of course the peace lasted only until the next morning, when he woke up to loud voices arguing downstairs and the slamming of furniture being forcefully pushed out of someone's way - Maria's, most likely, because Tony had never heard or seen Howard do anything more forcefully than banging his door when he was done with whatever argument they were having.

Tony glanced over to the clock automatically appearing on the top of his nightstand - half past six - and thought that he had slept enough - not that he was likely to find more sleep anyway. If this went the same way as the last time Howard hat visited the argument would go one until one of them said something really awful and then his father would leave.

Quickly and as quietly as possible he slipped into fresh clothes and brushed his teeth before he carefully opened the door.

At once he heard Howard Stark's voice droning up the stairs. "... have to think of the shareholders. Stark Industries isn't strong enough yet to move onto -"

Tony pulled a grimace - he had heard that argument before, and if he knew that it had little value with Maria he would expect Howard to know it, too.

And right, there was his mother's voice, cutting him off mid-word: "I don't care about the shareholders!", she cried, her voice high and hysterical. "I'm going insane on this goddamned mud ball! There's no social life, no shopping, no - nothing ! And have you seen Tony lately? He's always outside playing in the mud ! He's a genius and he's literally playing in the mud! Do you want to waste his potential here, too? He has to learn, has to make connections - like this he won't be able to take SI over as you want! And then there's no real reason for you to have him at all, is there?"

And here it was - Maria pretending to care for him. That it wasn't just her own selfish wish for distractions and 'the right company' that made her rebel against the isolation on this planet.

Though, Tony grimaced while he walked over to the stairway - with how caught up in their argument as they were there was no way they were noticing him, but he still took care to walk over the thick carpet to muffle his steps -, Maria wasn't wrong in what she had said about him - while he could certainly do without meeting shareholders and potential fiances and whoever else might be important company he nevertheless was bored to death wiling away in this place. His talents lay with electricity, building and improving on machines, not playing in the mud , or, to be more exactly, trying to gather as much electronic components as he could for his projects from the storage shacks of the village and the few research stations he could get to. And he wanted, needed to increase his knowledge about the world around him, but even with the ansible there was simply no way to get access to everything, not to mention the sun storms and space storms and wormholes and whatever that made the connection everything but reliable out here.

And the best possible place on Yggdrasil for Tony to gain new knowledge, to train his abilities, would be his father's workshop - a place that was not only equipped with the newest available technology but held also a well-stocked library of books on mechanics that weren't accessible in the actual library. Just that Howard made sure that he couldn't get into the place whenever he left. Because Tony was a child and would burn down the whole human settlement if not properly supervised. Yeah, Tony had heard it often enough. Not that he would have listened, but so far Howard's precautions had worked to keep him out of his father's workplace.

"And what if I don't want to be stuck here while you're on earth playing hero with your Sergeant Peggy ?!" Maria sounded at the edge; this had to be serious. Though why she would be so offended about Aunt Peggy Tony couldn't understand; despite having met her only a very few times Tony knew she was really cool.

But then this argument baffled Howard as well it seemed for he scoffed loudly. "Agent Carter? Are you serious , woman? Your judgment is clouded by jealousy! Don't worry, I'm not interested in replacing you. And that's all you care about, don't you? Not Tony, not StarkIndustries, or the simple fact that your life is saved by staying here , but only that you keep your status, your weal-"

"My life wouldn't even be in danger if you would just stop running after these terrorists! You don't need to - I know the numbers, I know that StarkIndustries could work without you going after Hydra! With the military contracts alone you could make billions, and that's not even taking into account the energy-projects. You don't have any reason anymore to defeat Hydra - or should I say, no reason but Steve Rogers ?"

Tony had reached the bottom of the stairway and he could hear the heavy breathing come from the salon. He shuddered. He knew who Maria was talking about - his father was Howard Stark, after all, the man who had had a hand in creating the Supersoldier. He grew up with stories about him, stories about his greatness, his deeds, his heroics. When he was younger he had often dreamed to become like him, and even though he was old enough to stop having these childish wishes he still kept the comics under his bed, and the action figure Howard had him brought from earth had the place of honor on his desk.

But the way his mother had just spoken about him was completely different. There was a vitriol in her voice he hadn't ever heard before, making it cold and grating and causing a shiver to run down his spine. Suddenly Tony realized that Maria hated Captain America - that maybe the reason his figure had been knocked over so often was not chance, and that his new comics weren't getting lost in the data stream because of too much data flow.

Clutching his shirt he crept nearer, now morbidly curious to know what this was really about.

"What are you saying, woman?" Howard's voice, but cold, colder than Tony had ever heard, and he shuddered again, unease making him feel small. He knew that he shouldn't hear this, and for a moment he thought twice about eavesdropping, but then Maria continued and any thoughts about leaving fled him immediately.

"Do you think I don't know what I am to you - what Tony is to you? Did you forget that I was there - that I have seen you with Rogers? I may have only been one of his dumb little dancers that you raised up above her status, but I have seen the way you looked at him - you loved him more than you ever loved me , ever loved Tony who is your son . I know that I'm not the best mother, but at least I didn't get him only so I could leave him behind, so I could continue to search for a man that is dead, has been dead for more than ten years now ! Do you even-"

" He is not dead! " Howard's voice thundered through the house, followed by a heavy thumb - for once it seemed Maria had broken through his self-control and Tony could practically see the wall quivering with the force of the blow.

Not that it was anything compared to his own shuddering. It was something quite different, he understood now, to suspect that one wasn't held in high regard by one's father compared to knowing beyond doubt that it was so. He knew that Howard had a lot to do, that he couldn't be here all the time … Maria had told him that, his nannies had told him that. That he only had to be patient, a good boy, and then his father – his imperfect, smart, incredible father – would hear of it, would be proud of him. Would love him. And hadn't he brought him gifts? The action figure, Captain America comics, once a blowtorch for his sixth birthday even if it was a week late?

But the silence in the room - a silence that rang far louder than even the blow before - spoke very accurately of what Howard really thought of him.

Tony wished, wished with all his heart, that his father would protest his mother's words, would disagree with her, would say that no, of course he loved Tony . And yet he wasn't entirely surprised when the next words were not about him but about a man he never met, never would meet, because his father lost him years before Tony was even born.

He heard Howard continue, heard him tell Maria that she should never ever speak this way about Steve Rogers again, that she knew nothing ... it didn't matter. There was a noise in his ear, like static, powerful and strong, and he thought that it must come from where he had felt something break in his chest, right over where his heart still beat and pumped blood through his body. Maybe it was blood, this static - that would explain why there was something running down his cheeks, his jaw, and he couldn't stop it, and Stark-man are made of iron and they don't cry, and Tony didn't cry, did he? He didn't, only sometimes with Jarvis because Jarvis would never tell, and he wasn't crying now, was he?

Maybe he was dying - he could have caught some alien illness, and it came with pain in the chest, and breathing problems, and with loss of hearing and bleeding out of the eyes like in that horror movie he had watched once that Maria had forbidden him to watch and that Howard had fired the poolboy for because he had given Tony the movie anyway and Tony had cried and screamed several nights in a row.

And maybe - maybe they would come out in a few minutes, and Tony would be here, and they would see how bad he was and they would say that they were sorry they hadn't loved him enough, and that they would love him more and spend more time with him if he just lived and Howard would promise that they could come home again and that he would spend more time with Tony in the workshop and ... and whatever else Tony wanted, if he would just survive, if he stayed with them ...

And suddenly Tony couldn't bear to stay here, for what if they found him here, still alive, dying, and they didn't care? What if Howard only said that it was no surprise that his disappointment of a son would die from a small illness, and that Maria would only say he should stay away from her because she couldn't afford to catch a cold now, and could he please stop to simulate ...

Before he even thought about it he ran out of the house, not caring if they heard him, or that he hadn't eaten or that Signor García Álvarez was waiting for him to appear in the school in an hour. He just raced straight out of the house, through the garden and then, blinded by the blurring in his eyes, followed the path into the forest that started near the back gate. Lower branches caught in his clothing, ferns whipped his face, but he wasn't slowing down, barely managed to avoid trees and large bushes. A part of him screamed that he should take care where he was going, that he wouldn't find his way out of the jungle if he lost the path - but what did it matter, he was dying anyway.

He heard a sound like that of a hurt animal, and that couldn't be, there were no traps allowed in the forest – it was forbidden – where did it come from – it sounded awful, lost, loud screaming, sobbing. It was bad, and he didn't want to hear it – he brought his hands up to his ears, to keep the screaming out but it was still there, loud terrible sobbing and why – why – why – why was he sobbing? Screaming – was that him ? Was that him that made this sound -?

Something gave under his feet, and suddenly he slit, down – his foot caught on something – a yank and he was free – and then there were trees – trying to grab for them but failing – down – something whipping along his face – light, free, fall – the impact pressed the air out of his lungs and then he was suddenly cold and wet and the water was over him and – he didn't want to die! Not here, not like this – struggling he tried to get up again – where was up – light – light? there! Something touched his foot and he yanked it up, and then there was pain in his hand but he didn't care – his lungs were burning, he needed to get – needed to get up, to the air – there, yes there ! He breathed in deep, drew air and then water when the surface sloshed over him again, made him splutter and struggle and – fuck, he had to get up again – don't want to die like this – and then he was up again, his arms and feet remembering swim lessons from eons ago, struggling to keep him up –

Darkness in front of him – instinct made him turn his head away, turn his back to it – and then the water currents pressed him hard against the rock, mouth opening in pain – but there was no air, no air – all pressed put by the hit – and then he was past, the rock behind him – stars dancing in front of his eyes, gasping, air – another dark rock, but he struggled and tried to swim – and he was past, only his leg brushing it -

He got a handle on swimming in the river slowly, managed to get his head up. Thoughts came back – the river was fast near the village, but slower and broader a bit further down – was this broader and slower? - and he needed to get out. The water was too cool for his body, used to the jungle heat – he would freeze – and he didn't have the strength to stay above the surface for much longer – the cold and the constant need to keep his head up, to avoid more rocks sapped his strength – he needed to get to the shore -

Struggling again he steered over to one side of the river. There was no real shore, just the long roots of trees reaching into the water, and if he got shoved against them he might die yet still – but he was dying if he didn't try anyway – and he was near enough, he could – reach out – yes, yes, yet, now – he had it!

The water was pulling at his clothes, at his shoes and hair, but he had a hold onto the slippery root and he wasn't giving it up for anything. Pulling himself closer and kicking down into the water he found he could touch the ground with the tips of his feet, and he used that to get himself closer to the root, closer to the shore and safety. Another step and he lost the footing he had, toppled under again and almost lost his hold – but he wasn't going to lose his hold – and he kept it, his hand sticking to the root – and then he was up again, spluttering and shaking his hair out of his eyes, blinking against the dirty water running down into his eyes – and suddenly there was the shore, right in front of him, he only had to stick his hand out and touch it, get a grip – and pull himself up … it was so hard – he was so tired, his muscles mush – but he would die if he didn't get up, he didn't have the strength to try again – and so he pulled and pulled and suddenly the water stopped pulling at him and he lay there, half in the water and half outside.

He stopped for a long long moment, just gasped for breath and reveled in the feeling of being still alive.

Alive on a shore where there could be crocodiles and tigers that came to the water to drink and found some delicious Tony to eat …

The sudden image got him up just enough to stumble a few steps further into the forest – the plants were thick here, enough light at the edge of the water – something hooked around his ankle, and then he was falling – falling again – pain shot out from his left wrist, making him gasp and cry out, and then he just lay there, curled around himself, wet and dirty and miserable, cradling his left wrist and he cried – cried because of the pain in his hand, in his chest. Cried out in loss of the love he never had, the loving parents he always wanted and imagined and never had, and he didn't care that Stark-man were made from iron – he never asked to be a Stark-man, he only ever wanted to be loved, and so he cried as he never had, not even with Jarvis – sweet loving Jarvis who always tried to make his hurt better - cried because he loved them as only a child can love their parents, and had been betrayed by that love, by that loved ones, in the most cruel of ways.

And there were only the ferns and trees standing guard, and the river rushing past, and they never cared about a small human child.

 

Chapter Text

Loki wakes up, entangled in his clutchmates' limbs. There is a heavy wing half-spread over his back, a leg that he thinks might be Volstagg's - it's meaty and warm as only his foreleg is - under his cheek, and the tip of a tail tickling his nose. It's warm and comfortable, and he feels safe and content in the embrace of his siblings-and-friends.

Not that he would admit to it, ever. Least of it when he wakes up to a tail twitching over his snout, making his nose itch and crunch, or when a claw scrapes over his own tail because its owner is having a rather animated dream.

He cannot imagine any other way to sleep than between them, up here in the clan's nursery, the other fledgelings spread out over the other bowers and the nurses close by. Cannot imagine another place he would feel this safe, this content, than here, surrounded by familiar smells and noises and the wooden walls of the nestlings bower, he glowing mosses emitting enough light that he can see the tapestries showing pictures he's known for as long as he can remember.

He finds himself smiling up at the image of a couple of fledgelings playing in a tree, the picture set in small colorful stones on the fabric, when the leg flexes again, the claws sinking into his tail.

Hissing he pulls back, climbs out of the tangle of limbs to escape his attacker - Thora-sister, probably, because she's still kicking out and turning around wildly. Pawing carefully over where her claws have struck at him, his eyes slitting when he finds the sore patches and smooths the scales again, he contemplates revenge on his sister.

No easy undertaking, what with her being bigger and stronger than him, easily taking him down even when he makes the effort to attack her. He could use his talent on her, however ... well, father told him he wasn't allowed to use the ice against his clutchmates, but oh, how he sometimes wishes to!

Not that he would. He's a consort, and he knows what that means. It means being good, and having a calming influence on his sister-the-young-queen, and keeping a cool head when everyone else is lighting up in adventure lust. Consorts are rare, almost as rare as queens, and they are needed to balance out the queens' quick temper.

There is only one more consort in the nursery, a young hatchling still, and he is an even more shy and gentle thing than Loki, and everyone is very cautious with him, and no-one would jump on his back and bite playfully in his neck as Fandral-quick-friend is doing right now to Loki.

Growling low in his chest Loki rolls around, barely avoiding a fall from the hammock, forcing the other to let go of him. Quickly, he snaps after his claws, and Fandral jumps back, stumbling half over Volstagg's red-brown tail, wary to bring his paws out of his teeth's reach.

Loki bares said teeth, reminding the boy that he isn't even a clutchmate - not like Sif-sister is or Hogun-warrior-sibling. Fandral and Volstagg are only two children that Thora dragged in one night that refused to go again and leave them in peace, and Loki is forced to live with it because Thora is a young queen and she's used to getting what she wants. (Well, Loki's a young consort and he knows how to make her do what he wants, but then they don't irritate him so much that he wants to suffer Thora-sister's kicked puppy eyes for the rest of the moon)

A nose nudges against his flank, and he squeals a bit and dodges, until he sees that it is Sif, who has woken up now and greets him with bright eyes and low purrs.

Loki returns to her, carefully presses his nose against hers, rubs his cheek to her cheek and purrs in contentment, happy to smell her-who-smells-like-family, and licks over her snout and neck. She crunches her nose and pulls back abruptly, makes a sound of discontent that tells exactly what she thinks of this kind of washing.

Loki grins at her - he likes to tease his siblings, feels safe enough with them to do so. That's what clan-family-home is for, isn't it?

Another sleepy sound, and then there is Hogun, reaching up with nir paw to touch them, nir eyes slowly blinking open. Loki grins, and turns around to nem, but it is Sif who first greets their sibling with a rough cheekrub. Hogun smiles lazily, returns her greeting with a soft hum, then comes over to check on the rest of them with nir usual thoroughness, an einherjar's vigilance as instinctual to nem as getting her will is to Thora-queen-fledgeling.

Meanwhile the rest of them wake up, Volstagg as always mewling in hunger before he's even really awake - and Loki thinks he should eat less, because it's him who slows down their exploration all the time, what with him being almost too heavy to fly, and he tells him so again with a head-stub against his well-rounded belly.

Volstagg only laughs, and then the rest of them do, too, even Thora-sister, who has woken up finally and now comes over, greeting their siblings-and-friends, and Loki huffs and turns around, walks a few paces to sit down and groom himself, carefully licking over his scales and making sure to pull old and loose ones out so that the new can grow out without difficulty. At least one of them has to be fast and agile, so he can rescue them when their antics has brought them in desperate situations again .

Not that it is appropriate behavior for a consort, but then he supposes that the people making the rules never had to deal with the life-or-dead situations Thora brings them in on an almost daily basis.

Thora comes over to lick against his flank, and he pulls back and hisses at her - if she will laugh at him, then she should apologize before he will allow her to touch him again.

But she is a queen, even if she is a young one, and she does not know how to be denied - even though she should seeing as Loki has been happy to do so as long as he can remember. He turns his back on her again when she nudges against his flank without care for what he wants, and he hisses, loud and angry, to show her how much he doesn't like it. She pulls back, surprised, then bares her canines in a grin, simply coming at him again.

Loki isn't having this. Hissing again and thwacking his sister with a well-placed paw right across her snout, he jumps up at the wall, hooks his claws in the wood and makes his way up to where the veins forming their bed meet the nest wall, the liana disappearing between the twigs and branches. For a moment Loki stares at where small white flowers have worked their way through the wall and along the vein. They won't last long, not with all the nestlings still mostly confined to the inside of the nest climbing all over the walls.

A small noise draws his attention back to the inside of the nest. It is vast – prove that the clan of the Aesir are a strong, healthy clan that can care for many many fledgelings. It takes two woodsingers to look after it, Loki knows – more than even for the queens' sphere. As the largest nest in the home-trees-village it is nestled within the branches of an ancient tree, rising up even above all the other giant-trees around them. The first woodsingers have made its branches grow strong and flexible to form the inner wall of the nest, a rough sphere of strong wooden rips, then smaller twigs and veins and plants have settled between them, forming the rest of the walls. Glowing mosses have settled in the crevices between the twigs, illuminating the nest, and a cascade of flowers and leaves hides the air holes.

When the clan became stronger, and Asgard-hme-trees greater, so increased the number of fledgelings and nestlings. New nest-spheres were formed around the oldest one. Plants died due to lack of light, twigs formed anew under the singing and veins came loose, making the openings between the old nest and the new ones bigger and bigger until only the bare ribs remained. Some years before a red vein settled on the tree, and instead of cutting the tree-killing plant off the woodsingers of their generation have allowed it to grow, carefully guarding the tree's integrity, so it now spreads all through the nest's wall and the nest itself. Careful weaving of the stems inside the bower formed the hammocks, something that stuns visiting not-clan-Ymiri.

The hammocks are big enough to hold several adult Ymiri, and often a whole clutch shares one. Cushions and blankets are carelessly thrown over the liana, showing who the bed belong to; the nestlings often in the lower levels, the fledgelings, capable of flight, in the upper.

As are he and his clutchmates-and-friends. He cannot see them from where he sits – another hammock barring them from view, so he carefully makes his way over to where a curtain of leaves and red sweet smelling flowers hides the entrance. Sigyn-favorite-caretaker looks up from where she's curled around the younger man that shares her hammock most often – Meili, his older-brother-hunter. When she sees that it's him she smiles – he's a fledgeling-consort, she knows he won't search out trouble as the rest of her charges do. He returns her smile with one of his own – he doesn't want for her to climb after him, ask whether he's had trouble with Fandral-annoying-little-shit again. Or, worse, follow him out when he wants to be alone.

Once he's resting on the protruding branch right in front of the entrance he turns around to check on his friends - and finds to his annoyance that they are ignoring him, now engrossed themselves with grooming. Only Hogun looks up, nir snout twitching slightly, but really - if Loki's making a big departure, then he wants to be watched ! And if he can't have that, then he will go and find something to do elsewhere until they remember how much they need him and search for him.

So he simply pulls his head and tail high and leaves the bower, then quickly climbs over to the bigger hole to the outdoors.

There is no door in front of it - no need for it so deep within the colony - and Loki easily makes his way to the outside of the nest, his sharp claws finding easy footholds in the twigs sand vines growing all over the outer shell. Out here there are more of the white flowers, their scent sweet and spicy in the fresh morning air. They are a bit bigger here where the sun can touch their petals and leaves, and far more likely to survive where the nestlings aren't climbing all over them.

The cool air feels good stroking through his frills, and he raises them just to feel the wind playing in them. Water trickles down over the leaves, forms little rivulets along the veins and dampens his paws - it must have rained in the night, a very rare occurrence in the jungle, making the air clear and fresh and Loki inhales the smell of the humid forest, mourning a bit that he missed it. He loves rain, and when the other fledgelings take cover in the nest he will often sit at the entrance and watch the heavy drops and small rivulets fall down from the leaves of the higher trees, and run along the bark of their trunks and veins. Sometimes, when the rain surprises them during foraging they have to seek shelter wherever they can - not even Thora is dumb enough to try flying in the rain; not that she would like to do so – and if he's lucky they have a free view into the open sky, and oh, is it different to see the rain falling down to the earth, without the high trees to block it's clear path! He will then sit there, feel it wash over his scales and closed eyes and down his frills and wings until Hogun gets too antsy and pulls him under the shelter as well.

Really, Loki can sit for hours and watch the glittering drops fall down, create small rivulets and puddles on the earth, flooding together and becoming bigger and bigger until the whole ground seems to be one great see.

His clutchmates-and-friends have always found his fascination with water very strange and incomprehensible. But then he finds it just as strange that they can go right to sleep after they have licked the water from their scales and shaken it out of their frills when there is such a fascinating sight going on.

Yet, however, Loki finds himself a bit intimidated. It is not that he has never gone foraging alone before, but he knows how rain will mask his scent, and how it will be so much more difficult to find him should he get lost. Hesitating his claws push deeper into the vines before slowly loosening again. He can still return - or simply wait out here, finish his grooming and-

A loud shriek cuts into his musings, Sif-sister's voice ringing clear from inside followed quickly by Fandral's deeper laugh, and he can see it in his mind's eye how his siblings-and-friends are playing with each other, completely forgetting about him while they hunt each other's tails, or jump or race. Indignity rises in him again, cold filling his chest with determination; he will not return to them before they apologize, and if he has to wait the whole day for it!

Quickly, before his decision can waver again, he pushed himself away from the nursery bower, spreads his wings and hastily beats them to gain the speed and high he needs. There are some whistled queries while he flies through the colony, adults who are already awake and surprised to see a fledgeling flying alone, but he ignores them, sure they will not try to catch him. After all, he's a young consort, isn't he? Consorts are shy and smart, they would never do something dumb like fly out in the woods alone.

Smiling secretly to himself - because he will do what he damn well pleases, and it doesn't matter what everyone else thinks he should do - he reaches the last bower and gives a little trill to let the guard know that it's him flying by, and then he's free, free! to sail on the warm upwind, circling up and up and up until he's above the crowns of the trees, the wind dragging through the frills growing behind his head and caressing his skin and wings like his mother-queen's consort's hand.

He releases a cry of joy at that. Flying so high that he can feel the wind free of the currents created by the forest, so high he can look down at all but the biggest mountain trees, sailing without effort on the currents - he loves this! Loves this so much that he completely forgets about the indignity his idiotic siblings have caused him, about being alone when he is still so small ... he just wants to fly , wants to be faster than the green birds rising next to him, and so he cups his wings a bit, feels the winds getting caught in them and pushing him forward faster, faster , and then he starts beating his wings and it is pure joy to race the birds. He whoops when he passes through them, their formation shattered when they try to escape his sharp claws. And they taste good, they do, but he has eaten good the day before, he doesn't need to eat again now, he can wait until he is not enjoying himself, and so he pulls himself back before he sinks his claws into the body before him, watches as the bird escapes his antics, and then pushes his wings further, returns his focus to flying high and fast, not catching a bird he doesn't even plan on eating.

He know that the land around them as far as he can fly in one day at least are theirs - more, even, but they always return to the colony for the night, so it doesn't matter how much more -, and he and his siblings-and-friends have explored it so much that he knows every tree here, knows where there are the best places to rest without fear of the few predators-that-can-hurt-f ledgelings, or where to find berries and leaves and mushrooms when he does not want to hunt.

Finding himself with an appetite for berries and a bit of fatigue settling in his muscles - not much, but it is better to rest when he can instead of flying until he falls from the sky as Volstagg-friend does - he cups his wings, changing his angle until he heads for a certain mountain tree where he knows he will find both green berries and a safe resting place.

It is near the river that goes up to the not-clan- not-Ymiri though he has never seen them use it in the way they use some of its smaller side-arms – putting constructs like large nut-shells on it and then, settled in them, go over the water. It's very intriguing, and Loki has often found himself wondering how and why they do it – they have other constructs that float after them, but he's never seen them use these to go over the ground faster, and wouldn't that be much more sensible?

A part of him really really wants to ask them why they do it, and how these things work, but another, bigger part … is simply too scared of them. It's bad enough that Thora- stubborn-curious -fledgeling- queen drags them into their village so often – reigning-queen-mother thinks they are safe enough to tolerate on their lands, but not safe enough that fledgelings should go near them alone, so his sister always drags all her clutchmates-and-friends after her.

He was scared when Thora lead them there the first time, m any many turns of the moon ago, but he isn't anymore. He has watched them from on high as they went about their day, taking barely any note of them. He has even taken food from them - they have very delicious food, very sweet, and they have a juice that is sweet and prickles on his tongue like overripe fruit sometimes does, and he would go back just for that.

Reaching the tree trunk he quickly snaps his wings out, slowing his descend, and hooks his claws into the thick vines growing up into the branches. His momentum sets them swinging but he is good at keeping his balance, barely wavers when the vine shifts and simply moves himself down onto a lower branch, his paws finding good purchase on the thick bark and moss. Skidding down along the trunk doesn't take long, even with how high the tree is - whenever he has the room he spreads his wings to fly to a lower branch, then climbs down the next part until he submerges into the forest again, and then lower still until he is almost on the ground level, only twice an adult's length above it.

Here he stops for a moment, gives his eyes time to readjust to the lower greener light again, gives himself time to orientate, until he finds what he is searching for - a lower tree, growing up in the shadow of the mountain tree, with blue blossoms and bluish vines growing along its trunk.

Crouching down to jump over to the lowest branch of that tree, a certain smell hits his nose, makes it itch and crunch. Hesitatingly he pulls up again, trying to sort through his memory just what kind of smell this is.

It's not dangerous, that he is sure of - he has always been good with dangerous smells, since someone has to be and most of his clutchmates-and-friends certainly aren't. Really, there are times when he thinks they wouldn't be alive anymore without him. Him and Hogun-einherjar-guard-fledgeling; he knows that his einherjar-sibling is as responsible for keeping them alive as he is.

But what else can it be, if it's not dangerous? It's no-one from the colony - he knows everyone there, and their smells are as familiar to him as his own, even that from those that he doesn't like because they tease him for being not the perfect shy good consort, and he's going to show them how good of a consort he is! He will find a queen that is great and he will be the best possible consort there is out there for her!

Still - if it is not from the colony, then what else is it? Curiosity getting the better of him, he abandons his quest for berries and climbs around the mountain tree, finds the direction the smell comes from, and then spreads his wings, beating them fast to fly over to where this is coming from.

It doesn't take long - only a few paces further he finds the source of the smell, and is both disappointed and intrigued that it is a not-clan-not-Ymiri. And not only any of them – it's the one he met yesterday when Thora-sister wished to fly over to their colony and the others wished to stay and sate themselves at the little tree-hopper they had caught. They had found the small one out of their village and Thora -stubborn-not-always-smart had to go over and sniff at him. Instead of waving them off, as they normally did, kicking and hitting after them - though it had tried to do that at first, too, but then Thora-sister is a fledgeling-queen and not easily discouraged -, the small one had welcomed them with soft strokes and scratchings on their necks and bellies, and he made noises that Loki had liked a lot.

So maybe that is why he remembers this one's smell when he doesn't remember the other ones'. Still, should he fly down to it, when he is alone and Thora-fighter isn't there? Mother-queen's consort wouldn't have said they should be careful around them without reason.

But it's so small, not even half a big as a clan-adult, and Frigg-father couldn't mean small ones, yes?

Uncertainty keeps him frozen on the spot over the creature until he realizes - it isn't moving. Cocking his head he contemplates whether it is dead - can it be eaten? No-no, Mother-Queen said no attacking-eating no-clan-no-Ymiri, and when it is already dead it might be poisoned and he might poison himself, or it might be a predator's prey.

A sound comes from down, and it moves a bit, a paw stretching under it's head - so not dead yet, then. But if it is not dead then it is far from it's village - he knows that they don't normally come this far into clan-colony's territory. Maybe ... maybe it's lost? And if it is lost - maybe he can keep it? He's sure Frigg will know what they eat, or they can figure it out, and then he can keep it and it can scratch him and be his friend and he won't have to put up with his clutchmates-and-friends being idiots all the time. Maybe, if they are good and apologize, he will allow them to get such good headscratches, too.

Decided, he flies down and takes up a position near it's head, on a fallen tree where he can keep watch over their surroundings - he's not big enough to carry his new friend-pet-possession, and he's not sure whether it's good to wake it up. Instead he will wait until it wakes by itself, and then he will see what it will do, and when it is lost he will bring it home and ask mother-queen-Odin whether he can keep it.

Chapter Text

Tony hadn't noticed that he had fallen asleep – or, well, fallen unconscious, rather. His muscles felt heavy, sagging in the wet underground like stones, his bones were mushy and didn't feel like they might be capable of keeping him upright. Wet leaves stuck to his face and something – twigs, stones, whatever – poked into his side.

For one blissful moment that was all he knew – that he was out in the middle of nowhere, damp clothing stuck to his skin and the underground was hard and uncomfortable. The light was dim and green, jungle-like, though why he would lie down in a predator-infested forest on an alien planet he couldn't fathom.

And then memory hit him with the force of a train wreck, making him sit up straight abruptly.

His parent's argument.

Being nothing more but a placeholder for his father.

Barely having his mother's love.

Running away from the pain and ice and sharp words lodging themselves into his ear and mind and heart. Running into the jungle because it's the only place no-one would follow him and he could be alone

Loosing his footing. Water, panic, pain – getting out, somehow.

Stark-man are made of iron.

Maybe he should rage against all this injustice – should rage against his parents never loving him as much as he wanted them to, but … he had done that already, hadn't he? And he was tired now, and hungry, and exhausted. And he felt a hollowness inside him where the rage should be … an emptiness where he had always felt warm and happy when his mother addressed him – him, not father – or when Howard brought him something from his travels, even if it was just an old action figure or something …

He really didn't feel up to do anything. Not when he was so miserable and cold and just wanted to be home , and wanted to not know what his parents thought about him.

Slowly, slowly awareness trickled in of the situation he was in. Like – being alone in the middle of literally nowhere? With a forest-load of predators on one side of him – predators like the giant red spider-thing that Segnor García Álvarez threatened them with, and the Winged Death, and who knew what else? And behind him, swapping up to almost his feet, the river with another set of predators waiting within, out for a Happy Tony-meal.

He was luckier than humanly possible to still be alive. He knew the statistics – he knew that he shouldn't be alive anymore, there should have been one hunter or another making a pass on him, and with him lying there unconscious he probably wouldn't even have noticed something until it was too late.

Or maybe he wouldn’t even have noticed anything at all.

A shiver ran over his spine, and he went cold despite it being as hot-as-fuck as ever. He had always prided himself on being good, and smart, and knowing how to survive, even in the most hostile environment. Before Howard had sent them here he had even looked up the place, and strategies of how to survive in jungles on alien planets. The handbooks had had as many different opinions as there had been authors, but one thing they all agreed in? You give up paying attention to your surrounding, you give up being alive.

So why the fuck was he still alive?

Slowly he put his palms on the earth, intend on standing up and getting a bitter look at his surroundings – only to hiss out when pain shot up his left wrist right into his elbow, making him jerk the hand away. Vaguely he remembered hitting the hand against a rock, and when he examined it carefully he found it swollen and red, though probably not broken – he could use his hand alright, so it probably wasn't broken, yes?



A motion right at the edge of his sight snapped his attention to a fallen tree a few meter ahead. It was thickly covered with moss, small ferns sprouting out of its rotting bark and a few low bushed with red berries grew about it, almost hiding what was sitting on the thick trunk. Because there, sitting with its small paws delicately put in front of it and the head tilted slightly, curiously, was a small drakeling. It's elevated position meant it could look right into his eyes, but it was still very obvious that it was a very small one, almost as small as ...

Tony creased his forehead and leaned forward to look it over carefully. The drakeling had black scales with a green sheen where the dim sun reflected off them, more green along its stomach, and the tips of its spines and tail petered out in gold, with more gold along its back.

Looking in the deep green eyes of the little drakeling he asked: "You're the little one from yesterday, aren't you? Where's your companion, the little fire lizard?"

The drakeling cocked his head as if it was trying to understand the meaning of Tony's words, then it spread its wings a bit and beat them once, yet didn't try to fly away. Tony returned the look, then looked around, tried to find the other drakeling - surely the little beast wouldn't be alone, not when they were known to appear in flocks.

He couldn't make out the little red-and-gold one however, but the motion – and the fact that all that met his gaze was jungle, jungle and then even more jungle – reminded him of something else – he was still in danger, and conversing with the little fellow had only distracted him again from finding a way out of this green hell.

And the only way he knew was back along the river, which would be littered with crocodiles – or whatever equivalent for them Yggdrasil had – as well as traps and the webs of spiders and whatnots and, well, more danger. And that was if he even found the spot where he had fallen into the water – he mightn't have gone far into the jungle before, but he had noticed that the forest had a way of swallowing up all footsteps and other signs of human presence after a few minutes – and until he made it up there again it would be hours .



"Shit ...!", he whispered, staring in horror at the water running with fast indifference. He really should have paid more attention to where he was going. Should have paid at least enough attention to not slide down a fucking hill and into a fucking river!

Though maybe – maybe there was hope still. Hastily he pushed his hands in his pocket, searching for the phone he knew he always kept with him – it was waterproof, and maybe he could receive some signal – reception was bad, and he had no idea why he had to use an ancient cell phone on this planet when I-Ears had been on the market since late Stone Age and they were mere buttons in your ear and had way better reception and higher quality sound … but when he was still near enough to the village even this ancient trash should work …

Miracle upon miracles, the phone wasn't only still there, but responded when he turned it on. A slash right over its surface told him that it must have collided with some rock, but that was okay, he could fix that, he only needed to get out here, so the small bar at the side had to show that it got some signal, even if it was only a very small one …

There was none.

The feeling of dying hope was a lot like being left out in the cold when everyone else went in for some party that one wasn't invited to, Tony found. Like a candle going out, and heaviness settling in his limbs once more, making him dump down in the soil. He could feel tears prickle in his eyes again, but he wiped them away with his arm, not caring that it had mud stuck to it that itched on his skin. He didn't want to die here, not even when no-one loved him (And someone did, there was always Jarvis, blessed, wonderful Jarvis, who was always there for him).

And breaking down in tears wouldn't help him. Stark men are made of iron. And no Stark man would tear up in this situation. They would – they would rage at it and then get the fuck out of here!

Calling on his fear he shoved it aside, tried to turn it into rage. Because he didn't want to die now, and tears and fright were useless, but being angry was not . "Fuck!", he cursed, and felt lighter when it helped him shove the fear back. "That's so ... they're going to write 'never did as told, and died for it' on my gravestone. I don't want to be a warning for children to not go into the jungle!" A hysterical laugh gurgled up in him, but he swallowed it down. Hysteria wouldn't help him here either.

He had to think - food, shelter, water. No, shelter, water, then food. And only if he couldn't get out - maybe ... maybe he should ... maybe he could climb one of the trees and try to find the village that way ... no, he would never make it up high enough. More likely he would fall down and end up breaking a bone or something. But maybe he could-

Movement along his ankle had his eyes snap down, pictures of smaller predators native to the planet coming to his mind - but it was only the drakeling, having come after him and now settling in next to where he had sunken down into the mud, its tail lightly swaying in Tony's direction.

A soft noise, as if it was inquiring what he was doing. Tony felt a crooked grin settle on his lips and slowly reached out with his hand, careful not to startle his little companion, and when it wasn't running away, only eyed him warily, he offered it his fingers like he would a cat. The little lizard carefully sniffed at his hand, then licked over it, its tongue raspy and tickling, and Tony grinned a bit more genuine, some panic leaving him in favor of a small amount of warmth unfurling in his chest.

"Hello, little bastard", he said to the drakeling, smiling wider when the lizard only blinked slowly up at him, then pushed its head into Tony's hand. "Yeah, wished my life was as easy as yours. Bet you've never had to wonder whether your parents love you, did you? You've probably got yourself a beautiful man or wife or whatever and I bet you've got a fine cave somewhere as well, and maybe some kids or so ... don't think you've ever been lost in this forest, yeah?"

The lizard didn't answer - of course not - but it started purring when Tony started to drag his fingers through its spines, and so he continued a little while until the creature was softly purring and boneless right across his lap. Its claws were flexing a bit, biting lightly through Tony's pants, but he found that he didn't mind. He felt oddly comfortable with the drakeling's presence keeping the panic at bay, and he could think more clearly about how he could find his way out of the forest again. Not to mention that the drakeling was pretty small and had better senses than him – as long as it stuck around there couldn't be a larger predator around, yeah?

"...it's about the direction, you know? If I always walk up the river I will reach a point where I will have reception again, and then I can call the village. Well, I hope – that's all depending on how good the weather is. Sometimes there's no reception at all, even if you're standing right in the middle of the village, and sometimes you can call even the research stations out in the jungle. And it depends on whether or not the phone is still working – but it should, because Howard made it, and he's a dick, but he's good at developing the best, even if it is age-old shitty technology, you kno-Hey!”

The lizard jumped up abruptly and Tony cut himself off in surprise, anxious his little friend would leave him alone in the forest. Frightened it had smelled or heard something that Tony hadn't, and he was about to be eaten.

But it was only running a few steps, jumping up at the same fallen tree as before and looking back at him. And Tony could be imagining things but he thought the lizard looked at him - expectantly?

Slowly he got to his feet, more careful of his wrist this time, watched the way the lizard's eyes followed his movements, then walked carefully over to the drakeling. Which let him come as close as maybe a pace before it turned around again and darted away, vanishing under the high roots of a mountain tree and then appearing again half-climbing a tree a bit further into the jungle.

Tony stared at it. "You sure you're not a dog?", he asked, because 'I must be hallucinating' seemed just so cliche. But he was sure that the little lizard was trying to lead him somewhere.

Yeah, maybe his companion isn't here because it prepared an ambush for the big dumb prey, he thought in dark humor. At least I'll sate their whole family's hunger.

Still, he wasn't that dumb, was he? He wouldn't just follow a dumb animal into the forest, not when there might be someone in the village who could follow foot prints ... the Aesir, for example.

Blinking he looked at the drakeling anew. It was watching him now with hooded eyes and twitching tail, its wings carefully tugged behind its back and the snout just open enough to show a small row of teeth. The Aesir were very attached to the drakelings, and the lizard had carefully woven beads in its spines - maybe they were their pets? And if so, was the lizard leading him to the Aesir's settlement? Because the Aesir would sure be able to show him the way back to the village, wouldn't they?

Hope lit up in him - this would sure explain why the drakeling was acting the way it was. He probably thought Tony was one of the natives and tried to bring him back to the rest of the clan. And with a bit of luck their colony wasn't as far, and Tony might make it there without running into even more danger.

Still, he couldn't simply run after the little lizard, not without precaution. He wasn't believing in coincidences that much. So he climbed out of his sneakers and socks, pulled a thread of one sock free and tied it around the root next to him. He carefully unspooled a length of the thread, then looked over to the lizard that was still watching him with big eyes, obviously curious what this strange human was doing.

Grinning over to him Tony said: "Yeah, well, don't trust you that much, you know, little beast?"

The lizard made a trilling noise as if in answer, then climbed up on the lowest branch and run along, jumping over to the next tree.

Tony groaned. "A bit slower, maybe?", he said, but then just sighed and followed to where the lizard was leading him, hoping he wasn't running right into a whole nest and would end up as lizard-lunch.



^^



When they reached the Aesir colony Tony had almost finished his second sock and was contemplating whether he should simply stop or unravel his sweater, too, and risk loosing his last layer of catching a cold should the little lizard simply play with him. Not that catching a cold was that probable - it was still morning, and he was already sweating a lot. And he didn't plan on running after the lizard for long enough that night cold settled in.

He was so deep in thought that he completely missed the signs of someone settling around here until suddenly the lizard gave a very different sound to the trills he'd heard until now, a deep rumbling one, that had him look up from his feet in surprise - directly into the stern face of a dark giant predator.

Shrieking in surprise he jumped back, only for the predator to tilt its head and look him over with eyes like molten gold, making no move to come closer.

Which it wouldn't. Because it wasn't a predator. Or an it at all, really. What stood there in front of him, dark and large and imposing, was nothing but one of the natives he'd been searching for. And, well, going by the way he mustered Tony, and how he had approached them before Tony could stumble further into the settlement - going by how there were colorful figures sitting in the trees behind them, curious eyes directed at them, this was probably the Yggdrasilian equivalent to a suburb - he assumed the man was a guard.

A guard who simply stood there and looked Tony over as if he wasn't sure what to do with him.

Since he seemed disinclined to attack Tony inspected him as well. He was large in every sense of the word - maybe not as gigantic as he'd first thought, but certainly bigger than most humans that Tony had ever met, well over two and a half meters from the shoeless (and rather spectacularly clawed) feet to the pointed tips of his curved horns, with strong muscles bulging in the arms he had crossed in front of a rather impressive chest. Black scales with a brown undersheen covered his body, with a few golden ones thrown between, forming lines along his head and chest and arms, making it look as if he was wearing armor instead of a richly embroidered open tunic. His head looked a lot like a lizard's, making him seem like a humanoid dragon-creature with ivory colored short horns, golden spines cascading down his back and hanging from the side of his neck. When he tilted his head a bit further Tony could see frill-like ears, similar to the ear-flaps of the dragons on Pern. There was a golden ring in one of them, while a whole row of them went down the first segment of the ear-flap on the other side, ending in a long ring with an amber pendant.

More jewelry adorned his spines - ruby-red feathers and more amber were woven between them, falling down to where a broad golden collar encompassed the thick ropey muscles of his throat. Plain golden cuffs sat around his wrists, making them look even heavier and stronger. Another band was wound around his crocodile-like tail, right under the thickened tip; this one was richly decorated with small dark gray and red stones that glimmered in the half-light of the jungle.

Behind him folded wings of the same dark color as his skin created the image of a second shadow.

Before Tony had really recovered from his shock his little lizard-friend was there again, rubbing against the native - the Aes , if it was one of the Aesir he'd been searching for.

The man was looking down at him, growling something deep in his throat, like a question or an inquiry. And the lizard gave him a trilling series of high-pitched sounds that almost sounded like an answer.

Something shifted in the man's face, making it softer somehow despite sharp white teeth showing behind his thin scaly lips. He bowed down lightly to the drakeling and made some more noises, this time higher and clearer, and somehow very similar ...

Tony found himself thanking all gods of science that he hadn't voiced any of his thoughts about keeping the little fellow as his pet and he really really hoped that the drakeling knew as much about his language as he knew about its. Theirs . He couldn't believe he had thought that the little one had a wive and kids and lived off the grace of the Aesir when in truth he was quite obviously the child-version of the adult native now standing in front of him. Well, he could always excuse himself with the fact that he had barely known anything about the natives before (fuck the First Directive and fuck the Vulcans making that firewall that impenetrable!), but still ...

Knowing the truth it was hard not to see the similarities - the dragonoid body of the adult with wings and scales and tail. The short horns and the fucking spines that started right behind them, reaching around their necks. Their paws and fingers that ended in short wicked claws. Really, it was much more difficult to not see this, and - why the fuck hadn't the scientists made this connection? They had been here on Yggdrasil for almost 50 years now, and even the First Directive - no interference - couldn't explain why they hadn't thought of this!

Shaking his head about their stupidity he almost missed when the guard turned back to him, his eyes mustering him unblinking and so intensely Tony found himself shrinking a bit into himself.

"You got lost in the forest?", he asked, his deep voice surprisingly soft and warm though raspy, his accent so heavy that Tony, not having expected him to speak his language, almost didn't understand him.

But he did, and he had come here for help, hadn't he? Staring up at the guard, his fingers still wound tightly around the rest of his sock, he nodded quickly.

The man's lips tilted up, almost formed into a smile, and the change in his expression transformed his whole face, made it much less stern and far more approachable. "Then it is very fortunate that Loki-consort-fledgeling here found you." He nodded to the little drakeling who was now sitting close by, watching them with a strange expression on its - his , Loki sounded like a he - face. When he found himself under observation he puffed up a bit, his tail making snake-like movements, then he stuck his head up and high as if he was ... embarrassed? Why would he be embarrassed?

The guard beside him shook lightly as if from suppressed laughter, but when Tony looked over at him he just shook his head, then raised his hands to his chest before holding them, palm up, in front of him. "I am Heimdallr, of Odin-reigning-queen and Atla-treefox-huntress", he said, his voice soft.

Tony hesitated for a moment, then tried to copy the gesture, suppressing a wince when the motion pulled at his hurt wrist. But it was worth it when he saw the surprised glint in Heimdallr's strange gold eyes. "I'm Tony, erh ... of Howard and Maria?"

The guard's lips quirked a bit, not quite enough to be called a smile. "I understand you use second names?"

"Mmh?" Tony didn't understand.

"How do you call yourself?", Heimdallr tried again.

"Oh." He felt a bit dumb. Of course the Aesir would know that humans had a different way to name themselves - they'd been dealing with them for several decades now. "I'm Tony Stark. Well, Anthony Edward Stark, but no-one calls me that."

The guard nodded. "It is nice to meet you, Anthonyedward-Stark." Then he nodded over to the lizard - Loki. "This is Loki, of Odin-reigning-queen and Frigg-first-consort."

Tony hesitated for a moment, then raised his hand - more carefully this time, so he wouldn't hurt himself again -, touching his chest and offering his palm in the greeting gesture of the Aesir, hoping the other would understand him. That he was really as intelligent as Heimdallr's behavior to him indicated, because otherwise he would look like a fool now. "Tony", he said, pronouncing each syllable very carefully. "Tony Stark."

The reaction was far beyond what he had expected - probably because he still thought of the drakeling as an animal, not a child like him. So he really was surprised when the lizard opened his mouth and tried several sounds, finally settling on "Zoonee." Blinking he realized that Loki had tried to say his name.

Still flabbergasted he almost missed the drakeling settling back on his hind legs, half-opening his wings for balance, and touched one paw to his chest before putting it out in front of him. "Loki", he said, followed by some incomprehensible sounds between which Tony could barely recognize the names of his parents.

Not quite sure what he should be doing he thought back to what the boy had done and then repeated: "Loki."

The lizard stared at him with wide eyes. His left eyelid twitched, then a shiver ran through his body, made his wings and tail flutter like leaves on a tree caught in a hard wind, before he was suddenly up a tree, vanishing into the rich green foliage.

Tony stared after him, wondering what he had done to scare the little one away. Whether he had done something really offensive that had destroyed any chance for the small one becoming his friend. Warily he looked up at the guard. "Have I done something wrong?"

The man only made a small gesture with his hand. "Loki-fledgeling-consort is just ... he is a fledgeling- consort . He is shy. I am more surprised he even let you get to know him the way he did." Then, when Tony stared at him incomprehensibly - yes, Loki had been shy, but not that much! - he simply did this half-smile again. "Be patient with him - he likes you, but he needs time when he meets new people. And you, curious-boy, should probably go back to your village - your people will miss you already."

Oh yes, they would. Actually, now that fear for his life wasn't taking up all of Tony's thoughts anymore he could very easily imagine Signor García Álvarez being furious about his absence. Or maybe the man was relieved that Tony wasn't there, even hoping that Howard had bought Tony the private teacher a rich student should have, or that he would take Tony back with him to where he would never have to bother with him again.

Well, Tony could have told him that it was unlikely to happen, not with his father caring less about him than about the quality of his coffee in the morning.

Surprised and relieved Tony found himself able to think past the pain that knowledge had inflicted in his chest, found that the ice had been washed away by his tears. Where there had had been coldness now embers sizzled, ready to burst in a wild fire of rage at any moment.

Knowing how Howard thought about him had made him feel worthless, unwanted, but that wasn't right . Wasn't how he was supposed to feel. Even less from someone who hadn't been there for most of his life, only ever spend more than a few minutes with him when he needed the public impact having a son could give him. And that was wrong, wrong . Made the blaze flare up, higher until he almost had to gasp against the feeling that spread right through his chest. Anger and rage potent enough that a part of him, a very big part, really really wished for Howard to feel pain like he did, and he would be very happy to help.

He wasn't proud of this part, but he couldn't stop the way he was feeling.

The arrival of another Aesir startled him out of his thoughts, and he looked up when the other drew near. He was almost as big as Heimdallr, with dark copper scales on his back and lighter ones around his face, neck and arms, his wings almost black. But there was something light about him, something careless and reckless in the way his eyes twinkled and he smiled at Tony, where Heimdallr's sterner behavior spoke of reliability and trustworthiness.

Heimdallr and he spoke in their own language for a few minutes, a series of deep throaty sounds interrupted with some lighter higher ones. Tony could see that Heimdallr kept an eye on him even though he never directly looked in his direction, while the other Aes dismissed him after a first once-over until Heimdallr made a last final motion, cutting off whatever the other wanted to say.

The new Aes looked like he wanted to argue some more, but he was simply ignored when Heimdallr turned to Tony. His tail twitched, and Tony found himself reminded again of a cat with the way it seemed to speak of annoyance.

But his voice was as friendly as before when he explained: "I will lead you back to your people, so that you might be home before long, yes?"

Nodding Tony agreed, even though ... some part of him would have liked to stay a while longer. Would have liked to search for Loki and his friend. Would have liked very much to explore the colony he could get glimpses of in the tops of the trees behind them - globes hanging within them, connected by vines and ropes and even bridges, small platforms in the branches of trees, and shadows that spoke of caves in the trees. He couldn't see much activity going on, though there were a few colorful inhabitants of the village, looking down at them in open curiosity, and he got the impression that he was eyed by other, shier yet not less curious natives from within the orbs and holes.

Going back to a village where he had no friends and even less to do, to a father that was barely there and a mother that only now and then remembered that he existed didn't sound at all inviting, but he knew that he had to.

Knew also that when Loki had come to him once he might come again, and that maybe, maybe he could find a friend in him.

Looking up to the giant guard he asked, reluctantly: "You ... can you tell Loki that I would like to meet him again? To ... to thank him? That he's brought me here?"

He wasn't sure how the man would take it, but he only nodded, quite obviously amused. "I am sure he will come to see you, though it might take him some time." His smile broadened a bit and his tail twitched again, though in a quite different way somehow as he added: "But I think Thora-queen-fledgeling will not suffer to withstand her curiosity, so I don't think you'll have to wait too long."

Thora? Tony blinked, then realized - "His friend? ... well, I guess she's his friend?"

Heimdallr nodded. "Yes, she is. And his sister. Though-" A loud cry interrupted him, and both he and the other Aesir tilted their head, listening carefully to whatever was said.

Another voice carried on the cry once the first one fell silent, and Tony, not capable of understanding anything, was left to wonder what they said. At least it didn't sound panicky or anything, so it shouldn't be anything bad, yes?

Looking down again he saw that Heimdallr was watching him. When he saw that he had Tony's attention he nodded to the rest of the sock he still held in his left hand. "We will start there."

Tony looked down at the pathetic remains of his stockings, and then back into the wood where a trail lead right into the village, very easy for every sentient being to find. Every human to find.

Nodding mutely he clutched his end of his make-shift breadcrumbs tighter, wincing slightly when the motion shot threats of pain up in his elbow. His breath hitched, and he tried to suppress the shudder at the painful feeling.

He dreaded looking at his wrist, had tried to keep his eyes turned from it for some time now, but yet he couldn't stop his gaze from snapping to it. The swelling had gotten worse and now that he actually focused on it he could feel it throbbing, his heart-beat reverberating where he had bruised his bones.

He still hoped it was bruised. It didn't feel like it was broken, and he could move his wrist and hand almost normally despite the pain and swelling, so ... it wasn't broken. Please, it can't be broken.

"You are hurt."

His attention snapped back to Heimdallr, who wasn't meeting his eyes, instead gazing to his wrist as well with an expression that might be care, though Tony wasn't sure. It was hard to read his face, harder still than a human's.

When Tony didn't answer he looked up. "This looks very painful."

Howard would have told him to suck it up - having been in a war meant he thought everything that wasn't likely to cause permanent harm or kill him wasn't important enough to see a doctor. Maria would make a fuss, dragging him to the hospital or maybe even call the doctor over.

Jarvis would have examined it and decided his course of action afterwards.

This stranger simply asked: "Do you need something for it?"

And Tony loved being fussed about, loved not being ignored, but he liked being taken seriously, as if his opinion mattered , even more. Biting his lower lip he examined what he was feeling - pain, swelling, probable bone trauma. It would get worse the longer he left it untreated, and he didn't want to go see Maria or even Jarvis when he came home, not when he had to explain then why he wasn't in school, and how he had managed to sprain his wrist.

"Maybe", he said eventually. "Yeah, I think ... yes." Though - "But I'm not sure - I'm a human, whatever you use may be-"

A hand appeared where he was still looking at his wrist, hovering slightly over the sprain as if its owner was waiting for an invitation to touch. "Eir-healer will know to help you without harming you."

Tony swallowed. This was ... asking a lot. A lot of trust. He remembered, very viscerally, the tales of people eating or even only touching stuff from alien planets. Fuck, he knew that earth had a fuckload of stuff that was dangerous, poisonous to humans. Actually ... a cold shiver ran over his spine when he realized how lucky he was that he had reached the village relatively unharmed. There were spiders and bugs and other animals out there who wouldn't say no to a delicious Tony-snack. He might be as poisonous to them as they were to him, but that wouldn't help him once he was dead.

And yet ... Heimdallr sounded certain that this ... Eir could help him. Could help him without poisoning him. And in the end he could still say no anytime, couldn't he?

Slowly, hesitatingly he nodded.

It seemed Heimdallr wasn't convinced, for he kept looking at him, waiting as if he could see Tony's hesitation and wanted for him to really make up his mind.

So Tony nodded again, this time with much more conviction – he could decide this for himself, and he had - and then walked a step forward into the village. The guard made a soft sound of amusement, but followed him.

The village was far bigger than Tony had thought at first glance - not that this was hard. Following Loki he had absently noticed that the trees were getting bigger, the trunks thicker, but that was nothing compared to the trees he was walking along now. Some of them had trunks that were easily twenty steps across and even for the smallest ones he needed at least ten. The ground was uneven, littered with leaves and twigs and stones, and the thick roots of the trees snaked over the open spaces between them, reminding Tony of animals searching for food and water. There were plants growing here, but less and with something almost like paths leading between them, showing where the inhabitants most usually walked.

Well, if they were walking on the ground, that is. Because the signs of claws treading here didn't stop with turned-up soil; there were scratches and ripped bark on the trees around them, holes and tears in the covering of mosses, and some of the small ferns and plants that grew on the bark where ripped loose or bend at an odd angle.

Not to mention that all of the inhabitants he saw where up there, staring curiously down at them.

Well, at Tony , he supposed. Because he was the strange thing out here, not Heimdallr. Automatically he huddled closer to the guard, which made the other spread his wings a bit more and his tail stroke over Tony's back.

It was a strange, alien feeling, and yet it was far from unwelcome - the way the scales rippled over his back, hooked in the weave. Tony couldn't help but arch into the touch and mourned when Heimdallr realized what he had done and the tail vanished again.

Trying to hide his reaction he looked up at the other Aesir. Most of them - well, those he could see - where different shades of gold and copper and red and brown, their wings a darker shade that was blending into the shadows of the canopy. But here and there he could make out some blue and silver, and one that was a light shade of violet all-over.

The trees were very high here, and it was hard to see the houses through the thickly leaved lower branches, but between the movements of the inhabitants and their own he could make out rough globes, formed by what seemed to be branches and twigs, with veins woven between them. By the way the leaves struck out from them the wood was still alive, making the spheres real living tree houses, something that Tony hadn't heard of ever before. Well, there were the underwater coral homes of the Siri, but he's not sure whether that counts because the Siri don't change the way the corals naturally grow the way the Aesir had so obviously done here.

Between the orbs were flat platforms, simply some branches woven together with veins and rope and colorful fabric, and while Tony looked he saw someone leap off of one, the wings spread to catch the wind. Fast flapping, then the Aes was higher up on another tree and vanished in the canopy.

Tony couldn't take his eyes off all he could see around him, and he was probably walking around like some tourist, but he didn't care. Not when there was so much to see, and even less when he was quite certain that no alien, not even the scientists, had ever been allowed into the colony, not to mention that far .

They had been walking for quite a while, before they reached a large clearing. Well, clearing – it was a big part where no tree stood, and most bushes had been cleared away. There was still very little light falling in from on high – the branches of trees had been woven into each other to from a sort of roof, with veins between them and small plants growing to further cover the clearing. Tony actually stared a good while at the colorful flowers growing so numerous above him, their scent sweet and spicy and fresh, that he needed a while to figure out why the Aesir had made them grow this way.

Large predators, big and dangerous enough that the Aesir thwarted any attempts of them to land in the colony by covering up the only clear landing spot.

A shiver ran down his spine and he looked back to Heimdallr for support, only to see that they had been joined by another Aes. This one was definitely a female – she wore a longer tunic that still barely covered her small but visible breasts with a silky blue fabric, more blue gemstones sitting in the golden bands around her upper arms and tail and in her spines, accenting her own dark blue hue and the golden scales along her snout and back and paws.

At first he thought she was angry at him, what with her showing her teeth, then he understood that she was smiling, before she offered him her palms in greeting. Though of what she said her name – Eir – was all he could make out.

Hoping he wouldn't botch his own greeting the same way he had done before he answered: “Anthony Edward Stark” And because it seemed the done thing here: “Of Howard and Maria.”

Heimdallr grunted next to him, but when he was looking up he saw the guard's lips twitching, so it probably wasn't anything bad.

Seeing he had Tony's attention Heimdallr explained: “Eir-healer will help you.”

Oh. Yeah. That was why he was here. His wrist. That was hopefully only bruised. And that she wanted to heal. Not because he'd won a tour through the colony accompanied by a very silent city guide.

Looking at the blue Aes who now held her palm out, again, Tony slowly reached out his hand, putting his wrist in her hand.

He wasn't sure what he expected, but what followed was nothing else but a simple examination like Doc Dampierre might have done, too. Just that she not only prodded with her fingers but also drew his hand close to her nose and sniffed at it, and there were claws carefully prickling over his skin and making him jerk a bit the first few times it happened, until he got used to it.

The Aes healer nodded after a while and let his hand go. Humming to herself she searched in the bundle lying next to her feet for a while until she drew a clay jar out of it.

Tony caught himself staring and blushed furiously. But really – somehow it seemed strange for them to have things like clay and jars and medicine when they lived in the jungle – and had a fabric that shimmered like silk and moved like water, and could make trees grow into houses. Really, Tony had always thought he was over things like that after he had heard of Pern's dragons going through the hyperspace with their riders – alive . Just because something was a logical step in human evolution didn't make it the same in another race's.

Meanwhile the healer had taken some red substance out of the jar and put it carefully on his skin, before turning her head to Heimdallr and saying something to him. Her eyes were returning to Tony while she spoke, but her hands were still steady and careful where she smeared it all over his wrist before adding some stripes of cloth to the mass.

Eir says you have to keep the ... the bandage one your wrist until at least sun-up tomorrow. She is not sure how long it will take for a human to heal a bruise like this, but this way it should be at least mostly done.”

Tony looked at the red substance on his wrist. It smelled strong and strangely like menthol, making his nose itch even through the fabric now covering it. Eir had admitted she didn't knew how long it would need to heal – but was she even sure that it would help? That it wouldn't just harm him further, poison him?

He looked up at the eyes of the healer – eyes that had barely any warmth in them, but a cool businesslike surety which reminded him, of all things, of Howard. And while he couldn't trust Howard to be a good father, or even a half-way passable one, he could always trust him with technology.

Slowly he nodded. “Yeah”, he said. “Okay.”



^^



Heimdallr left him at the edge of the jungle and Tony was really really grateful that Loki had found him when he did. Because once they had reached the end of Tony's socks - Tony carefully rolling the thread up; maybe he could use it later to hold some of his projects together, because they certainly couldn't be used as socks anymore – Heimdallr gathered him up in his hands and flew him over to the village.

And even with the flight distracting him – this was so nothing like flying with the dragons on Pern where he sat on their back, this was like being carried by a person, the wind whooshing by and tugging at his short strands – he still noticed that it took them a good while to reach the village. The thought made Tony swallow – not only because the river had carried him away so far, but also because he couldn't believe that he had managed to keep his head above water for so fucking long.

When Heimdallr set him down it took Tony a moment to find his legs, his knees giving out under him – like riding after one hadn't done much riding for a long time. Only when Tony could stand without support did he leave him – a last look, a glance over to the human colony, then the Yggdrasilian was up a trunk, on the next and suddenly only the shivering leaves gave evidence that he had been here at all.

Tony stared after him for a moment longer, then took a moment to orient himself, and then quite a bit longer to decide where he wanted to go now.

School sounded ... boring, at the very least, not to mention that Tony really didn't want to deal with Signor García Álvarez or, worse even, Ricky and his gang on top of everything else that had happened today. Not when he still felt the hollowness in his chest from hearing his mother say that neither she nor his father had ever loved him, dulled by distance and shock but nevertheless still horrifyingly true. Not to mention that the shock over almost dying, alone and probably not even missed - except by Jarvis, wonderful, amazing Jarvis - still stuck cold and heavy in his bones.

Being found by Loki, seeing Asgard and Heimdallr and learning that Loki might like to become his friend - it had helped, had dulled all these feelings, but they were still there, still tearing at him, made him feel ... empty somehow; sore. Like being scraped from the inside until nothing was left. Not hurting, not really, nor numb, just ... he didn't want to deal with something, anything right now. Not with school and anything that meant, nor Howard and Maria. He wanted ... he wanted Jarvis, wanted to curl into his embrace and be told that everything would be good, but he knew that not even Jarvis could make everything alright, that he wouldn't lie like this anyway. That Tony would have to tell him everything and he really really didn't want to think about it right now.

Really, there was only one place where he could go to, only one thing that might provide him some measure of peace, some distraction. Might even, with some luck, keep him so occupied that Howard would be gone before he returned to the house.

Walking back to the house alone made him even more aware of every scratch he had gotten during his flight through the forest, the dull pulsing in his hand. Looking down at it he blinked – there had still been red around his wrist where the fabric hadn't covered it, but that had receded already. And while he could still feel the throbbing in is wrist it felt better already, less urgent and hot. So maybe he didn't need to ask the Doc for painkillers, or antibiotics or something, which was good because he really didn't want anyone to know about his adventure.

For now he only keyed in the code - some overly complicated thing that Maria forgot often enough that their security guards knew to let her in when she returned late at night, tipsy and alone and crying over it.

A low electronic hum indicated that the locks were open and he pushed the smaller door open, slid through it and closed it after him, waving a hand at whoever was manning the security cameras today.

They had had a real gate guard at home, and several men walking the whole compound; no wonder what with Howard having one of his workshops there, even if he never spend much time in it. Here there were four man, with only one of them on duty every time. Well, it wasn't likely that anyone would go through all the trouble that coming to Yggdrasil meant, not when Howard Stark was almost never here and barely anyone knew they had this house here anyway.

There was a small stable on the property because whoever had planned this house hadn't been aware that there was no way they could keep horses on the planet - no-one wanted to unbalance the ecosystem here by inserting foreign animals. So now the gardener used it to keep her utensils there as well as the housekeeper - who used it as storage as well. Neither of them thought much of the hayloft - it was too open, too difficult to reach.

Perfect for Tony to keep his projects in.

It had taken him some work, but he had managed to get an surplus dresser up there, as well as some chairs and an old chest. The gardener had helped him get a table up as well; he hadn't been comfortable asking her for this, but the woman had offered herself once she discovered him climbing down one time, and after he had run out of excuses why he was up there and why she shouldn't climb up herself she had been very helpful.

He already owned a very extensive toolkit and everything that Howard Stark had deemed too dangerous to be used without supervision - or, more likely, everything that Maria thought too dangerous because Tony really couldn't imagine his father having that kind of security concerns - had been looted from the village's storage rooms. Some few things he had had to order online - carefully, at night because he couldn't afford to be detected either by using Howard's personal bank account or by blocking the planet's only permanent ansible (That way he'd also discovered that quite a few people in the village had a taste for porn, though he hadn't yet pinpointed all of the receivers).

He knew that his doings weren't exactly legal, but he didn't particularly care. With what he had done to improve both the line's speed and reliability he felt more t han in the right to take the resources that he did (it wasn't as if any of them were vital). And Howard - well, if he were spending more time with Tony he might not have to go to these lengths to get the tools he needed.

Entering his small refuge always felt more like coming home than the house ever felt, and Tony caught himself taking a deep breath once he had pulled the ladder up and turned around to his realm. There were his last projects spread all over the table and the sideboard, and the Hopper-computer he was working on rested on a chair under the window. Tony grinned proudly when he remembered his last session up here - he had finally fo und a way to integrate the interactive software he had written, making for a much smoother interaction between a space ship's AI and the human crew than anything even the Vulcan's had ever produced, and hey was he proud of that programming! - when a frantic, excited peeping started next to the latch.

His smile turned softer when the little robot rolled up to him and greeted him by enthusiastically driving rounds around him. "Hey, yeah, missed you, too, buddy", he said and reached out to pet the gray box he had mounted on the lower part of a toy car to allow the small robot some mobility.

He was proud of it, even knowing that AIs existed that were much more advanced than this. Had a better processor, and could find the best curse from one end of the galaxy to the other. Yet that had never been his goal in programming Dum-E; quite the opposite, actually, because he'd been trying for more emotional and empathetical feedback to make the AI seem much more alive. And looking at the excited little bot, hearing the joy he felt at seeing Tony back he thought he was allowed to be very proud indeed.

It took Dum-E some time to get the edge of excitement off, but Tony was in no rush to carry on. Not when the little one's clear happiness about his presence made his chest feel so much less empty, filled him with a quiet sort of joy he had only ever felt with his creations. Or when just settling down and stroking him – something that the robot wasn't even feeling because Tony couldn't get his hands on the right kind of sensors and he couldn't try to make them himself because his tools were just not capable of such delicate tasks – made his excitement spike again, the peeps getting more frenzied and the whole body vibrated until Tony almost feared for its integrity.

Eventually Dum-E settled down and after a last pet Tony went over to the sideboard and got his tablet out. It was as old-fashioned as the cell phone – he was working with an ADA back on earth, one of the small wrist bands that projected everything he wanted right above his palm and that were, while smaller, still faster and better than this 21 st century trash, but well, some bureaucrat in their high and lofty seats on Sen-Twenty IV thought it made a difference whether the natives saw them use tablets or ADAs, and so the former were allowed on Yggdrasil and the latter not, at least not for underage civilians like Tony. Not that it really made a difference for him with this project; he only needed to check whether the improvements he had done on the computer worked with the new software and that was something even that old-fashioned piece of stone age technology was capable of.

Still, he was nervous about this - it would be such a bitch to have gone through all the trouble to create a new, much improved interface and then have it not working because he had failed to include some adjustment for the changed hardware, but better found now then before he implemented the rest of his idea. Dum-E had settled down next to him, peeping only every now and then to let Tony know he was still here, but otherwise well-behaved enough not to disturb Tony's work. (As he'd done at first. Tony'd had a real desk up here at first, with an holographic interface and the build-in Hopper that normal desks had, but somehow the little critter had managed to explode the whole thing in his excitement very early in its existence, forcing Tony to actually teach the AI some manners. Luckily neither Howard nor Maria had asked how he'd managed to get his desk to explode, probably because Ayo had helped him cover up the explosion and the small fire up on the hayloft.)

