He feels the ground crumbling beneath him, a whole building falling to its doom as it takes the suit down, the reactors firing up only to send him headfirst in a block of concrete. Tony swears and painfully ducks another one, chest screaming under the pressure of a caved-in armor and an arc reactor that’s been more painful than useful lately –so much so that he’s found himself going back to his old consideration of plugging it out.
His breathing is harsh and short, exhausted, and he can hear Steve scream at him to get the fuck out you fucking moron –and really, if Steve is swearing that much, it probably means Tony’s going to die here.
It’s not that he really feels suicidal. Well, yes he does, but not like he used to feel before, like his life wasn’t worth living, like he would be doing everyone a service by dying. Now it’s different. Tony is fifty nine and he has spent every fucking day going through hell and back since he was forty… twenty fucking years of having damn fireball in his chest, and that’s not his only problem. Villains everyday of the week, trust issues, alcoholism, self-esteem issues bigger than the empire state… Tony is just tired. He doesn’t feel like going on anymore and, frankly, that’s all there is to it.
Maybe if I’d had Maria….
But Maria never lived, Doom is dead, and Tony hasn’t seen Loki since then, not even once. He doesn’t know what she’s done with her life. It’s not like he’s asked Thor about her, after all. It’s weird, he supposes, that his last thoughts should be for her. It’s like an old wound you try your best to ignore for so long that you’re surprised when you look and there it is, all scared and as healed as it’s ever going to be.
Tony still tries to dodge the rocks thrown at him by the giant robot –he doesn’t even know whose it is anymore. All he knows is Steve is fighting his way to him, cursing and yelling and shrieking –and why wouldn’t he? It’s been twenty years and he’s barely changed, while all the others are gray at best, dying at worse.
“It’s alright mate,” Tony says over the com, half-shouting to make himself heard over the cracking on the line.
It’s all right.
Then another block of concrete slams into his helmet and he falls to the ground with a scream of pain, rubble covering him head to toes, and suddenly the HUD dies, and everything goes black around him.
He watches it with a detached eye, like it’s someone else looking through his eyes and it surprises him, because after the cave he’s always had a problem with enclosed space. He guesses that’s what ageing does to you, sometimes –you get rid of your old fears.
There’s something wet and warm leaking on his chest, around the dull pain in his stomach. He tries to move and realizes the pain comes from something rather large piercing him back to front. Ah. Looks like he’s really going out this time.
Maybe he should feel more panicked than that –he knows he would have, before. Honestly, right now, he’s just too tired to care –and if he’s to tell the truth, that was kind of the purpose, anyway.
Die on the battlefield and all that jazz, he supposes. Better than nothing, at any rate.
“At least you got to chose,” a voice sighs beside him. “Somewhat. You made yourself quite the coffin, I must say.”
She’s standing next to him in a dark green gown of shining satin, golden crown sitting regally on the long curtain of her hair… but it’s her eyes that get him, the same way they used to. Tony smiles, and he gets the feeling she sees it even through the armor, and even though she can only be an illusion.
“You haven’t aged a day,” he says.
“You aged quite a lot.”
“I thought you were the goddess of lies,” Tony pouts –yes, he still pouts. Age can’t solve everything.
“I like my lies to be believable,” Loki shoots back, and Tony smirks at her… it feels like old times. “Does this mean you’re not angry with me anymore?”
“I was never angry with you to begin with,” Tony says quietly. “I was angry with the world and you were the perfect scapegoat, because you weren’t being socially correct.” He tries to shrug, but it ends up looking more like a spasm. “Are you going to take me to the—ah—kingdom of the dead?”
“If you want me to,” Loki says, and she sits down next to him. “I could also let you go wherever it is atheists go, or take you to Asgard. We have really good apples over there. How would you feel about being forty again?”
Tony wants to say yes. After all, it’s quite tempting, to feel young again, to have Loki back –he didn’t realize how much he missed her before, but it’s come back to slap him in the face in the past minute.
“Would I get rid of the damn lamp in my sternum?”
He’s pretty sure he won’t survive another lifetime with it, anyway.
“I can’t guarantee it,” Loki says. “We do have excellent painkiller though.”
“Anything but pills,” Tony rasps.
He’s had enough of swallowing them by the handful ever since he came back from that freaking desert.
“I don’t think they would even understand the word. There is a catch, though. If you are to be given the gift of eternal life, you can’t remain on Midgard.”
Tony thinks about Steve then, left alone on earth, and for a split second he feels really guilty about this… but then, wasn’t he going to leave him anyway? He supposes, whether he’s alive or not shouldn’t make a big difference, but it does. He tries to ask, but he can’t –too much blood in his mouth. Thank goodness Loki has a way to guess what he means.
“You can contact the Captain, if you’d like. We’ll improvise from there.”
Tony manages the tiniest of nods and, before he knows it, the ground shifts, there is air in his ears and everything blurs together until he is standing in the sunshine in the middle of an orchard. He is forty again, the blue veins and age spots gone from his hands, no more pain in his joints, and the apple he is somehow munching on seems to act like a painkiller that works better than any kind of booze he’s ever tried. He supposes, if it doesn’t hurt anymore, he might even manage to get used to the stupidest bedlight ever. Maybe.
“Wow,” he says, impressed beyond any hope of pretending the contrary, “You’re actually quite powerful.”
“I always was,” Loki says. “I was merely toning it down for the mortals.”
“Modesty will kill you,” Tony states.
“You wish,” Loki retorts.
Tony smirks, and he’s almost afraid to look at her, because having that kind of conversation right after he kinda-sorta died is cliché enough, he really, really doesn’t want to smile at her on top of it. Really not. He almost does it anyway, to be honest, but he’s saved from his own stupidity by the instrument of fate –in this case, a voice that probably usually sounds really sweet, but is just now deafening Tony.
“LOKI! HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU TO STAY OUT OF MY GARDEN? I SWEAR, PRINCESS OR NOT, IF YOU’RE EATING ONE OF MY APPLES AGAIN I WILL….”
The woman in front of Tony is very tall, very blond and very, very red in the face… and also almost as puzzled as Tony to find out Loki is nowhere to be seen. For a moment, it looks like she’s going to forget her anger and go back where she came from, until Tony feels her gaze zero-in on the apple he’s still eating, and her skin goes four or five shades darker.
Tony lets out a string of curses as he runs out of the orchard, Loki’s laugh ringing in his ears the whole time. Scratch all that crap about missing her, he’s going to kill her.
As soon as he stops laughing.