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Poetic Justice

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Having a small entourage from Asgard showing up in his tower is not what Tony Stark pictures as a good start to his day. But apparently the universe doesn’t care about his opinion, because now four stoic Einherjer warriors clad in furs and armed to the teeth are standing before him, explaining their business to their reluctant host. It’s way too early in the day for this, and his throat is itching for a glass of brandy, a drink of scotch, or… anything, really. Anything that has alcohol in it.

 

“… you’ll be pleased to hear that the Allfather has now pronounced judgement,” says what Tony assumes is the leader of the little group.

 

Under other circumstances, those words would have been reassuring, informing him that Loki has been dealt with. Locked up in some Asgardian prison for the next few centuries. One irate god of chaos less for the planet to worry about.

 

Yeah, those words would have been reassuring, if the object of said pronounced judgement hadn’t been standing there in the middle of the Einherjers with his arms held in a bone-crushing grip.

 

Then why is he here then? The vexed question is just on the tip of Tony’s tongue, on the verge of rolling off. Why did you bring him into my fucking tower where he’s done enough damage already? But the commanding presence of the Einherjers – or perhaps rather the humungous swords at their belts – makes him hold back his probably premature enquiries. The guys not doing the talking don’t look like people who’d take kindly to someone interrupting their leader while he’s busy explaining important stuff.

 

Loki is just standing there while his guard talks, mercifully quiet for once, his eyes not meeting with Tony’s. Instead, his gaze is locked to a spot on the floor, as if it promises to reveal intriguing answers to unknown cosmic secrets.

 

So staring isn’t polite, but Tony was never one to let himself be restricted by niceties. His gaze scrutinizes the fallen god, up and down, and then up again. Loki is wearing rather plain clothes – by Asgardian standards anyway, even if he’d probably get a few stares walking down the main street of most any city in America. Gone are the armour, the sweeping cloak and that ridiculous helmet he wore during their last encounter. Good riddance.  What’s left now is some green and black, a bit of leather. Nothing fancy.

 

But the change in attire isn’t the biggest change in the figure standing there on his floor, in his tower. In his home. No, somehow Loki seems smaller, like somebody threw him into the tumble dryer without reading the washing instructions first, causing subsequent shrinking. But that’s not it, really, because he’s still towering over Tony with the same number of inches as before. Maybe it’s rather that the arrogance that has always clung to the trickster like a wet t-shirt is gone now, replaced by what can best be described as sullen resignation. He can’t see that much of Loki’s face – the god’s face is still down turned – but what parts are visible shows tautness and a rigidly clenched jaw line.

 

This god, who’s brought so much death and destruction to their world. And now he’s back here – albeit under heavy guard – and it makes Tony’s stomach feel like a smouldering pit of fury. He doesn’t want to se Loki again and hopes that the Asgardian warriors will soon take him back to their own realm where this joke of a god will face his well-deserved punishment. Whatever that will turn out to be.

 

“… after long considerations, and lengthy discussion with the Council, it was decided that only one punishment was sufficient to make amends,” the Einherjer drones on, oblivious to Tony’s impatience. Erik the Blabbermouth, he settles for calling him in his mind. He doesn’t know the guy’s real name, and frankly he doesn’t care. He just wants the big brute to come to the point and then escort the prisoner out of his house. Off the planet.

 

He stifles a yawn as Erik’s story derails into singing the praises of Odin’s wisdom and his sense of justice. What are they gonna do to Loki, anyway, he wonders, not really listening. Lock him up for a few centuries? Banish him to the deepest pits of Nifelheim? Turn him into a squirrel? He’s read up a bit on Norse mythology and found that the Aesir seem to have a penchant for some rather unsavoury punishments – ones that would rather classify as torture where Tony comes from – but he tries not to think about that. Torture doesn’t sit well with him. Not that Loki wouldn’t deserve the more creative forms of justice he’s read about, but… well. Besides, Loki is Odin’s son, albeit adopted. And surely that guy isn’t gonna let his own son…

 

“… serve as your slave.” Erik’s unexpected words startle him out from his little reverie and Tony’s eyes dart back to the Aesir warrior. Say what?

 

His tongue uncharacteristically fumbles for a few seconds before he manages to blurt out the resemblance of a full sentence.

 

“Uh, I don’t think I… really caught that last part. The one where you mentioned something that sounded suspiciously like the word slave. Care to repeat that?”

 

Erik’s face tightens. He’s obviously annoyed by Tony’s inattention as he’s addressing this grave matter, but he acquiesces and repeats his words more slowly this time, as if the other man is a borderline imbecile.

 

“Loki has caused much trouble and mischief in the past, and Odin has punished him in various ways for it, hoping for him to see the error of his ways and be set on the right path. Unfortunately, his punishments have always failed to have the desired effect. And now, Loki has inflicted great harm upon your realm.” The Einherjer makes a short pause, almost as if he’s feeling a little guilty on account of the perpetrator being a fellow Asgardian, before clearing his throat and continuing. “So this time, the Allfather has decided that some, as you Midgardians would put it, poetic justice is in order. Since Loki tried to enslave Midgard and its humans, it is only fair that he in turn will become a slave here in Midgard. And Odin has decided that this slave shall be given to you, Man of Iron.”

 

Man of Iron. So Thor has passed on that cute little nickname of his to the rest of Asgard too, huh?

 

And it’s ridiculous that he’s even thinking about that now, because of all that Erik has said in the last minute, this is by far the most insignificant piece of information. And that is precisely why his mind grabs onto it, because all that other stuff is just too much for him to wrap his brain around at the moment. It’s just too unreal. Like he’s on candid camera and a self-righteous, pompous asshat of a show host is about to break through his door with a microphone in hand, gloating over how the unsuspecting victim fell for their little ploy, fair and square.

 

Just in case, he casts a glance over his shoulder. But the door remains closed.

 

Suddenly, he wants that glass of scotch more than anything.

 

Erik continues, undeterred. “You are, however, not allowed to give him away to someone else. He will remain your slave, unless otherwise is decided by Odin.” He then falls silent, obviously waiting for Tony’s acquiescing acceptance.

 

Which he isn’t about to give.

 

Hey, wait just a minute now, where’s the part where I get a say in this?” he asks – okay, yells, but he doesn’t care. “How come no one’s bothered to ask me whether I actually want a crazy war criminal as my freaking…” the word feels foreign in his mouth, and he pauses briefly, “…slave? You know, informed consent and all that?” Tony can feel his insides clenching with fury. He wants the god responsible for the wanton razing of Manhattan and for almost killing Coulson as far away from his own person as possible. Preferably in a deep dark dungeon somewhere.

 

He’s sounding like a petulant child, and he knows it, but he couldn’t care less right now. The Einherjer are only watching him impassively as he continues his righteous fuming. “And besides, there’s this little pesky thing called the law! We don’t allow slavery here in America. Not anymore. You can’t actually own another person, so that kind of defeats the whole purpose of this not-in-the-slightest brilliant idea!” He gestures animatedly with his hands, as if that will somehow convince Erik and the rest of this little entourage. Judging by the unimpressed look on their faces, his efforts don’t have the desired effect.

 

“It is of no matter. The word of the Allfather is above Midgard law and the judgement is final. Loki is your slave. Do with him as you will.”

 

And with that, Erik turns to leave (just like that!), but then stops and adds, as if in afterthought, “Loki has had his magic and powers bound.” He gestures to the thin silvery chains circling the wrists of his charge. “For all intents and purposes, he is no more than a mere mortal and hardly a threat.”

 

“Hardly a threat?” Tony bristles at that, “Even a mere mortal can stab someone in the back or poison someone’s drink or…”

 

“You need not worry, Man of Iron. If Loki harms or kills another Midgardian, he will die. And he will not be given a quick and clean death. He has nowhere to run and if he tries, he will be found immediately.” The Einherjer’s voice is ice and fire and venom all at once as his hand – accidentally? – brushes the hilt of his sword, and Tony takes half a step back.

 

Yeah, remind me never to piss this dude off.

 

After a few seconds of silence, Erik nods his good-bye. “Farewell, Man of Iron. The Allfather will be pleased to hear of your cooperation in this matter.” And Tony thinks he hears a subtle threat in there, but he doesn’t want to probe further. He’s just too tired to protest and possibly cause a diplomatic conflict between his world and that of the Aesir. Somehow, he doesn’t think a disagreement like that will end with Earth coming out on top. And their planet has had enough outer-worldly problems to last them a while.

 

Erik’s warriors follow their leader, and the door closes behind them with a dull thud. A small part of Tony is grateful that they at least had the decency not to apparate – or whatever that thing they do is called – back to Asgard right here in his living room. He’s feeling nauseous enough as it already is. And he hasn’t even had his first drink for the day.

 

He stares at the closed door for a while. Why me, he wants to scream at it. Why not Steve or Bruce? Or Clint – that guy would have been delighted to be in his situation right now. Why did Odin pick him, of all the Avengers?

 

No answers are forthcoming despite his glaring; still, Tony doesn’t want to turn around and face the god, the man, the whatever, who is standing there behind him. His freaking slave.

 

But the door can only provide so much amusement. So finally, he turns.

 

Loki is standing where the guards left him, eyes still nailed to the same spot on the floor. He neither moves nor speaks. Like he’s a marble statue or something. With weird clothes.

 

And just what the hell is he supposed to do with Loki now?

 

The situation is freakishly surreal, and for a while Tony just stands there, too, neither moving nor speaking. Memories of Loki’s last appearance here on Earth are filling his mind; a scene in particular from Stuttgart, one where the god is ordering the scared and bewildered people in the square to kneel before him, smiling triumphantly as his orders are obeyed.

 

Self-righteous bastard.

 

The whim that suddenly comes rushing over him is just too great, too tempting. He can’t help himself. And besides, if this is to be the order of the day, he might as well make the best out of the situation. Play along with the cards he’s been dealt. He’s good at that.

 

“You know, I might be new to this whole slave-owning thing, but there’s one thing that I’ve picked up along the way,” he hears his own voice drawl, mocking and snide. “Aren’t slaves supposed to kneel before their masters?”

 

So he might be going to hell for this, but it would be so worth it, just to see the arrogant god forced to his knees in front of a mere mortal after the little stunt he tried to pull with world domination and all.

 

Loki lifts his head and looks Tony in the eye, just briefly, before looking away again. Even though the moment is quickly over, Tony can see the tiredness in the pale face, the dark circles under his eyes. Clearly, Loki’s jailors haven’t been coddling him. Good.

 

“If their masters command them to,” Loki says after a few seconds of silence, posture stiff and avoidant. The voice is taut, as if the god has to force the words out from a constricting throat. He still doesn’t move, though.

 

“Consider it a command, then.”

 

Loki visibly tenses and the hands at his sides clench. But nothing more than that happens, and as the seconds tic away Tony is starting to feel, well, stupid. Of course the pompous ass isn’t going to kneel before him, slave or no slave. What had he been expecting, really? And how is he even going to enforce a command like that if Loki refuses to obey? Tackle him from behind? Kick him in the knee caps? The whole situation is ludicrous.

 

Tony can feel his anger building up again; even now, in this position, Loki has the power to make his life difficult, to take away all semblance of control from him. A part of him wants to drive his fist into that pale face, send him crashing to the floor, just so he can see the arrogant god crawling at his feet.

 

Suddenly, there is a fluid motion of green and black and when Tony looks up, Loki is kneeling on the ground.

 

Whoa there.

 

Chapter Text

Tony’s eyebrows dart upwards at the unexpected but oh-so-satisfying sight. Loki really is kneeling. Before him, no less. For a moment, he isn’t sure whether his eyes are playing tricks with him, and he blinks a couple of times, but the image doesn’t change or even flicker. No mirages or wishful thinking there.

 

Loki’s hands are still clenched into fists, and for some reason that makes a smile creep into Tony’s face. The god clearly isn’t enjoying this at all and Tony wonders if this is the first time he’s ever had to kneel before someone. Most certainly before a mere human.

 

Darn, he hadn’t expected that it would make him feel so good, seeing Loki like this. But there is a warm bubble of triumph in his stomach, and it’s growing bigger by the second.

 

You decided to invade our world just so you could see humanity on its collective knees before you, huh? Well guess who’s now on the receiving end? How do you like it now, huh?

 

And Tony knows that the inner harangue is merely his own brain trying to rationalize things – yeah, he’s justifiably pissed at Loki alright, because the guy attacked Earth, tried to lay the whole planet under his rule, brought an alien army to New York and killed a lot of people and all that. But still, the main reason for his ire isn’t that, not really. No, it’s way more personal than that.

 

Because last time Loki was here, he threw Tony out the window.

 

Just like that, he waltzed into Tony’s home like he was the one living there, threatened him, tried to take over his mind just like he did with Barton. And when that plan miserably failed, the enraged god simply put a hand around his throat, hoisting him up and disdainfully throwing him out the window like a useless rag doll.

 

Just like that.

 

And that’s what makes this whole thing personal. Sure, Loki isn’t the first one who’s tried to kill him, oh no, others have tried and failed. But fighting some super villain while in his Iron Man suit is on a whole other level of different. He’s been there, done that and never really felt resentment about it, because at least he had the means to fight and to protect himself, the playing fields were even. All a normal day in the job.

 

But Loki didn’t play by the rules. No, he decided to take the fight into the sanctity of Tony’s own home, catching him unprepared. Not only unprepared, but helpless. Powerless. He still remembers that crushing feeling of panic as he got lifted from the ground by the throat, unable to do a thing. And getting defenestrated hurt, to say nothing of the fear of falling to what he was sure would be his certain death. He still has nightmares about that, nightmares that wake him up with heart pounding and sheets drenched in his own sweat.

 

Tony’s skin is crawling, and he’s not sure if it’s the unpleasant memories or anger or something else. He notices that Loki is studying him warily, eyes narrowed. No doubt, the god is far from oblivious to the emotions playing out on Tony’s face, knowing full well that it doesn’t herald anything good. For him. Given that they’re both standing – alright, kneeling, in Loki’s case – in the very same room where the two of them had their little let’s-throw-Tony-out-the-window encounter, the god is sure to know exactly what kind of thoughts are going through Tony’s mind right now. 

 

The knowledge that Loki, until now, has certainly not paid a second’s thoughts to all that since he waltzed out of Stark Tower without even an inkling of remorse, while Tony has relieved those terrifying moments more times than he cares to think about, grates him.

 

He wants to see some of that remorse on Loki’s face, though, however little. He deserves it. Though, Tony isn’t sure if the ‘he’ is supposed to refer to himself or to Loki.

 

So he walks behind the bar counter, which is lined with a haphazard row of bottles, some empty, others in varying states of fullness. But he’s not going for those – though heavens know he could sure use a drink. Instead he pulls out a drawer hidden under the counter, inspecting the contents.

 

After the whole Loki affair, he put the thing there, not wanting to be taken so damnably unprepared again. Not that the risk of him being surprised by another super-villain in the very same room as last time is particularly big, not to really motivate this, but still. Once bitten, twice shy and all that. Merely knowing it was there gave him back some of the sense of security that he lost after being attacked by Loki in his own tower.

 

He picks up the black stick, fiddling with it for a couple of seconds. The handle is smooth and oddly warm against his palm. He can’t really remember which country he had this imported from now, but it doesn’t matter, this particular model is used by some police force somewhere on whichever continent. Wouldn’t be allowed in American forces though, the voltage goes too high.

 

Smacking the end of it into his palm a couple of times, he can’t help but to notice how the sound makes Loki shifts slightly on the ground, shoulders tensing up. Making him all nervous, huh? Serves him right.

 

He walks up to the god again, only hesitating a short moment before placing the end of the shock stick under Loki’s chin, tilting his face upwards. The pang of satisfaction as he sees the god swallow makes his stomach flutter oddly. It’s obvious he knows exactly what the thing in Tony’s hand is, what it can do. Probably the guy made sure to do his homework before launching his attack on the planet and read up on Earth’s weaponry so he’d know what counter defence to expect.

 

Okay, so he isn’t really gonna turn it on, but Loki doesn’t need to know that. Let the bastard think he will.

 

“Alright, princess,” he says, glad his voice sounds just as steady and menacing as he hoped it would. “Let’s make a few things clear from the very start, seeing as how you are most unfortunately going to be living under my roof for the foreseeable future.” He presses the stick harder into Loki’s chin as he speaks, hoping to earn at least a wince from the god, and is rewarded with a clenching of already tight jaws.

 

“Now, you will follow my rules, do as I say, and don’t even think about causing any trouble. You try to harm or even threat another human being again, or do anything that will put this planet into any form of danger, and I swear you will live to regret the day you were born.”

 

Creative there, Tony, really creative. Especially that last line, truly worthy of an Oscar.

 

It irks him how his usual suave seems to have disappeared into thin air, leaving only enough wit for one of the most unoriginal threats he’s ever uttered, like something straight out of a shitty spy movie not even worthy of a B-rating.

 

But he pushes that thought away and instead lets the stick slowly trace its way across Loki’s jaw line as he continues to speak, voice dripping with icy coldness. “I’m sure you know what this thing does. And let me tell you, I’m this close,” he holds his thumb and forefinger out, a mere hair’s breadth between them, “to turn it on just so I can watch you squirm. As a little payback for the time you decided it would be a great idea to throw me out that window over there.” His hand gestures sharply to the glass pane behind them. “So you better not make anything that will tip me over that very, very thin edge.”

 

Loki is perfectly still, and Tony is sure the god is holding his breath. Stewing a little now, are we?

 

A strange sense of giddiness is enveloping him, making the room seem to spin a little. He has total power over this pathetic joke of a god, over that someone who fucked both him and the planet up their metaphorical asses. This arrogant, self-serving son of a bitch…

 

Maybe he should stop there, but he can’t, so instead he traces the stick down to Loki’s collarbone, and then back to under his chin, tilting it up even further, making the god look him into the eye again. He’s not done with him just yet.

 

“This little beauty goes up to 100.000 volts. Quite a bit more than what’s allowed in the police forces here in the States. If you’d like to try it out what it feels like, let me assure you that I will be more than happy to oblige. In your current, magic-liberated shape I’m sure you’ll feel all the pain that a simple mortal would,” Tony continues, pushing the stick harder into that pale skin.

 

And that’s when he sees it. Just a flicker at first, but then it’s slowly spreading until it’s painted all over Loki’s face.

 

Fear.

 

And that’s when the sweet rush of power deflates, like hot air leaking out of a balloon. The room is no longer spinning and suddenly it’s just him standing there, holding a stick under the chin of a fallen and powerless god. The feeling of triumphant spite from only moments ago is fading away, leaving only an uneasy sense of hollowness in its wake.

 

He lets his hand fall.

 

And Loki seems to be breathing once more, slumping slightly as his chest starts to heave again.

 

A sudden desire to just walk out of the room and leave the god hunched on the floor comes over Tony, but he resists it. He needs to say something more, to finish off what he’s started.

 

“Do we understand each other,” he finally manages, but the question is too flat to actually sound like a question and not a plain statement.

 

A moment of silence. Then:

 

“We do.”

 

The words sound as tired and empty as Tony is feeling.

Chapter Text

The door closes behind Loki with a soft click, Tony’s last words still ringing in his ears. Don’t even think about trying to leave this room until I say you can.

 

He waits a few moments while the footsteps are retreating, taking in his surroundings. From the looks of it, he’s been locked into one of Stark Tower’s guest rooms. It’s rather small, but comes fully furnished and with an attached bathroom and even a window. No doubt a lot better than the living arrangements he would have gotten had Tony been at all prepared for his unexpected house guest. But he supposes that no matter how well-equipped the tower is, it doesn’t come with a drafty dungeon.

 

The last echoes of the footsteps finally die down, and Loki sinks down on the bed in the corner, letting out a deep sigh as he buries his face in his hands. For a moment he just sits there as the tension slowly drains from his body and his breathing goes back to normal again. First encounter with Tony Stark and he’s still in one piece. For now. He supposes that’s got to count for something. Truth be told, he’d expected a lot worse.

 

Taking a deep breath, glad he’s still able to, he wills his tense limbs to relax. He’s so tired, the weariness nagging at his bones like little rats gnawing at him. The dungeons of Asgard don’t make for good sleeping, though he doubts he would have been sleeping much better these last few days in other accommodations. Not since Odin’s judgement was read out to him in court.

 

He’d expected death, torture, imprisonment, banishment, even some twisted combination of them all. But not… this.

 

Total, utter humiliation. To be turned into a slave of a mere mortal, his powers and magic sealed away and inaccessible. The blood was pounding so hard in his head that he had to concentrate to hear Odin’s vibrant, unwavering voice as it pronounced his verdict. Not death, not torture, but slavery. Which in the end wouldn’t rule out the other two options, of course.

 

And then followed Odin’s detailed justification for picking whoever was to be Loki’s master, more directed to the audience gathered for the trial than to the condemned, and even though Loki was listening in transfixion, he could only make out bits and pieces of it. It was all so unreal, hearing the Allfather (though, not Loki’s father) make his way through the list of all Avenger names until only one remained. Like sitting down at one of those human roulette wheels, not knowing which number the little silver ball would land on, but knowing either one would spell his doom.

 

Barton and Romanoff. Too vindictive and too vicious, respectively. Would put an arrow through his head or slice his throat on sight and defeat the whole purpose of Loki’s punishment. Their leader, Director Fury. Would not consider Loki a slave, merely a test subject. Banner. Too uncontrolled in his berserker form. A Loki without his usual powers could be killed with one single punch from the beast. An embittered snicker escaped Loki’s lips at that perverse mock-concern for his welfare. As if they even cared. Rogers. Too firmly entrenched in the concept of Midgardian morals and frowns upon the concept of vengeance.

 

That only left one name.

 

Stark. The very man he’d thrown out of a window and probably had more reason to hate him than anyone of the others, except for Barton.

 

How swell. So he’d spend his future getting beaten and humiliated by the great Tony Stark, the Man of Iron himself. Why didn’t they just execute him right now and get it over with?

 

Then he became aware of a sudden silence all around him and he looked up from where he was kneeling in front of the court. All eyes were on him, as if they were expecting him to say something.

 

“I repeat,” Odin’s voice boomed, “Loki Laufeyson, do you accept your punishment?”

 

His nails cut into his palms as he balled his shackled hands into fists in anger. Accept it? What kind of ridiculous question was that? Were they only mocking him further? As if such a fate could ever be acceptable.

 

“You mean I actually have other options?” Loki spat out, trying to sound confident and condescending, but the words that came out were more bitter and resigned than anything else. He already knew the answer before Odin spoke.

 

“Your only other option is death.”

 

Of course. No lesser punishment for the traitor, the monstrous stranger in their midst.

 

Death, or life as Tony Stark’s slave. Though, the latter alternative might just turn out to be a slower, more drawn-out version of the first. He should throw it all back into their faces, spit at their self-righteous Asgardian court, choose death and laugh in their faces as he did.

 

Only that… in that moment, he realized that he actually wanted to live. Not that he had ever wished for death, but it was strange how this sudden desire to live manifested itself now when he was at his lowest point in life and about to be brought even lower. But as long as he was alive, there was still a chance of… of something.

 

If he didn’t accept, he’d lose everything, including his life. If he did accept, he’d lose everything but his life – his magic, his powers, his status, even his freedom. But at least he’d be… alive.

 

No, Loki Laufeyson didn’t want to die, and so it was with churning dread that he heard his own voice speak – whisper –the words that would damn him.

 

“I accept.”

 

The silence that followed was almost deafening.

 

The days after his trial are still a haze in his mind. Days spent in the dungeons waiting, enchanted shackles on his wrists, the terrible sensation as his magic was locked away, the unpleasant feeling of occupying the body of what was now essentially a mere mortal. The constant reminders – some stern, others more gleeful – that the enchanted chains around his wrists would allow Heimdall to keep track of him, and if he ever tried to escape his punishment or cause any trouble in the human realm, he’d be taken back to Asgard in no time and put to death. And the manner of execution would be neither quick nor painless, to put it mildly.

 

And then, one dreary morning, the guards opened the door to his cell, and he knew without them even speaking a word to him what time it was. Time for him to be taken back to Midgard, for his real punishment to start. The preparations were all done.

 

He had to admit, he was surprised to find out when they arrived at Stark Tower that the one person that hadn’t been informed about all this was Tony Stark himself. Then again, Asgard would only rarely send envoys to Midgard, so who should have told him? Thor had refused to be there at his trial, so the big oaf who otherwise flittered between the realms like a drunken butterfly couldn’t have reported the verdict to his Avenger friends.

 

And now… he’s here. As Tony’s slave, property, plaything, punching bag, whatever. Whatever Tony decides he will be.

 

The thought makes him feel ill. Whatever revenge Tony is plotting against him now is sure to be vicious. And involve a lot of pain on his part. So he tries to comfort himself with the knowledge that humans are impatient creatures with short attention spans. They quickly grow tired of novelties, no matter how enticing they may seem at first. Eventually, the chance to meet out vengeance will lose its appeal, even to Tony. How long that will take, though, Loki has no idea. Months? Years? A tendril of panic is moving in his insides at the thought, eager to crawl out and strangle him, but he pushes it back down, feeling it slowly subside. Panicking isn’t going to do him any good now.

 

Instead, he sighs and sinks back against the soft mattress of the bed, letting a heavy sigh escape him. The fabric beneath him is smooth, made from some material that doesn’t exist back in Asgard. His left hand fiddles around with it for a while as he lies there flat on his back, staring at the ceiling.

 

Unbidden, his thoughts wander back to his previous encounter with Tony. Despite his initial and rather surprising reluctance to accept Loki as his slave, the man had sure taken to the situation quickly. Quite predictably, his first order had been for Loki to kneel down. Not that Loki couldn’t sympathize with the desire to see one’s enemies lying broken at one’s feet, but it didn’t make the humiliation any easier to deal with. A part of him wanted to refuse, to remain standing tall like a true prince of Asgard, but in the end the reality of his situation triumphed. There was nothing to gain by refusing. He was a damned slave, because Odin had decided so. Whatever little useless pride a refusal might salvage, Tony would soon take that away from him anyway, one way or the other.

 

So he knelt. Like a good little slave, because he still wanted to live, despite it all.

 

The enjoyment on Tony’s face was obvious. Still, Loki was more incensed than anything else. Until Tony decided to shove that shock stick into his face; that’s when that incensement turned into fear. Intellectually, Loki already knew that he no longer held any godly powers, but it wasn’t until that moment that he truly realized the extent of his vulnerability and utter powerlessness. His body was no longer immune to what would have otherwise been slighter pains or trifling wounds. Those things that he would have merely shrugged off as inconveniences a few days earlier could now kill him, or at least severely injure him.

 

No resistance to pain, no healing powers, no bodily resilience, no nothing. Just a total lack of power. Power that now Tony Stark holds in his hands. And Loki has nothing, absolutely nothing to resist with.

 

He twists the smooth fabric in his hand, tearing at it with stiff fingers as the realization grinds inside him. He is totally at Tony’s mercy now and there isn’t a single thing he can do to protect himself from the man’s revenge.

 

Maybe he would have been better off choosing that other option at the trial after all.

Chapter Text

The whiskey produces a familiar sting as it slides down his throat and he relaxes a bit against the back rest of the chair, watching the ice cubes in his glass slosh against each other as he swirls the contents around with a lazy circular movement of his wrist. He then sets the glass down on the table, grabbing for the bottle next to it. It’s almost empty, though, the sad remains only filling the first half an inch of his glass as he turns the bottle upside down. And that’s with the ice. Darn.

 

Suddenly annoyed, he shoves both the bottle and the glass away. He has more pressing matters to think about than the all too meagre amount of alcohol in his glass.

 

Loki.

 

A god turned into a slave and sent to Midgard, the very realm he had once sought to enslave. Poetic justice indeed. Tony just wishes it wasn’t on his expense.

 

If this was to be Loki’s punishment, Odin could certainly have picked a better person to bestow the enslaved god upon. Tony’s never figured himself the outrageously vindictive type, not like some others he knew. Like Clint Barton. That guy would be cracking his knuckles by now, were he in Tony’s position, trying to decide where to land the first punch. To say nothing of all the innocent victims who’d suffered personally because of Loki’s quest for world domination.

 

Come to think of it, perhaps that is why Tony has been picked – if the Aesir wanted Loki tortured to death, they could have done it themselves. They sure knew how to, if you believed the myths. No need to hand him over to the humans for that.

 

Besides, how many other people are there whose living arrangements would be suitable to keep a dangerous war criminal confined and under constant supervision? Sure, the Einherjer guard assured him that Loki’s powers have been locked away, but Tony doesn’t believe that makes the god harmless.

 

He’s done far too much damage for that.

 

“Jarvis,” he calls out. “What’s our guest doing?” Doesn’t hurt to check. Of course, Tony’s already given Jarvis clear instructions about keeping Loki under strict surveillance at all times and report back to him if the god does anything out of the ordinary. But it never hurts to make sure when it comes to Loki.

 

“He is currently lying on his bed, sir,” the computer voice answers dutifully.

 

“Uh-huh. Let me now if he… you know, does anything.”

 

“Yes, you have already instructed me to do so,” comes the swift reply. “So far, Mr Laufeyson has done nothing out of the ordinary.”

 

That sets Tony’s mind at ease for the moment, at least. The door and window to Loki’s room are both electronically locked, and Loki won’t be able to open either of them unless he finds a way to disable Jarvis. Which, Tony supposes, wouldn’t be all too improbable, given the amount of chaos the god has proven himself capable of.

 

Putting the empty bottle in front of him aside, Tony stands up and picks another random one out from the insides of his trusty liquor cabinet. He critically scrutinizes his catch and then nods approvingly. One of the better brands. He definitely deserves it.

 

Sitting back down, he pours himself a generous helping of scotch, not caring about the remains of the previous drink at the bottom of his glass. The alcohol is sweet against his lips and throat as he sips at it, like a lover’s fingers, so he downs the majority of the contents in three big gulps.

 

As the scotch goes into his body, it pushes the tension out, letting it slowly drain away from him. Sighing heavily, Tony slumps in his seat, enjoying the feeling of relaxation that only a nice drink can bring. And then, a small, improbable burst of laughter escapes his lips. Not because the situation is funny, but because having been handed the god of chaos and mischief as his own personal frigging slave is just too bizarre and outrageous. So he just sits there letting the bubble of laughter expand until he’s cackling half-hysterically like a madman, one arm against the table to support his own body and prevent it from collapsing on the floor in a fit of paroxysms.

 

No, it’s not funny in the slightest, but he can’t help himself. He just doesn’t know what else to do. Right now, he has no other way to handle this ridiculous situation.

 

His laughter sounds strange, as if the walls are deflecting it and giving it an outer-worldly echo. Soon, it dies down and he’s left sitting there leaning against the table with only one thought left in his head.

 

Loki.

 

And just what the hell is he supposed to do with him now?

 

Keep him locked up in his room where he can’t do any damage and, as an added bonus, mercifully remains out of Tony’s sight?

 

Kick him in the ribs a few times for good measure? Nah, that’s not his style, even though the idea does hold a certain appeal.

 

What do you do with a slave, really? One that also happens to be Loki?

 

Turn him over to Fury? That would solve a lot of his problems. On the other hand, that wasn’t part of the deal, if that’s what you can actually call it. The one-sided deal where Loki was dumped into his lap without Tony’s opinion being asked for at all. But Erik – or whatever the Einherjer leader’s name was – had been pretty clear that Loki was to remain in Tony’s, well, custody.

 

No handing him over to Fury, then. As tempting as the idea is, it’s not worth causing a diplomatic incident over it with Asgard. To say nothing of getting his skull cleaved in two by Erik’s sword as punishment for going against the decree of Odin almighty.

 

Slaves are supposed to be useful, but Tony can hardly see any use for Loki. Of course, that’s not the point either. Loki hasn’t been given to Tony for his convenience, it’s a sentence meant to punish Loki for his numerous crimes.

 

He wonders what the Aesir are expecting him to actually do with Loki, seeing as how he didn’t come with a slave-handling manual or any instructions. 101 ways to deal with a bat-shit crazy chaos god. Wouldn’t that be something. Perhaps he can write that manual once he’s been through this ordeal.

 

Nope, no instructions other than not to hand him over to someone else. He thinks about some of the Norse myths he’s read about on the internet, feeling vaguely uneasy. If the Aesir think he’s gonna put a sewing needle to Loki’s face or pour acidic venom over his body they’ve got the wrong man for the job. He’s not gonna do that.

 

His thoughts drift back to his previous encounter with Loki, the obvious fear in the god’s face as Tony outlined the concept of sending a perverse amount of volts through his body. Somehow, he had expected to enjoy the sight of a fearful Loki a lot more.

 

Would Odin have approved of that, if he’d actually turned that stick on? Odin seems like quite the vindictive guy, so the answer is probably yes. Though, again, if the main intent of the Aesir was simply to torture their little wayward prince, they could have done it themselves. This slavery thing is probably more some sort of perverted poetic justice kind of thing, a way to humiliate the fallen god as much as possible.

 

Oh well. Though torture isn’t his forte, he can roll with humiliation. For someone as arrogant, conceited, and big-headed as Loki – who even had the gall to defenestrate him – he can definitely do that.

 

It would only serve the god right. And Tony can’t help it, he’s not wholly above the concept of revenge and vengeance and all those loveable little things in life. He never claimed to be an angel, did he now?

 

His hand goes for the almost empty glass again but he doesn’t bring it up to his mouth, instead merely sloshing the liquid around in its confines as his thoughts swirl around in his head. He has a couple of routine interviews with the media to attend to tomorrow, but he can give Loki a task to do in the meantime. Yes, he has an idea alright. He grins as his hand rotates until there is no longer the soft clang of ice against glass. Then, he sets the diluted, lukewarm drink down on the table and stands up.

 

Right now, what he needs more than anything is some sleep, and then he’ll deal with Loki again tomorrow. 

Chapter Text

The mattress under him is surprisingly soft, and when he wakes up from his fitful sleep he isn’t sure at first were he is. His head is still cloudy with dream images of filthy dungeons, shackles and chains, and Odin standing before the court pronouncing his judgement…

 

Strange. This can’t be his cell down in the lowest level of the Asgardian dungeons. But then where is he?

 

He opens his eyes, and suddenly remembers.

 

He’s in Tony Stark’s tower.

 

Damn.

 

His stomach sinks. The dungeons would have been preferable.

 

Slowly, he sits up, rubbing the last vestiges of sleep out of his eyes. Though it is nice to wake up for the first time in far too long not wearing shackles, apart from the little silver chains circling his wrists, the fetters he’s in now are much worse. Because it isn’t simply his body that is shackled this time, but his entire self, as Tony Stark’s freaking slave.

 

Well, that’s a great start to the morning, he thinks bitterly to himself as he gets out of bed and stumbles off into the bathroom to wash himself off. He took a lengthy shower yesterday before going to sleep (didn’t take him very long to work the water mechanism out), figuring that he might as well use the available facilities while he could, seeing as how they could be taken away at any time. It was a relief after spending so much time in a cell where the chances to wash himself off were limited and far in between. Of course, he was allowed to clean himself up properly before being sent off to Midgard and to Tony Stark, but not quite as thoroughly as he would have liked. The dankness and filth of Asgard’s dungeons somehow penetrate into the very pores of a prisoner’s skin, clinging to it like a garment.

 

When he’s finished and dressed, he sits back on the bed again. It’s not like there’s anything else for him to do in here.

 

So he waits for Tony to summon him for whatever he’s planned for him today, not relishing the prospect one bit. The idle nervousness is grating at his nerves, and so he stands up again and prowls around the room in circles, finally coming to a stand before the window.

 

It offers him a breathtaking view of the city, but he’s not in the mood to enjoy it. Especially considering that this is the very city he once tried to conquer, only to be defeated and sent back to Asgard in chains and disgrace. He’d never thought he would see it again.

 

His hand reaches for the handle. At least he can make us of the opportunity to breathe some fresh air again.

 

Then there is a voice speaking to him, sounding far too cheerful for someone not even human.

 

“I’m sorry, Mr Laufeyson, but Mr Stark’s orders are for this window to remain closed. If you choose to disregard those instructions, I will have to report your failure to comply, and Mr Stark will be most displeased.”

 

Loki’s hand falls back to his side. So this is the computer Jarvis that Tony mentioned that is supposed to keep him under surveillance, then.

 

It’s a pointless instruction, really. The floor is far too many levels above ground for any human or powerless god to survive a fall from. There’s no way he can use that window to escape.

 

Unless he’d opt for a more drastic route. But he has already been given that option at his trial. He could have chosen death back then if he had wanted to. And he didn’t.

 

At least for now, things aren’t so bad as to make that a possible alternative. Perhaps that might come to change, but then it will have to be a later concern. Now is now.

 

Then Jarvis’ disembodied voice speaks out again.

 

“I have reported to Mr Stark that you are awake and about. He requests to see you right away.”

 

There is a faint click from the door as the security mechanism unlocks itself. Loki only stares at it, not feeling in the least bit prepared to go face a Tony Stark who’s had an entire night to think about appropriate ways to take revenge on an enslaved god.

 

Right away, Mr Laufeyson,” comes the voice over the intercom again. This time, the door swings open, and Loki slowly obeys, heading out into the corridor leading into the main room, his stomach churning.

 

Tony is sitting at the table with a newspaper spread out before him, idly flipping through the pages when Loki enters. The menacing look from yesterday is gone from his face and now he just seems relaxed. Loki isn’t sure whether that’s a good or a bad thing.

 

He stops when he’s halfway into the room, wondering if Tony is expecting him to kneel in the presence of his master. Still, he remains on his feet. If Tony wants to see him on his knees again, he will first have to give him an expressed order before Loki will debase himself.

 

But it would appear that the man in front of him has no such inclinations for the moment. Instead, Tony folds the newspaper aside and gives him a grin as he takes in Loki’s appearance.

 

“Good morning, sunshine. Did you sleep well?”

 

Is that a trick question? Tony is highly unlikely to be interested in the quality of his sleep.

 

“I slept… adequately,” Loki replies warily, not sure where all this is leading.

 

“I’m glad to hear that your alien energy reserve levels have been replenished, seeing as how I have a little task for you to fulfil today.” Tony looks far too happy when he says that, and Loki has a sinking feeling. He’s not sure he wants to know what this little task is all about. Serve as a punching bag for the Hulk? Act as a moving target board for Barton’s archery practice?

 

Loki doesn’t offer a reply. What is there to say anyway?

 

Tony continues on, though, undeterred by Loki’s silence. “Have a seat, will you?” He gestures to the empty chair at the other side of the table, indicating for Loki to sit down. “No point in you standing around there all day like a mopey poodle.”

 

Slowly, Loki makes his way over to the table, dragging his feet behind him. Ideally, he’d prefer to keep as much distance between himself and Tony as possible in case the man decides to lash out at him, but that’s not an option at the moment.

 

Suddenly, Tony scoots his chair back and stands up as Loki is only a couple of yards away. Loki flinches and takes a step back.

 

Tony stops in his tracks and holds up his hands. “Whoa there, aren’t you a jumpy one, Rudolph,” he says, using another one of those ludicrous Midgard nicknames that mean nothing to Loki. “I was merely gonna get a few things from the kitchen. No evil intentions at all.”

 

He grins again, and Loki doesn’t believe him for a second. Still, he sits down and watches as Tony rummages around in the kitchen, opening and closing cupboard doors. Apparently having found what he was looking for, the man comes back and sets two rectangular and colourful packages down in front of Loki. Not sure what they are, he stares suspiciously at them.

 

“Breakfast, Reindeer Games,” Tony says, catching onto Loki’s confusion.

 

Breakfast? That wasn’t what he had been expecting at all.

 

Tony walks off to the kitchen cupboard again and returns with a bowl and a spoon that he places before Loki. And that makes him feel vaguely uncomfortable, because he’s supposed to be the slave serving on Tony, not the other way around. This turning of tables makes him suspect that Tony has something ominous planned, but he remains seated and merely takes a closer look at the things in front of him, frowning. The two rectangular boxes with strange pictures on them are supposed to be food? He knows that humans don’t eat quite the same things as they do back in Asgard, but this seems ridiculous. His stomach is growling at the idea of something edible, though, Gingerly, he grabs the smaller of the packages and turns it around in his hands, not sure how to tackle this strange kind of food.

 

“Oh for Pete’s sake.” The box is removed from his hands as Tony comes to stand next to him. “You’ve never seen a milk carton before?”

 

Tony does a couple of twists to the box and then tips it over the bowl. The white fluid that comes out does look like milk, though. 

 

As the man starts to fiddle around with the other box, Loki absent-mindedly studies the bowl in front of him; there are kittens painted along the side, kittens playing with yarn, licking their paws, or rolling around in the grass.

 

Tony pours some of the contents of the larger package into the bowl of kittens as well and hands Loki the spoon as if he was a small child. “Go on, eat. It’s not poisonous.”

 

There are odd little things swimming around in the milk, round shapes with holes in the middle. He’s never seen anything quite like it and prods at the shapes with the spoon, watching them slink away.

 

“Come on,” he hears a voice say over to his right. “Don’t tell me I have to spoon feed you as well?”

 

“I am fully capable of feeding myself,” Loki snaps before he can stop himself and then winces, expecting his insolent comment to earn him at least a backhand to the face, but nothing happens. Relaxing a bit, he puts a spoonful of the shapes into his mouth, chewing slowly.

 

The round things crunch between his teeth. The taste isn’t unpleasant, just very unlike the food he’s used to. It’s a lot better than what he expected to be served here, and given the sorry excuse for sustenance he had to make do with during his long stint in the dungeons, he can’t complain.

 

His marginally better mood takes a downturn again as he’s scraped the bowl clean and Tony reminds him again of the task he’s supposed to perform.

 

“Get over here,” the man beckons from where he’s gone to stand over in the kitchen area. Loki obeys, as slowly as he dares; the smirk on Tony’s face not encouraging him one bit.

 

There is a red bucket filled with water on the floor. Loki eyes it suspiciously, then looks up as Tony hands him something.

 

It’s a tiny brush with fine strands in blue and white at the end. He turns it around in his hands, not sure what it is for. “Oral B,” is says on the handle, whatever that means. He looks up at Tony in confusion.

 

“The floor needs cleaning,” the man says, reading the unspoken question on Loki’s face. He gestures to the bucket on the floor and then to the ridiculously tiny brush. “There’s the water, and there’s the brush. I want this kitchen floor scrubbed, and once you’re done with that, you can continue with the rest of the rooms on this floor.”

 

Not all that long ago, anyone with the gall to expect him to perform such menial tasks would have been smitten so hard into the ground that there would be nothing but a smoking hole left. But that was when he still had his powers, before he was turned into a slave. He wants to break the brush in two and throw the pieces into Tony’s smug, self-satisfied face, but he doesn’t.

 

You decided you’d rather go on living. This is the price you pay, a voice whispers to him in the back of his head. And as much as he hates it, he knows the voice is right. He’s made his choice, at least for the time being.

 

“Jarvis will keep an eye on you at all times, so no shenanigans. And just to make sure, I’ll have a live transmission feed directly to my cell phone so I can keep track that you don’t slack off. I expect you to be finished with the entire floor once I’m back here.”

 

Loki sags slightly as Tony cheerfully claps him on the shoulder as he walks past him on his way to the door. “Have fun, Reindeer Games, and I’ll see you again in the evening,” he offers as parting words.

 

Loki remains standing for several minutes after Tony has left the room, staring emptily in front of him.

 

If you think that dying is preferable to submitting, you’re free to do so any time, the little voice in his head whispers to him again.

 

But he’s not ready to die just yet. Clenching his teeth to control his simmering anger, he picks up the bucket of water, ignoring the splash of water that sloshes over the rim and drenches the leg of his pants.

 

Chapter Text

Tony is having a blast. One of the media reporters interviewing him is a beautiful and voluptuous redhead who has a wedding ring adorning her finger but doesn’t seem to take her marriage vows all that seriously, judging by the way she is flirting with Tony – a couple of fingers resting innocently but still seductively on his arm, a tongue discreetly licking an upper lip, and feet brushing against his under the table.

 

“Well, Mr Stark, I’m sure all our female readers would just love to hear about how such a desirable bachelor spends his evenings,” she smiles at him, all freckles and curves and blue eyes. “Please do tell us.” Eye lashes flitter as a microphone is stuffed into his face.

 

Playing around with my new slave, a god famous for trying to take over the planet and bringing an alien army to New York . His name is Loki, by the way – you might have heard of him.

 

Okay, so he doesn’t actually say that, even though he’s kind of tempted. Instead, he gives one of those brainless-but-expected responses that don’t really offer anything of substance, but enough to keep the female admirers interested. When the interview is over, he discretely sneaks away before the redhead can ask for his number or stuff her own into his pocket – pretty face and gorgeous body, but not worth being chased by a jealous husband over.

 

What has kept him in such a good mood all day isn’t mainly the flirtatious redhead, though. No, it’s the discreet glances he’s been throwing at his phone at regular intervals, screen showing a soppy Loki on his hands and knees, scrubbing the floors in the Stark Tower with a toothbrush.

 

Was there ever a more satisfying image than that, he wonders. Well, probably not.

 

He can’t help but feel ridiculously pleased with himself for this brilliant idea. The arrogant god is in serious need of some lessons in humility, and Tony is more than happy to provide. 

 

Half an hour later he’s back in his car, driving home with AC/DC on top volume. Tapping his fingers rhythmically against the steering wheel, he whistles along to the blaring music, even though his rudimentary musical efforts are drenched in the over-the-top guitars and drums and shouts of TNT – I’m dynamite. All in all, it’s been a great day. Just one thing missing for it to reach perfection.

 

Taking a turn to the right, he parks outside a Chinese takeaway. Even the great genius Tony Stark needs to eat, after all.

 


 

His knees are aching from crawling around on the floor all day, and his fingers are cramping badly. The brush has switched hands numerous times already, but it doesn’t seem to do him much good trying to alternate. Right now he can’t really feel much of anything in his fingers, which is perhaps just as well. He’d really like to take a break, but Tony’s implied threat that he’d better not slack off and is expected to be finished once the man gets back home – whenever that will be – is enough to dissuade him.

 

Not that he will ever finish this monstrous task before that, though. It didn’t take him long to realize that, and no doubt that was Tony’s plan all along – find Loki an impossible task to do and then have fun punishing his slave for failing to do as he was ordered.

 

Great. Just great.

 

He dips the end of the brush into the murky water again. The bristles are broken and dirty by now, but he hasn’t been provided with any other cleaning equipment, so he places the sorry thing against the floor tiles again and starts scrubbing away.

 

Perhaps Tony thinks this is such a marvellous idea that he will make Loki clean the floors of the entire tower. He sure hopes that’s not the case, because he doubts whether his knees can take much more of this abuse. His pants are soggy, too, from sliding across the wet floor, but that’s the least of his problems.

 

Annoyed, he scrubs harder, ignoring the numbing pain in his finger joints. It’s so pointless. There’s no way he’ll be even close to finished before Tony gets back here, and…

 

As if someone above has been listening in on his thoughts, there’s the sudden whoosh of an elevator door opening and closing, followed by footsteps that he recognizes all too well. He freezes, but doesn’t turn around, just remains there on his knees on the wet floor, waiting.

 

How pathetic he must look, is the only thought in his head. He considers standing up, but decides against it. After all, he’s taller than Tony, and that might only serve to provoke the man’s ire even more, which is something he doesn’t need right now.

 

“Still at it?” Tony says reproachingly somewhere behind him and then smacks his lips in displeasure. Loki doesn’t look up or turn. It’s clear for any idiot to see that he’s not done. And it isn’t as if Tony expected him to be, no matter how surprised he’s pretending to sound.

 

A pair of well-polished shoes walk into his field of vision and then come to a halt two steps away from him. Loki tenses, expecting one of them to connect with his ribs, possibly with enough force to crack at least a couple of bones.

 

As he waits for the blinding pain to explode in his midsection, a more rational, detached part of him wonders how humans make do in these fragile bodies, how they can at all live with them. Such a simple thing like tripping and falling from a few meters height is enough to cause crippling or even life-threatening injuries, as are a myriad of other things.

 

When he still had his godly powers, he healed quickly, just like all Asgardians. Pain was always something temporary and brief – unpleasant, yes, but only a fleeting thing soon forgotten once his body had mended itself.

 

Not so anymore. Injuries that for a god would disappear in a matter of minutes, or hours at the most, take weeks or even months for a human body to mend. Time during which the pain is constant, never relenting.

 

He knows, because the guards in the dungeons found Loki’s new and powerless status intriguing. Intriguing, as in fun to throw him a few punches or slam him into the wall and then come back the next morning and see the bruises still on his body and face. Like he was some kind of freak (well, even more so than before his powers were locked away), look at the misshapen thing that remains broken and hurt even a day later, who can no longer heal himself like a normal Asgardian.

 

How do humans live with being so vulnerable and hurting so easily? He wonders, but there is no answer forthcoming.

 

And they don’t even have to deal with being the slave of someone who’ll enjoy turning them into a broken and bloody heap as payback for past transgressions. He bites the inside of his chin, tasting blood. Broken ribs will take weeks if not months to mend, and if they don’t grow together like they should, he will still be in pain even after they’ve healed. He sincerely doubts that Tony is going to take him to one of those human healers to set any broken bones straight for him.

 

Again, he feels the sharp pang of fear that has grown all-too familiar in these last few days. The terrible feeling of powerlessness and vulnerability, feelings that he isn’t used to at all, but now has no choice but come to terms with.

 

Tony’s silence is making him even more nervous. Has the man been looking forward to dishing out Loki’s first beating so much that he is standing there trying to savour this moment for as long as possible? Is that why he’s taking his sweet time getting started?

 

Or is he perhaps hoping to see his hated enemy break down and beg? Is that what he’s waiting for? In that case, he’s not going to give Tony the satisfaction. At least not yet, though he supposes he might come to change his mind about that later, a treacherous, more pragmatic part of his brain points out.

 

Then, suddenly, the shoes move out of view.

 

“I brought some Chinese takeaway. Supposed you might be hungry,” he hears Tony’s voice say, well out of kicking distance. The words are followed by a dull thud as something is put down on the kitchen counter.

 

Chinese takeaway?

 

Loki looks up in just time to see Tony take a few silver-tinted boxes out from a white plastic bag and put them down on the table.

 

“Straight from Fat Lee’s kitchen, best Chinese in town,” the man continues. “Let me tell you, their Chow mein is to die for. Bet you don’t have stuff like that back in your magic castle in the sky, do you?”

 

He’s not quite sure what Tony is talking about is, but it does smell like food.

 

And all Loki’s brain seems to be capable of doing in that moment is wondering whether all human food comes in strange little boxes.

Chapter Text

When he wakes up, he immediately regrets doing so. His body protests wildly as he tries to roll over to find a more comfortable position and he can swear he hears his joints creaking ominously.

 

It feels like he’s taken a tumble down a ten-mile hill, the entire way down paved with strategically placed boulders. His knees are sore and his hands aching, and that’s putting it mildly. To say nothing of his poor, abused back.

 

Floor scrubbing is clearly not conducive to his health.

 

It’s only with the most heroic of efforts that he manages to get out of – or rather, roll out of – the bed and unsteadily get up on his two feet.

 

Stumbling to the bathroom, he sincerely hopes that Tony doesn’t have any more floors in need of scrubbing. He doesn’t think his body can take it.

 

Just like yesterday, once he’s finished he has nothing else to do than to sit around and wait before Tony decides to summon him. It takes a long time before Jarvis’ voice announces that Tony is waiting for him downstairs. Sighing, Loki stands up again, ignoring his body voicing its displeasure by sending sharp stabs of pain through his back and legs, and walks out.

 

Tony is sitting at the kitchen table, sipping on a cup of some brown liquid as Loki walks in. He raises an eyebrow at the god, critically scrutinizing him.

 

“Well, if it isn’t ol’ Reindeer Games! I hope the mattress isn’t too hard for you? ‘Cause you do seem to be walking a bit more stiffly than usual, if you don’t mind me pointing that out.”

 

Well isn’t Tony the comedian.

 

“The mattress is perfectly fine,” he says as politely as he can manage, sitting down at his usual spot at the table after Tony has indicated for him to do so. There is already a bowl (the one with the kittens) and a spoon laid out for him, and he wonders why Tony even bothers doing that rather than having his slave set out his own eating utensils, and Tony’s as well, as would have been appropriate.

 

“Help yourself,” Tony gestures in the approximate direction of the milk cartoon and the bigger box with the round things that are standing on the table. Cheerios, it says on the side, but Loki doesn’t know what the word is supposed to mean.

 

Not like it matters. Silently, he pours himself some milk and then some of those other things and digs in, sighing contentedly. He’s positively starving.

 

“So,” Tony suddenly says, breaking Loki’s little moment with his food. “Are you finally going to tell me the answer to the one million dollar question? Because I’ve been kinda wondering, you know?”

 

Huh?

 

Loki looks up from the bowl, confused.

 

“I don’t understand,” he says quietly, sensing danger. “Which question would that be?”

 

Tony leans back into his chair, crossing his legs and scratching the back of his head as he gives the god a rather amused look.

 

“Come on, you’re smarter than that, Bambi. Those friends of yours that showed up here a couple of days ago – I’m sure you remember them, the guys with the huge swords and big beards – they never bothered telling me why Odin decided to gift you to me of all the Avengers. Not to say that I’m not flattered to have been thought of for such a gracious gesture, and from the Allfather no less, but it kind of makes me wonder – why not one of the other guys?” The facade of mock seriousness cracks as an impious smile tugs at his upper lip. “I’m sure Barton would have absolutely loved the opportunity to play Kunta Kinte with you.”

 

A few of the round shapes take the wrong way down Loki’s throat and he coughs, spluttering and hawking.

 

Tony shoves a glass of water in front of him, and Loki drinks, the gulps of water managing to suppress his coughing fit.

 

“Well?” Tony asks again once Loki appears able to speak again. “Why me?”

 

Of course, Loki has no choice but to answer. He doesn’t like it one bit though. Better tread carefully now.

 

“Odin decided that you were the most appropriate choice,” he says, already knowing before the words are out that this answer won’t do.

 

“Well duh,” Tony says and Loki can hear the sarcasm positively dripping from that short little statement. “Of course he did or you wouldn’t be here. What I wanna know is, why did Odin think I would make the best slave master out of the whole merry little team of Avengers?”

 

Memories from his trial flash before his eyes, and for a while it’s almost as if he can hear Odin’s voice booming across the room as the Allfather pronounces his judgement. Damning him to a life as someone’s property, and a mortal’s at that.

 

He keeps his eyes on the remainders of his breakfast as he answers. Somehow, he can’t really bear to meet Tony’s eyes. “Your leader, Director Fury, didn’t get selected because Odin realized that he would only ever have an interest in me as a test subject, and that wasn’t the point of my punishment, so…”

 

“That figures,” Tony interrupts him. “Quite a shame, though, because handing you over to Fury would have made my life a lot easier in so many ways. No offence, Rudolph, but if the universe would have asked me a few days ago what my most heartfelt desire was, a slave would not have made it into even the top one hundred.” He waves impatiently with his hand. “Alright, go on, what about the rest of them?”

 

“As for Romanoff, the court suspected that she might simply cut my throat on sight, so she was out. If they wanted me dead, they would have executed me right there and then and saved themselves the trouble.” 

 

“Ah yes, dear Natasha. She was quite upset about you calling her a ‘mewling quim’, you know. Not many dare to speak to her that way, and those that do usually leave minus at least one body part.”

 

Damn. He’d totally forgotten about that.

 

He hopes that it isn’t another mark that will go onto Tony’s list of things that he will eventually be punished for, but there is a hint of amusement in his voice that makes Loki think that it might not actually count in his disfavour after all. Still, he finds it prudent to move away from the subject.

 

“Banner… was considered inappropriate to be left in charge of a slave, given that he sometimes turns into… his other form. As the Hulk, he’s too dangerous for someone without… godly powers.” 

 

Tony chuckles. “Well, seeing the number the Hulk did on you a while ago, I hardly think the ‘godly powers’ part make much of a difference.” 

 

Humiliating, but true. A prickle of anger stirs within Loki, but he knows better than to refute the comment. Instead, he quickly moves on to the next name.

 

“Odin didn’t believe that Rogers would have it in him to take on a slave. It would go against his Midgardian morals to do such a thing.” A little tweaking of the truth there; rather it had been Roger’s suspected qualms about taking revenge and treating Loki as badly as the Asgardian court was expecting their candidate of choice to do that had struck Rogers off the list, but Tony doesn’t need to know that. Doesn’t need to know that the court will surely only be the more pleased the worse Tony treats him.

 

Only one name on the list now, and he doesn’t want to go there, so he tries to evade.

 

“Thor was never a possible candidate to start with, seeing as he still considers himself my brother. So that only left you.”

 

“What about Barton?”

 

Of course, Tony takes note of the omission. And if there is one subject that Loki does not want brought up, it’s the man with the bow and arrows. Because if there’s one person who’d like to see him suffer until the end of the world, it’s Barton.

 

And what if Tony decides it would be a great idea to provide his trigger happy friend with a little loan in the form of an enslaved god of mischief?

 

It’s not a pleasant thought. Being left to Tony‘s mercies is bad enough, but Barton would be even worse.

 

“Barton hates me enough to kill me on sight,” Loki says simply, hoping that is enough to dissuade Tony from any such ideas. Yes, the court thought it was a bad idea to hand me over to him, and so should you.

 

“Uh-huh. Sounds like I got picked out by process of elimination, then. And here I thought I was all special.” Tony scoffs, feigning disappointment.

 

As the man says nothing further on the subject, Loki slowly releases a breath he hadn’t even realized he’d been holding in. If Tony is considering putting Loki on loan to Barton, at least he isn’t saying anything about it out loud.

 

There is silence again, and Loki looks down into his empty bowl. The meagre scraps thrown to him in the dungeons have left him starving, and he wonders if he should dare to go for another serving of the round little things. Tony did tell him to help himself as he sat down at the table, but whether the offer included a second serving wasn’t made clear. The prospect of more food is tempting, though, and he decides to risk it, making a grab for the garish package in front of him.

 

To his relief, Tony doesn’t ask him what the hell he’s doing or even seems to notice.

 

So he starts eating again, but there’s one thing nagging at the back of his head. He would feel much calmer actually knowing. And now is the perfect time to ask, given that the subject has already been breached.

 

Of course, he knows full well that slaves aren’t supposed to ask questions. It’s not his place, not in his current station, and he's seen what happens to nosy slaves back in Asgard, but he can’t stop himself.

 

“May I ask… where are the other Avengers currently at?” he says, as politely and demurely as he can manage without choking on his own words. He had sort of expected that they would be hanging around in the vicinity, that he would run into at least a few of them here at Stark Tower, but so far there’s only been Tony.

 

If Tony thinks his slave is acting above his station by asking him such a direct question, he doesn’t show it. “Ah, missing them already, are you? Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t really keep track of their whereabouts. We only get together when the world is threatened by some demented super villain.” He gives Loki a piercing look. “Like that time when you tried to take over the entire planet.”

 

Uh-oh. Dangerous ground. Loki doesn’t need to be reminded of his failed attempt to lay Midgard under his feet. And frankly, neither does Tony.

 

“Anyway, Romanoff and Barton are in South America on a mission, looking for some illegal weapons dealer or the other. Bruce spends his days in the lab, mixing stuff with other stuff in little test tubes. Steve is probably saving the world somewhere. And Fury, well, who knows. As for your brother, he’s off spending some quality time with Jane.”

 

“I don’t have a brother,” he retorts, reflexively. But that’s not important right now, what matters is that Barton is far away, on another continent. Hopefully not coming back at all.

 

“Well, Thor seems to think that you do. Unless you have some other fraternal relation I don’t know about.”

 

“He didn’t even show up at my trial,” Loki says. He doesn’t know why he’s even telling Tony that, but the words force themselves out by their own volition and he regrets them before they’re out.

 

“Can’t say I blame him.”

 

Another silence follows, and Loki is looking down into his empty bowl again. He’s still hungry, and seeing as how Tony didn’t comment on his helping himself to seconds, going for a third helping can’t hurt. Hoping there’s still some stuff left, he reaches out for the box again.

 

This time, Tony nails him with a quizzical look.

 

“Didn’t they feed you in prison?”

 

Chapter Text

The work on his new and hopefully improved suit isn’t going too well. There’s a glitch in there somewhere, and he can’t seem to find it despite having run numerous lengthy tests.

 

Annoyed, he taps his fingers against the tabletop as his eyes scroll down the screen, trying to find a pattern in the anomaly reports in front of him. But his brain isn’t willing to cooperate today, and no sensible interpretation of the data is forthcoming.

 

Sighing, he turns the instruments off. The screen beeps sadly before shutting itself off. Better deal with this tomorrow when he’s rested and his brain’s working morale has improved.

 

Closing the door to his workshop behind him, he heads out to the living room, deciding that plonking his body down on the coach and watching a movie sounds like an excellent idea. It’s too late in the day to get anything useful done anyway, and there is a slight throbbing somewhere behind his right temple, and his futile attempts to rub it away have so far proven unfruitful.

 

No, what he needs right now is some relaxation. Then the headache should let off.

 

As he steps into the living room, one hand still rubbing light circles around his temple, there is a figure clad in black and green standing at the bookshelf, his back to the door. Tony almost yelps in surprise at the unexpected sight, and then frowns.

 

Alright, so he did give Loki permission to roam around freely in certain sections of the tower (he figured that a restless god of mischief locked into a room all day would have far too much time on his hands to invent new plans for world domination) under strict and constant surveillance of Jarvis, so it’s not like Tony should be surprised to see him around. He just didn’t expect to run into him here in his own living room. For some reason, it annoys him.

 

Loki turns quickly at the sound of Tony’s footsteps. There’s a guilty look on his face, as if Tony has just caught him doing something expressly impermissible.

 

A book is clutched in the god’s hands, but he quickly puts it back into the empty slot on the shelf as he notices Tony eyeing his reading material.

 

The prickle of annoyance turns into a sharp sting of irritation, seeing Loki standing there putting his long fingers onto Tony’s stuff, even if it’s just his books. Not that he’s told the god he can’t read them, but still…

 

“What you’re reading there, Rudolph?” he asks, feeling a slight note of satisfaction as Loki takes a step back when Tony takes one in his direction. The book that the god just put back sticks out a little from the otherwise symmetrical line, and his eyes sweep over the title printed with big blocky letters across the slightly dented back.  

 

The poetic Edda. Huh. He had no idea he had that one in his collection, but it doesn’t surprise him one bit that the god went for that particular book. Loki’s vanity would succumb without a fight to the temptation that is the chance to read tales of his own exploits. 

 

So perhaps Tony has just had a bad day, or maybe it’s his headache getting to him, but Coulson’s almost-murderer and Earth’s would-be-conqueror unexpectedly being here annoys him. It’s like a blotch on a white piece of paper, a fly in a glass of brandy, a crack in a mirror. The god’s tall and brooding presence makes Tony uncomfortable, to say nothing of the memories it drags up, of that time when Loki last showed up in his tower and the events that transpired afterwards. Mostly, the utter terror of falling to his death, only to be saved by his Iron Man suit in the nick of time when his nose was inches from scratching the pavement. It’s all too firmly ingrained in his memory.

 

Of course, Loki never offered an apology for that the next time they came face to face, merely asked for – requested – a drink.

 

Arrogant, conceited, and self-important, like a true god.

 

Tony’s mood takes a definite downturn. There is still resentment and anger inside of him, and so what if it’s petty and he’s being conceited as well, but he decides then and there that he wants an apology. He deserves one.

 

Maybe Loki is sensing Tony’s gloomy mood, or perhaps it’s showing on his face, but either way, Loki takes another step back, putting some distance between himself and Tony. Even if it might just be an instinctive reflex, it gives Tony a small sting of satisfaction seeing the god’s reaction, like a deer retreating before an attacking lion. A turning of tables, and now it’s Tony that’s managed to put the fear of the devil into Loki, not the other way around.

 

But what’s first and foremost on Tony’s mind right now is one thing – he wants an apology. Even if Loki doesn’t mean it, even if he would do it all again if he could get away with it, Tony still wants one.

 

Narrowing his eyes, he nails the god before him with a smouldering look. Time for Loki’s humility lesson of the day.

 

“So,” he says, trying to sound flippant and indifferent, like the matter isn’t at all important, just a spur-of-the-moment idea. “Come to think of it, you never did say you were sorry for smashing my window into pieces using my body as a battering ram. So I think it’s only fair that you offer me an apology for that.”

 

In the stillness, Loki’s sharp intake of breath is clearly audible.

 

Not used to apologizing, are you? Never had to swallow you pride and ask someone for forgiveness before? Well guess what, buddy, you’re going to do it right here and now.

 

He can almost feel Loki’s aversion shifting the air, like a barometer sensing a drop in pressure, and it makes it all the sweeter. Only one little detail is tarnishing the moment, though – Loki is taller than him, still looking down on Tony from several inches up.

 

Luckily there’s an easy way to rectify that. 

 

“And to show how sincerely sorry you are, you will get down on your knees before you apologize,” he hears his own voice say, like it’s not actually him, but someone else speaking those words through his mouth.

 

And damn, where did all that just come from?

 

Bu it’s the same feeling as before, just after Loki’s arrival when he put that shock stick under the god’s chin – a giddy feeling of triumph that makes Tony oddly light-headed and not quite like his usual self. Like a heated flood of power is rushing through his veins, as if his bloodstream has been replaced by a strange mixture of alcohol and molten lava. And he does recognize it from another time as well, from a place very far away from here.

 

Afghanistan. The time when he blasted that terrorist cave into oblivion, taking his tormentors with it in a blaze of fury. The rush as he watched it all burn was intoxicating, a fusion of power and revenge for injustices suffered, oddly saccharine and bitter at the same time, but potent enough to make his blood boil and banish all traces of rational thought from his head.

 

He pushes the memories away, not wanting to think about that right now.

 

This time, Loki is quicker to obey his order to kneel. For some reason, Tony is almost disappointed.

 

But the sight is pleasing, nonetheless. Tony is the top dog now, while Loki has been reduced to one of those little lap dog breeds whose name he’s forgotten, but that fits snugly into the purses of old ladies.

 

“Well?” Tony prods when he thinks the silence has gone on for too long.

 

And Tony can see how Loki’s jaws are chewing on air, like the words have been stuck to his throat with super glue. After a little while of this, Loki finally mumbles something mostly inaudible to the floor. 

 

Not good enough, pal.

 

Closing the distance between them with two quick steps, Tony reaches down and grabs a fistful of black hair, tilting Loki’s down turned face up and forcing the god to look him in the eyes.

 

“Now I didn’t quite catch that. Let’s do it once again, and a bit louder this time,” he says pleasantly, as if he’s asking the god to pass the table salt.

 

Loki’s face is pale and he looks more haggard than Tony remembers ever seeing him before. Though the god is trying to conceal it, there is a clear streak of fear across those pallid features, mixed with what looks suspiciously like… resignation, is it?

 

The tip of a tongue darts out to wet dry lips, and shoulders sag as a breath of air is expelled. Then:

 

“I’m… sorry for throwing you out the window.”

 

And there it is, the coveted apology in all its glory, spoken by a kneeling and powerless god on the floor of Tony Stark’s living room.

 

Perhaps it would have been satisfying if Loki hadn’t been looking so uncharacteristically resigned, like he’s had all the fight beaten out of him with a pointy stick.

 

Tony lets go of Loki’s hair as he feels the surge of giddiness dwindle and then die inside of him.

 


 

There is a bitter, unpleasant taste in his mouth. Slightly metallic, but mostly just acidic and tangy.

 

So this is what humiliation, what defeat tastes like.

 

Only a few heartbeats ago, Tony walked out and left him there on the floor after having received his apology, rather than hanging around to gloat, to watch Loki stew in his miserable patheticness.

 

His pride is broken and mauled, but there was no way he could have refused to give Tony what he wanted. Because he’s a slave, because he’s powerless, because Tony controls his life now, because he still has the threat of death-by-torture in Asgard hanging over his head, because… because of a million things.

 

Of course, he knew already when Odin read out the sentence that the defenestration incident would come back to bite him in the ass. Tony is still – understandably – pissed about it. At least the man settled for an apology this time, rather than deciding to beat the living daylights out of him. This time.

 

The day had started on an acceptable note, though – given the circumstances – as Tony was busy with his own work and Loki was free to wander around in designated parts of the tower, eventually finding his way into the living room with the bookshelves lining the far end wall. That he spotted the Edda was pure coincidence, but curiosity got the better of him, so he removed the book from its place on the shelf to have a look. It turned out to be a rather interesting read, seeing the myths of Asgard out of the eyes of the humans – some of it true to facts, other parts very much freely interpreted. But it was a welcome distraction, making him almost forget about his current position, if only for a little while.

 

Then Tony had entered the scene and reminded him of his place – at the very bottom of the ladder, without anything even resembling control over his own life. A slave thrown at the mercy of one of his worst enemies, to be ordered around as his master sees fit.

 

He supposes he should be relieved that at least the man wasn’t upset about having caught Loki flipping through one of his books. Back in Asgard, a slave making private use of his master’s property without express permission would have been whipped.

 

The book is still standing there in the bookshelf, red letters on gold, but even if Tony didn’t seem to care about his faux-pas, Loki’s desire to read the Edda is gone.

 

Chapter Text

Another day, and not much has changed since yesterday, or the day before that. The resentment at the indignity of his station is still burning in his chest, but he firmly keeps a lid on it, full well knowing there will be nothing to gain by doing anything else.

 

He glares at the heaps of shoes piled all around him on the floor, silently willing every single one of them to self-ignite and burn into a fried crisp. Not so much out of the desire to spare himself this humiliating task as for the satisfaction of seeing the exasperated horror on Tony’s face as he realizes his entire shoe collection has been reduced to ashes.

 

The shoe collection that Loki has been ordered to polish, like he’s some sort of servant boy. Of course, he if full well aware that his status is even lower than that, but that’s beside the point.

 

As it soon turned out, the man has more footwear than Loki thought possible for one single person to own. Even the court ladies in Asgard would be put to shame by Tony’s extravagances in the shoe department. He wonders if the man has even worn them all, or if they’re just another pointless diversion into which to channel a tiny stream of his riches. Loki’s known some men like this, who’d go to great lengths to obtain beautiful weapons or ancient books or other special items that look impressive on display, but never made much use of the remarkable things they so laboriously amassed. None of them ever collected shoes, though.

 

He isn’t sure if this task is more or less demeaning than the one he had to perform yesterday, when he spent a good chunk of his day cleaning up the grime in Tony’s workshop, after the man had given him very clear instructions not to tamper with any of the technical equipment or half-finished suits, or Jarvis would fucking tase him so help him god. He remembers the look of the place with abject distaste, like it hadn’t been cleaned in centuries with all the black grease and dirt and smears of unidentifiable substances staining more square inches of surface than not. How the man can at all stand to work in such abject filthiness, Loki has no idea.

 

He wonders how many more of these degrading chores that Tony is going to heap upon him before moving on to more... hands-on ways of meeting out revenge. But he supposes the delay makes sense upon closer consideration; Tony has all the time in the world, or at least the short life span of his own existence, to avenge himself and he clearly wants to have Loki thoroughly humiliated first by having him perform these debasing, menial tasks. The man’s not going to pass up on the enjoyment of reducing his enemy to the lowliest of the low, to pull his leash and order him around in the satisfaction of seeing him submit to servitude and bondage.

 

But he can’t scrub floors with broken bones, after all, or perform any other of these degrading chores; even Tony is aware of that and acts accordingly for now.

 

Knowing that, he works slowly in a futile effort to stave off the inevitable awaiting him.

 

Grimacing to himself, he remembers the words spoken to him when he faced off with the man in this very tower, back when he still held his godly powers, as he stood here and threatened Tony in his own home, the light of impending victory shining in his eyesand the rush of heady self-assuredness surging through his veins.

 

… but it’s all on you. Because if we can’t protect the Earth, you can be damn well sure we’ll avenge it.”

 

In the end, they did manage to protect their planet. He isn’t naïve enough to believe that means that the ‘avenge’ part has been taken out of the equation, though.

 

There is only one sliver of hope left on the horizon for him; if he perseveres and gets through this, then eventually, some day, Tony might tire of him. And then… who knows. It’s not a great prospect, but it’s his best bet, his only bet. If he is patient and endures, his situation might be somewhat improved in the future. Perhaps he will even be able to find a way out of this somehow, though he doubts it. But as it’s the only hope he has, he stubbornly clings to it, refusing to let go. Spending the rest of his life like this is just too disheartening to consider, even though he knows that it is the most likely alternative.

 

Right now he doesn’t have any other choice than submitting, but hoping there might eventually be some change or a way out is what keeps him going and lets him accept all these indignities piled upon him as well as the prospects of even worse looming on the horizon.

 

At least he gets fed properly, though that’s about the only positive thing about his current situation, apart from the fact that he is still alive, though he isn’t sure just how long he’s going to keep counting that as something in his favour.

 

He looks down on his hands, knuckles whites from strain. The black grease he’s been smearing over the shoes is blotchy on his hands and all the way up to his wrists, turning his fingernails into dark half-moons. Under normal circumstances he wouldn’t have cared overly much about getting his hands dirty, but given the situation, it only adds further to his degradation.

 

There’s a slam of a door coming somewhere from the hallway to his right, and only moments later, a shirtless Tony Stark walks in. Judging by the towel slung over his shoulders and still wet hair and bare feet, the man has just stepped out of the shower. Loki can almost feel the dampness radiating from his skin, and he can’t help but feel a sting of irritation, how his being all filthy and dirty in comparison only adds further to his image as a lowly slave.

 

Tony comes to a sudden stop a few yards from where Loki is sitting on the floor with his legs crossed and surrounded by an ocean of shoes, almost as if he’s surprised to see him there.

 

And Loki knows that he would be better off focusing on the task in front of him, to pretend as if Tony isn’t there and just keep smearing the dark, stinking polish on the shoe in his hand, but as Tony is standing there in front of him, he can’t help but stare.

 

He’s never seen anything like it before, the foreign object that is planted in the middle of Tony’s chest. Its white-blue light shimmers softly, casting a ghostly hue of brightness. The other-worldly colour is not one he’s seen before, neither in sky nor in ocean nor in winter’s ice, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. And he can sense it pulsating gently, creating little shimmers of undulating disturbances in the surrounding air, not entirely unlike being in the vicinity of another magic user weaving a spell.

 

But it’s not magic, he knows that. It’s a human invention, the mortal child of technology and science, created by some Midgardian, perhaps even by Tony himself.

 

His unabashed staring doesn't go unnoticed for long. “Oh, this thing in my chest?” Tony says flippantly, apparently used to inquisitive stares. “It’s an arc reactor and a little souvenir from my getting almost blasted to pieces in Afghanistan.” There’s a short pause as he taps a fingernail against the ghoulishly glowing surface. “And it’s also what caused your lamentable performance issues that one time, by the way.” Loki can almost hear the smirk underneath, and the reminder of his failure stings.

 

“I see,” he says flatly in response, not happy about being reminded of that miserable day. He’s not quite sure what the arc reactor is really doing in Tony’s chest, but he decides it might be unwise to prod further.

 

Tony regards him for a few moments, then pulls out a chair, turning it around so he can straddle it, arms resting on top of the backrest. “Don’t mind me,” he says to Loki with another one of those cocksure grins of his. “I just happen to enjoy watching other people working, so just continue as you were.” He waves his fingers at him, shooing him on. 

 

Of course. No fun humiliating the fallen enemy unless you’re there to watch, is there?

 

Silently fuming, Loki clenches his teeth as to stop his tongue from rattling off a few select ill-advised truths at the smug man lounging over the backrest of his chair as if he’s about to watch a show with trained animals doing little tricks for the amusement of the spectators. Perhaps if he keeps ignoring him, he will tire and go away to play with his inventions and Midgardian technology instead.

 

So he scrubs the shoe brush against the dark leather in his hand, smearing the foul-smelling substance all over the piece of ugly, uncomfortable-looking footwear, trying to pretend Tony isn’t there.

 

Tony remains silent for a few merciful seconds, but it soon proves too much for him and he starts another round of inane blabbering.

 

“Actually, Reindeer Games, it’s nice seeing you doing some honest work for once. You know, as opposed to trying to take over the planet.” He eyes the shoes littering the floor and then bends down from his chair to pick one up, studying it with feigned interest. “You’re not too bad at it either, for an alien not used to this kind of stuff. But you clearly have talent, so perhaps I should start a small-scale shoe-polishing business here and rent your services to the good citizens of New York, how about that?” He drops the shoe back to the floor and strokes his bearded chin with one hand, as if in deep contemplation over philosophical issues.

 

Then he snaps his fingers and points at Loki. “I got it – Stark’s Shiny Shoes!” He grins again. “You like that name? Kinda snappy with the three identical initial letters combination, that sort of stuff psychologically appeals to people, you know.”

 

Unconsciously, Loki’s hand tightens around the shoe in his hand, crumpling the black leather until it creaks in protest at the ungentle treatment.

 

“Hey,” Tony snaps, snagging the shoe out of his grasp. “Don’t ruin my stuff. These beauties cost me over four hundred bucks.”

 

Midgardian currency means nothing to Loki, but he figures the footwear is expensive, high-class like most everything else in the man’s possession. Though, if the shoes are truly that superior, they should be able to withstand a little clenching. But what is to expect from Midgardian quality anyway?

 

Loki can feel a muscle in his cheek twitch in annoyance, pulling his lips upwards in a snarl. If Tony wants to tell him how to do things, then he might as well do them himself, and he’s really itching to tell the man just that.

 

Ever observant, Tony notices the little spasm of irritation. “You heard me, princess. Don’t ruin my stuff.” He motions with the shoe, punctuating the four final words with a downwards stab for each one before finally pointing the thing at Loki. “Got it?”

 

Loki gives him a glare, as frosty as he dares. “I got it,” he says, slightly wincing at the ill hidden animosity he can hear in his own voice.

 

Tony straightens in his chair, crossing his arms just below the eerie glow of his chest, obviously having heard it as well. “My house, my rules, buddy. Though, if you prefer, I’m sure we can arrange a transport back to Asgard if following a few simple rules is too much for you.” Brown eyes are boring into his. “Is that what you want?”

 

The threat makes a prickle of icy dread stir within him, and he lowers his gaze, shaking his head. No, he doesn’t want that, knowing the kind of justice that would await him there. Even Tony must surely realize this, though the man obviously relishes in the opportunity to force the choice out of him (as if he even has one), humiliating him by having him openly admit his preference for living under Tony’s yoke as opposed to getting sent back to Asgard for a long-winded execution.

 

And once more, he finds himself wondering how long he will be able to keep a lid on his simmering anger, how much more of this he can take before the kettle will blow and he will do something that he will sincerely regret for the rest of his miserable existence.

Chapter Text

There is one thing that Tony can’t help but wonder when he rummages through his closets, and that’s why he’s never bothered throwing away all the old stuff in here that he never uses anyway.

 

Under a layer of white T-shirts, he spots a gaudy Hawaiian shirt that he doesn’t even remember buying and most certainly has never worn. Then there’s that old jacket with a large tear along the arm that he likes so much that he hasn’t had the heart to get rid off it. And the hoodie that never fit him, but still looks cool. Baggy sweat pants ragged from frequent use. Black shirts sporting logos from various bands that he no longer listens to.

 

Perhaps he’ll clean his closets out one day, but not today.

 

Finally, he settles for a pair of long sweat pants and a T-shirt that is too big for him, along with some underwear.

 

That will have to do.

 

Satisfied with his find, he shuts the closet door and heads out into the living room, clothes draped over one arm.

 

“Jarvis,” he calls out, “have Loki get his ass over here.”

 

He doesn’t know where the god is currently skulking around at, and it’s not like he cares enough to keep track of him. It doesn’t matter. Jarvis is constantly watching him, making sure he doesn’t cause any trouble. Amazingly, so far there have been no reports of the god doing anything questionable.

 

 “As you wish, sir,” comes the dutiful reply from his AI creation. Jarvis, always reliable and trustworthy, unlike certain other tower inhabitants he can think of.

 

A couple of minutes tick by, then there is the soft shuffling of feet against carpet as Loki enters the room. He comes to a halt a few steps before Tony, his entire demeanour showing that he’s not happy about having been summoned.

 

As if the guy’s got anything better to do than sitting around scratching his belly button and sulking over how his attempt at world domination failed.

 

He waves a hand at the little bundle of clothes that he has dispatched onto the armrest of one of those unsightly bulky wooden chairs that he doesn’t know why he even bought in the first place.

 

“Got some new clothes picked out for you, Bambi. Because frankly, you’re starting to smell.”

 

The look flashing across the god’s face is a mixture between disbelief and anger, but he quickly reins it in and adjusts it to a more neutral expression, though Tony is sure he can still see a muscle twitch somewhere near Loki’s left eyebrow. He’s willing to bet a hundred bucks and a bottle of his finest scotch that no one’s ever told the god the he smells. Not that it’s very noticeable as of yet, just the occasional whiff of murky leather and sweat when he’s in Loki’s immediate presence, but a few more days in those clothes and the faint odour will eventually turn into a reek. Might as well do something before it gets to that point.

 

He pretends not to notice the silent outrage. “I suppose we could just throw your stuff into the washing machine, but with all that leather I’m not sure the result would be stellar. So I think we’re better off finding you something else to wear, something that looks a bit more, well, Midgardian.”

 

Loki is suspiciously eyeing the clothes lying snugly across the chair. Tony is certain that the prospects of wearing human clothes isn’t endearing to him in the least.

 

“Don’t look so upset.” Tony picks up the clothing items, turning them around in his hands as if he’s inspecting the quality of the goods. “I’ve only worn these a few times, so they’re almost like new. They’ve even been washed since last time, though I suppose if you stick your nose into them and inhale deeply you’ll still be able to smell the cologne I used to wear back then. Scarlet Blue, it was called, though I don’t think they sell it anymore.”

 

He watches as Loki’s expression turns a few shades darker. Clearly, the idea of being forced to wear used clothes doesn’t sit well with him, a former price of Asgard. Especially not Tony’s, his enemy’s.

 

Oh well. At least he was nice enough not to pick that bawdy Hawaiian shirt, or the T-shirt that had the words ‘Sex god’ printed across the chest. Even though it does make for an amusing mental image.

 

Loki has still not made any move to accept the clothing that Tony is holding out to him, so Tony makes an impatient gesture with his arm. “Go on. Take these and get changed.”

 

Of course, he didn’t mean for Loki to actually get changed right here and now, not on the very spot where he’s standing in Tony’s living room. When he said ‘take these and get changed’, what he really meant was ‘take these and go to your room and get changed’. It’s the sort of thing that’s implicitly understood, so obvious that only an idiot would need to have it spelled out for him.

 

That, and gods of mischief, apparently.

 

Because with one, no, two swift motions, Loki’s removes his clothing – unclasping a few straps, stepping out of his pants and pulling the shirt over his head, only to let it all fall into a crumpled heap on the floor. Just like that, the god undresses as if he didn’t have an audience consisting of one baffled Tony Stark, standing there gawking and gaping like an idiot.

 

Okay, so clearly being raised in Asgard comes with very different opinions on what counts as proper modesty.

 

Not that Tony is the modest type himself, and it’s not like he hasn’t seen his fair share of both naked men and women in his day, but the fact that it’s Loki, the fact that it’s so unexpected, the fact that it’s in his own living room and they’re standing only steps away from each other makes a slow blush creep into Tony’s cheeks.

 

And of course, he can’t help but look at the god in all his stark naked glory. As if moving by their own volition, his eyes slowly sweep down over Loki’s body – the lean chest, the sculpted arms, the flat stomach, down to…

 

Well I’ll be damned.

 

So not only is Loki a god, he’s clearly endowed like one too.

 

And Tony feels a faint, familiar stirring in his groin as his eyes take in the body before him. Loki is a bit thinner than expected, as if he hasn’t been fed properly for some time (which, Tony supposes, he probably hasn’t before his arrival here), but his body is still well-shaped with lean muscles rippling underneath the taut, pale skin. Like a fashion model, tall and handsome, straight out of one of those silly magazines that the more vapid types of women like to read. A rebellious, most inappropriate part of Tony wonders what it would feel like to run his fingers down that chest…

 

… and then he realizes that he’s still standing there like a moron holding Loki’s clothes as the god is giving him an odd look, in turn holding out his hand for the clothing that he has been ordered to put on but is for some reason still clutched tightly in Tony’s grip.

 

“Oh,” is all Tony manages as he almost shoves the items in his hand into Loki, who takes them without offering a word of comment. Something for which Tony is immensely grateful.

 

The god dresses himself almost as quickly as he undressed, and Tony still watches awkwardly, not sure what else to do with himself, though the southward stirring from a moment ago has thankfully disappeared. He notices that there are dull black and greenish remnants of old bruises on Loki’s body, and traces of scars only barely healed. Much too fresh to be leftovers from the battle in Manhattan and Loki’s subsequent encounter with the Hulk – no, someone’s obviously put them there after all that. The concept makes Tony feel uneasy. He thinks of Erik and his little team of Einherjers, and then wonders what the dungeons in Asgard are really like.

 

It would seem that prison guard brutality isn’t purely a Midgardian thing. He wonders if it’s officially sanctioned in Asgard, or something that’s done ‘on the side’ and under the radar of whatever counts as the authorities back there. Though, he’d rather not really think about that at all.

 

And then, Loki is fully dressed once more, standing before Tony in grey sweatpants and a slightly faded black T-shirt with the name AC/DC printed across the chest. It’s odd how a mere change of clothes can so drastically change someone’s appearance like that. Loki looks almost normal, almost human now, rather than like the demented, narcissistic megalomaniac that once tried to take over the planet.

 

The feeling from a few moments ago, Tony quickly banishes to the deepest recesses of his treacherous brain.

 


 

Being forced to exchange his Asgardian clothing for the Midgardian apparel hasn’t exactly put him in a better mood, and to say that it wasn’t all that cheerful to start with is an understatement.

 

Loki runs a finger over the grey fabric where he sits at a window sill, absent-mindedly looking out over the bustling city beneath. At least he assumes it’s bustling, from up here he can’t really see much of what’s going on down there at ground level, though the view stretching out into the distance is spectacular.

 

At first, he thought it was the unappealing idea of wearing Tony Stark’s old, used clothes that bothered him, but he soon realized that there’s more to it than that. His own clothes, plain and simple as they were, were all he had left of Asgard, of his old life. The last thing that connected him to the home that he has now been cast out of (the chains around his wrists, locking his magic away, don’t really count).

 

Of course, it’s a small trifle, a nuisance at the most. Given his current position, it should be the least of his worries. But it serves to reinforce the fact that for all intents and purposes, he’s little more than a simple mortal, wearing ordinary human clothing. No, he corrects himself, he’s even less, even lower than a simple mortal. He’s a slave.

 

At least the fabric is soft and the clothing comfortable, though it’s a small reassurance. What the word AC/DC on the shirt means he has no idea, but he suspects it’s one of those peculiar Midgardian things that have no equivalent back in his world.

 

Like Cheerios.

 

He leans his head back against the white-plastered wall, feeling the drafty chill from the window on his cheek. There is still another thought that keeps intruding, an unpleasant feeling that won’t leave him alone, even though he’s been trying not to dwell on it.

 

But even now, hours later, he remembers the way that Tony’s eyes were glued to him as he took his clothes off, not leaving his body for one second. For Loki, having been brought up in Asgard where nudity is considered a natural thing, getting undressed isn’t something that should cause anyone to stare under normal circumstances.

 

He shifts slightly, trying to find a more comfortable position on the narrow window sill, but the edge of the wall is starting to uncomfortably dig into his shoulder and no matter how he adjusts himself, he still ends up no better off than before.

 

Then again, he tells himself, Tony was probably just looking approvingly at his bruises. That makes sense; with all that’s happened, why shouldn’t Tony be revelling in the evidence of the harsh treatment Loki has suffered at the hands of vindictive prison guards?

 

At least that’s what he hopes Tony was doing. Because the other alternative is too disturbing to consider.

Chapter Text

The next time he runs into Loki is in the library. The god is flopped down into one of the brown leather armchairs, nose deep into a book, one foot drawn up under him. He seems fully immersed in the thing, which looks like it weighs at least a couple of pounds. More like a brick than an actual book.

 

Tony doesn’t come here very often. The books lining the shelves here are pretty old, many of them classics that everyone claims to have read but no one really has (including Tony), while his personal preferences rather involve the latest developments in science and technology. The idea of ploughing through Macbeth or Ulysses until his eyes are bleeding never held much appeal to him.

 

He leans against the door frame, watching the little scene before him. Loki is too engrossed in whatever it is he’s reading to notice that he has an audience, idly flipping a page every now and then. It doesn’t seem to be one of the Eddas this time, though, and Tony can’t help but feel a sting of curiosity. What would a Norse god of mischief be reading, really? Especially one as arrogant as Loki who would probably find anything written by a puny human unworthy of his notice.

 

Perhaps he should just leave Loki to his own devices and continue on to where he was heading – his DVD player and the coach where he was planning on plonking himself down to watch a movie. 

 

But, as usual, curiosity gets the better of him and instead of turning around to leave, he unfurls himself from the door frame and saunters nonchalantly into the room, as if he has a planned errand in here and didn’t make a detour just because Loki happened to be around.

 

He sits down in the armchair opposite to the one Loki is currently occupying, making a show of stretching his limbs and yawning contentedly before settling himself into a comfortable position. The brown leather creaks as he adjusts his body, as if it is protesting the unwelcome intrusion.

 

Loki doesn’t look up but Tony can tell that the god has stopped reading.

 

“I see you have found something of interest in my humble library. Do pray tell, what human book title is it this time that has managed to catch a god’s attention?” The question comes out more mocking and condescending than he had intended, but whatever. “101 Ways to Subjugate the Human Race? How to Become a Ruler of Earth in Ten Quick Steps?”

 

Loki tenses, but the look he gives Tony is blank. “Crime and Punishment,” he answers simply, folding the book cover so that the title becomes visible.

 

Crime and Punishment, huh? Not a book that has ever been on Tony’s reading list. It’s one of those heavy-ass Russian classics, but that’s about the extent of his knowledge. Though he thinks it has something to do with a murder, and Siberia and the Gulags. Or maybe that was some other book that he hasn’t read either.

 

“Fascinating subject, huh?” he can’t help but comment. “I venture that our human justice system differs quite a lot from the way that justice is dispensed in Asgard, doesn’t it?”

 

“It does,” Loki agrees blandly, not seeming like he has any inclination to discuss the subject further.

 

Tony doesn’t suffer from the same hang-ups, though. “Gotta give it to you guys, you really have creative ways of administrating justice, though in some regards a bit… quaint.” He taps his finger against his chin as in contemplation before continuing. “So do people often get sentenced to slavery over in Asgard? Like, I don’t know, for trying to overthrow the Allfather and that kind of stuff?”

 

“It’s been known to happen.”