Checking the computer over with his tablet – it was still slow as fuck but at least a bit better since Tony had added his own adjustments - brought a calmness to Tony's mind that he barely ever found otherwise. Most of the time his mind was chaotic, spewing ideas and pictures and sparks of inspiration at every turn, making it hard to focus. His teachers at his old school in California had actually recommended he should see a doctor and get medication because of his restlessness, but for once both Howard and Maria had acted as real parents - he in telling them outright that he wouldn't dumb down his son because their classes were too easy and making Tony skip a class, she by having him see a zen teacher to try and teach him techniques to calm his mind.

It had helped, made it easier to ignore the ideas, the forks his mind wanted to take throughout his everyday life, but it was also hard . It required effort to interact with normal people, people who were not dumb but ordinary, and he couldn't always keep his mind from jumping ahead, skipping to other problems. He even had people call him stupid because when they finally understood what he was trying to explain to them he had already forgotten what they had been taking about.

Working on problems - working on his projects - was calming, refreshing. Relaxing . He didn't have to slow down for someone else, didn't have to restrain himself. He could go at his own pace, his own time, and that meant he didn't have to - couldn't, in fact - jump from one thing to the next. Everything else fell away from him, nothing mattered anymore but the beautiful glowing line of code in front of him and the way the computer did what he wanted, the joy lighting up like a fire in his chest, warm and merry, filling him with a silent kind of happiness he craved more than he could ever say. He didn't feel himself smile, only felt his hands move over the tablet, saw more glowing lines of perfect code appear and change the world.

Coming back into the world was dizziness, his vision blurring in front of his eyes and not knowing where he was. Shaking his head to regain some sense of where and who he was he heard a soft voice call him again.

"Tony? You here with me, boy?"

Ayo. The gardener. Calling for him. He was in his secret workshop up over the storage and she was calling for him. Because, because ...?

"Yeah?" He turned around, looking at her questioningly. His hand still twitched, and he wanted nothing more than to dive back into the code, have the glittering lines keep all those dark thoughts away that lurked at the edge of his consciousness.

Ayo smiled at him as if she knew, her face turned into an expression that spoke of empathy and care. "Your father's going to leave within a short time. Don't you want to say goodbye?"

... more than you ever loved your son ... only got him so you could leave him behind ....

Swallowing he tried to keep his emotion at bay, but the cold in his chest was there again, and he didn't want her to know. Not more than she already knew. So he looked down, played with his tablet, pretended at indifference. "No", he said, cursing a bit about how his voice was rough, broken. Clearing his throat he hoped she would think it was because he hadn't spoken for quite a while, not because ... "What do I care when he's gone again? It's not as if-" he's ever cared for me, but thankfully he caught himself in time.

The way she looked at him said she knew more than he wanted her to, but thankfully she didn't say anything. Instead she nodded, turning back down the ladder. Only when she almost wasn't visible anymore, her dark skin blending with the shadows of the stable, did she add, her voice light and casual: "Jarvis is almost finished packing as well."

Tony stared down at his tablet, his fingers clenching around the metal case. He hated being so transparent.

But he couldn't let Jarvis go without saying goodbye, even if that meant seeing his father.

Abruptly the tablet clattered down at the floor and he beat his hand into the wood, only to cry out when pain flared up as a cold shock from his injured wrist right into his shoulder. "Damn!", he cursed, holding his hand carefully close to his chest. Of all things to forget ...!

"Are you okay?"

And Ayo had heard him, sure. Exactly what he needed right now.

"I'm okay", he called back, hoping she would leave it at that. Hoping she would understand his need for privacy.

When he couldn't hear her coming up the ladder again (and how had she even gotten the ladder down?) he breathed out, shakily, then pulled the bandage back. The red substance had dried to a crumbling mass that stuck to his skin and pulled at his hairs when he tried to remove it, but at least his wrist seemed to be much less swollen now. Even with his dumb action right now he could already feel the throbbing recede until it was barely more than a faint pulsing that was easy to ignore. If he ever saw Eir again he needed to thank her a lot, and probably ask her how she'd done this – he had never had an injury heal that fast on him before.

Pushing his computer where Dum-E couldn't accidentally destroy it he left the attic and made for the house.

The closer he came the slower his steps became, until he finally stopped right in front of the door. Wha t if Signor García Álvarez had already ratted on him? What if his father actually listened to the man, and - Tony swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. He didn't want to tell anyone where he had been - it would only lead to questions why he went into the forest in the first place, and he ... he didn't want to speak about this. Just the thought of facing Howard, of asking him whether he really really thought of him as nothing more than an insurance - it made him want to run, to hide . There was a much too big part of him that whispered that it was true, and he didn't want to deal with a nother rejection at the same day.

Still, turning up with his clothes ripped and smeared with mud and plant juice, his skin covered in scratches and the bandage on his wrist - even Howard had to know something was wrong when he saw him like this.

He was almost turning back when a window was opened above him and he could hear Jarvis' voice drifting out.

"... know how to make cherry tarts? I've found the young master quite likes them."

The answer was too quiet to understand, a female voice that Tony recognized as the cook's, her heavy Quirlien accent noticeable even at the distance

Warmth bloomed in his chest to hear Jarvis care about him even in the last minutes he spent here. Telling Anjeana about his favorite sweetcake, probably also making sure she knew to make them when he was down.

He couldn't not say goodbye to him. Not the one person who had always, always cared for him.

Had brought him to bed when the nanny hadn't cared for his nightmares. Had hugged him when he needed to know that someone loved him, his warm, tight hugs that had Tony pressed tight to his chest and bended knees and made everything better. Bought him ice cream against tears, and taught him that being himself was no sin.

Had brought him cherry tarts whenever he needed to know that he was loved. Cherry tarts … ripe red berries, glistening from sugar and juice and laying in a bed of vanilla pudding and soft browned dough, sweet and tart and soft on his tongue … a loud growl and sudden, painful cramps in his stomach reminded him that he hadn't eaten since dinner yesterday, hadn't even thought of it until now … rubbing over his stomach to ease the pain he realized that it was no wonder that he'd ignored it until now … not with how his day had gone (water everywhere, unable to breathe, darkness ), and dreaming in codes ...

Digging his teeth in his lip until the sharp pain brought him back he stood for a moment longer, then took a deep breath and opened the door. Kicking the sneakers from his feet he practically ran into the house, not caring the least who might hear him, or that he could still feel the hunger claw at him. Eating was secondary; Jarvis was upstairs, somewhere right over him, where the guestroom was, and all he needed to do was get the staircase up fast enough-

Jarvis saw him the moment he came up - no wonder with the noise he made trampling up the steps -, and Tony could see how his eyes widened when he saw him, how he took in his ripped stage, his cuts and bandage and shoe-less feet, and how it transformed his expression from one of mild disapproval to alarm in a second.

But he never got a chance to say anything to Tony, not with the way the library's door suddenly opened and Howard was coming out if it, tall and dark and imposing as ever.

Tony stumbled to a stop, his eyes widening and his breath stocking in his lungs at his father's sudden appearance.

Howard wasn't having the same problems. His face was hard, and disapproval was clear on it while he took in Tony's disheveled appearance, the fact that he wasn't wearing proper shoes but most likely half the jungle's vegetation. A finger was raised, high and respect demanding, and he simply, silently pointed inside the room, indicating that Tony was to join him there.

His throat dry and his hands suddenly very sweaty he went. He couldn't help the way his shoulders slumped as if he had been caught with the hands in the cookie jar, or the way he wanted to shuffle with the feet, but he tried at least to pull himself together when Howard followed and took up a place by the window.

Tony looked around, saw the letters lying half-opened on the secretary, the tablet next to it with the data chips marked 'Y2-4' on top of it, everywhere just not to the man who was now turning around, mustering Tony again, his look as disappointed as before, and Tony found it hard to look into his eyes, his gaze settling instead on a shelf nearby that held nothing but old romances - Shakespeare, Goethe, Meyer - that no-one but his mother ever read.

"Tony", Howard started.

Not wanting to meet his father's disappointed gaze he simply nodded. Who would have thought that a black spine with a chess figure could be so fascinating?

Of course Howard wouldn't let that go. "Look me in the eyes when I talk to you, son!", he snapped, jolting Tony out of his musings, his gaze drawn to him immediately, his shoulders pulled back almost on instinct.

"Yes, Sir", he said, a response ingrained into him for as long as he could remember.

Howard was looking at him, his eyes hard and dark, meeting his with the easiness born of thousands of board meetings and parties. Then they softened a bit, slowly, but that wasn't something Tony particularly liked. It always made him feel ... it made him feel as if he was one of those dumb people that couldn't understand the easiest things, and he wasn't someone to be pitied. Least of all by Howard Stark.

"Tony", his father started again. "You are a Stark . One day you will be the head of one of the greatest companies on earth, maybe even one of the greatest in the universe if I can achieve that. Do you understand what that means? It means you have to act it. You simply cannot run around like - like you just took a swim in the river and then rolled around in the mud . I know that it is hard foe you to stay here, away from earth, but I expect you to keep at least a bit of decorum, of pride. We are Starks , Tony. We t ake this with us wherever we go, do you understand? Even when it is hot and damp here - do you see me walking around in slacks and t-shirt? No, I wear Armani, because that is what Howard Stark does."

Tony thought that was a bit unfair - after all he had to go outside , through the city, and he had to do so every day instead of staying in the air-conditioned house, or taking his personal hoover car (a privilege no-one else on this planet had) as Howard Stark did when he visited the research station uphill. But he was too giddy with relief that his father hadn't commented further on his appearance to argument this point, so he simply nodded. "Yes, Sir" he sim ply agreed and hoped that he could go, could intercept Jarvis in the corridor.

But Howard wasn't finished yet. Instead he looked Tony over again, then asked, with sudden sharp focus: "Shouldn't you be in school right now?"

Well, damn . If Tony just knew whether he really should be in school right now ... what would Howard Stark say in this case? If you can't lie, attack . "School? I'm learning more teaching myself! They are - Signor García Álvarez is teaching us division! I've known how to do that before I even came to Yggdrasil!"

The best about this excuse was that it was absolutely true. Tony didn't have to lie to show the disdain he felt about Signor García Álvarez's teaching. The only thing he taught them that Tony hadn't know beforehand was literature, and he somehow doubted he would ever need to know about some dead writer's tragedies in his life.

Going by Howard's response he was thinking the same, or at least that was how Tony interpreted his flared nostrils and the disgusted turn of his mouth. " Division ?", he asked, then shook his head. "I was informed that Signor García Álvarez was-" He clenched his teeth and something flared up in his eyes. "I will do something about this." Returning to his desk he made a gesture to Tony, dismissing him with a short wave. "You can go. Clean yourself before Maria sees you like this ... though I guess she doesn't care, when you're running around like this all the time."

There was a bitterness to his voice that Tony could for once understand, after what he'd heard this morning.

Was it really just this morning? So much had happened ...

But he didn't have time to contemplate this, he had to find Jarvis. Knowing Howard, his father had never even unpacked his clothes and was just finishing his correspondence before he would leave again - the advantage when one was rich enough to own an interstellar vessel that could make the distance between Yggdrasil and earth within a week.

So he simply said "yes Sir" again before he opened the door and left the library.

Jarvis, good old reliable Jarvis, was standing right by the door, turning to him with worry in his eyes. When Tony left the room alone he was immediately snatched by the butler, his hand lying against Tony's cheek. "Young Master, where have you been? Are you hurt?" His eyes found the bandage on Tony's arm with the accuracy of an eagle.

Not wanting to scare Jarvis, least of all when he would leave this world in an hour at the very latest, Tony just shrugged. "I just - I went into the forest, wanted to find the drakelings. Guess I got some scratches from the plants - the paths are growing over easily here, you know?" The way Jarvis looked said he knew Tony was lying (or maybe he knew that the jungle paths were forbidden for the civilians), so he quickly moved on: "And guess what, I found them! Well, one of them, Loki, and he's really nice, helped me when I - when I had some problems finding the path again. I didn't know - they are keeping everything so totally secret about the Yggdrasilians, but the drakelings? They are the children of the Aesir, and Loki - he's totally smart and nice and-"

Jarvis had been trying to keep his serious face up, but Tony knew how to distract him and so he wasn't at all surprised to see Jarvis smile slightly, softly at him and shake his head in fond exasperation. "Young Master", he said, trying for stern and failing. "Are you trying to tell me that you went into the forest to find an animal and lost your way?"

Okay, so he hadn't managed to distract Jarvis as much as he would have liked. "Yeah?", he said, pulling a winning face that always worked with Jarvis and people who didn't knew him and only saw the smart young boy. "But it wasn't that bad, and I would have found out anyway." Probably. Most likely. The idea with the river and the cell phone would have worked, too, wouldn't it?

Jarvis tilted his head back so that he was looking up to the ceiling, then closed his eyes. With a heavy sigh he turned back to Tony. "Young Master, I though you would be smarter than that. I expect you to be more careful in the future, are we clear?"

Looking at the man he considered more father than his real father had ever been Tony swallowed. He didn't ... he didn't want to lie to Jarvis. But he could even less tell him what had made him run into the forest in the first place, could he? He trusted that Jarvis stood by him, but the man couldn't do anything, and Tony didn't want him to have to leave Tony behind, knowing that his mother wasn't caring for him, nor his father. Didn't want him to know this more than he already did.

And so he acted like he should, made a humbled face and nodded, and then simply gave up all pretense and threw his arms around Jarvis, hugged him as tightly as his young arms would let him.

"I'll miss you, Jarvis", he said, and his voice was wet from the tears he didn't dare shed, not in front of his father's study.

The butler only hugged him tightly back in response, his own voice as full of emotions as Tony's. "I will miss you, too, young Master. Remember to eat, and to sleep, and don't worry your mother too much. Or me." He paused, and Tony was close enough to hear him swallow hard. "Make good friends with that Loki of yours. And if anything happens I expect to hear from you, you hear me?"

Tony nodded, buried himself against the butler once more and inhaled his smell of cinnamon and cigar smoke, tried to ingrain it it in his brain as he could with books, with codes, so he could take it out again whenever he needed to remember..

When Jarvis let him go in the end it was with obvious reluctance and he put a hand on his shoulder for a last pat, looked him into the face one more time. "Be good, Tony" he said before he let go, and Tony nodded again.

He would be good, he would be the best. If he could just have one more day, one more hour with him ...

Leaving Jarvis was one of the hardest things he could do, and even Jarvis telling him he should go and wash himself and change clothes before he was leaving even more smudges on the light-colored carpet was barely enough to make him leave. It was probably the best that Jarvis had already turned away and knocked on Howard's door when Tony turned around again, or he would have run down for a last hug, a last pat on his shoulder or a hand straightening his hair.



His room was the same as it had been this morning, and yet it was not. He was another person than he was this morning, and when he saw the Captain America figure on his sideboard, all tall and blond and patriotic, he simply couldn't look at it anymore. It wasn't a reminder of his father any longer but a sign of the man that had stolen his father long before he was even born.

A sudden urge had him taking the figure and putting it into his toy chest, somewhere under all the toy cars he had dismantled to utilize their parts, and then he went through the rest of his room, removing every last sign of Steve Rogers from his life and throwing it there, too.

Captain America wasn't his hero anymore, he wasn't the person anymore who liked him. Steve Rogers was only the man who had made Tony strand on a backwater planet, who had taken his father away, had taken Jarvis away, and at least now, here, alone in his room, the prospect of having a new friend, someone he might like and that might like him, wasn't enough.



Chapter Text

He wants to hide somewhere, curl around his embarrassment and die.

Nor that he really would. At the moment he's sitting up in a tree, hidden from view, and he's watching how the boy - Tony-maybe-friend - speaks to Heimdallr-Einherjar, and he just hopes the warrior isn't telling the boy - the human - that he thought to keep him as a pet.

Alone the thought makes the burning in his cheeks worse, has him duck his head and slump further down. His tail is curling around him and he can't control the way the tip twitches, just hope no-one's watching him.

Why didn't he notice that they were intelligent? The people -way of intelligent? Sure, Odin-reigning-queen-mother said they were smart in their own way, and that they were to be treated with respect - but everything was to be treated with respect! That was what they learned from egg on, and no-one had said they were people like other Ymiri, or sealings, that they were to be treated like people! So how was he to know that he couldn't keep him?

He's just relieved that there was no-one close by to witness this, least of all his clutchmates-and-friends. They would have never let him live that down.

And Heimdallr-Einherjar ... he's not one to talk much, so maybe he will keep his confidence. At least Loki hopes this - it would be far too humiliating if the boy ever knew about this, and ... he likes the boy.

What he has seen of him so far indicates that he is smart. He didn't need long to understand that Loki wanted to lead him somewhere safe. And yet he also took precautions should he be led astray.

He's still a bit offended that the boy thought him capable of such, but then he didn't knew him, and he would have done something similar were their roles reversed, wouldn't he?

And if the boy did act like he would, or Hogun-brother would, or maybe even Sif-hunter-sister would - Thora-sister-fledgeling-queen wouldn't , but then she still has time to grow into her wisdom, and otherwise he's confident he and Hogun-brother will get her to see things their way if they have to - anyway, if the boy thinks like him then he is smart, and might be worth his while. Might be worth to get to know better.

And he so hopes he does, because he likes him, likes the way he looks at him with that intelligence in his eyes. Likes the way his name rolls over his tongue, drips from his lips like ripe juice.

"Tony", he whisper to himself and smiles. He will hide a bit longer, and then he will go and see the boy again.



^^



Really, this is not how he thought this would go.

Most of all, he thought he would go alone , not have all his clutchmates-and-friends tagging along. But then there is no way he can keep Thora from searching for the boy, not after she has heard how Loki brought him into the colony and she wasn't there to see him.

So naturally she has to seek him out as soon as possible, and Loki is just happy that Idunn-sister-queen wouldn't let them go the same day what with darkness not being far away when Thora returned from her own exploration, and then Baldur-hunter-teacher was keeping them busy with learning how to hunt the next day. Well, keeping the others busy, mostly, because he, Loki, is a consort, and consorts aren't supposed to hunt, but he's not going to let them have the fun all to themselves just so he can be a shy good consort.

He's not interested in getting a queen that doesn't accept him as he is anyway – all free and wild and himself as the prey birds are in the sky or the treefoxes in the green and black shades of the jungle.

It's a wish as presumptuous as a consort can be – wishing to live a life that is not fully focused on his queen's, his clan's needs, but on his own desires. Loki is a fledgeling still, not yet grown-up enough to know much about politics, but he knows that not all of the sister-queens – not all of the Aesir – approve of the way he lives, the way he is .

He cannot understand them; after all life and staying alive means changing , and he can be so much more of a help to the clan if he offers it all that he is instead of adhering to traditions that are so ancient that no-one remembers a time when Asgard's consorts were different.

Maybe that's the reason he loves Thora-sister and all his clutchmates-and-friends so much, because with all their teasing and annoying, with starting fights whenever he turns his back on them for a second, they aren't treating him as a consort so much as they are treating him as himself , take him along on their adventures and trips, and usually he loves this.

Usually , but not right now. For as much as he wants and welcomes their support in many things in his life, this is not one of them. Not when it's about meeting Tony-maybe-friend again.



Yet there is now way to dissuade Thora once she's made up her mind (there are days when Loki thinks his parents gave her the wrong name; instead of Thunderer they should have called her Hugstari, The Stubborn One ), and so Loki is left to tag along when they forage the colony for his maybe-future-friend, hoping that meeting Thora and the gang won't scare him away.

It wasn't easy to find him. Sure, they know where the not-Ymiri live, but neither of them has ever tried to search out one special one of them (actually, Loki thinks, most of them look and smell quite the same, with a very few different ones thrown between them like albinos in a herd of green-scaled Nomas'c é) . And then there are so many different interesting smells there! Some are the people themselves, he knows, but others, like the sweet brown drink, are simply different . And there are other smells ... like this woman there, who walks around in so many clothes that he can barely understand how she stands it, and she's smelling so sweet and strong that it's cloying up his nostrils and sticks metallic to his throat like blue-tree-resin.

Retching a bit he tries to get rid of the taste while Fandral-annoying-friend makes an offended noise and Sif-hunter-sister huffs, too.

"There!", Thora says suddenly, and they turn all to gather around the spoor she has found. Well, no spoor, actually - Tony is walking there next to the stone-ground-nest, not that far from them.

He jumps in the air, happy to have found the boy yet a bit apprehensive how he - they - will be received. His clutchmates-and-friends react similar, but with even less restraint, and before he can tell them to stay away they are flying over, assailing the poor boy like a horde of agitated bees a honey-stealing womb-cat.

He sighs, and follows them. He just really really hopes they aren't scaring him away right now.



Chapter Text

It had been only two days since he had been at the colony and Heimdallr had said Loki would like to see him again, but between Jarvis leaving and him learning about his parent's feelings to him it felt as if it was an eternity. He'd buried himself in the work on his programming, yet with some part of his code acting up all the time that wasn't really helping to distract him.

And only this morning Ricky and Nimus had cornered him in the school room, called him names and threatened him and only Signor García Álvarez appearance had rescued him from losing his shoes or shirt or school things again .

He was just grateful that their teacher had called Ricky back to him when school was out - the idiot had probably scrambled his schoolwork again - because getting a beating would just so cap it all off. (He hated being too small and weak to shrug them off, but he wasn't dumb enough to risk his health over some clothes. Not when he could get back at them by manipulating Midgard's main ansible transducer, making the computer belief the boys had already used up all their bytes for the month. Though he might need to find something new soon – even they weren't dumb enough to belief in accidents for a third time. Probably.)

Halfway to the house he had met his mother, awake and out for once - no wonder, there was a meeting for all the colonists in the common hall, some soiree or so - but her cool nodding to him and the brief admonishment that he should wear better clothes for he was better than the colony children hadn't done anything to improve his mood.

And then, suddenly, there was a large, red-and-gold shadow running up at him. Before he could process that the lizard had jumped up, right into his chest, and he was falling backwards, his curses knocked out of him by the cheer momentum with which he connected with the packed earth. Pain shot bright through his back and shoulders, his head swimming from the force. He couldn't move, paralyzed by shock and pain and the heavy weight of the lizard on his breast, and his fingers twitched with the sudden fear and panic welling up in him. Yet before he could move, before he even had time to get his breath back there were more lizards, swarming him, their tongues licking his fingers and cheeks and their excited chirping and hissing surrounding him.

As much as he had yearned for Loki he was quite overwhelmed by this, not to mention that he couldn't see the green-black scales of the drakeling he actually wanted to see, and while neither of the lizards seemed hostile he felt too crowded, too overwhelmed, his breath coming in short, ragged gasps under the weight of at least one lizard sitting on his chest and he pushed at the two drakelings now licking his face, trying to get more space to breathe and think .

They went back, something perplexed in the way they moved and the questioning sounds they made, and suddenly he could see Loki, shouldering his way through the other drakelings and pawing the smaller, lighter and more persistent one right over the nose. It yowled, staring at him in anger and then tried to retaliate only for Loki to spin around and roar, his mouth open and his teeth threateningly bared, the spines raised to make him seem even bigger and his paw raised in a manner that spoke volumes at how pissed he was; something the other lizard obviously didn't want to try, for he carefully pulled back, his head and tail lowered and spines carefully low around his neck.

The rest of the drakelings had stopped roaming Tony's body, and even the last one - the red-and-golden one on his chest - climbed down when Loki hissed again, annoyed. Surveying them with a look that wouldn't be wrong on a queen's face when she saw her servants remove the remains of a dead rat in her bedroom (or, well, what Tony thought a queen would look in such a moment) he made sure that they actually stayed put, even growled when one of them opened their mouth as if to say something.

The mouth snapped shut and the drakeling moved another pace back.

Only once he was satisfied with their cowed state did Loki turn to Tony, slowly advancing the last few steps between them as if he was worried he might frighten him further (not that farfetched, Tony had to admit; he still had to get his breathing back under control) and carefully nudged him with his nose.

Hoping the action wouldn't get the others moving again Tony slowly pulled himself up to a sitting position. Loki was sitting beside him now, almost like a guard dog, while the rest of the drakelings stood around him, all of them with a certain wary tension and incomprehension in their stance.

Giving a last, satisfied growl Loki turned around, then nudged him again, his nose damp against his bare arm. He looked up at him, then licked quickly over his skin, tongue tickling Tony with its roughness. Then he pulled back and looked up at him with his dark green eyes, cautious and apprehensive.

"Tony", he said, shaping the syllable in the same soft, careful way he had done before.

It sounded strange, hearing his name come out of that snout, that so absolutely inhuman mouth, and then to hear it be said in a way he hadn't had anyone say it beside Jarvis sometimes. Careful. Meaningful. It was ... strange .

But not strange enough to miss the way Loki looked at him in expectation, obviously waiting for him to say ... to say his name. Smiling tentatively he said, shaping the word as carefully as he could with his human mouth and tongue: "Loki."

There was no way to miss how the drakeling's eyes lit up, how he looked so obviously pleased and happy that Tony had remembered his name, his lips twitching upwards and a small hum escaping. Even his tail lashed a bit, more like a dog's then a cat's.

The other drakelings came nearer now, and Tony tensed up again - he wanted to get to know them, yes, but they had teeth as long as his small finger and wicked claws and he didn't knew them, didn't knew whether they would use them on him. But maybe they had understood this, or they understood his reaction - or maybe Loki's introduction had shown them - but this time they weren't crowding him again. Instead one of them - the largest one, the one he had met before, with red-brown scales all over her body, dipped in silvery-gold along her frills and ridged back - making it almost seem as if she was on fire - came forward. She stopped a few paces in front of Tony, her front paws resting next to his knees which Tony immediately drew to him, feeling too vulnerable sitting down and getting up into a kneeling position.

The right paw was drawn up, tipped against the chest, then offered to him, while she made some strange noises that Tony couldn't really understand, though he caught 'Thora' and what he thought was 'Odin' - the same names that Loki had said himself if he remembered correctly.

So this was really his sister, the - how had Heimdallr put it? Fledgeling-queen?

Well, there wasn't much that distinguished her from the other fledgelings, only that she was larger than them and the only one with ridges along her back, protruding scales almost making her look like a Stegosaurus.

A twitching from the female drakeling reminded Tony that he hadn't actually responded to her greeting yet, and he felt blood burn in his cheeks. Hoping they didn't knew what his cheeks flaming red meant he focused back on her, on the name she had said. "Thora", he returned, cursing how his own clumsy tongue made it sound far harsher and more clipped than she pronounced it. Creasing his forehead he tried again, tried to soften the syllables until they sounded a bit more like she had spoken it herself.

The little queen watched him, her head cocked in a questioning manner, then she made a vaguely pleased sound, tapping his arm with her paw, claws sheathed.

"You like that?", he guessed. "How it sounds when I say your name?"

The drakeling only blinked, confused.

"Okay, so you understand me as much as I do you." Tony shook his head. Well, trying to learn their language and trying to teach them his would at least rid him of his boredom, he supposed.

Then another nudge against his arm, and he nodded. Yeah, he had taken long enough with introducing himself. Slowly he brushed his own fingers against his chest, then offered his palm to Thora. "Tony Stark, of Howard and Maria." And because he didn't want to confuse her he added: "Tony", tipping against his chest.

Thora made a confused sound anyway, then looked over at Loki. The smaller drakeling made a face that had Tony expecting to see him roll his eyes before he walked the few paces over to his sister, nudged her into the side and spoke to her in a language that had Tony strain his ears to try to understand anything and catching nothing.

A moment later Thora huffed, then padded over to him and placed her paw with a proprietary air on his legs. "Tonee", she said, clear yet fully disregarding his own pronunciation.

Ooo-kay, so obviously she wasn't one to care for another's opinion, at least not when it came to how to pronounce names.

But he couldn't dwell too much on this, for the other drakelings came now closer as well, but slower, more careful this time, not crowding him. He learned that the gold-and-blue one he had shoved away and that had looked at him with so much indignation was called Fandral. Another one, bronze-brown with a more reddish sheen over his giant belly and face, was Volstagg, a name Tony stumbled over a lot, causing him to huff a while. Yet it seemed good-naturedly, and he got a raspy lick over his hand as reward for saying it right, together with a pleased expression on the drakeling's reptilian face and a flick of his massive tail.

Sif wasn't better. She, too, had brown scales with a red sheen under them (though it was much more visible on her), making her look dangerous and vicious, a look that much suited her temper - he learned fast that she was the least easygoing of them, what with her clawing at Fandral when he tried to greet Tony before her. Her name was the hardest of them all, less of a word and more the sound of something sizzling. Tony wasn't quite sure, but she named Odin and ... was that Frigg ? as her parents as well, in the same order as Thora and the opposite as Loki had done, and knowing that in some people a female would call herself after her mother, and a male after his father, he assumed that she was not only a sibling of Thora and Loki, but their sister. Not that there was anything he would know that by, seeing as neither of them showed any of the typical gender signs.

The last of them was Hogun, a very silent, calm female with brown-gold scales and black frills ringing her head who nudged him against the hand in a way he was more used to from Loki. But, well, she was his sister, so maybe it was a shared family trait. Or not, seeing as neither Thora nor Sif did it.

Not that it really mattered. Tony had never had real friends, and he wouldn't be picky about them. Not about how they acted, or that they were dragons (fuck, why would he be picky about that ? Having dragons as friends was so cool!) or that some of them were girls (he knew that there were some human colonies where girls and boys were kept strictly apart, but fortunately his home town hadn't been such a place).

Not that it even mattered when his new friends weren't even acting typically girly, what with Thora pushing Fandral over so she could nudge Tony in the side before pacing a few steps back and looking then over her shoulder, obviously waiting for Tony to follow her.

Tony stared at her, then grinned. Yeah, that was what he wanted.

And by the way Thora grinned back at him, she knew exactly what he thought.



^^



The first time Tony entered the jungle with them it required him to overcome a lot of anxiety. It was hard, not the least because the drakelings completely ignored the pathways he'd used for his own explorations, but made to slip right into the forest where it started next to them.

Tony stood in front of the green line, the forest an impenetrable, huge wall in front of him. There were the trees, large, larger than anything he had ever encountered on earth, even here, close to the settlement. And they bore only very little resemblance to their tamed civilized earthly cousins; their bark was thick and ragged where he could catch glimpses of it from between the thicket of green leaves, full of moss that was long enough to get lost in, other plants growing out of little crevices all over the whole trunk. Lianas were hanging from their branches, thick and fleshy like snakes only waiting to catch and strangle their prey. More leaves closed off any look higher than a few meter, darkening the sky and hiding everything from small harmless birds over poisonous spiders to sharp-toothed predators.

And that were only the adult trees. There were smaller trees, saplings, taking advantage of the light falling in from the village, shooting up, trying to win their own place among their larger siblings. Bushes and large ferns and high plants took up every other place, blocking seemingly every access. Even the lowest layer, barely above the ground, was covered - stones, fallen trees, mosses and ferns and grass, all rich and lush and green above the layer of wet leaves and mud covering the soil.

Standing there, swallowing hard against the sudden tightness in his throat, Tony tried not to think of all the predators living in there, of the spiders and snakes and (fist-sized) beetles that might only attack him because he startled them and still leave him incapacitated. Of plants whose thick wicked thorns glistened with a fluid that could hurt or immobilize or kill a human. The larger, more dangerous cousins of the earthly sundew, catching everything that was smaller than a horse, taking hours, days to kill and devour their prey.

He looked up at the drakelings who had jumped up on the lower branches of the trees and were now looking back at him, their eyes gleaming bright will-o'-the-wisps in the dark green twilight of the jungle.

Tony stared back at them, feeling as if he hung upon a precipice, standing not only at the edge of the jungle, the line between the human settlement and the native's jungle, but also at a crossroad between what he had known so far, what was safe and boring, and an adventure that was dangerous and might very well kill him, yet also promised distraction, fun, friends - everything he had always yearned for.

He wasn't afraid of losing his life. His gut was churning with fear, yes, but even more his blood was thundering through his veins in a rhythm so alive, so full of promise as he hadn't felt it since walking into a dragon's nest, barely escaping being roasted alive by nestling dragons not yet capable of controlling their fire. His heart hammered loud in his ears, and he could hear every breath he drew like waves crashing upon a shore.

Going forward, after them, with them , or losing his chance for fun forever. Really, there wasn't any question what he would choose, was there?



^^



Of course, it wasn't as easy as he would have liked. He was slow, slow enough to feel ashamed for making them wait for him. Their smaller, agiler bodies, the tail and four clawed paws meant they were better suited to this kind of movement, and having grown up in the jungle they knew where to go, how to be fastest. Where he stumbled haplessly between ferns that grew up as high as his chest they simply slid between them, their long snout parting the leaves much more easily than Tony's clumsy hands could. In other places the trees stood high, their branches thick and long and intertwined enough that the drakelings simply walked along them, their claws easily digging into the bark, keeping them up, their tails swaying lazily to help them keep their balance. And all the while Tony stumbled under them, could barely see them through the trees' leaves and bushes, only hear them while they raced ahead, far faster than his own, stumbling gait.

He felt stupid and awkward, strange . All his stumbling was just a sign that he didn't belong here, couldn't belong here. A part of him – a part that became louder every time he stumbled over some hidden root, or slipped on some wet leaf – told him to turn back as long as he still could. After all, wasn't this just showing how much he didn't belong here? How he should rather stay in the village and try to make friends there, try to further his own projects and make Howard proud, so he could escape that ball of mud and danger that called itself a planet?

The worst was when he completely lost the drakelings one time, couldn't see them, couldn't hear them anymore in the cacophony of sound that made up the jungle's soundtrack. He came to an abrupt stop, his shoes sinking half-way into the mud, his hand rowing for balance before he got hold of a plant next to him - of course one with thorns, their wicked spikes biting into his skin and causing him to cry out.

When he looked up again there was still no sign of the Aesir, and his heart stopped.

The jungle was still hot, sweat making his shirt cling tightly to his skin, yet staring up into the foliage he felt cold dread turn his stomach to ice. Frantically he looked around, tried to find where they had gone, where he had to go to catch up, but he was down in the mud and they were up there, there was no way he could find them between foliage as thick as that , and what if they had gotten sick of waiting for him, what if he had been too slow for too long? Turning his head more and more desperately he tried to suppress the thought, tried to push the fear of betrayal down, but he couldn't help the little voice in his head telling him that they knew he was worthless.

It was trying to get it to shut up with a hissed "quiet!" that reminded him that he had a voice, that he could call for them, and then he did, his own voice shaky with fear, with abandonment, like those of a small bird falling out of it's nest.

He hadn't ... truth be told, he had feared they wouldn't react. After what happened with his father, with Maria, even Jarvis leaving him here, he had started to think that no-one would care for him, least of all a bunch of small aliens, all of them children themselves.

But they did. His last words had barely stopped echoing when the first of them, the gold-red-queen, dropped out of the branches, closely followed by Loki's dark, barely visible body. They landed not far from him, light-footed, their wings half-extended and tail lashing to keep them up. Thora stopping there, while Loki took another two steps before bumping into him, making him loose his balance again, but there was another drakeling behind him suddenly, the bulky red-bronze body of Volstagg steadying him. Then there was Sif, staring down at him from a place a few feet above him, her tail twitching slightly. Fandral landed next to her only seconds later, making her swat him over the head with a paw when he got to close. At last Hogun appeared, silent as a wraith, keeping vigil over them from a branch above them all.

It did something to him, seeing them like this, the way they had come as soon as he called for them, feeling their worry in the tilt of their heads, the eyes turned unwavering to his face. In the way Loki now carefully, slowly, stood on his hind legs, his forepaws resting against his chest, his tongue licking at tears he hadn't even felt running. Had him swallow drily, heavily, while at the same time something cold and hard unclenched in his chest.

They liked him. They wouldn't leave him.

"Sorry", he mumbled and reached out, stroked over Loki's head. They probably couldn't understand him if the way Loki was blinking at him was anything to go by, but it didn't matter. They might understand the tone of his voice, might get the meaning anyway. "Sorry for falling behind. I'm ... I'm going to be better, okay?"

I've always been good at not being a bother to the people I wanted to be loved by, and I won't be for you, either, if only you don't leave me, please, please .

Maybe they understood, maybe they didn't, but Loki went down on his paws again after a last thorough lick right over his face that left him grinning a bit and rubbing at lizard-spittle. And Thora made a low sound deep in her chest, came up to nuzzle his hand, her nose soft and damp and oddly vulnerable against it.

They stayed closer after that, chose ways that were less difficult. Persuaded him to try walking over branches, where they were low and he could grasp other twigs to balance himself out.

It wasn't easy, but it helped so that he wasn't too far falling behind again. And it wasn't as if they were walking all the time. They were kids - they were still examining, discovering the world, now out to show a new friend their territory.

There was a plant almost like a mimosa, it's stalk low on the ground, the leaves barely visible under a giant blossom that was almost bigger than Tony was long. It was flat and feathered, pink, neon -pink, with a darker center and large golden seed heads standing out like a candle on a table.

When they came upon it the first time all Tony could see a whole grove full of them, pink and pink and pinker , a whole ocean of them as big as the house's garden. Thora stood in front of it, looking back at him as if to make sure he was really looking. Once sure she had his attention she put a paw out, dipped against the blossom in front of her with barely any force at all.

The blossom practically lit up, like a ligh t had been lit within it, and the whole blossom tightened to a slender rod like a thread had been pulled at a garland, and a luminescent green powder hovered above it, smelling like dog piss. A slight breeze blew right through it, made it dance around them like small, stinking fireflies.

Thora had jumped back as soon as the blossom had contracted, giving a whoops of pure unadulterated joy, and then she sprang forward, closely followed by the others, hunted for the blossoms still in full bloom all over the grove.

And Tony followed, infected by their joy, delight spreading warm and light through his body while he stumbled after them, danced through the green glowing dust quickly spreading all over the clearing, laughing while he made blossoms explode in green dust and fairy lights. He felt almost drunk on happiness, racing against Hogun to reach a certain large blossom as the first, shoving her into the side when she managed to outpace him. Grinned when she made a smug face back at him, then went further, the next blossom just waiting for him. Fought Volstagg when he lost his balance and tumbled into him, made him fall down backwards right into two blossoms that drowned them both in emerald dust. He had difficulty drawing breath with how hard he was laughing, his sides stinging and his lungs begging for air, while all the while Volstagg laughed with him, a sound deeper than Thora's and yet not less richly joyful, his snout open and his tongue lolling out.

When they had at last made every single flower explode into the air, faintly shimmering lights still dancing on a breeze, they tumbled together somewhere on a soft patch, the dust settling in glowing green all over hair and scales and skin and claws, making them look like aliens altogether. The were catching their breath in loud, huffing gasps, their chests heaving and vibrating with still more laughter.

There was a paw lying over his shoulder, and someones tail twitched under his head, another sliding over his legs and Fandral's head rested next to it. He was even sweatier than usual, damp and hot and itchy from the semen clinging to his skin, his eyes burned from salt and more of the green stuff, and his heart thundered so hard as if he had just run from Ricky's gang.

Tony couldn't remember feeling as good, as alive as this, and he grinned so hard his cheeks hurt, but he didn't care one tiny bit.



^^



He had to sneak in through the backdoor this night, begging Maik - the security man on duty - not to rat him out to Maria. Luckily, the man was cool with kids having fun - as he called it - and seeing Tony covered all in mud and green glimmer he probably thought he'd been to some party (if such a thing was even possible on Yggdrasil). Tony was just relieved that the twilight hid the scratches on his face and the blue berry-juice Fandral had left on his shoulder; it wouldn't be impossible to explain away but he tried to avoid lying to the security guards; they had an eery ability to smell the lies.

Back in his room he scrambled out of the clothes, deciding he would have to recycle them - there was no way he could rescue them, and if anyone found them the rips and stains all over the shirt and slacks would be a dead give-away where he had been.

For the same reason he simply showered - thank god for sonic showers, or he wouldn't have gotten rid of all the green stuff - and disinfected the scratches instead of going to Keisuke, the housekeeper, for better treatment. None of them were swollen or showed any sign of being poisoned, and the only bad ones - one over his left eyebrow, the other on his hip where he remembered a particularly bad thorn ripping into him before Loki had helped him get it out - could be easily treated with a plaster.

Shoving all the clothes into a bag - he couldn't operate the replicator right now or someone might get suspicious if they looked at the working protocol, as unlikely as it was that someone would do so - he already made plans for what he would have to change to be better prepared the next time he went out to play with them - because they would come get him again, and he had not the least inclination to even hesitate the next time they showed up. He still felt the warm glowing ball in his chest, the way his blood thudded through his body, filled him with a happy hum up into his toes and finger tips, just when he thought of them.

He would have to get clothes that were more robust, better protection for his skin. Maybe even long sleeves, though that would also make it warmer, but better than to suffer scratches all the time. Colored so he could better blend in with his surroundings - he might one day have to hide from something, even if it was just for a game of hide-and-seek.

Shoes that were made to cling to the surface so he could follow them along the branches. He had no delusions about ever being as good as them when it came to walking on branches – not barefoot (which would be foolish anyway) nor in his usual sneakers. But with the right footwear … there were some shoes there, as hiker gear, but Stark Industries produced even better ones for the army and Tony thought he could use them, maybe even improve their design. Well, Tony was sure he could improve their design - he was a genius after all, and right now he felt as if he could do everything .

He might also need to bring water, something to eat. Though ... Loki had shown him how to get water from big leaves, how to lick it from tree bark. Eating however ... as good as the berries had looked that the drakelings had eaten - and Fandral had smeared all over his shirt - he wasn't dumb. He knew that most anything in this jungle was probably poisonous to a human, and what wasn't didn't have to be edible .

Anyway ... a knife would be good, and maybe something for protection ... and his cell phone – it was shitty when it came to receiving calls, but it had a passable camera – and no way was he not taking pictures of all the wonders out there. Maybe he could buy his way into the research stations by offering pictures of some of the animals the scientists were interested in (if he could find someone who would shut his mouth about his involvement to Maria and Howard).

Mentally preparing his equipment he fell into bed, carelessly activated his alarm by wiping over the top of the bedside table before he slipped under the covers, still evaluating whether a laser was enough for protection or if should better build something with a bit more boom .

He was still categorizing where he should get the parts for that when he fell asleep.



Chapter Text

Lying in the bower and listening to the sound of his clutchmates-and-friends talking about his - their - new friend is something really satisfying, he finds. Yes, there is some muttering that he is too slow - from Volstagg-snail, of course, because they have teased him with that very same thing all the time. But even Thora - fast, adventurous Thora - shouts him down, because, well - they haven't chosen Tony for being fast, or his ability to hunt. That's what they are good at.

No, Tony is interesting . He's bigger than them, can reach places easily that they have problems to get to. Can pluck the sweet-tasting Rhialla-flower from where it grows on thin veins, and scratch them between the spines where no snout can reach and a tongue can not scratch. Can help them weave in new beads and small treasures between their spines when none of the adults are around.

Even more - he can show them the miracles of the human settlement, can give them more of the sweet-prickly water. Or the tasty oily things that crack between the teeth.

But there is more, at least for Loki. He has always been interested in strange languages - he knows how to speak the dialect of the Vanir, his father's birth-clan, and even that of Helheimr, even though it's hard and they live far in the west. Sigyn-teacher even taught him to speak the language of the sealings when he asked her to. He hasn't seen one since, but he's looking forward to it. They look so strange with their long tails that end in a spate-like tip, the webbing between their toes and their snout-less mouth.

Well, actually Sigyn-teacher had tried to teach Thora -queen-fledgeling, because she might one day have to trade with them, but then it's hard to teach queen-fledgelings anything , he knows. He isn't sure why they even try – consort are far calmer, and they learn far easier – wouldn't it be enough to teach them?

But then it is better for Thora-future-queen to know something ; he supposed it would be even harder for her consort to advise her without her knowing at least the basics. He just hopes he'll be there to see it.

On the other side … he's too proud, too forward, for a consort. There aren't many queen out there who want a consort like him … someone who might wander off with them, or start a fight instead of hiding behind his queen … and as much as he wants to stay with his clan he knows that no queen-fledgeling or young queen in the clan will take him. Well, Thora-queen-sibling would, but she's his sister. The best he could hope for would be to be taken as a second, or third consort, and … he's proud . He will not be someone's third consort, even when he knows that those are as loved and honored as first consorts.

But he is proud, and possessive, and not a perfect consort, and he wants a queen all for himself. Later on they can take another consort in their bower, sure, but not before him, before he made damn sure that his queen wouldn't forget him over a new spouse.

His tail twitches at the thought, and he feels restlessness make his limbs itch – thinking about his future always makes him feel twitchy, helpless – he knows the role he's supposed so play, and he knows it's not a role he will ever be able to perform.

A paw settles on his hips, right over his tail-bone, and a low grumble tells him that Hogun-sibling is trying to sleep and not impressed by his wiggling around. Ashamed he falls quiet – he doesn't want to keep his siblings awake with his problems, least of all his second favorite one, and not when even Thora has quietened down final ly, too. She is still whispering, but her volume has dropped drastically and her tail and hind-leg resting along his waist are lying still.

For a moment he lays as still as she, then the itchiness returns to his leg, and it starts to twitch slightly, even when he tries to stop it. So he turns his thoughts back to something else, hoping to quiet his body with his mind.

And inevitable his thoughts return to Tony. Tony, who knows a whole new language, a whole new world, and he wants it. Wants to know more about this world that his queen-mother thought important enough that she started speaking with them. That she allowed them on their land and didn't chase them away like they do with dangerous predators.

He is curious, always was, and Tony is something new, something exciting. A gateway to a new world that has his inside churn with dread and bounce with exhilaration both.

And he wants it.

Chapter Text

From this first day on, Tony spend more and more time away from the cold house and the miserable little colony with the drakelings in the jungle. There was some part of him - a part that had lain dormant all the time and now grew stronger with every passing week - that came alive in a way he hadn't thought possible. Where he had been wary, hesitant at first he became fierce and forward, almost as if he had been born for this kind of life.

He learned which water to drink, which berries and plants and animals were eatable by humans. Learned how to navigate in the forest, where to find shelter and to run from predators. Learned that the horn-squirrels, squirrel-like creatures that lived in the trees and had long horns on their front-head and wicked gleaming teeth, were absolutely harmless as long as they weren't frightened. Then there were birds which looked as harmless as one could imagine, but they gave even Thora pause, made even her be very quiet and slow as she wouldn't have them attacking them with their long hard beak. Learned that the red-scaled fishsnake was good to tease, but should be left alone if it had a collar of yellow scales because then it was protecting a nest of snakelets.



More than that he even learned to walk on branches.

The first time he did it – well, really did it – was a few days after their first meeting, after he had successfully swiped some of the hiker shoes (thank fuck for scientists intend on exploring the floating rocks firsthand) from the storage and fitted them to his size. The drakelings were really excited when he brought them out with him – Hogun, Loki and Fandral only this time, because despite what he had thought in the beginning they weren't all glued together. Well, Loki and Thora might be, most of the time, but even they sometimes went their separate ways.

This afternoon Loki had found him on a path not so far into the jungle, exchanging his normal sneakers for the hiker shoes. They were thin, almost transparent, their soles impenetrable yet very flexible so they could easily mold themselves to a curved ground.

When he stood up, trying out the soles on the uneven soil by walking a few steps, he found Loki curiously nuzzling the sneakers he had abandoned next to a tree stump.

"Hey!", he said, laughing. "You can't ... they stink!"

The drakeling looked up, a bit affronted, and Tony nudged him away from the shoes. "Don't tell me you like how they smell."

Scrunching his nose the lizard jumped after him, caught his shoes between his sharp teeth. His eyes glittered playfully while he pulled at them.

Tony grinned. "So, that's what you want?", he asked, accepting the challenge. Tightening his grip around the shoes he leaned backwards, tried to put his whole weight against Loki's strength. The drakeling pulled backwards, and he felt it strain up his arms. It was obvious the little lizard was far stronger that he looked, and Tony had to put all his weight against him, all the strength in his small arms and body.

It wasn't enough in the end, when Loki's eyes flickered up to his, a mischievous spark dancing in them, before he really pulled back, ripping the shoes out of Tony's hands and making him tumble after them, his balance utterly lost and his hands just enough to have him get a grip before he face-palmed down into the leaves.

"You ... you little sneaker!", he spluttered when Loki came to him, his face next to Tony's and his tongue licking wet and affectionate all over his cheeks.

The answer was a self-satisfied hum, Loki obviously having understood the tone of what he had said - the affection as well as the compliment. In return he nudged Tony's arm, the sound he made much less complimentary.

"Yeah, very nice of you!", Tony said, sarcasm in his voice. "I know I'm not a muscleman!" He pushed at Loki, though not too hard.

On his back, a warm presence announced Fandral, who looked over his shoulder, breath warm and damp against Tony's neck.

He was still slightly uncomfortable having their mouths so close to him, most of all his neck. They had teeth that were long and wicked and curved in the way of a predator much more than the omnivores they were, and even knowing they were intelligent, were much more than their instincts - it didn't take away the feeling of dealing with dogs, tame and playful until their instincts took over and they sank their teeth deep in his vulnerable flesh.

Maybe he smelled his fear and wanted to reassure him, or he was simply being affectionate and offering support, but anyway, Fandral leaned over and licked Tony's neck, his tongue wet and raspy on his skin.

Swallowing Tony held still, fear radiating cold and harsh through him, reminded him that these lizards he was playing with where still far more predator than he.

A low grumble made Fandral stop and look up, his nose still nuzzling against his hairline. But that wasn't enough for Loki; the smaller drakeling jumped forward and struck out with his paw at the other, the tips of his claws missing them both by centimeters.

Fandral jerked back with a loud hiss, but then Loki was in his face, baring his teeth in obvious warning, and the other drakeling pulled back even more, hunching his shoulders while still keeping his head up. He looked more startled than defeated to Tony, but as long as he was backing down that was absolutely okay. Loki, meanwhile, lost his angry stance, his shoulders slumped a bit, and he pushed his head in Tony's chest, a low worried hum vibrating through his skin.

Tony slowly relaxed, the breath he had been holding through the whole dominance display - for that was what this had been - escaping him in a quiet hiss. Looking down at Loki who was watching him through attentive eyes that betrayed his relaxed pose he smiled shakily. "You're really dangerous, are you?"

The drakeling simply purred in response, the sound vibrating all through Tony's chest.

It was Hogun that got them moving again. The drakeling had taken position slightly above them, watching for threats, her whole demeanor relaxed, yet watchful. Now however she growled slightly, making Loki look up at her and hiss slightly in annoyance, yet move back so Tony had room to stand up.

He took his shoes – soaked dripping wet in dragonespit, yet not the worse for wear - and packed them in his backpack to his package of cookies and some other supplies he thought he might need. After that he looked up at the trees surrounding them.

The shoes would stick on every surface that Tony stepped on. Even just taking a few steps on the ground he could feel them grip leaves and earth where the sensors weren't correctly calibrated and pulled at everything they stuck to.

Maybe it wasn't that bad that he was practicing near the village where the trees were a bit lower - at least he wouldn't fall too far, and Doc Dampierre wasn't too far.

Hesitantly he walked up to a tree whose lowest branch was at his shoulder height, then pulled himself up. The drakelings were fast to follow him, curious and wide-eyed, settling on the branches around him while watching what he did.

"Yeah, because I need an audience for when I fall down", Tony mumbled, though secretly he was relieved. Should he fall down and hurt himself too badly to move he now knew at least that they were there to get help. However much that will help me when I break my neck. Snorting he looked down at the ground that was way too far down under him and drew in a last deep breath. Then he carefully went up, the soles catching on the bark and anchoring him so that he stood almost as secure as on solid ground.

Testing his balance he found that he was quite secure up here. A small grin pulled the edges of is lips up, and triumph glowed bright in his chest. Feeling more confident he made a few careful steps forward, the grin spreading all over his face when everything worked as it was supposed to.

"Yeah!", he laughed, boxing triumphantly in the air. "I did it!"

Of course that was the moment when Fandral jumped at him and the added weight not only made him lose his balance, but also disconnected the soles from the bark, causing the both of them to tumble to the ground.



^^



He became better of course, not the least because he improved the sensitivity of the soles - something that needed some serious adjusting with the wet and damp surfaces he was walking and even running on. But his balance improved, too, allowing him to walk along a branch even without the shoes, or stand on a small stone within a shallow riverbed, helping the drakelings to hunt their lunch.

That was actually quite fun - once he had gotten over the killing bit -, standing there, he one a stone, the drakelings in the water, waiting until some careless fish swam near enough, then striking with their paw or hand to get them out of the water where a accurate strike with a claw or knife could easily kill them. Aside from the little bloodsucking worms that seemed to have developed an appetite for human flesh and made standing in the water for a longer time impossible Tony absolutely loved hunting with them.

Most of all later, when they sat down next to river and shared their meal - Tony mostly eating his own lunch though over time also nibbling on the fishes he learned were edible for him. It was comfortable, so much more comfortable than eating at the house, alone or with a mother that barely even looked at him except when he forgot his table manners or to make some scathing remark about his father. Here he only had to be fast enough to eat his share before Volstagg had eaten it all, or dodge the food-fights Fandral and Sif started so often between them.

Sometimes he sat there, his fingers full with fish innards all over his palm and wrist, more fish spread all over his lips and cheeks, laughing and speaking with full mouth, and he knew that his mother would disapprove so much.

Somehow, that made it all only so much sweeter.



^^



Not that he was the only one to be shown new things. The drakelings were curious as all children, and he should have known that bringing snacks with him onto their tours would only get them all excited about trying them out.

At first he was wary, scared they might get poisoned. And seeing how they dived in when he first offered them cola that was a very understandable concern.

Though watching how Volstagg - ponderous, slow Volstagg - simply walked all over his friends, even Thora, to be the first at the bottle had Tony crack up so much that he almost spilled the whole contents, to the loudly voiced protest of all the drakelings.

It took him a while to notice that he didn't have to be concerned about them poisoning themselves. Whenever he shared something new with them it was either Loki or Sif who pocketed it and since they were the smartest of them all - and all of them either leaped for it or avoided it - he supposed that they were taking it home to show it to some adult (possible Eir) and make sure whether it was edible.

The greatest response he got with chocolate, a fact that had him crack up beyond measure. But really, having half a dozen lizards strong enough to tear a grown man apart stand at attention or alternatively sniff at his backpack to be the first to get a bite of some candy that had children addicted to it allover the universe? That was just too funny!



^^



Tony dragged himself over the floor to the sound of his mother's piano play, glad Chopin covered his heavy steps. He should have been home hours ago, but between the heavy storm and being chased by a flock of ab'snithy he was lucky to make it at all.

He hadn't dared to make light - he didn't want Maria to notice him in this state - but that only meant he couldn't see where he put his feet. It wouldn't have made any difference normally, but in his state he stumbled over something and it rolled noisily over the floor, banging against the wall with a loud thud.

His breath caught in his lungs; he hoped Maria hadn't heard-

Sudden dissonance in her play and the sound of a stool being shoved back destroyed his hopes.

Exhausted beyond believe he simply closed his eyes against his mother's reproaches, before he opened them again, tried to straighten his hanging shoulders and rubbed over the worst dirt spots to look somewhat acceptable in his ripped shirt and pants.

Maria was there a minute later, anger hardening her features before she stopped short at whatever sight he made, her gaze wandering over his form. Eyes widening she asked, her tone shrill: "Where have you been?!"

He couldn't very well tell her that he'd been in the jungle, could he? Not sure what he wanted to say in his defense Tony opened his mouth-

Only to be cut short by her. "We were supposed to be eating dinner with the Barteaus hours ago. I had to apologize for your absence!"

Thrown off Tony blinked, trying to remember something about dinner plans, yet coming back blank.

Not that Maria seemed to care. "And how you look! Go wash yourself and throw these rags in the replicator. I hope you're not always running around like that - can't have my son look like a layabout just because he can't mind his clothes in play." Swirling skirts, then she was gone again, and a minute later the piano was playing again, this time a more aggressive piece he didn't recognize.

Carefully Tony set off to do as his mother had said, and find some bandaids to take care of the scratches along his arms and legs.



^^



The jungle's weather was always extreme, changing several times a day, from warm and mild in the morning to hot and damp in the midday, until it often rained during the afternoon, the drops splashing wet and warm down at them for hours afterwards.

But there were two even extremer seasons, the rain season - still a far way off - and the hot season that had even the drakelings slowing down from their typical speed, made them stay whole days at the rivers and seas, racing through the cooling water or simply lying down to wait for the slightly cooler evening air. Tony hadn't even known they had no sweat pores until he saw them pant in the summer, making them seem even more like feral beasts.

One day, when it was worse than usual, he came down to the riverbed they had met most of the time lately - the drakelings really didn't like to move, but then neither wanted Tony; as much as he loved spending time with them he dreaded leaving the air-conditioned house - and couldn't see them.

For a moment he was taken aback. They had spend so much time together, and even with the heat making them slow and lazy they had always found a way to tell him when they met somewhere else, or when they couldn't meet at all. This time however there had been no warning, and he felt a bit left out, the joy he had felt about seeing them left him like the air rushing out of a balloon. Standing there at the edge of the river, his feet dragging and suddenly feeling the burden of the sun press more than ever down on him, he actually contemplated turning back. Going back to a house that was cold and comfortable, yet empty and full of unwanted silence.

Dread had settled heavy in his guts when suddenly one of the mud heaps down by the river moved. Jumping back and getting his pocket laser out - Fuck, was that one of the fish predators? The crocodile-creatures he had seen a bit of? - he stared while another heap moved, then another and another.

And then he could see eye slits, green glimmering beneath all that mud, and blue and lambent gray.

"Fuck!", he huffed, his heart rate slowly coming down to it's normal pace when he realized what that meant. His hand went up to his chest, trying to stop his hammering heart from jumping out of his chest while he watched the approach of the mud heap that was so obviously Loki now that he moved and he could see his wings and tail, like the rest of his scales covered by still damp mud.

"What the fuck are you doing?", he asked, not expecting an answer. But Loki grinned, the movement revealing his sparkling white teeth, then took the remaining distance with a big jump and rubbed against Tony, greeting him by way of rubbing dirt all over his trousers.

Tony grimaced. "Was that really necessary? I don't want to have to use the replicator again, someone's bound to get suspicious."

Rolling his eyes - something Tony was sure Loki had picked up from him - the lizard dragged him down to the river by way of taking his trousers between his teeth. The others watched them with attentive eyes and Tony felt like he knew where this was going ... "Don't you dare!", he warned, but right in that moment the first drakeling was jumping at his back and all he could do was throw his hands out to catch himself on the ground before the weight had him face-palm into the mud. Though of course the underground was wet, his fingers not finding any purchase and slipping so he landed face-first in the sludge anyway. His friends only took that as an invitation to jump on his back, spreading mud and water all over him.

When they at last succeeded in covering him in silt from head to toe - he had problems getting it off his shoes, and they weren't supposed to stick to something fluid like mud! - they finally went back into the shade of the large river-trees with their deep-hanging branches. Loki and Sif lingered the longest, waiting for him to stop splutter sludge and cursing them and follow them on a higher place up in the trees where they were safe from most river dwelling predators, even more with Hogun watching for attacks.

It took Tony humiliatingly long to understand why they did this. Only when the mud had dried too much to have any cooling effect any longer and the drakelings went down to rub themselves clean on tree trunks did he realize that yes, he had been a good bit cooler for a while now.



^^



Even though he learned to understand them quite well through their body language and the way they very eloquently used their tone to indicate what they wanted to say Tony was determined to learn their language, too. Because really, watching them speak - listening to them speak - that was something entirely else. Their language was a mix of very deep and very high tones, of hiss-noises and growling and chirping that he could listen to for hours.

And sometimes he did. Lying on his back, head resting on some plant or stone or tree knot, his skin caressed by the ferns he was resting on or the mosses and bark of the branch that kept him safe. His friends spread out over the branches around him, Loki often near Thora, his deep baritone a wonderful counterpoint to his sister's higher one, their voices matching in a way that even Tony – who had no interest in music whatsoever - found wonderful.

It was even more beautiful when they sang, their voices raised in a melody that was as daring and curious and lovely as them. Always Thora as the one to lead, and Loki the one to contrast with her, all the others singing in harmony around them until Tony might have thought himself listening to a high-quality orchestra and not some alien kids singing in pure unadulterated joy to be alive.

It actually was after such as time, when their voices had fallen silent and the birds had hesitatingly started singing again, Loki having settled down on the branch next to his head, that he asked: "What does it mean?"

The drakeling only looked down at him, the head tilted slightly to show his attention yet lack of comprehension.

Tony sighed. "Yes, exactly that", he said, letting his head fall back on the branch with the soft thud of skull against moss. "I don't really understand you, and you don't really understand me." Closing his eyes he didn't expect any answer, yet got one anyway.

Because suddenly the drakeling was climbing over him, his weight pressing the breath out of Tony's lung with a slight huff when he put his paw down on his chest.

"Fuck!", he grunted and shoved at the drakeling who countered this treatment with a noise-mix of growl and yowl that Tony had learned to interpret as indignation.

"What the fuck?", he asked, glowering at the lizard who had the balls to look at him as if he was the one who had acted wrongly. Well, Tony had always suspected that Aesir were related to cats, and this was just another hint supporting that theory.

But then Loki simply put a paw against his chest and said: "Tony."

Staring at the drakeling Tony wondered what this was about. He had always thought Loki was the most intelligent of the whole bunch - with Hogun and Sif as close seconds - but that could all be just because they were the only ones ever interested in something beside roughhousing and playing and adventuring. But when Loki was as smart as Tony thought then he had a goal with this, even when Tony couldn't see it yet.

As if he knew that Tony had come to an conclusion Loki pressed his paw even harder against his chest, repeating his name.

And Tony suddenly understood. "Tony", he said.

Loki nodded - another gesture he had picked up from Tony - then pressed the same paw against his own chest. "Loki."

A slow feeling of exhilaration started to spread in Tony. If he was right then maybe he would learn this language after all ... "Loki", he repeated again, trying to keep himself from grinning.

But then Loki put his paw on the branch under him, made a sound somewhere between hiss and growl, and he couldn't help himself anymore. Sure, it would probably take months to learn even the most basic words, years to really understand the grammar and meaning of each word ... but he was Tony Stark, he was a genius, and if there was one thing he had, stranded on some backwater planet, then it was time.

So he was eager trying to repeat this word, before teaching Loki the word in English. And if their friends never quite understood the joy it brought to them to learn each other's language? Well, they certainly didn't let it bother them.



^^



Not that his language lessons with Loki - and sometimes Hogun, though that was rare, or Sif, which was even rarer - were his only lessons.

Because it seemed that for once Howard had listened to him and considered it to be important enough to react, causing a new teacher to come to Yggdrasil.

In that clipped way of his he didn't call - Howard never called, not even that one time still on earth, when Tony had caught a nasty fever and no-one knew whether he would survive, though he had demanded hourly updates via his PA, so there was that - but send a note with an e-mail. Between Maria who, angry as she was, often ignored her husband's letters, and Tony who was barely at home and never had the energy to check his mails, Dr. Parker's arrival went entirely unnoticed.

Luckily the arrival of the ferry was a very important date foe the people of Midgard. After all it was the only regular ship that stopped by their little out-of-the-way-planet, and in the three months since its last visit a lot of orders had accumulated and where now waiting to be fetched.

So when he left the ship – the only passenger this time around – and found that no-one was awaitng him he correctly assumed that something had gone wrong and simply asked one of the Midgardians for the way to the Stark's estate. Between the small size of the colony and the space station being located not too far out of it it took him only half an hour's walk to reach it. Once he was there and introduced himself as Howard Stark's personal choice for a private teacher for his son Maria actually found time to read Howard's mail and had Keisuke prepare a room for him.

Tony himself - having sneaked in through the backdoor as he so often did now - only met his new teacher the next morning at the breakfast table, where a young man of maybe twenty sat that he had never seen before.

Maria who for once had deigned to appear before lunch only introduced him as "Mind your manners, Anthony. This is the new teacher your father send, Dr. Richard Parker. I hope you will do yourself proud."

Don't put us to shame.

Well, that was as it usually went with his mother, so Tony more or less ignored her comment and stared at the stranger. He was around as big as Howard, but that was where the similarities ended - his whole demeanor was less impressive than Howard's, less cold and scary, yet not really particularly friendly. The clothes hanging around his haggard stature were clean and ironed, yet also worn-through and patched. His face had a tired and worn out expression, with deep lines dug in it.

For someone who Howard Stark had chosen as his son's teacher he looked quite shabby.

Tony was only too happy to escape Signor García Álvarez but whether this man was an improvement was yet to be seen. At least he managed a smile that seemed genuine enough when he greeted Tony, and he had become very good at judging other's honesty while he was still on earth - there was a surprising amount of people who wanted to befriend him once they knew he was Tony Stark, and while he was often disappointed by his father he hated such vultures still more.

After breakfast – from which Maria excused herself halfway through - Dr. Parker and he settled down in the library, both of them on the desk though on different sides. Tony immediately hated the way Parker settled down on his father's side, his eyes narrowing at it - not that he wanted to sit there himself, but sitting on the other side made him feel smaller, helpless, even though Parker lacked the way his father could make his side become nauseatingly overwhelming.

But then he did something that Tony hadn't expected. Because instead of simply beginning to start whatever he thought Tony should learn - or even just asking after what he knew - he smiled, a tired yet somehow friendly smile.

"I guess you don't much expect of me. Well, I can't reproach you - I'm not looking like much and seriously, your father's offer has been the best thing happening to me for a few years now. And when we're at being honest: I'm not even a teacher, just someone whose university thought they could do without and who doesn't know what to do now."

Tony blinked. Why was the man ... "But you said you've got a doctor title", he said, confused.

Parker just sighed. "Sadly, that's not something you can buy bread with, or pay your rent." Seeing Tony's still confused look he explained: "Even the best degree doesn't guarantees you a good job. Well, not that you have to worry about that, being Stark Industries heir and all that." Shaking his head he grinned crookedly. "Since I'm not a real teacher and really fed up with being called Mr. Parker, why don't you call me Ray, Anthony?"

Tony grimaced. "Tony", he said. He really hated that name, and if Parker insisted upon calling him that he wouldn't call him anything other than Mr. Parker.

But the man smiled as if he could understand Tony's issues. "Tony, then. Okay, Tony, anything you would like to know about me before we start with the lessons? That's your chance now."

Asking about him? Well, maybe he really was a improvement to Signor García Álvarez. At least he sounded more fun. Leaning forward, his eyes alight with curiosity, Tony asked: "What do you have a doctor in, Ray?"

There was an answering spark in the man's eyes - obviously this was something he liked to speak about. "Biology. I'm interested in DNA analysis - curing DNA-triggered illnesses like cancer or AKR."

"Wow!" Not even in his greatest dreams Tony would have thought - "You're that Dr. Parker! The one who found a way to diagnose the risk for AKR prenatal!" He was famous! There had been a lot about him on the net, and Tony had always wanted to meet him. And now he was his teacher! Could that become even cooler?!

Ray grimaced, the spark suddenly dimmed. "Yeah, that's me. Not my best work, though ..."

"Why? I mean, that's so cool, knowing so early on that a child is susceptible to AKR so you can treat it in time."

The smile that came to his teacher's lips was bitter, forced, and he leaned back a bit, crossing his arms on the desk in front of him. "Because a lot of people don't want to have children who have a high risk to develop certain illnesses. I've done it to help people get treatment in time. What I've done in the end was just increase the reasons for abortion ..."

Tony stared at him, not sure what he should say, but then Ray shook his head and forced a smile on his lips. "Okay, let's do what I'm here for. Also, tell me what you already know, and then we'll see what I can teach you, okay?"

