He tinkers with the micro-chip that’s supposed to go into the new and hopefully improved beta-electro-transformer, edging it a little towards the right. It’s dreadfully precarious precision work, making the small thing slide into place, and the tools he’s using for the job are just a tiny bit too big to be ideal. But he couldn’t find the ones he’d been intending to use – they seemed to have disappeared in the chaos of the assorted jumble littering his workshop – so he had to settle for the second best.
His mind is wandering, not fully focused on the little chip beneath his fingertips – the last few days have been pretty eventful, after all.
And he has to admit that he had really expected something… more when Loki’s magic was finally returned to him the other day. Okay, so it was just a small portion of it, but still. There should have been pretty sparkles or fireworks or something obvious like that. Instead, there was just a wide-eyed ‘oh’ from the god, as he made a face like a stranger had just grabbed his ass on the subway.
And that was really it – the first tendrils of Loki’s magic were back. Tony didn’t even have to ask, since it was pretty damn obvious what was going on, as Loki had sat there staring ahead of him with a weird look on his face. True to Odin’s words, a small amount of those fairy powers had now been returned.
The slim chains circling Loki’s wrists are still there, but the enchantments interwoven into them have changed, enough to let bits and pieces of his magic be channelled and utilized, for whatever purposes are allowed. Loki had given him an explanation of what he could and couldn’t do at this stage, but it sounded mostly like mumbo-jumbo to Tony; he was just happy that Loki was happy. The god had been rather tense in the week preceding The Big Day, as if he didn’t truly believe that he’d get any of his magic back, despite what that parchment from Asgard had stipulated.
But, luckily, his worries were unfounded, and finally Loki can Do Stuff again, even if it’s still not close to what he was once able to. But damn if he hadn’t looked like a little boy on Christmas being given a puppy anyway.
And now, Loki’s spent the last few days playing with his newly returned powers, doing silly little things that he had probably learnt centuries ago when he was a kid, but seemed fantastic to him nevertheless after having gone for so long without being able to do as much as a card trick.
So Tony has let him play, trying not to laugh at the look on the god’s face as he made a pencil hover a few inches above the table or made a bud on Tony’s Chrystanthe-whatever spring out in full bloom. They had sex later that day, and damn if it wasn’t some of the most mind-blowing sex he’s ever had. He doesn’t know if Loki was using his magic somehow – even if Tony has a feeling that that’s not what the Allfather primarily intended with giving it back – or if it was just the god’s mood that made him more, well, inspired. His groin still tingles just thinking about it.
But there’s another thing that Loki did that wasn’t just awesome sex or stuff that could have been passed off as simple street magicians’ tricks. For the umpteenth time, his gaze drifts down towards his chest, still oddly taken aback at not being greeted with the familiar blue sheen of the arc reactor that has for so long been a part of him.
But now, it’s gone. And all that’s left is a faint, pinkish circle of scar tissue, the bone and muscles beneath having knitted themselves together. He’s whole again. Complete. He wonders if that’s how Loki is feeling right now, once more having his powers at his fingertips. The hole in Tony’s chest might have been of a physical nature, but the hole left by the loss of Loki’s magic was certainly no less felt.
Even now, he can hardly believe he’s actually rid of it. Granted, as Loki had warned him, it hadn’t been a pleasant procedure in the slightest having the shrapnel removed from his body, and the mending of bone and tissue had been even less so, but it hadn’t been nearly as bad as having the thing put in.
And now, it’s finally gone for good.
He’s abruptly pulled out of his thoughts as there’s a sudden buzz from the doorbell, making him startle at the unexpected sound. The transformer he’s working on gives a little insolent snap as his jerking hands accidentally break it into two.
He looks at the neatly broken pieces in consternation, giving a tired groan.
Oh well, third time’s a charm, isn’t it?
“Jarvis?” he calls out. “Who’s our esteemed visitor?”
“Facial scan yields no matches, sir,” his AI supplies.
“Okay, at least tell me if they look like an insurance salesman or a Jehovah’s Witness,” he says, throwing the useless metal onto the workbench. “In that case, you can tell them they owe me a new beta-electro-transformer.”
“No such similarities noted, sir. A more apt description would be a participant at a costume party with a Viking theme.”
He freezes. That can only mean one thing – another of those alien visitors. And it’s obviously not Thor; Jarvis has plenty of data on that guy.
“He’s not wearing an eye patch, is he?” Better check that first, just in case.
“He is not, sir. Though, he is sporting a rather strange-looking helmet and an unusually long beard.”
“Where’s Loki?” he asks quickly, wanting to make sure. There’s probably no reason for Asgard to send anyone hostile over to his tower, but it coincidences too well with Loki’s powers having been brought back to be just a, well, coincidence.
