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In Shadow and Starlight

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In Shadow and Starlight

I'm awake I'm alive
Now I know what I believe inside
Now it's my time
I'll do what I want 'cause this is my life
here (right here), right now (right now)
I'll stand my ground and never back down
I know what I believe inside
I'm awake and I'm alive
“Awake and Alive” – Skillet

**

The heavy worktable upended onto the well-worn concrete of Howard’s workshop with an ear-ringing clatter, sending papers with drafts of his current projects every which way across the floor. The destruction throughout the ‘shop was extensive—no portion of the sprawling series of rooms was saved from the engineer’s explosive temper.

I’m pregnant, Howard.

A new obligation would soon enough be claiming his time and his attention: his marriage with Maria was supposed to be for show, to satisfy the media when they had printed article after article, expressing concern about his legacy and the fact he had become more reclusive as the years went by. There was never supposed to be children despite the fact that Howard had grown to care for her in his own sort of way. But with his wife’s earlier announcement, soon there would be more responsibilities, more claims on his time—when all Howard wanted to do was bring the math in his head to life, to design and engineer, to puzzle out and address threats at SHIELD, to search the Arctic, always, for the greatest man he ever knew (and to never rest until he could finally bring Steve Rogers home to the country that had since immortalized him). Now, however, came unwanted obligations.

Howard’s knees gave out and he stumbled to the floor all while his chest heaved for air, desperate for oxygen as he held back angry, frustrated tears (Stark are made of iron.) and pressed the heels of his hands against the fierce heat of his stinging eyes.

“I don’t want it,” the engineer whispered into the lonely emptiness of his sanctuary.

++

“You wished to see me?” Loki inquired as he straightened from the slight bow given upon entrance to the Nornir’s great hall. None of the three women spared the prince a glance, though Loki knew that their attention had shifted to him by the sudden heaviness that settled within the air.

He came to an easy parade rest, hands clasped at the small of his back and expression neutrally blank, and waited for the Nornir to finally actively acknowledge his presence.

After many minutes of quiet with only the women’s activities breaking the stillness of the room, much as a raindrop landing on the glass-like surface of a pond generated ripples that extended out to the shoreline, Urðr tilted her head just enough so that the mage could finally see the profile of her face. Middle-aged but still striking in the vividness of only-slightly faded beauty, she who was What Once Was paused in the weaving of her tapestry. “Once upon a time ago, you came to us to learn that which no one else could teach you.”

“Yes, I did come here. And you did teach me what you could, though—obviously—a thousand lifetimes under your tutelage still would not be enough to pass on all of your knowledge,” the green-eyed trickster mage acknowledged, head tilting the smallest degree to the side as he began to puzzle out why, exactly, the Nornir had summon him here. Loki did not ask the question aloud, however: years with the three women had also taught him that their tangents were not always so: there were always reasons for them. So he remained quiet and waited.

In answer, Urðr’s smile turned sharp even as she finally turned her attention fully back to her weaving. “One such lesson between you and I dealt with the topic of matched souls. Those so similar to one another that they might as well have been one being. Not mates, not each half of a whole—but already, irreversibly, one.”

“…I remember this lesson,” Loki answered in reply, tone cautious. He also remembered asking Urðr if he was one such person, if the Nornir already knew who these people were. She had not answered him and instead gave him a smile much like the one that currently sharpened the curve of her full mouth.

“You were not given an answer because it was not time for you to know,” Verðandi continued, gently combing through the skeins of colored wool that her sister drew from for their tapestry. “That has now changed, however.”

The words from she who was tied to What Was Coming Into Being, the closest acknowledgment of a present for a race of people who lived thousands upon thousands of years, caught Loki’s breath, and the mage’s eyes flared a bright, vivid jade as his attention narrowed and shifted towards Verðandi instead.

Tell me more.

“The soul that parallels your own has sparked to life on Midgard,” Verðandi responded in an absent tone, more focused on picking out the small bits of debris from her wool even as she was carding it for her sister. “Much as it has been foretold of the changes that you will bring to the universe so, too, is this soul one that is birthed from chaos and hope—and death. Well-matched you will be, Loki Silver-tongue.”

“But it will still be very many Midgardian years before you will be able to meet this soul face-to-face and know each other,” Skuld concluded as she etched a series of runes into the roots of Yggdrasil; the passages that she of What Shall Be, of necessity, wrote were blurry to the mage’s Sight—though Loki saw how they sparked to life, flaring with magic and intent, before trickling upwards to melt into the metaphysical branches of the wormhole that tied each of the Nine Realms together.

“Until then, Loki Liesmith, all you will ever be able to do is watch and wait. And hopefully prepare for what is to come.”

The Nornir’s hall faded to mist and smoke around him, and Loki slowly opened his eyes to look up at his bedchambers’ ceiling.

++

Tony learned what it is to lie from a very early age.

He learned what the gentle pressure of his father’s hand was as it cupped around the thin curve of his skull. He learned just how easy it was for Howard Stark to sing his praises in public, when the media and his partners all asked about his son’s progress—the feats that the boy was accomplishing in leaps and bounds. He learned what a father’s proud smile would look like upon Howard’s face. He learned the sour taste of words in his mouth as the boy spoke of how his father was his role model and that he wanted to one day create amazing things, just like Howard did.

(The lie: Tony would do better.)

So, too, did Tony learn to differentiate the lie from the truth—

The red flush that spread over Howard’s cheeks when he had been drinking too much. The sound of glass breaking when a tumbler met the solid surface of their dining room table when Tony did something that frustrated and angered the older Stark. The gentle strength that Maria showed when she stood between father and son and tried to soothe both of their sharp edges—and the silent regret that lay hidden within her dark eyes when she ultimately failed in that goal.

Tony learned many things from his mother. From his father.

But the first dazzlingly brilliant smile he aimed towards a reporter was all his own.

++

The crystal was a heavy weight against the palm of Loki’s hand as the mage shifted it this way and that, attention focused solely upon the reflection of a nine year-old Anthony Edward Stark that lay within its depths. The boy was hidden away in a corner of Howard’s workshop, using stolen tools and parts to bring the mathematics and numbers and designs on his head to life.

Creativity.

The machine sparked and moved, beginning to whirl away—much to Tony’s wide-eyed delight.

Chaos.

Just as the child was about to reach out to gently brush one finger over his new creation, pride so very present in his dark eyes, Howard came storming into the workshop, strides long and eating up the distance as he made his way towards his son. His face was twisted in an expression of fury, cheeks red from both the emotion and the scotch that he had been drinking throughout the afternoon.

“What did I tell you?!” he yelled at Tony even as he stooped low to gather the boy’s machine in his hands. “You’re not allowed in here—and you’re certainly not supposed to be using my tools or supplies! What if you had broken something??”

Anger reaching a crescendo, Howard threw the machine against the wall, shattering its chassis and expelling the metal innards all across the concrete floor. “This needs to stop, Tony! No more!

As his attention lingered on the bits and pieces of his invention, now broken, Tony fought the urge to cry—though, no matter how hard he tried otherwise, several tears soon trickled down his cheeks to drip off of the sharp edge of his jawline.

Exasperated now by his son’s tears on top of the anger at finding him alone in the workshop, Howard reached down to grab onto Tony’s upper arm, dragging the boy upright to march him out of the workshop. “Stop crying,” the older man snapped in frustration. “Stark men don’t cry. Stark men are made of iron.”

Entropy.

Loki’s fingers curled tightly around his scrying crystal to interrupt the vision, ending it before he had to watch the older Stark berate and belittle his son any further. They were scenes that he came across far too often for his liking, especially the older that Tony got. And there was little enough that Loki could do to stop them, not when magic created a barrier that kept him from being visible to his soul’s parallel, to start that initial connection. For now… there was a disconnect, one that the mage could do little to overcome.

He would remember these events, however.

And Howard Stark would eventually regret ever deciding to become a poor, alcoholic excuse of a father.

The crystal within the prince’s hold cracked from the pressure of his fingers.

++

Tony’s laughter was echoing and bright, the teen exuberant and high off of the success of not only graduating top of his class from MIT, but also accomplishing what his professors and advisors had all claimed was currently impossible: creating the world’s first AI, simple as DUM-E truly was.

But it was a start. But it was only the beginning.

Laughter still ringing through the student’s private workshop, Tony grinned up at his robot even as DUM-E very gently carded its claw through the thick waves of the boy’s hair.

A shift in position knocked over the bottle of scotch that he had stolen from the Stark household last time he was there, and the amber liquid quickly began to pour out of the glass neck to spread its way across the workshop floor—a christening of the event; a benediction of new life, giving thanks to creation using a ‘wine’ that was the only one worth being acknowledged in Tony’s home. A rite of passage and a mass only he bothered to participate in.

In the corner of the workshop, Loki stood standing—invisible and unheard—and burned with joy at seeing Tony’s accomplishment.

Oh, the ripples that you will cause when your wings finally stretch wide and you take flight.

Loki could hardly wait to see.

++

“I tried. Oh, I tried. My baby—my baby’s all alone now,” Maria sobbed into the hands that covered her face, heartbroken at the knowledge that Tony, unprepared and still too-young, would be all alone as he tried to figure out how the world worked. It would not be a pretty experience, not with the greed that hollowed out other men’s hearts and how they looked upon her son’s intelligence as the new goose that would soon enough be laying golden eggs for years to come. Tony would eventually succeed—how could he not?—but the pain was something that he wanted to spare him from.

Loki looked down upon the gray-edged spirit that was now a resident of his daughter’s realm. He wanted nothing more than to cause her more pain and anguish, but—knowing how much Tony genuinely loved his mother—he kept his words behind the harsh clench of his teeth.

