Actions

Work Header

In Dreams We Share

Work Text:

In Dreams We Share - art by dbananza, story by niakantorka for FrostIron Bang 2016

He fell, and something was off. It wasn’t like the nauseating plunge from a building down a street canyon, where broad daylight ricocheted from steel and hundreds of glassy surfaces. Here, it was cold and black. He felt devastatingly lonely though he wasn’t sure if that was due to the surrounding gloominess, or for a different reason entirely. It wasn’t stark dark as white lights blinked at him from a distance. When he tumbled past them they turned to yellow, red, and blue.

It seemed to go on indefinitely. He didn’t know if he fell for seconds, days, or years. Eventually, he landed on a gaunt, rocky planet. When he was found, there was no respite. The towering barriers of his mind were pulled down by a merciless power, and then there was only agony.

Tony’s croaked shout startled him from the dream. Cold perspiration dampened his face and tangled sheets stuck to his skin. His body was tied up in knots because of the violation his dream-self’s mind had to endure.

“That was different,” he mumbled and got up. No way would he get back to sleep after such a nightmare.

“J.A.R.V.I.S., the time?”

“It’s 3:15 in the morning, sir. It’s Monday, October 12th, and the temperature is—”

“Cut it short, Jarv.”

“Yes, sir.’”

Wonderful. He woke up all cranky, but it wasn’t J.A.R.V.I.S.’ fault that Tony's dream had been even more fucked-up than usual. Definitely creepier than one of his regulars, like the one where he was being thrown out of his tower by the batshit crazy God of Mischief.

Tony padded towards the bathroom; a hot shower would hopefully help him to wind down.

Two hours and three cups of coffee later, Tony was tinkering with the microcircuitry of his Mark 43’s repulsors. The dream faded away, a wisp of unease in the depths of his mind.

>∇<

Suddenly a strong hand gripped his throat, cutting his airflow to naught, and a moment later he was pushed through a shattering wall of glass. He fell like a stone. The scenario screamed ‘wrong’ in his head as he was in Midgard and had no magic to teleport or transform. He knew that on this third-rate planet was one beast who could beat him up. It had happened once, after he had first been brought down by far greater powers. In those days he hadn't been himself. It didn't matter. He still fell.

Before he hit the asphalt, Loki woke up. Blinding lights followed him for a split second until his eyes adjusted to the pale moonlight of his surroundings. Only a dream. A strange one at that. Loki drew some deep breaths before he took asunder the dream's pieces. His magic hadn’t been depleted, neither bound—it had been non-existent.

The dream reminded him alarmingly how helpless he had felt every time Odin had controlled his magic to punish him for his crimes over the centuries. It had been even worse to be overpowered by a magical force so much greater than his own down the void. Loki tried to not dwell on those memories.

He was deeply unsettled by the lack of his magic in the dream. Loki considered it from all angles and... yes, it must have been someone else’s dream. A Midgardian's dream. His nerves finally calmed down as he arrived at an explanation.

Half an hour later Loki was still mulling over whose dream he’d shared and how it had happened at all. His brain settled down the minute he decided to unravel the mystery. Though it would require that he visit Midgard more regularly than he had the past months. Perhaps he could kill two birds with one stone and rile up his dunderheaded brother’s gang of superheroes as well. Loki smirked and slid back into sleep.

Dreaming his own dreams was not necessarily an improvement.

>∇<

Tony didn’t go to sleep for another seventy-two hours. First, he spent nearly a day in his workshop, pimping out the closing mechanism of his suit. Then, he accompanied Pepper to Washington, D.C. for a stockholder’s meeting that lasted maddeningly long. Everyone who attended seemed to be suffering from verbose diarrhea and sadly it wasn’t the genius kind of babbling. Pepper ruthlessly stopped all of Tony’s attempts to sleep through that pointless hell. When he was finally back in his tower to savor a pizza, Doombots had swarmed New York’s streets. Even without Doctor Doom lurking about, the Avengers still had to work overtime to get rid of them. So, when he collapsed on his bed and didn’t even manage to lift the comforter, Tony expected a night of dreamless sleep.

No such luck.

He knew this rock. Not personally, but from the other night. This time, it wasn't a mind-shattering all-encompassing power but an alien that stood before him. One who certainly wouldn’t be winning any intergalactic beauty pageants. Mr. Alien was as attractive as Skeletor, and he could pass for his ashen brother, ridiculous skull mask included. On top the guy wore a dark hood, like a walking extraterrestrial cliché, and yet it wasn't funny at all.

His guts cramped like they were filled with stones, and little shivers ran down his back. He kept his calm and only the fine film of sweat on his brow gave him away.

“I will take you apart and thrive on it,” skullhead told him, and a cruel smile twisted his raw-boned mouth. Only then did he realize that his wrists and ankles were shackled and that his magic was suppressed. The latter was the most terrifying. ‘And when I’m finished, you’ll be thrilled to fulfill my Master’s plan.’

It took a while to lose his composure under the inflicted pain. He cursed the other in all the languages he’d ever learned, but the torture went on. Minutes, hours... so long that he couldn’t hang on anymore and started to scream.

That was how Tony woke himself up, by hollering and bawling into his pillow. A tang of his dream-self’s ache lingered in his bones, and Tony shuddered with compassion. He’d had his own encounter with torture, but that skeletal tormenter in his dream had shown an ingenuity the Ten Rings had thankfully lacked. Not that waterboarding in an Afghan cave was a picnic, but at least his captors had needed him functional and had compromised limited parts of his body.

“J.A.R.V.I.S., be a darling and turn on the coffee maker, will you? By the way how much sleep did I get?”

“Done, sir. It’s 11:13 a.m. and you’ve slept for 7 hours and 44 minutes.”

“Ah, not bad.”

“If I might add, sir, it didn’t look like the most restful night you’ve ever had.”

“I bet. Wasn’t the worst either.”

While he walked across his bedroom, a thought crossed his mind. There had been magic in his dream, or to be more precise, a lack of magic which had disturbed him greatly. Baffling. He was Iron Man, an engineering marvel, an inventor. He relied upon his technology to keep him alive. Well, not literally anymore, but it still enabled him to fight. Tony Stark was in charge of it; his genius provided for better suits and advanced equipment. He was a natural with electronics and metal. Fiddling was like breathing, a fact that benefited not only his suits or his tower, but the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D., too.

He was not a mumbo jumbo wielding mage. So why did he missed some non-existent magic, as Loki would—

Whoa, wait a sec. Tony couldn’t have shared dreams with that godforsaken Asgardian, no Jotun, ah whatever... Loki was a tremendous asshole, and pitying him was out of the question.

Yet, it bothered him. Over and over the images flitted through his mind in high-definition and Dolby Surround. He remembered the coppery taste of blood and gore and the sickening sound of smashing bones. Tony had felt wrong in his own dream, and not for the first time, either. He couldn't put this dream sharing, or whatever it was, as some meaningless aside, no matter how much he wanted to.

When he reached the kitchen he was met by the comforting fragrance of strong coffee drifting through the air. Tony grabbed his favorite Iron Man color-changing mug and watched his Mark 2 faceplate appear while he poured the hot beverage. It never ceased to amaze him what Pepper and their merchandise department came up with. He tried not to gloat too loudly that his mug sold nearly as well as Cap’s. Tony sighed, focused on the problem at hand again, and recalled what he knew about Thor’s wayward little brother.

>∇<

When Thor had learned that Loki wasn’t dead—seriously, that rascal was harder to kill than anybody Tony knew, himself included—the Asgardian had been devastated by Loki’s deceit. He’d vacillated between kicked puppy and thundery grouch, which added a maddeningly tropical flair to that year’s summer. Thankfully it got better after Cap had called Jane who in turn had hauled Thor over the coals. Tony knew families were complicated, and having to spend thousands of years in each other’s company probably made it worse.

It wasn't long before they'd received word of multiple sightings of Loki on Earth.

Once, Tony and Thor had flown to Japan, where Loki had taken a course at a Kenjutsu. It was probably just on a whim, as the knife-throwing, spear-wielding and magic-casting demi-god needed no sword-fighting lessons. Adding a Katana, the traditional Japanese sword, to his arsenal was sort of overkill. It had been a sight to behold though, Loki waving the slightly curved blade in combat: A blur of swift-footed attacks and parries with glimpses of swaying leather and gleaming steel. The only sounds had been shuffling feet, flapping clothes, and the swords, which whooshed and clashed in the air. Afterwards, Tony appreciated the irony that Loki hadn’t dismembered him with his scepter, but had thrown him out of his tower’s window.

Last summer his activities had been even more harmless. He had helped restore an Old Norse manuscript in Iceland which elaborated the Syrpuvers, a part of the Buslobæn and the saga of Bósi and Herraud. Loki had worked at the university of Reykjavík, a capital between mountains and the sea, more colorful and charming than could be imagined. When Tony had learned the scroll was about a Nordic witch named Busla who cast the most terrible magic to aid her foster son Bósi, he'd just chuckled. It could have been a happenstance, or the God of Mischief was capable of self-irony apart from his usual mockery and destruction. Who knew?

Their last meeting had been more Loki’s style. He had duelled with the Enchantress, the Asgardian sorceress Amora, right before their doorstep in Liberty State Park. When the Avengers had reached the duellists, who were fighting in broad daylight, blasts of magic and ice had shot through the air. The Statue of Liberty had been in the line of fire, her gown, torch and starcrown covered with icicles.

A blonde, green-clad figure had chased Loki. Apparently green was the hippest shit among your standard otherworldly magic-wielder of the day. Amora had screamed like a harpy, about eagles and apples while teleporting and levitating after him. It would have been funny to see Loki turn tail and run, if not for the Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal which was half buried in snow and shreds of ice that threatened to fall on hundreds of shrieking tourists’ heads.

Hawkeye’s arrows combined with Cap’s shield had plucked the Enchantress out of the sky, the Hulk caught his favorite puny god and Tony helped to secure Loki on the ground, all the while Thor and Black Widow shooed the masses to safety. Somehow the sorceress managed to loose off another blast of magic. Its yellow-green light hit Tony square in the chest the moment he’d been pulling Loki back to his feet. The world had reduced itself to flashing amber and green, someone had groaned and—nothing.

Tony had felt muzzy and battered when he'd opened his eyes. His suit’s sensors had beeped like crazy, his facepalm was open, and his fellow Avengers had stood around him, looking more or less concerned.

“You okay, Man of Iron?”

“Just peachy, Point Break.”

Later, Thor had explained the Enchantress had chased Loki through all Nine Realms, because he’d tricked her into becoming the harem queen of a Frost Giant. What had driven Loki towards New York, Thor hadn't known. But after a long soak in the hot tub followed by well-seasoned Shawarma, Tony hadn't cared that both mages had been sent off to Asgard.

Natasha insisted they spent their evening together lounging on the communal room’s sofas and watching the French comedy-drama, The Intouchables. Tony loved Nat's chosen movies as they often had a sophisticated storyline, were full of black humor, or both. He laughed his ass off during the Maserati scene in that one.

There were no lasting magical effects, or so he thought.

>∇<

It hurt. His lungs burnt as if filled with molten lava. Every brain cell screamed for air, but his actual scream got lost in water. Cold and brackish liquid flooded his mouth. When his vision became fuzzy forceful hands dragged him out of the water. Wheezing, he gasped for breath. Their grip got stronger, and the only thing he could do was drink in air one last time before his head hit the surface again. It went on like this for five or six times—hard to keep track when being drowned—until they let him go. He slumped down on rough stone, coughing worse than an asthmatic pug.

