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The power companies were the first to go.

 

In itself, that signified that this was not a chance attack. They had been observing the human race and knew their weaknesses, so they systematically took out every major power source and left almost all the world plunged in darkness, struggling to re-harness energy to power its machines and facilities and vehicles and supply chains and defense systems. The humans were vulnerable and weak and confused and shaken, so it had been easy then to launch a full-scale attack.

 

Citizens had cried and bemoaned as the Skrulls slowly took over their planet—where was the army? The navy? The marines? More importantly, where were the Avengers? Why won’t they stop them? But the Avengers, though half of them were superhuman and the other half nearly there, were only half a dozen individuals against several legions of superhumanly intelligent alien life forms.

 

Their battles were valiant and destructive, and they managed to slow the take-over, but after one battle was won, another would immediately arise without even a moment to rest in between. It was inevitable, therefore, that they would eventually succumb to the alien race.

 

That moment came when the last Iron Man suit Tony could build was shot down.

 

He knew, when he had last repaired it, that he wouldn’t be able to do so anymore. He knew, when the call came in, that this was probably the last battle he’d actively participate in as Iron Man. He knew, when the invaders shot at him, that Earth’s last remaining hope was down to five individuals. He was a genius and a billionaire, but both titles meant nothing if his supply chain and his state-of-the-art workshop in the now-destroyed Stark Tower was gone. He was a genius and a billionaire, but not even his brains and money could power the world.

 

Thor pulled him from the wreckage of his suit, and they managed to escape into one of the few remaining SHIELD strongholds, powered by the last of Tony’s own arc reactor technology. There they strategized and planned while the Skrulls took over their world and the remaining surviving humans fled the cities and hid in remote locations that they hoped wouldn’t appeal to the invaders.

 

The world was settling into dystopia, and they were running out of hope.

 

……………

 

Thor was distracted and withdrawn, that much was clear to everyone who saw him. He moved from one place to another, never still but not aimless as he completed the tasks set about him with his brow creased with deep thought. When he was spoken to, he spoke back easily as though he had been paying the utmost attention to the other, but there was contemplation in his eyes that evidenced that his mind was not on them at all.

 

A little over half a year ago, it would have been strange and cause for worry when the cheerful and boisterous god would go into such thoughtful silence—it wasn’t that he was unintelligent (far, far from it really), just that he never took the troubles of Midgard too seriously, not when he was wise enough with a millennium of personal experience and powerful enough to force most problems to succumb to him—but today, such silence and brooding were common in the air and were barely glanced at twice.

 

Nevertheless, Steve resolved to talk to him about it as soon as the briefing was done.

 

“Our weakness,” Nick was saying up front before a set of pictures projected onto the screen of the Skrull invasion that turned their world upside down half a year ago. “Is that they have infiltrated us so deeply that we have no way of knowing for sure who is human and who is Skrull.” And he was right. Steve cared about his team—his family—very deeply, borne of years of battling together between the Chitauri attack and this invasion, but right now, his unquestioning trust for them was rattled, and he couldn’t find it in himself to fully trust even Tony who owned the other half of his heart.

 

“Skrull detector,” Tony put in. “If you can find us a test subject, Bruce and I can try to put something together to create one.” Nick looked thoughtful and approving at the suggestion before nodding tersely.

 

“I’ll see what we can do,” he said. “In the meantime, we will proceed with our data gathering. Clint and Natasha will infiltrate the Skrull mother ship here in the US as per our last briefing—”

 

“Which I still don’t agree with,” Steve said shortly. “You’re putting my team’s life on the line unnecessarily here. You have a whole organization of spies. Surely one of them can do the job?”

 

“’Unnecessarily’?” Nick would be incredulous if he was capable of that emotion. Instead, he was furious. “Nothing about what we are doing is ‘unnecessary,’ captain. You forget, I think, that the life of every human being on the planet is on the line the longer we take to bring them down, and every minute spent not doing anything means a minute they spend getting closer to taking over all of us. We’re all putting our lives on the line here, and the lives of everyone out there, and if what it takes to get us even half as close to our goal is the experience and skill of the best spies in the world, we will. Use. Those. Spies.” Steve quickly stood to belt out his own opinion on the matter, but Natasha grabbed his arm before he could speak and shook her head slowly.

 

“He’s not wrong, Steve,” she said. “Both Clint and I have discussed it, and we agree to go.” Steve glanced at Clint who nodded once then looked away, and when Steve turned back to Natasha, all the tension and anger bled out of him and only worry remained in its wake.

 

“Fine,” he said. “Fine! But you are not going unprepared. You will do everything you need to do, you will take everything you need to take to help you come back alive and in one piece, understood?” Natasha nodded once and signaled Fury to end the briefing before Steve could change his mind. Thor spoke before he could, though.

 

“I may have an… alternative,” he said slowly, softly and carefully, so naturally, he had everyone’s attention. He looked up to both Steve and Nick before he stood and purposely towered over the rest of them. In that simple action, he exuded such command and power that reminded all of them of what they tended to often overlook in favor of his happy-go-lucky nature: that he was the crown prince of Asgard and a fierce warrior and leader.

 

“Why didn’t you say anything before?” Steve asked. He tried to keep the accusatory tone out of his voice lest he offend the prince. He was either successful in his attempt or Thor didn’t call him out on it because the god only looked thoughtful and hesitant once again.

 

“Captain, I would not have mentioned the existence of this alternative in the best of days nor would I have suggested it even in the worst battle we’ve ever had before this,” he said carefully. Tension rose at that because even if this invasion was the worst they’ve ever dealt with, the runner up was still very, very bad. “But I foresee, and my father has foreseen that our battle will not be won without their help.”

 

“Your father’s?” Phil asked. Thor shook his head.

 

“No. My father is powerful, but not all powerful,” he said. “Odin will not be able to help us, not for us to truly end this war. Instead.” He paused. “Instead, there is another people who can help.” Nick made a small motion to Maria which drew the attention of Thor. He turned a sharp look to Nick. “But be warned, Director of SHIELD. I offer this alternative only in this time of hopeless need. These people are not to be trifled with in anything less than the direst of circumstances, and should I find that anyone has chosen to do so, Director, I, by my own hand, will put an end to them.” Nick held a steady gaze with the god which vaguely managed to impress Steve because he had never seen Thor so adamant and dangerous as he was now.

 

“Understood. Phil, cut all surveillance and communications to this room. Anything said in here today stays here,” the director said. They waited as Phil and Maria followed through with the command, and Tony double checked and confirmed that it was safe. Upon his nod, Thor continued.

 

“There, in the realm known as Svartálfaheimr, exists a race of Svartálfar with powers unlike any in all the nine realms. Their magic is ancient and powerful and respected by all who know of them, including Odin himself. My brother has learnt many a skill of his from them.” Hackles rose at the mention of Loki because though he had long since been quiet, he was still a sore spot for many of the team. Thor ignored this. “There is a small group of Svartálfar deep in their realm that have the magic we seek. They are able, through the leader of a people, to wipe out an entire race in a single instant.” Silence rang out for a moment as they processed the magnitude of the declaration, and Thor was the first to break it.

 

“You understand, I hope, why I have not said anything before this. To have access to such power and to have the will to wield it is monstrous,” he said. “It is only good fortune that these Svartálfar have none of this desire for themselves.”

 

“How come?”

 

“You see, they are largely a hedonistic being,” Thor explained. “They have no will nor desire to reign over a civilization. What satisfaction can they glean from worrying about food scarcity and politics and revolutions and alliances? None. They live simple lives that cater to their every desire, and that is enough for them.”

 

“And why will they help us if they want only simple lives?” Tony asked.

 

“They’ll require payment, and it would not be an easy one, most certainly,” Thor looked away. “My father has asked for their assistance, once, in his quest to subjugate the Jötunn, and it was to them and that battle that I lost my brother, Balder, who they had asked for in payment.”

 

“What did they do to him?” It was a valid question and one worth answering before they decided if they could offer up another human as a sacrifice. Thor only shrugged though.

 

“None has seen or heard from him since as none has yet to travel to their dwelling. Visits to Svartálfaheimr and these beings are heavily guarded by my father.” Steve bit his lip and looked at Tony who shrugged minutely.

 

“And if we employ their assistance, you’re sure they will be able to wipe out the Skrulls?” he asked.

 

“Any and all those we choose for them to destroy,” Thor confirmed with a nod, so Steve turned to Nick and posed the silent question. It was a long moment before Nick spoke. He broke Steve’s gaze to speak to Thor.

 

“Do it.”

 

……………

 

It was easy enough to gain Odin’s permission to contact the Svartálfar in light of the state of their planet—though it didn’t hurt that they had Odin’s eldest son on their side—so immediately after their audience with the Asgardian king, they set about their preparation and, two days later, headed to the Bifrost.

 

Like the travel to Asgard from Earth, it took seconds for them to reach Svartálfaheimr. The travel was colorful and disorienting, like being tripped up on LSD, but was over before it had even begun, and though they stumbled when they landed on their feet, they were none the worse for wear.

 

The land of the Svartálfar they aimed to meet was deep within the realm, a good ten days’ journey on foot from the Bifrost landing point. It was during that trip—where Tony whined the whole way about how he missed his tech and why couldn’t he have brought it? (“I bet twenty grand that I could speak to JARVIS from here.”)—that Thor told them all that he knew about the dwarves: their history, their connection to Odin and his cause against the Jötunn, the races they had wiped out in the past and the prices they demanded, who each of them were and how best to interact with them.

 

As they neared the land, their anticipation grew heavier, made only more so by the thought of the price they were going to be asked, but they refrained from delaying any further and made haste toward the mountain in whose base the dwarves they sought resided.

 

In the distance, they saw a bright light filtering through the trees and a large gap in between, signifying the end of the woods they traversed, but instead of speed toward it, they all stopped momentarily when Steve did and looked to him for an explanation why. His brow furrowed as he looked at the break in trees before turning to his team.

 

“Earth is our priority,” he said slowly. “I know each one of us will do anything to save it and return it to the way it was. But if Thor is right and they’re going to ask for one of us I… I don’t want—whomever they choose, we will not force that person to accept, whatever the cost.” He was halfway between Captain America, who would defend the planet to death, and Steve Rogers, who would do anything to keep his family safe. None of them called him out on it, though, because they felt the exact same way. Tony nodded first and then the rest of them after.

 

Steve found Tony’s eyes and nodded back before taking his hand in his and following Thor the rest of the way to the edge of the forest.

