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“Oh shit. Shit, shit, shit.” Tony swatted the branches of the trees aside as he ran through the foliage and jumped over logs. His heart was racing with fear as he came closer to the clearing. He could hear pained cursing and he didn’t even hesitate to reveal himself by breaking through the protective camouflage the trees gave him.

There was a man crouched on the ground and leaning against a tree with a hand pressed just below the arrow that was sticking out of his shoulder. His clothes were dark green and black and that might have accounted for why Tony had thought he was an animal. It actually probably would have been a good reason if Tony wasn’t well-known among his kind for having terrible aim.

He hadn’t actually intended to hit anything at all. He was supposed to be out hunting, but what he was actually doing was going to his favourite spot in the forest and attempting to practice his ability to hit anything he planned to. He was an elf who couldn’t fucking shoot a bow and arrow, it was just embarrassing - and now he’d gone and shot some helpless human who’d stumbled into the woods.

Gods, Pepper was going to kill him.

He reached the man quickly, his species known for being fast and light on their feet. He crouched down beside the other who, to his credit, only stiffened when he noticed he wasn’t alone. “I’m so fucking sorry, are you okay?”

The man was pale. It could have been from many things; his natural complexion or the shock and pain of the wound. Tony couldn’t tell but what he could tell was that the anger he was exuding had very decidedly found its target. His words were through gritted teeth as he demanded, “What kind of imbecile are you?”

“Um,” Tony paused. Normally he’d insist, ‘no, genius actually’ but he had just shot the human, so he could probably give the man some leeway. “I didn’t mean to?”

“A child would have fared better than you,” the human growled, bringing his other hand up to the wound.

“No, wait-” Tony tried to insist, “I can get you some-” numbing herbs, but Tony trailed off, watching with shock and steadily growing horror as green light erupted from the man’s palm. He was grimacing painfully but the arrow abruptly shot out of his shoulder to hover in the air.

Oh fuck, Tony thought.I shot a mage.

He watched the arrow fall to the ground as the mage panted heavily at the exertion and held a hand to his still bleeding wound. Tony was frozen; suddenly far more worried with what would happen to him than how the other would survive.

The mage lifted his head and glared at Tony. He was probably gearing up to yell, but Tony beat him to it by quickly blurting out an apology, “I’m sorry, I’m really sorry. Can we please not curse me? Please?”

It was just his fucking luck that one of the few times he met a mage it was like this. They’d always been interesting and Tony had been desperate to work with them for years. He wanted his questions answered as well as some practical experience at watching them cast. The problem was that while Elves were natural conduits for magic and highly sought after by magic-users, they were actually warned to avoid them.

Why?

Oh. That was simple. Elves couldn’t actually defend against magic. The smallest spell from a mage could render an elf helpless or just outright kill them. It just generally wasn’t pretty and it was why they were supposed to keep away from mages. They were only supposed to associate with or help them if magic-users tracked them down and asked for help; it was only done because it was unavoidable.

They weren’t supposed to shoot them. In the shoulder. With an arrow. Fuck.

“I really didn’t mean to hit you,” Tony told him while trying to be as apologetic as possible. He also tried to keep the panic created by remembering the horror stories of vengeful mages carefully maintained.

“You did not mean to hit me?” The mage demanded and his eyes flicked over Tony quickly. His words were spat out like a curse, “You’re an elf.” He tilted his head, a pained tightness to his face but an analytical, intelligent mind obvious behind his eyes. “Did I trespass too far into your territory? Did you think you could send me off with all the lies the humans hold of your race? Did you think injury or fear would make me-”

The mage started to raise his hand and Tony barely kept from scooting backwards as he shouted out, “Herbs!” The mage winced at the sudden, loud announcement but Tony was not going to stop, “I can get you herbs! Numbing herbs, healing herbs, aphrodisiac herbs-”

“What are you even-”

Don’t curse me,” Tony insisted, “and I’ll get the herbs you wanted.”

Suspicion quickly flooded the other’s face. “What makes you think I require any such thing?”

“You’re a mage in a forest,” Tony dared a hesitant smirk as he told himself; mages don’t know they’re a weakness so don’t let him find out. “Give me a little credit.”

