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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.

Chapter Text

That haunting feeling of inevitable doom hovered over Tony for the first two weeks, but by the end of a month Tony knew he was well and truly fucked.

He knew better than to say he’d fallen in love with Loki, but God, it wasn’t far off and it faintly terrified him.

Loki was everything he’d never expected to find, and having been born to a race that liked to tie themselves together for life, Tony had been more than prepared to die alone. He’d been content with his friends, his weapons and his flings.

Then he’d shot Loki.

Well, no, that had been immaterial; he could have kept walking along in life unconcerned if Loki hadn’t called him back. The second he’d entered that clearing he’d been beyond saving. Loki was just perfect.

Okay, he was prickly, arrogant, a total asshole and had a superiority complex a mile wide. But he was also determined, smart, had a smirk that could take out Tony’s knees and gave rare but sincere compliments that always made Tony preen.

The mage was also oblivious to Tony’s interest. He responded to Tony’s flirting like it was a game, just one more extension of their banter. The few times Tony had tried being blatantly obvious Loki had either looked shocked and confused or downright offended at his ‘crass behaviour’.

He didn’t know all the cultural customs of other races, but Tony was getting the distinct feeling interracial relations weren’t done among the Aesir and if they were that Loki just wasn’t the kind to turn his attentions on a guy.

Tony had accepted that. You know, at first.

He’d still kept up the flirting, because he couldn’t resist and the responses could be damn hilarious at times. The problem had been when he’d leave the clearing with the sappiest smile on his face, when he’d find himself dreaming about Loki, excited at the prospect of seeing him again, fucking finding herbs not on Loki’s list just because he thought he’d like them.

He’d worked it out when he’d been hanging upside down from a tree branch, doing his best to ignore the spider crawling across his leg as he stretched out to grab the dead creeper that was curled around the ends of the tree. Loki’s going to love this, he’d thought, followed by a very condemning wistfulness; I hope it makes him smile.

Tony had almost let go of the tree he’d been so shocked by the realisation. I’m falling for him.

He’d swung himself upright again, flicked off the spider and sat staring into mid-air as he analysed all the steps he’d taken to end up where he was. Tony wasn’t an idiot, he also wasn’t about to shy away from a logical and irrefutable conclusion. It didn’t mean his stomach and his heart weren’t on the forest floor as he realised reciprocation wasn’t exactly something he could strive for.

Loki wasn’t interested in him. Hell, for all Tony knew he had a royal fiancé who he was madly in love with.

Well, maybe not. They hadn’t exactly talked a lot about their lives. It had all been generic terms, no names. Tony didn’t think Loki had another half among the Aesir; there were no wedding bands or marks of commitment and there was no besotted chatter. Although, Loki hardly seemed the kind to wax poetry about his loved ones.

Ugh. Tony didn’t know, but he damn well didn’t think he was going to be a contender for the mage’s affections.

It didn’t mean he was going to run away or stop trying to make Loki notice him. He started by re-doubling his efforts with his archery. He wasn’t keen on the idea of no longer needing tutelage, but so far Loki had been as lucky at improving his skills as Clint, so Tony wasn’t worried. Tony also kept an eye out for all kinds of plant life Loki would be interested in.

He may or may not have also created a set of daggers for Loki. He’d noticed the mage interchanged them indiscriminately. He would use the blade that cut roots to than slice through a rope, carve a quiver and clean his nails. It was obvious they were his signature weapon when not using his magic. They were well made - Tony didn’t expect anything less for a prince with high standards - but Tony could make better.

And he did. He also engraved them for each specific task. He was damn impressed with himself when he was done. He also groaned and buried his head in his hands over how full of infatuation the whole thing screamed. He’d shoved them in a display case under his bed and promised himself he’d never, ever gift them to Loki.

He settled for giving Loki a book on magic the guy had been wistfully talking about and that they had three copies of in the library, collecting dust. The way Loki’s eyes had shined had made Tony want to pull him into a kiss. Hell, he half thought he might get one from Loki. He got an arm clasp instead and a generous thank you - both of those were rare enough, so Tony accepted them with a smile and a soft tease.

It had been a few weeks since then and Tony was making his way back for their weekly lesson, the latest requests shoved in the satchel they now traded at every session. He had been startled the first time Loki had slipped something inside, now he waited with great amusement to see what new trinket Loki had passed on.