Loki jolted up and unconsciously shook himself as if to get rid of drenched hair in his face. The dream hadn’t been pleasant. Loki didn’t want to dwell on buried memories, yet he wondered how many similar experiences this Midgardian man had gained. He was sure it was a male spirit he shared dreams—or more likely memories—with. As someone who had taken over the minds of women and men both, he knew.

It was telling that it was his curiosity, and not being tormented, that had yanked him out of the nightmare. Even more important was to unveil the mysterious man’s identity. It was time to leave Odin’s halfhearted attempts at grounding him in Asgard behind for another visit on Midgard.

He took up residency in New York. It was illogical to choose this place out of all places, as more than one visit had ended poorly for him, but something pulled Loki towards the city. It wasn’t any residue from the Tesseract or the scepter because its influence had literally been beaten out of him. It wasn’t an underrated desire to fraternize, either. And though the city was bustling, it wasn’t the only one brimming with the chaos created by too many people. Regardless, his intuition told him to be here. Or maybe his dreams.

>∇<

Waste. Ruins. Ice. Charcoal broken pillars and piled up frozen debris surrounded him. Thick snowflakes were blown by harsh winds, and blotches got stuck in his hair, melting in seconds on his face. He wasn’t freezing though. No, the cold energized him—which was disconcerting and wrong. He loathed this realm and its abhorrent ice dwellers. Had grown up to hate them.

The dream shifted and they were fighting. It hadn’t been his idea, yet he used his magic and spear to equal effect. He hit a Frost Giant full force and brought him to his knees. The blue creature grabbed him by his forearm and everything went into slow motion: Instead of imminent freezer burn his skin turned a sickeningly blue. He stared in horror at his arm, as the color spread and filigree gouges reached his fingertips, just as they did on the giant’s skin before him.

Seconds—or eons—later he was still paralyzed from shock. Then comprehension dawned and was followed by an all consuming maelstrom of fury and fear. It unfurled ice cold in the pits of his stomach, seeped into his veins, crept into his mind, and shattered his heart. Shadows sheathed his soul, and he inhaled shakily. There was nothing he could do to step back from the threshold, to plead ignorance. He knew without a doubt he would never be Loki of Asgard again.

He killed the Jotun without thought.

Tony awoke from Loki’s nightmare with a stifled gasp. He’d suspected the dreams were Loki’s, but there was a big difference between suspecting and knowing for sure. His stomach churned and saliva flooded his mouth while he left the bed and tried to reach the john in time. It was a close call, but he managed. His insides twisted, and he retched until he spat nothing more than acrimonious foam.

Drained, Tony groaned, nearly too exhausted to lift his arm and wipe the sweat from his face with his shirt-sleeve.

“Shall I wake Dr. Banner, sir?”

“No, no, Jarv, give me a minute and I'll be right as rain.”

“With all due respect, sir, your gray complexion must be considered a contradiction.”

“Don't get all mother hen on me. Your concern’s duly noted.”

Tony slouched backwards, until his head pressed against cold tiles. Time to take stock. He just vomited his guts out because he, Tony Stark, related to Loki of all human—or not so human—beings. It was unmistakeable and sickening.

Still, it made a kind of twisted sense. He hadn’t been enough for his family either. Tony had tried, oh how hard he’d tried, but all to no avail. He’d been deigned a creation, not worth loving and only to be used when convenient.

The few things Thor had revealed about Loki’s heritage—being a foster son, runt of despised enemies, and how Odin All-Father had treated him after the Chitauri invasion—were telling enough. Those feelings of rancor and despair he’d shared during this last nightmare actually made sense. Tony recognized a kindred spirit when he saw it. His parents weren’t able to treat him like a failure any longer, and he didn't know whether that was for better or worse.

He'd also never had a sibling, like Loki did. Maybe Tony’s soul would have become equally dark and twisted if he'd had a golden brother to compete with. Being overshadowed by Howard Stark’s legacy had been sufficient to put him on more than one wrong path—on right ones, too, luckily. Tony couldn’t fathom how distorted he would have become if he'd had to endure a millennia in the company of two paragons that couldn’t do wrong in the eyes of their world. Thor was his comrade in arms, one of the few Tony trusted to have his back, but he was far from flawless.

Tony groaned and cursed his rotten luck. Loki would kill him on the spot if he knew. Not for the memories the demi-god’s dreams had exposed to him, but for the involuntary pity Tony had begun to feel for him.

>∇<

On a morning a few days later, Thor visited the tower on his way to New Mexico, done with his princely duties in Asgard for now. If J.A.R.V.I.S. had monitored his appearance so Tony could ambush him in the kitchen and inquire about Loki’s whereabouts, nobody needed to know.

“Pop-Tarts and Cheerios? How can you even stand the crunching noises this early in the morning, Goldilocks?”

“The many ways Midgardians prepare their grains are wondrous, my friend.”

Tony chuckled.

“‘Do you know they come in different varieties for different countries? I’m sure we can order you an exotic range from Battle Creek.”

“You are a bounteous host but perhaps another time. I must visit my lady Jane. It has been too long.”

Tony realized how weary Thor’s gaze was.

“How's Asgard doing?”

Thor rubbed the bridge of his nose pensively and sighed.

“Without mother, our golden halls have lost their warmth. Father is not coping well and… an Asgardian court without its queen is just not right. Frigga was the wisest of us, and I miss her dearly.”

Tony poured himself a coffee while listening to his mourning friend. He sat down next to him and patted Thor's shoulder in what he hoped would be a comforting gesture. Tony wished he could do more but Thor and he weren’t exactly the hugging kind of pals.

“What about Loki? I know your relationship isn't the best, but can't you ease each other's sorrow?”

“Loki neither shares his grief nor his wisdom with me. There was a time… but no longer.”

Thor looked even more haggard now and Tony regretted bringing up the topic.

“Even if Loki were willing, he has left Asgard. Heimdall cannot see him clearly anymore. He has spotted traces of Loki’s magical signature on Midgard, but your realm is a large one.”

Tony’s eyebrow rose.

“Interesting how Earth and us mortals seemed to have grown on him as we have on you. Do you have a clue where that comes from?”

Thor shrugged.

“You know why I am here. This planet gave me a purpose as an Avenger, which is worth more than solely being crown prince of Asgard. I was lucky, as I found my beloved Jane on the way.”

Thor looked pleased before his gaze became thoughtful again.

“What Loki seeks on Midgard I do not know.”

“Well, as the only representative of Earth’s population currently present, I’ll take the compliment honoring our fascinating globe,” Tony said with a cheeky grin. “Don’t worry about Loki. I’m sure he won’t lay low for long.”

“That is not as a reassuring thought as it might have been intended to be.”

“Ah, and here I was hoping you wouldn’t say that.”

>∇<

He woke up on a cot with a tube in his nose, dull pain radiating in his chest. In his panic he nearly fell off it when he realized that wires were attached to a construction imbedded in his thorax, right next to his heart. There was someone with him in this… cave. A man in a three-piece suit with a grayed goatee and retreating hair who watched him with a mixture of condemnation, admiration and pity in his eyes.

The man explained what had happened. Told him about projectile shards of his own weapons buried in his chest, which would creep towards his heart if they weren’t kept from it by this frail magnetic contraption. His life depended on a car battery. That was so not cool.

The scenery changed. His senses were dimmed now by a suit of armor—helmet and facepalm included. It was heavy, and each of his steps clattered on stone when he walked around a corner. He called for his companion and found him bleeding on a pile of bags. Even down, the man shouted at him to watch out as a missile flew past him. He returned the fire and parts of the cave’s ceiling crushed his opponent. But that wasn’t important. Important was the man slumped down. His savior. His confederate.

“Stark”, the man whispered.

Loki jumped awake and stood naked in a fighting stance next to his bed, eyes wide. Inside, his mind silently screamed, ’no no no’. He nearly lost it and evoked more magic than an apartment building in SoHo could stand. Instead, he vanished and resurfaced in Antarctica.

His magic exploded, slush, snow and perpetual ice whirled apart violently. Glazed frost reflected a night sky full of green and red shades of Southern Lights. It was so cold that he’d instinctively dropped his glamour and turned Jotun.

How fitting, him, a Frost Giant, standing nude in a desert of ice like the ferocious and monstrous beast he was. He laughed so madly that tears rolled down his cheeks and he couldn’t hold his posture any longer. Loki sank down, scraping his knee on chiseled shards of ice.

Well, there was always room left for a new low in his life. Like the sheer impossibility of sharing dreams with Iron Man. Dreams that were probably memories as Loki clearly recalled how he had thrown the man out of his own tower. Ironic that he knew now how that had felt. Billions of humans and he saw Stark’s nightmares.

He searched his mind for an explanation and finally remembered a moment from weeks ago, when he and Stark had been hit by Amora’s blast of magic. He and Stark. By the Norns, did that mean Stark had shared memories of his?

Outraged, he buried his face in his palms. And even though he wanted to destroy the icebergs around him, wanted to scream his fury into the night until his voice failed, Loki did none of it. He just knelt on the ice and clutched at his head.

A lonesome blue figure with strange markings on their skin, glinting green, blue, purple and red from the eerie lights in the sky.

The worst thing of all was that Loki was disappointed. He was downright crestfallen that it was Stark whose memories he got to relive in his sleep. He'd thought there had been a linkage with this mysterious man of his dreams, but it was nothing more than one of his illusions. Unreal, transient, a lie. The God of Lies had fallen for a sham. The urge to roar with insane laughter arose anew.

Loki kept it at bay.

He had to do something, otherwise he'd drive himself into a frenzy of new proportions. And whatever that led to, Loki knew neither the All-Father nor any other might in or beyond the Nine Realms would spare him again.

>∇<

It was nearly midnight, and Tony was testing a new formula of frost-and-heat-resistant oil he had invented with Bruce, when J.A.R.V.I.S. called.

“Sir, Mr. Laufeyson has risen the perimeter alarm on the roof.”

A heart was in his throat. Loki’s coming had been inevitable, and he had prepared J.A.R.V.I.S. and his newest suit. He still felt woefully unarmed.

“Sir?”

“I’m on my way,” said Tony and got in the waiting elevator.

“Wouldn’t it be better to call for backup?”

Tony checked that the little titanium-gold alloy plate, resting against the back of his hand, was on.

“Nah, I’m sure he’s not gonna throw me from the tower again. Maybe he’ll freeze me this time?”

“That’s reassuring, sir.”

Tony couldn’t retort anymore as the door opened on the tower’s top floor. Loki stood at the roof’s edge in his Asgardian battle gear, his back turned on Tony. He gaze was directed south and just for a second Tony wondered what he was looking for.

Tony shuddered when the cold November night wind hit him.

“To what do I owe the pleasure, Rock of Ages?”

“Rumor has it you are a smart one, Stark. Can’t you guess why I am here?”

“Ah, there’s this earthly custom called small talk, Reindeer Games. Even enemies can have a polite conversation. Like, you want something. I want something. We chat about the weather or anything equally unimportant at first to ease our way into more profound talk, and hopefully settle the matter. I could even offer you a drink again, but only if you behave. No shattered windows, smashed floors or crushed buildings afterwards,” Tony said with a smirk and watched for a reaction.

Loki’s face was an impeccable mask, only his sharp green eyes scrutinized Tony. Who in turn refused to drop his gaze. The man, god, ah he really had to made up his mind about how to refer to Loki, had come for him, and he wouldn’t give in and cut to the chase. Tony waited... and finally a flicker of unease fluttered over Loki’s features.

“You are in my dreams, Stark.”

“Nope, you’re in mine.”

Loki flinched slightly, but other than that he just looked resigned. Tony realized he’d feared for that admission. So, it didn’t come as a surprise, and yet Loki was unsettled. Thinking about his nightmares, which were so often triggered by painful memories he’d buried deep inside, Tony could relate. If Loki had seen as revealing stuff about him as he’d relived these past weeks… shit, they were fucked.