“You’re an elf who can’t even shoot,” he growled. “What does that say for any of your abilities?”

Tony felt the usual bitter tension fill his limbs at the insult but he forced any frustration down. “Humans lie about us, you said it yourself. Or am I supposed to ask why you’re a mage but male?

The mage glowered at him, but Tony was happy to see that instead of continuing to snarl words at him, Tony’s point seemed to have been made. That’s right; fuck you for stereotyping me - even if I am the only damn aberration among us.

“You will get everything I request?”

Tony narrowed his eyes at the wording. “I shot you once so I will only do this for you once.”

“That did not answer my question.”

“Well, it depends on how many parts of the forest I have to go to. People will search if I take too long. I wager people will also notice if you’re left here to bleed.”

“The injury was hardly my fault-”

Tony hissed out an agitated breath. “Can you heal yourself?” The look that crossed the mage’s face in response had Tony rapidly explaining. “I’m not trying to gauge your power or anything.” Gods were mages suspicious. “I’m trying to figure out how to make this work.”

“And I am to trust you’ll return? That you won’t bring back your brethren to slaughter me like a helpless colt?”

Tony scoffed. “Are you serious?

“You have pointed out the lies of the humans.” The mage shifted against the tree and despite grimacing in pain his distrustful scowl never faded. “You cannot even aim. Am I meant to believe you when you infer this is common? Perhaps it isn’t and you wish to erase the only one who could tell the story?”

“Right, that’s why I ran over apologising and trying to help you.”

“Subterfuge,” The mage parried. “A test to see who and what I might be.”

Tony stared in disbelief. “Fuck, maybe I should just let you keep talking until you bleed out. Can’t you just take an apology and a wish not to be turned into a frog at face value?”

“No,” he answered instantly. “I know nothing of you and therefore do not trust you.”

Tony ran a hand over his face and briefly wished his arrow had flown and landed a little further down and to the left. He then felt suitably terrible about it that he felt a bit more patience return. “Look. I don’t have to get you the damn herbs. I don’t have to do anything for you. I merely offered so that-”

“I would feel less inclined to exact my revenge.”

“Which you can’t...” Tony trailed off as the mage - far from lacking the energy to heal himself - pressed his hand over the wound and gritted his teeth while green energy flared around his palm and seeped into his skin.

Fuck, Tony thought. He was just biding his time.

Tony very carefully started edging further away from the mage, but he knew he was screwed if the guy decided to cast. He could only hope that healing his wound would have drained his reserves. Tony could maybe dodge a weakened attack and run; but fuck, who was he kidding? An angry and powerful mage would know that cursing an elf wasn’t going to be hard to do even from a distance. He could even seek counsel with the other Elves until he could single Tony out and gain that vengeance he’d mentioned. He had a feeling this mage was smart and dogged enough to find him if he really wanted to.

The thought made Tony slump a little and mutter, “Which you can and obviously plan to.” Tony screwed his eyes shut. “Can I request something not liable to get me killed in five minutes?”

He waited a good thirty seconds, expecting to feel his body shrink around him or tingle or something but there was nothing. He peeked open one eye and looked at himself; still the same. He turned to the mage who was crossing his arms and eyeing him impatiently. There was a piece of parchment in his hand that hadn’t been there before.

“I require these.”

Tony blinked and looked between the mage and what was in his hand. “Wait. You’re taking me up on my offer?”

The mage sniffed. “I don’t like transfiguration.”

“Yeah, but...” I thought you didn’t trust me? Somehow his tongue stayed where it was and didn’t speak the words. Fuck, Tony, don’t argue with him! The mage had raised his eyebrows and there was a smirk on his face that said he was very amused about the protest. Tony wasn’t about to do himself any more damage and quickly changed his tone, “Erm. Nothing.” He held out a hand, “Let’s see the list.”

The mage only hesitated a moment before passing it over. Tony was still half expecting to be turned into something on contact with the parchment, but when nothing happened he let out a surreptitious breath before reading it over.

