Chapter 1: Wounds Are for the Desperate
Wounds are for the desperate, blows are for the strong.
Balm and oil for weary hearts all cut and bruised with wrong.
I forgive thy treason - I redeem thy fall
For Iron, Cold Iron - must be master of men all.
- Cold Iron, Rudyard Kipling
Loki does not expect to see his Tony again. Not while the mortal is still in Asgard. Tony was too angry when he left Loki’s cell to make another visit, and Loki dares not use what little power he has left to spy where it might catch the Allfather’s notice.
And yet, one day, perhaps two – it is difficult to mark time when Loki cannot measure it by the beings he watches in Midgard – and Tony Stark is once more standing on the other side of the thin line of volcanic ash that Loki allows to come between him and freedom.
“I asked Thor about the whole God of War thing,” Tony says without preamble. Loki pulls himself to his feet, pushing his hair back from his face with one long fingered hand.
“And?” Loki prompts.
Tony purses his lips, a shrewdness in his expression that Loki has come to admire. On this day Tony is wearing another of his fine Midgardian suits. The cut of the jacket emphasizes his shoulders and the broadness of his chest. As always, Loki is fascinated by the mechanical heart that he cannot see. (Could he hold it in his hands? Would the light blind or burn?)
Tony’s shirt is red.
“And Thor went on and on about the good old days, and Sif told me about being worshipped as Artemis, and then someone called in a minstrel, or a bard, or whatever the hell you want to call it, and he sang a song about Thor killing an entire army with one throw of his hammer and then taking the soldier’s wives as prizes.”
“That is a bit exaggerated.”
Tony raises a brow, crossing his arms. “So he didn’t kill an entire army with one blow from his hammer?”
Loki smiles, amused. “Oh no, I watched him happily slaughter them all. It’s the part about the women that is the lie. Thor took only the willing ones to his bed. The rest were given to Sif as hand maidens. She, of course, disdained the gift and trained them to be warriors instead. I believe they eventually became known as the Amazons.”
For a moment, Tony gapes, and Loki relishes the expression. It gives him no small joy to have put it on Tony’s face. Then Tony groans and rubs at the space between his eyes with the edge of one finger. “Fuck me sideways,” Tony mutters.
Loki is sure that he is not meant to hear, but he answers anyway. “Gladly. You will have to cross the line, however.” He points at the volcanic ash that marches across the threshold of his obsidian prison. “I cannot reach you all the way over there.”
And now Tony breaks into laughter, and Loki basks in it. Tony’s laughter is different than Loki’s. Just as brittle, perhaps. Sharp, certainly. But where Loki is filled with ice and daggers that yearn to draw blood, Tony is broken glass. He hurts only himself.
(How can one mortal be so, so interesting?)
“How is this my life?” Tony concludes at the end of his laughing fit. “Are we really doing this right now? I’m in Asgard, talking to the imprisoned God of Lies, and he’s hitting on me.”
Tony smiles, and Loki sees himself in the curve of those lips, the wicked flash of white teeth. He could love Tony Stark, he realizes. If he allowed himself, he could love this Man of Iron. He has ever been a vain creature, and Tony is as close a mirror as Loki has ever found, even Midgardian as he is. Never has he wished so much for the power to control time – to take back his first meeting with Stark, to make it something sweeter. (And yet even as he has the thought he knows he would not, would not, for he values Tony as an enemy just as much as he wants him for a priest, a sacrifice on the altar of Loki Liesmith.)
Tony clears his throat, and Loki is pulled from his thoughts. He has been staring too long at the line of Tony’s neck, at the twist of his beard. He meets Tony’s eyes – wounded mortal eyes that see and have seen far too much, more than any mortal should – and his breath catches. He is truly a sinful, evil thing, for if he was given a choice in this moment, he would take Tony as his own, damn his heritage, his monstrous nature, his honor and the rest. He does not expect to be loved again, but he wants it with a ferocity that frightens him.
His wife, Sigyn, long estranged even before Loki’s true parentage came to light, has taken the news of Loki’s race as reason to sever their union. It seems that staying tied to a prince for use of his title is no longer appealing when his kingdom is not Asgard, but Jötunheim. Her body has been sullied by a Jötunn masquerading as a man. She is disgusted by him. Loki has no cause to think others will not react the same.
He cannot blame them for it. He disgusts himself most of all.
As if he can read the trend of Loki’s thoughts, Stark asks, “What’s with the whole smurf routine? I’ve never seen Thor go blue and scaly.”
Ah, of course. Tony is a Midgardian and may not know a Frost Giant when he sees one. The weavers of fate are cruel indeed, that they will not spare Loki this last indignity.
He must say it aloud then.
“I am of Jötunheim.”
He braces himself.
“Bless you,” Tony says.
Loki blinks, watching Tony. Tony watches him back.
“I do not understand you,” Loki admits at last.
But he wants to. Oh, how he wants to. He would devote more years to it than Tony has left to live.
“That makes two of us,” Tony says. He waves. “See you later, kitten.”
And then he is gone.
Tony does not visit again.
Loki tries to pass the time by watching Midgard, but he finds himself easily bored by most of the humans that fall into his view. Tony is beyond his sight for the moment, as is his little wolfling, Natasha. The other mortals he knows of are all rather bland in comparison. Briefly he looks in on his former thrall, the one with Hawk Eyes, but the man spends an inordinate amount of time simply sitting and waiting. It isn’t very entertaining.
So Loki takes to watching over Tony’s empire for him. The red haired woman Tony has taken as consort rules Tony’s subjects well. She is benevolent and competent, and Loki wishes such a companion for his own. He has observed her haranguing Tony, challenging him, but all with an eye to loyalty and service. If Loki had ever had even one friend or servant such as her, perhaps his lot would have gone very differently indeed.
He wishes to know her name, but the mirror of ice produces no sound. So he is forced to observe closely, to wait for it to be written down where he may see.
By the time Loki knows that the woman is called Virginia “Pepper” Potts, he has come to love her as one might love the maiden in a tale. She is not real to him, but rather an ideal. The perfect queen, full of poise and confidence. He may admire, but never touch her.
And then Tony returns to Midgard and passes into Loki’s sight again, and he touches her. Tony touches Pepper, and Loki shatters his mirror with his fists, beating the pieces into the floor until black blood drips between his fingers.
No one hears him scream, or if they do, they pay it no mind. But why should they? He is an insane Frost Giant who could leave his prison any time, and yet chooses to stay.
For the first time, he accepts that the reason he stays is because he has nowhere else to go.
Loki watches Natasha after that. His wolfling is just as interesting as Tony, in her way, and twice as vicious. She is not a mirror image, but she is enough like Fenrir that Loki has come to think of her as a child of his spirit.
His other children have repudiated him now, rather than claim a Frost Giant as kin. (Their mother's doing, no doubt, no doubt.) He feels no remorse in bestowing his fatherly affections on this woman who successfully lied to the God of Lies.
Natasha spends much time pretending to be that which she is not. If she were a shapeshifter, she would be truly magnificent, a trickster to rival even Loki. In battle she is like a whip, sinuously sliding around her opponents, leaving a sting in her wake.
Once, when Loki is watching, she is almost found out by an enemy whose forces she has infiltrated. Loki causes the glass in a nearby window to break, giving her the diversion needed to get away.
She is his, and she will not die unless he wishes it.
Loki cannot avoid seeing Tony. So long as he watches Natasha, and the Avengers continue to be shield mates, Tony will pass into his sight.
Every glimpse reminds Loki of what he cannot have, and brings rage up to choke him. Not even the sight of Thor invokes such anger, all the more twisted for the fact that it is irrational. It is not jealousy of Pepper. No, it is not jealousy. He has never been as jealous as his fellows would paint him. (Loki Liesmith, Loki Silvertongue, what’s the matter, silver tongue turned to lead?)
He is angry. He is angry at the Wheel of Fate, at the ones who spin it, at Odin who sees it, at himself for being unable to escape it.
He looks at the line of volcanic ash on the floor.
(Unwilling to escape it.)
And yet, even in his white hot rage, he is grateful too. He is grateful that Tony Stark, his high priest, his avatar, has all the love that Loki has missed.
It is inevitable that Loki starts watching Tony again. It happens quietly. There is no near death, no crash through the air to snatch his attention. Tony merely looks at Natasha and smiles the smile that says I am Loki Liesmith’s, and Loki is drawn in.
He watches Tony drink, and he watches him create. He watches him eat and sleep, and tiptoes across his dreams. He watches him love Pepper, and does not turn away when they fuck, something harder and rougher than Loki thought the Queen of the Stark Empire capable of.
And two years, perhaps three (Loki counts by the number of things Tony has invented, the people Natasha has killed, and the times Pepper has signed her name) after Tony last stood before Loki, Loki watches Pepper weep and leave with a bag in hand, and Tony tear his workshop apart, a whirlwind of destruction.
Loki Liesmith once existed only to gather knowledge, to offer wisdom to his brother, to watch over Asgard, and to try to please Odin Allfather. (You see how Thor is, his arrogance. He doesn’t think, can’t let him be king. Wouldn’t have to play tricks if you’d trust, it’s the lack of trust that makes a trickster.)
Then he fell through time and space, floating, lost in a rift, and died a thousand times. His next purpose was given to him by a madman, a titan, a being of oblivion and power too great for Loki to oppose, and Loki’s purpose then was to play the part he was assigned until an escape could be made.
In all things, who he ultimately served was himself.
And then nothing.
He sits in a cell, and he watches a handful of mortals stumble their way through their lives. But now his Tony is smashing all the fine works he has made, and Queen Pepper is gone. Natasha is fine, as she always is and always will be, but a wolfling needs company.
And he? He is Loki, and he is once more burdened with purpose. (Still self-serving. Always selfish.)
It takes a week to construct a statue of himself in ice, building it layer by layer as he once did with his more complex illusions. In that time, Tony has drunk himself into a stupor twice, and broken all his lab tables. It takes a full month to imbue the statue with enough of Loki’s magic that it will fool Heimdall, and any others who might casually glance into Loki’s cell.
He can only give it Jötunn form, but perhaps that will keep anyone from discovering his ruse. Their own discomfort will prevent them from looking too closely.
At last, Loki is ready. He goes to the line drawn in ash on his floor.
And he steps over it.
Chapter 2: Balm for the Weary
Outside his room of obsidian, all of Loki’s old powers are returned to him. He is a sorcerer and shapeshifter, the God of Lies and Mischief once more. He cloaks himself in shadow and steps between realms, as easily as another might walk into a different room.
Midgard is different than he remembers it. Or perhaps he is different. The humans do not seem so small, so insignificant now. After all, if they can produce the likes of Tony Stark, Natasha, and Pepper, what other jewels might be hidden amongst the rough?
His first task will be to locate Queen Pepper, wherever she might have gone. But to accomplish this, he will need to know more about Midgard. He hails one of the bright yellow automated carriages that roam the streets of New York, and asks to be taken to a place where he might find lodging.
It is when he has given enough gold to the keeper of an enormous inn (called the Four Seasons, though Loki can detect no enchantment that merits the name; otherwise, he would request a room surrounded by winter) to be shown to the largest suite on the top floor, that he discovers television.
It is there that his education begins.
Years of watching Tony has taught Loki that his high priest loves beautiful women (and Loki’s female form is beautiful, very beautiful, everyone (Frigga) says so). After some thought, Loki concludes that Queen Pepper and Natasha will be more likely to befriend him as a woman as well.
He stands before the large mirror in his bathing chamber until He has become She.