“Where does this dream sharing, or whatever we do in each other’s heads while sleeping, come from?”

“We both were struck by Amora’s magic. As far as I can tell it wasn’t an elaborate spell she cast, but an accident. That is what makes it disconcerting. It’s nothing I could have learned or heard about before, so I cannot lift or undo it. Though I need to run a few spells on us to know for sure.”

Tony was dumbfounded and in his attempt to distract himself blurted, “us?”

“Yes, Stark, you and me.”

Loki’s eyes dissected him like he was a worm, not worth his time and even less his explanations. Tony’s hackles raised.

“I’m flattered, Lokes, but there’s no us. A bit of dream sharing or me looking at your pretty face doesn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy about you. I mean, I’m still super pissed about your vain attempt at conquering our world and don’t get me started on you throwing me out of my own tower and now—”

“Do me a favor, and shut up.”

Loki’s command only made Tony feel more mutinous. Tony wasn't great at doing what he was told.

“So, you think you can invade our world and then my dreams with your disturbing shit, and when you show up you demand to perform magic on me? You’ve gotta be fucking kiddin’ me.”

Tony was close to pushing the asshole from the roof, which would be a nice change of pace. It must have shown in his posture or in his eyes because Loki raised his hands in surrender.

“Relax. I don’t mean any harm at the moment. It is troublesome to share your memories, and you can be sure you are not the only one eager to get rid of this connection between us.”

“Well, what can I say. Reliving your memoirs isn’t a piece of cake either.”

Loki ignored Tony’s prodding for information.

“Let us strike a deal then. We need to learn what went wrong with Amora’s magic and how it is linking us together before we can cut the connection.”

“Okay, deal then,” Tony said and put out his hand.

Loki seemed to be familiar with this gesture and tentatively reached for Tony’s hand in return.

It was strange to touch the demi-god's pallid, long fingers with no ill intent. They were cold and Tony studied them in the wan moonlight to examine if there were any markings visible. There weren’t. He remembered the blue skin he’d seen in his dream and spoke without any brain-to-mouth filter.

“I always thought you were mad, but to be honest, I’m astonished you're as sane as you are, Indigo Boy.”

Tony realized his mistake when Loki jerked as if slapped in the face and the long fingers were drawn back like Tony’s hand had turned into a toxic rattlesnake.

Apparently Loki’s heritage was still a sore point. So yeah, fuck. Fuckety-fuck.

“Shit. Loki, wait, pl—” but it was already too late.

A flash of green light and Tony stood alone on the roof.

>∇<

This time Loki knew whose memory he shared. Unable to change or leave he had no other option but to live through it. It was blurrier than the others as if it had lain idle, waiting deep down for him to pluck it out.

He stood in a lush corridor on an oriental carpet, surrounded by dark paneling that merged into cream wallpaper with a golden trim. Everything looked huge, and his head barely reached the junction between wood and paper.

He was elated as he had just finished to build his first bot. Today was his ninth birthday and he wanted to show it off to his family. A smile adorned his face while he thought about his success. He turned a corner and hurried down the hallway towards his parents, who were talking in the adjacent living room.

They were quarreling, which put a damper on his excitement. It went downhill from there.

“Howard, it’s Tony’s birthday and you promised we would be here to celebrate with him.” The mother huffed in exasperation and the boy's spirit sank further.

“You know how important this deal is for Stark Industries, Maria. We’ll make it up to Tony in a few days.”

“Do I really need to go along with you? I was looking forward to having a party with our son and seeing his finished project. Tony worked hard on this robot these past months. He reminds me so much of you when he gets obsessed about his inventions. I'm sure you can relate.”

He could picture his mother’s fond smile, which was only ever half intended for him.

“Ah, yes. But you know these Canadian investors with their wives in tow. They want the full touristy package. You can take Esther out on a sightseeing tour and don't forget to go shopping. If she's more the artsy type take her to the new exhibition at the Met. Abraham and I will go and see the Yankees tomorrow at lunch.”

His mother agreed reluctantly.

It wasn’t the first time his parents would leave him in another's care, but it hadn’t happened over his birthday before. Tony shouldn’t be surprised, as each and everyone were more important than him. Still his vision turned blurry and a single tear rolled down his cheek before he angrily wiped it away. Crying didn’t help or change a thing. Silently he turned and went to hide.

When his mother called him later Tony didn’t leave his lair.

A sheen of sweat coated Loki’s body when he woke up. His mouth was dry and yearned for something to drink. Summoning a gray silken dressing gown, Loki sauntered into the kitchen and put the kettle on. Over these past weeks he’d grown fond of chamomile tea whenever his nerves were frayed. While the tea steeped Loki paced the apartment.

This was getting ludicrous. Stark was an enemy, and Loki had deemed him unimportant until recently. Now, Loki was pursued by the man’s memories at night, and as if that wasn’t enough, his waking thoughts revolved around the human in abundance. Loki had avouched their tie to be a sham after their disastrous meeting. He had told himself the impertinent man was not worth his time or effort. That he’d solve the problem alone as he was used to, and Stark was someone not to be involved with.

A single memory later Loki had come to realize that he’d even more in common with Stark. The other’s father was a dead loss as well. From what he had witnessed, he gathered that the mother had in likelihood tried to make up for it and hadn’t been more successful in doing so than his own had. The parallels were undreamt of.

Loki sneered at himself about his unfortunate choice of words.

With his mug of tea in hand Loki took a seat on his supple sofa and picked up a more or less brand new iPad. It might have been immature for a being of thousands of years, yet it had felt pretty good not to choose a Stark device when he’d bought it.

Loki put the knowledge he'd picked up from the archer’s mind to good use and had searched the internet for all kind of helpful things lately. Now he googled this most infuriating human and got a great number of hits. It didn’t take Loki long to catch up on Anthony Edward Stark.

>∇<

When he entered the room, they were kissing, lost to the world around them. It never failed to arouse him, seeing his former wife, Sigyn, and their longtime lover, Angrboða, taking each other apart. Perceptive as they were, his presence didn’t go unnoticed for long. Two pairs of eyes, one amber and one blue, turned on him, and Angrboða even reached for him.

A flicker of sadness washed over him that he must leave these beautiful and generous women behind to pursue his own desires. His longing for grandeur was more than even a goddess and a giantess could fulfill. Loki had loved both of them though. In a way he still did and always would. They were the mothers of his children and his long time companions. At least they would stay with one another and keep themselves happy, no matter what happened to him. If he failed, his children would still have their mothers to look after them.

“Loki, come over and stop your scheming for today.” Sigyn’s husky voice sent shivers down his spine.

“I wasn’t scheming, just thinking.”

“Isn’t that the same with you, darling?” Angrboða’s contagious laughter fizzed through their chamber, and Loki was powerless to contain his own smile.

“Maybe you’re right, my dear.”

“Will you join us, love? For old times’ sake.”

Loki’s breath hitched imperceptibly, while he moved towards their bed. A bed he’d often shared with them. He would lay with his women one last time and savor it. Certain parts of his body were eager to proceed, but there was no rush. Not today. He sank down, two pairs of arms already waiting for him.

Tony slept peacefully through the dream till morning.

When he woke, he got half hard just thinking about the details he had shared in Loki’s place during that long gone night with his past lovers. It really had been enlightening. Even a self-declared playboy like him had to confess that he could learn a thing or two from the God of Mischief. Tony was sure that Loki got the name Silvertongue for more reasons than just his ability to lie one’s head off. His prowess could definitely be applied elsewhere.

The ladies had been real beauties. Especially Angrboða, with her dark skin and those enticing amber eyes. Sigyn, a ginger with blue eyes, reminded Tony too much of Pepper to admire her unrestrainedly, but he saw why Loki had fallen for both of them.

The rising of his dick made Tony aware that his briefs already stuck uncomfortably to his skin. He couldn’t even remember the last time that had happened while he’d spent a night alone.

“Well, I wasn’t alone, was I?”

“Sir?”

“Semantics, J.A.R.V.I.S.. I’ve shared one of Loki's memories again. This one was surprisingly pleasant. Nothing to worry about.”

“I beg to differ. Mr. Laufeyson invading sir’s dreams is of immense concern and, if not all Avengers, at least Thor should be informed.”

“And how would that help, Jarv? You heard Loki. Even he doesn’t know what went wrong with that spell. I can only hope he’ll stop his sulking soon so we can start to get rid of this magic gone wonky.”

J.A.R.V.I.S.' silence made pretty clear what he thought about Tony’s plans, but it didn’t faze Tony. Even if this particular memory had been a nice one, he wanted to get rid of this link between them.

“You know what to do when he comes over, Jarv?” Tony had to be sure he and his A.I. were on the same page.

“Yes, sir. I’ll grant him access and direct him to your workshop or somewhere equally quiet.”

“It’s good to know I can count on you.”

Later Tony browsed the internet for hours about Norse mythology. And if the search terms Sigyn and Angrboða came up once or twice, only J.A.R.V.I.S. knew, and he wouldn’t tell a soul.

>∇<

“Sir, Mr. Laufeyson is here.”

“Where?”

“As Dr. Banner is due to pick up some of the new oil samples from the lab later, I’ve directed him to the living room in your quarters.”

“Ah Jarv, you want to get us all cozy, don’t you?” Tony chuckled. “Where are the others?”

“Mr. Barton is at the firing range, Mr. Odinson is in New Mexico, Miss Romanov and Captain Rogers are on a S.H.I.E.L.D. mission and Mr. Banner stepped out for a few hours.”

“No nosy agents to disturb us then. Tell him I’m on my way.”

“Yes, sir.”

Tony vowed that this meeting would go more smoothly. He and Loki needed to cooperate, and even if they both had egos bigger than his tower, they should be able to put their animosities aside for a while. He’d even try to cut the epithets for today.

He reached his floor, took a calming breath when he felt the assuring weight of metal twining around his hand, and walked into his living room.

Loki sat on a sofa, which had to be J.A.R.V.I.S.’ credit. Tony’s gaze swept over him approvingly. The demi-god wore human clothes: polished chukka boots, tight black slacks, and a sapphire cashmere sweater. Half of his shining dark hair was twisted into a man bun, which made for a strangely human look on Loki.

Fucking hell, Tony chastised himself, this wasn’t the time to muse about Loki’s fashion sense or his general attractiveness. It took a bit of willpower not to think about the miles of creamy skin that were hidden under his attire.

“I’m glad you’re here.” Thankfully Tony’s voice sounded unaffected.

“Yes, it is inconvenient, to say the least, to share these memories.”

Tony coughed slightly and sought refuge in one of his trademark smirks, “yeah, you could say that.”

He needed a drink. Scotch was definitely a good idea. Tony walked to his bar.

“Mmh, do you want a drink?”

“No, thank you, Anthony.”

Tony nearly missed the soft voiced use of his given name because he was clinking bottles while searching for his favorite. Then it hit him, his jaw dropped, and he stared at Loki.

“What?” The god looked slightly irritated. “That is your name, is it not?”

“Ah, well. Didn't know we've reached first name base already, but yeah, call me Tony.”

He poured himself a generous drink.

“If you don't mind, I’ll stick with Anthony.” Loki shot him a small smile.

Tony was speechless. He downed his glass and filled it again.

“Sure, Lokes, go ahead.” Fuck the no epithets rule. If he was Anthony now, everything was game.

The warmth of the alcohol spread in his stomach and helped him to focus. Tony walked back to Loki, casually taking the whiskey glass with him. He sank down on the opposite sofa.

“What’s gonna happen now? You said something about tests you’d need to… ah, cast?”