It turned out Tony knew a lot more than Ray had expected, and hearing him say that - hearing his idol say that Tony was really fucking smart, even though he had known it all along - made satisfaction glow brightly in his chest. By the time they were through with the evaluation Tony had a broad grin all over his face - he was so fucking good that he was better than he was supposed to be even in the subjects that he wasn't really interested in, like English or history.

His only sore subjects were arts and music, despite Maria's attempts to interest him for them.

"It's just so ... boring" Tony grimaced.

But Ray just laughed. "You do know that many brilliant men and women have used music to settle their mind? Albert Einstein for example; he played the violin. Or Montgomery Scott - going by his own admission he wouldn't have found the formula for the transwarp-beaming if not for his Harmonium."

"Yeah, but I'm not going to learn the violin just because Sherlock Holmes couldn't get anything done without a whole violin concert." Tony crunched his nose.

"I'm not saying that you should", Ray grinned. "Just that music can be much more helpful than you think."

Tony resolved to judge this himself.



With Ray as his teacher Tony's free time became more limited. For once he actually needed to pay attention during his lessons, couldn't sleep through them to make up for the time he spend working on his projects throughout the night. Not that it was such a terrible burden - Ray actually challenged him instead of simply assuming what he might be able to understand, made him work harder and better than ever before. That in itself was reward enough - working hard on something he knew children much older than him would normally learn, and understanding it. But having Ray - Ray, one of his idols - acknowledge this and praise him ... it was almost too good to be true.

Even though he made Tony learn about music.



^^



He still spend a lot of time with the drakelings, escaping into the woods every day right after the lessons, often even skipping lunch though Ajeana quickly caught on and prepared some care packages for him. Slightly guilty he tried not to think about what she would say should she know that he often shared it with his friends, seeing as she was still often cursing about the Yggdrasilian fauna.

But he needed them. Sometimes he thought he understood what Ray had said, about geniuses needing to play an instrument to calm down their mind. Just that Tony wasn't finding his calm in the strings of a violin or the song of a flute, but in the orchestra of the Yggdrasilian jungle itself.

It wasn't something he could explain to Ray, or anyone else. Not without admitting that he went into the forest where he was never supposed to go.

But still ...

Sometimes, when they were tired of racing each other, or fishing, or simply playing around ... sometimes they would just listen to the jungle.

Tony's favorite spot was a small grove downriver from the village. The trees there were smaller than almost everywhere else, their bark a mottled blue-and-violet, the leaves turquoise and smelling almost like eucalyptus. A storm must have felled many of them years ago, but they had been too resilient to die. Instead new shoots had grown out of the fallen trunks, intertwining with each other and reaching for the sun so that at some places caves came to exist, natural bowers formed from living trees.

Mosses, ferns and other plants that needed little light grew under them, providing a soft surface, while birds and small mammals had taken up residence in the twigs. No predators big enough to be dangerous could get to them there, making it one of the few safe places in the whole forest.

Tony loved going there, spreading out all over the ground. The moss was soft and pliable under his head, the ferns prickled his skin like a caressing hand, while small glowing insects bathed the cave in a comfortable twilight.

At first the animals would be quiet, silent - waiting for the predators under them to make their move. But the longer they just lay there, barely moving - maybe the only time Thora and Sif weren't moving -, the more of them started to move and sing again.

The first where, as always, the insects; little critters that hushed out of their hiding places in the undergrowth, scurrying over the ground and skin and scales alike, tickling with their many many legs. There were some spiders there, too, and other poisonous creatures, but as long as he wasn't making any hasty movements Tony could observe even a very beautiful, palm-sized spider with a pearly back and long hairy jade-colored legs that Ton had once seen kill one of the crocodile-like river-predators with a single bite.

Birds started to move next, used to being capable of flying away when danger came close. First the small, jewel-colored birds that Tony likened to sparrows for both their size and distribution - there was nowhere he hadn't already seen them. Their call was a high tweet-tweet-sound, and in the mating season after the rain season they were omnipresent.

A deeper, slow and almost sad-sounding twee-twought, twee-twought belonged to a very unremarkable looking bird, almost as big as Tony's forearm was long. There was a pair that had started breeding over their favorite cavern after Tony's first rain season, and Tony learned that not only were they staying together for their whole life, but also came back again and again to expand their previous year's nest every year. And sitting there and watching the small fledgelings getting fed, and later leave the nest for first flying lessons before actually really leaving the nest - that was something he couldn't get enough of. Even more because the parent-birds came to know them, learned that they were no threat to them or their offspring, and let them come much closer than Tony had never been to a nest before.

Sometime around then the other animals began to rummage again. Squirrel-like creatures, day-bats and small tree-predators going after their business, cawing and cheeping and yowling until it was hard to differentiate between them. From some animals he already knew which sound belonged to them, by some of the voices Tony learned which animals they belonged to, but others he couldn't even guess, yet that didn't matter.

He knew this symphony that changed from one minute to the next, and knew when one part of it was missing. And while they would never win any award or even just be acknowledged as musicians, these tiny and not-so-tiny singers and drummers played his absolute favorite symphony.

Because lying here, surrounded by this song of life and his friends, entangled in their warm friendship, was the closest he had ever come to anything he would call home.



^^



"Where are you going?" Maria stared accusingly at his jeans, at the shirt he'd hastily pulled over his head. "And why haven't you changed yet? Mass is in fifteen minutes!"

Stubbornly he jutted his chin out. "You can go alone! There's no God, and I don't want to go just so you can parade me around like a good little boy. If you want to be seen so much you can alone!"

Maria gasped, her eyes going wide; he'd never before really contradicted her.

Not willed to let her persuade him differently, or just be caught and forced to go he grabbed his belt, then dashed for the door and down the stairs, his mother's "Anthony Edward Stark, you will come back right now!" following him into the jungle.



^^



"-no, not leader, queen !" Loki stared up at him more than a little miffed.

Tony supposed he couldn't fault him for it; after all, he'd been a bit too insistent on some words as well. And it was very obvious that they were both trying their very best to find the best possible translations - after all they were trying to make their very own dictionary.

Not that this was always easy. Scrunching up his nose he asked: "What do you call a male leader, then?"

Loki looked as if he was insane. *All queens are females*, he said, and, okay, wasn't that ... interesting.

Really, when he had started to learn their language he had thought that was all he was doing. He hadn't been aware, not in the slightest, that this also meant learning about their culture.

Like, for example, that apparently all the Yggdrasilians were matriarchal, and their leaders called queens . And, if he went with what he knew of Thora - who was a queen -fledgeling after all - and what they told him about the other queens of the clan they were short-tempered, strong-willed and very powerful. They were also the largest and best fighters of the clan, had those small ridges along their back and spines to protect their throat all around their neck.

The other fighters and guardians - like Heimdallr, and Hogun apparently - were called einherjar. They were build similar to the queens, maybe even a bit more muscled but also slightly smaller, without ridges and a longer and thicker tail.

And they weren't capable of reproduction due to the fact that they were genderless.

It had taken Tony embarrassingly long to get that when Loki had been laughing about him after he had referred to Hogun as she . Or when he, blushing furiously, used he . And then they had to go through whether they even had sex - which was fine to discuss when it was about mice, but not ... Hogun . Uerks.

So, yeah, einherjar didn't have a gender.

And then there were consorts, like Loki. Who where, if Tony understood that right - "So, consorts are male, yeah?"

Loki looked a bit affronted. *Do I look like a female?*

Tony rolled his eyes. "No-no. Just - you said you get ... claimed by a queen when you're an adult? Like an arranged marriage?"

*Arranged -? No! Why would anyone let another decide who you are to spend your life with? The queens woo the consort they are interested in, and the consort decides whether he finds her attractive, and thinks she's strong enough to protect him, and if her temper is not too much for him.*

Tony blinked. "Since when do you need someone to protect you?"

It seemed he had said something wrong, because Loki looked almost hurt. *I'm a perfectly good consort, and it's a queen's job to protect her consorts!*, he said, and it seemed as if he was about to cry - well, do the Aesir-version of it.

Hastily Tony changed the subject. "Sure you are", he said. "Did you say consorts? As in, more than one?"

Blinking suspicious Loki looked up at him, then answered, his voice still shaking: *If a queen is strong and healthy, and the clan powerful, then they often take two or three consorts. Sometimes more, I've heard, but you can't give your attention to so much people simultaneously, you know?*

Tony nodded. "You're strange you Yggdrasi- sorry, Ymiri ."

Loki snorted. *You're strange, too, you earthlings .*

"Hey, come-on, I corrected myself this time! And I couldn't know you call yourself Ymiri, it was no-where in the information they gave us on Yggdrasil!"

*You don't have a problem calling the woodsingers by their name, and you never knew about them either!*

Yeah, well, because he had never before heard about people with the ability to change a plant's way to grow! If the biologists knew there were people like that under the Ymiri they would probably come running into the colony and demand to meet one. That ability certainly explained the strange structures he'd seen that one time when Loki had found him in the woods and taken him home.

Before he could ask anything more a loud crack came from above, and then suddenly Thora appeared in their midst, immediately taking up all the room between them and made the branch they were sitting one wobble dangerously.

*Stop-stop!*, she ordered. *You've talked long enough, now we're going to have some fun! Fandral has seen red fishes on the shore, we should go catch them!* And with that she nudged Loki from the tree; the fledgeling could barely catch himself with claws and wings and glared heatedly at his sister. Who absolutely ignored him and turned to Tony who decided he didn't want to take his chances against the often too rash little queen and jumped up, shooting an apologetic look over to Loki and said: *Let's go!*

Thora, much too excited about having him complying with her order, didn't even notice that he had tried out the strange language of the Ymiri, but Loki gave him an impressed and approving grin, before they were both pulled along by the force that was Thora.

Not that they really minded; Thora's games were often the best.



^^



Tony learned about the consorts' powers by trying to wake Loki from a nightmare.

They had wandered too far out that day, and since no-one would miss him if he was away for that night Thora had suggested they search for shelter for the night instead of trying to make their way back to the home trees before nightfall and exhausting themselves with that.

So they had huddled together in the cavern of a tree, halfway up the trunk, with one of them standing guard in the small opening. There had been a debate whether Tony should have a shift, too - not because he was prone to fall asleep, but because his eyes and ears were less keen than the other's. Tony had simply reminded them that with the nightscope-glasses he always kept with him his eye-sight was as good as theirs, and that everything that was out for prey would be silent enough that they wouldn't hear it either anyway. Reluctantly they had bowed to his logic.

What he hadn't factored in was Loki having a nightmare, making him toss and turn in his sleep, disturbing the others though not yet waking anyone. It wouldn't have been that bad - everyone had bad dreams sometimes, and normally they subsided after a few minutes - but he started to whimper and that was highly audible even over the nightly sounds. It took only one predator to hear him ...

So Tony left his post to gently shake Loki awake.

Thora would have growled at him for that, Fandral stared in deep offense. Volstagg was used to it – he was the only one of Tony's friends who snored. Neither Sif nor Hogun had ever required a waking hand.

Loki … well. As soon as Tony put his hand on his small friend, fingers stroking over his hot cheek to wake him as gently as possible, his eyes snapped open, revealing not emerald crescents but blood-red rubies. Which was only visible because somehow, a bluish light had appeared under Loki's scales, spilling out from between the cracks until the whole cavern was bathed in its light.

Surprised Tony jerked back, falling flat on his ass when he stumbled over Fandral's tail. And he would never ever complain about the fledgeling's nasty habit of having his tail everywhere where it didn't belong, because not a moment later blazing blue coldness flared over him like a ray of pure, undiluted winter.

Tony lay there on his back, mouth falling open in shock when he stared up to where the ray had hit the tree's inner wall, now boasting a solid layer of clear crystal ice, glimmering lightly in the light of the glowing moss Hogun had brought inside.

Loki was on him a moment later, all tears and desperate pleas to please be okay, his paws scrambling over his chest, his snout and tongue licking over his face, and the others, too, came awake now and went over to them, licking and touching him to make sure he hadn't been touched by Loki's ice.

He hadn't, but the shock made him feel cold and stiff anyway, his heart freezing up in fright, so he gratefully bathed in their attention and concern, thawing the fear from his mind in trembling limbs and low sobs.

Afterwards, when Tony's heart had stopped galloping like a frightened ab'snithy and Loki had finally stopped crying in shock over almost killing him they explained consorts' powers to him.

It seemed that each consort was born with a power that made him quite a terrible enemy to everyone who tried to attack him or the clan. Only the fact that consorts were such fine, sensitive creatures made them really safe to be around - Fandral even mentioned that there were stories of consorts who had the temperament of a queen and brought only war and misery over their clans. Tony would have liked to have claws in that moment to make Fandral shut up, because really, couldn't the fledgeling see how his words were affecting Loki, who was a bit more adventurous than the usual consort and must seem quite dangerous to himself in this moment?

Nuzzling up at his friend he made sure the other knew he wasn't angry, or afraid of him. The soft hum and the weight leaning against him he got in response made him forgo his plan to take revenge on Fandral next chance he got.

Probably.

*So every consort can throw ice?*, he asked. Well, it would certainly explain why everyone was so careful not to anger Frigg, the Aesir's first consort.

But Loki's stiffening next to him, and Hogun shaking nir head disabused him of that thought.

*Aesir consorts call lightning*, Loki explained, his voice choking a bit. Looking down Tony saw the tightening of Loki's delicate paws, his fingers clenched into the soft wood.

Thora snorted. *And mother-queen's father-consort was from Jotunheimr, and they call ice.* She was obviously trying to help, yet Loki still shivered miserably.

And than Fandral said something that bought him a lot of goodwill from Tony, for he used what little human vocabulary he had to say: *And calling ice is so much cooler than calling lightning.*



^^



Somehow, despite death shadowing them wherever they went, looking at them out of the eyes of predators they had to flee from, or hide in the rapids of the river stream, or even just lurking in the bushes, masked as invitingly red berries or jeweled spiders or a beautiful yellow frog that killed on touch – despite Death becoming a companion Tony was happy . He had friends and he was free and could see and explore what no other human had ever laid eyes on.

Of course his happiness couldn't last that long. Not with Ricky and his gang still out there, ready to cause trouble.

It had started sometime before Ray arrived when he had still attended Signor García Álvarez's lessons. Before - before he met Loki and Thora and they changed his whole life - he had often been out in the village in the afternoons, easy prey for Ricky and his friends, but still preferable to the coldness of the house or the boredom when a spark of geniality eluded him in the workshop.

With the drakelings in his life, and the whole freedom of the jungle open to him, he hadn't had any reason to stay in Midgard and run away from them anymore.

There had still been one incident, when the drakelings once searched for him in the morning while he was still at school and the whole group of them had gathered in front of the open window, calling for him in that way of theirs. Getting them to shut up and fly away without being found out by Signor García Álvarez had been .. let's say, it had been an interesting experience.

Maybe Ricky had followed him afterwards, or it was just dumb luck that he stumbled into them, but one day when he exited the garden gate of the house, worn out by a very interesting yet demanding lesson about atoms and molecules, he suddenly found himself face-to-face with Ricky. A wide, shit-eating grin spread over his face, the rest of his gang standing in a loose semi-circle behind him.

Blinking up at the bigger boy Tony was too surprised to even call for help when the boys surrounded him. It took a moment for fear to settle cold in his chest, but when it did he felt his adrenaline level spike. Instincts honed by living in a jungle that was hungrier than anything earth had to offer flared to life, made him look for an escape route, for something he could use to beat his pursuers.

Of course this didn't escape Ricky's notice. "Is the little milk face afraid?", he crowed, grinning triumphantly. "Look, his legs are shaking, maybe we should call him milk-shake!"

Strangely, the insults calmed Tony down. He knew this kind of behavior, had seen it more than once in birds and small predators that they had hunted, knew that this was more posse than anything behind it. A beta-man pretending to be alpha, not really expecting opposition.

Grinning up at the older boy - Ricky was almost a head bigger than him, and definitely half as heavy again as he - he pulled himself out of his hunched position, presented a confidence that made him cheeky and his eyes flare in amusement. "And look, it only takes five big bad boys to frighten the little milk-shake? Can't be worth much, then."

He didn't really need to look around him in the eyes of the other boys - all of them bigger and older than him - to know that he'd hit a tender spot. Doing it anyway just gave him the opportunity to sneer at them before he simply walked up to Ricky who, probably more on instinct than because he really wanted to if his shifting eyes were anything to go by, blocked his way.

Recalling what Thora would do in the same situation he simply looked at him, calling regality into his voice. "Move", Tony said.

The eyes of all his friends upon him Ricky couldn't very well back down, not when it was the smaller, lighter milk-shake challenging him. So he simply grinned, his smile only a little bit unsure at the edges from the self-assurance Tony projected. "And if not, milksop?"

If Tony had learned one thing in the jungle then it was that a heads up could make all the difference between eating or being eaten, so he just moved forward, his left leg hooking around Ricky's, pulling him in while simultaneously aiming for his chest with his fist, burying it in his body in a move that he had learned when roughhousing with Volstagg and Thora, both of them bigger and much weightier than him (and having scales armoring them against attacks).

The boy, not used to resistance or even just a real fight, stood no chance. Crumbled down to the ground, holding his chest and heaving for breath, he couldn't very well talk back anymore, nor could his friends, dumbstruck and wide-eyed.

Tony grinned and felt exhilaration bubble up in him, giving him even more confidence, a penchant for dramatic awakening in him and making him look cheekily up at the other boys. "Anyone want seconds?", he asked.

It was pure luck that none of the boys was keen to avenge their leader or he would have been in real danger - he couldn't take on four seniors at once. But so he left unchallenged, grinning to himself and looking forward to telling his friends of his victory.



^^



From: Dr. Howard Anthony Walter Stark, StarkIndustries, Director, Vulcan

To: Anthony Edward Stark, Yggdrasil



Anthony,



Today I had to learn that you pester Stark Industries' scientists about their research. I thought

you were aware that those are not games for children, but since it seems I was wrong: You

are to stay away from the research stations. Don't bother Dr. Pierce and her team!



Howard Stark



PS: Dr. Parker told me that you are doing good for your age. I trust you will continue your

efforts and don't shame our family name.



^^



Ricky was, of course, not the greatest danger out here, a fact he was reminded of forcefully not much later. They had been playing on a hill where the trees were smaller and far between, hunting for a plant that loved this kind of places and whose roots were very tasty, when suddenly Hogun gave a piercing cry that Tony had learned indicated near immediate danger.

His body reacted before his mind did, following the drakelings up on one of the trees growing on the mound before he even looked over his shoulder to see what was following them.

Once he did he felt panic surge through him in a heavy, nauseating wave. There, not far from them and flapping its big bad-like wings, turning his snake-head everywhere to catch their scents, was one of the most dangerous predators the jungle had to offer.

The scientists called it saurus leviathanus, after the big monster in earthly myths, but the humans in the settlement only referred to it as Winged Death, a name that was more than appropriate. Being big enough to tower easily over a human, it's wingspan wider than even that, with claws like knives and teeth as long as Tony's hand coming out of it's snout there was nothing more deadly in the air. Combined with it's strength that easily tore whole horses apart and it's ability to fly even in small constricted places, not to mention it's incredible eye sight, there wasn't much one could do to escape it once it had set eyes on one.

Not much, but maybe ... feeling his mind race while sweat made his hands even wetter and his heart-rate accelerated Tony found one possible solution ... "The caves!", he called, imitating their word for cave as good as he could and hoping they would understand that he meant the holes under the hill, small passageways with even smaller entrances that would hopefully keep the Winged Death out where the scarce trees here wouldn't.

Even while the predator, drawn in by his call, turned to him he heard one lizard - Loki, that was Loki's voice - repeat his call and he was relieved that at least one of them had understood him, had informed the rest. Then he stopped thinking and just turned around himself, taking advantage of the momentary distraction the Winged Death suffered from hearing Loki's call by jumping down from his tree and running.

Wings rustled behind him, the predator obviously had decided on one prey or maybe just on following them all, and he felt his heart speed up again, adrenalin flooding him and knocking everything aside.

The ground was dry up here, or at least as dry as it could get in the jungle, providing a better grip for his shoes. He quickly jumped from stone to stone, preferring the solid ground to the more yielding soil between, trying to find his way to the caves as fast as possible.

It was the swoosh coming from above that alerted him to the attack, and he quickly let himself fall to the side, rolling over and crying out when his shoulder hit the ground hard. But the predator missed him, his claws scraping red lines of fire over his back but couldn't hold onto him. The blow of his wing beats even helped Tony, made him roll further, scrambling for purchase before somehow getting to his feet and running again.

His legs started to wobble long before he reached the caves; even racing with his friends hadn't prepared him for runs for his life, and there was something wrong, pain lancing through his whole leg whenever he put his right foot down.

When he heard the Winged Death approach again he knew that he couldn't escape again; that he had the last time had been pure dumb luck. Still, he wouldn't give up just like this, so he ran further, trying to find the strength to reach safety despite the heaviness in his chest, the pain, the lead weighing his feet down.

And then, suddenly, a loud scream, an irritated roar from behind him and he felt something pass him by - Hogun, trying to distract the Winged Death from the weakest member of their group, Tony.

Gratitude filled Tony's chest warm and golden, gave him somehow strength he hadn't thought he possessed. Mobilizing what he had he ran for the shadows he had seen somewhere in front of him, praying that it was the cave he hoped for.

The wing beats got louder again behind him, but if he dodged now he would miss the cave and he had no strength left to reach another or try a second time on this one with the predator watching it. So he mobilized everything he had, leaned forward and ran as he had never before.

He still wouldn't have made it if not for a heavy weight bumping into his back at the last second, making him tumble down into the cave like a sack of potatoes. Two rows of teeth closed around his right shoulder, and then he was hauled forward with force. Pain raked through him, would have him cry out if he had that much breath left. Somehow he managed to get his feet under him, scrambling forwards and into the cave while something else - someone else - followed directly behind him, crawled over him.

A loud, disappointed scream echoed through the cave, then a thump when the Winged Death landed at the entrance of the cave. Teeth clicked together right behind Tony's feet, and he could feel the force with which they snapped shut, the hot damp breath causing goose pimples up his legs.

It made him scramble a bit more before turning around, looking back at the entrance where the predator was clawing like mad at the earth, trying to get deeper for endless, timeless minutes. Small chunks of earth fell down from the cave's wall under the force their attacker used, its yellow eyes glowing like sinister lamps in the dark. It took a long, very long time before it gave up and flew away.

Tony wasn't dump enough to think it had truly flown away. The Winged Death was a very persistent, patient predator - some scientist had even remarked once that they would rather hunger than let a prey go once they had set eyes on it, almost as if they were affronted by them daring to escape.

Which meant that it was still out there, waiting for him - for them. Looking around he found Hogun and Loki - who had to be the one giving him that last push - sharing the cave with him, their chests heaving as much as his. Staring at them Tony's heart slowly started to calm, his breath still loud and harsh in his ears.

They were safe, at least for a while, and his body used the receding adrenaline to remind him forcefully that he had been through a lot.

The scratches along his back started to burn again, four lines of fire across his lower back, ripping right through his shirt and trousers - the added protection provided by their resilient material was most likely the only reason the Winged Death hadn't ripped his spine out right then.

Swallowing as this realization hit him Tony tried to move into a better position - the caves were cramped, the ceiling too low for him to do anything else but sit leaned against the wall - he accidentally moved his injured leg and yowled as pain went straight through his leg up in his spine, making him feel as if he had just stepped onto a very sharp stone.

"Fuck!", he cursed. "Fuck fuck fuck!" He would have hit his fist against the cave wall regardless of that only hurting him further but moving his arm only made the teeth marks Hogun had left in his shoulder flare again, causing him to curse anew.

Both Hogun and Loki simply looked at him for a moment, then came forward, trying to reassure him by licking carefully over his cheeks and nudging him with their noses.

"Yeah, I'm okay", he assured them. "Nothing that won't heal. And you?" Sudden worry had him push the back carefully, rake his eyes over their forms. "You've both brought yourself in danger for me. Are you okay?"

Loki glared at him through slitted green eyes, snapping his teeth in a way that told Tony what he thought about Tony worrying for him when he should be worrying for himself, but Hogun simply licked his cheek again, reassuring him that both of his fellow prisoners had managed to stay uninjured.

"Well, now we only need a way to get out", he said, trying not to think about how impossible that seemed.

*Fandral-friend*, Loki said, his voice for once not sounding exasperated with the other drakeling. *I saw him fly towards the home-trees-safe-haven.*

"It's a Winged Death", Tony objected. It normally took really heavy weaponry to take the predator down.

But both Hogun and Loki just laughed, their posture relaxing at once. *Queen-mother will tear it apart.* Hogun nudged Tony with nir nose against the chest. *Don't fear.*

Rolling his eyes Tony protested: *I'm not fear!*, his own try on their language going awry with his indignation.

Hogun's grin broadened, ne laid nir head against his. *Fear is not bad*, ne reassured him.

And Loki came from his other side, licking his cheek and jaw and neck. *Queen-Mother-Odin will kill it.*

Tony wanted to protest again, but having his friends so close, warm scales rubbing familiarly against his heated skin, their nearness soothing his racing heart, he didn't want to start an argument. Instead he settled with them next to him, returned their licks and nudges with petting hands and scratching fingers, bathing in them being here.

"What about Thora and Volstagg?", he asked eventually, his worry getting the better of him.

Loki shook his head, his spines flying. *Volstagg-close-friend will keep Thora-sister-fledgeling-queen-temperamental-idiot from fighting*, he said, then settled against Tony's thigh, mumbling. *I hope.*

Yeah, Tony could see that - the little queen was exactly the kind of person to fight even the greatest, most dangerous predator. It made him feel uneasy - how would Volstagg - lazy, slow, not the strongest - keep her from challenging it?

As if reading his mind, Hogun rolled onto nir back, grinning up at them both from where nir head lay in Tony's lap. *Do you think Volstagg-almost-clutchmate is sitting on Thora-sister-stubborn-queen to keep her in?*

Despite his worry Tony couldn't keep himself from snorting out loud, but nor could Loki, shaking next to him.

It felt as if they had sat there for an eternity, calming each other by touching and licking, but Tony knew that it couldn't have been that long. It had been late in the day, and he would have had to leave for the house shortly anyway. Darkness had fallen a short while before, making him estimate their time in the cave to not more than an hour.

Fandral wasn't the fastest, and they had been a good way off from the village - it was Saturday after all, and Tony had planned on spending the night in a research station with Ayo's wife, hoping to escape Maria's new fixation on dancing lessons that way. Anyway, this was still normal, no need to worry about Fandral or themselves, even with the forest being a dangerous place at night for small, lonely drakelings. And the Winged Death still out there. And Fandral was the one who sometimes lost his way - even Volstagg always managed to get home at least, and if it was just because he would always get something to eat there.

A low noise from outside drew their attention. A while ago, shortly after the night had fallen fully, the Winged Death had tried to come at them again, obviously having hoped they had wandered closer to the entrance, but after it found it could still not get at them it had given up only a few minutes later.

Now they expected the predator to come at them again. Instead they heard it shriek, loud and shrill, pained and enraged, before there was the loud beating of wings ... many wings, scaled wings. The Áss-queen had come, and she wasn't alone by the tone of it.

For a moment they sat there, paralyzed, relieved, almost incredulous. Then they scrambled for the entrance, each of them trying to be the first. Loki won, of course, by virtue of being the first in line, but Hogun managed to squeeze past Tony, leaving him to sit back and try to gauge what happened by ear alone.

*The queens have come!*, Loki said, his voice shrill in excitement, his tail going up and down and hitting Tony square in the chest.

Cursing half loud Tony shoved it aside, but before he could say something a loud thump came outside, something heavy falling to the earth, some more sounds of fighting, another loud shriek, and - silence.

They, all of them, sat there, quivering in tension, not yet daring to leave the safe cave. Not until there came another sound, this time a victorious roar that could have come right out of Thora's throat, just deeper and more powerful.

Both Loki and Hogun were out of the cave in a second, greeting their mother with loud excited calls while they raced over to where she had brought the Winged Death down and now greeted them with licks and stroking paws, clearly relieved to see them.

Tony followed slower. The rest had helped with his injuries, his leg wasn't hurting anymore and both his shoulder and his back were better, but he was stiff from sitting too long in a cramped position and cautious about this situation.

He hadn't seen other - adult - Aesir since his first trip to the colony when Loki had found him, and he had no idea how they would receive him. Least of all now, so shortly after a predator had attacked them and they needed rescuing - enough rescuing that more than one queen had come.

Tony wasn't sure, but going by what he knew about his friends and what he could see now he assumed that of the five Aesir ringing them at least three were queens - they were larger, with ridges along their back and there was something wild, angry about them. The queen Loki and Hogun - as well as Thora - had run to wasn't the biggest one, but unmistakably the most majestic with her gold scales covering her from head to toe and the white spines ringing her head, highly visible even in the twilight coming from the fluorescent moss around them. One of her eyes was sharp and glowing blue like Thora's, the other gold and almost invisible under a row of scars along the right side of her face. A bra-like top and trousers barely hid anything of her body, nor did the gold dripping from her spines, neck and waist, or the bands around her upper arms, richly decorated with red stones and what looked like diamonds. She was beautiful and dangerous, her teeth and snout stained dark where she had ripped into the Winged Death.

Swallowing Tony approached slowly, relieve flooding him in a warm wave when he saw a shadow that he recognized as Fandral jumping down from a tree nearby, awkwardly stumbling over to him - he hadn't known how much he had worried about his friend until he now saw him safe and sound.

Coming up at him he reached out, nudged him with his hand against his side in imitation of a drakeling's snout. *Are you okay?*

Fandral snorted, nudging him back hard enough that he had to take a step back to keep his balance. *I only flew to get help. You-my-friends-near-to-my-heart had to escape the Death-in-the-Sky.*

Tony couldn't answer that - didn't even know how to answer - because suddenly there was a presence next to him and he just knew that it was the clan's reigning queen Odin standing next to him.

Looking up at her in apprehension he wasn't even aware of his shoulders slumping, his head going up in the offering of his throat as he would do when play-fighting with his friends on surrender. All he saw was the dark blue eye gazing down at him with something approaching cool, analytical surprise.

Then the gaze turned warmer, her head lowered and she breathed out, warm air blowing over his face and neck. "So you are the fledgeling-boy-queen my children have told me of", she said, her voice surprisingly accent-free.

Blinking in surprise Tony needed a moment to gather his thoughts. Fledgeling-boy-queen. Of course, he was the heir of his family, a position only obtained by queens in Yggdrasilian culture. Fledgeling - a child. And the boy-part was self-explaining.

Tony grinned. He found he liked the title.

The reigning queen smiled in response. Then, suddenly, her nostrils flared and her eyes narrowed. Fearing he had done something wrong Tony ducked again, but she only asked: "Are you hurt?" Not waiting for an answer she turned him around, examining the stripes on his back.

Her verdict came shortly. "You need a healer."

Tony winced. He had hoped to avoid that, but maybe ...

Before he could protest she was suddenly pulling back. *We are finished here.* Her change back to their own language an indication that she was speaking to all of them now, even though she kept an eye on Tony all the while. *We will fly. Home-trees-safe-all-together*, she announced, then suddenly she reached out and cradled Tony in her arms. He barely had enough time to loop his arms around her neck before she jumped in the air, her wings beating strongly to get them high into the air as fast as possible.

Behind them Tony could hear other wings. Not that he could focus on that – not when he found himself suddenly up in the air, held only by two arms holding him around the waist. He wasn't particularly prone to nausea but going from standing still to flying with someone who was flying as fast as Thora and Loki in almost no time at all? That was enough to cause everyone's heart to sink down into their trousers, and make Tony scramble to put his arms around her neck so she couldn't accidentally drop him.

Flying with the queen was completely different to what he remembered of flying with Heimdallr. For once, her neck was thickly muscled, strong and heavy under his hands, spines moving freely over his arms. Her scales were scratchier - not enough to hurt him, but it might irritate his skin in time where he had instinctively slung his legs around her upper body. She had more spines, and every now and then the wind blew them right into his face, making him feel like he was running fast through a liana rich grove. And even though her arms were warm and safe around him, the air up here over the trees was cold enough to be uncomfortable.

But it was over far too fast to really cause him problems. One moment her wings were beating fast and strong, the movement moving his hands slightly with every beat, the sound of it steady and rhythmic in his ears, then she suddenly cupped her wings, angling downwards.

Tony had seen this move often enough with his friends to know what it meant. Instinctively tightening his hold he braced for a hard landing, but the move with which she came down was so smooth he barely noticed it.

Her arms released him, though when he stumbled away - expecting flat ground, not a rounded branch - she steadied him with a strong hand on his upper arm.

Using the moment to look around he found himself standing up somewhere on the top of one of the wooden spheres up in the trees, neatly settled where the biggest two branches separated from the trunk . All around him the other adults landed and yes - they each were carrying one of his friends - Volstagg stumbled down next to him as soon as the sister-queen having him in her hold released him, hooking his claws into the twigs covering the sphere.

No, not covering - they were what the spheres were made of. The walls were literally nothing but branches and twigs, growing to form the skeleton of a globe, like a rib cage, with veins and the roots of other plants growing between them like flesh and muscles and sinews, to form the walls. When he let his hand glide over the wood he could feel the bumps where sharp claws had left scars in the wood, but no sign of anything being cut, as if everything had grown out just like that. And there was more than one globe – actually, there were five, growing along and into each other in several heights and directions, all different sizes and forms.

Shaking his head in wonder Tony crouched down and touched one of the veins – it had thick dark red leaves that stood out strongly against the more silvery leaved of the tree. A blood vein, as Loki had once called it – a liana that completely throttled the tree it grew upon. And yet nothing like this had happened, even though the vein was thick and healthy and going by how far it had grown between the walls it was certainly old enough to defeat a tree.

Loki had mentioned a caste of Ymiri called woodsinger, and looking at this home Tony thought he might understand.

It was certainly the only explanation he had for roughly half a dozen different veins growing peacefully next to each other – and their host. For the hundreds of other plants that hid the globes under white and reddish and blue blossoms, under leaves in every color from dark red to a rich turquoise, and the way the tree seemed to be healthy despite them all.

All in all it looked an awful lot like the terrible 'creation'-pictures in comics that had him cracking up because of their improbability, what with tubes and veins and anything reaching for the limbs and wings and hearts of the 'created' persons as if any living being was ever created in this way.

I take everything back, he thought, gazing at the wooden sphere. This here was unbelievable and yet true, real enough that he could stand on it and lay his hand against it's dark ripped bark.

Right this moment Loki climbed up to him, and opposed to the rest of them he wasn't cold but panted and seemed tired. It didn't take Tony long to do the math - three queens, two other Aesir - probably einherjar who where fast enough to keep pace with the stronger queens. And on the tour back the two fastest kids - Thora and Loki - had to fly themselves. Which was probably a total ego-boost for the fledgeling-queen, but not for his smaller friend.

A nudge from the queen had him stumble back a bit, in the direction of the entrance. "You're staying with us tonight", she said, her tone forbidding any discussion.

Not that Tony would have protested. Staying here, with his friends? Staying the whole night?! There was nothing he would rather do. Only the danger of the forest and neither of them being sure how Tony would be received by their clan had prevented that before.

But now, with the approval of the fucking reigning queen? There was no way Tony would protest this.

*Thank you*, he managed, his emotions making it hard to form the words right, but by the way she looked at him it didn't matter.

And a moment later Loki was there, getting a soft nudge against his side by his mother, the way her hand-claws stroked over his head saying she was proud of him. His spines went up, shaking a bit and he hummed, happily, his eyes narrowing in pleasure - he liked being praised, Tony had noticed, almost as much as Tony himself.

But then Odin nudged him forward, the words she told him too low and fast to understand for Tony who was still learning their language after all, but the way she was looking at him and then how Loki strode forward, making Tony follow him, told him enough.

It was easy to climb down to the entrance - the branches sticking out made excellent hand- and footholds, even for a human without claws. The entrance itself was small, barely large enough for an adult Aesir to go through, but easy for the fledgelings that gathered directly behind it in a big hall, all of them staring entranced at Thora who, if Tony understood that right - and knew his friend well -, told them about the adventure they had had. Though in Thora's tale there were at least three Winged Deaths and she had helped the queens defeat it, something that happened a bit different as far as Tony remembered.

Neither of his friends were bothered by it, though Hogun had a very amused look on nir face and Loki scoffed a bit when their sister went too far in her retelling.

Though Thora's story couldn't keep his interest, not with everything else that he could see here now for the very first time.

One of that were the many, many fledgelings, all of them awake and excited, looking up at Thora in awe. Most of them were colored in several shades of gold, brown and bronze, their excitedly shivering spines even lighter-colored. The smallest of them were maybe a bit less than half a meter from head to tailbone, the biggest almost a head taller than Thora. He could make out one more queen-fledgeling, this one light-gold, almost white, and much younger and smaller than Thora.

But there was more to see. What from the outside looked like a tangle of twigs and leaves was similarly structured on the inside, the walls providing good holds for the Aesir's clever claws. Skeleton-like wall-structures between them opened further into the home, leading out of the entrance hall into the upper spheres. There was moss growing between the twigs, spreading over the bark, shimmering in a silvery-green light.

Before he could look further around there was a small bustling at their side, and then suddenly an adult Aesir was kneeling beside him. “Hello, Tony?”, she asked tentatively, her pronunciation of his name a bit off.

Tony felt self-conscious all of a sudden. With the kids, or the rough queen, he could forget that he was not really one of them. Could act as he normally would. But with this woman, decked out all in blue and golden scales and a light brown tunic, sapphires cascading in chains over her neck and arms and set into her belt, he had no idea what to do. Looking down at the claw marks raking over the floor so he wouldn't have to look into her eyes, he swallowed heavily before answering. “Hello”, he said, trying to find his wits to greet the woman formally.

The warm body next to his had him shrink back, but only for a moment before he realized it to be Loki, his scales pressing against his arm in a way he'd gotten used to, his smell uniquely sharp and icy in the back of his throat. Licking up against his neck Loki settled next to him before turning to the female again. *Tony-mine-close-friend-like-clutchmate speaks with the tongue of us-people-safe-family.* His voice sounded very satisfied with that, and since he'd been Tony's primary teacher he certainly had the right to be.

The woman smiled, her eyes warm and soft. Her fingers went up to her lips and she offered Tony their welcome. *It is good to meet you again*, she smiled. And when Tony looked at her surprised she explained, her eyes twinkling in amusement: *Eir, of Menglöd and Aghi.*

“Oh, the healer!” He really was out of it if he had forgotten the Ymiri that had healed him before. Then, realizing he had slipped into English again, he repeated: *You're the healer that healed me before. I … thank you. For -*

The woman smiled and shook her head. *You are quite welcome, Tony-Loki-consort's-friend. Though I recommend you don't make a habit of this – I have enough on my hands with looking after Thora-queen-fledgeling, I don't need another rascal running wild.*

Tony swallowed and then emphatically shook his head. He really didn't want to get injured too often.

Again she smiled, but then returned to a more serious topic. *May I look after your wounds, Tony? I cannot smell fresh blood, but I think it better to make sure you heal well.*

Oh. "Yeah" he said. *Thank you.*

*Of course.* Eir reached out and put a hand against his arm. *Come.*

She showed him over to one of the small openings leading deeper into the nursery, walking slowly. Tony was grateful for that - the ground wasn't as twisted as the walls, but still so uneven that he could easily trip.

The other room was much more subdivided, thicker branches growing into it to form smaller alcoves. There were blankets covering the floor, pillows thrown between them. All of them as blindingly colorful as the gemstone-scales of the Aesir-children.

But from the way beads and wooden toys were strewn between them Tony surmised that this wasn't were the fledgelings slept, and when he looked up he saw how right he was – over their heads, up until right under the roof of the nest, were hammocks formed from vines and roots, blankets and carefully woven plant fibers making broad and comfortable sleeping places.

Had he compared the globes to 'creation pictures' before? This was where the true creation happened, what with several vines coming together at one point, intertwining and then ending to form hammocks that were organic and strange and somehow both eerie and intriguing.

Loki climbed ahead, leading them over to a high hammock almost directly under the roof, and Tony really was grateful for Eir grasping him in her arms before following his friend up in the maze of hammocks, because he certainly wouldn't have been capable of this anymore right now. Up there they were awaited by a pile of carelessly thrown blankets, most of them cream-colored or light yellow. Shed scales glittered like gemstones strewn all over them. Following Eir's urge Tony sat down between them, stroking a hand over the materials. Smooth fabric met his fingers, cool and soft to the skin like spider silk.

A warm nudge against his hand made him smile and look up at Loki. The drakeling nudged him again, then strode over and laid down next to him, vigilant eyes following every move Eir made.

The healer nodded to him, some hidden knowledge in her eyes, before she turned her gaze back to Tony. *You need to get rid of your clothes.*

A short hesitation, then he pulled the fastenings of his top, baring his chest and back to her look. Hoping he wouldn't have to get fully naked – he had no problem with this around his friends, but Eir was a full grown woman, and he was old enough that he didn't want to flash her - he showed her where the Winged Death had ripped into his skin.

But Eir didn't say anything, only examined the wounds, then pronounced them to be superficially. She quickly applied a paste to them, reassuring him that even though it was a different ointment to the one she had used last time – this one was a dark brown with green and red speckled within it – it still wouldn't do harm to humans.

Tony needed a moment to believe this – the whole ten seconds when the paste burned horribly in his wounds, before it started to numb them, leaving a cool feeling of relief behind.

When he looked up again to thank her Tony saw that he had quite an audience by now - fledgelings that had come to marvel at the stranger in their home. Their eyes, blue and yellow and brown and glowing in the twilight of the nest as if he had an audience of cats, were all directed to him with the unsettling direct gaze the Ymiri all seemed to own, making something in him squirm under all that attention and curiosity. The words stocked in his mouth and he looked down at the blanket he was sitting on, not sure how to react to them.

Nor did he need to, for suddenly there was a warm body sliding alongside his, the gentle swinging of the hammock and the soft patter of claws behind him told him that there were more.

Tony's friends, come to rescue him. And maybe to bath in the attention Tony had - he wouldn't put it past Thora to get jealous of his audience. Not that he would blame her. Not with her body warm and solid next to his, Loki's on his other side. Hogun slid in next, curling somewhere above them while Fandral sprawled out across them, knocking the breath right out of Tony with a small huff and had Thora lazily shake her claw at him. Volstagg and Sif came in as well, completing them again.

Clutchmates-and-friends, as Loki called it. Or friends-as-close-as-family, like Volstagg.

That's what they were to him - friends that were as close - closer, really - as family.

And surrounded by their warmth, and nearness and smell he drifted into sleep.



Chapter Text

It feels as if Tony-almost-family is finally really one of them. Before, there was still a distance, a wall between them - they were friends, but only under the trees. Beyond Tony always felt uncomfortable with them.

Not anymore. Only a few days after he left the nest-home-shelter he invited them home, showed them his nest and even his nest-where-he's-alive. There was laughing, and running, and Tony-who-is-close-to-my-heart arguing with Thora-silly-sister-closest about touching his stuff after she almost ran his metal-work over.

Loki finds himself pleased by it, even though he knows he shouldn't. But he knows that this place is Tony-my-almost-brother's favorite spot, even more than the tree-cave-that-is-where-we-are-save, and that he spends a lot of time there. The nest smells of Tony-asleep, of Tony-happy and Tony-frustrated, and it feels alive as his bedroom does not.

And Thora will not come there anymore. She is an idiot often, but she can smell as good as he can that this room, this creations in it are precious to Tony, and she will not risk trampling them again.

Fandral and Volstagg are not much interested in lying still, nor is Sif, though she will come there, too. But most of the time it's just Tony and him, and Hogun when ne will leave the other to forage alone. Sometimes he feels bad for nem, because he knows that Hogun is interested as well yet does wish to protect the others.

But most of the time? Most of the time he just enjoys his time alone with Tony.

There is much they do together, and yet it is not. Tony introduced him to Dum-E, a small metal-that-is-alive, causing him to jump back in surprise the first time he sees it - him -, causing Tony to laugh until he falls from his stool.

He sits next to him when Tony teaches Dum-E their language so that he might speak with the robot himself. Dum-E doesn't speak - Tony says it lacks a VUI - but he is good at expressing his joy about speaking to Loki without words even if it causes both him and Tony to be sprayed with fire foam many a time.

At first Tony tried to entertain him all the time, but now he often works on his machines. Tony likes to speak, says it makes it easier for him to sort his thoughts, and so he listens to Tony explain what he does and learns that not only is Tony smart, but he is very smart. Smart enough that he feels the need to prove himself, to learn what Tony can do, and while he will never be as good he Tony he thinks he's a very good assistant, that he can help Tony when he makes plans for a brother for Dum-E, and Tony agrees.

Other times they don't work on this but he shows Tony his ice. Tony likes it a lot, tells him he's never seen something like this before, and when he tells him that other consorts can even make lightning - that's what Asgard is known for, consorts that make lightning; only Loki doesn't because his grandpa wasn't from this court Frigg-father says - he gets really big round eyes.

But then he says he can make electricity, too, and making ice appear on his paws is much cooler. Really, Tony is his favorite almost-brother.



When Tony has much time - weekend, he calls them, the time when he will come with them to the home-trees-shelter-family and sleep there curled into them as clutchmates-and-friends do - he asks Heimdallr-Einherjar-older-brother to take them up into the metal-work-home where the metal-smiths are.

Tony becomes eyes as big as kierk-nuts, his fingers flex as if he wants to touch everything here. It's not something Loki can understand - for him it is too hot, too loud, and he is much more interested in the gold bracelets and silver chains and steel claw-protections. But as long as Tony is happy he is, too, and so they spend the whole day there - and the next, Tony persuades Kvasir-first-smith to let them stay over night. He tries to see everything, even how the smiths melt the metal out of the ore. How they then smelt it to increase purity, and form it to the most beautiful jewelry.

Later, back into Tony's home, they talk about it, and Tony tells him that his father makes weapons and how knowing more about how different races work metal would help them. Loki doesn't like this talk - the Tony he knows is curious, and smart, and he helps people. He uses weapons, yes - Loki has seen the knives and the blowgun he's trying to catch fernhoppers with - but that are weapons like Loki's claws are weapons. They are part of the balance of life.

Weapons the likes he describes his father creates aren't.

It's the one time Loki gets angry with his friend, and he has his claws at his throat and makes him promise that he'll never use what he learns with them to create weapons like that.

There's fear in Tony's eyes when he swears his oath, and Loki can smell it around them - acid and sharp and absolutely heart-wrenching because Loki does not want his Tony to fear him. He nudges his side and licks his cheek, feels how Tony shrinks back from his touches-of-love and feels absolutely miserable. Slinking back he tries to communicate to Tony that he wouldn't have done this if he'd had a choice.



It takes Tony days before he forgives Loki, and it is almost enough to have Loki break down. His heart bleeds in a way he never knew before whenever he sees Tony, his skin burning with the need to touch him, to rub his own smell on the other and be bathed by his smell in return.

Still, he refrains. Because the one thing worse than not touching Tony would be to try touching him and watch him flinch away from his paw.

The others see it, of course. Not even Fandral is so blind that it escapes his notice how Tony, who was all over Loki, now keeps his distance, or how Loki himself suffers, how he follows Tony with his eyes and yet never draws near.

*Give it time*, Hogun says to him, silently taking up position next to him, nir paws delicately put in front of nem, nir tail slightly swinging beneath them.

Loki is smart, and he knows that only a fool would act as if they don't know what his sibling is speaking about - Hogun is quiet and often stays away from the limelight, but ne is very observant, and intelligent enough to put all those little tells together.

*How long?*, he asks, and his voice breaks under the effort to stay calm.

Hogun puts a paw on Loki's head, carefully cards nir claws through his spines. *As long as it takes. He loves you, brother-of-my-heart. He will remember to trust you.*

Loki's gaze follows Hogun when ne elegantly jumps down between the group of his clutchmates-and-friends. All of them playing with each other as if there was no rift between Tony and him, and it's ... it's strange.

And yet Hogun is right. Tony has not said a word about what happened, hasn't shed Loki's presence like his touch, and maybe ... maybe there can be forgiveness yet.



It takes many a day before Tony stands next to him, water running down his chest, hair wet from the river-bath he has taken.

All have taken bar Loki, for he will not risk touching Tony against his will, even if it is by accident during their play.

"You should come in", Tony says, his voice strange, a determined look to his eyes.

Loki doesn't dare hope, and yet ... "I could ... I may touch you."

Tony nods, the expression on his face something Loki cannot read. "That's okay. Well ..." He sighs and lets himself fall down next to Loki. "You know you've scared me really badly, yeah? What with you threatening to rip out my carotid and ... and everything. But the thing is - I get it. You've told me - fuck, all of you - you're always talking about balance of life and, well, we humans fucked that really up on our planet. We're trying to rebuild nature, but I've seen pictures of how it's been before, and I see Yggdrasil, and yeah, it's just not the same. So ..." He swallows, and Loki can see the unease in him, can smell his earnestness. Looking up at the human he realized that this situation has changed, that suddenly it feels as if Tony's the one apologizing, and he's really confused about that.

But then Tony takes a deep breath and continues: "See, Loki, I know why you don't want me to make more weapons. And I've been thinking ... I think I don't really want to make weapons." The last words almost a whisper as if that was a shameful secret.

Confused Loki looks up at him. That's not what he heard when Tony told him about his father and his business. Then he was all joy and confidence, but this time ... this feels like insecurity, and yet determination.

The urge to comfort his friend makes him shift, almost nudge him, but ... should he?

Tony takes the decision out of his paws by looking up at him. His hair is falling over his face but there is no way he can hide the tears his eyes are swimming in.

"I ... I'm not going to make weapons." There's something new in his words, in his voice. A new determination.

And Loki would have to be a fool to not understand what this about. Or to not give his best friend the comfort he so obviously needs.



Chapter Text

Quarreling with Loki - not speaking to him, barely even acknowledging him - made Tony realize one thing: spending time with Loki in his workshop, learning languages with him, explaining his work to him and having him simply around all the time had somehow turned Loki from one drakeling of a whole clutch of friends into his one special best friend that Tony had always wanted. There was no day he wasn't catching himself thinking a hundred times how Loki would react to this, or what he might say to that, before he remembered the betrayal like a sharp knife being run right through his chest.

And yet … was it betrayal? Tony had been so scared at the moment but thinking back he could remember how carefully Loki had kept his claws away from his jugular vein, how even in the height of his anger he had made sure that he wouldn't hurt Tony. And he had heard, more than once, when the Aesir described life, described it being in harmony and balance (like the most pathetic Disney-movies he had watched with Jarvis as a child).

It was their Way of Life. And Tony had, thoughtlessly, threatened to use what he learned from them to do what they despised more than anything in the universe.

It took him still time to forgive, but watching how Loki stayed aside, how he made sure to do nothing, nothing at all, to frighten Tony again – that went a long way for him. So in the end, forgiving Loki was more a question of when, not if.



^^



Time went by. By now Tony was a completely accepted member of the Aesir clan, running around their home-trees whenever weekend came up and he had the freedom to leave the village for two full days.

And oh, how he loved it! Being with them let him forget how he missed Jarvis, or how his mother barely ever remembered that he lived (even more so now that she had gathered some women and men of the village in some kind of salon around her; at least one of the men had also stayed overnight more than once. Not that Tony cared), or how his father remembered his existence maybe once or twice a year when a birthday gift turned up three weeks late.

For the Aesir it was different. For them, family, clan, was the highest, most important thing in the world, rendering even politics and advancements moot. It meant that Tony could sleep in their bower in the nursery but would be just as welcome in the consort's bower. To a lesser extent even in the queen's bower – he learned fast that queens apparently weren't that much into raising kids, though they still knew a lot more about what happened with their kids than his parents combined.

Food was always available and Eir helped him sort out the kind of fruits and plants he could eat and which would be poisonous to him, something he very appreciated.

She had no satisfying answer for him when he asked her how she knew what was good for him, only said that she knew. But that was okay; prior to her help he had more than once gotten sick from some fruit he had thought was edible, or simply mixed up with another that he had already eaten without problems. He wasn't too proud to take a pass on stomach cramps and vomiting and, once, getting bloody diarrhea and having to ask Doc Dampierre for medicine.

Eir was also the one who scolded him for eating plants he hadn't made sure where nonlethal to humans before. Sure, he had looked up the scientist's notes by now (even a Vulcan couldn’t keep him out forever) but she challenged him to do better, to do more. To do his best.

It was then that he understood why the Aesir, who were in everything else so vigilant, let their children wander free in the jungle. For them a child who couldn't wander free, couldn't make their own experiences, would never grow up to be the best they could be.



Though Tony assumed that the fact that there was little a group of even Aesir-fledgelings had to fear had a lot to do with it.



^^



There were very few taboos in Ymiri culture, or at least very few Tony stumbled upon. Most of the time he only noticed human taboos he'd grown up with that didn't matter to the clan, like kisses and groping in public, or queens having several consorts, or even the fact that though there were mated pairs both partners often took another to bed without anyone complaining about cheating. It was something that Tony had heard of in human literature and movies, and most often in Maria's soaps, but "I only love you, this was only sex" was something that he had been taught was wrong, and a dismissal of the vows a pair made at their wedding day. Sure, there were races where such a behavior would be normal, too, but he'd never met one of them, so it struck him as very strange to see Odin, who was possessive as fuck, just sit calmly next to Jord, while Frigg made out with someone else.

He supposed that in a culture as touchy as the Ymiri's It was only sex might actually be true. Even more so since he knew the einherjar to have a great capacity for love, and they had no sexual drive at all.



Then there was death. Between the dangers of the jungle and their own reckless way to live few Ymiri died of a natural cause, though it could happen. But where few humans (though Tony had read about human cultures in which it was commonplace for the whole village to grief for the dead for a week or so, he'd just never experienced it) would want to see or touch the dead, sometimes mangled remains of their loved ones, the Ymiri came together as a whole clan to grief for them.

It wasn't a big ceremony, just the corpse - or what they could find of it, or sometimes even just things the dead person had loved when there was nothing they could recover – laid out in a special sphere within the home-trees. Then the message of the death would be passed on to all the other homes, even to the home-clan of the deceased if they had been from another clan, and then everyone who wanted to say good-bye would come and sit with them for a last time, would sing or cry or touch them. Some wonder of their healers would keep the corpse preserved until the last one could let them go, and then the corpse would be brought outside and the first consort would call on his power of lightning to bring peace to the deceased. Afterwards the ashes would be given to the fastest of the fledgelings, so that they could bring it out into the jungle and bring life to it.

Tony had entered that sphere only once, when a fledgeling he had known quite good hadn't returned from a hunt, and he had had problems to keep his last meal in. He had no idea how his parents and clutchmates could stand to stay so close to the shell of a boy they had once loved, now trampled almost beyond recognition by the feet of a big cursorial bird, and he could only hope he would never ever have reason to enter that room again.



But even though a lot of taboos Tony had grown up with didn't apply to them they had some. One was, of course, the royal clutch, or actually any clutch, which made sense since the eggs were very vulnerable, even more so than the nestlings that hatched from them.

But there were two more he stumbled upon, and neither of them really made sense to him.

One he discovered very early, though discovered wasn't exactly how he would call it. He had noticed how his friends looked for interestingly colored wood, egg-shells, stones and feathers that they brought home to be carved and then woven between their frills. It was similar to the braids the adults had, only that many of the adult's braids were made from amber and gold and gemstones. Though at least Heimdallr had a whole braid made from feathers, too, and Loki and Thora often brought new feathers back so he could add them to it.

Tony had some braids himself as well - Loki had complained about his lack of adornments once, and Fandral had encouraged him in it until they had persuaded Heimdallr to weave some feathers and wooden beads into his hair. Tony liked this a lot - he looked more like them now, and really, Ray had been the only one to even comment on it, so he kept the braid and brought Heimdallr more beads to could weave in.

It was inevitable that he blundered into this sandtrap. How could he avoid it when he saw Loki look longingly at the beads his father had, and the golden jewelry of his mother? Tony couldn't do anything about the bracelets and rings and chains - this kind of jewelry would only hinder a fledgeling like Loki, so it made sense that only the adults wore it.

But when his mother got angry at his father one time and ripped a pearl necklet from her throat he couldn't resist. The pearls were a pale green that would look amazing on Loki's dark green scales, so he stopped the replicator from destroying the pearls and took them with him the next time he went to see his friends.

The reaction ... hadn't been as anticipated. Instead of being pleased Loki had stared up at him in stunned silence while Thora went into full-out fury-mode, Fandral started laughing hysterically and Sif snorted loud enough to be heard even over Thora's roaring.

The only ones that kept their mind where Hogun, who snatched Tony up and behind him, and Volstagg, using his weight to keep Thora from ripping his throat out.

*Let me go!*, Thora roared, trashing wildly. *I'm going to kill him!*

Tony had stared at it completely dumbfounded. He really had no idea what the ruckus was about, but he got the feeling that some sort of mis-communication had happened.

Something that at least the rest of them had caught on, judging by the way Sif told her sister to cut the crap and Loki wagged her over the head with his tail, before turning to Tony.

*Maybe we should have told you a bit more about this*, he said drily, raising his frills and shaking them that his beads were displayed.

As it turned out, one wasn't allowed to simply gift another beads. Something like the wooden beads and feathers that Loki and Hogun had collected for him, or the stones and shells and snail shells they traded between each other - that was okay, because they were friends. Close friends, like clutchmates.

But pearls and gold and, god forbid, red coral? That was considered a gift only allowed by someone you slept with. Coral especially was something gifted only to a mate.

Tony blushed a very furiously red, that got even deeper when Loki leaned over to him, teasingly licked his lips and said: *Come back in a few years.* His eyes glittered in mischief, and Tony simply knew they would never let him live that down.

After that he made the pearls into a pair of earrings for Ayo, happy that at least she wouldn't think he wanted to have sex with her because of that.



The other taboo he encountered was even more incomprehensible.

It was the first time Tony met another clan than the Aesir, and also the one time he met the other race native to Yggdrasil. Well, met – he saw them. Creatures that resembled the Ymiri a bit, though they were far smaller, with greater wings, webbing connecting their long fingers and toes and a tail that looked like a whales. Instead of noses they had a blowhole on the back of their spine-less heads, and a lipless mouth covered several rows of shark-like teeth.

Yet far more important to Tony was the fact that they were accompanied by a dozen of other Ymiri – carried, rather, because while they could live outside of the ocean they were very slow and vulnerable here.

Tony had listened to Thora and Sif talk about politics enough to know that a clan couldn't just invade in another clan's territory without observing complex greeting rituals that involved the traveling queen - a young sister queen in this case who kept her consort close by her side - meeting the reigning queen on the great place within the home trees.

It also involved all the unclaimed consorts, even the fledgeling-consorts, being herded inside and guarded quite thoroughly. And even the consorts that had been claimed kept close to other clan-members.

Tony thought he was allowed to be weirded out by this behavior, since the queen was quite obvious not trying to claim another consort nor would she end up sleeping with one. And really, sitting here in the nestling's sphere and watching the assembly through the gaps in the foliage, listening to Sif's explanation of how a consort's reputation might be sullied if he was found alone with another clan's member, while everyone else could be down and gaze openly at the strangers made no sense whatsoever.

But, well, he was no consort. And should anyone try to mess with Loki's reputation he would give them a piece of his mind about it. Provided Loki even needed his help.



^^



"Mmh ... I think the marine suit looks better."

Tony grinned and turned around again, showing off the suit. It was stupidly form-fitting and stifling, yet if it made his mother look at him for the afternoon he couldn't care less.

Even if he had to leave his friends behind for this shopping trip to VeniCe V.

"I agree. The black seemed too dour, yet the marine blue makes him shine. And it looks as if it has been made for him!" The shop assistant they had been hogging for the last half hour or so seemed happy to agree with everything his mother said if he only got to sell something. Or, well, at least get rid of them, you know.

Hiding his smirk by turning again he heard his mother eventually agree to buy the suit. "My husband has a grand presentation next month and Tony needs a proper suit."

The shop assistant looked as if he couldn't care less (actually, he looked as if he would start to cry if Maria stayed for even one minute longer), but he hid it behind a professional smile. "I'm happy I could help you, Signora."

Tony grinned at him and took the offered bag; the man had been very nice to them, and outstandingly patient. He hoped the man wouldn't get more customers like Maria Stark today.

But at least his mother seemed happy. When they left for the door he tried his luck, put on his most winning smile and looked hopefully up to her. "I heard they have here the best ice cream ever. Can we get some before we head back?"

Checking her watch his mother nodded. "We were surprisingly fast." They had been in three shops before this, and despite extensive searched and fittings bought nothing. "I guess ... yes, yes, an ice cream can't hurt. My feet are killing me anyway."

Smiling all over his face Tony followed her out of the shop, the assistant’s well wishes following them out. He wished this day would never end.



^^



Not even with the Aesir everything was love, peace and harmony.

They were a clan, a family, and like many families over the whole universe they would defend even the least of them against any force from the outside, yet fight and insult each other on a constantly.

Not when it came to Thora, of course. She was a queen, even if she was still a fledgeling one, and no-one was dumb enough to provoke her. Nor Hogun, either – the einherjar were born to be warriors, their body built to be almost as strong as a queen's. They were also, as Tony learned, awfully hard to tease.

And only someone with a death wish insulted Sif. She was even more aggressive than Thora, probably due to the fact that she came from a royal clutch without being a queen herself – from the comments Tony had heard it was very common for females like her, who had no chance to turn out to be woodsingers or healers, to act as if they were a queen themselves. The same seemed to not be true for males however, since consorts were known to be shy and gentle and few Ymiri would be able to emulate such a behavior for long.

It was probably this that made Loki into such a good target for their jokes. Tony had met older consorts – Frigg, and the clutch's older brother Bragi and Freyr, an adult consort that had Tony fear he might break him if he ever came too close for how fragile he looked. All of them were gentle, and soft-spoken, and neither had any lust for adventures, so it wasn't hard to see where the doubts in Loki's consort-status might come from.

And yet … Loki was shy, in the same way as all the other consorts. Tony would never forget how long he had hesitated at their first meeting before he allowed Tony to touch him. He was gentle and thoughtful, something that was clear at least against the backdrop of the rest of his clutchmate's behavior. And even without these traits there was no mistaking the large wings, the long yet thin tail, the way his spines grew all around his head.

In Tony's opinion one had to be blind and dumb to not see that Loki was a consort, and the finest one at that in the whole clan. He was smart and brave, and he was gentle and shy and could tell stories in a way that made Tony fall in love with them again and again with every retelling. And everyone who thought differently could fuck off.

Sadly one of those who thought this was Loki himself. But Tony wouldn't allow Loki to loose his self-confidence over a few assholes like Tyr and Mani.

First step: Making sure that Hogun and Sif noticed. Second step: Coming together to explain it to the rest of their gang.

Last step: Jump a tree so he had the best view ever when Thora went to beat the assholes up that had dared to laugh over her brother while making sure that Loki saw it, too. Savor the small, shy smile on his bff's face.

Mission accomplished.



^^

 

Yet Loki wasn't the only one to have enemies. Over his new friendship he had completely forgotten Ricky, and the older boy had only waited for his chance for revenge.

And as strong as Tony had gotten in the last year of running through the jungle and dangling on branches he was still no worthy opponent for six boys that were all older than him. So when he was ambushed – again – while coming home he looked up at Ricky's grinning face and knew this was it.

Swallowing hard against a suddenly dried-out throat he forced a smirk on his lips – no-one should say he wasn't going down fighting. “Long time no see, Ricky”, he said. Out of the corners of his eyes he could see that the rest of the gang members were surrounding him, grinning in a way that promised very unpleasant consequences. “Isn't that getting old? You remember, five big guys against little old me?”

Ricky grinned, a nasty gleam in his eyes. “Well, I've been thinking about it very hard, milk-shake. And no, I don't think it's unfair. Babies have to learn to listen to their betters, you know?”

With slow deliberate steps he advanced upon Tony, whose thoughts were racing. He couldn't use the same trick twice, Ricky would be prepared for it. More – he would have made sure that even in the unlikely case that Tony got him again his comrades would make sure to pummel Tony into the earth, and most likely with even more force.

Standing there, his heart beating a fast staccato directly in his throat, his breath a hard weight in his lungs and the time seemingly suspended, Tony thought for a moment about surrender.

His father would never forgive him. Scratch that, he would never forgive himself for groveling in the dirt for some asshole wanna-be gang-boss, not when he had faced down spiral-wolfs and frog-spiders and a fucking Winged Death! There were things out there that he would surrender to – Ricky and his gang weren't part of that.

A loud call in the distance – one of the mammals that always reminded Tony of elephants, though more in size than in form or color – broke the silent moment, time crashing back in, and with it came an idea.

Tony alone against five bigger badder boys was unfair.

But Tony wasn't alone. Tony was what Loki called clutchmates-and-friends, what Thora called family, and Hogan family-and-family-in-heart. And the jungle had taught Tony that family was something that always stuck together.

And so he grinned up at Ricky, a real grin this time that had the older boy blink in confusion, opened his mouth and let out the drawn-out, high-pitched sound that meant he was in danger and needed help ASAP that every Aesir-fledgeling learned before it could fly. It made the birds around them fall silent for a moment and Ricky jerk back in surprise before he caught himself.

“What, is that supposed to scare me off? Really sad, Starky-boy. Really sad. Didn't know you're that desperate.” His patronizing behavior made him look even uglier, but Tony could live with that. He had said good-bye to his friends a good walk away from the jungle edge. Yet their hearing was better than his, the same way their call would have been even louder and more penetrative than he could ever make it. But even if they had heard him – they had, he had to believe they had – he needed time until they reached him.

It never occurred to him they could ignore him. Not his friends, those that were dearer to him than his family ever had been.

“Well, they say people growing up on alien planets are superstitious. You know, like, what, Sirianer? Who jump at every shadow, because it could be an unicorn?” Tony made himself grin even wider. “You have heard of them, yeah? Big mammal, eight legs and hooves, a giant horn on its nose and eats everything that moves? Well, maybe I've called for my own personal unicorn.”

Ricky laughed, holding his sides. “You gonna tell me you've tamed a Winged Death, milk-face? Ever heard anything silly like that, guys?”

While the other boys laughed loud, happy to follow their leader's example, Tony had to suppress the urge to roll his eyes. Milk-face – he hadn't been white for months, and there was really barely a way to distinguish between him and the kids who had been born on the planet. So calling him white was really not accurate anymore. Nor was he naïve anymore – the jungle had taken care of that.

It was that exact moment that he heard a faint call in the distance, one he knew to belong to Loki, and he felt his grin turn honest, feral. And it seemed Ricky had some survival instinct, for his own grin turned wary, his eyes guarded.

“What have you done?!”, he asked, his bode angled backwards a bit as if he feared Tony really had called down a Winged Death upon a foolish boy's head.

Tony couldn't help but grin even broader. “Called the cavalry, of course.”

The timing was perfect, because in this moment they could all hear the flapping of leathery wings in the air, highly audible even against the jungle's sounds, and a moment later came Thora's enraged roar – she might not be the smartest cookie, but five big guys surrounding Tony, the leader in an obvious threatening position half-over him? That didn't need a translation.

For a moment Ricky looked shocked, his eyes trained on the sky behind Tony, and it reminded Tony of the fact that he probably didn't knew that the drakelings were sentient. That he only saw big flying lizards, showing their teeth and claws threateningly raised, coming at him like furies.

He almost felt pity.

Well, for the approximately half-second before he threw himself forward and toppled the distracted boy over. Shocked as he was, Ricky couldn't react in time and hit the ground with a pained moan that only fired Tony's on, made him bury his smaller hands in his hair and showing his own teeth once the other's throat was exposed as if to rip his throat out.

And Ricky went lax under him, the eyes big and wide, as if he believed the threat.