But this form is too well known to Thor to fool him, so Loki makes herself shorter, her lips plumper. She changes the color of her eyes from emerald green to olive, and darkens her complexion until she looks like a Midgardian of Latin blood. Thinking of Tony, she makes her breast a little fuller. Her hair stays raven black, but she lengthens it to cascade over her shoulders. Observing herself in the mirror, she is satisfied that she will seem a stranger to Thor, and be pleasing to Tony’s eyes.
She paints her face as she has seen Natasha do, and summons clothes that resemble Pepper’s. If she is to be a Midgardian, she will dress as a queen.
A marathon of Sex and the City helps her to learn the social customs attached to being an earth woman.
She names herself Lori Silverton, and uses magic to create a history for herself. She is an orphan with no family who made her way in the world by cleverness and sheer force of will. She took ballet as a child, and has one degree in business and another in political science. For the sake of not being too good to be believed, she got pregnant as a teenager and gave up her child in a closed adoption. (Fenrir, Hel, Nari, how fare you all now that you claim your father no more?)
Once she has read all of the magazines that presume to know why Pepper left Tony, she arms herself with a briefcase and tailored (black) suit dress, and goes to see Pepper in her office, the throne room of Stark Empire.
Pepper is as beautiful and poised as she ever was, with ginger hair and red lips and a strand of pearls at her throat. She smiles when Loki is shown in, her face the polite mask of a benign ruler, but Loki has watched her too long to be fooled. She can see the lines around Pepper’s eyes, the strain that stiffens her spine.
“I am Lori Silverton,” Loki says, stretching her hand out to Pepper in greeting, “and I am here to become Tony Stark’s new personal assistant.”
Pepper blinks, giving Loki a puzzled expression even as she takes Loki’s hand. Her grip is firm, her skin soft. “I’m sorry, Ms. Silverton. I’ve tried to send four new assistants over since Tony and I…” She presses her lips together in a thin white line, her brow creasing. “Tony won’t let anyone in to see him. I’ve stopped trying.”
“I will get in,” Loki says confidently. She will not be kept from those she considers hers.
Pepper’s eyebrows draw down, suspicion sharpening her features. “Ms. Silverton, I appreciate your confidence, but – ”
“I think,” Loki interrupts, “that you will find me just as highly skilled as a friend of mine who once held the post. A Ms. Natalie Rushman?”
Pepper stills. “You know Natalie?”
Loki smiles. “Very well. She can be quite a fury, can’t she? And you can be assured, Ms. Potts, that if you hire me I shall do my best to shield Tony just as well as Natalie did.” She puts a finger to her lips, and winks at Pepper.
Pepper smiles back. “One week, Ms. Silverton. You have a week to prove you can handle the job.”
The newly christened Avengers Tower is as familiar to Loki as her own home in Asgard. (Home no longer. Was it ever home?) She finds her way to the levels where the Avengers live easily, and calmly asks Jarvis to summon them all to their central living area. Tony will not show of course. Tony is busy destroying more things in his workshop.
The Man of Hawk Eyes arrives first, looking just as Loki remembers, all lean muscle and cold looks. Loki smiles at him and skims the surface of his thoughts. It is easier to do so with a mind that she once held intimately in her hands.
Clint is aroused by Loki’s breasts, and wants to know what she’s doing here. He’s watching her for signs of being an enemy agent. He doesn’t recall ever seeing her around S.H.I.E.L.D.
Thor arrives next, the great blundering blond lummox, and Loki holds her breath, waiting for him to recognize her. But Thor merely bows over Loki’s outstretched hand, his red cape fluttering around them, and presses a kiss to her knuckles. “If the esteemed Lady Pepper thinks you equal to the task, then our Man of Iron shall be himself again soon and once more join us on the field of battle!”
Loki nearly collapses in relief, though not a flicker of it shows on her face.
And then there is Natasha, Loki’s wolfling. “Agent Romanov,” Loki says, her palm burning with the feel of Natasha’s hand against her own. (Hair like blood, skin like snow, wolf eyes that see all.)“You have no idea how I have looked forward to this moment.”
Natasha raises one eyebrow. “Oh?”
Loki raises one in return. “I believe the phrase is, ‘I am your number one fan.’”
Natasha is saved from having to answer by the entrance of Dr. Banner and Captain Steve Rogers. Dr. Banner is a quiet, unassuming man. One would never guess by his nervous gestures and unruly dark curls that he holds the Hulk inside. On the other hand, Steve Rogers cannot be anyone but Captain America. He wears his good intentions and righteous morality on his face, as plain as any stars and stripes. What a pity that one so handsome should be so good.
“I am Lori Silverton,” Loki introduces herself to them all. “Tony Stark’s new personal assistant. I desire that you aid me in my campaign to prevent his self-destruction.”
“Whatever you need,” Captain America promises. “None of us have been able to get through to him. Here’s hoping you can.”
When Jarvis, Tony’s invisible computer servant, regretfully informs Loki that he cannot open Tony’s workshop to her, Loki simply uses magic to circumvent the door.
Tony is thin, and looks as if he hasn’t slept. His skin has taken on a greyish pallor, his dark hair sticks up every which way, and his eyes are wild. He is not a young man by Midgardian standards, but this is the first time Loki has thought he looks old. Perhaps others would look on and scoff, would see a man so pathetic that he cannot carry on after a lover has left him, but Loki sees only herself. It is a hard thing, to lose the only real love one has ever known. (Not good enough, never. Always, always lacking in some way.)
Loki sits by Tony, and waits for him to notice her. He is currently focused on one of the gloves of the Iron Man armor, adjusting it with a magnifying glass strapped over one eye, and an impossibly tiny tool in his hand.
Loki finds him beautiful.
It takes some long minutes, but Loki is content to wait. Finally, Tony moves to reach for another tool, and registers that there is someone sitting on his workbench with him. He starts.
“Who the hell are you? What are you doing here? How’d you get by JARVIS? JARVIS! You traitor!” He directs those last remarks to the ceiling.
Loki leans toward Tony, knowing that doing so will draw attention to her breasts as the neck of her blouse slides down. She is gratified when Tony’s eyes roam over her skin. “In order, I am Lori Silverton. I am here to serve you in whatever way you require, as I am your new personal assistant, and as to how I got by JARVIS… I will make you a deal.”
Tony’s face assumes the calculating expression Loki loves so well. “What deal?” he asks.
“If you go take a bath, eat a large meal, and retire to your room to sleep for at least six hours, I will tell you how I got by JARVIS when you wake.”
For a moment, she thinks it will not work. But then Tony sways and says, “Deal.”
He wanders vaguely in the direction of the washroom attached to the shop. Loki gets up and guides him by the elbow, drawing his bath and starting to pull at his clothes. Tony bats her hands away, removing his shirt himself and throwing it to the floor. Loki’s mouth goes dry at the sight of Tony’s mechanical heart – no, arc reactor. That is what it is called. “Staying to watch the show?” he asks her with a leer.
Loki smolders at him, making her voice as smooth and smoky as Tony’s favorite scotch. “If you like.”
Tony swallows. “That will be all, Miss Silverton.”
Disappointed, Loki leaves.
JARVIS alerts Loki as soon as Tony wakes, and it is only moments before he blows into the kitchen to interrogate her as to how she managed to enter his workshop.
Congratulating herself on her strategy, Loki opens the oven door and uses her body to block Tony’s view of her conjuring him a plate of eggs and bacon. She sets it and a glass of orange juice in front of him.
Tony starts to eat without a second thought, even as he glares at her.
“I’ve checked all the logs, and run the code on the system. A breach was never recorded, there are no blips, no radiation or electromagnetic pulses, I don’t understand how – ”
“Magic,” Loki shocks herself by saying.
No, no, no. This was not the plan at all. She is to befriend her favored mortals, guide them as she once sought to guide Thor, never letting on her true nature. She will see Queen Pepper and Tony reunited, and persuade Natasha to treat her as a sister. She will make a place for herself, here, on Midgard, and she cannot do that if they know what she is.
“Magic,” Tony repeats flatly.
More truths come flowing from Loki’s lips, and she cannot even pretend that she does not wish to speak them.
“You are a difficult man to serve, Tony Stark. It is only proper that your servants be more than human. Isn’t that right, JARVIS?”
“Of course, Ms. Silverton,” JARVIS says, even as she thinks, Less than human.
She does not mean the computer.
She waits for rejection. For the ridicule that has ever been her lot in life. She waits for Tony Stark to tell her to leave, and wonders if she’ll obey when the order comes, or if she’ll throw him from the roof and burn his tower to the ground. (Either is possible.)
He touches her arm, drawing his thumb over her skin.
“More than human, huh? Does that mean you’re from Asgard?”
His breakfast lies forgotten now, and he is watching Loki like a mongoose does a viper. And yet there is an edge of excitement to his caution, a spark in his eyes that speaks of chaos and his love of it. Curiosity.
I am Loki Liesmith’s, Tony Stark’s eyes say.
“I am not of Midgard, but neither is Asgard my home,” Loki answers.
“Hmm.” Stark leans back, looking Loki up and down. He takes his hand away, and Loki must force herself not to snatch it back, place it once more on her skin.
“I hail from a place of snow and ice, and carry the power of the Queen of Air and Darkness.”
Loki slew Mab in a duel of sorcery some six hundred years ago, taking her former teacher’s magic as a prize. But few ever knew the reclusive Queen of the Ice Elves, and so few notice her absence. It is simple enough for Loki to assume her name and form when the need arises. (Unlike Thor, Loki holds her triumphs close. The most dangerous weapons are those that cannot be seen.) Loki has not lied to Tony Stark, and yet if the mortal consults Thor, they will surely conclude that she comes from Álfheim.
Loki does not wish to lie to Tony Stark. (Discovery. Curious. Why him?) She wants him to know her, to know her in a way that she has never had the opportunity to be known, with the weight of her name on her shoulders and the darkness of Thor’s shadow hanging over her.
She wishes this man to know her, and in his knowing, choose to love her anyway.
Loki disappears in a sweep of magic light (olive, not emerald, she must remember to temper the shade) and lets Tony Stark think she tries to impress him.
The truth is that she is fleeing from the (bright, burning, too bright, mortal) man who stole her heart in increments, a shard at a time, and may fracture it like so much glass. (Will it glitter when it breaks?)
She expects the other Avengers to be aware of her powers when next she meets them, and yet they seem oblivious. Tony catches her eye and smirks, and she feels her lips curl in return.
Of course. She should have known. Her Tony loves secrets, when they are his. (And this is his secret. His and hers. Binding, sharing, does this make them friends?)
She slinks across the room to sit by him, nodding to Natasha as she does so. “Mr. Stark, interacting with humans. I am so very proud of you.”
“Yeah, well, they were starting to get bored without me. You know how it is.”
Very seriously, Loki nods. “Indeed I do. You are most entertaining.”
Dr. Banner snorts, and Loki bats her eyes at him. She must be careful to make him like her, for she remembers well being beaten into the floor one handed by his alter ego. Dr. Banner looks uncomfortable, and glances at Tony.
“Uh, she knows about the other guy, right…?”
Tony shrugs. “Don’t know, Brucy-babes, going to have to ask her.” Tony leans to the side, laying his head back to rest it on Loki’s shoulder, looking up at her with deceptively innocent eyes. “How ‘bout it, kitten?”
“If you are asking whether I know that Dr. Banner is the Hulk, then yes, I do.” Hesitantly, Loki shifts her arm around Tony’s shoulders and begins to stroke his hair. He stiffens, but does not pull away.
His hair is soft and spiky against Loki’s fingers.
