Three months since the diplomatic dinner and Tony’s world had been all set to change. That night he’d been prepared to be ripped out of his superhero role, to split his life down the middle and merge past and present into something new. Hell, after all the promises they’d made, after everything Loki had done to get back to him, there couldn’t have been any other outcome. Or so he’d thought.
Three months and nothing had changed. Not really.
“I’ve got direct line of sight on—okay, does anyone else think he looks like my Mark II wearing green curtains?”
“Don’t knock curtain-chic,” Natasha said over the comms. “It’s making a comeback. I like him already.”
“The way to your heart is through soft furnishings? Here I’ve been bribing you with alcohol and manicure sets.”
“You’ve been getting places with those, Tony. Don’t stop now.”
“Where’s he getting?” Clint asked, interested.
Steve sighed heavily into his mic, just so that everyone was extra aware that he disapproved of the inappropriate use of the comm system.
“Can we please just focus on the mission?” he asked, but his heart wasn’t in it. Calling it a mission was a little over the top. It was guard duty, plain and simple. Grunt work, if it wasn’t for the importance of their target.
They’d been flying lazy circles in the cloaked jet, with Tony covering their blind spots in his suit for the last two hours. Thor was down there in an official capacity, which mostly included leaning on the wall and eating the foot-long meatball sub Tony had generously delivered to him before the meeting.
In business terms, Victor von Doom was a shark. But he was also the absolute ruler of a little nation named Latveria, and while that meant he was owed a little face-time with Loki, it also meant he was way down the list of important people. Something about the guy’s tricked-out suit of armour and flashy gesticulations told Tony that wouldn’t always be the case.
So there they stood in the enclosed courtyard of a temporary Asgardian embassy, with Doom openly flirting with Loki. Tony wished he was exaggerating. Good business relations and political manoeuvring came with a certain amount of flattery and praise, but this was going a little too far. There had been an arm-touch. Even Clint had whistled at the daring of that one.
Worse, Loki wasn’t doing anything. Hell, he was smiling at him. At one point he actually laughed, the kind of laugh Tony had categorised as ‘I didn’t mean to do that but your clever wit surprised me’ and that was it after that. Tony hated Victor von Doom and nothing would change his mind.
Feeling jealous wasn’t really something Tony handled well. It reminded him of his suppressed tantrum when Loki and Natasha had buddied up in Winterheart. God, that felt like decades ago. Lifetimes ago. The biggest thing he’d had to worry about then was the distance to the nearest bathroom, and whether Loki was going to ever descend from the west wing to glower at him. Simple days. Why had politics taken over so much of what was supposed to be their sickening little happily ever after? Tony had been fully prepared to scoff at their ridiculous amount of perfect happiness. Instead it was meetings, briefings, airports, distance.
Half a mile below, Loki nodded in acknowledgement as Doom gave a shallow bow over one arm. Turning on one polished metal heel, Latveria’s own had decided it was time to leave. About time.
Reducing his magnified view so that he could see the entire courtyard, Tony hovered over the scene in cloaked mode and thought about whether or not he’d be on duty that night. If Loki’s schedule continued in the same vein it had for the last three months, he’d probably be eating alone anyway. Their schedules were often at odds with each other, given how busy they were, but it made sense to put his hand up for whatever new mission was on the table this time. The other option was sitting at the tower tinkering with JARVIS’s new body, which was honestly all tinkered out.
Tony was so lost in his grumbling spiral of thoughts that he almost missed the moment Doom spun around from his departing path out of the courtyard, shooting a barrage of yellow light directly at Loki’s armoured back.
Before anyone could react, before Thor so much as blink, Loki had sidestepped the blast and shot Doom so full of ice he’d be coughing cubes for the next week. But he didn’t shift his skin to blue, as he sometimes did when he’d been caught off guard and forced to use the ice. Tony descended so hard the pavers cracked beneath his boots as he landed, letting the light-refracting shields dissolve to reveal his armour. Diplomatic immunity be damned—shooting a man in the back was just dirty.
But Loki was smiling thinly at his attacker and Doom was laughing like an old friend, pushing ice off his arms and legs with the ease of someone who had more strength up their sleeve than previously assessed. Loki obligingly tapped his staff against a particularly stubborn knob of ice at his knee, shattering it with ease.
“As expected of such a warrior,” Doom mused, echoing slightly behind his helmet. “Speaking softly and carrying a big stick. I approve, king of winter. You are no fool. Doom can respect that kind of strength.” Snapping his cape slightly to dislodge some of the ice, he turned slightly as Tony approached. There was no way he could miss the fully-charged glow of the chest RT.
“Iron Man. Impressive cloaking. My sensors did not pick up your presence nearby.”
“I’m slippery like that.” He turned to Loki, who was still wearing the unfazed smile of someone who took random attacks in his stride. It was only when he returned Tony’s questioning look with a steely glance that Tony realised all the laughter and flattery had been its own kind of battlefield. Loki had obviously won, but it didn’t change the fact that he’d had to resort to physical retaliation. “Could you at least pretend to be in danger so I get to shoot someone?”
“I’ll take it under consideration,” Loki replied dryly. “However, I believe Victor and I are finished for the day.” His tone contained enough polite steel that it was obvious that Victor’s opinion didn’t count. “Should I ever find myself in Latveria, I trust your welcome there will be significantly warmer.”
“Of course, Ambassador. A small nation we might be, but one that looks after its allies. Do consider my offer.” Doom assessed Tony’s suit once more, then swept his cape aside as he headed for the door. “A good day to you also, Mr Stark,” he threw over his shoulder as he left.
“A safe journey home to you,” Loki murmured as the doors closed, “you blustering, scheming can of desperation.” At Tony’s reverberating snort, his eyes thawed into something like amusement. “You laugh now, but that one will be trouble for us one day.”
“Did he proposition you?” Tony asked, getting right to the point. He pulled his helmet off in time to see Loki arch an eyebrow.
