Just a heads up on a few things – it’s been REALLY hard trying to match up the age of Thor and Loki with everything in their histories. I don’t think the MCU did that great of a job on laying out a timeline for their ages – so I’m making my own a little. Bear with me on it, it shouldn’t come up too much in comparison to stuff that happens aroudn them.
Pain was the only thing that he could feel. Every inch of his body felt as if it’d been torn apart. Inside, his magic was screaming, battering against the bonds that held it tight, while outside it felt as if something were trying to peel the very skin off his bones. It was agony, unlike anything he’d ever known. He screamed, only to feel the pull against his lips, the tear of thread against flesh, and he gagged at the bile that rose in his throat.
Father, he wanted to beg. Father, please!
When he looked up, cold eyes were staring back at him, making it clear no quarter would be found here.
The same hands that had once gathered him up and carried him to bed, that had held his hand when he was still only waist high, now slapped him away when his own traitorous hands reached for a being who had once meant safety. Now, that very same person meant only pain.
As if his father could hear him, his sneer grew. “You are no son of mine.”
A hand came flying up, and then the world was a blur of sound and light and pain, and he was screaming, begging, let it be over. Please, let it be over! Please, no, Father, please! Fa—
The sound of his own voice wrenched Tony Stark from the last dregs of that hellish nightmare. Pain still echoed all through his body and on his lips. In a flash, his hands were up at his mouth, fingers pressing in only to find the fuzz of his facial hair and smooth lips. A ragged gasp tore from his lips. A dream, he told himself. It was only a dream. Somehow, that reminder did nothing to ease the pain, nor the way his hands shook as he lowered them back down.
Gods above, it’d been a long time since he’d had that dream! Years could go by without it plaguing him, only for it to crop up at the worst possible times when he was at his absolute lowest. Then it was as if his mind wanted to remind him that things really weren’t that bad. They could be worse. So much worse.
Tony had barely dropped his hands back down before a familiar, low voice started to speak. Just hearing it was enough to help calm the pounding of his heart.
“Good morning, sir. It is 5:07 in the morning and the temperature today is due to reach a high of seventy-two. You have a meeting with Ms. Potts this afternoon to discuss your plans for the Tower’s arc reactor, as well as a conference call scheduled for afterward. Also on the agenda for today, I do believe it is time for Dum-E’s routine maintenance – his movements have become increasingly erratic the past three days, suggesting there is something wrong.”
The words washed over Tony like they had a magic of their own. So far, nothing in his current life had ever helped to break him from nightmares as quickly as JARVIS was able to. The AI was amazing at walking the line between too much or too little information. He could talk for the next hour if it were what Tony needed to settle down once more.
At the back of his mind, in the place where he kept things he knew better than to think about, memories of someone else soothing him after nightmares, scratched at the walls, only to be ruthlessly shoved down.
One shaky breath, and another, and then one more for good measure, and Tony finally managed to put on a shaky smile he knew wouldn’t fool JARVIS. “Morning to you too, J.”
“I have coffee brewing already in the kitchen, sir, and it should be done by the time you’ve had your shower.”
Oh, coffee. That sounded like exactly what Tony needed. A good strong cup to help wake him up. There was no way Tony was going back to sleep after this. “I knew you were my favorite for a reason, buddy,” Tony praised him.
JARVIS proved why he was Tony’s favorite even more when he said nothing about the way that Tony’s legs shook when he first tried to stand beside his bed. With fumbling steps, Tony made his way to the bathroom, where he found the shower was already on. All Tony had to do was stagger his way over to the shower and put himself inside. Thank God he slept in the nude. Tony didn’t even have to waste time stripping anything off. All he had to do was grab the glass door and open it enough for him to almost fall inside.
Once in there, he didn’t worry so much about keeping his legs under him. He sank down onto the seat that, lately, had been getting used as a support in too many decidedly un-sexy ways. There, Tony was free to hold the nearby railing and bow his head under the almost scalding water as he tried to chase away the last vestiges of a nightmare he knew he’d never be able to entirely get rid of.