“You know?” Bruce asks, an ugly, pinched look on his face. His lips turn down at the corners, his brow marked by deep furrows. He stares at his hands. “Why aren’t you scared?”
“Oh I am afraid,” Loki corrects. She starts to massage Tony’s scalp. “I am not stupid. But neither am I a coward, or cruel.” She waits until Bruce looks at her. “We cannot all help what lies inside us.”
Bruce meets her gaze, and once eye contact is made (windows to the soul, windows to the mind, Midgardians don’t remember that they shouldn’t look a sorcerer in the eye) Loki dips a fingertip into his thoughts, gathering impressions.
Monster. Revulsion. Blood on my hands. No one should love me. No one should trust me. How could they? How could they?
And then Loki understands. Bruce is hers too, in a way that not even Tony and her wolfling are.
Bruce has discovered that he is of Jötunheim.
“Hey,” Tony disrupts the moment, waving one hand around. “Don’t make eyes at my assistant. That’s my job.”
Loki jabs at a pressure point just behind Tony’s jaw, and he yelps. Natasha laughs.
Two weeks after Loki first ousts Tony from his workshop, Pepper comes to the tower.
It is tense. Tony will not look at her. Pepper’s smile becomes frozen in place. The longing and pain between them is so palpable that Loki can almost touch it. (Could she wrap herself in it? Make a shawl of misery?) She frowns, even as the dark, broken pieces of her psyche writhe in pleasure within the corners of her mind that are cobbled together with red string and blood.
“It was too soon. I shouldn’t have come here,” Queen Pepper says after Tony has escaped to his lab. She has forgotten Loki’s presence entirely. Her words are not meant for other ears, and yet Loki has always been adept at knowing what is not meant to be known.
She hooks her arm through Pepper’s, offering her a sly grin. “If Sex and the City has taught me anything, now would be an appropriate time to gather all of our female companions, imbibe fruity drinks, and discuss all the ways in which the men in our life ‘suck.’”
Pepper giggles and Loki knows she will have her way.
Jane Foster is not the empty headed beauty Loki thought she must be. She is beautiful (brown and sweet, like a hind), yes, but once she becomes tipsy she starts explaining the universe to Loki by writing complex mathematical equations on cocktail napkins. There is hope for Thor, if this Midgardian (sorceress) scientist is who he would have sit on the throne of Asgard.
And Darcy Lewis? She is a delight. A bubbling fount of mischief with a particularly foul mouth, brown hair, and bountiful curves. Loki wonders what it means, that the majority of the great heroes of Midgard and their companions belong more to the Temple of Loki than any other god she knows.
“Serioushly,” Darcy is saying, “all the good men are taken, dead, or evil… Do you think Captain America would date me? I should totally try to sheduce Captain ‘Merica.”
Pepper laughs, false brightness. Natasha is quiet, waiting, watching. She glances at Loki.
They both know this is an interrogation. (How wonderful it is to be understood.)
The dam breaks after Pepper’s fourth mimosa. Jane is waffling on about biochemistry and having children with Thor.
Pepper sniffles, and then sobs. “I want a baby,” she says.
Loki feels her eyes widen as the pieces click into place. Natasha pets at Pepper’s hair, gentling her in Russian.
“Tony isn’t ready and he might never be. I know that. I appreciate it. I wouldn’t force fatherhood on him, not after everything he’s been through. But it’s different, for women, you know? You only have so long before it’s too late.”
“You still love him,” Loki says.
She buys Pepper another mimosa.
When Loki returns to her rooms in Avengers Tower, Tony is lying across her bed. He has grease on one cheek, welding goggles pushed up on his forehead, and he smells like scotch. A half empty decanter is in his left hand. Loki stops for a moment, admiring the way the light of the arc reactor plays over Tony’s face. It is like magic. (Tony is like magic.)
Tony pushes himself up on one elbow and squints at her. “Lori. Lori, Lori, Lori. Heard you took Pep drinking.”
Loki crosses the room to stand before her closet doors and starts casually undressing. “And I see that you took yourself drinking. Did you have fun?”
Tony makes a rude gesture, and Loki laughs.
“You aren’t drunk. You aren’t even tipsy,” he accuses, sprawling once more across her bed.
“It takes much more liquor to intoxicate me than it would a Midgardian. I pretended, while we were out.” Loki is in her bra and stockings now. She is not wearing panties.
She feels Tony’s fingers, warm against her thigh, before she can bend to remove the stockings herself.
“You don’t have to pretend with me,” Tony says, the puff of his breath so close to her skin raising gooseflesh along her back. (He flays me alive without even knowing.)
Loki swallows hard and tries not to tremble. Her throat grows tight. She turns to face Tony. He is sitting on the bed, nose level with her belly button. He glances up at her, and Loki catches a snatch of thought.
Fuck up, fucked up, fuck.
Tony buries his face in the curls between Loki’s legs and inhales deeply. Loki moans.
“Going to regret this in the morning,” Tony mumbles against Loki’s most intimate parts, even as his tongue probes at her slit. She doesn’t know if he speaks of his regret, hers, or both of them.
“Mmm,” Loki responds, pulling the welding goggles off Tony’s head and tossing them to the carpet.
Tony’s grip is firm on her hips. “Having sex with you is a bad idea,” he reminds himself aloud.
“You will not be the first to think so and do it anyway.”
She is a god of chaos. She will not allow Tony to destroy himself, but she will revel in all the ruin he brings.
Morning comes, and Tony is not there. Loki is not surprised. She takes her time bathing and dressing, and teleports herself into the workshop.
Tony looks up, and then glances away, determinedly ignoring her. Lips twitching, Loki presses herself to his back and nibbles on his ear.
“Look, Lori, about last night…”
“Yes, beloved?” Loki simpers.
Tony squeaks. “I told you you’d regret this in the morning. I don’t usually do this, the whole morning after thing. If you didn’t work for me and live here I’d have had someone wake you up and put you in a cab by now. This is why everyone’s always telling me not to sleep with employees, isn’t it? I need a drink, you want a drink?”
Loki pouts her lips, making her eyes big and tearful. “But Tony, surely you know that elves mate for life. You are mine.”
How sweet it is to say it. Neither part a lie.
Tony sputters. Loki grins a feral grin. Minutes pass.
Slowly, slowly Tony’s expression clears, and an answering grin stretches his lips. “Oh, you are evil.”
Equilibrium restored, Tony begins to create new wonders as Loki observes (and occasionally helps, though Tony will admit to no such thing).
“Is Tony okay?” Queen Pepper asks when Loki goes to Stark Industries to collect items Tony needs for his (their) latest invention. “I mean, really okay?”
Loki thinks of days gone without sleep, frantic sex that leaves marks even on her godly skin, the crushing weight of knowing that it is not her embrace that Tony seeks, but solace, a balm for the weary.
The crazed look in Tony’s eyes as he manipulates his screens of floating schematics, every bit a sorcerer, for all that he calls his work science.
She says, “He creates and destroys in equal measure now, just as he is meant to do.”
Pepper gives Loki an odd look, but she accepts the words as the assurance they are meant to be.
Tony is waiting in Loki’s bedroom when she returns (home) to Avengers Tower from shoe shopping with Queen Pepper, and he isn’t even drunk.
“You’re back! Finally! Where have you been? Never mind, I don’t care, I have something to show you. I think I made a circuit that can be powered with your magic. Magic, bah! It’s science, baby! Come on, come on, come on, put the stuff down. What are you even carrying? What is this? Who told you to get this? Is this mine? Whoever’s it is, put it down and come to the shop, come on.”
Loki’s smile is soft and fond, a thing of tenderness she had long stopped thinking herself capable of. She places her bags on the floor and steps close to Tony, reaching up to smooth down his hair. “How much coffee have you had?” she asks. “And when did you last sleep?”
“Sleep is for the weak, babe,” Tony tells her. His answering smile says I am Loki Liesmith’s and his eyes scream his excitement. “Come on, let’s do science.” He bounds out the door, looking over his shoulder to make sure that Loki is following.
“Okay, okay,” Darcy says, gesticulating wildly. They are on Natasha’s floor of Avengers Tower, having what Darcy terms a ‘sleepover.’ Loki has seen such bonding rituals depicted on the television. They eat ice cream and paint their nails and watch Charmed. Natasha seems bored, but Loki can read happiness in the small lines around her eyes.
They have started drinking now, and Darcy has engaged them in a ridiculous game. She insists that it is the only way to keep Jane from wandering back to her lab.
“I’ve got a good one!” Darcy declares. She turns to Pepper. “Marry, fuck, kill: Doc Oc, Doctor Doom, or Loki.”
Loki’s next breath is sharp and fast, a whistle of air that rattles in her chest. (Kill, kill, Loki the traitor, Loki the monster, Loki the nothing with nowhere to go.)
Pepper laughs. “Oh, that’s hard. Well, the sex part is easy: Loki. Do I have to have sex with whichever one I marry?”
“Of the three, you would prefer physical intimacy with Loki?” Loki doesn’t realize she means to speak until the words are already out. Natasha glances at her, and she reminds herself she must be careful, so very careful, for if any are capable of discovering her true identity, it is her wolfling.
"Duh. Loki is hot for a crazy dude," Darcy says.
“But Loki is a Jötunn. A monster.”
“A do what now?” Darcy asks. She peers at Loki, looking comically like an owl with her glasses crooked on her nose.
“Jötunn,” Jane explains. “Frost Giants. Thor says they’re tall, blue people. I think Asgardians are kind of racist about it actually. The ones I’ve spoken with talk like Frost Giants are monstrous, but Tony’s seen Loki in his Jötunn form, and Tony said that…” Jane trails off, slapping a hand over her mouth as she looks at Pepper. It has been unspoken, in their meetings of female bonding, that no one will mention Tony.
But Queen Pepper is shaking her head. “It’s okay, Jane. It’s been months now. I’m fine.”
There is equal parts mirth and pain in her smile, but Loki cannot think of that.
“What did Tony say?” she asks, desperation making her bruised heart beat wild. She hopes it doesn’t show in a way Natasha can detect, but she doesn’t know. She can’t feel her face.
Jane blinks, momentarily distracted by the television. “What? Oh, something about how Loki was ‘pretty hot for a smurf.’”
Loki is silent for the rest of the evening.
“The Lady Jane reports that you have seen Loki in his Jötunn form.”
Tony looks up from the piece of metal he is shaping to raise a brow at her. “You mean him going blue and frosty? Yeah.”
“And how did he look? Were you not repulsed?”
Tony chuckles. “You trying to feel me out about your true form, princess?”
Loki feels as if she has taken a blow from Mjölnir to the gut, air forced from her lips in a silent whoosh.
Her ears ring. Tony knows. He has to know. She can’t move. (What is this? Falling, falling, the space between stars.) Her breath comes back in sudden heaving gasps, her vision swimming, the world tilting dizzyingly around her. It is one thing to show someone her Jötunn nature, to use it as a weapon… But to be found out, to be exposed without warning… She is an open wound.
A chill goes through her, and she gives a wheezing laugh simply because she’s never felt cold before. (Monsters can’t feel cold.)
Something blurs beside her. Tony’s face, near hers. His lips form words, but she cannot hear them. (Panic attack? PTSD? What nonsense is her love spilling now? No! No, don’t touch. Tainted monster, screaming, cruel laughter. He flays me alive without even knowing. Falling, falling, falling again, no end in sight, the space between stars.)
