Chapter 1: One
Movie makers, politicians, anyone who has to rely on the talents of others to meet their goals or rise to power will always tell you that it is in your own best interests to be sure your people are happy. Shows of appreciation-- or lack thereof-- can make or break any campaign, be it a pitch to a studio or an electoral run.
Gods are much the same.
History is full of people who were known by those around them to be protected or favored by one God or another.
Some, for their beauty. Some for their bravery, or heritage. And often, though it rarely makes for a good story, those who supported the Gods, their priests, or those who brought word of the greatness of any given God to the people, were awarded favor.
History is also full of people who angered the Gods by falsely claiming their own place in the pantheon. There is only so much belief to go around, after all, and no God wants to think that a mere mortal may be sapping their strength.
And so it was that a God, awakening from the state of semi-slumber he’d fallen into as the ages advanced, found himself owing his newfound awareness, his resurrected power, to a mortal. For the one who reminds people of a God is one who should be treasured, and kept happy, lest his efforts turn against the God.
Most Gods would have responded by keeping out of sight, simply smiling upon their chosen until such a time as they saw an opening to benefit them, or found that their favored mortal was in danger. After all, divine involvement has been known to tear lives asunder, and cause generations of misery as balance is slowly restored.
But this was a God who found great joy in playing with his followers, who thinks it highly amusing that in this new world, people waste their currency to be lied to, over and over again, by people on screens. And what’s more, they know the lies. They know that these mortals are not Gods, nor do they come from another time or world. No, they know even that their words are not their own. And still they pay for this farce, and then turn around and worship the faces that smile sweetly as lies blister their tongues, as though they were Gods.
But false Gods should know their superiors. And Loki intended to make his amusement known. For what good is being believed in if one doesn’t make use of it?
And even a politician will thank his investor.
“She’s doing well, actually.” Said with a smile, it still doesn’t quite take away the lines of worry that mar the corners of his friend’s eyes, and Tom knows that Chris would rather be home with his wife now, while they await the birth of their first child, instead of gallivanting around the world with a movie in tow, even if it is easily the most important film of their young careers.
Not that good things haven’t already come of it, or good things hadn’t come before. But this-- this was what would send them rocketing into the A lists, and get them further work, and this was the movie-- he hoped!-- that Chris would be showing his daughter someday, to explain how it was he came to be... wherever they ended up.
For Tom, it was overwhelming.
He’d traveled, sure, many times. Spent long periods abroad, in France and Germany and Sweden... never in so rapidfire a manner as this. He felt that jetlag was now a permanent part of his daily schedule, on par with showering, photocalls, and sleep.
And more, the fans... he was constantly humbled and amazed by the fans. But he was also... a bit on edge. He didn’t think he’d ever been screamed at more in his life. And just as the ringing was dying down, just as the spots from the cameras were out of his eyes, they’d be ushered inside to present the film, and it would start all over again.
And the gifts-- he’d had to start mailing boxes home in every city. Bears-- enough plushes to make an entire orphanage worth of presents, shirts, drawings, paintings, some good, others better, all of it well meaning. All of it just as overwhelming.
And the screams.
Much of it-- most of it, really, was wordless and shrill, the greater portion of his fans females.
But the parts that weren’t... if he lingered too long on the words that he could make out, he would be blushing, and probably not stop for the foreseeable future. And they were so young!
He couldn’t remember his sisters ever having been so-- bold, he supposed was the word, though that hardly began to cover it. Crude, perhaps.
And he was relatively certain that some of those suggestions were anatomically impossible, though he wasn’t going to ask anyone.
“You’re worrying again.” His voice was soft, and his accent made the concern in it even more pronounced, somehow. He looked at his friend, his costar, his onscreen brother, and shook his head with a small smile, the one he used for reassurances.
“Just tired. All these timezone changes; you’d think you would get used to it.” And it was true. If he had a mirror just now, he would be able to see the dark circles settling into place under his eyes.
“Sleep then. There will only be more of it, and who knows what our schedules will be once we get there.”
