For a moment, Tony seriously thought he’d hallucinated those two words. It would make sense if he had. The oxygen in the ship was very close to running out entirely. No matter how deeply or slowly he breathed, it felt as though his lungs weren’t getting enough air. And honestly, while he’d always thought he would hallucinate in his last moments, he’d figured it would be hallucinations of Pepper or Rhodey or even Peter.
“Are you still alive?”
Tony opened his eyes to stare at the god above him and then paused, shocked. Had he the breath to speak, he would’ve posed the same question to Loki. He’d never seen Loki in this poor a shape, not even following the Battle of New York. Loki literally didn’t even have the strength to stand on his own power; he was leaning heavily against the side of the ship, and his whole body was trembling. His clothing was ripped and torn and covered in blood. One of his arms hung at an odd angle.
“Ah, a sign of life,” Loki murmured, and sank to his knees like he couldn’t stand any longer. He sat beside Tony for several seconds, head bowed. Perhaps he was dying too, Tony mused. It would be nice, after all this, to not die alone, even if it was Loki.
His eyes drifted shut again, and he was on the verge of passing out when cold fingers touched his hand. Green light played across the insides of Tony’s eyelids. Magic, he realized slowly. It was nothing more than pure instinct to be alarmed when magic was involved at this point. Magic had never done anything good for him. Magic was pain and horrible nightmares and being forced to do things against his will.
“Not all magic is like that.”
Tony turned, surprised to find he could turn when he didn’t remember having the strength to sit up, to find Loki behind him. This version of Loki looked healthier, but was still a far cry from looking healthy. Tony crossed his arms over his chest and then promptly winced in pain at the movement. He might have been able to stand, wherever they were, but the stab wound in his side still throbbed and he thought it was probably infected.
“Where are we?” he asked Loki. “What did you do?”
“I’m using my magic so that we can speak mind to mind. Your body is still on the ship,” Loki replied, crossing his arms over his chest. “I don’t have the power to save you right now.”
“As though you would with no strings attached even if you could?” Tony said skeptically.
Loki actually smiled at that. “You’re smarter than my brother,” he observed. “I can save you, Stark.”
“You just said you can’t,” Tony pointed out.
“I said I don’t have the power to save you right now, which is the truth. But if you bond yourself with me, I will have ample power to transport the ship, and the both of us, back to Earth.”
Tony stared at him, eyes narrowed. The casual way Loki had said that couldn’t mean anything good. “What do you mean by bond?”
“I don’t have the time to explain it in full detail. It would require years of magical study for you to truly understand,” Loki said loftily.
“Then give me the short version,” Tony said flatly. He was surprised when Loki sighed and acquiesced without further argument.
“It’s rare, and I’ve never seen it done before,” he admitted. “But my… well, I have heard the stories. At its core, bonding weaves two souls together. I will be able to draw power from your soul, and you will act as an anchor to me. In return, your life span will match mine.” Loki paused and openly looked him over, then added, “You may also gain some other benefits, if it turns out that our souls are well matched.”
“You want me to act as a battery for you? Hell no,” Tony said, scoffing. He’d had more than enough of being treated like a commodity. Stane, the Avengers… he was sick of it.
Loki raised a hand. “Don’t be so quick to say no, Stark. You’re dying. I can’t save you; I’m close to dying as well, though my chances of survival are still considerably improved over yours.”
Tony wasn’t so sure about that, but decided not to push that particular issue. He just shrugged. “Then why even bother?”
“Because I want to kill Thanos,” Loki said, eyes blazing with sudden rage. “I’m sure you want to live long enough to do the same. And as I am, I’m not strong enough to take him down. I tried. He attacked the ship that Thor, Banner, Valkyrie and I were on, but the four of us combined plus the other Asgardians who tried to help weren’t enough to stop him. As I am, I’m not enough.” The admittance seemed to pain him.
There were so many questions Tony wanted to ask. He’d heard, very briefly, from Bruce that the Asgardian ship had been attacked, but Bruce had neglected to mention that Loki had been there too. He also hadn’t said anything about Valkyrie, whoever that was. Then again, they hadn’t exactly had time for a leisurely conversation before Thanos’ minions had attached.
But now wasn’t the time to get the full story, and besides that Tony was rather focused on another part of Loki’s words. Because the truth was, he really did hate the idea of dying before Thanos was dealt with. He knew that Earth was going to be an absolute mess, and the idea of any remaining Avengers trying to guide people through this was laughable. Rogers, Romanov, Barton, Wilson, Maximoff – anything any of them did was bound to make this situation a hundred times worse.
“I can’t deny that,” Tony said grudgingly. “I do want to kill Thanos and reverse what he’s done. But I’m not sure bonding with you is the answer, considering that you tried to destroy Earth too.”
“I was brainwashed by Thanos to do that,” Loki snapped. “I have little interest in your pathetic mortal world. Do you really think that ruling humanity is how I want to spend the remainder of my life? You have no magic, no riches, nothing of worth. The only thing you had, and the reason Thanos sent me to your planet in the first place, was an Infinity Stone.”