You and your husband failed my soul’s match a long, long time ago.

++

The ironic thing—no, truly, it was most definitely hilarious—was getting killed by the very same weapon he designed. It was a cosmic joke, and one that Tony couldn’t resist laughing joyously at the punchline even as the ‘Stark Industries’ next to him missile finally exploded.

Served him right for everything, didn’t it?

++

Cool lips pressed against the sweaty, feverish skin of his forehead, and Tony finally fought past the grogginess of a sedative that wasn’t strong enough to manage the pain burning his core from the inside out; he opened his eyes to look up into a mismatched gaze: one eye was a solid black, though there was a hint of cosmos and the unknown twisting into existence at the very back of that far-reaching eye and the second was a bright, lively green that was filled with mischief and fury both.

“You will live,” the woman whispered to him gently. “Perhaps you may wish otherwise at times, but you will live.”

Tony’s lashes slowly began to lower and he started to drift back into unconsciousness.

Before the darkness swallowed him completely, however, he heard her say:

“Avenge yourself and send these men to their well-deserved deaths. I promise that I will make them regret their choices to do you harm from now until the end of eternity.”

Yeah, I can do that, Tony thought to himself.

++

“Hello, little mortal,” Loki murmured gently as he cupped Raza’s cheek against the palm of his hand. The bald man managed to shudder in a breath before the trickster god smiled brightly and shoved one of his daggers forward to gut the Ten Rings’ leader from groin to sternum.

Raza screamed in agony even as Loki withdrew his blade to watch the magic of Helheim begin to slowly repair the otherwise mortal wound.

“I have always taken offense towards those who believed themselves privileged towards handling my possessions,” Loki continued idly as he balanced on the balls of his feet, forearms resting idly upon his knees as he waited for the wound to heal completely. “Unfortunately for you, you did more than just handle my belongings—you did harm upon Tony Stark’s person.”

Raza’s eyes widened in realization and fear, and it wasn’t long before his screams began to echo hauntingly in this portion of Hel’s kingdom.

++

Absolutely unassuming with one Burger King cheeseburger clutched in one hand—honestly, an In-n-Out 3x3 would have been a million times preferable, but the line had been a half an hour wait and extended out to the street the burger joint was situated on—a newly returned Tony Stark stared out over the crowd before him. He finally slid down to prop his back against the podium and his dark gaze was already turning shrewd and calculating despite the horror he had just recently been rescued from.

“Hey… would it be all right if everyone just sat down? That way you could see me and it’d be a little less formal.”

As one, the reporters that filled the room all lowered themselves at Tony’s request, going to their knees without a protest to be seen or heard before their Merchant of Death.

Loki’s eyes widened as the events unfolded, mouth forming an unheard Oh. at the sight.

++

The god idly sipped at his tankard of mead, twisting his scrying crystal back and forth between his fingers; the motion was smooth, fluid—absentminded, however, because the majority of his thoughts were directed towards the events that had been playing out over the past several days.

I am Iron Man.

Loki’s lips curled into a sneer at the title: he could remember, for years, Howard’s snarled “Stark men are made of iron.” that he directed Tony’s way whenever he needed to bring the boy to heel. However: iron melted, iron was weak and brittle, iron rusted. Iron could not stand the test of time—much like Howard himself.

Tony was not iron. Tony was something more, something different.

Tony was forged in the heart of a star and would stand firm against enemy and time both.

Tony was his.

++

Anthony Edward Stark was dying and Loki screamed his helpless fury to the universe.

++

Tony, you're too young to understand this right now, so I thought I would put it on film for you. I built this for you. And some day you'll realize that it represents a whole lot more than just people's inventions. It represents my life's work. This is the key to the future. I'm limited by the technology of my time, but one day you'll figure this out. And when you do, you will change the world. What is and always will be my greatest creation... is you.

Loki could remember the angry, wounded look in Tony’s mahogany gaze at hearing those words coming from his father’s recording. He could remember the fury, the spite that suddenly fueled the engineer’s every action as he went about creating a new element—if only to live and prove himself more than Howard Stark could ever hope to be.

“You are my son… I wanted only to protect you from the truth…”

How closely the intent behind Odin’s words echoed with Howard Stark’s—the failings of fathers who were blind to their own sons and the possibilities they held within themselves. How cold it was, knowing that he was nothing more than a stolen relic—a monster that all Aesir feared enough to tell nightmare-riddled stories to their children at night—a war prize that Odin only ever intended to put towards his own use.

Loki was no son of Odin’s. Loki refused to be this man’s greatest, molded-from-birth, creation.

Loki was not of Asgard nor was he of Jötunheimr. Loki was his own.

++

Loki Fell—and somewhere, somehow, Tony awoke sweat-soaked from a nightmare of the Void and the eldritch creatures that made it their home.

++

Clink.

The scepter glowed with neon blue light, matching the color of his eyes, but that color did not spread to the engineer’s gaze: warm, dark brown they remained—no Tesseract shade in sight—and Loki’s eyes bled green for one heart-stopping moment.

“…I know you,” he rasped, voice nothing more than a low murmur; his attention centered upon the mortal whose mind the scepter could not touch. A mind--creativity, chaos, entropy--that Loki knew so very, very well. Somehow.

All hell broke loose.

++

Late nights Tony stayed awake down in his workshop, leaving Pepper alone in their bed. Late nights, sleepless nights where he was haunted by dreams of the Void he had visited so briefly—in one lifetime; in another, perhaps, he had fallen endlessly through it (he had memories of that, too)—and where knowledge of what was to come spurned him on to create, to improve, to ensure that he would be ready when the larger threat finally made its way to Earth.

Tony had no name for the person perched upon that throne (Thanos, a voice husked out from a corner of his mind, the Mad Titan, lover of Death), but one glimpse of that figure filled him with a shuddering sort of dread.

The End was coming.

And so Tony built and built and built.

(The nightmares did not end. Neither did the panic attacks.)

++

Power, manipulation, lies, and money: there was no need to be the one on the actual throne when a wink, a kiss, and a lie so easily distracted others away from what was truly before them. A magician never revealed his tricks, but there was no need to do so when a liar had the same sort of ammunition in their repertoire, as well.

Loki sat perched upon the throne of Asgard, Odin’s visage a heavy glamour over him, and watched as his soul’s mirror pulled strings and made deals behind locked doors—hurrying preparations for a future that the both of them knew was coming for Midgard and the rest of the universe beyond.

Better to manipulate from the shadows than to stand in the light and be judged for the standards that only honorable men knew how to adhere to. That particular mantle was not worth wearing.

Still, though, as Loki watched Tony make deal after deal and generate so many favors that would be later owed to him… he ached, knowing that not even now and after everything that had already happened, was the appropriate time to finally meet with true faces.

Oh, but the soul that paralleled his own was truly brilliant.

++

Tony worked the forge, spurning fire hot enough that the very air became difficult to breathe.

Loki bled ice and frost, twisting magic so that bones ached from a killing winter’s chill.

Some say the world will end in fire, 
Some say in ice. 
From what I’ve tasted of desire 
I hold with those who favor fire. 
But if it had to perish twice, 
I think I know enough of hate 
To say that for destruction ice 
Is also great 
And would suffice.

--how apt the words of a Midgardian poet.

++

The rest of the Avengers had all left—scattered to the winds or now comfortably situated in the compound upstate. The Tower had been emptied of their belongings while they had all been off fighting, and Tony still hadn’t bothered arranging for clean-up crews to come in to start picking up and fixing the damage that Ultron had left behind.

He couldn’t yet find the motivation to do so, not when he was now the sole resident of Avengers Tower.

I tried to create a suit of armor around the world. But… I created something terrible.

He hung his head low to bury his face against the palms of his hands; sweat, blood, and grime coated both skin and hair, but Tony didn’t stand to head upstairs to take advantage of the opportunity to bathe. There was no voice from the ceiling to gently suggest and coax the inventor towards caring for himself.

“Jarvis, buddy—please. Out of everyone in my life… please don’t leave me, too.”

Jarvis, however, had already been integrated with Vision—and there was no response.

With no one to see and no one to comment upon the fact that Stark men were made of iron, Tony pressed his face harder against his hands and finally allowed himself to quietly weep from stress and loss and fear and frustration and swallowed-back rage.

In trying to protect everyone, his self-made family and the world beyond, Tony had instead lost everything that had come to matter to him over the past several years. How was this justice?

Unfelt and unseen by the inventor, a pale hand reached out to curl fingers over the trembling nape of a neck.

++

Siberia was cold enough that Tony could feel how his sweat-covered skin glued itself to the still-warm metal of his now dead suit. Rogers and Barnes had left hours ago, and Tony was just… tired. The temperature was low enough that he knew that, should he give in to the temptation to close his eyes, it would be very unlikely that he would be opening them again come morning.

But he was just—tired. Tired of fighting, of betrayals, of doing his best and still coming up short. Tired of trying to make amends and to be accountable—to do and be--and always and forever come up short. It was so tempting to just… stop fighting. Rogers, Barnes, and T’Challa were the only ones who knew where he was; blackout protocol ensured that Friday hadn’t remained in communication with Vision. And with Rhodey in the hospital and Romanoff who-knew-where… it could be days or weeks before anyone came looking for him. He could just… sleep.

God, he just wanted to sleep.

(When had his life become such a fucking trainwreck of a tragedy?)

“Wake up, Anthony Edward Stark. It is not time for you to lay down your arms,” a woman’s voice snapped out, her words accompanied by a firm tap on Tony’s cheek. “Wake up; it is time for you to get up.”