 

“Uh-huh. Though I bet you’re the first one to be sentenced to become a slave of a mortal Midgardian.”

 

“I am not familiar with any other such cases,” comes the terse reply.

 

“So you’re a pioneer then, Reindeer Games, breaking new ground and all. But that’s alright, everyone’s gotta go down in the history books for something.”

 

The comment doesn’t provoke a response, so he decides to go at it again. He’s not really sure where he’s taking this, but it’s hard to pass up the opportunity to watch Loki squirm in his seat, like a cornered rabbit unable to escape. Or perhaps a viper would be a more appropriate comparison, one that Tony is prodding with a stick for the sheer amusement of it. 

 

It’s not like Tony ever claimed to be a graceful winner, and sometimes you just got to rub it in a little. Especially when the loser is Loki.

 

“Seeing as how institutionalized slavery has been forbidden in the civilized parts of the world for quite some time, I’m kind of curious how this whole slave business works in practice. What is it that slaves are expected to do, really? Because frankly, I can’t see all that many uses for you,” Tony says, his comment making Loki shrink back a little.

 

The look the god gives him is suspicious, as if he is trying to find some hidden motive in Tony’s prodding. “They do what their masters decide that they’ll do,” he finally says, warily.

 

“And what would that usually entail on Asgard?”

 

“Any work that needs to be done in a normal household. Kitchen chores, taking care of the cattle, cleaning, serving at the table, preparing meals, and… other things.”

 

“Such as?”

 

Loki shifts in his seat. “Serving as bed slaves.”

 

Bed slaves? As in…? Now it’s Tony who is shifting in his seat. He sincerely regrets ever asking. Quickly, he looks for something else to say that will steer the conversation onto a more comfortable track. Anything at all.

 

You were about to go watch a DVD before you somehow strayed in here, his brain helpfully supplies.  

 

Yeah, that will do.

 

“Seriously, that book looks helluva tedious. Why don’t I show you a more interesting kind of cultural entertainment that this planet has to offer? You’ve ever watched a movie, Rudolph?”

 


 

No, Loki has never watched a movie before in his long life, and frankly he doesn’t have any desire to be exposed to such dull human entertainment.

 

He would have liked to turn down Tony’s proposal, but his danger radar and self-preservation instinct both tell him that it’s probably a better option to agree. Suggestions made to slaves are usually nothing but veiled commands, after all. And a pleased Tony is better than a displeased one, especially if Loki is the one responsible for the displeasing part. So he follows Tony into the living room without complaint, three steps behind.

 

The screen hanging on the far wall is big, covering a substantial part of it. Tony nods in its general direction and proudly says something containing the words brand new and inches and dollars, but it doesn’t mean much to Loki. For all he cares, it’s a flat screen on a wall, so he only listens with one ear to Tony’s prattling.

 

Having finished his little monologue, Tony squats down on the floor and starts rummaging through piles of flat, box-like things, mumbling to himself what sounds like disapproving comments for every box in his hand that goes back onto the floor again. Loki remains standing, eyeing him at a safe distance. He supposes the boxes with pictures on them are movies, though Tony seems to have a hard time deciding.

 

After a few minutes of this, Tony looks up.

 

“Have a seat, will you? It’s kind of distracting, having you towering over there like a misplaced flagpole.”

 

There’s a couch behind him, but it’s not that big and probably wouldn’t seat more than four people squeezed in. He hesitates for a few seconds, not sure what’s expected. In Asgard, slaves are never seated at the same level as their masters, or other free people. If there aren’t any lower benches or chairs around, slaves will kneel on the ground, anything else would be above their station. True, Tony did have him sit at the same table as him during mealtime, but it’s impossible for even a slave to eat from a table while sitting on the floor. A coach somehow seems different. He eyes the piece of furniture, but in lack of other guidelines, he sits down on the floor instead.

 

Besides, the more distance he keeps between himself Tony, the better. For various reasons.

 

“Coach not good enough for you?”

 

Okay, so it would seem he picked the wrong alternative.

 

“The floor is fine,” he says, but the disapproving look on Tony’s face is not difficult to interpret, so he scoots backwards and hoists his ass up onto the couch, obeying the unspoken order.

 

The couch is actually rather comfortable.

 

Apparently satisfied, Tony turns his attention back to his previous activities. “So what kind of movies do you prefer, Bambi? Horror, action, drama… “ He shuffles a few of the boxes around in his hands, eyeing each critically before turning it down and placing it next to its already discarded comrades on the ground. “No, wait, I know!” He points a knowing finger at Loki. “You’re the romantic comedy type of guy, right?”

 

He isn’t sure if he’s supposed to deign that question with an answer, so he just replies that he has no particular preferences. Not like Tony won’t pick whatever he likes anyway, regardless of Loki’s input.

 

“You’re not helping me out here at all, Reindeer Games,” Tony chides him, having obviously preferred another answer.

 

Loki says nothing, just frowns slightly at yet another one of those silly Midgardian insults. Frankly, he is growing rather tired of them, though it goes deeper than mere annoyance. Tony has already taken Loki’s freedom, followed by the clothes that were his last connection to Asgard, and to top it off, the man won’t even grant Loki the use of his real name. Like he’s not even entitled to such simple acknowledgements anymore, like Tony has given his darndest to take everything away from him, including even his own name. Which is about all he has left, save his life, which doesn’t really count as it technically belongs to Tony now.

 

The man is more perceptive than Loki gives him credit for, though.

 

“Don’t like it when I call you ‘Reindeer Games’, Bambi?” Tony places a hand over his heart, pretending shocked insult. “And here I took such care to think it up just for you.” He smacks his lips in feigned sadness, shaking his head.

 

The usual mockery. Loki tells himself that he will not let it get to him. Maybe it’s a game Tony is playing, trying to provoke Loki to anger and then punish his slave for acting out of turn.

 

And Tony clearly is about to up it, as another one of those shit-eating grins comes over the man’s lips.

 

“But if you don’t like it, I’m sure we can arrange another deal. I’ll address you with your name – Larry or Lenny or whatever it is, I’ve forgotten – if you’ll address me as ‘Master’.” The look he gives Loki is smug. “How about it?”

 

Loki winces inwardly. Sure, if Tony were to order him, he wouldn’t have a choice, but addressing a mortal with such a title is more than humiliating for a god. Although, to be honest, he’s surprised that Tony hasn’t insisted on it already – it’s the normal title of address that a slave in Asgard would use, after all. Still, his mouth feels like it’s full of ashes merely thinking about speaking such a deferent word to Tony.

 

Tony watches Loki for a little while, and then shrugs as he turns away. “Well, I suppose no deal then, Reindeer Games.”

 

The man continues to rummage through the piles in silence, as Loki merely watches dully. Then, Tony suddenly raises a hand in triumph, showcasing his pick.

 

“Here we go – the perfect movie for the night!” He holds the box out to Loki so he can read the title.

 

Reindeer Games.

 

The look on his face must be amusing since Tony chuckles while he puts the disc into the player, then plops himself down on the couch next to Loki.

 

The movie is every bit as stupid and insipid as expected.

 

Still, it’s infinitely better than the alternative of being tortured to death in the dungeons back in Asgard.

Chapter Text

Sometimes, parties are fun and interesting. This one, however, isn’t, so Tony leaves early, martini still in hand as he heads down the dwindling stairway, legs almost steady.

 

He gulps down the remaining drops of his drink before turning the beautifully carved door handle, putting the empty glass on a coffee table he passes on the way out while wincing slightly in displeasure. Not even the drinks at this godforsaken party are halfway decent.

 

As he steps out into the fresh open air, the garden is brimming with guests chatting and laughing politely at unfunny jokes. Even though his head is spinning a little – despite the weakness of the drinks they’ve been serving – he easily recognizes the usual fawning voices of social climbers trying to move up the ladder, the flattery from those looking for company for the night, and the braggarts spinning more or less made-up tales trying to impress their conversation partners.

 

A part of him feels vaguely disgusted. Though maybe that’s just the cheap alcohol.

 

He walks past the glimmer of fashionable dresses and the sharp black-and-white contrasts of stiff suits, having seen it so many times before. Sometimes, he’s not sure why he even continues coming to these events. So what if he’s a philanthropist and a genius and a hero, even they shouldn’t have to be subjected to this much shallowness, be it in the name of charity or not.

 

He’s not even sure for what noble cause this little event is held, and he doubts even half the people standing there gossiping and bragging under the colourful lanterns know. So it would seem he’s in good company. Which he’s about to leave.

 

“Going home so soon, Mr Stark?” a sultry voice says to his left, the words followed by a surprisingly strong grip on his elbow. He turns, and spots what he thinks is the hostess of the party. Miss Carter, or Crane, or something like that.

 

He smiles at the woman who must be over fifty but is eyeing him like she’s a hungry lion and he’s a piece of delicious meat, fresh from the kill. The woman smiles back, but all the botox pumped into her face makes it look like a stiff mask.

 

“I’m afraid so, Miss. I have important business to attend to early tomorrow,” he lies, bending down to kiss the back of her hand.

 

The woman titters stupidly like a schoolgirl. “Perhaps some other time, then,” she says hopefully.

 

“Perhaps,” he agrees. No way, his brain thinks.

 

Having finally disentangled his arm from the vice-like grip crushing his elbow, he signals for a cab, relieved to finally get out of this place that’s starting to feel like it’s suffocating him.

 

The ride back home is mercifully quiet. The man behind the wheel is un-talkative for a New York taxi driver, and merely makes some passing commentary on the scenery outside, and then says something about his cat being sick and needing to be taken to the veterinary.

 

Tony only hums in agreement, glad when the car finally comes to a halt outside his home.

 

Having received his payment, the driver takes off with tires screeching against the concrete, perhaps afraid that his customer is going to change his mind and demand the change back on that one-hundred dollar bill he just got.

 

A couple of minutes later, he steps out of the elevator and into his living room, Jarvis helpfully turning the lights on for him. Glancing towards the liquor cabinet, he wonders if he should grab himself a whiskey as consolation for the cheap drinks he was forced to endure at the party, but then decides against it. He’s too tired and his feet are hurting like crazy from standing around all evening in those new shoes that were perfectly comfortable when he tried them out in the store, but now feel as if they have shrunken at least two sizes in as many hours.

 

Abandoning the plans for a drink, he sinks down into the couch instead and with a contented sigh kicks his shoes off, glad to finally get rid of the toe-squeezing contraptions. Grimacing, he brings a foot up to his knee, gently massaging the aching sole. Shame Jarvis doesn’t do foot massages, because he could sorely use one now.

 

The thought gives him pause. So maybe Jarvis is suffering from an unfortunate lack of hands, but there is someone else who could assist Tony in this little endeavour, isn’t there?

 

Maybe it’s the alcohol in him talking now, but he still grins to himself. Why not? If Loki is going to be living here on his expenses, the guy might as well make himself useful and earn his keep.

 

Besides, another lesson in humility never hurt someone as conceited as Loki.

 

Not like the god has anything better to do. He’s probably just sulking somewhere in a corner anyway.

 

“Jarvis,” he calls, “send Loki over here, will you?”

 

“At once, Mr Stark,” comes the reply.

 

A couple of minutes later, Loki walks into the room. His hair is a bit dishevelled, and Tony wonders whether the god was sleeping when Jarvis called on him.

 

Oh well. Loki can sleep all night if he wants to, and all morning too, once Tony is through with him.

 

The god looks tired, like he hasn’t slept in days. Tony studies him for a while. Stiff and rigid posture, like a cornered animal ready to strike out in order to protect itself. Suspicion and distrust carved into fine-chiselled features. An air of broken pride around him. Still, not bad-looking for a god of chaos and destruction…

 

“You wished to see me?” Loki finally interrupts Tony’s private musings, apparently unnerved by the man’s silent staring.

 

“That’s right. I have a little task for you to perform tonight.”

 

The frown of suspicion on the god’s face deepens. “And what might this task consist of?” comes the wary question.

 

Tony raises a foot in Loki’s direction and wiggles his toes at him. “You see, I’ve had the misfortune of spending this evening standing around in way too small shoes at a charity event thrown by some lady who only cared about the opportunity to frolic around with the rich and mighty of this city. The food was terrible and the drinks weren’t even worth watering the plants with. And to top it all off, now my feet are killing me. So what I’d like right now, Reindeer Games, is for you to give me a foot massage.”

 

The look on Loki’s face is, of course, priceless. Tony can see how the god is trying his darndest to keep up his neutral, semi-humble facade, almost failing for a moment as his upper lip curls upward in distaste, but he quickly reins it in and smoothes the grimace out, though his hands are still clenched into tight fists.

 

“A foot massage,” he repeats blandly, as if trying to gauge if he’s heard correctly without actually sounding like he’s questioning the order.

 

“That’s right. Glad you’re catching on so quickly,” Tony says pleasantly, wiggling his toes again as his stomach gives a little anticipatory twist. Serves the bastard right for throwing him out the window. A foot massage is a small price to pay for that.

 

A few seconds tick by, during which Tony bets that Loki is going through some serious internal struggle, but eventually overcoming the resistance. Without uttering a word, the god kneels down on the floor in front of the couch, taking Tony’s left foot into his long-fingered hands and lets the heel rest against his thigh while he removes the sock.

 

And Tony has to admit, as the god sets to work, that Loki is good. Which is pretty surprising, because arrogant jerks like Loki aren’t the kind of guys who would usually spend a lot of time giving foot massages. But the god’s fingers move deftly over the soles of his feet, thumbs pressing into all the sore spots and aches, and Tony lets a sigh of pleased contentment slip from his lips.

 

“Damn, you’re good at this, Rudolph,” he admits. “If I’d known you were this skilled, I would have made you do this long ago.”

 

Loki offers no response, merely continues to knead Tony’s feet, his head down and face concealed by dark strands of hair. Obviously, he is not enjoying this one bit.

 

Tony is, though. Loki’s hands are strong yet soft, almost sensual in their touch, and Tony lets his head fall back towards the back of the coach, enjoying the feeling of palms rubbing out the soreness. He’s tired, and even though the drinks he’s had were pathetically weak, there’s still some alcohol-induced fogginess in his brain. Letting his eyelids close shut, he gives in to the pleasant sensations, truly relaxing for the first time in the day.

 

It doesn’t take long before he’s drifting in and out of consciousness, the occasional pressure against a particularly aching spot pushing his mind back to the brink of clarity every now and then, but soon he half-slumbers again, head filled with haphazard images blending fantasy and memories with reality. The hands moving over his skin are deceptively soft, almost like a lover’s caress, and the dreamy pictures in his head mix with imagery of dark hair and green eyes into a swirling whirl stream of confusion. Beneath him, the coach seems to float away, leaving only the sensation of hands pressing against skin. And it feels so good.

 

He suddenly awakes from his little reverie with a startle, jolted awake by a stab of not entirely unpleasant pain as a thumb presses against a sore spot.

 

And that’s when he notices it.

 

He's sporting an erection, and not a half-assed one either. No, it’s full-fledged, rock hard and straining against the front of his pants like a caged animal demanding to be let out.

 

Oh fuck.

 

His eyes go wide. Just how long has he been in this state? His first instinctive reaction is to throw a look at the god kneading away at his feet, but thankfully, Loki is still in the same position with his head bowed down and doesn't seem to have noticed anything out of the ordinary. Well, thank God for small graces.

 

Grimacing, he looks around for a pillow, a blanket, for something that will hide his predicament. But there’s nothing within grabbing distance, and his pants are too tight and his shirt too short to hide his obvious arousal.

 

For a moment, he panics. What if Loki decides to take a moment to raise his head, to actually lift his eyes from the floor? There’s no way he’s going to not notice Tony’s current status – horny like a slavering hound dog, and all from getting a foot massage by the god of mischief himself.

 

Tony isn’t one to blush easily, but right now he can feel his cheeks burning hot like the Sahara desert. There’s only one way out of this – fleeing the scene like a criminal running from a cold-blooded murder.

 

Abruptly standing up, he pushes Loki aside, almost stumbling over the huddled figure in his eagerness to get his back turned to the god as quickly as possible. “I think – uh – that’s my phone ringing,” he manages before marching out of the room with brisk steps, leaving a still kneeling Loki behind him on the floor.

 

And Tony decides he really needs to have a serious talk about certain things with his most precious body part.

Chapter Text

Few pleasures are greater in life than getting to sleep in without being disturbed by beeping alarm clocks or Jarvis making important announcements way too early in the morning. He digs an arm under his pillow, puffing it up into his face, not really wanting to wake up. He was having such a nice dream, and even though the jumbled and hazy images faded too quickly for him to actually remember any of it by now, the pleasant feeling lingers.

 

He rolls over onto his back, yawning and stretching stiff limbs that crack at the sudden movement. His sleepy mind notices that it would have been a much more pleasant morning if his feet hadn’t felt so uncharacteristically sore. That dull, throbbing ache is something he could have done without.

 

However, he really could do with a foot mass-…

 

And then the memories from last night come crashing down on him, like a huge wave washing over a careless tourist stupidly lounging too close to the seashore. He already got a foot massage yesterday evening from the moping god living in his tower, and ended up sporting an erection big enough to shame a horse.

 

He rubs a hand over his face, as if that will somehow help brushing the awkward image away.

 

What the hell is wrong with him anyway? Loki is a crazy megalomaniac who had him defenestrated, to say nothing of the damage the god did to New York city, and here Tony is reacting like a teenage boy getting his first kiss at a school dance, and all that merely from getting his feet rubbed.

 

Alright, so Loki might have a nice face and a well-toned body and whatnot, but he’s still Loki, goddammit. What on earth possessed his nether regions to react in such a preposterous way?

 

Ugh. He’s really starting to lose it. Maybe he needs to get out more. Preferably to parties that don’t suck, he amends after thinking about yesterday’s tedious charity event.

 

Better to just forget about his whole thing, this embarrassing one-time lack of good judgement.

 

Rubbing the last vestiges of sleep out of his eyes, he pushes the covers aside and gets up, wincing slightly as his abused feet take the full weight of his body. Ignoring the pain, he ambles into the bathroom, deciding a nice hot shower is exactly what he needs.

 

The warm tendrils of water are soothing, and he grabs one of the bottles from the shower ledge, popping the cap open and pouring a generous glob of gel into his palm. The yellowish substance soon turns into a thick, foamy lather as he rubs it into his shoulders and chest, and then further down over his stomach.

 

And as he stands there lathering himself up, a more feral and primitive part of his brain wakes up from hibernation and wants to play, and suddenly the hands moving over his body are not his own, but long-fingered and sleek, in the eye of his mind. They trail across skin warm from hot water and maybe something else, caressing and teasing as they explore.

 

His first conscious reaction is trying to shove the ridiculous images out of his mind, but the memory of a slender god standing in his living room all naked with his clothes in a heap at his feet gleefully inserts itself in his brain, refusing to be pushed aside, even though Tony tries to think about stock exchange indexes and baseball scores and where socks that disappear from the dryer go.

 

Despite his valiant efforts, his groin stirs, and even though his judgement should be better, Tony relents and gives in to his body’s baser needs. No one can see him standing here in his shower cabin anyway, and even if they did, they’d probably think him fantasizing about some buxom blond fashion model. And it’s not like he‘s never had inappropriate fantasies about people he wouldn’t dream of touching in real life before, is it? No, it doesn’t matter. Surely it doesn’t matter. It’s just a fantasy, and a little bit of day dreaming never hurt anyone, did it?

 

His brain is trying to rationalize, to goad him along this slippery trail of madness, though an ever-shrinking rational part of him tells him to lay off the mental crack, because this just isn’t right

 

Not that Tony has ever been one to care about what is considered right or not.

 

There is heat building down in his stomach, and it’s spreading further downward by the second. His cock is already hard, and so he grabs the wet shaft, slowly trailing his palm over the heated skin.

 

The sensation travelling up his spine is almost electrical, like a short and sweet pulse stirring up other things as well. So he strokes a bit harder, a little faster, letting a soft groan escape his lips.

 

Once more, his hand turns into that of another, another with green eyes and dark hair that is standing behind him with his fingers wrapped around his cock, squeezing, rubbing, and stroking. It’s forbidden, taboo, and perhaps that’s why the image is so oddly enticing, sending him into new heights of arousal. The imaginary body behind him is pressing against his back, sinfully slithering and coiling against him like the folds of a snake, threatening to ensnare him. And he doesn’t want to get un-ensnared, only more deeply tangled into that exotic presence. The hand rubs harder and more insistently, fuelling his desire further.

 

His breathing is speeding up, but the water drumming against the shower cabin walls is drowning the sound out. He feels like he’s drowning too, in that enticing and vivid image his brain is conjuring, of something that can of course never happen but is tantalizing all the same.

 

Panting, he puts an arm up against the wall to support his trembling body, resting his forehead against the crook of his elbow. The water raining down on his back feels almost like caresses, soft but insistent, like his imaginary partner is touching him all over at once.

 

Waves of pleasure are rolling through him as he touches himself, feeling his cock twitch eagerly as the tension builds up to increasingly higher levels. Almost there

 

A few more tugs is all it takes, and his body is wracked by shudders as he comes, shaking and moaning as he spurts over the glass of the cabin wall.

 

Then, he just remains standing there, head resting against the arm still propped up, as rivulets of water are flowing down his body and converging again on the cabin floor, swirling as they’re sucked down the drain. For some time, he only remains frozen, panting, watching as the clear water gets mixed with an opaque white as the spray from the showerhead cleans the wall off.

 

He draws a deep breath, running a hand over his face as he slowly pushes himself up from his hunched position. Damn, that was better than anything he’s had in months. And that’s counting real, actual sex, too.

 

His hands are still a bit unsteady as he turns the water off and steps out of the shower cabin door, grabbing one of the huge towels off the shiny chromium-plated rack next to him. Giddily, he wipes the soft cloth over his body, and then runs it through his wet hair, sending little droplets of water all around him like a rain-soaked dog.

 

Once he’s satisfactorily dry, he sloppily folds the towel in two and dispositions it back over the rack.

 

Then he stops, coming back to his senses once more as he finds himself standing there naked in the middle of the bathroom floor, hormones and adrenaline and horniness back to normal Tony Stark levels.

 

Did he just get off on a sexual fantasy involving Loki

 

And a better question yet, what the hell is wrong with him?

 

Tony has seldom been one to be ashamed for anything sexually related, including his own fantasies, but this time even he is startled. It’s like he’s just engaged in something intrinsically shameful – which he supposes he has, in a way – a fancy that no normal person should consider touching with a ten feet pole.

 

The idea is so ridiculous – he’s just jerked himself off to a fantasy about the god of mischief, the very same god who also happens to be his freaking slave – that a small, crazed fit of laughter is threatening to well up in his throat, but he chokes it down, overcome by a wave of disgust and aversion.

 

So his body has just decided to take note of the fact that Loki might be physically attractive, but the guy is still Loki. Jerk, bastard, megalomaniac, crazy… and undeniably hot.

 

Alright, this is ridiculous; even though his body has never been one to suppress its own desires, this has to stop. There are millions, heck, billions, of sexual partners on this planet that are more appropriate than Loki.

 

Fine, so this was a one-time mishap, a far-fetched experimentation on his part, he tries to calm himself, attempting to appeal to the more rational part of his brain. Not the reptilian one that is only concerned with pleasure and lust and desire and that thinks that Loki makes for an excellent sexual fantasy.

 

So he’s experimented, and now he’s going to put that little daydream to rest. He’s Tony Stark – there are plenty of things he can fantasise about, or put into practice, should he so desire. There certainly isn’t a lack of willing partners.

 

Even if no one has quite the same mesmerizing greenish gleam in their eyes.

 

He shakes his head, as if trying to dispel the memories of this shower cabin incident, but all he manages is to add even more water to the puddles already pooling on the floor.

 

And the most ridiculous part is the thought of Loki somehow finding out about this.

 

The god would laugh himself to death, no doubt.

Chapter Text

As Loki wakes up, it is from a fitful sleep, sheets wrinkled from his body tossing and turning during the night. He’s been dreaming, but as he opens his eyes he has no clear memories of it, and only a lingering feeling of unpleasantness remains.

 

It takes a few seconds before he’s aware of his surroundings, and then he considers closing his eyes again, perhaps going back to sleep even though he’s not tired. What point is there in getting up anyway, when he doesn’t have anything of even the slightest importance to do?

 

But he’s too restless to remain lying on the bed, staring up into the ceiling. So he pushes the cover aside and places his bare feet on the floor, remaining on the edge of the bed for a few seconds while his stomach churns unpleasantly, before standing up and walking to the bathroom.

 

The cold water splashing against his face should feel refreshing, but it doesn’t. It just feels cold.

 

He stands there hunched and with head bowed over the sink, grabbing the edges of it with both hands as the water drips off his face. The previous feeling of unpleasantness is giving way to a stronger wave of nausea and he swallows, though his mouth is dry and his throat feels chafed. So he just stands there staring down into the bowl of immaculate white porcelain, trying to find something to focus his mind on.

 

After a little while, the worst has passed, and he raises his head to look at himself in the mirror. The face staring back is pale, haggard, and empty. He is overcome by a sudden desire to smash his fist into the glass, shattering it into a thousand jagged little pieces, but he thinks better of it, and lowers the hand already half raised in preparation for the blow. Tony Stark would not be pleased to have Jarvis report that his slave has been smashing up his bathroom fittings, after all.

 

Tony Stark.

 

The name makes the memories from last evening return with full force, and he almost feels sick again.

 

So his master had demanded a foot massage. It was humiliating, yes, but given his current position it was just another added layer of debasement and ignominy that he was forced to endure. Nothing good would come out of refusing, he knew, so he submitted to this degradation too, as much as it hacked away at the tattered remnants of his pride. It was all part of the role he had no choice but to play, if he wanted to remain alive and breathing.

 

At first, that was all there was to it. Sitting there on the floor, doing his best to focus all his attention on the pure mechanical aspects – applying pressure, rubbing, kneading – in an attempt to keep at bay the pressing awareness of what he was really doing – massaging the bare feet of his master, like the lowly, simple slave he had been reduced to. But he preferred not to think about that, instead just concentrating on the movements of his own hands, letting his mind remove what he was doing from its humiliating context, like he was touching a mere object and nothing else.

 

But a careless glance upwards at the man lounging comfortable in the couch as his slave worked away at him, had given him pause. Though, given him pause was a mild way to put it. Rather made his throat constrict. He’d expected to be greeted with the kind of smug, self-satisfied expression that only the subjugation of a hated enemy would bring, but that’s not what he had seen at all. No, the man’s eyelids were closed and his head was thrown back, but what really caught his attention was the big, very noticeable bulge at the front of Tony’s pants, a sign of his obvious arousal.

 

For a moment, the world stopped turning. Surely Tony couldn’t…

 

But the proof was there, and only a couple of feet away from his own face to boot, much as he couldn’t – didn’t want to – believe it at first. 

 

So was that it, was he to be turned into a bed slave after all, then?

 

He’d never expected that, not really. Not from Tony. The man just hated him too much for that.

 

But with frightening realization dawning, he supposed that it all made sense, now.

 

Every day since his arrival at Tony’s tower, he’d been certain that this would surely be the day that Tony would start to mete out his long awaited revenge. But apart from some threats and bouts of humiliation, accompanied by some smug and air-of-obvious-superiority-filled gloating on Tony’s part, there had been really nothing. No punches, no beatings, no broken bones, heck, not even as much as a slap to the face.

 

In a way, it was more unnerving because it was so contrary to what he had been expecting. And it didn’t really give him any relief, only a sense of impending doom, as it meant that Tony must surely be plotting a more sinister kind of vengeance, one that he wouldn’t spoil by handing out petty beatings in advance before laying down the royal grand slam.

 

Yet Tony had seemed so unperturbed, and Loki found that he had no way to read the man or figure out what he was up to.

 

Now, he supposes he knows, though.

 

And frankly, he would have preferred not to know.

 

The thought is too disturbing, too appalling. Too horrifying.

 

Of course, he knows that this is the fate of many slaves. If he’d been one in Asgard, it would most likely have happened to him too, sooner or later. But that doesn’t make the prospect any easier to deal with.

 

His stomach heaves again, and he finds himself gripping the edge of the sink once more, steadying himself as he turns away from the hollowed-eyed face that is his reflection staring back at him. In the fluorescent glow of the bathroom lamp above his head, it looks sickly and pale.

 

So Tony is planning on bedding him, then, using him like a lowly plaything. This has to be the royal grand slam the man is planning, to make his enemy suffer this ultimate degradation.

 

The final thing that Tony will take away from him, after having already denied him everything else – his freedom, his own clothing, his name. And now, Tony will rob him even of this.

 

And the worst part is, there’s not a thing he can do about it. If he were, by some off-chance, to slip under the radar of the multi-layered security systems that Tony has set up, including the ever-vigilant Jarvis, and escape from the tower and from Tony, he would still not be off the hook. Because Heimdall is watching him, the guardian of the rainbow bridge is keeping an eye out, and even if the human myths about Asgard aren’t entirely true – Heimdall can’t simultaneously see everything that goes on in all the Nine Realms, of course – the magic humming through the chains he’s wearing makes sure that Heimdall will easily spot his whereabouts whenever he decides to turn his attention onto Midgard. And recapturing the escaped slave will be a child’s game for the Aesir, with the magic beacons on his wrists broadcasting his position to anyone with even the slightest inkling of magical competence.

 

And he knows what kind of fate he will be taken back to, should he try to escape his punishment. He’ll be brought back to the dungeons of Asgard, where he will face gruesome torture, no doubt with the prison guards including, on the side, that which Tony has in mind for him. Until it kills him, which will take a long time with his godly powers restored (which they would no doubt grant him back, to make the torture last).

 

Fighting is hardly an option either. Harm or kill another human being again, and you will suffer the same fate as an escape attempt will bring. Those words are etched clearly into his mind, spoken several times to him before he was sent off to Midgard, as if the court thought he was too dull to understand them the first time.

 

There is no way out of this, and it makes him feel sick and disgusted and appalled. And other things as well that he doesn’t want to put a name to, but that would have his fingers trembling, had they not been clutching the bathroom furniture in a firm grip.

 

Tony wants to make him suffer as he breaks him. Just like the unappetizing tales he’s heard on rare occasions shared around the campfire, whispered by warriors drunk on mead and on victory, of the more unsavoury things that sometimes would take place during the aftermath of battle. How it’s been known to happen that not all enemies are given the honour of a quick death from the blow of a sword. How it is sometimes more satisfying to humiliate and subjugate the enemy before granting him the final embrace of death.

 

Not things that one would dare mentioning in any sort of decent company, and very few ever admitted to such, but sometimes it still happened, when there was too much hate, too much desire for revenge. The ultimate vanquishing and subjugation, leaving the enemy broken and shattered.

 

And he should have known, should have realized it from the start that that was what Tony was planning for him. Especially after having noticed the odd way the man was staring at him that time when he undressed to put on the Midgardian clothing; he should have known just where that look would eventually lead. For someone who prides himself so much on his intellect as Loki, he should have seen it coming a mile away, rather than sticking his head into the sand, ignoring the possibility this would happen.

 

His insides make another little twist, churning miserably. Yesterday, it would seem that he was saved by the ringing of Tony’s telephone, but this intermission will surely not repeat itself next time.

 

The picture in his mind resurfaces again, the image of Tony languidly stretching himself out on the couch, his arousal mounting at the sight of Loki debasing himself at the man’s feet.

 

So this is how he will spend his days here, then, as Tony’s plaything, his little pleasure toy. And if he doesn’t submit, if he tries to fight, or escape, he’ll be sent back to Asgard to endure even worse. No way out. Angrily, he pounds a fist against the mirror, but there’s not enough force in his swing to break it, so he only remains standing in that position with his clenched hand against the glass, forehead resting against his arm, eyes closed in exasperation.

 

No way out.

 

Only two seconds later, Jarvis’ calm voice is ringing in his ears. “Please refrain from trying to break the bathroom fittings, Mr Laufeyson, or I will be forced to report your doings to Mr Stark.”

Chapter Text

Perhaps his situation would have been slightly easier to deal with if he had had something worthwhile to do, something to keep his thoughts off the down-spiralling roundabout that they’re currently taking, regardless of how much he tries to steer his mind into other, less destructive directions.

 

But his efforts have no effect; they keep returning to Tony, to what transpired yesterday evening and all that heralds for his near future. And all the things he’s been forced to endure since coming here; the humiliation, shame and disgrace of his position, the knowledge of what he has been reduced to. How he will have no choice but to suffer whatever Tony decides to heap upon his slave, the scorn, the retribution for past transgression, the constant debasement. To say nothing of the things to come that will no doubt be even harder to endure – becoming a toy, a plaything for Tony’s pleasure and personal gratification.

 

Like a silent and forgotten shadow, he’s restlessly pacing the living room – or rather, one of them, as Tony seems to have several of everything – back and forth, in circles as dark and dreary as those of his wandering mind. But at least it’s better than just sitting around and letting idle nothingness choke him.

 

The spacious, airy room is so perfect, so spotless and stainless, the furniture all so meticulously arranged and everything in its proper place. It seems to ridicule him in all its faultless appearance, making a mockery of the horrible, uncontrollable mess that his life has become. Where nothing is in order, nothing is as it should be, and everything is coming to pieces.

 

And there is something about that perfection that makes the potent cocktail of emotions swirling inside of him suddenly ignite. All the simmering anger and resentment and bitterness that he has kept a lid on until now as to not make things even worse for himself is suddenly blown off by the powerful pressure cocker beneath boiling over. It’s just too much to handle and he can’t take it anymore, not when fate, the universe, and even this very room are all mocking him, the fallen god, laughing at his pathetic-ness and helplessness.

 

The last piece of string holding his façade together is finally torn apart, and he snaps.

 

Engulfed in a rage that he doesn’t know quite where it came from, he grabs hold of the first thing within his reach. A blue and white vase of some kind, probably worth half a fortune here in Midgard, but he couldn’t care less. A second later, before his mind has even had the time to register what he is doing, the broken shards of porcelain lie shattered on the floor, some still nailed into the wallpaper in front of him from the forceful impact of china against concrete.

 

He pants slightly after the sudden exertion, though his quickened breathing comes more from the impulsive release of pent-up anger and boiling fury than any physical movements.

 

But it’s not enough, not even close to it.

 

With a howl of rage, his hand latches onto the next object within reach, hurling it with as much force as he can muster, not even noticing what it is. It doesn’t matter any longer.

 

He then strides up to the bookcase, the beautifully carved piece of furniture, another so fucking annoyingly perfect thing when his own life lies in shambles. Snarling, he rips out the dusty volumes, throwing them to the floor, scattering paper all around him as he tramples the books strewn all over.

 

And it’s like he’s released a monster, a beast hell-bent on destruction and annihilation. Nothing matters anymore, as long as he gets to tear everything around him to pieces and reduce it to the pathetic, broken tatters of nothing that is his own existence.

 

And it feels good; for the first time since being brought here, he can finally revel in at least the smallest inkling of control. He’s not the rag doll being pushed around, held down and played with for once; no, he’s the one to create chaos and disorder now as opposed to being the one subjected to it.

 

He steps on something that crunches under his feet. Probably one of Tony’s useless inventions, he doesn’t know and he couldn’t care less. He relishes it being crushed under his weight, now that he can get to break something rather than being the one broken.

 

And for a blissful while, that’s all there is. His existence has been compressed into this singularity of desire to destroy and demolish, lest he be the powerless victim yet again.

 

So he smashes and breaks, rips and tears, hurls and stomps, as his rage simmers within him, maddening and powerful.

 

Then, Tony is suddenly standing in the doorway, the well-known figure materializing like an apparition from out of nowhere, an angry shout on his lips. 

 

“Hey, just what the fuck do you think you’re--”

 

That’s as far as he gets before Loki hurls the object clasped between his cramping fingers straight at the man’s head with full force. Unblinking, without thinking, without reflecting for the briefest of moments what he’s doing. He doesn’t even register what the thing in his hand is, he just reacts blindly, submitting to the swirling maelstrom raging inside his veins.

 

With reflexes quicker than any human should have, Tony ducks beneath the object coming at him, and it misses his head with only a few inches to spare.

 

Snarling in red-hot fury, Loki makes a grab for something else to throw at the man, but it is already too late.

 

In one moment of lucidity, in which the raging madness subsides to give way to a sharp, conscious clarity, he realizes what the man is about to do as he dives forwards onto the floor. And even though his mind registers it, he knows it’s too late for his body to react, despite how everything seems to be happening in slow-motion, like a dream where he is unable to move, but can still watch as a frozen statue as everything unfolds around him.

 

In that strange slowing of time, he watches, like he’s standing behind a pane of opaque glass distorting the world around him, as two hands make a grab for the rug that he’s standing on, pulling with a sharp, forceful tug.

 

And the ground under his feet is gone, ripped away from under him like it was never there at all.

 

Then the floor hits him as he lands flat on his back, and with that, it is as if the world has gone back to normal again; there is no opaque glass and no distortion of time. He gasps for air as the wind is knocked out of his lungs, coughing and sputtering.

 

And Tony is on him in a second, pouncing like a feline predator on its mewling prey, grabbing him and forcing him flat to his stomach. Loki hisses in anger and struggles against the hands, but it is useless; only a moment later the man has wrenched one of his arms behind his back and straddles him, pinning Loki down with the weight of his own body.

 

If circumstances had been different, Loki might have stood a chance against Tony, but not when lying flat on his face with the man on top of him.

 

It makes no difference. Growling, he tries to shake the weight off, struggling and fighting in desperation like a wounded, cornered animal. He bucks in a desperate effort to loosen the arm locked into a vice-like grip behind his back, but to no avail. The body atop of him shifts but remains steady in place, and then there is a sharp pain in his shoulder as if the joint is about to be pulled out of its socket as Tony twists his arm.

 

But it isn’t the pain as much as it is Tony’s voice that finally stills him.

 

Knock it off.” Three words only, but spoken in a low voice so deadly and deceptively soft; velvet just barely covering steel, a razor-sharp blade hidden by only the flimsiest of fabrics.

 

And that voice pierces through the howling anger swirling inside his head, commanding his attention like white-hot iron pressed against bare skin.

 

At that, the cacophony of fury and vehemence slowly dissipates, until the only sounds in his ears are those of his own panting breaths. He lies still as the rage abates and dwindles to nothing, draining him as if a plug has been pulled from a tub full of water, leaving him empty and spent, the previous all-consuming rage only a faint lingering memory.

 

It is only then, as his mind and senses are coming back to him, as they once more return to his control, that he realizes what he has done. The world grinds to a painful halt as icy dread fills his stomach and turns the blood in his veins into liquid frost.

 

The wanton destruction of his master’s property would have been bad enough, of course, but it pales against the fact that he just threw a potted plant at Tony’s head. And back where Loki comes from, a slave raising his hand against his master would be killed or at the very least flogged to within an inch of his life. What Tony is going to do to him now, he has no idea.

 

And with that, the last vestiges of fighting go out of him. His body goes limp, like it’s been drained of every last bit of energy. The bitterness grinds inside of him at the realization that once more, he is forced to accept that he is powerless and there isn’t a damn thing he can do about it; once again, he’s been reduced to nothing. The taste of resignation at the back of his throat is acidic and bitter, but he is unable to stop it from washing over him. In the end, Tony still owns his life and will come out on top, no matter what Loki does, regardless of what he tries, despite how much he might futilely struggle to change what can’t be changed.

 

And perhaps this was to be his last chance trying; maybe there won’t be any more chances left for him now. He closes his eyes, too tired and depleted to do anything else than resigning himself to whatever Tony decides his fate will be.

 

So he only lies there, unmoving, as Tony remains on top of him, a leaden weight on his back. And their relative positions, him lying flat on his face and Tony holding him down and straddling him, are so damnably mocking, so twistedly ironical that he shudders at the unwelcome reminder of the miserable, bleak outlook that is his immediate future. If he still has even that left now, after all this.

 

“Are you done?” Tony’s voice above him has slightly less of an edge than before, but there is still sharpened steel in it, ready to cut at a moment’s notice.

 

Loki only nods; he would have been unable to get even a word out even if Tony hadn’t been sitting on top of him.

 

Then the weight pinning him down eases off as the man straddling him lets go of his arm and stands up. An instant later, two hands reach down to grab hold of his collar, manhandling him as Tony roughly pulls his prone body up from the floor and on to his knees. The world tilts at this sudden change of positions and a second later, he is looking up at Tony’s face, the man towering over him like a vengeful angel of doom, mouth twisted into an angry snarl and hands digging into the tightly clenched fistfuls of cloth around his neck. Instinctively, Loki’s fingers curl around Tony’s wrists, trying to ease the pressure on his throat as he waits for the man’s rage to come down on him.

 

Out of the corner of an eye, he can glimpse the mess of the room clearly for the first time since he snapped out of his blinding frenzy – the porcelain shards littering the floor, the torn paper lying all over, the dirt and flowers from broken pots thrown to the ground in anger. Though all that soon melts away into the background, leaving only a fuming Tony filling his vision.

 

The man gives him a forceful shake that makes Loki’s teeth rattle, before bending down over his charge until their faces are only inches apart, all hard lines and narrow eyes staring down at him.

 

“I’ve just about had it with you going around wrecking my house,” Tony growls at him, eyes burning with barely contained fury. “You pull anything like this again and I swear I will have a fucking shock collar put around your neck.” Even though the words are angry, the voice is surprisingly even and controlled, and that only makes the menace all the more potent.

 

Loki holds his breath for what comes next. Maybe it won’t be his death after all, or Tony probably wouldn’t have wasted his time making threats.

 

With that, the man lets go of his collar and shoves him back onto the floor, and Loki falls on his ass with an ungraceful thud as Tony takes a step back. Then his hands go for the belt at his waist, with one deft motion unbuckling it and pulling it out of the loops.

 

Loki bites the insides of his cheeks. So Tony is going to beat him up, then; no surprise there. He expected no less, of course, and probably even worse.

 

He tries not to flinch as Tony comes at him, belt held in a steady grip. It’s just pain, he tells himself, only pain, despite being in this weak, pathetic mortal body that can’t withstand anything. He’ll get through this without fighting back, without risking getting hauled back to Asgard for a drawn-out execution. So he remains on the floor, breath tight in his throat as he waits for Tony to tell him to strip or roll over or whatever, eyes fixed on the grim face glaring down at his.

 

“Give me you hands,” the man says after what feels like an eternity of silent staring, underlining his order with an impatient gesture.

 

Loki blinks twice in confusion, but slowly holds out his wrists. Tony grabs them and loops the belt tightly around them, finishing off by tying the loose ends together with a double knot. Then his arm is seized in a bruising grip as Tony none too gently hoists him up from the floor, and without uttering a single word half pushes, half drags his charge through the tower until they end up outside Loki’s room.

 

Kicking the door open, Tony shoves Loki inside and onto the bed, once more looming above him, though it seems like the edge of the man’s anger has been taken off by now.

 

“Alright,” he says, giving Loki another one of those stern glares as he reaches down to untie the belt around his wrists as he speaks. “You’re going to cool off in here for a few hours until you can handle being within a ten yards radius of a potted plant without being overcome by the urge to throw it at someone’s head. Particularly my head. Then you’re going to clean up this whole fucking mess and I’m sure as hell not feeding you again until you’re done.”

 

And with that, Tony turns on his heel and stomps out through the door which closes with a bang, lock automatically clicking into place, leaving Loki on the bed wondering why he’s still in one piece.

 

But the reason doesn’t matter. None of it matters. All he can think of right now, as dread churns inside of him, is how he’s just managed to make things so much worse for himself that he doesn’t even want to consider what the consequences of all this are going to be.


Having neither the physical nor the mental strength left to do much else, he curls himself into a ball and then just lies there on the mattress, trying, but miserably failing, to dispel the plethora of disturbing images that are jostling for space in his head, each one depicting a more horrible near future for him than the last.

Chapter Text

It is several long hours later when the lock clicks open to reveal a stern-looking Tony standing in the doorway, hand still on the handle as if poised and ready to close the door shut in case Loki should do something drastic and ill-advised again.

 

But he doesn’t. He only remains sitting on his bed, legs drawn up and arms folded around his knees, barely looking up as Tony leans against the doorpost, contemplating who knows what as he gazes at Loki in silent assessment. Perhaps he should be glad he isn’t able to read minds; he isn’t sure he would have liked to know what is going through the man’s head right now.

 

Apparently, the appraisal must be that he is harmless enough, as the door is fully pushed open and Tony takes a few steps into the room, arms crossed in front of his chest. He regards Loki for a little while like this, then uncrosses his arms and beckons him to follow with a toss of his head and a grumbled, “come on,” as he turns on his heel and walks out without even bothering to check if his slave is obeying.

 

Slowly, reluctantly, Loki pushes himself up from the bed, his body protesting the sudden movements after so many hours of idleness. And his mind is protesting as well, yelling at him to remain in the relative safety of his room rather than following Tony to where he’s taking him to face whatever’s in store.

 

But of course, he knows better than to disobey the order. He’s already in deep enough trouble as it already is and can hardly afford to make things even worse for himself. Though, a part of him doubts whether it would really make that much of a difference now after everything, or whether it would just be degrees in hell. Still, he follows, limbs heavy and a cold lump settled into the pit of his stomach.

 

Their destination is apparently the living room, where Tony comes to a halt in the middle of the chaotic, litter-filled scenery, dirt and shards crunching beneath the soles of his shoes. 

 

“Alright, Rudolph, get to it. Clean this fucking mess up,” the man orders impatiently, indicating the expanse of the living room with a totally unnecessary gesture of his hand.

 

So he gets to it. It’s not like he has any other choice. Gingerly crouching down on the floor, he starts picking up the broken shards scattered all around, carefully lifting them between two fingers as to not cut his hands on the sharp edges, and placing them in the big trash bag provided for the task. The pieces of porcelain clang sadly as they’re thrown in a jumble on top of each other, the forlorn sounds reminiscent of a strange, melancholic melody created for the sole reason of mocking his lamentable fate. 

 

Tony remains where he’s standing for a while, and then flops himself down on the couch, one leg nonchalantly sprawled over the armrest. Loki can feel the man watching him intently, but he tries to ignore the gaze that’s feeling like it’s burning smoking holes into his body. Despite his efforts to focus solely on the task at hand, picking up the broken remains and sweeping the floor clean, he is acutely aware of Tony sitting there mere yards away, following his every movement with rapt attention.

 

And he doesn’t want to know what Tony is thinking, though it no doubt revolves around the punishment that will be waiting once the living room is back in a satisfactorily pristine condition again.

 

In a futile effort to delay the inevitable, he works slowly and carefully, cleaning with painstaking diligence, knowing full well what is to come once the mess has been sorted out and there is no longer any need for him to remain in a state where he's able to take care of messy floors.

 

After a while, as he’s emptying yet another load of dirt into the black plastic bag, Tony seems to lose interest in the proceedings and instead pulls out a colourful little cube that he starts to fiddle around with. It clicks and clatters as he twists it, back and forth, making the individual little cubes switch places with each other. Some kind of puzzle, obviously, and for some reason it only serves to make him even more nervous. As if the little clacks have turned into a bizarre kind of countdown for something terrible and dreadful.

 

Swallowing down all the unpleasant things churning in his stomach, he sweeps another helping of dirt and blue-painted shards onto the scoop clutched in his fingers, trying once more to focus on the work at hand but failing miserably. His brain is not cooperating at all, and keeps returning to its unwelcome speculations about whatever he will be made to suffer at Tony’s hands for his idiotic lapse of self-control.

 

Of course, the standard punishment for slaves in Asgard for most kind of offences would be a whipping. What would the severity have been for something like this? One hundred lashes? He doesn’t know, though he wonders if he would even remain conscious towards the end of such a punishment. Perhaps it would be just as well if he didn’t. And even if Tony might not have any whips lying around, it doesn’t mean he won’t be able to find a substitute. Perhaps the man is going to get… creative.

 

There is no point thinking about that, but it makes no difference. He does anyway, wincing inwardly for each time he tips another scoop of dirt and shards into the bag, bringing the room one step closer to its previous condition.

 


 

The Rubik’s cube in his hands always serves as a good distraction, something for him to focus his mind on. He makes another few twists, then stopping for a while, trying to figure out if there’s a way to solve the configuration in front of him in less than twenty moves.

 

At least it’s a better pastime than watching someone clean his floor. And damn, did the god really go ballistic back there. But he supposes he shouldn’t be surprised that the bag of cats finally flipped and threw a little hissy fit; it’s not like he was ever a schoolbook example of mental stability. He winces a bit at the memory; even though he has certainly imagined straddling the god several times before, the preceding circumstances in his fantasies were rather different, to say the least. Perhaps this serves him right for the idiotically inappropriate thoughts he’s been harbouring. Be careful what you wish for, and all that other moralistic stuff that comes back to bite you in the ass.

 

Though, right now the god seems surprisingly… docile. He’d half expected Loki to throw another little fit once he opened the door to his room a few hours later, after first having checked with Jarvis that Loki wasn’t busy in there ripping the bed sheets apart or smashing the furniture to pieces.

 

Still, he keeps an eye on the figure huddled on the floor, sweeping up shards of broken glass and porcelain, though there seems to be little need of any supervision. Whatever rage was let out before, it has apparently burnt itself out by now.

 

Just to play it safe, he decided to put on his bracelets before facing off with the god again, in case he should need to suit up quickly. Though, Loki doesn’t seem like he’s harbouring any plans of flipping anytime soon. He just works quietly, the only sounds being the clanks of broken shards and hisses of dirt being emptied into the garbage bag.

 

In the silence, the clicks from his cube are reminiscent of gun-shots.

 

He twists the cube a few times more, knowing he won’t finish it in less than ten moves, but hoping it won’t be more than fifteen.

 

He’s still a bit grumpy about the whole incident, although the look on Loki’s face as he’d finally calmed down had made Tony’s initial anger abate somewhat; the change in demeanour in the god was almost instantaneous, then, as if the bag of cats had suddenly transformed into a bag of puppies instead, like the god was shocked by his own blatant loss of composure and self-control. As if improper behaviour would actually be a big deal to someone who tried taking over an entire planet not very long ago.

 

Still, Tony has to admit that Loki is remarkably good at cleaning. Contrary to expectations, he’s not doing a half-assed job at all, but works diligently and carefully removes every stain and shard and smudge of dirt. Not bad for a spoiled prince who has probably not had to do a single menial task in his entire life before, to say nothing of sweeping floors. He might not be working very quickly, but at least the areas he’s taken care of are spotless, almost like new.

 

“Well, aren’t you good at cleaning, Bambi,” he hears himself saying, probably more as an attempt to fill the pressing silence with words than anything else. “I’m impressed. Makes me wonder what other hidden talents you have that could be put to good use.” Perhaps making sandwiches or omelettes. That would be cool; if the god had a knack for that. Then again, he doubts he’d want to eat something that Loki has cooked in the first place. Self-preservation instinct and all that.

 

The shocked affront his comment prompts is blatantly obvious on Loki’s face from the way the god tenses and stares at Tony, having apparently forgotten about the floor sweeping he was so absorbed in only moments ago.

 

Sheesh, is the god prideful and easily prickled. Tony rolls his eyes as a snort escapes him. “Come on, don’t give me that look. The least you can do is to earn your keep around here and actually be useful,” he shoots back, unable to stop a sting of irritation. The guy did wreck his living room and hardly has any right to act all haughty and snooty.

 

However, Loki says nothing in response, his gaze returning to the floor once more, though it takes him a few moments before he starts sweeping again. When he does, Tony can swear that his movements are remarkably slower than before. Perhaps it’s a silent rebellion kind of thing, trying to make a statement by being obstinate and pig-headed. Whatever, it’s Loki’s loss if he wants to drag this out. Tony’s not the one who will be spending the entire evening cleaning a messy living room.

 

It takes quite a while, but finally, after Tony has lost track of the number of times he’s solved the Rubik’s cube and has long since resorted to flipping through a stack of magazines, the god is finished. The room is spotless, shining like it’s been polished with butter.

 

About time.

 

Throwing his reading material on the table top, he gets up from the couch and walks up to Loki, coming to a halt at a distance that is a bit closer than what would constitute normal conversation distance.

 

“Okay, Reindeer Games,” he says, drawing himself up as he pokes a finger into the god’s chest, unsubtly but effectively emphasizing his words. “Time for a little talk.”

 

Loki clenches his jaws, but otherwise gives no sign of having registered the words. Obstinate, as usual. 

 

“Now, here are some basic rules you’d do well to remember from now on.” He pauses, giving the god a narrowed glance before continuing, voice several notes harder. “So. Don’t fucking ever do anything like this again. I mean it. Don’t wreck my stuff, don’t throw things around, don’t break anything that belongs to me. And that includes my head.” He pokes his finger a little harder into the Megadeth logo in front of him, half expecting the god to slap the offending appendage away, but Loki doesn’t move at all. He just stands there, probably hoping that Tony is about to self-combust or something

 

He sighs, half in annoyance and half in exasperation. “You know what? Here on planet Earth, if you’re going to give a pet to someone, it’s common courtesy to make sure it has been properly housetrained first. Doesn’t seem like the same thing holds true back in Asgard, does it?” 

 

He doesn’t wait for Loki to respond to that. He doesn’t even want a response, just the opportunity to spit out a demeaning insult to compensate for the potted plant that missed his head with only inches to spare.

 

And he probably should deal out some sort of punishment at this point to discourage any repeat performances, but he can’t really think of anything appropriate, so he settles for making base threats instead. Probably, that’s just as effective.

 

“So, don’t fucking do this again. Ever. And if you’re ever overcome by the temptation to, you’d do well to remember that I still have my Iron Man suit that I can call on any time I want.” Yeah, when he’s wearing his bracelets, but Loki doesn’t need to know that. “And the thing I said about fitting you with a shock collar is still valid if you should even think about a repeat of this crap. So don’t fucking tempt me. Have I made myself clear?”

 

He’s half expecting Loki to roll his eyes or offer a disdainful sneer, but the god doesn’t.

 

“Yes,” is all he says, simple as that, though it’s probably the most sullen, sulking ‘yes’ Tony’s ever heard.

 

Oh well, it will have to do.

 

“Good,” he says, taking a step back. “Now, I have some real work waiting for me that doesn’t involve watching you clean shit up. So go back to your room and stay there where you can’t do any more damage.”

 

With that, he dismisses the god, glad to finally be able to focus on something else than this crap.

 


 

He’s back on his bed again, tired and drained, though not physically from cleaning up the mess in Tony’s living room. That was the easy part. No, the tiredness that’s dragging him down is something that has nestled deeper inside of him than mere bodily exhaustion could ever do, something that has seeped into his very mind.

 

One of Tony’s household robots brought him some food a while ago, though he can barely eat it despite the hunger clawing at his innards. He’s feeling sick again, and his stomach is in turmoil, as is his head, throbbing with swirling thoughts.

 

If there was ever any doubt to what’s in store for him, that tiny little piece of uncertainty has been obliterated now. It was sickingly obvious what ‘hidden talents’ Tony was referring to back there, as was his intentions to make good use of them.

 

The brutal punishment he’d expected hadn’t come, though, and as much as it had confused him at first, he soon realized that it makes perfect sense.

 

Of course, that’s what’s staving his punishment off for the time being – Tony wants him to be in a state where he’s still able to put those talents to use. No fun amusing himself with a slave that has been beaten senseless. That is something the man can take care of later, once Loki’s entertainment value has lost its charms.

 

It would seem that once again, both of these things have been postponed for a later time, looming like dark and terrible shadows on the horizon.

 

And again, he can do nothing but resign himself to another dreadful wait.

Chapter Text

Already the next morning, he has the misfortune of running into Tony.

 

And it’s such a bad coincidence, because he had been intending to spend the day in his room, venturing out as little as possible to avoid the risk of encountering Stark Tower’s other inhabitant. Of course, he knows that the man can call on him any time he wants to, but it gives him at least a fragile sense of security not having to be in his immediate presence. To have him out of sight. To be out of sight.

 

But after a while coped up in the confines of his room, the walls were starting to press in on him. Perhaps if he had been able to open the window to let some fresh air inside he could have handled it, but the window was still as firmly locked as the first day he came here. So he decided to get out for a little while before he choked on the throat-constricting combination of stale air and nervous thoughts.

 

It was just supposed to be a quick walk through the corridors, but he freezes in his tracks when a door to his right unexpectedly opens and Tony materializes in front of him like a nightmarish ghoul. Just woken up, it would seem, judging by the unkempt state of his hair.

 

He winces at the sudden closeness, hoping that Tony is going to keep walking to wherever he was headed. But, of course, he doesn’t.

 

“Well isn’t it nice to see you up and running,” Tony comments with a raised eyebrow as he eyes Loki. “Already back in shape after yesterday’s strenuous exercises, huh?”

 

Loki isn’t sure if he’s expected to deign that with an answer, so he keeps silent.

 

The man gives him a long look and then shrugs. “Well, if you have that much energy left to spare, then how about you get your ass in there and make my bed.” He gestures with a thumb over his shoulder, indicating the room he just exited from.

 

And even though Loki’s insides turn to sharp and jagged icicles at that, he wrestles down the part of him foolishly yelling at him to make a run for it, to get away from here – despite there being nowhere for him to run – forcefully silencing the urge. So with heavy feet dragging behind him in nervous trepidation, he walks through the doorway, and into Tony’s bedroom.

 

He’s never seen it from the inside before, and he’d been – futilely – hoping for things to remain that way. The room opening up in front of him is large and airy, huge window panes letting the sunshine in. Though for all Loki could care, it’s the dreariest place he could have imagined. Even his cell in the dungeons was less depressing.

 

And he sincerely wishes that all the man will want from him this time is what he said mere moments ago. Surely that will turn out to be a vain hope, but he clings to it anyway for lack of anything else.

 

There are some clothes strewn on the floor and draped across the furniture, as well as a whole collection of various other personal artefacts and useless trinkets. Though, the most notable object is without a doubt the humongous bed that’s standing in the middle of the room, large enough to host four people with room to spare.

 

Swallowing the bile rising in his throat, he approaches the opulent piece of furniture with its mess of wrinkled linen and tangled sheets. It looks more like a pack of lions have been fighting in it than a single man having spent the night in it. Perhaps Tony doesn’t make a habit out of making his own bed, and that’s why he’s taking the opportunity to have Loki do it for him. At least he hopes that is the only reason why he is at all near Tony’s bed this morning.

 

So he starts to carry out the order, his hands fumbling clumsily with the fabric as they try to pull the sheets and covers straight. The things are big and unwieldy, and despite his efforts, they refuse to align themselves properly. His own mind isn’t exactly helping, supplying him with disturbing pictures of him lying naked on top of the very sheets he’s pulling at, Tony’s equally naked weight pressing down on him.

 

And he can feel the man’s eyes on him as he’s working, tracking his every movement. The burning gaze is making his skin crawl like there’s an entire colony of fire ants taking a morning stroll across his back, but he resists the urge to rub at the unpleasant itch.

 

A few more tugs of sheet, and the bed is as good as he can possibly make it. Task finished, he straightens up and turns towards Tony, dreading what is coming next.

 

Tony is lounging in the doorway with an arm up against the wall, effectively blocking Loki’s exit. The eyes are still fixed on him, intently staring.

 

The sight makes a cold hand reach out with frosty fingers to grip at his throat, making him painfully aware of how there’s nowhere for him to run; he’s effectively trapped in here. Instinctively, he takes a step back, wanting to put some distance between himself and Tony. But as his leg hits the piece of furniture behind him, he realizes all his efforts resulted in was to bring him closer to the bed.

 

And Tony just keeps staring at him, gaze unwavering.

 


 

One of the things that Tony’s noticed when it comes to the god now living in his tower is that he has always had a pale complexion. And perhaps it’s only his imaginations, but he can swear that right now the shade looks more ashen and pallid than it usually does. Sickly, almost. Something that Count Dracula would have been proud of.

 

He really doesn’t remember Loki being that pale. Granted, he is unlikely to have seen much sunlight since his rampage in New York and subsequent incarcerations with SHIELD and then in Asgard, followed by his stay here, but still.

 

So while the god is busy making the bed, he watches in silence, trying to find out if there’s something wrong with him. Perhaps the guy is coming down with something? That would explain the pastiness, at least.

 

In that case, he sure hopes it isn’t serious and needs professional medical attention. That could prove… problematic. Then again, are Asgardians even susceptible to human diseases? Perhaps gods without their fancy superpowers-probably-including-immunity-to-all-possible-ailments would be? Could they get the flu, or a fever? Or do they contract their own kinds of nasty bugs and weird contagions? 

 

Hmm…

 

Well, perhaps it would do Loki good if he got something to eat. That might improve things. He eyes the bed, grimacing a little at the unsatisfying sight. Making beds is clearly not one of Loki’s hidden talents, much as Tony had hoped that it would turn out to be.

 

Oh well.

 

“Alright,” he says, giving the pallid god in front of him another prodding look. “Time for breakfast. You look like you might need a bit to eat.”

 


 

“Want some peanut butter with that? I swear, the stuff tastes a lot better than it looks.” He holds the jar out like an exotic offering, butter knife sticking out, but Loki merely shakes his head.

 

“Suit yourself, princess.” With a shrug, Tony removes the knife, which makes a soft slurping sound as it’s pulled out, and licks off the sweet substance still sticking to the sides.

 

Whistling to himself, he sticks the same kitchen utensil into the big jug of strawberry jelly to his right, digging up a big glob of gelatinous goo and smacking it down on top of the peanut butter already plastered over his slice of bread. Loki gives him a quick lop-sided look out of the corner of his eye, clearly of the opinion that Tony’s table manners leave many things to be desired.

 

Yeah, as if the gods in Asgard don’t chow down on their pork steaks using their fingers and smash their empty mead cups on the floor.

 

He starts to spread the strawberry stuff more evenly over the top of his sandwich, though he has a feeling that there’s a lot more gelatine and preservatives and chemical aromas in there than actual berries, despite what the pictures on the jug would have you believe.

 

“So,” he says, mouth stuffed with sandwich and red, artificially sweetened gelatine. “Got any particular plans for today? Sulk in a corner? Mope in your room? Brood under the bed?”

 

He doesn’t even know why he’s trying to make conversation with Loki. It’s not as if the god is showing any appreciation for his valiant efforts, despite not having had anyone to talk to besides Tony for quite some time now. Jarvis doesn’t really count.

 

Loki picks at his butter-covered sandwich with long fingers, not seeming to have much of an appetite. And despite Tony always having pictured Norse gods as fully capable of downing an entire pig and drinking a bathtub worth’s of beer in one sitting, Loki is now seated at the edge of his chair, fiddling with his food like a prissy primadonna whose tea and scones have been served five minutes too late and now has to make sure the world does not remain ignorant of her highness’ displeasure.

 

“Well?” he prompts, as no answer seems to be forthcoming.

 

“No, I don’t,” the god offers, then. Mechanically, eyes not leaving the sandwich.

 

If Tony didn’t know any better, he’d call that look apathetic. And to top the impression of miserable wretchedness off, Loki looks as if he has hardly slept at all.

 

Hmm.

 

He tries a few other comments, but they yield no proper answers.

 

“So the silent treatment, huh? And here I thought your mouth was always your greatest asset.” He smacks his lips. “I’m disappointed, Rudolph. I expected better from you.” 

 

Loki looks at him like he’s a fly, buzzing around and annoying people.

 

Tony takes another big bite out of his sandwich, deciding to check out his previous suspicions, just in case.

 

“You’re looking a little on the pale side this morning, Bambi. You’re not getting sick or anything, are you?” he asks between chews. “I’d hate to think what sort of nasty diseases alien gods can come down with.”

 

“No.”

 

Alright then…

 

He gets up from his chair and heads to the kitchen counter, pouring himself a smoking hot cup of espresso, inhaling deeply. Ah, the smell of caffeine in the morning. Nothing beats that. Sighing in contentment, he takes a sip out of the still smoking cup, wincing as he scalds his tongue on the hot liquid. Yeah, so maybe patience is a virtue after all.

 

He gives Loki another furtive glance, noticing the restless, impatient way his fingers are still playing around with the sandwich. So perhaps the god is just suffering from sheer boredom. Maybe that’s why he flipped yesterday, like a teenage brat starved for attention trying to create a little drama for lack of other ways to amuse himself.

 

Well then. He has a board meeting and then another dull charity event to attend to, but if that’s the problem, he figures they can sit down and watch some kind of movie when he’s back. At least it’s entertainment, some kind of a distraction. And watching moviescertainly serves to put him in a much better mood.

 

His gaze flickers towards his wrist watch, which is probably about as good a conversation partner as the sulking god. And damn, he should probably be on his way already, unless he wants to be late for his own board meeting. Again.

 

“Bored, huh?” he asks, hoping to gauge whether he has nailed the root of the problem.

 

Loki gives him a blank look that looks very much like a ‘yes’.

 

“Well, don’t worry, princess,” he says, downing the remaining coffee in his cup. “I have some stuff I need to take care off today, but when I’m back this evening we’ll spend some quality entertainment time together, just you and I.” He flashes the god his sunniest smile. “How about that, huh?” 

 


 

Loki remains sitting at the table long after Tony has left. His body feels numb, and he isn’t sure his limbs would have obeyed him, had he tried to move them.

 

So tonight, then.

 

Tony isn’t going to wait any longer. What he’s been dreading is finally about to happen, and there isn’t a thing he can do to stop it.

 

The sandwich in his hand makes a slurping sound as he squeezes it between his trembling fingers, as he reduces it to the useless, pathetic piece of jumble that is his own existence.

 

He’s not sure his nerves or his sanity can deal with another excruciating wait.

 

Chapter Text

The Black Sabbath elevator music fades from his ears as the door closes behind him with a soft whooshing sound. His slightly off-tune whistling picks up where the well-familiar song got cut off as he saunters on towards the kitchen, desperate for a drink. No, charity events really aren’t the place to go if you’re looking for decent alcohol. Perhaps he should just stay away from them altogether, at least until they start serving decent drinks.

 

He kicks off his shoes off as he goes, grabbing a glass and a bottle from the liquor cabinet and then flops himself down on one of the kitchen chairs, one foot coming to rest propped up against the edge of the opposite seat.

 

Sighing contentedly, he pours himself a generous glass of whiskey, and downs it in one big gulp. Oh yes. He fills his glass again, but drinks it a more leisurely pace this time, savouring the feeling of the invigorating liquid sliding down his throat.

 

Unasked, his brain brings up the image of the god inhabiting his tower, and he grimaces, despite the alcohol already in his belly and the remainder awaiting him in the bottle on the table top. Loki’s mood from earlier was a bit odd, but with a bit of luck he’s gotten over it by now and stopped his pointless sulking.

 

Perhaps he should ask Jarvis what Loki is up to. If nothing else, it will make him feel slightly more at ease knowing the skulking god’s whereabouts.

 

“Jarvis, where is Loki currently at?”

 

“He’s in his room, sir.”

 

“And what exactly is he doing in there? Learning how to dance mambo? Painting his nails? Plotting world domination?”

 

“Nothing, it would seem.”

 

Nothing?

 

Somehow, that sounds even more suspicious.

 

And a part of him would be happy to let Loki stay in there, out of sight though perhaps not out of mind. The shower fantasy he indulged in a while ago is still far too fresh in his mind, and to top it off, he had a very wet dream last night featuring a green-eyed god wearing only what nature gave him, ending with Tony waking up in soaked underwear like a acne-riddled puberty victim.

 

The memory makes him wince, and with a quick swig, he empties his glass again to compensate for the unpleasant reminder.

 

And it’s stupid, of course, the whole thing. Loki is crazy, which he proved quite aptly just the other day, and Tony must be even crazier for feeling any attraction to such a loony bin. It’s like playing with fire, even though that fire seems to have burnt itself out after Loki’s little outburst, leaving only ashes in its wake.

 

Oh well. It doesn’t matter. It’s not like Loki will ever know his embarrassing secret, at least, no matter how much of a moron Tony might feel about the whole thing.

 

In that respect, it’s preferable not having to deal with the god, or be in his immediate presence. No point in being reminded of his own private indiscretions.

 

Still, he doesn’t much fancy the idea of Loki sitting in his room doing what appears to be nothing. Idle hands and devil’s plaything and all that. Or idle minds, in Loki’s case.

 

Yawning, he glances towards his wristwatch. Almost ten, which equals the perfect time to sit down and watch a movie. It’s become a sort of a habit for him lately, ever since Pepper decided to pack her bags after arriving at the realization that the things she at first found so endearing about him were now only irritations and nuisances. Although, to be fair, nuisances was a rather nice way to put it.

 

He still hasn’t managed to channel the sudden appearance of all that Pepper-free time

on his hands into a more productive endeavour, but that is fine for the time being. There are worse ways to waste your time than watching movies.

 

And he’ll make Loki sit down and watch too, if nothing else than to take the god’s mind off the bitter, vengeful grumbling that is sure to be going through his head. Nothing good will ever come out of it. His living room can certainly testify to that.

 

The thought makes him gulp down another drink. He hasn’t really been counting them, but he’s enjoying the soft lull of alcoholic dizziness that is starting to settle over his mind as he sets his glass down with a bang.

 

“Jarvis, tell Loki to go sit down in the living room. I’ll be right there.” So he slurs a little, but that’s okay. Jarvis is used to interpreting drunken speech patterns after all his years in Tony’s service.

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

Loki is already there when Tony somewhat unsteadily enters, sitting at one corner of the couch with legs drawn up and arms resting on his knees.

 

And he might be mistaken in his drunkenness, but there is something in that demeanour that gives Tony pause. Because he really doesn’t remember the god looking so resigned, so oddly… down beaten. Especially not when taking the whole little recent raging fit into account.

 

Loki only shifts his gaze towards Tony, but other than that, he makes no moves or other signs of acknowledging his presence. Though the eyes follow him cautiously and suspiciously as Tony moves across the room, like a predator tracking the movements of its prey. Or the other way around.

 

Always the paranoid type, our favourite god of mischief.  

 

“So, Reindeer Games, any idea what kind of movie you wanna watch tonight?” he says as he seats himself on the other end of the couch. “How about "The 13th Warrior"? Should be right up your alley, with the whole Viking era thing.” He grins. “Not to mention, the guys in the movie have almost as bad taste in clothing as you do. Though they’re still a bit behind on the latest Asgardian fashion, seeing as how they all suffer from a pitiful lack of those funny helmets that seem to be so popular back where you come from.”

 

No reaction. Oh well.

 

“Okay, so maybe fashion isn’t your forte, but I’m sure you’d love a little trip down memory lane to the good old days when there were still people worshipping you guys. I mean, it’s gotta be like almost a millennium since anyone here on Midgard cared about you and yours, right?”

 

Still nothing. No glint of ill-hidden irritation, no swell of anger, not even a twitching eyebrow.

 

“I mean, when was the last time anyone sacrificed a goat in your honour? Or hamster, or butterfly, or bilgesnipe or whatever animal species constitute your offering of choice?”

 

Loki still makes no reply. It doesn’t seem like he’s listening at all to Tony, like he’s lost in his own world and thoughts. Like the whole flipping out ordeal was so strenuous that it robbed him of all vestiges of godly alien energy.

 

And for some reason, that makes Tony want to grab the god by the shoulders and shake him until his teeth rattle, to make him snap out of this… apathy. Suddenly, he finds himself almost missing the old Loki and his snark. Well, missing might not be the word of the day, but it would be preferable to this resigned, apathetic figure who is nothing like the confident god he once faced off here at Stark Tower. As much as the god’s bluster had irked him back then, at least it would be more fun to trade wits with the old Loki who still had bite to him as opposed to this listless creature lounging in his couch.

 

Yeah, the god clearly needs something else to occupy his brain for a while. A movie should do him good.

 

Getting up from the couch, legs almost steady, he pops the disc from the “13th Warrior” box into the player, and then takes the opportunity to lie down on the couch and sprawl languidly over most of the cushions, seeing as how Loki seems content to keep to his corner.

 

“Alright, Bambi, you stay put here until the movie’s over,” he orders, just in case the god should decide he’d rather saunter off somewhere else and destroy other parts of Tony’s property. You never know with gods of mischief, after all.

 


 

He’s lying on his back on the bed, staring up into the ceiling. In the dim glow seeping in through his window from the night lights illuminating the city outside, the contours of the sparse furniture lining the walls are clearly visible despite the lateness of the hour. To his eyes, the nightly brightness is oddly jarring after having spent so much time in a dark dungeon where the only source of light was the flicker of sputtering, sooty torches sending strange shadows dancing on the murky stone floor. Waiting for sleep to claim him only makes him more restless, however, and he can’t help but wonder whether Tony is still sleeping or has awaken by now.

 

The man was clearly inebriated when he entered the living room. Loki wasn’t sure whether that was a good or a bad thing compared to a more sober state, but he decided that with his luck, it was probably the latter. But then again, drunkenness might bring with it certain… performance issues, as the man had once quipped, that could stave things off for another night.

 

However, it never came to that as the man dozed off a good half an hour before the movie was over, head tipping precariously to the side a few times, then bouncing back up again, before finally coming to rest at an awry angle against the puffy couch cushion behind him. Leaving Loki, for all intents and purposes, alone with the spectacle unfolding on the big screen, listening to the soft breaths from only a few feet away occasionally turn into deep snores. 

 

Most of all, he wanted to sneak out and head back to his room, leaving Tony to his own devices, with his mouth hanging half open and one arm slung over the edge of the couch. It was tempting, oh so tempting.

 

But Tony had ordered him to stay put and watch this sorry excuse for a ‘movie’ and would not be pleased to wake up and find out that his slave had ignored those instructions and strolled off somewhere else.

 

So he waited impatiently for the movie to end or for Tony to wake up, whichever came first.

 

As it turned out, the end credits did.

 

And that’s when he slowly and carefully got up from the couch, careful not to disturb the snoring lump to his right, and on silent feet slipped back to his own room. At least Tony can’t blame him for leaving once the movie was over. He’d issued no specific orders as to Loki’s actions beyond that point.

 

And since then, he’s been tossing around on his bed, nervously awaiting the sound of Jarvis once more calling on him, to go tend to Tony’s… needs, such as they may be.

 

That’s what he’d been sure would happen a few hours earlier when Jarvis’ voice rang out from the ceiling, politely informing him that Mr Stark wanted to see him. So he’d ambled out with an icy knot in his stomach, steeling himself for the worst.

 

But what awaited him was another movie, making him wonder if that’s all the man ever does for amusement, apart from fiddling around with the plethora of technical apparatuses and devices down in his workshop.

 

There were none of the expected overtures from Tony’s general direction, which he found confusing, but perhaps the man was still too intoxicated for such.

 

Perhaps after the movie, then.

 

But Tony fell asleep in his drunken stupor, and whatever additional plans he had for his slave didn’t come to fruition. Even now, knowing that it’s only a false pretence of security as Tony can call on him anytime he desires, simply being out of Tony’s sight and reach makes him feel marginally safer. A tiny comfort, but that’s about as good as he’s going to get.

 

There isn’t a relaxing position to be had on the bed tonight; it is as if someone has snuck into his room and stuffed the mattress full with pinecones while he was stuck in front of the screen with the moving pictures. He turns, coming to rest at his side with his back away from the window.

 

It’s still not comfortable, but at least the light bothers him less that way.

Chapter Text

His wrists are chafed raw from desperately pulling at the shackles encircling them, taut chains suspending his arms above his head. The strained position is stretching his ribcage and makes it hard for him to breath; even though his feet reach down to the floor and offer him some support, his aching shoulder joints still have to take far too much of his body’s weight. His breathing is shallow, and for each intake of air, he can swear he hears his joints creaking in protest.

 

Still, all that pales to mere nuisances in comparison to the burning agony that is his shredded back. He has no idea for how long this has been going on, it is as if his memory has short-circuited itself, so that he only remembers a long eternity of being strung up here in this place of torment. Like he’s been here forever, single-handedly paying for all the sins ever committed in the nine realms.

 

However, he knows he can’t have been here for more than, what? An hour? Half an hour? Time and location seem to have lost their meaning; there is only here and now, the past is far too distant to matter and the future reduced to a raging sea of never-ending pain and agony.

 

His head is slumping; the mere effort of keeping it upright seems like an impossible feat of strength. Strength that is no longer his to claim, strength that is bleeding out from him with the droplets flowing in rivulets over his naked body, staining the floor with awful red.

 

He tries to swallow, but neither his throat nor his tongue obeys him. Desperately, he wishes for a drink of water, if only a swallow, something to soothe the throat turned raw and hoarse from screaming. But he knows he will be offered nothing, not a single drop, nothing to ease his suffering. He is being punished, and will receive no such boons, nothing to alleviate his anguish.

 

The whip lashes against his back again – for what time in a row, he has long since lost count. Hasn’t it been forever, though? – and he screams as the leather cuts another stripe across his already abused skin.

 

For a moment, the pain is all-encompassing, blocking all other thoughts and impressions. His senses black out, and in that instant there is neither sight nor sound, just raw, undiluted agony.

 

It takes a while before he manages to breathe again, before the world is slowly coming back to him. Before there is once more sight and sound and not only excruciating pain. He’s been hoping he would eventually pass out, that blissful unconsciousness would come to claim him, but so far he has remained painfully awake and aware. Apparently, not even this small mercy will be granted him by the fates.

 

He can feel the drops of blood slowly making their way across his skin from the cuts criss-crossing his back, ass, and thighs, dripping onto the floor. He wishes he could collapse upon it as well, but he is strung up by the unrelenting chains, kept painfully upright, not given even a moment of rest from his torment.

 

And it hurts so bad, so awfully. Still, the whip continues to fall, again and again. Each lash taking a small piece of his sanity away, reducing him to a creature without word or thought or mind, just someone controlled by fear and pain and dread. And he only has one wish left – for all this to stop.

 

But maybe it won’t stop, not now, not ever. Maybe he’ll be strung up here for the rest of a red-tinted eternity, until his mind has left him completely, leaving only a bleeding, broken shell still hanging from those chains like a maddened and shackled beast.

 

And he knows he won’t be healing anytime soon, the pain won’t begin to subside, even if all this were to stop. He no longer has the powers he once held, the ones that would see to it that his flayed skin would be starting to knit itself up, slowly but steadily removing every trace of the agony he has suffered.

 

But no such relief will be forthcoming. He’s been reduced to inhabiting the body of a mortal, and made to suffer like one.

 

Another lash falls, and he cries out in anguish yet again. He managed to stay silent at first, but it soon became too much, and he realized quickly that the screams gave him a small amount of relief, taking a part of the pain with them, dulling the fire burning his skin. However, those reprieves are long gone, small and insignificant as they were. Now, those screams do nothing to ease the pain, if anything they make it even worse, but he is unable to stop them any longer. The tiny remains of pride that kept him stubbornly silent in the beginning was soon shredded to tattered pieces along with his back, and now there is nothing left of it at all.

 

The whip falls again, making another cry echo between the walls. He never knew pain could feel like this, like a cruel entity nestling within the very core of his being, utterly overpowering, like it has become a part of him. His back has been reduced to a field of fire and blood and pain, and it just hurts so much…

 

Have his crimes really been so grievous as to be deserving of all this? But it is pointless to ask, because he isn’t in a position to place judgement; no, there is only one man who is. He, who is standing there behind him ,holding the handle of that whip, striking at him again and again. And he wonders how long he will have to pay, before that man has decided he has suffered enough and the price has been paid.

 

With fearful anticipation, he waits for the next lash that he knows is about to come, that will yet again send the flaming agony spiralling into new heights. But the whip doesn’t fall as expected; instead his tormentor languidly steps forward and comes to a halt before him, taking in the sight with a smirk on his lips and a glint of something unpleasant in his eyes. Something that makes his body shudder and then tense.

 

“You know,” Tony finally says, “’submissive’ is a good look on you.” His gaze travels across the naked body strung up before him, critically examining it. He then leers. “So is ‘whipped bloody’.”

 

Loki tries to focus on breathing; a task which should be so simple, but somehow got so much more difficult once the man entered his view. His throat constricts at the sudden closeness, and his chest heaves a few times, as if he’s about to get sick.

 

Tony’s eyes are cold and calculating, not a trace of pity in them. “Well then. Are you ready to apologize?” There is a pregnant pause, as Tony’s mouth curls slightly. “Or would you rather prefer that we continue?” He flicks the whip in his hand, looking like he’s almost hoping for the latter. 

 

“No…” Loki just barely manages through his chafed throat, hearing full well how pitiful and pathetic he’s sounding, but being far beyond the point of caring. “No. Please…“ The word feels foreign and alien in his mouth, but it seems to satisfy Tony nevertheless.

 

Lifting his hand, the man slowly traces the whip over his chest in lazy lines, leaving red trails over his skin. Loki shivers, though he isn’t sure quite why. Perhaps it’s the pleased and contented look on Tony’s face at seeing his broken enemy beaten bloody by his own hand that causes his body to tremble, or maybe it’s the exhaustion, the pain, or something else entirely. 

 

Then Tony’s hand drops, and his eyes harden.

 

“You didn’t sound very sorry last time you apologized for throwing me out a window,” he says in a harsh voice that promises further pain and hurt should Loki not live up to the expected standards. “So let’s try it one more time, shall we?”

 

Loki swallows, for a moment fearful that he won’t be able to get any words out of his abused throat, but his voice obeys, albeit reluctantly. “I’m sorry,” he whispers in a voice that he just barely recognizes as his own. And he really means it, though perhaps not for the reasons that Tony wants.

 

Tony lets out a distorted mixture of a laugh and a snort. “I have to say, you do sound quite a bit more sincere this time, Reindeer Games,” he mocks, spiteful glee painting his words. He takes a step back, regarding Loki where he’s slumping in his chains. “However, if you really want my forgiveness, you have to earn it.”

 

With that, the chains are loosened, and Loki unceremoniously falls to his knees on the hard floor, hissing in pain as his arms are suddenly released from the strain.

 

His hunched posture tugs excruciatingly at his cuts from the whip, and for a moment, the world goes a little blurry around the edges, before once again reverting back to normal. As normal as the world can be in its current state.

 

From his kneeling position, he is painfully aware of the bulge at the front of Tony’s pants. The man had been erect already when Loki was stripped naked and strung up in shackles and chains, but he has no doubt hardened considerably since. 

 

His stomach churns unpleasantly, and he closes his eyes, trying to block out the disturbing sight, to pretend that it isn’t there in front of him. But not even this small respite will be his, because mere seconds later, a hard slap is stinging his cheek, making his eyes fly open. “Knock it off,” Tony growls above him, clearly not happy with what he obviously considers Loki’s little show of rebellion.

 

The handle of the whip comes to rest under his chin, tilting his face up so that his eyes meet with Tony’s.

 

He almost balks as he looks into them and is greeted with a warped and twisted blend of hate and glee and arousal, so intense that he can almost feel the heat radiating from it. “You better make good use of that famous silvertongue of yours or I’ll chain you right back up and we’ll continue where we left off,” he hisses, as if Loki isn’t already aware of what’s expected, what Tony is demanding of him.

 

And then, Tony unbuckles his pants, unceremoniously letting them fall to the floor. Against better judgement, Loki is overcome by a desire to turn his head away, but there is a pair of strong hands in his hair, firmly locking his head into place. He is far too weak to fight them, would he be stupid enough to try, so instead he merely acquiesces. 

 

The hands are tugging painfully at his hair, as if they’re about to pull out the strands by the roots. However, he doesn’t struggle. He knows better. He has no choice.

 

No choice.

 

Tony groans his pleasure as Loki gets to it, and though he is on the brink of gagging, he proceeds as ordered. The unbearable pain in his back urges him on, quelling his burning desire to stop what he’s doing, reminding him what the consequences of refusing will be. The abject humiliation is worse than any he has ever suffered before, even worse than being brought back to Asgard in chains, but he just can’t take another whipping, so he continues.

 

As Tony forcefully thrusts into his mouth, he futilely tries to pull away from the hands holding his head in a firm grip, but Tony will have none of it, tugging viciously in response. “Already having a hard time coping, princess? Remember, this is just for throwing me out that window,” the man growls at him, voice breathy with lust and victory. “For what you did to New York , forgiveness will come at a higher price.”

 

The words are still ringing in his ears as he awakes with a startle and a scream, breath ragged in his burning throat and heart beating so hard in his chest that he’s surprised that it hasn’t punched its way out of his body already. For a long time, he just lies there, panting, as his blood is pounding like thunder in his ears, the terrifying dream images swirling like a raging storm in his mind.

 

Gradually, the dread gives way to overwhelming relief in the realization that it was only a dream – though a terrifying, horrible, far too real nightmare, far worse than anyone he can remember from feverish nights and uneasy slumbers.

 

Still, the memories are clear and vivid in his mind, and they fill his consciousness, refusing to disappear just yet.

 

Swallowing, he wonders if his dream is anything similar to what Tony is planning for him. Or will he perhaps do even worse? Once again, the dream-terror rears its ugly head full force, as the dreadful prospects of his future are once more making themselves known.

 

If he only knew, things might have been slightly easier to deal with.

 

But he doesn’t. He has no clue what Tony is going to do with him.

 

And in the end, he can only hope for the best, while dreading the worst.

 

It takes a long time before sleep claims him again, and when it does, it is fitful and full of nightmarish images, making him toss and turn between the sheets.

 

Chapter Text

He’s standing in the middle of the room, his back still a patchwork of raw agony from the whipping he suffered a few days ago, while Tony is lounging comfortably in a chair, smug and conceited. This time the whip from their previous session has been replaced with a crop that he holds in one hand, smacking one end slowly and deliberately against his open palm as he regards Loki contentedly.

 

Something – perhaps it’s the man’s posture or the look in his eyes or the aura he’s giving off – suggests that his main intention this time isn’t primarily to inflict pain, though, but rather humiliation.

 

The crop stops its tapping, and Loki holds his breath.

 

“Strip,” comes the very much predictable order.

 

He has no choice, of course, so he lets his clothes fall to the floor. Seeing as how nudity is considered natural in Asgard, it shouldn’t make him feel uncomfortable like this, and yet he finds himself desperately wanting to shirk away from Tony’s gaze feasting upon his naked body.

 

“Kneel,” is the next word that comes out of Tony’s mouth, also expected.

 

Again, he obeys. There’s nothing to gain by refusing. And kneeling is certainly nothing he hasn’t done many times already, so it hardly matters anymore.

 

The third order is not expected, though.

 

“Crawl over here,” Tony drawls as he beckons Loki with a lazy wave of his fingers. “On your hands and knees.”

 

He should, but his limbs refuse to obey. Something is holding him back, a tiny shadow of something he can barely recall, but still flickers in the back of his mind.

 

Yes, that’s right, he used to have pride once. The sudden memory keeps him frozen on the spot, unmoving and motionless as the seconds tick away, agonizingly slow.

 

Tony narrows his eyes in fury at this show of rebellion. Brusquely standing up, he walks over to Loki and, without speaking a word, brings down the crop over his abused back, making him cry out from the fiery pain suddenly flaring up. Relentlessly, the crop continues to fall, until he has lost count of the strokes raining down on him and the cuts from the far-too recent whipping are opening up again, blood welling up to run down his sides.

 

And the only thing he can think of as he lies there, consumed by the pain that is growing increasingly unbearable for every strike, is that there is no one to save him, no one who would lift even a finger to help him. He is utterly alone; the world has turned its back on him, indifferent to all his pain and suffering. Again, he wonders if he truly deserves all this. Does anyone deserve this? But it is of no consequence; Tony clearly thinks that he does, and here, his is the only opinion that matters.

 

When the beating finally stops, he’s lying face down on the floor, gasping for air that seems to have been driven out of his lungs, bitterly regretting his ill-considered disobedience. The pain is every bit as intense as last time, if not worse, making him queasy and nauseous.

 

Then Tony’s shoes move into view as the man comes to stand before him. He softly smacks his lips, and Loki is sure he’s shaking his head even though he can’t see it from his prone position on the floor.

 

“I thought you’d have learned by now that being recalcitrant doesn’t pay.” A foot ungently nudges his side, as if he’s a piece of discarded trash found littering the roadside. “So are you going to obey my orders from now on like a good little slave?”

 

There is only one possible answer to that. “Yes,” he whispers, the word hoarse from his raw throat.

 

Without warning, the crop comes down hard on his back again, and he screams from the sudden, unexpected pain.

 

“You forgot something,” he hears Tony’s displeased voice somewhere above him. “Namely your station. And above all, mine.”

 

What Tony wants from him is all too obvious. And as always, he has no choice but to offer it.

 

“Master,” he manages, the word like ashes in his mouth.

 

Tony lets out a satisfied grunt. “Better. Maybe you are learning, after all.” He pauses, and when he speaks again, his voice is several notes harder. “However, if you think this is at all acceptable behaviour, perhaps it’s time I taught you a real lesson. Maybe you’d learn your place more quickly if I handed you over to my Avenger friends so they can take their turns with you as well.”

 

No, he thinks, stomach turning itself into a knot, but he knows better than to speak the word out loud.

 

Tony continues, as unperturbed as if he had been talking about the weather. “Natasha would be delighted at the opportunity to have some fun with her knives. She isn’t very happy about you calling her a mewling quim, to say nothing of what you did to her boyfriend. Bruce Banner – or should I say the Hulk – is dearly missing his little plaything. As for Steve Rogers – well, don’t let his good-natured exterior fool you. You don’t want to know what’s lurking beneath that innocent façade. At the end of the day, he’s probably the worst of them.”

 

A pregnant pause. Then: “And Barton, well, I’m sure the two of you have plenty of lost time to make up for. In fact, they’ve all been asking me to let them spend some time alone with you. Barton, for one, has been particularly adamant in his demands, and I’ve been very tempted to indulge him.”

 

Loki shudders. Of course, all those Avengers still bearing grudges against him. And he can’t even handle what Tony’s been throwing at him.

 

The sound of footsteps is telling him that the man is moving away from him and into the direction of the chair. It is a tiny comfort, but certainly all he is going to get.

 

“So if you won’t appreciate the virtue of obedience, I might just decide to see if one of my friends will be better at teaching it than I am.”

 

He swallows, though his mouth is dry and there is nothing left to swallow but fear and trepidation.

 

Then Tony speaks again, voice harsh. “Now. Crawl.”

 

Yes, he used to have pride once, as difficult as that is to believe. But there’s nothing left of it now, not even a trace, so with an effort that makes his head spin from exhaustion, he pushes himself up from the floor and crawls on his hands and knees, slowly, over to where Tony is sitting, watching in pleased satisfaction.

 

“Stop there,” he demands when Loki has made it halfway. Loki halts in his tracks, sinking back on his haunches, not sure whether he should be relieved that he is still out of reaching distance from Tony. The man smirks as he looks him over, gaze critically examining the naked body before him.

 

“Touch yourself,” he orders. “And don’t fucking make me repeat myself.”

 

No, the pride he used to have is no more, the last shred of it long gone. Ripped out from his being and torn to pieces by the very man staring at him with hate and resentment etched into every line of his features.

