This was why he’d viciously, callously, pointed out the differences between his brother and the mortal that foolish God of Thunder had decided to give his heart to. Their lives were fleeting. Their bodies were fragile.
It was far too easy for something, almost anything, to reach out and snuff their life out with little to no difficulty.
That’s why it was ridiculous, probably hilarious to the Norns who were no doubt laughing at him, that he had allowed himself to fall into the same trap. It had started out as respect between once enemies, had moved onto admiration and understanding.
If only it had stopped there –but it hadn’t.
No. He’d unthinkingly walked into friendship, stumbled into companionship and, most foolishly of all, into sentiment and love.
Loki –God of Mischief, Chaos and Fire—had fallen in love. He’d fallen in love with a reckless, intelligent and kindhearted mortal hero of all beings. It had been a slow fall, so slow he hadn’t even realized his Norn damned feet had left the ground, until it was too late and impossible to pull back. He had fallen and nothing was going to stop the inevitable.
Anthony Stark had stolen his heart and had done so without mercy.
Now that same mortal lay dying before him.
It wasn’t in the middle of a fight to save Midgard. Not a hard fought battle against a foe stronger than the Iron Man armor.
Anthony had not been wearing his armor and he had not been the one engaged in battle.
He had been casually dressed when he’d flung himself between an injured Peter Parker and the villain the young hero had been fighting on his own. Loki’s stupidly brave mortal had taken the hit, body shielding Peter as best he could without his armor, and now he was dying before Loki’s eyes.
There was nothing they could do.
The mortals that tried to pass for healers on this pathetic rock only gave Anthony days. The best that they could do, they said, was keep him comfortable until he passed. Loki had heard them talking away from the room about how Anthony would be lucky to last the night.
“Damn you, Anthony.”
He wasn’t ready to say goodbye. Loki’s lips twisted as he once again recalled the pain and grief fueled conversation he’d had with Thor years ago.
Loki would never be ready to let Anthony go.
The Golden Apples were not ripe; Idunn was still trying to grow a new orchard on the land Anthony had purchased for the remaining Asgardians to call home so Loki couldn’t even steal one. They wouldn’t be ready for a year and Anthony certainly didn’t have that much time with his injuries.
There was little that could be done.
Except for one thing.
The one thing that Loki had never thought he would use because of the implications behind it but, somehow, Anthony had proven to be the exception as was often the case in Loki’s eyes.
He was and he wasn’t.
This was selfish. It was greedy.
He was known for being selfish and greedy.
Despite that Loki didn’t feel an ounce of the guilt he probably should have felt in making this decision. Anthony wasn’t in any condition to ask and he had limited time to work with before Anthony slipped through his fingers.
Loki pressed his hand against Anthony’s chest, closed his eyes and focused on his magic. He focused on the very thing that made him a god, that gave him dominion over mischief and chaos and fire, while monitoring Anthony and tethering his soul in place.
It was a simple matter to wrap his magic around Anthony’s core, around the very thing that made him Anthony Stark, to form a link between them. It was an entirely different matter to use that very link to tie them together in a ritual that had been long forbidden for its invasiveness, the books containing it ordered burned—all but the one that Loki had found digging through the archives on Alfheim.
He gently, carefully and intimately tied Anthony’s very existence to his own. His magic gently sunk into Anthony, tracing every single cell that made up his mortal’s very being, as he wove spell after spell into the very marrow of Anthony’s bones. Runes flashed on tan skin before disappearing, forging a stronger connection between them, as he worked.
The initial link, a thing meant to be temporary, solidified with each spell and rune added as it transformed into something of true permanence. As it formed a bond that could not be severed; not even death could remove it.
Slowly he felt an awareness of Anthony growing with each new spell and rune painstakingly woven into Anthony’s very essence. He could feel the way Anthony started to heal, the way life started to swell within and strengthen, as Loki’s magic continued to work tirelessly to bind the two of them together.
It was a small wonder the amount of magic he must be giving off hadn’t drawn the attention of that hack wizard who claimed to guard Earth from external, and internal, threats. He would have been hard pressed to fight him but Loki would not have allowed him to interfere with something so important.