“I can’t. I don’t want to. I can’t,” Tony gasped, words brittle with fear and so very much pain.

“You can because you must,” the woman answered firmly, and Tony opened tear-blurred eyes to meet a gaze that he had looked into once-upon-a-time ago in Afghanistan. The skin around her eerie eyes softened with a gentle smile, and the woman carefully cupped a hand over the cheek she had been previously tapping. “You must, Tony, for the universe still has need of you. However, so too is great joy destined for you, as well—when your trials are over. But first you must get up. And continue getting up to bear arms until the very last battle.”

The demand was enough to make Tony sob for breath, tears leaking from his eyes to bury in the hair at his temples as he considered the job set before him, as well as the duties and obligations that would come to settle upon his shoulders.

But he still, slowly, reached up to release the manual triggers on his armor—

And stood.

++

Loki settled himself at an outside table of a reputable café in Midtown, curling his hands around a large cup of black coffee; the beverage’s fragrance was rich enough to soothe him, and the mage relaxed further into the surprisingly comfortable chair.

“An unusual choice of acolyte, but fitting enough considering who is being paid honor to.”

Hel’s words were said lightly enough, and Loki shifted his attention from a Tony Stark who was picking up Peter Parker from school. The teen’s face blazed with happiness and pleasure, expression and gestures animated as he explained to Tony, in detail, both his ideas for the upcoming science fair as well as the bank robbery he had managed to stop two nights before.

Tony’s own face showed indulgence and amusement both, and the weight of his hand upon Peter’s shoulder held a different sort of meaning than Howard’s ever did on his own. Tilting his head to the side, the genius inventor offered up a suggestion to help smooth over an issue that had appeared in the teen’s project, and Peter’s expression turned supernova in joy and admiration.

“He deserves such dedication—and loyalty,” Loki eventually replied when the two superheroes slipped into Tony’s car and sped off towards the newly renamed Stark Tower. Tipping the cup back farther, the trickster finished off his well-brewed coffee and then stood, pausing only long enough to press a kiss to the inky crown of her head. “Be well, daughter. I shall see you soon.”

++

The world was now Tony’s playground, and he buried his interests throughout his new stomping grounds. The genius inventor made connections, struck deals, manipulated, bribed, pressured, charmed, and struck his influence down hard upon the political bodies that had wanted to go beyond ensuring he remembered accountability and instead attempted to collar him and the other superheroes.

Accountability, responsibility, remembering that their fights brought down metric tons of damage to those who were not involved in any of these wars—not yet, anyway—those were all things that Tony promoted and held important.

(“Uncle Ben’s most memorable saying… ‘with great power comes great responsibility.’ I don’t want to forget that, Mr. Stark. I want to remember to always be the type of man that my uncle could be proud of and who others… I want people to feel relief when I come to help them. Not even more fear. I don't want them to look at me--run away from me--the same way that they do with the person, creature, villain--whatever--that's hurting them. Is that... do you think I'm asking too much, Mr. Stark...?”)

So he dove into UN politics, using everything that he had learned over his long life to tip things into his far—skewing governments into agreements where both parties could come away satisfied, if not necessarily happy. He pushed and pushed and pulled the strings of every committee that he could, and Tony walked away from it all with an amended set of Accords.

--like he had promised Rogers, regardless of the fact that the other an obviously hadn’t believed him.

(Sometimes the only thing left to someone was to live on spite alone. Tony just made it look good.)

++

The old Avengers had been active for less than a week when Thanos and his army came down upon the Earth in a strike that was felt across the world. And, one by one, each team member began to fall against Thanos’ power: the Infinity Gems’ power combined twisted time, coaxed submission and forced compliance—gravity and reality and space and the very sanctity of a soul were things to be manipulated and controlled. Nothing was safe. Nowhere was safe.

Still, though, the fight continued and the losses rose higher and higher—

Thor was injured, barely breathing with his outstretched fingers brushing against the handle of a nearly completely shattered Mjölnir. The Hulk and Barton were also both out of commission: victims of the Time and Soul Gems, respectively.

Tony had come to join the fight: he couldn’t allow anything less of himself. However, the distrust from the others—left over from their ‘Civil War’—threaded through each of their actions. And the team dynamics that once came effortlessly to them all had long ago died; motions and assistance stuttered and oftentimes came too late. They were all out of sync and were obviously losing because of their shared, painful history.

But Tony could do nothing less than continue on, to give it his all for better or for worse.

A shockwave from the Gravity Gem slammed into his chest, sending Tony flying backwards and skittering across the battlefield to eventually come to a stop next to the unconscious Thunderer. Tony was exhausted and worn down—for months, for years, he had carried his many burdens and the additional weight that others decided to lay upon his shoulders besides, and it would have been so very easy to just shed all of that weight and give himself the rest that he so desperately needed.

--but he could not.

The words of the woman who had rescued him in Siberia returned to him, and Tony groaned brokenly before once again pushing himself upwards. Once more. Just one more time. One more time, the engineer promised himself, silently acknowledging the fact that that, too, would soon enough be a lie after he was batted away again—but, until that moment came, Tony could at least pretend that all that was needed from him was one last try.

Stumbling forward with feet repulsors that were trying to sputter to life, Tony reached down to grab Mjölnir from where it lay next to its original wielder; the Hammer’s weight was heavy and solid, but the handle perfectly balanced against the palm of Tony’s hand no matter how damaged the rest of the weapon appeared.

To live fueled by spite alone—

Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.

(Perhaps not just spite.)

Thanos outstretched the arm that the Infinity Gauntlet was fitted to, focused mainly now on Peter, Rogers, Barnes, and Romanoff—and Tony fired off the boot repulsors, taking off from the ground to speed recklessly towards the Mad Titan who stood at the center of so much misery and death.

Tony yelled, a senseless, wordless sound of primeval fury--and he brought Mjölnir down with the strength of a forgemaster behind such a swing. The Hammer connected with the Gauntlet in an explosion of light and a roar of sound that echoed for miles.

…and the Infinity Gauntlet cracked and began to break into pieces, metal raining down to the ground with cheerful chimes each time a piece struck the concrete.

Thanos’ head jerked upwards, shocked gaze meeting Tony’s for just a moment before his expression twisted in rage and he moved to strike back, Infinity Gems or no. But Tony’s own face shifted into something feral at seeing the Mad Titan’s weakness—and at knowing that the end was finally within his reach. He swung his arm yet again, and Mjölnir once more came down.

++

“Ah, excellent. You’re all gathered here together—no need to track down stragglers.”

The comment was drolled lightly enough, though there was a dark emotion hidden within the tone.

As one, the Avengers and SHIELD Directors turned towards the flicker of green that had accompanied the words, and none of them could find themselves surprised at seeing the resident trickster god interrupting their debrief of the battle and discussion of how to begin and organize the search parties that would need to comb the battlefield for Tony’s body.

“Brother,” Thor began tiredly, palming his face in exhaustion even as his free hand clutched at Mjölnir as one would a security blanket. “It has been a long and trying day, and there is still much more for us to do. Cannot you wait on your mischief for even just one more day?”

“I cannot,” the mage answered readily enough, a smile sharp enough to cut curving his lips upwards. “It pertains to your current discussion, anyway. There is no need to begin a search for Anthony Edward Stark. He is no longer your concern. Nor ever will be again.”

“…and just what’s that supposed to mean?” the Captain asked sharply, gaze suddenly that much more alert than even a few seconds ago.

If anything, the question just made Loki’s smile that much sharper. “Should you have any specific questions, I’m sure that Thor would be happy to oblige in answering them. In short, however: Once every so often, a soul is born that the universe takes note of. With necessary connections, demonstrated heroic feats, miracles made… if everything ends up aligned in the ways absolutely necessary to prove its worth, that soul becomes something more. Tony Stark is no longer of your realm: thus, he is no longer of any concern to any of you.”

Loki paused for a moment before continuing: “…not that you were in any way concerned for him for a long time before this battle.”

A delicate flush colored Romanoff’s cheeks and, already fully aware of what the trickster god was implying, demanded: “And just what are you implying, Loki?”

Instead of answering her outright, Loki murmured cheerfully enough, “Every single one of us—gods, if you would like to still call us such—personifies certain things. That golden brute over there, as you already know, is associated with thunder. Besides that, Thor has always been linked to strength, the protection of Midgard, and fertility. I, myself, have typically been linked to fire, magic, knowledge, mischief, and lies. Consider this, then: whatever higher power is out there, laying down the threads of destiny and ruling birth and entropy both, saw fit to associate Anthony Edward Stark with fealty. With those who keep the faith.”

One by one, Loki met each person’s gaze, his own green eyes icy in their chilly dislike.

“I have watched over him from the moment that he was born. I have observed him in his victories and falls; I have stood sentinel as others have attempted to bring him down, and I have also taken pleasure in watching each choice made to push himself up again and again and again and continue forward, if only for the sole reason that ‘life, it goes on.’ And, in the end, except for two of you here:” a pause to give a nod towards Rhodey and Peter “where did you keep the faith in him? I have seen, I know, and I say that you do not deserve him—and, thus, you shall not have him. And may you all be the lesser for that lack.”

Giving a mocking bow to the team and its leaders at large, Loki disappeared in another bright green flicker of magic.

++

Consciousness was slow in coming but, when he finally breached the darkness that had been cradling him for who knew how long, Tony found himself surprised at the fact that there was no pain—none at all, not even the lingering aches from battle wounds long past healed.

“Sleep,” a velvet-lined voice murmured softly even as the fingers of the voice’s owner gently carded through Tony’s salt-and-pepper hair. “Rest. It is well earned—and much needed, I think.”