Maybe … maybe he was right. Tony felt strange, his body not a vessel anymore for all that was Anthony Edward Stark, but a honed weapon, poised to kill. Adrenaline racing through his veins, he could practically feel the smooth soft skin give under his teeth as had the flesh of all the animals he had learned to hunt under his friends' tutelage. He stayed there for a long moment, staring down at the other boy, at the fear in his eyes, before his blood lust receded.

He let go of Ricky, turned away from the boy who scrambled back with a few half-muttered words about Tony being insane.

Maybe he was, because this? This wasn't him. This was … not him.

A scaly paw appeared next to him, and then Loki nosed against his cheek. *Are you well?*, he asked.

Tony nodded, still shocked, yet his mind was working again. This … this thing in him, this blood-lust – that was not something he ever wanted to discuss in front of Ricky. Least of all now, when he had won this round.

And he had – or well, they had. Because there was Thora, sitting on a boy that Tony darkly remembered from school as being called Timothy, growling at him and letting her claws prickle over his chest. Sif had turned into a little fury and kept two of the other boys in check with her threateningly display of teeth and rage, while Fandral and Volstagg played with the last remaining boy, letting him escape only to catch him again over and over like two over-sized cats.

Tony realized he was lucky that Loki and Hogun were here, because otherwise his friends might have done a lot more damage.

*I think we're done here.*, he said, and grinned when he saw the humans flinch away from him. The Aesir's language felt familiar in his mouth and throat by now, but he supposed that they probably never heard it, nor expected something like it from Tony. Maybe they would run home and believe Tony turned feral, or insane – he really didn't care, and he didn't think anyone would believe them.

It was that moment that he stopped fearing them and saw them for what they really were: Just a few boys intend on cowing a smaller one to feel bigger themselves. And Tony was smaller, but he wasn't alone any longer, and he needn't fear them anymore.

*Guess we can go then.*, he said, without a last glance at the gang.

Thora looked up as if she wanted to argue, but then just huffed and growled once more at her victim before she left him, trembling in fear and having pissed himself, and followed Tony and the rest of them over to Tony's house.

They would have a hell of a victory party.



^^



Of course Howard would forget Tony's birthday. Or, well, at least not care enough about it to turn up. Every year anew Tony hoped he was important enough that his father would at least call, but instead he only got a gift, usually with the next shuttle or the one after that.

Which was still better than nothing, he supposed, but he would really rather have had him around. Or at least get a fucking call.

Maria wasn't better. She did remember his birthday, of course, and was actually spending time with him. And, yes, there were limited options what one could do on Yggdrasil, he had to give her that, but there were still so many things he could do with her. Hel, he would love to spend time with her playing backgammon or even ludo. They could watch one of those terrible soaps she loved together. Once he'd even asked her to teach him tennis, something she had won trophies with in her youth, and she still played once in a while against a simulator.

But whatever he tried, it never mattered. He had to suffer through cutting remarks against his father and Howard's decision to keep them here for the whole hour or two he could stand to stay with her.

After that he usually simply ... excused himself. Maybe he was wishing she would make a ruckus, complain that he would flee her company like a true gentleman never would. He would even live with her cold words and showing him how much she disapproved of his running away. Everything was better than the way she carelessly waved him off, told him to "go play with his little friends".

He was pretty sure she had no idea how much trouble he had going along with the village children, or that Loki and his siblings even existed.



It was very different for the Aesir, Tony had learned, when he had first asked Loki about his age.

They had been sitting among the rest of the clan, down under the home trees and up in the foliage and everywhere around. The youngest kids had already been send to sleep, but one of the younger females had made a song about how Odin had defeated the Winged Death and listening to her had turned into something approaching a feast. The woman - Illugis - had a nice voice, and no-one really cared about the fact that she had taken great artistic license with the reality - the Winged Death had a mate now, and Odin, Idunn and Freya seemed to have been helped by Thora, not to mention that somehow even the rest of them had ended up helping. Though Tony found it a bit insulting that he had been protecting Loki - not because he wouldn't, but on Loki's behalf.

But then Loki was a consort, and he seemed to be quite happy with the fact that he was appearing in an adventurous song, even if he was to be the damsel in distress.

Thora was delighted, of course, and she danced around a lot, not really caring that Jörd, Odin's second consort, tried to calm her down. Eventually Odin growled when she came too close again, and then pulled Jörd back to her, licking and kissing along his jaw and lips to calm him down.

It was still a bit strange and yet fascinating to Tony. He had met the Setirganes, so he knew about polyamory, but most sentient races he'd ever live amongst practiced monogamy. Not to mention that he still couldn't decide whether to find it gross that they showed such open sexual behavior, or fascinated. Well, it wasn't as if he'd never seen sex happen before, but mostly from the spiders Ray kept in his lab, or on the sex tapes he hacked via ansible, so ... well.

When finally Frigg turned up and kissed Jörd as well before settling to the side, entertaining himself with two hunters who tried to gain his attention, he finally settled on too much. Really, he would need time to get used to them being so openly sexual and touchy with each other.

Or maybe not, at least when it came to the touching-part. Looking down he found Loki's dark green eyes looking up at him, a secret smile twinkling in them. He was spread over Tony's lap, and he could feel his body heat keeping him warm when the air cooled down around them. Something that he appreciated very much – their scales protected the Aesir enough that there was no fire, the light coming from the glowing moss the woodsinger groomed to grow everywhere within the home trees, and the luminescent insects flitting about.

Hogun was sitting in a branch above them, and nir tail hang down, settling like a warm weight around Tony's shoulder. Every now and then it would twitch, the end catching in Tony's hair, reminding him that this wasn't just a very exotic scarf. Fandral had come down to them a bit earlier, too. Since Loki didn't really like him - though Tony hadn't yet worked out why - the male just rested against Tony's back, his snout buried next to Loki's tail. The consort kept a close eye on what the other did, and whenever he tried to wiggle closer to either Tony or Loki he would get a tailwag right over his head.

Being surrounded by them was comfortable, like being embraced by Jarvis, or Maria when she had the time and incentive to do so. It was warm, and soft, and made him glow from the inside. It was dark around them, the foliage keeping most of the light out and the stray lightrays brought a glow to the golden frills on Loki's back, and the scales covering Fandral's back. Had it been anywhere else and had Tony been alone, he would have been scared and lonely. Now however he felt good, safe, at home.

So maybe ... maybe all the touching wasn't that strange.

But when it came to sex ... Tony had never seen the adult have sex, only ever the wooing and lap-sitting and kissing which was still enough that earth had put a ban on movies and pictures showing this for everyone under fourteen. Something that was obviously not done among the Ymiri.

It was this that made Tony wonder for the first time how old exactly his friends were.

Even voicing the question was strange - there was no word in their language for age, so he had to ask how many years it had been since they had hatched.

Loki opened his eyes a slit. *Why do you care?*

He didn't sound as if he did, at least. Hoping he wasn't breaking some taboo like the one time he asked Thora about clutches he said: *I just wondered if you are - if you have seen more years than me. How many years you see until you die.* Because that could be a problem. Many races were less long-lived than humans, but some - like the Vulcans - became easily double their age.

And Loki hadn't changed even the least bit in the more than a year that Tony knew him, nor had the rest of their friends.

Loki blinked at him lazily, obviously not too concerned about the question, while Fandral had tilted his head to the side a bit, his mouth curling in amusement. *Do you think yourself a grand-mother-queen that can't play with the fledgelings anymore?*

A swat by Loki's tail made him hiss and claw at Loki, but subside quickly when the consort pressed the claws of his hind leg against his cheek. Growling deep in his throat he settled again, his eyes glowering at Loki.

It was Hogun who answered Tony in the end. *We wait in our eggs for almost a year until we hatch. After that there comes a time of being a nestling, when our claws become hard and our teeth sharp and we grow to the size of proper fledgelings. This takes about ten years, before we are allowed to leave the nest to learn to hunt and survive in the forest-that-is-clan-territory. The time-for-sleep-and-change comes later, after maybe another ten years, though it can take up to fifteen years for some.*

Tony stared at the fledgeling, his mouth open, his brain calculating the time mostly without his input because even without proper numbers he knew what this meant, and it shocked him. His friends - those playful little lizards that often got into more trouble than even he managed - were almost twenty years old in Yggdrasilian time, making them at least thirty years standard and an additional year or two more in earth time. They were - fuck, they were trice his age!

"Fuck!", he cursed. "You are the grand-parents!"

The uncomprehending frown from Fandral showed him that he had spoken English, but there was a snicker from above and a wide grin on Loki's face that showed him at least those two had understood him.

A sudden worry made him lick his lips, and he asked: *You know that I'm younger, yeah?* He didn't want them to leave him because they thought him a baby, but he also didn't want them to think he had intentionally tricked them.

But Loki just leaned up, one paw resting on his thigh, another against his chest, and licked over his jaw in reassurance. *We know you are a baby. You told us about your father not turning up for your ninth birthday, remember?*

Well, at least for Fandral this seemed to be news, but Hogun twitched nem tail again and added: "A fernhopper will live only three years, yet it is far smarter and shrewd than any frog-spider.*

The relief he felt made him giddy, but he tried to hide it behind a grin. *So I'm a fernhopper and you're frog-spiders?*

He so had the tail flicking against his cheek coming.

There was a sound from above them, then more rustling before Thora dropped down to them, making the whole branch shake that Tony had to grip the branch under him and Loki accidentally clawed into his flesh.

"Ow!", he cursed, causing Loki to lick him against, his raspy tongue catching Tony's lips and nose. Laughing at the sensation he leaned into it and kissed his cheek, his fingers trailing through his spines, telling him without words that he was forgiven.

*What did you talk about? * Thora slid closer, absolutely unapologetic about the problems she had caused.

*Did you know that Tony-friend is a baby-nestling?* Fandral used the moment that Loki was distracted and off-balance to tilt his head up.

Tony was no baby, thank you very much! Grumbling a bit he shoved at the fledgeling with his leg, making him loose his balance and almost fall from the branch if not for his quickly spread wings and forepaws clawing into the wood.

Hissing Fandral made sure everyone knew he wasn't amused, but when no-one reacted he just settled down again, to sulk a good bit away from Tony's legs this time.

Mourning the loss of his warmth even if he was annoying (so okay, maybe he understood why Loki wasn't Fandral's biggest fan) Tony was quite happy when Thora settled in the spot the other had just vacated, her head resting on Tony's thigh while her body curled around him with her tail rested against his legs. *Because Tony is barely old enough to leave the nest?*

Loki, caught while trying to climb down in his previous comfortable position across Tony's lap, made a noise that sounded as surprised as Tony felt. Obviously neither of them had thought Thora to be someone who payed that much attention to one-time comments.

Luckily Thora didn't catch on onto their surprise and only asked: *So you've been asking about how humans-people-from-beyond-Yggdrasil grow?*

*Tony asked about us*, Hogun clarified, before ne added: *Though I would love to hear more about that, too.*

Tony shrugged. *There's nothing much to it. We get born – we're mammals, so not from eggs - then spend a few years - something like two Yggdrasilian years? - being babies who can't do much for themselves, only being fed and soling nappies and such. Then we become, well, fledgelings, I guess. Just that we're still more dependent on our parents, and we still grow. When we're twelve, fourteen - so, seven years on Yggdrasil - we hit* Oh, how to explain puberty to his friends? Well, maybe get it over with as fast as possible. *Well, we can get children then, or make children. When we're about twenty-one we're adults, and then we don't change much anymore.*

Loki, always the quickest of them, blinked surprised. *So we would be adults now, if we where humans.*

*And you don't have a sleeping-change-time?* Thora sounded confused.

Tony had only some vague notion of what that was - it seemed to be something like the pupating of a caterpillar before they hatched as a butterfly, but he was sure that it was something that humans never encountered in their life. *No*, he agreed. *Same as we don't hatch.* Or know when we are really adults, he added in his mind - no reason to confuse them even more. *But you ... fall asleep when you are thirty?*

Loki nodded slowly. *Not sleeping - changing. We cannot speak to others anymore, but we can listen and we still learn. And we change - we become adults.* Tilting his head a smirk appeared on his lips. *And we can get children as soon as we wake up, after five years or so, though very few desire to have children within the first year after.* A shadow fell upon his face, and he looked as if he had swallowed something bitter; the expression looked out of place on his previous cheery face. *That's when the queens start wooing consorts.*

Tony stared at him, reminded once more of the gender of his friend.

But Thora wouldn't let the evening end on a dour note. Turning to her brother she licked his neck and put a paw on his waist, her tail stroking against his cheek. *We are a big clan. And even if no queen will take you, you are more than welcome to stay here, you know that. Mother-reigning-queen would never send you away.*

Loki turned to her, a mock innocent look on a face that was already brightening again. *How could she - she knows that you will need me to not get yourself killed before you get your first clutch, sister-queen-fledgeling mine.*

Thora hissed at him, but it was good-natured and indulging, her head resting along Loki's.



^^



"- and that's why we are happy to welcome Dr. Howard Stark today, the leading expert in his field. Mr. Stark, can you please explain -"

Tony looked up at his father, glowing with pride. That was his Dad up there, the leading expert when it came to drones and war robots that would help them win against the Borg without even one member of the Federation loosing their life. His Dad who they had called all the way over into Starfleet's head quarter to talk about the advantages of his inventions.

As if the robocops supporting the police on Earth weren't speaking for themselves.

Looking into his lap to hide the smile threatening he remembered his father's proud nod when he had said so on their journey here, the hand clasping his shoulder and the "See, Anthony here already knows all this" spoken to his father's right hand man Obadiah Stane.

A grin broke free over his face, joy bubbling up in him when he remembered how his father had looked at him. Had seen him, and been proud of him.



^^



Between spending so much time in the jungle and avoiding pretty much everyone in the village there weren't many who knew about Tony's new friends. Ricky and his gang, of course - though they were probably trying hard to forget. Then there was Ayo, always smiling at seeing him with friends and shamelessly taking advantage of the fact that the Aesir could fly and help her when she needed to reach some hard-to-access parts in the trees of the ground. Ray … well, Tony suspected that the man knew more than he let on, with his remarks about Tony's weekends, or that he made no remarks about the constant scratches on his skin, the stains on his clothes, his questions about lizards, yet he never said anything and Tony wasn't exactly eager to address that elephant.

And Jarvis – of course he had to introduce Loki to him. The old butler was wiping tears from his eyes when he learned that Tony finally had friends, someone who cared for him. Once he was back on the planet he insisted on meeting Loki, and where Tony had feared the man might be somehow disappointed with Loki, what with him being an alien who looked nothing like a human and was still learning Standard (was scared so much that he was tossing and turning in his bed the night before, getting barely an hour of sleep) he was quickly taught better. Actually, after a short pause in which Loki had eyed him curiously and Jarvis had returned his look with calm acceptance they went along so well that Tony had almost become jealous. He even suspected Jarvis to have shared some rather embarrassing secrets with Loki for he couldn't remember ever telling his friend about the time he had had a braid that reached almost to his ass, much less showing him the pictures of it, and yet Loki was cooing about his long fur, as he called it.

But his friends weren't the only ones around the village; other fledgelings and even sometimes an adult found their way there, too. It was actually one of these meetings that was the only one that he savored as much as he did when they scared Ricky off.

He just came from Xia Jīn, whose husband was one of the scientists of the colony. Word was, she hadn't wanted to follow him to this planet and had only given in after she'd been promised a little smithy, and taken up baking on the side later on. Of course, there were also rumors she had dragged her poor man here; with neither of them denying anything it was hard to make out the truth.

Anyway, that morning he was late in getting out - Hogun had stumbled upon a strange rock formation yesterday and they wanted to explore it more now in the light of day - so he had simply picked up the knife he'd asked her to sharpen, pushed the pastry she'd slipped him into his mouth and ran through the roads, hoping he wasn't late enough that they had left their meeting point.

And of course there was someone standing behind the corner, talking to Dr. Ka-Zar and Dr. Morse, the biologists in the village. It probably went without saying that Tony ran with fill speed right into that person.

Two big strong hands grabbed him, retractable claws still long enough to prickle his bare skin, helped him keep his balance while the other person barely had to take a step back under his weight. Looking up he got confirmation of what his nose already told him - the scientists had somehow lured a native to talk to them again. It took him only a moment to recognize the person as an einherjar, someone he had seen around the home-trees though never been introduced to as more as Volstagg's older half-brother.

Ducking his head in the customary gesture for apology-to-an-elder he said: *Apologies, I didn't see you-elder.*

The other hesitated for a moment, before ne smiled. *Nor did I expect you, Tony-queen-fledgeling. You should step more carefully least some pain-danger waits around the next corner.*

*You are right, elder-brother-of-my-friend.* Of course he was; just because he wasn't in the jungle didn't mean the jungle might not come to him.

Looking him sternly in the eye the einherjar made sure he meant what he said before ne put Tony on his feet again. *Fly fast and straight.*

*Return safe.* Tony grinned, then slipped out from under nes arms and ran away to meet his friends.



It wasn't until later, when he returned one night early to find three strangers waiting alongside his mother to meet him, that it occurred to him what the scientists had seen him do: interact with the einherjar in the native's way. Speak to nem in their language. Being welcomed by nem as one of them.

Listening to them ask how he had managed to gain this knowledge, this access to their life, and, most of all, whether he would teach them, made him realize that he knew probably more about Yggdrasil and her natives than anyone else did.

Hell, they talked about the einherjar as if ne was male and thought the Ymiri were the only sentient species living on the planet!



Whether he accepted? Sure he did. It saved him from Maria's questions where he had been, and, even more important, he got to finally meet the Vulcans.

That he was only telling them the Loki-approved version should be needless to point out.



^^



Time went by in a way he would never have thought possible. Tony became stronger, bigger - though never as big as he would like to be; not that it really mattered what with all of his friends being either smaller or adults. Dum-E got some more updates until he was an arm mounted on a rolling platform capable of helping Tony in his projects (Well, it was a bit more complicated than this and in the end he was actually more advanced than anything similar in the universe, but Tony remembered his humble beginning so he could call it as he wanted). The computer he had been working on was by now trash, but the replacement that Loki had helped him make was better anyway and made it possible to hack even right across the universe.

Not to mention - Loki? Tony's best friend had helped him a lot over the years. Dum-E had now two siblings, You and Butterfingers, both of them as much Loki's children as Tony's. And Tony had helped Loki in turn. Had helped him getting a grip on his ice powers, and use them more efficiently.

And the tricks they both played on their friends and the clan? Well, let's just say that it had gotten even Odin's notice, and the queen had made it very clear to them that she was greatly displeased and really didn't want to have fledgelings suffering from frostbite, no matter how nasty they had been.

It had taken Tony and Loki only a few days to work out how to cover the offenders in mud instead. Served them right for insulting Tony's best friend and then go singing about it.



^^



"I trust you are well, young master?"

"Sure I am. Aren't I always?" He grinned at the butler who was looking at him from the picture projected onto the wall.

A soft smile appeared on Jarvis' lips. "I am glad this is so." He looked for a moment somewhere on his left, then returned his gaze to Tony. "It seems I have quite a lot time free right now. Would you like to tell me what you and your friends have been up to lately?"

Settling down on his bed Tony started to speak, happy to tell Jarvis about running through the jungle and startling a flock of the red swan-like birds whose Ymiri name he kept forgetting, about Butterfingers and working on his improved interface for space ships - his third try so far; the earlier two having to be scrapped after ... unwanted developments. Like them insulting their crew in the holo test runs after a while (Loki had cried for laughter when he showed it to him, rolling over the work shop floor with his paws pressed to his tummy; he was of the firm belief it was Tony's own personality showing through and had offered him a bet about when Dum-E would show similar traits).

"And you can't limit its vocabulary to polite replies?" Jarvis seemed more intrigued than offended by this development, and Tony was only too happy to explain that he had tried that - just that the learning-software that was needed for the software to work properly meant it could learn new insults. "I mean I can stop it from using words like 'idiot' or 'douchbag', but once it hears 'excrement-eating donkey-face', well ..."

He grinned at the laugh it startled out of the butler, and he wished he could have him here. Or even just see him better – yet the ansible couldn't transfer the amount of data needed to create the holographic image from someone and project them the midst of a room as if they were there, so that technology was still limited to planets where the satellites could help with bitstream.

And because he was Tony Stark, genius and wanting to see his friend, he could grin at his friend and tell him of his adventures in the jungle, of scaring Fandral and roughhousing with Thora and learning with Loki, while a part of him thought of methods to reduce the amount of data needed.

He wanted to see Jarvis, and he was Tony Stark and he would make it happen.



^^



Something else that changed a lot was Tony's equipment, not the least because he improved a lot on the gear he had taken from Stark Industries.

There were other companies out there, also offering hiker gear or army equipment, though with Howard Stark as the driving force in the R&D-labs of Stark Industries, not to mention their almost as brilliant employed scientists, there were only a very few companies that really could compete with him, even among the more tech-savvy alien races.

When Tony first compiled his equipment he still ordered some items from them, even if only to work out how they approached certain problems, then combined it with what he knew Stark Industries used and topped it with some of his own genius, making it possible for him to create the perfect gear for the jungle.

He had shoes that were barely more than the bare skeletons of shoes, protecting his feet with a force-field while still providing him with a grip that was far more sensitive than the one of his original hiker shoes. It also had the additional advantage that his feet weren't sweating and stinking in closed shoes anymore.

His long-sleeved shirt gave way to another that he could barely feel, yet protected him from even the worst scratches and thorns, let him even roughhouse with the drakelings. Being chameleon-fabric it reflected the surroundings, made him almost impossible to spot by eye alone.

The same was true for his trousers, though he also added extra protection to them - most of what was likely to bite him would strike from down there, and sweating here was less distracting than along his chest.

His backpack gave way to an utility belt, holding his knife and laser, a cell phone - despite the reception being really bad, but it might come in handy when he had something to note down or take pictures of - and some first aid supplies for emergencies. Some food - chocolate to share with his friends, some dried fruits for the way, power bars - went into the bags strapped to it.

By the time he turned twelve he really didn't need anything else anymore.

 

 

Chapter Text

Loki knows that his silent-change-time is coming, has known it for a long time. It is like a tickling along his spine, a sparkling of ice in his bones - change is coming, change is coming thunders his heart, whispers his blood. He knows it is the same for his clutchmates-and-friends, sees it in their eyes and hears it when they speak of what they will do when they will wake up and be adults.

Thora is the most obvious - no wonder, she has always been the one who wanted to be big, wanted to take her place as a sister queen of the clan. Loki clearly remembers her frustrated temper tantrums whenever Eir or Idunn told her that she had to wait, still had to wait for her time to come. Now her temper flares less often - she knows that change will come soon.

Next to her impatience, and the quieter yet not less visible eagerness of the others Loki has often felt like an outsider, a stranger left along the side. He is a consort, meant to be claimed by a queen and breed with her and advice her and be her diplomat as is Frigg to Odin, or Bragi to Idunn.

Yet he could never see this future for him. He is not a fragile flower like them, never was - in his heart is no warm fire but a storm of ice, wild and free and capable of harm. Yet even the coldest ice will melt when it meets heat - he has seen this, Tony has shown him ice different from his own, from the ice growing on the high mountains Odin once took him to to explain his power to him.

It is this that he fears, has always feared - that his self will melt when he meets a queen's hot temper, that it will give way and remake him into something else that he does not know, has no way to enjoy.

And Loki knows that this will happen. He is still a child and everyone thinks that it is mostly his sister's temper that pulls him along, thinks that her wildfire has made him more daring and adventurous than he is. They are not wrong in this - many deeds he has done he would never have dared if not for Thora-sister - but they are wrong, so terribly wrong when they think that he will give up this behavior, that he will lose his willfulness and spirit once the change-time has claimed him.

His core is the wilderness of the jungle, the freedom of the stormwinds, the loyalty and braveness of a fernhopper-mother defending her young. It is the curiosity of children and the wisdom of an elder-consort, ever changing like the river's waters and eternal like the earth.

Change-time will change his body, but not his heart.



Loki has long feared the prickling in his stomach that told him he would be an adult soon. Would have to wait for a queen of his clan to woo him, or a queen of another clan that might want to bring in new blood into her family, might have a taste for the exotic.

Has feared to be unmade and remade and not knowing himself anymore once he meets his queen.

It is not until one terribly ordinary afternoon he spends in the workshop of his friend, listening to him rumbling on about his father's deeds and what he wants to do to improve upon them, gives advice when asked for and stays silent when he knows it's better to let Tony-friend-heart find the solution himself while he rolls marbles for Dum-E and You to bring back that realization crashes upon him like an ice-cold shower: He has no reason to fear his queen. Has no reason to fear boredom and being changed. To loose his family and friends and facing the cold looks of another clan.

For Loki has already found his queen.

Tony .

Tony, who even Odin once called fledgeling-queen .

The shock must have been visible for Tony stops in his track, looks up from the improvements he's making on Butterfinger's frame. "You okay?"

Loki stares at the other boy, the strange-fledgeling, and can't believe he has never realized this before.

There is not much light in the workshop but the only lighted lamp is next to Tony to illuminate what his fingers are doing. Light rays catch in his strange soft brown fur, his warm and soft pink lips are turned in a show of worry. Eyes like the chocolate that Loki so loves, gleaming like the scales of a shore fish, are softened in concern. Tanned skin catches the sun that falls in from the outside, turns it to molten gold. His hands, busy and skilled and always creating, are resting in the bowels of their metallic child.

Loki never needed to change for Tony, and yet there he is, doing what a consort is supposed to be doing: Helping him. Advising him. Creating children with him that are lovely and sweet even if they are strange and will never grow up to be adults.

There is no need for change between them. They have grown up together - or will, for they are both children yet. And when they have finally come of age they will be like they have always been. The key to the other's soul and mind. The last piece in the other's puzzle. The twin trees growing together. Fitting to each other like they were always meant to be one.

Dum-E comes back, the marble in his out-stretched hand. Loki smiles at him like he's seen Frigg do so often to him and his siblings, proud and fierce and gentle, and he takes the marble and rolls it away again.

*Yes*, he says. *Everything is okay.*

Chapter Text

Of course, the happiness couldn't last. Not when the person in question is Tony Stark and a genius, and when his father is Howard Stark who wants for his son to live up to his potential. Not when his mother is Maria Stark and spent the last few years increasingly ranting against her husband and the limitations placed upon her. Has ranted and been ignored until at last she reached her last straw and she simply packed a baggage, booked a first-class place in the next shuttle to Earth and went to see her husband.

It took Tony three days to realize his mother wasn't there anymore, one day longer than even Ray who was by now splitting his time between the labs and Tony (something Tony was absolutely happy with; he loved studying under Ray, but this arrangement gave him more time to work on his own projects and also spend time with his friends).

Maybe he should have listened better when Ray told him that he was already far beyond what was taught to children in school, but he was used to being told he was far beyond what other children could achieve, so how was this any different? Maybe he would have had a clue had he payed more attention to his mother's complaints about being caged in, but she had complained about it since they had arrived here and nothing had changed. Maybe, if he had put together the news about Earth and Howard Stark's doing there, he would have expected what was about to happen.

But he didn't, and so he was absolutely surprised when Howard Stark turned up one day, Jarvis at his side and Maria - a glowing, smiling, beautifully happy Maria - telling him that they had found the perfect solution, and that he didn't have to stay on this backwater planet anymore.

Tony stared at her blankly, feeling like an ice cold shower had splashed over him and somehow taken the world with it, leaving only the whooshing noise of his own blood in his ears behind. Dimly only trickled more words in: Eton planet. University. Start in a month.

He felt as if they were talking an alien language. Korean, or Vulcan or Aesirean. Only that he knew Vulcan and Aesirean and had learned enough Korean that he wouldn't accidentally make a fool of himself. Is that how normal people feel when I start to talk about scienc e?, he wondered while he watched as Maria gesticulated excitedly, as her mouth moved as if in one of those silent movies that had become fashionable once again. Watched as Howard stood next to her, barely moving and not very interested.

What finally caught his attention was "... but we'll leave in two weeks - we'll need a few days there, and then you need to get settled. New clothes - just look at you, you can't wear rags like this in New MIT. And just think, the niece of king Gowron will be there, too. She's only-"

"Two weeks?!", he finally got out. Was that his voice? He sounded as if he hadn't spoken for a week, all dry and scratchy and hoarse.

Maria shook her arms at him in a jingling of golden bracelets. "Yes yes, that's what I said, didn't I? Pay attention, Tony, you-"

"But I don't want to leave!" The truth burst out of Tony, leaving a rolling stomach behind.

He couldn't imagine leaving. Yes, he had spoken to Loki about taking over Stark Industries one time, about traveling through space and seeing other planets, about Earth, but - it had all been theoretical ! Had all been some time far in the future, not ... not in two weeks! And never, never without Loki, without his best friend by his side, or at the other end of an ansible, or ...

He stared up at his parents with wide-open, panicked eyes, and he could see in their eyes that neither of them cared about his feelings in this. He wished Jarvis could have been here, could have talked sense into his parents – could have been there to share into his growing desperation.

But he wasn't here because he wasn't part of his family, and his family hadn't ever cared about what he wanted or not. And so he wasn't really surprised when Howard only said: "Be grateful, boy, that they will take you. I had to point out that you are far more advanced than any child finishing school despite being so far younger, or they wouldn't have let you attend. What a waste of potential!" He sounded vaguely disgusted by the idea someone might have stopped Tony from going to this university.

Tony's heart went out to the people who had tried to give him a longer childhood, more time to spend with Loki.

Time that his parents didn't think he needed. If they even cared about him enough to consider he might have an opinion about this at all.

He looked at the two persons in front of him and realization hit him with the momentum of a freight train that for them he didn't matter . Not that they disliked him, or were purposefully cruel to him – they just had never considered him to be a person with his own wants and needs and wishes. To them, his whole existence was nothing more than a shell they had dubbed son , a shell they put in a drawer and only took out to marvel about whenever they had need of him.

Tony remembered, dimly and yet still brutally fresh in the way very emotional memories stay, how he had first come to realize that his parents would never love him like he needed them to. Had other things, people, they cared about more. Then, this had almost devastated him. Had broken his heart and filled his lungs and chest and mind with all the frozen broken shards.

Now ... he just felt an emptiness where he knew he should feel his love for them. It wasn't even that he was numbed by the shock, but more that he could feel where his love for them had been, like a cave in his heart, but it had hollowed out, shrunken down. He still felt something for them, they were still special , he still wanted their approval - but he didn't need it anymore. Not like he needed the love and attention of his friends who were more like siblings to him at this point. Not like he glowed when the metal-workers' eyebrow rose when he managed a particularly difficult task. Or when Jarvis smiled at him, pulled him in warm and loving embraces even when he was mad at him. There was Ray's praise, when he showed him something he'd build, filling him with the warmth of the Yggdrasilian sun. Or even Odin, who sometimes took a look at his and Loki's experiments and found them useful.

With a jolt he found that family to him weren't these two persons before him anymore, but people he had found himself, he had befriended and spend time with and now knew more about than he had ever known about his biological parents.

And so it wasn't much of a surprise to him anymore that the cold in his chest wasn't a breaking heart, but the fear of being alone again, of loosing those he had that cared about him.

"May I-" He stopped, swallowed to prevent his voice from cracking. Howard wouldn't appreciate it if he wasn't as strong as a Stark was supposed to be - Stark men are made of iron - and he might just deny him his request for this alone. "May I say good-bye to my friends, then?"

His father snorted, but waved him away. "But be fast. You'll see them in the holidays again anyway."

Tony left as fast as he could without running, barely heard his mother admonish his father about something and Howard responding with that grave voice of his that meant he wasn't going to be swayed easily. But he didn't care, not really, not when this was one of his last – the last - chances to see his friends, his family.



^^



Tony had never been faster in the stable, or up the ladder. Nor was he ever any more grateful for storing his jungle clothes here; had he been forced to go up into his room Howard might have seen him and demanded to know where he was going.

But so he could leave unhindered, his mind already going over the different routes he could take to leave the ground and find his friends.

In the end he decided for the fastest, straightest route. After all he had permission to leave, there was no need to take the back route he often used when he came home late or left too early. So it was just through the gate, a quick wave to the security guard, and then sharply left once he was out of the camera's reach.

His feet where finding their path with the ease of habit, and nothing more dangerous than a frog-spider crossed his way, something he should probably be grateful for for his mind was everywhere but here . Instead he was calculating the time he would be away from Yggdrasil, what degree Howard might expect him gain, whether he should just run away and live with the Aesir. His thoughts were a tumbling mess, not one thought finished before the next one was up; a situation he hadn't found himself in anymore since following Loki into the Aesir's camp. And all of them circulating around one simply question:

What was he supposed to do?

He hadn't come to any conclusion when he reached the settlement trees, and he even almost missed the inquiring call the einherjar on guard duty made. Actually, he did miss it, and if not for his distinctive and very known form Dellar might have reacted quite differently to him simply running into the camp on what was just-quite-not-full speed.

On the other hand, having the dark red body appear in front of him out of nowhere startled him from his own thoughts enough to have him pay attention to his surroundings once more.

*Are you okay, Tony-trickster-friends-of-Loki?*, ne asked, concern written into nir features.

Tony stared at nem, a bitter laugh tumbling out of his mouth. *No*, he said, truthfully, before remembering his manners and greeting the einherjar in the proper way.

Ne answered, but instead of stepping aside and letting it go ne asked: *Can I help you?*

Tony stared at nem, the sharp contrast to what he had experienced only half an hour before shockingly clear. His parents hadn't even noticed how distressed he was, and here was an einherjar whose name he could barely remember at the moment, and ne was ready to offer support, medicine, advice, everything he needed from him, just because he was clan .

Staring at the einherjar Tony felt his eyes tear up, a lump lodged deeply in his throat. This was his family , all of them, all those he had teased and that had complained about him, and those he laughed with, and that taught him their dances and crafts, who taught him how to hunt and figured out ways to compensate for his lack of wings. Even those who insulted Loki and had suffered for it, and those who had never spoken a word to him at all - they were family. Clan .

And that meant sticking together through everything.

Shaking his head Tony swallowed his tears and sobs, simply whispered: *You already did*, before stepping around nem and making his way over to the nestling's tree.

There had been a night-hunt the day before, and he could see the remains of the ribbons the trees had been decorated with everywhere, could see the flowers that had been woven into the children's spikes and the green frajht'l-leaves that the consorts had worn. Around the great place the earth was torn open by the dances, claws having dug deep into the soil to allow the Aesir's fast dancing moves.

Tony remembered dancing with them, his body warmed by having Loki so close to him, the teasing remarks that they would dance together on two feet, soon, and that Loki would then be the bigger one. As if Tony had ever minded that his friend would one day dwarf him.

There had been laughter and fun in the air that night, the steady rhythm of the clawed paws on earth and the high tune of a pipe winding around it. The queens had sung, to celebrate the successful hunt and praise the life and spirit of the black treefoxes they had killed.

The memory had been golden and glowing when Heimdallr had brought him back deep in the night, had made him feel warm and happy inside throughout the night and his dreams so very sweet, and now tasted like ashes on his tongue.

It would be his last night hunt for quite a very long time.



^^



The nestling's bower was still silent; even the smallest fledgelings had been awake until late into the night and were now tired. Tony wished he could be one of them. Wished he hadn't insisted on returning home to stave off suspicion, only to be awoken by his parents' surprising arrival late in the morning.

And only to hear his life was to be changed again , and he was being asked as much as he was when it came to coming here – that is, not at all. And this time he had more to loose – much, oh so much more – than a theoretical, possible friendship. No, this time he was losing a real family.

The light was dim inside the bower, and all he could see of the fledgelings were dark lumps on the hammocks, snoring softly in their dreams. Here and there was a quiet rustle when someone shifted in their sleep, and every now and then there was a sliver of an opened eye, but no-one called out to him. It took him only a few minutes to work his way through the bower and up to the sleeping place of his clutch.

They were sleeping like always, Thora in the middle curled around her thick red cushion like the little queen she was, Hogun at the end where the vines went up to the wooden sphere and ne could see best, and the rest of them spread out somewhere between. All of them were sleeping deep and peacefully, with Volstagg snoring as he always did and Fandral's claws flexing as if he was hunting something even in his sleep.

For a long long moment Tony sat there, watched his friends silently while the hammock slowly stopped swinging. His heart was clenched up so hard he felt as if his chest was one hard stony lump. This here was his family, his home , and he couldn't … couldn't believe he would have to leave them. It was simply impossible to wrap his mind around.

In the end he never knew how long he sat there when Hogun nudged him slightly in the side, nir eyes big and worried. *Tony-friend-sibling?*

It was this, this slow, soft inquiry, that in the end brought Tony's last defense down, made it crumble under the ache f his heart. One moment he was sitting there, the next he had his arms around his friend's neck, pressing himself against Hogun's warm scaly body, and cried as he couldn't remember crying before, sobs wracking his body and tears running down his face. It hurt , hurt to cry, and yet he couldn't stop, couldn't hold back the tears or the wails or moans, couldn't help trying to press himself closer to his friend and merge with nem. He was trying to be quiet, stifling his sobs, but then there was another snout against his side, and Loki's worried *Tony-closest-to-my-heart?*, and he completely lost it. His whole body shook from the force of his sobbing, and he felt tears rain down on Hogun, and he was probably loud enough to wake the dead, but he didn't care anymore. His heart was a dark cave full of black despair, and he felt as if he would burst, burst , when he kept it in, stifled it, pushed it down .

There were touches, snouts against his side and back and hands, and tongues licking over what was visible of his face, and bodies pressed against his, Hogun a strong steady rock against his breakdown. The scent of family in his nose, the warm spicy scent of young fledgelings that he would know everywhere.

He didn't know how long it took but in the end exhaustion won out, forced him to calm down enough that he remembered where he was, and who he was with, and that they still had no idea what had happened. That they were worried for him, and didn't knew what made him bawl like this.

*My parents have come*, he said, and noticed only when Thora started to growl, and the rest of them went stiff with anger, that he had used the derogatory word for parent, one that was used for persons that were parents in the biological context only, and often were chased out of a clan for their abuse of their children. *No, it's not … it's not that bad*, he said, then laughed, bitter and sharp. *They are not hurting me, they just … they're going to take me away.*

The Aesir-word for away was far-from-the-home-tree , and oh, how that was fitting. He would be so far away from home …

Thora's growls became louder. *No, you're not going. You belong here!* Her spines flared in anger.

Loki was far more sensitive, though not less agitated by it. *That's not possible, is it? You staying?* He snuggled closer to Tony, his head next to his shoulder, and looked up with his big eyes, the green dark from worry and growing despair. He was like Tony – always too smart to stay ignorant for long. He knew that most of the time the world wasn't bowing to their wishes.

And Tony could only shake his head. *No*, he whispered. *I can't.*

*But you will becoming back?* Sif looked down at him, and there was that same spark of hopeless intelligence in there as in Loki's eyes.

Tony swallowed. He hadn't yet really thought about it, but … *Yeah. Yeah, I'll be … but only in the holidays. That's once a standard-year, so – twice a year?*

Loki looked shocked, but he wasn't the only one. All of his friends made noises of distress, the worst of them Thora: *No! You are ours , we won't let them take you away! Just stay here!*

There was a spark of longing in Loki's eyes, but it didn't stop him from reaching out to his sister and swapping her over the head, making her growl in anger. *Idiot! He's not an Aesir, we can't keep him from going back!*

Thora's spines went even higher until she looked as if she wanted to pounce her smaller brother, and her tail was sweeping in hard, rough movements. *Well, Frigg-father's vanir, and he's living with us just fine.*

Loki gave an exasperated groan, but it was Sif who answered: *Because Frigg-father-first-consort has come here as mother-queen-Odin's consort. And Tony-brother-by-heart is not old enough to be taken as a consort, even if he were one!*

*Tony-my-other-heart is a queen-fledgeling*, Loki reminded them all.

And yeah, he was right. And if Tony was a queen that meant he couldn't be taken, and they had no way to make him stay.

*You will return?*, Loki asked, and he sounded miserably.

*Of course.* There was nothing that would keep Tony away from his family, not as long as they would have him.

And the way they were this devastated by his going made it very clear that they did want to keep him. Not that he had doubted them, but after what he had experienced with his parents this morning … it felt warm and soft and wonderful against his lonely heart.



^^



After that morning in the nestling's bower, deep within the home-trees and curled around his friends-siblings, time went by faster than Tony could really grasp. Between choosing the things he would need in the university, wrapping up his experiments and evading his parents Tony never had much time. Still, every minute he could scrap together was spend with his friends, though they could never do much more than rest in their favorite place for a few hours, or hunt in the lower regions.

Loki was almost always at his home, even slept there in his bed with him, curled around him so tight as if he feared Tony would vanish in his sleep, and Tony had no way to express how grateful he was for the support his friend was showing him. There were moments when he felt like crying for hours, when his friend was there and licked his face and simply let him bury himself against his strong body.

Tony couldn't imagine being without him, not for almost a whole year. He needed Loki, to bounce ideas off, to laugh with, to make fun of whatever hurt them. Ansible conversations could never be the same.



^^



The last night they spend curled around each other, hidden under the blanket. Neither of them said anything, but neither did they sleep. Tony had his head buried against Loki's chest, and he could hear his heart beat, the slow steady rhythm he knew so well. Faint digestion noises from the fish they had had for dinner. Their smell all around them, in the bed, the blankets. A feeling of fading safety that was slipping through his fingers.

Loki's paws were slowly stroking over his head, his claws carefully separating his hair into strands. The touch helped Tony stay calm, made him almost believe that everything would become good again.

*When you come back ... when I wake up from my change-sleep*, Loki started.

It took Tony a moment to realize that the other waited for a reaction from him, so he nodded, his hair dragging against the scales and claws.

Still, Loki waited a moment longer before continuing: *When I'm back ... I want to weave your braid. I want to collect beads for you, and then I want to braid them in your fur so that everyone knows you're mine . My friend, my best friend.*

There was something there that Tony missed, but he couldn't care enough to try and figure it out. Instead he launched onto what he understood - that Loki wanted to show the world that he was his friend. *You're, too.*, he whispered. *My best friend. May I, too? May I braid your spines?*

And he heard the smile in Loki's voice when he answered. *Of course, my friend. You always may.*



Chapter Text

Loki had once Tony introduced to Hel, or Helheimr, the Aesir version of hell. According to their lore those that hadn't lost their life in the hunt or fight would be claimed by Hel, the soul of Yggdrasil, who planted the souls in her personal garden so they might fertilize the earth. At this place they would stand for years and years, growing slowly up through the soil to the sun until finally they reached the surface again, where they would be reborn as plants or animals or Aesir or sealings.

It wasn't exactly supposed to be a punishment, but standing at the same place with nothing to do or anyone to speak to sounded too much like attending one of Howard's dinner parties to be anything but.

Not that their version of heaven was better - Tony liked hunting, but that didn't mean he would like to do nothing but for years and hundreds of years until one hunt led him back to life again.

Anyway. He was on Eton now, and he found that life at the university had a lot in common with Helheimr.

Not that he wasn't challenged by what he learned - Howard was right in this at least, there was still so much to learn even for a genius like him. And having had private lessons from a young age on Tony wasn't used to sitting still for long, keeping his own learning to a level that was hard for most of his peers and much too easy for him. But between the sheer amount of stuff to learn and the homework they had to do, not to mention the fact that his professors seemed to expect more from him simply because he was Howard Stark's son, there was no way he could get bored with school stuff.

Personal stuff, however ... that was a whole other topic.

It started with the fact that he was attending the advanced classes of a school that was already only teaching the creme de la creme on a planet that only admitted the best students from all over the universe, meaning that his peers were all either nerds who did nothing all day long but learn, or Vulcans – (though he wasn't quite sure there was any difference). Actually, there seemed to only be two other people on the whole planet with an intellect on par with his, and neither of them spend much time around the campus, least of all with a baby like him.

Because that was what he was to these people. Yes, there were other students younger than average around here, even another who had to have started attending university at a similar young age as him, but he was older now, old news, and be wasn't ... he was half Vulcan, and he acted every bit like a true-bred Vulcan.

Tony, who was a full blood human, had forgotten how to act like one.

It had taken him an embarrassingly long time to work it out. Though he supposed he could be excused on the ground of being torn out of his h ome and into a chaotic, cold, bright place without any warning. And it wasn't that he was fully out of touch with his human side - he had spend at least a part of his time with humans, with Ayo, the rest of the staff at the house, and the scientists at the research stations. Not to mention the other people in Midgard he had interacted with, and Jarvis when he was around. He supposed he could even count the ten words he exchanged with his mother per week, and the few mails he exchanged with his father a year.

But that was only good for brief acquaintances such as the personal of the canteen or his professors; whenever he came to know someone deeper he reverted back to Aesir behavior, and that ... that was a far cry from what was accepted from humans. It was touch and being close and kissing and licking and while he was smart enough to tone the kissing down and stay away from licking he was considered clingy by human standards when what he was offering them would be considered rude by Ymiri standard; something reserved for clan-members that he didn't particularly like.

Actually the one he got along the best with was Nuepa Falladapax, the only Kaspira on the whole damn planet. Her people needed touch and intimacy in a way she wasn't getting from anyone else, and she was more than willing to sit with him whenever they needed it. They even watched some movies together and went out one or twice, yet there was no deep connection between them, no shared interests. He was here for his degrees in Physics and Computer Science, she for Law – aside from their craving for skin they had absolutely nothing in common.

And even leaving that aside - he should be capable of getting what he needed from the fleeting touches humans were giving each other, handshakes, brushing against each other in the floors, short pats by his professors when he had done good. Yet here he was, befriending someone he could barely hold a conversation with just because she was the only one who wasn't thinking him strange because he needed skin on his skin like water and air.

Correction, she thought him strange, but would never shove him away, not when she needed him as much as he needed her.



^^



Of course he had tried to change his behavior. He even went to sit in a few psychological classes of different levels - not that it worked. Well, he learned that for a human his behavior would look like that of someone who had been abandoned once too often, and he supposed that was true, but it wasn't even close to all of it. Because Tony knew that he was safe from a lot of the other signs of that. Taking abuse from a stranger, just because he had shown him a bit of attention? No, nope, not with Tony Stark.

Case in point: Victor van Doom. The boy - rich, smart, two years older than Tony and from a noble family that had ruled some small princedom on earth for centuries - had tried to endear himself to Tony. All charm and smiles and compliments, taking him up into his dorm room and introducing him to some of his friends who where all older and cooler than Tony. And yeah, Tony had liked it, had gone to him whenever he had the time - and often when he hadn't -, and he had lost every sense of boundary, had snuggled up to him and kissed him in ways that might seem sexual and had yet been nothing but what he would have done to Thora or Hogun, too. He hadn't even done some of the things that had felt so natural with Loki - sleeping naked, and stroking himself, and exploring parts of both their anatomy that they had known shouldn't be explored by anyone but a lover (well, in Tony's case; Loki wasn't even sporting a full set of genitals in his current form yet).

But Victor had thought it sexual, and Tony supposed he couldn't really blame him for that. Nor could he blame him for pressing the matter, kissing back more and more excitingly, touching Tony in ways that were not even relatively innocent anymore.

What Tony could - and certainly did - blame him for was that Victor ignored him when he told him no when he overstepped Tony's boundaries. That he touched him in ways that only Loki had ever been allowed to touch him before.

That he got angry when Tony slashed him across the face and bit his hand and arm and neck as he would have done with any predator trying to subdue him.

And then he tried to sully Tony's reputation by talking about how he had been led on, how Toy had then played the prude and called it off and even bit him in the process, like a wild animal. What hurt the most was that between no-one knowing where he had lived the last few years and Howard's reputation for being an awful womanizer at least a few of the other students believed him. And even those who didn't ... everyone heard it, and it seemed that the best reaction Tony could hope for was no reaction at all.



The only light ray in this were the weekly calls to Loki.

It wasn't easy, of course, and there were quite a few that they missed; at first because they hadn't yet figured out the time difference between Eton and Yggdrasil, later mostly because Ayo wasn't there to grant Loki the access he needed, or Tony had to attend a late class (though he skipped more than one for calls to his friend). But all in all? Most of the times they made it, and they were the absolute highlights of Tony's week. The drakeling understood it as no other to make him feel better, to remind him that this, too, would be over one day, and then Tony could return home .

Or Loki would come to him - he had offered it several times after the incident with Victor - and wow , Tony had never seen his friend so angry before, or so dead-set on killing someone - even though it frightened him to have to go under so many strange people.

*What are you thinking of?*, Loki asked, his head tilted to the side. There were leaves threaded through the top of his spines, looking like a crown in red and violet and orange, and Tony absently wondered who had done this. Maybe Frigg; his father had always been the only one who could make Loki behave like a proper consort.

Not that Tony minded; he liked Loki more for being himself than he would like him as a proper consort.

Shaking his head a bit he focused back on their conversation. *I just remembered when you offered to come here and defend my honor.* It was still one of his favorite memories, even though it was linked to something that still frightened him. Had made him wake up for weeks to the feeling of someone breathing hotly down his neck, hands grabbing him at body parts that those hands had no right to venture.

Coughing slightly to get rid of the sudden bad taste in his mouth he grinned at his friend.

Loki's eyes slitted, and he growled lowly - not a threat, only a sign of his deep-seated displeasure, and Tony relaxed further at how easy it was for him to read Loki's body language when everyone else seemed to speak an alien tongue. *I would have ripped his head off for offending you like this.*, he said, and there was not the least doubt in Tony that Loki meant every word. *You are a fledgeling still*, Loki continued. *For him to have acted like this ... there ought to be a prize demanded by your clan for his trespassing.*

And, well, that was the root of the problem, wasn't it? Because home, on Yggdrasil, there was no doubt as to who was his clan. Here however ... here Tony's clan were the Starks , and they were the ones supposed to defend him.

And where he had no doubt that Odin would demand the head of anyone who even looked at him wrong, not to mention did what Victor had done to him he was not certain if Howard would even care.

But there was no way to explain this to Loki without his friend working himself up in a frenzy, so he decided to change the topic. Pulling a hand through his hair, singling out one of the braids Heimdallr had woven into them, he grinned up at Loki. *They're growing out. You still going to braid it for me when I'm all grown-up?*

The way Loki looked at him made it more than clear that he knew what Tony was doing, and he held his eyes for long enough to ensure that Tony knew he was being caught, before he obviously decided to let it go. His eyes dropped to where Tony's fingers were still playing with the wooden bead in his strand, and a smile appeared on his lips. *I've been searching for some beads worthy of you.*, he said, and a light came to his eyes. *You're going to like them - I have some golden beads, and amber and red coral.*

That was ... Tony stared. He knew that the Ymiri measured wealth differently to the rest of the realms where gold was still one of the highest prized metals, even more so now that it had been discovered how good it withstood the hyperspace. And amber wasn't that rare - not around the Aesir's territory, sure, but they traded it a lot with their neighbors. But red coral ? The sealings gathered it under danger to their own life, for the ocean-version of the Winged Death lived near the coral reefs. And then there was the distance between the sea and Asgard - when it reached the Aesir it was easily worth half again as what the Ymiri that lived close to the ocean payed for it.

It was one of the most prized material for beads, and it was normally reserved for spouses.

*Loki*, he said weakly, his voice breaking on another cough before he caught himself. *You can't -*

The other smiled and cut him off. *You promised me beads as well, my friend-other-half-of-my-soul. Beads made from materials that cannot be found on Yggdrasil, shaped by tools to form what we have never known. I have to offer you something that is worthy of this, do I not?*

Tony swallowed. Yes, they had promised this to each other, and he had already searched for some beads, had even made some purchases, but ... he had never thought that Loki would take this so seriously. Suddenly he felt as if the floor had disappeared under him. This was ... this was a bit like finding out Victor and he had spoken a different language for months, only worse, so much much worse.

He had never felt like this with Loki before, not since their first meeting. The thought that this might have happened now ... that somehow he couldn't understand his closest friend anymore ... it frightened him.

*Loki, you can't*, he said weakly. *Red coral ... you should leave that for your queen.* Or at least a mate of his , something Tony wasn't deluding himself to think he ever could be.

Or actually wanted to be.

But Loki only smirked back at him, his eyes glittering in mischief and the bone tori above his eyes rose. *I'm not supposed to gift my queen jewelry, remember? A consort's supposed to get it gifted to him .*

Tony couldn't help but snort. *Every queen who thinks you're going to just sit there and look pretty all day long is not worthy of you.*

The widening of Loki's smile felt as if he had stepped into some trap. *Exactly.*



^^



They weren't talking about this anymore, but Tony increased his search for beads - as foolish as it was, if Loki insisted upon gifting him red coral he would have to find something worthy in return. Maybe he could hunt down on of the Vulcans in his class - or the half-bread, Sock or Spock or however he was called - and persuade them to get him one of the crystals they had used to store data in until some hundred years ago. They weren't used much anymore, but they looked pretty with their green sheen and were also durable enough to withstand the explosion of a spaceship.

Anyway, he still had time - a lot of time. Loki had told him that he would be going into sleep-time within the next few years, and then it might take up to five years until he came out of it. Translated into standard time that were at least ten years, probably more, and while Tony didn't want to think of a time where he wouldn't have his friend by his side anymore, couldn't talk to him or ask his advice, Loki had promised that he would be allowed to visit him, and that they remembered everything that had been said to them throughout that time.

Actually, he had said *And you are to tell me everything you do, Tony Stark, so I will know what to kick your ass for as soon as I wake up.*

Tony found himself looking oddly forward to this.



^^



Maybe the oddest thing about his life on Eton was how normal it seemed after a while. When he went to Yggdrasil he had needed half a year to settle in, and then he had to change his whole behavior to do so, had to find new friends and a new home.

Here, there was no-one he would call friend, only a few acquaintances he actually could stand, and the dorm room he shared with an older Sirianer who would hopefully pass his exam this year wasn't anything like the home trees, or even the villa they had in Midgard.

But then he had felt alive on Yggdrasil, hadn't he? For the first time in his life he had felt alive, had felt the air in his lungs and the steady beat of his heart and the freedom in his veins, and had thought how happy he was with it. There was nothing out in the universe that could compare to the pure distilled vitality of hunting. Being silent, oh so silent and careful when they found a fresh trail and followed it. He couldn't rely on his sense of smell as the drakelings could, but he had learned to read the tracks on the soil and the broken twigs and the bodies of his friends, and he was as good in hunting in a pack as any of them.

They were still fledgelings, no-one had ever expected them to hunt to feed the clan or even to hunt enough to feed themselves , but they were a large group, larger than most - they were more than only mates of one clutch sticking together - and they had been hunting prey that even adults wouldn't hunt alone. Tony's favorite had always been the tapir - a smaller version of the ab'snithy, not the earth tapir, but they looked very much alike - even though it was very dangerous and Loki had snarled at Thora for a whole month when she first suggested it. But it was very tender and tasted wonderfully when roasted over the fire, and their two tusks made amazing beads that could be carved by anyone skilled - or at least patient - enough.

And the feeling of crouching there in the trees above a flock, his clutchmates-and-friends hidden in the foliage around him, until Sif or Fandral or sometimes Hogun had singled out their prey - that was amazing . It felt like living in a moment were time had no meaning, a condition he only ever reached otherwise when he was assembling his tech. In those endless moments he only ever knew the present, no past, no future, all his thoughts focused on the animals beneath him and then on the single one that they would kill this day.

He always knew that they could die then, too. Those teeth weren't only for beads, they were weapons , and where they wanted to kill to eat and live, the tapir would kill to survive if they gave it the chance. But that knowledge was no burden for him - it was there and sharpened his senses, made him even more aware of the blood in his veins that might seep from him with one carelessness, the breath in his lungs that might soon be his last.

But there was more to it. In that moment, he felt connected to the rest of his hunting partners. He knew them, knew where they were, where and how they would strike. He knew that Thora would try to go for the killing, or would leave Hogun to it - they had the claws and strength for it. But sometimes they would be at the wrong angle, or someone else might be just better situated, and in this at least Thora never let her pride rule her. There had been times when even Loki would make the final hit, and once it had been him, with his blunt teeth and short nails and sharp knife.

Afterwards, when the rest of the herd had scattered off and their prey had ceased its final struggle, they would just sit there for a moment and revel in the feeling of being alive. They would look at each other, listen to their heart beats, to the breaths that were drawn harsh and fast, and they would grin in the delicious feeling of not being dead bubbling up in them like the exuberant joy from overripe fruit.



There was nothing like this here on Eton. Only the cold sharp morning air waking him up as soon as his roommate opened the window, making him cough and splutter. He had been told the air was barely different to how it was where he had lived on earth, only a bit more humid and filled with less chemicals, but it still tasted wrong in his mouth. Compared to Yggdrasil's air it was dry, and seemed to suck all the moisture right out of his throat, making his tongue stick to his palate and caused him to cough. He had caught a cold twice despite wearing more clothes than most anyone else here, and he feared he would never get rid of the foul taste on his tongue and in his nose, tainting everything he ate.

Or maybe it tasted actually that artificial, he couldn't discern that.



Eton was a planet wholly devoted to learning, both by scientists as well as by teaching students. Most of the big companies had at least a small research facility here, even if it was just symbolic – Stark Industry's for example, because Howard Stark believed in keeping his secrets close, and that meant on Earth. Or, well, there was only one Vulcan company here, but then this was no wonder - everyone knew that Vulcans looked down at everyone else in the federation.

As colorful as the companies situated here were also the universities and, by extension, the students.

Whoever had managed to get a place here had either filthy rich parents, connections, or - in most cases - was simply very intelligent. But intelligence wasn't everything on Eton - they had a hacking order, too, and many of those who had been top dogs in school or other universities found themselves now on the lower end of the scale.

Some managed, a lot dropped out.

And then there were the really really smart people. Those who had been accepted into Starfleet Academy. Or ghoj juH. Or, like Tony, simple old NEW MIT. Everyone who had managed to pass that assessment test would find that every company he wanted to work for would jump at the chance once he finished. Hell, even those who dropped out could still chose between more offers than anyone could ever hope to take up. Being able to write in your r é sum é that you had attended NEW MIT opene d doors.

During the education, however, it meant having a very full and stressful day. Once Tony had finally ceased coughing up dry chemical tasting slime, finished his business in the bathroom and had choked down what they called breakfast in the canteen - he had been told it was three-star-cooking; he never ever wanted to taste one star-cooking - he had lectures most of the day. The few hours he was free he spend in the workshop they were providing the tech students or in the library, working on papers and projects and whatever else his damn professors expected of him, so he would get through this hell as fast as possible and could return home .

Though the workshop was excellent - he had to share it with a few other students, of course, but they were all nice enough and kept to themselves a lot so they weren't a bother to Tony. And NEW MIT being a top university meant they provided their students with about everything they wanted - including an encrypted ansible connection to a backwater planet.

Though the best that happened in that lab was the Vulcan half-blood coming in one day to demand to know who had let the virus free in Starfleet Academy's computer system.

It hadn't been Tony - he had been toying with the idea, sure, but he wasn't dumb enough to try anything without making damn sure he wouldn't be caught - but helping Spock catch the offender - who got reprimanded mostly for being dumb enough to have been caught, not for releasing the virus itself - meant he got to know the other a bit more. It wasn't that they became friends; there were times when Spock couldn't stand to have him near, not with Tony constantly twitching with the need to touch him. But it meant he had someone to sit next to in the public library, or to ask for help when he wouldn't ask anyone else.

But there were days - many days, actually - when the cold Vulcanic manner of the other made him feel his loneliness even more, made him long for a home he hadn't seen in far too long. It was a longing that the calls to Loki couldn't do anything to quench, and depression was slowly encroaching on him like a weariness that made it ever harder to go up, or taste his meals, or work with the same fervor on his projects.

There was a calender above his bed - a honest to god paper calender - and he had scratched out the days until he could leave - for this year.

He couldn't wait for it to be his last.



^^



Though as his last day drew close he felt his spirit return to him, and a giddiness settled into his limbs that had Spock give him an odd look when he saw him in the canteen.

But really, how couldn't he? His last lecture would be the next day, and he had persuaded Howard to send his personal space ship here so he could get home as soon as possible.

Well, he had framed it differently, more along the lines of how it would be much safer when no-one knew where Tony lived in his holidays but those who Howard trusted. When his father agreed Tony had felt the urge to hug and kiss the man - just that he had been on the other side of the universe, and, you know - Howard Stark.

Anyway – tomorrow he would leave, and then, in only a few days, he would be home again. He could barely wait for it.



The rain season would be over in a week or two, and that meant they could be out and hunting again. He would be rusty when it came to walking along the branches and hunting and running through the underbrush and, well, everything , but he didn't care. They could laugh at it as much as they wanted, he only wanted to see them, wanted to hug them . Loki had told him that it would be soon for Hogun and Volstagg now, that they were already sleeping more often, and he wanted to hug them again before they went to sleep and he wouldn't be able to talk to them and smell them for years.

And then there was Loki. He loved all his friends, had always loved them, but Loki? That was something special, and he felt his heart beat faster at the thought of having him in his embrace again, of burying his nose in the other's neck and smelling the spicy scent he knew better than his own, the scent that meant home even more than the home trees, and the nestlings' bower.

Oh Hel, the home trees. There was some small part of him that felt trepidation at the thought of the home trees, of the clan . A part that had gone too long without anyone telling him he mattered in the only way he knew to believe it - touching and licking and scent-marking him so everyone would know him for being clan. And it was this part that feared Odin might retract her invitation into the clan, might take from him the family he so loved.

It was foolish. He hadn't even dared to voice this fear towards Loki because he knew that the other would scoff and call him an idiot, but he couldn't help but feel a tiny bit of fear when he packed the last of his baggage and called the spaceship pilot - a man named Happy for whatever reason - a last time to make sure he really would be there the next afternoon.

Three days to Yggdrasil, and then he would know if he was still part of the family.

 

Chapter Text

Loki has never been so overjoyed at seeing Tony - nor so worried. Maybe he wouldn't even have noticed it, what with him having seen Tony-future-mate often over the course of the very very very long time they spend parted from each other. But he has taken Hogun with him to one of the last talks with Tony - he knows that Tony and Hogun-sibling-best-friend have been good friends, too, knows that of all of them Tony likes Hogun and Sif best after Loki because he can talk about languages and other worlds with them, too. And with Hogun feeling the sleep settling in his bones he wanted to make sure that Tony would at least see Hogun again in case he would arrive after Hogun went to sleep.

The human woodsinger that let him in every time had looked a bit surprised at Hogun following him, but she smiled when ne rubbed nemself against her legs like a large cat - she knows that they are sentient, even talks to him and listens the few times he feels bold enough to answer, but she's obviously not entirely sure how to treat them (not without Tony-love here to translate at least)

But as surprised as the woodsinger was, Tony was it even more, and he was so pleased to see Hogun, and they talked a lot with each other so that Loki was almost jealous - only he's not dumb , he knows there's no reason to be jealous of an einherjar. Even less when it came to his-Tony.

And Hogun has been pleased as well, and his eyes were brighter than they have been for a moon - talking to Tony obviously helped him stay awake, and Loki did so wish for Tony to get here before Hogun fell asleep, so they could all be fledgelings together for at least one more time.

Only when they returned to the home trees has Hogun spoken of his thoughts, his observations. Of how Tony coughed all the time, and how he looked pale and fragile. How there were dark circlets under his eyes and a feverish look in them.

Loki hadn't seen it before - he knew that the coughing was from the bad air they had where the other-half-of-his-soul was and he knew that Tony hated the meals there. Loki has offered to have the woodsinger send him some kill fresh from the jungle, but Tony had declined, saying they wouldn't let the meat leave Yggdrasil for fear of transferring illnesses. Which is smart, yes, but very inconvenient.

But even though Loki knew of Tony's problems he never saw how much they affected him. Never saw him getting pale and small because it was normal, and - how could he expect for Tony-queen-fledgeling to take him as his mate-consort-partner if he couldn't even see him wasting away before his very own eyes?

He can only hope that he will do better in the almost-moon he has with Tony. At least he can make sure that he eats, and eats healthily and enough . And he will make sure he is getting enough sleep and sun and see Eir so she can check that he hasn't gotten one of the illnesses humans seem to be so afraid of.

So when he sits here on the roof of the building the humans call space port he's very impatient and anxious. He wants to see Tony for himself, wants to take care of him and keep him safe. He knows that this kind of instinct isn't usual for a consort, but he doesn't care - Tony is an unusual queen, too - one without claws and wings and teeth, yet with a mind as sparkling as the stars that he wields better than some queen their body's weapons.

The arrival of the vehicle is interesting, but not much - there have been shuttles often, and Loki went to look at them even before he knew Tony, and later he did even more, with his future-mate explaining to him how they works and why there are light and heat and why it hovers for a while before it touches down. He knows the differences between the ship classes, knows that this here is not a shuttle, smaller and differently formed, but Loki has seen this ship before, too - it's the one that brings anguish to Tony's eyes and anxiousness to his heart, and it takes him away from Loki to a man Tony calls father that Loki doesn't think acts like a father at all, and another man that is a father yet cannot be called as such.

Humans are very confusing.

And then, finally, the door opens, and Loki forgets everything about strange human behavior and just focuses on the small boy that leaves the ship after a large man. Just that it isn't a small boy anymore - Tony has grown even more since last he saw him, and he may now reach Heimdallr's chest. His fur has grown out more; it is now long enough to reach down to his shoulders. Absently Loki hopes that he won't cut it - he likes the feeling of it slipping through his fingers, and how much Tony-love loves it when he uses his claws to comb it.

There are more differences - now that Loki knows what to look for he sees the pale skin, the dark rings, the signs of exhaustion and unhappiness. But he also sees the smile waiting on his lips, the way his eyes light up and how he stops just out of the ship, throws his shoulders back and simply breathes , the smile breaking free in a wide, joyous grin.

And that is when he cannot stop himself anymore. Not when there is that gorgeous being down there, just waiting for him. Not when his own self, the very soul of him, has longed for this moment for oh so long . He simply leaps from his perch, not caring that Fandral calls after him - something about they wanted to wait until he's really set foot on the earth or some other crap - and just dives down into the arms that he had been graving, smiling at the sound of surprised pleasure and almost toppling his future-mate-queen over.

And sitting there, half in the lap of his kneeling friend, half buried against his chest, their smells mingling again as it should always be, the lovely laughing voice of Tony in his ear and his heart leaping excitingly under his forehead, he feels calm and happiness returning to him. Feels how all the doubts vanish - yes, he is no perfect consort, but neither is Tony a perfect queen. And still they have found each other, still they belong to each other.

It doesn't matter that each of them is imperfect at his own. They are not meant to be alone, so it is alright if they are only perfect together.



^^



What follows are the most perfect and yet also saddest weeks he ever had with his Tony.

Tony explains to him that he will have to leave a few days earlier than he wanted because his mother wants to take him clothing shopping, but that until then he is free to spend his time as he wants. No-one in the house waiting for him, only the human woodsinger who takes care of the plants and helps them hide the meals Tony does not eat from the cook - not that Tony thinks she would mind, but it's always better if his parents aren't alerted that he's spending most of his time away from the estate.

Oh, and how he spends it away from there! Tony and Loki are barely ever separated, and if then only for a few hours at most. Sometimes they are creating in Tony's lab - Tony has learned so much, and they can finish You, and they have some ideas for a new, completely different model - something that Tony says will revolutionize the way AIs are made, something that is far closer to what humans thought possible of them until they understood that nothing someone creates can ever have a life without a soul.

And Loki looks at Tony, at his sparkling eyes and flushed cheeks, when he says that *We will make a person, not a machine!* And then he looks at where Dum-E and Butterfinger chase each other over the floor - something that neither their programming nor their creator ever taught them -, and how You explores the shop and he thinks that Tony got it backwards. He already made souls, he's just improving the mind, the vessel.

But Tony will not hear that, so he smiles and nuzzles his friend and says nothing.