He wasn’t sure it’d be a good idea to let the other do his voodoo on him. Loki hadn’t caused mayhem in a while, but he was the Trickster after all.

Speaking of the devil, Loki caught Tony’s distress—his eyes going all deer in headlights had probably been a hint.

“This is not going to work if you don’t trust me not to harm you. Shall I swear on something or someone that I won’t enchant you? What if your all-knowing machine bears witness? Would that help to put you at ease?”

If he weren’t so jittery about the magic thingy, Tony would have loved to see Loki as he was. Clearly impatient, but also restraining his princely self to make it work between them. And actually seeing Loki try was what won him over in the end.

“Yeah, come to think of it, a promise would make me feel better.”

Loki smirked, but didn’t comment on him being a chickenshit when it came to magic.

“I solemnly swear that I won’t do you any harm magically or otherwise… mmh, in this tower. Will that be sufficient?”

“Thanks. Yes. I get that outside all bets are off. Yet it’s nice to know there’s no defenestration looming on the horizon.”

Tony felt better and suddenly he was eager to get started.

“J.A.R.V.I.S., has Bruce picked up the samples?”

“Yes, he left the lab 15 minutes ago.”

Tony emptied his glass, stood up, and beckoned Loki to follow him.

“Great. Come on then, Reindeer Games. My workshop’s the best place to do your mumbo jumbo. Nobody’s gonna disturb us there.”

“It’s magic, not—”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. If you’re going to perform voodoo on me, I get to call it what I want.”

Loki snorted at that, but complied. Together they went down to Tony’s sanctuary.

>∇<

When Loki saw out of the corner of his eye how long it took the mortal at his side to enter the access code with flying fingers into the keypad, it dawned upon him how important this workplace was to the man next to him. Funny that such a restricted and secretive person had invited a bunch of people to live with him. And now he'd granted Loki entry as well. Loki had already sworn to not harm Stark, but he would do his best to not betray the man’s trust in him either.

The place was huge and Loki tried to make sense of all the things he saw. There were lots of glass screens coming to life while they walked into the room. One wall held a collection of different Iron Man suits, off to the side there were several robotic arms surrounded by some kind of force field, and at the end there was a spartan desk that held an abundance of different types of screens. An autonomic robot, not as shiny as everything else, floated towards Stark and beeped questioningly.

“No, Dum-E, I don’t need your help right now.”

The robot’s beeps turned from eager to sad, and Loki caught himself feeling sorry for... a machine. He shook his head to concentrate on the task at hand.

“Do you need me to lie down or be still when you perform your magic?”

“No. Technically, it would be best if you could do something else and forget about me while I scan the both of us.”

Stark shot him a quizzical look which only served to bring Loki’s own nervousness to the front. He sighed.

“What if you put this robot to use? Or, I don’t know, screw something together.”

The man still didn't do a thing.

“By the Norns, what would you do if I wasn’t here?”

“Uhh… run some tests on the joints of my suit?”

“You’re not asking me what to do in your own workshop, are you?”

“Mr. Laufeyson has got a point, sir.”

“J.A.R.V.I.S., you traitor, siding with the enemy,” Stark grumbled half-heartedly at his invisible servant, and Loki had to suppress a smile.

It worked though. While Stark ran back and forth to collect the things he needed, mumbling to himself on the way, he gained his equilibrium back. Loki observed how agile he moved. It was startling to see him like this in comparison to the suited Iron Man who was fast too, but more massive and less elegant. For a minute or so Loki got lost in watching small, but strong and swift fingers at work before he pulled himself together.

Loki breathed in and out for some time and focused on his magic. Its warm and bright power filled his mind like a deep green pool. First he directed it at his own body to see if everything was as it should be. On a glimpse he didn't find anything abnormal. Then he wove strands together and let them gently spiral towards Stark.

The moment they reached him, Stark’s eyes dilated, but other than that, the man didn’t react. That was unusual in itself. Such scans weren’t normally registered by the scanned person if they weren’t magicians themselves. And… oh, there was a piece of Loki’s own green essence in Stark’s mind.

Loki had to take some deep breaths to stay calm. He concentrated on Stark’s essence, which gleamed more red than golden, without any green hues. Then he levelled his magic back on himself. It was easy to overlook, this slight red pit in-between so much glimmering green, but it was there. A little ruby in a sea of emeralds and malachites.

He had no clue how, but Amora had transferred part of each of their essences into the other. Hardly surprising that they shared dreams and memories whenever their brains were at rest. It was a wonder there hadn’t been more effects.

Loki remembered his mother’s words, and those of every other magician who had ever taught him, that you never ever messed around with someone’s essence. You could alter minds, create hallucinations, torture bodies. Even the Mad Titan and his skeletal lackey hadn’t tried to amend his being. By accident or not, Amora had done the unthinkable— To Hel with the damn woman.

Loki didn’t even know where to begin to set this right.

He swayed on his feet. An undignified wail escaped Loki when something hard hit his side and knocked him over.

>∇<

“Loki? C’mon man, talk to me.”

Tony waved his hands before Loki’s face without any success. Loki stared unfocused into space until he shivered and became aware of Tony’s antics and his position, lying flat out on a horizontal surface.

“What…”

Loki frowned. Beads of sweat appeared on his face and his complexion became more ashen when he finally forced out his question.

“... What did you do, Stark?”

Tony held up his hands in a universal non-threatening gesture.

“Wasn’t me. Whatever you saw while doing your hocus-pocus made you stagger and Dum-E wanted to help you. He might have been too eager and knocked you out instead. You bumped your head and—”

“Sir, my scans show Mr. Laufeyson has got an occipital lesion which might need Dr. Banner’s care.”

“Shit. Dum-E, you dolt, bring me an ice pack. A bag of peas would do too.”

The bot hummed, eager to remedy his mistake, and slid back into the lab towards the fridge. In the meantime Loki’d closed his eyes and, as far as Tony saw, inhaled in a deep and steady rhythm.

“Loki, look at me. I dunno how hard a Frost Giant’s skull is, so I need your help here. Keep breathing and don’t move… and keep your eyes open... Ah look, there’s Dum-E bringing ice. C’mon let’s put it on your bump.”

Tony gently raised Loki’s head and felt for the forming lump. Loki hissed when his fingertips brushed its edges, and Tony carefully placed the washcloth filled with crushed ice on the notable swelling. Meanwhile he rambled on because being near an uncharacteristically silent Loki made him extra nervous.

“Mmh, I thought your hair’d be soft. It looks much better like this than this slicked megalomanic style you wore before. I also like the bun. It adds a human touch, even if you aren’t. Human, I mean—”

“Anthony, your babbling would be atrocious if you weren’t trying to be nice to me now that I have been knocked out by one of your foolish creations.”

Tony chuckled, but complained for good measure. “Don’t you insult Dum-E. He was the first bot I ever built.”

Loki’s expressions shifted too fast to be readable, but Tony could have sworn one of them was... sympathy. And while his green eyes scrutinized Dum-E, Loki said oddly, “Oh, that’s him.”

J.A.R.V.I.S., always observant, noticed how perplexed Tony was about Loki’s strange behavior.

“Consensual light reflexes are good, heart and breathing rate normal, and Mr. Laufeyson is attentive. Mr. Banner’s involvement might not be necessary. I would still suggest that Mr. Laufeyson spend the night at the tower. He should rest, but not sleep too deeply. You know what to do, sir?”

“Yes. Lokes, I’ll need to wake you up every few hours tonight and take a look at your pupils. Can’t have your divinely brain bleeding to pulp on my watch.”

“I’m feeling slightly dizzy, but think I could heal myself just fine.”

“Nope, not happening. I don’t know shit about magic, but am sure Thor would give me a beating if I let you try to heal yourself with you being light-headed in the first place.”

To avoid further discussions Tony ignored Loki’s glare at the aforementioned brother and tried to distract him.

“Jarv, is the coast clear?”

“Yes, sir.”

He picked Loki up bridal style from the cot. And before the slim, wiry man could even voice a complaint, Tony walked towards the elevator, his burden pressed securely against his chest.

“’kay, you haven’t told me what made you go all Victorian on me in the first place. Don’t bother beating around the bush and just tell me what you saw.”

And Loki did.

>∇<

He sank into her, tilting his hips until he found the right angle. The one that made her sigh. One hand cradled long ginger strands while his mouth wandered from her collarbone to her jawline, licking and nipping at pale, freckled skin. Her nails dug into his shoulder blades when he found her mouth. Pepper loved kissing, and he loved her.

The dreamscape changed. He stood in a dark alcove, leaning against a wall to support his inebriated body. Briefs and pants pooled around his calves and an eager mouth sucked his sluggish dick. The twink moaned like a street hooker and though Tony found the sounds grotesque, the vibrations brought his flesh to life. The kneeling man doubled his efforts. Tony grabbed short brown locks, mostly to hold onto something. Nimble fingers fondled his balls, others stroked the base of his shaft while a wet tongue played with his head. He wished for a deeper, more intimate connection, but not here and hidden in murky shadows like this. The fantasy helped nonetheless. Short little groans escaped him before he spilled his seed into the man’s mouth.

Loki woke up disoriented, lying on an unfamiliar bed. Then he remembered where he was and why he lived through memories that weren’t his.

Witnessing Stark’s emotional state during his coupling was irksome. It wasn’t his reputation as a playboy, but rather the crass difference between the two memories. Warm and tender love making in contrast to a lackluster encounter that—in all likeliness—had left a bad taste in Stark’s mouth.

The last time Loki had had sex had been as a sorry affair as Stark’s with that nameless man. They were both loners—which somehow made it worse to have access to the other’s mind. It was like looking into a mirror instead into someone else’s life.

>∇<

Tony knocked softly at Loki’s door and slipped inside. He waved J.A.R.V.I.S. to turn on dim lights and saw how Loki tensed and shut his eyes to avoid the sudden brightness. Tony walked towards the bed.

“How do you feel?”

“Like I’ve been hit by a Bilgesnipe.”

“That’s no truck, is it?”

“No. Bilgesnipes are large Asgardian animals with antlers that trample everything standing in their way. They are herbivores, but ferocious and cut to kill, especially when a pack has claves.”

“Let me guess, Asgardian warriors love to hunt them.”

“Smart, aren't they?”

“Indeed.”

Tony laughed. Loki’s eyes were still closed and Tony took the opportunity to admire the view. The sheets were cast aside and Loki had shed his clothes down to a light gray undershirt and black briefs. He had probably 4 inches on Tony. The mile long legs, sinewy form and pale skin gave Tony ideas that weren’t appropriate to have around a former enemy with whom he had a fragile truce. Loki's hair billowed around him on the pillow and Tony remembered that it was as soft as it seemed.

Slowly Tony’s gaze flickered lower to Loki’s covered semi-soft length, which he had seen in full splendor, and his own cock grew in accord. At least he had put on sweatpants to visit and his state wasn’t all that obvious. Thank fuck for small mercies! Tony sat down on the bed, choosing an angle that put his dick as far away from his perceptive guest as possible. He hoped Loki was still too out of it to see his hard-on.

“Okay, Lokes, let me take a short look at your pupils and you can go back to sleep.”

Loki opened his eyes and winced slightly before his brow furrowed with wrinkles.

“Brought some painkillers if you trust me not to poison you.”

“Aesir are hard to poison… Not sure these pills will work either. I shall wait till morning and heal myself.”

Tony bent over Loki’s chest to flash a light into one gleaming green eye at a time. Each pupil constricted like it should, but before he could even voice his satisfaction about Loki’s working reflexes a wave of sharp freshness washed over him. It reminded him of crisp sunny days in snowy Rockies, and of flying in the stratosphere as Iron Man, diving in and through clouds. Tony leant forward and inhaled deeply.