 

As they neared, a shadow appeared in the tree break. Its sudden appearance put all the Avengers on guard, but a gentle, if masculine, voice called out to them.

 

“Be not afraid, my friends,” it said. “I only welcome you to the dwellings of my masters.” Thor seemed to nearly drop his hammer in shock, but then he regained his senses and thrust himself forward to envelope the man in a hug.

 

“Balder!” was his whispered exclamation.

 

Wrapped in Thor’s arms was a slightly smaller man (though he was still as well-built as Thor was). He had brown hair and green eyes and was swathed in a plain white tunic and robes. On his face was a fond, if a bit distant smile.

 

“Hello, brother. It has been a long time,” he greeted with a soft pat on Thor’s back. Then he pulled away from the hug and gestured past the row of trees. “Please follow me. The masters have been expecting you.” He then walked away without further word, leaving the group to follow.

 

They emerged into a blindingly bright area of land at the base of a dark grey cliff. From the cliff itself jutted out an enormous and rather magnificent, if slightly odd-looking, house made of the same rock it was attached to. Below the house, on the ground, was a garden of fruit-bearing trees and bushes and a bit further away, a field of plants that were not dissimilar to wheat. Several people, similarly dressed as Balder, stopped what tasks they were doing to watch the group as they made their way down the path and stopped at a giant set of wooden double doors. On it were intricate carvings that none of them had the time to analyze just yet because they were pulled open.

 

An old lady greeted them with a bow and gestured them inside before turning and walking down a dim foyer without a word.

 

“Please,” Balder mimicked the old lady’s gesture and brought up the rear as the Avengers stepped in. The moved wordlessly through dark, winding, almost tunnel-like hallways lit only by flameless torches (not lightbulbs, per se, but they were a close thing) and through a grand archway into a disorientingly bright room that seemed to be a receiving area. There, they found five men, both seated and stood, in various parts of the room, but whose attentions were all focused on them.

 

On either side of the group, Balder and the old lady bowed deeply at the waist.

 

“Masters, I present you our guests: Prince Thor, son of Odin, and his comrades,” the Asgardian said before straightening into a stand.

 

The dwarf in the middle, sat on the single seat in the center of the room, stood slowly and inclined his head at them in a polite nod. Standing, they could see that he was easily as tall as both Steve and Thor and much bulkier, though his muscles seemed less aesthetic and more functional than either of the Avengers (not that Steve’s and Thor’s were purely decorative). He had a scraggly beard of red that matched his hair and both were combed in an attempt at some semblance of order. Overall, he looked not unlike Gimli from the Lord of the Rings movies, albeit much taller.

 

“Good tidings, young prince,” he greeted with a boom and the Midgardians had to wonder if that was how all other beings but them spoke. Clint turned a discreet wry look to the rest of them because “young” was hardly the proper adjective to use to describe a being who was around a thousand years old. Thor grasped the dwarf’s forearm as the other man did him in polite greeting.

 

“Steinn Ketilsson. It is a pleasure and an honor to meet you,” Thor returned. A pleased smile spread over Steinn’s face.

 

“The honor is mine, Prince Odinsson,” he said and then gestured to the rest of the men in the room who had slowly migrated from their places towards Steinn. “These are my men:

 

“Refr Sturluson, my second in command.” A slightly smaller dwarf in green robes inclined his head. Like Steinn, he, too, had reddish hair and beard, though his tended more toward brown and was smoother than the leader’s. His eyes were brown and sharp as though he was waiting for them to make a wrong move.

 

“Geirr Auðunarson.” Steinn moved on to a lithe dwarf who was the second tallest of the five. Unlike all the rest, he bore no beard and his hair was blonde and smooth. He wore robes of rich blue to match his narrow but warm eyes. Thor had told them previously that he was only half Svartálfar, his mother being an elf from Alfheim.

 

“Hrafn Sigurðarson.” The dwarf was as tall as Steinn with smooth but thick black hair and beard. He lifted one eyebrow over cold black eyes instead of bowing in greeting, but Steinn either did not notice or did not care because he waved to the last of the group: the tallest and burliest dwarf with brown hair and brown eyes. “Bjorn Ketilsson, my younger brother.”

 

Thor, who had bowed politely after each introduction, gestured to his own group, introducing them one at a time.

 

“Captain Steven Rogers, my team leader, known to all Midgardians as Captain America. He is very well respected for his fighting, strategy and his truly kind heart.” Steve fought down a blush and gave a small salute instead. “Lady Natasha Romanoff, or the Black Widow, an esteemed and skilled fighter.” Natasha inclined her head politely. “Clinton Barton, Hawkeye, an archer of incredible distinction.” Clint, like Steve, saluted but in a much more careless manner. “Bruce Banner, Hulk, gifted in intelligence and nigh indestructible in battle.” Bruce gave a wary smile and wave. “And Anthony Stark, Iron Man—”

 

“’Tony’ is just fine, really, Thor. You should know that by now,” Tony cut in smoothly, with a bit of arrogance and just a hint of exasperation and fondness, then turned to the dwarves. “Seriously, it’s ‘Tony.’ Tony Stark, genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.” He held out a hand to Steinn who looked down at it for a brief moment before clasping Tony’s forearm with his hand and squeezing gently.

 

“Anthony Stark,” he repeated, ignoring Tony’s spiel apparently. The CEO frowned but Steve shot him a sharp warning glance and Steinn spoke again. “It is my pleasure to have met you all. Now, I am sure you are tired from your journey. Let us feast and be merry tonight. Business can wait until tomorrow.” Steve opened his mouth to speak, but Steinn turned on his heel and walked toward the door opposite the entrance arch, expecting the rest of them to follow.

 

“Tomorrow, Captain,” Thor repeated. “I am sure Midgard can wait a few more hours until we’ve rested.” Steve’s mouth set into a grim line but he nodded anyway and moved to follow the group of dwarves and Thor into the next room.

 

……………

 

Natasha had to slap her hand over Steve’s mouth and Clint and Bruce hauled him backward before he could do anything untoward to the dwarves.

 

They had asked for him—they had asked for HIM!—but Steve was going to be damned if they let them have him. He wanted to tear Tony away from the scene and hide him from the way they looked at him greedily, hungrily, but Clint and Bruce and Natasha were still holding on for dear life, and if Steve tried to break free, he’d have to hurt them first. So he watched and tried to calm himself while Tony and Thor spoke to them and negotiated.

 

“You can have me from now until the Skrulls are destroyed,” Tony was saying, and Steve wanted to clock him so that he could haul him away from them. “But after that, I’ll remain in Midgard.”

 

“Such impudence!” Hrafn hissed. “Never have our terms been bargained before, not when it is you who approach us with the request!”

 

“I assure you that during that time, I would be willing and able and more than capable; you will not be unsatisfied,” Tony added, every bit the skilled negotiator he was in the business world. Thor was quiet beside him because it was not his right to suggest what Tony should offer. Hrafn bristled at the perceived impudence but his response was cut off by Steinn.

 

“You ask for a great gift, but offer little in return. The payment we ask is valid for your lifetime because the request you ask is valid for theirs,” the dwarf leader said.

 

“I am but mortal with only a few good years left in me,” Tony answered. “If you ask for the rest of my lifetime, I cannot assure you that you will be satisfied because I cannot assure you of my willingness to remain away from my friends and family on Midgard until my death. If you agree to my offer now, however, I can assure you that your time with me will be the most satisfying you’ve had. I have been doing this since I was a mere teenager; I am sure my skill will make up for the years I cannot offer.”

 

“You threaten us with disobedience and offer us mere decades of experience while the other payments we have received are worth centuries in return. Are you so certain of your prowess, mortal, that you make such an assurance?” Refr, asked.

 

“I am sure there must be reason why you’ve requested for me, and not for another one of our group, not for Thor, and not for another immortal who can give the years you ask for.”

 

“We can choose to reject your offer altogether,” Geirr pointed out. Tony only turned a sharp, toothy smile at him.

 

“When was the last time you have been offered any form of payment? Surely, it must be at least a millennium since the conquering of Jotunheim because Odin will not allow another to use your power, nor would he use it for anything less than immediate and unstoppable threat to Asgard,” was his answer. “Would you not like something new and different, even temporarily?” The dwarves were silent.

 

“We’ve already asked Odin for one of his children; we will not ask for another for a request not his,” Steinn added.

 

“The request is mine, and I am willing to offer myself in Anthony’s stead,” Thor said at the same time that Steve asked, “Then why not me? I can give you more than he can,” when he managed to throw off Natasha’s hand. Tony shot him a quelling look which Steve ignored because if Tony could allow him to simply watch as he bargained away his body, Steve could allow him to watch while he bargained away his own. A sinister smile curved Hrafn’s mouth.

 

“Because, mortal, we do not desire you, or any of your other companions,” was his response to him, and to Thor said, “And we will not, young prince, risk you being avenged by your father. You are his heir and the only viable son for the throne. Surely, you do not expect him to put Loki on it in your stead?” Then his arm suddenly shot out and grabbed Tony around the waist to draw him close. This time, Thor had to assist in holding Steve back as they watched Hrafn bend to nuzzle and lick Tony’s neck.

 

“You can have me,” Tony murmured, his voice full of promise that he had only ever offered Steve before, and that made Steve seethe. “Whenever, wherever and however you want. I’ll make it worth your while.”

 

“You do not understand, I think, what you offer,” Geirr said.

 

“Whatever you take that to mean, for me, it’s a fair trade: myself for however long it takes in exchange for saving Earth,” Tony answered almost carelessly. Steve wanted to tell him to think about it, to really take the time to consider all possible alternatives, but his whole body suddenly jerked when Tony turned his head and caught Hrafn’s mouth in his.

 

He watched as the pair shared a kiss that was deep and wet and intense, and he curled his hands into fists when Tony’s mouth opened at the prompting of the finger pressing into his cheek. It was obscene the way he could see the dwarf’s tongue enter Tony’s mouth—tasting, taking and appraising him—and the way Tony moaned deliberately into his mouth, conceding all control to the other. When he pulled away, the dwarf’s sinister smile returned, and he let go of the man who stumbled back into Bruce’s arms.

 

A conversation that was inaudible to the Avengers passed among the dwarves, but it took a while before they finally turned to them.