Quietly, Tony sighed and allowed sleep to once more drag him under, mind and soul both quiet at the knowledge that he was safe—and home—and could finally lay down his burdens and obligations to rest.

Dealing with Loki’s unexpected appearance could come later.

Much… later…

Now, it was time for—peace.

::fin::

Chapter Text

And I swam in the wakes of imposters 
Just to feel what it's like to pretend 
There's no dreams in the lakes only monsters
And the monsters are my only friends
“Unbecoming” – Starset

**

Consciousness was slow in coming—but it did eventually come.

In all honesty, Tony was surprised that he was waking up at all. Brief flashes of memory from the battle against Thanos danced at the corners of his mind, as indistinct as ghosts, but they were enough to remind the inventor of the pain that he had pushed through. The very same pain that he no longer… felt.

Tony carefully inhaled, letting air sharpened with the threat of ozone and the lightning that accompanied it fill his lungs. There was something—fresher, he supposed, about the quality of it. So, too, the engineer felt quieter—content and rested—moreso than Tony had felt in… years. Decades, maybe. (Perhaps for the very first time in all of his life, though that was a thought that Tony didn’t want to think about—though it did linger, waiting to be acknowledged at some point in the future.)

Wondering what sight would greet his gaze when he finally opened his eyes, the dark-eyed man eventually found the inner strength needed to lift sleep-crusted lashes to stare up at a ceiling that looked more at home in a D&D setting than the twenty-first century. It also looked nothing like the hospital ceiling that Tony had actually been expecting.

“Good morning, Anthony. I was hoping that you would awaken today,” a soft voice greeted from Tony’s right, and the one-time mortal carefully turned his head just enough to meet the gaze of a woman who was—familiar.

“…I remember you,” Tony whispered, voice husky with disuse.

And how could he ever forget this woman? She had appeared before him during two of the lowest points of his life—Afghanistan and Siberia—and, with the gut-thick feeling of instinct, Tony knew, too, that if she hadn’t appeared before him, he would have died. She had ensured that he had lived. And with that dual gaze—one as dark and as fathomless as deep space and the other as clear as well-picked jade—Tony also had the feeling that he knew very well who this woman was.

Instead of answering, the woman—Hel—just offered a Mona Lisa smile and leaned forward in her chair to assist Tony in sitting up completely, moving pillows around so that the dark-eyed man was propped up against the headboard of his current bed and as comfortable as she could make him. Now that Tony was actually awake, he could feel the ache that came when he had slept too long and had remained in one position longer than he should have.

He didn’t bother asking the goddess how long he’d been asleep, however; the inventor honestly didn’t want to know.

Once Tony was settled, however, Hel retrieved a platter that he hadn’t previously seen—hell, with her and her father’s apparent talent at magic, it was even likely that the platter hadn’t been there originally—and lifted it to place it over Tony’s upper thighs.

“Eat,” Hel gently ordered, gesturing towards the offering of food spread out for him. “Rest. Recover. Find peace, Anthony Edward Stark.”

++

Out of all of the Realms that Tony would have figured that Hel—and most likely Loki despite the fact that the engineer hadn’t yet seen the green-eyed man—would have taken him to… Niðavellir wouldn’t have been on the list, though it was actually rather fitting a choice. The landscape was craggy, rough with rock and wild in the fact that so few lived on this world’s surface; nearly everyone who resided here stayed underground, living in a twisted, constantly growing network of caves and caverns: it was a world filled with darkness and with fire. Fitting, then, with all of the stories about dwarves that Tony could remember from his childhood.

He reclined against the wall bracketing the window seat, oddly neutral expression upon his face as he looked out over the untamed grounds. There was so much to process: the events that led up to Tony’s current holdings the very tip of the iceberg. What it meant, too, in the fact that Tony was here. How he was able to be here. Who had brought him here, as well—and why. Perhaps it was the why that lingered the most in the one-time mortal’s mind. (And that, too, was an iceberg that Tony was going to have to chip away at.)

The door to his collection of rooms opened, and Tony tilted his head towards the sound to let whoever was entering that he was aware of their presence, though he never really moved his attention away from the sharp, contrasted outline of ebon mountain range against lapis lazuli hued sky.

“You know that you’re not supposed to be out of bed just yet, Anthony,” Hel scolded gently, though she knew well enough from experience with her own father that trying to keep Tony in bed was most likely a lost cause.

“No tech to play with, no books to read—or, well, that I can read, anyway—and staring up at the same old, boring ceiling? Guaranteed way for me to crash and burn,” the inventor replied, words honest and frank. Finally, Tony shifted his gaze from the window to meet Hel’s own eerie one. “I’ve been thinking.”

Hel lifted a dark brow even as she offered a rebuttal: “Not about anything pleasant considering the expression currently resting on your face.”

Tony lifted a shoulder in an absent-minded shrug even as his mouth twisted unhappily. “Fealty,” he clarified. “Keeping the faith. Is there a return policy for any of this bullshit, Hel?”

The goddess tilted her head to the side at the man’s question, eyes going heavy-lidded in both thought and warning. “And what issue do you have with those particular virtues?” she asked lightly enough, though thunder rumbled beneath the tone of her words.

“Because whoever picked those ones to represent me obviously never spent five minutes in my company.”

Hel hummed lightly in answer, bare feet silent upon the plush rug of Tony’s bedchambers as she made her way closer to the self-derisive man. “I disagree,” the Queen murmured even as she reached out to cup the engineer’s cheek in the palm of a dark blue hand. “I see a man who burns with the fire of invention, whose faith in and loyalty to others is as deep as the bedrock beneath our feet. I see a man who inspires such respect and love in those who choose to look beneath the surface of paper-thin masks. I see a man who has shaped the world in more good ways than bad and upheld an age-old concept of honor and accountability and truth in a way that has not truly been done since the centuries-past—dead and gone to dust—of your knights of legend.”

Tony’s gaze went sharp, jagged with pain. “I see a man who has consistently failed his friends and teammates both, who burns every bridge imaginable when it comes to any type of relationship, who leaves behind a wake of death and destruction; a man who the world wished to collar and be taught to heel because they feared him more than they loved him.”

The goddess’ tongue clicked in disapproval of Tony’s words, and her hold shifted just enough so that she could grasp the man’s bristled chin between her surprisingly strong fingers. “The words that I am hearing from your mouth are not your own and have unfortunately warped the image that you hold for yourself, Anthony. And that is an absolute tragedy--one that will not be tolerated.” Hel tightened her hold on Tony, tilting his chin upwards so that he had no choice but to meet her gaze—unable to look away—when next she spoke. “I do not care how long it will take—whether it be months, years, centuries, or until the end of the universe itself—but I will not stop telling you how you are a good man until you finally believe my words and take them as truth.”

Tony closed his eyes, ignoring the sharp sting of tears that he refused to let fall, and just—breathed.

Breathed in fresh air.

++

Tony idly wandered around the smithy that Hel had led him to earlier that day, allowing his hands to drift over the various tools and supplies she had laid out for him to use should Tony’s inspiration strike while he was recovering—or when the itch to create, to bring life to the endless designs that never truly ever allowed his mind the choice of peace. The engineer lingered over one of the smithing hammers, lifting it with hand as he tested the weight of it: the heft and balance of the tool drawing lines of muscles tight, a lifetime of experience shown as Tony expertly kept control of the tool during his exploration.

“I take it, then, that everything meets your approval?”

The dark-eyed inventor glanced over a shoulder at the inquiry, setting aside the hammer to fully turn to face Loki. “More than. It’s like everything here was tailor made for me.” Tony paused a moment at that, gaze turning thoughtful as he shifted back to lean a hip against the edge of a table. “Which shouldn’t come as a surprise because everything was tailor made with me in mind.”

Loki inclined his head at that assessment before making his way deeper into the smithy when he saw that his presence was not unwelcome by the other man. “Idle hands and idle minds are perhaps the worst sort of torture for men like us, Anthony,” was the only comment he offered up in reply.

“And you would know, wouldn’t you—both from personal experience and from watching me,” Tony sent back, that darkly thoughtful gaze sharp with intelligence and strategy: a strategist turned war general carefully plotting his next move. “Hel and I talked about it. And about why you never showed up until now—something about the danger of potential not being realized due to your interference, right? But I don’t really get why you would want to bother at all: why bother with taking that chance—because it was apparently always a possibility that I wouldn’t have changed and you knew that; the odds of it happening were stacked against you from the start. So why bother at all?”

The one-time Asgardian prince took a moment to consider his answer, well-aware of the fact that Tony was watching him closely as Loki considered and weighed his words, searching for the best, truthful reply. Eventually, however, the mage offered it up: cutting in its simplicity and all the more painful because of it.

“Understanding.”

“Understanding?” Tony parroted back with a slightly lifted brow, waiting for clarity.

Loki took another step forward—then another and another still—until he was close enough to the newly-minted god that the heat of Tony’s skin raised the fine hairs along the backs of his forearms: the mahogany-eyed man was a furnace to Loki’s frost, a star gone supernova and explosive in the endless winter of space. “I have gone my entire life misunderstood and ostracized for it. When I was told of an opportunity to finally have a match that would understand me, instinctively and on a soul-deep level… I would have been a fool not to take it. That is why I ‘bothered,’ Anthony.”

Tony idly tilted his head to the side, eyes never leaving Loki’s. “And now that you got what you wanted?”

A winter-pale hand came up, then, as Loki reached out and cupped the palm of his hand against the bristled skin of the shorter man’s cheek. “I feel joy in considering the future that lies before me.”