The first time it had been an arrow-head with a note telling him to ‘learn to carve better’. He’d been downright offended until he’d noticed the difference between Elvan and Aesir craftsmanship. He’d trialled them both out and they’d ended up spending the first half of their next lesson arguing the semantics of arrowheads and who created them better.

Honestly, Tony adored the discussions they had more than the lessons.

Of course, he still loved having Loki come up behind him and curve around him, long fingers correcting his posture as instructions were murmured beside his ear. It didn’t happen as much as Tony would like as positioning was easy to remember and Loki could always tell when he was faking it.

It didn’t mean Loki hadn’t taken to having a perpetual furrow between his brow from the moment Tony picked up a bow until the moment he left the clearing. He probably still had it too; Tony just couldn’t witness the scowl anymore.

Tony could say one thing for him though; Loki was resolved to help him. He didn’t know if that was because he felt obligated since he was getting everything he wanted out of the deal; herbs, books, answered questions. Tony didn’t have the heart - or the confidence, really - to tell him that just spending time with Loki was all Tony wanted anymore.

Trust him to fall for someone he couldn’t have. No, really, Tony should have expected it; the elf who couldn’t shoot fell for the guy who was unattainable. It sounded about right.

Tony sighed at the thought and tried to shake off the melancholy. Loki seemed to at least somewhat like him and even if Loki didn’t consider them friends, he was perceptive enough to figure out something was wrong and ask Tony about. He didn’t want to screw this up; as long as Loki hadn’t said no Tony still had a chance.

A Jotun’s chance in a volcano, maybe, but it was still a chance. Call him a pathetic optimist, but if the only thing he could manage was making the other a friend outside deals and arrangements, than Tony would be happy.

Keeping that thought firmly in mind, Tony hurried his steps and closed the remaining distance to the clearing. Loki was waiting - punctual and ready to give him an unimpressed look for not being early, as always. Tony was prepared to interject his own remark before the mage could, when he noticed something odd about Loki’s posture. It wasn’t nerves - Tony doubted Loki even knew what those were - but there was something wrong with him.

“You okay?” He inquired, stopping a few metres from the other. “You look tense.” Loki’s mouth twisted into a grimace and alarm bells went off in Tony’s head. He’s not going to see you anymore. Tony’s body felt slightly numb, but he forced out a laugh, trying not to let it show. “Don’t tell me; you lied about something?”

That uncomfortable expression morphed into one of irritation and Loki snapped defensively, “I did not lie.”

Tony barely resisted holding up his hands in surrender. “Okay, well then what-”

“I can’t teach you,” Loki interrupted and the small hope Tony had about friendship and knowing more about the mage was abruptly crushed.

Tony’s face fell; he couldn’t stop it in time. His gaze moved from Loki to focus on the grass, unable to look in those green eyes as he murmured, “Oh.” He swallowed. “Right.”

Of course he couldn’t teach you, nobody can, and of course he was only in it for the fucking plants. Fuck, Tony, fuck. Come up with something else to keep him here!!

“So what are you going to offer me in exchange for the herbs?” Tony forced his eyes up as his hand gestured absently at the satchel. He was desperately hoping Loki didn’t want to completely retract their deal, but what could he do if Loki had another supplier with a better offer?

How could he tell Loki he’d get every item he wanted as long as Loki just spent a few hours with him? Fuck, you’re pathetic.

He gave Loki a half smile and lied through his teeth. “I mean, what’s the point of us meeting without a deal?”

“I’m not breaking our agreement,” Loki said firmly and hurriedly, his eyes darting to the satchel tellingly. Of course, Tony thought, of course it’s about that. “But it’s impossible to teach you.”

Tony snorted bitterly. “Yeah, well, that’s me alright.”

“No,” Loki actually took steps closer, his eyes running over Tony like he was a fascinating puzzle. “No, I don’t think that’s it at all.” He finally stopped looking at Tony’s body like an irritating problem and focused on his face. “If you will permit me, I would like to analyse you for spellwork.”

Tony knew he physically recoiled slightly, it was an ingrained reaction. “What?

Loki held up his hands. “It will not harm you in any way. There is simply no other reason for your actions to be so continually skewed unless something is forcing such a response.” Loki sounded frustrated and put out. He even started to pace. “I have researched this extensively these past few weeks. I have watched you and it is not incompetence, nor an inability to learn. You follow the movements perfectly and while there is nothing overtly magical about you that I can detect, I am certain someone has placed a curse on you.”

