In a way, this was Tony's fault. As a rule, he didn't let people hand him things. Hadn't for years and years—longer than Peter had been alive. Even Happy put something down beside him and let him pick it up. All Tony had to do was stick to the general pattern of his life. No handing him things, no exceptions, not unless your name was Pepper Potts during the brief time they'd been dating.
Tony had no such exception for one Peter Parker, full-time college student, part-time Avenger, and very definitely not someone Tony was dating. But when Peter took over one of the rooms kept open for part-time Avengers at the new building, found some jewelry, and insistently passed it over to Tony over his morning coffee like Tony was running a lost and found, Tony sucked it up and accepted it directly from Peter's hand. Apparently that was enough to count as consent.
The chain Peter had found was a thin gold and flowed smoothly into Tony's hand—actually into it. It disappeared the instant it touched his skin. Tony could have sworn he felt it like a shot of heat in his veins. He felt warm. He felt happy. It was strange and alarming. The pendant that had been attached melted into his palm, leaving a gold circle there.
"That's weird," Tony said with a calm he didn't feel, examining the new mark on his hand. It looked like metal, but felt like skin. "Where did you say you got this?"
Peter poked Tony's palm, because he had zero sense of self preservation. The jewelry didn't reverse course, stayed firmly rooted inside Tony. A new spot of extra warmth bloomed from where Peter had touched him.
"It was in the bedside table," Peter said. His eyes had widened when the jewelry had disappeared into Tony, but they narrowed thoughtfully now. "Top drawer."
"And which room did you say you were using again?" Tony had a bad feeling about this, and not just because a piece of jewelry had disappeared inside of him.
"It was the one Thor had the last time he was here."
"Oh, goody. Even odds if it's alien tech or alien magic." Tony resisted the urge to rake his nails across his palm. He didn't know what it was, but he wanted it out. "Let's make a quick call. We can let Thor know he forgot something and ask him how to get it out of me."
If the last bit sounded a tad hysterical, it was understandable. Tony felt like Peter's body heat was reaching across the space between them and like the air at his back had suddenly gone cold. None of this boded well. When Tony took a step away, he stumbled, and Peter reached out and steadied him, just a hand at his elbow. Tony felt it like a jolt up his whole arm.
"Mr. Stark? Are you okay?"
"Perfectly fine," Tony said half an octave higher than usual. He cleared his throat. "Let's go."
Tony called Thor from the lab. He could've used the conference room, but he wanted access to the lab's scanners if it turned out Thor had no idea what it was and either it had been left there like a booby trap by someone else or Thor had picked it up somewhere because it looked shiny and had left it because he thought it was harmless. It turned out he did think it was harmless, but he also knew what it did.
"I haven't much time, but I can take a moment. In most hands, it's but a trinket," Thor said cheerfully. He had a red mark on his cheek like someone had punched him. "An interesting bauble, but of no consequence unless you plan to propose. Like one of your Midgardian wedding rings."
"Rings don't melt into people," Tony said.
Thor looked serious for the first time since he'd picked up the call, serious in a way he hadn't when Tony had described the object Thor had left behind. "It melded with you?"
"Went right into my hand." Tony held up said hand, letting the camera catch a good angle on his palm.
"Congratulations!" Thor grinned, back to failing to understand the gravity of the situation. "Who's the lucky lady?"
"Congratulations is not the appropriate response here," Tony said. "And no one. There was no proposal."
Thor frowned. "No one else was touching it?"
"I tried to give it to him and then—" Peter made a gesture. "—wham, right into his hand."
"Oh. Hm." That was not an encouraging sound. Thor looked between the two of them. "If it makes you feel any better, I, too, have accidentally proposed, though it was not, of course, with someone I actually wished to accept. She was handsome enough, but we didn't know one another well, and the goats given weren't even mine—" Thor stopped himself. "Ah, but that's a story for another time. It may not have been how you wished to propose, but it turned out for the best, didn't it? I'll be sure to bring you a wedding present when I'm in the system next."