“He is currently in the shower, washing his hair. With almond and pine shampoo, for extra volume.”
“Bring up a view from the intercom, would you.”
The nearest monitor springs to life in a second, showing him a rather old man holding a carved wooden box in his hands. From his clothes, it’s obvious that he’s a long-way visitor. Very long way. But at least the guy’s alone; there are no sword-sporting, angry-looking Einherjers with him, so that should count in the positive.
Well, he’s not too keen on letting the stranger into his tower, but if someone can transverse the space separating Earth from Asgard, the wall to Tony’s tower isn’t going to stop him if he wants to enter. And it’s not like he’s going to let a guy dressed like that stand in full view outside of his tower until Loki has finished his shower.
He draws a heavy sigh. “Alright, Jarvis. Let him in.”
“Well, I hope your trip went well. No jet lag or anything? I hate that when travelling. Kinda ruins the whole day,” he babbles at the old man standing in his hallway.
“Oh, by the way, you want a drink or something? Loki is sort of inconvenienced for the moment, so I’m afraid you have to wait for a bit to see him,” he continues. “And speaking of which, I don’t think I quite caught why you came here to see him?”
One of the bushy grey eyebrows gives a little twitch. “I have not yet been given the chance to explain my purpose here. However, Man of Iron, I did not come to Midgard to see Loki, but you.”
“Me?” he says, blinking in surprise. He didn’t see that one coming.
He holds up his hands in a show of acquiescence. “Okay, fine, if you want my autograph because you’ve heard all about my badass defeat of Njal during my visit to your world, I can have it arranged. No problem at all. I’m used to scribbling my name on all kinds of weird stuff for adoring fans.”
The man ignores his comment. “I bring you a gift from the Allfather.” With that, he lifts the wooden box in his hands a little higher, obviously expecting Tony to take it. “This is presented to you as a show of gratitude for your integral part in the carrying out of Loki’s punishment.”
Okay, he didn’t see that one coming either.
“Uh, that’s neat,” he replies, only hesitating for a few seconds before accepting the box, curiously giving it a little shake. “So what is it? All seven seasons of Game of Thrones on DVD? Okay, I know all the books aren’t even out yet, but, you know – the Allfather. Or maybe a new--”
“Loki can explain to you in detail what this object is,” the man interrupts him, obviously not in any mood for chit-chat. Which figures, he probably wants to get right back to his potion brewing in the Slytherin dungeons that the Allfather interrupted in order to use him as an errand boy. “I recommend that you hear his words before you make use of it.”
And with that, his alien visitor bids him goodbye and a few moments later he’s gone, leaving only Tony and his gift in the hallway.
The box in his hands has been beautifully carved from what seems to be one single piece of wood, the usual runic ornaments adorning its sides and top. Curiosity getting the better of him, he makes to lift the lid off the box, but it doesn’t budge, held down by a number of elaborate clasps he didn’t even notice before. Fiddling a little, he undoes them, and flips the lid open and peers inside.
He’s not sure what he expected, really, but he’s pretty disappointed.
So that’s what he gets for being an upstanding pillar of Asgard’s judicial system?
At that, he hears soft footfalls behind him, and he turns around to come face to face with Loki, hair wet and dripping.
“Did you have a visitor?” the god asks, his eyes darting around the hallway. “It sounded like you were just talking to someone.”
“As a matter of fact, I did. But he just magiced his way back to Asgard like ten seconds ago,” he answers, watching Loki raise his eyebrows in surprise. “Some old guy I haven’t seen before, and he didn’t bother introducing himself,” he continues in response to the unspoken question he can see forming on the god’s lips.
But Loki’s attention is turning towards the box still in his hands with an inquiring look, clearly more interested in that than in the visitor.
“Oh, and he also gave me this.” He holds the box out for inspection. “Apparently, it was a gift from the Allfather himself because I’ve been nice and played along with their little justice shtick. The guy said I should ask you what it was before using it. By which I suppose he means eating it, unless there’s some other fancy way of using apples on Asgard that I'm not aware of?”
His eyes widen in surprise as he takes in the sight inside the box, recognising it immediately. It is a gift that only a handful of humans, if even that, have been presented with before. And those have not just been any mortals, but those who have been considered worthy.
“Do you know what this is, Tony?” he asks, lifting his gaze to the man before him.
“An apple?” Tony says, cocking his head. “A magic apple?” he tries again after seeing the unimpressed look on Loki’s face at his first try.
“It is one of Idun’s apples. The Aesir eat them to stay young and not age so quickly.” He makes a short pause, feeling his heartbeat speeding up. “If a mortal eats them – it would give them the life-span of a god.”
Tony makes a little whistle. “Whoa there, hold on for a second. You mean, like immortality?”