“Awwh,” Tony teased, but he couldn’t help feeling genuinely thrilled. “You’ve been thinking about me?”

Loki glared at him. “Don’t be obtuse. I have just told you I believe that you are under a malicious spell and this is all you have to say on the matter?”

Tony shrugged. While he didn’t like the idea that someone had done that to him, he also didn’t think it was all that likely. “I’ve never been able to shoot since I was a kid.”

“Unborn children and young infants are exceedingly easy to curse,” Loki answered with a lack of concern that was almost disturbing.

“And that’s what you think happened to me?”

Loki’s eyes glinted. “Well, we can certainly find out.”

That look made Tony hesitate, he also felt tempted to take a step away from the mage. “...What exactly does that entail, Loki?”

Loki blinked, as if clearing a sea of magical rituals from his mind. “Very little.” He gave a one-shouldered shrug. “I will hover my hands over you and my magic will run across your form looking for discrepancies.”

Tony swallowed. “What kind of things will you see?”

A part of Tony was worried Loki would somehow find out about his attraction and his feelings through the act, but the more logical part was concerned about Loki getting an idea of how susceptible his race was to magic. He liked to think Loki wouldn’t use it against him, but he also knew Loki was a conniving little shit and bitter about how he was treated among his race. Handing the weakness of the Elves over to the Aesir would certainly reflect well on Loki. It would also destroy the privacy and perceived strength of his people.

It might also fracture his heart to watch Loki betray him like that.

“Nothing,” Loki explained with a small frown, drawing Tony back from his darkening predictions. “I will only be looking for the specific taint of another’s magic on you.”

“And what if there’s nothing to find?”

Loki huffed out a breath. “There will be something there.”

“What if there isn’t? I piss off a lot of people, but I find it hard to believe I did it as a baby.”

“Perhaps you would not be quiet,” Loki riposted.

Tony glared at him. “Rude.”

The mage sighed a little. “Will you allow me to see if you have been cursed?”

Tony shifted slightly, feel a discomforting prickle along his skin. “What happens if there is something?”

Slowly, Loki began to come closer as if worried he might spook Tony. “I will see if I can discover who placed it on you and why. I will also, one way or another, find a way to break the enchantment on you.”

Tony couldn’t hide his surprise. “You... you would do that?”

“Of course,” Loki answered plainly. “It is my part of our bargain to make you a better archer, and,” that same light from before re-entered his eyes; that fascinated, determined and intense desire to untangle the problem in front of him. To untangle Tony, “what mage would I be, if I ignored the chance to break a curse?”

Tony sighed slightly. While it was true he was curious and definitely wanted to know if some mage had been controlling his actions all his life, just, fuck, Tony also knew himself too well. He knew the main reason he was agreeing so easily was because he wanted to watch excitement take over Loki’s face. He wanted to watch the way he brightened whenever Tony asked him something about magic or when he got to perform a spell and have Tony as an intrigued audience.

Tony was going to agree, because Loki was hoping he would.

“Yeah, alright,” Tony told him, summoning a smile that he did feel, but still hiding a lot more that he couldn’t let Loki see. He spread his arms out to either side. He also let his words tumble out as a salacious purr. “Go on, Loki, check me out.”

Loki rolled his eyes skyward. “Must everything be an insinuation with you?”

Tony waited until Loki was looking at him again. He then nodded continually while answering, “Yes.”

He was gratified to see the mage’s lips twitch towards a smile before he quelled it and moved closer. “Try to contain yourself. This will take some concentration.”

Tony eyed Loki’s rising hands a little apprehensively. “What do I need to do?”

“Stay still and quiet,” Loki answered. “I know it will be difficult, but do try to muster your self-control.”

“Awh, but you know my control is always in trouble around you,” Tony flirted shamelessly, feeling a depressed kind of acceptance when Loki just shook his head with vague annoyance.

“Truly, you are the most obstinate creature I have ever met.”

Tony’s grin spread across his face easily but it didn’t reach his eyes. “One day you’ll fall for my devilish charms.”

Loki snorted. “Your deplorable behaviour is more accurate, and also highly unlikely.” His hands had moved to be inches from Tony’s cheeks and Tony flicked his eyes to them uncertainly as they began glowing green. “I despair for any dim-witted maiden who finds you appealing.”

Ouch, Tony thought, but didn’t let it show. “Well, we can’t all be stuck-up princes, can we?”

“I think you’ll find being a prince negates all other character failings,” Loki said with a smirk and a glance that held Tony’s eyes.