"A wedding—I just told you there was no proposal!" Tony said. "How do I get this thing out of me? And why did you even have it?"
"It's an older working, one based on feelings and intent," Thor explained. "It was more popular back in the days when Asgard was at war. It represents a promise of sorts. The one who accepts pledges to remain faithful until their lover can return home and wed them properly. With so much of Asgard's works lost, when I saw it at a bazaar, I couldn't help but purchase it."
"If it's just a promise ring, then why does it feel so weird?" Tony asked.
"It encourages faithfulness," Thor said.
"When you say encourages—" Peter said hesitantly.
"It rewards chastity and time spent with your lover and punishes attempts to break that faith." Thor scratched his beard. "For those with more than one devoted lover, there were other versions, but yours seems to be intended for pair bonding."
"Are you saying that this is actually some kind of Asgardian chastity device?" Tony asked flatly.
"Yes." Thor's next smile was probably supposed to be reassuring. It was not. "Fear not. All that is necessary for its removal is either a whole-hearted rejection, in the case where feelings have changed, or for consummation of your marriage." Thor looked over his shoulder at an off-screen shout. "Forgive me, friends, but it appears I'm needed."
"You're damn right you're needed!" came Rocket's voice. "You and your ax and your stupid lightning trick are needed over here right now."
Thor hung up.
"Did Thor answer his comm in the middle of a fight?" Peter asked.
"I'm whole-heartedly rejecting you," Tony said in the hope it would be that easy. It wasn't that easy. The gold circle on his palm refused to budge. Accusingly, he told it, "Peter and I aren't even lovers, you broken hunk of junk." Tony shook his hand. "Get out."
"Maybe if I try pulling it out?" Peter said. Tony grudgingly held his hand out. Peter touching his palm felt very nice, but it didn't help. "Or … I also whole-heartedly reject you?"
"Maybe it really is broken," Peter said.
This was what Tony got for letting someone hand him something.
Tony did some scans. They revealed an energy signature that had a high correlation with magical activity. Thor was out of system and had never claimed to be all that adept with magic. His limit was lightning and using what others had made. Also, he wasn't answering Tony's calls anymore. Presumably, he was busy. The rest of the Asgardians were in New Asgard, and apparently most of the magic users had either perished with the original Asgard or in their fight with Thanos.
The last time Tony had asked for help from that direction for a magic thing, Valkyrie had shrugged at him and said, "If you need someone's skull bashed in or a second look at actually advanced tech, I can find you someone, but between the Dark Elves, Hela, the Dark Elves again, Hela again, and then Thanos, we're fresh out of people who can manage much more than cantrips. Unless you need someone to summon a pegasus or a flaming sword, I can't help you."
"What about Dr. Strange?" Peter asked.
"Ugh." Tony was very grateful to Strange for the healing spell he'd whipped up to save Tony's life during the whole Thanos thing, but the guy was like a walking, talking bad memory. "Do we have to?"
"Do you want to spend the rest of your life wearing some kind of Asgardian chastity device?"
No. No, Tony did not.
"Fine." But Tony didn't have to like it.
Strange also wasn't answering Tony's calls. They made the trip into the city, all the way to Bleeker Street, only to find out from Wong that he wasn't in this dimension right now.
"You're a wizard. Can you help with—" Tony gestured expansively. "—all this?"
"It's not spellwork I'm familiar with. If he were here, Strange would tell you the same thing. It's not all of a sort." Wong looked thoughtful. "I'll look into it. For now, unless there's someone among the Asgardians who can help you, you're stuck with it."
"That's very helpful," Tony said.
"You're welcome," Wong said.
He showed them out.
"I'm sorry," Peter said quietly as they stood on the sidewalk.
"Not your fault, kid," Tony said.
"I'm the one who gave you the necklace."