 

Face flushing with shame, he grabs his limp shaft with trembling fingers, stroking his hand along the length. Of course, his ministrations have no effect whatsoever, produces no reaction at all. It’s just his palm kneading at unresponsive skin and tissue, and he can hardly remember being in a more abjectly un-erotic situation than this.

 

Tony laughs at his pitiful performance. “That’s the best you can do? How pathetic. I expected much better from you, Reindeer Games.” He snorts in spiteful amusement. “Put some effort into it, or I will seriously reconsider Barton’s demands.”

 

Another heated wave of shame washes over him, but he strokes harder, trying to concentrate. Of course, it’s useless and he doesn’t even get half-hard. So he closes his eyes, trying to shut the world out and bring up recollections of pleasures shared with lovers of the past, but the memories slip away and all that fills his mind is humiliation and fear and utter despair.

 

Then, there is a strange crackling sound, and when he looks up, Tony is gone. In his stead there is a vile creature crouched on the seat of the chair, a beast born of fire and brimstone, ember eyes gleaming and slobber running from jaws opening to reveal perfect rows of sharp, gleaming teeth. Teeth that want to rip and tear, maim and destroy until there’s nothing left.

 

It jumps at him, seemingly floating through the air, unbelievably graceful for such an ugly, brutish thing, landing with its front paws on his chest. There is nothing graceful about the impact, however, which feels as if a meteor crashes into him, and he smashes to the ground with angry jaws inches away, snapping at his throat. Just barely, he manages to get an arm up and out from under him to defend himself, trying to grab the snout about to rip his jugular artery in two.

 

And that’s when the face of the beast flickers, like the air itself boils and shifts around it, and when the strange mirage disappears, what’s left is a creature wearing a face far too familiar for comfort.

 

Tony’s face.

 

The grin is Tony’s too, but the fangs behind the lips are still that of the beast, sharp and pointed. He tries to shift his body away, to get a leg up and gain enough leverage to tip the heavy weight lumbering over him off to the side, but his efforts are futile; the beast weighs far too much and won’t budge.

 

One paw-like hand comes down hard on the side of his head, making his vision spin from the heavy blow, momentarily dazing him. When he comes to, clawed appendages are raking over his body, leaving deep, bloody scratches, ripping him to shreds.

 

And he screams, again, and again, as the beast tears away at him, until there’s nothing left to tear apart.

 

When he wakes up, it is with sweat dripping from every pore of his body, with crinkled sheets entangling his legs, and with a throat raw from screaming.

 


 

The dreams from last night won’t leave him alone. They remain stubbornly in the back of his head, like apparitions set on haunting him, refusing to give him even a moment of peace.

 

And the memory of what Tony had reduced him to in those dreams is still clear and vivid. Would it be possible for the man to do that; could he truly make Loki fall that far? Or a more disturbing question yet – perhaps he’s not very far from already being there?

 

Again, he’s prowling the tower, not knowing where to go or what to do with himself, but feeling like the beast is still skulking in the shadows, following mere steps behind. And there is no safety to be had from that monster, no place to hide, nowhere to escape. He’s trapped, as surely as had he still been sitting in that dungeon back in Asgard.

 

The wait is unbearable. Why hasn’t Tony called on him yet? What is he waiting for? Is this a sick, twisted part of the fun, making Loki stew in his own misery as he waits for the inevitable?

 

He has no answers to any of those questions.

 

So instead, he wanders, restlessly, in and out of rooms, through hallways and back, in endless circles, to and forth. Perhaps it is an attempt to drop his distressing thoughts off somewhere along the way, but his efforts prove futile; they refuse to be left behind, tearing and ripping at his consciousness with sharp claws and fangs.

 

He suddenly finds himself in the kitchen, a place he’s been many times before, but only once or twice without Tony present. For some reason, it feels oddly out of place being here alone, so he stops for a moment, briefly halting in his tracks. The area is light and spacious, and might under different circumstances have struck him as relatively pleasant, even relaxing. He takes in the shining chrome, the dark marble, the grey tiles, his eyes sweeping over it all.

 

Then, they meet with something else entirely, and remain there.

 

The collection of blank kitchen knives on the kitchen counter.

 

For a long time, he just stands there, frozen. Something is raging inside of him, and that something is getting louder and more insistent as he’s staring at the sharp utensils. Like it’s telling him to act, to actually do something rather than resigning himself to his miserable, terrible future.

 

As if someone else is moving his limbs, a shivering hand suddenly reaches out, fingers closing around one of the handles, slowly pulling the knife out from its holder.

 

It’s heavy in his grip, not anything like the light throwing knifes he’s more used to handling. The blade glints as light strikes it. Sharp. Blank. Metallic. He turns it around, weighing it, the handle smooth in his palm.

 

Yes, there is always that option.

 

After everything that has happened, after everything he has gone through and put up with, it would be such a failure to resort to this. To end by his own hand. It would be disgraceful and shameful… but certainly no worse than what he will have to face as Tony’s slave.

 

It would be quick, at least, and involve relatively little pain. Perhaps he should have chosen this option back at his trial instead. It would have been so much easier, rather than suffering through this drawn-out process with no end in sight, with no hopes for improvement, just an endless string of debasement and pain and even more horrible things to come.

 

Slowly, he lifts the knife, placing it against his own wrist. The steel is cold against his skin, but oddly comforting nonetheless. It could offer him a way out of all this. The only way out.

 

The chill of the blade is almost burning him, and he wonders if he’d ever be able to go through with such a thing. Could he? Does he even want to?

 

He imagines being Tony’s bed slave, enduring year after year of long suffering, of being used in all possible ways. How long would he be able to put up with that? Would he eventually go numb and not care anymore? Or would each time still remain as awful as the first?

 

Perhaps he’d be better off acting now, before Tony finally decides to claim him, but something is holding him back. Because he doesn’t really want to die, he still wants to live… just not like this.

 

He looks at the knife in his hand, the sharp, alluring blade. Just one flick of his wrist, and it would be over. So easy. All so easy.

 

But…

 

No, he decides. Not today.

 

Still, he doesn’t remove the knife just yet. Its presence is too perversely comforting, ensuring him that the option is still there. So he lets it remain against his skin, trying to draw some tiny vestige of safety and strength from its chilly touch.

 


 

The screen is bleeping dully, informing him that the final round of tests for his new prototype suit is finished.

 

About time.

 

He plonks himself down before the monitor, scrolling through the last few lines of text. No problems so far. Good. Then he can get around to--

 

“Mr Stark?” Jarvis voice is suddenly cutting through the silence. “I think I should report to you that Mr Laufeyson is in the kitchen and has just pulled out one of your knives.”

 

Tony’s hand freezes mid-air just as he is about to press the return button on his keyboard.

 

And suddenly, there are a million thoughts going through his head. Most of them containing the word fuck. And not the good kind.

 

So Loki has finally gone off his rocker and is about to go on a murderous rampage. And why the hell didn’t he put a shock collar on him after last time when he still had the chance? He should have known better, of course the lunatic was going to flip out again. He should suit up, and--

 

“What’s he doing, Jarvis? Where is he now?” he asks, in a state of half-panic.

 

And he could have imagined any number of answers to that, but not the one that Jarvis gives him.

 

“He’s still in the kitchen, sir. I’d say from the looks of it, it seems like he is contemplating slitting his own wrists.”

 

And Tony stops in his tracks on his way to snag his bracelets, freezing like a deer in headlights.

 

What the hell?

Chapter Text

The cold steel against his skin is cold no longer, having rested against his wrist for so long that it has acquired the temperature of his own body. Still, he is loath to withdraw it, removing himself from this flimsy reassurance of security the blade offers him. At least with the knife in hand, he still has an option, as opposed to being a powerless victim, time after time again.

 

Yes, he has a choice, for once. One that he is free to make, should his situation call for it.

 

He should have heard the quick footsteps approaching, of course, but he is too deeply absorbed in the alluring glint of the steel to notice much else. At this point, there is only him and the sharp knife in his hand. Until the two of them are suddenly joined by the sound of a well-known voice somewhere behind him, anger and rage simmering below the surface.

 

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

 

Tony.

 

The knife in his hand falls to the floor, falling from suddenly drained and lifeless fingers, clattering dully against the marble tiles.

 

Reflexively, he spins around, finding himself face to face with the owner of that voice, who is looking at him which such vehemence that he immediately takes a step back, only to have the kitchen counter slam into his back, effectively stopping his retreat.

 

His hands grip the marble behind him for support as a sharp flash of fear slashes inside of him at the realization that Tony has just caught him red-handed holding a knife to his own wrist. And he knows full well that it is strictly and expressedly forbidden for slaves to make any attempts at their own lives, to make violence on their masters’ property. It is considered a serious offence and is punished accordingly. Brutally.

 

He silently curses his own stupidity. After all his time here, how could he forget that Jarvis would notice what he was doing, and report it back to Tony? Why couldn’t he have stopped to think before pulling that knife out of its holder? He shouldn’t have done that if he hadn’t been ready and willing to make use of it.

 

The feeling of his stomach falling is sickening. He knows that this tiny sliver of comfort that was his for a few precious moments will be taken away from him now, the knives and anything similarly sharp will be placed out of his reach, where he can’t get to them. The only other alternative he had will be gone, and Jarvis no doubt told to be on extra alert for any similar future attempts.

 

Not only that, but to add insult to injury he now has another mark on the list of things that he will be punished for, either before or after Tony’s had his fun with him.

 

And if there is one thing he didn’t need, it was for that list to grow even longer.

 

Tony is only standing there, silent and unmoving, staring at him. Perhaps he’s waiting for an explanation, or perhaps for his slave to throw himself at his feet and beg. But Loki does neither. Because neither would make any difference, he is certain.

 

Then, rather than dishing out any immediate punishment, Tony brusquely points to one of the kitchen chairs. “Sit. The. Fuck. Down,” he growls rather than speaks.

 

Loki obeys without a word, glad his legs are still steady, and then watches as the man pours himself a glass of brandy and downs it in one big gulp. And then another, after which he slams the bottle down on the counter with unnecessary force.

 

Then he turns back to Loki, coming to a halt before him.

 

“Alright, princess,” he says, his accusing stare fixed on Loki. “Now I want you to tell me exactly what the hell you were doing with that knife?”

 

Panic bubbling up inside of him, he gropes around for an answer, finding none that is even remotely satisfactory. Of course, there are no acceptable replies, there is no way he’ll be able to explain this away, Silvertongue or not. What reasons are there for anyone to be standing around with a knife to one’s wrist other than the obvious?

 

“I wasn’t about to do it,” he finally blurts out, and it’s only half a lie. Not now, at least, he wasn’t. Even he can hear how weak and feeble the excuse sounds, and it is certainly not going to do anything to placate Tony.

 

He clenches his fists, nails digging into his palms; Tony is obviously furious at his slave for having committed yet another serious offence. Once again, Loki has just managed to make things even worse for himself, to dig his hole even deeper.

 

And this time he didn’t even actually do anything.

 


 

 

The drink is still burning in the back of his throat and he itches to down the next one in one big gulp too, but he resists the temptation. Something is telling him that too much alcohol right now wouldn’t be a good thing, even if a glass or two would surely only improve the situation.

 

He just can’t believe this whole fucking mess that’s unfolding in front of him. Loki was contemplating offing himself? Regardless of whether he was planning on actually going through with it or not, there was no doubt that he’d been at least considering it. Why else would that knife have been in his hand when Tony rushed in here, blade resting at the thin pale skin of his wrist?

 

There is no other explanation, and he doubts that even Loki will be able to offer him one.

 

And he can’t understand why, because he sure can’t remember treating Loki that badly. He’s provided him with proper food, clothing, a bed to sleep in, even let the god read his books to pass the time. Not that Tony has ever made a field-trip to the dungeons in Asgard, but he’s certain that the living arrangements offered here are infinitely better than what the god had in his cell back home. And heck, it’s certainly a lot better than the conditions that normal convicts in this country are living in as well, so the god is hardly in a position to complain, prince or not.

 

No… it can’t be that. There must be something else that has driven the god to contemplate such an act of desperation. He gets a sneaking suspicion that he’s missing an important part of the puzzle somewhere, a lost piece that he’s struggling to find, but it keeps evading him. Because from where he is standing, things just aren’t making any sense. This is not like Loki, not like him at all. The god was always so smug and self-satisfied, like he believed himself the greatest thing since sliced boar, like the ground was unworthy of bearing his weight, always looking down on everyone else. Sure he’s been taken down a few hundred notches since his defeat in New York, but he is still Loki. Arrogant. Conceited. Superior. Not someone who would end his own life over… whatever it is that has been festering inside of his mind.

 

And despite his shocked confusion at this turn of events, he’s angry. Angry that someone should even consider such a thing here in his very tower. That anyone would stoop to such a pointless, senseless, utterly irrevocable act, even if that someone is Loki. There mere thought is revolting and appalling in its meaninglessness.

 

‘I wasn’t about to do it,’ the god had said.

 

Yet another lie? There is no way for him to tell. Maybe it’s the truth, maybe it’s not.

 

And there’s only one thing he can do right now, as much as he doesn’t want to go there. But he has to get to the bottom of this, find out what prompted this shit. He might not like it, but he has a responsibility, despite never wanting it in the first place, and it’s up to him to deal with the fall-out.

 

One thing is certain though. No one is going to kill themselves on his watch, demented super-villainous god or not.

 

“Really,” he says, not even bothering trying to hide the stark disbelief in his voice. “Then what was that knife doing in your hand? Were you perhaps about to make a salad? Or practice Chinese paper cutting? Huh?”

 

Loki swallows. And instead of answering, he just sits there, brooding, like the weight of the world has been deposited on his shoulders, staring at a spot on the floor. So very un-haughtily. Un-cockily. Un-arrogantly. Un-Loki-ly.

 

Tony slams his fist on the table, making the god jump in surprise. “I said, what the fuck were you doing with that knife back there?”

 

Loki is still quiet. He twists uncomfortably as his mouth tightens.

 

Tony refuses to relent, “Speak up,” he pushes, refusing to accept Loki’s stubborn silence. “What led you to even consider this?”

 

Loki looks like he’s on the verge of saying something, but his half-open lips then snap shut before even a single word has left his mouth.

 

This clearly isn’t leading anywhere. Perhaps he should try another angle.

 

And he isn’t a therapist, not even close to it. In fact, he is utterly abysmal at most forms of interpersonal communication not involving sarcastic banter or technological information exchange. But he can’t back off, as much as he might want to. For a moment, he wishes Bruce were here; that guy would have known how to deal with a fucked-up situation like this, despite his shy and quiet demeanour. But he’s not, so Tony has to handle this on his own.

 

So he turns to the only comfort he can find, the glass in his hand, taking another sip, and then leans back against the kitchen counter as he fixes Loki with an unwavering glare. “You know, it hasn’t exactly slipped my notice how you seem to have taken a deep dive head first into the land of eternal doom and gloom lately without bringing a return ticket. Mind telling me what prompted that?”

 

There is only silence. An oh-so-long silence.

 

No, he isn’t a therapist. Of course his efforts will only be met with stubborn silence. And what the hell is he going to do if Loki won’t deign him with an answer? He can’t leave things as they are, not if he doesn’t want to risk tripping over a lifeless body next time he steps over a doorsill.

 

His mind is swirling. Usually, you admit suicidal people to special facilities or at least have them see some kind of mental health consultant, or whatever fancy name shrinks go by today, but he can’t do that with Loki.

 

Yeah, I have a suicidal demented alien god who tried to take over the planet a while ago and he needs some help. That’d go over swell. SHIELD would swoop down in a matter of minutes, and make Loki regret not having cut his wrists when he still had the chance. And Tony would get a visit from Erik and his little team of sword-wielding berserkers, demanding to know why Loki is no longer in his care, as decreed by Allfather Almighty.

 

Come on, give me an answer, any answer, just something to work with, he silently urges the clammed-up god.

 

Then, as if on command, Loki looks up to face him, green eyes boring into his.

 

“When do you intend to claim your rights to bed me?”

 

The glass in Tony’s hand falls to the floor and breaks into a thousand pieces.

 

Chapter Text

“Really,” Tony says, obviously not buying his feeble excuse for even a second. “Then what was that knife doing in your hand? Were you perhaps about to make a salad? Or practice Chinese paper cutting? Huh?”

 

He has no answer to offer. None that matters, anyway. He swallows, willing the man away. Though, making people disappear into thin air was something he could never do, not even with his magic still intact. And certainly mere wishful thinking isn’t going to accomplish miracles of that magnitude.

 

Without warning, Tony’s fist slams down hard on the tabletop, and Loki jumps, startled. “I said, what the fuck were you doing with that knife back there?” the man demands, impatient and annoyed.

 

I was just revelling in having an alternative to submitting to you.

 

It would be the truth. But he can’t say that, of course.

 

“Speak up,” the man insists, refusing to take his silence for an answer. “What led you to even consider this?”

 

Loki almost laughs at that. It would have been a bitter, self-depreciating laugh, ringing hollowly and mirthlessly. What led you to even consider this?

 

Is Tony being serious? Does he really expect and want Loki to offer an honest answer to that question?

 

Because I can’t wait for you to make me your toy, to turn me into your little plaything.

 

And there is one question he is itching to ask Tony in return.

 

What on Odin’s beard is it that you’re waiting for?

 

But he holds his tongue, and dully watches a greyish stain on the floor instead. 

 

The man takes another sip from his glass, and then nonchalantly leans back against the marble counter. “You know, it hasn’t exactly slipped my notice how you’ve taken a deep dive head first into the land of eternal doom and gloom lately without bringing a return ticket. Mind telling me what prompted that?”

 

Loki wrinkles his eyebrows. It is an odd question to ask, and he isn’t sure what Tony is playing at. Perhaps another one of his games, then, daring his slave to speak the truth so that he can then punish him for speaking out of turn.

 

And of course, he could say something else, make up whatever, give a non-committal answer. He’s Loki the Liesmith, Loki the Silvertongue and all those other things they give him credit for. He could think up an appropriate answer to Tony’s question that might not add another mark on his already long list of offences-to-be-punished-for.

 

Or he could opt for the truth. What does he have to lose? What is the worst Tony would do that the man hasn’t already planned for him?

 

And that’s when he decides that he’s had enough. Asking is surely better than this terrible state of not-knowing, of constant, mind-numbing worrying and wondering and waiting.

 

So Loki looks up to face the man leaning against the kitchen counter, meeting with a pair of unrelenting brown eyes.

 

“When do you intend to claim your rights to bed me?” he asks as Tony takes another deep swallow from his glass, a strange sense of relief washing over him now that the question is out. If the answer is going to be here and now, then so be it, at least he won’t have to walk around with this crushing weight of uncertainty on his shoulders anymore.

 

For a while, Loki wonders if Tony might be choking on that last gulp of alcohol, as he stands there frozen with eyes gone wide and mouth half-open in what looks like shocked agony, seemingly unable to get a word out.

 

Then the stillness is shattered by the crash of a glass falling to the ground, shards and liquid spraying all over the floor.

 

And Tony sounds and looks like he’s still choking and gasping for air several long moments later when it appears he has gathered enough words to speak.

 

“What the heck did you just say?”

 

Yes, it was an inappropriate and ill-considered question, one he wasn’t supposed to be asking and will most likely end up getting punished for. Slaves aren’t entitled to request explanations from their masters, after all.

 

Still, he repeats himself. The question is already out, what harm can it do to speak it out into the open once more? He’s already going to be punished for so many things that it makes little difference now.

 

“I was asking when you will finally claim your rights to bed me?” It’s surprising that his voice can sound so calm and collected, in sharp contrast to what is simmering in the pit of his stomach – revulsion, disgust, and fe--. No, he futilely tries to assure himself, not fear. Revulsion and disgust. 

 

However, instead of showing anger at the obviously improper question, Tony takes one – no, two – steps away from him, holding up his hands, palms facing out, eyes wide as saucers.

 

“Ookay, now, let’s just hold our horses here for a sec. Time-out. Time-out.” The last word is shouted rather than spoken as he makes slashing, horizontal movements with his hands. From where Loki is sitting, it almost looks as if a slight blush is creeping up Tony’s cheeks, but that must surely be a trick of the fluorescent light the man is standing directly beneath.

 

Then, Tony seems to slump, and draws a deep breath and runs a hand over his mouth, sounding like he’s mumbling something to himself, but the words are too muffled for Loki to hear. He then proceeds to say something in a more audible tone of voice, but apparently thinks better of it, as he cuts himself off before more than a few syllables are out. Finally, he expels a heavy sigh and then makes a new and more successful attempt at speaking.

 

“Now, I’m not familiar with Asgardian vernacular slang, but please tell me that ‘bedding someone’ has an entirely different meaning over where you come from. As in, not meaning sex. As in, not having anything whatsoever to do with the whole ‘insert tab A into slot B’ kind of thing,” Tony all but blurts out, looking like he’s just swallowed something bitter and unpleasant, something that he would just rather have spit out again.

 

Loki knits his brow in confusion. What else would he be talking about? Is Tony playing with him, making some sort of mockery out of him again?

 

The man doesn’t wait for him to answer, though. Instead, he runs a hand through his messy hair, forcefully, like he’s trying to rub away something sticky clinging to his scalp, and then continues to talk. Or, rather, sputter, as his face turns into a pained grimace.

 

“You actually thought I would…“ he begins and then inhales deeply, strangely unsteady as if the floor under his feet is giving way under him. “Jesus Christ. That is so not gonna happen! Seriously, Rudolph, do I look like someone who enjoys sticking my finer body parts into places where they’re not welcome?” There’s a clear note of agitation in that voice, though it sounds like Tony is trying to fight it down, to remain cool and dispassionate but failing miserably. Finally, it appears he has given up and raises both his voice and his head as if he’s no longer talking to Loki but to the heavens above, palms held upwards in an appealing fashion. “Sheesh! Just what on god’s green Earth made you think I would ever do such a thing?”

 

Loki blinks a couple of times, trying to make sense of what Tony is saying, make it align with his notions of how his situation here in Stark Tower will inevitably play itself out, but it’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle filled with mismatched pieces. It just doesn't fit together.

 

Somehow, he’s not so sure of things anymore.

 

But he wasn’t mistaken about one thing. And as Tony stares at him, expecting him to say something, he latches onto that.

 

“You seemed… interested enough that day I gave you a foot massage.”

 

“For crying out loud, if you haven’t noticed, I’m a man!” There is agitated exasperation in Tony’s voice, though Loki isn’t sure exactly what has prompted it. “Perhaps you gods have such perfect control over your bodies that you don’t ever get yourselves into situations like that, but I can assure you that we Midgardian males work on a totally different level. And that sort of thing happens to us in the supermarket check-out, at dinner with the in-laws, in the shower at the gym, everywhere! Some of us can hardly stand in the way of a gust of wind without it happening. Point is, it means nothing!”

 

It’s like tipping a jar upside down and then putting it back upright again with the contents all dishevelled and rearranged. Now Tony’s words have similarly tipped the world too, and Loki’s still trying to make sense out of this new arrangement that is the result.

 

So he asks carefully, because he’s not sure he can stomach it if it turns out that he has misunderstood and he receives the wrong answer.

 

“You… do not desire to bed me, then?” The question hangs in the air for a few seconds, teetering precariously like a raindrop on the tip of a leaf. Resolutely, he smothers the tiny, desperate flicker of hope threatening to well up; it is surely better to snuff it out now than having it extinguished completely a moment later.

 

Tony sighs as he leans heavily against the dark marble of the kitchen counter, shaking his head in consternation while making a grimace. “Look, princess, in case it hasn’t occurred to you, I’m Tony Stark – billionaire, genius, playboy, philanthropist, the freaking IronMan. Even one of those things would be enough to have more than my fair share of girls at any decent party blinking their eyelashes at me and clinging to my arm like superglue. Combine all of them, and that means more suitors than I can fend off with a pointy stick. I assure you, I have enough willing potential partners fawning at me. I don’t need any unwilling ones.” He fixes Loki with an inscrutable stare. “Besides, we have a word for that sort of thing here on planet Earth. And people who do that go to jail.”

 

And somehow, Loki gets the bizarre feeling of being suddenly able to breath properly again, despite never previously having noticed any respiratory ailments. Like there’s been a huge weight dragging him down that has now been magically lifted from his shoulders.

 

Then there’s a long silence, and Loki dares a quick look into Tony’s eyes and almost balks at what he sees.

 

There’s no hate, anger, or disdain, or any of the other emotions that ought to be there.

 

In fact, there is only one thing.

 

Pity.

 

Chapter Text

Okay, so that was without a doubt one of the most embarrassing and uncomfortable conversations he remembers having in his forty-something years of life. Ever. Even worse than the talk – or lecture – his father had given him after that one time in second grade when Tony’s teacher caught him pissing in the gym bag of one of his jerk extraordinaire classmates (who totally deserved it).

 

He eyes the tools and various devices strewn across the scratched surface of his workbench; perhaps he should get the jumbled heaps sorted out. Some of the tools are even out of order, but he’s never bothered to sort the non-functional apparatuses out from the still useful ones, relying on his memory to tell him which ones work or not.

 

He grabs one of the most often-used pieces of the disorganized equipment. It’s an arc welder; he even built one of his first suits using this tool. Slowly, he turns it around in his grasp, letting his palm slide across a handle smooth but dirty from frequent use, remembering the early days he spent in his workshop welding and hammering, soldering and fitting sleek sheets of metal together. And even though he hasn’t forgotten how that particular time came with its own share of issues, just like all periods of his life seem wont to do, in hindsight they seem like luxuriously problem-free days.

 

Because back then, he didn’t have a god-turned-slave lounging around in his tower like an unwanted pet. Whom he, Tony, has the hots for, like he’s an at-puberty’s-threshold schoolboy lusting after the pretty, popular girl a few years his elder living right across the street.

 

To make matters even worse, the object of his attraction knows all about it. And Tony, always the suave and the self-confident, can’t help but feeling like a total idiot that his desire was so obvious. Like a neon sign on freaking Broadway, with a blinking arrow pointing right at him. That’s him alright, the sex-crazed pervert, lookie here, everyone.

 

Groaning, he runs a dirty, greasy hand through his hair, not caring about the grimy smears of oil his fingers are leaving behind. It will wash out. He can just go upstairs and have a shower, and oh yeah, why doesn’t he jerk himself off to the image of a naked Norse god too while he’s at it, huh, just for good measure?

 

Ugh. And here he thought that he had been discrete, acting all prim and proper around the god. But of course, there was that one little indiscretion (as in, a raging hard-on) thwarting his plans, and Loki had noticed, drawing his own conclusions about how things were about to play themselves out.

 

Simply thinking about it makes that flush starting to creep up his cheeks again. Annoyed, he snatches the welding mask hanging on the wall, accidentally bumping it into some other equipment that falls to the floor with a loud clang, but he ignores it and places the protective gear over his head, fastening the straps securely in place. The murky, metallic smell has a certain familiarity to it that usually calms his nerves like oil poured onto stormy waters. He’s spent countless of hours behind this well-worn mask, immersing himself in his work when the outside world has become too much for him to deal with.

 

The glow of the arc welder takes up most of his field of vision as he turns it on, and despite his heavy gear, he can still sense some of the heat protruding from the white-hot flame only a foot away from his masked face.

 

So he sets to work on the half-finished pieces of metal left from the last session, bursts of embers spraying over his workbench as he fits two sharp edges together. The hard metal melts, yielding to the relentless onslaught of laser-sharp heat.

 

Usually, this kind of focused precision work would help take his mind of things, but today the little self-therapy session doesn’t seem to be working very effectively. His mind keeps drifting back to the conversation from an hour ago, the look that Loki was giving him, the fear and worry in his eyes.

 

No wonder Loki has been avoiding him for the last few days. He still can’t quite fathom that the god actually expected him to--

 

And then, Tony realises that he really has no idea of how things work back in Asgard. Sure Thor has given long-winded monologues about the marvels that are the realm of the Aesir, but those have all been tales filled to the brim with glorious battles and lavish feasts, of high adventure and magic and unearthly wonders. He’s never said much about the darker, the less pleasant sides of Asgardian society. Such as slavery, or the punishment of their criminals.

 

Somehow, Tony feels that such a highly developed race as the Aesir should have other ways to handle these things.

 

The arc welder is sending showers of glittering sparks around him, as if he’s getting his own little private firework display right here in his workshop. The two pieces of metal on the workbench have reluctantly melted into one, and Tony turns the arc welder off, leaving the still hot steel plate on the bench to cool off.

 

His face feels flushed as he removes the mask, and it’s not just because of the heat from the welder flame or from being enclosed in the stuffy headgear. No, it’s that unpleasant feeling of shame, something he rarely feels, mixed in with a fair helping of awkward discomfort.

 

So he’d be the first one to admit (well, to himself, anyway) that he’s spent more than one evening by himself wondering what it would be like to have that lean, muscular body writhing under his in ecstasy, hear that haughty but cultured voice moan his name, watch the fine-chiselled face contort with pleasure. But those were private fantasies, and he was certain they’d remain just that.

 

But now, Loki has called him out on it. He’s read Tony like an open book, exposed his desire like it was the most evident thing in the world, clear for anyone with half an eye to see.

 

That’s bad enough in itself, of course, but he could probably have lived with that. What makes this whole matter a tenfold worse, however, what is for all intents and purposes a jug of table salt poured into an open wound, is that Loki expected him to act on those desires using force.

 

And what makes it a hundredfold worse – those expectations had driven Loki to a point where he was considering putting an end to everything. There is a chill in his bones at the thought; what if it had gotten that far? What if Loki had actually cut his wrists open and bled out before Tony could stop it? Of course, then he would never have found out the reason for it, but still… even if Loki is a war criminal and a whole bunch of other things, the idea that he might have killed himself over his misguided expectations of what Tony was going to do to him is just too disturbing to even contemplate.

 

Has anyone ever thought so low of him? Sure, Tony Stark might be many things – self-absorbed, narcissistic, reckless, self-destructive, borderline alcoholic, lewd and lascivious, to mention a few things most often cited to his detriment – but he sure as heck isn’t a fucking rapist.

 

The whole thing is just on a whole special level of wrong, the magnitude of which he has never encountered before. More wrong than ketchup on ice cream, a swastika adorning the Capsicle’s shield, or going an entire week without alcohol.

 

He imagines, for what time around he isn’t sure, his hand sliding under Loki’s faded T-shirt, trailing across the abs, up to his chest, smooth skin against his palm, feeling the just barely discernible flutter of a speeding heart. His groin twitches at the mental image, and he feels a sharp sting of guilt. It’s wrong and inappropriate, in every sense of the word. The guy he’s mentally drooling over expected him to fucking rape him. Though he didn’t use those exact words, but the essence was still the same.

 

Is that what happens to slaves in Asgard? True, Loki had mentioned something about bed slaves, but he hadn’t really reflected much further on the subject, but sort of relegated it to the back of his mind. In hindsight, it was stupid and thoughtless of him to have done so, even if he had had no idea then of the consequences that would follow. Not even in his wildest dream would he ever have thought that Loki would have expected such things from him. Perhaps he should have considered that notion, but it never even entered his mind, and because of his failure to at all entertain how things might be done in Asgard, he’d led someone to believe he would take advantage and abuse him in the worst possible ways.

 

Somehow, the glorious gilded halls that Thor has spoken so lovingly and appreciatively of seem like they have lost their shiny sparkle in the sinister shadows cast by recent events. And Odin, the ruler of these halls, willingly sentenced his son – adopted or not – to such a fate, rather than simply having him imprisoned or whatever it is that usually happens to Asgardian criminals?

 

And here Tony thought that the universe gave him a shitty dad.

 

His fingers absent-mindedly play around with a fastener lying forlorn and forgotten on the bench, trying to make the little piece of metal spin on its own axis like a top. But the thing is uncooperative and slips against the surface, skidding away over the edge and falls to the floor with a soft clang. He doesn’t bend down to pick it up.

 

The look in Loki’s eyes as he asked Tony his one-million dollar question still haunts him, like a stubborn ghost refusing to leave him alone. A volatile mixture of despair and disgust, incongruously coupled with weary resignation. And there was definitely fear in there, too, though Tony could see the god doing his best to hide it.

 

And no, he does not relish the idea of having to stand face to face with the god again, though he knows that he has no choice in the matter. Loki is unfortunately his house guest for an indeterminate future, so he can’t go around sneaking behind corners and tripping on his toes hoping to avoid the guy. The whole situation is just fucked up, and on so many levels it’s not even funny. And he’s not even sure what’s the worst part – how Odin is pinning for a ‘worst dad of the year’ award, his own messed-up fantasies of having his way with the green-eyed god in his charge, Loki knowing about Tony getting hard for him, being pegged for a rapist, his indiscretions having driven the god to considering offing himself – or the look he’d seen in Loki’s haggard eyes.

 

That… look.

 

And remembering that look, that’s when Tony comes to a decision – that despite everything, Loki has been punished enough.

 

It’s no fun beating on someone who has already been pummelled into the ground.

 


 

Once more, he sits there on the window sill, one leg restlessly dangling, the other drawn up to his knees. He wonders if the sky has always been this blue or if it just looks like it from up here. He never recalls paying much attention to it in the past, before his freedom got taken away. Perhaps it’s always looked like this, and he just doesn’t remember.

 

Perhaps it doesn’t matter.

 

He itches to go outside. But that’s not possible, of course, He is to remain here in this cage of glass and steel, locked away from the rest of the world. The world he tried to conquer, lay under his feet. No, there’s no way that Tony would ever let him venture outside of these walls, and why should he?

 

Tony.

 

The words the man spoke earlier are still vivid in his mind, as is the pity he saw pooling in those dark eyes. The sort of look reserved for weak, deplorable creatures not worthy of godly or even human dignity. Loki doesn’t want pity, he never did.

 

Though, he supposes it’s still preferable to certain other things.

 

But the previous sense of heady relief is still lingering, as if his body is floating rather than being the usual lump of mortal flesh and bone that he has slowly started to grow accustomed to. So it would seem that Tony has no intention of bedding him then, of claiming the rights that always come with the ownership of a slave.

 

The threat that has been hanging over him for so long, making him nauseous with dread, is gone, dispelled like childhood’s imagined monsters with the break of dawn. And all it took was a few words from Tony, a reassurance he’d never dreamed he would be getting. Because, what reason would there be for that?

 

Of course, there are still all those punishments waiting, but perhaps he can deal with them as long as he knows that this won’t be coming.

 

No, whatever awaits him here, whatever is still to come, at least it won’t be that.

 

It came fully unexpectedly, from out of left field while he was standing in the far right corner looking somewhere else entirely. And it made little sense, because what else use would he be to Tony? The man already has his computers and fancy technology to take care of most menial tasks usually handled by slaves in Asgard, so he doesn’t need Loki for that. But it would have been the perfect opportunity for revenge, for personal gratification and satisfaction – and yet Tony has decided to pass up on it for his own inexplicable reasons.

 

Perhaps it’s some kind of odd Midgardian sentiment, maybe it’s something else. He doesn’t know, but it doesn’t matter. No reason or explanation is necessary, as long as he won’t have to fear being turned into Tony’s bed slave.

 

The man is confusing, a strange enigma. Especially since there is one detail that Loki did take note of.

 

Tony never denied wanting to bed him.

Chapter Text

The mouthful of Cheerios is growing in size for every time he chews, and it is only with a heroic effort he manages to swallow it down. Tony is sitting across the table, sipping from a steaming cup of coffee, not speaking a word.

 

The silence is making sharp prickles of anxiety sting all over Loki’s skin. Because normally, Tony is never quiet. He talks, all the time, constantly unleashing his well-filled arsenal of sarcastic wit upon his surroundings. No matter what, the man quips, mocks, jests, remarks, jabs. But he’s never quiet.

 

Expect now, he is.

 

It's so uncharacteristic, and it surely can’t be a good sign.

 

Perhaps Tony is angry. Maybe even for something that he did. He sincerely hopes that’s not the case, though his brain is working full-speed trying to remember if he has done anything today that could have prompted such a reaction. Or not done something that Tony thinks he should have.

 

Nothing particular comes up, though.

 

There still hasn’t been any punishment meted out for his previous actions, and he wonders whether it’s a good or a bad thing that Tony is biding his time. He tries to tell himself that he should be happy about that, because the longer it takes, the more likely it is that the man’s anger and resentment have cooled down. Or, if he’s unlucky, the wait will only serve to make that anger and resentment fester even more.

 

He doesn’t know which alternative is closest to the truth, and he wishes he were better at reading Tony. Or that Tony were better at voicing what he’s expecting from Loki. Slave masters on Asgard tend to be very vocal when it comes to giving their slaves orders, making it abundantly clear what they expect them to do and how to act and what the consequences of disobedience are. But Tony hasn’t been much like that, instead seeming to assume that Loki will know what’s expected and act accordingly.

 

And he really doesn’t. He’s too unfamiliar with Midgardian standards, praxis and customs for that.

 

So perhaps he’s just crossed an invisible line, disregarded an unspoken order or something of the sort. Perhaps Tony is waiting for him to realize his mistake on his own, slowly growing even more annoyed for every minute that Loki is giving no signs of being aware of his wrongdoings.

 

No, he has no idea, and it’s just feeding his anxiety even more.

 


 

Okay, so this easily counts as one of the top three most awkward breakfasts he’s ever had. After all, it only happens once in a blue moon that he is at a total loss for what to say.

 

And frankly, what do you say to someone who expected you to rape them?

 

He can’t think of anything appropriate that won’t come off as pointless and borderline idiotic, so instead he sips his coffee in silence, the only other sound apart from his soft slurping being the clangs of Loki’s spoon every now and then scraping against the bowl of Cheerios.

 

And there’s one uncomfortable thought that has been starting to intrude in his head, namely the realization that Loki is probably going to be here for the duration, much as he has tried not to think in those terms.

 

And that in turn brings up the question of what the hell he is going to actually do with him? There’s just no acceptable solution to the problem, much as he tries to turn the issue around in his head as if it were a Rubik’s cube that could be solved with a few tweaks and twists. A puzzle possible to work out with logic alone, not one imbued with all kinds of emotions and everyday practicalities and undesirable implications and god knows what other crap.

 

How could that high and mighty Council of Very Important People back in Asgard expect that he would be able to deal with all this? Do they even understand what mess they’re making of his life? Do they even care?

 

How could anyone have thought it a good idea to hand Loki over to him as his slave, to dump this responsibility onto him of all people? He’s not a responsible person, and never claimed to be one. Hell, he can barely handle himself, much less a god of mischief turned slave.

 

And Loki’s expectations… ugh. That’s the worst part of it all; the most fucked up thing of this extremely fucked up situation.

 

“You know, I never actually wanted you here,” he hears his own voice saying, punctuating the silence with the superfluous comment that he just had to make. There are a few heartbeats of silence as Loki’s spoon stops scraping against the bowl. Perhaps it’s the wrong thing to say, but a part of him is desperate to point out that this situation is none of his doing, he isn’t responsible for this shit.

 

Or perhaps it’s a way of trying to alleviate his own guilt for what his actions, no matter how unwittingly, brought Loki to believe and perhaps almost do.

 

Loki says nothing, and for that Tony is half-grateful, half-exasperated.

 


 

Loki’s fingers tighten around the spoon at Tony’s comment, as he stares at the round things floating in the milk in his bowl. So that’s what must have caused the man’s current foul disposition, then – being forced to put up with a slave he doesn’t actually want.

 

So in the end, it is Loki that has managed to put Tony into his bad mood, no matter how inadvertedly and barring the fact that this tower is one of the last places he would want to be if he had even the slightest say in his own destiny.

 

He hopes that Tony isn’t going to blame him, or take his frustrations out on the slave that, when all is said and done, is the root cause of the problem.

 

But there is no one else here, of course. All the Aesir who had any influence in his sentencing are far away in another realm, and only Loki is here to answer to any accusations Tony might have in that regard.

 

Perhaps he will suffer for that too, either now or later. He grimaces. Being a slave is certainly bad enough, but being an unwanted slave is bound to be even worse. Particularly if Tony is going to hold him responsible for it.

 

And of course, in a way he is responsible. If it hadn’t been for his actions in New York, he wouldn’t have been here in the fist place. It makes perfect sense that Tony is going to blame him for that. Furtively, he lifts his gaze from the bowl to briefly glance at Tony, searching for signs that the brewing anger is about to transform itself into sudden violence, but the man’s self-control seems intact for now.

 

Just to be safe, he decides to discreetly keep an eye on Tony, in case a fist should suddenly come flying his way.

 


 

The distrust in Loki’s face is all too obvious as the god glares at him across the table with suspicion written into every line of his features.

 

Then again, Tony can’t really blame him after what he made Loki think with his inappropriate reactions during that ill-fated foot massage. No wonder the god is sporting that sullen, accusing look, like Tony is a lesser form of being.

 

He probably deserves it too, for being such an idiot, lacking even the most basic sense of self-control and good judgement.

 

And he can’t help but think that perhaps he should say something more regarding that, but what is there to say, really?

 

Somehow, he gets the feeling that Loki isn’t interested in breaching the subject further any more than Tony is. And frankly, what good will it do bringing the topic up for conversation again? He’s already made it clear to the god that his dreadful misgivings weren’t going to happen in a million years, and what else is there he can say about it?

 

No, it’s better to just let this die down, and after a while things might become less strained and awkward. Bringing the subject up will only make that long and painful path to blissful forgetfulness start all over.

 

And heaven knows that it is embarrassing enough as it already is.

 


 

He can sense the man’s displeasure as he regards him, and it makes his skin crawl in dreaded anticipation of things to come. Despite knowing full well that Tony can’t stand him, he’s rarely felt it this sharply and clearly. Usually, the man keeps an impressively nonchalant façade, only occasionally letting his stark dislike for Loki breach through the surface.

 

But the displeasure that is emanating from Tony right now is nearly palpable in its conspicuousness, and it’s making him more nervous by the second. Because this time, there seems to be nothing specific he has done that has prompted it; instead, it is his mere presence, his sheer existence in this tower that has been putting Tony into such a bad mood.

 

Of course, it’s far from the first time he has displeased Tony, but the reasons so far have been fairly obvious, the cause and effect clear, what actions prompted the negative reaction possible to pinpoint.

 

Now, however, it’s not, and it’s just making him even more aware of the precariousness of his situation.

 

Tony could easily and quickly make things very unpleasant for him, should he decide to. And the man doesn’t even need a reason; Loki doesn’t need to have actually done anything. Arbitrariness and mere whims are just as valid, seeing as how slave masters don’t need rationale or cause for anything they decide to do to or with their slaves.

 

Biting his lip, he wonders if there’s anything he can do to put Tony into a better mood, any way to get into his good graces, however tiny they might be. Now that the threat of being turned into a bed slave has thankfully been removed, he finds himself more concerned about the other aspects of his immediate future that inevitably come with his position. And he has no idea just how harshly Tony intends to deal with him for all he’s done. The dreams from only a couple of nights ago resurface unbidden, and he shudders inwardly. Might there be anything that could improve the dreary outlook of his future, lessen the severity of the punishments that are still awaiting?

 

But a part of him is doubtful. He isn’t sure there’s anything he can do. He can’t even think of anything he’s ever done that has pleased Tony, all he ever seems to end up doing is to displease the man.

 

Then again, keeping quiet and staying out of Tony’s way is probably his best bet. Reminding him as little as possible of his existence, since that seems to be enough to prickle the man’s skin.

 

Fingers clenching, he scoops up another spoonful of his breakfast. In the silence, the clinking of metal against ceramic is almost deafening.

 

Chapter Text

He swallows the last gulp of coffee down, glad to finally bring an end to this miserable breakfast featuring a Norse god of mischief eyeing him like he’s just admitted that he spends his evenings kicking kittens for fun. Putting his cup down on the crumb-littered tabletop, he scoots the chair out, getting ready to head down to his workshop to get some work done.

 

Of course, the pair of sullen, accusing green eyes on the other side of the table follows him closely, and he winces inwardly. Most of all, he’d just like to slink out of the room like a drenched puppy with its tail between its legs, but something tells him it would be a bad idea to simply leave Loki like this to stew and let his anger fester after everything that’s happened. No, it would be better to give the god some sort of task to fulfil, something to keep his mind occupied and prevent him from inventing new plans for world domination to avenge himself on humanity for being idiotic dolts like Tony.

 

Though, he’s not so sure what kind of work a Norse god of mischief is really good for.

 

But come to think of it, there is one thing he could take care of; there’s still that newly washed heap of shirts in need of ironing. Sure he has Dummy to do that for him, but for all his bad-ass techno-skills, enabling him to build a suit that can fly and comes equipped with weapons exceeding the total firepower of many smaller nations’ armies, he still hasn’t managed to create a robot that can iron shirts as well as the average human. Heck, even he can do it better than Dummy, which is saying a lot, though he lets the robot handle boring stuff like that anyway. It’s worth a few wrinkles and creases.

 

And even a spoiled prince who’s no doubt spent most of his life being waited on hand and foot should be able to surpass Dummy’s lacklustre ironing abilities. Hopefully, he won’t burn too many shirts in the process before getting the hang of it.

 

“Alright, got another task for you,” he says, waving Loki along, who looks as sullen and pouty as ever.

 

Yeah, definitely a good idea to occupy the god with something, he thinks to himself as he takes in that look. He’s sure glad Jarvis is keeping a constant vigilant eye out, or he’d probably find his bed stuffed with thumbtacks or his shoes filled with super-glue, or whatever it is that indignant gods of mischief do.

 


 

“Okay, then,” Tony says, placing the iron on the board before him and wiggling his fingers at the smooth underside. “That’s the hot side. And there are the shirts.” He makes a toss with his head into the direction of a heap of crumpled clothing. “Any further instructions you need?”

 

Loki shakes his head. He recognises the concept; they have it in Asgard too. Slabs of iron heated on a grate hanging over a hearth of glowing embers, which, when hot enough, are pressed down on wrinkled cloth to even out the creases. The procedure is, of course, carried out mostly for court ladies’ finer dresses, but it hardly comes as a surprise that Tony would want this for his clothes as well.

 

It shouldn’t be too difficult. Not that he has ever done it himself, of course, but he's seen others do it several times before as a child sneaking into the servants’ areas, standing on his toes and curiously peaking over the edge of the work bench to watch the proceedings taking place, while hiding from the consequences of whatever mischief he had caused moments earlier.

 

Yes, it should be a simple task, one he can handle without further instructions.

 

Besides, Tony’s terse manners are clearly informing him that the man has no desire to stand around here and explain simple servants’ tasks to his slave. Or to stand around in his presence at all. No, Tony surely expects him to be able to execute this order without lengthy instructions or demonstrations. And there’s no point in further provoking the man’s ire by being obtuse. He can figure this out, previous experience or not.

 

“Good,” Tony says in response. “I usually let Dummy handle this, but I’m sure you’ll do better.” With that, he turns and leaves, not wasting further time or words on his slave.

 

Loki remains standing in the middle of the room, one hand on the edge of the ironing board. For once, it would seem that Tony has given him a task that actually serves a primary purpose other than humiliating him. This time, Tony is expecting him to be useful, as opposed to a mere source of amusement providing him with the pleasure of seeing his hated enemy brought low.

 

Besides, he’s already unwanted here, as opposed to wanted, and it would serve him much better to be useful rather than useless to boot. Perhaps if he is, maybe Tony will to some extent let the benefits of having a useful – albeit unwanted – slave around take precedence over the satisfaction of meting out revenge, so that it won’t go beyond a point where that usefulness will deteriorate too much.

 

As much as the resentment is crawling in him at the thought, as much as it is making his throat sting with humiliation, he knows that his best bet is to make sure that Tony stays as content as possible, if he is at all to keep his nose above the water surface rather than drowning pitifully. And as disturbing as the thought is, he will most likely be spending Tony’s entire life in this tower, and even though that might not be very many years when taking his own life span into account, it will still be a torturously long time if he has to live under the yoke of a disgruntled and displeased Tony, who might not see any other uses for his slave than being a handy outlet for the man’s frustrations.

 

No, pride won’t do him any good anymore; truth be told, it’s probably one of the reasons that landed him in this miserable situation in the first place. He has truly fallen, reduced to performing servants’ tasks at the behest of a mere mortal, but he’s also aware that it’s still full well possible for him to fall even further. And pride would be the first thing to trip him up, to send him careening right over the edge of that abyss yawning at his very feet. No need to jump into it voluntarily if he can avoid it.

 

His pride and dignity are still in there somewhere, and he decides to let them stay where they are, hidden and locked away. Maybe someday, he’ll be able to bring them out again, as vain as that hope seems right now.

 

But as things are standing, he has no choice but to swallow all this degradation down, trying not to choke on it. His entire future here depends on Tony’s attitude towards him, the man who now controls his entire life, every aspect of his existence.

 

And as horrible and loathsome as the idea of being turned into a bed slave would have been, it might still have given him a flimsy amount of protection (though far too hard-earned to be worth it) against other things, possibly ensuring he wouldn’t be hurt too badly. But now, his future depends solely on how useful he can make himself, how pleased Tony is with him; that’s the only thing that will offer him any form of safe-guarding, no matter how thin and weak the shield.

 

He eyes the iron, resting upright on the board, and then the crumpled shirts, Finally, his gaze drifts back then the iron again. At least it should be an easy task, something he can perform adequately, if perhaps not stellarly.

 

Bending down over the pile of Tony’s freshly washed clothes items, he pulls out a grey shirt with the word ‘Aerosmith’ plastered across the front. Whatever that means. Spreading the shirt out on the board, flattening it out with his hand, he picks up the iron and places it against the cloth, pushing down to make sure there’s adequate pressure to smooth the wrinkles out.

 

However, it doesn’t take long before the sharp odour of something disturbingly burnt reaches his nose.

 

Damn.

 

Quickly, he yanks the iron away only to discover, to his utter horror, a big, charred hole in the cloth beneath. His eyes widen in dread. He hadn’t expected that the iron would be hot enough to burn like this.

 

Panic welling up inside of him, he whirls around, half expecting an incensed Tony to storm through the door, demanding to know what the hell he is doing and why the fuck he can’t handle even the most simple of tasks.

 

The door frame is mercifully empty, though, and his tense limbs relax marginally. Biting his lip, he looks to the sorry thing on the board before him, miserably taking in the sight of the burnt edges framing the very much conspicuous hole. The shirt is ruined. Whimsically, he wishes for his magic; only a faint tendril of it, and he could have easily sorted this mess out, without leaving a hint that anything was ever amiss.

 

And what is he supposed to do now? Sneak the damning proof into the trash, hoping that Tony won’t notice that he’s one shirt short? Confess in the hopes that it might get him off a bit easier?

 

Tony will be absolutely livid; of this there’s no doubt. He eyes the hot iron, and then his bare arm sticking out of the sleeve of the T-shirt he’s wearing, swallowing.

 

Perhaps Tony will decide to give him a very much hands-on lesson about the effects that a hot iron will have when held against… non-heat resistant material for too long. His skin prickles in phantom pain. It would no doubt have been considered a fitting punishment in Asgard for such carelessness; surely Tony will be of no different opinion. And worse things have certainly befallen slaves for lesser offences than this.

 

And as he stands there looking at the ruined shirt, unable to do anything at all to rectify his mistake, he feels a huge wave of frustration washing over him. He can’t do anything right here. He's too unfamiliar with Midgardian customs and expectations and household appliances to make a good slave. Heck, not even in Asgard would he have made a good slave, having gone through life reliant on his magic to fix everything for him. But at least back home, he would have known what would be expected, known what sort of behaviour would be required of him.

 

Then again, he can pretty safely say that ruined clothing is most certainly not part of it, not even here in Midgard.

 

The fists at his sides are clenching. Uselessly. Impotently. Futilely. Such apt descriptions of his own existence and pathetic struggles here, where he can’t do anything right, not even something simple like this. And all he ever does just seems to end up putting him into an even worse place than he was when he started.

 

He lets out a growl of frustration, desperately wanting to smash something but thinking better of it, knowing it will only make things worse. Oh, how the fates must be laughing at him and his pitiful attempts to cope with his impossible situation, ever-doomed to abject failure.

 

But in the end, no matter how many times his thoughts dizzily revolve around the mocking fates, Asgard versus Midgard, Tony’s wrath, and his own situation, there’s one fact that won’t go away, its presence ruthlessly staring him into his face – he’s still left with two alternatives, and he has to pick one.

 

Try to hide it, or confess.

 

In the end, he opts for the former, silently willing that Tony won’t notice the missing shirt.

 

It is only many hours later, when he’s lying in bed trying to fall asleep, that he realizes that Jarvis must surely have seen it all and reported his misdoings back to Tony.

 

It takes a long time for sleep to come to him that night, and when it does, his dreams are filled with hot irons and the sickly, nauseating stench of scorched flesh.

Chapter Text

Well, at least there’s one good thing in his life right now. The new beta-electro-transformer that has been riddled with a seemingly unsolvable glitch for so long has finally proved itself cooperative and fixable, and now that he’s past that very annoying speed-bump, he can get some real work done on it.

 

He readjusts a few of the cables lining its innards, the deft motions automatic and routine. The progress has been quicker than expected, to boot. Only a few more days, and he should be able to do the first test runs together with his suit.

 

Yeah, at least something good deigns fit to happen, something that works out the way it’s supposed to.

 

He tries to find some solace in that thought, while carefully doing his best not to listen too closely to that other quiet but insistent part of his brain that is whispering that all he’s really doing down here in his workshop is hiding. The transformer is just an excuse, given that he’s left that project on ice for months, not returning to it until just now.

 

Tony Stark, hiding from the awkwardness and embarrassment and guilty conscience awaiting him outside of the familiar safety of these four walls – who would have figured.

 

The concept is strikingly bizarre, because he’s never pictured himself as someone going to pains to avoid conflicts. Quite the opposite, he would often be the one to instigate conflict, at times taking an almost perverse pleasure in watching annoying people squirm as he blurts out uncomfortable elephant-in-the-room kind of truths or otherwise giving voice to what everyone is thinking but no one else than the uninimitable Tony Stark dares to say out loud. Because that’s just him – boisterous, basking-in-attention, ever-cocky and sure of himself.

 

No, conflict and awkwardness never bothered him much. Not until now, that is.

 

Which is of course ridiculous, because it shouldn’t matter what Loki, a bat-shit crazy war criminal, thinks of him. But somehow, inexplicably, it still does.

 

But really, he doesn’t want to go there. After all, it was all those improper thoughts and fantasies that started this crap that ended with him hiding in – no, scratch that, retreating to his workshop as to not have to stand face to face with the other counterpart so inextricably involved in all this shit. So instead, he forces his wandering thoughts into another direction, one much more harmless. For the moment, his brain seems irritatingly unwilling to let go off the subject that is the green-eyed god living in his tower, but at least he can focus on more neutral aspects relating to that topic.

 

So yeah, he’s really impressed that Loki managed to ruin no more than one single shirt during his ironing stint, as Jarvis later informed him when he enquired about the results of the little task handed out. It had been tempting to tell the AI to bring up the recorded security feed showing the whole spectacle, because the image of Loki ironing would have made for quite a remarkable sight.

 

But in the end, he decided not to. The idea only held a vague appeal for a few seconds, because he knew that merely watching the god on a screen, at a safe distance many rooms away from his immediate presence, would still make all those embarrassing memories rear their ugly heads in his mind.

 

And it’s odd how, mere months ago, he would have paid good money for the opportunity of seeing the crazy Norse god ironing shirts, no less Tony’s own, but now the concept doesn’t seem the least bit funny. Just disturbing, because he knows that regardless of how little the idea appeals to either of them, Loki is stuck here indefinitely, and nothing they can do will change that. And he has no choice but to come to terms with the current circumstances that unfortunately involve him risking running into the god at any time and in pretty much any place in his tower.

 

So instead, he let himself be content with Jarvis’ report stating that Loki had managed to fulfil his job assignment for the day without burning either himself in the process or any of the other shirts after that initial mishap. No need for him to watch the proceedings for himself; Jarvis words were good enough for him.

 

And perhaps it would be a good idea for him to find the god some new task to occupy him, but something inside of him violently protests at that idea. Because he doesn’t feel up to confronting Loki again so soon; and the more time he spends alone in this workshop, effectively shut off from the world and the rest of his tower with only his equipment and technology for company, the more reluctant he feels about facing the good again. So maybe he could have Jarvis instruct him to do something, but he’s not sure what exactly. And besides, he’s not sure even Jarvis’ and Dummy’s combined efforts would make satisfactory replacements for a human instructor giving a run-down of what would for a god most likely be unfamiliar Midgardian doings.

 

No, it’s vastly preferable sneaking down here, where he can toil away undisturbed. Loki will never show his face in this place, so at least he can feel safe in this little sanctuary of his.

 

At that, a slash of bad conscience comes over him, because lately he has been taking most of his meals alone in his workshop, only pausing briefly in his work to wolf some food down, preferring to eat on his filthy, oil-smeared workbench just so he won’t have to sit across the god’s accusing stares, the well-known pair of eyes boring into him like needles. So instead, he’s had Dummy deliver Loki food to his room (it’s not like he’s going to let the god starve or anything). But he sure as heck isn’t able to muster up even a shred of appetite sitting there with Loki’s suspicious gaze hovering all over his airspace like a pissed-off chopper.

 

And if he is to be brutally honest, he’s certain that Loki vastly prefers this arrangement too. There is no reason why he should want to spend any more time than necessary in Tony’s presence.

 

He fiddles with the electro-transformer in his hands. How much simpler it is to deal with the dependable constants that are technology and science, where he knows his way around, where things are reliable and act more or less as expected. They’re logical, predictable to a fault. Not like other… situations, that only throw him into loops he can’t keep track of.

 

Again, he wonders if he should perhaps say something more to the god, but really, what is there to say that hasn’t been said already? Oh, he can talk until he gets blue in the face, but that’s not going to change a single thing. What’s happened has happened, and he can only deal with the fall-out the best he can.

 

At that, a heap of jumbled recollections float to the surface, reminding him of certain off-hand comments he’s let slip lately, entirely unaware how they might have been interpreted by Loki.

 

Most of all, there was that oh-so-innocent remark about quality entertainment time, forgotten until now because at the time it wasn’t important, just another one of those endless comments being delivered by the never-stopping conveyor belt connecting his brain to his mouth – the memory rises unbidden, slamming into his awareness with full force. And he feels like a blithering idiot. How must that have sounded to someone expecting to be taken advantage of?

 

Perhaps he should have seen those signs earlier. Like, a lot earlier. Interpreted that paleness, the edginess, the wanton living room breakage, the non-existing appetite, as something else than mere craziness and sulking and obstinacy, or whatever other explanations he had made up for himself.

 

Yeah, he had had a million rationalizations pre-packaged and ready, but none of them came even close to the truth.

 

And he wishes that Loki had said something a lot earlier, too, before it got as far as it did. But he supposes he can full well understand that the god didn’t. How do you even bring up a subject like that, unless you’re prompted to?

 

Ugh.

 

So the god is still acrimonious and antagonistic, of course, which is only to be expected. The tenseness in his manners and the accusations in his eyes speak their clear language. He’s just surprised the god hasn’t said anything scathing to him yet, spewing forth all the disdain and vitriol that his godly haughtiness can possibly muster up.

 

Perhaps it will come eventually, once Loki has grown tired of merely eyeing him like he’s an ugly stain on the carpet. In some ways, it would probably be preferable, rather than this silent treatment that’s really starting to wear thin around the edges.

 

Oh well. Maybe it’s just as well that the two of them stay clear of each other for a little while, until this whole mess has sort of died down. Until it won’t be the first thing that comes to mind in either of their heads whenever they encounter each other.

 

Yeah, that is probably a good idea. Some things just can’t be rushed, after all. They have to settle in their own good time, right?

 

And by then, the images of a naked Loki lying in his bed might have stopped intruding in his head too.

Chapter Text

His days pass slowly, in constant oscillation between bone-grinding boredom and aggravating frustration, between unwilling resignation and unrelenting fear about the punishments still hanging over his head that have for unclear reasons still not been meted out. For wrecking Tony’s living room. For throwing a potted plant at his head. For having contemplated harming himself. For ruining Tony’s clothes and – even worse – trying to hide the evidence. For his actions in New York. For throwing Tony out a window. And for whatever additional offences he might have committed since coming here that Tony thinks he should be punished for.

 

But somehow, the scales seem to have tipped, because now, he can swear that Tony is the one avoiding him, quickly retreating into his workshop to fiddle with his science and Midgardian technology whenever he isn’t leaving the tower for unknown business elsewhere.

 

Perhaps the man has grown bored with his slave, no longer finding any entertainment in the everyday fact that the degradation and subjugation of his defeated enemy has become by now. Maybe he’s come to the conclusion that he will be content simply dishing out whatever punishments are still in store, while forgoing further petty amusements in the form of humiliating his slave, at least for the time being.

 

Whatever Tony might be thinking, there is little point in him speculating – there’s nothing he can do about it anyway – so instead he just aimlessly wanders around in the tower, without any specific goal in aim. The restlessness is crawling under his skin, and he finds himself unable to sit down lest his straying mind takes over to lead him into places far too dark and dreary. So he prowls like a restless ghost, meandering through corridors and hallways and rooms, desperate for anything that will take his thoughts off their current downward spiral.

 

He’s not really thinking, merely allowing his feet to take him wherever they want to go. It’s not like there is any semblance of a purpose to anything for him anyway.

 

And without realizing where he’s been heading, he suddenly finds himself standing outside Tony’s workshop, not quite sure how he ended up there. There are noises drifting through the crack of the half-open door, and he lets curiosity get the better of him, gingerly peering inside.

 

As expected, Tony is in there, working in deep concentration at something or the other at his workbench. His back is turned to the door, but Loki gets the impression that he could have been standing right there in front of the man and he wouldn’t even have taken note of his presence for all he’s focusing on the little gadget he’s tinkering with. Most likely another one of his endless inventions.

 

Of course, he would be better off leaving the man to his own devices; nothing good will ever come out of lingering in Tony’s presence. So his feet start moving again, but instead of turning and walking back like they should, they carry on forwards, further into the workshop, as curiosity and boredom get the better of him.

 

Tony’s forehead is creased with deep lines of concentration, laser-sharp focus directed onto the gadget in his hands as he digs around in its innards with a thin metal tool. Loki has no idea what the device is or what it is supposed to do, but he stands there watching regardless. It’s not the usual flippant Tony sitting there, but rather the inventor, the scientist, and the shift grabs his attention. He’s not used to seeing him being so serious about anything, really putting his mind into crafting something else than his usual sarcastic remarks and conceited witticisms. And for some reason, that is drawing him in, though he should of course know better.

 

He takes another step closer, despite knowing he ought to walk out of here before Tony discovers him sneaking around in what must be the man’s most sanctified place in the entire tower.

 

And another step.

 

And then, there’s the sharp noise of something crunching and breaking under his foot, the crack ear-splitting in the focused silence hovering over the room.

 

The man at the workbench startles, and there is the unmistakable sound of something snapping as his hands reflexively jerk.

 

Uh-oh.

 

Not even a blink of an eye later, Tony whirls around to face him, annoyance written across every line of his features.

 

“What the fuck are you doing creeping up on me like that?” he snaps, darting up from his chair like a wolfish predator taken by surprise by a hunter. Not waiting for Loki to deign that with an answer, he gestures with the tool still in his hand at the broken remains of whatever lying sadly on top of the bench, punctuating his words with angry stabbing motions. “Do you have any idea how long I worked on this freaking thing? And now it’s all broken because you had to come sneaking around here like someone out of Spies Like Us!

 

Letting out a gruff howl of frustration at his wasted work, he throws the tool down onto the grimy surface of the bench; a sharp clatter of metal against metal before the instrument slides off the edge and onto the floor, scattering pieces of broken gadget as it goes.

 

And Loki feels that far too familiar lurch in his stomach as Tony turns to him, fists clenched and eyes narrowed in indignation. Why the hell did he ever think it would be a good idea to come here and look Tony over his shoulder as he worked? He should have known better than this and left before things went southwards.

 

Reflexively, he takes a step back. And another one. Then, his leg catches onto something on the floor, probably the very same treacherous gadget that he stepped on moments ago and caused this whole disaster in the first place.

 

He tries to regain his balance, but the perfidious thing on the floor thwarts his efforts and instead he ends up stumbling backwards and ungracefully falling on his ass.

 

Tony takes a step in his direction, hands still clenched into tight fists.

 

So that’s it, then; Tony’s finally had it and isn’t going to hold off any longer. The first of all those punishments that he’s been waiting for forever is finally about to rain down over him. And Loki knows full well he isn’t allowed to defend himself and fight back, not if he doesn’t want to risk getting dragged back to Asgard by a group of malicious and spiteful Einherjers far too eager to deliver him up for execution. But he can at least still protect himself, no matter how little good it will do him in the end, so he curls himself into a ball, legs drawn up to shield his ribcage, and raises an arm to cover his face.

 

And then he waits.

 

For a long time, nothing happens; it is as if time has grinded to a halt. Tony appears to be just standing there somewhere above him, waiting for who knows what.

 

Then there is a soft shuffle of feet and an even softer ruffle of clothes as Tony crouches down next to him.

 

“Hey, Reindeer Games,” a voice startlingly devoid of its previous anger says somewhere above him, and Loki slowly lowers the arm raised in protection of the impending onslaught halfway to meet with a pair of brown eyes, likewise devoid of anger. A hand lightly touches his shoulder, and he flinches at the unexpected nature of this physical contact. “I’m not going to hurt you. You can take that arm down,” the voice continues, still as perplexingly not-angry.

 

And that makes no sense at all. So he just keeps staring emptily at the man, uncomprehending and confused, not offering a response.

 

“You understand what I’m saying? I’m not going to hurt you,” Tony repeats himself when the silence has gone on for half an eternity, sounding like he’s speaking to a frightened child rather than to a hated enemy. His fingers curl around the arm that Loki still hasn’t fully lowered yet, pushing it downwards, gently at first and then more insistently when there’s resistance. And Loki hopes the twitch he felt in his arm just now wasn’t a tremble.

 

“Why wouldn’t you,” he says reflexively, almost antagonisingly, bewildered at Tony’s contradiction of this surely the most natural thing in the world.

 

Tony shifts where he’s crouching next to Loki and rakes a hand through his hair, gazing at something at the far wall. For some reason he’s looking uncharacteristically lost and unsure, as if he doesn’t quite know what to do with himself. Then he sighs and looks down at his hands instead. “It’s a Midgardian thing,” he finally says. “We don’t go around beating up on people who aren’t able to defend themselves.” A short pause. “Well, not most of us, at least.”

 

The brown eyes then turn back to bore into his, contemplative and not entirely unkind. And there is no doubt about it; the anger from only a moment ago is definitely gone, now, having disappeared into thin air as if by magic. And Loki isn’t sure what to make of it; it is certainly no kind of magic that he’s familiar with.

 

And then, it is as if all those whirling emotions suddenly congregate once more, swarming together to form a massive, gigantic wave that comes crashing over him without warning, taking every semblance of tightly held control with it. Everything is swept away in that whirl stream of howling madness, just like that one time when he smashed Tony’s living room to pieces. All those terrible feelings of being powerless and helpless, the never-ending despair and hopelessness, all his old and current fears, everything is just too much to handle. Once more, the pressure gets too high and the boiling mixture beneath demands to be let out lest he explode.

 

He can feel how something within him snaps and breaks, but something is different from last time. Maybe it’s the relief brought by Tony’s unexpected reassurances, maybe it’s the lingering feeling of a hand gently touching his shoulder a few heartbeats ago, or maybe it’s the sight of those not-angry brown eyes looking down at him; whatever the reason, this time, the effect of the crashing wave is quite another.

 

A moment later, Tony’s hand is back on his shoulder again, the man mumbling soft nothings that Loki barely even registers as he lies there on the floor crying, his body wracked by sobs and his pathetic tears spilling over his cheeks and staining the mosaic concrete tiles beneath.

 

And in that moment he isn’t sure if he hates himself or Tony the most.

 

Himself, for showing weakness, or Tony, for showing pity.

Chapter Text

The beta-electro-transformer that he’s been working on for the last week is lying broken and forlorn on the workbench, but what’s on top of his mind at the moment is something else entirely, the disturbing image imprinted into his brain as if it has been burned there with laser.

 

The image of a certain god of mischief huddling on the floor like a dog expecting to be kicked by its master for pissing on the carpet. Only to then dissolve into a crying, sobbing heap, as Tony sat there and awkwardly tried to offer words of consolation and reassurance to stop the unexpected flood of tears, his hand rubbing slow circles on a shivering shoulder.

 

Eventually, as the tears finally dried up and the sobbing subsided, the god had slowly picked himself up from the floor and then walked out of the workshop without speaking a word. Tony didn’t stop him, realizing it was probably not the time. A few minutes later, Jarvis had informed him that Loki was back in his room, lying on his bed. And Tony figured the god could probably use some time to himself, so he hasn’t called him back yet.

 

And frankly, so could he.

 

Even now that it’s actually happened, before his very eyes no less, the mere idea of Loki of all people crying is one of the weirdest, most awkward concepts imaginable. Because how could such a haughty and prideful being ever break down and cry?

 

At that, he’s washed over by another wave of gut-wrenching shame. Because it’s not until this incident that he’s really understood what kind of treatment Loki must have been expecting from him all this time. And instead of addressing that, he’d acted like the whole thing was more like some kind of game than anything else, never realizing or stopping to think what terrible strain the god must have been under since coming here.

 

The concept is so alien and difficult to wrap his head around for someone like him who’s been raised on the whole concept of inalienable human rights, but of course, that’s obviously not how Asgard is viewing these things. And as Loki’s appointed master, Tony is technically allowed to do everything and anything to him, and yet he’s never reassured him until just now that he isn’t going to. No matter what Loki has done and what crimes he has committed, Tony should have done so. But he didn’t, instead letting Loki’s mind imagine who knows what.

 

No wonder the god finally broke.

 

With a grimace, he wonders how much of what transpired today was brought by Loki’s pre-made assumptions already in place when coming here, and how much was caused by those assumptions being fuelled by Tony’s own behaviour. Unbidden, the memory arises of the day of Loki’s arrival, when he forced the god to his knees and shoved that shock stick into his face, effectively threatening someone who had no means of fighting back.

 

And it’s not about whether Loki deserves it or not, but whether it’s right or not.

 

It had certainly felt good threatening him like that, in the heat of the moment, but now, looking back, he can’t say that it ever felt right. Not that he actually did intend to hurt Loki back there, he just wanted to watch him squirm a little, but the god had no way of reading his mind. Of course he had expected the worst. What reason did he have to expect differently?

 

And really, when delivered to his doorstep, Loki had in his mind still been the arrogant, prideful, and conceited god he had faced off with during the battle of Manhattan; he’d never considered that Loki might find his new situation… terrifying, as opposed to merely a grave insult to his pride. And he had wanted to take that conceited creature down to the ground without stopping to realize that he had already been smashed into it as soundly as that one time the Hulk had used him to remodel Tony’s floor.

 

For someone who pays lip service to the assertion that slavery is horrible and wrong, he had sure taken to the situation quickly. The Einherjer guards had barely left the room before he jumped on the opportunity to assert his power over someone who no longer held any.

 

For the first time, he tips the scales over in his mind, trying to imagine himself in Loki’s position. Having all the human rights he has ever taken for granted stripped away and every semblance of control over his own life taken from him, only to be thrown upon someone else’s mercy, someone who also happens to be one of his worst enemies. It’s not a pleasant thought.

 

And then, he realizes that he has already been in a position not unlike that, once. In that dark, dank, and miserable cave in Afghanistan. Of course, they had tortured and he hadn’t. So it was different.

 

Expect that it wasn’t. Because he had still taken advantage of someone’s helpless position, someone who was utterly in his power. In that way, he had acted little better than his former captors had.

 

Sighing, he rubs his palms over his face as unease and discomfort roil inside of him. He never knew that his own grasp on morality would turn out to be so fickle and easily swayed. Not that he ever considered himself the moral guardian of everything just and proper like Captain Spangles, far from it, but he never did see himself as someone who would stoop to threaten and belittle someone who had already had everything taken from him either. Even if the concept of humiliating Loki did lose its appeal some time ago, he can’t deny his own actions when the god first came here.

 

Loki’s life, future, existence – it’s all in his hands now. And fuck, if that isn’t just one of the biggest and most unwanted responsibilities he has ever gotten saddled with. And he obviously couldn’t handle it, so instead he treated it like it was some sort of game – poking and prodding and provoking to see what reaction he would get, without taking the situation seriously. He never wanted this responsibility, but now he realizes he has no choice but to face up to it.

 

And he realizes then that Loki truly has nothing left, save his own life. Everything else, even including that very life, is at someone else’s discretion. Namely his discretion. Even inmates serving time in prison are entitled to certain rights, no matter what crimes they have committed, but Loki doesn’t even have that; the Asgardian court that sentenced him made sure of that when they dictated his current position as a slave.

 

It’s a sobering thought. And one he’d do well to take into account from now on.

 

The time for hiding is long past. Hiding and evading didn’t solve anything last time, and it certainly won’t now. Trying to avoid someone who will be living in his house for the foreseeable future is a futile pursuit, doomed to fail, and won’t lead to anything good in the long run, regardless of how much easier it might temporarily be.

 

No, for once, for the first time since the god’s coming here, he’s going to sit down and have a real talk with him and make those things clear that he should have a long time ago.

 


 

He’s back on the bed in his room, feeling like he’s been drained of every little speck of strength and power he had left. His body feels empty, almost like it’s floating from lightness; in comparison, his head feels like a heavy paper weight.

 

But while his body might be hollow, his head is all the more stuffed full with wandering thoughts.

 

Though, to be more specific, there is really only one thought in there right now – how he, a mere hour ago, had let himself be completely undone by… whatever it was that had come washing over him, causing him to so miserably lose all control of himself.

 

For once, there was no need for Tony to humiliate him, because Loki managed it all too well by himself. Not even Tony could have done it better. Like a mere child, like a pitiable wretch, he had broken down and cried in front of the man, wept and sobbed uncontrollably on the floor as the tears kept running down his face, unstoppable like water from a broken dam.

 

And if that’s not worthy of pitiful contempt, he doesn’t know what is.

 

No wonder Tony thinks him too pathetic, too pitiful to even lay a hand on. And perhaps the man is right in his assessment; he really is a wretched, deplorable creature, showcasing his weakness like that.

 

And he could feel the pity radiating from the man as he lay there mewling pathetically on the very floor of his workshop. In a way, it would have been easier to handle if Tony had simply laughed at him instead and mocked him for his disgraceful display; at least that would have been expected and understandable.

 

But instead, he got another helping of that stinging pity.

 

Though, he supposes that’s still preferable to being beaten into a pulp for unintentionally causing the destruction of whatever gadget Tony had been working on for so long. 

 

Suddenly Jarvis’ voice sounds over the intercom, interrupting his musings. “Mr Stark would like a word with you, Mr Laufeyson. Please proceed to the living room with immediate effect.” 

 

And really, he has no desire to talk to Tony, or even be in the same room as him, but he knows he has no choice in the matter. So he slowly pushes himself up into a sitting position on the edge of the bed, where he remains for a few heartbeats, breathing deeply to get rid of the exhaustion pressing down on him, before finally standing up and heading out the door with a sigh.

 

He’s not looking forward to talking with Tony at all.

Chapter Text

He’s not looking forward to talking with Loki at all.

 

But he might as well get it over with, now that the god has had some time to cool off. Have a talk with him about the things he should have said a long time ago. If he had done that, this latest little incident that ended with a god of mischief crying in his workshop would most likely have been avoided. And, he figures, his living room would probably not be sporting its current lack of spiffy decorative things like china and potted plants.

 

True, he did say a lot of things to the god while he was busy sobbing on the floor, but he suspects that most of it didn’t really register in his brain if it even entered his ears; in fact, he didn’t seem to be in a state where most of anything would register.

 

Then there are the soft sounds of footsteps that he recognizes all too well by now, and a second later the familiar figure of a certain fallen Norse god is standing in the doorway.

 

Though, the level of familiarity has decreased somewhat. Loki looks remarkably tired and worn, like someone grabbed the god by his ankles and then spent the best part of the afternoon wringing him like a wet towel. Then again, Tony supposes lengthy crying spiels might have that effect, even on gods.

 

“Feeling better?” he asks. It’s not meant to be derisive, just the best he can do for a conversion starter, because no matter how much of a chatter box Tony Stark might be, his brain always has major problems supplying non-sarcastic comments in serious situations. Still, Loki looks at him like he is trying to gauge whether the question is meant to mock him or not, and the taut look on his face suggests that he suspects that the former is intended.

 

“I am well enough,” comes the neutral answer, spoken in an equally dispassionate voice, carefully devoid of all those emotions that were raging so freely a mere hour ago.

 

Well enough. Whatever that means. Well enough not to throw another crying fit? Well enough not to flip and unleash another round of home wrecking? Well enough to keep up appearances despite whatever shit-storm is brewing underneath?

 

“Glad to hear it,” he says in reply, indicating the couch with a toss of his head. “Have a seat, will you.”

 

Loki obeys, sitting himself down gingerly on the edge of the seat, stiff as a board and hands neatly folded in his lap. It’s hard to imagine that this is the same god that not long ago was a sobbing mess on his floor for all the controlled and collected demeanour he’s currently displaying.

 

Tony turns his chair around so he can straddle it, crossing his arms on top of the rickety backrest. If one of those psycho-babblers could see him, they would probably say he is using the backrest as a symbolic shield between them because he isn’t comfortable with the speech ahead of him.

 

And they might well be right.

 

“Alright, then,” he says, grimacing slightly. “Let’s make a few things clear here. I know that neither of us likes this situation, but since we’re stuck with it, we might as well try to coexist as peacefully as possible so we can avoid further incidents in the future.”

 

Loki tenses slightly at the word ‘incidents’, obviously knowing very well what Tony is referring to and no doubt being embarrassed about it. It’s a pretty far fall from trying to take over the planet to collapsing in a huge crying fit, he supposes.

 

“So, listen up.” He fixes Loki with what he hopes is an authoritarian stare. “First of all, I don’t know what kind of shit flies over in your Magic Kingdom in the Sky, and I’m not sure I even want to find out, though I believe I have a fairly good inkling judging by your expectations and what I’ve read of those Norse fairytales of yours. However, you seem to have missed that this is Planet Earth, and here we act like civilized people and not like medieval brutes. We have something called human rights here, and they apply to you as well, even if you might not technically be human.” And he feels like there’s a speech coming on here, so he decides to cut to the heart of the matter instead of droning on. 

 

“So, contrary to what you might have been thinking, I don’t have any intention of beating you, hurting you, drilling holes into your skull, pouring acidic snake venom over you, or otherwise doing stuff detrimental to your health.” He can’t help but wince inwardly as he says this, well aware he should have done so from the very start when Loki first came here. “Are you clear on this?”

 

“Yes.” Loki’s gaze is resting somewhere on Tony’s chest as he replies, not meeting with his eyes, but at least he provides the correct answer. 

 

“Good. Then, as for what I expect from you, it’s nothing you shouldn’t be able to handle with some effort – behave yourself, do as you’re told, don’t go out of your way to give me any problems or trouble. Don’t mess with my stuff, and if you don’t think I would approve of something, then don’t do it. Simple as that.” He waits a little while for the words to sink in, hoping he hasn’t forgotten anything important in there, but the little run-down should probably cover most foreseeable situations. “Clear?”

 

“Yes,” Loki says again, almost mechanically.

 

He studies Loki’s face but as there seems to be no further crying fits looming on the horizon, he pushes on. “Like I said, I’m not going to hurt you, but if you do anything patently stupid you shouldn’t be doing – like wantonly breaking my house, throwing stuff at my head, trying to escape, plotting to take over the world again, stuff like that – I still have every means and every right to make the consequences of that unpleasant for you.”

 

And damn if he doesn’t feel like a parent laying down the rules and boundaries for a misbehaving kid here. But maybe that’s not all that far from the truth; if someone had done that to Loki in the first place, he probably wouldn’t have sauntered off trying to take over an entire planet. Though, that’s alien royalty for you, he supposes. “If nothing else, you should at least keep in mind that I still have plenty of floors left that could do with some scrubbing.”

 

There’s a small twitch in Loki’s left eyebrow at that, but it’s only just barely discernable. Perhaps he just imagined it.

 

He taps a finger against the backrest, intently studying the god’s face. “So, will you have any problems with this arrangement?”

 

“No.” There’s a slight sulk in the voice, but no more than that. Loki sits as still and unmoving as a statue, not even shifting his gaze from its fixed spot somewhere on Tony’s chest.

 

“Excellent. To give you the short version – you behave yourself, and in return I’ll play nice and won’t make your life any more difficult than it has to be.” He leans back a bit in the chair, hands gripping the top of the backrest. “And another thing. Next time you have a problem with anything here or any other concerns of any kind, speak the fuck up. You’re not going to be punished for speaking your mind, no matter how dirty and uncouth it might be. I’d rather have that than any more of my property smashed into pieces.”

 

Loki looks almost ashamed at that. Almost.

 

“It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get things your way, but at least I’ll hear you out. Fair enough?”

 

“Yes.” Another monosyllabic answer, devoid of anything that could be interpreted as emotion. Unless carefully constructed impassiveness counts as an emotion. 

 

Yeah, so the god is clearly not in a talkative mood.

 

And frankly, neither is he. So perhaps he’d be better off cutting this conversation short.

 

“Anything you wish to add to that? Any questions, comments, anything?”

 

Loki licks his lips and hesitates for a moment before speaking. “What about... the punishments for my previous actions?” he asks, posture wary and guarded.

 

Tony frowns. “For what actions?”

 

Loki gives him a perplexed look. “For wrecking your living room,” he says slowly. “For New York. For--”

 

“Princess, New York is the reason you’re here, remember?” Tony interrupts him. “This is your punishment. As for any other stuff that’s happened since, we’ll forget about that and start with a clean slate from here on. Got it?”

 

The god nods, once.

 

“Good. Now that we’ve sorted all that out, I think your stay here will go considerably smoother from now on.”

 

He stands up, scooting the chair back in place. “Alright, lecture’s over, Rudolph. You’re free to go play.”

 


 

He remains sitting on the couch long after Tony has left the room, the numerous thoughts swirling in his mind all congregating to arrive at the same harrowing conclusions.

 

He has no choice. He’s stuck here. He detests it, yes, but there’s really nothing he can do. It’s frustrating, it’s humiliating and many other things as well, but in the end, he has no choice.

 

Of course, Tony still resents him and would have preferred to see him gone, still considers him a nuisance, though clearly one too pitiful to even be worth harming.

 

He has truly fallen, being reduced to this.

 

But through all the shame, resentment and bitterness at his situation, there is still one other thing that stands out clearly – the stark realization that it could have been worse.

 

A lot worse.

 

He still sits there as the sun outside sets, dully watching the hands still neatly folded in his lap, not quite sure what to do with himself. Tired and exhausted, but his head still swirling too much for him to fall asleep any time soon.

 

The mortification at his recent lapse of self-control is still heavy on his mind, and he can’t remember being so embarrassed about anything in a very long time. Last time that tightly held control had slipped out of his grasp to dissolve into nothing at all, he had at least responded in a way that didn’t showcase laughable weakness, as futile and meaningless as the wanton destruction wreaked upon Tony’s living room had been. Even if his reactions back then had been… highly inadvisable for someone in his position, at least they hadn’t made him feel acute embarrassment like this.

 

And he wonders what had caused his reaction to channel itself into something so vastly different this time around when that same gigantic, unstoppable wave of swirling emotions came crashing down over him again. It makes little sense; he’s been living under the terror of all those awful expectations for so long, and never once did it make him break down and cry. Not until after hearing Tony’s reassurances did he actually do that.

 

It is then he realizes that it is precisely in this that the difference lies – in that mad, raging sea of despair threatening to pull him under, there had for the first time since his arrival here been something for him to cling to, a glimmer of hope that maybe things might not turn out so utterly terrible after all. A lifeline to hold onto to keep him from drowning.

 

And Tony had been the one to throw it out to him.

 

Chapter Text

The replacement plants and pots for the ones that got smashed during Loki’s living room wreckage spiel have finally arrived, and the order neatly placed on his living room table by two sturdy-looking delivery guys, whose star-struck looks never quite faded as they carried their goods into the tower of the legendary Iron Man himself.

 

He eyes the assortment of green, leafy things in front of him – perhaps he’ll even bother learning the names of them someday. With two fingers, he picks up the little scrap of paper stuck into the dirt next to one of them. Crossandra Infundibuliformis. Whatever. Who the hell makes up these names anyway?

 

The luscious picture on the paper looks very little like the half-wilted greenery in front of him, though. Maybe the people at the flower shop got the species all mixed up and he got a Wiltedus Leavus instead. Oh well.

 

His gaze drifts on to the colourful piles of pots and the big bag of clay pellets next to them. Not that he’s en expert gardener or anything, but after many mishaps he eventually learned (from Pepper, who else) that those little pebbles are pretty good at protecting plants against over-watering – which is quite useful since he has Dummy taking care of that part. And a robot is only as good as its programmer, after all, which in his case isn’t saying much when it comes to plant-care.

 

But this should present the perfect opportunity for giving his house-guest another task, shouldn’t it? After all, Loki was the one who smashed all those old plants into mush, so it’s only fair that he gets to take care of this. Besides, he has more important things waiting for him down in his workshop, top on his list being his second attempt at a beta-electro-transformer. The gadget that Loki was also responsible for breaking into pieces, albeit unintentionally. He winces at the unpleasant memory of all that followed that incident.

 

Well then. Caring for plants is supposed to be good for the soul and the mind, if you believe the hippie crowd. And heavens know that Loki could need some of that Zen-stuff as opposed to going around wreaking havoc on other planets.

 

“Jarvis, call Loki over here, will you?”

 

Not long after, Loki enters, looking stiff and wary, but perhaps a note more relaxed than usual, unless Tony is imagining things. Well, perhaps it’s just wishful thinking.

 

“Okay,” he says, gesturing at the stuff on the table. “My new set of decorative vegetables just arrived and needs to get in order. So,” he grabs one of the ceramic outer pots, a wreath of white leaves emblazoned on the black glaze, “this is how you do it. You pour an inch of these things at the bottom of the outer pot,” he digs into the bag of clay pellets and pulls out a handful of the things, depositing them in the black pot, “which is supposed to help with drainage and stuff. And once that’s done, you place the little pot with the plant into the big pot with the pebbles. And you’re done. Simple as that.” He gives Loki a measuring glance. “Think you can manage that?”

 

Loki gives an affirmative nod.

 

Well, it’s not a difficult task by any means, one that even alien gods should be able to handle. Easier than ironing, and you’d have to be quite skilful in your own way to screw this up.

 

“Excellent. I’ll be back to check on your progress in a little while.”

 

And with that, he saunters off into the direction of his workshop, leaving Loki alone with the plants and the pots.

 

Yeah, he should be able to handle this just fine.

 


 

He eyes the plants, the pots and the bag of pebbles spread out on the table in front of him. At least it should be a simple task, not nearly as prone to failure as ironing. As long as he doesn’t drop and break something, there should be no way for him to get this wrong.

 

Gingerly grabbing one of the pots, he reaches down into the bag with his other hand, bringing out a handful of the little pellets, examining them carefully. It looks very much like dried clay. He thinks the royal gardeners in Asgard use something similar, but he’s not sure.

 

Tipping his hand, he pours the pebbles down into the pot, and then digs up another handful, disposing it on top of the first layer until it looks like it’s about an inch thick. Having finished that part, he picks up a plant with yellow and red-striped petals, placing it down on the bed of dried clay, then inspecting the finished product.

 

So this is to be his life here, then, he dully surmises, performing simple household tasks at the behest of a mortal. The thought makes an odd mixture of feelings stir inside of him; mostly resentment at his position and relief that nothing worse than this will apparently befall him. He tries to ignore the part of him that hopes he can perform this task better than his previous one, so that Tony won’t withdraw the relatively good graces it would seem have been bestowed upon him despite everything that’s happened both before and after his coming here.

 

He repeats the procedure with a few more of the pots, placing the bag of pebbles to the side and out of the way. It’s only then that he notices the tear from which a trickle of clay pellets are pouring out, clattering hollowly as they fall onto the table.

 

Damn.

 

He fiddles with the bag for a second, trying to shift it to put a hold to the leakage. But instead, his efforts cause the whole thing to rip, and a shower of little pieces of clay come rushing out as the bottom tears open. He fumbles, futilely trying to stop the flow of pebbles as they’re spilling out, a pursuit doomed from the very beginning. The outpour is of course unstoppable, and a second later the entire contents of the bag are flowing out over the table, rolling further down onto the floor.

 

For a while, he just stands there and stares uncomprehendingly at the disaster, empty bag still clutched in his hands. He’s so tired and confused, his mind unable to think properly, his emotions still a wreck. All that exists in that moment are the little pebbles spilling forth on the floor, taking off in all possible directions – beneath the couch, into each of the four corners of the room, all over the rug. He never knew one bag like that could contain so many of them.

 

And it’s like he’s watching his own life, slipping between his fingers as uncontrollably as those tiny little clay balls rolling off in all and every direction while he is wholly unable and powerless to stop them, doomed to watch as the chaos and disorder unfold beyond his control.

 

And yet again, the unpleasant feeling washes over him that he can’t do anything right here, not even the simplest of tasks; even this he managed to screw up. His brain is locked onto this single thought as he scrambles down to his knees, trying to pick up the pebbles and put them back into the torn remnants of the bag. But there’s so many of them, all spread out, and he’s so tired.

 

Futilely, he picks at the pebbles in closest proximity to him, attempting to scoop them up while his mind and thoughts are starting to race again. So Tony did say he wasn’t going to beat him or hurt him, but what if he decides he’s had it with his constantly failing slave and can’t stand having him around anymore? Perhaps this was the last straw, maybe he’s screwed up one time too many for Tony to want to keep him around. Maybe the man wants a… break. And what if he decides to lend him to one of his Avenger friends for a while, perhaps even Barton? He certainly wouldn’t have any compunction about taking a more hands-on approach to revenge after everything.

 

The thought is like a bucket of ice water poured over him, and he can feel a cold sweat of panic breaking out on his forehead. He hasn’t put much consideration into that possibility for quite a long time now, having had enough with worrying about Tony’s plans for him. But now that it would seem like that threat is gone, this prospect suddenly rears its ugly head once more.

 

A couple of days ago, the thought wouldn’t have pulled the rug out from under his feet like this, because it would just have been another drop in the raging sea of terror he was already swimming in. But now that his mind has been lulled into alluring complacence after the promise of safety, being dragged out of his little bubble of imagined security makes the prospect even worse.

 

A note of panic is spreading inside of him as he makes another attempt at collecting some of the pellets, his shaking hands fumbling so badly that he drops half of them an instant later. His frayed nerves and mind just can’t deal with this emotional rollercoaster. Because maybe he's not safe after all, despite Tony’s reassurances and promises, maybe Barton or someone else will instead do what Tony can’t be bothered to.