Her thoughts are tumbling, she is spinning. She can’t breathe. The only thing keeping her in place is Tony’s arm. He anchors her to Midgard. He won’t let her fall. (He won’t push her, will he? Everyone pushes, she pushes back. Loki Liesmith, Loki Silvertongue, never silent, always speaking. They have a Hulk. Tony may not save the world, but he’ll sure as Hel avenge it. The scepter is singing. Flung from a window, flying toward a wormhole, the Mad Titan is watching, the space between stars.)
She does not know how long this goes on. (Forever, a second, time flows backwards, suffocating.)
Tony’s (right) hand (open palm) striking (red sparks) her face brings her back to herself.
He slaps her once, and she reacts, fingers digging into his throat as she hoists him up off his feet. He grabs at her hand and she snarls like the beast that she is, sending him crashing into a table with one easy twist of the wrist. There is a great clatter of metal and a splash of red human blood. Loki blinks as Tony groans, aggression turning to horror at having hurt her priest without meaning to.
Living amongst the Avengers, it is easy to forget how fragile mortals are. How delicate Tony’s body is outside of his suit. There is blood on Tony’s arm and his neck is purpling in a bruise the shape of her hand. (The mark of Loki Laufeyson.)
“I – I did not mean… I would not hurt you without cause.”
She backs away, but Tony will not let her, the beautiful fool, the golden idiot. He pulls himself up and steps into her space, Man of Iron even without armor, and takes her gently by the hand that marked him. He guides her to sit on his workbench, kindness in his every motion. (He can be so kind, though he would deny it from the rooftops if ever called a kind man.)
Tony is murmuring to her, his voice threading through her hair, nonsense that becomes explanation. He is nigh inaudible at first, but grows stronger, louder the more time he has to recover from Loki’s grip on his throat.
“Don’t faint or anything, jeez. Stop freaking out! You freaking out is freaking me out, and when I freak out I shake in a corner on the floor, it’s not flattering. Don’t feel bad about the whole throwing me thing, at least it wasn’t a window this time, right? And I don’t know how things are in Asgard or Álfheim or wherever the hell you’re from – pretty sure it’s Álfheim by the way, I researched the whole Queen of Air and Darkness thing and then I asked Thor where the Fae lived and I had to listen to him sing a saga about the Ice Elves and the Light Elves, and I figure Air and Darkness is more likely to be a title for an Ice Elf, and Ice Elf sounds like you’re probably blue and frosty… Anyway, the point is, I don’t know what things are like there, but here being blue doesn’t make you evil or ugly or whatever it is you’re worried about. In fact, it sounds pretty exotic, Lolo. Can I call you Lolo? I’m going to call you Lolo.”
Loki turns her head to glare at him, and he snickers. “Thought that would get a reaction.” He grabs her hand tighter, pulling her close so that he can wrap his arms around her, his blood leaving drops of rust on her shirt. “Here’s the thing: If you wanted to know what I thought about Loki so you could figure out how I’d react to you dropping whatever spell you’ve got going that makes you look human, don’t worry about it. Loki looked pretty badass, and I’ll bet you’re sexier than Mystique.”
He’s leering at her now, waggling his brows, the ridiculous man. (No sense of self preservation. No, none at all.) Loki finds she can breathe again.
What she is about to do is impulsive and stupid and (some (Thor) would say) the bravest thing. Loki is a chaos god and chaos is not meant to be contained. It is both creation and destruction, and she has not destroyed anything in a very long time. Why not herself, her chances of finding a place in this realm? Why not crush the love that binds her to this bright, brilliant, mortal man?
Grasping her courage with both hands, Loki rips her glamour away. She is still in female form – that is not an illusion, but a true shapeshift – but now her skin goes the deep blue of winter, her eyes turn blood red, and raised lines of flesh form whorls and wheels on her skin. Her only concession to Tony thinking she is an Ice Elf is to summon the Crown of the Night Court. It is the very crown Loki took from Mab when she slew the elf queen, the crown that grants her Mab’s powers. It is formed of shadows and ice, a circle of glowing spikes set against her raven hair.
Loki opens her eyes and waits, forcing herself to look Tony in the face. To see his rejection from start to finish. (Will he strike her again?)
“Fuck,” Tony breathes, full of wonder, reaching for her cheek. She holds herself very still. He traces his thumb over one of the markings on her face and she can’t help leaning into the touch.
“Common ancestor maybe,” Tony is muttering under his breath, staring into her red eyes. Loki glides into his thoughts.
They are a filthy mishmash of scientific speculation and the things he wants to do to her; dirty, kinky things that make arousal curl in her belly. (Astonishment. Why this man? Why always this mortal?)
Tony has seen her true face in both male and female form, and he finds neither of them abhorrent. She will not delude herself into thinking he loves her. To be desired is enough.
It will be enough.
“We are going to run so many tests,” Tony says as he presses kisses to the column of her neck. His lips are almost unbearably hot to her in this form, but good too. “But first…” He picks her up, her body sliding along his, then sets her on top of the work table, her legs spread so he can stand between them. “Leave the crown on.”
“So are you Mab?” Tony asks later, when she is watching him test new flying apparatus for his armor. He wears unpainted gauntlets and boots, the silver metal shining dully in the light of the afternoon sun. Loki has been given the honor of being on ‘Fire Safety Patrol,’ due to her powers over ice. Tony’s casual acceptance and utilization of her abilities is overwhelming. (Magic is cheating. You fight as a woman does. Shall I have Frigga weave you a shawl to go with your dress, Loki Odinsdottir?)
“I won the right to wear the Crown of Night in combat,” Loki answers.
Tony huffs at her. “Is that a backwards fairy way of saying ‘yes’? Or are you telling me you killed Mab and took her throne? And how does that even work? If you’re the Queen of Air and Darkness shouldn’t you be off ruling the… air and darkness?”
Loki cannot stop the smile Tony’s babble brings to her face. “Whatever I may have been called before, now I am Lori Silverton. And as for the Ice Elves… they do not need much ruling. They are long lived and few, and wish only to be left alone.”
“Huh.” Tony looks at her even as he activates his gauntlets and boots, hovering in the air. It is a long look filled with much thought that Loki cannot quite glean. “What are you doing here then? If Ice Elves prefer to be left alone?”
Loki shrugs one shoulder. “Perhaps I have a special interest in you, Tony Stark.”
(The truth.) Álfheim is dangerous for its small population alone. With so few minds present, it is more difficult to conceal herself from the likes of Heimdall and the Mad Titan, and Álfheim has no Tony Stark. Even Loki’s obsidian prison afforded more conversation.(She does not want to live the lonesome lie of being Mab. She is a god tired of lies. The God of Tired Lies.)
Tony lands with a clang of metal, turning his gauntleted hands over to work at the clasps that hold the metal gloves in place.
“You were lonely,” Tony says, always pushing. (He is Loki’s, down to the last.) He wears a look that says he knows he is right.
Loki ices his feet to the floor with a wave of her hand.
“Babe?” Tony calls after her as she turns on her heel and stalks from the room. “Princess? Snowflake?”
She will not leave him stranded long. That he reacts to her ice with chagrin rather than horror is enough to make her forgive him.
True to his word, Tony performs many tests on Loki. He wants to understand how magic works, wants to peer at samples of her Jötunn skin, wants to take her apart and put her back together until he knows every inch of her.
Watching him fill the air with glowing blue calculations that he draws with a fingertip, Loki can understand the sentiment.
“So hey, how come you avoid Thor?” Tony asks out of nowhere one day.
Loki visibly flinches before reining herself in. Tony is gleeful. He loves it when he manages to surprise her.
Again, Loki can understand the sentiment.
“Thor is more likely than most to discern who I truly am.” (Loki Truthteller. Tony will not let her fall.)
“And that would be bad? I mean, he’s the Prince of Asgard, you’re the Queen of Air and Darkness, I thought you guys would be royaling it up, trading crown polishing stories, that sort of thing.” There is something flat in his voice, something drier than his usual humorous banter.
Loki disappears and reappears sitting on the table between Tony and the newest piece of armor he is building. “Are you jealous, Tony Stark?”
Tony’s lips are mere inches from her own. She turns to rub her cheek against his beard. Tony leans around her so that he can continue to work on the metal in his hands. “Jealous? Me? What have I got to be jealous about? Sure, he’s the God of Thunder, but I’m Tony motherfucking Stark.”
“What indeed?” Loki says airily. “You could have anything you want.” She makes her skin turn blue, licking a path up Tony’s neck with a cold tongue. (Anything, anything, how frightening to know that she would give him anything. Shock. When?)
Tony shudders, his eyes going dark. His pupils are dilated, a red flush in his cheeks.
“What do you want, Tony Stark?” Loki asks.
“You,” Tony demands, voice and hands rough. He rips at her clothes, his metalwork forgotten. “I want to see you. Fuck, yes, love that I’m the only one who sees you. I’m the only one who knows.”
He does not say I love you, but he says love, and he sees and he knows.
Her tears go unnoticed, frozen on her cheeks.
Loki is not meant to hear, so of course, she does.
“Tony, we need to talk.”
“What about, Cap?”
“Can you put the blowtorch down for a minute? This is serious.”
Standing in the hall just beyond the doorway of Tony’s shop, Loki makes herself invisible.
A sigh. “Fine. You’ve got my undivided attention for the next ten minutes. Go.”
“Clint saw you kiss Lori.”
“Is he sneaking around in the ventilation system again? I told him to stop doing that. It’s just creepy.”
“I don’t think I need to tell you why trifling with Lori’s affections is a bad idea. She’s a sweet girl, not one of those women you can just send away when you’re done with her.”
“Trifling with her affections? Really? Do you hear yourself sometimes? After a certain point, Cap, the frozen for seventy years excuse stops working.”
“Lori is a sweet girl, and she doesn’t deserve – ”
Tony laughs, long and loud, and Loki can almost picture the look on his face.
“First of all, Lori is not a sweet girl. She’s really, really not, and I mean that in the best possible way. Secondly, she absolutely deserves everything I’ve done to her and more.” Loki can hear the smirk in Tony’s voice, sex in every syllable.
“Done to her?! Tony!”
“And third of all, not that it matters to anyone but you, Lori’s the only person I’ve slept with in months.”
“Months? How long…?”
“That’s almost a year, Tony.”
“So… Lori’s your girl?”
“Pretty sure Lori belongs to herself, Cap. But if you want to tell her otherwise, let me know ahead of time so I can sell tickets.”
A relieved laugh, not Tony’s. Steve’s. “I’m happy for you, Tony.”
“For landing a dame like Lori. Everybody loves her, and she seems good for you. That’s why I was so worried in the first place. Everyone would miss her if she left. She’s part of our family.”
Loki chokes on her famed silver tongue.
“Easy there, Cap. We just have a lot of very amazing sex. It’s not a relationship.”
“Stop trying to embarrass me, Tony. It won’t work. And you’re intimate with Lori and spend a lot of time together. And you’re faithful to her. Sounds like a relationship to me.”
“Maybe I just got used to monogamy.”
“Sure, Tony. Whatever you say. Hey, what are you making anyway? I didn’t think any of the pieces of the Iron Man suit were blue.”
“Nothing, it’s nothing, new project. Want a smoothie? Dummy! Make Cap a smoothie!”
Tony finds Loki sitting alone in her room. She is watching the television without really seeing what’s on it, her knees curled up to her chest. She’s told JARVIS not to let anyone in. Tony must have used his override codes. (She should be angry that he dares, but truly, Tony’s daring is one of the things she most loves. He stole her heart in increments, will it glitter when it breaks?)
“What’s up, Snowflake?” he asks, throwing himself down onto the bed next to her.