“In a manner of speaking. He believed Thor was present as Asgard’s heir to watch me and my dealings. Asking the usual questions, he surmised I was…” Loki seemed to search for the right word. “Ambitious.”
With a keen ear for what Loki wasn’t saying, Thor barked a short laugh as he approached.
“If I could step down for you, it surely would have happened already.” He shrugged broadly, shaking his head. “What more could some metal-plated fool offer you?”
Amused, Tony put a hand over his armoured heart, trying his best to look wounded.
“As a fellow metal-plated fool, I can say with honesty that I’m the clear choice over Doom. I have a cool light-up function and everything.” When Loki’s mouth softened out of his frown, Tony added, “Plus, my repulsors are sixty percent more flirtatious than that nuclear-powered tuna can’s.”
Glancing between them both, Loki shook his head and vanished his staff. Clapping a hand to the back of Thor’s neck and the other to Tony’s metal hip, he pulled them both in against him for a bruising half-hug. Well, it would have been. It sure looked painful for Thor.
“Between my apathetic brother and my absentee lover,” Loki declared, “surely I want for nothing.”
“Now wait a minute there,” Tony protested. “I’m the absentee in this relationship?”
“Apathy!” exclaimed Thor, riding over anything else Tony might have said. “’Tis space you asked for and control over all things, Loki. I merely delivered.”
Loki’s eyes gleamed, vivid green and mischievous in the afternoon sunlight. Slowly, Thor began to scowl.
“A king yourself and an ambassador to worlds, yet I’d still like to rip out your hair sometimes,” he said heavily, crossing his arms. He actually looked a little upset. “Don’t tease me. I can scarcely tell when you’re doing it anymore.”
The curl of Loki’s mouth was so genuinely fond that Tony almost forgot to be alarmed by his own accusation, which was flat-out lies anyway. Loki in a good mood was a minefield of verbal combat sometimes, always poking and jabbing at weird weak spots Tony didn’t know he had. Maybe it was just Loki’s way of inviting a talk about how, yeah, they rarely got to see each other. If only there was time for even that much discussion.
Punctuating his thoughts, Tony’s helmet abruptly sang a song of incoming trouble. The comms channel opened again for Steve’s tinny voice to relay a distress signal out on the river. Something with metal tentacles attacking a domestic vessel. Nothing good ever came from tentacles.
“Be right up,” Tony said into the base of his helmet, lifting it to shove back on his head. Thor glanced between the uncloaked quinjet and Loki, who waved him along toward what was probably going to be a weird fight. Smiling with surprised pleasure, Thor whipped Mjölnir out and took to the sky so fast a gust of wind sent leaves skittering up against Tony’s suit. He turned to Loki. “How long since you last let him off the leash?”
“He is yet to realise there is no leash,” Loki replied with a shake of his head. “Aren’t you going to join them?”
“Depends. How free is your afternoon?”
“So come with me. Stretch the legs a little. Fight a metal sea monster with the Avengers.” Tony popped his faceplate up and smiled. “Then we can order three kinds of take-out and lock ourselves in for the night.” He held out his arms. “I’ll fly us.”
“You almost had me,” Loki replied. “But I’d sooner sit through another meeting with von Doom than fly gracelessly attached to your suit. Go: fight your battles. I’ll be at the tower tonight, most likely. Keep yourself safe.”
“Don’t I always?”
Loki levelled him a flat look that said volumes.
Tony wisely fired his boots to raise him a productive foot or two—really, leaving Loki for a fight wasn’t overly tempting—and was about to slam down his faceplate and fly when Loki dragged him down and kissed him hard, effectively shutting off his language centres and just about everything else. It was almost criminally embarrassing just how much Tony had missed that brutally hungry mouth. Loki wasn’t publicly demonstrative at the best of times, but in public was where they saw each other the most lately. A kiss here, a skin-to-skin touch there, it was stoking a fire that was frankly getting a little out of control. But, life was life. Commitments. Responsibility.
Given Tony’s lifespan extension, there would be time later. It made the murky future seem brighter, even if it made the present frustrating.
“Scream if you need me,” Loki said, pushing his faceplate down. Through the digital glow of the visor his face looked a little drawn. He searched the artificial blue like he was seeking something familiar, but he didn’t say anything further.
“Give me some credit. Obadiah caught me off guard. I’m not that trusting anymore.”
Loki glanced away, letting out a small breath.
“Yes. Good luck.”
Tony flew for the sky, waiting until he was two miles out before wondering why Loki had sounded so worried. He was an Avenger, and the Avengers were unstoppable.
Well, most of the time.
“In my defence, none of us knew it had a ninth tentacle. People are supposed to respect the balance of biology. God, I hate mad scientists.”
Natasha frowned down at him. It was actually more of a beautiful pout, really; Tony’s angle beneath her meant gravity pulled her lips into a rosebud of red disapproval and concern. Tony managed to poke one index finger into the plush cushion of her lower lip before she caught his hand and squeezed it. The kiss she pressed to his knuckles was an apology for not realising in time. Psht. Tony knew the score better than most. So what if it had been a while since he’d taken a decent injury?
“What’s the damage?” Steve’s eyes were dark blue with, presumably, a lot of guilt. “Sorry, Tony. I didn’t think its overall strength could crumple the chest of the suit like that.”
“If anyone should have noticed, it’s me,” Tony said, blinking at the ceiling of his bedroom. “I’m the one with all the sensors. Besides, it’s only a couple of bruised ribs, according to JARVIS. Child’s play. I’ve had worse.”
“Loki is going to freeze our asses to the wall,” Natasha said plainly, tucking Tony’s hand down against Egyptian cotton sheets. “It doesn’t matter whose fault it was.”
Watching her shadowed gaze drop to the crisp white sheets beneath his hand, Tony wondered if she’d been avoiding Loki this entire time because of him. His almost-death, her perceived lack of backup. Their relationship had been twin-like and magnetically repelling at the same time, leaving Natasha and Loki staring at each other across some strange gulf of shared dislike and brutal connection. Had she avoided Loki because she thought he’d blame her somehow for Obadiah’s attack?