Tony couldn’t stop his grin. “I think you’ll find you didn’t disagree with me.”

Loki chuckled and they were the soft little huffs of amusement that Tony adored coaxing to life. “Quiet. I need to concentrate.”

“I can’t help being distracting.” Tony had to stop himself from turning his cheek into Loki’s touch. Or pressing his lips against that palm to see just how soft it was. He swallowed a little and he took a risk. “And it’s not just maidens who notice that.”

He was watching the mage from under his eyelashes, holding his breath to see if Loki would understand his intent. Loki however, didn’t seem to even notice what he’d said, he was scowling and his eyes were glowing green. They were also distant, seeing things that weren’t on a plain of existence Tony was privy to.

Tony stayed still, using the other’s distraction as a chance to watch him without fear of discovery or confusion. Loki always wore the same colours and Tony had taken to teasing him at first, until he discovered it was a source of amusement among the Aesir as well. Tony didn’t see why they didn’t like his chosen colours; they were dark and bold, they complimented his pale skin brilliantly and highlighted just how elegant and dangerous he truly was. Tony had only tried to tease him about it in the hope he might wear less layers, or in the hope that Loki wouldn’t notice just how much he admired the cut of the mage’s jacket and the fit of his pants.

Learning about the opinion of the Aesir, however, had made Tony refrain from using it in future - it didn’t mean he didn’t admire, he just kept it even more private than before.

But for now? He could look his fill.

Loki was beautiful. Tony wanted to sink his hands into that midnight hair and pull Loki down on top of him. He wanted those long-limbs caging him, thrusting against and inside him. He wanted that mouth leaning down and stealing his own as Loki wrapped arms around his waist. He wanted to lean his forehead against Loki’s chest and just feel... cherished.

Tony wanted more than a curse and potion list keeping him on Loki’s thoughts.

Well, if it even was a curse.

It made him blink back to the world and the mage in front of him. He watched that mouth and face twist into an even deeper glower. He very carefully called the other’s name, “Loki?”

Loki didn’t exactly focus on him, but he saw something minute shift in the other’s eyes. “There is a very old spell,” he murmured, his voice coming as if from a distance. “Some centuries, and from your infancy.” Tony winced harshly. There went any lies about being younger than he was. “It’s lost much of its potency.”

“Really?” Tony was surprised by that. “You mean I was meant to be worse?

A very fine shake of his head. “The spell is meant to destroy ones livelihood, but the castor is no longer living and so the spell is only clinging to the very minimum. All weapons are meant to be subject to this curse, but only the bow has been affected.” The colour faded from his eyes and his hands, but he was still frowning. “I do not understand, why would they spend such time and power on refusing you the use of any weapon?”

Fucking Howard, Tony growled, who did you manage to piss off?

“What do you do among your people?” Loki questioned, perplexed. “Were you intended to be a warrior from a young age?”

“Not... exactly,” Tony hedged.

“Well?” Loki pressed. “I need to know the exact purpose the curse was designed for in order to have any chance at reversing it.”

Oh Gods, I don’t want to tell him this.

It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Loki exactly, it was just... my identity is the second best kept secret of my kind. The first was their inability to fight magic, while the second was just who their weaponsmith was. Tony was the best of all the races; his work was prized, expensive, and above all else, rarely given to outsiders.

Tony had a mask he wore the few times he’d been ‘allowed’ to leave the forest and present his wares. Mostly he went undercover and with Rhodey trailing nervously behind, half-expecting the other guards would find and severely punish them. They always came back undiscovered and unharmed, but Rhodey was a worrier. Tony just loved watching everyone coo and salivate over his work. He’d had almost every royal family demand a commission from him and he’d refused every single one.

He was a sought after asshole and no one outside his race knew who he was.

And he was about to tell an Aesir, a prince and a mage.

Here goes nothing.

“My father was something of a weaponsmith,” Tony hesitantly began. “I sort of... followed in his footsteps.” Not that Howard was even half the inventor he was. “I suppose they wanted to stop me from matching or exceeding him.”

Loki rapidly made the connections Tony had been half-hoping he wouldn’t make - he could even see it happening. The wide eyes and slightly slack jaw were a pretty good conclusion too. “You’re the Iron Man.”