 

“Your offer is accepted, Anthony Stark,” Steinn declared, but none of them were sure whether or not to feel triumphant or relieved. Steve knew he felt neither, but was instead so very furious. He barely resisted the urge to deck Thor (or any of the dwarves for that matter) for suggesting this and only managed to restrain himself because he knew Thor only intended to save Earth. “We shall set foot for the Bifrost in two moons, and from there, to Midgard and your nemeses.” Tony extracted himself away from Bruce to stand on his own while the other felt Steve had calmed enough to let him go. “In the meantime, you will be provided food and lodging whilst we make our preparations.

 

“Balder! Finna!” The dwarf called out loudly, and Balder and a female appeared in one of the doorways. “Lead Prince Thor and his companions to the guest rooms and provide them with any necessities,” Steinn instructed Balder who bowed deeply to him then straightened up and gestured for the others to stand and follow him. “Finna, I will have Anthony first tonight. Take him to my chambers and ready him.” Steve could see Tony very suddenly pale.

 

“Wait, please!” he exclaimed and stumbled over towards Tony before any protest could be put up. There was a moment when the room froze in wait of Steinn’s reaction, but the dwarf only nodded and waved his hand imperiously. Steve dragged Tony out of the room and pressed him up against the closest wall, kissing him desperately. Tony kissed back just as hard, scrambling for purchase on his clothes and pulling him closer.

 

“I’m sorry. I’msorryI’msorryI’msorry,” the genius whispered frantically between kisses. Steve shushed him gently and kissed him feverishly. “I’m sorry, Steve. I’m sorry.”

 

Stop. Stop apologizing. I know. I know,” Steve answered in the same hushed, frantic tone. “I would have done the same if they wanted me. I know. Stop apologizing. It’s okay.” But it really, really wasn’t.

 

“I’m sorry,” Tony repeated anyway because he knew it wasn’t. Steve quieted him with a long kiss that turned from desperate and frantic to broken and tearful.

 

“It’s fine. We’ll get through this. You can do it, okay? I’ll be right here,” he murmured as he cupped Tony’s cheeks and pressed his forehead to the other man’s. “I love you. I’m here; I’m right here, okay?” Tony squeezed his eyes shut and nodded. They shared another kiss before tearing themselves away from the other with every ounce of will they could muster, and when they turned, they saw the rest of the team watching them. Tony only nodded to them and stepped aside to where Finna stood silently waiting.

 

……………

 

He sat on the side while she drew him a bath and tried not to think about why the bath was necessary. Instead, he watched her move about and tried to guess her life’s story beyond her servitude towards the dwarves.

 

Finna was taller than he, pale and willowy. Her hair was blonde, and her eyes golden. He was sure beyond reasonable doubt that she was no human, but if she were, he’d place her in her early thirties—the prime of her life—if only for her long face, narrow eyes and lack of any age lines. Her tunic was simple and functional more than decorative, but it was only her hands that betrayed any form of hardships.

 

“You are foolish,” she said, out of the blue and with no forewarning as she poured what looked to be hot water into the bath. Her cold voice—a sharp contrast to her warm, if aristocratic, features—jerked Tony out his trance, and his face started to twist into affront. “But you are young and ignorant, so it is only to be expected.” She then said nothing more as she poured bath salts and fragrant oils in the tub. Tony made a face at her back until, after a moment, he realized she wouldn’t turn to face him, so instead he said:

 

“Well, ‘young’ is something I haven’t been called in a while, so I will choose to take that away from this very unwelcome conversation and thank you for your compliment.” He knew he was deliberately misunderstanding her intent, but he couldn’t care less. Finna set aside her items in a basket and turned to him, kneeling and reaching toward his clothes. “Oh, hey!” he protested, stumbling away from her and holding his shirt together. She sighed loudly as if greatly put-upon, but showed no expression of difficulty.

 

“You cannot bathe in those,” she pointed out.

 

“Of course not, but I’m not undressing while you’re still here,” Tony answered with a frown. And then his trademark Stark leer spread over his face. “Unless that’s something you enjoy, of course.” Finna ignored him and stood to lay out the cloth to dry him off and the tunic he was to wear.

 

“You use humor and charm to cover your fear and shame when it is undoubtedly unnecessary,” she said. “I and my other comrades understand you better than any other soul in any of the nine realms—you needn’t fear nor be ashamed around us.” Then she stood perfectly still, her back to him, with the lack of anything else to do. “I’ve been here a long time, Anthony Stark. Longer than almost any of those who still remain, though I was not the first. I was but a babe when I was offered to the Masters—only a child of fifty years—but my father needed the Masters’ help, and they asked for me in return, much like you. I have been here for centuries now, and I have introduced many of the others to the way of life here. Your fear and shame are not new to me, that you should know.”

 

Tony watched her and said nothing for a moment longer until he let go of his tight grip on his shirt buttons and started undoing them one by one. The dress shirt whispered over his skin as it fell to the ground and soon his pants and sock and shoes followed. Finna still hadn’t turned as he walked to the tub and climbed in, and only when he was safely hidden under the water did she do so. She sat on the bench beside his head and picked up her jug. She filled it with bathwater and tipped it over his hair before reaching for the soap and lathering it in.

 

“So,” Tony said after a moment of her fingers stroking his head pleasantly. “You were saying about me being a fool?” Finna made a soft noise of assent.

 

“Master Geirr warned you when he said you do not understand what you are offering,” she murmured, her voice warmer now that Tony was obedient.

 

“And I told him I’d do whatever it takes to get them to assist us in saving Earth,” he agreed, if indirectly.

 

“And are you certain that offering them unrestricted access yourself is very much better than remaining among us?”

 

“Of course,” Tony agreed without hesitation. “I could agree to be their… their…” He took a breath. “For a certain period of time, but not more than that. I can’t imagine—I won’t survive living anywhere other than Earth, I won’t survive not being able to do the things I can do there now, I won’t survive being all this for the remainder of my life—I wasn’t born a servant, and I’ll never agree to remain one for the rest of my life. Most especially, I don’t think I’d want to even try to grow old with anyone other than Steve… if—if he’ll still have me after all this.”

 

“Your love for him is admirable, but still foolish,” Finna answered. She dumped another pitcher of water on his head a little less carefully than the last, and Tony spluttered through it minutely. “I was born a princess in Alfheim, and I was older than you were when I was sent to live here, but this life I live now is comfortable and peaceful and satisfying, even if it is in servitude. The Masters are benevolent and merciful and kind to us, and they favor us with gifts and good food and nearly everything our hearts desire.”

 

“Yeah, see, you’ve had centuries to adjust. I’d have, what, fifty good years max left in me? It’s not my idea of a good life to spend the rest of it a harem slave,” Tony shot back icily.

 

“But certainly fifty years of a content life would surely be better than weeks under their mercy?”

 

“You just said that ‘the Masters’ are benevolent and kind and merciful. What’s three weeks of banking on that versus fifty years?” Tony couldn’t help but relax into Finna’s kneading hands as they glided over his shoulders and chest, but then she paused at his words.

 

“Ah,” she said and pulled her hands away so that she could stand and round the tub so that she could look at him eye to eye. “I understand why you fail to heed my warnings, Anthony,” she started. Her eyes held a grave look which put Tony on edge. “The Masters only want pleasure and ease in their lives; anything that requires they put much effort into something repels their want of it. This is why they ask for servitude as a payment for their services: so that they need not take pains in ensuring the management of their daily life. This is why they have all but sworn their allegiance to Odin: because the Allfather has ensured and will ensure that their every need—and ours—is seen to.

 

“The Masters will rarely ask us for something we refuse to give because the undertaking needed to force us to obey is beyond their desire to pursue. If we too frequently refuse their wishes, they will simply dispose of us; there are enough of us to keep them satisfied for the rest of their immortal lives, and, if necessary, Odin will supply them with replacements.

 

“It has rarely ever come to that, though, because again, they are kind and benevolent and they wish pleasure unto us as much as unto themselves, if only to keep us loyal and pliant to them.” The gravity in her eyes darkened. “But do not mistake their distaste for the difficult for true goodness in their hearts.” There was a chill crawling underneath Tony’s skin even though he was submerged in the warm water. “They are dark creatures, dark elves—the cousins of my people banished from our realm millennia ago for the darkness they treaded in carelessly, nonchalantly.

 

“I have seen with my own eyes and felt with my own skin the darkness that even the Masters, who will rarely indulge themselves without our consent, delight in. It is a terrible thing, and you have given them your explicit permission for the duration of your mission.”

 

“What… should I expect?” Tony asked carefully. Finna rose and turned. Before Tony had realized what she would do and stop her, she slipped off her robe and allowed it to fall to the floor. He tried to shut his eyes if only to be decent toward her, but his eyes were already caught tracing the patterns of scars on her back up to the swell of her bottom. Unlike the ones on his chest, though, these were almost beautiful, almost decorative with their elegant and intricate swirls. She looked at him over her shoulder.

 

“It is different every time, but these are the only remaining result of my own consent—a handiwork of Master Geirr’s who knows how to counter my healing. After many peaceful years, I made the mistake of giving it to them once, and after that, without any ignorance, freely agreed to suffer through it on occasions if only to keep them pleased.” She turned, careless of her graceful nudity, and sank to her knees beside him. “We are forbidden to speak about it or to warn to the newer ones, but you’ve already given yours, so I only want you to understand and be prepared. They will take you for everything that you are worth—more so because you are only worth a few weeks to them—and leave little for anyone else, maybe not even your Captain.”

 

Tony stared at the one scar snaking a little over her shoulder. Then he swallowed and looked back into her eyes.

 

“What—what can I do to…?” But he couldn’t finish his sentence. Finna seemed to understand, though, because she spoke while she lifted up and sat on the edge of the tub, resuming her washing of him.

 

“You’ll do well to obey them explicitly and to cater to their wants.” She stroked, systematically and clinically, his face and neck and shoulders and chest and arms and hands and lower. He almost blushed when she stroked his sex, but only refrained because more people had touched him there than he could be bothered to count.

 

“And what do they want?” he asked instead.

 

“Master Steinn,” she said almost as if she hadn’t heard the question and had intended to speak about it all along. “Is traditional. He will want your meek submission and docile compliance. He will dominate you as a husband would a wife in an established and strong patriarchy. It is fortunate, probably, that he is their leader because he will be most in control of you and his wants are far from the worst of them, but it would not hurt for you to conjure up tears if you could.” Tony had to think about that one because he hadn’t cried since his mother died.

 

“Master Geirr is aesthetic. He delights in seeing and watching and making beautiful things. He is fond of putting his partner on top while he is almost a passive participant if only to watch them pleasure themselves. He may also choose to mark you as he has done to me—not extensively, because mine are a result of centuries of carving.” He winces at her choice of words, but she ignores him and gestures for him to stand up out of the bath while she puts on her robe.