To Tony, it seemed like bullshit. That didn’t make it untrue, though. Issues upon issues. All he knew was that she’d been purposely absent the night Loki had returned, and while he knew Natasha had a lot of respect and empathy for Loki, they were never going to be the kind of friends that sought each other out. Not after the misery of last time.
“Where is Loki, anyway?” Steve asked, glancing around the room like he might be hiding behind the dresser. “Didn’t you say he’d be back here?”
“Embassy stuff, probably,” Tony said, grunting as a burst of pain in his chest stilled any movement. “Were the remains of the octobot put in the workshop? I want to pull it apart tomorrow.”
“It’s down there, but I don’t think you should be moving a whole lot with that injury.” Tony waved Steve off.
“I’ll be healed inside of two days,” he said, bracing his palms on the bed to push himself up against the pillows. It hurt like hell, but lying flat on his back just wasn’t a good vantage point when trying to argue with Steve. “And Loki isn’t going to freeze anyone just because I took a hit. You know, you two never cared this much about my wellbeing before Loki came back. Don’t think I don’t see how it is.”
Steve frowned, scrubbing a hand through his hair.
“Hey, I’ve always cared,” he said, with heartfelt sincerity. “It’s Natasha who thinks Loki is going to murder us all.”
“Oh sure, throw me under the bus,” Natasha muttered, flashing Steve an unfriendly look. “But it’s not a stretch to think that Loki isn’t going to take your first real injury since his return very well.” She gave him a pointed look. “After all, he is the one who nearly killed himself three times to save you.”
“Wow,” Steve said, impressed. “So Tony’s always been accident-prone?”
“Shut up,” Tony said, “and leave me to wallow in my horrible injury. Can I get a coffee in here?”
Like the traitorous cowards they were, they both took the request as their convenient escape. As if Loki was some kind of bogeyman incapable of rational thought—he knew better than most that when Tony wanted to take a stupid risk there was just no stopping him. Like flying headfirst down to the main processor of a robotic tentacle monster before properly counting how many arms it had. Probably not one of his smarter ideas.
It did get him thinking about Natasha’s words though. If Tony was the reckless one, Loki was just as bad. Who stuck their life on the line three times for anyone, let alone a prisoner who just so happened to turn into the love of his life? Exaggeration? Maybe. Lately, maybe. They were still refusing to discuss the whole engagement idea, and neither of them had put a ring on it. Tony’s virtue was truly in tatters. There was an amusing thought.
Half a cup of coffee later, Tony was thinking about what might be on the news when the bedroom door opened, letting in golden light from the hallway. Tony whistled at the unfamiliar silhouette as Loki shut the door.
“I love the incognito look. Very Bond villain.” Between the tailored black suit, the ponytail at the nape of his neck and the dark blue dress shirt, Loki looked every inch the sinister businessman. Or professional assassin. “All you need is an enormous tattoo peeking out from under that shirt. Did you have trouble getting in?”
Loki scoffed, vanishing his suit jacket and unbuttoning his cuffs, rolling them up to expose his scarred forearms. The tie in his hair went next, letting the thick mess of black sit heavily across his shoulders and down his back. Not exactly frost giant casual, but pretty close for the quasi-civilised world of Manhattan.
“Trouble getting out, more like. Given the opportunity, I do believe SHIELD would attempt to lock me in that embassy until every world leader has had their fill of me.” Loki waved at Tony’s chest. “Let me see.”
“So forward,” Tony commented, tugging up his t-shirt. The purpling side of his ribcage hadn’t been bound with anything, which left the swelling injuries looking a whole lot worse than they were. “Just don’t make me laugh or sneeze for the next couple of days.”
Sitting on the edge of the bed, Loki ran a light fingertip around the furthest edge of the bruising. There was a strange mix of pained frustration in his expression, but he didn’t bother reminding Tony of why he’d taken a stupid risk. Actually, he got the impression that his injury wasn’t causing that look.
“What use are the talents of a sorcerer who cannot even heal a simple injury?” Loki’s mouth twisted. “Mist to obscure one’s sight, bolts of magic to piece even the toughest armour, ice enough to cover a city and I cannot so much as erase a bruise. Nor do I have the time to spend here while you recover, with ten other meetings all vying for importance.” He exhaled quietly, fingers sweeping over to cage the arc reactor’s light. “It was…easier, before. I was always there. Now there are no nightly circuits of the castle to ensure all are where they should be. This world is too unpredictable, too large for me to control.”
Tony reached up, pushing the weight of Loki’s hair back over his shoulder.
“This is all a little heavy for a bit of bruising.” He covered the hand over his reactor, snuffing out the last of the pale blue light. “Are you trying to tell me you actually miss Winterheart?”
Loki’s expression, so open and melancholy a moment ago, shut down completely.
“Don’t be foolish.” Ouch. Loki turned his attention to the other side of the bedroom, eyes fixed on some strange middle distance. “Hescamar. Come.”
“Not that asshole,” Tony groaned as the air split apart, opening to reveal a gaping hole in some burning abyss. Hescamar flew through it on a gust of smoke-scented wind, beating his wings to land on Loki’s forearm. The clutch of those claws had to be painful, but he didn’t make a sound. “Where’ve you been? Bastardising more classics?”
“Busy and important,” the raven replied. “Hescamar is everywhere and nowhere. Killing time and killing boredom. Much like our prince here. Freedom is ash and—”
“Heal his injury, buzzard,” Loki grated, pointedly avoiding Tony’s gaze. “Be useful for once. There’s time to be a thorn in my side later.”
“No shame in it,” Hescamar croaked. “Can’t be everything, little prince. Pride of Odin, ambassador, sorcerer, winterking, prince, brother, son, lover, prisoner. Still a prisoner, wears too many crowns, too many faces.” The raven opened its beak wide, then snapped it shut with a click. “Easier before.”
