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As Strange As Fate

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CHAPTER 1

This was the home of one of the most eminent personalities and mightiest warrior of Midgard, and it looked so very plain! There was no gold, no exposed riches. Had this been the palace of a modest man, Loki would have understood its interior; with a home this size, and his name illuminating the sky at night, Anthony Stark was not modest in the least. The surroundings might be plain, yet they were still done in a tastefully plain manner. If he had not more important things to do, Loki might have been able to appreciate it all.

He walked up to the glass and looked out over the ugly grey city that was soon to be his. Some of these buildings, like Stark’s, were quite the engineering feats for beings without strength or magic, he could admit that. The rest, though. It was simply hideous. He would raze it to the ground and make this place beautiful again. As green and lush as it was some thousand years ago. There he would retire from all the wars, the hate, the politics – were those not all the same thing in the end? There he would rest for a while, and finally breathe. And he would forget. That was the most important part of all this.

A sudden surge of power of the Tesseract made him look in its direction, even though he could not see it through the ceiling. The ripple of that power made his skin crawl; the magic in that one object was so dense and bright – he wanted to both hold onto it and never let go, and shield his eyes from its blindingly unending potential.

He teleported to the balcony, his borrowed sceptre gripped tightly in his hand. It was time for the next phase. His long-awaited guest had arrived. He had wondered if his plan had been too subtle, if mortals could be clever enough to reach him before the fun part – and his army – arrived. Apparently, the owner of this tower was indeed capable of a modicum of reasoning.

Iron Man, in his battered flying armour, was lowering himself down to the platform situated one floor up. Why did supposedly righteous people – who were, in reality, conceited idiots – always choose the colours red and gold? A large mechanical ring lifted itself from the floor while Stark walked towards glass doors, divesting him of his only weapon. Loki smirked as he himself walked back inside. Such arrogance from such a weak creature. Such stupidity.

The moment he knew Stark could hear him, free of the rushing wind from outside, Loki spoke. “Please tell me you’re going to appeal to my humanity.” The idea was an amusing one, and so typical of Midgardian defenders. Typical of many so-called heroes, in fact. Trying to ask compassion from an enemy that so obviously came to destroy you. It was such a ludicrous idea.

“Er, actually I’m planning to threaten you,” Stark answered, slowly walking towards the stairs that lead down to the floor Loki was on. Getting closer. So much unfounded confidence. And yet Stark did not take his eyes of Loki – a wise choice, acting like the prey he was. It might not show on his face, but Stark must be trembling from fear on the inside. He merely pretended he was not; that bravery was so foolish, and got so many people killed.

Loki let a breathy chuckle escape. “You should have left your armour on for that.” The mortal facing him bare like this was such a ridiculous notion. No wonder they never lived very long – knowing how weak their bodies were, they should be taking care to avoid dangerous situations, not walk into them on purpose. Even with that little armour of his, Stark would not have been much of a threat, so coming to him without it was rather insulting, in fact. He felt underestimated, and he hated it. He had been underestimated all his life. Was it ever going to stop? When he was king of Midgard, it would. He would see to that!

“Yeah. It’s seen a bit of mileage and you’ve got the little stick of destiny.” Stick of Destiny? Loki looked down at his sceptre, and smirked. The name was absurd, yet it was still amusing. With this sceptre, he was definitely going to challenge Fate and make his life what it was meant to be, giving him the power he was meant to have.

“Would you like a drink?” Stark asked him then, standing behind the bar, as if Loki were a welcome guest. Very threatening, indeed; Stark was trying to mellow him, so that he could convince him to stop his invasion of Midgard. Stark had been lying. Typical. Loki was not surprised in the least.

“Stalling me won’t change anything,” he said, sneering.

“No, no, no, threatening! No drink, you’re sure? I’m having one.” The mortal’s apparent lack of fear was annoying, and Loki turned away, gazing at the cityscape. It would not do if his irritation showed on his face – he was in control of this situation, damn the Norns! Stark’s blasé attitude was starting to grate on his nerves! His fist tightened around the sceptre.

“The Chitauri are coming,” he said, looking out the floor to ceiling windows, but not seeing the buildings beyond. “Nothing will change that.” And nothing would, even if he had been inclined to cease his attack. His army was not truly his, after all. It was merely borrowed. Like the sceptre. Like the Tesseract. Nothing was truly his yet. Even so, his borrowed possessions made him extremely powerful, and that feeling was the most elating of all. Why should he care about the true source of that power? He turned back to face Stark then. “What have I to fear?”