 

Why did he ever believe he was safe; he should have known better than clinging to such childish hopes. He stares at the wide-spread ocean of clay pebbles, himself kneeling in the middle of it all, futilely trying to clean the mess up while everything stubbornly keeps slipping out of his hands. There are so many of them and his hands are shaking so badly and…

 

… and suddenly there’s a crunching sound to his right, far too reminiscent of a shoe stepping on dried clay for comfort. He tenses and freezes, clenching his jaws tightly. He's not going to break down in front of Tony again, he isn’t.

 

So he merely sits there waiting for Tony to voice his displeasure and annoyance, for him to finish it all off with a crisp statement that this is the last straw; one of his friends can take custody of him for a while and…

 

“Bambi?”” comes the voice somewhere above him to his right, sounding both surprised and questioning. “What’s going on?”

 

“Th-the bag… ripped,” he manages, voice half-choked by repressed panic. It sounds like a terribly weak excuse in his ears, a desperate attempt of placing the blame elsewhere.

 

“Yeah, I can see that. It’s not what I asked,” Tony says, crouching down next to him. “You look like you’ve just seen a ghost or something. Seriously, you’re paler and sweatier than a survivor from a Friday the 13th movie, and that can’t be healthy.”

 

At this, his mouth springs into action faster than his brain. “Are you going to hand me over to Barton?” he blurts out, wincing at how the question sounds. So pathetic, so desperate, so… scared.

 

Tony looks at him with forehead creased in incomprehension, like Loki’s just said he’s going to marry a bilgesnipe. And why are his hands shaking like that, they shouldn’t be…

 

“I’m not handing you over to anyone, buddy,” comes the resolute reply after a stretch of silence. “What the hell made you think I would do that?”

 

Loki’s reflexive glance at the pebbles surrounding them is apparently answer enough, as Tony gives an exasperated sigh. “Sheesh, Rudolph. Shit happens. Dummy used to mess up worse on a daily basis after I first built him, and I still keep him around. Haven’t sold him for scrap value yet.” He rubs two fingers against his forehead, massaging a spot just over his eyebrows. “What I’m saying is that there’s not going to be any handing over of anything. You’re staying here in my tower, and that’s all there is to it. Got that?”

 

And he wants to believe that, he really does. But it’s not the words that convince him in the end, but the hand on his shoulder, the same one that was there when he was losing it on the floor in Tony’s workshop. A part of him wants to shrug its pitying presence off, but in the end it’s the other part of him that wins out.

 

So he merely nods, afraid his voice might not quite obey him.

 

“Alright then, let’s get this mess sorted out,” Tony says as he moves to stand up, raising an eyebrow in Loki’s direction. “Ever used a vacuum cleaner?”

Chapter Text

He’s huddled up at one corner of the couch in the living room, staring blankly into the wall, legs drawn up to his chest. Right now, he doesn’t feel like he has any energy left for much of anything; both his body and his mind are so tired, so terribly weary, as if he’s been drained of every last speck of strength.

 

Lately, his emotions have been in such turmoil, all the ups and downs having worn him down. And he has a hard time digesting it all; there are so many things for him to come to terms with. Fleetingly, he wonders whether his world is perhaps about to stabilize itself from now on rather than continue to rock wildly back and forth, jostling him so fiercely that he has to struggle to keep his footing.

 

The concept that his life might basically have consolidated itself at this point, reached some semblance of status quo, is both reassuring and disturbing.

 

Reassuring, because it means that his life in Tony’s tower is unlikely to get much worse than it currently is. Disturbing, because it also means that he will have no choice but to continue his pitiful existence like this. Like a slave.

 

The aversion churns inside of him at this prospect, but it’s a weak and feeble stirring; right now he can’t muster up much of anything; it’s like those recently raging feelings left a hole in their wake once they subsided.

 

He picks at the sleeve of his shirt, pulling at a loose thread. At least Tony is away on business, and the man’s absence brings him a certain sense of relief. After all, he’s still here under Tony’s sufferance, and it’s very clear that the man doesn’t want him here. To top it off, he’s still at a loss as to how to act around him, still confused as to what is expected. Sure, Tony gave him a brief outline during their little talk – behave, do as he’s told, don’t make any trouble – but those were only very general things, nothing detailed or specific. And of course, all that goes without saying, which makes it neither helpful nor informative. Given the strict and comprehensive rules governing the lives of slaves in Asgard, it’s not much to go by. To add to his confusion, Tony’s opinion of what constitutes proper behaviour doesn’t seem to have a lot in common with those of slave masters in Asgard, beyond the basics.

 

And Tony’s presence makes him uncertain, not quite knowing what to do with himself. Not long ago, he thought he knew what he could expect, and now that certainty has left a gaping void that he doesn’t know what to fill with. It’s like fumbling in the dark without a lantern to light his way and prevent him from stumbling on the uneven ground.

 

In Asgard, there are clear standards of conduct for everyone, be they a slave or a member of the royal household or anything in between. But here, there are none, or at least none that he can see, beyond the obvious. As bad as his former expectations were, at least he had thought he knew what to anticipate, and now that rug has been pulled from under his feet, leaving nothing to replace it.

 

First and foremost, slaves in Asgard would never have been left idle like this, would never have been allowed to lounge around the way he’s been doing during most of his time here. If their masters don’t have any work for them for the time being, they’d be hired out to perform labour elsewhere. Slaves don’t eat for free, after all.

 

But Tony has already told him that he’s to stay here, as opposed to being turned over to someone else’s custody. At times, it’s like he’s almost forgotten that he even has a slave around, like Loki is only part of the furnishing and beneath notice.

 

Of course, there is one type of slaves who aren’t usually required to do much work and mostly sit around the house for decoration and their masters’ pleasure, but it has already been made clear that Tony has no such intentions for him.

 

One thing is obvious, though – Tony is bound to be happier the less he sees of his slave, the less time he has to spend in Loki’s presence. Even though it would seem that he has mostly come to terms with the situation by now, despite his never wanting it, it’s obvious that he’s still not pleased with it.

 

His musings are interrupted by the hum of the elevator ascending through the duct, faint but clearly discernible in the silence. Unfolding his long limbs, he pushes himself up from the couch and heads for the library, just managing to clear the field before a soft ping and a whoosh of elevator doors opening reverberate through the air and Tony steps out into the living room.

 


 

There is one thought taking up most of his free brain capacity as he stands there in elevator, watching the little yellow light move up the number panel on the wall – he needs to find Loki something to do. And judging by the recent incident with the clay pellets, the god is more highly strung than a fine-tuned Stradivarius.

 

Yeah, leave it to a jittery god of mischief to make something as supposedly soothing as becoming one with nature through greenery care turn into a nerve-frizzing angst fest.

 

He sighs, raking a hand through his hair. He needs to make sure Loki’s occupied with something. After all, being idle with nothing to do is the most sure-fire way to let your mind stray into all sorts of dark and destructive directions. He should know, since his time in Afghanistan. After his return home, he had spent endless of hours in his workshop during the long nights that followed, focusing on some project or the other to prevent all those things eating away at him from totally devouring him. Merely keeping his hands busy had proved the most effective way of keeping his negative thoughts at bay.

 

So yeah, putting the god to some kind of work might help to put the cats in the bag a little more at ease.

 

It’s not easy to think up something an alien powerless god might be useful for, but finally an idea does come to him. Yeah, maybe there is something he can occupy Loki with for a while that is simple enough for him to be able to handle just fine.

 

There’s a ping as the elevator comes to a halt with a slight jerk, and the doors open. Immediately, he makes a beeline for the couch, tired after long hours of boring negations with stubborn clients. Sinking down on the cushions with a sigh of contentment, he kicks his shoes off and lets his head fall back, enjoying a moment of doing absolutely nothing.

 

It doesn’t take long before the feeling starts to creep up on him that something’s a little off, and it’s only a few seconds later that he realizes what it is.

 

The couch is still warm.

 


 

Before he’s even made it halfway down to the library, Jarvis’ voice rings out from the ceiling, stopping him in his tracks.

 

“Mr Stark would like to see you in the living room.”

 

So he has no choice but to go back to where he just left, though the prospect of sitting down with a book is far more appealing than being in the same room as Tony.

 

The man is slouching on the couch as he enters, on the very same spot Loki was occupying only minutes ago. He comes to a halt at a reasonable distance away, waiting for Tony to speak whatever is on his mind.

 

“Rudolph,” Tony says as way of acknowledgement. “Just wanted to talk with you for a bit.”

 

There’s a pause as Loki waits for Tony to tell him to sit down, if that’s what he’s intending. Granted, Tony hasn’t insisted on the usual displays of deference owed by slaves to their masters – kneeling, gaze directed at the floor, the ubiquitous ‘master’ tacked onto the end of utterances, and so on – but he still thinks it might be unwise to seat himself down before Tony tells him to; slaves are of course supposed to wait until they’re given permission for such.

 

The pause stretches into a long silence as nothing happens. “In case it wasn’t obvious, that’s the cue for you to sit down,” Tony finally says as he waves a hand towards the non-occupied end of the couch.

 

Loki gingerly sits, and Tony watches him for a while before speaking again.

 

“Are you avoiding me?”

 

The blunt, almost ridiculously straight-forward question takes him by surprise. Really, what is he supposed to answer to that? If Tony’s noticed, there’s hardly going to be any point in trying to deny it.

 

“I assumed you would feel more… comfortable at a distance,” he manages as way of explanation. And most importantly, he would as well, but he isn’t going to say that out loud, of course.

 

Tony picks at his nails for a few heartbeats before replying.

 

“You know, we're going to have some really long years ahead of us if we’re gonna spend them trying to avoid each other, don’t you think?”

 

Well, his years are going to be long regardless, but that’s another fact he isn’t about to point out to Tony.

 

So instead, he makes no reply.

 

“I don’t bite, you know,” Tony says flippantly, though it sounds like there’s a hint of exasperation in there as well. “I thought you’d already gotten that memo printed out for you.”

 

Loki looks out the window over Tony’s shoulder, the greyish clouds spattered like dirty pieces of cotton in the rain-heavy sky. There’s a part of Tony’s previous talk with him that suddenly emerges, regarding something that slaves aren’t normally supposed to be doing – voicing their concerns. 

 

“What is it you expect from me?” he says, his voice sounding strange in his own ears, like it’s a foreign, alien presence that doesn’t belong in here.

 

Tony raises an eyebrow. “Didn’t I make that clear last time? It’s simple, really – behave yourself and don’t cause any trouble.” He gives Loki another one of those searching gazes. “However, I suppose you’ve been a bit idle lately, so I’m going to put you up to doing something useful around here. There’s all these--”

 

He’s interrupted by a buzz on his cell phone. Grimacing, he digs the device out of his pocket with two fingers, throwing a brief glance at the display, and then sighs. “Alright, gotta pick this one up before I bring you up to speed on your task. Wait here until I’m back.”

 

And with that, Tony makes for the door, phone pressed to his ear. Loki can’t hear any of what the person at the other end of the line is saying, but he doesn’t miss the angry creases marring Tony’s forehead.

Chapter Text

“Alright, you bring me up to speed as soon as you have more information,” he tells the director on the other end of the line, thereby ending their unfortunate conversation.

 

The sharp click as he snaps his cell phone shut sounds angry. And he is too. From the looks of it, someone’s been embezzling money from Stark Industries. Sure, the amount is only a drop in the ocean compared to the enormous sums that flow in and out of the operation on a daily basis, but it’s the principle that matters. And what’s even worse, someone has also been trying to access restricted files, possibly with the intent to sell secret company information to the highest bidder. 

 

Obviously, someone in the higher echelons is a fraud, but he has no idea which one of those guys with their pin-striped suits and artificially whitened smiles or those women with their high heels and hair pulled into facelift-tight buns is the perpetrator. Nope, no clue who it might be among them who is a traitor, a rotten apple that can’t be trusted.

 

Mr Anderson, always so brimming with new and creative ideas, but with a careless streak? Ms Tenhurst, who’s particular to a fault, but shows unmistakable signs of being a gold-digger with expensive habits? Mr Chen, who never shirks a responsibility, but has a fondness for drinking and gambling?

 

Only heavens know.

 

Fuck.

 

He massages his temples with his fingers. It doesn’t do anything for his headache.

 

Of course, Pepper would have handled this expertly, if she had still been his CFO. Heck, this entire mess wouldn’t even have happened in the first place on her watch. And even if it did, she would have sniffed the perpetrator out in the time it would have taken him to down a bottle of scotch.

 

He sort of misses Pepper. She was his steadfast anchor, the bright and shining light that always managed to pull him up from his moody stints and back into the world of the living. As well as the band-aid that could be applied to pretty much any fuck-ups in his life, and things would automatically sort themselves out. Until the day she just walked out on him.

 

And a part of him misses her still.

 

Damn, he thought he was over that already.

 

He sinks down into the nearest chair, head in his hands, feeling like utter shit. Why does his life always have to be like this, mess upon mess upon mess?

 

And speaking of that bottle of scotch, that seems to be the best available remedy to his problems. Short-term, at least.

 

Getting up from the chair, he rummages around in his liquor cabinet until he finds something passable. Not bothering with a glass, he unscrews the top and then drinks heavily in deep, soothing gulps.

 

Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he stares at the bottle in misery, and then takes another few gulps.

 

Pepper is gone, his company is going to the dogs without her, people he thought he could trust are betraying him once more, to say nothing of him being the butt of the joke that is Asgard’s justice system. Yeah, what other things are there that could possibly go wrong?

 

He sits there for a while, alternating between drinking straight from the bottle and feeling sorry for himself. Sometimes multi-tasking by doing both at the same time. Despite long and diligent practice, he’s beginning to feel a little queasy from the large amounts of alcohol he’s been consuming in this short amount of time, so he gets up from the chair, bottle still clutched into a tight grip, and saunters into the living room to find more comfortable seating arrangements.

 

Perhaps it’s that smarmy Mr Hermann from his board of directors who’s been embezzling and trying to get his grubby little hands on sensitive information. He can totally picture it, the chubby man with his beady, shifty eyes sitting there in front of the computer screen, tapping away at his keyboard, watching those numbers being directed into his own bank account while attempting to decrypt those encoded files…

 

“Fuck,” he yells at no one in particular, slamming the door behind him in anger. Why does shit like this always happen to him?

 

He almost startles as his gaze falls on Loki who’s sitting on the couch, still waiting. Oh yeah, it was that little detail as well.

 

And he really doesn’t feel up to dealing with that right now. It will have to wait until tomorrow.

 

So instead, he plops himself down on the couch, the contents of the bottle in his hand spilling a little over the brim. His mind only vaguely registers how Loki tenses up next to him, eyeing him warily.

 

Right now, he desperately needs something to occupy his brain and take his thoughts off all the current shittiness. His eyes meet with the DVD remote control on the other side of the table, and its promises of mind-numbing entertainment. Yeah, a dumb-ass comedy, a brainless action movie, whatever.

 

He reaches out for the remote, leaning over towards Loki’s side. At that, the god jerks, pressing himself back into the couch and away from Tony.

 

And the sight just grates him like a cheese grater rasping against his skin. Apparently it’s not enough that someone in his company, on a very trusted position no less, thinks he’s enough of a dim-witted idiot for them to get away with stealing a few million right under his nose while trying to nab company secrets to boot, or that Pepper considers him an insensitive jerk with a list of issues long enough to cover the distance from here to Paris. Nope, because now he’s being pegged for an abusive fucking asshole to top it all off.

 

“Would you stop that already?” he snaps at Loki, annoyance getting the better of him as his patience is wearing paper-thin, in places dissolving into nothing. What the hell did he ever do to merit such a shitty opinion from the god who is looking at him like he’s fucking Jason Voorhees himself? “I’ve already fucking said I’m not going to do anything to you!”

 

He tries to put the bottle still grasped in his fingers back on the table, but his hand-eye coordination is not quite up to par and he fails spectacularly. The side of the bottle slams against the table’s edge and breaks, causing shards and liquid to spill out over the floor.

 

Fuck.

 

He only barely notices, out of the corner of one eye, the quick movement as Loki gets up from the couch and hurries out of the room.

 


 

He is back on his bed, waiting apprehensively for… something. Tony is obviously angry; he doesn’t know exactly what prompted it, though it seemed to be connected to the earlier phone call. One thing is certain, though, he hadn’t served to improve the man’s mood. Quite the opposite.

 

And though it’s not the first time he’s seen Tony drink or being drunk, it has never been combined with a bad mood like this before.

 

Back in Asgard, there are many men with a taste for drinking. Some of them turn friendly and jocular with the sweet rush of alcohol in their veins, some sad and sentimental, and others yet vicious and brutal, the smallest provocation enough for them to lash out with violence.

 

He’s not sure which category Tony belongs to, but it sure didn’t seem like either of the two first ones. Not particularly wanting to find out the answer, he took the opportunity to sneak out when Tony’s concentration appeared to be more focused on the broken bottle than on his slave.

 

The nervous anxiety is eating away at him; he’s far from sure it was a wise decision to leave after Tony’s having told him to wait. Maybe the man will come back for him, even angrier now that Loki took to scurrying out of the room like that, without even bothering to clean up the mess of the broken bottle like it would have been expected of a slave.

 

So he waits with bated breath. A sober Tony might be somewhat predictable, a drunk one… not so much. Promises made while sober might not mean very much once alcohol enters the stage, pushing everything else out.

 

Warily, he listens for the sound of footsteps approaching, but there are none.

 

Still, he decides to stay awake, just in case.

 


 

He wakes up with a startle, his head spinning and his left arm soundly asleep. Grimacing, he pushes himself up from his decidedly uncomfortable position on the couch, the previous alcohol-induced buzz in his head having faded to a slight murmur. He isn’t sure how long he’s been lying here like road-kill, but at least he’s a few degrees more sober now than when he dozed off.

 

Something is nagging at the back of his head, and it doesn’t take long before bits and pieces of what transpired earlier start coming back to him in a mosaic of fractured images.

 

Damn.

 

“Jarvis, where is Loki?”

 

“He’s in his room, sir.”

 

“Is he still awake?”

 

“It would seem so.”

 

With a groan, he gets up from the couch and heads out of the living room.

 

His almost-steady feet come to a halt outside Loki’s room, and for a while he hesitates, hand hovering above the handle. Remembering his own recent behaviour, though, he thinks better of it. Sure it’s his house and all, but…  So instead, he lifts his hand and knocks, three soft raps against the wooden panel. 

 

There’s no answer, so finally he pushes the handle down, slowly letting the door slide open. Loki is sitting there on the bed, arms wrapped around his drawn-up knees and a wary look on his face.

 

“Hey, Bambi.” At least he doesn’t think he’s slurring. What amazing progress.

 

The shift in the form in front of him as Loki tenses is faint, but still impossible to miss.

 

Sighing inwardly, Tony pulls out a chair, sitting down opposite the bed. He suddenly feels very stupid.

 

Drumming a couple of fingers against his thigh, he fumbles around for something to say. And why is it that all his conversations with the god are awkward and weird like this?

 

“Okay, so… I got some bad news about my company and I wasn’t in a good mood,” he manages. “But all that stuff I said about not hurting you still stands. You know, just because I get pissy sometimes doesn’t mean I’m going to turn you into a punching bag or anything.”

 

And fuck, Loki’s eyes are so damn wide, like he’s a freaking puppy someone dropped off a thousand miles away from home. And that makes him want to-- Alright, Tony, stop that line of thought right there.

 

“So just stop being so… jittery, alright? Seriously, you’re making me feel like I’m the biggest asshole that ever walked planet Earth. And I’m really not.”

 

Damn, he’s so fucking tired, and he desperately needs to sleep. And he doesn’t know what fucking else to say, not when Loki is looking at him like that.

 

Oh well. Perhaps things will be better and less awkward once they’ve both gotten some sleep.

 

“Anyway, as I was trying to say earlier before we got interrupted, I’ll set you up with a task tomorrow, and we’ll take it from there, alright?” He gets up from the chair, scooting it back into place, glad to leave the god to his own devices.

 

“So, I’ll see you in the morning, Rudolph.”

Chapter Text

He watches as Tony enters the room carrying a big cardboard box filled with something that must be very heavy, judging by the strained look on the man’s face and the loud thump as he sets his burden down on the floor. Groaning as if he has just performed a great physical feat, Tony straightens himself up with hands pressed against the small of his back.

 

Then he turns to face Loki who is sitting on the couch, watching the proceedings in silence. Tony summoned him here only minutes ago regarding that task he wanted Loki to perform, and from the looks of it, it involves the nondescript box on the floor.

 

“Alright, sunshine, here’s the task for today,” he says gesturing towards the bulky thing. Loki chooses not to comment; whatever is in that box he hopes that the contents won’t turn out to be too unpleasant if he’s going to have to deal with them.

 

Tony crouches down, opening the top flaps, and then digs deep into the innards of the box. His hands emerge holding a stack of documents, long lines of fine-printed text on white paper.

 

“These all need to be sorted.” Tony says, his thumb flipping through the stack as he speaks, making the flimsy things produce a flapping sound. “They’re documents relating to the great and awesome Stark Industries, which happens to be my company.” His gaze leaves the handful of papers and comes to rest on Loki, as if expecting him to comment.

 

“I see,” he says, eyeing the box with some dismay. There are a lot of papers in there.

 

“Now, usually Pepper would have taken care of these things when she was still unofficially running the company, but since she left… well, let’s just say that paperwork isn’t my style and I can picture a million different things I’d rather spend my time on.” He lifts the top sheet to take a look at the document beneath, humming quietly to himself.

 

Then his attention turns back to Loki again. “In her absence, all these papers that people for some reason keep sending me and that certain board members and managers are producing have been accumulating for quite a while.” He indicates the cardboard box. “But I think it’s about time they finally got sorted out.”

 

Paperwork. Loki sighs inwardly, half from the sheer boredom at the prospect and half from relief that that’s all there is to the task. Dull, but nothing he can’t deal with.

 

There are a bunch of black and grey folders lying at Tony’s feet and the man disposes of the stack of papers and picks up one of the folders instead. “Okay, each document goes into one of these. And there’s a system to it all, so listen up.”

 

Then follows a lengthy recourse about what should go where, according to what premises and in what order. The topic is tedious, of course, but Loki makes sure to register each detail of the sorting system in his mind. At least his memory has always been good, so he can easily recall long-winded instructions.

 

“You got all that?” Tony asks as his little exposé about the intricacies of paper sorting has come to an end.

 

“I got it,” Loki replies, quenching the sigh wanting to escape his lips.

 

“Good.” Tony says. “Then you should be set for the next few hours.”

 

And with that, the man is gone and Loki is left alone with the box and its papery contents.

 

Of course, there’s nothing else to it than to get to it, so he grabs the top handful of papers, making little piles around himself as he works. It’s dull, it’s boring, and he fails to see the importance of this, but he does it anyway.

 

After all that’s happened, he isn’t one to push his luck. After… things didn’t turn out the way he had expected them to since coming here, it would be foolish and unwise to tempt fate. Perhaps the Norns would think him ungrateful and unravel the threads already spun, deciding to turn his fortunes into something much more resembling what he only recently had been certain would be awaiting him.

 

He’s still confused about his unfulfilled expectations, not quite sure of the whys and hows behind it all. And it isn’t until now that it feels like the realization is finally starting to sink in, and he truly dares to believe Tony’s reassurances. As desperately as he had wanted to believe them, words only meant so much, after all. Especially yesterday, when Tony had come into his room, still not sober, he had been fearful that words were indeed only that – words. But all his worrying had been for naught, it had turned out.

 

Of course, even he can see from his very much subjective position that there has hardly been any revenge at all to speak of. And it’s in such stark dissonance with the vivid images of what would happen playing out in his mind before, during, and after his arrival in Tony’s tower.

 

No, it would indeed seem that Tony has no intention of doing any of those things that Loki had feared. it And it’s perplexing, because he was so sure that everything that transpired after his coming here, everything the man did and said, pointed in that direction… and yet, it didn’t.

 

How could he have been so mistaken? 

 

In the end, Tony had even promised Loki not to hurt him, and he is still trying to get his head around that. Even if he should never have given Tony plenty of reasons to bear grudges against him, even if the two of them had never met before his arrival here, it still makes no sense. What reason could there possibly be for a master to promise not to hurt his slave? That is highly counterproductive, as the constant threat of pain as a consequence of undesirable behaviour is the easiest and most effective way of enforcing a slave’s obedience. Why would Tony willingly pass up on that?

 

No, he doesn’t understand, but regardless what prompted it, it would be unwise to give Tony any reason to think better of his decision, so he does his best to perform the task at hand as ordered. Dislike it as he may, he’s still smart enough to realize what course of action will make his life here easier, and it sure as heck isn’t being uncooperative.

 

In the end, when it all comes down to it, he still has no choice but to live with the humiliation and degradation inherent in his station, but it could, of course, have been so much worse than this.

 


 

It is several hours later in the evening when Tony comes back to check on Loki to see if he’s finished. By then, the god has fallen asleep on the couch, legs drawn up and one arm nestled beneath his head as a make-shift pillow.

 

Tony regards the sleeping form for a little while, and then turns to the box and the folders littering the floor. The box is empty, so apparently all the papers have been sorted. Well, what do you know.

 

Crouching down, he picks up one of the folders and slowly flips through the documents contained therein. It does look correctly sorted. Just to be sure, he checks another folder, and makes the same assessment after some further leafing through of formal and boring sheets of paper.

 

Of course, this was the one box, out of several in his unwanted collection, that contained the least important kind of papers, nothing that the IRS would ever be asking for or anything, but still. Pepper would have taken care of this responsibility, if she’d still been a part of his life, but now it has fallen onto him. Too confidential to let just anyone handle, because trust is something that doesn’t come easy to him after everything that’s happened. The information is too sensitive, and even though most people wouldn’t be able to make head or tail out of them, he doesn’t want to run the risk of the documents ending up with someone secretly working for a competitor, like Justin Hammer. He could trust Pepper with his life, to say nothing of some measly papers, but he has yet to find someone he would be willing to let fill her position. And the recent mishap with the rotten apple in his company is proof of the wisdom of that decision.

 

He sighs, because now, Pepper has walked out of his life, and what has entered in her stead is the god of mischief-slash-slave now snoozing on his couch.

 

Pepper was the reliable constant that kept his life in order, made sure he didn’t slide too far off the beaten track. In contrast, Loki has only served to put everything into a state of disorder and turmoil, making a worse mess out of his life than he would ever have managed on his own. Sure he had his ups and downs with Pepper, but they were of a fairly predictable and conventional nature, whereas Loki has been taking him on a high speed roller-coaster ride without even allowing him to buckle up first.

 

And perhaps, he should just collect his folders and go dump them into the archive, but something is holding him back. Perhaps it’s the realization that he has never seen Loki asleep before, and something about the sight is grabbing a firm hold of his attention, refusing to let go.

 

There is one thing in particular that stands out like a sore thumb as he watches the sleeping god up close, and that is how peaceful and relaxed his features are. And it is only now, when he sees the god like this, that he realizes how extremely taut and strained Loki’s face has been during his stay here. The difference is striking in its conspicuousness, almost like the god on the couch and the one in his memory are two different persons altogether. They just look so dissimilar.

 

It isn’t until then that it truly hits home just how worried Loki must have been. How much fearfulness and anxiety that his situation must have been causing him. That Tony must have been causing him. That part has already been made more than clear enough, of course, but seeing his face like this really serves to drive the point home even more brutally.

 

At that, he feels another sharp pang of guilt. Sure he had wanted to make Loki stew a little when he first came here, but not anything like this mental torture that he’s been put through. That was never what he intended, not anything close to it.

 

A strand of hair has fallen down across Loki’s face, and Tony is overcome by an urge to reach out and sweep it away. Perhaps even to run his fingers along those fine-chiselled features, trailing over the handsome face.

 

But he controls himself, forcing the urge back into the deepest pits of indecency where it originated in his brain. Given all that’s transpired recently, if there’s one thing he’s going to do from now on, it’s to keep his hands to himself as far as Loki is concerned. Because this isn’t anything like his usual self being drunk at a party, leering at a pretty girl, making an indecent comment or two, grabbing a body part that might well have gotten him slapped if he hadn’t been the famous Tony Stark. Because all those people would be in a position to say no; they would be free to turn his advances down, should they want to.

 

But Loki isn’t in a position where he is technically allowed to do that, in case Tony should have been enough of an asshole to decide to take advantage.

 

The idea is disturbing and wrong on far too many levels to even bother counting.

 

Of course, since the incident with the knife leading to Loki finally asking the million-dollar question that must have been eating him from the inside out, Tony has never breached the topic again, and neither has Loki, both content to let it lie where they left it. He’s glad of that; merely thinking about those horrible misunderstandings and the awkward conversation that followed is enough to make him want to go hide in a closet and never come out again.

 

No, he will make sure never to do anything that could cause any reason for the subject to be brought up again, be it directly or indirectly.

 

Throwing one last long look at the sleeping form, he picks up the sorted folders and walks out of the room, leaving Loki on the couch, the stray strand of black hair still hanging into his face.

 

Chapter Text

Tony sips on his cup of coffee, surreptitiously watching the god at the other side of the table stuffing himself with breakfast like he’s a starving village in Africa. Not very different from when he first came here, after the enforced diet during his stay in the dungeons in Asgard. And seeing him like this, it is only now that he realizes how little the god has been eating lately.

 

The all-too familiar feeling of guilt rises in his throat again. And damn, how many times is he going to suffer that pang of bad conscience in Loki’s presence? But it’s too late to do anything about that now, expect admit to himself that he should have noticed, should have paid more attention. Or at least attached an appropriate amount of importance to it, rather than disregarding his observations with feeble and half-baked explanations.

 

Of course, in hindsight, everything is twenty-twenty and all that. But looking back, it seems so obvious; he should have noticed that something was seriously off about Loki. True, he had certainly noticed that things weren’t right, but he hadn’t realized the extent of it, or the cause of his erratic behaviour.

 

And much as he is loathe to admit it, Loki is his responsibility. There’s no one else here to see to his health and general welfare. And considering how abysmally bad Loki has – understandably – been at communicating his concerns, perhaps Tony’d do well to be more attentive from now on, more on the lookout for any deterioration in health, be it physical or mental.

 

Loki has just finished gulfing down his third bowl of Cheerios and looks content for now, absent-mindedly playing around with the spoon in his hand for lack of better things to do. And Tony has long ago finished his sandwich, and is down to the last dredges of lukewarm coffee. Well then.

 

“Okay, sunshine, I have another box of papers in desperate need of sorting,” he says, leaning back in his seat. “Ready to take care of it?”

 

A little resigned sigh escapes Loki’s lips, but there are no further protests than that as the god nods.

 

Well, perhaps peaceful coexistence is possible, after all, even with a would-be world conqueror and enslaver of humanity.

 


 

And so, there are papers again. Lots of them. The cardboard box is bigger than last time, but just like yesterday, he gets to it with in inward grimace, combined with heady relief that it would indeed seem that Tony’s intentions for him are nothing worse than what he can handle, demeaning as it still is to perform these menial, simple tasks.

 

He works mechanically, on auto-pilot, thinking about nothing in particular as he sorts the papers into different piles, fleetingly wondering why humans place so much importance on these flimsy things. The work is monotonous and is making him drowsy, and after a while he finds himself blinking to keep his eyelids from falling shut, his head slowly dropping towards his chest.

 

Soon, the letters and numbers on the documents that he’s supposed to keep track off as to indicate in which pile they belong seem to be dancing across the sheets, mischievously switching places with each other, refusing to stay in place.

 

Yawning, he puts the pile of papers in his hands down on the floor to rub at his heavy-lidded eyes. He hasn’t been sleeping very well until just recently due to the torturous strain he’s been under, interrupting his sleep and keeping him awake until late in the night. Now that the strain has finally relented, though, the lack of sleep that has been building up is starting to take its toll and he feels devastatingly tired, his body numb and slow to respond.

 

He eyes the couch longingly. Perhaps he could take a little break, get himself a quick nap? Just for a few minutes, no more than that.

 

Though, he isn’t quite sure how Tony would feel about him taking a break before he’s finished with his work. Maybe he’ll end up having to scrub floors again if Tony finds out, if Jarvis tells on him.

 

Well, he can live with that, he supposes. The temptation to get some much needed sleep is simply too overpowering to resist.

 

Abandoning the heaps of papers on the floor, he crawls up into the couch, sighing in contentment as his head hits the cushion. Not even a minute later, he’s fast asleep.

 


 

He’s back in the dungeons, in the dark and filthy cell he once occupied, heavy shackles around his wrists. One of the guards – a fat man whose name he can’t remember, and it’s not like it matters, when they only trade insults with each other anyway  – has just delivered his only meal for the day, a bowl filled with some foul-smelling gruel that he throws rather than sets down on the floor.

 

“Meal time,” he says disdainfully, eyeing Loki with ill-hidden contempt. “Though I fail to see why good food should be wasted on the likes of you.”

 

Loki sneers, giving the guard a scornful glare. “You call this disgusting slop ‘food’? Perhaps for a lowly creature like you, this would count as proper food, but--“

 

“Watch your mouth, traitor,” the fat man hisses, taking a step towards him. Of course, Loki knows he’d be better off keeping quiet rather than baiting these primitive brutes serving as guards, but he can’t stop himself. Their taunts rankle him too much for that.

 

As expected, the man takes a swing at him, one that Loki just barely dodges, hampered by his chains. Growling in fury at his failed attempt, the guard makes another try, this time hitting Loki in the ribs, casing him to double over in pain, gasping for air. Mere seconds later, hands grab his shoulders, pushing him up against the wall, the rough stones chafing at his skin through his tattered prison garb.

 

He tries to fight the hands nailing him to the cold stone wall, but to no avail. The man is much heavier than him, and also has the distinct advantage of not wearing heavy shackles around his wrists. A knee comes up to forcefully connect with Loki’s already bruised ribcage, and he groans in raw agony, making a grab for the hands on his shoulders, trying to push the body away, shoving with all his might to get his assailant off him--

 

--and he tumbles off the couch and onto the floor, hands still clamped around those wrists, his opponent’s body pinned beneath him. An instant later, when the dream has faded and the real world has returned, he finds himself straddling a surprised Tony, pinning the man’s hands to either side of his head. The look meeting his is one of shocked confusion, not entirely unlike a deep sea fish someone just pulled out of the water and onto dry land.

 

And Loki’s stomach sinks like a brick of lead. No doubt he’ll end up scrubbing floors for this until his knees are bleeding – if he’s lucky, that is.

 

Lightening-quick, he scrambles off Tony and scoots away to a safe distance while the man quirks an eyebrow at him, slowly pulling himself together from the unexpected assault to stand up, brushing himself off.

 

“Are all you gods in Asgard this paranoid, expecting assassination attempts in your sleep?” he asks, surprisingly level for someone who just got thrown to the floor by his own slave.

 

“I… was dreaming,” Loki replies, warily, certain that this explanation won’t count as a satisfactory excuse. Even if Tony did promise not to resort to physical violence, he doubts the consequences are going to be pleasant regardless. Slaves do not attack their masters unpunished, of course, regardless of how unintentionally.

 

“Must have been quite some dream, then.” Tony shrugs. “But as I came here to tell you before I found myself right in the middle of a WWF wrestling match, it’s time for dinner. At least I assume you’re hungry.” Puzzlingly, the man doesn’t seem angry, neither because of the unauthorized break he’s been helping himself to nor his subsequent hurling Tony to the floor. If anything, he seems… amused?

 

Then, a hand reaches down to where Loki is still sitting on the ground, grabbing hold of his arm. “Get up, will you. You’ve done enough huddling on the floor as it is,” Tony says resolutely as he pulls him to his feet.

 

As if being able to tell what Loki is thinking, he shrugs. “No hard feelings, Reindeer Games. Shit happens.” A crocked grin comes over his face. “Though, next time I will make sure to have Jarvis wake you up instead.”

 


 

Once again, he’s sitting at his usual spot at the table, this time eating food from a box adorned with the words Bartelli’s Kitchen. And he’s still not sure why Tony is letting him eat the same food as him, as this would surely not have happened in Asgard. He’d be given scraps, leftovers, whatever the free members of the household wouldn’t see fit to eat.

 

Well, perhaps there aren’t many scraps and leftovers to be had in a household consisting only of Tony, especially not since most of the food he eats seems to come out of these pre-packaged, one-portion boxes. So the easiest solution is probably to get his slave the same thing, he supposes.

 

He struggles a little with the long, whitish strands in his box. Noodles, Tony had called them. Just like Cheerios, food that is unidentifiable and has no equivalent on Asgard, but still doesn’t taste bad.

 

The strands slip off his fork, stubbornly refusing to wrap themselves around the metal in the same effortless way they are doing for Tony. He goes at it again, feeling vaguely stupid at his unsuccessful attempts, but not particularly caring. There’s no one but Tony here to see him anyway.

 

“I take it you don’t have noodles in Asgard, do you?” He hears Tony’s voice to his right, just as the forkful of thin strands slide back into the box yet again.

 

“We don’t,” he answers, trying to picture the royal court sitting at the High Table attempting to wrap these flimsy things around their eating utensils. The image is oddly… discrepant.

 

“So what do you guys usually eat up in Magic Fairyland, then?” Tony asks, slurping loudly at his noodles.

 

“Meat, usually. Pork or venison would be the most common,” he answers, the question unwittingly making him think back on the innumerable meals he’s eaten in Asgard. It all seems like a very long time ago now. “Bread and cheese. Porridge, though that’s mostly for the lower classes. Fruit, whenever it’s in season. Some vegetables, but not in great quantities.”

 

“Uh-huh,” Tony says, reclining in his chair. “So no pizza then? Or cheeseburgers? Or schwarma? You know, any fun food?”

 

“We don’t have anything like that in Asgard, no. Ingredients are not… mixed together as often as in Midgard.”

 

“What a shame. You know, while I sure don’t mind a nice steak every now and then, it would get pretty boring eating that kind of plain stuff after a while.” He elegantly twirls another helping of noodles onto his fork. “So tell me, what was your favourite Asgardian food, then?”

 

Loki blinks at the odd question. He can understand the interest in a foreign culture and its customs, especially for an inquisitive man like Tony, but there is no reason why he would be asking personal questions like that about Loki’s own preferences. Nobody in Asgard would ask a slave such things. Slaves’ opinions don’t matter, if they at all have one. 

 

“Deer, I guess. And boar,” he says simply, not knowing where all this is supposed to lead.

 

“Ah, the wildlife kind of guy. You into hunting?”

 

Of course, it’s not like he can refuse to reply, but it’s strange and weird that Tony is asking him these things, and he isn’t quite sure how to react.

 

“Not really. I was more interested in practicing magic and reading books.”

 

Tony snorts, pointing his fork at him. “So, the nerdy type, huh? Yeah, I kinda figured that one out myself. You aren’t really cut out to be a jock.” He chuckles to himself, though the humour is lost on Loki. “So what kind of books did you read? Sappy romance? Horror? Agatha Christie?” He digs into his food again, chewing loudly.

 

No, masters aren’t supposed to be having normal conversations with their slaves, not beyond what is necessary to make sure that orders and commands are carried out correctly. Well, they might talk at them, but not to them or with them, and they certainly don’t expect answers in return.

 

Though, for some strange reason, Tony does.

 

So Loki can do nothing but answer dutifully, while his mind silently wonders if he will ever come to understand Tony at all.

 

Chapter Text

This time, there are two cardboard boxes of papers in front of him, both a bit smaller than the previous ones. He’s almost made it down to the bottom of the first box – which Tony said contained minutes and records from board meetings, though the words mean little to him – and mechanically picks up the last few sheets of paper, sorting them out as well.

 

Tony, on his hand, is sitting on the couch some distance away, reading through some documents nestled on his lap as his hands absentmindedly keep fiddling with a little colourful cube. It clacks rhythmically as he twists and turns the sections around, changing the ever-flowing pattern of colours. He recognizes the thing, having seen Tony play around with it before.

 

Despite the specifics of his situation still being confusing and illogical, at least the current seating arrangements are something he can relate to and that make sense, given the differences in their social status – him on the floor, surrounded by a sea of papers and folders, and Tony lounging comfortably on the couch. That’s one of the few things so far that are as one could expect them to be, that would have been similar back in Asgard.

 

There is still precious little of his situation that makes sense, though, so when something actually does, it stands out in the ocean of bewilderment and unfamiliarity. But at least it would seem that his presence is tolerated now, no longer serving to routinely put Tony into a bad mood, like he all too well remembers how it used to do.

 

Perhaps the change in attitude has been brought by his finally being of some use and doing something that the man actually considers worthwhile.

 

It would be a logical conclusion. Because what master would look with anything but disapproval on a slave that isn’t useful? Feeding and clothing a slave who can’t contribute anything valuable would be distasteful to any master, of course.

 

He finishes with the last few papers in his hand, placing them into the correct folder, and is about to reach out for the second box still waiting for him when the sound of Tony’s voice makes him look up from his work.

 

“Done already, huh?” the man says, giving the pile of folders on the floor a scrutinizing glance.

 

“Yes,” he answers, eyes following Tony as the man gets up from his sprawled position on the couch and saunters over to where Loki is sitting. Crouching down, Tony picks up the top folder, opening the front flap and slowly flipping through the pages with his thumb.

 

After a little while of this, he smacks the folder shut and gives Loki a brief nod. “Looks fine,” he says, as he puts the thing back into the pile. “Good job, Rudolph.”

 

With that, he stands up and walks back to the couch again where he nonchalantly arranges himself in a position that looks positively indecent, returning to his documents and his cube, leaving Loki to his second box of papers.

 

Loki throws a surreptitious glance at the man. He can’t remember the last time Tony voiced any approval for anything he’s done, as opposed to annoyance or exasperation, which seems to be the default emotions he’s evoked in the man for most of his stay here. And there’s a bubble of resentment rising up in him as he realizes that a part of him actually appreciates the approving comment, like a dog being petted on its head by its master. When did Tony’s being pleased with him ever matter to him beyond the mere practical aspects, to ensure that his life here won’t be any more difficult than necessary?

 

Perhaps he should have been fitted with a tail so he could wag it while he’s at it.

 

It shouldn’t make any difference what a mortal thinks of him, especially not when it comes to simple matters like paper-sorting. Truly, he must have fallen far when a comment like that from Tony can cause that little stirring of something that isn’t resentment or fear, or anger or desperation or any of the other negative, draining feelings he’s become all too acquainted with since coming here. Even if the previous roaring of those emotions has subsided to a dull murmur by now, there’s still been so precious little falling on the positive side of the scale for him that even this simple comment gets a welcoming reception in his mind.

 

And it’s not until now that he realizes how much he’s missed that, something that’s not just another expression of his being unwanted and unappreciated and failing to live up to expectations; sentiments that he’s already all too familiar with from his life in Asgard. Since his coming here, there have been so precious few good things – an absence of bad things isn’t really the same – and no matter how tiny and insignificant this might be, he still wants to hold onto it for a little while.

 

So for a brief moment, he lets himself enjoy that faint little stirring caused by Tony’s approval, basking in its tiny warmth, before resolutely shoving the blatant proof of weakness aside.

 

Because it’s ridiculous and unbecoming that he should care about any such, even for a second.

 

No, it should not affect him what a mortal thinks of him.

 


 

Stifling a yawn, he turns another page of the report in front of him. Not that he usually bothers with formal documents like this, but as this one contains a quick and dirty overview of the recent mishap in Stark Industries, he supposes he should take a look at it. At least the perpetrator has been found out, even though he managed to leave the country before the police could pick him up.

 

Mr Crawford, the unassuming Marketing Director, who wouldn’t stand out in a crowd of three. That had been quite the shock; he’d never suspected that guy of all people.

 

At least he didn’t get his hands on any of the secret information he’d been fishing for, though the three million of embezzled bucks are still gone. Oh well. That’s peanuts given the circumstances; he can live with that, even though his already dented ability to trust people has gotten another buckle after this episode.

 

Sighing, he makes another few flips of the Rubik’s cube in his hands, his fingers sliding over the well-worn surfaces and edges. The little clicks of the sections slipping into place are soothing in their familiarity, and even though the cube has long since stopped providing any real challenge, it’s still a pastime that keeps his hands busy while his brain is occupied with boring stuff. Like other people might doodle or twirl a pencil between their fingers when forced to plough through mind-numbing reading material.

 

But at least this issue has resolved itself, without the magic helping hand of Pepper. So perhaps his life can actually return to some degree of normalcy after all.

 

Well, as normal as it can possibly be when you have an enslaved god of mischief living under your roof. But then again, when was the last time his life was ever normal or uncomplicated? If it ever were, it’s so long ago that he’s forgotten about it by now.

 

He eyes Loki over the top edge of his wad of papers, watching as the god dutifully arranges the documents into different piles in accordance with whatever system he’s made up.

 

At least he isn’t making any trouble or protesting the paper-sorting task, or engaging in any form of passive sabotage.

 

He supposes that’s gotta count for something.

 


 

 

The non-stop, almost obsessive twisting of the cube and the little sharp clacks that accompany it are mildly distracting at first, and then oddly mesmerizing. Soon, he finds his attention straying from his papers to the cube in Tony’s hands as his eyes are inevitably drawn to it. He stares as the little patches of red and blue and green switch places, turning the different sides of the cube into a uniform colour, for a moment forgetting about his own duties.

 

Then, suddenly, Tony looks up and for a fleeting moment their gazes meet across the distance physically separating them.

 

He quickly turns away, breaking eye contact as he once more returns his focus to his papers.

 

“Want to give it a try?” he suddenly hears Tony’s voice say to his left.

 

He looks up just in time to see Tony draw his hand back and a second later lob the cube over to him in a lazy underhand throw. He catches the thing more out of reflex than anything else.

 

“Picked it up in Wal-Mart for ten bucks years ago, and it has offered me a higher quote of fun-to-money than almost any stuff I’ve ever bought,” Tony continues as Loki turns the cube around in his hands, then giving it a tentative twist.

 

“Anyway, the goal is to arrange the cube so that each side sports one and the same colour,” Tony explains as if it wasn’t obvious already.

 

His full attention is on the cube as he makes another few twists, trying to find the underlying logic to the puzzle. After a little while, things start to fall into place in his head, like an equation lining itself up, all ready and waiting to be solved.

 

He concentrates as he realigns the sections in accordance with the logic unfolding in his head, fingers working eagerly to solve the puzzle as time floats away in a haze. Another twist, and he wrinkles his forehead in consternation as he realizes that he’s missed a turn. Quickly, he reverses the last few moves and then continues on the previous track, spinning the little cubes around, rearranging them to fit the images in his head.

 

Some time later, the puzzle is solved. He stares at it in satisfaction, then looks up at Tony who’s watching him with one eyebrow raised.

 

“I… believe this should prove an acceptable solution,” he says, trying not to sound too pleased with himself as he turns the cube around in his hand, displaying the uniformly coloured sides.

 

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Tony says with a quirk of his mouth. “Quite the smart one, aren’t you?”

 

Loki makes no reply to that; he’s too busy trying to quell the little surge that once more stirs inside of him at the unexpected compliment.

Chapter Text

It’s getting late and he’s sitting on the couch reading a book, contemplating whether he should go to bed or finish the current chapter, when Tony suddenly enters the living room with a bottle in hand, in itself by no means an unusual sight.

 

What is unusual this time around, though – making Loki do a quick double-take – are the two glasses held in his other hand, one more than there should reasonably be. Surely Tony doesn’t expect him to…?

 

Whistling to himself, Tony puts the glasses down on the table and proceeds to pour an amber-coloured liquid into each of them. Without further preamble, he then scoots a glass over to Loki, as if it was the most natural thing in the world to offer a slave a drink.

 

He looks at the offering in confusion, but makes no move to pick it up.

 

“Come on, Reindeer Games,” Tony says, lifting his own glass. “Have a drink to celebrate that the slimy bastard who fucked around with my company has been found out.”

 

Loki eyes the glass hesitantly. He hasn’t been drinking all that much in the last few centuries, not like back in the day at all those lavish feasts held in Thor’s honour to celebrate some successful battle campaign or the other. And he remembers them clearly even now, how he’d emptied tankard after tankard, in the futile attempt at washing away the jealous bitterness inherent in the knowledge that no such would ever be held in his honour for all the increasingly difficult and complex spells he’d learnt to master over the years.

 

Perhaps it’s the memories of that time that has kept him away from heavier bouts of drinking lately, or maybe it’s the wish to keep his head clear as to not hamper his magic abilities. Whatever the reason, he has not indulged himself much in that regard since those days. Sure he’s been drinking beer and mead like everyone else, but only rarely in the amounts necessary to get intoxicated.

 

“Go on, try it,” Tony urges him, sensing his hesitation. “It’s not poisonous.”

 

Truth be told, the idea of drinking anywhere near Tony makes him feel a certain unease, because getting inebriated, not being at his full wits, is never advisable for a slave while in the presence of his master, even one like Tony.

 

Not that such a dilemma would ever be an issue in Asgard, because slaves would never be given alcoholic liquor to start with; they’re not supposed to intoxicate themselves for a number of reasons. Good liquor would never be wasted on slaves.

 

But of course, he can’t disobey the direct order. So he empties the glass in one sweep, the resulting burn almost forcing a little gasp from his lips. The drink is a lot stronger than he’d expected, and he blinks a couple of times as the smouldering in his throat slowly subsides.

 

Back home, liquor would usually not be strong and concentrated like this, but instead made so that it can be ingested in large amounts before the drinker gets to the point of inebriation. But he can already tell that’s not the case with Midgardian liquor, or at least not the variety that Tony favours. Then again, perhaps the alcohol is not really as strong as he thinks, his reaction instead caused by his weaker mortal body being more susceptible to intoxication than what he’s used to.

 

The warmth slowly spreading through his innards is not unpleasant at all, but it still makes him wary; relaxing too much around Tony might not be a very good idea, not if the alcohol will make him do or say things he wouldn’t have in a sober condition.

 

He’s not sure exactly why Tony wants him to drink with him, and he silently ponders the question as he watches Tony unceremoniously down his own glass. Sure he’s known many men who dislike drinking alone, always trying to procure some company whenever they’re about to engage in such activities, but Tony never seemed to be the type, judging by the number of times Loki’s seen him in close proximity to a bottle or a glass by now.

 

The man lets slip a satisfied sigh before setting his empty glass down. “Ah, not bad,” he comments with a contented look on his face, once more reaching for the bottle on the tabletop.

 

He’d really have wished for Tony not to be filling his glass again, despite the pleasant warmth that has now reached his limbs, but his hopes are quenched as it is once more filled to the brim with more of the yellow-ish liquid.

 

But it’s not his place to decline, of course. He has a feeling Tony would not like it if he did, and he has long ago come to the conclusion that a pleased Tony is going to be a lot more conducive to his situation than the alternative. And to be honest, it’s not like what’s expected of him this time is unpleasant in any way, far from it, and under different circumstances he might even have enjoyed it, despite the unaccustomed strength of the liquor. But still, he’s not comfortable about getting drunk in Tony’s presence.

 

At the other end of the couch, Tony empties his second glass and then looks insistingly at Loki. “Don’t be shy,” he urges. “I think some relaxation would do you good.”

 

Well, Loki supposes he can’t really argue with that – and the feeling as the contents of his second glass of liquid amber slide down his throat is pleasant. Maybe a little too much.

 

But he’d be lying if he said there wasn’t a part of him enjoying it. Even if the previous torturous strain inside of him has dissolved by now, there’s still tension remaining, and getting some relaxing stress relief is not… unwelcome. So if Tony wants his slave to drink because he doesn’t feel like drinking alone tonight, he might as well enjoy it and make the best out of the situation.

 

“You have stuff like this in Asgard?” Tony interrupts his musings, leaning back into a more comfortable position against the cushions.

 

“Well, not really,” he admits. “Liquor is usually not stronger than it can be served in tankards. Like beer or mead.”

 

“Uh-huh. Seems like you have something to learn from us puny mortals, then.” And with that, Tony goes off on a long tangent about various liquors drunk on Midgard and their relative merits, but the designations are unknown to him. So he only listens patiently as Tony refills both of their glasses, his mouth never stopping to move for more than a second.

 

After a while, as another glass has been emptied, Tony’s voice is slowly turning into a soft droning, the individual words not fully discernible through the buzz in Loki’s head that keeps increasing in volume. But at least Tony is looking pleased, so that should be a good thing.

 

Then the words abruptly pierce through the haze clouding his mind, suddenly clearly discernible once more.

 

“Come to think of it, I did offer you a drink that one time you first showed up in my tower, so I suppose it’s only fair that I finally made good on that.”

 

Some of the tension that’s been slipping away little by little immediately returns at that. Even though he knows that Tony has decided to stay above things like petty revenge, he still doesn’t feel comfortable with the topic. It’s something he’d rather not have brought up at all, full well knowing that the man has of course not forgotten about the trip out of the window that had followed.

 

And he wonders if Tony is still angry at him because of that; he would really have wanted to ask, but it’s not like he ever actually would.

 

It’s only a few seconds later that he realizes that that’s exactly what he’s just done, the strong alcohol having loosened the bonds of self-control previously holding his tongue.

 

Damn.

 

Tony watches him over the rim of his raised glass for a little while, an unreadable expression on his face, and then shrugs. “Nah. Not anymore. I tend not to bear grudges if I can avoid it. Besides, I’d think that you’ve more than paid for it with that slavery sentence of yours.” He drinks again, eyes closing in pure delight for a couple of heartbeats as the liquid makes it way down.

 

And Loki feels himself slowly relaxing again, despite his treacherous tongue having gotten the better of him.

 

There is silence for a while, but it’s soon broken as Tony start talking again, and Loki sinks back against the cushions, blinking a couple of times as the image of Tony filling his field of vision swims a little and then slowly separates into two.

 

He rubs his eyes, really wishing for some sleep, but he obviously can’t leave before having received permission to do so, so he resigns himself to the unrelenting barrage of words that wouldn’t have made much sense to him even in a sober condition. Slowly, he feels himself starting to drift off, before Tony’s voice once more cuts through his hazy mind.

 

“You know, I think it’s bedtime for you.” He grins as Loki opens eyes he wasn’t aware he had closed in the first place. “Seriously, I expected you Asgardians to be better at handling alcohol than this.”

 

With that, Tony stands up, grunting as he languidly stretches his arms above his head. “Come to think of it, it’s probably bedtime for me too,” he adds, a yawn following shortly behind the statement.

 

Gingerly, Loki makes to stand as well, glad to finally be allowed to make for the alluring bed awaiting in his room. His limbs are slow and reluctant to obey him, though, and the room seems to wobble slightly, as if he’s standing on a ship softly rocked by the waves of the sea.

 

He takes a step forward, but his foot catches on the edge of the rug lying snugly on the floor, causing him to trip and fall face first towards the table. Unable to regain his footing in his tipsiness, he can do nothing but brace himself for the impending impact.

 

Then, lightening-quick, there’s an arm around his waist, stopping his fall before the table does. And for a frozen heartbeat, Tony is standing there behind him, his body pressed flush against Loki’s as the man straightens him up.

 

The next heartbeat, the arm is gone, Tony having moved to stand at the edge of his field of vision. “Better watch your footsteps there, Bambi,” he says, and only another few heartbeats later, the man has walked out of the room.

 


 

 

He’s in his bed, trying to sleep, but it’s hard when the memory of Loki’s body pressed so tightly against his keeps intruding on his peace of mind.

 

So he turns, trying to find a more comfortable position. His attempts aren’t really making much of a difference, though; the mattress still feels as if it’s been stuffed with ping-pong balls.

 

His idea of arranging a little drinking get-together had been a pure whim, but seeing that the god was still tense, he had thought that Loki could do with some relaxation, and what better way to resolve that tension than with some alcohol? Always worked for him.

 

Well, almost always.

 

At least he had enjoyed it, and hopefully Loki had too, though it’s pretty hard to tell these things with the god.

 

Then, as they were breaking the party up, Loki had suddenly tripped, and Tony had caught him before he could hurt himself. And despite the long time – hours? – spent with the god in that evening, it’s those few seconds that are filling his mind.

 

Of course, he’d let go quickly, before his body could react in an… inappropriate way to the sudden closeness. That would surely have been the icing on the cake after what Loki had not terribly long ago been convinced that Tony was going to do to him.

 

Again, he turns, and again, the resulting position is no better than the previous one.

 

And despite his attempts to think of the projects awaiting him in his workshop tomorrow, and then a million of other things as well, it’s still that fraction of a memory that lingers until he falls asleep, and then stubbornly follows him all the way into dreamland.

Chapter Text

When he wakes up, it’s with a throbbing headache and an angry buzz inside his skull. With a heroic effort, he pushes himself up into a sitting position on the edge of the bed, grimacing slightly as he rubs his hands over his face. Yesterday evening is mostly a dim haze in his mind, but he does remember the glasses of alcohol he’d downed since Tony apparently didn’t feel like drinking alone.

 

For a while, he just sits there, debating with himself whether he should crawl back down under the covers again, but deciding against it. He’s feeling too restless for that, and lying there wide awake staring up into the ceiling, unable to stop his gaze from once more trailing along the faint cracks up there, despite the spider web-thin pattern being so firmly imprinted in his mind by now that he could draw a flawless copy of it.

 

So despite the queasiness and his aching head, he decides to leave the bed and promptly showers and dresses, following the same repetitive procedure as every morning.

 

Tony had mentioned yesterday during dinner that he would be out of the house today until evening, having to take care of some business or the other. Until then, Loki is all alone.

 

Again.

 

Opting to get himself some breakfast, he ambles out of the door and down the corridor, silently counting the steps out of habit despite already knowing exactly how many there are from his room to the kitchen. Tony has long ago made it clear that Loki is allowed to help himself to food whenever he’s away, so at least he doesn’t have to go hungry until the man returns home.

 

The sight that greets him as he enters the kitchen is the same as always – black marble, dark wood, and glistening chrome. He walks up to one of the cupboards, steeling himself for the customary high-pitched squeak he knows it’s going to give off as he opens it. He’s stopped wincing at it long ago, though, having heard it a multitude of times already. 

 

At least he knows his way around the kitchen well enough by now to find everything he needs on his own. It’s not like anything substantial ever changes in here, or anywhere else in the tower.

 

A minute later, he’s sitting with his usual bowl and spoon and milk and box of Cheerios, all things that have grown so strangely familiar by now. The bowl has a little chip in it, and he still notices it despite all the times it’s been there on the table in front of him. The spoon has a darker spot at the end where the metal has discoloured slightly, and in spite of his numerous attempts at removing this offence to his sensibilities, it refuses to go away. But he can’t stop the reflexive act, as futile as it is, so again his thumb rubs against the spoon, his efforts still leaving no visible effects.

 

Then he sits there at the kitchen table, staring into the same spot of the wall as always, listlessly lifting spoonful after spoonful of the milk and Cheerios to his mouth, mechanically chewing without really tasting. Swallowing without really enjoying any of it.

 

Once the bowl is empty, he remains in his chair for a while, not quite sure what to do with himself. He knows there is more paperwork awaiting him, but that’s not going to take all day. Perhaps he could read a book, like he so often does.

 

Midgardian books, barely making half sense to him with their unfamiliar words and settings and people and ways of acting.

 

Unbidden, the thought of his books back in Asgard arises, those well-worn but alluring things. The rustling parchment bound between graceful and elegant leather covers, the long nights spent reading by the soft glow of burning candles, the heady excitement at all the knowledge awaiting at his fingertips – it’s still so painfully vivid in his mind.

 

But of course, they’re not his books anymore. Slaves don’t own property, and whatever things used to be his back in Asgard are bound to have been either disposed of or are now in the possession of someone else.

 

The thought cuts like a knife inside of him, razor-sharp and cruel. Now he doesn’t own anything anymore; not even the clothes on his body are his own, they belong to Tony.

 

Tony. One of the wealthiest, most affluent men this realm has to offer, that much he’s understood. And one of their greatest heroes too boot. He’s not really familiar with Midgardian titles and honours, but he supposes if Tony had been Aesir, he would have been considered a lord. If he hadn’t been born one, he would have been made one, the title being granted to him at a boring but grandiose ceremony. And in accordance with his station, he’d have had an entire entourage of servants and workers and slaves to run his household and to wait on him. And despite that, there’s only Loki here.

 

Well, him and the robot servants. But they don’t really count.

 

He watches dully as one of them cleans the floor of he kitchen, making quiet noises as it rolls along, leaving a moist trail in its wake. From the looks of it, even these artificial servants can do pretty much any of the chores that Loki is able to, and that just makes him feel even more useless. He supposes he should be glad that Tony is so wealthy, which means that feeding and supporting a slave who only contributes marginally to the household isn’t going to have any noticeable economical effects, at least.

 

In fact, it would seem that his usefulness is so little that one of the best things that Tony can find for him to do is to serve as company during drinking.

 

He massages his temples, hoping his efforts will ease the pounding in his skull, but his efforts are to no avail. So instead, he slowly cleans up after his meal, and then continues on to the living room.

 

Sitting down on his usual spot on the floor, he opens the cardboard box waiting for him, pushing the flaps aside. It doesn’t take long until he’s surrounded by the familiar piles of paper. Unenthusiastically, he keeps reaching down into the box, picking up stack after stack of documents that are all starting to look the same to him by now. It’s all just one long repeat of the days before, as if he’s stuck in a time-loop where everything is being endlessly replayed all over again.

 

He’s about halfway through when his stomach gives a complaining growl. The sound takes him somewhat by surprise, but since time has blurred into a haze during the monotonous work, any estimation of how many hours have passed since breakfast is impossible.

 

He might as well take a break, though, so he slouches back to the kitchen again, heading for the refrigerator; Tony always leaves behind a couple of those little boxes with food in them whenever he’s away. So he takes one out, throwing an absent-minded glance at the innards of the refrigerator before closing it. It’s mostly empty; not that he expected it to look any different from its usual state. As always, there are some bottles lining the shelves – some almost full, others with only dredges left at the bottom, enough for no more than a mouthful or two. Again, nothing that has changed since last time.

 

Closing the refrigerator door shut, he then sits down on his usual spot at the table. Tony once showed him how to use the microwave oven, as the device was called, in order to heat food. But he doesn’t bother with it; it hardly makes a difference anyway. Instead, he just eats the cold meal directly from the box, dully noticing the name on the lid. Bartelli’s Kitchen again; though the names vary, this is probably the most common one. Its flourish font looks out of place, even vaguely ridiculous, adorning something that contains something as simple as food.

 

He doesn’t have much of an appetite, and it doesn’t take very long before the fork in his hand goes from shovelling food into his mouth to poking at the remaining pieces, shuffling them around from one side of the box to the other, one of his elbows at the tabletop, cheek resting in his hand. When he finally decides to bring his meal to an end, more than half of the food is left uneaten.

 

And so he returns to sorting the rest of the papers, fleetingly wondering how many of these boxes are left. He has no idea how much paper is generated by a large business such as the one that Tony is heading, but he’s not sure he wants to know.

 

Once the task is complete, he remains sitting on the floor with legs crossed, hands in his lap, staring at the sorted folders for lack of better things to do. Blue on black, a combination he has gotten so used to seeing by now. A part of him wishes the folders would at least come in different colours so he’d have at least this tiny little bit of variety in the otherwise unchanging monotony.

 

Reading a book doesn’t hold any appeal to him for the moment, and he really doesn’t know what else to do. So in the end, he crawls up into the couch, despite it not even being dark outside yet, opting for some sleep.

 

He isn’t quite sure why he prefers the couch to his own bed, but maybe it’s because it has less associated memories of fearfully twisting and turning in anxiety over Tony’s plans for him, or maybe the living room, being larger, feels less suffocating, less of a reminder that he’s stuck in these confinements. So he lies there, staring at the all-too familiar surroundings for a while, wondering how many years he will be trapped in here before finally being taken somewhere else.

 

But of course, there’s no point in thinking about that now. There is nothing he can do about it; everything in his life, his entire existence, is at someone else’s discretion, and will continue to be so until the end of his days.

 

So instead, he closes his eyes, trying to shut out the bitter reminder of his inescapable situation along with his surroundings. His mind is less cooperative, though, and still keeps on churning endlessly until he much, much later finally falls asleep.

 


 

 

He awakes with a startle, having to blink the sleep out of his eyes before once more getting his bearings – Tony’s couch.

 

Slowly, he removes the blanket lying on top of him that he doesn’t even remember covering himself with before dozing off, and slowly sits up.

 

“Good evening, sunshine; rise and shine,” a voice says to his right and he looks up to see Tony sitting in a chair a short distance away, tapping away at his laptop.

 

He takes in the scene for a little while, as he tries to make sense out of the illogical situation. It would seem that Tony has resorted to seating himself on one of the less comfortable chairs in the living room, as opposed to his usual spot on the couch.

 

And that makes no sense, why Tony didn’t just shake him awake and tell him to move out of the way.

 

Along with the confusion, he can’t help but feel a bit stupid as well; slaves aren’t supposed to be sleeping like that in the presence of their masters, even if they don’t have any outstanding orders to carry out. Sure, Tony might not have taken offence at his last sleeping stint on the couch, but he still winces inwardly at knowing he’s been caught at it again. Coming off as lazy and slacking to Tony will hardly do anything to improve his situation.

 

Again, he’s hit by the frustration how nothing makes sense here. He’s just so lost how to deal with everything – he doesn’t understand Tony, he doesn’t understand this realm, and he doesn’t understand his place here. Not that he would have preferred the treatment he could have expected in Asgard – no, never – but that would at least have been something he would have been able to relate to, amidst all the uncertainty that comes with being thrown into an alien world, at the feet of one of the mortals with the most reasons to hate him.

 

Now it feels like he's just drifting, without even the tiny semblance of control that a clear understanding of the situation would have given him – because slaves, enemies, criminals don’t get treated like this. And he’s already so totally without control that even a hint of steady ground beneath his feet would have been comforting.

 

But instead, he’s so stuck in this overwhelming confusion, stuck in this tower, stuck in this position… just plain stuck.

 

He looks out the window, but its dark outside and perhaps that’s just as well. Seeing the world outside – strange and alien as it is to him – would just be a further reminder of the reality of his situation.

 

He almost startles as Tony smacks the laptop shut. “Okay, it’s dinner time,” the man announces, and Loki has no choice but to follow the well-known sight of Tony’s retreating back into the kitchen, despite not being hungry in the slightest.

 

Chapter Text

He’s sitting at one of the bay windows, in a slightly twisted and not entirely comfortable position that leaves his nose almost touching the glass, the fingertips pressed against the transparent material leaving smudgy prints. The pane is chilly, but it doesn’t bother him. It might be a poor substitute, but at least it’s a tiny, imagined taste of the outside.

 

He pretends that the cold against his fingers is the chill of the breeze fluttering on the other side of his prison wall, caressing his skin with cool evening air, a hint of refreshing dew in its touch.

 

Leaning his head backwards, he takes a deep breath, so drawn into his little fantasy that he almost feels disappointed when it turns out to be filled with the same room-tempered inside air he’s been breathing since coming here. The ventilation of Tony’s tower might leave little to desire, but it still feels as if his lungs keep regurgitating the same stale air again and again. Though if he closes his eyes he can for a brief moment almost imagine it; that he's standing on a field beneath the open sky, unrestricted by walls, the horizon a blurry line in the distance.

 

He sits like that for a while, his eyelids closed shut, loathe to open his eyes again and let the reality of his situation wash over him.

 

He longs to go outside. If only to taste a tiny sliver of the freedom that hasn’t been his in far too long. To get a respite from the long stint of imprisonment that started at the ungentle hands of SHIELD following his failure to conquer Midgard and continued with the damp dungeons and even more brutal guards in Asgard, and that has now come full circle as he has been returned to Midgard yet again, handed over to Tony Stark. Passed around, changing owners like tattered hand me-downs or a toy gifted to a younger sibling by an older one having outgrown its charms. The thought is too depressing to consider for very long.

 

Seeing the sky ought to be a welcome improvement after the glass bubble that was his cell during his stay at SHIELD’s headquarters and then the underground dungeons of Asgard, neither of which came equipped with windows to the outside. As the days of his captivity melded into a blur, he longed to gaze at the sky again, if only for a brief moment, like how a man dying of thirst would desperately wish for a drink of water.

 

However, now he wonders if this isn’t even crueller, dangling it in front of him like a precious treasure forever out of his reach. Sentenced to watch from afar, contained within the walls of his prison. He can’t even open the window to feel the air brushing his skin, because every time he tries, thinking that maybe this time will be different, that thrice-damned computer will gleefully inform that Mr Stark’s orders are for the windows and doors to remain closed.

 

Perhaps he shouldn’t complain. Perhaps it should be enough not being abused, beaten or starved, being spared most of the hardships that usually constitute a slave’s life, even free from having to perform hard and back-breaking labour. Perhaps he shouldn’t be greedy and wish for even more, already being in a situation that most any slave in Asgard would envy him for, but he can’t help it.

 

Because even slaves in Asgard run errands outside, work outside, are allowed outside. Despite everything, they are at least let out, ever-present watching eyes and the threat of severe punishment deemed enough deterrents to keep them from running off. They are not kept locked up like him all day, their usefulness to valuable to be wasted like that.

 

Of course, his own usefulness is marginal at best and there is no reason for Tony to let him out when he can be securely stowed away like this, the world safe from whatever the man suspects he might still be able to do in this lamentable state of his. 

 

His mind whimsically conjures a little fantasy of him sneaking out of the tower, as impossible as it would be, going for a little stroll in the sunshine. No walls surrounding him as far as his eyes can see, nothing to stop or hold him as he walks on. Of course, it’s naught but a childish fancy; even if he were to get out of here, he has nowhere to go. To the world outside, he is an enemy, and he has no friends or allies here. Nor does he have any magic or powers to protect himself, like a wolf having had its fangs and claws pulled out and turned into a harmless lap dog at its master’s beck and call.

 

Besides, any endeavours to leave the tower would obviously be noticed and thwarted by Jarvis, who would immediately report his doings back to his creator, effectively landing Loki in a heap of trouble. Because Tony would no doubt consider that an escape attempt, and whatever freedoms and leeway the man has granted him until now would no doubt be revoked in an instant, his current circumstances being turned into something considerably less favourable.

 

He sighs. At least he has the freedom of the tower, as opposed to being locked up in his room all day, only to be brought out for whatever tasks that Tony wants him to take care of.

 

At that, his thoughts take a turn back to Asgard, where escaping slaves are more often than not executed when caught. And most are, few runaways ever managing a successful escape. Those that aren’t executed are often clapped into heavy chains and shackles to prevent similar attempts in the future, in the unlikely case their subsequent punishment after their recapture isn’t enough to dissuade them. There is no indulgence or tolerance for escaping slaves, the only offence considered more serious for a slave being raising a hand against his master.

 

Some slaves are wearing chains anyway, having been deemed too unreliable to be allowed the privilege of going without them. His wrists chafe in phantom discomfort at the thought; he had to wear shackles too during his stay in the dungeons, as if the stone walls and heavy locks and attentive guards weren’t enough to keep him confined. He got too well acquainted with them to ever want to have his freedom restricted like that again, the movement of his limbs encumbered like those of a chained animal.

 

Something is telling him that Tony might perhaps not put him in chains if he were ever to try to leave the tower, but locked up in his room, yes, definitely. Then the man would be free from having to worry about further incidents of the kind, having his slave stowed away in a safe and secure place.

 

Still, the thought is too alluring to let go of just yet, so he plays around with the thought of somehow being able to evade the extensive security systems Tony has in place, passing unseen under the vigilant eye of Jarvis, Tony never finding out a thing. Not really escaping, because that is obviously impossible for someone with nowhere to go or to hide, but venturing outside for a while, returning later without his absence having been noticed.

 

But it’s a pointless fantasy, of course. There’s no way he could ever get out of here undetected. Or even detected, as Jarvis would no doubt instigate a full lock-down of the tower before he even got as much as a toe across the doorsill. Without his magic, there is no way for him to make it out of the house.

 

Besides, there’s always Heimdall, who might be turning his gaze to Midgard at any time. Though, most likely, the Watchman has more important things to bother with than watching a fallen god of mischief lounge around in a mortal’s tower. He’s not a danger anymore, having been rendered harmless, courtesy of the little chains around his wrists. There are far more pressing potential threats to Asgard, both within the realm and outside of it, to keep an eye out for. Loki, for all intents and purposes, is no longer a concern of Asgard.

 

The knowledge stings; who will even remember him in a few years’ time as anything more than a criminal that got gifted to a mortal? No doubt, he’s already forgotten, the only one still bothering being Heimdall who will dutifully continue to keep sporadic watch, to make sure Loki doesn’t break the stipulated conditions of his slavery.

 

His fingertips are starting to tingle from the icy chill of the window glass, but he doesn’t remove them just yet. Because this is as close to that beckoning outside as he will ever get in the foreseeable future, separated from it by a mere inch of transparent glass. Though, for all its unattainable-ness, it might as well have been a stone wall an arm’s length thick. There’s no way he’ll get out of here, not in his current magic-deprived, powerless state. 

 

It’s not going to make him any happier, wishing for things that can’t happen. He knows that, and yet he can’t help himself.

 

So he presses his fingers a little harder against the glass, once more closing his eyes, imagining the walls around him fading and disappearing like smoke in the evening breeze.

 


 

The new beta-electro-transformer he’s been working on is coming along quite nicely. Luckily, he was able to salvage some parts from the first one that got snapped into pieces during that little incident with Loki in his workshop, so at least he didn’t have to start all over from scratch.

 

The memory of that day is still painful and disturbing, but there’s no use crying over spilled milk. What is done is done, and at least the god is aware now that his former expectations have no base in reality and that he can expect a life here that doesn’t piss all over the tenants of the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Convention and whatever other important documents important people have penned concerning stuff like that.

 

He fastens another circuit board to the slowly developing transformer on the bench, the little click as it slips into place oddly satisfying.

 

And he has to admit that Loki has been remarkably well-behaved so far, surprisingly acquiescent and compliant for someone once equipped with world-conquering ambitions. A little nagging voice of doubt can’t help but wonder whether it's a show the god is putting on for his benefit, to lull him into a false sense of security before… doing something. He’s not sure what someone in Loki’s position could possibly do, but he is the god of deceit and lies and whatnot, so if he’s planning something, chances are that Tony might not notice much before it’s too late.

 

Well, perhaps he’d do well to be a bit more attentive as far as Loki is concerned from now on.

Chapter Text

His slightly better mood from a few days ago is definitely gone, now, as frustration is eating away at him. And it’s disturbing, really, to what degree his pathetic situation has almost reached a sense of normalcy.

 

He looks out the window, and then down at the sheets in his hands again. Most of all, he would have liked to crumple them between his fingers and throw the box of papers out the window. The weight of the magic-blocking chains around his wrists is suddenly very tangible, despite his thinking he should have grown accustomed to them by now.

 

Chains, like those an animal would be wearing. Animals, and slaves.

 

He wonders what Tony will have in store for him once this task is finished, knowing that the boxes won’t last forever. But the man will probably find some other kind of work that will be simple enough for someone like him, laughably unfamiliar with the ways and workings of this mortal realm that has changed so much since the days he last walked among the humans.

 

Perhaps he should feel relieved that Tony has found him a task he’s able to do at all so that he can at least be somewhat useful, which should serve to put him in a better position and improve Tony’s disposition towards him, but right now he can’t muster up much of anything. Neither can he decide what’s worse – being in such mockingly close proximity to the window with its full view of the alluring freedom outside that won’t ever be his again, or the humiliation of sitting here performing simple chores for a mortal.

 

For a moment, he imagines turning the box of papers over, spilling its contents all over the floor and then walking out the room, leaving Tony to take care of the mess. But the fantasy is pointless, of course. Whatever short-lived satisfaction this rebellion would bring him would hardly be worth whatever consequences would follow. Even if Tony isn’t going to physically hurt him, there’s plenty of other ways for the man to lay down the law – withholding food, forbidding him access to the books in the tower, assigning him some degrading and unpleasant task to fulfil, or finding some more creative way of enforcing his obedience.

 

Listlessly, he fiddles with the papers, flipping them through with his thumb. Insignificant documents that mean nothing to him. Unable to stop himself, he looks out the window again, not sure which sight bothers him the most – the clear blue sky, reminding him of what he can’t have, or the papers in his hands, reminding him of what his life has been turned into. Being at somebody else’s beck and call, without his having a say in anything.

 

He decides the papers are less disturbing to look at, for the moment at least, and turns his gaze back to the finely-printed sheets.

 

His thoughts are drifting, back to Asgard, to his trial, to his attempt at conquering Midgard, to everything that’s happened and not happened since his coming here. It’s all such a jumble in his head, disjointed images of failure and disgrace and humiliation, weaving an unappealing tapestry in his head, painting a pattern that he doesn’t particularly want to look at.

 

Only half-unconsciously, his hands tighten around the papers in his grip. 

 

“Reindeer Games?” he suddenly hears the man lounging in the couch saying. Startled, he snaps out of his little reverie and turns his gaze up to look at Tony, who’s eyeing him intently.

 

And suddenly, he’s acutely aware that he’s still holding onto the same wad of papers that’s been in his hands for probably the last five minutes. He isn’t quite sure how to interpret the searching way Tony is looking at him, but it’s not a long shot that the man has noticed his slave’s slacking off and isn’t pleased with it.

 

“Yes?” he answers plainly, relaxing the death grip around the papers.

 

Tony makes a beckoning motion with his hand. “Come over here,” he says, then pointing towards the other end of the couch. “Sit down.”

 

He doesn’t sound angry, at least, but Loki still steels himself for the bucket of displeasure about to be emptied over his head. The man might have let his unauthorized break slip without comment a while ago, but it’s doubtful whether he will be so tolerant of further displays of laziness from his slave.

 

He watches dully as Tony sets the technical device he’s been occupied with to the side, positioning himself into a half-slouching pose against the armrest.

 

“Is anything the problem?”

 

The question takes him by surprise; it is not what he had expected to hear from Tony, so he’s silent for a few moments while pondering his answer. Is anything the problem? Sure, he could make a list – a long one – of all the things that are wrong in his life: being as a slave, having to perform lowly chores, being at the beck and call of a mortal, being locked up in here, and a whole bunch of other things as well. None of which he is about to tell Tony, of course.

 

“There is no problem,” he says, not looking at the man opposite him.

 

“Hmm,” comes the reply. “You looked quite… distracted there for a moment. A pretty long moment, I would say. Anything on your mind I should know about?”

 

Perhaps Tony has sensed his little rebellious fantasy, or his general distaste for his situation. Maybe he thinks that his slave is planning something undue that needs to be nipped in the bud. Whatever the case, it would not benefit him to admit to any resentful feelings, of course. No slave would ever give voice to any displeasure regarding his social status or situation before his master. Or before anyone else, for that matter. Complaining or showing dissatisfaction never lead to anything good for anyone in his position. Even though the man has been perplexingly tolerant, to an extent that would have been unheard of in Asgard, he has no doubt that even Tony has his limits.

 

“No. There is no problem,” he repeats, shaking his head for emphasis.

 

“Uh-huh. Then how come the last bunch of papers you were sorting – or weren’t sorting, I should say – has been turned into a crumpled heap?” Tony says lightly.

 

The man is observant, Loki has to give him that. Frankly, he’d preferred it if he hadn’t been.

 

“I am used to handling Asgardian parchment. It’s much sturdier than Midgardian paper,” he says, the lie sounding unconvincing and half-baked in his own ears.

 

Tony shifts from his position in the couch, one leg coming up to rest against the cushions. “If you say so. However, if there’s anything that is a problem, or if you have any concerns, go ahead and let me know. I know I’ve said it before, but don’t just let it fester if there’s something that’s eating at you. I’d rather not have to deal with the consequences of a problem later that could have been resolved earlier.”

 

And Loki thinks he can hear a warning in there, which would make perfect sense; of course Tony doesn’t want any further trouble than what he has already endured on behalf of his slave. But this isn’t a discussion he can bring up with Tony; frankly, it’s ridiculous that he’s even asking. Surely the man doesn’t expect him to spill his honest mind about his situation.

 

“There is nothing of the sort,” he says as neutrally as he can manage, hoping Tony will be satisfied with that so he can go back to his paper-sorting.

 

Tony sighs, not sounding like that was the answer he had been hoping for. “You know, this situation is new to me as well, so anything you can tell me that would help me out here would be appreciated. Seriously, I don’t know what slaves in Asgard are even supposed to do all day.”

 

“They do what their masters tell them to,” he says mechanically, a part of him thinking he has said these words to Tony before.

 

Tony confirms his suspicions a moment later. “Yeah, you already mention that. Isn’t terribly helpful, though.”

 

He makes no reply to that and as Tony doesn’t say anything further, he slips back down to the floor again, returning to his papers.

 


 

He left Loki alone with the box of papers a few hours ago, the god working away at a somewhat quicker pace than before and not seeming very inclined to do much talking.

 

And Tony is back in his workshop, making the final adjustments to the beta-electro-transformer that is just a few steps away from being finished. 

 

But instead of feeling accomplishment at his soon-to-be completed creation, his thoughts keep returning to the god living under his roof. Of course, it would be silly to expect Loki to be happy about his situation, but it did seem like there was something a bit more off than usual, as if things were getting to him more than previously.

 

Though, for someone destined to spend the rest of his life – however long that will be – in slavery, Loki’s handling it relatively well. On the outside, at least.

 

And he can’t help but feel a pang of sympathy. What would it feel like, knowing you’re going to be a slave until the day you die, without any hope of a change of the situation? Despite all the crimes that Loki has committed, Tony is pretty certain they don’t merit this kind of punishment. To have all human rights stripped away and be turned into what is technically property.

 

He sighs, hoping they will both – for sanity’s sake – learn to come to terms with the situation, disagreeable as it may be. Because heavens know that he hasn’t yet. 

 

And a part of him can’t help but wonder for how long Loki is going to remain as well-behaved without the imagined threat of physical abuse hanging over his head. But he supposes he'll have no choice but to wait and see in that regard. Good thing he has Jarvis to watch out for him, at least.

 

His thoughts are interrupted by a sharp buzz from the doorbell, the unexpected sound making him startle enough for his hands to snap the little gadget in two.

 

A groan escaping his lips, he looks down at the broken thing in consternation.

 

Damn. Not again.

 

Chapter Text

The papers for today are sorted and Loki sits at his usual spot at the bay window sill, fingers absent-mindedly trailing the white plaster, picking at a thin crack in the material. A small splinter breaks loose and falls on his lap, but he doesn’t bother brushing it off.

 

Outside, the dull grey clouds hang ominously in the sky, heavy with rain waiting to fall, and there’s not even the weakest hint of a ray of sun breaking through. Just a vast expanse of colourless sky stretching out to the far edges of the horizon.

 

And still, that sky beckons to him, tugs at him, despite its empty dreariness.

 

If only…

 

But that is impossible, of course. He knows that. And yet…

 

He’s brought out of his musings by the faint sound of voices drifting through the crack of the closed door, and he tenses. To his knowledge, Tony has never entertained guests in the tower for as long as Loki has been here, so it is with nervous apprehension that he cocks his ears, trying to decipher the hum of spoken words floating in the air. His eyes narrow. Perhaps one of Tony’s Avenger friends has stopped by for a visit, a prospect that Loki doesn’t cherish much at all.

 

He can discern Tony’s familiar voice from the murmur, but that of his counterpart is louder, more insistent and even more familiar. And it’s a voice that he thought he’d never hear again – hoped he’d never hear again – and yet, here it is, drawing nearer by the sounds of it, as he can hear the accompanying footsteps too, as if someone is almost running, making a desperate dash for something in the mad hopes that it won’t be too late but fearing that it might be.

 

With a loud bang, the door is flung open with such force that it flies loose from its hinges, and there, in the suddenly door-less entrance, with red cape billowing behind him and scraggly blond hair flowing over his shoulders stands the muscular, bulky shape of someone all-too well-known, hammer clasped into a tight, knuckle-whitening grasp.

 

Yes, one can always count on Thor to make a dramatic entrance.

 

“Brother!” is, quite predictably, the first word out of the man’s mouth, breathed rather than spoken, as the hammer slips out of his grasp and he fixes Loki with a granite-hard gaze, as if daring him to not really be there, to only be a figment of the imagination about to evaporate into thin air the moment Thor moves at all.

 

Thor. Such a well-known, familiar sight. And so utterly unwelcome.

 

For a brief moment, the two of them only stand frozen at their respective spots, like a couple of statues staring at each other, unyielding and immovable. Thor is the first to snap out of the momentary petrifaction as he takes a step forward, arms slightly up and outwards as if preparing for an embrace, and Loki can feel a wave of swirling anger, resentment and bitterness welling up inside of him at that.

 

So rather than reciprocating the exuberant joy that is so ridiculously obvious in Thor’s eyes, Loki draws himself up and tightens his jaw, trying to muster up all the regal grace that is no longer his to claim, and throws the Thunderer the most disdainful gaze he can manage. Like he is looking at a crawling insect and not the man who still has the gall to call himself his brother.

 

“So, have you finally come here to gloat at my shame and humiliation, Thor?” he says, the words like daggers, sharp and meant to wound.

 

The vapid smile on Thor’s face falters slightly, but not entirely. And the venomous words aren’t enough to stop him from covering the distance between them with a few quick steps, to grasp Loki’s shoulders in a crushing grip. It’s not an embrace, at least, but the intimacy of the touch still feels like a foul perversion, and he twists, trying to avoid the unwelcome hands that have planted themselves firmly on his body.

 

However, the grip is too strong, and he doesn’t want to embarrass himself with futile struggle – his physical strength was inferior to Thor’s even when he was still equipped with godly powers and will certainly be as nothing now – so he settles for curling his lips in abject distaste.

 

If Thor is perceptive enough to at all notice the expression on Loki’s face, he doesn’t let it deter him. The hands remain on his shoulders, ever snug and comfortable, tightening even further as they give him a little shake and Loki winces, both from the pain and from the unwanted proximity.

 

And when Thor speaks, it is as if Loki’s daggers of words went right by him or through him, unacknowledged and forgotten.

 

“Brother,” he repeats himself, as if to ascertain himself that the figure standing before him slightly squirming under his grasp is indeed the same person as the one he has grown up with, “there are no words to express my joy at seeing you alive and well!” The fingers dig further into Loki’s flesh, a gesture radiating worry and relief at the same time.

 

Loki snorts. “The “alive” part I can’t argue with, though the “well” part is another thing entirely. Perhaps you have not yet been enlightened as to how things are standing,” the effort to speak out loud the words that will broadcast his shame is harder than he expected, but he pushes on, “but, thanks to the just and ever wise ruling of your father, my powers have been sealed off and I have been reduced to the station of a slave, property of your good friend Tony Stark.”

 

He sounds more bitter than he had intended to and he curses himself inwardly for this show of weakness, for inadvertently admitting that the situation is getting to him. But there is something about Thor, something about his presence here, that just makes all that resentment simmering inside of him come roaring to the surface with full force.

 

However, Thor, who always wears his emotions like a second skin, doesn’t even bat an eyelash at his angry tirade, but merely nods.

 

“I know of your situation already, Loki, and the sentence that preceded it,” he says solemnly, looking into Loki’s narrowed eyes with his own open pools of concern that he makes no attempt to hide, un-warrior-like as it is. “I found out what had transpired on my recent return to Asgard. And hearing of your sentence, finding out that you were indeed still alive, is the reason I quickly made my way back to Midgard again. Too see you.”

 

So his powers and most everything else have been wrenched away from him, but he still has one weapon left – his words.

 

So he takes aim and fires, intention to hurt. “Well, dear brother,” the word is spit out like an insult, “if you had bothered sticking around for my trial and my sentence, you would have known of my fate long ago. But instead, you chose to saunter off to Midgard and that little wench of yours, rather than subjecting yourself to a tedious wait for Odin’s decision.” He attempts a mocking smile, but it is more a bearing of teeth than anything else. “But I suppose you couldn’t be bothered with that, when the prospect of cavorting with her was so much more tempting than being in the presence of the traitor and monster you still pretend is your brother?”

 

The wounded look on Thor’s face is one he’s seen so many times before, reminiscent of a wet puppy that someone has kicked one too many times. And there is an inkling of guilt in those guileless eyes, a flicker showing that Loki’s words have hit their mark.

 

However, when Thor speaks there is a note of tense anger in his voice, the affront of someone unjustly accused of deeds most foul and treacherous. “It was not like that!” he all but shouts. “You misconstrue and twist the facts yet again to your own ends, without knowing the whole truth.”

 

“But you did leave, didn’t you.” Loki lets the statement – for it is a statement, not a question – hang in the air like an invisible barrier between them, invisible, but impenetrable all the same. The pang of betrayal shouldn’t hurt, after all, because betrayals from people you don’t care about shouldn’t have that effect.

 

Thor clenches his fists and looks away for a few seconds, and Loki is certain that if there had been anything within punching distance, it would by now be pulverised into fine dust through the force of one of the Thunderer’s mighty blows.

 

“Eventually, I did.” The admission is thrown out against the invisible barrier that Loki’s accusation has constructed, like a chisel trying to hack away at those high-wrought iron walls. Thor’s forehead is creased, with worry, with anger, with self-accusation – and Loki can’t help but to feel a tiny amount of satisfaction at the latter, but the wrinkles marring his brow smooth themselves out as the Thunderer gets his feelings under his rein once more.

 

“However, as you awaited your trial in your cell, I went to see the Allfather on your behalf, to entreat him, to beseech him to show mercy in his sentencing. To remind him that despite all your misdeeds, you were still his son.” Thor’s voice trails off, and Loki takes the opportunity to deal out yet another jab.

 

“And were you dim-witted enough to believe for even a second that Odin would let himself be swayed by such trifling circumstances? Really, Thor. You should know by now that the Allfather is not a sentimental fool like you, or he wouldn’t be sitting on the throne of Asgard.”

 

The look on Thor’s face changes to strangely sad, but unrepentant nevertheless. “As doomed an effort as it might have been, how could I not have tried, brother? Even if I would have been forced to travel to the deepest pits of Nifelheim to plead your case to Hela herself, I would have done it! Anything that could have saved you from being executed would have been worth the effort, no matter how small the chances of success.”

 

Loki crosses his arms in front of his chest, limbs a make-shift shield. Perhaps it’s another barrier that he’s putting up between himself and Thor if his words should falter; he’s not even sure himself.

 

“And do tell me,” he enquires disdainfully, “what did the Allfather say to you? Did he at all listen to your pleas and entreaties? Or did he for once close his ears to you, his dear son, who was always so quick to earn his favour and good graces?”

 

The downcast eyes avoiding his are answer enough, as if Loki didn’t already know. Thor shifts his weight between his feet for a few times before he replies, as if the soles of his feet have been burnt, making it impossible to find a tolerable position.

 

“He told me to expect no clemency, no lenience on behalf of lineage. That you would be judged as harshly as any other Asgardian guilty of the same crimes,” he says softly.

 

“And you think the ruling is fair and just, don’t you?”