The blood left Loki’s face so fast Tony could actually see his lips bleach of colour, leaving nothing behind but shadows and the feverish green glitter of his eyes. Hescamar was unconcerned by the brutality of everything he’d just admitted on Loki’s behalf, hopping down to peck straight into Tony’s injured side.
“Gently, goddamnit.” Eyes watering as a spiralling sensation of heat and static electricity spilled out from the beak embedded between his ribs, Tony grit his teeth and waited for it to be over. It didn’t hurt, exactly, but the idea of just waiting out his injuries next time seemed more appealing. “I feel violated.”
“Let him work.” Loki still wasn’t looking at him, but his hand kept Tony pressed flat against the mattress with the kind of steely strength he rarely had a chance to unleash. Not since becoming the kind of overworked politician that hated his job—or whatever Hescamar had been talking about. Too many faces, too many crowns. How much pressure had Loki put on himself to do everything at once? Be everyone at once?
When the buzzing in his side receded after a few long seconds, Tony pushed the bird away and yanked his t-shirt down, sitting up so fast the movement left him blinking. Definitely healed, but with a surprising head rush he hadn’t expected.
“Ingrate,” Hescamar croaked, ruffling his feathers as he flew across to the chest of drawers on the other side of the room. Tony just ignored him, instead reaching out to turn Loki’s shoulders so he could look into his face properly.
Loki wouldn’t look him in the eye.
“What am I,” Loki started slowly, “that I would long for such a place? The site of my own personal hel, my prison?” He shook his head, a muscle twitching slightly in his jaw. “Hescamar forgets his place. You should not have had to—”
“I miss it too,” Tony broke in, sliding his legs over the edge of the bed until he sat against Loki’s side. There were faint red scratches on his arm from the raven’s claws. “God, I miss it. The quiet, the simple days, being out of the spotlight.”
“Seeing you,” Loki said, glaring out the balcony doors. “I could always find you. Listen for you. Watch you work at the forge. You were never far from me, even when I wanted nothing more than to never look upon your face again. Always hounding me for secrets, explanations, conversation, interaction in whatever manner you could find it.”
“You’re making me sound really annoying.”
“You were,” Loki said, but the corners of his lips tilted up slightly. “And I drank you in with an unquenchable thirst. Even when I wanted to escape the bright interest in your eyes, I stayed.” A pale hand slipped around Tony’s waist, tugging him in closer to Loki’s side. “Yes, I miss Winterheart. I miss—you, in Winterheart. The world was quieter then.”
It was a sad thought, but Tony couldn’t deny it was true. There was so much demand for them both and so little free time to do the things they wanted to. The Avengers, SHIELD, Loki’s duties as ambassador, the media, the world…it was easy to miss Winterheart, but those days were gone. More than two years gone. No sense in living in the past.
Across the room, Hescamar cackled his long, broken laugh.
“Prideful imbeciles. Think the world is on your shoulders. Grains of sand thinking themselves mountains.” Stretching out his full wingspan on the drawers, Hescamar’s feathers began to glow gold at the edges. “Let the thunderer take the weight of responsibility. Let Asgard’s forces defend for a time. Hescamar is at your service.”
It didn’t take Tony’s genius intellect to realise what Hescamar was offering them. But it was already too much revealed in too short a time, and Loki’s shoulders were hunched so deeply Tony could almost see the wolf pelt up around his ears, the shadow of horns on the wall. The bird might be right and the offer was a sweet one, but before Tony even got up from the bed he knew exactly how things would play out.
“You can’t go home again,” Tony quoted, walking to the dresser and shooing the raven off it. Snuffing out the gold light, Hescamar took wing to the air, his claws leaving deep grooves in the wood where he’d perched. Complete asshole. “Not tonight, anyway.”
Hescamar beat his wings hard, startled out of his usual portal escape. Instead, he hit the balcony glass doors and bounced off, cursing a blue streak in at least three different languages that hadn’t originated on Earth. He waddled across the floor like a stunned chicken until he was close enough to peck Loki in the shin.
Loki ignored whatever small injury the raven had caused, turning his head slightly to look at Tony with eyes cast in lamplight shadow.
“You miss it?”
Thinking about it, Tony rubbed his thumb across the gouges in the wood and sighed.
“I miss good company and a place to escape the world. Winterheart was that for me.” Letting his hand slide away from the dresser, he approached Loki, who watched him with quiet calculation. “Plus I met the most fascinating guy there. He was tall and dark, and he scared the absolute shit out of me when we first met.”
Loki received him with careful hands as Tony knelt on either side of his hips, knees pressing into the mattress. One short tug left him squarely in the lap of a blank-faced sorcerer prince—one who was eyeing the slope of his collarbone where it disappeared beneath his t-shirt. That was what Tony liked to see.
“You hid that fear well,” Loki said quietly, darting him a quick glance. “I recall that even then I sensed you’d been at the mercy of others before.” His warm lips touched the side of Tony’s neck, brushing there like moth’s wings. “It was the defiance that swayed me. All that fear…and you looked me straight in the eye and dared me to keep you.”
At the first shudder beneath him Tony thought that Loki was just shaking off the old memories—maybe trying to forget those old, angry days. But the forehead dipped against his shoulder pushed back slightly as something came between them. Thick, curving horns of ivory bled into view, sweeping back into black hair. The skin beneath Tony’s hands turned ice cold. Loki’s sigh was oddly warm as always, but when he lifted his head Tony couldn’t begrudge him the goosebumps he’d caused.
“Kinda glad you did,” Tony said, pressing his palm to the cool blue curve of Loki’s jaw. Raised lines followed like trails on a map, disappearing beneath his shirt to territory Tony had missed for the last few weeks. “Keep me, I mean.”
“Make no mistake, Tony Stark,” Loki said, his voice every bit as broken and hoarse as it had been in the echoing halls of Winterheart. “It was you who kept me. Sane, alive, interested, arrested, hopeful and heartened. You kept me, when I wished for nothing more than to be able to throw myself away and forget.”