That was true enough.
“You should get some sleep yourself. Soon, you and Elsa will be taking turns going without.” Chris’ smile was huge and automatic, and made Tom feel immediately better about his friend’s worrying. He was going to make a brilliant father.
“Hey uh, guys-- gods, neither of you would happen to have an extra blanket, would you?” Robert’s voice, thin from a half hearted attempt at trying to stay quiet, rose up from behind them. “I managed to get my arm back, but she’s taken my blanket hostage in exchange.”
Beside him, Scarlett muttered something about blood flow and smooshed her face more comfortably against the wall of the plane.
Tom snickered, and passed back his own blanket, grateful that he had thought to wear a sweater and bring his own small travel pillow.
“You... are a life-saver. Well, maybe not life, but at the very least a neck saver. Not to say I won’t be asking for a masseuse tomorrow anyway bu-mmfh.” His rambling was cut short by Scarlett covering his mouth with her elbow.
Tom smiled and curled into his own window seat, glad that they were as close as they were. Costars, friends, drinking buddies, traveling companions... they felt like the family that every cast claimed to be, in their own cliched interviews. And in a way, every cast was like a family. But never, so far as Tom had seen, one like this. He would honestly be unsurprised to walk into a hotel lobby one day and find Jeremy and Robert bickering because one had pilfered the other’s... crisps, or something. Or to find Scarlett at his doorstep asking if one dress made her thighs look broader than another-- though he truly hoped that never happened. Truly.
His musings trailed off as he yawned, and his eyes closed for a moment, drifting off, before opening them as he remembered that the window shade was open, and falling asleep with it that way was inadvisable, if he didn’t want to wake up the moment the sun breached the horizon. He opened his eyes, his hand already halfway raised to grab hold of the plastic handle, when he caught sight of his reflection.
His hair was darker than it should be, smoother, oiled back, when he knew that wasn’t the case; he could see a particularly unruly curl out the corner of his eye. And speaking of eyes, the ones in the reflection were roaming slowly across his face, in a way his own simply were not. He startled, and his hand paused as his muscles clenched. His face in the reflection flashed him a quick grin, and then settled back into being... him, for lack of better descriptor, again.
He quickly closed the shade, and Chris, perhaps having observed his jumpiness or just sensing his agitation from the speed at which he lowered the window cover, nudged his shoulder sleepily.
“All right there?” He asked, voice hushed and husky. He hoped he hadn’t woken him.
“Just a dream, I think.” Tom muttered back, not turning to meet the concerned look that he was sure would greet him. “No matter; get some sleep.”
Chris made a noise of agreement and rearranged himself before falling still.
Tom stared at the shade for a long time, long after his eyes started to sting from tiredness and the sounds of his friends’ breathing had evened out.
He couldn’t help wondering what was on the other side of that glass, and why it seemed to dislike what it saw almost as much as he did.
He made a face, finding what he’d seen nothing but distasteful. Honest, open, friendly, trusting... and this was his champion. He should think not!
He was shamed, taken by the man’s act like just another of his mortal followers. He’d thought to find him as conflicted and easy to warp as the image he portrayed, but no. He was learned and well schooled, tidy, careful, reserved... nothing like Loki, in reality. And what’s more, his relationship with the one who portrayed his brother was a source of comfort. So much was wrong with the picture the two of them made that he could only begin to count the ways. This was the mortal whose name had become synonymous with his own to so many? This was who they wanted?
He shook his head and sighed, watching as the man whose face he now wore curled in on himself as much as his restrictive seating allowed.
It would have been better if he was sinister and powerful, or weak. This middle ground was disappointing and Loki was displeased. He would have to help this Thomas be more worthy of his favor. He could hardly bestow it upon him as he was now, after all. Not with him being so unapologetically good.
Satisfied with his decision, he leaned back and watched the man on the plane, as his quick mind began to spin with plots as unstable and intricate as the smoke swirling around the roots of Yggdrasil. Anchored at the base of the world tree, he began to solve the problem of Thomas William Hiddleston.