“Uh... Anthony?”

“What?”

When Tony snapped out of it, he blushed scarlet. Well, at least most of his blood wasn’t in his pants anymore, he thought with a macabre sense of humor.

“Sorry, Lokes, won’t happen again. You’re all good. Sleep some more and I’ll be back in a few hours.”

He jumped of the bed and left the guestroom as fast as he could without acting as if all hellhounds were after him.

Tony collapsed in a heap opposite Loki’s door, and groaned when he realized that he had sniffed at the God of Mischief like a mongrel in heat.

>∇<

He hesitated to grab the casket resting on its pedestal. It had rested there undisturbed for more than thousand years, since the day Odin had conquered Jotunheim and put the relic into storage in his vault. Its icy power, shimmered in mesmerizing blue and white swirls, trapped. His fingers hovered haltingly in the air next to it.

He feared the result, because the odds were against him and his desired outcome, and yet he had to know. Had to know how deep the betrayal of those he had been calling family went. He took a deep breath and grasped the casket with firm, strong hands. For a moment nothing happened when he lifted it in the air, and then his hands turned blue, starting at the tip of his fingers. The breath he had held wheezed out of him until someone called him to stop. The one responsible for the darkness slowly uncoiling in him, overtaking his being like slag—Odin All-Father, king of Asgard. The one he had regarded as his father. The god who decidedly wasn’t. Though he felt like crying, he didn’t shed any tears. Instead he turned around and faced Odin—an act of his very own bravery.

The memory carried on, and when Tony finally woke up, he wished it would have happened earlier. Reliving the start had been bad, but listening to Loki questioning Odin about the why and hearing Odin’s answer—which hadn’t helped Loki at all—had been worse. It didn’t lessen Loki’s crimes against Earth, nor did Tony suddenly believe him innocent of all wrongdoing, and yet Tony understood his motivations. In all honesty, Tony had done so for a while, but feeling sympathy for the devil was different than growing to like said devil.

“J.A.R.V.I.S., is it time to check in on Loki again?”

“Yes, sir. It’s 4 o’clock in the morning, and Mr. Laufeyson has slept uninterrupted for nearly three hours now. ”

“Anything else I need to know?”

“No. He took the painkillers after sir left and went back to sleep.”

“Well, good he didn’t plan our demise in the meantime,” Tony deadpanned.

“It is astonishing how sir’s attitude towards Mr. Laufeyson has changed receiving intel on him.”

“I wouldn’t call it intel, but yes, I understand him and his motivations way better now. Actually, I’m astonished that he didn’t become more of a nutcase, now that I’ve seen into his mind. In his shoes I would have tried to take over our world too, and in all likelihood died trying. As far as I could see Loki had nothing to lose.”

“Mr. Stark!”

“What, Jarv? I’m just saying what I’d have done if I were Loki. No harm done by being honest, or by acknowledging my own flaws. You know how mule-headed and self-absorbed I can get.”

“Indeed.”

Tony could only doff his hat to J.A.R.V.I.S., who had managed to convey all his disdain in a single word.

“Well, let’s take a look at our sleeping beauty.”

>∇<

A warm hand on his arm shook him out of his slumber. Its gentleness reminded him of his mother’s or his lovers’ touches, and it took Loki a few seconds to distinguish it was undoubtedly a man’s hand. Its touch felt good though, so he involuntarily seeked more of it by rolling over and burying his nose in it. He breathed in, and a strange mixture hit his nose. One of metal, oil, coffee, underlaid by a body wash containing palisander and musk. He was about to nuzzle the palm and embarrass himself further when he realized whose hand he was molesting.

Loki withdrew, turned around, and hid his flush, facing the wall.

“I am sorry.”

“Don’t be stupid! I’d say we’re square. If you don’t mention my sniffing episode, I won’t tell about yours. Deal?”

Loki knew Stark was letting him get off lightly here, and yet he couldn’t do so himself.

“If we strike any more deals, we will never be able to clear them all.”

The laughter Loki caused with his remark was unintended. It awoke a dizziness in him that had nothing to do with being hit on the head. He turned back to see Stark’s expression, which could only be described as… sincere.

“I have to admit, this is all a little weird.” Stark flourished his hands in the air between them to emphasize the meaning. “Not only that you’re here, resting overnight in my tower, and we've agreed to work together, but that I learn more about you whenever I go to sleep.”

Loki frowned, thinking about the long list of things he had done and wasn’t proud of. Offense was the best defense, and so he asked in his most haughty voice, “does it make you uncomfortable to witness my sins, Stark?”

“Back to Stark, are we?”

The man huffed, while his mesmerizing hands ceased their vivid gestures and came to rest on his lap. A fact Loki felt cheated about.

“Don’t get all princeling on me here. I've seen a bunch of different memories. Most were sad, a few horrible—so far not of your own doing— and only one was akin to what I’d call happiness.” It was difficult for Loki to believe Stark—his body going rigid and tense was probably a giveaway. “I’ve done my fair share of things to be ashamed of and yet I don’t hear you complaining, Lokes.”

“Your memories might have been revealing, but nothing to be worried about. On the contrary, the ones I saw gained you respect I would not have paid you before.”

It was irksome to be so open in front of another being, a former enemy no less. Yet Stark and his mind were beguiling. Loki couldn’t see himself getting enough of the man anytime soon. Thanks to Amora he didn’t have to. It really was not that bad.

“Like I said, we’re on par.”

Loki sighed, but accepted Stark’s verdict with a nod.

“Okay, back to the task at hand. I can already tell you’re feeling better, but I still need to check your reflexes once again. Let’s get it over with.”

And Stark did, with as much respectful distance as he could. Loki had a hard time admitting to himself that he was disappointed about the latter.

“Sleep some more and we’ll brainstorm in the morning, Snow White.”

Stark left his side and crossed the room. Loki wanted to hold him back and was irritated with himself. Hiding his own uneasiness by causing mischief came naturally, and he needed to know anyway.

“How do you feel about horses, Anthony?”

The stunned horror on Stark's face made Loki chortle the moment the other had left the room.

>∇<

”Big man in a suit of armor. Take that off, what are you?”

“Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.”

“I know guys with none of that worth ten of you. Yeah, I've seen the footage.—The only thing you really fight for is yourself. You're not the guy to make the sacrifice play, to lay down on a wire and let the other guy crawl over you.”

“I think I would just cut the wire.”

“Always a way out... You know, you may not be a threat, but you better stop pretending to be a hero.”

“A hero? Like you? You're a lab rat, Rogers. Everything special about you came out of a bottle!”

Loki ran over the conversation he'd witnessed in another dream while he took a shower the next morning. It was hard for him to accept that a man with a mind as brilliant as Stark’s bowed to the discipline of someone like Rogers. Loki hadn't talked to the man himself, and therefore had to hold back until he met him to fully make up his mind. Yet, Loki loathed the type. Do-gooders who didn’t look beyond their beliefs, whose world was only ever black or white. His own worldview was mostly set on a scale of grays. Changeable like smoke, poisonous like lead, and most often a pit of charcoal. At least every once in awhile he mustered a silver lining on the horizon.

He dried himself off with magic. His head was only painful on palpation. When he sank into himself to survey his essence there were only a few opaque streaks of pine green shading the emerald. Loki dealt with it, and then he couldn’t resist searching for Stark’s scarlet essence again. There it was. Tendrils of his mind closed in and grazed it carefully.

Loki stood still before the steamy mirror, an indrawn expression on his face, while he was flying with high speed under a cloudy sky over a churning bay at the same time. It was surreal, and he had trouble processing the two sets of sensory input.

“Loki?”

Stark’s voice was clear in his head, sounding distraught.

“Uh… yes. I didn’t know this would happen when I touched your essence with mine. Better concentrate on your flight. I'll leave you alone…”

“Wait a sec. Can I reach back to you?”

“You might be able to. If you can learn to touch your essence, that is. We should try when you are back on the ground.”

“’kay. See you later.”

Loki opened his eyes and looked at his reflection, while he took deep, steadying breaths. Their connection was much more interesting than he’d thought. More intimidating, too.

>∇<

Tony’s morning had started with his usual two mugs of coffee before he went out in his suit. He often sorted out his cluttered mind with an early flight. Today, he had been flying to the northeast, over the Long Island Sound, looking for humpback whales which had been spotted there two years in a row now.

Suddenly, Loki had been in his head, and somehow Tony in his. Seeing Loki standing clad only in a towel before a bathroom mirror while he had been simultaneously flying towards Fisher’s Island at 100 miles per hour had been stirring. This essence business had created an unplanned, still growing connection between them. It had been strange, but cool talking telepathically to Loki. Though, being unable to do anything about it as Loki caused the problem and was his key to solve it at the same time, was unsettling. No wonder Tony’s peace of mind was coming apart at the seams.

He’d turned around the moment the demi-god had left him alone, and now he was back on the roof of his tower, pulling off his suit.

“Where’s Loki, Jarv?”

“Mr. Laufeyson is in your kitchen, preparing breakfast.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No, sir, he’s making pancakes.”

“I hope you’re taking pictures from all angles. That’s worth preserving.”

“He even flips them, Mr. Stark.”

Tony laughed out loud, and hurried to see that for himself. When he rounded the corner to the kitchen, he was greeted by the divine smell of fresh pancakes. His stomach growled in response.

Tony propped against the doorframe and watched the proceedings. Loki stood before the stove, sliding the frying pan over the cooktop. He lifted it, flipped a honey-colored cake through the air, and caught it in motion.

Tony wanted to applaud, but became distracted by Loki’s outfit. He must have conjured new clothes, or transformed the old ones. He hadn’t worn dark blue chinos that clung to his ass, nor a white v-neck shirt yesterday. Neither had his hair been bound into a ponytail. This cascade of black waves was dangerously alluring, much more than the greasy conqueror hairdo. Fuck, seeing Loki dressed up like a GQ model wasn't something he'd get used to soon.

“Do you want to watch me some more, or are you going to join me at the table?”

“Forgive my ogling, but it’s kind of mind-boggling to see you cook.” Ah, the perks of being a jackass and being able to feign an excuse when needed.

“Why? I’ve had enough time to practice over the years.”

“Well, I’m nearly hopeless in a kitchen, though I manage toast and eggs and brew some hella good coffee. But I was thinking of Thor, who's totally out of his depth when it comes to more than mixing cereals and milk.”

Loki snorted derisively, and Tony raised a hand in a calming gesture.

“No offense meant! I don’t know that many extraterrestrial beings and even less about their eating habits.”

“I assure you, we eat similar to humans. The only beings in the Nine Realms with different eating habits are the Fire Demons of Muspelheim and—trust me—you don’t want to know more about their diet.”

Loki beckoned him to the table, Tony sauntered over and sat down face-to-face. His eyes lit up. There were even blueberry pancakes.

>∇<

Loki was scraping off residues of maple syrup from his plate with the last piece of pancake. He watched Stark eating his third blueberry pancake. It had been a good idea to ask J.A.R.V.I.S. about the man’s favorite foods. He smirked, watching Stark eating with enthusiasm but—unlike Thor—not forgetting about his manners and still using cutlery and his napkin.

“What happened this morning?”

Loki blinked, jolted out of his thoughts.

“As I said earlier, I became curious about your essence and touched it with my own. The result was perplexing, as I’ve never heard about magically shared visions combined with telepathy. It’s intriguing—”

“Are you telling me we are even more super-duper special than we thought?”

“Yes, Anthony. I do not have to tell you that both our egos are already big enough and don’t need another boost, but we do have some unique connection here. Think about it. Maybe these skills can be used separately, or we might be able to focus both on the things one of us sees. We should experiment.”

Loki saw Stark giving him a conspiratorial smile and smirked back.