“Not quite immortality; even gods do not live forever,” he clarifies. “But perhaps to a short-lived race like the humans, it amounts to almost the same thing.”
“I’ll be damned,” Tony says, voice a little more subdued than usual, as he stares at the apple, not making any move to pick it up. “So if I take a bite out of this, it would mean I’d live a few thousands years, give or take a few centuries?” he asks, sounding half-sceptical, half-something else.
“Not exactly. One apple will give you an extended life of perhaps half a century. Then, you would need to eat another apple, or you would start aging normally again.”
“Huh. I see.” Tony’s voice is oddly even, and Loki isn’t sure how to interpret it. “Well, I suppose I should be flattered that the Allfather thinks my contributions merit another fifty years or so, at least.”
Loki licks his lips. They have suddenly gone uncomfortably dry. “No. If the Allfather has once deemed a mortal worthy of Idun’s apples, he will continue to receive them for as long as he wishes to make use of them. If you eat this, Odin will see to it that more apples are sent. This is not a temporary gift.”
Tony seems to mull this over. “Uh, so would there be any way to... reverse the process?”
“Well, if you stop eating them, you will eventually revert back to your normal aging speed,” he explains. “Even the Aesir grow older considerably quicker without them.”
Tony says nothing, merely watches the bright red apple in the box.
And Loki watches Tony in turn, clenching his jaws.
This is a subject he has thought about a lot, despite not wanting to consider it. Tony is a mortal and as such, he will only live a few further decades. By accepting the apples, he would live as long as a god. But would he want to?
As it is, Loki is not allowed to return to Asgard yet. He still has amends to make, that he and Tony have already all planned out, with the reluctant approval of Fury and SHIELD. They even turned Tony into his first patient, as Loki removed the embedded metal pieces and made his chest knit itself together. Unsurprisingly, his healing powers were part of the magic that he first got back, even if much of it is still inaccessible.
But, once it is deemed that he has made sufficient reparations to Midgard, there will come a day when he can once more return to his old home. Of course, he will do that to see his mother and Thor – who’s still visiting more or less regularly – and even Odin. There are still many things they need to say to each other. But after that, he’d been thinking he’d… come back. To Tony. His tower feels more like home now than Asgard. And once he has his full powers back, he can easily travel between the realms; he can visit his family whenever he wants, but he’d rather… stay here. With Tony.
Of course, such an arrangement can’t last for very long with Tony’s current life span. And he’s been dreading it, but not wanting to think about that not-so-distant reality that he will one day have to face. It’s so ironic, now that he’s been given all of this, how, as he’s known from the very start, it is bound to be taken away from him soon, only there to be cherished for a short time.
But now, there’s a golden red apple in Tony’s hand, and with that the guarantee of a life-long supply to follow.
But would Tony want to? It’s a huge step for a mortal, not something to be taken lightly. Even just one apple would mean an additional half a century. Which is more than half the life-span of an average human. More than what Tony probably has left in his current mortal state.
And as much as he wants to, it’s not a decision he should push Tony into. Humans might have fantasized about immortality for as long as their kind has existed, but it doesn’t mean that they would be willing to embrace it, should it be offered to them. Just as scary and difficult to come to terms with to become a mortal with a mortal’s life span would be for Loki, just as scary and difficult it would be for a mortal to be faced with thousands of years of existence, when you have lived your entire life on the assumption that the length of your existence will be about the same as that of your peers.
He looks out the window, feeling wistful.
Of course, he desperately wants for Tony to eat the apple and embrace the life-span that will come with it, but it’s not Loki’s choice to make. He shouldn’t push Tony into anything that the man might come to regret. He will have to think it over, of course, and all that such a choice might entail.
Because as great a gift as a long life might seem, it doesn’t mean it will be easy, not when you live in a world where few even live to see a century.
And if Tony turns it down, he’ll understand it. He won’t blame him. It’s Tony’s choice, not his. No one can make a choice like that on behalf of someone else, and he shouldn’t even try to.
His nails are digging into his palms, but he barely notices the resulting sting, his mind frozen as there is only that apple in front of him, blocking out all else. That one apple, that could change… everything.
But of course, it’s not a choice to be made lightly, as much as he is desperately hoping, and it’s not even--
His thoughts are interrupted by the sound of a brisk crunch. As he sharply looks up, gaze snapping into focus again, he’s greeted by the sight of Tony, chewing thoughtfully on a piece of apple.
As the man notices his gaze, he swallows, and then waves the apple in his hand in Loki’s direction.
“You know what I was thinking?”
Loki only manages to shake his head, temporarily speechless.
Tony flashes him his trademark impish Tony grin. “This thing is really juicy. What do you say, should we take the rest and go make an apple pie together?”