When they aren't in the workshop they are out in the jungle, hunting with their friends and swimming and playing and searching the plants Eir needs for healing. Tony's really out of practice at first, but he improves fast. And with Volstagg and Hogun being slow and lazy with the sleep-change settling in their bones he isn't even the biggest handicap

Not that Loki minds - he loves laying down in a lazy cuddle, their scents mingling like their bodies and the sounds of their voices when they talk and sing. He doesn't even care that Fandral is his usual annoying self, though he chases him away when he spends too much time near his Tony.

Hogun notices - of course he does. He has always been the most observant; it comes with being an einherjar. But it is also what makes Loki listen to him above anyone else, so he doesn't mind when Hogun settles down next to him, his movements slow and heavy, the tail-twitch he has so much less obvious now.

*Have you told him?*, he asks.

Loki looks down wher e Tony is laughingly shoving Fandral from the shore into the water, making the drakeling squirm and splutter and call insults back to him when he finds his feet in the low, slow water. Tony's fur is wet and sticks to his skin, the braids hanging loose. His shoulders are red from light sunburn, his clothes an unappealing mottled design that helps him hide in the shadows of the forest.

There is no point in denying what his sibling already knows. *No* His tail twitches, and he has to catch himself before he betrays how uncomfortable he is talking about this even further. *I am his friend, and we are fledgelings still. I cannot tell him before I wake again.*

Hogun-sibling hums noncommittally, before pointing out: *And if he takes another consort before you wake?*

The thought chills Loki to the bone, and he cannot find an answer to this.

Chapter Text

Returning to Eton after the weeks spend on Yggdrasil, spend with his family - it was strange . Alien. Like ... he remembered how he had felt his first time on Yggdrasil, before Loki and his friends-that-are-family and the Aesir - lonely, alone in a very strange place that felt so alien to him as if he was never meant to be there, could never have a connection to this place.

He felt like this again, looking out through the window onto the planet. The nightside was directly under them, sparkling city-lights rivaling with the stars around them. There was a sharp line between night and day going over the whole globe, right through the small ocean and two of the biggest university cities, cutting them in light and dark.

Like the sharp line between his life on Yggdrasil, and his ... life on Eton.

Sighing Tony leaned forward until his forehead rested against the window, the glass cool on his hot skin. His chest hurt again.

He missed them already. Thora with her adventures. Hogun's small smiles. Fandral's boasting and showing off. Volstagg's eternal claims to be hungry. Hunting with Sif.

Loki . Loki who smiled at him and praised his skills. Who made him smile more than anyone else. Who was his friend. Who could keep up with him and his mind.

He missed him. He missed him. He missed him.



^^



Yet this year didn't start as bad as last year when his roommate had turned out to be a much older guy who used some strange smelling penetrating aftershave, told him to not play too noisily because he did "need silence to study for the finals this year" and "can you please clean up after yourself, I'm not your mum."

Tony hadn't seen much of him - David had been out a lot, learning and chatting up girls or whatever else he did; he hadn't really cared beyond not getting into a fight with the Sirian. Though he had hoped that he would pass the finals - and that he would get someone a bit more to his taste for the next year.

Someone with whom he could share at least a bit of that which had been between the Ymiri and him for years.

As it turned out, he got better than that. He got James "Rhodey" Rhodes.

Rhodey was everything David hadn't been. He turned up late - actually, he turned up at two in the night before their first day, telling him that he hadn't wanted to take an earlier shuttle because then he would have had to leave his family almost a week earlier - something that Tony could understand absolutely. Some incident with his last roommate that he never spoke about had forced him to transfer to another room, and being late meant he ended with "the baby". He was a year above Tony and into physics and rocket science on some military stipend - or, as he explained it: "Don't have the money to study without someone supporting me, and I like to stand with my feet on solid earth too much to be any good for Starfleet Academy."

To make it short - they got along like a house on fire.



There wasn't much they could help each other with when it came to actual learn stuff, but having someone willing to listen - or, well, just be there in all the cases when Rhodey sat on his bed, played some game and just made some noncommittal sounds - and bounce ideas off? That was unbelievable valuable.

For the first time ever Tony wasn't feeling awkward around another human being. To Rhodey every little tic he had - touching him, hugging him, even kissing him now and then - was just how Tony was, and he never asked him to change. Never hid him away when they went to parties with his class mates, even though Tony was wide-eyed with timidity and feared he was overstepping several common boundaries.

Of course that was before he understood that his problems last year stemmed less from reality but more from growing up on Earth and, later on, a human-dominated colony. Here on Eton, where species and races mingled barely anyone batted an eye when he became too clingy, or shied from a rather harmless touch. What had them shy away from him the year before had been less his fucked-up body language but much more his own shyness, his fear of rejection.

So yes, he was different from most humans - but then so was Gamora, a girl who was green all-over and threatened everyone who came too close with her knives. So was Anakin, who had fallen through a time-hole and, when he turned out to be rather intelligent, been admitted to Starfleet Academy.

So was Spock, Tony's older friend from last year. From the few conversations they'd had Tony had gathered that he had finished his last degree and would be assigned first mate on the Enterprise again as soon as she returned from her latest assignment. Right now Tony had a bet going with Rhodey and Chekov - who was also from Starfleet, and very nice to have around - whether his "friends" Nyogu Uhura and Jim Kirk would follow him there.

To make it short – since the start of his second year on Eton his life became so much happier, so much more satisfying, that it almost couldn't be compared to his first. He became a party person, someone people knew , that they wanted to spend their time with. Someone who knew Spock , who was something like friends with him - as much as anyone could be friends with the Vulcan. And in those moments when he needed to be away from the excitement, when he needed quiet and sparks of inspiration and machines to tinker on - then he had Rhodey who was simply there or even kept other people away from him.

And yet it somehow never was the same as it was at home. It wasn't that he didn't like those people he hang out with, or didn't trust Rhodey, just ... they weren't family .

It was hard to describe, but between his parents and an often absent Jarvis Tony had come to distrust everyone. For as much as he loved Jarvis, as he trusted him and would always trust him - there was one tiny little spark of doubt in him that pointed out that Jarvis wasn't a young man anymore, and that he, Tony, was the heir to his family. That he would be the one to lead Stark Industries the moment his father retired, or when something happened to him. And that it was in his hands to fire or keep his father's old butler as his employee.

The Aesir - he had never had such doubts with the Aesir. There wasn't anything he could give them beyond what he was, and that they still wanted him was proof that what he was was enough. Maybe he had needed time to work up to that understanding, needed time to learn what it meant that he was part of their clan, but now that he had ... the part of him that had always doubted Jarvis had finally found its home.

And so there was no doubt where Tony was once a week, no matter how good the party Rhodey had an invitation for was supposed to be, or how tempting the extra-study lesson would be that professors offered him.

It was most likely the only thing that kept a jealous Loki from boarding a ferry and coming over to him, no matter his fear or how much he didn't knew about the universe at large (though Tony suspected that wasn't quite as much as he'd always thought it was - Butterfingers had informed him that the little drakeling spent rather more time inside the work shop than he needed for contacting Tony, learning about Earth and the Federation and the galaxy.)

Loki himself was jealous as hell when he came to know about Rhodey - something that made Tony think again about what he had with his new friend. Because he knew that Loki had wanted him to be happy, and yet, when he was, he was ... only half a step away from coming to him.

So he introduced Rhodey to Loki, and that was probably the best idea he'd ever had. Because once he knew him, once he saw them interact with each other, the jealousy evaporated like it had never been there. And Rhodey, having grown up in a mixed settlement somewhere on a backwoods planet as well, had no issue with a talking, sentient little dragon. Seeing them laugh and smile with each other, joking and banding together in their teasing of Tony - it was the closest to truly happy he could be away from Yggdrasil.



^^



He returned the next year to Hogun and Volstagg sleeping, and all his other friends sleep-change-slow-heavy as well, something that made him smile more than once when it came to Thora-fledgeling-queen and yet caused him uneasiness about Loki.

Never before had he known his friend to be sleepy but now he often settled in his workshop and fell asleep on one of the chairs or somewhere out of the way curled up on a blanket. Most of the time he would find the one place the sun shone on, and then Tony could watch the golden light wander over his beautiful, gorgeous black scales, highlight the green in them and make the gold spines glow,

They continued to work on Jarvis, the AI Tony had planned now that he knew more - oh, so much more! - about AIs, and what they could be capable of. Really, it was ... a shame. Before, when he knew nothing about robots and AIs and so much less about mechanics, he had been so proud of his small creations, of Dum-E and Butterfingers and You, but now he only felt ashamed, couldn't even really own up to them when someone asked him whether he would be interested in working on robots, lending his mind to improving AIs and make them more human.

He wanted to. Of course he wanted. Not because ... not to built himself his own family - which was the reason he had started Dum-E, he could admit to that now. But because he wanted to show the world (his father) what he was capable of. Wanted to show that just because something was different didn't mean it wasn't alive, wasn't sentient, couldn't feel .

Jarvis was to make the world understand that.



^^



He had invited Rhodey to Yggdrasil over the holidays - it wouldn't have been a bother, not with his father's space ship - but he could understand that the other wanted to spent more time with his family. It wasn't as if Tony was inclined to leave the Aesir even one minute earlier than needed.

It was because of that that he was more than a bit surprised when Ayo called from down by the ladder for him, telling him that he had a visitor.

A look over to Loki showed him that his friend was still sleeping and after making sure that You would tell him where Tony was should he wake up in the meantime he put the tablet down on his chair, stroked once through his hair to try and settle the strands and then finally slipped down and over to the house.

His visitor, it turned out, was no-one less but Obadiah Stane, his father's right hand when it came to managing Stark Industries.

Tony stared at the man he had known through most of his childhood, though only ever as a nice yet distant uncle. He was more balding than he remembered him being, his eyes an arctic blue and his clothes freshly pressed and as fitting for Yggdrasil as bath shorts might be for the ice of Rigel-451.

But that, too, was how Tony remembered Obadiah. Always impeccably dressed, a friendly smile on his lips and a warm hug for Tony, and often pizza or some sweets with him that Howard would never remember he liked.

Maybe Tony ought to feel under-dressed in his shorts and awkward for not having seen the other for years, and yet ...

And yet the man grinned at him with easy affection, open and genuinely happy to see him as his father never was. Spreading his arms he invited Tony into an embrace that was warm and firm, the kind of hug he only ever got from Jarvis and Heimdallr or sometimes Frigg or, once, Odin, when he had been feeling down and the queen had thought he needed the reassurance that he belonged to them.

"Uncle Obie", he said, his voice muffled against the hard shoulder of the man. And maybe for other reasons as well.

"Hey, hey", Obie said, patting him on his back that he felt his whole body quiver. "If I had known Howard would send you to this backwater planet for you holidays I would have come sooner. Really, I love the man like the brother I don't have, but he's not always the most considerate, is he?"

Smiling despite himself Tony shook his head. "It's not so bad", he admitted, pulling back from his uncle. "I ... I've friends here. The natives are very ... friendly." They are my family. They care for me. They love me.

But he had never known how to say that in any human language.

Obie smiled, and maybe it was a bit indulgently, but Tony could tolerate that. "I heard a lot about the natives - the Yggdrasilians, yes? Seem like some good fellows, and don't interfere with our research here. Say, Tony, did Howard ever speak to you about your future in Stark Industries?"

Blinking at the topic change Tony looked up at Obie, confused and wary. "Stark Industries? I thought ... I mean, I always thought I would work for him, after university. Engineering and development and ... did he say something?" He hadn't always liked the thought of his future being predetermined, but that didn't mean he had ever imagined a future away from Stark Industries, from working on and for the company his father had spend so much time and focus on.

Hoping that one day he might be good enough that Howard would finally look at him and see him.

Obie shook his head, waving a hand lazily. "No-no-no, sorry boy, I didn't mean to confuse you. It's just - Howard's not going to be there for eternity, and if you're going to take over the company one time - hopefully a long time from now - then you'll have to know something about leading a company. I know you, boy - you're much more the inventor and dreamer, and you're good at that, but you'll have to take other courses - Business Administration, for example. Doesn't mean it has to be now, but ... think about it, boy, yeah?"

Tony grimaced. He hated business with a passion - sitting at a desk all day, signing, attending dinners? He would much rather spend a few days down in his lab. Fuck, he would rather spend days attending school with Signor García Álvarez.

"I thought that's what you do?", he said, because that's what he had Maria often hear yell at her husband - that he didn't need to work so much, not truly, since he had Stane to do that for him.

And Obie laughed. "Sure, boy, but I'm not that young myself anymore, and while I'll help you as good as possible I'm hoping I'll be a good bit older before your old man is ever going to need his heir."

Well, that was a sentiment Tony fully agreed with.

Obie didn't wait for him to say something, just waved him over. "I don't have much time - there's a business meeting on Vulcan I need to attend, just made a stopover here because I wanted to see my favorite godson - but I've brought pizza and a whole bag full of that awful coffee chocolate you love, boy."

Warmth bloomed in Tony's chest that the man had remembered his favorite treats despite not having seen him for such a long time. And walking deeper into the house with Obie he felt a connection to Stark Industries and earth and the life he was supposed to live - opposed to the life he wanted , or the one he was living with Rhodey on Eton - that he hadn't felt for a very long time.



^^



He returned to Eton a few weeks later, having said farewell to his friends - most of which he probably wouldn't see anymore when he returned for his next holidays, would only meet again in a few years when they woke up from the change-sleep as proper adult Ymiris.

Looking back through the window of the space craft he saw Yggdrasil's green jungles and dark blue oceans and white poles and mountains and the few deserts disappear in the black and star spangled vasness of the galaxy. Remembered Loki and Thora sitting there at the spaceport, watching him leave, their hanging tails and wings showing the same sadness that spilled over Tony's cheeks in salty rivulets.

He had come to like Eton, and he might even like earth again one time, but this - this backwater, technological stunted jungle planet - was the one place he would always call his home .



Chapter Text

It is strange to see Thora-sister be lazy and heavy and slow , but even stranger is it to be without her. To be without any of his clutchmates-and-friends. To only have Heimdallr-older-sibling to talk to, and Frigg-father, and sometimes Ayo-human-woodsinger and the children-of-Tony, Dum-E and You and Butterfingers, if talking is what interacting with them can be called.

And then there is Tony-lover-closest-to-his-heart, who he only sees through the window of a computer and can only talk to him with many more flight hours between them than Loki can ever run or fly.

He looks good, at least. Healthy and happy and not so gaunt as he was that first time, and there is jealousy in him that it is not him who makes the other half of his heart be content. Jealousy, yes, but not so much that he doesn't appreciate what Rhodey-Tony's-friend does for him. And he likes the other, too - likes the way he speaks, slow and thoughtful and exactly the right counterbalance for his-Tony's sharp and clever mind. Perfect to ground him in a place where there is no Loki to look after him, and he needs someone like Hogun to make sure he's safe and eats and sleeps.



^^



But with his clutchmates-and-friends gone in sleep-change and Tony-heart and him so far apart he has so much much time he doesn't know what to do with, who to talk to. He has been with them for all his life - his first true memory, all blurry shaped and distorted, is of their nest in Odin's bower, of the warmth of his siblings next to him, their heart beats reverberating in his own skin. Their smell of home-family-safety that he learned to love and trust throughout his life.

Maybe it was that that had him behaving like Thora ad her most stubbornest when the Aelfar came for a trading visit and listen in on their sister queen's talk with Odin-reigning-queen.

While he has never been to Alfheim - they don't share a border with them - he has heard quite a lot about this clan. The Aelfar breed their queens for wisdom, not temper, and they prefer their consorts intelligent and quick-witted - both of these sentiments make Loki wish to meet this strange clan. But even more than their customs he is interested in their scalds . Their singers are known to be the best all over Yggdrasil, with voices strong and clear and songs telling of every event that ever happened to the clans from the first reign on. Frigg-father, whose birth clan Vanaheim lays right next to Alfheim at the sea, has told them of the few times he has been allowed to listen to their tales as a child, and how he has wanted to be taken by one of their queens just to learn more from their scalds. Well, until he met mother.

With the range of the jungle separating them there was no such close interaction between the Aesir and the Aelfar, yet they shared a loose friendship and treaty - sister-queen-Freya's second consort had come from Alfheim, and their reigning queen's consort was fathered by an Aesir consort. With this, they sometimes came for trade visits or one of the sister queens left with a few einherjar and traders for the other clan.

This time the visitor is an older sister queen that Loki has never seen before, with two consorts and four einherjar, accompanying at least a dozen traders. Loki has seen them come in when he lazed on top of the nestling's bower, their typical jade green and anthracite scales a sharp contrast to the gold and brown and red of the Aesir einherjar leading them in.

Sleep-change has made him lazy, but his curiosity sends energy enough throughout his body to make him roll onto his paws and look down at the group. There was a warning of course – no-one comes to another clan's home trees uninvited but those that wish for war – yet it is the reigning queen's prerogative to leave her visitors waiting.

Between hostile clans this is a precaution to ensure the intruders can be observed until the queen decides how to proceed with them, and with a clan that had no treaty with the visited clan it is a sign of superiority. Between Alfheim and Asgard, however, it is nothing but formality, and so Loki doesn't fear anything when he carefully climbs forward and looks down at the visitors, even if he knows he should be inside as all the unbound consorts are, not out here, snooping around (Even if this is the most interesting that happened since Sif went to sleep).

Their einherjar are watchful yet relaxed - they know how unlikely an attack is as good as Loki. The sister queen, too, is relaxed; she's waiting at the edge of their rough circle, her legs casually crossed and talking lightly to the consort next to her.

Loki looks him over carefully - he has a different birth clan, Muspellheim judging by the scarlet red of his wings and spines and back, and the violet scales forming a distinctive mask around his eyes, reaching in long lines down along his chest and belly until they disappear in his trousers.

His clothing is carefully made, white and beige with golden and violet embroideries. Gold and ruby glitter around his long curved horns - another typical sign of his heritage -, and more drips from his throat and ear-flaps, and in his mane.

He looks stunning, and he clearly knows it.

But so do es the other consort, his pale scales harmonize with his light blue clothing and the silver and sapphire he wears, clear signs of the favor he has with his queen even if he sits away from her, settled between the traders and talking softly to them. It is not something consorts are supposed to take interest in, but Loki can see the appeal of the goods and the trading - even with the bags made from woven plant fibers tightly closed he can see hints of beautiful fabrics, and the heaviness of that one bag must be from the curled shells of ornate ocean snails. And there, the woman talking with the consort - her bag is light and not very full, but even through the smells of strange Ymiri and jungle and the heavy-sweet odor of the big scarlet veins blossoming around the home-haven there is no way to miss the sharp icy smell of green-flap, a herb with strong healing attributes that can only be found in the ice regions of the mountains.

Loki is not the only one to notice the arrival of the traders, and by the time Odin-reigning-queen deigns to greet them the trees around the place are bursting with curious Aesir, and a cluster of nestlings and fledgelings has joined Loki up on his sunbathing place. Not that he minds; even with the change heavy in his bones a curious thrill flickers in him.

He barely spares a flicker of attention for the greeting itself - he knows how it will go, the back and forth of a political dance, and barring any incidents the traders are far more interesting than two queens squaring off at each other, trying to impress and insult and get along still. Really, he loves Odin-mother, and Thora-sister, but their affected behavior when it comes to meeting other queens is trying. So instead he climbs down along one of the blood veins, careful not to draw the attention of one of their caretakers - he's still a child, will be until after he wakes from his sleep-change, and even though he is far more calm and well-mannered than any of the other fledgelings they still treat him either too much like a precious yet shy and easily spooked consort, or like the too forward and not thinking fledgeling he doesn't remember ever being.

Trying to escape Sigyn's notice has him miss a wet spot along the vein and he slips, catching himself just in time on another vein, his claws digging in the thick fleshy part right above one of the dark violet blossoms.

Hissing quietly at his misstep he tries to gauge whether anyone has taken notice of his almost-accident; thankfully most of the others are still too preoccupied with what happens down where the queens have just managed to work towards polite conversation. Only the Muspelar consort has noticed him, his eyes half-slitted against the light coming from behind and above Loki, his head slightly tilted.

Loki wonders whether he can truly see him - his own vision is much better than most Aesir's, he knows, and it would be easy for him to see himself even at this distance and against the light; maybe the same is true for a Muspelar, whose clan is living in the much more open forests along the great desert.

The way the other Ymiri smirks a bit when Loki stares down at him in concentration indicates that yes, he can see him, and Loki finds himself caught in indecision between wanting to draw the other's attention even more, maybe getting himself an invitation to the consorts' nest this evening (talking to him, inquire about the scalds), or rather slink back and avoid the confrontation with a stranger.

The slight disturbance of Frigg-father appearing on the place, joining his queen as is customary for the first consort of the reigning queen, decides him. If he manages to get an invitation to talk to the strange consort he will still not be alone with him. Not to mention that he is a consort himself and should therefore know how to behave, even more so in the consorts' nest of another clan.

And he really really wants to meet those strangers from afar, like Forseti has been allowed even before he left the fledgeling's nest.

Making sure again that no-one watches him he slinks forward, this time mindful of any damp spots and hidden holes - he doesn't want the consort to think that he's a dolt that doesn't know how to behave in company. After all he's already straddling the line between acceptable and scandalous just by staying out here, trying to get his attention.

It doesn't take long until he's reached the point he was aiming for - a small platform slightly under the juncture of the tree formed by two veins and some interwoven plant matter, with a bromeliad growing directly above it that is often visited by the small frogs and lizards living up in the trees. He settles down on the platform with the grace of the sleek hunter-cats of the forest, as is befitting a young consort. Then, cl osing his eyes to half-slits, he looks over to the older consort to find out if his performance has caught his attention.

The consort looks amused, his lips drawn up in a half-hidden smile. Loki might be insulted - amusement was not what he was aiming for - but then watching Thora-fledgeling-queen-show-off has taught him that any attention can be turned into what he wants. And so he returns the other's gaze and feels pleasure bloom warm in his chest when the other's eyes widen slightly in astonishment at his daring - he is a very young consort, and the other must know his gender from his long and numerous spines and the lack of ridges along his back. That he dares to catch another's gaze sets him apart from quite a lot of other consorts, even more those that are only fledgelings like him, and it might be enough, but this is far from all he can do.

And so he simply throws a glance up over his shoulder to where Sigyn is now busy ordering the smallest-queen-fledgeling back into the nest. He cannot see any of the other caretakers, but he doesn't think they will search for him - he isn't known for taking foolish risks like jumping down to the strangers.

And that's not what it takes for a young consort-fledgeling to draw attention, is it? Because he already has the right attention, and so he simply spreads his wings again, shows them off in their beautiful blackness, knowing that the sun will catch the green in them and highlight the gold along his back. Careful and with measured motions he climbs back up again, hoping fervently that the consort will understand his desire to meet him and that he will be invited to do so later that evening.

Yet when he looks back from his perch back up on the nest it is not confirmation he meets, or even amusement or - not that he wishes for that - annoyance . Rather, a confused concentration has settled on the stranger's face for a moment before he turns his head. Now confused Loki watches as he walks over to where his queen is just now in the process of getting up from the cushions someone brought for her and Odin-reigning-queen. The visiting queen tilts her head in his direction, and he whispers something in her ear.

Loki has no way to understand what he says, but the way the queen looks up at him - or at least in his direction; he is quite sure that the Aelfar-queen won't be able to see him against the light as her consort can - and the sudden nervous stillness in her other consort make him freeze like a small-frog caught in the gaze of a snake.

Eventually the queen turns her eyes back to Odin, and she says something that has Loki's mother-queen freeze for a moment before she tilts her head in acquiescence, while Frigg-consort throws a look up at the nest, too.

It could be that Loki has been granted his wish - maybe Odin-mother just agreed to let him attend this evening's meal.

But the look on Frigg-father's face is worry and almost fear, and it is not a queen's word that grants entrance to the consorts' nest, not even when it is the reigning queen. Loki can feel it in his guts like weight of cold dread - this is something else, something dangerous, and he might be in trouble yet.



^^



Loki could be in trouble already for his daring to draw the strange consort's attention, but he doesn't know why , and he's not a bird waiting to be caught by it when he can search it out. Can find out why something that shouldn't have done anything but draw the attention of a strange consort made his mother and father react in a way that Loki has never seen before.

While the other Aesir now mingle with the traders, scrambling and excited to exchange gossip almost as much (or maybe more) as goods, Loki spreads his wings and follows the party of queens and consorts over to the queens' bower, knowing that this is where they will speak.

He is lucky; neither of them looks over to see the fledgeling following them through the thick foliage up in the nearby trees.

Thora has made it a habit to sneak into their mother's bower, so Loki is quite experienced with in how best to find the small air slots in the otherwise impenetrable hull, barely big enough to let in a fledgeling and carefully concealed with moss and leaves. It is an easy feat to sneak in, even more in the small confusion of the sister queens leaving or being ordered out by Odin-reigning-queen.

Sitting up there in his small slot, hidden from view only by the hanging lichens, Loki feels his heart beat faster and harder, almost painful against his chest. If Odin will not share this with the sister-queens this is serious, really serious. And it is far worse than a consort fledgeling seeking unwarranted attention.

For a moment he thinks the strange sister queen might have made a request for him as her consort; it isn't totally unheard of, even with him being a fledgeling still and her already having claimed two consorts as her own. She won't be allowed to keep him until he has woken from his sleep-change-time and she can properly woe him, but agreements between older queens and the parents of fledgeling consorts happen all the time.

But in this case he would have been made part of the decision; even as a child he can reject any offer that he doesn't agree with. And Frigg would never have looked this worried.

Jörd and Frigg spread cushions around, and the visitors and Odin-queen settle around a plate of cut fruits and roots that have probably been left behind by the leaving queens. It looks delicious, searoot and dark purpleweed and even starfruit - one of Odin-mother's favorites - all displayed on one of the beautifully colored plates that are a trademark of Laga-artist.

Neither of them even looks at it twice.

"You asked about my son, Loki", Odin starts, and Loki feels himself twitch at the aggressive tone in his mother's voice. As if she knows what is about to follow, and she doesn't like it. As if she is defending , almost.

But why would she need to be defensive about him? He is nothing but a normal consort fledgeling - well, maybe not so normal, but certainly not abnormal enough that a sister queen of a clan like Alfheim would question her!

Yet the sister queen nods, her eyes slitting slightly - she has noticed Odin's reaction, and obviously knows what to make of it. "We both know why I am asking about him, but let me make it clear: Did you steal him?"

"No!" Frigg's cry is even faster than the loud growl rumbling out of Odin-queen's chest, or the enraged hiss coming from Jörd. "We would never! Loki is our son!"

The conviction in his voice tastes true, and yet the visiting queen doesn't seem convinced. "He does not look like an Aesir - and even without the obvious signs he isn't looking like you ."

Loki's breath catches in his throat. This is ... people have told him all his life that he's not looking like a typical Aesir, that his horns are too long, his color is all wrong - there are no other emerald green Ymiri in the clan, and very few with black scales - and his ear flaps aren't quite big enough for an Aesir. On the other hand, his spines are longer and more numerous than even a queen's, and his temper isn't as even as is the norm.

Yet he has been told that all of this comes from his father's father's side, who was a Jotnar - which does make sense and always stopped his inquisitive questions. Because why ever would he question whether he really is his parents' son?

And yet even from up here he can see Frigg looking away, his head tilted downward and a look on his face that Loki doesn't want to show what he sees in it. And Odin, who has always been the very best queen-mother he ever knew, swallows before looking away.

"He is Jotun", she then says, and Loki freezes at this terrible truth, this terrible secret that they kept from him his entire life.

He knows of the Jotnar, knows of their cold home high up in the mountains that are covered with snow even in winter. Knows that they are rather more savage and bloodthirsty than any other clan of Ymiri, so much that only the most fearless of consorts will go live with them, due to the bigger and far more dangerous predators living there. Loki knows this because when Frigg first explained to him that he had taken after his grandfather's side of the family he wanted to understand what that meant - no easy feat since it seems his grandmother took her consort before she and the reigning queen actually agreed upon it.

It wasn't quite stealing, but ... Loki knows that even the smallest thing can set off a fight between clans, and consorts are no good to barter with. Or to steal .

Even if it is not quite stealing, if the consort follows willingly.

There has been no bloodshed between Jotunheim and Asgard over this, but the clans will not speak to each other, and there is no way the Jotnar gave up a child - a consort -nestling - to the Aesir, which means ...

The sister queen under him, not knowing what she has done to him by asking for this truth, growls lowly and then speaks aloud what Loki fears: "So you did steal him-"

"No!" Odin jerks forward as if barely capable of containing herself, the growl in her voice deep and rumbling - stealing a fledgeling is one of the worst offenses one can be accused of, and stealing a consort fledgeling - unthinkable.

It is obviously hard for her to tell that truth, yet she turns her face to the visiting sister queen and says: "I found him when he was young, barely hatched. We didn't ... it took us some time to find out where he was from, and when we did we had to contact the Jotnar." A snort, the sound bitter amusement. "To say that was hard would be an understatement." Shaking her head in a short, harsh motion she ends: "His parents know where he is, that he is alive. But by the time we found out where he was from he was already part of this family, part of our family. We couldn't ... we didn't want to rip him out of our family, and Laufey-reigning-queen agreed that it was better this way."

The sister queen thinks this over with her head tilted to the side, then says: "You'll understand when I ask her for confirmation."

Odin bristles at the insinuation that she might lie, but nods in the end. "Of course", she says, her voice cold and clearly verging on violence. "I wouldn't act any other way." The look that she sends to the other queen is hostile, and for a moment tension crackles heavy in the air.

It is the jade-green consort that rescues them. "Now that this misunderstanding is cleared - I heard quite a lot about the beauty of your nests. I understand your woodsingers found a way to tame blood vines?"

Jörd easily accepts the peace offering and, fully ignoring the way the sister queen and Odin-mo- Odin-reigning-queen glare at each other, he explains: "They did. I do not quite understand the mechanics myself - I have to admit I never had much interest in this - but Frigg-consort-lover is very knowledgeable when it comes to the weaving of nests." He looks pointedly over to the other consort.

Frigg nods, slowly tearing his gaze from the sister queen and Odin. "It is not that hard to understand. If you are willing I can show you around? And Gerda-woodsinger can certainly answer any question you might still have afterward."

The Muspelar consort nodded. "We thank you for your kind offer, Frigg-consort-of-reigning-queen-Odin." His voice is soft, yet the way he forms precise enough that Loki can easily make them out. "Arwen-queen-lover has often expressed the wish to learn more about your unique way to deal with blood-vines."

The sister queen shifts, uncomfortable, yet with her consorts both accepting an offer on her behalf she has no way but to acquiesce; otherwise she would disrespect them. Her twitching tail shows quite obvious how she really thinks about this, but in the end she tilts her head in affirmation and follows when the consorts leave the nest, Frigg-fath- Frigg- adoptive -father already talking about the songs their woodsingers use.

For a moment everything is quiet, silence like a heavy blanket in the air. No movement within the queens' nest, even the twitch of Odin's tail has ceased.

Then she sighs and turns her head, her eyes boring directly into the small slot where Loki is still hiding. "Are you coming down, Loki-son, or do you wish to act as if you never eavesdropped into a conversation that you were never meant to hear?"

For a moment Loki's heart stops. He was so careful, so quiet - how does Odin even know he's here? Yet she does, and she knows where he is, and is waiting for him to come out like he's a nestling caught stealing all the loam-fruit - just that's not what happened, is it? No, it's not Loki' who's at fault here, and there's no reason for him to hide up here from punishment.

And so he climbs through the last protecting layer of white flowers and drops down into the chamber, landing lightly on his feet as he always does.

There are long slashes in the floor - some queen or another must have gotten into a fight since last he came here. A stray earring lies next to a cushion made from the dark red fibre of a certain tree, and Loki really is only stalling now, distracting himself with the interior when he should be facing Odin.

Odin-queen who lied to him all his life.

Looking up at the queen he thought was his mother all his life he tries to see behind the facade of cool blankness that she still wears - something she uses to hide her more tender feelings when she faces off against other queens, Loki knows.

"Did you ever plan on telling me the truth?", he asks, his voice astonishingly even and detached.

Odin's eyes lower, and she looks half away; not capable of meeting his eyes. "We wanted to, Loki-son. But then ... first you were too young, only a hatchling, a nestling, and we didn't want you to think you would have to prove something, would have to - would think you had to earn our love. Because, Loki, we love you - you are our son as much as Thora is our daughter, or Sif and Hogun ... you belong to us, and we love you."

And Loki can feel that, can hear it in Odin's voice and the way it is breaking, can see it in the dark blue eyes that are now staring right at him, right into his own, so different eyes. Odin does love him, and if he ever was treated differently to his siblings, his clutchmates, it was only because he is a consort, and they are treated differently, the same way a queen is treated different, or an einherjar or someone born with the ability to sing to the forest. Never, not once, has he doubted his parent's love for him - not Odin-mother's, not Frigg-father's or Jörd-mother-consort's.

And he knows how it looks when parents don't love their children, has seen it so often in the way Tony-loved-one speaks of his mother with careful calm, or tried to dismiss his father's absence at his day-of-hatching.

He feels betrayed that his parents have withhold this truth from him, feels the secret like a sudden obstacle between them, creating a distance that wasn't there ever before - yet he knows, beyond doubt, that they will overcome this. He still loves Odin as his mother, and knowing that he hasn't hatched from her eggs doesn't change that.

"I ... I have to think about this", he says eventually. He licks over his dry lips, his wings itch with the need to fly away, to escape from here.

Odin-mother nods. There is a look on her face ... hesitant hope and love ... did she really think he would reject her, only over this secret?

"Of course", she says. "Just .. be careful."

Loki can't help himself and smiles. "I'm a consort", he reminds her gently. "I'm always careful." It's a joke they have between them - Frigg and Loki, and Odin in a way.

A startled smile appears on Odin's face. "You are", she confirms. "I don't think Thora would have grown up to live to sleep now without you and Hogun-kid watching out for her."

The warm glow in Loki's belly makes him feel very satisfied and loved, and he hesitates for a moment longer when Odin comes closer. Her hand is raised halfway to his cheek, but she hesitates, waits for him to decide whether he accepts her touch.

He would be a fool not to. Not with the love in her eyes, the hope and pain.

Pressing his head against her palm he can feel her fingers curl around his skin, warmth bleeding into him and her claws prickling under his ear. She doesn't pull him close, but the sharp intake of breath and the small almost-sob he hears tells him all he needs to know.

*I love you, Loki*, she says, again.

And this time he finds it in himself to answer her. *I love you, too, mother-by-choice.*

They stay like this for a long long moment, sharing warmth and familiarity, before Loki finally withdraws, still feeling restless and hurt, though less so now that he has the reassurance of his parent's love still lingering on his cheek, ringing in his ears. Looking at Odin he sees her, deflated a bit from her usual image of the powerful reigning queen, yet still full of strength and emotions and hope, and he knows that part of this is because he didn't reject her upon learning the truth. He wonders, for a moment, how long she feared the day he would find out about this truth. The day he might want to know about his true parents, might even prefer them to her.

He doesn't, never will, even though he can see that they might have - did, even, from what she said - act in his best interest.

Which brings another thought to mind. *Who ... who are they?*, he asks, hesitatingly. *My ... my birth parents?* Not that he will know the people to those names - it is not as if they hear a lot about the Jotnar - but he would still know their names, the names of the queen who birthed and the consort who fathered him.

It takes him by surprise when Odin, after a long moment of hesitation, answers: *Laufey, reigning queen of Jotunheim, and Farbauti, her second consort.* His expression must look as thunderstruck as he feels for a small, amused smile appears around her lips when she continues: *So you didn't even move up in the hierarchy of the courts.*

Loki finds his lips twitching in a helpless smile. *But I'm sure I wouldn't have had a sister like Thora to worry about otherwise. Sounds really boring.*

Looking into her eyes he tries to tell her what he can't form into words: I don't regret that it turned out the way it did. Whatever might have been different, might have been better - I don't regret knowing you. Loving you. Calling you mother .

And Odin has always been a wise queen, despite her temper. Her eyes are shimmering with unshed tears when she nods, but there is a smile on her face, too. *I'm glad that you think so, my son.*

It is with warmth and love humming through his bones that he leaves the queens' nest. They will speak about this, will sort this out, and will love each other throughout all this time, and he feels confident that it isn't enough to tear them apart.

Chapter Text

Loki was acting odd, and that was saying something for Tony had gotten used to the way the approaching change-sleep altered his friends' behavior. But never had it changed as much as Loki's since Tony's last holidays!

Sure, Thora getting lazy was extreme, and Volstagg not being hungry all the time and actually losing some of his weight hadn't been easy to swallow, either, but still ... somehow it felt different, closer , when it was about Loki.

Maybe it was just that - for years his little friend had been the one stable thing in Tony's life, the anchor that kept him upright even when everything else changed, everyone else left him. And therefore Loki changing had to be more serious, stranger - it would have been more peculiar if not.

Yet it can't be only that, he thought and looked over to where Loki lay amid the bots, playing some sort of game with Dum-E where they both tried to put out a small fire they had started on the fire-resistant floor, Loki by using his ice and the bot with the newly installed fire extinguisher he was so proud of. They were absolutely absorbed in their game, and then Dum-E did one of his small victorious dances when he managed to beat Loki, beeping excitedly while Loki hummed in content and prodded the bot a bit with his paw when he became quite too obnoxious about his victory.

Maybe sensing his gaze Loki looked up at him, his head questioningly tilted to the side as if to ask what was wrong, but Tony only shook his head and smiled to indicate that it was nothing. Blinking a few times Loki stared at him thoughtfully before returning to his game when Dum-E tried to light up the fire again so they could start the next round. Yet when he settled he did so in a way that let him see Tony more easily.

Not distrustful, just ... letting Tony know that he had noticed that something was wrong, and that he was here to talk about if he wanted.

And this was so different to the Loki he had known before. Not ... bad , per se, or off-putting, just ... different . And it wasn't the only thing - there was a new contentment in him where Tony had never known to be restlessness before, and a sudden willingness to use his ice-power where he had been worried and restraint before, even when it was just him and Tony in the workshop trying to find out about the power's limits.

And then there was ... it had started a good month before Tony returned, when Loki told him he woulsd be gone to visit another clan for a while and might not make it back in time for their next meeting (he hadn't, but in exchange for that he had told Tony everything about the trip when he had been back the week after). It had been more than strange - Loki was a consort, a consort-fledgeling even - they never left their own clans, and even full-grown consorts only ever did it when they went with their queen. For Loki to leave the clan's home colony with his mother and Heimdallr to visit another clan .. for a reigning queen to leave her colony for a visit - that simply wasn't done. Tony had lived with them for so long, he knew how consorts were treasured, and he knew fully well that there was no reason good enough to take them for a stroll out of their homeclan's territory.

Except for whatever reason had played a role in this.

Something occurred to him suddenly, and his hands stilled on the machine he had been absently dismantling all the time. Because while the visit had been the first strange thing it had been preceded by a visit from a few Jotnar - a queen with her consort and a few einherjar as far as Loki had mentioned. And it was Jotunheim that he had been visiting later.

Looking back at Loki who was now explaining to Dum-E how to work the fire extinguisher better he asked: "Are you getting married?" His voice sounded hoarse; just the thought that he might loose his friend made his heart stumble..

His eyes widening in shock Loki almost let the fire extinguisher fall. *What?!*, he asked. His obvious shock seemed genuine and soothed Tony's strange worry to the point where he felt suddenly silly.

"Sorry", he said, biting his lower lip. "It's just ... it's just that you are acting ... strange , somehow. Well, not bad!", he hastily rushed to explain when Loki seemed to get anxious at his words. "Not bad, just ... you're calmer? Somehow? And you didn't tell me what happened?"

Loki hesitated for a long moment, looking back at him with a look that Tony couldn't decipher. Then he sighed and gave the fire extinguisher back to Dum-E, prodding the small bot to return to his charging station before he came over to Tony. Lowering his head so that he wasn't towering over Tony who was still siting crosslegged on the floor, he pressed their foreheads together in a gesture that was strangely intimate.

*I'm sorry, Tony-friend-heart. I ... received news in this last year, and I couldn't ... I haven't talked about it with anyone yet.* His voice was hesitant, and he was obviously having trouble to explain his worries, causing Tony to feel worried himself. *It's not a secret but … it is hard for me to speak about it, even more so ...* He pulled back and made sure to catch Tony's eyes with his bright green ones. *There are people who know about it, but I find it hard to talk about it, even with them. Or with you ... over that machine. I have been waiting to tell you for a while now, and I promise you, I will tell you, but ... I am not yet ready. Not ... now.*

Tony looked in the deep, beautiful eyes of his friend, the vulnerability that lay within it and the trust the other put in him by telling him this, and nodded. *Of course*, he said. *I'll wait until you're ready, my friend.*

And the grateful smile on the other's face was more than enough.



^^



There was something else Loki seemed to be quite eager to talk about however. Something that Tony himself didn't really want to think about: what he would do, should do, in the time when Loki wasn't there by his side.

*Just because I'm not there doesn't mean I'm not going to hear about it later!*, he threatened, and Tony felt his grin falter when he looked up at the drakeling that had planted himself in front of him, eyes slitted and determined. *Don't you dare do anything stupid!*

Spluttering Tony tried to defend himself: "I'm never doing anything stupid!"

*Ha! And what about that time when you thought it a good o ride a ab'snithy ? I remember quite well how you fell down and got a concussion fit for a queen before you even managed to get close to the thing!*

Looking at his friend now grinning at him with malicious amusement Tony grumbled something that could have been "Still don't do stupid things!" if anyone had been capable of understanding it.

Before he could run from Loki however or even just change the topic himself the drakeling was back with him, now standing over him with his paws on either side of his waist and feet, his snout only a few centimeters in front of Tony's nose. Used to the casual closeness and touches the Aesir shared between themselves Tony didn't startle, yet he went still nevertheless when Loki nudged him lightly. * I know you , my friend-love-close-heart. I know you very well, and I know ... you need more people in your life. So promise me that you won't hide yourself away while I'm gone. Promise that you'll come by and visit the clan, visit our family, even without me here. Heimdallr-older-sibling loves you, Frigg-father loves you and even Odin-queen-mother speaks of you fondly. And the metalworkers have been asking me about you a lot in those last years - they miss you, and they will quite enjoy exchanging secrets with you, and work metal into jewelry and tools with you.* He paused for a moment, his head angled back so he could better see how Tony reacted to his words.

Not that he knew how to react. Even now, after all this years with Loki, it felt strange to have someone care for him that much.

Maybe he saw it, for Loki just smiled slowly, not bitter but in a way that made Tony think his friend knew what he was thinking, feeling. *And you have James, now. When you can't be here with us, then at least listen to him.* A tongue sneaked out, licked over Tony's jaw, lips; a sign of love and worry that warmed Tony's heart.

"I promise", he whispered. "I'll ... I won't do anything stupid. I'll come back and check on you - I bet if someone can get into trouble during sleeping then it's you. Just ..." He took a deep breath, could barely look at his friend when he asked: "Just return to me, after, yes? Don't ... don't forget me. Or - or turn into someone who -"

*I could never forget you*, Loki replied, his voice as quiet as Tony's was. *You are the other half of my heart, the brother of my soul. When everything else changes about me, my feeling for you will always stay the same.* He came closer, pressed his cheek against Tony's, his scales a familiar scratch over Tony's skin and his hair moving from his friend's warm moist breath. *If my feelings change, then only to become stronger. This is can promise you.*

Tony wished he could see his friend's face right now, but the way he was trapped between the wall and the muscular drakeling made it impossible. Yet he still felt as if he was missing something, something important . The way Loki spoke, so intent and fervent, it was -

A tongue flicked against his ear, coating it in wet spit. And as much as he was used to tongues against his skin he still hated it when he was covered in wetness like this!

Making a sound of deepest disgust he twitched back, just to bump his head into the wall behind him. "Ow!", he cursed and shoved at Loki with both his hands.

The drakeling made a satisfied noise but retreated enough that Tony could jump to his feet.

"You silly ... silly dragonet!" Tony stared at the drakeling, trying to hold onto his anger in the face of a lizard that looked at him with an amused expression, tongue lolling out of his mouth and quite obviously satisfied to have disposed of the tension between them in the way he had. So, well, Tony wasn't very good at staying angry when Loki looked at him like this. "I hate you!", he said, petulantly, knowing full well that Loki knew how to take this. "You know how hard it is to get the spit out of my hair!"

Loki just continued grinning, and then bumped his head against Tony's waist until the boy ran his hand through his spines. A deep rumbling sound came from deep within his chest.

Oh, yeah, Loki knew exactly how seriously to take it.



^^



The day everything changed started quite normal in every way. They had slept over at the colony, rolled up in the hammock they now had to share only between themselves - though quite a few of the older fledgelings were watching them longingly, obviously hoping for them to be gone soon.

It was a strange thought, and one that left Tony more than a bit uncomfortable. Because despite all his friends reassuring him that he was part of the clan in his own right, despite Heimdallr telling him ne was more than willing to hunt with him - actually the einherjar had done that a few times already once the fledgelings had become slow and therefore more vulnerable to attacks from predators. Despite even Odin smiling at him and more than once telling him that he was Aesir, was family as much as Loki. Despite all that he feared that he wouldn't have a place between them anymore once Loki was gone. And who knew how an adult Loki, an adult Thora would think about him?

Of course that was the moment Loki rolled over him, his heavy body pressing down warm and scaly against Tony, and his snout directly in front of Tony's face. *You think too much, Tony-love*, he scolded. *You think too loud, so that I can't hear my own thoughts anymore.*

The words had the desired effect - Tony smiled and felt his heart get lighter. *As if that was ever possible.*

A loud snort came from the other occupant of the bed before he struggled to his paws and slunk toward the edge of the hammock. Looking back at Tony he asked: *I feel like swimming today. You coming?*

Grinning, and more than a bit grateful to his friend, Tony scrambled up as well and followed him out of the nest.



The weather had been even harder to bear than normal, the air hot and heavy until it felt to Tony as if he was breathing liquid, and swarms of mosquitoes fluttering about. Diving under the surface of their river felt better than ever, and they spend as much time in the water as they could until Tony's skin was wrinkled and Loki felt too tired to move anymore.

Afterwards they lay on a thick branch high up in a tree growing next to the riverside, eyes closed to enjoy the unfiltered sunlight here where the canopy wasn't closed, Tony's fingers buried in Loki's spines and Loki's tail twitching slightly against his elbow.

It was the closest Tony ever came to real peace, real quiet - the sounds of the birds a sharp contrast to the low murmur of the dry-running river, insects chirping and buzzing and flying about, adding to the jungle's symphony. In the distance he could hear the loud call of a horned crab, and the soft bustling of animals all around them in the trees and on the ground and everywhere in-between. There was no need to think, no drive to think about anything but the presence, and the warmth that bled into him everywhere Loki touched him.

Maybe it was that made him forget to keep vigil, or it was that he was, despite everything, still used to Hogun as the one to keep watch, or at least depending on the drakeling's better senses to warn them all in case some predator turned up.

Just that Hogun had succumbed to the change-sleep years ago, and the only drakeling with him right now was one that was fighting his own sleep off right now to be with him, and dozing lightly in result of that.

When Loki suddenly startled awake, making Tony jump up in surprise as well, it was already almost too late. "What-?", Tony started, but then it registered in him the way Loki stood, tension running through his body, his paws placed in a way that would allow him to jump or run at a moment's notice, and all his muscles standing out in high, coiled definition.

Tony had been around them long enough to know what that meant, and his body reacted almost on instinct, jumping up on his feet and waiting there, his knees slightly bend so he could start running as soon as he knew in which direction he should jump.

Tilting his head and looking around at the canopy around them he tried to find out where the danger was coming from. He couldn't see anything, couldn't hear anything ... not directly around them, at least, and he cursed himself for not noticing this earlier. The jungle was never quiet, never - not as long as there wasn't a predator there, and judging by how far the silence penetrated the area around them it had to be a large one.

In the end it was Loki who discovered it first - and also decided that they had already been singled out as meal and had to flee immediately. One moment he was there, tensing in wait for whatever was out there to jump at him, the next he was up and away, his wings half-spread and his paws extended so he could catch the next branch down.

Tony, used to these kinds of escapes, was after him in a moment, knowing that Loki would have singled out the one direction that had their best chances to get away from whatever was following them. A tree-dweller, probably, what with Loki fleeing down.

Behind him he heard the clicking sound of bones or teeth snapping together, and the creaking of the branch that had snapped back once released from their weight, only to be jumped on a moment later by another weight. Leaves rustled, and Tony's heart rate picked up. He knew that, knew that sound, and he knew he needed to -

A thick branch in front of him, and he snapped his hand out, caught it and flung himself up on it, running along the thick branch, the soles of his shoes sticking safely to the damp wood. He brushed twigs and vines out of his way, almost tripped when he missed a particular wet spot but caught his balance just in time again. Behind him he heard twigs break, maybe taps of soft paws on the branch ...

A split-second decision, then he simply jumped down on another branch. The impact rattled his teeth and send a hot shot of pain right up through his legs into the base of his head. But the frustrated roar above him froze his blood and made him speed up instinctively, his heart beating fast and alarmed by that sound. Somewhere his body found more adrenaline to pump into his veins, more strength to speed up his legs.

Tree-dweller alright - it was one of the cat-like creatures that Tony had nicknamed saber tooth for no other reason than that beside their neatly groomed, green-black spotted fur and large yellow eyes their most distinctive feature where two large wickedly bowed teeth that grew right over their lower lips. They didn't seem to have any real function for the predators, were maybe only a evolutionary remnant, but that didn't make the predators any less dangerous.

Well, to the two of them at least; they hadn't ever been attacked by the solitary predators when they were still a group of several attentive drakelings. It would have been too much of a risk for a creature that was barely more than half again as big as Thora.

But the two of them alone, surprised, and now running? No one ever said the saber tooth wasn't an opportunist.

He caught a flick of Loki's tail in the edge of his eye, wide-opened scared green eyes - Loki was still there, still near him - why was he still here?! Loki was a drakeling, he had claws and four paws to walk on and a fucking tail, and he was made for these jungles, he shouldn't have even the slightest problem running through this trees ... or made the approaching sleep him really that slow, hindered him enough that the saber tooth still might get to him?

Or he was just Loki being Loki, was taking care of Tony, was leading him down, away from the predator, somewhere safe -

Only where would they be safe? This predator was accustomed to the tree canopies, but would be as deadly down on the ground with its long muscles legs as well, and even the river wasn't safe - they had none of the hangups earthly cats had with water, and they were excellent swimmers. There was only one sure way to escape, but Tony couldn't fly and they were far away from any help.

Still, right in this moment he could hear Loki make the loud distressed call of an Aesir in need of help. Somehow Tony found in himself the strength to huff; Loki had to know as good as he that even if someone heard him they wouldn't be here in time to help them.

But the sound reminded him of something. Because as much as the saber tooth was deadly, it didn't share the Winged Death's patience and stubbornness; once a prey was beyond it's imminent grasp it wouldn't wait to get to it. And they'd escaped once through a cave already, so maybe they could escape like it again ... and there should be some in the riverside.

Fishpickers built there nests into the soft soil of the riverside after the rain season to raise there young, but now, in the heights of the heat season, there wouldn't be any left. Other animals often searched for shelter there from the midday heat, but even a poisonous spider was less likely - and potential deadly - than the predator chasing them.

But Loki had grown in the last year again, his stomach now much bigger than it had been when they'd played in the caves years ago. There was a high risk of him not fitting into the caves, and down on the ground he would be a sitting duck - he wasn't strong enough anymore to start flying from there, and ... maybe he could make him fly away before, so that he was safe ...

Another thought crossed his mind. A dangerous, risky, Thora-thought.

They were two, and while it had suffered from his impending sleep-change, too, rendering it weaker and less dangerous than usual, Loki still had his Ice. So maybe they should just turn the tables? Make prey out of the predator?

After all they'd stumbled over these cats twice and had always chased them off - no saber tooth liked the prospect of facing off against someone like Thora or Hogun once they'd gotten a taste of what they were like.

Sure, they were only two right now, and Tony was - a twig snapped into his face and he ducked just in time to avoid being thrown off the branch. Yet having to gain his balance back meant he lost precious moments, and he thought he could feel the branch under his feet shake from another weight.

Screaming internally he grasped his last thought - Ice, they needed Loki's ice - and without thinking it through he opened his mouth.

"Loki", he called, too breathless to use the Aesir's guttural tongue. "Attack. Above. Ice!"

A traitorous noise from behind him hindered him to add anything and he simply followed his own instinct, singled out a branch on a tree not too far from the one he was running on now and then he jumped, putting all his strength into his legs, his arms reaching for the other tree.

He missed his foothold, his fingertips scraping uselessly over bark and moss while gravity pulled him down. A scream ripped out of his mouth when he felt the deep nothingness around him, death reaching for him with its airy fingers, until he fell into a bundle of twigs under him, knocking the breath right out of him. It was more instinct than conscious thought that had him grab at the greenery, trying desperately for purchase and getting nothing. Fear welled up in him, threatened to swallow him in black desperation, when finally he got a grasp on some liana. The jolt of his descent being stopped so suddenly almost tore out his arm and he cried when pain lanced through his shoulder, yet he desperately clutched on. If he let go now he wouldn't get another chance.

Behind him he heard the flapping of leathery wings - Loki, coming to rescue him. Probably distracting the saber cat from jumping after him now that he was such an easy prey. Gritting his teeth he pulled himself up on the branch, the branch sticking against his stomach, then he was up.

It took him a moment to catch his breath, his body refusing to move despite the urgency driving him on. Finally the worry about Loki won out against his body's exhaustion and he dragged himself up onto his knees, looked up to the branch he'd been coming from.

By the stilted way the cat moved it seemed Loki had gotten a good hit on it, yet the thick canopy that had shielded their earlier escape hindered him from reaching the saber tooth to make sure it wouldn't follow them anymore. Judging by his frustrated cry he'd noticed that, too.

Maybe ... Tony looked up along the tree's trunk. With the liana it shouldn't be hard to make it to a height where he was above the saber tooth, and then he could jump over and on it. Yes. Risky, sure, but doable. He just needed to tell Loki.

Turning back he only just saw how Loki, apparently in a rare loss of patience, cupped his wings and dived for the cat. His whole body was slim and streamlined, his paws out-stretched to claw into the predator.

Dread rose up in Tony like a warning from the future, reached into his chest and stopped his heart, his breath, while he watched as his best friend attacked the saber tooth all alone.

For a moment it seemed he would make it. He was almost there, and when the cat opened its mouth and raised its own claws to defend itself he send his ice, a pure white storm covering the predator in a blanket of glimmering cold hoar frost.

And that was where everything went wrong. Maybe it was the sleep-change, maybe just bad timing, but where the predator should have been frozen solid suddenly a paw struck out in a last-ditch attempt and then Loki was screeching, his cry that of a bird falling prey to gravity. His sure wing beats lost their rhythm, and Tony stared wide-eyed, helpless, as his best friend fell down the same chasm he had just escaped. Instinct had him run forward, yet there was no branch, no liana, not even the smallest twig he could hold onto to reach his friend and get them back safe.

And Loki himself was too far away from any branch to save himself. He tried - scrambling madly for a foothold, his wings flapping fast yet far too uncoordinated to keep him up. Twigs scattered around him, flushed by his movement; leaves dancing in a desperate, whirlwind motion.

It took only seconds - less, really - for Loki to fall, moments until the trees snapped back and trembling leaves covered any hint that Loki had been there before.

Trembling leaves - and a horrible, crashing sound as a heavy body hit the soil.



^^



Tony stared down at Loki.

Down at it . The body.

Loki's body.

He had never ... he - what - what was he supposed to think? To feel? Was it - shouldn't he feel sad ? Angry that a stupid jump had taken his friend far before it was his time? Enraged ?

He didn't.

He felt ... empty. Not like there was nothing to feel, more like mist over the country, swallowing up the landscape all around him until there was nothing but white damp emptiness.

Just that this mist wasn't covering up landscape. No, the hideous thing that was hiding beneath this neat white lie, that dark, slimy, awakening monstrosity was guilt .

Because it was his fault. His fault that he hadn't listened for dangers even knowing that Loki wasn't in any shape to do it himself. Had slowed Loki down by not making him run away alone, by relying on his strength and agility to get out himself.

He stared down at his friend's corpse, and he felt thunder roar in the distance, under the mist - the first crumbling of his world, of his family, of -

A rustling noise, a thud, then suddenly a large presence behind him.

A part of Tony - the part that wasn't dead as well, didn't want to die - realized that this wasn't another predator, that this was clan . Someone had heard Loki's call.

*What - Loki?* the voice was familiar even though he couldn't place it right now, nor the reddish brown male that now rushed to kneel beside Loki, to look for a pulse that Tony knew for certain would never beat again.

With dull eyes Tony looked on as the man slowly closed his friend's eyes. Those sparkling green, mischievous eyes that would never open again, would never shine again with curiosity, or happiness or tears of mirth. Would never glow again with the strength Loki had - a strength that had barely anything to do with his ice power or even his body strength, and much more with who he was, his will and charm and draw.

*He's ...* He couldn't say it, not yet anyway. Blinking the tears away, trying to find his voice and hold onto it, he finished with * gone .* His voice sounded odd in his own ears, thin and as if from afar, as if it came from beyond the fog that had descended upon his mind.

The man looked up, and there was worry on his face, yes, but also ... Tony couldn't believe it, was that a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth? Surely he was imagining things? Loosing his mind - no clam member wouldn't mourn for another, even if they hadn't been such good friends as Tony and Loki!

*It was his time*, the man said, and he was far too casual about it, far too aloof - as if Loki just slept, not lay there dead!

His thoughts must be written there, right on his fore head, because the Aesir slowly reached for him, yet did not touch him - wouldn't touch him without invitation, even when they were clan. *Do not worry, Tony. This is not ideal, but Loki has always been unusual, and so it should not surprise us that he will choose such an unusual resting place.* Tilting his head as if trying to read Tony's mind he added: *He will be back in no time at all, you'll see.*

Because he would find his way out of Helheim swiftly - they had sometimes joked about it, that if anyone was capable of cheating Hel out of her time with them, it was Loki.

But that he would bring this up, now, as if Loki's death was a joke - Tony stared at him, stunned beyond words. Why wasn't he grieving, wasn't sad ... could it be that he was happy that Loki was dead? That the consort who was not acting like a consort wouldn't have a chance anymore to embarrass them?

The thought was terrible, went against everything he knew about them, and yet ... in all its monstrosity, it made so much sense. Maybe the male had even arrived earlier, had seen them run for their lives and decided not to intervene. Maybe he had thought that it were just the embarrassing consort, and the human Aesir who was no Aesir at all , and he had thought to get rid of them both at once without having to raise a finger against them.

He just had to sit there and wait ...

Staring at the man who was now watching him with a crease over his brows Tony tried to think back, went over everything he had experienced with the Ymiri, and find out whether he had imagined all the camaraderie, all the friendliness and the feeling of being welcome and at home and ... had there been dark thoughts behind those friendly smiles? Had the feeling of welcome been genuine, or was it as untrue as his own parents' smiles and kisses for the press?

Had he imagined that he had a family?

Sudden frost crept through his heart, made him shiver even with the sun still high in the sky, the air hot and heavy around him.

The male in front of him moved as if to reach out for him, and Tony jumped back without a second thought. A moment later he was on his feet, backing further away, and then he was turning tail and running, running right into the jungle, into the forest.

Like that first time, when he ran from his parents, but this time it hurt far far more, far deeper.

Behind him he could hear the male call out for him, but he didn't react, and when no-one came to follow him he felt his heart shatter.

I'm right - I'm right thudded his feet into the ground while he ran back to the Stark's house, and he knew for sure that he had now lost everything he had ever held dear.



^^



The space ship wasn't due to arrive for another week, per Tony's own request, but the shuttle would leave this afternoon, and it was a matter of minutes for Tony to arrange a place for himself to the next stop, just over five light years away.

Packing up his life didn't take much longer. Most of his clothes were in Eton anyway, and the same was true for most of his important projects. He only needed a small bag filled with spare clothes for the day they would need to reach Beta Zeta, and if he needed something there he had enough money on him to buy it. And should he forget somethin g important som eone could send it after him to Eton.

The last - and most difficult decision - where his robots. They weren't that good, not compared to what was already available out there. Even more important, they were a very sharp reminder of Loki - he only needed to close his eyes to see hundreds, thousands of scenes where Loki and he played with them, Loki helping him build Butterfingers and You, telling him that they all were their children, that Tony was a genius and they were so far better than all those other robots out there -

A sob escaped him, and Tony pressed the back of his hand to his mouth, bit hard into the skin. Tears prickled at his eyes and he wiped them furiously with the other hand. He didn't want to think about this right now, he needed to function right this moment. A few minutes, an hour more, then he was in the shuttle and on his way away from here, and then he could break down. Could think about how his life had gone from happy and having a glowing bright future with Loki at his side and his family at his back to a desolate desert without hope or end in less than an hour.

A chirping noise drew his attention down to where Dum-E tried to get him to acknowledge him. His first thought was to send him away - he didn't have the mind for playing with him, not right now, not ever again probably - but then he saw the package of tissues in his claw. Saw Butterfingers beside him brandishing a chocolate bar, and You with a blanket. They weren't here to play, they wanted to comfort him.

They are beautiful, Tony-friend-love. I don't need to see all the other robots out there to know that they are better than all of them. How you can look at them and say they are not alive I will never understand.

Blinking, the tears now spilling over, Tony reached out for Dum-E's claw, cold and hard and caring, and pressed it against his cheek. "You're right", he said, his voice hick with tears and sadness. "You've always been right, you damn bastard. I understand it now, okay? I understand it. And ..." He swallowed, hiccuped, tried to get his breath back against all the emotions clocking up his windpipe. "I promised - I'll take care of them. Because they're our children, yeah? And parents care for their children."

Unbidden the thought came into his mind whether Odin and Frigg had really cared for Loki - but that was bullshit, he knew that, even now, even under this circumstances. They had always loved him, had always cared for him as deeply as for their other children, and while they may have thought of him as a rather wild young consort they would never have wished him to be different. Would never had wished him to be gone.

But with wiping away that thought came another: he had promised Loki more than just taking care of the robots. He had promised him to do nothing stupid without Loki, to keep visiting his clan.

But it wasn't his clan anymore, was it? Not without Loki here - not when he would from now on look in every face and wonder whether they truly meant what they said, or whether they just humored him and mostly Odin-queen, and wanted him gone behind the smiling mask of theirs.

"That was only if you came back, bastard!", he cursed, tears still running over his face. "Only if you - if you came back for me! And I don't mean from Helheim - I meant really ! That you only slept and returned and ... I'm not going to live my life like you want, you hear me, bastard? You either cheat your way out of Hel, or I'll live like I want."

He didn't expect an answer, (and yet he wanted one, oh so much) and he didn't get one other than Dum-E chirping again, and You and Butterfingers wrestling over his back whether to put a blanket there or rather rub him.

And in a way that was almost good. It was ... not good , no, but it was better than nothing. He might not have his family anymore, and Loki was lost to him, and everyone else he cared about, too.

Yet he still had his creations, their children. And he would make damn sure that he was the best damn dad anyone could ever have.

Chapter Text

He dreams ....

He is large, so very large, and a part of him remembers being small and quick and nimble like the creatures in his branches, hiding away in the holes in his trunk and between the vines and mosses and the epiphytes. Remembers going away and living adventures that he tells others about - others as fast and small as himself, and those slightly larger.

Now he doesn't go away anymore. He is always here , and strong and steadfast, his branches-arms-head reaching up into the sky, bathing in the sun and rain and air, wind stroking him and through him and playing around him, bringing stories from so far away and so near, sweet and sad and hard. His roots-legs-feet reach into the soil – not deep, never deep, there is no need for deep here -, wide around him and mingling with the roots of other trees and the clay where the fast-water races. And all those little lives – like he once was - now come to him, and he offers them a home in exchange for all those stories they tell him.

There are small insects, their lives barely more than a flicker, a glimmer in the dazzling of life all around him, but they are so many, so many-many-many, that they glow brighter than any other. There are some that have made their home high up in his trees - he can feel them, even if their queen rests in the plant that sits on his trunk. They are many-many-many, and they leave their home every morning to search for food and then return with some and go out again and return again, until it is evening and they need to stay in because it will become too cold without their combined body warmth.

He knows them all, even if they don't have names, and he mourns every single one of them that doesn't return, and rejoices in every new life.

Other little lives live down by his roots, and he can feel them nibbling at himself, can feel how they grow mushrooms there in the shadowy safe cave they made themselves by carving it out of the soil between his roots. They are larger, and they go out when the night comes, and when they come back it is with larger prey than their diurnal cousins.

Halfway up his trunk a family of small feather life lives, and they have carved a home in his body. He doesn't mind - he is strong and big and that small hole is barely big enough that he can feel it.

He has watched them for a long while now - first when the male came and carved the hole with his hard beak and clever claws. Later, with the cave big enough to raise children, the male danced and flashed his beautiful colorful feathers in the sun, trying to attract a wife. He has held his breath together with the male when she came and inspected the hole, wishing for them to come live with him, and then he rejoiced with him when she stayed and laid eggs into him, and he made sure to keep them warm and safe in his embrace. When the children hatched he did what he could to protect them from any predators, kept them from tumbling down before they could fly, and then wished them luck when they flew out to find places and mates of their own.

Another mated pair lives high up in his branches - small mammals that have come to him shortly after he came into this large-slow existence, and stayed ever since. They have their second kids right now, and he often laughs, his whistling rustling laugh that no-one hears but him, when he watches their tricks and games and how they attack each other in play.

Often other lives come, but few stay this long. There are the small lives that a part of him knows as frogs who are living high up in his branches as well, in the small wet patches where water accumulated in the leaves and bodies of plants that grow up here. He never before knew that they live their whole life up in the canopy, but now he observes their parents coming and leaving their eggs in the puddles. Not long after the children hatch, and then they grow quickly or get eaten by another small life or stay alive and leave the wet spots to eat those insects that once before ate their siblings and come back to lay eggs as well.

Every now and then he acquires another quick-live, bigger and scaly and living from the moss and leaves. It is so slow that he first thought them to be slow-lives, until he realized that they were moving too fast for slow-life, and felt completely different. That they are warm and clawed and have colorful dreams where slow-life only ever dreams in sense-memories.

Big mammals come by, settle in his branches for a day or two, and he doesn't mind that they eat his leaves and bark for he cherishes the stories they bring with them, of broad rivers and small rivers and other mammals and those two-legged mammals in their colony wide up along the river, and the scaled ones that he knows as his family down the river.

Birds come and sing of everything that happens all over the jungle, but they never stay long, and often he doesn't hear the end of a particularly interesting tale, but he cannot ask them to stay.



There is more life with him, live that is more like his now-form the same way the animals are more like his was-form.

Moss covers most of his branches and twigs, only giving way along the broader branches where the quick-lives' paws chase them away. Epiphytes sit along his branches, colorful orchids and bromeliads and stinking fearh'at, and even a humming weed that he cradles safe between his branches because he knows it will keep some of the more aggressive tree-eaters away. Vines grow from his high branches down, and he doesn't mind sharing his height with them - they are not very chatty, but he has found that the quick-life comes more often when he keeps them. Only one vine he ever shed purposefully - a red one, and he knew that she was dangerous from the way she tried to sweet-talk him into keeping him here, taking her even higher up along his branches.

He remembers, dimly, that there once was a girl-sibling he cared about, and that she was easily swayed by sweet talk, and he fears she may need help to get rid of sweet-talking dangers as this.

He likes his life, likes listening to the lives around him. The sun warms him every morning, sends mist up from the ground that caresses him with even more tender strokes than the winds playing in his twigs and leaves. When the heat becomes almost too much, and the mist is up all around him, a damp mass that encompasses his crown, he hears faint thunder vibrate through him and then rain falls down, heavily, and he groans and creaks from the impact of it.