The engineer sighed quietly, though the corner of Tony’s mouth quirked upwards in a gesture that mirrored the helpless smirk at Loki’s ‘I’ll take that drink now.’ from years before. He curled calloused fingers in the fabric of the older god’s tunic, dragging the green-eyed mage that much closer with one firm, pointed pull. When they finally stood chest to chest, no space to separate them from one another—just heat and skin and cloth and mingled breath—Tony tilted his chin upwards to catch Loki’s lower lip between his teeth. A pointed bite, a nip rough enough to draw blood (because neither man had ever learned the wisdom of not pushing against boundaries), and Tony eventually caught Loki’s mouth with his own in a searing, all-consuming kiss.

It was like coming home.

++

From the moment that Thor had officially joined the team, Tony had made it a side-hobby for himself to look up various stories relating to Norse mythology. Obviously, the inventor figured that not everything he read would be completely true—or accurate. However: Tony had asked about the story of Loki getting his mouth sewn shut one night when it was just him and Thor and a case of beer. Midnight had come and gone long ago, and the alcohol, as it tended to do in the worst sort of ways, had made Tony both brave and curious.

So he had asked the Asgardian prince about that particular story, brow lifted in Thor’s direction as he took a swig of his beer.

Anguish and regret had flickered over the Thunderer’s expression at the idly-made inquiry. Tony didn’t continue to press—from that reaction alone, yes, the engineer knew that that story was true.

Knowing that, though, even if they weren’t aware that he knew… it was curious that Hel and Loki had picked Niðavellir as the realm for Tony to recover in. Even after seeing the gift of his new smithy, the curiosity still lingered.

He took the opportunity to learn, however: in and out of the various dwarven forges, soaking in information and techniques as Tony worked towards recovery; there was a wealth of information here, so much he previously didn’t know or understand—or could even do, considering the limitations that most Midgardians faced because they weren’t aware of just how much more was out there, beyond their realm. So Tony learned, even if he wasn’t yet strong enough to do anything about that knowledge.

It didn’t take long for that to change.

Tony had been heading back to his suite from the forge that Ivaldi and his sons still ran when he had bumped into a brother smithing duo. They had been gloating for all to hear about how Hel had commissioned them to create three new items of legend for her—choosing them even over the sons of Ivaldi, they who had crafted Sif’s golden hair, Gungnir, and Skíðblaðnir.

The engineer knew that he should have walked away, should have let sleeping dragons rest.

But he remembered the look on Thor’s face, he remembered all of the variations of the tales read that addressed Loki’s punishment—and, besides, Tony had never been able to let a challenge go. Not when it was pretty much slapping him in the face.

“I bet that I can do better,” Tony said, interrupting Brokkr mid-gloat.

The dwarf glanced at his brother, Sindri, and then directed his attention back to Tony as a sly, cruel smile curved his mouth upwards. “You are the Midgardian, are you not? The one soul-bonded to Loki Lie-Smith.” It was easy enough to see where this was going to go, but Tony still inclined his head in confirmation. “We accept your challenge. But should you lose… we claim one of your arms in payment. The right one.”

Tony’s mouth went tight, rage flaring within his dark eyes before he managed to shutter it away; the smile that he offered the dwarven brothers in return should have made them instantly wary. Certainly anyone who had dealt with the Merchant of Death before would have recognized that malicious slant to the inventor’s mouth. “Deal,” Tony answered, then tossed down his own gauntlet. “If I win, though, I get unrestricted access to your family’s Uru mine. For the rest of my life.”

Sindri spat on the floor at hearing Tony’s demand. “If you win? Unlikely!”

“It won’t be long before you are one-armed and useless, mortal,” Brokkr added in a snarl. “Who do you think you are? The god of forge and fire? Ha!”

++

Tony missed the eardrum-shattering blast of music that always accompanied him as he worked. So, too, did he miss the easy conversation and collaboration he could immediately dive in to with either JARVIS or FRIDAY there to double-check his math and run simulations for him.

In comparison, the silence was… jarring.

Still: there was nothing that could be done to chance circumstances at this time, so the engineer grabbed a hold of one of his new hammers and pulled the deeply crimson nugget of Uru from the fire. Tony hefted it to eyelevel, turning the pair of tongs every which way to inspect the ore and judge if it was ready to be shaped.

When the hammer came down in the first strike, the clang of metal meeting metal shuddered out through the dwarven realm, the soundwave burrowing deep within the ground to resonate within the earth’s bones—echoing back and thrumming with a god’s newly-realized power.

++

The pile of various treasures that Brokkr, Sindri, and Tony had all created—six items in total—were displayed almost carelessly for Hel’s perusal. Items of a quality that the Nine Realms had not seen in centuries were shown to full advantage, only waiting the goddess’ choice. She lingered over the items, inspecting each and every one with a critical eye, but the end result was exactly what Tony had expected:

Despite the level of anonymity that he and the dwarves had agreed upon from the start, Hel had still picked his items out of the line-up. The grin that he shot Brokkr and Sindri’s way was not in any way kind—but, then again, it wasn’t meant to be. Not after the stories that Tony had read regarding what the two had done to Loki, not when the metalsmith could still see the faint, pinpricked scars that surrounded the mage’s mouth… even centuries later.

“I’ll be ‘round to collect my winnings later on today,” Tony promised as the dwarves began to angrily stomp away, furious at having lost the goddess’ commission and the bet both. Brokkr snarled at the new god, expression nearly feral in his rage, and Tony’s gaze sparked with amber power as he stared the dwarf down.

“You’re a quick study,” Hel commented idly when the brothers had left, leaving Tony and herself alone in the hall. “I would not have expected work of this caliber from you for many more years. However: perhaps I should have known better.”

The inventor shrugged a shoulder at that particular comment, and the honey-tint slowly began to fade from his eyes. “Time, inclination, will, and the desire to learn. Doesn’t hurt, either, that I’m a genius, sweetheart.”

“And rather full of confidence in yourself, as well,” Loki’s daughter replied with a laugh, though there was no true malice in her words—only easy teasing. Instead, she stepped closer to the gleaming silver wolf that had originally caught her attention when she had stepped into the room. The creature was larger in size than what a true wolf should be: created in gunmetal and chrome, it was a creation of twilight—painted in shades of umber. Hel trailed her fingertips over the wolf’s head, marveling at the detail that Tony had managed to infuse it with—

Then the wolf’s eyes slowly opened.

It lifted its head, pinning Hel with eyes that echoed the deepest hollows of the woods, emerald green and alive in a way that brought goosebumps to her skin, and murmured in a voice that was the rumble of distant thunder: “Greetings, sister. I am Fenrisúlfr.”

Hel’s eyes went wide.

Oh.”

++

“Besides watching the Asgardians exile my daughter—and having no voice to argue against it—the most difficult hardship I ever had to stand by and do nothing about was to watch you as you suffered.”

Loki’s voice came quiet as a sighed-out breath in the heavy shadows of Tony’s bed suite. The mage’s hand spread wide over the scars that marred the one-time mortal’s chest, palm pressed possessively over where the arc reactor once rested.

Tony slowly opened his eyes at the other’s words to stare up at the ceiling, eyes sightlessly tracking the grain of the stones above him.

“How long were you watching?” he eventually asked, dreading the answer but knowing that he would probably always wonder if he never actually asked now that the topic had been addressed. However, there was nothing that he could do to stop the way that the foreboding pooled in the bottom of his stomach, as heavy as concrete and iron.

“From the beginning. Always.”

The one-time mortal swallowed heavily—sound audible in the dark silence of his bedroom—and tried his best to ignore the repercussions of having Loki watch him, his life events, from the beginning. The world and its people had been privy to the events that had birthed Iron Man (and all the horrible things that followed after, as well), but Loki…? Loki knew about all of the other, smaller nightmares—the darkness that had hung over his childhood, the pain that he had learned to smile through, and the easy dismissal that had so often been aimed his way.

“Well,” he eventually ventured; perhaps it was a small thing to think an accomplishment, but Tony couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride at the fact that his voice didn’t shake from the dread that now settled over him like a death shroud. “From what I’ve heard… I’m sure, then, that you can relate when I say that dads can be giant, raging assholes.”

In reply, Loki scraped his teeth roughly over the area where Howard Stark had broken his son’s collarbone when he was five.

++

Thor was waiting for Tony in his sitting room when the inventor came back to his suite.

Tony paused as he stepped through the door, expression going blank upon catching sight of the Thunderer; the reaction was instinctive and immediate, and it brought an edge of sorrow to Thor’s already thoughtful and regret-filled expression. “I know that my presence here is both unexpected and most likely unwanted,” the blonde Asgardian began. “However, I have come here because I owe you an apology, Anthony Edward Stark.”

A muscle along the edge of Tony’s jawline ticked at hearing those words, and the dark-eyed man crossed his arms over his chest as he stared Thor down. “Oh?” he asked, refusing to provide any other reaction to his one-time teammate.

“Aye.”

Unable to maintain his gaze with Tony, Thor glanced down at his calloused hands, clasping his fingers together as a troubled expression settled across his face. “I have done a grave injustice against you, and it has been done repeatedly, constantly, over the years, Tony. If my mother were still here, she would have been deeply disappointed in me.” Thor’s fidgeting became more obvious at that point: he could not settle his hands into stillness—nails picking at his cuticles, fingers clasping and reclasping one another, drumming over his massive thighs. “I have forgotten that worth means more than just prowess in battle, which is something that she tried to teach me but I never understood in my hot-headed lust for blood and war.”