"And I accepted it." Then, because it was only partly Tony's fault, Tony said, "And Thor's the one who left it lying around where anyone could pick it up and get it sucked into their hand. The thing's obviously broken. Who's to say it wouldn't have gotten stuck in you if you'd found it a little later?"
"Right," Peter said weakly.
"Look, Thor will get back to us at some point. Maybe he'll have more answers for us then. In the meantime—" Tony gave his car a considering look. Peter needed cheering up, and so did Tony. "—how do you feel about getting some pizza? You can drive."
"Are you sure?" Peter asked, but he was already reaching out his hand for the keys.
"Positive." The brush of Tony's fingers against Peter's hand as he passed over the keys was electric. "You can choose wherever you want so long as it's Ray's."
"That's very generous, Mr. Stark," Peter said. He was smiling now, so Tony counted it as a win.
"I'm a very generous man," Tony agreed with a smile of his own.
They went back to the compound afterward.
Tony had ordered a large stack to go, which he brought back with them. Most of the old crowd were gone, but there were still a number of Avengers on campus, some new blood, some a bit older. Sam and Barnes drifted in empty-handed and drifted back out loaded down with pizza boxes. Wanda came in and grabbed a few slices as Tony finished off the now cold coffee he'd made that morning. Clint dropped by with a small pack of teen girls—two made a pack, Tony was pretty sure—and thanked Tony for remembering that he'd promised to show his daughter and her friend Kate around for the day and thinking to provide food.
"That was definitely a thing I remembered," Tony said.
"I thought … " Peter started, then loyally redirected, "um, I thought it was thoughtful, too." Tony loved this kid.
Clint suddenly looked a lot less grateful and a lot more suspicious. All the same, he said, "What do we say, girls?"
"Thank you, Mr. Stark!" Lila and Kate chorused.
"Peter and I will let you get back to the tour." Tony saluted Clint with his empty coffee mug. "We're going to head back to the lab."
Further testing provided no new information. After a while, Tony insisted Peter go back to whatever his plans were for the day before they'd been interrupted by finding Thor's forgotten jewelry. "I'm sure you've got better things to do than hover. If I keel over, FRIDAY will alert someone."
"I was planning on spending part of the day in the lab anyway," Peter said.
"Key word: part. The day's more than half over. Find something else to do." Tony made a shooing motion. "Go on, get out of here. Enjoy the fresh air. Watch a movie. Something that isn't staring at me like you're worried I'm going to combust. If that were a problem, I'm sure Thor would have mentioned it."
"If you're sure." Everything about Peter from expression to tone to body language screamed his reluctance.
"Very sure. Out. I need space to think." Also, Tony wanted to see what happened when Peter left, not to mention the warmth Peter put off was incredibly distracting.
Peter left. The warmth went with him. It took a few minutes, but Tony adjusted. The lab was a little colder, the lights a little dimmer, but it didn't hurt.
None of the scans or blood tests showed anything new.
A few hours into Tony beating his head against the proverbial wall all by himself this time, Thor called back. His beard and hair were in fresh braids. He was in good cheer despite the bruise blooming across his face.
"I rejected the kid, and it still won't go away," Tony said, getting right to the point.
"It's based on intent," Thor explained. "You must mean it."
"I don't want to marry him," Tony insisted. "We're a bad match. I'd be terrible for him. We're not even dating."
Thor considered Tony carefully. "You may believe you feel that way up here—" He presumably attempted to point at Tony's head, but the difference between camera angles and the feed meant his image was pointing at Tony's throat. "—but do you really feel that way in here?" He pointed at Tony's stomach this time.
"Are you saying I'm stuck with this?" Tony had the terrible feeling that yes, he was stuck with this.
"Take heart. The spell never could have caught if he didn't feel the same." This is why Tony hated magic. Like he needed the intervention of alien mystical forces to tell Peter had a crush. "You'll work things out."
"I don't want to work things out," Tony said.