“Well, now you’re making me sound like some kind of hero.” Leaning forward, Tony kissed his cold lips, pushing him down to recline against the mattress. He kept his mouth barely an inch from the sharp teeth revealed by Loki’s smile when he whispered, “Keep going.”
Loki graciously obliged, but not in words. His mouth remained occupied by other things, which in all fairness Tony couldn’t really be mad about. Especially not when clawed fingers tugged at his waist and he saw his belt go sailing halfway across the room. He barely noticed the grumble and flash of light as Hescamar grudgingly made himself scarce.
“JARVIS, lock the door,” Tony managed to say as warm breath touched his throat. “No disruptions unless it involves—” he felt claws scratch lightly over his hips, “—okay, no disruptions at all. Please blast the air conditioning and dim the lights to twenty percent.”
JARVIS actioned his requests a moment later, leaving Loki frowning curiously in the semi-darkness, halfway between swapping their positions on the bed and glancing up at the vents now blowing cool air down on them both.
“It’s not the same as a castle draught,” Loki said, kneeling over him as his shirt burned away in a shine of gold and green light, “but I enjoy the attempt at recreating the scene. What a shame we have no fireplace. Shall I summon a snowstorm?”
“And let everyone know what we’re doing?” Tony’s voice was muffled as Loki pulled his t-shirt off over his head. “Absolutely.”
“Next time,” Loki promised, pulling Tony’s hands forward and placing them on the waist of his—honestly, perfectly tailored—suit pants. “When I have more patience.”
As far as arguments against went, it was a pretty good one. Tony had him wearing nothing but a lot of cool blue skin inside of ten seconds, and many, many square inches of it pressed against him in fifteen. Loki sank against him easily, not minding his weight quite as much now that Tony was strong enough to bear it. Lifting his hips a little, he heard the click of claws against the snap of his jeans, then like some magician’s trick they were sent flying after his belt a moment later. The look in Loki’s shadowed red eyes was equal parts hungry and curious.
“You prefer me like this. Cold, blue, minding my claws and horns as I undress you.” Splaying his fingers, Loki ran his hand down in a wide, slow line from the side of Tony’s neck, over his chest and around the edge of the reactor, pebbling his nipple as it fell beneath the cold trail he was mapping on Tony’s skin.
Breath caught in the back of his throat, Tony watched as Loki dipped his head, his mouth shockingly warm on his skin after the swath of cold. Frost giant physiology was something else, that was for sure. Loki followed the path his hand had taken until he was forced to move down the bed, his chin pillowed on the warm stretch of skin just below Tony’s navel. Naturally, that was where Loki decided to take a break, leaving a pretty insistent part of his anatomy straining against the smooth column of his neck. Shaking off the lusty haze that had descended, Tony realised he was waiting for a reply. Like it had actually been a question.
“I know it makes it a little harder for you,” Tony admitted, running a fingertip down the edge of a horn, circling the base where ivory became blue. Loki’s eyes slid shut as he listened. “But I also know you don’t quite come alive for me until you’ve thrown off that magic face of yours. If you haven’t noticed, I take a lot of pride in my work.” Running a light fingertip along the edge of Loki’s eyebrow, he said, “You know, you don’t seem to mind my scars and the light punched into my sternum, but I catch you looking at my eyes sometimes.”
Loki’s eyes opened, his brows twitching together slightly. The deep red of his gaze was such a change from the green Tony had seen in the last couple of weeks, but it gave him memories of wounded safety and old power. And snow. Snow and stone and firelight. Those red eyes were home.
Maybe his own weren’t, anymore.
“I’m far used to my words leaving marks, not my deeds.” Pushing himself up on his forearms, Loki kissed Tony’s wrist and slid up his body until his elbows pressed into the mattress at Tony’s shoulders. The lips that brushed his eyelids were heartbreakingly gentle, somehow more meaningful now that Tony possessed his newfound durability and strength. “Sometimes I wonder if you’ll despise me one day, for giving you this lifespan. If you’ll look at your changed eyes in the mirror and wish I’d done nothing. Is that strange to you?”
Tony looked up at Loki, watching the play of emotions that crossed his face. They were small, hidden, but he sought them out with his golden eyes, the ones Loki wondered if he regretted receiving. How was he supposed to regret having his life saved?
Leaning up, Tony kissed him deeply, inhaling a long breath of air through his nose as Loki opened his mouth to allow him in, a long-fingered hand planting in the pillow beside Tony’s head for leverage. Loki smelled like soap and snow and leather, though he hadn’t worn any in the last hour. It clung to his hair and shoulders, winter and oiled hide. Beneath it was cold skin and a hot mouth, one Tony sought with the kind of abandon he hadn’t let himself even think about in the last fortnight.
“There’s time for regrets later,” Tony said, not trying to disguise the rasp in his voice. Loki’s hips were rolling down against his, sinuous and slow. “But if you think I’m going to hate you for saving my life, you’re going to be waiting a damn long time.”
“We have time,” Loki said against his mouth, and his words were a promise. “For now, Tony Stark, I’d much like it if you would put your hands to good use.” His mouth curled slightly. “My claws do make things difficult.”
It never failed to feel like the first time with Loki. Sure, Tony had put his hands and his mouth all over him, kissing pale raised lines and running calloused fingertips over smooth blue skin, feeling the chill it radiated raise goosebumps on his arms and chest. Sure, he knew what that skin tasted like, from the curve of his neck to the bend of his knee. But every time he watched Loki’s eyes slide shut in surprised pleasure, every time his stomach jumped at the brush of his fingers, it felt new. It was easy to give into the urge to explore, feeling Loki react like his skin hadn’t grown used to him yet. That frost giant skin hadn’t been touched nearly as often as it should have been, but Tony had years upon years to make up for that.