 

“No matter how much the consequences might grieve me, even I can understand that neither the laws of Asgard nor the Council would allow a king to play favourites in a trial like this,” Thor replies, sounding weary. “A ruler of Asgard can’t show leniency to those who have committed crimes of that magnitude since it would only encourage further attempts from others. Surely you can see that?” There is a hidden plea in there, like Thor wants Loki to understand, if only a little, even if it’s naught but the tiniest inkling of comprehension.

 

And of course, Loki understands. He wouldn’t have held Odin for any less. Had expected nothing else – a punishment of a criminal that will not dishearten others from following in his footsteps is useless. Examples have to be set, of course. Every ruler knows that. He wouldn’t have acted any differently, had he been king.

 

It wouldn’t have irked him so much if it hadn’t been for the fact that when Thor had gone off to Jotunheim on his ill-considered quest, his punishment had been a few days in Midgard without his godly powers. Not a life-time of slavery.

 

“Really. Then do tell me, Thor, what was your punishment after your little excursion to Jotunheim?”

 

Thor looks distinctly uncomfortable. “Your crimes were not solely aimed at another realm, Loki. You committed treason against Asgard as well. The Allfather and the Council could not let that pass so easily.”

 

He might even have accepted that, on some level, if he could have believed that was the only reason. But he has no doubt that his being a frost giant and a monster made sure that he got a much harsher punishment than Thor would ever have gotten. But his heritage is too sore a point to bring up, so instead he tries another angle to get at Thor.

 

“So when your father chose not to listen to your pleas, you decided to seek out the comforts of your Midgardian companion instead? Rather than wasting your time with a tedious trial?” Loki says, letting his words coil into a barbed whip that mercilessly lashes out.

 

Thor shakes his head, his mop of blond hair swirling from the sharp movements. “No, that’s not what happened. In the end, Father got so incensed with my endless entreaties that he commanded me to leave Asgard at once and forbade me to return until your trial was over.” Another flash of guilt passes over the chiselled face, but then disappears as quickly as it came. “I had no choice but to leave for Midgard, where I admit I sought solace in the arms of my beloved Jane. What else could I have done, brother? My grief was much too strong and heavy to bear on my own, certain as I was that your sentence would be execution.”

 

And Loki can’t deny that it was the one punishment he had held for most likely himself.

 

It seems that Thor is suddenly standing closer to him, like he has abridged the physical gap between them without even moving. Intending to rectify that, Loki takes a step back, retreating from Thor’s hulking form, lest he remain within reaching distance from the man who calls himself his brother.

 

“And yet you do not show up here until now,” he accuses. “Surely your brotherly concern about my welfare should have hastened your steps a bit more. But for someone who claims concern, you sure seem to have been in no hurry.”

 

“Loki, please.” Thor’s voice is exasperated, weary. Perhaps he is tired of having to defend himself from the barrage of accusations that Loki has been throwing his way, or maybe it’s his guilty conscience for not being here sooner that’s wearing on him. Either way is fine with Loki.

 

“You have to understand, I was certain you would be executed for your crimes,” Thor continues, pleading now. “So I lingered here in Midgard before finally mustering up enough strength to return to Asgard to hear of the completion of your sentence. I was convinced that what would await me on my return would be your cold funeral pyre and I was not prepared to face it. If I had known the truth… I would have been here much earlier, I swear it by the Nine Realms.”

 

The answer is strangely… acceptable. Not that it matters, of course, because the man giving it is Thor, and Thor is not his brother, never was and never could be. But still.

 

“And when I upon my return home found out about your sentence, I was overjoyed, and I wasted no time in…”

 

The hiss of anger leaving Loki’s lips is feral in its wrath, like the growling of a wounded animal. “Overjoyed, you say? Well, I’m delighted that someone can find it in them to be happy about my current situation as a slave! That I, a former prince of Asgard, has now been reduced to being the property of a mortal! Tell me, did you celebrate when you found out?” He gestures angrily at the clothes he’s wearing, t-shirt and sweatpants, nothing like his usual Asgardian apparel. “Does it give you satisfaction, seeing me like this?” The rage is welling up within him like a pool of molten, bubbling lava, hot and sizzling, and he makes no effort to contain it.

 

But Thor stands his ground, unaffected by the other man’s wrath like a slab of rock impervious to the onslaught of rough weather and lapping waves.

 

“As much as it saddens me, the truth is that you brought this onto yourself, brother,” he says simply, so infuriatingly simply, like only Thor knows how to, “You brought war to Midgard. You caused the death of innocent people. You led an alien army to this realm to conquer and destroy. You tried to put Midgard under your rule and enslave its inhabitants.” Thor’s stare is hard, unrelenting, and Loki can sense the tell-tale tingling of electricity in the air. “Be grateful a worse fate did not befall you.”

 

And of course Loki knows that Thor has a point, even he can see that, he just doesn’t want to hear it.

 

So instead, he turns his back to the thunder god, rage abating as it is replaced with ice-cold indifference. “Go, Thor,” he says in a low voice, “Get out. Leave me. I have no wish to talk to you.” A denial, a rejection as clear as any.

 

He expects Thor to protest, that the oaf will continue with his inane blabbering, but for once, he does not.

 

Instead, he can hear the footsteps of Thor walking towards the empty doorframe, and then, out of the corner of his eye, he sees the other man stopping briefly, turning around to face him once more. “I will speak to you later, brother, once you have calmed yourself.” And then, the Thunderer turns on his heel and walks out, leaving Loki alone to simmer in anger and resentment.

Chapter Text

“Another pop tart, big guy? Always helps with the valley parts of those mood swings, or so I’ve heard.” Tony says, holding out the box of sugary goodness to the god hunched opposite to him, chin resting in his hands and elbows on the tabletop, the very picture of exhausted weariness.

 

Listlessly, but easily convinced nonetheless, a large hand mechanically reaches inside the box and then retreats with a piece of pastry clutched between strong fingers.

 

“Thank you, my friend,” Thor says, but doesn’t bring the pop tart to his mouth, only stares dully at it like it’s a foreign object of unknown use.

 

“Uh, so I take it the reunion with your long-lost brother didn’t go too well?” Tony says, knowing it’s bad manners to pry into other people’s personal business but not particularly caring. It’s not as if he can’t have Jarvis replay the whole conversation between the two gods once Thor has left the room, should he want to.

 

Thor’s eyes slowly drift away from the pop tart in his hand that is well on the way of being reduced to crumbs in his iron grip, and comes to rest at Tony’s face.

 

“All in all, it went better than expected. I knew before coming here what the nature of Loki’s accusations towards me would be, so it was nothing I had not already prepared myself for.” The pastry breaks in two and falls out of Thor’s hand, but he doesn’t seem to notice. “It still saddens me, however, to see my brother reduced to… this.”

 

Strangely, there is no accusation directed at Tony in those words, none at all that he can discern. Truth be told, he had been a bit worried when Thor came knocking without warning, requesting to see his brother, but there seemed to be no hard feelings on his part despite the situation. Not that Tony had had any say in Loki’s sentence or ever wanted a would-be world conqueror living in his tower, of course, but he’s still Loki’s master-slash-custodian-slash-babysitter or whatever you want to call it.

 

“Well, to be honest with you, Point Break, this isn’t my idea of fun and games either. Maybe I’m supposed to be flattered that Asgard decided to dump this little surprise gift on my doorstep, but I’m really anything but.”

 

Thor’s face is solemn, but understanding.

 

“I am sorry my father has caused you such trouble on behalf of my brother,” he says, sounding slightly guilty, as if this whole situation is somehow a result of his doings. “However, as Loki’s most grievous wrong-doings were committed against Midgard, Odin and the Council found it just that restitutions for his crimes should be paid in your realm, and unfortunately there is nothing anyone of us can do to change it.”

 

Tony leans back, hands folded behind his head, tipping the chair so that it precariously balances his weight on only two legs. He is not in a particularly good mood, and Thor’s sort-of acceptance of the whole thing doesn’t sit right with him. In fact, the complacence irks him like a rusty spike sewn into his shirt, spiky end facing inwards.

 

“Well, didn’t you guys ever get the memo about slavery being all fucked-up and wrong?” he throws out, finally losing his patience. “And I don’t just mean ‘Conan the Barbarian remake’-wrong but ‘Conan the Barbarian wearing a pink skirt and joining the Salvation Army remake’-wrong. You guys are supposed to be the advanced race here, as opposed to us puny mortals scrambling around on the ground like confused ants, leading out our short and insignificant lives in deplorable ignorance.” He jabs his thumb at Thor, daring him to explain himself.

 

Of course he knows it’s not Thor’s fault, not any more than Tony is personally responsible for the torture and imprisonment without due process that is still commonplace in various places on planet Earth, but the awkwardness of sitting here having a conversation with the brother of someone who is technically his slave is just a tad too much, so he tries to shift the focus – the blame? – to somewhere else.

 

The fact that Thor doesn’t blame him, doesn’t hold anything against him is in a way even more disturbing than his pointing an accusing finger, announcing that it’s all Tony’s fault, would have been. And Thor’s acquiescing acceptance of his brother’s punishment is hard too fathom. In that moment, he realizes that for all of Thor’s eager, at times almost childish fondness for Midgardian manners and customs, the adaptation is only skin deep; there are still worlds lying between them, and not just in the physical sense.

 

“It is the Allfather’s ruling,” Thor replies sadly. “This is how Asgard’s justice system works.”

 

“Hate to burst your bubble, Flash Gordon, but the Allfather is a major dick, if he thinks sentencing his own son to slavery is anything even close to okay,” Tony prods, tipping the chair a bit further back.

 

Thor’s eyes narrow, and Tony can swear he feels the air around him grow heavy and humid, as if a thunder storm is approaching. “Be careful how you speak of my father, Man of Iron. I might be a guest in your house, but I will not tolerate further insults like that.”

 

There is a tense silence during which Thor seems to calm himself, and the barometer pressure returns to normal levels before he continues. “I might not be happy about it, but Loki’s sentence is meant to be a punishment for his grave transgressions, and surely you mortals punish criminals and wrong-doers here on Midgard as well?”

 

“Well, duh,” Tony says, rolling his eyes. “Sure we do. We even have these special lovely resort facilities with barb wire around them where we keep those people, everything from teenagers enjoying a bit of Mary Jane to crazy mass murderers. Doesn’t mean we freaking enslave them, though. We do have some standards, and this whole revenge-thing and eye-for-an-eye doesn’t fly here.”

 

“At the heart of every punishment lies a desire for vengeance, a sense of retribution on behalf of those wronged,” Thor says gravely, and it makes Tony wonder when it was that Thor ever got interested in debating judicial philosophy. The Thunderer looks up from where his fingers are prodding the sad remains of the crushed pop tart lying forlorn on the table, and nails Tony with a steely, unwavering look boring right into him. “You speak as if the Aesir are morally inferior, as if you mortals never succumb to the lure of petty revenge. But tell me, when Loki was delivered to your doorstep, did you feel no personal gratification whatsoever at seeing him, the man who has so grievously wronged both you and your realm, subjugated and brought low before you?”

 

Okay, so that hits just a tad bit too close to home for comfort. Especially given that the god asking him that question is Loki’s own brother, which makes for a level of awkwardness that far exceeds what should be maximum exposure for one single person in a month.

 

It’s not only that, though, because Thor’s simple question makes a prickle of guilt stab at his innards as he remembers his own immediate reaction, and the first few days that followed after Loki was brought here. The satisfaction at seeing the god that had pulled so much shit on Earth that it wasn’t even funny kneeling at his feet, powerless and exposed… yes, there had been a heady rush surging through him like a potent mixture of adrenaline and alcohol and god knows what. Not something he can say he’s proud of, looking back on it.

 

“And perhaps that is precisely why handing people over to those they have wronged isn’t such a swell idea. Seriously, if I had been just a tad more vindictively inclined, I might very well have gutted him then and there, or at least bashed his head in with a big rubber mallet,” he throws out, hoping to make Thor realize what could have been the fate of his precious little baby brother under less favourable circumstances.

 

“And you would have been well within your rights, as much as the fact grieves me.”

 

Okay, not at all the answer he had been expecting. Especially not from Thor, who’s the poster picture of forgiveness and gracious second chances when it comes to Loki.

 

And it makes Tony cringe on the inside. For all he cares, Thor should be raging, fuming, calling forth black clouds of thunder as he canalizes his wrath into a fire show of lightning splitting the sky, but nothing of the sort happens. Because having grown up in Asgard, with their pre-packaged views on concepts like justice and slavery, apparently comes with a set of value dissonance that Tony can’t even begin to unravel. He realizes, then, that there is no point in continuing this discussion, no use trying to persuade Thor of his point of view.

 

So he decides to change the subject instead.

 

“Doesn’t Odin realize he’s kinda tempting fate here, placing an enslaved criminal in a single person’s custody like this? I know Loki’s got those pretty magic bracelets and all so he can’t turn people into cockroaches or turn all traffic lights green at the same time anymore, but what’s to keep him from sneaking off and heading for the hills?” Tony asks, cocking his head to the side.

 

“I mean, not that he’ll get past even the first layer of security in this tower, but I doubt that Allfather almighty has any clue about artificial intelligence and motion detectors and electronic locks and all that fancy stuff that will keep Loki from getting even his pinky toe across the threshold unless I want him to. Correct me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t keeping a guy like Loki locked up in a dungeon be a lot safer option than placing him in someone’s house?” Not that the Aesir seem like the epitome of logical reasoning, but there’s gotta be some thought behind it all.

 

Thor shakes his head sadly. “They know he won’t try to escape. Heimdall is keeping watch.”

 

O-kay, so that clears it all up. Not. “And exactly who’s this Heimdall?” The name does ring a bell, though it’s one of those small, jingly ones rather than the kind that hangs in church towers.

 

“Heimdall guards the Bifrost, the rainbow bridge,” Thor informs him. “However, that is not all he does. He is also the watchman of Asgard, and he sees everything in the Nine realms that he turns his eye towards. He’s been given the task of keeping an extra watch on Loki, to make sure he does not escape or cause any further trouble in the human realm.”

 

Tony can’t help but smirk. “Wow, sounds like you’ve got quite the peeping Tom there, buddy. Who would have known that even the gods have such raging perverts roaming in their midst?” He scratches his goatee thoughtfully, thumb running across his cheek. Then he points a finger at Thor and scoots forward, an eager expression on his face. “Hey, you’d think there’d be any chance he’d be willing to lend that power to me as a reward for my active participation in carrying out Asgard’s judicial rulings? I mean, there’s this really hot chick with legs a mile long who lives a few blocks away, and I’d love the chance to sneak a peak when she --“

 

“Please, this is no laughing matter,” the god interrupts him, holding up a hand for silence. “As I said, should my brother escape, it will come to Heimdall’s knowledge soon enough, and there would be a scouting party sent out to find him and bring him back to Asgard for execution.” The last word is spoken in a throaty whisper, as if Thor thinks that merely speaking it out loud will bring ill fortune.

 

And Tony isn’t sure he wants to know, but he has to ask anyway, or he wouldn’t be Tony.

 

“And exactly how would he be executed, should he try to escape?”

 

Thor tells him, and Tony can feel his face go at least three shades paler. These Norse gods don’t mess around. And they sure as hell don’t play nice either.

 

“So, uh, what’s wrong with just chopping his head off? It sure would be a lot less, well, messy for the cleaning crew,” he says, trying to sound flippant but knowing he’s failing when he hears the strain in his own voice.

 

Thor has that sad puppy-face back on again. “It is how things are done among the Aesir; however, I do not expect you to understand Asgardian justice, my friend. Sometimes I’m not sure that I… fully understand everything of it myself.” He shakes his head, as if slightly confused by his own admission.

 

Tony ponders this, but before he can answer it’s Thor's turn to abruptly change the subject. “Friend, I am tired and weary after my travels, and the hour is growing late. If you have a bed to spare in your abode, I would be most grateful.”

 

Sure, Tony has a spare bed alright. Heck, he even has a spare floor, if need be. Or several of them, to be exact.

 

“No problem, buddy, just squeeze yourself into the first room to the left down that corridor,” he points over his shoulder, rather glad for the conversation to come to an end. It’s been a long day.

 

“I thank you for your gracious hospitality,” Thor says formally and inclines his head in appreciation as he makes to stand up, his bright red robe making a dramatic flutter, and Tony can’t help but wonder if there’s some kind of Asgardian spell or enchantment placed on those things that make them billow so heroically from even the slightest movement. If Thor’s pompous flair is at all any indication of what the Aesir are like in general, he sure wouldn’t put it past them. Perhaps it’s their version of Earth’s designer brand jeans or blingy gold teeth.

 

Then there’s suddenly a heavy hand squeezing his shoulder, pressing him down two thirds of the distance separating his face from the tabletop, as Thor comes to a halt next to him, ever not-mindful of the strength differences between gods and mortals.

 

“I also wish to thank you for my brother being in good health, despite the atrocities he has committed against your world and your people. You have treated him more kindly than what could reasonably be expected, and you have my gratitude, Man of Iron.”

 

For once in his life, Tony doesn’t really have a reply to offer.

Chapter Text

When he wakes up, it is after a restless night full of strange and unpleasant dreams that he can’t quite remember, but the vague sense of unease lingers nonetheless. It’s still early in the morning, at least if you’d consult the Tony Stark circadian rhythm, but he doesn’t feel like going back to sleep – and isn’t sure he would even be able to – so instead he crawls out from under the covers and lumbers off to the bathroom for a nice hot shower.

 

Having made it into the shower cabin, he turns the temperature-regulating knob almost as far to the red side as it goes. Then he stands there, letting the heated water run over his body, futilely hoping it will wash off the unpleasant feeling clinging to him as well.

 

Truth be told, he really isn’t looking forward to a common breakfast with the two gods currently lodged in his tower. The situation is just too freaking weird. Sure he’s gotten used to eating with Loki by now, and he’s never had a problem eating with Thor, barring that annoying habit of smashing empty cups on the floor that got old very quickly, but having both of them at the table at the same time, given the situation? Not something he’d willingly sign up for, that’s for sure.

 

He grabs a bottle of shampoo off the shower rack, pouring a big glob of pinecone or pine needle or whatever-scented goo into his palm and proceeds to rub the stuff into his hair. Very thoroughly. For a very long time.

 

Okay, so he’s stalling and he knows it, but his insides are positively churning at the idea of eating breakfast with Loki and Thor. At the same time.

 

Actually, he has yet to even be in the same room as both of them. After big brother had had his talk with little brother yesterday, Jarvis had informed him that little brother went straight to his room, and Tony figured it would be a good idea to let him stay there without adding any commentary to whatever it was that Thor had said. He could imagine that Loki needed some time to himself having had his first meeting with Thor after… everything.

 

It wasn’t as if he had had any idea what to say to him anyway, and judging by his own conversation with Thor afterwards, Loki had been anything but happy to see him.

 

Well, not that he’d been all rainbows and sunshine before Thor’s surprise visit, but it sure didn’t seem like his mood had benefited from his brother’s presence, quite the opposite.

 

The shampoo has been rinsed off by now, so he pours another glob out and massages it into his scalp. Yeah, his hair could probably need it after his having spent so much time in his workshop lately; it’s not exactly the cleanest place in this tower to put it mildly. And it’s not like he’s stalling. Not at all.

 

He remains standing in the shower for a long time after every trace of the second shampooing has disappeared and his skin has turned bright red from the hot water. It is only then that he finally turns the stream of water off and reaches for a towel, very slowly and meticulously drying himself off.

 


 

He enters the kitchen with an ugly grimace, sighing to himself as he eyes the table in front of him, well aware of what it heralds.

 

“So where are our guest hiding, Jarvis?” he enquires, pretty sure that both of them are long since up and running.

 

“Mr Layfeyson is in the library, and Mr Odinson is in the living room, trying to work out how the TV remote works,” comes the reply.

 

Great. He hopes ‘trying to work out’ isn’t just another way of saying ‘picking apart’, but in Thor’s case, the two probably amount to the same thing. Then again, a broken remote would be the least of his problems right now.

 

“Would you tell them that it’s time for breakfast?”

 

“As you wish, sir.”

 

And then Tony can only wait while speculating who out of Chip and Dale will make it to the kitchen first. The sound of brisk footsteps reaching his ears only a few moments later tells him that it’s big brother.

 

“Good morning, Friend Stark,” Thor booms as he enters, his appearance complete with both cape and armour and boots despite the objective of his quest being nothing more dramatic than the breakfast table.

 

“Morning, big guy,” Tony says more casually than he feels. “Have a seat and breakfast will be served in a minute.”

 

Thor obeys and Tony proceeds to rummage through his cupboards and refrigerator for something that will constitute proper morning fare for a thunder god. He doesn’t usually keep a whole lot of breakfast-like food around, but he doubts Thor is going to be picky, given his usual food-is-food mentality.

 

Well, at least there’s enough stuff in here to make a few decent sandwiches, and then there’s always those Cheerios that Loki normally eats.

 

Speaking of which, there is suddenly another set of footsteps incoming, this time slower and more subdued as god number two shuffles into the kitchen, reluctantly taking his seat at the table, looking as sullen as Tony has ever seen him.

 

“Good morning, brother,” Thor rumbles, receiving an indistinct mumble in return.

 

Tony makes sure to busy himself at the cupboards. But as there are no further exchanges between the two, eventually he turns, placing bowls and cups and bread and Cheerios and various other stuff on the table. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Thor watching him with a strange but unreadable look on his face. Tony isn’t sure exactly what the problem is, so he ignores it for now as he sets a jar of butter – whose expiry date he hopes isn’t too far back in history – and finally takes a seat himself.

 

It is only then he understands what the cause of that odd look from Thor is.

 

Tony is the one fixing the breakfast and setting the table. Not Loki.

 

And of course, that’s not the ways things are done in Asgard, right? No, it’s pretty safe to say that back there, Loki would have been doing all that, and, most likely, he wouldn’t even have been allowed to sit at the table once he was finished.

 

The realization makes him freeze up – even if Thor wouldn’t have liked it, he had most likely expected it, that Tony would have Loki serve them, treating him like it would have been appropriate for someone of his station in Asgard.

 

The disturbing picture rises before his inner eye – how would Thor have acted if Tony had indeed ordered Loki around like a master would no doubt have done to a slave back where he comes from? Exactly how uncomfortable would he have been with that? Would he at all have said something, reacted in any way? Or just done his best to be a good guest and pretend as if nothing was wrong or out of the ordinary?

 

He really doesn’t know.

 

In an effort to stave off further thoughts of the kind, he gestures towards the food, clearing his throat that is starting to feel uncomfortably tight. “Okay, just dig in,” he says, trying to sound flippant.

 

Thor throws him a grateful glance as the puzzled lines in his face smooth themselves out, and eagerly clutches a piece of bread and some cheese. Somehow, though, Tony gets the feeling that the gratitude and relief on Thor’s face doesn’t have anything to do with the offer of food.

 

He makes a grab for some bread himself, and Loki goes for his usual Cheerios. And so starts another awkward and silent breakfast, despite Tony thinking he’s had enough of them to last him a lifetime. Well, he supposes it’s at least a few notes less awkward then it would have been if he had actually had Loki serve them instead of eating with them. And the question of how Thor would have taken that, how he would have reacted, still eats at him and refuses to leave him alone.

 

Somehow, the rather non-existing appetite he started out with seems to have left him completely as the bite of sandwich only grows in his mouth for every chew.

 

And then there is suddenly a much more unsettling thought rearing its ugly head in his mind, making his stomach do an uncomfortable somersault.

 

How would Thor have reacted if Tony had backhanded Loki across the face, right in front of him? What would he have said? Would he have said anything at all? Would he have gotten angry, upset, horrified, anything else? Would he have done anything?

 

He glances over at Thor who’s sitting there chewing on his food with what looks like more or less his usual appetite. Of course, Thor could easily stop him should he want to, but the question is – would he?

 

He swallows before the piece of sandwich in his mouth grows too big and he has too spit it out. Instead, he tries to think of something else – oh yeah, that beta-electro-transformer that Point Break was inadvertently responsible for destroying needs fixing – but his treacherous brain will have none of it. No, it decides to step things up a notch, taking the word ‘disturbing’ to entirely new levels.

 

What if he hadn’t stopped at a mere backhand to the face? What if he’d proceeded to give Loki a lengthy beating, right there in front of Thor? Would he have stepped in then? Or would he just have sat there watching with clenched jaw and fists, or perhaps looked away or left the room? Or would he actually have intervened, despite Tony exercising nothing more than what would be his rights, according to Asgard’s laws? Would Thor have spoken up, trying to persuade Tony to stop? Yeah, he probably would have, he can’t imagine anything else. But what if Tony had refused to listen? Would he have done anything else than offering further useless pleas? What if Loki had begged his brother to step in? Would Thor have done it then? What if Loki had gotten to a state where he wasn’t even able to beg Thor for anything anymore, would he have stepped in then, physically intervening?

 

And to be honest, he has no clear answers to any of those questions. He sure knows what he hopes the answers would be, but there’s no way of knowing for sure.

 

Grimacing, he looks down at his half-eaten sandwich. There’s no way he can eat any more of it. Again, he looks over to Thor, who doesn’t see to suffer from the same food-related affliction.

 

He watches as the god finishes the last sandwich and then proceeds to pick up some of the larger bread crumbs from the tabletop, munching them down too. Tony sighs. So the bread is gone, devoured by a ravenous alien, but he doesn’t want anyone, including ravenous aliens, to leave his table hungry, so he scoots the box of Cheerios over to the god.

 

“Try some of these,” he says. “Don’t want you to start chewing on my furniture because you’re starving.”

 

Thor eyes the box in confusion, then looks at Tony in further confusion, not speaking a word. And that makes Tony confused too, because while he does remember Loki being confused (and why is there suddenly so much confusion everywhere) about the box of Cheerios during his first breakfast here, Thor is used to modern-day food and its packaging by now, so it shouldn’t puzzle him. Especially not since he’s just seen Loki eating of them, so it should be perfectly clear to him how it’s done.

 

And that’s when he realizes that that’s the source of Thor’s confusion right there. Loki has been eating them, unlike Thor and Tony who have been favouring the sandwiches. And so, he’s naturally assuming that since Tony is serving them to Loki, the Cheerios must be a substandard kind of food. And of course, whatever slop you’d give a slave to eat in Asgard would never be something you’d offer to a guest.

 

And despite feeling less and less hungry by the second, Tony reaches out for the box, dragging it over to his side of the table. “You know, I think I’ll have some myself,” he says as casually as he can manage, pouring a stream of the stuff into his own bowl. The Cheerios clatter dully but audibly against the porcelain in the silence hanging over the kitchen table.

 

Then he scoots the box back over to Thor. “How about trying some?” he says way more cheerfully than he feels.

 

The look on Thor’s face is one of even more confusion, but this time mixed in with something else that makes his features light up a little, as he slowly grabs the garish box in front of him, pouring a generous helping into his own bowl.

 

Chapter Text

As soon as breakfast is finished, it is no great surprise that Tony excuses himself, leaving the kitchen with a curt comment that if anyone needs him, he’ll be down in his workshop.

 

And Loki is in the undesirable position of being alone with Thor again. Thor, who’s eyeing him across the table with those piercing blue eyes that he wishes would look at anything else than him sitting here in his humiliation, the mere slave of a mortal.

 

The confusion all but radiating from Thor during their breakfast had been obvious – why Tony would let his slave eat food fit for free men, why he didn’t have him serve at the table, why someone of his lowly station was even allowed to sit there and eat with them in the first place. He should know what Thor was thinking, of course, because it was the exact same things that had confused him too.

 

And if Thor wants to know the answer to those whys, he might as well ask Tony, because Loki doesn’t really have any answer to give him.

 

“Brother,” Thor finally breaks the silence, “I am truly relieved to see how many of my initial worries on your behalf were indeed unfounded.”

 

Of course, Thor and Tony are shield brothers, having joined to fight the same enemy – namely him – so obviously, Thor knows Tony and what the man is like, so his expectations of what Loki would have to face here had most likely not been nearly as terrible as what Loki had expected. But it is clear how Thor had nonetheless assumed that even if Loki might not be subjected to any overt cruelty or brutality, because apparently Tony finds no enjoyment in such things, he would still in other regards be treated more or less in accordance to what his station would have suggested.

 

While he’s glad that Tony hasn’t openly debased him in front of Thor, there is still humiliation in knowing how obvious it is what Thor is thinking, his surprise that Tony isn’t treating him the way a slave would be in Asgard. That he’s allowed to sit at the table as opposed to kneeling at Tony’s feet. That he’s being fed decent food rather than unappetizing scraps.

 

Every little detail of that would be obvious even to someone as oblivious as Thor. And he knows that’s what’s been on the Thunderer’s mind during the entire breakfast. In a way, it makes his station even more blatant, makes it stand out like a sore thumb, the many ways he’s not being treated as expected.

 

“Midgardians do many things differently,” Thor suddenly interrupts his thoughts. “You should count yourself lucky.”

 

And he can’t take sitting here with Thor, listening to whatever it is he has to say. He really just can’t

 

It is only stalling, of course, but at least it will give him some small respite of not having to talk to Thor.

 

“You will have to excuse me, Thor,” he says as impassively as he can manage, the cool aloofness in his voice at odds with the abruptness with which he stands up, “but my master has work that he expects me to perform. I’m sure you would not wish to keep me from it.”

 

He enjoys the way Thor’s face falls a little as Loki turns on his heel and walks off, leaving him alone in the kitchen. 

 


 

 

“Brother, please, at least try to make the best out of your situation as it is. Things could have been so much worse; surely you realize this. At least this way, you have another chance!”

 

Yes, and another day as well, and another attempt from Thor at making dull conversation.

 

Of course, Thor had walked in just as the box of papers had been sorted, as if he had known the exact moment that Loki was finished with his task. Probably, Jarvis had told him.

 

And Loki doesn’t want to hear any of it, he really doesn’t. So his eventual reaction to Thor’s endless prattle is to stalk out of the room with as much dignity as he can muster, but the other man simply traipses after him, his mouth not even ceasing to move as he trails in Loki’s footsteps, refusing to let him off the hook. Thor’s voice is pleading, insistent, and it grates at his ears. It’s telling him things he doesn’t want to hear, forces him to reflect over truths he doesn’t feel like considering.

 

So Loki freezes in his tracks, spins around and fixes him with a frosty glare, one that would have turned lesser beings into icicles.

 

“Another chance of what exactly, Thor?” he spits out, words laced with venom. “Another chance of humiliation, degradation, of being ordered around like a pet on a leash? What else is there possibly to expect from my current situation?”

 

Thor sighs, and his fists clench a couple of times, closing on empty air made thick with the animosity that’s hanging over the room.

 

“I’m just saying, Loki,” he mumbles softly, “that things could have been worse. You could have been sentenced to execution, but as it is, you’re still alive. Odin told me that at your trial, you were given the option of death, but you didn’t choose that, so at least --“

 

“Yes, because death is surely the benchmark against which to judge a situation as desirable or not,” he snaps back, eyeing Thor as if he is a dimwit. Which isn’t all that far from the truth, of course.

 

He has to reluctantly admire Thor’s persistence, though. Usually he would have driven the Thunderer to the brink of despair by now with his wringing of words and twisting of their meaning and semblance. But this time, his not-brother is refusing to be baited and keeps his otherwise short temper and frail patience under control.

 

But it’s all so pointless. There is nothing Thor can say or do that will change anything. The Allfather has already turned a deaf ear to his oldest son’s pleas, so words are useless and devoid of purpose. Loki has received his sentence, and that’s all there is to it, as far as Thor should be concerned. It would be better if he just ran back to his Midgardian lover instead of harping on about things that can’t be changed.

 

However, Thor takes aim anew, tries another angle and sneaks in at Loki from the sidelines.

 

“Loki,” he sighs, still not giving up. “Odin might have taken away your magic and your powers, but there was no way for him to take away you immortality, was it?

 

Loki narrows his eyes. No, he’ll still live as long a life as he would have before all of this, provided that nothing kills him in the meantime. His life span is a part of his nature, of his very being and no magic can take that away, not even Odin’s. Of course, given the laughable fragility of his current body, there are still a million things that could end his life prematurely, even in this realm, and one of them probably will, eventually.

 

“And your point is?” He folds his arms, looking down his nose at Thor as if he’s a simple worm crawling pathetically on the ground and would be better off if someone stomped a heavy boot on him.

 

“My point is, what do you expect will happen when Tony is dead? He’s a mortal, and will be lucky if he lives to see a century,” Thor presses on.

 

And the question, so carelessly thrown out, is one that stings and gets under his skin like a spike pressed under his fingernails, and it’s something that he’s tried not dwelling too much upon. Despite his own long lifespan, his current circumstances make it hard for him to look further beyond the horizon than the next day; the thought that a century ahead, or even only a year from now, he will still be a slave is one he has still not come to terms with. Merely trying to deal with his life one day at a time is enough for now.

 

Bur what little consideration he has given the subject has merely boiled down to the assumption that it will be just like on Asgard – when a man dies, all his possessions, including any slaves belonging to his household, will be passed over to the heirs. Granted, Tony doesn’t have any children, but that could change, and if not, there should be other family members coming out of the woodworks to squabble over the inheritance. Rich men are seldom without heirs to claim the remains. 

 

The thought is unnerving, to say nothing of the humiliation of being passed over like chattel, like property.

 

However, when he had first arrived here, his immediate attention had been on getting through his ordeal with Tony; whatever lay beyond that was something he thought he would deal with once he got there. And in his feeble attempts of grasping for even the slightest straw of hope, he had wanted to picture being passed over to the next in line as a small step up. A possible improvement, getting another master with fewer reasons to hate him, who might have no recollections or personal experience of his doings in New York. Someone he’s never thrown out of a window of any sort.

 

But now, he’s come to realize that the ‘beyond’ will probably turn out to be a worsening of conditions. After all, would a new master show him the same… lenience that Tony has, for inexplicable reasons, shown?

 

Most likely not.

 

“I’m sure there will be some other mortal in line waiting for me to be passed onto them for their petty amusements. What difference does it make? I will remain a slave regardless, why should it matter who holds my leash?” he shoots back, trying to take satisfaction in the crease of exasperation wrinkling the space between Thor’s eyebrows.

 

Thor takes a step closer, and Loki moves an equal distance in the opposite direction. For quite some time, they’ve moved around in circles like this, Thor advancing and Loki retreating, like they’re trapped in a bizarre cosmic dance, forced to repeat the strange and meaningless moves for all eternity.

 

Obviously realizing he’s not going to get any closer to Loki, Thor makes a compromise and reaches out a pleading hand in his direction instead, urging him to listen. “Of course it matters. Tony has been a kind master, has he not? Perhaps the one after him will be as well. And the next one too. But eventually, along the line, there might be someone who is not as kind, and who might actually… hurt you.”

 

Loki turns his head away, looking out the window at the sky outside, still beautiful despite the gray thunderclouds gathering. And still out of reach for him, still an unattainable dream.

 

“And that’s supposed to make me feel better?” he snorts. “Seriously, just say what you came here to say, that I deserve this.” There’s a tremble in his voice that he’s not sure where it came from and he wills it to go away. “You and Odin and his Council and the rest of Asgard, you all agree – I deserve this. Frankly, I don’t see what you coming here to tell me the same thing as what everyone else already believes will accomplish. You’re wasting your time, and mine as well, even though I have precious little other use for it.”

 

Thor’s face softens at that. “No, Loki, that’s not what I came here to say.” He makes a short pause, weighing his words before speaking again. “What I mean is that such a fate might be avoided if you accept this as your penance. A way to redemption, if you will. Perhaps then, Odin will be willing to grant you a pardon, maybe put a time-limit to your sentence. If you show repentance, that you have learned your lesson, maybe you might have your freedom yet again.”

 

If his situation had been different, he would have been amused at the ridiculous look of childish hope and naiveté manifesting itself on Thor’s face. Does the big lout honestly believe that the Allfather will change his mind like men change clothes, that Odin will be so easily swayed?

 

“Are you truly that stupid, or do you have to make an extra effort in order to come off like such a fool?” The insult is uncreative and dull, but it feels good as it rolls off his tongue, like lifting the lid covering a kettle of boiling water to ease the raging pressure inside.

 

“Mind your words, brother.” Thor’s face darkens, and his voice is a notch lower, a clear sign of anger building up. “You are hardly in a position to accuse others of foolishness after your own thoughtless actions.” He crosses his arms, puffing his chest out. Whether Thor does that consciously or not, Loki can’t tell, but he’s seen his not-brother assume that stance far too many times to count.

 

“Ah, so the great and mighty Thor speaks. Always belittling others and pointing out their faults in order to make himself look superior. You’re still the same as you were before Odin banished you to Midgard, aren’t you?” Loki snaps, not caring in the slightest that Thor is glaring daggers at him.

 

“Then it would seem I am in good company. Because clearly, you are still as conceited and self-destructive as when-- “

 

“Hey guys!”

 

Both Loki and Thor turn towards the third voice unexpectedly breaking into their little argument.

 

Tony is lounging in the doorway, an arm up against the doorframe, following the proceedings with a look of vague interest on his face. He flashes a grin at them, and Loki uncomfortably wonders just how long he’s been standing there.

 

“Well, nothing like a good old family argument to get the juices flowing, is there?” Tony says matter-of-factly, raising an eyebrow into an elegant arc. “Hate to break things up before they really get going, but pizza is here, and I’m sure as hell not going to eat it all by myself.” His fingers trail down to his side, grabbing at a non-existing love-handle. “Besides, I’ve already gained two pounds since last week; can you imagine that? It’s a travesty, I tell you!”

 

Loki and Thor throw another frosty glance at each other, but neither speaks further and merely follows Tony as he leads the way into the kitchen.

 

Chapter Text

Pepperoni and cheese. Lots of cheese. Tony grabs another one of the slices left in the greasy pizza box and bites into it, chewing loudly.

 

“Mmm, this stuff’s awesome!” he says, mouth full. “Come on, help yourself, the pizza isn’t going to eat it itself.” He scoots one of the boxes across the table to the two Asgardians sitting at the other side, both of them looking more like sulking children than gods.

 

Thor listlessly helps himself to another slice, but doesn’t stuff his face with his usual ravenous appetite, but puts the offered food into his mouth mechanically, as if he is feeding a machine. Loki merely nibbles on his slice, looking equal amounts confused and annoyed with the endlessly long strings of cheese his action produces.

 

“Hey, I thought you gods could eat an entire pig in one sitting. Never thought some pizza would be too much for you,” he jabs, trying to put a crack into the uncomfortable silence hanging over the dinner table. Heck, someone needs to say something.

 

“We are most appreciative of this fine food, Man of Iron,” Thor booms, ever mindful of the manners Asgardian customs no doubt demand of a guest, “but I fear the mood of me and my brother is not conducive to our appetites.”

 

Tony takes another bite, and then wipes his finger on the already grease-stained paper towel lying all crumbled up next to his plate. “Yeah, family spats tend to have that effect, I know all about it.” He nonchalantly waves the remainders of his pizza slice around in one hand. “So what’s the big deal, did little brother here want to play with your hammer and big brother told him that he couldn’t?”

 

Alright, so he did hear enough of their argument to get the gist of it, but whatever.

 

Thor shakes his head, slightly frowning and still as impenetrable to sarcasm as ever. “No, Mjölnir had nothing to do with it. What we were discussing was another matter entirely.”

 

Well, ‘discussing’ is a nice way to put it. Tony would personally have referred to it as ‘bickering’ or, more aptly, ‘bitching’. But he supposes that starting a debate about the proper terminology isn’t going to help things along here.

 

“I have already told you, the will of the Allfather will not be swayed on a mere whim,” Loki mutters, sounding like he’s repeating something he’s already said a hundred times before.

 

“Not on a mere whim, Loki.” Thor throws back at his brother, the poster picture of a sibling believing himself to be not only older but also wiser than his counterpart. “But if you were to show repentance and --“ 

 

Loki’s eyes narrow as he leans back in his seat, dropping the remainder of his pizza back onto his plate. “Why do you insist on feeding yourself these delusions, Thor? Even you should know better than to indulge such foolish notions.” He crosses his arms, staring the bulkier god down, daring him to object.

 

The air between them is heating up again, as old grievances and discontent flare anew.

 

“Why do you always have to make things so difficult, brother?” Thor all but shouts in frustration as he stands up and leans over the table, patience worn thin. “Why do you turn your back to the possibility, no matter how small it might be, that your sentence might be reduced? Do you want to spend the rest of your life in slavery?” A fist slams down on the tabletop, making the plates rattle.

 

“Why should it even matter what I want,” Loki throws back, on the surface more controlled than his brother, but obviously seething all the same, “when there is nothing that can be done that will change anything?” 

 

“Alright,” Tony interrupts, trying to calm the situation down before it turns into a Jerry Springer-esque chair throwing family contest. “So what you’re basically saying here, Thor, is that you think there’s a chance that Odin might decide to let this slavery thing be a temporary phase and not a for-life deal? Kind of like getting out of prison early for good behaviour?”

 

He can see Loki watching him out of the corner of his eye, but pretends not to notice.

 

There are fine lines around Thor’s eyes, like he hasn’t slept in days, but he nods slowly and gingerly. “Even though I might not truly dare to hope for it, there could be a chance. I can… speak to the Allfather, see if there might be a way to convince him.”

 

“And it worked so well last time you tried to appeal to his good will, didn’t it?” Loki mutters, eyes dark as he regards his brother, apparently not impressed in the slightest.

 

Thor ignores Loki’s criticism as he speaks again, voice solemn. “Even if Odin will not listen, it is still worth a try.” He nods, clearly having made up his mind, sounding like he’s talking to himself rather than to any of the other two sitting around the table, but the note of confidence in his voice is unmistakeable. “Yes. I shall go back to Asgard, and entreat Odin to consider my proposal. I am his son and regardless of his decision, he will at least have to hear me out on this.”

 

“Atta boy!” Tony cheers him on, one fist raised into an encouraging salute, and the other reaching over to slap the blond god on the shoulder. “You go tell your old man just where he can stick his sense of justice!”

 

Loki, on his part, only glares at his brother.

 


 

He’s surprised when Thor seeks him out shortly after the pizza boxes have been discarded, telling him that he is leaving for Asgard.

 

“Uh, you mean, like now?” Tony blurts out, taken a bit aback. Then again, he supposes he shouldn’t be too surprised – Thor only needs to do that apparating thing and he’ll be back home in no time. It’s not like he has to catch a plane or bock any tickets or do any stuff usually associated with travel here on Earth.

 

“Yes,” Thor acknowledges. “Like I mentioned at dinner, I have to go see Odin and ask him to consider showing lenience in Loki’s sentence.”

 

“Yeah, I heard that. I just thought… you wouldn’t literally be leaving, like, ten minutes later,” Tony says, raking a hand through his hair. “I mean, not that you’ve got any stuff you need to pack before you go or anything, but I didn’t expect you to just jump on the next bus like that.”

 

Thor nods in understanding. “I am sorry to leave so hastily, but I must return to Asgard. As a prince, I have many duties to my realm that I have ignored during my long stay with Lady Jane here in Midgard. It was only the knowledge that those duties could wait no longer that eventually forced my step back to Asgard. Of course, I quickly came back again when I found out what had happened to Loki. But now, I can linger here no longer. Rest assured I will return, though,” he says solemnly, the words accentuated by a dramatic flutter of his cape that Tony hopes was caused by a nearby air conditioning vent.

 

“Looking forward to it, buddy.” Well, it’s by no means entirely a lie.

 

Then Thor turns serious, and he takes a step closer to Tony as he puts a hand on his shoulder, effectively ignoring any notions of personal space.

 

“I know it is untoward to be asking even more of you, but I cannot leave in good conscience otherwise,” the god says, his eyes boring into Tony’s with the force of a thousand suns.

 

The concern written into that face is so clear that there is no doubt just who Thor’s request will revolve around, so Tony only waits in silence for the specifics to be expanded on.

 

“Please make sure that Loki stays safe.” The words are so soft that they’re almost whispered. Then there is a short pause, during which Thor swallows audibly. “If he should escape and Heimdall finds out, he will not meet with a kind fate.”

 

Yeah, Tony already got that part loud and clear.

 

“Don’t worry, Hercules. I’ll make sure he stays put,” he reassures the god before him, patting the hand still on his shoulder in a way that he hopes is manly but feels more awkward than anything.

 

Relief washes over Thor’s face as he squeezes Tony’s shoulder a little harder. Well, quite a lot harder.

 

“Thank you, Man of Iron. For… everything.”

 

And it’s obvious that Thor isn’t referring to the pizza.

 

Though, to be fair, it was some really good pizza.

 


 

Sometimes he wonders if the window sill will start taking on the imprint of his ass for all the times he’s been sitting here gazing out through the window from he doesn’t know how many levels up.

 

It is a small consolation, but a consolation nonetheless, that Thor has finally left for Asgard on his fool’s errand. At least that means that Loki won’t have to listen to the lout spouting off his vain notions of how the Allfather might be persuaded to change his mind and actually grant some amount of clemency to his not-son.

 

As if that is ever going to happen. The only thing that Thor is doing, which he refuses to understand, just like he’s normally incapable of seeing reason and logic, is feeding Loki false hopes that will only be extinguished like a burning candle wick that someone effortlessly snuffs out between two fingertips. And truth be told, he did feel a flicker of empty, false hope inside of him when Thor brought that possibility up, even though his rational mind already knew that it was not to be, no matter how much he might yearn for it. Odin is not someone to second-guess his own decisions, nor is he one to show criminals leniency.

 

No, not in something like this, not when Odin has the entire Council to back him up on his ruling. And doesn’t he just remember the pleased faces of those Council members as his sentence was read out in court, how they were looking at him with ill-concealed contentment and satisfaction, probably already imagining all the humiliation and horrors he would have to suffer as a slave of one of his worst enemies in Midgard.

 

So in the end, Thor can plead and beg and beseech all he likes before Odin’s throne, even abase and prostrate himself, but that’s not going to change anything, Loki knows it already.

 

No, not even Odin’s favourite, the golden son who was always the apple of his father’s eyes, will be enough to sway the Allfather. For once, Thor’s entreaties will be met will indifference and coldness.

 

And Loki will remain a slave in Midgard until his dying day. There will be no second chances, no clemency for him.

 

But of course, Thor in all his self-righteous glory refused to see reason, and ventured off like a champion going out on a heroic quest, full of confidence and pomp, after speaking empty promises and dramatic words of parting.

 

In the end, nothing will change for him. He’ll stay Tony’s slave, only to eventually be passed on to whoever is in line to inherit the mortal’s riches, and then, later still, on to the next one, and the next…

 

He looks at the sky again; it’s a sharp blue with puffy clouds slowly moving across the vast expanse. Perhaps he will only ever get to stand beneath it, out in the open, when the time for a change of masters has come and he’ll be taken somewhere else.

 

It’s a sobering thought.

 

Of course, Stark Tower makes for infinitely better accommodations than the dungeons back in Asgard, but it’s a prison nonetheless. Spending his days inside the confines of these walls, performing the tasks that Tony tells him to, prowling the tower back and forth, only to return to sit on this window sill, is like having a choking snare around his neck, slowly but surely tightening its hold.

 

And having Thor come back here, a walking reminder of Asgard and his old life there, back when he was still free and not a pitiful slave, hasn’t served to make things any easier to deal with. It’s like an open wound getting salt rubbed into it, making it burn and sting like a thousand needles.

 

The sky beckons him, but all he can do is sit here and stare back at it. And that makes him want to scream and bang his fists bloody against the glass.

Chapter Text

As eager as Thor had been when he came here, he had seemed almost as eager to go back home again and try to convince his daddy that his little brother deserved better than spending the rest of his life as someone’s property.

 

And frankly, Tony sort of suspects that part of it might have had something to do with Loki’s behaviour. It hadn’t exactly been welcoming or joyful. More like accusatory and blaming, from what he’d seen.

 

As tempting as it had been, he hadn’t listened in on any of their private conversations, though. Sure, he had stood there for several minutes hunched over one of his monitors, debating with himself whether to tell Jarvis to bring up a live feed from the only other currently occupied room in the tower. He had been close, because Tony Stark is nothing if not a nosy bastard, but in the end he had decided not to. There was just something about the situation that had held him off.

 

Probably the fact that Loki is his slave, and as such not entitled to privacy or to anything whatsoever, according to Asgard’s way of doing things. And perhaps that’s why, in a roundabout kind of spite, he’d let the guy have his little family reunion without someone listening in on it.

 

Hundreds of years of family issues to work out, perfect fodder for any American talk show worth its name. And he’d rather not touch that with a ten-foot pole if he can avoid it. It’s not like his own family relations were ever stellar, so he’s hardly in any position to talk or offer advice to anyone else in that regard.

 

He looks down at the broken beta-electro-transformer, lying in pieces on the workbench in front of him where he left it after Thor unexpectedly came knocking, the only remaining reminder of his alien visitor.

 

Now, the god is back in Viking space land again, as quickly gone as he had come. And there are so many things that Tony had wanted to ask him, but had never gotten around to.

 

What am I going to do with Loki now? What it is that Asgard expects of me? What do you expect of me?

 

But he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. It was too awkward discussing the more… personal aspects of Loki’s slavery with Thor. Sure, he had no problem telling the guy exactly how fucked-up he thought Asgard’s justice system was, or how much he didn’t approve of this situation, but he’d still been unable to bring up all those other things.

 

He remembers clear as a day that teetering moment, when he had found himself face to face with a flustered and yet oddly subdued Thor, right after the god had been given admittance to the tower. The grip on his arm, slightly trembling as Thor looked at him without speaking a word, face taut and gaze burning with emotions. The unspoken question in his eyes, the unmasked fear, the worry, the flicker of uncertainty crossing his features – all could easily be read in the god’s face before he had spoken even a word. And he could see the silent prayer, the unspoken plea that things would be alright, that there was no reason to worry, that everything was fine. The way Thor was desperately trying to decipher the look on Tony’s own face, hoping to see none of the things he was so obviously fearing, was painful to watch and made his throat constrict.

 

They had stood still like that for a few heartbeats as if time had frozen, looking into each other’s eyes, Thor’s hand on his arm, neither of them speaking a word. Seeing Thor like that just made his heart lurch. Of course, if there had ever been the slightest shadow of a doubt in his mind why Thor was here, it was gone the moment the god stood before him. It was obvious that he knew. He knew of Loki’s sentence, of his being here in the tower, of his having been made Tony’s slave.

 

And before Thor could bring himself to ask, Tony had assured him, said the words Thor had been hoping to hear, but fearing he might not. Your brother is fine. I haven’t hurt him.

 

Perhaps ‘fine’ was a lie, perhaps it wasn’t the truth at all. But he had the feeling that for Thor, merely the reassurance of Loki being safe would be enough for the moment. The other things could be dealt with… later.

 

He had thought, then, that perhaps he could talk more with Thor about Loki, about the situation, about… everything. Perhaps he just needed someone to talk with period. Thor would be the only one he could ever breech the subject of Loki with in any way, the only person who wouldn’t run screaming to SHIELD if they knew who he was harbouring in his tower.

 

It would have been the perfect opportunity to let some steam off, to just run his mouth off about the situation to someone who could finally listen to him vent his frustrations. Someone who might even have been able to, in some small measure, help him deal with the things that had been thrown upon him, or at least offered a few pieces of advice along the way.

 

But his tongue had refused to obey him. He had found neither the right moment nor the right words to say all the things he had wanted to say.

 

And soon after, while he was still trying to gather his thoughts into words and his concerns into sentences, Thor had announced that he was leaving with haste for Asgard.

 

And the moment, if there ever was one, was gone.

 

He’s still angry at himself for that, annoyed that he didn’t take the chance when he had it right there at his fingertips. Here, in his own home, had been the very person who knew Loki better than anyone, who had grown up with the now enslaved god and understood him. Someone who was familiar with Asgard’s culture and reasoning and behaviour and expectations, and could guide him along the rocky and thorny road.

 

He could have talked to Thor, could have asked him to help him out in all his confusion and uncertainty.

 

But in the end, he hadn’t.

 

Of course, Loki had had his chance as well, to talk to someone steeped in the same culture as him, someone who knew him, someone who could help him out. Who understood him in a way that Tony doesn’t, and certainly never will.

 

But from what he had gathered from seeing the two gods together, Loki hadn’t taken his offered chance either.

 

Nope, they had both let it slip between their fingers, the best chance either of them had had to get some outside assistance from perhaps the only person who might have been able to if not resolve things, then at least help them out a little bit on the way.

 

But Thor left, before any of that could happen, leaving them both stranded on square one. He curses his own stupidity. Perhaps Thor couldn’t have done much to improve the situation, but he might at least have paved the way for some alleviation of all this confusion.

 

And now he’s stuck with the same sullen, unhappy god as before, who’s trying to avoid conversation and looks as mopy as a wet poodle. Not long ago, he had actually thought he might be getting somewhere with Loki. That perhaps the god was starting to come to terms a little bit with his situation, loosening up a little. But now things seem to have regressed again.

 

Obviously, a discontented god of mischief and worse is not boding well. Like a ticking time bomb that might be planning who knows what. It’s not a pleasant thought at all.

 

Then again, from what he could tell, Thor’s visit had only served to put Loki into an ever crappier mood, so Tony isn’t sure just how much difference the thunder god could have made, even if Tony had talked to him.

 

And what should he have asked in the first place? So, any particular movies you think your little brother might enjoy? You think he’d like it if I bought him a hamster to play with? Did you know that he expected me to rape him?

 

He sighs, rubbing his palms across his face. Perhaps it’s just as well that he never got around to any serious talking with Thor. Somehow, he’s afraid it might eventually have come down to those unsavoury and unpleasant things – Loki’s previous expectations of him, his contemplating killing himself because of what he’d thought Tony was going to do to him.

 

And damn, that’s just something he can’t see himself bringing up with Thor. But in the end, perhaps it would have been impossible to avoid.

 

So in that respect, he’s relieved that Thor left before any truly uncomfortable and awkward questions could be asked. Even if the guy wouldn’t have held anything against him or accused him in any way, he’d still rather have to sit through a ten hour long session of the theme song to Spongebob Squarepants than breech that particular topic with Thor.

 

But still…

 

Sure, Thor had said during pizza that he was heading back home, but Tony hadn’t expected that it would be so soon. He’d thought he would have stayed around for a couple of days so that there’d be time to talk, not that he’d walk up to Tony and announce he was leaving now.

 

And he still remembers the way Thor had squeezed his shoulder, the look in his eyes, the heartfelt ‘thank you for everything’ that wasn’t really referring to Tony’s hospitality.

 

But in the end, he’s none the wiser now than before Thor came here, except that the importance that Loki doesn’t escape has been even more firmly imprinted in his brain. He’s promised the thunder god that much.

 

Oh well, at least he can do that – it’s what he’s been doing all this time up until now, and has every intention to keep doing.

 


 

After Thor’s visit, things are once more back to normal, everything as it was before he stopped by Tony’s tower.

 

And Loki is sitting on his usual spot on the floor again, sorting papers and documents, the supply seemingly endless.

 

His focus is interrupted by the sound of footsteps incoming. They come to a halt before him at talking distance, and Loki stops what he’s doing, letting the hands clutching the latest pile of papers fall down into his lap as he waits for whatever it is that Tony is about to say to him.

 

At first, there is only silence, and Loki just sits there staring straight ahead of him at the legs that are taking up most of his view, not looking up. He’s not sure what the man is expecting him to do, really – standing up as a sign of respect as opposed to lazily lounging on the floor, or remaining where he is, his lower position appropriate for a slave before his master.

 

He remains sitting. There are papers in his lap he would otherwise have to move out of the way, and if Tony wants him standing up, he’d say so.

 

Then, Tony suddenly crouches down before him, placing himself on equal eye level with Loki. The movement takes him by surprise, because it makes little sense why Tony would want to lower himself to the same level as his slave like this instead of just talking down to him, which is the way slaves are normally spoken to.

 

“Well, Reindeer Games,” Tony says, his fingertips softly tapping against each other as he studies Loki. “Looks like there’s only you and me again.”

 

There’s a short pause, as if Tony is considering what to say next. “I talked to Thor before he left,” the man continues, gaze not leaving Loki’s for a second. “He told me what would happen if you should try to escape and Heimdall caught wind of it.”

 

He’s not sure if he’s expected to comment on that, but since he has nothing to add, he keeps quiet. In the end, it should make little difference, if any, whether Tony is familiar with the details of that or not.

 

“You sure do things differently in Asgard, don’t you?” Tony makes a disapproving grimace. “Quite understandably, your brother was very adamant that you should avoid that particular fate. And you really should be too, if even half of what he told me is true.”

 

Tony shifts a little bit where he’s crouching, adjusting his weight to a more comfortable position. “Anyway, I promised him I’ll make sure you stay put and don’t go venturing off anywhere you shouldn’t.” He points a finger at Loki, fixing him with an unrelenting stare. “So don’t even think about doing anything stupid like that, alright? Because you’ll break your poor brother’s little heart if you do, and my promise as well.”

 

And Loki’s heart sinks to the floor at those words, because he realizes what they mean – Tony will never in a million years let him leave the tower now, not after this. Not that there was ever truly any question about that, but whatever tiny hope he might still have entertained has now been effectively squashed.

 

His head sinks and he looks down to the floor as a wave of hopelessness washes over him and his throat constricts. No, he will never get to go outside now. There’s no way that Tony will risk it, not when he has promised Thor to make sure Loki won’t escape. He’s glad he’s already sitting down; he isn’t sure his knees would have been able to hold his weight up right now.

 

There’s suddenly a finger under his chin, tilting his face up until he’s looking Tony in the eyes again. He suppresses a jerk. The touch is light, not harsh or painful in any way, but the intimacy of the gesture still serves as another unwelcome reminder of his position. Had he still been free, no one would have touched him in such a way without his permission. But of course, slaves have no rights to personal space or to their own bodies and their masters are perfectly free to touch them in any way they wish.

 

And just like he has no say in that, he similarly has no say in whether he will ever get to go outside at all.

 

“All clear?” Tony’s voice echoes in his ears.

 

And it’s clear, all so perfectly, devastatingly clear.

 

“Yes,” he answers hollowly, feeling like the air above him is trying its best to squeeze him into the ground.

 

Chapter Text

Another helping of papers has been sorted, and he stacks the filled folders into a passably neat pile on the floor next to the now empty box. Then, he merely sits there watching the folders for a little while, before his gaze inevitably drifts upwards to the window on the wall opposite.

 

The bright light assaulting him makes him blink a few times, but he doesn’t close his eyes. Instead, his longing gaze greedily feasts upon the sight of the blue expanse before him – endless and unrestrictive, like a lucid dream.

 

And he knows it’s as pointless and futile as all those other times that he's tried. The only thing it will result in is Jarvis’ voice once more haughtily repeating that Tony’s orders are for the windows and doors to remain shut.

 

And yet, he can’t help himself.

 

Slowly, he gets up from his hunched position on the floor and shuffles over to the window pane, not coming to a halt until his nose is almost flat against the glass. For what time in a row he doesn’t know – he has long ago lost count – his hand mechanically raises itself as if by its own volition, his fingers closing around the metal of the handle. At first, he just lets them rest there, imagining the window sliding open beneath his hand without protest, without Jarvis snapping to attention to inform him of the futility of his efforts.

 

After a few moments of this, he makes a little upward yank, in a desperate wish that this time, the voice will not be ringing out from its unidentifiable spot in the ceiling, though he knows better, of course.

 

At first, he wonders if he might be imagining things, if perhaps his confinement has addled his mind to such an extent that he’s hallucinating, projecting his burning desire onto relentless reality. Because this time, the voice is silent.

 

He freezes in confusion, eyes darting upwards as if he can somehow see Jarvis’ conspicuous absence manifested up there, but the AI makes no comment as the window slides impossibly open. The draft from the crack is a cool but sweet caress against his hand, and he shivers, though it’s neither from cold nor any other form of unpleasantness.

 

He’s about to push the window fully open so that he can feel that divine breeze against his face as well, breathe that invigorating, wonderful air deep into his lungs, but then stops himself as another idea is gaining hold in his mind. It’s reckless and ill-considered, of course, and he really shouldn’t, but perhaps…

 

It’s far too tempting, and despite knowing better, he can’t resist the alluring possibility unfolding before him.

 

He knows his way around the tower by now, after all his endless prowling, so he doesn’t even need to stop to consider which will be the quickest route; he follows it automatically and immediately.

 

It’s only a few flights of stairs to the top of the tower, and he hurries up the steps, half-running in his eager haste. There’s a door on the top floor leading out to the roof, he knows. And if it was possible for him to open that window, then maybe, just maybe…

 

He reaches the top of the stairs in mere moments that feel like half an eternity despite their briefness. The door, for all its modest inconspicuousness, is filling his entire vision, and it is with trembling fingers that he grabs the handle, breath hitching in his throat as they push down…

 

… and the door slides open without protest.

 

The sweet rush of air washing over him is almost physical in its intensity. He hesitates, but then his feet finally bring themselves to move across the doorsill. Trembling from unidentifiable feelings, he steps out on the roof, marvelling at the sensation of the wind caressing his skin.

 

And he can’t for the life of him remember when he last felt so alive, as if life itself has finally come seeping back into his flesh and bones, filling him with something sorely missing until now. He doesn’t think of Tony, of his status as a slave, of Asgard, of the confining tower, nor of anything else.

 

He just stands there and breathes.

 


 

Tony is humming an off-tune melody that he suspects that nobody but him would ever recognize as Thunderstruck as he watches the screen in front of him, his fingers clacking away at the keyboard.

 

The de-bug of Jarvis was long overdue, and he has put it off for far too long, overburdened by too many other, more pressing concerns vying for his attention. Most of them related to the god of mischief currently living in his tower, everything topped off with a visit from that other god who also frequents this planet.

 

But now that things seem to be running as smoothly as they’re probably going to get, he has finally managed to summon up the concentration and mental focus necessary to fix this. At least there weren’t any major issues this time. A few smaller updates to the programming, but nothing extensive.

 

He makes a few finishing taps on the keyboard, completing the final update. The de-bugging process is as good as done; all that’s left to do now is a quick reboot of Jarvis so that the changes can take effect.

 

A couple of clicks later, the AI shuts itself down, screen flickering as the data refreshes and reloads into the system. Restlessly, he drums his fingers against the tabletop as he waits; perhaps he’s grown too dependant on his almost-sentient computer, because the short period of off-line time before the reboot is finished always makes him feel vaguely uneasy. Not that it’s very likely that Hydra will decide to launch a nuclear missile at his tower or something during the few minutes the upstart takes, but still. The soft beep that follows a successful reboot is always comforting nonetheless, dissolving the unpleasant feelings of vulnerability and exposure.

 

“Welcome back,” he says as that familiar beep tells him that Jarvis is once more on-line.

 

“Thank you, Mr Stark,” comes the polite answer, and Tony feels his world return to normal again.

 

Only to have its pillars shaken as Jarvis a second later speaks again. “I should inform you that Mr Laufeyson has made it out on the roof during my shut-down.”

 

And just why can’t anything ever be easy when that infernal god of mischief is involved, he wonders as he rushes to the stairs, not bothering with the elevator.

 


 

He stands there unmoving on the spot, enjoying the wind against his skin and the little illicit taste of freedom as he inhales the fresh air. Reality seems like a distant recollection – for him, there’s only here and now. And in that here and now, there’s only him, the sky, the endless horizon, and the breeze ruffling his hair. The moment is so perfect, and there’s really only one thing that could ruin it…

 

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” comes an angry voice behind him, accompanied by hasty footsteps drawing to a halt a second later.

 

Tony. His breath hitches in his throat, and his fists and jaws clench tightly as reality comes crashing over him like a bucket of ice water tipped over his head.

 

Of course, it was too good to last. Still, he hadn’t thought that Tony would find out so quickly, had hoped that the moment were to last a little longer than this.

 

Biting his lip, he slowly turns around to face the man who is standing there with arms crossed and narrowed eyes. That he’s not at all happy with his slave’s doings is an understatement.

 

“Get back inside now!” he orders sharply with a toss of his head in the direction of the open door, voice level but something potentially dangerous brewing underneath. And Loki has no desire to challenge that brewing thing and lure it out into the open, so he obeys the command and heads back inside, hoping his little moment outside will have been worth Tony’s anger. Reticence and aversion coil inside of him at the thought of once more returning to his confinement, but he’s fully aware that he has no choice.

 

Tony follows and forcefully slams the door behind them, then walking around and coming to a halt before Loki, the air around him seeming to crackle with heat from the burning gaze that he directs at his slave.

 

“So, I put Jarvis off-line for a measly few minutes, and the first thing you do is to take the opportunity to fling the door open and waltz out.” It’s a statement rather than a question, accompanied by an accusing finger wielded not far from his face. And even though there’s definitely anger in that voice, it seems like it’s being overshadowed by… disappointment.

 

And that prickles him like a sharp needle.

 

Because he’s been a disappointment all his life. For showing little aptitude for battle. For showing all the more for magic. For not being an embodiment of all the martial values so highly treasured and cherished in Asgard. For not being more like Thor.

 

And even here, he’s continues to be a disappointment. He swallows, willing the unpleasant feeling away.

 

“I thought Jarvis had already made it perfectly clear to you that you're not supposed to open any doors or windows around here, or am I wrong?” Tony continues and then makes a pregnant pause, obviously expecting an answer.

 

And he has to admit, when put like that, things really don’t come out sounding to his favour at all.

 

“No. Jarvis has informed me of this,” he says quietly, knowing there is no point in trying to refute the fact. Tony has programmed Jarvis himself, after all.

 

“Alright then. You got anything to say in your defence as to why you thought it would be a good idea to piss all over that rule?”

 

And what is he supposed to reply to that? I wanted – needed – to go outside? To just get out for a little while? That sounds so needy, so pathetic. So weak. He doesn’t want to appear weak, so instead he just shakes his head, a clipped ‘no’ all that comes out of his mouth as he feels himself deflate a little. Of course, he’s disobeyed expressed orders, wilfully to boot, and will have to face the consequences, whatever they might be. He winces inwardly, trying to take comfort in the knowledge that at least Tony isn’t going to physically hurt him.

 

Tony regards him for a few moments, as if he’s excepting another answer, or for Loki to add something. But as the silence presses on, the man finally gives a slow nod.

 

“Okay, buddy,” he says sternly. “Consider yourself in house arrest in your room for the next week.”

 


 

Tony sighs as he sinks down into the couch, tension slowly draining out of his body as he forcefully rubs his hands over his face a few times. That god is going to be the end of him. If the alcohol doesn’t get to him first, that is.

 

Just when he thinks that one issue has been resolved and everything is settling down, along comes another thing shattering the status quo. And truth be told, he had been really freaked out by the sight of Loki standing out there in the open. The god who once tried to lay the planet under his rule, who smashed up a substantial part of the city stretching out beneath him, now stood there free and unrestrained, the world suddenly unprotected from whatever ambitions might still be simmering beneath that toned-down exterior.

 

So what if Loki was supposedly magic-liberated and powerless; it did precious little to dampen his shock at the sight. His brain was half-expecting the god to whip out some of that magic he wasn’t supposed to be having, transforming himself into a bird and flying off into the distance before Tony’s very eyes, bracelet restrictors notwithstanding. And Tony would be the one responsible for a would-be world conqueror being on the loose, with intentions he could only guess at.

 

He leans his head against the couch cushion behind him, sighing deeply. Just a few minutes of non-surveillance, and that was all it had taken. Like an opportunity-seeking missile, Loki had honed in on the first chance presenting itself. Just like that, as if he had a special knack, a sixth sense even, for telling when exactly the time was right.

 

Sure Loki doesn’t have his powers anymore, but that didn’t stop him from giving Tony a real scarce, to say nothing of that unpleasant déjà vu feeling from that one time the two of them had faced off on the top of his tower, ending with him falling to his almost-death.

 

And most of all, he still remembers his promise to Thor – to make sure Loki stays safe. What if the god had somehow managed to make his getaway? What would he have told Thor? Uh, yeah, I let surveillance slip there for a little while, sorry about that.

 

Well, at least Loki is locked away in his room for the time being. Still, Tony needs to make sure there won’t be any further incidents of the kind.

 

And also, get a clear answer out of the god.

Chapter Text

The first day, he sits on the bed, staring at a faint crack in the ceiling. Of course, spending a week locked up is not a harsh punishment by any means, and in Asgard a slap on the wrist like this wouldn’t have been considered a punishment at all, but after having so recently stood outside for the first time in so long, the confinement is weighing heavily on his shoulders regardless. It serves as another cruel reminder of his inescapable situation, of the things he can’t have, of the sentence he will have no choice but to serve for the rest of his life.

 

There’s nothing in here, nothing for him to do. No books or anything else to keep his mind or body occupied. There’s only a clock on the wall, its hands moving slowly but relentlessly.

 

He’s familiar with the way humans tell time, and it would seem that they attach a lot of significance to it, breaking it up into its smallest possible parts. They’re so exact, the mortals, measuring time in tiny little bits and pieces like this. Tony even wears one of these time-telling devices around his wrist, apparently worth a small fortune here in Midgard.

 

They’re not as particular in Asgard. Midday, in an hour, in the evening – that’s usually specific enough, for most intents and purposes. Not like here, where every moment in time can be assigned its own specific set of numbers, giving it a clear and defined identity. He doesn’t know why that should be so important, and it feels like a travesty for someone like him condemned to spend perhaps millennia in slavery.

 

The first evening, he thinks back on his time spent in the dungeons. He’s glad he didn’t have a clock in there, because being so conscious of time just makes its agonizingly slow passing harder to deal with.

 

When dinner arrives, courtesy of the robot servant, he eats it slowly for lack of other things to do. Before he goes to bed, he hangs a shirt over the clock so he doesn't have to watch the hands moving with excruciating slowness.

 

The second day, he sits in a chair by the window, looking out on the vast blue sky above.

 

The second evening, he avoids the window, not looking out of it even once. He can’t bear to see the sky outside any longer when locked up in here.

 

The third day, he doesn’t bother getting out of bed, but remains lying there until evening comes and he once more falls asleep.

 

The fourth day, he fantasises that the door will open and that Tony will stand there in the frame. That he’ll talk to him, spouting off his usual lengthy ramblings. At this point, even they would be a welcome break in the silence and monotony.

 

When the door finally does open, he’s disappointed that it’s only the robot delivering his meal. The loneliness is eating at him; at least in the dungeons there were guards to bait, other prisoners to shout at through the bars, even the occasional visitor passing by his cell, and he finds himself missing someone to talk to. He’s never been locked up alone like this for days on end. Even in his cell at SHIELD, there had been guards stationed to watch him, agents to interrogate him, Director Fury to come by and threaten him. Back then, he’d wished for privacy and solitude instead, not for company.

 

He glances towards the door again.

 

It remains closed.

 

The fourth evening, Jarvis’ voice unexpectedly comes on-line.

 

“Mr Stark would like you to join him for dinner,” it says, pleasant and polite as ever as the lock to the door clicks open.

 


 

Well, perhaps this time, he’s going to get a better answer out of the god as to what he was actually doing out there on the roof. Or trying to do. Or hoping to do. Whatever.

 

Maybe Loki will lie. Maybe make something up. Maybe not say anything at all. But there’s no point in speculating. He’ll have to deal with the answer, of lack thereof, once he gets there.

 

He fiddles with the fork in his hand as he waits for Loki to join him at the table. He has to admit, his conscience has started to grow a bit guilty after his having kept the god locked up in there for several days.

 

Yeah, so Loki knew full well he wasn’t supposed to be opening any doors, but… what would Tony have done is his situation if the opportunity had presented itself?

 

Yeah, exactly.

 


 

They eat in silence. He wonders if Tony is still angry, though it doesn’t really seem like it, and if he’ll be sent back to his room for the remaining three days after the meal is finished.

 

“So what were you actually doing out there on the roof?” Tony suddenly asks without any preamble as he stabs a meat ball with his fork. “Why did you walk out there at all? And how did you even know that the door would open?”

 

Well, he supposes there’s no way he’ll be able to evade those questions.

 

“I could open a window for the first time since coming here. So I assumed the same might go for the door,” he says, answering the last question first, then reverting to poke at the food on his plate.

 

“Alright. And exactly what were you trying to do out there?” Tony repeats his question, not satisfied with Loki’s half-evasion.

 

He is silent for a while before answering. While he’s reluctant to admit to any weakness in front of Tony, he can’t ignore a direct question from him either.

 

“I just… wanted to go outside,” he finally says quietly to the fork in his hand, not meeting with Tony’s eyes, immediately regretting the words as soon as they’ve left his mouth. They’re sounding so pitiful, so weak, so desperate. And, even worse, almost pleading. He hates himself for sounding like that. It’s not like him, shouldn’t be like him.

 

A silence follows, and as it presses on, he slowly lifts his gaze from its resting spot on the tabletop. Tony has stopped eating and is regarding Loki with a long, contemplative look, and he’s not sure he wants to know what the man is thinking in that moment.

 

“You… wanted to go outside,” Tony repeats, as if he’s not sure he heard correctly the first time. “That’s all?”

 

“Yes,” he admits, trying not to sound too pathetic, hoping the questioning session will be over with that.

 

“I see,” Tony says, still with that contemplative look on his face.

 

There are no more questions, and they finish their meal in silence, Loki still wondering whether Tony is angry at him.

 

Though, at least he doesn’t get sent back to his room again when the meal is finished.

 


 

Such a simple explanation, and yet not given until now. So simple that at first, it had been tempting to reflexively dismiss it as a lie, as a cover-up for something more devious and fit for a god of lies and deceit. But eventually, the more he thought it over, the less likely that interpretation had seemed.

 

Of course, Loki had no way of knowing that Jarvis had been taken temporarily off-line. If his opening of a window happened to coincide with those few minutes of non-surveillance, probability theory dictates that this was only one in a very long line of attempts that he must have kept making, despite getting his hopes crushed by the same answer from Jarvis each time. A quick check with Jarvis confirmed this; this incident was far from the first time Loki had been trying to open a window, though he’d obviously never succeeded until now.

 

And he has to admit, if Loki was putting on a façade back there during dinner, it was a damn good one.

 

To say nothing of the fact that Loki didn’t actually go for the main door leading out from the tower, only the one leading out to the roof.

 


 

Tony whistles as he steps out of the elevator, relieved to be home again after having attended another one of those tedious board meetings filled with self-important people who love to talk even though they have precious little to say. The kind of meetings that he used to neglect because Pepper would deal with them and cover for his absence one way or the other, but that he now has no choice but to attend, be it however sporadically.

 

Throwing his jacket off to the side he proceeds to loosen up his tie, and then stops in his tracks as he passes an open door and sees Loki sitting at a bay window like a silent shadow. The god is sloppily reclining in the corner, one leg up and one arm slung across the knee, head leaning back against the narrow white-plastered wall, eyes locked on the sky outside. Not that there is anything particularly strange about the sight as such, but what gives him pause is that the god is still hunched up in the very same spot as when Tony left the house to listen to a bunch of people in fancy suits telling him how he should run his company, which was over four hours ago.

 

And he is struck by how little Loki looks anything like the deranged maniac who tried to conquer the planet in what suddenly feels like a very long time ago, though it’s only been months. In fact, he only looks tired and dejected, like one of those pitiful animals at the zoo placed in cages far too small, reduced to doing nothing but prowling their confines in endless circles, back and forth. Though Loki doesn’t prowl, he just sits there, wordless and emotionless, gazing longingly out the window.

 

Tony stands there for a few moments and then turns on his heel, heading for his workshop. He has something he needs to finish down there.

 

And the sooner, the better.

 

Chapter Text

Today’s sky is even bluer than yesterday, though it comes with fewer but larger clouds this time. In the distance, five dark specks, birds of some kind, move in perfect synchronism against the vast blueness, free and unfettered.

 

And he sits here, where he can do nothing but envy those little specks, no matter how small and insignificant they might be, as they take off towards the horizon.

 

Suddenly, there are the sounds of footsteps incoming, and Loki doesn’t need to turn his head to know who they belong to. He does anyway, though, his eyes trailing the man as he comes to a halt somewhere to Loki’s left. And he fervently wishes that Tony would go away, as the sight of him merely serves as another reminder of Loki’s own undesirable but unchangeable predicament.

 

“Hey, so what are you doing, Bambi?” Tony asks casually, though it’s plain obvious that Loki isn’t doing a thing. Undeterred, the man takes a step closer, leaning an arm against the wall as he pretends to curiously inspect the view the window offers, as if it is something novel and exciting he is seeing for the first time.

 

“Nice view of the city, isn’t it?” comes the superfluous comment, and Loki can feel a sting of irritation that he quickly pushes back down. It’s one of the last things he would like to hear at this point, being patently unable to go outside, being stuck in here because there’s no way Tony would ever take the risk of letting him set as much as a single foot into the city he once tried to conquer. Especially not after his little unauthorized venturing-out-on-the-roof escapade.

 

“It is,” he replies with as little emotion as possible, as if they are merely discussing the weather or a bland painting or something of equally low importance.

 

“Uh-huh,” Tony offers absent-mindedly, seemingly busy gazing at something indiscernible in the distance that requires his full concentration. Then the man draws himself up and lets his gaze drift back to Loki, intently studying his face.

 

“How would you like the chance to see it from the outside?”

 

The question is as unexpected as it is perplexing, and he looks at Tony in puzzlement, resolutely trying to quench the desperate, impossible flutter of hope suddenly welling up in his chest. Because surely there is no way that Tony would let him out, not after everything that has transpired. No, it can’t be…

 

As if he can read the bewildered expression on Loki’s face, Tony gives a nonchalant shrug. “Thought a change of scenery might do you good. It looks like you could need it,” he says as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.

 

Immediately, his danger detection radar goes off, alerting him that something must be off, there is something missing that Tony hasn’t told him yet. 

 

“And what is… expected from me in return for this favour?” The guarded question slips out of his mouth despite his knowing that it’s not his place to ask any such. But he just has to find the missing piece of the puzzle, because surely it can’t be this simple, it’s making no sense…

 

“Just one thing – behave yourself out there. Or you’re going to find yourself permanently grounded for the duration.”  Not waiting for Loki to reply, Tony digs into his pocket and picks out some sort of metal contraption, throwing it over to Loki, who catches it more out of reflex than anything else.

 

It looks like a bracelet, made out of polished steel, with a clasp at the ends to fasten it. He turns it around in his hand, the smooth metal almost silky against his palm, and then looks up at Tony, eyebrows knitted in confusion.

 

“Just got finished putting it together,” Tony says as he snags the bracelet back from Loki’s hand, holding it up against the light as if it is a precious treasure and not a simple band of steel. “This thing has a tracker in it, which will monitor your position and tell me exactly where your Asgardian ass is situated at any given moment.”

 

He flips out yet another device from his pocket, this time one that Loki recognizes as one of those cell phones so ubiquitous among the humans. The man taps at the front with a fingernail. “I merely need to look at this screen to know exactly where you are.” He waves a hand at the little chains encircling Loki’s wrists. “Works pretty much like the flashy tracking jewellery you’re already wearing, only difference being that this one is firmly based on technology instead of fancy magic.”

 

With that, Tony hands him the bracelet back and Loki accepts it into his hands once more, letting his fingers roam over the surface as he studies the thing intently, trying to work out if there is anything more to it than what Tony is letting on. He can sense the magic humming in his chainlets when he makes an effort to, but Tony’s contraption feels just as dead and unresponsive as any other piece of un-tampered-with metal would. There shouldn’t be any adverse affects on him from putting it on, he surmises.

 

“I’m not letting you out the house without this, buddy,” Tony says, obviously having noticed Loki’s apprehensive examination of the bracelet, “so I suggest you just put it on.”

 

Without a word, Loki clasps the bracelet shut around his wrist. The little buckle smartly clicks into place, leaving a smooth band circling his skin, seam invisible. He sure hopes Tony has a way of unclasping this contraption, because the buckle won’t budge as he discreetly picks his fingers at it, testing its strength. Having another restraint placed on him like this is reminiscent of the fetters placed on an animal to keep it from running away, but what’s another chain when he’s already wearing two of them around his wrists?

 

And he can at least appreciate the fact that it’s a bracelet and not a collar.

 

“You won’t get it open,” Tony says, interrupting Loki’s little reverie. “Takes special tools to do that, and I’m not lending them to you, just so you know.”

 

Realizing that he’s still attempting to pry the thing off, Loki abruptly stops what he’s doing, folding his hands neatly into his lap, trying to get used to the feeling of the extra weight clamped around his wrist.

 

Tony makes a beckoning motion at him. “Come on, then, Bambi, let’s go.” He walks out the room without turning around to see if Loki is coming, and Loki follows suit, heart skipping in his chest and body feeling unusually light, like he’s floating.

 

They ride the elevator down without either of them speaking a word, though any attempts at conversation would have been severely hampered by the heavy music blaring from the speakers.

 

At the clothes stand at the door, Tony makes a halt, grabbing a black cap from a hanger and then rummages around in the chest of drawers next to it. Having found what he was looking for, he slams the drawer shut with his knee as he stands up with a pair of dark glasses clasped in his grip, unceremoniously shoving the stuff into Loki’s hands.

 

“Put these on,” he orders as he grabs similar attire for himself, pushing a pair of tainted glasses up onto the bridge of his nose and dons a cap with letters and numbers than mean nothing to Loki. “Can’t have anyone recognizing you out there. Even though I’m sure people were busier staring at your horns than at your face during your last visit, and nobody would expect to see you roaming around New York again after being dragged back to Asgard in chains, I’m not taking any chances.” He taps at the glass hiding his eyes from view. “You’ll be surprised just how effective these are at repelling attention. Really comes in handy when you’re a billionaire superhero wanting to take an incognito stroll around the block.”

 

While he would have preferred not having to look at the world through a barrier of dark glass, now that he is amazingly enough allowed outside, he’s not about to look a gift horse in the mouth, so he says nothing, merely puts the shades on. The world takes on a dim hue, but it’s not nearly as bad as he had expected.

 

“Alright, Reindeer Games, final rundown of instructions – you stay close at all times, don’t get out of my sight, and don’t do anything stupid, lewd or lascivious. Capiche, comprende, verstanden?”

 

Loki looks at him, eyebrows furrowed.

 

“Got it?” Tony clarifies.

 

Loki nods. “I will comply with your restrictions,” he says, trying to not sound as ridiculously eager as he’s feeling, but well aware he’s failing when he hears his own voice.

 

“Okay, then. You better not make me regret this, or you’re going to as well,” Tony says no-nonsense-ly before finally opening the door to the glorious world outside, stepping out, Loki at his heels.

 

And it’s like all his senses have suddenly been magically heightened, making him acutely aware of every little thing around him. As if he’s been living in a box until now, with muted colours and dulled sounds, only to finally be let out in the real world with its genuine, untainted perceptions.

 

The gravel crunches softly under his feet and he inhales deeply as a gust of chilled air caresses his face, as wonderful as cold water for a man dying of thirst. The plethora of sounds around him is almost overwhelming – screeching traffic, bustling people, a barking dog – but an oh-so welcome change from the pressing silence that has constituted most of his stay in the dungeons as well as Tony’s tower.

 

It’s amazing how vitalizing merely being out in the open again can be, unrestrained by walls pressing in on him. Like he’s actually living instead of merely existing. Even though his momentary freedom is only an illusion, it’s as good as he’s going to get, and he will take what he is offered.

 

There’s a strange, unidentified feeling stirring in him as he follows Tony down the street, taking in, breathing in, his surroundings. But he’s not sure he can quite identify it, so he ignores it for now.

 


 

The park is modest by Asgardian standards, of course, but it is of no matter. It’s beautiful and soothing all the same. Back home, he would often seek solace and privacy out in nature, where he could practice his magic undisturbed, away from the usual disapproving, critical stares. Though things are of course still a far cry from what they used to be like, his mood is far better than it has ever been since the unfortunate day he got so soundly pummelled into the ground by that green beast and all that transpired afterwards.

 

The only thing marring the moment is the never-ending talking of the man strolling next to him, chattering away as if his life depended upon the absence of silence. But it is of little importance, as long as he can enjoy these precious moments free from his usual confinement, Tony can talk as much as he wants to, as far as he’s concerned.

 

The words barely register anyway, as his mind is occupied elsewhere. On the sky, the wind, the trees, the ground beneath his feet. All things he had once taken for granted, never realizing just how much he would end up treasuring them. The odd feeling from before is still oscillating somewhere deep inside him, and he isn’t quite sure what to make of it. It’s not something he immediately recognizes nor can relate to.

 

Tony is undeterred by the silence meeting his long monologues, though. He keeps on talking, about his projects and boring board meetings, about girls he’s dated and the food you can apparently buy in a place called “Buns and Burgers”. He talks about attending a concert with something going by the name of “Whitesnake” and the time he encountered a couple doing dirty deeds just in that spot over there to his left. Loki doesn’t think he has ever met someone who loves the sound of his own voice as much as Tony. Even Thor is more modest in that regard and at least occasionally knows how and when to keep quiet.

 

It isn’t until the sun is starting to set, painting the horizon with a dashing display of red and orange and pink, that Tony says it is time for them to head back home.

 

And it isn’t until then that Loki realizes what that odd feeling is that’s been stirring inside of him during the entire walk. But maybe it’s not so strange it took so long for him to recognize it, because he hasn’t felt real gratitude for anything in a very long time.

Chapter Text

He turns the shirt on the board around, flattening it out with his hand before pressing the hot iron down against the fabric. This is the first time since his abysmal failure when he managed to burn a hole in one of Tony’s shirts that he’s done any ironing, but he’s gotten the hang of it by now. It’s not a difficult task by any means, it just takes a bit of practice.

 

His thoughts are drifting away to the last time he stood here with the iron in a firm grip, trying to make the best out of the situation he found himself in, and ending up ruining the first piece of clothing he got his hands on. He winces at the painful memory, but at least he doesn’t have to fear any terrible repercussions now in case he should make the same mistake as last time. Which he, in any case, isn’t about to do.

 

It would be a blatant lie to say that he enjoys the chore, but it’s a break from the monotonous paper sorting, at least, and he’s glad to have something else to do for a while. Trying to go to sleep without having never-ending lines of black text on white paper dancing beneath his closed eyelids before his inner vision should definitely count as an improvement.

 

As he’s standing there, arranging and rearranging the pieces of clothing on the ironing board, he has to admit, as strange as it sounds to his ears, that he’s actually in a fairly good mood. Or at least as close to what could possibly count as it, given the circumstances.

 

However, the reason isn’t the welcome change of tasks, but something else entirely.

 

It’s the fact that just yesterday, Tony actually let him go outside.

 

And for the first time since coming here, he now has something to look forward to. Something to brighten his day, something to bring him at least a little slice of happiness. He’d never expected there’d be anything of the sort awaiting him here; at best, he’d thought he might eventually learn how to endure his situation, in the knowledge that it would at least be preferable to the non-improvable condition of being dead. And the only thing to keep him going would be his desperately clinging to the flimsy, futile hope that things would somehow change for the better in the distant future, while knowing that such a day would probably remain nothing but a desperate wish.

 

And he realizes that that’s what makes all the difference. Not that he can’t appreciate the lack of beatings and whippings and similar punishment since his coming here, but an absence of bad things isn’t the same as the presence of something good.

 

Because an absence of bad things can only offer a sense of relief, but the presence of something good can bring forth the genuine will to go on for another day, in the knowledge that there’s actually something worthwhile waiting around the corner. A small ray of sunshine, a little glimmer of light. Perhaps not much, but still enough to turn his situation from glum and dreary to something containing a much-needed sparkle of life.

 

Even if his current accommodations and circumstances would be considered luxurious compared to what slaves in Asgard normally have to make do with, and something that only the most pampered of bed slaves could ever dream of, it’s still a prison. Nothing will change that; a gilded cage is still a cage, but even a bird with clipped wings can appreciate being allowed to leave its stifling confinements.

 

Before all this, getting to go outside would have been a trifle to be taken for granted, but now it has been turned into a much-coveted luxury that he feared he’d never have again. And just standing out there in the open, temporarily released from his prison, had been so exhilarating, not quite unlike having the flow of magic rushing through his body again. For the first time in so long, he’d been able to walk around freely and unrestrained, and even though Tony’s little tracking device had been circling his wrist and the man himself had never strayed far, it was almost like being free again.

 

Yes, even if he’s stuck in an alien realm, in a world far apart from his own, inhabited by a strange and foreign people, it was still a sense of glorious freedom, no matter how small.

 

And now, it’s like the sun outside shines a little brighter than before, despite the stacks of grey clouds nestling around it. Like his body is no longer held down by the previous invisible but heavy weight that has been sitting on his shoulders for so long.

 

It’s still confusing why Tony would let him out like that after he wilfully disobeyed orders, as opposed to taking the necessary steps to ensure that his slave would be securely locked up to prevent further incidents, perhaps even put into chains to make sure there’d be no repeats. In hindsight, he can admit that it had been an idiotic, ill-considered whim to sneak out onto the roof like that simply because the opportunity had presented itself. But the temptation had been too great, because for all he knew, that might be the only chance he would ever get. And if he had passed up on it, he would no doubt have ended up regretting it.

 

Yet another of the many things about Tony that are making no sense, regardless how he twists the recent happenings around in his head. Slaves don’t get rewarded for disobedience, they get punished.

 

But then again, he supposes he will have many years ahead of him trying to understand whatever logic is driving Tony’s actions. Given the man’s obvious intelligence, there’s certainly nothing wrong in that aspect, at least. There must be other things at play, as difficult as it is to perceive them from where he’s standing.

 

Well, he should have time figuring it out, he supposes. Time that will evidently not be as unbearable and intolerable as he had once been certain.

 

He picks up the now wrinkle-free shirt from the board, folding it as neatly as he can manage, then reaches out for the next one in the pile.

 

As he turns back again, he catches a glimpse of the window behind him, and the sight is strangely comforting, a reassuring reminder that all is not dreary and bleak; there’s actually something now that he can look forward to. Seeing the sky outside is no longer depressing or fills him with despair, but offers a small sliver of hope.

 

A hope that maybe if he behaves according to expectations and doesn't make any trouble, Tony will let him go outside soon again.

 


 

The clatter of forks and knives against dinner plates is occasionally interspersed by the soft slurps from the machine preparing Tony’s coffee, the ubiquitous brown liquid that the man drinks with almost every meal, as if his body depended on the stuff to function properly. He even had Loki try it once, but the taste was foul and bitter, and he can’t understand why someone would willingly drink such a concoction.

 

The smell is still rather nice, though.

 

“How’s the ironing coming along?” Tony asks from across the table as he inelegantly digs into the food in front of him.

 

Loki looks up. “It’s… mostly done,” he says, hoping Tony doesn’t think that he’s working too slowly.

 

“Uh-huh. Any burnt shirts so far?” the man says flippantly between mouthfuls, clearly not finding the possibility a very big deal at all, as strange as that is.

 

“No.” He still feels stupid about that old ironing incident, and he has no idea why Tony never brought it up when it’s obvious he knew about the ruined shirt. But he’s glad for it, though; not even now would he feel comfortable having to explain himself in that matter.