In here, where he knew no one but JARVIS could see or hear him, where there was no one around to catch his moment of weakness, Tony gave in a little to the pain that was living in his heart. He kept hold of the railing as he bowed his head and let out a shaky “Fuck.” Of all the ways to start a morning, this was his least favorite by far. Tony rubbed a hand over his face and tried to make his next breath just a bit steadier. “Fuck,” he swore again.
The nightmares might’ve been easier to handle if they were just that – nightmares. But they were worse. While Tony’s unconscious mind was capable of bringing up plenty to terrify him with, it was always most effective at bringing up the memories that Tony never wanted to think about. Memories that Tony would never be able to get rid of no matter how hard he tried. During the day Tony was generally able to ignore them. Sometimes, he could even go for days – months, once or twice – without ever thinking about them. When the nightmares would hit, Tony would take his time, recover, and then go about his day pretending that they weren’t there. That there wasn’t a place inside of him that rattled more and more with each passing year, threatening to unleash all the things he didn’t want to think about.
Painful as it was, Tony had had it under control. Or, at least, that was what he liked to tell himself.
For the most part, it was true, too. Tony locked away those memories even deeper than he locked away the ones of Afghanistan and it was working… right up until the moment he’d watched the news and seen the reports about the giant cone of light that had hit down in New Mexico.
One hack of SHIELD later and Tony had stared at the screens in front of him in absolute horror at what he found.
His brother walked the earth.
And he was mortal.
The nightmares had come back with a vengeance that night, and they’d plagued Tony most nights since then. It didn’t get any better when he found out later that Thor was once more a god and that he’d returned back home. For so long now, the earth had been Tony’s shelter, specifically because Asgard never came here anymore. He’d thought he was safe when he came here to hide. Seeing Thor on TV, reading about him in the SHIELD files, took any illusions of safety Tony had and threw them to the wind. He wasn’t safe here anymore.
So why hadn’t he left?
That question plagued Tony constantly. It troubled him now as he sat shaking in his shower like a scared child. The water beat down on him, hot and perfect, and yet he trembled like he had a chill he couldn’t entirely escape.
Why did Thor have to come here now? What was happening back ho—back in Asgard that had their Crown Prince sent to Earth as a mortal? Had the Allfather banished another of his sons?
If he did, it sure didn’t last, Tony thought to himself. The words were as sharp and cutting as any knife. Apparently, he got to go back home. Whatever he did, it wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t irredeemable. Not like Tony’s crimes.
No, whatever Thor had done, it was clear it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as Tony’s crimes. He must’ve redeemed himself somehow and regained his powers, free to go back to the Golden Halls of Asgard, a Prince once more.
In the privacy of his own shower, Tony let himself hate his older brother, just a little bit.
All those years ago when Tony had chosen Earth as his new home, he’d been meticulous constructing his new identity. The long years had taught him well how to hide from the sight of others. There were tricks he’d learned from reputable – and not so reputable – sources, as well as things he’d thought up himself. All of which helped to mask his presence wherever he went.
He’d put all that knowledge to use when he built his plan for his new life on earth. He had all the spells in place to hide him, set up to naturally feed off his seidr without any input from him, and he had the spell needed to be able to begin a new life. Not just to hide as he’d been doing for the past two hundred years. No, things were going to be different this time. He wasn’t going to be the nameless wanderer hiding here and there and never genuinely belonging. Tony was tired – so damn tired of being alone. So he found a spell and tweaked it to suit his needs, and then he found the perfect Midgardian couple.
The spell was designed to help Tony start a new life. To make him appear as human as any of the other mortals. It took his powers and locked them deep inside, and it hid him inside the body of a mortal – a young, infant mortal, granted to a couple who’d been trying desperately to have a child. His magic was to stay locked away until he was eighteen years old, the age that humans seemed to believe they were adults. He’d be old enough to be considered a human adult as well as capable of keeping his magic more hidden than he would be as a child.