Not that Loki simply allowed him free rein, docile and willing against him. Those days had ended inside spelled walls and the illusion of a prison. No, there were red trails from the light use of claws running their own lines over Tony’s skin, and soft bruises marking Loki’s favourite spots to linger upon and taste. The strength in his hands was put to perfect use, lifting hips and pressing arms flat to the mattress, tugging Tony over to sit astride him as urgency grew and frost splintered out across the sheets, unheeded and instinctive as they moved together, touching and separating in a rapid drum-beat as Loki’s hands twitched toward Tony and away, hips moving in a desperate reach as the need proved too much.
It did feel like the first time when Loki’s head snapped back against the pillows, his hands gripping Tony’s waist and holding him there as frost drew lacework webs along his sides; tiny, fragile things that melted a moment after his warmth sank into them. It was a concession of his power, a trusting slip of control that they both acknowledged without so much as a shared glance. Instead, Loki simply flung the moisture from his claws as Tony put his hot face against the column of Loki’s neck, heaving a sigh that seemed to come from miles deep inside him.
For a moment they just existed there in the silence, breathing against each other with lazy fingers tangled in long hair and pressed to warm skin. It was as close to absolute peace as Tony had encountered in months.
When morning came, Loki was going to continue his ongoing procession of meetings and trips around the world, his last minute flights and extended absences. It meant something to try to make every moment count, sure, but…
“Call it the afterglow, or two weeks of pent-up sexual frustration spent inside of half an hour,” Tony murmured to the cold pulse beating against the corner of his mouth, “but that was so good that I don’t think I like the idea of letting you out of this bedroom for the next five days.”
“Such a shame,” Loki said, his face tipped to the dimmed overhead lights. The air conditioning stirred his hair, ticking against Tony’s nose and threatening to make him sneeze. “I was hoping to travel.”
Tony’s eyes sprang fully open.
“Hescamar may have suggested a way to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.” Drawing away from Tony so he could meet his gaze, Loki smiled faintly. “Would it not serve the Avengers well to have an emergency base of operations? Perhaps one that only admitted those who were worthy of its barrier?”
Tony stared at him just long enough that Loki cleared his throat modestly and continued, his eyes glittering with laughter.
“Perhaps a keep of ice and snow, patrolled by wolves so savage they can bite through iron and steel. After all, any land touched by the power of the casket does, by rights, belong to me. Odin certainly has no use for it.” A long-fingered hand drew idle, trailing lines down Tony’s back. “Of course, we would need to prepare it—an endeavour that could take weeks even if plans ran smoothly. Thor would take care of my diplomatic affairs with SHIELD, but…” he slid Tony a careful glance, “it would somewhat delay our plans. Three worlds hold their breath, waiting for indication of our intent one way or another.”
Right. The wedding. Weddings, plural, since for some reason the treaties and laws they’d been developing between Asgard, Earth and Jotunheim had yet to include the time-honoured rule of ‘what I say, goes’, which Tony found a lot of personal value in. Three months ago it would have been an exciting media opportunity. These days, Tony found he just didn’t want to share anymore. The rest of the world saw more of Loki than he did.
“Remind me why we need to make a big spectacle of it?”
“We don’t,” Loki said candidly. “But you are the one who made the proposal in the first place.”
“I expected you to ignore me,” Tony countered. “Anyone else would have.”
And that was probably a little too self-deprecating, bordering on self-pitying judging by Loki’s abrupt silence. Definitely a little too honest. Tony was still thinking of a fast patch-up to move on with the conversation when Loki’s chest swelled on a deep breath.
“Let me be clear: with or without paper, or ceremony, or the hoops these deluges of political morons wish us to jump through, you have me. You have Winterheart. You even have Asgard, by virtue of the apple’s effect on you.” Shifting onto his side, Loki pushed Tony back so their eyes could meet. “But to be given the chance to walk among my people, Jotun and Asgardian alike, and tell them none may touch you? I would wait an age for that. I don’t care how, or when. I want you, Tony Stark. Let me keep you.”
“I thought I was the one keeping you,” Tony said, clearing his throat against a sudden constriction. “If we’re…if we’re going to talk details here. But, obviously, yeah. Tomorrow, or twenty years from now, it doesn’t matter to me. Legalities aren’t going to change a thing. You’ve got me.”
Loki smiled, allowing a hint of fang to show.
“Good,” he said simply, sitting up in a fluid motion. Unfortunately, one of his horns had punched through the pillow he used and it came with him, dangling off one ivory point like a plump flag of surrender. “Damn it. Get this off me.”
Tony was laughing too hard to comply. It earned him a sound beating with the pillow once Loki was able to detach it himself, but the mouthful of latex filling was worth it to see the irritated flush of dark blue dusting Loki’s cheeks. It was surprisingly great to know he could still lose all his dignity in under thirty seconds.
“Okay, okay,” Tony said eventually, peering out from behind his own pillow shield. “I’m sorry for laughing at your coat-hook moment. You’re a fearsome frost giant king and I tremble before you.”
“No, the trembling happened fifteen minutes ago,” Loki retorted, flattening his palms to Tony’s chest. “But yes, I am indeed fearsome. Now get dressed before I hang you on my horns. We have travel arrangements to make.” The flash of magic that speared out from Loki’s hands left Tony tingling and clean of sweat and sex from head to toe. Magic shower, check. Someone was in a hurry.
“We’re going right now?”
“Clint and Natasha are going to murder us.”
That gave Loki some pause, but ultimately he shook his head and continued reaching for his clothes.
“Captain Rogers would never spare three Avengers for as long as it would take to cement all our plans. Let them rail at him instead.” Raking his hair back over his shoulders, Loki gave a minute shrug. “I’d prefer to have you to myself a while.”
It was hard to argue with that kind of talk, and he did have a point, Tony decided as he grabbed his jeans and pulled them on, jumping slightly. They were getting a little tight in the ass, but from Loki’s interested glance that was clearly a tick in the plus column. Natasha would absolutely understand, but Clint was going to throw a fit over it and all the customised bows in the world weren’t going to cheer him up. It left Tony with a small guilty pang as he finished dressing, glancing around the room with the realisation that this time he actually had a chance to pack a bag.