“It’d be better to test these skills when we’re in close vicinity. It was a bit frightening to see you standing in a bathroom while I was flying. Could have crashed badly if I’d still been near the city’s skyscrapers.”

“I agree. You will need meditation techniques to learn more about your essence anyway. Only when you’ve mastered the ability to reach yours, will you be skillful enough to get a hold of mine.”

“Let’s hope it works similar to my projects, as I’ve no problem focusing on them. Not like I do when something’s boring. Telepathy has its appeal though.”

“What are your plans for today? Can you take a few days off from your company’s duties?”

“How do you… ah no, I don’t want to know. I have to talk to Pepper. If I can get away, Fury or Cap will have to be informed. Just about my absence, no further details.” Stark looked at him quizzically and added, “please tell me it has nothing to do with horses.”

It was a close thing for Loki not to burst out laughing, but he saw genuine fear lingering in the dark brown eyes. If someone had told him a few days ago that Anthony Stark was afraid of as harmless an animal as a horse, he would have laughed mercilessly, but times had changed. He actually was sorry that he had teased him about it last night, but he hadn’t known.

“I am afraid, Anthony, that horses will be involved. There’s an elven sorceress I would like to talk to about our problem. She was my teacher for some time and lives in the Enchanted Forest of Alfheim. We can’t reach her without riding through the woods. Shall I swear that I will watch out for you, and no harm will befall you in my custody?”

Interestingly, a blush crept up Stark’s cheeks, barely visible through his goatee and tanned skin. Loki was extremely curious about it, but he knew if he asked, Stark would shrink back into his shell. They had just started to warm up to each other; better to let sleeping dogs lie.

Stark hemmed before he spoke.

“Can’t say I’m happy to meet one of these four-legged gigantic hay eaters up close. Come to think of it, J.A.R.V.I.S. heard you, and you want that piece of essence back unharmed, therefore you will take good care of me. Yeah, I’m game.”

“Sir, you should tell Mr. Odinson or Mr. Rogers about your plans.”

Stark’s grimace mirrored his own. Before he could even decline the voice’s idea, Stark rejected it himself.

“Let’s talk to Pepper, first. Lokes, meet me again this afternoon. Around 5? I’ll have cleared my schedule and we can try whatever meditation might help to get a grip on my inner doohickey.”

Loki nodded and flicked his hand. A moment later dirty dishes, countertop, and oven were cleaned and all things were back to where they belonged.

“Wow. That’s a way to show off your magic. Thanks!”

“You are welcome, Anthony,” and with a familiar, radiating green light Loki was gone.

>∇<

It was ten to five and Tony paced through his living room. His wish to take a few days off from his duties of Starks Industries and avenging had caused Pepper and Fury to ask a hell lot of questions. He’d only answered the necessary minimum and had been vague about what he was going to do. Both hadn’t been impressed with his stalling tactics, but hadn’t argued, as they knew how secretive he got sometimes.

Pepper had played the I’m your ex-girlfriend and CEO card, and to his own astonishment he hadn’t given in. To this day, thinking about their failed relationship was hard, but it wasn’t the guilt trip it had been for a while anymore. She was someone to rely on, and even made fun of him again. Pepper had hugged him goodbye and had whispered conspiratorially into his ear to enjoy himself and his company, as if Tony was eloping on a love trip.

A convenient side effect of Fury knowing about his absence was that Clint and Bruce had been sent out on a mission around noon, and the stories in his tower, normally swarmed by his teammates, were all abandoned now. He didn’t have to fear someone would run into him and Loki while he did Calisthenics, Yoga, or whatever one did when they wanted to get a grip on their essence.

His scientific brain still struggled with the esoteric concept. But the fact that he had talked to and seen Loki while he had been some hundred miles away from him was hard evidence to disperse.

“Anthony!”

“Jesus fucking Christ, my heart’s too worn out for you to creep up on me like this.”

“I called you several times, but you were striding the room lost in thoughts.”

“Ah, well, I’m afraid the prospect of practicing meditation doesn't really have a calming effect on me.”

“It thought this might happen, but do not fear. We will manage.”

If he didn’t know Loki better by now, he would have gone on the run seeing the fierce gleam in his eyes. Being gripped by his wrist and dragged towards the elevator with vigor came as a surprise nonetheless.

“I’ll be rubbish at this.”

“Stop whining, Anthony.”

“Ah, I’m wounded. Just when I thought we were becoming BFFs.”

The elevator stopped at his workshop level and not, as Tony had expected, at the training rooms.

“When did J.A.R.V.I.S. start listening to you?”

“It’s common knowledge that one should start new exercises in familiar surroundings, sir.”

Loki summoned mats, thicker and not as jarring as Pepper’s yoga mat had been. He put them on the floor next to the calming lights of Tony’s suits display. Loki’s clothes changed to what must have been the Aesir version of black workout clothes, and Tony ceased to care about his surroundings. Loki didn’t wear an old Led Zeppelin tee and sweatpants like Tony did, but some sort of strange pants. They weren’t skin tight, neither loose, and probably had a fancy name. They left just enough leeway to show the ripple of muscles when Loki sank down gracefully into a cross-legged position. Same with the shirt. It was distracting. As were the ten seconds it took Loki to snatch up his hair and tie it into a bun again. Tony let out a long-suffering sigh.

“Come and sit down.”

“Next to you or across?”

“Stark, will you just move?

“Yeah, yeah, whatever.”

Tony sank down opposite Loki, as sylphlike as a walrus. Loki, in turn, shuffled closer until his knees brushed Tony’s.

“Our essence swap comes in handy now, as I can show you how your mind should feel when meditating. I assume, once you know what you are looking for, it is going to be much easier to reach the mindfulness needed. Close your eyes.”

Tony did, and nearly gave a jump when Loki’s fiendishly long and cold fingers grabbed his hands.

“Now recite all metals and their proton numbers in your head and try to focus on your breathing while doing so. I am aware they are sorted into different groups, but we are not going to talk about chemical properties now. Just do it.”

For a second Tony was baffled that Loki even knew about the periodic table, but then he wanted to see how far he would get. It’d been awhile since Tony had last looked at one in Bruce’s lab. But he was a genius, and Iron Man, and he knew his shit about metals.

Tony had just started with the alkaline earth metals when Loki’s serene presence popped up in his head and followed his progress.

This is weird.

Keep going and focus more on your breathing than the elements.

Tony didn’t bother to start with the transition metals as his slow breathing kept him in this loosened state. Loki’s calm helped further.

They’re just a means to an end?

Exactly. At first you will need something to focus on to relax. Reciting primes might work for you too.

Tony chuckled inwardly, and felt Loki’s mirth along with his own. Sharing laughter wordlessly was extraordinary, and Tony became curious about what else he could do.

How do I recognize my essence, or yours?

It might look different for you than it does for me. Essences are layers of colors and gems for me. Mine for example is emerald and malachite green. If something’s wrong with me, like that concussion yesterday, it turns darker and blurry.

What color’s mine?

Ruby-red.

You’re shitting me.

No. Yours has the color of your suit, mine the color of my magic. I have never thought about it, but we are walking clichés.

Tony chortled silently, no actual sounds were leaving his mouth. Loki let him, but turned serious again.

We are not finished. As I said, I am not sure how your essence will look for you. It is most certainly sensual. Look for colors, sounds, smells, textures… Try to focus on yourself, and search for things that make you unique.

Tony tried. His breath flowed in and out, and he focused on himself. The usual buzz of thoughts wasn't tumbling in more than one direction at once, however it wasn’t quiet either. Tony’s brain wasn’t meant to be quiet, and that was kind of the key.

His essence—how wonderful—was music. Rock music with elements of metal. Distorted riffs of guitars and fast beating drums were amplifying each other to wild crescendos. It was just the music, no vocals, and it vibrated through him like it did when he had the speakers on full blast while working on his suits.

It’s music, Lokes, and it’s gorgeous.

Yes, that fits. It is loud and variegated?

Tony wanted to appear indignant, instead he collapsed into a fit of giggles. And there went his concentration. He blinked his eyes open and was met with a starring green gaze.

“Try again. Look for music that doesn’t fit your own. It might be wild too.”

Loki grinned at him, not with his evil, I’m-insane-smile, but a smaller amused one. It was fetching. Yet, Tony shut his eyes, and searched for his essence again. It took three deep breaths, thinking about Scandium, Titanium and Vanadium, until he found it again. And then he was searching for music that wasn’t his own. He flew along bass lines, jumped from one high-pitched harmony to the next, and raced slalom between earth shattering drum beats.

Ah, wait. There. His own essence came along as hard rock music of the 1970's variety. Funnily enough, Loki’s essence was modern rock music. It was more pushy, even cacophonic. It reminded Tony of circle and mosh pits. It was angrier than his own, but the longer he listened the more melodic it became.

Your essence sounds like a mixture of punk and alternative rock. Not as cool as mine, of course, but I really like it.

I aim to please. Though I am not well acquainted with human music of the last thousand years, I will look these terms up. You have done well, Anthony. Let us take a break.

Lemme try one more thing.

Tony reached for his music while concentrating on Loki’s. His melody followed his call and meddled with Loki’s harder beats. For a second both essences threatened to slip from his grasp, but then he got them. Tony opened his eyes and saw simultaneously his and Loki’s face.

Whoa, that’s disconcerting.

There must be way for us to just see the other’s view, but that is a task for another day. We have been working on this for hours now. Are you not exhausted?

The moment Loki asked, Tony’s concentration faltered, and he felt dog-tired as if he had been walking around in his suit for a day without any repulsors on to help him lifting its weight. He swayed and Loki’s strong fingers grabbed him before he could collapse. Tony’s head sank against Loki’s shoulder, his eyes falling shut again.

“Do you need to lay down?”

He shook his head, but couldn't manage much more than to rub his nose into the crook above Loki’s collarbone. Tony had forgotten how near Loki sat. He inhaled Loki’s fresh fragrance of fallen snow and opened his eyes.

The demi-god was really fucking handsome up close. Tony drank in Loki's high cheekbones, the slim nose, and clear Victorian complexion, and licked his lips. Loki’s eyes flickered down, following his movement, and Tony desperately wanted to close these few inches between them. Fuck caution, he thought, raised his head, and met cool and smooth lips.

>∇<

Anthony kissed him. He kissed Loki even though he had seen Loki's true, blue self. The mortal knew about his despised heritage, and yet his tongue had coaxed its way into Loki’s mouth with little licks over the seam of his lips. Loki hadn’t kissed anybody in a while, but his brain, mouth, and tongue remembered how to react to such an onslaught of warm wet heat. It was a minor wonder that the most demanding and brash human he had ever met accepted all Loki was. A man he’d thrown out of a window, who had shared his memories and thoughts, and he was still kissing him as if Loki tasted sweeter than Idunn’s apples.

Anthony drew back to catch some air, and Loki took the opportunity to unfurl both their legs and pull the man down with him on the mat. The breathy, little moans that escaped Anthony’s throat while Loki licked his way back into his mouth were kindling his desire like ember burned tinder-dry leaves and twigs. It wasn’t the right time though. Anthony was exhausted and would need a good night’s sleep after what he’d learned today, not even considering the plans in store for tomorrow. Reluctantly, Loki let go of Anthony and his enticing mouth, and Anthony grumbled in protest.

“You did exceptionally well, Anthony. But now you are in need of sustenance and rest. J.A.R.V.I.S., would you please order something to eat for Mr. Stark?”

“Yes, Mr. Laufeyson.”

“Ah, come on, no coddling the only human around.”

“If you eat up like a good boy, I will even kiss you good night.”

“Deal.” Anthony retorted.

Loki’s laugh resounded through the workshop.