“The Avengers.” There was pause after those words, as if Stark was hoping to spark some sort of recognition. Loki frowned. Were there some other enemies he had not taken into account? Stark rolled his eyes and continued. “That’s what we call ourselves, it’s like a team. Earth’s mightiest heroes, type thing.” Stark poured himself some sort of alcohol then, and Loki had to force back a snicker.

“Yes, I’ve met them.” His smirk was mocking, and the mortal could not mistake his meaning in any way. If those were Midgard’s mightiest warriors, this Realm would be his the moment his army arrived.

“Yeah,” Stark said, chuckling at their incompetence. At least he was not stupid enough not to see how hopeless his own situation was. “Takes us a while to get any traction, I’ll give you that one but, let’s do a head count here: your brother, the demi-god,” the mortal continued, and all Loki could do was sigh in frustration and turn away again. Firstly, Thor was not a Midgardian ‘hero’, so citing him was cheating; and secondly, why did everyone always start their enumerations of mighty warriors his bloody oaf of a not-brother? He was not even on Asgard anymore! Why was Thor still the shiny beacon of light, and Loki the unwanted shadow? Especially knowing that, up until now, Loki had always been the voice of reason in whatever foolish quest Thor embarked upon. No more, though. Now he would be mightier than Thor – now he would be king before Thor was!

Stark had continued, unperturbed. “A super soldier, a living legend who kind of lives up to the legend; a man with… breath-taking anger management issues.” Loki looked back at Stark at the mention of the green beast, an amused smirk painting his lips. The mortal obviously did not know about the ‘anger management issues’ that plague his bro— that plagued Thor as well. “A couple of master assassins, and you, big fella, you’ve managed to piss off every single one of them.”

That was rather the point, he thought. He tried not to smile but failed; this mortal was quite amusing. Where was the fun in taking this puny planet merely by surprise? No, he wanted to crush them like the disgusting little ants they were! And what could be better than beating their mightiest warriors in one of their most prominent cities, for all of Midgard to see? “That was the plan.”

“Not a great plan,” the mortal countered. Such arrogance, and such ignorance! Stark walked around the bar, approaching slowly. This was truly one of the most foolish enemies he had ever faced! Perhaps mortals did not live very long because of their innate death wish. “When they come, and they will, they’ll come for you.”

Loki refused to repeat himself, yet the urge was still there. That was the plan! How stupid could this supposed mortal genius be? Of course, as a mortal term, ‘genius’ did not mean much. And even in other Realms, and beyond, Loki had not met many beings he could call intelligent. Still, he had hoped for… more. Better. He stated the obvious instead. “I have an army.”

“We have a Hulk,” was Stark’s immediate answer, and wasn’t that laughable? The mortal was getting closer and closer, a glass full of some sort of local mead in his hand, bare of arms and yet unyielding. And the only thing he had to offer to defeat an entire army was a mindless green beast that was not even here! This conversation might be one of the most preposterous things Loki had ever had to go through – and he had talked all his life to Thor of all people!

“Oh, I thought the beast had wandered off?” he answered, and Stark’s slight stutter as he replied was everything Loki had hoped for.

“Y-You’re missing the point, there is no throne, no version of this where you come out on top!” Stark was trying to look self-assured and smug. Anger and annoyance seeped into his voice though, and there was fear hidden in his eyes, Loki knew it even if the mortal concealed it admirably well. Loki could smell it, however. That might actually be the only perk of not being Æsir. Being able to relish in the fact that he could make his enemies tremble in their boots; that, even if they threw up a brave face, they could not ignore how powerful Loki truly was.

Stark was only ten feet away now. “Maybe your army comes, and maybe it’s too much for us but it’s all on you. ‘Cause if we can’t protect the Earth you can be damn well sure we’ll avenge it.” Such big words for such a tiny, puny creature! Stark nonchalantly took a sip of his drink, as if Loki was nothing to be concerned about. And even though he knew it was all an act, even though he could smell the adrenaline cloying the air, Loki was still enraged by such open defiance. How dare this feeble mortal stand before him as if he were the equal of a god?