Tony had been as careful as possible. He’d chosen a couple that looked happy, who looked like they wanted a child desperately, and he’d set up every safeguard he could to make sure that he wouldn’t be helpless if trouble came calling.
He’d been so sure that Midgard would be safe for him. Asgard hadn’t come here for hundreds and hundreds of years. Not since the Frost Giants had tried to invade. They’d stayed back and left the humans to their own devices. Therefore, it seemed the most logical and safest place for a banished son of Asgard to hide.
And it had been. Tony had been safe from the reach of Asgard and its King for almost all of his mortal life. That wasn’t to say that he hadn’t had hardships – there’d been plenty of those. But Tony dealt with them. He flourished in his new life, even with the few setbacks he’d hit.
He really should’ve known it would never last.
Though Tony had managed to shake off the remaining chill of his dream by the time he made his way out for coffee, he couldn’t quite seem to shut off his thoughts. There was a part of him that felt more on edge than usual. It tingled along his magic and had him slightly jumpy for most of the day. Pepper even noticed it in their meeting and called him on it, watching him with curious and concerned eyes. “Are you all right today, Tony?”
He thought of lying to her at first. Tony was practiced at smiling even when he didn’t feel like it. He generally didn’t try as hard with Pepper, though. Even though she didn’t know who he really was, Tony was comfortable around her in ways he so rarely was with anyone else. Because of that, he smiled at her, but he didn’t bother trying to oversell it the way he would’ve with anyone else. “I’m fine, Pep. Long night.”
“Do we need to reschedule?”
And that right there was one of the reasons why he loved her so damn much. She was the best friend a person could ask for. While she was a damn good CEO and was talented at getting him to sign paperwork and deal with meetings even when he didn’t want to, she also cared about him. Him. Not the Stark name, or what he could do for her, or any of those other things – just Tony. If Tony had been less damaged, and his heart hadn’t already belonged to someone else, he could’ve seen himself really trying for something with her. Having someone who understood him so well even without knowing all of him, and who cared anyway, was something Tony knew better than to squander.
The warmth Tony felt for her showed in his eyes as his smile softened. “Nah. Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way. Though, if you wanted you’re more than welcome to stick around afterward while I go get all this done. It’d be nice to have someone witness just how awesome I am. Once I’m done I’ll come back an we can celebrate with a bottle of something stupidly expensive and delicious.”
Pepper laughed at him, warm and relaxed, and nodded. “Sounds like a plan to me.”
Once they got their business dealt with, and Tony had his annoying conference call, her company was a good distraction from that feeling of wrongness that wouldn’t leave Tony alone. She left their job titles at the door while she relaxed in the living room of Tony’s penthouse. Here, she just became ‘Pepper Potts’, the sharp-minded girl who had no issue whatsoever with snarking back at him when he spoke, or who could give as good as she got despite what people might think of her. She was right up there with Rhodey as one of Tony’s best friends.
The two of them had worked hard together on the project to get Stark Tower running on its own arc reactor. Pepper was just as passionate as Tony about all the work they were doing in clean energy. Having her there while he did it felt good. Tony listened to her and JARVIS both in his ear as he flew the suit down into the water and did the work that would set them up on the road towards clean energy. It helped him ignore that nagging feeling even more.
“Good to go on this end,” Tony said once he was back up out of the water. “The rest is up to you.”
“You disconnected the transmission lines? Are we off the grid?”
“Stark Tower is about to become a beacon of self-sustaining clean energy.”
The video on the end of his HUD showed her grinning at him. “Well, assuming the arc reactor takes over, and it actually works.”
“I assume,” Tony shot back.
They bickered a little more through his flight back, and Tony landed with high spirits. This was precisely what he’d needed to get his day back on track. Doing some good, honest work, getting to hang out for the evening with a good and trusted friend, potentially get a bit drunk. Once he got Pepper drunk enough to not notice, he could switch out his champagne with his own personal alcohol and actually get himself drunk right along with her.