>∇<

Iron Man rushed after the nuclear missile and grabbed it tightly from behind. He and the rocket flew through a ravine of Manhattan’s skyscrapers right up to his tower. The repulsors’ full force was needed to wrench the nuke off its course. While he guided it straight up into the sky next to the Tesseract’s lights, J.A.R.V.I.S. tried to reach Pepper. Not long after Tony and the missile passed the portal, a pitch-black hole in a blue sky. Vast darkness and icy deadness enveloped him. He saw the ginormous outline of a mother spaceship and its fleet illuminated by the lights of faraway stars. The phone call failed, and the moment Jarv told him so, his suit died too. There was only one last thing to do—he let go of the nuke, and watched until it hit the Armada’s main ship. Before the blast consumed the whole ship, fear and cold finally bore him down. Tony lost consciousness, and sank into the dark.

The memory’s impact choked off his sleep, and Loki lay there, shivering as long as perspiration dried on his skin. It was unbelievable that one perseverant human with a total lack of self-preservation had sent that missile against the Chitauri army, an exploit he hadn’t even taken into consideration. He had lured them to Midgard in the vague hope that he would either find revenge and piss onto Thor’s not-so-new playground, or die, all while taking as much of Thanos force with him into the abyss as possible. And Anthony had done the latter without any ulterior motives. Loki felt small and unworthy to share this man’s essence, let alone his blooming affection.

>∇<

The next morning Tony found himself riding through Alfheim’s enchanted forest. Tony Stark on a horse. Only the vastness of space or the thought that Stark Industries’ weapons would destroy Earth made him tremble slightly more than his fear of horses. Still he was sitting wobbly on one of these fucking huge creatures, and he didn’t know how Loki had coerced him onto its back. He remembered the elven lady, who tended to the horses of the Light Elves’ stables. She had explained that his brown horse’s name, Thaliel, stood for stalwart and steady steps, and that the mare wouldn’t even let an absolute beginner—like himself—fall off its back.

The day had begun quite pleasantly, if a bit early. Tony hadn’t even finished his first mug of coffee when Loki had arrived in his kitchen to pick him up for their intergalactic trip. Loki had explained how Alfheim’s society and their ruler, Freyr, worked. When he had thought Tony sufficiently prepared—or sufficiently awake—he had graced Tony with a stimulating good morning kiss, and teleported them to the elven realm. How he’d managed that without calling for Heimdall and the Bifrost, Tony didn’t know.

Ljosalfgard, the realm’s capital, hadn’t been a city according to his human standards. It had rather been a tamed preserve, or a botanical garden gone wild, with people living in it. There had been all sorts of trees which had grown into pergolas, wooden caves, and green porticos. An abundance of blossoms and fruits had mottled the green with all the colors of the rainbow. A psychedelic version of Lord of the Rings where everything had been so very bright. And without his suit Tony had been the personified little Hobbit, as the elves walking around had been as bastardly tall as Loki.

Tony had had a good time taking in the strange surroundings and nature’s lush display. The elves had worn all kind of colors, and had reminded Tony of the ones in animated computer games, as he had seen blue, purple, green and even orange long manes with matching billowing clothes. He had so wished for his cell phone to gather evidence, and had amused himself by thinking about the comments the elvish robes would have gained from Nat and Pepper. His cheerfulness had vanished the moment Loki had led him into the stable.

Now the god in question rode next to him on a chestnut horse, the picture of graceful elegance. As if on cue, a green eyed gaze set on him and a proud smile flickered over Loki’s face.

“You are doing well.”

“Ah, don’t you flatter me. We’ve been riding for about thirty minutes, and the muscles in my thighs and ass started to scream twenty-nine minutes ago.”

To distract himself from the ache in his limbs Tony focused on the surrounding wood with its impossibly tall, diverse trees. He saw conifers and deciduous trees, but their shapes were too alien to tell them apart.

It wasn't long before Tony's mind wandered back to the morning. Loki had leaned into him and whispered, “you led a nuke into space to erase an alien armada all alone. Riding will be mere child’s play in comparison.” Then he had pressed a kiss against Tony’s temple, and had given him his first lesson at how to handle a horse.

Even though Tony had been more than reluctant, Loki hadn’t lost his good mood. He had patiently explained how to approach Thaliel, and what the horse would expect of its rider. In all likelihood Tony still resembled a bag of potatoes shoved on a horse’s back, but at least he knew now how to hold the reins and sit in the saddle.

When Loki set his mind to teaching, he was exceptionally good at it. Tony was sure he wouldn’t have grasped the concept of catching his essence or sitting on a walking horse that fast with any other tutor.

At a distance, snow-capped mountains breached the woods, and the trees had thinned out over the last twenty minutes. Tony’s body hurt like a bitch after two hours of riding, and he sighed in relief when they reached a picturesque meadow next to a gurgling creek. Loki descended his horse full of verve, as if he had spent his whole life on a horse’s back. Tony hated him just a little bit for this display of equestrian skill. But when Loki helped him dismount Thaliel and caught Tony in his arms before he slumped to the ground, Tony couldn’t be miffed any more.

>∇<

Loki held Anthony in a secure embrace, burying his nose in short, unruly brown hair. He inhaled the man’s scent of oil, metal, and coffee, now layered with sweat and the smell of horse, and for a moment Loki was content like he hadn’t been in years, maybe even centuries.

When he became aware of his thoughts the moment, shattered, and Loki sprang into action. He summoned a blanket from his saddlebag and spread it over a sunny patch of grass beside the creek. Then he helped a groaning Anthony, who could barely limp, to cross the small distance. Seeing Anthony collapse in a heap, Loki briefly worried if he had put him through too much, but the man's next remark allayed his sorrow.

“Lokes, if I could move, I’d kill you for having lured me on this ride. As it is, I can’t even decide which position is the least hurtful, so you’ve got nothing to fear. For now.”

Loki chuckled, before he secured the horses with hobbles so they could graze while he and Anthony were taking a break. He picked up their provisions, filled the waterskin in the stream, and went back. Anthony was lying on his stomach, head resting on his folded arms, and whimpering every once in awhile. Loki sank down next to him.

“Ah, if I had known the secret weapon to bring down the invincible Iron Man would be a—”

“Yep, gonna kill you once I can move again.”

“Stop it! I will make it up to you and massage your sore muscles. You should focus on your essence while I do so.”

“Great. You want to wear me out today, don’t you?”

“No. You will see why I demand you to do this.”

“Fine, have it your way,” Anthony said with a displeased grumble.

Loki checked the air temperature around them before he vanished Anthony’s clothes, except his briefs. That got him a yelp, and he smirked mischievously.

“Hell, a little warning would be nice, dumbass.”

He smacked the man's head lightly and commanded, “you will concentrate on your essence now.”

Anthony grunted unintelligible words before his breathing evened out. Loki’s hands began to knead the tense muscles of Anthony’s upper legs while he focused on his own essence. He sank into the familiar pool of bright green gems before he reached for Anthony’s. The pain had tainted the deep ruby red of his maltreated essence with lighter blood-red blotches. Loki let his magic sink into these areas while he still massaged the affected muscles. It didn’t take long for the grumbling to cease and be replaced by low, pleased puffs. With Anthony’s pain recessing, the atmosphere became charged from one second to the next, which Loki hadn’t foreseen.

>∇<

Tony fought hard not to let the massage of his stone-hard muscles reduce him to a moaning bundle. Instead he tried to get a grip on his essence. When he reached it, the music was disturbingly discordant at first, but Loki’s healing touch—physically and mentally—put it back on its rocking track. With the diminishing ache he became aware of his nearly naked state, and how much he enjoyed the touch of Loki’s cold fingers on his heated flesh.

He squirmed until Loki loosened his hold, and Tony could roll on his back. He grabbed the man, who had folded his long frame into a crouched position next to his hip, and pulled Loki onto him. Then he reached out with his essence as well. It was like revving up his suit to the speed of sound, or being in the middle of an invention when all the pieces clicked together— in short, it was fucking awesome. Tony searched Loki’s mouth for a frantic kiss. Their tongues met, heat colliding with cold, and it was unlike anything Tony had ever experienced. Frost Giant his dwindling brain capacity whispered before he got lost in another exquisite kiss.

Their essences meshed to a marvelous symphony of rock music, and when Tony became aware of Loki’s side of things it morphed into an endless sea of green and red gemstones, equally beautiful. For a second Tony was stunned by their combined power, but his body’s needs put an end to his musing.

Loki’s clothes vanished and with them Tony’s briefs. Pale skin touched golden flesh, and wiry muscles pressed against a solid build. Greed and heat coiled through Tony’s veins with the first touch of Loki’s prick, and he slung his legs around Loki’s divine ass. The friction coaxed a keening noise from Loki’s throat, and Tony relished its sound.

Tony pushed upwards against Loki’s heavenly body, lean and strong, and willed the god to take it further. God, he was dying for it, even though he knew his ass was pretty battered right now. As if Loki had read his mind, he ended another sensuous kiss, and slid down, peppering Tony’s skin with wet cooling kisses. It didn’t take him long to reach Tony’s cock where Loki enveloped its head with sloppy licks. Tony’s legs had fallen back on the ground and his body was tense like a live wire—heels dug against cloth, back arched off the blanket, breath coming in short huffs. Meanwhile Loki worked his way towards his groin, swallowing more and more of him. Loki’s clever tongue pressed against the sensitive underside of his shaft which drove Tony insane... No wonder Loki was a pro at cocksucking, he'd had thousands of years of practice. When Loki added suction to the mix it was Tony’s undoing. His white hot release spurted down Loki’s throat.

>∇<

Loki suckled on Tony’s prick until it rested soft against his palate. Finally, he let go.

“God, you’re killing me, Lokes. Come here and kiss me.”

When Loki didn't respond, Anthony pulled at his shoulder until he gave in and crawled back to meet wicked lips and a scratchy chin. He would rather die than admit that he loved the rasp the man’s goatee left on his skin.

“I’m sure there’s a problem I should take care of,” Anthony said lewdly while a vivid hand flicked back and forth between Loki’s nipples.

His arousal had been stimulated beforehand and was reaching new heights under Anthony’s ministrations. Loki wished for him to continue his slow burning torture. He knew he would come sooner or later just from Tony’s fingers playing with his chest, but he had wanted these talented hands on his member since he had first laid eyes on their dexterity.

It might be due to their swapped essences, or to Anthony’s prowess as both of his hands left Loki’s nubs and found their way down. One grabbed for his strained shaft, thumb covering the head's slit tenderly, while the other fondled the soft skin of his sack. Their calloused warmth caressed his colder flesh and it took Loki an embarrassingly short amount of time—compared to his usual stamina—to reach the edge of the precipice. Wild pleasure surged through him, and he tumbled down into an ocean of flashing green and red lights.

>∇<

When Loki told him they were going to reach their destination soon Tony could have kissed him just for the good news. If the soreness of his muscles had been bad after two hours of riding, it was so much worse after nearly four and a half. Even the relaxing massage where Loki had mumbo-jumboed his pain away was now just a long gone reprieve. Though the sex they had got up to had been like from another dimension. Ha, maybe it really was, considering there were actually in a different realm and all. God, he needed some Advil. He even sounded delirious in his head.

Loki caught Tony again in his arms when they dismounted, until the trembling in Tony's legs had stopped. For once, it was lovely to be the one who got rescued instead of always doing the rescuing.

Anyway, shortly after Tony could at least stand again, Loki’s teacher, Aeltir, greeted them. She looked pretty distinct in comparison to the elves Tony had seen in Ljosalfgard—Earthbound, and much more like a huntress than a sorceress. She didn’t wear a robe or ethereal dress, but worn brown leather pants and boots, and an indigo blue tunic. Her long berry-colored hair was braided into a complicated pattern. Tony searched her slim body for weapons, but like Natasha’s, though they didn’t show, he knew they were there. Razor sharp lilac eyes flitted over Tony, before they regarded Loki incredulously.