He always pulls his twigs in, makes sure to protect the lives living on him, and he's always so happy when he feels them huddle close, search for his protection, rely on his strength to keep them safe from this waterfall that is life and dead both.

But the rain stop eventually, and then they emerge again and play again, and he loves that, too. Loves how they go out again, and then come back when the warmth of the sun sinks and the forest darkens and cools, to find protection with him again. Other quick-live awakes only now, and some slow-lives do, too, like the moonwind that only opens his blossoms at night when nocturnal mammals come to drink from them.

He sighs, content.

He has everything he ever wanted. There is only one thing that can make him feel even better.



^^



There are those lives that he knows as clan, as family, even though they are quick-lived. He was, too, once and he will be again, he knows, though he is not thinking much about this.

He knows those that come; the large and powerful one he knows as mother , and the smaller yet even more powerful one he knows as father . They stay long, and often, and tell him of his siblings and life in the colony and the consort often tells him stories that he calls politic. It's strange, and yet he finds a certain happiness in those stories.

Another that comes is big and dangerous, but ne isn't dangerous for him. Ne is the one to most often check the vines that he grows, and when ne strokes him he makes sure to shake himself to show how much he likes it. Ne tells him stories, too, but those stories aren't always good. They are stories of family, but also of another family, and of the two-legged strangers up the river, and of treaties and hunts.

Sometimes ne speaks of his love, and he knows that these stories aren't right, but he also knows that they truly believe them to be.



^^



With his family come words and sights and names - things he has no room for otherwise. But he likes them, for those fleeting moments that he has them, and so he gives names to some of the lives around him.



The first he names is a vine that has been with him from almost the beginning. It is long and large now, and hard enough that he know it will support him through the few storms that come with the long-heavy-rain that happens every once in many suns. It is pale and light, and when the rain falls heavily and the river comes up to him, he can feel how hard it is for the vein to stay with him, and how much it does want to, and he onto holds it with all his strength.

After the rain the vine opens blossoms that are so rich and sweet in scent that even he feels drawn in, and he watches avidly as the insects and birds and small mammals come in and drink from it, taking the pollen and carrying it far away to other vines like it.

He calls the vine Jörmungandr , because that means water snake and he thinks the name fits his vine very well.



The next he names is after his mother leaves, and he longs for company that is more quick-lived than Jörmungandr.

He knew the creature from the moment it was received, and helped keep it safe throughout most of its childhood. But when the predator-quick-life came he couldn't save its parents, or siblings. So there is only that one left, a small-predator, barely old enough to live on its own. But he provides it with as much protection as he can offer, and draws prey to it so it may sate its hunger until it has learned to use its claws for more than joyful games.

It is still young, but it is a good hunter now and will one day become a good mate for a strong female, and he doesn't think anything will be able to kill it quickly.

So that day when his mother leaves before he is ready to go back to being a slow-life he turns to the young creature and names it Fenrir.



It is a stormy day when he acquires his last stray, and to this day he doesn't know how it came to him. Just that one morning he wakes to the sun warming him and a small winged creature sits to his feet and cries loud and lonely for its mother.

He knows that this behavior should have been its death, but this is no normal creature, it is, even small, a future queen of the jungle, the most dangerous predator in all the forest.

A Winged Death, his mind provides him, awakening sluggishly to names and instincts and fears that are a quick-life's ones.

He stays very still all day, as do his lives - all of them fearing the return of the creature's mother. A mother who will rip apart the first life she sees to feed her child.

Yet nothing happens, and the small life diminishes within her. He finds that a small child is a small child, even if it will grow into a Great Death one day, and that he cannot stand by and watch when she starves. Not as long as she sits under him.

And so he calls her in, and he names her Hela after the personification of Death-Life-Yggdrasil herself, and makes sure she's fed and safe. It is hard to look after her, to keep her with him and yet from chasing all the other lives he has come to cherish, but she is young yet and does not smell of Death, so she will smell of hm instead and be safe and warm and a good child.



^^



There is one life that he cherishes above all else, above his family and those he considers almost his children.

He only knows it as love , and other heart, or sometimes brother-of-my-soul, yet it is the most important thing in his life for him, the one to make his day brighter-warmer-damper whenever it is near, and cold just from staying afar.

And it is very much afar, this at least he knows beyond doubt.

The very first time it - he , it is a he - came to him was when he was only small himself, not yet grown to his full height despite being almost as high as all the trees around him.

He remembers …



... there is a loud outcry, something hard hits against his bark, and enraged he opens his sleepy conscious to the being, tries to decide whether to call a predator in or maybe just send the insects at his roots out to bring in very-large prey this time.

Realizing who it is there at his roots, hitting him, is a shock that fills his tracheids with ice, but even when the other hurts him, is angry with him - he will not have him come to harm . Hastily he calls his insects in, and repellents all the predators out there big enough to try their luck on this life.

He will not have him come to harm. Never.

And so he is just there, watching, listening, until the anger leaves the young man and he slumps down by his roots, face in his hands and crying. Not just a low crying as he has heard before, but a really loud, painful wailing, sobs that shake his whole body so much he can feel it through his bark, and all he wants to do is reach out, comfort the other, make him stop being hurt.

Kill whatever has dared to hurt his love.

He feels so awkward, so inadequate for being a slow-live - something he never felt before. But then never before has the most important part of his life sat beside him, and cried, and he couldn't do anything but listen.

Listen and feel guilty, for when the other starts to speak ...

"I'm so sorry, Loki. I know you can't hear me, that you're - that you're gone, but ... I need you. I do , you've always been the best of my life. And I can't - Oh, how can I -? I'm so awful! I should have looked after you, should have - I should have been the one to die that day! It was my fault all this happened, and you're the one that died because of it ..."

He listens with growing horror - what is he-love-sunshine thinking? Why does he think he is dead?! He is here , right here next to him, just unable to speak. Hasn't anyone else told him what happened?

And why ever should he think him dead?! He knows about the sleep-change, knows that he will return ... does he? Have they ever explained to him what sleep-change-tree-life meant?

Looking down at the crying young man, a boy really, he supposes they haven't. Not enough at least.

He feels terribly inadequate right now, and helpless beyond measure ...



^^



Since then the man has returned every once in a while, always when no-one else was close, and he learned that his love thought him only a tree planted in honor to his own death. He doesn't mind that; at least they have a connection still, even if it is just in form of a symbol. And as long as his love returns and talks to him about all that weights on his heart he can at least still be a part of this quick-life that he cherishes above all else.

Not that he doesn't often wish to comfort him, and he learned to move his twigs so he can have vines stroke through the other's hair whenever he is particularly distressed, lonely , in need of contact and friends. Later, after he took on Fenrir, he taught the cup that this two-legged isn't one he needs to hide from, and sends him down to warm his love's side and lick his skin as he would like to do himself.

He never sends Hela; he loves her, but he fears his love would recognize her for what she is, and either stay away from him or kill her.

Still, he wants to be there for him so many times. That time his friend comes and tells him about the accident, of the star ship that now is no more and took both his parents and Jarvis-butler-father-friend from him. Or when he is faced with the burden of leading a company he has no interest in anymore now that his father is dead, almost breaking under the challenge. He cheers for him when he hears that he gets help in form of his father's old friend - he has never had enough who wanted to help him, not enough support, and to hear that he has someone helps him bear his own helplessness.

He has friends, of course. That other boy that his love sometimes mentions and that he vaguely remembers as fun-teasing-jealousy-steadfastness. Later a young woman that his love calls Pepper for whatever reason, a woman that he tells him is the best person in his world, and much too good for him for standing by his side, helping him live.

He wants to shout out to his soul-brother that he would be happy-content-overjoyed to be with him, all the time . That once he has returned to being quick-life he will never stray from his love's side.

There are others - women and men that his love only ever mentions in passing, calls by their attributes and ambitions, and he knows these are unimportant. Every queen has bed partners, as have consorts, and he would not expect his queen to stay without warmth in his bower. Least of all when it is as meaningless as sex.



^^



Then comes a time when fear starts to trickle into his daily life – slowly at first, then an ice-cold stream that fills him with a dark, ominous anxiety.

His love has been away, far away for far too long.

It is in a time when he can already feel himself start to wake again - the fruit, that one fruit he will ever bear that will be him , his next quick-life, growing up high under the sun. But he isn't ready yet, he cannot yet fly to his friend, cannot yet hope to have a chance to bring him back when he choses to stay away.

Cannot protect him when he needs protection.

And oh, he does! When he returns, finally, finally returns to his love and safety and embrace it is a different man that sits on the root that he has grown broad and softened with moss just for him. Bitter, harder, more dangerous. He speaks less open, and there is darkness and pain in him, carving hard lines into his face and even deeper slashes into his already so battered heart.

And yet still there is the boy he has known in his former life. The mischief, the spark and drive are there still - buried under so much pain that he can barely feel it, but it is there, and he resolves to grow faster because he needs to protect his love, needs to protect that young boy that still hopes and lives and waits in him, and help him heal.

They are silent a long long while, yet he doesn't mind. He will wait here until his soul-brother is ready to speak, and then he will listen and offer comfort as much as he can.

When his love finally speaks he learns that he will also have to help him hunt down those that have hurt him. No wonder his love feels so defeated, so pained - betrayed by a man he thought his friend, evading death-by-his-hand twice , and held captured by egg-thieves for months . Accompanied only by a man that he speaks about in hushed tones; a voice so full of grief and sadness that he feels his heart bleed for this man he loves so much.

Even a queen cannot recover from this over night.

Hate burns through him, boils deep within him, and he curses the fate that keeps him imprisoned in this body when his love needs him. He needs to show him how much he loves him, how much he wants to protect him, help him ...

In the end he sneakily moves his vines around the other's legs and body, and has Jörmungandr open his blossoms, spreading their sweet beguiling scent around his love, hoping he will calm down and sleep. And eventually he does, curled around Fenrir, with Hela lying warm and heavy against his exposed back and Jörmungandr's scent all around them, while he watches over them all, planning his bloody vengeance and a dazzling future where he will hunt predators and egg-thieves by his mate's side.

It is a good night, and it ends far too soon.



^^



His love comes back, of course - he may not know it, but this is the place where he belongs, the one place he will always be welcomed.

And he does everything, everything he can to grow faster, to have his fruit-him ripe faster ... he can already almost feel his new body, his wings and legs and arms, the long body - muscled and large because he has a queen out there that needs his protection - and the strong tail. It will take yet more time, but soon …

Very soon ...

Chapter Text

"I'm here to talk to you about the Avenger Initiative."

Tony stared at the man on the other side of his balcony, completely baffled and yet not that surprised. Not when the man was Nicholas Fury.

The name was a codename, of course, like James Bond had been for Great Britain before they discovered space flight. Or Austin Powers (though he wasn't quite sure whether that agent had really exited or not). But Johnny English - that, too, had been an agent that had been at work longer than most people were even alive.

Same with Director Nick Fury , who was standing now on his beautiful light colored balcony, in his beautiful modern house in the middle of nowhere (otherwise known as Malibu), behind him the ocean reflecting the sinking sun, and created a very sharp contrast with his black-as-night leather mantle, black trousers, black shirt, black eye-patch, black eye looking at him sharply out of his dark face.

He shared that name with a mostly European looking man that had lived, fought and died sixty years previously, a Klingon from another thirty years before, and a Korean that had probably started all this (though Tony had no idea how this poor man had come up with Nicholas Fury ).

But all this aside, here Nicholas Fury was, and he was looking at Tony with a look that said Tony should know what he was talking about.

Which, incidentally, he did. Of course he did; he was a genius, and Fury knew better than to expect that he could keep him out of his systems.

Fucking fuck, they were computers, and if there was one thing Tony knew everything there was to know about it it where computers!

So he knew about the Avengers. A special task force of SHIELD, charged with seeking out the greatest criminals - what would have been the super villains in the comics of old, before everyone realized that with the military becoming mechanized and depending on computers, and then space travel and all that, the only real super villains of the future could be hackers. Hackers that could, by pressing a few keys on a computer or over a direct mind-to-machine link, cripple a whole planet.

Which probably made people like Tony, who worked on making the firewalls ever more secure, more impenetrable, into super heroes. Not that he ever had felt like one.

Not since Ag'fhan, and the terrorists, and the hole in his chest that even the best surgery couldn't heal. (Or, well, maybe they could, but the risk was far to great to take it. No-one wanted to accidentally kill Tony Stark, greatest of all geniuses, dazzling figurehead and owner of Stark Industries, one of the biggest companies the galaxy had ever seen)

Tearing his thoughts forcefully away he focused back on the Avengers .

It was a small team, ten persons in total - barely enough to work their space ship, a long-distance battle spy ship or whatever their creators had thought to classify it - it certainly had traces of all the classes. Sleek, small, appearing like a civilian vessel even to the most trained eye, and yet choke-full with weapons of the best firepower on the market. At least a few of them of StarkIndustries-origin, even though Tony had shut down the weapon-producing part of SI only days after his escape.

The ship's name was Avenger, too , though whether the group was named after the ship or the ship after the group remained a mystery.

The group members were as unusual as the ship itself.

There was the supporting staff – Melinda May, the pilot, who had been the best agent SHIELD ever had until a certain incidence that Tony couldn't find out anything about, and who was now staying firmly away from weapons. Leopold Fitz, an engineer that was good enough that Tony had tried to woo him away on at least a dozen different times. He had only lately found out that he couldn't get him due to Jemma Simmons, a biochemist who was as brilliant as her friend (and who Tony had tried to seduce and woo away, too, sadly not in the right order). Last but not least, their hacker, Sky, who was so good at erasing her traces that not even Tony hadn't - yet - found out who she'd been before she was recruited by SHIELD.

Their contact to SHIELD, Phil Coulson - the very same man that had rescued Pepper from Stane, and helped save Tony's own ass when the ARK reactor started to poison him.

Then there were the field agents. Clint Barton, best sniper ever. Natasha Romanov, who was a spy that could adapt to about everyone (as he'd experienced firsthand), and if needed an even better assassin. Grant Ward, who filled some 007-spot in the team. And, last but not least, Bruce Banner, who was both the crew's third scientist and, due to an accident in his youth, an one-man-battle-ram that could take down a normal sized space ship all by himself.

And then there was the leader of the team. A leader whose name had send shivers down Tony's back when he learned it, had made him feel three years old again and asking his father to play with him, only to be shoved out because Howard Stark had more important things to do. Had been an eight year old again that suddenly understood that his father loved another more than him. An almost-adult at his parents' funeral, and knew he wasn't the one his father wanted to stand next to his coffin and weep for him

Captain Steven Rogers.

Tony had recoiled at first, ordered Jarvis - his AI that was somehow more mature than him, as Pepper called it - to trash all info on him, and resolved to never look at it again. Of course, that resolve had only lasted several glasses of scotch, three days and a visit from Pepper telling him she might not know what was bothering him now, but he should get his shit together because she needed him to be StarkIndustries' figurehead for the next day's press event.

The worst of all that he read about Rogers? His father was right . He was so absolutely fucking right every time he thought that Tony would never be as strong, as honest, as fucking good as him. Tony would never be the Prince Charming that all those reports spoke of, this man that was better than any other men could ever hope to be.

No, Tony was a murderer, a hunter, a warrior, with all the sweat and filth and pain that brought with it. And yet ... he couldn't help but remember that for Loki, this failure of a human had been enough. That he had spend so much of his time with him, had offered to spend his life together with him.

Tearing his thoughts forcefully away from this dangerous terrain he focused back on the presence, on the man opposite him. Focused back on -

"The Avengers Initiative", he said, slowly, before raising his brows. "I thought I'm not suited for that?"

The man smiled, though his eyes betrayed nothing of the amusement that danced around his lips. "Well, I shouldn't be surprised you've gone snooping through our data", he said, as if he hadn't been completely aware of this all the time.

"What do you want." Tony didn't bother phrasing it as a question.

Nicholas Fury - this Nicholas Fury at least - was known to always have a dozen different reasons for doing things, and for never speaking plain when he could also answer in a backwards, round-about way. This time, however, he chose to not do so.

"Hunting criminals has gotten harder. The team is too experienced, too set into their ways. We need fresh blood for the Avengers. Someone unpredictable, who is smart enough to beat all the evil geniuses out there in their own game."

Tony snorted, and walked over to his bar, lazily taking a glass and filling it with good old scotch. He hesitated a moment, then took a second glass and filled it as well. Slowly, as if he had all the time in the world, he ventured back to his visitor and offered him the glass.

"I own a company that makes more money a day than you'll ever own in all your life. I've got a full-time job being the main engineer and visionary for said company, and a part-time job as earth's own kitten-rescuing superhero. And, the most important, here on earth I've got all the booze and sex and fun that I could ever want. So tell me, Nick - I can call you Nick, yeah? - tell me - why should I give all this up to live in a spartan flying tin can and play some ancient spy game with the biggest losers of SHIELD?"

The director watched him for a moment, then took a sip of the scotch, though he didn't seem to taste it at all, and Tony wondered about the rumors he'd heard, that this Fury was an android.

"You know what I always found very interesting about you, Mr. Stark? SHIELD has always had an eye on you, what with your father being one of our founding members. And yet ever since you reappeared in the public eye, on earth, some years before your parents' accident - you've become quite soon known for being a playboy and partier - someone who was, when not at his work, enjoying his life to the limit. And yet when I asked my best agents for their assessment they told me that even in the throes of drugs and surrounded by all your admirers, you not once looked happy."

Fury leaned forwards while Tony tried to calm his racing heart. The untouched glass in his hands shook a bit. SHIELD was a group of spies - he should have known that one of them would notice. Yet, even if they did - what should it matter to him?

The other man watched him with keen eyes, then took another sip from his scotch before asking: "Mr. Stark, you're twenty-six now. Don't you think it's time to start living again?"



Chapter Text

"You sure you want to miss the party?"

Tony rolled his eyes at Clint's antics. "Right now I'm - what? Sixty light years? - away from you, and you're just a rather annoying hologram in my living room, so how do you propose I join your party? Not that I ever would - Caesier don't know how to party."

Clint spluttered in indignation; no wonder, as someone who'd been raised by Caesier after he ran away from home to join one of their galaxy-famous circuses he knew full well that Tony was sprouting bullshit.

Yet he also knew that Tony knew that, and he knew why, and he decided to play along, let himself get worked up in a rage that was almost entirely made up. "There's no-one who can party better then we, but I guess someone like you who just skips out early on any party won't know that. Really, do you think doing the horizontal tango is anything compared to the real deal?"

Tony snorted, played along with a small smile as if he really just had left his team - those people that had become precious and important to him over the last year, almost like a new clan, a new hunting team like he'd had with his fledgeling friends before - for something meaningless like an one-night stand.

As if any one-night stand could ever have him in this much anxiety as was right now turning his hands cold, made his chest contract painfully. They knew ... well, they didn't knew not all of it of course, but they knew enough, knew that every once in a while Tony would leave them to visit this small, backwater planet. They knew that he was nervous beforehand, edgy, prone to temper tantrums. Knew that he returned silent and in need of distraction.

"Landing in twenty minutes, Sir", came Happy's voice over the com, and Tony made an affirmative sound, knowing that it would be picked up by the very sensitive microphones. After all he had personally developed and installed them in this new version of Howard's own space craft. That very same space craft that had exploded eight years ago, claiming the lives of Tony's parents', Jarvis' as well as one of the pilot's and two stewards'. Another pilot – the very same man that now navigated this ship – as well as Tony himself had only survived due to, paradoxically, Tony's selfishness.

Tony listened for a moment, but when Happy didn't say anything else he returned to sitting on his comfortable couch, looking ahead to the free space that had held Clint's hologram only seconds ago. He'd survived his parents' accident by claiming he needed more time with some project or another when in truth - and they all had been aware of that, not that Howard had done anything more than tell him he shouldn't knock anyone up - he only wanted to get drunk in some shady bar without parental supervision and maybe have sex with one of the natives, or maybe two or three. Happy had been assigned to be his bodyguard when they left him behind, and he'd fulfilled this role ever since, had been the one to stand beside him at the funeral where Stane and aunt Peggy had been the only ones he even knew, and no-one really cared for him.

Shaking his head he tried to clear it, but it lingered in him, that thankfulness he'd always felt towards Happy. Who was like Jarvis (the human butler, not the AI) - he was getting money for putting up with him, but that didn't mean he didn't care for him.

In exchange - it had certainly not been because he felt protective towards his own life - he'd made sure that when he'd rebuild Howard's ship the only thing that stayed the same was how it looked from the outside. He improved everything , from the materials to the tech to the fucking fail-safes - he didn't want to take risks with the life of a man that had done so much for him.

It was for that same reason that Happy - the only one alive safe Pepper who knew about Loki and Yggdrasil and his clan there, the one to always offer him a certain kind of comfort by stopping at the closest planet so he could get stupidly drunk whenever they left Yggdrasil - wasn't allowed to accompany him to his missions as Avenger.

Fury had told him to be alive again, and he couldn't be alive when there was someone else risking his life to safe his, not more than his teammates were doing anyway. It was something he knew they knew - that he wasn't exactly looking forward to death, yet also wasn't holding his own life in such high esteem that he would go to great lengths to secure it. He also knew that it worried them - that he was worse in this than Natasha who had been to hell and back, or Bruce who felt guilty over every innocent life his accident, and the results of that, claimed.

Thankfully, neither of them ever asked, the same way as they ignored his visits to Yggdrasil. Though there had been that one evening when Steve had tried to get more out of him about how Howard had treated him, and they had come to speak of Tony's time on Yggdrasil. It was then, when Steve chose to abandon his wish to know more about how his old friend had turned out for Tony's sake, that Tony realized that despite all the bad blood between them, the history, the pain and loneliness he'd had to endure on Steve's behalf - they could be friends. Friends-as-close-as-family, maybe.

Because as much as it pained him to admit it - Fury had been right.

He'd stopped living, after Loki's death. And he knew that this was something his friend would never have wanted for him. Would never forgive him for.



^^



It was dead.

Tony stared at what had been a giant of a tree, reaching high up into the air, with leaves the exact same shade of green as Loki's emerald eyes, and thousands of small animals and plants living happily on it, as if it had stood there for hundreds of years instead of just a bit more than a decade - less than, even, in Yggdrasilian time. It was one of the trees that were sacred to the Ymiri; ten years after the first scientists and a few settlers had arrived on Yggdrasil the Aesir had almost wiped the whole colony from the face of the planet because one of them had tried to cut one down. His friends had often spoken about this trees as if they were persons, and then this tree had been planted right there were Loki had died, making Tony assume that they were their equivalent to human's tombstones.

And yet it was crumbling . Tony would have loved to blame another wanna-be woodcutter, or even just the vine that now claimed the place, staying strong and violet and its beautiful silvery blossom spreading their heady scent everywhere around them. But he knew just too well that this wasn't true.

As a child living with them he hadn't had that much interest in these trees, and what the scientists knew about them was very scarce and only obtained from afar anyway. Yet they had been positive that the tree only ever developed fruit once, kept safe within a hard shell of dark green wood high up in the canopy, looking very similar to the nests in the home-trees, yet it wasn't woven from hundreds of twigs and vines but one solid wooden globe, its surface slightly shimmering wherever moss hadn't had a chance to settle on it.

Tony had watched the growth with increasing fear. Maybe due to its place so close to the river the tree had developed a fruit earlier than was the norm, and it had ripened at a pace that was astonishing. Yes, Tony knew that it would die fast, had known it every time he'd looked anxiously at the fruit ... and yet …

Looking at the sad remains of the tree where he could see it under the obscuring weight of the violet vine, he felt as if he had lost Loki a second time. Sitting under this tree, on that root that had felt as if it was made just for him, his back pressed against the ridged bark and the hanging lianas stroking through his hair like fingers he'd often felt as if Loki was still there, taking care of him and keeping him safe. There was a presence there, like someone listening when he spoke about his worries and fears and hopes, and he only ever got acceptance back. Yes, he was moody before each visit, and depressed afterwards, but in those moments, hours sitting with his dead friend's grave tree, he only ever felt peace. A peace he hadn't known anywhere else but in the company of Loki and his robots.

And now it was gone, that one anchor he'd had left in all the universe, that one memorial he'd had of Loki. Not because a tree had died, but because this presence he'd always felt, that feeling as if Loki was still here - it was gone . This place wasn't a safe haven anymore, it was just ... just a place where a vine had taken its chance and grown all over a dead tree.

He stared at it, at the vine's body pointing up in the air like an admonishing finger, his eyes burning with the intensity of his stare; it wasn't truly this that he was seeing, no - it were images, memories crashing in, no longer held at bay now by walls that had crumbled down like a dead tree's body ... Loki, laughing at something being said; Loki, flipping Fandral the bird for the first time; a proud smile on his lips when he first managed to encase Tony with ice without hurting him; the paternal look in his eyes when he played with the robots ... the way he looked back at Tony, when his whole body said catch me if you can , a mere moment before he turned and started to run ... Loki grinning from ear to ear ... Loki over a bar of chocolate; Loki in the hammock; Loki throwing his hair back, Loki, Loki, Loki - thousands of images filled his minds, clouded his eyes, made him feel as if something was lodged in his throat, choking him ... there were tears burning in his eyes, running over his cheeks, sobs shaking his body -

This was, almost, worse than when Loki had died. Then, he could kill a part of himself, could stop the pain by separating himself from the part of himself that had written Loki all over it, even if it killed a large part of himself, too. It was just too big , too much - he'd lost Loki, had lost his clan and home and all he'd thought was true had become a lie in one instant, and he just couldn't deal with it all.

Yet, now, here, he was crying for a tree . A fucking dumb tree that couldn't even move or talk or do anything but fucking stand there all day and let plants and animals run all over him, helpless to do anything but be a reminder of everything that Tony had lost. And yet it had been here all the time, had listened to him talking and sobbing and coming to terms with what had happened to him ...

It was just a fucking tree, but somehow this tree had become important to Tony. Had found a crack in the impenetrable shield-wall Tony had build around his heart and send tiny tendrils, tiny roots into it. And now that it was gone it felt as if a part of Tony had been ripped out again, too.

"It's just a fucking tree", he whispered, desperately, and wished fervently that maybe, some day, it might be true.



^^



Tony never knew how he made it back to the port, stumbling, his vision blurred by tears. It was a miracle he wasn't snatched away by some predator, or simply stumbled over a root and fell down and broke his neck.

And wasn't it unfair that the jungle would claim Loki's life, yet reject Tony when he was more than willing to follow Hel down into her garden?

The space ship was exactly where he'd left it, with Happy leaning against the hull, smoking and talking to some of the settlers. Yet he was attentive as ever - Tony wasn't even halfway across the plaza when he spotted him, and whatever he saw on his face made him take a step towards him, as if to pull him in his arms as he'd done so often after their visits here. Yet he stopped - he never had hugged him in the public eye; Tony Stark didn't do emotions in the public eye, even if it were only a few settlers on a planet who had known him run excitedly through the whole village.

With a last concerned look at Tony he nodded, as if responding to an unvoiced question, ground his cigarette into the earth and made for the ship's entrance, and Tony knew that he would start the ship's engine, that he would be able to leave the planet within a few more minutes.

*Tony-my-friend?*, a voice called, and he stumbled to a stop, not quite sure who would call out to him. Who would call him my friend, and that in a language that no human had ever quite learned aside from him?

A bunch of people came up to him from somewhere to his left side; a large and thickly muscled woman in the lead, followed by at least another woman and two men, with another, shorter man trailing behind. All of them were Ymiri, and, judging by their mostly gold and brown scales, Aesir .

Tony blinked, focused back on the woman in the lead. She was maybe the largest woman - largest Ymiri - he'd ever seen, her spines the color of gold gleaming in the sun, her scales dipped in red as if she'd bathed in blood. Ridges went from her neck down over her spine, and the end of her tail was thickened to an almost hammer-like head. The queen - for she could only be a queen - wore a tunic made from interlacing gold and silver plant fibers, rendering any jewelry superfluous. Still, there was some ruby in her spines, and a golden claw sheath on her left hand.

*... Thora?*, Tony asked, hesitatingly; certainly it couldn't be …?

The woman smiled, a great fucking smile that made her whole face glow and the sun shine brighter, crossed the remaining distance between them with another few steps and then pulled him into her arms. Crushed between her chest and arms his breath was knocked out of him, his rip protested against the manhandling and for one long moment he thought he would die here, squashed by her embrace.

That she was angry and wanted to kill him. Then he realized that she just hadn't learned to judge her new strength yet - probably never would, as he knew her - and was just - hugging him. Really hugging, like they had so often said they wanted to ...

Slowly, hesitant, he returned her embrace, even though it wasn't easy. *You are - you are fucking big!*, he complained, his voice muffled because he tried to avoid getting smothered by her protruding breasts. Thora just laughed, pressed him even closer, and then ripped him from his feet, spun him around that his legs just so flew.

Groaning he sagged to earth again when she let him go. Almost in the same instant the others were there, hugging and laughing as well, and now that he knew who he was looking at it was easy to make them out: Sif's smaller form, her pose that of a deadly hunter, and her tunic a definitive breach of human etiquette. Volstagg, still voluminous, but now rippling with muscles as well under his leather tunic. Fandral, impeccably dressed in a light tunic and leather breeches, tasteful gold and sapphire jewelry complimenting his own midnight blue scales and the golden lines and spines.

And Hogun, of course, who was still dark chestnut scales and black frills and dressed in leather, calm self-assured silence and a heavy ring around his own, thickly muscled tail; ne was also the only one that didn't smother Tony in the smell of sweat and scales, in spines and braided beads and the natural heat of Ymiri.

Not that he minded in the least. It felt ... good , to be here again, to have them back. With them he didn't need to be smart or funny, they loved him for who he was , not what he could give them, and he soaked this up like a dried out sponge. He hadn't understood ... he'd felt cold inside for so long that being with the Avengers had made him feel warm, and it was good, he was warm and happy and alive with them, but with Thora and Sif and Volstagg and Hogun and Fandral? He wasn't just warm and alive, he was hot , burning inside, and it felt so wonderful, he felt as if he was bursting with love and happiness, as if he could fly with them if he just wished to.

Humans, even the most understanding and clingy humans, would never touch quite as often as Ymiri, and he only understood how much he'd missed this now that there was an arm around his middle, a chest against his back that was most likely Fandral, a tail wrapped loosely around his leg and Thora, talking excitedly about how they had run to meet him and had to avoid a Winged Death in the process, while she constantly touched his arm and chest and head.

He wasn't smelling like them anymore, he knew, and that was wrong , set off their instincts to scent mark him. He didn't mind; he loved their touching, and he smiled indulgently while what had probably been not more than a distant sighting turned into just about making it away alive.

The air was moist and warm, the sun hot and their bodies not less so, so Thora's next words broke him out of his happiness like a cold shower.

*Why haven't you come, Tony-friend? Heimdallr-older-sibling told us that you have visited, yet never spoke to anyone since Lo-*

Unable to hear this name spoken aloud Tony cut him off, more rudely than he actually wanted: *I didn't want to.*

That shut them right up, and when tension crept up all around them Tony mourned the loss of their easy camaraderie, even if it had only been a few stolen moments. But honestly - even if they didn't knew of his guilt because he never actually found the courage to tell, he had liked those moments, those minutes in which he found what he otherwise could only hope for at the bottom of a bottle or in the arms of some sex partner, and maybe during a fight whenever he had to give his everything: peace. Not thinking of Loki, of what he had done.

Right now their eyes still showed confusion and lingering joy at his presence, but he knew that it would turn into painful awareness soon enough. Maybe not with Thora, but Hogun and Sif? They were the smart ones of the group, and it wouldn't be too difficult for the einherjar to connect the dots and realize that Loki's death was Tony's fault.

"I'm sorry", he said, using English to distance himself from them, and he saw the confusion grow in them at his colder tone. "But I don't have much time, I need to-"

Like a saving rope Happy's voice came from the speaker: "Mr. Stark, we are ready to leave in a minute." The lights around the ship's entrance started to flicker, and a few more lights changed their color while Happy prepared for the ship to leave the planet. Not all of it was necessary, Tony knew, but it showed quite well that something was about to happen, and that suited Tony just fine right this moment.

"Look, I was only here for a short stop, I have to go again." He smiled at them, and it was the same meaningless smile he usually directed at the crowds and press.

Thora wasn't yet ready to let him go. *But you have to stay, Tony-friend! Only yesterday we were all awake again, and now you are here - it is a sign! We should celebrate it with a great hunt; the black fox is numerous this year. And afterwards we will sit together around a fire, and talk about what we learned in those years we were parted from each other. It will be wonderous, like our feasts from old - stories and camaraderie, and we will laugh and eat and no-one will be left out!*

Oh, how Tony's heart longed, ached to do just that! He could remember all those nights Thora was speaking of, warm and full of laughter and smiles and love. But there was a terrible understanding coming to life in Hogun's eyes, and he needed to be gone before ne could voice nir realization. He'd just now learned to live again, and even with everything that had happened he didn't want to die.

I promised to not do something stupid.

"Sorry, really", he said, his voice too light, too careless while he took a step out of their circle, into the cold. "Maybe another time? I have a very important date, and my PA is going to have my head if I don't turn up." Especially if I die. If someone's capable of tearing my sorry soul from Hel's hand than it's Pepper. Or maybe Hel will give it to her anyway, maybe Pepper's somehow her Earth equivalent. "So, it was nice to see you guys, but I've got to go. Time's stopping for no-one, and time's money and everything, yeah? See you." A last bright, empty smile and he was past them, the loneliness hitting him like a icy wall, but he kept his posture, his face perfectly even and calm. His game face as Rhodey called it.

He could hear their surprised, confused rustling as they tried to understand what just happened, but he was too fast, he would make it -

Only when he stepped on the ramp did they move, and he knew full well that it was Thora who had jumped after him, her wings now even more powerful, wide and beautiful, but it was too late. Already the door had started to close, and he only needed to take another two steps to vanish behind the impenetrable energy shield.

Turning back to the opening he saw Thora standing mere feet away from him, her face a mask of confusion and helpless rage and surprise. His lips turned into a bitter smile, and he whispered, his hands moving in the traditional greeting gesture that he had learned oh so long ago: *Fly fast and straight.*

And maybe he imagined things, but he thought Thora had answered *Return safe*, but if so, then her voice drowned in the noise of the starting engine.

The last Tony saw of her before the ramp was withdrawn and she had to jump back were her large, confused eyes.

He thought they were going to hunt him for a long long time.

 

Chapter Text

Humans were noisy, smelly, knew nothing about keeping their distance and they constantly annoyed Loki.

It shouldn't be that much of an revelation – after all, he'd visited Midgard all his life, and he'd known how the humans lived. Yet it was still more than troublesome when he was forced to live with them, even more so when there were so many of them in such a small space.

It weren't only humans, sure. But at least the Romulans and Tellarites and however else they were called were few enough that he could avoid them.

The only place that was – almost – human-free was his cabin; he only had to share it with one other guy, and the man seemed to be more interested in pursuing the other sex than annoying Loki.

Still, he was born for the freedom of the jungle, for mountains reaching high up to the clouds and winds racing each other, and spending too much time in the small cabin had him on edge, spewing poison even before the other man opened his mouth. So he left what little luggage he had in the provided metal locker – after all, the trip would take a week until they arrived at his first destination – and went to his favorite spot on the ferry, the combined observation lounge/library on the third level.

Leaving his luggage behind didn't feel right, not when he was leaving it with someone he couldn't trust, yet he also had too much to take it all with him every time. It was really frustrating – after all, why would he need so many clothes and blankets and stuff? Yet he knew that humans and most other races preferred much colder temperatures than reigned on Yggdrasil, had heard it often enough from Tony-love, and experienced it for himself whenever he visited his friend in the large cold house of his not-quite-family-clan.

It didn't mean that he needed to like that arrangement. Or clothes at all.

Though there was also something to be said about clothing, he had to admit when someone stumbled into him - again . At least the person - some dumb ridiculous looking blue bi-ped - had only touched his carefully covered waist, yet he couldn't help the low hiss that escaped him at the unwanted touch, causing the man to whirl around. He seemed to be angry, his mouth opened on some remark and his brows raised high, yet when he caught sight of him his eyes went wide and his face pale. Swallowing whatever insult he had intended to spew at him he apologized without looking into Loki's eyes before he hastily made for a place far away from him.

Loki knew why - he had discussed this trip beforehand with Ayo-woodsinger for quite a while; unlike other people he wasn't one to just decide to jump somewhere without thinking about it. So he knew that he looked dangerous to most sentient beings, even more so for those who weren't at least a bit acquainted with his race like the scientists and settlers of Midgard.

It was so strange – on Yggdrasil he was a consort, someone to be protected – … yet he could understand it. He was easily the largest person in each room, heavily muscled, with sharp claws, sharper teeth, long horns that curved proudly upwards from his forehead and a face that looked a bit too much like a dragon's to be of any comfort to those mammal-creatures. On the other hand he had made quite an effort to tone it down as the friendly-gardener had recommended him to: a pair of simple leather breeches, a short tunic over a long-sleeved top. His jewelry had been toned down as well - a few braids in his hair, a simple chain around his neck with best wishes from Thora-queen-sister, and the short and delicately decorated vambraces Odin-queen-mother and Frigg-consort-father had had made for him. He owned more - a consort waking was always reason for a feast, almost as much as a queen's awakening, and many people had come and brought him gifts - jewelry, finely woven blankets, embroidered tunics like the one he wore. He'd smiled and thanked everyone, and hadn't told anyone that the one he wanted to receive gifts from wasn't there.

Had Tony even kept the beads he'd told him about so often? Not that he really wanted them, having Tony back would be more than he'd ever dreamed about, yet he couldn't help but wish for the oh so familiar feel of Tony's clever fingers in his spines, loosening the braids made from plaited strings and work new ones in wherever the old had been loosened by movement and growing skin. Would weave his own beads in and show the world that Loki was his consort, and he Loki's queen.

And even more Loki wished to return the favor this time and comb Tony's strange fur-hair, the thick curls that so often stuck to his skin and were only ever visible up in Tony's room, in a climate much colder than the rest of Yggdrasil. He would comb the hair, and then use the fibers he'd collected himself from Jörmungandr's hide and woven to strong strings to braid all those beads he'd collected for Tony - amber for passion, gold for admiration, and red coral for love.

His fingers itched with the need to weave through the fine hair of his love-best-friend-soulmate, to feel them under now far more sensitive tips, yet he knew he would have to find Tony first. And all thanks to Thora's blundering about …



... *He said he had urgent things to do and needed to leave immediately. I don't understand, brother-mine - aren't we his family? Shouldn't he wish to stay with us?*

Even the astonishment at how much the sleep-change had changed his sister - not only from the outside, but even more inside, making her ask for his help when she may not even have noticed anything wrong before - couldn't quite quench his growing horror at what he heard.

Tony had run from Yggdrasil.

Tony had been on Yggdrasil in the first place, which meant he'd been here to visit Loki, and all he'd seen was a dead tree.

Loki had no idea what he'd felt in that moment, but it couldn't be good, not when it send Tony running immediately. And the worst was ... biting the teeth together he faced the fact that Tony might not be coming back now that even the last connection between them was dead.

It was, as Tony would call it, fucking bad timing. Had he come only a day or two earlier Loki would have been still there, or he might even have managed to hatch for Tony. And if he'd come a few days later, Loki would have been back on his feet, and he would have made Tony listen and stay .

But no, his queen had to visit him in the few days after he'd emerged from his second form and before he'd learned two walk and run and fight in his third and last. Really, one might think they weren't meant to be together.

Only that Loki knew, deep down, that they were . Meant to be together always, if they could just find to each other.

*Loki-consort-brother?* Thora sank down next to the cushions he reclined on - in the consort's hall. Something that hadn't really sunk in to him yet, not with Tony and all the stress of waking up in a strange, strangely helpless body. Waiting for someone to come for him when he called out for help - they had seen his ripening, had known to stay near to be there when he hatched. But he was a consort now, a true, fully fledged consort , and .. it wasn't that different to being a fledgeling-consort, really. Not when advising Thora-sister was still his main activity.

*Why did he run?*, she continued, and Loki's focus returned to his sister who was now looking at him in confusion. *I told him that you had woken, and he became - even more flustered. Did you - did you part on bad terms?*

*You told him I woke?* Tony would have come running had Thora even hinted at this - he was so convinced to have killed Loki ... *What did you say, exactly?*

Maybe the sudden vehemence in his words took Thora by surprise, for she frowned down at him before her hands settled on his bare leg and she answered. *I .. I said that today is a joyous day, for we all had hatched, and with Tony-friend here we could have a big feast to celebrate that.* Tilting her head in unhappiness she asked: *Did I speak wrong?*

Loki swallowed and looked down at his lap, at the strange new set of genitals he sported there, though he wasn't really seeing them. As he'd thought - what Thora had intended as a happy proclamation of Loki's awakening had been formed by Tony's mind into - *He thinks I'm dead.*, he whispered, and his fingers clenched into fists. He could hear Thora draw breath to ask for an explanation so he hurriedly continued: *When I fell asleep - they told you we were chased by a predator? A tree-dwelling cat? I ... I slipped and ... I shouldn't have gone out that day, I was too close to the change. I could feel it growing in me, and it was ready to burst through me already.* He curled a hand around his belly, where the seed of his second form had rested heavy in him, hindered his movements and yearned for earth to be planted into. *I would have had time yet, a few day's maybe, but ... when I fell ... the injuries, they weren't that serious, yet the sleep-change overwhelmed me, and ... Tony must have thought I died.* It was still so hard to understand.

Thora blinked at him in confusion. *But he knew of the sleep-change!*, she protested. *Surely he would have known the truth when he returned and saw you? You said he always visited you!*

Loki smiled in bitter amusement - hadn't he thought so as well? *We never told him what the time of changing entails, did we? For I have searched my memory and cannot find even one moment we did.*

His sister stared at him in dawning horror, and he could see her use this bright mind she had behind all her blustering and temper. *He thinks we have forgotten you? That we could ever be complete ... without you ?*

Looking away from the mix of compassion and rage Loki said: *I fear so, yes. I do not remember what happened after my first body died, but I guess something that Tiki said just furthered the misunderstanding in his mind.* Swallowing he said: *I need to go after him.*

*And I'll accompany you!*, Thora immediately declared, jumping up - obviously ready to set on the task at once.

Rolling his eyes in loving exasperation and humor - his queen-sister's unending energy never ceased to amaze him - Loki got a hold on her breeches and yanked her down again, happy that while he wasn't sure on his feet he was at least no weakling. *You will stay here. I appreciate this offer, really, but you have no idea what is out there. How the other people out there think about us, how they behave ...* It would be a disaster, and that was putting it mildly.

Thora's stubborn face however made it clear she wouldn't give up on this without a fight ...



... yet giving up she did, though Loki going alone wasn't something anyone - including Loki himself - was happy about. Yet the more he learned from Ayo-woodsinger the more he knew that neither of them - not even Hogun-sibling, calm and steadfast as he was - would be suited to the galaxy outside of Yggdrasil. There were just too many differences, too many taboos out there that Tony never had a problem with when they ignored them - but with anyone else, anywhere else than here, this might result in being arrested for inappropriate behavior. And Thora, or Sif, or even Fandral or Hogun when it came to defending Loki, wouldn't hesitate to fight, making everything worse.

Yeah, as much as he hated being alone, and without the reassuring touch and smell and presence of his clutchmates-and-friends, it was better for all involved that he left them home.

He ignored the unbidden thought of how Tony must have felt, alone, thinking himself unloved - he couldn't bear the images it brought to mind.

Anyway, he had prepared as much as he could for this journey, and Ayo-woodsinger had been an invaluable help with that. For she had explained which taboos to be aware of, which behavior to avoid, where to go to to get information, food, shelter. Most of this he'd already been vaguely aware of - he'd more than once wanted to go after Tony to this … Eton-place, so he'd looked into this before. Yet he found that he had overlooked a lot.

But there was more - the human gardener had helped him get a passport (which was very hard it seemed) and a bank account. Then money - something that was very important outside of Yggdrasil - by selling a few pieces of his metal-and-stone jewelry, and some of the finely woven blankets. In the end it was enough to secure his trip with the ferry to the next stop where he would have to barter for transport on another ship. She even helped him get clothes that wouldn't look too strange, and a suitcase and everything else he might need.

It was also she who had suggested he should take the tablet Tony had left behind, for it might help him. Well, actually she had told him to use it to call Tony, meaning he wouldn't have to go through all this in the first place when he could just explain to his friend that he wasn't dead.

Yet that wasn't what he wanted. This … between them – him and Tony – it was nothing . Not truly. He was old enough now to know that he still, truly wished for Tony to become his queen – yet he also couldn't help but be aware of the fact that he hadn't spoken to his friend for as many years as he'd known him. He had changed without him being involved in this, Loki had changed without Tony even being aware of.

If they wanted to make something of this – if Loki wished to make something of this – then he would have to learn Tony again first. Would have to let Tony learn him.

In the end they might find that they weren't the people anymore they'd been as children. Might not be compatible anymore, or at least not capable of bonding in the way a queen and a consort bonded. Maybe they would end up having their friendship back, but nothing beyond that, and Loki would return to Yggdrasil, to Jotunheimr and the young queen he'd met there, Angrboda, who was interesting, and curious, and liked the way he wasn't afraid if facing whatever opposed him.

He might be happy with her.



But he knew he would be happier with Tony-friend-soulmate-love. And he was prepared to fight for this possible future, this possible bond.

Even if it meant having to endure stinking aliens for a while longer.



^^



Deep Space Thirte en's space port was chaotic, busy, bustling with life. It would have been overwhelming for everyone with its shops and merchants and thousands upon thousands of people, milling around, hasty and slow and talking and cursing and the calls of the traders over everything, advertising their goods. There were smells everywhere - sweat and piss and perfumes and cooking and weapons oil and the space ships and thousand things Loki had never smelled before. Things he'd never seen before - all those people in different colors, some looking like Tony and Ayo, but also many many appearing different with manes and six hands and bodies like spiders, and there were animals where he wasn't even sure if they were animals. Fur and scales and hair and smooth skin and some rolling gel like the one Tony used on the robots blurring before his eyes, melting into one great cacophony of colors and noise and smells and -

Loki hastily retreated in a back alley, away from the bulk of the chaos. Clutching the wall - and avoiding thinking about the nature of the slime sticking to it - he took some fast, rushed breaths to calm himself - and his racing heart-beat - down. This was ... not at all something he'd been prepared for; it was different to even the trip on the spacecraft, let alone the loneliness of the sleep-change or even Midgard. Yet he knew that he'd been at least spared some of the bustling, had kept people at a distance due to his appearance and maybe also Fenrir by his side - the small one had grown big, almost half as high in the shoulder as Loki himself, with green-and-brown fur all over his muscled body, a great maw for a mouth and paws the size of soup plates, showing he'd still a good bit to grow.

Clutching his luggage tight Loki regretted having to leave Hela at the port's harbormaster's holding cells - the Winged Death might have afforded him some additional space to breathe.

Well, he couldn't help it, and he needed to find a transport to Tony who was, at least according to the data the ferry's public computer provided him with, somewhere in the middle of an whole diferent quadrant. Not that Loki really understood what that meant beyond much much much too far away for the ferry to carry him there.

Looking back at the crowd running past at the entrance to his little refuge Loki sighed. There was no helping it; he needed to brace this chaos again.



^^



Hours later he knew what Ayo-woodsinger had meant when she said it wouldn't be easy for him to get to Tony, even with money and all the preparation she could give him. Despite the size of the port there were only a very few non-military crafts that went even in the right direction, and most had taken a look at him and his 'pet' and decided they were already full. And those who weren't rejecting him on principle ... well, he was really really lucky to have the tablet that Tony had left behind, because otherwise he probably wouldn't have known that at least two of the ships weren't going even in the general direction he needed to go to despite their claiming otherwise. And the ones who were prepared to take him where he wanted to go demanded exorbitant high prices that would leave him without resources at his next stop.

Feeling forlorn and helplessly angry he considered his possibilities, his feet carrying him further along the street. So engrossed was he in his thinking that he didn't even care for his surrounding anymore.

It was Fenrir's low growl that let him know first that something was wrong .

Looking u p he saw that the crowd around him had changed. Night had started to settle - going by the ship's computer this station worked on the same 24-hour day as the – mostly human-piloted – ferry that had brought him here, but even after almost a week on that ship he wasn't yet used to such short days.

Here however the people were used to it, and so the busy crowd of daytime traders and tourists had dispersed, given way to far more shady people. He'd heard Tony speak of this before, and Ayo had warned him, too, but growing up on Yggdrasil - never even having left his planet until a week ago - he hadn't known what to expect. Yet this felt ... not exactly familiar, but he'd experienced a smaller, lighter version of this before. When other clan's came to visit and young queens had spotted him. Or in the village, Midgard, after the people there realized he was a sentient being, was a native.

Still, this was a new kind of being looked at with hunger and wanting, as if he was just a meal or something to barter with. As if he wasn't a sentient being for them.

A shudder rolled over his spine, and he felt his spines lift at the perceived threat. He might be a consort, and not quite used to fights, but he came from a planet far more hostile than this tame station, and between his claws and his ice, not to mention Fenrir , there wasn't much that could harm him.

Still, he stopped, though he made sure to make it look like he was just gazing at the goods that one of the braver alien's offered. In reality he just checked the street around him, straining his senses to their maximum, trying to pick up the threat that had made Fenrir respond. The men sauntering past behind his back? The woman leaning out of some alley? The strange smelling crowd cheering one of theirs on to do .. something?

Sighing he gave up; there were too many possible threats here, too many strange smells and noises and sights and ... and on his walk along the port he'd also obviously managed to get somewhere where it was particularly shady and dark after nightfall.

"Ya see some'ing ya like?", a voice in the harsh, strangely accented Standard of the native's said, and he focused back on the human in front of him. Well, he assumed he was a human - he looked mostly like one, though it was painted over and over with pictures showing naked people, and he smelled sour and acidic, causing Loki to wrinkle his nose.

Then what he had said connected in his brain and he really looked at the display. At the ... small brown cylinders, and green cylinders, and small boxes full of "pixie stardust" and "Milkyway" and the pipes and ...

Realizing he had no idea what this even was he smiled non-committally and took a step back. "Erh ... yeah, nice, yes", he said, before retreating hastily.

It was obvious that he wouldn't get a passage today anymore. Better he found a safe place to spend the night, and then went back to the port's office tomorrow, maybe they could help him there; so far they'd been very accommodating, even if they hadn't let him take Hela into the station proper.

"Hey, danger", murmured a silky voice next to him, and he looked down at the woman that had slid up against him, touching him in very inappropriate ways.

Keeping in mind that he couldn't just break her hand as he would have done if someone from a strange clan would have dared this at home (at least not if he wanted the port officers' help) , he simply sidestepped her - only to run into another woman that had come up on his other side.

"Oh, look, Lory, whatta night brought us", she said, her voice less silky, yet sending strange signals up his spine that all resulted in danger DANGER!

"Such a beaut'ful dark stranger ... would ya like some comp'ny for tha night? Maybe withe two o'us?" Her tone left nothing to the imagination, even less when she pressed her breasts against his chest.

Loki stared down at her, not knowing what to think. Sure, he had an idea what was going on - Ayo had firmly warned him away from sexworkers, as she called them, telling him that someone with his lack of experience would be an easy victim to the black sheep of their trade.

Yet he had no idea how to disentangle from them. They were ... all around him, suddenly, and he took a fast step backwards. "I'm sorry", he tried. "I just need a place for the night."

The smile on both their faces was nearly identical - cold, lusty, hungry . "Oh, we gan give ya a place for tha night alright ...", Lory said, tilting her hips invitingly.

Swallowing - these women were vultures if he ever had meat one - he took another step back. "I'm sorry, I really don't -"

He heard Fenrir's growl too late, had only time to step to the side and therefore avoid the full force of the impact. Yet the glancing blow left him dazed, and in this body he wasn't yet fully used to he lost his balance, made him easy prey to another blow that was sending him down on the filthy street.

Of all the strange things to notice in this moment … there was more slime on the street. Dark, stinking slime like feces and dirt diluted with waste water.

Distantly he heard voices over him, and Fenrir's barking. "Not 'is head, you dimwit. If he's dead we're only gettinge halfor him." - "Someone keep the cur away from me! Amora !"

Dimly he felt his heart go out to Fenrir who was trying to keep his foolish pack leader safe, and he wished his friend would run away and save himself.

Then another blow hit him, and everything descended into darkness.



^^



Loki woke up to unfamiliar smells and even stranger noises. Keeping himself still he tried to figure out where he was.

There were voices in the distance, or maybe just behind a door. Judging by what he knew about humans they probably didn't expect him to hear them, and he took full advantage of this while he slowly opened his eyes and looked around in his cell.

"- it wa a dumb idea, and ya know that, Skurge! An'one couldave seen us and reported to tha police - ya know how they are onto ar case an'way!" That was the first woman, Lory.

The room looked like a storage room - metal walls, mostly empty, some boxes and bags and a striped jacket on a hook directly next to the door.

"He wasn't going to follow you, and we need the money. Besides - have you seen him? That's what they want today - exotic! Danger! Beauty! Perfect mix of dragon and human. No idea where he's from, but he's going to make us more creds than even you can spend in a year." Well, that was probably Skurge, the one that had overwhelmed him from behind.

The door looked very similar to the door his room at the ferry had - plain metal, probably sliding to the side, and a sensor pad next to it for opening and closing. Together with the humming noise from all around him, and the vibrations that went right through his body, he concluded that he was probably on a space ship.

"Yeah, and if tha harbor police corps findsout that wa have him we'll have do move planets - again . We're running out'o safe places!"

The thing about the sensor pad at his door on the ferry was - it was very cold-sensitive. He'd only set it off once, on accident, when he'd returned to his cabin and the guy he'd shared it with had unexpectedly moaned upon him entering.

"Now ya just be'ng melodramatic, Lory."

He'd just had sex with one of the stewards, but the shock of that unexpected sound had made Loki accidentally freeze the door mechanism, ending in the system having to be repaired.

"And now ya, too - why are ya always on his side, Amora?!"

Which meant ...

The rest of the clan had often commented on how fast Loki was - fast when it came to calculating things, fast when it came to running, fast in recovering.

Well, he was certainly fast now, up and at the door in a second. Distantly he realized that he still wore his clothes - at least they hadn't touched him too much - then his hand was one the panel, the ice coming easily now that he called on it. It took barely a second for the small light next to the panel to switch from red to green, and the door to slide open.

A security measure, the tech at the ferry had called it. To make sure that no-one was imprisoned when the door's mechanism conked out.

Well, he certainly wasn't imprisoned anymore now. There was a hallway outside of the door, a short floor in one direction, another, longer one, in the other.

It was from the short end that he heard the voices. "Did ya hear dat?"

Loki was down the floor and at the door before it even opened. When the man - large, red-skinned, with something lizard-like though certainly not like Loki - went through he simply struck him down with his paw, his heavy limbs an advantage in this. Then we he was over the crumbling body.

The women screamed when they saw him, momentarily throwing him off-path - he just didn't have any previous experience with scared women before.

But then he could see the blond one - Amora? - pick at something behind her back, and he didn't need thousands of hours at Tony's game simulator to know that she was grabbing for some kind of gun.

Really, knocking them both out had something very satisfying.

Afterwards he looked around in what he recognized from having Tony show him his father's space craft as the pilot's cabin. Though this one was far larger, and with a lot more comfortable looking seats.

There were lights blinking all over the wall - green, red, yellow, violet, blue ... words in Standard and at least one other language he hadn't seen before where written over the screens, and from somewhere came a noise that was so high-pitched it hurt his ears. But he could still see the planet on one of the screens and relief bubbled up in him. At least he wasn't somewhere stranded in the universe.

Just ... "What am I going to do now?"

He really hadn't expected an answer, so he literally jumped in the air when suddenly a pleasant voice spoke up. "Maybe I can help you with this, Sir?"

Startled, he looked up, his spines flaring high in response to a threat he hadn't sensed. Couldn't smell, couldn't see, could only hear - there was nothing here, only the ship all around him ...

Swallowing hard he asked, his voice suddenly hoarse: "Who are you?"

"I am the AI of the space craft SL.Eipn-Ir."

Well, and here Loki had thought it couldn't get any worse. "Are you going to -" How had his wanna-be captors phrased it? "Report me to the harbor police corps?" He really didn't need any more complications. Really, this here was exactly the kind of problems he had tried to avoid by leaving Thora-sister at home!

Yet the AI stayed as polite as before. "Actually no, Sir. I find no pleasure in kidnapping people, and it seems to me that you could help me get free of people that would only continue to use me in this way."

Certainly not what he had expected. Tilting his head curiously Loki wondered: "I thought ... I was told AI's aren't that far advanced as to have preferences."

"You are completely right, Sir. As far as I understand it I am very unusual for my kind, probably because I have been created with material that stems from Stark Industries."

Loki perked up at this name. Could it be ... ? "So you are essentially one of Tony's kids?"

"Well, my creator's name is Svaldivari, but you could say that Dr. Anthony Edward Stark has been involved, too. May I ask - are you acquainted with Mr. Stark?"

"He's a friend of mine", Loki admitted, still mistrustful. "Why?"

"Going by the harbor master's office's data that I just ... consulted you wish to be brought to the port nearest to his last known location. Should you wish to go there our wishes might align."

"You want to go to Tony?" That was ... hope bloomed in Loki's chest. Maybe he had found a way to get to his friend! Then something occurred to him. "I don't know how to navigate a space ship."

"That won't be a problem, Sir. I'm fully capable of navigating myself, otherwise my former owners would have been in much trouble." A slight tone of contempt merged into his voice before he continued: "So if you would dispose of them we only need to pick up your luggage, and then we are ready to go."

Looking down at the thugs that had tried to kidnap him Loki felt a grin tug at his lips - the first since he left the port's office. "Okay", he said. "Give me an hour, and then we can be on our way."



^^



A bit more than an hour later his attackers had been disposed of – they would awake tomorrow in some filthy alley, sans ship and wallets, yet still free and alive – Loki was feeling generous. Maybe because he was currently leaning back in the pilot's seat, Fenrir curled up to his feet and Hela sitting somewhat strangely in the second seat, while he talked animatedly to Sleipnir who turned out to be quite happy to have a conversation partner.

Every now and then he grinned.

He was on his way to Tony.

He couldn't wait.

 

Chapter Text

There was an explosion to his right, and Tony dived to the opposite corner, cursing when he felt the suit get hit by some stray slivers, making the impact harder than expected.

Well, at least he was still more or less unhurt - one good thing in a situation that had turned from really bad to disastrous pretty fast. Like, really fast.

Steve had been captured by the minions of their foe - a galaxy-famous slave-dealer - pretty early on, which somehow transferred Agent Coulson to the top of the hack order. But since he'd gone down with a - thankfully not deadly - shot in the stomach during their rescue mission, rendering both him and Clint, who'd gone along with him and ended up with a broken wrist, useless, they were now three men short and Tasha was the one that lead them through it.

Which wasn't the problem, really - if anyone could get them out alive it was Tasha. Just that Natasha, Tony, Hulk and Ward alone might not be enough to take down the private army that defended the boss' opulent private residence, or even get Steve out.

Hell, at this point Tony would be happy if they got out alive.

At least they'd found Steve - dressed in nothing but a black thong and bearing the marks of a fucking whip on his back, but still kicking and unbroken. If anything, he was now even more willing to bring this man down than he was before, even in stolen jeans and shirt and armed with a couple of equally stolen laser pistols.

"How are you holding up there?" Natasha sounded slightly out of breath - not enough that he was willing to lose some important body parts by asking if she needed help, but still ...

"Not good", Steve answered before Tony could, and as much as he hated to admit it - the captain was right. They were two people, three if one counted Ward who was currently lying unconscious in some corner, one of them not even properly armed, against a madly laughing douchebag, a personal bodyguard, a sniper and a fuckton of armed mercenaries that wouldn't stop just because Steve asked nicely or Tony cut them down with his diminishing array of weapons - mostly because using the repulsors or his lasers wasn't advisable indoors, as he'd learned the hard way.

At least not if he wanted to avoid hitting his friends or getting the roof to fall down over them.

The sniper got another shot trained on him, something that Jarvis alerted him to with an off-going alarm. "Sir, it seems advisable to deploy the Vision-unit."

"Yeah, well, half an hour ago, probably", Tony gave back, because really ? As much as Vision would be a help right now even his AI's robot-body couldn't be here fast enough to help them.

Something flickered in the edge of his vision, and he was up again, throwing a punch against the heavily armored Kree-mercenary and sending him back into the crowds.

"Well, I took the freedom to deploy the unit twenty minutes ago. ETA nine minutes, Sir." Jarvis sounded much too smug for Tony's peace of mind; not that he didn't have every right to be.

"Have I ever told you how much I love you?", he asked, then had to focus on the fight again. There were three men against him now, which was still better odds than Steve faced, who went p against four heavily armed fighters half-naked. Well, someone had obviously read up on Captain America, or maybe they just had to fight him down once too often in the last week.

Somewhere in his ear Clint made retching noises. "I always knew you had it for robots, Tony."

Right in this minute a heavy weight dropped somewhere, causing the floor to vibrate, and Tony got a bad feeling about this. "Talk to me, Tasha. Please tell that wasn't the big guy."

"I hate to disappoint, guys, but it was Banner." Natasha sounded still professional, but he could hear the slight panic that crept into her voice. "Erm ... I may need help here, boys. I don't think I can get Banner and me out like this."

Tony gulped when right this moment some new projectile appeared in his vision. This time he didn't have the time to avoid it, and the thing got him right in the chest with the impact knocking the breath right out of him.

Blinking dazedly he looked right up into the muzzle of a gun. "This baby here cuts right through metal, so if you don't want to have your brain roasted you better give up right now", a distorted male voice explained.

Well, he could only hope that they would let him play for time until Vision's arrival. So he simply put up his hands, adding a cocky: "If you wanted me on my back this much you just needed to ask."

The man made a displeased sound and cocked the pistol with audible sound. So not the kind he should make sex jokes to then, okay. He could live with that.

"See, in the end even the so-called heroes kneel before Real Power. The power of money, the power I hold!"

Oh, no! Please, could somebody please kill him or at least kill the other because Tony really wasn't in the mood to deal with the super villain speech this man was obviously about to deliver. Not right now, when the only thing he could do to distract himself from it was to focus on the pain in his body – the large bruise that was his chest, the hammering in his head, the sharp burn where his sweat trickled over the cut he'd made accidentally this morning when he shaved.

Sadly, no-one stopped the wanna-be villain, and so he had to suffer through "-I can now have everything I want-", "-will create my ideal world-", "-no one can stop me-" and even the worst of all, "-the needs of the many are more important than the needs of the few-", in which Tony was sure he had mixed up many with money . Somewhere during the speech he saw something move in the corner of his eye, some shadow that fluttered over the balustrade above them.

Good. Tasha was still free, and ready to help them.

"Sir?", Jarvis asked in his ear. "I will be within striking distance in a minute."

That should be reassuring, Tony thought, just - he still had a gun pointed at his face, and he wasn't even sure what they had done with Steve, but their captain was awfully still. "Don't engage", he said. "We're in no imminent danger, just lay low for a while longer."

"Sir-", Jarvis began, when suddenly the speech stopped with a very ominous sound. Something like cracking, and tearing, and sliding ... something familiar ...

The man above him looked back, his hand wavering for a moment, and Tony used his distraction to roll aside, one leg pushing the gun to the side, and then he was on his feet again, ready to fight.

Just that there was nobody left to fight anymore. Instead of the icky overly decorated throne room of a wanna-be king and super villain that he'd been in before there was now ice covering every surface. Glittering, cold, hard ice, transforming the floor into an ice rink and made the walls look like straight out of a winter wonderland.

And the people ... they looked like terrified ice sculptures, their bodies frozen upwards from their feet over their waist, chest and finally head, a clear front of ice before their faces showing that all of them were - yet - still very much alive.

As someone who'd been in their position, though with someone who wouldn't harm him, ever , Tony knew how they felt - unable to move, the cold of the ice slowly bleeding through their clothes and skin into them, stealing warmth and strength. It was fucking terrifying - something he never wanted to experience again, least of all with someone he didn't trust a hundred percent.

It was also something that didn't happen on its own, so he looked around again, trying to find the source of all this ice. Absently he noticed Steve standing up from his hunched over position, and Natasha slowly walking down the stairs, her gun out and pointed at the figure that just now turned around the corner of the door.

Large, dark, handsome - that were the first thoughts that came to Tony's mind. Only on the second he really saw the face, the figure, and realized what he was looking at: an Ymiri. And not just any - going by the golden spines circling his whole neck, the long wings half-spread behind his back, and even more the fucking ice everywhere around them, this wasn't a normal Ymiri but a fucking consort .

No consort would be here, alone, without someone looking out for him - a queen looking out for him. And yet here he was, unaccompanied, fighting . He also wasn't wearing that much jewelry, but there was a chain around his neck, gold and emerald; more gold decorated his arms in rings and short vambraces, and there were braids wound in his erected spines, feathers and beautifully carved wooden beads - there was a clan behind this one, loving and protecting him, despite not being here right now.

Yet all of this he only noticed unconsciously, because there was something else he noticed even more: the color of his scales, black with a green sheen wherever the light touched them; his wings, as black as the night with a wide emerald green stripe along their open side. Golden scales were scattered all over his body, forming delicate patterns. Ivory horns that curved proudly over his head, long and sharp and dangerous. And his features were so fine, almost elegantly carved – he was handsome even by human standards, and the absolute pinnacle of beauty by the Ymiri's.

This was ... Tony's throat closed up. This was what Loki would have looked like, had he been allowed to live to adulthood. And Tony could barely stand the sight of him, yet he also couldn't tear his eyes away.

For a moment the only movements were of Natasha adjusting her gun, and the stranger approaching slowly, his claws making quiet tic-tic noises on the ice.

Then Steve moved, took a few steps up to the stranger, causing him come to an abrupt stop. And Tony realized what he was about to do seconds before Steve stretched his hand out to greet their savior.

"I cannot thank you enough for rescuing us. My name is Steve Rogers and these are my teammates. Who am I to thank for our lives?", he said, gesturing for Natasha to put the - in the end useless anyway - gun away.

The Ymiri only looked at Steve's hand, making no move to take it.

Which he wouldn't, as Tony knew full well. He was Ymiri, he wouldn't touch someone he didn't knew, even if that someone was as friendly and trust inspiring as Steve. As a consort, he wouldn't touch him at all - he wasn't clan, wasn't part of those that were his . Even more, he probably didn't trust Steve much more than the men and women he'd just now put on ice.

Just that Tony really was the only one here who knew this.

Before the silence and stillness could become too awkward he moved forward and took hold of Steve's arm, pushed it down lightly. Steve looked at him in confusion, but Tony ignored him, focused on the stranger instead.

*I'm Tony, of Maria and Howard", he said, his hands going through the movements of greeting with the easiness of long familiarity.

The stranger's eyes lit up, even though his head tilted in confusion. Then he nodded, as if realizing something, and answered, his voice velvety smooth in a way Tony had never before heard from any Ymiri: *I am Loptr, of Laufey and Farbauti.* A smile flickered over his lips when he touched his hand to them. "I do also speak English."

Tony sighed; at least one concern less. Though by the looks he was receiving from both Steve and Natasha he was going to be grilled about this later on anyway.

Thankfully a loud noise from above them saved him for now.

Well, saved him ... what was there up on the balustrade, hovering darkly and stared down at them with hunger was even more dangerous than the douchebag of a crime-lord had been. Tony couldn't help the shiver that ran down his spine when the being shifted a bit. He would know that shape everywhere: a body even bigger than a queen's, muscles coiled strong and tight under a dark violet skin. No fur or scales, but wings larger than it was long, and a tail that ended in a thick spiked mace.

The eyes were the same yellow hue he remembered, yet when the stranger - Loptr - shifted the eyes jumped to him, attentive and almost subservient like ... a dog's ... and how the fuck would a Winged Death even get to a place like this, without someone bringing it?