The god sighed quietly and gathered together his courage to once again lift his gaze to meet Tony’s own. “In my arrogance, I have belittled you, dismissed you, and took advantage of your strengths and gifts without offering gratitude for them—much as I had similarly done all of my life with Loki. And by doing such, I did not keep faith with you as you had done so with me. In my blindness, I did not see what the strength of heart that allowed the Vision to lift Mjölnir so easily came from JARVIS. From you. And when you lifted Mjölnir to wield for yourself during the battle against Thanos…”

Thor shook his head as the regret in his expression deepened.

“You are a worthy man, Anthony Edward Stark, and you always have been. The fault that it was not seen or acknowledged lies with me alone. I know that I have lost any right to call you Shield-Brother—I did so long ago—and that is my loss and burden to bear.”

The Asgardian prince stood and offered Tony a full, courtly bow, head dipping low in showing his respect to the engineer. “I am truly sorry for the pain that I have given to you, and I realize just how loyal and brilliant of a friend I have tossed aside due to my own foolish arrogance. This regret that I have—in my blindness when it came to you—is one that I shall carry until the day that I die. It was an honor and a privilege to have you as my Shield-Brother, Anthony Edward Stark. I only wish that I had realized it sooner.”

++

“I do believe that tonight I shall take my take and worship you appropriately,” Loki mused aloud, tone almost absent though Tony had learned better—and learned quickly. There was nothing ever absent or innocent about the trickster, and should you believe otherwise… well, the consequences be on your own head.

“Any particular reason for that?” he asked, gritting his teeth to keep himself from rolling his hips forward as Loki twisted his fingers within the inventor’s body just-so, just enough to skim over his neglected prostate. Tony bit back a curse as Loki did it again—because the other god was a bastard if nothing else—and fisted the sheets beneath him in his hands, desperate to find some sort of physical point to focus on.

Tony could hear the smirk in the trickster’s voice as Loki answered: “You’ve had a trying day.”

Loki,” the engineer snarled in response because that wasn’t the truth and Tony knew it; he desperately tried to hang on to his angry irritation no matter how that predatory sound slipped into a broken, shuddering moan as Loki withdrew his fingers before suddenly thrusting them back past the tight ring of muscle that comprised Tony’s entrance. There was a steady rhythm that Loki set for him, a constant press to Tony’s prostate that sent sparks flaring up his spine—and the sheets ripped easily enough within the engineer’s white-knuckled hold.

“You’ve had a trying day,” Loki continued, leaning forward to settle the bulk of his weight over the vulnerable line of Tony’s back. The trickster’s mouth brushed to the shell of the dark-eyed man’s ear, and Loki’s voice dipped low into a husky whisper as he continued:

“And you deserve to be rewarded for handling it so apparently effortlessly. You should be worshipped because I wish to do so: every inch of your skin is a treasure to me, how you fit so perfectly against myself. I wish to bring you to the edge of climax and hold you there until your innate magic sparks beneath your skin, lighting you up from the inside out in a sight only I will ever be privileged to see. I wish to unmake you, shatter you into pieces, and slowly puzzled you back together again as I breathe prayers over every portion of your soul. I wish to worship you, Anthony, because you are as much my god as I am yours.”

Tony broke and came and was unmade.

++

“Mr. Stark! Mr. Stark!!”

Tony paused as he stepped out of the runic circle that the Bifrost had left behind, catching sight of an overly-excited Spider-man barreling his way. The older man laughed as the teen nearly tackled him to the ground in his exuberance, and Tony brought an arm up to wrap reassuringly around the costume-clad shoulders. “Oh, my God. I figured that you were still alive after what Loki said—but then you never showed up, even weeks later—and I assume that, if anything had actually happened to you, Loki would have made it really clear just how unhappy he was with everyone after everything that had happened—but you still never showed up and I was so worried—“

The older man’s smile turned fond as he shifted his hold from Peter’s shoulders to cup a reassuring hand over the back of the boy’s head. “I’m sorry, Peter,” Tony murmured, voice threaded through with his apology. “I had some—healing—to do. And some learning, too. I’m sorry that the silence on my end made you worry.”

Peter took a deep breath before finally allowing it to shudder out of his lungs, trying his best to let the worry and fear and anxiety for the past several months to go out along with it. He bowed beneath Tony’s steady, reassuring hold, but he still couldn’t resist the urge to reach out and grip tightly at the inventor’s suit jacket; his hold was harsh enough that it would take some effort to force the teen to let go.

“Are you okay now?” the teen tentatively asked as he rested his forehead against his mentor’s collarbone.

Much better now,” Tony answered, offering the boy a lopsided grin—though Peter couldn’t see since he continued to rest his forehead against Tony’s shoulder. “All healed up, to boot, too.”

Good,” came the fervent reply. A pause, then, and Peter ventured: “…will you be staying a while?”

Tony looked down at the teen at that particular question, silent for a moment. The initial terror-fueled relief that had filled Peter’s voice at initially seeing him had been readily evident; there was no disguising it—not that Peter would ever want to, Tony thought, not when it came to himself. And though the inventor would never acknowledge it aloud, preferring to keep the thought and realization away—maybe believing, subconsciously, that if Tony never said it out loud, then he never would have to see its truth… well. Peter had lost his parents when he was little. Had lost his uncle in an incredibly traumatic way, too. Peter had little in the way of male role models in his life, and he had looked to Tony as a mentor from the very beginning.

And Tony remembered, too, how he had nearly lost Peter when he had tried to step away and had taken back the Spider-man suit. Just as Tony had an aversion to standing water after his time in Afghanistan, Peter preferred to avoid tightly enclosed spaces as often as possible.

He was needed and necessary in this boy’s life.

“Yeah, Pete. Yeah, I am.”

Peter’s hold on Tony tightened further, refusing to let this particular father figure step out of his life.

++

In all honesty, Tony didn’t realize just how much stuff he had accumulated in his workshop at the Avengers Compound. There were so many things that he needed to go through, to incinerate, to transfer to digital for FRIDAY to safeguard on her servers—to move to a new workshop, too, because the engineer would not stay here.

He paused as he was going through a secondary set of tools, stilling completely, and eventually tossed over a shoulder: “I can sense you lurking. If you plan on talking, better come out now before I engage the safety protocols and you get booted automatically.”

The Black Widow eased from the shadows at his warning, eyes flat but narrowed as she watched Tony return to organizing his things. “FRIDAY said that you’re leaving,” Natasha opened with, tone so very carefully neutral.

“I am,” Tony parried back readily enough as he decided that back-up tools truly were necessarily considering just how often DUM-E enjoyed ‘helping’ and reorganized the ‘shop.

“Don’t you think that that’s rather… rash? Childish,” the spy criticized though her voice never shifted from that balanced, emotionally void inflection. “You have obligations here, after all, Tony.”

Ah, the dark-eyed man thought to himself, closing his eyes in preparation for the conversation to come—and not at all surprised at the approach that the Black Widow had chosen. So that’s how this is going to go down.

He turned completely to brace a hip against a table, purposefully keeping his body language languid and open. “And what obligations might those be?” Tony asked in return, tilting his head to the side just-so.

Natasha’s gaze narrowed the slightest bit. “You know that you have obligations towards the Avengers. Your team, Tony.”

“To you, you mean?” the engineer shot back and offered Natasha a shark’s grin, all teeth and mean. “Because if that’s what you mean, Romanoff, then no. No, I really don’t think that I have any obligations that would keep me here.” The redheaded woman opened her mouth to reply, but Tony wasn’t done yet. He lifted a hand to signal for silence and continued:

“No. No. Let’s be open, Romanoff—honest with one another because that’s what your team leader is all about, right? I have no obligation to stay. My obligations have become much fewer in number these days. So in that moment of honesty, let me make myself very clear: I’m burning this bridge and salting the earth when the ashes have finally settled. You have no claim on my time, my inventions, my money, or my person. You no longer have any claim to me because I no longer have any obligation to you. Let it go, Romanoff. Any friendship, any camaraderie, that I had ever felt for you is gone and dead and buried—and I have no intention of resurrecting it. At least give me the professional courtesy of letting it stay dead.”

“The world still needs Iron Man,” Natasha finally stated, gaze full of the weight of calculations and strategies.

“Yeah, it does. It kept faith,” Tony easily agreed. Only because he had been looking closely did Tony catch the minute flinch around the Black Widow’s eyes. “But you and the others? Never again. S go away now. I have work to do.”

Dismissing her with an ease that bordered on cruelty, Tony shifted his stance to put the vulnerable line of his back to the spy and returned to organizing and boxing away his workshop. There were no retreating footsteps, but the inventor still felt it when she left.

“FRIDAY?”

“Yes, Boss?”

“Lock down the area. No more unexpected guests except those on the approved visitor list.”

++

Out of all of the people that would come knocking on his door, Bucky honestly didn’t expect to ever be Tony Stark on the other side.

The shorter man didn’t bother to ask if he could come in, instead keeping his gaze level and calm as his dark eyes met Bucky’s own. “I owe you an apology for what I did to you in Siberia,” Tony began, never looking away from the Soldier’s widening eyes. “I was filled with so much anger and I snapped and went after you, but I’ve had a long time since to sit down and process through things. I know that you were brainwashed by HYDRA, that you are a victim as much as all of your hits, my parents--myself. I’m still filled with so much rage—probably always will be, to be honest—at the fact that I can never get justice for my parents against the Winter Soldier. But you’re not him.”

Tony reached out at that point in his speech, offering Bucky a box that was about a foot in length. “I know that you were finally able to get rid of the triggers, but there’s still seventy years of horrible memories floating around in that brain of yours. So here’s my olive branch to pair with the apology: your own B.A.R.F. prototype, calibrated to you, for you to use to help you work through everything—if you choose to. It’s your decision, though, so.”