Anthony’s life depended on Loki’s success.
Loki murmured incantations, long forgotten words forming his forbidden ritual, until Anthony was tethered to Loki’s existence and his very essence. He sunk down into the chair next to the bed, one hand curling around Anthony’s closest wrist, before resting his head against the mattress.
He had enough energy to watch the rune signaling his success branding itself into the skin of Anthony’s right wrist, its twin on Loki’s, as he listened to the steady beat of Anthony’s heart and felt the bright pulse of life at the other end of their new bond. Exhaustion was calling him, demanding he rest, as Loki blinked slowly.
His wards would hold until his magic had recuperated enough to protect the both of them once more.
The sound of the machines monitoring Anthony, the sound of his Anthony’s steady beating heart and even breathing, dragged him right into unconsciousness even as his magic instinctively reached out to wrap around both of them.
Death would not be stealing Anthony from him no matter how much she might wish to claim his soul.
Tony blinked at the low light overhead. He could hear an unfortunately familiar beep that signaled he was in medical. Tony tried to remember why and how he’d ended up here this time when he didn’t feel a single ache that should have given him some idea.
That wasn’t normal for a trip to medical.
His brow scrunched. Come to think of it he didn’t feel any aches. Not a single one and Tony had been waking up with something aching ever since Afghanistan. There was always an ache in his chest, dull aches in his joints and typically some kind of headache.
There was nothing.
He felt amazing. Every lungful of air was a miracle he’d never thought he’d get.
Tony hadn’t felt this good since his twenties and even then he’d been dealing with hangovers and whatever abuse he’d put his body through. Tony shifted and felt something curled around his right wrist.
The God of Mischief was sitting in a chair next to his bed, head resting on the mattress, with his hand loosely wrapped around Tony’s wrist. He stared. Loki had been off world the last he’d checked. On some kind of trip to Vanaheim to check on those who had elected to live there instead of on Earth. He’d been thinking about bothering Thor to see if the other god might know when Loki would return when—
Tony jerked when the reason he was in the hospital finally slammed into him. He could remember the kid on the ground, barely moving, seconds before he had thrown himself between his kid and the threat bearing down on him without a single thought other than saving Peter.
After that it was horrific pain and then nothing.
How was he still alive?
Tony reached up to touch his chest and frowned. He should have felt something, lingering scar tissue from his last surgery at least, but he only felt the empty housing unit for his armor. There wasn’t a single scar to be found. Tony pulled the horrible medical gown they had put him in down and stared at himself in confusion.
After a few seconds he slowly turned his head back to look at Loki who was still resting.
What did you do, Lo?
Tony swallowed before turning his attention to the rest of his body. Somehow his skin was smoother, healthier, and old wounds were seemingly gone. It had to be magic. Loki had to have done something because there was no way he should be in this kind of condition. He should, at the very least, be in some kind of agonizing pain.
That should have killed me…
He turned his eyes back to the room, hoping for a clue, only to see countless flowers and even some Iron Man toys attached to Get Well balloons.
Tony turned his head and looked into sleepy green eyes that sharpened as he watched emotion play out over Loki’s handsome face. He wanted to wrap his arms around Loki and shove his face against him, breathe his trickster in, because Tony had thought he would never see him again. “Lo.” He swallowed, “Peter? How’s my kid?”
“He’s safe. Your boy is fine, Anthony.” The words had something tight and agonizing in him easing. He sunk back against his pillow and sighed in relief. “You, however, were not fine.” Tony could hear the god biting something back but the fury was more than obvious. He didn’t know if it was directed at the one who had hurt him or at Tony for putting himself in that position without a scrap of armor on his person. “The useless healers in your Realm gave you days and admitted behind closed doors it was only hours. They gave up. They would have let you die.”
It was hard to feel guilt when Tony knew that Peter would have survived regardless of what happened to him after he stepped between Peter and death. But looking at Loki’s face, at the pain in his eyes, guilt still managed to get a good stranglehold on his heart because Tony hated hurting the ones he loved.
He couldn’t regret risking himself for Peter but he did regret what he’d put Loki through.