Tony winced at the moniker the human’s had coined for him. He was also nervous, so he rambled, “I do work with material other than iron, I mean, really, it was a gross exaggeration. It’s actually not even my favourite metal to work with and-”

“You have in place a partial curse that is meant to stop you from using weapons and beyond firing your own bow, you still create some of the most coveted and brilliant pieces in the whole Nine Lands?”

Tony wasn’t sure if he should be offended or flattered at the incredulous tone, but considering there seemed to be at least some small amount of awe, Tony was going for feeling pleased.

“Well yeah, everything else I’m pretty good with, not the best, but definitely not half bad.” The beginning of genuine happiness and relief was beginning to curl around his chest. “So it’s not just me, right? I can’t fucking get this archery thing because of a curse, yeah?”

Loki nodded a little dumbly, but Tony couldn’t contain his excitement. “Hah!” he shouted, before darting forward and throwing his arms around Loki in a hug. It was partly gratitude at what the other had discovered, partly his innate need to share his joy through touch, and largely the every prevalent desire to just be close to Loki.

The problem with doing it was quickly finding himself wrapped around Loki’s stiff form. The tips of his fingers were brushing that silken hair and their chests were pressed together as Tony’s chin rested against the shoulder pad of Loki’s armour.

Loki wasn’t moving, he hardly seemed to breathing.

“Um,” Tony mumbled, not sure whether he should disengage and flee or if staying might grant him the long fantasized feeling of having Loki hug him back.

“You’re relieved and excited,” Loki said, in the same sort of monotone one might use when repeating a punishment given by a superior. Unemotional. Unresponsive. Uninterested. “It is understandable.”

Tony was already dancing on the edges of impossibility, what the fuck was one more attempted step closer?

“You going to hug me back?”

The air in the clearing felt heavy, like tree sap trying to move through his lungs. He’s going to say no. Tony tried to warn himself, tried to prepare himself before he had to separate from Loki and the rebuffed hug. He started to loosen his hold, but he had barely shifted his hands when he felt two stilted arms raise and slowly come around to hold him in return.

They were awkward, they were uncomfortable, but they were there and Tony bit his lip and flashed his bright smile at the trees in front of him, knowing it was safely hidden from Loki’s view.

Loki didn’t exactly relax over the few seconds the hug lasted, but Tony was still more than happy with the outcome as Loki began to pull them apart. His smile was still present but he’d dimmed it down to a more suitable 'you have a curse on you still' volume.

“So, curse breaking?” He prompted, and, because he could never stop himself. Tony put his hands on his hips and arched his pelvis forward; layering himself with every nuance of provocation he could think of. “Where do you want me?”

Loki looked at him like he was still trying to figure out how he’d wound up with Tony as his lot in life. Tony tried not to let it sting.

“On the ground by the lake, I suppose.” Tony’s eyebrows rose and he opened his mouth but Loki’s sharp glare and raised hand made him pout, but stop. “Don’t even think about it.”

Too late.

He’d already been dreaming about kissing Loki beside the water for weeks now.


The curse breaking was time-consuming and faintly boring. They sat opposite each other on the ground with their legs crossed while Loki twisted his hands and let little tendrils of magic escape and dance across Tony’s body. They’d also realised early on that sitting still wasn’t something Tony was able to do for long periods. In order to keep him there Loki had started talking to him.

Tony was quick to admit it was one of the most efficient ways to keep him ensnared. Loki would discuss what he was doing, and that was alright, but what Tony lived for was when their discussion moved onto other topics. When it moved onto pranks, because Loki was a trickster and Tony was able to reply with pranks he had created against assholes in his own race.

Sometimes Loki would actually stop trying to break the spell just so that he could give Tony and the conversation his full attention. Tony loved when that happened. He loved watching Loki burst into laughter as his green eyes sparkled.

Tony learned about his family and got to see an illusion of the royal gardens as Loki told him stories. In return, Tony talked about some of the disguises he’d concocted to hide his identity as the Iron Man. He told Loki he’d announced it to his people within five minutes, but that even he could see the point of keeping everyone else oblivious.

He’d been completely stunned when Loki had bound himself to silence over Tony’s identity that first day. It had taken everything in Tony not to hug him again.

He was actually growing worried about when Loki finished and the last of the spell was obliterated. What then? He would owe Loki a huge debt; he would be obligated to keep fulfilling the mage’s requests for ingredients, but what else? They wouldn’t need to spend time together. Why would Loki ever choose to spend hours in the clearing, hearing Tony ramble on about nothing and ask probing questions about spells?