Oh man. He felt his stomach drop. He’s a very skilled mage. The items on the list were things most mages wouldn’t know could be used in potions. They were rare and powerful and Tony had been told from a young age just what kind of things constituted a mage you didn’t want to piss off.

Whoever this guy was, he was ticking all the boxes for ‘Tony you fucked up’.

Tony turned his attention back to find the other eyeing him with far too much intent and he swallowed. “I can get these for you.” He looked back and mentally mapped the forest, “But I can’t get all of them by sunset. They’re spread too far.”

Hell, he would be lucky to get all of them - period. There was a certain flower the mage was requesting that was guarded by a particularly vicious little lizard that spat poison with relish and painful accuracy.

“How many can you expect to bring me before evening falls?” The mage questioned, obviously unimpressed by his statement. That was tough shit. Tony didn’t want to become a squished bug under the other’s shoe, but he wasn’t about to lie.

“Two thirds of it?” Tony shrugged. “It depends on how easy they end up being. There’s more in this forest than Elves, you know.” And a lot of them don’t like me.

It wasn’t that he was a little shit it was just... well, he was prone to mischief and getting back at people who insulted him or his friends. How was it his fault that he was a genius who was good at avoiding being caught? Granted, it meant a lot of creatures would like to break some of his bones, but what would life be without a little excitement? ... And some threat to life and limb.

Although, adding a mage to the list of people who might want to kill him was new even for Tony. He was also someone Tony didn’t want to keep on there for long.

The mage had tilted his head to look at the sky, calculating the time of day before giving Tony his attention again. “You have three hours before I need to return.”

“Three hours?” Tony spluttered before gesturing with the parchment. “I can’t get half of that by then. It’s not even going to be evening when you want me back here!”

“I have other commitments then to wait in a forest for a hapless elf.”

Tony clenched his fists. “Well whatever your commitments are, you couldn’t possibly have left here with all the items on this list, not in the time you’re giving me. You probably don’t even know where half of these are.” The mage looked ready to disagree, but Tony wasn’t wearing it. “Most of these can’t be traced by magic. You were going to be blindly foraging.”

“A duty now tasked to you, elf,” the mage snapped. “You are lucky I am not seeking my repayment in blood or in the transfiguration you so obviously expected. I would hold your tongue before I decide it would make a better ingredient in my spells.”

Tony knew the threat was all too real but he’d also never stood down from an argument. Pepper was always telling him either his stubbornness or his attitude would get him killed one day, and he’d hate to prove her wrong. “An arrow in the shoulder is allowed to make you a little pissed off, but I’m doing my best to repay you. A little less insulting would be nice.”

“Oh? And you believe you are innocent of affronts? Do you have a lack of memory as well as aim?”

Tony was gritting his teeth so hard he was surprised they weren’t breaking from the pressure. You like being alive, you like being alive. He was running it around his head like a mantra so that he didn’t pull out another arrow and shove it through the asshole’s eye socket.

He was counting down from ten when the mage surprised him by letting out a heavy breath and adding, “Look, elf, I have limited time before I am required to return and I will need to remove the evidence of this injury before I do. Therefore I am not in a mood to give platitudes, but nor am I in a mood for senseless arguing. Please leave and get what I require. When you return, assuming my satisfaction on what you have gained, we may consider your apology accepted and debt concluded.” The mage tilted his chin imperviously. “Is this acceptable to you?”

It’s the best offer I’m going to get. Tony could also admit it was pretty damn reasonable. He certainly knew what would happen if he was shot in the shoulder and had to return to Pepper and Rhodey in that state. No wonder the guy wanted time to clean up.

“Accepted,” Tony answered before he could second guess it. His hand moved forward before he paused. He knew humans shook on their promises while Aesir’s believed in the honour of words and needed nothing more. Elves clasped hands and pressed foreheads together while Jotnar were said to bind in blood - not that Tony had much experience with them to be certain. But Tony honestly didn’t know how mage’s sealed deals.

The mage seemed aware of why he paused and he sighed and held out his hand. There was some discolouration of drying blood still present on his palm from when he’d held it to the dampening shirt near his wound. He’d wiped some of it off in the grass but the rest still remained. “I do not have the time to bind us in a vow.” Of course they bind with magic, Gods almighty, you idiot. “The terms of your people will have to do.”