Loki looked away and now that he was looking Tony could see wariness on the god’s face. He had done something and now, that Tony was awake and asking, it was obvious Loki didn’t want to admit to whatever it was that he’d done to ensure Tony’s survival.
“I’m a selfish god, Anthony. I have never hidden this fact.”
Tony felt the hand holding his wrist start to move away and moved so he could grip Loki’s hand. Something seemed to stretch between them, something that reminded him of the warmth of Loki’s magic, as the hand in his hold froze.
“I bound you, body and soul, to my very existence.”
That sounded cut and dry but, at the same time, more complicated than anything Tony could imagine. How was that possible? To bind another to your very existence? Loki was a god but that seemed like something that shouldn’t have been possible.
“I…I never meant to form any kind of attachment to a life so fleeting. A hundred years is but a blink.” Loki’s lips twisted with something Tony would call sardonic humor. “A mere heartbeat in comparison to a god.”
Tony knew that. He knew the Asgardians, especially those of the royal family, lived lives significantly longer than a human could ever dream to achieve. They were called gods for a reason. Tony had never tried to delude himself there.
Their relationship had been as much a selfish wish on Tony’s part as it had been on Loki’s. The only position, a selfish position on Tony’s end, was that he wouldn’t have to worry about watching old age claim Loki before him.
“The very situation that I once mocked Thor for is the same one I found myself in.” Loki stared at their hands, “The Norns must be laughing at me. I feel as though they’re always laughing at me.” The god’s thumb idly stroked against his hand. “To fall in love with a mortal…I would have never believed I would find myself in such a position.”
Tony’s heart had stopped in his chest. Loki had fallen in love with him. He thought it might be possible to die from the hope, the pure happiness, that had burst inside of him and threatened to drown him within its depths.
He had never let himself hope that Loki loved him in the same way, Loki was a god and Tony a mortal, but it had always been there—hidden and kept a secret only Tony knew.
“The Apples will not be ready to harvest for another year and I cannot stretch mere hours into the time that would have been needed but I could do something.” A humorless laugh escaped, “Probably the very thing that would drive you from me as I did it without permission. Without consent.”
“You bound me…to you.”
He still wasn’t entirely sure what that entailed. It certainly sounded beyond the marriage rituals he’d heard the Asgardians partake in. Loki had done something more binding, something that called for a commitment beyond what was expected in a marriage. Those rituals could be dissolved but to be bound to Loki’s very essence spoke of something stronger and more permanent.
Loki’s next words confirmed that thought.
“Permanently and to my very existence.” Loki’s voice was soft, “It’s a ritual that was forbidden millennia ago. The books and evidence of it were said to have been destroyed.” Green eyes flicked up to meet his eyes. “One book survived.”
“You found it.”
“I found it.” Loki confirmed without hesitation.
“Is that why I can feel your magic?”
Suddenly Tony could feel Loki.
He could feel the god’s very being, everything that made him Loki, as though a shroud had been lifted. Loki was bright, vibrant and full of life. There was a swell of emotions, when Tony followed the warm thread of magic connecting them, that he realized belonged to Loki.
It wasn’t terrifying like he was sure it should be. Instead, knowing Loki was at the other end of that thread, the bond was comforting and soothing. He wasn’t alone. There was someone who understood him, who cared about him, at the other end of that thread.
Someone who loved him.
“What does that mean for me?”
Tony sat there as Loki calmly answered his question even if the god’s emotions were turbulent. It would have been impossible to know that if he didn’t have some kind of direct link to Loki’s true emotions. There wasn’t even a hint on Loki’s face and he had thought he had perfected his mask over the decades.
“The ritual was widely used before it was forbidden.”
“What was it used for?” he knew Loki had used it to save his life but Tony doubted that was its original purpose.
Loki’s thumb brushed over his wrist and Tony glanced down to see a mark on his wrist. That hadn’t been there before. Tony was more than sure it was merely a physical mark of their bond.
“Marriage.” The emotions on Loki’s end of their bond were screaming at him even when Loki’s voice was soft, even and his face equally so. “The permanence and invasive nature of the bond were only a few of the reasons it was forbidden. An Asgardian marriage is still binding and forms a bond but it isn’t—”
Tony blinked. “Marriage?”