 

“Figured you never did much ironing back in Asgard, did you?” comes the next question. Tony likes asking questions, almost as much as he likes talking, and as perplexing as the habit was at first, Loki has mostly gotten used to it by now.

 

He shakes his head. “No. There were servants around for that.” And slaves as well, of course.

 

His gaze drifts to the sky outside, visible through the window only a few arms’ lengths away from him. Yesterday’s stroll in the park is still lingering, a pleasant memory never far from his mind. Even now, he can vividly recall the fresh air in his lungs and the wind on his face and the sun warming his skin, things he’s yearned for for far too long.

 

“Shame you’re not technologically more advanced up there in alien Viking-land, or you wouldn’t have had a need for any slaves.” Tony comments as he gestures with his fork.

 

Whether it was intended or not, he can clearly hear the implication in there. For someone like Tony with a household full of robots and technology, a slave is bound not to be very useful. And he doesn’t like the unavoidable inferences that can be drawn from that, because such a state of the matter is doing nothing to improve his standing here, nor the chances that he will get to see that outside again anytime in the near future.

 

As Tony continues to talk, Loki’s eyes linger on the window. Not that he actually enjoys performing simple household chores or serving on a mortal – or on anyone, for that matter – but there’s one thing that appeals even less to him right now, and that’s lacking opportunities to gain enough of Tony’s approval to be let out of the tower soon again. Unfortunately, there are so precious few things available to him that will help him in acquiring the man’s favour, so he’d better make good use of whatever chances he can get.

 

The slurping machine on the kitchen counter beeps, signalling that the coffee is ready. Before Tony can do it, Loki stands up and walks over to the counter, taking the filled cup and placing two pieces of sugar into it from the nearby bowl, like he’s seen the man do so many times before. Then he returns to the table and sets the cup down in front of Tony before seating himself.

 

The man raises an inquisitive eyebrow at him.

 

“So, first-class service today, I see. Just the blond and buxom flight attendant missing for the picture to be complete,” he says, voice pitched in a way that makes it sound slightly off, as he eyes Loki with a vaguely peculiar, lingering look. Then, he slowly lets a hand circle around the handle of the cup, and after a moment of silence takes a sip.

 

And Loki isn’t quite sure how to interpret that voice and that look, can’t tell whether they approve or not. But in the end, he decides for the former. Of course, it has to be the former, nothing else would make sense.

 

Granted, he’s having a hard time reading and understanding Tony, but there is no possible reason why the man shouldn’t approve of his slave serving him a drink. In Asgard, such a thing comes with the territory, and many from the higher nobility keep slaves standing behind their chairs during mealtime merely for the convenience of having someone to fill their empty cups for them.

 

And as Tony continues to sip on his coffee with that unreadable look of his, the thought once more resurfaces that it would serve him well to behave more in line with what Tony would reasonably expect from him, to make sure he’s contented.

 

The man does hold the key to the outside, after all.

Chapter Text

Another breakfast along the line; he’s long lost count of how many there have been since his coming here. Despite having eaten countless more back in Asgard, it still inexplicably feels like there has been a greater number of them in Tony’s tower than in all those preceding centuries.

 

His spoon is slowly stirring around in the bowl in front of him, only occasionally traversing the distance up to his mouth, his mind being occupied by other things. Tony’s voice is droning on as usual, creating a familiar background tapestry of sound. But he’s not really listening, because his eyes keep drifting to the window and the magnificent view of the sky outside. And he sincerely hopes he won’t have to wait too long before Tony will let him out again.

 

Absentmindedly, he lets his fingers twirl the spoon around, playing around with the little round shapes that are quick to slip away as the metal cuts meandering patterns through the milk. One thing is clear, though; if the man is in a good mood, particularly if Loki has a part in that, the chances that he will decide to once more grant such a favour to his slave should be significantly higher.

 

The dislike of having to cater to a mortal’s whims rustles inside of him, but the feeling still pales against the prospect of getting away from his stifling confines and the constant reminder of his inescapable situation, so he pushes it back down.

 

Apparently finding that the meal has dragged on for long enough, Tony suddenly scoots his chair back and stands up, eyeing Loki’s still half-full bowl with a crooked eyebrow. “Still at it, huh?” he asks before taking one final swig from his cup of coffee, then setting it down at the tabletop. “Well, if there’s anything, I’ll be down in my workshop, fixing up some things for my new suit.”

 

With that, he walks off, but after a few steps he seems to think better of his decision and halts in his tracks, turning back to Loki. “Oh, by the way, if you should find a document issued by Petersen Electrodrome, let me know,” he says. “They promised to send me some data I want to have a look at before upgrading my transmodulator. It should probably be lying around in today’s box of papers, so if you find it, bring it down to me as soon as possible, alright?”

 

Loki nods, and a few seconds later Tony is on his way to tinker with his inventions.

 

It doesn’t take too long before he’s finished the last of his Cheerios and cleaned up after the meal, eyes not leaving the window for longer than necessary. Then, he proceeds to the living room to deal with the papers waiting for him.

 


 

After perhaps half an hour or so he encounters the asked-for document among the piles of paper. Letting mild curiosity get the better of him, he flips his thumb through the sheets, but the data printed on them don’t mean much to him, so instead, he gets up from the floor and heads down to the workshop, document in hand.

 

The door is open when he gets there, and he peers inside before entering. As expected, Tony is in there, fiddling with something at the workbench at the far end wall, his back turned towards the door. Loki can’t see much of what the man is doing, but there are heaps of tools and equipment spread out all around him, even on the floor.

 

Gingerly, he steps inside, realizing with a wince that he hasn’t set his foot in here since… well, that time when he so shamefully broke down and cried right in front of Tony. It feels odd being down here again; so much has… changed since then. Of course, the memory of the desperation and fear that had been raging inside of him at the time is still vivid. But at least that’s all it is now – a memory, nothing more than that.

 

He comes to a halt in the middle of the room. There’s a dull but insisting buzz emanating from a nearby piece of machinery, so Tony hasn’t heard him entering, still fully focused on whatever is in front of him on the flat metal surface.

 

For a couple of heartbeats, he waits, but Tony doesn’t turn, and Loki realizes that he will have to call Tony’s attention. His thumb toys with a corner of the thin wad of papers in his hands and he chews hesitantly on his lower lip as he deliberates with himself. Despite having been here for so long, this is the first time he’s ever been in a situation where he’s actually had to address Tony. Up until now, he’s managed to get away without doing it. The few times he’s actually had to tell Tony something, the man’s attention had already been directed to him, and he’s never needed to do anything to get it.

 

Until now, that is.

 

Of course, he knows full well that there’s only one acceptable way for a slave to address his master, and that is making something unpleasant churn inside of him, the idea of speaking the fact of the matter out loud.

 

And really, it shouldn’t make a difference, because it’s not like it changes anything; it’s merely an acknowledgement of circumstances that are unchangeable and undeniable, so why is it that it’s still making him feel like that, as if his tongue has been transformed into lead? It’s not like it would be the worst humiliation he’s had to suffer since coming here. Nor the worst he’s suffered before coming here.

 

At the end of the day, it’s just a word, is it not? One tiny, measly little word, and yet it’s making his skin crawl like his aversion is demanding to manifest itself physically. Perhaps because it’s the last thing left to cement the undesirable truth, the final admission of the reality of what his life will be from now on.

 

But even if Tony, for whatever reason, has never insisted on it, the respectful address would of course appeal to him; that’s something obvious that goes without saying. And surely it would please the man even more to hear that particular word out of his slave’s mouth now that it’s not forced or ordered but instead offered voluntarily.

 

His hand grips a little tighter around the papers as reluctance claws inside of him, growing stronger by the second. Sure he needs to call on Tony’s attention somehow, but it doesn’t have to be with words, does it? He could cough or clear his throat, or even pretend to accidentally slam his foot against some of the metal equipment on the floor so that the resulting clang will alert Tony of his presence.

 

But neither alternative is any good – the first would be blatantly disrespectful, and the second too obvious, neither serving to impress Tony.

 

He winces. Maybe he’s just stalling in the hopes that Tony is going to turn around by his own volition, noticing Loki’s presence before he has to make a choice about how to handle the situation, thereby taking the unpleasant decision out of his hands.

 

And that’s when he remembers the view of the sky from the window during breakfast and the promises contained therein, and he realizes that his decision has already been made.

 

Yes, it’s a humiliating address to take into his mouth, but one word only. It’s a small price to pay, isn’t it? If it will serve to put Tony in a good mood and to improve the man’s disposition towards him, then it would mean that sky should once more be his for a little while. And truth be told, this is probably one of the best opportunities he’ll get in a long time to help him with that. There are so precious few other possibilities for him, being stuck in a realm where he understands little of how things are done and what is expected of him, where he’s unskilled at most of the tasks that might reasonably be assigned to a slave, where his usefulness is laughably small.

 

But this one thing is something he could easily do, one of the few actions he could take that would surely serve to put him into Tony’s good graces and increase his chances of getting to go outside again.

 

It’s like forcing a walnut through a needle’s eye, and the taste is bitter in his mouth, but the image of the sky filling his inner vision is like a soothing balm and makes the aversion possible to overcome and endure.

 

“Master?” he says, hoping Tony will hear him over the noise the first time so he doesn’t have to repeat himself.

 

The man at the workbench freezes like time has just grinded to a sudden stop.

 

Then, as if he’s thawing again, one body part at a time, he slowly and jerkily turns around to face Loki, who swallows. The look on the man’s face is one that doesn’t bode well.

 

And he feels that all-too familiar lurch of his stomach, knowing that something is wrong but not having any idea what it is, but having little doubt that he is the cause of it. 

 

“What the hell was that?” Tony asks as he throws the tool still in his hand down onto the bench, his incredulous stare boring into Loki like needles. At least he doesn’t sound angry, but he’s obviously not happy either.

 

He hesitates, not quite sure how to tackle the unexpected reaction. Tony looks upset, as if Loki has done something very wrong, and once more there is that wave of confusion washing over him.

 

Not knowing what else to do, but feeling he should try to salvage the situation somehow, he holds the papers out in front of him, like a placating offering. “I thought you said… I should come here to give you these when I found them.”

 

Tony rubs a hand over his face. It leaves a smudgy dark stain on his cheek. “That’s not what I was referring to,” he says, making an ugly grimace. “I meant that word you just said.” A short, but noticeable pause. “Just… don’t call me that, okay?”

 

His face must be showing his befuddlement, because Tony lets out a deep sigh that comes off more like a groan. “Look, it’s not a term we use to address other people here.” He makes a face as his eyes roll skywards. “Yeah, well, unless you count some people who are into, uh, certain kinds of adult games, but I don’t think you’d want to go there. My name is Tony, it’s what normal people would use. Or Anthony, in emergencies. All clear?”

 

It’s not, but Loki nods anyway, since that should be the safest option, feeling himself deflate like a leaking balloon at Tony’s obvious disapproval.

 

So that hadn’t been the right thing to do, despite everything telling him the opposite. And once more he’s managed to displease Tony through his unfamiliarity with Midgardian ways and customs. Suddenly, the blue sky feels like it’s drifting further away from him, and he desperately wants to grab onto it, but he has absolutely no idea how to, and it’s one of the most frustrating feelings he has ever experienced. He can do nothing but stand there and watch as it keeps floating off out of his reach, him utterly powerless to stop it.

 

Then, as he’s certain he can’t handle the frustration and the strange mood any longer, Tony takes a step closer, reaching out a hand for the document that Loki had forgotten he was still holding, his face lightening up. “Oh, so there it is. Awesome! Glad you found it, Bambi; I really need this data.”

 

There’s even the hint of a smile there too as he looks at Loki, like the recent mishap is already magically forgotten.

 

And at that, Loki feels himself slowly relax. The sky suddenly doesn’t feel so far away anymore, having once more returned to reaching distance.

 

Chapter Text

Driving home in his Ferrari Maranello is usually a pleasant experience – a ridiculous number of horsepowers at his fingertips, Deep Purple blaring from his speakers, and hardly any traffic to slow him down as he races down the street. Even the media interview he just finished went smoothly, much as reporters tend to annoy him these days. All in all, he should be feeling splendidly.

 

And yet he isn’t, because there is one disturbing thought that keeps intruding on his peace of mind.

 

It should have been a small thought, because it was only a small word. But it was also such an important word. And not in a good way.

 

It’s strange, really, how a short utterance like that can hold so many implications and connotations and god knows what imbued in two simple syllables.

 

Just yesterday, Loki had called him master, and damn if that still isn’t gnawing at him like a swarm of blood-thirsty gnats.

 

It’s not exactly helping things that he remembers making a thoughtless, ill-considered jab a long time ago about Loki addressing him as such. Despite no longer being able to recall the specifics at this point, he can still safely say that it hadn’t been funny at all. Just tasteless and tacky.

 

Of course, it’s far from the first time he’s ever made a tasteless and tacky comment, but his usual sexual innuendo-filled witticisms and sarcastic pointing out of other people’s flaws and faults for sheer comedy value totally pales against this level of wrong. And the worst part is, back then he would no doubt have found it amusing if Loki actually had called him that. But now that the god finally has, there isn’t the tiniest sliver of humour in it, nothing that could draw even the slightest of chuckles from him.

 

And who could ever have imagined that – Tony Stark finding a topic inappropriate to make jokes about. He’d thought there’d be a snowy or at least a slushy day in hell before that ever happened.

 

No, Loki calling him master was only disconcerting, not humorous at all.

 

Annoyed with himself, he stabs his finger against the forward button on the CD player a few times in rapid succession, a little harder than necessary, skipping a couple of tracks until he gets to a more aggressive and blaring song, having had it with the previous half-sappy semi-ballad. Satisfied with his new choice of music, he pushes the gas pedal a few notches closer to the floor, speedometer making a little hiccup.

 

It does nothing to improve his mood, though.

 

To be honest, that was about the last word he would have wanted to describe his relation to Loki. Even jailor or captor would have been preferable. And it makes him wonder, what is he in that regard, when it all comes down to it?

 

Master – no way. Jailor? Well, sort of, but he doesn’t like the word. Keeper? Reformative correctional officer? Something else?

 

He doesn’t really have an answer to that; all he knows is that it’s not the M-word. That’s just wrong on so many counts.

 

And that’s when the second, even more difficult-to-answer question rears its head in his mind – what is it that he wants to be in relation to Loki? But perhaps he needs to be able to answer the first question before he can answer the second. Or maybe it’s the other way around. He isn’t sure.

 

Of course, he knows what one insistent part of him would like to be, but that’s obviously not possible, so he might as well forget about it. It’s not going to happen, he’s known that ever since the first frame of his very much inappropriate imaginations regarding Loki materialized in his head, and it has only become even clearer since then.

 

But perhaps there’s something else he could be, something between those extremes of master and what his headstrong nether regions would have voted for. The regions that like to picture the god in his full naked glory, hands trailing over his own body as his smile turns into something playfully seductive…

 

The traffic light ahead of him turns red after a long stretch of green, and he steps on the brakes, tires screeching as the Ferrari comes to a sudden halt. A second later, the wail of Jack Black’s voice letting out a powerful ‘well, baby, you just better forget it’ from the speakers fills the interior of the car.

 

And Tony can’t help the groan that escapes his lips. Enough with the signs from the universe already – he isn’t going to go there – never planned to, never will, alright? So just knock it off. He knows he won’t ever be anything more than that elusive something at best that he hasn’t even managed to define yet, and it’s not like he’s going to try to change that, okay?

 

The light turns green again, and he stomps down sharply on the pedal, taking off with another screeching of burning rubber.

 

Yeah, something is fine, as long as it isn’t the dreaded M-word.

 


 

As he takes the elevator up, the thoughts that have been swirling in his head during his drive home are still eating at him. And it’s not just the memories of how Loki had called him master that keep resurfacing, but what happened the day before, when Loki had served him that cup of coffee, without being asked or prompted to.

 

And Tony’s not stupid enough not to realize that the two are connected. Not so much to each other, perhaps, as to another occasion taking place shortly before. Namely, Loki getting to go outside for the first time since coming to his tower.

 

It’s obvious – so ridiculously, disturbingly obvious – why he’s been doing it. Clearly, Loki is under the impression that he has to earn the right of going outside, even if it means demeaning himself to behaving like how Asgard thinks a good little slave is supposed to.

 

Perhaps he should have said something already when Loki set that cup of coffee down before him. But he didn’t, because there had been nothing wrong with the act in itself. After all, he’s had plenty of other people voluntarily getting him coffee many times before – MIT classmates during those long hours of working in the lab, friends and colleagues… Pepper. Just like he’s done the same thing for them on other occasions. And it’s never been anything else than a simple gesture of helpfulness, the kind of little favours you do for people around you, never something to give him pause in any way.

 

Until Loki did it.

 

Then again, what should he have said as the cup was set down before him? Don’t ever serve me coffee? It wasn’t as if the act as such was degrading or humiliating or slave-like – it’s something that happens in offices and homes across America everyday, after all. No, instead it was the situation and their relative positions that made it disconcerting, but that’s nothing he can change, no matter how much he would want to.

 

So he had found no immediate way to articulate what made it wrong – at least none that Loki would be likely to understand – so he had played it safe and just made a flippant quip, letting it lie at that.

 

But now that the master deal has come up, something a lot more disturbing than being served coffee, he needs to have a talk with Loki. This really can’t continue, or he shudders to think where all this might eventually end up.

 

When the elevator doors open and he walks out into the living room, Loki is sitting on a chair by the window, reading a book. The god looks up briefly as he enters, and then returns to his reading material.

 

Well, he supposes he should be thankful for that, at least – that Loki isn’t showing any signs of being afraid of him anymore, not taking his presence as a reason for concern or wariness. Whatever else is wrong with the situation, he’s still feeling secure enough to immerse himself in a book around Tony, not finding it necessary to keep his attention on Tony and what he might be up to.

 

“Come over here, will you” he says to the reading god. “I want to talk with you for a bit.”

 

The words have barely made it out of his mouth before Loki puts the book down on the table and gets up from his chair, walking up to where Tony is standing and sitting down on the couch. Just like that. Without hesitation, without protesting, without dawdling, without even finishing reading the sentence he was probably in the middle of, Loki just obeys.

 

It’s disconcerting, disturbing, and many other things as well, how… compliant Loki is being, with this unquestioned following of orders and acquiescing obedience. It unsettles him and makes his skin crawl.

 

And as he pulls out a chair in front of Loki and straddles it, he realizes that he doesn’t really know how to express what his problem is or how to explain that he doesn’t care for this slave-like behaviour.

 

Yeah, what is he supposed to say, really? Don’t obey? Of course, he still wants and expects Loki to abide by the rules around here and not make any trouble. He can’t pretend that he doesn’t want Loki to follow instructions, because Tony has still been charged with keeping him confined and under supervision, and a recalcitrant god is going to make that a lot harder. But he doesn’t want this robotic obedience or this desperate clamouring to get into his good graces because Loki believes it’s required if he is to be allowed outside again.

 

But the difference is not something he really knows how to clothe into words, and perhaps it’s not something that can be put into words. Maybe Loki will simply have to learn that difference along the way, having had Tony to lay out the foundation for him.

 

So he draws a deep breath, trying to get started and at least say something.

 

“Yeah, so, about that going outside thing…” he begins, and then trails off as he isn’t sure how to continue.

 

At those words, he can see Loki immediately tensing up and a crease of worry appearing between his eyebrows. And he can read all too clearly in that concerned face what Loki is fearing is coming next – yeah, I’ve decided to withdraw the favour. There will be no more going outside, just so you know.

 

Damn, he should have thought it through how to say this before sitting down with the god for a talk.

 

“Just to make sure there aren’t any misunderstandings here, I wanted to point out that you don’t have to earn it or anything. It comes with the package, as long as you don’t do anything out there that’s blatantly stupid enough for me to consider revoking the privilege,” he says and then winces at the word ‘privilege’. That’s not what it’s supposed to come off like, as if it’s a reward granted for proper displays of servitude.

 

“I mean, it’s not actually a privilege,” he quickly amends, “just something you’ll have here regardless. This is America, and even convicts are allowed time outside, so that means that you will be too. Got that?”

 

And Loki looks so confused, so lost at those words that Tony just wants to reach out a hand to that face and…

 

But he doesn’t, of course.

 

And just like Tony already knew that Loki would do, the god nods in reply. Whether he has truly understood it yet is another matter, of course, but somehow he has the feeling that there is very little that additional words can do right now. Whatever understanding might still be lacking regarding this is best gained by Loki eventually realizing it on his own as he makes what Tony has said reconcile with reality.

 

At least the words should have taken away the main incitement for Loki to behave like this. It might not be perfect, but it’s a start, at least.

Chapter Text

If there’s one thing that Tony is good at, it’s confusing him. Once he thinks he’s gotten a decent grasp of the situation, the man says or does something that unsettles his already frequently rearranged world view, forcing it to break up and reshuffle once more. Like a jigsaw puzzle taken apart and then having some of its pieces exchanged, so that once it comes together again, the picture it shows is something different entirely.

 

It’s just like that time when Tony promised he wouldn’t hurt him, thereby voluntarily throwing away the best means he had of enforcing his slave’s obedience and submission. And now, the man has willingly cut off the next best thing he could have dangled over Loki’s head to make sure his behaviour would be in line with expectations, telling him that the highly desirable favour of going outside would be granted regardless of whether he had done anything to earn it or not.

 

Again, the man is making no sense. Why would a master give anything to a slave that they haven’t proved themselves deserving of?

 

Before his inner eye, the illogical scene plays out again. He had been really worried there for a few disconcerting heartbeats as Tony had brought the subject up. Because he had been almost certain that it could only mean one thing, namely that the man was about to tell him that he had changed his mind about the arrangement. And there was certainly not a lack of possible reasons – maybe Tony didn’t want to waste his time taking his slave outside, or perhaps he had just decided that the risk of an escape attempt was too high, or maybe he simply thought that Loki hadn’t shown himself deserving enough to be granted any such.

 

Not that Tony would have needed to offer any explanation, of course, should he have decided to revoke the favour. It’s not like masters have to explain themselves to their slaves in any way, but still.

 

Maybe it’s that Midgardian sentiment again, that pity resurfacing once more, that has made Tony make such a decision. Or maybe it’s something else, he really doesn’t know.

 

He also isn’t quite sure what would count as “blatantly stupid enough” for Tony to actually do decide to put a stop to the outings, but most everything Tony tells him is vague or unspecific anyway, and so many times he just has to guess what it is the man means or wants.

 

And it’s strange, the way he’s removing every incitement Loki has for obeying, almost as if Tony doesn’t want him to behave and act like a slave is supposed to. Just like that time a couple of days ago when he had told Loki not to call him master, which should have been the normal and expected address, instead insisting that he use his name. An Asgardian slave presuming to address his master in such a familiar and blatantly disrespectful manner would of course have been punished harshly, no doubt about it. Well, not that any slave in Asgard would ever dream of doing such, but still.

 

Reflexively, his fingers go to the metal band around his wrist, something that they’ve already been doing more times than he can count despite him only having worn the thing for a few days. As much as he doesn’t like wearing it – it’s far too reminiscent of a shackle – it still serves as a welcome reminder that Tony is indeed planning to take him outside again.

 

Slowly, his fingers trail along the metal, tracing circles around it for the sense of comfort the action brings him, just like he’s done on so many occasions before.

 

The only difference is that this time, he notices a very thin groove that he hasn’t spotted before where the ends are connecting, so minute that it has escaped his detection until now. It’s not even a hair’s breadth wide, no more than a barely discernable faint crack in the material. So thin that it would take something extremely flat to stick it in between to pry the ends open. Of course, Tony isn’t stupid, so naturally he would design a bracelet that would minimize the risk for tampering and removal.

 

He fiddles with the metal band for a little while longer, his fingers focusing on the minute groove intersecting the previously seemingly solid and cohesive material.

 


 

Even for a place like New York, no one can call the current weather anything but exceptionally shitty, the sky opening up to spew forth one of the most massive downpours he can ever remember experiencing. The rain is smattering against the window panes in a sharp clatter, sounding more like hail than water. Almost like another deluge is coming to town to drown the sins of humanity. Of which he is probably responsible for a good half.

 

Well, sitting up here in his tower, he’d be about the last person the heavens would get to with those outdated tactics, if that were to be the case. Still, it’s kind of cosy with the rain pouring and the wind howling, while he’s sitting all snug and warm and dry inside, blanket draped over his legs and computer perched on his lap and a cup of steaming coffee in his hands.

 

Just perfect.

 

And with everything that has happened lately, all the messes he’s had to clean up, he can use some perfection, even if it’s just something small like this. But perhaps things have actually calmed down for a while now; at least there hasn’t been anything major looming on the horizon lately. Sure there’s always Loki who is an unpredictable wild card and a seemingly never-ending source of potential problems, but maybe the worst is indeed over now.

 

Granted, every time that very thought has presumed to enter his head, it has soon been refuted by some other exploding issue that he never quite saw coming, but he supposes even with Loki, these things have to run out some time, right?

 

Well, at any rate, the god should be under sufficient surveillance now with the tracker around his wrist, and the thought makes him feel a little bit more comfortable about the situation. Whatever problems and issues might still be brewing, that little safety measures should at least prevent Loki from making any ill-advised escape attempts or anything of the sort, which should mean one problem less for him to worry about, whatever else will be coming.

 

He sneaks a peek at the god sitting at the other end of the couch, his long fingers picking at a magazine, unsystematically flipping through the pages, eyebrows slightly knitted.

 

Probably, they don’t have magazines on Asgard, just those old, mouldy parchments. Still, he can imagine them coming with those fancy pictures like in Harry Potter, where the photos are moving, and now the guy’s all confused why the people in the glossy snapshots aren’t waving happily at him. Or something.

 

There’s a cup of hot chocolate on the tabletop in front of the god, mostly empty by now. He did have Loki try some coffee just the other day, but it was obvious that he didn’t like it one bit, not if his coughing and sputtering was anything to go by. The hot chocolate seems to work better, though. Probably something they don’t have in Asgard either, but in Tony’s humble opinion weather like this requires a hot drink of some kind, and if coffee won’t work, then hot chocolate will be the next best thing.

 

Another gust of wind rattles the glass panes and his gaze moves from Loki to the window. “Shame about the weather,” he says. “Or it would have been a perfect day to go for a walk in the park.”

 

And damn if he can’t see Loki perk up at that, his lazy, drifting focus suddenly snapping back to full attention. Like a cat when a can of tuna is being opened in the close vicinity. If he didn’t know any better, he’d call that endearing.

 

“I take it you liked the park, huh?” he asks with a raised eyebrow, despite already knowing what the answer will be.

 

Loki’s eyes hold his for a couple of seconds before he answers. “I did,” he admits, adding a slow nod for emphasis.

 

“Well, it’s a nice place if you don’t count all those joggers. I’m sure we can go some other day, though, once the weather lets up.” He takes another deep sip from his cup, enjoying the little tang of cognac he’s spiced it up with. Not even coffee is so perfect that it can’t be improved upon.

 

As he puts the cup down on the tabletop again, his gaze once more lands on the god in the couch. And he can see that Loki is actually looking sort of… happy? Well, whatever it is, Tony has to admit that he likes the look on the god.

 

It suits him, and makes him look…

 

And he resolutely pushes the rest of that thought away. Of course, his desire to bring Loki outside again has nothing whatsoever to do with that, it’s merely because it’s the Right Thing to do, and Tony is a decent guy who wouldn’t let anyone, not even someone who once tried to conquer his planet, suffer all locked up without ever getting the basic human need of going outside fulfilled.

 

Clearly, Loki has been looking less glum these last few days, not quite as doomy and gloomy as before. Like there’s a bit more colour in that pale face, having been upgraded to something that looks more human than vampire. So it’s a practical solution, because having a god with a history of emotional unbalance coped up in his house is just like keeping a dog from going outside to relieve itself – it isn’t a Very Good Idea and will inevitably lead to nastiness in one form or the other.

 

Of course, it doesn’t have anything at all to do with that look on the god’s face as Tony had taken him outside that he still recalls so vividly even now.

 


 

Much later, he’s back in his room again, thinking he should probably get some sleep. Still, he remains perched on the edge of the bed instead of crawling down beneath the covers; right now he isn’t in any mood for sleeping. Even if it’s late and long since dark outside, he’s not tired in the slightest, so he sits there listening to the patter of rain against glass, the sound oddly calming and soothing.

 

Once again, his hand goes up to the little tracker-containing bracelet circling his wrist. He runs a finger along the metal, smooth and cool against his skin, like a well-polished knife blade. Soon, it encounters the thin groove, undetected until just recently. But now that he knows where it is, it’s not too difficult to find again.

 

For a while, he toys with the spider web-thin line in the metal, his finger nail trailing along its length. It produces a faint scraping sound against the hard material, just barely audible over the soft tap of raindrops, as it paints meandering flowing patterns across the bracelet.

 

Slowly, his gaze lifts to the window despite it showing nothing but darkness, his nail still scratching at the thin groove.

Chapter Text

Despite Tony falling asleep yesterday night with the sound of rain smattering against window panels echoing in his ears, the morning after turned out to be as sunny and beautiful as one could possibly wish for. Sure there were still puddles of water on the streets, but otherwise it was as if the previous downpour never happened.

 

A perfect day for a walk in the park if he’d ever seen one.

 

They had headed out once breakfast was over and done with, strolling around among the trees and meticulously pruned lawns for the better part of the morning and even a fair part of the afternoon. Loki had seemed unusually at ease and content as he walked along the gravel-covered paths, apparently caught up in his own thoughts, as if he’d forgotten all about his current situation and the punishment he was serving, instead choosing to focus his mind on other and hopefully better things. That would definitely count as progress, if the god had indeed found it in him to disentangle himself from his previous gloominess and cultivate a somewhat more positive mindset.

 

All in all, Tony supposes he can’t complain. The day had turned out nicely, there had been no trouble, and his charge seemed contented and even border-line happy.

 

A part of him had been whispering that he’d better remain vigilant, because it was almost too good. But then again, he liked ‘too good’, so he pushed the suspicions away, because Loki hadn’t actually done anything to merit them. No, it was just Tony’s old misgivings and inability to trust people that were rearing their ugly heads again. It certainly wouldn’t have been the first time.

 

They even stopped for ice cream somewhere along the way as they were going back home. He’s still not quite sure why. Perhaps it was the stark incongruity inherent in the mental image of one god of chaos and wanton destruction licking away at a vanilla ice cream cone that made it impossible to simply walk by the vendor and his icy goodness without indulging his brain’s weird whims.

 

Loki obviously enjoyed it, too, though the look on his face was rather perplexed. Which was totally understandable, as the guy had probably never eaten frozen, ice cold food like this before, given that Asgard was most likely suffering from a pitiful lack of freezers, to say nothing of ice cream machines.

 

The weather turned bad again soon after, however, rain starting to fall in heavy droplets from dark grey skies. Only about fifteen seconds after the first drop landed on Tony’s nose, the sky opened up in a veritable waterfall, and suddenly people were running all over the place for cover, the lucky ones equipped with newspapers to shield their heads from the worst onslaught.

 

Usually, this would be the time when Tony would have signalled for a cab for a ride home, but the area they were in was a pedestrian zone only, and there was a stairway entrance conveniently placed only a few yards to the right with the word ‘subway’ plastered across the railing, so he pulled the god along down the steps and into the underground.

 

Yeah, the joys of public transportation is something he usually avoids, but this time it did seem like the best option. It was only a few stops from home, after all, and preferable to standing around somewhere for who knows how long waiting for the rain to cease.

 

So now the two of them are standing in a carriage choke full with people pressing up against them from all directions. And Tony can swear that someone grabbed his ass just moments ago, but he can’t turn his head and look the perpetrator in the eye unless he wants his face to make contact with the elbow of the grossly overweight man standing to his right, his arm holding one of the straps for balance. Totally unnecessary, as the carriage is so packed that even if the train should make a sudden stop, the throng of people would render a fall-on-the-face impossible. Tony makes a grimace, having no choice but to stand remain standing with the reek of a stranger’s unwashed armpit in his face.

 

Despite the unpleasantness emanating from that direction, it’s still easier to focus on that than on the person standing to his other side – Loki, all pushed into Tony from the pressure of people around them. He’s never been so close to the god for such an extended period of time before, and it’s oddly unnerving. Standing within licking distance to strangers without getting embarrassed or uncomfortable is something you learn quickly when living in New York, but when that someone isn’t a stranger but Loki, it gets harder to ignore.

 

He dares a look in the god’s direction. Loki is staring straight ahead, a blank expression on his face, but there is a tension in his posture belying his otherwise neutral features. Mot likely, he’s trying to will all the jostling people around him away who are effectively invading his private space. Just like ice cream machines, crowded subway carriages are probably unheard of in Asgard.

 

The train suddenly takes a curve with a bit more speed than optimal, rustling the crowd inside. Loki’s body presses harder against his, and Tony can feel the heat of it against his skin as he tries to don an undaunted deadpan expression, looking anywhere but at Loki.

 

At least he isn’t sporting an erection this time, though if the circumstances were a bit different, as in the carriage being exchanged for the privacy of his tower and the other people around him not existing, he probably would have.

 

It’s a relief when the train makes a halt at the next stop. The more impatient passengers are jostling to get off, and even though it’s not his stop yet Tony steps out of the doors to let the people behind him exit more easily, glad for a chance to put some distance between himself and Loki. As the last persons are milling out, and Tony is about to step back inside, there is suddenly a hand brushing very briefly against his body, at chest level, far too intimately for it to be a mere accident. 

 

Quickly, he gropes at his pocket, wanting to make sure his wallet is still there. The pocket is as empty as a rusty bucket turned upside down.

 

Fuck.

 

He whirls around, only to see the outlines of a quickly retreating figure dart into the throng of people milling towards to the exit.

 

You little bastard.

 

With adrenaline shooting through his body and the sound of blood pumping in his ears, he dashes after the figure on pure reflex without thinking, about to push himself into the mass of commuters when the sound of doors closing cuts through his hormone-induced sprint of madness, bringing him back to reality.

 

Double fuck. 

 

He turns just in time to see the carriage with Loki still inside roll off the platform, leaving Tony there like some stranded whale, too stupid to navigate properly and about to be brutally eliminated by natural selection.

 

Suddenly, the stolen wallet seems like the least of his problems.

 

A surge of panic is threatening to well up inside of him, pushing his usual rational mind aside, but he forces it back, refusing to be overcome with raw emotion. It’s not going to do him any good now, only sensible thinking will.

 

Okay, so he just lost a war criminal in New York City, like a freaking penny that fell out of a hole in his pocket. No reason to panic, though, the tracking device is still firmly attached to Loki’s wrist and his location fed directly into Tony’s cell phone, so at least he’ll know the god’s whereabouts at any given time.

 

Yes, rational, sensible thinking. He leans against a graffiti-covered pillar for support, cold sweat running down his forehead as he draws a hand through his hair, mulling over what the chances are that it’s gone grey from this scarce and if it might be worth investing the spare change in his pockets in some hair dye. An elderly couple passing by give him an affronted look as they walk past, the man muttering something about drug addicts and withdrawal symptoms.

 

Alright then. He straightens himself up, exhaling deeply as he struggles to get a grip on himself. He did tell Loki when they stepped on the train that it would take them almost right to the doorstep of Stark Tower, but he never said which stop to get off at. So most likely, Loki will ride with the train until it reaches the end station, not knowing where else to get off but perhaps hoping that there will be something familiar along the way to let him infer the correct stop. That means a ride of about fifteen minutes. He looks at the time table hovering above his head where the number display just changes from an eleven to a ten. Okay, so ten minutes until the next one. Hopefully Loki will be smart enough to wait for Tony to come get him. Surely he will not be stupid enough to wander off on his own and do god knows what.

 

The wait feels more like an hour than merely ten minutes, anxious time that he spends transferring orders to Jarvis to block his credit cards and send requests for new ones, while staring at his cell phone and the little speck that represents Loki, wishing that he had had enough sense to equip the bracelet with a communication device while he was at it. Yeah, hindsight is twenty-twenty, alright. And a bitch, too.

 

When the next train finally rolls onto the platform, Tony squeezes himself through the doors before they’re even fully open, his grave breach of commuter etiquette earning him angry stares and muttered comments from some of the exiting passengers. He couldn’t care less, though.

 

For the duration of the train ride, his eyes are glued to his cell phone display, apprehension curling in his stomach like a snake when the application informs him that Loki has just stepped out at the end station.

 

Stay there, he silently wills the dot, don’t move from the spot until I come and get you.

 

The black speck on the screen mills about for a little while, but then ceases to move altogether, remaining on the same coordinates. Okay, good, from the looks of it Loki probably isn’t going anywhere until Tony gets there.

 

And then, the speck on his screen suddenly flickers, and a second later it is gone, leaving only an empty map with coordinates and street names printed across it.

 

What the hell?

 

Tony stares at the screen as if his intense gaze will bring the Loki speck back, but the black dot remains stubbornly absent.

 

His mind is swirling like a maelstrom as he stares at the empty spot that only moments ago was covered with dark pixels. Did Loki find a way to remove the tracking device? Granted, he would need some kind of tool to take that thing apart, but perhaps he had managed to pry the bracelet open somehow, if he’d gotten his hands on something hard and flat to stick into that thin groove where the ends connect…

 

Suddenly, Tony has a very sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. And then, raw anger is stirring inside of him, lifting its ugly face and baring its sharp fangs.

 

Of course Loki would take advantage of any opportunity to escape. And Tony is a blithering idiot for trusting the god of lies and mischief, for aiding his getaway like this, for playing right into his hands. How could he have fallen so easily for it?

 

There is not only anger burning through him, though, but something else, something even more potent – a feeling of betrayal. He put his trust in Loki, and the god repaid him by using his gullibility against him, probably laughing inside as he stringed Tony along and then making his escape as soon as an appropriate moment presented itself.

 

He clenches his hands into fists. Oh, he’ll find the bastard one way or the other; he’ll get him back, and once he does, Loki is going to be one very sorry-ass god indeed.

Chapter Text

He’s staring at the empty screen in abject misery, anger swirling inside of him. Damn the sneaky bastard to hell for doing this to him, for using him like a pawn.

 

His head has turned into a battle ground for a million disturbing thoughts, all vying for his attention and every single one of them pointing out to him in no uncertain terms just how much he’s messed up. Crap, he’s such an idiot, seriously believing a simple tracker could contain the god of lies and deceit. Of course he would find some way around the device, merely biding his time until the perfect moment arrived, well away from the tower and Jarvis’ surveillance, dumping Tony off like excess luggage.

 

Like an ice cube in hell, the guy took to just disappearing into thin air, grabbing the opportunity with both hands as it presented itself. Exactly how Loki managed to get rid of the tracker he doesn’t know, but the specifics aren’t important; what matters right now is that he somehow did.

 

And of course, Tony had never taken into consideration that the two of them would get separated like this; when he’d designed his tracker he had been assuming Loki would remain close and in Tony’s sight at all times, so any tampering with the device wouldn’t have gone by unnoticed. Naturally, he had checked the bracelet before they headed out, just in case Loki should have done something with it in the meantime, but there had been nothing out of the ordinary, everything had appeared as it should.

 

He can’t believe he’s let himself be fooled this easily, being drawn in by the innocent façade Loki had put up, the picture made perfect by those puppy eyes. The god had known exactly how to play him, as if Tony were a well-tuned piano and Loki a professional pianist. And his plan obviously worked perfectly – make Tony feel sorry for him, pretending to be all harmless, goad him along while waiting for an unguarded moment outside, and then remove the bracelet and take off.

 

It had been terribly stupid of him not to take something like that into account. Loki could have found a number of items in the tower he could have easily snuck along when they went outside – perhaps a needle or something would have been equipment enough. It wouldn’t have been an easy feat to pry the bracelet open with such a primitive tool, but given a good undisturbed fifteen minutes on a train to work on the clasp...

 

After everything that’s happened, he should have learned by now not to put his trust in people, and just what did he do? Yeah, he went right ahead and put it in none other than the very guy who is the physical manifestation of lies and deceit and who has spent centuries perfecting his skills.

 

If this had happened to anyone else, he would have laughed at their gullibility. Even the naive morons falling for those Nigerian royalty email scams have better justification than him.

 

And now, he’s lost Loki in the middle of New York of all places. Not in Eastern Bumblefuck or Hicksville, but fucking New York with its eight something millions of people. The chances of finding him here is about as big as finding a piece of marble in a quarry. In other words, about as non-existent as a pink unicorn.

 

Then there is the very much unwelcome thought materializing in his head about what kind of uncomfortable questions SHIELD might want to ask him in case they should happen to stumble on the alien fugitive and find out the whole story. And damn if he can’t just picture Fury’s single eye glaring daggers at him as his disdainful voice demands to know why the hell Tony thought he would be qualified to contain a hostile alien master of deceit instead of contacting SHIELD to let them deal with the problem as soon as it got dumped on his doorstep.

 

And he wouldn’t even be able to offer a smart-ass reply to that since it would be laughably obvious from recent events that he wasn’t in the slightest cut for the job.

 

The grip around his cell phone tightens. Of course, the responsible thing would be to own up to his own dumb-assery and immediately call Fury to alert him that there’s a war criminal on the loose who might be up to who knows what. It would be embarrassing and uncomfortable and many other things as well that he doesn’t want to think about right now, but his own pride shouldn’t take precedence here, should it? As much as he would have preferred to find the god on his own, he would be much better off leaving it to the professionals, right?

 

Still, he doesn’t bring up his list of contacts. He just doesn’t have it in him to call Fury, because he knows – or at least suspects – what they’d do to Loki if they got their hands on him. And despite the god having betrayed his trust so gravely like this, despite the anger churning inside of him, he still doesn’t want him to end up in SHIELD’s not-so-tender care.

 

Besides, Loki doesn’t even have his magic or his powers – unless he’s found some way to get rid of those Asgardian bracelets as well while he was at it, but that’s something he doesn’t want to even consider right now – so whatever damage he could do should be negligible. Certainly not something you’d need to contact an organization like SHIELD for, who no doubt have their hands full trying to control much greater threats than powerless gods-made-mortals.

 

No, he will have to try finding Loki on his own. Though, how that’s going to happen, he really has no idea. Then again, he is Tony Stark, and he’s nothing if not a problem solver. He’s gotten himself out of much tighter spots than this and lived to tell the tale. Finding a runaway god should be a simple task in comparison, he tries to comfort himself. He still has his brain and wits and technical skills. He’ll figure something out.

 

But the first step is visiting the crime scene, to see if there are any clues there, something that might guide him along the way, even if it’s just the discarded bracelet lying forlorn on the floor of the subway station.

 

Sighing, he throws another glance at the cell phone still nestled in his hand when the screen unexpectedly recalibrates, and the map and coordinates on display all flicker and disappear, only to be replaced with a new and different set a second later. And, miraculously, the black speck that represents Loki is back. Tony blinks a few times in surprise as he realizes that the map image on his screen represents nothing else than his own tower.

 

Huh? What on Earth just happened here?

 

Okay, his utterly confused brain supplies, so Loki must have made his way from the station to his tower, somehow; that’s the only reasonable explanation for this weirdness. And that makes a huge wave of relief wash over him, the possibility that the god might not have tried to remove the bracelet and escape, after all, as much as everything was pointing in that direction.

 

Unfortunately, that is making little sense either, because even if Loki knew the way back home and ran as fast as he could, he wouldn’t have been able to make it there in the brief moment that has passed since Tony lost the reading on him at the end station.

 

The dots won’t connect in his head. So perhaps there was some temporary problem with the tracker, and he lost contact with it for a few moments, but how could Loki have gotten back to the tower so quickly? Did he freaking teleport himself? That would at least have explained why the reading on the god had disappeared if he was passing through interplanetary Neverland or whatever intergalactic wormhole teleporters travelled through to get from here to there. He winces at the thought; Loki’s magic bracelets should be blocking his powers and make such a feat impossible. But maybe there was a glitch in the things, enabling the god to use select portions of his magic. If so, Tony should count himself very lucky that this is all the god has been doing with it.

 

He groans, leaning his head back against the scrunchy seat. Why is it that this whole slave-deal just keeps getting more complicated? If Odin was standing here in front of him, Tony would have clocked him one in the face, god or not.

 

Luckily, his stop is up next and as the train finally comes to a halt, he once more pushes himself through the carriage doors before they’re barely open, sprinting off like an Olympic champion, glad that Stark Tower is situated only a few blocks away.

 

The first thing that greets him when he slams the front door open, out of breath and legs shaking from exertion, is the sound of Jarvis’ voice calmly announcing, “You have guests waiting for you on floor three, Mr Stark.”

 

Guests? What the hell? How did anyone make it past the security barriers? He makes a mental note to add a moot with underfed crocodiles along the perimeter. Perhaps some good old-fashioned intruder repellence will prove more effective if his high-tech solutions can be by-passed so easily.

 

“What guests?” he snaps, rushing up the staircase to level three, not bothering to wait for either Jarvis’ answer or the elevator. He doesn’t have a good feeling about this, none at all…

 

“They did not give their names, sir, merely said that they would like a word with you. They did, however, bring with them a certain--“

 

He reaches the third level and stops in his tracks at the sight that greets him, the rest of what Jarvis says not registering in his mind.

 

Because right there, in the middle of the spacious room, stands a group of people most definitely not from this planet. Unless they’ve come straight from some funny costume party, which, judging by the severe look on their faces, they clearly haven’t.

 

Four Einherjers, straight out of Asgard, complete with showy beards, helmets, shiny swords and armour, and smouldering gazes that could fry lesser beings. The air in the room seems to have dropped several degrees below its usual temperature and Tony feels a chill trace an icy finger along his spine.

 

Whimsically, he wonder if these are the same guys as the ones that showed up last time with Loki in tow; if Erik the Blabbermouth has made a dashing return, but there’s no way to tell as they all look the same with their faces half-hidden behind scruffy beards and well-polished helmets.

 

There’s a new addition to the little group this time, though, an older man who stands before the group preening like he’s their leader, looking like someone straight out of Harry Potter and who could give Dumbledore a good run for his money with the cliché white beard that is trailing all the way down to his waist. There is a sword at his belt as well, but it is shorter than those of his comrades and he wears lighter armour, so the geriatric geezer is probably a wizard of some sort. If that’s what magical men are called back in Asgard; Tony isn’t familiar with such nuances. Maybe warlock or conjuror or hocus-pocus guy would be a more apt title.

 

He supposes he should be the one to say something first, ask what freaking business they have here, because the tower is still his home, despite these uninvited visitors having helped themselves to it like Tony is only an accessory that comes with the package. But the geezer steps forward before Tony has a chance to open his mouth to let spill a frosty comment that probably isn’t going to be very conducive to his health, given the amount of blank weapons in his immediate presence.

 

“Greetings, Man of Iron,” the man says, voice just as pompous as the rest of him. “Please accept our apologies for rudely intruding in your home like this.”

 

Tony offers him an insincere smile. “It’s alright, I just hope you guys remembered to wipe your shoes on the way in; see, I had the floor cleaned mere days ago and I just hate the way mud stains look on marble tiles.” Oh, and don’t you guys know how to fucking knock?

 

If the old guy finds Tony’s reply offensive, he gives no sign of it. “Worry not, as we shall not linger longer than necessary. We merely come to inform you that we will be taking your slave Loki back to Asgard to face execution.”

 

Chapter Text

Uh? Tony’s brain had temporarily stuffed Loki into the back office of his mind the moment he came face to face with the unexpected Asgardian intruders, but now the memory comes back full force.

 

Loki.

 

“Execution?” he repeats dully, puzzled and alarmed by the turn the conversation is taking. “What do you mean?” His thoughts are racing and he is doing his darndest to make sense out of the whole messy situation. Did something happen to make Odin change his mind about this whole slavery deal? He does remember how Thor went off to Asgard to speak on Loki’s behalf before Odin, but converting the slavery sentence into execution was probably not the kind of clemency the Thunderer had in mind, though perhaps death was indeed a step up in Odin’s twisted little eye-patched head.

 

“Were the terms of the sentence not explained as Loki was given over to you?” the Gandalf look-alike says haughtily, white eyebrows wrinkled above a pair of questioning eyes, probably assuming that Tony has indeed been informed but his inferior mortal mind merely forgotten. With that, the old man turns and takes a step to the side, suddenly revealing what his body has previously blocked from view, and Tony lets loose a little gasp at the sight that greets him.

 

Between two of the Einherjers hangs a limp but very recognisable form, his head bowed so low that his tangled dark hair conceals his face. Judging by the figure’s hunched-over position, it’s only the steadfast, vice-like grip of the two Asgardian warriors to either side of him that is keeping him in any semblance of an upright position, as opposed to dropping to the floor in an inglorious heap.

 

And suddenly, it’s all making sense to him, or at least it’s starting to. So Loki did teleport back here, after all, though it wasn’t by his own devices. No, it was Gandalf and his little entourage who had come straight out of Asgard to nab the god at the subway station and then magiced them all back to Stark Tower. And it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the brief moment they’d spent in some weird cosmic interstice or space fold while going from there to here would have corresponded to the time that Tony couldn’t get a reading from the tracker.

 

And he sincerely hopes there were no bystanders around to see them, or there could be some very uncomfortable questions eventually coming his way, but given that the end station is not frequented by many travellers and is usually deserted at this time of day, perhaps they had managed to perform their little appearing-and-disappearing act unnoticed.

 

And now, they’re planning to take Loki back to Asgard for execution.

 

Fuck.

 

“The terms were explained alright, but I think I must have missed the part where it said that Odin’s verdict could be arbitrarily turned into the death penalty.” His answer is snapped rather than spoken, full well knowing he doesn’t like where this is going. Most of all, he would have liked to go check on Loki, to make sure he’s not too badly hurt, but something is telling him that showing any concern for him in front of the intruding Asgardian audience would not go over well, and might even serve to make things worse, as bad as they already are. So he remains in place, willing Loki to be as fine and unharmed as possible.

 

Gandalf draws himself up, mouth a thin line as if it is beneath his station to stand here explaining himself to a mortal. “I assure you, this is by no means an arbitrary decision, Man of Iron.” His eyes turns to the god still slumped between his guards, and his gaze hardens. “Heimdall the Watchman has been instructed to regularly turn his far-seeing eye to where Loki is dwelling in the human realm, and report back any breeches of the terms of his sentence. And in the performance of this duty, the Watchman came across the sight of how Loki was no longer with you, but on a Midgardian vehicle of transportation, while you were pursuing him in obvious distress. And as clearly stipulated, an escape attempt means that the sentence will be converted--“

 

“I already told you, I did not try to escape!” Loki suddenly shrieks in protest, struggling against the strong hands that are holding him in an unrelenting grip. The note of panic in his voice is so painfully clear that it makes something twist inside of Tony, and it’s all mixed in with the raging frustration of a born liar who is used to people swallowing his falsehoods hook and sinker, but when he is for once speaking the truth, when it truly matters, no one believes him.

 

Okay, major misunderstanding here, guys. Tony is about to speak up in Loki’s defence, to offer the trespassing Aesir his side of the story, but one of the Einherjer guards is quicker.

 

“Silence, slave,” he barks as he draws a gloved hand back into a fist and lands a punch right into the midsection of his charge, who slips to his knees, gasping and doubled-over in pain.

 

And Tony sincerely hopes that wasn’t the sound of a rib cracking he just heard.

 

Hot anger flashing through him, he steps forward without thinking, grabbing the offending arm of the Einherjer before it has time to do more damage. The much larger man blinks in surprise at the unexpected intervention as Tony fixes him with an icy stare.

 

“Hey, Hercules,” he says, hostility dripping from every word. “Don’t touch my stuff.”

 

The room goes deathly quiet at that and Tony realizes that all eyes are suddenly on him – the four Einherjers, Gandalf, even Loki is staring at him, waiting for his next move. And the big brute whose arm he’s still holding onto is looking like he’s only inches away from gutting Tony where he stands, just barely being held back by some lofty Asgardian notion that probably forbids an uninvited guest to smite his unwilling host on the spot.

 

He lets go of the bulging, leather-clad arm, trying to calm down. The only sound is the ragged, uneven breaths coming from Loki, who is still on the floor clutching his midsection, the tension thick enough to be cut into bulky slices with a butter knife.

 

Okay, so that really got the party started, didn’t it.

 

“Look, I know this might come as a surprise to you all, but Loki is telling the truth here,” he finally manages, trying his best to pour oil on the troubled waters before something really nasty happens and someone loses a head. And that someone is unlikely to be either one of the Einherjers or Gandalf. No, getting anyone upset isn’t going to help things out here, especially not when his Iron Man suit is out of immediate reach. Darn, why is it that that always happens to him whenever hostile Asgardians show up in his tower?

 

No one intervenes to add their own commentary to that, so he continues, struggling to control the anger still cursing through his veins. “Loki and I got separated by accident, because some little shit tried to rob me and when I chased after him the Midgardian vehicle of transportation that Loki was in, and that I was supposed to have been on too, took off without me. Mishaps like these are all part of the joy that comes with public transportation, though I suppose it’s not something you guys have to worry about in Asgard where you have your fancy horses and carriages and magic dragons to haul you around.” 

 

Gandalf doesn’t look quite like he understands all the details with the way he’s narrowing his eyes and quirking his lips, as if he suspects that Tony is making shit up just to confuse him.

 

“Are you always this careless in how you handle your slaves?” he asks, clearly not approving of Tony’s way of doing things.

 

He is on the verge of shooting back the obvious reply – I’ve never had a slave before – but he realizes that might only serve to feed the geezer’s suspicions that Tony is patently unsuited to the task of having a slave in his care. And while that perception is probably very correct, admitting to it might mean a death sentence for Loki, so he keeps his mouth shut.

 

Instead, he points to the piece of metal circling Loki’s wrist. “See that little bracelet there? Yup, that’s the one. It contains a device that lets me keep track of Loki’s whereabouts, and that’s how I knew he was back in my tower and not at the station where you grabbed him.”

 

Five pair of eyes are studying the bracelet, some surprised, others more suspicious. One of the Einherjers standing next to Loki bends down to tap a prodding finger against the metal, but makes no further comment on it.

 

“Yeah, you guys aren’t the only ones who know how to make fancy tracking bracelets,” he says, crossing his arms in front of him in what he hopes is a show of authority and competence. “If you hadn’t gone ahead and beamed Loki back up here, I would have recovered him soon enough, no damage done.”

 

Gandalf’s look is still one of disapproval, but finally he inclines his head one or maybe two stiff degrees in reluctant acquiescence. “Very well, then. I see that there has been a mistake, and no breech of terms has taken place. We will take our leave and apologize for any inconvenience caused.”

 

Tony is glad to still be standing on his two feet, given the way his knees suddenly go weak with relief. So at least the old geezer can swallow his pride and admit when he’s wrong. Even though he looks like he’s just downed a bathtub full of vinegar.

 

With that, Gandalf urges the warriors along with a wave of his hand. “We will make our way back to Asgard without further ado.” He turns to Tony, almost as in afterthought. “I bid you farewell, Man of Iron.”

 

“Yeah, sure, happy flying or whatever it is that you guys do,” he mutters, glad to see them go. He can’t wait to get these Gladiator rejects out of his tower.

 

The Einherjers march past him without a word, all clinking steel and creaking armour, when one of them stops in his tracks, turning to face Tony with an icy glare. He thinks it’s the same guy who decided it would be a swell idea to turn Loki into a punching bag, but he isn’t sure.

 

“Your slave is disrespectful and insolent,” he booms, thundering voice strangely reminiscent of Thor’s. “You’d do well to have him disciplined more frequently.”

 

“Thanks for the maintenance instructions, asshole,” Tony snaps, though the last word is kind of mumbled. The Iron Man suit is out of his immediate reach, after all.

 

The blue shimmer of a teleporting fur-clad quintet hasn’t even faded before Tony turns to Loki, who is still slumped on the floor, a hand protectively clutched to his side. Air is expelled from his lips in short, ragged gasps, like breathing is an immensely painful activity.

 

Quickly covering the few steps between them, Tony crouches down next to the god, who slowly lifts his bowed head to give him an inscrutable stare. And that’s when Tony sees the purple bruises on the pale face and the split lip and the bleeding cut across the forehead that shadows and distance have kept hidden from view until now.

 

He winces at the sight. “Damn, those guys really did a number on you, Reindeer Games,” he says, unhelpfully stating the obvious, suddenly wishing even more fervently that he could have faced off with the intruders in his Iron Man suit.

 

Loki doesn’t offer him a reply. Which is no surprise; with the possibly cracked rib it probably hurts just to speak.

 

“Let me take a look at that,” Tony offers, reaching out a hand for Loki’s shirt. “Might be broken, if that nasty crack I heard was any indication.”

 

Loki’s face is strained and laced with pain, but he doesn’t swat the hands away as Tony lifts the hem of his T-shirt to reveal bruised and battered skin.

 

He’s relieved that at least there are no visible fractures jutting out under the skin, even though that doesn’t mean that nothing’s broken in there that might end up puncturing a lung or something. In any case, he’s no doctor, so he’s hardly qualified to make any judgement on the severity of Loki’s injuries.

 

He lets the cloth fall back, shielding the ugly bruises from view, and draws a heavy sigh. “Alright, I think we need to call on Bruce Banner here,” he says, not liking the idea but knowing he has no choice.

 

Loki’s eyes flash at that, and he instinctively scoots back a few inches before the resulting pain makes him freeze in his tracks. “I’ll-be-fine,” he croaks out, but it’s just pure stubbornness talking; there is very little conviction in that tense voice.

 

Ignoring the god’s feeble protest, Tony pulls out his cell phone, flipping it open and scanning through his list of contacts until he finds Bruce’s name in the list. He’s not leaving Loki untended to like this, no matter what the god might think of it.

 

Three signals buzz in his ear before a mild-mannered voice picks up at the other end.

 

“Hey, it’s me, Tony. Uh, I kind of need your help with something.” He pauses, grimacing to himself. “First I need to know, though, can you keep a secret? Like, a really big one?”

Chapter Text

Loki waits. Lately, it seems that his life has been comprised of long stretches of doing just that. Waiting in his cell at SHIELD for transport back to Asgard. Waiting in the dungeons for his trial. Waiting to be taken to Midgard to be given over to Tony Stark. Waiting for revenge that isn’t coming.

 

And now, he’s waiting again as Tony is giving Bruce the run-down of the situation, as the man delicately referred to it, in the room next to his. He can’t make out any words, only the soft murmur of voices, sometimes rising in pitch and volume, at other times so soft that they’re barely discernible at all. If moving hadn’t sent piercing shards of pain through his midsection, he would have snuck up and put his ear to the wall to get a gist of what they’re saying.

 

The two of them have been in there for a long time, much longer than Loki would think necessary to bring the doctor up to speed on the state of things. That is probably not a good sign.

 

He can hear agitation in Bruce’s voice, followed by what sounds like Tony ostensibly trying to get him to calm down. It’s not too difficult to get the gist of the situation, though he can’t hear a word – Bruce is no doubt expressing his unwillingness to offer his healing aid to the enemy, and Tony is trying to convince him otherwise.

 

Eventually, he gives up trying to overhear any of the conversation, the throbbing pain stealing his focus away. Right now, everything seems to hurt, including such simple tasks as breathing, swallowing and even blinking.

 

Gingerly, he presses the ice pack clutched in his hand a little tighter to his ribs, despite the resulting stab of pain. Of course, his injuries would have been mere inconveniences had he still had his powers and would have required no treatment, but in his current mortal body, that is a very different matter.

 

His thoughts slowly drift back to the frightening series of events that had led up to all this; even now, merely thinking about them makes the resulting fearful pounding of his heart almost drown out the dizzying sense of relief still rushing through his body.

 

And to think the day had started so well, with the long, relaxing stroll in the park. Even though the ride back home had been uncomfortable with the pressing throng of people, it had been a minor inconvenience, a mere detail in comparison to the delight of the hours spent outside.

 

Then came the shock when the doors to the carriage closed before Tony had gotten back inside, the vehicle taking off without him. For a seemingly ever-lasting moment, there had only been one thought in his head – what do I do now? He had never expected something like that to happen, and he had been so confused and bewildered, at an utter loss what to do. He had no idea at which stop to get off at, and even if he did, he wouldn’t find his way back from there to Tony’s tower.

 

As the worst shock had eventually abated, he had briefly entertained the notion of asking someone in the carriage – people in this city would surely be familiar with the high-rising dwelling of one of their mightiest heroes – but had quickly decided against it. After all, stepping out of his anonymity as a faceless traveller and having someone give him more than a passing glance might result in him being recognized as the one who had brought an army to this realm for conquest. And then things could really turn ugly.

 

No, it was better to remain in the carriage and hope that something might come along to give him a clue about what would be the right stop. And if that didn’t happen, then he’d just get off when the carriage finally reached its end destination and wait there for Tony to come and pick him up. The bracelet around his wrist broadcasted his whereabouts to the man, after all, so there should be no reason for concern.

 

The idea of escaping had never entered his mind; even without Tony’s tracker, there were still Heimdall – who might be watching at any time – and the Asgardian bracelets around his wrists, so any such attempt would be a futile pursuit doomed to fail. But despite the unease coiling in his stomach at being alone and utterly powerless in unfamiliar surroundings in a realm he knew little about and where he was considered an enemy, he had eventually calmed down. Even though he was currently among hostiles without whatever protection Tony’s presence would afford him, as long as no one recognized him, things should be fine. Tony would come get him, they’d go back to his tower, and everything would be back to normal again.

 

He had never considered Asgard. Because he hadn’t entertained the notion of escaping, hadn’t even stopped to think that his current situation might be interpreted in such a way if Heimdall should decide to throw a glance towards his corner of Midgard. So the possibility never occurred to him that there could be trouble coming from that direction.

 

Not until the Einherjers had suddenly materialized as he stood there in the deserted underground station waiting for Tony, like a nightmare coming to life before him. They were rough, despite his not resisting, full well knowing it would only make things even worse, especially given his current station. Still, he thought he should be able to clear it all up and speak his innocence, but they refused to listen, the conviction of his guilt already evident in their hard eyes and drawn faces. They had merely scoffed and told him to silence his lying silvertounge, so in the end, he had simply panicked, certain he would be brought back to meet his end, and all because of a pointless, random incident that wasn’t anything what it appeared like.

 

Luckily, the leader of the group had thought it courteous to stop by and inform his master that Loki would no longer be in his possession, because the contract was forfeit and his slave would be taken back to be executed. So after the ensuing teleportation, he had waited in shivering dread in Tony’s tower, his arms held in bruising grips as he slumped between the guards, barely able to stand up by his own devices after the beating he had suffered at their hands when his panic attack had been taken as resistance.

 

He had sagged in relief at the sight of Tony finally walking in – or running, as it were – truth be told, he had never been so glad to see anyone. Now there would be someone a lot more credible than him to corroborate the story that had only been dismissed at desperate lies from a condemned man, someone to deny the false accusations levelled at him.

 

Then, as another possibility suddenly reared its ugly head in his mind, his relief twisted into a choking tendril of fear instead – what if Tony decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to get rid of him, to have him taken back to Asgard? The man had never wanted Loki as a slave, and had expressed his dissatisfaction at this arrangement more times than he cared to remember at that point.

 

And all the man had to do was speak the words, he’s lying, and Loki would be hauled back to face a long, lingering and painful death. The amount of power Tony held in his hands in that moment was terrifying, and it would only take so precious little, like a razor-sharp scythe swooping down to take a head off by the mere flick of a wrist.

 

But the scythe never fell.

 

Because despite Loki’s uselessness as a slave, despite all the problems he has been the cause of, despite his never being wanted or needed here, despite so many things, Tony had for some reason still decided that he’d rather keep his slave than have him sent back and finally be rid of him.

 

The only question is… why?

 

His musings are interrupted by the click of a handle as the closed door swings open to admit a face he remembers far too well, that of Bruce Banner. Tony is there too, hovering in the background, as if he’s unsure of whether he should be there at all.

 

Loki steels himself. He is not looking forward to being treated by Bruce, who, naturally, will harbour no desire to aid him, but since the man is here it would seem that he has succumbed to what must have been Tony’s insistent persuasion attempts. Perhaps Bruce has agreed in recognition of old friendship, then, or as repayment of some debt or the other.

 

“Hello, Loki,” the man says in greeting as he walks in, placing the bag in his hand down on the table. He comes to a halt a step away from where Loki is half-sitting on the bed, for a moment looking like he’s not sure what to say to his enemy suddenly turned patient. But a couple of heartbeats later, he bridges that last step, with a note more confidence in his posture.

 

“I understand that you have sustained some injuries, and Tony has asked me to check you over, so I’m going to do just that. Are you… okay with this?” he asks, as if he is actually giving Loki a choice in the matter.

 

And Loki doesn’t – he really doesn’t – want the man who turns into that green monster anywhere near him, not the crude beast who smashed him into the floor like he was a child’s toy. Even back then, at the time of his defeat, when he was still in possession of his full powers, had Bruce managed to pummel him into a state of dazed oblivion. A similar encounter in his current state would of course end considerably worse.

 

Warily, he searches those eyes for a glint of green, any sign that the presence of his enemy is yet again drawing forth the beast; however, he can find none.

 

So he nods once, hoping to get this over with as quickly as possible.

 

In the end, Bruce has to cut his shirt open as lifting his arms high enough to remove the garment the normal way proves too painful for Loki, while Tony’s mutters something containing the words Megadeth logo and cutting into pieces and blasphemy. Then, as the remains of his shirt are being peeled off, the man excuses himself and leaves, vaguely mumbling about concepts of privacy and doctor-patient relations.

 

Loki apprehensively watches him go. Truth be told, he would have preferred if Tony had remained in the room instead of leaving him alone with the beast, since it would have made him feel safer. Which is a strange concept, that Tony’s presence should be accompanied by feelings of safety rather than fear, which would have been the default setting in a normal master-slave relation. But the man did see fit to step in between Loki and the Einherjer that had punched him to the floor, so hopefully he’d step in again, if Bruce should show signs of wanting to hurt him.

 

He watches Bruce dig into his bag and remove something out of its depths, and Loki strains to see what it is, suspicion coiling inside of him. The two little beads that the doctor shakes out of a can do look harmless enough as they lay in his palm, round and white, but as Bruce hands them over to him, he makes no move to accept them.

 

“They’re painkillers. They will take away some of the pain,” Bruce explains, calmly holding his hand out but not making any attempts to force the pills onto his unwilling patient.

 

Slowly, Loki lifts up his hand for these ‘painkillers’, and the other man tips his own hand, letting the contents spill down into Loki’s upturned palm. He doesn’t trust the doctor, but has no desire to do anything that might call forth the man’s alter ego again. Reluctantly, he brings the white pills up to his mouth and swallows them down, relaxing slightly as there are no immediate adverse affects.

 

Bruce works mostly under silence, keeping his comments to a minimum. After some uncomfortable prodding, he does mention that one of Loki’s ribs is cracked and instructs him to lean forward so he can wind some gauze around his midsection, something which makes for an unpleasant experience.

 

But the silence fits him perfectly; speaking hurts and he has no desire to waste precious words on this man whose only reason for helping him is out of loyalty to Tony.

 

It is only after he has dabbed at the cut on Loki’s forehead with a cotton swab drenched in something that makes Loki gasp at the unexpected sting and pull away, only to be rewarded with even worse pain in his midsection, that the man speaks again.

 

Bruce pulls off the gloves he’s wearing, throws them into the waste basket in the corner, and then gathers his other supplies and medical equipment strewn across the bedside table. As the last things have been placed inside and the bag zipped shut, Loki expects the man to leave, having fulfilled his promise of aid. But instead of acting as anticipated, the man pulls out a chair and plonks himself down next to the bed.

 

And then he just sits there for a few moments, glancing Loki over like he’s seeing him for the first time, bandages and bruises covering his body. There is something about that stare that makes Loki want to squirm, but he doesn’t, steeling himself for what comes next.

 

The doctor clears his throat, almost like he’s embarrassed, and pushes his glasses further up the bridge of his nose with the tip of a finger.

 

“So, how are you faring?” the man finally says, breaking the silence.

 

“I… am as well as can be expected under the circumstances,” Loki replies stiffly and warily, not sure what prompted the question. After all, the doctor has examined him and can no doubt draw his own conclusions from those observations. “But I will heal, even mortal bodies do eventually,” he adds, not wanting to appear any weaker than he must surely already do.

 

Bruce fidgets a little where he’s sitting, like there are invisible spikes lining the seat of his chair.

 

“No, I meant with all of this.” He makes a vague gesture that is meant to indicate something not physically present in the room. “With being a… well, a slave.”

 

The question takes him by surprise. It was not one he had seen coming, least of all from the man who once pounded him into the floor without a moment of regret. There is no reason for Bruce to ask, and besides, Loki has no desire to discuss his position; breaching the subject with Thor was bad enough, but having his humiliation spoken of aloud with what is essentially a stranger would be even worse.

 

“Tony explained the situation to me,” Bruce continues, undeterred by Loki’s silence, “and even though I can’t say I’m pleased with the idea of one of my friends being what is technically a slave owner, I can understand that Tony didn’t have much choice in the matter. Just like you had none.”

 

Perhaps he would be better off keeping his mouth shut, but being fully aware that he’s a slave without power, without any control over his own life, without the luxury of making his own choices, without all the things he always took for granted before this, he says it anyway.

 

“I did have a choice. I could have chosen death at my trial instead.” Of course, it’s only a further degradation admitting to this; to divulge that he, no matter how unwillingly, consented to slavery, but at least it offers him the tiniest illusion of some control, some choice, as opposed to being a passive victim who has no say in his own destiny

 

The doctor shakes his head, mouth drawn into a tight line. “You know, once Thor had brought you back to Asgard, we did discuss among ourselves what punishment would await you there. None of us really knew anything about Asgardian justice, so we just assumed you’d be imprisoned in one form of the other. No one thought… you’d be sentenced to slavery.”

 

Loki cocks his head. “It is not an unheard of form of punishment in Asgard. Not very common, no, but not extraordinary either.” Though, truth be told, it was not what he had expected himself.

 

“Hmm.” The doctor pauses, looking like he’s not sure what comment to offer to that. He then draws a sigh, looking at Loki with an unreadable expression on his face as he leans forward slightly, palms resting on his thighs. “Well, if you at all want to talk about it, I’m bound by professional secrecy, so nothing you’d say would leave this room.”

 

And talking about any of this is the last thing he wants to do. “There is nothing to be said that will change anything. My sentence still stands,” he replies, a slight quiver in his voice that he’s not quite sure just where it came from.

 

Bruce is quiet for a while, as if he thinks the brooding silence enveloping the room is going to break Loki into spilling his thoughts. If that’s the plan, it doesn’t have the desired effect.

 

“Well then,” Bruce finally says, making as if to stand, but then changing his mind before his backside has lifted from the seat, fingers picking at a strand on the seam of his shirt. “I assume that Tony has treated you alright?”

 

“He… has,” Loki says slowly, not even having to lie in order to offer the only acceptable answer to such a question. Though why anyone would ask a slave any of the sort is beyond him.

 

Bruce nods slowly. “You know, Tony has his share of faults like everyone else, but when it all comes down to it, he’s a good man.”

 

Loki doesn’t offer a reply to that, merely fiddles around with the cover of the bed, and a few moments later, the doctor excuses himself and leaves the room.

 

Whatever truth there might be in Bruce’s statement, there is one thing that is certain – if he had been a slave back on Asgard, his fate would have been a much harsher one.

Chapter Text

It’s odd how waiting has a tendency to stretch time into seemingly near-infinity. He doesn’t feel up to doing anything productive while Bruce is in there with Loki, so instead he plays around with his phone, thumb moving haphazardly across the screen.

 

A part of him wishes he had stayed in the room as Bruce was treating his patient, but it had somehow felt like an invasion of Loki’s privacy, so instead he had left. He isn’t sure he would have liked having someone around to gawk and gape at his injuries if he’d been in a similar situation.

 

Well, that, and being in the same room as an undressed Loki didn’t seem like a terribly good idea, given Tony’s previous history in that regard.

 

But at least it didn’t seem like the god was too badly hurt, if Bruce’s initial assessment was any indication. Even if it should turn out that he’s sustained a cracked rib or two, even that will heal in a few weeks, despite how painful such an injury would be. So as long as it’s nothing worse, he supposes he should be grateful, considering all the things that could have happened.

 

And he was really lucky that Bruce was in town, and able to stop by on short notice, so that’s another thing he should probably be thankful for as well.

 

Of course, as expected, the guy had been shocked and appalled once he arrived and Tony took him aside to explain things. He hadn’t told Bruce much over the phone, just informed him that it was an emergency situation that needed the utmost discretion, offering vague, non-committal answers to the prodding, uncomfortable questions that followed. And he wouldn’t be surprised if Bruce had assumed Tony was bringing him in to deal with the aftermath of some fetish sex game of his gone wrong or something, but it was probably better to let him believe that than to tell him the truth over the phone.

 

After his recapping of the day that the envoy from Asgard showed up on his doorstep with a shackled god in tow, and a quick and heavily censored run-down of the days that followed, ending with the mishap in the subway that led to Loki’s current condition, Tony had to endure a long lecture on just why slavery is a terrible violation of human rights and a plight on civilization. As if Tony didn’t already know that. He hated being guilt-tripped like that; as if he was some slavery abolishment detractor who had been delighted about this arrangement.

 

For a frightening moment, Tony thought he saw a flicker of green twinkle as he locked eyes with the other man, and inwardly cursed himself for not thinking ahead. What if Bruce hulked out, too upset by this grievous affront to his ethics to remain in control of himself? Tony would have some serious redecorating to deal with in the upcoming weeks, if he at all survived. But the gods were good, and Bruce calmed down from his agitated state, even apologized for his boorish behaviour and the words spoken in anger, and admitted that there was nothing Tony could have done to prevent the situation.

 

And Tony has sure heard a lot worse in his life – in fact, he does on an almost daily basis – so he graciously accepted the apology from the somewhat shame-faced, once again soft-spoken Bruce, who assured him that he would of course have no objections to treating Tony’s charge, as he delicately referred to Loki as, as if the mere word slave was enough to offend his sensibilities and bring forth the beast.

 

So all in all, given the situation, he supposes things turned a lot better than what he could have hoped for the moment he stood face to face with the intruding Asgardians and realized what was going on.

 

Then there’s a click from a door opening, and Tony puts his phone away, steeling himself.

 

“So how’s he doing?” he asks as soon as Bruce steps out of the make-shift hospital room, closing the door behind him.

 

“He’ll be alright,” the man answers in his usual soft-spoken voice as he turns to face Tony. “The most serious injury is a cracked rib, but it should heal in a few weeks. He’s lucky he didn’t sustain any worse damage, because those guys worked him over pretty badly. Besides the split lip and cut to the forehead that you’ve already seen, there are bruises and swellings all over his body, and he will be in pain for quite some time.”

 

Grimacing, Tony drags a hand through his hair, clutching at a patch at the back of his head. “Damn. Anything I can do to help speed the recovery process up?” he asks, though he doubts there is.

 

Bruce shakes his head. “No, his body will have to heal on its own; he just needs to stay in bed for a while and recuperate, and he should be fine. I left him a bottle of painkillers that should last him the duration. However, if there are any complications – which I don’t expect there will be – don’t hesitate to call me again, and I’ll do what I can.”

 

“I will,” Tony agrees. “Thanks for helping me – and Loki – out, and for keeping this between you and me.” Yeah, what would he have done without Bruce, really? As uncomfortable as the man might be with the whole situation, at least Tony can count on him to be discrete.

 

If this ever should get out, that he is harbouring a war criminal who wrecked massive havoc on New York, he’d have a bloodthirsty mob outside his tower quicker than it would take him to down a glass of cheap scotch. Not even Pepper would have been able to salvage the situation, like she always used to do so expertly whenever he made a spectacle of himself in public, something that would happen with regular intervals.

 

To say nothing of how Fury and his SHIELD would come stomping down his door, dragging Loki with them to an underground cell somewhere where he’d probably be killed after they’d gained all the information and test results that they wanted. And then, there’d be a pissed-off delegation from the Magic Floating Fortress in the sky apparating in his house demanding to know why he, a puny mortal, has dared to cross the holy will of His Royal Dictatorship and give his bequeathed toy away to someone else when it was specified in the fine print that he didn’t even get to sign that no one else should get to play with it.

 

And considering the way Asgard deals with those that displease them, he really doesn’t feel like being on the receiving end of their wrath. He’s pretty sure his head looks better on his shoulders than it would adorning the gates of Valhalla.

 

However, that is certainly not the only reason.

 

No, merely thinking about Loki being handed over to a drastically shortened life as a test subject and what would probably be a fair bit of torture on the side, given the way Director Cyclops deals with people in his custody who aren’t as keen as him on the concept of cooperating, makes something twist inside of him. And not just because he finds the concept of torture and summary executions morally offensive and revolting.

 

“No problem,” Bruce interrupts his thoughts. “That’s what friends are for. And besides, keeping the identities of my patients classified falls under the label of professional secrecy and is not information I would share with external parties.” He follows his comment with a shrug, as if it is an everyday occurrence for him to treat intergalactic war criminals stowed away in people’s towers.

 

“Yeah, well, I owe you, buddy.” Tony slaps a friendly hand on Bruce’s shoulder, squeezing slightly in what is supposed to be a male bonding kind of gesture. “If you ever need some nano-calibrated spectral metal alloy or an allographic permutator voice steering system, you know where to ask. And hey, I’ll even throw in my complete A-team DVD collection for a long-term loan,” he offers. “But no scratches on the box, it’s special limited edition!”

 

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Bruce says with the hint of a smile. Then he gets serious again.

 

“You know, I asked Loki how he was faring with this whole situation, and I think I should ask you the same thing,” he continues, crossing his arms in front of him. “So, how are you getting by with all of this? I imagine it must have been quite the… change for you.”

 

Tony can’t help but snort. “Yeah, that’s putting it mildly. Seriously, sometimes it feels like my entire world has been turned upside down, and my life put on a never-ending roller-coaster with this guy.”

 

Bruce regards him for a little while. “How long has Loki been here?”

 

Tony informs him. Damn, has it really been that long?

 

“I see,” Bruce nods. “So how are the two of you getting along, then?”

 

“Right now… it’s going alright… I suppose…” he trails off, not sure what he wants to mention to Bruce and what he’d rather keep quiet about. This is the first time he’s had the opportunity to speak with an outside part about all this with the exceptions of Thor, if he at all counts as an outside part with his vested interest in Loki’s welfare. In any case, bringing the subject up for discussion with Bruce seems a lot easier than talking about it with Loki’s own brother. And who knows how long it will be before he gets a chance like this again, if ever?

 

“Jeez, this whole situation is just so fucked up,” he blurts out, his unperturbed façade suddenly falling to pieces. But it would be ridiculous for him to stand here and pretend that he’s okay with this situation, to technically be the owner of another human – alien – being, and all the implications that come with something like that.

 

Bruce says nothing, but his eyes urge Tony to continue, so he does.

 

“I mean, I’m supposed to own the guy, as if he’s freaking property. Heck, I could do anything to him that I like – except for losing him in the subway, apparently – and no one in Asgard would bat even an eyelash. He isn’t even allowed to defend himself or do anything. Seriously, how fucked up isn’t that?”

 

Though he doesn’t really want to, he says it anyway. “You know, when he first came here, he expected me to… hurt him.” Yeah, unspecific like that. It will have to do. He can’t bring himself to say all of what Loki had initially expected from him. “He was so afraid of me, and I… didn’t even realize it at first.”

 

“Don’t blame yourself, Tony.” There’s something oddly nerve-soothing about Bruce’s calm, non-judgemental attitude. “You told him you wouldn’t hurt him once you understood that, didn’t you?”

 

“Yeah, sure. But still. I should have realized it sooner.”

 

“None of us is perfect. This is an extreme situation to be thrown into, and let’s be honest here –  how many people do you know that would have handled this kind of situation more proficiently than you have?” Bruce asks as removes his glasses and starts wiping them with the sleeve of his shirt. A couple of moments later, he puts them back on the bridge of his nose and gives Tony a long, searching look. “But you know what? I think Loki trusts you. After you left the room, he kept glancing towards the door as if he was hoping you’d come back.”

 

Tony raises an eyebrow at that. Then again, perhaps Loki had just wanted to keep his best option for an escape route in sight, if Bruce should Hulk out on him. And maybe he should have thought better of leaving Loki alone with Bruce, after what had happened the last time the two of them had met. Yeah, just another one of those times when he never considered things from Loki’s point of view.

 

Still, he hopes that Bruce is right. He would have liked him to be.

 

“Now, it’s true that Loki has committed serious crimes and should be punished for them,” Bruce continues, “but everyone deserves a second chance. And perhaps you can be the one to give it to him, if Asgard won’t.”

 

Truth be told, he really has no idea just what kind of chances he could possibly offer an enslaved god, but everything is sure sounding so nice and dandy and lofty when Bruce is the one saying it. He just wishes it would be that easy too once the man has walked out the door, leaving Tony to deal with this weird situation and his even weirder feelings.

 

He sighs. “You know, I used to think I was the living example of ‘the man who has everything’. Perhaps that’s why the universe thought it would be funny to dump a slave into the lap of the great Tony Stark just to prove me wrong for once.”

 

Bruce’s lips quirk upwards in an amused grimace. “I think you flatter yourself.”

 

“Hey, I’m doing my best.”

 

At that, Bruce turns serious again. “And no one expects any more of you than that, Tony. Keep that in mind.”

 

Well, in a way, he supposes Bruce is right. At least it’s good to hear it from someone else.

 

“You know, I suppose I should go check on Loki,” he says with a sigh, nodding towards the closed door.

 

“You do that,” Bruce says as picks his doctor’s bag up, preparing to leave. “If there’s anything, be it either in regards to Loki or to yourself, don’t hesitate to give me a call.”

 

“Thanks, Bruce.”

 

“Take care, Tony.” One non-assuming smile and one finger adjusting slipped-down glasses later, Bruce nods his good-bye, and Tony is left standing alone in the middle of the room, exhaling a deep breath and making a relieved grimace.

 

Well, that certainly went above expectations.

Chapter Text

He’s glad that Loki’s injuries didn’t turn out to be any worse than what Bruce could deal with given his make-shift impromptu doctor’s visit. If Tony would have been forced to take Loki to a hospital, that would certainly have complicated matters.

 

But as it stands, the god can recuperate in Tony’s tower, shielded from prying eyes and nosy questions. With Tony acting nursemaid. Another title he can add to his name, right after the whole billionaire genius playboy philanthropist line. Perhaps he should have his business card updated, just to keep it in the weird loop that his life has become lately.

 

He stares at the closed door for several long moments before tentatively reaching out a hand to push it open. It swings slowly to the side as he stands there in the doorframe, strangely hesitant to step out of the shaded cover the wooden panel offers and out into the open.

 

When he finally does, Loki is half-sitting there on the bed, sheets pulled up to waist level and bandages covering what would otherwise have been naked skin. Perhaps it’s the generous size of the bed that does it, but Tony is suddenly reminded of his first impression on that day when Loki was given over to him, how the god had somehow looked smaller than his usual self, like he had magically shrunk a few sizes overnight.

 

He has the same look now, and it makes Tony’s chest constrict a little. And he can’t help but feel a twinge of guilt at how his own immediate, knee-jerk reaction had been anger when he had lost his tracking signal on the god in the subway. He had been so certain that Loki had betrayed his trust by trying to escape, but instead, this was what had happened to him.

 

And all because Tony had rushed off without thinking, leaving him alone in that carriage. He hopes Loki isn’t angry at him for inadvertently causing all this crap, no matter how unintended it had been. The guy is already in a shitty enough situation as it is, he certainly doesn’t need to add any insult to injury. Or injury to slavery. Or whatever.

 

“Hello, Mumm-Ra,” he says in greeting, pushing the guilt aside in favour of his usual sarcastic wit as he walks into the room, but his valid attempts at feigned nonchalance are hard to keep up as he comes to a halt at the bedside. The patches of bruises visible on the god’s skin stand out in vivid contrast to the stark white of the sheets and the bandages wrapped around his frame, and it makes Tony uncomfortable, unsure of where to rest his gaze – on anything else in the room, and it would only make it all the clearer what he's not looking at; on the body lying in the bed, and he has to see that ugly red and purple; on Loki’s face, and he’s met with that strange, unreadable look that he doesn’t know how to interpret but makes odd things stir within him.

 

So Tony does what Tony does best. He opens his mouth and talks.

 

“How’s it going? Bruce didn’t hulk out on you, did he? And he didn’t sew back any of the pieces in the wrong place? Like, I don’t know, a toe where an ear should have been or something like that? And hey, that’s some impressive bandages you’ve got right there; want me to sign them for you? I have really neat hand-writing, though no one believes me when I tell them.”

 

He knows he’s babbling and his words are spoken only to fill what would otherwise have been an awkward silence, but talking has always been Tony Stark’s way of remaining in control of a situation and there’s no reason to start changing that now.

 

The questions spilling from his mouth are many, and yet it is none of these that Loki answers when he finally speaks, instead asking one of his own.

 

“Why didn’t you let them take me back to Asgard? You had your chance to get rid of me; why you didn’t take it?” The question, despite being so softly spoken, fills the space between them, expanding like heated vapour until it takes up the entirety of the room.

 

And Tony isn’t sure what to answer, so in the end he shrugs non-committingly, offering a select part of the truth. “I’m not a big fan of the whole torturing to death or sentencing without a trial thing. You know, execution without due process and all that barbaric stuff.” If that is at all applicable to Asgard’s justice system, where it would appear that Odin acts as judge and jury at the same time, though he probably leaves the executioner part to someone else.

 

“I already got a trial,” Loki says, eyes searching Tony for whatever answer it is he expects to find.

 

“Yup, after which you ended up in my tower, and lo and behold, you’re still here, so I guess we’re back where we started.” He throws his hands out in a gesture meant to convey flippancy, hoping his casual unperturbedness will help alleviating some of the strange atmosphere in the room. Usually a large enough dose of levity will help breaking apart even the oddest of moods.

 

Though, Tony has to admit that this time his efforts don’t really have the desired effect.

 

So instead he does something he rarely does – he breaks the uncomfortable silence with something serious. The mood is already awkward, so it’s not like it’s going to make a huge difference anyway. And he knows he will have to say it sooner or later anyway, so it might as well be sooner.

 

“So, uh… sorry about what happened,” he offers with a grimace, just barely resisting the temptation to inspect his own feet as he says it, but managing to keep his eyes on the bruised and bandaged god in the bed. “I guess it was kind of my fault, rushing off like that, though I had no idea that it would lead to Asgard sending out an emergency SWAT team to pick you up.”

 

Loki doesn’t make any reply to that, he merely sits there in silence, his hands and eyes occupied with the hem of the bed cover, fingers fiddling, gaze not meeting with Tony’s.

 

He remains standing at the bedside for a little while, waiting for Loki to say something or at least look at him, but the god does neither.

 

Oh well. He’s not going to press the issue, but he hopes that means that the apology is accepted. 

 


 

Eventually, after having made sure there was nothing too badly damaged about his slave, Tony left the room, telling him he’d bring Loki some stuff to read, and if there was anything else, he could always tell Jarvis.

 

And now Loki is alone, once more safe after his dreadful ordeal. He’s relieved that Bruce has left too, even if the man hadn’t shown him the animosity he had expected. In fact, it was hard to believe that it was the same monster that had once smashed him into the floor that had stood at his bedside examining and wrapping up his injuries as if the two of them weren’t enemies and had never fought against each other. He didn’t even behave like a warrior at all, and certainly not anything like the green beast he remembers all too well.

 

Perhaps it’s a bit like some of the berserkers he’s known in Asgard, men who might be friendly and calm enough in peaceful settings, but once they descend into battle, they turn into raging madmen, not caring about what or who stands in their way.

 

He picks at one of the gauzes, playing around with the end. And to think that he used to believe that there was no way he could ever be of any less use to Tony than he already was, given his unfamiliarity with the normal tasks performed in a Midgardian household and the way things are done in this realm.

 

But he was obviously very wrong about that. Now he can barely do anything at all, perhaps for as long as several weeks. Not that he could have been considered very useful before by any stretch of the imagination, but in his current state he’s hardly more than a burden and a liability to his master, one of the most precarious positions a slave can find themselves in.

 

And yet, Tony had decided to keep him instead of letting the Einherjers take him back to Asgard.

 

Perhaps he’ll even understand why one day.

 

Yes, he is bewildered for many reasons, but right now there is another thing that keeps rising to the top in that inner whirl stream of confusion. Tony has indeed done many strange things since Loki came here, but this definitely counts as one of the strangest.

 

Just minutes ago, Tony offered what sounded suspiciously like an apology. Expect, that doesn’t make any sense. Masters don’t offer apologies or excuses to their slaves; the mere notion is absurd.

 

After all, slaves cannot be entitled to offer forgiveness; such a concept would be preposterous. If there is to be forgiveness, someone must first have been trespassed against, and for that to happen, it presumes the existence of rights, rights that have been violated one way or the other.

 

And everyone knows that slaves do not have any rights whatsoever.

 

So he didn’t know how to respond to it. What did Tony expect him to answer? Why had he even said something like that in the first place? Anyone in Asgard would have laughed, had they heard him.

 

So in the end, he had said nothing while hoping the man would move on to talk about something else. Anything that would make sense and not make him feel so awkward and confused, not quite knowing what to do with himself.

 

Sure, in a way it had been Tony’s fault, or at least he had been the cause of it. Not that Loki would ever tell him so, of course, and regardless, it wasn’t as if the man could have reasonably been expected to foresee the effects of his actions. Not even Loki had anticipated what had happened, despite Asgard and Heimdall no doubt figuring a lot more often in his mind than in Tony’s.

 

No, as Tony had uttered his perhaps-somewhat-sort-of apology, Loki hadn’t been able to bring himself to speak any words aloud in response, to acknowledge it in any way.

 

But somewhere deep inside of him, he can still hear the faint echo of what he might perhaps have said to Tony, if he hadn’t been a slave, if he had been in a position to say any such.

 

You’re forgiven.

Chapter Text

The first night is uncomfortable, to say the least. It takes a long time for sleep to come to him, plagued as he is by throbbing pain and the disturbing memories of the day turning into vivid nightmares. He wakes up several times in the middle of the night, dizzily wondering if he was ever asleep at all.

 

When morning finally comes, he’s tired and bleary-eyed, feeling like he hasn’t slept in days.

 

Laboriously, he pushes himself up into a half-sitting position against the headrest, wincing at the stabs of pain shooting through him. Still, despite the acute discomfort, he's glad to wake up and find himself still here; he’d dreamt of getting dragged back to Asgard in chains and thrown into a dank dungeon with guards brandishing various instruments of torture closing in on him.

 

The unpleasant mood of the dream is still lingering, but it’s slowly being replaced by the relief of lying here in bed, safe in Tony’s tower. The room is an unfamiliar one to wake up in, though; Tony didn’t bother taking him all the way back to his usual room after what happened yesterday, but instead put him up in a guest room closer nearby.