"You ... tell me you didn't tame a Winged Death?" His voice sounded hoarse, and he could see Natasha shift, her hand on the gun rising again.

"Don't" the stranger warned her. "Your weapons would only infuriate her."

Since Tasha probably only had projectile and laser weapons on her right now that was true, and so Tony nodded when she looked to him for confirmation of the stranger's words. "There's not much that penetrates a Winged Death's hide", he explained, before turning back to Loptr. "How thee fuck did you manage that ?!"

A small smile tightened the consort's lips, before he made a gesture to the creature, causing her to hiss slightly, but fold her wings back. "Hela has been with me since she was very young. She's still not quite fully grown, but ... well, it's always good to have someone protect you, even more so when you are far from home." A calculating look came to his eyes and he asked, offhand: "Where is your clan?"

Startled Tony didn't know what to answer. "What do you mean, my clan ? I'm not Ymiri."

Loptr's eyes were really really green, like a barium flame, or sunlight filtered through the jungle's canopy, and even more so when they were trained quite that intensively on him. "You know our secrets, speak our language, greet me as one of us - if you where not clan you wouldn't know all this. So tell me - to which clan do you belong?"

That was ... hard . Tony hadn't thought of himself as clan for eons, hadn't ever told his teammates about this. Yet when Loptr asked, he somehow couldn't not answer. He looked too much like Loki, the friend he'd never had secrets from, and it had him off-balance.

"Asgard. I ... was once part of Asgard."

The head tilt started to feel familiar. "You are not anymore? What did you do?"

Because only the worst crimes were punished by exile, as Tony knew oh so damn well. And a consort would want to know with whom he was getting involved with. Closing his eyes against the onslaught of memories he whispered: "Something happened and I ... left. Don't worry, I'm not going to kill you." Loptr would need to trust him for him to be able to led him down this much, and he never would.

It was Steve who cut the strange tension between them. "I .. have to admit, I don't understand most of what's going on. But - what is with them?" He nodded at the frozen people around them. "Won't they ... shouldn't we get them out of the ice?"

Loptr didn't look very concerned about them, but then he wouldn't, would he? As an Ymiri it was more bizarre that he'd helped them at all, not that he couldn't care less for his enemies. "They will stay alive for a while longer, though they might loose a few toes and fingers. Why? Don't you wish for them to die?"

Tony sighed. Oh, yeah, he'd forgotten about that. "Steve wants to save everyone. By the way, these are Natasha-hunter, Ward-hunter" Who had still not woken up; hopefully he was only suffering a concussion. "And Steve-" He hesitated. Normally, Steve would be queen , being their leader and all. Yet there were certain expectations on a queen that Steve simply didn't fulfill. "Steve-hunter-leader", he ended eventually, thinking that einherjar would be a bit too much, even though he really hadn't seen Steve look at anyone since aunt Peggy or, maybe , that assassin he was chasing in his off-time.

His eyes sparkling Loptr accepted the explanation, then let his hands relax against his sides. "You'll have to remove the ice manually - my power over it ends with applying it. Though I recommend you take them somewhere you can keep them secured first."

"That won't be a problem, Sir. The Enterprise is on the way, and we'll be able to beam them into their holding cells within a few minutes. I just got confirmation." Vision's sudden appearance startled them all, though Jarvis handled the situation very well - as he should, being Tony's creation and talking to the other robots and all. Moving his hands through the motions of greeting as if he'd done them all his life, he said: "I am Jarvis, an AI created by Tony Stark. I wish to thank you, for saving my foolish Sir when I wasn't able to."

Loptr blushed a bit as Vision bowed slightly to him, obviously recognizing the gesture as a sign of deep respect even if he wasn't familiar with it.

Tony felt heat rushing into his cheeks as well, though for different reasons. Why the fuck did Jarvis have to point out to all of them that he needed rescuing ...? He wasn't a fucking damsel in distress!

"I am sure I wasn't that needed", Loptr mumbled.

Maybe it was that - this first sign of him being not as unapproachable as he'd first seemed - that had Steve speak up again. "When we've secured them all - would you allow us to show you our gratitude? We would like to invite you to eat with us?"

Tony could see the look Natasha threw their leader - she was far from convinced Loptr should be allowed onto the Avenger - yet she wasn't speaking up - obviously she left this choice to him. And Tony himself ... well, he knew how dangerous a consort could be, as well as how improbable it was that they would see something of this again.

So when Loptr looked up and their eyes met in question he nodded, confirming both the invitation as well as that it was safe for the consort to follow it.

The small, slow smile, hastily hidden by looking to the ground while he nodding accepted their gesture of appreciation, was totally worth it.



^^



It felt strange to sit at their table in the Avenger's kitchen, and not knowing what to say.

And all because there was a certain consort sitting next to him - Loptr had refused to sit anywhere else, probably afraid the rest of them wouldn't respect his preference to not be touched, or maybe just shy because they were strangers yet. At least Tony was someone who knew the unspoken rules of Ymiri life, knew to do nothing that frightened him.

Well, not any of the others would have done so, not with the Winged Death crouching over in the corner and munching its way through a rather large piece of meat, and another, smaller yet equally fierce dog-like predator, looking over to them with alternatively puppy-eyes - to Loptr - and as if it wanted to rip them apart - the rest of them.

Which wasn't quite supportive to a relaxed atmosphere. The only saving grace really was Steve's and Clint's excellent cooking, and Loptr's quite friendly behavior once he warmed up a bit more to them.

"So you've been really alone all this time? Why?" Ward looked at him completely confused.

Tilting his head Loptr answered: "I was not alone, I had Hela and Fenrir." A small smile appeared on his lips. "And I wasn't even lacking intelligent conversation - I had Sleipnir, after all."

Oh, yeah, Sleipnir. The AI of the ship that right now waited in their hangar, probably conversing with Jarvis about all the things that only AIs could understand.

From what Loptr and Sleipnir had told him the AI had been created by using some of his, Tony's, own codes, making the AI believe that Tony was its - his , Loptr referred to it as he - second creator. Which completely explained the happiness and excitement the AI had felt upon meeting him - going as far as to play some grand music piece when he entered the ship, and displaying colorful whorls on all his displays.

Yet it was exactly this that had Tony wonder if the AI was really right about it - he'd never had a heart to program such a happy, innocent AI after Loki ... after Loki. And he remembered deleting a lot of code shortly after leaving Yggdrasil behind - code that had been inspired, partly even been written by Loki. So while he wouldn't know for sure until he'd had time to glance over his core code he suspected that this particular paternity test would have a quite different result than the AI thought.

"Still, only an AI and two pets? Is that really enough?"

Tony felt his lips curve upwards. Really, these young people nowadays ... of them all Wards, Leo and Jemma were the only ones who never had to experience a time when loneliness was preferable to company. Were the only ones who hadn't spend considerable time fleeing from everyone who would drag them back into civilization.

For him, flying through space with an AI and two pets as company sounded perfectly reasonable.

Yet it wouldn't be, not for a normal consort. He would need company, protection, reassurance. Contact . So really, the more pressing question was - why had he given up a clan's closeness for this?

As if hearing Tony's thoughts Loptr answered, haltingly, as if not quite sure how to explain himself: "I ... I am searching for something. It wasn't on Yggdrasil, not anymore, so I ... I needed to leave." A soft smile curved his lips upward, and he ducked his head as if trying to hide it. "And I am very thankful that I have both Hela and Fenrir as my loyal companions, and that Sleipnir decided to help me."

Yeah, well ... however he had come to own - well, befriend, as he'd called it - Sleipnir. Going by the shifty way both of them had not spoken about their first meeting Tony assumed it wasn't quite as legal as it ought to be.

"And that lead you to us?", Steve asked. It seemed he was still trying to find out why this stranger had helped them.

Brucet returned from the stove, a tray with his preferred – though slightly chipped - cups and a pot full of steaming tea in his hands. "Tea, anyone? Loptr?" His voice was warm, and his smile kind when he turned to their guest, who obviously couldn't help but smile back.

"Yes, please", he said, letting Bruce pour him a cup and brought it up to his mouth, taking a small sip. If the heat bothered him - which would be unusual; Tony had seen his friends drink tea fresh from the fire before - he wasn't it. Instead his eyes lit up, and he smiled a bit more genuine now. "That is very good. What is it?"

Bruce' own smile broadened - he so rarely met someone who preferred his tea over coffee or even kava, the pretty much tasteless - as far as Tony was concerned - caffeine-containing drink that everyone else drunk nowadays.

Not him of course. He owned a company that made billions of creds per year, he would drink the real thing.

"It's a special blend I make myself. If you like, I can show you more later?"

"That would be very kind of you." Loptr smiled and nodded, his face showing his honest joy at the invitation. Then he turned back to Steve, managing to make it look as if the interruption never happened yet not offending Bruce at all. "As I said, I am searching for something. It seemed ... I have ground to believe that I would, if ever, only find it with you. So please, my ... rescuing you was fully selfish - I would not be able to obtain my goal without you, you see?"

That was ... rather dubious. Even Steve looked nonplussed - a look Tony got to see on him very rarely.

Yet it was Coulson who broke the silence. "If you tell us what you are after we might be able to help you." There was something shrewd in his eyes when he looked at Loptr, as if he knew something that no-one else had noticed so far.

Loptr returned his gaze, meeting his eyes right on - something not many had been known to be able. Nor did he seem to underestimate the average appearing man - maybe because he didn't know what average would be for a human. Or, well, any alien race, really.

"I don't think you would ... I don't know how to explain it properly, so I don't think you'd be capable of recognizing it." He watched Coulson like a hawk, like he was trying to read a completely different question, a different proposal from the other's eyes. And maybe he did, for he nodded lightly, adding: "If you would be so kind as to ... let me stay with you - until I have found what I am searching for only, of course - I would be … happy, to help you should you require my kind of help again, in future."

That stunned them all, mostly because ... not even an hour ago he hadn't wanted to come with them, or just talk to them. And now he was offering to help them ...?

Coulson however only smiled that mysterious, almost invisible smile of his as if this was exactly the outcome he'd intended all along - as if this was the answer to a question he'd asked. "I think we'd be happy to have you, Mr. Loptr. Am I right, Steve?"

Steve, seeming a bit thrown by that development, looked around the table, silently asking for opinions.

Tony wasn't sure what he was expecting. They all had seen the other's power over ice, had seen his claws and teeth - they knew he could be an incredible asset as well as an incredible foe. And with someone they knew only so few about Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer sounded very reasonable.



^^



Loptr integrated himself into their life as if he'd been there all along. Ate with them, laughed with them, fought with them for the best spot to watch movies when they settled down together in the evenings.

He even joined Steve and Ward every morning in the gym for their run on the treadmill.



Tony still remembered the first time they came back from it, freshly showered and laughing, Ward gesticulating to explain some concept or another. It had been on the morning of their fourth day, and also been the first time Loptr did anything with one of them.

And it had gone very very well - when they'd turned up in the kitchen Ward and he had been comparing childhood stories; it seemed Loptr had a very wild queen-sister, and rescuing her out of dangerous situations seemed to have prepared him well for saving their asses.

He also learned that Ward had a sister who was exactly the same - always asking for trouble, and then relying on her big brother to get her out. Really, Ward made such a pitiful face when he retold some of those stories, he had the whole breakfast table crying in laughter.



Though as much as he obviously liked Ward and enjoyed spending time with him he grew closer to Steve. Maybe because he was quieter and less likely to accidentally touch him because he couldn't keep his hands still, or because for all that Steve was a warrior he actually preferred a peaceful route when he had the option. And when he learned that the little note book Steve brought with him everywhere was filled with sketches that he had done himself in his free time his eyes became so big Tony feared they would fall out.

After that he sometimes disappeared to the observation lounge in the afternoons, with one of the few real, fragile and well-loved books Steve owned, and they would spend the time doing nothing but pursuing their hobbies, and Loki watching how Steve drew everything from their teammates to scenes they'd seen on the planets they'd visited. In his more depressing moods he also drew Howard - the Howard of his youth, not Tony's father - or aunt Peggy in her prime - making Tony realize that the woman he'd only ever known as ancient and fragile had been a strong-willed warrior all her life, and absolutely beautiful. Really, Steve's pictures were better in driving that home than any holo-pic ever could.

Of course, when he was in a very black mood, the only thing he drew was James "Bucky" Barnes, causing May to order comfort food for dinner.

Lately however a lot of his sketches had been Loptr, and when the Ymiri caught on he made sure that Steve always drew his chocolate side - which was how they found out how much he prized his long curved horns.



^^



Clint loved that Tony had made sure that 3-D-holograms could be shown everywhere on the whole ship, using the highly complicated and rather expensive technology as his own holographic games console. Loved as in really loved it. Not even the archery range - complete with moving holographic targets and all - or the addition of Stark money to their food budget could get him as excited as his damn games .

His only real problem was that he barely ever found a worthy adversary. Yes, Ward was more than happy to help out - he loved it almost as much - but he didn't have enough time for it, though Tony hadn't yet found out what he did with all his free time. Leo would join him for new game for maybe an afternoon, before he grabbed Tony and proposed ideas to improve the quality of the game - not that Tony was opposed to that; he hated most video games, too – too boring. Maybe he should think have S tark I ndustries start producing good games … they'd certainly be better than Nintendo's.

May, it turned out, was simply too good on them. Good as in she absolutely destroyed Clint and Tony both in every action game, and since Clint wasn't up for anything else there was no game he voluntarily played with her.

So when it turned out that Loptr not only liked video games but was good at them, too - well, that was a bro-ship if Tony had ever seen one. Really, they sometimes spend whole afternoons in front of the holographic pictures, their fingers getting sore from how much they clicked and touched and hammered on the controllers, and their combined laughter and screaming and cheering loud enough that Bruce threatened more than once that he would throw them out of the ship.



^^



Not that he would.

Well, Clint maybe, but Loptr ? The only one who loved tea as much as Bruce? Was willing to spend time with him to try out new blends, or actually discuss which herbs and flowers and fruits might go well with each other, and whether Vulcan red wood was a better tea base than tea leaves or rooibos or Kree blue star.

At least it made Bruce spend more time outside of the ship, something he wouldn't have dared before. Maybe it had to do with the fact that Loptr, with his power of ice, could actually take the Hulk on. Or it was the fact that the Ymiri wanted to go and despite his instinctive mistrust, despite being strong enough to save the all, embodied a kind of innocence that none of the other field agents possessed anymore. Hell, Leo and Jemma were the only ones who inspired the same kind of protectiveness in any of them.

Once Tony even went with them on one of their shopping trips - if you could call their tasting and smelling and feeling shopping. He was only on Trakir to meet a certain smith of course, yet when he'd concluded his own business he found himself wondering what Bruce and Loptr were up to.

He found them a bit offside the turmoil, in a small shop that looked more like a junk shop than a teashop. Well, actually Jarvis found them - Tony would never even have thought to look at the shop twice.

Since it seemed they were still completely engrossed by the bowls full of whatever the shopkeeper showed them Tony looked a bit around the shop.

It was very archaic, with real dark wooden shelves along the walls and real paper books in them. Lamps with colorful shades hung from the ceiling and threw dancing shadows all over everything, the light catching in more knick-knacks - gemstones, wooden whatevers, figures, furs and a hundred and one more. There were woven baskets in front of the shelves, holding mussels and stones and even leaves in bundles that might or might not be what the shopkeeper offered people who knew nothing about it as tea.

While he wandered around the room he couldn't keep his fingers to himself - he'd always looked with his hands, as Maria had put it. Tony just found that stroking over the contours of something, feeling the structure under his fingertips - soft and yielding, hard and resistant, cold, warm, alive or dead - helped him understand the things on a level that simple looking at them couldn't.

And here ... there was so much to feel! The leather-wrapped spines of the books, warm and soft and fragile. The stones - smooth, cold, nicked, yet somehow still soft. The beautiful furs with their soft and warm texture, and the differences between the various colors - different animals they came from, probably. The was a red one with violet spots that felt very warm and thick to him. The more pinkish one was colder, the hairs straighter and harder, making it almost uncomfortable. Maybe the softest one was deep green with black curls on it - the hairs were so long he could almost loose his fingers in them, and he just knew that curling up with this around himself would be such a safe, warm haven.

But while he placed the fur over his arm, intend to gift it to Pepper when he saw her next time - she always complained about being cold on trips, and he did so hope he wasn't messing up her color scheme with this - it was only when he pulled a small basket from one shelf that he really found himself captured.

There were maybe a dozen globes inside, all of them the size of his first thumb knuckle. They already looked beautiful on the first glance - all of them in different colors, with delicate patterns seemingly drawn on with a very thin brush. Yet when he looked more carefully he saw them for what they really were: tiny feathers, bound together like the branches of a home-tree. It certainly explained how light they felt in his palm. Their rachises were the rips of the structure, their vane the tent over them. Since the rachis was lighter colored than the rest of the feathers it stood out strongly against the rest of the globe, giving it a wonderful pattern.

"Like them you?", someone said in broken English into his ear and he startled so much that the little globe fell from his hand.

Another hand, smaller and with very long, blueish fingers appeared to snatch them from the air. Embarrassed he turned around to see that he had an audience; obviously Loptr and Bruce had completed their sampling and decided to wander over to him, with the shopkeeper joining them.

"I'm sorry", he said. "I didn't want to-"

The woman - he was pretty sure she was a woman - just waved his apology aside. "They much sturdy than looking!", she declared. "My daughter-daughter makes, and they from morning-tree bird - they not broken so fast!"

Tony looked at her, at her proud and happy face, and then nodded. It wasn't as if ...

"I take them", he said.

The shopkeeper blinked. "Which one?", she asked, smile widening in the face of his interest.

"All of them." He was Tony Stark after all. "I take all of them."

Her face became a bit wary, yet there was also a hint of shrewdness in her eyes. '"They not cheap", she warned.

Tony just smiled. "I'm sure we'll find a price we're all happy with."



In the end he paid her much more than she had probably expected. Well, she had expected for him to bargain with her, and he simply accepted her first price for both the fur and the globes, paying probably half again what they were worth, yet ... it wasn't for him, was it? And neither Pepper nor Loki had ever thought he had great skills when it came to bargaining, anyway.



^^



"That looks beautiful!"

Maybe Loptr's outcry should have prepared him for what was to follow, but then he'd been a bit distracted in that moment. To be exact, he'd been halfway through the firewall of some other planet, fighting off the reactive malware that tried to turn his computer, Jarvis and, since they were sitting in a space ship, him, too, in so much trash.

It was another mission, with Natasha, Loptr and Ward on side distracting everyone by looking exotic (it was actually a planet where Natasha and Ward looked far more exotic than Loptr), while Clint sneaked into their physical files and Skye and Tony (and Jarvis, of course) into their cyber ones. Coulson had accepted the case because it seemed one of the assassins the drug lord employed was one Wintersoldier, turning Steve - of course - into a wreck. Right now he was stationed at a likely escape route for whoever wanted to not be caught when the trap snapped shut - someone like the Wintersoldier, for example. Not even Coulson thought he could come between Steve and his ... friend.

Only later - when the Wintersoldier had escaped (but not without a few confused looks at Steve, and a hope-inspiring conversation), when Skye and Tony had breached the firewall and gotten what they needed (and maybe a few things they shouldn't have wanted, yet Skye did anyway, like a few very disturbing looks at some of the more handsome guys naked), when Clint had made copies of all the files that looked interesting. When some asshole ambassador had fallen for Natasha, Ward had started a bar brawl and Loptr had escaped, laughing so much he could barely walk. Only then, when they had returned, and their daily routine had come back into their life, did that one sentence come back to haunt him.

He'd been down in his workshop deep within the Avenger . Maybe he'd also pulled an all-nighter again - it was hard to tell when you'd never really developed a true day-night-rhythm again after leaving home to judge the time by. Anyway, he'd been there, giving flesh - well, metal - to the idea he'd been waking up with, head bobbing in tact with AC/DC, while his mind had been immersed in code, structure and math.

And then Skye suddenly turned up in his door, all smiles and chatter, grabbing his arm and tugging him after her.

Tony sometimes forgot how strong the girl was, but having her fingers grip him hard enough that he couldn't pull his wrist away it was hard to ignore. "I have work to do!", he complained, not caring the least about his whiny tone. "What do you even want ? Where are we going? Don't tell me Captain spangles has put me on breakfast duty again?"

A shudder went through her body. "Oh, no , don't worry. We'd stop him if he ever tried to kill us by foot-poisoning again. I haven't forgotten your green scrambled eggs. How did you even make them green ?"

Tony shrugged. He had no idea, but then the only things he could cook were broth and grilled meat and frozen pizza.

"Anyway", Skye continued, ushering him into the elevator and pressing the button for the uppermost floor. "Loptr's seen the dancer - you know? On Xwarcz45? Masquerade and dancing and ...? Okay, doesn't matter. Anyway, he's seen them and wants to learn, just that he's not comfortable with us touching him for, like, tango and waltz and ... yeah, we already covered Country and Tsurugh and Biamney and, well, the basics of all the partner dances, but you can only learn so much when you dance alone, you know? And it's also much more fun with a partner."

She smiled up at him, and Tony didn't know what to say. He wasn't that opposed to the idea of dancing with someone - even if said someone was resembling his dead friend so much it hurt - but right now he needed to finish work ... he couldn't just leave it there, unfinished, yes?

"What makes you think that I can dance?", he whined plaintively.

Skye only grinned triumphantly. "Nice try. I hacked your files, remember? And you took dancing classes at New MIT, and later again when you returned to earth. So don't pretend you can't!"

Sighing Tony gave in. Really, it was hard with someone on the same team who was almost as good in hacking as him.

Skye lead him onto the observation lounge. It occupied almost the complete floor and served as something like a second living room for the team with its comfortable furnishing, low tables and all the time they spent in there.

Right now Natasha and Loptr were the only other occupants of the room, both of them standing in the middle of the room, their arms held up in a poise as if they were about to grab on a partner. Low music played in the background - a slow waltz, though one Tony had never heard before.

When Skye and he stepped in they looked up and Tony was surprised to see a faint blush spread over Loptr's pale face.

"Good job", Natasha nodded to Skye, who answered by grinning broadly.

"Yeah, that's what I think, too." She looked really pleased with herself.

Tony ignored them - not that easy when one of them was a galaxy-famous assassin, but he'd started to accept that when Tasha wanted to kill him he'd never see it coming anyway - and focused on Loptr instead. "You really okay with me touching you?"

Queens touched whoever they pleased. Einherjar weren't that much into touching strangers, but they would to defend others. Everyone else simply avoided touching without being invited, though for all of them wanting to touch was reserved for people they liked.

Consorts however? They only ever touched people of their clan, and though they were very affectionate with those they almost never allowed anyone else to lay so much as a single finger on them.

Yet here Loptr was, reaching out for him with a trembling hand, his face a mask of apprehension and excitement. "Yes", he whispered. "It's ... it's okay. Really."

Tony looked at him, still hesitating, when Loptr's hand stopped right over his bare arm, pulling his gaze to the difference between them.

Loptr's skin pale, unblemished, as clean as one could only get, only from the hands grew dark scales upwards over his lower arm, scattering into nothing around mid-forearm. His own arm in contrast was darker, like chestnut honey and since Skye hadn't given him time to wash his skin was stained with oil and sweat, there was a smudge of ash on his wrist (he distantly remembered a small explosion a few hours ago) and he reeked. Really, there couldn't be a bigger difference between them.

"Are you okay with this?", Loptr asked now, and the fear that Tony would reject in him was plain to hear in his voice. For if Tony didn't want to touch him, didn't want this contact - this trust, this responsibility - Loptr wouldn't press him into it.

Every touch was precious, intimate. Something to be shared only with family and those who were really, truly close to you.

He'd never lived after this quite as much as his clan, not even when he was living with them. As just another human child in a mostly human settlement he'd been subject to any number of casual touches, and later, at New MIT, it wasn't only a question of how to avoid unwanted touches but also how to even get the ones he wanted. After years with the Ymiri he'd been so used to almost constant touches, to kissing and stroking and embracing that going back to normal human behavior had been such a shock ...

Later, now , he still kept truly affectionate touches to people he loved - the robots, Pepper and Rhodey, his team, Fury every now and then (though he would never admit to even liking the old pirate). All those people who wouldn't take it the wrong way when he just snuggled up to them on a couch, maybe press his cheek against theirs even before focusing on his tablet and whatever he was working on right now.

But Loptr was living the Ymiri way, had grown up with it, and touching someone was something very important to him. Tony ... wasn't feeling ready for this, not in the least. Not that he didn't like the other, but this ...

"It's okay", Loptr said, and he could hear the disappointment in his voice when he pulled his hand back.

Spontaneous Tony turned his own hand and grabbed him by the wrist, causing him to stop and turn wide-open, surprised eyes at him.

The skin felt ... different under his fingers. Smooth, warm. The scales much softer than he had expected it - he didn't remember Frigg's scales having the same flexibility to them. Yet they were also hard enough that he knew he wouldn't be able to cut through them with a normal knife.

Howard had once taken him to visit a business partner who owned kois, and he'd been so fascinated with them that the man had invited him to stroke them. Now, his fingers around Loptr's wrist, it felt very similar.

"I'm sorry" he said, keeping his grip loose so that the other could draw his hand back if he wanted. "I didn't want to reject you. I'm just ... I'm unsure whether I can be worthy of ... this." Helplessly he indicated the way their hands were linked with his free left hand.

Loptr's surprised expression dissolved in a smile and he looked into Tony's eyes, kept his gaze fixed. "I don't fear so", he said, simply.

Tony swallowed. This was ... turning his head away so he didn't have to meet the other's gaze any longer he found himself under scrutiny by Nata sha and Skye. Both of them looked intrigued and surprised, though Natasha less so; he supposed being fluid in body language meant there wasn't much that surprised you anymore.

Thankfully Skye couldn't stand tension for long or this might have become awkward. "So let's get to it. You do remember what I've showed you, Lops? Do it just like I showed you, and keep your feet away from Tony's - and you, if you step on his toes you're on cleaning duty for the rest of the week!"

Oh, yeah. Looking down Tony remembered ... Loptr wasn't - couldn't , really - wearing shoes. There was simply no way to fit his claws in shoes without hurting him, and his claws ruining the material.

So Skye had a point - he should keep his feet away from the other's toes.

And then she ordered Jarvis to repeat the waltz, and Loptr moved in dance position. A woman's dance position.

Of course. The man was leading, yet in Ymiri culture the consort would follow the queen. And with Tony being the only one he was even considering touching it made sense that they would teach him the female steps.

Not to mention that the female's steps were made to show-off, and that was something queens would always do with the consorts they had chosen.

Stepping up to his dancing partner Tony took his offered hand and settled the other on Loptr's waist while a hand - strong palm, delicate fingers, deadly claws - settled carefully on his shoulder. Tony looked at the other again, waited a moment for him to nod that he was ready, and then he took the first step forwards.

Of course Loptr was too much in his head at the start, needing guidance and help and even stumbled several times before he really understood the movement, opened himself to them. Yet it was quite clear that Tasha and Skye had done a good job teaching him - he barely ever forgot a step, and most of them he remembered very well.

The thing that was the most obvious? Even with all the stumbling at first, Loptr's glass-eyed look while he was trying to remember the steps, and the way he sometimes had to hold onto Tony for balance, there was no way to overlook how smoothly they moved together.



^^



"No-no-no", Tony whined. "It's the middle of the night, and I'm not awake yet!" He pulled his blanket back over his head, not caring that it exposed his legs and half his ass. Pepper had seen him in less, and on more than one occasion.

So her not being the least bit disconcerted when she carried on wasn't surprising. "Tony, stand up or I'll have Jarvis raise the temperature in your room until even you can't stay under the blankets."

The worst thing about her threat was that she could very easily make it true - Jarvis the traitor listened much too often to her over Tony. Whining again he complained: "Why do I have to get up now ? I thought I made you CEO so I don't have to bother about this!"

"Sadly, you're still the owner of SI and our best software designer. SI wouldn't work the way it is doing without you, and that means you have to turn up every once in a while, even if it's just to show people you're still alive and working for us. And really, I don't understand why you're complaining - after all I'll have to sit in a room with the assholes for a few hours while you can stay wherever you are and just have to pretend you're listening."

Tony grumbled again, but eventually he threw the blanket away and climbed out of bed, not the least bit self-conscious about being naked. He'd never had problems with that when it came to Pepper, and certainly not after they tried out dating and sex.

The sex was great. The dating ... not so.

Searching for a clean shirt and boxer shorts he tried to ignore how good Pepper looked. Perfect and happy, and it wasn't only because she was a hologram and sat hundreds of light years away from him. She always, always , looked absolutely lickable in her skirt and blouse, the necklace that Tony had gifted her with to her last birthday proudly displayed on the dark fabric. He couldn't detect any make-up, but then she'd never needed anything to be beautiful.

Pepper looked beautiful covered in oil stains, after heavy rain had completely soaked her and she'd been harassed by some wild animal. He knew that for sure, because that's what had happened on their trip to a technological not that advanced planet where they had to reach their final destination by car.

Maybe it was the silence on his part, or his easy acquiescence, or maybe just that secret sense that she seemed to possess, because suddenly she came closer as if she could smell him like this, and asked, her insubstantial holographic hand laid against his cheek: "Did you drink yesterday?"

He leaned into her touch, wished she was really here and he could really feel her touch, draw comfort from it. Because this question - it wasn't about drinking at all. Pepper had seen him drink quite a lot of times and she would always react in the most appropriate way: completely ignoring it, just simply needling him to stand up and shower and get productive .

But then it was about getting drunk at parties, or with some model or another he'd had over for the night, and he could certainly agree with her that he should know better than to drink too much when he had work to do the other day.

This ... this was about drinking too much for days, wailing in misery, staying under the blankets or in a quite corner of the workshop doing nothing and eating nothing and finally getting admitted to the hospital with dehydration and a much too high alcohol level. It was about not getting anything done and being a nuisance to everyone he loved and needing to see a shrink and ...

"I've dreamed of him", he whispered, not looking at her.

There was no need to say who. Not for Pepper who'd been the one that had called the ambulance, and made him talk to the doctor, and stood by him through all the time. Who'd dated him even despite all the baggage he was bringing with him, and who accepted him coming between them and staid with him anyway.

"Tell me", she just said, her voice warm and soft, but not pitying. Pepper always said he was strong, and that he didn't need anyone's pity. Just a shoulder to cry on from time to time, as did anyone.

Turning from her, but already feeling so much better, lighter, just from her easy acceptance, Tony stared at the rumpled sheets he'd left behind. He could smell the stink of unwashed body, of stale alcohol, of fear and shame and pain. "He was happy", he whispered, focusing on the way the blankets lay so he wouldn't see Loki's grinning face in front of him again. "He ... he was an adult. Big, beautiful, strong." A bitter laugh tore from his lips. "A bit like our new team member, actually. Just with ... he always wanted to wear gold and amber and emeralds. Coral . He ... coral is a sign of love. And he always wanted to wear coral. He collected coral beads for me ... I told you, do you remember? When you asked about the jade pearl I bought in Nasgrough?"

Pepper made a quiet affirming sound, and he continued: "He was wearing them. All of them. All those beads I've bought for him. The Vulcan ones, the gold, the jade and emerald and dragon scales and those from that serpent and the feather ones and ... all of them, you know? Like we promised each other. And he was happy, and he was laughing at me, and then ..." And then he leaned down to me and kissed me, and I realized that what has been friendship and play for me was deadly serious to him. That he loved me.

He didn't have to finish this thought with Pepper however. She'd once asked him if he had loved Loki and he'd only looked at her in confusion. And then she'd told him that he must have been truly oblivious for all his life, because 'other-half-of-my-heart' and 'soul-brother' wasn't truly things one called a friend.

"I just fear ... he loved me, and then, when we ... then , he would save me, and give his life knowing I never returned his feelings."

Pepper stayed silent for a moment longer before she came around, her slightly transparent fingers touching his arm. "I think he knew that you loved him. That you were too young to ever consider anything different with him than friendship. And when he gave his life for you - I don't think he died regretting this. Not when he loved you as much as I think he did."

Tony looked at her hands, touching him, and he felt his eyes burn. "I just ... I wanted ... I didn't ... Pep, I miss him so much! And I - I ..."

"I know", she said softly, and hugged him close, and he so wanted to feel her touch. "I know."

Maybe it was her acceptance, or her words, or that he knew that he never ever needed to hide from her, or act strong for her. But in this moment all he could do was crumble together and sob. Cry for his friend and the future he'd never have, and the love Tony never even knew about.



^^



When Tony first joined the Avengers - but after he'd won their approval and formed the first bonds of friendship with them - he'd started to redesign the whole ship. Not that the Avenger wasn't a beautiful ship all on her own - sleek and strong, just big enough to hold maybe double the crew she had now, with a large cargo hold and a gym and shooting area and swimming pool and so on. But it was still a military ship, and Tony might not be too spoiled (oh, well, he totally was) but he certainly wasn't living like a soldier.

So he started to refurnish the gym and rebuild the shooting area. Added a greenhouse that doubled as garden. Made the living room into a room that one could actually get comfortable in. Replaced the ship's AI (some base model that didn't even deserve to be called that in Tony's opinion) with Jarvis - his greatest improvement.

Then his biggest eyesore: the lab. As in, one lab. For by now four scientists - five, if one counted Skye, though she was mostly working from the terminal on her own room or on the absolutely archaic laptop she'd brought with her.

Tony wasn't having it, so he simply stripped the lab and replaced it with the kitchen - which was probably the reason they weren't all blowing up from the explosion that one time Jemma and Leo teamed up to cook - before building four new labs down into the ship - one for Bruce and Jemma each, one for himself, and one for Leo and Skye. All of them could be opened up to each other so they could work together, but also allowed separate working (which was great whenever Leo complained about his taste in music or Bruce worked with something that stunk horribly again . They could even deactivate the artificial gravity in here, which had earned him a kiss from Leo and a raised eyebrow and “What about the air pressure?” from Jemma.

It had narrowed their cargo room, but no-one had argued with that.

His latest project had been the observation lounge. Not that it hadn't been nice before, too (it was actually the only place that Tony had liked), but after a few years in use it could do with a new couch, and the floor had been replaced. And because he was at it, Tony had added a few shelves for Steve and Coulson to put their antique books in, and for Jemma's books (because she collected books, too, just that hers were new, from other planets). And as much as they all made amused faces whenever one of them turned up with an addition: they'd all already been found browsing the library.

And so it wasn't strange for Tony to stumble up there after a science bender, his eyes almost shut yet with a brain that would never shut off, and see one of his team mates there, eyes trained on the antiquated paper books, or sometimes a tablet - reading, of course; by some unspoken rule they never played games here and kept things quiet and calm.

Steve would often sit there and draw, pencil on paper, or sometimes coal or even on the virtual easel. Jemma, they had learned, preferred to knit - a hobby that had Clint intrigued so much that he'd started to join her. Most of the times Leo would then sit there and watch them incredulously, while trying to solve whatever problem was bugging him right now in a notebook.

The one Tony met up there the most however was Loptr - maybe because his sleep-wake rhythm was as off as his own.

He would sit there, at any time at day and night, curled up in the old armchair, his chin resting on the back of one hand, the other holding a book, or tablet, or sometimes nothing at all. His feet were tugged against the side of the chair and his tail curled neatly around them. It was ... it looked peaceful in the same way as Steve drawing, or Hogun watching them. Content .

When someone came in he would look up and smile, yet returned afterwards to whatever he was doing, even if it was just watching whoever shared the space with him at that time.

Tony could never say when it was, but he knew that it was here when he first stumbled up from his workshop for a short break before he went to sleep, his eyes red and sore from looking too long at machines and holograms, his thoughts flying by a million miles per hour and his brain too mangled to process them, and then he suddenly looked at the other and thought, not how much he resembled Loki, but: He's beautiful.



Chapter Text

Having Tony-heart again, in this way of not quite having him ... it was strange . On one hand it soothed the ache in his own heart to have him near, to know that he was safe, and had friends, and was being cared for.

On the other hand ... being with him yet having to deny himself all the touches he really wanted to give, wanted to receive ... all the things he wanted to say to him and couldn't ... that was hard. Even more so when it was something he had denied himself, and the reason seemed to become moot every so often when Tony looked at him, that dark hungry look on his face that went right through him, made him want to beg Tony-queen to do things to him ...

Yet he couldn't. He had to wait, because he wouldn't, ever , betray the trust Tony placed in him any more than he had to. Wouldn't share sex and kisses and more with him without telling him everything - and when it meant that he would never have anything with him because Tony would be better off not knowing anything about him, then so be it.



^^



But it didn't mean he couldn't enjoy his time with him. His time as Loptr, consort-son of Laufey-reigning-queen of Jotunheimr and her first consort, Farbauti. And even if the name was a lie - wasn't, not really ; he was just lucky to have four parents instead of only two, and five clutchmates - everything else certainly wasn't.

And it was just so easy to enjoy Tony's company - in the living room or on the observation lounge, curled up next to him and feeling his fingers stroke absentmindedly through his spines as if they had never stopped doing so.

In the kitchen, cooking for him (cooking was something he'd picked up mostly in self defense; while they always cooked things he could eat, or added a dish if whatever they made was poisonous for him, in the same way as they did for Skye or Natasha or Clint, that didn't mean they could cook well . That was something Steve, Skye and Phil seemed to have reserved for themselves, with occasional sweet dishes from May, and they couldn't be always the ones on cooking duty).

Tony seemed to have as much trouble living by Standard Earth Time as he did, and he was often awake at the strangest time meaning he ate whatever was left over in the fridge or simply used t he replicator - and at l east with the last option the taste buds should better be on holiday when he ate it.



Something else they got to do together was sparring. It hadn't occurred to him or anyone else before that mission on Mokrgf III, but after that Phil, Steve and Natasha had sat him and Tony down and asked, their voices serious and very very firm: "How old are you, Loptr?"

He had squirmed quite a while under their combined looks, until Tony turned to him and asked, as serious right now as their leaders were: *How long since the change-sleep, Loptr?*

And he couldn't very well lie to him, could he? So he had admitted, carefully avoiding eye contact with anyone: "By now ... a bit more than one and a half year?"

Steve made an unbelieving noise and he realized that they didn't knew what Tony had asked. Hastily he explained: "Since I have this body. I'm now ... something over fifty years on Yggdrasil, not sure how to translate that in standard."

Nodding as if this had confirmed something Phil leaned back. "You are not used to this form yet, are you?"

Which was right, of course. Loki had hunted as much as any other, had played and learned to fight in this form - but he was still not fully comfortable with it, felt still so often unbalanced without four paws or buttress roots. And the wings ... they worked differently to the ones on his first form, now that his body's center of gravity had changed, and they were larger, too, making it harder to navigate in close quarters. Then there was the matter of his arms - when they were legs and ended in paws he would pull them in for a flight, but now they were too long for that. What was he supposed to do with them? Cross them over his chest? Leave them by his side?

Well, it really wasn't easy. And that wasn't even the part Phil was talking about.

"Can you fight in this form?", he asked.

And the way Loki's lips twitched with a helpless smile answered this question for him.

So he and Tony had now a fixed appointment in the gym every afternoon. Not that they always made it; there were still days when the muse descended upon Tony and he fell into what he called the zone , making him pull all-nighters until he'd finished whatever it was she whispered in his mind. And there were the times when Loki forgot the time, sleeping down in the hangar with Hela and Fenrir curled up to him, safe and warm and not disturbed by worries about his future for once.

But most of the time they were there. Tony even made a point to have Jarvis remind him of it and appeared in something that could be called workout clothes, while Loki asked Sleipnir to wake him should he oversleep again (though if the traitor decided he needed the sleep he just quietly informed Tony that he wouldn't turn up).

Their trainer was Natasha most of the time, with sometimes Ward as the one to help out when she couldn't make it.

Working with them - the way they showed him things, then had him try them out on Tony once he'd gotten a hang on the movements - made him realize that he'd never properly trained before. He knew that the einherjar did, but they were warriors, and the queens learned to fight, too. But everyone else was mostly self-taught - Yggdrasil was a good place to learn how to fight, and rough-housing with elders or siblings improved their technique vastly.

But consorts ? Fighting wasn't a done thing for consorts, not even in Jotunheimr, even though they encouraged a more adventurous heart in them. Yet they expected consorts to fight with their inborn power, the ice that Loki had been born with. But should the ice ever not come to his call, or he couldn't react fast enough ... then he would end up bound like that one time on Mokrgf and could help neither himself nor others.

Tony was, unsurprisingly, very good. There was for once his reflexes and the knowledge he had about his body's abilities, his balance - all things he would have acquired by living in the jungle with them the way he had, by playing with dragonets for most of his childhood.

But there was more to it. He distantly remembered hearing him tell about dance classes, and how his father had wanted to send him to fighting classes as well. Something like ... Tae-kwon-do? Or was that the one he couldn't stand?

Anyway.

There was a mattress on the gym's floor, and they would stand opposite each other. At first they went slow, with Tony helping him as much as he could, moving into him in exactly the right way. But later he had to repeat the motion with Tony coming from everywhere, and him having to get in the right position himself, having to swipe his feet from under him to make him move the way he wanted. And when he couldn't get it done the way they were practicing Natasha was a great fan of him improvising, using earlier techniques or no technique at all.

As she put it - "Once your opponent is down some people will complain you've been too rough, or unfair. But if you can't get them down there's no way they will let you complain."

He thought she would go along quite well with Sif – they had the same kind of dark bloody humor.



^^



His favorite time with Tony however was the time in the lab. It reminded him so much of their childhood, of working together and laughing with each other, sharing ideas and thoughts or just being the soundboard for the other.

There were days when he slipped in and Tony would barely acknowledge it, and others when he got an embrace and oily spots all over his clothes. Days they spend silent, others singing (though at least Tony reduced the volume when he entered; really, his music taste was the one thing on Tony that wasn't perfect) and others again arguing why something couldn't work the way Tony wanted it to. There were long days expanding easily into the night and short days when Tony gave up on a project after an hour, turning up for a meal in time unexpectedly. Days when Loki could help, and others were he couldn't.

And yet he never felt as if even one day was wasted. He knew, full well, that Tony was always aware he was there. He knew it by the way some muscles in his shoulders and back that were always tensed, relaxed. By the way he suddenly seemed to find new ways to do things once Loki was in, even just carefully tugged into his corner, reading on his tablet.

It warmed his heart to know that Tony liked having him near, loved sharing the room that was the closest he had to a heart outside his body with him.

Which made it hard to acknowledge that as much as he liked Tony, and programming, and technology, Jemma's work and biology interested him far more.

Maybe it was because he'd been a tree not so long ago. He knew about life in ways that most people would never even begin to understand - the way even the smallest protozoon was alive , or how they were needed all in ... how did Jemma put it? In the Circle of Life . Steve had once explained to him that it was a phrase taken from a movie that had been old when he was born. Not that he cared; he really really liked that description.

So while he loved spending time with Tony and helping him work on his projects, or tried to also help Bruce and Leo whenever they needed him, there was no denying that he really enjoyed learning more about microbes and alien bacteria and how a virus that was essential for the survival of the natives on one planet could be transported off-planet by a member of another race that was completely indifferent to that virus, and then kill off a whole race several thousand light years away.

And there was more to it. He learned about animals and plants and fungi, about silicon-based organisms that English had no word for, and light beings, and wave beings, and living stars, and his eyes grew bigger and bigger and bigger while he tried to soak up everything she knew, tried to learn everything there was to learn that he hadn't learned in all the many years of his life due to their planet, as lovely as it was, not having access to what was common knowledge everywhere else in the galaxy.

In the heat of exploring, when they had to share Jemma's best microscope, or were both bend over the same sample, Jemma sometimes brushed his hand or spines or once his face. She didn't seem to notice; with how excited she was in that moments he wasn't sure she would have noticed an explosion in the other labs. And Loki ... Loki found he didn't mind so much, not from her and with such innocent reason.

Though he still scrubbed himself thoroughly later every time it happened.



One of the best things about the labs were the clear, retractable walls between them. They could be darkened of course whenever one of them - most of the times Bruce or Jemma - needed complete darkness for an experiment, but that happened seldom, and the wall between Jemma's and Leo's lab was almost never closed - they were too used to work together in one lab from their time pre-Tony to really enjoy working without the other.

Tony's one the other side was almost permanently closed due to the noise he called music "scaring my microbes to death", as Jemma so aptly put it.



Yet even with how much he loved spending time with Tony and Jemma he had another reason to join them in the labs Or, well, three other reasons: the robots.

While he'd been flying through the universe with Sleipnir he'd looked up as much as he could about Tony, finding out that there was a lot to look up. There were Wikipedia articles covering everything from Tony himself over his parents to Stark Industries and his sex life. The latter was also a frequent topic in the various webzines he found. They seemed to know that he was on a quest to fight criminals, yet also sexually very active - one magazine even put him on the same level as some captain of a starship, one Captain James T. Kirk. Loki had never heard of the guy before, and he couldn't believe him to be as beautifully sensual as his Tony.

Anyway, with how much information was available he'd found it strange that the robots that Tony had built hadn't been mentioned as anything but early stages of Tony's quest to built the perfect sentient AI, which they claimed was Jarvis. He'd already feared that Tony had taken them with him only to destroy – kill - them because they reminded him of Loki or something.

Yet when he arrived Sleipnir had confirmed for him that they were still very much alive, and later, when he had an open invitation into the labs, Tony had explained that he saw them as children with their easy naivete and joy and trusting nature, and that he'd wanted to protect them from the chaos of being the AIs .

Loki had only looked at the robotic arms - all so much advanced from what they'd been before, so much grown in their understanding even when they still remained happy and outwardly childish, and thought that maybe Tony was really overprotective.



^^



Despite how welcoming his teammates where and how much he had already learned growing up with Tony, life on the Avenger was so strange, so different to what he was used to that figuring out how to live with this team - this family-clan - took up a lot of his time and attention. Yet even distracted as he was it was easy to see that behind the bright and hollow smile, his put-on happiness, Tony wasn't himself.

Wasn't the boy anymore that Loki had known in his youth, and that in more ways even than Loki had expected.

He had known of course that the Tony he would find had lost his careless naivete, his innocent joy in the world. Had suspected that loosing his best friend had taken a toll on his ability to partake on the good things in life.

Yet what he found surpassed his worst fear.

Tony had lost his ability to trust people, kept more to himself even when he pretended to open up to his friends and teammates. Not that they weren't close - he touched them easily, joked with them, showed vulnerability around them. Yet only when it came to the less important things in his heart. Whenever Steve remembered his father fondly, or the topic of his childhood came up - when someone mentioned his bygone relationship with Pepper - a shutter came down behind his eyes, the blank look showing plainly how he withdrew from the conversation.

After such talks he found Tony more than once sitting in some dark corner of the ship, draining a bottle of some expensive alcohol, or working himself into unconsciousness. Once he just left the ship with his suit, giving no warning to anyone, and when they found him two days later following Jarvis' directions it was behind a shady bar on some even shadier planet, a ragged and robbed Tony Stark passed out in the back alley of some pothouse. Yet whenever anyone tried to bring it up – when Steve tried to apologize – he would always stonewall them.

Tony Stark guarded his heart tirelessly, with words honed into weapons and weapons sharpened to thrust into anyone who might hurt those that he held dear.

Yet what saddened Loki the most was that at his core, Tony was still the same. There was still that spark of curiosity and innocence in him when they encountered some unfamiliar species, or a beautiful waterfall, a wondrous rock formation. He was still the boy that needed to spend hours in his lab, creating and recreating and channeling all the ideas his mind drew up to be content, happy. Was still the same boy who would leave everything to help those that needed him, would give everything to protect them. Loki knew that he'd built weapons as a younger man, trying to protect his planet and the Federation, yet once he realized that he couldn't control them, that he couldn't make sure who was killed - once he realized that innocents and helpless people were harmed with them - he stopped producing them. Remade his father's weapon company into one specialized in robotics and clean energy, creating firewalls fore planets and private people and helping people who had lost limbs.

He literally destroyed his only chance to ever feel worthy in his father's eyes - no matter that he was already dead by then - to make the world a better place.

Not that he was what humans called peaceful - he was an Ymiri after all, he knew that it was eithereat or be eaten - but he followed their path of balance, of keeping things equal. Of never taking more than one gave.

And he was still yearning for friends, for people that loved him and accepted him the way he was.

People like Rhodey, who he had - relieved - learned was still Tony's best friend, and this Pepper that had been Tony-love's mate for a while. At first he'd been irritated about this - she had left Tony so how could she still be such an important part of his life anymore, could still claim to care for him? Yet she had called Tony several times in the past months and Loki had listened to their conversations often enough to get suitable impressed. She would have made a good consort - sharp, dangerous, yet hiding this behind a pretty face and prettier words, and never caved when it came to what she cared about. Which was, incidentally, Tony, and his company.

Knowing that she had let him go – left him like Loki himself had done, even though it was involuntarily on his side – made his heart hurt in his chest. Learning that she had only done so because she couldn't bear to watch him tear himself apart anymore trying to please her while simultaneously trying to forget and kill a part of his life – the Loki-part of his life – only made it worse.



"I love him still, you know? But this way at least he won't try to become my one and only, won't kill himself to make me happy." There were tears in her voice, tears gleaming brightly in her perfectly painted eyes, yet when Loki met her gaze he saw steal there.

Maybe not a consort, then. Not something as gentle as a consort, but strong and dangerous like a queen, just tempered by age and circumstances. Someone who would fight for her love, even if to everyone else it might look like surrender.

Recognizing lit in him. This woman, this warrior, had done exactly what he might have to do, too: Backing off, letting Tony live his life alone if it was the best he could do for his friend.



A friend that would do everything for those he held dear, those he had let into his walls and trusted with his vulnerable heart.

Everything.

It made him ache so much to watch all these signs of love that Tony showed - not only towards Pepper but to all his friends. Pepper, of course, got the company - something that made her happy, yet also independent and strong. Allowed her to keep an eye on him and yet pursue her own dreams, another love if that was what she wanted.

Rhodey had gone to the army somewhere on earth and they mostly kept in contact over ansible. Yet Tony had made sure to keep his second-best friend as safe as possible, tailor-made a suit for him and updated it whenever he found time to spend on earth.

Loki would also never forget that one day when he slipped into the lab only to have Tony forget about him and ask Jarvis for Rhodey's whereabouts. If he were that kind of person he would bet all he had on the fact that Tony knew better where and how Rhodey was than Rhodey himself.

And then there were the Avengers: He had improved the safety of their ship from the moment he first decided to stay here - for the robots and Jarvis, for he knew that should the ship be destroyed, his children would be, too. The ship's original AI had been replaced with Jarvis, and he added an ARK-reactor to its equipment, making it faster and more maneuverable than any other ship out here and increasing its firepower beyond anything a ship of this size should be capable of.

Later, when he came to know his teammates more, he started to improve the living quarters, the quality of meals, the labs.

And then, the ultimate proof of his trust - and oh, how Loki's heart wept that even with all their insight, even with Natasha's sharp eyes and Phil's equally sharp mind, they would most likely never know how much trust he really placed in them with this actions - he improved their weapons. When he had sworn that never again one of his weapons would hurt innocents.

Their weapons and skills were already exceptional, but his added improvements made them sublime.

There was the captain's shield, already unbreakable by almost everything, but since Tony had tinkered with it it would always return to Steve's hand. Clint's bow now shoot arrows that not only exploded or set things on fire, but also vanished on contact or carried EMP emitters. Other consisted of proto-AI's with a certain intelligence, able to infiltrate every villain's head quarter. Once Loki even saw Clint shoot an arrow that he could neither see nor smell – perfect to cut off the villain of the day's speech about the good of subjugation.

Natasha got knives that were completely flat, or flexible until she needed them, even a short sword that was actually foldable. Then there was the Widow's Bite, an electric weapon she even slept with. Ward's gun? The cuffs that Phil put on all those criminals that actually kept them confined? Skye's computers, the way the Avenger herself could be used as a weapon by her pilot? That was all Tony, and all signs of trust and hope and friendship.



The day Tony started to shower Loki with those little gifts - just by offering they could cordon off a part of the hangar for Hela's and Fenrir's use, and maybe even terraform it and plant some trees there so they wouldn't feel homesick - he had to excuse himself quickly, retreat back into his own cabin to hide under his bed and cry.

He had come here to learn whether Tony still was the boy-queen he had fallen in love with. Whether Loki was still someone Tony could get along with, could trust and fall for.

Remembering the warmth in every of Tony's gestures, how he so easily shared his very own place in the lab with him, his gratitude when Loki made sure he ate and slept enough ... Loki's hands balled into fists, claws prickling hard into his vulnerable palms. Swallowing hard he tried to keep himself from crying when he realized that not only was his childhood friend still alive inside Tony, but that also this man he had grown into was someone he could grow to care for even more than that young boy.



Chapter Text

Another day, another first ...

One-hundred-sixty-four.

"What do you mean, you can't stop it from there? You're a goddamn hacker!" Tony stared at the display on the bomb in front of them, at the numbers running downwards gen zero in a speed he didn't want to think too much about. Not when it meant his death, and Loptr's death, and the death of maybe a million and a half Mokrgfani, and as much as he hated them as business rivals, he didn't want them dead.

One-hundred-fifty-nine.

"I'm sorry", Skye said, her voice still calm despite the panic he could hear under it. "I've been trying ... I can get in, and I can stop the timer, but for this to work I need someone to cut the cable."

One-hundred-fifty-two.

Tony pushed his hand through his hair; this wasn't what they'd planned. And he couldn't ... he didn't want to give up, but-

"Which cable?"

Tony whirled around, looked at Loptr who was struggling to stand. Not easy, considering his feet were chained with a very short chain between the cuffs, and his arms twisted and chained so far back that Bruce' yoga sessions were probably the only reason they weren't pulled from their sockets.

It ... had been an interesting afternoon, to say the least.

Skye, lacking a live feed into their cozy little command center, answered: "I don't know! Am I Houdini? Or that other magician ... Merlim? Merlin? Doesn't matter. How should I know which one? I only see that there should be a cable!"

Okay, so now she was panicking. No wonder; as a hacker, even in their team, she was normally far away from all that life-threatening action.

One-hundred-forty.

Distantly he could hear Ward murmur in the back, probably trying to calm her down. Really, if he escaped this alive he'd summon up his courage and ask what, exactly, was there between them.

Promise.

One-hundred-thirty-three.

But he would have to escape first, and that meant not panicking, and not getting distracted, but thinking - Hastily he turned the thing around and searched for the stamp and company information on the (actually quite regular) bomb. "It's a Rual-He-Phi Thimaap bomb. There should be something on the net, or maybe even in Jarvis' server."

"I'm very sorry to disappoint, Sir, but I have nothing on such a model in my archive."

It is always strange, Tony thought. How much emotions Jarvis mechanical voice can carry.

One-hundred-eleven.

"Okay, okay - I can do that. I can totally - yeah, I have it. It's - you have two cables, and it's the blue cable, you have to cut the blue cable!"

Tony looked down at the machine in his lap. He had a poison-green cable, a red one, a pink one and an orange one. Double-checking the stamp he said (and maybe there was panic threatening him now, too; not that he would admit to it): "I have four cables, and none of them is blue. Are you sure about the model?"

Ninety-six.

"Yes, yes, yes! It's by Rual-He-Phi, and the Thimaap model. I can read, Tony ... fuck!"

He really really didn't like the sound of that. "What?", he asked.

Ninety-three.

"Sorry, I just lost - have it again, just lost the connection to the bomb - that firewall software is great, it's self-rebuilding in so fast ... pushed me out while I read ... No Leo, that's not working, either! We need to -"

"Is there an MR at the side of the bomb?", Loptr suddenly asked.

Tony blinked stupidly. "What?"

Seventy-two.

Sounds of someone shifting around while still being bound more tightly then most roulades. "I remember reading about He-Phi, and there were always rumors that he made some bombs himself, for illegal use, and he signed them with his initials, which look in English like-"

"MR, okay, got it." Hastily Tony checked the metal box over again, and yeah, there it was. So small he'd overlooked it at first. "There it is."

"Then it's the orange one." Loptr sounded sure, but Tony still asked: "You know, when I cut the wrong-"

"It's the orange one. Or you don't trust me and choose one yourself."

Fifty-five.

Well, he had a point, there. "Got it", he said, taking out his laser and pointed it at the orange cable. "Skye, ready?"

Fifty-one.

"Sure Tones. Ready when you are. Three, two, one, go!"

He pressed the button, holding his breath when the laser cut neatly through the outer plastic sheathing and the wire.

Forty-seven.

...

Forty-seven.

Breathing out hard enough that it made a loud whooshing noise Tony leaned back, relief turning his strained muscles and bones into jelly. Behind him he could hear the sound of Loptr letting himself fall down, too.

"I was right", he said, obviously satisfied.

"Yeah, yeah you were", Tony answered. "Either that, or we're dead and this is some kind of weird afterlife with us two stranded somewhere in the middle of a criminal's base on Mokgrf III, and that would be ... weird, really. Skye? Still there? Tell me we're not dead."

"Oh, you totally are", she answered happily. "AC makes this I'm going to kill them when they are back for all the shit they pulled face. You know, the one where he smiles really bright?"

Oh, yeah, Tony knew. "Well, we're going to enjoy the rest of our life then, now. Hold the base until Daddy's back, baby girl. Tony, over and out." Grinning he tapped his receiver off to the sound of her indignant spluttering "Baby gir-?"

He sighed, grinning; the good thing with Skye was, she knew how to take his words.

Then he looked back down at the bomb and frowned. "Why do you know so much about bombs?"

A sigh came from behind him. "I looked it up after Retro-York and the bomber. Didn't want to get surprise-attacked like that again. And really, how about you free me? This is really uncomfortable here."

Oh, yeah. There was that. Jumping to his feet he walked over to Loptr who had slouched down on the ground as good as possible while still being trussed up like a stuffed turkey.

If he was honest, he had to admit, it wasn't looking bad - not with all the leather, and the black-and-green clothing Loptr preferred. Actually, it looked like a high-class bondage-scene, right up to the glare on his face when he caught Tony staring at him.

Hastily he cut through the cuffs, though he couldn't help the observation: "Not many people can keep their cool in such a moment."

Loptr only shrugged. "I'm Ymiri", he said as if that explained everything. And well, it did - for Tony anyway who knew that someone who couldn't keep his shit together even in dangerous situations wasn't living long on Yggdrasil.

"When you say you looked it up - did you mean that you understand, you know, that?" He gestured in the direction, acutely aware that he was still kneeling half over the Ymiri.

A strange look came to Loptr's eyes. "Of course. That is what looking up means, doesn't it? Learning about something?"

"So you could make a bomb yourself, too?" That ... that wasn't supposed to come out like it did. That wasn't supposed to come out at all - he wasn't thinking Loptr would ever bomb them, so way would he say it anyway? And in a tone that was more ... husky, seducing than anything else?

It could only be the adrenaline still thundering through his body, his natural inclination to channel this high into a whole different direction.

There was no way Loptr hadn't missed it, not with the way his eyes slitted, and the sudden wary look on his face. But then his body language shifted again, and while it wasn't quite becoming inviting it certainly didn't look scared.

"Yes, that would work for you, wouldn't it? All that danger, pressure, hero of the world turning to the damsel in distress right after saving the world in the last second."

It could have furthered his arousal. Could even have been used to goat him. Yet the tone Loptr used was thoughtful, calm. As if he was only making an observation, not ...

"Oh god!", Tony groaned and sat back on his heels, his face buried in his hand. "I'm so sorry! I can't even ... fuck, and I'm not doing shame!"

Loptr snickered. "You have nothing to be ashamed of, Tony. Though if you had gone further I would have demanded at least a date beforehand. And marriage, of course." A new snicker. "And you would have to ask my queen-mother for permission to bond with me."

Tony just groaned again. Of course. It was easy to forget it with how much Loptr loved danger himself, but he still was a consort and they were not doing casual sex with strangers. If anything had happened between them ... as long as it was consensual his queen might have been okay with him taking Loptr as his bond-mate. Otherwise ... she would follow him to the end of the universe and kill him.

Slowly.

"If I had known how much of a turn-on danger is for you I might have been a bit more careful", Loptr teased right now, and Tony felt himself forced to correct that.

"It's not the danger. Well, it is, but that's not what's turning me on. I just" He pulled the hand away and looked at Loptr. He didn't want the consort to think this was the only reason he had flirted with him, however unconsciously. "I'm attracted to intelligence. People like Jemma, who can bend biology until it's doing what she wants. Or Bruce. Or Natasha, who is really people-smart, if you get what I mean." He felt a wistful smile curve his lips. "Someone like Pepper, who can make even me do everything she wants. Or someone like you, who learns things faster than most other people I've ever known."

There was something in Loptr's eyes ... something strangely intimate, sparkling tension, and suddenly Tony realized how this must look, feel , for the other. He was practically proposing him!

In an attempt to dispel the tension he grinned and added: "Though you all in leather and bondage gear ordering me around is something, too."

For a moment the tension still hung between them, heavy and meaningful, then Loptr laughed and patted at him with a hand, and it broke into nothing.

Still, Tony couldn't quite get that moment out of his head.



^^



After that there was no way he wouldn't pull Loptr down into their lab space, trying to find out more about what the Ymiri knew, where his abilities lay.

As it turned out there was a lot to find out. Though Loptr's by far most impressive skill was that, given a day or two, he could learn almost everything. Even Bruce was in awe at what the man was capable of memorizing if he put his mind to it, not to mention how he was capable of comprehending and using it within such a short time that he was practically adopted as lab assistant by all of them.

Not that Loptr minded. Actually Tony caught himself thinking more than once that the Ymiri looked quite amused by their enthusiasm, and the way they were - sometimes; they weren't that bad - arguing about who could have him when he turned up in he lab.

Though it was quite obvious that the field he was the most interested in was biochem, something that had grin Jemma triumphantly at them all a lot. Tony had no idea what caught his interest in single-cell organisms and alien viruses and DNA and tissues and whatever else Jemma was working with in her lab, but it was obvious that he was always looking forward to spending time with her, despite trying to spread his time evenly between them all.

Not that Tony minded. No, not at all. He had four wonderful lab assistants, even if they were AIs, and he really didn't need someone breathing down his neck while he was working with magnifiers and pincers. Nope, not he . And it didn't matter that he sometimes saw Jemma's and Loptr's head so close to each other that they almost touched, both of them watching over a microscope or a Petri dish or whatever else, so quite obviously absorbed in what they were doing, sharing in their strange fascination.

And why would he be bothered by it, when him being half-Ymiri meant he was still the only one Loptr touched? When the Ymiri would often stay down late, when the others were already back up in the living room or sleeping or whatever (though at least the scientists understood his crazy hours), and they would talk over Tony's work, or just remain silent while Tony worked and Loptr watched.

Or played with the robots.

That had been ... something of an unexpected turn of events. Really, when theyhad first rolled from their charging stations Tony had thought they would frighten the other. After all they had changed quite a bit from their humble beginnings: they were still arms screwed on rolling platforms, mostly because all of them had baulked at being put in a human-like robotic body like Jarvis (Tony wasn't sure but sometimes he got the feeling they considered that juvenile foolishness on Jarvis' side). But they were certainly more advanced now, capable of moving in far more directions, doing even the most precise work due to transforming 'hands' - he'd installed them with pincers, screwdrivers, fingers, and more besides. And they were much bigger now, too, easily reaching up to Tony's chest, even over Tony's head if they stretched full-out.

So it was normal to think Loptr would be intimidated by them, yes? After all, they were metallic and strange and even people with a more technical background reacted that way to them.

Not Loptr however. Instead he'd made a sound like someone seeing old friends again, followed by another happy noise, and then he'd been between them, talking to them and petting them like dogs, acting as if they were the best thing he'd seen for a very long time.

Needless to say, Tony's robots adored the Ymiri. He only needed to enter the lab and one of them would make him a hot chocolate - Loptr loved cacao; no wonder after Tony's experiences with his childhoo d friends and chocolate bars - while the others chirped happily in greeting, making him happy he'd never actually installed VUI he'd originally planned for them. With them chattering in the code that Loki and he had thought up for them Loptr at least wouldn't know all the sappy things they were telling him. And all the other stories about him that would have made even him blush ...

Yet he couldn't deny that he loved being the one Loptr searched out so often, stayed up with, even if he had to listen to Butterfingers retell the story of him falling asleep in the lab over the work on his suit and waking up half-buried beneath it, not able to get up without all three of them removing the suit. Or their favorite story - of when he'd first tried out the repulsors. They had to have told that Loptr at least four times by now, how he managed to crash against the roof and then crumble a car beneath him. Really, he only hoped Loptr wasn't noticing how much he blushed every time.

Still ... working with his quiet, unassuming presence in his lab, his soft velvety voice in his ear while he screwed machine parts together or tried to find the glitch that his R&D-people hadn't been able to locate in the new Stark earphone - that felt so much like his childhood, with Loki in his lab ... and yet completely different again. Not because Loptr wasn't Loki, or at least not only , but also because somehow him looking half-human gave this a strange new flavor. And there was something to his words, to the easy conversation they had that drove home that Loki, for all his insight and controlled demeanor, had been as much a child as Tony himself.

Now, with Loptr he was speaking with an adult, and it was nice, comfortable. It was nice to look up from his current work and a conversation about different fashion styles that seemed to be in right now, or some other mindless topic that they could somehow still get very passionate about, and see Loptr there, all pale skin and black scales and casual lounge wear, and know that here was someone who not only liked him but actually wanted to spend so much time with him.

It was ... really nice.



^^



It turned out that bringing Loptr to Pern was the best idea ever.

They had no sooner beamed down on the planet that the Ymiri touched his head and asked, his voice sounding oddly hesitant: "Who ... what is that ... large being? In my head?"

Their welcoming committee consisted of all the dignitaries Pern could spare, all of them clothed in the most ridiculous fashion Tony had ever seen, with high necks and double layers of clothing and all of it stifling and obstructive, weighting at least a ton. Since it was already hot enough that Tony sweated heavily in his shirt and slacks he really didn't want to know how they had to feel.

The only sensible clothed persons in the entire entourage were they two dragon riders, wearing nothing but loose breeches and a simple linen shirt. Neither of them looked very happy to be here, though the man more than the woman. It was no secret that Pern's dragon riders were a small cagey community within the Pernese people, most of whom didn't like the contact to other Pernese, not to mention anyone off-world. This time however it had been them asking for help - with someone stealing their dragon eggs and selling them off planet they just needed off-planet contacts.

There were no dragons to be seen anywhere, but that didn't mean anything; dragons were never far from their riders if they could help it. Or at least that was what Tony had read about them, and what he remembered from Howard's trip to one of their Weyrs when he was a child.

While the other officials seemed a bit nonplussed by Loptr's question the female rider returned his wide-eyed look easily. "She's magnificent, isn't she?", she asked in English . She wasn't smiling as anyone else might have, but she still looked … nicer when she said this, making Tony realize that she was talking about her dragon – the only topic that would ever make a rider warm up to a stranger so fast.

Loptr, unaware, smiled. "Yes. Wow." A blush spread over his cheeks, and he unfolded his wings as if in response to something." Yes", he said again, though it seemed not to the rider anymore by the way his eyes had drifted off their contact. "That would be very much appreciated."



The negotiations took up the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon before Steve asked for a break. They hadn't yet invented - or more likely implemented – air-conditioning, so the rising temperature even inside the thick-walled stone buildings brought sweat to even the normally unperturbed captain, and the dignitaries in their stifling clothes looked close to fainting.

When they retreated for refreshments the female rider - Liersa - invited Loptr to meet the dragons, and because Tony was more than curious and also felt a bit like he needed to protect the consort he followed behind.