Tony could feel the hesitation, the wariness and the guilt on Loki’s end. He had also felt the love, affection and care that Loki felt for him. “Oh, Lo. If you wanted to put a ring on it all you needed to do was ask.”
Loki stared at him. “Now that infernal song is going to be stuck in my head.” Tony grinned, pleased that he’d lightened the heaviness hanging over them, as Loki relaxed. He remembered the reason Loki hated that song and barely stopped himself from laughing. Tony focused on how he felt for Loki and shoved it at the god even as he reached forward to tug Loki in for a kiss.
He felt his god relax into it, hand coming up to hold onto him, as Loki easily took over and Tony happily pressed into him as best he could. The door burst open only seconds after Loki had pulled away.
Two fast blurs seemed to race into the room in an explosion of noise and emotion.
Harley and Peter.
There were fading bruises on Peter’s face but he was alive and both of them were babbling and drowning each other out. Their eyes were red, their faces pale and their bodies seemed more jittery than usual. “How are you—?”
“Loki healed me.”
Then Tony had the pleasure of watching them practically tackle the god. There was shock, surprise and a slowly growing fondness from Loki directed at the two teens hugging him that had Tony swallowing. It was probably a good thing that Loki was a god and they were not. He was pretty sure they would have broken Loki with the force of their appreciation.
“Thank you thank you thank you!”
Harley broke away first. Within seconds he was on the bed and wrapping around Tony in a hug that was still clearly mindful over any potential injuries. Peter was seconds behind. It was a miracle they fit on the bed and no one was spilling off the side. “I’m fine. See? I’m fine. You were worrying over me for no reason.”
“There was so much blood.” Peter’s voice was choked and his face clearly displayed his horror at the memory, “Why would you do that? You didn’t have your armor—”
“I’d do it again.”
That seemed to stop Peter. Wide brown eyes stared at him. “What?”
“I’d do it again if it meant you walked away alive. I wouldn’t hesitate for a second. For either of you.”
That’s when Tony realized Harley was staring at him and the expression on Peter’s face changed to something similar. Slowly, hesitantly, a hand reached out and touched his face with a kind of wondering curiosity that had Tony longing for a mirror.
At least the look of guilty horror was gone but Tony wasn’t sure he wanted to know why they were acting like that. It was probably something horrifying and he didn’t want to know.
That had not been what he was expecting either of them to say. He had half thought they were going to tell him he was horrifyingly disfigured or something equally noticeable.
Another hand touched his face, brushed against his temples where Tony knew grey was showing, as they both continued to stare. “You look like you took a dip in the fountain of youth.” Harley bit his bottom lip, still staring and touching. He was staring at Tony as though Tony was some kind of mechanical problem and Harley was itching to solve it. The red in his eyes was still impossible to miss this close and Tony hated that he’d caused it. “Is that normal? When a god heals you?”
“No.” Loki finally spoke up. “It isn’t.”
“Body and soul.” Tony murmured.
“An Asgardian, or someone who consumes an Apple for Idunn’s orchard, ages at a similar pace to a mortal until they reach the midpoint of their second decade.” Loki’s fingers picked idly at the sheets, “After that the aging process slows considerably. A mortal who has gone past that point would lose those physical years and begin aging as an Asgardian would.”
“Did you give him an Apple?” Peter leaned closer, staring at Tony, while waiting for an answer.
“He couldn’t have…Thor said the Apples aren’t ready.”
“Magic, kids, magic.”
“Doctor Wizard said—”
“But I thought—”
“Long lost ritual from off-world.” That seemed to shut them up. “Our souls are bound together. That’s how Lo saved me.” Tony almost felt bad when they turned their attention back to Loki.
He watched Loki’s features soften in a way they so rarely seemed to do as he set about answering their increasingly detailed questions. A feeling of surprised fondness floated across the thread connecting them and it had something light swelling within Tony’s chest.
Tony was married to that ridiculous god and he really couldn’t wait to see Rhodey’s face when his best friend found out Tony had gotten magically hitched instead of dying of his injuries.