Cautiously, Bucky reached out and carefully cradled the box in his hands. He had heard a lot about the system from T’Challa during his time in Wakanda, but… without Tony’s approval of its usage, there was no way that the king would have been able to get a copy of it for Bucky’s use. Not while it was still in the prototype stages.

“Why?” the ex-assassin eventually asked even as he pressed the box possessively to his chest, fingers tight and desperate at the corners.

Tony was silent, weighing words and responses in his mind, but eventually shrugged. “As angry as I still am… I realized that I was contributing to the victim blaming going on, and I don’t want to be a part of that toxicity anymore. So I’m choosing to step away and try something else.”

Bucky breathed out and lowered his gaze to the box in his hands. “…thank you.”

The engineer inclined his head in acknowledgment of the thanks and offered one more statement for the pale-eyed man as he stepped away and began to leave. “I hope that the Binarily Augmented Retro Framing system helps you find some measure of peace, Mr. Barnes. And that you’re able to live a happier life going forward.”

++

From the moment of his birth, from the moment that he was able to comprehend, Tony knew that he was a futurist: he looked forward to what may be possible, to how he could impact the world in what was to come—how to influence and change in positive ways, to drag a little bit of that future backwards so that he could hold those possibilities in the palms of his hands. Always looking forward to tomorrow, to next year, to the next century.

Tony hadn’t considered, in all that time, what he would leave behind as a legacy for himself.

He had been so focused on facing forward that the inventor hadn’t ever truly thought upon what type of footprint in history he was leaving for himself. But now…? Knowing that his life would no longer be measured in decades but instead in centuries and millennium… the consideration lingered.

What sort of impact did he want to leave upon this universe? There was no possibility that he would ever be regulated to a single footnote, not now and not after everything, and all of the other options that Tony could seize… they stretched before him, now endlessly, hopelessly tied with the past, as well.

What do I want people to remember me for?

Tony’s workshop was filled with countless numbers of marvels—everything from the Iron Man suits to robotics and AI, to new prototypes for better-running arc reactors and tweaked make-up on the Extremis virus. So many projects that Tony had once-upon-a-time-ago been terrified that he would never get to work on let alone finish… and now he had all of the time in the world.

Slowly beginning to grin, the inventor rolled his chair over to one of this holo tables and gestured towards one of his AI’s hidden cameras. “Pull up the designs on Rhodey’s prosthetics, my girl-FRIDAY. I think it’s about time that I drop in with a ‘Honey, I’m home.’ present for him, don’t you think?”

++

Recruitment assessment for Avengers Initiative: Iron Man – Yes. Tony Stark – Not Recommended

Tony looked up into the armor faceplate, blank and empty with the suit powered down as it was. His nails drummed lightly over the arc reactor embedded within the armor’s chestplate, and the engineer gave a little laugh before stepping away to finish shutting down the rest of the workshop of the night.

The funny thing was…?

The funny thing was--

Romanoff and Fury both forgot the very first announcement Tony had made regarding the armor: I am Iron Man. He was who he was, suit or no—and nothing could ever take that away from him. It didn’t matter if he tackled a villain’s headquarters on his own with nothing more than various weapons cobbled together from Home Depot supplies (because he had already done that) or bulldozed his way through enemy computer systems to gain information that the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. both needed, all from the safety and comfort of his penthouse (did that, too) or any number of accomplishments that Tony had managed on his own, without the shield that the armor stood as.

Without Tony, the armor was nothing more than an empty metal husk.

He was Iron Man.

(How easily they forgot.)

++

“Tony.”

The engineer paused as he made his way across the parking garage, closing his eyes for a moment to gather together patience and courage both. Braced as well as he could be considering the fact that Tony hadn’t been planning on seeing Steven Grant Rogers in any capacity except a professional one, the dark-haired man turned around to finally face the man who he had once considered family.

“Bucky told me what you did for him,” Rogers began, voice muted with gratitude. “Thank you.”

Irritation spiked through the inventor, sudden and sharp, and Tony knew that it would soon enough be difficult—already—to keep hold on his temper. “I didn’t do it for you; I did it for him. You don’t need to thank me.”

The man who had once-upon-a-time ago been Captain America paused at the shortness of the other’s reply and, more cautious now, continued forward as he had originally planned: “Nat also told me what you said to her in your workshop. And that you’re still planning on leaving the Compound.”

There was silence for a long time before Tony eventually answered:

“Are you really sure you want to start this, Rogers? You still have a chance to turn around and drop it. To walk away.”

The younger man sighed quietly at that and shook his head in answer; jaw firming stubbornly, blue eyes lifted to once again meet Tony’s shadowed ones. “I can’t do that. We need to clear the air—to try and make this work, if only for the good of everyone else. We need to talk, Tony. I’ve already apologized to you—didn’t you get my letter?”

Any patience that Tony had held abruptly snapped, just as he had known it would.

“Yeah, I did. Wasn’t much of an apology, though, so I figured ‘Eh, what the hell? What’s another bridge burned now?’ So it’s gone and done, just like any friendship—respect—that I ever held for you, Rogers. Consider the air cleared: I’m leaving, you have no authority to stop me, and if I do decide to remain an Avenger, it’s certainly not on any team you would lead. I’ve washed my hands of you and your hypocrisy and victim blaming, and you know what? I can’t wait for the next time I show up on TV or in a magazine because I would love to see just how the photos look now that I’ve shed at least fifty pounds of dead weight. It feels pretty fucking awesome.”

“Tony—“ Rogers began, voice tight and jaw slightly clenched as he tried to derail the engineer from his determined charge forward. “You need to consider—“

“You know what? No. No, I don’t,” Tony interrupted, steamrolling over anything that the other man could have started to say. “I don’t need to consider anything that you tell me because, as I’m pretty sure Romanoff has already informed you, I have no obligation towards you. You have no claim to me, not fucking anymore, Steven. You were the one who burned that bridge and I honestly don’t care if you never really believe that because I don’t feel anything anymore for you except for contempt. And anger—lots of that, actually. I’m tired of offering compromises and solutions that get vilified and shat upon, I’m tired of the bullshit victim blaming, I’m tired of being your whipping boy when I have always tried to hold myself accountable and to clean up the messes that I’ve made after the dust has settled. What about you, Rogers? Where’s your accountability? Or does it not matter because you’re better than anyone else around you—because the Super Soldier Serum supposedly proves all of that, right?”

“Enough!” Rogers yelled, stepping forward to crowd into Tony’s personal space as the leash on his own temper snapped. “Enough, okay, I get it! I fucked up. I fucked up. But there’s more at stake than just how we feel about what happened and—“

Tony brought up a hand and pushed--and, surprisingly enough, Rogers was forced to take a step back because of the unexpected strength in that gesture. (Began to realize, as well, that perhaps Loki hadn’t been lying when he had spoken of the… change… that Tony had supposedly undergone.)

“I know exactly what’s at stake,” Tony replied and met the other’s blue gaze, his own hard and unrelenting. “I always knew what was at stake, even if you all dismissed my concerns each and every time I brought them up. Just a scared civilian suffering from PTSD; he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—I heard it all before, Rogers. But I am aware of what’s at stake, I’m aware of the obligations I have: it’s just that none of it is anything that you could lay claim to. I still fully intend on defending the Earth—under the Accords, so fuck you very much—because the nations and the people living in them never stopped keeping faith in me. But you? I have no intention of doing it side-by-side with you. There is no compromise in any of that, Rogers. It’s my greatest pleasure to inform you that I’m ‘planting myself like a tree beside the river of truth and telling you: No, it’s time that you move.’”

With that stated, Tony turned away from Rogers and once again headed towards the parked sports car that had been his original destination.

“…Tony. I’ll still need the shield to fight even if we never again fight together.”

Tossing his keys in one hand, Tony idly slid into the sleek interior of his car. Over the revving of the engine as FRIDAY remotely started the vehicle, the engineer managed to yell before the car peeled out with a scattering of thrown gravel:

“I melted it down and turned it into the world’s most expensive trash can. First thing I dumped in it was a shitty letter that tried to pretend it was an apology and a crappy-ass flip phone that was a throwback from the 80’s.”

++

The guilt still lingered as Tony watched Rhodey struggle along the balance bar, refusing both wheelchair and braces as he tried to overcome the fact that his brain just couldn’t send signals to walk to his legs anymore. The connection between the two had severed, along with his spine. The engineer knew himself well enough, as well, to realize that the guilt never would fade—there would always be a part of himself that he would blame for the accident and the injury. An acknowledgment that he hadn’t been fast enough, smart enough, good enough to plan for every contingency and Rhodey had been the one to pay the price.

“Hey there, Sour Patch,” Tony called out when he was finally able to step through the doorway of the physio room. “Miss me?”

Rhodey stumbled in shock and surprise at hearing his best friend’s voice, but Tony was already there to catch him before he could fall. “Tony? Tones? Oh, my God. I thought—“

Immediately, the lieutenant colonel drew the inventor into a rough hug, arms trembling at the abrupt surge of emotion at finally getting to see Tony again, to grab his best friend and hold him.

“Hey. Hey, I got you. And I already promised Peter that I wasn’t going anywhere, so you have me again,” Tony immediately reassured as his arms wrapped tight around the older man; no matter the issues that had arisen throughout his life at allowing other people into his personal space, Rhodey had always been the exception to the rule. He was welcomed and loved; the airman was family. “I’m sorry that I was MIA for so long. I was—healing.”