Tony had been tempted to draw him in with the prospect of making him something, of letting Loki commission something from him. But how could he justify it? He’d already made Loki daggers just because he wanted to, and he still pulled them out and stared. He imagined Loki using them, adoring them, preening over them and smiling at him so widely...

But he always put them back again.

Showing those knives would be as much a confession as telling him; I’m kind of in love with you. And there was still worse to come. There was him begging, please don’t leave.

But maybe Loki would still spend some time with him regardless of the curse being gone? Tony couldn’t have really called them friends before, not since seeing how Loki acted around him now. There was something relaxed about him, and hearing the tales of his youth and even more recent adventures, they fleshed out the mage in a way that drove home how much infatuation wasn’t a term Tony could cling to anymore.

He loved Loki.

He loved sitting opposite him and teasing the mage’s serious expression until he finally cracked and grinned. He loved making Loki smirk before he delivered some painfully brilliant retort. He loved the two times he’d convinced Loki to lie down on the grass because he was tired. Loki hadn’t fallen asleep, but he had closed his eyes and dozed. Tony had spent long minutes watching the way the sunlight fell through the canopy leaves and danced over his pale form.

He’d spent a long time wishing he could curl up beside him. That he could say, come on, let’s go home. Loki could take care of himself, but Tony still wanted to take care of him. He wanted all of Loki’s sharp mind and piercing gaze focused on him.

It might not be the way he wanted, but for now, Tony was getting his wish.

Tony, or at least the curse, was the source of all of Loki’s attention. His eyes had been glazed, lost in a world of magic Tony could never see. They were so close their knees almost touched and Loki’s mouth would occasionally move, murmuring soundless spells as he pulled the curse apart piece by piece.

He was going to look forward to showing off his new capability with archery around Clint and the others, he told Loki as much and had watched the mage roll his eyes good-naturedly. It wasn’t that he wasn’t grateful and excited to have the curse removed, he just... he couldn’t understand how he could be completely happy when he was losing long afternoons in Loki’s company.

Tony sighed a little, and lucky for him, Loki seemed to register it. “Do not whine so-”

“I didn’t even say anything!” Tony instantly protested.

Loki’s lips were twitching, but his eyes were closed. They had dropped shut some ten minutes ago when he’d stopped mid-conversation. Tony had fallen quiet in response, knowing Loki had needed to fully concentrate on his spellwork.

“Regardless, your restlessness has long been noted, but,” his eyes opened, glowing green and filled with triumph. He even laughed; a rough and arrogant chuckle that made a place in Tony’s chest try to break free and follow the sound. “No long dead castor can expect to stand against Loki.” He smiled so wide his dimples showed. He pulled his hands back from where they’d lingered near Tony’s shoulders. “No curse,” he spat the word, “will be allowed to claw into the skin of my companion.”

“It’s broken?” Tony breathed, a whirlwind of emotions flying through his heart and mind as elation fought harshly against despair.

Loki’s hand came up and clasped his neck. Tony knew it was a sign of camaraderie among the Aesir, Tony knew it was nothing - but he also knew Loki didn’t really touch people. “You are free, Tony. You will no longer be held back with your weaponry. You will never again be forced to have your brilliance dulled.”

Loki was staring at him with such unbridled joy, such pride in his success. He was drawing Tony into his victory and wrapping him in compliments. He was still faintly glowing with magic and a faint flush was lighting his cheeks. He was touching Tony and he was inches away and Tony’s heart had walked away with his sense to lay themselves at Loki’s feet.

The idea didn’t even register before he was actioning it, Tony leant forward as he raised his hand. He cupped Loki’s neck and jaw, pulling him forward while also moving to meet him. Tony caught Loki’s mouth in a kiss, his eyes slipping closed as he pressed against that slack, shocked mouth.

He knew it was a bad idea, he recognised it in the three point five seconds it took to realise Loki was stiff in his hold and wasn’t responding back.

Fuck.

Tony pulled away. He stared at Loki in faint horror as he watched that beautiful, intelligent mind slot everything together. “You...?”

He didn’t even hesitate, Tony let go of Loki and pulled away from the limp hand still on his neck. He pushed to his feet and darted away from the other.

“Tony!” Loki called, but Tony had already broken through the tree line and was hurrying up a tree. “Wait! Tony!”

But Tony didn’t.

He didn’t look back as he sprinted towards home as fast as he could. His heart was beating loudly from where it had been shoved back in his chest - rejected and aching, because he'd known it from the start. He was never once considered, never once wanted by someone like Loki.