Reaching out, Tony cautiously grasped the other’s palm. He wasn’t game enough to draw their foreheads together but he let his fingers curl over the back of the other’s hand. The mage seemed peculiarly interested. “You clasp differently to humans.”

“I’m not human,” Tony stated simply, an edge of derision to his voice he couldn’t quite hide. What made the mage think they were in any way similar?

The mage’s brows furrowed, not in anger but in contemplation. “But you are said to have the most contact with their race?”

Tony actually snorted while letting the other’s hand go. “We are an older race than theirs. We live as long as the Jotnar and Aesir. I assure you if any were to take after the other, it would not be us from them.”

“Ah. I have always found their assumption of their own importance to be quite amusing.” The mage allowed a brief smirk to pass his lips and Tony couldn’t help matching it.

Tony was tempted to recount the many times he’d tricked and scared the humans who’d wandered too close to the woods. They were so easily terrified and so dreadfully amusing, but he bit his tongue and made himself stay silent. He didn’t know how the mage felt about humans, not truly, he also didn’t know anything about the mage himself. While they might have reached some kind of understanding, Tony still wasn’t free of danger.

He needed to leave.

He had three hours to gain as much of the mage’s supplies as possible. He needed to make the mage as happy as possible if he was going to be given a reprieve.

Taking a step back, Tony gave the mage a firm nod. “I will return in three hours.”

The mage eyed him, not quite warily but with a suspicion that made it clear he wasn’t yet confident in either Tony’s ability to succeed, or his promise to reappear. “We will see.”

Tony didn’t try to correct him, he wasn’t likely to get far; he just turned on his heel and disappeared back into the forest. He remained on the ground for some minutes before reaching a tree tall enough for his purposes. He climbed it with speed and finesse before perching near the top. He flicked his attention between the parchment in his hand and the woodland below and around him.

Well, you always wanted to help a mage. He grimaced and rolled his shoulders, trying not to think about all the curses he knew they were capable of. You should have been way more specific about why you’d be doing it.


Tony was cutting it fine by the time he was able to break through the clearing, panting slightly and clutching the bag he’d repurposed for the task of storing the herbs. It had been damn difficult. Those little lizards had been out in force and he had three lovely new burns that were going to itch like a bitch for the next week. Thankfully, he’d rubbed his skin with protective leaves on the chance they managed to strike him. The poison hadn’t been able to seep into his skin, but damn did it blister.

He’d had numerous other setbacks, but five minutes into the task Tony had been determined to get at least half of the list. He’d managed just over and he was pretty content with that. He just hoped the mage was too.

“I was beginning to wonder if you lacked punctuality as well,” the mage commented and Tony turned to find him re-entering the clearing. Tony couldn’t help the way his eyes widened and trailed over the other.

There was a small pool nearby that the mage had found. Tony was prone for using this area of the forest for practicing for its solitude and for that very source of water. It was perfect to swim in when he wanted to wash off his sweat and his tension. There was also a waterfall that cascaded down over a hidden cave. The whole area flowered all year round and was prone to drawing in wildlife. It was a lovely place to simply sit and relax, but the mage had obviously used it to wash his tunic and remove the blood. The cloth hadn’t yet dried and was hanging over a branch nearby.

This left the mage’s muscled stomach and chest open to the elements. Open to Tony and he couldn’t stop watching as droplets of water ran down that stomach to be caught in the band of the mage’s pants.

The mage - by some fucking miracle - didn’t notice Tony’s specific attention as he had instantly turned to get his clothing. Tony mourned the loss of that chest, but he did get to see his back and the tight fit of his pants. He made himself shake the thoughts away as the mage pulled the tunic over his head. But, fuck, when did mage’s get such muscled arms?

“Did you get my-” The mage cut himself off and Tony internally cursed and forced his wandering eyes to focus back on the mage’s frowning face. “What in the worlds injured your face?”