Chapter 2: Two
Loki doesn't like how close Chris and Tom are, and he's going to make sure that changes.
The car door closed behind him and he was greeted with silence and safety. He belted himself in before collapsing bonelessly back against the seat, his head tipping backwards.
He gave in to the nervous shakes that occasionally still came after a particularly trying interview-- and he’d had three.
Plus some girl attempting to vault over the barricades to reach him.
It didn't help that his first instinct was to make sure security didn't hurt her. He knew everyone got a little antsy at these events, and he knew how little it could take to turn a line of fans into a rioting mob.
Chris had grabbed him by the shoulder, though, and the girl, probably no more than twenty, had been caught and led back over the barrier.
It still shook him up a bit. Mania was something that they all heard stories of, and sometimes felt they were the subject of. But it was never really all that bad, was it?
He jumped when the door opposite him opened, and relaxed as Scarlett slid in. They shared cars, ostensibly to save money, but really because they all felt better with the buddy system in place.
She took one look at him, made a soft crooning noise in her throat, and gave him one of those awkward car hugs. It wasn’t as comforting as Chris’ calm, quiet presence, but it did help.
“Thank you. Do they seem to be getting harder to you?” He was trying to deflect, getting his muscles under control. Probably he was just more sensitive today because of his lack of sleep on the plane or in the hotel before the show.
“Some days.” She confessed, shrugging. “Then I order wine to my hotel room, and take a bath, and a nap, and eat, and things just look a little brighter.” She gave him a smile that still showed signs of worry, and he laughed.
“I think you have the right of it. Though I may skip the bath and go straight to napping. I’m exhausted.” He stretched, playfully splaying his limbs out to take up as much of the back seat space as he possibly could. Scarlett beat his arm back onto his side and laughed too, shaking her head.
“How old are you again?” She asked through her mirth, and the heaviness seemed to have been lifted. They settled in as the driver started the engine, and Tom rearranged himself to sit more properly, though he remained slumped somewhat, just for comfort. His foot tapped in the air with nervous energy, but that small outlet was entirely forgivable.
“Straight to your hotel, or would you like to stop for drinks or food?” The man’s voice held no accent, and Tom looked up, surprised, intending to compliment him on his English, when he met the man’s eyes in the mirror. His eyes. But brighter, greener… His eyes went wide and he floundered, but Scarlett stepped in, so to speak.
“Hotel, I think. It really is a wine and bath night.”
The man nodded, and as he broke their locked gazes in the rearview, he returned to what he actually looked like, his skin going olive toned and his voice gaining the accent Tom had expected in the first place.
“Yes, of course.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?” She was talking to him now, and he shook himself, giving her his reassuring but not necessarily too assured smile.
“Yes, of course.” He repeated, but his mind was whirling again. Once was an oddity. Twice was something more-- but perhaps it truly was just the exhaustion.
Despite further attempts at conversation from Scarlett, he was quiet the rest of the ride back, and when most of the others met them in the lobby and asked if they would be interested in a group outing for food, she agreed quickly, but Tom begged off to sleep.
“He’s been somewhat off since yesterday.” Chris explained, and Scarlett nodded.
“It could just be the road and the fans getting to him. I mean, you saw the difference between the crowds in America and the crowds in England and the ones here. Everyone is a bit more reserved where he’s from-- and he’s done, what, theater and TV shows, up until now?” Robert was waving his laden fork around for emphasis, and they were all eyeing it, sure that the food would go flying at any moment. “‘S a lot to get used to is all.” He finally finished the trip to his mouth, and then frowned. “Is yours cold?”
Mark chuckled behind his hand.
“Maybe he just needs some time to wind down. He’s been pretty social so far, and it isn’t as though any of us have had a great deal of time to ourselves since this began.” There were nods all around, and it grew quiet as they all took bites of their meals, chewing in thoughtful silence, broken only by,
“No, really, is anyone else’s cold, or is it just me?”
Jeremy shoved a roll into Robert’s mouth, and that ended that.