Loki does not have the words to tell him. She cannot explain it to herself. (What’s the matter, silver tongue turned to lead?) She should be flush with triumph. Was not her plan to make a place for herself amongst Midgard’s most powerful? Here she can be safe, hidden, truly herself, and never bored, not so long as she has Tony Stark and Natasha Lokisdottir, Bruce of Jötenheim, Queen Pepper and the rest. She was meant to become indispensable, trusted, valued…
She never expected to be loved. She has yearned too long and been betrayed too often.
“Hey, so. Come to the shop, I made you a thing.”
“Oh?” she hears herself say.
“Yeah. Don’t get too excited about it, it’s nothing, but yeah. Come on, I haven’t got all day. People to see, bad guys to beat, you know how it is.” Tony fairly bounces with impatience, all the while managing to look like a lord at leisure, draped as he is across Loki’s sheets.
Loki lets herself be swept along in Tony’s wake, dragged through the halls by the hand as if by an overgrown child. Tony makes a point to take her the long way, through the public areas where the Avengers are likely to see. (Bemused. Why? Oh. Obvious. Intent.)
Steve and Bruce smile at their handholding, Clint doesn’t react at all, Natasha looks fondly tolerant, Thor claps Tony on the shoulder as they pass, and Darcy offers Loki a high five, mouthing You go, girl.
They enter the shop after Tony has concluded his (ridiculous) little parade, and he takes her over to the wall where his suits of armor hang.
“You wish to show me a new Iron Man design?”
I am Loki Liesmith’s, Tony says with his grin, his teeth very white against the slash of his beard. His eyes flash, filled with fire, and for an instant Loki thinks she sees the same glow emitted by his arc reactor there. “No, babe. I want to show you your new armor.”
With a flourish, he gestures, and a panel of the wall opens to reveal a suit of blue armor with silver accents. It is structured much the same as the Iron Man armor, though obviously built with Loki’s current stature and gender in mind. There is no helmet and no gloves, and rather than a chest inset for the arc reactor, the entirety of the suit is etched with the same markings that cover Loki’s skin in her Jötunn form.
Loki is speechless. Tony looks between her and the armor and starts babbling.
“No helmet, you’re tough enough not to need one, plus you should totally wear the crown with it, I designed it to match the crown and your skin. Yeah. So. It’s supposed to be powered by your magic, but I haven’t gotten to test that yet, I wanted it to be a surprise. Remember those skin samples I took? Why am I asking, of course you do. Well, in the skin samples your magical signature is stronger where your markings are, so I thought if I etched them on the suit, it might enhance your power and make sure you’re the only one who can pilot the suit because of the first three laws of magic – hey I totally listen when you tell me things, even if magic breaks physics in ways that make me cry on the inside. Also it looks cool, and I’m all about style. Didn’t give you gloves, I know you use hand gestures in your spells a lot, wasn’t sure if that would interfere. You do have flight capability in the boots, though. I’m thinking you can use ice blasts from your hands as stabilizers, but if you really want repulsor gloves it won’t take me long to build some…”
“Hey, kitten? Princess? Snowflake? Work with me here, give me something. A facial expression. Text me an emoticon. Something. Come on. It took me days to invent an alloy that’ll stand up to the kind of temperature changes you’re capable of without getting brittle or freezing solid.”
All Loki can think is, He really does love me. What a trick I’ve played.
I am Loki Liesmith’s, Tony Stark says with this gift of creation. My heart is Loki Silvertongue’s.
The only thing she’s truly lied about is her name. Tony has seen all of her, as much and more than anyone ever does, and he loves her anyway.
Loki finds her voice. “You built me a suit of armor with your own two hands.” She reaches out and touches it, probing it with her magic. The markings etched into the metal begin to glow with the light of her sorcery, lightning trapped in iron. “Armor more in tune with me than any other I have ever owned. It is a more than fitting tribute. Greater even than the works of the dwarves.”
(She feels a rush of power. Crickle, crackle, under her skin. This, from her high priest, from an inventor of the Temple of Loki, a follower of Hermes, is nothing less than worship. She hasn’t been worshipped in so long.)
Tony is smug. “Well, I am a genius. And I’ve seen enough Lord of the Rings to take that dwarf thing as a compliment.”
Loki twists her lips into a smirk. “Armor such as this would make a pretty bride token. Are you courting me, Tony Stark?”
His smug look falters, replaced with wide eyes and parted lips. Tony sounds winded when he says, “What? No. It’s not… Look, it’s stupid anyway. If you don’t want it, I’ll just send it to Asgard for Sif or something.”
“I want it,” Loki assures him, grabbing his wrist and reeling him into her side. (I want you.) “It is mine, as is the smith who made it.” (I am Tony Ironsmith’s.)
“I thought we’d call you Cold Iron,” Tony whispers, husky in her ear. “Since earth legends say it’s the – ”
“Only weapon that can defeat magic, yes. Clever Tony,” Loki whispers back. The light of the Cold Iron armor paints them both in an eerie glow. “Is this an invitation to join the Avengers?” (We may not save this world, but we’ll sure as Hel avenge it.)
“If you want it to be.”
“You think I would be a useful addition to your band of warriors?” (Magic is cheating. Why is he coming? Loki the Craven, suffered by Thor.)
“Princess, I think you’ll kick ass so hard and sexy that I’ll be able to film it and sell it as Avengers porn.”
Loki is surprised into a very feminine giggle. “Very well, Tony. I will be your Cold Iron.”
(Yes. Yes. I am yours.)
Don't slap anyone having a panic attack. Tony Stark is an idiot.
Chapter 4: I Forgive Thy Treason - I Redeem Thy Fall
Some of you requested a picture of Cold Iron in the comments of the last chapter. Well, Tony decided he wanted one too, so Loki was kind enough to pose for one and autograph it!
Predictably, Loki did not even have time to try on her new armor before alarms started blaring all around the tower. “Avengers Assemble!” Steve’s voice echoes from the intercom system.
“Well shit,” Tony says, though he smiles and kisses Loki. “Looks like you don’t get a test run after all. But hey, sometimes you have to run before you walk, right?”
“Indeed,” Loki says with a twitch of her lips. Raising her arms, she calls her armor to her, pieces of it flying through the air to lock into place with the whir of Tony’s sophisticated mechanics.
Tony watches, visibly swallowing. “Fuck, that is hot.”
Loki snorts, but does not bother to hide that she is pleased with his reaction. “You find nearly everything I do arousing, Tony. Come, stop gawking at my armor and put on your own.”
“My armor. Yes. Right. I’m going now.” He winks at her, the (ridiculous) flirt, and Loki cannot stop a mad giggle.
Once Tony is occupied with putting on his own suit and giving the other Avengers his estimated time of arrival, Loki summons the Crown of Night and casts a spell. It is easier to work magic through a focus object, and her staff is locked in the vaults of Asgard. The crown is not as powerful, but a good substitute.
Closing her eyes, Loki uses the crown’s dominion to weave an illusion from shadow. She will make all who know what an Ice Elf actually looks like see her as one. It is a specific spell, and so requires more concentration, but will affect fewer people, so takes less power. She thinks it an elegant solution. Tony would surely comment if she suddenly looked different to him, but Thor would recognize her as a Frost Giant in a heartbeat. Both would lead to awkward questions.
When she is finished she observes her reflection in the polished surface of one of Tony’s work tables and drops her Asgardian glamour. Rather than a Frost Giant, she sees a woman with light blue skin, pointed ears, and silver eyes. Otherwise, she looks much the same.
It is sufficient.
The heavy sound of Tony’s armored footsteps draws her attention to the door. “Ready to go, Snowflake?”
“Have I mentioned that I despise that nickname?” Loki activates the thrusters Tony built into her boots and stabilizes herself with gusts of cold wind from her hands. The runes etched into her armor glow with unholy light. She is the aurora borealis given flesh. “I am ready,” she tells Tony.
He laughs joyously and flips the visor of his helmet down. “Race you!”
Tony wins the race, though Loki maintains it is only because he is more familiar with this form of flight. If she turned them both into birds, she would surely win in that case.
Tony lands on the airstrip next to the quinjet that has been prepared for the Avengers and is crowing his victory when the others arrive.
Thor is first, the winds that herald his passing whipping his golden hair around his face. “Man of Iron… and… Lady Lori?” Thor asks. Loki is currently wearing her Asgardian glamour. “You mean to join us in battle? I did not know you were a shield maiden!”
Tony is snickering to himself. Loki tells him to hush, though she can’t deny she is enjoying herself just as much as he is.
Before Thor can speak further, Captain America arrives with Black Widow and Hawkeye, Bruce trailing along behind them. “Wheels up in five,” the Captain is saying when he spots Loki.
“What the…? Tony!”
“Cap?” Tony asks, both his eyebrows raised in a wide-eyed show of innocence. Natasha and Clint’s expressions don’t change, but Loki can tell they are both amused and prepared to enjoy the scene before them.
“Why is Lori wearing Iron Man armor and a crown of icicles?”
“Actually,” Tony is at his smarmiest, “her armor is called Cold Iron. And she’s wearing a crown because she’s the Queen of Air and Darkness.”
Thor’s reaction is immediate. “Your majesty!” he says, affecting his most courtly bow. “Forgive me, I did not recognize you in mortal guise. I have heard many great tales of your magic. And, I believe, my brother was once apprenticed to you.” (So her magic is great when Thor thinks her a woman of Álfheim , but for Loki the Trickster there were only sneers. Magic is cheating, it is unmanly, hardly a worthy pursuit for a prince.)
Something bitter coils in Loki’s throat, her stomach curdling. “I do not think Loki Liesmith is a true relation of yours, God of Thunder.”
“Shared blood or not, Loki is my brother still,” Thor says stubbornly. Suddenly, watching him bow is no longer sweet.
“Arise, Thor,” Loki bites out, just as Captain America begins to speak over them.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, but we are not taking a civilian into a firefight just because you made her a suit and gave her a title, Tony! She could be hurt.”
Tony is openly smirking, the scheming boy. “I’d hardly call her a civilian, Cap. I’m betting she’s seen more battles than either of us.”
“Tis true,” Loki chimes in before Captain America can continue to argue. “I am afraid I have been deceiving you all.”
With that, Loki drops her glamour. Thor will see an Ice Elf. The others will see a Frost Giant, but know no better. “I am the Queen of Air and Darkness in truth, ruler of the Night Court of Álfheim .”
Clint reaches for his bow, but does not draw. Bruce takes a step forward, plainly itching to prod and poke and understand just as Tony has. Captain America gapes. And Natasha’s lips twitch up at the corners. “I win the pool.”
Filled with a parental pride, Loki beams at her wish-daughter. “You suspected then. And you were right?”
Natasha nods. “Jane had you pegged as an Asgardian. Darcy thought you were a nymph attracted to Tony’s quote, ‘manwhoreishness.’ And Pepper put five hundred on immortal mutant. I had unknown alien sorceress. I was the closest.” Natasha’s eyes glitter at that last declaration, as if daring anyone to contradict her.
“Wait,” Steve says. “You all knew about this?”
“It was better to keep her close and under observation than to confront her and give the game away,” Natasha explains dryly.
“Yes, that,” Tony says, nodding his head. “That.”
“Oh please, Tony. Don’t pretend that was your reasoning.”
“I am totally claiming that was my reasoning. You can’t prove otherwise.”
“As fascinating as this is,” Bruce breaks in. “Isn’t someone blowing up Los Angeles?”
The flightless Avengers plus Thor, who wrecks weather patterns when he flies, pile into the quinjet. Tony and Loki fly alongside.
“Welcome to the team, Cold Iron,” Tony calls through the comm device Loki has been given.