"If you really meant that, the binding would have already released you." Thor glanced off to his left. "While I'm happy to explain the basics again, I'm afraid the answer won't change. It's not broken." He looked back. "Happiness is fleeting, Stark. Embrace it. Now, if you'll excuse me, we've come upon the next set of villains in need of a lesson. I may be off comms for some time."
"Stop coddling your friend and come help!" Quill shouted from off-screen.
Thor's image blinked off.
Tony rubbed at the gold mark. Yeah, he was fucked. Or not, as the case may be. "You could have at least told me what you meant by punishment."
Since his split with Pepper, Tony had done alright. He wasn't exactly sleeping with a different person practically every night like the majority of his twenties and thirties. He wasn't even going out every week. But a couple of times a month, Tony went on a date or two with someone he found acceptable, if lacking in a spark or any desire for something serious to come of it. Sometimes they had sex. Sometimes it ended in a kiss on the cheek and the unspoken acknowledgment that they'd never see each other again. It wasn't exactly the stuff of grand, sweeping romances, but Tony thought he was pretty well past that stage of his life.
Tony had a date that weekend for a charity gala. They were raising funds for endangered species that had survived the Blip by the skin of their teeth and were still barely holding on. Maggie was cute in a sharkish socialite sort of way and she was within the half and seven range. There wasn't a spark, but Tony wouldn't object to going back to her place and sticking around for a nightcap, then making a walk of shame at two in the morning.
The second Tony picked up her hand with the intent to kiss it, a shock went through him. This wasn't like the pleasant jolt every time he and Peter had touched. This was like an electric current straight up his arm. Tony jerked his hand away and shook it out. That was not the sort of spark he was looking for.
"Are you okay?" Maggie asked, and at least Tony had the reassurance the ill effects were confined to him and him alone.
"Yep. I'm good," Tony said tightly. "Just realized I had a thing."
"A thing," Maggie said dubiously.
"Sorry to cancel on you, but—"
"We're already here," Maggie said disbelievingly.
"You can keep the car. It'll drive itself home when you're done with it."
"I'd rather call a Lyft," Maggie said. Tony wasn't expecting a second date there or even a rain check.
He went home. Somehow, sliding into bed alone, he felt a lot better. The ache in his arm faded away into warmth. Punishment and reward.
The Asgardians were fucked up. Tony was still fucked.
In the morning, Tony had his usual shower wank without issue. At least magically enforced chastity didn't extend that far.
Peter appeared when Tony was two sips into his morning coffee. He looked antsy. He had that nervous energy about him that he got before launching into an explanation Tony didn't want to hear and which usually went on for several rambling minutes and never made the situation any better (and which sometimes informed Tony things were much worse than initially projected). Instead of actually saying anything, though, Peter thrust his hand forward, palm up. It was the same hand he'd had the jewelry in when he'd passed it over. There was a gold mark in the center of his palm.
"How did you not notice that?" Tony asked after he finished choking on his coffee.
"I thought it all went in you!" Peter said.
"Apparently not." Tony grabbed Peter's hand, ignoring the shot of warmth where their skin touched, and pulled it closer, as though looking at it a little more clearly would make it go away. It did not go away. "Wait, do you feel that? The whole—" Tony waved his left hand vaguely. "—weird magical warmth thing? That wasn't a clue?"
"In my defense, I've gotten used to ignoring people putting off body heat. If I didn't ignore 95% of my sensory input at any given time, I'd go crazy."
"And this, here?" Tony squeezed Peter's hand pointedly. "It didn't send up any warning signs when suddenly it felt nice whenever I touched you?"
"It always feels nice when you touch me," Peter mumbled.
That—Tony wasn't going anywhere near that. Time to move on. Redirect. Figure out something else to focus on that wasn't cataloging every time Tony had ever touched Peter and ranking it on a scale of appropriate to You brought this crush on yourself.
