No one was safe.
Living in a time with little medical advancements meant that they were practically screwed when it came to staying healthy. Townsfolk relied on herbs and natural remedies for any illness that struck them – making salves and cold medicines that were rumored to be the best thing they could make themselves.
Otherwise, they had to rely on doctors – which didn’t amount to much when the sick got sicker and small remedies didn’t solve anything anymore.
No one expected people to suddenly drop, to claim that their lungs were burning or that they tasted blood in the air –
No one expected the epidemic to greet their town like an old lover, to wander in unexpectedly and leave them breathless.
No one knew what to expect at all; they couldn’t predict what was coming or who would get infected –
The only thing they could accept was how it was unlikely any of them would survive.
The disease that plagued his town now knocked at his doors — but instead of coming to him, it came to Peter.
He could barely eat, could barely sleep — his skin was gaining a waxy hue, eyes were bloodshot. Feverish.
One moment Peter was fine, the next his skin rapidly lost color and he was puking his guts out.
“I’m fine,” he insisted. “I’m fine.”
Didn’t let Tony help him, didn’t request anything — just quietly cleaned up the mess when he put himself back together.
But the feeling of dread persisted in Tony's stomach — along with the smell of vomit that trapped itself in his nose.
Peter didn't cry, never did — even when Tony knew his lungs were slowly collapsing and it was getting harder and harder to breathe. He was strong, a soldier in that way — the strongest kid he had ever known and there was pride mixed with sorrow every time he set his gaze on him.
It hurt to look at him — god, did it hurt — because he knew that things would only get worse from here.
Because they had to.
Once the plague hit, it would consume.
Feeding off of energy, of life, leaving nothing but destruction in its path.
There was nothing he could do — only hope for the best, and even then, it was fruitless. There was barely a percent chance of survival, barely a chance that Peter could survive through the month.
He had tried so hard to keep him away from the disease that loomed in this town, had tried so hard to keep him indoors and away from any illness or bacteria that might climb up his throat — but it had been useless. Perhaps Tony had done more wrong than right when it came to exposure; he didn't even know if Peter knew what was going on.
What was happening to him.
And Tony couldn't help but to think about it, but he didn't want to think about it at the same time — because the idea of Peter's frail body getting thinner and thinner until there was nothing but bones left... the idea of holding his thin frame in his arms while he took his last breaths, exhausting every option there was to save him until nothing was left — it made him want to tear out his heart.
It hurt and he didn't want to think about it, but it was the only thing on his mind these days.
Because Peter was dying, life slipping through his fingers with every small movement, every little breath, and there was nothing he could do.
He would die and Tony could do nothing to prevent it.
But he'd be damned if he didn't try.
“You can’t do anything for him, Stark.”
“Best you start preparing for the worst.”
More and more.
“If you stay around him long enough, you’ll catch it, too. And don’t come knocking on my door again when that happens.”
Time and time again.
“Leave him to the dogs, Stark, you’ll thank yourself — and me — later.”
One after another.
He had tried everything. Home remedies, mixing a shit ton of herbs that probably had no effect, consulting local doctors — but everyone shut him down.
He’d seen the inane — praying to gods wouldn’t always work; people had even done ritualistic sacrifices and died in an attempt to save the sick. It didn't work. There was no cure.
( Hela didn’t sound like a merciful goddess with all of the horror stories that spread faster than the epidemic itself — )
But there were some who had miraculously survived the outbreak — some who had been on the verge of dying and were seen alive and well the next day.
Witchcraft , they said. A god’s blessing —
But Tony wasn’t sure how inclined he was to believe them.
Not that he had much to lose.
He sighed, fingers tapping along the seams of his coat, thinking — always thinking.
Peter had been through so much already… what did it matter if Tony sacrificed some of himself to the gods in order to keep him here? He was skeptical about the whole thing – especially with the rate of surviving – but if there were some people who miraculously survived because of witchcraft and gods…
Tony would just have to take that chance.
"This is a dangerous game you're playing, Tony."
It was the first words that hit his ears the moment he allowed himself to relax in her home — Natasha always knew how to see right through him, always knew what he was planning before he actually set out to do it. Sometimes it scared him, other times he hated it, but he'd be a liar if he said she didn't care about him.
Even with the creepy telepathic shit she had going on.
"I know, Nat. I already know." He rubbed a hand down his face, letting his masks fall — she was the only one he trusted to see him like this. Tired, weary, useless. Any weakness would be jumped upon — especially now, with the plague running rampant. The townspeople were all sharks — looking for any scent of fresh blood, any hint of desperation, despair — waiting for an opportunity to steal his riches. "But I'm running out of options here — you know what the doctors are like."
Eager for money — always money — that they would try to gyp it out of you while making it seem like they had a handle on the epidemic. Tony knew firsthand that nowadays, most doctors — if not all of them — were lying. Asked for payment first, gave the medicine later, and when it didn't work, their hands were tied. Nothing they could do.