The bedspread should have warmed up to his body heat by now, but it refused. Not that he objected too strenuously. It was sort of refreshing. But he would have to burrow under it before too much longer, and that was alright as well. Once cocooned in a nest of warmth, he would drift off very easily. And perhaps he would stop feeling as though his reflection in the powered down television was staring at him, judging him... waiting. No, sleep would do him good.
He thought he heard a knock on the glass door that led to the small courtyard, to the rear of his room, and wondered if perhaps someone else had ducked out on dinner as well. He stood, distantly mourning the loss of his resting time, and fixed a smile on for his friends, pulling back the curtain to find… no one.
"Alright, mate, you're losing it. You need slee—" the end of his self admonishment was choked off as he turned and found himself in the mirrored closet door.
Hair dark, eyes hooded, smile unpleasant, twisted, and wrong.
“You look like Hell. Hemsworth is starting to wear on you, isn’t he? I can’t blame you, really.”
His reflection stepped closer and he found himself backing up, only to bang the backs of his legs against the arm of the plush chair, sending him sprawling into it uncomfortably. He looked back up, and the wrong reflection was gone, leaving him alone in his room once more.
He grabbed his jacket and wallet and room key, and left as quickly as he could, any hope of sleeping abandoned.
“You look like hell.” Chris’s voice crashed into the haze that Tom was operating in, and he flinched, his step and wave and smile all faltering. He got himself together a moment later, and picked back up the cheery look for the fans, his back aching as the muscles behind his shoulder blades knotted to prevent him from hunching, collapsing in on himself, as his teachers had been so fond of reprimanding him for, growing up.
Normally, he’d fire back a backhanded compliment, something about Chris looking like fresh daisies, but he was too exhausted to form a coherent answer. So instead he shrugged at him and moved past, glad that he usually did go to his fans, to sign autographs and smile for cameras, glad for the opportunity it gave to get away from Chris and his concern.
But Chris followed, something he didn’t usually do.
“Is everything okay, Tom?” He pressed, and Tom whirled on him, all of his uncertainty and anger brimming forth.
“Everything is fine. And it will continue to be. Just… let me greet my fans, won't you?” He bit it out through a strained grin, careful to turn so that Chris would hear him, and the fans, hopefully, wouldn’t. And then he shouldered past the burly Australian, and further down the line of those fans closest to the barricade, only too relieved that Chris didn’t follow again. He didn’t know how long that false bravado would have held up, and he certainly didn’t feel the need to break down in front of so many cameras.
Eventually he was ushered away and into the theater, where he had a little more smiling, a little more waving to do.
Pressed close to his side, Chris spoke through his teeth and directly into his ear.
"I don't know what's wrong, but I don't like it. You're being a tit. You need to get a hold on yourself before you make a fool of yourself."
And then they were being swept back out the doors, to answer the questions of reporters whose language he didn’t know, or who spoke English brokenly at best, but even still managed to ask the same thing he’d been asked in the last country.
And then back into the car and to the hotel, where he could attempt to get in another nap before their flight out, if he could get Chris's words out of his head, or the guilty hurt out of his chest.
For the first time in a couple of nights, he slept, though he wouldn’t call it fitful or easy. He woke up at least six times, before sliding back into unhappy dreaming.
He didn’t remember the dreams when he woke up, just the feeling of loss, and hurt, and anger and confusion, and... cold.
Then up in time to dodge the drivers, walk to the closest cafe, and order breakfast before the others could attempt to talk him into a group outing. Things just tended to be quieter when he could slink off alone, and besides—He'd already snapped at Chris. He didn't want to risk losing his temper at any of the others. No matter how much he wanted to patch things up, talk it out... until he had rested, he didn’t want to try. He felt sore and achey, and avoidance seemed the best bet, if only to keep their relationship somewhat professional.
And it was easy enough to avoid Chris, insinuating himself between Downey and Scarlett for the bus over to the airport, earphones once there, and a carefully maintained interest in his own shoes. He could feel Chris staring, but he was afraid that if he looked up, all he would see was a scowl. Better to simply not know.