 

“Master Refr with require your immediate and unquestioning compliance. You are to be silent and accepting around him; you will not voice an opinion or a suggestion, not even to voice your pleasure. Do not hesitate to obey him.” She handed him the cloth to wipe himself down. “Master Bjorn is a bit different from them in that he will want you to fight back against his advances. He takes delight in the thrill of the chase. Voice your protest, push him back, but be wary of the fine line between fantasy and reality. He requires a healthy balance of each; that is what makes it difficult, I think.” She held the tunic up to him and watched him as he shrugged it on without questioning the lack of underthings. Then she took his hand in hers and pressed a small porcelain container in it.

 

“Of them all, though, Master Hrafn is the most difficult,” she said as she dabbed scented oils behind his ears and on his wrists. Tony felt like a virgin on his wedding night, which was ridiculous and just a little bit depressing because if there was a time he wanted to feel that way, it would be on his actual wedding night with Steve. “Unlike the others who view pain as a means or as a side effect of their goal, for Master Hrafn, pain is his goal.” His hand inadvertently tightened around the small jar. “He will find ways to hurt you, physically and mentally, so it would be best to give in to your screams to placate his need to hear them, but you should never, never ask for him to stop. When you speak, it is only to praise him or beg for more.”

 

She finished her fussing over him and stood silently while Tony contemplated her words. They were ominous and terrifying, but he was still Iron Man, with or without the armor. He could handle it. Really.

 

“What’s this?” he asked, opening up his fist and lifting the lid of the pot. There was a translucent cream inside which gave him a vague idea of its purpose. Finna spoke before he could retract his question, though.

 

“It is to prepare yourself for them. Do not expect the Masters to extend the courtesy to you, so you must do it yourself when you can,” she answered and then stepped closer and touched his cheek to draw his attention back. “They have asked you once and you have given your explicit and unlimited consent; do not expect them to ask again. They will not compromise or settle for anything less than what they want under the terms you have agreed to. If you do not cater to their desires or if you wish to break the terms of that agreement, know that they will not concede to help you with any of your causes ever again, and if you decide that this is acceptable, let Prince Thor know and he will put an end to it.

 

“However, I know you have come here for a purpose much, much greater and necessary than your own self; remember that when you begin to regret your decision.” She leaned in a kissed him softly on the cheek just before he nodded.

 

“Hurry now, Anthony. Master Steinn awaits.”

 

……………

 

At the first scream that night, Thor took Steve into a clearing in the woods a good distance away and accepted an unrestrained punch to the face without a word of protest.

 

……………

 

Breakfast was held in the main house early the following day.

 

Silence pervaded the atmosphere around them, though there was a certain amount of ease and satisfaction from the dwarves that occupied the table and tension in the Avengers. Tony was conspicuously absent, as was Bjorn, and Steve struggled not to think about the details of their absence while he picked at the unfamiliar meal. It was bad enough that he spent the entire night doing so after he had systematically beat the shit out of several trees—and Thor—in the forest.

 

Through the silence, Steve’s blood suddenly ran cold when a pained shout emanated from elsewhere in the house, different from those last night. There was a sudden crash and another yell that came, without a doubt, from Tony, and Steve was on his feet before he realized the rest of his team was too. In the back of his mind, he was concerned about Bruce hulking out. If he had cared to dwell upon it though, he would have realized that he was almost hoping for it.

 

“Where is he?” he instead snarled to the nearest dwarf, pulling Refr up by the front of his robe before practically throwing him aside without waiting for a response and starting toward the door where Tony’s repeated cries and whimpers and please of protest came. He was going to kill Bjorn—he was going to fucking tear the bastard limb from limb! He ran to the hallway, heedless of the snarl Refr threw at him and only stopped because Balder stood in his way. “Move!” he growled dangerously, but the prince held his ground with a defiant tilt of his head, not unlike that he’d seen Thor wield before. “Move or I will make you.”

 

“Captain Rogers!” Steinn boomed from where he stood at the head of the table. Steve turned to him with unbridled fury in his eye.

 

“If he is hurt, I will—”

 

“You will what?” Steinn asked—dared! It was that tone that galled Steve enough that he couldn’t answer. “Your Anthony has acceded himself to us of his own free will, on our terms. For that, you should know that he is ours to do as we please.”

 

“That gives you no right to abuse him!”

 

“Why does it not?” Steinn asked. Steve’s gut clenched in hate and anger as he considered the best way to end the dwarf. “No limits have been placed on our access to him during such time that we have yet to wipe out your enemy. We will use him however we see fit.” A hand dropped onto Steve’s shoulder and he turned to see Thor holding his gaze gravely.

 

“Brother, it would not be wise to antagonize them,” he murmured lowly, but everyone heard anyway in the heavy silence punctured only by Tony’s muffled cries.

 

“They’re hurting him, Thor! Don’t tell me not to fight back against that!” Steve yelled back. Thor shut his eyes and shook his head.

 

“The Man of Iron is no weakling and he is certainly no fool. He knew the risks before he accepted, and he knew that he can handle them. Trust him.” It was a plea more than an order and it made Steve clench his jaw and his fist before jerking his head in a single nod and moving back to his seat. He picked up his spoon but found that he could no longer eat, not with the air peppered with sobs and begging from his lover. His fist clenched tight around the utensil, bending it easily, and he barely resisted the urge to heave it into the forehead of Refr. Natasha rested her hand on top of his clenched fist and squeezed it softly until Steve put the spoon down.

 

“If it helps, Captain Rogers,” Geirr murmured thoughtfully as he lifted his spoon to his mouth. Steve focused on him even though his words made him want to punch them all and take Tony back to their dying world to live out the rest of their days quietly together. “Bjorn does have Anthony’s consent; it is just a game they are playing which my friend tends to favor.” Steve gave no response, but Geirr continued anyway. “You should be proud of your Anthony. We had accepted the agreement with doubts in our mind, but he has proven to be quite an extraordinary bed companion.”

 

“Indeed,” Hrafn agreed emphatically and with quite a bit sadistic glee. “He would make such a beautiful pet, probably more than any one of these, wouldn’t he?” He patted the bottom of a servant, who had moved closer to serve another plate of food, but got no reaction in return. “I say we review the agreement, don’t you?” It was a taunt, of course it was, but Thor straightened in his seat, and Steinn sent Hrafn a quelling look.

 

“Be silent, Hrafn,” he warned. “We have agreed to their initial terms and we shall not rescind it. We are no dwellers of Hel.” Hrafn only grinned, and they were silent once more until Tony, clad in a short, thin tunic, and Bjorn appeared in the doorway. The genius’s face held a slowly forming bruise on his left cheek, something that had to be acquired not a few minutes before. His neck, likewise, was mottled with hickeys and bruises, one particularly in the shape of a hand, while his wrists bore dark rings around them. He looked so very, very exhausted and defeated, and Steve felt the need once again to steal Tony away and hide him from the rest of the world.

 

He stood rather abruptly and nearly tripped in his haste to get to his lover and pull him into his arms. He hugged Tony tightly, only lightening his grip when Tony winced particularly loudly.

 

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, and Tony buried his face in Steve’s neck.

 

“It’s not your fault,” Tony whispered back. They were still for a moment, relishing the feel of each other, until Steve pulled back and grasped one of Tony’s hands in his.

 

“Come have breakfast,” he said, stroking Tony’s cheek and pressing a kiss to his forehead. Tony nodded, too tired and hurt to put up much protest. As they passed the table to get to the Avengers’ side though, Refr grasped Tony’s other wrist and snapped him back, out of Steve’s grasp. Thor and Clint surged forward to pull Steve back before he could land a punch.

 

“The terms of agreement do not include you, Captain,” he said calmly while he easily forced Tony to his knees. Steve bucked against Thor’s grip, but the god was just as strong as he, if not stronger. “You will get your svass back when we have fulfilled our end of the bargain, but until then, you’re only free to watch as we please.” He tugged Tony to settle between his legs and stroked his jaw to tilt his head up. “Your mouth was divine last night,” he murmured sweetly. “I want it again.” Steve stayed only long enough to see Tony take Refr into his mouth and then he turned on his heel and left.

 

……………

 

Steve woke up the next day with the tail end of a splitting headache. He didn’t know what a hangover felt like, but he was pretty damn sure it felt like this.

 

With a groan, he pushed himself up on the bed, clutching his head in his hands. What the hell did he drink yesterday enough to get through his metabolism and leave him reeling from it four hours later?

 

“Are you okay, Cap?” Natasha murmured, suddenly at his side and taking his face in her hands. He looked into her eyes while she checked him over quickly then let him go.

 

“What happened?” he asked, blinking a few times to counteract the headache. Natasha suddenly looked vaguely guilty and looked away. It was then that Steve froze and his eyes widened in panic and anger. “What. Happened?” his voice was much harder now. He moved to swing his feet off the bed and onto the floor to run to check on Tony, but Natasha gripped one of his arms and legs tight, her nails digging into his clothed skin.

 

“He’s fine—well, he’s fine now anyway,” she amended then tightened her grip further before Steve could move more. “I had to take you out, Cap, I’m sorry. Thor and Clint took care of the Hulk last night, but they aren’t back yet, so I’m assuming Bruce hasn’t transformed back yet.”

 

“What happened?” Steve repeated. He realized he had spoken the exact same sentence three times since waking up and nothing else, but Natasha was her usual unforthcoming self. It was bad enough when only a mission was at stake. With Tony’s wellbeing on the line, Steve resisted the urge to knock her out and run to him.

 

“He’s fine, Cap. He… You’ll see once we go down, but he’s fine,” she said, hesitant and deliberately vague in her explanation.

 

“But he wasn’t fine last night. That’s why you had to take me out. What. Happened?” Natasha sighed heavily.

 

“There was a lot of screaming, and you freaked out just as Bruce hulked out,” she stood up and tugging him with her. “Let’s go see Tony, okay?” She said, holding onto him all the way downstairs to the dining hall.

 

Geirr, Refr and Bjorn were present, as was Tony who has perched on Geirr’s lap, the dwarf’s fingertips caressing his bare chest just out of Steve’s line of sight. Steve tried to avert his eyes, but Tony’s head immediately turned to them as soon as Geirr looked up. His blue eyes were wide with haunted pain that spoke volumes of what had happened last night. Steve tensed and Natasha gripped his wrist tighter.