“What have you done this time, slemme gutt?”

Min kjære venn, it’s good to see you too.”

“You are here, visiting me, though you decided you had outgrown any magical teaching over five hundred years ago and haven’t cared to set foot in Ljosalfgard since. If the rumors can be trusted, and every piece gossip has a kernel of truth, it’s telling that you brought a mortal with you after you have failed to conquer their realm. You, din luring, must be in serious trouble.”

Seeing Loki being scolded like a little rogue was too much; Tony had to fight a laughing fit.

Loki harrumphed before he scraped together his godly dignity. “Would you mind if we scrutinize my motives later? Anthony here is indeed a weak mortal who is not used to spend hours on a horse’s back.”

“Weak? Phew. I’m just not a cowboy. Stop mollycoddling me, Lokes!”

Aeltir raised an eyebrow, but nodded and led them into her house without further interrogation.

>∇<

He had persuaded Anthony to take a hot bath in the volcanic hot tubs at Aeltir’s place and to have a nap afterwards. Loki had taken away the edge of his pain and deepened his sleep. Much to the god's surprise he really enjoyed caring for his human. The list of people he had himself allowed to get this close to over thousands of years was meager, and an addition was not necessarily a bad thing.

Lost in thought, Loki stood in Aeltir’s living room next to the big open window, his unfocused gaze resting on the lush green outside. It was strange to be back at this place where he had gained most of his knowledge about transformations and illusions; to remember the long gone days when he had soaked up everything to enhance his magic, in the stray hope that they would come to see him in Asgard for what he was—a unique and gifted Mage. A magician on par with Odin and Heimdall, more secretive in his crafts, and perhaps even better, when considering that Loki's magic operated independently from artifacts like the Casket, the Tesseract, Odin’s Gungnir, or Heimdall’s Hǫfuð.

Of course, it had been futile to try and earn the respect of Asgard’s king and warriors that way. Magic made him effeminate in their eyes, though how Odin and Heimdall pulled its use off… Regardless, the wrongful treatment had only driven Loki to spiral out of control. The few who had ever admired his accomplishments were his mother and his most trusted female lovers. Never a man—until this brilliant, but insane human had crossed his path. Anthony, who had accepted Loki’s true form even before he had lost his fear of magic. His mad brilliance matched Loki’s own, his body held so much appeal, and even their essences mingled seamlessly. Loki was in too deep.

Clearing her throat Aeltir interrupted Loki’s musing.

“What happened to make you bring a fragile human with you?”

“Do not make the mistake and underestimate him. I did once and he disabused me of this foolish notion in no time.”

“Loki, answer my question,” Aeltir said, using her no-nonsense teacher’s voice. Loki complied.

“One of Amora’s magical blasts caught us both and messed with our essences. A part of Anthony’s merged with mine and vice versa. Now we share dreams and memories and are able to communicate via telepathy if we touch each other's essence while meditating. Oh yes, and on these occasions we see what the other does when we open our eyes. That is all we have observed so far.”

“That’s all…” Aeltir’s surprise showed in her crooked eyebrow and a slightly tilted voice.

“You have never heard of such an occurrence?” Loki asked disappointedly, noticing her reaction. “I hoped you would have.”

“No, gutten min, I didn’t know it was possible to split up essences at all. What was Amora thinking?”

“She might have been furious with me, yet that wretch didn’t think at all before she let her magic loose.”

Vil du noensinne lære? Will you cease to make enemies?”

“Highly improbable.” Loki smirked, and Aeltir rolled her eyes at him. “Well, Anthony was an enemy of mine too and... we called a truce.”

“It’s like it used to be, you’re not telling the full truth.”

“I’m the God of Lies, why would I? Anyway, I have brought Anthony with me, so you can take a look at our combined essences. Maybe you will get an idea what to do.”

“If you haven’t found a solution, it’s far from likely that I will find one. But I’ll have a look as soon as your mortal is back on his feet.”

“That is all I am asking of you. Takk!

“You’re welcome.”

>∇<

When Tony woke up he was in much better shape. After a few seconds of disorientation he remembered why he was lying on an unfamiliar bed. In fact, said bed was so comfortable that he took the opportunity to meditate for some time before getting up. Not only had Loki encouraged him to train his skills, but Tony was utterly fascinated by his own mojo. That he heard and saw essences as music… Hello synesthesia, I’m Tony Stark, nice to fiddle with you.

His own chuckling threatened to shatter his concentration, but Tony had become better at detecting his mind’s deflections and entered the streams of music. He followed them and easily recognised Loki’s parts in the rocking mix. Because he was a most curious being, Tony directed his attention at his surroundings. Whoa there! He could actually see the music of the countless trees, plants and animals in the Enchanted Wood. Tony didn’t dare go chasing after those different melodies, no matter how tempting they were—that seemed to be the easiest way to become lost forever. He seeked out the one he knew best next to his own though. Loki’s.

Hey, Loki, do you hear me?

By the Norns. Anthony. What are you doing? You cannot sneak up on a Mage like this. I could have harmed your essence and your whole being if I hadn’t recognized your colors.

It’s slightly intimidating to realize that every living being has its own essence, so I was striving for a familiar and safe place.

You deem me safe?

Tony heard the disbelieving tone and reassured Loki only half-mockingly.

Of course I do, Bluebell.

Loki’s music got a humming to its normal rocking sound that Tony would have called pleased if anybody asked for a description. In return his music went into playful heights, full of flutes and cymbals, sounds his unconsciousness obviously had linked with happiness. Ian Anderson would be envious.

Do not overdo it with your meditation for now, Anthony. I will come and get you. Aeltir is eager to meet you and to see what our essences have been up to.

Ah Lokes, I so love it when you get all lewd on me.

Loki didn’t bother to answer.

>∇<

“Anthony Stark, a pleasure to meet you.” Anthony bowed over Aeltir’s wrist and brushed a wisp of a kiss on the back of her hand.

Loki recognized a professional wheedler at work when he saw one. Anthony turned up his charm like a natural, and to his astonishment Aeltir, more than thousand years his senior, fell for it like an elvish maiden. Loki had a hard time hide his amusement.

After such exchange of courtesies all three sat down on bamboo mats. Loki watched proudly as Anthony’s agility and skittishness dwindled down to a focused serenity within a few deep breaths. He closed his eyes to follow suit.

His essence radiated in calming green, flecked with sparkling red, and Loki watched out for Aeltir’s amethysts. Purple stones shone as aloof as they had done hundreds of years ago. He reached for Anthony’s part in him and queried through their connection, what does Aeltir’s music sound like?

Jesus fucking Christ, her music’s the equivalent to a Gregorian choral. It doesn’t really make sense for an elf, but yeah, let’s say it’s haughty, pompous, and nothing to mess with.

Sound's like a perfect fit, even though I am more versed in pagan music styles than Christian chants.

What are we doing here, Lokes?

Aeltir is analyzing our combined essences. She might know how to entangle them.

But she can’t even talk to us that way. How’s that gonna help?

She is the best of my former teachers, and good at dissecting a problem. As no real spell was involved when Amora’s magic hit us we have to try more uncommon approaches to solve our problem.

But, you don’t think she will be able to, do you?

Yes, she will probably fail. You are sensing my thoughts on the matter just from our connection?

Mmh, at first you figured she could help us, now that’s changed and you’re not convinced anymore.

Impressive, Anthony. It is discouraging that Aeltir did not even know that essences can split, so chances are slim she will find a solution.

“Loki? Anthony?”

“Aeltir,” Loki said while coming out of his meditation.

“I’m afraid there’s no way I can unravel your combined essences. You might want consider letting them be. I saw you exchanging energy, or threads as I see your essences, and they’re becoming more entwined with every second. You’ve already woven some pretty solid strands, and if they weren’t silver and gold, I wouldn’t even be able to tell them from each other.

Surprised, dark brown eyes met Loki’s and they looked equally terrified and intrigued upon Aeltir’s startling advice.

>∇<

Tony had enjoyed his trip to Alfheim. Granted, it hadn’t solved their problem, but he’d got to see one of the realms for the first time. Even better, he'd come to know a Loki way more relaxed than he’d thought possible. A Loki who had helped Tony endure their riding experience with carefully administered magic and massages. The Silvertongue, who had visibly enjoyed the lambent exchange between Tony and his former teacher, adding banter to the mix, mischief twinkling in his green eyes. The god, who had pointed out Alfheim’s sights with the knowledge of an old being not opposed to listening to Tony’s opinion on things, who even encouraged him to be contradictory, as if that was a treat in itself. Loki’s body had been gratifying in many ways, but it was his beautifully insane mind that satisfied Tony like none other.

Wow, he had it really, really bad.

>∇<

He woke up, a hot, wet mouth around his cock. Fleetingly, monikers about tongues came to his mind, before his overactive brain went offline when long fingers entered the game and caressed his crack, circling in on his entrance. Tony wasn’t one to care who gave or received between two blokes, but he appreciated how the first finger, breaching him, was magically slicked up the moment it entered him. He wouldn’t stop Loki if the god used his voodoo for mischief like this. Tony would have smiled cheekily, but just then Loki’s finger found the spot that reduced him to a quivering mess. The mouth on his dick continued its ministrations, focusing on his corona and the retreating foreskin. It was pretty hard to decide if he wanted to push forward into Loki’s mouth or backwards to get as much out of Loki's finger as he could.

Said finger became two became three, and Tony—fully awake now—squirmed on the sheets, groaning incentives. Loki took mercy, let go of Tony’s dick, and positioned himself, peppering kisses on Tony's skin and collarbone. A huskily voiced question goaded Tony into pull Loki down on him…

Loki woke up to find himself rocking into the mattress. It was electrifying to see Anthony’s side of last night’s events.

“Pleasant dream?” Anthony mumbled hoarsely, warm breath tickling Loki's ear, while his arm slid down Loki's back towards his nether regions.

“Very. I was sharing your side of the memories we created yesterday.”

“Mmmh, love it when your godly attention is solely on me. We should try a swap while awake.”

Anthony was kneading Loki’s butt with his strong, nimble fingers, when Loki registered what he had said. He tensed and rolled around to face Anthony. Deep brown eyes locked with his, and Loki’s heart fluttered because they radiated an encompassing warmth, solely directed at him.

“Not only have you become accustomed to our shared essences, you actually like it.”

“I do. As do you. Loki?”

“At the beginning it was terrifying.”

“It was. Enticing and beguiling too, once my mind didn’t boggle about sharing it all with you.”

“Worth considering letting it continue?”

“Absolutely!”

“Oh.”

“What did you think I’d do? Send you to hell?”

“Actually, that would have been my next try. Taking you with me to Niflheim, or Hel as you would call it. I want you to meet my daughter Hela. Maybe she has an idea about how to disentangle us.”

“From what I’ve gathered from your memories, I’m not keen to be introduced to the remaining in-laws, but I’d be honored to meet your kids, Loki. It might be slightly intimidating that your daughter’s the ruler of death, though I think with you by my side I’ll manage.”

The smile Tony gave him was brighter than a sun. Loki returned it before his expression became much more lecherous. He pinned his human down, eager to pick up this morning’s course of action.

For a fleeting moment Loki thought of the things they still had to sort out. Then his and Anthony’s essences touched, and they erupted in bursts of colors and music, frantic touches, and souls intertwined.

The Nine Realms and their beyond dwindled into irrelevance. Nothing mattered but the man in Loki’s arms.

>∇<