There was nothing any of them could do.
He sank into the couch, the dim lights enough to ease him into a false sense of security for a moment. Everything was okay, everything would be okay, he just had to keep trying...
"And turning to rituals is your final choice?"
He didn't look at her — he knew what he'd see otherwise. Her eyes would bore into him and she'd give him this look that he just knew was disapproval — so he kept his sight on the ceiling. A safe option.
He didn't reply.
She already knew the answer — so for one, why ask? — so there was no reason for him to confirm or deny it.
There was a rustle of clothing, the soft pitter of footsteps, before a hand touched his shoulder.
He still didn't look up.
And he knew that tone. A sigh escaped his lips, but he turned his head, meeting the expression that practically disapproved of every action he'd ever done in his life.
"I knew you were prone to self-destructive actions, but I didn't think you'd try to get yourself killed." He winced at the way she painted him. "There's no way this can turn out good. Your two options — "
Dying in the process of the ritual, unable to save Peter.
Somehow succeeding in the ritual, Peter is saved.
She paused, lips pressing into a thin line.
"I think we both know that one has a better chance of happening than the other."
He knew she cared — he knew, he knew, but he didn't want to be dissuaded from this. Didn't want to be told that he couldn't prioritize Peter's — his son's — life over his own.
"If I don't try, then what does that make me?" He was holding onto the last remnants of strength he had left — chasing down any leads he could because he didn't want to give up.
"I'm not going to sit down and watch as Peter dies. I — I can't do that, Nat, you know that you're asking me to do that and I can't and — "
His chest was tightening, sight was going blurry, and fuck , he probably shouldn't have come here when he knew Natasha would try to get him out of this, but he had wanted a friend and —
"Tony — Tony ." Strong arms pulled him into a sitting position and Tony felt vulnerable and weak when she held him close. It wasn't often that she initiated physical contact, but her doing so now must've really meant that he was breaking. "I’m just worried.”
"I'm not fine china." He muttered, though he wavered at the rare admittance, and she hummed in agreement. "I'm not broken."
"You're not." It made him feel a little better to hear her say it — but he still felt like a small kid, reduced to being comforted with hugs and any sign of affection. "But you were beginning to look like a kicked puppy and even I can't resist that."
He spluttered — and if he listened closely enough, he thought he could hear quiet laughter.
There was silence for a while.
Tony didn't know what she was thinking and didn't dare ask — but he allowed himself to indulge in her warmth for as long as he could. Perhaps the quiet was best for the both of them; it was rare for either of them to let their emotions escape and sentiment wasn't really their thing — vulnerability and all that — so just having her here was nice. Especially when neither of them knew what was going to happen.
"If you get yourself killed, Tony, I'll come kick your ass myself." She finally said, pulling away and patting his arm with a force that made him fight to keep his smile.
Natasha's rare display almost had him thinking twice about the entire situation — but his brief hesitance was pushed aside when he came back home, Peter succumbing to a pitiful state on his bed.
He didn't care what he had to do — he didn't care about dying if it meant he had the chance to save Peter's life.
No one was sure how the disease worked, but Tony was almost certain that it spread after death; he wasn't sure how it worked — hello , he wasn't a doctor for a reason — and it was just speculation, but if Peter died and the illness spread to him...
There was nothing anyone could do about it.
He moved into the room adjourning Peter's, intent on focusing on the ritual.
It was the very same thing that he had scoffed at others for doing — for being so idiotic and stupid because clearly it wouldn't work — going to desperate measures to save their loved ones.
But Peter was his kid — not just some apprentice he was un-emotionally attached to — he had gotten used to him and his awkwardness, his little quips, the way his face brightened when they had a breakthrough —
So he would be reckless — he would risk everything for Peter —
Just... not now. Not yet. He would be careful, start cautious.
After asking around, people were more than willing to share the horror stories that were rituals — granted, they had started off with dangerous ones first.
So he'd just do a less risky calling, bestowing them with odd gifts he found around town or in his manor. The moonlight was said to make spells stronger, so, uh, yeah. He hoped that worked.
But minutes later, after the gifts were all in place, the candle lit, and the chanted words were said — there was... nothing.
Tony knew he shouldn't feel disappointed, but it had been his last hope, his last chance, and now he wasn't sure what to do with himself.
"Knew I shouldn't have believed them," he muttered. "Knew there was something wrong with the whole thi—"
A wave of dizziness washed through him and he lurched, immediately reaching out to steady himself.
Yeah, okay, no. Maybe he had been wrong —
But was the ritual supposed to do this? There was no warning in the book — he wasn't even doing a complicated one, yet. Just seeing if a god would actually answer — and if so, then he'd move on to the blood and sacrifice.
But spots were already beginning to gather in his vision and yeah, this had probably been a bad idea and —
Everything went black.