 

“Good morning, Captain, my lady,” Geirr greeted pleasantly. Steve and Natasha said nothing in return, but Geirr was not deterred in his politeness. “Do join us,” he invited, pushing Tony off his lap with an instruction of “serve the good Captain and Lady Romanoff some tea.” And then Tony turned to Steve, his eyes averted as Steve’s own widened when they settled on his chest.

 

Gone were the ugly scars around his reactor, the souvenir of Tony’s time in Afghanistan—the very same scars that were the source of many a nightmare over the years. Steve knew Tony hated the sight of them and that very few people have seen them; he’d repeatedly refused to willingly show them to anyone, not even to Steve during their first few encounters together. It was only when he’d finally earned all of Tony’s trust three months later when Tony allowed him to see them, to touch them. He would have been so happy for his lover to have found a cure for them—not that he would have wanted the man less if they had stayed—if not for the fact that in the place of those jagged, painful looking scars, there was a new set.

 

From an objective standpoint, they were beyond beautiful and so very, very fitting. They radiated from the arc reactor in a series of lines, circles and arcs, not unlike the circuitry in Tony’s more technical drawings. They encircled the reactor and embraced it, making it seem as though Tony was born with it, as if it was a natural part of his body rather than the pacemaker Tony often claimed it was. As an artist, Steve could see the exquisiteness in their detail.

 

But then he realized they were why Natasha had knocked him out.

 

He grabbed Tony’s wrist as he set a cup down on his plate.

 

“Are you okay?” he asked. Tony swallowed visibly then nodded.

 

“I’m fine, Cap,” he answered his voice hoarse and wheezy.

 

“Tony…” Steve’s grip tightened fractionally on his wrist.

 

“I’m fine, Steve. I am.” Tony pulled his hand away and, after a second’s hesitation and a glance back at the three dwarves, put his hand on Steve’s shoulder and whispered, “I’ll be fine.”

 

……………

 

Refr straddled his waist, pinning him there with little more than his bulk. Tony was no pushover when it came to strength, having done his own fair share of heavy lifting in his workshop, but the dwarf… well, dwarfed him. He may have been the shortest of the five, but he was no Gimli.

 

“Close your eyes,” he instructed, almost gently, which wasn’t unusual in their encounters. Refr was kind in bed, especially when Tony employed Finna’s advice, so the genius obeyed him easily. The other man leaned over him slightly so that he could put his palm over Tony’s eyes, which was not usual, so he held perfectly still, but it was when Refer mumbled under his breath in the foreign language he often heard from them when they spoke a spell that panic bubbled in Tony’s chest. He didn’t move in fear of the effects of the spell or the side effects of having broken it, but the panic in his chest spread and shook his muscles. And then Refr leaned back and lifted his hand. “Open your eyes,” was the next instruction, and Tony quickly did.

 

And saw nothing.

 

Terror suddenly clawed at him and ripped a noise from his throat. He frantically reached for the dwarf atop him, holding on almost for dear life.

 

“M—Master, what—? I can’t see. I can’t—”

 

“Hush, my beautiful human. It is but momentary,” Refr crooned, prying Tony’s hands off of his arm and pressing them down on the bed. Tony’s fingers were cold as he clenched the sheets, and his muscles trembled. “No ill will befall you out of this, I promise you, but you will be silent when I choose to take away your senses.” He leaned back down, deeper this time to press a kiss to Tony’s mouth.

 

It took a moment for Tony to respond, his mind consumed with distress, and when he finally did, Refr let out a pleased murmur.

 

“Very good, Anthony,” the dwarf praised softly and then slid off of him. There was a moment of panic in Tony at the thought that he’d be left alone and blinded, and he flailed for Refr, a protest stuck in his throat. Refr, from a short distance away, chuckled then moved back into Tony’s grasp for the human to clutch at him tight. “I should take away your voice too, but it pleases me to see you fight to maintain your silence,” he confided and kissed Tony again. “Next time, I will take away your hearing as well and enjoy how you will struggle to pleasure me and my comrades.” Tony’s hands were clammy and shaky at the thought, but he slid himself closer to the dwarf and onto his lap as smoothly as he could.

 

He wanted to beg for him not to—God knew he’d take Geirr’s carving over the loss of both hearing and sight any day—but he knew begging would get him none of Refr’s good graces. Instead, he forced himself to suffer through it with nary a word of protest. It was temporary, he kept telling himself. He had to trust Refr’s word on it and trust his team to do everything in their power to reverse it if it weren’t.

 

……………

 

They were provided their own horses to trek their way back to the landing area of the Bifrost, reducing their ten-day walk into six days and five nights—all of them save Tony that is, but that was hardly surprising to anyone.

 

The genius stood by Steinn’s stallion, waiting more patiently, more meekly than Steve had ever seen him until the dwarf lifted him easily off the ground and onto his lap. For a moment there was a lull in movement while Steve watched him slip a hand beneath Tony’s tunic—he knew Tony wore nothing underneath, a fact that was confirmed when Tony gasped and rocked into Steinn—and then the dwarf lifted him up slightly and then brought him back down.

 

“Oh!” Tony cried out sharply when he did, drawing glances from everyone, then simultaneously pitched forward into Steinn’s chest while the dwarf rumbled a laugh. With a murmur that Steve couldn’t clearly understand, he urged Tony’s legs around his waist and his arms around his neck, making sure they were secure while Tony buried his face into the dwarf leader’s neck. The horse beneath them shifted, and Tony let out another cry that was caught midway between pleasure and pain. Steve shifted his own horse closer, intending on making sure Tony was alright. When he did, he heard Tony’s mumbles that he pressed into Steinn’s neck. “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. Master, I can’t. Please.” Steinn only laughed and petted his hair.

 

“Oh, my beautiful human,” the dwarf murmured fondly. “Of course you can. You have no choice but to.” The horse shifted again, and Tony whimpered, the arms around Steinn’s neck tightening visibly.

 

Please,” he begged, pitifully. Beautifully. Steinn wrestled his face away from his neck to press a kiss to Tony’s yielding mouth.

 

“You have my permission to come, whenever you need to and as many times as you need,” he said and allowed Tony’s head to fall back onto his shoulder while he surveyed his riding party.

 

“It’s the saddle horn,” Hrafn confided loudly to Steve who jerked back from the scene he was observing. He turned to the dark dwarf before glancing down at his own saddle where the horn, unlike its Midgard counterpart, was almost uniformly wide along the length and curved slightly towards the rider instead of away. “Imagine that thrusting into you with every trot of the beast beneath you. I’d imagine you’d be delirious with pleasure.” Steve’s fists tightened around the reins. “But just wait, Captain, because it’ll get better. Once we start into a run, he’ll be screaming with pleasure.” Then the dwarf trotted away with a loud laugh.

 

“Steve,” Clint murmured, sidling up to him and putting a hand on his shoulder.

 

“I should have fought harder,” Steve murmured, watching as Geirr ran a finger down the length of Tony’s spine. “They should have taken me, not him.”

 

“There wasn’t anything we could have done,” Thor said as he trotted his horse up to Steve’s other side. Natasha and Bruce came up slightly in front of them, all five of them watching the dwarves and Tony. “They know what they want and would not settle for anything less. The only reason why they agreed to Anthony’s proposal is because it was better than what they originally asked for. Of what use to their pleasure is a slave who is difficult?” Steve bristled at “slave,” but Thor continued without pause. “No. Willing is so much easier and consequently, so much better. He offered himself to them whenever, wherever and however they wanted, and they will milk that for all it is worth until the deadline.”

 

Steinn looked to them with a knowing smile.

 

“Shall we depart, my comrades?” he asked, but waited for no confirmation before urging his stallion into a trot towards the edge of the woods, followed by the four other dwarves.

 

……………

 

Tony let out a sharp cry at the first jolt of the horn in him. The curved shape made sure to glance over his prostate without pressing on it directly, and the slightly wider base split him apart just a little bit more when he landed on it. With his legs wrapped around Steinn’s waist, he didn’t have any leverage to protect himself against the thrust, so he wrapped his arms tighter around his neck and used that instead as best as he could.

 

But the next jolt and the next one and the one after that were just as unforgiving as the first, so he buried his face in Steinn’s neck and whimpered and moaned and pleaded nonsense while the horse’s trots assaulted his still sore hole and his bruised ass and thighs.

 

His cock was heavy and aching beneath his tunic because even though he was getting off the horse with a battered ass, each brush against his prostate, each thrust of the horn into him still felt so damn good. He felt violated and humiliated and vulnerable and pained by his perch on the saddle, and still he felt the need to come approach slowly and steadily with every step the horse took.

 

“Please,” he begged, but wasn’t sure what for.

 

“Your cock begs for release, mortal,” Steinn murmured. “Is that what you want?” Tony was silent because he didn’t know. “You continue to deny how good this feels for you, for what reason I do not understand. If it is pleasurable, then surely it must be good and so for what reason would you deny yourself of that?”

 

“I want Steve,” Tony whispered through gritted teeth because it was the only way he was able to form coherent sentences. Tears started pooling in his eyes from the pleasure, from the pain.

 

“The good captain will not deny you of your pleasure, not while you are mine to pleasure and be pleasured by.” Steinn tugged him back by his hair and the action dislodged the tears from their perch at the corner of his eyes. “Keep your head up. I want to see you. You are so beautiful when you weep, has anyone told you that? And you weep so easily, human.”

 

“It’s difficult to hold back tears when I’m being abused this way,” Tony answered.

 

“Ah, then I shall endeavor to continue to do so. Would you cry, I wonder, if I parade you before crowds unclothed? Or if I make you crawl on your hands and knees and allow any stranger who pleases me to ravage you?” Tony shuddered at the words and the hand that crawled over him. “Maybe I can make you cry by filling you up with a bottle of mead and leaving it there while you go about your day.” Steinn wrapped his hand around Tony’s throat with just a hint of squeeze. “What would stop me from making you prostrate yourself and give yourself to this horse we ride on, Anthony Stark?” The challenge in his eyes made Tony shudder and avert his gaze. “I wonder if you would agree to do so in exchange for your precious Midgard, if you would fight your Steve to obey my wish.”

 

“Please, master. Please don’t,” Tony whimpered, the sensation of the horn forgotten in light of the revulsion brought by his words. The next tears were less the result of pleasure than they were of distress. A smile curved Steinn’s mouth.

 

“I told you, you are beautiful when you weep,” he said and then dug his heels into his horse’s sides to command it into a sudden run.