Tony hid for a week; there was no politer way of putting it.

Rhodey and Pepper both tried to get him out of the house or into his workshop, but he refused all attempts. He did leave his room but it was only to climb out his window and find a tall tree to feel pathetic on while he was sobering up.

He drank, a lot - especially when he tried shooting his bow and got a perfect bullseye.

He also tried to throw out Loki’s daggers but ended up unable to do it. They were back under his bed along with a few empty bottles that had been used for sorrow drowning.

When even he was starting to get sick of his maudlin attitude, Tony had locked up his workshop and house and gone into the forest for a few days. He kept himself away from Aesir borders but was completely reminded of how fucked he was every time he saw something that brought Loki to mind - something that he wanted to give to Loki.

But he’d destroyed that relationship. He’d seen it in those few seconds where they’d stared at each other. He’d heard it in that one word question. Because Tony had, in one gesture, confessed his feelings and Loki had recognised them.

Clearly, Tony was not meant to be part of a species that bound themselves for life, because he could feel it in his heart and in his bones; the choice had been made and Loki was it for him. It might have taken centuries to meet the mage, but that was all it took. Tony had found his other half... it just turned out his other half didn’t share that sentiment.

It was okay, he was fine.

He would always be fine. This dull throbbing would just take a little longer to get used to carrying around than others.

Tony was prepared to do that. He was prepared to keep all of Loki’s trinkets in a box beside the mage’s daggers and only pull them out when he was drunk or just felt like having his insides ripped out and laid on the floor.

It was a nice little future he’d planned that also included never seeing Loki again. He knew he was going to be rejected; it didn’t mean he had to stand through it.

The slight problem, that he’d regretfully overlooked, was that Loki was a mage.

When he found himself walking through the forest in a direction he hadn’t ever intended to turn down again. When he couldn’t stop himself from moving forward, Tony knew exactly what was going on.

It didn’t mean he didn’t try to grab onto the trunks and branches of trees, his fingernails scraping and bark catching underneath them. He fought, he cursed, he panicked and dug his heels into the ground, but nothing was a match for Loki’s determination and magic.

He found himself nearing the clearing and he knew Loki was inside it. He still tried one last ditch effort. “Loki, stop, Loki, stop it.”

Tony could physically feel the magic hesitate and he paused with it. He couldn’t turn and go back the other way, but he wasn’t going closer either.

“Tony,” he heard Loki say softly and Tony swallowed thickly, his stomach twisting at the sound of the other’s voice. He couldn’t see the mage through the foliage but they couldn’t be far from each other. “Tony, I need to speak with you.”

Tony shook his head. “You really don’t.” He closed his eyes. “Please, Loki, just leave your list against a tree and I’ll drop them off a day later.”

Please accept I’ll still hold up my part, just don’t tell me I can’t have you.

“That’s what you want?” Loki questioned. “You want to end our friendship on that note?”

Friendship. A pained, but almost happy smile formed at that word being admitted by the other. “No,” Tony admitted. “No, that’s not what I want.” And he regretted his words instantly. “Fuck,” he hissed. “Fuck, Loki. Just let me go.”

There was a silence, a fucking weighted silence before he felt the magic tug him forward again. “No, Tony, I can’t do that.”

Tony tried to push back against air, struggled for every bit of his worth. “Fuck, Loki, you fucking asshole, you fucking piece of fucking shit. You Gods damn, son of a-”

His cursing was only cut off when he broke through the leaves and stumbled into the clearing, stumbled forward and into Loki’s arms. Loki caught him, his hands on Tony’s sides and palms pressed against his ribs as Tony’s chin softly connected with Loki’s pectoral. He sucked in a shocked breath and only ended up smelling Loki.

“Hello, Tony,” Loki murmured, his voice dropped low and whispered beside Tony's ear. Tony just shivered and started to pull back. “I will hold you in place,” Loki threatened simply, “if you attempt to leave here.”

Tony's next breath was taken carefully even as he compromised, “Just let me out of your hold.”

Because he was going to do something they’d both regret if Loki made him stay here.

“I don’t think you understand just where I was referring.”