Tony did not make the mistake of touching the burn on his cheek. “A little clan of dilopho’s that didn’t like me picking their flowers.” Tony briefly fantasised. “One day I’m going to sit in a tree and shoot every little one of them in the head.”

Blinking back to the clearing, he found the mage examining him, his eyes lingering on the other burns and scraps he’d managed to pick up searching out the mage’s requests. Tony was only mildly disappointed to see not even a hint of interest in the mage’s eyes. Granted, he probably didn’t look his best; he was pretty rank and had mud hardening in his hair. It probably made sense the mage wasn’t about to think he was hot stuff.

Ah, well, he didn’t want to sleep with a guy who could kill him with a flick of his fingers. Tony liked to live dangerously but not that dangerously.

Stepping closer, Tony decided to get their exchange over and done with. He held out the small pouch for the mage with one hand and the parchment in the other. “I got what I could.”

The mage’s lips twisted as he took the steps needed to reach out and snatch the items. Tony rolled his eyes when the mage instantly dismissed him and started examining what was inside the bag. He was gratified to watch the other’s eyes widen and his fingers dig into the bag. He pulled out the petals of a rare white flower and held one with eyes that shone with something not unlike awe.

Tony felt like pointing out some of the more difficult things he’d needed to find. That flower might bloom in an awkward place to climb, but at least it wasn’t guarded by something or growing on the edge of a bog that smelled vile. Tony would take an uncomfortable clamber any day instead of the others he’d been through. He kept himself silent though as the other kept scrutinizing his offering.

Well, he was quiet for a couple of minutes where he squirmed uncomfortably before he eventually gave in and asked, “Are you going to accept it?”

The mage turned to him, still blinking back to the world around him. When he seemed to connect the question, he glanced between Tony and the pouch. “I,” he cleared his throat, “yes, this is acceptable.”

Tony let out a very careful, but extremely relieved breath. “Excellent. Awesome.” He raised a hand and gave a simple, polite wave. “Good luck to you and sorry again about the shoulder.”

He had started to turn and leave the clearing when the mage called out, “Wait!”

Tony froze, a small shot of fear going through him before he realised he wasn’t being spelled into place, he could still move, he still had free choice. He relaxed and looked over his shoulder at the other. He actually had an arm extended slightly towards Tony while he tightly gripped the bag in his other hand. Tony didn’t know what was going on inside the mage’s head and he didn’t seem inclined to continue, so Tony asked his question cautiously, “Yes?”

The mage’s eyes darted around before landing on the pouch. He raised his hand slightly. “What of this?”

Tony raised his eyebrows. “The bag?” He shrugged. “Keep it.” Leather pouches were hardly difficult to come by. Tony’s lips twitched into a smirk. “I guess it can be a souvenir, or a gift.”

He gave the mage one more wave before he slipped back into the safety of the trees and started making his way home. He didn’t know how he was going to explain the burns to Pepper when she inevitable cornered him over the next few days to yell, but he definitely wasn’t going to tell her the truth.

I shot a mage in the shoulder so I kind of owed him one.

Well, at least he’d gotten out of it pretty lightly. He’d also learnt his lesson. He would now always check the area before he tried practicing his archery again.

And if he also tried to research just what spells the mage was going to use his ingredients for? Well, the other Elves had always considered him and his fascination with mages odd. How was anyone going to know that he’d helped one and was currently trying to figure out how?

Simple. They wouldn’t.

It was a need to know basis and as far as Tony was concerned, no one needed to know.


Tony didn’t forget about the mage over the next two months. He actually thought about him every time he practiced, especially during the meticulous ten minutes he now spent making sure no one was in injuring distance. He’d only had the chance to train three times in those eight weeks, mostly because Pepper had taken his burns to be the outcome of his intent to prank someone. He’d been hovered over suspiciously for ages because of it.

By the time he’d managed to shake her Tony was half convinced his aim had become worse. He still made the best weapons in the forest he just... couldn’t use some of them. It was enough to drive him to drink - or, it would be, if he wasn’t determined to conquer the inability.

Which was what brought him back to the woodland that bordered the clearing where he’d shot the mage. It almost made him smile, he would never be able to look at this place and forget that half-naked form, dripping with water and yelling at him for his bad aim.