Loki strode threateningly forward, yet Stark stood his ground. This would not do! Not at all! He would break this pretend ‘hero’, mind and soul! “How will your friends have time for me, when they’re so busy fighting you?” He made his voice ooze threat, and his face promised danger; the fear that clearly screamed through Stark’s widened eyes was magnificent, and Loki loved it. The mortal still stoically stood his ground, and though it was foolish, Loki had to admit he was impressed. Fear not, little mortal, you shall soon be free.

His sceptre crackled with magic, the charging power clearly audible, and with a flourish Loki touched it to Stark’s chest. The moment the point came into contact with the cloth, the strangest thing happened; a resounding ‘ting’ rang through the silence, and the spell dissipated instantly. Loki could not contain his confusion, and it surely must have shown as his face fell. He looked down at Stark’s chest, but there was nothing to see. This should be working! He tried again, magic charging, point thrust into the mortal’s chest just a bit harder, which should have been enough to draw blood, and yet he was met with unusual resistance, and the spell was countered, just like that. This was impossible. His eyebrows drew together, and he felt rather foolish when he felt compelled to admit: “This usually works.” Never had his magic failed him like this.

“Well, performance issues,” Stark had the gall to say, his tone as blasé as they came. He even made a face, as if the subject was understandably an unpleasant one, as if he sympathised. Loki’s muscles grew taut with the rage that was building in them. The mortal dared mock him! “Not uncommon. One out of five, I—”

Enraged, Loki grabbed him by the throat, intent on squeezing the life out of this disgusting creature. Anything to shut him up! Anything to stop humiliation to wash over him again, like it had so very often during his too long lifetime. And yet! And yet something stopped him, blocked him, burned his hand form inside out the moment he touched the mortal’s skin, and letting him go was just a reflex. Stark flew through the air and skidded on the floor towards the windows.

“Jarvis, anytime now!” the mortal murmured, but Loki did not care, whatever it meant. He did not care, he did not understand, he just wanted to choke Stark to death. Before he knew it Stark had crawled to a stand and Loki had his hand back on his throat, fingers splayed on the bruise on the man’s cheek, trying to squeeze, and failing.

He wanted to growl ‘you will all fall before me’, he wanted to squeeze and maybe throw the mortal out of his own tower, and yet he could not. His hand, his arm, his chest, his brain; he was burning, burning inside! A voice inside his head was screaming ‘Squeeze!’, and ‘Kill him!’ and ‘You are mine!’, and it was not his voice, it was not him. He had not seen it before. How could he not have seen it before? There was someone in his head! There was— Thanos! Of course! The torture, physical, mental, he remembered now!

The arm holding the sceptre felt almost dead; his whole arm was as cold as death, and it was agonising! He faintly registered that the screaming he heard must be his own, yet he was unable to stop it. He could not control a single muscle in his body. The hand around Stark’s throat was merely tingling now, holding onto the flesh like a lifeline, yet not squeezing enough to do much more than make the mortal red in the face. It was in his arms and chest that a war was going on – a brutal clash of hot and cold magic that surely would kill him if it went on any longer!

Suddenly Stark took hold of Loki’s hand with both of his, probably intent on removing the chocking grip; without any will on his part, Loki’s hand shifted its grasp, taking one of Stark’s hand in his instead. The sudden surge of heat brought him to his knees with a cry, and his death grip on the mortal made the man cry out as well. Through his tear-filled eyes he saw his skin starting to shimmer, a white so pure glowing from it that he had to close his lids, yet the light blinded him still.

He was dying! He had to be! This was utter agony! He could hear his own cries and moans, he could hear Stark yelling some words he could not understand at the moment, he could hear the power sizzling under his skin, two foreign forces fighting each other to the death. He could feel them burning, one so hot, the other so cold, the apex of their clashing point subtly moving. He could feel wetness dribbling down his cheeks. He could feel Stark’s naked hand in his, and a metal one on his wrist trying to wrench it away.

When he opened his eyes he could see again; Stark was wearing another armour that covered him from head to toe, except for the hand Loki couldn’t let go off. The mortal’s masked face was as inscrutable as the forces wreaking havoc within him. A new wave crashed upon him, almost making him drown in magic, and as his vision started to blur and darken he wondered if he could ever remember how one was supposed to breathe. A second later air rushed into his longs and he could see again; Stark’s face was bare once more, full of bewilderment, fear, pain, and, most ridiculously, concern. The hand on his wrist was not metal but flesh now, and Loki wondered when that had happened. Also, Iron Man was kneeling now as well – the only thing holding Loki somewhat upright.