"We're going back to the lab and running tests on both of us this time." Tony filled up a second coffee mug, because he deserved it.
They went back to the lab. They ran more tests. It was exactly as helpful as it had been when Tony had run tests on himself alone.
"We do know one way it'll come out," Peter said.
"Not happening. We're going to take a third option."
"Okay." Peter stared down at his hands. "If that's—okay."
There wasn't a third option.
"Rejection or consummation," Strange told Tony, having called in the middle of Peter talking Tony down from breaking out a scalpel and trying some minor—very minor—impromptu self-surgery. "Though I'm sure any Asgardian with a sense of history could have told you the same." Strange had no right to look that annoyed. It wasn't like he was accidentally engaged to someone he'd sworn would never get the slightest inkling or barest hint there could ever be anything more than a strictly platonic, friendly mentor vibe going there. "Next time you have an Asgardian problem, you would be better off going straight to the source instead of harassing Wong."
"We didn't harass Wong," Tony protested. "And we asked Thor first."
"Then you already had your answer." Strange hung up, his image blinking off abruptly.
"Thor said it punishes, uh, attempts to date other people." Peter rubbed at his palm. "But how bad could that be?"
"Bad," Tony said.
"We won't know for sure until we try. It doesn't have to be you." Peter was, as always, up for a little reckless experimentation to find the boundaries of the problem, no matter the negative consequences to himself. It was endearing and horrible. "I'm sure I could find someone willing to get coffee or whatever."
"I tried to kiss my date's hand and felt like I'd touched a live circuit. Trust me, we don't want to know what the end of the night would have looked like."
"You already—" Peter looked away. "I mean, yeah, that makes sense. Of course you're seeing someone."
"Seeing someone implies something ongoing," Tony said dismissively, then immediately regretted it. Maybe if he'd pretended it was serious, it would've been enough to make Peter change his mind. Hard to set your sights on someone already taken. Then again, it wasn't like Peter being an inappropriate choice had stopped Tony from being so obviously smitten a piece of alien jewelry had thought he wanted to get married.
"Mr. Stark." Peter rubbed at his hand again. "I know this is really awkward for you, but I don't want to spend the rest of my life living as a monk, and I don't think you do, either. Would it really be that horrible to just go through with it and get an Asgardian divorce afterward?"
Horrible, Peter said, like the thought of him spread out naked under Tony wasn't the thing uncomfortably hot dreams were made of. Though letting him go, after? Yeah, that sounded painful.
"You wouldn't be waiting your entire life," Tony said.
"I'd rather not bank on you dying before me," Peter said in a tight voice.
"I'm not—" Tony sighed. "I meant—and I don't say this to undervalue your feelings or be patronizing or whatever—that no matter how you feel right now, you're young. Crushes fade. Eventually rejection will be a viable option here."
"Whatever you meant, that really is patronizing. And if it hasn't gone away in two years, I'm pretty sure I'm stuck with it."
Oh. There was the awkwardness Peter had thought Tony was already feeling.
"Two years?" Tony said weakly.
"Before that, I'd say it was a crush." Peter met Tony's gaze with certainty as he said, "It's not a crush anymore and it's not going away."
"The thing is," Tony admitted softly, "if we got married, I wouldn't want a divorce."
Tony watched the thoughts and feelings flit across Peter's open face. Confusion, probably because Tony hadn't exactly been a proponent of the sanctity of marriage over the years. Hope, probably because Tony hadn't exactly been a proponent of the sanctity of marriage over the years. Determination, and Tony desperately wanted to know what Peter was actually thinking there.
Peter's hands came up slowly, like he wanted to give Tony plenty of warning. The tips of his fingers brushed Tony's cheeks. His palms cradled Tony's jaw. Every brush of skin to skin was electric. Tony still didn't understand how Peter could've thought this was normal. When Peter brought their lips together—a gentle touch, barely there—there were fireworks.