“We’re talking about this after the mission,” Captain America reminds them.
When the Avengers reach Los Angeles, things are in pandemonium. The mortals scurry about like ants, some looting buildings, others babbling and crying, still others screaming and brandishing weapons to any who try to get close. Loki lands in the middle of a street to observe more closely, and before her eyes a pair of men wrench their clothes off and start to have frantic sex.
“I’ll have what he’s having,” Tony’s voice buzzes over the comm line. “What do you think, Snowflake?”
“This is the result of magic. Powerful magic, to be this widespread,” Loki says. She looks up to see Iron Man hovering above her. “Or were you asking me to rut with you in public, Man of Iron?”
“Baby, don’t be so cold,” Tony quips.
“You’re the one who named me Cold Iron,” Loki replies wryly.
“Keep the comm lines clear, please,” Captain America says, long suffering.
“Yeah. Nobody wants to listen to your Ironmance.”
“Ironmance? Really, Hawkeye? That’s the best you’ve got?”
“I have a visual,” Natasha’s cool professionalism cuts through the flyting. “There’s a dome of acid green light around a movie set at Marvel Studios.”
“The people who make the Avengers stuff? Now that’s just hurtful.”
“Call it, Cap.”
“Yes?” Loki asks, propelling herself back into the air to hover next to Tony.
“Can you undo whatever spell these people are under? You’re our only resource when it comes to magic.”
“Aren’t you glad I invited her along now?”
“Right, I’ll gloat later.”
“I must first discover what enchantment they have been placed under. Otherwise I may do more harm than good. It would take time. A simpler solution would be to find and kill the sorcerer responsible.”
“We try not to use lethal force unless necessary,” Captain America ventures.
It is telling that none of the other Avengers protest. Steve clears his throat. “What do you think the spell does?”
“It is chaos magic, I can tell that much,” Loki answers, unruffled. “The mortals are being driven out of their minds, most likely as a distraction. Or perhaps an attraction. What better way to draw out the Avengers than to send a city mad? It is what I would do.”
“I love the twisty way your mind works, babe.”
Loki smiles and winks at Tony, even as Captain America goes on to question her about the dome of light. “Again, either an attempt to keep us out, or an attempt to pull us in.”
“So this might be a trap. How likely is it? If you were the mage setting all this up, how likely would it be that this was all a trap?”
“Captain, if I was the mage behind this, my every action would serve more than one purpose.”
“Right. Okay. Iron Man, find Hawkeye a perch and set him down, then provide air support. Hawkeye, keep an eye out and use your tranqs on anyone you have to, your call. Widow, you and I are on crowd control. Bruce, stay in the quinjet until we need you. Be prepared to receive whatever samples or patients we can bring to you. I know this is magic, but maybe you can find a way to treat them anyway. Thor, Cold Iron, you’re our best bet against whoever’s doing this. You two go for the dome. Try not to put the sorcerer down unless you have to.”
Loki chafes under taking orders from Captain America, even if they are tactically sound. He is not one of hers. But she follows his directives when the rest of the team goes into action. She has centuries of playing the good little warrior to draw upon, after all. (At least Steve’s plans are not so idiotic as the majority of Thor’s.)
Thor takes off toward Marvel Studios with a swing of his hammer, Loki zipping along in his wake.
There is a ring of human men around the dome of light, presumably set there to protect it. It works all too well against Thor, who doesn’t know how to do anything other than fight. As Thor knows his companions would frown on him harming mortals who are not in control of themselves, he is quickly swarmed by the crowd and reduced to trying to shrug away the humans that mob him. Loki hangs back, staying in the air. It is humorous to watch Thor struggle for a time, but all too soon the farce becomes pathetic, so she enacts a quick solution.
Summoning knives from thin air, Loki throws them with enough force and skill to pin the mortals in place by their clothing, the knife blades sinking into the street as if it were butter. Those that aren’t positioned properly for Loki to restrain with her knives, she ices in place, as she once did to Tony in his workshop. (Once, oh once, she would have simply killed them all. Short lived insects, cannon fodder. But now she cannot bring herself to do it, not unless she must. What if there is a Tony or a Bruce or a Darcy among them? What if one of them is hers?)
“Well done, majesty!” Thor booms when the way is clear. Loki winces. All these years, and Thor still can’t grasp the concept of stealth.
“You must be silent, Thor,” she admonishes. “I have to concentrate.”
Landing just before the acidic glow of the magical curtain, Loki runs her hand over the surface, careful not to touch. “Ah,” she says. “Simple enough.” Funneling her magic through the Crown of Night, she reaches out to draw a rune in the air, hissing words of power that are intelligible only to those with something of the gift.
The dome of light flickers once, twice, and then dissipates. “A trap, as I thought,” Loki comments. “Otherwise the barrier would not have been so easily dispelled.” She begins to walk. Whomever they seek will be at the center of the dome’s influence.
“You remind me much of Loki,” Thor says as he falls into step beside her. “Were you the one to teach him his way of fighting?”
“What did you think he was doing the century he spent in the Night Court? Attending feasts?” Loki replies, deceptively light.
Thor shakes his head like the great ox he is, rueful. “Aye, I confess I thought it twas so. I did not always appreciate his skill at magecraft as I ought. I see now that there were many victories I would not have claimed without him and his sorcery, but in my pride I refused to acknowledge it. Worse, I joined my fellows in mocking him for his tricks.”
That Thor says this to one he thinks a stranger means more than all of the apologies Loki has refused to hear.
“I am sorry to burden you with my troubles,” Thor goes on as he and Loki strafe around the side of a building. “It is just that my human friends have only seen Loki at his worst. It does me good to speak with one who must love him as I do.”
“You think I love him?”
“He was your apprentice for a hundred years. You must hold some affection for him.” (Yes, oh yes, Mab had held such affection for her apprentice. At least until that apprentice threatened to outstrip her in power. But Loki Liesmith does as (s)he wants, and when silver words did not sway, silver steel had to do.)
“Yes,” Loki says. “Loki has ever been beloved of the Ice Elves.” (Once she had wondered why the cold of the Night Court did not bother her. Now she knows.)
Thor lets out a deep sigh. “I worry for him. He has not spoken to me in a long time now. He will not even look at me. He just sits in his prison, still as a statue.”
Whatever reply Loki might have made to that, she did not get the chance to voice it. They reach the center point of the movie set – some sort of jungle scene, with crumbling ruins dotted amongst the imported plants – and find their sorcerer.
“Loki!” Thor cries out, anguish making his eyes large and wet.
“That is not Loki,” Loki grits out, staring hard at the imposter.
The false Loki stands over a facsimile of a stone altar, a recreation of the plinths mortals used in the old (true) religions. The likeness is uncanny. If Loki were not the one being impersonated, it is possible she would have been fooled.
The sorcerer looks exactly as Loki does in male form, wearing the full regalia of (green and gold) armor. It is a strange quirk of magical law, that the more powerful a mage is, the more susceptible to illusion they are. Oh certainly they can detect one, if they think to look for it, but if they do not…
“Amora,” Loki says. She has peeled the curtain of Amora’s illusion away from her eyes, but Amora is still fooled by Loki’s spell of disguise.
“The Queen of Air and Darkness,” Amora replies, letting her (useless now) illusion fade away so that she stands before them in a lush green dress, her blonde curls spilling over her shoulders to accentuate her bosom.
“Enchantress!” Thor exclaims. “Why do you assume the form of my brother?” And for all his talk of having a newfound appreciation for magic, Thor steps close to the Enchantress and menaces her with his hammer, as if he has nothing to fear from her at all. (Frustration. Female and shapely, no signs of weapons. Magic wielder, not warrior, no match for Thor. Disbelief. Incredulity. Will he ever learn?)
“Thor,” Loki says, low with warning.
But it is too little, too late. (Always too little, too late, Loki the Nothing.)
Amora the Enchantress, exiled from Asgard after a rather brilliant scheme on Loki’s part (for the good of the kingdom, always, always), stands on her tiptoes to whisper in Thor’s ear, and the fool lets her.
(Perhaps, perhaps, Loki is being too hard on Thor. Amora is well known for entrancing men, and Loki is currently immune by virtue of gender.)
“I took Loki’s form to ensure that it was you who came for me,” Amora purrs, loud enough for Loki to hear.
And then she kisses Thor, full on the lips, and Thor’s eyes glow acid green.
Thor turns, raising his hammer high.
“Oh fuck,” Loki curses, already sending magic through her boots to lift herself into the air. She activates her comm unit. “Thor is bespelled. Send the Hulk.”
That is all she has time for before Thor joins her in the sky, and she is dodging lightning bolts. She feints to the left, calling up two illusive doubles of herself and making them split off in different directions, but through ill luck or divine stubbornness, her true self is the one that Thor follows. She knows even as he gets a grip on her right boot that she should not have made this an aerial battle. Thor is much more practiced at flight than she. If only she had her mage staff!
Thor yanks on her boot, and Loki spins out of control, falling through the air (falling, falling, falling again). Thor grapples with her, and she forms an ice spear in her hands, stabbing at his side. (Should gut him. Put the point through his heart. No, no, want him to know, want him to see, he must recognize that Loki False-Brother is his killer. (That is why I give only flesh wounds.) That is all, that is all.)
Thor shatters the spear with a strike of his hammer, and Loki contorts herself out of the path of the blow, ripping links of chainmail from Thor’s armor with her fingernails. Thor swings her by the boot still in his grasp, and she flings her hands out, catching and holding at his hair, arching her back until she can wrap one arm about his head. It is an awkward hold, the pair of them pressed back to back, Loki’s leg bent upwards where Thor refuses to let go of her foot.
Loki’s fingertips find bare flesh, the meat of Thor’s cheek, and she thinks of Asgardian skin blackened by the grip of a Jötunn. She could free herself with this power, the Ice Touch that she has yet to unleash, but Asgardians who take the Touch on the face rarely survive. (Don’t let them touch you, Thor!)
Mjölnir connects with Loki’s temple, and her last thought before her vision goes black is that she hopes the Crown of Night isn’t cracked, because she’s certain her skull is.
When Loki comes to, she almost closes her eyes again.
She is moving, slowly, body swaying with gentle motion, and she is surrounded by a sea of green.
The Hulk is carrying her, cradled in one of his massive arms.
“Puny god,” the giant says in his voice like two boulders colliding. Loki dares to look up, and she sees large, blocky teeth bared in what might be a smile, or a threat.
All the air leaves Loki’s lungs. “You recognize me.”
The Hulk nods, lowers his face until his nose almost touches Loki’s chest, and inhales deeply. “Puny god,” he says again.
Loki’s mind races, her gaze going in and out of focus. She took a blow from Thor’s hammer to the head, she remembers that. She will heal, but it will be slow. (Like her thoughts. Slug. Slug. Sluggish. Sideways. Fog.) She may have a concussion, bleeds in the brain. If Tony were here and Bruce were himself, they would bore her to tears with talking of it.
“What’s happened?” she mumbles. “Why are you helping me?”
“Hulk smash Hammer Man. Bluestars say bring Puny God. Hulk bring Puny God.”
It takes Loki far longer than it should to puzzle out the meaning of that. “You stopped Thor. Good. And… Captain America told you to retrieve me. Will you keep it secret, who I really am?”
The Hulk’s brow furrows. “Why no tell?”
“You remember New York?”
Hulk laughs, making Loki’s head pound and her bones turn to water. She is glad she is already lying down – otherwise she might have simply fallen. (Tony won’t let me fall.)
“Hulk smash Puny God,” Hulk rumbles when he’d finished with his terrifying laughter.