When JARVIS told him, “Sir, Agent Coulson of SHIELD is on the line,” there was no way Tony was going to let that go through. No way, no how, nuh-uh. Nothing and no one was going to ruin the good mood he’d worked for here. “I’m not in,” Tony said firmly. “I’m actually out.”
“Sir, I’m afraid he’s insisting.”
Tony snorted at that. Agent Coulson, insisting on something? What a shocker. “Grow a spine, JARVIS. I’ve got plans.”
His words were loud enough for Pepper to hear and they had her chuckling at him. “Do you, now?” She shook her head at the cocky grin he sent her way. Then her focus turned back to the screen in front of her, and she ignored his playful flirting just like she always did. “Levels are holding steady...I think.”
“Of course they are, I was directly involved.” Tony fired back. His arrogance, as usual, just made her roll her eyes at him. Times like this he wished he could bring himself to care about her more than he did. He wished he was capable of that kind of caring.
The bad feeling from before tried to slip back in, and Tony shoved it firmly down. If his smile became just a little bit forced, Pepper didn’t comment on it. She just poked and teased him and drew him over to the couch so they could enjoy the champagne that she’d set out. Tony found himself relaxing as they started to poke at one another about how much credit either one of them deserved. Tony was pretty sure he was going to be made to pay for the ‘twelve percent’ he’d tried to gift her. That was fine, though. He’d mostly said it just to watch the way she lit up as she glared at him.
Their moment was shot when JARVIS’s voice came back, distinctly distressed. “Sir, the telephone. I’m afraid my protocols are being overwritten…” There was a pause, and then a different voice was speaking through Tony’s phone, one that he very much did not want to hear.
“Mr. Stark, we need to talk,” Phil Coulson said.
Goddammit. Couldn’t these vultures leave him alone?
Apparently, that answer was no.
Two minutes later, the elevator doors were opening, and Phil came walking out like he’d been invited up here. Like he hadn’t just invaded Tony’s personal space and overrode JARVIS to do it. Instantly, Tony’s mind was spinning with the implications of that and planning ahead to run a full diagnostic on JARVIS to make sure that there was no damage and that nothing had been implanted while Phil was pushing his way through. Then he’d see about patching whatever hole there apparently was that allowed the bastard of an agent to actually break in like that.
His annoyance over the whole matter didn’t last long. Not when that wrong feeling was back, stronger than ever, screaming at him from the instant that Pepper handed him what Phil had brought.
Whatever Tony had expected to find, it wasn’t…this.
The Avengers Initiative. That was the first thing that Tony came across. It wasn’t, however, the one that held his attention the most. No – what got his attention was something that very much should not be here on Earth. Or, more accurately, two somethings. Tony’s whole body felt like it was frozen as he stared down at the small screen in front of him. He was too numb to even bring the images up like he’d be planning. Instead, he just stood there, staring down at the file on the screen in front of him, fighting the urge to either lean in closer or throw the thing far, far away from him.
Just barely did he even register Pepper coming up to him. Whatever he said to her must’ve been okay, or at least somewhat reasonable. Moments later she was leaving with Phil and Tony was alone in his penthouse once more.
Not even the bright image of the Tesseract was enough to fully capture Tony’s attention at the moment. Instead, all he could do was stare at the pictures beside it. He reached out a shaking hand, just lightly brushing his fingers across the screen. Then he drew that hand up until the image of his younger brother now floated in the air in front of him.
That only made it worse. It felt like Tony’s heart jumped up to lodge in his throat. Tony’s eyes were locked on the image of a person whom he hadn’t seen in around two hundred years, and who he’d never thought he’d see again. A person who had once been the most important being in his entire world – and who would probably now try and kill him on sight, if he were lucky. Thinking that made Tony feel sick, yet he couldn’t look away. He drank in the features that had once been as familiar to him as his own.
Loki was older now. His hair was a bit longer and his body definitely a bit more filled out. The last of youthful slenderness had made way for a more adult frame. Tony licked dry lips and let out another shaky breath.