The next time he opened his eyes, it was to the sun shyly peeking in through the curtains and an incessant tapping noise —
A sharp pain sliced through his temples and he groaned, clutching at his head. Nausea bubbled up his throat, sticky and unyielding, and wait — his gifts to the god had been undisturbed, not touched; it didn't work and wasn't worth it and —
He pushed himself off the floor, muttering to himself all the while because stupid headaches and stupid gods who didn't answer your calls —
Tony peeked into Peter's room.
Just in case — just to see, you know, if anything had changed and he would have to apologize profusely to the gods.
Peter was barely coherent or lucid these days; when Tony got closer, he could see that his condition was steadily worsening.
“Hey, kid.” His voice was soft and full of affection – but Peter wasn’t even awake for him to feel remotely embarrassed by that. “I miss you, you know? It’s a lot quieter around without your rambling and – ”
He broke off, tears gathering in the corners of his eyes.
“You’re always sleeping lately. Better than the alternative, though – when you’re actually awake, you cough and you cough and… I hated seeing you like that. I hope you’re not mad at me later for all this – putting you to sleep is the best thing I can do. But I’m running out of herbs and the money won’t last forever… I just want to see you again.”
But that wouldn’t happen.
Now that the god option hadn’t worked, he was left to do nothing.
He could probably stop buying herbs and instead gather them – he’d only prolong Peter’s lifespan by a tiny bit, but at least he wouldn’t be awake to feel the pain.
He sat beside Peter’s bedside for a while, holding his small sweaty hand in his own.
The silence wasn’t the smallest bit comforting.
The tapping started up again.
It was then that he realized the pounding in his head wasn't just the ache — someone was at his door.
His eyebrows furrowed. There were barely many people on the streets these days... most of the homeless had died and most people holed themselves in their homes. While there were a few people left who still begged for scraps, those were few and far between.
He peeked through the peephole first, and then opened the door. His disheveled appearance and flat stare was surely to make an impression. And let’s not talk about how red he must be from crying.
Not a question.
There was something about that voice that made him pause — but not enough for him to not consider slamming the door in his face.
“Yeah, that’s me, and I have better things to do so if you don’t explain why you’re worth my time…” He trailed off — aware of his rudeness, but unable to feel sorry about it. His patience was wearing thin now that he was 100% sure Peter wouldn’t make it —
“My name is Loki Laufeyson. Word has traveled that you’re in search for a doctor — a healer.” The man brushed off his impeccably clean suit — a rarity these days; he was probably one of those rich men — and raised an eyebrow at him. “If I can inquire into your situation, I am sure we can settle on an arrangement and...”
Tony tuned him out. He didn’t want to deal with this – this was pointless. He was sounding like the hundreds of doctors he’d visited time and time again – all who would end up saying there was nothing Tony could do.
And they were right.
“All I need first is — “
He slammed the door, not wanting to hear the word that would come from his lips.
But the guy soon showed up everywhere.
No, really. He meant it.
Tony traveled to see more doctors to get shitty advice? Loki crossed his path.
Looking for herbs to keep Peter asleep? He was there, too.
Taking care of Peter? Knock knock, bitch, it’s Loki.
Some part of him honestly thought he was being stalked. Or watched a little more than necessary — and he couldn’t figure out why when there were more things to focus on.
Like the epidemic.
Staying safe, healthy, indoors .
But no. The green-eyed black dragon had to follow him around like Tony had somehow summoned him. Like – like a demon he couldn’t get rid of.
“I merely wish to have a moment of your time, Anthony.”
Tony cringed inwardly because god, did he sound like one of those high-class snobs who wore entitlement on their sleeves . But he kept popping up whenever he thought he was finally free of him — so fine, whatever, he’d do what he had to to get him off his back.
“I’ll give you a minute if you can help my son.”
As an afterthought:
“And don’t call me Anthony.”
There was silence for a minute — Loki tapped his chin, gaze cast thoughtfully across the room.
“Your… wounded apprentice? I’m not a miracle worker, I’m unsure if I can help the dying — ”
“Yes.” His jaw tightened, a tense set to his shoulders at the oh-so obvious reminder that Peter didn’t have much longer. “I thought so. I appreciate your brutal honesty then, sweetheart, but it looks like we won’t be working together like you wanted — ”
“I’m not a miracle worker.,” He repeated. “Just a sorcerer. But I’m more than willing to do what I can.”
Tony started at him — waiting, waiting for the pity that was sure to come.
The ‘I don’t know why you’re trying so hard’ look, the ‘you should give up’ look.
But there was no judgment behind his gaze that Tony could discern. Just an intense observation — like he could somehow pull apart Tony’s complex layers with his stare alone.
“Fine.” He shoved his hands in his pockets — the small action the only thing to hint at his nervousness — before he plastered a smile on his face. “Fine. But don’t stalk me anymore — it’s creepy and unflattering. We have a deal?”
A gloved hand raised his own, lips brushing against his knuckles.
Loki’s smile was sharp and full of teeth.