 

Still, there is nothing outstandingly different in this room compared to his old one.

 

No, wait, there is one thing that does stand out, one thing that is unusual, he notices as he turns his head to the right, taking in the sight of the bedside table.

 

There is a tray with breakfast on it waiting for him, and he blinks in surprise; he didn’t hear anyone entering. Though, he doubts Tony delivered the meal himself, most likely he sent one of his robots. Even if the man actually did do just that yesterday evening, that was surely an exception, seeing as how his robots must have been busy with more important tasks at the time.

 

Gingerly, he reaches out for the food, grimacing at the fresh pangs of pain that even this careful movement causes to flare up. He eats the meal slowly, since even swallowing is unpleasant.

 

Once he’s finished, he leans back against the pillows again, closing his eyes for a few moments. When he once more opens them, his gaze falls on the gauzes wrapped around what seems to be a good half of his body. He doesn’t even want to think about how terribly weak and pitiful he must look, all injured and bandaged, not even able to turn without wincing in pain.

 

He doesn’t like it one bit. He’s already powerless enough as it already is without being wounded as well.

 

His thoughts drift back to the day before. There had been another box of papers waiting for him in the living room that he would have dealt with once they came back from the trip in the park, but obviously things had played out very differently than expected, so he never got around to sort it. It’s not a task that he would look forward to under normal circumstances, and considerably less so now that he’s hurting all over, but he pushes his reticence away. He doesn’t want to lie here all useless and pathetic, after all.

 

Of course, if he had been a slave in Asgard, he would have been expected to work anyway, as long as he wasn’t wholly incapacitated, and if his injuries were deemed too severe for him to handle his usual tasks, he’d be assigned some lighter work for the time being.

 

Obviously, the tasks he has performed here haven’t been physically straining in any way, and surely something he would have been expected to continue with even now. He’s still able to move, after all, even if it causes him pain.

 

However, he’s not in Asgard, but in Tony’s tower, and there is this strange certainty inside of him that Tony isn’t going to make him sort any papers for the next few days. It’s a strange realization, because he can’t trace it back to any form of logical reasoning, or give any sensible explanation as to why he’s so sure of it. It definitely makes little sense, given that he’d still be able to, even in his current condition, no matter how uncomfortable it would be.

 

But the certainty is like a wedge firmly lodged inside of him. Somehow, he just knows, though he can’t say how he arrived at that conclusion.

 

Still…

 

So maybe Tony won’t demand it, but it still doesn’t mean that Loki wants to lie here like a pathetic wretch. And surely Tony won’t object to getting his papers sorted, even if he isn’t going to order Loki to do it.

 

He’s not looking forward to handling that task in this state, but lying here all weak and useless appeals to him even less, so he steels himself, and slowly pushes himself up from the bed and puts first one foot, then the second one down on the floor.

 

Having gotten up, he stands there for a few moments, breathing through clenched teeth as the worst stabs of pain slowly die down and the black dots dancing before his eyes dissolve. Then, wincing, he makes for the door, heading towards the living room.

 


 

He critically examines the blueprint to his new suit, eyes tracing the smooth lines. Perhaps it’s just him being vain, but he kind of doesn’t like the look. Sure it’s functional and all, modified to accommodate the new gadgets he wants to put in while still being aerodynamic enough as to not hamper his flying abilities, but its appearance could just be a bit… sleeker, somehow.

 

Or perhaps ‘cooler’ is the word he’s really looking for, after all. Whatever.

 

For a little while, he ponders the holographic image before him, trying to deduce how it could be modified for best effect, but his thoughts keep drifting away to the god lying all bruised up a few floors above.

 

Loki hadn’t looked much better today than yesterday, as Tony entered his room to deliver his breakfast. For a while, he had contemplated whether to wake the god up to tell him that food was being served, but had quickly decided against it. Loki needed his sleep, and in his current state he was probably lucky to get very much of it at all.

 

So he had simply placed the tray on the bedside table instead, content to leave it for Loki once he woke up. It wasn’t as if either the food or Loki was going anywhere, after all.

 

He expels a sigh through his teeth. It’s amazing how that runaway rollercoaster never stops when Loki is around, and how there is always another speed bump waiting just around the corner, leaving him with his kidneys shaken down into his boots. But perhaps things might indeed calm down a little after the recent scarce, now that Loki will be confined to bed for at least a couple of weeks. And Tony will have to play nursemaid for a while, but he can deal with that, and besides--

 

“Sir,” Jarvis’ voice interrupts his trail of thought. “It would seem that Mr Laufeyson is on his way to the living room, even though my readings suggest that he would be much better off staying in bed.”

 

Tony sighs again. Just why isn’t he surprised?

 

“Alright, Jarvis, I’ll take care of it,” he says, getting up from his swivel chair.

 

What on Earth is Loki trying to do now? There is no reason for him to be up and running like this, not in his condition.

 

No, he doesn’t like this one bit, so he hurries up the stairs to the living room, intent on getting the straying god back to bed as soon as possible.

 


 

He steels himself for a few heartbeats as he prepares to sit down next to the box on the floor. It’s going to hurt, but he can handle it. At least he’ll be able to show – though he isn’t sure if it’s mostly for his own or Tony’s benefit – that he’s not as weak as he might appear, proving that he’s not entirely useless, despite his injuries.

 

Yes, it’s going to hurt, but he can do this.

 

“Reindeer Games?” he suddenly hears a familiar voice behind him, and he quickly quenches his reflexive reaction to whirl around to face Tony, just barely saving himself a world of pain from his midsection.

 

“What the heck are you doing walking around here? Why aren’t you in bed?” Tony asks as Loki slowly turns around and meets with the man’s incredulous stare.

 

Loki tries to straighten himself up a little, despite his protesting ribcage, as to not look quite as pathetic as he knows he must surely be doing, standing here shirtless and barefoot, wrapped in bandages and covered in ugly bruises.

 

“I was going to have the box of papers from yesterday sorted,” he says, giving a brief nod towards the thing on the floor.

 

Tony looks down in puzzlement as if he’s seeing it for the first time. Then he looks back up at Loki again, incomprehension marring his features. “You were going to do what?” he asks, as if he didn’t hear Loki the first time.

 

And why does he get the feeling that that’s not the answer Tony wants to hear? Nevertheless, he repeats himself.

 

“I was about to sort that box of papers,” he says. “I never got around to doing it yesterday.” The clarification is highly superfluous, but he adds it anyway.

 

Tony is quiet for a while as his eyes keep darting back and forth between Loki and the box. “No – just no. That’s not – I don’t even…” his words trail off as he gives Loki a very odd look, hand raking through his hair a couple of times. Then he exhales, fingers going to rub at his forehead instead.

 

“Okay,” he says as his hand finally comes down. “I think the two of us need to have a little talk.” He points towards the doorway. “While you’re in bed, the only place you belong right now.”

 

Of course, there’s nothing else to it but obeying, so he walks back, Tony following at his heels, and laboriously crawls into the bed as Tony pulls out a chair and seats himself.

 

“So,” Tony says, “now I want to hear why you thought it would be a good idea to sort papers – or do anything at all, really – in your current state.”

 

 “I… thought you wanted to have them sorted,” he says hesitantly, thinking that should be enough, but all the same getting the feeling that it isn’t.

 

“Uh-huh. And what made you think I can’t wait a few weeks with that, considering that those boxes have been lying around for months before you started working on them?” Tony retorts, eyes not leaving Loki for a second.

 

“I’m not that badly injured,” Loki half-lies. “I can still work.”

 

Tony gives a sound that is half a snort, half a sigh. “I don’t think so. Seriously, Bambi, do you really think I’m such a tyrant that I’d force you to work when you got a busted rib instead of recuperating like you should?”

 

“No?”

 

No, he actually doesn’t, but…

 

“Okay, so I know you’re not actually a labour union member or anything, but that doesn’t matter. Injured people don’t work, that’s not how we do things here.” Tony points to where Loki is leaning against the headrest. “So you’ll stay right there in bed until you’re well enough to actually do stuff. Got it?”

 

And despite how the prospects of having to remain in bed like this vex him, a not insignificant part of him is relieved all the same. He certainly hadn’t been looking forward to doing any work in his current state, despite what his pride was telling him.

 

“I got it,” he answers, fingers picking at a bandage.

 

“Good. No one here is going to be happier because you’re pushing yourself to the point of breaking. I know I certainly won’t,” Tony says resolutely, as if…

 

… as if…

 

… as if he thinks that Loki somehow actually matters.

Chapter Text

He’s glad that there’s at least a window not too far away, even if he can’t really see anything more than the sky from his position in bed. It’s not much, but it’s vastly preferable to having only a blank wall to stare into.

 

Distractedly, he lets his gaze drift from the window and back to Tony who is standing next to his bedside, placing another stash of magazines and books on the bedside table while making a comment about how he’d rather not have Loki go crazy in here from boredom or anything.

 

And even if Midgardian books are most often either dull or strange or both, Loki is still glad for the distraction.

 

Tony soon changes subjects and moves on to talk about some kind of invention or the other that he’s currently working on down in his workshop, while Loki lets his thoughts wander. After having already been exposed to more of these long monologues than he can count, he has long since concluded that Tony doesn’t really expect him to offer any comments on these foreign topics. The man just likes to talk.

 

The words are turning into a soft droning in the background as Loki adjusts his position against the headrest of the bed into something marginally more comfortable. After his run-in with the Einherjers, he’s still trying to mentally adapt to the most recent change in his situation. However, this time, the change is actually for the worse. And it’s one of the few times since his arrival here that his situation has actually deteriorated; truth be told, most changes so far have been for the better, starting with the realization that Tony wasn’t going to take advantage of him, and then continuing all the way up to not long ago when Tony had said he would let Loki go outside regardless of whether he had done anything to earn it or not. And perhaps even further up to that strange, illogical thought from yesterday...

 

But despite this assurance, he can’t help but feel a twinge of worry in light of recent events, a concern that has only gotten increasingly more pressing. At first, he hadn’t thought about it much, overwhelmed by relief at still being alive after having so narrowly escaped execution. But now, as that initial relief is starting to fade and is no longer obscuring the reality of his situation, the sight that greets him is disconcerting.

 

Because it’s obvious that none of this would ever have happened if Tony had never let him outside, if he had instead opted to keep Loki safely locked up in his tower.

 

And it’s because of that, that Tony is now burdened with a slave who can’t do anything and is nothing but a liability. The question is, how willing will Tony be to let him outside again, after all that has happened? What reason is there for him to want to risk a repeat of recent events, if they might once more leave him with a slave that will be bed-ridden for weeks?

 

Sure Tony had said that going outside would be a privilege he’d have regardless, but what if the man will change his mind after having gotten such a brutal wake-up call about what such frivolities might lead to?

 

Of course, it's not like he will be able to go anywhere for quite some time in his current state. But even though that knowledge makes something sharp prickle his insides, he could have dealt with that, just as long as he knew that he'd have the privilege back once he was in a well enough shape to make use of it again. As long as he would have that to look forward to, he’d be able to deal with being confined in here for a few weeks, if necessary.

 

But if not…

 

Reflexively, his hand goes to the tracker bracelet around his wrist. At least Tony hasn’t taken it off, so perhaps that should count as a good sign. Then again, maybe the man just hasn’t gotten around to removing it yet, but will soon enough, once there is no longer any point to it.

 

His fingers nervously slip beneath the space between metal and skin, trailing the underside of the bracelet. Up until know, the act has always been accompanied by a sense of comfort, reminding him that despite everything, there is at least the outside to look forward to, there is still something good in his life.

 

But now, for the first time, the sensation of the cool metal at his fingertips is accompanied by feelings of unpleasantness, suddenly making it very clear to him what he might not have anymore.

 

And that’s when he notices that the room has gone silent and Tony is no longer talking.

 

He quickly looks up, and meets with Tony’s eyes. The man is regarding him with one eyebrow raised, and from the look on his face, it’s obvious that he's waiting for Loki to respond to whatever it is that he has just said. And Loki didn’t even hear the question, deep into his own disturbing thoughts as he was.

 

Totally unacceptable behaviour for slave, of course, not listening when his master is talking. Had he been in Asgard, he could have counted himself lucky if all he got for his lack of attention was a backhand to the face.

 

But this time, the uneasiness that always follows in the wake of his mess-ups in front of Tony – despite full well knowing that the man isn’t going to physically punish him for them – fails to make an appearance. Even if he can’t explain where it came from, just like yesterday when he knew that Tony wouldn’t force him to sort any papers in his current state, there is an inexplicable certainty suddenly rising inside of him that Tony isn’t going to be annoyed with him for not listening. No, the man isn’t even going to even care that his slave wasn’t paying him the undivided attention that his status as master should entitle him to.

 

The realization is both confusing and something else that he isn’t really sure how to define.

 

“I said, is the bracelet chafing at you or something? I guess I could always take it off, even if it would involve some tinkering,” Tony repeats his question, proving Loki’s hunch correct in that he doesn’t seem the slightest bothered by his slave’s inattentiveness, or even deigns to comment on it. As if it was of no consequence at all.

 

“No,” he quickly answers, shaking his head for emphasis. “It’s not.” Instinctively, he covers the bracelet with his hand, shielding it from view. He doesn’t want it taken off, because it would feel like being removed one step further from the already dangerously precarious promise of outside.

 

“Okay then,” Tony says, eyeing him contemplatively. “It just seemed like it was bothering you, the way you were fiddling around with it.”

 

He looks down at the hands in his lap, one of them still protectively circling the wrist with the bracelet. “It’s not bothering me,” he says, the words discordant in his ears from how he is uttering something like this before Tony, speaking like his feelings on the matter are actually of interest to his master…

 

However, there’s one thing that is bothering him in regards to the bracelet – namely the question whether he is going to need it at all from now on, or if Tony has had it with taking him outside after having been shown in no uncertain terms what consequences might follow.

 

Granted, Loki doesn’t think the same thing is at all likely to happen again. Even before he got carted off to Midgard, he’d been informed that there had been a group of Einherjers and a sorcerer assigned the task of bringing him back in case he would try to escape. And Heimdall would immediately inform them of any such breeches of the conditions of his sentence, so that they could be sent out without delay. However, they would hardly want to make the same mistake again, so next time they’d certainly be less quick to draw unfounded conclusions, in case he should get separated from Tony again. Going on this errand to Midgard in vain once must have been annoying enough for them; they would not want to repeat that error.

 

However, Tony might not see things that way and rather decide that it’s better to be safe than sorry.

 

So no, it’s not the bracelet that’s bothering him, but something else. And in that moment, the vivid memory rises inside of him how Tony once told him he was free to speak up if there was something – anything – bothering him.

 

It feels strange, because of all the centuries in which he’s internalized the concept of what is acceptable behaviour for a slave and what is not, but he overcomes the inner resistance and looks up from his hands to meet with Tony’s eyes.

 

“Will you stop taking me outside after all this?” he asks, feeling something churn painfully inside of him as his fears are suddenly given a voice.

 

Tony raises an eyebrow at him. “Uh, no, I wasn’t planning to,” he says, sounding surprised at the question. He cocks his head a bit to the side, but the searching gaze never leaves Loki for a second. “Well, unless you don’t want to anymore, after all this crap.”

 

“No, I… still want to go outside,” he says, a wave of soothing relief welling up inside of him, and he feels his body relax against the pillows as the world once more tilts back into its proper place.

 

Who would have known that it could be so easy? A simple question, and the fears that had been weighing on him were dispelled only seconds later, like swirling mist with a gust of wind, as if they were never there at all.

 

He can’t help but marvel at the simplicity of it all. Just… asking had been enough. It hadn’t taken more than that, and the nagging worries were all gone.

 

And he was free to do it, too. So why hadn’t he realized it before?

 

“Are you not concerned that something similar will happen again?” he asks, blurting out yet another question, unable to stop himself now that the invisible barrier has been broken. “That Asgard will… have the same reaction in case we get separated again?” He could have added ‘and you end up with a useless slave again,’ but he leaves that part out, because it’s understood anyway, and because… well, maybe he’s just imagining it, but it somehow seems like Tony is strangely indifferent to his degree of usefulness.

 

Tony shrugs. “Well, in that case, Bambi, they’ll have to go through me first. And next time, I’ll make sure to have my suit within grabbing distance.”

Chapter Text

Walking down the corridor, bowl in hand, he softly hums the chorus of a song whose name he can’t really remember, but that he thinks contains the word ‘fire’. Or maybe it was ‘burning’. Whatever. It’s not like it’s in tune anyway.

 

Of course, he could easily have his robots deliver the meals straight to the bed of Stark Tower’s resident convalescent, so it’s not like Tony has to do it to prevent Loki from starving.

 

But he does it anyway.

 

Last time he went to see Loki, he brought another helping of books and magazines, dumping them on the bedside table for Loki’s amusement – though he isn’t sure just how much benefit an alien god will get from titles like The Technophile or Classic Rock of America, but it’s the thought that counts – so it’s not like he has to start chewing his fingertips bloody for lack of other things to do, at least.

 

He pushes the door open and steps inside the room. Loki doesn’t move from his position in the bed, but he can feel the god’s eyes tracking him like a laser beam, unwavering and steady.

 

The bruises are still there, of course, but at least he’s gotten used to the sight by now, so they don’t bother him as much as they did at first. Perhaps they’ve even gotten a bit more yellowish around the edges, but that might just be his imagination. He realizes that since that rather memorable occasion when he offered the god some old hand-me-downs and Loki took that as an incentive to undress on the spot, Tony hasn’t seen him wearing anything else than a full set of clothes, not until he landed himself in bed blacker and bluer than the supporter stand during an Inter Milan soccer match.

 

At least the gauntness he remembers from that little flasher incident is gone now, having been replaced by a healthier, more natural slenderness.

 

He puts his offering down on the piles of books and flashy magazines littering the bedside table. It’s obviously a far too small gesture to make up for the recent disaster, but it’s something, at least.

 

“Ice cream?” he says, indicating the bowl with the spoon sticking up from it.

 

Loki furrows his brow, tilting his head slightly. “Ice cream?” he echoes Tony’s words with slightly more inflection. 

 

Tony gestures to the bowl. “Correct, Rudolph, ice cream. You remember that cold and fluffy stuff we stopped to eat on the way back home during our last Midgardian field trip?”

 

The confusion in Loki’s face lets up at that, wrinkled eyebrows flattening out to be replaced by a look of understanding. “Yes, I remember,” comes the answer, as green eyes lock onto the bowl, curiously studying it. “But why… this?”

 

“It’s a Midgardian tradition.” Tony clarifies. “If you’re unwell and stuck in bed, you get to eat ice cream. It’s how we do things here.”

 

He then reaches out for one of the little white packages lying on the bedside table, tearing the side of it open. “And I should probably get that thing on your forehead changed too while I’m at it,” he adds, gesturing at the protective pad plastered just above Loki’s right eyebrow.

 

Loki doesn’t move as Tony sits himself down on the side of the bed, and then reaches over to carefully pull the pad loose from the skin beneath, the fingers of his left hand resting against the god’s temple. He’s careful not to touch the cut beneath, but it looks like it’s healing well enough.

 

Discarding the old pad, he carefully fastens the new one with some strings of tape, pressing down lightly to make sure the thing will stick.

 

“There you go,” he says, leaning back to admire his work. “As good as new.”

 

Gingerly, Loki raises a hand to touch his forehead, eyebrows slightly wrinkled as if he’s surprised by something, despite this not being the first time that Tony has put on a new pad for him. Whatever it was that gave him pause like that, the god doesn’t make any comment on it, though.

 

“Well,” Tony says as he stands up, bed creaking slightly as his weight is removed, “I have a boring and pointless meeting to attend, so I’m out of here. Don’t forget your ice cream, though, or it’s going to melt.”

 

Sure, the ice cream is a small recompense to offer for losing Loki in the subway and then having him pay the price for it, but it’s better than nothing.

 

Of course, that’s what he’s trying to tell himself, though the real reason for bringing it doesn’t have much to do with trying to offer recompense or with Midgardian traditions. It has more to do with remembering the look of contentment and delight on Loki’s face as he bit into that ice cream cone on a street corner somewhere between Starbucks and Pizza Hut.

 


 

Though he wouldn’t admit it to anyone but himself, he’s really glad for the little bottle of white pills that Bruce left for him on the bedside table.

 

His ribcage still throbs dully, like a persistent memory refusing to let go of past injustices, but it’s not the sharp, acute sting of a thousand needles anymore. As long as he doesn’t move around too much, the pain remains at acceptable levels, even though he can hear that his breathing is shallower, a bit more laboured than usual.

 

But apart from that, there is a more unexpected sensation occupying his sensibilities as well.

 

Though Tony left the room several minutes ago, his forehead is still tingling beneath the imprint of the man’s fingers on his skin. And it’s odd how such a casual touch can linger for such an extended time, long after the cause of it has left the room with a final enquiry to himself whether he should wear a nurse’s uniform next time.

 

But then again, perhaps it’s not so strange, given his unaccustomedness to gentle touches that aren’t meant to hurt, his long stint in the dungeons having habituated him to the brutal hands of the guards to such an extent that his body now reacts strangely to anything else.

 

Content with that explanation, he turns to the ice cream inexplicably left for him on the bedside table, greedily wolfing down every last spoonful.

 


 

“Okay, so does this look at all familiar?” Tony asks with a little bit of gloat in his voice, indicating the flat wooden board he’s just spread out between them on the edge of the bed and the plastic bag lying to the side, filled to the brim with little black and white pieces.

 

Loki studies the things, but his mind comes up blank. Whatever it is, it’s clearly of a Midgardian nature.

 

“No, I don’t believe it does. Should it?” he replies, a hint of piqued curiosity in his voice. Despite the books, he’s really bored in here and any break of the tedious monotony, however small, is welcome.

 

Tony’s face falls a little. “Well, it’s supposed to be some ancient Norse board game,” he huffs, looking affronted. “I came across it in some store earlier today and the salesman told me it was based on some old Viking board game. ‘Hnefatafl’ it was called, though I probably pronounced that at least twenty shades of wrong.”

 

Hnefatafl. Oh, now he sees it. Despite Tony’s atrocious pronunciation and the very different visual style of the board and the game pieces from what he’s used to, the similarities are clear to him now. Upon closer inspection, he can even make out the helmets and armour carved into the material of the pieces, vaguely resembling Asgardian Einherjers.

 

And Loki has played this game more times than he can remember, though sparsely in the last few centuries as he hasn’t had an opponent worthy of the effort. Even the mighty Thor wanted to learn the game once, smitten by the similarities of the game strategy and real battle tactics, but when Loki finally sat down to teach him, Thor’s lack of patience and understanding of the intricate rules ended with him turning the board upside down in frustration, stomping out to swing his sword on the training grounds instead.

 

This game is still played by the humans?

 

“It looks different, but it is indeed Hnefatafl,” he admits, rolling one of the white pieces between his fingers. A part of him is rejoicing at finally being faced with something that is familiar and that he can recognize, in this alien realm filled with so many things he’s unable to relate to. “Though I wouldn’t have thought that this was still remembered in Midgard.”

 

Loki’s words bring the previous pleased-with-himself look back onto Tony’s face, like it was never gone at all. “Well, the salesman did mention something about the rules of the game not having quite survived until modern age, so some of it’s been reconstructed.” He holds out a little folder with minuscule text written on it to Loki, who accepts it.

 

After half a minute or so, he puts the thin brochure down on the sheets, shaking his head. “The rules in here are all wrong. This is not how you play.” He should have expected it, of course, that the humans would twist the game into something unrecognizable.

 

Tony raises a quizzical eyebrow in his direction. “Well, are you going to teach me how it’s done, then?”

 


 

It’s strange, because in a way it’s almost a little like being in Asgard again, like having a tiny slice of his old life back, even if it’s just temporary.

 

And all because of a board game.

 

As he sits there with the game pieces – foreign in their looks but yet so strikingly familiar – moving them around on the board to show Tony how it’s done, he doesn’t think about being a slave or being trapped here in Midgard. Not when he’s allowed to immerse himself in this well-known game, having all the feelings and memories associated with it wash over him, drowning everything else out.

 

For once, he gets to do something here that he knows how to, something that he’s actually good at. And not just that, but something that he truly and fully masters.

 

And as the rules have all been explained and they start their first game, he doesn’t even think about how slaves aren’t supposed to best their masters in anything, as he effortlessly corners and then outmanoeuvres Tony’s pieces.

 

Chapter Text

Absentmindedly, he flips through one of the magazines that Tony has left for him on the bedside table, turning dull page after dull page. There’s precious little in there that piques his interest; perhaps if he had been a Midgardian he would have appreciated it more, but most of it is too unfamiliar to him.

 

He stops his browsing as his eyes fall on an almost blank page, the empty whiteness broken by only a few lines of printed text.

 

There’s a pen lying on the table next to him, and reflexively, his right hand reaches out for it. A moment later, the point of the pen has left its first few traces on the almost-empty paper, merely dawdling at first, squiggly lines and flowing contours filling the available space. It’s not supposed to portray anything in particular, it’s only a distraction to keep his mind occupied. Or perhaps rather his restless fingers, now that they can’t weave their magic anymore.

 

Idly, he lets the pen move across the sheet, slowly marking it with black ink. It’s not until after a few minutes that he realizes what is taking shape before him – The Royal Halls, the home of the King of Asgard and his family, the place where he’s lived all his life until… well, recently.

 

He blinks in surprise at the image staring back at him, not sure where it all came from. But it is definitely the Royal Halls, complete with the spires and golden gates and runic inscription lining the outer walls.

 

A place he will never see again, and despite not having felt any fondness for it in many centuries, the knowledge still stings inside of him.

 

He has no idea why his fidgety, itching fingers decided on that very image, but it stirs up memories he has paid little heed to since his trial and his arrival here. There were so many other, much more pressing issues and concerns to deal with then, but now that those fears have slowly dissipated, the recollections poke at his attention once more.

 

Most insistent are the memories from his trial and his so-called family. Odin, his so-called father, damning him to a life as someone’s property. Thor, his so-called brother, whose far-reaching shadow was always looming over him, never far away. Frigga, his mother, who is surely the only one who misses him at all, with the exception of Thor. He recalls with a pang of sadness how she had cried as his sentence was read out. The only one in Asgard to let any tears fall on his behalf, of course.

 

He looks at the picture, sorely tempted to crumple it in his hands. Before his fingers have closed around the paper, though, there’s a voice just to his right, making him startle because he was too deep into his own thoughts to hear the soft footfalls of Tony entering the room.

 

“What are you drawing there?” the man asks, flopping down on the chair next to the bed, a hand reaching out for the sheet still clasped firmly in Loki’s grasp.

 

Most of all, he would have liked to pull the picture away and place it out of Tony’s reach beneath the pillow, or, better yet, tear it to tiny ribbons. But of course, he does neither of these things, merely letting Tony take the drawing out of his hands for closer inspection.

 

“Huh,” the man says after a few seconds of scrutiny. “So this is Asgard, right?”

 

“It’s the Royal Halls,” Loki says, not feeling particularly up to discussing the subject any further, hoping Tony will be content to leave it at that. Though, somehow he doubts the man is going to share his inclination.

 

Of course, he’s right.

 

“And that would be the place where you grew up?” Tony asks, turning the drawing around in his hands as if he’s expecting something to materialize out of it or perhaps turn into one of those Midgardian series of moving pictures shown on screen.

 

“It is.”

 

“Figure it must be one hell of a fancy place. Not anything like this, huh?” Tony says, making a sweeping gesture that’s probably supposed to encompass the entirety of his tower.

 

And while Tony’s tower might be spacious and outfitted with all kinds of strange and exotic amenities, it does lack the splendour and grandeur of the Royal Halls.

 

“I suppose it had it charms,” he says as neutrally as he can manage, giving a small, non-committal shrug.

 

“And all this is only for the royal family?” the man continues his questioning, gesturing at the drawing.

 

“The entire royal household lives in the Halls, including all the servants, workers, attendants, and… the like.” As in slaves. But he doesn’t feel like mentioning that.

 

“And Thor is going to be the heir of all this, once Odin… kicks the bucket?” Tony whistles, sounding impressed.

 

“Yes. That was how it was always meant to be,” he says, wincing as he hears the ill-hidden bitterness in his own voice. So he tried not to let it show, but he clearly failed.

 

It seems that Tony has noticed it too, as he gives Loki a narrowed look. “Well, Thunderboy is the oldest son, isn’t he? From what little I know of royalty, that would mean he’s next in line to the throne.” There is a hint of a challenge in that, and Loki hesitates whether to take it up or not. It is tempting, but given his current station, it would hardly be fitting. Better to just let the topic die, especially if it is the case in Midgard that the oldest son automatically inherits his father’s titles, rather than the one most worthy and accomplished.

 

“He is.” Not that order of birth would have meant much in Asgard, of course, but there was still never a shadow of a doubt that Thor was the one preordained for the throne. But if Tony thinks that being firstborn is enough, then Loki will let him believe so.

 

“Well, your big brother is a pretty awesome guy, with his mighty hammer and Shakespearian talk and all that stuff,” Tony says, leaning back into his chair, drawing a leg up to rest on his thigh. “I’m sure he’ll make for a great king one day.”

 

Well of course. Everyone thinks that Thor is the special and exceptional one, why should Tony be any different? It is only to be expected. Thor commands respect and admiration and recognition wherever he goes, Midgard included.

 

Still, he feels a bitter sting of something at hearing that comment from Tony’s mouth.

 

Jealousy? No, his brain quickly decides; it can’t be that. Why should it matter to him what Tony thinks about any of that?

 

Annoyance, then? Yeah, that is probably more like it. Annoyance that even here in Midgard, he’s forced to endure the endless comments about how fantastic Thor is.

 

And of course Thor is the only possible choice for the throne. He’s always known it, and so has everyone else.

 

“Besides, Odin would never let a frost giant sit on the throne of Asgard, nor would anyone else.”

 

It’s only when he sees Tony’s puzzled expression that he realizes that he said that last part out loud. Damn. That was never his intention.

 

Clenching his fists, he steels himself for the inevitable barrage of questions that will be coming his way, asking him things he isn’t comfortable discussing.

 

“Frost giant?” Tony says, cocking his head to the side. “What do you mean?”

 

Before Loki has managed a reply, Tony speaks up again. “Oh, wait! Point Break did mention something about you being adopted…” He gazes curiously at Loki, as if he’s expecting him to sprout horns any minute after this revelation. “Is that what you mean? That you’re one of these… frost giants?”

 

Well, no one can accuse Tony of being daft or slow on the uptake, he supposes.

 

“That is so,” he says while silently cursing himself for letting that tidbit of information slip so carelessly. His heritage is something he would have preferred to keep to himself.

 

“So what’s up with these frost giants? Do they live in Asgard as well?” Tony asks, sounding genuinely interested, as if it’s actually a proper topic for everyday conversation.

 

“No, they live in a realm of their own, a place of eternal winter and coldness. Jotunheim, it is called.”

 

“Sounds pretty crappy to me, being stuck with the whole everlasting freezing one’s balls off,” Tony supplies, quirking an eyebrow. “Bet you got a better deal ending up in Asgard, then.”

 

He offers no reply to that.

 

“So why wouldn’t daddy dearest let a frost giant seat his ass on the throne?” Tony pushes on, refusing to let the subject lie. “That whole equal opportunities thing hasn’t made it to your side of the universe yet, or what?”

 

Such an obvious answer to that, and yet, Tony, in his Midgardian ignorance of these matters, is entirely unaware. “Frost giants are the sworn enemies of the Aesir. Countless of blood feuds and wars have been fought between our two races.” He looks at the drawing still in Tony’s hand, thinking about the time he let those frost giants into the weapons vault. “No one belonging to their kind could ever be a king of Asgard.”

 

“Hmm. Then why did Odin adopt you, if you hate each other’s guts that much?”

 

Yes, why indeed.

 

“He found me when I was a newborn, left in the snow to die, while he was in Jotunheim on a war campaign. Hoping to be able to use me for political purposes, he took me in and raised me alongside Thor.” He makes his summary as brief as he possibly can, because it stings having to admit to this, to being abandoned and left behind.

 

To being unwanted.

 

“Huh.” There is a moment of silence following that, before Tony starts talking again. “You don’t look very different, though. I figured belonging to another race and all, you would at least have fangs or fur or something like that.”

 

Yes, he could lie, of course. Tony obviously knows nothing about frost giants, nothing more and beyond that which what Loki has said today. Still…

 

“This isn’t my true form. What you see is merely glamour, a way of shielding that which sets me apart. Without it, I would look… different.”

 

At that, Tony leans forward, a bright spark of interest in his eyes.

 

“So can you…” he wiggles his fingers around, “you know… remove that glamour thing and revert back into your other form?”

 

Again, he could lie. It would be easy. Tony would never know, and it would be for the best.

 

“Yes,” he hears his own voice say. “I can.”

 

Tony flashes him an expectant look, almost like a child on his name-day eyeing all the gifts presented to him. “Then show me,” he says, and Loki feels something sink in his stomach.

 

Of course, he knew it would eventually come to this when the subject was brought up. And he can’t back out of it now that Tony has made it clear he wants Loki to showcase his Jotun form.

 

Obviously, Tony is a Midgardian and hasn’t grown up with moralizing stories about evil monsters lurking at the edges of the realm, waiting to steal misbehaving children away to eat them, nor do his people have any memories of being locked in bitter war with their kind. To Tony, his Jotun appearance will not mean the same things as to an Aesir, won’t evoke the same hate and animosity and malevolence.

 

It might still evoke disgust and aversion, though, this utterly alien and foreign form of his.

 

For a while, he hesitates. A part of him is loath to see that curious look on Tony’s face turn into one of repulsion, once he is confronted with Loki’s true appearance.

 

But, he can’t back out of it now.

 

So he lets the glamour slip, the protective shield he’s been wearing his whole life slowly disintegrating. Even now, with his magic sealed, he can still control this, because it is Odin’s magic that is shrouding him in this veil of normalcy, not his own.

 

His eyes are fixed on the tendrils of blue snaking up his arms and then further over his body, leaving a soothing cool in their wake. As that cool reaches his face, he clenches his jaws, knowing his eyes are now shining with unnatural blood-red, instead of their usual and normal green.

 

There is silence for a while, and he doesn’t dare to look at Tony, because he doesn’t want to see aversion on his face. So his eyes remain fixed at his hands and the travesty of cobalt and indigo covering them. It makes no sense that he should harbour this illogical and yet insistent desire for Tony to accept what’s in front of him, this aberrant and outlandish appearance.

 

“Whoa, dude, that’s some freaky shit,” he hears Tony’s voice breathe to his right after the silence has pressed on for too long.

 

Of the expected disgust and aversion, there is none to be heard, though, so Loki raises his gaze to look at the man at his bedside.

 

There are none of those things in his face either, only curiosity and interest, as if he's looking at an exotic and fascinating creature from a faraway land, and not a monster.

 

Then, Tony’s face slowly cracks up into an impish grin, as he leans back into the chair, folding his arms. “You know, that’s a pretty neat party trick. I bet not even your big shiny brother Thor could pull that off, huh?”

 

And Loki lets out a little breath he didn’t realize he had been holding, stumped by just why Tony’s flippant acceptance of his Jotun form should at all cause this sense of sudden relief to well up in his chest.

Chapter Text

His fingers clatter mechanically against the keyboard as he watches the data flitter by on the screen. Just some routine business to take care off, which is probably a good thing, given his currently distracted state of mind.

 

Right now, it’s kind of hard to stop thinking about how Loki had done his little magic trick yesterday, turning into that smurf-blue version of himself right before Tony’s very eyes. Just the white cap had been missing, and the picture would have been complete.

 

Then again, he supposes that smurfs don’t actually have red eyes. Not to mention that they’re not nearly as… attractive.

 

Sure, he already knew that Loki wasn’t human, but he had still never expected the guy to have that hidden beneath. Granted, apart from the upgraded colour scheme, there hadn’t been much of a difference, just some bumps and ridges across the god’s forehead, like he had some dinosaur DNA or something. Weird.

 

Not to mention, that was probably the first time they had talked for more than ten seconds about a topic that could be considered really personal for Loki, about what his life was like before Stuff Happened. He still remembers the words Loki had spoken, frost giants are the sworn enemies of the Aesir. And he can’t help but wonder what that must be like, finding out you belong to the very kind that you’ve grown up to fear and hate. That everyone else has grown up to fear and hate. It’s not a comfortable thought. People have no doubt gone off the deep end for less.

 

Loki had sounded so bitter when he had spoken of Asgard and of Thor. Not that it had been an obvious in-your-face kind of bitterness, but the way it had slowly crept into his voice and wrapped itself around the words had been unmistakable nonetheless. And there had been jealousy there as well, jealousy towards Thor; that much had soon become clear too.

 

Well, he supposes with a brother like that, it would be kind of hard not to be jealous, but still…

 

Back there, Loki had reminded him of someone having gone through life desperate for approval, but believing it’s out of his reach because his sibling is standing in the way, blocking him out. That’s gotta suck, no matter whether it’s mostly in Loki’s head or not. He supposes the jury is still out on that, though.

 

Of course, Tony’s never had any brothers or sisters of his own – and growing up, he didn’t wish for any either – so he’s never had to deal with the joys of sibling rivalry. And he’s kind of glad for that. Trying to gain the attention and approval of his aloof father had been difficult enough, without having a sibling around to share in the parental good graces as well.

 

Still, Tony likes Thor. But he can imagine that growing up with the guy as a brother might not be easy on the self image, not even when you’re a god yourself.

 

However, there’s another thing he noticed yesterday regarding Loki – or at least thinks he picked up on – that is more disturbing than mere sibling rivalry or jealousy. As Loki transformed, he was pretty sure he picked up on a certain vibe of self-loathing from the god regarding his Jotun form. It was nothing Loki had said out loud or even hinted at, but Tony still read it into the way he had tensed as he shifted into his natural appearance, how he had kept his eyes downcast, not meeting with Tony’s gaze. As if he was ashamed, as if he feared what Tony’s reaction would be. As if he thought Tony would not approve, or say something demeaning or disdainful.

 

He’s not sure exactly what kind of reaction Loki had expected from him, only that it wasn’t a positive one. And perhaps that’s why he had so casually shrugged it off, as if it was an everyday occurrence for him to have people in his tower change colours like a bunch of chameleons.

 

Sure, compared to everything else that Loki is – god, alien, fairyland sorcerer – it’s a rather minor thing in comparison, but it had been unexpected nevertheless, seeing him transform like that. Perhaps not shocking, but definitely whoa-worthy.

 

But noticing Loki’s tense posture and downcast eyes had kept at bay his reflexive, more intense reaction wanting to spill forth. So instead, he’d pushed it back down, making himself act as if it was no big deal in any way. He had a feeling that Loki would take much better to a toned down, casual reaction like that.

 

Well, not that the god is likely to care much about what Tony might think in such matters, but still.

 

And when Loki had finally raised his eyes to look at him, he had spotted something in there that had tugged at his heartstrings. He’s not quite sure exactly what, and perhaps it was a mixture of several things – a fervent wish for acceptance, amazement that someone had reacted so casually to his Jotun form, whatever – but there had been something there. As if Loki wanted someone to accept him, to accept the skin he was wearing. Even if that someone was just Tony.

 

Oh well.

 

At least he’s finished with his little routine debug now, so maybe he should go get Loki something to eat. The guy is probably starting to get a bit hungry, after all.

 

Giving the keyboard a final few taps, he shuts down the monitor and heads for the stairs.

 


 

He’s glad when Tony shows up in the doorframe, balancing a tray in one hand, while his other pushes the door open. His stomach has been growling for a little while now, so the food is a welcome distraction.

 

Yes. The food.

 

“So,” Tony says as he puts the tray down onto the bedside table, “no instant-smurf act today? I’m disappointed. I was kind of expecting you to be blue already when I stepped in here.”

 

Loki doesn’t even know what a ‘smurf’ is, even though he supposes it’s some kind of Midgardian animal, but it’s not hard to infer that Tony is talking about his Jotun form.

 

“I am more used to my Aesir appearance, so that’s why I don’t normally revert into my other form,” he says in reply as Tony fiddles with the books on the table, shoving things aside to make room for the tray. Well, more comfortable with is really closer to the truth, but it doesn’t matter.

 

Tony doesn’t reply to that, but a few seconds later, the man is sitting on the edge of Loki’s bed, gesturing at his forehead. “Figure we might as well get that thing changed while we’re at it,” he says, hand going for one of the fresh pads littering the little table.

 

The procedure is no different from those other few times that Tony has plastered a new pad over his cut. Apart from one thing, he realizes; there actually is a significant difference that is standing out in his mind. Because it’s actually the first time that Tony is doing this since learning about his Jotun heritage. And Loki could think of several people back in Asgard who he’s sure wouldn’t even want to touch him at all, should they have found out about his true nature, be it out of fear, aversion, or animosity.

 

And yet, Tony is acting as if nothing has changed, as if everything is as before. And of course, to Tony it is not such a momentous thing, since his Midgardian culture doesn’t come with a pre-prepared box for frost giants in which his mind can conveniently stick him, with all the less than pleasant connotations that follow.

 

But despite being aware of this, everything inside of him is screaming that Tony should be wary, cautious, reluctant, something, now that the man knows.

 

However, there is nothing in his demeanour – nor in his touch – that suggests that anything is different from yesterday. The fingers are still moving over his temple and forehead as unperturbed as before. And he’s glad of that – glad that nothing has changed because of his revelation, glad that there is actually someone who won’t be reluctant to bestow a simple touch upon him because of who he is.

 

So that’s why he’s closing his eyes as the fingers briefly move across his skin, even feeling a vague sense of disappointment as they’re removed.

 

“Well, I suppose it’s a good thing that I don’t have to wrap your head in a bandage or anything, or you would really have looked like a smurf back there,” Tony says as he throws the wrapping paper onto the table and stands back up.

 

And Loki still has no idea what a smurf looks like or what kind of animal it is – apart from apparently being blue-skinned – but he’s hoping it’s not some kind of pest or vermin or the like, at least.

 

Perhaps he’ll find out some day. He will be here for the duration, after all.

 

“Well then, enjoy your food,” Tony says somewhere above him, obviously preparing to take his leave.

 

Loki feels another little sting of disappointment at that. He had been hoping Tony would be interested in another game of Hnefatafl, but it doesn’t seem like it. Hopefully, the man hasn’t grown bored of it yet.

 

And even though he’s hungry and the food next to him smells really tempting, making his stomach do a little twist, he would still have preferred to play another game rather than eating. Longingly, his eyes drift towards the board lying folded up on the bedside table, balancing precariously on the edge. He’d really like to play again, but if Tony doesn’t want to…

 

Then there’s the rough scraping sound of a chair being pulled across the floor and when Loki looks up, Tony is sitting next to the bed, head cocked to his side.

 

“So, you’re up for another game, Rudolph?”

 


 

Another lost game of Hnefatafl, but that’s alright; at least he thinks he’s getting better. If nothing else, their games are taking longer to finish now, so that should probably count in his favour.

 

Truth be told, he hadn’t really been planning on staying for that – he had other things to take care of, after all – but he hadn’t failed to notice how Loki’s eyes had wistfully been drifting towards the board as Tony was about to leave, and the unspoken wish in those green eyes was hard to miss. So he had offered. It would be unkind and selfish to turn down such a simple wish from someone lying all injured in bed, right? Even if that wish hadn’t actually been spoken out loud.

 

And Tony might be a vain, self-centred, narcissistic playboy, but he’s still a Nice Guy at heart. Yup, that’s him, Tony Stark. Doing the Right Thing and all.

 

Though, a part of him is starting to get a little bit concerned on his own behalf, because as he had changed the pad on Loki’s forehead, he had almost believed that the god was leaning ever-so-slightly, ever-so-minutely into his touch, even if it had only been for a second.

 

He winces at the memory. He probably should stop spending so much time at Loki’s bedside, given how it’s obviously making his deluded brain twist reality into all sorts of harebrained scenarios it gets off on imagining. But in the end, it’s nothing but a futile dream, a whimsical flight of fancy that will never amount to anything.

 

Perhaps it would be a good idea to cut down on his Loki time before his wishful brain starts to twist things into something much less innocent than that.

 

And, worse, before he’ll actually start to believe in it too.

 

Chapter Text

Again, he finds himself in bed playing another round of Hnefatafl with Tony. He can’t help but reflect on the strangeness of how this has turned into normalcy now, a slave sitting here playing a board game with his master, almost as if they’re equals. Who would ever have heard of such in Asgard?

 

It is clear that his opponent is losing again, but the man has still managed to hold his own for an impressive amount of time. Even though Tony has yet to win a single game, or even come close to a draw, he is very persistent. And he’s a fast learner to boot. Loki can’t remember ever having faced off with a player who has managed to master the underlying strategy as quickly as Tony, or who keeps improving so consistently.

 

He enjoys the distraction; it’s the perfect alleviation of the tedium that inevitably comes with spending most of his time bored in bed. After all, the provided reading material can only offer so much entertainment, and especially the magazines are strange and foreign to him, even if he’s starting to familiarize himself with certain concepts and recognize them from previous encounters.

 

So given the circumstances, it should not be strange that he’s looking forward to having Tony coming over to sit at his bedside for another game.

 

Though, there is another thought, a stranger one, that is starting to creep up on him, namely the realization that it’s not only the games as such, but Tony’s company that he’s looking forward to. Which is of course utterly bizarre, because what slave would want to spend more time in the presence of his master than necessary?

 

Well, perhaps slaves with masters like Tony.

 

He pushes the thought away, instead trying to focus on the game at hand.

 

A very long and very annoying strand of hair keeps falling into his face, and, absentmindedly, he tucks the offending thing back behind his ear for what must be at least the hundredth time today. He hasn’t had his hair cut since before getting thrown into the dungeons in Asgard, and by now it has grown quite a bit longer than what he’s used to.

 

“Hey, you’re kind of starting to sport that infamous hippie look,” Tony suddenly throws out, apparently noticing his hand movement. “I’d say it’s time we got you a haircut, or what do you think?” he continues, almost making it sound as if Loki is actually having a choice in the matter.

 

“If you wish,” Loki answers mechanically while contemplating his next move. He could easily bring the game to an end within ten moves, but he could also opt to give Tony an opening so that he has a chance to get back on track. By now, the man should be skilled enough to know how to take advantage of it. Even though victory is already within his grasp, it would actually be more satisfying to prolong the game instead.

 

“No,” Tony interrupts his thoughts, the word a note sharper than his previous casualness. “I asked what you want.” At that, Loki raises his gaze from the board to look at Tony who quirks an eyebrow at him. “Your hair, your decision.”

 

He is silent for a few heartbeats before answering, slowly nodding. “Then yes. I would like it cut.”

 

Five minutes later, Tony’s hands are in his hair, scissors snipping away. And it feels nice, finally getting it back to its usual, more manageable length. Though, he realizes, not quite as nice as the feeling of Tony’s fingers combing through the long strands as he cuts and trims.

 

After a little while, Tony steps back to admire his handiwork, tilting his head to the side and smacking his lips. “Well, it might not be the best haircut in history, but at least you don’t look like Rapunzel anymore,” he says with a grin, eyes smiling.

 

It’s odd how he’s never noticed the playfulness in those eyes before. And as they regard him with that look still playing in them, it makes something even odder flutter in his chest.

 

Later, when Tony has left, he finds himself missing not only the fingers in his hair, but also the man at his bedside.

 


 

His recent resolution to stop spending so much time with Loki disintegrated before he could even set it into action. It just proved impossible to stay away like he had intended. And if someone would ask him just what it is that keeps drawing him to Loki’s bedside, he would have no proper answer to offer them. Probably not even a certified, licensed shrink would be able to make sense out of the entwined jumble of weird emotions in his head.

 

Of course, it’s stupid of him to feel encouraged by the fact that Loki seems to appreciate his visits, obviously enjoys their games of Hnefatafl – that Tony has lost miserably every time, so far – and looks like he isn’t too annoyed by Tony’s incessant ramblings about Midgardian stuff that makes little sense to an alien god. It’s not like Loki has anything better to do to pass time, after all. Heck, if he was in Loki’s position, even a visit from Justin Hammer would have been a welcome distraction.

 

But still, his brain is as happy as ever to provide him with the usual fantasies, letting the forbidden scenes play out in his mind. The ones that begin with Loki, a wicked smile playing on his lips and wanton lust shining in his eyes, grabbing the collar of Tony’s shirt to pull his face close for a heated kiss brimming with wanting and needing.

 

And that treacherous, headstrong brain doesn’t seem to care in the slightest that there’s no way that Loki would even be able to do the filthy and shameful things that follow with that busted rib of his. To say nothing of how the god would never in a million years actually be willing to do them. Not with him, anyway. 

 

And that’s when he pushes the thoughts aside, relegating them to some dark corner of his mind.

 

Yeah, perhaps he should just leave well alone rather than keep running to Loki’s bedside like this, he ponders to himself as he’s making his way down to his workshop. If nothing else, he still has other matters to take care of, his prototype suit as well as other projects to work on. The god doesn’t need his frequent visits, even if he doesn’t seem adverse to them.

 

Then again, he has to admit that none of those other projects are quite as appealing to attend to as Loki is. Though, he should know better. At the end of the day, he’s doing nothing but pointlessly fuelling his own addiction to those mesmerizing green eyes, an addiction that will have to remain but fleeting fancies and private fantasies.

 

And really, it would be better to let things lie. Nothing will ever come out of it, of course. That part has already been made abundantly clear.

 

It’s ridiculous that he can’t just let go of it. He’s Tony Stark. There’s an ocean of women and at least a middle-sized lake of men out there that would throw their clothes off on the spot if he asked them to, eager for the chance to trade body fluids with one of America’s most desirable bachelors.

 

Not like Loki, for whom the idea of suicide seemed an about as equally appealing prospect. Well, perhaps that was not the only reason for that incident with the knife, but still.

 

The knowledge is like a painful pinprick inside of him. Okay, so he has been turned down a few times before, though never in such uncertain terms. And never by someone who has exerted such a compelling and powerful attraction on him.

 

He’s fully aware that he needs to watch his steps here. The ground he’s treading is one littered with mines, and he could easily set one off if he isn’t careful. He remembers all too well what happened last time the god thought that he was about to do things he wasn’t about to. Thought that Tony would take advantage of the situation.

 

Of course, it’s not like he’s actually going to do anything. But perhaps it’s still unwise to feed his… infatuation like this.

 

So every time, he promises himself that he will not stay and dawdle at the god’s bedside. Sure, he’ll still dutifully see to his ‘patient’ and make sure everything is in order, but nothing more than that. Once he’s checked on him, delivered his breakfast or whatever reading material he thinks the god might take enough interest in to stave off the boredom, he will leave Loki to his own devices and go invest his time in something productive, something that will actually result in a real outcome rather than remaining a hollow and meaningless daydream.

 

Yes, that’s what he thinks, every time his feet steer him into the direction of the makeshift hospital ward armed with whatever excuse he has for going there this time around.

 

But seeing Loki lying on the bed, bruised and bandaged, makes all those intentions fly right out the window. Because there is something about that broken god that irresistibly draws him in.

 

Then again, perhaps it’s not so strange. Being an engineer and all, he does have an affinity for fixing broken things.

 


 

It’s late in the night, but sleep won’t come to him. His ribcage is throbbing, as are some of his other injuries.

 

Though, it’s not the dull pain that’s keeping him awake. He’s gotten used to that already, and the worst of it subsided after the first few days anyway.

 

No, it’s the memory of those gentle hands combing through his hair that won’t leave his mind, that keeps interfering with his attempts to get some sleep.

 

Turning restlessly between the sheets, he rakes a hand through his hair, its somewhat shorter length a strange, unaccustomed feeling between his fingers. Even though it should count as an insignificant trifle for someone in his position, he’s still glad that Tony never had his hair shaved off, despite it being a common practice in Asgard, a way for masters to mark their slaves as such, to make their station obvious and unmistakable in a society where most everyone wears their hair long.

 

A part of him is still taken aback that Tony offered him a choice about whether to have his hair cut or not. Slaves on Asgard wouldn’t be entitled to any say in how to look or dress; their appearance is for their masters to decide.

 

But then again, Tony isn’t like any master on Asgard that he has ever encountered.

 

And he’s very, very glad for that.

Chapter Text

As has been the procedure lately, he takes his meal sitting in his bed, carefully eating the food on the tray nestled into his lap so that he doesn’t spill on the sheets. Tony mentioned the name of the dish, but he’s forgotten it already. It was a new and unknown word to him, and not something that has any equivalent in Asgard.

 

It doesn’t taste unpleasant, though. A lot of the food here came off as strange to him at first, but it would seem that his palate has gotten used to the unusual flavours and the seemingly illogical combinations of various ingredients by now.

 

However, he still hasn’t gotten used to the fact that Tony comes in here every time to serve him his food. Masters don’t wait on their slaves, or at least they never would in Asgard. They’d send another slave or servant to handle such tasks, assuming that a sick or injured slave, lying useless in bed, would get very much to eat in the first place. Obviously, there is no one else living in Tony’s household, but he still has his robots that could easily have taken care of that.

 

“Any good?” the man sitting to his right suddenly interrupts his thoughts, and Loki nods.

 

“It tastes nice,” he says. “It’s not similar to anything in Asgard, but it reminds me a little of the food in Jotunheim.”

 

“You’ve visited Jotunheim?” Tony asks, giving him a questioning look. “Okay, so I know you were born there and all, but I thought your two realms weren’t on speaking terms with each other, if what you told me the other day was anything to go by.”

 

“Well, relations between Asgard and Jotunheim have waxed and waned over the centuries,” he says with a shrug. “Most of our common history has been filled with deep animosity and hate, sometimes escalating into war, but there have been shorter periods of somewhat less strained relations. During those times, I wouldn’t say it was possible for just anyone from one realm to freely visit the other, but, well, I had my magic, so I could venture into Jotunheim without too much to fear. Being a prince of Asgard, they wouldn’t dare to harm me and cause a diplomatic catastrophe that would threaten the fragile peace.”

 

He halts the flow of words, debating with himself whether he should continue or not. Tony looks at him with all the interest that could be expected from someone with an inquisitive mind getting told about a realm he’s never visited and barely even heard of before, so that should be a cue for him to go on. But on the other hand, he doesn’t feel particularly comfortable with the subject, preferring to leave it be.

 

Before he can make a decision, however, Tony fires off another question.

 

“But you still dared to eat their food? I mean, someone with a real grudge towards Asgard could have tried to poison you in secret or something?”

 

“They wouldn’t poison us,” he says simply. “After all, we were… invited.”

 

“We?” Tony asks.

 

Loki sighs. Yeah, that old story from centuries ago.

 

“Yes,” he admits. “Me and Thor and a convoy from Asgard. It wasn’t originally…planned, though.”

 

“Oh?” An eyebrow shoots upward. “Do tell.”

 

“It’s a long story,” he says, hoping that will be enough to dissuade Tony. He doesn’t feel like digging those memories up again. However, Tony reacts by leaning back in his chair, not looking daunted in the least by this prospect.

 

“Well, I’m not going anywhere.” He gives Loki a pointed glance where he’s half-sitting, half-lying in bed. “And I don’t think you are either, for the time being.”

 

Loki studies the wall ahead of him before answering. “I… fell in with some frost giants on my first visit there, led by a man named Trym. I was a lot younger and more reckless back then, and to top it off I had been drinking far too much mead, so I made a thoughtless bet I shouldn’t have made.” He winces at the recollection, but Tony’s expectant look makes it obvious he wants to hear the rest.

 

“Trym had a dagger that was actually a magical artefact, imbued with very powerful and ancient magic. When he noticed my interest, he suggested a game of dice. If I won, I’d get the dagger, and if I lost, Trym would get Freyja’s hand in marriage,” he says, fiddling a little with the cover, the edge of it reaching up to his waist. “Freyja is a high-born Aesir lady, related to the royal family by blood,” he adds as he sees Tony’s questioning expression.

 

“Of course, I wasn’t actually authorized to promise something like that, but… alcohol makes you say some stupid things, I guess.”

 

Tony snorts. “Yeah, tell me about it. So what happened? You won the game of dice, right?”

 

The admission is pretty embarrassing. “Actually, I didn’t. I think the dice were enchanted somehow, but I couldn’t prove it.” Probably if he hadn’t been more sober, he would have managed, but he leaves that part out. “However, I hoped Trym wouldn’t collect on a promise made in drunkenness, but he showed up in Asgard mere days later, demanding his due in front of the entire Royal Court, saying they were obliged to honour a promise made by a prince of Asgard. And if they refused, he’d bring his forces down on Asgard to claim what was his.”

 

“Of course, Freyja was furious and absolutely refused to concede to Trym’s demands.” He makes a pause, remembering how the goddess’ ear-splitting angry shrieks had echoed through the Royal Halls. “And Trym, on his hand, threatened with war and the whole court was in an uproar, Freyja’s family calling for my blood unless I found a way to resolve the situation. But in the end, I did come up with a suggestion that was accepted after a lot of grumbling and deliberations.

 

“And that was?”

 

“I suggested a stealth attack, since Trym was a powerful foe and had a considerable army under his command, while our own available forces were not very strong at the time.” Too busy fighting elsewhere. “The plan was to sneak Thor into Trym’s halls armed with Mjölnir – its formidable powers would be enough to slay both Trym and his men when they least expected it.”

 

“And how did you pull that off? I suppose you couldn’t just waltz in there and hope that no one would notice?” Tony says, leaning forwards in his chair. “Thor does seem like the kind of guy that’s not easy to just sneak in. Doesn’t fit in a suitcase and kind of stands out in a crowd. He’d be pretty hard to miss.”

 

Loki cocks his head. “I suggested we dress him up as Freyja and send him over to Trym’s halls for the proposed marriage, and I’d follow as his bridesmaid. My idea was accepted, and in the end the plan worked as intended.”

 

Tony stares at him, incredulity etched into his face. “So you mean that big bad manly Thor was forced to dress in drag?”

 

He’s not familiar with the word ‘drag’, but he gets the gist of it nonetheless. “Well, as expected, Thor vehemently refused at first, but it was useless in the end. He had no choice but to go along with it.”

 

The look of disbelief on Tony’s face is slowly morphing into one of amusement, until a huge grin is plastered over the man’s features. However, Loki has to admit that he never found the incident amusing at all; quite the opposite – it had been a very serious situation. People had been furious at him; even those who weren’t on all that friendly terms with Freyja and her family had turned against him in anger.

 

Even the otherwise so peaceful and gentle Baldur had personally threatened to rip his entrails out – which figured, of course, as the fop had always harboured an ill hidden infatuation with the goddess. His doings had caused an outrage among the Aesir, and it hadn’t been humorous in the slightest. Only his wits and his quick thinking had saved the day and his own skin.

 

Of course, Freyja hadn’t spoken to him for decades after the incident, and Thor not for days, which in his case probably meant that he was even angrier than Freyja. No, it hadn’t been amusing at all, and he’d never imagined it could be viewed as such, not until seeing Tony’s reaction.

 

“Okay, I admit I’ve never seen any of your fair Aesir maidens, but I find it very doubtful that anyone of them looks even remotely like Thor,” Tony snorts. “Seriously, how could anyone buy into that?”

 

Loki shrugs. “We put a veil over his face.”

 

At that, Tony collapses into a heap of roaring laughter, a hand slapping against his thigh, almost falling off his chair in mirth. And even though Loki still fails to find the incident funny – it’s far too intimately entwined with words like disgrace and failure and disappointment – Tony’s laughter is still contagious.

 

There is suddenly a bubble of laughter welling up inside of him as well, demanding to be let out, and soon he finds himself laughing too. It might not be as boisterous as Tony’s, but it’s laughter nonetheless, and he makes no attempt to stop it as it washes over him.

 

The contractions of his still sore ribcage send a spasm of pain through him, but he ignores it, because he can’t remember the last time he has laughed like this. A real laughter that wasn’t painted with mockery or bitterness or self-depreciation.

 

Neither can he remember the last time someone made him laugh like this. But the feeling is pleasant, almost intoxicating, and he realizes that he never knew until now how much he’s missed it, or how much he actually enjoys it.

 

Or, for that matter, how much he enjoys Tony’s laughter.

 


 

The mental image of the Thunderer himself, the epitome of masculinity, dressed in drag is just too freaking hilarious. He hasn’t laughed this much in quite some time, he surmises, as he wipes his eyes, rubbing away the moisture gathering in them with the sleeve of his shirt.

 

And the realization makes him wonder, with a startle, when the last time was that Loki laughed like this?

 

Or laughed at all since coming to his tower. The thought makes a little sting of something prickle inside of him and takes the edge of his amusement off.

 

He watches the god out of the corner of his eye, the joyful smile that has spread over his features turning his face from handsome to irresistible. Is this truly the first time that Loki has laughed at all since his coming here? The thought has never crossed his mind before, though he realizes it’s probably the saddening truth.

 

And in that moment, he promises himself that even though it might be the first time since Loki’s arrival in Tony’s tower, it’s not going to be the last.

 

He enjoys a laughing Loki far too much for that.

 

Chapter Text

He moves one of the game pieces two diagonal steps across the board, effectively blocking the impending attack from his opponent. The man makes a little grunt in response, no doubt dismayed that his plan was seen through and thwarted so easily. But he quickly recovers, only needing a few brief moments to come up with a new strategy as his hand moves one of the centre pieces off to the side.

 

Loki is not yet quite sure what Tony is trying to do, though he’s certain he will work the man’s new tactics out soon enough. Still, he’s impressed by Tony’s playing abilities, and his original assessment of them certainly hasn’t diminished as their playing has progressed. He’s already reached a point where Loki actually has to put in a bit of effort to win the game. Well, not that Tony is a real threat yet given his current skill level, but it’s amazing how quickly he is mastering the strategy.

 

And it’s not until now that he’s seen it in action that he’s realized how brilliant Tony’s mind truly is. Of course, Loki already knew the man to be very intelligent, a genius even, but not quite to this extent. And he isn’t really sure why that should matter, apart from the prospects of eventually being provided with a challenging board game, but he’s nonetheless glad for it.

 

Back in Asgard, there were not many who could ever match him, and the idea that Tony might be one of those select few is for some reason appealing.

 

He moves a piece of his own, intending to cut off Tony’s flank and force him to retreat towards the corner. Tony responds by daringly advancing instead. Perhaps a little too daringly this time. But then again, the man isn’t one to sit back and wait unnecessarily, at least not when it comes to Hnefatafl. His playing style tends to be forceful, but well thought out, and could easily have defeated a less talented player than Loki. It’s interesting, the way his attacks might seem reckless on the surface, and yet there is a clear strategy behind them that would not be immediately obvious to someone less familiar with the game.

 

Yes, Tony could no doubt become a master of this with enough practice.

 

The game continues for a few minutes in silence, Tony valiantly fighting and pushing onwards, but Loki – being the far more experienced player of the two – thwarting his efforts. Eventually, Tony lets slip a sigh and leans back in the chair he’s sprawling indecently in, his feet up and resting against the edge of the bed. Not the most comfortable position, perhaps, but given the rather awkward layout of the game set-up, board lying on the available bed space next to Loki and Tony perched on a chair to the side, it will have to do.

 

“Damn it, Bambi, guess you win this game. Again,” Tony comments the outcome, languidly stretching his body with a creak of joints snapping into place. One of his feet slides up towards the pillows from the movement, coming to a rest not far away from Loki’s head.

 

Almost immediately, Tony pulls his foot back, giving a crocked wince. “Ops, sorry about that. Guess you’ve had enough of having my feet in your face to last you a life-time, haven’t you,” he says, looking suddenly awkward.

 

That old foot massage incident. It feels strange to be reminded of that now, something that happened so long ago, almost like it was in another life, back when things were so very different. Back when Tony still resented him, harbouring anger and animosity towards him, and not… whatever it is that he’s feeling now. Well, not anger or resentment, at least.

 

Tony leans forward with a sigh, a hand raking through brown hair, back and forth. “Uh, yeah, about all that,” he says with another grimace. “I suppose I was a bit of an ass to you when you first came here… so, sorry about that.”

 

The words hang in the air between them for a while as Loki lets them sink in.

 

Again, Tony has apologized to him. Just like that time after he lost Loki on the train and the Einherjers had returned him in a less than stellar condition.

 

Well, perhaps not just like back then, because this time he actually raises his gaze from where his hands are fiddling with the hem of the bed cover to meet with Tony’s eyes. “It’s alright,” he says, and then there are all of a sudden other words gathering in his throat, wanting to get out. He makes no attempt to stop them. “And I… would like to apologize in turn for my transgressions against you during my last visit to Midgard,” he adds, a part of him wondering when the last time was that he honestly apologized for anything.

 

He can’t really remember when that was. He’s certainly offered a few fake apologies along the way; one even to the man at his bedside, for the very same things that he is apologizing for now, except back then he hadn’t meant it, forced from his lips as it had been.

 

But this one, he actually means.

 

“No worries, Reindeer Games,” Tony says with a little shrug. “I’ve had people do worse to me. Quite a lot worse, actually. But, I’m still alive and kicking, so it’s all good, even though it was a hell of a flight you gave me back there.”

 

He’s glad Tony is sounding amused rather than resentful as he says that, and he’s also glad that Tony survived that fall. Contemplating the alternative makes him shudder.

 

Who would he have been handed over to if Tony had died? Barton? The thought makes him feel ill. Chances are he wouldn’t even have been alive at this point if the archer had been appointed his master. And even if he were, he would most likely have been in a similar physical condition that he is in now, though he wouldn’t have had his injuries treated or been left to recuperate in a nice bed.

 

Or maybe Bruce? Perhaps that wouldn’t have been so horrible, if his recent meeting with the man is anything to go by. Not as long as he remained in his human form, that is. But having the beast emerge just once would have been enough, and Loki would have been done for.

 

So no, he’s definitely glad he failed in his attempt to kill Tony, considering what his own situation would then have been like. Though, truth be told, that might not really be the only reason he’s glad for that particular failure.

 

They play another game that Loki wins too, even though Tony manages to slip a few pieces by his defences. Then the man takes his leave, having things in his workshop that he needs to take care of, and Loki is alone.

 

Restlessly, he takes the board back down from where Tony placed it on the bedside table as he left and folds it out on his lap, and then starts to arrange and rearrange the two sets of game pieces, white and black, playing out various strategies against an imagined opponent. It’s nice to immerse himself in the game like this, even though playing with Tony was a lot more rewarding than playing by himself.

 

And even if those Hnefatafl games have turned into a daily activity by now, there’s still a little surge of surprise in him every time that Tony shows up at his bedside to play. Sure he can understand why a strategic game of this kind with an opponent of Loki’s calibre would appeal to a man of Tony’s intellect, but he can’t help but whimsically hope that that’s not the only reason that Tony comes here to play.

 

Perhaps it’s a preposterous thought, but he can’t help it.

 

Because he wants to be more than just a slave in Tony’s eyes, he wants for Tony to see him as something else than mere property.

 

He wants to…

 

He wants…

 

He sighs.

 

He doesn’t know what he wants.

 

Everything is still confusing, a disorganized jumble in his mind. And it’s strange, how much his associations to Tony have changed since his coming here – at first it was fear and humiliation and anticipated abuse that entered his mind whenever he thought of Tony, but somewhere along the line it inexplicably changed into gentle hands and ice cream and a promise of protection.

 

So many odd little jigsaw puzzle pieces floating around in his head that are still difficult to align properly, and perhaps he’s just being presumptions, the way a part of him attempting trying to piece them together.

 

Because really, why should a master care about a slave, especially one who once tried to kill him and conquer his planet? Why should he care about what a mortal thinks of him? Why is he laying here all pampered and taken care of, with strange thoughts swirling through his head?

 

So many whys, and so few clear answers.

 

He looks at the little carved piece of wood in his hand, turning it around in his palm. So alien, and yet so familiar. So full of contradictions, just like his current situation. Just like Tony.

 

Somehow, the man has been figuring in his thoughts increasingly often. Much more often than before. Which is not so surprising, perhaps, since he is the only other company Loki has in here, apart from Jarvis and the robot servants, but those hardly count.

 

Well, actually it makes perfect sense, when he considers it. His world has been reduced from freely travelling the realms to mostly encompassing this tower, so of course his current thoughts would revolve around whatever is contained in here, whatever he encounters every day.

 

Like Tony.

 

Still, he remembers how there was a time when all he wanted from Tony was indifference, to stay off the man’s radar as much as possible, to be ignored. To be neither seen nor heard, like a ghost flittering unnoticed through the tower. That had been the most desirable outcome he had envisioned back then, the one thing he had been hoping for.

 

But that was then.

 

And things change, sometimes in the most unexpected of ways.

 

He lies awake for a long time that night, thinking about things he has never thought about before, things that not too long ago would have been unthinkable, but somehow don’t seem like such a terrible stretch anymore.

Chapter Text

Morning hits him like a sledgehammer, and he groans as he rolls over to peer at the clock on his bedside table.

 

Not even ten. Still early, then. Yawning, he rolls back to his previous position, trying to lull himself back to sleep. He stayed up far too late yesterday, trudging away on various projects in his workshop, downing quite a few drinks – or perhaps it was bottles – in the process.

 

He doesn’t really get hangovers that often anymore; his body seems to have acclimatized itself to his drinking binges over the years. But now it has obviously decided to protest against those habits rather insistently, leaving him with a pounding headache and a mouth that tastes like cat piss.

 

To top it off, he has another pressing problem as well, he soon notices. Not that it’s an unusual state for him to wake up in, though, especially not after he’s been drinking.

 

He deliberates with himself for a little while as to whether he should do something about the cock that’s straining rather uncomfortably against his boxers or let things return to normal by themselves, but eventually opts for the former.

 

In his current rather pitiable morning-after state, he deserves something of a more pleasant variety to get the day started, after all.

 

He kicks the cover aside and then rolls over onto his back, his hand idly reaching down underneath the front of his boxers. Pulling his half-hard length out, he gives it a slow, lazy stroke, trying to conjure up some appropriate fantasy that will speed the process up.

 

The first thing that comes to mind is that Playboy centerfold whose name he can’t quite recall, but that he thinks was Samantha or Savannah or something along that vein. Though, that’s probably not her real name anyway, and it wasn’t as if he ever bothered to ask. It was over a year ago that they met at some event that started with boring people making boring speeches and ended with the two of them fucking like crazy in a storage room down in the cellar.

 

Blond, buxom (though most of that was probably silicon), and legs a mile long, she was quite the sight to behold. Hazel eyes and a smile framed with thick, gorgeous lips that he pictures eagerly descending on his cock. At the mental image, he strokes himself indolently, trying to recall the feeling as those wet lips moved over him, tongue sliding over his erection as he breathlessly leant back against a wobbly pile of crates, pants in a crumbled heap at his feet.

 

A moment later, the blond head is bobbing up and down on his cock and he presses the back of his head into the pillow as his hand tightens its grip. She was good, he remembers, though perhaps not one of the best he’s had. But she got an A for Awesome effort, at least, moaning like a seasoned porn star as she worked him over, taking him in almost to the hilt.

 

Another moment later, and that mop of hair is suddenly not blond anymore, but a deep jet black.

 

His breath hitches, but at this point it’s too late to call things off. The fantasy refuses to turn back to into the Playboy model, instead insisting on transforming until the kneeling figure at his feet is none but the god of mischief himself in all his glory.

 

A part of him already knew what his initial fantasy would eventually turn into, but he was still powerless to stop it, and now he doesn’t even want to.

 

Pushing away the guilt welling up inside of him, he watches before his inner eye as Loki sinfully licks over his length, green eyes staring up at him as they drink in the tell-tale signs of his pleasure.

 

His cock is glistening with wetness in the god’s grip, and he doesn’t know if it’s mostly precum or saliva, but it doesn’t matter as Loki’s tongue is swirling over his head, exerting delicious pressure on the tip.

 

The fantasy is so beautiful, so irresistible, and his hand is moving almost frantically, drawing bursts of pleasure from his aching cock. He’s so fucking hard, and not far off, so he moves his hand in unison with those imaginary lips, his pants echoing in his ears as he’s imagining Loki sucking him like a vice, putting all his godly efforts into making him climax.

 

And does he ever, spurting all over his stomach with a throaty groan while imagining coming into that skilful, outer-worldly talented mouth. The pleasure rushing over him is overwhelming, powerful waves undulating through his body as he bucks and trashes on the mattress like an animal while riding out his release.

 

And then he lies there on the rumpled sheets, staring up into the ceiling as the last vestiges of pleasure are fading away, his cock returning to its usual state. Finally, he sighs contentedly, reaching out for a wad of the paper tissue that’s stored on his bedside table, absent-mindedly wiping the stickiness off his hand and stomach.

 

Of course, he should feel ashamed of himself, jerking off to someone who is currently lying all injured and bruised up in bed, on top of everything else that is making Loki a very much improper fantasy. Though, right now those feelings fail to fully manifest themselves, dozing like lacklustre, half-hearted guilty consciences in the back of his head.

 

Heck, it’s not as if Loki is going to find out about his private indiscretions anyway or as if Tony is ever going to act on those fantasies, so what difference does it really make? At least, that’s what he's trying to tell himself, though he can hear the lack of conviction in his own inner voice.

 

Oh well. What’s done is done, and what he needs more than anything right now is a shower, not a guilty conscience.

 

He rolls rather than pushes himself out of bed, stretching his limbs as he ambles towards the door, a swarm of evil headache fairies still swinging their little hammers inside his skull.

 

Yeah, it will be really nice to soak in a hot shower for a while, he thinks as he saunters down the short stretch of corridor leading towards the bathroom. It’s only a turn of corners and…

 

… and suddenly Loki is standing there in front of him, impossibly materializing out of nowhere.

 

They both freeze on the spot like deer in headlights. And then they remain standing there, neither of them moving as if they think that if they just keep perfectly still and pretend like nothing just happened, the last few seconds are going to rewind themselves and then play out in a much more non-embarrassing fashion. Preferably with all participants fully clothed.

 

And of course – Loki hasn’t been up and running since landing himself in that bed with bruises that would have made a blue-spotted salamander jealous, but Murphy’s law clearly dictates that he should pick the very moment to leave it when Tony is unashamedly prancing around in the full monty.

 

It’s totally one of those Kodak moments, if you by ‘Kodak moment’ mean Crowning Moment of Awkwardness.

 

Loki looks surprised, or maybe shocked would be a more proper description. And Tony can’t decide whether he feels more stupid or embarrassed, but it’s probably a fair toss-up.

 

Not that he normally feels self-conscious being naked in front of others, but when it’s Loki of all people... yeah, totally awkward. Probably the last person in the world he should be flashing himself for like this.

 

“Uh, just on my way to the shower,” he finally manages, quickly pushing past the god while feeling like an idiot. If Loki only knew what he’d been doing only minutes ago, what he had been fantasizing about, or why he’s even naked in the first place when he normally sleeps in his underwear…

 

He quickly covers the last few steps to the bathroom, glad to finally put a wall between the god and his own naked self. So apparently the universe or karma or whatever cosmic ass-holery that is running the show thought him too unrepentant for his illicit fantasies, and decided to punish him like this; that’s really the only explanation.

 

And it sure knew what it was doing, because he doesn’t think he’s ever felt as guilty about those fantasies as he’s doing right now.

 


 

He watches out of the corner of an eye as Tony disappears behind the corner, followed by the dull thud of a door closing, and then the sound of water being turned on. For some reason, his face feels flushed, like he’s been out in the sunlight for too long.

 

It’s the first time he’s seen Tony naked, and he has to admit that even though the sight was surprising, it was not … unappealing.

 

And he thinks there might be a part of him that wouldn’t have minded if Tony hadn’t left so quickly for the shower so he could have watched the sight for a little while longer, and the realization only takes him slightly by surprise. 

 

He suddenly remembers the gentle fingers combing through his hair as it was cut a while ago, and with that memory comes the pondering whether the man is as gentle in… other pursuits as well. Somehow, the concept doesn’t seem so terribly foreign and alien anymore. And a part of him wonders if he, perhaps, might one day even want to find out the answer to that question for himself.

 

He stands there for a while, staring at the empty spot that Tony had been occupying mere moments ago, before continuing on to where he was going. Even so, the thoughts keep swirling in his head, refusing to leave him alone.

 

And he can’t help but wonder – what it would be like to touch Tony. How it would feel to run his fingers down that chest with the arc reactor embedded in it. If his neatly trimmed beard is soft or as scratchy as it looks.

 

That, and a million other things as well.

Chapter Text

After his too-long convalescence, it is an unaccustomed feeling to be serving himself food again, as opposed to having Tony bring his meal on a tray so he can eat it in bed. Still, despite the weeks that have passed, everything is in the same place as it used to be – the Cheerios, the milk, the bowl, the spoon. He places the familiar items on the table and then sits down to chew down another helping of the crunchy little things.

 

His gaze drifts around as he eats, trying to notice if anything has changed since he last set his foot in here, but nothing seems to be out of the ordinary. The kitchen table and the chairs, the crumpled mat on the floor, the sink and the cupboards, even the little brownish stain on the far wall – it’s all like he remembers it. And, of course, the Cheerios taste just like they always have.

 

He wonders if perhaps his mind is trying to latch onto all those familiar, unaltered things as to not have to contemplate what actually has changed since the last time he was sitting here eating at this table. It was weeks ago, but even then, those old feelings of fear and dread in regards to Tony had already dissipated. And yet, things had still been very different from… now.

 

He watches the spoon stir lazy, haphazard patterns in the milk while strange, inexplicable thoughts are in turn stirring inside of him. The image of Tony standing in the hallway is still lingering before his inner eye, and he doesn’t seem quite able to shake it. And he’s well aware that there was a time when he would have found Tony’s nakedness disturbing, even frightening, and this kind of encounter would have left him tossing and turning between the sheets the following night, dreading what would be in store for him. Even now, he still remembers the vivid and horrible nightly terrors that used to plague him about what Tony was going to do to him. Somehow, they seem very far away now, like those childhood nightmares about monsters and dragons and frost giants chasing after him, brandishing sharp weapons and even sharper fangs.

 

Under normal circumstances, an encounter like that should have been uncomfortable for someone in his position, it shouldn’t have stirred up… the images that it had. But of course, since he’s long ago stopped worrying about Tony exercising the rights always belonging to a master in regards to his slave, the absence of fear and worry is perfectly understandable and reasonable. But the natural reaction should in his case have been an absence of reaction, not that which had instead taken the place of the expected empty indifference. After all, nudity has never been a noteworthy thing in itself where he comes from, and strong and well-built warriors in particular would never be shy about displaying their naked bodies – some even enjoying the opportunity to show off their rippling muscles and proofs of virility.

 

And judging by what he saw today, Tony certainly has nothing to be ashamed of in that regard. Come to think of it, it’s actually rather strange that he hasn’t seen Tony unclothed until now, considering that this is the man’s home which makes him free to be in any state of dress or undress that he likes.

 

Then again, from what he’s learned of Midgard during his stay here, it would seem that humans are quite a bit more modest in such matters compared to Asgardians. That would certainly have explained Tony’s strange reaction back there, how he had almost seemed embarrassed by someone encountering him in a naked state, and the way he had quickly slunk off to the bathroom, as if he was eager to shield his unclothed body from view as quickly as possible.

 

It still won’t explain his own, even stranger reaction. He twists in his seat, suddenly uncomfortable as he remembers the images in his mind left in Tony’s wake.

 

Because really, why should he entertain such thoughts about a mortal, about someone he once tried to kill, about someone who is now his appointed master while he has been reduced to the position of a slave?

 

Yes, why indeed should he entertain such thoughts about… someone who’s come to serve him his meals for weeks as he lay injured in bed, who has time after time sat at his bedside and played his favourite board game, who has laughed at a story of his and made him laugh in turn?

 

When did he ever start caring about such sentiment? When did someone ever show such sentiment on his behalf?

 

He can’t really answer any of those questions for now. Perhaps he will be able to eventually, but right now there seems to be more questions than answers.

 


 

He stands for a long time beneath the spray of hot water, doing his best to relax as the warmth is spreading through his body, loosening his tense muscles.

 

Great going there, Tony, just great.

 

Because that was surely the first sight that Loki wanted to greet him after finally making it out of the bed that he’s been stuck in for weeks. Not.

 

He’s glad that Loki had at least not looked terribly disturbed or concerned by the surprise nudity that had assaulted him in the hallway. And he supposes he should be grateful that he hadn’t sported a hard-on too while he was at it – now wouldn’t that have been the icing on the cake.

 

He groans, a hand going up to the wall for support. Perhaps it was a good thing he had taken matters into his own hands before going for a shower, so at least he hadn’t been in that condition. And that he had also had the good sense to wipe the sticky residue off before venturing outside.

 

At that, he groans again, placing his forehead against the arm that’s resting against the cabin wall. Maybe the encounter wouldn’t have left him feeling so bad if his morning fantasies hadn’t been centred on him getting a blow-job from the god only minutes before almost walking into him in the hallway. Sure, Loki can’t read minds – not as far as he knows, anyway – but it had still felt as if his doings had been written all over his face. And how disturbed and disgusted wouldn’t Loki have been if he had known? Possibly even terrified, given his previous expectations.

 

Yup, indeed great going there, Tony. Really considerate and sensitive.

 

He remains in the heat of the shower cabin until the enclosed space is so steamy that he can barely see his own feet. That’s when he finally shuts the water off and steps out, snatching the nearest towel from the rack.

 

Once he’s passably dry, he makes sure to put on a full set of clothes before heading out the door, or the universe will no doubt gleefully send an unsuspecting Loki right into his path again. He can’t really remember the last time he was so concerned about being clothed when having a houseguest staying over. Most of the time he would have pranced around in his boxers, having already showed everything off the night before.

 

Then, he pushes the bathroom door open, instinctively turning his head both right and left before stepping out. Next time he sees Loki he doesn’t want to be taken by surprise, or who knows what kind of stupid reaction he might have. He can at least try to act normal and unperturbed, despite the recent awkwardness-inducing events.

 

There is no god of mischief lurking in the corridor this time, though, so he heads down to the kitchen, intending to grab some breakfast. Even if he often skips that particular meal of the day, in his experience, some food tends to help with the morning-after headaches.

 

He almost startles as he reaches the doorway to the kitchen, having not expected to see Loki sitting there at the table, munching away on his usual Cheerios. It’s a sight he hasn’t seen in weeks now, but that he has to admit is welcome nonetheless.

 

Despite that, a part of him would like to turn on his heel and leave to come back later, the recent embarrassment fresh on his mind. But he’s had enough of sneaking around in his own tower trying to avoid his unwilling houseguest, so instead he walks in, hoping he’s not looking half as moronic as he’s feeling.

 

He makes straight for the refrigerator where the leftovers of yesterday’s salami sandwich are waiting for him, and, having provisioned himself, he flops down at the table at his usual spot.

 

“So, already well enough to be up and running, huh?” he says as casually as he can manage, taking a big bite out of the sandwich in his hands.

 

Loki is sitting rather more stiffly than usual and it’s obvious that he’s still not back in his usual shape. Tony is glad he has already stuffed his mouth full with food, or something thoughtless like ‘don’t you still belong in bed?’ might have slipped out. Somehow, speaking the words ‘you’ and ‘belong in bed’ in the same sentence to Loki doesn’t seem… appropriate, not after what just transpired.

 

Loki swallows down the mouthful of Cheerios he’s been chewing on before answering. “I’m much better now,” he replies. “There is no need for me to stay in bed any longer.”

 

“Alright, just don’t do anything stupid and overexert yourself,” Tony says, quickly stomping out the light-hearted continuation – ‘unless you want me to tie you to the bed until you’re actually well enough to leave it’ – automatically forming on his tongue. Not an in the slightest appropriate or witty thing to say, given the circumstances.

 

Quickly, he takes another huge bite out of his sandwich, just in case his big mouth should decide to be uncooperative.

 


 

Tony leaves shortly after breakfast is finished, going out on some business errand or the other. And Loki is left sitting at the window, gazing outside.

 

Of course, he’s not really well enough yet to go for a walk, but he can at least watch the sky and the fluffy clouds drifting by. And it’s a relief to be out of bed, no longer being confined to a single room anymore but having the freedom of the tower again, even if he’s not going to be moving around overly much in the next couple of days.

 

Still, he would really have liked the opportunity to breathe some fresh air after having been coped up for all these weeks. Just a gust of wind on his face would have been… nice.

 

Not quite able to stop himself, he gets up from his chair and walks over the few steps to the window, placing his palm against the pane, letting the chill of the air outside seep into his skin. It’s a poor substitute, but it will have to make do for now.

 

A little sigh escapes his lips as he stands there, suddenly acutely aware of the four confining walls around him. Yes, he knows it’s only temporary until he gets better, but still…

 

Automatically, his hand goes for the window handle, fingers closing around it. How many times didn’t he use to do this, before Tony finally let him outside? Only to be met with disappointment every time, despite being fully aware of the pointlessness of his attempts.

 

And yet, his hand can’t help but make a little upwards tug, perhaps more out of habit than anything else.

 

To his surprise, the window slides open, fresh air suddenly rushing in through the widening crack, caressing his face with the sweet fingers of a lover. Cool and soothing like the sea on a hot summer’s day, invigorating and refreshing like a drink of water after a long stretch of strenuous work beneath the blazing sun.

 

He stands there at the open window for a long time, with the wind in his hair and fresh air in his lungs.

 

And, with a smile on his face.

Chapter Text

There is one thing that strikes Tony as conspicuous now that Loki is up and running again – okay, maybe he’s not exactly running, but at least he’s moving around without showing any obvious signs of discomfort. Perhaps it’s the memory of the recent embarrassing incident featuring him bumping into Loki buck naked that’s made him more aware of the concept of clothing in relation to the god, or maybe it’s once more seeing him not half-hidden by bed covers. Whatever the reason, he suddenly finds himself much more conscious of what Loki is actually wearing.

 

Of course, it’s the usual things that he’s been sporting for most of his time here: band shirts, sweatpants, old clothes that Tony once found in his closet. Nothing that fits the god too badly – he did pick the largest-sized stuff he could find – but it’s not exactly flattering either. While the clothes are not dirty or tattered or anything, and are in fact hardly any different from what Tony would be wearing on a normal, comfortable day at home, it still looks… cheap.

 

No, he corrects himself. Actually, it’s him, Tony, that’s looking cheap. Because he should have gotten Loki something else to wear by now, something that’s not just old hand-me-downs.

 

Sure, at first that had been the appropriate solution, seeing as how Loki had just arrived in his tower and Tony was unprepared for his new houseguest and trying his best (and failing) to come to terms with the situation. But he’s had a long time since then to actually improve on that and make up for the initial deficits, rather than continuing to let the god dress in what should have been a temporary fix.

 

He looks over to where Loki is sitting opposite from him at the breakfast table, lazily reading the text on back of the cereal package. The Deep Purple logo adorning his T-shirt is staring back at Tony; one he’s seen so many times, and yet never really reflected on. He never imagined that the mere logo of one of his favourite bands would ever bring forth any feelings of guilt, and yet there is indeed a stirring of just that bubbling inside of him.

 

Of course, he could have Jarvis take Loki’s measurements and then have something ordered. It would be the easiest and most straightforward way. But something is telling him that it might be more… appreciated if he stepped this up a notch, went one better than that, and let Loki choose something of his own.

 

To be honest, bringing up the concept of clothing is a little embarrassing considering the recent mishap, and a part of him wants to postpone it. But the prospect of being faced with that logo for another day as a reminder of his deficiencies appeals even less to him, so he whisks the discomfort away.

 

“You need some clothes,” he says bluntly and without preamble to the god, before his brain decides to veto his decision to bring the subject up. 

 

There is a faint crease of confusion between the dark eyebrows as Loki looks up from his make-shift reading material. “I… believe I already have clothes,” he says in reply, a hand reflexively touching the hem of his shirt.

 

Tony shrugs. “Yeah, well, I meant you need some new clothes. The stuff you’ve got is pretty old and doesn’t really fit you all that well.”

 

Loki blinks a couple of times, but before he has the time to say anything in reply, Tony speaks up again. “I got nothing planned for the day, so we could head out to the store and buy you some new get-ups before lunch.”

 

Loki is quiet for a few moments, seemingly pondering Tony’s suggestion. Well, perhaps it’s not such a splendid idea, after all, considering that Loki got up from his bout of convalescence pretty recently and is no doubt still a bit sore.

 

“Of course, if you don’t feel up to it right now, we can wait a few days. There’s no hurry,” he clarifies. Guess he won’t have a choice but to be faced with that Deep Purple logo for a little while longer after all, then.

 

“No,” comes the soft but decisive reply. “I wouldn’t mind going today.”

 

“Alrighty,” Tony says, leaning back in his chair. “Then it’s all settled. Clothes shopping it is.”

 


 

 

They take the car, another thing that he realizes must be the first time for Loki, just like the clothes shopping.

 

He pulls in at a fairly down-scale clothes store, not because he’s being a cheapskate or anything, but because he wants to stay clear of the leech-like shop attendants lurking in the finer establishments, eager to sink their teeth into the first customer walking through the door, hoping to cash in on the juicy provision that comes with the successful sale of a nice Armani suit. In less fancy stores, the sales people tend to just hover in the background, and he doesn’t want anyone to be paying too close attention to Loki, just in case. So a clothes store with more lazy, indifferent employees is very much preferable.

 

“Okay,” he says to the god as they enter through the automatic doors – another ubiquitous perk of living in a Midgardian city that he doubts Loki has encountered before – “this is a classic American clothes store. It’s where we mortals go to get our clothes.” He gestures towards the long rows and piles of clothing lined up in front of them as he notices Loki’s perplexed look. “So just pick out whatever strikes your fancy, and we’ll pay later when you’re done.”

 

At least it’s a good thing it’s a men’s clothing store only, so he won’t have to explain that as well. Given the flamboyant, over-the-top way of dressing that Asgardians seem to have a penchant for, he wouldn’t have totally put it behind Loki to go for something from the women’s section, thinking it appropriate clothing for a guy.

 

At that, another culture discrepancy suddenly strikes him. “Oh yeah, if you want to try anything out, the changing rooms are over there.” He points towards the back of the store. “That’s where you undress, not out here.” Yeah, better make that very clear, or things could get messy quickly. He certainly hasn’t forgotten the unashamed way Loki decided to strip on the spot last time he was offered some clothing.

 

“I see,” the god confirms with a nod.

 

They walk through the casual section first. Loki seems a bit lost as he strolls among the racks, curiously touching the garments in front of him, looking and looking, but not picking out anything. This goes on for quite a long time, as Tony trails behind.

 

“You don’t have clothes stores in Asgard, do you?” he finally says, starting to get where the problem lies.

 

Loki turns to face him, shaking his head. “Not really, no. Not like this,” he answers, gesturing towards a row of dark blue shirts. “Usually when you need something, you would see a tailor or a seamstress who’ll take your measurements and then sew according to your specifications and choice of fabric. Clothes aren’t… sewn before someone has actually ordered them.”