Rhodey’s grip tightened on Tony at hearing that, though he didn’t press for more details. He was already aware that Tony would eventually talk to him about it… when the shorter man was ready. If he was ever ready. “But you’re good now?”

“What are you talking about? I’m awesome, Platypus,” Tony offered in response, automatically deflecting away from the older man’s concern. “In fact, I’m so awesome that I also brought you a gift.”

“Fuck, Tones,” came the muffled answered. “I don’t need any gifts from you. I’m just happy that you’re here.”

Uncomfortable with the amount of emotions that were now going on, Tony cleared his throat and glanced away to gather together the shreds of his more playful mask. “Well,” he began before stuttering to a halt, only to try again. “You get one, regardless, so might as well take it with a grin and try your best to Honey Bear-it up.”

Tony only ever get this deflective when it was something important—and this was a fact about his best friend that Rhodey was well aware of. Had been for decades, honestly. So he pulled away just enough to give himself room to inspect this ‘gift’ that Tony had made for him; upon inspection, however… The other pilot had no clue what it was supposed to be. It was a silver oblong thing, smooth and featureless in a way that should have been worrying if the older man didn’t know his best friend as well as he did.

“…it looks like a vibrator, Tones,” Rhodey eventually informed said best friend, allowing his tone to go dubious with suspicion.

It generated the desired reaction, however:

“A vibrator?? A vibrator?! I bring you something that I created mostly on another world--which technically makes it alien tech, Rhodey; alien tech!! all for you--and you ask me if it’s a vibrator,” Tony squawked, dramatic in only the way that he could ever be and how Rhodey always playfully managed to draw out. “While any vibrator that I ever felt the need to design would be mind-blowing—literally, too—this is something better. This attaches to your spinal column and it’ll make you walk again. No more wheelchair and no more braces, Rhodey. Just you on your own two feet again.”

Hearing that, Rhodey just held Tony that much tighter against his body.

++

Since the… change… Tony noticed that he had become much more sensitive to the subtle elements to his environment. Whether they were the threads from other dimensions brushing against this particular one or ley lines from stories past, revived through the New Age movement, or just the unseen, metaphysical fabric that made this universe what it was… Tony had plenty of time to learn what, exactly, it all was. But regardless of not yet knowing the specifics, the fact still remained that the engineer was now much more sensitive to it, aware of the various threads in a way that lingered and stayed in the back of his mind.

Because of that new awareness, Tony was already turning towards the wall before the Vision had phased through it to join the inventor on the rooftop.

“Good evening,” the synthetic humanoid greeted; the smallest bit of awkwardness layered the Vision’s voice: it was obvious from it and the android’s body language that he hadn’t been expecting Tony to be aware of his incoming presence. “I was wondering… do you mind if I join you?”

“There’s plenty of room up here for the both of us, Viz,” Tony gently said before again directly his gaze upwards towards the night sky and allowing the android to collect himself once more. When the silence had lingered for a minute or two, Tony continued: “I’m glad that it looks like you’re all right.”

He remembered the scream that the being had given as Thanos pried the Mind Gem from the Vision’s forehead; the android had struggled and attempted to fight back, but—by that time—the Mad Titan had gathered too many of the Infinity Gems. Any retaliation on the behalf of the Vision hadn’t been enough, and the humanoid had collapsed soon after.

“I am doing well,” the Vision confirmed quietly. “I was not for quite some time, but I am now—better.”

Well. Better. Fine.

Tony knew those descriptors well.

He reached out when the silence began to stretch between the both of them, settling the palm of his hand over the firm structure that made up the Vision’s forearm. He gently squeezed, offering up silent reassurance to the other—but something sparked between them both: perhaps it was some sort of recognition, buried core of JARVIS knowing that his creator was offering comfort—or maybe it was the potential that was now encoded in Tony’s DNA, magic and power and eternity, reaching out from within him to brush Mind Gem and the Vision’s soul both.

It was enough to hitch their breaths.

“I find myself… grateful,” the Vision began carefully, tentatively. “Knowing that even when the lights of the lives of those around us have faded away to the inevitable dark, I will still have the beacon of your light to guide myself by, Mr. Stark.”

Tony’s breath shuddered from him in an unsteady exhale, and he brought a hand up to cover his eyes as he fought against the tears that wanted to fall—fought to keep himself straight and strong—and gripped harder at the Vision’s arm: both needing and standing as a foundation against the storm within and around him.

++

They went tumbling down into Tony’s bedsheets, limbs tangled and hands grasping at one another in a desperate need that went soul-deep and echoed within the marrow of their bones. The engineer rolled his hips as he settled between Loki’s thighs, and the lanky god gasped so prettily in response that of course Tony had to drink the sound from the other’s lips.

Their mouths sealed, and it did not take long before Tony was coaxing Loki to part his lips to dip his tongue into the wet heat of the one-time prince’s mouth: taunting the other in just how consuming and greedy the kiss was as Tony plundered Loki’s mouth, tongue stroking against tongue. Pleasure was given and taken but so, too, was there a gauntlet thrown: take what you want in return or I’ll keep taking everything until there’s nothing left for you to snatch back for yourself; I’ll take until only ashes remain after my fire has consumed you completely.

The challenge was enough to make Loki offer a feral growl in reply, though Tony only laughed in answer as he pinned pale wrists to the mattress above the mage’s head.

“Fuck, but you’re perfect for me,” the inventor murmured against Loki’s parted lips and dipped his head down to scrape his teeth over the smooth column of the other god’s alabaster throat. He aimed to mark, wanted Loki to wear a necklace of bruises in the morning—knew enough of magic by now, too, that there would be no way for the mage to hide them beneath an illusion.

Tony had learned the joys of magic for other things, as well:

Flytja,” the forgemaster breathed against Loki’s cool skin, and Tony grinned as wide as a shark as their clothes abruptly disappeared to land… elsewhere. Most likely on the floor behind them, but the destination wasn’t a priority for Tony at this particular point in time.

The spell did make Loki bark in laughter, however, and his jade eyes were bright with pride and amusement as he met Tony’s gaze. “I see someone has been paying attention while I’ve been doing my spells.”

Tony’s grin widened further until it was all teeth, predatory and intent. “Someone discovered adequate enough motivation to do so.”

The response that was on the tip of Loki’s tongue to shoot back in reply was abruptly silenced when Tony eased down his lover’s body with a grace that was more fitting on a large cat than a man; he settled the bulk of his body between Loki’s pale thighs, hooking them over his shoulders and bracing them there so that the mage would have no room to squirm away—or, more likely, arch into more of Tony’s knowing touches.

“FRIDAY says that my current high score of how quickly I can get you to cum stands at seven minutes. I’ve always thought of myself as someone who constantly worked at beating previous personal bests. So: I wonder how quickly I can get you to cum tonight?”

“How highly you think of yourself, Anthony,” Loki commented in turn as he eased a hand down to idly scratch his dark fingernails through the faint trail of hair that started just below his navel. The disbelief was mainly for show: his body burned for his soulmate’s, and Loki desperately wanted Tony’s skin, his hands, his mouth anywhere and everywhere on him. Just so long as the weaponsmith quenched the fire raging within him.

Tony’s eyes lidded at the challenge posed and the sight of Loki sprawled decadently beneath him, and his head lowered to mouth at the head of the sorcerer’s cock. Slowly, purposefully teasing, he eased his way lower—lower still as Tony relaxed his throat, pushing for more and deeper until his nose buried in the intimate musk and rough curls at the base of the other man’s cock. Tony moaned around the fullness that gagged him and kept him silent, and Loki’s head slammed back into the mattress as his spine arched upwards into a perfect Cupid’s bow because Tony’s mouth was sin incarnate.

Anthony--“ Loki hoarsely shouted, and his fingers fisted greedily in the dark strands of Tony’s hair.

++

(The new personal best to later beat now stood at five minutes.)

++

Tony leaned against the window sill of the penthouse’s living room, tumbler glass of whiskey in hand and gaze softly contemplative as he stared out at the New York cityscape. The lights below were brighter than the spiraling stars above, but they set the perfect backdrop to the engineer’s current mood, anyway. He brought the glass up to his lips and sipped at the heat of the amber liquid.

“Should I be offering a penny for your thoughts, Anthony?” Loki asked absently as he came up behind the shorter god to wrap his arms around Tony’s waist, hold both possessive and comforting in only the way that the mage was capable of showing. Tony hummed idly in answer and tilted his head back to rest against his lover’s naked shoulder.

Loki was a cool balm against the forgemaster’s skin, and Tony shifted just enough to lean more of his weight against the other.

“I think that I want to stay,” he eventually said and offered up the tumbler for Loki to take a sip of the alcohol, as well. “Maybe not forever—probably until both Rhodey and Peter are gone. Maybe a little bit longer after that. I haven’t decided on that yet, but… I have all the time in the world apparently. And, for now, I want to stay here. On Earth.”

The trickster huffed a muted sigh in immediate answer, gathering words together as he stole another sip of Tony’s whiskey. When he spoke, however, there was no surprise in his voice—just acknowledgment. Acceptance. “I suppose an extended holiday in Midgard could be arranged.”

Tony snorted at that and stole his drink back from his soulmate. “You don’t mind playing hero with me for a bit longer?”

“What do a few more decades matter to gods such as us, sváss? As you already stated… we have all the time in the world.” Loki coaxed Tony closer against his chest and eased his hands lower to cup over the sharp cut of the engineer’s defined hipbones, thumbs tracing over the etched wings of them. “Right now, however, I do believe that I would like you back in our bed. Come back to bed, Anthony. Everything else can wait until daybreak.”

::fin::