Tony made a sound low in the back of his throat, buried his hands in Peter's hair, and pulled Peter firmly in. Tony had done so well at resisting this, but he was only human. There was only so much one man could take. Tony's line was Peter's mouth on his. He was undone.
"It's kind of soon for marriage," Tony said when he was finally able to pull himself away. Tony dragged a thumb along Peter's bottom lip, and Peter pressed a kiss to it. "How about starting with a date?"
"A date sounds good to me," Peter said.
Tony tried to take it slow, but it was difficult when every time Peter touched him, it was suddenly like he'd never stopped, kiss building on kiss even when one was a brief hello and the next was a kiss goodnight. Every single brush of Peter's hands was enough to set Tony's nerves alight, made him want to drag Peter to the nearest flat surface and not come up for air until they'd both come.
He lasted a week.
"I'm not trying to rush you," Tony said between kisses when Peter had him pinned against the door to his rooms that evening, "and I want you to know that I respect you as a person—"
"Please tell me that you're inviting me in this time," Peter interrupted him.
"Yes." Tony gasped as Peter put his hands on Tony's ass and lifted him. Tony fumbled behind him for the doorknob. "Please."
Peter carried Tony in, not hesitating to take him straight to bed. It was even better than what Tony had imagined, and Tony's imagination was very, very good.
Tony woke up holding Peter's hand. Clasped between them was a thin gold chain.
Peter was already awake. His eyes were wide. "I don't want to freak you out, but I don't think we were Asgardian engaged." Peter squeezed Tony's hand. "I think we're Asgardian married."
"Huh." Tony was going to kill Thor. "Does that mean we get to have a honeymoon?"
"Maybe when we get Earth married," Peter said.
The necklace went into a lockbox with clear instructions not to handle it barehanded. After a couple months, Thor appeared to retrieve it. He'd brought an alien goat as a wedding present. Rocket accompanied him as he presented it. The rest of the Guardians had wandered off or remained on the ship.
"Take your stupid jewelry and your invasive species and go away," Tony said.
"Don't be so grumpy," Thor said. He patted the alien goat on its left head. "It all worked out, didn't it?"
"The goat is kind of cute," Peter said. It was nuzzling his hand with its right head. Peter looked delighted when it nipped at his sleeve.
"The goat can stay," Tony grudgingly allowed.
"If you don't want it, we can take it back. They're delicious," Rocket said. "Honestly, I was kind of hoping you'd reject it. Look at its weird face. Faces. It's super ugly. You don't want that for a pet, do you?"
"I said it can stay," Tony said.
Thor pulled the necklace from the lockbox. He wasn't wearing gloves, but he knew what he was doing. Tony wasn't going to say anything.
"What's that?" Rocket asked. His expression was full of a sudden avarice. "Looks shiny."
"This? A common working of my people." Thor's smile was soft looking down at it. He grinned at Rocket. "But I have more than enough to remember them by. You may have it, if you like."
"If you're really sure … who am I kidding, gimme," Rocket said, already reaching for the pendant hanging from the chain. It went right into his creepy little raccoon hands. Thor looked dismayed. Rocket waved his hands with an expression of confusion. He looked like a raccoon that had been given cotton candy and had tried to wash it before eating. "Where'd it go?"
"This is awkward," Tony said.
"Congratulations," Peter said brightly. Tony couldn't tell if he meant it or if this was revenge. Probably both.
"Could you give us a moment?" Thor asked in a dazed voice.
Peter grabbed the goat's lead. They left the two standing in front of the Benetar.
"What are we going to do with a goat?" Tony asked.
"How much trouble could it be?" Peter asked.
(A lot, but that was another story.)
"Hey, Peter?" Tony hesitantly patted the goat on its flank. "I'm glad you gave me Thor's stupid alien jewelry."
"I'm glad you accepted it," Peter said warmly.
As a rule, Tony didn't let people hand him things. For Peter, he was wiling to make an exception.