Without his notice his left arm, still gripping the sceptre the Other had given him on Thanos’ demand, was held aloft, the weapon held away from his body as far as physically possible, and it was quivering like a leaf in the autumn wind. The hot, white magic had reached his shoulder and was pushing the cold and dark influence of the Mad Titan out of his body. Thanos’ influence had already left his head; the only thing the Lover of Death was still connected to was the sceptre, corrupted by his foul-tasting power. Through it, he was trying to regain what he had lost: access to Loki’s very soul.

He had to let go of the sceptre. He had to, although he could not fathom how. He was too tired. He could not control the muscles in either of his arms. And if this power surging through him continued any longer, there might not be anyone left to control for any influence, hot or cold, white or black, that was going to win this fight. He had to let go somehow. How? ‘Anthony Stark’ a voice said. Not Thanos’. Another voice he knew, but could not place. He did not want to listen to it, yet its idea had merit.

The first time he tried to talk, nothing but a hiss and garbled moan came out of his throat. He made eye-contact with Stark, willing his gaze to stay focused on those brown irises, and tried again. “N… No… Sce— Scep… tre…”

“What?” The puzzled look on the mortal’s face did not bode well. If he did not understand soon… “Look, man, I don’t know what to do here. You look very sick and all, but you’re kind of my enemy here, just so you know. I don’t know if I’m supposed to help you even if you kick the bucket. Point Break would be sad, sure, and he’s a cool guy, so maybe I should kinda help. But it’s not like I know anything about your voodoo-epilepsy-attack thing, so there is nothing I can do. I’d like it if you let go of my hand though, ‘cause that hurts like hell.”

Loki hadn’t managed to follow the ramblings of the mortal; it all seemed so inconsequential. The only thing that mattered was the sceptre, and letting go of it. Right. This. Second. He had to try again. “No… Sc—”

“You’ve got your goddamn sceptre in your hand, what more do you want?” Stark shouted, gesticulating wildly with his free arm, panic starting to lace his words.

“Don’t… want…,” he managed to croak out before the world started to fade again from his vision, and he felt the ground tilting quite suddenly. A hand under his arm – the cold arm, the dead arm – put the world upright again. Or maybe it put him back upright. He was not sure; he could not think. He thought Stark was talking again, but he felt like he was underwater. He could not make out the words, or breathe, or see more than blurred colours, and he wondered if the lack of rush in his ears mean his heart had stopped beating.

Perhaps this was the end. His end. It was a silly one, certainly, but he did not expect anything less from Lady Fate. She had always mocked him, toyed with him. And now, he was to die in the arms of an enemy – a puny mortal one at that – from some unknown magical attack! This certainly sounded like a cosmic joke! Both in life and death he was the laughing stock of the Nine Realms!

Letting go would be so easy. It would stop the suffering. He would not have to care about what anyone thought of him. His only regret would be not seeing Mother one last time – even though she was not really his mother. Did she even consider herself his mother, after all this? It might be better not to know. Just let go. And then what? Then eternal death on Helheim, before he disappeared altogether? He certainly would never reach the halls of Valhalla. Which was worse, though? Life here, or death there?

Colour exploded in his vision, and his heart pound so fiercely against his ribcage that the beating it was taking should leave bruises at the very least. Something – or someone – was trying to tug the sceptre out of his painfully closed fist. He did not need to see it to know that Stark, his enemy, but his only ally against the battle raging within him, was trying to help him. He was truly lucky that Stark had this ridiculous armour to lend him strength, because he had to fight the death grip of a god; even if the strength of this particular god was rather pathetically weak. The unfortunate consequences of being a Jötunn runt. Today, it might work in his advantage, though. Oh, the irony!

With one metal-covered hand on the sceptre, and a foot on Loki’s arm, Stark was pulling and pushing with all his might, the mechanical suit whirring and whining at the strain. Loki dared not hope. He had already abandoned all hope when it took so long and he felt like he was dying all over again.

All of a sudden, it ended. The sceptre slipped from his inert hand, and the blindingly hot force pulsed through his entire being one last time before being snuffed out like a spark in outer space the moment Stark’s hand fell from his. With nothing to support him he crumpled to the floor and darkness overcame him once more; but not before a familiar voice – Fate, he remembered now! – whispered in his mind: “You are now one soul.”