All and all, it hadn’t been a terrible experience.

Tony idly wondered which spells the mage might have performed. He’d found numerous combinations the other could have gone with and he was curious. He knew he’d never get the answers, but he couldn’t help wondering as he checked over the forest for innocent bystanders.

He was walking along a branch and making his way to that same clearing when he walked through something that made him almost fall out of the tree. He collapsed onto his hands and knees, gripping the bark as nausea rushed through him before disappearing as quickly as it had came.

Tony panted for a few moments before he pushed up into a standing position. “What the fuck,” he hissed, “was that?

A few moments later he didn’t get an answer, but he sure as fuck got a suspicion. “Elf!” he heard shouted from the clearing. “Elf, I seek correspondence with you.”

It was the mage he’d shot. The mage who had obviously put some kind of ward around the area to tell him when Tony approached. His collapse now made sense in a way Tony wished it hadn’t. Wards played havoc on an elf’s internal system; he’d read numerous accounts of it and while it usually didn’t make them crumple, Tony must have been one of the lucky few who were unusually susceptible to them. Fucking fabulous.

Tony highly considered turning around and going back. It could be an ambush. The mage could be unhappy with the items Tony had picked. It could be numerous things that all smelt of trouble if he stepped into view.

But fuck it all, Tony was intrigued. The mage had come back into the forest, warded the area, and was now shouting loudly in a place that wasn’t exactly safe. How could Tony resist?

He still took enough care to stay off the ground and peak through the foliage to make sure the other was alone first.

The mage was standing in the middle of the glade, his eyes narrowed as they darted around the area. He was wearing an almost identical outfit to last time and had the leather pouch Tony had given him hanging from the belt at his waist. Tony didn’t know why that made him smile, but it did. It also swayed his decision.

Pulling back from the leaves, he dropped down onto the ground and stepped towards the forest edge. He had just reached it when he heard the mage call again, frustrated and unhappy, “Elf!”

“Perhaps I should give you my name?” Tony suggested, pushing through the branches to join the other. “‘Elf is liable to get very tedious.”

The mage looked shocked for a moment before he quickly masked his expression. “It was the only descriptive I had to use. Or would you have preferred ‘arrow-owner’ or ‘herb forager’?”

At least he hadn’t gone for aimless archer.

"That depends, they certainly would have made me less likely to listen to you, but then again, I might not like what you have to say anyway." Tony eyed him suspiciously. "Why were you calling for me?"

"I have a proposition."

Tony's eyebrows flew high and he couldn’t resist a teasing smirk. "Do you now? I admit, I never have slept with a mage. So that could be inter-"

"It is not that kind of proposition," the mage interrupted, looking irritated.

"No?" Tony mock pouted, slightly disappointed to find the guy wasn't the flirtatious type. "Whatever do you plan to tempt me with then?"

The mage smiled before reaching into his belt. He pulled out a finely carved dagger that made Tony go tense. The mage held the weapon in front of him, tenderly touching it with both hands before he nodded at the tree behind Tony.

"That small whirl in the bark, can you see it?"

Tony shifted so his back wasn't to the mage and glanced up. It took him a moment to place the tiny discolouration. It was smaller than his palm and a good distance above the ground. "Yes?"

The mage was smirking widely when he turned back. He flipped the blade in the air, caught the hilt and lifted it over his shoulder. He threw it with perfect balance, speed and without any discernible magic. Tony's head jerked to the side, following the path it had taken before embedding in the tree. Embedding directly in the centre of that darker piece of bark.

Damn, Tony thought. I almost wish it was that kind of proposition.

Tony found a lot of things attractive but confidence and competence were two of the main ones.

"As you can see," the mage told him, "I am proficient in accuracy and strength."

Tony was half-tempted to climb the tree and make sure there wasn't any kind of spell attached to the wood to help the dagger fly true. But at the same time, he knew warriors, he knew engrained movements - nothing in the mage had been false when he'd let his dagger fly.

"You are," Tony agreed. "But I don't quite see the relevancy."