 

Tony screamed and pitched forward once more into Steinn’s chest as the horn fucked into him jarringly. Before he could even recover, though, a second thrust tore through him and then a third and a fourth and a fifth until he promptly lost count when he came violently all over the inside of his tunic, but the horse didn’t let up and it continued to pound the horn into his oversensitized, abused hole. He sobbed loudly into Steinn’s neck and babbled nonsense pleas while his softened cock jerked and flopped against his stomach and the saddle beneath him. Steinn was no longer paying attention but was focused on the way ahead, so Tony’s cried went unheeded.

 

……………

 

It was a good three hours and two more orgasms later when they slowed to a trot. Tony’s voice had, by then, died down from screams into nothing and only the continuously pouring tears on his face evidenced his consciousness. His hole was numb and his ass mottled with bruises, and he couldn’t muster the effort to do anything but cling to the dwarf in front of him.

 

The horse was jerked into a stop in front of a serene lake that glittered in the afternoon sun. It was obscene how beautiful the sight was as the dwarves, followed by the Avengers, dismounted.

 

“Captain,” Steinn called before either he or Tony did so. Steve ran over without a second’s hesitation and accepted Tony when Steinn handed him over. He set Tony down onto his feet on the grass, but the other man’s knees crumpled beneath him, and Steve just barely managed to catch him. “We’ll rest here for the night. You can care for him until tomorrow,” the dwarf leader said with not a hint of guilt or remorse for Tony’s state. Steve didn’t wait a second longer to pick Tony up and carry him away.

 

The others rushed toward them as soon as they were a safe enough distance away, and Bruce pushed them all aside as soon as Steve set Tony down on the softest patch of grass he could find. He spread Tony’s legs apart and thoroughly checked him over, and when he was done, he sat back on his heels and allowed Steve to gather Tony into his arms. The genius buried himself into the captain’s chest and held on tight.

 

“There’s severe bruising on his thighs and rear on top of those from last night and the day before, and his rectum is torn in several places and would need, optimally, a couple of days to heal. He’s pretty banged up in general, but it’s not anything worse than what we’ve seen from him in the past,” Bruce said. “For now, it’d be best just to get him cleaned up and rested.” Steve was silent for a long moment, just rocking and murmuring soft reassurances at Tony.

 

“This stops now,” he finally said in a hard voice never heard of him before. “I don’t care if we have to weed out each and every Skrull by hand one by one, this. Stops. Now.”

 

“N-not…” Tony hiccupped so very, very quietly, swallowed, then tried again. “Not your choice to make, Cap.”

 

“You’re delirious,” Clint said. “There’s no way in hell we’d let you get back on that fucking horse. We had to stop three times to calm Bruce down while you were screaming your guts out or else we’d have had a big, green, mean problem on our hands.”

 

“Not your choice to make either,” Tony told him and made him splutter in outrage.

 

“Tony…” Bruce tried.

 

“It’s my choice,” the genius clarified, heat coloring his voice. “It’s my choice to wake up tomorrow and get back on that horse and get fucked by it again if I have to. It’s my choice to let them use me and fuck me as they see fit until such time they help us save the world. It’s my choice. Mine. And do you know why I choose this? Why I choose to whore myself out to those motherfuckers? Because I am a fucking superhero goddamnit. I may no longer have my suit, but I refuse to be fucking useless to this team, and if this is the only way I’m able to help, then I will stand up and get back on that fucking horse as many times as I fucking have to.” His rant was met with silence until Thor chose to speak.

 

“I have never found you lacking in your usefulness to us, Anthony. In fact, I have always admired your courage and integrity and wit and intelligence, but none more so than I do now.” Thor knelt so that they were eye to eye. “You have always been the glue that held us together: you provided us with a home on Midgard when we would have gone our separate ways. You have given us gifts that helped us hone our skills and shape who we are. You form bonds between us with your sharp humor and wit. You were shown gods and monsters and assassins and lab experiments, and you saw superheroes.” He placed a hand on Tony’s shoulder. “You are the glue that changed us from broken shards of different pieces of pottery into a unique and valued work of art and now you will become the glue that will change the world. Anthony Stark, I can think of no higher honor than standing with you when you achieve that.” A single tear fought through the debris of all the others on Tony’s face, and he pulled Thor closer to press a kiss to his cheek.

 

“You always say the nicest things,” he murmured with a soft smile.

 

……………

 

It was still dark and uncomfortably cold when Natasha was roused from her sleep when the leaves to her left crunched and rustled. She was immediately on alert at the sound, but was relieved to find that it was only Clint and Steve who were climbing to their feet. She sat up, stretching discreetly, just as, she spied in the corner of her eye, Thor did the same. Tony was again not among them and she felt pained that his disappearance did not surprise her; she only felt resigned as she glanced toward the dwarf side of the camp.

 

“I’m going to check if Tony’s okay,” the captain murmured softly to them, darting glances toward the sleeping dwarves all the while. Natasha pitied him terribly; she couldn’t imagine what it felt to see your lover being used and abused by others right in front of you, but the captain was a strong man and Tony even stronger. It would take more than that to break them completely.

 

“Not to criticize you or anything, Cap, but stealth is not your forte,” Clint responded. “Why don’t you let Natasha check?” Natasha’s eyebrows lifted and then she shrugged because Clint wasn’t wrong. Steve would wake the dwarves first before he could even find out how Tony was doing.

 

She stood fluidly as soon as Steve gave a short nod and then made her way silently through the foliage and debris. The five dwarves were spread out across their section of the campsite, in various states of sleep. Tony, she found, was half-buried and unclothed on his side beneath Bjorn’s beefy arm, tucked up carefully against the snoring dwarf. Natasha approached him only to find him wide awake and glassy eyed. Her heart constricted in pity, and she knelt to stroke his cheek.

 

“Let’s get you out from under there,” she whispered, snapping him out of his trance. His hand darted up to clutch at hers and he shook his head.

 

“I… I can’t…” Natasha frowned.

 

“He’s deep in sleep, I think I can hold his arm up enough for you to slide—”

 

No, Tasha. I can’t,” Tony repeated emphatically. “I can’t because he’s… he’s still inside me and I—” Natasha grunted as a hand curled into the back of her clothes and jerked her back sharply, sending her flying across the camp. She tumbled skillfully to keep from catching against any trees or rocks and then turned a poisonous glare to Refr who had pulled her away. In the commotion, everyone else had woken as well and were gathered around them. In the middle of the circle, Tony gasped as Bjorn pulled out of him, but he couldn’t find the strength to stand.

 

“He will be given to you only when we choose to do so,” Refr snarled. “We get him whenever, wherever and however. That was part of the agreement.” Natasha turned her own snarl at him.

 

“You will not return him to us on the verge of death. I won’t allow it, no matter what the bargain,” she shot back, a hand straying to the knives she kept in her clothes. Steve grabbed her arm before she could do so while Thor moved between them to placate the dwarf.

 

“Good sirs, she meant no foul. We only intended to find how Anthony fares,” he said. Refr bristled like an annoyed cat anyway. “I am giving you my word that we are not rescinding our agreement nor denying what you are due.” Steinn shifted, and it was enough to attract the attention of the others.

 

“We won’t take lightly to being cheated out of our fair share,” he warned. “We asked for his lifetime, but agreed to only a few days at best under the condition that he’s ours to do as we will.”

 

“I am,” Tony said firmly before anyone could get in a word edgewise. They turned to him as he crawled to Steinn and kneeled at his feet. Steve had to look away when he did because his heart broke just a little bit more. Tony lifted himself up onto his knees to roam his hands over the dwarf’s thighs and groin and press his mouth to his hip. “I am yours, master, for whatever you wish. They won’t get in the way again,” he murmured deliberately sweetly and meekly while worshiping the dwarf with his hands and mouth. Steinn watched him do so approvingly, so the genius tugged at the waistband of his pants, heedless of his teammates that watched in morbid fascination as he took Steinn’s now-familiar cock out of his pants and into his mouth, humming in false appreciation around it. He licked and stroked the appendage with his tongue, took him in deep and swallowed around him, and bobbed along its considerable length—Steinn was easily as big and Steve was. The dwarf moaned appreciatively and he slowly took over, threading the fingers of one hand into Tony’s hair and gripping his jaw with his other for leverage to thrust into Tony willing mouth.

 

Tony felt another dwarf settle behind him—it had to be Hrafn with the way he gathered up his wrists and pinned them high up his back, almost twisting his arms painfully—and then his loose hole was prodded by the tip of a cock and it sank into him easily with one thrust. It was oh so painful because he hadn’t had time to recover in between fuckings and that brutal horse ride, but he moaned loudly, playing it up as though he couldn’t get enough of them.

 

Steve…

 

Steve was watching him right now whore himself out to them, and though it twisted at his heart painfully, he ignored him and moved himself up and down the length of Hrafn’s cock while Steinn fucked his mouth. He played his part well—much too well, as though he had been training his entire life to do just this—but if it pleased them enough to help end the Skrull invasion, it was worth every second of the humiliation and despair it gave him.

 

……………

 

It was either a parody of romance or a mimicry of pet ownership the way Geirr gingerly held out bits of roasted meat with his fingers up to Tony’s mouth and the genius obediently ate it, licking and sucking on the half-elf’s fingers afterward. He sat at Geirr’s feet while they dined around the campfire on the deer Clint, Thor and Bjorn had caught earlier that day, two nights and three days into their journey. By then, about six days since the deal had been made, it had become commonplace to hear “master” fall from Tony’s lips when speaking with any of the dwarves, to see him disrobe and sink to his knees on command and to hear his whimpers and moans and, sometimes, shouts when he was taken.

 

It wasn’t any less painful now for Steve when he had to bear witness to any of it than it had been at the start, and like poking a bruise just to see if it hurt, he couldn’t seem to be able to tear his attention away. He had tried—oh, how he’d tried to ignore them—but when forced into close proximity with a bunch of beings who either did not seem to grasp the concept of privacy or did not care for it, and when every one of Tony’s moans evoked memories of intense passion and feelings of intense jealousy, it was nigh impossible. The way Tony offered himself sexually, the way he responded physically and vocally to a touch, the way he begged for more, the way he sobbed as he came, those things should have been for Steve alone. Instead, they were unwillingly given to five beings who did not care for him in the least nor he they. Instead, they were offered up to the consumption of anyone and anything that was capable of sight and sound.

 

“Come, Anthony,” Hrafn called after Geirr had fed him the last slice of meat. The lighter dwarf pressed a kiss to Tony’s mouth and then shooed him to other. Steve lifted his eyes from his lover to the darker dwarf, assessing his intentions and monitoring his actions.