Unfortunately, boarding told him what he had already sort of known. They’d sat together on every other flight, why should this one prove any different?
He took his earphones off, as instructed by the preflight video, and kept his eyes fixed on the tray that was secured in its upright position on the seatback in front of him.
Chris nudged him with his elbow. He ignored it in favor of tensing as the plane rose into the air.
“Tom.” Just his name. He didn’t react.
“Tom. Please, speak to me. Is something the matter?” He turned, shocked that Chris could act so concerned, sound so sincere, after... calling him out like that.
“Yes?” He hissed, the word sounding more syllibant and sinister than he’d intended-- more Loki than Tom. Chris recoiled.
“Have I upset you somehow? You’re... you haven’t been quite the same since we got here.”
Tom stared at him for a moment.
"No, I just am incapable of human interaction until I get a hold of myself. Excuse me." He snarled the last bit and stood, finding his way down the aisle and into the small bathroom, pulling the door closed behind him. He leaned against the sink, and bit back some angry or sad noise.
He couldn’t remember ever having felt so tightly wound up, and he was glad of the small amount of privacy that the thin walls afforded. But he knew he couldn’t spend the entire flight in here.
He met his own eyes in the mirror above the sink, and was somehow unsurprised to find them staring at him, and his mouth quirked into its angry little smile.
"He's getting awful judgmental, isn't he? Nosy. Is it really so bad to want a little time to yourself?"
He shook his head to clear it, and splashed a bit of water on his face.
When he looked up, the face in the mirror was just his own, tired and drawn and lost looking.
He took deep breaths and made sure he was as presentable as possible, before sliding out of the bathroom, and heading back up the aisle to his seat.
He sat gingerly, afraid to attract Chris’s attention, though he knew the other man was watching him, and judging from his posture, was as wary as Tom was.
Probably he was just afraid of Tom raising a ruckus.
He should. He should, but... He was afraid, in current company, that his costars would side with Th- with Chris. That was an odd lapse. No, though, it was true. He would be taken to task for being unsociable. And, likely, someone would produce sleeping pills and expect that to be that.
Well he didn't need it, didn't need any of it.
He jumped when one of the stewardesses touched him on the shoulder, automatically leaning away from her and bumping into Chris in the process.
He righted himself immediately, surprised by how warm that shoulder was. In contrast to everything else, he almost felt like he’d been scalded.
“I’m sorry to have startled you, sir. Would you like something to drink?”
He looked up at the trolley, then across the aisle at Scarlett, and how she was looking at him, concerned.
“Do you have any wines?” He asked, reaching for his wallet and careful not to touch or acknowledge Chris in the process.
It was going to be a long flight.
It was the second dinner in a row without Tom, and Scarlett and Chris were talking conspiratorially.
“Something isn’t right. He usually so polite-- why would he be lashing out like this?” She was saying, and Mark was nodding beside her, lips pursed and fingers pressed to them, trying to make sense of it.
“I don’t know. One minute it seems we were talking like usual, and then next thing I know he’s...I don't think I ever saw him get angry, not even when I gave him a bloody nose.” Chris was uncomfortable, felt bad for talking about Tom without him being here, but he didn't know what he'd done wrong.
Scarlett blinked, then shook her head.
“Did anything happen, anything that he might have taken offense to?" Chris shook his head, thinking back.
“There’s something wrong. I just wish he would tell me what.” Sadness tinged the actor’s voice, and Scarlett leaned forward to pat his hand consolingly.
“Maybe he just needs the space? It has only been a couple of days, and pretty crazy ones at that.” Jeremy spoke up, attempting to be the voice of reason, and that cued them in to the fact that the entire table was now involved in this conversation about Tom’s behavior.
“I can try talking to him if you like.” Rob, suddenly serious, volunteered, nodding even as he said it. “I will. I’ll see if I can’t get something out of him.”
He stood and left the table, and though looks were exchanged that clearly said they weren’t sure how great of an idea that was, no one actually spoke up.
They were grown men.
They could figure it out.