"I am here to offer you a deal; my tutelage in exchange for your foraging."

Tony took a few moments to digest it and even then he wasn't sure it worked. "You want to what?"

"Offer my expertise to improve your archery in exchange for ingredients I cannot easily get on my own," his voice had gained a somewhat unimpressed edge. "I did not think it would be difficult to grasp."

Tony narrowed his eyes. "The insults are a nice touch. Really, you're just charming me into this deal."

The mage grimaced. "I... apologise."

And didn't that sound awkward on his tongue, like the guy had never done it often, or at least never done it honestly.

"Hmm," Tony made a show of pondering the idea while edging closer to the mage. The other didn't look concerned about the closing distance but he was watching Tony like a hawk. "How do I know you can shoot a bow? Your knives are impressive but they're quite a different feat."

The mage instantly held out his hand. "Give me your bow."

Tony paused in his circling movements. "You expect me to give you Elven craftsmanship?"

"I have no intention to steal it. It is not my preferred weapon nor is it impossible for me to simply summon it into my grasp. Give me your weapon and I will prove the proficiency you doubt."

Well, Tony could hardly argue with that.

He slung his bow off his back and pulled two arrows from his quiver. The mage was taller than him and he was also unfamiliar with the weight and style of Tony's bow. He wasn't about to force the mage to perform at top quality on his first shot.

He passed the items to the other who gave him a nod of gratitude before he moved to the farthest side of the clearing. "I will aim to strike beside my dagger, shall I?"

Tony glanced at the tree; it was hardly a long-distance shot, but it would still cement his ability to land a target. Tony followed after the mage, stopping to lean against the nearest trunk. He crossed his arms and eyed the other. "Okay, let's see what you-"

The mage didn't let him finish. He positioned the bow, slotted the arrow into place and drew it back. His movements were fast and sure, his aiming the work of seconds before he released the shaft and let it fly.

Tony had seen few others outside his race handle themselves with such skill and confidence, especially when using another's weapon. Yet the mage made every action seem natural. He also hit his mark.

The second arrow followed moments later, corrections obviously having been made based off the results of the other. When the first had hit, it had landed a few inches to the left of the dagger, the second arrow by comparison was a mere sliver of distance from the blade. He had actually made it land between the two weapons.

Tony couldn't help being suitably impressed.

The mage turned to him, the bow resting at his side. "Are you suitably convinced?"

In your skill? Tony thought. Hell yes. In your ability to teach me? Not so much.

It wasn't that he doubted the mage, it was just... he was kind of unteachable. Tony had spent decades with the best teachers their clan had. Hell, he was good friends with Clint Barton, the best archer Elves had seen for centuries, and not even Clint could get him aiming right.

There was something in Tony that just couldn't wrap around it. He understood the mathematics, the weapons, the movements, everything but as soon as a bow was in his hands, it all fell apart.

He was the best weaponsmith his people had to offer, hell, other Elves and other races sought him out for commissions. He could handle a sword and anything else put in his hands, but a bow? Forget it.

It didn't mean he was about to dismiss the mage's offer. The mage didn't know he was unteachable and Tony wasn't about to ignore the chance to work with a mage. He just had to sweeten the deal a little.

"I can get archery lessons anywhere," he saw the mage's lips pinch with frustration, "but I can't always find a mage if I have questions."

The mage was watching him carefully. "What kind of questions?"

"Magic ones, obviously."

The mage blinked. "You wish to ask about magic?"

"Yup," Tony even popped the 'p'. "So here's the deal, Spells. You teach me archery and answer any questions I have, and in return I get you whatever you have listed on your little pieces of paper."

The mage's eyebrows had risen dramatically during his offering. "You wish to learn the secrets of my craft?"

There was something almost threatening hidden under the casually asked question. Tony didn't fall for it. "Not secrets, clarifications. Mage's come to Elves a lot, but not often since I was a kid. There's only so much I can learn from books."

"Ah," the mage seemed to understand all at once, "you are curious."

"I am," because it didn't seem like it would be a bad thing to admit. "And you want your herbs. So, do we have a deal?"