 

“Master?” Tony asked, settling between Hrafn’s legs. The bigger man gave his characteristic sinister smile as he stroked Tony’s cheek almost fondly. Tony tilted his head into the touch and then pressed a kiss into his palm.

 

“You’ve been so very, very good to us, haven’t you? So very obedient,” Hrafn murmured. His tone was so sweet and loving that it made Steve’s hair stand on edge because not in the six days Tony had given himself to them did he ever act that way—quite the opposite in fact, something which made Steve’s blood boil.

 

“I only aim to please you,” Tony answered, bowing his head submissively. The attention of the group was on the pair of them, and none moved to interrupt, even if Steve wanted to yell that that wasn’t how Tony should act. He was Tony Stark, and he was submissive to no one.

 

“Oh and you have! We’ve all been so very pleased with you,” Hrafn praised. Tony’s head tilted up and there was confusion in his face. Even the other dwarves were watching Hrafn curiously. “So, my beautiful human,” the dark dwarf continued, oblivious to the confusion around him. “I want to give you a reward for your obedience.” Steinn frowned minutely, implying that this decision had not been discussed with him, but the dark dwarf ignored his leader, his glee-filled eyes trained on Tony alone, and continued on. “For this night alone, I give you permission to do whatever your heart desires with whomever your heart desires to do it with.” Tony’s eyes were large and round at the declaration, and he almost immediately turned to look at Steve briefly. “But, my sweet,” Hrafn said, stroking Tony’s jaw to return his gaze to him. “You will have to beg me for it with every ounce of the desire you hold in your heart.”

 

With that, Tony lifted himself to his knees to press a passionate, languorous kiss to Hrafn’s lips. It was a kiss, made popular by romance in movies, designed to make any normal human being swoon in his arms and fall in love with him. Many in the past have fallen into Tony’s bed from that particular kiss alone; even more, it had made many a person, both friend and foe, remain under Tony Stark’s spell and become some of his staunchest supporters. Steve, himself, was not immune to that kiss. It made him want to slam Tony down on the nearest horizontal surface whenever he employed it on him. He ached to see that kiss used on someone else beside him, but if it meant that he could have Tony all for himself tonight, he was willing to watch Tony bestow it on each and every dwarf.

 

“Please… please, master,” Tony murmured when they had pulled apart. His voice was heavy with promise of good things to come, and the heat in it rushed through Steve (and, he did not doubt, the others in the group) and pooled in the pit of his stomach. Tony’s hands curled into Hrafn’s robes, and he nuzzled at the dwarf’s neck while discreetly rubbing up against his groin.

 

“Tell me,” Hrafn said, the smile on his mouth wide, cupping Tony’s ass and encouraging him to rut harder, so Tony did so while lavishing kisses and nips on the dwarf’s neck.

 

“I…” he said, breathless and aching. “I want you to claim me.” Steve made a small noise of despair and protest, but Tony ignored him and the rest of his teammates as he picked at his tunic, slowly taking it off while he undulated against Hrafn. “I want you to take me as you want, hard and fast and rough. I want you to split me open and take me apart and make me scream and beg and cry for more. I want you to make every witness know that I’m yours.” He was naked now and rising to straddle Hrafn’s lap. The dwarf’s grin was smug while his hand travelled down Tony’s bareback to spread his ass and slide a finger in. Tony moaned and bucked against the intrusion, and then he continued. “I want you to come in me and fill me up with your seed and leave me dripping and aching for more.” Tony stroked Hrafn’s cock. He wasn’t the biggest of the dwarves—that honor was reserved for Bjorn—but he was still well above average and still one of the biggest Tony had taken. “And then I want my other masters to lay the same claim on me.” He aligned the cock with his hole and sank down on it with nary a wince. However, a single uncontrolled tear ran down his cheek at his next words. “I want to give myself to you, and I want you to ruin me for everyone else.”

 

Hrafn moaned openly and licked up the tear as he suddenly plunged himself in harshly. The genius arched his back and tossed his head as he cried out, baring his neck for the dwarf’s consumption. Hrafn ignored it though and pulled Tony down against him.

 

“You are a beautiful liar,” he whispered as he pumped slowly into the human. “But how could I possibly deny something that sounds as sincere as that?” He then pulled out and spun Tony around before forcing him to his knees and settling behind him. The position allowed Tony to stare at the light flickering over Steve’s face and for Steve to watch his lie come true. “Look at him,” Hrafn hissed in command, so he held Steve’s unflinching gaze as Hrafn pushed into him once more. He held Steve’s gaze even as he moaned and panted at each of Hrafn’s harsh thrusts. He held Steve’s gaze as the dwarf mouthed at his neck and tugged at his cock. He held Steve’s gaze while he begged for Hrafn’s come. And he held Steve’s gaze as the dwarf came inside him with a groan.

 

And then, at the feeling of his sopping hole leaking as it was fucked and of his cock squeezed and tugged and jerked off, he shut his eyes and bit his lip and came and came and came.

 

……………

 

Of course SHIELD would be there when they arrived; neither Phil nor Nick was sloppy enough to make the mistake of leaving them vulnerable to surprise Skrull attacks. They stood in the middle of a semi-circle of black sedans and SHIELD agents when the group of eleven was beamed down by the Bifrost. The five dwarves tensed at the sight of the group, but the Avengers stood between them and SHIELD to protect and prevent both from attacking each other.

 

“They’re friendly,” Steve said, addressing both parties and staring down SHIELD until tension visibly dissipated. Nick took a step closer toward them.

 

“Let’s get ourselves out of the open, Captain,” he said with a nod towards the dwarves. It didn’t miss anyone’s eye how his eyebrows drew together very slightly at the sight of Tony partly hidden in the midst of the alien beings, but he said nothing and swept toward the cars.

 

“They’ll take us to our hideout, masters,” Tony murmured to the five. “The cars—those vehicles—will take us there.”

 

“They are to be trusted, my friends. Follow me, please,” Thor added, gesturing expansively. Steinn’s eyes narrowed slightly, but he nodded and started behind Thor.

 

“Steinn, Tony and Refr will join me in the first car. Thor, Hrafn and Bjorn will take the second car. Natasha, please accompany Geirr in the third with Clint and Bruce,” Steve instructed when they had neared. The group split apart, hesitant on the dwarves’ end, but it was to be expected.

 

“We’ll be reunited in a short while, masters,” Tony assured Hrafn, Bjorn and Geirr as they climbed in their respective cars. Phil shot him a questioning look which he purposely ignored in favor of leading Steinn and Refr toward their assigned car and climbing in between them. Steve took up the front seat beside the nondescript SHIELD agent who was driving.

 

“These… carriages of yours,” Steinn started, stroking the car interior thoughtfully. “What horse pulls them?”

 

“There are none. They have this… machine in them that allows them to move,” Tony explained.

 

“Machine? I am not familiar with this word,” Refr added.

 

“It’s an object that produces its own power and makes other things work.”

 

“With magic?” Tony cringed at the idea.

 

“No, not magic. It harnesses energy, like fire or lighting; it’s actually very scientific and has nothing to do with magic at all,” he answered a little petulantly because he refused to liken technology to magic. Steinn hummed thoughtfully.

 

“Later then, Anthony, you must explain this more to us,” he decided and then they were silent for the rest of the journey.

 

They arrived at the SHIELD facility in New Mexico twenty minutes later. Nick was already standing at the unloading bay, waiting for them to disembark. Natasha, Clint, Bruce and Geirr were the first out, and the female assassin approached Nick quickly and whispered something to him. He nodded as Thor’s and Steve’s groups disembarked almost immediately after the first car.

 

“Welcome to the New Mexico facility of the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division—or SHIELD,” Nick greeted. “If you’ll follow me, we will be proceeding to a more private location for the debrief.” He gave only a second’s pause before turning on his heel and leading them down the hall. There was wonder and wary in the aura of the dwarves as they moved down the hall and Tony felt momentarily relieved that their attention was taken off of him.

 

They entered one of the smaller meeting rooms that Tony knew would be the least bugged. At the door, he was handed his phone, his tablet and the jacket straight off of Phil’s back, so he sent him a small smile in thanks before heading inside. Save for Phil, he was the last to enter and everyone but him had taken their seats. His eyes automatically fell to the floor at Steinn’s feet before he glanced up at the dwarf who was paying him no mind then to Nick who was waiting for him to sit down. Having decided to take a gamble, he headed toward the back of the room and hovered behind Refr. He saw Nick twitch so very slightly, as if debating within himself whether or not to reprimand the genius. In the end, his refusal to sit was ignored by all present, and Tony almost let out a sigh of relief at having avoided any show of subservience.

 

“Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD,” Nick said once all had been seated and the door shut behind Phil. “You have been invited here on Thor’s recommendation to provide assistance in our quest to rid the Earth of the alien invaders known as the Skrulls. I am in the understanding that you will need to come in contact with the Skrull leader to be able to do so.” The screen behind him flickered to life, showing a projection of the world map with thousands of tiny points of light, clustered in what were certainly the major cities of the world. “These are the known locations of the Skrull ships on the planet. Here—” He pointed to the bigger points of light in London, New York, Paris, Shanghai, Tokyo, Los Angeles and Italy. “—are where the mother ships are located. It is fortunate for us that the lead ship is that found right here in the US; this means that their leader will be easier to get to. However, it would require us a few more days—a week maybe—of preparation and information gathering before we can mobilize to end all of this. In the meantime, we extend to you our hospitality here on the base. Phil—” He gestured toward the agent who nodded his head once. “—will get for you anything you need. Please do not hesitate to call on him.” Steinn stood and returned the nod.

 

“All preparations on our end have been done. My men and I are ready to work at your convenience,” he said.

 

“Thank you.” Nick inclined his head in a grateful bow. “Now, I’m sure you have had a long journey and would like to rest. Phil will assist you to your rooms.” Phil held the door open for them.

 

“If you’ll follow me?” he invited. Steinn nodded to his men and stepped towards the door, taking but a moment to scan the room for Tony.

 

“Anthony,” he called. Tony said nothing when he followed them out, leaving his phone and tablet sparing only one last backward glance at Steve.

 

Nick crossed his arms over his chest as he watched them go. The command in Steinn’s tone was unmistakable, and Tony’s unquestioning obedience confirmed what he already suspected at the Bifrost landing site. Nevertheless, he turned to them to get verbal confirmation.