“Yes,” Loki says, trying to think around the pain in her head. White spots appear before her eyes. “If they know I am the one from New York, I will have to leave.” Best keep things simple for Bruce’s Jötunn counterpart. “They will not let me stay.”
Hulk considers this for a long moment, thinking so hard that he stops walking. It takes Loki’s stomach several seconds longer to stop its forward momentum. Loki rolls and vomits over the side of Hulk’s elbow.
“Puny God hurt?”
Unable to speak, Loki simple pats one of Hulk’s gargantuan fingers.
“Hulk no tell. Tell make Tony sad. Hulk like Tony.”
At that Loki squeezes her eyes shut, a broken dagger laugh frothing over her lips, prying open her teeth. “Yes. It would make Tony very sad indeed. You are a true friend, Sir Hulk.”
“Puny God pretty blue.” (That sounded almost like contentment.)
“You should call me by some other name,” Loki whispers. “Otherwise they’ll know.”
Loki cringes even as she suggests, “Snowflake?”
“Snowflake hang on.”
With that scant warning, Hulk scales a building.
Hulk brings Loki to the landing site of the quinjet. There, Thor is lying, battered, on a stretcher, his hammer nowhere in sight. Loki cannot help but wince on his behalf. No doubt most of his bones are broken after being tossed about by the Hulk.
Captain America is standing by Thor’s side. He looks up when Hulk approaches.
“Hulk bring Snowflake.”
Steve blinks, his lips twitching at the nickname, but he doesn’t comment. Instead he gestures for Hulk to put Loki down. She gingerly climbs out of his embrace, thankful for the weight of the boots Tony forged for her. It keeps her from stumbling overly much.
“Cold Iron?” Captain America asks, his brow creased.
Loki knows better than to shake her head, so she raises a hand to stay his concern. “I believe Thor cracked my skull, but it is a minor injury for one such as I, though especially annoying.”
Thankfully, the Captain accepts her word. He grips his shield, looking out into the distance. “What happened?”
“Thor was ensorcelled.” The words drip from Loki’s tongue like molasses, her thoughts flittering through her head like tiny silver fish (the fish that Thor taught her to catch between her cupped palms when they were children). “I know his assailant. Amora the Enchantress. She once sought to become Queen of Asgard by marrying Thor, but could not entice him into a marriage without resorting to spells of control. Loki tried to warn Thor, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. So Loki enacted a scheme to reveal Amora’s chicanery. She was exiled from Asgard. I believe she still seeks Thor as a husband, and bears a grudge against Loki. She was posing as him when we first encountered her.”
“It’s hard to picture Loki as a good guy – ”
“Loki is not for you to judge!” Loki snaps, ice forming over her clenched fists. She takes a deep breath. “He was betrayed by those he sought to protect and left for dead. He fell through the cosmos and became trapped in a place that would have completely unhinged a mortal mind. He – ” she forces herself to stop when she realizes she’s verging on screaming and the Hulk is giving her a warning growl. She need not explain to the Captain. She need explain to no one. (Loki does as (s)he wants.)
“Lori, I’m sorry, I… I didn’t know you were friends.”
She sniffs. “Forgive me my outburst. Loki was an apprentice in the Night Court for a hundred years. I mourn for all he was never allowed to be.” (Loki Truthteller, why does no one believe?)
Steve opens his mouth to say something else, but Loki does not hear. A prickle of foreboding starts at the top of her head and slithers its way to the soles of her feet. She rubs at her temples, not sure if it is a side effect of the blow dealt by Thor. “Where is Tony?” she asks. (Dread intuition.)
“He’s still riding herd on the crowd with Widow and Hawkeye.”
“No,” Loki intones with a certainty she can feel all the way down to her marrow, “he isn’t.”
She can’t think. (Too slow, too slow.) Blood is thumping in her ears, swimming before her eyes, congealing in the crevices of her mind. She fumbles her way through trying to raise Tony on the comm line, and when that doesn’t work, she drops to the ground, ignoring her roiling stomach, and sends a sheet of ice spreading out from her hands. A few quick (desperate) swipes polish it to mirror brightness.
“Show me Tony!” she demands. She is too unfocused to center her will silently, elegantly, and so she is reduced to wielding her magic like Thor does his hammer.
Tony appears in Loki’s mirror of ice. The ground rumbles as Hulk steps closer to look, but Loki barely notices.
She is too busy watching Tony, sans helmet, his eyes glowing the acid green of Amora’s magic, as he lays himself down on a stone plinth. (And this is not a false altar, no, oh no, but a thing of ancient power built over a convergence of ley lines. Loki remembers this place.) Amora is standing over Tony, and she has Loki’s mage staff. (Loki knows not how or why.) They are surrounded by rolling green hills and tall standing stones.
“She wasn’t here for Thor,” Loki growls. “Idiot. Foolishness. Of course, of course she came for Tony. For the power of his heart.”
“Cold Iron, what exactly – ”
Amora raises Loki’s stolen staff (how did she get it, how? It was in the vaults of Asgard. Or did Odin lie? God of Lies, should be able to tell, could have once. Too far gone, too far, too far) and brings it down with all the strength inherent in Asgardian limbs. It cracks off the casing of the arc reactor. Laying the staff aside, Amora peels Tony’s armor back, hacking at his skin with a ceremonial dagger because she is too simple, too stupid to just twist and pull the arc reactor. Oh no. Amora exposes Tony’s heart of (magic) science and she
Cuts. It. Out.
The ice mirror produces no sound, and so they cannot hear Tony scream. But that is fine, because Loki screams for him. She feels the rending of flesh in her own body, and she lets loose a bloodcurdling wail – not at the pain, but the knowledge that it is Tony’s. She can feel the creeping of shrapnel in her chest and her skin is on fire and it hurts and she’s not scared, not at all, but she should be, she should be, and she is
Hiking through a desert and she is
Watching her skin ice over and she is
Killing her godfather and she is
Falling through the stars and she is
Screaming with the horror, screaming until she’s hoarse, screaming until her throat is bloody and her vocal cords are ruined.
(Surrounded by (eldritch) things, torture, (Lovecraft) her father does not want her, his father is too busy, (s)he is toddling after Thor. Her (his) lips are being (they) sewn (deserved) shut (it). She is building an arc reactor (a new element) and when (s)he is free (never) she will kill them all. (S)he just wants to prove she loves them, just wants a place to call (their) her own. Someone (everyone) who (always) won’t laugh(s).)
She is dying of palladium poisoning and she is
Twisted by the scepter and she is
Flying through a wormhole and she is
Not who she thought she was and she is
Dying again on top of a rock and she is
Laughing, wild, insane, free as she willingly pulls down all the carefully repaired walls in her mind, letting her thoughts tangle and crash together like waves beating against a shore. She is chaos unchained, the sucking swirl of undertow, and she is flooded with the kind of power she has not had since the days of Olympus, since the Roman Empire fell, because Amora is dolt, a fool. Plebian, a peasant to be crushed under heel. Amora seeks the power of the arc reactor, is trying to amplify its energy by removing it over a ley stone, but she has been careless, oh so careless, and it will mean her death, for she has, she has
She has sacrificed Tony Stark on an altar of Loki Liesmith.
Loki shrieks, turning her face to the heavens, and this time it is with the raw surge of blood sacrifice rushing through her veins, stretching her, filling her, expanding her senses, her awareness, making her more, making her what the gods used to be before the Allfather restricted access to the Bifrost and Midgard forgot they were real.
One human sacrifice should not do so much, but Tony is special, Tony is hers.
She is ancient. She is a sleeping giant, now woken. She is Jötunn, she is Mab, she is Hermes. She is unknowable, incomprehensible.
(S)he is Loki.
The Hulk is roaring and beating his chest, calling Tony’s name. The other Avengers are demanding answers.
Loki ignores them all. She crushes the ice mirror under her boots, and then, using Tony’s armor as a focus (like calls to like, and her armor is his armor as far as the magic is concerned), Loki teleports into the standing stones.
“What do you want, Mab?” Amora asks in a faux bored tone when Loki appears in a gust of cold wind and a sharpening of shadows. “This is no concern of yours. If you must know, I need the magic of this mortal’s heart to unlock the powers of the staff. Loki, tiresome as always, has sealed it with a spell.”
You dare, Loki’s voice comes from everywhere and nowhere, the Crown of Night a corona of twilight around her head. Her armor glows with magic (emerald now, too far gone for olive, too far, too far). You have the gall to take what is mine, you squealing sow!
Amora falls back a step, calculating gaze flitting over Loki. “I have nothing of yours, elf.”
(Tony watches with glassy eyes, spirit still locked in his body, empty of life. The spirit will see, but Loki is destruction and creation, and it has been so long since she’s destroyed something.)
You have everything of mine! Loki howls, tone growing deeper and the joints of her armor groaning in protest as She becomes He. (Something breaks with a screech of metal, broken, broken like Tony, shards that cut.)
He towers over Amora now, a thing demented, his eyes burning with green flame.
“Loki!” she gasps, only now realizing she should fear. She raises her hands, but Amora has never been a fighter, and Loki shreds through her spells like tissue paper with the power granted to him by Tony’s death. Her power of thrall tickles at his senses, snuffed out with a wave of his hand. Her blast of green fire is swatted aside - child's play. Her shield, another acid green dome, he steps through like a waterfall. Pitiful.
He could grab up his mage staff, use it to end her, but he wants to do it bare handed. He wants her fear, her tears, her blood. He wants to feel her skull squeezed to pulp.
He wraps large hands around her face, ignoring her scrabbling at his chest. A casual thought stops her from teleporting away before she can begin, and he grins an inhuman grin like a knife wound across his face.
“Don’t you want to know why?” Amora says as Loki’s fingers press into her eyes. “Loki Silvertongue, always curious. Don’t you want to know why?”
Loki is filled with the voices of ages, a cacophony of sounds and sights tumbling one over the other: the chanting of druids, the silence of elves, Greeks calling him Hermes and the Irish praying to Mab. Charmed and Sex and the City and the internet and Tony Stark beating in his pulse.
He hisses, Look at all the fucks I give, and unleashes the Ice Touch.
Amora screams. Loki does not let go until her face is a black husk.
Loki waits. He stands by Tony’s cooling body, stroking Tony’s hair, and he waits for the one who will come to take Tony’s soul to the afterlife.
At last a shadow grows darker, there is the smell of decay, and a cloaked figure steps up to the altar at the center of the standing stones.
Hel, Loki says, the force of his godhood humming under his skin. His lips do not move when he speaks. If ever you were Lokisdottir, you will grant me what I ask of you.
Hel pulls back the hood of her cloak. One side of her face shines with health, a bright blue eye watching him from beneath golden curls, her pink lips pursed. The other side is Jötunn blue, and wasted, skeletal, with slick black hair and an eye as red as Tony’s blood on the grass.
“I am Hel Lokisdottir still, and that you think it is not so deals me great insult,” Hel says.
How Loki has missed her voice. But he does not leave his Tony’s side. Merely cocks a brow, and says, Oh?
“You have been listening to Mother. For the God of Lies, you are oft deceived.”
Perhaps my kenning comes not from telling lies, but having them told to me.
“Aye, Father, I can believe that.” Hel comes closer, her cloak making a sound like a serpent in the grass. “If you would know the truth, I must warn it is not pleasant hearing.”
It so rarely is. Loki moves to stand between Hel and Tony’s body, so that she cannot take Tony’s spirit without Loki stepping aside.