“Go talk to Steve,” Tony suggested. “Get my clearance out of here for a while and I’ll pack some things for you to stuff in your magical luggage compartment.”
“Remember that your devices won’t work there,” Loki warned him, but turned for the door in a few long strides. “We’ll need my mother’s expertise to change those wards, and I don’t anticipate her travelling out of the realm simply so you can text Colonel Rhodes.” He was out the door while Tony was still thinking of ways to get around the magical interference. Their game of Words with Friends was just starting to heat up.
“Sir, shall I inform Pepper of your impending leave of absence? She will undoubtedly be interested in your return to Winterheart. Hearing it via the grapevine will earn you her ire, I’m sure.”
“Did I ever tell you how weird I find your relationship with her?”
“Several times, sir.”
“Yeah. Okay, do it.” Tony thought about it. “In fact, why don’t you take yourself over to her doorstep? That body of yours has been ready for weeks. Use it.”
JARVIS was silent for so long Tony thought he’d malfunctioned. Which, impossible.
“Thank you, sir. I believe Pepper will approve.”
“I still disapprove,” he said, feeling the need to grumble for appearances sake. “You handsome devil.”
The next half hour was spent jamming toiletries and clothes into a duffel bag at JARVIS’s suggestion. Sensible footwear and socks were included, plus a few thick sweaters that he wasn’t sure he’d ever worn. Hairbrush and comb were a must, along with nail scissors. Tiny things he’d wished for inside that enormous bedroom over two years ago.
Tony was just zipping the bag shut when it vanished beneath his hands. He looked up to see Loki leaning on the doorframe. Steve was looking over his shoulder, his expression resigned and a little bemused.
“Tomorrow morning,” Loki said dryly, “we depart. Your captain drives a hard bargain.”
“I just need time to prepare,” Steve protested, stepping around Loki to enter the room. “Tony and his suits are invaluable to the team. Not to mention you want Thor to start splitting his time between the Avengers and doing your job. I can make it happen, but I need more than five minutes’ notice.” He glanced at Tony and shrugged. “Sorry, Tony. It’s a lot to juggle at once.”
“Sounds fair.” Tony thought about it for a moment. “For the roster, pull Pepper in now and then to plug the gap I’ll leave on flight support. Her suit is built for extraction and defence, and she won’t admit it but she’s been dying to take it out. JARVIS will look after her.”
Steve looked startled. “That’s…actually not a bad idea.”
“Yeah, genius here, remember?” Tony was faintly gratified by the grudging smile that earned him. Giving up entirely, Steve exhaled a long sigh of defeat and just pulled him in for a hard hug.
“Don’t be gone too long, or I’m stealing Rhodes away from you.” Over Steve’s shoulder Tony saw Loki’s deep frown of hilarious jealousy. “Look after yourself.”
“Back at you, Sergeant Safety.”
“Captain,” Steve corrected on a sigh, shoving him away. “I’m not gonna miss that.” With one last hangdog look Steve left them both to their plans, probably disappearing to cry himself to sleep. Tony was selfish enough to hope so. Especially if he meant that crack about stealing Rhodey.
Loki shut the door with a click and stretched, long and lean and blue. His sigh was pure satisfaction as he approached Tony.
“At dawn, then.”
At dawn, Tony silently echoed, reaching out to pull Loki in close.
A return to Winterheart. Coming full circle like that, it was going to be interesting to see what time had changed. How they had changed. Maybe they could even rebuild the enormous hole in Loki’s bedchamber in the west wing—
“Obadiah,” Tony said suddenly, his head jerking up. “Obadiah’s suit. Is it all still there?”
Loki hesitated against him.
“The suit, yes, I imagine it’s still there,” he said carefully. “As for his remains, they went to the wolves. Given their rage over the kin he murdered, I would doubt we’ll ever find so much as a scrap of clothing.”
“Good.” Tony yawned. “I think I can use the suit’s arc reactor and wiring to create a localised power grid in the castle.”
He was still planning long after they retired to bed, running through ideas for ways to modernise the castle without changing any part of it in a visible way. The idea of installing an array of monitors and 3D imaging gear in the solar felt like blasphemy. There were other ways to augment the castle. Hundreds upon hundreds of ways.
Tony fell asleep still thinking about it.
Winterheart never failed to give him one.
Through the portal Hescamar made on the roof, the wind blew flakes of snow and the smell of winter. Inside it, Tony could see the black iron arch of the castle gates, still broken and bent inward from its last assault.
At his side, Loki was tense and silent, his hands disappearing behind the folds of his mantle. Old habits, different clothes. He wasn’t in rags anymore, but the length of green that hung over his black leather was a familiar sight.
“After you,” Tony said as the moment stretched. Loki blinked, his horns dipping slightly as he nodded. “Or I can go.”
“I’m fine.” The words were almost curt. Loki wasn’t fine. “The last time I stood in the shadow of those gates I saw them as my jailer.” His eyes narrowed in thought. “They look fragile, now. Shall we?”
Tony just grabbed Loki’s hand and stepped through the bird’s portal before Loki could think of a long story to tell that would help him procrastinate further. One strong yank hauled them both through it and into the swirling winter winds. Loki’s fingers clamped around his so tightly it was a wonder nothing broke. Apple powers. Amazing.
It wasn’t until Loki’s breath audibly caught in his throat that Tony realised the grip wasn’t for the abrupt entrance, but for what he saw as they crossed the worlds. His red eyes were bright in the bleached landscape, their colour lit only by the weak glare of sunlight through the clouds.
“Would you look at that,” Tony breathed, staring up at the castle through the twisted gates. “Holy shit.”
Ahead, down the long bridge of wood and stone, every window of the castle was blazing with lantern-light and candle flame. It turned the dark and dreary landscape into something comforting, something like a refuge and a home. The snow didn’t threaten them. The wolf eyes glittering in the woods weren’t hungry. The clawed branches didn’t snag their clothes or hair as they approached. Even the wind didn’t tear at them, but blew a soft whisper of the approaching snowstorm like a gentle warning, urging them toward the castle’s open doors.