 

Tony shrugs. “Yeah, I kinda figured. The old-fashioned way.” He beckons Loki from where he’s just two steps away from straying into the children’s department. “Come on, I’ll help you out.”

 


 

He’s never seen so many clothes in one place before, and it’s a bit overwhelming being asked to pick something out from the endless rows of foreign attire. He really has no idea what to choose, with his lacking knowledge of Midgardian customs and usage, and the only thing he can think of is how odd it is that the humans’ finest clothing is so very plain. Not like in Asgard, where everyone would wear their most exquisite finery for festive occasions, marked with all the signs of wealth and titles and status of the wearer. So unlike these drab suits that he’s seen Tony wear before going out for some important meeting or convention, apparel that makes everyone look identical and anonymous. 

 

He’s glad when Tony comes to his assistance, offering suggestions and pointing out examples of what would constitute appropriate clothing.

 

Mostly, he just follows Tony’s recommendations in choosing things, since his own cluelessness stops him from taking a more active approach, though there are still a couple of items that he picks out himself. One is a blue shirt that, despite its foreignness, reminds him a little bit of a tunic he used to wear as a boy. Not that such sentiment should matter now, of course, but his hand goes for it regardless and he doesn’t make any attempt to stop it.

 

As they reach the other end of the store, he has a small mountain of clothes in his arms, and he goes off to try it out while Tony waits outside the changing room area.

 

Once it’s all done, he stands a little distance away watching as Tony pays the man at the counter, then grabs the bag of clothes and walks up to where Loki is waiting.

 

“Your clothes,” he says, holding out the bag to Loki, who takes it.

 

His clothes.

 

And all he can think of as he’s standing there clutching the bag is how slaves in Asgard most certainly aren’t supposed to own property, and yet he’s just now been given something that belongs to him, something that he can call his own, even if it’s Midgardian and foreign.

 

He looks up from the bag to Tony. “Thank you,” he says. And he really means it, too, though perhaps not mainly for the clothes as such.

 

Tony claps him on the shoulder as he walks past him, making for the door. “You’re welcome, buddy.”

 


 

 

As they’re back in the tower again, he sits on the couch in the living room, gingerly feeling the fabric of the garments spread out on his lap for closer examination. So unlike everything he’s worn on Asgard, strange and alien, but at least it’s his.

 

“You know,” comes Tony’s amused voice from across the room, “you should actually put it on, not just play around with it.”

 

So he does, picking a pair of black pants and the blue shirt, stripping out of his old apparel while Tony immerses himself in his hastily snapped open cell phone.

 

He stands around for a few moments, trying to get used to the feeling of the new clothes against his skin. They’re comfortable, though he has no doubt that he would find his own reflection strange-looking if he could see it.

 

“You look good in that,” comes Tony’s assessment and Loki looks up to lock gazes with Tony, who has stopped fiddling with his cell phone and is now looking straight at him.

 

He likes the comment. Not ‘that looks good on you’, but ‘you look good in that’.

 

And he also likes the way Tony is looking at him when he says it.

Chapter Text

When he walks into the living room, about to plonk himself down on the couch to watch his latest DVD purchase, he finds it already occupied by a sleeping god of mischief.

 

His lips curl slightly upward at the sight. Seems like Loki has sort of developed a thing for sleeping on his couch.

 

And even thought he should know better, he can’t resist the opportunity to remain standing there and admire the work of art that is the Norse god, while trying to soothe his guilty conscience with the notion that a sleeping Loki won’t be disturbed by his creepy staring. 

 

As if moving by their own volition, his eyes go up to track every line of that handsome face, the black hair framing his features, the slightly parted lips, the high cheek bones, and the smooth skin. Unable to stop himself, his gaze travels downwards, over the pale column of his neck, the lean arms sticking out of the black T-shirt, the toned chest and stomach that he knows are hidden under that cloth. And that’s where he finally stops, for his own sanity’s sake. No point in tempting himself any further than this with things he can’t have.

 

So instead, he lets his eyes travel back the way they came, until they’re once more resting on the relaxed, symmetric features of Loki’s face, a strand of hair falling over his forehead and fluttering slightly for each breath he takes. Thankfully, the bruises are as good as gone now, only a slight discoloration on his cheek and at one corner of his mouth still remains.

 

At that, he feels a heated sting of anger at the Einherjer guards that were the cause of all that. He’d be more than happy to have a private talk with each and every one of them while in his Iron Man suit. He’d sure teach them a much-needed lesson or two.

 

As he stands there, his mind going into gory details about what he would have liked to do with those guards, Loki starts to twist and turn under his scrutiny, apparently having a bad dream. It’s only some slight twisting of limbs at first, but when it escalates into jerky, distressed movements. Tony decides he’d better step in. After all, he would sure have wanted someone to do that for him after his stint in Afghanistan and all the dreams that haunted him in the long nights following, bringing their own special brand of fear and terror designed just for him.

 

The memory of what happened last time he tried to wake the sleeping god up is still fresh on his mind, though, as is the lightening-fast acquaintance he had made with the floor. But at least this time he’s prepared and on the alert in case Loki should try another inverted double suplex on him.

 

So he bridges the short distance to the couch with a few quick steps, bending down to gently grab hold of Loki’s shoulders and shake him awake.

 

“Hey, Reindeer Games, time to wake up,” he says in a sing-song-voice to the body stirring in his grip.

 


 

 

Again, he’s back in the dungeons. A part of him thinks that is strange, because that’s not right and he shouldn’t be here, but the stone walls surrounding him speak their clear language, as do the glum light, the stale smell, and the drafty chill penetrating his too-thin clothing to nibble at his skin.

 

There are three guards in his cell, obviously bored and having decided to pass the time with taunting and jeering, some of it manifesting itself in a more physical way. They do that with prisoners sometimes, but most often with him. Perhaps his sharp tongue is the cause of their preferences, or maybe it’s the inherent fun in tormenting a fallen prince, or perhaps they’re driven by the primal, primitive anger that a traitor calls forth. He doesn’t know, and it doesn’t matter.

 

One of them, a man bulging with both fat and muscles, is holding his chains in a firm grip, effectively pinning his arms and preventing movement. He’s the leader of the little group as the other two are too stupid to do much on their own; they just go along, standing around grinning dumbly, occasionally giving him a sharp jab to his ribs, or a punch to his gut, or a kick to his shins. But for the most part, they hover in the background where they eagerly watch as their brave and fearless leader runs the show, sometimes laughing or shouting their support.

 

The breath of the main guard – Reidar, the only one of their names he’s bothered to learn – is foul on his face, smelling like rotten meet and mildew as he draws himself up, pressing in closer and pinning Loki between his own body and the jagged rocks of the wall. He squirms, flashing his teeth in a wordless growl of anger, but Reidar’s grip on the chains effectively stops him from slipping loose. Instead, his struggles are rewarded with a fist to his midsection that would have caused him to double up and fall over, choking and spluttering, if Reidar hadn’t been holding him upright.

 

Another tug of the chains, and the ugly face is only an inch away from his own, yellow teeth bared in an ugly grin. “Perhaps they won’t execute you after all. Maybe you’ll get sentenced to imprisonment instead,” Reidar hisses as he leans in further, and the foul gust of air from his mouth makes Loki want to gag and retch. “Then you’ll be ours.” He laughs, the sharp sound echoing hollowly between the slippery walls of the cell. “And we could have some real fun with you, huh?” 

 

He shudders as the hands on his shoulders painfully dig into his skin, once more trying to get out of that grip, and once more failing.

 

Reidar is only amused by his struggles. “Just you wait,” he mocks. “We’ll have such a great time together, little prince.”

 

The fear and terror in his chest is like a trapped, vicious animal, thrashing wildly against its confines. It’s threatening to take hold of him, to spread into his entire being, pulling him under in its madness.

 

He wakes with a cry on his lips and fear and horror pulsating in his chest. For a while, he’s not sure where he is, but the shadows of the dungeon are still clouding his head. Strangely enough, there are gentle hands on his shoulders, and there certainly were none of those in the dungeons to alleviate his fears. Nor anywhere else, not since he was a small child and his mother would be at his bedside to wrap her arms around him as he awoke in fright from his nightmares.

 

And now that this long-forgotten comfort is unexpectedly there, he doesn’t want it to go away. The sudden desire takes hold of him, and in pure instinct he digs his fingers into the warm fabric in front of him, burying his face in it. It’s not until he’s fully awake a few seconds later that he realizes what he’s doing, and in horrified shock lets go of Tony’s shirt.

 


 

Blinking in surprise, he looks down at the god suddenly clinging to his shirt like a starved leech, only to then quickly let go as if he’s burned himself on the fabric, a look on his face that would best be described as utterly aghast.

 

Okay, so this is totally embarrassing. Totally.

 

“Uh, you seemed to be having a nightmare, so I thought…” he trails off, hoping his admission isn’t going to make the god drawn his own inferences about Tony having stood there watching him sleep like a fucking creep.

 

However, Loki only looks embarrassed, and frankly, Tony is feeling pretty damn awkward himself, so he desperately gropes around for something to say, something that will break the weird mood.

 

Something, something, anything…

 

At first his brain draws several blanks, so in the end he just grabs onto the first thing that comes to mind.

 

“So, uh, you think Thor will be coming back soon with a decision from your daddy?” he manages. Perhaps not the most appropriate thing he could have said, but anything is better than this total weirdness.

 

Apparently, Loki must think so as well because he quickly plays along without blinking, pretending as if nothing out of the ordinary has just happened. Unperturbed to a fault, he merely answers the question as if it were a total natural thing to ask in this situation.

 

“I’m surprised it’s taken this long, given that the answer to his request will be a ‘no’. Of course, Thor has always been stubborn, though it’s not going to change anything. Not this time. No one is going to want me back there, so nothing is going to change. The sentence will not be mitigated. I am sure of this.”

 

And he gets the distinct impression that Loki is rambling, but he makes no attempt to interrupt the flow of words. Obviously he’s just as eager as Tony to put the recent bout of embarrassed awkwardness behind them.

 

“What makes you so sure?” he asks.

 

“I’m a frost giant,” Loki answers without hesitation. “And that is reason enough for the Council to let my… banishment to Midgard stand. They won’t be wanting a monster back into their midst.”

 

“Aren’t you being a little too hard on yourself?” Tony says, wincing at the words. “At least Odin wouldn’t care about your heritage; he was the one who took you in, wasn’t he?”

 

Loki is silent for a while before speaking again. This time he doesn’t look at Tony, but at the wall behind him. “It makes no difference. I always was a disappointment to Odin anyway,” he says, voice a few shades more subdued than usual.

 

And that comment awakens something within Tony and stirs those needle-sharp memories inside of him that he has long wanted to forget about. “What do you mean?” he asks, perhaps a bit more forcefully than intended.

 

So maybe it’s Loki’s desire to dissolve the weird atmosphere still lingering, or perhaps there’s another reason entirely, but suddenly he breaks out into a long account of how he’s always been considered lacking for showing little aptitude for martial pursuits, for not being a bold and strong warrior, for not being more like Thor.

 

And for reasons he’s not entirely sure himself, once Loki’s words have finally run out, he suddenly hears his own voice talking about his always trying to impress his father and failing, the feeling of never living up to expectations, of never being good enough, of always standing in the shadow of someone else he never even met.

 

And Loki listens with rapt attention, his eyes looking a little wider than usual.

 

They go to bed late that night, and when sleep finally comes to him, he dreams of black caves and red-and-gold suits, and green eyes staring into his.

 

Chapter Text

The weather outside is beautiful, the sun shyly peaking out from behind a collection of small puffy clouds, bathing the breakfast table in light and making every speck of dust stand out clearly. Absentmindedly fiddling around with the now empty bowl in front of him, he gazes out of the window, only listening with one ear to Tony’s exposition about the apparently many advantages of having toilet paper hang over the roll as opposed to the vastly inferior alternative of letting it hang it beneath.

 

He’s not sure when it was that Tony’s endless monologues stopped grating on his ears. Even if the words themselves might be pointless, the voice is still a pleasant buzz in the background that he doesn’t mind listening to.

 

Some of the clouds in the sky drift apart a little, exposing another piece of vibrantly burning sun, the sudden brightness making him blink. He doesn't remember the last time the sky was this blue.

 

There’s a sudden lull in the long harangue and his eyes drift back to Tony, watching as the man drinks deeply from his cup of coffee.

 

Tony did tell him to speak up if there was something he wanted, didn’t he?

 

He clears his throat, trying to sound impassive. “Is there perhaps any way that I… that we could, perhaps… go for a walk outside?”

 

The words hang in the air for a few seconds as Tony swallows the coffee down and then flashes him a grin.

 

“Sure buddy. All you need to do is ask.”

 


 

An hour later, they’re sitting on a park bench in the shade of a maple tree, the sunlight filtering through the fluttering leaves throwing a mottled, ever-shifting mosaic pattern on the ground. A gentle breeze is ruffling his hair and he tucks a loose-hanging strand back behind his ear, but the little gust of wind feels refreshing rather than chilly against his skin.

 

Even Tony is quiet for once as they simply sit there, watching people pass them by. Some are running in obvious haste, others merely strolling at a leisurely pace. An enamoured couple sits down on the bench on the other side of the gravel-strewn path opposite from them; not even a minute later, their lips are tightly locked together and their bodies so intimately entwined that it’s hard to tell which limb belongs to whom.

 

He watches them for a little while and then looks away, suddenly acutely aware of the man next to him who is busy picking at his finger nails.

 

A few seconds later, Tony yawns loudly and stretches his arms above his head, the movement causing his leather jacket to give off a series of sharp, ominous creaks. At this, Tony lowers his arms, wincing as he throws Loki an inquisitive look.

 

“Hey, you alien Vikings dress in leather all the time, don’t you? How do you stop it from creaking like a frog in heat? I certainly don’t remember your outfit ever doing that.” He grins innocently. “Though, I admit that my mind might have been slightly occupied with other things at the time to actually notice.” 

 

Loki raises an eyebrow in his direction. “There are spells for that,” he says, slightly amused by the question. “At least for those who knew how to weave them.”

 

“Darn, I was afraid you’d say that.” Tony says, leaning back against the backrest of the wooden bench. “And here I was hoping you’d have a fool-proof recipe for some fancy concoction to put a definitive stop to that. Like boiled bat blood mixed with mashed lizards eyes or something. Guess I’ll have no choice but to whip out my trusty jar of yucky leather grease again, then.” He makes a grimace.” Yeash. Magic would have been so much more convenient and less nasty than fiddling around with that foul-smelling junk. I’m surprised your people do any work at all when you have magic to take care of all that boring stuff for you.”

 

Loki gives him a pointed glance.

 

“Magic has its limitations, like everything else. You humans still work even though you have your robots and machines to serve you, do you not?”

 

“Eh, fair enough, I suppose,” he admits, and then an impish grin spreads across his face. “Though if I had fairy magic, the first thing I’d do would be to create some really smoking hot models. An entire harem of them. In all hair colours, everything from scarlet red to bright blue.”

 

Loki can’t help but give an amused snort. If magic was truly capable of that, he’d know several sorcerers that would never leave the house again.

 

They sit there talking for a while, Tony going on in detail about everything he would have done if he had magic at his disposal. Most of which would of course have been wholly impossible, but Loki doesn’t bother correcting him. It’s too enjoyable to listen as Tony’s imagination is running wild with him.

 


 

Later in the afternoon, Tony takes off in haste to attend some meeting on behalf of Stark Industries. Important business with some important client, he had huffed, one whose calibre and distinction called for the presence of the almighty CEO himself. At least if his advisors were to be believed.

 

And Loki is alone, standing at the window for a while gazing out, thinking about nothing in particular, before turning around and almost stumbling over that old box of papers that he never got around to sort after what happened in the wake of Tony losing him on the subway all those weeks ago. Granted, Tony has never mentioned the box since, and he could of course choose to ignore it, but for some reason he decides he will have it sorted anyway.

 

But first, there’s something else he needs to take care of.

 

Frowning slightly, he glances up towards the ceiling. It feels strange and even a bit silly addressing someone he can’t even see, but he can’t bring himself to care overly much. He’s done considerably stranger things than that since coming here, after all.

 

“Jarvis?” he calls out, feeling almost as if he’s speaking to himself, not sure if the AI will at all acknowledge him. Perhaps it only answers to its creator and ignores everyone else.

 

But his suspicions turn out to be unfounded as the disembodied voice, impeccably polite as ever, rings out from the ceiling.

 

“Yes, Mr Laufeyson?”

 

And he realizes that this is probably the first time he’s addressed Jarvis since coming here, as far as he can remember. So he hesitates for a few seconds, suddenly unsure of how to phrase his request, before the words finally come to him.

 

“I, ah, need your… help with something.”

 


 

A few hours later he’s finally back home again, very much sure he doesn’t like the pig-faced, smarmy director of Banefort Energy one bit. Next time he’s going to let his directors deal with the infuriating man on their own. What else is he paying them their ridiculously high salaries for, if they need him to hold their hands in business meetings like this?

 

Mildly annoyed, he kicks off his shoes and removes his tie, his suit and finally his white dress shirt, then rummages through his closet for something more comfortable to wear. He settles for a pair of jeans and a T-shirt proudly sporting the name Rush, even if it’s rather faded after having been washed one time too many. He’d been sorely tempted to wear an outfit like that for today’s meeting just to annoy his know-it-all advisors, whose constant hints that he isn’t taking the future of Stark Industries seriously enough are starting to wear a bit thin by now.

 

Just as he’s buttoning up his jeans, his stomach suddenly demands his attention by growling uproariously in protest, and truth be told, he hadn’t even noticed until now he was actually hungry. Probably too busy thinking up creative ways he’d like to put an end to that annoying, high-pitched giggle that kept spilling forth from Mr Banefort’s pudgy lips every other minute. 

 

Oh well. Perhaps some takeaway would be a good idea?

 

There’s a new Indian restaurant just a few blocks away that he’s been wanting to try out. Loki likes Indian, doesn’t he?

 

He brushes aside the voice pointedly asking why it’s so important to him what Loki likes or not.

 

Yeah, Indian it is.

 

Grabbing his jacket off the clothes rack in the hallway, he heads out in the sunny weather, whistling as he strolls down the street, navigating expertly between strollers the size of small cars and reckless roller skaters and teenagers with headphones clamped over their spiky hair.

 

There’s a vague but persistent feeling that there’s something off, something that’s different than usual, but he can’t quite put his finger on it, so he ignores it for now.

 

It’s only when he pushes open the door with a “Mombasa Kitchen” sign hanging slightly askew over the entrance that he notices that his leather jacket isn’t creaking any more.

 

Chapter Text

Absentmindedly, he twirls a strand of hair between his fingers as he looks down at the board spread out on the table in front of him, waiting for Tony to make his next move. The man is perched on a chair opposite from Loki, his legs crossed and drawn up beneath him as he balances rather precariously on the piece of furniture, forehead creased in concentration. The two sets of game pieces have been arranged in complicated patterns, an outcome of intricate strategies constantly changing in response to the opponent eventually seeing through them, each shift adding another layer of complexity to the set-up.

 

Once, he had suggested that Tony open the game with five moves of his own before Loki got to make his first one, alternatively that Loki play with one or two pieces short to make the playing field more even, but Tony had flat-out refused any head-starts like that. Loki has to admit that he admires that in the man, his stubborn determination and genuine will to achieve mastery without resorting to simplifications and shortcuts.

 

Smacking his lips a few times, Tony eventually lifts a hand and moves one of his front pieces three steps over to the side, and then leans back in his chair with a contented grin. “How about that, eh, Bambi? Cut your planned little sneak offensive right off there, didn’t I?”

 

And there’s that word again – Bambi. One he’s heard so many times by now, along with the ubiquitous ‘Rudolph’ and ‘Reindeer Games’. He supposes he could have added ‘princess’ to that list as well, but it’s actually been a while since Tony last called him that, though.

 

And he doesn’t even know what ‘Bambi’ is supposed to mean or refer to, just that he would have liked for Tony to call him by his real name, even if it’s only once. He’s not quite sure why that should be important, he just knows that it somehow is.

 

Granted, that had used to prickle him at first, the way it had seemed like another one of those many things denied him as a slave, along with his freedom and status and rights and everything else he had once had, as if even such a small and simple thing like his name was no longer his to claim. Somehow, it doesn’t actually feel like that any longer, like Tony is robbing him of one of the precious few things he could still lay claim to when he came here, but it doesn’t change the fact that he would have liked for Tony to actually speak his name.

 

Sure, he knows those are only inconsequential nicknames, and he’s heard Tony use similar addresses when talking to Thor and even Bruce during the man’s short visit in the tower, but still…

 

“So how are you planning to get yourself out of that one, huh, Rudolph?” comes Tony’s boastful voice a few feet away, pulling Loki’s focus away from his little reverie and back to the game.

 

His gaze sweeps over the board and the white piece that is now snugly nestled in between two of Loki’s black ones. “I think I will recover,” he says, quickly deciding for a countermove that has Tony cross his arms, apparently trying to figure out Loki’s new strategy and how he should best respond to it.

 

As Tony ponders his next move, Loki’s mind sinks back into the previous whirl-stream of fleeting thoughts, wondering if Tony will ever put a hold to his nicknaming habit. Of course, in the big picture it’s not important and there should be a thousand more pressing issues for someone in his position. And yet, he realizes that no matter what the future might hold for him, right now, this is the most pressing issue for the time being, since all those other issues that should have been more pressing just aren’t there anymore.

 

And it’s strange how he’s been given so many epithets in his long life – Liesmith, Silvertongue, Deceiver, and worse still – without ever having cared overly much, and yet, all these Midgardian names, harmless as they are, bother him so much more.

 

Or perhaps it’s not the presence of those names as such, but the absence of his real name that is bothering him.

 

And maybe he’s making too big a deal out of something that really should be nothing.

 

But it still feels important, somehow.

 

Then again, it would be a trivial thing to bring to attention. Sure, it would of course have been unthinkable in Asgard, a slave presuming to tell his master how he would have liked to be addressed, but he’s not in Asgard and he knows Tony won’t take offence. Perhaps the man would even indulge him, but it’s still not an issue that he particularly wants to bring up. Because he would have liked for Tony to say his name without Loki asking him to. He would have liked for Tony to--

 

And that’s when he realizes something. He’s never called Tony by his name either. Not something a slave would ever have done under normal circumstances, of course, and such frivolities would have been swiftly punished by any master, but Tony isn’t any master and had even made it clear once that that’s how he wanted Loki to address him.

 

And yet he’s never done that. Not even once. In fact, he’s never addressed Tony as anything, except for that one time when he had needed to call Tony’s attention in the workshop and had assumed that the expected standard address of ‘master’ would please the man.

 

It hadn’t.

 

And even if Tony had informed him of his preferences in that regard back then, Loki hadn’t been able to bring himself to actually call Tony by his name afterwards. It had felt too odd, too out of place, too incongruous, so he had opted for nothing instead. After a while, he had mostly forgotten about the issue, not having had any pressing need to directly address Tony since, and he had never thought much about it again until now.

 

But perhaps he should do just that? As alien and foreign as the concept of a slave doing such is, it appeals to him more and more the longer he thinks about it – to call Tony by his name. Not ‘master’, not some fancy title, but… his actual name. As if Tony isn’t his master, and Loki isn’t actually his slave.

 

He licks his lips that seem to have gone dry during his pondering.

 

“Tony?” he says, and oh, does it feel strange to speak that word to the man. But, he realizes, not nearly as strange as speaking the word ‘master’ would have been. Back in the workshop, it hadn’t felt out of place as he had forced the word past his lips, just unappealing and humiliating. But now, despite his and Tony’s relative positions, it wouldn’t really have… fit. And strange as it may feel, it also feels good speaking that name aloud for the first time.

 

At that, Tony raises his eyes from the board to look at him. “Yeah?” he inquires, eyebrows slightly raised.

 

“I was just wondering,” he says. “What does… ‘Bambi’ mean?”

 


 

Okay, that was not what he had been expecting Loki to say. Nope, in fact, he’d been expecting something along the lines of ‘I admit defeat’ or ‘you win this game’.

 

Alright, so he hadn’t actually expected that either, but it would still have been less surprising than what actually did leave Loki’s lips mere moments ago.

 

And fuck, how do you explain that to an alien god who doesn’t know the first thing about cartoons or Disney or Earthen wildlife?

 

“Uh… it’s a fictional character… like a cartoon, you know?” he offers. “As in, animated, moving pictures. So yeah, a character from a famous, eh, cartoon children’s story, with… horns. Or at least I think he has horns. Well, at least as an adult or something. Though, I’m not sure if he was ever an adult in the story. Or cartoon. But if he were real, he would have had… horns. Yeah.”

 

Wow, who would ever have imagined that the simple act of explaining a cartoon character would have him sounding like a babbling moron – the great Tony Stark who could give an eloquent lecture on the spot about advanced nuclear physics if someone were to wake him up in the middle of the night? And what prompted Loki to bring that up in the first place now that they are right in the middle of a Hnefatafl game?

 

“So, any further clarifications needed on that, Rudolph?” he says flippantly, moving a piece halfway across the board.

 

“No, I… see,” Loki says slowly as a hand reaches out and impassively scoots the nearest piece over a short distance towards the middle.

 

And Tony gets the distinct impression that he’s just said something wrong, but he has no idea what. Still, there’s no denying that clear look of disappointment on the god’s face, as if he had been hoping for Tony’s reply to be something different entirely. Maybe he didn’t appreciate the fact that Tony has named him after a character in a story for children. But it’s just a cartoon, after all, and there are definitely worse nicknames to be had, aren’t there?

 

They sit there for a while, continuing their game in silence, the only sound in the room being the faint click of the pieces being set down at their new positions on the board.

 

And it’s not until several long moments later that he realizes that there had been something different about this short bit of conversation compared to all their previous ones, something that he had failed to take note of until now, fully immersed in the game as he had been.

 

But this was actually the first time Loki has ever called him ‘Tony’.

 

Blinking in surprise, his head snaps up to look at Loki, but the god’s gaze is directed at the board between them and doesn’t meet with his.

 

Well, there’s definitely a first time for everything.

 

And damn if this isn’t a billion times more preferable to that dreadful time that Loki had called him ‘master’. For some reason, the idea of his name from Loki’s mouth is oddly appealing, even if it was just spoken normally and not moaned in pleasure while Tony…

 

He squashes the thought as quickly as it came. Don’t even go there, Tony.

 

And maybe it’s a sign that Loki is feeling more comfortable around him now, that he has shed another layer of those fucked-up concepts imprinted into his brain of how it’s appropriate for him to act based on what is expected of slaves back in Asgard.

 

But regardless, it had been nice hearing his name like that…

 

And that’s when the realization strikes him like lightening from a clear blue sky, and it’s so obvious that he can’t help but feeling like an idiot for not seeing it immediately. Of course, Loki doesn’t care about who Bambi is, or whatever harebrained Midgardian story he appears in. No, he had asked because he had been hoping Tony would reciprocate and call him by his name in turn, as opposed to all these nicknames he’s been calling the god ever since he came here.

 

He also realizes, then, why such an ostensibly simple thing might be so significant for someone in Loki’s position. Not that Tony has any idea what slaves in Asgard are usually called, but maybe they’re not actually addressed by their real names, but merely as ‘slave’ or ‘you’ or ‘number thirty-seven’ or whatever Asgardian conventions dictate.

 

And as nice as he had found it to hear his name spoken by Loki, he doesn’t doubt that for the god, any such feelings on his part would be multiplied if Tony were to speak his in turn. A small token of recognition, perhaps, but pivotal nevertheless.

 

He can’t help but feeling like an idiot. How come he didn’t see this before, given how obvious it seems to him now?

 

His gaze drifts down to the board, then back up to the unmoving and silent god where it lingers for a few seconds before it returns to the board again. Then, he gives a broad smile.

 

“Loki?” he says, the grin on his face getting even wider as he reaches out and scoots forward a white piece. “I’m not sure if there’s an equivalent expression in this game, but here on Earth, this is the moment where we would have said ‘check mate’”.

 


 

The Hnefatafl game is long finished and Tony out of the tower again for some meeting, but the memories from their game are still lingering. For the first time, Tony had actually won.

 

Of course, his victory had only come about because Loki had totally lost his focus during the latter stages of the game, deep into his own mulling thoughts as he had been. The game hadn’t seemed important, then; all he could think about was Tony’s stubborn refusal to speak his name, even once, and even though Loki had only moments ago spoken his.

 

But then, Tony had suddenly broken the silence hanging between them.

 

‘Loki’, he had said, and he can’t remember his own name ever sounding so sweet to his ears.

 

And it’s amazing, really, how much power one single word can hold, because in that moment, he hadn’t felt anything like a slave, or like property, or like a thrall, but like…

 

… like Loki.

Chapter Text

An ear-splitting crack of thunder and a flash of lightning cleaving the blue sky in two is all the warning Tony gets.

 

Only minutes after the aberrant weather phenomenon, the God of Thunder himself is standing in Tony’s living room, callous hands grasping his upper arms in such a tight grip that he winces. That is going to leave bruises tomorrow.

 

“Man of Iron!” the god exclaims, happiness glowing on his face like he’s a little kid on Christmas that has just been gifted with a flamethrower. “I am most joyous to return to your abode once more!”

 

So the news from Asgard must be good, then. Thor, as always, emotes like a fourteen-year old girl, and there’s no mistaking that excited expression on his face. Tony feels himself relax a little bit, even if he doesn’t know yet exactly how good the news will actually be, if it’s great-good or just semi-good. Some of Asgard’s definition of… things seem to differ quite a lot from his own, after all.

 

“Yeah, it’s wonderful to have you, Point Break, really. Though, I would be even more of a gracious host if you’d stop squeezing my arms like they’re wet towels,” Tony says to the beaming god, who lets go and gives him a friendly slap on the back, the force of which, coming from any other person, would have counted as battery.

 

And then, Thor turns to Loki, who is standing with his arms crossed in front of him, a sullen look on his face.

 

Thor is not deterred, though. He braves the distance between his brother and himself with three mighty steps and wraps his arms around the more slender figure, who doesn’t make any attempts to free himself, but also doesn’t return the fraternal embrace.

 

“I come bearing hopeful tidings,” Thor beams at them once he’s let go of Loki, who looks like a moping kid more than anything else. Perhaps the brother of the boy with the flamethrower, who only got socks in his parcel.

 

Still, it looks like Loki’s ears peak up a little at that, but if there’s any other reaction to Thor’s words, he reigns them in, watching the Thunderer as if the god is about to tell them what he had for dinner last night rather than sharing news affecting Loki’s entire future.

 

Tony’s ears peak up too. Perhaps it really is great-good news, then, even if he’s kinda doubtful. “Alright, so what’s the deal, then? Don’t leave his us hanging here, big guy,” he urges the thunder god. He wants to hear this now and he’s quite sure Loki does too, even if the god looks like he’s trying to pretend that he doesn’t.

 

“Well, my friends,” Thor speaks up, voice booming as he draws himself up to full height to make his important announcement, and Tony notices that Loki is leaning forward at that, if only a little. “I have put forward the plea for leniency on Loki’s behalf before the throne of Odin, and today the Allfather informed me that he has granted your request of an audience, Man of Iron, to speak further of this matter.”

 

Tony’s eyebrows shot upwards. That was not what he had been expecting. Totally, definitely not.

 

“Uhm, Thunderboy, I don’t remember asking for an audience in the first place,” he says, not at all sure he’s liking where this is going.

 

Thor opens his mouth to answer, but Loki interrupts him. “So that’s the best you’ve managed to come up with after all these weeks, Thor? An audience? And you really believe this is going to change anything?”

 

Thor gives Loki a calm look, blue steel meeting green ember. “At least the Allfather didn’t turn my plea down right away, as I had feared he might,” he says, lifting a hand towards Loki, palm out, in a placating gesture. “If he had been completely unwilling to reconsider your sentence, I am sure he would not have offered this audience in the first place.”

 

“And what did you answer him?” Loki asks, not sounding convinced at all.

 

Thor looks surprised, as if there was ever any doubt as to the nature of his answer. “Why, I told him that Man of Iron would be honoured to travel to Asgard and meet with the Allfather, of course.” He pauses, as if giving Loki a chance to object, but he chooses not to, so Thor continues. “Though there are no guarantees about the outcome, this is surely better than nothing, At least it is a sign of hope that Father is ready to listen to someone who wishes to speak in favour of clemency on your behalf.”

 

“Or an empty hope dangled in front of my face,” Loki retorts. “This will be nothing but a pointless waste of time, Thor. If Odin was truly considering showing any lenience, he would have--“

 

“Hello!” Tony’s voice cuts through the bickering, and as the two squabbling gods turn to him, he waves his hands in their general direction. “Yeah, remember me, Tony Stark? I’m still here, and I suppose no one is going to ask me if I actually want to take an intergalactic trip through some space wormhole into another dimension? And get all barbequed by cosmic rays before getting ripped into pieces by time-space compression and all those other pesky side effects?” Okay, he might be a tech-geek and science freak and all, but he does value his life more than throwing himself into some magic space-hole that could easily dissolve his organic body into a swarm of freely bouncing molecules and atoms.

 

Thor smiles kindly, as if Tony’s a little puppy afraid of a butterfly that’s just landed on his nose.

 

“Have no fear, Man of Iron, you are far from the first mortal to visit Asgard. Even though human bodies are fragile in comparison to those of the Aesir, the journey itself is harmless and without adverse effects even for mortals.” The declaration is followed by a knowing nod, as if Thor has just provided the most basic information in all the Nine or Eight or whatever number of realms there are.

 

Well, that’s barely half-way reassuring. “And how many of these mortals arrived safely back on Earth again after their little Space Odyssey 2010?” Never hurts to check, does it?

 

“Why, all those who were sent back home arrived safely in Midgard,” the Thunderer assures him.

 

Tony takes a step back at that, squinting an eye at Thor. “Hold on there, buddy. Just what is the whole ‘all those who were sent back home’ supposed to mean? You mean there were people who didn’t get sent back?”

 

“Only a few. Some mortals created certain… incidents during their stay,” Thor says, foot scraping a little against the marble tires, looking like he’s regretting his previous choice of words. “They were unfortunately unable to be returned to their native realm.”

 

“That’s lovely. And it’s really making me warm up to the idea of this intergalactic space trip, you know.”

 

Thor looks distinctly unhappy. “Some mortals got into fights they should have stayed out of or provoked warriors who were not the kind to let challenges or slights pass by unanswered. But these mortals were foolish, and you are a wise man, friend, and know better than to invite such trouble.”

 

Uh-huh. Staying out of trouble has always been Tony Stark’s forte. Not.  

 

“Uh, so how about I just write my official statement down on some fancy roll of parchment instead and have it sent back with you? That should amount to the same thing, shouldn’t it? Or hey, even better – how about daddy dearest coming over here to see me instead of me waltzing over there to your far side of the universe?”

 

He would have laughed at the bewildered expression on Thor’s face if the circumstances had been different. Like Tony had just told him he was about to get married to his vacuum cleaner or begin a new carrier as a pole dancer.

 

“No, that’s not possible,” Thor finally says, voice insistent and firm, as if Tony is just being pig-headed and obstinate. “No one refuses an audience with the Allfather.”

 

And if it’s one thing that Tony doesn’t like to hear, it’s those words not possible.

 

“And what’s Allfather almighty going to do if I simply tell him ‘no way José’? Smite me with a flash of lightning? Make the ground split open into an abyss of fire and brimstone under my feet during my Sunday morning stroll? Huh?” Damn, he just hates it when people he hasn’t even met are trying to tell him what he should do. He gets enough of that as the CEO of Stark Industries as it already is.

 

He throws Loki a glance in the passing, and winces at the sight. The god’s face has fallen at Tony’s words, and there are bitter lines of terrible disappointment etched into his features, like he can’t believe what he’s hearing. His posture is slumping, as if the weight of his body has suddenly tripled. Most of all he looks like a drowning man clinging desperately to a life preserver, only to have the hand of god descend from the heavens above to rip the last chance of deliverance out of his desperate hands.

 

Tony sighs inwardly. Okay, so he wasn’t actually being serious about refusing, he just had to make a token protest, because he’s Tony Stark and because the idea of going on a magic field trip really does freak him out like there’s no tomorrow.

 

Loki’s mouth is opening as if he’s about to say something, but before the god can speak, Tony quickly cuts him off. And he knows he’s going to regret this one way or the other, but whatever.

 

“Can I at least bring my Iron Man suit along?”

 

Thor is beaming again, and all is well for a few seconds before the Thunderer answers. “Unfortunately, that would be inadvisable. Visitors from other realms are not allowed to enter Asgard armed without having been granted special permission. You will not pass Heimdall the gatekeeper with your suit, I’m afraid.”

 

Tony is about to protest the idiocy of this no-bringing-weapons rule, before he remembers airport security on Earth. Okay, fair enough, then.

 

So he settles for a sigh instead, rubbing his palms over his face. “Alright, but I need to fix a Visa, and get some vaccinations first. Let’s see now – smallpox, rabies, the Black Death, cosmic measles,” he ticks each one off on his fingers. “Yeah, I think that should cover it. So when are we leaving for Narnia, then?”

 

“Why, we will leave on the morrow!” Thor declares pompously, as if he is making a speech before an assembly of loyal supporters.

 

Tony only groans.

 

He really is going to Asgard.

Chapter Text

Just like when Thor was here to visit last time, Tony decides to go for home-delivery pizza –greasy, fattening, unhealthy slices of cheese, salami, cheese, meatballs, and cheese.

 

Perfect.

 

Of course, just like last time, neither of his guests apparently has much of an appetite, judging by the way they’re fiddling around with the food on their plates. Well, at least Thor is making a valiant effort to be courteous and eat his fill, even if he’s far from his usual gluttonous self, but Loki is barely touching his pizza, managing to look sombre and annoyed at the same time.

 

While Thor might have been in a bright and sunny mood when he came here, it’s obvious that Loki’s sullenness is starting to take its toll on him too, contagious like a bout of fleas. He wonders if Thor expected his little brother to be as beaming and cheerful as him upon hearing the news from Asgard, because in that case he’s been in for some serious disappointment.

 

Tony’s not sure what he expected Loki’s reaction to be – when it all comes down to it, it’s not a decision either way, and could end up swinging into any direction. Still, it’s better than a straight-out no, with no chance of any pardons or paroles whatsoever on the horizon. And if Odin has warmed up to the idea of hearing Tony’s opinions on the matter, well, that should count on the positive side, shouldn’t it?

 

Unless he’s been invited merely for the entertainment value – look at the Midgardian monkey with his hilariously deluded ideas of how punishment should work, now let’s all point and laugh from our seats of godly High-and-Mightiness. Or, alternatively, brought to the Royal Court of Asgard just to be set straight and told in no uncertain terms that Loki’s sentence has been carved in stone and don’t you puny mortals dare to presume to interfere or think you know better than us.

 

Then again, it seems a bit overkill to bring him all the way to Asgard just to tell him that, so maybe Odin is willing to give them something, to budge a little bit, even if it’s only an inch or two in their favour.

 

On the other hand, he doesn’t feel comforted by how it took so many weeks for Odin to reach his decision. Was it really such a difficult choice to make, letting someone come over to Asgard and speak in Loki’s favour? It’s not as if the guy is obliged to indulge Tony in anything he says, so if merely the audience in itself brought about all this hesitance, he has to admit that it doesn’t really bode well for the final outcome.

 

No doubt, the very same things are going through Loki’s head, the way he’s holed up into himself, seemingly lost in his own mulling thoughts. Suddenly, it must all seem so real, as opposed to the more distant possibility it had been during Thor’s absence. And now, the equally real possibility that Odin will let his sentence stand, and Loki will remain a slave for the rest of his long life, has also edged closer.

 

He tries to take some comfort in the fact that Thor had seemed considerably more positive and hopeful, but given that Tony has never met Odin, he can’t really judge which of the two outlooks has the most basis in reality.

 

He takes another big bite out of his greasy pizza slice, tearing a big chunk of crust off, and then chews loudly. The conversation around the table is going haltingly and Loki has barely spoken a full sentence since they sat down. Thor was initially performing better, but once Tony had brought up the incident with the Einherjers in the subway, Thor’s face had transformed into that patented sad and wet puppy look of his and he had not seemed very conducive to further conversation.

 

They eat in silence for a while, then Loki picks up his empty glass of water and walks up to the sink to fill it up. Despite all the months of living in Tony’s tower, he’s never gotten to like anything carbonated, instead preferring plain tap water with his meals. Thor gives his brother a brief glance, and suddenly Tony is reminded of the awkward breakfast they had shared during the Thunderer’s last visit and his surprise at seeing that Loki wasn’t being ordered to serve them, that he’d been allowed to sit at the table and have breakfast, that he had even gotten the same food to eat as the rest of them.

 

Tony finds himself distinctly grateful that Thor hasn’t shown any obvious such reactions this time, though he still hopes that Thor isn’t interpreting the water as Loki not being allowed the fine Midgardian draught known as Coke that he and Thor are currently enjoying. A part of him is itching to make a comment on that, to explain to Thor that Loki has chosen the water himself and is free to have the brown fizzy stuff if he wants to, but he just doesn’t feel up to dragging any of that crap up right now.

 

It’s just a drink anyway.

 

The splash of water from the sink is almost ear-deafening in the near-silence around the kitchen table, somehow bringing even more attention to the lacklustre social interaction. A few moments later the tap is turned off and silence would have reigned once more if it hadn’t been for Loki’s voice breaking it.

 

“Tony?” he says evenly, turning his head to look at him over his shoulder. “It seems that the drain to the sink is clogged.”

 

Wonderful.

 

“Alright, I’ll have someone over to fix it.” he says, shrugging. “Jarvis, call a plumber and have him come here tomorrow. After our departure to LaLa-Land.” 

 

“Very well, sir,” comes the AI’s voice, obliging as ever.

 

After that little exchange, Tony is about to resign himself to another silence when his gaze drifts over to Thor and halts right there.

 

The god’s mouth is hanging half-open in what could best be described as shocked surprise and disbelief as his eyes keep darting back and forth between Loki and Tony. For a while, Tony isn’t sure just what on Earth the problem is this time, but then, realization dawns.

 

Of course. That has to be it. Loki just called him Tony, and surely that is one of the things that a slave in Asgard would never do in a million years – calling his master by his name. And right now, Thor is probably struggling to decide whether he should be more stunned that Loki would presume to do such a thing in the first place or that Tony apparently couldn’t care less.

 

And damn, he doesn’t feel up to dealing with any of this now, but he can’t just let this shit slide either. So he turns to the Thunderer, giving him his most sunny, unperturbed smile.

 

“Yeah, I know your people are having some difficulties getting that part into your heads, but contrary to popular Asgardian opinion, my name is ‘Tony’ and not ‘Man of Iron’.” A short pause. “Nor is it anything else.”

 

He puts deliberate stress on the last two words, not wanting to take the word master into his mouth; it’s just to fucking ugly and foul-tasting. Thor is no doubt getting the point anyway, judging by the incredulous stare. But at least he keeps quiet and merely gives a brief nod, and for that, Tony is grateful. He doesn’t want to discuss any of that right now, especially not within earshot of Loki, so instead he returns to his food, and Thor follows his example.

 

Loki, however, does not. Instead, he merely sits there alternating between staring out the window and down on his plate, empty except for the left-over crumbs from the grand total of one pizza slices that he has consumed.

 

Sighing inwardly, Tony reaches out for the nearest box of pizza, still half-full, and nudges it into Loki’s direction. “Come on, Loki, have another slice, will you. You have barely eaten anything,” he urges the reticent god.

 

Loki turns his faraway stare over to him and shakes his head. “I’m not hungry,” he says and then scoots his chair back, standing up. “Excuse me.”

 

And with that, he turns and walks out the door, leaving Tony and Thor and the pizza boxes to their own devices.

 

Tony sighs, out loud this time, rubbing a hand over his face. Okay, so Loki most definitely is not in a good mood. A part of him wants to stay here and indulge in whatever tiny comfort the pizza can offer him while trying to ignore all this shit, but another, more insistent part wants to hurry after Loki and make sure he’s doing alright, and that’s the part that wins out.

 

“Okay, big guy, just finish your pizza and I’ll be back in a minute,” he says as he gets up from his chair, about to head for the door to follow Loki, but a strong hand around his arm stops him short. He turns around to face Thor, who is looking at him with a crease between his eyebrows the depth of Grand Canyon.

 

“Please, Man of Iron, forgive my brother for his disrespectful behaviour,” the god says and damn if it isn’t the closest to pleading as Tony has ever heard from him. “He means no ill, I am sure, he is merely… distressed.”

 

And the vice-like fingers circling his arm fucking hurt, making him grimace as he tries to pull himself loose. Thor, quickly realizing what he’s doing, lets his hand fall to his side, the Grand Canyon frown deepening into the Marianas Trench.

 

One look at that concerned puppy face is enough to tell Tony exactly what it is that Thor is worried about – that Tony’s about to go off and have Loki punished for his un-slave-like behaviour that would of course have been unacceptable back where Thor comes from. And that just makes him want to scream at the skies in frustration – obviously Loki isn’t the only one with a ridiculously flat learning curve in these matters.

 

“For fuck’s sake, Thor,” he shoots back, annoyed and suddenly mentally queasy. “I’m just going to talk to him, alright?”

 

Not bothering to wait for an answer, he stomps off, leaving Thor and the pizza boxes to their own devices.

 


 

He’s standing in front of the window in the living room, looking outside, a strange mixture of feelings swirling inside of him. Thor is back, they’re all going to Asgard, and there might be a tiny chance of his sentence being changed. Up until now, it had all felt so impossible, so far away, since he’d been preoccupied trying to deal with the here and now. Like a distant dream that would never come true anyway.

 

But now, he’s about to have his future unveiled and find out whether the faint little hope flittering inside of him will ever amount to anything, or just be squashed into nothing as he’s irrevocably doomed to having to spend the rest of his life as a slave.

 

Of course, his current circumstances hardly leave him room to complain, given the situation, but he’s not entertaining any delusions that his future masters will turn out to be nearly as kind as Tony. There are so many disturbing thoughts that come with that, and in the end it had simply become too much, so he had gotten up from the table and left, desperately needing a few moments alone.

 

There are suddenly footfalls closing in behind him, too soft to belong to Thor.

 

Tony.

 

With that, he’s suddenly hit by the realization of what he did mere moments ago – refusing Tony’s insistence of another slice of pizza, instead standing up and leaving the room.

 

A slave directly disobeying his master – and, to make matters even worse – making him loose face by doing so right in front of a guest. Any slave on Asgard could have expected a world of pain and hurt after a stunt like that. And yet, the thought didn’t even enter his mind as he refused the pizza and walked out. Not even now, as his head is clearer and Tony is standing right there behind him as a reminder, does he feel any trepidation about possible consequences to follow for his unseemly behaviour. Which should be strange, and yet it’s not.

 

“Everything alright there?” Tony says.

 

“Yes,” he replies, “it’s fine.” But even he can hear how his strained voice is belying his words.

 

Then Tony’s hand is suddenly, unexpectedly on his shoulder, gently touching. And it’s just like those times before – when he broke down crying in the workshop, and when he was terrified that Tony would hand him over to Barton after he had spilled those little balls of clay all over the living room floor – the hand is there on his shoulder, its presence soothing and comforting.

 

“Well, I’m sure your daddy will reconsider, or he wouldn’t have bothered with all this hullabaloo in the first place, right?” Tony offers.

 

“Perhaps,” he says, not sure how much truth there will be to Tony’s words, but they are oddly comforting nevertheless. As is the hand making a reassuring little squeeze, sending off a strange tingle of something along his spine.

 

And he finds himself wanting to lean into that touch, to let those arms wrap around him to offer more comfort still, and perhaps even--

 

“Brother, are you alright?” comes a booming, yet hesitant voice, interrupting his trail of thoughts, and the moment is gone.

 

“I’m fine,” he says curtly, crossing his arms, turning away from the man standing in the doorway. “Just leave me be, Thor.”

 

He doesn’t feel in the mood for talking to Thor right now. His mind is too occupied with the fact that he’s going to Asgard and all that that heralds.

 

But at least, Tony will be going with him.

Chapter Text

If Tony hadn’t known better, he’d say that Thor is nervous. Okay, so maybe gods of thunder don’t get nervous, but at least they fret.

 

“Now,” Thor repeats for at least the fourth time, “keep in mind that this is an unofficial visit and we will keep a low profile during your stay.” He makes a brief pause as his gaze sweeps over to where Loki is standing before it returns to Tony again. “The unfortunate truth is that my brother has, both through his acts of mischief over the centuries and his more recent doings, made a lot of enemies in Asgard, which is why it’s wise if as few people as possible are informed of his return now that he doesn’t have his magic or powers anymore. No one will dare to harm Loki in my presence, of course, but as a prince of Asgard I will have some official business to attend to during your visit. However, as long as my brother remains in my chambers with you around to keep watch over him while I’m away, he will be safe. We take guest rights very seriously in Asgard, and as long as you’re a guest under my roof, your… authority over Loki will be respected, provided that he behaves as it’s expected.”

 

Loki gives Thor a glare. “How about you not speak as if I weren’t present?” he snaps, sounding like he’s straddling a precarious ledge and someone is tugging him towards the gaping abyss below. The god is wearing his Asgardian clothes again, though they’ve been washed since last time. The green and black apparel looks strangely off on him after all the time spent wearing band shirts and sweatpants and T-shirts and slacks. Tony isn’t sure if it’s the alien clothing creating an illusion, but Loki somehow looks darker, more brooding than before.

 

Thor turns towards his younger brother, and there is steel flashing in his eyes as he grasps Loki’s shoulder in an unrelenting grip. “Please remember, brother, that once we have arrived on the other side of the rainbow bridge we will not be in Midgard anymore, or you might bring misfortune upon yourself.” Thor’s voice is as unwavering and insistent as the hands on Loki’s shoulder, and the younger god tries to twist away, but his attempts are unsuccessful.

 

The fingers dig a little deeper, and Loki stops his squirming to meet the insistent stare with his own sullen one. Thor gives him a little shake, as if to further accentuate the importance of what he’s about to say. “As much as it pains me to say it, you cannot go around acting like you have been doing here in Midgard. That kind of behaviour is not acceptable in Asgard, even if Man of Iron has allowed it until now.”

 

I know that,” Loki snarls, tense like a rubber band pulled taut to the point of breaking. “You do not need to remind me of what will be expected of me in Asgard. I am well aware.”

 

Thor’s voice softens, a calm breeze in stark contrast to Loki’s edginess. “I am only telling you this for your own sake, Loki. I do not wish to see you harmed in any way. But you will need to be able to swallow your pride if you are to prevent worse things from befalling you.”

 

“I will manage,” Loki retorts, turning away.

 

Tony makes a grimace. No matter what Thor says, he really has a bad feeling about going to Asgard with Loki in tow. But as this seems to be the only way that Loki might ever have his freedom again, he can’t really refuse.

 

“Very well, then,” Thor nods as he looks his two travel companions over. “Are you ready to depart?”

 

“As ready as can be, Scotty. Just beam us up there.” Tony slings his duffle bag across his shoulder, even though Thor has already told him that it will not be necessary to bring luggage, as everything he could possibly need will be provided for him in Asgard.

 

However, Tony still thinks that if he’s going to stand before the Allfather himself, at least he wants to be wearing clean underwear. And he isn’t sure about the general hygiene level of a people who probably have neither running water nor central heating. Not to mention that Thor is always wearing the same outfit whenever he isn’t going incognito in Midgardian clothing, so Tony might as well bring his own stuff along. He sure as heck isn’t going to be wearing any of those extremely uncomfortable-looking Asgardian fashion statements, if that’s what Thor expects.

 

Thor tugs at the thin chain around his neck, bringing up a silver medallion from beneath his shirt – their combined travel ticket and transport to Asgard.

 

Tony eyes the thing suspiciously. Runes are carved all over it, and the entire piece is sure to be brimming with magic, even though he can’t feel a thing of it. For all he knows, it could have been one of those gothic pieces of cheap jewellery favoured by certain brands of angsty teenagers.

 

Thor catches Tony’s drifting, slightly suspicious glance. “I know it might not look very impressive, but this medallion has been crafted with my father’s most powerful magic, and will offer us all safe transportation to Asgard and back. Have no worries, friend, I have used this to travel between our realms several times, and there have been no troubles or problems whatsoever.”

 

“Are you still sure it’s good for transporting all of us at the same time, though?” Tony waggles his fingers to indicate their little group. “I mean, you’re only one but there’s three of us now and the medallion might, I don’t know, drop someone on the way for exceeding maximum weight allowance?”

 

Thor smiles at him, the kind of smile that Tony remembers giving to little children asking him to explain how his suit works.

 

“The number of people is of no importance, Man of Iron. Father’s medallion will work, do not worry,” Thor says with the deadpan confidence that is typically displayed by people who have no clue whatsoever about how the things they’re talking about really work.

 

Still, Tony can’t find any further immediate objections for the moment, as much as he doesn’t like this one bit.

 

“Okay, then. At least I’ve paid my insurance fee, so what do I have to worry about?” He throws his hands out in a questioning gesture, not expecting a reply. At least Loki, who’s well-acquainted with magic on a personal level, doesn’t question their means of transportation, which is a lot more comforting than Thor’s empty reassurances.

 

“Gather around me,” Thor says, medallion in his hand, dramatically raised to the skies.

 

Tony and Loki shuffle closer and come to a stand in front of Thor. Loki is looking tense, taut like a bowstring, but Tony is quite sure that it has nothing to do with the intergalactic inter-dimensional trip in itself, but more with what lies beyond. After all, it’s his entire future hanging in the balance, when it all comes down to it.

 

Thor grabs hold of them with one mighty hand, clutching them both to his chest in what would have been an awkwardly intimate gesture from anyone else but the God of Thunder. His fingers close around the medallion in his palm, and for a while nothing happens. Tony is about to make a quip about empty tanks and gas stations, but then there is a faint hum in the air, followed by a strange bluish light emanating from Thor’s hand.

 

In one moment of compressed singularity, the hum turn into a loud crack and the faint light into a blinding blue flash. The next thing Tony knows, his stomach lurches, like it’s being turned inside out, and there’s a sudden, violent jerk in no sensible direction, neither up nor down nor to any side. The world explodes in a kaleidoscope of lights and colours and little blinking pin-point stars in the distance before he’s enveloped by a compressing blackness, an empty void swallowing him up.

 

He’s spit out again in what feels like only a fraction of a second later, ungracefully falling to his hands and knees, his insides heaving and head spinning like he’s just stepped out of a cosmic roller-coaster.

 

Luckily, his breakfast makes the wise decision to remain where it is, albeit after some obvious hesitation. And he’s really grateful he didn’t have that bottle of scotch he’d been considering emptying before going on this intergalactic field trip, or it would probably have been somewhere else than his stomach right now.

 

But at least he can feel solid ground under his feet – okay, hands and knees – and slowly, he lifts his head, blinking, still a little wobbly.

 

And he almost falls on his ass in surprise at the marvellous, imposing sight that greets him as his eyes ascend from the ground. Holy hell, is that Asgard? Truth be told, despite Thor’s boasts, he’d been expecting something more along the veins of… a pimped up Viking village, not something taken straight out of a space-fantasy postcard.

 

Woah.

 

The place towering before him is enormous, spires and pinnacles reaching for the sky. His own tower would have looked like a stomped-down mole-hill in comparison to this alien Eighth Wonder of the World. Like a palace and a fortress and a futuristic metropolis all in one, the massive city glitters in the sun, like it’s been covered with fine-coated gold, basking in the splendour that is no doubt millennia of mysterious history and ancient magic.

 

As he gapes, Thor’s hand is suddenly on his shoulder, the unexpected weight nearly making him fall flat on his face again. “So, what do you think, Man of Iron?” he says with pride overflowing his voice.

 

“It’s, uh, a hell of a lot more, epic than I imagined,” Tony manages, not quite sure what to say that will do it justice. He manages to stumble to his own two feet, albeit unsteadily, trying to get his bearings and tear his eyes away from the majestic thing in the distance that is currently occupying his entire field of vision, stretching from one horizon to another.

 

It is only then he notices the odd… texture of the ground beneath his feet and he looks down, for the first time really noticing what he is actually standing on. To say nothing of that what is flanking him, which seems to be… nothing. Only a gaping void of emptiness opening up beside him, and he is standing on this flimsy bridge that doesn’t even--

 

“Bifrost, my friend,” Thor pleasantly informs him. “Or at least what’s been rebuilt of it so far. Bifrost,” he repeats, “the bridge spanning worlds and connecting realms throughout the void.”

 

And Tony gets that sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach as he can’t help but gaze into that mind-shattering, bone-crushing emptiness below. It seems to him a man could throw himself off this bridge and fall for an eternity through that shapeless, all-encompassing nothingness, and he shudders at the thought.

 

“Tell the construction workers that they should really put a railing up here. Someone might trip and fall.”

 

He can hear Loki make an incomprehensible sound somewhere behind him at that, a strange mixture between a snort and a choke.

 

“Let’s continue,” Thor urges them on with a wave. “There is no point in us dallying here.”

 

And Tony picks himself together, following after the retreating red cape sweeping before him as Thor walks toward the gleaming kingdom in the distance with decisive, brisk steps. Loki walks a pace behind, but where Thor’s steps are determined and resolute, his are unenthusiastic and reluctant.

 

The ground beneath Tony’s feet glitters like hoarfrost in the sun, its bright colours intermingling and blinking like stars a thousand galaxies away. It’s like watching a prism dispersing a million rays from the sun, only to concentrate them again a second later.

 

And it’s beautiful.

Chapter Text

The ground beneath his feet gleams and sparkles as he traipses after the red cape swirling a few steps ahead of him. Like coloured ice or shattered prisms it glitters, specks of light dancing across the bridge in that peculiar way that he has seen nowhere else but here.

 

Bifrost. He still remembers it so clearly, how he fell off it, or rather, how he just let go of all those childish notions and false pretence and let himself fall – unwanted and unneeded. A failure.

 

And so he fell from grace, from Asgard, from the realm that was no longer his. The realm he had once sought to rule, if only to finally surpass Thor in something, though he isn’t quite so sure why anymore.

 

After all, the throne did become his, during a brief intermission lined with failure and disappointment, and he didn’t get even one moment of satisfaction or joy from it. He should have felt delighted in the knowledge that Thor had been banished to Midgard, rendered powerless, and that he, Loki was now rightfully king, and yet, the anticipated elation had failed to present itself.

 

He isn’t sure what he had expected to gain, really, expect for Gungnir and elevated seating arrangements. Because that seemed to be all he got from his new lot in life. Perhaps he had once been naïve to believe he would receive respect, deference, esteem, all that came so easily to Thor, but he soon realized that even as king, he would have no more of those things than he had had as a prince.

 

He well remembers the shocked and disbelieving looks from the Warriors Three and Sif when they understood that he had ascended to become ruler of Asgard. Their reluctance to kneel down – the slowness only a step short of open rebellion – the distrust shining in their eyes, the weak charade of loyalty that he didn’t buy for a second. It was all too obvious, how they thought him a usurper who had no business sitting on that throne at all.

 

It should have come as no surprise, of course, that none of these loyal followers to Thor would take well to seeing him presiding there, his presence a blotch staining the supposed perfection of the royal office. No, someone like him could of course never be accepted as king. He had understood that as he sat there, watching the four Aesir in front of him reluctantly kneel down, making a mockery of his title and station, turning it into a flimsy pretence, a child’s play at being king and ruler.

 

In the end, he was still as disliked as ever before. If anything, his ascent had only served to cement that opinion. The Warriors Three and Sif were not the only ones unable to come to terms with his new status; in fact, their reaction turned out to be the norm. The tension in the room, as newcomers just having found out about the transfer of the royal title looked to each other, hoping that someone braver than them would protest the outrageous state of things or that someone of a more lucid mind would laugh and tell them that this was only a mirage, one of the trickster’s usual plays and games.

 

No, he knew there’d be no loyalty or devotion to be had; grudging, dutiful obedience the best he might hope for, if even that.

 

Of course, he should have expected it. And still, it had irked him like a sharp thorn plunged deep under the skin, prickled at him like a mattress made out of rusty nails.

 

No, there was not even one loyal face among the masses, not a single one who’d be willing to serve him as eagerly as they would have served Thor.

 

That abject dislike and distrust, and that was before the truth of his heritage became known.

 

How could he ever have hoped for anything else? The thought is ludicrous, preposterous. This realm is Thor’s, the golden warrior, the beloved prince. Not his, the magic-wielding, argr-practicing monster.

 

And in the end, not even Midgard, the realm of the mortals, would be his. Of course, it would have been a weak substitute, had he succeeded in claiming it, but at least he would have been the king of something, had something that Thor didn’t. A realm to call his own, even if he would have had no idea what to do with it, what satisfaction it would have given him in the end. Humans were, of course, weak and fragile, and being the ruler of such a world would have been a short-lived pleasure, but at least he would have been king where Thor wasn’t, the Aesir who never wanted him as a ruler all far away, their opinions of no matter as he ascended his surrogate throne.

 

However, his way of revenge, of proving himself, had proved rash and ill-advised. But there had been a lot of time to think in that abyss. To let his bitterness and resentment fester, to let the desire to prove himself push all other thoughts and needs aside. And then the Chitauri came along, giving him an offer he couldn’t refuse. It had made perfect sense, then – humans were small and insignificant, why shouldn’t he be allowed to rule a race like that? The weak were made to be ruled, after all – that was how it had always been, hadn’t it? What he had been taught his entire life – strength was all that mattered; just look at Thor, the embodiment of everything that was valued in Asgard: power, might, martial prowess. And if the humans couldn’t defend their world, if they were beneath whoever came to conquer them, surely they didn’t deserve the privilege of ruling for themselves, right? No, they’d be better off with someone stronger like him to take over, he had told himself.

 

But things had spiralled out of control, and in the end he had failed, had been brought to the end of his wits and strength by these supposedly weak and feeble creatures.

 

Cast out of Asgard, made a slave in Midgard; neither of the realms would have him as their king. Certainly, everyone here is glad to be rid of him, glad he’s been given over to Midgard, where he could be expected to suffer an endless string of indignities and abuse and humiliation after his ill-fated attempt at taking over their world.

 

And now, he’s been being brought back here in disgrace for a second time – then, chained and muzzled; now, a slave.

 

Though, there is still something different from last time, despite the degradation. Because back then, he had entertained no hope whatsoever as he walked behind Thor, as always one step behind, seeing the gilded spires and towering buildings of Asgard rising in the distance, implacably drawing closer, and with them his doom.

 

This time, however, the hope is tiny and small, only a flicker, and he really should know better than to allow its continued existence and instead extinguish the preposterous thing himself before Odin does.

 

But despite the degradation of coming back to his homeland as a lowly slave, that little glimmer of hope still shines just brightly enough to dispel the dark and dreary shadow that returning like this casts over him. Because maybe, just maybe, there might be the chance of… something.

 

Not like the utter bleakness he saw in his future last time, when he had expected death, execution, to follow after the humiliating and totally unnecessary spectacle of a trial. Because what point would there be in holding one, when the outcome was already ascertained, when his guilt was already unassailable, other than as a further humiliation, putting him up for display for everyone’s amusement so everyone could point their fingers at the monster who fancied himself a king?

 

Though, he wonders how many would even recognize him this time, most people not expecting him to be here, and him not wearing his usual regal clothing. Thor, everyone would recognize no matter the situation, no matter what he’d be wearing, but not the second prince, the one that no one ever paid any attention to or ever noticed.

 

Well, not until his trial, that is, then all of a sudden it seemed like all of Asgard paid him all the attention he could have possibly wished for. All the interest and notice that had eluded him over the centuries suddenly came back in spades, as to make up for the previous negligence.

 

And he remembers it so well, the expectancy of the assembled rabble, the collective drawn breath, held in suspense, as his sentence was about to be pronounced. How the crowd had imperceptibly drifted closer to the stand, as not to miss one single word that the Allfather spoke.

 

But the one thing that had been first and foremost on his mind, then, burdening him with the weight of a thousand mountains, hadn’t been the sentencing awaiting him, as he had already resigned himself to the outcome.

 

No, it had been the fact that during the long, arduous trial, nobody had spoken up in his defence. No one had stood up for him, no one had offered even a word in his favour.

 

Nobody.

 

Not that he had expected anyone to, of course. And why should they? He already knew what they thought of him before all this – his disgraceful preoccupation with magic, unfit for a prince and a dishonour to his royal station – to think nothing of what they must think of him now. Traitor. Usurper. Disgrace.

 

But it still hurt, though he hadn’t wanted to acknowledge that sting of pain at the time. Because that would only be a weakness, a pitiful longing for things he couldn’t have, that would never be his.

 

Still, he tries to comfort himself with the thought that Frigga would surely have spoken up for him if she had been permitted to, but of course, close kin isn’t allowed to speak in the defence of criminals on trial, their judgement deemed biased and unreliable. So in the end, it was only him standing there before the assembled court, despite the throng of people so utterly alone. Unaided and without even the tiniest inkling of support to face the accusations, without anyone who’d reach out a hand to him.

 

No matter how pointless it would have been – his guilt was far too indisputable for it to make a difference – and no matter how much of a weakness it was to at all hope for and desire such a thing, he’d still wished that someone would have done that, if only a single word spoken up in that courtroom for his benefit. Not because it would have made a difference, but because…

 

But there was, of course, no one. Only a deafening silence. He was all alone. Just one word in his favour, even this little was too much for the good citizens of Asgard. Too much for someone like him to ask for.

 

He almost snorts in derision as he thinks back on it. So ridiculous, so preposterous to even imagine such a thing, no matter how briefly and secretly.

 

Still, he really would have liked for someone to speak up for him.

 

But no one in Asgard would stoop to such a thing. He already knew it, so it shouldn’t have hurt as much as it actually did.

 

Swallowing down the bitter emptiness that’s threatening to well up at the memory, he dismisses the silly notions, instead hastening his steps so that he won’t fall too far behind.

 

Still, he had hoped that he would at least get to see Frigga again on his return here, but Thor had told him before their departure that she had left for Vanaheim on a personal errand some time ago. Hence she did not know that Loki would be coming to Asgard, or Thor was certain that she would immediately have cancelled her trip and stayed so she could see him.

 

Loki tries not to feel sad about that, or anything at all.

Chapter Text

“Who goes there?” The voice booms across the bridge, carried as easily as sound across a still water surface on a quiet evening, and it makes Tony wonder if all Aesir voices ever do anything else than boom.

 

Thor stops in his tracks and holds up a hand, indicating for Tony to remain where he is. Loki has already stopped, arms crossed defensively.

 

“Greetings Heimdall,” the Thunderer exclaims. “It is I, Thor, son of Odin, along with my brother Loki and Man of Iron, a well-renowned warrior and hero of Midgard.”

 

Well, that’s one introduction Tony’s sure never heard before and a fresh breath of air given all the endless billionaire genius superstar variations he’s gotten over the years. Though, he sure hopes no one in Asgard will want to test the validity of the whole ‘well-renowned warrior and hero’ thing, not when his suit is still hanging in his workshop somewhere on the other side of the universe.

 

“Welcome, Thor.” Heimdall steps aside to admit them entrance to the splendid realm behind him. “Your arrival is expected by the Allfather, and so are those of your companions. You may enter.”

 

“Thank you, my friend.” With that, Thor waves them forward again, as he resumes his own regal striding, like a crown prince on his way to his coronation.

 

Heimdall eyes them impassively as they pass, silent and unmoving like a statue. Long red braids are sticking out from under his helmet on either side of his face. Tony can only barely make out where the hair ends and the beard takes over, but the eyes looking out from all that red fuzz are piercing blue steel, not unlike Thor’s own. He makes a mental note to ask Thor if the two of them are related; maybe he is the Thunderer’s half-uncle twice removed or something.

 

Tony offers the rainbow guardian a friendly smile as they pass him by. Heimdall makes no sign of acknowledgement, but only stands there like a pillar of the Earth with his spear in one hand, its butt resting firmly against the ground.

 

Pleasant guy. Then again, if Tony had been forced to stand around guarding the same bridge century after century, he would probably have been feeling pretty crusty too. The guy obviously hasn’t gotten the best gig; when job descriptions were handed out Heimdall clearly wasn’t far enough ahead in line to snatch himself one of the cool ones like God of Thunder or God of War. Instead, he got stuck with a rainbow.

 

Though, Tony soon gets other things on his mind as the walls of Asgard loom in closer, the city breathtaking in its beauty. As they pass through the gates, he can’t decide if he’s relieved or disappointed that no severed heads of the slain enemies of Asgard are adorning them.

 

He notices out of the corner of his eye that even though Loki has been dragging his feet so far, once they pass the gates he quickly inches up closer to Thor, as if the thunder god has a magic aura around him whose protection will extend to anyone standing close enough.

 

Which, Tony supposes, might not be all that far from the truth in Loki’s case. He’s sure glad to have Thor as company to make sure that Loki stays safe.

 

Inside the walls, the wide square stretching out before them is bustling with activity and Tony has to quickly side-step to avoid getting trampled by a column of Einherjers marching resolutely by, armour and weapons clinking in unison. On his other side, a bleating goat runs past him, a torn rope hanging from around its neck, and maybe twenty yards ahead, two deadly-looking warriors are locked in a round of mock-sword fighting, their weapons gleaming in the sun as they strike at each other, grunting and groaning. Or at least Tony thinks they’re mock-fighting, but he’s just guessing here.

 

And it truly is the kingdom of the gods, he realizes, straight out of the most pompous, overblown fantasy saga ever imagined. Everyone here milling around in the square is bold, beautiful and proud. Men and women both, they’re moving with confidence and grace, some with a touch more refinement, others with more brawniness, like they’ve all spent a life-time being worshipped and honoured, and have learnt to act according to their station. Regality in their bearings, pride shining in their eyes and faces, these Aesir are truly beings of myth and legend.

 

Then, from behind a corner, suddenly come two creatures that mar the dashing perfection like stains of red wine on a white tablecloth. It’s a man and a woman, though that’s not immediately obvious, given their hunched postures and carefully bowed heads. Whereas the other Aesir are clad in shining armour and fine fabrics, these two are dressed in rags, ill-fitting and fraying at the seams. Tony stares at them, not sure what to believe, even though no one else seems to notice the tattered beings, so unlike the proud and mighty Aesir he’s seen until now. The man and the woman move like silent shadows, as if they don’t want to be noticed, eyes directed towards the ground like they think someone will slap them were they to raise their gazes from the cobblestones even for a brief second.

 

It is only when the two wretched creatures have turned another corner and disappeared from view that the grinding realization dawns on Tony. These two are slaves.

 

Damn.

 

There’s a strange lump forming in his throat as he stares after their no longer visible forms. Suddenly, Asgard doesn’t seem like Shangri-La any longer, but more like something straight out of Planet of the Apes.

 

Revulsion churning inside of him, he casts a look at Loki; even though the god’s back is turned towards him, it looks like his shoulders are more tense, more drawn-up than usual.

 

Then Thor’s voice is calling to him. “Come on, friend, don’t drag your feet or I might lose you in the crowd.”

 

And Tony obeys. He most certainly doesn’t want to end up separated from Thor, because who knows what might happen if he does. Maybe some of these Aesir will snatch the weird alien in their midst off the street and sell him on some slave auction for some stuck-up noble’s amusement, if he’s unlucky.

 

“The Royal Halls are not far from here,” Thor says after a brief look on Tony’s face, totally misreading him. “I’m sure you must find this experience very overwhelming and exhausting, but once we are in my chambers you will have an opportunity to rest undisturbed.”

 

For once, Tony doesn’t really have much to say; the sight of the ragged couple still haunting his inner eye.

 


 

He has to admit, though, that the Royal Halls are indeed impressive. The jewel in the crown that is Asgard, gleaming even brighter and reaching even further towards the sky than the rest. Golden shields are lining the façade, as are inscriptions and runes in tasteful, thought-out patterns. Clearly, the Aesir have a penchant for dragons, judging by the meticulously carved representations of long, slithering serpents adorning the massive doors and windows.

 

And the inside of the halls is equally breathtaking. The St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and all those other fancy places he’s never visited got nothing on this.

 

“Damn, you guys hired some really spiffy interior decorators for this job, didn’t you?” Tony breathes, eyes glancing over the life-like majestic statues of long-dead warriors and kings and heroes standing in long lines, each one wearing a full suit of armour and weapons. He sure hopes that these guys don’t come alive at night and compensate for being dead by going berserk in the halls. If so, he’s totally going to ask for a room with a bolted steel door.

 

“These are all mighty ancestors of the Aesir,” Thor explains, his face shining as he enthusiastically points to one of the statues with a brutal battle axe clasped in both hands. “This is Karl the Bloodaxe. He was a warrior who led many successful campaigns against both Jotunheim and Svartalfheim, heaping the realm of Asgard with much glory. And this,” he waves his hand towards the equally ferocious-looking statue next in line, “is Hjalmar the Ironbeard. It is said that--“

 

“I would think your guest has little interest in Asgardian history lessons,” Loki’s voice drawls to his right, but it sounds more tired and weary than anything. It’s the first words he’s spoken in a long time, having spent most of the journey in brooding solitude.

 

Thor’s face falls a little, but he acquiesces.

 

“Follow me, then. My chambers are not far from here.”

 

Tony and Loki fall in behind the blond god yet again, through meandering corridors and gilded halls with ceilings so high that ten men could stand on each other’s shoulders and still not be able to touch the beautiful runic inscriptions that someone somehow managed to place up there.

 

Thor’s definition of ‘not far from here’ soon turns out to be rather different from Tony’s, but that’s alright, the surroundings are breathtaking enough to make up for it. He can’t help but feeling like a tourist from Hicksville going on his first trip abroad, gaping and gawking at the magnificent sights presented before him. Just all those Japanese tourists with their ever-present cameras missing, or the picture would have been complete.

 

And the place just breathes magic and ancientness and mysteries. As they enter through some of the doorways, Tony can swear there is an odd prickle on his skin or a fleeting moment of dizziness, and he wonders if there are enchantment and spells that have been woven into the very structure of the building. As if old and powerful magic is brimming just under the surface, like a living entity that has been forced into servitude, bound to offer its protection to the ones entering these sacred halls.

 

And people thought that he was being all high and mighty and full of himself when he had the Stark Tower erected.

Chapter Text

After some further twists and turns through meandering corridors, they’re finally standing in what Tony supposes would count as the humongous equivalent of Thor’s living room. Not quite as grandiose as the Halls they’ve just passed, but for a living room it’s pretty fancy with pillars ornaments and runic inscriptions all over the place.

 

And not very private, given the constant trickle of servants passing through, carrying stuff, harrying about, running errands or whatever it is people in their line of profession do.

 

Tony raises an eyebrow. “Is your place always this busy?”

 

Thor wrinkles his brow for a few seconds as if he doesn’t understand what Tony is referring to, as if the servants busying themselves or passing by on quick and silent feet are all but invisible, mere ghosts or shadows not worthy of notice.

 

Which, Tony supposes, is probably the truth for someone like the Royal Son of Odin who’s grown up with seeing people like this as part of the furnishing.

 

“You know, all these people running around.” Tony gestures to a servant carrying a bucket of water in each hand, striding quickly and briskly towards one of the smaller doors that are no doubt only used by servants and the like. 

 

“Oh,” Thor says, blinking, as if he is only seeing them just now. “You mean the servants. Well, you may not realize, Man of Iron, but as the crown prince of Asgard, I have not only a large number of Einherjer warriors in my service, but also skilled people employed in various other trades. It takes many workers and valets and servants to run such a large household, but you will only see but a few of them here. Most have duties that make them occupied elsewhere.”

 

Tony cocks his head to the side. “Sounds like you have quite the little empire running here, buddy. But there’s really only one guy I came here to see, and that’s your dad. So when are we meeting him?”

 

“When the Allfather decides to summon you. I will send word to him that we have arrived, in case Huginn or Muninn haven’t done so already,” Thor says.

 

“You mean I have to sit around and wait until your daddy feels up for a chat? Don’t I at least get a fixed time slot or something?”

 

Thor frowns slightly. “Odin is a busy ruler. He will send for you when he is ready.” And that’s final, Tony can hear loud and clear between the lines. 

 

Okay, it’s not like he has never made people wait in his lifetime, deliberately or not, so he supposes he doesn’t have that much room to talk here.

 

“Well then,” the Thunderer says, happy to take Tony’s silence as acceptance. “I am afraid I must take my leave for the time being as I am to meet with a delegation from Alfheim to discuss a trading agreement between our realms.” A streak of bad conscience mars Thor’s pleasant features, the god clearly having preferred not to leave his recently arrived Midgardian guest to his own devices like this. “However, you shall not lack for anything in my absence; the servants will bring you refreshments while you wait for my return, and if there is anything you should crave, do not hesitate to ask for it. Before my departure to Midgard, I made sure to inform my household of your imminent arrival to our realm, so they all know that you are an honoured guest in my house and that I expect you to be treated as such.”

 

“Well, that’s splendid, Thunderboy,” Tony grins. “You think I could have one of those pretty Asgardian maidens hand feeding me grapes while I recline on a futon? Preferably a blond, but I’m not picky.”

 

“I am afraid we do not have this thing you call ‘grapes’ in our realm,” Thor says, as usual missing the funny. “However, if there is anything else you should wish for, please feel free to tell the servants here, and they shall provide it if it is within our means.”

 

“Alright, then,” Tony agrees. “We’ll just wait around here, then, chilling out, until you’re back.”

 

“Again, I am sorry I have to take my leave so hastily after your arrival, but a crown prince has many duties to fulfil on behalf of the realm,” Thor apologizes once more with that patented wet puppy dog of his.

 

“No problem, Hercules. I’m a big boy, I think I can manage.” He throws the god a friendly don’t-you-worry kind of grin. At least he gets to sit around and wait in the coolest space-alien building that he’s ever set his foot in.

 

Thor nods, before turning to Loki with a solemn, serious face, all official business and no play. “Please, remember to behave according to what’s expected, or you will invite serious trouble for yourself.”

 

Loki’s lips curl at the words, but he doesn’t argue. “I already said I will act as appropriate,” he mutters, looking none to pleased about Thor’s reminder.

 

The blond god locks gazes with his brother for a moment during which the air between them seems to crackle with intensity, and then Thor draws a sigh, probably realizing that nothing he says will have much of an affect. Instead, he turns and walks out, after having offered a parting, ‘Until later, then.’

 

Tony wrinkles his eyebrows at the little exchange, feeling vaguely uneasy. He glances furtively in Loki’s direction, noticing the strain in the rigid figure, the tenseness marring his features, like he’d rather be anywhere but here.

 

But then, a servant comes along carrying a tray loaded with a couple of mugs, a pitcher of water, and a jug of beer, rich and fluffy foam overflowing from the rim. Probably the beer is meant for him and the water for Loki, but fuck if Tony is going to care about any of that.

 

The servant nods politely at Tony and unloads his burden on top of the table with a flowery ‘please drench your thirst to your behest, Man of Iron’, and Tony finds himself grinning again, unease momentarily forgotten. Beer. He can roll with that.

 

Especially considering that he hasn’t had a single drink since yesterday.

 


 

So here they are, in Thor’s chambers, back in Asgard despite Loki once being sure that he would never set his foot in this realm again. And even if Tony’s visit might not turn out to make a difference in the end, it’s still a chance, no matter how infinitesimal. His only chance of not having to spend the rest of his life in bonded servitude.

 

Still, he can’t help but feel exposed like a target at an archery practice field, his skin crawling from the disdainful gazes the servants are throwing in his direction as they pass by, though they smile politely at Tony, Thor’s honoured guest. And oh, how it’s all so obvious in their faces as they hurry past, pretending not see him, acting as if he’s a shadow, a mere flicker of the imagination – the resentment, the dislike, and the anger. If he’d still had his powers, there would have been fear in those gazes as well, he is certain. Fear of the monster, of the traitor, of enemy of the realm. The one who never belonged here in the first place, who has now committed sins and transgressions too grave to overlook or forget, trespasses against the people who was never his to begin with.

 

Though he is pointedly ignored by all – who would pay attention to a slave anyway? – he still senses how they privately revel in his degradation, in the humiliation of the punishment brought upon him.

 

He watches impassively, out of the corner of his eye, as a servant glides up to the table carrying beer, and Tony’s pleased reaction as there is alcohol within grabbing distance. Grinning, the man flops himself down on one of the chairs at the table, stretching his limbs as if he’s just run a ten-mile race, before reaching for the precious golden nectar and then settling for an arrogant lounge, legs spread wide.

 

And Loki knows – oh, he knows – that there is only one acceptable position for him. Here, in the Royal Halls, it is the rules and traditions of Asgard that hold sway, and having grown up here he is all too familiar with their dictate. He cannot refuse; his position here is already precarious enough as it already is without compromising it further.

 

Forgoing the chair, he kneels down beside Tony’s seat, the only appropriate place for a slave next to his master, swallowing the sting of degradation burning at the back of his throat. It had been so nice to not have to think about any of this, to forget about the things normally demanded of a slave as he had eventually done back in Midgard, instead acting almost as if his status wasn’t that of a slave but rather Tony’s equal. But now, having been brought back here, it’s like all of that has just been him playing a make-believe game, allowing himself to be caught up in an illusion brought by his own wishful thinking, because here in Asgard, he can no longer ignore the actual state of things.

 

But nothing can change how real it had all still felt.

 

And no matter what, he likes to think that the make-believe game, the illusion, is not how he’s been acting around Tony in Midgard, but how he has to act here.

 

Tony’s nose is already half-way down into his mug of beer, but as Loki sinks down next to him, the mug stops its slow upwards descent and Loki can sense the man freezing for the split of a second. Then the mug is set down on the table and Tony’s head turns to look at him like he just grew a pair of antlers.

 

“What the heck are you doing down there?” he asks with one eyebrow raised, as if it isn’t obvious. “While I agree these fancy chairs are more showy than cosy, there’s no way the stone floor can be more comfortable.” He pats the seat of the chair to his side, palm tapping insistently against the fabric. “Come on, up you go.”

 

Loki clenches his teeth. This would have been easier to handle if Tony hadn’t decided to make a deal out of it; if he’d just accepted things as they are.

 

“It would be… untoward,” Loki says in response, avoiding meeting with Tony’s eyes.

 

“More untoward than crawling around on the ground? I don’t think so. Use a freaking chair like normal people.” Tony gestures towards the piece of furniture again, sounding as flippant as ever, but there is still a note of strained discomfort in his voice that seeps out between the words.

 

It is clear that Tony has little concept of how things are done here. But even more untoward than a slave sitting on a chair would be for him to argue his master’s order within earshot of other people. So he relents, gingerly seating himself on the chair next to Tony, noticing the displeased looks from two nearby servants at this inappropriate raising of his station.

 

He sighs as Tony fills the second mug with beer and pushes it into his hands, not really hearing the offhand comment that follows it, clearly an attempt to smooth the situation over, to pretend like what just transpired never happened.

 

So he takes a sip from the mug as Tony’s mouth is running off at top-speed yet again, spilling flippant commentary and diverging into far-fetched speculations, all topped of with absurd questions that he expects no answer to. Loki only listens with half an ear; his attention is focused on the servants and workers passing through, fully aware that most of them would only be too pleased at seeing him degraded, far too eager to see him humbled and demeaned.

 

And he knows that his stay here is unlikely to be a pleasant one.

 

Chapter Text

The fire crackles quietly in the large stone hearth, sending long shadows dancing across the ornamented walls, the grey figures twisting and turning in odd, mystic patterns. He watches them meander for a little while, and then returns to studying the people passing by.

 

For a bunch of servants, they do look like quite the haughty bunch. Despite many of them appearing to be in a hurry, they don’t walk, no, they stride. Like pride is something that comes with birth for these people and runs as naturally through their veins as alcohol does through his.

 

Well, unless you happen to be a slave, that is. He still recalls that tattered couple that he saw earlier in the market square, feeling that vague prickle of unease again. He’s glad that at least there doesn’t seem to be any slaves running around here; he isn’t sure he could have dealt with that.

 

Okay, scratch that, there is one unfortunate, notable exception.

 

He glances at Loki out of the corner of his eye. The god is as rigid as he’s ever seen him where he sits perched on his chair, eyeing people with mistrust and wariness, like he expects them to sink their fangs into his throat if his vigilance slacks for even a second. 

 

But no one approaches the god or does anything more than glaring, so Tony takes that as a good sign. Since they obviously consider Loki his property, that should keep them from actually doing anything to him, just like Thor had said. Even if the god is not well liked here, Tony is supposed to be an honoured guest, and at least where he comes from, you don’t mess with stuff that belongs to honoured guests.

 

Though he winces inwardly at the whole ‘property’ concept. Especially since it would seem that in Asgard it’s considered appropriate for property to be seated on the floor like freaking dogs. The image of Loki sinking down to next to his seat is still haunting his inner vision, and he tries to sweep the discomfort away, but the feeling is lingering nonetheless.

 

And he can’t help but think that he should perhaps say something about that, as distasteful as the whole thing is to him. But he still wants some reassurances, if nothing else.

 

“Uh, so about the… seating arrangements,” he says, hating that this is even an issue. “Should I expect anyone to come up to me and challenge me to a duel for… not making you comply with them or something?”

 

Loki glances up at him from his mug of beer. He is silent for a while before answering, from the looks of it not enjoying this conversation any more than Tony.

 

“No,” he says quietly. “We are in Thor’s chambers and you are his honoured guest. You’re not endearing yourself to anyone here with this, but the only one really entitled to bring forth any grievances towards you in this matter would be Thor, given that we’re under his roof.”

 

“Alright,” he shrugs, “guess I can live with people here not lining up to get my autograph.” He looks the god over, once more noticing the tenseness in his posture. Time for the other, even more uncomfortable side of the coin, then. “Next question – would anyone bother you about it?”

 

And damn, if Loki says something that is not a ‘no’, what is he going to do then? Being a weak and puny mortal without his suit and surrounded by beings wielding freaky super-powers, he won’t be able to do shit to protect Loki if anyone should decide they don’t approve and want a hands-on solution to this offence to their sensibilities.

 

Should he tell Loki to just get back on the floor like a dog, then, after having spent so much time and effort trying to get him to not act like a slave? The prospect leaves a foul taste in his mouth. Loki’s dignity or safety – you’re free to pick whichever of them you prefer, Tony Stark.

 

But Loki shakes his head, looking away. “No. Not as long as the… seating arrangements were on your orders. But slaves do not seat themselves on any furniture without first having been given permission to do so. And very few masters would ever allow any such.”

 

Urgh.

 

The whole conversation is just making him feel bad, and he can imagine how shitty this must all make Loki feel, given that he’s just learnt to passably behave like he’s not a slave, and now he’s been thrown into this crap head first. And he can recall all too clearly how despondent Loki had once been, how hesitant and unsure he’d acted around Tony, only to slowly come crawling out of that cocoon he had hidden in as he eventually came to realize that Tony didn’t expect or want any slave-like conduct from him. But now, Asgard expects him to revert back to those old behaviours.

 

His thoughts are interrupted as a large, beautifully adorned door swings open with a bang to admit a bulky man, long black hair flowing over his shoulders, who proceeds to briskly stride into the room as if he owned it. The newcomer is tall and broad-shouldered, wearing his armour like a second skin, equipped with both sword, whip, and dagger all hanging at his belt. A born and bred warrior, his face hard and eyes unforgiving. Tony watches him quietly; unlike most of the others, this man is no simple servant. In fact, it looks like he eats barbed wire for breakfast and then goes off to wrestle dragons for a living.

 

When the man catches sight of Loki, he stops dead in his tracks, foot almost comically frozen an inch above ground. His already sour, hard face turns several shades darker, and his mouth twists into the kind of snarl most people would reserve for rotten food or dog shit smeared under their shoes.

 

For a moment, it looks like he is going to make his way over to where Tony and Loki are sitting, but then thinks better of it, ignoring the visitors as he continues on his way, boots stomping angrily against the stone floor.

 

“So who’s Mister Grumpy?” Tony asks, turning to Loki who is disdainfully watching the man’s retreating form.

 

Loki shrugs. “That’s Fjalar,” he says, making the name sound like an insult.

 

“Doesn’t seem like he’d be the president of your fan club any time soon,” Tony points out as he takes another swig of his beer.

 

His comment earns him a slight mirthless smile. “We have some… history together,” comes Loki’s cryptic answer.

 

“Do elaborate.” He senses some sort of story there and wants to hear it, if nothing else than to give his mind something to focus that is not the still lingering feeling of discomfort.

 

Loki plays around with the mug in his hands for a while before speaking again, but when he does, there is a tone of far-away reminiscing in his voice. “Fjalar is the kind of person that has always relied on his strength and thinks that all problems can be solved through force, and if not through force, then through violence.”

 

“Huh. How come I’m not surprised.”

 

“Fjalar only respects physical prowess and skills in battle,” Loki continues. “And he holds very little regard for those who wish to excel in… other pursuits.”

 

“Such as?” ‘Other pursuits’ is a pretty broad concept, after all, and Tony has little idea of what the Aesir do in their spare time when they aren’t busy splitting each other’s skulls out on the battlefield.

 

“Skaldic arts, craftsmanship, intellectual pursuits, everything that doesn’t involve swinging a giant sword around. But most of all, magic.” Loki’s voice is flat, but there is still ill-hidden resentment in there punching little cracks into the smooth surface.

 

“So that’s why the guy just gave you a look like he was choking on a bucket of vinegar? Just because he doesn’t like magic?” Fjalar must be one of those easily offended types, then, the kind of people that Tony never got along well with.

 

Loki gives him an inscrutable look, and then there is that special mischievous glint in his eyes, the little sparkle of sincere amusement that makes something tug at Tony’s heart. “Well, that, and the fact that I once put a hex on his neither regions to make them take the appearance of a snake during a war campaign when he was off to take a piss.” The sparkle turns into a bright flash, followed by a broad smile. “He might not look like it, but Fjalar screams like a girl.”

 

That makes Tony snort into his mug of beer, and he puts it down, wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt, a burst of laughter escaping from his lips. “Oh heck, I would have paid a fortune to see that!” Chuckling, he slaps Loki’s back, shaking his head in disbelief. “Aren’t you something, huh?”

 

And maybe it’s just his imagination running away with him, but Loki looks really pleased at that. As if he’s not used to someone complementing his magic. Like he enjoys getting approval for it for once in his life.

 

Tony leans back into his chair once more, grin still on his face, as a haughty woman walks them by, long brown braids trailing after her, chin raised and nose scrunched-up as if she considers the world beneath her notice. He glances after her retreating back not entirely without approval; she’d easily rate a nine if she just got rid of the attitude.

 

Loki follows Tony’s gaze, looking amused. “That’s Sigrid, by the way,” he informs him. “Pretty as she might be, it is said she once castrated a man with a kitchen knife bec