Hel nods. “Fenrir tried to rescue you. He has ever been foolhardy. He was caught, of course, but not before he’d bitten off Tyr’s hand. He has been trapped in his wolf form and bound with chains as punishment. Fortunately, Frigga interceded on his behalf, and he has been chained outside my palace in Niflheim, so that I can see to his feeding and keep him from going mad.”
Loki squeezes his eyes shut, taking a deep breath, his shoulders hunching.
You are good to your brother. For this you have my thanks.
“As for I,” Hel goes on. “After Fenrir’s attempt, the Allfather decreed that I am not to enter Asgard. My brother’s idiocy may inspire me. Who knows, I could lead an army of the undead into Odin’s keep to free you.” She scoffs. “I seem to be the only one who knows the statue in the obsidian room is not you.”
Loki smiles. Fenrir is the child of my heart, but you, Hel are the child of my mind. What of Nari?
Hel shakes her head. “He is as idiotic as Mother, you know this. Of the three of us, he is the only one who truly repudiates his connection to you. But then, he is the only one not to inherit chaos as his byword.” She fixes him with a penetrating gaze. “Know this, Father. Mother has ever blamed you for the way I look, and thinks now she has a reason in your Jötunn heritage. I, however, do not.” She lifts her hands, one pale and pink, the other cold and blue. “It is not blood that makes me look as I do, but the manifestation of my magic. In this hand I hold life, and in the other I give death, and I would not trade either of these things to look like Freya herself.”
Loki pulls his daughter into an embrace, burying his nose in her mismatched hair. My darling. My sweet one. How I have missed you.
“Father,” Hel sighs, holding him tightly. “I think I am not your only darling. Ask me what you would have of me.”
Loki pulls back and smirks at her. You speak as if you already know what I would ask.
“You may be the God of Lies, Father, but I am the one who sees the truth that lurks in the darkness of every soul. Even yours.”
I do not envy you that.
Hel laughs. “Of course you do. You would like nothing better.”
Perhaps one thing.
With that Hel looks at Tony, and Loki obligingly gets out of her way. “He is very small, to contain a spirit so large. Fitting, for one of yours.”
Loki traces his fingers over Tony’s lips, the gaping hole in his chest. I know.
“You will have to give back the power granted to you by his sacrifice.”
Loki bows his head. Power has never been what I seek.
There is something sad about the twist of Hel’s lips. “I know. I may be the only one, but I know.” She raises both her hands, holding them over Tony’s prone form. “A price must be paid, to do what you desire. I can return life to him with the power you gained, but to give him life beyond mortal years…”
Loki looks pointedly at where Amora lies, crumpled on the ground, some feet away. She yet breathes.
Hel smiles a smile that shows all her teeth, something beautifully horrible to behold. “Ah. How poetic. Very well. I shall take her years, and give them to your favored one.”
His name is Tony Ironsmith.
Under Hel’s direction, Loki drags Amora within reach of the altar, and stands by Hel’s side. Hel places the Hand of Life on Loki’s chest, the Hand of Death on Amora’s, and bends over to kiss Tony on the brow.
When Tony inhales, it is sudden and loud, and the best sound to ever grace Loki’s ears. Time seems to stop, light refracting backwards as the power of sacrifice is pulled from Loki’s blood and syphoned back into Tony’s body, the spark that makes up his (incredible, amazing, impossible) life force. Loki’s concussion – healed in the aftermath of Tony’s death – comes back with a vengeance, several older wounds reopening as well as he deflates like a punctured waterskin, smaller, weaker, less.
But Tony is alive, and with the gift of Amora’s years he will remain that way for a long time to come.
“Be well, Tony Ironsmith,” Hel says.
And with that, she lifts her hood and fades into the coming night.
Loki shakes his head, then staggers when it makes him dizzy. “That girl has always been rather dramatic.”
Tony is staring. Loki moves to help him sit up, but Tony starts, jerking away from Loki’s fingers.
(Something inside him breaks. Love like a throat cut.)
Loki opens his mouth to say he knows not what, but Tony doubles over, his breath hitching. “Arc reactor,” he grits out through his teeth, shaking hands patting at his chest. He tries to stand and falls to his knees.
Loki does not try to help.
Instead he finds the arc reactor, sitting where Amora left it, next to Loki’s mage staff. He picks it up. It hums. The metal is cold, but the element inside (the magic) is hot. It is all of the things and none of the things Loki thought it would be.
(How like Tony Stark.)
He holds the reactor out to his (lost) beloved, an offering of peace.
“I don’t like being handed things,” Tony coughs weakly, a cracked parting of lips masquerading as a smile.
And so it is Loki who twists the metal cylinder back into Tony’s chest, glad to see that the marks of Amora’s butchery are gone, healed by Hel’s blessing.
“I have held your life in my hands, Tony Stark,” Loki says. He wishes to give Tony a kiss in farewell, but cannot bear to have him pull away. He takes a long look instead, memorizing the shape of Tony’s nose and the pucker of his lips.
“I held your life in my hands, and it shone brighter than the stars.”
With that, he sends Tony Stark home, to the waiting arms of his fellow Avengers. And Loki? Loki returns to his cell of obsidian in the towers of Asgard, slipping back over the line of volcanic ash as if he never left.
Chapter 5: Iron, Cold Iron
The cell is smaller than Loki remembers, the emptiness of being without all but his Jötunn abilities more total.
He destroys the statue he made of himself, and uses the ice to make a mirror. But he does not make it show him Tony. He does not make it show him anything. He just stares dully at his own reflection, dropping his glamour to trace the markings on his face.
He still looks like Laufey.
Loki doesn’t know how long he’s in his cell before Thor visits. It could be a day, a year, or a century. Time ceases to have meaning when there is nothing to count it by.
“Brother!” Thor calls happily from his side of the line of ash. “Glad am I to see you moving and speaking! Too long were you silent and still.”
“And wearing a Jötunn face?” Loki asks, but there is no bitterness left in it. He is too tired. Too cold. For once, he does not tell Thor they are not brothers. Perhaps he doesn’t care anymore.
Thor doesn’t answer the query. Likely he doesn’t know how.
“Loki, I bring with me a request from one of my shield mates. The Man of Iron.”
Loki goes very, very still. “And why would I grant a boon to one of your mortal comrades?”
Thor rests his hand on Mjölnir, and Loki can see that he is still moving gingerly. He tries to call up a smile, but can’t quite manage to be gleeful at Thor’s beating at the hands of Hulk.
“It concerns your old teacher, the Queen of Air and Darkness. She fought a great battle of magic on behalf of the Avengers and saved the Man of Iron’s life.”
(Curious. He hasn’t told them. Why?)
“Following the battle, she disappeared. We know not where to find her. The Man of Iron is most anxious for her return, and fears for her safety. He has come to love her, I believe.”
(What does it mean? What?)
“You always were a sentimental fool.”
Loki turns his back.
“Brother, please. If I come back with no news, Tony Stark will merely petition the Allfather to speak with you in person. He is most adamant.”
Loki sighs. “Tell your Man of Iron that Mab is nowhere. An illusion of air and darkness. That is her nature, and she will not apologize for it.”
“I… if that will help, brother.”
“Go away, Thor.”
The obsidian room reminds him of the place between stars.
Loki breaks the mirror of ice. The he lies amongst the pieces and doesn’t move, just another broken thing.
He is still lying there when Tony steps into his cell.
“Do you know,” Tony asks before Loki even knows he is there, “what the Greeks called Thor? Do you know what the world called me?”
“Ares,” Loki whispers.
“Merchant of Death,” Tony says.
(I’ve held your life in my hands, and it shone brighter than the stars.)
“You know, I think I knew. Subconsciously, the whole time, I think I knew. I mean, ‘Lori Silverton,’ really? It’s like you wanted me to figure it out.” (Perhaps he did. Perhaps, perhaps.)
Loki turns to face his priest, drinking him in (he looks well, recovered, more vital than ever, relief, relief, breathing again), though he cannot bring himself to look Tony in the eye. He does not want to know what Tony thinks of him now. (Stolen heart, a shard at a time. Love like a throat cut.)
“Then why did you not tell the others?” Loki finds his voice at last. “Why have you still not told them?”
“I’m selfish and I make bad choices. Ask anyone,” Tony retorts. And his grin is a mask. It does not say I am Loki Liesmith’s. In fact, it says nothing at all.
Loki turns his back on Tony. If there is a dagger to be plunged into his flesh, he does not wish to watch it. He forces himself to breathe, to count the magic runes he knows, to hold his trembling hands still. (Puny god, quivering in the face of a mortal. How Hulk would laugh his terrifying laugh.)
It is quiet for so long that Loki thinks Tony has left. Then,
“When I was kidnapped by the Ten Rings, there was this man. Yinsen. I didn’t know it at the time, but all his family was dead. Wife, kids, parents… They were dead, and it was because of me. Because of my weapons. But Yinsen, he – he didn’t take revenge or, or… I don’t think he even hated me, the crazy bastard. He saved my life. He helped me escape. He gave his life for me. And I thought, I’m still alive, there has to be a reason. So I tried to do what Yinsen would want. Tried to be the kind of man who…”
Tony has Loki’s full attention now. He is riveted, awed, surprised again by this bright, burning boy. (Creation and destruction, quicksilver chaos. Avatar, priest, I am Tony Ironsmith’s.)
Tony is every inch the Man of Iron, his face shuttered, jaw tight. His hands move, distraction, a flash of rings on his fingers. He wears his Midgardian (Armani) suit as if it, too, is armor. “Thor was the God of War, and I was the Merchant of Death, but we both got another shot at it. How about you, Loki? You want another shot?”
“Yinsen,” Loki says, and now, now he meets Tony’s eyes. (We may not save this world, but we’ll sure as Hel avenge it. (I am T(L)o(ki)ny Iron(Lie)smith’s.) I’m still alive, there has to be a reason. (What’s the matter, silver tongue turned to lead?) (S)he is falling, (time) (s)he is fading, Tony won’t (die) fade, not with Hel’s kiss (blessing) on his brow. Tony (the) won’t (space) let (between) me (stars) fall.)
Tony steps over the line of ash at the door. He crosses to Loki. Touches his shoulder.
“Heimdall is watching,” Loki murmurs.
“Let ‘em look,” Tony replies. Standing on tiptoe, he seals their lips in a kiss.
He does nothing else. Just the kiss. That is all. Tony kisses Loki, and Loki kisses back, pulling the smaller man to his chest.
“Mmm, think I could get to like you being bigger than me,” Tony shivers. “But there’s only one way to find out.”
With that, Tony leaves, striding swiftly out the door of Loki’s cell. “Tell Mab to stop by the tower next time you see her. She’s still an Avenger.”
“Iron Man, Hawkeye needs air support! Move!”
“Dammit, Hawk! Stop jumping off things! I won’t make it in time, Cap. Thor?”
“I shall try!”
“Jesus Christ!” Clint yelps as he is snatched out of the air. “Cold hands, cold hands!”
“Wrong deity,” Loki smirks down at the archer. She is in her female form, clad in the armor Tony made for her, the Crown of Night resting lightly on her hair.
“Majesty, you have returned!”
“Yeah, great to see you, Cold Iron, even if your hands are freezing my nipples off through my shirt. Thanks for the save.”
“Snowflake pretty blue.”
“You couldn’t have waited another week, Cold Iron? Now I’ve lost the pool to Pepper.”
Tony says nothing. Not until they have dispatched the last of their foes and returned to Avengers Tower. There, in the privacy of Tony’s master suite, Loki shifts into his male form, and further into his Jötunn form when Tony crosses his arms and taps his foot. (Ridiculous man.)
Then, finally, Tony places his arms around Loki and whispers, “Welcome home.”