"Hmm. I cannot help noticing you are getting two things from this deal and I only one," despite his words though, the mage was smirking slightly.

"You get my delightful presence," Tony couldn't help casually flirting,

The mage however, seemed less than impressed. "In return for answering your questions," he continued as if Tony had never spoken, "you will answer mine."

Tony couldn't help tensing a little. "Yours?"

"Little is known of the Elves. You live secluded in forests and are hard to find. You have your curiosities and I have mine."

"I won't betray my people," Tony told him firmly and with an edge of warning.

The mage nodded his head in respect of that. "Nor will I give away the secrets of my magic."

Tony pursed his lips. "Okay, we can both choose to not answer questions, but they have to be good reasons."

"Agreed." The mage held out his hand. "We shall seal this deal in your way and in mine."

Tony stared at his palm with no small amount of trepidation. He never did know how magic would react to him, and a binding vow? Yeah, that just screamed something painful.

"You're still not convinced?" The mage asked with a frown.

"No," Tony shook his head. "No, I'm convinced."

"Then why do you hesitate?"

He needed a damn good reason for his stall, and luckily, he came up with one. "I don't even know your name."

The mage's nose wrinkled. "Is it relevant?"

"Yes, it is." He wasn't even lying. "Didn't we say 'Elf' and 'Mage' would get annoying pretty damn fast?"

He didn't look happy about it, but he offered, "I am often called Lyesmith."

"Lyesmith," Tony deadpanned.

"Yes," the mage answered as if it wasn't strange at all.

"That is not your real name."

"No," the mage admitted with surprising candour. "But names hold power. I do not trust you enough to give you mine."

Tony scoffed. "Well I don't trust myself to a deal with someone whose name I don't know." He started to turn away. "Enjoy hunting down your own flower petal-"

"Wait!" The mage called for the second time in their acquaintance. Tony paused and looked back over his shoulder. The mage was clenching his jaw and his hands were balled into fists. "Loki," the mage spat out, "I am Loki."

There that wasn't so bad, was it? Tony was about to say it when the name suddenly clicked in his mind. Oh fuck.

Tony stared at him, seeing all the things he'd dismissed before. The subtle finery to his clothes, the perfect posture he always had, the proficiency with weapons, the land that bordered this side of the forest.

"You're the Aesir's second prince," Tony breathed.

The mage, Loki had stiffened. "My status is immaterial to the deal I am making with you." His hand was thrust out again more forcefully. "Will you accept it?"

Tony rapidly catalogued the situation. The Aesir didn't like magic-users and Loki was probably the only mage among them. Loki needed him to accept so that he could easily gain the things he was probably forbidden from purchasing by the Royal Family. Tony wondered if he was going against some Asgardian decree by helping Loki practice magic. He kind of liked that.

The Aesir liked to smash their way through the forest hunting animals and trying to find Elves to capture like they were some kind of gimmick. The Aesir had also tried to find him once; the celebrated weaponsmith. They hadn't succeeded, of course, but the attempt still rankled with Tony. What would they have done? Taken him back and set him up in a gilded cage? No, Tony wasn't hugely fond of the Aesir.

But Loki the mage? Well, he seemed different.

He was also offering an interesting deal that Tony really couldn't bring himself to pass up.

Tony stretched out his hand and took the other’s, mimicking the gesture they'd shared in the same clearing months ago. "I'm Tony," he smiled, "and you've got yourself a deal, Loki."

The prince grinned back before a jolt went through Tony's body. It didn't hurt and it didn't make him pull away but he did stare at their hands in shock. "My magic has accepted our deal," his lips twitched, "Tony."

Tony swallowed a little at how that mouth curled around his name. No, he told himself firmly. No sleeping with a mage who can easily kill you.

"So," Tony announced, dropping the mage's hand and hoping to get his mind on other things. "When do we start?"

Loki held out a palm and with a flash of green light a bow appeared. "I believe now would be preferable."

The smirk the other gave him made Tony's resolve waver and his fingers itch; it was cocky and challenging and mischievous too.

The man was gorgeous, intelligent, dangerous and witty.

I might be in a bit of trouble here.