Tony’s eyes flew up to Loki’s, but he couldn’t even feel hope, it was too twisted in incredulity and fear. “Loki, wha-”

Loki dropped his head down, their foreheads didn’t touch but their hair did as Loki observed him from a point even closer then when he’d been curse breaking. “You’ve liked me from the beginning,” he stated, “You were always-”

“Flirting,” Tony hissed, “yes, I was flirting with you. Yes, I like you. Fuck, no, I’m in love with you. Are you fucking happy now, Lo-”

Loki was chuckling, but that wasn’t what made him shut up. What made Tony fall quiet was when that soft amusement was pressed against his mouth. Loki kissed him. Loki moved his hands, sliding them around to Tony’s back and pulling him closer.

Tony brought his hands up, burying them in that raven hair and dragging the mage towards him - he couldn't help it. He let out a soft moan when Loki deepened the kiss and shuddered when a slow stroke of Loki’s hand went from the centre of his back all the way down to rest over his tailbone.

He was the one to pull away, his hands coming to the other’s shoulders as he tried to analyse the mage’s face. “What are you-” he pulled in a harsh breath. “What the hell, Loki?” Loki made a tsking noise and pressed a kiss to Tony’s temple that made his eyes flutter and his heart flip in his chest. He clenched his hands against Loki’s armour. “You can’t just-”

Loki was smiling as he caught Tony’s mouth in another, briefer kiss. “Do try to calm yourself, darling.” Tony shook his head, ignoring the way that endearment did things to him as he forcefully pushed out of the other’s grip. Loki allowed it but was staring at him with a confused frown. “Tony-”

“No,” Tony shook his head and gestured between them. “Explain this, right fucking now. You’ve never liked me. You never looked at me, never responded to any advances I gave you. What the hell is going on?” He gritted his teeth. “Don’t tell me it’s do with ingredients or with weapons. Don’t tell me you-”

“Enough,” Loki cut him off forcefully and took a step closer. “You believe your feelings were unrequited, so I’ll allow you that insult, but don’t ever infer that I am only here for what you can give me ever again.”

Tony watched him warily. “Than what are you here for?”

Loki shook his head, like he couldn’t understand why Tony was taking so long to grasp the obvious. “For you.”

Those words made Tony itch to pull Loki near, to bury his face in Loki’s neck and just accept that Loki was telling the truth. But he was just too damn unwilling to do that to his heart.

“Since when?” Loki opened his mouth to answer, but Tony quickly clarified. “It wasn’t from the start. I know it wasn’t. Since when?

Loki hesitated and he looked unhappy about it, but he allowed. “Since you wouldn’t shut up when I was trying to break your curse.” He tilted his head a little. “Possibly your hug as well, although I’m not certain if I would consider it the cause.” Tony waited, not saying anything and Loki noticed it and sighed loudly, looking put upon as he began to explain. “You liked my magic, you liked talking with me. I was well aware you were trying to pry information out of me. It was nothing you could use, it was just curiosity. People aren’t curious about me, but you were.” He smirked. “You were also attractive, intelligent and intriguing in your own right. I had been trying to conceive of a way to make our discussions continue after I broke your curse, admittedly, I didn’t think your affection had deepened romantically as you had been propositioning me so casually from the start of our acquaintance but-”

Tony couldn’t take it anymore; his chest was too full of happiness and he darted at Loki, throwing himself around him in a hug and making Loki stumble backwards. He brought his legs around Loki’s waist and forced the mage to grab his thighs to keep them upright.

“Tony!” Loki snapped but Tony pulled back and ignored the glare he was faced with as he cupped Loki’s cheeks and kissed him soundly and sweetly. He felt the frustrated exhale from Loki’s nose, but he wasn’t concerned since Loki was melting into the kiss moments later.

They kissed slowly and deeply for long minutes as Tony wrapped himself around the mage. When they finally separated for long enough to speak, Loki asked him, “Was jumping on me necessary?”

“Yes,” Tony answered, he also pounced on the wording, “so is jumping you in general. I have a fantasy about getting you naked with me in the lake and under the waterfall by the way.”

Loki’s eyes darkened and every nerve on Tony’s body stood to attention and waited for Loki’s word.

“Well,” the mage answered, “how fortunate it is, that I share that same goal.”

Tony sighed happily and let himself be carried towards the water as he started snaking his hands under Loki’s armour, removing every piece slowly.

He’d break the whole binding and mating for life thing to Loki tomorrow. He had plenty of time to convince Loki just how good a lifelong partner and lover he could be.

But for now, he had a mage to undress and mouth to kiss. He could worry about the future later, because as long as it had Loki in it; Tony knew he’d be just fine.