“You were brainwashed. I’m supposed to just believe that convenient excuse?” Tony said. It was the wrong thing to say. He was absolutely amazed to see something that looked very much like hurt flash across Loki’s face. The shock of it was enough to take his breath away.
“Never mind, then. I see this isn’t going to work.” Loki started to turn away.
The word was out before Tony could stop it, before he’d even known he was going to say it. Remarkably, Loki actually paused. They looked at each other for a long, quiet moment. Tony might be a crap judge of character when it came to people, but he could read an opponent like no one’s business. It was a skill that had taken him far in the business world. And right now, he realized he believed Loki.
When the hell had that happened?
He’d always thought it was strange that Thor spoke so positively of his brother. The sarcastic but gentle-hearted Loki that Thor talked about seemed to be so at odds with homicidal maniac who’d attacked Earth. Tony had chalked it up to Thor being caught up in nostalgia. But maybe that wasn’t the case after all. Tony couldn’t believe he was even thinking this, but maybe there was more to the story than any of them, even Thor, had realized.
“This bonding thing… it’s permanent?” Tony said, when he realized that Loki was waiting for him to speak.
“Yes. There will be nothing in the universe that can tear us apart. You have to be mine, Stark, to make this work.” There was something quietly intense about Loki’s face, his voice, the way he was standing, and it all combined to send chills rushing down Tony’s spine.
Tony stared at him, and thought about Pepper. About what he and Pepper were on the verge of. It could go one of two ways at this point; they were either going to split up and never date again, or they were going to get married. He honestly didn’t know which way they were headed, but he’d always thought he’d have the chance to find out. One way or the other, he realized slowly, that wasn’t going to happen.
Either he agreed to do what Loki was suggesting, or Tony, and possibly Loki, would both die out here. There was no one coming to rescue either one of them. Earth was in a state of total disarray. The only ones who knew Tony was even out here was FRIDAY and Pepper, and they wouldn’t have the first idea about where to look for him. The ship had drifted too far away from Titan. He didn’t even think it was heading towards Earth anymore; it was likely he’d gone entirely off course.
There was really only one choice, wasn’t there? No matter what anyone said about him, Tony prided himself on never backing down from something difficult. People might scorn or mock or judge the way he handled things, but he still stepped up and did it no matter what. He’d dealt with the Ten Rings, the Mandarin, Sheildra, and countless others – and now he’d deal with Thanos. He squared his shoulders and looked Loki right in his eyes. At least, he thought to himself with morbid amusement, Loki wasn’t unattractive.
“And you’ll be mine in return? Because I have to tell you, I don’t do one-sided relationships. It’s equal or nothing,” Tony said, attempting to make his voice casual.
Loki looked at him with an expression of great curiosity, and said, “Of course” like that was the stupidest question he’d ever heard. But that was also sort of comforting, because it implied that Loki wasn’t trying to take advantage of the situation.
This was still a pretty terrible idea, and Tony knew that Rhodey would be having a conniption if he was aware of what Tony was considering right now. But if the choice was between being stuck with Loki forever and dying right now… Tony was selfish enough to want to live. He had things to do. People to save. Genocidal aliens to kill. No matter how horrible being bonded to Loki ended up being, so long as they had a common goal in killing Thanos it wouldn’t be unbearable…
Loki blinked at him for a moment, then recovered. “Okay?”
Tony nodded. “Okay. I’m agreeing to bond with you. Do… whatever it is you need to do, and then get us home.”
“You understand I don’t know exactly what will happen?” Loki said, sounding uncustomarily hesitant. “Like I said, I’ve never seen it done before. And from what I heard, the results were different with each pair depending on how well matched they were. If we’re a poor enough match, this could kill us both.”
He’d neglected to mention that last part before, but Tony still shrugged. “We’re going to die anyway, right?” he asked. No matter how much Loki pointed out that his chances of survival were better, Tony suspected that they weren’t much better. Otherwise, he doubted Loki would be here proposing something so insane.
“I like you, Stark. You’re crazy,” Loki said with a faint smile.
“Right back at you, Reindeer Games,” Tony said, shrugging. He realized that the nickname didn’t really fit anymore now that Loki’s helmet was gone. He’d have to come up with some new ones and asked, “So how do we do this?”
“Come here.” Loki opened his arms.
Tony looked at him like he was crazy, but Loki didn’t move. He stood perfectly still, arms out. Tony hesitated, but finally realized Loki was serious. It was supremely awkward to walk into Loki’s arms for a hug, but, once they were actually standing face-to-face and Loki’s arms were wrapped around him, it wasn’t that bad. Even wounded, Loki was strong enough that Tony could lean into him – and that’s exactly what he found himself doing, even without conscious thought.
“Relax, Stark,” Loki whispered, and Tony closed his eyes as he rested his head on Loki’s shoulder. Green light, Loki’s magic, and blue light the color of the arc reactor, filled his mind. He could hear Loki whispering something in a language he didn’t understand. The lights began to meld together into the most beautiful shade of turquoise that Tony had ever seen, soft and clear and breathtaking. He gladly fell into it.