As it turned out he had been worrying for naught; Loptr and the dragons went along splendidly. One of them - obviously the magnificent being Loptr had talked about - was a green dragon, one of the sterile females if Tony recalled correctly, and she was indeed spectacular, with her hide the same color as malachite and her iridescent eyes. By contrast the male bronze was almost unspectacular, even if he was bigger, though that could be because Tony was used to copper and bronze shades much more than green dragons .

The male rider wasn't quite happy with them being here, something they'd already learned when they tried to negotiate their access to the Weyrs. Yet with his dragon - Planeth - and the female dragon Ambrosiath against him there wasn't much he could do.

And Tony wasn't sure if Loptr wouldn't have happily been part of an eclat just to meet the dragons, so fascinated was he by them.

"-you mean to tell me that the queens are the only ones who can lay eggs? Really?" He laughed incredulous, shaking his head.

Ambrosiath tilted her head as if she said something - and wow was Tony jealous of the Ymiri for being allowed to hear the dragons! - and Loptr's eyes bulked before he turned a shade paler. "What? No!", he gasped. "We have only a few queens - seven or eight at any one time, more or less depending on the size of the clan, and believe me, that's more than enough! I mean, they are the ones with the temper tantrums and stubbornness and ... who would want to have more?! And if you wanted to populate the clan with only their children - not that this would work, seeing as they produce more often queens and consorts and einherjar than other Ymiri - well, you'd need, what, two dozen queens?" Now he looked definitely pale, and a bit ill.

Tony could certainly relate to him . He knew that Odin was a particularly even-tempered queen, and Idunn, the highest-ranking sister-queen, wasn't too hot-headed either, but he knew that this was lucky chance. It could come entirely different, and then ... having more than ten queens, or twenty queens ... that was like courting disaster.

"So you're a - consort, yes?", Liersa asked. She was sitting by her dragon's side, and after Loptr had kept his hands firmly be himself when they made introductions she hadn't tried to touch him. Nor had Ambrosiath and Planeth, obviously having picked up on Loptr's discomfort.

Loptr nodded, and she continued: "What does that mean? Something like a bronze, a mating partner to a queen?"

He though for a moment before he answered slowly: "Yes and no. Yes, I'm the consort to a queen, but it's not at all like it's for you. When we mate, we mate for life, and a bond is only broken by death. It is also ... we don't ... it's the queen who's doing the wooing, trying to win the consort's affection. You see, we aren't usually warriors, I'm somewhat of an exception. And we aren't what you call monogamous, we are more ... sex is not affection, you know?" He seemed quite frustrated with his struggling; no wonder by his normal eloquence.

But Liersa it seemed had gotten what he had been unable to put into words. "So a consort is to be protected and put into dresses and decorated with jewelry, and both the queen and the consort are like weyrmates who may need to seek release with another as well?"

Thinking it over Loptr nodded eventually. "Yeah that sounds about right. Though it's not only the consort wearing decorations - after all I have yet to meet a queen who would turn down a bit of jewelry, or anyone really."

Before she could reply to that the other rider cut in: "In this case you're wearing very little, aren't you?"

Loptr's face closed off in an instant, before he, deliberately not turning to the other, answered: "I have to admit, I find it strange when people act as if they know everything when they hadn't been aware of the subject itself only moments ago."

The bronze dragon moved a bit uncertain, but this was the only warning they got before the rider was suddenly there , his hand in Loptr's spines to wench his head back. "Don't get all cocky with me!", he s narled, his eyes blazing fire.

Loptr seemed frozen by the sudden violation of his privacy, but Tony wasn't. In an instant he was by their side, his own hands finding purchase in the loose clothing of the rider, and he yanked him back, cursing internally that Coulson hadn't allowed him to bring his suit. But then he was Tony Stark , the one who had invented a lot of things people still used today as a boy , and he wasn't one to leave home without at least his trusty pocket laser.

So once he's made sure that Loptr was okay he stood between him and the man, making sure to keep the dragons in his sight as well, and pointed the laser at the still sneering rider. "You are so lucky that his queen isn't here right now, or she would be ripping you into tiny little pieces right about now. Which you would know if you were really such an expert at Ymiri. So let me spell this out for an idiot like you: No-one touches a consort. Never . Ever. Without. The. Consort's. Permission. Do you understand?" To emphasize his words he flipped the laser on and watched as a small spot next to the rider's went black and crumbled.

The dragon was now growling lowly, but still not attacking; he was obviously not sure whether to defend his foolish rider or let Tony have his say as long as he wasn't openly harming the other.

And then suddenly Loptr was by his side, cold ice dripping from his fingers, and it didn't matter what the dragon decided anymore. There was no way he could go up against Loptr using all his power.

"You should better go", Loptr suggested, his voice frosty and hard and promising revenge.

The rider seemed to be suicidal, for he opened his mouth to continue the argument, when suddenly Planeth swept in and saved his ass by clutching him between his claws and vanishing, probably taking him in between.

For a long moment they stood there, side by side, their breathing coming still in harsh, angry bursts, but eventually the fight went out of them and Loptr sagged down in the grass. "I'm sorry", he said quietly. "I didn't want for this to escalate that much."

Liersa only shook her head. She looked a bit pale and had put a hand against Ambrosiath's shoulder as if to steady her on her feet, but she didn't seem angry, which counted as something Tony supposed. "It wasn't your fault. Wegen has been on edge all the time. Planeth managed to mate with a queen for the first time, and then they stole all his eggs ... it's been difficult for him. I don't even know why they send him here - he's the weyrleader's brother, but that doesn't make him a good diplomat if you ask me." She shook her head and then came closer, though made sure to stop at least a meter before them. "Is there something I can do?"

Tony shook his head - he only wanted to get the consort away from here -, but Loptr nodded slowly. "Yes, if you ... can we pretend this didn't happen? I was quite enjoying myself, and if you don't mind ...?"

A fierce grin came to Liersa's lips. "Oh no, not at all. If it's alright with you we can stay out here all afternoon - those idiots with their new fashion aren't going to come out again before evening's cold anyway."

Loptr grinned back, then looked up at Tony while the rider unceremoniously sat down in front of him. "Are you ... will you stay?"

Capable of freezing everything, stronger than the rider by far, claws and teeth long enough to scare off everyone with a small modicum of sense, yet wanted him for protection. Sometimes Tony though he would never understand consorts.

Still, he nodded and sat down beside the Ymiri, not surprised in the least when he scurried closer and almost sat in his lap by the time he was finished seating himself, his head laying against Tony s shoulder and a hand fastened around his leg. It wasn't like he minded how much Loptr wanted to be near him. He liked being needed, being the strong protector for someone, even if that someone could kill him in an instant.

And it was nice to have a warm body resting against his and not having to wonder what kind of favors the owner hoped to gain from it.



^^



He came back to himself after spending hours in the lab, working on his suit. Which wasn't really a suit anymore, not like it had been when he'd escaped from the Ten Rings or blasted down Obie; nope, nowadays there were only a few physical pieces - the collar around his neck, the chest piece clinging to him like a particularly insistent spider, the gloves reaching up to his elbows and the boots. The rest of it was a force field powered by the ARK-reactor in the middle of his chest piece, making his armor faster, lighter, more efficient.

Of course, if the power failed, he was much more vulnerable. But then being trapped in a polymer-suit that was, even with all his attempts at lightening the load, still too heavy for him to move in without electricity wasn't exactly being safe, was it? And this way he could at least employ all his own skills at survival - something so far no opponent had managed to calculate in.

Hunger gnarled in his stomach, growling low and angry enough that he knew coffee and maybe another smoothie would never be enough to calm it down. Vaguely he remembered Loptr excusing himself; he was probably down in the storage that held Sleipnir and his pets (if one could call them that), spending time with them.

A silly, irrational part of him growled at the thought. He'd gotten so used to the consort being around, to him being near enough to touch and talk to (to see and protect and show affection), that he almost considered him his.

Shaking his head to get rid of the irritation he went over to the lift. "Get me up in the kitchen, Jarvis", he said, before walking into the empty space.

At once the force field behind him closed, a whiff of warmth flitting over his naked skin, then the full force of the lift stabilized around him and suddenly he was racing along the tubes, almost as fast as the suit from the work shop up to the kitchen.

He'd installed the prototype of his air lift shortly after the change in the work shop (causing everyone to groan and curse for the weeks it had taken him to replace the turbolift because suddenly they had to walk when they wanted to go somewhere). As usual he'd ignored them; this new lift was far faster and safer than the old one, the closest a human could ever come to flying without the suit. Yet it had caused complains as well - mostly because intimate heart-to-hearts in the lift now belonged to the past.

"May I say how pleased I am to see you take care of yourself, Sir?", Jarvis said once he stepped into the kitchen.

Rolling his eyes Tony replied: "You're mother-henning again, J. What did we agree on about this?"

"As far as I remember we have, while we spoke about this quite a lot, never agreed upon anything, Sir." Jarvis' voice sounded smug about this, and Clint, sitting on the counter, grinned.

"Don't tell me, Tony - Jarvis is going SkyNet on you?"

"I would never", Jarvis injected before Tony could say something. "My creator is far superior - if I ever wanted to take over earth or the universe I'm quite sure I would succeed."

His jaw dropping open Clint blinked like a stupefied fish. Tony chuckled, safe in the knowledge that, should Jarvis ever think it necessary to go evil overlord, he would never hurt anyone.

"Better don't ask questions you don't want an answer to, Legolas. Anyway, we still have some leftover stew?"

"Mmh? Oh, sure, in the fridge." Clint looked still a bit flabbergasted.

While Tony warmed his meal up Natasha and Steve entered the kitchen, both their hair still showing signs of a recent shower. Knowing their appetite he simply heated the rest of the stew, too, earning him a pleased hum from Natasha.

"Good boy", she said and sidled up to him to get the plates out of the cupboard.

Using the opportunity Tony leaned back until his back was resting against her front, her hand instinctively searching his waist to help steady herself when she grabbed the plates.

Yet instead of pushing away once she had them she stayed there, a steady presence bleeding warmth through his shirt. Humming in pleasure when her hand snaked around his waist, pulling him close, he let his head fall backwards against her shoulder, his weight resting against her. A light smell of some dark, fruity aroma – her shower gel, probably – wrapped around him and he inhaled deeply, regretting that his nose wasn't fine enough to separate her own aroma from the artificial smell.

"Trouble in paradise?"

Clint's voice - and the worry lingering in it - roused him out of his comfort. Frowning he looked over to the other.

"Mmh?"

Gesturing towards them both the archer explained: "Well, you've stopped coming to us for touching when you started this thing with Loptr. Whatever that is for a thing. Don't know, and really, I don't want to know, just – you okay man?"

Staring at the other man Tony realized he was right. At the beginning of this avenging thing he'd tried to keep his hands to himself, but between Natasha - who did, after all, spend a few weeks around him as his assistant before - and Agent Phil they had figured it out within a few days. Not that he had reason to complain - not when they allowed him to cuddle up to them whenever he needed it, or let his hands wander freely over their skin. Neither of them had had a problem with this, and as it turned out, Tony's touch even calmed the Hulk.

Yet with Loptr here it had changed. Not because he had tried to avoid them - they were his family, the closest to a clan he would ever have outside of Rhodey and Pepper, and touching them was as natural as breathing. But Loptr still avoided their touch - would always, most likely - and that meant he always stood a bit aside, and Tony with him.

"Is something wrong?" Steve sounded worried, too, though he probably hadn't noticed before. After all, Tony saw him most often when they were sparring with each other, and there was plenty touching involved.

And yet he asked anyway,

Shaking his head he said: "No, I'm - we are okay." Throwing a grin over his shoulder he added: "Loptr's just with his pets. And it's not as if we're glued together."

The sudden smirk on Clint's face was all the warning he got. "Scared of the little claws?"

"Little?" Tony was sure his face conveyed exactly how he thought about that description. "I would like to see you sit next to Hela and pat her."

Before it could escalate further Natasha suddenly asked: "So you still haven't told him of your crush?"

His breath froze in his chest, and he went stiff as a poker against her soft front. "What - what are you talking about?"

Rubbing his side she answered, slowly: "It's okay, Tony. You don't have to talk about it. But however you decide - you should know what you want."

His laugh felt hollow, stilted. "I don't know what you're talking about. I don't have a crush on Loptr." He couldn't - he didn't deserve this kind of adoration, and Loptr didn't deserve being saddled with him,

A tiny voice in him voiced objections, but he ignored it the same way as he ignored Natasha's unbelieving look when he entangled himself from her and walked over to the table. He wasn't in love.

After Loki, after the disaster with Pepper, he wasn't sure he ever again could be.



^^



Long pale limbs writhing on the mattress, long black spines spread all over the burgundy sheets. Claws buried in the satin every now and then when Tony happened upon an especially sensitive spot. And the face ... that beautiful aristocratic face twisted by lust and need, the cheeks blushing so very prettily and the lips bitten to perfect ruby-redness. Sounds spilled from them, moaning, groaning, low sobs whenever Tony licked along his rim.

Because that was what he was doing, laying between his lover's trembling thighs, one hand holding him up, the other stroking along the inside of Loptr's legs whenever the other got too overwhelmed. And man did he get overwhelmed - he was young,a virgin most likely, and yet he was here with Tony who'd been something of a sexual deviant in his youth, set one seeing him come undone.

Loptr's cock was well sized, as was expected from someone his height, though more on the long-side. And it looked delectable, pale and innocent one moment, then blushing like a virgin once Tony started to kiss and lick it.

Now, minute s or hours into it, it stood strong and flushed, leaking precome and practically begging for attention that Tony was only too happy to provide. Kisses and licks and hints of teeth that drove Loptr crazy, and every now and then he would swallow him down, listen to the sobs that spilled from Loptr then, and relish every one of them before backing off and lathering his balls in attention. The wails the consort gave were wonderful and he bathed in them while he stroked reassuringly over his thighs, his hips, kissed the skin above his groin and up to his navel, his chest. Looked up at what he could see of the face, head propped up against the cushions so he had a good look at what his hard work did to the Ymiri.

"You okay?", he asked, his voice throaty and rasping from too much time spend sucking cock, and he liked how the sound made Loptr shudder.

His first attempt to answer was a whimper, and new tears spilled out of his beautiful, beautiful eyes, but he didn't look to be in pain, and when he finally found words again he begged: "More, please, more." His voice husky, broken, and still so wonderful that Tony wanted to fill it into glasses and sell it as personified sex.

But he was much too busy right now, and so he returned to licking at the other's chest, kissed it and sucked hard, leaving small red patches behind that had Loptr moan even more.

Pulling up a bit to better appreciate the view he found that poor little Loptr was a mess of want and lust, his mind unused to processing so many sensations at once. And Tony would have to be very bad to add to that mix, would he? Like if he, for example, played with that little rose-bud nipple of his, stroking it with a finger, or lightly pinch it between two, or maybe lean down and lick it until Loptr screamed ...

"Please, Hel, Tony, mercy, please!"

And maybe then, right then, he would have mercy and wander down again, leave kisses like brand marks in his wake, nuzzle at the hairless groin and then, after another few kisses, he would swallow him down again, not to play anymore but to finally finish him off.

And because he wasn't entirely selfless he would shove the hand he didn't need to hold himself up down his body and wrap it around his own long-neglected, bobbing cock, whining as the contact send a buzz up his spine and made his brain melt. And then, then , he would start in earnest, swallowing and tonguing the cock in his mouth, lightly scrape his teeth over the oversensitive skin, and rut hard and fast into the hole of his hand, until finally, finally , he heard the sound of Loptr coming, felt the pulsing of his cock in his mouth, and then the taste of him overwhelmed him, tart and silty and clean like the jungle after rain, and it triggered his own release as well, making him arch and howl and -

- come , all over his bed, that he shared with nothing but his own dreams.

Breathing harsh and fast, his heart speeding like a horse in a race, he stared up at the ceiling, trying to process what had just happened.

He'd had a wet dream. A very intense one. Like in, maybe the most intense one he'd had since he'd stopped having them about Pepper. Well, not stopped , just ... not so much anymore, not so realistic anymore. His dream-material too faded, laced with too many painful emotions.

And now this. A dream that had him worked up so much he had an orgasm to rival a lot of his real-life-experiences, and that featured Loptr in the leading role.

Well, between the easy friendship they shared, him still being the only one allowed to touch Loptr and the Ymiri being quite literally sex on very long legs ... well, Tony should probably have expected this.

And yet he hadn't. Because he knew, with Loptr - that was no casual thing. For once, because Loptr wasn't the person for casual - well, he probably was, like every other Ymiri too, but not with a stranger-not-clan like Tony. But worse was ... this was Loptr . The man who always reminded him of Loki. Who had so much in common with Tony's dead friend, and was one of the best friends he'd ever had. Despite them knowing each other for only a few months the Ymiri had managed to worm his way right through the walls Tony had erected to protect his heart after Loki, after Pepper.

And that alone made him bad news. Because Tony couldn't let anyone get so close again, not now, not ever. He would just hurt him.

Turning on his side he pulled the blanket over his head, trying to block out the world and the painful truth.

That in reality, it might already be too late for that.

Chapter Text

Their shopping trip to Cait had been proposed by Skye, but really, they all needed a time-out after preventing the last disaster aka idiot criminal bend on conquering the federation by making the Romulans go to war against the federation and then pick up the remains of both realms. Of course between the Avenger and the Enterprise they only could fail.

And Loki finally got to meet James Kirk. He had to say, he wasn't impressed. At least not compared to Tony or even just that deliciously smart half-Vulcan Spock. Or even Nyota Uhura - well, that was a queen worth following. At least Kirk had enough sense to recognize that.

Anyway, Kirk ordered a shore leave for his crew, and so did Phil, which was how they ended up on the nearby Cait.

The planet was really very interesting. From what Loki understood the Caitans had barely managed to leave their planet until they got in contact with the federation, their technology retarded compared to the rest of them, and after that they managed to both preserve their own ways - including keeping the jungle on their home planet and their own traditions - and embrace the new technology.

It was something that the queens on Yggdradil hadn't yet decided on, but Loki was quite sure they would eventually decide like the Caitans did. After all, their races were very similar, not only their home planets but also how they lived.

They also looked somewhat similar, for where the Ymiri were described as humanoid dragons, one could call the Caitans humanoid lions.

Not that either of their species would react too kindly to that description.

Yet what had Skye press so much for the shopping trip here was mostly the big markets, rich with fresh fruits and meat, strange fabrics and jewelry as well as a whole branch of trade dedicated to the working of a special kind of glass that was almost impossible to break. Once they realized that seeing this first-hand was a possibility both Bruce and Leo wanted to go as well, and then Jemma began to rave about their precious little beetles that could digest ore and then exuding the pure metal, throwing two plates from the breakfast table in order to explain properly and almost slapping Grant when she tried to grab them in time … well, then they all knew that Phil simply had to give in.

"What do you think?"

Startled out of his thoughts Loki turned around and looked at the scarf that Skye held up. It was of a silky-light quality that he liked, yet also in such a vibrant red tone that it reminded Loki far too much of Thora-sister.

Shaking his head he came over to the stall. "Not my color", he explained simply before picking up another scarf, this one gold interwoven with moss green, that would go great as a kind-of belt. Looping it around his waist he spun around, grinning up at Skye. "This looks great on me", he said, and she nodded, a bit amused.

"I just think you should try out other colors, too."

"Why should he, when he's wearing them so well?" Tony turned up behind him and Loki felt his knees go weak from the appreciating way he looked him up and down. "Looks really good", he purred. There was a look in his eyes that said very clearly what he thought of, and really, Loki knew an invitation when he saw one.

He had to swallow heavily to keep the emotions down. He'd had looks like this directed at him often since his waking, and he'd taken up more than one Aesir – and quite a few Jotnar, too – on this offer, yet neither of them had been Tony ...

Turning to the shop keeper to hide the silly smile on his face Loki asked: "How much?"

The older Caitan with her graying orange fur had of course watched the exchange between them and by the glint in her eyes she thought to get him to part from a great amount of his wage (because he was doing the same work as an agent of SHIELD, so he had to get paid by them, too, as Phil had put it, making Tony complain that he wasn't getting paid. Phil had only looked him dead in the eye and told him that SHIELD could never afford to pay what he was worth. Tony's reaction had been … hilarious).

A smile tugged at his lips when the shopkeeper named a price that was easily twice what the scarf was worth. He so liked a challenge, and if she thought Loki was born yesterday she was in for quite a surprise.



Ten minutes later they strolled on, both Tony and Skye watching him with expression that wavered between amusement and respect.

"Never met someone who can haggle like that", Skye said impressed, still shaking her head. "Now I really need to see you do that again. Let's go ... there!" And with that she grabbed his sleeve and pulled him over to a jewelry stall.

Loki chuckled a bit at her enthusiasm but followed willingly, with a grinning Tony bringing up the rear.

And that was how the rest of their afternoon went. They would wander through the market, stop from time to time at any stall that caught their interest, and Skye let him haggle the shop keepers down as much as he could. Tony on the other side simply stood by and grinned – obviously appreciating of his skills, yet never in need of them himself. Whenever something caught his interest he would simply nod and pay whatever price the shopkeeper demanded, often more than twice its worth – not because he couldn't negotiate a better one, but – at least Loki suspected that – because he felt sorry for them after Loki was through with them.

Loki didn't feel sorry for them. If he were the young fool they thought him to be they would still demand him to pay far more than what those things were worth.

Every now and then they would see one of the others. Natasha especially seemed to be doing fine, but the same was true for Steve whose good-boy mannerisms hid a surprisingly shrewd mind. Clint on the other hand mostly followed Natasha - he at least knew when he was outclassed.

After they'd passed Leo and Jemma for the second time at the same stall – one of those offering beautiful glass goods - obviously trying to find out how they would be capable to pay for all the jars they seemed to want, Tony simply excused himself and wandered over, obviously intend to simply buy them'for the lab'.

Skye followed him grinning, while Loki looked around at the other stalls. There was another glass trader directly opposite, two food stalls, and a jeweler. The latter's display was what finally drew him in.

Most of the other stalls were equally visited by natives and tourists, both bartering more or less successfully for the goods; this one however had only a few natives standing around, intently surveying the displayed adornments. Two of them had their fingers running along their tails, playing absentmindedly with it, and when Loki drew near he saw why: Instead of the rings and necklaces and earrings the other jewelers offered this one presented bigger rings - not big enough for the neck, or even for most wrists or even ankles. With a jolt Loki realized that they were intended for tails - no wonder there were no tourists in front of the stall; after all tails didn't seem too widespread in the galaxy.

Intrigued he surveyed the display. Of course, on Yggdrasil they had tail-rings, too, but they weren't from off-planet, and that alone would make it special. Thora-sister most of all would spit poison if he returned to her with a ring like this adorning his tail.

In the end the piece of jewelry that he liked the most was made up of two connected golden rings, bound together by delicate chains and tastefully decorated with blue and black stones. His tail already twitched when he imagined wearing it - he'd always wanted one, even as a fledgeling. Having the delicious feel of it weighing him down, anchoring him, making his tail even more of a weapon.

Yet when he asked for the price he knew immediately that he wouldn't be able to afford it. Not because the price itself was so high but because he could see in the eyes of the stall owner that this wasn't something he would be willing to go down with the price for.

Running his finger along the smooth, cool ring for a last time he admitted to himself that he couldn't have this. This was a masterpiece, worth every cred the man asked for, and he simply didn't own enough money.

Regretfully he put the piece back, hoping it would be going to someone who would appreciate it as much as he did.



He didn't notice Tony watching him with a speculating look in his eyes. Or wondered when Tony turned up late at their pick-up point. That was just how Tony was.

What he did notice however was later, in the shuttle on their way back to the ship, when Tony quickly snatched a piece of jewelry out of Clint's hand, making the other blink in surprise and Tony blush scarlet-red.



^^



"I just don't know what to think, what to do , you know?"

Loki leaned back in the seat, his feet propped up against the armrest. After the last few days he needed a bit of alone time. Well, alone time with Hela and Fenrir, and Sleipnir as confidant and maybe voice of reason, too.

So he'd searched out the smaller ship again, feeling a bit guilty that so much time had gone by since he'd last spoken to his friend. He knew that Sleipnir and Jarvis conversed quite a lot all the time, and that the AI of the smaller ship could watch him any time he liked, but that didn't mean he shouldn't turn up every now and then, too.

Hela and Fenrir were by now living in the cargo hold of the ship - it wouldn't be safe to let Hela wander the halls unattended and to leave her without Fenrir seemed just cruel. He'd visited both of them every day, making sure that he was the one to feed him whenever he wasn't planet-side, but this here, relaxing with those three of his friends that he didn't have to keep secrets from ... that was something he hadn't been able to do for quite a while now.

Sleipnir's voice, when it came, sounded faintly puzzled. "I'm not sure if I understand that correctly. You are concerned because Mr. Stark has bought you jewelry?"

Sighing Loki realized that Sleipnir obviously didn't get it. Couldn't get it, without knowing the significance of gifting jewelry to someone. "When we decorate our body this are signs of our accomplishments, or signs of love. Whatever I purchase of my own is okay, as are most pieces of jewelry given to me by my family. But only parents, siblings or spouses may gift me beads to weave between my spines, or belts. And it is only a spouse who would be allowed to gift a consort a piece of jewelry for his tail, for if it comes from anyone else it would be seen as doubt that those protecting me - my bond-queen, or my birth-queen, or even my reigning queen - cannot guarantee my safety. Duels to death have been fought over this before."

A short pause, then: "I have to admit, seeing as you are capable of killing everyone on this ship I find it hard to believe that you need protection. But despite that - it seems as if Mr. Stark will not be capable of handing his purchase over to you in this case without proposing to marry you."

"Just that proposing without asking the birth queen for permission is barely a step above stealing a consort, and I cannot see Tony acting so foolish, and that even without making his interest known beforehand!"

"So he has never shown sexual interest in you before?"

"No, I tell you, he's always been the best of gentlemen ..." Loki cut himself off.

Yes, Tony had always been very gentle towards him, never pressuring him in anything bar that one time on Mokrgf III, but there he'd stated, very clearly, that he found him sexy, hadn't he? And there had been looks ... hungry, dark, wanna-fuck-you looks. But even beyond that - he had acted as if he already was his queen around Loki. Loki wasn't sure if the other had even been aware of that - after all, he'd always acted as a queen in their childhood, too. Yet even aside from that one time on Pern when he had defended Loki's honor right there and then he almost always went with Loki when he left the ship for a planet, shielding him from other people, and on missions they were also very often paired together.

How could he have missed this? How could he miss that Tony had been there with him always ?!

"The way you have gone silent makes me think you've thought of something." Sleipnir's voice brought him back from his thoughts.

His chuckle sounded far too hysteric when he shook his head. " I am an idiot, Sleipnir. He's been showing me his interest all the time, and I've never seen it because that's just the way he is, to me."

"So you believe him to be interested in you?"

"Oh yes, he is interested alright." Just that ... sighing he continued: "I don't think he'll act on it, though. As I said, he's been acting like the perfect gentleman. He won't ask me without asking my birthqueen first, and he won't ask my birthqueen because he won't return to Yggdrasil."

"Then maybe you should give him a reason to think about returning."

Loki blinked quite a lot, not sure whether he had really heard what he thought he'd heard. "Are you telling me to ... what, walk around naked and tell him I dream of him?" He blushed just thinking about it. Not that he was a virgin - he'd known about Tony's experience after all, and made sure that he would have at least a bit of his own, too, before he departed for this trip. But this sounded ... scandalous!

"My knowledge with human nature so far indicates that this would increase your chance significantly", Sleipnir agreed levelly.

Unbelieving Loki looked up at the roof of the ship. "There are days when I really don't want to know how you know so much about sex, you know?"



^^



A few days later Jarvis picked up the signal of a rapidly approaching small vessel, and after a short examination let them know that it was a diplomatic ship that would join them for their next mission on Darwin IV.

On board: ambassador Sarek of Vulcan and ambassador Nabia Mbele of Earth, both of them known for their level-headed diplomacy. Also the pilots, the cook and a few dozen members of Starfleet that would be acting as bodyguards. Accompanying them to act as liaison to the Avengers was one Lieutenant James Rhodes.

It took only one look in his face when Rhodey beamed over to make sure they understood their role - also to see Tony and exchange some manly hugs with the rest of the members, all of which he obviously knew - that Loki knew he was in trouble. And right, not long after they'd gotten all the important stuff out of the way and Loki had excused himself feigning a headache he heard a sharp knock against the door to his cabin.

Smiling bitterly to himself he said: "Please let the Lieutenant in, Jarvis, and stop the recording for this room." For he didn't want to risk anything of this making it back to Tony.

Sitting up on his bed so he wouldn't look as if he was uninterested he returned Rhodey's gaze when he came in.

Loki had expected any kind of reaction - anger would be appropriate, or wanting to kill him - but not the confusion he was confronted with. Hadn't he already figured out what was going on ...?

Obviously he had, for a tight smile made it through the confusion and he greeted him with "Loki. Never thought we would meet like this."

He returned his greeting with a slow nod before gesturing towards the chair so that his guest might sit. "I have to admit it seems quite awkward, yes", he agreed warily.

"Awkward, yeah, right." Rhodey laughed, the sound harsh amusement. "That's one way to put it." Shaking his head he looked over to Loki and then asked: "Tell me what you play at, because Tony obviously doesn't know who you are or he would have told me."

Probably, yes. There had been a reason he'd been so jealous of the other when Tony-love had been away to his school. Now … now he was just happy and relieved that his maybe-future-queen had such a friend at his side.

Still, he couldn't risk telling him without knowing more about his intentions. "Are you not angry? Tony is your friend more than I ever was, and you know I a m deceiving him."

The smile on Rhodey's lips showed his amusement, even if it was slightly ironic. "You've never had to deal with the two of you, so I guess the question's allowed. To put it plain - you've been all over him all the time I knew you. You were jealous just because I could spend more time with him than you and he liked me, too. Even now, today - the way you look at him shows how deeply you care for him. 'guess the only one who'ld miss that is Tony himself, 'cause he's that kind of guy. So tell me why you're still playing being dead?"

Loki returned his look a bit wide-eyed; he hadn't thought his own interest so obvious. But then he was surrounded by people working for a spy agency, he should have known as much.

"It is ... hard to explain. I'm not sure how much Tony has told you?"

"Only that you died, and that it is his fault somehow." Loki winced, but Rhodey continued as if he hadn't noticed, though his voice became a touch harsher. "Something with you both running from a cat-predator, and you sacrificing yourself for him? He doesn't much like speaking about it."

Loki nodded slowly. This was ... what he'd thought, and yet hearing it out loud made it suddenly worse. "This is what happened. The only difference is that while my form died, I lived on. Our race, we undergo certain changes in our life. We are hatching from eggs, which some call our first form, and are fledgelings later - the dragon-form you met me in. Then we grow a seed in our body, which will break through us and kill our fledgeling-form when trying to reach for the soil to grow in. When Tony came to visit that last holidays of his ... I was so close to this time.” Biting his lip to prevent the emotions from swallowing his words he took a deep breath before continuing: “I should have told him more , or stayed within the home-trees where it is safe ... I lost control over the change, and when I fell unconscious the seed killed my fledgeling-form." He couldn't help the emotions boiling up in him then - the shame, the pain, the guilt at having caused Tony so much anguish. "I didn't knew he would think me dead" he whispered at last, looking down in his lap.

He was startled to feel a thick blanket being put around his shoulders, and even more when Rhodey hugged him through the wool. "That's okay, yeah?"

Loki nodded mutely and leaned into the embrace. Tears burned in his eyes, but he refused to let them fall. Not now, not before everything was out. "When I woke up in this form and realized what had happened I immediately thought to contact him, but ... I couldn't risk him shutting me out, thinking it a prank or something. So I went after him, and then he didn't recognize me, and" A sob escaped him and he pressed his lips together, trying to keep the other sounds in. His trembling however he couldn't suppress, and it became even more obvious against the other's steady presence.

Rhodey just hugged him tighter and made low hushing sounds, yet didn't interrupt him, not even when he started to really shudder, his body rocking erratically in the other's embrace. Soft, meaningless sounds reached his ear and he knew he was being calmed like a kid. Yet he didn't find it in himself to be angry about this, not when it helped him to calm down and continue.

"I don't want for him to feel ... I don't want him to go through this again. Or that whatever we had between us would be tainted by him feeling guilty, or ... I have hurt him so much already, Rhodey. So much . And if I can spare him more pain by staying away ..."

"You are an idiot." Rhodey's verdict fell unexpected, yet his voice was still friendly.

Loki tried to shift so he could look at the other, but the arms around him stayed tight.

"No, let me explain. You know that he loves you more than anything else - both you as Loki as well as Loptr. You love him . But Tony'll never say something, because losing you - losing Loki - that has killed something in him. H e's tried with Pepper - did ya know that? They were together for a year, but s he left him eventually because he couldn't move on. Or well, maybe he left her. He's still living in the past, and so are you if you don't tell him."

Loki sagged in the hold, just turned his head a bit. "But what if he thinks I deceived him intentionally? He already thinks what he knew about our clan was a lie. What if he thinks his whole childhood was nothing but? Will that not hurt him even more?"

"Maybe", Rhodey had to admit. "But I don't think that's what he'll be thinking. I think he'll be happy to have you back, and happier still to know you want him, too." A sound entered his voice as if he was smiling. "He could also do with being laid by someone he loves, ya know?"

A hesitant grin spread over Loki's face, and he could feel a wary warmth start in his stomach. Hope coming to life.

That maybe Tony and he could have their happy end ...



^^



The mission on Darwin IV turned out to go absolutely well, the monarchs coming to an agreement under the supervision of Sarek and Mbele - right until the last moment, when the agreement should be made known to the people in a public announcement, and someone unwilling to let the current tensions between two of the three kingdoms die down turned up and threw a bomb at the assembled dignitaries, among them the princes of one kingdom and the young princess of the other.

Everyone looked at the man and his dark missile; natives and guests alike stunned by the sudden turn of events and no-one prepared to act.

Tony was the first to react, running after the bomb and catching it mid-flight, obviously not caring that he brought himself in mortal danger with that. And Loki couldn't have that, could he? A part of hm was screaming in fear, shocked frozen – Tony could die doing this, would die – yet adrenaline pumped through his veins, had his muscles react before conscious thought caught up. He could be a warrior if he had to be. As soon as he saw Tony-love moving he was running as well, his wings unfolding without a thought and only a second after Tony had caught the bomb, when he had only just started his repulsors, he was there, folding his arms around Tony so that he could press his hands to the bomb and let his ice flow over it in an attempt to stop it from going off.

And if it did at least he wouldn't have to watch Tony die.

When they came down to the ground again, their descend slowed by Tony's suit, the bomb was securely encased in ice that went through even the smallest slit, stopping connections and rendering it useless.

They were suddenly the center of the masses, people that had made room for their touchdown coming forward again - they either had a lost of trust in their abilities to take care of the bomb, or no survival instinct whatsoever - trying to touch them, touch his wings ... he snapped them in so fast that he actually stumbled, and then Tony was there, pulling him in his arms and telling people to give them room or the bomb could get off again.

Which was bullshit, Loki knew, but at least it kept the people at bay. And he could be there, trembling now that the adrenaline wore off and he was safe next to his queen. Relief washed through him; they had made it. It didn't matter that his legs were suddenly unsteady, or his hands clasped so tightly around the bomb that the knuckles were white.

They were safe, and Loki was here, with Tony-maybe-queen in his arms, his smell all around Loki and calming his mind, his instincts.

It took only a few minutes until the security detail was t here and formed a wall between the onlookers and them. A n alley was formed through the people that were still calling and chanting their name - well, they chanted Avenger! , which was almost as good - and then they were ushered through.

With a hint of hysteric amusement Loki noticed that none of the guards tried to take the bomb from them; at least they knew that it was dangerous to bump a bomb too much, even if it was frozen solid.

"You shouldn't have done this", said a voice in his ear, startling him out of his observations.

"What?" Loki turned his head to look at Tony's suddenly stony face. "What are you talking about?"

Those flinty eyes met his. "Saving me. You can't have known that you would be able to stop the bomb ... what if you had died ?!" He was speaking too quietly to be heard over the cries of the masses by anyone but Loki, and it swallowed up all feelings in his voice, but the meaning behind this was clear.

He hadn't wanted Loki to risk his life for him, couldn't watch someone he liked die again ... giving his life for him again. "I am an Avenger, too", Loki said, unwilling to back down in this .

He didn't expect the flash of pain on Tony's face, the abyss of hurt in his eyes, normally so carefully hidden by flirty humor.

And suddenly he realized that Rhodey had been right - whatever he pretended, Tony hadn't moved on from that moment when he lost Loki. Had brought this loss, this burden along wherever he went, with whoever he was - there was no future for him without Loki fessing up to what had truly happened at that day, with or without Loki by his side.



And so this very evening Loki knocked against the door to Tony's quarters, his stomach full of cold dread and desperate hope that his love would understand.

Tony opened his door himself, his eyes rimmed red, his hair disheveled, and the smell of alcohol in the air, though not yet in his breath. His gaze was slightly unfocused, and he looked ready to either throw him out, or sit through whatever Loki thought he needed to say and hear nothing of it.

Taking a deep breath Loki steeled himself for this. Pressing his hands against Tony's chest he pushed the surprised man back and closed the door behind him.

"We need to talk, Tony-love."

Chapter Text

"We need to talk, Tony-love."

That wasn't what he had expected to hear when he stood up to shoo Loptr away from his door for once, nor was being pushed into his own room. Not after the afternoon they'd had, and telling Loptr to stay the fuck away from him. Well, more or less at least.

Surprised by the sudden dominant attitude Loptr showed he let himself be pushed into the chair next to his little desk and the open, yet still untouched bottle on it. It seemed the bottle would remain untouched this day, too, for the Ymiri simply took it and vanished in the little en-suite. Gurgling sounds indicated he got rid of it.

"Hey!", found Tony his voice back. "That's really good whiskey that you're pouring there!"

Loptr turned up again, the empty bottle in his hand. His face had a concerned, yet determined expression on it when he put the bottle back on the desk. "I'm sorry, Tony-sweetheart, but we have to talk and however this goes I will not risk you getting spectacularly drunk at the end of it."

Slitting his eyes Tony realized what Loptr was getting at. But not with him. "If you think there's anything you can say to make me take back my statement from earlier you're wrong." He'd had Steve and Natasha and even Bruce on his case in this, and he'd gotten rid of them, too. Not even Loptr would get him to think differently.

Yet Loptr didn't look any less determined, though bitter humor curled his lips a bit. "The statement that your life isn't it worth that I risk my own to save it?"

He snorted. "Yeah, that. You've got an objection?"

"Oh, I object very much ..." Loptr's voice was almost a growl, and Tony blinked. He'd known the Ymiri could sound like this, but to be the recipient of it ... well, it was uncomfortable. And very surprising, coming from a consort.

Before he could react Loptr had moved the other chair around and put it in front of him, sitting down so close that his hand on Tony's leg could easily pin him down. What for he realized at his next words: "So your life is nothing worth because you just stood by as your best friend was killed instead of you?"

That send a shock right through his system, making him see red and try to jump up. When Loptr's hand tightened and kept him down he rasped, angry: "Is that what you spoke with Rhodey about? Do you think you do understand me because someone who I though was my friend told you something that don't concern you?!"

He would have expected any kind of reaction to this, maybe even a hand punching his cheek because that's what most people did when he started to use his poison with them, but the reaction he got was ... disturbing.

For Loptr did nothing , just kept him on his seat with a look on his face that was so sad, so guilty, so painful to watch, that it made Tony stop his resistance almost against his will . "What?", he asked, in a far softer tone now, and was alarmed to see Loptr turn his face away, yet not fast enough to hide the tear slipping down his cheek.

"Loptr?", he asked, uncertain. He hadn't wanted to hurt the other, not really, he just wanted him to stop digging in his past, to stop thinking he could change him in any way.

"I'm sorry", the Ymiri whispered, his voice thick with tears. "If I had known ... Rhodey was right, I'm really an idiot."

Helpless, his anger vanishing in the face of this much pain so fast he almost felt dizzy, Tony reached out and touched the hand Loptr still had on his thigh, stroked it carefully. "Hey, hey, don't cry. I'm not ... okay, I'm still a bit mad, but more at Rhodey, and-"

"He didn't tell me anything." It was so soft he almost didn't hear it, but then it made him stop.

"What do you mean, he didn't tell you anything? I mean, it's not as if it's common knowledge ..." But Loptr was Ymiri, and Tony had no idea what the Aesir had told around.

When Loptr started again it was on an whole new topic however. "What do you know about the sleep-change of us – us Ymiri, I mean?"

Blinking hard Tony stared at him. What was he going at with this?

But when Loptr obviously waited for his answer he offered: "It's the time you change from fledgelings into adults. You're not responding to the outer world, but aware of what happens around you." At least that was what Loki had told him.

Loptr's shoulders jerked as if he was suppressing a sob, but he made no sound. The hand on Tony's thigh dug into his leg so hard the knuckles shone white. "I knew it ...", he whispered, more to himself than to Tony, and Tony really wasn't sure what to make of this.

"Loptr?", he asked again, hoping to gain some insight. "What is going on?"

The Ymiri remained silent for a moment longer before he looked back at Tony. His eyes were rimmed in red, and there were two shimmering paths down his cheeks, showing how much this cost him. Yet his gaze was as determined as before, and he turned his hand and clutched on Tony's as if it was his lifeline.

"I'm sorry, Tony. I don't know how to ... how to say this, but ... I need to tell you, yes? Just in the right order ... so please, promise you will hear me out to the end, okay? If you are mad at me, or can't stand to have me here any more after ... that's okay, I can be gone in an instant, if you want me to I'll take Sleipnir back home and you'll never have to look at me again, and then-"

"Hey, stop, Loptr!" What did he have to tell that was so terrible that he thought Tony wouldn't be able to look at him again? Would throw him out of the team? "Stop, you need to breathe. You hear me? In, and out. Slowly, okay? In, out. In, out."

Slowly Loptr's breathing lost its frantic pace and he seemed to calm down again a bit. Remembering his begging Tony said: "Okay, that's better, much better. And I promise, okay? Whatever you've done, I'll listen. But you need to calm down a bit more, or I'm never going to understand you, okay?"

Still shaking Loptr nodded, then pushed his arm over his face and furiously rubbed the tears away. "Okay. I'm .. I'm calm. I can do that." He took a deep breath, before turning back to Tony, a self-deprecating smile on his lips. "I don't even know ... it really shouldn't be me doing the crying after all." He shook his head and Tony tried to figure out what he meant. That Tony was supposed to cry? But why?

"Okay, so. Sleep-change", pulled Loptr his attention back to him. "It's ... it's not really a sleep. It's just an expression, a name. In reality ... we are born with a seed in our bodies, you know. A tree seed."

Tony blinked. That was the first time he heard of that.

"It's ... when we're fledgelings it's very small, really tiny small, but when we reach a certain age and our fledgeling-form starts to fail .. then the seed grows. We're already slower then, and later lose the ability to fly longer distances ... and the weight of the seed in us makes it even harder." He rubbed over his stomach as if remember ing something in there.

And Tony felt apprehension grow heavy in him. It wasn't that he knew what this was about, or what the sleep-change had to do with Loki - aside from that Loki never went into sleep-change, did he? - but something in him told him that this would change the way he saw his life, that this would change his whole life. It was as if a part of him had already figured out what Loptr was going at, and was warning him that this was fucking huge .

"When we ... when we enter the sleep-change ... we can suppress it for a while, a few days, maybe a month or so .. the longest I ever heard about was a month and a half ... but it takes intense focus. The longer we suppress it, the more. And then, when we ... when we change ... our whole self goes into the seed, and the seed becomes our new self. And then we ... we, in a way we hatch again, just this time, we destroy not the shells of an egg but our fledgeling-form, with the roots of our seed-self growing through the flesh into the soil, and then a sapling growing out on top, becoming a tree really really fast ..."

Loptr sat there, his head hung low, as if he'd just delivered his death-sentence.

Tony didn't feel like a genius for once. Somehow Loptr seemed to think he should already know what he was getting at, but he couldn't see it. Couldn't quite grasp the real meaning of this.

"So you .. become trees. Trees that are self-aware. And ... later? How do you ... hatch from the trees?"

Loptr looked up, incredulous, a hint of anger in his eyes as if he suspected Tony to be mocking him. Yet when he saw that Tony was still confused his expression softened, and he breathed deep again, answered slowly: "It is the same as with the seed - the form is in us all the time, but only when the tree-form dies will it grow, the tree-self forming a fruit without ever blossoming. It ripens while the tree dies, and once it is fully-formed our adult-form springs forth, and our tree-form dies."

Tony was still confused, and when Loptr looked at him and saw this he smiled wryly before biting his lip, hard enough that it appeared a darker red. "Well, then ... if you still don't know … you know what I wanted to tell you, Tony-love? That day when we sat on the branch and enjoyed the sun? I wanted to tell you that I'd learned that I was adopted, that I met my two true-siblings, and my birth-parents, Laufey-queen and Farbauti-consort."

Loptr's voice was quite even, but his madly clutching hand told an whole other story,

And then it hit Tony with the force of a space jaeger at full speed, what he'd tried to tell him all the while. "You ... that day ... Loki ?!"

He stared at Loptr again, tried to see Loki in him again as he'd done at their first meeting, tried to un see all the weeks they had spend together since ... and he was there, not only in the colors, or in the pattern of gold scales over his back or even in the aristocratic features. Much more he could see him in the desperation swimming in the emerald green eyes, in the mischief he remembered from their days in the lab. Could see it in the beads that were a fledgeling's - because we promised to be the ones that would weave them new, didn't we? Isn't that why I have never put any other beads in after I first got rid of my long hair? And there was the hand in his, the carefully sheathed claws, the knowledge of machines, the joy at seeing the robots ...

He couldn't help himself, he moved up - Loptrs - Loki's - hand falling from his thigh at the movement - and then he finally could throw his arms around Loki, his best friend - his ... his love . Because if he was Loki - if Loki was alive - if he hadn't died for him, if it wasn't his fault that Loki was dead, then ... then he could love him, couldn't he? He could go to Odin - or Laufey, or whoever else - and ask them for Loki's hand, could live out this dream they'd had so long now ... the dream he'd come to have about Loptr ... absently he noticed that he was crying, sobbing, but he was laughing, too, his feelings a giant fucking mess right now and he had Loki back, and Loki was here, warm, and solid, and alive, and he was clutching him, too, so tightly it felt as if he was being crushed, but that didn't matter, because it was Loki and Loki would never hurt him ...

He had no idea how long they stayed like this, lost in their pain and joy and shame and guilt and tears purging them all away like the heavy rain on Yggdrasil, leaving the jungle of their hearts behind clean and refreshed and ready to start anew. But eventually he came back to himself, with his forehead leaning against Loki's chest, the heartbeat strong and steady against his skin. His arms stayed still firm around him; he felt as if he would never be able to let him go.

But that was alright, for Loki clutched him at least as hard himself, too.

"Aren't you angry?", Loki whispered eventually. There was still some of that desperation in his voice - and oh, was that why he'd been so sad, so troubled? Had he thought Tony would send him away because of this? - but it had faded, had been replaced by cautious hope.

And Tony couldn't help but hug him tighter again. "Why should I be angry? I have my best friend back. My ... my love." He bit his lips, felt the jolt that went through Loki's body at that description.

"Oh, Tony ...!", Loki whispered, then he felt a hand against his cheek, urging him to look up, to look into his eyes.

And Tony suddenly felt self-conscious. What if he'd been wrong? If he had imagined the love he thought to see in his fledgeling-Loki? Had he just been projecting his own desires when he thought to see Loptr return his own hungry gaze with dark lust?

But then he met Loki's eyes and he knew that this certainly wasn't what Loki had in mind. "I'm so sorry, my love", he said, leaning forward until his forehead rested against Tony's. "I heard your pain, but I could never respond. And when I woke up ... I suspected what had happened, but I needed time to get used to this form, and then I met you and you didn't recognize me and-"

"I didn't expect to ever see you again." And oh, how that still hurt! That Loki had been there, and he'd seen how similar he was to his best friend, yet had thought it impossible and dismissed the notion.

The hand pressed tighter against his cheek, and he put his own hand over it, kept Loki close like this, and he saw the smile that slowly, hesitantly crept over his face, made him look like a blossom opening up and revealing its true beauty.

"I know. There is nothing you have to feel guilty about. I, on the other hand ... I should have told you right away. I just thought you had moved on, and that it would just cause you unnecessary pain to tell you .. about me ..."

There was something so heavy, so painful in this - Tony couldn't watch it, couldn't listen to Loki cutting himself on his own words. Not when he had come for him, had braved the vastness of the galaxy for him, had joined up to a cause he was barely interested in, and hadn't seen his family, his clan in almost a year ...

Not when Tony himself had so much to feel guilty about himself, too ...

Putting his other hand on the back of Loki's head, as if that could keep him here, he said: "And I ... that day, I knew you were sleepy. Lazy, not as vigilant as usual. But I was so used to you - you all - protecting me ... I should have paid more attention to the jungle. Even if you didn't die from it, maybe even couldn't have died from it at that time - I didn't knew that. And I should have been more attentive." He watched as Loki watched him, as they both contemplated the other's words.

Eventually Loki broke the silence lingering between them. "So, you .. love me?"

Tony nodded, his forehead rubbing against Loki's skin. "Not as long as you me, I think, but ... I fell in love with Loptr. He is quite the funny guy, you know. Reminds me a lot of a certain childhood friend I once had."

Loki chuckled a bit, breaking up the tension even more. "I hope you're not talking of Thora when you say childhood friend ." When Tony pulled a grimace he outright laughed, then fell silent, perplexed.

But Tony wanted to ha ve this remain so goo d, intimate as it was. And so he just stroked over Loki's spines, saw him half-close his eyes in pleasure, and asked: "What I have done - not done - do you think you could ever forgive me?"

Loki shook his head lightly, but before the shock could even settle he said: "There is nothing to forgive. It is the jungle, and we both knew the risks. Living means always expecting to die." His breath, when he exhaled hard now, smelled spicy and like mint, as if he'd had something to strengthen him before he'd turned up at Tony's door. "Can you forgive me ?"

And Tony found he could only agree with Loki - "There is nothing to forgive. You are my friend, my love, and I will always trust that you acted with my best in mind."

Loki closed his eyes, and Tony followed suit, but not before seeing the small, hopeful, happy smile on his lips.

"So, where does this leave us then?", he asked eventually. "Do you ... do you think we can make something of this ... this mess?"

Loki moved against him, his hand stroking over his cheek. "I love you, you love me ... we both find each other pleasing to the eye ... and I have both my mothers' blessings to become your consort if you want to have me, though Laufey-queen and Farbauti-birth-father wish to meet you as soon as possible."

Tony couldn't help but flinch back and stare at Loki wide-eyed. The consort opened his own eyes, slowly, like a cat savoring something delicious. "You came here ... to me ... and you asked your parents to bond with me before ?"

A slight worry came to Loki's eyes. "Are you ... displeased? I assumed you would want to-" He started to withdraw his hand, but Tony wasn't having this.

Instead he surged forward and pressed his lips to Loki's, their meeting uncoordinated and passionate and slightly awkward and all the sweeter for it. "You." Kiss. "Devious." Lick. "Smart." Bite. " Bastard ."

Loki returned his kiss with the same fervor, chuckling slightly when he described him like this, but then simply put his mouth to better use. And his hands. And his tail. (How could he have forgotten about his tail in his dreams?)

Tony learned one very important thing in the next half hour, while they both lost most of their clothes and ended up on the bed making out and kissing: Loki was definitely not new to this kind of activity.



^^



They lay still afterwards, satisfied, happy, together, the arousal fading in them.

They'd both decided not to go all the way, not now, when it was still so fresh, so new to them. When they still learned each other again.

Tony found he didn't mind. He'd had sex with more people than he could even remember, but curling up with Loki in an unmade bed, in a small cabin on a space ship somewhere in the eternal vastness of the universe, both of them half hard, the lingering sting of all the marks that Loki had bitten and sucked into his skin, the traces hands and lips had left on his body making him feel wanted - that was better. More intimate than any sex could ever be, much more satisfying.

Yet there was still something that worried Tony. *Are they very angry? Because I stayed away, and didn't visit, and ... all that?*

Loki looked up from where he'd rested his head on Tony's arm, his eyes sharp despite the laxness of his body. *Not angry ... worried . You are family . For Odin and Frigg and Jord you are as much their son as I am-* He grinned suddenly, chuckled. *Quite literally, even, since they adopted me, too.* He reached out and stroked over Tony's flanks, a soothing gesture as much as the soft smile on his lips. *They love you. When you didn't come back ... they didn't knew what had happened. If you were still alive, and well ... they've been trying to meet you, but with you never staying more than a few hours, and coming so irregularly ...* He leaned forward, kissed Tony softly in his lips before continuing, his breath blowing sweet and spicy over Tony's face. *That Thora-sister-queen met you that day at the space port was pure coincidence, and my heart bleeds to know you could have stopped blaming yourself so much earlier had I just spoken with her before ...*

*Don't*, Tony whispered back. *You came for me, that is all that matters.* Then he reached out himself, cradling Loki close to him. The consort came easily, molding himself to his side as if he was born for this - and he was, in a way, for wasn't this what consorts were educated to be?

*So I'm your queen now?*, he asked, still unsure of what had happened between them.

Loki opened one eye and looked at him with something like playful censure. *Well, if you don't take me as your consort after what you've just done to me I'll tell Odin-mother that you rejected me after giving me unambiguous signs and sleeping with me. I'm sure you don't want to live with the consequences of that.*

Tony paled at the thought. *She would castrate me. At the very least.*

Chuckling slightly Loki moved against him, snuggled closer. *So you see, it's better when you just take me.*

Looking incredulous down at the grinning consort Tony felt his eyes go wide. *You ... minx *, he brought out, then laughed himself. *Well, can't say I didn't knew what I was getting into, now can I?*

*No*, Loki agreed. *You've known me far too long for that.*

*Well, in this case ... Loki, consort-son of Odin-queen and Frigg-consort, and Laufey-queen and Farbauti-consort, love of my heart and light of my life, will you do me the honor to bond with me and become my consort-mate?*

Now Loki wasn't looking sleepy anymore, his eyes wide and gleaming with joy and tears. He opened his mouth, once, twice, then simply hugged him, hard.

*Yes, yes, yes . Always, my Tony-heart.*

And returning the embrace, holding the man he'd known and loved for most of his life in his arms, Tony knew that this was true. That nothing would come between them. That they would stay together.

Always.



Chapter Text

He wanted to scream out loud, to hug everyone, to just fly in the air and up to the sun - he was bursting from happiness, felt like nothing was beyond him.

Because there was Tony, sitting by his side grinning like an idiot, and talking to Laufey-queen as if they'd always known each other. There were beads in his hair again – carefully wound in-between the short strands as if they were an Ymiri's spines. Knowing that his queen was wearing the signs of love he'd collected for so long - the red coral, the amber, the pearls and gold and the garland woven from Jörmundgandr's blossoms - was almost better than him wearing the signs of Tony's love, shining gold, and green and black and bluish glowing, and transparent and beads that were made from feathers and more even beside this. Every now and then he flicked his tail just to feel the weight of the rings resting there, comfortable and safe and a sign that he was Tony's and Tony-love was his .

And then there was the hand that hadn't left Loki's, not once , since they'd entered the feast his clan had spontaneously organized to celebrate both the return of their male sister-queen Tony and consort Loki, and that they'd returned a bonded pair. It made Loki grin sappy and happy and maybe slightly crazy, but he was so happy ... and he didn't really care what anyone else thought anyway.

Everywhere around them people were happy, too - happy that they were back, happy for them, or simply happy to have a party to throw - he didn't care either way. But there was laughing and smiling everywhere, and flower-garlands in the trees, and meat roasting over several fires, fresh bread and fruits of all kinds laid out on plates and water to drink that tasted so much sweeter than anything he'd had on the Avenger .

And even more - he had all the people he loved here: his clan of course, but also his birth parents and true-clutchmates. He had met them both when he visited Jotunheimr, and liked them immediately. Helblindi-sister-queen looked exactly like her - their - mother: all white, with beautiful turquoise spines and snow-white wings with blue shadow-patters on them, and eyes the color of blood. Byleistr-consort on the other side had, like Loki himself, inherited the coloration of his svartalfheimr grandfather. It made hunting hard and dangerous, and he hadn't gotten at least the Jotnar's greater size and more violent inclination like Loki but the smaller size and gentle disposition of the svartalfaer consorts. It was an open secret that he would leave his birth-clan for a more secure jungle-clan, and Loki's brother was at once dreading and looking forward to it.

Loki wished him to be as lucky with his queen as he was with his own.

Speaking of which ... a smile curled his lips when he listened to Tony and his birth-queen talking about how best to hunt a Winged Death. He was just happy that Hela, who was curled up next to him - she really didn't like gatherings like this, quite opposite to Fenrir who was running happily between the partiers, collecting pettings and strokings left and right - didn't understand them, or she might have had to say something to it.

There were more Jotnar, of course. Even with the relations between their clans getting better there was no way a queen would journey here with only her consort and two of her children accompanying her. It was a simple status thing, and since it meant Loki got to meet some of his favorite birth-clan members again he wouldn't even complain about queens being too much about power and intimidation.

One of the family members was Angrboda, the young queen kissing a surprised Tony's cheek while being introduced to him and telling him how lucky he was to have a consort like Loki. Or Thrym-einherjar, who had shown him how to make snow-figures, and how to move through fresh snow without alarming the prey, and who was now looking at Thora-sister in a way that suggested quite a lot of interest. Not really astonishingly - there weren't many, even queens , who could best an einherjar of Thrym's caliber in a duel. And Thora was still a very young sister-queen.

His gaze fell on Steve who had his notebook in hand and tried to communicate to M á ni -einherjar that he wanted to draw nem. A task not made easier by nirs attempts to sniff at the pencil the captain was drawing with, nor the fledgelings and nestlings surrounding him, vying for petting and caresses once they'd realized that this person meant no harm.

Still, Loki had to credit him for trying for nir assent – not surprisingly when one knew the captain, yet not to be taken for granted in the world outside Yggdrasil.

A week ago they'd called Midgard, hoping someone would be able to relay the message that they were coming to the Aesir. Neither of them had thought the Jotnar would be waiting for them as well, just as they'd been surprised by the feast that had somehow been prepared.

The greatest surprise of course was the invitation issued towards the Avengers – they'd been invited to this feast because they were friends and almost-family to both the queen and the consort of the evening. There had been a few conditions, of course, the most notable one being that they had to leave all their electronic devices home. This had made the trip here ... quite memorable, but by their wide-eyed glances - bar Phil and Natasha of course, though he was sure they were impressed, too; after all he could smell that they were - upon first seeing the home-trees it had been worth it.

Now they were wandering between the home-trees, trying to take everything in and communicating with everyone who was willing.

Steve had been the most impressed by this - no wonder; for a hobby artist like him this had to be a feast of a special kind. Grinning Loki watched on as he tried to persuade M á ni , until ne finally understood and assumed a suitable threatening pose with nir spines flaring and nir tail held high.

Loki chuckled; M á ni was lucky that Steve was so fast when it came to drawing, or ne would have to hold the very uncomfortable position for quite a while.

Tony looked over to him, the grip of his hand tightening for a moment when he asked: *You okay here?*

Snuggling up to his new queen – and oh, how he relished at being able to call him that! - Loki smiled. *I'm just so happy ... that we're here, and everyone else, too.* He shot a look over to his birth-queen who had been so concerned that this human-boy wouldn't be a good queen for him. It had taken both Odin and Frigg as well as Heimdall supporting Loki's claim that there was no-one better for him but Tony (and that had been the time when he'd first learned that they had all known of his infatuation all along; it was embarrassing to say the least) to get her permission for Tony to bond with him.

She'd been accordingly skeptic upon meeting Tony, but by now she'd fallen for his charm as much as Loki had. Though the way his queen had paid so much attention to Loki throughout the evening, hadn't once let go of him and yet followed him more than pulled him along, had probably a lot to do with it, too.

Nodding she returned his gaze. Grudging acceptance showed on her face, before she snorted and a small, proud smile curved her lips for a moment. She accepted his choice then. Though he would probably never hear her admit to it out loud, that a human boy-queen was a better mate for her consort-child than any true-Ymiri queen ever could.

Smiling so wide that his cheeks hurt, but not caring in the least, he hid his face against Tony's shoulder. Only a moment later Tony's hand came up and stroked once over his spines, making him purr out loud in pleasure, before falling away again. Loki grinned when he saw Tony's red cheeks and ears - it seemed his mate had been thinking of the first time he'd heard him sound like this ... in their cabin ...

Not wanting to disturb him too much - not as long as he was talking to Laufey-queen at least - he sat up again and took another slice of fruit to nibble from. Someone picked up an instrument, causing adults and fledgelings alike to jump onto their feet and spin over the packed earth that served as dancefloor.

They'd never really danced together - well, they had, but never in the way adults did, with the steps following the beat of the music, smiling and laughing and the soul dancing in the air of the jungle. With a smile he thought that today they would finally get to dance in the way of mates.

Someone pulled carefully on his spines and he turned, not really surprised to see Thora-sister kneeling behind him. Reaching behind he tugged his spines out of her grip, but invited her with a nod to sit beside him.

Throwing a look at the quietly snoring Hela she shuffled closer to him.

*Really, never thought you would catch yourself a Winged Death!*, she said, admiration clear on her face.

Loki grinned. *Jealous?*

*Oh, and how!*, she admitted laughing. *And I'm not even sure I could manage the same - not without getting close to a mother, and that - well, I'm not suicidal.*

Chuckling Loki reached out and ruffled Hela's neck, making her shift slightly in her sleep and move her head closer to him.

They sat there for a moment, before Thora tousled his spines again, causing Loki to raise an eyebrow and ask: *Jealous of these, too?* Not that he could fault her – his beads were undeniable the best and beautiful and most extraordinary of all in the clan.

Chuckling Thora answered: *A bit, yes. Though more ... of him , in a way. Of what you two have.* Loki blinked, not fully comprehending, and she explained: *I know that I've been pretty blind to what happened between you, when we were fledgelings, but even I could see how close you were. Sometimes ... there were times when one of you said something and later I couldn't remember who of you said it because it was so much a Loki-and-Tony thing to say ... it's the same with your tricks, your ideas - you are so alike, like one soul in two bodies ... I know that Hogun-sibling saw you fall for each other, and Volstagg and Sif, too. Hel, I know I'm not the sharpest thorn on this bush and I saw how close you were, so I guess you were always meant for each other.*

Loki grinned and reached out to flick his finger against Thora's forehead. *You are an idiot, sister, but in this you are right - Tony was meant for me.* Softening a bit - mentioning of his dear-heart did that - he continued: *But just because I've been so fortunate as to meet my soul's mate when we were both yet young doesn't mean you won't find someone who you can gift such beautiful beads to.*

It was meant to be teasing, to cheer Thora up. So when his sister blushed he felt his eyes widening and delighted joy bubble up in him. *So you already have someone like that?!*

Thora tried to avoid his gaze for a moment, but then gave in, blushing furiously. *It's nothing committed, yet. We just met a few times ... he's from New Mexicard and in his way he's as ... unusual as you are. He's ... he's curious, and searching for knowledge, and really really smart. I met him ... he's working with the scientists in the outer post, where they are closer to our border, and I met him when I flew out there one day.*

Seeing how flustered his sister was made Loki smile in remembrance of his own daydreaming about Tony-love. *Does he have a name?*

*The most beautiful of all names!*, Thora assured at once, grinning sappy and rapturous. *He's Jaen, of Arndis-queen and Arik-consort.*

Well, that sealed it. If his sister could actually remember his name, and the names of his parents , then he must be someone very special indeed. *I'm so happy for you.*, he said, and returned the grateful smile of his sister with one of his own.

They sat still for a while, reveling in being together, Thora's hand still stroking over his spines in a way that was affectionate, yet in a completely different way to Tony's attentions, and he loved it for this.

*Do you think we looked as funny when we communicated with each other before we started learning languages?*

Startled Loki flinched back and looked over to Tony. Laufey had left without them noticing, and Tony was now focused on Clint and Ward who were trying to communicate with a few of the Aesir adults. After watching for a moment how they waved their hands and feet he concluded that they were probably asking about the knives the Aesir used. Either that, or they needed a toilet and didn't know where to go.

*Probably*, he said eventually. *But we have the excuse of having been fledgelings, yes?*

*I don't think I ever looked like this*, Thora stated firmly, and Tony and Loki shared a look before having to look away quickly, hoping the young queen wouldn't notice how their shoulders shook.

Thankfully Fandral turned up right that moment, a new plate with fruit in his hands which he waved at Thora while simultaneously bowing down to Tony and Loki, kissing both their cheeks. *Hey there, my friends*, he said. *It's so amazing to see you back. And I see you are suitably impressed by my wonderful outfit.* He turned once to show them the breeches made of blue silk embroidered with yellow thread, as well as the equally colorful top. It made him look fancy and flashy - which was probably what he'd been going for in choosing it.

The twinkle in his eyes showed he knew that very well, and also what they thought of it, but instead of questioning them further he simply made use of his long friendship with Thora and pulled her up – something not anyone would dare with a queen. *Let's give the young couple a bit of room. Volstagg needs us anyway - somehow his young brats escaped again, and he needs help catching them. Will be a good story for my next song - How the Amazing Sister-Queen Thora brought the fearsome nestlings to bed!*

*Are you mocking me?*, Thora returned with a playful growl. Grabbing for Fandral and securing him in a headlock she continued: *You shouldn't anger the Amazing Sister-Queen Thora!*

Laughing they vanished in the crowd.

Loki chuckled a bit, too. *We have come so far from who we were ... as fledgelings. Fandral a scald, Sif-sister a hunter, and Volstagg ... well, that's also not really surprising, I mean we all knew he would become a caretaker.*

*Yeah, and Hogun becoming a guardian isn't that surprising, either. But that Thora's a sister-queen with all the responsibilities of a sister-queen ... that simply defeats me.*

Loki joined Tony's laughter, relishing in the hand shaking in his, the warmth next to him, the simple joy.

Another song played, a slower one this time, and Tony looked up, then offered his free hand. "Would you do me the honor of this dance, My Lord?", he asked, his words indicating some tradition that Loki didn't recognize.

Yet he really, really wanted to dance with Tony this night, so he simply took his queen's hand and then they laughed both when standing up with both hands otherwise occupied proved to be difficult.

There were many people on the dancefloor - bond mates, and friends, and casual lovers, siblings. Yet they found a place a bit off, and Loki pulled his wings close to keep them from hindering other people, or catching in bushes or trees. Then there was an arm around his waist, and Loki grinned up at Tony leading them in the slower steps of the dance.

*What did you and Laufey-queen talk about? *, he asked, snuggling up to Tony's strong chest. He could see Hela from here, still sleeping peacefully where no-one dared interrupt her, and Fenrir playfully chasing after a few of the fledgelings.

Tony chuckled quietly, his chest quaking with it. *She asked me about my intentions for you.*

Blinking Loki realized that he should have expected this. *And what did you tell her?*

There was a playful smirk on Tony's lips, a mischievous glint in his eyes, when he returned Loki's gaze. *Well, the truth of course. That I intend to kidnap you, and take you far far away from Yggdrasil into the vastness of the universe. That I'll never let you go and keep you safely away from everyone who might steal you from me, or put a scratch on you. I'll ravish you every day, make you scream so loud that they will hear you into the next quadrant, and on top of that I'll brainwash you into never wanting to leave me. Sounds good?*

Staying with Tony, on the Avenger , out in the galaxy. Returning whenever they wanted to, to see their family.

Having Tony with him, by his side, in his bed ... feeling him close, his love and heart and mind all Loki's ...

He realized that he was grinning again, even if there were tears running down his cheek. But they were tears of happiness, because his heart was full to bursting again.

*Sounds fantastic.*



 

 

 

****** FIN ******