 

“So,” he started. “They asked for Tony.” He was answered by a single nod from Natasha. “On what terms?” He wasn’t embarrassed to admit, if only to himself, that he was almost afraid to hear the answer. Tony was an indispensable asset to the organization, with or without the suit. More than that though, Nick liked to think that he had developed some strange sort of affinity, if not camaraderie, for the fickle genius and vice versa.

 

“Until their service has been rendered, he belongs to them,” she answered. Nick mentally frowned and chanced a glance at Steve who was still staring forlornly at the door.

 

“Is there anything that needs to be done?” he asked, turning back to the group.

 

“I need access to the medical facility to check him over,” Bruce spoke up. Nick refrained from outwardly expressing anything toward the statement.

 

“I’d suggest also limiting surveillance on them and minimizing their contact with SHIELD agents,” Clint added.

 

“Dare I ask why?” But he knew the answer once he realized that none of them would look him in the eye. “Very well. You’re dismissed for now.”

 

……………

 

“Your world, Anthony, is very cold,” Geirr noted once they arrived in the room provided for them. He knew Geirr wasn’t talking about the temperature, of which the heat was adequate, but of the polished steel walls and bare décor. There was not a touch of warm colors or plant life anywhere between their walk from the driveway to the room, which was far larger than any of the other rooms he’d seen, including his own and Nick’s. The matching bathrooms at either end of the room, though, suggested that maybe a couple of walls had been knocked down to create the extra space.

 

“Not all of it is, master,” he answered as he stripped of his clothes sank to his knees on the cold, hard floor. “This is a pseudo-military base, hence, the utilitarian décor, but we have places in our world just like yours.” Geirr hummed thoughtfully, walking around the room and inspecting the steel walls.

 

“I find that it holds none of my interest,” Hrafn said with a yawn before slowly settling himself down on the bed. Tony hid a wince because a bored dwarf did not bode well for him.

 

“But few things hold your interest, Hrafn, so I doubt it is this world’s fault,” Geirr noted with amusement. Hrafn humphed almost petulantly.

 

“Is it my turn with Anthony yet?” he asked instead, turning a leer to the human.

 

“Well it is either yours or Bjorn’s,” Steinn answered offhandedly from the bathroom he was inspecting. Hrafn turned a look at Bjorn who shrugged.

 

“You can have him.” His voice was gruff—probably, Tony surmised, because he spoke infrequently—then settled back on the bed and shut his eyes. Hrafn’s eyes glittered.

 

“Stand and face that wall, human,” he instructed as he stood. Tony nodded and made his way to the large blank wall. “Spread your legs, arms over your head.” It wasn’t an unfamiliar position and as he settled into it, he braced himself for what he knew was sure to come next. His wrists and ankles suddenly snapped forward, dragging the rest of him along with them, slamming and sticking against the cold wall. He didn’t bother repressing a wince since it wasn’t visible to them anyway. He pressed his forehead against the wall and shut his eyes as he felt Hrafn’s breath ghost over the back of his neck and then fingers slid down his back, catching against several still-healing wounds. “I regret that, soon, I will no longer be able to tear you open,” Hrafn hissed and then stepped back. Tony tensed when he did, and, not a second later, there was a whistle through the air.

 

He cried out when the conjured whip sliced at his skin across the other similarly shaped welts and scabs. It sliced through the air twice more in a parallel direction before cutting across all three, ripping cry after cry from Tony’s throat. Hrafn paused after the fourth lash and Tony shuddered to hold back the whimper hovering at the back of his throat.

 

His hole was prodded gently and then something that felt big and thick breached him. He tossed his head back as it slid into him without care for the resistance his unlubricated passage afforded it and then it twisted and turned in him, shrinking and growing and moving and thrusting in random patterns that had Tony moaning and writhing. And then the whip lashed against his back once more while the thing still pleasured him and the sound that came from Tony was stuck somewhere in the middle of pleasure and pain.

 

“You will come while I flog you or I will not cease to do so. Am I understood?” Hrafn commanded and what could Tony say but ‘yes, master’?

 

Strikes were dealt on him every ten seconds, but he strove so very hard not to focus on the way they caught his skin, the way a liquid he knew was his own blood dripped down his back. Instead he focused on the thing inside him that mercifully glanced and pressed against his prostate every so often. Instead he thought of Steve and how Steve would take care of him after all this was over with.

 

It took ages more for his back to numb against the lashes enough for him to wade through the pain to find the pleasure inside of him, and when he did, he couldn’t help the tears that ran down his face as he cried out and came.

 

……………

 

He was blinded and deafened again, and it was so very, very horrible. He almost wanted to ask for Hrafn’s whip again if it meant he could get his sight and hearing back because the darkness was cloying and suffocating. This time, though, he was being punished with it. Punished because they had gone for dinner later that day, and Tony refused to sit at their feet in the view of SHIELD’s agents. They didn’t care for his explanation about position and pride but understood enough that they had decided that if he could not sense the presence of others, then he wouldn’t be so difficult.

 

So he was blinded and deafened and disoriented enough to obey each tug of hands wherever they pushed him and then he found himself on his knees in what was most likely the cafeteria where they had been for the past several minutes when Tony was being disobedient. He screwed his eyes shut, even though nothing passed them anyway, if only for the sensation of protection against prying eyes of those who did not understand.

 

A pair of hands—Geirr’s he knew—tipped his chin up and prompted him to open his mouth. A bit of meat was deposited there and Tony choked it down. He wasn’t hungry—he never was—but he ate because he knew he would need any strength he could get. Geirr fed him some more until he was full enough and shook his head. When he did, he was pulled closer by another and his hands placed on the clothed cock in a clear instruction.

 

It was pathetic how he found he could tell who he was servicing by the taste and feel of the cock he held in his hands, but he ignored the shame that brought tears to his eyes while he sucked Bjorn off.

 

He was made to suck Refr and Hrafn off after Bjorn as well, their come filling him up as much as the meat Geirr had fed him. All the while he told himself that any day now, any day now this would all be over and he’d never have to see them again.

 

……………

 

“Are we ready to move?” Nick asked, sidling up to Phil who stood in the middle of the empty surveillance room. There was only one screen he was focused on, though: the emptied cafeteria.

 

“The briefing will be done tomorrow and we’ll mobilize the day after that,” Phil answered absently. Nick said nothing but joined him in watching the scene on the small screen. “He’s blind and deaf,” Phil explained after a moment. “Clint told me it’s something they do, that it’s temporary. But it doesn’t matter because temporary or not, a man like Tony Stark should not be left alone with his own mind.” On screen, Tony moved to the next dwarf, the black-haired one.

 

“If this works, he will have single-handedly saved the world,” Nick mused.

 

“Again,” Phil reminded him. “And look how that turned out the first time around.” It had taken him a long time to recover from the Chitauri; they wondered how long this would take him.

 

“He’ll have help, this time,” the director said.

 

“They’ve broken him—far worse than we’ve ever seen. Maybe even worse than Afghanistan.”

 

“He didn’t have the team after Afghanistan. He’ll recover Phil, and he’ll be back better than ever because he’s nothing if not Tony Motherfucking Stark.”

 

……………

 

It was over. It was won. It was almost anti-climactic in the ease in which it was won.

 

The worst part was getting the dwarves in and apprehending the leader, but even one man down, the Avengers were glorious in battle and the Skrulls were hardly a match for them. It was sheer overwhelming number that had defeated them before, but now SHIELD only needed to hold back the backup, and the Avengers dominated the rest.

 

The dwarves nailed the leader by the limbs on the ground and stood around him in a circle. For half an hour, they chanted, steady and rhythmically in a language only they understood while Steve and the others held the other Skrulls back. And then Steinn lifted his sword and thrust it in the forehead of the leader and then each and every alien was suddenly washed away by the wind as though they were but a handful of ashes. Then Steinn turned to Steve and said, “It is done.”

 

Natasha touched her communicator and quietly repeated Steinn’s words to Fury. There was a long moment of silence where they each traded looks and then Fury spoke, addressing them all.

 

“We’ve received confirmation from all our bases,” he said gravely. “They’re gone.” Uncharacteristic cheers rang through the comms from the agents around Fury, but in the grand chamber of the Skrull mother ship, Steve, flanked by Natasha, Clint, Thor and Hulk, drew himself up against the dwarves.

 

“Our deal is over with. You will not touch him anymore,” he snarled at them. It was strange to see such an expression on Steve’s place even though it had easily found its way there in the past few days. Steinn was unconcerned with his fury, though.

 

“Indeed our agreement has been fulfilled, you may have your Anthony back,” he said solemnly and then ignored the captain to turn to Thor. All five Svartálfar gave him short, reverent bows. “Prince Thor, it has been a great honor to serve you.” Thor gave back an equal bow.

 

“I extend to you my gratitude for your assistance. I will be sure to let my father know to reward you greatly,” he answered in return. “Come now, my friends. I shall personally escort you back to Svartálfaheimr.” Thor held out an arm and led the way out the alien ship. Steve and the others brought up the rear, tensed against the slightest untoward movement of any of the dwarves.

 

Brightness assaulted them as soon as they stepped outside, and then their eyes adjusted to the sunlight, and Steve saw Tony standing at the entrance just behind Phil. He was looking at the dwarves, his expression hesitant and unsure. The five stopped in front of him and is entire body unconsciously jerked toward them.

 

“Mas—” he started before catching himself and moving back ever so slightly. Phil shifted to cover him better, and Steve suddenly leapt into action, tugging Tony backward further and into his arms. Steinn smiled anyway despite the threat rolling off the other men in spades.

 

“You were a great pleasure, Anthony,” he said. “It is not often we are able to indulge ourselves as completely as you have allowed us, and so it is only with great regret that we part ways.”

 

“Yeah, well I’m terribly sorry but I can’t say I feel the same,” Tony answered. Steinn only nodded in understanding. All five of them gave Tony the same reverent bow they gave Thor, and then they were gone, whisked away by one of the SHIELD helicopters that had taken them to New York from New Mexico.

 

Tony shut his eyes and took a deep breath. All eyes were on him, but he ignored them to turn to face Steve.

 

“Steve,” he murmured, but Steve allowed him to say nothing further. He pressed their lips together, gently but firmly that brooked no room for argument. Then they pulled apart and he pressed his forehead to Tony’s.

 

“Never again,” he whispered desperately. “I don’t care if the whole world goes to hell; you are never, ever going to do that again. Promise me. Please.” Tony grasped his wrists and held on tightly.

 

“I promise,” he whispered back. “I’m sorry, Steve. I—” Steve kissed him again.

 

“I love you,” he said, wrapping his arms around the smaller man.