“This is…” Loki ducked his head and turned away, visibly moved and trying desperately to mask it. “Whose doing is this?”
At their back, Hescamar just croaked a laugh and beat his wings, closing the portal and flying for the castle on a long glide of the air currents. Tony was still watching the dark wedge of his tail feathers when a throat was unceremoniously cleared a few feet ahead. Loki’s head jerked around in shock.
“You didn’t think,” Natasha said, stepping out of the shadow of a tree, dressed in a familiar blue dress, “that you could put one past me, did you?” Her long red hair was loose, whipping in the breeze around her. Her green eyes shone like jade when she smiled, crafty and smug and so, so happy to be back. Tony knew the feeling.
“Treachery,” Loki snarled softly, but Natasha’s smile only widened. “You’re the reason Rogers delayed us.”
“We,” said another voice, already snickering at his own cleverness. Clint Barton dropped out of a tree overhead, his bow slung over his shoulder as he landed with a heavy thump. “Hescamar blabbed faster than a strung-out snitch. Two week holiday, courtesy of Fury.” At Loki’s look of consternation, Clint shrugged and asked, “You really think we’d let you go home without us?”
“Home,” Loki repeated, sounding like he was reaching some kind of breaking point. “Home?”
Natasha lifted her skirt slightly as she walked through the snow toward them, showing black leather lace-up boots beneath the soaked hem of her dress. Her eyes were all for Loki, and for the first time since they’d all been reunited she looked at him with real warmth. Maybe it was the cold that brought it out in her.
“Face it, Loki. You made a family out of us.” She held out her arms slightly.
“That wasn’t me,” Loki said, glancing over at Tony and away again. But he reached out and pulled Natasha against him, long arms looping around her smaller frame and squeezing hard. “You conscienceless sneak. You must be family.”
Natasha just wheezed a laugh into his armour, beating a gentle fist against his back. Tony had to look away before he let it all get to him. Family? Yeah, maybe. United by a handful of spells, a snowstorm and a chance to make a change in lives that were meant for more than selfish, small-time gain. Winterheart had done a number on them all.
Tony didn’t jump as an arm slung around his waist, a head tipping to rest on his shoulder. Clint gestured grandly at the picture the landscape made around the glowing castle.
“Feels good to be back, man.”
“Yeah, it does.”
“You’re still five kinds of dead for trying to go without me.”
Tony was saved from trying to come up with a defence that wouldn’t implicate Loki too much when Natasha pulled away from their painful hug and grabbed his hand, tugging him down the snowy bank toward the gate. Reaching out for balance as much as anything else, Tony grabbed Loki’s hand as they skidded slightly down the slope.
“Come on. We worked through the night getting all those candles lit. Oh, and,” Natasha rummaged in a deep pocket of her skirt, “I found this in the ballroom.” She handed over an ancient-looking iron key.
Tony took it with careful hands.
“My key to the armoury,” he said, amazed. “Shit, I thought this thing was gone for good.” He stuffed it into his pocket before Loki could take it from him, earning a half-hearted glare.
“It’s yours,” Loki reminded him, using the back of one claw to brush a snowflake off Tony’s cheek. “As many things of mine are, now.”
“You always said I was greedy,” Tony said, catching the hand against his cheek, “but if you haven’t noticed, I gave you something of mine a while back. It was a little knocked around back then, didn’t do its job so well, but it worked.” He smiled. “Maybe not a fair trade, but it was all I had.”
“The trade was…more than fair,” Loki replied, and his body rippled with light.
Tony had a singular moment of confusion as the black armour and segments of gold and silver vanished from Loki’s body, revealing a naked blue torso covered only by a heavy grey wolf pelt thrown around his shoulders, held together by a toothed piece of leather. The mantle was gone, as was all of his finery. Instead he wore pants of dull hide, riding low across taut muscle scored with lines Tony could map with his eyes closed. It was Loki—Winterheart’s Loki, savage and furious in stature, just as he’d been on the first day.
“Never forget that this is what you knew first,” Loki said quietly, his voice rough with memory. “For I never will.”
Clint wolf-whistled somewhere near the gates, but it broke off with a wince as an impact sounded. Natasha.
Tony reached out and ran his hands down Loki’s bare forearms, letting his fingertips brush old scars—pale things, caused by claws digging at vambraces that wouldn’t come off. But they were gone now, and life moved on.
Winterheart was no-one’s prison anymore.
“Home, then?” Tony asked, tilting his chin at the gates leading into the castle’s embrace.
Loki sighed softly, but the clear red gaze that turned to the stone spires and dark wooden doors was rich with possibility, not lonely memory.
“Come on, I’m freezing my dick off out here,” Clint called, hopping from foot to foot and completely ruining the moment. Natasha grabbed his thigh and arm, ducking underneath to hoist him up into a fireman’s carry. With a straight spine and a screaming archer across her shoulders, Natasha began marching through the gates without a care in the world. Loki watched them go and—like it was the most natural thing in the world, he laughed.
“Yes,” he said finally. “We go home. Again.”
Following after the spy and her archer, they walked through the twisted gates toward the castle’s welcoming lights. Overhead, the clouds split just long enough for a shaft of pure sunlight to hit the bridge, marking their way.
It was a really long way to the doors.
“So,” Tony said casually, “are you going to carry me?”
Loki gave him an odd look.
“It’s technically a threshold, you know. I could call Natasha—”
And that, Tony decided as he was swung up into a wolf pelt and a face-full of black hair, was all the evidence of change anyone needed.
Three weddings waited for them on the outside. Three worlds. Media, appointments, meetings, villains, the government, suits to maintain and rosters to fill. The world waited.
“A prince and a king,” Loki muttered to himself, baffled. “Manipulated. Brazenly.”
Tony knew it could wait a little while longer.
They had a future to build, and it was going to be incredible.