“Sir?” JARVIS asked softly. His tone was caution and concern both, all wrapped up in a single word.
Tony startled when he realized he’d brought his hand up to his mouth again to trace over the scars that weren’t there. Not in this form, at least. They were covered underneath the illusion that he always wore. The same one that made him look a bit less ‘godly’ and a little more human. As soon as he realized where his hand was, Tony curled his fingers in and dropped his fist down to his side. His voice only shook a little when he managed to force it to work. “I’m fine.”
“Sir, if you don’t mind my saying…”
“I do,” Tony cut in quickly. He couldn’t… he couldn’t do this. Tony couldn’t have this conversation now. Not while he was standing here staring at him. “Just… just talk to me, Jarv. Lay it out for me. What’s going on?”
There was a soft sigh that JARVIS would deny ever even being able to do. Then, bless the kid, he did what Tony asked. “It would appear to me that a SHIELD base has been attacked and an item known as the Tesseract was stolen by one who identified himself as Loki. Two agents and one scientist were taken as hostages, seemingly controlled by the staff that Loki carries with him.”
Part of Tony flinched at each use of Loki’s name. The rest of him, though, was focusing on the facts, using those to help get him past the emotions. It was what he’d always done. Bury his feelings under work and hope for the best. This time was no different, even if his problem was bigger than ever.
Loki had come to earth and stolen the Tesseract – which the humans shouldn’t have, actually. Why on earth was he doing that? And why like this? This wasn’t… it wasn’t Loki’s style! Granted, things could’ve definitely changed since the last time Tony saw him. But this much? It didn’t feel right. Barging in like this, making demands, taking what he wanted in front of so many witnesses, that was more Thor’s style than Loki’s! Loki was all about slipping in unnoticed if at all possible or tricking his way in there. A disguise, maybe, or even something as simple as an invisibility spell. That would’ve been enough to get him past the humans in there! So why this?
Tony made himself look at Loki’s picture once more as if he’d somehow be able to read the answers on his face. There was a time when he might have been able to.
It was as he stared at Loki’s face that he noticed something very much wrong. He didn’t even pay attention to it as he took a quick step forward. Hands already moving before the thought was yet finished, Tony reached out and spread the image, zooming in until Loki’s face was larger than life right in front of him. Loki’s eyes… why were Loki’s eyes blue?
“JARVIS, am I seeing things?”
“You’ll have to be slightly more specific than that, sir,” JARVIS said smoothly.
The sarcasm was enough to make Tony roll his eyes, at least a little, which was likely JARVIS’s intention. “What color are Loki’s eyes?” He was a bit proud of himself that he didn’t stumble over his brother’s name.
After a brief pause, JARVIS answered, “Blue.”
“They shouldn’t be.” Tony drew his hands back and crossed his arms over his chest. “They should be green, not blue. What would change that?” There were things out there that could. On earth, it was as simple as contacts. For a mage like Loki, it’d be an easy enough illusion, or even potentially something he could use his shapeshifting abilities for. Usually, he changed multiple things, but maybe he’d decided to change just his eyes.
But there were other things… darker things that Tony couldn’t help but worry about. Namely the fact that Loki’s eyes seemed to be the exact same shade of blue as the Tesseract beside him.
The history between him and his family didn’t matter at that moment. Tony knew what a risk he was about to take. Going near anything that involved Loki also meant that it was going to include Thor, and being near either one was as good as sending himself to his own execution. Even if they let him go without killing him, there was no doubt in Tony’s mind he’d get the beating of a lifetime, though he could handle that. It would be the looks in their eyes that would break him.
But none of that mattered. Not if what Tony was suspecting here about the Tesseract and Loki were right. If there was something wrong with his little brother, there was no way Tony could stand back and do nothing. He had to help. He had to try.
Determination straightened his spine. No matter what happened to him, Tony was going to do his best to help, even if it damned him in the process.
He just hoped, when all was said and done, they’d at least grant him enough time to run. But no matter how things went down, his life as Tony Stark was going to be over.